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Natural Science
by [?]

The poets and other gentlemen who have written so much romantic nonsense about “good red wine” and “good brown ale” are responsible for this. I admit that a glass of Burgundy is a more beautiful thing than a blancmange, but I do not think that it follows that a surfeit of one is more heroic than a surfeit of the other. There may be a divinity in the grape which excuses excess, but if so, one would expect it to be there even before the grape had been trodden on by somebody else. Yet no poet ever hymned the man who tucked into the dessert, or told him that he was by way of becoming a jolly good fellow. He is only by way of becoming a pig.

“It is the true, the blushful Hippocrene.” To tell oneself this is to pardon everything. However unpleasant a drunken man may seem at first sight, as soon as one realizes that he has merely been putting away a blushful Hippocrene, one ceases to be angry with him. If Keats or somebody had said of a piece of underdone mutton, “It is the true, the blushful Canterbury,” indigestion would carry a more romantic air, and at the third helping one could claim to be a bit of a devil. “The beaded bubbles winking at the brim”–this might also have been sung of a tapioca- pudding, in which case a couple of tapioca- puddings would certainly qualify the recipient as one of the boys. If only the poets had praised over-eating rather than over-drinking, how much pleasanter the streets would be on festival nights!

I suppose that I have already said enough to have written myself down a Temperance Fanatic, a Thin-Blooded Cocoa-Drinker, and a number of other things equally contemptible; which is all very embarrassing to a man who is composing at the moment on port, and who gets entangled in the skin of cocoa whenever he tries to approach it. But if anything could make me take kindly to cocoa, it would be the sentimental rubbish which is written about the “manliness” of drinking alcohol. It is no more manly to drink beer (not even if you call it good brown ale) than it is to drink beef-tea. It may be more healthy; I know nothing about that, nor, from the diversity of opinion expressed, do the doctors; it may be cheaper, more thirst-quenching, anything you like. But it is a thing the village idiot can do–and often does, without becoming thereby the spiritual comrade of Robin Hood, King Harry the Fifth, Drake, and all the other heroes who (if we are to believe the Swill School) have made old England great on beer.

But to doubt the spiritual virtues of alcohol is not to be a Prohibitionist. For my own sake I want neither England nor America dry. Whether I want them dry for the sake of England and America I cannot quite decide. But if I ever do come to a decision, it will not be influenced by that other clich�, which is often trotted out complacently, as if it were something to thank Heaven for. “You can’t make people moral by Act of Parliament.” It is not a question of making them moral, but of keeping them from alcohol. It may be a pity to do this, but it is obviously possible, just as it is possible to keep them–that is to say, the overwhelming majority of them–from opium. Nor shall I be influenced by the argument that such prohibition is outside the authority of a Government. For if a Government can demand a man’s life for reasons of foreign policy, it can surely demand his whisky for reasons of domestic policy; if it can call upon him to start fighting, it can call upon him to stop drinking.

But if opium and alcohol is prohibited, you say, why not tobacco? When tobacco is mentioned I feel like the village Socialist, who was quite ready to share two theoretical cows with his neighbour, but when asked if the theory applied also to pigs, answered indignantly, “What are you talking about–I’ve GOT two pigs!” I could bear an England which “went dry,” but an England which “went out”–! So before assenting to the right of a Government to rob the working-man of his beer, I have to ask myself if I assent to its right to rob me of my pipe. Well, if it were agreed by a majority of the community (in spite of all my hymns to Nicotine) that England would be happier without tobacco, then I think I should agree also. But I might feel that I should be happier without England. Just a little way without–the Isle of Man, say.