Given the uncertain quality of drinking water and the high cost of tea and coffee (tea caddies frequently came equipped with locks to prevent the deprivations of light-fingered servants) it is hardly surprising that the Georgians were given to drinking enormous quantities of alcohol.
During the Treaty of Amiens – the period of peace between England and France that lasted from March 1802 to May 1803 ‒ the more relaxed trade between the two countries meant there was an upsurge in the drinking of French claret and fortified wines such as Madeira. Madeira is especially interesting as it was much favoured by sugar planters in the West Indies as it was one of the few wines which relished the hot and humid conditions of the Caribbean.
For the poor there was beer and gin. Although efforts had been made to stem the consumption of gin – notably the Gin Act of 1751 – it remained the tipple of choice in the rookeries and its effects were still as noticeable. This can be seen by the great number of words in Georgian slang for being drunk … as was explained by a character of mine, Inkie Blott, when she is invited by the Reverend Simkins to partake of a glass of port.
‘My sensibilities do permit,’ Inkie conceded and, so saying, took the proffered glass and the seat next to the Reverend. ‘On a cold night such as this I have never an opposition to partaking ov a nerver.’
‘That is the common term for a strong drink, Sir.’ Inkie raised her glass. ‘Your health, Sir.’
‘And yours, Miss Blott.’ After taking a sip of his port, the Reverend took up his note book and made an entry. ‘It is my belief the words that predominate in the patois of the working class are those describing the aspects of their society which are of most import to them. Would you agree, Miss Blott?’
‘If I catch your drift aright, Sir, you have the belief that the more slang words there are for somefing the more important that somefing is to people.’
‘A pithy and accurate précis, Miss Blott. Let us take strong drink for example. I am advised that this is of great importance to the working classes in London.’
‘Oh, it is that, Sir; everywun likes an antifogmatic to keep out the cold.’
‘An “antifogmatic”, another word for my notebook. Are there others, Miss Blott?’
‘Lots and lots, Sir, but mainly they refer to the consequences ov drink: drunkenness.’
‘Fascinating. Could you give me examples?’
‘Plenty ov those, Sir. Those ’oo have taken too much booze on board may be described as being muddled, muzzled, malted, full ov bung, fogged, foxed, swiggled―’
The Reverend held up a hand to stop Inkie’s verbal onslaught. ‘A moment, Miss Blott, I beg you. My pencil cannot keep up with your outpourings.’
‘―boiled, dopey, corked or embalmed.’
‘Truly excellent,’ and with that the Reverend topped up Inkie’s glass from the rapidly emptying bottle.
Inkie giggled. ‘That bottle, Sir, may now be best described as dead and I should warn you I am in danger of becoming as drunk as a wheelbarrow.’