The author of the following, R.D.T. from Birkhill, had two short stories published in ‘The People’s Journal’ in 1859. The other, ‘The Dancing Master From Home’, appeared in the 30 July edition.
You will perhaps infer from this grotesque title that I design to inflict upon you a threadbare panegyric on the one, and a sweeping censure upon the other; such, however, is not my intention.
Being one day en board a steamboat on my way to a port not quite a hundred miles from Dundee, we were so incautious as to give, unasked, our advice to a little yellow mannikin, apparently about fifteen years of age, who was sucking away with great satisfaction at an immense French clay pipe.
“If you mean to preach down tobacco here,” said the miniature gentleman, “you had better collect the whole of the passengers, as I observe there is scarcely a man on deck who is not smoking as well as myself.” This reply drew upon him the attention of an elderly man who was sitting opposite reading a newspaper, and who might be a quack doctor, a travelling lecturer, or a city missionary, to judge from his serious and intelligent appearance.
“Young man,” said he, “I suppose you think it is the smoke of tobacco you are whiffing out so composedly?”
“Real cavendish,” said he promising youth, nodding.
“But,” continued the other, “you are grossly mistaken; it is the dissipating, the smouldering away of health and strength, of perseverance, energy, and ability, of the will, the desire to achieve anything great or good, of the very essence of manhood, and even of life itself.” “Tobacco,” said he, now fairly launched on what seemed to be with him a favourite topic, “is the foster-parent of more vices than ever were laid to the charge of that demon—drink. Its influence over the faculties of man, moral, physical, and intellectual, cannot be calculated, and is seldom suspected. I never look upon the sallow, sunken cheek and dim eye of a hibitual [sic] smoker without inwardly cursing this insidious invention.”
“Discovery, you mean,” said a stout good humoured looking farmer, with whom we had been on “cracking terms” during the whole of the passage.
“Discovery,” cried the now excited lecture, “can you call the most abominable practice that ever degraded mankind a discovery? To discover, my friend, implies to perceive the fitness of some natural object for a purpose to which it has never before been applied; to lay open the supplies of Nature for her legitimate wants. True, she gives us tobacco, but never gave us the appetite for it, which is as unnecessary and hurtful to our system as a charge of gunpowder would be to an air-gun.”
“All this proves nothing,” said the farmer; “but discovery or not, it’s all the same. We have the weed growing like any other useful vegetable, and, for anything we know, it has done so for the last six thousand years, and with some trifling exceptions, it has never been applied to any other purpose than that for which it is at present used. John Chinaman has smoked for ages, so has the Red Indian in his native wilderness, and surely he is nature’s child. I believe, too, that the sole reason why our first parent did not smoke was simply because he had so little to disturb him, never being harassed by the unsettled state of the markets, anxiety about rent day, or any such modern evils, all of which this wonderful weed can greatly alleviate.”
Here the argument was ended by the boat touching the quay. After landing we accompanied the farmer to the Railway Tavern. He rather detested Temperance Hotels, did this same farmer.
After having had some refreshments, he again reverted to the subject. “I, for one,” said he, “ought to be allowed a little indulgence in smoking, having paid for my whistle, dearly or not, I cannot tell, but you may judge for yourself after hearing the hows and why of the case.”
“When I was a young, about fifteen—twenty—tuts! thirty years ago, I was sent to live with my uncle, who rented a large farm near the little town of L——, to be initiated into all the mysteries of agriculture. While there I met Ellen F——, and the old story over again, you know, I tumbled in love; not madly and desperately, as those sentimental young men in the novels do, but still deep enough to make me think myself very happy or very miserable, as the state of matters might be. I thought her the most charming creature on earth; and now, when I look back, I believe she was somewhat of the same opinion herself. Everything went on as well as such matters are expected to do. I had proposed for her hand, but she declined giving me any satisfactory answer, on the plea that our acquaintance had been of rather too short a standing. Now Ellen had a will of her own, amounting almost to obstinacy; it was evident she wanted to school me into something resembling a husband, according to her ideas of what that useful animal should be like. Many a little tiff we had, but this (holding up an immense Meerschaum pipe) was the chief bone of contention. Would you believe it. Never but once, during the whole period of our courtship, had I ventured to steal a kiss, and in that solitary instance was rewarded with such a lecture upon bad breath and tobacco, that I never again attempted the experiment. She urged me continually to give up the disgusting habit, and at length became so outrageous upon the subject that I began to weigh in my own mind the claims of the two rivals,—Ellen F—— in one scale, and this, holding up his pipe, in the other. I had not, however, sufficient courage to decide, when events occurred which rendered all choice unnecessary.
