Monday, 14 April 2014

An archaic glossary of ailments

The past was a dangerous time to be alive. If you were lucky enough to survive infancy and adolescence, you were very likely to die of any number of frightful diseases well before you reached what we regard as old age. Readers of old novels or historical death records are confronted with many unfamiliar names for these illnesses. I'm sure I am not the only person to read pre-1900 novels and think, what is brain fever? What's the bloody flux? What on earth is pink disease? For the benefit of those readers, history students and any one else who is interested, I've compiled a brief glossary of medical terms which were once commonly used but are now rare or obsolete.


Ague: Any intermittent fever characterised by periods of chills, fevers and sweats
Apoplexy: Now refers to bleeding within internal organs, but historically meant a death which began with sudden loss of consciousness; covered what we now call heart attacks, strokes and aneurysms
Bilious fever: A fever accompanied by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
Bloody flux: Dysentery
Brain fever: Difficult to make a diagnosis in hindsight, but possibly meningitis or encephalitis. Very popular as a plot device with 19th century novelists, who portrayed it as a reaction to a severe emotional shock.
Camp fever: Typhus; so-called because it was common in military camps with notoriously poor hygiene
Consumption: Pulmonary tuberculosis. Another popular illness in Victorian novels.
Corruption: General term for infection
Distemper: A disease, especially an infectious one
Dropsy: Edema - abnormal swelling of the body, often caused by kidney or heart disease
Dropsy of the brain: Encephalitis
Falling sickness: Epilepsy

St Severin of Noricum healing a woman with falling sickness, c.1300
(c. German Epilepsy Museum, Kork)

Gaol (jail) fever: Typhus
Great pox: Syphilis. Became something of a political football; the English, Poles, Italians and Germans called syphilis the 'French disease', the French called it the 'Italian disease', the Dutch called it the 'Spanish disease', the Russians called it the 'Polish disease', and the Turks called it the 'Christian disease'.
Green fever/green sickness: Anaemia
King's evil: See Scrofula
Lung fever: Pneumonia
Malignant sore throat: Diptheria
Mania: Insanity
Megrim: Severe headache, often limited to one side of the head
Melancholia: Severe depression
Mortification: Gangrene
Pink disease: Disease of teething infants due to mercury poisoning from teething powders
Plague: Any infectious disease with a high mortality rate, though will often refer to bubonic plague
Pox: Syphilis, though also referred to any unknown disease which caused sores to appear on the body

A prostitute (far right) dying of syphilis. From William Hogarth's
A Harlot's Progress (1732)

Putrid fever: Diptheria
Screws: Rheumatism
Scrivener's palsy: Writer's cramp
Scrofula: Primary tuberculosis of the lymphatic glands. Also known as the King's Evil, due to the old belief that the monarch was able to cure scrofula victims. Sufferers would hang around the royal residence waiting for the king or queen to bless them.
Ship fever: Typhus
Spontaneous human combustion: The burning of  a living human body without an apparent external source of ignition. Features in Charles Dickens' Bleak House where the alcoholic Mr Krook dies of it.
Spotted fever: Meningitis or typhus
St Anthony's Fire: One of several conditions characterised by intense inflammation of the skin, such as from erysipelas or ergotism. Rife in the Middle Ages due to the eating of ergot-contaminated rye bread.

Mathis Grünewald's grisly depiction of a man suffering
from St Anthony's Fire (1512-16)

St Vitus' Dance: Phenomenon in which groups of people danced in a frenzy until they collapsed from exhaustion. Thought to have been a mass pschyogenic illness.
Strangury: Condition marked by slow, painful urination, caused by muscular spasms of the urethra and bladder
Surfet/surfeit: Vomiting from over-eating
Swamp sickness: Malaria
Sweating sickness: Infectious and often fatal disease affecting England in the 15th century
Teeth: Death of an infant when teething; symptoms included fretfulnes, convulsions, diarrhoea, and painful and swollen gums. Children appear to have been more susceptible to infection during this time, although malnutrition from being fed watered milk has also been suggested as a cause.
Tympany: A swelling or tumour
Winter fever: Pneumonia
Worm fit: Convulsions associated with teething, worms, elevated temperature or diarrhoea


