“Beer and Cider” by George Saintsbury
There is no beverage which I have liked “to live with” more than Beer; but I have never had a cellar large enough to accommodate much of it, or an establishment numerous enough to justify the accommodation. In the good days when servants expected beer, but did not expect to be treated otherwise than as servants, a cask or two was necessary; and persons who were “quite” generally took care that the small beer they drank should be the same as that which they gave to their domestics, though they might have other sorts as well. For these better sorts at least the good old rule was, when you began on one cask always to have in another. Even Cobbett, whose belief in beer was the noblest feature in his character, allowed that it required some keeping. The curious “white ale,” or lober agol—which, within the memory of man, used to exist in Devonshire and Cornwall, but which, even half a century ago, I have vainly sought there—was, I believe, drunk quite new; but then it was not pure malt and not hopped at all, but had eggs (“pullet-sperm in the brewage”) and other foreign bodies in it.
I did once drink, at St David’s, ale so new that it frothed from the cask as creamily as if it had been bottled: and I wondered whether the famous beer of Bala, which Borrow found so good at his first visit and so bad at his second, had been like it.
Shakespeare has given several allusions to the old customs associated with drinking, which have always varied in different countries. At the present day many of the drinking customs still observed are very curious, especially those kept up at the universities and inns-of-court. Alms-drink was a phrase in use, says Warburton, among good fellows, to signify that liquor of another’s share which his companion drank to ease him. So, in “Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 7) one of the servants says of Lepidus: “They have made him drink alms-drink.”
By-drinkings.This was a phrase for drinkings between meals, and is used by the Hostess in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 3), who says to Falstaff: “You owe money here besides, Sir John, for your diet, and by-drinkings.”
Hooped Pots.In olden times drinking-pots were made with hoops, so that, when two or more drank from the same tankard, no one should drink more than his share. There were generally three hoops to the pots: hence, in “2 Henry VI.” (iv. 2), Cade says: “The three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops.” In Nash’s “Pierce Pennilesse” we read: “I believe hoopes on quart pots were invented that every man should take his hoope, and no more.” The phrases “to do a man right” and “to do him reason” were, in years gone by, the common expressions in pledging healths; he who drank a bumper expected that a bumper should be drunk to his toast. To this practice alludes the scrap of a song which Silence sings in “2 Henry IV.” (v. 3): “Do me right, And dub me knight: Samingo.” He who drank, too, a bumper on his knee to the health of his mistress was dubbed a knight for the evening. The word Samingo is either a corruption of, or an intended blunder for, San Domingo, but why this saint should be the patron of topers is uncertain.
Rouse.According to Gifford,  a rouse was a large glass in which a health was given, the drinking of which, by the rest of the company, formed a carouse. Hamlet (i. 4) says: “The king doth wake to-night, and takes his rouse.” The word occurs again in the following act (1), where Polonius uses the phrase “o’ertook in’s rouse;” and in the sense of a bumper, or glass of liquor, in “Othello” (ii. 3), “they have given me a rouse already.”
Sheer Ale. This term, which is used in the “Taming of the Shrew” (Induction, sc. 2), by Sly—“Ask Marian Hacket, the fat ale-wife of Wincot, if she know me not: if she say I am not fourteen pence on the score for sheer ale”—according to some expositors, means “ale alone, nothing but ale,” rather than “unmixed ale.”
Sneak-cup. This phrase, which is used by Falstaff in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 3)—“the prince is a Jack, a sneak-cup”—was used to denote one who balked his glass.
From Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer’s indispensable volume Folk-lore of Shakespeare.
David Markson talked with Joseph Tabbi about (among many other things) his friendship with Malcolm Lowry, his love for William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, and how James Joyce teaches us to read. Read the entire interview at the Dalkey Archive:
JT: You mention your critical study of “Volcano.” But you did a master’s thesis on it at Columbia much earlier?
DM: While we were in touch, but before I’d actually met him, yes. In 1951.
