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July 23rd 2003

Goteborg, Sweden



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Licensing and Temperance


THE first town in Norway to adopt the company system was Christiansand, where a Samlag was set up in 1871. Christiania followed this example in 1885, and to-day the system is in force in thirty-two towns in Norway; in two the sale of spirits independently of a Samlag is permitted; and twenty-nine towns have declared by popular vote, in which all men and women over twenty-five years of age may take part, in favour of prohibition, such vote remaining in force for a period of five years, when the community votes again, and, should it so please, may change its mind. To such an extent has the movement been carried that, out of 500 rural communes, with an average population of 3,000 each, spirit licenses exist in only thirteen, and in only about one-half of the communes can even beer or wine be bought, while in a large proportion of these the beer or wine can be obtained only by travellers. In such places the resident population must either go without alcoholic liquors, or else obtain them as best they can from towns where the sale is permitted. Even in Bergen, a town with a resident population of 80,000 people, no one of the hotels may supply spirits to any of the tourists who flock there every year, nor may a ' merchant' cater for their possible wants in respect to spirits. If they desire a glass of brandy, they must go or send to one of the six liquor-shops kept by the local Samlag, and purchase either a small bottle or (the only alternative) a litre. This is done in the alleged interests of temperance ; but the result is that the average tourist gets, and probably consumes, more than he wants, and he may, on his departure, leave the still partly-filled bottle behind in his room—in which case the hotel servants (to the risk of their own sobriety) help themselves to the remainder. Even on the walls of the room at the Grand Hotel, Christiania, where these lines are being written, I read the intimation, in four languages :
' Notice is directed to the law prohibiting the sale of spirits or liqueurs between 1 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. on Monday. Visitors are requested to give their orders on Saturday before noon.'
If it be really the case, as Dr. Sigfrid Wieselgren, President of the Swedish Temperance Society, asserts in his pamphlet, ' More About the Gothenburg System,' that the system was organized ' to counteract the impoverishment of the working classes through drinking on credit in unhealthy, dark, and dirty hovels of public-houses,' then I can only say that in Norway this original purpose has been widely departed from. Londoners will better realize the conditions in Christiania if they imagine the possibility of the sale of spirits being stopped at the Carlton Hotel or the Hotel Metropole, with the idea of main-
taining sobriety among the porters in Covent Garden Market, or the day-labourers resident in the East End !
On the other hand, all classes of the community are placed on the same footing in Norway, where the Swedish anomaly, under which there is an early hour of closing for the labourers, and a later hour of closing for their social superiors, is avoided. In this way, too, there is less idea of ' class legislation,' and tourists and well-to-do citizens are alike inconvenienced in the supposed interests of the working people.
The result of the conditions here indicated is that in the country districts of Norway the consumption of alcoholic beverages has declined very considerably, because of the difficulty in the way of obtaining them. Prohibition and restriction are more readily enforced in Norway than is the case in the United States or Canada, or than would be the case in Great Britain, because of the limited means of communication, and in the more out-of-the-way places especially, the only chance a peasant has to get a drink occurs either when he can go to a town, or when a neighbour going there will bring a bottle or a cask for him. The position was altogether different in those former days when every Norwegian peasant was allowed to be his own distiller. To-day the peasant is, generally speaking, an abstainer malgre lui, and to this extent the consumption of intoxicants has certainly fallen off in Norway. But the position is very different when, from the rural or mountainous districts of Norway, more or less difficult of access, we turn to the towns, and especially to the capital, Christiania, where a relatively large population is to be found.
In the first place, it is generally assumed by British supporters of the ' company' system that the liquor traffic at Christiania is controlled by a philanthropic company in the same way as they think is the case at Gothenburg; but the delusiveness of that idea is as complete in regard to the Christiania Samlag as I have already shown it to be in the case of the Gothenburg Bolag.
