Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A relishing soop preparatory to a fresh debauch

Bee Wilson at the TLS on the plight of coffee-growers and the eighteenth-century origins of coffee-house culture as revealed in Markman Ellis's anthology of primary sources. The fun part:
The main arguments in favour of coffee houses, in the words of an anonymous satire of 1661, were that they were “free to all comers”, promoted intermingling of different professions, “equality”, education and free discourse, and that coffee “makes no man drunk”, unlike the drinks served in ale-houses. However, in the view of this same satire, every one of these virtues had its corresponding vice. The freedom of speech led to time-wasting and “gabbling” (“Here men carried by instinct sipp muddy water, and like Frogs confusedly murmur Insignificant Notes, which tickle their own ears, and, to their inharmonious sense, make Music of jarring strings”). The education on offer was “a school . . . without a master”. As for the proposition that “coffee makes no man drunk”, the author suggests coffee houses encouraged drunkenness, because the effects of coffee “being mixt with the more drying smoak of Tobacco makes too many run to the Tavern or Alehouse to quench their thirst, which they cannot satisfy”.

The same point was made in a mock-petition of 1674, The Women’s Petition Against Coffee. The coffee house, in truth, was:

"Only a Pimp to the Tavern, a relishing soop preparative to a fresh debauch: For when people have swill’d themelves with a morning draught of more Ale than brewers horse can carry, hither they come for a pennyworth of Settle-brain . . . and after an hours impertinent Chat, begin to consider a bottle of Claret would do excellent well before Dinner; whereupon to the Bush they all march together, till every one of them is Drunk as a Drum, and then back again to the Coffee-House to drink themselves sober."

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