It is a thought, possible with all – probable with many – and certain with a few, that the antediluvians ate no flesh. Vegetables, seed and fruit were given them for food. They lived to a great age. No more than twenty-seven of their names are given in their history, and yet seven of them, including Noah, lived more than nine hundred years. The antediluvian age lasted sixteen hundred and fifty-six years. After the flood the charter of food was enlarged: every living thing that moved was given to men, to eat their flesh, but not their blood. No one was born after this period who lived five hundred years. What the people drank before the flood, is not told us, but that they were eating and drinking, until Noah entered the are, we are assured of. After the deluge, Noah became an husbandman, planted a vineyard, and drank wine until he was drunk. Perhaps this was the first inebriation that took place on earth. From Noah, until Moses, a space of eight hundred years, frequent mention is made of eating flesh and drinking wine, but no account of string drink or liquor. During the time that judged ruled, and kings reigned over the nation of Israel, strong drink and liquor, were much used and much abused: in some cases commanded, and in other cases forbidden. See the following texts:
Exodus, xxii., 29: Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy liquors.
Leviticus, vi., 3: Do not drink wine nor strong drink.
Numbers, vi., 3: He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes.
Deuteronemy, xiv., 26: Thou shalt bestow the money for wine or strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul lusteth.
Judges, xiii., 4, 7, 14: Drink neither wine nor strong drink.
1st Samuel, i., 15: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink.
Proverbs, xxxi., 4. 6: It is not for princes to drink strong drink, – give strong drink to those who are ready to perish.
Song, viii., 2: I would cause thee to drink of the juice of my pomegranate.
Isaiah. v., 11, 12: That they may follow strong drink – and mingle string drink.
From these, and other passages, it is evident, that in addition to water, wine, vinegar, milk, broth, juice of pomegranates, and pottage of lentiles, that liquor and strong drink were distinct articles; but what they were and how they were manufactured, is hard to say. The apple-tree is spoken of as a common and useful tree, (see Song, xi., 3: Joel, i. 12,) but whether the people, as far back as Moses, pressed cider out of the apples is not known; if they did, it is probably that cider was their strong drink. Dr. Gill, from Aben Ezra, a Jewish Rabbi, says, that strong drink and liquor, were made of dates and honey, wheat and barley. But by whatsoever they were made, and by what process they were manufactured, they had the quality, like wine, to inebriate: and the excessive use of them made one of the crying sins of the Israelites, and of the surrounding nations. Hewitts’s account of the first invention of alcohol, by an Arabian physician and chemist, is two thousand years too late to give character to the strong drink, and liquors, that were put to a pernicious use in ancient times, and brought so many woes and judgments on drunkards.
I judge the drunkenness, effected either by ancient strong drink, or modern rum, amounts to the same evil, and has the same impression on body, mind, interest and manners.
The wise Solomon unites with the prophets of his nation, in exposing the evil of drunkenness, but to qualify his reproofs, he says, “Give strong drink to those who are ready to perish, and wine to those who are of heavy heart.” St. Paul reproves the excess of wine, and declares that drunkards shall not enter into the kingdom of God: yet he advises the infirm Timothy, to “drink no longer water, but use a little wine for his stomach’s sake, and often infirmities.”
There is a medical, as well as nutritive quality, in the productions of the earth. Nothing is made in vain. Poisons are medicinal when properly used. God has pronounced the whole creation good.
It is common for men, in the heat of an argument, to carry things too far: their declamations may have a momentary impression, but sober reflection and experiment will bring things to their proper bearings.
These observations suggest a few questions.
First. Is it reasonable to believe that the second cause of the shortening of the lives of men, after the flood, was the use of animal food? If this could be substantiated, would it not be a loud call to the lovers of life to be sparing of sumptuous dinners, composed of meat? Do not gluttony and drunkenness unite to enfeeble body and mind? Can there be evidence produced, that at any one time as many lives were sacrificed by ardent spirits, as were destroyed by eating the flesh of quails? Because meat, used immoderately, degrades the intellect, breeds diseases, and shorten days, is it, therefore, best to disuse it altogether?
Second. It is pretty generally confessed that wine and ardent spirits are good for men in certain cases, but who is to be the judge of these cases? Not the drunken sot, for he would be always pouring the liquor down his throat; not the physician, for although he may know what suits his own constitution, and tends to his health, yet he cannot feel for another. The sober man himself is the best judge for himself: so Solomon gave himself to wine, (to test its effects,) but applied his heart to wisdom, to guard his taste from ruling his judgment. Any man of common intellect and reflection, is the best prescriber for himself, in all common cases: he knows what food and drink are most friendly to his stomach and health. It is true that a man may eat or drink that which will seem to be advantageous, and yet will be followed with pernicious consequences. Here prudence dictates that men should try the experiment, and when they find that any kind of food or drink, or an over portion thereof, is injurious to their health, they should forbear. He whose taste is so vitiated that he will not observe this rule, is an object of pity, but not of hope.
Third. It is good economy to abstain from ardent spirits altogether, as a drink, or not? He who drinks his six cents dram each day, will spend more than twenty dollars in a year: if he abstains he makes a saving those dollars – and likely other drink would be as good or better for him. But if ardent spirits are disused, there will be no revenue arising from the tariff to support government. A direct tax on poll and property must follow. This grinds hard! The support of government, however, would not be as heavy as it now is. If all the wine and spirits which are now used at levees, public dinners, social hospitalities, and domestic uses, were retrenched, six dollars per day, instead of eight dollars, would be a sufficient compensation for members of Congress, and so on, in proportion, through the whole list of officers. But if this saving economy in drinks is prudent, each day, in seventy years it would be more than seven hundred and fifty dollars: whereas, bread, roots, fruit, milk, gruel and pottage of lentiles, would be more for his health, his perception and length of days.
I am now seventy-five years old. I was never drunk in my life: nor has it ever been a cross to me to abstain from what makes men drunken. For many years of my life I drank no spirits. When the glas was going round the circle where I was, rather than philosophise or lecture, I would put the cup to my mouth, and, without drinking, pass it. About twenty-five years past, moving my family on the road, I worried all the day in the snow-drifts, until nearly dark. My strength then failed me, and a faintness came on. A good woman, at the door of her house, handed me a bottle of cider brandy, which I drank a little of, and received great and immediate relief. Since, that, I have used it, I judge, at about the rate of a gallon per year. I often receive an advantage by a little of it, and have never had any evidence that it was injurious to me. A spoon-bowl full is as much as I use at a time, and the times of drinking are not too frequent. A little in my mouth, before cold water, gives the water a good relish and prevents injury. I am no physician, but should judge that those who die by drinking cold water, in hot weather, might prevent it by a tea-spoon full of spirits. Rum, unqualified, is disagreeable to my nose, my mouth, my throat, and my bowels – but when qualified with sugar and water, it is agreeable enough – but I have no longing after it. I have never used but a little wine: the little, however, has been friendly to my health and spirits.
I believe no one abhors drunkenness more than myself. A drunkard is a disagreeable object. Drunkenness has slain more thousands than Buonaparte did individuals. Add duelling to it, and the call is as loud for the Hindoos to send their missionaries among them, to turn them from idolatry and immolation. But still the good book says, “Give strong drink to those who are ready to perish, and wine to those who are of heavy heart. Drink a little wine for thy stomach’s sake, and often infirmities. Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.”
Elder John Leland
First published in 1829
The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland
Pages 557 – 560