In actual fact, the Samlag at Christiania controls the fourteen existing spirit-bars where braendevin (the Norwegian equivalent of the Swedish branvin) may be obtained in glasses. At nine of" these fourteen dram-shops a retail trade is also done by the Samlag, but the bulk of the retail trade has been passed over to the wine and spirit merchants. In addition to the fourteen dram-shops, the Samlag controls the sale of spirits in each of the sixteen hotels to which permits have been granted; complete charge of this branch of the business in such hotels being taken by representatives of the Samlag. who receive all the money paid for spirits and pay it over to the company, a sum equal to about 15 per cent, of the takings being afterwards given to the hotel proprietor for rent or compensation.
But while the sales of spirits thus effected by the Christiania Samlag—that is to say, their bar, retail, and hotel sales collectively—are officially reported to amount to 413,000 litres the year,
the sales of spirits by the twenty-nine wine and spirit merchants are estimated by the Samlag officials at no less than 2,000,000 litres the year. These wine and spirit merchants hold licenses from the Samlag for the retail trade, and down to the end of 1904 they paid for such licenses a uniform fee of 10,000 kroner (£555). In return for this fee they were allowed to sell, not only 'superior' spirits, as dealt in by the wine and spirit merchants of Gothenburg, but also the so-called ' native brandy,' the retail sale of which is kept by the Gothenburg Bolag in their own hands. They are also allowed to sell in small bottles (about half a pint), whereas the minimum quantity that passes over a Bolag retail counter in Gothenburg is one litre.
Every fresh restriction imposed by the Christiania Samlag on the bar arid the hotel sale of spirits has put fresh business into the hands of the local wine and spirit merchants, whose trade has further benefited by the restrictions imposed in other parts of Norway as well; Christiania thus becoming more than ever a distributing centre for the bottle business throughout the country. What the trade done by these merchants really represents, none but themselves could say. It must certainly have been advancing of late years on the ' leaps and bounds ' principle, and the Samlag officials arrived at the conclusion that they were not getting a sufficiently large share of the'profits. On the basis of their 2,000,000 litre per year estimate (declared by the merchants themselves to be altogether excessive), the Samlag is now charging for its retail licenses according to the assumed sales by the merchants, so that the existing scale ranges from 10,000 kronor (£555) to 17,000 kronor (£940) each. Under these new conditions the total amount paid by the wine and spirit merchants for their licenses in 1905 was 348,500 kronor (£19,361), as against 317,000 kronor (£17,611) in 1904.
Now, it is obvious that only business of a really substantial character could stand a tax like this upon its takings, in addition to rent and other fixed charges; and, whether one accepts the 2,000,000 litre estimate or not, there is no possible room for doubt that the business done by the merchants in regard to spirits alone is far in excess of that done by the Samlag, which is so erroneously supposed to * control' the traffic. Any conclusions, therefore, as to the decreased consumption of spirits, and the consequent increased sobriety of the people, based on figures which represent Samlag sales exclusively, will at once be seen to be hopelessly fallacious.
Still less does this alleged ' control of the liquor traffic' by the Samlag system become when we pass on to consider the sale of beer in Christiania. Apart from the bars and the retail shops where spirits, or spirits and wines, may be bought, there are in the capital 301 places which have licenses for the sale of beer on the premises, namely, 215 annual licenses ; 75 which permit of beer being sold only to persons taking meals ; 5 which apply to the sale of light beer only; and 6 licenses available during the life of the present holder. Then there are no fewer than 1,610 licenses held by grocers, dairymen, etc., for the sale of beer
for consumption off the premises. Of the holders of these (off' licenses 647 can also sell wine. Other licenses, 40 in number, authorize the sale of wine only. Finally, all the local residents who possessed citizenship rights prior to 1882 may trade in wine, among other items of ' general merchandise'; but the number of these specially privileged ones is not known. Leaving them out of account, however, it will be seen from the figures given that there are in Christiania 2,000 places where alcoholic drinks of different kinds can be purchased, and that of these the Samlag operates only thirty. Nor do we reach the end of the chapter even here; for Ghristiania possesses eight breweries conducted on a sufficiently large scale to employ altogether 1,124 persons, and some at least of these breweries do a large trade direct with householders. Altogether, therefore, it is obviously a complete fallacy to say that the Samlag ' controls' the local liquor traffic. In point of fact, all it does is to control one particular section thereof.
