"The Dangers of Moderate Drinking"

[Gough gave this address numerous times over the course of his career.]

One favorite argument of young men in reference to the use of intoxicating drink is, "When I find out that it is doing me an injury, then I will give it up." That is making an admission and coming to a conclusion.

The admission is true; the conclusion is false. You admit it may injure you, and when it has injured you, then you will quit it. You won't use such an argument in reference to any other matter. "I will put my hand into the den of a rattlesnake, and when I find out that he has stuck his fangs into me I will draw it out and get it cured as quickly as possible." There is no common sense in that.

Young men, beware of this thing, because it is a snare. It is fearfully deceptive. Every man who drinks intends to be a moderate drinker. I have said this over and over again, because I believe it to be important. Every man who becomes intemperate does so by a course of argument from the beginning all the way down to ruin. . . .

I once heard of a pilot who said he could pilot a vessel into Boston Harbor. "Now," said he to the captain, "I'll stand 'midships, and you can take the helm. I know every rock in this channel - every one of 'em - I know 'em all, and I'll give you warning." By and by the vessel struck upon a rock, and the shock threw everybody down upon the deck. The poor pilot got up, rubbing himself, and said, "Captain, there's one of 'em."

Now we say to young men, "There 's one of them. Hard up your helm before you strike!" That is sensible. If you have struck, haul off and repair damages, and then strike again. Is that sensible? In time the poor old battered hulk will not bear any more damages, and men will bury you, a broken wreck. That is the end of it in many cases. "When I find out that it is injuring me, then I will give it up." Gather all the drunkards of this country together, and ask them every one, "Are you drinking enough to injure you?" A large proportion will declare that they are not. Each one of them has become a drunkard in the sight of God and man before he has become one in his own estimation.

Intoxicating drink is deceptive in its very nature. It reminds me of the fable of the serpent in a circle of fire. A man was passing by, and the snake said to him, "Help me out of my difficulty." "If I do, you'll bite me." "Oh, no, I won't." "I'm afraid to trust you," "Help me out of the fire, or it will consume me, and I promise on my word of honor I won't bite you." The man took the snake out of the fire, and threw it on the ground. Instantly the serpent said, "Now I'll bite you." "But didn't you promise me you wouldn't?" "Yes, but don't you know it's my nature to bite, and I cannot help it." So it is with the drink. It is its nature to bite; it is its nature to deceive.

Young men say (and I have heard them more than once) that they "must sow their wild oats." Remember this, young gentlemen, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." If you sow corn, you reap corn. If you sow weeds, you reap weeds. If you sow to the flesh, you will of the flesh reap corruption. But if you sow to the spirit, you will of the spirit reap life everlasting. Ah, young men, look at that reaping, and then contemplate the awful reaping of men to-day who are reaping as they have sown, in bitterness of spirit and anguish of soul. "When I find out that it is injuring me, Then I will give it up."

Surely that is not common sense. Such is the fascination thrown around a man by the power of this habit, that it must have essentially injured him before he will acknowledge the hurt and consent to give it up. Many a man has been struck down in his prosperity, has been sent to prison for crime, before he acknowledged that his evil habit was injuring him. I remember riding from Buffalo to Niagara Fails, and I said to a gentleman, "What river is that, sir?" "That," he said, "is Niagara River." "It is a beautiful stream," said I, "bright, smooth, and glassy; how far off are the rapids?" " Only a few miles," was the reply. "Is it possible that only a few miles from us we shall find the water in the turbulence which it must show when near the rapids?" "You will find it so, sir." And so I found it, and that first sight of Niagara Falls I shall never forget. Now, launch your bark on that river; the water is smooth, beautiful, and glassy. There is a ripple at the bow of your boat, and the silvery wake it leaves behind adds to your enjoyment. You set out on your pleasure excursion. Down the stream you glide; oars, sails, and helm in proper trim. Suddenly some one cries out from the bank, "Young men, ahoy!"

"What is it?"

"The rapids are below you."

"Ha, ha! we have heard of the rapids, but we are not such fools as to get into them. When we find we are going too fast, then we shall up with the helm and steer to the shore; we will set the mast in the socket, hoist the sail, and speed to land. Then on, boys, don't be alarmed, there's no danger." "Young men, ahoy there! " "What is it?" "The rapids are below you." "Ha, ha? we will laugh and, quaff; all things delight us. What care we for the future? No man ever saw it. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. We will enjoy life while we may; we will catch pleasure as it flies. This is enjoyment, time enough to steer out of danger when we are sailing too swiftly with the current." "Young men, ahoy!" "What is it?" "Beware, beware! the rapids are below you." Now you feel them! See the water foaming all around! See how fast you pass that point! Up with the helm! Now turn! Pull hard; quick, quick! Pull for your lives! Pull till the blood starts from the nostrils and the veins stand like whipcord upon the brow. Set the mast in the socket, hoist the sail! Ah, ah, it is too late; faster and faster you near the awful cataract, and then, shrieking, cursing, howling, praying, over you go. Thousands launch their barks in smooth water and realize no danger till on the verge of ruin, boasting all the while to the last, "When I find out that it is injuring me, then I will give it up." The power of this habit, I repeat, is fascinating, is deceptive, and men may go on arguing and coming to conclusions while on the way down to destruction.
Platform Echoes, John B. Gough (1886)