Eliza Haywood

On the use of tea

To the Female Spectator


As I look upon you to be a person who knows the world perfectly well, and has the happiness of your own sex very much at heart, I wonder you have never yet thought fit to throw out some admonitions concerning the immoderate use of tea; which, however innocent it may seem to those who practice it, is a kind of debauchery no less expensive, and perhaps even more pernicious in its consequences, than those which the men, who are not professed rakes, are generally accused of.

This, at first sight, may be looked upon as too bold an assertion; but, on a nearer examination, I am persuaded will be found no more than reasonable, and will undertake to prove that the tea-table, as managed in some families, costs more to support, than would maintain two children at nurse.—Yet is this by much the least part of the evil;—it is the utter destruction of all economy,—the bane of good housewifery, and the force of idleness, by engrossing those hours, which ought to be employed in an honest and prudent endeavor to add to, or preserve what fortune, or former industry has bestowed. Were the folly of wasting time and money in this manner confined only to the great, who have enough of both to spare, it would not so much call for public reproof; but all degrees of women are infected with it, and a wife not looks upon her tea-chest, table, and its implements, to be as much her right by marriage as her wedding-ring.

Tho’ you cannot, madam, be insensible that the trading part of the nation must suffer greatly on this score, especially those who keep shops, I beg you will give me leave to mention some few particulars of the hardships we husbands of that class are obliged to bear.

The first thing the too genteel wife does after opening her eyes in the morning, is to ring the bell for her maid, and ask if the tea-kettle boils. If any accident has happened to delay this important affair, the house is sure to echo with reproaches; but if there is no disappointment in the case, the petticoats and bed-gown are hastily thrown over the shoulders, madam repairs to her easy chair, sits down before her table in querpo, with all her equipage about her, and sips, and pauses, and the sips again while the maid attends assiduous to replenish, as often as called for, the drained vehicle of that precious liquor.

An hour is the least that can be allowed to breakfast, after which the maid carries all the utensils down into the kitchen, and sits down to the remains of the tea (or it is probable some fresh she has found opportunity to purloin) with the same state as her mistress, takes as much time, and would think herself highly injured, should any one call her away, or attempt to interrupt her in it: so that between both, the whole morning is elapsed, and it is as much as the poor husband can do to get a bit of dinner ready by two or three o’clock.

Dinner above and below is no sooner over than the tea-table must be again set forth:—a friendly neighbor comes in to chat away an hour:—two are no company, and the maid being very busy in cutting bread and butter, one ’prentice is called out of the shop to run this way and fetch Mrs. such-a-one, and another that way to fetch Mrs. such-a-one, so that the husband must be his own man, and if two customers chance to come at the same time, her frequently loses one for want of hands to serve them.

It often happens, that when the tea-drinking company have almost finished their regale, and the table is going to be removed, a fresh visitor arrives, who must have fresh tea made for her; after her another, who is always treated with the same compliment; a third, perhaps a fourth, or more, till the room is quite full, and the entertainment prolonged a considerable time after the candles are lighted, when the days are of a moderate length.

This is sufficient to show the loss of time, both as to the mistress and servants, and how much the regularity of the tea-table occasions a want of regularity in every thing besides; but, madam, there is yet another, and more mischievous effect attends the drinking too much of this Indian herb.

What I mean is too notorious a fact not to be easily guessed at; but lest it should be misconstrued by any of your readers, I shall venture to explain it.

Tea, whether of the Green or Bohea kind, when taken to excess, occasions a dejection of spirits and flatulency, which lays the drinkers of it under a kind of necessity of having recourse to more animating liquors.—The most temperate and sober of the sex find themselves obliged to drink wine pretty freely after it: none of them now-a-days pretend to entertain with the one without the other; and the bottle and glass are as sure an appendix to the tea-table as the slop-bason.

Happy are those who can content themselves with a refreshment, which, tho’ not to be had in any perfection in England, is yet infinitely less destructive to the human system than some others too frequently substituted in its place, when it is found too weak to answer the end proposed by taking it.

Brandy, rum, and other spirituous liquors, being of a more exhilarating nature, at least for the present, are become a usual supplement to tea; and I am sorry to say, by their frequent use, grow so familiar to the palate, that their intoxicating qualities are no longer formidable; and the vapors, cholic, a bad digestion, or some other complaint, serves as an excuse for drinking them in a more plentiful degree, than the best constitution can for any length of time support.

Hence ensue innumerable maladies, doctors fees, apothecaries bills, Bath, Tunbridge, the Spa, and all that can destroy the wretched husband’s peace, or impoverish him in his fortune.

The more is his affection for a wife who takes so little care of his interest and happiness, and of her own health and reputation, the more will his affliction be; and the less will she be able to forgive herself, when brought by a too late and sad experience to a right way of thinking.

