The enemy

Avoid alcoholic drinks!

The first glass
Sober Mike at the age of 20 and 32
The blessings of a sober life
The last glass
Drunkard Steve at the age of 20 and 32
The consequences of drinking

It is for several years now that this picture has been on the wall of the old Swabian house along the Danube * to where traditionally around this time, the end of June the Budapest-Nagymaros birthday cycling tour starts, which is such a prominent occasion that one comes home for it even from the shores of a much larger water. As we are languishing there on the porch, our eyes meet above the glass now the honest look of Sober Mike, now the watery gaze of Drunkard Steve, one bringeth fear, the other joy to me, and it is not impossible that as a consequence of the pedagogy of persuasion and deterrence one or two beer less is grabbed than could be justly taken after seventy kilometers of cycling.

This was also the purpose of the committee of the Ministry of Education which in some early year of the 20th century commissioned the design and publication of this artwork. It was surely not later than 1920, because the publishing Polatsek’s Bookstore still worked in Temesvár instead of Timişoara. But by searching for the title of the poster we find that already since 1910 it regularly featured on the lists of school supplies. In 1910 it was for example included among the school supplies requested from the Ministry by the Simontornya elementary school. In 1912 it was the only wall panel in the possession the elementary school of the Eastern Hungarian Tuzsér, and knowing well the region we find this a reasonable choice. And it was also listed together with two other posters – on the breeding of silkworms and on the operation of the steam engine – in the minutes of nationalization of the Calvinist elementary school of Dad during the short-lived first Communist proletarian dictatorship in March-July 1919. We hope it had a positive influence on the commissars. I wish there were such a panel at that time also in the Schalkház Hotel of Kassa, transformed into the House of the Soviet where, according to the daughter of the owner – Sára Schalkház/Salkaházi, shot into the Danube in 1944 for saving Jews –, People’s Commissar Jenő Landler and his staff kept drinking day and night in the middle of the general prohibition until the Czech army kicked them out from Upper Hungary, modern Slovakia.

But we also have an earlier date for this wall panel. Its scenes are included as separate illustrations in the popular anti-alcohol booklet by the pioneer of Hungarian temperance movement, Dr. Fülöp Stein: Az alkohol (Budapest 1906). Each was provided with a detailed description which cannot be very different from how they were presented by the teacher in the elementary schools.

“This is the sad picture of the drunkard’s household. The yard and the house are destroyed, rain is falling through the roof, the barn is dilapidated. The children are dirty and ragged, and they are wasted by much starvation. Their mother is perching ill on the doorstep, and the father looks at their misery with a distraught look.”

“How different is this picture, all joy, courage, good humor, the signs of external and internal order. The father watches with delight the well-being of his family. Is there anyone who would not recognize which of the two fathers is a drunkard and which a sober one? Anyone seeing and examining these two pictures will need no further explanation on which lifestyle to adhere.”

“Few people guess when they give the first glass to their children, so they would have a better mood, how fatal it can become for the further life of the child, and that the last glass of the frozen drunkard is the direct consequence of that first glass”

However, the panel is most likely not earlier than 1898. It was then that the Armand Colin & C[ompagn]ie of Paris published for the schools a wall poster which surely served as a model for the Hungarian version. We know that the anti-alcohol illustrative materials brought from the Paris world exhibition of 1901 formed the founding stock of the showroom of the Social Museum under the Rumbach street 5 seat of the Grand Templar Masonic Temperance Lodge, and although there was nothing left of the collection after the bomb hit in 1944, the Colin poster was almost surely among them.

“Here’s the enemy: the alcohol!”

However, this poster, composed by Doctor Galtier-Boissière, does not exactly illustrate the same as the Hungarian one. Although it also focuses on the difference of pre-and post-alcoholism physiognomy, nevertheless the two side panels make distinction between natural or good alcohols (beer, wine, cider and perry) and artificial or bad alcohols distilled of sugar beets, potatoes or, horribile dictu, wheat. The previous ones only make a guinea pig pleasantly dizzy and sweetly fall asleep, while the latter cause it convulsions and to snuff it. This scientifically indefensible distinction lived on in the French education until the 1950s, obviously due to the influence of the wine lobby.

A unique feature of the Colin tableau is the comparison of the look of the healthy and alcoholic internal organs, stomach, liver, heart, kidneys, brain, which must have been a great deterrent: a French gentleman is always solicitous about the public appearance of his kidneys. These were not taken over to the Hungarian poster, but they do figure in the form of a photo series in Stein’s book.

“Omnibus to Charenton! [the mental hospital]
By change through alcohol or directly through absinthe.”

The Hungarian poster is dominated instead by scenes of life. This idea could also take its origin from the back side of Colin’s tableau, which represented in four stations how the drunkard loses his will, his dignity, his judgment and, finally, his common sense.

However, their direct source must have been something else. Among the illustrations of Stein’s booklet we also find a complete life story of an alcoholic from the first glass to the last convulsion, and they are quite similar to the career summarized in two pictures on the Hungarian poster. Some research will reveal that these illustrations come from the elementary school book Histoire d’une Bouteille, “History of a bottle” by J. Baudrillard. In fact, the French temperance societies achieved in 1895 that a mandatory course was introduced in the elementary schools on the dangers of alcohol – of bad alcohol! –, equal in rank to geography or mathematics.

Moreover, the face of the protagonist, Jean-Louis at the age of 20 is confusingly similar to Sober Mike, while as a 40-year old alcoholic to Drunkard Steve.

This book shows in twelve pictures the path of the drunkard from family happiness through the fall and decay to the prison and death. The illustrations were originally black and white, and the kids had to color them, thereby carefully committing to memory each deterrent detail. For the adults they were also sold in the form of color postcards.

A happy family

The first step

Bad habits

On Pay Day

The alcoholic rage

The drunkard makes scandal

The way to craziness

The crime

On the tribunal

And despite the theatrical compositions, even though we know well that it is propaganda, this series of images does not remain ineffective on us either, for we know that what they represent was reality for thousands of families.

The woman reduced to misery


Death of the drunkard (delirium tremens)

Not for school but for life we learn.

2 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

Very interesting post. It reminded me of some cartoon stories by George Cruikshank (1792-1878) I've read in the past:

The Bottle/La Bouteille(

and The Drunkard's Children/Le Fils De L'Ivrogne
(was unable to find the whole story, here's the last plate:

Many compliments for your blog


Milan, Italy

Studiolum dijo...

Thanks a lot! I did not know these series. As in the meantime I have found a mid-1800s Finnish (!) one as well, perhaps it is time to write a complementary post with the new stories.