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God controls the greatest as well
as the smallest of the events of this world. Our business during the few days
of our pilgrimage, then, is to know His will and do it. Our happiness here,
as in heaven, rests on this foundation, just as the success and failures of
our lives come entirely from the practical knowledge or ignorance of this simplest
and sublimest truth. I dare say that there is not a single fact of my long and
eventful life which has not taught me that there is a special providence in
our lives. Particularly was this apparent in the casting of the lots by which
I became the first chaplain of the Quebec Marine Hospital. After the other vicars
had congratulated each other for having escaped the heavy burden of work and
responsibilities connected with that chaplaincy, they kindly gave me the assurance
of their sympathies for what they called my bad luck. In thanking them for their
friendly feeling, I confessed that this occurrence appeared to me in a very
different light. I was sure that God had directed this for my good and His own
glory, and I was right. In the beginning of November, 1834, a slight indisposition
having kept me a few days at home, Mr. Glackmayer, the superintendent of the
hospital, came to tell me that there was an unusually large number of sick,
left by the Fall fleets, in danger of death, who were day and night calling
for me. He added, in a secret way, that there were several cases of small-pox
of the worst type; that several had already died, and many were dying from the
terrible cholera morbus, which was still raging among the sailors.
This sad news came to me as an order from heaven to run to the rescue of my dear sick seamen. I left my room, despite my physician, and went to the hospital.
The first man I met was Dr. Douglas, who was waiting for me at Mr. C. Glackmayer's room. He confirmed what I had known before of the number of sick, and added that the prevailing diseases were of the most dangerous kind.
Dr. Douglas, who was one of the founders and governors of the hospital, had the well-merited reputation of being one of the ablest surgeons of Quebec. Though a staunch Protestant by birth and profession, he honoured me with his confidence and friendship from the first day we met. I may say I have never known a nobler heart, a larger mind and a truer philanthropist.
After thanking him for the useful though sad intelligence he had given me, I requested Mr. Glackmayer to give me a glass of brandy, which I immediately swallowed.
"What are you doing there?" said Dr. Douglas.
"You see," I answered; "I have drunk a glass of excellent brandy."
"But please tell me why you drank that brandy."
"Because it is a good preservative against the pestilential atmosphere I will breathe all day," I replied. "I will have to hear the confessions of all those people dying form small-pox or cholera, and breathe the putrid air which is around their pillows. Does not common sense warn me to take some precautions against the contagion?"
"Is it possible," rejoined he, "that a man for whom I have such a sincere esteem is so ignorant of the deadly workings of alcohol in the human frame? What you have just drank is nothing but poison; and, far from protecting yourself against the danger, you are now more exposed to it than before you drank that beverage."
"You poor Protestants," I answered, in a jocose way, "are a band of fanatics, with your extreme doctrines on temperance; you will never convert me to your views on that subject. Is it for the use of the dogs that God has created wine and brandy? No; it is for the use of men who drink them with moderation and intelligence."
"My dear Mr. Chiniquy, you are joking; but I am in earnest when I tell you that you have poisoned yourself with that glass of brandy," replied Dr. Douglas. "If good wine and brandy were poisons," I answered, "you would be long ago the only physician in Quebec, for you are the only one of the medical body whom I know to be an abstainer. But, though I am much pleased with your conversation, excuse me if I leave you to visit my dear sick sailors, whose cries for spiritual help ring in my ears."
"One word more," said Dr. Douglas, "and I have done. Tomorrow morning we will make the autopsy of a sailor who has just died suddenly here. Have you any objection to come and see with your eyes, in the body of that man, what your glass of brandy has done in your own body."
"No, sir; I have no objection to see that," I replied. "I have been anxious for a long time to make a special study of anatomy. It will be my first lesson; I cannot get it from a better master."
I then shook hands with him and went to my patients, with whom I passed the remainder of the day and the greater part of the night. Fifty of them wanted to make general confessions of all the sins of their whole lives; and I had to give the last sacraments to twenty-five who were dying from small-pox or cholera morbus. The next morning I was, at the appointed hour, by the corpse of the dead man, when Dr. Douglas kindly gave me a very powerful microscope, that I might more thoroughly follow the ravages of alcohol in every part of the human body.
