THE COFFEE HOUSES OF OLD LONDON
One of the most picturesque chapters in the history of coffee—The first coffee house in London—The first coffee handbill, and the first newspaper advertisement for coffee—Strange coffee mixtures—Fantastic coffee claims—Coffee prices and coffee licenses—Coffee club of the Rota—Early coffee-house manners and customs—Coffee-house keepers’ tokens—Opposition to the coffee house—”Penny universities”—Weird coffee substitutes—The proposed coffee-house newspaper monopoly—Evolution of the club—Decline and fall of the coffee house—Pen pictures of coffee-house life—Famous coffee houses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—Some Old World pleasure gardens—Locating the notable coffee houses
THE two most picturesque chapters in the history of coffee have to do with the period of the old London and Paris coffee houses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Much of the poetry and romance of coffee centers around this time.
“The history of coffee houses,” says D’Israeli, “ere the invention of clubs, was that of the manners, the morals and the politics of a people.” And so the history of the London coffee houses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is indeed the history of the manners and customs of the English people of that period.
The First London Coffee House
“The first coffee house in London,” says John Aubrey (1626–97), the English antiquary and folklorist, “was in St. Michael’s Alley, in Cornhill, opposite to the church, which was sett up by one … Bowman (coachman to Mr. Hodges, a Turkey merchant, who putt him upon it) in or about the yeare 1652. ‘Twas about four years before any other was sett up, and that was by Mr. Farr. Jonathan Paynter, over-against to St. Michael’s Church, was the first apprentice to the trade, viz., to Bowman.”
Another account, for which we are indebted to William Oldys (1696–1761), the bibliographer, relates that Mr. Edwards, a London merchant, acquired the coffee habit in Turkey, and brought home with him from Ragusa, in Dalmatia, Pasqua Rosée, an Armenian or Greek youth, who prepared the beverage for him. “But the novelty thereof,” says Oldys, “drawing too much company to him, he allowed the said servant with another of his son-in-law to set up the first coffee house in London at St. Michael’s Alley, in Cornhill.”
From this it would appear that Pasqua Rosée had as partner in this enterprise, the Bowman, who, according to Aubrey, was coachman to Mr. Hodges, the son-in-law of Mr. Edwards, and a fellow merchant traveler.
Oldys tells us that Rosée and Bowman soon separated. John Timbs (1801–1875), another English antiquary, says they quarreled, Rosée keeping the house, and his[Pg 54]partner Bowman obtaining leave to pitch a tent and to sell the drink in St. Michael’s churchyard.
Still another version of this historic incident is to be found in Houghton’s Collection, 1698. It reads:
It appears that a Mr. Daniel Edwards, an English merchant of Smyrna, brought with him to this country a Greek of the name of Pasqua, in 1652, who made his coffee; this Mr. Edwards married one Alderman Hodges’s daughter, who lived in Walbrook, and set up Pasqua for a coffee man in a shed in the churchyard in St. Michael, Cornhill, which is now a scrivener’s brave-house, when, having great custom, the ale-sellers petitioned the Lord Mayor against him as being no freeman. This made Alderman Hodges join his coachman, Bowman, who was free, as Pasqua’s partner; but Pasqua, for some misdemeanor, was forced to run the country, and Bowman, by his trade and a contribution of 1000 sixpences, turned the shed to a house. Bowman’s apprentices were first, John Painter, then Humphry, from whose wife I had this account.
This account makes it appear that Edwards was Hodges’ son-in-law. Whatever the relationship, most authorities agree that Pasqua Rosée was the first to sell coffee publicly, whether in a tent or shed, in London in or about the year 1652. His original shop-bill, or handbill, the first advertisement for coffee, is in the British Museum, and from it the accompanying photograph was made for this work. It sets forth in direct fashion: “The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink First publiquely made and sold in England, by Pasqua Rosée … in St. Michaels Alley in Cornhill … at the Signe of his own Head.”
H.R. Fox Bourne (about 1870) is alone in an altogether different version of this historic event. He says:
“In 1652 Sir Nicholas Crispe, a Levant merchant, opened in London the first coffee house known in England, the beverage being prepared by a Greek girl brought over for the work.”
There is nothing to substantiate this story; the preponderance of evidence is in support of the Edwards-Rosée version.
Such then was the advent of the coffee house in London, which introduced to English-speaking people the drink of democracy. Oddly enough, coffee and the Commonwealth came in together. The English coffee house, like its French contemporary, was the home of liberty.
Robinson, who accepts that version of the event wherein Edwards marries Hodges’s daughter, says that after the partners Rosée and Bowman separated, and Bowman had set up his tent opposite Rosée, a zealous partisan addressed these verses “To Pasqua Rosée, at the Sign of his own Head and half his Body in St. Michael’s Alley, next the first Coffee-Tent in London”:
Were not the fountain of my Tears
Each day exhausted by the steam
Of your Coffee, no doubt appears
But they would swell to such a stream
As could admit of no restriction
To see, poor Pasqua, thy Affliction.
What! Pasqua, you at first did broach
This Nectar for the publick Good,
Must you call Kitt down from the Coach
To drive a Trade he understood
No more than you did then your creed,
Or he doth now to write or read?
Pull Courage, Pasqua, fear no Harms
From the besieging Foe;
Make good your Ground, stand to your Arms,
Hold out this summer, and then tho’
He’ll storm, he’ll not prevail—your Face
Shall give the Coffee Pot the chace.
Eventually Pasqua Rosée disappeared, some say to open a coffee house on the Continent, in Holland or Germany. Bowman, having married Alderman Hodges’s cook, and having also prevailed upon about a thousand of his customers to lend him sixpence apiece, converted his tent into a substantial house, and eventually took an apprentice to the trade.
Concerning London’s second coffee-house keeper, James Farr, proprietor of the Rainbow, who had as his most distinguished visitor Sir Henry Blount, Edward Hatton says:
I find it recorded that one James Farr, a barber, who kept the coffee-house which is now the Rainbow, by the Inner Temple Gate (one of the first in England), was in the year 1657, prosecuted by the inquest of St Dunstan’s in the West, for making and selling a sort of liquor called coffe, as a great nuisance and prejudice to the neighborhood, etc., and who would then have thought London would ever have had near three thousand such nuisances, and that coffee would have been, as now, so much drank by the best of quality and physicians?
Hatton evidently attributed Fair’s nuisance to the coffee itself, whereas the presentment clearly shows it was in Farr’s chimney and not in the coffee.
Mention has already been made that Sir Henry Blount was spoken of as “the father of English coffee houses” and his claim to this distinction would seem to be a valid one, for his strong personality “stamped itself upon the system.” His favorite motto, “Loquendum est cum vulgo, sentiendum cum sapientibus” (the crowd may talk about it; the wise decide it), says Robinson, “expresses well their colloquial purpose, and was natural enough on the lips of one whose experience had been world wide.” Aubrey says of Sir Henry Blount, “He is now neer or altogether eighty yeares, his intellectuals good still and body pretty strong.”
Women played a not inconspicuous part in establishing businesses for the sale of the coffee drink in England, although the coffee houses were not for both sexes, as in other European countries. The London City Quaeries for 1660 makes mention of “a she-coffee merchant.” Mary Stringar ran a coffee house in Little Trinity Lane in 1669; Anne Blunt was mistress of one of the Turk’s-Head houses in Cannon Street in 1672. Mary Long was the widow of William Long, and her initials, together with those of her husband, appear on a token issued from the Rose tavern in Bridge Street, Covent Garden. Mary Long’s token from the “Rose coffee house by the playhouse” in Covent Garden is shown among the group of coffee-house keepers’ tokens herein illustrated.
The First Newspaper Advertisement
The first newspaper advertisement for coffee appeared, May 26, 1657, in the Publick Adviser of London, one of the first weekly pamphlets. The name of this publication was erroneously given as the Publick Advertiser by an early writer on coffee, and the error has been copied by succeeding writers. The first newspaper advertisement was contained in the issue of the Publick Adviser for the week of May 19 to May 26, and read:
In Bartholomew Lane on the back side of the Old Exchange, the drink called Coffee, (which is a very wholsom and Physical drink, having many excellent vertues, closes the Orifice of the Stomack, fortifies the heat within, helpeth Digestion, quickneth the Spirits, maketh the heart lightsom, is good against Eye-sores, Coughs, or Colds, Rhumes, Consumptions, Head-ach, Dropsie, Gout, Scurvy, Kings Evil, and many others is to be sold both in the morning, and at three of the clock in the afternoon).
Chocolate was also advertised for sale in London this same year. The issue of the Publick Adviser for June 16, 1657, contained this announcement:
In Bishopgate Street, in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house is an excellent West India drink called chocolate, to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time, and also unmade at reasonable rates.
Tea was first sold publicly at Garraway’s (or Garway’s) in 1657.
Strange Coffee Mixtures
The doctors were loath to let coffee escape from the mysteries of the pharmacopœia and become “a simple and refreshing beverage” that any one might obtain for a penny in the coffee houses, or, if preferred, might prepare at home. In this they were aided and abetted by many well-meaning but misguided persons (some of them men of considerable intelligence) who seemed possessed of the idea that the coffee drink was an unpleasant medicine that needed something to take away its curse, or else that it required a complex method of preparation. Witness “Judge” Walter Rumsey’s Electuary of Cophy, which appeared in 1657 in connection with a curious work of his called Organon Salutis: an instrument to cleanse the stomach. The instrument itself was a flexible whale-bone, two or three feet long, with a small linen or silk button at the end, and was designed to be introduced into the stomach to produce the effect of an emetic. The electuary of coffee was to be taken by the patient before and after using the instrument, which the “judge” called his Provang. And this was the “judge’s” “new and superior way of preparing coffee” as found in his prescription for making electuary of cophy:
Take equal quantity of Butter and Sallet-oyle, melt them well together, but not boyle them: Then stirre them well that they may incorporate together: Then melt therewith three times as much Honey, and stirre it well together: Then add thereunto powder of Turkish Cophie, to make it a thick Electuary.
A little consideration will convince any one that the electuary was most likely to achieve the purpose for which it was recommended.
Another concoction invented by the “judge” was known as “wash-brew”, and included oatmeal, powder of “cophie”, a pint of ale or any wine, ginger, honey, or sugar to please the taste; to these ingredients butter might be added and any cordial powder or pleasant spice. It was to be put into a flannel bag and “so keep it at pleasure like starch.” This was a favorite medicine among the common people of Wales.
The book contained in a prefix an interesting historical document in the shape of a letter from James Howell (1595–1666) the writer and historiographer, which read:
Touching coffee, I concurre with them in opinion, who hold it to be that black-broth which was us’d of old in Lacedemon, whereof the Poets sing; Surely it must needs be salutiferous, because so many sagacious, and the wittiest sort of Nations use it so much; as they who have conversed with Shashes and Turbants doe well know. But, besides the exsiccant quality it hath to dry up the crudities of the Stomach, as also to comfort the Brain, to fortifie the sight with its steem, and prevent Dropsies, Gouts, the Scurvie, together with the Spleen and Hypocondriacall windes (all which it doth without any violance or distemper at all.) I say, besides all these qualities, ’tis found already, that this Coffee-drink hath caused a greater sobriety among the nations; for whereas formerly Apprentices and Clerks with others, used to take their mornings’ draught in Ale, Beer or Wine, which by the dizziness they cause in the Brain, make many unfit for business, they use now to play the Good-fellows in this wakefull and civill drink: Therefore that worthy Gentleman, Mr. Mudiford, who introduced the practice hereof first to London, deserves much respect of the whole nation.
