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John Barleycorn

Chapter 31
But the same stimulus to the human organism will not continue to produce the same
response. By and by I discovered there was no kick at all in one cocktail. One cocktail
left me dead. There was no glow, no laughter tickle. Two or three cocktails were required
to produce the original effect of one. And I wanted that effect. I drank my first cocktail at
eleven-thirty when I took the morning's mail into the hammock, and I drank my second
cocktail an hour later just before I ate. I got into the habit of crawling out of the hammock
ten minutes earlier so as to find time and decency for two more cocktails ere I ate. This
became schedule--three cocktails in the hour that intervened between my desk and
dinner. And these are two of the deadliest drinking habits: regular drinking and solitary
I was always willing to drink when any one was around. I drank by myself when no one
was around. Then I made another step. When I had for guest a man of limited drinking
calibre, I took two drinks to his one--one drink with him, the other drink without him and
of which he did not know. I STOLE that other drink, and, worse than that, I began the
habit of drinking alone when there was a guest, a man, a comrade, with whom I could
have drunk. But John Barleycorn furnished the extenuation. It was a wrong thing to trip a
guest up with excess of hospitality and get him drunk. If I persuaded him, with his limited
calibre, into drinking up with me, I'd surely get him drunk. What could I do but steal that
every second drink, or else deny myself the kick equivalent to what he got out of half the
Please remember, as I recite this development of my drinking, that I am no fool, no
weakling. As the world measures such things, I am a success--I dare to say a success
more conspicuous than the success of the average successful man, and a success that
required a pretty fair amount of brains and will power. My body is a strong body. It has
survived where weaklings died like flies. And yet these things which I am relating
happened to my body and to me. I am a fact. My drinking is a fact. My drinking is a thing
that has happened, and is no theory nor speculation; and, as I see it, it but lays the
emphasis on the power of John Barleycorn--a savagery that we still permit to exist, a
deadly institution that lingers from the mad old brutal days and that takes its heavy toll of
youth and strength, and high spirit, and of very much of all of the best we breed.
To return. After a boisterous afternoon in the swimming pool, followed by a glorious ride
on horseback over the mountains or up or down the Valley of the Moon, I found myself
so keyed and splendid that I desired to be more highly keyed, to feel more splendid. I
knew the way. A cocktail before supper was not the way. Two or three, at the very least,
was what was needed. I took them. Why not? It was living. I had always dearly loved to
live. This also became part of the daily schedule.