Brandy as a Preventive

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851

"Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise." Proverbs 20:1

"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper!" Proverbs 23:29-32

The cholera had made its appearance in New York, and many deaths were occurring daily. Among those who weakly permitted themselves to feel an alarm amounting almost to terror, was a Mr. Hobart, who, from the moment the disease manifested itself, became absorbed with the idea that he would be one of its victims.

"Doctor," said he to his family physician, meeting him one day in the street, "is there nothing which a man can take that will act as a preventive to cholera?"

"I'll tell you what I do," replied the doctor.

"Well, what is it?"

"I take a glass of good brandy twice a day. One in the morning and the other after dinner."

"Indeed! And do you think brandy useful in preventing the disease?"

"I think it a protection," said the doctor. "It keeps the system slightly stimulated; and is, besides, a good astringent."

"A very simple agent," remarked Mr. Hobart.

"Yes, the most simple that we can adopt. And what is better, the use of it leaves no after bad consequences, as is too often the case with many medicines, which act upon the system as poisons."

"Sometimes very bad consequences arise from the use of brandy," remarked Mr. Hobart. "I have seen them in my time."

"Drunkenness, you mean."


"People who are likely to make beasts of themselves had better let it alone," said the doctor, contemptuously. "If they should take the cholera and die, it will be no great loss to the world."

"And you really think a little good brandy, taken daily, fortifies the system against the cholera?"

"Seriously I do," replied the doctor. "I have adopted this course from the first, and have not been troubled with a symptom of the disease."

"I feel very nervous on the subject. From the first I have been impressed with the idea that I would get the disease and die."

"That is a weakness, Mr. Hobart."

"I know it is, still I cannot help it. And you would advise me to take a little good brandy?"

"Yes, every day."

"I am a Son of Temperance."

"No matter; you can take it as medicine under my prescription. I know a dozen Sons of Temperance who have used brandy every day since the disease appeared in New York. It will be no violation of your contract. Life is of too much value to be put in jeopardy on a mere idea."

"I agree with you there. I'd drink anything if I thought it would give me an immunity against this dreadful disease."

"You'll be safer with the brandy than without it."

"Very well. If you think so, I will use it."

On parting with the doctor, Mr. Hobart went to a liquor store and ordered half a gallon of brandy sent home. He did not feel altogether right in doing so, for it must be understood, that, in years gone by, Mr. Hobart had fallen into the evil habit of drunkenness, which clung to him until he had expended a handsome estate and beggared his family. In this low condition, he was found by the Sons of Temperance, who induced him to abandon a course whose end was death and destruction, and to come into their Society. From that time, all was changed. Sobriety and industry returned to him, many of the good things of this world which he had lost, and he was still in the upward movement at the time when the fatal pestilence appeared.

On going home at dinner time, Hobart's wife said to him, with a serious face

"A large bottle, with some kind of liquor in it, was sent here today."

"Oh, yes," he replied, it is brandy that Doctor Lane ordered me to take as a cholera preventive."

"Brandy!" ejaculated Mrs. Hobart, with an expression of painful surprise in her voice and on her countenance, that rather annoyed her husband.

"Yes. He says that he takes it every day as a preventive, and directed me to do the same."

"I wouldn't touch it if I were you. Indeed I wouldn't!" said Mrs.

Hobart, earnestly.

"Why wouldn't you?"

"You will violate your contract with the Sons of Temperance."

"Not at all. Brandy may be used as a medicine under the prescription of a physician. I wouldn't have thought of touching it had not Doctor Lane ordered me to do so."

"You are not sick, Edward."

"But there is death in the very air I breathe. At any moment I am liable to be struck down by an arrow sent from an unseen bow, unless a shield be interposed. Such a shield has been placed in my hands. Shall I not use it?"

Mrs. Hobart knew her husband well enough to be satisfied that remonstrance and argument would be of no avail, now that his mind was made up to use the brandy; and yet so distressed did she feel, that she couldn't help saying, with tears in her eyes

"Edward, I beg of you not to touch it!"

"Would you rather see me in my coffin?" replied Mr. Hobart, with some bitterness. "Death may seem a light thing to you, but it is not so to me."

