Some Bad Habits
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
When about to write the History of the French Revolution, Thomas Carlyle said : "It is unfortunate, though very natural, that the history of this period has so generally been written in hysterics," and with a pen of steel and words of fire, this strange man "very naturally" proceeded to write the history of that period in "hysterics." A similar state of things has hitherto existed in most discussions of the temperance question, the tobacco habit, and other forms of indulgence, which so fearfully destroy the health and. morals of the people, at the present day. These discussions have been conducted, for the most part, from an emotional stand-point, or, to use Carlyle's phrase, "in hysterics." Men and. women, preachers and reformers have set forth in extravagant rhetoric and violent gesture the terrible evils of indulgence in these poisons. They have harped upon their one string until the people are weary of the song, and they have, as yet, done little towards providing remedies to ward off this wholesale harvest of woe and death. I think it has been fully demonstrated that the "agitation of terror" has no power to save our communities from the havoc of physical vice. Intemperance, smoking, opium-eating and twenty other forms of ruinous indulgence are rather on the increase, and that too, after a quarter of a century of organized and persistent agitation of these questions. It is highly desirable to treat this subject calmly ; to appeal less to the emotions and more to the reason ; to dwell less upon the frightful havoc which these bad habits occasion, and more upon the means of their extirpation. It would be wise to enquire into the far-reaching causes of such wickedness and crime, and try to stop the flow somewhere near the fountain head, instead of putting forth such vain efforts to turn the stream. just above the cataract. It would seem to be the part of good judgment to save the next generation in its infancy from the heritage of woe which we have received from the past.
But it is exceedingly difficult to consider the influence of alcohol, tobacco and hasheesh upon humanity without having the field of vision instantly filled by these distressing and horrible facts which go to make up the tragedy of life. To a man whose mind is at all sensitive to the worst woes that have befallen our race, it is not an easy thing to discuss the prevalent habits of society, without being deeply moved and without using extravagant phrase. The ° subject can scarcely be discussed except "in hysterics." The Rev. Philip Moxom, in a recent address, spoke truthfully when he said :
"The prevalent use of intoxicating liquors promotes disease, poverty, vice and crime of every description—such as profanity, lying, theft, licentiousness, brutality and murder. It is the source of shame, wretchedness, degradation and death. By far the larger part of the crimes whose record blackens our daily press are the mediate or immediate result of alcoholic intemperance. Intemperance is the giant vice of the world. It fills more graves than war. It destroys more homes than famine and pestilence. It hinders progress in education, morality and religion to a degree for which we have no adequate measurement. It creates necessity for jails, police, workhouses and asylums that theoretically are an anomaly in Christian civilization. It lays a heavier tax on the financial resources of the Nation than the schools, the churches and the Government combined. The havoc which intemperance works in our social life cannot be reported. When we lift the veil of the merely public aspect of this question : when we look beneath the surface into the unwritten history of desolated hearth-stones, blasted hopes, and broken hearts, that fill countless lives with wailing and inarticulate despair, we cannot wonder that advocates of temperance reform have used strong language and advocated strong measures of resistance to the rum traffic, and made heavy drafts on the sensibilities of those whom they addressed. No one can attentively consider the evils flowing from the use of ardent spirits without feelings that words cannot express. If temperance reformers have sometimes been intemperate in speech, they can easily be forgiven by one who is not phenominally ignorant or whose heart is not dead to the most appalling sufferings that have come upon humanity."
But there are some phases of this question of intemperance which are generally neglected in public lectures. And the first is, that the use of intoxicants and narcotics is not confined to any age nor any race of men. In all ages of the world, and in every land, men have sought out some flower or herb or weed to arouse its lethargy and assuage its grief. Men have been inventing stimulants since the world began. Always and everywhere it is the same old story, poor human beings have been tempted to eat of " the tree of knowledge " that they might be like gods " knowing good and evil." Man feels within him that he is not what he ought to be. He feels weak and incapable of doing what his eager spirit tells him he might. From physical limitations and brain weakness he knows that he cannot express all his emotion, nor cast off the bonds which fetter the eager infinity within him. With a diseased body and a sorrowing heart, he is forever crying out to nature, and not God, to clear his dull brain and give peace to his weary spirit. In a hundred forms the tempter comes to him with balm for his despair and hope for discouragement. Eat this, chew this, drink this, and "ye shall not surely die," has been the voice of sorcery ever since that hapless day in the Garden of Eden.
Among the ancient Egyptians, and afterward among the Greeks, the sweet nepenthe was used as a narcotic. The women of Thebes know how to compound it. The man of sorrow had but to chew it and his sadness was forgotten. The woes of life changed to the gladness of morning. The night of financial difficulty or grievous disappointment was changed into the day of joyous hilarity, and the soul was set free for the grandest visions and the most brilliant thought. But the intoxication was only temporary and its victims died at last in the most harrowing distress of mind and body.
