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Drinking-Customs In England
by [?]

The ancient Bacchus, as represented in gems and statues, was a youthful and graceful divinity; he is so described by Ovid, and was so painted by Barry. He has the epithet of Psilas, to express the light spirits which give wings to the soul. His voluptuousness was joyous and tender; and he was never viewed reeling with intoxication. According to Virgil:

Et quocunque deus circum caput egit honestum.
Georg. ii. 392.

which Dryden, contemplating on the red-faced boorish boy astride on a barrel on our sign-posts, tastelessly sinks into gross vulgarity:

On whate’er side he turns his honest face.

This Latinism of honestum even the literal inelegance of Davidson had spirit enough to translate, “Where’er the god hath moved around his graceful head.” The hideous figure of that ebriety, in its most disgusting stage, the ancients exposed in the bestial Silenus and his crew; and with these, rather than with the Ovidian and Virgilian deity, our own convivial customs have assimilated.

We shall probably outlive that custom of hard-drinking which was so long one of our national vices. The Frenchman, the Italian, and the Spaniard only taste the luxury of the grape, but seem never to have indulged in set convivial parties, or drinking-matches, as some of the northern people. Of this folly of ours, which was, however, a borrowed one, and which lasted for two centuries, the history is curious: the variety of its modes and customs; its freaks and extravagances; the technical language introduced to raise it into an art; and the inventions contrived to animate the progress of the thirsty souls of its votaries.[155]

Nations, like individuals, in their intercourse are great imitators; and we have the authority of Camden, who lived at the time, for asserting that “the English in their long wars in the Netherlands first learnt to drown themselves with immoderate drinking, and by drinking others’ healths to impair their own. Of all the northern nations, they had been before this most commended for their sobriety.” And the historian adds, “that the vice had so diffused itself over the nation, that in our days it was first restrained by severe laws.”[156]

Here we have the authority of a grave and judicious historian for ascertaining the first period and even origin of this custom; and that the nation had not, heretofore, disgraced itself by such prevalent ebriety, is also confirmed by one of those curious contemporary pamphlets of a popular writer, so invaluable to the philosophical antiquary. Tom Nash, a town-wit of the reign of Elizabeth, long before Camden wrote her history, in his “Pierce Pennilesse,” had detected the same origin.–“Superfluity in drink,” says this spirited writer, “is a sin that ever since we have mixed ourselves with the Low Countries is counted honourable; but before we knew their lingering wars, was held in that highest degree of hatred that might be. Then if we had seen a man go wallowing in the streets, or lain sleeping under the board, we should have spet at him, and warned all our friends out of his company.”[157]

Such was the fit source of this vile custom, which is further confirmed by the barbarous dialect it introduced into our language; all the terms of drinking which once abounded with us are, without exception, of a base northern origin.[158] But the best account I can find of all the refinements of this new science of potation, when it seems to have reached its height, is in our Tom Nash, who being himself one of these deep experimental philosophers, is likely to disclose all the mysteries of the craft.

He says–“Now, he is nobody that cannot drink super-nagulum; carouse the hunter’s hoope; quaff vpse freeze crosse; with healths, gloves, mumpes, frolickes, and a thousand such domineering inventions.”[159]

Drinking super-nagulum, that is, on the nail, is a device, which Nash says is new come out of France: but it had probably a northern origin, for far northward it still exists. This new device consisted in this, that after a man, says Nash, hath turned up the bottom of the cup to drop it on his nail, and make a pearl with what is left, which if it shed, and cannot make it stand on, by reason there is too much, he must drink again for his penance.