1797 Temperance Thermometer Measures the Moral & Physical Impact of Your Drinking Habits


Ques­tion for the drinkers out there:

Does strong beer tak­en in mod­er­ate quan­ti­ties at meal­times make you cheer­ful?

Yeah, me too!

That gives us a tem­per­a­ture of 10 accord­ing to 18th-cen­tu­ry physi­cian John Coak­ley Lett­som’s “moral and phys­i­cal ther­mome­ter,” one of his Hints Designed to Pro­mote Benef­i­cence, Tem­per­ance, and Med­ical Sci­ence (1797).

It’s noth­ing to be ashamed of—anything above zero con­sti­tutes a pass­ing score. The founder of the Med­ical Soci­ety of Lon­don, Lett­som was a pro­po­nent of true tem­per­ance, not total absti­nence. Accord­ing to his rubric, a “small beer” has all the virtues of milk and water.

Dip below a zero, though, and you’re in for a bumpy night.

Punch is appar­ent­ly the gate­way to such demon influ­ences as flip, shrub, whiskey and rum. Gosh. You may as well just skip the punch and go straight for the hard stuff, if, as in Lettsom’s view, they all end in the same vices and dis­eases.

Puk­ing and Tremors of the Hands in the Morn­ing?

Yes, on occa­sion.

Peev­ish­ness, Idle­ness, and Obscen­i­ty?

Yep, that too.

Mur­der, Mad­ness, and Death?

Mer­ci­ful­ly, no. At least not yet.

While not entire­ly free of stig­ma, alco­holism is now some­thing many view through the lens of AA, a prob­lem best reme­died through a sys­tem of per­son­al account­abil­i­ty shored up by a net­work of non­judg­men­tal, sym­pa­thet­ic sup­port.

Back in Lettsom’s day, when an alco­holic hit rock bot­tom, it was assumed he or she would stay there, a task made eas­i­er when the wages of this par­tic­u­lar sin includ­ed the poor house, a one way tick­et to the Botany Bay penal colony, and the gal­lows.

Such loom­ing con­se­quences are eas­i­ly laughed off when you’ve had a snoot, which may be why Lett­som also pub­lished the illus­trat­ed ver­sion of his ther­mome­ter below. A pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words, par­tic­u­lar­ly when depict­ing the pre-Dick­en­sian mis­ery that awaits the drunk­ard and his fam­i­ly.

Termometro morall

via Rebec­ca Onion and Slate

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Washington’s 110 Rules for Civil­i­ty and Decent Behav­ior

Thomas Jefferson’s Hand­writ­ten Vanil­la Ice Cream Recipe

“The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink”: An Ad for London’s First Cafe Print­ed Cir­ca 1652

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, home­school­er, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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