THE FIRST PIPES OF TOBACCO SMOKED IN ENGLAND
Before the wine of sunny Rhine, or even Madam Clicquot's,
Let all men praise, with loud hurras, this panacea of Nicot's.
The debt confess, though none the less they love the grape and barley,
Which Frenchmen owe to good Nicot, and Englishmen to Raleigh.
There is little doubt that the smoke of herbs and leaves of various
kinds was inhaled in this country, a
d in Europe generally, long
before tobacco was ever heard of on this side the Atlantic. But
whatever smoking of this kind took place was medicinal and not social.
Many instances have been recorded of the finding of pipes resembling
those used for tobacco-smoking in Elizabethan times, in positions and
in circumstances which would seem to point to much greater antiquity
of use than the form of the pipes supports; but some at least of these
finds will not bear the interpretation which has been put upon them,
and in other cases the presence of pipes could reasonably be accounted
for otherwise than by associating them with the antiquity claimed for
them. In any case, the entire absence of any allusions whatever to
smoking in any shape or form in our pre-Elizabethan literature, or in
mediaeval or earlier art, is sufficient proof that from the social
point of view smoking did not then exist. The inhaling of the smoke of
dried herbs for medicinal purposes, whether through a pipe-shaped
funnel or otherwise, had nothing in it akin to the smoking of tobacco
for both individual and social pleasure, and therefore lies outside
the scope of this book.
It may further be added that though the use of tobacco was known and
practised on the continent of Europe for some time before smoking
became common in England--it was taken to Spain from Mexico by a
physician about 1560, and Jean Nicot about the same time sent tobacco
seeds to France--yet such use was exclusively for medicinal purposes.
The smoking of tobacco in England seems from the first to have been
much more a matter of pleasure than of hygiene.
Who first smoked a pipe of tobacco in England? The honour is divided
among several claimants. It has often been stated that Captain William
Middleton or Myddelton (son of Richard Middleton, Governor of Denbigh
Castle), a Captain Price and a Captain Koet were the first who smoked
publicly in London, and that folk flocked from all parts to see them;
and it is usually added that pipes were not then invented, so they
smoked the twisted leaf, or cigars. This account first appeared in one
of the volumes of Pennant's "Tour in Wales." But the late Professor
Arber long ago pointed out that the remark as to the mode of smoking
by cigars and not by pipes was simply Pennant's speculation. The
authority for the rest of the story is a paper in the Sebright MSS.,
which, in an account of William Middleton, has the remark: "It is
sayed, that he, with Captain Thomas Price of Plasyollin and one
Captain Koet, were the first who smoked, or (as they called it) drank
tobacco publickly in London; and that the Londoners flocked from all
parts to see them." No date is named, and no further particulars are
Another Elizabethan who is often said to have smoked the first pipe in
England is Ralph Lane, the first Governor of Virginia, who came home
with Drake in 1586. Lane is said to have given Sir Walter Raleigh an
Indian pipe and to have shown him how to use it. There is no original
authority, however, for the statement that Lane first smoked tobacco
in England, and, moreover, he was not the first English visitor to
Virginia to return to this country. One Captain Philip Amadas
accompanied Captain Barlow, who commanded on the occasion of Raleigh's
first voyage of discovery, when the country was formally taken
possession of and named Virginia in honour of Queen Elizabeth. This
was early in 1584. The two captains reached England in September 1584,
bringing with them the natives of whom King James I, in his
"Counter-blaste to Tobacco," speaks as "some two or three Savage men,"
who "were brought in, together with this Savage custome," _i.e._ of
smoking. It is extremely improbable that Captains Amadas and Barlow,
when reporting to Raleigh on their expedition, did not also make him
acquainted with the Indian practice of smoking. This would be two
years before the return of Ralph Lane.
But certainly pipes were smoked in England before 1584. The plant was
introduced into Europe, as we have seen, about 1560, and it was under
cultivation in England by 1570. In the 1631 edition of Stow's
"Chronicles" it is stated that tobacco was "first brought and made
known by Sir John Hawkins, about the year 1565, but not used by
Englishmen in many years after." There is only one reference to
tobacco in Hawkins's description of his travels. In the account of his
second voyage (1564-65) he says: "The Floridians when they travel have
a kinde of herbe dryed, which with a cane, and an earthen cup in the
end, with fire, and the dried herbs put together do smoke thoro the
cane the smoke thereof, which smoke satisfieth their hunger, and
therewith they live foure or five days without meat or drinke."
