Smoking Unfashionable: Later Georgian Days

Says the Pipe to the Snuff-box, I can't understand

What the ladies and gentlemen see in your face,

That you are in fashion all over the land,

And I am so much fallen into disgrace.


(From a letter to the Rev. John Newton, May 28, 1782.)

Smoking has gone out, said Johnson in talk at St. Andrews, one day

in 1773. To be sur
, he continued, it is a shocking thing, blowing

smoke out of our mouths into other people's mouths, eyes and noses,

and having the same thing done to us; yet I cannot account why a thing

which requires so little exertion, and yet preserves the mind from

total vacuity, should have gone out. Johnson did not trouble himself

to think of how much the vagaries of fashion account for stranger

vicissitudes in manners and customs than the rise and fall of the

smoking-habit; nor did he probably foresee how slowly but surely the

taste for smoking, even in the circles most influenced by fashion,

would revive. Boswell tells us that although the sage himself never

smoked, yet he had a high opinion of the practice as a sedative

influence; and Hawkins heard him say on one occasion that insanity had

grown more frequent since smoking had gone out of fashion, which

shows that even Johnson could fall a victim to the _post hoc propter

hoc_ fallacy.

More than one writer of recent days has absurdly misrepresented

Johnson as a smoker. The author of a book on tobacco published a few

years ago wrote--Dr. Johnson smoked like a furnace--a grotesquely

untrue statement--and all his friends, Goldsmith, Reynolds, Garrick,

were his companions in tobacco-worship. Reynolds, we know--

_When they talk'd of their Raphaels, Corregios, and stuff,

He shifted his trumpet, and only took snuff._

Johnson and all his company took snuff, as every one in the

fashionable world, and a great many others outside that charmed

circle, did; but Johnson did not smoke, and I doubt whether any of the

others did.

There is ample evidence, apart from Johnson's dictum, that in the

latter part of the eighteenth century smoking had gone out. In Mrs.

Climenson's Passages from the Diaries of Mrs. Lybbe Powys, we hear

of a bundle of papers at Hardwick House, near Whitchurch, Oxon, which

bears the unvarnished title Dick's Debts. This Dick was a Captain

Richard Powys who had a commission in the Guards, and died at the

early age of twenty-six in the year 1768. This list of debts, it

appears, gives the most complete catalogue of the expenses of a dandy

of the Court of George II, consisting chiefly of swords, buckles,

lace, Valenciennes and point d'Espagne, gold and amber-headed canes,

tavern bills and chair hire. But in all the ample detail of Captain

Powys's list of extravagances there is nothing directly or indirectly

relating to smoking. The beaux of the time did not smoke.

In the whole sixteen volumes of Walpole's correspondence, as so

admirably edited by Mrs. Toynbee, there is scarcely a mention of

tobacco; and the same may be said of other collections of letters of

the same period--the Selwyn letters, the Delany correspondence, and so

on. Neither Walpole nor any member of the world in which he lived

would appear to have smoked. In Miss Burney's Evelina, 1778, from

the beginning to the end of the book there is no mention whatever of

tobacco or of smoking. Apparently the vulgar Branghtons were not

vulgar enough to smoke. Such use of tobacco was considered low, and

was confined to the classes of society indicated in the preceding

chapter. One of the characters in Macklin's Love a la Mode, 1760, is

described as dull, dull as an alderman, after six pounds of turtle,

four bottles of port, and twelve pipes of tobacco.

A satirical print by Rowlandson contains _A Man of Fashion's Journal_,

dated May 1, 1802. The man of fashion rides and drinks, goes to the

play, gambles and bets, but his journal contains no reference to

smoking. Rowlandson himself smoked, and so did his brother

caricaturist, Gillray. Angelo says that they would sometimes meet at

such resorts of the low as the Bell, the Coal Hole, or the Coach and

Horses, and would enter into the common chat of the room, smoke and

drink together, and then sometimes early, sometimes late, shake hands

at the door--look up at the stars, say it is a pretty night, and

depart, one for the Adelphi, the other to St. James's Street, each to

his bachelor's bed.

