Livesey autobiography — chapter 15

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During our early years there was no topic I dwelt upon so much as what I denominated the “Great Delusion!” A delusion it was, and after 50 years labour, it has still a great hold upon the minds of the nation; in Lancashire no kind of intoxicating liquor is consumed so much as beer, and it is universally drunk in London and the suburbs. In my lecture I made it as plain as possible that the prevailing idea about this beverage was a desperate delusion, but the love of this coloured water, turned into beer or ale, has been, to a great extent, proof against all my arguments. However, I have the consolation of knowing that my lecture against Malt Liquor, delivered in almost every part of England, was well received, and since printed in various editions, has had a circulation unequalled by any other publication connected with the cause of temperance. It is constantly referred to, and has formed the basis of many lectures delivered by our agents. This lecture was first issued in the form of tracts, but soon took the form of a pamphlet of 32 pages, and as the privilege of printing was always open, editions were issued from various towns. The neatest edition that I have met with was the one issued by our late friend R. Dykes Alexander, of Ipswich, and now sold by the National Temperance League, 337, Strand, Loudon, and at the office of the British Temperance League, 50, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, price Id. Later on I remodelled it, and it is sold as the “New Malt Liquor Lecture.” I send this out at 5s. per 100, or 250 for 10s., carriage free. It should be read by every teetotaler, and the delusion there exhibited is so universally plain that it ought to be enforced by all our speakers. This is quite necessary, for a large number of half and half teetotalers are quite ready to denounce alcohol in its distilled shape, but are ready to allow this poison as it leaves the brewery. This part of the teetotal question cannot be made too plain. Besides the lecture, I have published the arguments it contains in the shape of tracts and bills, two of which I subjoin; the latter is the latest I have issued, and is at the present largely circulated:—

The Malt Liquor Delusion.—Some are so simple as to think that ale is the very ” juice of the malt,” and that it is nourishing on account of the malt it contains, whereas, it is the object of the brewers to retain as little of the malt as possible, but as much alcohol as they can secure. A good part of the malt remains in the “grains,” and the other part, like meal or flour, sinks to the bottom of the barrels; so that if you want the greatest amount of nutriment in your ale, you must purchase barrel bottoms! The essence of ale-making consists, first, in creating and developing the saccharine principle in barley by the process of malting; secondly, in washing out this sugary substance by mashing; thirdly, in changing this sweet liquor into spirit or alcohol by fermentation; and fourthly, in allowing the remaining nutritive parts of the barley to settle down to the bottom of the barley in fining. These are the essential processes of ale-making, and the colouring from the charcoal of the malt, and flavouring by the hops, and the securing of carbonic acid gas, by bunging up the barrels, are all secondary matters, the chief thing being to produce not a feeding, but an alcoholic liquor, which will stimulate the nervous system. Ale, indeed, is simply the juice of the pump, coloured, flavoured, and fired; in fact, a pint of ale is a pint of water, with about a meat-spoonful of alcohol, a pinch of hop, and a few particles of the worst parts of the barleys. The whole process of malting, mashing, fermenting, and fining, is not to make the ale feeding, but as intoxicating as possible.

It is a most difficult task to combat national beliefs. To many there is a charm in the very sound of “malt liquor;” and hence, while our legislators and our great men are loud in their denunciations of beerhouses, they are careful not to say a word against beer. Yet it is the beer, and the beer only, that makes these houses so obnoxious. Change these houses into milk shops, or coffee shops, and all the evils of which they are accused would vanish at once. I have a tract entitled, “The testimony of forty-four chaplains of gaols against beerhouses,” in which, though every bad thing is said against the houses, not one word occurs against the beer itself. Even Lord Shaftesbury, who often appears at religious meetings, and as a friend of the temperance cause too, was recently noticed to treat his labourers with “good old ale!” These gentlemen are all hampered with the prejudice that ale of itself is good; it was Lord Brougham’s error, it was Joseph Hume’s error, and when puzzled with the fearful consequences which result from this favourite beverage, they have recourse to the assumption that it is adulterated! The fact is, that gentlemen’s ale, which is certainly not adulterated, sometimes twenty-one years of age, is capable of doing more mischief, and is often known to do more, than any other, because it is made to contain the greatest amount of alcohol. On this point our legislators are as ignorant as others, and hence they are everlastingly trying to grapple with the effects of the drink, without attacking the drink itself. All the clamour and fruitless legislation about beershops arise from ignorance of the nature of the liquor. With a world of evil before them, they cannot believe that it is in the very nature of the drink to produce it. Only cast out the demon Alcohol, and no other measure would be required.

