THE MYSTERIES OF TOBACCO
THE MYSTERIES OF TOBACCO
by Rev. Benjamin I. Lane(New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1845, 1846, 1851)
The Nature of Tobacco
In prosecuting this subject, we will attend first to the inquiry: What is Tobacco? It is, says the Encyclopedia Americana, "a nauseous and poisonous weed, of an acrid taste and disagreeable odor; in short, whose only properties are deleterious." Dr. [Joseph] Bigelow [1787-1879], in his American Medical Botany [Being a Collection of the Native Medicinal Plants of the United States: Containing their Botanical History and Chemical Analysis, and Properties and Uses in Medicine, Diet and the Arts, with Coloured Engravings (Boston: Cummings and Hilliard, 1817, 1820)] says:
- "In its external and sensible properties there is no plant which has less to recommend it than the common tobacco; a small quantity taken into the stomach excites violent vomiting, attended with other alarming symptoms."
In an elaborate  chemical analysis of Tobacco, published by M. [Louis Nicolas] Vauquelin [1763-1829] in the Annales de Chimie, we have the following results.
"The broad-leaved tobacco furnishes from its juices the following constituents.
- 1. A large quantity of animal matter, of an albuminous nature.
- 2. Malate of lime with an excess of acid.
- 3. Acetic acid.
- 4. Nitrate and muriate of potash in observable quantities.
- 5. A red matter soluble in alcohol and water, which swells and boils in the fire, its nature undetermined.
- 6. Muriate of ammonia.
- 7. A peculiar acrid, volatile, colorless substance, soluble in water and alcohol, and which appears different from any thing known in the vegetable kingdom. It is this principle which gives to prepared tobacco its peculiar character, and it is perhaps not to be found in any other species of plant. Its medicinal activity is supposed to reside in this volatile portion, which is the "essential oil."
Tobacco is, in fact, a violent, absolute poison. A very moderate quantity introduced into the system,—even applying the moistened leaves over the stomach,—has been known very suddenly to extinguish life.
The fact that it is a powerful article of the Materia Medica, and so powerful that the best physicians use it only in extreme cases as a dernier resort, and that then, in many instances, it proves fatal, abundantly evidences that it never ought to be used, as a luxury, by men in health. No man in his sober senses would think that because calomel has been successfully used as a medicine, therefore a person might be benefitted by taking it daily, when in health. Indeed, ninety-nine hundredths of those who constantly use tobacco, would not risk the consequences of a daily use of opium, and yet the habitual use of tobacco is instrumental in shortening many more lives, and when fairly introduced into the system, proves equally as virulent a poison. The oil of tobacco approaches nearer than any other to that most deadly of all poisons, the prussic acid. The only reason that every quid and cigar does not produce complete prostration or death is, that nature puts forth her best efforts to resist its influence; and, as if mad at the offence given her; either spits it out, or otherwise ejects it from the system. But tlie constant application of it from year to year; will, in the course of time; so wear out her energies, that she will sink under the reiterated assaults.
Most persons who have been in the habit of using tobacco can recollect that sometimes, in taking the pipe or quid, they have suddenly felt its influence go over the whole system; like an electric shock,—in a moment they have felt it to the very end of their fingers, as if the nerves, like the strings of a harp, were vibrating upon the surface. The sensation would not be altogether unpleasant, were it not for the apprehension which instantly arises, that nature has received a terrible stroke, and that some fearful result will be the consequence. This is another evidence of the power of tobacco instantly to affect the whole system, and that such assaults cannot continue to be made without serious injury.
- "Tobacco," says the compiler of a Cyclopedia, "contains an oil of a poisonous quality, which is used in some countries to destroy snakes, by putting a little on the tongue; on receiving it the snake is seized with convulsions; coils itself up and dies, and what is very singular, becomes almost as stiff and hard as if it were dried in the sun."
Many insects die instantly by having tobacco smoke blowed upon them.