The coffee drink at one time was mixed with sugar candy, and also with mustard. In the coffee houses, however, it was usually served black; “few people then mixed it with either sugar or milk.”
Fantastic Coffee Claims
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.
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,[Pg 59] 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.”
Coffee Prices and Coffee Licenses
Coffee, with tea and chocolate, was first mentioned in the English Statute books in 1660, when a duty of four pence was laid upon every gallon made and sold, “to be paid by the maker.” Coffee was classed by the House of Commons with “other outlandish drinks.”
It is recorded in 1662 that “the right coffee powder” was being sold at the Turk’s Head coffee house in Exchange Alley for “4s. to 6s. 8d. per pound; that pounded in a mortar, 2s; East India berry, 1s. 6d.; and the right Turkie berry, well garbled [ground] at 3s. The ungarbled [in the bean] for less with directions how to use the same.” Chocolate was also to be had at “2s. 6d. the pound; the perfumed from 4s. to 10s.”
At one time coffee sold for five guineas a pound in England, and even forty crowns (about forty-eight dollars) a pound was paid for it.
In 1663, all English coffee houses were required to be licensed; the fee was twelve pence. Failure to obtain a license was punished by a fine of five pounds for every month’s violation of the law. The coffee houses were under close surveillance by government officials. One of these was Muddiman, a good scholar and an “arch rogue”, who had formerly “written for the Parliament” but who later became a paid spy. L’Estrange, who had a patent on “the sole right of intelligence”, wrote in his Intelligencerthat he was alarmed at the ill effects of “the ordinary written papers of Parliament’s news … making coffee houses and all the popular clubs judges of those councils and deliberations which they have nothing to do with at all.”
The first royal warrant for coffee was given by Charles II to Alexander Man, a Scotsman who had followed General Monk to London, and set up in Whitehall. Here he advertised himself as “coffee man to Charles II.”
Owing to increased taxes on tea, coffee, and newspapers, near the end of Queen Anne’s reign (1714) coffee-house keepers generally raised their prices as follows: Coffee, two pence per dish; green tea, one and a half pence per dish. All drams, two pence per dram. At retail, coffee was then sold for five shillings per pound; while tea brought from twelve to twenty-eight shillings per pound.
Coffee Club of The Rota
“Coffee and Commonwealth”, says a pamphleteer of 1665, “came in together for a Reformation, to make ‘s a free and sober nation.” The writer argues that liberty of speech should be allowed, “where men of differing judgements croud”; and he adds, “that’s a coffee-house, for where should men discourse so free as there?” Robinson’s comments are apt:
Now perhaps we do not always connect the ideas of sociableness and freedom of discussion with the days of Puritan rule; yet it must be admitted that something like geniality and openness characterized what Pepys calls the Coffee Club of the Rota. This “free and open Society of ingenious gentlemen” was founded in the year 1659 by certain members of the Republican party, whose peculiar opinions had been timidly expressed and not very cordially tolerated under the Great Oliver. By the weak Government that followed, these views were regarded with extreme dislike and with some amount of terror.
“They met”, says Aubrey, who was himself of their number, “at the Turk’s Head [Miles’s coffee house] in New Palace Yard, Westminster, where they take water, at one Miles’s, the next house to the staires, where was made purposely a large ovall table, with a passage in the middle for Miles to deliver his coffee.”
This curious refreshment bar and the interest with which the beverage itself was regarded, were quite secondary to the excitement caused[Pg 60] by another novelty. When, after heated disputation, a member desired to test the opinion of the meeting, any particular point might, by agreement, be put to the vote and then everything depended upon “our wooden oracle,” the first balloting-box ever seen in England. Formal methods of procedure and the intensely practical nature of the subjects discussed, combined to give a real importance to this Amateur Parliament.
The Rota, or Coffee Club, as Pepys called it, was essentially a debating society for the dissemination of republican opinions. It was preceded only, in the reign of Henry IV, by the club called La Court de Bone Compagnie; by Sir Walter Raleigh’s Friday Street, or Bread Street, club; the club at the Mermaid tavern in Bread Street, of which Shakespeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, Raleigh, Selden, Donne, et al., were members; and “rare” Ben Jonson’s Devil tavern club, between Middle Temple Gate and Temple Bar.
The Rota derived its name from a plan, which it was designed to promote, for changing a certain number of members of parliament annually by rotation. It was founded by James Harrington, who had painted it in fairest colors in his Oceana, that ideal commonwealth.
Sir William Petty was one of its members. Around the table, “in a room every evening as full as it could be crammed,” says Aubrey, sat Milton (?) and Marvell, Cyriac Skinner, Harrington, Nevill, and their friends, discussing abstract political questions.
The Rota became famous for its literary strictures. Among these was “The censure of the Rota upon Mr. Milton’s book entitled The ready and easie way to establish a free commonwealth” (1660), although it is doubtful if Milton was ever a visitor to this “bustling coffee club.” The Rota also censured “Mr. Driden’sConquest of Granada” (1673).
Early Coffee-House Manners and Customs
Among many of the early coffee-house keepers there was great anxiety that the coffee house, open to high and low, should be conducted under such restraints as might secure the better class of customers from annoyance. The following set of regulations in somewhat halting rhyme was displayed on the walls of several of the coffee houses in the seventeenth century:
The Rules and Orders of the Coffee House.
Enter, Sirs, freely, but first, if you please,
Peruse our civil orders, which are these.
First, gentry, tradesmen, all are welcome hither,
And may without affront sit down together:
Pre-eminence of place none here should mind,
But take the next fit seat that he can find:
Nor need any, if finer persons come,
Rise up to assigne to them his room;
To limit men’s expence, we think not fair,
But let him forfeit twelve-pence that shall swear;
He that shall any quarrel here begin,
[Pg 61]Shall give each man a dish t’ atone the sin;
And so shall he, whose compliments extend
So far to drink in coffee to his friend;
Let noise of loud disputes be quite forborne,
No maudlin lovers here in corners mourn,
But all be brisk and talk, but not too much,
On sacred things, let none presume to touch.
Nor profane Scripture, nor sawcily wrong
Affairs of state with an irreverent tongue:
Let mirth be innocent, and each man see
That all his jests without reflection be;
To keep the house more quiet and from blame,
We banish hence cards, dice, and every game;
Nor can allow of wagers, that exceed
Five shillings, which ofttimes much trouble breed;
Let all that’s lost or forfeited be spent
In such good liquor as the house doth vent.
And customers endeavour, to their powers,
For to observe still, seasonable hours.
Lastly, let each man what he calls for pay,
And so you’re welcome to come every day.
The early coffee houses were often up a flight of stairs, and consisted of a single large room with “tables set apart for divers topics.” There is a reference to this in the prologue to a comedy of 1681 (quoted by Malone):
In a coffee house just now among the rabble
I bluntly asked, which is the treason table?
This was the arrangement at Man’s and others favored by the wits, the literati, and “men of fashionable instincts.” In the distinctly business coffee houses separate rooms were provided at a later time for mercantile transactions. The introduction of wooden partitions—wooden boxes, as at a tavern—was also of somewhat later date.
A print of 1674 shows five persons of different ranks in life, one of them smoking, sitting on chairs around a coffee-house table, on which are small basins, or dishes, without saucers, and tobacco pipes, while a coffee boy is serving coffee.
In the beginning, only coffee was dispensed in the English coffee houses. Soon chocolate, sherbert, and tea were added; but the places still maintained their status as social and temperance factors. Constantine Jennings (or George Constantine) of the Grecian advertised chocolate, sherbert and tea at retail in 1664–65; also free instruction in the part of preparing these liquors. “Drams and cordial waters were to be had only at coffee houses newly set up,” says Elford the younger, writing about 1689. “While some few places added ale and beer as early as 1669, intoxicating liquors were not items of importance for many years.”
After the fire of 1666, many new coffee houses were opened that were not limited to a single room up a flight of stairs. Because the coffee-house keepers over-emphasized the sobering qualities of the coffee drink, they drew many undesirable characters from the taverns and ale houses after the nine o’clock closing hour. These were hardly calculated to improve the reputation of the coffee houses; and, indeed, the decline of the coffee houses as a temperance institution would seem to trace back to this attitude of false pity for the victims of tavern vices, evils that many of the coffee houses later on embraced to their own undoing. The early institution was unique, its distinctive features being unlike those of any public house in England or on the Continent. Later on, in the eighteenth century, when these distinctive features[Pg 62] became obscured, the name coffee house became a misnomer.
However, Robinson says, “the close intercourse between the habitués of the coffee house, before it lost anything of its generous social traditions and whilst the issue of the struggle for political liberty was as yet uncertain, was to lead to something more than a mere jumbling or huddling together of opposites. The diverse elements gradually united in the bonds of common sympathy, or were forcibly combined by persecution from without until there resulted a social, political and moral force of almost irresistible strength.”
Coffee-House Keepers’ Tokens
The great London fire of 1666 destroyed some of the coffee houses; but prominent among those that survived was the Rainbow, whose proprietor, James Farr, issued one of the earliest coffee-house tokens, doubtless in grateful memory of his escape. Farr’s token shows an arched rainbow emerging from the clouds of the “great fire,” indicating that all was well with him, and the Rainbow still radiant. On the reverse the medal was inscribed, “In Fleet Street—His Half Penny.”
A large number of these trade coins were put out by coffee-house keepers and other tradesmen in the seventeenth century as evidence of an amount due, as stated thereon, by the issuer to the holder. Tokens originated because of the scarcity of small change. They were of brass, copper, pewter, and even leather, gilded. They bore the name, address, and calling of the issuer, the nominal value of the piece, and some reference to his trade. They were readily redeemed, on presentation, at their face value. They were passable in the immediate neighborhood, seldom reaching farther than the next street. C.G. Williamson writes:
Tokens are essentially democratic; they would never have been issued but for the indifference of the Government to a public need; and in them we have a remarkable instance of a people forcing a legislature to comply with demands at once reasonable and imperative. Taken as a whole series, they are homely and quaint, wanting in beauty, but not without a curious domestic art of their own.
Robinson finds an exception to the general simplicity in the tokens issued by one of the Exchange Alley houses. The dies of these tokens are such as to have suggested the skilled workmanship of John Roettier. The most ornate has the head of a Turkish sultan at that time famed for his horrible deeds, ending in suicide; its inscription runs:
Morat ye Great Men did mee call;
Where Eare I came I conquer’d all.
A number of the most interesting coffee-house keepers’ tokens in the Beaufoy collection in the Guildhall Museum were photographed for this work, and are shown herewith. It will be observed that many of the traders of 1660–75 adopted as their trade sign a hand pouring coffee from a pot, invariably of the Turkish-ewer pattern. Morat (Amurath) and Soliman were frequent coffee-house signs in the seventeenth century.
