Monday, October 28, 2019

The Coffee Houses of Queen Anne’s London

From English Historical Fiction Authors:
By the turn of the eighteenth century the coffee houses of London had become the great meeting-places of the capital – for relaxation and for stimulation. Whether your drink of choice was coffee, chocolate, or expensive tea, it was here you met with your friends and encountered strangers; where you could exercise your wit, pick up the latest news, sound forth your political opinions, and hear the latest spicy gossip as it did the rounds. Some characters (like Medley in Etherege’s The Man of Mode) were news bulletins in themselves, circulating scandal as a currency – one that gained value in the telling – perhaps to crash by tomorrow. A French traveller found London’s coffee houses remarkable: “You have all manner of news there: you have a good fire, which you may sit by as long as you please; you have a dish of coffee; you meet your friends for the transaction of business – and all for a penny, if you don’t care to spend more.” (Henri Misson, 1717). 
Coffee houses had their individual character, and this might change over the course of a day. Early in the morning the news-mongers circulated, spreading and exchanging the overnight intelligence; later, well-informed gentlemen might stroll in and put matters right; by afternoon the atmosphere was perhaps one of after-dinner reflection; then the place would ready itself for the arrival of the wits and the theatrical crowd primed for the adventures of the evening; and by nine the critics might reappear with their judgments on the new play at the Theatre Royal. 
First established in London during the Commonwealth, after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the coffee houses seem to have gained a reputation for seditious conversation – places that might attract the disaffected. In December 1675 King Charles II issued a proclamation in the London Gazette to suppress all coffee houses as being the haunts of “Idle and disaffected persons” who were spreading “malicious and scandalous reports to the defamation of His Majesties Government . . . speaking evil of things they understand not.” From the following week it would be forbidden for anyone “to keep any publick Coffeehouse, or to utter or sell any Coffee, Chocolet, Sherbett or Tea, or they will answer the contrary at their utmost Perils.” It was a Draconian move against an institution that was becoming popular, and needless to say, this attempt to end what was proving to be a profitable trade for merchants and proprietors alike, was doomed. After a huge outcry the threat was withdrawn.* (* (Read more.)

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