"You are not sick," still urged the wife.

"But I am liable, as I said just now, to take the disease every moment."

"You will be more liable, with your system stimulated and disturbed by brandy. Let well enough alone. Be thankful for the health you have, and do not invite disease."

"The doctor ought to know. He understands the matter better than you or I. He recommends brandy as a preventive. He takes it himself."

"Because he likes it, no doubt."

"It is silly for you to talk in that way," replied the husband, with much impatience. "He isn't rendered more liable to the disease by taking a little pure brandy, for he says that it keeps him perfectly well."

"A glass of brandy every day may have been his usual custom," urged Mrs. Hobart. "In that case, in its continuance, no change was produced. But your system has been untouched by the fiery liquid for nearly five years, and its sudden introduction must create disturbance. It is reasonable."

"The doctor ought to know best," was replied to this. "He has prescribed it, and I must take it. Life is too serious a matter to be trifled with. 'An ounce of preventive, is worth a pound of cure,' you know."

"I am in equal danger with yourself," said Mrs. Hobart; "and so are the children."

"Undoubtedly. And I wish you all to use a little brandy."

"Not a drop of that poison shall pass either my lips or those of the children!" replied Mrs. Hobart, with emphasis.

"As you please," said the husband, coldly, and turned away.

"Edward!" Mrs. Hobart laid her hand upon his arm. "Edward! Let me beg of you not to follow this advice."

"Why will you act so foolishly? Has not the doctor ordered the brandy? I look to him as the earthly agent for the preservation of my health and the saving of my life. If I do not regard his advice, in what am I to trust?"

"Remember the past, Edward," said the wife, solemnly.

"I do remember it. But I fear no danger."

Mrs. Hobart turned away sadly, and went up to her chamber to give vent to her feelings alone in tears. Firm to his purpose of using the preventive recommended by the doctor, Mr. Hobart, after dinner, took a draught of brandy and water. Nearly five years, as his wife remarked, had elapsed since a drop of the burning fluid had passed his lips. The taste was not particularly agreeable. Indeed, his stomach rather revolted as the flavor reached his palate.

"It's vile stuff at best," he remarked to himself, making a wry face. "Fit only for medicine. Not much danger of my ever loving it again. I wish Anna was not so foolish. A flattering opinion she has of her husband!"

The sober countenance of his wife troubled Mr. Hobart, as he left home for his place of business earlier by half an hour than usual. Neither in mind nor body were his sensations as pleasant as on the day before. The brandy did something more than produce an agreeable warmth in his stomach. A burning sensation soon followed its introduction, accompanied by a feeling of uneasiness which he did not like. In the course of half an hour, this unnatural heat was felt in every part of his body, but more particularly about his head and face; and it was accompanied by a certain confusion of mind which prevented his usual close application to business during the afternoon.

Towards evening, these disagreeable consequences of the glass of cholera-preventive he had taken in a great measure subsided; but there followed a dryness of the palate, and a desire for some drink more pleasant to the taste than water. In his store was a large pitcher of ice-water; but, though thirsty, he felt no inclination to taste the pure beverage; but, instead, went out and obtained a glass of soda water. This only made the matter worse. The half gill of syrup with which the water was sweetened, created, in a little while, a more uneasy feeling. Still, there was no inclination for the water that stood just at hand, and which he had daily found so refreshing during the hot weather. In fact, when he thought of it, it was with a sense of repulsion.

In this state, the idea of a cool glass of brandy punch, or a mint julep, came up in his mind, and he felt the draught, in imagination, at his lips.

"A little brandy twice a day; so the doctor said." This was uttered half aloud.

Just at the moment, a slight pain crossed his stomach. It was the first sensation of the kind he had experienced since the epidemic he so much dreaded had appeared in the city; and it caused a slight shudder to go through his frame, for he was nervous in his fear of cholera.

"A little mint with the brandy would make it better still. I don't like this feeling. I'll try a glass of brandy and mint." Thus spoke Mr. Hobart to himself.

