“The Story of Alcohol”, Finis

With the 40th instalment of The Story of Alcohol, printed in the Bridgeport Times, CT, August 29, 1919, the series of some 25,000 words ends. We reach the 18th century in England where it is explained the temperance movement started to gain a permanent footing, having been intermittent and fleeting in the past (while always still a feature of drink in society).

The satirist and cartoonist, William Hogarth, is mentioned as an influence in this respect. He is profiled not as a decided opponent of all drink, and of course his mirthy Beer Street is proof he supported use of beer, but because he opposed intemperate drinking and the societal degradation that followed. Of course his famed Gin Lane is the proof.

The previous 20 entries cover a large range of countries, Persia, France and England (both from early eras to near-modern times), Russia, Finland, Denmark, India, and Japan are the main ones. The Finnish discussion is interesting for the numerous folk drinks discussed, not just sahti, the juniper-flavoured drink known today as a rural alternate to beer.

The biblical controversy involving wine is reviewed. What did oinos mean exactly, or the salving of wounds with wine and oil and counsel to use a little wine for the stomach? The writer does not try to whitewash this in a modern Prohibitionist framework. It is acknowledged the Bible countenances use of wine in some instances.

(Reading between the lines, the writer seems to have approved of a prohibition that would allow beer and wine but not hard liquor. This was a mid-course on the alcohol question, indeed some brewers argued for it as I’ve written earlier. The writer notes too, in connection with Russia, that wine or beer-like beverage can be easily made at home from a wide variety of fruits and cereal starches. Long before vodka took hold in Russia, the peasantry had mastered making home alcohol of this kind. In other words, you can’t really ban all alcohol…).

The scope here doesn’t permit a summary of each article, anyway I have given you the means to find them and you can read them for yourself. I will say I liked the Samuel Pepys article, and the discussion of English fetes and fairs such as Southwark Fair. When you read this background, the modern images of provincial high street excesses, or at the annual social events the Daily Mail likes to profile, are no surprise. All this has a long history. The morning drink, which the Americans took to in the south, also has a long English heritage.

The English seem to have been fond of heavy drinking since early times with the exception of Cromwell’s era and also when Quakerism had influence. Had the series covered the 19th century (see below) it may have noted too where many Presbyterians and Baptists ensured a responsible, or no, use of alcohol.

Looking back from 2017, one can add the mid-1900s as an era of relative sobriety. The world wars and 1930s economic privation had something to do with this. Also, there was a kind of knock-on effect from prohibition, total or partial, where it took root elsewhere. One needn’t look to America as the example, northern Europe had legislated various forms starting from the later 1800s.

Some of the articles have typos and misplaced or missing lines. Whether this was typical of the Bridgeport Times I can’t say. Perhaps given the subject matter the editor didn’t feel it necessary to be punctilious, showing a kind of back-of-hand. It’s hard to say again.

The series omits all discussion of alcohol in America, however, many statements make it clear the writer was American, at one point he refers to hard cider in New England, for example. It seems odd America was omitted in the series since the article appeared in an American newspaper on the eve of American-legislated prohibition. Perhaps the series carried on but it was felt 40 instalments were enough. It was printed too over the summer, the slow season in journalism. Articles dealing with Kentucky whiskey, cocktails, Benjamin Rush, temperance societies, and Carrie Nation perhaps were felt not apt to start off September. (You know the old saloon sign: “We serve all nations but Carrie’s”).

Maybe dealing with drink in America, even in the previous two centuries, was felt too close to home. Still, the 40 articles are pregnant with implications for the prohibition case in 1919.

The missing instalment by the way dealt with Xeres receiving (before Christ) a cup of wine from Gyptis, daughter of Nann. In a word, this relates mythically to the founding of Marseilles, originally a Phoenician colony. It’s an interesting tale but the online environment permits one to glean the details in an instant.

And so you have The Story of Alcohol. The memorial tone foretold an era forever to end in January, 1920, the weighty but pondered decision of an enlightened and progressive America. Except, alcohol didn’t end. Far from it.

Alcohol control was the great crusade from 1850-1920. Many of the objects intended to be secured were justified. Contrary to myth, Prohibition improved the public health, e.g., cirrhosis rates fell as did admissions to asylums. But the age-old liking for liquor could not be stemmed by the motley of forces which sought its extirpation: suffragettes, many Protestant churches, many doctors, many businessmen.

Liquor came back in 1933 and today we have, in the beer arena which is our special province, many odd-sounding drinks to attract the attention of the cognoscenti. Some are flavoured with salt, vinegar, and herbs. Just like thousands of years ago in Greece and Rome.

Note re images: the images shown in this and the preceding two parts, excepted as stated therein, were extracted from the original news articles linked in the text. They are included for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources mentioned belongs solely to their lawful owners or authorized users, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

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