A Character of Coffee and Coffee-Houses (1661)
-- Digital version: Janet Clarkson (Australia), Thomas Gloning (Germany), 25.7.2003
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Printed for John Starkey, neer the Devil-Tavern, by
A Coffee-house is free to all Comers, so they have
Humane shape, where a Liquor made of an
Arabian Berry called Coffee is drunk. Six or seven
years ago was it first brought into England,
when the Palats of the English were as Fanatical, as their
Brains. Like Apes, the English imitate all other people
in their ridiculous Fashions. As Slaves they submit to the
Customes even of Turky and India. Doth the French-man
wear Feathers in his Hat, and Pantaloons to hide his stradling?
Believe it, the English-man will be a la mode de
France. With the Barbarous Indian he smoaks Tobacco.
With the Turk he drinks Coffee.
The English-man, might he himself misplace, // Herb. | with some
Sure to be crosse, would shift both feet and face. // little altering.\\
2. These capricious Islanders, of the Hop, Malt, Cock,
China, Rash-berry, and other ingredients, make and swallow
as many and as various sorts of Drink, as they amongst
them have Sects and Opinions. They drink as much Canary,
as its native Countrey produceth. 'Tis said, they devoure
down a greater quantity of Wine, (called Canary)
than the Canaries afford. All Countries send in hither their
several sorts of Wine and other Liquors. This variety of
drink satisfies not the voraginous Palat of the English.
Even the Deserts of Arabia are ransackt for a Berry, which
made into a drink, is as thick as puddle-water, and so
ugly in colour and tast, that Poets hereafter will undoubtedly
choose it, as the best resemblance to describe the Stygian
Lake by. Oh Heavens, how do the English Palats
differ from those of more sober Nations? These preserve
Snow to temper their Liquor with, those gulch down
Coffee even boyling in the Dish, more eagerly, than an
almost [st]arved Dog doth lick up Pottage, just then taken
from the fierce fire. In time (sure) the English-man will
swallow down burning Coals.
3. Coffee is a Dryer, and therefore with successe is
drunk by those Gentlemen, who are infected with the
French-pox, which is now become the Characteristal
difference between the plumed Nobless and the high-shoon.
Alas, Vertue is a pedantical and vulgar quality.
4. 'Tis extolled for drying up the Crudities of the
Stomack, and for expelling Fumes out of the Head.
Excellent Berry! which can cleanse the English-man's
Stomak of Flegm, and expel Giddinesse out of his Head.
Yet it is certain, that for the small space of an hour or
thereabouts it hath expelled out of an English head and
Stomack these infirmities. But after such a little interval,
they return again. And the house being thus swept and
cleansed, seven Devils enter it. For Physicians say, that
Coffee causeth the Meagrim and other Giddinesses in the
Head, &c. Of this dayly experiment may be made: For
if you set Short-hand-writers to take down the Discourse
of the Company, who prattle over Coffee, it
will be evident on reading the Notes, that the talk is
extravagant and exactly like that of the Academians of
Bedlam, and such, as any others, would be asham'd of
5. Coffee makes no man drunk. But for this, it is no
more to be commended, than a Neates-tongue, a dish
of Anchovaes, or a salt Bit, which never yet intoxicated
any man. For Coffee being mixt with the more drying
smoak of Tobacco makes too many run to the Tavern or
Ale-house to quench their thirst, which they cannot satisfy,
till out of their gorged stomacks, they send up rich Sacrifices
to Liber Pater.
6. This forein Liquor in truth qualifies the Vapours
of Wine, which makes your Good Fellows resort thither
to heat their Stomacks made cold and infirm by their
having powred thereinto too too much Wine, and thus they
inable their weak Stomacks to receive a new Load. But
hereby in part may be made a Judgment of the good Company
of this place. O Heavens! how well will the Barrels
of Herings (imposed on these houses) agree with Coffee.
7. Coffee being dry, in proportion, dryes up the Radical
moisture. By constant use thereof, a man becomes,
----- ad unum
Mollis opus -------
The other Sex hath just cause to curse the day, in which it
was brought into England; Had Women any sense or spirit,
they would remonstrate to his Majestie, that Men in
former times were more able, than now, They had stronger
Backs, and were more Benevolent, so that Hercules in one
night got fifty Women with Child, and a Prince of Spain
was forc'd to make an Edict, that the Men should not repeat
the act of Coition above nine times in a night, for before
that Edict, belike Men did exceed that proportion; That in
this Age, Men drink so many Spirits and Essences, so much
Strong-water, so many several sorts of Wine, such abundance
of Tobacco, and (now at last) pernicious Coffee, that
they are grown as impotent as Age, as dry and as unfruitful,
as the Deserts of Africk. Having remonstrated this, they
then would (were they wise) petition his Majesty to forbid
Men the drinking of effeminating Coffee, and to command
them instead thereof to drink delicious Chocolate.
