Mr. T. CHISHOLM.
A strange feature of this national evil which has fastened itself upon France is the fact that it has developed within the memory of many persons now alive.
And I fear that some now living will see the time when Canada also will be cursed with absintheism as France is today.
The drink first made its appearance in the country upon the close of the Algerian war in 1S47 or 1848. While in Algiers, the French soldiers adopted the custom of the natives in using the liquor to fight the low fever of that malarial climate, and they grew to like it so well that they carried it home with them.
Since then absinthe has been the steadily growing curse of the nation, says an authority, until now the French are the most nervous and excitable people under the sun.
Not only has the liqnour its effect upon the drinker, but, through him, makes a marked impression on the succeeding generations. It is for this reason more than any other that the French as a nation are deteriorating.
Vast quantities of absinthe are used in that country. The annual importation from Switzerland alone reaches over 2,000,000 gallons, while the French distilleries produce many times that quantity.
In addition to the 5,000 quarts that Paris drinks each day, the proportion, according to figures given by the Minister of Finance, is almost as great in the provinces. It is estimated that every 5,000,000 of the population drink 10,000 quarts of absinthe daily-and there are many drinks in a quart bottle.
So it has come to pass that the Frenchman, with his annual consumption of liquors that put into his stomach three and a half gallons of alcohol, is now the hardest drinker in the world.
A much heavier statistical burden rests upon the shoulders of the actual drinkers, as the figures quoted as per capita, including men and women who do not drink, as well as children.
In point of alcoholic consumption the Swiss and Belgian come next, with two and two-fifths gallons each annually. The Spaniard gets away with two and a third gallons; the Italian with just a little less: the Englishman and German two and one-tenth, and the American with one and a third gallons. The most abstemious man in the world, the Nor-weigan, consumes only half a gallon in a year.
Not only then do the French people drink more than any other people, but they drink the most harmful intoxicant that is made.
Government officials and thinking men of the republic have long recognized the baneful affects and growing extent of the evil, but so far have been powerless to limit either.
Absinthe manufacture has become such a profitable, and even respectable, pursuit that the proposed legislation against it has always failed.
Visitors to Paris frequently remark, that they see no drunkenness on the streets. Absinthe does not produce rowdyism or cause boisterous conduct. Its evil effects are subtle, quiet and insinuating.
One French characteristic of this drink habit, however, may be plainly noticeable to
the stranger, this is the arrival of the daily absinthe hour.
For the better classes-business men, clerks and similar workers-this is between 5 and 6 o'clock in the afternoon, when the man who has been confined at his desk or counter all day thinks he must have his appetizer on the eve of dinner.
Walking along the streets, if it be summer, one notices a warm, half-sickish, sweetish odour, somewhat resembling that of paregoric, filling the atmosphere.
Looking into the many cafes that line the street, the wondering visitor may perceive the source of this smell. Every drinking place is crowded; waiters rush about bearing bottles and glasses-Paris is busy drinking absinthe.
Those who take their liquor ' as gentlemen should ' have the bottles brought to them as they sit about the cafe talking. Each man pours his drink-from one to three inches- into a tall narrow tumbler.
Over the top of this is held a perforated spoon, containing a lump of sugar. Ice water is dropped upon the sugar and allowed to trickle through into the liquid beneath until the glass is full.
Prepared in this way, absinthe is pleasant, and seems harmless to smell and taste. Nor are its immediate effects those of brandy or whisky. In fact, the immediate effects are scarcely discernible in any way.
For another class, the workmen-there are usually three drinking periods in the day, and these are recognized by employers.
At 10 o'clock in the morning the French labourer invariably lays down his implements of toil and hastens to the nearest drink shop for his absinthe. He does the same thing twice during the afternoon.
Wherever workmen are found in numbers there are generally plenty of drinking shops in the vicinity. Near where some large excavation is in progress or some big building being erected, it is not uncommon to see little canvas covered wagons or carts. Very often these may be presided over by women whose husbands are foremen in the nearest works.
The workman cannot take his absinthe with the degree of comfort enjoyed by the more prosperous or leisurely citizens. There are no chairs-he would not have time to sit down if there were.
One after another these men walk up to the cart, gulp down the poison which they erringly ' take for the good of the heart anil stomach,' and go back to their labours.
Plenty of credit may be had until Saturday night, and he may take as large a drink as lie likes. His ' bracer ' costs him three or four cents a glass.
It is not good absinthe, as a rule, that these unfortunates drink, but the vilest and most dangerous imitations. They know this very well, saying that pure absinthe is not for the poor man but for the rich.
His drink does not make the labourer jovial or light-hearted, any more than it makes the wealthier consumer in the gilded cafes boisterous. He goes back to his work morosely, and labours in solemn silence.
Then come two more drinks during the afternoon, and a fourth, probably, as he goes wearily homeward at night. His legs are not
affected, but horrible visions are forming in the weakened brain.
It is a curious thing that the absinthe drinker, especially among the lower classes, feels an acute sense of personal oppression under the spell of the insidious poison.
He hates everybody: the hand of every man is against him. Even his wife and his children are intriguing to destroy his peace and happiness.
When he passes the home of the wealthy man he mutters in anger-he is without a cent in his pocket because the rich steal it all. If he can jostle rudely a well dressed man or woman wThile on his way, the act gives him a savage sort of pleasure; ordered to move on by a policeman, an insane desire to kill the uniformed representative of law swells up in his heart.
Not long ago, labouring under the hallucination ' due to absinthe ' that his wife was not faithful to him, a Paris labourer killed her and their child. [DOT]
' Absinthe ' said Senator Beranger recently,
' is responsible for the depopulation of the country and for more than two-thirds of the . crime committed.' Even the judges who deal with criminal cases recognize the fact that to be a confirmed victim of ' absinthism ' is a reason for almost any crime.
There are many dens throughout the poorest quarters of Paris where the wretched absinthe victim, sunk to the lowest depths of degradation, may h&ve a glass of poison for two cents, and may be permitted the use of a dark corner in which to sleep.
Such haunts-and this is a sad commentary upon the gratification of human curiosity- are among the show places of that remarkable city. Professional guides conduct parties of tourists to these resorts iu order that they may witness the fallen humanity at its deepest and darkest level.
As the visitors usually tip the proprietor liberally, he welcomes them with greater pleasure than he does the trembling wretches who come to buy his wares. They may gaze upon sin and misery to their heart's content.
One never sees evidences of merry-making or light-heartedness in these haunts of depravity. Everything is suggestive of hopeless misery. Men and women may he thereat least they were men and women at one time but are now simply absinthe drunkards through whose feeble brains the shadows of weird dreams are creeping.
But once in the grip of absinthe the victim is seldom able to set himself free. He will do anything to obtain money to purchase it. Not infrequently guides on the Alps have been known to murder tourists in their care in order to obtain money for this purpose.
Whether it is the result of bad example or not,_ the neighbours of France are drinking absinthe much more heavily than formerly, not without appreciable results. While the population of Belgium for instance has increased 30 per cent during the last 15 years, the consumption of alcohol has increased 37 per cent during the same period. Cases of insanity there have increased in number 45 per cent, suicides 80 per cent, and arrests for begging and vagabondage 150 per cent.
It was a recognition of the danger into which their country was steadily moving that
Topic: W. S. FIELDING.