Drinking Habits

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter IV (15) | Start of Chapter

Let the reader's mind be a little relieved by a subject different, though as painful in a moral sense as famine is in a natural one. I allude to the fearful, sinful use of all kinds of intoxicating drinks in Ireland in the time of the famine. Much noise has been made the last nine or ten years respecting the great temperance reform in that country. But who have been reformed? Travel the length and breadth of the island, even in the midst of desolation and death, and in how many families when a piece of flesh meat can be afforded upon the dinner-table, would the tea-kettle for hot whisky be wanting at the close of dinner? The more costly wines, too, were on the tables of the nobility, and not always wanting among the gentry. The clergy of all denominations, in that country, are sad examples to the flock. Father Mathew is praised by some of these Bible ministers, because he kept the "lower order" from fighting at fairs; but the very fact that the vulgar were reclaimed, was a stigma upon temperance in their enlightened opinions. Four years and four months' residence in Ireland, changing from place to place, and meeting with many ministers of all denominations, not a solitary case do I recollect of finding a minister of the Established, Presbyterian, or Methodist church, who did not plead for the moderate use of this fatal poison. I met with one Baptist minister, one Unitarian, and a few priests, who abstained entirely.

The famine, if possible, urged many of the lovers of the "good creature," to greater diligence in the practice to "keep themselves up," as they said, in these dreadful times. They preached sermons on charity—they urged the people to greater-self-denial—they talked of the great sin of improvidence, of which Ireland is emphatically guilty; but few, very few, it is to be feared, touched one of these burdens so much as with one of their fingers. There were noble cases of hard labor, and even curtailing of expenses, by some of the clergy; even labor was protracted till it ended in death by some, but these were isolated cases indeed:

An able writer, who wrote the pamphlet on Irish Improvidence, placed the subject in the most fearful light, when he said, "Next to the absurdity of Cork and Limerick exporting cargoes of Irish grain for sale, and at the same time receiving cargoes of American grain to be given away at the cost of the English people, may be ranked the folly—if it may not properly be called by some worse name—of seeing hundreds dying for want of food, at the same time permitting the conversion of as much grain as would feed the whole of those dying of starvation, and many more, into a fiery liquid, which it is well known, even to the distillers themselves, never saved a single life or improved a single character, never prevented a single crime, or elevated the character of a single family by its use."

Reader, ponder this well.—Enough grain, converted into a poison for body and soul, as would have fed all that starving multitude; while the clergy were preaching, committees were in conclave, to stimulate to charity, and devise the most effectual methods to draw upon the purses of people abroad.

And what shall be said of the pitiful landlords, who were still drinking their wine, pouring their doleful complaints into government's ears, that no rents were paid; and many saying, as one of these wine-bibbers did, that his lazy tenants would not work for pay, for he had offered that morning, some men work who were hungry, and would pay them at night, and they walked away without accepting it. "How much pay did you offer?" he was asked. "A pound of Indian meal," (Indian meal was then a penny a pound.) "Would you, sir, work for that, and wait till night for the meal, when you were then suffering?" Much better try to procure it before night in some easier way.

But these afflicted landlords, the same writer remarks, when exporting to the continent vast quantities of grain, which their poor starving tenants had labored to procure, and were not allowed to eat a morsel of this food; but buy it from others or starve. Neither can it be doubted, nor should it be concealed, that not a few of these landlords, while their grain was selling at a good price abroad, shared the benefit of many an Indian meal donation, for horses, hogs, fowls, and servants. The guilty are left to make the application, none others are implicated.

I would not say that every man who takes a glass of spirits, as he says, moderately, is guilty of downright dishonesty, or not to be trusted with the property of others; but it may properly be said, that such are in the path to the hotbed where every evil work is cultivated; and, therefore, more to be scrupled than those who from conscience would "cut off a right arm or pluck out a right eye," rather than give offense.

Had all the professed Christians in Ireland entirely excluded alchololic drinks from their tables and houses, thousands might now be living who have been starved.