Honoré de Balzac Writes About “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee,” and His Epic Coffee Addiction

174 years after his death, Hon­oré de Balzac remains an extreme­ly mod­ern-sound­ing wag. Were he alive today, he’d no doubt be pound­ing out his provoca­tive obser­va­tions in a cof­fice, a café whose free wifi, lenient staff, and abun­dant elec­tri­cal out­lets make it a mag­net for writ­ers.

One has a hunch Star­bucks would not suf­fice…

Judg­ing by his humor­ous essay, “The Plea­sures and Pains of Cof­fee,” Balzac would seek out a place that stays open past mid­night, and the strongest, most arcane brew­ing meth­ods. The Buck­et of Black Snakes was his Green Fairy. He was that most cun­ning of addicts, some­times imbib­ing up to 50 cups of cof­fee a day, care­ful­ly hus­band­ing his binges, know­ing just when to pull back from the edge in order to pro­long his vice.

Cof­fee — he called it a “great pow­er in [his] life” — made pos­si­ble a gru­el­ing writ­ing sched­ule that had him going to bed at six, ris­ing at 1am to work until eight in the morn­ing, then grab­bing forty winks before putting in anoth­er sev­en hours.

It takes more than a cou­ple of cap­puc­ci­nos to main­tain that kind of pace. When­ev­er a rea­son­able human dose failed to stim­u­late, Balzac would begin eat­ing cof­fee pow­der on an emp­ty stom­ach, a “hor­ri­ble, rather bru­tal method” that he rec­om­mend­ed “only to men of exces­sive vig­or, men with thick black hair and skin cov­ered with liv­er spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowl­ing pins.”

Appar­ent­ly it got the job done. He cranked out eighty-five nov­els in twen­ty years and died at 51. The cause? Too much work and caf­feine, they like to say. Oth­er spec­u­lat­ed caus­es of death include hyper­ten­sion, ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis, and even syphilis.

Above, watch actor Paul Gia­mat­ti play Balzac all hopped up on cof­fee. And here you can behold The Cof­fee Pot That Fueled Hon­oré de Balzac’s Cof­fee Addic­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Paul Gia­mat­ti Plays Hon­oré de Balzac, Hopped Up on 50 Cof­fees Per Day

Philoso­phers Drink­ing Cof­fee: The Exces­sive Habits of Kant, Voltaire & Kierkegaard

How Caf­feine Fueled the Enlight­en­ment, Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion & the Mod­ern World: An Intro­duc­tion by Michael Pol­lan

“The Virtues of Cof­fee” Explained in 1690 Ad: The Cure for Lethar­gy, Scurvy, Drop­sy, Gout & More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day has­n’t touched the stuff for two whole weeks. Fol­low her @AyunHallliday

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