Pages from the Arabian writing by Abd-al-Kâdir, photographed for this work in the Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris.
A HISTORY OF COFFEE IN LITERATURE
The romance of coffee, and its influence on the discourse, poetry, history, drama, philosophic writing, and fiction of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and on the writers of today—Coffee quips and anecdotes
ANY study of the literature of coffee comprehends a survey of selections from the best thought of civilized nations, from the time of Rhazes (850–922) to Francis Saltus. We have seen in chapter III how Rhazes, the physician-philosopher, appears to have been the first writer to mention coffee; and was followed by other great physicians, like Bengiazlah, a contemporary, and Avicenna (980–1037).
Then arose many legends about coffee, that served as inspiration for Arabian, French, Italian, and English poets.
Sheik Gemaleddin, mufti of Mocha, is said to have discovered the virtues of coffee about 1454, and to have promoted the use of the drink in Arabia. Knowledge of the new beverage was given to Europeans by the botanists Rauwolf and Alpini toward the close of the sixteenth century.
The first authentic account of the origin of coffee was written by Abd-al-Kâdir in 1587. It is the famous Arabian manuscript commending the use of coffee, preserved in the Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris, and catalogued as “Arabe, 4590.”
Its title written in Arabic is as follows:
which is pronounced (reading right to left):
or; in the literary style: omdatu s safwati fi hallu ‘l kahwati which means—literally, (the corresponding words being underlined and numbered)
or, more freely, “Argument in favor of the legitimate use of coffee.”
kahwa, is the Arabic word for coffee.
The author is Abd-al-Kâdir ibn Mohammad al Ansâri al Jazari al Hanbali. That is, he was named Abd-al-Kâdir, son of Mohammed.
Abd-al-Kâdir means “slave of the strong one” (i.e., of God); while al Ansâri means that he was a descendant of the Ansâri (i.e., “helpers”), the people of Medina who received and protected the Prophet Mohammed after his flight from Mecca; al Jazari means that he was a man of Mesopotamia; and al Hanbali that in law and theology he belonged to the well known sect, or school, of the Hanbalites, so called after the great jurist and writer, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who died at Bagdad A.H. 241 (A.D. 855). The Hanbalites are one of the four great sects of the Sunni Mohammedans.
Abd-al-Kâdir ibn Mohammed lived in the tenth century of the Hegira—the sixteenth of our era—and wrote his book in 996 A.H., or 1587 A.D. Coffee had then been in common use since about 1450 A.D. in Arabia. It was not in use in the time of[Pg 542] the Prophet, who died in 632 A.D.; but he had forbidden the drink of strong liquors which affect the brain, and hence it was argued that coffee, as a stimulant, was unlawful. Even today, the community of the Wahabis, very powerful in Arabia a hundred years ago, and still dominant in part of it, do not permit the use of coffee.
Abd-al-Kâdir’s book is thought to have been based on an earlier writing by Shihâb-ad-Dîn Ahmad ibn Abd-al-Ghafâr al Maliki, as he refers to the latter on the third page of his manuscript; but if so, this previous work does not appear to have been preserved. La Roque says Shihâb-ad-Dîn was an Arabian historian who supplied the main part of Abd-al-Kâdir’s story. La Roque refers also to a Turkish historian.
Research by the author has failed to disclose anything about Shihâb-ad-Dîn save his name (al Maliki means that he belonged to the Malikites, another of the four great Sunni sects), and that he wrote about a hundred years before Abd-al-Kâdir. No copy of his writings is known to exist.
The illustrations show the title page of Abd-al-Kâdir’s manuscript, the first page, the third page, and the fly leaf of the cover, the latter containing an inscription in Latin made at the time the manuscript was first received or classified. It reads:
Omdat al safouat fl hall al cahuat.
De usu legitimo et licito potionis quae vulgo Café nuncupatur. Authore Abdalcader Ben Mohammed al Ansâri. Constat hic liber capitibus septem, et ab authore editus est anno hegirae 996 quo anno centum et viginti anni effluxerant ex quo huius potionis usus in Arabia felice invaluerat
The translation of the Latin is:
Concerning the legitimate and lawful use of the drink commonly known as café by Abdalcader Ben Mohammed al Ansâri. The book is composed in seven chapters and was brought out by the author in the year of the Hegira 996 at which time a hundred and twenty years had passed since the use of this drink had become firmly established in Arabia Felix.
Coffee in Poetry
The Abd-al-Kâdir work immortalized coffee. It is in seven chapters. The first treats of the etymology and significance of the word cahouah (kahwa), the nature and properties of the bean, where the drink was first used, and describes its virtues. The other chapters have to do largely with the church dispute in Mecca in 1511, answer the religious objectors to coffee, and conclude with a collection of Arabic verses composed during the Mecca controversy by the best poets of the time.
De Nointel, ambassador from the court of Louis XIV to the Ottoman Porte, brought back with him to Paris from Constantinople the Abd-al-Kâdir manuscript, and another by Bichivili, one of the three general treasurers of the Ottoman Empire. The latter work is of a later date than the Abd-al-Kâdir manuscript, and is concerned chiefly with the history of the introduction of coffee into Egypt, Syria, Damascus, Aleppo, and Constantinople.
The following are two of the earliest Arabic poems in praise of coffee. They are about the period of the first coffee persecution in Mecca (1511), and are typical of the best thought of the day:
In Praise of Coffee
Translation from the Arabic
O Coffee! Thou dost dispel all cares, thou art the object of desire to the scholar.
This is the beverage of the friends of God; it gives health to those in its service who strive after wisdom.
Prepared from the simple shell of the berry, it has the odor of musk and the color of ink.
The intelligent man who empties these cups of foaming coffee, he alone knows truth.
May God deprive of this drink the foolish man who condemns it with incurable obstinacy.
Coffee is our gold. Wherever it is served, one enjoys the society of the noblest and most generous men.
O drink! As harmless as pure milk, which differs from it only in its blackness.
Here is another, rhymed version of the same poem:
In Praise of Coffee
Translation from the Arabic
O coffee! Doved and fragrant drink, thou drivest care away,
The object thou of that man’s wish who studies night and day.
Thou soothest him, thou giv’st him health, and God doth favor those
Who walk straight on in wisdom’s way, nor seek their own repose.
Fragrant as musk thy berry is, yet black as ink in sooth!
And he who sips thy fragrant cup can only know the truth.
Insensate they who, tasting not, yet vilify its use;
For when they thirst and seek its help, God will the gift refuse.
Oh, coffee is our wealth! for see, where’er on earth it grows,
Men live whose aims are noble, true virtues who disclose.
Translation from the Arabic
Come and enjoy the company of coffee in the places of its habitation; for the Divine Goodness envelops those who partake of its feast.
There the elegance of the rugs, the sweetness of life, the society of the guests, all give a picture of the abode of the blest.
It is a wine which no sorrow could resist when the cup-bearer presents thee with the cup which contains it.
It is not long since Aden saw thy birth. If thou doubtest this, see the freshness of youth shining on the faces of thy children.
Grief is not found within its habitations. Trouble yields humbly to its power.
It is the beverage of the children of God, it is the source of health.
It is the stream in which we wash away our sorrows. It is the fire which consumes our griefs.
Whoever has once known the chafing-dish which prepares this beverage, will feel only aversion for wine and liquor from casks.
Delicious beverage, its color is the seal of its purity.
Reason pronounces favorably on the lawfulness of it.
Drink of it confidently, and give not ear to the speech of the foolish, who condemn it without reason.
During the period of the second religious persecution of coffee in the latter part of the sixteenth century, other Arabian poets sang the praises of coffee. The learned Fakr-Eddin-Aboubeckr ben Abid Iesi wrote a book entitled The Triumph of Coffee, and the poet-sheikh Sherif-Eddin-Omar-ben-Faredh sang of it in harmonious verse, wherein, discoursing of his mistress, he could find no more flattering comparison than coffee. He exclaims, “She has made me drink, in long draughts, the fever, or, rather, the coffee of love!”
The numerous contributions by early travelers to the literature of coffee have been mentioned in chronological order in the history chapters. After Rauwolf and Alpini, there were Sir Antony Sherley, Parry, Biddulph, Captain John Smith, Sir George Sandys, Sir Thomas Herbert, and Sir Henry Blount in England; Tavernier, Thévenot, Bernier, P. de la Roque, and Galland in France; Delia Valle in Italy; Olearius and Niebhur in Germany; Nieuhoff in Holland, and others.
Francis Bacon wrote about coffee in his Hist. Vitae et Mortis and Sylva Sylvarum, 1623–27. Burton referred to it in his “Anatomy of Melancholy” in 1632. Parkinson described it in his Theatrum Botanicum in 1640. In 1652, Pasqua Rosée published his famous handbill in London, a literary effort as well as a splendid first advertisement.
Faustus Nairon (Banesius) produced in Rome, in 1671, the first printed treatise devoted solely to coffee. The same year Dufour brought out the first treatise in French. This he followed in 1684 with his work, The manner of making coffee, tea, and chocolate. John Ray extolled the virtues of coffee in his Universal Botany of Plants, published in London in 1686. Galland translated the Abd-al-Kâdir manuscript into French in 1699, and Jean La Roque published his Voyage de l’Arabie Heureuse in Paris in 1715. Excerpts from nearly all these works appear in various chapters of this work.
Leonardus Ferdinandus Meisner published a Latin treatise on coffee, tea, and chocolate in 1721. Dr. James Douglas published in London (1727) his Arbor yemensis fructum cofè ferens, or a description and history of the Coffee Tree. This work laid under contribution many of the Italian, German, French, and English scholars mentioned above; and the author mentioned as other sources of information: Dr. Quincy, Pechey, Gaudron, de Fontenelle, Professor Boerhaave, Figueroa, Chabraeus, Sir Hans Sloane, Langius, and Du Mont.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the poets and dramatists of France, Italy, and England found a plentiful supply in what had already been written on coffee; to say nothing of the inspiration offered by the drink itself, and by the society of the cafés of the period.
French poets, familiar with Latin, first took coffee as the subject of their verse. Vaniére sang its praises in the eighth book of his Praedium rusticum; and Fellon, a Jesuit professor of Trinity College, Lyons, wrote a didactic poem called, Faba Arabica, Carmen, which is included in the Poemata didascalica of d’Olivet.
Abbé Guillaume Massieu’s Carmen Caffaeum, composed in 1718, has been referred to in chapter III. It was read at the Academy of Inscriptions. One of the panegyrists of this author, de Boze, in his Elogé de Massieu, says that if Horace and Virgil had known of coffee, the poem might easily have been attributed to them; and Thery, who translated it into French, says “it is a pearl of elegance in a rare jewel case.”
The following translation of the poem from the Latin original was made for this work:
A Poem by Guillaume Massieu of the French Academy
(A literal prose translation from the original Latin in the British Museum.)
How coffee first came to our shores,
What the nature of the divine drink is, what its use,
How it brings ready aid to man against every kind of evils,
I shall here begin to tell in simple verse.
You soft-spoken men, who have often tried the sweetness of this drink,
If it has never deceived your wishes or mocked your hopes
With its empty results, be propitious and lend a willing ear to our song.
And may you, O Phoebus, kindly be present, to acknowledge
As your gift the power of herbs and healthful plants, and to
Dispel sad diseases from our bodies; for they say you are
The author of this blessing, and may you spread your
Gifts among peoples, and everywhere far and wide throughout the entire world.
Across Libya afar, and the seven mouths of the swollen Nile,
Where Asia most joyfully spreads in immense fields
Rich in various resources and filled with fragrant woods,
A region extends. The Sabeans of old inhabited it.
I believe indeed Nature, that best parent of all things,
Loved this place more than all others with a tender love.
Here the air of Heaven always breathes more mildly.
The sun has a gentler power; here are flowers of a different clime;
And the earth with fertile bosom brings forth various fruits,
Cinnamon, casia, myrrh, and fragrant thyme.
Amid the resources and gifts of this blessed land,
Turned to the sun and the warm south winds,
A tree spontaneously lifts itself into the upper air.
Growing nowhere else, and unknown in earlier centuries,
By no means great in size, it stretches not far its
Spreading branches, nor lifts a lofty top to heaven;
But lowly, after the manner of myrtle or pliant broom,
It rises from the ground. Many a nut bends its rich branches.
Small, like a bean, dark and dull in color,
Marked by a slight groove in the centre of its hull.
To transplant this growth to our own fields
Many have tried, and to cultivate it with great care.
In vain; for the plant has not responded to the zeal
And desires of the planters, and has rendered vain their long labor;
Before day the root of the tender herb has withered away.
Either this has happened through fault of climate, or grudging
Earth refuses to furnish fit nourishment to the foreign plant.
Therefore come thou, whoever shall be possesed by a love for coffee,
Do not regret having brought the healthful bean from the far
Remote world of Arabia; for this is its bountiful mother country.
The soothing draught first flowed from those regions through other
Peoples; thence through all Europe and Asia,
and next made its way through the entire world.
Therefore, what you shall know to be sufficient for your needs,
Do you prepare long beforehand; let it be your care to have collected
Yearly a copious store, and providently fill small granaries,
As of yore the farmer, early mindful and provident of the future,
Collected crops from his fields and garnered them in his barns,
And turned his attention to the coming year.
None the less, meanwhile, must the utensils for coffee be cared for.
Let not vessels suited for drinking the beverage be lacking,
And a pot, whose narrow neck should be topped by a small cover
And whose body should swell gradually into an oblong shape.
When these things shall have been provided by you, let your
Next care be to roast well the beans with flames, and to grind them when roasted.
Nor should the hammer cease to crush them with many a blow,
Until they lay aside their hardness, and when thoroughly ground,
Become fine powder; which forthwith pack either in a bag or a box made for such uses.
And wrap it in leather, and smear it over with soft wax, lest
Narrow chinks be open, or hidden channels.
Unless you prevent these, by a secret path gradually small
Particles and whatever of value exists, and the entire strength,
Would leave, wasting into empty air.
COFFEE SCENES IN THE NEAR AND THE FAR EAST
[Pg 545]There is also a hollow machine, like a small tower, which they
Call a mill, in which you can bruise the useful fruit of the
Roasted bean and crush it with frequent rubbing;
A revolving pivot in the middle, on an easy wheel turning,
Twists its metal joints on a creaking stem.
The top of the wheel, you know, is pierced with an ivory handle
Which will have to be turned by hand, through a thousand revolutions,
And through a thousand circles it moves the pivot.
When you put a kernel in, you will turn the handle with quick hand—
No delay—and you will wonder how the crackling kernel is
With much grinding quickly reduced to a powder.
Once only the lower compartment receives on its kindly bosom
The crushed grains, which are placed in the very depths of the box.
But why do we linger over these less important matters?
Greater things call us. Then is it time to drain the sweet
Draught, either under the new light of the early sun
In the morning, when an empty stomach demands food;
Or, when, after the splendid feasts of a magnificent table
The overburdened stomach suffers from too heavy load, and
Unequal to the demands made upon it, seeks the aid of external heat.
Then come, when now the pot grows ruddy in the fire
Crackling beneath, and you shall behold the liquid, swelling
With mingled powdered coffee, now bubble around the brim,
Draw it from the fire. Unless you should do this, the force of
The water would break forth suddenly, overflowing, and would
Sprinkle the beverage on the fire beneath.
Therefore, let no such accident disturb your joys.
You should keep watch carefully when the water no longer
Restrains itself and bubbles with the heat; then return
The pot to the fire thrice and four times, until the powdered
Coffee steams in the midst of the fire and blends thoroughly with the surrounding water.
This soothing drink ought to be boiled with skill, to be drunk
With art—not in the way men are wont to drink other beverages—
And with reason; for when you shall have taken it steaming from
A quick fire, and gradually all the dregs have settled to the
Very bottom, you shall not drink it impatiently at one gulp.
But rather, sip it little by little, and between draughts
Contrive pleasant delays; and sipping, drain it in long draughts,
So long as it is still hot and burns the palate.
For then it is better, then it permeates our inmost bones, and
Penetrating within to the center of our vitals and our marrow,
It pervades all our body with its vivifying strength.
Often even merely inhaling the odor with their nostrils, men
Have welcomed it, when it has bubbled up from the bottom,
More refreshing than the breeze. So much pleasure is there in a delicious odor.
And now there remains awaiting us the other part of our task,
To make known the secret strength of the divine draught.
But who could hope to understand this wonderful blessing
Or to be able to pursue so great a miracle in verse?
For really, when coffee has quietly glided into your body,
Taking itself within, it sheds a vital warmth through your
Limbs, and inspires joyous strength in your heart. Then if
There is anything undigested, with fire’s help, it heats the
Hidden channels, and loosens the thin pores, through which the
Useless moisture exudes, and seeds of diseases flee from all your veins.
Wherefore come, O you who have a care for your health!
You, whose triple chin hangs on your breast,
Who drag your heavy stomach of great bulk,
It is fitting for you, first of all, to indulge in the warm
Beverage; for indeed it will dry the hideous flow of moisture
Which oppresses your limbs, and sends forth streams of perspiration from your whole body.
And in a short time, the swelling of your fat belly will
Gradually begin to decrease, and it will lighten your members, now oppressed by their heavy weight.
O happy peoples, on whom Titan, rising, looks with his first light!
Here, a rather free use of wine has never done harm.
Law and religion forbid us to quaff the flowing wine.
Here one lives on coffee. Here, then, flourishing with joyous strength
One pursues life and knows not what diseases are,
Nor that child of Bacchus and companion of high living—Gout;
Nor what innumerable diseases through this union are ready to attack our world.
Yet, indeed, the soothing power of this invigorating drink
[Pg 546]Drives sad cares from the heart, and exhilarates the spirits.
I have seen a man, when he had not yet drained a mighty
Draught of this sweet nectar, walk silently with slow gait,
His brow sad, and forehead rough with forbidding wrinkles.
This same man who had hardly bathed his throat with the sweet
Drink—no delay—clouds fled from his wrinkled brow; and
He took pleasure in teasing all with his witty sayings.
Nor yet did he pursue any one with bitter laughter. For this
Harmless drink inspires no desire of offending, the venom
Is lacking, and pleasant laughter without bitterness pleases.
And in the entire East this custom of coffee drinking
Has been accepted. And, now, France; you adopt the foreign custom,
So that public shops, one after the other, are opened for
Drinking Coffee. A hanging sign of either ivy or laurel invites the passers-by.
Hither in crowds from the entire city they assemble, and
While away the time in pleasant drinking.
And when once the feelings have grown warm, acted upon by
The gentle heat, then good-humored laughter, and pleasant
Arguments increase. General gaiety ensues,
the places about resound with joyous applause.
But never does the liquid imbibed overpower weary minds, but
Rather, if ever slumber presses their heavy eyes and dulls
The brain; and their strength, blunted, grows torpid in the
Body, coffee puts sleep to flight from the eyes, and slothful inactivity from the whole frame.
Therefore to absorb the sweet draught would be an advantage
For those whom a great deal of long-continued labor awaits
And those who need to extend their study far into the night.
And here I shall make known who taught the use of this pleasant
Drink; for its virtue, unknown, has lain hidden through many
Years; and reviewing, I shall relate the matter from the very beginning.
An Arab shepherd was driving his young goats to the well-known
Pastures. They were wandering through lonely wastes and cropping
The grasses, when a tree heavy with many berries—never seen before—met their eyes.
At once, as they were able to reach the low branches, they began
To pull off the leaves with many a nibble, and to pluck the tender
Growth. Its bitterness attracts. The shepherd, not knowing this,
Was meanwhile singing on the soft grass and telling the story of his loves to the woods.
But when the evening star, rising, warned him to leave the field,
And he led back his well-fed flock to their stalls, he perceived
That the beasts did not close their eyes in sweet sleep, but
Joyous beyond their wont, with wonderful delight throughout the
Whole night jumped about with wanton leaps. Trembling with sudden
Fear, the shepherd stood amazed; and crazed by the sound, he
Thought these things were being done through some wicked trick of a neighbor, or by magic art.
Not far from here a holy band of brethren had built their
Humble home in a remote valley; their lot it was to chant
Praises of God, and to load his altars with fitting gifts.
Although throughout the night the deep-toned bell resounded
With great din, and summoned them to the sacred temple, often
The coming of dawn found them lingering on their couches,
Having forgotten to rise in the middle of the night.
So great was their love of sleep!
In charge of the sacred temple, revered and obeyed by his
Willing brethren, was the master, an aged man, a heavy mass of white hair on head and chin.
The shepherd, hastening, came to him and told him the story,
Imploring his aid. The old man smiled to himself; but
He agreed to go, and investigate the hidden cause of the miracle.
When he has come to the hills, he observes the lambs, together
With their mothers, gnawing the berries of an unknown plant,
And cries, “This is the cause of the trouble!” And saying no
More, he at once picks the smooth fruit from the heavily-laden
Tree, and carries it home, places it, when washed, in pure
Water, cooking it over the fire, and fearlessly drinks a large
Cup of it. Forthwith a warmth pervades his veins, a living
Force is diffused through his limbs, and weariness is dispelled from his aged body.
Then, at length, the old man exulting in the blessing thus found,
Rejoices, and kindly shares with all his brothers. They eagerly
[Pg 547]At early night-fall, indulge in pleasant banquets and drain great bowls.
No longer is it hard for them to break off sweet sleep and to leave their soft beds as formerly.
O fortunate ones! whose hearts the sweet draught has often
Bathed. No sluggish torpor holds their minds, they briskly
Rise for their prescribed duties and rejoice to outstrip the rays of the first light.
You also, whose care it is to feed minds with divine eloquence
And to terrify with your words the souls of the guilty, you also
Should indulge in the pleasant drink; for, as you know, it
Strengthens weakness. Keen vigor is gained for the limbs from
This source, and spreads through the whole body. From this source,
Too, shall come new strength and new power to your voice.
You also, whom oft harmful vapors harass, whose sick brain the dangerous vertigo shakes,
Ah, come! In this sweet liquid is a ready medicine
And none other better to calm undue agitation.
Apollo planted this power for himself, they say,
The story is worthy to be sung.
Once a disease most deadly to life assailed the disciples of
Apollo’s Mount. It spread far and wide, and attacked the brain itself.
Already all the people of genius were suffering with this
Disease; and the arts, deserted, were languishing along with
The workers. Some even pretended to have the disease, and
Assuming feigned suffering, gave themselves over to an idle life.
Unpleasing work grew distasteful, and deadly inertia increased
Everywhere. It pleased all, now released from work and labors,
To indulge in care-free quiet.
Apollo, full of indignation, did not endure longer that the deadly
Contagion of such easy ruin should creep over them thus. And,
That he might take away from seers all means of deception, he
Enticed from the rich bosom of the earth this friendly plant,
Than which no other is more ready either to refresh for work the
Mind wearied by long studies, or to sooth troublesome sorrows of the head.
