by King James I of England, VI of Scotland.
(b. 1566 d. 1625)

That the manifold abuses of this vile custom of tobacco taking, may the better be espied; it is fit that first you enter into confederation both of the first original thereof and likewise of the reason of the first entry thereof into this country; for certainly as such customs that have their first infiltration either from a godly, necessary, or honorable ground, and are first brought in by the means of some worthy virtuous and great personage; are never, and more justly holden in great reverent estimation and account by all wise virtuous and temperate spirits; so should it by the contrary, justly bring a great disgrace into that sort of customs, which having their original base corruption and barbarity, do, in like sort, make their first entry into a country, by an inconsiderate and childish affectation of novelty, as is the true case of the first invention of tobacco taking and the first entry thereof among us....

Now to the corrupted baseness of the first use of this tobacco doth very well agree the foolish and groundless first entry thereof into this Kingdom. It is not so long since the first entry of this abuse among us here as this present age cannot yet very well remember, both the first author, and the form of the first introduction of it against us. It was neither brought in by king, great conqueror, nor learned doctor of physics...

But since it is true that divers customs slightly grounded, and with no better warrant entered in a commonwealth, may yet in the use of them thereafter prove both necessary and profitable. It is therefore next to be examined if there be not a full sympathy and true proportion between the base ground and foolish entry, and the loathsome and hurtful use of this stinking antidote.

I am now therefore heartily to pray you to consider, first upon what false and erroneous grounds you have first built the general good liking thereof; and next what sins towards God, and foolish vanities before the world you commit in the detestable use of it.

As for those deceitful grounds that have specially moved you to take a good and great conceit thereof. I shall content myself to examine here only four of the principles of them: two founded upon the theory of a deceivable appearance of reason, and two of them upon the mistaken practice of general experience.

First, it is thought by you a sure aphorisms in the administration of medicine[2] that the brains of all men being naturally cold and wet, all dry and hot things should be good for them of which nature this stinking suffumigation is, and therefore of good use to them. Of this argument both the proposition and assumption are false, and so the conclusion cannot be void[3] of itself. For as to the proposition that because the brains are cold and moist, therefore things that are hot and dry are best for them; it is an inept consequence. For man being compounded of the four complexions (whose fathers are the four elements) although there be a mixture of them all in all parts of his body; yet must the divers parts of our microcosm, or little world within ourselves, be diversely more inclined some to one, some to another complexion according to the diversity of their uses that of these discords a perfect harmony may be made up for the maintenance of the whole body.

The application then of a thing of a contrary nature to any of these parts is to interrupt them of their due function, and by consequence hurtful to the health of the whole body; as if a man, because the liver is as the fountain of blood, and as it were an oven to the stomach, would therefore apply and wear close upon his liver and stomach a cake of lead he might within a very short time (I hope) be sustained very good cheap at an ordinary, besides the clearing of his conscience from that deadly sin of gluttony. And as if because the heart is full of vital spirits, and in perpetual motion, a man would therefore lay a heavy pound stone on his breast for staying and holding down that wanton palpitation, I doubt not but his breast would be more bruised with the weight thereof than the heart would be comforted with such a disagreeable and contrarious cure. And even so is it with the brains, for if a man because the brains are cold and humid should therefore use inwardly by smells, or outwardly by application, things of hot and dry qualities, all the gain that he could make thereof would only be to put himself in great forwardness for running mad by over-watching himself. The coldness and moisture of our brains being the only ordinary means that procure our sleep and rest. Indeed, I do not deny that when it falls out that any of these or any part of our body grows to be distempered, and to tend to an extremity beyond the compass of natures temperature mixture that in that case cures of contrary qualities to the intemperate inclination of that part being wisely prepared and discreetly ministered may be both necessary and helpful for strengthening and assisting nature in the expulsion of her enemies, for this is the true definition of all profitable administration of medicine.