~ By Caecilia Dance

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Vladimir the Great: pagan, philanderer, saint

An 1889 depiction of St Vladimir

St Vladimir of Kiev, or Vladimir the Great, as he is also known, is one of the most unlikely saints in the Christian calendar. He is still venerated today as the father of Christianity in Russia and the Ukraine, yet for much of his life he was the very stereotype of a pagan king: bloodthirsty, lecherous and fratricidal. Vladimir was born in 956 to Prince Sviatoslav of Kiev and his housekeeper Malusha. Norse sagas claim that Malusha was a prophetess who lived to the age of 100. Sviatoslav was the ruler of the Kievan Rus, a loose federation of East Slavic tribes in Europe which existed from the late 9th to the mid-13th century. Sviatoslav also had two legitimate sons, Oleg and Yaropolk.

Perhaps in order to prevent family infighting, Sviatoslav decided to entrust parts of his realm to his sons during his lifetime. Kiev, as the most important city, was given to the eldest son, Yaropolk, and Vladimir received the fiefdom of Novgorod. Sviatoslav did indeed manage to remain at peace with his children - no small feat in medieval Europe - but upon his death in 972, civil war broke out between Oleg and Yaropolk. Vladimir was forced to flee to Norway in 977. He gathered together an army of Norse warriors in order to take back Novgorod, but his ambitions ranged beyond the re-taking of his own territory. Probably he saw the disunity of his brothers as a chance to gain ultimate control of the Kievan Rus. He was unwittingly helped in his attempt by Yaropolk, who murdered Oleg; now only one brother stood between Vladimir and the crown. Vladimir's military campaign against Yaropolk proved very successful; within a year he managed to subdue the major towns and seize Kiev. He had Yaropolk assasinated and declared himself the ruler of all Kievan Rus.


A gold coin of Vladimir the Great

Although Vladimir was an illegitimate usurper, he managed to retain his power. His early reign was marked by licentious behaviour, strong expansionist policies and the persecution of Christians. On the first point, his philandering tendencies, when combined with ultimate power, led many women to miserable fates. When he was on the way to attack Yaropolk with his Norse warriors back in 977-8, Vladimir decided that he wanted to marry Rogneda, the daughter of Rogvolod, Prince of Polotsk. She refused to ally herself with a man born of a bondswoman (referring of course to his illegitimacy), at which insult Vladimir attacked Polotsk, killed Prince Rogvolod and abducted Rogneda. His brutal behaviour continued when he reached Kiev. After he had Yaropolk murdered, Vladimir proceeded to rape his newly-widowed sister-in-law. Since the paganism practised by many Kievan Rus allowed polygamy, in the ten years before he converted to Christianity Vladimir is said to have had 800 concubines and numerous wives. After his conversion, Vladimir seemed content to have one wife at a time, but for now he enjoyed all the benefits of paganism. Although Christianity had been spreading in the region for some decades, Vladimir remained uncompromisingly pagan. He erected many heathen statues and shrines to the gods, and turned a blind eye to the periodic outbursts of mob violence against Christians.


A fanciful depiction of Vladimir's abduction of Rogneda
~ By the Ukrainian artist Anton Losenko (1770)

However, it seems that in the late 980s, Vladimir started to turn his attention to religion and mull over alternatives to the paganism of the Kievan Rus; partly, perhaps, because envoys from surrounding kingdoms kept on urging him to convert to their particular faith. Thus, according to the early Slavic Primary Chronicle, after consulting with his nobles, Vladimir sent envoys throughout the civilised world to judge first hand the major religions of the time; Islam, Judaism, Byzantine Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. The Primary Chronicle describes the results of the embassies as follows.

Of the Muslim Bulgarians of the Volga, the envoys reported that there was no gladness among them, only sorrow and a great stench. The Primary Chronicle writer also noted that Islam was an unattractive religion due to its taboo on pork and alcoholic drinks; Vladimir is supposed to have remarked on the occasion, "drinking is the joy of all Rus. We cannot exist without that pleasure". As for Judaism, we are told that Vladimir viewed the Jews' loss of Jerusalem as a sign that they had been abandoned by God. Finally there were the embassies to Christian lands. The Rus emissaries found no beauty in the gloomy Roman Catholic churches in Germany, but were highly impressed by the pomp and circumstance of the Byzantine Orthodox Church. Speaking of a magnificent religious service at the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, they wrote home to say "we no longer knew whether we were in heaven or earth...such beauty, we know not how to tell of it. We only know that God dwells there among the people, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations". Of course, this source is highly unreliable as it was written by a Christian scholar after the Kievan Rus were Christianised, but it nevertheless makes for an interesting tale. At any rate, it seems that Vladimir found Byzantine Orthodoxy an attractive prospect, all the more so because of the potential political gains of an alliance with the Byzantine Empire.


Vladimir choosing a religion
~ Ivan Eggink (1822)

The actual events surrounding Vladimir's conversion are rather hazy, with Kievan and Arab chroniclers giving quite different accounts. The Primary Chronicle says that Vladimir decided to seize the Byzantine town of Chersonesos in a bold move to show his strength and force the Emperor's hand. Vladimir proceeded to demand the hand of in marriage of Emperor Basil's sister, Anna, threatening to advance on Constantinople if his proposition was denied. He was granted Anna's hand on the condition that he would convert and Christianise his people. Arab sources, on the other hand, link Vladimir with the major rebellion which Basil faced in 987. According to numerous Arab chroniclers, Basil turned to his erstwhile enemy Vladimir for help in quelling the uprising. The Kievan ruler agreed to assist Basil on condition of a marital tie. Once the wedding arrangements with Anna were finalised, he sent the emperor 6,000 soldiers and was baptised at Chersonesos.

The baptism of Vladimir at Chersonesos
~Viktor Vasnetsov (1890)

However it came about, the fact that Vladimir managed to marry the Emperor's own sister is truly astounding. Never before had a pagan barbarian married a Byzantine princess; matrimonial suits from French kings and German emperors had hitherto been peremptorily rejected. By all accounts the 27-year-old Anna was very unwilling to marry Vladimir. She was, after all, required to leave behind her luxurious life in a magnificent Christian city, in order to travel to wild barbarian lands with a king who was only newly-baptised and already had hundreds of wives and concubines (whom he promptly disowned). Nevertheless, her own inclinations were sacrificed in the interests of state policy, and she spent the journey to her new home in great distress.

Once Vladimir got back to Kiev, he embarked on his program of Christianisation with great energy. He ordered pagan shrines and statues to be smashed and burned with the same enthusiasm as he had built them in the first place. He baptised his twelve sons and many of the nobility. In an iconic scene from the Primary Chronicle, Vladimir sent a message one day to all the residents of Kiev, "rich, and poor, and beggars, and slaves" to come to the river Dnieper, lest they risk becoming the "prince's enemies". A large number of people did turn up, and they were baptised en masse by Orthodox priests who had been brought in from Chersonesos for the occasion. The great baptism of Kiev was followed by similar ceremonies in urban centres around the country. Notwithstanding the official endorsement of Christianity, there was resistance to the new religion. Frequently, officials were obliged to use violence in order to get people to convert. For instance, Vladimir's uncle, Dobrynya, apparently had to force the people of Novgorod into Christianity "by fire", whilst the local mayor 'persuaded' his compatriots to convert "by the sword". Paganism did persist for a long while, surfacing during the Upper Volga Rising and other protests.

The baptism of Kievans
~ Klavdiy Vasilievich Lebedev (19th century)

As for Vladimir, he poured his energy into expanding his dominions and founding numerous schools, monasteries and churches. In his later years he lived at relative peace with his neighbours in Poland, Hungary and the Czech lands. Unfortunately he could not achieve harmony in his own family; he had constant trouble with his rebellious eldest sons. Like his father, he had already parcelled out various fiefdoms to his sons, having given Novgorod to his eldest, Yaroslav. However, for reasons which remain unclear, Yaroslav revolted against his father and refused to render either service or tribute. Though relatively old at 57, Vladimir prepared to march against his disobedient son and take back Novgorod. However, he fell ill on the journey and died. Vladimir was canonised and is still venerated today as the man who turned Russia and Ukraine into Christian countries.

