Tobacco engages

Both sexes, all ages,

The poor as well as the wealthy;

From the court to the cottage,

From childhood to dotage,

Both those that are sick and the healthy.

_Wits' Recreations_, 1640.

This chapter and the next deal with the history of smoking during the

first fifty years after its introduction as a social
abit--roughly to


The use of tobacco spread with extraordinary rapidity among all

classes of society. During the latter part of Queen Elizabeth's reign

and through the early decades of the seventeenth century tobacco-pipes

were in full blast. Tobacco was triumphant.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about smoking at this period, from

the social point of view, was its fashionableness. One of the marked

characteristics of the gallant--the beau or dandy or "swell" of the

time--was his devotion to tobacco. Earle says that a gallant was one

that was born and shaped for his clothes--but clothes were only a part

of his equipment. Bishop Hall, satirizing the young man of fashion in

1597, describes the delicacies with which he was accustomed to

indulge his appetite, and adds that, having eaten, he "Quaffs a whole

tunnel of tobacco smoke"; and old Robert Burton, in satirically

enumerating the accomplishments of "a complete, a well-qualified

gentleman," names to "take tobacco with a grace," with hawking,

riding, hunting, card-playing, dicing and the like. The qualifications

for a gallant were described by another writer in 1603 as "to make

good faces, to take Tobacco well, to spit well, to laugh like a

waiting gentlewoman, to lie well, to blush for nothing, to looke big

upon little fellowes, to scoffe with a grace ... and, for a neede, to

ride prettie and well."

A curious feature of tobacco-manners among fashionable smokers of the

period was the practice of passing a pipe from one to another, after

the fashion of the "loving cup." There is a scene in "Greene's Tu

Quoque," 1614, laid in a fashionable ordinary, where the London

gallants meet as usual, and one says to a companion who is smoking:

"Please you to impart your smoke?" "Very willingly, sir," says the

smoker. Number two takes a whiff or two and courteously says: "In good

faith, a pipe of excellent vapour!" The owner of the pipe then

explains that it is "the best the house yields," whereupon the other

immediately depreciates it, saying affectedly: "Had you it in the

house? I thought it had been your own: 'tis not so good now as I took

it for!" Another writer of this time speaks of one pipe of tobacco

sufficing "three or four men at once."

The rich young gallant carried about with him his tobacco apparatus

(often of gold or silver) in the form of tobacco-box,

tobacco-tongs--wherewith to lift a live coal to light his pipe, ladle

"for the cold snuffe into the nosthrill," and priming-iron. Sometimes

the tobacco-box was of ivory; and occasionally a gallant would have

looking-glass set in his box, so that when he took it out to obtain

tobacco, he could at the same time have a view of his own delectable

person. When our gallant went to dine at the ordinary, according to

the custom of the time, he brought out these possessions, and smoked

while the dinner was being served. Before dinner, after taking a few

turns up and down Paul's Walk in the old cathedral, he might look into

the booksellers' shops, and, pipe in mouth, inquire for the most

recent attack upon the "divine weed"--the contemporary tobacco

literature was abundant--or drop into an apothecary's, which was

usually a tobacco-shop also, and there meet his fellow-smokers.

In the afternoon the gallant might attend what Dekker calls a

"Tobacco-ordinary," by which may possibly have been meant a

smoking-club, or, more probably, the gathering after dinner at one of

the many ordinaries in the neighbourhood of St. Paul's Cathedral of

"tobacconists," as smokers were then called, to discuss the merits of

their respective pipes, and of the various kinds of tobacco--"whether

your Cane or your Pudding be sweetest."

Of course he often bragged, like Julio in Day's "Law Trickes":

"Tobacco? the best in Europe, 't cost me ten Crownes an ounce, by this


An amusing example of the bragging "tobacconist" is pictured for us in

Ben Jonson's "Bobadil." Bobadil may perhaps be somewhat of an

exaggerated caricature, but it is probable that the dramatist in

drawing him simply exaggerated the characteristic traits of many

smokers of the day. This hero, drawing tobacco from his pocket,

declares that it is all that is left of seven pounds which he had

bought only "yesterday was seven-night." A consumption of seven pounds

of tobacco in eight days is a pretty "tall order"! Then he goes on to

brag of its quality--your right Trinidado--and to assert that he had

been in the Indies, where the herb grows, and where he himself and a

dozen other gentlemen had for the space of one-and-twenty weeks known

no other nutriment than the fume of tobacco. This again was tolerably

"steep" even for this Falstaff-like braggart. He continues with more

bombast in praise of the medicinal virtues of the herb--virtues which

were then very firmly and widely believed in--and is replied to by

Cob, the anti-tobacconist, who, with equal exaggeration on the other

side, denounces tobacco, and declares that four people had died in one

house from the use of it in the preceding week, and that one had

"voided a bushel of soot"!

