Abbildungen der Seite

made its deities an assembly of lustful revellers, one of whose supreme felicities consisted in eternal drinking !

The literature of the oriental world is as vinous in its temperament as that of antiquity. Sir William Jones might have been much better employed than he was, when translating into English poetry, the love and wine-songs of the Persians. The following stanzas from Carlyle's Specimens of Arabian Poetry, are only a specimen of the Anacreontic influence that pervades it.

Though the peevish tongues upbraid,

Though the brows of wisdom scowl,
Fair ones, here on roses laid,

Careless will we quaff the bowl.
Let the cup with nectar crowned,

Through the grove its beams display,
It can shed a lustre round,

Brighter than the torch of day.
Let it pass from hand to hand

Circling still with ceaseless flight,
Till the streaks of grey expand

O’er the fleeting robe of night.

That is, Let us drink all night ; and we will drink, in spite of all that the friends of temperance can say or do to the contrary. Give us liberty, or give us death! is the war song of the valiant band of topers. Liberty to indulge our vices ! Liberty to cater for them! is the cry of the rum-sellers and distillers. It is a land of freedom! You have no right to proscribe the honest employment, in the prosecution of which we gain our livelihood, according to the very words of the gracious statute of license, “in sober life and conversation."

The sensual and the dark rebel in vain !

Drunkard! Rum-seller! Distiller! The surges of regenerated public opinion will roll over you !

In the modern world the use of inebriating liquors, made so general and easy by the discovery of alcohol, and especially within three hundred years, has undoubtedly produced a powerful effect on the literature of the nations on the continent of Europe, of England, and even of this country. A great part of the literature of the age of Charles II. is steeped in sensuality, polluted, defiled, and comes to us as if reeking in the fumes of a universal nightly debauch. The court of that monarch was a drunken court; his favorites were

[ocr errors]

prowess of

drinking rhymesters. He was the applauded poet, who could make the most animated drinking song for the use of the tavern and the table of the cavaliers. The Charles's warriors was measured much according to the strength of resistance which each man's constitution presented against the inroads of habitual drunkenness, and the strength of the disposition to be perpetually drunk.

Who last beside his chair shall fall

He is the king among us three. The monarch's restoration to a throne, which he virtually abdicated, and certainly disgraced every day by his vices, was to be effected by the loyal and zealous intoxication and profaneness of his adherents. It was the language of true valor, and devoted patriotism,

We'll drink,

Till we bring.

In triumph back the king. Almost equally prevalent was this vice among those who ruled in the affairs of state. Burnet gives a melancholy account of the ceaseless and gross intemperance of many whose influence directed the public measures, especially in Scotland, at that stormy period. It is a wonder that amidst all these influences, so long exerted, and with the example of a court in which immorality was honorable, England should not have become a nation of incurable drunkards. As it is, the ruinous consequences of that tide of iniquity will not cease to be felt for ages. The scenes that grew out of the use of ardent spirit and its attendant vices, fill up the plays, poetry, and not a little of the prose and even painting of that period.

Yet then, in that universal degradation, there were some of the brightest names that adorn the world's history : and perhaps the good arose to a more exalted goodness, from an impulse inspired by very disgust at the amazing wickedness around them. Amidst the licentiousness of that age, John Milton, temperate as the first man, conceived and executed the Paradise Lost, for future generations but not for his own. Even in his earliest poems there reigns the purest spirit of temperance. Amidst such hosts of drinking songs sual poems as abounded, the highest colored image of the kind, which he has introduced in his description of L'Allegro, or the Merry Man, is the simple one of the "spicy nut brown

and sen

ale,” to which the happy inmates of the hamlet tell their fairy stories. One might suppose that in the exquisite poem of Comus, he meant to personify, under the character of that beastly god and his swilling crew, the spirit and the arguments of his own sensual age, and to confute them in the person of the chaste lady of the piece. “If all the world,”

. said Comus,

Should in a pet of temperance feed on pulse,
Drink the clear stream, and nothing wear but friese,
Th’ All-giver would be unthank'd, unpraised,
Not half his riches known.

Such is the very argument that some make use of in favor of alcohol.-It is, they say, one of the unnumbered gifts of a bountiful Creator, intended for the comfort and sustenance of man, and like every "good creature” of God, to be received with thankfulness. But hear the answer of the lady to the beastly god.

Impostor! do not charge most innocent nature,
As if she would her children should be riotous
With her abundance; she, good cateress,
Means her provision only to the good,
That live according to her sober laws,
And holy dictate of spare temperance..

-Swinish gluttony
Ne'er looks to heaven amidst his gorgeous feast,
But, with besotted base ingratitude,

Crams, and blasphemes his feeder. In Eden there was none of this horrid poison, but that “fresh fountain, that, with many a rill, watered the garden.”