Vladimir portrayed as a saint.
~ 16th century icon at Novgorod Cathedral



~ By Caecilia Dance

Monday, 31 March 2014

The torments of marriage in Georgian caricatures

The Georgian era (1714-1837) was the golden age of English satire. Gillray, Rowlandson and the Cruikshank family made themselves famous with their exuberant, brightly-coloured caricatures which lampooned everything from government to the clergy, from fashion to the French. Here are some of their satirical takes on marriage. They point out the problems so often ignored in the contemporary moral literature and novels which portrayed marriage as a companionate and dignified state; adultery, frustrated husbands, scolding wives and seething hatred are all exposed, making simultaneously amusing and uncomfortable viewing.


From 'Symptoms of matrimony' (Lewis Walpole Library)
Husband: "Rabbit it, Wife, you'll make me look like a fool."
Wife: "Now you are Married you shall look like other people, I insist upon it, and leave off your rustic manners!"



'An old husband and young wife, or, a quarrel about nothing'.(Lewis Walpole Library)
Husband: "What makes you so Sulky this Morning my Dear?"
Wife: "Nothing."
Husband: "What is the matter with you?"
Wife: "Nothing."
Husband: "You was in a very good Humor last Night, pray what have I done to offend you?"
Wife:"You have done Nothing. That's the reason."



'Hither and thither' (Lewis Walpole Library)



'An anonymous letter' (Lewis Walpole Library)
Wife: "You can't deny the letter you false man - I shall find out all your Wicked Women - I shall, you abominable Seducer!"
Husband: "Indeed Lovey I know no more who sent the letter than the Man in the Moon."



'The dinner spoil'd'  (Lewis Walpole Library)
Husband: "It's red! Not fit to eat! These are the blessed [?] effects of boiling Mutton in a cloth!!"



'Late hours' (Lewis Walpole Library)
Wife: "Here have I been sitting up for you these four hours, without any thing to Comfort me - Mr Fillpot I will not suffer it."
Husband: "Don't be angry - you beauty! I have only been drinking your health with Squire Guzzle, 'pon honour!"



'Three weeks after marriage' (Lewis Walpole Library)



'Matrimony. May the Devil take them that brought you and me together'
(Lewis Walpole Library)


~ By Caecilia Dance

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Does coffee make men impotent? A 17th century perspective

Although we are regularly reminded of the potential health risks of drinking too much coffee, to my knowledge no-one has yet argued that men ought to cut back on coffee because it makes them impotent. However, that is exactly what one bawdy pamphlet from 1674 claims. Given the catchy title of The Women's petition against coffee: representing to public consideration the grand Inconveniences accruing to their Sex from the Excessive Use of that Drying, Enfeebling Liquor, this scurrilous pamphlet claims to be a plea on behalf of the women of England which asks their men to stop drinking coffee, as it makes them unable to perform, thus leaving wives across the country languishing in a state of desperation.

To put this into context, coffee was an increasingly popular drink in 17th century Europe. It was mostly drunk in coffee-houses, where for just a penny, men enjoyed unlimited refills, access to the latest newspapers and a forum for intellectual discussion with other patrons; I wrote about the rise and fall of English coffee-houses in another post. Yet despite their enormous popularity, coffee and coffee-houses were not without their detractors. Serious-minded physicians published diatribes against the drink, and Charles II wanted to shut down coffee-houses as they were a potential hotbed of sedition. It's no wonder, then, that a lot of satirical literature on the topic was printed. This pamphlet belongs in that category and shouldn't be read as a serious social criticism, although some writers have mistakenly seen it as such. It probably wasn't written by a woman at all; in fact, it scorns women by playing on the age-old stereotype of the gossiping woman unable to control her lustful appetites. However, what was calculated to entertain and make a quick profit back in 1674 still makes amusing reading today. Here is an abridged version with modernised spelling:


