I find A Counterblaste to Tobacco by James I very interesting. Many people are under the impression that anti-tobacco sentiment began in the last century, and this document pretty thoroughly refutes that.

I've read a modern "translation" of the translators' preface to the King James Bible. To professional students of English, such a thing is not necessary. But to many members of the public, it is. So does anyone know where I could find a modern rendering of James' Counterblaste?

  • Hmm... do a google translate to something close like French or German, then back to English, then some minor editing? Should fix the out of date vocabulary. – Mitch Mar 3 '15 at 3:40
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    Seems like all it needs is some regularization of spelling to meet modern expectations and you're good to go. Therefore, you need but run it through a spellchecker and call it a day. – tchrist Mar 3 '15 at 4:12
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    Suffumigation is officially my word of the week – Christopher Mar 3 '15 at 4:39
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    It doesn't look like the OP is looking for a synonym of counterblaste, but a "modern rendering" of the work A Counterblaste .... Probably OT on ELU. Maybe meta is better. – Kris Mar 3 '15 at 5:43
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    @fdb Hemingway is an easy author to read; King James, perhaps no longer. Although this is not Middle English (which would require translation) but rather Modern English of the early variety, not every native speaker of English has the same exposure to it as others may. Consider how the version of the Bible authorized by this same King James uses language in a way that confuses many native speakers, particularly in the punctuation and ordering of constituents within the larger and more discursive elements thereof. – tchrist Mar 5 '15 at 14:38

Here is the main body of the King’s pamphlet counterblasting tobacco lightly touched up to reflect current spelling, along with some of the harder vocabulary and phrasing. See the preface first and the appendix following.

A Counterblast to Tobacco

King James I of England

So that the manifold abuses of this vile custom of partaking of tobacco may be better espied, it is fit that you should consider both its original use and likewise the reasons for its first entry into this country.

For certainly as such customs that have their first institution either from a godly, necessary, or honorable ground and are first brought in by means of some worthy, virtuous, and great personage are ever and most justly held in great and reverent estimation and account by all wise, virtuous, and temperate spirits, so too should it to the contrary justly bring a great disgrace into that sort of customs which having their origin in 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 the partaking of tobacco and of its first entry among us.

For tobacco, being a common herb which though under diverse names grows almost everywhere, was first discovered by some of the barbarous Indians to be a preservative or antidote against the pox, a filthy disease to which these barbarous people are (as all men know) very much subject, both through the uncleanly and sunburnt constitution of their bodies and through the intemperate heat of their climate. Just as from them was first brought into Christendom that most detestable disease1, likewise from them was brought this use of tobacco as a stinking and unsavory antidote to it. For so corrupted and execrable a malady the stinking suffumigation is that they use it against that disease, thus making one canker or venom eat out another.

And now good countrymen I pray you let us consider what honour or policy can move us to imitate the barbarous and beastly manners of the wild, godless, and slavish Indians, especially in so vile and stinking a custom?

Shall we who disdain to imitate the manners of our neighbour France (having the style of the first Christian Kingdom) and who cannot endure the spirit of the Spaniards (their King being now comparable in largeness of Dominions to the great Emperor of Turkey) — shall we, I say, who have been so long civil and wealthy in peace, famous and invincible in war, and fortunate in both, we who have been ever able to aide any of our neighbours (but never deafened any of their ears with our own supplications for assistance) — shall we, I say without blushing, abase ourselves so far as to imitate these beastly Indians: slaves to the Spaniards, refuse to the world, and as yet aliens from the holy Covenant of God?

Why do we not as well imitate them in walking naked as they do, in preferring glasses, feathers, and such toys to gold and precious stones as they do? Yea, why do we not deny God and adore the Devil as they do?

The corrupted baseness of the first use of this tobacco doth well align with its foolish and groundless first entry into this Kingdom. It is not so long since the first entry of this abuse amongst us here, as this present age cannot yet very well remember both the first author and the form of its first introduction amongst us. It was brought in neither by king or great conqueror nor by some learnèd physician.

