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Bow your Hamms to Chocolate

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Dieticians and quacks have long tried to convince humanity that certain foods can work wonders on our failing bodies. Beachcombing’s favourite example is Baldini’s De sorbetti (1775) where it is argued that Neapolitan ice-cream will cure everything from sniffles to tumours (another post another day). But there are others from, in the nineteenth century, Kellogs with his enemas and cornflakes to James H. Salisbury making the case that man is three-quarter carnivore.  And just recently a new form of dietary madness has floated onto Beachcombing’s radar: the early modern obsession with life-giving chocolate.

Now chocolate does, of course, have excellent qualities: one of the great gifts of the New World to the old – for which we gave them small pox and rifles… And understandably with that coarse bitter taste the new food excited attention in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The first text to champion chocolate was Curioso tratado de la naturaleza y calidad del chocolate (1631) by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, an interesting book that has a lot going for it. But when Colmenero’s books was translated into other languages his sensible-(ish) early modern propositions were exaggerated beyond reason.

Take James Wadsworth’s ‘translation’ into English in (1651). The title alone gives some sense of the violence that had been done to the text: Chocolate, or An Indian Drinke. By the wise and moderate use whereof, health is preserved, sickness diverted, and cured, especially the plague of the guts, vulgarly called the new disease, fluxes, consumptions, and coughs of the lungs, with sundry other desperate diseases. By it also conception is caused, the birth hastened and facilitated ,beauty gained and continued.

Wadsworth includes some doggerel to convince his readers of the coming chocolate revolution, doggerel that we append here.

Doctors lay by your irksome Book

And allye Petty-Fogging Rookes

Leave Quacking and Enucleate

The Vertues of our Chocolate

Let th’Universall Medicine

(Made up of Dead-mens Bones and Skin)

Be henceforth Illegitimate

And yield to Soveraigne-Chocolate

Let Bawdy-Baths be us’d no more

Nor Smoaky-Stoves but by the whore

Of Babilon: since Happy-fate

Hath Blessed us with Chocolate

Let all the Paracelsian Crew

Who can Extract Christian from Jew;

Or Out of Monarchy, A State

Breake all their Stills for Chocolate

Nore need women longer grieve

Who spend their Oyle, yet not conceive

For ‘tis a Helpe Immediate

If such but Lick of Chocolate

Twill make old women Young and Fresh

Create new motions of the Flesh

And cause them long for you know what

If they but tast of Chocolate

Both High and Low, both Rich and Poor

My Lord, my Lady, and his —

With all the Folkes at Billingsgate

Bow, Bow your Hamms to Chocolate

Beachcombing loves that last line.

Any other early modern or modern dieticians who go lose their heads over a particular food? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Note that Beachcombing is less interested in those who preach the exclusion of a food from the diet, a more vulgar and commonplace category.

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