Saturday, May 30, 2015

Drinking in Early America - 1811 Philadelphia's Dr Benjamin Rush writes of the harmful effects of drinking


An Inquiry into the effects of Spirituous Liquors upon the Human Body, and their influence upon the happiness of society ... Originally published at Philadelphia in 1811



1768 A Caricature Group of Drinkers by John Hamilton Mortimer (British painter, 1740-1779)

The Effects of Ardent Spirits upon the Human Body & Mind by Benjamin Rush, MD Philadelphia, 1816.


By ardent spirits, I mean those liquors only which are obtained by distillation from fermented substances of any kind. To their effects upon the bodies & minds of men, the following inquiry shall be exclusively confined.


The effects of ardent spirits divide themselves into such as are of a prompt, & such as are of a chronic nature. The former discover themselves in drunkenness; & the latter in a numerous train of diseases & vices of the body & mind.


I. I shall begin by briefly describing their prompt or immediate effects in a fit of drunkenness.


This odious disease—for by that name it should be called—appears with more or less of the following symptoms, & most commonly in the order in which I shall enumerate them.


1. Unusual garrulity.


2. Unusual silence.


3. Captiousness, & a disposition to quarrel.


4. Uncommon good-humor, & an insipid simpering, or laugh.


5. Profane swearing & cursing.


6. A disclosure of their own or other people’s secrets.


7. A rude disposition to tell those persons in company whom they know, their faults.


8. Certain immodest actions. I am sorry to say this sign of the first stage of drunkenness sometimes appears in women, who, when sober, are uniformly remarkable for chaste & decent manners.


9. A clipping of words.


10. Fighting; a black eye, or a swelled nose, often mark this grade of drunkenness.


11. Certain extravagant acts which indicate a temporary fit of madness. Those are singing, hallooing, roaring, imitating the noises of brute animals, jumping, tearing off clothes, dancing naked, breaking glasses & china, & dashing other articles of household furniture upon the ground or floor. After a while the paroxysm of drunkenness is completely formed. The face now becomes flushed, the eyes project, & are somewhat watery, winking is less frequent than is natural; the under lip is protruded—the head inclines a little to one shoulder—the jaw falls—belchings & hiccough take place—the limbs totter—the whole body staggers. The unfortunate subject of this history next falls on his seat—he looks around him with a vacant countenance, & mutters inarticulate sounds to himself—he attempts to rise & walk: in this attempt he falls upon his side, from which he gradually turns upon his back: he now closes his eyes & falls into a profound sleep, frequently attended with snoring, & profuse sweats, & sometimes with such a relaxation of the muscles which confine the bladder & the lower bowels, as to produce a symptom which delicacy forbids me to mention. In this condition he often lies from ten, twelve, & twenty-four hours, to two, three, four, & five days, an object of pity & disgust to his family & friends. His recovery from this fit of intoxication is marked with several peculiar appearances. He opens his eyes & closes them again—he gapes & stretches his limbs—he then coughs & pukes—his voice is hoarse—he rises with difficulty, & staggers to a chair—his eyes resemble balls of fire—his hands tremble—he loathes the sight of food—he calls for a glass of spirits to compose his stomach—now & then he emits a deep-fetched sigh, or groan, from a transient twinge of conscience; but he more frequently scolds, & curses every thing around him. In this stage of languor & stupidity he remains for two or three days, before he is able to resume his former habits of business & conversation...



Toby Phillpot 1786 by Carrington Bowles

It belongs to the history of drunkenness to remark, that its paroxysms occur, like the paroxysms of many diseases, at certain periods, & after longer or shorter intervals. They often begin with annual, & gradually increase in their frequency, until they appear in quarterly, monthly, weekly, & quotidian or daily periods. Finally, they afford scarcely any marks of remission, either during the day or the night. There was a citizen of Philadelphia, many years ago, in whom drunkenness appeared in this protracted form. In speaking of him to one of his neighbors, I said, “Does he not sometimes get drunk?” “You mean,” said his neighbor, “is he not sometimes sober?”


It is further remarkable, that drunkenness resembles certain hereditary, family, & contagious diseases. I have once known it to descend from a father to four out of five of his children. I have seen three, & once four brothers, who were born of sober ancestors, affected by it; & I have heard of its spreading through a whole family composed of members not originally related to each other. These facts are important, & should not be overlooked by parents, in deciding upon the matrimonial connections of their children.



1773 Human Passions - Greed for liquor by Thomas Sanders after John Collier (Tim Bobbin) (British artist, 1708-1786)

II. Let us next attend to the chronic effects of ardent spirits upon the body & mind. In the body they dispose to every form of acute disease; they moreover excite fevers in persons predisposed to them from other causes. This has been remarked in all the yellow-fevers which have visited the cities of the United States. Hard-drinkers seldom escape, & rarely recover from them. The following diseases are the usual consequences of the habitual use of ardent spirits:


1. A decay of appetite, sickness at stomach, & a puking of bile, or a discharge of a frothy & viscid phlegm, by hawking, in the morning.


2. Obstructions of the liver. The fable of Prometheus, on whose liver a vulture was said to prey constantly, as a punishment for his stealing fire from heaven, was intended to illustrate the painful effects of ardent spirits upon that organ of the body.


3. Jaundice, & dropsy of the belly & limbs, & finally of every cavity in the body. A swelling in the feet & legs is so characteristic a mark of habits of intemperance, that the merchants in Charleston, I have been told, cease to trust the planters of South Carolina as soon as they perceive it. They very naturally conclude industry & virtue to be extinct in that man, in whom that symptom of disease has been produced by the intemperate use of distilled spirits.


4. Hoarseness, & a husky cough, which often terminate in consumption, & sometimes in an acute & fatal disease of the lungs.


5. Diabetes, that is, a frequent & weakening discharge of pale or sweetish urine.


6. Redness, & eruptions on different parts of the body. They generally begin on the nose, & after gradually extending all over the face, sometimes descend to the limbs in the form of leprosy. They have been called “rum-buds,” when they appear in the face. In persons who have occasionally survived these effects of ardent spirits on the skin, the face after a while becomes bloated, & its redness is succeeded by a death-like paleness. Thus, the same fire which produces a red color in iron, when urged to a more intense degree, produces what has been called a white-heat.


7. A fetid breath, composed of every thing that is offensive in putrid animal matter.


8. Frequent & disgusting belchings. Dr. Haller relates the case of a notorious drunkard having been suddenly destroyed, in consequence of the vapor discharged from his stomach by belching, accidentally taking fire by coming in contact with the flame of a candle.


9. Epilepsy.


10. Gout, in all its various forms of swelled limbs, colic, palsy, & apoplexy.


11. Lastly, madness. The late Dr. Waters, while he acted as house-pupil & apothecary of the Pennsylvania hospital, assured me, that in one-third of the patients confined by this terrible disease, it had been induced by ardent spirits


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