Doesticks Does Lager

Q.K. Philander Doesticks, P.B.

Mortimer Thomson was an American humorist, journalist, and author who died in 1875 at only 43.  One account states he was wounded in the Civil War, when he covered fighting in the first half of the war.

He wrote a number of full-length books and, working undercover in Georgia, an anti-slavery expose still remembered.

Comedy famously varies with the times, and even at his death his style was largely passé, and Thomson himself forgotten.

Yet, modern anthologies of humour sometimes include him, and he has been the subject of academic studies.

He was born in the western part of New York State, in Riga, Monroe County. He studied at University of Michigan and was associated with the student newspaper, but left before graduating.

He became famous in 1855 with the publication of Doesticks: What He Saysa collection of his humorous letters. In late 1858 the press in distant Sydney printed this piece by Q.K. Philander Doesticks, P.B., Thomson’s nom de plume and his alter ego.

The piece may be from the book, or one of his letters published separately in the New York press; he had worked in New York as a journalist.



He was a regular at Pfaff’s in the city, a noted lager beer house that doubled as a literary hangout.

The writing, despite elements of fantasy and fable, offers good vignettes of the early German saloon in New York.

This extended to foods served, waitresses, decor such as it was, and not least the beer. He states the beer was sour, akin to watered strong beer (meaning ale) turned sour.

He was not the first to be unimpressed with New York’s new drinking sensation, lager, but still his stance is notable when one considers the hagiography devoted to early lager culture in America.

Lager was quite new in America, yet stock features one associates with the German beer hall were present, including a house band, his account makes this clear.

Elements in Thomson’s humour later appear in the style of (for example) W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Robin Williams, and today I would say Stephen Colbert or Sarah Silverman, also the guy who does Borat. It is a zany quality, approaching stream of consciousness or freestyle.

Thomson cautioned via satire that lager was far from innocent despite the public perception of its low strength, and enough would make anyone drunk. He sends up the incredible amount of smoking that went on in German saloons. Pipes were the main agent, to be challenged soon by cigars and finally cigarettes.

The old Dutch pipes people used – long, thin, white – are collected – hundreds of them – in Keens Steak House in New York, 19th century artifacts.

Here is the opening paragraph of Thomson’s piece but read it in full (linked above) to get the full effect:

Lager Bier is a kindly liquid, and a moral agent; it is pleasant to the taste, and withal, is not intoxicating, so people say. Lager has taken out his papers and become naturalised, and is now as thoroughly American as before he was peculiarly German. Lager is a capital fellow to know, and I have just formed his acquaintance. I never drink inebriating compounds for several reasons; one of which is, I can’t afford the money it costs to get drunk, or the time it takes to get sober. I have, therefore, renounced my former friends, Brandy Cocktail and Whisky Punch, who are slippery fellows. B. C. left me in a station-house, with my head the size of a peach basket, and W. P. on one occasion led me into the company of some gentlemanly looking individuals, who picked my pocket of all my money, and then blacked my eyes because I didn’t get a bigger salary. But the other night I went with Damphool to drink some Lager Bier because I am convinced it does not contain half as much alcohol as distillery milk, and there is no more danger of a man getting drunk upon lager than on sweet cream!
Distillery milk was milk from cattle fed on the spent grain of distilleries and breweries. Its salubriousness was questioned on this account. Colleagues of Thomson would have written exposés.
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