"I have not the least doubt," said he, "that this man has been instantly killed by a glass of rum, which he drank one hour before he fell dead. That rum has caused the rupture of the aorta" (the big vein which carries the blood to the heart).
While talking thus the knife was doing its work so quickly that the horrible spectacle of the broken artery was before our eyes almost as the last word fell from his lips.
"Look here," said the doctor, "all along the artery, and you will see thousands, perhaps millions, of reddish spots, which are as many holes perforated through it by alcohol. Just as the musk rats of the Mississippi river, almost every spring, did little holes through the dams which keep that powerful river within its natural limits, and cause the waters to break through the little holes, and thus carry desolation and death along its shores, so alcohol every day causes the sudden death of thousands of victims by perforating the veins and opening small issues through which the blood rushes out of its natural limits. It is not only this big vein which alcohol perforates; it does the same deadly work in the veins of the lungs and the whole body. Look at the lungs with attention, and count, if you can, the thousands and thousands of reddish, dark and yellow spots, and little ulcers with which they are covered. Every one of them is the work of alcohol, which has torn and cut the veins and caused the blood to go out of its canals, to carry corruption and death all over these marvelous organs. Alcohol is one of the most dangerous poisons I dare say it is the most dangerous. It has killed more men than all the other poisons together. Alcohol I cannot be changed or assimilated to any part or tissue or our body, it cannot go to any part of the human frame without bringing disorder and death to it. For it cannot in any possible way unite with any part of our body. The water we drink, and the wholesome food and bread we eat, by the laws and will of God are transformed into different parts of the body, to which they are sent through the millions of small canals which take them from the stomach to every part of our frame. When the water has been drunk, or the bread we have eaten is, for instance, sent to the lungs, to the brain, the nerves, the muscles, the bones wherever it goes it receives, if I can so speak, letters of citizenship; it is allowed to remain there in peace and work for the public good. But it is not so with alcohol. The very moment it enters the stomach it more or less brings disorder, ruin and death, according to the quantity taken. The stomach refuses to take it, and makes a supreme effort to violently throw it out, either through the mouth, or by indignantly pushing it to the brain or into the numberless tubes by which it discharges its contents to the surface through all the tissues. But will alcohol be welcome in any of these tubes or marvelous canals, or in any part or tissue of the body it will visit on its passage to the surface? No! Look here with your microscope, and you will see with your own eyes that everywhere alcohol has gone in the body there has been a hand-to-hand struggle and a bloody battle fought to get rid of it. Yes! every place where King Alcohol has put his foot has been turned into a battlefield, spread with ruin and death, in order to ignominiously turn it out. By a most extraordinary working of nature, or rather by the order of God, every vein and artery through which alcohol has to pass suddenly contracts, as if to prevent its passage or choke it as a deadly foe. Every vein and artery has evidently heard the voice of God: "Wine is a mocker; it bites like a serpent and stings as an adder!" Every nerve and muscle which alcohol touched, trembled and shook as if in the presence of an implacable and unconquerable enemy. Yes, at the presence of alcohol every nerve and muscle loses its strength, just as the bravest man, in the presence of a horrible monster or demon, suddenly loses his natural strength, and shakes from head to foot."
I cannot repeat all I heard that day from the lips of Dr. Douglas, and what I saw with my own eyes of the horrible workings of alcohol through every part of that body. It would be too long. Suffice to say that I was struck with horror at my own folly, and at the folly of so many people who make use of intoxicating drinks.
What I learned that day was like the opening of a mysterious door, which allowed me to see the untold marvels of a new and most magnificent world. But though I was terror-stricken with the ravages of strong drink in that dead man, I was not yet convinced of the necessity of being a total abstainer from wine and beer, and a little brandy now and then, as a social habit. I did not like to expose myself to ridicule by the sacrifice of habits which seemed then, more than now, to be among the sweetest and most common links of society. But I determined to lose no opportunity of continuing the study of the working of alcohol in the human body. At the same time I resolved to avail myself of every opportunity of making a complete study of anatomy under the kind and learned Dr. Douglas.
It was from the lips and works of Dr. Douglas that I learned the following startling facts:
1st. The heart of man, which is only six inches long by four inches wide, beats seventy times in a minute, 4,200 in one hour, 100,300 in a day, 36,792,000 in a year. It ejects two ounces and a half of blood out of itself every time it beats, which makes 175 ounces every minute, 656 pounds every hour, seven tons and three-quarters of blood which goes out of the heart every day! The whole blood of a man runs through his heart in three minutes.
2nd. The skin is composed of three parts placed over each other, whose thickness varies from a quarter to an eighth of a line. Each square inch contains 3,500 pores, through which the sweat goes out. Every one of them is a pipe a quarter of an inch long. All those small pipes united together would form a canal 201,166 feet long equal to forty miles, or nearly thirteen leagues!
3rd. The weight of the blood in an ordinary man is between thirty and forty pounds. That blood runs through the body in 101 seconds, or one minute and forty-one seconds. Eleven thousand (11,000) pints of blood pass through the lungs in twenty-four hours.
4th. There are 246 bones in the human body; 63 of them are in the head, 24 in the sides, 16 in the wrist, 14 in the joints, and 108 in the hands and feet!
The heart of a man who drinks nothing but pure water beats about 100,300 a day, but will beat from 25,000 to 30,000 times more if he drinks alcoholic drinks. Those who have not learned anatomy know little of the infinite power, wisdom, love and mercy of God. No book except the Bible, and no science except the science of astronomy is like the body of man to tell us what our God is, and what we are. The body of man is a book written by the hand of God, to speak to us of Him as no man can speak. After studying the marvelous working of the heart, the lungs, the eyes and the brain of man, I could not speak; I remained mute, unable to say a single word to tell my admiration and awe. I wept as overwhelmed with my feelings. I should have like to speak of those things to the priests with whom I lived, but I saw at first they could not understand me; they thought I was exaggerating. How many times, when alone with God in my little closet, when thinking of those marvels, I fell on my knees and said: "Thou are great, O my God! The works of Thy hands are above the works of man! But the works of Thy love and mercy are above all Thy other works!"
During the four years I was chaplain of the Marine Hospital, more than one hundred corpses were opened before me, and almost as many outside the hospital. For when, by the order of the jury and the coroner, an autopsy was to be made, I seldom failed to attend. In that way I have had a providential opportunity of acquiring the knowledge of one of the most useful and admirable sciences as no priest or minister probably ever had on this continent. It is my conviction that the first thing a temperance orator ought to do is to study anatomy; get the bodies of drunkards, as well as those of so called temperate drinkers, opened before him, and study there the working of alcohol in the different organs of man. So long as the orators on temperance will not do that, they cannot understand the subject on which they speak. Though I have read the best books written by the most learned physicians of England, France, and United States on the ravages of rum, wines and beer of every kind and name in the body of men, I have never read anything which enlightened me so much, and brought such profound convictions to my intelligence, as the study I have made of the brain, the lungs, the heart, veins, arteries, nerves and muscles of a single man or woman. These bodies, opened before me, were books written by the hand of God Himself, and they spoke to me as no man could speak. By the mercy of God, to that study is due the irresistible power of my humble efforts in persuading my countrymen to give up the use of intoxicating drinks. But here is the time to tell how my merciful God forced me, His unprofitable and rebellious servant, almost in spite of myself, to give up the use of intoxicating drinks.