O plant, given to the human race by the gift of the Gods!
No other out of the entire list of plants has ever vied with you.
On your account sailors sail from our shores
And fearlessly conquer the threatening winds, sandbanks and
Dreadful rocks. With your nourishing growth you surpass dittany,
Ambrosia, and fragrant panacea. Grim diseases flee from you. To
You trusting health clings as a companion, and also the merry
Crowd, conversation, amusing jokes, and sweet whisperings.
The poet Belighi toward the close of the sixteenth century composed a poem, which, freely translated, runs:
In Damascus, in Aleppo, in great Cairo,
At every turn is to be found
That mild fruit which gives so beloved a drink,
Before coming to court to triumph.
There this seditious disturber of the world,
Has, by its unparalleled virtue,
Supplanted all wines from this blessed day.
Jacques Delille (1738–1813) the didactic poet of nature, in chant vi of his “Three Reigns of Nature,” thus apostrophizes the “divine nectar” and describes its preparation:
Translation from the French
A liquid there is to the poet most dear,
‘T was lacking to Virgil, adored by Voltaire,
‘T is thou, divine coffee, for thine is the art,
Without turning the head yet to gladden the heart.
And thus though my palate be dulled by age,
With joy I partake of thy dear beverage.
How glad I prepare me thy nectar most precious,
No soul shall usurp me a rite so delicious;
On the ambient flame when the black charcoal burns,
The gold of thy bean to rare ebony turns,
I alone, ‘gainst the cone, wrought with fierce iron teeth.
Make thy fruitage cry out with its bitter-sweet breath;
Till charmed with such perfume, with care I entrust
To the pot on my hearth the rare spice-laden dust:
First to calm, then excite, till it seethingly whirls,
With an eye all attention I gaze till it boils.
At last now the liquid comes slow to repose;
In the hot, smoking vessel its wealth I depose,
My cup and thy nectar; from wild reeds expressed,
America’s honey my table has blest;
All is ready; Japan’s gay enamel invites—
And the tribute of two worlds thy prestige unites:
Come, Nectar divine, inspire thou me,
I wish but Antigone, dessert and thee;
For scarce have I tasted thy odorous steam,
When quick from thy clime, soothing warmths round me stream,
Attentive my thoughts rise and flow light as air,
Awaking my senses and soothing my care.
Ideas that but late moved so dull and depressed,
Behold, they come smiling in rich garments dressed!
Some genius awakes me, my course is begun;
For I drink with each drop a bright ray of the sun.
Maumenet addressed to Galland the following verses:
If slumber, friend, too near, with some late glass should creep—
Dull, poppy-perfumed sleep—
If a too fumous wine confounds at length thy brain—
Take coffee then—this juice divine
Shall banish sleep and steam of vap’rous wine,
And with its timely aid fresh vigor thou shalt find.
Castel, in his poem, Les Plantes (The Plants) could not omit the coffee trees of the tropics. He thus addressed them in 1811:
Bright plants, the favorites of Phoebus,
In these climes the rarest virtues offer,
Delicious Mocha, thy sap, enchantress,
Awakens genius, outvalues Parnasse!
In a collection of the Songs of Brittany in the Brest library there are many stanzas in praise of coffee. A Breton poet has composed a little piece of ninety-six verses in which he describes the powerful attraction that coffee has for women and the possible effects on domestic happiness. The first time that coffee was used in Brittany, says an old song of that country, only the nobility drank it, and now all the common people are using it, yet the greater part of them have not even bread.
A French poet of the eighteenth century produced the following:
Lines on Coffee
Translation from the French
Good coffee is more than a savory cup,
Its aroma has power to dry liquor up.
By coffee you get upon leaving the table
A mind full of wisdom, thoughts lucid, nerves stable;
And odd tho’ it be, ‘t is none the less true,
Coffee’s aid to digestion permits dining anew.
And what ‘s very true, tho’ few people know it,
Fine coffee ‘s the basis of every fine poet;
For many a writer as windy as Boreas
Has been vastly improved by the drink ever glorious.
Coffee brightens the dullness of heavy philosophy,
And opens the science of mighty geometry.
Our law-makers, too, when the nectar imbibing,
Plan wondrous reforms, quite beyond the describing;
The odor of coffee they delight in inhaling,
And promise the country to alter laws ailing.
From the brow of the scholar coffee chases the wrinkles,
And mirth in his eyes like a firefly twinkles;
And he, who before was but a hack of old Homer,
Becomes an original, and that ‘s no misnomer.
Observe the astronomer who ‘s straining his eyes
In watching the planets which soar thro’ the skies;
Alas, all those bright bodies seem hopelessly far
Till coffee discloses his own guiding star.
But greatest of wonders that coffee effects
Is to aid the news-editor as he little expects;
Coffee whispers the secrets of hidden diplomacy,
Hints rumors of wars and of scandals so racy.
Inspiration by coffee must be nigh unto magic,
For it conjures up facts that are certainly tragic;
And for a few pennies, coffee’s small price per cup,
“Ye editor’s” able to swallow the Universe up.
Esménard celebrated Captain de Clieu’s romantic voyage to Martinique with the coffee plants from the Jardin des Plantes, in some admirable verses quoted in chapter II.
Among other notable poetic flights in praise of coffee produced in France mention should be made of: “L’Elogé du Café” (Eulogy of Coffee) a song in twenty-four couplets, Paris, Jacques Estienne, 1711; Le Café (Coffee), a fragment from the fourth chant (song) of La Grandeur de Dieu dans les merveilles de la Nature (The Grandeur of God in the Wonders of Nature) Marseilles; Le Café, extract from the fourth gastronomic song, by Berchoux; “A Mon Café” (To My Coffee), stanzas written by Ducis; Le Café, anonymous stanzas inserted in the Macedoine Poetique, 1824; a poem in Latin in the Abbé Olivier’s collection; Le Bouquet Blanc et le Bouquet Noir, poesie en quatre chants; Le Café, C.D. Mery, 1837; Elogé du Café, S. Melaye, 1852.
Many Italian poets have sung the praises of coffee. L. Barotti wrote his poem, Il Caffè in 1681. Giuseppe Parini (1729–1799), Italy’s great satirical and lyric poet and critic of the eighteenth century, in Il Giorno (The Day), gives a delightful pen picture of the manners and customs of Milan’s polite society of the period. William Dean Howells quotes as follows from these poems (his own translation) in his Modern Italian Poets. The feast is over, and the lady signals to the cavalier that it is time to leave the table:
Spring to thy feet
The first of all, and, drawing near thy lady,
Remove her chair and offer her thy hand,
[Pg 549]And lead her to the other room, nor suffer longer
That the stale reek of viands shall offend
Her delicate sense. Thee with the rest invites
The grateful odor of the coffee, where
It smokes upon a smaller table hid
And graced with Indian webs. The redolent gums
That meanwhile burn, sweeten and purify
The heavy atmosphere, and banish thence
All lingering traces of the feast. Ye sick
And poor, whom misery or whom hope, perchance!
Has guided in the noonday to these doors.
Tumultuous, naked, and unsightly throng,
With mutilated limbs and squalid faces,
In litters and on crutches from afar
Comfort yourselves, and with expanded nostrils
Drink in the nectar of the feast divine
That favourable zephyrs waft to you;
But do not dare besiege these noble precincts,
Importunately offering her that reigns
Within your loathsome spectacle of woe!
And now, sir, ‘t is your office to prepare
The tiny cup that then shall minister,
Slow sipped, its liquor to thy lady’s lips;
And now bethink thee whether she prefer
The boiling beverage much or little tempered
With sweet; or if, perchance, she likes it best,
As doth the barbarous spouse, then when she sits
Upon brocades of Persia, with light fingers,
The bearded visage of her lord caressing.
This is from Il Mezzogiorno (Noon). The other three poems, rounding out The Day, are Il Mattino (Morning), Il Vespre (Evening), and La Notte (Night). In Il Mattino, Parini sings:
Should dreary hypochondria’s woes oppress thee,
Should round thy charming limbs in too great measure
Thy flesh increase, then with thy lips do honor
To that clear beverage, made from the well-bronzed,
The smoking, ardent beans Aleppo sends thee,
And distant Mocha too, a thousand ship-loads;
When slowly sipped it knows no rival.
Belli’s Il Caffè supplies a partial bibliography of the Italian literature on coffee. There are many poems, some of them put to music. As late as 1921, there were published in Bologna some advertising verses on coffee by G.B. Zecchini with music by Cesare Cantino.
Pope Leo XIII, in his Horatian poem on Frugality composed in his eighty-eighth year, thus verses his appreciation of coffee:
Last comes the beverage of the Orient shore,
Mocha, far off, the fragrant berries bore.
Taste the dark fluid with a dainty lip,
Digestion waits on pleasure as you sip.
Peter Altenberg, a Vienna poet, thus celebrated the cafés of his native city:
To The Coffee House!
When you are worried, have trouble of one sort or another—to the coffee house!
When she did not keep her appointment, for one reason or other—to the coffee house!
When your shoes are torn and dilapidated—coffee house!
When your income is four hundred crowns and you spend five hundred—coffee house!
You are a chair warmer in some office, while your ambition led you to seek professional honors—coffee house!
You could not find a mate to suit you—coffee house!
You feel like committing suicide—coffee house!
You hate and despise human beings, and at the same time you can not be happy without them—coffee house!
You compose a poem which you can not inflict upon friends you meet in the street—coffee house!
When your coal scuttle is empty, and your gas ration exhausted—coffee house!
When you need money for cigarettes, you touch the head waiter in the—coffee house!
When you are locked out and haven’t the money to pay for unlocking the house door—coffee house!
When you acquire a new flame, and intend provoking the old one, you take the new one to the old one’s—coffee house!
When you feel like hiding you dive into a—coffee house!
When you want to be seen in a new suit—coffee house!
When you can not get anything on trust anywhere else—coffee house!
English poets from Milton to Keats celebrated coffee. Milton (1608–1674) in his Comus thus acclaimed the beverage:
One sip of this
Will bathe the drooping spirits in delight
Beyond the bliss of dreams.
Alexander Pope, poet and satirist (1688–1744), has the oft-quoted lines:
Coffee which makes the politician wise,
And see through all things with his half-shut eyes.
In Carruthers’ Life of Pope, we read that this poet inhaled the steam of coffee in order to obtain relief from the headaches to which he was subject. We can well understand the inspiration which called forth from him the following lines when he was not yet twenty:
As long as Mocha’s happy tree shall grow,
While berries crackle, or while mills shall go;
While smoking streams from silver spouts shall glide,
Or China’s earth receive the sable tide,
While coffee shall to British nymphs be dear,
While fragrant steams the bended head shall cheer,
Or grateful bitters shall delight the taste,
So long her honors, name and praise shall last.
Pope’s famous Rape of the Lock grew out of coffee-house gossip. The poem contains the passage on coffee already quoted:
For lo! the board with cups and spoons is crowned;
The berries crackle and the mill turns round;
On shining altars of Japan they raise
The silver lamp: the fiery spirits blaze:
From silver spouts the grateful liquors glide,
While China’s earth receives the smoking tide.
At once they gratify their scent and taste.
And frequent cups prolong the rich repast
Straight hover round the fair her airy band;
Some, as she sipped, the fuming liquor fanned:
Some o’er her lap their careful plumes displayed,
Trembling, and conscious of the rich brocade.
Coffee (which makes the politician wise,
And see through all things with his half-shut eyes.)
Sent up in vapors to the baron’s brain
New stratagems, the radiant lock to gain.
Pope often broke the slumbers of his servant at night by calling him to prepare a cup of coffee; but for regular serving, it was his custom to grind and to prepare it upon the table.
William Cowper’s fine tribute to “the cups that cheer but not inebriate”, a phrase which he is said to have borrowed from Bishop Berkeley, was addressed to tea and not to coffee, to which it has not infrequently been wrongfully attributed. It is one of the most pleasing pictures in The Task.
Cowper refers to coffee but once in his writings. In his Pity for Poor Africans he expresses himself as “shocked at the ignorance of slaves”:
I pity them greatly, but I must be mum
For how could we do without sugar and rum?
Especially sugar, so needful we see;
What! Give up our desserts, our coffee and tea?
thus contenting himself, like many others, with words of pity where more active protest might sacrifice his personal ease and comfort.
Leigh Hunt (1784–1859), and John Keats (1795–1834), were worshippers at the shrine of coffee; while Charles Lamb, famous poet, essayist, humorist, and critic, has celebrated in verse the exploit of Captain de Clieu in the following delightful verses:
The Coffee Slips
Whene’er I fragrant coffee drink,
I on the generous Frenchman think,
Whose noble perseverance bore
The tree to Martinico’s shore.
While yet her colony was new,
Her island products but a few;
Two shoots from off a coffee tree
He carried with him o’er the sea.
Each little tender coffee slip
He waters daily in the ship.
And as he tends his embryo trees.
Feels he is raising ‘midst the seas
Coffee groves, whose ample shade
Shall screen the dark Creolian maid.
But soon, alas! His darling pleasure
In watching this his precious treasure
Is like to fade—for water fails
On board the ship in which he sails.
Now all the reservoirs are shut.
The crew on short allowance put;
So small a drop is each man’s share.
Few leavings you may think there are
To water these poor coffee plants—
But he supplies their grasping wants,
Even from his own dry parched lips
He spares it for his coffee slips.
Water he gives his nurslings first,
Ere he allays his own deep thirst,
Lest, if he first the water sip,
He bear too far his eager lip.
He sees them droop for want of more;
Yet when they reach the destined shore,
With pride the heroic gardener sees
A living sap still in his trees.
The islanders his praise resound;
Coffee plantations rise around;
And Martinico loads her ships
With produce from those dear-saved slips.
In John Keats’ amusing fantasy, Cap and Bells, the Emperor Elfinan greets Hum, the great soothsayer, and offers him refreshment:
“You may have sherry in silver, hock in gold, or glass’d champagne
… what cup will you drain?”
“Commander of the Faithful!” answered Hum,
“In preference to these, I’ll merely taste
A thimble-full of old Jamaica rum.”
“A simple boon,” said Elfinan; “thou mayst
Have Nantz, with which my morning coffee’s laced.”
But Hum accepts the glass of Nantz, without the coffee, “made racy with the third part of the least drop of crème de citron, crystal clear.”
Numerous broadsides printed in London, 1660 to 1675, have been referred to in chapter X. Few of them possess real literary merit.
“Coffee and Crumpets” has been much quoted. It was published in Fraser’s Magazine, in 1837. Its author calls himself “Launcelot Littledo”. The poem is quite long, and only those portions are printed[Pg 551] here that refer particularly to “Yemen’s fragrant berry”:
Coffee and Crumpets
By Launcelot Littledo of Pump Court, Temple, Barrister-at-law.
There’s ten o’clock! From Hampstead to the Tower
The bells are chanting forth a lusty carol;
Wrangling, with iron tongues, about the hour,
Like fifty drunken fishwives at a quarrel;
Cautious policemen shun the coming shower;
Thompson and Fearon tap another barrel;
“Dissolve frigus, lignum super foco.
Large reponens.” Now, come Orinoco!
To puff away an hour, and drink a cup,
A brimming breakfast-cup of ruddy Mocha—
Clear, luscious, dark, like eyes that lighten up
The raven hair, fair cheek, and bella boca
Of Florence maidens. I can never sup
Of perigourd, but (guai a chi la tocca!)
I’m doomed to indigestion. So to settle
This strife eternal,—Betty, bring the kettle!
Coffee! oh, Coffee! Faith, it is surprising.
‘Mid all the poets, good, and bad, and worse.
Who’ve scribbled (Hock or Chian eulogizing)
Post and papyrus with “Immortal verse”—
In Sapphics languid or Alcaics terse
No one, my little brown Arabian berry,.
Hath sung thy praises—’tis surprising! very!
Were I a poet now, whose ready rhymes.
Like Tommy Moore’s, came tripping to their places—
Reeling along a merry troll of chimes,
With careless truth,—a dance of fuddled Graces;
Hear it—Gazette, Post, Herald, Standard, Times,
I’d write an epic! Coffee for its basis;
Sweet as e’er warbled forth from cockney throttles
Since Bob Montgomery’s or Amos Cottle’s.
Thou sleepy-eyed Chinese—enticing siren,
Pekoe! the Muse hath said in praise of thee,
“That cheers but not inebriates”; and Byron
Hath called thy sister “Queen of Tears”, Bohea!
And he, Anacreon of Rome’s age of iron,
Says, how untruly “Quis non potius te.”
While coffee, thou—bill-plastered gables say,
Art like old Cupid, “roasted every day.”
I love, upon a rainy night, as this is,
When rarely and more rare the coaches rattle
From street to street, to sip thy fragrant kisses;
While from the Strand remote some drunken battle
Far-faintly echoes, and the kettle hisses
Upon the glowing hob. No tittle-tattle
To make a single thought of mine an alien
From thee, my coffee-pot, my fount Castalian.
The many intervening verses cover an unhappy termination to an otherwise delightful ball. He is sitting with his charming “Mary”, about to ask her to be his bride, when the unfortunate overturning of a glass of red wine into her white satin gown, at the same time overthrows all his dreams of bliss, “for the shrew displaces the angel he adored”, and he resigns himself to the life of “a man in chambers.”
‘Tis thus I sit and sip, and sip and think.
And think and sip again, and dip in Fraser,
A health, King Oliver! to thee I drink:
Long may the public have thee to amaze her.
Like Figaro, thou makest one’s eyelids wink,
Twirling on practised palm thy polished razor—
True Horace temper, smoothed on attic strop;
Ah! thou couldst “faire la barbe a tout l’Europe.”
Come, Oliver, and tell us what the news is;
An easy chair awaits thee—come and fill ‘t.
Come, I invoke thee, as they do the muses,
And thou shalt choose thy tipple as thou wilt.
And if thy lips my sober cup refuses,
For ruddier drops the purple grape has spilt,
We can sing, sipping in alternate verses,
Thy drink and mine, like Corydon and Thyrsis.
Fill the bowl, but not with wine.
Potent port, or fiery sherry;
For this milder cup of mine
Crush me Yemen’s fragrant berry.
Gentle is the grape’s deep cluster,
But the wine’s a wayward child;
Nectar this! of meeker lustre—
This the cup that “draws it mild.”
Deeply drink its streams divine—
Fill the cup, but not with wine.
Prior and Montague inserted the following poetic vignette in their City Mouse and Country Mouse, written in burlesque of Dryden’s Hind and Panther:
Then on they jogg’d; and since an hour of talk
Might cut a banter on the tedious walk,
As I remember, said the sober mouse,
I’ve heard much talk of the Wits’ Coffee-house;
Thither, says Brindle, thou shalt go and see
Priests supping coffee, sparks and poets tea;
Here rugged frieze, there quality well drest,
These baffling the grand Senior, those the Test,
And there shrewd guesses made, and reasons given,
That human laws were never made in heaven;
But, above all, what shall oblige thy sight,
And fill thy eyeballs with a vast delight,
Is the poetic judge of sacred wit,
Who does i’ th’ darkness of his glory sit;
And as the moon who first receives the light,
With which she makes these nether regions bright,
So does he shine, reflecting from afar
The rays he borrowed from a better star;
For rules, which from Corneille and Rapin flow,
Admired by all the scribbling herd below,
From French tradition while he does dispense
Unerring truths, ‘t is schism, a damned offense,
To question his, or trust your private sense.
Geoffrey Sephton, an English poet and novelist, many years resident in Vienna, whose fantastic stories and fairy tales are well known in Europe, has written the following sonnets on coffee:
To the Mighty Monarch, King Kauhee
By Geoffrey Sephton
Away with opiates! Tantalising snares
To dull the brain with phantoms that are not.
Let no such drugs the subtle senses rot
With visions stealing softly unawares
Into the chambers of the soul. Nightmares
Ride in their wake, the spirits to besot.
Seek surer means, to banish haunting cares:
Place on the board the steaming Coffee-pot!
O’er luscious fruit, dessert and sparkling flask,
Let proudly rule as King the Great Kauhee,
For he gives joy divine to all that ask,
Together with his spouse, sweet Eau de Vie
Oh, let us ‘neath his sovran pleasure bask.
Come, raise the fragrant cup and bend the knee!
O great Kauhee, thou democratic Lord,
Born ‘neath the tropic sun and bronzed to splendour
In lands of Wealth and Wisdom, who can render
Such service to the wandering Human Horde
As thou at every proud or humble board?
Beside the honest workman’s homely fender,
‘Mid dainty dames and damsels sweetly tender,
In china, gold and silver, have we poured
Thy praise and sweetness, Oriental King.
Oh, how we love to hear the kettle sing
In joy at thy approach, embodying
The bitter, sweet and creamy sides of life;
Friend of the People, Enemy of Strife,
Sons of the Earth have born thee labouring.
In America, too, poets have sung in praise of coffee. The somewhat doubtful “kind that mother used to make” is celebrated in James Whitcomb Riley’s classic poem:
Like His Mother Used To Make
“Uncle Jake’s Place,” St. Jo., Mo., 1874.
“I was born in Indiany,” says a stranger, lank and slim,
As us fellers in the restaurant was kindo’ guyin’ him,
And Uncle Jake was slidin’ him another punkin pie
And a’ extry cup o’ coffee, with a twinkle in his eye—
“I was born in Indiany—more’n forty years ago—
And I hain’t ben back in twenty—and I’m work-in’ back’ards slow;
But I’ve et in ever’ restarunt twixt here and Santy Fee,
And I want to state this coffee tastes like gittin’ home, to me!”
“Pour us out another. Daddy,” says the feller, warmin’ up,
A-speakin’ crost a saucerful, as Uncle tuk his cup—
“When I see yer sign out yander,” he went on, to Uncle Jake—
“‘Come in and git some coffee like yer mother used to make’—
I thought of my old mother, and the Posey county farm,
And me a little kid again, a-hangin’ in her arm,
As she set the pot a-bilin’, broke the eggs and poured ’em in”—
And the feller kindo’ halted, with a trimble in his chin;
And Uncle Jake he fetched the feller’s coffee back, and stood
As solemn, fer a minute, as a’ undertaker would;
Then he sorto’ turned and tiptoed to’rds the kitchen door—and next,
Here comes his old wife out with him, a-rubbin’ of her specs—
And she rushes fer the stranger, and she hollers out, “It’s him!—
Thank God we’ve met him comin’!—Don’t you know yer mother, Jim?”
And the feller, as he grabbed her, says,—”You bet I hain’t forgot—
But,” wipin’ of his eyes, says he, “yer coffee’s mighty hot!”
One of the most delightful coffee poems in English is Francis Saltus’ (d. 1889) sonnet on “the voluptuous berry”, as found in Flasks and Flagons:
Voluptuous berry! Where may mortals find
Nectars divine that can with thee compare,
When, having dined, we sip thy essence rare,
And feel towards wit and repartee inclined?
Thou wert of sneering, cynical Voltaire,
The only friend; thy power urged Balzac’s mind
To glorious effort; surely Heaven designed
Thy devotees superior joys to share.
Whene’er I breathe thy fumes, ‘mid Summer stars,
The Orient’s splendent pomps my vision greet.
Damascus, with its myriad minarets, gleams!
I see thee, smoking, in immense bazaars,
Or yet, in dim seraglios, at the feet
Of blond Sultanas, pale with amorous dreams!
Arthur Gray, in Over the Black Coffee (1902) has made the following contribution to the poetry of coffee, with an unfortunate reflection on tea, which might well have been omitted:
O, boiling, bubbling, berry, bean!
Thou consort of the kitchen queen—
Browned and ground of every feature,
The only aromatic creature,
For which we long, for which we feel,
The breath of morn, the perfumed meal.
[Pg 553]For what is tea? It can but mean,
Merely the mildest go-between.
Insipid sobriety of thought and mind
It “cuts no figure”—we can find—
Save peaceful essays, gentle walks,
Purring cats, old ladies’ talks—
But coffee! can other tales unfold.
Its history’s written round and bold—
Brave buccaneers upon the “Spanish Main”,
The army’s march across the lenght’ning plain,
The lone prospector wandering o’er the hill,
The hunter’s camp, thy fragrance all distill.
So here’s a health to coffee! Coffee hot!
A morning toast! Bring on another pot.
The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal published in 1909 the following excellent stanzas by William A. Price:
An Ode to Coffee
Oh, thou most fragrant, aromatic joy, impugned, abused, and often stormed against,
And yet containing all the blissfulness that in a tiny cup could be condensed!
Give thy contemners calm, imperial scorn—
For thou wilt reign through ages yet unborn!
Some ancient Arab, so the legend tells, first found thee—may his memory be blest!
The world-wide sign of brotherhood today, the binding tie between the East and West!
Good coffee pleases in a Persian dell,
And Blackfeet Indians make it more than well.
The lonely traveler in the desert range, if thou art with him, smiles at eventide—
The sailor, as thy perfume bubbles forth, laughs at the ocean as it rages wide—
And where the camps of fighting men are found
Thy fragrance hovers o’er each battleground.
“Use, not abuse, the good things of this life”—that is a motto from the Prophet’s days,
And, dealing with thee thus, we ne’er shall come to troublous times or parting of the ways.
Comfort and solace both endure with thee,
Rich, royal berry of the coffee tree!
The New York Tribune published in 1915 the following lines by Louis Untermeyer, which were subsequently included in his “—— and Other Poets.”
Gilbert K. Chesterton Rises to the Toast of Coffee
Strong wine it is a mocker; strong wine it is a beast.
It grips you when it starts to rise; it is the Fabled Yeast.
You should not offer ale or beer from hops that are freshly picked,
Nor even Benedictine to tempt a benedict.
For wine has a spell like the lure of hell, and the devil has mixed the brew;
And the friends of ale are a sort of pale and weary, witless crew—
And the taste of beer is a sort of a queer and undecided brown—
But, comrades, I give you coffee—drink it up, drink it down.
With a fol-de-rol-dol and a fol-de-rol-dee, etc.
Oh, cocoa’s the drink for an elderly don who lives with an elderly niece;
And tea is the drink for studios and loud and violent peace—
And brandy’s the drink that spoils the clothes when the bottle breaks in the trunk;
But coffee’s the drink that is drunken by men who will never be drunk.
So, gentlemen, up with the festive cup, where Mocha and Java unite;
It clears the head when things are said too brilliant to be bright!
It keeps the stars from the golden bars and the lips of the tipsy town;
So, here’s to strong, black coffee—drink it up, drink it down!
With a fol-de-rol-dol and a fol-de-rol-dee, etc.
The American breakfast cup is celebrated in up-to-date American style in the following by Helen Rowland in the New York Evening World:
What Every Wife Knows
Give me a man who drinks good, hot, dark, strong coffee for breakfast!
A man who smokes a good, dark, fat cigar after dinner!
You may marry your milk-faddist, or your anti-coffee crank, as you will!
But I know the magic of the coffee pot!
Let me make my Husband’s coffee—and I care not who makes eyes at him!
Give me two matches a day—
One to start the coffee with, at breakfast, and one for his cigar, after dinner!
And I defy all the houris in Christendom to light a new flame in his heart!
Oh, sweet supernal coffee-pot!
Gentle panacea of domestic troubles,
Faithful author of that sweet nepenthe which deadens all the ills that married folks are heir to.
Cheery, glittering, soul-soothing, warmed hearted, inanimate friend!
What wife can fail to admit the peace and serenity she owes to you?
To you, who stand between her and all her early morning troubles—
Between her and the before-breakfast grouch—
Between her and the morning-after headache—
Between her and the cold-gray-dawn scrutiny?
To you, who supply the golden nectar that stimulates the jaded masculine soul,
Soothes the shaky masculine nerves, stirs the fagged masculine mind, inspires the slow masculine sentiment,
And starts the sluggish blood a-flowing and the whole day right!
[Pg 554]What is it, I ask you, when he comes down to breakfast dry of mouth, and touchy of temper—
That gives him pause, and silences that scintillating barb of sarcasm on the tip of his tongue,
With which he meant to impale you?
It is the sweet aroma of the coffee-pot—the thrilling thought of that first delicious sip!
What is it, on the morning after the club dance,
That hides your weary, little, washed-out face and straggling, uncurled coiffure from his critical eyes?
It is the generous coffee-pot, standing like a guardian angel between you and him!
And in those many vital psychological moments, during the honeymoon, which decide for or against the romance and happiness of all the rest of married life—
Those critical before-breakfast moments when temperament meets temperament, and will meets “won’t”—
What is it that halts you on the brink of tragedy,
And distracts you from the temptation to answer back?
It is the absorbing anxiety of watching the coffee boil!
What is it that warms his veins and soothes your nerves,
And turns all the world suddenly from a dismal gray vale of disappointment to a bright rosy garden of hope—
And starts another day gliding smoothly along like a new motor car?
What is it that will do more to transform a man from a fiend into an angel than baptism in the River Jordan?
It is the first cup of coffee in the morning!
Coffee in Dramatic Literature
Coffee was first “dramatized”, so to speak, in England, where we read that Charles II and the Duke of Yorke attended the first performance of Tarugo’s Wiles, or the Coffee House, a comedy, in 1667, which Samuel Pepys described as “the most ridiculous and insipid play I ever saw in my life.” The author was Thomas St. Serf. The piece opens in a lively manner, with a request on the part of its fashionable hero for a change of clothes. Accordingly, Tarugo puts off his “vest, hat, perriwig, and sword,” and serves the guests to coffee, while the apprentice acts his part as a gentleman customer. Presently other “customers of all trades and professions” come dropping into the coffee house. These are not always polite to the supposed coffee-man; one complains of his coffee being “nothing but warm water boyl’d with burnt beans,” while another desires him to bring “chocolette that’s prepar’d with water, for I hate that which is encouraged with eggs.” The pedantry and nonsense uttered by a “schollar” character is, perhaps, an unfair specimen of coffee-house talk; it is especially to be noticed that none of the guests ventures upon the dangerous ground of politics.
In the end, the coffee-master grows tired of his clownish visitors, saying plainly, “This rudeness becomes a suburb tavern rather than my coffee house”; and with the assistance of his servants he “thrusts ’em all out of doors, after the schollars and customers pay.”
In 1694, there was published Jean Baptiste Rosseau’s comedy, Le Caffè, which appears to have been acted only once in Paris, although a later English dramatist says it met with great applause in the French capital. Le Caffè was written in Laurent’s café, which was frequented by Fontenelle, Houdard de la Motte, Dauchet, the abbé Alary Boindin, and others. Voltaire said that “this work of a young man without any experience either of the world of letters or of the theater seems to herald a new genius.”
About this time it was the fashion for the coffee-house keepers of Paris, and the waiters, to wear Armenian costumes; for Pascal had builded better than he knew. InLa Foire Saint-Germain, a comedy by Dancourt, played in 1696, one of the principal characters is old “Lorange, a coffee merchant clothed as an Armenian”. In scene 5, he says to Mlle. Mousset, “a seller of house dresses” that he has been “a naturalized Armenian for three weeks.”
Mrs. Susannah Centlivre (1667?–1723), in her comedy, A Bold Stroke for a Wife, produced about 1719, has a scene laid in Jonathan’s coffee house about that period. While the stock jobbers are talking in the first scene of act II, the coffee boys are crying, “Fresh Coffee, gentlemen, fresh coffee?… Bohea tea, gentlemen?”
Henry Fielding (1707–1754) published “The Coffee-House Politician, or Justice caught in his own trap,” a comedy, in 1730.
The Coffee House, a dramatick Piece by James Miller, was performed at the Theater Royal in Drury Lane in 1737. The interior of Dick’s coffee house figured as an engraved frontispiece to the published version of the play.
The author states in the preface that “this piece is partly taken from a comedy of one act written many years ago in French by the famous Rosseau, called ‘Le[Pg 555] Caffè’, which met with great applause in Paris.” The coffee house in the play is conducted by the Widow Notable, who has a pretty daughter for whom, like all good mothers, she is anxious to arrange a suitable marriage.
In the first scene, an acrimonious conversation takes place between Puzzle, the Politician, and Bays, the poet, in which squabble the Pert Beau and the Solemn Beau, and other habitués of the place take part. Puzzle discovers that a comedian and other players are in the room, and insists that they be ejected or forbidden the house. The Widow is justly incensed, and indignantly replies:
Forbid the Players my House, Sir! Why, Sir, I get more by them in a Week than I do by you in seven Years. You come here and hold a paper in your hand for an Hour, disturb the whole Company with your Politics, call for Pen and Ink, Paper and Wax, beg a Pipe of Tobacco, burn out half a Candle, eat half a Pound of Sugar, and then go away, and pay Two-pence for a Dish of Coffee. I could soon shut up my doors, if I had not some other good People to make amends for what I lose by such as you, Sir.
All join the Widow in scoffing and jeering, and exit the highly discomfited Puzzle. The pretty little Kitty tricks her mother with the aid of the Player, and marries the man of her choice, but is forgiven when he is found to be a gentleman of the Temple.
The play is in one act and has several songs. The last is one of five stanzas, with music “set by Mr. Caret:”
What Pleasures a Coffee-House daily bestows!
To read and hear how the World merrily goes;
To laugh, sing and prattle of This, That, and T’ other;
And be flatter’d and ogl’d and kiss’d too, like Mother.
Here the Rake, after Roving and Tipling all Night,
For his Groat in the Morning may set his Head right.
And the Beau, who ne’er fouls his White fingers with Brass,
May have his Sixpen’ worth of—Stare in the Glass.
The Doctor, who’d always be ready to kill,
May ev’ry Day here take his Stand, if he will;
And the soldier, who’d bluster and challenge secure,
May draw boldly here, for—we’ll hold him he’s sure.
The Lawyer, who’s always in quest of his Prey,
May find fools here to feed upon every Day;
And the sage Politician, in Coffee-Grounds known,
May point out the Fate of each Crown but—his own.
Then, Gallants, since ev’rything here you may find
That pleasures the Fancy or profits the Mind,
Come all, and take each a full Dish of Delight,
And crowd up our Coffee-House every night.
John Timbs tells us this play “met with great opposition on its representation, owing to its being stated that the characters were intended for a particular family (that of Mrs. Yarrow and her daughter) who kept Dick’s, the coffee-house which the artist had inadvertently selected as the frontispiece. It appears,” Timbs continues, “that the landlady and her daughter were the reigning toast of the Templars, who then frequented Dick’s; and took the matter up so strongly that they united to condemn the farce on the night of its production; they succeeded, and even extended their resentment to everything suspected to be this author’s (the Rev. James Miller) for a considerable time after.”
Carlo Goldoni, who has been called the Molière of Italy, wrote La Bottega di Caffè, (The Coffee House), a naturalistic comedy of bourgeois Venice, satirizing scandal and gambling, in 1750. The scene is a Venetian coffee house (probably Florian’s), where several actions take place simultaneously. Among several remarkable studies is one of a prattling slanderer, Don Marzio, which ranks as one of the finest bits of original character drawing the stage has ever seen. The play was produced in English by the Chicago Theatre Society in[Pg 556] 1912. Chatfield-Taylorthinks Voltaire probably imitated La Bottega di Caffè in his Le Café, ou l’Ecossaise. Goldoni was a lover of coffee, a regular frequenter of the coffee houses of his time, from which he drew much in the way of inspiration. Pietro Longhi, called the Venetian Hogarth, in one of his pictures presenting life and manners in Venice during the years of her decadence, shows Goldoni as a visitor in a café of the period, with a female mendicant soliciting alms. It is in the collection of Professor Italico Brass.
Goldoni, in the comedy The Persian Wife, gives us a glimpse of coffee making in the middle of the eighteenth century. He puts these words into the mouth of Curcuma, the slave:
Here is the coffee, ladies, coffee native of Arabia,
And carried by the caravans into Ispahan.
The coffee of Arabia is certainly always the best.
While putting forth its leaves on one side, upon the other the flowers appear;
Born of a rich soil, it wishes shade, or but little sun.
Planted every three years is this little tree in the surface of the soil.
The fruit, though truly very small,
Should yet grow large enough to become somewhat green.
Later, when used, it should be freshly ground.
Kept in a warm and dry place and jealously guarded.
But a small quantity is needed to prepare it.
Put in the desired quantity and do not spill it over the fire;
Heat it till the foam rises, then let it subside again away from the fire;
Do this seven times at least, and coffee is made in a moment.
In 1760 there appeared in France Le Café, ou l’Ecossaise, comédie, which purported to have been written by a Mr. Hume, an Englishman, and to have been translated into French. It was in reality the work of Voltaire, who had brought out another play, Socrates, in the same manner a short time before. Le Café, was translated into English the same year under the title The Coffee House, or Fair Fugitive. The title page says the play is written by “Mr. Voltaire” and translated from the French. It is a comedy in five acts. The principal characters are: Fabrice, a good-natured man and the keeper of the coffee house; Constantia, the fair fugitive; Sir William Woodville, a gentleman of distinction under misfortune; Belmont, in love with Constantia, a man of fortune and interest; Freeport, a merchant and an epitome of English manners; Scandal, a sharper; and Lady Alton, in love with Belmont.
Il Caffè di Campagna, a play with music by Galuppi, appeared in Italy in 1762.
Another Italian play, a comedy called La Caffettiéra da Spirito was produced in 1807.
Hamilton, a play by Mary P. Hamlin and George Arliss, the latter also playing the title rôle, was produced in America by George C. Tyler in 1918. The first-act scene is laid in the Exchange coffee house of Philadelphia, during the period of Washington’s first administration. Among the characters introduced in this scene are James Monroe, Count Tallyrand, General Philip Schuyler, and Thomas Jefferson.
The authors very faithfully reproduce the atmosphere of the coffee house of Washington’s time. As Tallyrand remarks, “Everybody comes to see everybody at the Exchange Coffee House…. It is club, restaurant, merchants’ exchange, everything.”
The Autocrat of the Coffee Stall, a play in one act, by Harold Chapin, was published in New York in 1921.
Coffee and Literature in General
An interesting book might be written on the transformation that tea and coffee have wrought in the tastes of famous literary men. And of the two stimulants, coffee seems to have furnished greater refreshment and inspiration to most. However, both beverages have made civilization their debtor in that they weaned so many fine minds from the heavy wines and spirits in which they once indulged.
Voltaire and Balzac were the most ardent devotees of coffee among the French literati. Sir James Mackintosh (1765–1832), the Scottish philosopher and statesman, was so fond of coffee that he used to assert that the powers of a man’s mind would generally be found to be proportional to the quantity of that stimulant which he drank. His brilliant schoolmate and friend, Robert Hall (1764–1831), the Baptist minister and pulpit orator, preferred tea, of which he sometimes drank a dozen cups.[Pg 557] Cowper; Parson and Parr, the famous Greek scholars; Dr. Samuel Johnson; and William Hazlitt, the writer and critic, were great tea drinkers; but Burton, Dean Swift, Addison, Steele, Leigh Hunt, and many others, celebrated coffee.
Dr. Charles B. Reed, professor in the medical school of Northwestern University, says that coffee may be considered as a type of substance that fosters genius. History seems to bear him out. Coffee’s essential qualities are so well defined, says Dr. Reed, that one critic has claimed the ability to trace throughout the works of Voltaire those portions that came from coffee’s inspiration. Tea and coffee promote a harmony of the creative faculties that permits the mental concentration necessary to produce the masterpieces of art and literature.
Voltaire (1694–1778) the king of wits, was also king of coffee drinkers. Even in his old age he was said to have consumed fifty cups daily. To the abstemious Balzac (1799–1850) coffee was both food and drink.
In Frederick Lawton’s Balzac we read: “Balzac worked hard. His habit was to go to bed at six in the evening, sleep till twelve, and, after, to rise and write for nearly twelve hours at a stretch, imbibing coffee as a stimulant through these spells of composition.”
In his Treatise on Modern Stimulants, Balzac thus describes his reaction to his most beloved stimulant:
This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army on the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensign to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of wit start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder.
When Balzac tells how Doctor Minoret, Ursule Minoret’s guardian, used to regale his friends with a cup of “Moka,” mixed with Bourbon and Martinique, which the Doctor insisted on personally preparing in a silver coffee pot, it is his own custom that he is detailing. His Bourbon he bought only in the rue Mont Blanc (now the chaussé d’Antin); the Martinique, in the rue des Vielles Audriettes; the Mocha, at a grocer’s in the rue de l’Université. It was half a day’s journey to fetch them.
There have been notable contributions to the general literature of coffee by French, Italian, English, and American writers. Space does not permit of more than passing mention of some of them.
The reactions of the early French and English writers have been touched upon in the chapters on the coffee houses of old London and the early Parisian coffee houses, and in the history chapters dealing with the evolution of coffee drinking and coffee manners and customs.
After Dufour, Galland, and La Roque in France, there were Count Rumford, John Timbs, Douglas Ellis, and Robinson in England; Jardin and Franklin in France; Belli in Italy; Hewitt, Thurber, and Walsh in America.
Mention has been made of coffee references in the works of Aubrey, Burton, Addison, Steele, Bacon, and D’Israeli.
Brillat-Savarin (1755–1826) the great French epicure, knew coffee as few men before him or since. In his historical elegy, contained in Gastronomy as a Fine Art, or the Science of Good Living, he exclaims:
You crossed and mitred abbots and bishops who dispensed the favors of Heaven, and you the dreaded templars who armed yourselves for the extermination of the Saracens, you knew nothing of the sweet restoring influence of our modern chocolate, nor of the thought-inspiring bean of Arabia—how I pity you!
O. de Gourcuff’s De la Café, épître attribué à Senecé, is deserving of honorable mention.
An early French writer pays this tribute to the inspirational effects of coffee:
It is a beverage eminently agreeable, inspiring and wholesome. It is at once a stimulant, a cephalic, a febrifuge, a digestive, and an anti-soporific; it chases away sleep, which is the enemy of labor; it invokes the imagination, without which there can be no happy inspiration. It expels the gout, that enemy of pleasure, although to pleasure gout owes its birth; it facilitates digestion, without which there can be no true happiness. It disposes to gaiety, without which there is neither pleasure nor enjoyment; it gives wit to those who already have it, and it even provides wit (for some hours at least) to those who usually have it not. Thank heaven for Coffee, for see how many blessings are concentrated in the infusion of a small berry. What other beverage in the world can compare with it? Coffee, at once a pleasure and a medicine; Coffee, which nourishes at the same moment the mind, body[Pg 558] and imagination. Hail to thee! Inspirer of men of letters, best digestive of the gourmand. Nectar of all men.
In Bologna, 1691, Angelo Rambaldi published Ambrosia arabica, caffè discorso. This work is divided into eighteen sections, and describes the origin, cultivation, and roasting of the bean, as well as telling how to prepare the beverage.
During the time that Milan was under Spanish rule, Cesare Beccaria directed and edited a publication entitled Il Caffè, which was published from June 4, 1764, to May, 1766, “edited in Brescia by Giammaria Rizzardi and undertaken by a little society of friends,” according to the salutatory. Besides the Marchese Beccaria, other editors and contributors were Pietro and Alexander Verri, Baillon, Visconti, Colpani, Longhi, Albertenghi, Frisi, and Secchi. The same periodical, with the same editorial staff, was published also in Venice in the Typografia Pizzolato.
Another publication called Il Caffè, devoted to arts, letters, and science, was published in Venice in 1850–52. Still another, having the same name, a national weekly journal, was published in Milan, 1884–89.
An almanac, having the title Il Caffè, was published in Milan in 1829.
A weekly paper, called Il Caffè Pedrocchi, was published in Padua in 1846–48. It was devoted to art, literature and politics.
A publication called Coffee and Surrogates (tea, chocolate, saffron, pepper, and other stimulants) was founded by Professor Pietro Polli, in Milan, in 1885; but was short-lived.
An early English magazine (1731) contains an account of divination by coffee-grounds. The writer pays an unexpected visit, and “surprised the lady and her company in close cabal over their coffee, the interest very intent upon one whom, by her address and intelligence, he guessed was a tire woman, to which she added the secret of divining by coffee grounds. She was then in full inspiration, and with much solemnity observing the atoms around the cup; on the one hand sat a widow, on the other a maiden lady. They assured me that every cast of the cup is a picture of all one’s life to come, and every transaction and circumstance is delineated with the exactest certainty.”
The advertisement used by this seer is quite interesting:
An advise is hereby given that there has lately arrived in this city (Dublin) the famous Mrs. Cherry, the only gentlewoman truly learned in the occult science of tossing of coffee grounds; who has with uninterrupted success for some time past practiced to the general satisfaction of her female visitants. Her hours are after prayers are done at St. Peter’s Church, until dinner.
(N.B. She never requires more than 1 oz. of coffee from a single gentlewoman, and so proportioned for a second or third person, but not to exceed that number at any one time.)
If the one ounce of coffee represented her payment for reading the future, the charge could not be considered exorbitant!
English writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were noticeably affected by coffee, and the coffee-houses of the times have been immortalized by them; and in many instances they themselves were immortalized by the coffee houses and their frequenters. In the chapters already referred to and at the close of this chapter, will be found stories, quips, and anecdotes, in which occur many names that are now famous in art and literature.
