April 13, 2006

"It was necessary, he suppos'd, to drink strong beer, that he might be strong to labor."

I've been listening to an audiobook of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. The narrator has a terribly unnatural way of speaking, but it's not driving me as crazy at it was when I was wracking my brain trying to figure out who it reminded me of. Somehow I hit upon the answer: it's the rabbi from this episode of "Seinfeld." ("Elaine, often times in life there are problems, and just as often there are solutions.")

Anyway, I liked Franklin's description of all the drinking that went on at a printing-house in London:
At my first admission into this printing-house I took to working at press, imagining I felt a want of the bodily exercise I had been us'd to in America, where presswork is mix'd with composing. I drank only water; the other workmen, near fifty in number, were great guzzlers of beer. On occasion, I carried up and down stairs a large form of types in each hand, when others carried but one in both hands. They wondered to see, from this and several instances, that the Water-American, as they called me, was stronger than themselves, who drank strong beer! We had an alehouse boy who attended always in the house to supply the workmen. My companion at the press drank every day a pint before breakfast, a pint at breakfast with his bread and cheese, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint at dinner, a pint in the afternoon about six o'clock, and another when he had done his day's work. I thought it a detestable custom; but it was necessary, he suppos'd, to drink strong beer, that he might be strong to labor. I endeavored to convince him that the bodily strength afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or flour of the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread; and therefore, if he would eat that with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer.
We hear lots of excuses for drinking nowadays, but never that one. Hilarious. How could people get anything done, drinking like that?


Townleybomb said...

I believe that it was pretty common for people in many places in the world to go through life with a constant low-level beer/wine buzz well into the 19th century, since potable water was hard to come by. According to a friend who lived in Russia for several years, it's still the case there-- beer is considered by many people to be basically non-alcoholic (at least among the crowd he ran with).

Ulykwong: A mildly alcoholic brew made from stale, fermented Pocky that's quite popluar in the lower-rent suburbs of Beijing.

Dave said...

Give me strong beer over crappy American beers any day of the week.

Hello, Belgium & Germany!

Chimay Rouge, anyone?

SteveR said...

Ahh Chimay, now that's good

Now there's anti depressants, pain killers, muscle relaxers, anti seizure, panic disorder, bladder control, meds and that's just me.

I can't drink beer and get along very well though

Bissage said...

How could people get anything done, drinking like that?

Short answer: Experience. Lots and lots of experience.

Bissage said...

Hey! Look at me. I just figured out how to use the HTML tags. And I'm not even drinking!

Icepick said...

Yah, Bissage, but can you link?

How could people get anything done, drinking like that?

Why do you think the industrialized world has seen such huge productivity gains over time?

We work fewer days per week than was common 'back in the day', frequently shorter days, take more vacation and sick time, and goof off on the internet. And we're able to do this and STILL get more accomplished just because we took at least one third of Dean Wormer's advice: "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life."

Sanjay said...

Actually it's not necessarily wrong logic (although the beer needs to be a bit weak) historically. Beer was probably how a lot of ancient workers got safe drinking water and has a long history of being used to pay workers for hard labor.

I'm coming straight out of reading a little book called "A History of the World in Six Cups" which portrayed beer as sort of the workingman's friend, so, maybe I'm a little biased at the moment. But Franklin may have it wrong.

Townleybomb said...

Man oh man is this topic making me want to have a good old-fashioned 3-martini lunch today.

I worked in a touristy bar and grill in New Orleans right after college, and I found that I usually made better tips if I loosened up with a drink or two during the shift. Especially if those drinks were shots done with customers.

Bissage said...

Icepick: No. But maybe I'll work my way up to it, eventually. I've just started commentating and understand neither the technique nor the etiquette. I'll go slow.

I don't want to be perceived as overreaching.

John R Henry said...

I had to read the autobiography of BF in the 60's in 9th grade and hated it. Stupid, boring book. I don't think I even read the whole thing.

Then, about 15 years ago I ran across a paragraph or to somewhere and figured I should check it out. I did and I loved it.

Great book and I love Ben's sense of humor. He wrote a bunch of other stuff that is well worth reading. One I recall is about why older women make great lovers. Main reason is because they are "so GRATEFUL" (emph. in original)

I think he was one of the coolest founders.

Speaking of founders, I just finished reading Chernow's bio of Hamilton. If you think politics is vicious and vile in these days, you should see how it was then.

