By accident, we’ve found ourselves collecting various bits of information about London’s trendy lager scene in the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods.
The passage below from a 1909 book by James Douglas, Adventures in London (full text), seemed too good not to share. It comes from a chapter called ‘The Philosophy of Beer’ in which the narrator is enjoying a night out in the West End with his friend ‘Falstaff’.
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Pointing to a lantern over a narrow door, he cried:
“Berlin here,” said I, “and Paris round the corner? You are absurdly fantastic to-night.”
He pushed into a room, dim with smoke and crowded with men and women sitting at huddled tables. Falstaff seemed to know everybody, for as he led me through the maze he sent salutes in all directions. His path was paved with laughter. At last he flung himself into a seat, and throwing his sombrero on the table, he seized a stone beer-mug and rapped a postman’s knock with the metal lid. A waiter, whose face was slit with a wide grin, hurried up.
“Varlet,” shouted Falstaff, as he smote the table with his clenched fist, “let there be beer!” And there was beer. For a moment his tongue ceased to wag, while he buried his nose in the pale amber flood. Then he banged the lid amain, and cried, “Varlet, let there be more beer!” And there was more beer.
“Now,” he said in a calmer voice, “let us sup.” Seizing a huge sheet, covered with a bewildering catalogue of German delicates, he began to descant upon the glories of Teutonic cookery.
“My son,” said he, “the Germans alone know how to create an unquenchable thirst. Every dish emblazoned on this document is salt. What is salt for? It is for the stimulation of the divine drought that demands an ocean of beer. You eat in order to drink.”
“Your palate,” said I, “is perverted. I decline to eat and I decline to drink.”
“Abject! I despise you. But I will eat for you and drink for you.”
“And he did. I stared in stupefaction as he devoured Westphalian ham, Frankfort sausages, pig’s knuckles, and sauerkraut. I looked round me and I saw scores of jolly fat men, who were pickling their throats in the same heroic fashion. The very sight made me thirsty. Round the walls of this briny temple were horns innumerable — horns of the goat, the elk, the buffalo, the deer, the ram, the sheep. Little horns. Big horns.
The lid clicked musically on the stone lip, and Falstaff lay back at last in Gargantuan ease, his golden beard bedewed with golden beerdrops.
“When I was in Heidelberg,” he began dreamily, “there was a fair-haired girl, with forget-me-not eyes, and . . .”
“And what?” said I.
“Ah,” said he, “and what?”
He gazed sternly at me, straightened his back, squared his broad shoulders, and pointed proudly to a faint scar on his left cheek.
“And that,” said he. “I drink to her rosy lips.” He dashed away a tear, and, stretching forth his hand to a tumbler, took a long crooked cigar, with a straw sticking out of the thin end. He lighted it, blew a mighty volume of smoke up to the ceiling, and, turning to me, put his huge paw on my shoulder.
“My son,” said he, with immense gravity, “the Germans are the only true philosophers. They see life through a sea of beer. Beer is the drink of philosophers.”
“I have heard of Bass and Guinness.”
“Bah!” said Falstaff. “They pall. Give me the brew that keeps oblivion at bay, that nourishes thirst while it quells it. The nation that can drink without being drunk is invincible. Germany is that nation.”
“I perceive,” said I sneeringly, ”that you are a sot.” A flush of anger mantled his clear brow.
“Creature,” said he, “a sot is not a philosopher. I am a philosopher. I sit at the centre of life and watch it going round with the contentment of contempt. It amuses me. It
tickles me. It arrides me. I tolerate everything — even you. Yes, my son, I find a reason for the meanest of the mean. Your chill sobriety pleases me. It is a bubble of contrast.”
“Drink,” said I, “is a curse.”
“Shall we put out the sun because shallow-pates die of sunstroke ? Fie upon you ! Look at these good cits with their buxom wives. Would you begrudge them their little Paradise?”
“It is artificial.”
“Is there any Paradise that is not artificial? My son, read Heine and Kant and Hegel and Haeckel and Nietzsche and Spencer and Shaw, and then tell me if all their wisdom is not folly. I drown them in a draught.”
With that he emptied his stone tankard, and swallowed all the wise men of the West in a gulp. As the waiter collected his pile of papier-mâché discs, and reckoned up his bill, Falstaff smiled happily.
“Beer,” said he, “is wisdom, and wisdom is beer.”
(See also this short post about the Tivoli Bier Garten on our Facebook page.)