December 20, 2003

Coffee & Blogs

The Economist has an interesting article bridging a 400+ year span from the advent of the coffee house to chatter in the internet:

With a new rationalism abroad in the spheres of both philosophy and commerce, coffee was the ideal drink. Its popularity owed much to the growing middle class of information workers?clerks, merchants and businessmen?who did mental work in offices rather than performing physical labour in the open, and found that coffee sharpened their mental faculties. Such men were not rich enough to entertain lavishly at home, but could afford to spend a few pence a day on coffee. Coffee-houses provided a forum for education, debate and self-improvement. They were nicknamed ?penny universities? in a contemporary English verse which observed: ?So great a Universitie, I think there ne'er was any; In which you may a Scholar be, for spending of a Penny.?

As with modern websites, the coffee-houses you went to depended on your interests, for each coffee-house attracted a particular clientele, usually by virtue of its location. Though coffee-houses were also popular in Paris, Venice and Amsterdam, this characteristic was particularly notable in London, where 82 coffee-houses had been set up by 1663, and more than 500 by 1700. Coffee-houses around the Royal Exchange were frequented by businessmen; those around St James's and Westminster by politicians; those near St Paul's Cathedral by clergymen and theologians. Indeed, so closely were some coffee-houses associated with particular topics that the Tatler, a London newspaper founded in 1709, used the names of coffee-houses as subject headings for its articles. Its first issue declared:

"All accounts of Gallantry, Pleasure, and Entertainment shall be under the Article of White's Chocolate-house; Poetry, under that of Will's Coffee-house; Learning, under...Grecian; Foreign and Domestick News, you will have from St James's Coffee-house."

Posted by Dennis at December 20, 2003 6:57 AM

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