The world was then brutalized by hasheesh, which is made from Indian hemp. The flowers at the top or the exudations from the trunk of the plant are prepared with aromatics and made delightful to the taste and smell. Whole nations have been addicted to its use. Whole nations have been stimulated, intoxicated and brutalized. Whole nations have sunk into hopeless imbecility from the use of this accursed drug.
In the forests of North Germany, the old German, the Dane and the Angle drank to ruinous excess, to keep off the depressing malaria so prevalent in the swamps and clearings of that land in early times. All the races descended from them have drunk their ale and beer and malt liquors until their brains are stupid, their bodies plethoric and their nerves unstrung by the use of alcohol.
In China the deadly opium has held sway for more than a century, and it has bound the race to imbecility, degradation and death. None but the pen of a DeQuincy can describe its effect upon the mind. No pen, but his, can describe the woes which await the man who tampers with this soul-destroying drug.
The cultivated Frenchman has sought for a century to drown his cares in absinthe. The extract of wormwood is mingled with some aromatic essential oils to form an intoxicant of more than ordinary virulence. An unappeasable thirst takes possession of the person addicted to its use. Stung to frenzy, he seeks more and more of the strong liquor. Giddiness, tingling in the ears and hallucinations of sight and hearing follow. He experiences a constant mental depression, he feels an overpowering anxiety. He flies again to absinthe and with gradual loss of brain power, he goes down to hopeless idiocy, a terrible wreck morally, mentally, and physically.
In our land we seem to have brought together all the physical indulgences of the world to ruin our manhood and add force to the destructive agencies of society. Alcohol, tobacco, opium, chloral ! What an array of death-dealing poisons we Americans take daily with our food and sleep. What a price we pay in loss of power, physical decay, mental darkness and moral wreck. No pen can describe the terrific work of these accursed poisons. No man can sum up the cost upon civilization. No man can adequately set forth the danger to society found in the use of these abominable drugs. No man can foresee the end, unless some power is brought to bear upon our people to stop this useless crime of indulgence in whiskey and narcotics.
Another neglected phase of the temperance question is a statement of the real causes which lead to such an alarming use of stimulants. The first of these I hold to be the natural feeling of physical decrepitude that steals upon us almost as soon as we are born. Physically speaking, the forces of decay work side by side with those of growth. At countless junctures of life the forces of decay are in the ascendant, and we fall before physical weakness and the wasting of bodily disease. The history of the world shows that men in all ages have sought relief in a hundred ways from this incubus of weakness. Civilized races have extracted burning alcohol from fruit and grain or stupefying narcotics from herb or weed. The savage sorcerer indulges himself and his dupes in bush-poisons, and the Samoiede extracts a few days of brutal pleasure from a low fungus that grows upon the barren rocks near his hut.
Under the wasting forces, within and without., under the weariness of consuming energies, a man falls naturily into the use of these drugs and poisons that promise to stimulate his wasting powers and give him new force for work and new hours for happiness. This matter of the natural physical weakness of our race operates as the most powerful cause of intemperance and the smoking habit.
This natural weakness of our bodies is, in countless cases, greatly aggravated by over-work. We all live too fast and work too hard. The force naturally developed within us is rapidly exhausted and fails before our work is done. Each man, if he is worth buying and using, is taxed more and more, and a hopeless strain is put upon his powers through all the hours of his daily work. The weak have to compete on equal terms with the strong. In their despair they crave for artificial strength that shall carry them through the appointed task. Thus our laborers fall into drinking and smoking, and taking opium, until they are at last overwhelmed in unspeakable vice and ruin. "How we shall stop that," says Charles Kingsley, "I know not."
" The old prophet may have been right when he said 'Surely it is not of the Lord that the people shall labor in the very fire, and weary themselves for very vanity,' and in some juster, wiser, more sober system of society—somewhat more like the Kingdom of The Father come on earth—it may be that poor human beings will not need to toil so hard and to keep themselves up to their work by stimulants, but will have time to sit down, and look around them, and think of God and of God's quiet universe, with something of quiet in themselves ; something of rational leisure, and manful sobriety of mind, as well as of body."
Another cause of the use of stimulants is to drive away dullness. Out of working hours men have nothing to do. No employment, no rational amusement. In the hours of evening before they sleep, there is nothing to occupy the thought, save what they have been doing through the day and what they expect to do upon the morrow. Everywhere, up and down our land, men and women are seeking to escape from that dreary thought of business in liquor and narcotics. And these men are not all poor and burdened with poverty's perplexities. Some are rich and drink heavily at night in their own luxurious homes, to drive off this tiresome stupidity of business care and brain emptiness. But if the rich man brutalizes himself amid the blessings of his luxury, if he cannot keep himself from the use of stimulants, what shall the poor man do, oppressed as he is with his load of toil, and pinched as he is with grim want ? His home is poor and dull from very necessity. No carpets on the floor, no pictures on the wall, no books, nor papers, except the cheapest and most sensational. No early advantages of education to give his mind a taste for intellectual pursuit, with burdens heavier than he can bear, what shall the poor man do in those hours when quitting-time leaves him nothing to do ? What shall he do with the curses of poverty clinging about him ? What shall he do to keep off this increasing bodily decrepitude ? What shall he do in the race of life, which seems at every step to grow more and more difficult ?