JT: Which means it was only four years after the novel had been published. Isn’t that rare, an academic paper on an entirely “new” writer with no body of criticism to verify his status?
DM: As a matter of fact I had to wander around the English department knocking on doors looking for someone to approve the project. I remember Lionel Trilling’s dismissal in particular: “What is all this drunkenness all about?” My whole object was to explain just that, obviously, but I decided to find less of a current to buck. Finally William York Tindall gave me a go-ahead.
JT: That brings up a question of a different sort, however. “Volcano” is scarcely your everyday traditional novel. What sort of training or background did you have that let you feel able to confront the challenge of interpreting something that difficult?
DM: To tell the truth, I’m not sure if I had any real idea what I was getting into, or if any of us do, the first time we’re seduced by a book of that sort. Though Joyce certainly teaches us, for starters. By which I mean that we all learn quickly with “Ulysses” that we cannot simply read the novel itself but have to lean on some of the critical crutches.
JT: But you had no crutches at all?
DM: Oh, well, but there are always clues in the text itself—this reference to that which leads to patterns you begin to trace out. On one level I impressed the hell out of myself, surprised at what I did know. And evidently I impressed a few other creatures as well, since I kept hearing that the thesis was being stolen from by students all over the place. The again when I sat down years later to turn that early stuff into a full length book I was almost embarrassed at how little I’d seen after all.
JT: Not long after that original Lowry thesis you were proselytizing fairly extensively for “The Recognitions” too?
DM: I suppose you become addicted to a certain kind of writing. There’s little enough of it extant, God knows. I’m not sure how much actual “proselytizing” I did for Gaddis, however. Except of course for practically button-holing friends on street corners.
JT: But I understand you were very directly responsible for the first reissue of the book, also?
DM: Evidently I was. It’s a funny story, actually. I was living in Mexico, and someone—well, old Aiken, in fact—gave my address to Aaron Asher, who was the editor of Meridian Books at the time. I picked him and his wife Linda up at their hotel and brought them out to where Elaine and I were living—outside Mexico City—for dinner and then spent approximately three solid hours talking nonstop about Gaddis. Finally Aaron threw up his hands in despair, telling me, “Please, please, I promise I’ll read the darned thing as soon as I get home! But now tell us something about where to go and what to see in Mexico, for heaven’s sake!”
JT: And then he did publish it. Did Gaddis himself know about the impetus?
DM: That’s fairly funny too, as it happens. “The Recognitions” came out in 1955. I’d read it twice when it did, and then wrote Gaddis a letter. It’s perhaps the only other letter I’ve written to an author I didn’t know, but it was completely different from the one I wrote to Lowry. In this case I’d just been infuriated by the rotten reviews and simply wanted to tell the man the hell with them all, that there were some few of us out there who did see what he’s accomplished. I didn’t get an answer, though I eventually heard secondhand that Gaddis had been too depressed at the time to send one. Or that he’d ultimately decided it was too late. But then sometime in 1961, not long after the Asher incident, I did hear. Six years after the fact, this was, a long letter beginning with something like, “Dear David Markson, if I can presume to answer yours of June whatever, 1955!” Which went on to say that Asher was in fact about to do a first reprint.
Hey. Do you like bourbon? I like bourbon a lot. It’s always been of a mild shame to me that the men in my family prefer the smoother stylings of Canadian whiskeys to the more robust corn-fueled liquors we produce here in the south. Now, as to whether Kentucky or Tennessee makes the finer product, I abstain from any definitive opinions (although a particular favorite brand of mine comes from Kentucky) because, as Sam K. Cecil’s book Bourbon: The Evolution of Kentucky Whiskey shows, there are many, many, many distilleries of bourbon (and that’s just in Kentucky alone).
