IN the present state of society, it is, perhaps, less necessary than it would have been formerly, that I should give you ally caution or advice on the subject of temperance. Five-and-thirty years ago, it was customary to drink a good deal of wine after dinner, and young men at Oxford were not behind-hand with the rest of the world in complying with this bad custom.
It was then generally the system, to initiate a freshman by making him completely drunk. Scripture is by no means sufficiently listened to now, but perhaps its warnings were less known and less regarded then. The master of the revels and his abettors were ignorant, or unmindful, of the threatening denounced by the voice of Inspiration, Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also : and againWoe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink. Regardless of these denunciations, and trusting to the strength of their own heads, and the practised discipline of their own stomachs, their noble ambition was to make drunk as many of their guests as possible, especially any luckless freshman who chanced to be of the party. Those who, whether from religious principle or from manliness of character, did not choose to submit to be made drunk, were obliged either to encounter these kind endeavours with sturdy resistance, resistance which sometimes occasioned a total cessation of intercourse and acquaintance, or to evade them by stratagem. Glass after glass was dexterously emptied upon the carpet under the table, or the purple stream sought concealment under heaps of walnut-shells and orange-peel. In short, at a tolerably large wine-party there was wasted, or worse than wasted, a quantity of Port wine sufficient to check the ravages of a typhus fever in an entire village.
These days of Celtic barbarism are, I hope, utterly passed away. As in general society very little wine is consumed, (excepting at dinner,) so Oxford has caught the spirit of the times, and the bacchanalian revels to which I have alluded are, I believe, much less common than they were formerly, if not entirely exploded.
I am afraid, however, that even now more wine is drunk in some colleges, than is consistent either with Christian temperance, or with habits of study, or with the preservation of health.
I need not point out to you, my dear nephew, the evils which, in a religious point of view, result from drinking to excess. You, I well know, would shudder at the idea of wilfully depriving yourself of reason, and of sinking yourself to the situation of a beast or of a maniac. A man, who has thrown away his reason, has little right to hope for the continuance of the assisting and preventing grace of God. And destitute of the controlling guidance, both of reason and of Divine Grace, what is there left to prevent his ungoverned passions from carrying him into the most perilous excesses ? There are deadly vices, to which young men are, at all times, but too powerfully solicited by their natural appetites; and when those appetites are stimulated by drinking, and all salutary control shaken off, the danger is great indeed. You perhaps may remember an Eastern apologue to the following effect, (I know not where to find it) :
The Devil having, by the impulse of terror, induced a holy man to consent to commit some crime, allowed him to choose, whether he would get drunk, or be guilty of either of two of the most horrible enormities he could conceive. The poor victim chose drunkenness, as being the least offence, but in the state to which he had thus brought himself, was guilty of all three.
And even if you are kept back from any additional guilt, yet you well know, that by throwing away your reason, you become capable of being guilty of all sorts of absurdities, that you are liable to say and do a hundred foolish things, of which, when you return to your senses, you will be heartily ashamed, that you expose yourself to the ridicule and contempt of those, who witness the degraded state to which you have reduced yourself.
A drunken Christian is almost a The inconsistency of any excess in drinking, with the main purpose for which you were sent to Oxford, is palpable. You go to Oxford professedly for study. Independently of the time actually occupied by a wine-party, any excess will, probably, indispose you for study the morning after; Corpus onustum Hesternis vitiis animum quoque praeegravat una, Atque affigit humo divinae particulam aurae.
You will rise from your bed heavy and languid, probably with some disposition to headache ; and will be far more inclined to lounge in an easy-chair, or to saunter about in listless idleness, than to sit down to active mental exertion.
I must add, that the habit of drinking much wine during your continuance at Oxford, is not unlikely materially to injure your health in the succeeding periods of your life. Such habit has a tendency permanently to derange and weaken the digestive powers, and to injure and harden the internal coats and the orifices of the stomach. I am persuaded, that much of the tendency to apoplectic and paralytic affections ; much of the general indisposition, which we often witness in men advanced beyond the middle period of the usual term of human life,men who have of late perhaps, lived temperatelyis to be attributed to the wine which they drank when young.
But I will not dwell longer on the evils of excessive drinking. You know the admonitions of Scripture,Take heed lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness. Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess. You know that drunkards cannot inherit the kingdom of God ; you know that drunkenness is spoken of by St. Paul as being the vice of those, who remain sunk in the thick darkness of ignorance and heathenism, and as utterly unbefitting those who are blessed with the light of the Gospel. Indeed, it is unworthy of any man possessed only of common sense.
Guard, then, my dear nephew, against this degrading habit with determined resolution. Let neither the example, nor the solicitations, nor the taunting jests of your companions, induce you to demean yourself so far, as to be guilty of a vice so utterly unworthy of you, both as a man and as a Christian. If they, for their amusement, were to request you to cut off your right hand, you would not feel bound to comply with them.
Do not, for their gratification, expose yourself in the condition of a fool, or an idiot. Do not, in order to please a party of thoughtless revellers, incur the displeasure of Almighty God, and run the hazard of eternal ruin.
And take care, that you do not yourself acquire a taste for any such sensual indulgences. ” The appetite for intoxicating liquors,” says Paley, appears to be almost always acquired.” Guard against the first beginnings of intemperance. Principiis obsta. If you are not on your guard, you will be in danger of being carried on, step by step, until retreat becomes out of the question.
