Text: Edgar Allan Poe (?), “Intemperance,” from The Southern First Class Book, 1839, pp. 300-301




We have thus far considered Intemperance with reference to its effects upon individuals and private communities; but are we not authorized to extend our view? And in doing so, can we not discern its baneful influence, not only on individuals and private communities, but upon the sacred institutions of our country?

Does not the history of that great and glorious nation, whose poetry and eloquence have dazzled whilst they instructed us, and whose prowess in arms has been surpassed by no nation on earth, teach us this salutary lesson, that luxury and effeminacy will paralyze the best institutions, and open a door to the entrance of tyranny so wide, that no human effort can prevent its encroachment? The luxury of the Roman nation consisted not in the extravagancy of her citizens, the costliness of her shows, and the magnificence of her palaces alone; but in the excesses of the table, and her bacchanalian indulgences, producing a state of morals indicated by scenes of lewdness and debauchery, the details of which, no one possessed of one feeling of delicacy, could peruse without sensations of the most unqualified disgust.

That proud and independent nation who, having by her military discipline, her capacity to endure fatigue and hardship, and above all, her high sense of the value of freedom, — not only drove back the armies of the foreign invader, but extended her conquests so far as to be denominated the mistress of the world. After accomplishing all this, and in effecting it, enduring without a murmur, the scorching heat of the torrid, and the chilling cold of the frigid zones, — by the withering influence of luxury and excess became the willing dupe of the designing and ambitious, and tamely submitted to the yoke of tyranny.

In a government like our own, in which all power resides in the people, and where those who govern and legislate, do so by the will and permission of their constituents, it will ever be found that the representatives of the people not only maintain the political principles, but likewise personate the moral character of the majority they represent. Show me a profligate and intemperate representative, and I will guide you to a licentious and drunken community. It cannot be otherwise, the one follows the other as certainly as the effect follows the cause.  



That this item is by a person named “Poe” seems reasonable enough, but that the person in question was “Edgar Allan Poe” has not been conclusively established. A later printing of this little essay, in Sterling’s Southern Fifth Reader (1866), gives the author as “Edgar A. Poe,” but may have had no real authority for the attribution. The 1866 printing was first noted by Annie Edward Barcus in “Poe on Intemperance,” Notes & Queries, CLX, June 6, 1931, p. 405. The earlier publication given here was first noted in 1941 by Ernest J. Wessen in the Bookseller’s Catalogue, Midland Notes, No. 17 and reprinted by T. O. Mabbott in “ ‘Poe’ on Intemperance,” Notes & Queries, CLXXXIII, July 1942, pp. 34-35.

Heartman and Canny, in their 1943 Bibligraphy of the First Printings of Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, also note an 1840 edition of The Southern First Class Book, pp. 48-49.


[S:0 - N&Q 1942] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Intemperance]