Putting on his hat, he went forth for the purpose of getting some brandy and mint. As he stepped into the street the pain was felt again, and more distinctly. The effect was to cause a slight perspiration to manifest itself on the face and forehead of Mr. Hobart, and to make, in his mind, the necessity for the brandy and mint more imperative. He did not just like to be seen going boldly in at the door of a tavern in a public place, for he was a Son of Temperance, and anyone who knew this and happened to see him going in, could not, at the same time, know that he was acting under his physician's advice. So he went off several blocks from the neighborhood in which his store was located, and after winding his way along a narrow, unfrequented street, came to the back entrance of a tavern, where he went in, as he desired, unobserved.

Years before, Hobart had often stood at the bar where he now found himself. Old, familiar objects and associations brought back old feelings, and he was affected by an inward glow of pleasure.

"What! You here?" said a man who stood at the bar, with a glass in his hand. He was also a member of the Temperance Society.

"And you here!" replied Mr. Hobart.

"It isn't for the love of it, I can assure you," remarked the man, as he looked meaningly at his glass. "These are not ordinary times."

"You are right there," said Hobart. "A little brandy sustains and fortifies the system. That all admit."

"My physician has ordered it for me. He takes a glass or two every day himself, and tells me that, so far, he has not been troubled with the first symptom."

"Indeed. That is testimony to the point."

"So I think."

"Who is your physician?"

"Dr. Lane."

"He stands high. I would at any time trust my life in his hands."

"I am willing to do so." Then turning to the bar-keeper, Mr. Hobart said "I'll take a glass of brandy and water, and you may add some mint."

"Perhaps you'll have a mint julep?" suggested the barkeeper, winking aside to a man who stood near, listening to what passed between the two members of the Order.

"Yes I don't care yes. Make it a julep," returned Hobart. "It's the brandy and mint I want. I've had a disagreeable sensation," he added, speaking to the friend he had met, and drawing his hand across his stomach as he spoke, "that I don't altogether like. Here it is again!"

"A little brandy will help it."

"I hope so."

When the mint julep was ready, Hobart took it in his hand and retired to a table in the corner of the room, and the man he had met went with him.

"Aren't you afraid to tamper with liquor?" asked this person, a little seriously, as he observed the relish with which Hobart sipped the brandy. Some thoughts had occurred to himself that were not very pleasant.

"Oh, no. Not in the least," replied Mr. Hobart. "I only take it as a medicine, under my physician's order; and I can assure you that the taste is quite as disagreeable as mustard would be. I believe the old fondness has altogether died out."

"I'm afraid it never dies out," said the man, whose eyes told him plainly enough, that it had not died out in the case of the individual before him, notwithstanding his averment on the subject.

"I feel much better now," said Mr. Hobart, after he had nearly exhausted his glass. "I had such a cold sensation in my stomach, accompanied by a very disagreeable pain. But both are now gone. This brandy and mint have acted like a charm. Dr. Lane understands the matter clearly. It is fortunate that I saw him this morning. I would not have dared to touch brandy, unless under medical advice; and, but for the timely use of it, I might have been dangerously ill with this fatal epidemic."

After sitting a little while longer, the two men retired through the back entrance to escape observation.

"How quickly these temperance men seize hold of any excuse to get a glass of brandy," said the bar-keeper to a customer, as soon as Hobart had retired, laughing in a half sneer as he spoke. "They come creeping in through our back way, and all of them have a pain! Ha! ha!"

"I've taken a glass of brandy and water, every day for the last five years," replied the man to whom this was addressed, "and I continue it now. But I can tell you what, if I'd been an abstainer, you wouldn't catch me pouring it into my stomach now. Not I! All who do so are more liable to the disease."

"So I think," said the bar-tender. "But every one to his liking. It puts money in our till. We've done a better business since the cholera broke out, than we've done these past three years. If it were to continue for a twelve month, we would make a fortune."

This was concluded with a coarse laugh, and then he went to attend to a new customer for drink.

For all Mr. Hobart had expressed himself so warmly in favor of brandy, and had avowed his freedom from the old appetite, he did not feel altogether right about the matter. There was a certain pressure upon his feelings which he could not well throw off. When he went home in the evening, he perceived a shadow on the brow of his wife; and the expression of her eyes, when she looked at him, annoyed and troubled him.

