"Drink is in itself a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan, the wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from the Devil."
Increase Mather, Wo to Drunkards (1673)
Words to live by as we enter the holiday season where the cup of good cheer will be lifted, and then lifted again and then yet again. It is happy holidays we want, not hellish hangovers, but the latter are difficult to avoid in a season of endless parties and unfamiliar drinks. Eggnogs, creamy and innocent, can disguise the most lethal ingredients. Mulled wine, hot from the kettle, warms the winter night as it joins a cup or two of wassail downed at an earlier party, and then bumps up against an even earlier mug of hot buttered rum.
And then it is morning and one wakes like Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim: " ... sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. ... His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad."
It is a classical description of the morning after and though it can be avoided by abstinence or even moderation, it is something that most partygoers experience. Time is the only cure, though remedies for a hangover are almost as numerous as the drinks that cause them. There is the innocuous and revolting raw egg (which some people slide unbroken into a shot of alcohol spiced with Worcestershire sauce, downing the whole mess, which is properly called a Prairie Oyster and owes its popularity to the belief that things that taste nasty are good for you). There is aspirin and Alka Seltzer and strong black coffee. There is, for those lucky enough to be near one, a soothing, cleansing hour in a steam bath or sauna. There is the solution of a character in one of P.G. Wodehouse's stories who emerges into the morning after to announce, "I think I'll just go to the washroom and put my head under the cold tap. Have you ever had that feeling that someone is driving white-hot rivets into your bean? ... Ice, of course, would be better ... but you look so silly ordering a bucket of ice and sticking your head in it." Seltzer water, ice bags, the hair of the dog, in mildly medicinal forms like Fernet Branca or purely pleasurable ones like Bloody Marys or Bull Shots, the hangover victim is willing to try anything to stop the effects of last night's party. They might even be willing to search out grains of amber in order to down the restorative of that 19th-century epicure, Brillat-Savarin: "If any man has drunk a little too deeply from the cup of physical pleasure ... let him be given a good pint of amber-flavored chocolate, in the proportions of 60 to 72 grains of amber to a pound, and marvels will be performed."
Part of the makeup of a hangover is undoubtedly guilt and a feeling of foolishness -- exactly what did you do after you managed to climb to the top of the bookcase? The kind hostess, therefore, after doing the obvious things like not urging too much liquor upon a guest, making sure that the imbiber knows that the eggnog is not all eggs and cream, and calling a taxi for anyone drunk enough to climb a bookcase, might extend her hospitality to the morning after by calling up any guests who were merrier than they were wise and offering them the comfort and companionship of earlier topers: James Boswell, for instance, recorded one hangover where, "My intemperance was severely punished, for I suffered violent distress of body and vexation of mind. I lay till near 2 o'clock, when I grew easier, and comforted myself by resolving vigorously to be attentively sober for the future. There is something agreeably delusive in fresh resolution."
Evelyn Waugh, recalling his days at Oxford, wrote that, "I think it is no exaggeration to say that, in my last year, I and most of my friends were drunk three or four times a week, quite gravely drunk, sometimes requiring to be undressed and put to bed, but more often clowning exuberantly and, it seemed to us, very funnily."
And there is the irresistible description of essayist Charles Lamb, offered by his hostess, Mrs. Procter: " ... by 7 he was so tipsy he could not stand. Martin Burney carried him from one room to the other like a sack of coals, he insisting on saying, 'Diddle diddle dumpty, my son John' -- he slept until 10, and then awoke more tipsy than before ... He wrote a note next day begging pardon and asking when he may come again."
And that, too, is part of the compact between guest and host, the former apologizing for bad behavior, while the kindly host offers assurances that the guest behaved in fine fashion, saving the story of the bookcase for retelling on some distant day.