CONFESSIONS OF A BARBARIAN
(Written in the Dark Ages Before the War.)
BY GEORGE SYLVESTER VIERECK.
GAMBRINUS AND BACCHUS
GERMANY, to borrow the phrase of a teetotaler, is the classic land of moderate drinking. Out of Germany came the temperance drink, beer. Bacchus Dionysos has found many singers. Gambrinus is unsung, if not unhonored, of poets. Yet is not the hop as fragrant as the grape? I am convinced that many poets who celebrate the vine have been inspired by beer. But beer doesn’t rhyme well. We deem it a word without literary traditions. Still, the history of beer is ancient and honorable, and its literature reaches back to the dusk of the Pagan gods. Julian, the Apostate, was the first contributor to the literature of beer. He wrote a satirical poem against it. He also wrote satirical poems against the Christians. But the pale Galilean has conquered. And, strange as it may seem, beer has been a steady companion of Christian expansion.
The watchword “Bibles and Beer” is applicable in a sense unsuspected by those who reproachfully coined it. When the Roman world power, the bulwark of Paganism, was demolished, the beer of the Teutons supplanted the Pagan wine. At first the odor of heathen festivals attached to the brew of Gambrinus. But the wary Church adopted it along with the holidays of the heathens, and it was brewed in the monasteries. And in the drinking songs of the Germans, pæans of Christ were substituted for the pæans of Wotan. The Salvation Army and the Protestant churches seem to adhere to the same ecclesiastical policy; they both bawl devotional hymns to the rousing tunes of the convivial songs of the German student.
The good monks of the Middle Ages served Bacchus and Gambrinus with equal zeal. Chronicles tell of a hop garden near the monastery of Freising, in 768. The Swedish bishop and celebrated chronicler, Olaf Magnus, remarked in 1502 that the wine in the South and the beer in the North were steadily improving. The papal legate, Raimundus Lucullus, justified his cognomen by a rapturous tribute to the beer brewed in Hamburg. Martin Luther was a jolly good fellow. It goes without saying that he sanctioned beer.
Of course, the beer we drink today is superior to the beer of the ancient Germans. If Julian had drunk Pilsener, his poetic philippic against beer would have remained forever unwritten. He suffered his life long from indigestion. His temper in consequence was splenetic. He lost his empire because his temper ran away with him. Beer would have saved both his empire and his temper. If Hamlet had been acquainted with Würzburger, pessimism would not have enthralled him. His family skeleton would not have rattled through five weary acts of Shakespeare. We might have had a comedy of Hamlet.
BEER is the lubricant in the wheels of history. Its salutary effect on the digestion has been established by the Imperial German Board of Health. And long before the German Empire had been founded, a shrewd New Testament character advised a young Apostle to indulge in mild alcoholic beverages for his weak stomach’s sake and his often infirmities. Alcohol exercises a recognized function in the religious ceremonies of all civilized nations. The Mohammedans, who substitute constant sexual stimulation for temporary alcoholic excitement, have lagged behind in the race of the world’s evolution. If teetotalism ever vanquishes temperance in the United States, we shall present a spectacle more saddening than Turkey.
I have never been able to understand why so many parsons seem to be anxious to controvert the first miracle of the Lord. If Christ had been a teetotaler, he would not have changed the water into wine even at his mother’s request. He would have turned the wine into sarsaparilla. I am not a Christian minister, but I would not dare dilute with ineffectual words the miraculous wine of Cana.
An American teetotaler has recently drawn an interesting comparison between the American and continental method of receiving guests. We, he fondly points out, salute our visitors by urging upon them the necessity of lavatory procedures. “Do you want to wash your hands?” the American host solicitously inquires. The continental host, however, welcomes his guests with an honest libation. The point is well taken, and illustrates the superior manners of the civilized European. Why should he insult his guests by impugning their cleanliness? Let me inform the writer, in case he should be again tempted to travel abroad, that the continental host expects his guests to wash their hands before they come to his house. May he profit by this information!
What should we offer a guest but the aromatic blood of the hop, or the sparkling gold of the grape? If we were Oriental despots, we might add to these a beautiful slave girl. The laws of the land and economic considerations unfortunately compel us to dispense with these affecting tokens of appreciation and friendship. Shall they also bar wine? Libations have been poured wherever friends have met since the days of Homer. The wisdom of the East, and the traditions of our Teutonic sires, both emphasize the philosophy of drink. The soul, as Leibnitz has said, is a house without windows. The lock of the door is incrusted with Care. Self-consciousness, with seven-iron bands, barricades the entrance. Alcohol is the magic key that unlocks the door. Comparative strangers are transfigured and gladdened by the magic of friendship when it has spoken its Sesame. Irksome barriers, which normally only years of close communion could have shattered, are obliterated for the time being. The soul, escaping from its cage for a little while, sings and soars like a bird.
PEOPLE on the continent, especially Germans, take their drinks with refinement. They drink as they live — æsthetically. We neither live nor drink in beauty. We spend large amounts of money on drinking. But the subtleties of the Bacchic ceremonial escape us. We are novices in the service of the good god Gambrinus. That is the reason why our waiters despise us. You must have noticed the supercilious servility and condescending smile of the French or the German waiter when you give him your order. He looks down upon us as Barbarians.
The German thrives on the light glass of beer or wine with his meals; whiskey he abhors. We are killed off daily and hourly in the dairy restaurants. We shall never have an American art while we subsist largely on icewater. The plutocratic few are well provided in clubs and expensive eating-places. The average American depends for his lunch on the dairy. Saloons are often uncomfortable and obnoxious. What we need is Childs’ with the added inspiration of spirits. In Germany, you find such places everywhere. The most famous chain of restaurants is Aschinger’s, a sort of inspired Childs’.
Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, in his brochure entitled The Gullet of Berlin, avers that every second house in the German metropolis is a place where alcohol in some form is vended. Yet drunkenness is almost unknown. That is because people refrain, as a rule, from strong liquor. I am not one of those who would bar even liquor. There are times when it is both safe and delightful to take a cordial. But — a cordial isn’t a drink. It is a stimulant, and, taken in excess, a poison. Until he can imprint indelibly upon our brains the difference between a drink and a stimulant, let us keep our hands from the whiskey flagon. Who, by the way, is the god of Cognac?
We have the deplorable tendency to vulgarize things. We cheapen literature in magazines. The Sunday Supplement is the degradation of art. We degrade marriage and love in the courtroom. And we make drinking abominable through vulgar and injudicious excesses. We are like the early Christians who dethroned the gods of the Pagans and made them monstrous and wicked. Jupiter was anathematized as a devil. Mercury was looked upon as a thief. Phœbus Apollo became an evil sorcerer, Cupid an imp of hell, and the mother of Cupid —
The obscure Venus of the hollow hill,
The thing transformed that was the Cytherean,
With lips that lost their Grecian laugh divine. . . .
But the woe of the ancient gods was not ended. It remained to the New World to contort the loveliness of Bacchus and the benign smile of Gambrinus into the hideous grimace of the Demon Rum.
GERMANY, as I have said, is the mother of moderation. We can learn from her, but we can learn more from Denmark. The Germans are naturally moderate. The Danes incline to drunkenness. And we, I am afraid, are more like Danes than Germans. There is a certain instability in our national temperament that will no doubt disappear when the fusion of races has produced the American type.
The Danish brewing industry is of recent growth. In 1840, only one hundred and fourteen persons, all in all, were engaged in the business, including the workmen. In those days Demon Rum held undisputed sway over Denmark. The Danes were drowned in liquor. Their bodies, soaked with rum, withstood the teeth of corruption in the grave. It was dangerous to strike a match in the propinquity of one of Hamlet’s compatriots. Perhaps the plight of the Danish people and of their neighbors, the Swedes, has been responsible for the safety match. I am, however, not prepared to make an affidavit on this.
At any rate, about 1870, the temperance wave struck the little kingdom. The leaders of the movement discerned with rare sagacity that intemperance could be fought only with a light alcoholic beverage. They talked to the brewers, and the brewers talked to each other. After some scratching of heads, they finally produced a light beer pleasant to the taste, containing a small percentage of alcohol. Later on the State took a hand in the matter by levying a heavy tax on all beers containing more than 2¼ per cent. of alcohol by weight. Beer with only 2¼ per cent. of alcohol was not taxed at all. The consequence was that all breweries opened up plants for the production of temperance beer.
One-half of all the beer produced in Denmark is temperance beer. They speak of this beer as “non-alcoholic.” Avowed advocates of temperance relish it. It is kept on tap in every saloon. If you go to Denmark, by all means try “non-alcoholic” Pilsener and “non-alcoholic” Muenchener. The Danish brewer is forbidden by law to brew beer with over six per cent. alcohol. Beer has almost entirely supplanted rum in Denmark. It is beer alone that has saved Denmark and Sweden from toppling to drunkards’ graves. If I were a painter, I would depict Temperance with a jug of foaming Pilsener bearing the legend: “In this sign thou shalt conquer.”
Denmark, too, has a few extremists who clamor for the total elimination of alcohol. They have established model saloons, where a drink called “Sinalco,” or “Liquorless,” is vended. With heroic determination I tasted this sickening concoction. The innkeeper, a retired officer of the army, looked at me half in pity, half in scorn. “Do you drink this horrid stuff?” I queried. “Yes,” he replied; “in fact, ‘Sinalco’ is excellent — with an admixture of whiskey.” That, it seems to me, is an amusing illustration of the failure of absolute prohibition.
It was Münsterberg who recently knocked the bottom out of the prohibition argument. He restated for the New World the experience of the Old when he affirmed that the human system absolutely needs a stimulus of some kind. If we abolish alcohol, sexual and other irregularities will take its place. The anti-liquor people were foaming at the mouth. Münsterberg’s arguments could not be shaken nor his authority questioned.
The professional prohibitionists remind me of the exorcists of olden days. The people came to them to drive out devils. The tribes of magicians and medicine men waxed fat and happy, until humanity discovered that there were no devils at all, and that, at any rate, they could not be driven out. The antagonists of temperance in the prohibition camp have humbugged the American people by their pretense of driving out Old Nick, when lo, Professor Münsterberg lifted the veil from their sham, and we discovered that alcohol was not a devil.
Meanwhile Demon Rum throve and flourished, until he has come to be really a menace. You can fight wildfire effectually only with fire. You can fight liquor only with beer. But, of course, had the Demon been properly subjugated, the officials of the Anti-Saloon League would have been out of a job. It’s a mighty dangerous thing to oppose an enemy by mercenaries whose existence depends on keeping that enemy alive!
They are very clever, these Anti-Saloon Leaguers. But when they’re up against an honest man, they don’t understand. They invented a pretty little trap for the Harvard professor. Through three different literary agencies they swamped him with flattering offers from an alleged group of brewers who were very anxious indeed to have him write an article on the advantage of drinking beer — “Money no object.” The professor dropped the missives into his waste-paper basket.
Let those who favor total abstinence follow the lead of the new International Association. Let them investigate coolly and calmly. Meanwhile let us profit by the experience of Europe. Triumphantly on an ocean of beer the Ship of Temperance reaches its destined haven.
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