Modern journalism dates from the publication, April 12, 1709, of the Tatler, whose editor was Sir Richard Steele (1672–1729) the Irish dramatist and essayist. He received his inspiration from the coffee houses; and his readers were the men that knew them best. In the first issue he announced:
All accounts of gallantry, pleasure and entertainment shall be under the article of White’s Coffee House; poetry under that of Will’s Coffee House; learning under the title of Grecian; foreign and domestic news you will have from St. James’s Coffee House, and what else I shall on any other subject offer shall be dated from my own apartment.
Steele’s Tatler was issued three times weekly until 1711, when it suspended to be succeeded by the Spectator, whose principal contributor was Joseph Addison (1672–1719), the essayist and poet, and Steele’s school-fellow.
Sir Richard Steele immortalized the Don and Don Saltero’s coffee house in old Chelsea in No. 34 of the Tatler, wherein he tells us of the necessity of traveling to know the world, by his journey for fresh air, no farther than the village of Chelsea, of which he fancied that he could give an immediate[Pg 559] description—from the five fields, where the the robbers lie in wait, to the coffee house, where the literati sit in council. But he found, even in a place so near town as this, that there were enormities and persons of eminence, whom he before knew nothing of.
The coffee house was almost absorbed by the museum, Steele says:
When I came into the coffee-house, I had not time to salute the company, before my eyes were diverted by ten thousand gimcracks round the room, and on the ceiling. When my first astonishment was over, comes to me a sage of thin and meagre countenance, which aspect made me doubt whether reading or fretting had made it so philosophic; but I very soon perceived him to be that sort which the ancients call “gingivistee”, in our language “tooth-drawers”. I immediately had a respect for the man; for these practical philosophers go upon a very practical hypothesis, not to cure, but to take away the part affected. My love of mankind made me very benevolent to Mr. Salter, for such is the name of this eminent barber and antiquary.
The Don was famous for his punch, and for his skill on the fiddle. He drew teeth also, and wrote verses; he described his museum in several stanzas, one of which is:
Monsters of all sorts are seen:
Strange things in nature as they grew so;
Some relicks of the Sheba Queen,
And fragments of the fam’d Bob Crusoe.
Steele then plunges into a deep thought why barbers should go farther in hitting the ridiculous than any other set of men; and maintains that Don Saltero is descended in a right line, not from John Tradescant, as he himself asserts, but from the memorable companion of the Knight of Mancha. Steele certifies to all the worthy citizens who travel to see the Don’s rarities, that his double-barreled pistols, targets, coats of mail, his sclopeta (hand-culverin) and sword of Toledo, were left to his ancestor by the said Don Quixote; and by his ancestor to all his progeny down to Saltero. Though Steele thus goes far in favor of Don Saltero’s great merit, he objects to his imposing several names (without his license) on the collection he has made, to the abuse of the good people of England; one of which is particularly calculated to deceive religious persons, to the great scandal of the well-disposed and may introduce heterodox opinions. (Among the curiosities presented by Admiral Munden was a coffin, containing the body or relics of a Spanish saint, who had wrought miracles.) Says Steele:
He shows you a straw hat, which I know to be made by Madge Peskad, within three miles of Bedford; and tells you “It is Pontius Pilate’s wife’s chambermaid’s sister’s hat.” To my knowledge of this very hat, it may be added that the covering of straw was never used among the Jews, since it was demanded of them to make bricks without it. Therefore, this is nothing but, under the specious pretense of learning and antiquities, to impose upon the world. There are other things which I can not tolerate among his rarities, as, the china figure of the lady in the glass-case; the Italian engine, for the imprisonment of those who go abroad with it; both of which I hereby order to be taken down, or else he may expect to have his letters patent for making punch superseded, be debarred wearing his muff next winter, or ever coming to London without his wife.
Babillard says that Salter had an old grey muff, and that, by wearing it up to his nose, he was distinguishable at the distance of a quarter of a mile. His wife was none of the best, being much addicted to scolding; and Salter, who liked his glass, if he could make a trip to London by himself, was in no haste to return.
Don Saltero’s proved very attractive as an exhibition, and drew crowds to the coffee house. A catalog was published of which were printed more than forty editions. Smollett, the novelist, was among the donors. The catalog, in 1760, comprehended the following rarities:
Tigers’ tusks; the Pope’s candle; the skeleton of a Guinea-pig; a fly-cap monkey, a piece of the true Cross; the Four Evangelists’ heads cut out on a cherry stone; the King of Morocco’s tobacco-pipe; Mary Queen of Scots’ pincushion; Queen Elizabeth’s prayer-book; a pair of Nun’s stockings; Job’s ears, which grew on a tree; a frog in a tobacco stopper; and five hundred more odd relics!
The Don had a rival, as appears by A Catalogue of the Rarities to be seen at Adam’s, at the Royal Swan, in Kingsland-road, leading from Shoreditch Church, 1756. Mr. Adams exhibited, for the entertainment of the curious:
Miss Jenny Cameron’s shoes; Adam’s eldest daughter’s hat; the heart of the famous Bess Adams, that was hanged at Tyburn with Lawyer Carr, January 18, 1736–37; Sir Walter Raleigh’s tobacco pipe; Vicar of Bray’s clogs; engine to shell green peas with; teeth that grew in a fish’s belly; Black Jack’s ribs; the very comb that Abraham combed his son Isaac and Jacob’s head with; Wat Tyler’s spurs; rope[Pg 560] that cured Captain Lowry of the head-ach, ear-ach, tooth-ach, and belly-ach; Adam’s key of the fore and back door of the Garden of Eden, etc., etc.
These are only a few out of five hundred other equally marvellous exhibits.
The success of Don Saltero in attracting visitors to his coffee house, induced the proprietor of the Chelsea bunhouse to make a similar collection of rarities, to attract customers for his buns; and to some extent it was successful.
In the first number of the Spectator, Addison says:
There is no place of general resort wherein I do not often make my appearance. Sometimes I am seen thrusting my head into a round of politicians at Will’s, and listening with great attention to the narratives that are made in those little circular audiences. Sometimes I smoke a pipe at Child’s, and while I seem attentive to nothing but the Postman, overhear the conversation of every table in the room. I appear on Sunday nights at St. James’ coffee house, and sometimes join the little committee of politics in the inner room as one who comes there to hear and improve. My face is likewise very well known at the Grecian, the Cocoa Tree, and in the theatres both of Drury Lane and the Hay Market. I have been taken for a merchant upon the Exchange for above these ten years, and sometimes pass for a Jew in the assembly of stock jobbers at Jonathan’s; in short, wherever I see a cluster of people, I always mix with them, though I never open my lips, but in my own club.
In the second number he tells that:
I am now settled with a widow woman, who has a great many children and complies with my humor in everything. I do not remember that we have exchanged a word together for these five years; my coffee comes into my chamber every morning without asking for it, if I want fire I point to the chimney, if water, to my basin; upon which my landlady nods as much as to say she takes my meaning, and immediately obeys my signals.
Three of Addison’s papers in the Spectator (Nos. 402, 481, and 568) are humorously descriptive of the coffee houses of the period. No. 403 opens with the remark that:
The courts of two countries do not so much differ from one another, as the Court and the City, in their peculiar ways of life and conversation. In short, the inhabitants of St. James, notwithstanding they live under the same laws, and speak the same language, are a distinct people from those of Cheapside, who are likewise removed from those of the Temple on the one side, and those of Smithfleld on the other, by several climates and degrees in their way of thinking and conversing together.
For this reason, the author takes a ramble through London and Westminster, to gather the opinions of his ingenious countrymen upon a current report of the king of France’s death.
I know the faces of all the principal politicians within the bills of mortality; and as every coffee-house has some particular statesman belonging to it, who is the mouth of the street where he lives, I always take care to place myself near him, in order to know his judgment on the present posture of affairs. And, as I foresaw the above report would produce a new face of things in Europe, and many curious speculations in our British coffee-houses, I was very desirous to learn the thoughts of our most eminent politicians on that occasion.
That I might begin as near the fountain-head as possible, I first of all called in at St. James’s, where I found the whole outward room in a buzz of politics; the speculations were but very indifferent towards the door, but grew finer as you advanced to the upper end of the room, and were so much improved by a knot of theorists, who sat in the inner room, within the steams of the coffee-pot, that I there heard the whole Spanish monarchy disposed of, and all the line of Bourbons provided for in less than a quarter of an hour.
I afterwards called in at Giles’s, where I saw a board of French gentlemen sitting upon the life and death of their grand monarque. Those among them who had espoused the Whig interest very positively affirmed that he had departed this life about a week since, and therefore, proceeded without any further delay to the release of their friends in the galleys, and to their own re-establishment; but, finding they could not agree among themselves, I proceeded on my intended progress.
Upon my arrival at Jenny Man’s I saw an alert young fellow that cocked his hat upon a friend of his, who entered just at the same time with myself, and accosted him after the following manner: “Well, Jack, the old prig is dead at last. Sharp’s the word. Now or never, boy. Up to the walls of Paris, directly;” with several other deep reflections of the same nature.
I met with very little variation in the politics between Charing Cross and Covent Garden. And, upon my going into Will’s, I found their discourse was gone off, from the death of the French King, to that of Monsieur Boileau, Racine, Corneille, and several other poets, whom they regretted on this occasion as persons who would have obliged the world with very noble elegies on the death of so great a prince, and so eminent a patron of learning.
At a coffee-house near the Temple, I found a couple of young gentlemen engaged very smartly in a dispute on the succession to the Spanish monarchy. One of them seemed to have been retained as advocate for the Duke of Anjou, the other for his Imperial Majesty. They were both for regarding the title to that kingdom by the statute laws of England; but finding them[Pg 561] going out of my depth, I pressed forward to Paul’s Churchyard, where I listened with great attention to a learned man, who gave the company an account of the deplorable state of France during the minority of the deceased king.
I then turned on my right hand into Fish-street, where the chief politician of that quarter, upon hearing the news, (after having taken a pipe of tobacco, and ruminated for some time) “If,” says he, “the King of France is certainly dead, we shall have plenty of mackerel this season: our fishery will not be disturbed by privateers, as it has been for these ten years past.” He afterwards considered how the death of this great man would affect our pilchards, and by several other remarks infused a general joy into his whole audience.
I afterwards entered a by-coffee-house that stood at the upper end of a narrow lane, where I met with a Nonjuror engaged very warmly with a laceman who was the great support of a neighboring conventicle. The matter in debate was whether the late French King was most like Augustus Caesar, or Nero. The controversy was carried on with great heat on both sides, and as each of them looked upon me very frequently during the course of their debate, I was under some apprehension that they would appeal to me, and therefore laid down my penny at the bar and made the best of my way to Cheapside.
I here gazed upon the signs for some time before I found one to my purpose. The first object I met in the coffee-room was a person who expressed a great grief for the death of the French King; but upon his explaining himself, I found his sorrow did not arise from the loss of the monarch, but for his having sold out of the Bank about three days before he heard the news of it. Upon which a haberdasher, who was the oracle of the coffee-house, and had his circle of admirers about him, called several to witness that he had declared his opinion, above a week before, that the French King was certainly dead; to which he added, that considering the late advices we had received from France, it was impossible that it could be otherwise. As he was laying these together, and debating to his hearers with great authority, there came a gentlemen from Garraway’s, who told us that there were several letters from France just come in, with advice that the King was in good health, and was gone out a hunting the very morning the post came away; upon which the haberdasher stole off his hat that hung upon a wooden peg by him, and retired to his shop with great confusion. This intelligence put a stop to my travels, which I had prosecuted with so much satisfaction; not being a little pleased to hear so many different opinions upon so great an event, and to observe how naturally, upon such a piece of news, every one is apt to consider it to his particular interest and advantage.
Johnson wrote in his Life of Addison concerning the Tatler and the Spectator that they were:
Published at a time when two parties, loud, restless and violent, each with plausible declarations, and both perhaps without any distinct determination of its views, were agitating the nation; to minds heated with political contest they supplied cooler and more inoffensive reflections…. They had a perceptible influence on the conversation of the time, and taught the frolic and the gay to unite merriment with decency, effects which they can never wholly lose.
Harold Routh in the Cambridge History of Literature, speaking of the Spectator, says:
It surpassed the Tatler in style and in thought. It gave expression to the power of commerce. For more than a century traders had been characterized as dishonest and avaricious, because playwrights and pamphleteers generally wrote for the leisure classes, and were themselves too poor to have any but unpleasant relations with men of business. Now merchants were becoming ambassadors of civilization, and had developed intellect so as to control distant and, as it seemed, mysterious sources of wealth; by a stroke of the pen and largely through the coffee houses they had come to know their own importance and power.
Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) was very fond of good eating, and almost daily entries were made in his Diary of dinner delicacies that he had enjoyed. One dinner, that he considered a great success, was served to eight persons, and consisted of oysters, a hash of rabbits, a lamb, a rare chine of beef; next a great dish of roasting fowl (“cost me about 30 s.”) a tart, then fruit and cheese. “My dinner was noble enough … I believe this day’s feast will cost me near 5 pounds.” But it will be noted that coffee was not mentioned as a part of the menu.
He makes countless references to visits paid to this and that coffee house, but records only one instance of actually drinking coffee:
Up betimes to my office, and thence at seven o’clock to Sir G. Carteret, and there with Sir J. Minnes made an end of his accounts, but staid not to dinner my Lady having made us drink our morning draft there of several wines, but I drank nothing but some of her coffee, which was poorly made, with a little sugar in it.
This note which he considered worthy of record was certainly not inspired by the excellence of the good lady’s matutinal coffee.
William Cobbett (1762–1835) the English-American politician, reformer, and writer on economics, denounced coffee as[Pg 562] “slops”; but he was one of a remarkably small minority. Before his day, one of England’s greatest satirists, Dean Swift, (1667–1745) led a long roll of literary men who were devotees of coffee.
Swift’s writings are full of references to coffee; and his letters from Stella came to him under cover, at the St. James coffee house. There is scarcely a letter to Esther (Vanessa) Vanhomrigh which does not contain a significant reference to coffee, by which the course of their friendship and clandestine meetings may be traced. In one dated August 13, 1720, written while traveling from place to place in Ireland, he says:
We live here in a very dull town, every valuable creature absent, and Cad says he is weary of it, and would rather prefer his coffee on the barrenest mountain in Wales than be king here.
A fig for partridges and quails,
Ye dainties I know nothing of ye;
But on the highest mount in Wales,
Would choose in peace to drink my coffee.
In another letter, about two years later, replying to one in which Vanessa has reproached him and begged him to write her soon, he advises:
The best maxim I know in life, is to drink your coffee when you can, and when you cannot, to be easy without it; while you continue to be splenetic, count upon it I will always preach. Thus much I sympathize with you, that I am not cheerful enough to write, for, I believe, coffee once a week is necessary, and you know very well that coffee makes us severe, and grave, and philosophical.
These various references to coffee are thought to have been based upon an incident in the early days of their friendship, when on the occasion of the Vanhomrigh family journeying from Dublin to London, Vanessa accidentally spilt her coffee in the chimney-place at a certain inn, which Swift considered a premonition of their growing friendship. Writing from Clogher, Swift reminds Vanessa:
Remember that riches are nine parts in ten of all that is good in life, and health is the tenth—drinking coffee comes long after, and yet it is the eleventh, but without the two former you cannot drink it right.
In another letter he writes facetiously, in memory of her playful badinage:
I long to drink a dish of coffee in the sluttery and hear you dun me for a secret, and “Drink your coffee; why don’t you drink your coffee?”
Leigh Hunt had very pleasant things to say about coffee, giving to it the charm of appeal to the imagination, which he said one never finds in tea. For example:
Coffee, like tea, used to form a refreshment by itself, some hours after dinner; it is now taken as a digester, right upon that meal or the wine, and sometimes does not even close it; or the digester itself is digested by a liquor of some sort called a Chasse-Café [coffee-chaser]. We like coffee better than tea for taste, but tea “for a constancy.” To be perfect in point of relish (we do not say of wholesomeness) coffee should be strong and hot, with little milk and sugar. It has been drunk after this mode in some parts of Europe, but the public have nowhere, we believe, adopted it. The favorite way of taking it at a meal, abroad, is with a great superfluity of milk—very properly called, in France café au lait (coffee to the milk). One of the pleasures we receive in drinking coffee is that, being the universal drink in the East, it reminds of that region of the “Arabian Nights” as smoking does for the same reason; though neither of these refreshments, which are identified with Oriental manners, is to be found in that enchanting work. They had not been discovered when it was written; the drink then was sherbet. One can hardly fancy what a Turk or a Persian could have done without coffee and a pipe, any more than the English ladies and gentlemen, before the civil wars, without tea for breakfast.
In his old age, Immanuel Kant, the great metaphysician, became extremely fond of coffee; and Thomas de Quincey relates a little incident showing Kant’s great eagerness for the after-dinner cup.
At the beginning of the last year of his life, he fell into a custom of taking, immediately after dinner, a cup of coffee, especially on those days when it happened that I was of his party. And such was the importance that he attached to his little pleasure that he would even make a memorandum beforehand, in the blank paper book that I had given him, that on the next day I was to dine with him, and consequently “that there was to be coffee.” Sometimes in the interest of conversation, the coffee was forgotten, but not for long. He would remember and with the querulousness of old age and infirm health would demand that coffee be brought “upon the spot.” Arrangements had always been made in advance, however; the coffee was ground, and the water was boiling: and in the very moment the word was given, the servant shot in like an arrow and plunged the coffee into the water. All that remained, therefore, was to give it time to boil up. But this trifling delay seemed unendurable to Kant. If it were said, “Dear Professor, the coffee will be brought up in a moment,” he would say, “Will be! There’s the rub, that it only will be.” Then he would quiet himself with a stoical air, and say, “Well, one can die after all; it is but[Pg 563] dying; and in the next world, thank God, there is no drinking of coffee and consequently no waiting for it.”
When at length the servant’s steps were heard upon the stairs, he would turn round to us, and joyfully call out: “Land, land! my dear friends, I see land.”
Thackeray (1811–1863) must have suffered many tea and coffee disappointments. In the Kickleburys on the Rhine he asks: “Why do they always put mud into coffee aboard steamers? Why does the tea generally taste of boiled boots?”
In Arthur’s, A. Neil Lyons has preserved for all time the atmosphere of the London coffee stall. “I would not,” he says, “exchange a night at Arthur’s for a week with the brainiest circle in London.” The book is a collection of short stories. As already recorded, Harold Chapin dramatized this picturesque London institution in The Autocrat of the Coffee Stall.
In General Horace Porter’s Campaigning with Grant, we have three distinct coffee incidents within fifty-odd pages; or explicitly, see pages 47, 56, 101; where, deep in the fiercest snarls of The Wilderness campaign we are treated to:
General Grant, slowly sipping his coffee … a full ration of that soothing army beverage…. The general made rather a singular meal preparatory to so exhausting a day as that which was to follow. He took a cucumber, sliced it, poured some vinegar over it, and partook of nothing else except a cup of strong coffee…. The general seemed in excellent spirits, and was even inclined to be jocose. He said to me, “We have just had our coffee, and you will find some left for you.” … I drank it with the relish of a shipwrecked mariner.
One of the first immediate supplies General Sherman desired from Wilmington, on reaching Fayetteville and lines of communication in March, 1865, was, expressly, coffee; does he not say so himself, on page 297 of the second volume of his Memoirs?
Still more expressly, towards the close of his Memoirs, and among final recommendations, the fruit of his experiences in that whole vast war, General Sherman says this for coffee:
Coffee has become almost indispensable, though many substitutes were found for it, such as Indian corn, roasted, ground and boiled as coffee, the sweet potato, and the seed of the okra plant prepared in the same way. All these were used by the people of the South, who for years could procure no coffee, but I noticed that the women always begged of us real coffee, which seemed to satisfy a natural yearning or craving more powerful than can be accounted for on the theory of habit. Therefore I would always advise that the coffee and sugar ration be carried along, even at the expense of bread, for which there are many substitutes.
George Agnew Chamberlain’s novel Home contains a vivid description of coffee-making on an old plantation, and could only have been written by a devoted lover of this drink. Gerry Lansing, the American, has escaped drowning in the river, and is now lost in the Brazilian forest. He finds his way at last to an old plantation house:
A stove was built into the masonry, and a cavernous oven gaped from the massive wall. At the stove was an old negress, making coffee with shaky deliberation…. The girl and the wrinkled old woman made him sit down at the table, and then placed before him crisp rusks of mandioc flour and steaming coffee whose splendid aroma triumphed over the sordidness of the scene and through the nostrils reached the palate with anticipatory touch. It was sweetened with dark, pungent syrup and was served black in a capacious bowl, as though one could not drink too deeply of the elixir of life. Gerry ate ravenously and sipped the coffee, at first sparingly, then greedily…. Gerry set down the empty bowl with a sigh. The rusks had been delicious. Before the coffee the name of nectar dwindled to impotency. Its elixir rioted in his veins.
In the Rosary, Florence L. Barclay has a Scotch woman tell how she makes coffee. She says:
Use a jug—it is not what you make it in; it is how ye make it. It all hangs upon the word fresh—freshly roasted—freshly ground—water freshly boiled. And never touch it with metal. Pop it into an earthenware jug, pour in your boiling water straight upon it, stir it with a wooden spoon, set it on the hob ten minutes to settle; the grounds will all go to the bottom, though you might not think it, and you pour it out, fragrant, strong and clear. But the secret is, fresh, fresh, fresh, and don’t stint your coffee.
Cyrus Townsend Brady’s The Corner in Coffee is “a thrilling romance of the New York coffee market.”
Coffee, Du Barry, and Louis XV figure in one scene of the story of The Moat with the Crimson Stains, as told by Elizabeth W. Champney in her Romance of the Bourbon Chateaux. It tells of the German apprentice Riesener, who assisted his master Oeben in designing for Louis XV a beautiful desk with a secret drawer,[Pg 564]which it took ten years of unremitting industry to execute. At the end, Riesener was to be accepted by his master as a partner and a son-in-law. Little Victoire, who loved to sit in a punt and trail her doll in the waters of the Bievre to see to what color its frock would be changed by the dyes of the Gobelin factory, was then only five, and Madam Oeben twenty-three. As the years rolled by, Riesener grew to love the mother and not the daughter, who, meanwhile, shot up into a slim girl, not of her mother’s beauty, but of a loveliness all her own. Then there was a quarrel because the young apprentice thought the master should have resented the suggestion of M. Duplessis that his wife pose in the nude for the statuettes which were to hold the sconces on the king’s desk; and Riesener left in a fine youthful frenzy, vowing he would never return while the maître lived. The latter, unable to complete the masterpiece which he loved more than anything else on earth, sought death, and perished in the crimson waters of the Bievre.
