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Temperance Movement
by [?]

With these habits amongst our countrymen, exemplified daily in the articles of widest use, it is evident that the sufferer from intemperance has a harder quarantine, in this island, to support during the effort of restoration, than he could have anywhere else in Christendom. In Persia, and, perhaps, there only on this terraqueous planet, matters might be even worse: for, whilst we English neglect the machinery of digestion, as a matter entitled to little consideration, the people of Teheran seem unaware that there is any such machinery. So, at least, one might presume, from cases on record, and especially from the reckless folly, under severe illness, from indigestion, of the three Persian princes, who visited this country, as stated by their official mehmander, Mr. Fraser. With us, the excess of ignorance, upon this subject, betrays itself oftenest in that vain-glorious answer made by the people, who at any time are admonished of the sufferings which they are preparing for themselves by these outrages upon the most delicate of human organs. They, for their parts, ‘know not if they have a stomach; they know not what it is that dyspepsy means;’ forgetting that, in thus vaunting their strength of stomach, they are, at the same time, proclaiming its coarseness; and showing themselves unaware that precisely those, whom such coarseness of organization reprieves from immediate and seasonable reaction of suffering, are the favorite subjects of that heavier reaction which takes the shape of delirium tremens, of palsy, and of lunacy. It is but a fanciful advantage which they enjoy, for whom the immediate impunity avails only to hide the final horrors which are gathering upon them from the gloomy rear. Better, by far, that more of immediate discomfort had guaranteed to them less of reversionary anguish. It may be safely asserted, that few, indeed, are the suicides amongst us to which the miseries of indigestion have not been a large concurring cause; and even where nothing so dreadful as that occurs, always these miseries are the chief hinderance of the self-reforming drunkard, and the commonest cause of his relapse. It is certain, also, that misanthropic gloom and bad temper besiege that class, by preference, to whom peculiar coarseness or obtuse sensibility of organization has denied the salutary warnings and early prelibations of punishment which, happily for most men, besiege the more direct and obvious frailties of the digestive apparatus.

The whole process and elaborate machinery of digestion are felt to be mean and humiliating when viewed in relation to our mere animal economy. But they rise into dignity, and assert their own supreme importance, when they arc studied from another station, viz., in relation to the intellect and temper; no man dares, then, to despise them: it is then seen that these functions of the human system form the essential basis upon which the strength and health of our higher nature repose; and that upon these functions, chiefly, the general happiness of life is dependent. All the rules of prudence, or gifts of experience that life can accumulate, will never do as much for human comfort and welfare as would be done by a stricter attention, and a wiser science, directed to the digestive system; in this attention lies the key to any perfect restoration for the victim of intemperance: and, considering the peculiar hostility to the digestive health which exists in the dietetic habits of our own country, it may be feared that nowhere upon earth has the reclaimed martyr to intemperance so difficult a combat to sustain; nowhere, therefore, is it so important to direct the attention upon an artificial culture of those resources which naturally, and by the established habits of the land, are surest to be neglected. The sheet anchor for the storm-beaten sufferer, who is laboring to recover a haven of rest from the agonies of intemperance, and who has had the fortitude to abjure the poison which ruined, but which also, for brief intervals, offered him his only consolation, lies, beyond all doubt, in a most anxious regard to everything connected with this supreme function of our animal economy. And, as few men that are not regularly trained to medical studies can have the complex knowledge requisite for such a duty, some printed guide should be sought of a regular professional order. Twenty years ago, Dr. Wilson Philip published a valuable book of this class, which united a wide range of practical directions as to the choice of diet, and as to the qualities and tendencies of all esculent articles likely to be found at British tables, with some ingenious speculations upon the still mysterious theory of digestion. These were derived from experiments made upon rabbits, and had originally been communicated by him to the Royal Society of London, who judged them worthy of publication in their Transactions. I notice them chiefly for the sake of remarking, that the rationale of digestion, as here suggested, explains the reason of a fact, which merely as a fact, had not been known until modern times, viz., the injuriousness to enfeebled stomachs of all fluid. Fifty years ago–and still lingering inveterately amongst nurses, and other ignorant persons–there prevailed a notion that ‘slops’ must be the proper resource of the valetudinarian; and the same erroneous notion appears in the common expression of ignorant wonder at the sort of breakfasts usual amongst women of rank in the times of Queen Elizabeth. ‘What robust stomachs they must have had, to support such solid meals!’ As to the question of fact, whether the stomachs were more or less robust in those days than at the present, there is no need to offer an opinion. But the question of principle concerned in scientific dietetics points in the very opposite direction. By how much the organs of digestion are feebler, by so much is it the more indispensable that solid food and animal food should be adopted. A robust stomach may be equal to the trying task of supporting a fluid, such as tea for breakfast; but for a feeble stomach, and still more for a stomach enfeebled by bad habits, broiled beef, or something equally solid and animal, but not too much subjected to the action of fire, is the only tolerable diet. This, indeed, is the one capital rule for a sufferer from habitual intoxication, who must inevitably labor under an impaired digestion; that as little as possible he should use of any liquid diet, and as little as possible of vegetable diet. Beef, and a little bread, (at the least sixty hours old,) compose the privileged bill of fare for his breakfast. But precisely it is, by the way, in relation to this earliest meal, that human folly has in one or two instances shown itself most ruinously inventive. The less variety there is at that meal, the more is the danger from any single luxury; and there is one, known by the name of ‘muffins,’ which has repeatedly manifested itself to be a plain and direct bounty upon suicide. Darwin, in his ‘Zoonomia,’ reports a case where an officer, holding the rank of lieutenant-colonel, could not tolerate a breakfast in which this odious article was wanting; but, as a savage retribution invariably supervened within an hour or two upon this act of insane sensuality, he came to a resolution that life was intolerable with muffins, but still more intolerable without muffins. He would stand the nuisance no longer; but yet, being a just man, he would give nature one final chance of reforming her dyspeptic atrocities. Muffins, therefore, being laid at one angle of the breakfast-table, and loaded pistols at another, with rigid equity the Colonel awaited the result. This was naturally pretty much as usual: and then, the poor man, incapable of retreating from his word of honor, committed suicide,–having previously left a line for posterity to the effect (though I forget the expression), ‘That a muffinless world was no world for him: better no life at all than a life dismantled of muffins.’–Dr. Darwin was a showy philosophe
r, and fond of producing effect, so that some allowance must be made in construing the affair. Strictly speaking, it is probable that not the especial want of muffins, but the general torment of indigestion, was the curse from which the unhappy sufferer sought relief by suicide. And the Colonel was not the first by many a million, that has fled from the very same form of wretchedness, or from its effects upon the genial spirits, to the same gloomy refuge. It should never be forgotten that, although some other more overt vexation is generally assigned as the proximate cause of suicide, and often may be so as regards the immediate occasion, too generally this vexation borrowed its whole power to annoy, from the habitual atmosphere of irritation in which the system had been kept by indigestion. So that indirectly, and virtually, perhaps, all suicides may be traced to mismanaged digestion. Meantime, in alluding at all to so dreadful a subject as suicide, I do so only by way of giving deeper effect to the opinion expressed above, upon the chief cause of relapse into habits of intemperance amongst those who have once accomplished their deliverance. Errors of digestion, either from impaired powers, or from powers not so much enfeebled as deranged, is the one immeasurable source both of disease and of secret wretchedness to the human race. Life is laid waste by the eternal fretting of the vital forces, emanating from this one cause. And it may well be conceived, that if cases so endless, even of suicide, in every generation, are virtually traceable to this main root, much more must it be able to shake and undermine the yet palpitating frame of the poor fugitive from intemperance; since indigestion in every mode and variety of its changes irresistibly upholds the temptation to that form of excitement which, though one foremost cause of indigestion, is yet unhappily its sole immediate palliation.