For those who believe in the veracity of the Slater stories, this direct explanation accounts for how one man can be the main character in a series of stories spanning over 300 years. Even those who can't possibly believe one man, let alone a rabid alcoholic such as Slater, could live 300 years are hard pressed to explain certain oddities such as the modern idioms with which Slater tends to express himself. For instance, in the story London Fog, Slater is threatened with bodily harm after referring to a tavern owner’s daughter as a “tasty, fine ass bitch.” In unabridged versions, this quote expands to: “I’d choke that tasty, fine ass bitch with my King Kong dong.” William proceeds to elaborate he was simply using idioms familiar to him. He is under the impression he'd complimented the girl in some fashion. However, recognizing the ensuing misunderstanding, at knife point William professes regret for the statement, especially once he realizes his counter threat to“smoke all y’all muthafuckas with my 9” is unlikely to occur in 1843. Slater accounts for such misunderstandings simply by saying his behaviors only seem odd because they're not contemporary to the time periods he inhabits. (Although, one is hard pressed to find even a modern occasion where wanting to choke a young woman with one's penis is a compliment.)
Historians used to find this explanation hard to swallow. After all, it would mean believing Slater is a real person. Yet, despite many historians writing him off as a kind of Orlando, this has by no means diminished the amount of historiographers tracking stories about him. In fact, several Ph.D’s have made careers, or at least devoted hobbies, out of collecting William Henry Slater stories.
The next several hundred years feature Mr. Slater in some form or another traveling around the globe. What seems to make his legend enduring is that he rarely, if ever, encounters historically significant persons. For instance, typical fiction involving immortal characters such as Mr. Slater often has them becoming a part of significant developments across time or interacting with and perhaps even inspiring globe shaping individuals. It would therefore be expected and in no way outside the bounds of reason to find Mr. Slater rubbing shoulders with Thomas Jefferson, meeting Nietzsche for a beer, inspiring one or more of Gogol’s characters, or even giving advice on brevity to Lincoln before the Gettysburg Address. However, there are no such encounters.
Slater stories read more like a collection of bar fables featuring a radically similar individual throughout time. Professor George Tomlinson has put forth the idea these stories are actually more akin to Grimm’s fairytales insofar as they seem like the cautionary tales one learns while acclimating to tavern culture. Case in point: William Slater is driven from a tavern in Munich after a two day bender/debate on what makes a good meat pie. The moral here being never argue with drunk people told in an allegorical fashion. Here Slater and the dissenting German embark on a heated debate for a time longer than any human being could reasonably be expected to consider any topic much less one so frivolous. Yet, the point is clear, especially when one considers the end of the story in which Slater wins the day by being able to piss farther than the German. This, incidentally, happens to be the first recorded instance of a literal pissing contest.
Based on Prof. Tomlinson’s studies, many accepted this idea of Slater as not one but several individuals who have over time been amalgamated into one character. Still, this did not explain the profoundly predictive nature of certain story elements. In The Parisian and the Pussy Slater encounters a local Paris police officer. This is one of the oldest written Slater accounts, the bulk being handed down orally till their first written collection in 1890. The Parisian and the Pussy takes place in 1801. In it Slater is drunk, as usual, and attempting to solicit the location of a brothel from locals. He comes across a morally inclined member of the constabulary who attempts to redirect Slater to somewhere more wholesome, or at the least home to bed. An argument ensues. Many historians tried to explain away the nature of the following exchange by claiming the content absorbed contemporary elements over time -- the story transmuting to fit a contemporary era. This argument held water till a collector named Alexander Mahalovich discovered a folio containing the oldest copy of this particular story ever found. It has been confirmed that the manuscript dates to 1802. The dialogue it contains is as follows.
Paris Police: “Perhaps, monsieur, would prefer home to debauchery?”
Slater: “No. I want to bang on a dirty skank like a drum that moans. Get my dick wet. I’m all about getting gashtacular tonight. You feel me? Can you just be coolio for a minute and direct me to some booty-cooz.”
Paris Police: "I'm afraid I do not entirely understand."
Slater: "What I need, a fuckin' Speak 'N' Spell to make it plain? Where the bitches at?"
How did a 19th century story teller come up with dialogue like this?
