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preferred receiving liquor for labour, to every other article of provisions or clothing that could be offered them.”*
After these details, which no one will be disposed to suspect of exaggeration, who has turned his thoughts to the habits of the same description of men in our own country, it cannot fail to appear a little surprising, that in the discussion which lately took place on the policy of opening the distilleries, -a measure which was adopted on the first prospect of returning plenty, so little stress was laid, by either party, on the moral effects which it was likely to produce; the argument on both sides hinging on economical and financial considerations. And here, I must be allowed to say, that, in my opinion, the reasonings of those who contended for the policy of the measure, are far more consistent and conclusive than those of their adversaries. On the one hand, it was argued, that the alarming scarcity with which we had been afflicted, and the acknowledged deficiency in the supply of bread corn in this country, concluded strongly against such a wuste of the public produce. On the other hand, it was asked with much truth, what means are so permanently
, effectual for accomplishing the extension and improvement of tillage, as to enlarge the market for the produce of the soil, the effects of which, in the instance of exported corn, had been found so beneficial. This argument would, indeed, justify a prohibition of importation from abroad; and, accordingly, such a prohibition has been frequently recommended. A similar one existed under the old Government of France, and, I think, is still enforced. If the advocates of this last proposition were wrong in carrying their general parallel too far, without a due
a regard to those collateral combinations of circumstances by which all general maxims in Political Economy are limited, and more particularly in overlooking the morals of the people, as a thing in which the Legislature had no interest or concern, their doctrine is, at least, more consistent with itself than that of the manufacturing towns, which, in order to increase the supply of grain, would prevent the profits of the farmer from rising to their natural level.
* [Ibid. chap. xx. Vol. I. p. 260.]
In what has been now hinted, I have taken for granted, that the cheapness of spirituous liquors encourages drunkenness among the people; a fact of the truth of which no one can have the smallest doubt, who has attended to the melancholy experiments which Scotland has afforded on this point during the last twenty years. There is, indeed, a passage in Mr. Smith's Wealth of Nations which seems to favour a different opinion, and of which I think it proper to take notice, on account of that weight which is justly attached to the name of the author. I shall quote the passage in Mr. Smith's own words:-“ It deserves to be remarked, that if we consult experience, the cheapness of wine seems to be a cause, not of drunkenness, but of sobriety. The inhabitants of the wine countries are in general the soberest people in Europe; witness the Spaniards, the Italians, and the inhabitants of the southern provinces of France. People are seldom guilty of excess in what is their daily fare. Nobody affects the character of liberality and good fellowship, by being profuse of a liquor which is as cheap as small beer.”* As Mr. Smith has confined himself in this remark to wine and ale, it is unnecessary for me to inquire how far his reasonings are justified by experience. I shall therefore only observe, that whether right or wrong in their application to these liquors, they certainly do not hold with respect to the materials of dram-drinking, which, I have not the smallest doubt, would be consumed with the greatest eagerness, if they filled the channels of our rivers. The principle which leads to this species of gratification is, in truth, essentially different from that spirit of conviviality, and that imitation of the pleasures of their superiors, which lead to the other excesses of the inferior ranks, being precisely of the same kind with that appetite for stupifying drugs, which prevails very generally among men who wish to escape from their own thoughts.
I am even somewhat doubtful if Mr. Smith has not gone too far in asserting, that “ were the duties upon foreign wines, and the excises upon malt, beer, and ale, to be taken away all
* [Book IV. chap. ii.; Vol. II. p. 242, tenth edition.]
at once, it might occasion in Great Britain a pretty general and temporary drunkenness among the middling and inferior ranks of people, which would probably be soon followed by a permanent and almost universal sobriety." Some instances of extraordinary, and indeed almost incredible excess in the use of malt liquors among the lower classes in England, may be found in Marshall's Rural Economy of the Midland Counties; and, I suspect, may be referred to nearly the same causes which operate powerfully against the habits and morals of our own populace, wherever the means of intoxication are placed within their reach.
