The Pleasures and Perils of Smoking in Early Modern England

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The Pleasures and Perils of Smoking in Early Modern England
The beginnings of smoking in England constitute a new period in culture and history, linking smoking and drugs with medicine and pleasure. The main reason why smoking was so popular in Modern England was the health aspect, i.e. Englishmen believed that tobacco was medicine. Today this concept seems to be surprising because it is commonly known that smoking is dangerous to people’s health. However, smoking was one of the main drugs shipped to England, and people became addicted not only to tobacco, but also to tea, cocoa, coffee, opium and alcohol (Hilton). Therefore, the new substances were fascinating and Englishmen could not refuse to go along with the new drug, yet on the other hand, the church criticized tobacco use. Doctors assuring of its health features were laughed at and skeptical voices concerning its side effects were raised. Despite the fact that smoking was an attribute of masculinity and power. As tobacco was something new, what is more it had exotic roots, made concerns stronger about its origin and unknown nature. Blurring the boundaries between pleasure and medicine made strange effects on the body and mind.

Smoking spread rapidly throughout England and it became part of everyday life. At the beginning it attracted the attention of sailors, who in 1492 together with Columbus arrived in “the New World”. Little by little it became popular in Spain and Portugal, finally coming to England and winning great popularity in the 1590s. English smokers copied the smoker habits from the natives of both Americas – the most popular way of smoking was drying leaves and putting them in a pipe to smoke them. The famous Spanish doctor Monardes wrote, “In any manner of grief that is in the body or any part thereof it helped (…) it took it aware, not without great admiration” (Sander 38).

Medical treatments confirm what Mondares said – in 1587 Giles Everard called tobacco a panacea, a medicine for...
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