Revisiting The New York Times’ Civil War blog Disunion — A delightful peek at Whitman’s notebook, including sketches of Walt by his drinking buddies.
Walt was ambivalent about alcohol. Many Whitman biographers believe his father was alcoholic, and a friend recorded that Walt attributed his little brother’s developmental deficits to alcohol use, probably an accident or physical abuse, since Eddy’s troubles began at age two or three.
Temperance as a movement, however, left Walt cold. He called his 1842 (pre-Leaves of Grass) “temperance” novel, Franklin Evans, or the Inebriate “damned rot—rot of the worst sort,” and claimed to have fortified himself with liquor while writing it. Safe to say, Walt knew the dangers of abuse and wasn’t much interested in getting intoxicated. He did enjoy drinking occasionally and moderately.
Very late in his life, when suffering physical malaise, he was especially fond of champagne which “set him up.” After a tribute dinner in his very late life, Walt extolled the bubbly to a friend: “I can’t forget about the champagne, Horace, the iced champagne: how straight it went to the heart of the matter—to my need—setting up the whole night! To know what I know about the condition in which I went downstairs—then to know how the champagne lifted me! It is the explication of much!”
SOURCES: The New York Times, Disunion | Jean Huets, With Walt Whitman: Himself.