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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
______________________________________
As Spark to Tow.

by C. E. Larter.
Volume 2, 1891/92, pg. 622-627


Medical opinion, which is rapidly coming round to the conclusion that even for adults abstinence from intoxicants is not only compatible with but even conducive to health, has long practically been unanimous in declaring that for children alcoholic drinks are not merely unnecessary but injurious. The practice of allowing them is now condemned almost as severely as the old custom of giving opiates to babes. Indeed, the latest analysis places mixtures containing alcohol in the ranks not of stimulants but of narcotics. One citation only will I quote in this connection out of the myriads that might be adduced--that of Sir William Gull, given before the Lords Committee on Intemperance. He says: "Alcohol is called a stimulant, but we use it more as a sedative, in the same sense as you would use opium. All things of an alcoholic nature, even taken in moderate measure, injure the nervous tissues, and are deleterious to health."

As foods or stimulants we may therefore dismiss port, sherry, claret, and bitter ale from the dietary of childhood and youth. They contain neither flesh-forming, bone-forming, nor heat-producing elements--the three requisites we have to look for in the food and drink required to build up a sound constitution.

But, this being settled on the unimpeachable authority of our family doctors, there remains another side of the question to be considered. Granted that even in small quantities wines and ales are "deleterious" to health, may they not occasionally be allowed to children as a comparatively harmless indulgence, as a form of pleasant excitement? Utility, or even health, is not the standard by which is to be measured everything that enters into youthful life. Happily the days are gone by when wine was almost an essential of children's parties, and to be allowed to drink with their elders the extra treat allowed to birthdays and Christmas festivities. Still, many parents, whilst falling in with the newer fashion that substitutes lemonade and pure cordials for port and its congeners on such occasions, undoubtedly fail to see the need of earnest teaching on the subject of temperance, or even of banishing the decanter altogether from their children's tables. The utmost point they reach is to look tolerantly on the "fad" that forbids the little ones even to "sip" from the glasses of their elders, and to ask with a smile, "Where is the harm?"

Alas, the fable is too often realised in such cases of the old Italian romance, where the tree shaken for golden fruit showers down stones instead on the head. The after history of son or daughter may burn upon the heart in scars that can never be effaced the answer to their question, "Where is the harm?"

Apart altogether from the influence of stimulants upon health, I want to suggest in this paper two or three reasons why, on moral grounds, the early and earnest inculcation of temperance principles seems to me one of the most important matters in the training of children.

We all believe that unselfishness, and the habit of self-denial for the good of others, is the groundwork of noble character.

Is there any form in which children can be taught daily more easily the need and practice of self-sacrifice than by learning that, for the sake of the great multitude whom strong drink ruins, their parents think it well to do without a common luxury of the table, and which their boys and girls to refrain also on all occasions from tasting it? Children are readily responsive to appeals to the more heroic side of their natures, and if that be early called out by being show the great danger and sorrow that for some lies in the wine, on account of which they must learn to do without it, may we not hope that in maturer years they will take their part amidst the band of workers who are using all their powers to check the curse, and to stem the flood of strong drink that is always sweeping over our land and desolating tens of thousands of homes?

Wise parents are more and more alive to the need of the early enlistment of the sympathies and energies of the young in some unselfish object. Certainly, as a means only of their own moral development, no plan is so effective. I have been constantly in connection with "The Young Abstainers' Union," an organisation whose object is to do for the young people of the upper classes what our "Bands of Hope" have long succeeded in accomplishing amongst working people. The "Union" has for its first condition that all admitted into it should be socially on the same level, so that they can associate freely in their own circles. Its "branches" are worked by means of social afternoons indoors in winter, garden parties, &c., in summer. Each child in it is encouraged to do his or her own little part. By the writing of essays, distribution of attractive literature, quarterly letters to members, etc., interest is kept up and teaching given. It is a union that seems to me to fill a real gap, even amidst our multitudinous organisations, and deserves to be better known than it is. Its headquarters are at 23, Exeter Hall, whence, I have no doubt, the central secretary, Miss L. E. Andrews, will gladly send all information. Amongst its vice-presidents are the Bishop of London, the Duchess of Rutland, and many other well-known workers.

I mention this as being the one society of which I know that bands together children of the social position of those for whom I am writing, and of whose working I have intimate practical knowledge. It would be easy to give countless stories of the ruin wrought by early acquirement of the taste for artificial stimulants, and of the safety that lies in entire abnegation of the same. But the limits of this paper will not allow of such histories. I will allude merely to two dangers that stand in the way of those whose palates have been trained to like even in the most moderate quantities the momentarily exhilarating draught, and to one advantage that those possess who eschew it altogether.

