Sir Matthew Hale, born November 1, 1609, was an influential English legal scholar, barrister and judge throughout a good part of the 17thhealth1 century. Perhaps he was a bit of a stick in the mud as well. When he died, he left a rather unusual bit of advice for his grandchildren: “I will not have you begin or pledge any health, for it is become one of the greatest artifices of drinking, and occasions of quarreling in the kingdom. If you pledge one health, you oblige yourself to pledge another, and a third, and so onwards; and if you pledge as many as will be drank, you must be debauched and drunk.”

A fellow Englishman Charles Morton agreed, going so far as to dedicate a book to the subject: The great evil of health-drinking, or, A discourse wherein the original evil, and mischief of drinking of healths are discovered and detected, and the practice opposed with several remedies and antidotes against it, in order to prevent the sad consequences thereof. Catchy title, but most people probably just asked their booksellers for that book by Morton.

The French chimed in with their thoughts as well, the writer/philosopher Voltaire saying that “the custom arose among barbarous nations” (England) and that drinking to the health of one’s guests was “an absurd custom, since we may drink four bottles without doing them the least good.”

And of course they were all right. The slippery slope led to toasting any number of things on any number of occasions in addition to one’s health. The word toast, incidentally, crept into the language as a result of putting pieces of toast in the drinks (to make them healthier?).

One of the earliest known toasts or healths was ancient Saxon. At a banquet hosted by one Hengist, a mercenary in the employ of King Vortigern, the beautiful daughter of Hengist lifted a glass of wine to the king and said: “Lauerd kining, wacht heil” (Lord King your health). The king then drank and replied: “Drine heil” (Here’s looking at you, kid).

Inspiration for 11/1/16



2 thoughts on “November 1, 1609: I Was Just Drinking a Health and Wound Up Debauched and Drunk

  1. So it looks like Al Gore, our illustrious inventor of the internet, copied from Dan Quayle’s test paper in math class.

    By the way, does eating pizza with your beer make it healthier? Or do I actually have to put the pizza in the beer?

    1. At least he was smart enough not to copy from Quayle’s spelling paper. I know it has been attributed to both of them, and Quayle was VP earlier, but I was momentarily trying to be nonpartisan. In the beer, of course.

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