The frontispiece to 'The Women's Petition Against Coffee'


"The Humble Petition and Address of several Thousands of Buxom Good-Women, Languishing in Extremity of Want showeth, that 'tis Reckon'd amongst the Glories of  our Native Country, To be A Paradise for Women [due to] the brisk Activity of our men, who in former Ages were justly esteemed the Ablest Performers in Christendom; But to our unspeakable Grief, we find of late a very sensible Decay of that true Old English Vigour. Never did Men wear greater Breeches, or carry less in them of any Mettle whatsoever. There was a glorious Dispensation ('twas surely in the Golden Age) when Lusty Lads of seven or eight hundred years old, Got Sons and Daughters; and we have read, how a Prince of Spain was forced to make a Law, that Men should not Repeat the Grand Kindness to their Wives, above NINE times in a night: But Alas! Alas! Those forward Days are gone."

"The Occasion of which Insufferable Disaster, after a serious Enquiry, and Discussion of the Point by the Learned of the Faculty, we can Attribute to nothing more than the Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE, which Drying up the Radical Moisture, has so Eunuched our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind Gallants, that they are become as Impotent and as unfruitful as those Deserts whence that unhappy Berry is said to be brought. For the continual sipping of this pitiful drink is enough to bewitch Men of two and twenty, and tie up the Codpiece-point without a Charm. They come from it with nothing moist but their snotty Noses, nothing stiff but their Joints, nor standing but their Ears. Nor can all the Art we use revive them from this Lethargy.

"Can any Woman of Sense or Spirit endure with Patience, that when privileged by Legal Ceremonies, she approaches the Nuptial Bed, expecting that a Man with Sprightly Embraces, should Answer the Vigour of her Flames, she on the contrary should only meet A Bedful of Bones, and hug a meagre useless Corpse rendered as sapless as a Kixe, and dryer than a Pumice-Stone, by the perpetual Fumes of Tobacco, and bewitching effects of this most pernicious COFFEE, whereby Nature is Enfeebled, the Off-spring of our Mighty Ancestors Dwindled into a Succession of Apes and Pygmies: and The Age of Man Now Cramp't into an Inch, that was a Span.


King Charles II in 1675, a year after this pamphlet was published.
Although he presumably drank coffee like other fashionable men, no-one
could accuse it of making him impotent; during his life he had 8 to 14
mistresses (though just one wife), with whom he fathered 15 children.

"We have reason to apprehend and grow Jealous, That Men by frequenting these Stygian Tap-houses [coffee-houses] will usurp on our Prerogative of Tattling, and soon learn to excel us in Talkativeness: a Quality wherein our Sex has ever Claimed pre-eminence: For here like so many Frogs in a puddle, they sup muddy water, and murmur insignificant notes till half a dozen of them out-babble an equal number of us at a Gossiping. Though they frequently have hot Contests about most Important Subjects; as what colour the Red Sea is of; whether the Great Turk be a Lutheran or a Calvinist; who Cain's Father in Law was &c. yet they never fight about them with any other save our Weapon, the Tongue.

"Certainly our Countrymens' palates are become as Fanatical as their Brains; how else is't possible they should Apostatize from the good old primitive way of Ale-drinking, to run a whoring after such variety of destructive Foreign Liquors, to trifle away their time, scald their Chops, and spend their Money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking, nauseous Puddle-water. Yet (as all Witches have their Charms) so this ugly Turkish Enchantress by certain Invisible Wiles attracts both Rich and Poor.

"Wherefore to the end that our Just Rights may be restored, and all the Ancient Privileges of our Sex preserved inviolable; That our Husbands may give us some other Testimonies of their being Men, besides their Beards: That they no more run the hazard of being Cuckolded by Dildo's: But returning to the good old strengthening Liquors of our Forefathers; that Natures Exchequer may once again be replenished, and a Race of Lusty Hero's begot to equal the Glories of our Ancestors. We Humbly Pray that henceforth the Drinking COFFEE may on severe penalties be forbidden to all Persons under the Age of Threescore. In hopes of which Glorious Reformation, your Petitioners shall readily Prostrate themselves, and ever Pray, &c."