I alluded formerly to the mischiefs which have been occasioned by the peculiar manner in which the duties on spirituous liquors are levied in this northern part of the island, [Vol. I. pp. 320, 321;] I mean the fatal principle, established in the year 1786, of collecting the duties on spirits in Scotland, by a license duty on the contents of the still, instead of a specific duty on every gallon of liquor produced. The obvious effect of this measure was, to prompt the distiller to work against time in the production of spirits, and to stimulate his ingenuity in distilling the greatest possible quantity within the year. And as this quantity was, by the law, to be consumed within Scotland, the country became, as it were, deluged with whisky. The reduction of price occasioned by the competition which thus took place, while it disappointed the distillers, poisoned the habits and morals of one-half of the people. The only advantage to which it gave rise was to the revenue; and it was the boast of the authors of this plan, that Government never drew anything worth the trouble of collecting from the Scotch distilleries before this new system was adopted.
It is not, perhaps, easy to imagine any one instance in which it is in the power of the Legislature to produce so great and so immediate an effect on the morals of the people, as by taxing the materials of dram-drinking, in such a way, as to place them beyond the reach of the common people. As this vicious habit does not necessarily involve any violation of the rights of others,
* [Ibid. pp. 242, 243.]
it is not directly punishable by law. But it is the parent, among the lower orders, not only of the greater part of their distresses, but of the largest proportion of those crimes which, in many instances, bring them to an untimely end; and the means of prevention, which are in the power of the Legislature, are gentle, humane, and entirely effectual.
As to the argument used by Mr. Burke in favour of spirituous liqours, that “they are a medicine of the mind,” &c., (see p. 314,] I am far from being disposed to affirm that it is altogether groundless; and I should willingly have subscribed to his opinion, as a proof, not only of the humanity, but of the sound judgment of the author, if, without apologizing for the excesses of dram-drinking, he had confined himself to a defence of the moderate use of what are commonly called malt liquors; a beverage at once exhilarating and nutritious, and by no means liable to the same abuses with the other. Such a beverage ought to be afforded to the people at as moderate a price as possible; whereas it is the tendency of the policy now pursued in this part of the island, to depress the breweries, while it encourages the distillation of spirituous liquors.
Having alluded, in the conclusion of my last lecture, to some pernicious habits which are prevalent among the lower orders in this country, I think it proper for me to take notice, in justice to their character, of a very able argument in their defence, more particularly in defence of the English labourers and husbandmen, which was published a few years ago, by [the Rev.] Mr. (David) Davies, [Rector of Berkham, Berks.]
6 Time was when small beer was reckoned one of the necessaries of life, even in poor families; and it seems to have been designed by Providence for the common drink of the people of this country, being deemed a preservative against some of its worst diseases. Were the poor able to afford themselves this wholesome beverage, it would well enough compensate for the scarcity of milk. But, on account of the dearness of malt, which is, most unfortunately for them, a principal subject of
taxation, small beer has been these many years, far beyond their ability to use in common.
“ Under these hard circumstances, the dearness of malt and the difficulty of procuring milk, the only thing remaining for them to moisten their bread with, was tea. This was their last resource. Tea (with bread) furnishes one meal for a whole family every day, at no greater expense than about one shilling a week at an average. If anybody will point out an article that is cheaper and better, I will venture to answer for the poor in general, that they will be thankful for the discovery. ..
“ Still you exclaim, Tea is a luxury. If you mean fine hyson tea, sweetened with refined sugar, and softened with cream, I readily admit it to be so. But this is not the tea of the poor. Spring water, just coloured with a few leaves of the lowest-priced tea, and sweetened with the brownest sugar, is the luxury for which you reproach them. To this they have recourse from mere necessity; and were they now to be deprived of this, they would immediately be reduced to bread and water. Tea-drinking is not the cause, but the consequence, of the distresses of the poor."*
In the passage now quoted from Mr. Davies, there is a proposition which is certainly stated in terms too unqualified, that the habit in question is not the cause, but the consequence of their distresses. In Scotland, for instance, it cannot be denied, that this wasteful practice, now so general among the lower classes, in a large proportion of cases, is the effect of an absurd imitation of the habits of their superiors. At the same time, that Mr. Davies's remark has some foundation in truth, I am inclined to believe, from this circumstance, that in other instances where the distresses of the poor have been great, they have been led to betake themselves to similar resources.
I cannot take leave of this article without noticing again the humane and useful exertions of some late writers, in attempting to improve the domestic economy of the labouring poor, by pointing out the best means of reducing their
* [Case of Labourers in IIusbandry, Stated and Considered, 1795, Part I. sect. iv. pp. 38, 39.)