Dr. Peabody spoke Wednesday evening in Sever 11, on the Temperance question, or more correctly the Drink question.
This is one of the great problems of the hour. It may or may not be the most important one, but it is our duty to consider it. The unscientific methods of its agitators are not what do harm half so much as the cold self interest, and laziness of those who keep themselves aloof from the subject.
Like most social questions this one has two distinct sides; the economic and the ethical one. In regard to the economic side, the deductions drawn from official reports, show that not less than seven hundred million dollars were paid for drink by consumers in the year 1880. This is no less per capita than one twelfth of the cost of the necessities of life; namely, food, clothing and shelter. Such a fact as this is very startling. Suppose we look at the subject on a small scale, and take the city of Cambridge, where there has for some time been a no license law. Before the enactment of the law, sixty six dollars per capita for drinks was the yearly average of the drinking population. These views of the subject show us that it is a large but not an unmanageable one, that it influences our municipal and national difficulties, is only a superficial question. Behind all lies its significance as a moral problem.
Ethically, a man may hold one of three relations to the drink question. He may withdraw from it, may adjust himself to it, or enlist it its service. The first is the manner of selfishness, the second legislation, and the last that of duty. If a man be considered as isolated. atomic, he has but two considerations, namely, his physical welfare, and his general welfare, and no definite course can be laid out for him. But just so soon as he becomes an active member of an organic whole, just so soon does his relation to it, determine his relations to the drink question. To illustrate by a single example - perhaps he is to be a surgeon; then to have a steady hand he must abstain.
Legislation treats this question in its social relations. It is often supposed that there is but one right law, which should be enacted no matter what the results. But we should consider it rather, as a practical means to get at a definite end. The drink habit is the enemy, and it is the business of legislation to pick out suitable weapons, and means of attack, and then to employ them. It must necessarily have a partial, tentative effect, because the subject is one of ethics; because of the necessary effect every man must have on the whole social organism.