DRINK

Mr. Crosland has very kindly suggested that “under the inspiring
tutelage of the national bard Scotland has become one of the drunkenest
nations in the world.” I shall not retaliate as one might do, but shall
content myself by referring the reader to the easily accessible tables
of statistics, which render it quite plain that Scotland’s drunkenness
is very considerably exceeded by the drunkenness of England.

In London, at any rate, strong drink flows like a river. There are 5300
licensed houses in the metropolitan area alone. In Kilburn, a suburb
of more or less irreproachable respectability, there are twenty-five
churches and chapels and thirty-five public-houses. During late
years public-house property has begun to be looked upon in the light
of a gilt-edged investment. Turn where one will, one finds the older
inns are being swept away, while on their sites are erected flaring
gin-palaces, with plate-glass fronts, elaborate mahogany fitments,
gorgeous saloon and private bars, painted ceilings, inlaid floors, and
electric light throughout. Behind the bar, instead of mine host of a
former day and his wife and daughter, there are half a dozen perked-up
barmaids with rouged cheeks and Rossetti hair, and a person called
the manager, who for £2 a week runs the place for its proprietors–a
Limited Company, which owns, perhaps, twenty or thirty other houses.
In the conduct of these mammoth drinking-places three great points are
kept in view: namely, that a quick-drinking, stand-up trade pays better
than any amount of slow regular custom; that the English drinker of
the lower class cannot tell the difference between good drink and bad,
often preferring, indeed, the bad to the good; and that, as bad liquor
is cheaper than good, the sound commercial thing to do is to supply bad
liquor.

With these admirable axioms continually before it, the English trade
has prospered amazingly. More drink and worse drink is sold in England
to-day than has ever been sold in England before. Through legislation
intended to ensure sound liquor and the proper conduct of licensed
houses the proprietors have consistently made a point of driving the
usual brewer’s dray. “In order to meet the Food and Drugs Adulteration
Act, all spirits sold at this establishment, while of the same
excellent quality as heretofore, are diluted according to strength.”
“The same excellent quality as heretofore” is choice, and so is
“diluted according to strength.” As for the beer, we dilute also the
beer according to strength. When we are caught at it, it is a mistake
on the part of the cellarman, who has been discharged; and the fine is
so small in proportion to the profit on selling water, that we smile at
the back of our necks and keep on diluting according to strength. Our
whole system, in fact, is designed to make people drink, and to make
them drink the worst that we dare put before them.

Now, the Scot, drunkard or no drunkard, does have something of a taste
in liquor. The best clarets have gone to Scotland (in spite of Mr.
Crosland) since claret became a dinner wine. You cannot put off a Scot
with either bad whisky or bad beer. He knows what whisky should be and
what beer should be, and in Scotland, at any rate, he never has any
difficulty in getting them. But the English, taking them in the mass,
are quite the other way. Any sort of wine, provided it be properly
fortified and sophisticated, passes with them for the real thing.
Their Scotch whisky is about the most wholesome thing they drink; but
large quantities of this are bought by English merchants in a crude
state, and rammed down the public throat without a thought to maturing,
blending, and otherwise rendering the spirit potable. English beer, we
have been told in song and story, is the finest beer in the world. Yet
nobody can visit an English brewery without discovering that English
beer is not English beer at all. Glucose in the place of malt, quassia
and gentian in the place of hops, finings in the place of storage, are
the universal order; and so depraved and perverted has the fine old
English taste in beer become that brewers who have set up to provide an
honest article and sent it out to their customers have had it returned
with the curt comment that “nobody would drink such hog-wash, and what
the customers wanted was beer, and not brewer’s apron.” Every now and
again scares crop up in consequence of the use of improper ingredients;
there is an inquiry, a Royal Commission, and the Englishman still
goes on stolidly drinking. Arsenic will not drive him away from his
favourite tipple, neither will _cocculus indicus_ or any of the round
dozen abominations upon which the brewer’s chemist takes his stand.

