Monday, March 02, 2009

Dr Johnson & the ungilded pill

The Scottish government proposes to fight alcohol abuse by outlawing discount liquor and imposing a "social responsibility fee" on drink. Their theory, unarticulated, must be that only the affluent should be allowed to get drunk.

As so often is the case, Johnson had the best response. Mrs Thrale tells us,

—"What signifies," says some one,"giving halfpence to common beggars; they only lay it out in gin or tobacco."

"And why should they be denied such sweeteners of their existence? (says Johnson) it is surely very savage to refuse them every possible avenue to pleasure, reckoned too coarse for our own acceptance. Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow without gilding; yet for the poor we delight in stripping it still barer, and are not ashamed to show even visible displeasure, if ever the bitter taste is taken from their mouths."

Johnson had no great love for Puritans or Scots (though he heightened his remarks about the latter for dramatic effect); one can only imagine his response to this latest proposal, which should be outlined by a minister with a name like Praisegod Barebones.

1 comment:

Nevid said...

I had a friend who, when asked for 50 cents for a beer by someone on Telegraph Avenue, would say, "No! How do I know you won't spend it on FOOD? Or lifesaving medicine?"

I always give cash to street people knowing they'll spend it on booze or drugs, knowing what I have to give isn't going to lift them out of their situation, but might buy a moment of pleasure. Didn't know I was so like Dr. Johnson! I feel so much better about it now.