A delicate subject? Very true; and one which must be handled as tenderly as biscuit de Sevres, or Venetian glass. Whichever side of the question we may assume, as the most popular, or the most right, the feelings of so large and respectable a minority are to be consulted, that it behooves the critic or reviewer to move cautiously, and, imitating the actions of a certain feline household reformer, to show only the patte de velours.
The omniscient Burton seems to have reached the pith of the matter. The two hostile sections of his proposition, though written so long since, would very well fit the smoker and the reformer of to-day. That portion of the world which is enough advanced to advocate reforms is entirely divided against itself on the subject of Tobacco. Immense interests, economical, social, and, as some conceive, moral are arrayed on either side. The reformers have hitherto had the better of it in point of argument, and have pushed the attack with most vigor, yet with but trifling results. Smokers and chewers, et id omne genus, mollified by their habits, or laboring under guilty consciences, have made but a feeble defence. Nor in all this is there anything new. It is as old as the knowledge of the "weed" among thinking men,—in other words, about three centuries. The English adventurers under Drake and Raliegh and Hawkins, and the multitude of minor Protestant "filibusters" who followed in their train, had no sooner imported the habit of smoking tobacco, among the other outlandish customs which they brought home from the new Indies and the Spanish Main, than the higher powers rebuked the practice, which novelty and its own fascinations were rendering so fashionable, in language more forcible than elegant. The philippic of King James is so apposite that we may be pardoned for transcribing one oft-quoted sentence:—"herein is not only a great vanity, but a great contempt of God's good gifts, that the sweetness of man's breath, being a good gift of God, should be wilfully corrupted by this stinking smoke.....A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmfull to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof neerest resembling the horrible Stygian smoake of the pit that is bottomless."
The Popes Urban VIII and Innocent XII fulminated edicts of excommunication against all who used tobacco in any form; from which we may conclude that the new habit was spreading rapidly over Christendom. And not only the successors of St. Peter, but those also of the Prophet, denounced the practice, the Sultan Amurath IV making it punishable with death. The Viziers of Turkey spitted the noses of smokers with their own pipes; the more considerate Shah of Persia cut them entirely off. The knout greeted in Russia the first indulgence, and death followed the second offence. In some of the Swiss cantons smoking was considered a crime second only to adultery. Modern republics are not quite so severe.
It is not to be supposed that in England the royal pamphlet had its desired effect. For we find that James laid many rigid sumptuary restrictions upon the practice which he abominated, based chiefly upon the extravagance it occasioned,—the expenses of some smokers being estimated at several hundred pounds a year. The King, however, had the sagacity to secure a preemption-right as early as 1620.
Yet how could the practice but have increased, when, as Malcolm relates the tradition, such men as Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Hugh Middleton sat smoking at their doors?—for "the public manner in which it was exhibited, and the aromatic flavor inhaled by the passengers, exclusive of the singularity of the circumstance and the eminence of the parties," could hardly have failed to favor its dissemination.
The silver-tongued Joshua Sylvester hoped to aid the royal cause by writing a poem entitled, "Tobacco battered, and the pipes shattered, (about their ears who idly idolize so base and barbarous a weed, or at least-wise overlove so loathsome a vanity,) by a volley of holy shot thundered from Mount Helicon." If the smoothness of the verses equaled the euphony of the title, this must have proved a moving appeal.
Stow contents himself with calling tobacco "a stinking weed, so much abused to God's dishonor."
Burton exhausts the subject in a single paragraph. Ben Jonson, though a jolly good fellow, was opposed to the habit of smoking. But Spenser mentions "divine tobacco." Walton's "Piscator" indulges in a pipe at breakfast, and "Venator" has his tobacco brought from London to insure its purity. Sweet Izaak could have selected no more soothing minister than the pipe to the "contemplative man's recreation."
As the new sedative gains in esteem, we find Francis Quarles, in his "Emblems," treating it in this serio-comic vein:—
"Flint-hearted Stoics, you whose marble eyes
Contemn a wrinkle, and whose souls despise
To follow Nature's too affected fashion,
Or travel in the regent walk of passion,—
Whose rigid hearts disdain to shrink at fears,
Or play at fast-and-loose with smiles and tears,—
Come, burst your spleens with laughter to behold
A new-found vanity, which days of old
Ne'er knew,—a vanity that has beset
The world, and made more slaves than Mahomet,—
That has condemned us to the servile yoke
Of slavery, and made us slaves to smoke.
But stay! why tax I thus our modern times
For new-born follies and for new-born crimes?
Are we sole guilty, and the first age free?
No: they were smoked and slaved as we.
What's sweet-lipped honor's blast, but smoke? what's treasure,
But very smoke? and what's more smoke than pleasure?
Brand gives us the whole matter in a nutshell, in the following quaint epigram, entitled "A Tobacconist," taken from an old collection:—
"All dainty meats I do defy
Which feed men fat as swine;
He is a frugal man, indeed,
That on a leaf can dine.
"He needs no napkin for his hands
His fingers' ends to wipe,
That keeps his kitchen in a box,
And roast meat in a pipe."
And so on, the singers of succeeding years, usque ad nauseam,—a loathing equaled only by that of the earlier writers for the plant, now so lauded.
Tobacco-worship seems to us to culminate in the following stanza from a German song:—
"Tabak ist mein Leben,
Dem hab'ich mich ergeben, ergeben;
Tabak ist meine Lust.
Und eh' ich ihn sollt' lassen,
Viel lieber wollt' ich hassen,
Ja, hassen selbst eines Madchens Kuss."
As it is with your sex, my dear Madam, that this question of Tobacco is to be mainly argued,—for, to your honor be it spoken, you have always been of the reformatory party,—let us hope, that, provided you have not read or translated the last verse, you have recovered your natural amiability, ruffled perhaps by this odious subject, and are prepared to believe us when we tell you that these opposite opinions cannot be wholly reconciled, and to follow us patiently while we attempt to show that a certain gentleman, introduced to your maternal ancestor at a very remote period of the world's history, is not so black as he is sometimes painted. Let us keep good-natured, at least, in this discussion; for we propose to settle it without taking off the gloves, as we intimated in the opening paragraph. Your patience will be much needed for the sad army of facts and figures which is to follow. Therefore it is but just that you should speak now, after these long sentences.
