Modern life is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief
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Yesterday, as I gallantly and with minimal fuss pushed through the final stretch of an entirely undeserved two-day hangover, I was inspired to look for mention of alcohol in the letters of others. Below, arranged haphazardly, are the results. You’ll notice a couple of things: firstly, that many of these letters are dripping with pain, regret, and embarrassment; and secondly, that most have been scrawled by men. Is this because men have less control when it comes to alcohol consumption and/or are especially paranoid and guilt-ridden after drinking? I couldn’t possibly say.
(Please drink sensibly.)
Don’t you drink? I notice you speak slightingly of the bottle. I have drunk since I was fifteen and few things have given me more pleasure. When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky? When you are cold and wet what else can warm you? Before an attack who can say anything that gives you the momentary well being that rum does? I would as soon not eat at night as not to have red wine and water. The only time it isn’t good for you is when you write or when you fight. You have to do that cold. But it always helps my shooting. Modern life, too, is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief. Let me know if my books make any money and I will come to Moscow and we will find somebody that drinks and drink my royalties up to end the mechanical oppression.
Letter to Ivan Kashkin
19th August 1935
(Reprinted in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917–1961.)
Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and coarse language I used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject, I realised what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame. It was due to a vessel of my small capacity being filled for the nonce too full. I humbly trust that you in your wise benevolence will not condemn me for my transgression. Soon I will come to apologise in person, but meanwhile I beg to send this written communication for your kind inspection. Leaving much unsaid, I am yours respectfully.
Ancient form letter of apology
To various dinner hosts
(Reprinted in Letters of Note.)
I find drinkers very congenial. There is a generosity in their recklessness. We had a drinking old lady as a neighbour for many years, and I had the greatest esteem for her because she knew what she wanted, and was so grandly ready to hazard her health, her last thirty shillings (she was very poor), her peace of mind (for, pious pressure being what it is, she was always exposed to waking up in the middle of the night and thinking, I've done for myself, I shall fall into the oilstove or get cancer), for what she really wanted. As for respectability, and all that, she had thrown it away long ago. In the upshot, she was very well thought of by all the village boys, who ran her errands and ate her apples, and died as tidily as you could wish of heart failure. If there is a heaven, I am sure she went there like a cork from a champagne bottle.
Sylvia Townsend Warner
Letter to Dorothy Hoskins
30th July 1954
(Reprinted in Sylvia Townsend Warner: Letters.)
I write you from the regions of hell, amid the horrors of the damn’d. The time and manner of my leaving your earth I do not exactly know, as I took my departure in the heat of a fever of intoxication, contracted at your too hospitable mansion; but, on my arrival here, I was fairly tried, and sentenced to endure the purgatorial tortures of this infernal confine for the space of ninety-nine years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days, and all on account of the impropriety of my conduct yesternight under your roof.
Here am I, laid on a bed of pitiless furze, with my aching head reclined on a pillow of ever-piercing thorn, while an infernal tormentor, wrinkled, and old, and cruel—his name I think is Recollection—with a whip of scorpions, forbids peace or rest to approach me, and keeps anguish eternally awake.
Letter to Maria Riddel
(Reprinted in The Letters of Robert Burns.)
I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand to-day. You will kindly make allowance therefore for any indistinctness of writing, by attributing it to this venial error.
Letter to Cassandra Austen
20th November 1800
(Reprinted in Jane Austen’s Letters.)
We had a most unfortunate meeting. I came to New York to get drunk + swinish and I shouldn’t have looked up you and Ernest [Hemingway] in such a humor of impotent desperation. I assume full responsibility for all unpleasantness—with Ernest I seemed to have reached a state where when we drink together I half bait, half truckle to him. . .
Always Your Friend
P.S. Please not a word to Zelda about anything I may have done or said in New York. She can stand literally nothing of that nature. I'm on the water-wagon but there'll be lots of liquor for you.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Letter to Edmund Wilson
(Reprinted in The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald.)
Words alone will have to express my profoundly abject apology for my behaviour in your pub last night. I will have the shelf repaired, and I have already bought a half pound of fillet steak for Dennis’s eye. The genital exposure was regrettable, and the fact that I threw out some of your customers was naughty in the extreme. Douglas Adams will vouch that I did stand myself in the corner for several minutes this morning rapping my knuckles with a three foot, sorry, metre rule, whilst suffering from acute alcoholic poisoning. While this letter was written in the Duke’s Head, it does not necessarily mean that I will not besmirch the Angel with my presence in the future, but hints such as ‘I’m never allowing that drunken perverted bastard who thinks he’s God in the pub again’ will be taken in the spirit in which they are intended.
Letter to the Angel Inn
(Reprinted in Calcium Made Interesting: Sketches, Letters, Essays & Gondolas.)
I’m so sleepy with driving over the Brenner and so drunk with a bottle of wine I cant write.
Letter to Vanessa Bell
13th May 1935
(Reprinted in Virginia Woolf: The Complete Collection.)
Will you be kind enough to put the best possible interpretation upon my behavior while in N-York? You must have conceived a queer idea of me—but the simple truth is that Wallace would insist upon the juleps, and I knew not what I was either doing or saying.
Edgar Allan Poe
Letter to his publishers
18th July 1842
(Reprinted by The Edgar Allan Poe Society.)
Yesterday, I dined out with a largeish party, where were Sheridan and Colman, Harry Harris of C[ovent] G[arden] and his brother, Sir Gilbert Heathcote, Ds. Kinnaird, and others, of note and notoriety. Like other parties of the kind, it was first silent, then talky, then argumentative, then disputatious, then unintelligible, then altogethery, then inarticulate, and then drunk. When we had reached the last step of this glorious ladder, it was difficult to get down again without stumbling;—and, to crown all, Kinnaird and I had to conduct Sheridan down a damned corkscrew staircase, which had certainly been constructed before the discovery of fermented liquors, and to which no legs, however crooked, could possibly accommodate themselves. We deposited him safe at home, where his man, evidently used to the business, waited to receive him in the hall.
Both he and Colman were, as usual, very good; but I carried away much wine, and the wine had previously carried away my memory; so that all was hiccup and happiness for the last hour or so, and I am not impregnated with any of the conversation. Perhaps you heard of a late answer of Sheridan to the watchman who found him bereft of that ‘divine particle of air,’ called reason, * * * . He, the watchman, found Sherry in the street, fuddled and bewildered, and almost insensible. ‘Who are you, sir?’—no answer. ‘What’s your name?’—a hiccup. ‘What’s your name?’—Answer, in a slow, deliberate, and impassive tone—‘Wilberforce!!!’ Is not that Sherry all over?—and, to my mind, excellent. Poor fellow, his very dregs are better than the ‘first sprightly runnings’ of others.
My paper is full, and I have a grievous headache.
Letter to Thomas Moore
31st October 1815
(Reprinted in Letters and Journals of Lord Byron.)
I have the villain of a headache, my eyes are two piss-holes in the sand, my tongue is fish-and-chip paper. It’s difficult to write, because the bending of the head hurts like fury.
Letter to Trevor Hughes
(Reprinted in Collected Letters.)
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