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Treatise on Modern Stimulants

Honoré de Balzac
Wakefield Press
11.5 × 18 cm
79 pp
Philosophy, Food, Literature

Honoré de Balzac’s Treatise on Modern Stimulants is a meditation on excess by a man who lived by means of excess. First published in French in 1839 as an appendix to Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s Physiology of Taste, this Treatise was at once Balzac’s effort at addressing what he perceived to be an oversight in gastronomic literature, a chapter toward his never-completed body of analytic studies (alongside such essays as Treatise on Elegant Living), as well as a meditation on the role pleasure and excess play in shaping society.

Balzac here describes his “terrible and cruel method” for brewing coffee that can help the artist and author find inspiration, claims that tobacco can be credited with having brought peace to Germany, and describes his first exerience of alcoholic intoxication (which required seventeen bottles of wine and two cigars). Beyond its braggadocio and whimsy, though, this treatise ultimately speaks to Balzac’s obsession with death and decline, and attempts to confront in capsule form the broader implications of dissipating one’s vital forces, one’s inspiration, and ultimately, one’s life.

  1. Treatise on Modern Stimulants

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