- Written by Peter Burnett Peter Burnett
King James I and VI, advice to smokers. King James Ist and 6th, for he was famously and simultaneously both — was King of Scotland as James VI from July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603 until his death.
As well as being the first big Unionist on the scene (#indyref) the King was a keen writer, and among other things, now described by academics and critics as 'minor prose works', wrote what we would now call an essay, titled A COUNTERBLASTE TO TOBACCO.
The kingdoms of England and Scotland were individual sovereign states in those days, with their own parliaments, judiciary, and laws, though both were ruled by James in personal union. I can't work it out either, although his stance on tobacco was clear.
And surely in my opinion, there cannot be a more base, and yet hurtfull corruption in a Countrey, then is the vile vse (or other abuse) of taking Tobacco in this Kingdome, which hath moued me, shortly to discouer the abuses thereof in this following little Pamphlet.
With these great words, the King fires up his quill and begins to smoke out his opponents, issuing as was customary in literary drafts at the time, several blasts, which amount to arguments.
The king’s argument is as sound as those of the health services of the world today, who all agree that tobacco is likely to cause fatal diseases — and in the case of the King, he points to the savages that European explorers brought back, who all died before they could be properly interviewed on the subject.
With the report of a great discouery for a Conquest, some two or three Sauage men, were brought in, together with this Sauage custome. But the pitie is, the poore wilde barbarous men died, but that vile barbarous custome is yet aliue, yea in fresh vigor: so as it seemes a miracle to me, how a custome springing from so vile a ground, and brought in by a father so generally hated, should be welcomed vpon so slender a warrant. For if they that first put it in practise heere, had remembred for what respect it was vsed by them from whence it came, I am sure they would haue bene loath, to haue taken so farre the imputation of that disease vpon them as they did, by vsing the cure thereof. For Sanis nonest opus medico, and counter-poisons are neuer vsed, but where poison is thought to precede.
Exactly. The second blast begins by arguing the same point as the first, but moves quickly on to the offences to the senses which tobacco inspires, kicking off with the awful effects one can detect with the delicate human nose, thus:
And next, I deny the minor of this argument, as I haue already said, in regard that this Tobacco, is not simply of a hot and dry qualitie; but rather hath a certaine venemous facultie ioyned with the heate thereof, which makes it haue an Antipathie against nature, as by the hatefull smell thereof doeth well appeare. For the nose being the proper Organ and convoy of the sense of smelling to the braines, which are the onely fountaine of that sense, doeth euer serue vs for an infallible witnesse, whether that Odour which we smell, be healthfull or hurtfull to the braine (except when it fals out that the sense it selfe is corrupted and abused through some infirmitie, and distemper in the braine.)
It would seem from what King James writes that there was even a pro-smoking lobby in his day, who were arguing that the smoake (sic) cures the users of ‘Rhewmes and distillations’ — literally by fumigating the stomach — an argument which the King angrily ridicules.
What I like about the King's tract is that it is fairly modern in tone, practical and medical. It isn’t in fact until we reach the end when King James states that having heard the physical reasons why smoking is vile, he must go on to mention the moral and indeed religious reasons not to smoke — for in doing so, one is committing actual hard and fast sins. There is almost a sense of that smoker’s desperation — you know, when someone is out of cigarettes and has to make a trip to the all-night garage or late night store:
First are you not guiltie of sinnefull and shamefull lust? (for lust may bee as well in any of the senses as in feeling) that although you bee troubled with no disease, but in perfect health, yet can you neither be merry at an Ordinarie, nor lasciuious in the Stewes, if you lacke Tobacco_to prouoke your appetite to any of those sorts of recreation, lusting after it as the children of Israel did in the wildernesse after Quailes?
In all, in fact, under religious terms, smokers he argues are guilty of lust, guilty of “a branche of the sinne of drunkennesse”, and guilty of letting down both God and their Kingdom, by smoking themselves into incapacity.
It is a noble and kingly argument. You can read the whole blast at Project Gutenberg, where it is ebook #17008, and you can even get a free COUNTERBLASTE for your Kindle or reader equivalent.