John Barleycorn HTML version
Nor have I ever regretted those months of mad devilry I put in with Nelson. He COULD
sail, even if he did frighten every man that sailed with him. To steer to miss destruction
by an inch or an instant was his joy. To do what everybody else did not dare attempt to
do, was his pride. Never to reef down was his mania, and in all the time I spent with him,
blow high or low, the Reindeer was never reefed. Nor was she ever dry. We strained her
open and sailed her open and sailed her open continually. And we abandoned the
Oakland water-front and went wider afield for our adventures.
And all this glorious passage in my life was made possible for me by John Barleycorn.
And this is my complaint against John Barleycorn. Here I was, thirsting for the wild life
of adventure, and the only way for me to win to it was through John Barleycorn's
mediation. It was the way of the men who lived the life. Did I wish to live the life, I must
live it the way they did. It was by virtue of drinking that I gained that partnership and
comradeship with Nelson. Had I drunk only the beer he paid for, or had I declined to
drink at all, I should never have been selected by him as a partner. He wanted a partner
who would meet him on the social side, as well as the work side of life.
I abandoned myself to the life, and developed the misconception that the secret of John
Barleycorn lay in going on mad drunks, rising through the successive stages that only an
iron constitution could endure to final stupefaction and swinish unconsciousness. I did
not like the taste, so I drank for the sole purpose of getting drunk, of getting hopelessly,
helplessly drunk. And I, who had saved and scraped, traded like a Shylock and made
junkmen weep; I, who had stood aghast when French Frank, at a single stroke, spent
eighty cents for whisky for eight men, I turned myself loose with a more lavish disregard
for money than any of them.
I remember going ashore one night with Nelson. In my pocket were one hundred and
eighty dollars. It was my intention, first, to buy me some clothes, after that, some drinks.
I needed the clothes. All I possessed were on me, and they were as follows: a pair of sea-
boots that providentially leaked the water out as fast as it ran in, a pair of fifty-cent
overalls, a forty-cent cotton shirt, and a sou'wester. I had no hat, so I had to wear the
sou'wester, and it will be noted that I have listed neither underclothes nor socks. I didn't
To reach the stores where clothes could be bought, we had to pass a dozen saloons. So I
bought me the drinks first. I never got to the clothing stores. In the morning, broke,
poisoned, but contented, I came back on board, and we set sail. I possessed only the
clothes I had gone ashore in, and not a cent remained of the one hundred and eighty
dollars. It might well be deemed impossible, by those who have never tried it, that in
twelve hours a lad can spend all of one hundred and eighty dollars for drinks. I know