Chocolate rose to prominence in the medical and scientific world of the mid-seventeenth-century England, as it had in Spain earlier in the century. In fact, the curative properties of chocolate put many current ideas about science into question. In the course of his introductory poem, Wadsworth takes aim at early notions of science, such as alchemy. He compares, the idea peddled by “Paracelsian Crew” that plain metal elements could be converted into valuable elements like gold to the desire to “Extract Christian from Jew.”* Through the apparently humorous unlikelihood of converting a Jewish person to the Christian faith, Wadsworth presents the ideology of Paracelsus and alchemists as absurd. Indeed, he claims that although alchemists believed that humans have the ability to artificially manufacture superior materials (gold) from natural products (clay), still they will, “Breake’ all their Stills for Chocolate,” a natural product. Wadsworth’s alchemists will discover that they cannot produce another product with the same advantages and incredible healing power that chocolate possesses naturally. Experiential evidence of chocolate’s wonders trump long-standing scientific beliefs like alchemy, making chocolate cutting-edge science at the time.
As well as being still-busting for alchemists, early chemists, and philosophers, chocolate is also beneficial to those of religious faith who, in plague-torn London, need fortification of both their bodies and their souls. These include Levites, ancient priests who worshipped in Jewish temples; perhaps a stand-in for modern Catholic priests in England. Wadsworth specifically assures them that chocolate would not “Harme” their faith, but rather serve to keep their “Devotion warme.” This warm allegiance kindles these priest’s love, devotion and enthusiasm during their religious worship. Here we find an early European acknowledgement that chocolate’s warm devotion makes it “Theobroma,” a fruit of the Gods, as Carl Linnaeus would call the cacao tree in his taxonomy of 1753. Wadsworth not only calls in chocolate as the alchemist’s gold, he also cheekily suggests that Godliness can be attained through the consumption of chocolate, rather than, say, scripture.
In addition, Levites—perhaps Catholic priests, perhaps modern Jews—are goaded into drinking chocolate for a very practical purpose: it “eke the Hayre upon his Pate”, meaning that chocolate warms the head stimulates the growth of hair. Longer coiffures were common in seventeenth-century France and had been especially significant to Levites, as the bible instructed them to “not round the corners of your heads” (KJB, Lev. 19:27) (Cocherell, np). Levites interpreted this scripture in a literal fashion and were therefore convinced of the need for long hair so as to allow their bodies to be in their most natural state. Protestant England of the period, on the other hand, favored cropped hair. What’s more, the hairstyle of the ancient Levites, reborn in Catholic countries like France, could well represent the sexuality that cacao inspires. Then this encouragement is replete with satire, as Catholic priests (inspired by ancient Levites) took vows of chastity.
Alchemists and Levites aside, the wonders of chocolate were crucial to the needs of seventeenth-century England where the threat of disease was ever-present especially for those of the lower classes. One of the most prominent diseases was consumption, a wasting away of the body or loss of humors. This disease was oftentimes a death sentence for those who contracted it as it was highly contagious and difficult to treat. When Wadsworth claims that “Consumptions too” can be cured by chocolate he suggests a revolution in medicine. In fact, people can, “be well assur’d” that most diseases will be “soundly cur’d” by chocolate. People who have previously lived in fear of contracting an illness like consumption can now be confident that they will be protected by chocolate. Chocolate offers ironic social cures to the ruling classes, but to the lower-classes, it represents relief from a host of physical ailments brought on by social oppression, from malnutrition to respiratory disease.
Indeed, chocolate seems to be the cure for everything, “Excepting such as doe Relate Unto the Purse.” Wadsworth plays on the double meaning of consumption to explore chocolate’s only limitation: wasteful expenditure or decadence, a weakness often associated with women, but here ascribed to the rich. Although chocolate can prevent the poor from decomposing due to consumption, it has no power to stop the wealthy from spending themselves to death. This comparison implies that for the lower classes chocolate is a necessary and life-giving drug whereas for the upper classes it is just one more possession to add to their materialistic lifestyle.
His satire levels the charge that those who have enough money tend to over-consume. Mocking the ridiculousness of the upper classes who seem to buy just to prove that they can, Wadsworth presents chocolate as an alternative investment, as money well spent. Chocolate consumption, unlike the forms that waste the body and wallet away, “saves the Moneys lost” by preventing costly treatment for disease or even death. What’s more, Wadsworth includes on his title page that chocolate can be, “had at reasonable rates,” making it available to all social classes. This lower price point prevents overspending, something chocolate cannot cure, which is associated with the rich and high class.
The content and figure of the title page as well as the poem’s beginning proclamation to the reader: Chocolate is for every Londoner to enjoy. In both the title and the poem, neither gender, nor education, nor spirituality distinguish potential consumers: chocolate is an equal opportunity cure. Indeed, “every Individuall man, and Woman, Learn’d, or unlearn’d, Honest, or dishonest [is welcome to give] due Praise of Divine CHOCOLATE” (insert mine). This marketing ploy boldly announces a dependable product that will not fail to fortify. Doctors are assured of chocolates healing powers, Thriving Saints bask in its devotional warmth, and the common husband and wife are eased by the youth (read: virility) it promises. This assurance is printed symbolically in sculpted words on the title page:
Printed in the shape of a chocolate cup, the title of Wadsworth’s volume offers the drink to people in diverse social situations that they—and London’s social body—might be cradled by its consumption.
*Paracelsus, a Swiss physician and alchemist considered the father of modern toxicology, practiced physiological trials and experiential analysis to understand the body and its functions. He famously rejected humoral theory (upon which the seventeenth-century analysis of cacao was based) in favor of principles drawn from alchemy for which he was accused of heresy and discredited (Humoral Theory, 1); (Hargrave, 1); (Oxford, 1).
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