James Parton.

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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1868, by
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the
District of Massachusetts.



The next very important thing that man has to attend to is his health.

In some other respects, progress has been made during the last hundred
years, and several considerable obstacles to the acquisition of a
stable happiness have been removed or diminished.

In the best parts of the best countries, so much knowledge is now
freely offered to all the young as suffices to place within their reach
all existing knowledge. We may say with confidence that the time is not
distant when, in the United States, no child will live farther than
four miles from a school-house, kept open four months in the year, and
when there will be the beginning of a self-sustaining public library in
every town and village of a thousand inhabitants. This great business
of making knowledge universally accessible is well in hand; it has gone
so far that it must go on till the work is complete.

In this country, too, if nowhere else, there is so near an approach to
perfect freedom of thinking, that scarcely any one, whose conduct is
good, suffers inconvenience from professing any extreme or eccentricity
of mere opinion. I constantly meet, in New England villages, men who
differ as widely as possible from their neighbors on the most dividing
of all subjects; but if they are good citizens and good neighbors, I
have never observed that they were the less esteemed on that account.
Their peculiarities of opinion become as familiar as the color of their
hair, or the shape of their every-day hat, and as inoffensive. This is
a grand triumph of good sense and good nature; or, as Matthew Arnold
would say, of the metropolitan over the provincial spirit. It is also
recent. It was not the case fifty years ago. It was not the case twenty
years ago.

The steam-engine, and the wondrous machinery which the steam-engine
moves, have so cheapened manufactured articles, that a mechanic, in a
village, may have so sufficient a share of the comforts, conveniences,
and decencies of life, that it is sometimes hard to say what real
advantage his rich neighbor has over him. The rich man used to have one
truly enviable advantage over others: his family was safer, in case of
his sudden death. But a mechanic, who has his home paid for, his life
insured, and a year's subsistence accumulated, is as secure in this
respect as, perhaps, the nature of human affairs admits. Now, an
American workingman, anywhere out of a few largest cities, can easily
have all these safeguards around his family by the time he is forty;
and few persons can be rich before they are forty.

We may say, perhaps, speaking generally, that, in the United States,
there are no formidable obstacles to the attainment of substantial
welfare, except such as exist in the nature of things and in ourselves.

But in the midst of so many triumphs of man over material and
immaterial things, man himself seems to dwindle and grow pale. Not here
only, but in all the countries that have lately become rich enough to
buy great quantities of the popular means of self-destruction, and in
which women cease to labor as soon as their husbands and parents
acquire a little property, and in which children sit in school and out
of school from five to nine hours a day, and in which immense numbers
of people breathe impure air twenty-two hours out of every twenty-four.
In the regions of the United States otherwise most highly favored,
nearly every woman, under forty, is sick or sickly; and hardly any
young man has attained a proper growth, and measures the proper size
around the chest. As to the young girls and school-children, if, in a
school or party of two hundred, you can pick out thirty well-developed,
well-proportioned, robust, ruddy children, you will do better than I
have sometimes been able to do.

This begins to alarm and puzzle all but the least reflective persons.
People begin to wonder why every creature, whether of native or foreign
origin, should flourish in America, except man.

Not that there is anything mysterious with regard to the immediate
causes of this obvious decline in the health and robustness of the
race. Miss Nightingale tells us that more than half of all the sickness
in the world comes of breathing bad air. She speaks feelingly of the
time, not long passed, when the winds of heaven played freely through
every house, from Windsor Castle to the laborer's cottage, and when
every lady put forth muscular effort in the polishing of surfaces. That
was the time when bread was an article of diet, and the Devil had not
invented hot biscuit. The agreeable means of self-destruction, now so
cheap and universal, were unknown, or very costly; and the great mass
of the people subsisted, necessarily, upon the plain fare which affords
abundant nourishment, without overtasking the digestive powers.
Terrible epidemics, against which the medical science of the time
vainly contended, swept off weakly persons, shortened the average
duration of life, and raised the standard of health.