You would avoid many trials of your firmness, and be relieved probably from much irksome importunity, if you could make up your mind to renounce wine altogether. This you would do with the less difficulty, if backed by the sanction of medical advice. I apprehend that most medical men, if desired to give their candid opinion, would recommend abstinence from wine as conducive to a going man’s health both of body and mind. I knew water-drinkers at Oxford, who yielded to none of their companions in liveliness and all social qualities, either in their own room or at the wine-party of a friend. Many young men in the army, I believe, adopt this system, from motives both of moral and of economical prudence.
A pint, or even half a pint, of wine per day, makes a considerable hole in the pay of a subaltern, or in the stipend of a country curate, or in the allowance of a briefless barrister.
Avoid acquiring factitious wants. Do not by habit make wine necessary to your comfort. It is wise, when young, not to indulge in luxuries which in any future period of your life you probably will not be able to afford, consistently with the claims which will then be pressing upon you. I throw out this idea, however, for your own consideration, without urging it as matter of positive advice. I think, however, that your intellect will be clearer, and your mind often more cheerful, if you comply with the suggestion.
Shall I add a word or two upon temperance in eating? I hope that there are few young men who are apt to be guilty of the porcine vice of eating to excess ; in plain Englishof gluttony.
Perhaps, however, the temptations of a well-appointed dinner, prepared by an exquisite artiste, may induce them occasionally to transgress. It is, perhaps, hardly fair to quote from any thing so well known as Addison’s paper on Temperance, in the Spectator, but it is much to my purpose. ” It is said of Diogenes, that meeting a young man who was going to a feast, he took him up in the street, and carried him home to his friends, as one who was running into imminent danger, had not he prevented him. What would that philosopher have said, had he been present at the luxury of a modern meal ? Would he not have thought the master of a family mad, and have begged his servants to tie down his hands, had he seen him devour fowl, fish, and flesh ; swallow oil and vinegar, wines and spices ; throw down salads of twenty different sorts, sauces of a hundred ingredients, confections and fruits of numberless sweets and flavours ? What unnatural motions and counter-ferments must such a medley of intemperance produce in the body ? For my part, when I behold a fashionable table, set out in all its magnificence, I fancy that I see gouts and dropsies, fevers and lethargies, with innumerable distempers, lying in ambuscade among the dishes.”
Nature delights in the most plain and simple diet.” He then gives some rules for temperance, which are well worth attending to. This passage of Addison is much in the spirit of that of Horace :
” Variae res Ut noceant homini, credas, memor illius escae Quae simplex olim tibi sederit. At simulassis Miscueris elixa, simul conchylia turdis ; Dulcia se in bilem vertent, stomachoque tumultum Lenta feret pituita.”
Most of the modern writers on dietetics, as well as those who have preceded them, recommend a very considerable abridgment of the quantity of food, usually consumed at the table of the affluent.
And while I strongly advise you to be rather abstemious as to quantity of food, so I wish you not to be in the slightest degree fastidious as to its quality, provided it is wholesome, and free from qualities absolutely revolting. You may naturally like one thing better than another, and partake of what you prefer, when it comes in your way ; but it is painful to see a young man of any intellect indulging in the niceties of an epicure, and really appearing to care much about what he eats, and what he drinks. When I commenced the life of a country clergyman, I was often received, with almost parental kindness, in a house, in which good taste of all kinds, moral, intellectual, social, and culinary, presided in an eminent degree. Every now and then, some particular dish made its appearance, under the impression that I was particularly fond of it. Probably I had eaten of it some days before, because it chanced to be near me, or from some similar accident. I was grateful for the kindness and attention, but felt mortified, almost degraded, at its being supposed that I cared about one thing more than another, where all were good and wholesome.
Do not get into the habit of spending your money in ices, and other delicacies, at the pastry-cook’s and confectioner’s. You say that you are hungry ;–
Latrantem stomachum bene leniet.”
If your hunger would disdain a piece of dry bread, it certainly has no claim to be attended to at all. You say that you can afford to indulge yourself in the delicacies to which I have alluded. I do not think that you can ; at all events, your money may be more worthily spent
” Non est melius quo insumere possis? Cur eget indignus quisquam, te divite ? Quare
Templa ruunt antiqua Deûm ?”
In other words, if you have the money to spare, give it to the deserving poor, or to the Church-building Society. Few expenses are more unsatisfactory in retrospect,I had almost said, more disgraceful, than those which have been incurred by sensual self-indulgence ; incurred to gratify a vitiated palate and a pampered appetite.
Self-denial is recommended by the classical writers of antiquity, as well as by the most sensible of modern authors ; and, what is of infinitely more importance, is strongly inculcated by the Christian religion. But how shall self-denial be practised at all, if it cannot be practised in the low matter of eating and drinking ?
Read again and again the paper of Addison, and the Satire of Horace, (the second of the second Book), from which I have made my quotations.
Read also the following passages from that accurate observer of the habits and manners of social life, the son of Sirach :
If thou sit at a bountful table, be not greedy upon it, and say not, There is much meat on it.Eat, as it becometh a man, those things that are set before thee ; and devour not, lest thou be hated. Leave off first for manners’ sake ; and be not insatiable, lest thou offend.
A very little is sufficient for a man well nurtured, and he fetcheth not his wind short upon his bed.
Sound sleep cometh of moderate eating ; he riseth early, and his wits are with hint : but the pain of watching, and choler, and pangs of the belly, are with an insatiable man.
My dear Nephew,
Your affectionate Uncle.