The properly accomplished gallant not only professed to be curiously

learned in pipes and tobacco, but his knowledge of prices and their

fluctuations, of the apothecaries' and other shops where the herb was

sold, and of the latest and most fashionable ways of inhaling and

exhaling the smoke, was, like Mr. Weller's knowledge of London,

"extensive and peculiar." It was knowledge of this kind that gained

for a gallant reputation and respect by no means to be acquired by

mere scholarship and learning.

The satirical Dekker might class "tobacconists" with "feather-makers,

cobweb-lawne-weavers, perfumers, young country gentlemen and fools,"

but he bears invaluable witness to the devotion of the fashionable

men of the day to the "costlye and gentleman-like Smoak."

It was customary for a man to carry a case of pipes about with him. In

a play of 1609 ("Everie Woman in her Humour") there is an inventory of

the contents of a gentleman's pocket, with a value given for each

item, which displays certainly a curious assortment of articles. First

comes a brush and comb worth fivepence, and next a looking-glass worth

three halfpence. With these aids to vanity are a case of tobacco-pipes

valued at fourpence, half an ounce of tobacco valued at sixpence, and

three pence in coin, or, as it is quaintly worded, "in money and

golde." Satirists of course made fun of the smoker's pocketful of

apparatus. A pamphleteer of 1609 says: "I behelde pipes in his pocket;

now he draweth forth his tinder-box and his touchwood, and falleth to

his tacklings; sure his throat is on fire, the smoke flyeth so fast

from his mouth."

It may be noted, by the way, that the gallant had no hesitation about

smoking in the presence of ladies. Gostanzo, in Chapman's "All Fools,"

1605, says:

_And for discourse in my fair mistress's presence

I did not, as you barren gallants do,

Fill my discourses up drinking tobacco._

And in Ben Jonson's "Every Man out of his Humour," 1600, Fastidious

Brisk, "a neat, spruce, affecting courtier," smokes while he talks to

his mistress. A feather-headed gallant, when in the presence of

ladies, often found himself, like others of his tribe of later date,

gravelled for lack of matter for conversation, and the puffing of

tobacco-smoke helped to occupy the pauses.

When our gallant went to the theatre he loved to occupy one of the

stools at the side of the stage. There he could sit and smoke and

embarrass the actors with his audible criticisms of play and players.

_It chaunc'd me gazing at the Theater,

To spie a Lock-Tabacco Chevalier

Clowding the loathing ayr with foggie fume

Of Dock Tobacco friendly foe to rhume_--

says a versifier of 1599, who did not like smoking in the theatre and

so abused the quality of the tobacco smoked--though admitting its

medicinal virtue. Dekker suggests, probably with truth, that one

reason why the young gallant liked to push his way to a stool on the

stage, notwithstanding "the mewes and hisses of the opposed

rascality"--the "mewes" must have been the squeals or whistles

produced by the instrument which was later known as a cat-call--was

the opportunity such a prominent position afforded for the display of

"the best and most essential parts of a gallant--good cloathes, a

proportionable legge, white hand, the Persian lock, and a tolerable

beard." Apparently, too, serving-boys were within call, and thus

lights could easily be obtained, which were handed to one another by

the smokers on the points of their swords.

Ben Jonson has given us an amusing picture of the behaviour of

gallants on the Elizabethan stage, in his "Cynthia's Revels." In this

scene a child thus mimics the obtrusive beau: "Now, sir, suppose I am

one of your genteel auditors, that am come in (having paid my money at

the door, with much ado), and here I take my place, and sit downe. I

have my three sorts of tobacco in my pocket, my light by me, and thus

I begin. 'By this light, I wonder that any man is so mad, to come to

see these rascally tits play here--they do act like so many wrens--not

the fifth part of a good face amongst them all--and then their musick

is abominable--able to stretch a man's ears worse than ten--pillories,

and their ditties--most lamentable things, like the pitiful fellows

that make them--poets. By this vapour--an't were not for tobacco--I

think--the very smell of them would poison me, I should not dare to

come in at their gates. A man were better visit fifteen jails--or a

dozen or two hospitals--than once adventure to come near them.'" And

the young rascal, who at each pause marked by a dash had puffed his

pipe, no doubt blowing an extra large "cloud" when he swore "by this

vapour," turns to his companions and says: "How is't? Well?" and they

pronounce his mimicry "Excellent!"

