Gin

Being a doting Admirer, I enjoyed reading Bernard Mandeville’s remarks on gin:

Nothing is more destructive, either in regard to the Health or the Vigilance and Industry of the Poor than the infamous Liquor, the name of which, deriv’d from Juniper in the Dutch is now by frequent use and the Laconick Spirit of the Nation, from a Word of middling Length shrunk into a Monosyllable, Intoxicating Gin, that charms the unactive, the desperate and crazy of either Sex, and makes the starving Sot behold his Rags and Nakedness with stupid Indolence, or banter both in senseless Laughter, and more insipid Jests: It is a fiery Lake that sets the Blame in Flame, burns up the Entrails, and scorches every Part within; and at the same time a Lethe of Oblivion, in which the Wretch immers’d drowns his most pinching Cares, and with his Reason all anxious Reflexion on Brats that cry for Food, hard Winters Frosts, and horrid empty Home.

In hot and adust Tempers it makes Men Quarrelsome, renders ’em Brutes and Savages, sets ’em on to fight for nothing, and has often been the Cause of Murder. It has broke and destroy’d the strongest Constitutions, thrown ’em into Consumptions, and been the fatal and immediate occasion of Apoplexies, Phrensies and sudden Death. But as these latter Mischiefs happen but seldom, they might be overlook’d and conniv’d at, but this cannot be said of the many Diseases that are familiar to the Liquor, and which are daily and hourly produced by it; such as Loss of Appetite, Fevers, Black and Yellow Jaundice, Convulsions, Stone and Gravel, Dropsies, and Leucophlegmacies.

Among the doting Admirers of this Liquid Poison, many of the meanest Rank, from a sincere Affection to the Commodity it self, become Dealers in it, and take delight to help others to what they love themselves, as Whores commence Bawds to make the Profits of one Trade subservient to the Pleasures of the other. But as these Starvelings commonly drink more than their Gains, they seldom by selling mend the wretchedness of Condition they labour’d under while they were only Buyers. In the Fag-end and Out-skirts of the Town, and all Places of the vilest Resort, it’s sold in some part or other of almost every House, frequently in Cellars, and sometimes in the Garret. The petty Traders in this Stygian Comfort are supply’d by others in somewhat higher Station, that keep profess’d Brandy Shops, and are a little to be envy’d as the former; and among the middling People, I know not a more miserable Shift for a Livelihood than their Calling; whoever would thrive in it must in the first place be of a watchfulo and suspicious, as well as a bold and resolute Temper, that he may not be iposed upon by Cheats and Sharpers, nor out-bully’d by the Oaths and Imprecations of Hackney-Coachmen and Foot-Soldiers; in the second, he ought to be a dabster at gross Jokes and loud Laughter, and have all the winning Ways to allure Customers and draw out their Money, and be well vers’d in the low Jests and Ralleries the Mob make use of to banter Prudence and Frugality. He must be affable and obsequious to the most despicable; always ready and officious to help a Porder down with his Load, shake Hands with a Basket-Woman, pull off his Hat to an Oyster-Wench, and be familiar with a Beggar; with Patience and good Humour he must be able to endure the filthy Actions and viler Language of nasty Drabs, and the lewdest Rake-hells, and without a Frown or the least Aversion bear with all the Stench and Squalor, Noise and Impertinence that the utmost Indigence, Laziness and Ebreity, can produce in the most shameless and abandon’d Vulgar…

The Fable of the Bees, Volume I, Remark G. He goes on, naturally, to outline the social benefits of widespread gin consumption, but these passages are less entertaining, so I’ll resist the temptation to just carry on quoting chunks of Mandeville and stop there.Oxford’s bookshops seem baffled by The Fable. (They wouldn’t be the first to be so). When I went to buy a copy of the full text last week, to supplant the Hundert excerpted edition I used to use, I found that the computer at Blackwells filed it under “Nineteenth Century Prose Fiction”. Most of it is in prose, so one out of three may not be bad.

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