Thursday, February 22, 2007

To 'Drink' Tobacco...

Thirsty? Drink a cigarette.
(Image from Wikipedia)

In yesterday's post, I noted this odd expression used in Milton's time, when people 'drank' rather than smoked tobacco.

Michael Gilleland, of Laudator Temporis Acti, cites my post in blog entry of his about "Tobacco" and tells us that he had, coincidentally, encountered the same expression the previous day in an Elizabethan poem:

By coincidence, just yesterday I happened on the same expression in a poem by Robert Wisdome included in Norman Ault's anthology of Elizabethan Lyrics (1949; rpt. New York: Capricorn Books, 1960), pp. 19-20:

A Religious Use of Taking Tobacco

The Indian weed witherëd quite,
Green at morn, cut down at night,
Shows thy decay;
All flesh is hay:
Thus think, then drink tobacco.

And when the smoke ascends on high,
Think thou behold'st the vanity
Of worldly stuff,
Gone with a puff:
Thus think, then drink tobacco.

But when the pipe grows foul within,
Think of thy soul defiled with sin.
And that the fire
Doth it require:
Thus think, then drink tobacco.

The ashes that are left behind,
May serve to put thee still in mind
That into dust
Return thou must:
Thus think, then drink tobacco.
An apt memento mori for anyone who smokes religiously. But were Wisdome's words wise? Were they even in earnest? The Oxford Book of Comic Verse, edited by John Gross, includes it (on page 14 of the 1994 edition), ostensibly as a comical poem. Marco Graziosi, who informs us that Wisdome himself met his mortality in 1568, links this poem to the limerick, with which it very nearly shares a rhyme scheme (aabbc; cf. aabba), though Graziosi doesn't state outright that the poem was intended as humor.

The poem gave rise to a popular song whose tune you can hear on The Kitchen Musician Website, courtesy of Sara L. Johnson, who writes a feature "In Tune with the Times: Musical Rambles Through History." Johnson tells us more:

The words to this song can first be traced to a Presbyterian satirist of his day, one George Wither, who published it in his "Abuses stript and whipt," which got him sent to Marshalsea prison. One of his verses is:

Why should we so much despise,
So good and wholesome an exercise,
As, early and late, to meditate?
Thus think, and drink tobacco.

The earthen pipe, so lily white,
Shews that thou art a mortal wight;
Even such - and gone with a small touch:
Thus think, and drink tobacco.

In the times of Elizabeth and James I, the English inhaled and swallowed the smoke, explaining the phrase "to drink tobacco."
Johnson seems unaware that Reverend Wither (1588-1667) must have derived his song from Wisdome (d. 1568), so I wonder if she is correct in her explanation for the origin of the expression "to drink tobacco."

An older source some Elizabethan one might be at hand. On page 158 of the supplement to An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by T. Northcote Toller (1921), we find this entry at the top, which continues the entry from page 157 on drincan (i.e., "to drink"):
(4) to inhale smoke (cf. to drink tobacco) :-- Lege on hátne stán, drinc þurh horn þone réc, Lch. ii. 316, 11.
The line "Lege on hátne stán, drinc þurh horn þone réc" translates into modern English as something like "Fire arises from heat, drink the smoke through a horn," the "horn" being a pipe, I suppose. Experts in Old English should feel themselves invited to correct my translation. I'm guessing that "Lch." refers to the abbreviation "Lchdm." in "abbreviations for the source texts":
Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of early England, edited by O. Cockayne, Master of the Rolls Series, 3 vols. London, 1864-1866. Quoted by volume, page and line.
That's certainly an intriguing title. According to a review in Medical History (1963 January; 7(1): 96), the book "contains almost the entire corpus of scientific writings from the Anglo-Saxon period of English History." Such being the case, I suspect that 'drinking smoke' was a medical remedy of some sort -- though not one using that 'good' medicine, tobacco. Old friends from my history-of-science days might be able to tell us more, but I've lost touch with them all (unless they are among my lurking readers).

For now, at any rate, I can take us no further into the history and prehistory of tobacco drinking...