Your George will never smoke? Excuse me. When he will smoke depends upon the precocity of his individual generation; and that increases in a direct ratio with time itself, in this country. Thus, to state the matter in an approximate inverse arithmetical progression, and dating the birth of "young America" about the year 1825,—previously to which reigned the dark ages of old-fogydom, so called,—we find as follows:—From 1825 to 1835, young gentlemen learned to smoke when from 25 to 20 years of age; from 1835 to 1845, young gents, ditto, ditto, from 20 to 15 years; 1845 to 1855, from 15 to 10; 1855 to 1865, 10 to 5; 1865 to 1875, 5 to 0; and if we continue, 1875 to 1885, zero to minus: but really the question is becoming too nebulous. Corollary. In about ten years, the youth of the United States will smoke contemporaneously with the infant Burmese, who, we are credibly informed begin the habit aet. 3, or as soon as they have cut enough teeth to hold a cigar.
Therefore, we will say, Madam, at some indefinite period of his childhood or youth,—for we would not be so impolite as to infer your age by asking that of your son,—the susdit George will come home late from play some afternoon, languid, pale, and disinclined for tea. He will indignantly repel the accusation of feeling ill, and there will lurk about his person an indescribable odor of stale cinnamon, which you will be at a loss to account for, but which his elder brother will recognize as the natural result of smoking "cinnamon cigars," wherewith certain wicked tobacconists of this city tempt curious youth. If you follow him to his chamber, you will probably discover more damning evidence of his guilt.
We will draw the curtain over the scene of the Spartan mother—we hope you belong to that nearly extinct class—which is to follow. Let us suppose all differences settled, the habit ostensibly given up, and your darling, grown more honest or more artful,—the result is the same to your blissful ignorance,—studiously pursuing his way until he enters college. Some fine day you drive over to the neighboring university, and, entering his room unannounced, you find him coloring his first (factitious) meerschaum!—also a sad deficiency in his wardrobe of half-worn clothes. C'est une pipe qui coute cher a culotter, the college meerschaum,—and in more ways than one, according to the "Autocrat":—"I do not advise you, young man, to consecrate the flower of your life to painting the bowl of a pipe," et seq. More bold, the Sophomore will smoke openly at home; and by the end of the third vacation, it is one of those unyielding faits accomplis against which reformers, household or peripatetic, beat their heads in vain.
Perhaps your husband smokes? If so, at what period of the twenty-four hours have you invariably found Mr. ——— most lenient to your little pecuniary peccadilloes? Is he not always most good-natured when his cigar is about one-third consumed, the ash evenly burnt and adherent, and not fallen into his shirt-bosom? Depend upon it, tobacco is a great soother of domestic differences.
Let us, then, look an existing, firmly rooted evil—if you will call it so—in the face, and see if it is quite so bad as it is represented. It is too wide-spread to be sneered away,—for we might almost say that smokers were the rule, and nonsmokers the exception, among all civilized men. Charles Kingsley supports us here:—"'Man a cooking animal,' my dear Doctor Johnson? Pooh! man is a smoking animal. There is his ergon, his 'differential energy,' as the Aristotelians say,—his true distinction form the orangoutang. Ponder it well."
Query.—What did the old Roman do without a cigar? How idle through the day? How survive his interminable post-coenal potations?—The thought is not our own. It occurs somewhere in De Quincy, we believe. It is one of those self-evident propositions you wonder had not occurred to you before.—What an accessory of luxury the pipe would have been to him who passed the livelong day under the mosaic arches of the Thermae! The strigiles would have vanished before the meerschaum, had that magic clay then been known. How completely would the hookah and the narghileh have harmonized with the crater, cyathi, and tripods of the triclinium in that portraiture of the "Decadence of Rome" which hangs in the Luxembourg Gallery! Poor fellows! they managed to exist without them.
Though pipes are found carved on very old sculptures in China, and the habit of smoking was long since extensively followed there, according to Pallas, and although certain species of the tobacco-plant, as the Nicotiana rustica, would appear to be indigenous to the country, yet we have the best reason to conclude that America, if not the exclusive home of the herb, was the birthplace of its use by man. The first great explorer of the West found the sensuous natives of Hispaniola rolling up and smoking tobacco-leaves with the same persistent indolence that we recognize in the Cuban of the present day. Rough Cortes saw with surprise the luxurious Aztec composing himself for the siesta in the middle of the day as invariably as his fellow Dons in Castile. But he was amazed that the barbarians had discovered in tobacco a sedative to promote their reveries and compose them to sleep, of which the hidalgos were as yet ignorant, but which they were soon to appropriate with avidity, and to use with equal zest. Humboldt says that it had been cultivated by the people of Orinoco from time immemorial, and was smoked all over America at the time of the Spanish Conquest,—also that it was first discovered by Europeans in Yucatan, in 1520, and was there called Petum. Tobacco, according to the same authority, was taken from the word tabac, the name of an instrument used in the preparation of the herb.
Though Columbus and his immediate followers doubtless brought home specimens of tobacco among the other spoils of the New World, Jean Nicot, ambassador to Portugal from Francis II., first sent the seeds to France, where they were cultivated and used about the year 1560. In honor of its sponsor, Botany has named the plant Nicotiana tabacum, and Chemistry distinguished as Nicotin its active alkaloid. Sir Francis Drake first brought tobacco to England about 1586. It owed the greater part of its early popularity, however, to the praise and practice of Raleigh: his high standing and character would have sufficed to introduce still more novel customs. The weed once inhaled, the habit once acquired, its seductions would not allow it to be easily laid aside; and we accordingly find that royal satire, public odium, and ruinous cost were alike inadequate to restrain its rapidly increasing consumption. Somewhere about the year 1600 or 1601 tobacco was carried to the East, and introduced among the Turks and Persians,—it is not known by whom: the devotion of modern Mussulmans might reasonably ascribe it to Allah himself. It seems almost incredible that the Oriental type of life and character could have existed without tobacco. The pipe seems as inseparable as the Koran from the follower of Mahomet.
