John Barleycorn HTML version

Chapter 23
My cruise in the salmon boat lasted a week, and I returned ready to enter the university.
During the week's cruise I did not drink again. To accomplish this I was compelled to
avoid looking up old friends, for as ever the adventure-path was beset with John
Barleycorn. I had wanted the drink that first day, and in the days that followed I did not
want it. My tired brain had recuperated. I had no moral scruples in the matter. I was not
ashamed nor sorry because of that first day's orgy at Benicia, and I thought no more about
it, returning gladly to my books and studies.
Long years were to pass ere I looked back upon that day and realised its significance. At
the time, and for a long time afterward, I was to think of it only as a frolic. But still later,
in the slough of brain-fag and intellectual weariness, I was to remember and know the
craving for the anodyne that resides in alcohol.
In the meantime, after this one relapse at Benicia, I went on with my abstemiousness,
primarily because I didn't want to drink. And next, I was abstemious because my way led
among books and students where no drinking was. Had I been out on the adventure-path,
I should as a matter of course have been drinking. For that is the pity of the adventure-
path, which is one of John Barleycorn's favourite stamping grounds.
I completed the first half of my freshman year, and in January of 1897 took up my
courses for the second half. But the pressure from lack of money, plus a conviction that
the university was not giving me all that I wanted in the time I could spare for it, forced
me to leave. I was not very disappointed. For two years I had studied, and in those two
years, what was far more valuable, I had done a prodigious amount of reading. Then, too,
my grammar had improved. It is true, I had not yet learned that I must say "It is I"; but I
no longer was guilty of a double negative in writing, though still prone to that error in
excited speech.
I decided immediately to embark on my career. I had four preferences: first, music;
second, poetry; third, the writing of philosophic, economic, and political essays; and,
fourth, and last, and least, fiction writing. I resolutely cut out music as impossible, settled
down in my bedroom, and tackled my second, third, and fourth choices simultaneously.
Heavens, how I wrote! Never was there a creative fever such as mine from which the
patient escaped fatal results. The way I worked was enough to soften my brain and send
me to a mad-house. I wrote, I wrote everything--ponderous essays, scientific and
sociological short stories, humorous verse, verse of all sorts from triolets and sonnets to
blank verse tragedy and elephantine epics in Spenserian stanzas. On occasion I composed
steadily, day after day, for fifteen hours a day. At times I forgot to eat, or refused to tear
myself away from my passionate outpouring in order to eat.