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Come, My Lad, and Drink Some Beer

September 18, 2014 | by

Samuel Johnson’s portrait by James Barry

Samuel Johnson’s portrait by James Barry.

From James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson. Johnson was born on September 18, 1709; Boswell wrote this passage in 1777, on the occasion of Johnson’s sixty-eighth birthday.

Thursday, September 18. Last night Dr. Johnson had proposed that the crystal lustre, or chandelier, in Dr. Taylor’s large room, should be lighted up some time or other. Taylor said, it should be lighted up next night. ‘That will do very well, (said I,) for it is Dr. Johnson’s birth-day.’ When we were in the Isle of Sky, Johnson had desired me not to mention his birth-day. He did not seem pleased at this time that I mentioned it, and said (somewhat sternly,) ‘he would not have the lustre lighted the next day.’

Some ladies, who had been present yesterday when I mentioned his birth-day, came to dinner to-day, and plagued him unintentionally, by wishing him joy. I know not why he disliked having his birth-day mentioned, unless it were that it reminded him of his approaching nearer to death, of which he had a constant dread.

I mentioned to him a friend of mine who was formerly gloomy from low spirits, and much distressed by the fear of death, but was now uniformly placid, and contemplated his dissolution without any perturbation. ‘Sir, (said Johnson,) this is only a disordered imagination taking a different turn.’

He observed, that a gentleman of eminence in literature had got into a bad style of poetry of late. ‘He puts (said he,) a very common thing in a strange dress till he does not know it himself, and thinks other people do not know it.’ BOSWELL. ‘That is owing to his being so much versant in old English poetry.’ JOHNSON. ‘What is that to the purpose, Sir? If I say a man is drunk, and you tell me it is owing to his taking much drink, the matter is not mended. No, Sir, ——— has taken to an odd mode. For example, he’d write thus:

“Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
Wearing out life’s evening gray.”

Gray evening is common enough; but evening gray he’d think fine.—Stay;—we’ll make out the stanza:

“Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
Wearing out life’s evening gray;
Smite thy bosom, sage, and tell,
What is bliss? and which the way?”

BOSWELL. ‘But why smite his bosom, Sir?’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, to shew he was in earnest,’ (smiling.)—He at an after period added the following stanza:

‘Thus I spoke; and speaking sigh’d;
—Scarce repress’d the starting tear;—
When the smiling sage reply’d—
—Come, my lad, and drink some beer.’

I cannot help thinking the first stanza very good solemn poetry, as also the three first lines of the second. Its last line is an excellent burlesque surprise on gloomy sentimental enquirers. And, perhaps, the advice is as good as can be given to a low-spirited dissatisfied being:—‘Don’t trouble your head with sickly thinking: take a cup, and be merry.’

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Beer Paradise

July 25, 2013 | by

Ștefan_Dimitrescu_-_La_berărie

My life might well be divided into two categories: Before Beer and After Beer.

Life AB started in the middle of a trailing, boring Carolina winter. Previously, bourbon had been my drink, and I thought the horizon of beer extended only to bottles with “light” surnames. If you had asked me to describe beer culture, I would have said, What culture? But then one evening, prior to the first round of trivia at a local bar, a friend bought a Rogue Dead Guy for me. 

Rather than commit impoliteness, the nastiest of southern sins, I sipped the beer with a smile. And then everything changed. This rich, decadent bread was nothing like the stale, crumbling crackers that filled the malted liquid basket of my past. Now, when referring to places I’ve been before the coming of hops into my life that day, I say, “I’ve been there, but I wasn’t a beer person yet.”

At five o’clock on a mid-September Friday afternoon, the woman I am dating and I have to sneak out of our offices early for our first trip to Asheville together and my first visit to the city “as a beer person.” She comes from the eleventh floor, on loan to the bank from her consulting company. It’s her first job after graduating from Chapel Hill, and it’s a placeholder while she figures out what she really wants to do. I descend from the thirty-ninth floor, permanently on loan to the partners at my law firm. It’s my first job after graduating from the law school down the road from her sorority house, and I took it, in part, so that someone might introduce me to a woman or to her sister or to her mother much in the same way that Alec describes Fitzgerald’s semi-autobiographical Amory in This Side of Paradise:

ALEC: Oh, he writes stuff.
CECELIA: Does he play the piano?
ALEC: Don't think so.
CECELIA: (Speculatively) Drink?
ALEC: Yes—nothing queer about him.
CECELIA: Money?
ALEC: Good Lord—ask him, he used to have a lot, and he’s got some income now.
(MRS. CONNAGE appears.) MRS. CONNAGE: Alec, of course we’re glad to have any friend of yours—
ALEC: You certainly ought to meet Amory.

I wish I could have met Fitzgerald. I think of him frequently, or rather, I think of his pseudo-autobiographical characters often enough. The draining struggle between writing and money, loves and incomes, and seeming “queer” and appearing “respectable” draws me to Fitzgerald’s characters—Amory in Paradise, Anthony Patch in The Beautiful and Damned. While it may seem strange, even perverse, given his own history with alcohol, Fitzgerald and his writing have always felt particularly tied up with my budding passion for beer. Maybe it’s merely a question of timing, maybe of geography—but for me the two are inexplicably and inextricably linked. Read More »

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GoT Beer, and Other News

December 18, 2012 | by

  • British children’s magazine Puffin Post is folding after forty years.
  • “#bromance goes sour when 2 friends, Prince Harry and Falstaff, are all #yolo #rkoi #dom until Harry inherits the crown and a conscience.” Yup, Twitter Shakespeare.
  • The (inevitable?) Game of Thrones beer.
  • An inventory of Emily Dickinson’s family artifacts.
  • Indiana Jones journal mystery solved!
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    A Week in Culture: Joe Ollmann, Cartoonist, Part 3

    June 16, 2011 | by

    This is the third and final installment of Ollmann’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1 and here to read part 2.

    DAY FIVE

    Recently, I went to Bar Pam Pam, a mysterious old-man bar in my neighborhood that I have often passed but never had the courage to enter. My friend Murray and I asked what was on tap, and the owner said, “Vieux Montreal” and stopped there. I liked that—it was like an old-time saloon. What kind of beer do you have? Just beer, stranger. This bar was wonderful, genuine, unmanufactured focus-group atmosphere, no loud music and a welcome refuge from hipsters and young people. The old-man bar, like many old men, is an institution that is dying out. It made me think of all of the other old-man bars that I know and love in Montreal. Come with me, I’ll show you …

    Bar Pam Pam

    I’ve already told you the appeal of this little gem, mere footsteps from my home! But a few notes from my visit there are worth the telling. A tipsy woman took out her guitar, randomly sang “Me and Bobby McGee” in heavily accented English, put the guitar back in its case, and continued drinking. No one else clapped or even seemed to notice this performance. Later, a heavy, bearded dude came in, and the bartender immediately brought a pitcher and glass to his table.

    “Why you bring this? You never see me before,” said the bearded man.

    “My friend, every night you come, this I know,” said the bartender, with a smile that was met by one from the bearded man. This was obviously their ritual.

    Read More »

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