February 10, 2009

Smoke, Smoke, Smoke

Category: Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

I had read part of this quotation before, but the other day, over at my friend Dave Mazzella’s place, I came across the whole of it.  Here, just for fun, is some pastoral advice by the great Southern Presbyterian theologian James Henley Thornwell, written to “Sister Adger,” who according to Thornwell’s biographer, Benjamin Palmer, had made “a very serious appeal against his favorite habit” and who, it appears, suffered from facial pain of some kind or another. The paragraph breaks are mine, for ease of reading:

Theological Seminary, September 24, 1861
Dearly Beloved Sister Adger:

My sympathies have been greatly moved by the piteous accounts I have received of your keen and manifold sufferings, in that most important of all organs to a woman, “the human face divine.” I know how to feel for the sufferer, especially for such a sufferer as the wife of a friend who has no rival in my heart.

My own experience has led me to recognize the fact that one effect of our afflictions is to disarm us of capricious and idle prejudices, and to reconcile us to what we once abhorred. In my own case, this principle has been most signally illustrated. At one time in my life, sheep, blackberries, and tea were my utter abominations; and I marveled how any human being could reconcile himself to the use of such monstrous articles of diet. But I was brought low. I had either to starve, or to feed on sheep with the voracity of an ancient patriarch or Jew; and I finally came to believe that even a Christian man might make dainties of the fruit of briers, the offspring of the fold, and the leaf from China. My prejudices are all gone; and I sit down to these abominations with as much composure as I would encounter ham, plum pudding, or roast beef. After giving up my prejudices, I began to mend.

Now, it has occurred to me that there is a proud place in your heart, which requires to be humbled. You have some unaccountable prejudices, from which it behooves you to be delivered; and my interest in your carnal comfort prompts me to deal very freely with you on this most delicate subject.

I have no doubt that if you would open your mind to liberal views of that most delectable of all weeds, the tobacco plant, your sufferings might be greatly relieved, and greatly modified. Just reflect upon it as a balm which nature has kindly provided for aching teeth or agonized jaws. Let me advise you, as you prize your comfort, to provide yourself with a clean pipe and a short stem, and set upon the goodly process of inhaling the exquisite fragrance.

There is no sight more truly venerable than that of a mother in Israel, in the chimney corner, with her children about her, refreshing their senses with gales of incense as sweet and cheering as the tones, which proceed from her mouth. It is the very picture of dignified repose. The very idea of neuralgia to such a matron would be a contradiction in terms. Only try it. I never have tooth-ache, jaw-ache, or any other face ache. The reason, perhaps, is that I have no absurd prejudices against “kind nature’s sweet restorer,” a genuine article of tobacco.

How delightful it would be, if you could overcome your antipathies, to visit sister Adger, of a moonlight night, at her hospitable mansion, and join with her in the calm, quiet, dignified composure which the blended fumes of the pipe and cigar would so freely and completely signalize!

My dear, suffering sister, smoke, smoke, and again I say, smoke! It will do you good. Once begin, and you will need no arguments to persevere. The odour of a good conversation and the odour of tobacco sweetly harmonize, and form exquisite incense.

But enough. We all want to see you very much. I think your husband needs looking after; and the worse feature in his case is, that he does not want you to come home. Lizzie, I suspect, is doing pretty much what the boy shot at. The truth is, your presence, provided your face is smooth, would work marvels. But my paper is out.  Be sure to smoke, and let us hear no more of neuralgia.

As ever,
J.H. Thornwell

Posted by John Barach @ 11:10 pm | Discuss (1)

One Response to “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke”

  1. Duane Vandenberg Says:

    I’ve always wanted a good reason to partake in my occasional bad habit, but I’m not sure if this was it. I’ve also read of a Navy doctor from the 19th century who used tobacco for a lot of stomach ailments. Considering that tobacco can turn many faces green quite quickly, that doesn’t seem to me like it would be very effective, but he swore it worked. I have been told more recently that IBS or Crohn’s can be positively influenced by tobacco, but I can’t imagine any pharm. company spending money to prove that.

Leave a Reply