Smoking was not confined to the auditors on the stage, who paid

sixpence each for a stool. There was the "lords' room" over the stage,

which seems to have corresponded with the modern stage boxes, the

price of admission to which appears to have been a shilling, where the

pipe was also in full blast. Dekker tells how a gallant at a new play

would take a place in the "twelve penny room, next the stage, because

the lords and you may seem to be hail fellow, well met"; and Jonson,

in "Every Man out of his Humour," 1600, speaks of one who pretended

familiarity with courtiers, that he talked of them as if he had "taken

tobacco with them over the stage, in the lords' room."

Among the general audience of the theatre smoking seems to have been

usual also. The anti-tobacconists among those present, few of whom

were men, must have suffered by the practice. In that admirable

burlesque comedy by Beaumont and Fletcher, "The Knight of the Burning

Pestle," 1613, the citizen's wife, addressing herself either to the

gallants on the stage, or to her fellow-spectators sitting around her,

exclaims: "Fy! This stinking tobacco kills men! Would there were none

in England! Now I pray, gentlemen, what good does this stinking

tobacco do you? Nothing, I warrant you; make chimneys a' your faces!"

But many women viewed tobacco differently, as we shall see in the

chapter on "Smoking by Women." Moreover, this good woman herself, in

the epilogue to the burlesque, invites the gentlemen whom she has

before abused for smoking, to come to her house where she will

entertain them with "a pottle of wine, and a pipe of tobacco."

Hentzner, the German traveller, who visited London in 1598, speaks of

smoking being customary among the audience at plays, who were also

supplied with "fruits, such as apples, pears and nuts, according to

the season, carried about to be sold, as well as ale and wine." He was

struck with the universal prevalence of the tobacco-habit. Not only at

plays, but "everywhere else," he says, the "English are constantly

smoking tobacco," and then he proceeds to describe how they did it:

"They have pipes on purpose made of clay, into the further end of

which they put the herb, so dry that it may be rubbed into powder; and

putting fire to it, they draw the smoak into their mouths, which they

puff out again through their nostrils, like funnels, along with it

plenty of phlegm and defluxions from the head." This suggests that

the unpleasant and quite unnecessary habit of spitting was common with

these early smokers, a suggestion which is amply supported by other

contemporary evidence.

Tobacco was smoked by all classes and in almost all places. It was

smoked freely in the streets. In some verses prefixed to an edition of

Skelton's "Elinour Rumming" which appeared in 1624, the ghost of

Skelton, who was poet-laureate to King Henry VIII, was made to say

that he constantly saw smoking:

_As I walked between

Westminster Hall

And the Church of Saint Paul,

And so thorow the citie,

Where I saw and did pitty

My country men's cases,

With fiery-smoke faces,

Sucking and drinking

A filthie weede stinking._

Tobacco-selling was sometimes curiously combined with other trades. A

Fleet Street tobacconist of this time was also a dealer in worsted

stockings. A mercer of Mansfield who died at the beginning of 1624,

and who apparently carried on business also at Southwell, had a

considerable stock of tobacco. In the Inventory of all his "cattalles

and goods" which is dated 24 January 1624, there is included "It. in

Tobacco 0. 0." Nineteen pounds' worth of tobacco, considering

the then value of money, was no small stock for a mercer-tobacconist

to carry.

But the apothecaries were the most usual salesmen, and their shops

and the ordinaries were the customary day meeting-places for the more

fashionable smokers. The taverns and inns, however, were also filled

with smoke, and taverns were frequented by men of all social grades.

Dekker speaks of the gallant leaving the tavern at night when "the

spirit of wine and tobacco walkes" in his train. On the occasion of

the accession of James I, 1603, when London was given up to rejoicing

and revelry, we are told that "tobacconists [_i.e._ smokers] filled up

whole Tavernes."

King James himself is an unwilling witness to the popularity of

tobacco. He tells us that a man could not heartily welcome his friend

without at once proposing a smoke. It had become, he says, a point of

good-fellowship, and he that would refuse to take a pipe among his

fellows was accounted "peevish and no good company." "Yea," he

continues, with rising indignation, "the mistress cannot in a more

mannerly kind entertain her servant than by giving him out of her fair

hand a pipe of tobacco."

Smoking was soon as common in the country as in London. On Wednesday,

April 16, 1621, in the course of a debate in the House of Commons, Sir

William Stroud, who seems to have been a worthy disciple of that

tobacco-hater, King James I, moved that he "would have tobacco

banished wholly out of the kingdom, and that it may not be brought in

from any part, nor used amongst us"; and Sir Grey Palmes said "that if

tobacco be not banished, it will overthrow 100,000 men in England, for

now it is so common that he hath seen ploughmen take it as they are at

plough." Perhaps this terrible picture of a ploughman smoking as he

followed his lonely furrow did not impress the House so much as Sir

Grey evidently thought it would; at all events, tobacco was not


Peers and squires and parsons and peasants alike smoked. The parson of

Thornton, in Buckinghamshire, was so devoted to tobacco that when his

supply of the weed ran short, he is said to have cut up the bell-ropes

and smoked them! This is dated about 1630. In the well-known

description of the famous country squire, Mr. Hastings, who was

remarkable for keeping up old customs in the early years of the

seventeenth century, we read of how his hall tables were littered with

hawks' hoods, bells, old hats with their crowns thrust in, full of

pheasants' eggs; tables, dice, cards, and store of tobacco-pipes.