Instead of perceiving that the dreadful evils of the public-house system are concentrated in the drink, our legislators are constantly making a fuss about the size and rating of the houses, the character of the landlord, the hours of doing business, the company allowed, the games and amusements introduced, the adulteration of the liquors, the want of police inspection—all these, and many other matters, are made the subjects of legislation, and fresh regulations and restraints are imposed accordingly. Everything, in fact, but the right thing, seems to have been discovered. Starting with the belief that the drinks themselves are good, it appears never to have occurred to them that there is a stimulating, narcotic poison in all licensed drinks—alcohol—which is the sole cause of all the evils complained of, and that any collateral evils are mere trickling streams proceeding from this polluted fountain. One single legislative measure—and that is to decree that no liquors containing alcohol shall be sold— would set all right, and upon this, every other restraint might be abandoned, and the trade of licensed victuallers be made perfectly free to all, accessible to every man that chooses to enter it.

The Beer Delusion.—What is Beer? Beer is the name given to all kinds of malt liquor, including ale, porter, and stout. It is, in fact, nothing but coloured, flavoured, and fired water. A pint of beer is a pint of water with a pinch of hops, a spoonful of alcohol (coarse whisky), and a few particles of the worst parts of the malted barley. Talk about this beer being the “juice of the malt;” the fact is, it is the juice of the pump: and the proper name for beer would be adulterated water. It is all water to begin with, but by the process of brewing it gets coloured, flavoured, and whiskied, and then it is puffed off as our “National beverage,” as the working-man’s drink. I have carefully gone over all the processes connected with beer making, consisting of malting, mashing, fermenting, and fining, and I am prepared to prove that it is still only water—spoiled water—though coloured, bittered, and whiskified. In its natural state water is one of Heaven’s best gifts; it quenches thirst, dilutes our food, supplies the secretions of the body, and like all God’s best gifts is plentiful and cheap. There is nothing so good as “honest water” for quenching thirst; in fact, in whatever shape you take it, whether as tea, ginger beer, lemonade, or in fruit, it is the water these contain that quenches thirst. Look at that beautiful sparkling glass of water as it stands beside your plate; it costs you nothing, it will do you good and no harm; it will assist digestion; it will not excite and then depress; you will drink no more of this fluid than is proper. And will you then, instead of drinking the clear, nice, transparent element, in its natural state, insist upon it being coloured with malt charcoal, bittered with hop, and fired with whiskey; and instead of having it for nothing, consent to purchase it at 4d., 5d., or 6d. per quart? Could folly go further than this?

Beer not only intoxicates, but often makes people unwell, and then they are apt to say, “Oh, there was something in it,” or to charge it with being “doctored” or adulterated; they think that beer made only from malt and hops must be good and will not intoxicate nor injure those who drink it. They are profoundly ignorant that the purest beer is whiskey and hop water, coloured and flavoured; and until they are disabused of their unfounded notions, they will continue to go on reiterating these silly tales about adulterations. The people’s belief that beer imparts strength, that it is feeding or nutritious, is a great delusion. It contains nothing that can give strength; it stimulates just in proportion to the whiskey it contains; but it gives no real power to the body. I have no hesitation in saying that there is more food in a pennyworth of bread than in a gallon of beer. It is the solids (digested) and not the liquids that gives strength to both men and animals. Millions of individuals work without beer. The testimony of masons, bricksetters, labourers, furnacemen, moulders, glassblowers, sawyers, porters, plasterers, haymakers, shearers—in fact, all trades, and of persons both on sea or land, even those who have been exposed in the most northern latitudes, to the hardest work and the severest cold—these all work, and do their work better without beer. Malt liquor cannot give what it does not contain. You might as well ask the clouds to create sunshine, or the sun to freeze the ponds, as to hope for true muscular strength from beer drinking.

But even if beer were worth drinking, and contained the nourishment attributed to it, yet when you consider what evils it leads to, you will see strong reasons why you should never touch it. If it were as nutritious as bread, beef, or milk, yet so long as it contains the intoxicating principle, and brings so many to ruin, every good man should abstain from it. Beer is a deceitful drink. When men invite each other to go into a public-house, they never say, “Come, let us go in and have a fuddle,” but always “Come, let us go in and have a glass,” but the one glass taken, they want another, and often stop till they are unfit for work. In the whole list of intoxicants, I regard beer as the worst. First, because public opinion runs so strongly in its favour in preference to what are called “spirituous liquors.” Next, because it is usually looked upon as “food,” and hence it is not reserved for special occasions, but is on the table of many families daily. And thirdly, because, while wine is taken in small glasses, and ardent spirits by “bottoms,” “squibs,” and “nips,” beer is drunk in the largest quantities, seldom less than tumblers.

