[from Hall Caine Drink]


A few nights ago, while walking along the Thames Embankment about an hour before mid- night, I came upon a group of three homeless ones, a woman and two men, huddled up on a bench asleep. The woman was young and not uneomely, notwithstanding her rags and dirt, and pity for her forlorn condition prompted me to waken her and ask whether, if I gave her money, she could find a bed. She answered that she could. The two mean had shambled up by this time.. and they stoo3 shivering after their sleep in the cold night air. "She's queer to-night, sir," said one of them, -and I haven't nothing to give her." He was a young man with a husky voice and a badly nourished physique. I asked if the girl was his wife. He answered " No"; she came from Derbyshire and was a stranger in London. " I picked her up about three weeks ago, and I shares whatever I gets with her," he said. The other man did not speak; he was elderly and had the look of a sodden and hope- less dipsomaniac. I gave the girl something for her supper and bed; the younger man promised to leave her at a lodging-house in Drury Lane, and the three waifs of the under-world went off together.


As the bedraggled creatures tramped across the thoroughfare and disappeared through the dark arches of the bridge that crosses the Embankment a little east of the Savoy Hotel, many cabs and car- riages laden with lovely women in beautiful evening dresses were rolling up under the electric light to the doorway leading to the fashionable supper room.

Having some misgivings about the effects of my charity, I decided to follow my three outcasts, and, little as I liked the work, I did it. I saw them cross the Strand at the mouth of the street leading to Drury Lane, but after that I could see them no longer. The policeman at the first corner had watched them as they went by, but the policeman at the second corner had seen nothing of them. Between the two corners there were two or three public-houses, and it was clear that they must have gone into one of these places. As I walked back towards the Strand I heard a husky voice at the other side of a half-open door, crying, " Another pint o' four-half, quick, please." It was my young man of the bad physique who shared whatever he got with the girl from Derbyshire.


The moment of vexation which this common- place occurrence provoked speedily gave way to a sense of still deeper pity. As I walked home I saw the curse of drink in a new but obvious light. The girl was " queer," and she persuaded herself that " a pint o' four-half " would do her good. The two men were cold, and they thought the same medicine would make them warm. All three were unhappy, and they knew that a deep drink would help them to forget. For an hour and a half longer they could sit in light and cheerful company. Why should they think of half-past twelve, when they must be turned into the streets? What a power is drink to hypnotise the bodies and souls of risen and women in the lowest depths of their degradation ! What an angel drink must be that it can so seal our eyes to disaster, or what a demon that it can tempt us to the ways of death !


Thinking so with a new pity for the victims of alcoholism, I remembered certain letters which I have lately received from known and unknown correspondents at home and abroad on a little novel published as a serial, which describes an attempt to cure intemperance by means of hypnotism. My friends take me to task for many conflicting offences. One group of correspondents complain that I do not seem to see that drink is a temptation of the devil, only to be conquered by the grace of God. To subjugate the free will of a fellow creature, to act upon him by " suggestion," to compel him to do that which he must, and not that which he would, is to attempt to uproot the moral law, to unseat religion, and to shake our trust in God

Himself. Hypnotism, therefore, if it is a real force, is the machinery of the Evil One, and to employ it is to play into the hands of Satan by breaking down the sanctuaries of the human soul.


Another group of correspondents, reasoning from the opposite pole, protest that alcoholism is not a sin, but a disease, and the victims of it ought to be treated as diseased persons. To attempt to cure drink by hypnotism is as idle and foolish as to attempt to cure it by means of the temperance pledge-a method long ago discredited in the eyes of scientific inquirers. Society has created drunkards by making laws which have encouraged the undue consumption of drink. It is therefore the duty of society to provide asylums for its victims, and to keep them under restraint until the disease can be overcome.

Such, briefly, are some of the objections urged against the treatment of the drink craving by hypnotism. My reply would be that intemperance is at once a sin and a disease, and that the only scientific treatment of drunkenness is that which is directed against the root of the evil. But what is the root of the evil? And what are the means which we may employ to reach it?


In my little novel I deal with a case of inherited alcoholism in a girl. I cannot doubt that there are such cases. More than once I have watched their descent from generation to generation, and marked the deadly and irresistible tracking down of the victims in succession as though by an invisible and demoniacal bloodhound. Where alcoholism is an inherited evil, drunkenness is more a disease than a sin, but where it is an acquired taint it must be (whatever the extenuating circumstances) more a sin than a disease. The root of the evil, therefore, lies always in the region of morals, and the only sure means of safeguarding humanity from the evils of intemperance is that of building up the moral nature.

Thus far I am at one with those who say that intemperance is sin, and the only infallible way to make sober people is to call down that power which can come of the grace of God alone. But whatever the moral root of the eil, its effect is to set up a physical disease. The drunkard either cannot live without drink, or - which is the same thing in its consequences - he thinks he cannot. How are we to meet that condition? I frankly take the view that the most direct way is to act powerfully upon the drunkard's imagination. Is it possible by operating on a man's mind to control the diseases of his body? We know it is possible.