Barely three centuries ago, then, the first seeds of the Nicotiana tabacum germinated in European soil: now, who shall count the harvests? Less then three centuries ago, Raleigh attracted a crowd by sitting smoking at his door: now, the humblest bog-trotter of Ireland must be poor indeed who cannot own or borrow a pipe. A little more than a century and a half ago, the import into Great Britain was only one hundred and twenty thousand pounds, and part of that was reexported: now, the imports reach thirty million pounds, and furnish to government a revenue of twenty millions of dollars,—being an annual tax of three shillings four pence on every soul in the United Kingdom. Nor is the case of England an exceptional one. The tobacco-zone girdles the globe. From the equator, through fifty degrees of latitude, it grows and is consumed on every continent. On every sea it is carried and used by the mariners of every nation. Its incense rises in every clime, as from one vast altar dedicated to its worship,—before which ancient holocausts, the smoke of burnt-offerings in the old Jewish rites, the censers of the Church, and the joss-sticks of the East, must "pale their ineffectual fires." All classes, all ages, in all climates, and in some countries both sexes, use tobacco to dispel heat, to resist cold, to soothe to reverie, or to arouse the brain, according to their national habitations, peculiarities, or habits.
This is not the language of hyperbole. With a partial exception in favor of the hop, tobacco is the sole recognized narcotic of civilization. Opium and hemp, if indulged in, are concealed, by the Western nations: public opinion, public morality, are at war with them. Not so with tobacco, which the majority of civilized men use, and the minority rather deprecate than denounce. We shall avail ourselves of some statistics and computations, which we find ready-calculated, at various sources, to support these assertions. The following are the amounts of tobacco consumed per head in various countries:—
"In Great Britain, 17 ounces per head; in France, 18 1/2 ounces,—three-eighths of this quantity being used in the form of snuff; in Denmark, 70 ounces (4 1/2 lbs.) per head; and in Belgium, 73 1/2 ounces per head;—in New South Wales, where there are no duties, by official returns, 14 pounds per head." We doubt if these quantities much exceed the European average, particularly of Germany and Turkey in Europe. "In some of the States of North America the proportion is much larger, while among Eastern nations, where there are no duties, it is believed to be greater still."
The average for the whole human race of one thousand millions has been reasonably set at seventy ounces per head; which gives a total produce and consumption of tobacco of two millions of tons, or 4,480,000,000 of pounds! "At eight hundred pounds an acre, this would require five and a half million acres of rich land to be kept constantly under tobacco-cultivation."
"The whole amount of wheat consumed by the inhabitants of Great Britain weighs only four and one-third million tons." The reader can draw his own inferences.
The United states are among the largest producers of tobacco, furnishing one-twentieth of the estimated production of the whole world. According to the last census, we raised in 1850 about two hundred million pounds. All the States, with five exceptions,—and two of these are Utah and Minnesota,—shared, in various degrees, in the growth of this great staple. Confining our attention to those which raised a million of pounds and upwards, we find Connecticut and Indiana cited at one million each; Ohio and North Carolina, at ten to twelve millions; Missouri, Tennessee, and Maryland, from seventeen to twenty-one millions; Kentucky and Virginia, about fifty-six million pounds.
Of this gross two hundred million pounds, we export one hundred and twenty-two millions, leaving about seventy-eight millions for home consumption.
Not satisfied with the quality of this modest amount, we import also, from Cuba, Turkey, Germany, etc., about four million pounds, in Havana and Manila cigars and Turkish and German manufactured smoking-tobacco. Thus we increase the total of our consumption to eighty-two million pounds, which gives about three pounds eight ounces to every inhabitant of the United States, against seventeen ounces in England, and eighteen ounces in France. From 1840 to 1850, the consumption in the United States, per head, increased from two pounds and half an ounce to three pounds eight ounces. Here, we buy our tobacco at a fair profit to the producer. In most of the countries of Europe it is either subject to a high tax, or made a government monopoly, both as regards its cultivation, and its manufacture and sale. France consumes about forty-one million pounds, and the imperial exchequer is thereby enriched eighty-six million francs per annum. Not only is the poor man thus obliged to pay an excessive price, but the tobacco furnished him is of a much inferior quality to ours. "Petit-caporal" smoking-tobacco, the delight of the middling classes of Paris, hardly suits an American's taste. In Italy more than one pubblicano has enriched himself and bought nobility by farming the public revenues from tobacco and salt. In Austria the cigars are detestable, though Hungary grows good tobacco, and its Turkish border furnishes some of the meerschaum clay. German smoking-tobaccoes are favorites with students here, but owe their excellence to their mode of manufacture.
Tobacco, according to some authorities, holds the next place to salt, as the article most universally and largely used by man,—we mean, of course, apart from cereals and meats. It is unquestionably the widest-used narcotic. Opium takes the second rank, and hemp the third; but the opium- and hashish-eaters usually add the free smoking of tobacco to their other indulgences.
From these great columns of consumption we may logically deduce two prime points for our argument.
1st. That an article so widely used must possess some peculiar quality producing a desirable effect.
2d. That an article so widely used cannot produce any marked deleterious effect.
For it must meet some instinctive craving of the human being,—as bread and salt meet his absolute needs,—to be so widely sought after and consumed. Fashion does not rule this habit, but it is equally grateful to the savage and the sage. And it cannot be so ruinous to body and mind as some reformers assert; otherwise, in the natural progress of causes and effects, whole nations must have already been extinguished under its use. Many mighty nations have used it for centuries, and show no aggregated deterioration from its employment. Individual exceptions exist in every community. They arise either from idiosyncrasy or from excess, and they have no weight in the argument.
Now, what are these qualities and these effects? We can best answer the first part of the question by a quotation.
"In ministering fully to his natural wants and cravings, man passes through three successive stages.
"First, the necessities of his material nature are provided for. Beef and bread represent the means by which, in every country, this end is attained. And among the numerous forms of animal and vegetable food a wonderful similarity of chemical composition prevails.
"Second, he seeks to assuage the cares of his mind, and to banish uneasy reflections. Fermented liquors are the agents by which this is effected." [They are variously produced by every people, and the active principle is in all the same, namely, Alcohol.]
