1) Answering William Savage's Cleanliness and Class · 2) "If you wanted bacon you had to make it yourself—and what a lengthy, laborious job it was!" · 3) Fridge Logic · 4) Speaking of Drinking Problem for Georgians? That is Anachronistic. · 5) A Distinction and a Gratitude to William Savage
Nevertheless, William Savage poses the question in those terms:
Pen and Pension : Did the Georgians have a Drink Problem?
Posted on November 16, 2016
Compared with water, alcohol produced by fermentation contained fewer contaminants; the heating involved usually removed the main sources of infection.
Before you say that, how about proving water was generally infected?
Wine, also, was, unlike beer, not heated before the fermentation. However, both alcohol and polyphenols would likely eliminate most.
That said, drinking is not just for hydration. If you prefer lemonade, coffee or tea over water, it is because you need energy. Alcohol is a carbohydrate as good as sugar.
And getting your carbohydrates mainly through solids might clog the digestion apparatus.
Hogarth’s famous illustration ‘Gin Lane’ is often produced as evidence of disapproval of alcohol. Yet it needs to be remembered that gin was a ‘foreign’ drink, brought over by the Dutch soldiers in William of Orange’s army. If you compare the poverty and degradation shown in ‘Gin Lane’ to its companion piece, ‘Beer Street’ (a solid, English drink) Hogarth’s message isn’t so clear. It seems less about alcohol than a typical crusty English aversion towards foreign food and drink. Beer Street is clean and prosperous, everyone looks healthy and happy — and the pawnbroker has gone bankrupt!
If you drink beer, you hydrate yourself about the pace you get alcohol as energy drink, besides you get a lot of sugars in it too. Before you get VERY drunk, you will have to get a pee. And if you're in for it for the energy, without express intention of getting drunk, you are better placed to slow down before actually getting so.
And if you drink beer, you drink what your neighbour or yourself has brewed.
Obviously more so back then than now.
Do you know that besides grapes, they grow excellent barley in Reims?
But if you want a beer in Reims, from the barley of Reims, it has generally been brewed in Belgium somewhere. The drink that is produced from field to bottle in Reims is of course Champagne.
That has made beer in Reims less likely to keep you out of debt, compared to drinking stronger, though of course Champagne is not very strong either. However, it is expensive, since exported very widely. Local bar visitors do need to compete somewhat to foreigners buying Champagne as a luxury. And some politicians and some Muslim security guards want it that way.
Yep, Chesterton has a better part in Hogarth than teetotallers have.
Beer was good because it was a do it yourself drink. As mentioned, the kind of cook and household book which teaches you to make bacon (that is, to pickle porc) probably also teaches you to brew beer.
It’s fair to say that contemporary attitudes to heavy drinking were class-based — linked to the economic need to keep people productive, especially the ‘working classes’.
Chesterton mentioned the saying "drunk as a lord" - and sometimes alluded to the fact that building workers don't get that by using beer as an energy drink.
Waiters in restaurants don't get that if using wine as an energy drink either (see Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell), it is when they get laid off and drink as much as when they were working that they may (in fairly rare cases even so) become really drunk people.
However you explain it, it seems likely that a good part of the population of 18th-century Britain had, in modern terms, a significant drinking problem, greater the higher up you look on the social scale. Gout was everywhere amongst the rich and the gentry, especially in men, who were the heaviest drinkers. Men boasted of their ability to drink huge amounts and remain able to function.
Oh, certainly. Real drunkenness is as horrible as Teetotalism to a gentleman.
Not meaning just someone of the gentry. (I happen to be proud of a distiller grand pa.)
To qualify as a rake virtually required you to consume up to three bottles of port a day.
To qualify as a rake required you to consume so much you didn't function and still not go to bed, and be observed doing so.
An observation easier to make in lower classes, because they have fewer places to hide in either loneliness or the kind of company which is entirely understanding.
With lower class, some "observations" may be supplemented without adding alcohol by the person's mouth. Like sleep privations and steady offers of sugar-filled both drinks and foods. Like stinginess about the money he could use for washing in laundries (except on Sundays, when I don't wash, generally, holding the Sunday to be free from house chores as well as heavy work - unless emergencies force me).
Note, in Catholic parts of Europe, generally, even lords and gentry (or what corresponds roughly to these English titles) were, especially after the Counterreformation, expected to not get drunk, to drink with moderation, to set an example.
This has not been entirely lost on at least middle class, but actually also lower classes in cities like Vienna or Paris.
Excepting of course recent Muslim immigrants, who are stuck in the choice between Teetotalism or becoming rakes.
During his time as Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger was said to take up to six bottles daily.
I think Napoleon was more sober.
You have to wonder what effect this had on his decision-making during those years.
If he was used to that quantity without getting drunk (which is possible, if you keep in training), presumably none. Or perhaps as much as drinking six bottles (large ones) of Coke, what with the sugar involved.
It certainly shortened his life.
But on the other hand kept himstrong and healthy while he lived.
There is a thing called the Salerno diet. It was given as medical advise to English kings, by the physicians at the faculty of Salerno.