If there is one thing more than another that is considered the chief
necessity of life in the English household of the poorer class, it is
beer, and its sister beverage, porter. From morning till night the
can is continually going between the house of the artisan and the
neighbouring “public.” The first thing in the morning the artisan
himself must have a couple of goes of rum and milk; by eleven o’clock
he is ready for a pint of four-half; at noon, when he knocks off for
dinner, he will imbibe a quart or more of the same beverage; and at
night, after work, he sits in the taproom till closing-time, and drinks
as much as ever he can pay for or chalk up. Meanwhile, his wife must
have her drop of porter in the morning, her drop of bitter to dinner,
and her drop of something hot before going to bed. Also on Saturday
afternoons, when the twain go marketing together, they must have a few
drinks, just to show there is no ill-feeling; while on Saturday night
the artisan not infrequently improves the shining hours by “getting
blind,” to use his own elegant phrase. Thus it quite commonly happens
that a third and even a half of the total income of a household of the
artisan class is spent in alcohol. Thrift, provision for a rainy day
and for old age, become an impossibility. Underfeeding usually walks
hand in hand with overdrinking; the man loses his nerve, the woman her
comeliness and her capacity; and the end is pauperism and a pauper’s
grave, if nothing worse.

Among the English middle and upper classes there is distinctly a
greater tendency to moderation than among the lower classes. For all
that, the middle classes especially can point to a great many brilliant
examples of the fine art of soaking. Publicans, betting-men, commercial
travellers, proprietors of businesses, solicitors’ clerks, journalists,
and the like get through an amount of drinking in the course of a day
which would probably appal even themselves if they kept an account
of it. “Let’s ‘ave a drink,” is invariably one of the first phrases
dropped when two Englishmen meet. “We’ll ‘ave another” is sure to
follow; and so is, “‘Ang it, man! we _must_ have a final.” Among the
middle classes, too, as also among the upper classes, there is a very
great deal of secret drinking, particularly among women and persons
whose professional or official positions necessitate the maintenance
of an appearance of extreme respectability. The grocer’s license and
his fine stock of carefully selected wines and spirits offer a ready
means of supply to the female dipsomaniac, who would not be seen in
a public-house for worlds; besides, gin can be charged as tea in a
grocery account, and many a bottle of brandy has figured in such
accounts under the innocent pseudonym of “rolled ox-tongue.”

Though the English upper classes, as I have said, drink with a certain
moderation, their moderation really embraces a quantity of liquor which
would send the artisan quite off his head. Whiskies-and-sodas at noon,
Burgundy at lunch, with cognac to one’s coffee, three kinds of wine at
dinner, followed by liqueurs and whisky, make no appreciable mark on a
man who is living at his ease and can sleep as long as he likes; but
the sum total of alcohol is quite considerable, and probably greater
than that consumed by the “drunken sot” for whom my lord has such
contempt.

Of English drinking, generally, one may remark that it is done in a
very deliberate and unsociable way. The English cannot be said to drink
for company’s sake. They do not foregather and carry on their drinking
merrily. In their cups they are neither witty nor happy, but just dull
and dour and inclined to be quarrelsome. They drink for drinking’s
sake,–for the sake of intoxication, and to drown trouble. I wish them
good luck and less of their vile concoctions!

The subject of diet–he prefers to call it diet–is apparently one of
unlimited interest to the Englishman. Meet him where you will, he is
ever ready to discuss, first, the weather, and then the things–that
is to say, the kinds of food–that agree with him. Indeed, you could
almost stake your life on extracting from any strange Englishman you
happen to come across some such statement as, “I can’t abide eggs,”
or, “Veal always makes me bilious,” within ten minutes of opening
up a conversation with him. The Englishman’s house, we are told, is
his castle; and the Englishman’s hobby, surely, is his digestion. In
point of fact, ninety-nine per cent. of adolescent and adult English
people suffer from chronic indigestion in a more or less severe form.
Flatulence, heartburn, colic, and “liver” are the Englishman’s mortal
heritage. He is invariably troubled with some of them, and quite
commonly with all. If you relieved him of them he would scarcely thank
you, because he has nursed them from his youth up, and what he really
wants is amelioration, and not cure. Probably this is the reason why in
the midst of his wails and his unholy talk about diet he continues to
feed in precisely the grossest, greasiest, and least rational manner
that generations of bad feeders have been able to develop.

