Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Drink choice and class

This definitely belongs in the category weird ideas. Or perhaps, disturbing ideas.

It comes from an article on the uses of alcohol. The author has rather class-based concept of suitable drinks. The harder the brain work you do, the better class of booze you need.  I think I can equate with that. Though not if I'm only allowed wine. Belgian beer and Islay whisky - that's pretty refined, isn't it?

"My own observation and reflection have led me to believe that alcoholic drinks are highly useful, if not necessary, articles of regular daily consumption, for vast numbers of persons ; but that their kind and amount must be determined by age, sex, constitution, mode of life, and other circumstances. I believe they are more necessary for those whose avocations involve head-work, anxiety, and wear and tear of brain, than for such as lead a comparatively animal life, or one of mere bodily labour. And I think it will be found that the degree of refinement of the alcoholic liquor required is in tolerably exact ratio to the expenditure of brain-power. The agricultural labourer, for example, is satisfied with ginger-beer, or very poor home-brewed beer; the working classes of London with porter; clerks and shopkeepers with bitter ale; and barristers, judges, and members of Parliament with wine. In fact, we find a gradation of brain-work corresponding pretty exactly to that of the refinement and alcoholic power of the liquor habitually and instinctively made use of. On the continent, also, we see illustrations of the same fact—the strength and refinement of the wines consumed gradually rising with the exaltation of the brain-work of the consumers. Nor is this owing, as might be supposed, entirely to difference of rank or pecuniary resources ; for every man finds the same fact illustrated and corroborated in bis own experience. We all find, when on our tours in Switzerland or the Highlands, where we enjoy pure air, good food, and rest and recreation of brain ; when, in short, we are living rather an animal than an intellectual life, we care nothing for, and do not require any sort of alcoholic liquor ; whereas, when engaged in our professions or business in London, in the midst of bad air, noise, hurry, bustle, competition, and excitement, we are conscious of an unmistakable craving for a certain amount.of alcohol with our daily food ; the reason being that, in one case, we are doing everything to refresh and fortify, and in the other to exhaust and wear out the nervous system. This fact goes far to prove that alcohol, in some particular but as yet unexplained way, does repair nervous tissue.

In estimating the value of alcohol the experience and testimony of healthy persons who use it habitually, and in moderation, ought to be taken into account; also the fact that in all ages, and in every corner of the globe, man has discovered a method of preparing it. There are persons who do very well without alcohol; but this is no proof that it is useless to others. There are country districts where the labourers are healthy and strong without meat,- and with beer almost as weak as water; but docs it follow that the same fare would suit the London lawyer, barrister, judge, or member of Parliament? No, the two cases are totally different. Men whose labour resembles that of horses may and do live, like horses, upon corn and water ; but those who are calculating, thinking, and reasoning twelve hours out of the twenty-four require a more refined sort of food and drink. A ploughboy will look fat and rosy upon his bread and cabbage and hard pudding and water; whilst a Gladstone will require, besides these, good animal food, tea, coffee, and an alcoholic liquor of great purity and refinement. If the brain-work of the London clerk demands a supply of Bass's ale, that of the working statesman will require something approaching oenanthic aether !"
"The retrospect of medicine, Volume 44, July - December 1861", W. Braithwaite, pages 390 - 391.
This is a great justification for the better standard of living for the wealthy. All that brain work demands better food and drink. Unsurprisingly, it was written by . . . . . someone at the top end of society's pyramid. And those labourers, well, they're scarcely better than animals. No need to waste claret and canapés on them.
As well as getting cheap laughs at the past's expense (always easy and there's no-one to argue back), I've another reason for bringing this to your attention. A serious one. It's which particular beer each different group drank.

agricultural labourer ginger-beer, or very poor home-brewed beer
the working classes of London porter
clerks and shopkeepers bitter ale
barristers, judges, and members of Parliament wine

Confirmation that Bitter and Pale Ale remained the drink of the middle classes during the 19th century. The text also that ginger beer was alcoholic.

Of course, a few years later X Ale would be the favourite of the London working classes. The judges, barristers and MPs still drink wine to this day.


Gary Gillman said...

It's almost laughable, the obtuseness of it. (One wonders if in fact the author meant his remarks as parody).

I wonder where his taxonomy left the Empress of Russia and her court who favoured strong London porter. I guess in the class of unfathomable foreigners.


dana said...

I vote 'disturbing'. I'm glad that he's only talking about booze.

Anonymous said...

The social Darwinism of alcohol.... I'm also glad he's only talking about booze, but you can clearly see what his views on eugenics and "surplus population" would have been.
Hitler, of course was a teetotaler.

Oblivious said...

I wonder was the author was advocate of Phrenology?