It’s a question to which we may never really know the answer. Granted, Slater stories continue to surface, though given the fact his antics are less distinguishable given our modern atmosphere it’s hard to track the origin of these new tales. Retracing one to a ground zero, as it were, might provide insight into the development of such stories. However, it won’t answer the burning questions.
Like in the Slater exploit known as William’s Slippery Fist in which he escapes from a choke hold thanks to being slicked by “cunt butter.” That being said, the sexual element in this story has very little to do with its ending. This is a story about how drunkenness can result in poor gambling decisions. As such, it’s interesting to note that based on this story William Henry Slater is accredited with the invention of Texas Hold ‘Em. Myriad explanations might suffice for such a thing if it were not for one line in the story. Here William is addressing a crowd assembled in a Spanish tavern to watch his new game: “You think this is wild, you should see this shit on TV.”
The specific reference to television has baffled historians for some time. Many have endeavored to find corollaries implying William is here referring to having witnessed the game in some city. In other words, TV in this instance is believed by many to be a reference to locations such as Tra Vinh in Vietnam, Finland’s Tuupovaara, or Thanjuvar, India, the initials being abbreviations familiar to the story’s era, roughly 1895. Some collections of William Slater tales even go so far as to include footnotes which read, “the initials of an as yet unidentified locale.” The simple fact of the matter being any other interpretation of the text raises a possibility no one wants to embrace: the likelihood these stories are real.
Ever since Troy was discovered the veracity of myths has come into play. Regardless of what kernels of truth give reality to Arthurian legends, without credible facts everything is just speculation. Yes, it would be nice to know certain aspects of fiction are real. What animal inspired the dragon, what actual things are a part of the Arabian Nights, who was the real C. Auguste Dupin? It would be nice to have some truth at the base of fiction. That might mean fantasy is not so removed from reality; The realities in fiction make it possible for us to be the heroes of fiction. So what does that say when people hope that a 300 year old debauched alcoholic is real? More importantly, what does his existence say about us?
Granted, William Slater is entertaining. For example, while traveling through Russia he enters into a drinking contest with a wheat farmer. This takes place in about 1886. There he bets he can drink more shots of vodka than the farmer, however, each man can only drink shots balanced on a saber. What ensues is a contest of distractions more than balance as each man attempts to throw the other off with vulgar statements.
The farmer: “You cowardly muzhik. May dogs eat your manhood at your mother’s request.”
Slater: “Yo momma’s pussy is so big we’re in it. Now. She must be getting excited too because it looks like rain. Probably why it smells so bad around here too. No, wait. That‘s the death. The ever present death. I forgot I was in Rus.”
The farmer: “You are nothing but a jellied mass of weakness and fear.”
Slater: “I hope the next time you’re fucking your wife your penis splits open and angry bugs flood her pussy then eat up both ya junk.”
Needless to say the competition ends in a sword fight. Slater wins the day after being punched in the stomach by the farmer. The punch causes Slater to projectile vomit in the Russian‘s face. Blinded, the farmer is unable to defend himself from Slater’s killing blow. The exact moral of this story has never been nailed down. As such, it’s being used here to illustrate how William Henry Slater is vulgarly entertaining yet the idea of such a person being real is an unsettling prospect to say the least. Still, more and more historians have begun to wonder: what’s the truth behind William Henry Slater? Although, those who go looking for it often find themselves saying, “I don’t think I want to know.”
Sometimes stories should just be stories.
Albrecht, Carson and Mary E. Chalmers. At the Bottom of the Bottle: a collection of William Henry Slater Fables. Toronto: Gilson Brothers. 2003.
Brooks, Wendy and Sean McClay, comps. and eds. Lessons in Liquor: a compilation of critical essays examining William Henry Slater fables. New York: Goodman Greers, 1975.
Hollander, Elizabeth. A Passion for Scoundrels. London: Albershot Press, 1899.
Lennehan, Devin. The King of Princes: Slater fables and their historical context. New York: Harps, 1963.
Mahalovich, Alexander. "An Authentic Alcoholic: the reality of William Henry Slater." Journal of Global History 43.2 (1991): 50-69.
Prince, Thomas L. "Who Cares if It's Real?" Skeptical Inquiries vol. 13 (1999): 27-32.
Tomlinson, George. William Henry Slater: a many faceted diamond in the rough. New York: Ridale Press, 1979.