Reference > Cambridge History > Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton > London and the Development of Popular Literature > Tobacco-pamphlets
  Ben Jonson’s Timber Discoverie of the Knights of the Poste  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XVI. London and the Development of Popular Literature.

§ 22. Tobacco-pamphlets.

We have seen how social literature, under the influence of classicism, grew into Juvenalian satire, character writing and essays, without losing sight of contemporary interests. But city life was too varied to find expression within the limits of any literary canon, and Londoners continued to welcome any type of tract which reflected their many-sided interests. No sooner had the fashion of tobacco-smoking become prominent, than it divided pamphleteers into two camps. Its supporters either founded their adhesion on its alleged medical properties, 108  or indulged their literary gift in burlesque encomia. Among others, an anonymous author, imitating Ovid, composed The Metamorphosis of Tobacco, in heroic couplets of pleasing and harmonious rhythm. He sings of the elements gathering in council to create a herb of almost Promethean virtue, which Jupiter, fearing for his sovereignty, banishes to an unknown land. But the graces discover the plant and remain so constant to its charms that mortals, who would win their favour, must follow their example. On the other hand, the growing insistence on good manners inspired scathing criticisms on smoking as it was then practised. “Tobacconists” were freely ridiculed by dramatists, character writers and puritans. King James issued in 1604 A Counterblaste to Tobacco, in which a sound if pedantic refutation of its alleged virtues is followed by quaint but vigorous descriptions of the smoker’s disgusting habits. Among the many subsequent writers 109  who used this theme as a whetstone for their wits, the most noteworthy is, undoubtedly, Richard Brathwaite. Following the method of The Metamorphosis, he works up the contention that smokers waste their time into an allegorical romance, in which tobacco is traced back to its origin as a son of Pluto, god of the nether world. This phantasy is entitled, The Smoking Age, or, the Man in the Mist (1617).   52

Note 108. H. Buttes, Dyets Dry Dinner, 1599; E. Gardiner, Triall of Tobacco, 1610. [ back ]
Note 109Vide bibl. [ back ]

  Ben Jonson’s Timber Discoverie of the Knights of the Poste  

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