The Temperate Man

The temperate man desires to hold all his pleasures within the limits of what is honorable, and with a proper reference to the amount of his own financial means. To pursue them more is excess; to pursue them less is defect…

An Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith

Entry #30 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!







Rum will brutalize the manliest man in Christendom.

–J. B. Gough

Rum excites all that is bad, vicious, and criminal in man.

–J. S. White

There may be some wit in a barrel of beer,
but there is more in leaving it alone.

— C. Garrett

Sobriety is the bridle of the passions of desire, and
temperance is the bit and curb of that bridle; a restraint
put into a man’s mouth; a moderate use of meat and drink.

–Jeremy Taylor

Temperance is corporeal piety; it is the
preservation of divine order in the body.

— Theodore Parker


Temperance may, in its narrower sense, be defined as the observance of a rational medium with respect to the pleasures of eating and drinking. But it has also a larger meaning. The temperate man desires to hold all his pleasures within the limits of what is honorable, and with a proper reference to the amount of his own financial means. To pursue them more is excess; to pursue them less is defect. There is, however, in estimating excess and defect, a certain tacit reference to the average dispositions of men, and the law of usage or custom of the times.

The word temperance has, we repeat, become narrowed and specialized. We mean by it, not exactly temperance, but abstinence. The word does not convey the full force of its older meaning. That signifies, “the right handling of one’s self,–that kind of self-control by which a man’s nature has a chance to act normally;” and this aspect of our subject must not be overlooked, for it is of great importance.

Instead of being the secondary thing which some think it to be, temperance is really a much higher virtue than patience or fortitude. It is the guardian of reason, the bulwark of religion, the sister of prudence, and the sweetener of life. Be temperate; and time will carry you forward on its purest current till it lands you on the continent of a yet purer eternity, as the swelling river rolls its limpid stream into the bosom of the unfathomable deep.

But even in the more general meaning now given to the word, temperance is worthy of our most careful study.

Consider what it is to gain the mastery over a single passion! And think, also, what it is for the mind to be ruled by an appetite! Look at S. T. Coleridge–a poet who might have sung for all time, a philosopher capable of teaching and molding generations, skulking away from the eye of friends and of servants to drink his bottle of laudanum, and then bewailing his weakness and sin with an agony, the bare recital of which, makes our hearts bleed with pity. Our task is not only to subdue a serpent, to tame a lion,–there is a whole menagerie of evil passions to be kept in subjection, and when the drink habit prevails, we shall soon become too weak for such a task.

Temperance is an action; it is the tempering of our words and actions to our circumstances. Sobriety is a state in which one is exempt from every stimulus to deviate from the right course. As a man who is intoxicated with wine, runs into excesses, and loses that power of guiding himself which he has when he is sober or free from all intoxication, so is he who is intoxicated with any passion, led into irregularities which a man in his right senses will not be guilty of. Sobriety is, therefore, the state of being in one’s right or sober senses; and sobriety is, with regard to temperance, as a cause to its effect.

The evils resulting from intemperance are so numerous and so destructive of human happiness and life, as to command universal attention. Not only does intemperance greatly increase pauperism and crime, but it often leads to sad calamities which might otherwise be quite largely avoided.

An old English sea-captain relates the following fact, of which he was an eyewitness:–“A collier brig was stranded on the Yorkshire coast, and I had occasion to assist in the distressing service of rescuing a part of the crew by drawing them up a vertical cliff, two or three hundred feet in altitude, by means of a very small rope, the only material at hand. The first two men who caught hold of the rope were hauled safely up to the top; but the next, after being drawn to a considerable height, slipped his hold and fell; and with the fourth and last who ventured upon this only chance of life, the rope gave way, and he also was plunged into the foaming breakers beneath. Immediately afterward, the vessel broke up, and the remainder of the ill-fated crew perished before our eyes.

“What now was the cause of this heart-rending event? Was it stress of weather, or a contrary wind, or unavoidable accident? No such thing! It was the entire want of moral conduct in the crew. Every sailor, to a man, was in a state of intoxication! The helm was entrusted to a boy ignorant of the coast. He ran the vessel upon the rocks at Whitby; and one half of the miserable, dissipated crew were plunged into eternity almost without a knowledge of what was taking place.”

There are still a few people who openly ridicule both total abstinence and its advocates, and some, who are wicked enough to endeavor to misrepresent those who labor in this cause. These persons do not always succeed, however, as the following incident will show: Horace Greeley was once met at a railway depot by a red-faced individual, who shook him warmly by the hand. “I don’t recognize you,” said Mr. Greeley. “Why, yes, you must remember how we drank brandy and water together at a certain place.” This amused the bystanders, who knew Mr. Greeley’s strong temperance principles. “Oh, I see,” replied Mr. Greeley, “you drank the brandy, and I drank the water.”