J.H. Burn, in his Catalogue of Traders’ Tokens, recites that in 1672 “divers persons who presumed … to stamp, coin, exchange and distribute farthings, halfpence and pence of brass and copper” were “taken into custody, in order to a severe prosecution”; but upon submission, their offenses were forgiven, and it was not until the year 1675 that the private token ceased to pass current.
A royal proclamation at the close of 1674 enjoined the prosecution of any who should “utter base metals with private stamps,” or “hinder the vending of those half pence and farthings which are provided for necessary exchange.” After this, tokens were issued stamped “necessary change.”
Opposition to the Coffee House
It is easy to see why the coffee houses at once found favor among men of intelligence in all classes. Until they came, the average Englishman had only the tavern as a place of common resort. But here was a public house offering a non-intoxicating beverage, and its appeal was instant and universal. As a meeting place for the exchange of ideas it soon attained wide popularity. But not without opposition. The publicans and ale-house keepers, seeing business slipping away from them, made strenuous propaganda against this new social center; and not a few attacks were launched against the coffee drink. Between the Restoration and the year 1675, of eight tracts written upon the subject of the London coffee houses, four have the words “character of a coffee house” as part of their titles. The authors appear eager to impart a knowledge of the town’s latest novelty, with which many readers were unacquainted.
One of these early pamphlets (1662) was entitled The Coffee Scuffle, and professed to give a dialogue between “a learned knight and a pitifull pedagogue,” and contained an amusing account of a house where the Puritan element was still in the ascendant. A numerous company is present, and each little group being occupied with its own subject, the general effect is that of another Babel. While one is engaged in quoting the classics, another confides to his neighbors how much he admires Euclid;
A third’s for a lecture, a fourth a conjecture,
A fifth for a penny in the pound.
Theology is introduced. Mask balls and plays are condemned. Others again discuss the news, and are deep in the store of “mercuries” here to be found. One cries up philosophy. Pedantry is rife, and for the most part unchecked, when each ‘prentice-boy “doth call for his coffee in Latin” and all are so prompt with their learned quotations that “‘t would make a poor Vicar to tremble.”
The first noteworthy effort attacking the coffee drink was a satirical broadside that appeared in 1663. It was entitled A Cup of Coffee: or, Coffee in its Colours. It said:
For men and Christians to turn Turks, and think
T’excuse the Crime because ’tis in their drink,
Is more than Magick….
Pure English Apes! Ye may, for ought I know,
Would it but mode, learn to eat Spiders too.
The writer wonders that any man should prefer coffee to canary, and refers to the days of Beaumont, Fletcher, and Ben Jonson. He says:
They drank pure nectar as the gods drink too,
Sublim’d with rich Canary….
These less than coffee’s self, these coffee-men,
These sons of nothing, that can hardly make
Their Broth, for laughing how the jest doth take;
Yet grin, and give ye for the Vine’s pure Blood
A loathsome potion, not yet understood,
Syrrop of soot, or Essence of old Shooes,
Dasht with Diurnals and the Books of news?
The author of A Cup of Coffee, it will be seen, does not shrink from using epithets.
Drawn for this work from the originals in the British Museum, and in the Beaufoy collection at the Guildhall Museum]
The Coffee Man’s Granado Discharged upon the Maiden’s Complaint Against Coffee, a dialogue in verse, also appeared in 1663.
The Character of a Coffee House, by an Eye and Ear Witness appeared in 1665. It was a ten-page pamphlet, and proved to be excellent propaganda for coffee. It is so well done, and contains so much local color, that it is reproduced here, the text Museum. The title page reads:
Is contained a Description of the Persons
usually frequenting it, with their Discourse
The Admirable Vertues of
By an Eye and Ear Witness
|When Coffee once was vended here,
The Alc’ron shortly did appear,
For our Reformers were such Widgeons.
New Liquors brought in new Religions.
|Printed in the Year, 1665.|
The text and the arrangement of the body of the pamphlet are as follows:
the derivation of
A Coffee-house, the learned hold
It is a place where Coffee’s sold;
This derivation cannot fail us,
For where Ale’s vended, that’s an Ale-house.
This being granted to be true,
‘Tis meet that next the Signs we shew
Both where and how to find this house
Where men such cordial broth carowse.
And if Culpepper woon some glory
In turning the Dispensatory
From Latin into English; then
Why should not all good English men
Give him much thanks who shews a cure
For all diseases men endure?
signs: how to
find it out
As you along the streets do trudge,
To take the pains you must not grudge,
To view the Posts or Broomsticks where
The Signs of Liquors hanged are.
And if you see the great Morat
With Shash on’s head instead of hat,
Or any Sultan in his dress,
Or picture of a Sultaness,
Or John’s admir’d curled pate,
Or th’ great Mogul in’s Chair of State,
Or Constantine the Grecian,
Who fourteen years was th’ onely man
That made Coffee for th’ great Bashaw,
Although the man he never saw;
Or if you see a Coffee-cup
Fil’d from a Turkish pot, hung up
Within the clouds, and round it Pipes,
Wax Candles, Stoppers, these are types
And certain signs (with many more
Would be too long to write them ‘ore,)
Which plainly do Spectators tell
That in that house they Coffee sell.
Some wiser than the rest (no doubt,)
Say they can by the smell find’t out;
In at a door (say they,) but thrust
Your Nose, and if you scent burnt Crust,
Be sure there’s Coffee sold that’s good,
For so by most ’tis understood.
Now being enter’d, there’s no needing
Of complements or gentile breeding,
For you may seat you any where,
There’s no respect of persons there;
Then comes the Coffee-man to greet you,
With welcome Sir, let me entreat you,
To tell me what you’l please to have,
For I’m your humble, humble slave;
But if you ask, what good does Coffee?
He’l answer, Sir, don’t think I scoff yee,
If I affirm there’s no disease
Men have that drink it but find ease.
Look, there’s a man who takes the steem
In at his Nose, has an extreme
Worm in his pate, and giddiness,
Ask him and he will say no less.
There sitteth one whose Droptick belly
Was hard as flint, now’s soft as jelly.
There stands another holds his head
‘Ore th’ Coffee-pot, was almost dead
Even now with Rhume; ask him hee’l say
That all his Rhum’s now past away.
See, there’s a man sits now demure
And sober, was within this hour
Quite drunk, and comes here frequently,
For ’tis his daily Malady,
More, it has such reviving power
‘Twill keep a man awake an houre,
Nay, make his eyes wide open stare
Both Sermon time and all the prayer.
Sir, should I tell you all the rest
O’ th’ cures ‘t has done, two hours at least
In numb’ring them I needs must spend,
Scarce able then to make an end.
Besides these vertues that’s therein.
For any kind of Medicine,
The Commonwealth-Kingdom I’d say,
Has mighty reason for to pray
That still Arabia may produce
Enough of Berry for it’s use:
For’t has such strange magnetick force,
That it draws after’t great concourse
Of all degrees of persons, even
From high to low, from morn till even;
Especially the sober Party,
And News-mongers do drink’t most hearty
Here you’r not thrust into a Box
As Taverns do to catch the Fox,
But as from th’ top of Pauls high steeple,
Th’ whole City’s view’d, even so all people
May here be seen; no secrets are
At th’ Court for Peace, or th’ Camp for War,
But straight they’r here disclos’d and known;
Men in this Age so wise are grown.
[Pg 67]Now (Sir) what profit may accrew
By this, to all good men, judge you.
With that he’s loudly call’d upon
For Coffee, and then whip he’s gone.
Here at a Table sits (perplext)
A griping Usurer, and next
To him a gallant Furioso,
Then nigh to him a Virtuoso;
A Player then (full fine) sits down,
And close to him a Country Clown.
O’ th’ other side sits some Pragmatick,
And next to him some sly Phanatick.
The gallant he for Tea doth call,
The Usurer for nought at all.
The Pragmatick he doth intreat
That they will fill him some Beau-cheat,
The Virtuoso he cries hand me
Some Coffee mixt with Sugar-candy.
Phanaticus (at last) says come,
Bring me some Aromaticum.
The Player bawls for Chocolate,
All which the Bumpkin wond’ring at,
Cries, ho, my Masters, what d’ ye speak,
D’ ye call for drink in Heathen Greek?
Give me some good old Ale or Beer,
Or else I will not drink, I swear.
Then having charg’d their Pipes around.
They silence break; First the profound
And sage Phanatique, Sirs what news?
Troth says the Us’rer I ne’r use
To tip my tongue with such discourse,
‘Twere news to know how to disburse
A summ of mony (makes me sad)
To get ought by’t, times are so bad.
The other answers, truly Sir
You speak but truth, for I’le aver
They ne’r were worse; did you not hear
What prodigies did late appear
At Norwich, Ipswich, Grantham, Gotam?
And though prophane ones do not not’em,
Yet we—Here th’ Virtuoso stops
The current of his speech, with hopes
Quoth he, you will not tak’d amiss,
I say all’s lies that’s news like this,
For I have Factors all about
The Realm, so that no Stars peep out
That are unusual, much less these
Strange and unheard-of prodigies
You would relate, but they are tost
To me in letters by first Post.
At which the Furioso swears
Such chat as this offends his ears
It rather doth become this Age
To talk of bloodshed, fury, rage,
And t’ drink stout healths in brim-fill’d Nogans.
To th’ downfall of the Hogan Mogans.
With that the Player doffs his Bonnet,
And tunes his voice as if a Sonnet
Were to be sung; then gently says,
O what delight there is in Plays!
Sure if we were but all in Peace,
This noise of Wars and News would cease;
All sorts of people then would club
Their pence to see a Play that’s good.
You’l wonder all this while (perhaps)
The Curioso holds his chaps.
But he doth in his thoughts devise,
How to the rest he may seem wise;
Yet able longer not to hold,
His tedious tale too must be told,
And thus begins, Sirs unto me
It reason seems that liberty
Of speech and words should be allow’d
Where men of differing judgements croud,
And that’s a Coffee-house, for where
Should men discourse so free as there?
Coffee and Commonwealth begin
Both with one letter, both came in
Together for a Reformation,
To make’s a free and sober Nation.
But now—With that Phanaticus
Gives him a nod, and speaks him thus,
Hold brother, I know your intent,
That’s no dispute convenient
For this same place, truths seldome find
Acceptance here, they’r more confin’d
To Taverns and to Ale-house liquor,
Where men do vent their minds more quicker
If that may for a truth but pass
What’s said, In vino veritas.
With that up starts the Country Clown,
And stares about with threatening frown.
As if he would even eat them all up.
Then bids the boy run quick and call up,
A Constable, for he has reason
To fear their Latin may be treason
But straight they all call what’s to pay,
Lay’t down, and march each several way.
At th’ other table sits a Knight,
And here a grave old man ore right
Against his worship, then perhaps
That by and by a Drawer claps
His bum close by them, there down squats
A dealer in old shoes and hats;
And here withouten any panick
Fear, dread or care a bold Mechanick.
The Knight (because he’s so) he prates
Of matters far beyond their pates.
The grave old man he makes a bustle,
And his wise sentence in must justle.
