Monday, April 22, 2013


Aquae Potoribus

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?), Antepenultimata (New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1912), pp. 353-355:
Do I not drink water? Yes, a little—when instigated by thirst. Does any one drink it under any other circumstances? Does any one drink it because he likes it?—or rather, does any one like it when not suffering from a disagreeable disorder? We take water as medicine for the disease thirst. It is to be considered as a remedial agent—but so vilely compounded in nature's laboratory and so distasteful to the normal palate that the world in all ages has been virtually united in avoiding it. Nothing has so stimulated human ingenuity and invited such constant investments as the discovery, invention and manufacture of palatable substitutes for plain water; and nothing could be more unphilosophical than to attribute this universal movement to perversity or caprice. Extravagant as are some of its manifestations, deplorable as are some of its consequences, at the back of it all, as at the back of every wide and persistent trend of human activity, is some imperious and unsleeping necessity.

Consider, if you will be so good, what "drinking-water" actually is. It is the world's sewage. It is what that dirty boy, the earth, has washed his face with. The wells, rivers and rills are nature's slop-buckets, and the lowland springs are not much better; all soluble substances on or near the surface of the earth eventually get into them. Melted mountain snow is pure enough, but by the time it reaches the lip of the flatlander it is a solution of abomination. It is macerated man. It is hydrate of dead dog with an infusion of all that is untidy—infested with germs of nameless plagues, carrying ferocious anthropophagi and loaded with mordant minerals. By many scientists it is held that age is simply a disease caused, mainly, by cumulative deposits of lime and other inorganic matter in the organs of the body, most of them taken in water. If our drink were free of minerals and depeopled of its little reptiles it is probable that we might live a thousand years and die of the minerals and reptiles in our food—those of us who are not shot or hanged.

The protagonists of water tell us that it is the natural drink of man. We drink it for economy, from ignorance or inattention, from hereditary habit bequeathed to us by barbarian ancestors who had nothing else and knew not the sacred grape. They ate beetles, too, stale fish and one another. Were these the natural food of man? Man has no natural food and drink; he takes what he can get. An infant race is like an infant individual: whatever it can lay its hands on goes into its dauby mouth.

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