8. 'Tis the Interest also of Women to have this drink
damn'd, lest the Men bereave them of one of their most
excellent and appropriated Qualities, that is Garrulity and
Talkativeness. In this Age Men tattle more than Women,
and particularly at the Coffee-house, when the number hath
been but six, five of them have talkt at one time. The
Company here have out-talk'd an equal number of Gossipping
Women, and made a greater noise than a Bake-house.
Men are here born down by clamour, which resembles at
times the noise of the Cataracts of Nilus, but alwayes
resembles a School, fill'd with Children, every one conning
his Lesson aloud.
9. 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
Musick of jarring strings. Hic fluvius Verborum, vix gutta
10. In this confused way of gabbling the Coffee-drinkers
fondly imagine, that they make a better Consort, than four
and twenty Violins. They run from point to point, from
one subject to another, as insensibly and as swifty, as Polewheel
runs division on the Base Viol.
11. The day sufficeth not some Persons to drink 3. or 4
dishes of Coffee in. They borrow of the night, though they
are sure, that this drink taken so late, will not let them close
their Eyes all night. These men are either afraid to be alone
with themselves, or they to excess love Company, so that
they never set apart any time to converse with themselves.
This ill-tasted Liquor (by what charms I know not) makes
Men to neglect and forsake themselves; for
who cannot rest, till he good Fellows find,
He breaks up house, turns out of dores his mind. //Herb.\\
12. At this place a man is cheated of what is, by far more
valuable than Mony, that is, Time. A constant Companion
of this House going in all haste for a Midwife, or to save the
life of a Friend then dying, must call in, and drink at least
his two dishes of Coffee and his two Pipes of Tobacco.
And which is yet more wonderful, many persons prefer
Coffee, (and the Company, which love it) before the gain
of money, for many men neglect their Callings and Vocation,
to tattle away their time over two or three dishes of
13. Here is no respect of persons. Boldy therefore let any
person, who comes to drink Coffee sit down in the very
Chair, for here a Seat is to be given to no man. That great
privilege of equality is only peculiar to the Golden Age, and
to a Coffee-house. However even here, a small portion of
Wit, gilded over with an Estate, hath an influence. Mony!
Thou art the Man, and Man but Dross to thee. Or with
Juvenal I may say,
---- O nummi vobis hunc præstat honorem
Vos estis fratres -----
So also is it here in respect of Titles; Children do not more
for a time value their Babies, than Titles are for a while here
gazed on. Even a ----- as such, gains as good an opinion as
the place is capable of. Light-things weigh much in those
Scales, which are here used, Heavy, little or nothing. Wisedom
and Vertue are every where used, as fanatical -----
14. Such is the humour of the Coffee-meetings, that
that person shall gain more love and respect, who gives to
the Company a Suger-plum, than he who bestows gifts
more befitting men to receive, and he who hath attained the
Art of making an agreeable * //*by words.\\ addresse to the Company,
and knows, how by empty Complements to flatter them
into a good opinion of themselves, or to tattle to them little
pleasing things, shall assuredly thereby insinuate himself into
their good opinion more than if he discoursed to them of the
most Profitable Subjects with the deepest Judgment.
15. Very critical and very discerning is the Assembly here.
The Company within a very short while will look thorow
and thorow the Prudentest and most cryed-up Person. A
Weak part will quickly be found in him, and not only Real
but Imaginary Faults will be laid to his charge. A Man of
Reputation is so tender a Creature, that he should in a manner
alwayes keep within dores, and never come into the Air,
unless chosen, and cleer. But by all means let him beware of
the Coffee-house, for here there is alwayes a thick smoak,
which will sully a fair colour. In plain terms, an assiduous
frequenting the Coffee-house, and exposing reason, parts
and estimation, by conversation, to the open view of the
Society, renders them hereby first familiar, then contemptible.
Here a man too late will be taught, that the most excellent
Jewels, to wit, the Noblest Speculations, the Divinest
Truths, the most Exquisite Fancies, the most Meritorious
Actions, and the most Complacential Humours prodigally
thrown away amongst a mixt number of persons, become as
common, as Gold was once in Jerusalem, that is, as
common, as Stones.
16. Such is the mixture of Persons here, that me thinks I
cannot better express it, than by saying, That at these Waters
meet all sorts of Creatures. Hence follows the Production
of diverse monstrous Opinions and Absurdities. Here is a
congress of old Rome and of new, of Turky, Geneva, and
Amsterdam. A Coffee-house, like Logick, the Lawyer, and the
Switzer, will maintain any Cause.
17. Infinite are the Contests, irreconcileable the Differences
here. The Society hath been divided about the manner
of the creeping of a Louse. Were there not here, a constant
contention amongst the Elements of this Body, it could not
subsist. For should all agree, and be of one Judgment, they would
as it were become but one Person, the House would be solitary, and
at last one or two Persons would be the whole Company.