Up starts th’ Apprentice boy and he
Says boldly so and so’t must be.
The dealer in old shoes to utter
His saying too makes no small sputter.
Then comes the pert mechanick blade,
And contradicts what all have said.
There by the fier-side doth sit,
One freezing in an Ague fit.
Another poking in’t with th’ tongs,
Still ready to cough up his lungs
Here sitteth one that’s melancolick,
And there one singing in a frolick.
Each one hath such a prety gesture,
At Smithfield fair would yield a tester.
Boy reach a pipe cries he that shakes,
The songster no Tobacco takes,
Says he who coughs, nor do I smoak,
Then Monsieur Mopus turns his cloak
Off from his face, and with a grave
Majestick beck his pipe doth crave.
They load their guns and fall a smoaking
Whilst he who coughs sits by a choaking,
Till he no longer can abide.
And so removes from th’ fier side.
Now all this while none calls to drink,
[Pg 68]Which makes the Coffee boy to think
Much they his pots should so enclose,
He cannot pass but tread on toes.
With that as he the Nectar fills
From pot to pot, some on’t he spills
Upon the Songster. Oh cries he.
Pox, what dost do? thou’st burnt my knee;
No says the boy, (to make a bald
And blind excuse.) Sir ’twill not scald.
With that the man lends him a cuff
O’ th’ ear, and whips away in snuff.
The other two, their pipes being out,
Says Monsieur Mopus I much doubt
My friend I wait for will not come,
But if he do, say I’m gone home.
Then says the Aguish man I must come
According to my wonted custome,
To give ye’ a visit, although now
I dare not drink, and so adieu.
The boy replies, O Sir, however
You’r very welcome, we do never
Our Candles, Pipes or Fier grutch
To daily customers and such,
They’r Company (without expence,)
For that’s sufficient recompence.
Here at a table all alone,
Sits (studying) a spruce youngster, (one
Who doth conceipt himself fully witty,
And’s counted one o’ th’ wits o’ th’ City,)
Till by him (with a stately grace,)
A Spanish Don himself doth place.
Then (cap in hand) a brisk Monsieur
He takes his seat, and crowds as near
As possibly that he can come.
Then next a Dutchman takes his room.
The Wits glib tongue begins to chatter,
Though’t utters more of noise than matter,
Yet ’cause they seem to mind his words,
His lungs more battle still affords
At last says he to Don, I trow
You understand me? Sennor no
Says th’ other. Here the Wit doth pause
A little while, then opes his jaws,
And says to Monsieur, you enjoy
Our tongue I hope? Non par ma foy,
Replies the Frenchman: nor you, Sir?
Says he to th’ Dutchman, Neen mynheer,
With that he’s gone, and cries, why sho’d
He stay where wit’s not understood?
There in a place of his own chusing
(Alone) some lover sits a musing,
With arms across, and’s eyes up lift,
As if he were of sence bereft.
Till sometimes to himself he’s speaking,
Then sighs as if his heart were breaking.
Here in a corner sits a Phrantick,
And there stands by a frisking Antick,
Of all sorts some and all conditions
Even Vintners, Surgeons and Physicians.
The blind, the deaf, and aged cripple
Do here resort and Coffee tipple.
Now here (perhaps) you may expect
My Muse some trophies should erect
In high flown verse, for to set forth
The noble praises of its worth.
Truth is, old Poets beat their brains
To find out high and lofty strains
To praise the (now too frequent) use
Of the bewitching grapes strong juice,
Some have strain’d hard for to exalt
The liquor of our English Mault
Nay Don has almost crackt his nodle
Enough t’applaud his Caaco Caudle.
The Germans Mum, Teag’s Usquebagh,
(Made him so well defend Tredagh,)
Metheglin, which the Brittains tope,
Hot Brandy wine, the Hogans hope.
Stout Meade which makes the Russ to laugh,
Spic’d Punch (in bowls) the Indians quaff.
All these have had their pens to raise
Them Monuments of lasting praise,
Onely poor Coffee seems to me
No subject fit for Poetry
At least ’tis one that none of mine is,
So I do wave ‘t, and here write—
News from the Coffe House; in which is shewn their several sorts of Passions appeared in 1667. It was reprinted in 1672 as The Coffee House or News-mongers’ Hall.
Several stanzas from these broadsides have been much quoted. They serve to throw additional light upon the manners of the time, and upon the kind of conversation met with in any well frequented coffee house of the seventeenth century, particularly under the Stuarts. They are finely descriptive of the company characteristics[Pg 69] of the early coffee houses. The fifth stanza of the edition of 1667, inimical to the French, was omitted when the broadside was amended and reprinted in 1672, the year that England joined with France and again declared war on the Dutch. The following verses with explanatory notes are from Timbs:
News from the Coffe House
You that delight in Wit and Mirth,
And long to hear such News,
As comes from all Parts of the Earth,
Dutch, Danes, and Turks, and Jews,
I’le send yee to a Rendezvouz,
Where it is smoaking new;
Go hear it at a Coffe-house,
It cannot but be true.
There Battles and Sea-Fights are Fought,
And bloudy Plots display’d;
They know more Things then ere was thought
Or ever was betray’d:
No Money in the Minting-house
Is halfe so Bright and New;
And comming from a Coffe-house
It cannot but be true.
Before the Navyes fall to Work,
They know who shall be Winner;
They there can tell ye what the Turk
Last Sunday had to Dinner;
Who last did Cut Du Ruitters Corns,
Amongst his jovial Crew;
Or Who first gave the Devil Horns,
Which cannot but be true.
A Fisherman did boldly tell,
And strongly did avouch,
He Caught a Shoal of Mackarel,
That Parley’d all in Dutch,
And cry’d out Yaw, yaw, yaw Myne Here;
But as the Draught they Drew
They Stunck for fear, that Monck was there,
Which cannot but be true.
There’s nothing done in all the World,
From Monarch to the Mouse
But every Day or Night ’tis hurld
Into the Coffe-house.
What Lillie or what Booker can
By Art, not bring about,
At Coffe-house you’l find a Man,
Can quickly find it out.
They know who shall in Times to come,
Be either made, or undone,
From great St. Peters street in Rome,
To Turnbull-street in London;
They know all that is Good, or Hurt,
To Dam ye, or to Save ye;
There is the Colledge, and the Court,
The Country, Camp and Navie;
So great a Universitie,
I think there ne’re was any;
In which you may a Schoolar be
For spending of a Penny.
Here Men do talk of every Thing,
With large and liberal Lungs,
Like Women at a Gossiping,
With double tyre of Tongues;
They’l give a Broad-side presently,
Soon as you are in view,
With Stories that, you’l wonder at,
Which they will swear are true.
The Drinking there of Chockalat,
Can make a Fool a Sophie:
‘Tis thought the Turkish Mahomet
Was first Inspir’d with Coffe,
By which his Powers did Over-flow
The Land of Palestine:
Then let us to, the Coffe-house go,
‘Tis Cheaper farr then Wine.
You shall know there, what Fashions are;
How Perrywiggs are Curl’d;
And for a Penny you shall heare,
All Novells in the World.
Both Old and Young, and Great and Small,
And Rich, and Poore, you’l see;
Therefore let’s to the Coffe All,
Come All away with Mee.
Robert Morton made a contribution to the controversy in Lines Appended to the Nature, Quality and Most Excellent Vertues of Coffee in 1670.
There was published in 1672 A Broad-side Against Coffee, or the Marriage of the Turk, verses that attained considerable fame because of their picturesque invective. They also stressed the fact that Pasqua Rosées partner was a coachman,[Pg 70] and imitated the broken English of the Ragusan youth:
A Broad-side Against COFFEE;
Marriage of the Turk
Coffee, a kind of Turkish Renegade,
Has late a match with Christian water made;
At first between them happen’d a Demur,
Yet joyn’d they were, but not without great stir;
Coffee was cold as Earth, Water as Thames,
And stood in need of recommending Flames;
Coffee so brown as berry does appear,
Too swarthy for a Nymph so fair, so clear:
A Coachman was the first (here) Coffee made,
And ever since the rest drive on the trade;
Me no good Engalash! and sure enough,
He plaid the Quack to salve his Stygian stuff;
Ver boon for de stomach, de Cough, de Ptisick
And I believe him, for it looks like Physick.
Coffee a crust is charkt into a coal,
The smell and taste of the Mock China bowl;
Where huff and puff, they labour out their lungs,
Lest Dives-like they should bewail their tongues.
And yet they tell ye that it will not burn,
Though on the Jury Blisters you return;
Whose furious heat does make the water rise,
And still through the Alembicks of your eyes.
Dread and desire, ye fall to’t snap by snap,
As hungry Dogs do scalding porrige lap,
But to cure Drunkards it has got great Fame;
Posset or Porrige, will’t not do the same?
Confusion huddles all into one Scene,
Like Noah’s Ark, the clean and the unclean.
But now, alas! the Drench has credit got,
And he’s no Gentleman that drinks it not;
That such a Dwarf should rise to such a stature!
But Custom is but a remove from Nature.
A little Dish, and a large Coffee-house,
What is it, but a Mountain and a Mouse?
Mens humana novitatis avidissima.
And so it came to pass that coffee history repeated itself in England. Many good people became convinced that coffee was a dangerous drink. The tirades against the beverage in that far-off time sound not unlike the advertising patter employed by some of our present-day coffee-substitute manufacturers. It was even ridiculed by being referred to as “ninny broth” and “Turkey gruel.”
A brief description of the excellent vertues of that sober and wholesome drink called coffee appeared in 1674 and proved an able and dignified answer to the attacks that had preceded it. That same year, for the first time in history, the sexes divided in a coffee controversy, and there was issued The Women’s Petition against Coffee, representing to public consideration the grand inconveniences accruing to their[Pg 71] sex from the excessive use of the drying and enfeebling Liquor, in which the ladies, who had not been accorded the freedom of the coffee houses in England, as was the custom in France, Germany, Italy, and other countries on the Continent, complained that coffee made men as “unfruitful as the deserts where that unhappy berry is said to be bought.” Besides the more serious complaint that the whole race was in danger of extinction, it was urged that “on a domestic message a husband would stop by the way to drink a couple of cups of coffee.”
This pamphlet is believed to have precipitated the attempt at suppression by the crown the following year, despite the prompt appearing, in 1674, of The Men’s Answer to the Women’s Petition Against Coffee, vindicating … their liquor, from the undeserved aspersion lately cast upon them, in their scandalous pamphlet.
The 1674 broadside in defense of coffee was the first to be illustrated; and for all its air of pretentious grandeur and occasional bathos, it was not a bad rhyming advertisement for the persecuted drink. It was printed for Paul Greenwood and sold “at the sign of the coffee mill and tobacco-roll in Cloath-fair near West-Smithfield, who selleth the best Arabian coffee powder and chocolate in cake or roll, after the Spanish fashion, etc.” The following extracts will serve to illustrate its epic character:
When the sweet Poison of the Treacherous Grape,
Had Acted on the world a General Rape;
Drowning our very Reason and our Souls
In such deep Seas of large o’reflowing Bowls.
