Inducements to Intemperance

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XI (9) start of chapter

How intemperance, the author of so many ills to mankind, and in a special degree to those who live by their labour, has its origin in these abodes of misery, to which the working population are condemned through poverty and the want of cheap and healthful homes, is thus accounted for by the Commissioners of Health:—

This we know from observation, and from the testimony of dispensary physicians and other visitors among the poor, that the crowded, dark, and unventilated homes of the classes from which pauperism springs are driven to habits of tippling by the combined influences of the vital depression and demoralising surroundings of their unhealthy habitations. Pertinent was the reply of a drunken mother, in a dismal rear-court, to a sanitary officer, who asked her why she drank: 'If you lived in this place, you would ask for whisky instead of milk.'

Dr. Burrall, Inspector for the Twelfth District, touches in his Report on the same point:—

It may be that the depressing causes existing in such a neighbourhood prompt to the use of some 'oblivious antidote,' by which for a time the rough edges of life may be smoothed over. It may be, too, that these stimulants excite a certain degree of prophylactic influence, but the quality of liquor obtained in such places is injurious to the digestive organs, the brain becomes unduly excited, and quarrelling or even murder results.

Dr. Field, Inspector for the Eighteenth District, enters fully into the demoralising influences and results produced by the low class of tenements on those who inhabit them:—

Moreover, it is an accepted fact that to live for a long time deprived of pure air and sunlight will not only depress a man physically and mentally, but will actually demoralise him. The atmosphere is precisely adapted, through its properties and constituents, to the wants of the beings designed to breathe it.

A man gradually loses ambition and hope; concern for the welfare of his family, by slow degrees, loses its hold upon him. Loss of physical vigour attends this corresponding condition of the mind, until at length lassitude and depression of spirits and constant ennui get such control over him that no power or effort of the will can shake them off. With this decline of energy and vigour, both of mind and body, is set up an instinctive yearning for something which will give a temporary respite to the dragging weariness of life. Hence we find the children even, who are brought up without the stimulating influence of pure air and sunlight, will learn to cry for tea and coffee before they learn to talk; and they will refuse the draught unless it be strong. One would hardly credit, unless he has visited considerably among the tenant-house population, how general this habit is among the youngest children. As they grow older, they acquire the appetite of their parents for alcoholic stimulants: and we need not go further to account for any extreme of immorality and want.

Nor are abundant opportunities wanting for the indulgence of this fatal passion. Of the twenty-nine Inspectors who report on the sanitary condition of New York, there is not one who does not deplore the existence of the lowest class of 'groggeries' in the midst of the very poorest district. One statement as to this fact will suffice. Dr. Oscar G. Smith, reporting on the Ninth District, says—'The number of dram-shops to be met in those localities where a tenant-house class reside, is surprising.' Dr. Edward W. Derby, in his Report on the Fourteenth District, gives a painful picture of the prevalence of this unhappy vice:—

The low groggeries and groceries, in all of which liquors are sold, are constantly thronged, I am sorry to say, with members of both sexes, youth and old age vieing with each other as to their capabilities of drinking, enriching the proprietors of these places, spending their last penny in gratifying their morbidly-debased appetite, rather than purchasing the necessaries of life for their families, and then issuing forth or being thrust out upon the streets in various stages of intoxication, half crazed with the vile and poisonous liquor they have swallowed, fit subjects for the committing of the many crimes which are daily chronicled in our papers. Such are the places which stare you in the face at every step, a disgrace to the city, and a prolific source of corruption to the morals of the surrounding inhabitants.

'Poison,' 'vile poison,' 'noxious and deleterious compounds,' are the terms generally applied to the description of liquor for which so many sacrifice their means, their health, and the happiness of their families.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

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