When Chocolate was Medicine: Colmenero, Wadsworth and Dufour, Christine A. Jones
1. In the seventeenth century, Europeans whom had not traveled overseas tasted
coffee, hot chocolate, and tea
2. for the very first time. For this brand new clientele, the brews of foreign beans
and leaves carried within them
3. the wonder and danger of far-away lands. They were classified at first not as
food, but as drugs pleasant-tasting,
4. with recommended dosages prescribed by pharmacists and physicians, and
dangerous when self-administered.
5. As they warmed to the use and abuse of hot beverages, Europeans frequently
experienced moral and physical
6. confusion brought on by frothy pungency, unpredictable effects, and even (rumor
had it) fatality. Madame de Sévigné,
7. marquise and diarist of court life, famously cautioned her daughter about
chocolate in a letter when its effects still
8. inspired awe tinged with fear: “And what do we make of chocolate? Are you not
afraid that it will burn your blood?
9. Could it be that these miraculous effects mask some kind of inferno [in the body]?”
10. These mischievously potent drugs were met with widespread curiosity and concern.
In response, a written tradition
11. of treatises was born over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. Physicians and tradesmen who
12. claimed knowledge of fields from pharmacology to etiquette proclaimed the many
health benefits of hot drinks or issued
13. impassioned warnings about their abuse. The resulting textual tradition documents
how the tonics were depicted
14. during the first century of their hotly debated place among Europe’s delicacies.
15. Chocolate was the first of the three to enter the pharmaceutical annals in Europe
via a medical essay published in
16. Madrid in 1631 by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma. Colmenero’s short treatise
dates from the era when Spain was
17. the main importer of chocolate. Spain had occupied the Aztec territories since
the time of Cortés in the 1540s the
18. first Spanish-language description of chocolate dates from the year 1552 whereas
the British and French were only
19. beginning to establish a colonial presence in the Caribbean and South America
during the 1620s and 30s. Having
20. acquired a degree in medicine and served a Jesuit mission in the colonies, Colmenero
was as close as one could
21. come to a European expert on the pharmaceutical qualities of the cacao bean.
Classified as medical literature in
22. libraries today, Colmenero’s work introduced chocolate to Europe as a drug by
appealing to the science of the
23. humors, or essential bodily fluids.
24. It held that the body was composed of four essential liquids: black bile, blood,
yellow bile, and phlegm. Each
25. humor echoed one of the four elements of nature —earth, air, fire, and water—
and exhibited particular properties
26. that changed the body’s disposition: black bile was cold and dry, blood was hot
and wet, yellow bile felt hot and dry,
27. and phlegm made the body cold and wet. Balanced together, they maintained
the healthy functioning of an organism.
28. When the balance among them tipped and one occurred in excess, it produced
symptoms of what we now call
29. “disease” in the body.
30. While common European pharmaceuticals had long been classified as essentially
cooling or heating, cacao presented
31. both hot and cold characteristics. Later treatises faced the same conundrum
regarding coffee. Depending on how
32. it was administered/ingested, hot chocolate’s curative effects also crisscrossed
the humoral categories in unexpected
33. ways. On the surface, its combinations of effects did not make intuitive sense
to Europeans, and in practice, threatened
34. to wreak havoc among the self-medicated, à la Madame de Sévigné. By applying
the dominant theory of the body to
35. chocolate’s uncommon powers —was it sorcery, magic, alchemy? — Colmenero
endeavored to make its mystery at
36 least debatable in terms readily accessible across the countries of Western Europe.
Because Colmenero was a doctor
37. and surgeon who was said to have traveled to the West Indies, his Tratado was
received as medical lore and remained
38. an important reference throughout the early history of writing on hot beverages.
It also supplied the very first recipe for hot
39. chocolate on the Continent to the delight of the less learned who encountered his
expertise in a mug.
40. Both England and France imported Colmereno’s wisdom along with the cacao beans
they sourced from the American
41. colonies and each country exploited it as a powerful marketing tool. The very first
translation of the Tratado was published
42. in English by army captain James Wadsworth, whose travels to Spain had introduced
him to the wonders of the cacao
43. beverage: A Curious Treatise of The Nature and Quality of Chocolate. Written
in Spanish by Antonio Colmenero, Doctor
44. in Physicke and Chirurgery. And put into English by Don Diego de Vadesforte (1640).
Wadsworth published it under the
45. feisty pseudonym Don Diego de Vadesforte, which may well be a metaphor for the
drink: vādēs forte is Latin for
46. “you will go” and “strong one.” Whatever the source of the name, the Latin offers
the modern reader a good sense of the
47. reputation with which chocolate entered British culture. That said, aside from an
equally feisty introduction,
48. Vadesforte/Wadsworth claims none of the writing or the knowledge therein as his
own. By rendering Colmenero’s
49. expertise under a pseudonym that gave him credibility as a translator of Spanish,
Wadsworth preserved the exotic
50. flavor of the drink he offered his countrymen.
51. Wadsworth’s translation was popular enough to be republished in 1652 under a
title that speaks more clearly to
52. the British colonial experience in America: Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke, by the
wise and Moderate use whereof,
53. Health is preserved, Sickness Diverted, and Cured, especially the Plague of the Guts.
It was this later edition that
54. became the standard translation for referencing Colmenero in subsequent English-
language treatises. While the
55. treatise itself takes up foreign knowledge, Wadsworth’s original introductions directly
address their new audience in
56. familiar terms. His introduction to the 1652 edition pitches the drink as a cure-all for
British consumers, promising help
57. to “every Individual Man and Woman, Learn’d, or Unlearn’d, Honest, or Dishonest,”
who could afford chocolate’s
58. “reasonable rates.” The benefits of ingesting chocolate swirl inventively around
the promises of bodily repair and vigor:
59. The vertues thereof are no lesse various, then Admirable. For, besides that it preserves
Health, and makes such as
60. drink it often, Fat, and Corpulent, faire and Amiable, it vehemently Incites to Venus,
and causeth Conception in
61. women, hastens and facilitates their Delivery: It is an excellent help to Digestion,
it cures Consumptions, and the
62. Cough of the Lungs, the New Disease, or Plague of the Guts, and other Fluxes, the
Green Sickness, Jaundise,
63. and all manner of Inflammations, Opilations, and Obstructions. It quite takes away
the Morphew [discolored skin],
64. Cleanseth the Teeth, and sweetneth the Breath, Provokes Urine, Cures the Stone,
and strangury [urinary infection],
65. Expells Poison, and preserves from all infectious Diseases. But I shall not assume to
enumerate all the vertues of
66. this Confection: for that were Impossible, every day producing New and Admirable
effects in such as drink it.
67. As much as Wadsworth’s translation anchored its knowledge in Colmenero’s
first-hand medical testimony,
68. the litany of diseases that make the case for taking the chocolate cure in the preface
speak directly to threats
69. to the body in England around 1650. In a century of dirty cities, plagues (which
peaked in 1665), and terrible
70. infant mortality rates, the medical need for chocolate must have seemed acute.
Chocolate’s seemingly endless
71. applications provided a brilliant marketing strategy for anyone who stood to benefit
from the trade. At the same time,
72. creating a British dependence on the drug served to justify the country’s colonial
presence in the Caribbean,
73. something scholars of the transatlantic conquest have not failed to point out.
Jones, Christine A. "When Chocolate Was Medicine: Colmenero, Wadsworth and Dufour." Publicdomainreview.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
In the following sentences (lines 10-11):
"These mischievously potent drugs were met with widespread curiosity and concern. In response, a written tradition of treatises was born over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,"
the word treatises most likely means