The maître had no enemies, but his quarrel with Riesener caused a fear to spring up in the widow’s heart that the apprentice might have been guilty of his murder, so she refused to see him when, hearing of his master’s death, he returned, stricken with remorse, to finish the desk. On it were the statuettes modeled in perfect likeness of Mlle. de Vaubernier, a wily little milliner of Riesener’s bohemian set who had taken this way to bring herself to the attention of Louis XV. The ruse was successful; and after the acceptance of the desk, there was installed a new maîtresse en titre, the notorious Madame Du Barry, erstwhile the pretty milliner, Mlle. de Vaubernier.
Later, Madame Du Barry sent for the now famous ebeniste (cabinet maker); and, when her negro page Zamore admitted him, he found His Majesty Louis XV kneeling in front of the fireplace, making coffee for her while she laughed at him for scalding his fingers. He had been summoned to show the king the mechanism of the secret drawer, so cunningly concealed in the king’s desk that no one could find it. But Riesener knew not the secret of his master, who had died without revealing it. Then the red revolution came; and when the pretty pavilion at Louveciennes was sacked, and its costly furniture hurled down the cliff to the Seine, the king’s desk, shattered almost beyond repair, was carried to the Gobelins’ factory and presented to Mme. Oeben in recognition of her husband’s workmanship. Then the secret compartment was found to have been disclosed, and Riesener was absolved by a letter therein, from the maître, who intimated he was about to end it all because of paralysis. Riesener marries the widow and all ends happily.
James Lane Allen, in The Kentucky Warbler, tells a tale of the Blue Grass country and of a young hero who wanders after a bird’s note to find romance and the key to his own locked nature. Here is an incident from his first forest adventure:
There was one tree he curiously looked around for, positive that he should not be blind to it if fortunate enough to set his eyes on one—the coffee tree. That is, he felt sure he’d recognize it if it yielded coffee ready to drink, of which never in his life had they given him enough. Not once throughout his long troubled experience as to being fed had he been allowed as much coffee as he craved. Once, when younger, he had heard some one say that the only tree in all the American forests that bore the name of Kentucky was the Kentucky coffee tree, and he had instantly conceived a desire to pay a visit in secret to that corner of the woods. To take his cup and a few lumps of sugar and sit under the boughs and catch the coffee as it dripped down…. No one to hold him back … as much as he wanted at last…. The Kentucky coffee tree—his favorite in Nature!
John Kendrick Bangs relates, in Coffee and Repartee, some amusing skirmishes indulged in at the boarding-house table, between the Idiot and the guests, where coffee served the purpose of enlivening the tilt:
“Can’t I give you another cup of coffee?” asked the landlady of the School Master.
“You may,” returned the School Master, pained at the lady’s grammar, but too courteous to call attention to it save by the emphasis with which he spoke the word “may”.
Said the Idiot: “You may fill my cup too, Mrs. Smithers.”
“The coffee is all gone,” returned the landlady, with a snap.
“Then, Mary,” said the Idiot, gracefully turning to the maid, “you may give me a glass of ice water. It is quite as warm, after all, as the coffee and not quite so weak.”
One other little skit remains at the expense of Mrs. Smithers’ coffee. At the breakfast table, where the air, as usual, is[Pg 565] charged with repartee, Mr. Whitechoker, the minister, says to his landlady:
“Mrs. Smithers, I’ll have a dash of hot water in my coffee, this morning.” Then with a glance toward the Idiot, he added, “I think it looks like rain.”
“Referring to the coffee, Mr. Whitechoker?” queried the Idiot….
“Ah,—I don’t quite follow you,” replied the Minister with some annoyance.
“You said something looked like rain, and I asked you if the thing referred to was the coffee, for I was disposed to agree with you,” said the Idiot.
“I am sure,” put in Mrs. Smithers, “that a gentleman of Mr. Whitechoker’s refinement would not make any such insinuation, sir. He is not the man to quarrel with what is set before him.”
“I must ask your pardon, Madam,” returned the Idiot politely. “I hope I am not the man to quarrel with my food, either. Indeed, I make it a rule to avoid unpleasantness of all sorts, particularly with the weak, under which category I find your coffee.”
Coffee Quips and Anecdotes
Coffee literature is full of quips and anecdotes. Probably the most famous coffee quip is that of Mme. de Sévigné, who, as already told in chapter XI, was wrongfully credited with saying, “Racine and coffee will pass.” It was Voltaire in his preface to Irene who thus accused the amiable letter-writer; and she, being dead, could not deny it.
That Mme. de Sévigné was at one time a coffee drinker is apparent from this quotation from one of her letters: “The cavalier believes that coffee gives him warmth, and I at the same time, foolish as you know me, do not take it any longer.”
La Roque called the beverage “the King of Perfumes”, whose charm was enriched when vanilla was added.
Emile Souvestre (1806–1854) said: “Coffee keeps, so to say, the balance between bodily and spiritual nourishment.”
Isid Bourdon said: “The discovery of coffee has enlarged the realm of illusion and given more promise to hope.”
An old Bourbon proverb says: “To an old man a cup of coffee is like the door post of an old house—it sustains and strengthens him.”
Jardin says that in the Antilles, instead of orange blossoms, the brides carry a spray of coffee blossoms; and when a woman remains unmarried, they say she has lost her coffee branch. “We say in France, that she has coiffé Sainte-Catherine.”
Fontenelle and Voltaire have both been quoted as authors of the famous reply to the remark that coffee was a slow poison: “I think it must be, for I’ve been drinking it for eighty-five years and am not dead yet.”
In Meidinger’s German Grammar the “slow-poison” bon mot is attributed to Fontenelle.
It seems reasonable to give Fontenelle credit for this bon mot. Voltaire died at eighty-four. Fontenelle lived to be nearly a hundred years. Of his cheerfulness at an advanced age an anecdote is related. In conversation, one day, a lady a few years younger than Fontenelle playfully remarked, “Monsieur, you and I stay here so long, methinks Death has forgotten us.” “Hush! Speak in a whisper, madame,” replied Fontenelle, “tant mieux! (so much the better!) don’t remind him of us.”
Flaubert, Hugo, Baudelaire, Paul de Kock, Théophile Gautier, Alfred de Musset, Zola, Coppée, George Sand, Guy de Maupassant, and Sarah Bernhardt, all have been credited with many clever or witty sallies about coffee.
Prince Talleyrand (1754–1839), the French diplomat and wit, has given us the cleverest summing up of the ideal cup of coffee. He said it should be “Noir comme le diable, chaud comme l’enfer, pur comme un ange, doux comme l’amour.” Or in English, “black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.”
This quip has been wrongfully attributed to Brillat-Savarin. Talleyrand said also:
A cup of coffee lightly tempered with good milk detracts nothing from your intellect; on the contrary, your stomach is freed by it, and no longer distresses your brain; it will not hamper your mind with troubles, but give freedom to its working. Suave molecules of Mocha stir up your blood, without causing excessive heat; the organ of thought receives from it a feeling of sympathy; work becomes easier, and you will sit down without distress to your principal repast, which will restore your body, and afford you a calm delicious night.
Among coffee drinkers a high place must be given to Prince Bismarck (1815–1898). He liked coffee unadulterated. While with the Prussian army in France, he one day entered a country inn and asked the host if he had any chicory in the house. He had. Bismarck said: “Well, bring it to[Pg 566] me; all you have.” The man obeyed, and handed Bismarck a canister full of chicory.
“Are you sure this is all you have?” demanded the chancellor.
“Yes, my lord, every grain.”
“Then,” said Bismarck, keeping the canister by him, “go now and make me a pot of coffee.”
This same story has been related of François Paul Jules Grévy (1807–1891), president of France, 1879–1887. According to the French story, Grévy never took wine, even at dinner. He was, however, passionately fond of coffee. To be certain of having his favorite beverage of the best quality, he always, when he could, prepared it himself. Once he was invited, with a friend, M. Bethmont, to a hunting party by M. Menier, the celebrated manufacturer of chocolate, at Noisiel. It happened that M. Grévy and M. Bethmont lost themselves in the forest. Trying to find their way out, they stumbled upon a little wine house, and stopped for a rest. They asked for something to drink. M. Bethmont found his wine excellent; but, as usual, Grévy would not drink. He wanted coffee, but he was afraid of the decoction which would be brought him. He got a good cup, however, and this is how he managed it:
“Have you any chicory?” he said to the man.
“Bring me some.”
Soon the proprietor returned with a small can of chicory.
“Is that all you have?” asked Grévy.
“We have a little more.”
“Bring me the rest.”
When he came again, with another can of chicory, Grévy said:
“You have no more?”
“Very well. Now go and make me a cup of coffee.”
As already told, Louis XV had a great passion for coffee, which he made himself. Lenormand, the head gardener at Versailles, raised six pounds of coffee a year which was for the exclusive use of the king. The king’s fondness for coffee and for Mme. Du Barry gave rise to a celebrated anecdote of Louveciennes which was accepted as true by many serious writers. It is told in this fashion by Mairobert in a pamphlet scandalizing Du Barry in 1776:
His Majesty loves to make his own coffee and to forsake the cares of the government. One day the coffee pot was on the fire and, his Majesty being occupied with something else, the coffee boiled over. “Oh France, take care! Your coffee f—— le camp!” cried the beautiful favorite.
Charles Vatel has denied this story.
It is related of Jean Jacques Rousseau that once when he was walking in the Tuileries he caught the aroma of roasting coffee. Turning to his companion, Bernardino de Saint-Pierre, he said, “Ah, that is a perfume in which I delight; when they roast coffee near my house, I hasten to open the door to take in all the aroma.” And such was the passion for coffee of this philosopher of Geneva that when he died, “he just missed doing it with a cup of coffee in his hand”.
Barthez, confidential physician of Napoleon the first, drank a great deal of it, freely, calling it “the intellectual drink.”
Bonaparte, himself, said: “Strong coffee, and plenty, awakens me. It gives me a warmth, an unusual force, a pain that is not without pleasure. I would rather suffer than be senseless.”
Edward R. Emerson tells the following story of the Café Procope. One day while M. Saint-Foix was seated at his usual table in this café an officer of the king’s body-guard entered, sat down, and ordered a cup of coffee, with milk and a roll, adding, “It will serve me for a dinner.” At this, Saint-Foix remarked aloud that a cup of coffee, with milk and a roll, was a confoundedly poor dinner. The officer remonstrated. Saint-Foix reiterated his remark, adding that nothing he could say to the contrary would convince him that it was not a confoundedly poor dinner. Thereupon a challenge was given and accepted, and the whole company present adjourned as spectators to a duel which ended by Saint-Foix receiving a wound in the arm.
“That is all very well,” said the wounded combatant; “but I call you to witness, gentlemen, that I am still profoundly convinced that a cup of coffee, with milk and a roll, is a confoundedly poor dinner.”
At this moment the principals were arrested and carried before the Duke de[Pg 567] Noailles, in whose presence Saint-Foix, without waiting to be questioned, said:
“Monseigneur, I had not the slightest intention of offending this gallant officer who, I doubt not, is an honorable man; but your excellency can never prevent my asserting that a cup of coffee, with milk and a roll, is a confoundedly poor dinner.”
“Why, so it is,” said the Duke.
“Then I am not in the wrong,” persisted Saint-Foix; “and a cup of coffee”—at these words magistrates, delinquents, and auditory burst into a roar of laughter, and the antagonists forthwith became warm friends.”
Boswell in his Life of Johnson tells a story of an old chevalier de Malte, of ancienne noblesse, but in low circumstances, who was in a coffee house in Paris, where was also “Julien, the great manufacturer at Gobelins, of fine tapestry, so much distinguished for the figures and the colours. The chevalier’s carriage was very old. Says Julien with a plebeian insolence, ‘I think, sir, you had better have your carriage new painted.’
“The chevalier looked at him with indignant contempt, and answered:
“‘Well, sir, you may take it home and dye it.’
“All the coffee house rejoiced at Julien’s confusion.”
Sydney Smith (1771–1845) the English clergyman and humorist, once said: “If you want to improve your understanding, drink coffee; it is the intellectual beverage.”
Our own William Dean Howells pays the beverage this tribute: “This coffee intoxicates without exciting, soothes you softly out of dull sobriety, making you think and talk of all the pleasant things that ever happened to you.”
The wife of the president of the United States prefers coffee to tea. Afternoon guests at the White House may be refreshed, if they choose, by a sip of tea. But while tea is on tap for callers, Mrs. Harding always has coffee for those who, like herself, prefer it.
Old London Coffee-House Anecdotes
A good-sized volume might be compiled of the many anecdotes that have been written about habitués of the London coffee houses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), the lexicographer, was one of the most constant frequenters of the coffee houses of his day. His big, awkward figure was a familiar sight as he went about attended by his satellite, young James Boswell, who was to write about him for the delight of future generations in his marvelous Life of Johnson. The intellectual and moral peculiarities of the man found a natural expression in the coffee house. Johnson was fifty-four and Boswell only twenty-three when the two first met in Tom Davies’ book-shop in Covent Garden. The story is told by Boswell with great particularity and characteristic naiveté:
Mr. Davies mentioned my name, and respectfully introduced me to him. I was much agitated, and recollecting his prejudice against the Scotch, of which I had heard so much, I said to Davies, “Don’t tell him where I come from.” “From Scotland,” cried Davies roguishly. “Mr. Johnson,” said I, “I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.” I am willing to flatter myself that I meant this as a light pleasantry to sooth and conciliate him, and not as a humiliating abasement at the expense of my country. But however that might be, this speech was somewhat unlucky, for with that quickness of wit for which he was so remarkable, he seized the expression, “come from Scotland!” which I used In the sense of being of that country; and, as if I had come away from it, or left it, he retorted, “That, sir, I find is what a great many of your countrymen cannot help.”
Nothing daunted, however, Boswell within a week called upon Johnson in his chambers. This time the doctor urged him to tarry. Three weeks later he said to him, “Come to me as often as you can.” Within[Pg 568] a fortnight thereafter Boswell was giving the great man a sketch of his own life and Johnson was exclaiming, “Give me your hand; I have taken a liking to you.”
When people began to ask, “Who is this Scotch cur at Johnson’s heels?” Goldsmith replied: “He is not a cur; he is only a bur. Tom Davies flung him at Johnson in sport, and he has the faculty of sticking.”
Thus began one of the strangest friendships, out of which developed the most delightful biography in all literature. Boswell’s taste for literary adventures, and Johnson’s literary vagrancy met in a companionship that found much satisfaction in the bohemianism of the inns and coffee houses of old London. Boswell thus describes the eccentric doctor’s outlook on this mode of living:
We dined today at an excellent inn at Chapel-House, where Mr. Johnson commented on English coffee houses and inns remarking that the English triumphed over the French in one respect, in that the French had no perfection of tavern life. There is no private house, (said he) in which people can enjoy themselves so well, as at a capital tavern. Let there be ever so great plenty of good things, ever so much grandeur, ever so much elegance, ever so much desire that everybody should be easy; in the nature of things it cannot be: there must always be some degree of care and anxiety. The master of the house is anxious to entertain his guests; the guests are anxious to be agreeable to him; and no man, but a very impudent dog indeed, can as freely command what is in another man’s house, as if it were his own. Whereas, at a tavern, there is a general freedom from anxiety. You are sure you are welcome: and the more noise you make, the more trouble you give, the more good things you call for, the welcomer you are. No servants will attend you with the alacrity which waiters do, who are incited by the prospect of an immediate reward in proportion as they please. No, Sir, there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn. He then repeated, with great emotion, Shenstone’s lines:
“Whoe’er has travell’d life’s dull round,
Where’er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found
His warmest welcome at an inn.”
Patient delving into Johnsoniana is rewarded with many anecdotes about the mad doctor philosopher and his faithful reporter who delighted in translating his genius to the world.
Boswell was a wine-bibber, but Johnson confessed to being “a hardened and shameless tea drinker.” When Boswell twigged him for abstaining from the stronger drink, the doctor replied: “Sir, I have no objection to a man’s drinking wine if he can do it in moderation. I find myself apt to go to excess in it and therefore, after having been for some time without it, on account of illness, I thought it better not to return to it.”
Another time he said of tea: “What a delightful beverage must that be that pleases all palates at a time when they can take nothing else at breakfast.”
In his early days Johnson had David Garrick as an unwilling pupil. After the actor had become famous and his prosperity had turned his head, he was wont to “put the table in a roar” by mimicking the doctor’s grimaces. There is a story that on the occasion of a certain dinner party where both were guests, Garrick indulged in a coarse jest on the great man’s table manners. After the merriment had subsided, Doctor Johnson arose solemnly and said:
“Gentlemen, you must doubtless suppose from the extreme familiarity with which Mr. Garrick has thought fit to treat me that I am an acquaintance of his; but I can assure you that until I met him here, I never saw him but once before—and then I paid five shillings for the sight.”
A certain sycophant, thinking to curry favor with Johnson, took to laughing loud and long at everything he said. Johnson’s patience at last became exhausted, and after a particularly objectionable outburst, he turned upon the boor with:
“Pray sir, what is the matter? I hope I have not said anything which you can comprehend!”
Because of his physical and mental disabilities Dr. Johnson was not a good social animal. Nevertheless, when it pleased his humor, he could be the cavalier, for his mind overcame every impediment.
It is related of him that once when a lady who was showing him around her garden expressed her regret at being unable to bring a particular flower to perfection, he arose gallantly to the occasion by taking her hand and remarking:
“Then, madam, permit me to bring perfection to the flower!”
Again, when Mrs. Siddons, the great English tragedienne, called upon him in his chambers and the servant did not promptly bring her a chair, his quick wit made capital of the incident by the remark:
“You see, madam, wherever you go there are no seats to be had!”
John Thomas Smith in his Antiquarian Rambles in the Streets of London (1846), tells an amusing incident in the life of Sir George Etherege, the playright, who having run up a bill at Locket’s ordinary, a coffee house much frequented by dramatists of the period, and finding himself unable to[Pg 570] pay, began to absent himself from the place. Mrs. Locket thereupon sent a man to dun and to threaten him with prosecution if he did not pay. Sir George sent back word that if she stirred a step in the matter he would kiss her. On receiving this answer, the good lady, much exasperated, called for her hood and scarf, and told her husband, who interposed, that “she would see if there was any fellow alive who would have the impudence—” “Prithee! my dear, don’t be so rash,” said her husband; “there is no telling what a man may do in his passion.”
Richard Savage, the English poet and friend of Johnson, who included him in his famous Lives of the Poets, was arrested for the murder of James Sinclair after a drunken brawl in Robinson’s coffee house in 1727. He was found guilty, but narrowly escaped the death penalty by the intercession of the countess of Hertford. A feature of his trial was the extraordinary charge to the jury of Judge Page, who for his hard words and his love of hanging, is damned to everlasting fame in the verse of Pope. The charge was:
Gentlemen of the jury! You are to consider that Mr. Savage is a very great man, a much greater man than you or I, gentlemen of the jury; that he wears very fine clothes, much finer than you or I, gentlemen of the jury; that he has an abundance of money in his pocket, much more money than you or I, gentlemen of the jury; but, gentlemen of the jury, is it not a very hard case, gentlemen of the jury, that Mr. Savage should therefore kill you or me, gentlemen of the jury?
Albert V. Lally has made a collection of old coffee-house anecdotes. Among them are the following:
The story is told of how Sir Richard Steele in Button’s Coffee House was once made the umpire in an amusing difference between two unnamed disputants. These two were arguing about religion, when one of them said: “I wonder, sir, you should talk of religion, when I’ll hold you five guineas you can’t say the Lord’s prayer.” “Done,” said the other, “and Sir Richard Steele shall hold the stakes.” The money being deposited the gentleman began with, “I believe in God”, and so went right through the creed. “Well,” said the other when he had finished, “I didn’t think he could have done it.”
There is another story of a famous judge, Sir Nicholas Bacon, who was importuned by a criminal to spare his life on account of kinship. “How so,” demanded the judge. “Because my name is Hog and yours is Bacon; and hog and bacon are so near akin that they cannot be separated.”
“Ay,” responded the judge dryly, “but you and I cannot yet be kindred, for hog is not bacon until it is well hanged.”
On another occasion a nervous barrister, pleading before this same judge, began with repeated references to his “unfortunate client.” “Go on, sir,” said the judge, “so far the Court is with you.”
Of Jonathan Swift it is related that a gentleman who had sought to persuade him to accept an invitation to dinner said, in way of special inducement, “I’ll send you my bill of fare.” “Send me rather your bill of company,” retorted Swift, showing his appreciation of the truth that not that which is eaten, but those who eat, form the more important part of a good dinner.
On the occasion when the “dreadful Judge Jeffreys” was trying Compton, bishop of London, before the Court of High Commission, that prelate, as Campbell relates in his Lives of the Lord Chancellors, complained of having no copy of the indictment. Jeffreys replied to this excuse that “all the coffee houses had it for a penny.” The case being resumed after the lapse of a week, the bishop again protested that he was unprepared, owing to his continued difficulty in obtaining a copy of the necessary document. Jeffreys was obliged once more to adjourn the case, and in so doing offered this bantering apology:
“My lord,” said he, “in telling you our commission was to be seen in every coffee house, I did not speak with any design to reflect on your lordship, as if you were a haunter of coffee houses. I abhor the thoughts of it!”
As the Judge had once been distinctly opposed to the party and principles which he went to such a length in supporting, so had he formerly owed something to the very institution against which his last blow was directed. Roger North relates (and Campbell repeats the story) that, “after he was called to the bar, he used to sit in coffee houses and order his man to come and tell him that company attended him at his chamber; at which he would huff and say, ‘let them stay a little, I will come presently,’ and thus made a show of business.”
John Timbs, in his Clubs and Club Life in London, has a host of anecdotes and stories of the old London coffee houses, among them the following:
Garraway’s noted coffee-house, situated in Change-alley, Cornhill, had a threefold celebrity;[Pg 571] tea was first sold in England here; it was a place of great resort in the time of the South Sea Bubble; and was later a place of great mercantile transactions. The original proprietor was Thomas Garway, tobacconist and coffee-man, the first who retailed tea, recommending it as a cure of all disorders.
Ogilby, the compiler of the Britannia, had his standing lottery of books at Mr. Garway’s Coffee-house from April 7, 1673, till wholly drawn off. And, in the “Journey through England,” 1722, Garraway’s, Robins’s, and Joe’s are described as the three celebrated coffee-houses: “In the first, the People of Quality, who have business in the City, and the most considerable and wealthy citizens frequent. In the second the Foreign Banquiers, and often even Foreign Ministers. And in the third, the buyers and sellers of stock.”