When Foggy Ale, leavying up mighty Trains
Of muddy Vapours, had besieg’d our Brains;
Then Heaven in Pity, to Effect our Cure.
First sent amongst us this All-healing-Berry,
At once to make us both Sober and Merry.
Arabian Coffee, a Rich Cordial
To Purse and Person Beneficial,
Which of so many Vertues doth partake,
Its Country’s called Felix for its sake.
From the Rich Chambers of the Rising Sun,
Where Arts, and all good Fashions first begun,
Where Earth with choicest Rarities is blest,
And dying Phoenix builds Her wondrous Nest:
COFFEE arrives, that Grave and wholesome Liquor,
That heals the Stomack, makes the Genius quicker,
Relieves the Memory, Revives the Sad.
Do but this Rare ARABIAN Cordial Use,
And thou may’st all the Doctors Slops Refuse.
Hush then, dull QUACKS, your Mountebanking cease,
COFFEE’S a speedier Cure for each Disease;
How great its Vertues are, we hence may think,
The Worlds third Part makes it their common Drink:
In Breif, all you who Healths Rich Treasures Prize,
And Court not Ruby Noses, or blear’d Eyes,
But own Sobriety to be your Drift.
And Love at once good Company and Thrift;
To Wine no more make Wit and Coyn a Trophy,
But come each Night and Frollique here in Coffee.
An eight-page folio, the last argument to be issued in defense of coffee before Charles II sought to follow in the footsteps of Kair Bey and Kuprili, was issued in the early part of 1675. It was entitled Coffee Houses Vindicated. In answer to the late published Character of a Coffee House. Asserting from Reason, Experience and good Authors the Excellent Use and physical Virtues of that Liquor … With the Grand Convenience of such civil Places of Resort and ingenious Conversation.
The advantage of a coffee house compared with a “publick-house” is thus set forth:
First, In regard of easy expense. Being to wait for or meet a friend, a tavern-reckoning soon breeds a purse-consumption: in an ale house, you must gorge yourself with pot after pot…. But here, for a penny or two, you may spend two or three hours, have the shelter of a house, the warmth of a fire, the diversion of company; and conveniency, if you please, of taking a pipe of tobacco; and all this without any grumbling or repining. Secondly. For sobriety. It is grown, by the ill influences of I know not what hydropick stars, almost a general custom amongst us, that no bargain can be drove, or business concluded between man and man, but it must be transacted at some publick-house … where continual sippings … would be apt to fly up into their brains, and render them drowsy and indisposed … whereas, having now the opportunity of a coffee-house, they repair thither, take each man a dish or two (so far from causing, that it cures any dizziness, or disturbant fumes): and so, dispatching their business, go out more sprightly about their affairs, than before…. Lastly, For diversion … where can young gentlemen, or shop-keepers, more innocently and advantageously spend an hour or two in the evening than at a coffee-house? Where they shall be sure to meet company, and, by the custom of the house, not such as at other places stingy and reserved to themselves, but free and communicative, where every man may modestly begin his story, and propose to, or answer another, as he thinks fit…. So that, upon the whole matter, spight of the idle sarcasms and paltry reproaches thrown upon it, we may, with no less truth than plainness, give this brief character of a well-regulated coffee-house, (for our pen disdains to be an advocate for any sordid holes, that assume that name to cloke the practice of debauchery,) that it is the sanctuary of health, the nursery of temperance, the delight of frugality, and academy of civility, and free-school of ingenuity.
The Ale Wives’ Complaint Against the Coffee-houses, a dialogue between a victualer’s wife and a coffee man, at difference about spiriting away each other’s trade, also was issued in 1675.
As early as 1666, and again in 1672, we find the government planning to strike a blow at the coffee houses. By the year 1675, these “seminaries of sedition” were much frequented by persons of rank and substance, who, “suitable to our native genius,” says Anderson, “used great freedom therein with respect to the courts’ proceedings in these and like points, so contrary to the voice of the people.”
In 1672, Charles II, seemingly eager to emulate the Oriental intolerants that preceded him, determined to try his hand at suppression. “Having been informed of the great inconveniences arising from the great number of persons that resort to coffee-houses,” the king “desired the Lord Keeper and the Judges to give their opinion in writing as to how far he might lawfully proceed against them.”
Roger North in his Examen gives the full story; and D’Israeli, commenting on it, says, “it was not done without some apparent respect for the British constitution.” The courts affected not to act against the law, and the judges were summoned to a consultation; but the five who met could not agree in opinion.
Sir William Coventry spoke against the proposed measure. He pointed out that the government obtained considerable revenue from coffee, that the king himself owed to these seemingly obnoxious places no small debt of gratitude in the matter of his own restoration; for they had been permitted in Cromwell’s time, when the king’s friends had used more liberty of speech than “they dared to do in any other.” He urged, also, that it might be rash to issue a command so likely to be disobeyed.
At last, being hard pressed for a reply, the judges gave such a halting opinion in favor of the king’s policy as to remind us of the reluctant verdict wrung from the physicians and lawyers of Mecca on the occasion of coffee’s first persecution. “The English lawyers, in language which, for its civility and indefiniteness,” says Robinson, “would have been the envy of their Eastern brethren,” declared that:
Retailing coffee might be an innocent trade, as it might be exercised; but as it is used at present, in the nature of a common assembly, to discourse of matters of State, news and great Persons, as they are Nurseries of Idleness and Pragmaticalness, and hinder the expence of our native Provisions, they might be thought common nuisances.
An attempt was made to mold public opinion to a favorable consideration of the attempt at suppression in The Grand Concern of England explained, which was good propaganda for his majesty’s enterprise, but utterly failed to carry conviction to the lovers of liberty.
After much backing and filling, the king, on December 23, 1675, issued a proclamation which in its title frankly stated its[Pg 73] object—”for the suppression of coffee houses.” It is here given in a somewhat condensed form:
BY THE KING: A PROCLAMATION
FOR THE SUPPRESSION OF
Whereas it is most apparent that the multitude of Coffee Houses of late years set up and kept within this kingdom, the dominion of Wales, and town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and the great resort of Idle and disaffected persons to them, have produced very evil and dangerous effects; as well for that many tradesmen and others, do herein mispend much of their time, which might and probably would be employed in and about their Lawful Calling and Affairs; but also, for that in such houses … divers false, malitious and scandalous reports are devised and spread abroad to the Defamation of his Majestie’s Government, and to the Disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm; his Majesty hath thought fit and necessary, that the said Coffee Houses be (for the future) Put down, and suppressed, and doth … strictly charge and command all manner of persons, That they or any of them do not presume from and after the Tenth Day of January next ensuing, to keep any Public Coffee House, or to utter or sell by retail, in his, her or their house or houses (to be spent or consumed within the same) any Coffee, Chocolet, Sherbett or Tea, as they will answer the contrary at their utmost perils … (all licenses to be revoked).
Given at our Court at Whitehall, this third-and-twentieth day of Dec., 1675, in the seven-and-twentieth year of our Reign.
GOD SAVE THE KING.
And then a remarkable thing happened. It is not usual for a royal proclamation issued on the 29th of one month to be recalled on the 8th day of the next; but this is the record established by Charles II. The proclamation was made on December 23, 1675, and issued December 29, 1675. It forbade the coffee houses to operate after January 10, 1676. But so intense was the feeling aroused, that eleven days was sufficient time to convince the king that a blunder had been made. Men of all parties cried out against being deprived of their accustomed haunts. The dealers in coffee, tea, and chocolate demonstrated that the proclamation would greatly lessen his majesty’s revenues. Convulsion and discontent loomed large. The king heeded the warning, and on January 8, 1676, another proclamation was issued by which the first proclamation was recalled.
In order to save the king’s face, it was solemnly recited that “His Gracious Majesty,” out of his “princely consideration and royal compassion” would allow the retailers of coffee liquor to keep open until the 24th of the following June. But this was clearly only a royal subterfuge, as there was no further attempt at molestation, and it is extremely doubtful if any was contemplated at the time the second proclamation was promulgated.
“Than both which proclamations nothing could argue greater guilt nor greater weakness,” says Anderson. Robinson remarks, “A battle for freedom of speech was fought and won over this question at a time when Parliaments were infrequent and when the liberty of the press did not exist.”
We read in 1677 that “none dare venture into the coffee houses unless he be able to argue the question whether Parliament were dissolved or not.”
All through the years remaining in the seventeenth century, and through most of the eighteenth century, the London coffee houses grew and prospered. As before stated, they were originally temperance institutions, very different from the taverns and ale houses. “Within the walls of the coffee house there was always much noise, much clatter, much bustle, but decency was never outraged.”
At prices ranging from one to two pence per dish, the demand grew so great that coffee-house keepers were obliged to make the drink in pots holding eight or ten gallons.
The seventeenth-century coffee houses were sometimes referred to as the “penny universities”; because they were great schools of conversation, and the entrance fee was only a penny. Two pence was the usual price of a dish of coffee or tea, this charge also covering newspapers and lights. It was the custom for the frequenter to lay his penny on the bar, on entering or leaving. Admission to the exchange of sparkling wit and brilliant conversation was within the reach of all.
So great a Universitie
I think there ne’re was any;
In which you may a Schoolar be
For spending of a Penny.
“Regular customers,” we are told, “had particular seats and special attention from the fair lady at the bar, and the tea and coffee boys.”
It is believed that the modern custom of tipping, and the word “tip,” originated in the coffee houses, where frequently hung brass-bound boxes into which customers were expected to drop coins for the servants. The boxes were inscribed “To Insure Promptness” and from the initial letters of these words came “tip.”
The National Review says, “before 1715 the number of coffee houses in London was reckoned at 2000.” Dufour, who wrote in 1683, declares, upon information received from several persons who had staid in London, that there were 3000 of these places. However, 2000 is probably nearer the fact.
In that critical time in English history, when the people, tired of the misgovernment of the later Stuarts, were most in need of a forum where questions of great moment could be discussed, the coffee house became a sanctuary. Here matters of supreme political import were threshed out and decided for the good of Englishmen for all time. And because many of these questions were so well thought out then, there was no need to fight them out later. England’s great struggle for political liberty was really fought and won in the coffee house.
To the end of the reign of Charles II, coffee was looked upon by the government rather as a new check upon license than an added luxury. After the revolution, the London coffee merchants were obliged to petition the House of Lords against new import duties, and it was not until the year 1692 that the government, “for the greater encouragement and advancement of trade and the greater importation of the said respective goods or merchandises,” discharged one half of the obnoxious tariff.
Weird Coffee Substitutes
Shortly after the “great fire,” coffee substitutes began to appear. First came a liquor made with betony, “for the sake of those who could not accustom themselves to the bitter taste of coffee.” Betony is a herb belonging to the mint family, and its root was formerly employed in medicine as an emetic or purgative. In 1719, when coffee was 7s. a pound, came bocket, later known as saloop, a decoction of sassafras and sugar, that became such a favorite among those who could not afford tea or coffee, that there were many saloop stalls in the streets of London. It was also sold at Read’s coffee house in Fleet Street.
