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The Ethics Of The Drink Question
by [?]

All the statistics and formal statements published about drink are no doubt impressive enough to those who have the eye for that kind of thing; but, to most of us, the word “million” means nothing at all, and thus when we look at figures, and find that a terrific number of gallons are swallowed, and that an equally terrific amount in millions sterling is spent, we feel no emotion. It is as though you told us that a thousand Chinamen were killed yesterday; for we should think more about the ailments of a pet terrier than about the death of the Chinese, and we think absolutely nothing definite concerning the “millions” which appear with such an imposing intention when reformers want to stir the public. No man’s imagination was ever vitally impressed by figures, and I am a little afraid that the statistical gentlemen repel people instead of attracting them. The persons who screech and abuse the drink sellers are even less effective than the men of figures; their opponents laugh at them, and their friends grow deaf and apathetic in the storm of whirling words, while cool outsiders think that we should be better employed if we found fault with ourselves and sat in sackcloth and ashes instead of gnashing teeth at tradesmen who obey a human instinct. The publican is considered, among platform folk in the temperance body, as even worse than a criminal, if we take all things seriously that they choose to say, and I have over and over again heard vague blather about confiscating the drink-sellers’ property and reducing them to the state to which they have brought others. Then there is the rant regarding brewers. Why forget essential business only in order to attack a class of plutocrats whom we have made, and whom our society worships with odious grovellings? The brewers and distillers earn their money by concocting poisons which cause nearly all the crime and misery in broad Britain; there is not a soul living in these islands who does not know the effect of the afore-named poisons; there is not a soul living who does not very well know that there never was a pestilence crawling over the earth which could match the alcoholic poisons in murderous power. There is a demand for these poisons; the brewer and distiller supply the demand and gain thereby large profits; society beholds the profits and adores the brewer. When a gentleman has sold enough alcoholic poison to give him the vast regulation fortune which is the drink-maker’s inevitable portion, then the world receives him with welcome and reverence; the rulers of the nation search out honours and meekly bestow them upon him, for can he not command seats, and do not seats mean power, and does not power enable talkative gentry to feed themselves fat out of the parliamentary trough? No wonder the brewer is a personage. Honours which used to be reserved for men who did brave deeds, or thought brave thoughts, are reserved for persons who have done nothing but sell so many buckets of alcoholized fluid. Observe what happens when some brewer’s wife chooses to spend L5000 on a ball. I remember one excellent lady carefully boasting (for the benefit of the Press) that the flowers alone that were in her house on one evening cost in all L2000. Well, the mob of society folk fairly yearn for invitations to such a show, and there is no meanness too despicable to be perpetrated by women who desire admission. So through life the drink-maker and his family fare in dignity and splendour; adulation surrounds them; powerful men bow to the superior force of money; wealth accumulates until the amount in the brewer’s possession baffles the mind that tries to conceive it–and the big majority of our interesting race say that all this is good. Considering, then, how the English people directly and indirectly force the man of drink onward until he must of necessity fancy there is something of the moral demi-god about him; considering how he is wildly implored to aid in ruling us from Westminster; considering that his aid at an election may procure him the same honour which fell to the share of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham–may we not say that the community makes the brewer, and that if the brewer’s stuff mars the community we have no business to howl at him. We are answerable for his living, and moving, and having his being–the few impulsive people who gird at him should rather turn in shame and try to make some impression on the huge, cringing, slavering crowd who make the plutocrat’s pompous reign possible.