But outside the fashionable world pipes were still in full blast, and

in many places of resort the atmosphere was as beclouded with

tobacco-smoke as in earlier days. Grosley, in his Tour to London,

1765, says that there were regular clubs, which were held in

coffee-houses and taverns at fixed days and hours, when wine, beer,

tea, pipes and tobacco helped to amuse the company.

Angelo gives some lively pictures of scenes of this kind in the London

of about 1780. The Turk's Head, in Gerrard Street, was the

meeting-place for a knot of worthies, principally 'Sons of St. Luke,'

or the children of Thespis, and mostly votaries of Bacchus, as the

old fencing-master, who loved a little fine writing, describes them;

and here they sat, he says, taking their punch and smoking, the

prevailing custom of the time. About the same time (_circa_ 1790) an

evening resort for purposes mostly vicious was the famous Dog and

Duck, in St. George's Fields. The long room, says Angelo, if I may

depend on my memory, was on the ground floor, and all the benches were

filled with motley groups, eating, drinking, and smoking. Angelo also

mentions the Picnic Society, a celebrated resort of fashion at the

beginning of the nineteenth century, where the odour of tobacco never

penetrated. It afforded, he says in his fine way, a sort of

antipodeal contrast to these smoking tavern clubs of the old city of

Trinobantes. The same writer speaks of a certain Monsieur Liviez whom

he met in Paris in 1772, who had been one of the first dancers at the

Italian Opera House, and _maitre de ballet_ at Drury Lane Theatre.

This gentleman was addicted to self-indulgence, loved good eating, and

good and ample drinking, and moreover kept late hours, _a

l'Anglaise_, smoked his pipe, and drank oceans of punch.

Coleridge, in the Biographia Literaria, gives an amusing account of

his own experience of an attempt to smoke in company with a party of

tradesmen. In 1795 he was travelling about the country endeavouring to

secure subscriptions to the periodical publication he had started

called _The Watchman_. At Birmingham one day he dined with a worthy

tradesman, who, after dinner, importuned him to smoke a pipe with

him, and two or three other _illuminati_ of the same rank. The

remainder of the moving story must be told in Coleridge's own words.

I objected, he says, both because I was engaged to spend the

evening with a minister and his friends, and because I had never

smoked except once or twice in my life-time, and then it was herb

tobacco mixed with Oronooko. On the assurance, however, that the

tobacco was equally mild, and seeing too that it was of a yellow

colour,--not forgetting the lamentable difficulty I have always

experienced in saying, 'No,' and in abstaining from what the people

about me were doing,--I took half a pipe, filling the lower half of

the bole with salt. I was soon, however, compelled to resign it, in

consequence of a giddiness and distressful feeling in my eyes, which,

as I had drunk but a single glass of ale, must, I knew, have been the

effect of the tobacco. Soon after, deeming myself recovered, I sallied

forth to my engagement; but the walk and the fresh air brought on all

the symptoms again, and I had scarcely entered the minister's

drawing-room, and opened a small pacquet of letters, which he had

received from Bristol for me, ere I sank back on the sofa in a sort of

swoon rather than sleep. Fortunately I had found just time enough to

inform him of the confused state of my feelings, and of the occasion.

For here and thus I lay, my face like a wall that is white-washing,

deathly pale, and with the cold drops of perspiration running down it

from my forehead, while one after another there dropped in the

different gentlemen, who had been invited to meet, and spend the

evening with me, to the number of from fifteen to twenty. As the

poison of tobacco acts but for a short time, I at length awoke from

insensibility, and looked round on the party, my eyes dazzled by the

candles which had been lighted in the interim. By way of relieving my

embarrassment one of the gentlemen began the conversation with 'Have

you seen a paper to-day, Mr. Coleridge?' 'Sir,' I replied, rubbing my

eyes, 'I am far from convinced that a Christian is permitted to read

either newspapers or any other works of merely political and temporary

interest.' This remark, so ludicrously inapposite to, or rather,

incongruous with, the purpose for which I was known to have visited

Birmingham, and to assist me in which they were all met, produced an

involuntary and general burst of laughter; and seldom indeed have I

passed so many delightful hours as I enjoyed in that room from the

moment of that laugh till an early hour the next morning.

