At Knocklofty we have long been aware of the intimate connection between books and booze. Few good books, and no amusing books at all, have been written by ascetics or teetotalers.
That is why our writers’ suites at Knocklofty Towers all have a small adjoining room with seldom-used equipment for making tea and coffee and a rather large refrigerator which is kept stocked by the management with the writer’s preferred beer.
In some cases the room may be a small bar with a favourite keg beer on tap and there are eccentrics who use the space to make their own often highly potent and occasionally explosive brews.
Others have wine cellars stocked gratis from the firm’s vineyards; Knocklofty Fourpenny Dark, renowned for its minimal delay between cause and effect, is popular with the more robust novelists and the staff philosophers, while effete poetic types favour the Knocklofty White Infuriator, a deceptively delicate wine credited with mild hallucinatory properties.
The relationship between literature and liquor is so ancient that our scholars believe that the two probably came into existence virtually simultaneously. The arts of writing — writing, that is, for the purposes of story-telling rather than for cuneiform accountancy — and brewing are both a little more than five thousand years old but we have been unable to determine which led to which.
We maintain this regime because, while we deplore many of the consequences of taking Nietzsche too literally, experience has shown this dictum of his to be more sensible than many of the more familiar ravings of this syphilitic sage:
“For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.”
The connection was well understood in ancient times. Plato observed “He was a wise man who invented beer” while Sophocles prescribed beer as an essential component in his formula for a moderate diet. The silenus of Socrates from which he gained his wisdom, according to the formidable literary boozer Rabelais, was a bottle.
Even that lunatic Bronze Age farrago, the Bible, urges us to take a little wine for our stomach’s sake and records Jesus’ first miracle as turning water into wine.
Shakespeare held that a quart of ale is a dish for a king — and had a character in Henry V say “I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety.”
Benjamin Franklin saw beer as proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. And Edgar Allan Poe, the inventor of at least two literary genres, wrote:
Filled with mingled cream and amber
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chambers of my brain
Quaintest thoughts — queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away;
Who cares how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.
Charles Dickens wrote in times far more prim than ours, yet he was a notable toper; his works are full of cheerful references to liquid refreshments with peculiar Victorian names: cold with, hot without, heavy wet and rum shrub, as well as the Genuine Stunning Ale ordered by the youthful David Copperfield.
In more modern days, Hilaire Belloc and G K Chesterton used to go on long rural hikes punctuated by every pub they came to, when they would bang on the counter and bellow for beer. It is said that that was how they broke writer’s block.
George Orwell, too, was fond of his pint and created his own ideal pub in a famous essay, The Moon Under Water. The pub did not exist when he wrote it, but so evocative was the essay that London now has at least one pub of that name.
This article quotes unpublished data culled from a project presently under way in Knocklofty’s Socioliterary Research Department. The research has very recently revealed a new and hitherto unconsidered trend in literary drinking in the United States, where readers are experimenting to find which beer goes best with which book. More information here.
As far as Knocklofty’s investigations have gone, we have found that the Tasmanian Cascade Pale Ale goes with just about everything except self-help books and that the works of Flann O’Brien are much improved by — obviously — draught Guinness.