But now we can all pervert and poison ourselves if we will, and yet not
incur much danger of prompt extinction. Indeed, it is hard for the most
careful and resolute person to avoid being a party to the universal
violation of natural law. Children, of course, are quite helpless. How
could I help, at eight years of age, being confined six hours a day in
a school, where the word "ventilation" was only known as an object of
spelling? How could I help, on Sunday, being entombed in a
Sunday-school room, eight or nine feet high, crowded with children, all
breathing their utmost? I hated it. I loathed it. I protested against
it. I played truant from it. But I was thirteen years old before I
could escape that detested basement, where I was poisoned with
pernicious air, and where well-intentioned Ignorance made virtue
disgusting, contemptible, and ridiculous, by turns.

As all our virtues support one another, so all the vices of modern life
are allies. Smoking and drinking are effects, as well as causes. We
waste our vital force; we make larger demands upon ourselves than the
nature of the human constitution warrants, and then we crave the
momentary, delusive, pernicious aid which tobacco and alcohol afford. I
suppose the use of these things will increase or decrease, as man
degenerates or improves.

This subject, I repeat, is the next great matter upon which we have to
throw ourselves. The republication of these essays is only to be
justified on the ground that every little helps.

I think, too, that the next new sensation enjoyed by the
self-indulgent, self-destroying inhabitants of the wealthy nations will
be the practice of virtue. I mean, of course, the real thing, now
nearly forgotten, the beginning of which is self-control, and which
leads people to be temperate and pure, and enables them to go contrary
to custom and fashion, without being eccentric or violent about it.
That kind of virtue, I mean, which enables us to accept hard duties,
and perform them with cheerful steadfastness; which enables us to make
the most of our own lives, and to rear glorious offspring, superior to

It is surprising what a new interest is given to life by denying
ourselves one vicious indulgence. What luxury so luxurious as just
self-denial! Who has ever seen any happy people that were not
voluntarily carrying a heavy burden? Human nature is so formed to
endure and to deny itself, that those mistaken souls who forsake the
world, and create for themselves artificial woes, and impose upon
themselves unnecessary tasks, and deny themselves rational and
beneficial pleasures, are a thousand times happier than those
self-indulgent and aimless men, whom we see every afternoon, gazing
listlessly out of club-windows, wondering why it is so long to six

I heard a young man say, the other day, that smoking had been the bane
of his life, but that after abstaining for seven months, during which
he made no progress in overcoming the desire to smoke, he had come to
the conclusion that he was past cure, and must needs go on, as long as
he lived. He _was_ going on, when he made the remark, smoking a pipe
half as big and twice as yellow as himself. It was a great pity. That
daily longing to smoke, with the daily triumphant struggle against it,
was enough of itself to make his life both respectable and interesting.
During those seven months, he was a man. He could claim fellowship with
all the noble millions of our race, who have waged a secret warfare
with Desire, all the days of their lives. If he had kept on, if he had
not lapsed under the domination of his tyrant, he would probably have
ascertained what there was in his way of life which kept alive in him
the craving for stimulation. In all probability, he would have
conquered the desire at last.

And such a victory is usually followed by others similar. The cigar and
the bottle are often replaced by something not sensual. The brain,
freed from the dulling, lowering influence, regains a portion of its
natural vivacity; and that vivacity frequently finds worthy objects
upon which to expend itself.

NEW YORK, September, 1868.




