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Of Smoking


Concerning Cigarette Smoking: It hath been well observed by a certain
philosopher that this is a practice commendable enough, and pleasant
to indulge in, ``when you're not smoking''; wherein the whole
criticism of the cigarette is found, in a little room. Of the same
manner of thinking was one that I knew, who kept by him an ample case
bulging with cigarettes, to smoke while he was filling his pipe. Toys
they be verily, nugæ, and shadows of the substance. Serviceable,
nevertheless, as shadows sometimes be when the substance is
temporarily unattainable; as between the acts of a play, in the park,
or while dressing for dinner: that such moments may not be entirely
wasted. That cigarette, however, which is so prompt to appear after
dinner I would reprehend and ban and totally abolish: as enemy to that
diviner thing before which it should pale its ineffectual fires in
shame -- to wit, good drink, ``la dive bouteille''; except indeed when
the liquor be bad, as is sometimes known to happen. Then it may serve
in some sort as a sorry consolation. But to leave these airy
substitutes, and come to smoking.

It hath been ofttimes debated whether the morning pipe be the sweeter,
or that first pipe of the evening which ``Hesperus, who bringeth all
good things,'' brings to the weary with home and rest. The first is
smoked on a clearer palate, and comes to unjaded senses like the kiss
of one's first love; but lacks that feeling of perfect fruition, of
merit recompensed and the goal and the garland won, which clings to
the vesper bowl. Whence it comes that the majority give the palm to
the latter. To which I intend no slight when I find the incense that
arises at matins sweeter even than that of evensong. For, although
with most of us who are labourers in the vineyard, toilers and
swinkers, the morning pipe is smoked in hurry and fear and a sense of
alarums and excursions and fleeting trains, yet with all this there
are certain halcyon periods sure to arrive -- Sundays, holidays, and
the like -- the whole joy and peace of which are summed up in that one
beatific pipe after breakfast, smoked in a careless majesty like that
of the gods ``when they lie beside their nectar, and the clouds are
lightly curled.'' Then only can we be said really to smoke. And so
this particular pipe of the day always carries with it festal
reminiscences: memories of holidays past, hopes for holidays to come;
a suggestion of sunny lawns and flannels and the ungirt loin; a sense
withal of something free and stately, as of ``faint march-music in the
air,'' or the old Roman cry of ``Liberty, freedom, and
enfranchisement.''

If there be any fly in the pipe-smoker's ointment, it may be said to
lurk in the matter of ``rings.'' Only the exceptionally gifted smoker
can recline in his chair and emit at will the perfect smoke-ring, in
consummate eddying succession. He of the meaner sort must be content
if, at rare heaven-sent intervals -- while thinking, perhaps, of
nothing less -- there escape from his lips the unpremeditated flawless
circle. Then ``deus fio'' he is moved to cry, at that breathless
moment when his creation hangs solid and complete, ere the particles
break away and blend with the baser atmosphere. Nay, some will deny to
any of us terrene smokers the gift of fullest achievement: for what
saith the poet of the century? ``On the earth the broken arcs: in the
heaven the perfect round!''

It was well observed by a certain character in one of Wilkie Collins's
novels (if an imperfect memory serveth me rightly) that women will
take pleasure in scents derived from animal emanations, clarified
fats, and the like; yet do illogically abhor the ``clean, dry,
vegetable smell'' of tobacco. Herein the true base of the feminine
objection is reached; being, as usual, inherent want of logic rather
than any distaste, in the absolute, for the thing in question.
Thinking that they ought to dislike, they do painfully cast about for
reasons to justify their dislike, when none really exist. As a
specimen of their so-called arguments, I remember how a certain fair
one triumphantly pointed out to me that my dog, though loving me well,
could yet never be brought to like the smell of tobacco. To whom I,
who respected my dog (as Ben saith of Master Shakespeare) on this side
idolatry as much as anything, was yet fain to point out -- more in
sorrow than in anger -- that a dog, being an animal who delights to
pass his whole day, from early morn to dewy eve, in shoving his nose
into every carrion beastliness that he can come across, could hardly
be considered arbiter elegantiarum in the matter of smells. But indeed
I did wrong to take such foolish quibbling seriously; nor would I have
done so, if she hadn't dragged my poor innocent dog into the
discussion.

Of Smoking in Bed: There be who consider this a depravity -- an
instance of that excess in the practice of a virtue which passes into
vice -- and couple it with dram-drinking: who yet fail to justify
themselves by argument. For if bed be by common consent the greatest
bliss, the divinest spot, on earth, ``ille terrarum qui præter omnes
angulus ridet''; and if tobacco be the true Herb of Grace, and a joy
and healing balm, and respite and nepenthe, -- if all this be
admitted, why are two things, super-excellent separately, noxious in
conjunction? And is not the Bed Smoker rather an epicure in pleasure
-- self indulgent perhaps, but still the triumphant creator of a new
``blend,'' reminding one of a certain traveller's account of an
intoxicant patronised in the South Sea Islands, which combines the
blissful effect of getting drunk and remaining sober to enjoy it? Yet
I shall not insist too much on this point, but would only ask -- so
long as the smoker be unwedded -- for some tolerance in the matter and
a little logic in the discussion thereof.

Concerning Cigars: That there be large sums given for these is within
common knowledge. 1 d., 2 d., nay even 4 d., is not too great a price,
if a man will have of the finest leaf, reckless of expense. In this
sort of smoking, however, I find more of vainglory and ostentation
than solid satisfaction; and its votaries would seem to display less a
calm, healthy affection for tobacco than (as Sir T. Browne hath it) a
``passionate prodigality.'' And, besides grievous wasting of the
pocket, atmospheric changes, varyings in the crops, and the like,
cause uncertainty to cling about each individual weed, so that man is
always more or less at the mercy of Nature and the elements -- an
unsatisfactory and undignified position in these latter days of the
Triumphant Democracy. But worst and fatallest of all, to every
cigar-smoker it is certain to happen that once in his life, by some
happy combination of time, place, temperament, and Nature -- by some
starry influence, maybe, or freak of the gods in mocking sport --
once, and once only, he will taste the aroma of the perfect leaf at
just the perfect point -- the ideal cigar. Henceforth his life is
saddened; as one kissed by a goddess in a dream, he goes thereafter,
as one might say, in a sort of love-sickness. Seeking he scarce knows
what, his existence becomes a dissatisfied yearning; the world is
spoiled for him, its joys are tasteless: so he wanders,
vision-haunted, down dreary days to some miserable end.

Yet, if one will walk this path and take the risks, the thing may be
done at comparatively small expense. To such I would commend the Roman
motto, slightly altered -- Alieni appetens, sui avarus. There be
always good fellows, with good cigars for their friends. Nay, too, the
boxes of these lie open; an the good cigar belongs rather to him that
can appreciate it aright than to the capitalist who, owing to a false
social system, happens to be its temporary guardian and trustee. Again
there is a saying -- bred first, I think, among the schoolmen at
Oxford -- that it is the duty of a son to live up to his father's
income. Should any young man have found this task too hard for him,
after the most strenuous and single-minded efforts, at least he can
resolutely smoke his father's cigars. In the path of duty complete
success is not always to be looked for; but an approving conscience,
the sure reward of honest endeavour, is within reach of all.

Kenneth Grahame