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Sir Walter Raleigh is credited with championing the habit of tobacco smoking at the Elizabethan court. While it was far from being a respectable practice throughout the general population, by all accounts the extravagantly dandified beau monde of the late 16th and early 17th centuries immersed itself deeply in the novelty of tobacco at a time when it was still a fresh and new, albeit alien and savage, drink. Images and reports make clear that in Dutch, French, and English society, the greatest propensity to smoke in the early decades was on the part of those most eager to be at the height of fashion. Among the early smokers were mercenary soldiers. With money to burn and a precarious, nomadic existence, they easily fit the rugged, manly, and dandyish stereotypes associated with tobacco.

In spite of the harsh words of James I a century earlier, the upper classes of 18th-century England indulged themselves heartily in tobacco, reveling in the thick, luscious clouds of smoke. The gentleman's club was the locus par excellence for manly conversation and relaxation, aided by consumption of a good glass of beer or punch and a fine, long, slow-burning pipeful of tobacco. This gentlemanly practice was also on the receiving end of much languid smoky satire, making it that much more memorable.

The 18th-century smoking club epitomizes the arguments both for and against the devilish herb. In this milieu, its narcotic effects are plainly, blatantly sought and achieved. Caricature in 18th-century England, from Hogarth to Gillray, cultivated an extraordinarily keen sense of getting to the bottom of social habits and institutions. In this world, the identity of the characters shown smoking is no longer irrelevant, but a vital part of the equation.

Richard Livesay (British, d. ca. 1823) after William Hogarth (British, 1697–1764)
Mr. Ben Read. A Member of Hogarths Club at the Bedford Arms Tavern. Drawn by Him About the Year 1757
Etching and aquatint, 1781
Print Collection, Bequest of Samuel J. Tilden

The sleepy Mr. Read's profession and his relation to Hogarth (if any) are not known, but the print is evocative of the relaxed atmosphere in London clubs, the function of which was to provide a sort of home away from home. The British club (mostly male-dominated) is essentially an 18th-century phenomenon, arising in the decades after the introduction of tea, coffee, and chocolate. The oldest club, White's, began in 1693 as White's Chocolate House, while the club proper was instituted only later.

William Dickinson (British, 1746–1823) after Henry William Bunbury (British, 1750–1811)
A Smoking Club
Stipple engraving, published by S. W. Fores, March 15, 1794
Print Collection, Cadwalader Fund

According to an early 19th-century writer, "The object of clubs is asserted to be, the promotion of trade, human conversation, and the communication of curious and scientific matter; but, according to an old writer, . . . 'most considerate men, . . . have found, by experience, that the general end thereof is a promiscuous encouragement of vice, faction, and folly. . . .'"

James Gillray (British, 1757–1815)
A Smoking Club
Hand-colored etching, published by Hannah Humphrey, February 13, 1793
Print Collection, Bequest of Samuel J. Tilden

Gillray's "club," published 12 days after France declared war on England, is distinctly politicized: the space is identified as the House of Commons by the gallery in the background, with the Speaker at the head of the table. William Pitt (the diminutive prime minister, who had a reputation for abstinence despite his weakness for port), to his right, sends a cloud of smoke toward his opponent, Charles Fox (the ever-controversial foreign secretary and Pitt's bitter opponent), who returns the favor. The tray of pipes and tobacco paper on the table in front of Fox refer to his reputation as a notorious man of excess. The frothing tankard held by the scrawny Pitt, and the bowl of punch being consumed by the Scot Dundas at the far end of the table, are, along with the pipes and tobacco, a mainstay of the club scene.

William Hogarth (British, 1697–1764)
A Midnight Modern Conversation
Etching and engraving in red ink, 1732/3
Print Collection, Bequest of Samuel J. Tilden

Hogarth, who is credited with establishing Britain's reputation in the visual arts, was a clever satirist as well as a competent businessman whose prints assured his fame. The popularity of this print is evident in the proliferation of copies on paper, punch bowls, and cups; it also inspired a popular play. Said to depict St. John's Coffee-house, Temple Bar, it exhibits varying stages of drunkenness, with brimming punch bowl and tobacco smoking equally important components. Hogarth denied that any of the characters were intended as portraits, but contemporaries inevitably found striking likenesses, including that of the tobacconist, John Harrison, wildly gesticulating in the back, and placing a second wig on the parson's head.

Edmund Scott (British, ca. 1746–1810) after John Boyne (British, 1750–1810)
The Smoaking Club
Etching published by Bull and Jeffryes, January 10, 1792
Arents Tobacco Collection

On the subject of a smoking club, the Rev. George Crabbe (1754–1832) penned the following:

A Club there is of Smokers –Dare you come
To that close crowded, hot, narcotic Room?
When midnight past, the very Candles seem
Dying for Air, and give a ghastly Gleam;
When curling Fumes in lazy Wreaths arise, . . .
When but a few are left the House to tire,
And they half sleeping by the sleepy Fire;
Ev'n the poor ventilating Vane that flew
Of late, so fast, is now grown drowsy too . . .
Clubs and Social Meetings (1810)

G. P. Harding (British, active 1st half 19th century) after William Hogarth (British, 1697–1764)
Portrait of William Hogarth Holding His Pipe [after self-portrait in coll. of the Duke of Bedford, 1761]
Stipple engraving, 1825
Print Collection, Bequest of Samuel J. Tilden

Unidentified (British, last quarter 18th century)
Enjoying a Friend
Etching, published by Laurie & Whittle, August 21, 1798
Arents Tobacco Collection

Jan van de Velde (Dutch, 1593–1641)
Market scene including an outdoor tobacco shop
Four etchings, 1620s
Print Collection, Kennedy Fund

In the midst of this crowded Dutch market scene, replete with vegetable vendors and quacks, peasants and the fashionable upper classes, young and old, an outdoor tobacco shop is set up on a barrel, and a young dandy tries what could be his first puff of tobacco smoke through a pipe provided by the salesman, who quietly smokes his own pipe. Children, very much present throughout van de Velde's market scenes, are extra-attentive to both the smoker and the quack, who present both the greatest novelty, and the most dubious activities.

Wenceslaus Hollar (Bohemian, 1607–1677)
Smoking scenes
Three etchings, 1635
Arents Tobacco Collection

In 1635, when these prints were made, Hollar was living in Cologne and had, in the previous year, made a trip to the nearby Netherlands, where he was as much intrigued by the art he saw as with the landscape and people. Close links to Dutch genre painting are evident in these diminutive scenes, and it is surely not coincidental that the only reference to tobacco in all of Hollar's nearly 3,000 prints dates to his first visit to Holland, where tobacco was an important commodity and smoking still a relatively new fashion.

Abraham de Bosse (French, 1602–1676) after Jean de St. Igny (French, d. 1647)
Les Fumeurs [The smokers]
Etching, ca. 1635
Print Collection, Gift of an Anonymous Donor

The rather dandified soldiers pictured here are enjoying a relaxing smoke; the playing cards off to the side and the glass suggest their other activities. A verse that has been trimmed from this impression suggests that tobacco both revives the men from melancholy and prepares them for future fighting. A copy of the print was used on a 1641 English Puritan broadside attacking Charles I, in which the verses speak to the temperance inherent in dining on "a leafe," a reprise of the Amerindian theme of tobacco as sustenance, while the text of the broadside centers on the theme of the prodigal son.

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