Reverting to the conditions in Norway in general, it cannot be denied that any successes secured by the policy of restriction have only been won in the face of serious difficulties; that the fluctuations in sales and recorded drunkenness have often been due rather to economic and other causes than to the direct influence of the policy in question ; and that in various ways the final result has been less to cure the failings, and transform the habits, of the people, than merely to substitute one set of shortcomings for another.
An early effect of the stern severity of the Samlag liquor-shops in Xorway was to cause people to look out for alternative means of supplying their wants. Xor can one be surprised at this when one hears of such restrictions as those imposed at Christiansand, where, some years ago, the directors not only cut down the size of the glasses, but ordered that no person should have more than one dram every three hours. Coupled with such severities as these, the advance in prices, so that brandy should be less easy of attainment, further led men to club together and buy the liquor at cheaper rates in casks, the contents of which were divided among the purchasers in either town or country.
Beer, again, began to show a tendency to take the place of spirits, and one would have thought that, if the Government had really desired to promote the sobriety of the people, they would have encouraged the substitution of a beverage with a low percentage of alcohol for one with a high percentage. But they could not resist the temptation of securing more money from beer for revenue purposes, and in 1894 they raised the duty on malt from 17'I ore per kilogram (at which it had stood since 1879) to 21-1 ore, a further advance to no less than 37'1 ore per kilogram following in 1895. Not only was a check thus given to the consumption of beer, owing to the substantial increase in price that followed, but the coming in force, on January 1, 1896, of the further restrictions imposed under the Act of 1894, and also the fact that the Prohibitionist party voted down the Samlags in a number of places, establishing prohibition instead, led to
the adoption of less healthy substitutes for brasn-devin than the beer which should otherwise have taken its place.
It was under these circumstances that there spread rapidly in Xorway the use of a particularly atrocious kind of cheap so-called ' wine,' known as ' laddevin,' and consisting, it is said, mainly of spirit which had been already made in Xorway, exported to Hamburg, there sweetened, weakened, mixed with various compounds and chemicals—so that it eventually had about 20 per cent, of alcohol—and then sent back in the form of ' wine,' which could be sold at very low rates. Owing to the restrictions imposed by existing treaties, the Xorwegian Government were unable, down to the year 1904, to put higher duties on imported wines, and the resort to laddevin, in place of the ' controlled ' braen-devin, was carried to such an extent that the consumption thereof per head of the population rose from an average of 0'88 litre per year in the period 1886-1890 to 2'49 litres in 1896-1900, attaining a maximum of 2'75 litres in 1898. More rigid police measures were then enforced, and the consumption per head fell to 2'24 litres in 1902 and T84 litres in 1908. A much more serious decline followed the imposition of heavy import duties in 1904, the consumption per head of the population in 1905 being only 0-85 litre.
Once more I would point out how misleading statistics of consumption in Xorway, based on Samlag sales of bramdevin, must inevitably be when there are left out of account the very considerable sales taking place in other directions.
In what way was sobriety promoted if, instead of getting a glass of braendevin at a Samlag bar, people bought a bottle of the much more seductive compound known as laddevin ? And seductive that compound undoubtedly is. ' It goes, as one authority told me, 'to the feet rather than to the head. A person sits drinking laddevin at a table, and so long as he remains seated he scarcely feels any ill-effects, and appears to be quite rational. He therefore goes on drinking; but when at last he rises from his seat, he can no longer control his limbs, and he is then seen to be thoroughly intoxicated. Laddevin, again, is the favourite beverage of women drinkers in Norway, on account of its sweetness.
Another substitute resorted to by persons who could not afford to pay the increased prices for brandy was found in methylated spirits. These cost about the same as laddevin, namely, 50 or 60 ore the bottle, against 40 ore charged for 1 litre (equal to about a bottle and a third) of laddevin. But the methylated spirits go further than the laddevin, because of the addition to them of hot water and sugar for the production of a sort of grog.
