This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Boswell, talking to Dr. Johnson about the ethics of drinking, said, respecting himself, "I am a lover of wine, and therefore curious to hear what you say remarkable about drinking".
This was apropos of a story as to Dr. Campbell quaffiing thirteen bottles of Port at a sitting. "Sir,"said Dr. Johnson, "if a man drinks very slowly, and lets one glass evaporate before he takes another, I know not how long he may drink. Nevertheless, wine gives a man nothing, but only puts into motion what has been locked up in frost. A man should so cultivate his mind as to have without wine that confidence, and readiness which wine gives."Someone then suggested, "It is a key which opens a box, but the box may be full, or empty." "Nay, Sir," said Johnson; "conversation is the key; wine is a picklock which forces open the box, and injures it".
Dr. Thudicum, in his Treatise on Wines, avers: "We have never known an authentic case of delirium tremens produced by drinking, in whatever excess, natural wine. Further, the habitual consumers of natural wine enjoy a remarkable immunity from gout, gravel, and such calculous formations as arise from the uric acid disposition; but no such immunity accompanies the use, or abuse of fortified wines".
Alcohol has surprisingly little effect by itself on the chemical processes of digestion. The immunity of the gastric juice within the stomach from the action of alcohol thereupon is very striking. It is also a decided antiseptic. But with gouty, diabetic patients alcohol is likely to act harmfully by delaying the disintegration which should occur of starchy, and fatty foods into their nutritive elements. Similarly, also, it hinders elementary changes in animal foods with gouty persons. Again, for female difficulties of monthly function copious hot drinks which are non-alcoholic prove most serviceable, by promoting a general opening of the skin pores throughout the entire surface of the body, and thus relieving internal congestions which are attending the periodical epoch. To be sure, a. stiff glass of gin and hot water given at the outset will seldom fail to confer ease and comfort, and to tide the patient over the immediate paroxysms of pain; but we cannot make sure that the single tumblerful of hot toddy taken in this way once a month will never be exceeded, or will not seductively lead to frequent future similar indulgences. Otherwise the remedy is an excellent one.
Dr. Hutchison thinks that for diabetic persons, who are not also gouty, or of feeble digestive powers, alcohol may be very useful as a food, a source of energy, and an economizer of the proteids; further as helping materially in the digestion of fat.
Fifty, or more years ago our forefathers would drink liberally of Port wine (then of excellent quality, and therefore comparatively harmless), even whilst sojourning at one of the former famous hostelries. Thus, Mr. Pickwick, when taking up his abode for a time "in very good, old-fashioned, and comfortable quarters, to wit, the George and Vulture Tavern (City of London), had dined, finished his second pint of particular port, pulled his silk handkerchief over his head, put his feet on the fender, and thrown himself back in an easy chair, when the entrance of his man-servant, Sam Weller, aroused him from his tranquil meditations." Far less satisfactory, however, was the fare provided at the "Great White Horse,"Ipswieh (1828), where, "after the lapse of an hour, a bit of fish, and a steak were served up to the travellers (Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Peter Magnus), who, when the dinner was cleared away, drew their chairs up to the fire, and having ordered a bottle of port (of the worst possible kind, at the highest possible price) for the good of the house, drank brandy and water for their own." Again, "at Mrs. Bardell's house with the red door, in Goswell Street, the hidden treasures of her closet comprised sundry plates of oranges and biscuits, also a bottle of old crusted port, that at one-and-nine, with another of the celebrated East India sherry at fourteenpence, which were produced in honour of the lodger, and afforded unlimited satisfaction to everybody".
We are reminded, as the reverse of this picture, by Dr. King Chambers, when talking about the mighty hunters, and stalwart, robust herdsmen of wild, uncultivated nations, "that as soon as coming within the tide of civilization (and alcohol) the day goes against them: they fade away childless under our very eyes, like that vast American tribe of which it is said the only extant remnants are a chief, a tomahawk, and six gallons of whisky".
It is remarkable that the common Acorn, as produced by our English Oak tree, has a property which will serve to antidote the effects of alcohol. A distilled spirit should be made from acorns, as the "spiritus glandium quercus" which will materially help to control an abnormal craving for intoxicating liquors; also, if taken in doses of from five to ten drops two or three times a day, this spirit will prove of immense aid in subduing morbid symptoms resulting from abuse of alcoholic drinks.
With our forefathers an old-fashioned, capacious wine-bottle was in vogue, known as a Jeroboam, being so called after the King who made Israel to sin. There was so much wine in such a big bottle that the topers were made drunk thereby, seeing that when once the cork was drawn the bottle could not be closed again. A Jeroboam is the largest bottle known. Rubaiyat, of Omar. Khayyam, the Persian poet, so eloquently and faithfully translated by Edward Fitzgerald, glows with fervour about good liquor: -
"Here, with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse, - and thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness, And Wilderness is Paradise enow".