'Too Much Champagne Is Just Right': Famous Writers on How to Drink

Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Mencken, and other scribes had deep thoughts on boozing.
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Ernest Hemingway

Last week, Gawker republished a fascinating essay by H.L. Mencken, also known as the Sage of Baltimore, entitled "How to Drink Like a Gentleman: The Things to Do and the Things Not To, as Learned in 30 Years' Extensive Research." Eager for more advice on life's finer things from literary types, I collected a few quotes from famous writers on how to drink. Pick up some tips below, and if I've missed your favorite missive, add it to the list in the comments.

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"Two simple principles lie at the bottom of the whole matter, and they may be precipitated into two rules. The first is that, when there is a choice, the milder drink is always the better—not merely the safer but the better. The second is that no really enlightened drinker ever takes a drink at a time when he has any work to do. There is, of course, more to it than this; but these are sufficient for the beginner, and even the virtuoso never outgrows them." —H.L. Mencken, "How to Drink Like a Gentleman"


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"Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world." —G.K. Chesterton, Heretics


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"Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to." —Martin Luther


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"I always take Scotch whiskey at night as a preventive of toothache. I have never had the toothache; and what is more, I never intend to have it." —Mark Twain


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"'Hitch: making rules about drinking can be the sign of an alcoholic,' as Martin Amis once teasingly said to me. (Adorno would have savored that, as well.) Of course, watching the clock for the start-time is probably a bad sign, but here are some simple pieces of advice for the young. Don't drink on an empty stomach: the main point of the refreshment is the enhancement of food. Don't drink if you have the blues: it's a junk cure. Drink when you are in a good mood. Cheap booze is a false economy. It's not true that you shouldn't drink alone: these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain. Hangovers are another bad sign, and you should not expect to be believed if you take refuge in saying you can't properly remember last night. (If you really don't remember, that's an even worse sign.) Avoid all narcotics: these make you more boring rather than less and are not designed—as are the grape and the grain—to enliven company. Be careful about up-grading too far to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won't be easily available. Never even think about driving a car if you have taken a drop. It's much worse to see a woman drunk than a man: I don't know quite why this is true but it just is. Don't ever be responsible for it." —Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir


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"Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right." —F. Scott Fitzgerald


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"If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen." —Charles Bukowski, Women


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"I have drunk since I was fifteen and few things have given me more pleasure. When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky? When you are cold and wet what else can warm you? Before an attack who can say anything that gives you the momentary well-being that rum does?... The only time it isn't good for you is when you write or when you fight. You have to do that cold. But it always helps my shooting. Modern life, too, is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief." —Ernest Hemingway, Postscript to letter to critic, poet and translator Ivan Kashkin, 1935


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"There is no such thing as bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others. But a man shouldn't fool with booze until he's fifty; then he's a damn fool if he doesn't." —William Faulkner


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"One should always be drunk. That's all that matters... But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk." —Charles Baudelaire

This post also appears on Flavorpill, an Atlantic partner site.

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Emily Temple is an editor at Flavorpill.

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