With the report of a great discovery ripe for a conquest, some two or three savages were brought in, together with this savage custom. But the pity is that the poor wild barbarous men died, yet that vile barbarous custom is still alive, yea in fresh vigor. So as it seems a miracle to me how a custom springing from so vile a foundation and brought in by a father so generally hated should be welcomed upon so slender a warrant. For if they that first put it in practice here had remembered for what respect it was used by them from whence it came, I am sure they would have been loath to have taken the imputation of that disease so far upon them as they did by using the cure thereof. For Sanis non est opus medico, and counterpoisons are never used but where poison is thought to precede.

But since it is true that diverse customs resting on slight basis and with no better warrant entering a Commonwealth may yet in their use afterward prove both necessary and profitable, it is therefore next to be examined whether there be not a full sympathy and true proportion between the base foundation 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 its detestable use.

As for these deceitful grounds that have especially moved you to take its good and great conceit, I shall content myself to examine here only four of their principals: two founded upon the theory of a deceivable appearance of reason, and two founded upon the mistaken practice of general experience.

First, it is thought by you a sure aphorism of medicine that because the brains of all men are naturally cold and wet, that 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 but be void of itself. For as to the proposition that because brains are cold and moist that therefore things which 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 the parts of his body, yet must the diverse parts of our microcosm or little world within ourselves be diversely more inclined, some to one complexion, some to another, according to the diversity of their uses, that of these discords a perfect harmony may be composed for the maintenance of the whole body.

The application then of a thing of a nature contrary to any of these parts is to interrupt them of their due function, and by consequence hurtful to the health of the whole body. It as if a man, because the liver being the fountain of blood is hot 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 cared for by a vicar for 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 stone on his breast for staying and holding down that wanton palpitation. I doubt not but that his breast would be more bruised with its weight than the heart would be comforted with such a disagreeable and contrary cure.

And even so is it with brains. For if a man, because brains are cold and humid, would therefore use inwardly by smells or outwardly by application things of hot and dry quality, all the gain that he could make of it would only be to put himself in a great forwardness for running mad by over-watching himself, for the coldness and moistness of our brains are the only normal means that procure our sleep and rest.

Indeed I do not deny, but when it falls out that any of these or any part of our body grows to be distempered and to tend to ail terribly beyond the compass of Nature’s temperate mixture, that in that case cures of contrary qualities to the intemperate inclination of that part, being wisely prepared and discretely 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 medicine.

But first these cures ought not be used but where there is need of them, yet the contrary is daily practised in this general use of tobacco by all sorts and complexions of people.

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 its heat which makes it have an antipathy against nature, as by its hateful smell doth well appear. For the nose being the proper organ and convoy of the sense of smell to the brain, which is the only fountain of that sense, doth ever serve us as an infallible witness, whether that odour 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).

To show that its suffumigation cannot have a drying quality, it need be no further tested than to observe that it is a smoke. All smoke and vapour are humid, drawing near to the nature of the air and easily resolved again into water, of which there need be no further proof but the meteors, which being bred of nothing but the vapours and exhalations sucked up by the sun out of the earth, the sea, and the waters, yet are the self-same smoky vapours turned and transformed into rains, snows, dews, hoar-frosts, and similar watery meteors, just as rainy clouds are often transformed and evaporated in blustery winds.

The second argument grounded on a show of reason is that this filthy smoke, as well through its heat and strength as by a natural force and quality, is able and fit to purge both the head and stomach of rheums and distillations, as experience teacheth, by the spitting and venting flame immediately after partaking of it. But the fallacy of this argument may be easily seen by my preceding description of meteors.

For even as the smoky vapours sucked up by the sun and stayed in the lowest and coldest region of the air are there 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. So are you made free and purged of nothing but that with which you wilfuly burdened yourselves.

You are therefore no wiser in taking tobacco for purging yourselves of distillations than if for preventing cholic you would take all kind of windy meats and drinks, and for preventing of stones 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 thanks of it to such nourishments as bred those within you, that behoved either to be expelled by the force of Nature, or you to have burst at the broadside, as the Proverb runs.

As for the other two reasons founded upon experience, the first of which is that the whole populace would not have taken so general a good liking to it if they had not by experience found it very sovereign and good for them. For the answer to this, considering how easily the minds of any people with which God hath replenished this world may be drawn to the foolish affectation of any novelty, I leave it to the discreet judgement of any man who is reasonable.

Do we not daily see that a man can no 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 till it be practised 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 each that we cannot be content unless we imitate everything that our fellows do and so prove ourselves capable of everything of which they are capable, like apes counterfeiting the manners of others, to our own destruction.

Merely let one or two of the greatest masters of mathematics in either of the two famous universities but constantly affirm any clear day that they see some strange apparition in the skies, and I warrant you that they will 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 proceed only from that affectation of novelty and popular error of which I have already spoken.

The other argument drawn from a mistaken experience is but the more particular test of this general one, because it is alleged to be found true by proof that by the partaking of tobacco, very many find themselves cured of diverse diseases, while on the other hand no man ever received harm from partaking of it.

In this argument there is first a great mistake and next a monstrous absurdity. For is it not a very great error to take Non causam pro causa, as they say in Logic? Because peradventure when a sick man hath had his disease at its worst stage, 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, oh then the tobacco was forsooth 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 diverse diseases.

For an evident proof of error in a similar case, I ask you what foolish boy, what silly wench, what old doting wife or ignorant country clown is not a physician for the toothache, for the cholic, and various such common diseases? Yea, will not every man you meet likewise teach you a sundry cure for the same and swear that by that means either he himself or some of his nearest kinsmen and friends were cured?

And yet I hope no man is so foolish as to believe them, for all these trifles proceed only from the mistake of Non causam pro causa, as I have already stated. And so if a man chance to recover from any disease after he hath taken tobacco, that must deserve the thanks for all his good fortune. But on the contrary, if a man smoke himself to death with it (and many have done so) oh 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, but are never mindful of how many die of the pox in the flower of their youth. And so do old drunkards think they prolong their days by their swinelike 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 diverse — indeed even opposite — sorts of diseases? It is firmly understood among all physicians that there is almost no sort either of nourishment or medicine that hath not some thing in it disagreeable to some part of man’s body, because as I have already stated, the nature of the temperature of each 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 the shoulders’.

For even as a strong enemy who invades a town or fortress, although in its siege he should belay and encompass it all round, yet he makes his breach and entry at one or another particular part of it which he hath tested and found to be weakest and least able to resist, so sickness doth make her particular assault upon such part or parts of our body as are weakest and easiest overcome by that sort of disease which then doth assail us, although all the rest of the body should by sympathy feel as if it were belayed and besieged by the affliction of that particular part, the grief and pain of it being by the sense of feeling dispersed through all the rest of our members.

And therefore the skilful physician applies only such cures to purge and strengthen that part which is afflicted as only fit for that sort of disease and do best agree with the nature of that infirm part — which, being abused by a disease of another nature, would prove as hurtful to the one as helpful to the other. Yea, not only will a skilful and wary physician be careful to use no other cure than one fit for that particular sort of disease, but also will he consider all other circumstances and make remedies suitable to them, including such factors 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, and the present state of his body, be it in strength or weakness.

For one cure must never be used for the self-same disease, but according to the varying of any of the aforementioned circumstances, that sort of remedy must be used which is fittest for the same. Yet here the contrary scenario is said to apply, such is the miraculous omnipotence of our strong-tasting tobacco that 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 the head or stomach (if you believe their axioms) although in very deed it should both corrupt the brain and by causing over-quick digestion fill the stomach full of raw food. It cures the gout in the feet, and — mirabile visu — in that very instant when its smoke as light flies up into the head, its virtue as heavy runs down to the little toe. It helps all sorts of agues.

It makes a man sober who was drunk. It refreshes a weary man, 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, they say it will awaken his brain and quicken his understanding. As for curing of the pox, it serves for that use but among the pocky Indian slaves. Here in England it is refined and so will not here deign to cure any other disease than cleanly and gentlemanly ones.