But first, these cures ought not to be used, but where there is need of them. The contrary whereof is daily practiced in this general use of tobacco by all sorts of complexions of people.

And next, I deny the minor of this argument, as I have already said, in regard that this tobacco is not simply of a dry and hot quality but rather hath a certain venomous faculty joined with the heat thereof which makes it have an antipathy against nature as by the hateful nature thereof doth well appear. For the nose being the proper organ and convoy of the sense of smelling to the brains, which are the only fountain of the sense, doth ever serve us for an infallible witness, whether that odor which we smell be healthful or hurtful to the brain (except when it falls out that the sense itself is corrupted and abused through some infirmity and distemper in the brain). And that the suffumigation thereof cannot have a drying quality. It needs no further probation than that it is a smoke, all smoke and vapor being of itself humid as drawing near to the nature of air, and easy to be resolved again into water, whereof there needs no other proof but the meteors which being bred of nothing else but of the vapors and exhalations sucked up by the sun out of the earth, the sea and waters. Yet, are the same smoky vapors turned and transformed into rains, snows, dews, hoarfrosts, and such like watery meteors as by the contrary, the rainy clouds are often transformed and evaporated in blustering winds.

The second argument grounded on a show of reason is that this filthy smoke, as well through the heat and strength thereof, as by a natural force and quality, is able and fit to purge both the head and stomach of rheums and distillations as experience teaches by the spitting and avoiding phlegm immediately after the taking of it. But the fallacy of this argument may easily appear by my late proceeding description of the meteors, for even as the smoky vapors sucked by the sun and stayed in the lowest and cold region of the air are contracted into clouds and turned into rain and such other watery meteors. So this stinking smoke being sucked up by the nose and imprisoned in the cold and moist brains is by their cold and wet faculty turned and cast forth again in watery distillations, and so are you made free and purged of nothing, but that wherewith you wilfully burdened yourselves, and therefore are you no wiser in taking Tobacco for purging you of distillations than, if for preventing cholic, you would take all kind of windy meats and drinks; and for preventing of the stone, you would take all kind of meats and drinks that would breed gravel in the kidneys. And then when you were forced to void much wind out of your stomach, and much gravel in your urine, that you should attribute the thank, therefore, to such nourishments as breed those within you that behooved either to be expelled by the force of nature, or you to have burst at the broadside, as the Proverb is.

As for the other two reasons founded upon experience, the first of which is that the whole people would not have taken for general a good liking thereof if they had not by experience found it very savoring and good for them. For answer there unto how easily the mind of any people wherewith God hath replenished this world may be drawn to the foolish affection of any novelty; I leave it to the discreet judgment of any man that is reasonable.

Do we not daily see that a man can sooner bring over from beyond the seas any new form of apparel but that he cannot be thought a man of spirit that would not presently imitate the same, and so from hand to hand it spreads until it be practiced by all; not for any commodity that is in it, but only because it is come to be the fashion. For such is the force of that natural self-love in every one of us, and such is the corruption of envy bred in the breast of every one as we cannot be content unless we imitate every thing that our fellows do, and so prove ourselves capable of every thing whereof they are capable, like apes counterfeiting the manners of others to our own destruction. For let one or two of the greatest masters of mathematics in any of the two famous universities but constantly affirm any clear day that they see some strange apparition in the skies; they will, I warrant you, be seconded by the greatest part of the students in that profession. So loath will they be, to be thought inferior to their fellows either in depth of knowledge or sharpness of sight, and, therefore, the general good liking and embracing of this foolish custom doth but only proceed from that affectation of novelty and popular error whereof I have already spoken.

And the other argument drawn from a mistaken experience is but the more particular probation of this general, because it is alleged to be found true by proof. That by taking of tobacco divers, and very many, do find themselves cured of divers diseases as on the other part no man ever received harm thereby. In this argument, there is first a great mistaking and next monstrous absurdity, for is not a very great mistaking, to take non causam pre causa[4] as they say in logic, because peradventure when a sick man has had his disease at the height he hath at that instant taken tobacco, and afterward his disease taking the natural course of declining and consequently the patient of recovering his health, O, then the tobacco in truth was the worker of that miracle, beside that, it is a thing well known to all physicians that the apprehension and conceit of the patient hath by wakening and uniting the vital spirits and so strengthening nature a great power and virtue to cure dives diseases. For an evident proof of mistaking in the like case; I pray what foolish boy, what silly wench, what old doting wife, or ignorant country clown is not physician for the toothache, cholic, and divers such common diseases. Yes, will not every man you meet withal teach you a sundry cure for the same and swear by that man, either himself of some of his nearest kinsman and friends was cured, and yet I hope no man is so foolish to believe them. And all these toys do only proceed from the mistaking non causam pro causa[5] as I have already said, and so if a man chance to remove one of any disease after he hath taken tobacco, that must have the thanks of all. But by the contrary, if a man smoke himself to death with it (as many have done) then some other disease must bear the blame for that fault. So do old harlots thank their harlotry for their many years that custom being healthful (say they) ad purgandos renes[6], but never have mind how many die of the pox in the flower of their youth, and so do old drunkards think they prolong their days by their swine like diet, but never remember how many die drowned in drink before they be half old.

And what greater absurdity can there be than to say that one cure shall serve for divers and contrarious sorts of diseases. It is an undoubted ground among all physicians that there is almost no sort either of nourishment or medicine that has not some thing in it disagreeable to some part of men's body because, as I have already said, the nature of the temperature of every part is so different from another, that according to the old proverb that which is good for the head is evil for the neck and shoulders. For even as a strong enemy invades a town or fortress although in his siege thereof he does belay and compass it round about, yet he makes his breach and entry at some one of few special parts thereof, which he hath tried and found to be weakest and left able to resist. So sickness doth make her particular assault upon such part or parts of our body as are weakest and easiest to be overcome by the sort of disease which then doth assail us; although all the rest of the body, by sympathy feels itself to be as it were belayed and besieged by the affliction of that special part. The grief and smart thereof being by the sense of feeling dispersed through all the rest of the members, and therefore the skillful physician presses by such cures to purge and strengthen that part which is afflicted as are only fit for that sort of disease and do best agree with the nature of that infirm part which being abused to a disease of another nature would prove as hurtful to the one as helpful for the other. Not only will a skillful and weary physician be careful to use no cure but that which is fit for that sort of disease, but he will also consider all other circumstances and make the remedies suitable there unto as the temperature of the clime where the patient is. The constitution of the planets, the time of the moon, the season of the year, the age and complexion of the patient, the present state of his body in strength or weakness. For one cure must not ever be used for the self same disease but according to the varying of any of the aforesaid circumstances. That sort of remedy must be used which is fittest for the same. Whereby the contrary in this case, such is the miraculous omnipotency of our strong-tasted tobacco as it cures all sorts of diseases (which never any drug could do before) in all persons, and at all times. It cures all manner of distillations, either in head or stomach (if you believe their axioms) although in very deed it does both corrupt the brain, and by causing over quick digestion fills the stomach full of crudities. It cures gout in the feet, and (which is miraculous) in that very instant where the smoke thereof as light flies up into the head, the value thereof, as heavy, runs down to the little toe. It helps all sorts of agues; it makes a man sober that was drunk; it refreshes a weary man, and yet makes a man hungry; being taken when they go to bed, it makes one sleep soundly and yet being taken when a man is sleepy and drowsy, it will, as they say, awaken his brain and quicken his understanding. As for curing the pox, it serves for that use but among the pocky Indian slaves. Here in England it is refined and will not deign to cure here any other than cleanly and gentlemanly diseases. Oh, the omnipotent power of tobacco! And if it could by the smoke thereof chase out devils, as the smoke of Tobias Fish did (which, I am sure, could smell no stronger) it would serve for a precious relic, both for the superstitious priests and the insolent Puritans, to call our devils withal.

Admitting then, and not confessing, that the use thereof were healthful for some sorts of diseases, should it be used for all sicknesses? Should it be used by all men? Should it be used at all times? Yes, should it be used by able, young, strong, healthful men? Medicine hath that virtue that it never leaves a man in the state wherein it finds him. It makes a sick man whole, but a whole man sick. And as medicine helps nature, being taken at times of necessity, so being ever and continually used, it doth but weaken man every hour of the day, or as often as many in this country use to take tobacco. Let a man, I say, but take as often the best sorts of nourishments in meat and drink that can be devised, he shall with the continual use thereof weaken both his head and his stomach. All members shall become feeble; his spirits dull; and in the end, as a drowsy, lazy belly-god, he shall fade away in a lethargy.

And from this weakness it precedes that many in this kingdom have had such a continual use of taking this unsavory smoke, as now they are not able to forbear the same no more than an old drunkard can abide to be long sober without falling into an incurable weakness and evil constitution. For their continual custom hath made to them habitual alter am natural[7]. So, to those that from their birth have continually nourished upon poison, and things venomous, wholesome meats are only poison.

Thus having, as I trust, sufficiently answered the most principle arguments that are used in defense of this vile custom, it rests only to inform you what sins and vanities you commit in the filthy abuse thereof: First, are you not guilty of sinful and shameful lust (for lust may be as well in any of the senses as in feeling) that although you be troubled with no disease, but in perfect health, yet can you neither be merry at an ordinary, not lascivious in the stews, if you lack tobacco to provoke your appetite to any of those sorts of recreation lusting after it as the children of Israel did in the wilderness after quails. Secondly: it is as you use, or rather abuse, it a branch of the sin of drunkenness, which is the root of all sins; for as the only delight that drunkards take in wine is in the strength of the taste, and the force of the fume thereof that mounts up to the brain, for no drunkards love any weak or sweet drink. So are not those (I mean the strong heat fume) the only qualities that make tobacco so delectable to all the lovers of it? And no man likes strong heady drink the first day (because nenia repentefit turpissimus[8]) but by custom is piece and piece allured, while in the end, a drunkard will have as great a thrill to be drunk as a sober man to quench his thirst with a drought when he hath need of it. So is not this the very case of all the great takers of tobacco which therefore they themselves do attribute to a bewitching quality in it? Thirdly: Is it not the greatest sin of all that you, the people of all sorts of this kingdom who are created and ordained by God, to bestow both your persons and goods for the maintenance both of the honor and safety of your king and commonwealth should disable yourselves in both? In your persons having by this continual vile custom brought yourselves to this shameful imbecility that you are not able to ride or walk the journey of a Jew's Sabbath, but you must have a reeky coal brought to you from the next poor house to kindle your tobacco with. Whereas he cannot be thought able for any service in the wars that cannot endure oftentimes the want of meat, drink and sleep much more then must he endure the want of tobacco. In the times of the many glorious and victorious battles fought by this nation, there was no word of tobacco, but now if it were time of wars, and that you were to make some sudden cavalcado upon your enemies, if any of you should seek leisure to lay behind his fellow for taking of tobacco, for my part, I should never be sorry for any evil chance that might befall him. To take a custom in any thing that cannot be left again is most harmful to the people of any land. Mollities[9] and delicacy were the rack and overthrow, first of the Persians, and next of the Roman Empire. And this very custom of taking tobacco (whereof our present purpose is) is even at this day accounted so effeminate among the Indians themselves, as in the market, they will offer no price for a slave to be sold whom they find to be a great tobacco-taker.

Now how you are by this custom disabled in your goods, let the gentry of this land bear witness, some of them bestowing three, some four hundred pounds a year upon this precious stink, which I am sure might be bestowed upon many far better uses. I read indeed of a knavish courtier who for abusing the favor of the Emperor Alexander Severus his master by taking bribes to intercede for sundry persons in his master's ear (for whom he never once opened his mouth) was justly choked with smoke. With this doom fumo peteat-qui fumum vendidst[10]. But of so many smoke-buyers as are at this present in this kingdom, I never read nor heard.

And for the vanities committed in this filthy custom, is it not both great vanity and uncleanness that at the table, a place of respect, of cleanliness of modesty men should not be ashamed to sit tossing of tobacco pipes and puffing of the smoke of tobacco one to another making the filthy smoke and stink thereof to exhale athwart the dishes and infect the air when very often men that abhor it are at their repast. Surely smoke becomes a kitchen; also oftentimes in the inward parts of men fouling and infecting them with an unctuous and oily kind of foot as hath been found in some great tobacco-takers that after their death were opened. And not only meat-time but no other time nor action is exempted from the public use of this uncivil trick. So as if the wives of Diep list contest with this nation for good manners, their worst manners would in all reason be found at least not dishonest, as ours are in this point. The public use whereof at all times and in all places hath now so far prevailed as divers men very fond of both in judgment and complexion have been at last forced to take it also without desire partly because they were ashamed to seem singular (like the two philosophers that were forced to duck themselves in that rain-water and become fools as well as the rest of the people) and partly to be as one that was content to eat garlic (which he did not love) that he might not be troubled with the smell of it in the breath of his fellows. And is it not a great vanity that a man cannot heartily welcome his friend now, but straight they must be in hand with tobacco. No, it is become in place of a cure, a point of good fellowship. He will refuse to take a pipe of tobacco among his fellows (though by his own election he would rather smell the favor of the sink) is accounted peevish and no good company; even as they do with tippling in the cold eastern countries. Yes, the mistress cannot in a more mannerly kind entertain her servant than by giving him out of her fair hand a pipe of tobacco, but herein is not only a great vanity but a great contempt for God's good gifts that sweetens a man's breath being a good gift of God should be wilfully corrupted by this stinking smoke wherein I must confess it hath too strong a virtue, and so that which is an ornament of nature and can neither by any artifice be at the first acquired, nor once lost be recovered again shall be filthily corrupted with an incurable stink which vile quality is as directly contrary to that wrong opinion which is holden of the wholesomeness thereof as the venom of putrefaction is contrary to the virtue preservative.

Moreover, which is a great iniquity, and against all humanity. The husband shall not be ashamed to reduce thereby his delicate wholesome and clean-complexioned wife to that extremity that either she must also corrupt her sweet breath therewith, or else resolve to live n a perpetual stinking torment.

Have you not reason then to be ashamed and to forbear this filthy novelty, so basely grounded, so foolishly received and so grossly mistaken in the right use thereof. In your abuse thereof sinning against God harming yourselves both in person and goods, and raking also thereby the marks and notes of vanity upon you by the custom thereof making yourselves to be wondered at by all foreign civil nations and by all strangers that come among you to be scorned and held in contemp; a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.


1 This essay was transcribed from a microfilm copy of a book published in 1672. The original essay was published in 1604. The microfilm is in the microfilm department of Love Library on the city campus of The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska (Z 2002.E 3 reel 892.17 J1.47). This copy was prepared in October, 1999 by John P. Shaw. The footnotes are not part of the original text.

2 Here, and elsewhere in this essay, the word "Physick" has been translated "administration of medicine" whether by a physician or lay person.

3 We would use the term "valid" instead of "void." Indeed, if the premises are false the conclusion cannot be true and the argument valid.

4 There is no cause before cause.

5 There is no cause before cause.

6 To the purging of the loins (renal area; kidneys).

7 Habit alters nature.

8 No man becomes a villain all at once.

9 Softness

10 Smokers seek some smoke-vendors (tobacco vendors).

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Keywords: Counterblast to Tobacco by King James I of England VI of Scotland