« PreviousContinue »
same time in spirits, more cheerful, and fitter for the dull 'work of life, because of this little indulgence.'
The wide prevalence of the taste for infused beverages illustrates in a marked manner the existence of common instinctive cravings among a large proportion of the human race. In tropical as well as arctic regions, the practice of using warm drinks equally prevails. Dr. Johnston follows the topography of these harmless stimulants in the following terms:
'In Central America the Indian of native blood and the Creole of mixed European race indulge alike in their ancient chocolate. In South America the tea of Paraguay is an almost universal beverage. The native North American tribes have their Appalachian tea, their Oswego tea, their Labrador tea, and many others. From Florida to Georgia in the United States, and over all the West India islands, the naturalised European races sip their favourite coffee; while over the northern States of the Union, and in the British Provinces, the tea of China is in constant and daily use.
In Europe we have no means of knowing how long such tastes and practices have prevailed. The Romans, at their banquets, used cups and saucers made of silver richly embossed. They were nearly of the same shape as those now in use, and were employed for drinking hot water out of. Whether it was customary to infuse herbs in this water on any occasion we do not read. But in Holland and England sage tea was in use till a very late period; and its antiquity is shown by the statement that the Dutch, in their early intercourse with China, carried out dried sage leaves as an article of traffic, and exchanged them against those of the Chinese tea-tree. Now, however, every country of Europe has chosen for itself one or other of the familiar foreign beverages. Spain and Italy delight in cocoa; France, Germany, Sweden, and Turkey in coffee; Russia, Holland, and England in tea; while poor Ireland makes a warm drink for itself, out of the husks of the cocoa, the refuse of the chocolate mills of Italy and Spain.
So all Asia feels the same want, and in different ways, has long gratified it. Coffee, indigenous in Abyssinia or the adjoining countries, has attached itself to the banner of the Arabian prophet, and has followed it wherever in Asia or Africa his false faith has triumphed. Tea, a native of China, has spread spontaneously over the hill country of the Himalayas, the table lands of Tartary and Thibet, and the plains of Siberia, has climbed the Altais, overspread Russia, and is equally despotic in Moscow as in St. Petersburg. In Sumatra the coffee-leaf yields the favourite tea of the darkskinned population, while Central Africa boasts of the Abyssinian chaat, as the indigenous warm drink of the Ethiopian people. Every where, unintoxicating and non-narcotic beverages are in general use -among tribes of every colour, beneath every sun, and in every condition of life. The custom, therefore, must meet some universal want of our common human nature.' (Vol. i. p. 56.)
This wide use of simply medicated drinks is remarkable enough. But it is still more remarkable that in so many different countries, and from so many different plants, different races of men-ignorant alike of chemistry and of physiology should have been led by a common instinct to select, for the purpose of preparing these drinks, vegetable substances which contain the same peculiar active ingredient. Thus the theine which characterises the Chinese leaf, is present not only in the coffee bean brought into use in Abyssinia and Arabia, in the coffee leaf employed as yet only in Sumatra, in the Maté or Paraguay tea which has been long collected among the forests of Paraguay, but also in the Guarana or Brazilian cocoa, in use among the natives of Brazil; while the true cocoa of Central America contains the very similar substance theobromine. This fact, which has been established beyond doubt by recent chemical research, is one of the most curious in the whole history of human instincts. Through how many successive trials, -after how wide and long an experience of bodily comfort and discomfort,- must half-civilised men in each of these countries have come to settle down into the general custom of using the several indigenous plants which modern times have found commonly employed among them. How very curious that the chemistry of our day should discover that in so many cases the plants thus selected should be capable of yielding to water the same chemical and physiological ingredient!
The passion for fermented drinks is akin to the love of infused beverages, but it stands upon a somewhat different ground. It is not instinctive in the same sense as the desire for warm infusions. It has not everywhere led the different races of men through long trial and research to the means of gratifying it. These means have rather sprung up of themselves before mankind in certain parts of the world, and have thus awakened the passion which, if it existed in human nature at all, would otherwise have remained dormant.
Thus, in tropical climates, where palm trees flourish, an accidental wound to the topmost shoot causes a copious flow of sweet sap, which, of its own accord, speedily ferments and produces an agreeable intoxicating drink. How early in eastern climes must this grateful liquor have become familiar to the primeval races? How natural it was in them to make use of it!
So also in Mexico the American aloe pours its copious juice into its own central cup, and there in a brief space produces the Mexican pulque, so pleasing to the native palate. And where the grape vine bears its luscious bunches the expressed juice soon begins to move and sparkle with bubbles of living
gas, and the crude heavy liquor changes spontaneously into the cheerful and exhilarating wine. Indeed the juices of nearly all fruits, even of our more northern ones-the apple, the pear, the plum, the gooseberry, and a hundred others-naturally produce their own peculiar varieties of intoxicating drink. Fermented liquors, therefore, are natural beverages, which man could not avoid becoming acquainted with, and of which in many countries it required little ingenuity to obtain a continued and abundant supply. It was probably some fortunate accident which led to the discovery of the mode of preparing sweet liquids from sprouted grain (malt), and of converting them into an exhilarating drink by mixing them with other liquids already in fermentation. A rarer accident, no doubt, led to the singular custom of chewing grains and roots, still practised in Peru, for the preparation of fermented chica, and in the South Sea Islands for the manufacture of the favourite ava. And a yet rarer accident, at a more modern period, taught some sleepless Arabian alchemist,-torturing substance after substance in his crucibles and alembics,-how to extract the fierce spirit from these agreeable drinks, and brought up, as it were, from the bottom of Pandora's box, that Alcohol which has since inflicted so many evils upon the world.
