On Drinking, the Devil, and Paradise Lost

Ed Simon Searches for Milton’s Grave While Getting Blackout Drunk in Pubs

By Ed Simon

After aimlessly walking about Bloomsbury on an intermittently rainy afternoon, I unsuccessfully decided to search for the grave of John Milton while nursing a wicked hangover, or as is probably more likely, while still being drunk from the previous evening.

Only my second week in London, I was supported with a modest graduate stipend for my research at the British Library, mornings spent at that modernist building with the red-brick facade not far from the Victorian ostentation of King’s Cross Station, requesting four-and five-hundred year old books brought to me by pleasant librarians at concerningly efficient speed.

Obscure books such as the Puritan-minded Anglican divine William Crashaw’s A Sermon preached before the right honorable the Lord Lawarre, Lord Govoernour and Captaine Genrall of Virginea….Feb. 21, 1609 and the Scottish New World speculator William Alexander, the First Earl of Stirling’s 1614 epic poem Doomes-day. Every evening, however, since I’d arrived from Philadelphia, I’d started at the pubs while the sun was still out, because what else could be expected with the unnervingly late northern dusk?

Pint after pint of real ale at the Queen’s Head not far from the library; drams of Jameson’s at The Boot; Guinness at Miller’s across from the train station and, when feeling homesick and slightly patriotic, Sam Adams at the Old Red Lion Theatre Pub. As A. E. Housman wrote in that most English of poetic cycles, 1896’s A Shropshire Lad, “malt does more than Milton can / To justify God’s ways to man.”

Ostensibly here to transcribe sixteenth and seventeenth-century books that endowed geographical discoveries with apocalyptic significance, the majority of nights were either spent at the theater or getting horrendously shit-faced, blackout drunk. If I knew what pub my nights started at, I rarely remembered where they ended, though by the good graces of Something I was always able to stumble back mostly safely into the University of London dorm which I rented for an amazingly cheap price.

That summer, London suffered through an uncharacteristic heat wave, and the thin-blooded British hadn’t outfitted any of the dorms with air-conditioning, while all the windows were suicide-proof, making respite impossible and requiring several cold showers a day just to regulate body temperature. On top of that, my room looked directly into Joseph Grimaldi Park, named after the nineteenth-century master of pantomime who is entombed there. Hot, sweaty, drunk, and watched over by the spirit of a dead clown—July, 2013. Continue reading