I have sometimes thought that there are people whom it does pay to
smoke: those hod-carriers on the other side of the street, for example.
It cannot be a very pleasant thing to be a hod-carrier at this season
of the year, when a man who means to be at work at seven A.M. must wake
an hour before the first streak of dawn. There is an aged sire over
there, who lives in Vandewater Street, which is two miles and a quarter
from the building he is now assisting to erect. He must be astir by
half past five, in order to begin his breakfast at six; and at half
past six he is in the car, with his dinner-kettle in his hand, on his
way up town. About the time when the more active and industrious
readers of this magazine begin to think it is nearly time to get up,
this father of a family makes his first ascent of the ladder with a
load of mortar on his shoulder. At twelve, the first stroke of the bell
of St. George's Church (it is New York where these interesting events
occur) sets him at liberty, and he goes in quest of his kettle. On very
cold days, the dinner-kettle is wrapped in its proprietor's overcoat to
keep the cold dinner from freezing stiff. But we will imagine a milder
day, when the group of hod-carriers take their kettles to some sunny,
sheltered spot about the building, where they sit upon soft, commodious
boards, and enjoy their repast of cold meat and bread. The homely meal
being concluded, our venerable friend takes out his short black pipe
for his noontide smoke. How he enjoys it! How it seems to rest him! It
is a kind of conscious sleep, ending, perhaps, in a brief unconscious
sleep, from which he wakes refreshed for another five hours of the
heavy hod.

Who could wish to deny a poor man a luxury so cheap, and so dear? It
does not cost him more than ten cents a week; but so long as he has his
pipe, he has a sort of refuge to which he can fly from trouble.
Especially consoling to him is it in the evening, when he is in his own
crowded and most uninviting room. The smoke that is supposed to "poison
the air" of some apartments seems to correct the foulness of this; and
the smoker appears to be a benefactor to all its inmates, as well as to
those who pass its door.

Besides, this single luxury of smoke, at a cost of one cent and three
sevenths per diem, is the full equivalent of all the luxuries which
wealth can buy! None but a smoker, or one who has been a smoker, can
realize this truth; but it is a truth. That short black pipe does
actually place the hod-carrier, so far as mere luxury goes, on a par
with Commodore Vanderbilt or the Prince of Wales. Tokay, champagne,
turtle, game, and all the other luxurious commodities are not, taken
altogether, so much to those who can daily enjoy them, as poor Paddy's
pipe is to him. Indeed, the few rich people with whose habits I chance
to be acquainted seldom touch such things, and never touch them except
to please others. They all appear to go upon the system of the late
Lord Palmerston, who used to say to his new butler, "Provide for my
guests whatever the season affords; but for _me_ there must be always a
leg of mutton and an apple-pie." Let the Prince of Wales (or any other
smoker) be taken to a banqueting-hall, the tables of which should be
spread with all the dainties which persons of wealth are erroneously
supposed to be continually consuming, but over the door let there be
written the terrible words, "No smoking." Then show him an adjoining
room, with a table exhibiting Lord Palmerston's leg of mutton and
apple-pie, plus a bundle of cigars. If any one doubts which of these
two feasts the Prince of Wales would choose, we tell that doubting
individual he has never been a smoker.

Now the short pipe of the hod-carrier is just as good to him as the
regalias could be that cost two hundred dollars a thousand in Havana,
and sixty cents each in New York. If you were to give him one of those
regalias, he would prefer to cut it up and smoke it in his pipe, and
then he would not find it as good as the tobacco he usually smokes. The
poor laborer's pipe, therefore, is a potent equalizer. To the enjoyment
of pleasures purely luxurious there is a limit which is soon reached;
and I maintain that a poor man gets as much of this _kind_ of pleasure
out of his pipe as a prince or a railroad king can extract from all the
costly wines and viands of the table.

If there is a man in the world who ought to smoke, that ancient
hod-carrier is the man. A stronger case for smoking cannot be selected
from ordinary life. Does it pay him? After an attentive and sympathetic
consideration of his case, I am compelled reluctantly to conclude that
it does not.