"Third, he desires to multiply his enjoyments, intellectual and animal, and for the time to exalt them. This he attains by the aid of narcotics. And of these narcotics, again, it is remarkable that almost every country or tribe has its own, either aboriginal or imported; so that the universal instinct of the race has led, somehow or other, to the universal supply of this want or craving also."
These narcotics are Opium, Hemp, the Betel, Coca, Thorn-Apple, Siberian Fungus, Hops, Lettuce, Tobacco. The active principles vary in each, thus differing from foods and stimulants. Our business is now to inquire into the chemical constituents of tobacco.
The leaves of this plant owe their properties to certain invariable active principles, which chemistry has enabled us to separate from those ingredients which are either inert or common to it and other forms of vegetation. They are two in number,—a volatile alkali, and a volatile oil, called nicotin and nicotianin, respectively. A third powerful constituent is developed by combustion, which is named the empyreumatic oil.
Starch, gum, albumen, resin, lignin, extractive, and organic acids exist in tobacco, as they do, in varying proportions, in other plants. But the herb under consideration contains a relatively larger proportion of inorganic salts, as those of lime, potassa, and ammonia,—and especially of highly nitrogenized substances; which explains why tobacco is so exhausting a crop to the soil, and why ashes are among its best fertilizers.
The organic base, nicotin, (or nicotia, as some chemists prefer to call it,) exists in tobacco combined with an acid in excess, and in this state is not volatile. As obtained by distillation with caustic soda, and afterwards treated with sulphuric acid, etc, it is a colorless fluid, volatilizable, inflammable, of little smell when cold, but of an exceedingly acrid, burning taste, and alkaline. Nicotia contains a much larger proportion of nitrogen than most of the other organic alkalies. In its action on the animal system it is one of the most virulent poisons known. It exists in varying, though small proportion, in all species of tobacco. Those called mild, and most esteemed, seem to contain the least. Thus, according to Orfila, Havana tobacco yields two per cent. of the alkaloid, and Virginia nearly seven per cent. In the rankest varieties it rarely exceeds eight parts to the hundred. The same toxicologist says that it has the remarkable property of resisting decomposition in the decaying tissues of the body, and he detected it in the bodies of animals destroyed by it, several months after their death. In this particular it resembles arsenic.
Nicotianin, or the volatile oil, is probably the odorous principle of tobacco. According to some, it does not exist in the fresh leaves, but is generated in the drying process. When obtained by distillation, a pound of leaves will yield only two grains; it is thereforein a much smaller proportion than the alkaloid, forming only one half of one per cent. It is a fatty substance, having the odor of tobacco-smoke, and a bitter taste. Applied to the nose, it occasions sneezing, and taken internally, giddiness and nausea. It is therefore one of the active constituents of tobacco, though to a much less degree than nicotin itself. For while Hermstadt swallowed a grain of nicotianin with impunity, the vapor of pure nicotin is so irritating that it is difficult to breathe in a room in which a single drop has been evaporated.
When distilled in a retort, at a temperature above that of boiling water, or burned, as we burn it in a pipe, tobacco affords its third poison, the empyreumatic oil. This is acrid, of a dark brown color, and having a smell as of an old pipe, in the pores of which, particularly of meerschaum clay, it may be found. It is also narcotic and very poisonous, one drop killing reptiles, as if by an electric shock: in this mode of action it is like prussic acid. But this empyreumatic oil consists of two substances; for, if it be washed with acetic acid, it loses its poisonous quality. It contains, therefore, a harmless oil, and a poisonous alkaline substance, which the acetic acid combines with and removes. It has been shown to contain the alkaloid nicotia, and this is probably its only active component.
Assuming, therefore, that nicotianin, from its feebler action and small amount, is not a very efficient principle in producing the narcotic effects of tobacco, and that the empyreumatic oil consists only of fatty matters holding the alkali in solution, we are forced to believe that the only constituent worthy of much attention, as the very soul and essence of the plant, is the organic base, nicotin, or nicotia.
It is probable that the tobacco-chewer, by putting fifty grains of the "Solace," "Honey-Dew," or "Cavendish" into his mouth for the purpose of mastication, introduces at the same time from one to four grains of nicotin with it, according to the quality of the tobacco he uses. It is not probable that anything like this amount is absorbed into the system. Nature protects itself by salivation. It is possible, that, in smoking one hundred grains of tobacco, there may be drawn into the mouth two grains or more of the same poison; "for, as nicotin volatilizes at a temperature below that of burning tobacco, it is constantly present in the smoke." It is not probable that here, again, so much is absorbed.
But we will return to this question of the relative effects of chewing, cigar- and pipe-smoking, and snuff-taking, presently. For we suppose that the anxious mother, if she has followed us so far, is by this time in considerable alarm at this wholesale poisoning.
Poisons are to be judged by their effects; for this is the only means we have of knowing them to be such. And if a poison is in common use, we must embrace all the results of such use in a perfect generalization before we can decide impartially. We do not hesitate to eat peaches, though we know they owe much of their peculiar flavor to prussic acid. It is but fair to apply an equally large generalization to tobacco. Chemistry can concentrate the sapid and odorous elements of the peach and the bitter almond into a transparent fluid, of which the smell shall be vertiginous and the taste death. But chemistry is often misunderstood, in two ways: in the one case, by the incredulity of total ignorance; in the other, by the overcredulity of imperfect knowledge. That poor woman who murdered her husband by arsenic not long since was an instance of the first. She laughed to scorn the idea that the chemists could discover anything in the ejected contents of the stomach of her victim, which she voluntarily left in their way. She could not conceive that the scattered crystals of the fatal powder might be gathered into a metallic mirror, the first glance at which would reflect her guilt.
They who gape, horror-struck, at the endless revelations of chemistry, without giving reason time to act, err in the second manner. Led away by the brilliant hues and wonderful transformations of the laboratory, they forget the size of the world outside, in which these changes are enacted, and the quiet way in which Nature works. The breath of chlorine is deadly, but we daily eat it in safety, wrapped in its poison-proof envelope of sodium, as common salt. Carbonic acid is among the gases most hostile to man, but he drinks it in soda-water or Champagne with impunity. So we cannot explain how a poison will act, if introduced into the body in the diluted form in which Nature offers it, and there subjected to the complicated chemico-vital processes which constitute life.
