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THE question of temperance, and the prohibitory law, so often discussed by our newspapers, demanding, as it does, a large share of the public attention, and in nearly every part of the country the subject of legislative enactments, although hitherto it has been alluded to but casually in the College press, deserves the thought of those undergraduates interested in social and moral problems, who expect hereafter to engage in affairs and deal with the tangled knots of reform. Delicate to handle it undoubtedly is, like everything that has to do with the practice or views of a man's associates. Moreover, the most earnest efforts are often misconstrued by rigid supporters of the pledge and prohibition. For this reason people of attainments and culture are disposed to be shy of the subject; they prefer to be silent, as if it was solely a matter of taste, not of right and wrong.
Harvard men have the good fortune to be free from all interference of the instructors in regard to this matter. At other colleges it is different. At Amherst, at the beginning of the present college year, Dr. Hitchcock, the supervisor of the physical education of the students, caused to be circulated in the Freshman class a paper by which all who signed were bound to neither smoke nor drink. Such a proceeding here would seem absurd. Few would sign; those who did would be influenced far more by their previous prejudices or a desire to oblige, than by a belief in its necessity or advantage. But it would not alone be absurd; it would be pernicious as well. Indeed, it is an objection that holds as well against the discussion of the question as against the pledge, that some men in defiance, and to show their contempt, rush into excesses they otherwise had never approached. It is nice because it is naughty. But to overthrow this system of pledging, it is necessary to discuss the subject, and to advocate some other remedy for intemperance.
If tradition can be trusted, those were days of hard drinking when among the Rules and Regulations there was one that forbade the use of all liquors at the table or in the room. And so, I imagine, it is likely to be at Amherst, if much stress is laid on this question of drinking. Stolen pleasures are the sweetest, nor are they the ones in which moderation prevails. Besides, there is sometimes a sort of pride men take in being different from their associates; they boast of their deeper draughts or their broader principles. At Harvard, I am glad to say, such affectation is frowned upon.
After all the violent agitation of the temperance reformers, the most sanguine of them would scarcely say that of people who have acquired the habit of drinking, a tenth, or an approach to a tenth, consent to take the pledge. Even those who take it are not always faithful. The trouble is that by the pledge one motive only for abstaining is brought into play. It is assumed that even the most degraded, whose name has once been signed to a promise, will hesitate before he breaks that promise. Now in the majority of cases it is probable that but little compunction of conscience is felt by such men, when they fail to keep their word. What is needed is first to raise them up so that they may have a due respect for the promise. And when, either through religious excitement, interest in business, or separation from vulgar scenes, they once reach this point, no longer does the need of a pledge exist. Men who have anything to accomplish, who have a personal interest in their work, are not the men to indulge in any vice that lessens their energy. It is necessary, therefore, as far as the classes are concerned that furnish the common drunkards of our police courts, to show them what is for their self-interest, to teach them to prefer permanent future good to present indulgence. Where the effective desire of accumulation is strong, the people are sober and industrious. It is rare to find among the crowds of Irish that throng the savings-banks any intemperate; it is equally rare to find any who do not take their rum and whiskey.
If the word "moderation" is once mentioned to a temperance reformer, it is a frightful tirade he commences. It is useless to suggest that the best men in England and this country do not approve or practice total abstinence. No one can tell, he truly says, how much more eminent they would be did they not muddle their brains with wine. And then the bad example! But notwithstanding such arguments, no one can deny that he who is moderate is not intemperate. How to have an assurance that men will be and will remain moderate, is the problem. Just as with some classes the desire for property enforces moderation in the use of whiskey, so with others ambition teaches the lesson of moderation in wine. But there are a large number of men, and they make up a considerable part of the students, whose ambition is not great, nor incompatible with occasional excess. Their position is such that they lose no friends, if they are only prudent, whatever they may do. In such cases a pledge would fail, for all to a man would refuse to sign it. Nor do they need such a thing. They drink too much just as they eat too much; no particular harm results in either case except to the individual.
But the number of these could be lessened if, as is not now the case, they could be brought up from childhood to the proper use of wine or ale. Once accustomed to drink in their homes and at the table, looking upon these drinks as a part of their dinner, they would early in life contract the habit of their regular and moderate use. In those districts of France where meat is a rarity, on feast days the tables overflow with it. Course after course of it is brought on, and the guests eat to satiety. So it is in the United States with wines. It is in consequence a matter of regret that people do not more generally sanction the use of wine on the table and at home. No longer than because it was unusual, or because it was said to be wicked, would people insist on taking too much.
"Nothing in excess," is a saying highly approved at Cambridge; and in nothing is the tendency to put this saying in practice more desirable, and experience shows, more evident, than in the use of wine and ale.
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