Popular Science Monthly/Volume 41/October 1892/Specifics for the Cure of Inebriety



WHEN any great truth begins to receive public recognition it is always first welcomed by the credulous and visionary enthusiast, who surrounds it with the most extravagant expectations. This brings out the charlatan and empiric who studies to turn all such facts and conditions to his own personal profit. In this way the credulity of the one and the charlatanism of the other envelop the truth with a confusion and mystery that often conceal it for a long time. Only the student and the scientist realize that behind this glamour and illusion there is a uniform evolutionary movement along different lines from that suggested to the popular mind.

The growth of truth may be compared to that of plants—first seen in the seed, then the stalk, the shrub, and finally the tree, always following a distinct and fixed line of march through separate periods and stages. The first stage is that of indifference, neglect, and denial. Then follows the credulous period, in which the truth is partially recognized and accepted, with extravagant conceptions, associated with wild empirical efforts to incorporate it into practical life. Finally, the truth is fully understood, studied, and accepted, and becomes a part of the world's great possessions. This is the natural history of every new fact of science and every new discovery concerning the evolution of humanity. Often these stages extend over long periods of time and are unrecognized except by a few persons; or they follow each other rapidly, but always along the same lines.

The dawning truth that the drink evil is a disease, and curable as other diseases are, has passed the first period of neglect, indifference, and denial, and has come to the second stage of partial recognition and acceptance. The same army of the credulous, the enthusiasts, and marvel-hunters are welcoming this fact, and the same wild expectations of its practical possibilities fill the air. This is followed by the same old charlatanism and empiric efforts to make personal profit out of these truths by the use of the same old quackish means and methods.

These efforts are prominent by the same assumption of superior knowledge of discovery of new facts, of new remedies, and new methods, all of which are concealed. Then follow claims of extraordinary cures under extraordinary conditions, the proof of which, depends alone on the statements of the cured.

Then comes the old story of persecution by physicians and scientists, and of posing as martyrs, public benefactors, and pioneer discoverers, with indirect appeals for sympathy from the broad and liberal minded. Back of all this is a pecuniary field actively tilled which yields rich harvests, and altogether it is the same old familiar history of empiricism, which is always to be found on the advancing frontiers of science. Within two years a large number of charlatans have appeared, claiming to have found remedies and specifics for the certain and permanent cure of the drink disease. A great variety of means and drugs are offered, each one claiming to be superior to all others. Recently one of these empiric specific cures has led all the others in boldness and prominence. Starting from an obscure Western village, it has spread out into many branches, all organized and conducted on one general plan, and federated together. Physicians have been enlisted to conduct each branch, companies have been organized, houses hired, and elaborated arrangements made for the work. Special papers have been established to defend its interests, and the pulpit and press have indorsed and freely praised these efforts. Every possible avenue to attract public attention has been industriously cultivated to keep the subject before the people.

Large numbers of persons who claim to be cured have organized into clubs, and display hysterical enthusiasm to prove the reality of their cure and the greatness of the projector.

It is assumed that the inventor of this specific was the first to urge the theory of disease in modern times; also that he has made a great discovery of a new remedy the nature of which he carefully conceals from the rest of the world. The most wonderful and complete cures of the most incurable cases are accomplished in two or three weeks on some unknown physiological principle. These assertions are sustained by certificates of clergymen, reformed men, and others, and are accepted as facts without question or other evidence. Dogmatic statements and bold assertions, coupled with savage criticism of those who dare to doubt, together with half-truths and wild theories, mark all the literature of this specific. The commercial side of this remedy is equally startling and Napoleonic as a business success. It is a curious fact that this particular cure is very closely followed in all its details and claims by a number of imitators, who have made equally wonderful discoveries in precisely the same way, but all are concealed for the same pretended reasons. It is equally curious to note the absence of novelty and originality of methods compared with the means and efforts used to make popular and create a sale for most of the proprietary articles on the market to-day. All these specifics for the cure of inebriety are without any practical interest except as phases of the psychology of the drink disease. It is very evident that they could not attract attention on their merits, and the means and appliances used to bring them into notice. Their existence depends on a psychological subsoil, which would favor the growth and culture of any remedy involved in mystery, and promising marvelous cures in a brief time. This subsoil is simply the expectant credulity of a large number of persons, who recognize the possibility of disease in inebriety. Without this all specifics, no matter how wisely and shrewdly presented, would fail. The conditions are all ripe for such empiricism, and its growth, life, and death are governed by causes unknown to and beyond the control of its boastful authors.

Every temperance revival movement depends on some psychological subsoil of expectant credulity, and is followed by the same dogmatic empiricism and the same wonderful cures, and hysterical confidence of permanent results. Certificates of cure, and enthusiastic praise of means and methods of far greater magnitude than that which follows any specifics, could be gathered and noted after every temperance revival.

The specific cures of inebriety to-day have appeared many times before in the history of the past. Often the empiricism associated with it has been entirely moral and ethical, and at other times it has been pecuniary and selfish. The old Washingtonian movement was a good illustration of a great specific cure, bound up with a great tide of moral empiricism, which for years created intense interest.

The presidential campaign of 1840 was notorious for the excessive use of hard cider, whisky, and rum. Every political meeting was marked by the free use of these spirits, and as the excitement of the struggle increased, temperance men drank, moderate drinkers became drunk and delirious, and never before or since has the excitement of politics been so intimately associated with inebriety in all its forms.

At the close of the campaign it was estimated that over half a million voters were practically inebriates, or had been repeatedly intoxicated during the excitement and excesses of the campaign.

Newspapers and court records showed clearly that a high tidal wave of drunkenness and moderate drinking existed at that period. Then followed the inevitable reaction, and at this moment the Washingtonians appeared. A few months before, a small drinking club in Baltimore changed to a temperance society, and called themselves Washingtonians. Its members were reformed men, and its leader, John Hawkins, was an enthusiastic, passionate orator, who urged the pledge as a remedy for drunkenness with intense earnestness. The excitement of the political campaign and its drink excesses had prepared the public mind for this great emotional remedy—the pledge. John Hawkins's infectious earnestness animated his followers, and roused up an army of lecturers which scattered to every town and hamlet all over the country. The campaign excitement of 1840 appeared again in a great temperance reform wave, which steadily grew in numbers and enthusiasm up to 1847, when a high tidal point was reached and reaction began. Over a million persons signed the pledge, and the evils of drinking and alcohol were discussed in almost every neighborhood in the country. Never before had any reform movement been prosecuted with such terrible earnestness and contagious enthusiasm. All selfish motives and personal interests seemed to disappear in the one great purpose to pledge the victim and inspire him to avoid spirits and lead a temperate life. The spirit of the old crusaders seemed to have reappeared again. This was literally a psychological storm-wave, the reaction in part of the campaign of 1840, and the outgrowth of obscure psychological conditions, which had been prepared for a long time before. It crossed the continent and was felt everywhere, and a few years later was only known in the history of the past. While a number of inebriates were restored, its real work and value were in a different direction, not yet fully realized. It seemed to be a great force that fused and mobilized a tide of oncoming truth, and was literally a forerunner, indicating new and clearer conceptions of inebriety. It not only broke up old theories, but opened up new ranges of work, and gave glimpses of more effectual methods for cure.

The first inebriate asylum in the world grew out of this movement, and all the various temperance organizations date from the same source. Even the Prohibition party is the outgrowth of this reform-wave.

It was the first great psychological evolution of the drink question, giving an impetus and inspiration to its study, above all moral and political considerations. It was also a great empirical epidemic which assumed that the drink evil was the result of a feeble will, the remedy for which was the pledge, supported by personal sympathy in organized societies. It was a moral and ethical empiricism, based on the purest and highest motives; had it been founded on truth, would have lived as a great power in the upward movement of the race. In this connection it will be of interest to trace another great wave of empiricism, that created intense interest for a time. Unlike the Washingtonians, it was thoroughly mercenary, and, like the present specifics for inebriety, it was born in mystery and sustained by credulity and dogmatism.

The experiments of Galvani in 1785 attracted great attention. The most extravagant expectation of the practical value of galvanism in curing disease gradually spread among non-experts all over the scientific world. Various empirics appeared claiming remarkable results based on this new force. Finally, in 1796, Dr. Perkins, of Connecticut, announced that he had discovered two metals which, combined in a secret way, possessed marvelous powers of galvanism, which he called tractors, or pullers-out of disease. These tractors resembled a piece of gold and silver fitted together, about four inches long, and were used, by being moved up and down over the part affected, to draw out the disease and restore the vital forces. Almost every disorder known was cured or relieved by this means. The discoverer challenged the world of science everywhere, and invited criticism, and pointed to the persons cured for irrefutable evidence. The psychological soil was prepared, and the army of credulous enthusiasts were all ready to welcome him. In two years these tractors attained great popularity in this country. They were literally recommended and indorsed by the faculties of three medical colleges, and vast numbers of clergymen, members of Congress, and public officials. A special patent was issued, and signed by George Washington, as a slight recognition of the great service the inventor had rendered the world. Pamphlets, sermons, lectures, papers, and even books were written and scattered everywhere, giving the theories and results following the use of these tractors. In 1798 Perkins went to London. His boldness and dogmatism immediately commanded popularity. After a time a hospital was established, called the Perkinson Institute, officered by the nobility, with Lord Revois as president. Large sums of money were given for the treatment of the poor by this method. Free dispensaries were opened, and trained assistants used these tractors for all cases, with boasted success. Lectures were given on the philosophy of this method, and students were instructed and sent out to open branch institutes. The rich purchased these tractors and became their own doctors, and the poor were obliged to accept treatment from others. With empiric shrewdness, certificates of cure were gathered, which exceeded ten thousand in number, and were signed by princes, ministers of state, bishops, clergymen, professors, physicians, and wealthy laymen. The inventor was recognized as a great public benefactor and pioneer, also one of the few immortals who would live down the ages. Perkinsism seemed to have won a place in the scientific history of the world. By and by this gilded cloud of popularity burst, and the charm was dissolved. Two physicians made tractors of wood and sold them as the original, producing the same results and the same crop of certificates of cure. After making a respectable sum of money, they published their experience, together with the thanks and public prayers for the great blessing conferred on the world by these means. Like the "South Sea bubble," Perkinsism dissolved and was no more. The branch institutes for treatment by the tractors closed for want of patients, and the tractors disappeared. Behind all this tremendous enthusiasm for the good of science and humanity appeared a commercial spirit that was startling.