The first danger is, the possible kindling into flame of the unsuspected hereditary taste for stimulants. This is a peril that we cannot a priori declare that anyone is free from. So subtle is the law of the transmission, even from far-off ancestry, of special traits, so mysterious the way in which, after sleeping through one or two generations, a dormant propensity will suddenly wake to life, that it is simply impossible to assert of any that they start on their life-course free from predispositions to particular indulgences. If it meet with no outside awakening such tendency may never be aroused into activity. But any taking of alcohol into the system is as applying a spark to gunpowder. The malignant tendency rushes out to its issue with deadly certainty.

Dr. Norman Kerr, in his book on "Inebriety," viewed from a medical standpoint--a volume I would earnestly recommend every parent to study--dwells most insistently on the probability of one in whom the craving for drink is hereditary going quite safely through life, provided that from childhood he is trained to avoid all alcoholic substances. But he shows that the craving inevitably becomes disease, and disease of the most baffling character, should the poison be inadvertently, in however small measure, introduced into the system from without. Who would run for son or daughter such terrible risk? Who would bring them by the use of alcohol in daily life to the edge of the precipice, and then bid them not fall over?

A second danger is the well-known property of alcohol to create, when absorbed into the system, the gradual craving for further indulgence. Were we sure of our children being always in robust health, in high spirits, in favour with fortune, it may be that this danger would be reduced to a minimum. But who can tell that life may not bring to the dearest hours of stress and strain, when Nature seems to fail, and the temptation to fall back upon a proved reviver is irresistible? So gradual is the growth of such dependence, so insidious are the advances of this foe, that it is almost impossible to detect even the approaches of danger until the enemy has actually gained possession of the fortress, whence to dislodge him is a task for superhuman effort. "Wild natures need wise curbs." But who can answer for it that the "wise curb" of restraint of appetite may not be needed in natures that seem the mildest, instead of the wildest? The deceptiveness of the influence in the case of drink is its danger.

For the wine is bright at the goblet's brim,
Though the poison lurk beneath;
And the apples still are red on the tree
Within whose shade may the adder be
That shall turn the life to death.

Since "wine above all things doth God's stamp deface," why let children play with that which may end in blotting out in them the image of the Divine in which they were created? Every man has somewhere, Achilles-like, his own vulnerable point, and a liability to lose self-control under the influence of "a glass or two" may be the opening through which the danger enters, and the young man's life is ruined before his friends have begun to fear for him.

The incalculable advantage to ripening manhood and womanhood of the different "set" of associates with which adherence to abstinence principles throws them is my final plea for training in such principles. At college to a youth the fact that he is an abstainer at once bars the way to his intercourse with the "fast" set that has so much that is fascinating to a novice. That he can neither give nor go to "Wines" is a distinction that may seem trivial, but upon such slight distinction turns often the question whether undergraduate shall go through his career with honour and success, or drop it in sorrow and disgrace. If he be an abstainer he has learned on one question to say no. And the habit of self-control formed in one sphere serves him well in perhaps fiercer temptations. The influence of his example is on the side of restraint, and as student at first and afterwards as householder, citizen, and it may be employer, who can tell where may end the influence of one trained to self-government?

So with a girl. How many a case of painful hysteria would have been prevented had the growing girl been taught not to "fly to" the temporary aid of stimulants when over-wrought or feeling "low" or "fagged." When either by the round of fashionable enjoyments, or, what is now so frequent, by the strain of over-study, the nervous power is giving out, a girl who has not been taught the danger of such a course will naturally seek fictitious strength for the moment in what obscures the danger-signal indicating the final fatal break-down of outraged nature whose claim for repose the wine-glass enabled her to disregard for the time. Here again happily fashion is stepping in to our aid. A glass of hot wine and water used to be the favourite restorative brought by the maids to enable their exhausted mistresses to go from one party to another. Now, in America at any rate, the glass of hot milk has been adopted as a substitute. Again, the girl who at a ball-room supper takes champagne is, so far as her example goes, encouraging the young men to do the same--with what results let those who know ball-rooms well testify. So all through her life a girl has to choose whether hers shall be the hand to help or the influence to undo those around her. If in this matter she has from a child been wisely taught to throw her influence, be it small or great, into the abstaining scale, who can tell what, as mistress and hostess, wife and mother, its weight may be?

To withhold from a child the sip of ale or of claret, to plant in the young mind the principle of self-denial, may seem but small achievement. Yet autumn harvests for the world's reaping may witness to the use of such spring sowing, and manhood and womanhood, strong in character and far-reaching in influence, may grow from such wisely trained youth.

Those little firs to-day are things
To clasp into a giant's cap,
Or fans to suit his lady's lap.
From many winters many springs
Shall cherish them in strength and sap,
Till they be marked upon the map
A wood for the wind's wanderings.

All seed is in the sower's hands,
And what at first was trained to spread
Its shelter for some single head--
Yea, even such friendship of wands--
May hide the sunset, and the shade
Of its great multitude be laid
Upon the earth, and elder sands.


Typed by Whitney Townsend, December 2014