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
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
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
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
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
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