Saturday, 30 April 2005

"The Piss of a Fox": Early Tobacco Addicts

Shortly after tobacco was first introduced in Europe, it was thought to be beneficial to your health. It was thought to cure a number of ailments and even take away bad breath, although a smoker's wife at the time told her husband: "It makes your breath stink like the piss of a fox!"

In England, smoking tobacco really cought on and by 1577 it was even being grown here. Tobacco leaves were smoked in clay pipes and by the late 1590s one could purchase pre-filled disposable ones suitable for one use only, much like we would get a disposable camera today. The used pipes were then habitually thrown away, many into the Thames river, where nowadays, enthusiasts of uncovering items from the past find them in abundance, immersed in the thick mud left behind by the tide.
A rather disgusting description of the smoking habits of the time gives us the picture: "...they draw the smoke into their mouths which they puff out again through their nostrils like smoke, along with it plenty of phlegm and defluxion from the head." Charming.
A Swiss medical student visiting London in 1599, was told that "the inside of one man's veins after death was found to be covered in soot just like a chimney...".

Interestingly enough, tobacco was much more popular than cannabis of opium, at that time. Cannabis was thought to be a good cure for ear-ache, whereas opium was used mainly to induce sleep. William Turner's instructions of how to deal with an overdose of opium is rather amusing: "For an overdose, make him vomit and administer a sharp clyster [enema] and wake him up by putting stinking things unto his nose".

Reference: "Elizabeth's London: Everyday life in Elizabethan London", by Liza Picard, published by Phoenix.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting.. Especially the words of the Swiss medical student. I wonder if that is somehow true?