Cecil’s book aims to be a comprehensive cataloging of every bourbon distillery in Kentucky, and he devotes over 200 pages to brief histories of these distilleries — a full two-thirds of the book. And while his stories are hardly dry, I found myself thirsty for more of what leads the book, an overview of the history of corn alcohol in the South that winds through days of yore to prohibition problems, from running moonshine under the Volstead act to the brass tacks of bourbon business after the repeal. Cecil incorporates many images in this section, including pictures of the distilling process, excited drinkers, and more than one vaguely racist advertisement. It’s a fun, snappy summary, delivered with love. As the bulk of the book — the detailing of Kentucky distilleries, county-by-county — attests, Cecil knows his stuff. Bourbon is hardly the kind of gimmick book that one often encounters when alcohol is the subject, nor is it for casual fans of the brown stuff. Serious drinkers only. Bourbon is new in trade paperback from Turner Publishing.
A passage from Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano–
The Consul dropped his eyes at last. How many bottles since then? In how many glasses, how many bottles had he hidden himself, since then alone? Suddenly he saw them, the bottles of aguardiente, of anís, of jerez, of Highland Queen, the glasses, a babel of glasses—towering, like the smoke from the train that day—built to the sky, then falling, the glasses toppling and crashing, falling downhill from the Generalife Gardens, the bottles breaking, bottles of Oporto, tinto, bianco, bottles of Pernod, Oxygénée, absinthe, bottles smashing, bottles cast aside, falling with a thud on the ground in parks, under benches, beds, cinema seats, hidden in drawers at Consulates, bottles of Calvados dropped and broken, or bursting into smithereens, tossed into garbage heaps, flung into the sea, the Mediterranean, the Caspian, the Caribbean, bottles floating in the ocean, dead Scotchmen on the Atlantic highlands—and now he saw them, smelt them, all, from the very beginning-bottles, bottles, bottles, and glasses, glasses, glasses, of bitter, of Dubonnet, of Falstaff, Rye, Johnny Walker, Vieux Whisky, blanc Canadien, the aperitifs, the digestifs, the demis, the dobles, the noch ein Herr Obers, the et glas Araks, the tusen taks, the bottles, the bottles, the beautiful bottles of tequila, and the gourds, gourds, gourds, the millions of gourds of beautiful mescal… The Consul sat very still. His conscience sounded muffled with the roar of water. It whacked and whined round the wooden frame-house with the spasmodic breeze, massed, with the thunderclouds over the trees, seen through the windows, its factions. How indeed could he hope to find himself to begin again when, somewhere, perhaps, in one of those lost or broken bottles, in one of those glasses, lay, for ever, the solitary clue to his identity? How could he go back and look now, scrabble among the broken glass, under the eternal bars, under the oceans?
Stop! Look! Listen! How drunk, or how drunkly sober un-drunk, can you calculate you are now, at any rate?
More from Raymond Carver’s 1983 Paris Review interview–
Could you talk a little more about the drinking? So many writers, even if they’re not alcoholics, drink so much.
Probably not a whole lot more than any other group of professionals. You’d be surprised. Of course there’s a mythology that goes along with the drinking, but I was never into that. I was into the drinking itself. I suppose I began to drink heavily after I’d realized that the things I’d wanted most in life for myself and my writing, and my wife and children, were simply not going to happen. It’s strange. You never start out in life with the intention of becoming a bankrupt or an alcoholic or a cheat and a thief. Or a liar.
And you were all those things?
I was. I’m not any longer. Oh, I lie a little from time to time, like everyone else.
How long since you quit drinking?
June second, 1977. If you want the truth, I’m prouder of that, that I’ve quit drinking, than I am of anything in my life. I’m a recovered alcoholic. I’ll always be an alcoholic, but I’m no longer a practicing alcoholic.
How bad did the drinking get?
It’s very painful to think about some of the things that happened back then. I made a wasteland out of everything I touched. But I might add that towards the end of the drinking there wasn’t much left anyway. But specific things? Let’s just say, on occasion, the police were involved and emergency rooms and courtrooms.