Nor is this (though more than enough!) All the ground of our Complaint: For besides, we have reason to apprehend and grow Jealous, That Men by frequenting these Stygian Tap-houses will usurp on our Prerogative of tattling, and soon learn to exceed us in Talkativeness: a Quality wherein our Sex has ever Claimed preheminence: For here like so many Frogs in a puddle, they sup muddy water, and murmur insignificant notes till half a dozen of them out-babble an equal number of us at a Gossipping, talking all at once in Confusion, and running f rom point to point as insensibly, and swiftly, as ever the Ingenous Pole-wheel could run divisions on the Base-viol; yet in all their prattle every one abounds in his own sense, as stiffly as a Quaker at the late Barbican Dispute, and submits to the Reasons of no othre mortal: so that there being neither Moderator nor Rules observ’d, you mas as soon fill a Quart pot with Syllogismes, as profit by their Discourses. ~Women’s Petition on Coffee, 1674

In Petition, this passage above seems particularly significant. Mostly because the author(s) foreground it as such. They have just finished complaining about the lack of sexual performance from their husbands, “meager useless corpse(s)” that are a “sapless as a Kixe”. But this passage begins with “nor is this all the ground of our complaint”. By percentage – the piece spends a lot of time on sexual performance and manhood – attacking both viciously. But this section is talking about the women’s’ “prerogative” – which is speaking or talking, as indicated by words like “talkativeness”, “gossipping”, “babble”, “prattle” and of this “prerogative” they have grown “jealous”. The women claim preeminence in the area of talking. The talking engaged in by the men is characterized as the “murmur of insignificant notes” – literally, the barely heard hum of what really isn’t important. This insignificant murmuring is a “babble” or “prattle” – both words for insignificant speech – like that of a child (“babble”) and speech without intellectual substance (“prattle”). Each man also “abounds in his own sense” and does not submit to the “reason” of another – such that there is nothing to be gained from this discourse. In contrast, the women cast themselves as accomplished at talking (“claimed preheminence”), and “equal number” of them while “gossipping” certainly do not “talk all at once in confusion”. The characterization of the masculine discourse here is abundant but confused and lacking substance such that no one learns anything from it.

We’ve seen in Standage that intellectual conversation was the standard of coffeehouses, which distinguished them from ale houses or tap rooms that served beer. It seems incongruous that the masculine discourse happening in these coffeehouses should be characterized as “insensible” and lacking in substance. Unless, the women were not there to observe the nature of the Discourse. They were not party to it, because they weren’t there. That much is clear – they are sitting at home waiting for their husbands…all alone. And perhaps herein lies the issue – the women are excluded from the coffeehouse activity and conversation, left at home to be wives. Perhaps this is why the piece makes exaggerated claims about traditional gender roles in marriage and claims upon traditional manhood that are a bit shocking for 2017, let alone 1674. Perhaps the point is that the women are home, alone. They are not participating in what is happening in coffeehouses, so they attack “manhood” the very thing that allows their husband (since they are men) the privilege of being in a coffeehouse at all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.