The very fact that it tends to make him contented with his lot is a
point against his pipe. It is a shame to him to be contented. To a
young man the carrying of the hod is no dishonor, for it is fit that
young men should bear burdens and perform lowly tasks. But the hod is
not for gray hairs. Whenever, in this free and spacious America, we see
a man past fifty carrying heavy loads upon his shoulders, or performing
any hired labor that requires little skill or thought, we know that
there must have been some great defect or waste in that man's life. The
first dollar that George Law ever earned, after leaving his father's
house, was earned by carrying the hod at Albany. But with that dollar
he bought an arithmetic and spelling-book; which, when winter closed in
and put a stop to hod-carrying, he mastered, and thus began to prepare
to build the "High Bridge" over the Harlem River, where he made a
million dollars by using steam hod-carriers instead of Irish ones. The
pipe is one of the points of difference between the hod-carrier content
with his lot and the hod-carrier who means to get into bricklaying next
spring. Yonder is one of the latter class reading his "Sun" after
dinner, instead of steeping his senses in forgetfulness over a pipe.
He, perhaps, will be taking a contract to build a bridge over the East
River, about the time when his elderly comrade is buried in a
corporation coffin.

Of course, there are vigorous and triumphant men who smoke, and there
are dull, contented men who do not. It is only of the general tendency
of the poor man's pipe that I wish to speak. I mean to say that it
tends to make him satisfied with a lot which it is his chief and
immediate duty to alleviate. He ought to hate and loathe his
tenement-house home; and when he goes to that home in the evening,
instead of sitting down in stolid selfishness to smoke, he should be
active in giving his wife (who usually has the worst of it) the
assistance she needs and deserves. Better the merry song, the cheerful
talk, the pleasant stroll, than this dulling of the senses and the
brain in smoke. Nobler the conscious misery of such a home, than the
artificial lethargy of the pipe. It is an unhandsome thing in this
husband to steal out of his vile surroundings into cloudland, and leave
his wife and children alone to their noisome desolation.

If it does not pay this hod-carrier to smoke, it pays no man. If this
man cannot smoke without injustice to others, no man can.

Ladies, the natural enemies of tobacco, relented so far during the war
as to send tobacco and pipes to the soldiers, and worked with their own
fair hands many a pouch. Indeed, the pouch industry continues, though
we will do the ladies the justice to say that, as their pouches usually
have every excellent quality except fitness for the purpose intended,
few of them ever hold tobacco. Does the lady who presented General
Sheridan the other evening, in New York, with those superb and highly
decorated tobacco-pouches suppose the gallant General has had, or will
ever have, the heart to profane such beautiful objects with the noxious
weed? It is evident from these gracious concessions on the part of the
ladies, that they suppose the soldier is a man whose circumstances call
imperatively for the solace of smoke; and really, when the wearied men
after a long day's march gathered round the camp-fire for the evening
pipe, the most infuriate hater of the weed must have sometimes paused
and questioned the science which forbids the indulgence. But, reader,
did you ever travel in one of the forward cars of a train returning
from the seat of war, when the soldiers were coming home to re-enlist?
We need not attempt to describe the indescribable scene. Most readers
can imagine it. We allude to it merely as a set-off to the pleasant and
picturesque spectacle of the tired soldiers smoking round the

In truth, the soldier is the last man in the world who should smoke;
for the simple reason, that while he, more than any other man, has need
of all his strength, smoking robs him of part of it. It is not science
alone which establishes this truth. The winning boat of Harvard
University, and the losing boat of Yale, were not rowed by smokers. One
of the first things demanded of a young man who is going into training
for a boat-race is, _Stop smoking!_ And he himself, long before his
body has reached its highest point of purity and development, will
become conscious of the lowering and disturbing effect of smoking one
inch of a mild cigar. No smoker who has ever trained severely for a
race, or a game, or a fight, needs to be told that smoking reduces the
tone of the system and diminishes all the forces of the body. He
_knows_ it. He has been as conscious of it as a boy is conscious of the
effects of his first cigar. Let the Harvard crew smoke during the last
two months of their training, and let the Yale men abstain, and there
is one individual prepared to risk a small sum upon Yale's winning back
her laurels.

