Saturday, July 7, 2018

Alcohol, Society and Mores

A Depiction of a 16th Century Brewery – “Chaucer, it will be conceded, was an accurate painter of the contemporary manners. With the one exception of Shakespeare, no Englishman has surpassed him. Many of the characters in the “Canterbury Tales” got drunk, and misfortunes happen to them in consequence, but nothing is ever said to indicate that the poet had any sympathy with this gross form of vice. The same may be stated of the Elizabethan dramatists.”  (image source, wikimedia commons)


Drinking in the Middle Ages

We are of opinion that drinking had not in the Middle Ages, reached anything like the disgusting extreme at which we find it in the latter part of the seventeenth century and the whole of the eighteenth century. Chaucer, it will be conceded, was an accurate painter of the contemporary manners. With the one exception of Shakespeare, no Englishman has surpassed him. Many of the characters in the “Canterbury Tales” got drunk, and misfortunes happen to them in consequence, but nothing is ever said to indicate that the poet had any sympathy with this gross form of vice. The same may be stated of the Elizabethan dramatists. It is not until we reach the reign of Charles II that we find writers of repute, speaking of excess in drink as if it were no frailty, but rather a virtue. 


This distorted view of things continued getting worse and worse until the days of our grandfathers. All eighteenth-century literature is full of it. There was a print once so popular that it was found on the walls of cottages, as well as in bar parlors, which represented two compartments. In each was a man sitting. The first was labeled “A Jolly Good Fellow.” He had a tankard of foaming beer beside him. The other had for the inscription “A Muckworm,” and represented a thin and care-worn man, making entries in a ledger. 

The inference to be drawn, of course, was that the man who cast up his accounts was infinitely inferior in the social scale to the boon companion who stupefied himself with beer. We imagine this was the common feeling of the time, and that it continued in many classes down to the beginning of the present reign. We ourselves knew a farmer who had broken his ribs twice and an arm three times by falling off horseback when returning drunk from market. – The Academy, 1884


Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia