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Tobacco History:

The Social History of Smoking

by George Latimer Apperson

First published 1914

Chapter 11 Part 2


The late Bishop Mandell Creighton, of London, was an incessant smoker of cigarettes. Mr. Herbert Paul, in his paper on the Bishop, says that those who went to see him at Fulham on a Sunday afternoon always found him, if they found him at all, "leisurely, chatty, hospitable, and apparently without a care in the world. There was the family tea-table, and there were the eternal cigarettes. The Bishop must have paid a fortune in tobacco-duty." There is a side view of another tobacco-lover in the "Note-Books" of Samuel Butler, the author of "Erewhon." Creighton, after reading Butler's "Alps and Sanctuaries" had asked the author to come and see him. Butler was in doubt whether or not to go, and consulted his clerk, Alfred, on the matter. That wise counsellor asked to look at the Bishop's letter, and then said: "I see, sir, there is a crumb of tobacco in it; I think you can go."

Apart from cigarette-smoking, however, the use of tobacco grew steadily during the later Victorian period. In "Mr. Punch's Pocket-Book" for 1878 there was a burlesque dialogue between uncle and nephew entitled "Cupid and 'Baccy." The uncle thinks the younger men smoke too much, and declares that tobacco "has destroyed the susceptibility, which in my time made youngsters fall in love, as they often did, with a girl without a penny. No fellow can fall in love when he has continually a pipe in his mouth; and if he ever feels inclined to when it would be imprudent, why he lights his pipe, and very soon smokes the idea of such folly out of his head. Not so when I was of your age. Besides a few old farmers, churchwardens, and overseers, and such, nobody then ever smoked but labourers and the lower orders—cads as you now say. Smoking was thought vulgar. Young men never smoked at all. To smoke in the presence of a lady was an inconceivable outrage; yet now I see you and your friends walking alongside of one another's sisters, smoking a short pipe down the street." "The girls like it," says Nepos. "In my time," replies Avunculus, "young ladies would have fainted at the bare suggestion of such an enormity." The dialogue ends as follows:

"Nepos (producing short clay). See here, Uncle. This pipe is almost coloured. How long do you think I have had it?

"Avunculus. Can't imagine.

"Nepos. Only three weeks.

"Avunculus. Good boy!"

In the same "Pocket-Book" one of the ideals of a wife by a bachelor is—"To approve of smoking all over the house"; while one of the ideals of a husband by a spinster is—"Not to smoke, or use a latch-key." Mr. Punch's prelections, of course, are not to be taken too seriously. They all necessarily have the exaggeration of caricature; but at the same time they are all significant, and for the social historian are invaluable.

Tobacco-smoking was advancing victoriously all along the line. Absurd old conventions and ridiculous restrictions had to give way or were broken through in every direction. The compartments for smokers on railway trains, at first provided sparsely and grudgingly, became more and more numerous. The practice of smoking out of doors , which the early Victorians held in particular abhorrence, became common—at least so far as cigars and cigarettes were concerned. Lady Dorothy Nevill, whose memory covered so large a part of the nineteenth century, said, in the "Leaves" from her note-book which was published in 1907, that to smoke in Hyde Park, even up to comparatively recent years, was looked upon as absolutely unpardonable; while smoking anywhere with a lady would, in the earlier days, have been classed as an almost disgraceful social crime. The first gentleman of whom Lady Dorothy heard as having been seen smoking a cigar in the Park was the Duke of Sutherland, and the lady who told her spoke of it as if she had been present at an earthquake! Pipes were (and are) still looked at askance in many places where the smoking of cigars and cigarettes is freely allowed, and fashion frowned on the pipe in street or Park.

Of course, what one might do in the country and what one might do in town were two quite different things. The following story was told nearly twenty years ago of the late Duke of Devonshire. An American tourist began talking one day to a quiet-looking man who was smoking outside an inn on the Chatsworth estate, and, taking the man for the inn-keeper, expressed his admiration of the Duke of Devonshire's domain. "Quite a place, isn't it?" said the American. "Yes, a pleasant place enough," returned the Englishman. "The fellow who owns it must be worth a mint of money," said the American, through his cigar-smoke. "Yes, he's comfortably off," agreed the other. "I wonder if I could get a look at the old chap," said the stranger, after a short silence; "I should like to see what sort of a bird he is." Puff, puff, went the English cigar, and then said the English voice, trying hard to control itself: "If you"—puff—"look hard"—puff, puff—"in this direction, you"—puff, puff—"can tell in a minute." "You, you!" faltered the American, getting up, "why, I thought you were the landlord!" "Well, so I am," said the Duke, "though I don't perform the duties." "I stay here," he added, with a twinkle in his eye, "to be looked at."

