Affiliate Link

On Drunkenness

To the Printer of the GAZETTE.

I was much pleas’d with the short Caution you gave in one of your late Papers, on Occasion of a Woman whose sudden Death the Coroner’s Inquest ascrib’d to the violent Effect of strong Drink; and being my self related in the nearest manner to one, on whom that Caution seem’d to have some good Effect, I could wish you would pursue it further, in which perhaps you may oblige others beside me: For it is now become the Practice of some otherwise discreet Women, instead of a Draught of Beer and a Toast, or a Hunk of Bread and Cheese, or a wooden Noggin of good Porridge and Bread, as our good old English Custom is, or Milk and Bread boiled, or Tea and Bread and Butter, or Milk-Coffee, &c. they must have their two or three DRAMS in a Morning; by which, as I believe, their Appetite for wholesome Food is taken away, and their Minds stupified, so that they have no longer that prudent Care for their Family, to manage well the Business of their Station, nor that regard for Reputation, which good Women ought to have. And tho’ they find their Husband’s Affairs every Day going backward thro’ their Negligence, and themselves want Necessaries; tho’ there be no Bread in the House, and the Children almost barefoot this cold Weather, yet, as if Drinking Rum were part of their Religious Worship, they never fail their constant daily Sacrifice. It is not long since I was present at the following Scene. Enters one who was once a handsome Woman, but now with bloated Face and swollen Legs, How do you do, Neighbour? Indifferent. Bless me, it’s very cold, and I’ve no Wood at home; but I’ll go down to —— , and they’ll help me to Wood; for they have a penny to spend, and a penny to lend, and a penny to lay up. Come, can’t you give us a Dram? No, I wish I had one. Come, I’ve got a Penny. And I’ve got but a Penny, if more would save my Life I ha’nt it. Come then, I’ve got two pence, and your Penny will fetch half a Pint of Run; and you shall be two pence another time. So away goes the half-pint Bottle. And you shall find Sugar, and a little Bit of Butter, and that’s pure good this cold Weather. Judge you how finely things are like to be carried on in the Families over which such Women are placed. I for any part shall never more speak against TEA; let those that like it enjoy it for ever: Tea will not take away their Sense of Shame and of Duty, nor their Fear of Censure: Their Pride in this Particular, may make them careful, and industrious, and frugal in other Respects, that they may have wherewith to support their Rank and Credit in the World. They may still preserve their Modesty, and their natural Affection; But Drunkenness is utterly inconsistent with any one of those Virtues which make Women amiable or valuable to Men.

I am your Friend and Reader, &c.;

Altho’ it has happened, that of the four unfortunate Wretches, who within these few Weeks have died suddenly in this County, by excessive Drinking of strong Liquor, two were indeed Women; yet it must be acknowledged, that this Kind of Intemperance is by far more frequent among the Men than among them: And perhaps ’tis owing to the general Moderation of Women in the Use of strong Drink, that the present Race of Englishmen retain any considerable Degree of the Health, Robustness, and Activity of their Ancestors. There are, however, some, it seems, who, directly contrary to the Advice given by the Angel to the Mother of the strongest Man, instead of refraining all Drink that may intoxicate, are determin’d to drink nothing else. Their Fault will be its own Punishment: But what Crimes have their unhappy Offspring committed, that they are condemn’d to bring Misery into the World with them, to be born with the Seeds of many future Diseases in their Constitution.

The Practice of Drinking Drams is so general, and so well establish’d in the World at present, that some People are apt to wonder, and scarce think it possible, when they are told, that Men formerly lived and performed their Labour without it; and that ’tis scarce 50 Years since distill’d Spirits have been commonly used in England. They were first only to be found in the Apothecary’s Shop, and prescrib’d by Physicians in extraordinary Cases, a Drachm at a time, whence we have the present Word Dram, but it signifies now much more than the eighth part of an Ounce. Our Forefathers, ’tis true, have had Beer many Ages; but within the Memory of Men, Temperance in Drinking was so universal amongst them, especially in the inland Country Places, that a good old Man not long since dead with us, could speak it as an extraordinary Thing, Verily, I tell thee, Friend, I knew a Smith in aoer Toon, who would sometimes go to th’ Alehouse, when he had no other Business there, but to drink! Observe, it was a Smith, which is allow’d to be a thirsty Trade, and but one Smith! I am afraid we have never a modern Miracle on the other side to match it; that is to say, A Smith, or indeed any other Tradesman, in our Town, who never goes to the Tavern but when he has other Business there beside Drinking.