We all know what he does in the vast majority of cases. The accursed saloons that line the streets of our towns and cities, and even intrude themselves into the cross-roads of the country, tell too plainly what the poor man does with his leisure, his money and his life. From the lack of everything that could rationally employ his time or divert his mind, he turns to the only recreations within his reach. He seeks in drink and narcotics to drown the ills of life which press so heavily upon him. In these, his exhausting toil is for a time forgotten; and he does not question closely the far- off results of his indulgence. It gives him momentary relief, and he does not care for the future, with its dark uncertainties. Give him his beer-cup and his clay-pipe and he hopes to meet the dire realities of the future as he does the oppressing cares of the present. "Let me alone" is his cry, as he smokes on, and drinks on to physical destruction, mental decay and moral wreck. Leave us alone ! Click, go the glasses ! A brain is maddened ! A pistol-shot ! Two hearthstones are desolated, two hearts broken, fatherless children left to a hard world's tender mercies ! Drink, death, damnation !
Thus our poor go down in a maelstrom of woe and sin, and the wealth of our land can purchase everything, except decent places of rest and recreation for the laborers of our towns and cities. The club for the rich ! The theatre for the rich ! Churches, lectures, reading rooms, all for the rich ! No place where the poor man can take his wife and child of an evening, save to the beer-garden and the low playhouses. Oh, shame to the grasping opulence of our country, that does not provide a decent place of resort for those who have won our material wealth from the broad earth's fertile bosom—for those who have dignified the nation with patient hand-labor. Lost Greece and ruined Rome took better care of their laboring-poor than great America does of hers. And how soon, Christian philanthropist, how soon, patriotic statesmen, shall Columbia sleep in Rome's ignominious grave, if you do not listen to the low murmuring complaint of the discontented, ruined American laborer?
If the view, above expressed, of the causes for the use of stimulants be the correct one; if men drink from innate feebleness and innate restlessness, then the Sanitary Reformer is the deadliest foe of the drink-traffic. The man who preaches the gospel of pure air, pure sunshine, pure water, pure food, for the masses, is doing the real work in the temperance reform. He is turning the stream at its fountain head. He is removing the causes of intemperance. Just in the proportion that he is able to induce men to live in healthful homes, and develop healthful bodies, does he remove them from the temptation to use stimulants. Just in that proportion does he fight intemperance and the whole train of associated vices, together with their miserable effects upon society and life.
Bad habits always go in groups. The formation of one evil tendency leads to others, until a man's life is wrecked from the very accumulation of evils. A boy forms a habit of being indolent at school. He drifts about the town into association with those worse than himself. Soon he has formed the loafing habit. The hours of the day, when necessity does not drive him to work, and the evening hours are all spent in abject idleness, sitting, standing, leaning against a post, wasting golden hours, priceless opportunities, all the best and noblest rewards of life. While men of talent and strength and power are " killing time," others, of no greater talents, are improving their time and rising to eminence and usefulness, The chief difference between the man who makes a total failure of life, and the one who wins distinguished success is the difference between loafing away your leisure and using it as Lincoln did in mastering his Euclid. Then the young man learns to smoke and chew. He turns up his pantaloons at the heel, expectorates, turns up his coat collar to announce that he belongs to the loafing fraternity, slouches his hat over his eyes, and henceforth is ashamed to look an honest man in the face. He then learns to drink. If he is employed, his expensive pleasure consumes his income; and he continually needs more money to satisfy his in-creasing appetite for drink and tobacco. He must have more money. He filches from his employer or his parents. He resorts to dishonest schemes to get money for his wasteful evtrayagances. He takes on one expensive vice after another until he has used his last penny, and he can get no more except by forgery, theft or robbery. He takes that fatal step and ends his career in a vortex of disgraces. The morning papers announce that he was arrested for crime and the curtain goes down upon a wasted and ruined life. And it began with that abominable habit of loafing, away back in the early days of boyhood.
The dangers of evil habit thus lie in the first acts of a series that are cumulative to the end of life. The danger to the boy is in his first hour of loafing. The danger to the smoker is in the first days, before the system comes to demand its daily rations of nicotine. The danger to the drinker is in the first glasses, that give only exhilaration and rare delight. The danger to the opium eater is in the first night of peaceful slumber, brought on by its use. The danger may never overtake you ; but the ghastly histories of human wreck up and down the earth, tell you how many chances there are for you to escape, after once tampering with the devil of alcohol and the devil of nicotine. Alas, for humanity, when men and women must needs consort with demons, that destroy the body, wreck the mind, and ruin the soul !