In the alembic of the chemist we may learn analysis, and from it infer, but not imitate, save in a few instances, the synthesis of Nature. Changes in the arrangement of atoms, without one particle altered that we can discover, may make all the difference between starch and sugar. By an obscure change, which we call fermentation, these may become alcohol, the great stimulant of the world. By subtracting one atom of water from its elements we change this to ether, the new-found lethe of pain. As from the inexhaustible bottle of the magician, the chemist can furnish us from the same two elements air or aquafortis. We may be pardoned these familiar examples to prove that we must not judge of things by their palpable qualities, when concentrated or in the gross. That fiery demon, nitric acid, is hid, harmless in its imperceptible subdivision, in the dew on every flower.
From all this we conclude that the evil effects of tobacco are to be determined by their proved physiological effects; and also that we must aid our decision by a survey of its general asserted effects.
In treating of these effects, we shall speak, first, of what is known; second, of what its opponents assert; and, third, of what we claim as the results of its use.
What is absolutely known is very little. We see occasional instances of declining health; we learn that the sufferers smoke or chew, and we are very apt to ascribe all their maladies to tobacco. So far as we are aware, the most notorious organic lesion which has been supposed due to this practice is a peculiar form of cancer of the lip, where the pipe, and particularly the clay pipe, has pressed upon the part. But more ample statistics have disproved this theory.
We have as yet become acquainted with no satisfactory series of experiments upon tobacco analogous to those which have been made of some articles of food.
The opponents of tobacco, upon whom we consider the burden of proof to rest, in the absence of any marked ill effects palpable in so large a consumption of the herb, are thus reduced to generalities.
Tobacco is said to produce derangement of the digestion, and of the regular, steady action of the nervous system. These effects must be in a measure connected; but one distinct effect of tobacco is claimed, upon the secretions of the mouth, with which it comes into direct contact. It is said to cause a waste and a deterioration of the saliva. Let us examine the first.
The waste of saliva in young smokers and in immoderate chewers we admit. The amount secreted by a healthy man has been variously estimated at from one and a half to three pounds per diem. And it certainly seems as if the whole of this was to be found upon the vile floors of cars, hotels, and steamboats. The quantity secreted varies much with circumstances; but experiments prove the quality to be not affected by the amount.
To show how the deterioration of this fluid may affect digestion, we must inquire into its normal physiological constitution and uses. Its uses are of two kinds: to moisten the food, and to convert starch into sugar. The larger glands fulfil the former; the smaller, mostly, the latter office. Almost any substance held in the mouth provokes the flow of saliva by mechanical irritation. Mental causes influence it; for the thought of food will "make the mouth water," as well as its presence within the lips. No one who has tried to eat unmoistened food, when thirsty, will dispute its uses as a solvent. Tobacco seems to be a direct stimulant to the salivary apparatus. Habit blunts this effect only to a limited extent. The old smoker has usually some increase of this secretion, although he does not expectorate. But if he does not waste this product, he swallows it, it is said, in a state unfit to promote digestion. The saliva owes its peculiarity to one of its components, called ptyalin. And this element possesses the remarkable power of converting starch into sugar, which is the first step in its digestion. Though many azotized substances in a state of decomposition exert a similar agency, yet it is possessed by ptyalin in a much greater degree. The gastric juice has probably no action on farinaceous substances. And it has been proved by experiments, that food moistened with water digests more slowly than when mixed with the saliva.
More than this, the conversion of starch into sugar has been shown to be positively retarded in the stomach by the acidity of the gastric secretions. Only after the azotized food has been somewhat disintegrated by the action of the gastric juice, the presence of saliva, swallowed in small quantities for a considerable time after eating, does the saccharifying process go on with normal rapidity and vigor.
Now starch is the great element, in all farinaceous articles, which is adapted to supply us with calorifacient food. "In its original condition, either raw or when broken up by boiling, it does not appear that starch is capable of being absorbed by the alimentary canal. By its conversion into sugar it can alone become a useful aliment." This is effected almost instantaneously by the saliva in the mouth, and at a slower rate in the stomach.
Obviously, then, if the use of tobacco interferes with the normal action of the saliva, and if the digestion of starch ends in the stomach, here is the strong point in the argument of the opponents of tobacco. We should wonder at the discrepancy between physiology and facts, theory and the evidence of our senses and daily experience among the world of smokers, and be ready to renounce either science or "the weed." Fortunately for our peace of mind and for our respect for physiology, the first point of the proposition is not satisfactorily proved, and the second is untrue. We are not certain that the functions of other organs are vicarious of those of the salivary glands.
We say that it is not satisfactorily proved that tobacco impairs the sugar-making function of the saliva. At least, we have never seen the proof from recorded experiments. Such may exist, but we have met only with loose assertions to this effect, of a similar nature to those hygienic dicta which we find bandied about in the would-be-physiological popular journals, which are so plentiful in the country, and which may be styled the "yellow-cover" literature of science.
We acknowledge this to be the weak point in our armor, and are open to further light. Yet more, for the sake of hypothesis, we will assume it proved. What follows? Are we to get no more sugar while we smoke? By no means. Hard by the stomach lies the pancreas, an organ so similar in structure to the salivary glands, that even so minute an observer as Koelliker does not think it requisite to give it a separate description. Its secretion, which is poured into the second stomach, contains a ferment analogous to that of the saliva, and amounts probably to about seven ounces a day. The food, on leaving the stomach, is next subjected to its influence, together with that of the bile. It helps digest fatty matters by its emulsive powers; it has been more recently supposed to form a sort of peptone with nitrogenized articles also; but, what is more to our purpose, it turns starch into sugar even more quickly than the saliva itself. And even if the reformers were to beat us from this stronghold, by proving that tobacco impaired the saccharifying power of this organ also, we should still find the mixed fluids supplied by the smaller, but very numerous glands of the intestines, sufficient to accomplish the requisite modification of starch, though more slowly and to a less degree.
