Saturday, February 24, 2007

Drinking Tobacco: Heretical or Medicinal?

"Poor Ol' Kaw-Liga"
Lamenting the decline of tobacco...
(Image from Wikipedia)

One doesn't see many cigar-store Indians anymore, and I haven't heard the original Hank Williams version of "Kaw-Liga" in a long time. I guess that's progress, and the Cherokee part of me partly agrees, but as Paul Vitti says in Analyze This, I'm 'conflicted about it,' especially about the song "Kaw-Liga." Sort of like my Uncle Harlin, who once told me, "I like that song 'Kaw-Liga,' but somebody should've punched Hank Williams in the nose for writing it."

Speaking of violent reactions, the introduction of tobacco to Europe incited some to threaten violence, especially in Russia, where 'drinking' tobacco was associated with ecclesiastical reform and other innovations from the West.

For example, J. B. Buky, in volume 5 (The Age Of Louis XIV), chapter 16 ("Russia") of The Cambridge Modern History (planned by Lord Acton, edited by Adolphus W. Ward, Cambridge: University Press), tells us of Russians' unhappiness in the mid-17th century when Patriarch Nikon of the Russian Orthodox Church attempted some church reforms, mostly minor ones such as instructing "that the sign of the Cross should be made with three fingers" rather than with the traditional two fingers characteristic of Russian Orthodoxy.

Nikon's attempts at reform met with resistance by schismatics, called the Raskolnïki (from "raskol," or "schism," the root meaning behind Dostoevsky's character Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment). For the Raskolnïki, anything foreign was heretical, including the evil weed:
Tracts were published against "tobacco, that devilish herb, cursed and abhorred of God." It was believed that the Redeemer and His mother appeared to some Russian women, and warned them that, as soon as Christians began to "drink" tobacco, lightning and thunder, frost and ice would be their punishment.
Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. The 'Mother of God' says it will end in a puff of smoke. Make that a drink.

Did Patriarch Nikon "drink" tobacco? Who knows? That pressing issue aside, I infer from Buky's quotation marks that the Russian expression for smoking used the same idiom that we have found in 16th- and 17th-century England, though I wonder if this reflected a traditional Russian idiom or an idiom that migrated with the spread of tobacco.

Closer to home, back in merry old England, we learn from G. L. Apperson, in The Social History of Smoking (London: Ballantyne Press, 1914), that the English of the 16th- and 17th-century reacted in more practical ways to those who were 'smoking':
Every one knows the legend of the water (or beer) thrown over Sir Walter by his servant when he first saw his master smoking, and imagined he was on fire. The story was first associated with Raleigh by a writer in 1708 in a magazine called the British Apollo. According to this yarn Sir Walter usually "indulged himself in Smoaking secretly, two pipes a Day; at which time, he order'd a Simple Fellow, who waited, to bring him up a Tankard of old Ale and Nutmeg, always laying aside the Pipe, when he heard his servant coming." On this particular occasion, however, the pipe was not laid aside in time, and the "Simple Fellow," imagining his master was on fire, as he saw the smoke issuing from his mouth, promptly put the fire out by sousing him with the contents of the tankard. One difficulty about this story is the alleged secrecy of Raleigh's indulgence in tobacco. There seems to be no imaginable reason why he should not have smoked openly. Later versions turn the ale into water and otherwise vary the story.

But the story was a stock jest long before it was associated with Raleigh. The earliest example of it occurs in the "Jests" attributed to Richard Tarleton, the famous comic performer of the Elizabethan stage, who died in 1588 -- the year of the Armada. "Tarlton's Jests" appeared in 1611, and the story in question, which is headed "How Tarlton tooke tobacco at the first comming up of it," runs as follows:

"Tarlton, as other gentlemen used, at the first comming up of tobacco, did take it more for fashion's sake than otherwise, and being in a roome, set between two men overcome with wine, and they never seeing the like, wondered at it, and seeing the vapour come out of Tarlton's nose, cryed out, fire, fire, and threw a cup of wine in Tarlton's face. Make no more stirre, quoth Tarlton, the fire is quenched: if the sheriffes come, it will turne to a fine, as the custome is. And drinking that againe, fie, sayes the other, what a stinke it makes; I am almost poysoned. If it offend, saies Tarlton, let every one take a little of the smell, and so the savour will quickly goe: but tobacco whiffes made them leave him to pay all."

In the early days of smoking, the smoker was very generally said to "drink" tobacco.
A charming story on the practicality of the English. Smoke from the devilish weed can be doused with simple water -- no need even for holy water or apocalyptic threats from the Virgin Mary!

Apperson takes the clause "And drinking that againe" to refer to Tarlton relighting his pipe (presumably) and smoking it again. Hence Apperson's reference to the early idiom about 'drinking' tobacco.

