A Man Is a Fool If He Drinks Before He Reaches Fifty, and a Fool If He Doesn’t Drink Afterward

Frank Lloyd Wright? William Faulkner? The Elder Gross? Charles Seiberling? Charles Douville Coburn? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The celebrated and innovative architect Frank Lloyd Wright is credited with the following remark about alcohol consumption:

A man is a fool if he drinks before he reaches the age of 50, and a fool if he doesn’t afterward.

Recently, I found a very similar saying attributed to the major literary figure William Faulkner:

But a man shouldn’t fool with booze until he’s fifty; then he’s a damnfool if he doesn’t.

Are these quotations accurate? Is it possible that one of these individuals heard it from the other? Perhaps this saying predates Wright and Faulkner. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The quotations ascribed to Frank Lloyd Wright and William Faulkner are well-founded and detailed citations for them are given further below.

The idea that drinking in the early decades of life might attenuate its long-term pleasurability can be found in the eighteenth century. Here is an example in a Salem, Massachusetts newspaper in 1792 where the age of demarcation was thirty. Boldface has been added to some excerpts: 1

Do you think that singing boys take great delight in music? Satiety makes it rather tedious to them. He who drinks before he is thirty, can take no great pleasure in drinking.

By 1900 a statement matching the sayings used by Wright and Faulkner was in circulation. The guideline was offered as medical advice during the Annual Meeting of the American Social Science Association: 2

The best judges of the proper use or abuse of alcohol are medical men, who carefully note causes and effect. I would rather have personally observed facts than whole tomes of theories. In youth alcohol is of no benefit: it is harmful. In the aged it is a blessing, if used properly. Some one has said, “A man is a fool who drinks before he is fifty, and a blank fool who does not do so moderately thereafter.” Whiskey should be taken by the aged when overcome with fatigue and before taking food, as a tired man has a tired stomach; and a small portion of the stimulant will lift up the vitality and make good digestion possible.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Man Is a Fool If He Drinks Before He Reaches Fifty, and a Fool If He Doesn’t Drink Afterward

Notes:

  1. 1792 September 11, Salem Gazette, Volume VI, Number 309, An Extract, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Salem, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1900 December, Journal of Social Science, Number 38, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the American Social Science Association Held in Washington, D.C. on May 7 to May 11, 1900, (Comments at the close of the morning session of the Department of Education and Art on May 9, 1900), Start Page 125, Quote Page 127 and 128, Published for the American Social Science Association by Damrell & Upham and the Boston Book Company, Boston, Massachusetts and G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Google Books full view) link