Sunday, March 14, 2010

Some Interesting Claims Made About Coffee

One can not fail to note in connection with the introduction of coffee into England that the beverage suffered most from the indiscretions of its friends. On the one hand, the quacks of the medical profession sought to claim it for their own; and, on the other, more or less ignorant laymen attributed to the drink such virtues as its real champions among the physicians never dreamed of. It was the favorite pastime of its friends to exaggerate coffee's merits; and of its enemies, to vilify its users. All this furnished good "copy" for and against the coffee house, which became the central figure in each new controversy.

From the early English author who damned it by calling it "more wholesome than toothsome", to Pasqua Rosée and his contemporaries, who urged its more fantastic claims, it was forced to make its way through a veritable morass of misunderstanding and intolerance. No harmless drink in history has suffered more at hands of friend and foe.

Did its friends hail it as a panacea, its enemies retorted that it was a slow poison. In France and in England there were those who contended that it produced melancholy, and those who argued it was a cure for the same. Dr. Thomas Willis (1621–1673), a distinguished Oxford physician whom Antoine Portal (1742–1832) called "one of the greatest geniuses that ever lived", said he would sometimes send his patients to the coffee house rather than to the apothecary's shop. An old broadside, described later in this chapter, stressed the notion that if you "do but this Rare ARABIAN cordial use, and thou may'st all the Doctors Slops Refuse."

As a cure for drunkenness its "magic" power was acclaimed by its friends, and grudgingly admitted by its foes. This will appear presently in a description of the war of the broadsides and the pamphlets. Coffee was praised by one writer as a deodorizer. Another (Richard Bradley), in his treatise concerning its use with regard to the plague, said if its qualities had been fully known in 1665, "Dr. Hodges and other learned men of that time would have recommended it." As a matter of fact, in Gideon Harvey's Advice against the Plague, published in 1665, we find, "coffee is commended against the contagion."

This is how the drink's sobering virtue was celebrated by the author of the Rebellious Antidote:

Come, Frantick Fools, leave off your Drunken fits. Obsequious be and I'll recall your Wits, From perfect Madness to a modest Strain For farthings four I'll fetch you back again, Enable all your mene with tricks of State, Enter and sip and then attend your Fate; Come Drunk or Sober, for a gentle Fee, Come n'er so Mad, I'll your Physician be.

A Dr. Willis, in his Pharmaceutice Rationalis (1674), was one of the first to attempt to do justice to both sides of the coffee question. At best, he thought it a somewhat risky beverage, and its votaries must, in some cases, be prepared to suffer languor and even paralysis; it may attack the heart and cause tremblings in the limbs. On the other hand it may, if judiciously used, prove a marvelous benefit; "being daily drunk it wonderfully clears and enlightens each part of the Soul and disperses all the clouds of every Function."

It was a long time before recognition was obtained for the truth about the "novelty drink"; especially that, if there were any beyond purely social virtues to be found in coffee, they were "political rather than medical."

Dr. James Duncan, of the Faculty of Montpellier, in his book Wholesome Advice against the Abuse of Hot Liquors, done into English in 1706, found coffee no more deserving of the name of panacea than that of poison.

George Cheyne (1671–1743), the noted British physician, proclaimed his neutrality in the words, "I have neither great praise nor bitter blame for the thing."

2 comments:

  1. I would agree with the positive aspects of coffee and how it clears the senses.

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