You may already know the myth of Charles John Joughin, the chief baker aboard the HMS Titanic, but if you don’t, his is as clear a description of what I mean by the phrase “the drinking class” as I can think of.
But first, three notes.
The first is this, the name of this site, “drinking class,” is from a (mis)quote of Oscar Wilde. The full quote comes from the Frank Harris biography Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions (©1916, although I used the 1918 version off Project Gutenberg) and it reads, “Just as work is the curse of the drinking classes of this country,” he said laughing, “so education is the curse of the acting classes.” Like so many of Wilde’s turns of phrase there’s a lot packed into very few words. The first thing to note is the Wildean reversal. The quote people know is “Drink is the curse of the working classes…” And of course, Wilde, who found work to be unbecoming a gentleman, finds his perverted version more palatable. The second thing to note is what he accomplishes with the first word, “just.” With that wave of the hand, Wilde showcases his famous arrogance, assuming not only that everyone already knows his witticism, but that it is so widely agreed upon that it acts as proof for the second clause.
Oscar Wilde is also an excellent example of the drinking class, just not the best one.
The second note is briefer and it reads like this: I like beer and whiskey and wine quotes as much as the next guy or lady that spends much of their limited free time writing and reading about drinking, but I find it incorrigible that so many people are content quoting haphazardly from one of the millions of quote sites choked with pop-up ads and merrily going along their way. Ben Franklin did not say that “beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Sorry. When I quote, I promise to try to find the source that exists at the intersection of authority and linkability. If no such source exists, I will apologize and note my failure.
Finally, I want to emphasize that the story I will relate about Charles Joughin is a myth, or more rightly, a legend. That’s fine, what better way to found a website about booze than to wrap it up in the cloak of legend.
The Legend of Charles John Joughin
The Drunken Baker of the Titanic
When the alarm went off aboard the HMS Titanic that the ship was going down, Charles Joughin was asleep in his quarters. He vaguely heard shouts, unofficial orders, that provisions should be sent to the lifeboats. He sent each of his thirteen bakers up with four loaves a piece. Meanwhile he raided the liquor cabinet. The Titanic was full of the very rich, and any old Oscar Wilde can tell you, the rich love to drink; and the cruise ship was very well stocked. Soon one of the best stocked bars in the world would be sitting at the bottom of a very cold, very dark sea, and Joughin, a thinking man and a drinking man, decided to not let a good opportunity pass him by.
Fortified with his midnight constitutional he proceeded to the decks where he commenced tossing women into the lifeboats. Some have declared this rough but ultimately acceptable behavior. In fact it was necessary. The ship had already begun listing and the lifeboats were hanging at a distance from the rail, much further than intended. The ladies needed tossing and toss them he did.
He then proceeded back to his bunk for another nip.
Refortified he proceeded to the decks where he began tossing chairs overboard for the stranded to use as flotation devices. The ship corkscrewed to port and Joughin proceeded upward toward the stern now using the outside of the ship as a floor. By the time he arrived at the rounded back end, it stood nearly 150 feet above the water. Joughin tightened his life belt and waited for the ship to sink. As it slipped below the surface, Joughin stepped off the Titanic into the water without even wetting his hair.
The rest is everyone’s story: with the help of a friend he clung to the edge of a full lifeboat until help finally arrived. I will not partake of the part of the myth where we all give three cheers for booze for keeping Joughin warm enough to avoid freezing to death. If anything Joughin survived despite being soaked in fine spirits, and while I have already said I like the myth of Joughin, that part is dangerous, and as I’m typing this while a “crippling ice storm” glazes my hometown, I’m not feeling especially lenient on that particular version of this story.
Nevertheless, Joughin, the Drunken Baker is a fine tale, cross cutting traditional economic class divisions and showcasing the best that the drinking classes have to offer: grace under fire, gentlemanly comportment, bravery, and never letting an opportunity to enjoy fine drink go to waste.
Not everyone who drinks is of the drinking classes. But I also don’t want to leave anyone the impression that only dandy-ish figures with good diction can make it in either. A member of the drinking class must drink, of course, and when one drinks intoxication can result, but intoxication is not (always) the goal. Rather, the drinking classes are aware that drinking is a perfectly acceptable activity that can provide immediate sensual pleasures and less tangible benefits as well. Drinking helps make and reify present connections with friends, family and acquaintances. It helps connect us to our past. At its best it also helps expand our knowledge and experiences beyond limited provincial and national interests and helps us know other cultures as well. Who doesn’t have at least one story of meeting , or being, a foreigner in a bar and experiencing the immediate and transitory friendships born of humorous toasts and raucous stories?
That’s who we are here, the drinking class.
You can read more about Joughin at these sites:
- The Wikipedia entry on the Drunken Baker
- A brief Bio of Joughin at the encyclopedia titanica
- An excerpt from Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember, which contains the best retelling of the entire myth
- Another retelling here which has the added benefit of a list of the quantities of booze on board
- Joughin’s testimony about the night the Titanic went down