If there was ever a functioning drunkard it must have been Mark Twain (1835-1910). In our list of historical drunks there are some examples of troubled minds, but that was absolutely not the case for this American author. Fellow writer and heavy drinker William Faulkner would describe Twain as ‘The Father of American Literature’. His novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn became absolute classics. Yet the writer was known to drink all through the day.
Mark Twain was born as Samuel Langhorn Clemens and raised in Missouri near the river Mississippi, the wide stream that seperated the eastern states of America from the Wild West. As a first real job Clemens became a pilot on a steamboat on this mighty river. It’s a known fact that the constant presence of water makes people extremely thirsty and Clemens was no exception to that rule. When the American Civil War started in 1861 Clemens was out of work and started traveling. Soon he started writing under a pseudonym and the name Mark Twain was born.
Twain wrote for newspapers, produced short stories and novels and was well respected in his own time. Still there was always a bunch of jealous critics who would judge him for his heavy drinking and smoking. Indeed Twain drunk from morning till night but he would take a break from the bottle from time to time, just to show his critics he could. Other times he would just put them in their place with a brilliant line like: “You can’t get to old age by another man’s road. My vices protect me but they would assassinate you.”
Twain was a classic example of a heavy drinker and absolutely not an alcoholic. Basically he had two rules when it came to boozing; he never drank alone and he never turned down a drink if anyone offered him one. Or in his own words: “Never refuse to do a kindness unless the act would work great injury to yourself. And never refuse to take a drink – under any circumstances.”
Twain’s favorite drink was bourbon but after one of his tours through Europe he got to appreciate cocktails. In a letter he wrote to his wife he said: “Livy my darling, I want you to be sure & remember to have, in the bathroom, when I arrive, a bottle of Scotch whisky, a lemon, some crushed sugar, & a bottle of Angostura bitters. Ever since I have been in London I have taken in a wine glass what is called a cock-tail (made with those ingredients) before breakfast, before dinner, & just before going to bed.”
For those who want to try the Mark Twain cocktail at home, the recipe contains 45 ml of Scotch, 22 ml of fresh lemon juice, 30 ml of simple syrup and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters. Shake this mix with ice and serve in a chilled cocktail glass.
Mark Twain died in 1910 at age 74 of a heart attack, which is quite a respectable age given his lifestyle and the time he lived in. As his legend lives on through his work, we give the last words to the writer himself: “Of the demonstrably wise there are but two: those who commit suicide, and those who keep their reasoning faculties atrophied with drink.”