After supper, the uneasiness he had felt during the afternoon, returned, and worried his mind considerably. The fact was, the brandy had already disturbed the well balanced action of the lower viscera. The mucous membrane of the whole gastro-intestinal canal had been stimulated beyond health, and its secretions were increased and slightly vitiated. This was the cause of the uneasiness he felt, and the slight pains which had alarmed him. By ten o'clock, his feelings had become so disagreeable, that he felt constrained to meet them with another "mouthful," of brandy. Thus, in less than ten hours, Mr. Hobart had wronged his stomach by pouring into it three glasses of brandy; entirely disturbing its healthy action.

The morning found Mr. Hobart far from feeling well. His skin was dry and feverish, and his mouth parched. There was an uneasy sensation of pain in his head. Immediately upon rising he took a strong glass of brandy. That, to use his own words, "brought him up," and made him feel "a hundred percent better." During the forenoon, however, a slight bout of diarrhea manifested itself. A thrill of alarm was the consequence.

"I must check this!" said he, anxiously. And, in order to do so, another and stronger glass of brandy was taken.

In the afternoon, the diarrhea appeared again. It was still slight, and unaccompanied by pain. But, it was a symptom not to be disregarded. So brandy was applied as before. In the evening, it showed itself again.

"I wish you would give me a little of that brandy," said he to his wife. "I'm afraid of this, it must be stopped."

"Hadn't you better see the doctor?"

"I don't think it necessary. The brandy will answer every purpose."

"I have no faith in brandy," said Mrs. Hobart.

[Poor woman! She had cause for her lack of faith!]

"I have then," replied her husband. "It's the doctor's recommendation. And he ought to know."

"You were perfectly well before you commenced acting on his advice."

"I was well, apparently. But, it is plain that the seeds of disease were in me. There is no telling how much worse I would have been."

"Nor how much better. For my part I charge all your symptoms on the brandy."

"That's a silly prejudice," said Mr. Hobart, with a good deal of impatience. "Everyone knows that brandy is a remedy in diseases of this kind; not a producing cause."

Mrs. Hobart was silent. But she did not get the brandy. That was more than she could do. So her husband got it himself. But, in order to make the medicinal purpose more apparent, he poured the liquor into a deep plate, added some sugar, and set it on fire.

"You will not object to burnt brandy at least," said he. "That you know to be good."

Mrs. Hobart did not reply. She felt that it would be useless. Only a disturbance of harmony could arise and that would produce greater unhappiness. The brandy, after having parted with its more volatile qualities, was introduced into Mr. Hobart's stomach, and fretted that delicate organ for more than an hour.

"I thought the burnt brandy would be effective," said Mr. Hobart on the next morning. "And it has proved so." In order not to lose this good effect, he fortified himself before going out with some of the same article, unburnt. But, alas! By ten o'clock the diarrhea showed itself again, and in a more decided form.

"Oh dear!" said he in increased alarm. "This won't do. I must see the doctor." And off he started for Doctor Lane's office. But, on the way he could not resist the temptation to stop at a tavern for another glass of brandy, notwithstanding he began to entertain a suspicion as to the true cause of the disturbance. The doctor happened to be in. "I think I'd better have a little medicine, doctor," said he, on seeing his medical adviser. A stitch in time, you know."

"Aren't you well?"

"No," and Mr. Hobart gave his symptoms.

"An opium pill will do all that is required," said the doctor.

"Shall I continue the brandy?" asked the patient.

"Have you taken brandy every day since I saw you?" inquired the doctor.

"Yes; twice, and sometimes three times."

"Ah!" The doctor looked thoughtful.

"Shall I continue to do so?"

"Perhaps you had better omit it for the present. You're not in the habit of drinking anything?"

"No. I haven't tasted brandy before for five years."

"Indeed! Yes, now, I remember you said so. You'd better omit it until we see the effect of the opium. Sudden changes are not always good in times like these."

"I don't think the brandy has hurt me," said Mr. Hobart.

"Perhaps not. Still, as a matter of prudence, I would avoid it. Let the opium have a full chance, and all will be right again."

