In the tradition of Hogarth and William Cobbett, Tom Hodgkinson finds pleasure in drinking ale
A correspondent from Montenegro writes to object to one of the lines in my so-called “Idler’s Manifesto”. I wrote this anarchic mission statement in 2003 to coincide with the publication of my first book, How to be Idle.
The line in question is “Bread. Bacon. Beer”, and my correspondent has an issue with the second item because he is a vegetarian. Could I replace the word “bacon” with the word “cheese” in future editions of the manifesto, he asks.
I said that he was free to rewrite the manifesto for himself and change whatever he wanted – it is not a Biblical injunction or inviolable poem – more an attempt at sketching out some ideas. But I don’t really want to start mucking about with it myself. Of course I am aware that many people don’t eat bacon, or indeed drink beer, or even eat bread. The point really is to attempt to provide yourself with enjoyable sustenance that gives you pleasure. There is also alliteration involved, which I would be reluctant to give up, and in any case, if I tried to please everyone, teetotallers and vegans alike, we would end up with a rather bland trio of comestibles, perhaps something like “oatcakes, lentils, water”, which may have sufficed for Diogenes, but for me is a trifle funless and unpoetic and lacks polemical bite.
I also explained that “bread, bacon, beer” is an allusion to William Cobbett, the great radical of the early 19th century, who was a huge fan of those three commodities, which he called the “three Bs”. He famously hated tea as an “enfeebler of the frame” and believed that good old honest English beer “puts the sweat back in”. Hogarth had made a similar point in the late 18th century, writing that beer is the “happy produce of our isle”. His print Beer Street shows happy smiling men and women drinking beer and reading self-improving tracts. The pawnbroker’s shop has closed down. Beer Street was to be compared with his better known print, Gin Lane, which shows a miserable scene of gin-soaked poverty, where the only business that thrives is the pawnbroker, and gaunt humans drop babies over railings. Hogarth was trying to get people to kick gin and take up beer instead.
I am an enthusiastic disciple of Cobbett and Hogarth, at least as far as beer goes. I find that a few ales in the evening gives me great pleasure, fills my heart with gladness and helps me sleep like a baby (as long as I read a book for 20 minutes before nodding off). Drinking beer and avoiding spirits is far easier than total abstinence, which I find joyless. The 19th century saw the Temperance movement where Methodist matrons toured the country attempting to make working men forswear bee-r altogether. The movement was actually badly named: “temperance” doesn’t mean giving up entirely; it means taking a middle ground, and this is what I claim I do with beer: I drink it temperately. And avoid spiritous liquors.
These comments were mailed to us after the above piece was sent as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your thoughts.
I agree “bacon” should be dropped from the manifesto. Vegan or not (I’m a vegan), enjoying life certainly is less joyful if it’s at the expense of someone else’s life (an art developed to perfection by neoliberal capitalists and other happy sociopaths whose joy on earth does not extend much farther than the confines of their own physical selves). So I woke up this morning here in the Hollywood Hills with a possible replacement that no idler possibly could object to: “Dream, Drink, Dine.”
– Stig Harder