Among the chief strongholds of the old ideas and prejudices were some of the clubs. At the Athenæum the only smoking-room used to be a combined billiard-and smoking-room in the basement. It was but a few years ago that an attic story was added to the building, and smokers can now reach more comfortable quarters by means of a lift put in when the alterations were made in 1900. This new smoking-room is a very handsome, largely book-lined apartment. At the end of the room is a beautiful marble mantelpiece of late eighteenth century Italian work. At White's even cigars had not been allowed at all until 1845; and when, in 1866, some of the younger members wished to be allowed to smoke in the drawing-room, there was much perturbation, the older members bitterly opposing the proposal. "A general meeting was held to decide the question," says Mr. Ralph Nevill, in his "London Clubs," "when a number of old gentlemen who had not been seen in the club for years made their appearance, stoutly determined to resist the proposed desecration. 'Where do all these old fossils come from?' inquired a member. 'From Kensal Green,' was Mr. Alfred Montgomery's reply. 'Their hearses, I understand, are waiting to take them back there.'" The motion for the extension of the facilities for smoking was defeated by a majority of twenty-three votes, and as an indirect result the Marlborough Club was founded. The late King Edward, at that time Prince of Wales, is said to have sympathized strongly with the defeated minority at White's, and to have interested himself in the foundation of the Marlborough; where, "for the first time in the history of West End Clubland, smoking, except in the dining-room, was everywhere allowed." By "smoking" is no doubt here meant everything but pipes, which were not considered gentlemanly even at the Garrick Club at the beginning of the present century. The late Duc d'Aumale was a social pioneer in pipe-smoking. His caricature in "Vanity Fair" represents him with a pipe in his mouth, although he is wearing an opera-hat, black frock-coat buttoned up, and a cloak.

By the end of the nineteenth century the snuff-box which once upon a time stood upon the mantelpiece of every club, had disappeared. The habit of snuffing had long been falling into desuetude. The cigar dealt the snuff-box its death-blow and the cigarette was chief mourner at its funeral.

As in other periods, men of letters and artists ignored the social prejudices and conventions about tobacco, and laughed at the artificial distinctions drawn between cigars and pipes. It is said that the late Sir John Millais smoked a clay pipe in his carriage when he was part of the first Jubilee procession of Queen Victoria—a performance, if it took place, which would certainly have horrified her tobacco-hating Majesty. Tennyson and his friends smoked their pipes as they had always done—and old-fashioned clay pipes too. Sir Norman Lockyer, referring to a period about 1867, mentions Monday evenings in his house which were given up to friends "who came in, sans cérémonie, to talk and smoke. Clays from Broseley, including 'churchwardens' and some of larger size (Frank Buckland's held an ounce of tobacco) were provided, and the confirmed smokers (Tennyson, an occasional visitor, being one of them) kept their pipes, on which the name was written, in a rack for future symposia."

Of the other great Victorian poets Morris was a pipe-smoker, and so was Rossetti. Browning also smoked, but not, I think, a pipe. Swinburne, on the other hand, detested tobacco, and expressed himself on the subject with characteristic extravagance and vehemence—"James I was a knave, a tyrant, a fool, a liar, a coward. But I love him, I worship him, because he slit the throat of that blackguard Raleigh who invented this filthy smoking!" Professor Blackie, in a letter to his wife, remarked: "The first thing I said on entering the public room was—'What a delightful thing the smell of tobacco is, in a warm room on a wet night!' ... I gave my opinion with great decision that tobacco, whisky and all such stimulants or sedatives, had their foundation in nature, could not be abolished, or rather should not, and must be content with the check of a wise regulation. Even pious ladies were fond of tea, which, taken in excess, was worse for the nerves than a glass of sherry."

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