The following is an excerpt taken from William Cobbett’s Cottage Economy, published in 1821. The book is a guide to sensible and industrious rural living for “the Labouring Classes of the Kingdom”, and contains information on brewing your own beer, baking bread, and raising livestock. Some of it is quite interesting, especially as we face in very uncertain times; we could all need to be producing our own food soon enough! It also includes some amusing diatribes about things the author disapproves of, such as tea, potatoes, and the Irish. The following are extracts from his opinions on tea, and I’ll post more if the mood takes me. After waxing lyrical about the positive qualities of beer, he states (the italics are the author’s):
The drink which has come to supply the place of beer has, in general, been tea. It is notorious that tea has no useful strength in it; that it contains nothing nutritious; that it, besides being good for nothing, has badness in it, because it is well known to produce want of sleep in many cases, and in all cases, to shake and weaken the nerves. It is, in fact, a weaker kind of laudanum, which enlivens for the moment and deadens afterwards. At any rate it communicates no strength to the body; it does not in any degree assist in affording what labour demands. It is, then, of no use …I view the tea drinking as a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth, and a maker of misery in old age … It deducts from the means of replenishing the belly and covering the back. Hence succeeds a softness, an effeminacy, a seeking of the fire-side, a lurking in the bed, and, in short, all the characteristics of idleness, for which, in this case, real want of strength furnishes an apology. The tea-drinking fills the public house, makes the frequenting of it habitual, corrupts boys as soon as they are able to move from home, and does no less for the girls, to whom the gossip of the tea-table is no bad preparatory school for the brothel … The girl that has been brought up merely to boil the tea-kettle, and to assist in the gossip inseparable from the practice, is a mere consumer of food, a pest to her employer, and a curse to her husband, if any man be so unfortunate as to fix his affections upon her.
You know, I think he was brewing up a mug of rich, steaming truth right there. And here in 2008, 187 years later, we can see how his urgent warning really made a difference.