John Barleycorn HTML version

Chapter 39
Of course, no personal tale is complete without bringing the narrative of the person down
to the last moment. But mine is no tale of a reformed drunkard. I was never a drunkard,
and I have not reformed.
It chanced, some time ago, that I made a voyage of one hundred and forty-eight days in a
windjammer around the Horn. I took no private supply of alcohol along, and, though
there was no day of those one hundred and forty-eight days that I could not have got a
drink from the captain, I did not take a drink. I did not take a drink because I did not
desire a drink. No one else drank on board. The atmosphere for drinking was not present,
and in my system there was no organic need for alcohol. My chemistry did not demand
So there arose before me a problem, a clear and simple problem: THIS IS SO EASY,
carefully. I weighed it for five months, in a state of absolute non-contact with alcohol.
And out of the data of past experience, I reached certain conclusions.
In the first place, I am convinced that not one man in ten thousand or in a hundred
thousand is a genuine, chemical dipsomaniac. Drinking, as I deem it, is practically
entirely a habit of mind. It is unlike tobacco, or cocaine, or morphine, or all the rest of the
long list of drugs. The desire for alcohol is quite peculiarly mental in its origin. It is a
matter of mental training and growth, and it is cultivated in social soil. Not one drinker in
a million began drinking alone. All drinkers begin socially, and this drinking is
accompanied by a thousand social connotations such as I have described out of my own
experience in the first part of this narrative. These social connotations are the stuff of
which the drink habit is largely composed. The part that alcohol itself plays is
inconsiderable when compared with the part played by the social atmosphere in which it
is drunk. The human is rarely born these days, who, without long training in the social
associations of drinking, feels the irresistible chemical propulsion of his system toward
alcohol. I do assume that such rare individuals are born, but I have never encountered
On this long, five-months' voyage, I found that among all my bodily needs not the
slightest shred of a bodily need for alcohol existed. But this I did find: my need was
mental and social. When I thought of alcohol, the connotation was fellowship. When I
thought of fellowship, the connotation was alcohol. Fellowship and alcohol were Siamese
twins. They always occurred linked together.
Thus, when reading in my deck chair or when talking with others, practically any
mention of any part of the world I knew instantly aroused the connotation of drinking and
good fellows. Big nights and days and moments, all purple passages and freedoms,
thronged my memory. "Venice" stares at me from the printed page, and I remember the
cafe tables on the sidewalks. "The Battle of Santiago," some one says, and I answer,