O omnipotent power of tobacco! If only it could by its smoke chase out devils as the smoke of Tobias’s fish did — which I am sure could smell no worse — it would serve as a precious relic with which to cast out devils both by the superstitious priests and by the insolent puritans alike.

Admitting then and not confessing that its use 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? Yea, should it be used by able, young, strong, healthful men?

Medicine hath the virtue that it never leaveth a man in that state in which it findeth him: it makes a sick man whole but a whole man sick. And as medicine helps nature when taken at times of necessity, so being ever and continually used it doth but weaken, weary, and wear out nature.

What speak I of medicine? Nay, let a man every hour of the day or as oft as many in this country use to take tobacco, I say let a man but take as oft the best sorts of nourishments in meat and drink that can be devised, he shall with its continual use weaken both his head and his stomach: all his members shall become feeble, his spirits dull, and in the end he shall like some drowsy and lazy belly-god vanish in a lethargy.

From this weakness it proceeds 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 — habitum, alteram naturam — and so for those who from their birth have been continually nourished upon poison and things venomous, wholesome meats are now only poisonous to them.

Thus having, I trust, sufficiently answered the main arguments used in defence of this vile custom, it remains only to inform you what sins and vanities you commit in its filthy abuse. First, are you not guilty of sinful and shameful lust? (For lust may exist in any of the senses as well as it can in feeling.) That although you be troubled with no disease and in perfect health, yet can you neither be merry at a church service nor lascivious in the taverns 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 Quailes?

Secondly, it is as you use — or rather abuse — it a branch of the sin of drunkenness, which is the root of all sins. As the sole delight that drunkards take in wine is in the strength of its taste and the force of its fume that mounts up to the brain, for no drunkard loves any weak or sweet drink.

So are not those the only qualities (I mean the strong heat and the fume) that make tobacco so delectable to all those who love it? And as no man likes strong heady drink the first day (because nemo repente fit turpissimus but by custom is piece and piece allured, while in the end a drunkard will have as great a thirst to be drunk as a sober man to quench his thirst with a draught when he hath need of it. Is this not 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 in this Kingdom, you who are created and ordained by God to bestow both your persons and goods for the maintenance both of the honour 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 without having 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 war he who 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 war and you were to make some sudden cavalcade upon your enemies, if any of you should seek leisure to stay behind his fellow to partake of tobacco, for my part I should never be sorry for any evil chance that might befall him.

To take a custom in anything that cannot be left again is most harmful to the people of any land. Softness and delicacy were the wrack and overthrow first of the Persian and next of the Roman Empire. And this very custom of taking tobacco (of which our present purpose is) is even in this day accounted so effeminate among the Indians themselves that 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 favour of Emperor Alexander Severus his master by taking bribes to intercede for sundry persons in his master's care (for whom he never once opened his mouth) was justly choked with smoke with this doom: Fumo pereat, qui fumum vendidit. 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 uncleanliness that at the table — a place of respect, of cleanliness, of modesty — men should not be ashamed to sit stirring tobacco pipes and puffing tobacco smoke at one another, making its filthy smoke and stink exhale athwart the dishes and infect the air, when very often men that abhor it are at their repast?

Surely smoke becomes a kitchen far better then a dining chamber, and yet it makes a kitchen also oftentimes in the inward parts of men, soiling and infecting them with an unctuous and oily kind of soot as hath been found in some great tobacco takers who were opened after their death.

And it is not only mealtime alone, for no other time nor action is exempted from the public use of this uncivil trick. Were the wives of Dieppe quick to contest with this Nation for good manners, their worst manners would in all reason be found at least not so dishonest as ours are in this point.

The public use of which, at all times and in all places, hath now so far prevailed as diverse men very sound both in judgement 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 who were forced to dunk themselves in that rainwater and so become fools like the rest of the people), and partly to be as one who who did not love garlic was content to eat it anyway so that he might not be troubled with its smell on the breath of his fellows.

And is it not a great vanity that a man cannot heartily welcome his friend now, but straight away they must be in hand with tobacco? No, it is become in place of a cure, a point of good fellowship, and he that will refuse to take a pipe of tobacco among his fellows — though by his own election he would rather feel the savour of a sink — is accounted peevish and no good company, even as they do with tippling in the cold Eastern countries. Yea, the mistress cannot entertain her servant in a more mannerly way than by giving him a pipe of tobacco out of her fair hand.

For in this there is not only a great vanity but also 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, of which I must confess it hath too strong a virtue. And so what is an ornament of nature which can neither by any artifice be acquired if lacking from the start nor once lost be recovered again shall be filthily corrupted with an incurable stink whose vile quality is as directly contrary to that wrong opinion which is held of its wholesomness as is the venom of putrifaction 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 with it or else resolve to live in a perpetual stinking torment.

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


  1. The King is referring to syphilis when he speaks of that most detestable disease brought over by the Indians.
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  • Excellent! I am impressed, and hope the OP will be too. :) – Erik Kowal Mar 4 '15 at 5:56
  • Given the distaste for my google translate suggestion, I can comment. I agree that it would not in the end please the OP. The translator is optimized for modern English and may have difficulty with some of the older words or the more difficult words might be considered perfectly normal modern English ones. Either way, a person with language skills editing/modernizing the text (I have difficulty thinking of it as 'translating) would be the best solution. Which is what you did. – Mitch Mar 9 '15 at 14:46
  • Thank you very much for taking the time to do this. I have saved this (plus the preface you provided) to my computer for future reading. I'm sorry for my lack of communication for so many days. – Mr. Bultitude Mar 11 '15 at 17:08
  • Knowing that translation requests were off-topic here, I was reluctant to accept this answer because it would mean that's what my question was (I'm not positive that's true), but I also wanted to acknowledge your effort and possibly edit my question or request that you do something else (like put it on a blog and link to it). After sitting on it, I've decided to just accept this and let whatever happens to my question happen. I feel like that's silly, but that's where my silence came from: indecision. Regardless, thank you again. I do very much appreciate it. – Mr. Bultitude Mar 11 '15 at 17:09
  • @Mr.Bultitude Thanks! I’ve tinkered a bit with some of the wording to make it smoother. The Latin I didn’t translate because that would then be a translation request :) but instead linked to a Google search for the phrase. They’re all pretty easy though, like Opus unius diei for the work of one (or of a single) day. – tchrist Mar 12 '15 at 2:12

NB: This is part one of three linked postings; the others are part two and part three.

The digitization you linked to has really done you a great service in rendering the original printed pamphlet into letters that you recognize. Otherwise you would be reading stuff like this:

counterblast page

And really, you have to admit that the ASCII version is easier to read than that is.

Still, here is a stab at modernizing the spelling, plus a bit of the phrasing and vocabulary. For reasons of posting-size limitations, I present this in two pieces, first the preface, then the actual pamphlet body.


To the Reader

As every human body however wholesome, dear countrymen, is nevertheless subject or at least naturally inclined to some sorts of diseases or infirmities, so is there no commonwealth or body-politic howsoever well-governed or peaceable it may be which lacks these same popular errors and naturally inclined corruptions. And therefore is it no wonder that our own peaceable, wealthy, and long-flourishing Country and Commonwealth should be subject to the same natural infirmities as the rest.

We are of all nations the people most loving and most reverently obedient to our Prince, yet we are (as time hath often borne witness) too easily seduced into making rebellion upon very slight grounds. Our fortunate and oft-proven valour in wars abroad and our hearty and reverent obedience to our Princes at home hath bred us a long and a thrice-happy peace. Our peace hath bred wealth, and peace and wealth hath brought forth a general sluggishness which makes us wallow in all sorts of idle delights and soft delicacies: the first seeds of the subversion of all great monarchies. Our Clergy are become negligent and lazy; our nobility and gentry prodigal and sold to their private delights; our lawyers covetous; our common people prodigal and curious; and generally all sorts of people caring more for their private ends than for their Mother Commonwealth.

As remedy of all that, it is the King’s part as the proper physician of his own body-politic to purge it of all those diseases with medicines meet for the same, as by a certain mild and yet just form of government to maintain the public quietness and prevent all occasions of commotion, and by the example of his own person and court, to make us all ashamed of our sluggish delicacy and to stir us up to the practice again of all honest exercises, and martial shadows of war. Likewise is it meet that he should by his and his Court’s moderateness in apparel make us ashamed of our prodigality, and by his quick admonitions and careful oversight of the Clergy to waken them again to be more diligent in their offices, and by the sharp trial and severe punishment of the partial, covetous, and bribing lawyers to reform their corruptions.

And generally by the example of his own royal person and by the due execution of good laws to reform and abolish, piece by piece, these old and evil grounded abuses. For this will not be Opus unius diei, but because every one of these diseases must from the King receive its own proper cure, so there are some sorts of abuses in commonwealths that though they be of so base and contemptible a condition that they are too low for the law to notice and too petty for a King to interpose his authority or bend his eye upon, yet they are corruptions nonetheless, as much so as are greatest of them.

Just as an ant is an animal and so too is an elephant, and just as a wren is a bird yet so too is a swan, so too is a small dint of toothache a disease in the same way that the fearful plague is also a disease. But for these base sorts of corruption in Commonwealths, not only the King or any inferior magistrate but Quilibet e populo may serve to be a physician by discovering and impugning the error and by persuading its reformation.

And surely in my opinion, there cannot be a more base and yet hurtful corruption in a country than the vile use (or other abuse) of taking tobacco in this Kingdom, which hath moved me shortly to disclose its abuses in the following little pamphlet.

If any think it a light argument, it is but a trifle that is bestowed upon it. And since the subject is but of smoke, I think the fume of an idle brain may serve for a sufficient battery against so fumous and feeble an enemy. If my grounds be found true, it is all I look for. But if they carry the force of persuasion with them, it is all I can wish and more than I can expect. My only care is that you, my dear countrymen, may rightly conceive even by this smallest trifle of the sincerity of my meaning in greater matters, never to spare any pain that may tend to the procuring of your welfare and prosperity.

The main body of the King’s pamphlet is continued in a separate answer due to punitive size limits on posts.

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Let me start by saying that I can't tell you where to find a modern rendering of A Counterblaste to Tobacco. But I can suggest some other ways to resolve your problem.

First, I will rule out one possible approach.

  • I would definitely not recommend using Google Translate, or any other machine translation tool, to translate the text back and forth into/from another language. That can only lead to a post-editing nightmare, with error compounding error in this 'Chinese whispers' scenario, made much more confusing and inaccurate by the presence of archaic words and expressions in the original English text.

As I see it, you have three alternatives:

1) Keep searching for a modern rendering; or

2) Failing that, paste the text into Word, and use a combination of find-and-replace and manual editing to modernize the spellings; or

3) Adopt the best solution, which in my view is to combine modern office technology and your own brainpower, and modernize the text yourself.

Accordingly, I suggest that you first read the text aloud into a dictation program that you have already trained to learn your speech patterns, and thereby give the program the job of transcribing your speech to an output text whose spellings will by default be those that English uses today.

This will work best if you make yourself thoroughly familiar beforehand with the text, and identify the potential problem words (e.g. those with especially misleading spellings, such as 'divers' [= modern 'diverse']), so that you don't introduce incorrect pronunciations into the recording or stumble over words that today are obscure, rare or used differently.

For these and similar reasons, some judicious find-and-replace will probably be helpful for pre-editing the most troublesome spellings before you read the text aloud.

In your position I would also first modernize the punctuation, which as it stands is liable to mislead a modern reader (for instance, it omits what seem to me to be some necessary commas and full stops/periods). Some of the capitalization too is eccentric by today's standards, and therefore liable to confuse.

You will then have a decision to make: are you simply going to modernize the presentation of the text (i.e. spelling, punctuation, capitalization etc.); or are you going to rewrite the text in a more contemporary style?

If the latter, you will have two non-negligible tasks before you.

