“The French seamen’s diet had to be composed of wine; it was considered a necessity.”

I can’t remember the context for this statement. It appears, in the Little Book of Horrors, between two other statements the content of which suggests they were written for my Capstone course on Justice and the Disenfranchised, so I can assume that this one comes from that seminar too, although I’m sure the paper wasn’t claiming that French seamen were disenfranchised, or at least not any more than anyone else in France other than aristocrats. Anyway, if from the Capstone, then a senior wrote it, and he was old enough to drink and may have been sympathetic with, or jealous of, the seamen.

If he had written “had to include wine,” we would be no more surprised than at a mention of grog in a British seaman’s diet in the eighteenth or nineteenth century. And I know that’s probably what he meant to say. But he didn’t; he said “had to be composed of”…and got into the Book.

Can’t you picture those seamen? It’s a wonder the French ever got anywhere, then: nothing but wine, wine, wine—not even a baguette to soak it up. Kind of like a luxury cruise, although on a luxury cruise the captain and crew probably stay sober, I’d imagine.

And what of that “it”? Is the writer referring to the wine as a necessity (probably), or the requirement that the diet be composed of wine as a necessity (possibly!)?

The semicolon’s okay, I guess, although if I’d been he I’d have used a colon. Okay, if I’d been he I wouldn’t have written this sentence, much though I like it.

To be fair, I’m pretty sure the main point of the paper wasn’t wine diets, or even the bill of fare of French seafarers, so probably this statement wasn’t one the student labored over or even paid much attention to. He was probably on his way to his point and didn’t stop to examine the route too carefully. But foggy thinking on the way to a point usually means the writer doesn’t actually reach his intended destination….

This is one of those statements that stay with me. I like its seeming certainty. I like the way “necessity” underscores, replicates, “had to be.” On some evenings I, too, consider wine a necessity, although I’m not sure I’d go so far as to make it the sole component of my diet. Yet.

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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