Smoking was thus certainly known to Hawkins in 1565, but much reliance
cannot be placed on the statement in the Stow of 1631 that he first
made known the practice in this country, because that statement
appears in no earlier edition of the "Chronicles." Moreover, as
opposed to the allegation that tobacco was "not used by Englishmen in
many years after" 1565, there is the remark by William Harrison, in
his "Chronologie," 1588, that in 1573 "the taking in of the smoke of
the Indian herbe called Tobacco, by an instrument formed like a little
ladell, whereby it passeth from the mouth into the head and stomach,
is gretlie taken up and used in England." The "little ladell"
describes the early form of the tobacco-pipe, with small and very
King James, in his reference to the "first Author" of what he calls
"this abuse," clearly had Sir Walter Raleigh in view, and it is
Raleigh with whom in the popular mind the first pipe of tobacco smoked
in England is usually associated. The tradition is crystallized in the
story of the schoolboy who, being asked "What do you know about Sir
Walter Raleigh?" replied: "Sir Walter Raleigh introduced tobacco into
England, and when smoking it in this country said to his servant,
'Master Ridley, we are to-day lighting a candle in England which by
God's blessing will never be put out'"!
The truth probably is that whoever actually smoked the first pipe, it
was Raleigh who brought the practice into common use. It is highly
probable, also, that Raleigh was initiated in the art of smoking by
Thomas Hariot. This was made clear, I think, by the late Dr.
Brushfield in the second of the valuable papers on matters connected
with the life and achievements of Sir Walter, which he contributed
under the title of "Raleghana" to the "Transactions" of the Devonshire
Association. Hariot was sent out by Raleigh for the specific purpose
of inquiring into and reporting upon the natural productions of
Virginia. He returned in 1586, and in 1588 published the results of
his researches in a thin quarto with an extremely long-winded title
beginning "A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia"
and continuing for a further 138 words.
In this "Report" Hariot says of the tobacco plant: "There is an herbe
which is sowed a part by itselfe and is called by the inhabitants
Vppowoc: In the West Indies it hath divers names, according to the
severall places and countries where it groweth and is used: The
Spaniardes generally call it Tobacco. The leaves thereof being dried
and brought into powder: they use to take the fume or smoke thereof by
sucking it through pipes made of claie into their stomacke and heade:
from whence it purgeth superfluous fleame and other grosse humors,
openeth all the pores and passages of the body: by which meanes the
use thereof, not only preserveth the body from obstructions: but if
also any be, so that they have not beane of too long continuance, in
short time breaketh them: wherby their bodies are notably preserved in
health, and know not many greevous diseases wherewithall wee in
England are oftentimes afflicted."
So far Hariot's "Report" regarded tobacco from the medicinal point of
view only; but it is important to note that he goes on to describe his
personal experience of the practice of smoking in words that suggest
the pleasurable nature of the experience. He says: "We ourselves
during the time we were there used to suck it after their maner, as
also since our returne, and have found maine [? manie] rare and
wonderful experiments of the vertues thereof: of which the relation
woulde require a volume by itselfe: the use of it by so manie of late,
men and women of great calling as else, and some learned Physitians
also, is sufficient witness."
Who can doubt that Hariot, in reporting direct to Sir Walter Raleigh,
showed his employer how "to suck it after their maner"?
All the evidence agrees that whoever taught Raleigh, it was Raleigh's
example that brought smoking into notice and common use. Long before
his death in 1618 it had become fashionable, as we shall see, in all
ranks of society. He is said to have smoked a pipe on the morning of
his execution, before he went to the scaffold, a tradition which is
Every one knows the legend of the water (or beer) thrown over Sir
Walter by his servant when he first saw his master smoking, and
imagined he was on fire. The story was first associated with Raleigh
by a writer in 1708 in a magazine called the _British Apollo_.
According to this yarn Sir Walter usually "indulged himself in
Smoaking secretly, two pipes a Day; at which time, he order'd a Simple
Fellow, who waited, to bring him up a Tankard of old Ale and Nutmeg,
always laying aside the Pipe, when he heard his servant coming." On
this particular occasion, however, the pipe was not laid aside in
time, and the "Simple Fellow," imagining his master was on fire, as he
saw the smoke issuing from his mouth, promptly put the fire out by
sousing him with the contents of the tankard. One difficulty about
this story is the alleged secrecy of Raleigh's indulgence in tobacco.