The purity of Milton's life is well known ; and the high estimate he put upon one of his favorite virtues, abstinence in diet, may be learned from very many passages both in his prose and poetry. “My morning haunts are where they should be, at home; not sleeping, or concocting the surfeits of an irregular feast, but up and stirring, in winter often ere the sound of any bell awake men to labor or to devotion ; in summer as oft with the bird that first rouses, or not much tardier, to read good authors, or cause them to be read, till the attention be weary, or memory have its full fraught; then with useful and generous labors preserving the body's health and hardiness, to render lightsome, clear, and not lumpish obedience to the mind, to the cause of religion, and our country's liberty, when it shall require firm hearts in sound bodies.” His Paradise Lost this mighty poet discerned and spake of sublimely to the English people, long before it was composed, “as being a work not to be raised from the heat

, of youth, or the vapors of wine, like that which flows at waste from the pen of some vulgar amorist, or the trencher fury of a rhyming parasite, nor to be obtained by the invocation of Dame Memory and her syren daughters, but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit, who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases." He availed himself of all opportunities to praise and recommend that steadfast temperance which himself invariably practised. “I cannot better liken the state and person of a king,” says he, “than to that mighty Nazarite Samson, who, being disciplined from his birth in the precepts and practice of temperance and sobriety, without the strong drink of injurious and excessive desires, grows up to a noble strength and perfection, with those his illustrious and sunny locks and laws, waving and curling about his godlike shoulders.” To the same purpose are passages in the Samson Agonistes.

Sams. Wherever fountain or fresh current flowed
Against the eastern ray, translucent, pure,
With touch ethereal of heaven's fiery rod,
I drank, from the clear milky juice allaying
Thirst, and refreshed; nor envied them the grape,
Whose heads that turbulent liquor fills with fumes.
Chor. O madness, to think use of strongest wines
And strongest drinks our chief support of health,
When God, with these forbidden, made choice to rear
His mighty champion, strong above compare,
Whose drink was only from the liquid brook.

Samson Agonistes, 547. To clear English literature of the drinking influence that pervades it, would be an immense task. Sir Walter Scott is answerable to a heavy charge against him, on the score of the immoral influence of his works from this sole cause. There are scenes in his novels, which might make the mouth of a hermit water; drinking scenes in great number, where the approbation of the writer to the wassailing and merriment cannot be disguised, and cannot but be exceedingly injurious. To take one of the least reprehensible of his works, Ivanhoe; there is in that volume an admired drinking scene between Richard of England and the feasting friar in the hermitage in merry Sherwood forest, which few of his readers perhaps ever thought of condemning, but whose whole power, (and it

is very great,) goes directly to put “ spare temperance” to the blush, and contradict her “ holy dictate," and render all her suggestions ridiculous; it tends to make the idea of a drinking frolic a pleasant, and not an immoral thing. Some of these novels, that are exerting a wide and powerful influence over the world, are the very books, which, of all others, the wild dissipated youth every where would keep open on his table, to give a greater zest to his wine cups and his box of Spanish cigars. The charm of Scott's works, and their excellence in some respects, make this immoral influence most bitterly to be regretted, and sternly to be condemned. If it exists in his works, how much more does it in similar works of minds utterly inferior.

What libraries of novels and licentious rhymes have swarmed from the press, composed, most likely, under the inspiration of ardent spirit, and of an influence directly calculated to make the drunkard's appetite burn higher. It is happy that there are not many works concocted, like Byron's Don Juan, from the dregs of Holland gin; it is a curse to the world that there is one. Byron is only one among gifted minds, that, had they not been destroyed by intemperance, would now have been living to bless, at least not to corrupt and curse the world. In the biographies of such men, for instance, in the Life of Byron by his brother drinker, it makes one indignant to witness the levity with which this vice is treated, the excuses that are made for it, the veil and pleasant coloring with which its hideous features are disguised.

Burns was a victim of the use of ardent spirit; and multitudes there were of the high and the noble, who would drink with him, and hang upon the wit inspired by the destroying cup, who afterwards left him to perish. In the poetry of Burns, there is much that ardent spirit has rendered grossly immoral; nor has the immorality of his works, nor that of any other licentious genius in the English language, ever been reproved with any thing like the severity it deserves. On the contrary, it is always palliated. And because the biography of men who have perverted into the devil's aid the powers of mind bestowed upon them, has usually devolved upon beings of a kindred spirit, the curse of their depravity has been perpetuated, with scarcely a restraining influence, from generation to generation. What condemnation is too severe, applied to an apology like the following, for the immoralities of Burns, written by a Scottish lady and incorporated with similar criticism in the life of that

« ZurückWeiter »