What happens at the coffeehouse…

With the whole “Sin City” marketing strategy, it feels like a lot of Las Vegans think that they invented hedonism. I mean, people have been getting plastered and doing stupid things for millennia. I guess the genius of Las Vegas is that its promoters have boiled this down to a soundbite.

Doing research for Roll the Bones, I happened across several “Vegas stories” of wild excess that happened centuries before there was a Vegas.

Submitted for your approval, one William Byrd II. A prosperous Virginia planter, he kept details of his life in a “Secret Diary.” Much of it is pretty monotonous–he starts most days by eating boiled milk and reading in Greek and Hebrew–but one day ended in shame.

From the Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, November 23, 1711:

I rose about 7 o’clock and read a chapter in Hebrew and some Greek in Homer. I said my prayers and ate boiled milk for breakfast. Several gentlemen came to my lodgings. About 10 o’clock I went to the capitol where I danced my dance and then wrote in my journal. It was very cold this morning. About 11 o’clock I went to the coffeehouse where the Governor also came and from thence we went to the capitol and read the bill concerning ports the first time. We stayed till 3 o’clock and then went to dinner to Marot’s but could get none there and therefore Colonel Lewis and I dined with Colonel Duke and I ate broiled chicken for dinner. After dinner we went to Colonel Carter’s room where we had a bowl of punch of French brandy and oranges. We talked very lewdly and were almost drunk and in that condition we went to the coffeehouse and played at dice and I lost 12 pounds. We stayed at the coffeehouse until almost 4 o’clock in the morning talking with Major Harrison. Then I went to my lodging, where I committed uncleanliness, for which I humbly beg God Almighty’s pardon.

The next morning, Byrd woke around 8. Colonel Carter “and several others” came to his room “to laugh at me for my disorder last night.” Byrd made a solemn vow never to lose more than 50 schillings while gaming–less than a week later he broke it. He turned in a 5 o’clock, wrote a few letters, then went to sleep, possibly still hung over. He closes that day’s entry with “I said my prayers and has good health, good thoughts, and good humor, thank God Almighty.”

Byrd basically did everything that people do on their Vegas vacations today: he hung out with friends, got drunk, gambled, and committed a tantalizingly vague act of uncleanliness. Unlike most contemporary hedonists, though, he felt bad about his night of excess.

I thought this was kind of funny (especially the part about dancing his dance), but also poingant. Byrd really felt bad about whatever he did. It makes me wonder what our descendants will think of us when they excavate a crate filled with “Vegas stories” commercials and reality TV episodes.

Spread the love