All's well that ends well; but one cannot help wondering what kind of

tobacco it was that the Birmingham tradesman used, a half pipeful of

which had such a deadly effect--but perhaps the effect was due to the

salt, not to the tobacco.

In the year after that which witnessed Coleridge's adventure, _i.e._

in 1796, a tobacco-box with a history was the subject of a legal

decision. This box, made of common horn and small enough to be

carried in the pocket, was bought for fourpence by an overseer of the

poor in the time of Queen Anne, and was presented by him in 1713 to

the Society of Past Overseers of the parish of St. Margaret,

Westminster. In 1720 the Society, in memory of the donor, ornamented

the lid with a silver rim; and at intervals thereafter additions were

made to an extraordinary extent to the box and its casings. Hogarth

engraved within the lid in 1746 a bust of the victor of Culloden.

Gradually the horn box was enshrined within one case after

another--usually silver lined with velvet--each case bearing inscribed

plates commemorating persons or events. A Past Overseer who detained

the box in 1793 had to give it back after three years of litigation. A

case of octagon shape records the triumph of Justice, and Lord

Chancellor Loughborough pronouncing his decree for the restitution of

the box on March 5, 1796. In later days many and various additions

have been made to the many coverings of the box, recording public

events of interest.

Notwithstanding the unfashionableness of tobacco, there were still

some noteworthy smokers to be found among the clergy. Dr. Sumner, head

master of Harrow, who died in 1771, was devoted to his pipe. The

greatest of clerical tobacconists of late eighteenth century and

early nineteenth century date was the once famous Dr. Parr. It was

from him that Dr. Sumner learned to smoke. When he and Parr got

together Sumner was in the habit of refilling his pipe again and again

in such a way as to be unobserved, at the same time begging Parr not

to depart till he had finished his pipe, in order that he might detain

him, we are told, in the evening as long as possible.

Parr was not a model smoker. He was brutally overbearing towards other

folk, and would accept no invitation except on the understanding that

he might smoke when and where he liked. It was his invariable

practice, wherever he might be visiting, to smoke a pipe as soon as he

had got out of bed. His biographer says--The ladies were obliged to

bear his tobacco, or to give up his company; and at Hatton (1786-1825)

now and then he was the tyrant of the fireside. Parr was capable of

smoking twenty pipes in an evening, and described himself as rolling

volcanic fumes of tobacco to the ceiling while he worked at his desk.

At a dinner which was given at Trinity College, Cambridge, to the Duke

of Gloucester, as Chancellor of the University, when the cloth was

removed, Parr at once started his pipe and began, says one who was

present, blowing a cloud into the faces of his neighbours, much to

their annoyance, and causing royalty to sneeze by the stimulating

stench of mundungus. It is surprising that people were willing to put

up with such bad manners as Parr was accustomed to exhibit; but his

reputation was then great, and he traded upon it.

Parr is said on one occasion to have called for a pipe after taking a

meal at a coaching-inn called the Bush at Bristol, when the waiter

told him that smoking was not allowed at the Bush. Parr persisted, but

the authorities at the inn were firm in their refusal to allow

anything so vulgar as smoking on their premises, whereupon Parr is

said to have exclaimed: Why, man, I've smoked in the dining-room of

every nobleman in England. The Duchess of Devonshire said I could

smoke in every room in her house but her dressing-room, and here, in

this dirty public-house of Bristol you forbid smoking! Amazing! Bring

me my bill. The learned doctor exaggerated no doubt as regards the

facilities given him for smoking; for it was his overbearing way not

to ask for leave to smoke, but to smoke wherever he went, whether

invited to do so or not; but the story shows the prejudice against

smoking which was found in many places as a result of the attitude of

the fashionable world towards tobacco.