It will be found that abstinence from intoxicants is by far the best rule of living. There is a large amount of genuine wisdom in the words of a middle-aged German who, some years ago, spoke as follows, at a temperance meeting: “I shall tell you how it was. I put my hand on my head; there was one big pain. Then I put my hand on my body; and there was another big pain. There was very much pains in all my body. Then I put my hand in my pocket; and there vas nothing. Now there is no more pain in my head. The pains in my body are all gone away. I put mine hand in my pocket, and there is twenty dollars. So I shall stay with the temperance.”




Theobald Mathew was an Irish priest. He was born in 1790, in a great house in Tipperary, where his father was the agent of a rich lord. The delight of his childhood was in giving little feasts and entertainments to his friends. As long as he lived he was fond of this pleasure. Indeed, when, at the very last, his physician had forbidden him to receive company, he was found by his brother giving a dinner to a party of poor boys.

At twenty-three years of age he was ordained, and was known from that time as “Father Mathew.” After a short time in Kilkenny, he went to Cork, which was his home for the rest of his life. He was not thought much of as a scholar, nor at first as a preacher; but he had a warm heart and every one liked him. Thus he passed quietly along until he was forty-seven years old; and it did not seem as if the world would ever hear of “Father Mathew.”

There was a little band of Quakers in Cork, who had started a total abstinence, or “teetotal society.” They interested Father Mathew in their work, and, in 1838, he signed the temperance pledge and enrolled himself as a member.

Very soon every one in Cork had heard of what Father Mathew had done. He began at once to preach that men ought not to be drunkards, and that they ought not to use what would make drunkards. The people of Cork had always thought what Father Mathew did was right; and they thought so now. In three months twenty-five thousand persons had taken the pledge.

The story of the new movement spread quickly over Ireland, and Father Mathew was wanted everywhere. Wherever he went the people crowded to hear him. There were many pathetic scenes at his meetings; for women came dragging their drunken husbands with them, and almost forcing them to take the pledge. Men knelt in great companies and repeated the words of the pledge together. In Limerick the crowds were so dense that it was impossible to enroll all the names. More than a hundred thousand were thought to have taken the pledge in four days.

As a result of his work the saloons were closed in many villages and towns; and, within five years, half the people in Ireland had taken the pledge. The quantity of liquor used fell off more than half, and there was a similar decrease in all kinds of crime.

Then came the terrible years of the Irish famine. By the failure of the potato crop, hundreds of thousands died of starvation or of fever. Multitudes had to leave their homes to get government work; and hunger and despair brought a new temptation to drink. Father Mathew’s heart was well-nigh broken with seeing the misery of his countrymen. The food was taken from his own table to feed the hungry. Every room in his house would sometimes be filled with poor people clamoring for bread; and, largely as a result of this terrible strain, he was stricken with paralysis.

As soon as Father Mathew had partly recovered from his illness he longed to do something for his people across the sea. In the year 1849 he sailed for New York. The mayor of that city made him an address of welcome; and at Washington he was honored by being admitted to the floor of both houses of Congress. In spite of his broken health, he visited twenty-five states, spoke in over three hundred towns and cities, and gave the pledge to five hundred thousand people. He returned home thoroughly exhausted, and soon had another stroke of paralysis. But loving friends cared for him; people still came for his blessing, or to take the pledge in his presence. He died in 1856, and all the people of Cork followed him to his burial.

It is said that seven million people took the pledge of total abstinence at Father Mathew’s hands; and it is thought that hundreds of thousands never broke it. There is now a new feeling about temperance in the English-speaking world. Drunkenness is now looked upon as a disgrace; total abstinence is becoming the habit of increasing numbers of people from year to year; and in the production of this changed feeling, this simple-hearted, earnest Irish priest did more than any other man.

This Article is an Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith, which is available from Better Days Books in quality hardbound, sturdy trade paperback and convenient .PDF e-book editions starting at just $4.95.

Industry, Ambition, Self Control, Self-Respect, Courtesy, Faithfulness, Courage, Duty, Honesty, Enthusiasm, Humility, Patriotism… In every era of our Nation’s history, the true alchemy by which ordinary boys have been transformed into Great American Men has always and only occurred where these indispensible moral principles have been successfully applied. In an age like our own, where such manly ideals are openly mocked and derided by our popular culture, it’s time to turn to the past to recapture a clear vision of what it takes to be a Great American, and the true moral and ethical ladder that leads reliably to its attainment.

You Can Be a Great American: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness was first published in 1900, under the title The True Citizen, How to Become One, and contains 39 essential lessons in manhood tailored to each age and transition in a boy’s life, from infancy to adulthood. It is the clearest roadmap to American Greatness ever compiled for the youth of our Nation, and remains as life-changing today as it was when first published, over 100 years ago.

Whether you are an adult raising boys in a Traditional family setting, the single parent of a son, or a boy abandoned to no or poor parenting, left to grab your own bootstraps and lift yourself up to a life of achievement, success and All-American Greatness (or an adult who knows a boy in such sad straits), You Can Be a Great American!: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness is the only guidebook you’ll ever need.

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