Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/567

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
553
EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

SCIENCE AND THE TEMPERANCE REFORM.

THE Legislature of the State of New York has passed a law providing for the instruction of "all pupils in all schools supported by public money, or under State control, in physiology and hygiene, with special reference to the effects of alcoholic drinks, stimulants, and narcotics upon the human system." Other States have passed similar enactments, 80 that there seems to be something like a general movement appealing to this new form of influence for the promotion of the cardinal objects of the temperance reform. That movement has relations with various sciences, not only with physiology, but also with sociology, and perhaps some reference to its history will help us to judge of the promise of the new measure.

The bad effects that flow from the excessive use of spirituous liquors, and the evils of drunkenness, have been recognized and deplored in all times. While every literature has its poetry in praise of the cheering influence of wine, so it has its proverbs showing the evil consequences of devotion to the intoxicating cup. But the first organized movement to check the excessive use of intoxicating liquors belongs not only to modern but to very recent times. The temperance reform was inaugurated but a little over half a century ago. Numerous societies were formed, with wide affiliations, to act upon public opinion in the most efficient and persistent manner. There rapidly grew up a copious and varied temperance literature, consisting of explanations of the injurious action of alcoholic liquors, of vivid delineations of the results of the inebriating habit, of statistics of the criminality and pauperism that flow from it, of its enormous cost to the community at large, of impassioned appeals in sermons and lectures, and of poetry and fiction all combined, for the promotion of the philanthropic objects of the temperance associations.

The characteristic of the temperance movement at this early stage was the directness of its personal appeals to influence voluntary action. Individuals were plied with facts and arguments, and on grounds of self-respect and social obligation to abstain from the habit which had its root in the selfish appetites, and bore the fruits of suffering to the victim, calamity to the family, and grave detriment to society. To give the utmost support to voluntary action, the pledge was introduced, which offered the advantage of an explicit written committal, and a public avowal of the purpose of the individual to abstain from spirituous liquors. In short, the policy was to influence persons, by every consideration that could be urged, to the practice of restraint and temperance in the use of alcoholic beverages. The movement was pushed with fervor and zeal, and every expedient resorted I to, to gain the result. The pledge in favor of the temperate use of spirituous liquors was changed to a pledge against all use of them, on the ground that moderation, by the laws of human appetite, rapidly passes to excess.

Among the means of influence. Science was, of course, called upon to give its evidence. Prize essays by distinguished medical men on the physiological effects of alcohol were multiplied, and tracts stating the results were sown like autumn leaves through the community. One of the most eminent of the reformers, Mr. E. C. Delavan, after laboring long, and devoting great wealth to the promotion of the reform without the full results which he had anticipat-