The worst substitute of all, however, adopted by hardened drinkers in Norway, and representing the last stage in the career of the incorrigible toper, is ' Politur,' popularly known as ' Skaap.' In effect this is the compound used by French polishers in their work, salt being added to the bottle (which is then shaken up), so as to cause the shellac to sink to the bottom and there
solidify, the separated spirit on the top being drunk as a beverage. A viler drink, short of actual poison, could hardly be imagined. It produces speedy intoxication, and often delirium tremens in addition, while it also has a most pernicious effect on the system. But it has the advantage of being cheap, a beer-bottle full costing only about fourpence, and I was told of men in Norway who almost live upon it, and have attained to old age in spite of its noxious qualities.
Those, therefore, of the Norwegian people who will drink in spite of all difficulties placed in their path, and who cannot pay for, or have difficulty in getting, the ' controlled ' brasndevin, have found substitutes in much worse beverages, which have thus been brought into widespread use, brgendevin being regarded among a large number of the poorer classes in Norway as a drink only to be indulged in on the occasion of some special domestic festival, such as a wedding or a christening. Obviously, however, it is quite a mistake to assume that fewer intoxicants are being taken in Norway merely because the official statistics in regard to sales of brasndevin may show a falling off.
Nor are the aforesaid people who will drink, in spite of all impediments, seriously inconvenienced by the early closing of the bars on Saturday and the total closing on Sunday. Here there are two alternatives at least open to them to pursue.
In the first place, a group of men will assemble early on Saturday evening in the room of some individual who lets them have the use of it for the occasion, and who either helps them to consume the liquor they bring with them in bottles, or will make a profit by supplying them with bottles, of which he has himself already laid in a stock. There is one particular district in Christiania where, as I found on visiting the ' slums,' from eight to ten people actually depend on such profits for a livelihood, while the number of places where parties of drinkers, bringing their own liquor, can be received as ' friends,' could hardly be estimated. In these rooms—whatever the precise conditions—the topers sit and drink their laddevin, their methylated spirits, their politur, or, more rarely, their braendevin; they talk and they play cards; and when, finally, sleep or drunkenness overtakes them, they lie down indiscriminately on the floor, and there remain until Sunday morning, when, the supply of liquor being exhausted, they betake themselves to their homes. Women sometimes join in these proceedings, but, generally speaking, the men are by themselves. Attempts have been made by the authorities to check the practice, and local improvement schemes carried out in Christiania have been so planned as to involve the demolition of some of the worst of these ' sly-grog' establishments ; but the people driven out of one place seem to experience no great difficulty in finding another.
The second expedient resorted to is an open-air one, and is in vogue from April or May to the early part of September, according to climatic conditions. Here the practice is for a party of,
say, six or seven to assemble on the Saturday afternoon, and go off' to a wood three or four miles from the centre of the town, taking with them a blanket and a supply of laddevin (in covered milk-pails) equal to at least 1 litre per person. Arrived at their wood, they fix on a comfortable spot, attach their blanket to some trees, so that they will not be seen by any passers-by, and in this improvised tent, open at the top to the heavens, they proceed to consume their liquor. The orgie will, in any case, last the night through, and the men, sleeping on the ground, may, perhaps, be seen walking unsteadily home in groups the next morning; but it is a common occurrence for the camp not to be broken up until Sunday evening, while occasionally these ' week-ends in the country ' will be prolonged until Monday morning.
These are examples of the sort of thing going on in Norway under the operation of the ' company' system, whose leading supporters appear to assume that, when both the Samlag establishments and the hotel bars for the sale of spirits have been closed at one o'clock on Saturday until Monday morning (to the inconvenience, in the latter instance, of many a British tourist), all is well with ' the people.'
