THE HISTORY AND ANTIQUITY OF THE TOBACCO HABIT

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THE HISTORY AND ANTIQUITY OF THE TOBACCO HABIT

by Herbert H. Tidswell, M.D.(London: J. & A. Churchill, 1912)


GILBERT Burnettt, F.L.S., in his "Outlines of Botany," published 1835, writes,

"There are about thirty species of nicotiana, and some of these are natives or naturalized in most parts of the world; for, although its use was unknown in Europe before the discovery of America, indulgence in its use is so common, nay universal, among the Chinese, and their forms of bamboo pipes and their methods of inhaling so peculiar, that Pallas and many others have been led to believe that the custom is aboriginal with them, and that they and other nations of the East were acquainted with its use before its introduction into the West. Two or more species, N. Sinensis and N. Fructicasa, are also believed to be natives of China, and N. Nepaulensis, of Hindustan.
Chardin states that its use was common in Persia, long before the discovery of America, and that it is a native of that country, or at least was naturalized there as early as 1260. The origin of the word tobacco is doubtful. Like coffee and Peruvian bark, tobacco encountered violent opposition when its half-inebriating and soothing properties recommended it to popular use.
Many governments attempted to restrain its consumption by penal edicts. The Sultan Amurath IV forbade its importation into Turkey, and condemned to death those found guilty of smoking, from a fear that it produced barrenness. The Grand Duke of Moscow prohibited its entrance into his dominions under pain of the knout for the first offence, and death for the next; and in other parts of Russia the practice of smoking was denounced, and all smokers condemned to have their noses cut off. The Shah of Persia and other sovereigns were equally severe in their enactments; and Pope Urban VIII. anathematized all those who smoked in churches.
In 1654 the Council of one of the Swiss cantons cited all smokers before them; every innkeeper was ordered to inform against all those who were found smoking in their houses. But not only legislators, but philosophers, entered into a crusade against tobacco."

King James I. [1603-1625] had a strong dislike of smoking, and wrote a book to condemn its use. Here follows an extract from his famous "Counterblaste [(London: R. Barker, 1604)]".

"Surely smoke becomes a kitchen, better than a dining chamber, and yet it makes a kitchen oftentimes in the inward parts of men, infecting them with an unctuous kind of soote as have been found in some great tobacco takers, that after their death were opened [autopsied]."

The smoking of tobacco has been practised in China, Hindostan, Burmah, and other countries of the East from time immemorial. I do not know whether the powerful nations of Assyria and Persia indulged in the habit, but I am not aware of any evidence being at hand from cylinders or stone carvings. How far it has kept back and helped to degrade different races in days of old, we shall never know.

In later times when the Greeks and Romans raised their Empires, and cultivated the arts and sciences, they accomplished their grand work without the aid of tobacco. Chivalry, bravery, and religion flourished in England before the introduction of tobacco. It is worth while considering the manner in which the habit of smoking was introduced into this country.

The tobacco plant is not a native of this country, and was not introduced till the time of Queen Elizabeth [1558-1603]. Sir Walter Ralegh [1552-1618] acquired the habit of smoking tobacco from the natives of North America. He brought the weed to England, and it appears that he recommended it as a remedy for dyspepsia; whether he described it as a panacea for other aches and pains I do not know. Probably he pushed it with all the assurance of a man who wished to derive a good income from it. He laid himself out to obtain a monopoly for its sale, and cultivated it on all his Irish estates. So we learn that people began to smoke tobacco at the advice and on the responsibility of a brave adventurer and a gay courtier, who had obtained a powerfully poisonous drug that was much used by some of the ignorant savages of North America. The medical profession was in no way responsible for its introduction; it rapidly became a fashionable habit in the court of Queen Elizabeth [1558-1603], and we are told that even the ladies were enticed to draw the fumes into their mouths.

At Sir Walter's house at Islington he frequently entertained his quests, the only refreshments he offered them being a mug of ale with nutmeg, and a pipe of tobacco. Raleigh became a victim to the charms of Lady Nicotine, and worshipped her to the day of his death. He was ambitious to accumulate wealth, and he turned his attention to the Liquor Trade, and secured from Queen Elizabeth a valuable patent of the monopoly of licensing taverns, and retailing wines throughout all England. Thus he combined the business of growing tobacco and retailing wine.

However, in the next reign he became mixed up with plots against his lawful sovereign King James [1603-1625] and was committed to the Tower. While a prisoner he attempted his life. He enjoyed the society of many learned men who were fellow prisoners. He was the favorite of Queen Elizabeth and was a man of great influence at her court.

His misfortunes commenced in the court of King James. His later days were full to the brim of sorrow, sickness, and misfortune. When the morning of his execution came, he awaited his fate with calm, Christian fortitude. He poised the axe, felt its edge, and then said with a smile, "This is a sharp medicine, but it will cure all diseases." His estates were forfeited, and his widow left broken-hearted and penniless. Such was the unhappy end of the man who was responsible for starting the habit of smoking in England.

It is interesting to learn from the writings of [William] Camden [1551-1623], the famous historian, what his opinions were on tobacco smoking. Speaking of the return of the first Colonists from Virginia in 1586, he writes thus:

"These men that were thus brought back, were the first that, I know of, that brought into England, that Indian plant which they call tobacco and nicotia, which they used against crudities, being taught it by the Indians. Certainly from that time forward it began to grow into great request, and to be sold at a high rate, whilst in a short time, many men, everywhere, some for wantonness, some for health sake, with an unsociable desire and greediness, sucked in the stinking smoke thereof, through an earthen pipe, which presently they blew out again at their nostrils, insomuch that tobacco shops are now as ordinary as taverns and tap-houses."