The Influence of Tobacco upon the Body
Tobacco is an article that ought not to be used even as a medicine, except in extreme cases, and in the hands of a very skillful physician. There are few articles of medicine [Ed. Note, drugs] more powerful and more dangerous in their use. The tea of a few grains introduced into the human body to relieve spasms, has been known to destroy life. Why then, it may be asked, can a person survive the swallowing of the juice of a large quantity? Because it powerfully excites the salivary glands, thereby diluting the juice and preventing its absorption and by its cathartic and diuretic properties quickly passes through the body. But it could not with any safety be retained in the stomach, and if taken into the system by being mixed with the food, the consequence would be quickly fatal. No man, in health, can make a daily use of it, to gratify his appetite, without certain injury to his constitution. He may not perceive the injurious effects for years, on account of the immediate exhilaration, but complicated chronic complaints will, after a time, creep upon him, making life a burden, and ending in premature dissolution, though he may impute his sufferings to other causes, and even die folded, in unsuspicious confidence, in the arms of his murderer.
As there is a great difference in the constitutions of men, the effects of tobacco are not as speedily manifested in all, nor in the same way. Its various, and sometimes apparently contrary effects, constitute a part of what we have been pleased to call the Mysteries of Tobacco. In some instances it produces a sensation of coldness about the head, in other instances a sensation of heat. It sometimes produces cold feet, and at other times an unnatural heat. It causes the heart occasionally to intermit its pulsations, and sometimes causes it to palpitate, especially when lying upon the left side. It is a fruitful cause of piles, and, by deranging the system, prepares for numerous diseases which afflict our race. It causes a thousand disagreeable and painful feelings which the poor victim knows not to be the necessary results of his pernicious indulgence. In mind and body he is miserable; if asked to describe his feelings, he can only say, like the man possessed among the tombs, their name is legion. To find relief he chews his quid, or sucks his pipe, or suffocates himself with tobacco dust, but instead of light, behold darkness and the shadow of death come upon him. We speak what we do know, and testify what we have seen;—would that we knew less.
The Influence of Tobacco upon the Mind
The disastrous influence of tobacco upon the mind is no less fearful than upon the body. No tongue or pen can describe the intellectual ruins occasioned by it. If angels ever weep over self-inflicted tortures; they have mingled their tears over the unspeakable wretchedness of the tobacco consumer. The mental misery occasioned by alcohol has often been affectingly set forth, and no one doubts that, like the devil, it tortures its worshippers. But if the tobacco inebriate should tell his tale of mental wretchedness, it would be equally harrowing to every heart of tenderness. But it never has been told, and though a picture, dark as that midnight on which the Egyptian first born were slain, could be drawn, the whole amount of horror never can be told; because tobacco consumers never impute their misery to tobacco; and because rum and tobacco often go hand in hand in the work of destruction; and because a great degree of darkness still rests upon the whole community in relation to the influence of tobacco; and because in proportion as the mind is weakened it is incapable of knowing or describing the process by which it has become so.
Clergymen, and men generally, in the habit of public speaking, after using tobacco for a number of years, have found occasionally considerable difficulty in delivering their thoughts extemporaneously, or without previously writing them. To their astonishment and grief they have found themselves very much dependent upon frames and feelings. However well they may have studied their subject and made their thoughts familiar a trifling circumstance has disconcerted them, and scattered all their well-arranged ideas to the wind. It was not always thus with them. Many have experienced this difficulty for years without knowing the cause. A glance at some individual of distinction in the congregation has at once deprived them of their wonted confidence and self-possession. This is the natural effect of the long-continued use of tobacco. It weakens the vigor of the intellect so that without some excitement to raise it, the perception is dull, the ideas confused, the memory tardy, and the power of expression sluggish. The abandonment of tobacco will, in the course of time, be the restoration of the intellect to its wonted vigor; if its elasticity be not completely destroyed by the withering influence of this strong narcotic.
