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Dionysian Myths and Alcoholic Realities

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Part of the Romanticism in Perspective: Texts, Cultures, Histories book series (ROPTCH)

Abstract

Drinking permeates writing in England during the period 1780–1830, in songs of celebration, narrative poems, elegies for those who drank too much, studies of drinking patterns among the lower classes, analyses of the intoxicated self, and confessions of inebriation. The abundance of these writings about drink, the complexity of their analyses, the urgency of their tone, and the elaborateness of their themes and variations indicate that men and women worried about drinking fifty years earlier than the familiar temperance writings of the mid-nineteenth century and a hundred and fifty years before the often-studied alcoholic fictions of twentieth-century America. In public and in private, in high culture and in low, in formal and in casual exchanges, Romantic writers describe the pleasures and pains of drinking.

Keywords

Romantic Period Distil Spirit Romantic Writer Opium Addiction Compulsory Drinking 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Robin N. Crouch, ‘Samuel Johnson on Drinking’, Dionysos: The Literature and Addiction Triquarterly 5, 2 (Fall 1993), 19–27. Johnson’s drinking and interest in other drinkers has received attention, especially by contrast with Boswell’s drinking. When Johnson saw that too much wine was depleting his consciousness, he stopped drinking for twenty years and resumed in moderation for the last ten years of his life, often warning his drunken friends to do the sameGoogle Scholar
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  3. 2.
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    M. Dorothy George, London Life in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), pp. 38 and 300, credits legislation in 1751 and the dearth of corn for a decline in drinkingGoogle Scholar
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  33. 28.
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    Capitalism and Material Life 1400–1800, trans. Miriam Kochan (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), pp. 158 and 170.Google Scholar
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  40. 37.
    Porter, pp. 386, 388. T. G. Coffey, ‘Beer Street: Gin Lane: Some Views of 18th-Century Drinking’, Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol 27 (1966), 669–92, contributes other drunkards to a list compiled by Roy Porter, pp. 681–2.Google Scholar
  41. 38.
    Hermione de Almeida, Romantic Medicine and John Keats (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 3–12 and 22–65. Although de Almeida does not mention the study of drunkenness, perhaps because of its impressionistic and sociological methods, many doctors watched drunken patients (soldiers, sailors, labourers) develop cirrhosis, delirium tremens and dementia, as Sournia, A History of Alcoholism pp. 23–4, has noted.Google Scholar
  42. 39.
    For this shift in outlook see Clifford Siskin, The Historicity of Romantic Discourse ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1988 ), p. 189.Google Scholar
  43. 40.
    Carl Linnaeus of Sweden launched ‘a private crusade against abuse of alcohol’, and sponsored an anonymous dissertation on Inebriantia’, as Henry Herbin Parker shows, Linnaeus on Intoxicants: Pharmacology, Sobriety, and Latinity in 18th Century Sweden, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Ph.D. dissertation, 1977.Google Scholar
  44. 41.
    Thomas Trotter, M. D., late physician to His Majesty’s Fleet under the command of Admiral Earl Howe, An Essay Medical, Philosophical, and Chemical On Drunkenness and its Effects on the Human Body (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1804 ), 2nd edn, dedicated to Dr Jenner. It has recently been reprinted with a useful biographical and scientific introduction by Roy Porter ( London and New York: Routledge, 1988 ).Google Scholar
  45. 42.
    Arnold M. Ludwig, Understanding the Alcoholic’s Mind: The Nature of Craving and How to Control It (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), acknowledges the complexity of these overlapping forces.Google Scholar
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    John Dunlop, Artificial and Compulsory Drinking Usage in Great Britain and Ireland, containing the characteristic and exclusively national, convivial laws of British society, with the peculiar compulsory festal customs of ninety-eight trades and occupations in the three kingdoms; comprehending about three hundred different drinking usages (London: Howston and Stoneman, Paternoster Row, 1839 ).Google Scholar
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    Erasmus Darwin, ‘Of Drunkenness’, Zoonomia, 4 vols (London: Joseph Johnson, 1801), I, 357–68.Google Scholar
  48. 47.
    Described by Basil Montagu, Some Enquiries into the Effects of Fermented Liquors, by a Water-Drinker ( London: Joseph Johnson, 1814 ), pp. 20–3.Google Scholar
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    Francis Place, Improvement of the Working People: Drunkenness - Education (London: Charles Fox, 67 Paternoster Row, 1834), p. 8. This Pamphlet is in the North Library, British Library, as yet not reprinted.Google Scholar
  50. 59.
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  52. 61.
    For such lists of American literary alcoholics see Donald Newlove, Those Drinking Days: Myself and other Writers ( New York: Horizon Press, 1981 )Google Scholar
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    Such as Dickens’s Crook, Hardy’s Mr Durbeyfield and the Mayor of Casterbridge, Zola’s Gervaise, Dostoyevsky’s Marmeladov, though in fact these have been noted rarely. See Mairi McCormick, ‘First Representations of the Gamma Alcoholic in the English Novel’, Quarterly journal of Studies on Alcohol 30 (1969), 957–80.Google Scholar
  59. 64.
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    Michael G. Cooke, ‘De Quincey, Coleridge, and the Formal Uses of Intoxication’, Intoxication and Literature 50 Yale French Studies, (1974), p. 30.Google Scholar
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    John Frederick Logan, ‘The Age of Intoxication’, Yale French Studies 50 (1974), 81–95, though Logan applies this phrase to the whole nineteenth century.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther and Selected Writings, trans. Catherine Hutter (New York: Signet, 1962 ), p. 58.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Anya Taylor 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.John Jay College of Criminal JusticeThe City University of New YorkUSA

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