An opium pill was swallowed, and Mr. Hobart went back to his place of business. It had the intended effect. That is, it cured one disease by producing another suspended action took the place of over action. He was, therefore, far from being in a state of health, or free from danger in a cholera atmosphere. There was one part of the doctor's order that Mr. Hobart did not comply with. The free use of brandy for a few days rekindled the old appetite, and made his desire for liquor so intense, that he had not, or, if he possessed it, did not exercise the power of resistance.

Sad beyond expression, was the heart of Mrs. Hobart, when evening came, and her husband returned home so much under the influence of alcohol as to show it plainly. She said nothing to him, then, for that she knew would be of no avail. But next morning, as he was rising, she said to him earnestly and almost tearfully.

"Edward, let me beg of you to reflect before you go further in the way you have entered. You may not be aware of it, but last night you showed so plainly that you had been drinking, that I was distressed beyond measure. You know as well as I do, where this will end, if continued. Stop, then, at once, while you have the power to stop. As to preventing disease, it is plain that the use of brandy has not done so in your case; but, rather, acted as a predisposing cause. You were perfectly well before you touched it; you have not been well since. Look at this fact, and, as a wise man, regard its indications!"

Truth was so strong in the words of his wife, that Mr. Hobart did not attempt to gainsay them.

"I believe you are right," he replied with a good deal of depression apparent in his manner. "I wish the doctor had kept his brandy advice to himself. It has done me no good."

"It has done you harm," said his wife.

"Perhaps it has. Ah, me! I wish the cholera would subside."

"I think your fear is too great," returned Mrs. Hobart. "Go on in your usual way; keep your mind calm; be as careful in regard to diet, and you need fear no danger."

"I wish I'd let the brandy alone!" sighed Mr. Hobart, who felt as he spoke, the desire for another draught.

"So do I. Doctor Lane must have been mad when he advised it."

"So I now think. I heard yesterday of two or three members of our Society who have been sick, and everyone of them used a little brandy as a preventive."

"It is bad bad. Common sense teaches this. No great change of habit is good in a tainted atmosphere. But you see this now, happily, and all will yet be well I trust."

"Yes, I hope so. I shall touch no more of this brandy preventive. To that my mind is fully made up."

Mrs. Hobart felt hopeful when she parted with her husband. But she knew nothing of the real conflict going on in his mind between reason and awakened appetite else had she trembled and grown faint in spirit. This conflict went on for some hours, when, alas, appetite conquered!

At dinner time Mrs. Hobart saw at a glance how it was. The whole manner of her husband had changed. His state of depression was gone, and he exhibited an unnatural exhilaration of spirits. She needed not the sickening odor of his breath, to tell the fatal secret that he had been unable to control himself.

It was worse at night. He came home so much beside himself that he could with difficulty walk erectly. Half conscious of his condition, he did not attempt to join the family, but went up stairs and groped his way to bed. Mrs. Hobart did not follow him to his chamber. Heartsick, she retired to another room, and there wept bitterly for more than an hour. She was hopeless. Up from the melancholy past, arose images of degradation and suffering too dreadful to contemplate. She felt that she had not strength to suffer again as she had suffered through many, many years. From this state, she was aroused by groans from the room where her husband lay. Alarmed by the sounds, she instantly went to him.

"What is the matter?" she asked, anxiously.

"Oh! oh! I am in so much pain!" was groaned half inarticulately.

"In pain, where?"

"Oh! oh!" was repeated, in a tone of suffering; and then he commenced vomiting.

Mrs. Hobart placed her hand upon his forehead and found it cold and clammy. Other and more painful symptoms followed. Before the doctor, who was immediately summoned, arrived, his whole system had become prostrate, and was fast sinking into a state of collapse. It was a decided case of cholera.

"Has he been eating anything improper?" asked Doctor Lane, after administering such remedies, and ordering such treatment as he deemed the case required.

"Has he eaten no green fruit?"


"Nothing, to my knowledge, replied Mrs. Hobart. "We have been very careful in regard to food."

"Nor unripe vegetables?"

Mrs. Hobart shook her head.

"Nor fish?"

"Nothing of the kind."

"That is strange. He was well a few days ago."