Wines were sold at Garraway’s in 1673, “by the candle”, that is, by auction, while an inch of candle burns. In the Tatler, No. 147, we read: “Upon my coming home last night, I found a very handsome present of French wine, left for me, as a taste of 216 hogshead, which are to be put on sale at 20£ a hogshead, at Garraway’s Coffee-house, in Exchange alley” etc. The sale by candle is not, however, by candlelight, but during the day. At the commencement of the sale, when the auctioneer has read a description of the property, and the conditions on which it is to be disposed of, a piece of candle, usually an inch long, is lighted, and he who is the last bidder at the time the light goes out is declared the purchaser.
Swift, in his Ballad on the South Sea Scheme, 1721, did not forget Garraway’s:
There is a gulf, where thousands fell,
Here all the bold adventurers came,
A narrow sound, though deep as hell,
‘Change alley is the dreadful name.
Subscribers here by thousands float,
And jostle one another down,
Each paddling in his leaky boat,
And here they fish for gold and drown.
Now buried in the depths below,
Now mounted up to heaven again,
They reel and stagger to and fro,
At their wits’ end, like drunken men.
Meantime secure on Garway cliffs,
A savage race, by shipwrecks fed,
Lie waiting for the founder’d skiffs,
And strip the bodies of the dead.
[Pg 572]Dr. Jno. Radcliff, who was a rash speculator in the South Sea Scheme, was usually planted at a table at Garraway’s about Exchange time, to watch the turn of the market; and here he was seated when the footman of his powerful rival, Dr. Edward Hannes, came into Garraway’s and inquired by way of a puff, if Dr. H. was there. Dr. Radcliff, who was surrounded with several apothecaries and chirurgeons that flocked about him, cried out, “Dr. Hannes is not here,” and desired to know “who wants him?” The fellow’s reply was, “such a lord and such a lord;” but he was taken up with the dry rebuke, “No, no, friend, you are mistaken; the Doctor wants those lords.” One of Radcliff’s ventures was five thousand guineas upon one South Sea project. When he was told at Garraway’s that ’twas all lost, “Why,” said he, “’tis but going up five thousand pair of stairs more.” “This answer,” says Tom Brown, “deserved a statue.”
Jonathan’s Coffee-house was another Change-alley coffee-house, which is described in the Tatler, No. 38, as “the general mart of stock-jobbers,” and the Spectator, No. 1, tells us that he “sometimes passes for a Jew in the assembly of stock-jobbers at Jonathan’s.” This was their rendezvous, where gambling of all sorts was carried on, notwithstanding a former prohibition against the assemblage of the jobbers, issued by the City of London, which prohibition continued unrepealed until 1825.
The Spectator, No. 16, notices some gay frequenters of the Rainbow Coffee-house in Fleet Street: “I have received a letter desiring me to be very satirical upon the little muff that is now in fashion; another informs me of a pair of silver garters buckled below the knee, that have been lately seen at the Rainbow Coffee-house in Fleet Street.”
Mr. Moncrieff, the dramatist, used to tell that about 1780, this house was kept by his grandfather, Alexander Moncrieff, when it retained its original title of “The Rainbow Coffee-house.”
Nando’s Coffee-house at the east corner of Inner Temple-lane, No. 17, Fleet-Street, by some confused with Groom’s house, No. 16, was the favourite haunt of Lord Thurlow before he dashed into law practice. At this coffee-house a large attendance of professional loungers was attracted by the fame of the punch and the charms of the landlady, which, with the small wits, were duly admired by and at the bar. One evening, the famous cause of Douglas v. the Duke of Hamilton was the topic of discussion, when Thurlow being present, it was suggested, half in earnest, to appoint him junior counsel, which was done. This employment brought him acquaintance with the Duchess of Queensberry, who saw at once the value of a man like Thurlow, and recommended Lord Bute to secure him by a silk gown.
Dick’s Coffee-house, at No. 8, Fleet-street, (south side, near Temple Bar) was originally “Richard’s”, named from Richard Torner, or Turner, to whom the house was let in 1680. Richard’s was frequented by Cowper, when he lived in the Temple. In his own account of his insanity, Cowper tells us:
“At breakfast I read the newspaper, and in it a letter, which, the further I perused it, the more closely engaged my attention. I cannot now recollect the purport of it; but before I had finished it, it appeared demonstratively true to me that it was a libel or satire upon me. The author appeared to be acquainted with my purpose of self-destruction, and to have written that letter on purpose to secure and hasten the execution of it. My mind, probably, at this time began to be disordered; however it was, I was certainly given to a strong delusion. I said within myself, ‘Your cruelty shall be gratified; you shall have your revenge,’ and flinging down the paper in a fit of strong passion, I rushed hastily out of the room; directing my way towards the fields, where I intended to find some house to die in; or, if not, determined to poison myself in a ditch, where I could meet with one sufficiently retired.”
Lloyd’s Coffee-house was one of the earliest establishments of its kind; it is referred to in a poem printed in the year 1700, called the Wealthy Shopkeeper, or Charitable Christian:
Now to Lloyd’s Coffee-house he never fails,
To read the letters, and attend the sales.
In 1710, Steele (Tatler, No. 246) dates from Lloyd’s his Petition on Coffee-house Orators and Newsvendors. And Addison, inSpectator, April 23, 1711, relates this droll incident: “About a week since there happened to me a very odd accident, by reason of one of these my papers of minutes which I had accidentally dropped at Lloyd’s Coffee-house, where the auctions are usually kept. Before I missed it, there were a cluster of people who had found it, and were diverting themselves with it at one end of the coffee-house. It had raised so much laughter among them before I observed what they were about, that I had not the courage to own it. The boy of the coffee-house, when they had done with it, carried it about in his hand, asking everybody if they had dropped a written paper; but nobody challenging it, he was ordered by those merry gentlemen who had before perused it, to get up into the auction pulpit, and read it to the whole room, that if anybody would own it they might. The boy accordingly mounted the pulpit, and with a very audible voice read what proved to be minutes, which made the whole coffee-house very merry; some of them concluded it was written by a madman, and others by somebody that had been taking notes out of the Spectator. After it was read, and the boy was coming put of the pulpit, the Spectator reached his arm out, and desired the boy to given it him; which was done according. This drew the whole eyes of the company upon the Spectator; but after casting a cursory glance over it, he shook his head twice or thrice at the reading of it, twisted it into a kind of match, and lighted his pipe with it. ‘My profound silence,’ says theSpectator, ‘together with the steadiness of my countenance, and the gravity of my behaviour during the[Pg 573] whole transaction, raised a very loud laugh on all sides of me; but as I had escaped all suspicion of being the author, I was very well satisfied, and applying myself to my pipe and the Postman, took no further notice of anything that passed about me.'”
The Smyrna Coffee-house in Pall Mall, was, in the reign of Queen Anne, famous for “that cluster of wise-heads” found sitting every evening from the left side of the fire to the door. The following announcement in the Tatler, No. 78, is amusing: “This is to give notice to all ingenious gentlemen in and about the cities of London and Westminster, who have a mind to be instructed in the noble sciences of music, poetry and politics, that they repair to the Smyrna Coffee-house, in Pall Mall, betwixt the hours of eight and ten at night, where they may be instructed gratis, with elaborate essays ‘by word of mouth’, on all or any of the above-mentioned arts.”
St. James’s Coffee-house was the famous Whig coffee-house from the time of Queen Anne till late in the reign of George III. It was the last house but one on the southwest corner of St. James’s street, and is thus mentioned in No. 1 of the Tatler: “Foreign and Domestic News you will have from St. James’s Coffee-house.” It occurs also in the passage quoted previously from the Spectator. The St. James’s was much frequented by Swift; letters for him were left here. In his Journal to Stella he says: “I met Mr. Harley, and he asked me how long I had learnt the trick of writing to myself? He had seen your letter through the glass case at the Coffee-house, and would swear it was my hand.”
Elliott, who kept the coffee-house, was, on occasions, placed on a friendly footing with his guests. Swift, in his Journal to Stella, November 19, 1710, records an odd instance of this familiarity: “This evening I christened our coffee-man Elliott’s child; when the rogue had a most noble supper, and Steele and I sat amongst some scurvy company over a bowl of punch.”
In the first advertisement of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s “Town Eclogues,” they are stated to have been read over at the St. James’s Coffee-house, when they were considered by the general voice to be productions of a Lady of Quality. From the proximity of the house to St. James’s Palace, it was much frequented by the Guards; and we read of its being no uncommon circumstance to see Dr. Joseph Warton at breakfast in the St. James’s Coffee-house, surrounded by officers of the Guards, who listened with the utmost attention and pleasure to his remarks.
To show the order and regularity observed at the St. James’s, we may quote the following advertisement, appended to theTatler. No. 25; “To prevent all mistakes that may happen among gentlemen of the other end of the town, who come but once a week to St. James’s Coffee-house, either by miscalling the servants, or requiring such things from them as are not properly within their respective provinces, this is to give notice that Kidney, keeper of the book-debts of the outlying customers, and observer of those who go off without paying, having resigned that employment, is succeeded by John Sowton; to whose place of enterer of messages and first coffee-grinder, William Bird is promoted; and Samuel Burdock comes as shoe-cleaner in the room of the said Bird.”
But the St. James’s is more memorable as the house where originated Goldsmith’s celebrated poem, “Retaliation.” The poet belonged to a temporary association of men of talent, some of them members of the Club, who dined together occasionally here. At these dinners he was generally the last to arrive. On one occasion, when he was later than usual, a whim seized the company to write epitaphs on him as “the late Dr. Goldsmith”, and several were thrown off in a playful vein. The only one extant was written by Garrick, and has been preserved, very probably, by its pungency:
Here lies poet Goldsmith, for shortness called Noll;
He wrote like an angel, but talked like poor Poll.
Goldsmith did not relish the sarcasm, especially coming from such a quarter; and, by way of retaliation, he produced the famous poem, of which Cumberland has left a very interesting account, but which Mr. Forster, in his “Life of Goldsmith”, states to be “pure romance”. The poem itself, however, with what was prefixed to it when published, sufficiently explains its own origin. What had formerly been abrupt and strange in Goldsmith’s manners, had now so visibly increased, as to become matter of increased sport to such as were ignorant of its cause; and a proposition made at one of the dinners, when he was absent, to write a series of epitaphs upon him (his “country dialect” and his awkward person) was agreed to, and put in practice by several of the guests. The active aggressors appear to have been Garrick, Doctor Bernard, Richard Burke, and Caleb Whitefoord. Cumberland says he, too, wrote an epitaph; but it was complimentary and grave, and hence the grateful return he received. Mr. Forster considers Garrick’s epitaph to indicate the tone of all. This, with the rest, was read to Goldsmith when he next appeared at the St. James’s Coffee-house, where Cumberland, however, says he never again met his friends. But “the Doctor was called on for Retaliation,” says the friend who published the poem with that name, “and at their next meeting produced the following, which I think adds one leaf to his immortal wreath.” “‘Retaliation'”, says Sir Walter Scott, “had the effect of placing the author on a more equal footing with his Society than he had ever before assumed.”
Cumberland’s account differs from the version formerly received, which intimates that the epitaphs were written before Goldsmith arrived: whereas the pun, “the late Dr. Goldsmith” appears to have suggested the writing of the epitaphs. In the “Retaliation”, Goldsmith has not spared the characters and failings of his associates, but has drawn them with satire, at once pungent and good-humoured. Garrick is smartly chastised; Burke, the Dinner-bell of the House of Commons, is not let off; and of all[Pg 574] the more distinguished names of the Club, Thomson, Cumberland, and Reynolds alone escape the lash of the satirist. The former is not mentioned, and the two latter are even dismissed with unqualified and affectionate applause.
Still we quote Cumberland’s account of the “Retaliation” which is very amusing from the closely circumstantial manner in which the incidents are narrated, although they have so little relationship to truth: “It was upon a proposal started by Edmund Burke, that a party of friends who had dined together at Sir Joshua Reynolds’s and my house, should meet at the St. James’s Coffee-house, which accordingly took place, and was repeated occasionally with much festivity and good fellowship. Dr. Bernard, Dean of Derry; a very amiable and old friend of mine, Dr. Douglas, since Bishop of Salisbury; Johnson, David Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund and Richard Burke, Hickey, with two or three others, constituted our party. At one of these meetings, an idea was suggested of extemporary epitaphs upon the parties present; pen and ink were called for, and Garrick, offhand, wrote an epitaph with a good deal of humour, upon poor Goldsmith, who was the first in jest, as he proved to be in reality, that we committed to the grave. The Dean also gave him an epitaph, and Sir Joshua illuminated the Dean’s verses with a sketch of his bust in pen and ink, inimitably caricatured. Neither Johnson nor Burke wrote anything, and when I perceived that Oliver was rather sore, and seemed to watch me with that kind of attention which indicated his expectation of something in the same kind of burlesque with theirs; I thought it time to press the joke no further, and wrote a few couplets at a side-table, which, when I had finished, and was called upon by the company to exhibit, Goldsmith, with much agitation, besought me to spare him; and I was about to tear them, when Johnson wrested them out of my hand, and in a loud voice read them at the table. I have now lost recollection of them, and, in fact, they were little worth remembering; but as they were serious and complimentary, the effect upon Goldsmith was the more pleasing for being so entirely unexpected. The concluding line, which was the only one I can call to mind, was:
All mourn the poet, I lament the man.
“This I recollect, because he repeated it several times, and seemed much gratified by it. At our next meeting he produced his epitaphs … and this was the last time he ever enjoyed the company of his friends.”
Will’s Coffee-house, the predecessor of Button’s, and even more celebrated than that coffee-house, was kept by William Urwin. It first had the title of the Red Cow, then of the Rose, and, we believe, is the same house alluded to in the pleasant story in the second number of the Tatler. “Supper and friends expect we at the Rose.”
Dean Lockier has left this life-like picture of his interview with the presiding genius (Dryden) at Will’s.
“I was about seventeen when I first came up to town,” says the Dean, “an odd-looking boy, with short rough hair, and that sort of awkwardness which one always brings up at first out of the country with one. However, in spite of my bashfulness and appearance, I used, now and then, to thrust myself into Will’s to have the pleasure of seeing the most celebrated wits of that time, who then resorted thither. The second time that ever I was there, Mr. Dryden was speaking of his own things, as he frequently did, especially of such as had been lately published. ‘If anything of mine is good,’ says he, ”tis ‘Mac-Flecno’, and I value myself the more upon it, because it is the first piece of ridicule written in heroics.’ On hearing this I plucked up my spirit so far as to say, in a voice but just loud enough to be heard, ‘that “Mac-Flecno” was a very fine poem, but that I had not imagined it to be the first that was ever writ that way.’ On this, Dryden turned short upon me, as surprised at my interposing; asked me how long ‘I had been a dealer in poetry’; and added, with a smile, ‘Pray, Sir, what is it that you did imagine to have been writ so before?’—I named Boileau’s ‘Lutrin’ and Tassoni’s ‘Secchia Rapita,’ which I had read, and knew Dryden had borrowed some strokes from each. ”Tis true,’ said Dryden, ‘I had forgot them.’ A little after, Dryden went out, and in going, spoke to me again, and desired me to come and see him the next day. I was highly delighted with the invitation; went to see him accordingly; and was well acquainted with him after, as long as he lived.”
Will’s Coffee-house was the open market for libels and lampoons, the latter named from the established burden formerly sung to them:
Lampone, lampone, camerada lampone.
There was a drunken fellow, named Julian, who was a characterless frequenter of Will’s, and Sir Walter Scott has given this account of him and his vocation:
“Upon the general practice of writing lampoons, and the necessity of finding some mode of dispersing them, which should diffuse the scandal widely while the authors remained concealed, was founded the self-erected office of Julian, Secretary, as he called himself, to the Muses. This person attended Will’s, the Wits’ Coffee-house, as it was called; and dispersed among the crowds who frequented that place of gay resort copies of the lampoons which had been privately communicated to him by their authors. ‘He is described,’ says Mr. Malone, ‘as a very drunken fellow, and at one time was confined for a libel.'”
Tom Brown describes ‘a Wit and a Beau set up with little or no expense. A pair of red stockings and a swordknot set up one, and peeping once a day in at Will’s, and two or three second-hand sayings, the other.’
Pepys, one night, going to fetch home his wife, stopped in Covent Garden, at the Great Coffee-house there, as he called Will’s, where he never was before: “Where,” he adds, “Dryden, the poet (I knew at Cambridge), and all the Wits of the town, and Harris the player,[Pg 575] and Mr. Hoole of our College. And had I had time then, or could at other times, it will be good coming thither, for there, I perceive, is very witty and pleasant discourse. But I could not tarry, and, as it was late, they were all ready to go away.”
Addison passed each day alike, and much in the manner that Dryden did. Dryden employed his mornings in writing, dined en famille, and then went to Will’s, “only he came home earlier o’ nights.”
Pope, when very young, was impressed with such veneration for Dryden, that he persuaded some friends to take him to Will’s Coffee-house, and was delighted that he could say that he had seen Dryden. Sir Charles Wogan, too, brought up Pope from the Forest of Windsor, to dress a la mode, and introduce at Will’s Coffee-house. Pope afterwards described Dryden as “a plump man with a down look, and not very conversible,” and Cibber could tell no more “but that he remembered him a decent old man, arbiter of critical disputes at Will’s.” Prior sings of—
The younger Stiles,
Whom Dryden pedagogues at Will’s!
Most of the hostile criticism on his Plays, which Dryden has noticed in his various Prefaces, appear to have been made at his favourite haunt, Will’s Coffee-house.
Dryden is generally said to have been returning from Will’s to his house in Gerard Street, when he was cudgelled in Rose Street by three persons hired for the purpose by Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, in the winter of 1679. The assault, or “the Rose-alley Ambuscade,” certainly took place; but it is not so certain that Dryden was on his way from Will’s, and he then lived in Long-acre, not Gerard Street.
It is worthy of remark that Swift was accustomed to speak disparagingly of Will’s, as in his “Rhapsody on Poetry:”
Be sure at Will’s the following day
Lie snug, and hear what critics say;
And if you find the general vogue
Pronounces you a stupid rogue,
Damns all your thoughts as low and little;
Sit still, and swallow down your spittle.
Swift thought little of the frequenters of Will’s: “he used to say, the worst conversation he ever heard in his life was at Will’s Coffee-house, where the wits (as they were called) used formerly to assemble; that is to say, five or six men who had writ plays or at least prologues, or had a share in a miscellany, came thither, and entertained one another with their trifling composures, in so important an air as if they had been the noblest efforts of human nature, or that the fate of kingdoms depended on them.”
In the first number of the Tatler, poetry is promised under the article of Will’s Coffee-house. The place, however, changed after Dryden’s time: “you used to see songs, epigrams, and satires in the hands of every man you met, you have now only a pack of cards; and instead of the cavils about the turn of the expression, the elegance of the style, and the like, the learned now dispute only about the truth of the game.” “In old times, we used to sit upon a play here, after it was acted, but now the entertainment’s turned another way.”
The Spectator is sometimes seen “thrusting his head into a round of politicians at Will’s, and listening with great attention to the narratives that are made in these little circular audiences.” Then, we have as an instance of no one member of human society but that would have some little pretension for some degree in it, “like him who came to Will’s Coffee-house upon the merit of having writ a posie of a ring.” And, “Robin, the porter who waits at Will’s, is the best man in town for carrying a billet: the fellow has a thin body, swift step, demure looks, sufficient sense, and knows the town.”
After Dryden’s death, in 1701, Will’s continued for about ten years to be still the Wits’ Coffee-house, as we see by Ned Ward’s account, and by the “Journey through England” in 1722.
Pope entered with keen relish into society, and courted the correspondence of the town wits and coffee-house critics. Among his early friends was Mr. Henry Cromwell, one of the cousinry of the Protector’s family: he was a bachelor, and spent most of his time in London; he had some pretensions to scholarship and literature, having translated several of Ovid’s Elegies, for Tonson’s Miscellany. With Wycherly, Gay, Dennis, the popular actors and actresses of the day, and with all the frequenters of Will’s, Cromwell was familiar. He had done more than take a pinch out of Dryden’s snuff-box, which was a point of high ambition and honor at Will’s; he had quarrelled with him about a frail poetess, Mrs. Elizabeth Thomas, whom Dryden had christened Corinna, and who was also known as Sappho. Gay characterized this literary and eccentric beau as
Honest, hatless Cromwell, with red breeches:
it being his custom to carry his hat in his hand when walking with ladies. What with ladies and literature, rehearsals and reviews, and critical attention to the quality of his coffee and Brazil snuff, Henry Cromwell’s time was fully occupied in town. Cromwell was a dangerous acquaintance for Pope at the age of sixteen or seventeen, but he was a very agreeable one. Most of Pope’s letters to his friends are addressed to him at the Blue Hall, in Great Wild-street, near Drury Lane, and others to “Widow Hambledon’s Coffee-house, at the end of Princes-street, near Drury-lane, London.” Cromwell made one visit to Binfield; on his return to London, Pope wrote to him, “referring to the ladies in particular,” and to his favorite coffee.
Will’s was the great resort for the wits of Dryden’s time, after whose death it was transferred to Button’s. Pope describes the houses as “opposite each other, in Russell-street, Covent Garden,” where Addison established Daniel Button, in a new house, about 1712; and his fame, after the production of Cato, drew many of the Whigs thither. Button had been servant to the Countess of Warwick. The house is more correctly described as “over against Tom’s, near the middle of the south side of the street.”
[Pg 576]Addison was the great patron of Button’s; but it is said that when he suffered any vexation from his Countess, he withdrew from Button’s house. His chief companions, before he married Lady Warwick, were Steele, Budgell, Philips, Carey, Davenant, and Colonell Brett. He used to breakfast with one or other of them in St. James’s-place, dine at taverns with them, then to Button’s, and then to some tavern again, for supper in the evening; and this was the usual round of his life, as Pope tells us in Spencer’s Anecdotes, where Pope also says: “Addison usually studied all the morning, then met his party at Button’s, dined there, and stayed five or six hours; and sometimes far into the night. I was of the company for about a year, but found it too much for me; it hurt my health, and so I quitted it.” Again: “There had been a coldness between me and Mr. Addison for some time, and we had not been in company together for a good while anywhere but at Button’s Coffee-house, where I used to see him almost every day.”
Here Pope is reported to have said of Patrick, the lexicographer, that “a dictionary-maker might know the meaning of one word, but not of two put together.”
Button’s was the receiving house for contributions to The Guardian, for which purpose was put up a lion’s head letter box, in imitation of the celebrated lion at Venice, as humorously announced. Thus:
“N.B.—Mr. Ironside has, within five weeks last past, muzzled three lions, gorged five, and killed one. On Monday next the skin of the dead one will be hung up, in terrorem, at Button’s Coffee-house.”
