Monday, April 16, 2007

You drink what you are.

A Pleasing Pun
(Image from ADHS)

I've previously mentioned my hometown friend Bruce Cochran, who hasn't moved as far from the Ozarks as I but who has grown into a connoisseur of taste whose expertise in food, drink, and conviviality has taken him all over the world. From a recent email that he sent me, I gather that he's currently leading a wine tour through Italy and Spain. He also noted a few other points in response to a resource that I found online and sent to him, namely, a book review pertaining to social status and consumption of alcohol in 17th-century England:
What an amazing resource you've sent me! I am impressed with the number of people who give this their attention. It's a pretty big field (please excuse the small unintentional pun). I heard someone recently talk about World War II, "when the men went off to war and the women went off to church" -- and were encouraged to vote their areas dry. I believe that Salem was wet until about that time. I'm sure the returning soldiers weren't excited about that. At least they had the VFW's [lodges for the Veterans of Foreign Wars]. Glad all is well on your side of the world, all is fine here. I'm leaving next Friday for Europe (Italy and Spain).
Bruce's point about alcohol in our Ozark hometown of Salem, Arkansas was made in response to a remark that I made about folks in our county voting dry but drinking wet, but I suppose that I ought to just post my original email:
Bruce, you might find this [book review] interesting, given your knowledge of drinking and culture. The review is also perhaps personally interesting for tipplers such as the two of us who have grown up in counties that voted dry but drank wet and who are thus attuned to the political and social significance of alcohol.

The website that posted this, by the way, is the Alcohol and Drugs History Society, which publishes a journal, The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. Here's the website address:

Alcohol and Drugs History Society

I realize that you're a very busy man -- as am I -- but this might prove to be a useful resource.
This history society on alcohol and drugs might sound as though it would be narrow and possibly technical in tone, but the review to which I alerted Bruce suggests otherwise. This online review comes from the pen -- or typing fingers -- of University of Alberta historian David Clemis, who looks at A Pleasing Sinne: Drink and Conviviality in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2004), a volume edited by Adam Smyth. Clemis titles his review "Drink, Identity, and Ambivalence," and from what he writes, this book of essays by various scholars sounds like a work pleasing to my tastes:
This engaging collection of essays represents an important new strand in the study of early modern English drug and alcohol history. The largely literary studies gathered together in A Pleasing Sinne focus neither upon state regulation nor the evidence of the social or public order effects of the production and distribution of alcohol. Instead, they take a more cultural turn in their efforts to elucidate key values, attitudes, and beliefs that are apparent in various seventeenth-century English texts concerned, in one way or another, with alcohol consumption.
Clemis then adds:
As Adam Smyth observes in his introduction to this collection, "the great wealth of texts that reflected and shaped seventeenth-century culture contested the moral, social and political significances of alcohol" (p. xiv). A key theme that runs through most of these essays is what Smyth calls "a larger cultural ambivalence about alcohol that is, to this day, unresolved" (p. xiv). For seventeenth-century writers, this ambivalence was fostered by broadly inconsistent conceptions of drinking. On one hand, drink promoted conviviality, bonds of friendship, loyalty, and artistic creativity (so it was said of wine), and it was strengthening and refreshing (especially English ale). But the evils of drink were also seen in its promotion of sin and arrogance, as well as the destruction of reason and dulling of the wits (so said royalists of ale-swilling commonwealthmen). Drinking was also thought to undermine the natural social order and, for some, the drinking of claret was simply unpatriotic. For the contributors to this volume, this ambivalence, or at least the strong contests between understandings of the nature and effects of alcohol (or different types of alcohol), often turns on the place of drinking in the assertion of one or more forms of identity. Thus, we find essays about drinking and political association, gender, national stereotyping, and social rank.
What Smyth identifies as the "larger cultural ambivalence about alcohol that is, to this day, unresolved" pervades not only British society but also American society and informs such political ambiguities as those expressed in the brilliant "If-By-Whiskey Speech" given in 1952 by the Mississippi legislator Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr. on whether Mississippi should outlaw or legalize alcohol:
If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.


If when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.
My home county of Fulton in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas opted to regard whiskey as the devil's brew -- or at least the women did so during World War II when so many men were gone to war that the women outvoted the remaining men and made the county dry.

If that's what happened, then it might explain something that my grandfather said, namely, that Fulton County was a lot less violent after World War II because all of the roughnecks had gone away during the war and had never come back.

I'm guessing that the roughnecks went someplace where they could more readily drink what they were.



At 6:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am afraid that I get seduced by wines with unusual names: anything hermetical! Moons. Stars. Perhaps, this is evidence that we drink what we are! Or just that I don't know much about wine and am a sucker for bottles with unusual pictures!

At 6:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

At least you're not drinking to get skunk-drunk, slap-happy, or sop-sloppy.

And I'm not sure what I mean by half of what I just wrote.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff, I can certainly attest to "drinking wet" in my youth in Fulton County. Given that the "line" was but 7 miles (albeit on an upaved county road), drinking wet wasn't too difficulty (however, those young 'uns today don't know how easy they have it what with a paved road and all). At any rate, I'm headed to England (and Ireland and Holland) beginning this Thursday to visit Andrew and to check on the "drinkin' wet" overseas.

All the best.


At 1:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Pat, enjoy your time in Europe.

Report back to me on whether it's really headed for 'Eurabia' or not, based on what you experience there. I'm told that many European Muslims also would vote dry but nevertheless do drink wet, so you might see some of that going on.

It could feel familiar...

Jeffery Hodges

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