4 THE SATURDAY EVENING POST February 13, 1915 Illustrations for a Doak :Thawing the Evils of Vodka Drinking and Prosperity Jiifte r Stopping Its Sale by a lively, little, fairhaired customs official, garlanded with braid across his uniformed chest and garnished with his high-school decorations. He spoke very rapidly in the Russian language, which is so flooring as to seem not always intelligible to Russians themselves. There is one letter of the alphabet that acts as a brake, its sole mission being to stand at the end of certain words as a signal to stop saying them; else, as Mrs. Marye, wife of the new American Ambassador, put it: "You might get started and not be able to stop." Other letters look like marks of punctuation. If they are not they ought to be, for the average Russian word is too long to leave unpunctuated. In a flutter of this incomprehensible tongue a word dropped from the customs official's lips with peculiar familiarity on the American ear. It was "nevermore"; and a little reflection recalled that the word immediately previous had been "vodka." This jaunty little man lived up beyond the territory recorded on the map that hung on a wall of the Dvinsk. He lived north of the rising and setting sun. He was located miles from his nation's capital, where center the national life and thought. Yet this was his interpretation of news values. The most important thing he had to tell a stranger was not that his countrymen were slain, or that his nation was at war, or that he too might have to fight, but that Russia had gone on the water wagon. Down in Petrograd a not dissimilar altitude was denoted by Mr. Benislowsky, director of the Russian-American Steamship Company, a member of the Duma and a cultivated gentleman. He made a speech to a group of his countrymen assembled in front of the German Embassy. It had its roof knocked in, its windows broken, and its two hideous door ornaments dragged into the courtyard, while other of its properties reposed at the bottom of the Neva, which flows past its door. "To Emperor William," he said, "we owe a debt greater than to any other, and we should thank him." The remark was not well received, and the gentleman raised his hand. "Pause while I explain to you: He has put us in the way of saving ourselves. Not he, but drink, was our enemy; and the Kaiser has slain our enemy for us. He has made us adopt temperance and nothing can defeat us now. Let us erect to him a monument." The Little Vodka Drinkers of Russia NVHATEVER the German Emperor's part in bringing about war, he can read his title clear as the man who precipitated the greatest temperance movement in all history. Report has it that when he conferred with his Ambassador in Russia as to whether that country was prepared to fight, the Ambassador returned a decided "No !" He is said to have reported that the vast country was torn by Nihilist uprisings such as it had not experienced for years, and that workmen were on serious strikes. These latter are understood in Russia to have been incited by German capital; but that is quite outside the present subject. To clinch his original statement, the Ambassador is said to have observed that, even though Russia assembled herself, she was such a drunken nation she could not fight. It would seem that the Ambassador had grounds for his opinion. The consumption of vodka was so much a part of the national life that to disentangle anything like statistics as to who drank and who did not was quite impossible. Parents gave it to their children as some mistaken women feed their babies on beer and coffee. In August, 1913, inquiries by the National Temperance Society in fifteen of the larger village schools of the empire discovered that, out of thirteen hundred and fifty boys and six hundred girls in Saratoff, seventy-nine per cent of the boys and forty-eight and a half per cent of the girls had already tried vodka. Among children of five years in one village two and eighttenths per cent had taken the drink. Among those of six years four and sixty-three-hundredths per cent had sampled it. Among those of seven years the percentage was eighteen and thirty-seven-hundredths per cent; and of eight years, twenty-four per cent. Five hundred and fifty-one boys and girls drank on the initiative of their parents. Four hundred and eighty did so on the invitation of other relatives. Two hundred and nine children did so on their own account. Three hundred and forty, of the youngsters of that one town were once quite drunk. In Oposhnia reports were even worse. There were two thousand one hundred and seventeen cases of drunkenness among the population under the age of fifteen years, and sixty-five per cent of them were traceable to the influence of parents. In the first six months of 1914 intoxication among minors had increased twelve and fifty-threehundredths per cent. The country was falling more and more under the influence of liquor. To present the situation as visually as it was described to me: I had to sit in Archangel for six days waiting for the recruits who came on the Dvinsk to be accommodated before the railroad officials would consider transporting me to the capital. There were nine rooms in the hotel and all crowded with spruce young Scotchmen and Englishmen, whose headquarters had been rudely removed from Petrograd when the war tied up the Russian port of Libau. I lived on the Dvinsk, but crossed the river one evening to participate in the social life of Archangel. The Englishspeaking men and myself sat in the hotel parlor of that remote town while I listened to their stories. Outside, in the river, lay the little boat that had essayed to make the North Pole—had come within two degrees of it, according to the statement of the captain, and then returned, with six men dead and two living. The town was noisy with the complaints of the three polar bears it had brought back. Across the street we could see through the peeps in our colored embroidered curtains glimpses of a picture show. It depicted a woman who had been transported to Siberia for stealing a white-fox neckpiece. She tried to escape in a trunk and failed. The men said this week they were