John Barleycorn HTML version
Not yet was I ready to tuck my arm in John Barleycorn's. The older I got, the greater my
success, the more money I earned, the wider was the command of the world that became
mine and the more prominently did John Barleycorn bulk in my life. And still I
maintained no more than a nodding acquaintance with him. I drank for the sake of
sociability, and when alone I did not drink. Sometimes I got jingled, but I considered
such jingles the mild price I paid for sociability.
To show how unripe I was for John Barleycorn, when, at this time, I descended into my
slough of despond, I never dreamed of turning to John Barleycorn for a helping hand. I
had life troubles and heart troubles which are neither here nor there in this narrative. But,
combined with them, were intellectual troubles which are indeed germane.
Mine was no uncommon experience. I had read too much positive science and lived too
much positive life. In the eagerness of youth I had made the ancient mistake of pursuing
Truth too relentlessly. I had torn her veils from her, and the sight was too terrible for me
to stand. In brief, I lost my fine faiths in pretty well everything except humanity, and the
humanity I retained faith in was a very stark humanity indeed.
This long sickness of pessimism is too well known to most of us to be detailed here. Let
it suffice to state that I had it very bad. I meditated suicide coolly, as a Greek philosopher
might. My regret was that there were too many dependent directly upon me for food and
shelter for me to quit living. But that was sheer morality. What really saved me was the
one remaining illusion-- the PEOPLE.
The things I had fought for and burned my midnight oil for had failed me. Success--I
despised it. Recognition--it was dead ashes. Society, men and women above the ruck and
the muck of the water-front and the forecastle--I was appalled by their unlovely mental
mediocrity. Love of woman--it was like all the rest. Money--I could sleep in only one bed
at a time, and of what worth was an income of a hundred porterhouses a day when I could
eat only one? Art, culture--in the face of the iron facts of biology such things were
ridiculous, the exponents of such things only the more ridiculous.
From the foregoing it can be seen how very sick I was. I was born a fighter. The things I
had fought for had proved not worth the fight. Remained the PEOPLE. My fight was
finished, yet something was left still to fight for--the PEOPLE.
But while I was discovering this one last tie to bind me to life, in my extremity, in the
depths of despond, walking in the valley of the shadow, my ears were deaf to John
Barleycorn. Never the remotest whisper arose in my consciousness that John Barleycorn
was the anodyne, that he could lie me along to live. One way only was uppermost in my
thought--my revolver, the crashing eternal darkness of a bullet. There was plenty of
whisky in the house-- for my guests. I never touched it. I grew afraid of my revolver--
afraid during the period in which the radiant, flashing vision of the PEOPLE was forming