These tractors were claimed to be gold and silver, and sold at from ten to twenty-five dollars each. In reality, they were made of brass and polished steel, at a cost of about twelve cents each, in an obscure Connecticut village, from which they were shipped to the inventor, who sent them all over the world. Of course, Perkins made a fortune, which compensated in a measure for his sudden fall from greatness.

While this was a great empirical epidemic, with a mercenary object, based on a few half -defined truths, it materially furthered the growth and evolution of this subject. Many of the wild theories which gathered about Perkinsism suggested clearer conceptions to later observers. Like the specific inebriety epidemic, it began as an assumed discovery of some new power, claimed from metals (not used), with some new physiological action by some new process, enveloped in mystery and only known to the discoverer. The tractors were patented, and only made by Perkins, and the certificates and statements of those cured furnished all the evidence. Literally, the effects were entirely mental, depending on the credulity and expectancy of those who claimed to be helped.

The present epidemic wave for the cure of inebriety is hardly up to the average of former empiric efforts in adroit manipulation of the credulous public.

The successful charlatan of modern times has always exhibited some psychological skill in the display of assumed truth and the concealment of his real motives. In these inebriety cures there is a coarseness of methods, with brazen assumptions and display of pecuniary motives, that quickly repel all except the unthinking. The circulars, statements, and appeals to the public are overdone, and sadly lacking in psychological skill. A certain crankiness, with strange combinations of rashness and caution, stupidity and cunning, strongly suggests that inebriate intellects are the guiding spirits in the management of these cures.

On the other hand, the very spirit and hurry of the movement suggest a full recognition of the brevity of the work and the need of active labor before the "night cometh when no man can work." In this the highest commercial and psychological skill appears. Dependence for popularity of the cure on the emotional enthusiasm of reformed inebriates also suggests a short life and early oblivion, of which every temperance and church movement for this end furnishes many illustrations.

There can be no doubt of the fact that a certain number of inebriates are restored by each and all these various methods of cure, and a certain other number, always in the great majority, are made worse and more incurable and degenerate by the failures of such means. But, above the mere curing of a certain number of cases, a great psychological movement is stimulated, and a wider conception of the evil follows of permanent value. The inebriety specifics are epidemics of empiricism that will pass away soon, but they will rouse public sentiment and bring out the facts more prominently as to the disease of inebriety and its curability. This second stage of this truth resembles the "squatter period" of every new Territory a stage of occupation by squatters, fortune-hunters, and irregulars of every description, who rouse great expectations, build canvas towns, making a show of permanent settlement, and attract crowds of credulous followers, only to prey on them. These persons always disappear when the real settlers come. They never develop any lands or discover any new resources, but prepare the way and concentrate public attention for the final occupation. The specific vaunter of to-day is the squatter settler, who will soon disappear, and be followed by the real settler and the scientists.

Inebriety, its causes and possible remedies, are a vast, unknown territory, the boundary lines of which have been scarcely crossed. The facts are so numerous and complex, and governed by conditions that are so largely unknown, that dogmatism is ignorance and positive assertions childishness.

The recognition of disease is only recently confirmed by the accumulation of scientific facts, although asserted and defended for a thousand years as a theory. The realm of causation is still invested with moral theories, and moral remedies have been used in the same way for a thousand years. While science has pointed out a few facts and possible laws of causation, and indicated certain general lines of treatment, it gives no support to the possibility of any specific remedy that will act on an unknown condition in some unknown way. Inebriety is literally an insanity of the border-line type, and a general condition of central brain defect, unknown, and at present beyond the power of any combination of drugs. To the scientists, all this confusion of theory and empiricism hides the real movement, and is in itself unmistakable evidence that somewhere in the future the entire subject will be known, not as a statement or theory, but as scientific truths established on scientific evidence beyond all doubt.

The specific epidemic delusions for the cure of inebriety will quickly disappear, as others have done before, and its real value to science and the world will appear from future psychological studies.