Whoever First Ate an Oyster Was a Brave Soul

Jonathan Swift? Benjamin Franklin? Shirley Chisholm? Thomas Moffett? John Ward? King James I of England? Thomas Fuller? John Gay? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During a commencement address I heard the following vivid advice offered to students:

Be as bold as the first man or woman to eat an oyster.

Apparently, the famous Irish literary figure Jonathan Swift and the prominent U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin both praised the courage of the gustatorial explorer who originally sampled the oyster. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Several prominent historical figures penned versions of this sentiment. Thomas Moffett was an influential English physician who died in 1604. He authored a book titled “Healths improvement: or, Rules comprizing and discovering the nature, method, and manner of preparing all sorts of food used in this nation” which appeared in an edition dated 1655. Moffett commented on the boldness of first person who ate an oyster. Spelling was not standardized when his book was published. The word “oysters” was printed as “oisters”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . onely Oisters of all fish are good raw (yet he was no Coward that first ventered on them) . . .

The diary of the Reverend John Ward included a comment about oysters. Ward was vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon in England, and the diary entry containing the following was written circa 1661. Ward credited King James I of England who had died in 1625: 2

King James said hee was a valiant man that durst first eat oysters.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Whoever First Ate an Oyster Was a Brave Soul

Notes:

  1. 1655, Title: Healths improvement: or, Rules comprizing and discovering the nature, method, and manner of preparing all sorts of food used in this nation. Written by that ever famous Thomas Muffett, Doctor in Physick: corrected and enlarged by Christopher Bennet, Doctor in Physick, and fellow of the Colledg of Physitians in London, Author: Thomas Moffett (1553-1604), Quote Page 47, Publication: London, : Printed by Tho: Newcomb for Samuel Thomson, London. (EEBO Early English Books Online)
  2. 1839, Diary of the Rev. John Ward A.M., Vicar of Stratford-Upon-Avon, Extending from 1648 to 1679, From the Original Mss. Preserved in the Library of the Medical Society of London, Arranged by Charles Severn, M.D. (Member of the Royal College of Physicians in London), Date specified on page 109: March 1, 1661, Quote Page 111, Published by Henry Colburn, London. (Google Books Full View) link