Then if hypnotism, by its power of acting on the imagination, is capable of controlling habits of life which create alcoholic disease, what are the ob- jections to the use of it ? The first objection is that it tampers , with that free will which is the highest inheritance of the human soul.


The answer to this is that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred victims of intemperance there exists no such thing as free will. Think of my poor outcasts on the Embankment. I do not doubt that when they set off with my money they honestly intended to go to the lodging in Drury Lane. But the great and evil hypnotist intervened, the hypnotist called Drink, and in the thought of its drowsy joys, and of the light and warmth of the public-house, it made them forget the comforts they must eventually forego.

Or think of the case, still more common, of the reputable young husband who has developed a love for drink. His young wife sees the growing weakness, and when he is going out in the morn- ing she asks him to return direct from the office or workshop. He promises to do so, but when the time comes he goes to the bar, or the billiard room, or the club instead, although he knows full well that his children are waiting to say good- night to him, and his wife, with red eyes and a shawl over her head, will be standing at the door when he shambles up the silent street. The great hypnotist has got hold of him, and his will is no longer free. 'then why may we not set up a wholesome influence - a good hypnotist against a bad one? The answer-is the familiar one-that this is the work of the grace of God., and of the "still small voice" of conscience.



My reply would be that in the victim of drink the voice of conscience is often so still and small as to be heard only when it is all but useless as a practical guide to this life, and the purblind being is on the borderland of the next. Think again of my poor outcasts. It is half-past twelve and they have been turned out of the public-house in Drury Lane. If the drink had done no more harm than to leave them sleepy, they go back to the Embank- ment. The poor girl, who was "queer" to begin with, is now worse for the alcohol she has taken on an empty stomach. The night is bitterly cold, and she shivers in her sleep. Before daybreak she is very ills and, somewhere in the grey dawn, while the barges are beginning to move through the mist over the river, a policeman comes up and the girl is carried away to a hospital. Then follow fever, delirium, and, finally just before the end-a period of poignant consciousness, in which the scroll of memory is unrolled before the broken, bedraggled being, and she sees her life for the first time by the light of conscience. A dale in Derbyshire, a little village, a little church, perhaps the church choir, then some dark, damning fact, and then London, the streets, the miserable drunkard who "picked her up," the doss-house, the Embankment, the hospital bed, and the shadow of death.

Or .say the drink has left them quarrelsome, and, coming out of the public-house, penniless, and drunk to. madness, they fall to recriminations on the lodgings they have lost, and the man, kicks the woman and kills her. Then, come arrest, the gaol, some hours of oblivion, and after that, the wretched thing awakes in his cell, without any recollection of what has occurred, asks for his girl from Derbyshire, who is a stranger in London, and the awful fact, with the sense of his responsibility to the woman and to God, falls at last on his poor rag of a soul like a blasting thunderbolt.


Or take again the case, much more typical, of the once reputable young husband. He has lost his situation and his health ; his house has been sold over his head ; he is living with his wife and little ones in two empty rooms; they are all sleeping on a few blankets spread out on the floor, and he awakes one morning, tragically sober at length, with life, character, and opportunity gone, to hear for the first time his children cry for bread. Such are some of the moments when the "still small voice " of conscience comes to the drunkard, and too often it comes too late. Now, if there is any force in nature, or any other power in law (whether it represents hypnotism or the asylum), by which we can arrest the drunkard's downward course without waiting for the belated operation of his dwarfed and deadened "conscience," shall we hesitate to use it from any fear of tampering with his besotted free will ? ,


I do not express any opinion on the claims of hypnotism-to cure intemperance. If any of my readers have evidence of its efficacy, I shall be pleased to hear it. Neither do I dare to say anything about hypnotism itself on the side of its scientific pretensions. If any student of the subject can cast a new light on the mysterious and terrifying forces it brings into play, I shall be happy to hear from him.

If I were a doctor I should give myself no peace in the presence of the world-wide curse of drink, and the claims of hypnotism to cure it, until I had satisfied myself on the subject. Not being a doctor, I have only attempted to deal with the, moral aspect of "suggestion" as , a means of cure, and my conclusion has been that, great and precious as the human. inheritance of free will must always be, the world has recognised the right, not only of the doctor, but- also of the priest, the teacher, the orator, and the writer to influence and control it.


is a dark and difficult problem, but one thing I see clearly, namely, that drink is the greatest and most baneful hypnotist on the earth at present, and that its influence is more awful than any plague, more devastating than any war. Looking back from more than middle life, I earl hardly remember a case of wreck and ruin that has not been, directly or indirectly, the result of drink. It is. a terrible roll-call my memory goes through, of men of good and even brilliant gifts, and of bright and glorious opportunities, who are dead, or worse than dead, at the hands of the great hypnotist. Against that record I cannot recall a single case of a man who, free from the tyranny of drink, has been utterly destroyed by misfortune. The hardest blows of Fate seem powerless to slay the man whom the great hypnotist cannot subdue. And though I think intemperance is often as much a consequence as a cause, I truly believe that if drink could .-be utterly wiped out of the world to-night, humanity would awake in the morning with more than half its sorrows and sufferings gone. ,


back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2012