An innovative way of getting someone to stop drinking

This has to be one of the supremely comic passages I have ever read – in any language, even with the scheming – albeit in a good cause – that accompanies it, not to mention the twist in the end or even that thoughtful municipal authorities.

But it is the epitome of splendid characterisation and language deftly used to create a certain atmosphere. Observe how the author spins out the tale so vividly to build up a sort of suspense but never abandons his characteristic brand of humour.

Since it is a fairly long passage, I will break it into parts. The first is the background and how the plan is contrived. Read on…..

It was in Prague that Harris and I did a kind and friendly thing to George.  We had noticed for some time past that George was getting too fond of Pilsener beer.  This German beer is an insidious drink, especially in hot weather; but it does not do to imbibe too freely of it.  It does not get into your head, but after a time it spoils your waist.  I always say to myself on entering Germany:

“Now, I will drink no German beer.  The white wine of the country, with a little soda-water; perhaps occasionally a glass of Ems or potash.  But beer, never—or, at all events, hardly ever.”

It is a good and useful resolution, which I recommend to all travellers.  I only wish I could keep to it myself.  George, although I urged him, refused to bind himself by any such hard and fast limit.  He said that in moderation German beer was good.

“One glass in the morning,” said George, “one in the evening, or even two.  That will do no harm to anyone.”

Maybe he was right.  It was his half-dozen glasses that troubled Harris and myself.

“We ought to do something to stop it,” said Harris; “it is becoming serious.”

“It’s hereditary, so he has explained to me,” I answered.  “It seems his family have always been thirsty.”

“There is Apollinaris water,” replied Harris, “which, I believe, with a little lemon squeezed into it, is practically harmless.  What I am thinking about is his figure.  He will lose all his natural elegance.”

We talked the matter over, and, Providence aiding us, we fixed upon a plan.  For the ornamentation of the town a new statue had just been cast.  I forget of whom it was a statue.  I only remember that in the essentials it was the usual sort of street statue, representing the usual sort of gentleman, with the usual stiff neck, riding the usual sort of horse—the horse that always walks on its hind legs, keeping its front paws for beating time.  But in detail it possessed individuality.  Instead of the usual sword or baton, the man was holding, stretched out in his hand, his own plumed hat; and the horse, instead of the usual waterfall for a tail, possessed a somewhat attenuated appendage that somehow appeared out of keeping with his ostentatious behaviour.  One felt that a horse with a tail like that would not have pranced so much.

It stood in a small square not far from the further end of the Karlsbrücke, but it stood there only temporarily.  Before deciding finally where to fix it, the town authorities had resolved, very sensibly, to judge by practical test where it would look best.  Accordingly, they had made three rough copies of the statue—mere wooden profiles, things that would not bear looking at closely, but which, viewed from a little distance, produced all the effect that was necessary.  One of these they had set up at the approach to the Franz-Josefsbrücke, a second stood in the open space behind the theatre, and the third in the centre of the Wenzelsplatz.

“If George is not in the secret of this thing,” said Harris—we were walking by ourselves for an hour, he having remained behind in the hotel to write a letter to his aunt,—“if he has not observed these statues, then by their aid we will make a better and a thinner man of him, and that this very evening.”

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