The first will be to find modern equivalents for those expressions in the original text that are now obsolete or obscure.

The second task will be to restructure some of those monstrous rhetorical anacoluthons, with all their bombastic multiple clauses and opinionated flourishes, so that they can be understood by readers who are not blessed with the capacity that James I evidently possessed for holding both the sense and structure of successive digressive clauses contained in sentences of 200 words or more in their short-term memory. (The bullet point is a most useful tool when undertaking such an endeavour.)

Good luck!

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  • 1
    I took a quick pass on the third approach. – tchrist Mar 4 '15 at 5:35

This is the third in three linked answers.

Here is the Comissio pro Tabacco, the appendix to King James’s Counterblast to Tobacco, in which the king sets the import tax on tobacco. As with the main body and its preface, the spelling has been updated to a form familiar to modern readers and very light editing applied, particularly in punctuation.

James, by the grace of God &c. to our right trusty and right well-beloved cousin and counsellor, Thomas Earle of Dorset our High Treasurer of England, Greeting.

Whereas tobacco, being a drug of late years found out and by merchants as well denizens as strangers brought from foreign parts in small quantity into this realm of England and other our dominions, was used and taken by the better sort both then and now only as physick to preserve health, and is now at this day through evil custom and the toleration thereof excessively taken by a number of riotous and disordered persons of mean and base condition, who, contrary to the use which persons of good calling and quality make thereof, do spend most of their time in that idle vanity to the evil example and corrupting of others, and also do consume those wages which many of them get by their labour, and wherewith their families should be relieved, not caring at what price they buy that drug, but rather devising how to add other mixture to it thereby to make it the more delightful to their taste, though so much the more costly to their purse; by which great and immoderate taking of tobacco the health of a great number of our people is impaired and their bodies weakened and made unfit for labor, the estates of many mean persons so decayed and consumed as they are thereby driven to unthrifty shifts only to maintain their gluttonous exercise thereof, besides that also a great part of the treasure of our land is spent and exhausted by this drug only so licentiously abused by the meaner sort, all which enormous inconveniences ensuing thereupon we do well perceive to proceed principally from the great quantity of tobacco daily brought into this our realm of England and dominions of Wales from the parts beyond the seas by merchants and others, which excess we conceive might in great part be restrained by some good imposition to be laid upon it, whereby it is likely that a less quantity of tobacco will hereafter be brought into this our realm of England, dominion of Wales, and town of Barwick than in former times, and yet sufficient store to serve for their necessary use those who are of the better sort, and have and will use the same with moderation to preserve their health.

We do therefore will and command you our Treasurer of England, and hereby also warrant and authorise you to give order to all customers, comptrollers, searchers, surveyors, and all other officers of our ports, that from and after the six and twentieth day of October next coming, they shall demand and take to our use of all merchants, as well English as strangers, and of all others who shall bring in any tobacco into this realm within any port, haven, or creek belonging to any their several charges, the sum of six shillings and eight pence upon every pound-weight thereof, over and above the custom of two pence upon the pound-weight usually paid heretofore.

And for the better execution hereof, both in the reformation of the said abuses and for the avoiding of all fraud and deceipt concerning the payment of the said imposition and custom, our will and pleasure is that you shall in our name straightly charge and command all collectors, customers, comptrollers, surveyors, and other officers whatsoever to whom the same may belong, that they suffer no entries to be made of any tobacco at any time hereafter to be brought into any port, haven, or creek within this our realm of England, the dominion of Wales, and town of Barwicke, or any part of the same, by any English or stranger or any other person whatsoever, before the said custom and imposition before specified be first satisfied and paid, or composition made for the same with our said customers, collectors, or other officers to whom the enemy appertaineth, upon pain that if any merchant English or stranger or other whatsoever shall presume to bring in any of the said tobacco before such payment and satisfaction be first made that then he shall not only forfeit the said tobacco, but also shall undergo such further penalties and corporal punishment as the quality of such so high a contempt against our royal and express commandment in this manner published shall deserve.

Witness our self at Westminster the seventeenth day of October. [1604].

Per ipsum Regem.

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