A soldier should be in training always. Compelled to spend nine tenths
of his time in laboriously doing nothing, he is called upon
occasionally, for a few hours or days or weeks, to put forth exertions
which task human endurance to the uttermost. The soldier, too, of all
men, should have quiet nerves; for the phantoms of war scare more men
than its real dangers, and men's bodies can shake when their souls are
firm. That two and two make four is not a truth more unquestionably
certain than that smoking does diminish a soldier's power of endurance,
and does make him more susceptible to imaginary dangers. If a regiment
were to be raised for the hardest service of which men can ever be
capable, and that service were to be performed for a series of
campaigns, it would be necessary to exclude from the commissariat, not
tobacco only, but coffee and tea. Each man, in short, would have to be
kept in what prize-fighters call "condition"; by which term they simply
mean the natural state of the body, uncontaminated by poison, and
unimpaired by indolence or excess. Every man is in duty bound to be "in
condition" at all times; but the soldier, - it is part of his profession
to be "in condition." When remote posterity comes to read of the
millions and millions of dollars expended during the late war in curing
soldiers untouched by bayonet or bullet, the enthusiasm of readers will
not be excited by the generosity displayed in bestowing those millions.
People will lay down the book and exclaim: "How ignorant were our poor
ancestors of the laws of life! A soldier in hospital without a wound!
How extremely absurd!"

To this weighty and decisive objection minor ones may be added. The
bother and vexation arising from the pipe were very great during the
campaigns of the late war. Half the time the smokers, being deprived of
their accustomed stimulant, were in that state of uneasy longing which
smokers and other stimulators know. Men were shot during the war merely
because they _would_ strike a light and smoke. The desire sometimes
overcame all considerations of prudence and soldierly duty. A man out
on picket, of a chilly night, knowing perfectly well that lighting his
pipe would have the twofold effect of revealing his presence and
inviting a bullet, was often unable to resist the temptation. Many men,
too, risked capture in seeking what smokers call "a little fire." A
fine, stalwart officer of a Minnesota regiment, whose natural forces,
if he had given nature a fair chance, would have been abundantly
sufficient for him without the aid of any stimulant, has told me there
were nights when he would have gladly given a month's pay for a light.
Readers probably remember the incident related in the newspapers of one
of our smoking generals, who, after being defeated by the enemy, heard
of the arrival of gunboats which assured his safety, and promised to
restore his fortunes. The _first_ thing he did was to send an aid on
board a gunboat to ask if they had any cigars. He was right in so
doing. It was a piece of strategy necessitated by the circumstances.
Let any man who has been in the habit of smoking ten to twenty cigars a
day be suddenly deprived of them at a time when there is a great strain
upon body and mind, and he will find himself reduced to a state
bordering upon imbecility. Knowing what I know of the smoking habits of
some officers of high rank, I should tremble for the success of any
difficult operation, to be conducted by them in presence of an enemy,
if their cigars had given out the evening before; nor could a spy do
his employers a better service than to creep into the tents of some
generals the night before an engagement, and throw all their cigars and
tobacco into a pail of water.

Of all men, therefore, the soldier is the very last man who could find
his account in a practice which lowers the tone of his health, reduces
his power of endurance, litters his knapsack, pesters him with a system
of flints and tinder, and endangers his efficiency in critical moments.
If all the world smoked, still the soldier should abstain.

Sailors and other prisoners experience so many dull hours, and possess
so many unused faculties, that some cordial haters of tobacco have
thought that such persons might be justified in a habit which only
lessens what they have in superfluity. In other words, sailors, being
in a situation extremely unfavorable to spiritual life, ought not
merely to yield to the lowering influence of the forecastle, but add to
it one more benumbing circumstance. On the contrary, they ought to
strive mightily against the paralyzing effects of monotony, - not give
up to them, still less aggravate them. There is no reason, in the
nature of things, why a sailor, after a three years' voyage, should not
step on shore a man more alert in body and mind than when he sailed,
and all alive to communicate the new knowledge he has acquired and the

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Online LibraryJames PartonSmoking and drinking → online text (page 1 of 9)