Among my penitents there was a young lady belonging to one of the most respectable families of Quebec. She had a child, a girl, almost a year old, who was a real beauty. Nothing this side of heaven could surpass the charms of that earthly angel. Of course that young mother idolized her; she could hardly consent to be without her sweet angel, even to go to church. She carried her everywhere, to kiss her at every moment and press her to her heart. Unfortunately that lady, as it was then and is till now often the case, even among the most refined, had learned in her father's house, and by the example of he own mother, to drink wine at the table, and when receiving the visits of her friends or when visiting them herself. Little by little she began to drink, when alone, a few drops of wine, at first by the advice of her physician, but soon only to satisfy the craving appetite, which grew stronger day by day. I was the only one, excepting her husband, who knew this fact. He was my intimate friend, and several times, with tears trickling down his cheeks, he had requested me, in the name of God, to persuade her to abstain from drinking. That young man was so happy with his accomplished wife and his incomparably beautiful child! He was rich, had a high position in the world, numberless friends, and a palace for his home! Every time I had spoken to that young lady, either when alone or in the presence of her husband, she had shed tears of regret; she had promised to reform, and take only the few glasses prescribed by her doctor. But, alas! that fatal prescription of the doctor was like the oil poured on burning coals; it was kindling a fire which nothing could quench. One day, which I will never forget, a messenger came in haste and said: "Mr. A. Wants you to come to his home immediately. A terrible misfortune has just happened his beautiful child has just been killed. His wife is half crazy; he fears lest she will kill herself."
I leaped into the elegant carriage drawn by two fine horses, and in a few minutes I was in the presence of the most distressing spectacle I ever saw. The young lady, tearing her robes into fragments, tearing her hair with her hands, and cutting her face with the nails of her fingers, was crying, "Oh! for God's sake, give me a knife that I may cut my throat? I have killed my child! My darling is dead! I am the murderess of my own dear Lucy! My hands are reddened with her blood. Oh! may I die with her!"
I was thunderstruck, and at first remained mute and motionless. The young husband, with two other gentlemen, Dr. Blanchet and Coroner Panet, were trying to hold the hands of his unfortunate wife. He did not dare to speak. At last the young wife, casting her eyes upon me, said: "Oh, dear Father Chiniquy, for God's sake give me a knife that I may cut my throat! When drunk, I took my precious darling in my arms to kiss her; but I fell her head struck the sharp corner of the stove. Her brain and blood are there spread on the floor! My child! my own child is dead! I have killed her! Cursed liquor! cursed wine! My child is dead! I am damned! Cursed drink!"
I could not speak, but I could weep and cry. I wept, and mingled my tears with those of that unfortunate mother. Then, with an expression of desolation which pierced my soul as with a sword, she said: "Go and see." I went to the next room, and there I saw that once beautiful child, dead, her face covered with her blood and brains! There was a large gap made in the right temple. The drunken mother, falling with her child in her arms, had caused the head to strike with such a terrible force on the stove that it upset on the floor. The burning coals were spread on every side, and the house had been very nearly on fire. But that very blow, with the awful death of her child, had suddenly brought her to her senses, and put an end to her intoxication. At a glance she saw the whole extent of her misfortune. Her first thought had been to run to the sideboard, seize a large, sharp knife, and cut her own throat. Providentially, her husband was on the spot. With great difficulty, and after a terrible struggle, he took the knife out of her hands, and threw into the street through the window. It was then about five o'clock in the afternoon. After an hour passed in indescribable agony of mind and heart, I attempted to leave and go back to the parsonage. But my unfortunate young friend requested me, in the name of God, to spend the night with him. "You are the only one," he said, "who can help us in this awful night. My misfortune is great enough, without destroying our good name by spreading it in public. I want to keep it as secret as possible. With our physician and coroner, you are the only many on earth whom I trust to help me. Please pass the night with us."
I remained, but tried in vain to calm the unfortunate mother. She was constantly breaking our hearts with her lamentations her convulsive efforts to take her own life. Every minute she was crying, "My child! my darling Lucy! Just when thy little arms were so gently caressing me, and thy angelic kisses were so sweet on my lips, I have slaughtered thee! When thou wert pressing me on thy loving heart and kissing me, I, thy drunken mother, gave thee the death-blow! My hands are reddened with thy blood! My breast is covered with thy brains! Oh! for God's sake, my dear husband, take my life. I cannot consent to live a day longer! Dear Father Chiniquy, give me a knife that I may mingle my blood with the blood of my child! Oh that I could be buried in the same grave with her!"