~ By Caecilia Dance

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The rise and fall of the English coffee-house

There seems to be something inherently social about drinking coffee. We ask people to come in for a coffee, and we go out for coffee with friends, family and colleagues. This isn't a modern phenomenon; coffee has always been intimately connected with sociability. In North Africa and the Middle East, coffee-houses had been widespread ever since people there started drinking coffee in the 15th century. When coffee was introduced to Europe in the late 16th century, within a matter of decades it was enjoyed in the coffee-houses which were springing up in the great cities of Venice, Vienna, Paris and Amsterdam. The English proved just as quick to adopt coffee as their European counterparts. A coffee-house opened in Oxford in 1652 and was swiftly followed by one on Cornhill in London, established by an entrepeneurial young Greek servant named Pasqua Rosée. Coffee-houses rapidly grew in number and popularity and it is estimated that by 1700, London boasted up to 3,000 coffee-houses; more than any other city in the world except Constantinople. 


A London coffeehouse, c.1700

To the English, the coffee-house was an entirely new and excitingly cosmopolitan phenomenon. For centuries, taverns had enjoyed a virtual monopoly on being the place where you went to meet friends and relax with a drink; now, this foreign phenomenon was rapidly becoming the most exciting scene of urban sociability. Never before had England seen such a space, where men of diverse ranks of life gathered in a more or less sober fashion to discuss current affairs, philosophy, contemporary literature and the latest scientific ideas and inventions. Topics of conversation varied according to the particular clientele and ranged across diverse subject matter. You could always be certain of hearing and discussing current affairs; runners were sent around the coffee-houses to report breaking news, and London's first newspapers and journals began by circulating out of coffee-houses. In an issue of Tatler (itself founded in and run from a coffee-house), Richard Steele described how patrons would spend their time "deposing princes, settling the bounds of kingdoms, and balancing the power of Europe with great justice and impartiality". Such discussions could take unexpected and interesting turns. The judge and diarist Dudley Ryder recorded in 1715 how a conversation at John's Coffee House about the execution of a rebel Jacobite lord soon took a scientific and philosophical turn. Customers began to discuss the "ease of death by beheading", with one man recounting an experiment where he had chopped a viper in half and watched in amazement as the two halves slithered away in opposite directions. At this, others began to argue whether this was in fact proof of the existence of two consciousnesses.

Coffee-houses were not only vibrant centres of debate, they were also surprisingly democratic institutions. As long as you were reasonably dressed, for just a penny you could get a dish of coffee with unlimited refills along with access to all the latest newspapers and journals. Coffee-houses were decorated in a spartan style with long wooden-benches where lowly civil servants could rub shoulders with prominent politicians, where a poor curate visiting from the country could enjoy an energetic discussion with a prosperous City stockbroker. In this respect, English coffee-houses were very different from their French equivalents, which from the beginning were designed for intimate conversation among crystal chandeliers, ornate mirrors and little marble tables. The English model meant that men from many walks of life had access to a very cheap way of keeping up with current affairs and engaging in intellectual discussion. One contemporary quipped, "so great a Universitie,/ I think there ne'er was any;/ In which you may a Scholar be/ For spending of a Penny". In one of his visits to London, Jonathan Swift remarked, "I am not yet convinced that any Access to men in Power gives a man more Truth or Light than the Politicks of a Coffee House".