“A grand farmer’s ball was to take place at L——, everybody for miles around was in a fizz, of course. I asked Ellen to accompany me, and was delighted at the readiness with which she consented; but after a little, as if to check my raptures, she informed me that it was only upon one condition, and that was the renouncing of my pipe, if not altogether, at least from that day till after the ball, a period of three weeks. In vain I tried to reason her out of it, she was firm, headstrong as a mule, and I promised. For a whole week did I endure what I can never describe, till one evening, being in the town on business, I could hold out no longer, but rushing into a tobacconist’s, in a few minutes was supplied with tobacco, pipes, and fusees, and by the time I was outside the town on my way home, was smoking furiously—cloud after cloud chased each other over the hedge in rapid succession, or curled in triumph round my head;—one more dense, if possible, than the rest had preceded me just as I was about to turn a corner into a bypath, when, oh, horrible! who should it meet, full in the face, but Ellen F——. The scene was most ludicrous—for an instant I stood thunderstruck, my lips parted in dumb dismay; but I still held the pipe firmly between my teeth. At length I stammered out, ‘A fine—a beautiful evening for walking, Miss F——.’
“’Yes, and smoking,’ she returned, and swept away without another word.
“It seemed as if I was about to undergo a process of petrification, and be left standing there as a warning to smokers for ages to come. The first signs of returning consciousness were some tiny little whiffs of smoke which my jaws were instinctively exerting themselves to produce. They were successful, and in a few seconds I was again proceeding on my way, amid majestic wreaths, that played and danced around me, as if exulting in the mischief they had done.
“That night I was gloomy and dejected. Would this silly affair prove a wind-up with Miss F——? I was afraid to think about it, for ‘With all her faults I loved her still.’
“Next morning I receive a note, coldly intimating that, ‘as I had broken my promise, it was not to be expected that she would keep her’s; and with regard to the proposal of a more serious nature, she begged also to be excused, as a man who could not keep faith in such a trifle would never be intrusted with the keeping of her happiness.’
“Here, then, were my worst fears realised; and what was the result? Did I stamp, and rave, and curse myself in particular, and Ellen F—— and all the world in general? Nothing of the sort; and I was astonished at my own coolness, but I only opened my room window and puffed away my regrets and vexations to the wind, each one mounted on a scape-goat of pure ‘Baccy reek.’
“I then sat down and penned a few lines, expressing my entire approval of the course she had taken. Having sealed the note, I indulged in a little childish revenge by squeezing it half open at one end, and blowing in the fumes of that apple of discord that had been the cause of all the disturbance. Shortly after this, and before the much talked of ball, I went away to try sheep-farming in the West Highlands. About a twelvemonth afterwards, I head from my cousin that Ellen was married to an exciseman.
“It was about three years after this that I again visited L——. The evening after I arrived at my uncle’s, cousin Tennie proposed that we should take a walk in the direction of the town. The day had been very warm, but now, when it was near sunset, every one appeared to have made a rush out of the streets. We had proceeded about a mile when my companion called out, ‘Oh, there’s Mr and Mrs N——.’
“’And who are they,’ I asked.
“’Don’t you remember Ellen F——,’ said she, ‘I think you ought.’
“I did not answer, but felt a strange sensation stealing over me, as if I was about to encounter a tigress or some fierce animal.
“They soon same up; the husband was a tall, handsome man, with a very large beard and moustache, between which was struck—but oh! how can I describe it—an immense cigar, resembling nothing on earth so much as a policemen’s baton. Mrs N—— appeared a little—a very little confused when she recognised me—she introduced her husband, spoke very kindly, and before bidding us good bye, exclaimed—
“’What a beautiful evening for walking.’
“’Yes, and smoking,’ said I, drawing out my pipe. Whether or not she blushed I cannot tell, as she suddenly appeared to see something very interesting over the hedge.
“Now,” said he, again charging his Meerschaum, “that you have heard my story, let me have your candid opinion—which is strongest—Love or Tobacco?”