Why was Johnson so unprepared to concede anything to those who maintained that there could be sociableness in the drinking of wine? The answer lies, I think, in that avidity for wine revealed in that apparently innocent choice of word, "require": "I require wine [...]". The crucial remark comes when Johnson-who at this point was in a phase of abstinence-proposes a general principle which reflects back sharply on his own life: "After a man has brought himself to relinquish the great personal pleasure which arises from drinking wine, any other consideration is a trifle." This was surely Johnson's own situation. His need for and susceptibility to wine made it a source of both great pleasure and great peril: "When I drank wine, I scorned to drink it when in company. I have drunk many a bottle by myself; in the first place, because I had need of it to raise my spirits; in the second place, because I would have nobody to witness its effects upon me." It was this consciousness of dependency on something which had the potential to shame him which Johnson found intolerable: "It is so much better for a man to be sure that he is never to be intoxicated, never to lose the power over himself." It made drinking for him not the sociable relaxation it evidently was (or became) for Reynolds, but an activity which required prudence and art: "Drinking may be practised with great prudence; a man who exposes himself when he is intoxicated, has not the art of getting drunk; [...] I used to slink home, when I had drunk too much."
That word "slink" draws attention to itself. In his Dictionary Johnson defined "to slink" as "to sneak; to steal out of the way", and he illustrated it by means of quotations from Paradise Lost, describing Satan leaving Eve after he has tempted her to eat the apple, and from a speech Swift wrote for an executed criminal, Ebenezer Elliston, in which he confesses that "a wise Man would easily find us to be Rogues by our Faces, we have such a suspicious, fearful and constrained Countenance, often turning back, and slinking through narrow Lanes and Alleys." These quotations evoke well the connotations of furtive guilt which, for Johnson, hung around the word he chose to describe himself after taking wine.
The physical pleasure of drinking wine was so strong for Johnson that, once he had for the time being conquered it, he armoured his mind against entertaining any argument which might undermine his resolve to abstain. Hence the agitated brutality of his dismissal of the milder thoughts of Reynolds and Boswell, who made the drinking of wine seem like, not the lonely duel between the resolved and created pleasure which it appears so often to have been for Johnson, but rather an innocent ritual which strengthened the bonds of society.