We come now to the second count in the indictment,—that tobacco injuriously affects the nervous system, and through it the digestion. The accusation is here more vague and indefinite, and the answer also is less susceptible of proof. Both sides must avail themselves of circumstantial, rather than direct evidence.
That digestion is in direct dependence upon the nervous system, and that even transitory or emotional states of the latter affect the former, there can be no doubt. It is so familiar a fact, that instances need hardly be cited to prove it. Hence we are told, that tobacco, by deranging the one, disorders the other,—that nervousness, or morbid irritability of the nerves, palpitations and tremulousness are soon followed by emaciation and dyspepsia, or more or less inability to digest.
We conceive Prout, an eminent authority, to be near the truth, when he says of tobacco, "The strong and healthy suffer comparatively little, while the weak and predisposed to disease fall victims to its poisonous operation." The hod-carrier traversing the walls of lofty buildings, and the sailor swinging on the yard-arm, are not subject to nervousness, though they smoke and chew; nor are they prone to dyspepsia, unless from excesses of another kind.
It has not been shown that tobacco either hastens or delays the metamorphosis of tissue,—that it drains the system by waste, or clogs it by retarding the natural excretions. We must turn, then, to its direct influence upon the nervous system to convince ourselves of its ill effects, if such exist.
Nor has it been proved that the nervous influence is affected in such a way as directly to impair the innervation of the organic functions, which derive their chief impulse to action from the scattered ganglia of the sympathetic system. Opium, the most powerful narcotic, benumbs the brain into sleep; produces a corresponding reaction, on awakening; shuts up the secretions, except that of the skin, and thus deranges the alimentary functions. The decriers of tobacco will, we conceive, by unable to show that it produces such effects.
The reformers are reduced, then, to the vague generality, that smoking and chewing "affect the nerves."
Students, men of sedentary, professional habits, persons of a very nervous temperament, or those subject to much excitement in business and politics, sometimes show debility and languor, or agitation and nervousness, while they smoke and chew. Are there no other causes at work, sufficient in themselves to produce these effects? Are want of exercise, want of air, want of rest, and want of inherited vigor to be eliminated from the estimate, while tobacco is made the scape-goat of all their troubles?
Climate, and the various influences affecting any race which has migrated after a stationary residence of generations to a new country extending under different parallels of latitude, have been reasonably accused of rendering us a nervous people. It is not so reasonable to charge one habit with being the sole cause of this, although we should be more prudent in not following it to excess The larger consumption of tobacco here is due both to the cheapness of the product and to the wealth of the consumer. But it does not follow that we are more subjected to its narcotic influences because we use the best varieties of the weed. On the contrary, the poor and rank tobaccoes, grown under a northern sky, are the richest in nicotin.
But it will be better to continue the argument about its effects upon the nervous system in connection with the assertions of the reformers. The following is a list, by no means complete, of these asserted ill effects from its use.
Tobacco is said to cause softening of the brain,—dimness of vision,—("the Germans smoke; the Germans are a spectacled nation!" post hoc, ergo propter hoc? the laborious intellectual habits of this people, and their trying "text," are considered of no account,)—cancer of the stomach,—disease of the liver,—dyspepsia,—enfeebled nutrition, and consequent emaciation,—dryness of the mouth,—"the clergyman's sore-throat" and loss of voice,—irritability of the nervous system,—tremulousness,—palpitation and paralysis,—and, among the moral ills, loss of energy, idleness, drunkenness. A fearful catalogue, which would dedicate the tabatiere to Pandora, were it true.
Hygienic reformers are usually unequaled in imaginary horrors, except by the charlatans who vend panaceas.
We have no reasons for believing that tobacco causes softening of the brain equal in plausibility to those which ascribe it to prolonged and excessive mental effort. The statistics of disease prove cancers of other organs to be twice as frequent, among females, as cancer of the stomach is among males; and an eminent etiologist places narcotics among the least proved causes of this disease. A hot climate, abuse of alcohol, a sedentary life, and sluggish digestion happen, rather curiously, to be very frequent concomitants, if not causes, of disease of the liver. Dyspepsia haunts both sexes, and, we venture to assert, though we cannot bring figures to prove it, is as frequent among those who do not use tobacco as among those who do. We are ready to concede that excessive chewing and smoking, particularly if accompanied by large expectoration, may impair nutrition and cause emaciation: that the mass of mankind eat and digest and live, as well as use "the weed," is proof that its moderate employment is not ordinarily followed by this result. Dryness of the mouth follows expectoration as a matter of course; but the salivation excited in an old smoker by tobacco is very moderate, and not succeeded by thirst, unless the smoke be inhaled too rapidly and at too high a temperature.
We come next to a very tender point with reformers, the laryngeal cough and failing voice of the reverend clergy. The later generations of ministers of this vicinity, as a body, have abandoned tobacco, and yet the evil has not diminished. An eminent divine of our acquaintance, who does not smoke daily, always finds a cigar relieve a trifling bronchitis, to which he is occasionally subject. The curious will find in the "Medical Journal" of this city, for 1839, that quite as much can be said on one side as on the other of this subject.
The minor, rarely the graver affections of the nervous system, do follow the use of tobacco in excess. We admit this willingly; but we deny these effects to its moderate use by persons of ordinary health and no peculiar idiosyncrasy. Numerous cases of paralysis among tobacco-takers in France were traced to the lead in which the preparation was enveloped.
We pass next to what we claim as the effects of moderate tobacco-using, and will take first the evidence of the toxicologists. Both Pereira and Christison agree that "no well-ascertained ill effects have been shown to result from the habitual practice of smoking. "Beck, a modern authority, says, "Common observation settles the question, that the moderate and daily use of tobacco does not prove injurious. This is a general rule": and he adds, that exceptions necessarily exist, etc.
The repugnance and nausea which greet the smoker, in his first attempts to use tobacco, are not a stronger argument against it than the fact that the system so soon becomes habituated to these effects is a proof of its essential innocuousness.
