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The Drunkard's Looking Glass

Historically, alcohol has been prevalent as part of nearly any celebration. The expectation has been that one should moderate their drinking habits in order to perform their jobs, care for their families, and protect theirs and other's well being. Excessive drinking or drunkenness has been a public health concern for individuals and has elicited religious, cultural, governmental and legal restrictions. Mason Locke Weem's small tome may have provided substantial fodder for the mid-to late 19th century temperance movement or the 1919 Prohibition Amendment, but his sensibilities of the power of drink over the psyche could also account for the failure of such an amendment. Alcohol has been, and continues to be, a powerful addictive substance in our society.

Whether the images are early 19th century engravings of inebriated workers, or 21st century full color digital images of revelers at a Super Bowl party - drunken individuals continue to exhibit similar behavior and psychological traits. Written nearly two hundred years ago, Weems explains the evil of drink. Its sentiments and concerns very well have been written contemporaneously.

Initially published in 1812 under the title, God's Revenge Against Drunkenness, Weems categorizes drunkenness into three distinct stages 1) The FRISKY or FOOLISH, 2) The FRANTIC or DEMONIC, and 3) the STUPID or TORPID. Within each stage, Weems decries the influence of alcohol and gives examples of heinous accidents and crimes perpetrated while unfortunate persons were under its spell. Why do people drink? Weems writes "... many people drink to forget their sorrows and remember their misery no more."

Weems describes the main component needed for abstaining from alcohol; Happiness. Weems lists the three courses of action for the cure of drunkenness through man's nature; 1) ANIMAL, 2) INTELLECTUAL, and 3) DIVINE. Underneath each of these three, he lists three additional sublevels in the pursuit of happiness; 1) the pleasure of SENSE, 2) the pleasure of KNOWLEDGE, and 3) the pleasure of the DIVINE LOVE.

Ebling Library Copy (WM W397D 1818) 6th ed.

First edition with these text illustrations. 8vo. Engraved frontispiece possibly by William Charles, and 13 engravings in the text by William Mason. 63 pp. Illustrated gray blue wrappers, uncut, sewn. Shaw & Shoemaker 46749 (MWA, PPL); Hamilton 1019. By the famous Parson Weems (a.k.a. Mason Locke Weems), author of the LIFE OF WASHINGTON. The copper-engraved frontispiece, depicting a drunken horseman's unfortunate encounter with a low-hanging limb, was "...possibly engraved by William Charles. There are 13 woodcuts in the text which are attributed to William Mason." That on p. 32 bears the initial 'G' which suggests [George] Gilbert" (a pupil of Mason) -- Hamilton. Weems' temperance tract first appeared in 1812, but without the illustrations, which appeared here for the first time.

From the items donated by Dr. Hans H. Reese, M.D.

 

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