One every now and then discovers the most amusing writings buried in the dusty and forgotten past. The following was apparently in response to the dramatic increase in coffee consumption of renaissance England, from an eccentric’s curiosity to a widespread trend.
The beginning and ending of the essay alone are sufficient to demonstrate the type of arguments employed:
The Women’s Petition Against Coffee
Representing to Publick Consideration the Grand Inconveniencies accruing to their Sex from the Excessive Use of that drying, Enfeebling Liquor.
Presented to the Right Honorable the Keepers of the Liberty of Venus.
By a Well-willer
London, Printed 1674.
To the Right Honorable the Keepers of the Liberties of Venus; The Worshipful Court of Female Assistants, &c.
The Humble Petitions and Address of Several Thousands of Buxome Good-Women, Languishing in Extremity of Want.
Wherefore the Premises considered, and to the end that our Just Rights may be restored, and all the Ancient Priviledges of our Sex preserved inviolable; That our Husbands may give us some other Testimonial of their being Men, besides their Beards and wearing of empty Pantaloons: That they no more run the hazard of being Cuckol’d by Dildo’s: But returning to the good old strengthening Liquors of our Forefathers; that Natures Exchequer may once again be replenisht, and a Race of Lusty Here’s begot, able by their Atchievements, to equal the Glories of our Ancesters.
We Humbly Pray, That you our Trusty Patrons would improve your Interest, that henceforth the Drinking COFFEE may on severe penalties be forbidden to all Persons under the Age of Threescore; and that instead thereof, Lusty nappy Beer, Cock-Ale, Cordial Canaries, Restoring Malago’s, and Back-recruiting Chochole be Recommended to General Use, throughout the Utopian Territories.
In hopes of which Glorious Reformation, your Petitioners shall readily Prostrate themselves, and ever Pray,&c.
Although the writer purports to be the representative of a certain cohort of women the amusing phrasing does make me wonder. Such as:
Nor is this (though more than enough!) All the ground of our Complaint: For besides, we have reason to apprehend and grow Jealous, That Men by frequenting these Stygian Tap-houses will usurp on our Prerogative of tattling, and soon learn to exceed us in Talkativeness: a Quality wherein our Sex has ever Claimed preheminence.
The essay may have been sarcastically written, as a joke, as a kind of amusement for bored coffee house customers. How ironic would that be!
But what if it wasn’t?
It seems somewhat likely that it was indeed intended to seriously discourage excessive coffee consumption at the very least, if not advocating for an outright ban.
Although these arguments may have appeared credible to the audience at the time, the past is a mysterious place after all, they appear significantly less so to modern readers. Such that I imagine most readers would have been smirking by the intro paragraph. The form, phraseology, grammar, syntax, etc., likely appear more as historical novelties than as a valid method of organization for an argumentative essay.
Then again there’s no reason to suggest this was aimed to appeal through the rational faculties at all, in fact almost the opposite, as the blatant appeals to emotion, perhaps less discernible to an audience then, are easily exposed because of the absurd contrast with our modern views.
More so, this may in fact be representative of what appeal to emotion essays typically looked like in the late 1600s in England.
i.e. a calculated appeal to emotion and baser instincts disguised as a well reasoned argument.
Furthermore, there’s no reason to suggest that the literate peoples of England then, on average, were unusually more intelligent or perceptive than the average essay writer of the time. And the trend of both the advancing sophistication of knowledge and the advancing sophistication of rhetoric likewise continued down to the present day. Such that it seems reasonable to assume the relative difference has remained relatively constant.
The literate peoples nowadays, on average, in England, or of any country, may be quick to discern and dismiss these 1674 arguments against excessive coffee consumption, but how quick would they be to do so for the arguments against excessive coffee consumption of 2022? Or vice versa?
Perhaps this is what many modern essays will sound like to the people of 348 years hence?
In the distant year of 2370, someone may very well treat us in a similar fashion, at least for those arguments and essays pertaining to ideas not decisively confirmed by experimentation.
And perhaps they would too speculate it was all a big joke in the end.