Friday, March 11, 2011

Tea's wild health claims ... from the 1700s

Another amusing antique find has been Peter Motteux's "A Poem Upon Tea" published in London in 1712 (the title page lists publication's location in London as "Shakespear's Head," ha). Those of you reading these blogs in search of absolute proof that tea's many health claims — at least a half dozen new ones (or contradictions) daily — can hopefully rest easier knowing that tea has always been the subject of boastful and usually unsubstantiated assurances for mind and body.

Motteux's poem rambles through such claims over about a dozen pages, hailing the beverage as "healing Tea, the only Liquid Gold!" before promising, "Tea cures at once the Body and the Mind." Of particular interest to Motteux is tea's ability to keep one awake — either so he can continue writing or the reader might be less inclined to nod off — and he sells the idea of tea-drinking to students "doz'd with Study," saying tea "drives the Slumbers from your yielding Brows." I love this conclusion: "It lengthens Life, while thus it shortens Sleep."

His lengthy prose introduction to his own poem is where he really makes his case, though, casting tea against alcohol, specifically wine, and debating the virtues of both:

It has the Balm and Comfort of a Cordial, without the Headiness of our strong Spirits; and chears the Heart, without disordering the Head; a Seasonable Relief against those pernicious Acquisitions of this Age! ... drank with Pleasure, and continued with Safety. It strengthens the Feet of the Old, and settles the Heads of the Young ...

What a miracle brew we enjoy, indeed.

A better poem of the same title, Nahum Tate's "A Poem Upon Tea," which appeared in Ireland a bit earlier, makes a similar case for tea-fueled temperance:

To Bacchus when our Griefs repair for Ease,
The Remedy proves worse than the Disease;
Where Reason we must lose to keep the Round,
And drinking others Healths, our Own confound:
Whilst TEA, our Sorrows safely to beguile,
Sobriety and Mirth does reconcile:
For to this Nectar we the Blessing owe,
To grow more Wise, as we more chearful grow.

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