Johnstone, Parr's biographer, referring to his hero's failure to

obtain preferment to the Episcopal Bench about the year 1804,

says--His pipe might be deemed in these fantastic days a degradation

at the table of the palace or the castle; but his noble hospitality,

combined with his habits of sobriety, whether tobacco fumigated his

table or not, would have filled his hall with the learned and the

good. A portrait of Parr hangs in the Combination Room in St. John's,

Cambridge. Originally it represented him faithfully with a long clay

between hand and mouth; but for some unknown reason the pipe has been

painted out.

A famous crony of Parr's, the learned Porson, was another devotee of

tobacco. In November 1789 Parr wrote to Dr. Burney: The books may be

consulted, and Porson shall do it, and he will do it. I know his price

when he bargains with me; two bottles instead of one, six pipes

instead of two, burgundy instead of claret, liberty to sit till five

in the morning instead of sneaking into bed at one: these are his

terms: and these few lines, it may be added, give a graphic picture

of Porson. According to Maltby, Porson once remarked that when smoking

began to go out of fashion, learning began to go out of fashion

also--which shows what nonsense a learned man could talk.

Another famous parson, the Rev. John Newton, was a smoker, and so was

Cowper's other clerical friend, that learned and able Dissenter, the

Rev. William Bull, whose whole mien and bearing were so dignified that

on two occasions he was mistaken for a bishop. Cowper appreciated

snuff, but did not care for smoking, and when he wrote to Unwin,

describing his new-made friend in terms of admiration, he

concluded--Such a man is Mr. Bull. But--he smokes tobacco. Nothing is

perfection 'Nihil est ab omni parte beatum.' Bull, however, was not

excessive in his smoking, for his daily allowance was but three pipes.

In his garden at Newport Pagnell, Bull showed Cowper a nook in which

he had placed a bench, where he said he found it very refreshing to

smoke his pipe and meditate. Here he sits, wrote Cowper, with his

back against one brick wall, and his nose against another, which must,

you know, be very refreshing, and greatly assist meditation.

Cowper's aversion from tobacco could not have been very strong, for he

encouraged his friend to smoke in the famous Summer House at Olney,

which was the poet's outdoor study. Bull smoked Orinoco tobacco, which

he carried in one of the tobacco-boxes, which in those days were much

more commonly used than pouches, and this box on one occasion he

accidentally left behind him at Olney. Cowper returned it to him with

the well-known rhymed epistle dated June 22, 1782, and beginning:

_If reading verse be your delight,

'Tis mine as much, or more, to write;

But what we would, so weak is man,

Lies oft remote from what we can._

He describes the box and its contents in lines which show not only

tolerance but appreciation of tobacco, from which it is not

unreasonable to infer that Cowper's first view of his friend's

smoking-habit as a drawback--as shown in his letter to Unwin, quoted

above--had been modified by neighbourhood and custom. It might have

been well for the poet himself if he had learned to smoke a social

pipe with his friend Bull. The appreciative lines run thus:

_This oval box well filled

With best tobacco, finely milled,

Beats all Anticyra's pretences

To disengage the encumbered senses.

O Nymph of transatlantic fame,

Where'er thine haunt, whate'er thy name,

Whether reposing on the side

Of Oronoco's spacious tide,

Or listening with delight not small

To Niagara's distant fall,

'Tis thine to cherish and to feed

The pungent nose-refreshing weed,

Which, whether pulverized it gain

A speedy passage to the brain,

Or whether, touched with fire, it rise

In circling eddies to the skies,

Does thought more quicken and refine

Than all the breath of all the Nine--

Forgive the bard, if bard he be,

Who once too wantonly made free,

To touch with a satiric wipe

That symbol of thy power, the pipe;

* * * * * * *

And so may smoke-inhaling Bull

Be always filling, never full._

The allusion in these verses to a satiric wipe refers to a passage

in the poem entitled Conversation, which Cowper had written in the

previous year, 1781. In this passage tobacco is abused in terms which

Cowper clearly felt to need modification after his personal

intercourse with such a smoker as his friend Bull. In describing, in

Conversation, the manner in which a story is sometimes told, the

poet says:

_The pipe, with solemn interposing puff,

Makes half a sentence at a time enough;

The dozing sages drop the drowsy strain,

Then pause and puff--and speak, and pause again.