That decrying of Drams may not be thought the Fancy of whimsical particular Men, who love Singularity, and to talk against every thing that is in Fashion; see the united Wisdom of the British Nation, King, Lords, and Commons in Parliament assembled, condemning that Practice, in the Act made in 1729, for restraining it. The Preamble is worth transcribing. Whereas the Drinking of Spirits and strong Waters is become very common amongst the People of Inferior Rank, and the constant Use thereof tends greatly to the Destruction of th eir Healths, enervating them, and rendring them unfit for useful Labour, intoxicating them, and debauching their Morals, and leading them into all manner of Vices and Wickedness, the Prevention whereof would be of the greatest publick Good and Benefit, &c. ‘Tis pity that Act had not fully its desired Effect.

I might cite the Opinions of our most famous Physicians, who are universally against the Practice we are speaking of: but I have not Room, and can only at present give a Paragraph or two from Dr. Allen’s Synopsis of Physick, lately published with considerable Applause. In his Chapter of POISONS, having treated of mineral, vegetable, and animal Poisons, he concludes with this.


`There is yet another Family of Poisons, to wit, Vinous Spirits and distilled intoxicating Liquors; for the too frequent and plentiful devouring of these (as the ill Custom obtains) hath killed as many Thousands of Men as there are Stars in the Skie; nay, ten times ten hundred Thousands have died by these, more than by all the rest of Poisons whatever, which is not in the least to be doubted of; wherefore I usually call this pernicious Mischief, by way excellence, THE HARM, whether in jest or earnest I need not say. It not only occasions violent Distempers in a great many, but also sometimes sudden Death in some; for which Reason, if it does not deserve the Name of Poison, what else it would be called I can neither learn nor conjecture.

`An ungrateful Burthen lies upon generous Physicians. Those who guzzle burning Spirits Night and Day, according to their detestable Custom, perpetually tippling liquid Fire, when they have extinguished all Concoctions, enervated all the Solids, and corrupted the Liquids; and the Fabrick a long while staggering is now ready to fall, then they seek our Help. What is to be done? The Office of a Scavenger is to be performed; and perhaps when the Drain is made, and by chance the Matter retrieved, they presently return to the same Practice again, as a Dog to the Vomit, or a Sow to the Mire; and prodigal of their Lives, they shorten the remaining part of their Days. What must Physicians, or what can Divines do? Medicines can be of no Service, and they will not hearken to Counsel. All Things will be in vain, they rush into the Embraces of the wicked Poison, they become stupid and blind, deafer to Reason and Counsel than Marpassus’s Rocks, they thirst forever, and drink as if bit by the Dipsas, and the more they drink the more they covet of the deadly distilled Water, with which, in as much Haste as they can, they close the Scene, even at the Point of Death calling for the Bottle. Most miserable! and deplorable!

`O happy Temperance! never too much to be praised! of the first, which thou mad’st the golden Age, the Ornament and Safeguard! thy own Persuasive and Value! worshipped and adored by all pure and pious Souls in all Ages. Thou art, if any thing in the Earth, the true Composer of Archaeus, and the Preserver of a sound Mind in a sound Body. Thou lead’st thy Adorers right on the way to a long and happy old Age, with a pleasant and youthful, graceful and lovely Countenance. To conclude, thou art adorned with the Praises even of thy Enemies, and art counted lovely by them, with whom, when thou art cast off, there remains the Curse of Satyricus, Let them see this Virtue, and waste away, since they have forsaken it.’

The Pennsylvania Gazette, February 1, 1732/3