UPDATE: Edward Pettit, of The Bibliothecary, has graciously corrected my poor translation:
Lege on hátne stán, drinc þurh horn þone réc
Lay on (a) hot stone; drink through (a) horn the smoke.
Much better -- and much more obvious than my effort. So much for the Gypsy's linguistic skills...



At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read a lot of early tobacco literature and have found lots of instances of "drinking" tobacco. I'm fairly certain that this was the usual way to describe it. I'm not sure when "smoke" became the usual verb to describe smoking. Certainly by the late 17th/early 18th century, "smoking" had entirely replaced 'drinking," but it would take some research to find the turning point.

The poem Gilleland quotes is also included in Pipe and Pouch, an anthology of smoking poems, available online:

Also available is Apperson's Social History of Smoking:

At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've also just discovered this blog post

which provides examples of other languages that have used "drinking" to describe "smoking." I should also note that some Native Americans did indeed "drink" tobacco, a broth of boiled tobacco leaves.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Ed. I'll take a look at those links.

I just checked your blog and saw that you enjoy a pipe. I smoked cigarettes for a couple of years, just of the hell of experiencing an addiction, then kicked the habit with the incidental help of tear gas, but I could imagine going for an occasional pipe ... though my weak lungs might disagree.

You wouldn't happen to know the proper translation of that Old English sentence that I quoted, would you?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Oh, you've posted again -- between my reading your original post and my writing a response.

Thanks once again.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your translation of the second half of the line is correct-- "drink the smoke through the horn" --
but I think the first half means something like, "place on a hot stone." "Lege" being the imperative of the verb "lecgan," to lay or put. It's a little tough without seeing the rest of the passage. I did a Google Books search, but only vol one is available of the Leachdoms book

At 5:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ed, that makes much more sense to me.

Lege on hátne stán,
Lay on (a) hot stone,

drinc þurh horn þone réc
drink through (a) horn the smoke.

Much obliged. As you can see, my Old English is not very proficient. I'll update.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:42 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

Before you even said it, I thought those verses sounded like a song. Old English looks like another language as much as German.

At 5:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, Hathor, the tobacco poem does look like a song, as is often the case with older, rhythmic rhyming poetry.

The Anglo-Saxon text that I had such trouble translating also looks poetic. It has that caesura in the middle, which was characteristic of Old English poetry, so I wonder if the 'remedy' was presented in the form of a chant.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:19 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ed, I've deleted your post because it's a obvious advertisement, and this blog is not a commercial site.

Moreover, if I ever did choose to allow advertising, I would expect to be paid for doing so.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Celia, I don't allow advertisements in comments to my blog -- as you surely know already.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:24 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

To: "Sony Ericsson Takes Over Title"

I have deleted your advertisement, as I don't allow ads in comments, in principle, and I'm certainly not interested in advertising for a "Head Shop."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting topic. I came across your blog while trying to understand a genealogical snippet I came across.

On December 4th, 1638 my great11 grandfather,Francis Billington, was forced to pay a fine in Plymouth, MA, for "drinking tobaccoe in the heighway". Plymouth Colony Records V.1, p.106.

Sarah E. Fisher

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thank you for letting me know, Ms. Fisher. That's a very interesting snippet that you uncovered about your great-great-etc-great grandfather. I can see why the 'drinking' of tobacco would sound puzzling, for the expression likewise puzzled me when I first encountered it, which is why I looked into the issue.

Sounds like your Ur-grandfather's 'drinking' smoke on the highway while driving a wagon or such may have gotten him in trouble. I reckon that "Don't Drink and Drive" had a rather different meaning back then.

I'm also gratified to hear that my blog has some use beyond my pleasure and that of a few friends and regular readers.

And thanks for reminding me of this entry. I might want to follow it up with a paper of my own sometime.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you like pipes, try this glaas pipes:

At 3:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

'John' . . . I don't ordinarily allow advertisements in blog comments, but yours isn't especially intrusive, so I'll leave it.

But don't anybody else get any ideas about posting big ads here.

Jeffery Hodges

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