August is a time for drinking. It just is. In honor of the month wherein life is immeasurably enhanced by a cold cocktail or an icy stein of ale, we’re showcasing a remarkable book from the shelves of the Salisbury House Library. Merry-Go-Down: A Gallery of Gorgeous Drunkards in Literature from Genesis to Joyce, published in 1929, is a riot. It’d be perfect, in fact, to share with friends along with Das Boot, say, at the Hessian House.
Why compile this exceptional tome? The publisher, Mandrake Press, thoughtfully answered this question for us: “Collected for the use, interest, illumination, and delectation of serious topers.”
Toper [toh-per]: noun. A hard drinker or chronic drunkard.
As you might have noticed, the author, “Rab Noolas,” is a semordnilap of “Bar Saloon,” which was the pseudonym for British scholar and all-around-fun-guy Peter Warlock. Oh, those squirrely English!
The book, as promised, takes us on a delightful tour of drunkenness through the ages. We begin at the beginning: Noah. Did you know that Noah was a drunkard? Well, he was.
In addition to this delightful illustration, Rab Saloon helpfully included the salient Old Testament passage.
From there, the booze-soaked pages are populated with the likes of Seneca, Plato, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Raleigh, Boswell, Poe, Dickens, James, and Joyce.
Boswell‘s piece (late eighteenth century) is especially insightful. As he suggests, “Were we so framed that it were possible by perpetual supplies of wine to keep ourselves for ever gay and happy, there could be no doubt that drinking would be the summum bonum, the chief good, to find out which philosophers have been so variously busied.”
Well said, sir. Well. Said.
Of course, as you will have by now noticed, an array of finely-executed illustrations accompany the august text. Hal Collins, a confidante of Rab Noolas/Peter Warlock, created the images.
If you find yourself wishing for more from this singular work, not to worry: unlike many of the rare and/or irreplaceable pieces in our Library collection, you too could possess a copy of Merry-Go-Down! It is available for purchase at a surprisingly affordable rate.
Finally, if anyone yet wondered on which side of the Prohibition fence stood Carl Weeks: now we know. Topers! Salud!
Note: The Salisbury House Library Collection is now housed at Grinnell College, where it is being digitized and studied. To learn more about the collection check out the Special Collections Website.