Friday, May 1, 2009

Man, being reasonable, must get drunk....

In the Georgian and Regency period of history people tended to drink a lot. As Byron wrote in his satiric masterpiece, Don Juan:

Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter,
Sermons and soda-water the day after.
Man, being reasonable, must get drunk;
The best of life is but intoxication:
Glory, the grape, love, gold, in these are sunk
The hopes of all men, and of every nation;
Without their sap, how branchless were the trunk
Of life's strange tree, so fruitful on occasion:
But to return,—Get very drunk; and when
You wake with headache, you shall see what then.
Ring for your valet—bid him quickly bring
Some hock and soda-water, then you'll know
A pleasure worthy Xerxes the great king;
For not the bless'd sherbet, sublimed with snow,
Nor the first sparkle of the desert-spring,
Nor Burgundy in all its sunset glow,
After long travel, ennui, love, or slaughter,
Vie with that draught of hock and soda-water.

Byron added flair to his claret-quaffing by drinking out of the skull of a mediveal monk. Keats apparently liked to take a pinch of cayenne pepper and put it on the tip of his tongue before knocking back his claret. Though claret appears to be the standard drink of the Romantic poets (aside from laudanum, which pretty much everyone drunk, according to Thomas de Quincey), port was the drink of politicians.

When William Pitt the Younger was fourteen, the Pitt family doctor advised Pitt to treat his inherited gout with a bottle of port a day. Pitt apparently liked port a great deal because Pitt soon had a reputation of downing three bottles a day. He often had late night drinking parties with one of his ministers, Dundas, a fact which gave rise to a popular epigram:

Pitt: I cannot see the Speaker, Hal; can you?
Dundas: Not see the Speaker, Will? Why I see two!

Pitt, however, rarely appeared the worse for drink until the very end of his life, when his alcoholism significantly contributed to his state of constant ill-health. When he was younger, however, he did not have this problem. One day Pitt walked into the House of Commons, more full of port than a liquor store and promptly vomited in the antechamber. He then took the floor and perfectly delivered a speech. The Amateur Historian is not quite sure on what, but, considering Pitt had drunk enough to vomit in the antechamber, she is impressed that Pitt was even able to stay conscious, let alone make parlimentary orations.


  1. Shock and Awe! I can't even picture a drunken Pitt stumbling into work!

  2. Funnily enough, I think Pitt was probably drunk 24/7 the last years of his life. It does seem a little out of place with his character though, doesn't it?