The Coffee Men Overreach Themselves
The coffee-house keepers had become so powerful a force in the community in 1729 that they lost all sense of proportion; and we find them seriously proposing to usurp the functions of the newspapers. The vainglorious coffee men requested the government to hand over to them a journalistic monopoly; the argument being that the newspapers of the day were choked with advertisements, filled with foolish stories gathered by all-too enterprising newswriters, and that the only way for the government to escape “further excesses occasioned by the freedom of the press” and to rid itself of “those pests of society, the unlicensed newsvendors,” was for it to intrust the coffee men, as “the chief supporters of liberty” with the publication of a Coffee House Gazette. Information for the journal was to be supplied by the habitués of the houses themselves, written down on brass slates or ivory tablets, and called for twice daily by the Gazette’s representatives. All the profits were to go to the coffee men—including the expected increase of custom.
Needless to say, this amazing proposal of the coffee-house masters to have the public write its own newspapers met with the scorn and the derision it invited, and nothing ever came of it.
The increasing demand for coffee caused the government tardily to seek to stimulate interest in the cultivation of the plant in British colonial possessions. It was tried out in Jamaica in 1730. By 1732 the experiment gave such promise that Parliament, “for encouraging the growth of coffee in His Majesty’s plantations in America,” reduced the inland duty on coffee coming from there, “but of none other,” from two shillings to one shilling six pence per pound. “It seems that the French at Martinico, Hispaniola, and at the Isle de Bourbon, near Madagascar, had somewhat the start of the English in the new product as had also the Dutch at Surinam, yet none had hitherto been found to equal coffee from Arabia, whence all the rest of the world had theirs.” Thus writes Adam Anderson in 1787, somewhat ungraciously seeking to damn England’s business rivals with faint praise. Java coffee was even then in the lead, and the seeds of Bourbon-Santos[Pg 75] were multiplying rapidly in Brazilian soil.
The British East India Company, however, was much more interested in tea than in coffee. Having lost out to the French and Dutch on the “little brown berry of Arabia,” the company engaged in so lively a propaganda for “the cup that cheers” that, whereas the annual tea imports from 1700 to 1710 averaged 800,000 pounds, in 1721 more than 1,000,000 pounds of tea were brought in. In 1757, some 4,000,000 pounds were imported. And when the coffee house finally succumbed, tea, and not coffee, was firmly intrenched as the national drink of the English people.
A movement in 1873 to revive the coffee house in the form of a coffee “palace,” designed to replace the public house as a place of resort for working men, caused the Edinburgh Castle to be opened in London. The movement attained considerable success throughout the British Isles, and even spread to the United States.
Evolution of the Club
Every profession, trade, class, and party had its favorite coffee house. “The bitter black drink called coffee,” as Mr. Pepys described the beverage, brought together all sorts and conditions of men; and out of their mixed association there developed groups of patrons favoring particular houses and giving them character. It is easy to trace the transition of the group into a clique that later became a club, continuing for a time to meet at the coffee house or the chocolate house, but eventually demanding a house of its own.
Decline and Fall of the Coffee House
Starting as a forum for the commoner, “the coffee house soon became the plaything of the leisure class; and when the club was evolved, the coffee house began to retrograde to the level of the tavern. And so the eighteenth century, which saw the coffee house at the height of its power and popularity, witnessed also its decline and fall. It is said there were as many clubs at the end of the century as there were coffee houses at the beginning.”
For a time, when the habit of reading newspapers descended the social ladder, the coffee house acquired a new lease of life. Sir Walter Besant observes:
They were then frequented by men who came, not to talk, but to read; the smaller tradesmen and the better class of mechanic now came to the coffee-house, called for a cup of coffee, and with it the daily paper, which they could not afford to take in. Every coffee-house took three or four papers; there seems to have been in this latter phase of the once social institution no general conversation. The coffee-house as a place of resort and conversation gradually declined; one can hardly say why, except that all human institutions do decay. Perhaps manners declined; the leaders in literature ceased to be seen there; the city clerk began to crowd in; the tavern and the club drew men from the coffee-house.
A few houses survived until the early years of the nineteenth century, but the social side had disappeared. As tea and coffee entered the homes, and the exclusive club house succeeded the democratic coffee forum, the coffee houses became taverns or chop houses, or, convinced that they had outlived their usefulness, just ceased to be.
Pen Pictures of Coffee-House Life
From the writings of Addison in the Spectator, Steele in the Tatler, Mackay in his Journey Through England, Macaulay in his history, and others, it is possible to draw a fairly accurate pen-picture of life in the old London coffee house.
In the seventeenth century the coffee room usually opened off the street. At first only tables and chairs were spread about on a sanded floor. Later, this arrangement was succeeded by the boxes, or booths, such as appear in the Rowlandson caricatures, the picture of the interior of Lloyds, etc.
The walls were decorated with handbills and posters advertising the quack medicines, pills, tinctures, salves, and electuaries of the period, all of which might be purchased at the bar near the entrance, presided over by a prototype of the modern English barmaid. There were also bills of the play, auction notices, etc., depending upon the character of the place.
Then, as now, the barmaids were made much of by patrons. Tom Brown refers to them as charming “Phillises who invite you by their amorous glances into their smoaky territories.”
Messages were left and letters received at the bar for regular customers. Stella was instructed to address her letters to Swift, “under cover to Addison at the St. James’s coffee house.” Says Macaulay:
Foreigners remarked that it was the coffee house which specially distinguished London from all other cities; that the coffee house was the Londoner’s home, and that those who wished to find a gentleman commonly asked, not whether he lived in Fleet Street or Chancery Lane, but whether he frequented the Grecian or the Rainbow.
So every man of the upper or middle classes went daily to his coffee house to learn the news and to discuss it. The better class houses were the meeting places of the most substantial men in the community. Every coffee house had its orator, who became to his admirers a kind of “fourth estate of the realm.”
Macaulay gives us the following picture of the coffee house of 1685:
Nobody was excluded from these places who laid down his penny at the bar. Yet every rank and profession, and every shade of religious and political opinion had its own headquarters.
There were houses near St. James’ Park, where fops congregated, their heads and shoulders covered with black or flaxen wigs, not less ample than those which are now worn by the Chancellor and by the Speaker of the House of Commons. The atmosphere was like that of a perfumer’s shop. Tobacco in any form than that of richly scented snuff was held in abomination. If any clown, ignorant of the usages of the house, called for a pipe, the sneers of the whole assembly and the short answers of the waiters soon convinced him that he had better go somewhere else.
Nor, indeed, would he have far to go. For, in general, the coffee-houses reeked with tobacco like a guard room. Nowhere was the smoking more constant than at Will’s. That celebrated house, situated between Covent Garden and Bow street, was sacred to polite letters. There the talk was about poetical justice and the unities of place and time. Under no roof was a greater variety of figures to be seen. There were earls in stars and garters, clergymen in cassocks and bands, pert Templars, sheepish lads from universities, translators and index makers in ragged coats of frieze. The great press was to get near the chair where John Dryden sate. In winter that chair was always in the warmest nook by the fire; in summer it stood in the balcony. To bow to the Laureate, and to hear his opinion of Racine’s last tragedy, or of Bossu’s treatise on epic poetry, was thought a privilege. A pinch from his snuff-box was an honour sufficient to turn the head of a young enthusiast.
There were coffee-houses where the first medical men might be consulted. Dr. John Radcliffe, who, in the year 1685, rose to the largest practice in London, came daily, at the hour when the Exchange was full, from his house in Bow street, then a fashionable part of the capital, to Garraway’s, and was to be found, surrounded by surgeons and apothecaries, at a particular table.
There were Puritan coffee-houses where no oath was heard, and where lank-haired men discussed election and reprobation through their noses; Jew coffee-houses, where dark-eyed money changers from Venice and Amsterdam greeted each other; and Popish coffee-houses, where, as good Protestants believed, Jesuits planned over their cups another great fire, and cast silver bullets to shoot the King.
Ned Ward gives us this picture of the coffee house of the seventeenth century. He is describing Old Man’s, Scotland Yard:
We now ascended a pair of stairs, which brought us into an old-fashioned room, where a gaudy crowd of odoriferous Tom-Essences were walking backwards and forwards, with their hats in their hands, not daring to convert them to their intended use lest it should put the foretops of their wigs into some disorder. We squeezed through till we got to the end of the room, where, at a small table, we sat down, and observed that it was as great a rarity to hear anybody call for a dish of politicians porridge, or any other liquor, as it is to hear a beau call for a pipe of tobacco; their whole exercise being to charge and discharge their nostrils and keep the curls of their periwigs in their proper order. The clashing of their snush-box lids, in opening and shutting, made more noise than their tongues. Bows and cringes of the newest mode were here exchanged ‘twixt friend and friend with wonderful exactness. They made a humming like so many hornets in a country chimney, not with their talking, but with their whispering over their new Minuets and Bories, with the hands in their pockets, if only freed from their snush-box. We now began to be thoughtful of a pipe of tobacco, whereupon we ventured to call for some instruments of evaporation, which were accordingly brought us, but with such a kind of unwillingness, as if they would much rather been rid of our company; for their tables were so very neat, and shined with rubbing like the upper-leathers of an alderman’s shoes, and as brown as the top of a country housewife’s cupboard. The floor was as clean swept as a Sir Courtly’s dining room, which made us look round to see if there were no orders hung up to impose the forfeiture of so much mop-money upon any person that should spit out of the chimney-corner. Notwithstanding we wanted an example to encourage us in our porterly rudeness, we ordered them to light the wax candle, by which we ignified our pipes and blew about our whiffs; at which several Sir Foplins drew their faces into as many peevish wrinkles as the beaux at the Bow Street Coffee-house, near Covent Garden, did when the gentleman in masquerade came in amongst them, with his oyster-barrel muff and turnip-buttons, to ridicule their foperies.
In A Brief and Merry History of Great Britain we read:
There is a prodigious number of Coffee-Houses in London, after the manner I have seen some in Constantinople. These Coffee-Houses are the constant Rendezvous for Men of Business as well as the idle People. Besides Coffee, there are many other Liquors, which People cannot well relish at first. They smoak Tobacco, game and read Papers of Intelligence; here they treat of Matters of State, make Leagues with Foreign Princes, break them again,[Pg 78] and transact Affairs of the last Consequence to the whole World. They represent these Coffee-Houses as the most agreeable things in London, and they are, in my Opinion, very proper Places to find People that a Man has Business with, or to pass away the Time a little more agreeably than he can do at home; but in other respects they are loathsome, full of smoak, like a Guard-Room, and as much crowded. I believe ’tis these Places that furnish the Inhabitants with Slander, for there one hears exact Account of everything done in Town, as if it were but a Village.