If any impartial person will examine this beer as I have done, or if he will carefully consider what it leads to, he can come to no rational conclusion but that it is wise to abstain from it altogether. Beer making and beer drinking causes an immense loss of good barley, suitable as food for man and beast; it is the beginning of a great part of the intoxication of this country and the dreadful effects which follow. Taking the “one glass” of beer has led to the ruin of thousands, both males and females. If you will enquire of all the hard drinkers, men or women, how they commenced, you will find that in most cases it was with a glass of beer, or a glass of ale, or a glass of porter, and generally at the family table. It is pitiful to see women with their jugs, even on Sundays at dinner time, fetching beer. If you want to make your children drunkards, there is no likelier method than giving them beer to their meals.

It would seem, then, no great hardship to “rob the poor man of his beer?” It would be the greatest blessing that ever came to him. More than fifty millions of money are annually spent in beer, and as much grain destroyed in making it as would be bread for six millions of people. Six weeks’ labour out of 52, at least, is lost to the country; and poverty, misery, violence, vice, and crime are multiplied—all from beer drinking.—J. Livesey.

I may show how it happened that I should be so fortunate as to discover, at a time when darkness upon the subject was misleading the nation at large, the prevailing error as to Malt Liquors. It was from Franklin (of America) I got the first hint as to the trifling amount of nutrition contained in malt liquor; and from enquiries as to the amount of barley generally used in making a given quantity of beer, and an examination of the abstraction of nutritious matter in the processes of malting, mashing, fermenting, and fining, I found that though Franklin was correct in principle, the loss was far more than he made it. He stated that there was a “larger portion of flour in a penny loaf” than ” a pint of beer;” while the fact is, that there is more nutritious “flour” in a penny loaf than in a gallon of beer. This was truly a discovery at the commencement of our reformation; it formed the leading idea in my “Malt Liquor Lecture,” which has had a world wide circulation. I cheerfully acknowledge my obligations to Dr. Franklin, and in the following quotation from his works, will be seen the passage which I seized upon with delight, and also how useful he made himself among the printers, his workfellows. What a blessing it would be if there was a young Franklin in every printing office.

On my entrance upon work at the printing house of Watts, near Lincoln’s Inn Fields, I worked at first as a pressman, conceiving that I had need of bodily exercise, to which I had been accustomed in America, where the printers work alternately as compositors and at the press. I drank nothing but water; the other workmen, to the number of about fifty, were great drinkers of beer. I carried occasionally a large forme of letters in each hand, up and down stairs, while the rest employed both hands to carry one. They were surprised to see by this and many other examples, that the American aquatic, as they used to call me, was stronger than those who drank porter. The beer-boy had sufficient employment during the whole day in serving that house alone. My fellow pressman drank every day a pint of beer before breakfast, a pint with bread and cheese for breakfast, one between breakfast and dinner, one again about six o’clock in the afternoon, and another after he had finished his work. This custom appeared to me to be abominable; but he had need, he said, of all this beer in order to acquire strength to work. I endeavoured to convince him that the bodily strength furnished by the beer could only be in proportion to the solid part of the barley dissolved in the water, of which the beer was composed: that there was a larger portion of flour in a penny loaf, and that consequently if he ate this loaf, and drank a pint of water with it, he would derive more strength from it than from a pint of beer. This reasoning, however, did not prevent him drinking his accustomed quantity of beer, and paying every Saturday night, a score of more than four or five shillings a week for this cursed beverage, an expense from which I was solely exempt. Thus do these poor devils continue all their lives in a state of voluntary wretchedness and poverty. After this, I lived in the utmost harmony with my fellow workmen, and soon acquired considerable influence among them. I proposed some alterations in the laws of the Chapel* which I carried without opposition. My example prevailed with several of them to renounce their abominable practice of bread and cheese and beer, and they procured, like me, from a neighbouring house, a good basin of warm gruel, in which was a small slice of butter, with toasted bread and nutmeg. This was a much better breakfast, which did not cost more than a pint of beer, namely, three halfpence, and at the same time preserved the head clearer. Those who continued to gorge themselves with beer, often lost their credit with the publican, from neglecting to pay their score. They had recourse to me to become security for them, their light, as they used to call it, being out. I attended at the pay table every Saturday evening, to take up the little sum which I had made myself answerable for, and which sometimes amounted to nearly thirty shillings a week.

* Printing offices were then thus denominated, by reason of printing being first performed in England in the Chapel at the Sanctuary, Westminster.

There never was a plainer demonstration than this one opened out by young Franklin. I know no greater blessing that could be conferred by our friends upon every printing office in England, and in London especially, than a supply of Franklin’s remarks to every office, the cost of which would be no great burden. Startling as were these remarks of Franklin, they were not more so than mine which followed—that there was “more food in a pennyworth of bread than in a gallon of ale!”

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