Certainly the love of tobacco is not an instinctive appetite, like that for nitrogen and carbon in the form of food. Man was not born with a cigar in his mouth, and it is not certain that the Nicotiana tabacum flourished in the Garden of Eden. But history proves the existence of an instinct among all races—call it depraved, if you will, the fact remains—leading them to employ narcotics. And narcotics all nations have sought and found. We venture to affirm that tobacco is as harmless as any. The betel and the hop can alone compare with it in this respect; and the hop is not a narcotic which satisfies alone; others are used with it. Opium and Indian hemp are not to be mentioned in comparison; while coca, in excess, is much more hurtful.
Tobacco may more properly be called a sedative than a narcotic. Opium, the type of the latter class, is in its primary action excitant, but secondarily narcotic. The opium-eaters are familiar with this, and learn by experience to regulate the dose so as to prolong the first and shorten the second effects, as much as possible.
Tobacco, on the other hand, is primarily sedative and relaxing. A high authority says of its physiological action:—
"First, That its greater and first effect is to assuage and allay and soothe the system in general.
"Second, That its lesser and second, or after effect, is to excite and invigorate, and at the same time give steadiness and fixity to the powers of thought."
Wither of these effects will predominate, we conceive, according to the intellectual state and capacity of the individual, as well as in accordance with the amount used.
The dreamy Oriental is sunk into deeper reverie under the influence of tobacco, and his happiness while smoking seems to consist in thinking of nothing. The studious German, on the contrary, "thinks and dreams, and dreams and thinks, alternatively; but while his body is soothed and stilled, his mind is ever awake."
This latter description resembles, to compare small things with great, the effects of opium, as detailed by De Quincey.
"In habitual smokers," says Pereira, "the practice, when moderately indulged, produces that remarkably soothing and tranquilizing effect on the mind which has caused it to be so much admired and adopted by all classes of society."
The pleasure derived from tobacco is very hard to define, since it is negative rather than positive, and to be estimated more by what it prevents than by what it produces. It relieves the little vexations and cares of life, soothes the harassed mind, and promotes quiet reflection. This it does most of all when used sparingly and after labor. But if incessantly consumed, it keeps up constant, but mild cerebral exhilaration. The mind acts more promptly and more continuously under its use. We think any tobacco-consumer will bear us out in this definition of its varying effects.
After a full meal, if it does not help, it at least hides digestion. "It settles one's dinner," as the saying is, and gives that feeling of quiet, luxurious bien-aise which would probably exist naturally in a state of primeval health. It promotes, with most persons, the peristaltic movements of the alimentary passages by its relaxing properties.
Smoking is eminently social, and favors domestic habits. And in this way, we contend, it prevents drinking, rather than leads to it. Many still associate the cigar with the bar-room. This notion should have become obsolete ere this, for it has an extremely limited foundation in fact. Bachelors and would-be-manly boys are not the only consumers of tobacco, though they are the best patrons of the bar. The poor man's pipe retains him by his own fireside, as well as softens his domestic asperities.
Excess in tobacco, like excess in any other material good meant for moderate use, is followed by evil effects, more or less quickly, according to the constitution and temperament of the abuser. The lymphatic and obese can smoke more than the sanguine and nervous, with impunity. How much constitutes excess varies with each individual. Manufacturers of tobacco do not appear to suffer. Christison states as the result of the researches of MM. Parent-Duchatelet and D'Arcet among four thousand workmen in the tobacco-manufactories of France, that they found no evidence of its being unwholesome. Moderate tobacco-users attain a longevity equal to that of any other class in the community.
We will cite only the following brief statistics from an old physician of a neighboring town. In looking over the list of the oldest men, dead or alive, within his circle of acquaintance, he finds a total of 67 men, from 73 to 93 years of age. Their average age is 78 and a fraction. Of these 67, 54 were smokers or chewers; 9 only, non-consumers of tobacco; and 4 were doubtful, or not ascertained. About nine-elevenths smoked or chewed. The compiler quaintly adds, "How much longer these men might have lived without tobacco, it is impossible to determine."
The tobacco-leaf is consumed by man usually in three ways: by smoking, snuffing, or chewing. The first is the most common; the last is the most disagreeable.
Tobacco is smoked in the East Indies, China, and Siam; in Turkey and Persia; over Europe generally; and in North and South America. Cigars are preferred in the East and West Indies, Spain, England, and America. China, Turkey, Persia, and Germany worship the pipe. In Europe the pipe is patronized on account of its cheapness. Turks and Persians use the mildest forms of pipe-smoking, choosing pipes with long, flexible stems, and having the smoke cooled and purified by passing through water. The Germans prefer the porous meerschaum,—the Canadians, the common clay. Women smoke habitually in China, the East and West Indies, and to a less extent in South America, Spain, and France.
We have no fears that any reasoning of ours would induce the other sex to use tobacco. The ladies set too just a value on the precious commodity of their charms for that. There is little danger that they would do anything which might render them disagreeable. The practice of snuff-taking is about the only form they patronize, and that to a slight extent.
France is the home of snuff. A large proportion of all the tobacco consumed there is used in this form. The practice prevails to a large extent also in Iceland and Scotland. The Icelander uses a small horn, like a powder-horn, to hold his snuff. Inserting the smaller end into the nostril, he elevates the other, and thus conveys the pungent powder directly to the part. The more delicate Highlander carries the snuff to his nose on a little shovel. This can be surpassed only by the habit of "dipping," peculiar to some women of the United States, and whose details will not bear description.
Chewing prevails par excellence in our own country, and among the sailors of most nations,—to some extent also in Switzerland, Iceland, and among the Northern races. It is the safest and most convenient form at sea.
By smoking, each of the three active ingredients of tobacco is rendered capable of absorption. The empyreumatic oil is produced by combustion. The pipe retains this and a portion of the nicotin in its pores. The cigar, alone, conveys all the essential elements into the system.
Liebig once asserted that cigar-smoking was prejudicial from the amount of gaseous carbon inhaled. We cannot believe this. The heat of cigar-smoke may have some influence on the teeth; and, on the whole, the long pipe, with a porous bowl, is probably the best way of using tobacco in a state of ignition.