There is still another drawback to the system which should be mentioned. Under their local option rights the inhabitants of most of the country districts have voted against the opening of any drinking bars in their locality at all, so that when the peasants go into the town from time to time to do their business, a visit to a Samlag establishment is a special source of attraction to them ; while, not being accustomed to drinking bramdevin (except on these occasions), they readily become intoxicated. This tendency has been noted by the ne'er-do-wells in the towns, and a class of people, known by the name of ' Bondefangere ' (' peasant - catchers'), lay themselves out to prey upon the innocents from the country, by first making friends with them, then getting them to drink more than they should, and finally robbing them of the money which they will either have received in the town, or, alternatively, have brought with them to spend for agricultural or domestic necessaries. These conditions should especially be borne in mind in connection with that decline of spirit-drinking in the rural districts themselves of which one hears so much.
Passing on to consider the statistics as to the possible effect which the Samlag system may have had on the consumption of spirits in Norway, I take the figures given on p. 65 (with the exception of the total per head for 1905, which I have added on the basis of official information) from the ' Statistisk Aarbog for Kongericht Norge' for 1905, showing (a) total production and consumption of braandevin in Norway per head of the population, such total including imports actually consumed in the country ; and (b) the percentage thereof sold by the authorized companies.

It will be seen from this table that there was a considerable decline in consumption in the years 1896-97-98, and again in 1905. The decrease in the first-mentioned period does not necessarily mean that the people were then drinking less. It really means that, following on the increased restrictions under the law of 1894, they took less brsendevin, but much more of the cheap foreign laddevin, to the largely-increased importation of which at this period 1 have already referred. The falling off in 1905 is attributed by leading authorities in Christiania mainly to the political events of that year, which so fully engaged the attention of the people that they—temporarily, it is thought—paid less attention to the consumption of liquor. Leaving these two particular periods out of account, the figures in this official table hardly suggest that there has been any serious decline in the consumption of native brandy per head of the population in Norway as a whole as the result of the Samlag system. It will be further seen that since 1897 and 1898 there has been a substantial reduction in the percentage of the total sales falling to the share of the Samlags.
Taking next the question of drunkenness, the following table in regard to arrests for that offence alone, or for drunkenness in connection with other offences, in the city of Christiania for the period 1890-1905, is especially significant:

Here one notices the great increase in the number of arrests for drunkenness in 1896. The explanation of this is that 1895 marked the end of a period of economic depression in Norway,
and with the following year there succeeded an era of prosperity, which lasted until the summer of 1899. A great boom in the building trade in the capital was one of the main reasons for the substantial advance in the population returns, and not only had the men engaged in the building trades such exceptionally good wages that they wrere reputed to be able to indulge even in champagne, but many of them came from country districts where they had not been accustomed to strong drinks, and were thus easily intoxicated when they took to them.
But the real significance of the increased drunkenness shown by these official returns lies in the fact that such increase took place owing to economic causes over which the Samlag system, with all its restrictions, clearly had no real control. When times were prosperous the workers got drunk irrespective of the Samlag. When acute depression set in again they drank less, but that was more because of shortness of funds than because of Samlag influence. The decline shown in 1905 over 1904 naturally follows on the decreased consumption attributed to the exceptional causes to which I have already made reference.
Corresponding figures for Bergen work out as given in the following table:

Speaking generally, I must confess that I am not disposed to place too much faith on these and other statistics of drunkenness. They may vary according to the activity or the toleration of the police from time to time even in the same town; the police standard of drunkenness may differ in one town as compared with another; the returns from one source may include drunkenness accompanied by breaches of the peace or other offences, whereas in another set of returns these cases would be dealt with separately ; while there is ground for suspicion that, in Norway at least, far more people get drunk than are included in the official statistics.
For example, in the return of drunkenness in Bergen it will be seen that there was a sudden decline in the figures for 1892 as compared with those for 1891. That was because the municipality, interested in the success of the Samlag system, got alarmed at the zeal of a new chief
of police—who had ordered his men to arrest everybody they saw drunk on the streets—and told him to keep down the returns by arresting only those drunkards who were troublesome. He followed instructions, and, according to the official returns, Bergen at once became more sober. Then the effect of discouraging men from patronizing the recognised drinking-bars (where excess would be at once noticed), and causing them to indulge rather in all-night orgies in woods or private rooms, where they can sleep off a drunken fit unobserved, and without having to come out into the streets until they are sober, must also affect the official returns, although the amount of actual drunkenness in and around a town may, in fact, be greater than ever.