In the chemical history of these fermented drinks there are many things which will well repay the careful student who is desirous of thoroughly understanding this important chapter of the chemistry of common life.' In all cases, for example, and whatever may be the source of the liquid we employ, the same chemical substance undergoes the same chemical change during the process of fermentation. In every instance we start with grape sugar-that is, the kind of sugar which exists ready formed in the grape and other fruits. If we wish to employ grain we make it sprout, and thus produce within it a peculiar substance called diastase, which, when the grain is crushed and steeped in warm water, converts the starch of the grain into grape sugar, and dissolves it, forming the sweet wort. To this solution of grape sugar we add a ferment, usually yeast, if it does not naturally contain one, as grape and palm tree juices do. Through the action of the ferment the grape sugar is changed, always in the same chemical way, so that sparkling carbonic acid gas and intoxicating alcohol are in every case produced. At the same time a peculiar ethereal oil, in small proportion, is formed. This is different in the juice or sap of each different fruit or tree, and hence each variety of fermented drink derives its own peculiar bouquet.
Then how singular and worthy of study are the effects they
produce upon the system, corporeal and spiritual, when introduced into the stomach. They exhilarate, they enliven, they excite to laughter, they awaken merriment, they stimulate and exalt the mental powers. Some they stupify, some they convert into irritable savages, some into drivelling idiots, and some into mere pugnacions animals. All, if long and largely used, they finally brutalise, prostrate, and, in the end, carry to an untimely grave.
But more wonderful than these poisonous and destructive effects is the passion for indulging in them which these fermented liquors awaken in a large portion of our fellow men— the irresistible love with which these unfortunates are smitten by them-the fascinating influence by which they are charmed. The will becomes absolutely spell-bound through the action of alcohol on the bodies of some, and reason is dethroned, even where it formerly exercised a clear and undisputed sway.
We cannot here discuss the causes of all this. They lie, in fact, as yet, a great way beyond the limits of our actual knowledge.
But there are certain beneficial, though less marked, effects produced by alcoholic drinks, which recent chemico-physiological research, to a certain extent, explains. Taken in moderate quantities they act like tea in lessening the bodily waste, and thus are of real value to persons whose powers of digestion are impaired, either by disease or by the advances of age. They seem also to defend the body, to a certain extent, against the wear and tear which a constant exercise and agitation of the mind is apt to occasion. Yet the degree and form in which these effects are produced vary with the kind and composition of the fermented drink we make use of. The proportion of water with which the alcohol is diluted, the peculiar ethereal oil with which it is mixed or contaminated, the kind of acid naturally formed and contained in the liquor (such as the acetic acid of beer, the lactic acid of cider, and the tartaric acid of grape wine), the kind and quantity of the salts which occur in it, the hops or other narcotics which, in the case of beer, have been infused in it-all these ingredients of the drink modify its action upon the system, and give rise to those diversities in the effects which different fermented liquors are found to produce upon the same individual.
The melancholy influences which the passion for alcoholic drinks exercises upon the comfort and well being of society is a social rather than a chemico-physiological question. To what extent, on the grounds of moral expediency, it is proper, by fiscal or other regulations, to punish the moderate and self
restraining for the purpose of tying up the hands of the immoderate and those who will make no effort to restrain themselves, whether it is better to bind men of lax principles and little education by vows which are so likely to be broken, or to instruct and educate them in a better understanding of what is for their own present and future good, whether it is better to withhold spirit licences and shut up beer-houses, or to make the poor man's home as comfortable as the fire-side of the village inn, and to teach young females of the humbler classes, as their first and most responsible duty, how to keep them so, whether any one of all these methods is the best for suppressing a wide-spread evil, or whether, for the moral regeneration of the most helpless of our people, a good man would not cheerfully aid in employing and furthering them all, -these are questions in social economics in regard to which, in this free country, we must be content to differ.
We have spoken of the passion for intoxicating liquors which continued use awakens, as the most remarkable circumstance in the scientific history of fermented drinks. It is from this fascinating power that the danger of using them principally arises. And from this we derive our strongest arguments in favour of the more extended use of tea and other infused beverages, which, however, indulged in, lead at least to no moral delinquencies or violations of public law. But this fascinating power alcoholic liquids share with another class of indulgences, also introduced into Europe in modern times, and already most extensively consumed by every European race. These are the narcotic substances we indulge in.
Of such substances it is remarkable how large a number are in use in different parts of the world, over how wide an area the habit of consuming them prevails, among how many different tribes of men, and from how remote a period. The aborigines of Central America rolled up the tobacco-leaf and dreamed away their lives in smoky reveries ages before Columbus was born or the colonists of Sir Walter Raleigh brought it within the precincts of the Elizabethan Court. The coca leaf, which is still the comfort and strength of the Peruvian muleteer, was chewed as he does it now, in far remote times, and among the same mountains, by his Indian forefathers. The use of opium, hemp, and the betel-nut, of which only the first has yet been transplanted into Europe, has prevailed among Eastern Asiatics from times of the most fabulous antiquity. The same is probably true of the pepper plants, indulged in by the South Sea islanders and the natives of the Indian Archipelago; of the thorn apples, the use of which still lingers among the natives of