By repeated fermentations in preparing snuff, much of the nicotin is evaporated and lost. Yet snuff-takers impair the sense of smell, and ruin the voice, by clogging up the passages with the finer particles of the powder. The functions of the labyrinthine caverns of the nose and forehead, and of the delicate osseous laminae which constitute the sounding-boards of vocalization, are thus destroyed.
Chewing is the most constant, as it is the nastiest habit. The old chewer, safe in the blunted irritability of the salivary glands, can continue his practice all night, if he be so infatuated, without inconvenience. In masticating tobacco, nicotin and nicotianin are rolled about in the mouth with the quid, but are not probably so quickly absorbed as when in the gaseous state. Yet chewers are the greatest spitters, and have a characteristic drooping of the angle of the lower lip, which points to loss of power in the levator muscles.
Latakia, Shiraz, Manila, Cuba, Virginia, and Maryland produce the most valuable tobaccoes. Though peculiar soils and dressings may impart a greater aroma and richness to the plant, by the variations in the quantity of nicotianin, as compared with the other organic elements, yet we are inclined to think that the diminished proportion of nicotin in the best varieties is the cause of their superior flavor to the rank Northern tobaccoes, and that it is mainly because they are milder that they are most esteemed. So, too, the cigar improves with age, because a certain amount of nicotin evaporates and escapes. Taste in cigars varies, however, from the Austrian government article, a very rank "long-nine," with a straw running through the ventre to improve its suction, to the Cuban cigarrito, whose ethereal proportions three whiffs will exhaust.
The manufacture of smoking tobaccoes is as much an art in Germany as getting up a fancy brand of cigars is here; and the medical philosopher of that country will gravely debate whether "Kanaster" or "Varinas" be best suited for certain forms of convalescence; tobacco being almost as indispensable as gruel, in returning health. We think the light pipesmoker will find a combination of German and Turkish smoking tobaccoes a happy thought. The old smoker may secure the best union of delicacy and strength in the Virginia "natural leaf."
Among the eight or ten species of the tobacco-plant now recognized by botanists, the Nicotiana tabacum and the Nicotiana rustica hold the chief place. Numerous varieties of each of these, however, are named and exist.
We condense from De Bow's "Industrial Resources of the South and West" a brief account of tobacco-culture in this country. "The tobacco is best sown from the 10th to the 20th of March, and a rich loam is the most favorable soil. The plants are dressed with a mixture of ashes, plaster, soot, salt, sulphur, soil, and manure." After they are transplanted, we are told that "the soil best adapted to the growth of tobacco is a light, friable one, or what is commonly called a sandy loam; not too flat, but rolling, undulating land." Long processes of hand-weeding must be gone through, and equal parts of plaster and ashes are put on each plant. "Worms are the worst enemy," and can be effectually destroyed only by hand. "When the plant begins to yellow, it is time to put it away; and it is cut off close to the ground." After wilting a little on the ground, it is dried on sticks, by one of the three processes called "pegging, spearing, and splitting." "When dry, the leaves are stripped off and tied in bundles of one fifth or sixth of a pound each. It is sorted into three or four qualities, as Yellow, Bright, Dull, etc." Next it is "bulked," or put into bundles, and these again dried, and afterwards "conditioned," and packed in hogsheads weighing from six hundred to a thousand pounds each.
It would be too long to detail the processes of cigar- and snuff-making, the latter of which is quite complicated.
We were happy to learn from the fearful work of Hassall on "Food and its Adulterations," that tobacco was one of the articles least tampered with; and particularly that there was no opium in cheroots, but nothing more harmful than hay and paper. He ascribes this immunity mainly to the vigilance of the excisemen. But we have recently seen a work on the adulteration of tobacco, whose microscopic plates brought back our former misgivings. Molasses is a very common agent used to give color and render it toothsome. Various vegetable leaves, as the rhubarb, beech, walnut, and mullein, as well as the less delectable bran, yellow ochre, and hellebore, in snuff, are also sometimes used to defraud. Saltpetre is often sprinkled on, in making cigars, to improve their burning.
The Indians mixed tobacco in their pipes with fragrant herbs. Cascarilla bark is a favorite with some smokers; it is a simple aromatic and tonic, but, when smoked, is said sometimes to occasion vertigo and intoxication.
We have before observed that tobacco is a very exhausting crop to the soil. The worn-out tobacco-plantations of the South are sufficient practical proof of this, while it is also readily explained by chemistry. The leaves of tobacco are among the richest in incombustible ash, yielding, when burned, from 19 to 28 per cent of inorganic substance. This forms the abundant ashes of tobacco-pipes and of cigars. All this has been derived from the soil where it was raised, and it is of a nature very necessary to vegetation, and not very abundant in the most fertile lands. "Every ton dried tobacco-leaves carries off from four to five hundred-weight of this mineral matter,—as much as is contained in fourteen tons of the grain of wheat." It follows that scientific agriculture can alone restore this waste to the tobacco-plantation.
There is one other aspect of this great subject, which is almost peculiar to New England, the home of reform. Certain Puritanical pessimists have argued that the use of tobacco is immoral. There are few, except our own sober people, who would admit this question at all. We would treat this prejudice with the respect due to all sincere reforms. And we have attempted to show, that, since all races have used and will use narcotics, we had better yield a little, lest more be taken, and concede them tobacco, which is more harmless than many that are largely consumed. We have proved to our own satisfaction, and we hope to theirs, that tobacco in moderation neither affects the health nor shortens life; that it does not create an appetite for stimulants, but rather supplies their place; and that it favors sociality and domestic habits more than the reverse.
If the formation of any habit be objected to, we reply, that this is a natural tendency of man, that things become less prejudicial by repetition, and that a high hygienic authority advises us "to be regular even in our vices."
As we began in a light, we close in a more sober vein, apologists for tobacco, rather than strongly advocating either side. One point we are sure that we shall agree with the ladies, and that is in a sincere denunciation of the habit of smoking at a tender age. And although, in accordance with the tendency of the times, the school-boy whom we caught attached to a "long-nine" would consistently reply, "Civis Americanus sum!" we shall persist in claiming the censorship of age over those on whose chins the callow down of adolescence is yet ungrown.
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