You Are the Man!
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"How can you reconcile it to your conscience to continue in your present business, Mr. Weber?" asked a venerable clergyman of a tavern-keeper, as the two walked home from the funeral of a young man who had died suddenly.
"I find no difficulty on that score," replied the tavern-keeper, in a confident tone: "My business is as necessary to the public, as that of any other man."
"That branch of it, which regards the comfort and accommodation of travelers, I will grant to be necessary. But there is another portion of it which, you must pardon me for saying, is not only uncalled for by the real needs of the community, but highly detrimental to health and good morals."
"Mr. Montgomery, to what portion of my business do you allude?"
"I allude to that part of it which embraces the sale of intoxicating drinks."
"Indeed! the very best part of my business. But, certainly, you do not pretend to say that I am to be held accountable for the unavoidable excesses which sometimes grow out of the use of liquors as a beverage?"
"I certainly must say, that, in my opinion, a very large share of the responsibility rests upon your shoulders. You not only make it a business to sell liquors, but you use every device in your power to induce men to come and drink them. You invent new compounds with new and attractive names, in order to induce the indifferent or the lovers of variety, to frequent your bar-room. In this way, you too often draw the weak into an excess of self-indulgence, that ends, alas! in drunkenness and final ruin of body and soul. You are not only responsible for all this, Mr. Weber, but you bear the weight of a fearful responsibility!"
"I cannot see the subject in that light, Mr. Montgomery," the tavern-keeper said, rather gravely. "Mine is an honest and honorable calling, and it is my duty to my family and to society, to follow it with diligence and a spirit of enterprise."
"May I ask you a plain question, Mr. Weber?"
"Oh yes, certainly! as many as you please."
"Can that calling be an honest and honorable one, which takes sustenance from the community — and gives back nothing in return?"
"I do not know that I understand the nature of your question, Mr.
"Consider then society as a man in a larger form, as it really is. In this great body, as in the lesser body of man, there are various functions of use and a reciprocity between the whole. Each function receives a portion of life from the others, and gives back its own proper share for the good of the whole. The hand does not act for itself alone — receiving strength and selfishly appropriating it without returning its quota of good to the general system. And so of the heart, and lungs, and every other organ in the whole body. Reverse the order — and how soon is the entire system diseased! Now, does that member of the great body of the people act honestly and honorably, who regularly receives his portion of good from the general social system — and gives nothing back in return?"
To this the landlord made no reply, and Mr. Montgomery continued —
"But there is still a stronger view to be taken. Suppose a member of the human body is diseased — a limb, for instance, in a partial state of mortification. Here, there is a reception of life from the whole system into that limb, and a constant giving back of disease that gradually pervades the entire body; and, unless that body possesses extraordinary vital energy, in the end destroys it. In like manner, if in the larger body there be one member who takes his share of life from the whole — and gives back nothing but a poisonous principle, whose effect is disease and death, surely he cannot be called a good member — nor honest, nor honorable."
"And please, Mr. Montgomery," asked the tavern-keeper, with warmth, "where will you find, in society, such an individual as you describe?"
The minister paused at this question, and looked his companion steadily in the face. Then raising his long, thin finger to give force to his remark, he said with deep emphasis —
"You are the man!"
"Me, Mr. Montgomery! me!" exclaimed the tavern-keeper, in surprise and displeasure. "You surely cannot be in earnest!"
"I utter but a solemn truth, Mr. Weber — such is your position in society! You receive food, and clothing, and comforts and luxuries of various kinds for yourself and family from the social body — and what do you give back for all these? A poison to steal away the health and happiness of that social body! You are far worse than a perfectly dead member — you exist upon the great body as a moral gangrene. Reflect calmly upon this subject. Go home, and in the silence of your own chamber, enter into unimpassioned and solemn communion with your heart. Be honest with yourself. Exclude the bias of selfish feelings and selfish interests — and honestly define to yourself your true position.'
"But, Mr. Montgomery — "
The two men had paused nearly in front of Mr. Weber's splendid establishment, and were standing there when the tavern-keeper commenced a reply to the minister's last remarks. He had uttered but the first word or two, when he was interrupted by a pale, thinly-dressed female, who held a little girl by the hand. She came up before him and looked him steadily in the face for a moment or two.
"Mr. Weber, I believe," she said.
"Yes, madam, that is my name," was his reply.
"I have come, Mr. Weber," the woman then said, with an effort to smile and affect a polite air, "to thank you for a present I received last night."
"Thank me, madam! There certainly must be some mistake. I never made you a present. Indeed, I have not the pleasure of your acquaintance."
"You said your name was Weber, I believe?"
"Yes, madam, as I told you before, that is my name."
"Then you are the man. You made my little girl, here a present also, and we have both come with our thanks."
"You deal in riddles, madam. Speak out plainly."
"As I said before," the woman replied, with bitter irony in her tones, "I have come with my little girl to thank you for the present we received last night — a present of wretchedness and abuse!"
"I am still as far from understanding you as ever," the tavern-keeper said — I never abused you, madam. I do not even know you."
"But you know my husband, sir! You have enticed him to your bar, and for his money have given him a poison that has changed him from one of the best and kindest of men — into a demon! To you, then, I owe all the wretchedness I have suffered, and the brutal treatment I shared with my helpless children last night. It is for this, that I have come to thank you."
"Surely, madam, you must be beside yourself. I have nothing to do with your husband."
"Nothing to do with him!" the woman exclaimed, in an excited tone. "Would to Heaven that it were so! Before you opened your accursed gin palace, he was a sober man, and the best and kindest of husbands — but, enticed by you, your advertisements and display of fancy drinks, he was tempted within the charmed circle of your bar-room. From that moment began his downfall; and now he is lost to self-control — lost to feeling — lost to humanity!"
As the woman said this, she burst into tears, and then turned and walked slowly away.
"To that painful illustration of the truth of what I have said," the minister remarked, as the two stood once more alone, "I have nothing to add. May the lesson sink deep into your heart. Between you and that woman's husband, existed a regular business transaction. Did it result in a mutual benefit? Answer that question to your own conscience."
How the tavern-keeper answered it, we know not. But if he received no benefit from the double lesson — we trust that others may; and in the hope that the practical truth we have endeavored briefly to illustrate, will fall somewhere upon good ground, we cast it forth for the benefit of our fellow-men.
"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