The possibility of there being a good deal of drunkenness in Norway which does not get recorded in the official reports was further shown in 1899, on the occasion of the annual ski sports at Holmenkollen, a popular pleasure resort near to Christiania. With the help of a number of University students stationed at different points in the district, a census was taken of the number of persons who returned from the festival ' visibly' intoxicated. It was found that out of 16,000 visitors 'only' 340 were in the condition described, and the total was mentioned to me with a feeling of pride, as representing a creditably small percentage. I will not stop to discuss the figures from that point of view. My concern with them here consists in the fact that, although under the Norwegian law the entire 340 were liable to prosecution for being ' visibly' intoxicated, I was informed that not one of them was proceeded against, because the drunkenness in question ' occurred in the country.'
Under these various conditions, I think I am warranted in not attaching too great an importance to official statistics of drunkenness in regard even to a particular country, and still less, I consider, can just comparisons be made in this respect between the statistics of one country and those of another. But of one thing I have no doubt—that, while the consumption of alcoholic beverages of all kinds may be decreasing in the country districts of Norway under a system of rigid prohibition, the working of the Samlag system in the towns operates quite as much in the direction of drunkenness as it does in the direction of sobriety; for while a good check may be put on the bar business, the man who buys a bottle or a half-bottle where he would otherwise be content with one or two glasses, or who lays in a supply on the Saturday for that and the next day, and finishes it off by Saturday night, assuredly drinks more than he would otherwise do, provided he could depend on getting, when he wanted it, the amount he required for immediate consumption. There is more recorded drunkenness in Norway on Saturday than on any other day in the week, and this fact is directly due to the habit of providing against the compulsory closing of the spirit-bars from 1 p.m. on Saturday until Monday morning. What the unrecorded drunkenness due to the same cause amounts to is more than anyone can say.
I come now to the question of the distribution of the profits realized under the Samlag system. Previously to 1894 these profits (after the payment of 5 per cent, interest to the shareholders) remained in the hands of the various companies, to be devoted by them to such philanthropic or public purposes as they might think deserving of support. The sums thus controlled were so substantial that direct encouragement was given to the starting of a considerable number of semi-philanthropic, if not of more or less bogus, institutions, which could not have existed but for the brandy traffic, but tending to transform the practice and direction of the so-called philanthropy into a remunerative profession. At the same time, the number of those disposed to depend on charity in one form or another steadily increased, while there was a diminution in the need for appeals on behalf of objects or institutions which might otherwise have had to be supported either out of the rates or by the public in general. In the end, a condition of things was brought about which led to the revolutionary law of 1894.
Under this law the State took 65 per cent, of the profits of the Samlags, to make them the basis of a national fund for sick-pay and old-age pensions; the local municipalities were to have 15 per cent., and the remaining 20 per cent, was alone to be distributed by the Samlags themselves for charitable or philanthropic purposes. This reconstruction considerably modified the municipal and the ' local gains' element in the Samlag business, and gave much point to the criticism to which the developments of local control had led. But even these changes did not satisfy those of the critics who lived in the rural parishes. They pointed out—quite justly—that when the people living in the prohibition districts wanted to buy spirits, they made their purchases in the towns ; so that a good deal of money was going from the country into the towns, and helping to swell the profits from which the towns derived so substantial a benefit. They therefore demanded that the rural districts should be allowed a fair share of the brandy money, and in 1904 another law was passed, which provided that the percentage allocated by the Samlags for distribution for philanthropic purposes should be gradually reduced, by the year 1908, to 10 per cent., the difference going to the prefectures of the eighteen rural districts (' amts') for the benefit of the communities there.
Thus, in Norway as in Sweden, one finds on the one hand a movement which aims at controlling and restricting the traffic in spirits with the declared object of safeguarding the general welfare; and, on the other, some approach to a ' scramble' for the profits the said controllers make out of a traffic they profess to denounce.

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