Doctors And Wine
( Originally Published 1907 )
WE English, independent and practical though we be, are as a race "led by the nose." If we are old-fashioned, we are prone to accept political and religious dogmas with little or no attempt being made to prove their truth; and when we are ill or "run down," we place ourselves unreservedly " under the doctor," ready to believe implicitly whatever he may choose to say, and to swallow unhesitatingly whatever medicinal compound he may think fit to prescribe.
Nevertheless, the average medical man has often a failing, and that a somewhat serious one. He seldom knows much about wine, for, for some unexplained reason, a knowledge of the health-giving and curative properties of genuine wines, and the special characteristics of the different varieties, is not included in the curriculum of the ordinary medical student. He is crammed with enough learning about drugs to fit him for the post of a qualified dispensing chemist, and he can cover a page with cabalistic chemical symbols without turning a hair, and with the skill which comes of long practice. If you are suffering from any ordinary ailment he will probably diagnose your case correctly and prescribe accordingly, and very likely the discomfort will soon be over. But how does he deal with the hard-working city man who does not require medicines, but whose nerves and digestive arrangements would be all the better for a few glasses of pure and generous wine with his meals, or with the anaemic woman, whose impoverished blood keeps her health consistently below par, and who would be equally benefited by a similar regime? Such patients are quite likely to be advised by the ordinary doctor to take milk or lemon-squash, or possibly one of those much-advertised, but frequently fraudulent and unwholesome concoctions, which go by the name of " Medicated" or "Meat" Wines, or some such misleading title, but which usually have very little relation to either meat, wine, or medicine in the proper sense of the words.
One of the chief disadvantages, however, of this want of knowledge and discrimination on the part of the average doctor in matters concerning wine, is the danger he runs of becoming a victim to the wiles of certain firms who have inferior wines from new countries to introduce, or special lines " of their own to push. These enterprising people, by means of free samples, and flowery circulars which generally extol the "medicinal" properties of their wares, have not much difficulty in imposing upon the unwary doctor, and sooner or later they generally succeed in turning him—though the worthy curer of bodies is unconscious of the fact—into a valuable advertising agent for themselves.
In days gone by the most successful members of the medical fraternity were not likely to be taken in so easily. They were good judges of wine, and were well aware of its stimulating and healing properties. They did not hesitate to advise lackadaisical maid-ens to drink it with their meals rather than water, and the blood-making and other health-giving virtues of sound Claret and Burgundy were recognized by every practitioner in the kingdom.
Notwithstanding our boasted advances in all that pertains to temperance and hygiene, there were fewer pale-faced girls and flabby youths in those times than one sees in our streets today; and since the world was young, all experience goes to prove that pure wine, if taken in that moderation which is wise in all things, is the most natural and therefore the most wholesome, beverage for man.
In cases of illness, a heavy responsibility naturally rests upon the doctor in all matters pertaining to food and drink. So far as food is concerned, this responsibility he is generally willing and able to accept. But how often, when he gets beyond the beaten track of ordinary dietaries and drugs which are familiar to him and orders wine, does he insist on the importance of procuring the supply from a reliable source? Yet it is as important for wine to be obtained from a respectable and dependable wine-merchant as for prescriptions to be dispensed by a fully-qualified chemist. A doctor would hardly approve of his medicines being obtained from, say, the local grocer, and yet the wine he pre-scribes may, in some ,cases, be procured from the most undesirable sources, and the patient's health injuriously affected, if this important point is overlooked.
There often arises, of course, the question of expense when wine is ordered, and where outlay is a consideration the physician is sometimes placed in a position of difficulty on that score. Good Champagne, for instance, is admittedly one of the most valuable stimulants in many cases of illness, but the best brands are costly and the cheaper ones are not always to be depended on. There are, however, in the case of this particular wine, excellent substitutes avail-able. Sparkling Burgundy or Saumur, if carefully selected, might often take the place of the higher-priced Champagnes; and a sparkling white Medoc, called "Sparkling Ducru," has also recently come into the market and is sold at about half the price of the fashionable brands of Champagne. As this wine carries with it the credentials of having been made at one of the most renowned estates in the Medoc country, it is safe to predict that it will soon become very popular with those who can appreciate a really pure and well-made sparkling wine.
With the wealth of resource which the principal wine-producing countries of the world possess, and which must surely be meant for the benefit of mankind, it is difficult to account for the prejudice which certain members of the medical profession still have with regard to the use of wine in illness and convalescence. It seems impossible that this aversion, though fortunately it is not very widespread, should continue in-definitely; but much might be done to remove it if our principal wine-merchants would make an effort to popularise really good and pure wines, and if doctors themselves would forbid their patients taking any wine that could not show a clear record as to quality and origin.
There never was a time when light, wholesome wines such as Claret and Burgundy—pre-eminently the wines for debility and convalescence could be obtained of such good quality and at such a moderate price as in the present day; and there is, therefore, much, both from a professional and from a trade point of view, calling for intelligent reconsideration, in the interests both of public and individual heath.
As good judges of wine are always in a minority, a keen surveillance of their patients' beverages ought to be exercised by medical men among rich and poor alike, but naturally it will be in the homes of the less well-to-do that an observant doctor will detect the highest percentage of outrages perpetrated in the name of wine. To the poorer classes "wine" usually means Port and Sherry, and these two are the wines which can be most easily and profitably imitated by the shameless blendings of a little common wine with abundant concoctions of sugar, dyes, grain-spirit and chemical flavourings. Seeing that the poor have to make heavy sacrifices in order to purchase these so-called wines for their sick, the blenders who exploit human misfortune by selling a poison in place of a medicine, at a profit of several hundred per cent, deserve a front place among the enemies of the State. Our English laws against adulteration and substitution are defective, but the existing Food and Drugs Acts provide machinery with which more than a little can be done. A few weeks of public-spirited vigilance and energy on the part of the medical profession would go a long way towards stamping out a heartless and even murderous fraud, and surely practitioners would do themselves no small honour by becoming in this sense guardians of the poor.
Of course, when one remembers that it is proverbial for doctors to differ, one is not surprised that they find a convenient bone of contention in the question of the wisdom or otherwise of prescribing alcohol for their patients in cases of illness. A certain percentage of medical men are always to be found ready to advance arguments against the utility of alcohol in any form, or in any degree of microscopical quantity, either in illness or in health; but it is satisfactory to note that a large number of clinical specialists and practitioners of the highest reputation in the roll of medical distinction have recently spoken out plainly on this subject,and have published, through the medium of The Lancet, a statement which shows that they do not at all sub-scribe to the extreme views put forward by some of their professional brethren. Though this important manifesto has produced a lively discussion, both in the medical world and amongst intelligent laymen, there can be no doubt that it cannot fail, in the long run, to be of great advantage to the community at large, both in sanctioning, from the highest medical point of view, the moderate consumption of wine as a beverage for daily use, and also in restoring it to its rightful place in the list of remedial agents.