There seems to be no imaginable reason why he should not have smoked
openly. Later versions turn the ale into water and otherwise vary the
But the story was a stock jest long before it was associated with
Raleigh. The earliest example of it occurs in the "Jests" attributed
to Richard Tarleton, the famous comic performer of the Elizabethan
stage, who died in 1588--the year of the Armada. "Tarlton's Jests"
appeared in 1611, and the story in question, which is headed "How
Tarlton tooke tobacco at the first comming up of it," runs as follows:
"Tarlton, as other gentlemen used, at the first comming up of tobacco,
did take it more for fashion's sake than otherwise, and being in a
roome, set between two men overcome with wine, and they never seeing
the like, wondered at it, and seeing the vapour come out of Tarlton's
nose, cryed out, fire, fire, and threw a cup of wine in Tarlton's
face. Make no more stirre, quoth Tarlton, the fire is quenched: if
the sheriffes come, it will turne to a fine, as the custome is. And
drinking that againe, fie, sayes the other, what a stinke it makes; I
am almost poysoned. If it offend, saies Tarlton, let every one take a
little of the smell, and so the savour will quickly goe: but tobacco
whiffes made them leave him to pay all."
In the early days of smoking, the smoker was very generally said to
Another early example of the story occurs in Barnaby Rich's "Irish
Hubbub," 1619, where a "certain Welchman coming newly to London," and
for the first time seeing a man smoking, extinguished the fire with a
"bowle of beere" which he had in his hand.
Various places are traditionally associated with Raleigh's first pipe.
The most surprising claim, perhaps, is that of Penzance, for which
there is really no evidence at all. Miss Courtney, writing in the
_Folk-Lore Journal_, 1887, says: "There is a myth that Sir Walter
Raleigh landed at Penzance Quay when he returned from Virginia, and on
it smoked the first tobacco ever seen in England, but for this I do
not believe that there is the slightest foundation. Several western
ports, both in Devon and Cornwall, make the same boast." Miss Courtney
might have added that Sir Walter never himself visited Virginia at
Another place making a similar claim is Hemstridge, on the Somerset
and Dorset border. Just before reaching Hemstridge from Milborne Port,
at the cross-roads, there is a public-house called the Virginia Inn.
There, it is said, according to Mr. Edward Hutton, in his "Highways
and Byways in Somerset," "Sir Walter Raleigh smoked his first pipe of
tobacco, and, being discovered by his servant, was drenched with a
bucket of water."
At the fifteenth-century Manor-House at South Wraxall, Wiltshire, the
"Raleigh Room" is shown, and visitors are told that according to local
tradition it was in this room that Sir Walter smoked his first pipe,
when visiting his friend, the owner of the mansion, Sir Henry Long.
Another tradition gives the old Pied Bull at Islington, long since
demolished, as the scene of the momentous event. It is said in its
earlier days to have been a country house of Sir Walter's, and
according to legend it was in his dining-room in this house that he
had his first pipe. Hone, in the first volume of the "Every Day Book"
tells how he and some friends visited this Pied Bull, then in a very
decayed condition, and smoked their pipes in the dining-room in memory
of Sir Walter. From the recently published biography of William Hone
by Mr. F.W. Hackwood, we learn that the jovial party consisted of
William Hone, George Cruikshank, Joseph Goodyear, and David Sage, who
jointly signed a humorous memorandum of their proceedings on the
occasion, from which it appears that "each of us smoked a pipe, that
is to say, each of us one or more pipes, or less than one pipe, and
the undersigned George Cruikshank having smoked pipes innumerable or
more or less," and that "several pots of porter, in aid of the said
smoking," were consumed, followed by bowls of negus made from "port
wine @ 3s. 6d. per bottle (duty knocked off lately)" and other
ingredients. Speeches were made and toasts proposed, and altogether
the four, who desired to "have the gratification of saying hereafter
that we had smoked a pipe in the same room that the man who first
introduced tobacco smoked in himself," seem to have thoroughly enjoyed
Wherever Raleigh is known to have lived or lodged we are sure to find
the tradition flourishing that there he smoked his first pipe. The
assertion has been made of his birthplace, Hayes Barton, although it
is very doubtful if he ever visited the place after his parents left
it, some years before their son had become acquainted with tobacco;
and also with more plausibility of his home at Youghal, in the south
of Ireland. Froude, in one of his "Short Studies," quotes a legend to
the effect that Raleigh smoked on a rock below the Manor House of
Greenaway, on the River Dart, which was the home of the first husband
of Katherine Champernowne, afterwards Raleigh's wife; and Devonshire
guide-books have adopted the story.
Perhaps the most likely scene of Raleigh's first experiments in the
art of smoking was Durham House, which stood where the Adelphi Terrace
and the streets between it and the Strand now stand. This was in the
occupation of Sir Walter for twenty years (1583-1603), and he was
probably resident there when Hariot returned from Virginia to make his
report and instruct his employer in the management of a pipe. Walter
Thornbury, in his "Haunted London," referring to the story of the
servant throwing the ale over his smoking master, says: "There is a
doubtful old legend about Raleigh's first pipe, the scene of which may
be not unfairly laid at Durham House, where Raleigh lived." The ale
story is mythical, but it is highly probable that Sir Walter's first
pipes were smoked in Durham House. Dr. Brushfield quotes Hepworth
Dixon, in "Her Majesty's Tower," as drawing "an imaginary and yet
probable picture of him and his companions at a window of this very
house, overlooking the 'silent highway':
"'It requires no effort of the fancy to picture these three men
House, puffing the new Indian weed from silver bowls, discussing the
highest themes in poetry and science, while gazing on the flower-beds
and the river, the darting barges of dame and cavalier, and the
distant pavilions of Paris garden and the Globe.'" This is a pure
"effort of the fancy" so far as Bacon and Shakespeare are concerned.
Shakespeare's absolute silence about tobacco forbids us to assume that
he smoked; but of Raleigh the picture may be true enough. The house
had, as Aubrey tells us, "a little turret that looked into and over
the Thames, and had the prospect which is as pleasant perhaps as any
in the world"; and it would be strange indeed if the owner of the
noble house did not often smoke a contemplative pipe in the window of
that pleasant turret.
The only mention made of tobacco by Raleigh himself occurs in a
testamentary note made a little while before his execution in 1618.
Referring to the tobacco remaining on his ship after his last voyage,
he wrote: "Sir Lewis Stukely sold all the tobacco at Plimouth of
which, for the most part of it, I gave him a fift part of it, as also
a role for my Lord Admirall and a role for himself ... I desire that
hee may give his account for the tobacco." As showing how closely Sir
Walter's name was associated with it long after his death, Dr.
Brushfield quotes the following entry from the diary of the great Earl
of Cork: "Sept. 1, 1641. Sent by Travers to my infirme cozen Roger
Vaghan, a pott of Sir Walter Raleighes tobackoe."
In the Wallace Collection at Hertford House is a pouch or case
labelled as having belonged to and been used by Sir Walter Raleigh.
This pouch contains several clay pipes. It was perhaps this same pouch
or case which once upon a time figured in Ralph Thoresby's museum at
Leeds, and is described by Thoresby himself in his "Ducatus
Leodiensis," 1715. Curiously enough, a few years ago when excavations
were being made around the foundations of Raleigh's house at Youghal a
clay pipe-bowl was dug up which in size, shape, &c., was exactly like
the pipes in the Wallace exhibit. Raleigh lived and no doubt smoked in
the Youghal house, so it is quite possible that the bowl found
belonged to one of the pipes actually smoked by him. In the garden of
the Youghal house, by the way, they used to show the tree--perhaps
still do so--under which Raleigh was sitting, smoking his pipe, when
his servant drenched him. Thus the tradition, which, as we have seen,
dates from 1708 only, has obtained two local habitations--Youghal and
Durham House on the Adelphi site.
In November 1911 a curiously shaped pipe was put up for sale in Mr.
J.C. Stevens's Auction Room, Covent Garden, which was described as
that which Raleigh smoked "on the scaffold." The pipe in question was
said to have been given by the doomed man to Bishop Andrewes, in whose
family it remained for many years, and it was stated to have been in
the family of the owner, who sent it for sale, for some 200 years. The
pipe was of wood constructed in four pieces of strange shape, rudely
carved with dogs' heads and faces of Red Indians. According to legend
it had been presented to Raleigh by the Indians. The auctioneer, Mr.
Stevens, remarked that unfortunately a parchment document about the
pipe was lost some years ago, and declared, "If we could only produce
the parchment the pipe would fetch L500." In the end, however, it was
knocked down at seventy-five guineas.
The form and make of the first pipe is a matter I do not propose to go
into here; but in connexion with the first pipe smoked in this country
Aubrey's interesting statements must be given. Writing in the time of
Charles II, he said that he had heard his grandfather say that at
first one pipe was handed from man to man round about the table. "They
had first silver pipes; the ordinary sort made use of a walnut shell
and a straw"--surely a very unsatisfactory pipe. Tobacco in those
earliest days, he says, was sold for its weight in silver. "I have
heard some of our old yeomen neighbours say that when they went to
Malmesbury or Chippenham Market, they culled out their biggest
shillings to lay in the scales against the tobacco."