Coffee and Famous Frenchmen
Louis XV had a great passion for coffee, which he made himself. Lenormand, the head gardener at Versailles, raised six pounds of coffee a year, which was for the exclusive use of the king. The king’s fondness for coffee and for Mme. Du Barry gave rise to a celebrated anecdote of Louveciennes, which was accepted as true by many serious writers. It is told in this fashion by Mairobert in a pamphlet scandalizing Du Barry in 1776:
His Majesty loves to make his own coffee and to forsake the cares of the government. One day the coffee pot was on the fire and, his Majesty being occupied with something else, the coffee boiled over. “Oh France, take care! Your coffee fout le camp!” (colorful language for “taking off” or “buggering off”) cried the beautiful favorite.
It is related of Jean Jacques Rousseau that once when he was walking in the Tuileries, he caught the aroma of roasting coffee. Turning to his companion, Bernardino de Saint-Pierre, he said, “Ah, that is a perfume in which I delight; when they roast coffee near my house, I hasten to open the door to take in all the aroma.” And such was the passion for coffee of this philosopher of Geneva that when he died, “he just missed doing it with a cup of coffee in his hand.”
Barthez, confidential physician of Napoleon the First, drank a great deal of it, freely, calling it “the intellectual drink.” Bonaparte himself said: “Strong coffee, and plenty, awakens me. It gives me a warmth, an unusual force, a pain that is not without pleasure. I would rather suffer than be senseless.”
Frenchmen At A 19th Century Cafe stock illustration Getty from Coffee and Famous Frenchmen, source:gettyimages.com
The Duel for Coffee’s Honor
One day while M. Saint-Foix, a French playwright, was seated at his usual table in Café Procope in Paris, an officer of the king’s bodyguard entered, sat down, and ordered a cup of coffee, with milk and a roll, adding, “It will serve me for a dinner.” At this, Saint-Foix remarked aloud that a cup of coffee, with milk and a roll, was a confoundedly poor dinner. The officer remonstrated. Saint-Foix reiterated his remark, adding that nothing he could say to the contrary would convince him that it was not a confoundedly poor dinner.
Thereupon a challenge was given and accepted, and the whole company present adjourned as spectators to a duel which ended by Saint-Foix receiving a wound in the arm. “That is all very well,” said the wounded combatant; “but I call you to witness, gentlemen, that I am still profoundly convinced that a cup of coffee, with milk and a roll, is a confoundedly poor dinner.”
At this moment the principals were arrested and carried before the Duke de Noailles, in whose presence Saint-Foix, without waiting to be questioned, said, “Monseigneur, I had not the slightest intention of offending this gallant officer who, I doubt not, is an honorable man; but your excellency can never prevent my asserting that a cup of coffee, with milk and a roll, is a confoundedly poor dinner.” “Why, so it is,” said the Duke. “Then I am not in the wrong,” persisted Saint-Foix; “and a cup of coffee”—at these words magistrates, delinquents, and auditory burst into a roar of laughter, and the antagonists forthwith became warm friends.