From a fair and temperate consideration of the origin of the smoking habit in the time of "good Queen Bess," it is evident that the spirit of scientific inquiry as to the real action and effect of tobacco was absent. Extravagant statements as to the valuable properties of tobacco for the relief of indigestion, probably helped to make it popular. It is also stated that it was considered a cure for syphilis by the American Indians, and that the Spanish sailors who returned to Spain with Columbus, infected with this disease, thoroughly believed it was the only cure for the malady.

The new habit met with considerable opposition from King James I. He published a strong letter to his people pointing out the poisonous properties of tobacco and calling attention to the numerous diseases resulting there from. His warning did not cause the smokers to abandon the habit.

In the year 1615 the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge found it necessary to proclaim that "No graduate, scholar, or student presume to take tobacco into St. Mary's Church, upon Payne of final expelling the Universities." In 1651 the House of Commons considered the advisability of banishing tobacco from England.

King Charles I. [1625-1649] was opposed to smoking; and King Charles II. [1660-1685] wrote a letter to the University of Cambridge forbidding the members to wear periwigs, smoke tobacco, or read their sermons

In the time of James I. [1603-1625] the price of tobacco was 18/- per pound, and was chiefly sold in the shops of apothecaries. [Oliver] Cromwell [1653-1658] was an occasional smoker; many of the Puritans indulged in tobacco, and the following rhyme in "The Wits Recreation, 1660," proves how general smoking was in the Commonwealth period [1649-1660]:

"Tobacco engages
Both sexes, all ages,
The poor, as well as the wealthy,
From court to the cottage,
From childhood to dotage,
Both those that are sick and the healthy.
It plainly appears,
That in a few years,
Tobacco more custom hath gained
Than sack or than ale,
Though they double the tale,
Of the times, wherein they have reigned."

At the time of the Great Plague [1660's] in London people came to believe that smoking tobacco was a sure preventive against the disease, and so women and even children were encouraged to smoke. In some schools, even at Eton College, the boys had lessons in smoking every morning. It is related that a certain Etonian was soundly whipped for not "smoking " at his master's bidding.

It appears that the Quakers made a formal protest against tobacco smoking. Their aversion to it has continued up to the present, because they consider it contrary to the laws of the Creator for his children to depend on a narcotic drug for peace of mind and comfort.

The habit continued to spread during the reign of William III [1689-1702]. It became so general among the members of the House of Commons that it became necessary to make a rule that no member was to take tobacco into the gallery or to the table sitting at Committees.

In the time of Queen Anne [1702-1714] the poorer classes had become habitual smokers, the average cost being one penny a day all the year round.

From the time of Queen Elizabeth [1558-1603] to that of Queen Anne [1702-1714] the smoking of pipes had been considered a sign of gentility and a fashionable accomplishment; but when the habit became general among the poor people, "the quality" became uneasy at the spectacle of the poor man doing the same as the rich, so they forsook their pipes and stopped the smoking, and started a new accomplishment which they learnt from the French. When tobacco is finely powdered, it is called snuff; the leaders of society began to fill their nostrils with snuff, and to enjoy the new sensation.

The habits of the upper class were thus described in the year 1711 by some writers in the Spectator:

"To such a height with these is fashion grown,
They feed their very nostrils with a spoon."

Another writer complained of the handing round of the snuff box in church and chapel. It appears that chewing was much in vogue in churches, for he adds, "kneeling in church is prevented by the large amount of tobacco saliva ejected in all directions."

The smoking of cigars was introduced into England by the military, who had learnt the habit in Spain, during the Peninsular War, while the habit of smoking cigarettes was acquired by our soldiers during the Crimean War.

In the year 1795, the Wesleyan Conference passed a rule, that "no preacher shall use tobacco for smoking, for chewing or in snuff, unless it be prescribed by a physician." In the year 1877, the Wesleyan Conference refused to rescind this rule. This rule is now ignored. At most of the Conferences smoking rooms are provided.

The habit of smoking has been indulged in by a large number of the Bishops and Clergy of the Church of England. The only prohibitions of which I have knowledge, are the "Counterblaste" of King James I., and the letter written by King Charles II. to the University of Cambridge. There are many of the Bishops and Clergy who do not smoke, but what a sad example a smoking clergyman sets the world. I presume they acquired the habit at the same time they were attending divinity lectures and did it with the knowledge, if not the sanction, of their tutors and professors.

I cannot believe it is right for the authorities at our Universities to permit the undergraduates to acquire a habit which lowers the moral nature, and lessens mental energy and bodily vigour. It would be better for a young man to be deprived of the advantages of a University than to run the risk of acquiring one of the worst habits of modern times.

It is truly a difficult task to rouse this nation to the danger of this habit. Indeed the task is beyond the power of man, singly or in combination, but with God, nothing is impossible. Our Lord's orders to His disciples were simple, "Watch and pray." If we obey as a nation we shall conquer the habit and flourish as a nation, but if the nation continues in disobedience, smoking and slumbering, the nation will suffer.

About the year 1880, the cigarette became the fashion, and was soon taken up by boys and by foolish women. Juvenile smoking soon became so wide-spread as to cause alarm. In the year 1907, the Legislature passed an Act, rendering smoking illegal under the age of sixteen.

References