John Barleycorn HTML version

Chapter 29
After my long sickness my drinking continued to be convivial. I drank when others drank
and I was with them. But, imperceptibly, my need for alcohol took form and began to
grow. It was not a body need. I boxed, swam, sailed, rode horses, lived in the open an
arrantly healthful life, and passed life insurance examinations with flying colours. In its
inception, now that I look back upon it, this need for alcohol was a mental need, a nerve
need, a good- spirits need. How can I explain?
It was something like this. Physiologically, from the standpoint of palate and stomach,
alcohol was, as it had always been, repulsive. It tasted no better than beer did when I was
five, than bitter claret did when I was seven. When I was alone, writing or studying, I had
no need for it. But--I was growing old, or wise, or both, or senile as an alternative. When
I was in company I was less pleased, less excited, with the things said and done.
Erstwhile worth-while fun and stunts seemed no longer worth while; and it was a torment
to listen to the insipidities and stupidities of women, to the pompous, arrogant sayings of
the little half-baked men. It is the penalty one pays for reading the books too much, or for
being oneself a fool. In my case it does not matter which was my trouble. The trouble
itself was the fact. The condition of the fact was mine. For me the life, and light, and
sparkle of human intercourse were dwindling.
I had climbed too high among the stars, or, maybe, I had slept too hard. Yet I was not
hysterical nor in any way overwrought. My pulse was normal. My heart was an
amazement of excellence to the insurance doctors. My lungs threw the said doctors into
ecstasies. I wrote a thousand words every day. I was punctiliously exact in dealing with
all the affairs of life that fell to my lot. I exercised in joy and gladness. I slept at night like
a babe. But--
Well, as soon as I got out in the company of others I was driven to melancholy and
spiritual tears. I could neither laugh with nor at the solemn utterances of men I esteemed
ponderous asses; nor could I laugh, nor engage in my old-time lightsome persiflage, with
the silly superficial chatterings of women, who, underneath all their silliness and softness,
were as primitive, direct, and deadly in their pursuit of biological destiny as the monkeys
women were before they shed their furry coats and replaced them with the furs of other
And I was not pessimistic. I swear I was not pessimistic. I was merely bored. I had seen
the same show too often, listened too often to the same songs and the same jokes. I knew
too much about the box office receipts. I knew the cogs of the machinery behind the
scenes so well that the posing on the stage, and the laughter and the song, could not
drown the creaking of the wheels behind.