Sir Francis Vere, in the account of his services by sea and land which

he wrote about 1606, mentions that on an expedition to the Azores in

1597, the Earl of Essex, waiting for news of the enemy at St. Michael,

"called for tobacco ... and so on horseback, with those Noblemen and

Gentlemen on foot beside him, took tobacco, whilst I was telling his

Lordship of the men I had sent forth, and orders I had given."

Presently came the sound of guns, which "made his Lordship cast his

pipe from him, and listen to the shooting."

Another famous nobleman, Lord Herbert of Cherbury--

_All-virtuous Herbert! on whose every part

Truth might spend all her voice, fame all her art!--_

was a smoker, as we know from a very curious passage in his well-known

autobiography. He appears to have smoked not so much for pleasure as

for supposed reasons of health. "It is well known," he wrote, "to

those that wait in my chamber, that the shirts, waistcoats, and other

garments I wear next my body, are sweet, beyond what either can easily

be believed, or hath been observed in any else, which sweetness also

was found to be in my breath above others, before I used to take

tobacco, which towards my latter time I was forced to take against

certain rheums and catarrhs that trouble me, which yet did not taint

my breath for any long time." The autobiography was written about

1645, so as Lord Herbert did not smoke till towards the latter part of

his life--he died in 1648--he clearly was not one of those who took to

tobacco in the first enthusiasm for the new indulgence.

When Robert, Earl of Essex, and Henry, Earl of Southampton, were tried

for high treason in Westminster Hall on February 19, 1600-1, the

members of the House of Lords, who with the Judges formed the Court,

if we may believe the French Ambassador of the time, behaved in a

remarkable and unseemly manner. In a letter to Monsieur de Rohan, the

Ambassador declared that while the Earls and the Counsel were

pleading, their lordships guzzled and smoked; and that when they gave

their votes condemning the two Earls, they were stupid with eating and

"yvres de tabac"--drunk with smoking. This was probably quite untrue

as a representation of what actually took place; but it would hardly

have been written had smoking not been a common practice among noble


Queen Elizabeth's Secretary of State, Sir Robert Cecil, would appear

to have been a smoker. In a letter addressed to him, John Watts, an

alderman of London, wrote: "According to your request, I have sent

the greatest part of my store of tobaca by the bearer, wishing that

the same may be to your good liking. But this tobaca I have had this

six months, which was such as my son brought home, but since that time

I have had none. At this period there is none that is good to be had

for money. Wishing you to make store thereof, for I do not know where

to have the like, I have sent you of two sorts. Mincing Lane, 12 Dec.1600."

A curious scene took place at Oxford in 1605 when King James visited

the University. Two subjects were debated by learned dons before his

Majesty, and one of them, at his own suggestion, was, "Whether the

frequent use of tobacco is good for healthy men?" Among those who

spoke were Doctors Ailworth, Gwyn, Gifford and Cheynell. The

discussion, needless to say, being conducted in the presence of the

author of the "Counterblaste to Tobacco," was not favourable to the

herb. The King summed up in a speech which hopelessly begged the

question while it contained plenty of strong denunciation. After his

Majesty had spoken, one learned doctor, Cheynell, who is described by

the recorder, Isaac Wake, the Public Orator of the University, as

second to none of the doctors, had the courage to rise and, with a

pipe held forth in his hand, to speak both wittily and eloquently in

favour of tobacco from the medicinal point of view, praising it to the

skies, says Wake, as of virtue beyond all other remedial agents. His

wit pleased both the King and the whole assembly, whom it moved to

laughter; but when he had finished, his Majesty made a lengthy

rejoinder in which he said some curious things. He objected to the

medicinal use of tobacco, and quite agreed with previous speakers

that such a use must have arisen among Barbarians and Indians, who he

went on to say had as much knowledge of medicine as they had of

civilized customs. If, he argued, there were men whose bodies were

benefited by tobacco-smoke, this did not so much redound to the credit

of tobacco, as it did reflect upon the depraved condition of such men,

that their bodies should have sunk to the level of those of Barbarians

so as to be affected by remedies such as were effective on the bodies

of Barbarians and Indians! His Majesty kindly suggested that doctors

who believed in tobacco as a remedial agent should take themselves and

their medicine of pollution off to join the Indians.