Four extracts from letters and journals about alcohol and its effectsby Ian Irvine / August 19, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
26th September, 1763. James Boswell, touring the Highlands of Scotland with Dr Johnson, writes in his journal: I awaked at noon, with a severe headache. I was much vexed that I should have been guilty of such a riot, and afraid of a reproof from Dr Johnson. I thought it very inconsistent with that conduct which I ought to maintain, while the companion of the Rambler. About one he came into my room, and accosted me, “What, drunk yet?” His tone of voice was not that of severe upbraiding; so I was relieved a little. “Sir,” said I, “they kept me up.” He answered, “No, you kept them up, you drunken dog.” This he said with good-humoured English pleasantry. Soon afterwards, Corrichatachin, Col, and other friends assembled round my bed. Corri had a brandy-bottle and glass with him… “Ay,” said Dr Johnson, “fill him drunk again. Do it in the morning, that we may laugh at him all day. It is a poor thing for a fellow to get drunk at night, and skulk to bed, and let his friends have no sport.” Finding him thus jocular, I became quite easy; and when I offered to get up, he very good-naturedly said, “You need be in no such hurry now.” I took my host’s advice, and drank some brandy, which I found an effectual cure for my headache. 31st October, 1815. Byron writes to John Moore: Yesterday, I dined out with a largeish party, where were Sheridan and others, of note and notoriety. Like other parties of the kind, it was first silent, then talky, then argumentative, then disputatious, then unintelligible, then altogethery, then inarticulate, and then drunk. When we had reached the last step of this glorious ladder, it was difficult to get down again without stumbling—and, to crown all, Kinnaird and I had to conduct Sheridan down a d——d corkscrew staircase, which had certainly been constructed before the discovery of fermented liquors, and to which no legs, however crooked, could possibly accommodate themselves. We deposited him safe at home, where his man, evidently used to the business, waited to receive him. 2nd February, 1821. Byron’s journal: I always wake, at a certain hour in the morning, and always in very bad spirits—I may say, in actual despair and despondency, in all respects… five years ago, I had the same kind of hypochondria, but accompanied with so violent a thirst that I have drank as many as fifteen bottles of soda-water in one night, after going to bed, and been still thirsty. At present, I have not the thirst; but the depression of spirits is no less violent. What is it?—liver? 15th August, 1955 Edmund Wilson, at home in Massachusetts, writes in his diary: One evening I drank a whole bottle of champagne and what was left of a bottle of Old Gran-dad and started in on a bottle of red wine. I was eating Limburger cheese and gingersnaps. This began about five in the afternoon—I fell asleep in my chair, woke up when Beverley came, thinking it was the next morning, decided to skip supper, and felt queasy for the next 24 hours… This kind of life, in the long run, does get rather unhealthy.