“I intend to publish once every week the roarings of the Lion, and hope to make him roar so loud as to be heard over all the British nation. I have, I know not how, been drawn into tattle of myself, more majorum, almost the length of a whole Guardian. I shall therefore fill up the remaining part of it with what still relates to my own person, and my correspondents. Now I would have them all know that on the 20th instant, it is my intention to erect a Lion’s Head, in imitation of those I have described in Venice, through which all the private commonwealth is said to pass. This head is to open a most wide and voracious mouth, which shall take in such letters and papers as are conveyed to me by my correspondents, it being my resolution to have a particular regard to all such matters as come to my hands through the mouth of the Lion. There will be under it a box, of which the key will be in my own custody, to receive such papers as are dropped into it. Whatever the Lion swallows I shall digest for the use of the publick. This head requires some time to finish, the workmen being resolved to give it several masterly touches, and to represent it as ravenous as possible. It will be set up in Button’s Coffee-house, in Covent Garden, who is directed to show the way to the Lion’s Head, and to instruct any young author how to convey his works into the mouth of it with safety and secrecy.”
“I think myself obliged to acquaint the publick, that the Lion’s Head, of which I advertised them about a fortnight ago, is now erected at Button’s Coffee-house, in Russell-street, Covent Garden, where it opens its mouth at all hours for the reception of such intelligence as shall be thrown into it. It is reckoned an excellent piece of workmanship, and was designed by a great hand in imitation of the antique Egyptian lion, the face of it being compounded out of that of a lion and a wizard. The features are strong and well furrowed. The whiskers are admired by all that have seen them. It is planted on the western side of the Coffee-house, holding its paws under the chin, upon a box, which contains everything that he swallows. He is, indeed, a proper emblem of knowledge and action, being all head and paws.”
“Being obliged, at present, to attend a particular affair of my own, I do empower my printer to look into the arcana of the Lion, and select out of them such as may be of publick utility; and Mr. Button is hereby authorized and commanded to give my said printer free ingress and egress to the lion, without any hindrance, let, or molestation whatsoever, until such time as he shall receive orders to the contrary. And, for so doing, this shall be his warrant.”
“My Lion, whose jaws are at all times open to intelligence, informs me that there are a few enormous weapons still in being; but that they are to be met with only in gaming houses and some of the obscure retreats of lovers, in and about Drury-lane and Covent Garden.”
This memorable Lion’s Head was tolerably well carved: through the mouth the letters were dropped into a till at Button’s; and beneath were inscribed these two lines from Martial:
Cervantur magnis isti Cervicibus ungues;
Non nisi delicta pascitur ille fera.
The head was designed by Hogarth, and is etched in Ireland’s “Illustrations.” Lord Chesterfield is said to have once offered for the Head fifty guineas. From Button’s it was removed to the Shakspeare’s Head Tavern, under the Piazza, kept by a person named Tomkyns; and in 1751, was, for a short time, placed in the Bedford Coffee-house immediately adjoining the Shakspeare, and there employed as a letter-box by Dr. John Hill, for his Inspector. In 1769, Tomkyns was succeeded by his waiter, Campbell, as proprietor of the tavern and lion’s head, and by him the latter was retained until November 8, 1804, when it was purchased by Mr. Charles Richardson, of Richardson’s Hotel, for 17£ 10s., who also possessed the original sign of the Shakspeare’s Head. After Mr. Richardson’s death in 1827, the Lion’s Head devolved to his son, of whom it was bought by the Duke of Bedford, and deposited at Woburn Abbey, where it still remains.
Pope was subjected to much annoyance and insult at Button’s. Sir Samuel Garth wrote to Gay, that everybody was pleased with Pope’s[Pg 577] Translation, “but a few at Button’s;” to which Gay adds, to Pope, “I am confirmed that at Button’s your character is made very free with, as to morals, etc.”
From a drawing by Hogarth. The man opposite the seated figure is thought to be Pope
Cibber, in a letter to Pope, says: “When you used to pass your hours at Button’s, you were even there remarkable for your satirical itch of provocation; scarce was there a gentleman of any pretension to wit, whom your unguarded temper had not fallen upon in some biting epigram, among which you once caught a pastoral Tartar, whose resentment, that your punishment might be proportionate to the smart of your poetry, had stuck up a birchen rod in the room, to be ready whenever you might come within reach of it; and at this rate you writ and rallied and writ on, till you rhymed yourself quite out of the coffee-house.” The “pastoral Tartar” was Ambrose Philips, who, says Johnson, “hung up a rod at Button’s, with which he threatened to chastise Pope.”
Pope, in a letter to Crags, thus explains the affair: “Mr. Philips did express himself with much indignation against me one evening at Button’s Coffee-house (as I was told), saying that I was entered into a cabal with Dean Swift and others, to write against the Whig interest, and in particular to undermine his own reputation and that of his friends, Steele and Addison; but Mr. Philips never opened his lips to my face, on this or any like occasion, though I was almost every night in the same room with him, nor ever offered me any indecorum. Mr. Addison came to me a night or two after Philips had talked in this idle manner, and assured me of his disbelief of what had been said, of the friendship we should always maintain, and desired I would say nothing further of it. My Lord Halifax did me the honour to stir in this matter, by speaking to several people to obviate a false aspersion, which might have done me no small prejudice with one party. However, Philips did all he could secretly to continue to report with the Hanover Club, and kept in his hands the subscriptions paid for me to him, as secretary to that Club. The heads of it have since given him to understand, that they take it ill; but (upon the terms I ought to be with such a man) I would not ask him for this money, but commissioned one of the players, his equals, to receive it. This is the whole matter; but as to the secret grounds of this malignity, they will make a very pleasant history when we meet.”
Another account says that the rod was hung up at the bar of Button’s, and that Pope avoided[Pg 578] it by remaining at home—”his usual custom.” Philips was known for his courage and superior dexterity with the sword; he afterwards became justice of the peace, and used to mention Pope, whenever he could get a man in authority to listen to him, as an enemy to the Government.
At Button’s the leading company, particularly Addison and Steele, met in large flowing flaxen wigs. Sir Godfrey Kneller, too, was a frequenter.
The master died in 1731, when in the Daily Advertiser, October 5 appeared the following:
“On Sunday morning, died, after three days’ illness, Mr. Button, who formerly kept Button’s Coffee-house, in Russell-street, Covent Garden: a very noted house for wits, being the place where the Lyon produced the famous Tatlers and Spectators, written by the late Mr. Secretary Addison and Sir Richard Steele, Knt., which works will transmit their names with honour to posterity.”
Among other wits who frequented Button’s were Swift, Arbuthnot, Savage, Budgell, Martin Folkes, and Drs. Garth and Armstrong. In 1720, Hogarth mentions “four drawings in Indian ink” of the characters at Button’s Coffee-house. In these were sketches of Arbuthnot, Addison, Pope (as it is conjectured) and a certain Count Viviani, identified years afterwards by Horace Walpole, when the drawings came under his notice. They subsequently came into Ireland’s possession.
Jemmy Maclaine, or M’Clean, the fashionable highwayman, was a frequent visitor at Button’s. Mr. John Taylor, of the Sunnewspaper, describes Maclaine as a tall, showy, good-looking man. A Mr. Donaldson told Taylor that, observing Maclaine paid particular attention to the barmaid of the Coffee-house, the daughter of the landlord, he gave a hint to the father of Maclaine’s dubious character. The father cautioned the daughter against the highwayman’s addresses, and imprudently told her by whose advice he put her on her guard; she as imprudently told Maclaine. The next time Donaldson visited the coffee-room, and sitting in one of the boxes, Maclaine entered, and in a loud tone said, “Mr. Donaldson, I wish to spake to you in a private room.” Mr. D. being unarmed, and naturally afraid of being alone with such a man, said, in answer, that as nothing could pass between them that he did not wish the whole world to know, he begged leave to decline the invitation. “Very well,” said Maclaine, as he left the room, “we shall meet again.” A day or two after, as Mr. Donaldson was walking near Richmond, in the evening, he saw Maclaine on horseback; but fortunately, at that moment, a gentleman’s carriage appeared in view, when Maclaine immediately turned his horse towards the carriage, and Donaldson hurried into the protection of Richmond as fast as he could. But for the appearance of the carriage, which presented better prey, it is possible that Maclaine would have shot Mr. Donaldson immediately.
Maclaine’s father was an Irish Dean; his brother was a Calvinist minister in great esteem at the Hague. Maclaine himself had been a grocer in Welbeck-street, but losing a wife that he loved extremely, and by whom he had one little girl, he quitted his business with two hundred pounds in his pockets which he soon spent, and then took to the road with only one companion, Plunket, a journeyman apothecary.
Maclaine was taken in the autumn of 1750, by selling a laced waistcoat to a pawnbroker in Monmouth-street, who happened to carry it to the very man who had just sold the lace. Maclaine impeached his companion, Plunket, but he was not taken. The former got into verse: Gray, in his “Long Story,” sings:
A sudden fit of ague shook him;
He stood as mute as poor M’Lean.
Button’s subsequently became a private house, and here Mrs. Inchbald lodged, probably, after the death of her sister, for whose support she practised such noble and generous self-denial. Mrs. Inchbald’s income was now 172£ a year, and we are told that she now went to reside in a boarding-house, where she enjoyed more of the comforts of life. Phillips, the publisher, offered her a thousand pounds for her Memoirs, which she declined. She died in a boarding-house at Kensington, on the 1st of August, 1821, leaving about 6,000£ judiciously divided amongst her relatives. Her simple and parsimonious habits were very strange. “Last Thursday,” she writes, “I finished scouring my bedroom, while a coach with a coronet and two footmen waited at my door to take me an airing.”
“One of the most agreeable memories connected with Button’s,” says Leigh Hunt, “is that of Garth, a man whom, for the sprightliness and generosity of his nature, it is a pleasure to name. He was one of the most amiable and intelligent of a most amiable and intelligent class of men—the physicians.”
It was just after Queen Anne’s accession that Swift made acquaintance with the leaders of the wits at Button’s. Ambrose Philips refers to him as the strange clergyman whom the frequenters of the Coffee-house had observed for some days. He knew no one, no one knew him. He would lay his hat down on a table, and walk up and down at a brisk pace for half an hour without speaking to any one, or seeming to pay attention to anything that was going forward. Then he would snatch up his hat, pay his money at the bar, and walk off, without having opened his lips. The frequenters of the room had christened him “the mad parson.” One evening, as Mr. Addison and the rest were observing him, they saw him cast his eyes several times upon a gentleman in boots, who seemed to be just come out of the country. At last, Swift advanced towards this bucolic gentleman, as if intending to address him. They were all eager to hear what the dumb parson had to say, and immediately quitted their seats to get near him. Swift went up to the country gentleman, and in a very abrupt manner, without any previous salute, asked him, “Pray, Sir, do you know any good weather in the world?” After staring a little at the singularity of Swift’s manner and the oddity of the question, the gentleman answered, “Yes, Sir, I thank God I[Pg 579] remember a great deal of good weather in my time.”—”That is more,” replied Swift, “than I can say; I never remember any weather that was not too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry; but, however God Almighty contrives it, at the end of the year ’tis all very well.”
Sir Walter Scott gives, upon the authority of Dr. Wall, of Worcester, who had it from Dr. Arbuthnot himself, the following anecdote—less coarse than the version generally told. Swift was seated by the fire at Button’s; there was sand on the floor of the coffee-room, and Arbuthnot, with a design to play upon this original figure, offered him a letter, which he had been just addressing, saying at the same time, “There—sand that”—”I have got no sand,” answered Swift, “but I can help you to a little gravel.” This he said so significantly, that Arbuthnot hastily snatched back his letter, to save it from the fate of the capital of Lilliput.
Tom’s Coffee-house in Birchin-lane, Cornhill, though in the main a mercantile resort, acquired some celebrity from its having been frequented by Garrick, who, to keep up an interest in the City, appeared here about twice in a winter at ‘Change time, when it was the rendezvous of young merchants.
Hawkins says: “After all that has been said of Mr. Garrick, envy must own that he owed his celebrity to his merit; and yet, of that himself so diffident, that he practiced sundry little but innocent arts, to insure the favour of the public:” yet, he did more. When a rising actor complained to Mrs. Garrick that the newspapers abused him, the widow replied, “You should write your own criticisms; David always did.”
One evening, Murphy was at Tom’s, when Colley Cibber was playing at whist, with an old general for his partner. As the cards were dealt to him, he took up every one in turn, and expressed his disappointment at each indifferent one. In the progress of the game he did not follow suit, and his partner said, “What! have you not a spade, Mr. Cibber?” The latter, looking at his cards, answered, “Oh yes, a thousand;” which drew a very peevish comment from the general. On which, Cibber, who was shockingly addicted to swearing, replied, “Don’t be angry, for—I can play ten times worse if I like.”
The celebrated Bedford Coffee-house, in Covent Garden, once attracted so much attention as to have published, “Memoirs of the Bedford Coffee-house,” two editions, 1751 and 1763. It stood “under the Piazza, in Covent Garden,” in the northwest corner, near the entrance to the theatre, and has long ceased to exist.
In the Connoisseur, No. 1, 1754, we are assured that “this Coffee-house is every night crowded with men of parts. Almost every one you meet is a polite scholar and a wit. Jokes and bon-mots are echoed from box to box: every branch of literature is critically examined, and the merit of every production of the press, or performance of the theatres, weighed and determined.”
And in the above-named “Memoirs” we read that “this spot has been signalized for many years as the emporium of wit, the seat of criticism, and the standard of taste.—Names of those who frequented the house: Foote, Mr. Fielding, Mr. Woodward, Mr. Leone, Mr. Murphy, Mopsy, Dr. Arne. Dr. Arne was the only man in a suit of velvet in the dog-days.”
Stacie kept the Bedford when John and Henry Fielding, Hogarth, Churchill, Woodward, Lloyd, Dr. Goldsmith and many others met there and held a gossiping shilling rubber club. Henry Fielding was a very smart fellow.
The Inspector appears to have given rise to this reign of the Bedford, when there was placed here the Lion from Button’s, which proved so serviceable to Steele, and once more fixed the dominion of wit in Covent Garden.
The reign of wit and pleasantry did not, however, cease at the Bedford at the demise of the Inspector. A race of punsters next succeeded. A particular box was allotted to this occasion, out of hearing of the lady of the bar, that the double entendres, which were sometimes very indelicate, might not offend her.
The Bedford was beset with scandalous nuisances, of which the following letter, from Arthur Murphy to Garrick, April 10, 1768, presents a pretty picture:
“Tiger Roach (who used to bully at the Bedford Coffee-house because his name was Roach) is set up by Wilke’s friends to burlesque Luttrel and his pretensions. I own I do not know a more ridiculous circumstance than to be a joint candidate with the Tiger. O’Brien used to take him off very pleasantly, and perhaps you may, from his representation, have some idea of this important wight. He used to sit with a half-starved look, a black patch upon his cheek, pale with the idea of murder, or with rank cowardice, a quivering lip, and a downcast eye. In that manner he used to sit at a table all alone, and his soliloquy, interrupted now and then with faint attempts to throw off a little saliva, was to the following effect:—’Hut! hut! a mercer’s ‘prentice with a bag-wig;—d—— n my s—— l, if I would not skiver a dozen of them like larks! Hut! hut! I don’t understand such airs!—I’d cudgel him back, breast and belly, for three skips of a louse!—How do you do, Pat? Hut! hut! God’s blood—Larry, I’m glad to see you; ‘Prentices! a fine thing indeed!—Hut! hut! How do you do, Dominick!—D—— n my s—— l, what’s here to do!’ These were the meditations of this agreeable youth. From one of these reveries he started up one night, when I was there, called a Mr. Bagnell out of the room, and most heroically stabbed him in the dark, the other having no weapon to defend himself with. In this career, the Tiger persisted, till at length a Mr. Lennard brandished a whip over his head, and stood in a menacing attitude, commanding him to ask pardon directly. The Tiger shrank from the danger, and with a faint voice pronounced—’Hut! what signifies it between you and me? Well! well! I ask your pardon.’ ‘Speak louder, Sir; I don’t hear a word you say.’ And indeed he was so very tall, that it seemed as if the sound, sent feebly from below, could not ascend[Pg 580] to such a height. This is the hero who is to figure at Brentford.”
Foote’s favourite coffee-house was the Bedford. He was also a constant frequenter of Tom’s, and took a lead in the Club held there, and already described.
Dr. Barrowby, the well-known newsmonger of the Bedford, and the satirical critic of the day, has left this whole-length sketch of Foote:
“One evening (he says) he saw a young man extravagantly dressed out in a frock suit of green and silver lace, bag-wig, sword, bouquet, and point ruffles, enter the room (at the Bedford), and immediately join the critical circle at the upper end. Nobody recognized him; but such was the ease of his bearing, and the point of humor and remark with which he at once took up the conversation, that his presence seemed to disconcert no one, and a sort of pleased buzz of ‘who is he?’ was still going round the room unanswered, when a handsome carriage stopped at the door; he rose, and quitted the room, and the servants announced that his name was Foote, and that he was a young gentleman of family and fortune, a student of the Inner Temple, and that the carriage had called for him on its way to the assembly of a lady of fashion”. Dr. Barrowby once turned the laugh against Foote at the Bedford, when he was ostentatiously showing his gold repeater, with the remark—’Why, my watch does not go!’ ‘It soon will go,’ quietly remarked the Doctor. Young Collins, the poet, who came to town in 1744 to seek his fortune, made his way to the Bedford, where Foote was supreme among the wits and critics. Like Foote, Collins was fond of fine clothes, and walked about with a feather in his hat, very unlike a young man who had not a single guinea he could call his own. A letter of the time tells us that “Collins was an acceptable companion everywhere; and among the gentlemen who loved him for a genius, may be reckoned the Doctors Armstrong, Barrowby, Hill, Messrs. Quin, Garrick, and Foote, who frequently took his opinions upon their pieces before they were seen by the public. He was particularly noticed by the geniuses who frequented the Bedford and Slaughter’s Coffee-houses.”
Ten years later (1754) we find Foote again supreme in his critical corner at the Bedford. The regular frequenters of the room strove to get admitted to his party at supper; and others got as near as they could to the table, as the only humor flowed from Foote’s tongue. The Bedford was now in its highest repute.
Foote and Garrick often met at the Bedford, and many and sharp were their encounters. They were the two great rivals of the day. Foote usually attacked, and Garrick, who had many weak points, was mostly the sufferer. Garrick, in early life, had been in the wine trade, and had supplied the Bedford with wine; he was thus described by Foote as living in Durham-yard, with three quarts of vinegar in the cellar, calling himself a wine-merchant. How Foote must have abused the Bedford wine of this period!
One night, Foote came into the Bedford, where Garrick was seated, and there gave him an account of a most wonderful actor he had just seen. Garrick was on the tenters of suspense, and there Foote kept him a full hour. Foote brought the attack to a close by asking Garrick what he thought of Mr. Pitt’s histrionic talents, when Garrick, glad of the release, declared that if Pitt had chosen the stage, he might have been the first actor upon it.
Another night, Garrick and Foote were about to leave the Bedford together, when the latter, in paying the bill, dropped a guinea; and not finding it at once, said, “Where on earth can it be gone to?”—”Gone to the devil, I think,” replied Garrick, who had assisted in the search.—”Well said, David!” was Foote’s reply, “let you alone for making a guinea go further than anybody else.”
Churchill’s quarrel with Hogarth began at the shilling rubber club, in the parlour of the Bedford; when Hogarth used some very insulting language towards Churchill, who resented it in the Epistle. This quarrel showed more venom than wit. “Never,” says Walpole, “did two angry men of their abilities throw mud with less dexterity.”
Woodward, the comedian, mostly lived at the Bedford, was intimate with Stacie, the landlord, and gave him his (W.’s) portrait, with a mask in his hand, one of the early pictures by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Stacie played an excellent game at whist. One morning about two o’clock, one of the waiters awoke him to tell him that a nobleman had knocked him up, and had desired him to call his master to play a rubber with him for one hundred guineas. Stacie got up, dressed himself, won the money, and was in bed and asleep, all within an hour.
After Macklin had retired from the stage, in 1754, he opened that portion of the Piazza-houses, in Covent Garden, afterwards known as the Tavistock Hotel. Here he fitted up a large coffee-room, a theatre for oratory, and other apartments. To a three-shilling ordinary he added a shilling lecture, or “School of Oratory and Criticism;” he presided at the dinner table, and carved for the company; after which he played a sort of “Oracle of Eloquence.” Fielding has happily sketched him in his “Voyage to Lisbon”: “Unfortunately for the fishmongers of London, the Dory only resides in the Devonshire seas; for could any of this company only convey one to the Temple of luxury under the piazza, where Macklin, the high priest, daily serves up his rich offerings, great would be the reward of that fishmonger.”
In the Lecture, Macklin undertook to make each of his audience an orator, by teaching him how to speak. He invited hints and discussions; the novelty of the scheme attracted the curiosity of numbers; and this curiosity he still further excited by a very uncommon controversy which now subsisted, either in imagination or reality, between him and Foote, who abused one another very openly—”Squire Sammy,” having for his purpose engaged the Little Theatre in the Haymarket.
[Pg 581]Besides this personal attack, various subjects were debated here in the manner of the Robin Hood Society, which filled the Orator’s pocket, and proved his rhetoric of some value.
Here is one of his combats with Foote. The subject was Duelling In Ireland, which Macklin had illustrated as far as the reign of Elizabeth. Foote cried, “Order;” he had a question to put. “Well, Sir,” said Macklin, “what have you to say on this subject,” “I think, Sir” said Foote, “this matter might be settled in a few words. What o’clock is it, Sir?” Macklin could not possibly see what the clock had to do with a dissertation upon Duelling, but gruffly reported the hour to be half-past nine. “Very well,” said Foote, “about this time of the night every gentleman in Ireland that can possibly afford it is in his third bottle of claret, and therefore in a fair way of getting drunk; and from drunkenness proceeds quarrelling, and from quarrelling, duelling, and so there’s an end of the chapter.” The company were much obliged to Foote for his interference, the hour being considered; though Macklin did not relish this abridgment.
The success of Foote’s fun upon Macklin’s Lectures, led him to establish a summer entertainment of his own at the Haymarket. He took up Macklin’s notion of applying Greek tragedy to modern subjects, and the squib was so successful that Foote cleared by it 500£ in five nights, while the great Piazza Coffee-room in Covent Garden was shut up, and Macklin in the Gazette as a bankrupt.
But when the great plan of Mr. Macklin proved abortive, when as he said in a former prologue, upon a nearly similar occasion—
From scheming, fretting, famine and despair.