Such often, like the tube they so admire,

Important triflers! have more smoke than fire._

Cowper then goes on to attack tobacco in lines which show how

unpopular smoking at that date was with ladies, and which have since

often been quoted by anti-tobacconists with grateful appreciation:

_Pernicious weed! whose scent the fair annoys,

Unfriendly to society's chief joys,

Thy worst effect is banishing for hours

The sex whose presence civilizes ours;

Thou art indeed the drug a gardener wants,

To poison vermin that infest his plants,

But are we so to wit and beauty blind,

As to despise the glory of our kind,

And show the softest minds and fairest forms

As little mercy as the grubs and worms?_

Notwithstanding this satiric wipe, it is not likely that Cowper

would have had much sympathy with John Wesley, who, in his detestation

of what had been his father's solace at Epworth, forbade his preachers

either to smoke or to take snuff.

In the first two or three decades of the nineteenth century smoking

reached its nadir. No dandy smoked. If some witnesses may be believed

smoking had almost died out even at Oxford. Archdeacon Denison wrote

in his Memories--When I went up to Oxford, 1823-24, there were two

things unknown in Christ Church, and I believe very generally in

Oxford--smoking and slang; but one cannot help fancying that the

archdeacon's memory was not quite trustworthy. It is difficult to

imagine that there was ever a time when the slang of the day was not

current on the lips of young Oxford, or that so long as tobacco was

procurable it did not find its way into college rooms.

If smoking had died out at Oxford its decline must have been rapid.

When a certain young John James was an undergraduate of Queen's, 1778

to 1781, he and his correspondents spoke severely of the miserable

condition of Fellows who (under the liberal pretence of educating

youth) spend half their lives in smoking tobacco and reading the

newspapers. About 1800 the older or more old-fashioned of the Fellows

at New College, not liking the then newly introduced luxury of Turkey

carpets, says Mr. G.V. Cox, in his Recollections of Oxford, 1868,

often adjourned to smoke their pipe in a little room opposite to the

Senior Common-room, now appropriated to other uses, but then kept as a

smoking-room. A Mr. Rhodes, a one-time Fellow of Worcester College,

who was elected Esquire Bedel in Medicine and Arts in 1792, had a very

peculiar way of enjoying his tobacco. Mr. Cox says: On one occasion,

when I had to call upon him, I found him drinking rum and water, and

enjoying (what he called his luxury) the fumes of tobacco, not through

a pipe or in the shape of a cigar, but _burnt in a dish!_

Smoking had certainly not died out at Cambridge, even at the time when

Denison was at Oxford. According to the Gradus ad Cantabrigium,

1824, the Cambridge smart man's habit was to dine in the evening at

his own rooms, or at those of a friend, and afterwards blows a cloud,

puffs at a segar, and drinks copiously. The spelling of segar shows

that cigars were then somewhat of a novelty.

When Tennyson was an undergraduate at Cambridge, 1828-30, he and his

companions all smoked. At the meetings of the Apostles--the little

group of friends which included the future Laureate--much coffee was

drunk, much tobacco smoked. Dons smoked as well as undergraduates. At

Queens', the Combination-room in Tennyson's time had still a sanded

floor, and the table was set handsomely forth with long

'churchwardens'--as the poet told Palgrave when the two visited

Cambridge in 1859. George Pryme, in his Autobiographic

Recollections, 1870, states that in 1800 smoking was allowed in the

Trinity Combination-room after supper in the twelve days of Christmas,

when a few old men availed themselves of it, which looks as if

tobacco were not very popular just then at Trinity. With the wine,

pipes and the large silver tobacco-box were laid on the table. Porson,

when asked for an inscription for the box, suggested +To bakcho+.

