Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Beer on a Hot Summer's Day

I was looking for water, and found beer.

(No, I am not paraphrasing the Poet in GKC's "The Surprise" - he expected water and found... well, you will have to see CW11 for the script to that wonderful play, or get the video version from the ACS.)

But! I mean I was looking for information about the chemical H2O which is commonly known as water. There are five or six books piled up on my desk, nearly a foot (30 cm) of paper, containing details about its tetrahedral structure, its partial dipole, its great stability, its abnormally high "latent heat of vaporization", its power to dissolve, its peak in density at 4°C which causes ice to float, its importance in food and cooking, and so much more...

But then I wondered what our Doctor Chesterton might have said about it. We all know the exceedingly famous verses from his The Flying Inn:

Feast on wine or fast on water,
And your honour shall stand sure;
God Almighty's son and daughter,
He the valiant, she the pure.
If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind intentions,
Go and pour them down the sink.
GKC wrote an editorial about the horrifying report during World War I when "the Allied armies, passing over the reconquered ground, certainly found poison in the wells":
Some of the chemical experiments in which the enemy was so proud of having taken the initiative were no more military than the chemical experiments in which Palmer or Pritchard [famous poisoners] took the initiative. Still, it was an initiative; and in the weak-minded welter of modern thought it may be considered proper to initiate a new notion of right and wrong whenever you initiate a new chemical combination. But nobody will call water a new chemical combination. Even the German professors will not profess that their own initiative has initiated water. Water at least is a primal thing, and the story of it flows down to us through the most primitive literatures, as the stream of it flows up to us through the most uncultivated soils. To make water a weapon, and an envenomed weapon, is to pollute something the purity or impurity of which could have been understood in every age and country. In the purest of historic pages a cup of water is recorded as the symbol of all that is merciful; and a cup of poisoned water has in it a profanation beyond all the Borgias, with their cups of poisoned wine.
[GKC ILN March 31, 1917 CW:67-68]
As I said, horrifying.

So, let us see something a bit more human - like this, which is good advice for children and for journalists who have inked themselves up with toner (hee hee):
I believe in getting into hot water. I think it keeps you clean.
[GKC ILN March 10 1906 CW27:142]
We also know how deep his philosophy was in his clear and powerful grasp of Reality, as he wrote to his fiancee (having had a minor accident when he was switching the toner cartridge in his laser printer, or something similar):
I am black but comely at this moment: because the cyclostyle has blacked me. Fear not. I shall wash myself. ... I like the Cyclostyle ink; it is so inky. I do not think there is anyone who takes quite such a fierce pleasure in things being themselves as I do. The startling wetness of water excites and intoxicates me...
[letter to Frances Blogg July 8 1899 quoted in Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 108]
Which is perhaps a very odd-sounding phrase... intoxicated by water? Except that I understand. At this moment, I am quite intoxicated by water! But I continued to hunt, and found a remarkable paragraph which deserves some study, not only by hydrologists or biochemists:
It is quite a mistake to suppose that, when a man desires an alcoholic drink, he necessarily desires alcohol. Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer's day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented. The fact that beer has a very slight stimulating quality will be quite among the smallest reasons that induce him to ask for it. In short, he will not be in the least desiring alcohol; he will be desiring beer. But, of course, the question cannot be settled in such a simple way. The real difficulty which confronts everybody, and which especially confronts doctors, is that the extraordinary position of man in the physical universe makes it practically impossible to treat him in either one direction or the other in a purely physical way. Man is an exception, whatever else he is. If he is not the image of God, then he is a disease of the dust. If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head. In neither case can we really argue very much from the body of man simply considered as the body of an innocent and healthy animal. His body has got too much mixed up with his soul, as we see in the supreme instance of sex. It may be worth while uttering the warning to wealthy philanthropists and idealists that this argument from the animal should not be thoughtlessly used, even against the atrocious evils of excess; it is an argument that proves too little or too much. Doubtless, it is unnatural to be drunk. But then in a real sense it is unnatural to be human. Doubtless, the intemperate workman wastes his tissues in drinking; but no one knows how much the sober workman wastes his tissues by working. No one knows how much the wealthy philanthropist wastes his tissues by talking; or, in much rarer conditions, by thinking. All the human things are more dangerous than anything that affects the beasts - sex, poetry, property, religion. The real case against drunkenness is not that it calls up the beast, but that it calls up the Devil. It does not call up the beast, and if it did it would not matter much as a rule; the beast is a harmless and rather amiable creature, as anybody can see by watching cattle. There is nothing bestial about intoxication; and certainly there is nothing intoxicating or even particularly lively about beasts. We hear of mad bulls, but they are not mad through delirium tremens; nor does their dislike of scarlet originate in a resolution not to look upon the wine or upon anything else when it is red. We hear of mad dogs, and we even hear that they dislike water; but this dislike is not due to the same cause which creates a similar prejudice in so many human beings. Man is always something worse or something better than an animal; and a mere argument from animal perfection never touches him at all. Thus, in sex no animal is either chivalrous or obscene. And thus no animal ever invented anything so bad as drunkenness - or so good as drink.
[GKC ILN Apr 20 1907 CW27:444-5]

Alas. I don't have a dusty English road nearby, but yes, I do find myself a bit thirsty on this hot summer day. Good thing there are some cold lagers waiting in the refrigerator. Hee hee. But later. For now, back to the books...


At 22 August, 2008 11:13, Blogger Sheila said...

Water Cold we may pour at need
Down a thirsty throat and be glad indeed;
But better is Beer, if drink we lack,
And Water Hot poured down the back.


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