In 1604, King James Stuart (VI of Scotland and I of England) wrote the following words:
‘This is a habit that is loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fumes that come from tobacco its nearest resemblance is of the horrible Stygian smoke of the bottomless pit of hell.’
This is a modern version of King James’ ‘counter blast’ against tobacco. Written in the year after he had become King of England (although he had been King of Scots for more than twenty years already), this is his own account of why he considered ‘this vile habit’ of smoking tobacco a sin:
‘In your abuse of tobacco you are sinning against God, harming yourself both in your persons and your wealth, and by doing so also accumulating the characteristics and behaviour of vanity upon yourself…
‘… In my opinion, there cannot be a more base and yet more harmful corruption in a country than our widespread vile use (and thus abuse) of taking tobacco. This has moved me to the extent of discovering and explaining the abuses thereof in this following short pamphlet.’
For King James, tobacco was a habit taken from the ‘savage Indians’ of the New World, associated with ‘the pox’ and degradation. Even so, the English treasury soon filled up with the income generated by tobacco imports from the new found colony of Jamestown in Virginia, the success of which led to further English (and British) expansion in the New World of America. On the back of this came exploitation of the land and people, together with the development of the African slave trade.
Not least, despite James’ protestations of the dangers of smoking, tobacco became firmly established in British cultural life.
Until the mid twentieth century, no other book on tobacco in the English language came close to the power of King James’ Counter Blast to Tobacco. This is an important text to read for its historical and cultural value.
Available for the first time, this edition is written in a contemporary style to refresh James’ polemic for a modern audience and with an introduction to contextualise James within the world in which he lived and which he created.