After a person has learned to use tobacco, for a while its effects are exhilarating, and it seems to render the mind more vigorous, just like any other stimulant. It may be years in some constitutions before its work of destruction will be visible at all. Then, on immediately taking the pipe, or quid, or snuff, they seem rather to invigorate than to weaken. They repair, momentarily, their own desolations. However obvious this may be to those who have examined the subject, it is one of the mysteries of tobacco. Thousands are deceived thereby.
Tobacco usually begins its work upon the mind by enfeebling the memory, by producing a confusion of ideas, by impairing one's confidence and self-possession, by weakening the power of concentration, and so on. It is a more prolific source of hypochondria than all other things united. It has been known, like alcohol to issue in delirium tremens. Why should it not? Its nature is adapted to produce it. It has often stupefied and discouraged the student, bewildered the philosopher, and confused and darkened the divine. Many a splendid sermon has it enveloped in smoke. 0, that some of its victims would speak out,—that some of those gigantic powers which it has prostrated could lift up their notes of warning; they would send a thrill of anguish through the bones and marrow of every man who possesses the least spark of humanity or religion.
The Influence of Tobacco on the Morals
There are some writers who have carried the original of tobacco into the fabulous ages of Greece, and attributed to Bacchus the glory of having discovered and disclosed its virtues. [Raphael] Thorius [d. 1625], as Dr. [Adam] Clarke tells us, very ominously [in his Tobacco: a Poem] ascribes the discovery and first use of this herb to Bacchus, Silenus, and the Satyrs, (drunkenness, gluttony, and lust,) and yet, observes the Doctor, his poem was written in its praise. Mr. Lamb in his poem has the same thought, and farther adds as his belief that the tobacco plant was the true Indian conquest for which the jolly god has been so celebrated. He, moreover intimates that the Thyrsus of that deity was afterwards ornamented with leaves of tobacco, instead of ivy.
Shakspeare says, "I thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee—devil." But the very name of this plant is supposed by some to be derived from Bacchus, a principal leader in the camp of Satan. This is particularly mentioned by Joseph Sylvester [1563-1618] as quoted by Dr. Clarke, who wrote a poem on tobacco which he inscribed to Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. The title of this tirade is characteristic of the age in which it was written. It is quaint indeed. "Tobacco Battered, and the Pipes Shattered (About their Ears Who Idly Idolize so Base and Barbarous a Weed; or at Least-wise Overlove so Loathsome a Vanity) by a Volley of Holy Shot from Mount Helicon [London: H. Lownes, 1614 and 1617].
- "For even the derivation of the name
- Seems to allude and to include the same
- Tobacco as To Bakcho one would say
- To cup-god Bacchus dedicated ay."
"Smoking and chewing tobacco," says Dr. Rush, "by rendering water and simple liquors insipid to the taste, dispose very much to the stronger stimulus of ardent spirits. The practice of smoking cigars has, in every part of our country, been more followed by a general use of brandy and water as a common drink, more especially by that class of citizens who have not been in the habit of drinking wine or malt liquors. One of the greatest sots I ever knew, acquired a love for ardent spirits by swallowing cuds of tobacco, which he did to escape detection in the use of it; for he had contracted the habit of chewing, contrary to the advice and commands of his father. He died of a dropsy under my care in the year 1780."
The Illusory Influence of Tobacco
The excitement occasioned by tobacco is illusive. It is mysterious to those who have not studied it. Many also are the illusions of men in relation to it. This is clear from the fact that the views of men, in reference to it, often undergo a very great change. Mr. Thomas Harriot, who first gave to the British public some account of tobacco, entertained at first a high opinion of its virtues, but subsequently, after using it for a while, changed his opinion. We extract the following from the Medico-Chirurgical Review, vol. 37, No. 32, page 339.