We saw to grace restor’d an exiled player;
when the town was sated with the seemingly-concocted quarrel between the two theatrical geniuses, Macklin locked his doors, all animosity was laid aside, and they came and shook hands at the Bedford; the group resumed their appearance, and, with a new master, a new set of customers was seen.
Tom King’s Coffee-house was one of the old night-houses of Covent Garden Market; it was a rude shed immediately beneath the portico of St. Paul’s Church, and was one “well known to all gentlemen to whom beds are unknown.” Fielding in one of his Prologues says:
What rake is ignorant of King’s Coffee-house?
It is in the background of Hogarth’s print of Morning where the prim maiden lady, walking to church, is soured with seeing two fuddled beaux from King’s Coffee-house caressing two frail women. At the door there is a drunken row, in which swords and cudgels are the weapons.
Harwood’s Alumni Etonenses, p. 239, in the account of the Boys elected from Eton to King’s College, contains this entry: “A.D. 1713, Thomas King, born at West Ashton, in Wiltshire, went away scholar in apprehension that his fellowship would be denied him; and afterwards kept that Coffee-house in Covent Garden, which was called by his own name.”
Moll King was landlady after Tom’s death: she was witty, and her house was much frequented, though it was little better than a shed. “Noblemen and the first beaux,” said Stacie, “after leaving Court would go to her house in full dress, with swords and bags, and in rich brocaded silk coats, and walked and conversed with persons of every description. She would serve chimney-sweepers, gardeners, and the market-people in common with her lords of the highest rank. Mr. Apreece, a tall thin man in rich dress, was her constant customer. He was called Cadwallader by the frequenters of Moll’s.” It is not surprising that Moll was often fined for keeping a disorderly house. At length, she retired from business—and the pillory—to Hempstead, where she lived on her ill-earned gains, but paid for a pew in church, and was charitable at appointed seasons, and died in peace in 1747.
The Piazza Coffee-house at the northeastern angle of Covent Garden Piazza, appears to have originated with Macklin’s; for we read in an advertisement in the Publick Adviser, March 5, 1756; “The Great Piazza Coffee-room, in Covent Garden.”
The Piazza was much frequented by Sheridan; and here is located the well-known anecdote told of his coolness during the burning of Drury-lane Theatre, in 1809. It is said that as he sat at the Piazza, during the fire, taking some refreshment, a friend of his having remarked on the philosophical calmness with which he bore his misfortune, Sheridan replied:
“A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”
Sheridan and John Kemble often dined together at the Piazza, to be handy to the theatre. During Kemble’s management, Sheridan had occasion to make a complaint, which brought a “nervous” letter from Kemble, to which Sheridan’s reply is amusing enough. Thus, he writes: “that the management of a theatre is a situation capable of becoming troublesome, is information which I do not want, and a discovery which I thought you made long ago.” Sheridan then treats Kemble’s letter as “a nervous flight,” not to be noticed seriously, adding his anxiety for the interest of the theatre, and alluding to Kemble’s touchiness and reserve; and thus concludes:
“If there is anything amiss in your mind not arising from the troublesomeness of your situation, it is childish and unmanly not to disclose it. The frankness with which I have dealt towards you entitles me to expect that you should have done so.
“But I have no reason to believe this to be the case; and attributing your letter to a disorder which I know ought not to be indulged, I prescribe that thou shalt keep thine appointment at the Piazza Coffee-house, tomorrow at five, and, taking four bottles of claret instead of three, to which in sound health you might stint yourself, forget that you ever wrote the letter, as I shall that I ever received it.”
[Pg 582]The Piazza facade, and interior, were of Gothic design. When the house was demolished, in its place was built the Floral Hall, after the Crystal Palace model.
The Chapter Coffee-house was a literary place of resort in Paternoster Row, more especially in connection with the Wittinagemot of the last century. A very interesting account of the Chapter, at a later period (1848) is given by Mrs. Gaskell.
Goldsmith frequented the Chapter, and always occupied one place, which for many years after was the seat of literary honor there. There are leather tokens of the Chapter Coffee-house in existence.
Child’s Coffee-house, in St. Paul’s Churchyard, was one of the Spectator’s houses. “Sometimes,” he says, “I smoke a pipe at Child’s and whilst I seem attentive to nothing but the Postman, overhear the conversation of every table in the room.” It was much frequented by the clergy; for the Spectator, No. 609, notices the mistake of a country gentleman in taking all persons in scarfs for Doctors of Divinity, since only a scarf of the first magnitude entitles him to “the appellation of Doctor from his landlady and theBoy at Child’s.”
Child’s was the resort of Dr. Mead, and other professional men of eminence. The Fellows of the Royal Society came here. Whiston relates that Sir Hans Sloane, Dr. Halley and he were once at Child’s when Dr. H. asked him, W., why he was not a member of the Royal Society? Whiston answered, because they durst not choose a heretic. Upon which Dr. H. said, if Sir Hans Sloane would propose him, W., he, Dr. H., would second it, which was done accordingly.
The propinquity of Child’s to the Cathedral and Doctors’ Commons, made it the resort of the clergy, and ecclesiastical loungers. In that respect, Child’s was superseded by the Chapter, in Paternoster Row.
The London Coffee-house was established previous to the year 1731, for we find of it the following advertisement:
“Whereas, it is customery for Coffee-houses and other Public-houses, to take 8s. for a quart of Arrack, and 6s. for a quart of Brandy or Rum, made into Punch:
“This is to give notice,
“That James Ashley has opened on Ludgate Hill, the London Coffee-house, Punch-house, Dorchester Beer and Welsh Ale Warehouse, where the finest and best old Arrack, Rum and French Brandy is made into Punch, with the other of the finest Ingredients—viz., A quart of Arrack made into Punch for six shillings; and so in proportion to the smallest quantity, which is half-a-quartern for fourpence half-penny. A quart of Rum or Brandy made into Punch for four shillings; and so in proportion to the smallest quantity, which is half-a-quartern for fourpence half-penny; and gentlemen may have it as soon made as a gill of Wine can be drawn.”
The premises occupied a Roman site; for, in 1800, in the rear of the house, in a bastion of the City Wall, was found a sepulchral monument dedicated to Claudina Martina by her husband, a provincial Roman soldier; here also were found a fragment of a statue of Hercules and a female head. In front of the Coffee-house immediately west of St. Martin’s Church, stood Ludgate.
The London Coffee-house was noted for its publishers’ sales of stock and copyrights. It was within the rules of the Fleet prison; and in the Coffee-house were “locked up” for the night such juries from the Old Bailey Sessions, as could not agree upon verdicts. The house was long kept by the grandfather and father of Mr. John Leech, the celebrated artist.
A singular incident occurred at the London Coffee-house, many years since: Mr. Brayley, the topographer, was present at a party here, when Mr. Broadhurst, the famous tenor, by singing a high note, caused a wine-glass on the table to break, the bowl being separated from the stem.
From The Kingdom’s Intelligencer, a weekly paper, published by authority, in 1662, we learn that there had just been opened a “new coffee-house,” with the sign of the Turk’s Head, where was sold by retail “the right coffee-powder,” from 4s. to 6s. 8d. per pound; that pounded in a mortar, 2s; East Indian berry, 1s. 6d.; and the right Turkie berry, well garbled, at 3s. “The ungarbled for lesse, with directions how to use the same.” Also Chocolate at 2s. 6d. per pound; the perfumed from 4s. to 10s.; “also, Sherbets made in Turkie, of lemons, roses and violets perfumed; and Tea, or Chaa, according to its goodness. The house seal is Morat the Great. Gentlemen customers and acquaintances are (the next New Year’s Day) invited to the sign of the Great Turk at this new Coffee-house, where Coffee will be on free cost.” Morat figures as a tyrant in Dryden’s “Aurung Zebe.” There is a token of this house, with the sultan’s head, in the Beaufoy collection.
Another token in the same collection, is of unusual excellence, probably by John Roettier. It has on the obverse, Morat ye Great Men did mee call,—Sultan’s head; reverse, Where eare I came I conquered all.—In the field, Coffee, Tobacco, Sherbet, Tea, Chocolate, retail in Exchange Alee. “The word Tea,” says Mr. Burn, “occurs on no other tokens than those issued from ‘the Great Turk’ Coffee-house, in Exchange alley;” in one of its advertisements, 1662, tea is from 6s. to 60s. a pound.
Competition arose. One Constantine Jennings in Threadneedle-street, over against St. Christopher’s Church, advertised that coffee, chocolate, sherbet, and tea, the right Turkey berry, may be had as cheap and as good of him as is anywhere to be had for money; and that people may there be taught to prepare the said liquors gratis.
Pepys, in his “Diary,” tells, September 25, 1669, of his sending for “a cup of Tea, a China Drink, he had not before tasted.” Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, about 1666, introduced[Pg 583] tea at Court. And, in his “Sir Charles Sedley’s Mulberry Garden,” we are told that “he who wished to be considered a man of fashion always drank wine-and-water at dinner, and a dish of tea afterwards.” These details are condensed from Mr. Burn’s excellent “Beaufoy Catalogue,” 2nd edition, 1855.
In Gerard-street, Soho, also, was another Turk’s Head Coffee-house, where was held a Turk’s Head Society; in 1777, we find Gibbon writing to Garrick: “At this time of year (August 14) the Society of the Turk’s Head can no longer be addressed as a corporate body, and most of the individual members are probably dispersed: Adam Smith, in Scotland; Burke in the shades of Beaconsfield; Fox, the Lord or the devil knows where.”
The place was a kind of headquarters for the Loyal Association during the Rebellion of 1745. Here was founded “The Literary Club” and a select body for the Protection and Encouragement of Art. Another Society of Artists met in Peter’s-court, St. Martin’s-lane, from the year 1739 to 1769. After continued squabbles, which lasted for many years, the principal artists met together at the Turk’s Head, where many others having joined them, they petitioned the King (George III) to become patron of a Royal Academy of Art. His Majesty consented; and the new Society took a room in Pall Mall, opposite to Market-lane, where they remained until the King, in the year 1771, granted them apartments in Old Somerset House.
The Turk’s Head Coffee-house, No. 142, in the Strand, was a favourite supping-house with Dr. Johnson and Boswell, in whose Life of Johnson are several entries, commencing with 1763—”At night, Mr. Johnson and I supped in a private room at the Turk’s Head Coffee-house, in the Strand; ‘I encourage this house,’ said he, ‘for the mistress of it is a good civil woman, and has not much business’.” Another entry is—”We concluded the day at the Turk’s Head Coffee-house very socially.” And, August 3, 1673—”We had our last social meeting at the Turk’s Head Coffee-house, before my setting out for foreign parts.”
The name was afterwards changed to “The Turk’s Head, Canada and Bath Coffee-house,” and was a well frequented tavern and hotel.
At the Turk’s Head, or Miles’s Coffee-house, New Palace-yard, Westminster, the noted Rota Club met, founded by Harrington, in 1659; where was a large oval table, with a passage in the middle, for Miles to deliver his coffee.
For many years previous to the streets of London being completely paved, “Slaughter’s Coffee-house” was called “The Coffee-house on the Pavement.” Besides being the resort of artists, Old Slaughter’s was the house of call for Frenchmen.
St. Martin’s-lane was long one of the headquarters of the artists of the last century. “In the time of Benjamin West,” says J.T. Smith, “and before the formation of the Royal Academy, Greek-street, St. Martin’s-lane, and Gerard-street, was their only colony. Old Slaughter’s Coffee-house, in St. Martin’s-lane, was their grand resort in the evenings, and Hogarth was a constant visitor.” He lived at the Golden Head, on the eastern side of Leicester Fields, in the northern half of the Sabloniere Hotel. The head he cut out himself from pieces of cork, glued and bound together; it was placed over the street-door. At this time, young Benjamin West was living in chambers, in Bedford-street, Covent Garden, and had there set up his easel; he was married in 1765, at St. Martin’s Church. Roubiliac was often to be found at Slaughter’s in early life; probably before he gained the patronage of Sir Edward Walpole, through finding and returning to the baronet the pocket-book of bank-notes which the young maker of monuments had picked up in Vauxhall Gardens. Sir Edward, to remunerate his integrity, and his skill, of which he showed specimens, promised to patronize Roubiliac through life, and he faithfully performed this promise. Young Gainsborough, who spent three years amid the works of the painters in St. Martin’s-lane, Hayman, and Cipriani, who were all eminently convival, were, in all probability, frequenters of Slaughter’s. Smith tells us that Quin and Hayman were inseparable friends, and so convival, that they seldom parted till daylight.
Mr. Cunningham relates that here, “in early life, Wilkie would enjoy a small dinner at a small cost. I have been told by an old frequenter of the house, that Wilkie was always the last dropper-in for dinner, and that he was never seen to dine in the house by daylight. The truth is, he slaved at his art at home till the last glimpse of daylight had disappeared.”
Haydon was accustomed, in the early days of his fitful career, to dine here with Wilkie. In his “Autobiography,” in the year 1808, Haydon writes: “This period of our lives was one of great happiness; painting all day, then dining at the Old Slaughter Chop-house, then going to the Academy until eight to fill up the evening, then going home to tea—that blessing of a studious man—talking over respective exploits, what he, Wilkie, had been doing and what I had been doing, and, then frequently to relieve our minds fatigued by their eight and twelve hours’ work, giving vent to the most extraordinary absurdities. Often have we made rhymes on odd names, and shouted with laughter at each new line that was added. Sometimes lazily inclined after a good dinner, we have lounged about, near Drury Lane or Covent Garden, hesitating whether to go in, and often have I (knowing first that there was nothing I wished to see) assumed a virtue I did not possess, and pretending moral superiority, preached to Wilkie on the weakness of not resisting such temptations for the sake of our art and our duty, and marched him off to his studies, when he was longing to see Mother Goose.”
J.T. Smith refers to Old Slaughter’s as “formerly the rendezvous of Pope, Dryden and other wits, and much frequented by several eminently clever men of his day.”
[Pg 584]Thither came Ware, the architect, who, when a little sickly boy, was apprenticed to a chimney-sweeper, and was seen chalking the street-front of Whitehall, by a gentleman who purchased the remainder of the boy’s time; gave him an excellent education; then sent him to Italy, and, upon his return, employed him, and introduced him to his friends as an architect. Ware was heard to tell this story while he was sitting to Roubiliac for his bust. Ware built Chesterfield House and several other noble mansions, and compiled a Palladio, in folio: he retained the soot in his skin to the day of his death. He was very intimate with Roubiliac, who was an opposite eastern neighbour of Old Slaughter’s. Another architect, Gwynn, who competed with Mylne for designing and building Blackfriars Bridge, was also a frequent visitor at Old Slaughter’s, as was Gravelot, who kept a drawing-school in the Strand, nearly opposite to Southampton-street.
Hudson, who painted the Dilettanti portraits; M’Ardell, the mezzotinto-scraper; and Luke Sullivan, the engraver of Hogarth’s March to Finchley, also frequented Old Slaughter’s; likewise Theodore Gardell, the portrait painter, who was executed for the murder of his landlady: and Old Moser, keeper of the Drawing Academy in Peter’s-court.
Parry, the Welsh harper, though totally blind, was one of the first draught-players in England, and occasionally played with the frequenters of Old Slaughter’s; and here in consequence of a bet. Roubiliac introduced Nathaniel Smith (father of John Thomas), to play at draughts with Parry; the game lasted about half an hour; Parry was much agitated, and Smith proposed to give in; but as there were bets depending, it was played out, and Smith won. This victory brought Smith numerous challenges; and the dons of the Barn, a public-house, in St. Martin’s-lane, nearly opposite the church, invited him to become a member; but Smith declined. The Barn, for many years, was frequented by all the noted players of chess and draughts; and it was there that they often decided games of the first importance, played between persons of the highest rank.
The Grecian Coffee-house, Devereux-court, Strand, (closed in 1843) was named from Constantine, of Threadneedle street, theGrecian who kept it. In the Tatler announcement, all accounts of learning are to be “under the title of the Grecian;” and, in theTatler, No. 6: “While other parts of the town are amused with the present actions (Marlborough’s) we generally spend the evening at this table (at the Grecian) in inquiries into antiquity, and think anything new, which gives us new knowledge. Thus, we are making a very pleasant entertainment to ourselves in putting the actions of Homer’s Iliad into an exact journal.”
The Spectator’s face was very well known at the Grecian, a coffee-house “adjacent to the law.” Occasionally it was the scene of learned discussion. Thus Dr. King relates that one evening, two gentlemen, who were constant companions, were disputing here, concerning the accent of a Greek word. This dispute was carried to such a length, that the two friends thought proper to determine it with their swords; for this purpose they stepped into Devereux-court, where one of them (Dr. King thinks his name was Fitzgerald) was run through the body, and died on the spot.
The Grecian was Foote’s morning lounge. It was handy, too, for the young Templar, Goldsmith, and often did it echo with Oliver’s boisterous mirth; for “it had become the favourite resort of the Irish and Lancashire Templars, whom he delighted in collecting around him, in entertaining with a cordial and unostentatious hospitality, and in occasionally amusing with his flute, or with whist, neither of which he played very well!” Here Goldsmith occasionally wound up his “Shoemaker’s Holiday” with supper.
It was at the Grecian that Fleetwood Shephard told this memorable story to Dr. Tancred Robinson, who gave Richardson permission to repeat it. “The Earle of Dorset was in Little Britain, beating about for books to his taste: there was ‘Paradise Lost’. He was surprised with some passages he struck upon, dipping here and there and bought it; the bookseller begged him to speak in his favour, if he liked it, for they lay on his hands as waste paper…. Shephard was present. My Lord took it home, read it, and sent it to Dryden, who in a short time returned it. ‘This man,’ says Dryden, ‘cuts us all out, and the ancients, too!'”
George’s Coffee-house, No. 213, Strand, near Temple Bar, was a noted resort in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When it was a coffee-house, one day, there came in Sir James Lowther, who after changing a piece of silver with the coffee-woman, and paying twopence for his dish of coffee, was helped into his chariot, for he was very lame and infirm, and went home: some little time afterwards, he returned to the same coffee-house, on purpose to acquaint the woman who kept it, that she had given him a bad half-penny, and demanded another in exchange for it. Sir James had about £40,000 per annum.
Shenstone, who found “the warmest welcome at an inn,” found George’s to be economical. “What do you think,” he writes, “must be my expense, who love to pry into everything of the kind? Why, truly one shilling. My company goes to George’s Coffee-house, where, for that small subscription I read all pamphlets under a three shillings’ dimension; and indeed, any larger would not be fit for coffee-house perusal.” Shenstone relates that Lord Oxford was at George’s, when the mob, that were carrying his Lordship in effigy, came into the box where he was, to beg money of him, amongst others; this story Horace Walpole contradicts, adding that he supposes Shenstone thought that after Lord Oxford quitted his place he went to the coffee-house to learn news.
Arthur Murphy frequented George’s, “where the town wits met every evening.” Lloyd, the law-student, sings:
By law let others toil to gain renown!
Florio’s a gentleman, a man o’ the town.
[Pg 585]He nor courts clients, or the law regarding,
Hurries from Nando’s down to Covent Garden.
Yet, he’s a scholar; mark him in the pit,
With critic catcall sound the stops of wit!
Supreme at George’s, he harangues the throng,
Censor of style, from tragedy to song.
The Percy Coffee-house, Rathbone-place, Oxford-street, no longer exists; but it will be kept in recollection for its having given name to one of the most popular publications of its class, namely, the “Percy Anecdotes,” by Sholto and Reuben Percy, Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery of Mont Benger, in forty-four parts, commencing in 1820. So said the title pages, but the names and the locality were supposé. Reuben Percy was Thomas Byerly, who died in 1824; he was the brother of Sir John Byerley, and the first editor of the Mirror, commenced by John Limbird, in 1822. Sholto Percy was Joseph Clinton Robertson, who died in 1852; he was the projector of the Mechanics’ Magazine, which he edited from its commencement to his death. The name of the collection of Anecdotes was not taken, as at the time supposed, from the popularity of the “Percy Reliques,” but from the Percy Coffee-house, where Byerley and Robertson were accustomed to meet to talk over their joint work. The idea was, however, claimed by Sir Richard Phillips, who stoutly maintained that it originated in a suggestion made by him to Dr. Tilloch and Mr. Mayne, to cut the anecdotes from the many years’ files of the Star newspaper, of which Dr. Tilloch was the editor; and Mr. Byerley assistant editor; and to the latter overhearing the suggestion, Sir Richard contested, might the “Percy Anecdotes” be traced. They were very successful, and a large sum was realised by the work.
Peele’s Coffee-house, Nos. 177 and 178, Fleet-street, east corner of Fetter-lane, was one of the coffee-houses of the Johnsonian period; and here was long preserved a portrait of Dr. Johnson, on the keystone of a chimney-piece, stated to have been painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Peele’s was noted for files of newspapers from these dates: Gazette, 1759; Times, 1780; Morning Chronicle, 1773; Morning Post, 1773; Morning Herald, 1784; Morning Advertiser, 1794; and the evening papers from their commencement. The house is now a tavern.
Coffee Literature and Ideals
The bibliography at the end of this work will serve to indicate the nature and extent of the general literature of coffee. Not that it is complete or nearly so; it would require twice the space to include mention of all the fugitive bits of verse, essays, and miscellaneous writings in newspapers, and periodicals, dealing with the poetry and romance, history, chemistry, and physiological effects of coffee. Only the early works, and the more notable contributions of the last three centuries, are included in the bibliography; but there is sufficient to enable the student to analyze the lines of general progress.
A study of the literature of coffee shows that the French really internationalized the beverage. The English and Italians followed. With the advent of the newspaper press, coffee literature began to suffer from its competition.
The complexities of modern life suggest that coffee drinking in perfection, the esthetics, and a new literature of coffee may once more become the pleasure of a small caste. Are the real pleasures of life, the things truly worth while, only to the swift—the most efficient? Who shall say? Are not some of us, particularly in America, rather prone to glorify the gospel of work to such an extent that we are in danger of losing the ability to understand or to enjoy anything else?
Granted that this is so, coffee, already recognized as the most grateful lubricant known to the human machine, is destined to play another part of increasing importance in our national life as a kind of national shock-absorber as well. But its rôle is something more than this, surely. When life is drab, it takes away its grayness. When life is sad, it brings us solace. When life is dull, it brings us new inspiration. When we are a-weary, it brings us comfort and good cheer.
The lure of coffee lies in its appeal to our finer sensibilities; and signs are not wanting that that pursuit of the long, sweet happiness that every one is seeking will lead some of us (even in big bustling America) into footpaths that end in places where coffee will offer much of its pristine inspiration and charm. It probably will not be a coffee house anything like that of the long ago, but perhaps it will be a kind of modernized coffee club. Why not?