"Yes, perfectly, until he began to take a little brandy every day as a preventive."

"Ah!" The doctor looked thoughtful. "But it couldn't have been that. I take a little pure brandy every day, and find it good. I recommend it to all my patients."

Mrs. Hobart sighed. Then she asked "Do you think him dangerous?"

"I hope not. The attack is sudden and severe. But much worse cases recover. I will call round again before bed time."

The doctor went away feeling far from comfortable. Only a few hours before he, had left a man sick with cholera beyond recovery, who had, to his certain knowledge, adopted the brandy-drinking preventive system but a week before; and that at his recommendation. And here was another case.

At eleven o'clock Dr. Lane called to see Mr. Hobart again, and found him rapidly sinking. Not a single symptom had been reached by his treatment. The poor man was in great pain. Every muscle in his body seemed affected by cramps and spasms. His mind, however, was perfectly clear. As the doctor sat feeling his pulse, Hobart said to him

"Doctor Lane, it is too late!"

"Oh, no. It is never too late," replied the doctor. "Don't think of death; think of life, and that will help to sustain you. You are not, by any means, at the last point. Hundreds, worse than you now are, come safely through. I don't intend to let you slip through my hands."

"Doctor," said the sick man, speaking in a solemn voice, "I feel that I am beyond the reach of medicine. I shall die. What I now say, I do not mean as a reproach. I speak it only as a truth right for you to know. Do you see my poor wife?"

The doctor turned his eyes upon Mrs. Hobart, who stood weeping by the bedside.

"When she is left a widow, and my children orphans," continued the patient, "remember that you have made them such!"

"Me! Why do you say that, Mr. Hobart?" The doctor looked startled.

"Because it is the truth. I was a well man, when you, as my medical adviser, recommended me to drink brandy as a protection against disease. I was in fear of the infection, and followed your prescription. From the moment I took the first draught, my body lost its healthy equilibrium; and not only my body, but my mind. I was a reformed man, and the taste inflamed the old appetite. From that time until now, I have not been really sober."

The doctor was distressed and confounded by this declaration. He had feared that such was the case; but now it was charged unequivocally.

"I am pained at all this," he replied, "In sinning, I sinned ignorantly."

But, before he could finish his reply, the sick man became suddenly worse, and sunk into a state of insensibility.

"If it is in human power to save his life," murmured the doctor "I will save it."

Through the whole night he remained at the bed-side, giving, with his own hands, all the remedies, and applying every curative means within reach. But, when the day broke, there was little, if any change for the better. He then went home, but returned in a couple of hours.

"How is your husband?" he asked of the pale-faced wife as he entered. She did not reply, and they went up to the chamber together. A deep silence reigned in the room as they entered.

"Is he asleep?" whispered the doctor.

"See!" The wife threw back the sheet.

"O!" was the only sound that escaped the doctor's lips. It was a prolonged sound, and uttered in a tone of exquisite distress. The white and ghastly face of death was before him!

"It is your work!" murmured the unhappy woman, half beside herself in her affliction.

"Madam! do not say that!" ejaculated the physician. "Do not say that!"

"It is the truth! Did he not charge it upon you with his dying breath?"

"I did all for the best, madam! all for the best! It was an error in his case. But I meant him no harm."

"You put poison to his lips, and destroyed him. You have made his wife a widow and his children orphans!"

"Madam! " The doctor knit his brows and spoke in a stern voice. But, before he had uttered a word more, the stricken-hearted woman gave a wild scream and fell upon the floor. Nature had been tried beyond the point of endurance, and reason was saved at the expense of physical prostration.

A few weeks later, and Doctor Lane, in driving past the former residence of Mr. Hobart, saw furniture cars at the door. The family were moving. Death had taken the husband and father, and the poor widow was going forth with her little ones from the old and pleasant home to gather them around her in a smaller and poorer place. His feelings at the moment none need envy.

How many, like Mr. Hobart, have died through the insane prescription of brandy as a preventive to cholera! and how many more have fallen back into old habits, and become hopeless drunkards! Brandy is not good for health at any time; how much less so, when the very air we breathe is filled with a subtle poison, awaiting the least disturbance in the human constitution to affect it with disease.