"Thou Art the
Man" by T. S. Arthur
"HOW can you reconcile it to your conscience to continue in your
present business, Mr. Muddler?" asked a venerable clergyman of a
tavern-keeper, as the two walked home from the funeral of a young man
who had died suddenly.
"I find no difficulty on that score," replied the tavern-keeper, in
a confident tone: "My business is as necessary to the public as that
of any other man."
"That branch of it, which regards the comfort and accommodation of
travellers, I will grant to be necessary. But there is another
portion of it which, you must pardon me for saying, is not only
uncalled for by the real wants of the community, but highly
detrimental to health and good morals."
"And pray, Mr. Mildman, to what portion of my business do you
"I allude to that part of it which embraces the sale of
"Indeed! the very best part of my business. But, certainly, you do
not pretend to say that I am to be held accountable for the
unavoidable excesses which sometimes grow out of the use of liquors
as a beverage?"
"I certainly must say, that, in my opinions a very large share of
the responsibility rests upon your shoulders. You not only make it a
business to sell liquors, but you use every device in your power to
induce men to come and drink them. You invent new compounds with new
and attractive names, in order to induce the indifferent or the
lovers of variety, to frequent your bar-room. In this way, you too
often draw the weak into an excess of self-indulgence, that ends,
alas! in drunkenness and final ruin of body and soul. You are not
only responsible for all this, Mr. Muddler, but you bear the weight
of a fearful responsibility!"
"I cannot see the subject in that light, Mr. Mildman," the
tavern-keeper said, rather gravely. "Mine is an honest and honourable
calling, and it is my duty to my family and to society, to follow it
with diligence and a spirit of enterprise."
"May I ask you a plain question, Mr. Muddler?"
"Oh yes, certainly! as many as you please."
"Can that calling be an honest and honourable one which takes
sustenance from the community, and gives back nothing in return?"
"I do not know that I understand the nature of your question, Mr.
"Consider then society as a man in a larger form, as it really is.
In this great body, as in the lesser body of man, there are various
functions of use and a reciprocity between the whole. Each function
receives a portion of life from the others, and gives back its own
proper share for the good of the whole. The hand does not act for
itself alone—receiving strength and selfishly appropriating it
without returning its quota of good to the general system. And so of
the heart, and lungs, and every other organ in the whole body.
Reverse the order—and how soon is the entire system diseased! Now,
does that member of the great body of the people act honestly and
honourably, who regularly receives his portion of good from the
general social system, and gives nothing back in return?"
To this the landlord made no reply, and Mr. Mildman continued—
"But there is still a stronger view to be taken. Suppose a member
of the human body is diseased—a limb, for instance, in a partial
state of mortification. Here there is a reception of life from the
whole system into that limb, and a constant giving back of disease
that gradually pervades the entire body; and, unless that body
possesses extraordinary vital energy, in the end destroys it. In like
manner, if in the larger body there be one member who takes his share
of life from the whole, and gives back nothing but a poisonous
principle, whose effect is disease and death, surely he cannot be
called a good member—nor honest, nor honourable."
"And pray, Mr. Mildman," asked the tavern-keeper, with warmth,
"where will you find, in society, such an individual as you
The minister paused at this question, and looked his companion
steadily in the face. Then raising his long, thin finger to give
force to his remark, he said with deep emphasis—
"Thou art the man!"
"Me, Mr. Mildman! me!" exclaimed the tavern-keeper, in surprise and
displeasure. "You surely cannot be in earnest."
"I utter but a solemn truth, Mr. Muddler: such is your position in
society! You receive food, and clothing, and comforts and luxuries of
various kinds for yourself and family from the social body, and what
do you give back for all these? A poison to steal away the health and
happiness of that social body. You are far worse than a perfectly dead
member—you exist upon the great body as a moral gangrene. Reflect
calmly upon this subject. Go home, and in the silence of your own
chamber, enter into unimpassioned and solemn communion with your
heart. Be honest with yourself. Exclude the bias of selfish feelings
and selfish interests, and honestly define to yourself your true
"But, Mr. Mildman—"
The two men had paused nearly in front of Mr. Muddler's splendid
establishment, and were standing there when the tavern-keeper
commenced a reply to the minister's last remarks. He had uttered but
the first word or two, when he was interrupted by a pale,
thinly-dressed female, who held a little girl by the hand. She came
up before him and looked him steadily in the face for a moment or
"Mr. Muddler, I believe," she said.
"Yes, madam, that is my name," was his reply.
"I have come, Mr. Muddler," the woman then said, with an effort to
smile and affect a polite air, "to thank you for a present I received
"Thank me, madam! There certainly must be some mistake. I never
made you a present. Indeed, I have not the pleasure of your
"You said your name was Muddler, I believe?"
"Yes, madam, as I told you before, that is my name."
"Then you are the man. You made my little girl, here a present
also, and we have both come with our thanks."
"You deal in riddles, madam, Speak out plainly."
"As I said before," the woman replied, with bitter irony in her
tones, "I have come with my little girl to thank you for the present
we received last night;—a present of wretchedness and abuse."
"I am still as far from understanding you as ever," the
tavern-keeper said—I never abused you, madam. I do not even know
"But you know my husband, sir! You have enticed him to your bar,
and for his money have given him a poison that has changed him from
one of the best and kindest of men, into a demon. To you, then, I owe
all the wretchedness I have suffered, and the brutal treatment I
shared with my helpless children last night. It is for this that I
have come to thank you."
"Surely, madam, you must be beside yourself. I have nothing to do
with your husband."
"Nothing to do with him!" the woman exclaimed, in an excited tone.
"Would to heaven that it were so! Before you opened your accursed gin
palace, he was a sober man, and the best and kindest of husbands—but,
enticed by you, your advertisement and display of fancy drinks, he was
tempted within the charmed circle of your bar-room. From that moment
began his downfall; and now he is lost to self-control—lost to
feeling—lost to humanity!"
As the woman said this, she burst into tears, and then turned and
walked slowly away.
"To that painful illustration of the truth of what I have said,"
the minister remarked, as the two stood once more alone, "I have
nothing to add. May the lesson sink deep into your heart. Between you
and that woman's husband existed a regular business transaction. Did
it result in a mutual benefit? Answer that question to your own
How the tavern-keeper answered it, we know not. But if he received
no benefit from the double lesson, we trust that others may; and in
the hope that the practical truth we have endeavoured briefly to
illustrate, will fall somewhere upon good ground, we cast it forth
for the benefit of our fellow-men.