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National Reputations for Drinking in Traditional Europe

From: Parergon
Volume 17, Numer 1, July 1999
pp. 163-186 | 10.1353/pgn.1999.0093

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163 National Reputations for Drinking in Traditional Europe A. Lynn Martin Iago: ... your Dane, your German, and your swagbellied Hollander,—Drink, ho!—are nothing to your English. Cassio: Is your Englishman so exquisite in his drinking? Iago: Why, he drinks you, with facility, your Dane dead drunk; he sweats not to overthrow your Almain; he gives your Hollander a vomit ere the next pottle can be filled. Shakespeare, Othello, The Moor of Venice (2.3.78-85) In late medieval and early modern Europe alcoholic beverages had functions that reveal their role was more important than i t is today. Alcohol was the ubiquitous social lubricant, i t was a necessary component of most people's diet, and i t was a fundamental part of the medical pharmacopeaia. That said, some people obviously drank more than did others, and some countries had reputations for consuming more than did others. Many contemporary authors condemned their compatriots' drinking habits, and the condemnations often received support from foreigners' perceptions of a country's drinking comportment or, perhaps more precisely, its drunken comportment. National reputations for the consumption of alcohol is also a topic of discussion by French historians, in particularJean-Louis Flandrin, who are anxious to demonstrate that the French had a deserved reputation for moderate drinking. 164 A. Lynn Martin Moralists from almost every country castigated their fellow countrymen and w o m e n for their drunken comportment and for their overindulgence in drink. Perhaps the best example from England is the Elizabethan Puritan Phillip Stubbes, whose Anatomie of Abuses condemned most aspects of popular culture, including drink of course: 'Every cuntrey, citie, towne, village and other, hath abundance of alehouses, taverns and innes, which are so fraughted with maultwormes night and day, that you would wunder to se them. You shal have them there sitting at their wine, and goodale all the day long, yea all the night too, peradventure a whole week togither, so long as any money is left, swilling, gulling and carowsing from one to another, t i l never a one can speak a redy word. Then... h o w they stut and stammer, stagger and reale too and fro, like m a d m e n , some vomitting spewing, and disgorging their filthie stomacks, other some pissing under the boord as they sit, which is most horrible.' Martin Luther similarly denounced his compatriots' drunken behavior in language that was just as strong if not as colourful as that used by Philip Stubbes. In his "Sermon on Soberness and Moderation against Gluttony and Drunkenness," dated 1539, Luther preached, 'The Italians call us gluttonous, drunken Germans and pigs because they live decently and do not drink until they are drunk. Like the Spaniards, they have escaped this vice .... W e are the laughing stock of all other countries, w h o look upon us as filthy pigs.' Luther's colleague Philip Melanchthon was even more direct than the usually blunt Luther; 'we Germans drink ourselves poor, drink ourselves sick, drink ourselves to death, and drink ourselves to hell.' 1 Jean-Louis Flandrin, 'Boissons et manieres de boire en Europe du X XVIIIe siecle/ in Max Milner and Martine Chatelain, eds., L'imaginaire du vin (Marseille: Editions Jeanne Laffitte, 1983), pp. 309-314. Flandrin included this material in a longer article entitled 'La diversite des gouts et des pratiques alimentaires en Europe du XVIe au XVIIIe siecle/ that appeared in Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine, XXX (1983), pp. 66-83. Ne article has notes. Here I shall cite the longer article because i t is probably more accessible to readers. 2 Phillip Stubbes, TheAnatomie ofAbuses (1583) (Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1972), pp. I.3v-1.4. 3 Martin Luther, Luther's Works, vol. 51 = Sermons, John W. Doberstein and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), pp. 291-293. National Reputationsfor Drinking in Traditional Europe . 165 In 1596 Bernard de Laffemas, one of the principal economic advisers of King Henry IV of France, published his Source de plusieurs abus et monopoles qui se sont glissez et coulez sur le peuple de France depuis trente ans ou environs. Unlike Stubbes, Luther, and Melanchthon, Laffemas had primarily economic...