'Coffee-house politicians', c.1700: coffee-houses were an ideal
place to discuss the news with friends and strangers alike

What was the public reaction to coffee-houses? Despite their popularity, there were those who saw both coffee and coffee-houses as a pernicious influence on public morals and behaviour. The authorities worried, perhaps not without reason, that coffee-houses were hotbeds of sedition. In 1675, King Charles II issued a proclamation against them, saying that they produced "very evil and dangerous effects...for that in such Houses...divers False, Malitious and Scandalous Reports are devised and spread abroad, to the Defamation of His Majestie's Government, and to the Disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm". This provoked a public outcry and Charles backed down, settling on a rather vague order that the owners of coffee-houses should refuse admittance to spies and mischief-makers. Coffee-houses were also the target of much mockery. In his bitingly satirical 1703 book The London Spy, writer and publican Ned Ward dismissed coffee-houses as grubby dens stuffed with "a parcel of muddling muck-worms...some going, some coming, some scribbling, some talking, some drinking, others jangling, and the whole room stinking of tobacco like a Dutch barge". However, defenders of coffee-houses maintained that they stimulated sociability and intellectual debate, besides which they exercised a sobering function on the population as they drew people away from the taverns. They also argued that coffee itself was beneficial for one's health, notwithstanding opponents' claims that coffee tasted "like syrup of soot and the essence of old shoes".

Critics would have been glad to see the gradual decline of the coffee-house in the last decades of the 18th century. Thanks to the rise of the mighty British East India Company, tea was imported in ever-greater quantities and quite swiftly became the nation's favourite drink, thus forever cementing Britain's reputation as a land of tea-drinkers. The social and economic functions of coffee-houses also became less important as daily newspapers started circulating outside of coffee-houses and home mail delivery was gradually established. Increasingly, men could keep up with current affairs without stirring from their fireside. The coffee-houses which continued to prosper did so by becoming exclusive members' clubs designed for the wealthy, fashionable or academic elite. Edward Gibbons' 1762 description of The Cocoa-Tree Club, "that respectable body of which I am a member", clearly shows the ever more elite nature of some coffee-houses: "[it] affords a sight truly English; twenty, or perhaps thirty, of the first men in the kingdom in point of fashion and fortune, supping at little tables covered with a napkin in the middle of a coffee-room, upon a bit of cold meat on a sandwich, and drinking a glass of punch". Yet for over a century, the political, social and intellectual life of a nation was crammed into London coffee-houses where anyone who was reasonably dressed and had a penny to spare could come in and join the discussion. As Isaac Disraeli noted, "the history of Coffee-houses, ere the invention of clubs, was that of the manners, the morals, the politics of a people". A broadside ballad of 1667, entitled 'News from the Coffee House', illustrates how influential and important coffee-houses were, whilst affectionately lampooning them:


You that delight in Wit and Mirth,
And long to hear such News,
As comes from all Parts of the Earth,
Dutch, Danes, and Turks, and Jews,

I'le send yee to a Rendezvouz,
Where it is smoaking new;
Go hear it at a Coffe-house,
It cannot but be true.

Before the Navyes fall to Work,
They know who shall be Winner;
They there can tell ye what the Turk
Last Sunday had to Dinner;
Who last did Cut Du Ruitters Corns,
Amongst his jovial Crew;
Or Who first gave the Devil Horns,
Which cannot but be true.


There's nothing done in all the World,
From Monarch to the Mouse
But every Day or Night 'tis hurld
Into the Coffe-house.
What Lillie or what Booker can
By Art, not bring about,
At Coffe-house you'l find a Man,
Can quickly find it out.


Here Men do talk of every Thing,
With large and liberal Lungs,
Like Women at a Gossiping,
With double tyre of Tongues;
They'l give a Broad-side presently,
Soon as you are in view,
With Stories that, you'l wonder at,
Which they will swear are true.

The Drinking there of Chockalat,
Can make a Fool a Sophie:
'Tis thought the Turkish Mahomet
Was first Inspir'd with Coffe,
By which his Powers did Over-flow
The Land of Palestine:
Then let us to, the Coffe-house go,
'Tis Cheaper farr then Wine.

You shall know there, what Fashions are;
How Perrywiggs are Curl'd;
And for a Penny you shall heare,
All Novells in the World.
Both Old and Young, and Great and Small,
And Rich, and Poore, you'l see;
Therefore let's to the Coffe All,

Come All away with Mee.


~ By Caecilia Dance