The Appendix has launched the final section of their new issue “In Motion” today, which includes a piece I wrote on the evolving perceptions of intoxication, “Blurred Forms: An Unsteady History of Drunkenness.” Just what effect did inebriation have on the body? Does drunkenness cause the drinker to resemble a beast more than man? Read along to see how views of drunkenness altered over the course of the early modern era.
In 1677, Edward Bury, a former minister of Great Bolas in Shropshire, and a contemporary of Clarke, wrote at length about the ways alcohol distorted the body. He posed to the reader, “Consider also how much this Beastly sin of Drunkenness doth debauch, defile, deform the Body of man.” Drinking, Bury claimed, transformed the body–a perfect work of creation–by turning “the Nose, the Eyes, the Cheeks… red and pimpled, the Face swoln like a Bladder, the Countenance disturbed, writhen, and deformed.” To Bury, the most comparable creature to the drunkard was the swine, as drunkards seemed to take great pleasure in wallowing in their own vomit, dung, and the dirt. Drunkards even came to resemble swine by crawling about, after losing control over their ability to walk; though, while beasts are serviceable in this manner, Bury remarked, “the Drunkard [is] good for nothing but to spend and consume.”