The term is an old one for what we now would call a soft drink. To Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest it brings back memories of an adventurous youth. “It seems to be mine,” she says of the handbag which holds the secret of Jack’s birth. “Yes, here is the injury it received through the upsetting of a Gower Street omnibus in younger and happier days. Here is the stain on the lining caused by the explosion of a temperance beverage, an incident that occurred at Leamington. And here, on the lock, are my initials. I had forgotten that in an extravagant mood I had had them placed there.” The suspense builds, teasing us with a language that is all polysyllables, with its verbs in the past perfect voice. It is a language which has descended all the way into temperateness and come out at the other end, like Dante at the center of hell.
During the presidential election of 2012, the Republican candidate was a man famously (at the time) temperate of speech. “Gosh,” he would say. Nevertheless, he lost — done in by what his fellow Republicans temperately called urban voters. In the spirit of temperance, therefore, let us offer a toast in memory of the rail-spanned America that might have come once more to be if only those urban people had been temperate.