In vain I tried to speak to her of the mercies of God towards sinners; she would not listen to anything I could say; she was absolutely deaf to my voice. At about ten o'clock she had a most terrible fit of anguish and terror. Though we were four men to keep her quiet, she was stronger than we all. She was strong as a giant. She slipped from our hands and ran to the room where the dear child was lying in her cradle. Grasping the cold body in her hands, she tore the bands of white linen which had been put round the head to cover the horrible wound, and with cries of desolation she pressed her lips, her cheeks, her very eyes on the horrible gap from which the brain and blood were oozing, as if wanting to heal it and recall the poor dear one to life.
"My darling, my beloved, my own dear Lucy," she cried, "open they eyes look again at thy mother! Give me a kiss! Press me again to thy bosom! But thine eyes are shut! thy lips are cold! Thou dost not smile on me any longer! Thou art dead, and I, thy mother, have slaughtered thee! Canst thou forgive me thy death? Canst thou ask Jesus Christ, our Saviour, to forgive me? Canst thou ask the blessed Virgin Mary to pray for me? Will I never see thee again? Ah, no! I am lost I am damned! I am a drunken mother who has murdered her own darling Lucy! There is no mercy for the drunken mother, the murderess of her own child."
And when speaking thus to her child she was sometimes kneeling down, then running around the room as if flying before a phantom.
But even then she was constantly pressing the motionless body to her bosom or convulsively passing her lips and cheeks over the horrible wound, so that her lips, her whole face, her breast and hands were literally besmeared with the blood flowing from the wound. I will not say that we were all weeping and crying, for the words "weeping and crying" cannot express the desolation the horror we felt. At about eleven o'clock, when on her knees, clasping her child to her bosom, she lifted her eyes towards me, and said;
"Dear Father Chiniquy, why is it that I have not followed your charitable advice when, still more with your tears than with words, you tried so often to persuade me to give up the use of those cursed intoxicating wines? How many times you have given me the very words which come from heaven: 'Wine is a mocker; it bites as a serpent, and stings as an adder!' How many times, in the name of my dear child, in the name of my dear husband, in the name of God, you have asked me to give up the use of those cursed drinks! But listen now to my prayer. Go all over Canada; tell all the fathers never to put any intoxicating drink before the eyes of their children. It was at my father's table that I first learned to drink that wine which I will curse during all eternity! Tell all the mothers never to taste these abominable drinks. It was my mother who first taught me to drink that wine which I will curse as long as God is!
"Take the blood of my child, and go redden with it the top of the doors of every house in Canada, and say to all those who dwell in those houses that that blood was shed by the hand of a murderess mother when drunk. With that blood write on the walls of every house in Canada that 'wine is a mocker.' Tell the French Canadians how, on the dead body of my child, I have cursed that wine which has made me so wretchedly miserable and guilty."
She then stopped, as if to breathe a little for a few minutes. She added:
"In the name of God, tell me, can my child forgive me her death? Can she ask God to look upon me with mercy? Can she cause the blessed Virgin Mary to pray for me and obtain my pardon?"
Before I could answer, she horrified us by the cries, "I am lost! When drunk I killed my child! Cursed wine!"
And she fell a corpse on the floor. Torrents of blood were flowing from her mouth on her dead child, which she was pressing to her bosom even after her death!
That terrible drama was never revealed to the people of Quebec. The coroner's verdict was that the child's death was accidental, and that the distressed mother died from a broken heart six hours after. Two days later the unfortunate mother was buried, with the body of her child clasped in her arms.
After such a terrible storm I was in need of solitude and rest, but above everything I was in need of praying. I shut myself in my little room for two days, and there, alone, in the presence of God, I meditated on the terrible justice and retribution which He had called me to witness. That unfortunate woman had not only been my penitent: she had been, with her husband, among my dearest and most devoted friends. It was only lately that she had become a slave to drunkenness. Before that, her piety and sense of honour were of the most exalted kind known in the Church of Rome. Her last words were not the commonplace expressions which ordinary sinners proffer at the approach of death; her words had a solemnity for me which almost transformed them into oracles of God in my mind. Each of them sounded in my ears as if an angel of God had touched the thousand strings of my soul, to call my attention to a message from heaven. Sometimes they resembled the terrible voice of thunder; and again it seemed as if a seraph, with his golden harp, were singing them in my ears, that I might prepare to fight faithfully for the Lord against His gigantic enemy, alcohol.
