Chocolate: A Divine Fruit for London
In 1640 Captain James Wadsworth translated Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma’s landmark treatise under the title, A Curious Treatise of the Nature and the Quality of Chocolate. Wadsworth, who had never been to the colonies, but had been schooled in Spain, cleverly hid his identity by publishing under the pseudonym Don Diego de Vadesforte. Twelve years later in 1652 when Wadsworth published his second translation, “Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke,” chocolate had been accepted into the English public sphere and he revealed his and chocolate’s ethnic identities on the title page. He also added his own British flavor to the translation in the form of a satirical poem which extols the widespread use and application of chocolate.
Entitled, “The Translator, to every Individuall Man and Woman, Learn’d, or unlearn’d, Honest or Dishonest: In the Due Praise of Divine Chocolate,” the poem served as a local introduction to the well-known treatise by Colmenero, the famed Spanish “Doctor in Physicke,” who adamantly preached the benefits and curing properties of the “Indian” drug and delicacy to Spain. Just as Colmenero used a plain, readable style to present chocolate to Spain, so Wadsworth uses a clever and funny poem to regale the Commonwealth of England with “divine” chocolate.
When chocolate was first introduced to England it was publicly available, but not fully embraced by the culture at large. Understanding society’s indifference to the new artifact, Wadsworth advertises chocolate as a divine drink for the elect that is nonetheless available to everyone. His voice of instruction, in the form of subtle commands, coaxes all consumers in every potential circumstance to accept the sovereign elixir. Nearly every stanza of the 22-stanza poem is written in the imperative mood and each one ends with the word “chocolate,” as in the first passage, which sets the pace and tone for the whole:
Doctors lay by your Irksome Books
And all ye Petty-Fogging Rookes
Leave Quacking; and Enucleate
The vertues of our Chocolate.
To say nothing of the skill it took to find 22 words that rhyme with "chocolate," the poem's formal interest lies in the expert use of repetition. Subsequent stanzas enhance the advertisement of the drink and admonish its consumption by putting the command at the beginning of the sentence and addressing new people and practices each time:
Let th’ Universall Medicine / ...yield to Soveraigne-Chocolate.
Let Bawdy-Baths be us’d no more / …since Happy-Fate / Hath Blessed us with Chocolate.
Let old Punctaeus Greaze his shooes / …[and] Meditate / The Excellence of Chocolate.
Let Doctor Trigg (who so Excells) / No longer Trudge to Westwood-Wells / … / ’tis but the Dreggs of Chocolate.
Let all the Paracelsian Crew / ... / Breake ‘all their Stills for Chocolate...
The consistency of “Let” creates an ethos for the poem complimented by the occasional command, “Tell,” at the beginning of a stanza: “Tell us no more of Weapon-Salve… / Unlesse they’re wash’d with Chocolate.” What’s more, the fact that “tell” is acoustically a semi-palindrome for “let” (they spell a different word backwards), each of the first seven stanzas reinforces the call to worship at the altar of chocolate. Wadsworth’s commanding tone subsides after the seventh verse to become descriptive and catalogue various miscreants who already survive their various lifestyles by drinking chocolate. Then the tone is revived for the conclusion of the poem to renew and confirm the city’s overall need for chocolate.
Wadsworth’s progressive romp through London’s down-and-out begins with the seduction of women and gradually snakes across the remaining social types in order to capture society’s undivided attention. Women of unpleasant appearance are the first target audience: their desire for beauty can be satisfied by chocolate. Understanding their longing, Wadsworth highlights that “Beauties of High-Rate [is achieved] / By one small Draught of Chocolate.” This information gives women comfort and the assurance that comeliness is not a dream, but might indeed be plausible with the aid of chocolate.
In the next stanza, Wadsworth condenses this “small draught” of chocolate to a “lick” while simultaneously expanding his feminine audience to those who are infertile. For “Women...Who spend their Oyle, yet not conceive / …’tis a Helpe-Immediate / If such but Lick of Chocolate.” This lick of assurance is additionally promised to women in a depressed state: the only difference being that these women need only “smell” the commodity to have “Her griefe… Extenuate.” Wadsworth’s prompts to encourage women of decreasing fortitude to take a draught, lick or smell of chocolate, finally reach their climax—and minimal dosage—to assure elderly women that a mere taste of chocolate is enough: “Twill make Old women Young and Fresh… / If they but Tast of Chocolate.”
Following the prolonged address to women, Wadsworth extends an invitation to consume to those who hold—and abuse—leadership roles, thereby advancing from the instruction of the weakest to the strongest, the latter being those who most need a drink. To the Common Counsell-Man he advises that his “Drinke” must be consumed or he shall not, “Reach unto a Span” (reach his full potential) and will thus, “not Well-Affect the State.” This advice is also extended to the Citizen’s wife as her bored and lascivious body is destined to unsavory disease, “Unlesse she drinke of Chocolate.” Even the Levite, in Wadworth’s final address could use some chocolate redemption. Even in Protestant England he will keep his devotion “warm / And eke the Hayre upon his Pate / So long as he drinkes Chocolate.”
Wadsworth writes in iambic tetrameter and uses the poetic techniques of repetition and consistent rhyme structure to whet London’s appetite for the scientific knowledge of chocolate that follows. In the meantime, he also levels a powerful social critique against the social types of the Commonwealth, whose decadent lifestyles in the century of plague await the chocolate savior. (To be continued…)
Colmenero De Ledesma, Antonio. Chocolate: Or, An Indian Drinke.... London: John Dakins, 1652. Print.
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