showing Part II, with a promise of Part III next week, and the announcement that Part I had been given the fortnight before. There was no synopsis and no conclusion, but only a segment of the middle given that evening. The Russians have their own ways of doing things. Queer, ghostlike shapes of crated steel and machinery lay in the streets outside. These were the manufactured products of America sent to the far northerly port in the vague hope that they might one day reach Petrograd. Bearded, long-robed men passed through the moonlight, which etched the jagged roofs of the low, quaint buildings against the sky. In such a setting these men, who had inched it over Russia, told of their contact with the demon, vodka. "I am in the butter-and-egg business." Please supply a thick Scottish accent. " We buy farms here on which to raise eggs to transport to England. In some places the communal system prevails, and you have to get the consent of seventy-five per cent of the owners before a sale can take place. The way you do is to get in touch with men who are acquainted and can call all the men together. You build a fence round yourself and leave him to work it up. You know it isn't a good thing for the peasant to sell—and he knows it, too, until the word vodka' is mentioned; and that's why it's well to have a fence round yourself. The man says: 'Now, boys, I'm going to do you a good turn.' He then tells them all the lies he knows and ends by saying: They're your friends, and are going to give you five hundred dollars for vodka.' The last settles it. The sum isn't always the same. You count on about a tenth of the purchase price to go for that, and the deed is done." "But that's nothing to compare to the weddings." The accent this time is strongly British. "I'm introducing modern farm machinery to take the place of those old, prehistoric plows handed down from Adam with which they now take care of their land in a good part of Russia. Well, every purchaser thinks I ought to go to all the weddings in his family if I'm within railroad distance. The Russians are an awfully hospitable race and their notion of making themselves agreeable is to give you vodka. "There is a regular formula to which they drink at weddings, and sometimes at fairs and entertainments. After the first round, somebody says: 'A man cannot stand on one leg,' and asks for a fresh order. Another suggests: God loves the Trinity,' and he orders again. Somebody else reminds the party that Every house has four walls.' He is foh lowed promptly by somebody proposing that There are five fingers on each hand.' They usually lead themselves through twelve rounds by the application of such general truths to the theory of drinking." Down in Little Russia somebody played a joke on the community after one of their general fairs. People had come together from great distances to buy and sell. Horses, dry goods, farming implements and ornaments changed hands. At the end of so large, so busy and so gala an occasion most of the male population took the opportunity to get drunk. Every driver, before the return journey had progressed forty paces, was reclining, insensible, on the floor or the seat of his cart; and the horses were left to conduct the long procession homeward. There was but one line of road, which all followed for miles before branching off in several directions. Every horse was trusted to know his own route and take it. Before he got a chance to show his initiative, some wayfarer on foot grasped the situation and gave himself the pleasure of a practical joke. Grasping the leading horse's bridle he turned him round. Thereupon every horse in the procession turned when he came to that point in the road. The procession retraced its footsteps, and the next morning when the drivers woke they found themselves in exactly the spot inside the fairground from which they had started the evening before. Why No Work is Done on Monday EVERY village had a special government shop for the sale of vodka. The men lined up before it on Sunday mornings when they returned from church. They kept sober until after Mass and then proceeded to devote themselves to the business of getting intoxicated. By the next morning they were sodden. Some industrial plants did only nominal work on Mondays because their forces were so heavy with "hangovers" that they could not even report for work. Once in a while somebody was induced to sign the pledge and was most scrupulous about maintaining its integrity; but in anticipation of the hour of its expiration he would go to his employer and ask for a day off. "What's the trouble, Ivan?" asked the overseer. "Not sick, are you?" "No," replied the childlike peasant; "but my time is up. My promise runs out, and I wish the day in which to drink." Working efficiency was diminished thirty and forty per cent by the widespread use of vodka, and the land was not tilled to anything like its capacity. Here and there an abstemious peasant cultivated the ground that was given him after the liberation of the serfs, and he saved his revenue. Almost inevitably the thing in which he invested was a distillery. He became rich from the proceeds and he formed the nucleus of a society singularly lacking in Russia, which is a middle class. If the ascent from serfdom could not be achieved in one generation it could in two or three. While his sons became second-rate gentlemen of wealth and some education, his neighbors, who poisoned themselves with the products of his distillery, became poorer and more illiterate. The principal newspaper of Russia for years conducted a crusade against the two great ills of the country, which it named as illiteracy and intemperance; and for the second it blamed the first. Nine hundred years of fighting the Tartar tribes is thought by many authorities to be the basis of the national condition that makes drunkenness. Russia, so they say, has not yet had time to find and right herself. Some insist she never will under her present form of government. Autocracy, according to their argument, can do with men exactly what it will only by keeping them drunk.
To see the actual publication please follow the link above