In the middle of that memorable night, when the darkness was most profound and the stillness fearful, was I awake, was I sleeping? I do not know. But I saw a calm, beautiful, and cherished form of my dear mother standing by me, holding by the hand the late murderess, still covered with the blood of her child. Yes! my beloved mother was standing before me; and she said, with power and authority which engraved every one of her words on my soul, as if written with letters of tears, blood, and fire: "Go all over Canada; tell every father of a family never to put any intoxicating drink before his children. Tell all the mothers never to take a drop of those cursed wines and drinks. Tell the whole people of Canada never to touch nor look at the poisoned cup, filled with those cursed intoxicating drinks. And thou, my beloved son, give up for ever the use of those detestable beverages, which are cursed to hell, in heaven, and on earth. It bites like a serpent; it stings like an adder."
When the sound of that voice, so sweet and powerful, was hushed, and my soul had ceased seeing that strange vision of the night, I remained for some time exceedingly agitated and troubled. I said to myself, "Is it possible that the terrible things I have seen and heard these last few days will destroy my mind, and send me to the lunatic asylum?"
I had hardly been able to take any sleep or food for the last three days and nights, and I seriously feared lest the weakness of my body would cause me to lose my reason. I then threw myself on my knees to weep and pray. This did me good. I soon felt myself stronger and calmer.
Raising again my mind to God, I said: "O my God, let me know Thy holy will, and grant me the grace to do it. Do the voices I have just heard come from Thee? Hast Thou really sent one of the angels of Thy mercy, under the form of my beloved mother? or is all this nothing but the vain dreams of my distressed mind?
"Is it Thy will, O my God, that I should go and tell my country what Thou hast so providentially taught me of the horrible and unsuspected injuries which wine and strong drink cause to the bodies as well as the souls of men? Or is it Thy will that I should conceal from the eyes of the world the wonderful things Thou has made known to me, and that I might bury them with me in my grave?"
As quick as lightning the answer was suggested to me. "What I have taught thee in secret, go and tell it to the housetops!" Overwhelmed with an unspeakable emotion, and my heart filled with a power which was not mine, I raised my hands towards heaven and said to my God:
"For my dear Saviour Jesus' sake, and for the good of my country, O my God, I promise that I will never make any use of intoxicating drinks; I will, moreover, do all in my power to persuade the other priests and the people to make the same sacrifice?"
Fifty years have passed since I took that pledge, and, thanks be to God, I have kept it.
For the next two years I was the only priest in Canada who abstained from the use of wine and other intoxicating drinks; and God only knows what I had to suffer all that time what sneers, and rebukes and insults of every kind I had silently to bear! How many times the epithets of fanatic, hypocrite, reformer, half-heretic, have been whispered into my ear, not only by the priests, but also by the bishops. But I was sure that my God knew the motives of my actions, and by His grace I remained calm and patient. In His infinite mercy He has looked down upon His unprofitable servant and has taken his part. He had Himself chosen the day when I saw those same priests and bishops, at the head of their people, receiving the pledge and blessing of temperance from my hands. Those very bishops who had unanimously, at first, condemned me, soon invited the first citizens of their cities to present me with a golden medal, as a token of their esteem, after giving me, officially, the title of "Apostle of Temperance of Canada." The Governor and the two Chambers of Parliament of Canada voted me public thanks in 1851, and presented me $500 as a public testimony of their kind feeling for what had been done in the cause of temperance. It was the will of my God that I should see, with my own eyes, my dear Canada taking the pledge of temperance and giving up the use of intoxicating drinks. How many tears were dried in those days! Thousands and thousands of broken hearts were consoled and filled with joy. Happiness and abundance reigned in many once desolate homes, and the name of our merciful God was blessed everywhere in my beloved country. Surely this was not the work of poor Chiniquy!
It was the Lord's work, for the Lord, who is wonderful in all His doings, had once more chosen the weakest instrument to show His mercy towards the children of men. He has called the most unprofitable of His servants to do the greatest work of reform Canada has ever seen, that the praise and glory might be given to Him, and Him alone!