That you will therefore use your endeavors that so great an enemy to the felicity of the meaner sort of people may be banished from their houses, is the unanimous desire of all husbands, and most humbly petitioned for by him who is,

With the greatest admiration of your writings,


Your most humble and most obedient servant,

Nov 2, 1744


I dare say, one half of my readers will expect me to be very angry at this declamation against an amusement my sex are generally so fond of; but it is the firm resolution of our club to maintain strict impartiality in these lucubrations: and were any of us ever so deeply affected by the satire, (which thank Heaven we are not) we should, notwithstanding, allow it to be just.

There cannot certainly be a subject more tickling to the spleen of the ill-natured, or afford more matter of concern to the gentle and compassionate, than the affectation of some tradesmen’s wives in the article Mr. Careful complains of; and it must be owned he has done it in so picturesque a manner, that it is impossible to read him without imagining one sees the ridiculous behavior he describes.

No woman, who is conscious of being guilty of it, can, in my opinion, behold herself thus delineated, without a confusion, which must occasion a thorough reformation.

Tea is, however, in itself a very harmless herb, and in infusion of it in boiling water agrees with most constitutions, when taken moderately; but then, it must be confessed, we have plants of our own growth no less pleasing to the palate, and more effectual for all the purposes which furnish an excuse for the afternoon’s regale.

This is a truth allowed by all, even by those from whom we purchase tea at so dear a rate; but, alas! the passion we have for exotics discover itself but in too many instances, and we neglect the use of what we have within ourselves for the same reason as some men do their wives, only because they are their own.

The three objections which Mr. Careful makes, or indeed that any body can make against the tea-table, are, —first, the loss of time and hindrance to business; —secondly, the expense; and lastly, the consequences often arising from it, dram-drinking and ill health.

To the first, it may be answered, that were tea to be entirely banished, and baum, sage, mint, or any other English herb, substituted in its place, and used in the same manner, the effect would be the same as to that point, because the one would engross the hours as well as the other.—Nor does the second carry any great weight, the expense of tea itself, exclusive of those other appurtenances, which would be equally necessary with any other herb, is an indulgence, which, where there is any thing of a competency, might be allowed the wife without prejudice to the circumstances of her husband.—But the third is not so easily got over; this is what indeed renders the use of Indian tea, above all other, pernicious. None, I believe, who drink it constantly twice a day, but have experienced the ill effects it has on the constitution:—they feel a sinking of the heart, a kind of inward horror, which is no way to be removed but by that dangerous remedy Mr. Careful mentions, and which in time proves worse than the disease itself.

It is therefore to be wished, that people of all ranks would endeavor to wean themselves from it; and I have the more room to hope it will be so, because persons of quality, whose example made it first the mode, begin every day to take less and less pleasure in the tea-table.—As it gained not, however, estimation all at once, we cannot expect it should entirely lose its credit all at once; and those who suffer by the use of it; may comfort themselves in the assurance my spectatorial observation gives them, that it is already very much declined.

I cannot conclude this subject without repeating what was said to me some years ago by a certain lady with whom I was intimately acquainted:—she was one of the greatest devotes to the tea-table I ever knew:—bohea and bread and butter was her chief sustenance, and the society of those who loved it, as well as she did, her only amusement,—An accident, not material to mention, separated us for a considerable time; but on the first visit I made her afterward, was very much surprised to find she had left off bohea, and would drink only green, which I thought more prejudicial to her constitution than the other, she being extremely lean, and inclining to a consumption.—Having expressed my sentiments to her on this head, I am sensible, replied she, that it is very bad for me: I have had continual pains in my stomach ever since I drank it, and cannot enjoy one hour’s sound sleep in a whole night:—yet what can I do?—I had rather endure all this than have my brain disordered; and, I assure you, if I had continued the use of bohea but a very little longer, I should have been mad.

These words, delivered in the most grave and solemn accents, made me not only then, but ever since, as often as I think on them, smile within myself at the infatuation of making the drinking tea of some kind or other of such importance, that there is no such thing as quitting it, and to choose that sort which will do us the least mischief, is all we have to consider.

As these monthly essays are published with a view of improving the morals, not complimenting the frailties of my sex, those who remember that excesses in all things are blamable, will not think what I have said too severe.

In fine, nothing ought to be indulged till it becomes so far habitual, that we cannot leave it off without difficulty, when we find it any way prejudicial or inconvenient.

The snuff-box and smelling-bottle are pretty trinkets in a lady’s pocket, and are frequently necessary to supply a pause in conversation, and on some other occasions; but whatever virtues they are possessed of, they are all lost by a too constant and familiar use, and nothing can be more pernicious to the brain, or render one more ridiculous in company, than to have either of them perpetually in one’s hand.

I know a lady who never sits down to dinner without her snuff-box by her plate, and another who cannot sleep without her bottle of sal volatile under her pillow;—but I shall reserve expatiating on the folly and misfortune of this bigotry of custom till some other time, lest the fair author of the following letter should think herself neglected.


MLA Citation

Haywood, Eliza. “On the use of tea.” 1744. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 2 Oct 2007. 02 Feb 2023 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/haywood/use_of_tea/>.

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