At those Coffee-Houses, near the Courts, called White’s, St. James’s, Williams’s, the Conversation turns chiefly upon the Equipages, Essence, Horse-Matches, Tupees, Modes and Mortgages; the Cocoa-Tree upon Bribery and Corruption, Evil ministers, Errors and Mistakes in Government; the Scotch Coffee-Houses towards Charing Cross, on Places and Pensions; the Tiltyard and Young Man’s on Affronts, Honour, Satisfaction, Duels and Rencounters. I was informed that the latter happen so frequently, in this part of the Town, that a Surgeon and a Sollicitor are kept constantly in waiting; the one to dress and heal such Wounds as may be given, and the other in case of Death to bring off the Survivor with a Verdict of Se Devendendo or Manslaughter. In those Coffee-Houses about the Temple the Subjects are generally on Causes, Costs, Demurrers, Rejoinders and Exceptions; Daniel’s the Welch Coffee-House in Fleet Street, on Births, Pedigrees and Descents; Child’s and the Chapter upon Glebes, Tithes, Advowsons, Rectories and Lectureships; North’s Undue Elections, False Polling, Scrutinies, etc.; Hamlin’s, Infant-Baptism, Lay-Ordination, Free-Will, Election and Reprobation; Batson’s, the Prices of Pepper, Indigo and Salt-Petre; and all those about the Exchange, where the Merchants meet to transact their Affairs, are in a perpetual hurry about Stock-Jobbing, Lying, Cheating, Tricking Widows and Orphans, and committing Spoil and Rapine on the Publick.
In the eighteenth century beer and wine were commonly sold at the coffee houses in addition to tea and chocolate. Daniel Defoe, writing of his visit to Shrewsbury in 1724, says, “I found there the most coffee houses around the Town Hall that ever I saw in any town, but when you come into them they are but ale houses, only they think that the name coffee house gives a better air.”
Speaking of the coffee houses of the city, Besant says:
Rich merchants alone ventured to enter certain of the coffee houses, where they transacted business more privately and more expeditiously than on the Exchange. There were coffee houses where officers of the army alone were found; where the city shopkeeper met his chums; where actors congregated; where only divines, only lawyers, only physicians, only wits and those who came to hear them were found. In all alike the visitor put down his penny and went in, taking his own seat if he was an habitue; he called for a cup of tea or coffee and paid his twopence for it; he could call also, if he pleased, for a cordial; he was expected to talk with his neighbour whether he knew him or not. Men went to certain coffee houses in order to meet the well-known poets and writers who were to be found there, as Pope went in search of Dryden. The daily papers and the pamphlets of the day were taken in. Some of the coffee houses, but not the more respectable, allowed the use of tobacco.
Mackay, in his Journey Through England (1724), says:
We rise by nine, and those that frequent great men’s levees find entertainment at them till eleven, or, as in Holland, go to tea-tables; about twelve thebeau monde assemble in several coffee or chocolate houses; the best of which are the Cocoatree and White’s chocolate houses, St. James’, the Smyrna, Mrs. Rochford’s and the British coffee houses; and all these so near one another that in less than an hour you see the company of them all. We are carried to these places in chairs (or sedans), which are here very cheap, a guinea a week, or a shilling per hour, and your chairmen serve you for porters to run on errands, as your gondoliers do at Venice.
If it be fine weather we take a turn into the park till two, when we go to dinner; and if it be dirty, you are entertained at picquet or basset at White’s, or you may talk politics at the Smyrna or St. James’. I must not forget to tell you that the parties have their different places, where, however, a stranger is always well received; but a Whig will no more go to the Cocoatree than a Tory will be seen at the Coffee House, St James’.
The Scots go generally to the British, and a mixture of all sorts go to the Smyrna. There are other little coffee houses much frequented in this neighborhood—Young Man’s for officers; Old Man’s for stock jobbers, paymasters and courtiers, and Little Man’s for sharpers. I never was so confounded in my life as when I entered into this last. I saw two or three tables full at faro, and was surrounded by a set of sharp faces that I was afraid would have devoured me with their eyes. I was glad to drop two or three half crowns at faro to get off with a clear skin, and was overjoyed I so got rid of them.
At two we generally go to dinner; ordinaries are not so common here as abroad, yet the French have set up two or three good ones for the convenience of foreigners in Suffolk street, where one is tolerably well served; but the general way here is to make a party at the coffee house to go to dine at the tavern, where we sit till six, when we go to the play, except you are invited to the table of some great man, which strangers are always courted to and nobly entertained.
Mackay writes that “in all the coffee houses you have not only the foreign prints but several English ones with foreign occurrences, besides papers of morality and party disputes.”
“After the play,” writes Defoe, “the best company generally go to Tom’s and Will’s coffee houses, near adjoining, where there is playing at picquet and the best of conversation till midnight. Here you will see blue and green ribbons and stars sitting familiarly and talking with the same freedom[Pg 80] as if they had left their equality and degrees of distance at home.”
Before entering the coffee house every one was recommended by the Tatler to prepare his body with three dishes of bohea and to purge his brains with two pinches of snuff. Men had their coffee houses as now they have their clubs—sometimes contented with one, sometimes belonging to three or four. Johnson, for instance, was connected with St. James’s, the Turk’s Head, the Bedford, Peele’s, besides the taverns which he frequented. Addison and Steele used Button’s; Swift, Button’s, the Smyrna, and St. James’s; Dryden, Will’s; Pope, Will’s and Button’s; Goldsmith, the St. James’s and the Chapter; Fielding, the Bedford; Hogarth, the Bedford and Slaughter’s; Sheridan, the Piazza; Thurlow, Nando’s.
Some Famous Coffee Houses
Among the famous English coffee houses of the seventeenth-eighteenth century period were St. James’s, Will’s, Garraway’s, White’s, Slaughter’s, the Grecian, Button’s, Lloyd’s, Tom’s, and Don Saltero’s.
St. James’s was a Whig house frequented by members of Parliament, with a fair sprinkling of literary stars. Garraway’s catered to the gentry of the period, many of whom naturally had Tory proclivities.
One of the notable coffee houses of Queen Anne’s reign was Button’s. Here Addison could be found almost every afternoon and evening, along with Steele, Davenant, Carey, Philips, and other kindred minds. Pope was a member of the same coffee house club for a year, but his inborn irascibility eventually led him to drop out of it.
At Button’s a lion’s head, designed by Hogarth after the Lion of Venice, “a proper emblem of knowledge and action, being all head and paws,” was set up to receive letters and papers for theGuardian. The Tatler and the Spectator were born in the coffee house, and probably English prose would never have received the impetus given it by the essays of Addison and Steele had it not been for coffee house associations.
Pope’s famous Rape of the Lock grew out of coffee-house gossip. The poem itself contains one charming passage on coffee.
Another frequenter of the coffee houses of London, when he had the money to do so, was Daniel Defoe, whose Robinson Crusoe was the precursor of the English novel. Henry Fielding, one of the greatest of all English novelists, loved the life of the more bohemian coffee houses, and was, in fact, induced to write his first great novel, Joseph Andrews, through coffee-house criticisms of Richardson’s Pamela.
Other frequenters of the coffee houses of the period were Thomas Gray and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Garrick was often to be seen at Tom’s in Birchin Lane, where also Chatterton might have been found on many an evening before his untimely death.
The London Pleasure Gardens
The second half of the eighteenth century was covered by the reigns of the Georges. The coffee houses were still an important factor in London life, but were influenced somewhat by the development of gardens in which were served tea, chocolate, and other drinks, as well as coffee. At the coffee houses themselves, while coffee[Pg 81] remained the favorite beverage, the proprietors, in the hope of increasing their patronage, began to serve wine, ale, and other liquors. This seems to have been the first step toward the decay of the coffee house.
The figure in the cloak is Count Viviani; of the figures facing the reader, the draughts player is Dr. Arbuthnot, and the figure standing is assumed to be Pope]
The coffee houses, however, continued to be the centers of intellectual life. When Samuel Johnson and David Garrick came together to London, literature was temporarily in a bad way, and the hack writers of the time dwelt in Grub Street.
It was not until after Johnson had met with some success, and had established the first of his coffee-house clubs at the Turk’s Head, that literature again became a fashionable profession.
This really famous literary club met at the Turk’s Head from 1763 to 1783. Among the most notable members were Johnson, the arbiter of English prose; Oliver Goldsmith; Boswell, the biographer; Burke, the orator; Garrick, the actor; and Sir Joshua Reynolds, the painter. Among the later members were Gibbon, the historian; and Adam Smith, the political economist.
Certain it is that during the sway of the English coffee house, and at least partly through its influence, England produced a better prose literature, as embodied alike in her essays, literary criticisms, and novels, than she ever had produced before.
The advent of the pleasure garden brought coffee out into the open in England; and one of the reasons why gardens, such as Ranelagh and Vauxhall, began to be more frequented than the coffee houses was that they were popular resorts for women as well as for men. All kinds of beverages were served in them; and soon the women began to favor tea as an afternoon drink. At least, the great development in the use of tea dates from this period; and many of these resorts called themselves tea gardens.
The use of coffee by this time, however, was well established in the homes as a breakfast and dinner beverage, and such consumption more than made up for any loss sustained through the gradual decadence of the coffee house. Yet signs of the change in national taste that arrived with the Georges were not wanting; for the active propaganda of the British East India Company was fairly well launched during Queen Anne’s reign.
The London pleasure gardens of the eighteenth century were unique. At one time there was a “mighty maze” of them. Their season extended from April or May to August or September. At first there was no charge for admission, but Warwick Wroth tells us that visitors usually purchased cheese cakes, syllabubs, tea, coffee and ale.
The four best-known London gardens were Vauxhall; Marylebone; Cuper’s, where the charge for admission subsequently was fixed at not less than a shilling; and Ranelagh, where the charge of half a crown included “the Elegant Regale” of tea, coffee, and bread and butter.
The pleasure gardens provided walks, rooms for dancing, skittle grounds, bowling greens, variety entertainments, and promenade concerts; and not a few places were given over to fashionable gambling and racing.
The Vauxhall Gardens, one of the most favored resorts of pleasure-seeking Londoners, were located on the Surrey side of the Thames, a short distance east of Vauxhall Bridge. They were originally known as the New Spring Gardens (1661), to distinguish them from the old Spring Gardens at Charing Cross. They became famous in the reign of Charles II. Vauxhall was celebrated for its walks, lit with thousands of lamps, its musical and other performances, suppers, and fireworks. High and low were to be found there, and the drinking of tea and coffee in the arbors was a feature. The illustration shows the garden brightly illuminated by lanterns and lamps on some festival occasion. Coffee and tea were served in the arbors.
The Ranelagh, “a place of public entertainment,” erected at Chelsea in 1742, was a kind of Vauxhall under cover. The principal room, known as the Rotunda, was circular in shape, 150 feet in diameter, and[Pg 83] had an orchestra in the center and tiers of boxes all around. Promenading and taking refreshments in the boxes were the principal divertisements. Except on gala nights of masquerades and fireworks, only tea, coffee, bread and butter were to be had at Ranelagh.
In the group of gardens connected with mineral springs was the Dog and Duck (St. George’s Spa), which became at last a tea garden and a dancing saloon of doubtful repute.
Still another division, recognized by Wroth, consisted mainly of tea gardens, among them Highbury Barn, The Canonbury House, Hornsey and Copenhagen House, Bagnigge Wells, and White Conduit House. The two last named were the classic tea gardens of the period. Both were provided with “long rooms” in case of rain, and for indoor promenades with organ music. Then there were the Adam and Eve tea gardens, with arbors for tea-drinking parties, which subsequently became the Adam and Eve Tavern and Coffee House. Well known were the Bayswater Tea Gardens and the Jews Harp House and Tea Gardens. All these were provided with neat, “genteel” boxes, let into the hedges and alcoves, for tea and coffee drinkers.
