Born of the temperance movement, “Schneider Von Groot’s Christmas Dream” dramatises the ills of drinking schnapps, through one man’s bloody battle with thousands of intoxicated demons.
It’s Christmas Eve and old Von Groot is on the way home to his family. Laying down for a moment for a rest on a roadside bank, he pulls out his pipe and begins singing about the glories of boozing. He drifts off and finds himself in a new land where, so a little elf there explains, the law requires him to drink schnapps “such as Dutchmen for ages have used for night caps.” Finding out that it flows like rivers there and is free, Von Groot declares it the place for him. He will stay and “drink like a fish from the morning till night.”
All of a sudden two demons appear and crawl into his eyes and ears. Drunk and aggressive, they and their emerging accomplices try to tie him down with “wythes of the willow and fir”. He manages to kill thousands of these miniature foe, but eventually they have him held down securely. A saviour of a green elf appears, cuts the ropes and sets him free. The grateful Von Groot wonders aloud what has led to all this slaughter. A voice cries out “It’s schnapps, and the blackness of hell / All its murders, its crimes and its sorrows can tell.”
An angel now floats by in a golden car accompanied by a team of butterflies and whisks our hero off to the land of the elves, where he’s presented with a golden goblet. He drinks the elixir within and awakens on the same bank by the road. It’s Christmas morning. Von Groot searches out some presents for his wife and children, returns home, and never touches the schnapps again.
We have been able to find out very little about the author of the poem, which was published in New York in 1885. The title page offers the pen-name “BROADBRIM”, which may be a reference to the hat worn by Quakers, a sect famously unimpressed by alcohol. The Internet Archive identifies him as George Warwick, author of two other Christmas and New Year-themed poems.
Of course, the temperance movement didn’t just spawn works of literature, but visual art as well. See a small selection here in our online shop.