Even closer to home -- assuming your home is North America, which it might not be, but I'm writing this from my perspective as an expat American so far away from home -- anyway, even closer to my home is the story of the Lorillard Tobacco Company, told by Maxwell Fox (researched by Carl W. Drepperd) in the book The Lorillard Story (1947), which has a great deal of interesting information on early beliefs about tobacco and its uses, including the attempt by King James I of England to severely punish those who used it and thereby prohibit its use:
However, it is interesting to note that prohibition in those days had about the same effect on the population that liquor prohibition had in our day, in our own country. Bootleggers promptly took advantage of the situation; sold tobacco in back rooms. Likewise, their customers took home the expensive adulterated stuff and enjoyed it as best they could in secret gatherings or in their homes behind shuttered windows. Probably it was King James, more than any other one man, who promoted the custom of snuff-taking. The furtive tobacco-user hardly dared to risk smoking a pipe and letting the evidence of his crime filter out through the cracks of his doors and windows to the nostrils of the police or a nosy neighbor. So the snuff-taking habit, easily practiced without detection, spread by leaps and bounds.

But it was a Dr. Cheynell of Oxford University who probably did as much as any one man to put a stop to all this foolishness. In 16o3 he dared to engage in a public debate on tobacco at the University. King James himself sat in the audience as Dr. Cheynell heroically held a tobacco pipe in his hand while he extolled the golden weed. There is no record that the King punished the daring doctor for his seeming impudence. Perhaps His Majesty could see which way the wind was blowing.

At any rate, pipe smoking started to make a comeback soon after; and the tobacco trade increased until by 1614 there were 7,o0o different London houses (companies or families) trading in tobacco. One London shop, and perhaps more, adopted a forerunner of the Cigar Store Indian as a trade mark. "The Smoaking Age," a book published in 1617, carried an engraved frontispiece illustrating the interior of a tobacconist's shop. The shop's advertising sign was a small effigy of an American Indian smoking a fat cigar.

You may be interested in some 17th century sales tips sent out by a wholesaler to his retail tobacco customers:

"-- Set a picture of a blackamoor or a Virginia man, that will draw custom, upon the front-piece of the door. Make a partition in thy shop if some come to bathe rather than to drink tobacco." The dealer was advised to concentrate his sales efforts on scholars, lawyers and poets, particularly, but not to forget possible sales to the ladies.

You may wonder at the term "tobacco drinking." This gained currency because of an early belief that tobacco smoke had therapeutic qualities. When that superstition took hold, everybody made sure that he got the full benefit. Smokers inhaled the smoke so that it would circulate and "fume the innerds;" then they exhaled the smoke as slowly" as possible out their noses. Somehow, this manner of smoking came to be known as drinking. Midway in the 17th century the term faded out of use and "smoking" came to be the common term.
Here, our author Fox is admitting that he doesn't know where the expression "tobacco drinking" originated. Based on the evidence that I found in An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by T. Northcote Toller (1921), I wonder if the expression goes all the way back to Anglo-Saxon. If that early Medieval expression about drinking smoke indicated a medical context, then the belief that tobacco acted as a sort of medicine might reflect this old expression.

Now if I could just find some example of drinking smoke from sources in Middle English...



At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good discussion from a former tobacco "drinker". Also, I seem to recall that Uncle "Harlan" spelled it "Harlin" (anyway that is the spelling of Tim's middle name).


P.S. Do you have Skype?

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Damn, I've been trying to spell it 'correctly' -- according to his unusual spelling -- but I got it wrong anyway.

I'll do a search of my blog and re-spell each instance of his name.

I don't know what "Skype" is ... so I probably don't have it. Should I get a blood test?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:21 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Did you grow up Cherokee?

At 3:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

No, but my grandmother who raised me and my brothers was a quarter Cherokee and looked it. My Uncle Harlin also looks Cherokee, and my mother was recognized as Cherokee by a couple of folks from Oklahoma. I don't particularly look it, except for high cheekbones, but I've always identified a part of me with the Cherokee.

Apparently, a lot of the old-timers in the Ozarks were part Indian.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Celia, I don't allow businesses to advertise their wares in the comments to my blog.

Thus, I've deleted your 'comment.'

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:11 AM, Anonymous paragardener said...

Definitely medicinal use of tobacco. Various Native Americans used it as a poultice to treat ear and tooth-aches, bug bites, and wormy parasites (besides the major sacred uses). To Europeans who systematized medicine with the Four Humours, tobacco was "hot" and "dry" and therefore counteracted excess phlegm in the body, so it treated asthma, etc.

Though a problematic medicine, I have to say that manufacturers and advertisers really twisted tobacco to make it into a mass killer.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Interesting point about the link to the four humors. I didn't know about that.

Thanks for the comment.

Jeffery Hodges

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