04/02/2015 at 15:58 #16825General SladeParticipant
I am reading Wellington as Military Commander by Michael Glover in which he quotes Wellington as writing that the only way to stay in good health in India was “to live moderately, to drink little or no wine, to use exercise, to keep the mind employed, and if possible, to keep in good humour with the world”. He then goes on to quote George Elers, a captain with the 12th (East Suffolk) Foot, who describes Wellington (then Wellesley) as being “very abstemious with wine: drank four or five glasses with people at dinner, and about a pint of claret afterwards.” If you can drink a bottle and a half of wine and still be considered abstemious just how much were the serious drinkers knocking back?
Was everyone either intoxicated or hungover in the 18th century or was wine weaker then than it is today?04/02/2015 at 16:30 #16831willzParticipant
Not sure if it was weaker or were they used to drinking wine or beer as drinking water could be dangerous Hic.04/02/2015 at 19:12 #16848CerdicParticipant
I don’t know about wine, but a lot of beer was weaker. As William said above, beer was drunk instead of water because the brewing process sterilised it. This was also one of the reasons why tea became so popular in Britain. Boiling the water killed all the bugs!04/02/2015 at 20:05 #16865willzParticipant
I don’t know about wine, but a lot of beer was weaker. As William said above, beer was drunk instead of water because the brewing process sterilised it. This was also one of the reasons why tea became so popular in Britain. Boiling the water killed all the bugs!
I much prefer the beer and wine option.04/02/2015 at 21:24 #16868PatriceParticipant
I think it was – although I’m not sure how much?
I’ve heard some debates about new projects of making “du vin léger” (= light wine) that could be, perhaps, 9°, and references that it was still common in the mid-20th century… You would be very lucky to find wine under 12.5° in France now, since many years.
https://www.anargader.net/04/02/2015 at 23:50 #16891Mr. AverageParticipant
Go back farther and wine was WAY stronger. The ancient Greeks and Romans had to water their wine down – that’s what the “krater” type pots were for. Amphorae of wine at full strength were highly concentrated and very hard to drink straight – only Barbarians would drink that way – you’d get drunk so fast you’d never have anything interesting to say. And the word “Symposium” means “drinking together,” i.e., philosophers getting wildly drunk and talking about how they thought the world worked.05/02/2015 at 15:13 #16918repiqueoneParticipant
From all I can see in the 18th and 19th century wine was generally about 20 proof ( 10% alcohol). Many red wines today, because of improved viniculture, can reach 30 proof such as Chateauneuf du Pape and other Rhone Wines. That’s not a lot of alcohol when combined with long dinners with food and conversation. And the huge balloon wine glasses of today simply didn’t exist and smaller, almost liqueur sized, glasses or cups would be more common.
A full grown adult male should be able to process a 3oz. glass or two an hour without being drunk. In India I suspect there was nothing much to do of an evening but dinner, so it was probably a couple of hours in length. The food would ameliorate the effects of alcohol as well.
Finally, people, especially military personages, were accustomed to a higher average consumption, perhaps twice what modern drinkers average. You do develop some ability to drink larger amounts of alcohol by steady consumption. Given their food and general sanitation, wine was probably a healthful addition to their diet.
Critical reaction to drink was increased in the late 18th and early 19th century by the growing, Goverment sponsored, availability of gin whose proof could be over four times that of wine. This led to temperance and prohibition efforts, often religiously inspired, and supported by growing numbers of industrial employers who needed sober workers. It reached its peak in Europe in the Victorian era, and later in the US with Prohibition.It also served as a way to hassle European immigrants to the US, such as the Irish, Germans, and Italians, whose culture included alcohol usage.
Most medical sources now state that moderate use is healthful.06/02/2015 at 09:56 #16981General SladeParticipant
Thanks for the replies everyone. It seems, considering the combination of weaker wine and smaller glasses, Wellington was indeed being reasonably abstemious. And of course I should have taken into account that in a British officers’ mess you can drink enough to fell an ox and still be considered “reasonably abstemious”.06/02/2015 at 12:57 #16989grizzlymcParticipant
He’s only drinking two bottles of wine a day, moderation!06/02/2015 at 15:25 #16998McLaddieParticipant
A bottle and a half back then was about three cups or a pint and a half. Bottles were generally smaller back then [as were the people] With a greater need for wine [large armies, suspect fresh water] , wine often wasn’t aged very long. Even the dregs were sold… you know, the chewy stuff called ‘Black Strap”. It had other names during the Napoleonic wars, but I can’t remember them at the moment.07/02/2015 at 03:02 #17032repiqueoneParticipant
Blackstrap from molasses or rum, maybe, but wine? Hardly. Bottle sizes were fairly uniform from the late 18th century on; generally 750 ml being the most common. By the mid 19th they were rigidly standardized even to the form of the punt.
One of the great skills of a wise officer is to drink with your fellow officers, always giving the impression that you are drinking as much as them, but you never are.
BTW never trust one man’s estimation of the amount another person is drinking. In any case, a modern bottle of wine with dinner with 3 or four other people is about a typical glass and a half each. Hardly scandalous, unless you’re a follower of Carrie Nation.
I really doubt that a dour, prim, old curmudgeon such as Wellington was too much invested in his glass ‘o dis.08/02/2015 at 19:10 #17148McLaddieParticipant
Yep, ‘Black Strap’ was originally referred to the dregs of a rum barrel–with a navy origin I believe, but it became a reference, at least in the Peninsula to the dregs of any alcoholic beverage, particularly wine. There were other terms for the bottom of a wine barrel or unfiltered wine, but I don’t remember those at the moment. The same drifting with meanings occurred with the British Army slang for water: “Pale Ale”. It ended up being the term applied to any watered down wine or hard liquor.
Bottle sizes were fairly uniform from the late 18th century on; generally 750 ml being the most common. By the mid 19th they were rigidly standardized even to the form of the punt.
That depended on the country of origin. One complaint of the British in the Peninsula was the difference in the size of both the Portuguese and Spanish bottles compared to French wines, which tended to be larger and the ones that the British were familiar with. There was a great deal of variance in measurements of just about everything from miles and leagues to the French-inspired milliliters. A Spanish league could be three to five British miles, while a German mile was five British miles. A French inch was longer than a British inch etc. The French did a great deal to create a uniform measurement system across Europe as they conquered.
Wellington seems to have consumed as much liquor as the next officer of the period, particularly when he like to hang with the aristocratic officers. He certainly wasn’t a teatotaller. Whether he got wasted from time to time would be hard to tell, because he was, as you say, a rather ‘a dour, prim, old curmudgeon.’
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