Locating the Notable Coffee Houses
Garraway’s, 3 ‘Change Alley, Cornhill, was a place for great mercantile transactions. Thomas Garway, the original proprietor, was a tobacconist and coffee man, who claimed to be the first that sold tea in England, although not at this address. The later Garraway’s was long famous as a sandwich and drinking room for sherry, pale ale, and punch, in addition to tea and coffee. It is said that the sandwich-maker was occupied two hours in cutting and arranging the sandwiches for the day’s consumption. After the “great fire” of 1666 Garraway’s moved into the same place in Exchange Alley where Elford had been before the fire. Here he claimed to have the oldest coffee house in London; but the ground on which Bowman’s had stood was occupied later by the Virginia and the Jamaica coffee houses. The latter was damaged by the fire of 1748 which consumed Garraway’s and Elford’s (see map of the 1748 fire).
Will’s, the predecessor of Button’s, first had the title of the Red Cow, then of[Pg 84] the Rose. It was kept by William Urwin, and was on the north side of Russell Street at the corner of Bow Street. “It was Dryden who made Will’s coffee house the great resort of the wits of his time.” (Pope and Spence.) The room in which the poet was accustomed to sit was on the first floor; and his place was the place of honor by the fireside in the winter, and at the corner of the balcony, looking over the street, in fine weather; he called the two places his winter and his summer seat. This was called the dining-room floor. The company did not sit in boxes as subsequently, but at various tables which were dispersed through the room. Smoking was permitted in the public room; it was then so much in vogue that it does not seem to have been considered a nuisance. Here, as in other similar places of meeting, the visitors divided themselves into parties; and we are told by Ward that the young beaux and wits, who seldom approached the principal table, thought it a great honor to have a pinch out of Dryden’s snuff-box. After Dryden’s death Will’s was transferred to a house opposite, and became Button’s, “over against Thomas’s in Covent Garden.” Thither also Addison transferred much company from Thomas’s. Here Swift first saw Addison. Hither also came “Steele, Arbuthnot and many other wits of the time.” Button’s continued in vogue until Addison’s death and Steele’s retirement into Wales, after which the coffee drinkers went to the Bedford, dinner parties to the Shakespeare. Button’s was subsequently known as the Caledonien.
From a water color by T.H. Shepherd
Slaughter’s, famous as the resort of painters and sculptors in the eighteenth century, was situated at the upper end of the west side of St. Martin’s Lane. Its first landlord was Thomas Slaughter, 1692. A second Slaughter’s (New Slaughter’s) was established in the same street in 1760, when the original Slaughter’s adopted the name of Old Slaughter’s. It was torn down in 1843–44. Among the notables who frequented it were Hogarth; young Gainsborough; Cipriani; Haydon; Roubiliac; Hudson, who painted the Dilettanti portraits; M’Ardell, the mezzotinto-scraper;[Pg 85] Luke Sullivan, the engraver; Gardell, the portrait painter; and Parry, the Welsh harper.
Tom’s, in Birchin Lane, Cornhill, though in the main a mercantile resort, acquired some celebrity from having been frequented by Garrick. Tom’s was also frequented by Chatterton, as a place “of the best resort.” Then there was Tom’s in Devereux Court, Strand, and Tom’s at 17 Great Russell Street, Covent Garden, oppositeButton’s, a celebrated resort during the reign of Queen Anne and for more than a century after.
The Grecian, Devereux Court, Strand, was originally kept by one Constantine, a Greek. From this house Steele proposed to date his learned articles in the Tatler; it is mentioned in No. 1 of the Spectator, and it was much frequented by Goldsmith. The Grecian was Foote’s morning lounge. In 1843 the premises became the Grecian Chambers, with a bust of Lord Devereux, earl of Essex, over the door.
From a water color by T.H. Shepherd, 1841
From a water color by T.H. Shepherd
Lloyd’s, Royal Exchange, celebrated for its priority of shipping intelligence and its marine insurance, originated with Edward Lloyd, who about 1688 kept a coffee house in Tower Street, later in Lombard Street corner of Abchurch Lane. It was a modest place of refreshment for seafarers and merchants. As a matter of convenience, Edward Lloyd prepared “ships’ lists” for the guidance of the frequenters of the coffee house. “These lists, which were written by hand, contained,” according to Andrew Scott, “an account of vessels which the underwriters who met there were likely to have offered them for insurance.” Such was the beginning of two institutions that have since exercised a dominant influence on the sea-carrying trade of the whole world—the Royal Exchange Lloyd’s, the greatest insurance institution in the world, and Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. Lloyd’s now has 1400 agents in all parts of the world. It receives as many as 100,000 telegrams a year. It records through its intelligence service the daily movements of 11,000 vessels.
In the beginning one of the apartments in the Exchange was fitted up as Lloyd’s[Pg 86] coffee room. Edward Lloyd died in 1712. Subsequently the coffee house was in Pope’s Head Alley, where it was called New Lloyd’s coffee house, but on September 14, 1784, it was removed to the northwest corner of the Royal Exchange, where it remained until the partial destruction of that building by fire.
In rebuilding the Exchange there were provided the Subscribers’ or Underwriters’ room, the Merchants’ room, and the Captains’ room. The City, second edition, 1848, contains the following description of this most famous rendezvous of eminent merchants, shipowners, underwriters, insurance, stock and exchange brokers:
Here is obtained the earliest news of the arrival and sailing of vessels, losses at sea, captures, recaptures, engagements and other shipping intelligence; and proprietors of ships and freights are insured by the underwriters. The rooms are in the Venetian style with Roman enrichments. At the entrance of the room are exhibited the Shipping Lists, received from Lloyd’s agents at home and abroad, and affording particulars of departures or arrivals of vessels, wrecks, salvage, or sale of property saved, etc. To the right and left are “Lloyd’s Books,” two enormous ledgers. Right hand, ships “spoken with” or arrived at their destined ports; left hand, records of wrecks, fires or severe collisions, written in a fine Roman hand in “double lines.” To assist the underwriters in their calculations, at the end of the room is an Anemometer, which registers the state of the wind day and night; attached is a rain gauge.
The British, Cockspur Street, “long a house of call for Scotchmen,” was fortunate in its landladies. In 1759 it was kept by the sister of Bishop Douglas, so well known for his works against Lauder and Bower, which may explain its Scottish fame. At another period it was kept by Mrs. Anderson, described in Mackenzie’s Life of Home as “a woman of uncommon talents and the most agreeable conversation.”
Don Saltero’s, 18 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, was opened by a barber named Salter in 1695. Sir Hans Sloane contributed of his own collection some of the refuse gimcracks that were to be found in Salter’s “museum.” Vice-Admiral Munden, who had been long on the coast of Spain, where he had acquired a fondness for Spanish titles, named the keeper of the house Don Saltero, and his coffee house and museum Don Saltero’s.
Squire’s was in Fulwood’s Rents, Holburn, running up to Gray’s Inn. It was one of the receiving houses of the Spectator. In No. 269 the Spectator accepts Sir Roger de Coverley’s invitation to “smoke a pipe with him over a dish of coffee at Squire’s. As I love the old man, I take delight in[Pg 87] complying with everything that is agreeable to him, and accordingly waited on him to the coffee-house, where his venerable figure drew upon us the eyes of the whole room. He had no sooner seated himself at the upper end of the high table, but he called for a clean pipe, a paper of tobacco, a dish of coffee, a wax candle and the ‘Supplement’ (a periodical paper of that time), with such an air of cheerfulness and good humour, that all the boys in the coffee room (who seemed to take pleasure in serving him) were at once employed on his several errands, insomuch that nobody else could come at a dish of tea until the Knight had got all his conveniences about him.” Such was the coffee room in theSpectator’s day.
The Cocoa-Tree was originally a coffee house on the south side of Pall Mall. When there grew up a need for “places of resort of a more elegant and refined character,” chocolate houses came into vogue, and the Cocoa-Tree was the most famous of these. It was converted into a club in 1746.
White’s chocolate house, established by Francis White about 1693 in St. James’s Street, originally open to any one as a coffee house, soon became a private club, composed of “the most fashionable exquisites of the town and court.” In its coffee-house days, the entrance was sixpence, as compared with the average penny fee of the other coffee houses. Escott refers to White’s as being “the one specimen of the class to which it belongs, of a place at which, beneath almost the same roof, and always bearing the same name, whether as coffee house or club, the same class of persons has congregated during more than two hundred years.”
Among hundreds of other coffee houses that flourished during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the following more notable ones are deserving of mention:
Baker’s, 58 ‘Change Alley, for nearly half a century noted for its chops and steaks broiled in the coffee room and eaten hot from the gridiron; the Baltic, in Threadneedle Street, the rendezvous of brokers and merchants connected with the Russian trade; the Bedford, “under the Piazza, in Covent Garden,” crowded every night with men of parts and “signalized for many years as the emporium of wit, the seat of criticism and the standard of taste”; the Chapter, in Paternoster Row, frequented by Chatterton and Goldsmith; Child’s, in St. Paul’s Churchyard, one of the Spectator’s houses, and much frequented by the clergy and fellows of the Royal Society; Dick’s, in Fleet Street, frequented by Cowper, and the scene of Rousseau’s comedietta, entitled The Coffee House; St. James’s, in St. James’s Street, frequented by Swift, Goldsmith, and Garrick; Jerusalem, in Cowper’s Court, Cornhill, frequented by merchants and captains connected with the commerce of China, India, and Australia; Jonathan’s, in ‘Change Alley, described by the Tatler as “the general mart of stock jobbers”; the London, in Ludgate Hill, noted for its publishers’ sales of stock and copyrights; Man’s, in Scotland Yard, which took its name from the proprietor, Alexander Man, and was sometimes known as Old Man’s, or theRoyal, to distinguish it from Young Man’s, Little Man’s, New Man’s, etc., minor establishments in the neighborhood; Nando’s, in Fleet Street, the favorite haunt of Lord Thurlow and many professional loungers, attracted by the fame of the punch and the charms of the landlady; New England and North and South American, in Threadneedle Street, having on its subscription list representatives of Barings, Rothschilds, and other wealthy establishments; Peele’s, in Fleet Street, having a portrait of Dr. Johnson said to have been painted by Sir Joshua[Pg 89] Reynolds; the Percy, in Oxford Street, the inspiration for the Percy Anecdotes; the Piazza, in Covent Garden, where Macklin fitted up a large coffee room, or theater, for oratory, and Fielding and Foote poked fun at him; the Rainbow, in Fleet Street, the second coffee house opened in London, having its token money; the Smyrna, in Pall Mall, a “place to talk politics,” and frequented by Prior and Swift; Tom King’s, one of the old night houses of Covent Garden Market, “well known to all gentlemen to whom beds are unknown”; the Turk’s Head, ‘Change Alley, which also had its tokens; the Turk’s Head, in the Strand, which was a favorite supping house for Dr. Johnson and Boswell; the Folly, a coffee house on a house-boat on the Thames, which became quite notorious during Queen Anne’s reign.