Kant’s coffee

At the beginning of the last year of his life, he fell into a custom of taking, immediately after dinner, a cup of coffee, especially on those days when it happened that I was of his party. And such was the importance that he attached to his little pleasure that he would even make a memorandum beforehand, in the blank paper book that I had given him, that on the next day I was to dine with him, and consequently “that there was to be coffee.” Sometimes in the interest of conversation, the coffee was forgotten, but not for long. He would remember and with the querulousness of old age and infirm health would demand that coffee be brought “upon the spot.” Arrangements had always been made in advance, however; the coffee was ground, and the water was boiling: and in the very moment the word was given, the servant shot in like an arrow and plunged the coffee into the water. All that remained, therefore, was to give it time to boil up. But this trifling delay seemed unendurable to Kant. If it were said, “Dear Professor, the coffee will be brought up in a moment,” he would say, “Will be! There’s the rub, that it only will be.” Then he would quiet himself with a stoical air, and say, “Well, one can die after all; it is but dying; and in the next world, thank God, there is no drinking of coffee and consequently no waiting for it.”

When at length the servant’s steps were heard upon the stairs, he would turn round to us, and joyfully call out: “Land, land! my dear friends, I see land.”

This anecdote of Thomas de Quincey’s is from William H. Ukers’s All About Coffee (1922). Ukers introduces the quote: “In his old age, Immanuel Kant, the great metaphysician, became extremely fond of coffee; and Thomas de Quincey relates a little incident showing Kant’s great eagerness for the after-dinner cup.”

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