In 1933, inspired by watching his then-seven year-old son climbing high into the branches of a tree, Littell penned a lengthy meditation on the things a young man should know to be a successful member of society. As he himself put it in an essay in Harper's, "What are those abilities, skills, or accomplishments, those extra-curricular proficiencies that every man should have in order to be rounded and self-sufficient, and when can he acquire them, and how?"
Many of Littell's 'extra-curricular proficiencies are those that would come immediately to most of our minds. Things like cook, drive a car, swim, and speak in public seem somewhat self-evident.
But Littell had an advanced sense of what it takes to be a man, whether during the Depression or now. As he writes:
American social habits being what they are, there is one indoor skill which seems to me not only far more important than bridge or dancing, but actually compulsory — drinking. A young man who could convince me that his lips really would never touch liquor might be let off my required course in drinking. But he would be an exceedingly rare bird, and alcohol is so much more evident a liquid in the United States than water that it is probably quite as necessary for a young man to learn how to drink as it is for him to learn how to swim. If the youth of the country had been taught how to drink, just as they were taught not to eat between meals or swallow before they had chewed, we should never have had Prohibition. It is a more difficult art than most, for every man reacts differently, and every man should know, long before the time when (according to our customs) he indulges in his first collegiate binge, whether liquor goes to his head, his legs, or his morals, whether he is the type that sings, fights, weeps, climbs lamp-posts, or pinches the girls. Furthermore, he should learn his capacity and stick within its limits; he should know something about the different kinds of drink, and which drinks produce chaos within him when mixed. By all means let him leave drink alone if he wants to. But since, nine times out of ten, he will drink, let him do so sensibly.Other than the 'stick within his limits' nonsense, I endorse Mr. Littell's advice wholeheartedly. Bear this great American in mind this week, gentlemen (and ladies, be sure to stay away from girl-pinchers), as you celebrate our great nation's independence. Since ten times out of ten, we will drink, let us do so sensibly-ish.