Since neither they nor the kings wanting their advise were Protestants, they presumably did not foresee six bottles a day, but it included more alcohol than bankers are supposed to drink these days.
It also included much meat.
Obviously, the pious Catholics would abstain from both on Wednesdays and Fridays. And lighten the work burden accordingly, especially in Lent when fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays was more compulsory.
Bad Catholics and after them Protestants would on the other hand not do so, so, if following Salerno diet (which remained popular in the time of Hogarth) they would probably have this health balance:
- on the one hand, no infections, or infections very soon cured, no or very few days off (more important if you are a king or a worker who can be laid off any day, than if you have an employment where a replacement is temporary)
- also, bright wits (but that effect is especially such if actually fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, otherwise Salerno diet would probably clog you down a bit)
- and on the other hand, accumulating a health problem which takes you off to the graveyard at about 60.
But if Savage thinks the six bottles of wine affected William Pitt's decision making? No, I think he was used to it.
Or, perhaps it did, making him adverse to adopting the Catholic religion, which would probably have cut even him down to five bottles per day (getting drunk being a mortal sin, getting tipsy a venial one).
To think of it, some have considered Chesterton and Belloc as drunks because they enjoyed at certain times three bottles a day - wonder what they would have said about William Pitt ...
I suspect such constant drinking produced some lessening of the immediate effects of alcohol on mind and body — or at least a greater ability to conceal them.
Here is what I learned in school. If you are a teen and you start drinking, you don't need much to get drunk. If you keep drinking, you heighten your tolerance. The danger is when the tolerance doesn't rise more, but breaks.
Obviously it lessens the immediate effect on your mind, if you have a liver reacting promptly.
Obviously it heightens the immediate effect on your mind, if you have a liver which has given up the task of keeping you sober.
But the same is in fact also true for sugar. Or so I ahve found.
I have encountered alcoholics who seemed able to function quite normally most of the time, despite the amount they drank. It caught up with them in the end, of course, but usually the social impact came before the physical one.
If so, perhaps the physical impact catching up with them is due to the social one? Like offering much sugar? Like adding more stress?
What first limited the Nation’s drinking was the spread of evangelical Christianity, especially in the middle class, who had always been more puritanical than those above them.
Er, no. Catholicism had limited the drinking before that. And in the 16th Century, Puritans were MORE liberal with wine and beer than Catholics. Especially as being opposed to taking Lent off.
It is not by chance that Cromwell was a brewer, nor did he in any way discourage anyone from drinking, as long as he didn't get positively drunk (as opposed to just tipsy or simply unaffected because used to it). Brewers may have enjoyed the Reformation, because the time between Christmas and Easter is better business than if you have a Catholic clientele.
Of course, Puritans do loose you a few extra days on the Twelve Days of Christmas or in Easter Octave. But the regular, non-festive fare would make up for that, if you are the kind of brewer and inn-keeper who wants to earn as much money as possible.
During the first 1700 years of the Church, there was not one denomination who thought every faithful should abstain from alcohol all days and not even drink a glass of wine at night. There were people who thought monks should abstain - and St Benedict laments they did not keep the upper hand. BUT he limits a monk's consummation of wine to 1 measure (a little greater than a pint*) of wine per day. Probably a little less of it at lunch (the days there was one) or divided in the working hours, and a little more of it at the refectorium after Vespers. ALONG with soup and beans and perhaps even meat.
Unless of course you count Mahomet as a Christian heretic rather than as a Pagan. His words are by now famous: "if a large amount intoxicates, even a little amount is prohibited", with the word for prohibited being in Arabic original probably "haram".
Hans Georg Lundahl
* If pint is 50 cl in France, and perhaps less in England, the measure given by St Benedict is supposed to have been 66 cl.
Here is a dialogue in combox under William Savage's post:
- Interesting post, William. I discovered that the Pilgrims drank beer pretty exclusively, although children might drink water, if not fouled. That was one of the reasons why they settled where they did – on a site with a brook with clean water. The children also drank small beer, especially on the Mayflower when the water became fouled.
I wonder that the death rate was from cirrhosis in Georgian England? The rich might have been able to handle their liquor with practice, but their livers wouldn’t!
- William Savage
- No answer to that, since medical science at the time wouldn’t have known what it was. I suppose people reckoned there were so many things around that would kill you, why worry about one more — especially if it was enjoyable while it did it!
noelleg44 is correct - taking liquor without getting drunk is not the same as taking liquor without charging, overcharging or really harming the liver. Hence the wisdom of the monks who were taking far less than William Pitt.
William Savage is incorrect about at least one thing, medical science back then. Or perhaps correct about English version of it, but if so English were behind the times.
English wiki has nothing, but German wiki says: Die erste makroskopische Beschreibung einer Leberzirrhose in der Medizingeschichte findet sich in den Anmerkungen zur Zeichnung del vecchio von Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). Die Zeichnungen zur Gefäßanatomie der Leber basieren auf einer Autopsie, die Leonardo da Vinci 1508 in Florenz an einem über 100-Jährigen vornahm.
Georgian England is after all a few centuries after Leonardo, and if their doctors had no clue what cirrhosis was, they were severely behind the times, compared to the continent./HGL