Below is an excerpt on the life of William Denny (a shipbuilder) By Alexander Balmain Bruce © 1888 This passage includes two letters William Denny penned that truly show in his own words how he became convinced in the matter of Temperance.
Construe the fact as we may, fact it is that after the crisis of 1883 we find Denny earnestly supporting all the above-named causes. To his interest in Temperance reform he gave repeated and emphatic expression, backing words by the practice of abstinence, begun, by medical advice, during convalescence from the fever, and continued, except when health demanded the use of stimulants, till the end of his life. The following two letters, written respectively in 1884 and 1885, show the steady growth of his sympathy with this movement and the grounds on which it rested. The earlier letter, addressed to Mr. Robert Duncan, ship-builder, Port Glasgow, an advocate of abstinence, referred to the subject in these terms :—
"... I am steadily drawing to the aims of the great Temperance reformers, and being led to see that for the lapsed and the lapsing we are bound to be our brothers' keeper and to help them to overcome temptations which attack them in their weakest parts, and with a strength unknown to the cynics who sneer at what they call foolish enthusiasm. As to its being impossible to force men from drink, nobody who has, as you and I have, handled hundreds of men, and seen the force and discipline of a well-organised work breaking many of them away from drink, would talk such nonsense. If force can make soldiers out of very indifferent materials sometimes, it can do other things also, and more effectively when a moral, righteous, and loving purpose impels it forward. I have been an abstainer (total) now for a year, and although in no sense pledged, feel a growing attachment to the principle. On it I have made a good recovery from a severe fever, and I feel it every day adds calm and strength to my mental faculties."
The later letter indicates a more decided attitude. It was written as an expression of sympathy and goodwill in connection with a Band of Hope demonstration, as a substitute for a speech which Mr. Denny had been expected to deliver. There is observable in this letter a striking contrast between the grounds on which the writer rests his support of the Temperance movement and those which at an earlier period made him look on the same cause with at least a kindly eye. Writing to a friend in 1878 on the subject, he indicated the opinion that self-discipline was the most powerful side of Temperance movements. Self-denial he then regarded as an indispensable element in every worthy life. Having referred to the appearance of this element in different times and countries—in the Fakirs of the East, the monks of the Middle Ages, and the Nazarites among the Jews— he went on to say that teetotalism had put disciplined self-denial within the reach of the people, and had thereby done a great public service. At the later period, on the other hand, he discountenanced the ascetic aspect, and emphasised regard to the good of others as the great motive. Hinton's influence is very obvious. The letter was as follows:—
" Li:\ I"n SHIP-YARD, DUMBARTON,
5th September, 1885.
" My Dear Bailie Buchanan,— . . . Tell your young friends, and the older friends who are with them, that they will have my best wishes for the success of their demonstration. The Temperance movement is now sweeping into an atmosphere of generous impulse, and from this time forward will, I believe, grow enormously. There must at the present moment be a smaller proportion of total abstainers who are so merely for their own advantage and the benefit of their own health than at any time before ; at the same time, I am sure there is a growing majority who are abstaining for the good and the sake of others. Of the arguments which are addressed to audiences called together to discuss these Temperance questions, there are every day fewer appealing to selfish motives and an increasing number founded upon the good of others and the pleasures which are possible to us in self-renunciation for their sake. To abstain for the sake of self and to abstain for the sake of others are two widely different motives, and productive of very different fruits. The former is only an additional form of that selfish prudence which is the highest outcome of the world's shrewdness. The latter is a totally different thing, and the most potent and fruitful of the motives which can move the great masses of humanity. Unlike asceticism,
which is only a better form of selfish prudence having its eyes open to a longer future, self-denial for the sake of others is essentially a way of freedom. It may be hard for many of us to aee this, confused as we are by conflicting currents of opinion, and living under conditions often compulsorily at variance with our best beliefs ; but nevertheless this is the truth, and sooner or later will, I believe, become the whole world's possession. Self-denial for the sake of others must lead in the long run to a spontaneity and siireness of action foreign to every other form of life. It must lead to a happiness, a hope, and a future almost impossible of conception to our present time. We may, indeed, be thankful that we have among us so many noble men and women willing to prove this truth by displaying an unaffected cheerfulness and happiness in the midst of suffering and contempt endured for the sake of others. If only this great truth could be made evident to the world, and especially to our own country, there would be generated an amount of spiritual force and moral power sufficient to quench even the most hopeless evil, however ancient, and to quell all brutalities, however hideous, born of idleness and overwealth. We have plenty of intellect and plenty of power in our country ; but they must, on the part of our people, be made the servants of the noblest impulses and of desires for righteousness and largeness of life. These impulses and desires must be so great and imperative that the ablest men in this country shall be compelled, instead of wasting their forces upon mere word disputes and cynicism and upon caste ambitions of the meanest description, to devote themselves heartily and honestly to the service of the great masses of the people, and especially to those sections of the people whose case is most miserable and hopeless. " Perhaps I am saying more than all your young friends will be quite able to understand ; but there must be many among them who, whether they understand these things or not, do in their lives and within the limits which bound them try to fulfil such brave and gentle duties. This at any rate your children may understand ; and they must make their Band of Hope a union based upon hope for others, if it is to have any permanence and any fruitfulness among the fellowships, brotherhoods, and unions which are now so numerously working for the good of man. Let them begin early to hope for others, and they will soon learn to love others. They cannot too soon find out what force there is in this great motive; and they cannot too soon bring to the aid of us who are older, and therefore often less hopeful, than themselves the repeated assurance that the service of others is the fountain of freedom, the way of happiness, and the open door to unquenchable hope. Speak to them plentifully and fearlessly about these things. Children often understand them better than we think. We are too sceptical of their powers. In conclusion, convey to them Mrs. Denny's and my own best wishes for their happiness to-day, and in all days which are to come. Assure them that our sympathies are with them, and that their welfare and the welfare of the great movement of which they form a part are very dear to Ub.
" With all good wishes to yourself, believe me, yours very faithfully,