Of mornings, if you sojourn with an English family, you will be invited
to breakfast at half-past eight. Promptly at that hour they serve a
sort of sickly oatmeal soup, compounded apparently of milk and sugar,
which they call porridge. Then follow thick and piping-hot coffee with
‘am and eggs, fish, or a chop, and bread and butter and marmalade as
a sort of wind-up. The man who tackles this menu goes to business
belching like a torn balloon. By eleven o’clock, however, he is ready
for a little snack–oysters and chablis, prawns on toast, a mouthful
of bread and cheese and a bottle of Bass, or something of that kind.
Then at half-past one there is lunch, practically a dinner of several
courses, or a cut from the joint, accompanied by what the English
euphoniously term “two veg.” At tea-time your Englishman must needs
lave himself in a dish of Orange-Pekoe or Bohea, to the accompaniment
of lumps of cake. And at long and last comes dinner, the crowning
guzzle of the Englishman’s day, and a function usually spread over a
couple of hours. It will be perceived that this gustatory programme or
routine has been copied from the French. The French put away two good
meals per diem, one at noon and the other in the evening, and there
is no reason why the English should not do the same. When you come to
think of it, dinner in the middle of the day is a low, under-bred,
undistinguished arrangement; also not to dine at night is to run the
risk of not losing one’s figure, and of having the neighbours say that
one cannot afford it.

The French programme would be all very well if it were carried out
on French lines all through. But it is not. When you say “soup” in a
French restaurant, it means that you will be served with half a dozen
table-spoonfuls of _consommé_, or _petite marmite_, or _bisque_, as the
case may be. When the Englishman says “soup,” he means enough thick
stock to wash a bus down. What is more, he gets it and swallows it. And
it is so all down the menu–too much of everything, and don’t you think
you can put me off with your blooming homoeopathic portions. A liberal
table, no stint, good food, and plenty of it, is one of the bulwarks of
English respectability. That bad digestion and talks about diet follow
is nobody’s fault.

This profusion–this overfood, as it were–has been brought to its
noblest expression by the English aristocracy, whose tables literally
groan with costly viands, whose spits are always turning, and whose
scullions and kitchen wenches are as an army. It is related that when
a certain duke found it necessary to retrench, and was advised by his
family solicitor to get rid of his fifth, sixth, and seventh cooks,
his grace remarked, “But —-, So-and-so, a man must have a biscuit!”
And the English middle class of course faithfully imitates to the best
of its powers the English upper class, and so on through the grades.
Among all classes there is a rooted prejudice against food that happens
to be cheap. To this day people who eat escallops are rather looked
down upon, for no other reason than that oysters run you into half a
crown a dozen, while you can get excellent escallops at ninepence. So
the herring, the whiting, and other kinds of cheap fish are considered
little better than offal by persons who can afford to pay for sole
and salmon. Turtle soup is infinitely to be preferred to any other
soup in the world because it is dearer, and champagne is drunk, not
because people like it, but because it looks swagger and testifies to
the possession of means. These gustatory idiosyncrasies are purely
English, and obviously they are the offspring of the English love of
display and superfluity.

Among the lower classes the general feeding, though cheaper, is just
as wasteful and just as gross. Excluding bread, it consists chiefly
of inferior cuts of butcher’s meat with _charcuterie_ and dried fish
thrown in. It has been complained against the Scot that he is none
too clean a feeder, delighting hugely in inferior meats. Haggis is
held forth as a great exemplar in point. But it cannot be denied that
throughout England the one kind of emporium for the sale of comestibles
which flourishes and is unfailingly popular is the pork or ham-and-beef
shop. And here what do you obtain? Why, exactly the meats which
gentlemen of the type of Mr. Henley describe as offal. They include, in
addition to pork in and out of season, pig’s feet, pig’s heads, pig’s
liver and kidneys, pig’s blood sausages, the “savoury duck” or mess of
seasoned remnants, tripe boiled and raw, and chitterlings. So that
the haggis of Scotland is fairly well balanced. I am not suggesting
for a moment that the English display other than a proper judgment in
devouring these dainties. But if they will favour the pork shop and its
contents, they can scarcely expect to be set down for an angel-bread
and manna-eating people.

