Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Suggestions for checking the Hurtful Use of Alcoholic Beverages by the Working Classes

 Bit of a mouthful, that title. It's not of my invention, I might add. It came with the article I'm about to quote.

I cringe whenever I read one of these condescending pieces about the working classes. About the need to protect them from themselves. Like children. Educationally sub-normal children. I'm sure the motives of the posh blokes writing this guff were good, but they seem to have little understanding or empathy with those at the other end of the social scale. Probably because they rarely ever spoke to anyone working class, save to give them orders.

See what you make of Mr. Andrews proposals for stopping the plebs drinking themselves to death.

"Suggestions for checking the Hurtful Use of Alcoholic Beverages by the Working Classes. By Thomas Andrews, M.D., F.R.S.

It is not my object to discuss fully in this paper the question whether alcoholic beverages, taken in moderate quantity and properly diluted, are on the whole useful, or injurious, or simply innocuous. The high value of human life among the upper and middle classes of society in Great Britain, who are unquestionably large but not immoderate consumers of alcohol in one form or another, may perhaps be regarded as affording a strong presumption that such beverages taken within due limits are not very, if they are at all, injurious to health. It is difficult, indeed, to refuse assent to the opinion that a certain allowance of beer or cider or genuine wine cannot be otherwise than useful to the hard-worked man. But the ruinous consequences of the abuse of alcohol admit of no doubt. Among the working classes three causes especially aggravate this evil—insufficient food, impure air, and strong forms of alcohol. Even the skilled artizan of intemperate habits is rarely able, or, if able, inclined to purchase proper food ; and during a drinking carouse he usually takes no food whatever. In this way, intoxication and subsequently disease are produced by an amount of alcohol which would be comparatively harmless in the case of a well-fed man. The impure air of the confined apartments in which many trades are carried on acts, to some extent, like deficient nourishment, and by depressing the tone of the system renders it less capable of resisting the hurtful action of an excess of the alcoholic stimulant.

The third source of aggravation, or the use of undiluted alcoholic beverages, is even more important than the others to which I have referred. Alcohol, taken in the form of brandy, gin, or whisky, unmixed with water, all of which contain about 50 per cent, of pure spirit or absolute alcohol, is a great deal too strong. It produces, when habitually used of this strength, a morbid craving which cannot be resisted, a state of disease from which recovery is hopeless.

No one will be inclined to dispute that the public-house and gin palace, as they now exist, are an outrage to society and a disgrace to the country, and that the mischief they do to the working classes, as dens of intemperance, is incomparably greater than any advantage they afford as places of refreshment. With the view of abating this great evil, I propose, in the first place, to have them changed into places truly of refreshment, the only purpose for which they ought to be licensed. No house should, according to my view, be licensed as a public-house for the sale of alcoholic beverages, unless it be provided with ample appliances for cooking and serving food, and the licence should be withdrawn, if it be found that these appliances are not made use of, and that the public house is devoted solely to the sale of stimulants.

My second proposal rests on the assumption that no one should be allowed to sell, for consumption on his premises, anything which is positively ruinous to the population. Gin, brandy, or whisky, taken undiluted, are fatal to a town population, very hurtful to any population. They contain, as commonly sold, from 50 to 55 per cent, of pure alcohol, and few men take them for any length of time undiluted with water, without falling eventually into intemperate habits. Madeira, sherry, and port, as they occur in this country, contain from 17 to 20 per cent, of pure alcohol; burgundy from 12 to 12.5 ; claret, from 9.5 to 10.5; and bitter ale and porter, about 6.75 per cent. Claret is, therefore, one-half stronger than ale or porter; burgundy nearly twice as strong, and madeira, sherry, and port, about three times as strong. No alcoholic beverages ought to be used habitually of greater strength than burgundy ; but they may be taken without injury of the strength of sherry, if the quantity be very moderate.

My second proposal is, that no licensed publican should be allowed to sell, or keep in store, any liquor containing more than 17 per cent, of alcohol. I have taken the limit of 17 per cent, as being the strength of sherry, but 1 should hope to see the burgundy standard, or 12 per cent., eventually adopted. The police ought to have power to seize any spirit or wine of greater strength than 17 per cent, found in the public-house, or in any store-house connected with it.

It may be right for me here to state that it is to alcohol, and not to its adulterations, that nearly all the mischief arising from the use of stimulating beverages in these countries is due. Nor is it important whether the alcohol has been formed in the process of fermentation, or has been subsequently added.

The object of my last proposal is not to put any undue restriction on the enjoyment or gratification of the working classes, but to prevent others from placing before them a dangerous beverage—one unfit for human use. No one, it appears to me, would have any valid ground for complaint, because he was restricted in the public house to the use of a beverage of the strength of sherry, or even of burgundy. I have little doubt that the skilled artizan, as well as the poor labourer, would soon give a hearty assent to such a measure.
"Transactions of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science", 1868, pages 659 - 661.

Looking at it positively, at least he didn't recommend banning alcohol altogether and converting pubs into temperance tea rooms.

"No one will be inclined to dispute that the public-house and gin palace, as they now exist, are an outrage to society and a disgrace to the country" I'm sure there were plenty of people who would have argued that point. Amongst regular pub-goers. But I don't get the impression that Mr. Andrews spent much time in pubs. I suppose he was getting pissed on claret over an agreeable dinner.

I don't share his confidnce that the working man would welcome the banning of spirits from pubs.  It's another demonstartion of how out of touch he was with the labouring classes.

But there's something, not mentioned, that makes the whole article seem a little ridiculous. There already were pubs that sold nothing stronger than beer: beerhouses. In some areaes these made up as much as 50% of the pubs. Yet the author talks as if all pubs sold all strengths of drinks. And do you what the general opinion of beerhouses was? That they were dens of vice, full of criminals, prostitutes and drunks. But I guess that scuppers his argument. So no surprise he doesn't mention beerhouses.

No comments: