Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The elixir of the gods

As the legend goes, François-Marie (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), better known by his nom de plume Voltaire), drank between 30 and 80 cups of coffee a day, depending on the source.

Supposedly, his doctor once told the man considered by some to be one of the most brilliant minds in the history of Western civilization, that coffee was “a slow poison.”  Voltaire is said to have replied, “Yes, it must be a slow poison, it has been poisoning me for over seventy years!” Whether he actually said it or not is open to debate, but his love for coffee was not.

In fact Voltaire gave coffee credit for his tremendous stamina and almost endless outpouring of words. Nor was he the only great mind who credited the brew with almost magical qualities. Terry Pratchett, T.S. Elliot, Jonathon Swift, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Johann Sebastian Bach, to name but a few, praised coffee for its use as a mental stimulant.

It has been suggested by more than one historian that coffee houses – British, French and American -- of the 16th and 17th Century were the places where the concept of individual freedom were hatched. Coffee houses often served as meeting places for Freemasons and other egalitarian groups.  Both the American Revolution and the French Revolution were plotted, in large part,  in coffee houses.

Personally, I can’t imagine life without coffee.  Once a doctor asked how much coffee I consumed in a day and I answered “Two or three.”   He said that two or three cups a day didn’t sound excessive, then I corrected him.  “That’s two or three pots a day.”

If it’s harmful, I’ll live with the damage. I don’t know if it makes me a better writer, but I don’t want to find out.  Like Voltaire, I have consumed large quantities almost every day for 50 years and I don’t intend to top now.

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