Perhaps the chief scandal about English feeding lies in the condition
of the English hotels. On the Continent an hotel is an establishment
for the accommodation of travellers requiring food and rest. In England
an hotel is an establishment for the accommodation of landlords and
waiters. “High class cuisine,” says the tariff card, also “wines and
spirits of the best selected quality.” Yet one’s experience tells one
that, though the bill will be heavy, neither the cuisine nor the wines
will be more than passable, much less high class. A menu which is the
same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, bad cooking, careless service,
and a general lack of finish, are the things one may expect at an
English hotel with the tolerable certainty of not being disappointed.
To complain is to draw forth the ill-disguised contempt of bibulous
head-waiters and the stiff apologies of haughty proprietors. But
beyond that mortal man will never get, because the English hotel is an
immemorial and conservative institution, and as wise in its own conceit
as the ancient sphinx. Of late and in London attempts have been made to
organise hotels adapted to the best kind of requirement. So far as I am
aware, only two of them have really succeeded, and the charges at both
places are quite prohibitive.

Closely identified, one might almost say affiliated, to the English
hotel is the English railway-buffet, of which so much has been said
in song and story. The sheer horribleness of the “refreshments” here
provided has passed into a proverb. The English themselves admit that
if you wish to know the worst about refreshments, you should drink
the railway-buffet tea and partake of the railway-buffet sandwich.
They also admit that for abominations in the way of aërated waters,
milk, beer, and whisky, pastry, cakes, hard-boiled eggs, cold meats,
boiled chicken and ham, and chops and steaks from the grill, the
railway-buffet takes the palm; and they admit further that the Hebes
who dispense these comestibles to the hungry and howling mob have the
manners of duchesses. Yet the English without their railway-buffets
would be an utterly woebegone and miserable people. Put an Englishman
down at a strange railway-station with a half-hour wait before him.
He has but one resort: he inquires right off for the buffet, and
there he gorges and swizzles till the warning bell advises him of the
departure of his train. If there is no buffet, he becomes a dejected,
pallid man, and threatens to write to the newspapers. So long as the
railway-buffets continue to exist, the English digestion can never
aspire to perfection, even though English feeding and cooking outside
railway-stations became ideal; for a single “meal” of railway-buffet
viands would permanently disorganise the digestive capabilities of the
most ostrichy ostrich that ever walked on two legs.

The English love to be ruled, just as eels are said to take delight
in being skinned. They hold that a nation which is properly ruled
cannot fail of happiness. Their notion of rule may be summed up in the
phrase, “Law and order.” The Englishman believes that law and order are
heaven-sent blessings especially invented for his behoof. “Where else
in the world,” he will ask you grandiloquently, “do you get such law
and such order as you get in England–the land of the free?” If anybody
picks his pocket, or encroaches upon his land, or infringes his patent
rights, or diverts his water-courses, the Englishman knows exactly
what to do. There is the law. They keep it on tap in great buildings
called courts, and persons in wigs serve out to you precisely what you
may deserve with great gusto and solemnity. The man picked your pocket,
did he? Three months’ imprisonment for the man. Somebody is making
colourable imitations of your patent dolls’ eyes. Well, you can apply
for an injunction. And so on.

This is law. All Englishmen believe in it, particularly those who have
never had any. When it comes to the worst, and the Englishman finds
that he really must take on a little of his own beautiful specific, he
usually begins by falling into something of a flutter. Those bewigged
and sedate persons seated in great chairs, with bouquets in front of
them and policemen to bawl “Silence!” for them, begin to have a new
meaning for the Englishman. Hitherto he has regarded them complacently
as the bodily representatives of the law in a free country. He has
smacked his lips over them, rejoiced in their learning, wit, and
acumen, warmed at the notion of their dignity, and thanked God that
he belonged to a free people–free England. Now, when it comes to
a trifling personal encounter before this mountain of dignity–this
mountain of dignity perched on a mountain of precedent, as it were–the
Englishman shivers and looks pale. But his solicitor and his counsel
and his counsel’s clerk–particularly his counsel’s clerk–soon put him
at his ease, and instead of withdrawing at the feel of the bath, he is
fain to plump right in. Whether he comes out on top or gets beaten is
another matter; in any case, the trouble about the thing is that, win
or lose, it is infinitely and appallingly costly. Law, the Englishman’s
birthright, is not to be given away. If you want any, you must pay for
it, and pay for it handsomely, too. Otherwise you can go without. The
English adage to the effect that there is one law for the rich and
another for the poor is one of those adages which are very subtly true.
There is a law for the rich, certainly. There is also a law for the
poor–namely, no law at all. On the whole the Englishman who has not
had his pristine dream of English law shattered by contact with the
realities is to envied. All other Englishmen, whether their experience
has lain in County Courts, High Courts, or Courts of Appeal, talk
lovingly of English law with their tongues in their cheeks.

With respect to order, the much bepraised handmaiden of law, I do not
think that the English get half so much of her as they think they
do. She costs them a pretty penny. The up-keep of her police and
magistrates and general myrmidons runs the Englishman into some noble
taxation; yet where shall you find an English community that is orderly
if even an infinitesimal section of it has made up its mind to be
otherwise? In London at the present moment there are whole districts
which it is not safe for a decently dressed person to traverse
even in broad daylight; and these districts are not by any means
slum districts, but parts of the metropolis in which lie important
arteries of traffic. There is not a square mile of the metropolitan
area which does not boast its organised gang of daylight robbers,
purse-snatchers, watch-snatchers, and bullies who would beat a man
insensible for fourpence, and whose great weapon is the belt.

For convenience’ sake these people have been grouped together under
the term “Hooligan.” The police–the far-famed London police–can
do nothing with them. They admit that they are ineradicable and
irrepressible. The magistrates and the newspapers keep on asseverating
that “something must be done.” That something apparently consists
in the capture of a stray specimen of the tribe, who is forthwith
given three months, with perhaps a little whipping thrown in. But
hooliganism is a business that continues to flourish like the green
bay-tree, and London is no safer to-day than it was in the time of
the garotters. As the belt is the weapon of the London robber, and as
Hooligan is his name, so we find in all the larger provincial towns
gangs of scoundrels with special instruments and slang names of their
own. In Lancashire and the Black Country kicking appears to be the
favourite method of dealing with the order-loving citizen. In some of
the northern towns the knuckle-duster, the sand-bag, and the loaded
stick are requisitioned; and in all cases we are told the police are
powerless. The fact is, that, on the whole, England cannot be reckoned
an orderly country. The “hooligans” and their provincial imitators are
just straws that show the way of the wind. When these persons say: “We
will do such and such things in contravention of the law,” there is
practically nothing to stop them. In the same way, when a community
determines to run amuck on an occasion of “national rejoicing” (such
as the late Mafeking night), or because a strike is in progress, or a
charity dinner has been badly served, or the vaccination laws are being
enforced, it does so at its own sweet will, and order can be hanged.
Once a week, too,–namely, on Saturday nights,–English order, like
the free list at the theatres, is entirely suspended. Saturday night
is the recognised and inviolable hour of the mob. Throughout the
country your flaring English gin-palaces are at their flaringest; the
beer-pumps sing together with a myriad voices, and the clink of glasses
takes the evening air with beauty. Until, perhaps, eight o’clock all
goes well; then the quarrelsomeness which the English masses extract
from their cups begins to assert itself, and the chuckers-out (in what
other country in the world are there chuckers-out?) and the police
begin to be busy. Till long after midnight their hands are full, and
it is not until the Sabbath is a couple of hours old that the English
masses seek their rest. In the meantime what squalid indiscretions,
what sins against humanity, what outrages, have not been committed? The
bare consumption of drink alone has been appalling; the bickerings,
angry shoutings, indulgences in pugilism and hair-pulling, have been
infinite; and on Monday morning the police-courts will have their usual
plethora of drunks and disorderlies, wife-beatings and assaults on the
police, with, perhaps, a case or two of manslaughter and a murder to
put the crown on things.

In the main, therefore, law and order may be counted among John Bull’s
many illusions. They are, as one might say, sweet to meditate upon;
they look all right on paper, and they sound all right in the mouths
of orators. For the rest the Englishman who is wise smiles and keeps a
folded tale. One may note, before leaving this entertaining subject,
that in England lawyers and laymen alike take a special pride in
admitting a certain ignorance. At the bare mention of Scots law they
lift up pious hands and impious eyes and say, “Thank Heaven, we know
nothing about it!”