Pryme says that among the undergraduates, of whom he was one, tobacco

had no favour, and an attempt of Mr. Ginkell, son of Lord Athlone ...

to introduce smoking at his own wine-parties failed, although he had

the prestige of being a hat-fellow-commoner.

No doubt smoking had its ups and downs at the Universities apart from

the set of the main current of fashion. We learn from the invaluable

Gunning that at Cambridge about 1786 smoking was going out of fashion

among the junior members of our combination-rooms, except on the river

in the evening, when every man put a short pipe in his mouth. I took

great pains, he adds, to make myself master of this elegant

accomplishment, but I never succeeded, though I used to renew the

attempt with a perseverance worthy of a better cause. About the same

time Dr. Farmer was Master of Emmanuel and the Master was an

inveterate smoker. Gunning says that Emmanuel parlour under Farmer's

presidency was always open to those who loved pipes and tobacco and

cheerful conversation--a very natural collocation of tastes. Farmer's

silver tobacco-pipe is still preserved in his old college, while

Porson's japanned snuff-box is at Trinity.

Dr. Farmer was elected Master of Emmanuel in 1775. Years before he had

held the curacy of Swavesey, about nine miles out of Cambridge, where

he regularly performed the duty. After morning service it was his

custom to repair to the local public-house where he enjoyed a

mutton-chop and potatoes. Immediately after the removal of the cloth,

Mr. Dobson (his churchwarden) and one or two of the principal

farmers, made their appearance, to whom he invariably said, 'I am

going to read prayers, but shall be back by the time you have made

the punch.' Occasionally another farmer accompanied him from church,

when pipes and tobacco--with the punch--were in requisition until 6

o'clock. The Sabbath afternoon thus satisfactorily concluded, Farmer

returned to college in Cambridge and took a nap, till at nine he went

to the parlour of the college where the Fellows usually assembled, and

pipes and tobacco concluded a well-spent day.

In the fashionable world the snuff-box was all-powerful. The Prince

Regent was devoted to snuff, but disdained tobacco. He had a cellar

of snuff, which after his death was sold, said _John Bull_, August

15, 1830, to a well-known purveyor, for L400. Lord Petersham, famous

among dandies, made a wonderful collection of snuffs and snuff-boxes,

and was curious in his choice of a box to carry. Gronow relates that

once when a light Sevres snuff-box which Lord Petersham was using, was

admired, the noble owner replied, with a gentle lisp--Yes, it is a

nice summer box--but would certainly be inappropriate for winter

wear! The well-known purveyor who bought the Prince Regent's cellar

of snuff, and who bought also Lord Petersham's stock, was the Fribourg

of Fribourg and Treyer, whose well-known old-fashioned shop at the top

of the Haymarket, with a bow-window on each side of the door, still

gives an eighteenth-century flavour to that thoroughfare. All the

dandies of the period were connoisseurs of snuff, and imitated the

royal mirror of fashion in their devotion to the scented powder. Young

Charles Stanhope wrote to his brother on November 5, 1812--I have

learnt to take snuff among other fashionable acquirements, a custom

which, of course, you have learnt and will be able to keep me in

countenance. But no dandies or young men of fashion smoked. Tobacco,

save in the disguise of snuff, was tabooed.

Smoking was frowned upon, even in places where hitherto it had been

allowed. In 1812 the authorities of Sion College ordered that Coffee

and Tea be provided in the Parlour for the Visitors and Incumbents,

and in the Court Room for the Curates and Lecturers; and that Pipes

and Tobacco be not allowed; and that no Wine be at any time carried

into the Court Room, nor any into the Hall after Coffee and Tea shall

have been ordered on that day.

The use of tobacco for smoking, as I have said, had reached its

nadir--in the fashionable world, that is to say--but the dawn follows

the darkest hour, and the revival of smoking was at hand, thanks to

the cigar.