Absolutely, and not in jest at all.
Regarding milk, the U.S. frontier was known for "milk-sickness." It wasn't understood until the 1920s that cows that ate white snakeroot (which is common in the Eastern half of the U.S.) passed toxins in their milk. Alcohol neutralizes the snakeroot poison, so many of the popular, alcohol-based snake-oil medicines of the day (eg the Pain-killer that figures in Chapter 12 of _Tom Sawyer_) actually helped in some situations. (Is the human love of analogy the grounds, then, for the supersitition that alcohol helped those who were bitten by rattlesnakes?)
Water-born diseases included killers such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. No wonder that tea, coffee, beer, wine, and spirits were the common drinks. In _Of Plymouth Plantation_, William Bradford lists a shortage of beer as among the salient and deadly privations of the first year in Massachusetts: "As this calamitie fell among y^e passengers that were to be
left here to plant, and were hasted a shore and made to drinke water,
that y^e sea-men might have y^e more beer," etc.
----- Original Message -----
From: Fred Harwood <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Saturday, September 4, 2010 6:55 pm
Subject: Re: Twain and alcohol
To: [log in to unmask]
> Only half in jest, I submit that in MT's time, at home or abroad,
> water and
> tubercular milk were uncertain friends. I do not doubt that beer, as
> minimal disinfectant, was a customary and day-long drink for active people,
> even for poor prospective miners. Wine, perhaps twice as strong as beer,
> was reserved for calm moments, such as dinner. Whiskey, the great preserver
> of caloric carbohydrates otherwise at risk of spoilage, was a formidable
> defense against both external and internal adversaries. Did MT drink
> all of
> these in the course of an average day? I think that modern sensibilities
> about alcohol should not intrude upon the defensive and customary
> forms of
> drink available to MT and his time.
> on 9/4/10 8:49 AM, Chet Manchester at [log in to unmask] wrote:
> > Thanks for everyone's input on this question. I did speak with Michael
> > Sheldon about this a few months ago and he felt that, aside from the
> > occasional drink, it would be a mistake to depict Clemens as a
> drunk to any
> > degree. He also said that there's no evidence Clemens drank
> heavily before
> > a lecture or an important public engagement. Most of what the
> forum has
> > said here seems to confirm this. Any more contrarians out there?
> > On Fri, Sep 3, 2010 at 10:49 PM, Alex Brink Effgen
> <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> >> I seem to remember a story of Clemens telling his family about one
> >> when he was put in jail out west, and when his innocent daughters
> >> replied with how he could've been put in jail, he responds with "Drunk,
> >> most likely."
> >> Did I catch that in the Ken Burns documentary? Is this more than
> >> apocryphal? Anyone?
> Linwood Cottage, Sheffield
> No arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so
> formidable as
> the will and moral courage of free men and women.
> -- Ronald Reagan