Baltimore Evening Sun (22 July 1911): 6.
Boil your drinking water! Swallow the hypochlorite! Swat the fly! Put the children in soak! Send your money to the boomers!
Wegg, of Belair, that virtuoso of disgust, fetches me a fearful wallop in today’s Editorials by the People for the so-called crime or vice of paradoxery. The trouble with me, he charges, is that I sometimes compose for the mere make of composing--that I try to get into my compositions not any great content of moral truth, but merely the sensuous charm of sweet music.
There is, of course, a certain element of fact in that allegation. Like all other men, I hold my real faiths somewhat sacred: the things that seem most true to me and most important and most beautiful I am not eager to drag through the mud of public discussion. As well ask a man to debate the authenticity of his wife’s complexion. But all the same the venerable Wegg is wrong when he accuses me specifically of dallying insincerely with the problem of lawbreaking at Back River, for it so happens that lawbreaking at Back River is not a matter that seems to me to be of the first importance, nor of the second or third importance, nor even, indeed, of any importance whatever. To moralists, of course, it is profoundly important--but I am not a moralist. Between the man who drinks on Sunday and the man who doesn’t drink on Sunday I am unable to distinguish any greater difference than that which separates the man who wears a mustache from the man who doesn’t wear a mustache. Therefore, I am free to discuss the matter copiously, and evern honestly.
Such honesty was in my argument that “the helplessness of the county police is due, in the main, to the efficiency of the city police.” Is that doctrine absurd? Is it paradoxical? Does it go counter to the plain facts? I think not. As a matter of fact, it must be plain to all that if the city police enforced the Sunday laws less rigorously, if they were more humane toward the great class of incurable Sunday drinkers, then thousands of the latter would drink within the city limits and the Back River resorts would be half deserted. But as it happens, the city police, generally speaking, are harsh follows and make a strenuous effort to keep the city saloons closed on Sunday, and even though they do not succeed completely, they are yet so successful that a man who would drink in the city on Sunday must first acquire an elaborate and difficult technique and run the constant risk of being raided and jugged.
WHAT is the consequence? Simply that thousands of Sunday drinkers, too lazy, too stupid or too cowardly to acquire this technique and run this risk, depart from the city every Sunday morning and hunt for refreshment in the county. But why can’t the county police frustrate them as the city police frustrate them? For the good and sufficient reasons that the county--even the immediately adjacent county--covers an area much larger than the city, and the county police force is much smaller than that of the city. In the city the police are about equal in number to the drinking places--but in the county they are outnumbered by the possible drinking places by fully 50 to 1, and those possible drinking places are so widely scattered, and some of them are so hopelessly remote, that no practicable police force, however large, could ever watch them all.
That this is true is proved every time the county police make an honest effort to stop Sunday liquor selling. Spurred on by public denunciation and by dint of great effort, they sometimes produce a condition of actual dryness at Back River--but that only drives the drinkers to Spring Gardens, Curtis Bay and the private and semi-private shores. When, in turn, the cops concentrate across the Long Bridge, then Back River grows “wet” again. And if, by an extra effort, they were to make Back River and the Spring Gardens and Curtis Bay all and equally “dry” then the drinkers would retreat to the shores--of which there are fully 2,500, distributed along 40 or 50 rivers, creeks, bays, inlets, coves, bayous and estuaries--and not all the police in Christendom could track them down.
In consequence of all this, the county police adopt the only practicable plan. That is to say, they try regulation instead of prohibition. Unable, for all their efforts, to put an end to Sunday selling altogether, they try to reduce its evils as much as they can. Let us be fair to them, and admit that they are not entirely unsuccessful. Back River is not quite as orderly, perhaps, as Lake Mohonk, but any inquirer who takes the trouble to go there will find that it is far from a bull ring. You may drink there on Sunday and no one will molest you, and, if you are fool enough, you may even gamble there, but just try to start a roughhouse and you will quickly feel a constabulary club behind your ear and a constabulary fist at your collar. The public peace, in brief, is preserved, and if, to sensitive persons, the higher sort of decorum seems to be lacking, then the answer is that sensitive persons have no business to go where the plain people are at their sports. To such delicate souls the plain people are always disgusting--as much so when they are eating, or singing, or howling at a funeral, or nursing their babies as when they are drinking.
The trouble with Wegg and all other such academic professors of chemical purity is that they assume the laws of morals to be as fixed and invariable as the axioms of Euclid. Not so. Morals change with the latitude, the temperature, the occasion and the man. It would be highly indecorous, no doubt, for a bishop, a Sunday-school superintendent or one of the honorary pallbearers of the Merchants and Manufacturers’ Association to immerse himself in beer at Back River on Sunday, but that does not make it indecorous for a gravel-roofer who has worked hard all week in the hot sun, and yearns frankly for the only sort of refreshment he really enjoys on his day of rest. You may call him names all you please, but that does not rub out the fact that, at bottom, he is a pretty decent and law-abiding fellow, and utterly unconscious that he is doing anything immoral or disgraceful.
As for Wegg’s other charges, I leave them to his conscience, once that atrophied organ resumes the secretion of remorse. Meanwhile, however, I venture to make this offer: that if he will show me one mis-statement of fact in the article he attacks I will proceed to the newest cigar store, buy a box of genuine 5-cent cigars and hand them to him with my respectful compliments.
The Voice of the People, as the zephyrs from the basin waft it in:
Them Republicans in the Water Department has the laugh on us suckers. Preston ain’t scared of nobody.