Smoking in England: the early days

March 1618. Orazio Busino, the Venetian Ambassador’s Chaplain, disapproves of smoking, recently introduced by Sir Walter Raleigh, pictured above.

One of the most notable things I see in this kingdom and which strikes me as really unbelievable is the use of the queen’s weed, properly called tobacco, whose dried leaves come from the Indies, packed like so much rope. It is cut and pounded and subsequently placed in a hollow instrument a span long, called a pipe. The powder is lighted at the largest part of the bowl, and they absorb the smoke with great enjoyment. They say it clears the head, dries up humours and greatly sharpens the appetite. It is in such frequent use that not only at every hour of the day but even at night they keep the pipe and steel at their pillows and gratify their longings. Amongst themselves they are in the habit of circulating toasts, passing the pipe from one to the other with much grace, just as they here do with good wine, but more often with beer. Gentlewomen moreover and virtuous women accustom themselves to take it as medicine, but in secret. The others do it at pleasure. So much money is expended daily in this nastiness that at the present moment the trade in tobacco amounts to half a million in gold, and the duty on it alone yields the king 40,000 golden crowns yearly. Throughout the city pipes and tobacco are sold in most of the shops, so that these with the others where they merely sell ruffs and wristbands, would of themselves form a large city. This is in truth an affair of vanity and smoke and his Majesty therefore abhors it. It is prohibited throughout the Court, though not by a decree. In my opinion no other country ought to introduce tobacco, for it enters cities with vapouring ostentation and then, after being well pounded, departs loaded with gold, leaving the purses of its purchasers empty and their wits addled.

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