Slam Duncan

Folger Shakespeare Library, 162- 013q

Duncan provides a unique viewpoint against the sin of overindulgence in his 1705 treatise, Wholesome Advice Against the Abuse of Hot Liquors, Particularly of Coffee, Chocolate, Tea. Unwilling to play devil’s advocate, the treatise provides a passionate counter argument against the other theorists on chocolate, coffee, and tea. In his guise as the seventeenth century Simon Cowell, Duncan is not afraid to call others “idiots” or “bigots” (245), insulting them with vivid and pointed examples from ancient medical and divine authority.

From the first, Duncan proves to be a star player on the court of cacaosophy as he anticipates how the seventeenth-century game will evolve in the eighteenth century: into a thriving, exploitative industry that distracts them from God. In 1741, Jonathan Edwards aroused fear of Divine wrath, reminding his flock that the flames of God's vengeance "do now rage and glow" (7). The fire and brimstone of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” had an unlikely precedent in Duncan’s rare and vehement crusade against the flames of chocolate.

About 100 years before caffeine was identified and in spite of 200 years of popular support, Duncan argues against chocolate by addressing its relation to coffee and tea; namely, their nefarious effects on the body. His arguments appeal to common sense, claiming that Nature provides sufficient evidence that should be clear enough to anyone paying attention—even “idiots.” “But the greatest Idiots may apprehend the following Lessons pointed out by Nature for the same end, if they do but give the least Attention” (85-87). The passion with which he argues his case rests on the authority of a Supreme Being; his treatise begins and ends with God. He rests his hand and his laurels on the “Good Book” of Biblical adage: “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). His primary concern is the welfare and salvation of mankind, which he finds threatened by chocolate at the dawn of the eighteenth century.

As man exists fallen from grace, he argues, pleasure only encourages corruption. Indeed, not all that is pleasant is good for the body and not all that is unpleasant is bad (67). All must be determined by ultimate effect. Many parables exemplify the circle of life and the ultimate consequences of choices. Critical thinking would advocate testing the outcome before making choice. Therefore in 1705, as in the Garden of Eden, knowing good from evil is founded on the conclusion. Eternal laws are set in motion to illuminate mankind toward transcending his terrestrial disposition, as all things denote there is a God. Nature illustrates this point every time the sun rises and sets such that anyone who refuses to see it is simply ignorant or, as he put it, stupid. Unfortunately you can’t cure stupid in a world crawling with greed.

Because all are surrounded by nature, in Duncan’s view, everyone should know that what comes from nature comes from God, and that there are grave consequences for not obeying the good word. Alas, the “bigots” that peddle coffee, tea and delectable chocolate are evil masterminds who push these dangerous drugs on an unsuspecting public of, well, idiots. They do not even have to prove the efficacy of hot beverages if they can

But if the bigots of Coffee would gain the Suit, upon the force of the Animal Actions, which, as they take it, would not be duly performed without the assistance of Coffee, it beholds them to show the absolute necessity of the Drug… (245).

His arguments suggest a world of blind addiction to a dangerous drug rather than dosage based on medical proof of effectiveness.

Significantly, though he was initially adamant in his disgust with idiots, Duncan shifts his position toward the center in the course of the treatise, perhaps to touch the withering soul a wider audience. Chocolate and other tempting beverages in and of themselves are neither poison nor panacea, but excess tends towards concupiscence; there must be moderation in all things under God. “To use them always, and never to use them, are two unreasonable Extremes. They don’t deserve the Name of Poison no more than of Panacea…” (7). Duncan exhorts the reader to think against the grain, suggesting that modern physicians are like alchemist apothecaries of old who were eager to prescribe the latest magic pill. He beseeches the masses not to follow commercial medicine like blind sheep, but to follow God, the ultimate shepherd and physician.

One need not, indeed must not explore beyond the bounds of mediocrity lest “by feeding with our Excess the Fire that consumes us…” they enliven the senses to an unholy state and inevitable demise. It is worth noting that in using the argument of mediocrity and moderation to make his point, Duncan calls out to the earliest tradition of writing on cacao. He lifts this language from Antonio Colmenero, who noted the drink’s humoral tendency toward mediocrity, or balance of hot and cold, to promote the consumption of chocolate by the masses. But Duncan exchanges the humoral meaning of ‘mediocrity’ for a mere moral one and uses it to describe not the beverage, but the consumer.

Duncan doesn’t stop at drawing authority from the Christian God; he appeals to ancient myth, famous historical figures, and popular works of fiction to emphasize his points, referencing Hercules, Mohammed, and Henry IV. Traditions of divine and secular power compliment lessons learned from tragedy and from history to oppose modern experiential and observation-based medicine. Duncan is especially fond of referencing Greek medicine, directly referring to the concept of Pyrotechnia, “that is, the Art of moderating the Fire [body temperature], upon consideration that every one of it's [the body’s] Operations requires a certain degree of Heat, which it behoves the Artist to adjust” (247). There is a distinct connection for Duncan between the Christian notion of being burned by fire and the Greek humoral reference to fire in the body.

Both views are an established critique of the human tendency toward animating fire, imploring with wise caution that we not fan. Again, Duncan calls out to Colmenero by referencing humoral theory popular. Again, he subordinates that medical wisdom to an ecclesiastical injunction against excess. If hot drinks damage us “by feeding with our Excess the Fire that consumes us…,” then in abusing them we feed the fire. In such an act we become literally and spiritually suicidal: “One would think that Life were a Burden to us, and we wanted to be rid of it…” The tone of the treatise is summed up in a fearsome warning in the form of a drowning metaphor: “Sometimes indeed we find the Cafe of the Heart all full of water.”

A harsh view of chocolate seems to be a trait unique to Duncan in the tradition, separating him from dozens of other authors discussing chocolate over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although he may admit that it is the “Sovereign Remedy,” nevertheless, in “overbearing quantity” nothing good can come from it. His methods speak to his goal: to stop people from overindulging in hot liquors. This is because the abuse of coffee, tea, and chocolate negatively affects not just the body, but also the “spirit,” which must remain in a careful balance along with the body. When one aspect is altered, the rest are tilted out of balance as well, creating a “poison for the mind,” according to Duncan.

In this regard, again, Duncan’s opinion appears to fall in line with earlier theories that had already cogently argued in favor of chocolate as a moderate drug, humorally speaking. The difference between his view and others revolves around the heavy biblical references he includes within the treatise by way of scaring readers in moderate consumption of a beverage that science had no trouble prescribing in excessive quantities. Unafraid to pursue a crusade against the harmful nature of hot liquors such as coffee, tea, and chocolate, Duncan provides an eloquent counterpoint to the other treatises of the era that stands out as one of a kind; its moralizing caution, out of step with the dominant opinions of his age.

Indeed, as Duncan’s treatise was published long after Colmenero, Wadsworth, Gage, and Stubbe encouraged widespread cultural acceptance of chocolate in Europe, it is noteworthy that he critiques its use. With an air of moral superiority and heavy implications for salvation, Duncan slam dunks the adverse effects the popular beverages may have by calling advocates out as addicted and economically invested in chocolate’s abuse. While on the surface today’s thriving chocolate industry would suggest that Duncan’s divinely inspired campaigning against chocolate failed, he did indeed dunk the ball. Today’s multi-billion dollar chocolate industry confirms his assumption that man is easily tempted—and his wallet easily drained—by chocolate bliss. In retrospect, however, we can see that Duncan inadvertently scored points for the other team by labeling chocolate as taboo, which fed the fire of an industry he hoped to starve. After all, no publicity is bad publicity. Slam Duncan!


Duncan, Daniel. Wholesome Advice against the Abuse of Hot Liquors, Particularly of Coffee, Chocolate, Tea, Brandy, and Strong-Waters. [Translated from the French, Avis salutaire à tout le monde contre l'abus des choses chaudes, 1705.] London: H. Rodes and A. Bell, 1706 & Leipzig: J.F.Gleditsch, 1707.

Edwards, Jonathan. "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Sermon, Enfield, July 8, 1741. Ed. Reiner Smolinski. DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln