Thursday 18 July 2013

Just Say Noe

In my rant yesterday about a certain History of the World, I noted in passing that tea came to be a key consumer-item in these islands about 200 years ago.  Its popularity was enhanced by a gross reduction in the Customs and Excise duty payable to King George in 1785 - too late to save most of the North American colonies.  Tea was also given a fillip by the temperance movement: mostly middle-class know-betters who didn't want to see the urban proletariat sozzled on gin and pushed tea as the "cup that cheers but does not inebriate".   Very worthy, but we need a contrarian view, or we'll drown in smugness.

There is a long history of polemics against tobacco, starting with King James VI/I about a generation after Nicotiana tabacum leaves were brought to England (and indeed Ireland) by Walter Raleigh.  The King's A Covnterblaste to Tobacco (1604) is worth reading in its entirety - it's only 3 pages (this is the feller who commissioned the KJV of the Bible and he wrote well himself) but most editors (trained to a tweention-span [1] long before Twitter) clip it down to the last sentence: "A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse."

But it took 400 years before it was banned.  2004 is now fadó, fadó, fadó a bhí ann and not many people remember that Ireland was then the first country to ban smoking in the workplace, including pubs; and props to the Fianna Fail govt of the day for protecting the lungs of bar-staff from the evils of passive smoking.  At the time, I was wholeheartedly in favour. In the course of a post respecting the right to eat a Twinkie, I also expressed a mild contrarian regret for too much legislation that protects us from ourselves: "But when they drove smokers out of pubs and you'd see them flirting and chatting with each other in the drizzle outside the doors of pubs, my indignation sagged and then took up cudgels a bit for the other side.  Jakers, I thought, if you're an adult you should be able to make an informed choice about how and when you're likely to die."

William Cobbett (1763-1835) is one of my favorite writers.  He lived in interesting times, wrote a lot, was capable of changing his mind and was able to see right on both sides of an argument.  For a self-sufficiency wannabe like me, his minority interest booklet A Cottage Economy is the Old Testament to John Seymour's Self-sufficiency as the New Testament (buy here cheaper than Amazon). In A Cottage Economy (1822) Cobbett sought to restore an ideal England with a prosperous and contented population of yeoman farmers.  He was particularly agin tea Camillia sinensis which he felt was supplanting jolly good ale and old as the beverage of choice in rural England.
"23. It is notorious that tea has no useful strength in it; that it contains nothing nutritious; that it, besides being good for nothing, has badness in it, because it is well known to produce want of sleep in many cases, and in all cases, to shake and weaken the nerves. It is, in fact, a weaker kind of laudanum, which enlivens for the moment and deadens afterwards. At any rate it communicates no strength to the body; it does not, in any degree, assist in affording what labour demands. It is, then, of no use.
29. But, I look upon the thing in a still more serious light. I view the tea drinking as a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth, and a maker of misery for old age.

D'ye think he read A Covnterblaste to Tobacco?  In these democratic times the voice of a citizen is equal to the voice of a king, so I calculate that the Irish Government will over-ride the all powerful lobby of Barry, Bewley and Lyons and drive tea-drinking underground or at least out into the rain in the year 2222.  And the rest of the world will follow over the next decade.

[1] you first saw it here
"Your search - tweention-span - did not match any documents."

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