Bush Derangement Syndrome is nothing

John Henry

plain ol' random said...

On a tour of the Fullers Brewery in Chiswick, UK; my friend and I were privy to information of the inner workings of the place from one of the older workers.

Supposedly, and I have no reason to doubt this, the brewery used to give the workers wooden tokens which they then used for the vending machines located throughout the factory. Inserting one of these tokens would grant the man a pint of beer from the brewery! For the harder and more stressful jobs, more tokens were given to those workers who performed those duties. Our tour guide recounted to us workers he knew that would have 10-12 pints of ale during their workshift and then stumble down the block to the apartments that were owned by the brewery for the sake of the workers.
He also said the delivery drivers would drink as well as it would "steady the hands". He said this in complete seriousness.

Now, I'm a born and bred Wisconsinite who will be making the trek there soon for graduate school, and I always thought I could pull back a pint or two, but they put me to absolute shame.

Palladian said...

I love Franklin's Autobiography. Franklin on vegetarianism:

...in my first voyage from Boston, being becalm'd off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion consider'd, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a greatlover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc'd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, "If you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you." So I din'd upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

altoids1306 said...

Beer isn't so great during work, but it makes after-work so much better, and I wouldn't be surprised if that correlates to higher productivity the next day.

FXKLM said...

Put those two quotes together and you get my all-time favorite Homer Simpson line: Alcohol, the cause of and solution to all of life's problems.

SippicanCottage said...
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Bob Mitze said...

Just before the Berlin wall fell - when East Germany gave up trying to keep its populace prisoner, they allowed a few tens of thousands of Germans to pass through Czechoslovakia into West Germany. The Red Cross, suddenly confronted with thousands of temporary refugees in tents, immediately fed all the children a bottle of beer each, and then put them to bed. Liquid bread, it was called.

Ann Althouse said...

All of you relying on the theory that the water of the time was undrinkable, how do you figure Franklin drinking water and doing just fine?

SippicanCottage said...
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XWL said...

I'm thinking Ben Franklin had the better idea as to which flag we should adopt as our national standard, as well.

As far as choleric water v a frothy tankard of ale, choose ale (clean water v ale, choose clean water)

My grandparents travelled a great deal, and that was my grandfather's trick, he would never drink the local water, but he would drink bottled beer.

He claims it saved him all sorts of stomach upset.

SippicanCottage said...
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Aspasia M. said...

I had to read the autobiography of BF in the 60's in 9th grade and hated it. Stupid, boring book. I don't think I even read the whole thing.

When I was teaching I used to assign that book all the time. Love it. For a pop quiz I'd always ask what war started at the end of the book. (I had one student say the Civil War, and another one say WW I! Yikes!)

The students, in general, really liked to talk about the section quoted in the post.

Early Americans did drink an awful lot of alcohol. It was not uncommon to give babies whisky and laudanum.

Has everyone read Franklin's letter on "How to Choose a Mistress"?

Aspasia M. said...

On clean water:

In 1850s St. Louis guests at a popular hotel noted that their water was from the Mississippi and so muddy that they had to wait for the silt to settle on the bottom of the glass before they could drink it.

Another guest at the same hotel thought they had been served coffee!

Elizabeth said...

One of my colleagues runs marathons. When she needed to move her performance up to be more competitive, her doctor advised her to stop being vegetarian, and enjoy a nice rare steak every week, and drink plenty of Guinness. It worked.

Marghlar said...

You think this was bad? Try getting sailors nice and drunk on rum (they were required to drink a half-pint of 100 proof rum per day), and then sending them up swaying masts in bad weather, where they stood on ropes while wrestling with flapping canvas. Does this sound like a good idea?

Apparently, the rate of sailors just falling out of the rigging was fairly high. Unfortunately, the alternatives were just as bad, as water in casks gets nasty quite quickly, as does beer or wine. They needed the rum to make their water potable, and a drunk crew was considered better than a dead crew.

Noumenon said...

Modern-day analogue to drinking all day might be those Yemen men who chew qat all day long as their national pastime.

JimT said...

A pint to get you started in the morning is only reasonable. Of course you need a pint on your break. What's lunch without a pint? The hot afternoon passes quicker with a pint. One for the road at the end of a hard day's work is only fair.

But this business of sip, sip, sip has got to stop!