18. However, though it resemble Amsterdam, being divided
into innumerable different Opinions, yet is it free from
effects of Sedition or War. For there are no bloody Challenges
here made, much less Duels fought, or Blows given.
Will you know the reason? The Company in this are
more Couragious than wise, that they contend about triffles
only, but they are more Wise than couragious, in that they
fight not for the Victory: so that in a true sense the Lion
and the Lamb ly down together here.
19. Such being the differences of Opinion, and such the
Tameness of the Company, how can any one in reason, think,
that a Coffee-house is dangerous to the Government, that
seeds of Sedition are here sown, & Principles of Liberty
insinuated? A Coffee-house hath alwayes been as great a Friend
to Monarchy, as an Enemy to Liberty. The Principles of a
Popular Government at the Rota were weakne'd, and rendred
contemptible. Men of such Contrary Judgments as here meet,
cannot justly be feared to Agree in a Conspiracy. And in
truth they talk too much, to be lookt on as dangerous, and
20. Rather say the Fanaticks, that this is not a place in
which a great and generous Truth can be maintain'd, that a
Person full of such a Truth, not being able to contein it, is
forc'd to whisper it in the ear of some Ingenuosus, if he can
find such a one. This is certain, that who ever intends here
to discourse of Worthy Subjects judiciously, ought carefully
not only to chuse his Time, but to pack the Company, that
so he may be heard but with patience.
21. On the other side, who ever is troubled with impertinent
Fancies and ridiculous Notions, is here quietly heard
and sometimes heraunged. The Relater hereof hath heard
a young Gentleman affirm, that he used to go to the Coffee-house
purposely to vent his strange and wild Conceits, and to
rid himself of such bad Gue[st?]s. An opinion, how foolish or
fond soever, here receives entertainment. To this Coast, as
to the West-Indies, you carry not rich Merchandises to Trade
with, but only Beads, Looking-glasses, Knives, and such like,
nor shall the Merchant make returns of any other Commodities,
than such as are fit for the Pedlars box.
22. Though the Coffee-house may be condemned for ill
choice of subjects, on which they discourse, yet are the Company
by many persons commended for this, that every one of
them abounds in his own sense, and submits to the reason of
no other Mortal, following herein that great Example of the
Men who inhabit the Lunary World, who put the Monsieur
in a Cage, for discoursing like a Parrat in the words of
Aristotle. Every one over Coffee discourseth those things,
which his own reason or fancy inspire him with, and he, who
cants in the terms of Aristotle, or argues by Book, is lookt on
to want terms and reason of his own, & jurare in verba
23. Yet here being neither Moderators, nor Rules, (were
there no other reason) a Man shall as soon fill a Quart Pot
with Discourse, as Profit by it. He may as rationally expect
to carry a Ship from the River of Thames to the East-Indies
without a Pilot or Rules of Navigation, as to manage a
discourse successefully, or in this School to bring it to a good
24. A School it is without a Master. Education is here
taught without Discipline. Learning (if it be possible) is here
insinuated without Method. Good Manners and commendable
Humors are here infused into Men by the contemplation
of the Deformity of their contrarie's, as the Spartans
infused into their Children hatred of Drunkenness by setting
before them their drunken Helots.
25. The Company, (that their intertainment man appear
in its native colours) at times divert themselves with the
controverting such points as these.
Utrum corpus est immateriale.
Utrum chimæra bombinans in vacuo possit commedere secundas
Utrum antiqua Roma a Christianis fundata fuit.
Utrum bestia honoranda sit.
26. A facetious or merry Story is preferred by the Gentlemen
here before a Banquet of Philosophy. The Auditors
lissen to him, who tells a Tale gracefully, with as great an
attention, as Orpheus his Beasts did to his Charming Musick.
And good reason such a person should be attentively heard.
----- nam quæ comoedia? Mimus
One relates he took thirty and three thousand Pipes of
Tobacco in one night. He tickles the Auditors. They laugh
heartily. Another informs the Company, that the night before
having swallow'd a vast quantity of Ale, he slinkt home,
and crept into Bed, and that in the midst of the night he was
wak'd by an Alarum (?) made in his Guts by reason of an
Insurrection therein. Hereupon he riseth to expel the Rebel,
but his weighty A---- being too ponderous for an earthen
Chamber-pot to bear, the Pot broke, and his A--- unluckily
fell on the bedighted ground. At this Story the Company
laugh majore cachinno.
Here I at present stop, having run (methinks) a long race
in dirty way, concluding with Juvenal,
Aspice quid faciunt commercia ------
An Apology to those Ingenuous Persons, who frequent the
Coffee-house, for this description.
THe Describer knows, there are several Virtuosi
Ingenuosi, resort to the Coffee-house, whom, he hath
the honour to be acquainted with, others are his Friends. Yet
all the Elements here being confusedly mixt, this House
appears to him as a meer Chaos, so that (in contemplating it)
he cannot prefer even Light before Darkness, not being here
separated or distinguishable one from another, amidst
confusion it self.