- "Harriot enlarges much on the virtues of this herb, concluding his eulogium with the remark; that those who employ it are not only freed from all kinds of obstructions in the system, but are, in addition, cured of those which they might chance to have, even though the complaint be of long standing. Master Harriot would seem, however, to have taken a spite towards tobacco subsequently, for in his Journal quoted by Knickerbocker he says, of the Susquehanocks
- "Their tobacco pipes were three quarters of a yard long, carved at the great end witli a bird, bear, or other device, sufficient to beat out the brains of a horse!' (and how many asses' brains are beaten out, or rather men’s brains smoked out, and asses' brains haled in, by our lesser pipes at home!")
In the TEXNOIAMIA, or Marriage of the Arts by Barton Holiday, 1680, there is a singular poem on the subject of tobacco, where, in successive stanzas, it is compared to a musician, a lawyer, a physician, a traveller, a criitike, an ignis fatuus, and a whyfler. Beloe's Sketches, vol. 2, page 10.
It is indeed a Proteus. It is an insidious foe. No man is aware of its power over him, no one is sensible that it is doing him any injury, until it has inflicted upon him the sting of a scorpion. Men under its influence often have, for a moment, most horrible convictions that it is deeply injuring them, but even then the very next instant they will resort to its use, and persuade themselves that it is a comfort and a blessing. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing on this stupefying, blinding weed.
The Expensiveness of Tobacco
This is a serious evil, whether we regard the necessities of most families, or the claims of individuals and the public, upon our benevolence. The expense, upon investigation, will be found much more than is generally imagined. It is among "the little foxes that spoil the vines"—one of the small streams that dry up and exhaust a fountain of wealth. Suppose a young man to spend twelve and a half cents a week for this article;—in fifty years it would yield him at compound interest about fifteen hundred dollars; and at twenty-five cents a week it would yield, in the same time, between three and four thousand dollars. Six cents a day for cigars, allowing annual interest, would, in thirty years, amount to three thousand, five hundred and twenty-nine dollars and thirty cents!—A handsome sum against the infirmities of declining years. But there are a very large number whose cigars cost them more than seventy dollars a year—Here then is a fortune smoked away in a few years. When a young man is seen with a cigar in his mouth it would be well to raise the alarm by the cry of fire! fire! fire! Put out his cigars and you may save him a splendid house, and a life beside. If you see a little smoke issuing from a crevice of your neighbors building, you give the note of alarm, and yet perhaps there is not half the danger,—not near the amount of damage would accrue, were the whole to be consumed, that may result from that young man's smoking.
Sir Walter Raleigh, who first brought tobacco into fashion in England, was accustomed, at first, to smoke secretly. One day having sent his servant for some beer, he entered, and for the first time saw his master fumigating his pipe. Supposing his masters head on fire, on seeing the smoke issue from his mouth, he threw the pot of beer directly in his face. Happy would it have been for Sir Walter had he taken the hint; and thrice happy for every young man who treats tobacco as Solomon teaches us to treat contention—"leave it off before it be meddled with."
According to the best estimate that can be made, tobacco to the amount of $16,000,000 is consumed in the United States annually. Of this sum $9,000,000 are supposed to be for Spanish cigars; $6,500,000 for smoking American tobacco and for chewing it, and $500,000 for snuff. Add to this sum, the value of the time lost, and the pauper tax which it occasions, and it would amount at least to $25,000,000 annually. What a sum spent for that which is not only useless, but pernicious. How small is the sum in comparison, which is devoted annually to our Bible, Tract, and Missionary Societies. If the amount consumed in the use of this worse than useless article, were appropriated to the cause of education, or to any other useful object, what might it not accomplish?
Any individual can amuse himself by calculating the expense of tobacco for an individual or family, for thirty or forty years. Let these small sums be carefully preserved, and but few aged people would be found suffering from want. Yet this habit prevails extensively among the poor. There are many who subsist upon the bounty of others, who nevertheless consume a daily supply of tobacco. A considerable portion of the scanty pittance they can command is thus thrown away. This ought to receive the attention of benevolent societies, and individuals, and no person should be aided by public or private charity who will not abandon this pernicious habit.