Friday, February 11, 2011

Twain on smoking (no poker content)

My friend Wolynski just put up a blog post about smoking. I wanted to post a comment there about what Mark Twain is reported to have said about smoking, but the only place I could find the story was in a Google Book. I couldn't cut and paste the text, and I couldn't post a screenshot image of it in her comments section, so I'm putting it here.

This is from the Bulletin of Pharmacy, volume 17, page 154. It is a lecture delivered to pharmacy students at the University of Michigan in 1903. I don't know where the speaker got the story. It may well be apocryphal. But it's something that Twain ought to have said, whether he really did or not. I direct your attention to the second paragraph below:

Now here's something that we can attribute to Twain much more confidently:

ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS--[Written about 1865.]

"MORAL STATISTICIAN."--I don't want any of your statistics; I took your whole batch and lit my pipe with it. I hate your kind of people. You are always ciphering out how much a man's health is injured, and how much his intellect is impaired, and how many pitiful dollars and cents he wastes in the course of ninety-two years' indulgence in the fatal practice of smoking; and in the equally fatal practice of drinking coffee; and in playing billiards occasionally; and in taking a glass of wine at dinner, etc., etc., etc. And you are always figuring out how many women have been burned to death because of the dangerous fashion of wearing expansive hoops, etc., etc., etc. You never see more than one side of the question. You are blind to the fact that most old men in America smoke and drink coffee, although, according to your theory, they ought to have died young; and that hearty old Englishmen drink wine and survive it, and portly old Dutchmen both drink and smoke freely, and yet grow older and fatter all the time. And you never try to find out how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking in the course of a lifetime (which is worth ten times the money he would save by letting it alone), nor the appalling aggregate of happiness lost in a lifetime by your kind of people from not smoking. Of course you can save money by denying yourself all the little vicious enjoyments for fifty years; but then what can you do with it? What use can you put it to? Money can't save your infinitesimal soul. All the use that money can be put to is to purchase comfort and enjoyment in this life; therefore, as you are an enemy to comfort and enjoyment, where is the use of accumulating cash? It won't do for you to say that you can use it to better purpose in furnishing a good table, and in charities, and in supporting tract societies, because you know yourself that you people who have no petty vices are never known to give away a cent, and that you stint yourselves so in the matter of food that you are always feeble and hungry. And you never dare to laugh in the daytime for fear some poor wretch, seeing you in a good humor, will try to borrow a dollar of you; and in church you are always down on your knees, with your eyes buried in the cushion, when the contribution-box comes around; and you never give the revenue officers a full statement of your income. Now you know these things yourself, don't you? Very well, then what is the use of your stringing out your miserable lives to a lean and withered old age? What is the use of your saving money that is so utterly worthless to you? In a word, why don't you go off somewhere and die, and not be always trying to seduce people into becoming as "ornery" and unlovable as you are yourselves, by your villainous "moral statistics"? Now I don't approve of dissipation, and I don't indulge in it, either; but I haven't a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices, and so I don't want to hear from you any more. I think you are the very same man who read me a long lecture last week about the degrading vice of smoking cigars, and then came back, in my absence, with your reprehensible fireproof gloves on, and carried off my beautiful parlor stove.

That's from Twain's Sketches New and Old, published in 1882, available from Project Gutenberg here.

Wolynski also quoted Fran Lebowitz. Many years ago there was a segment on "60 Minutes" about smoking. Mike Wallace (I think) asked Lebowitz something like this: "Doesn't it bother you that you could die from smoking?" She answered approximately this: "It would, if I thought that otherwise I wouldn't die from anything else."

I will take the liberty of telling a relevant story on Wolynski, trusting that she won't mind. The first time I met her, we had lunch, then I offered to drop her off at Circus Circus (where she was going to take some pictures) because she doesn't have a car. I had to move a case of Coke out of my front seat in order for her to get in. As I did so, she scolded me: "That stuff will kill you, you know."

Which wouldn't be funny, except that this warning was issued, without a trace of irony, between puffs on a Pall Mall.


Kahomono said...

For someone as orthodox-libertarian as you are about most things, you're sure awfully ready to jump on others' right to harm themselves in this one specific way.

And yes, guns kill way more people per year than "secondhand smoke", another made-up American peril.

Anonymous said...

I've worked on an oncology unit for many years and trust me when I tell you lung cancer is not a pleasant way to die. For a habit that is supposed to be so pleasurable I have never heard a patient say they are happy to have smoked

zippyboy said...

Kahomono is obviously a smoker. He's voluntarily poisoning himself while annoying everyone around him, but thinks it's his 'right' to do it. There is nothing good about cigarettes at all. All you smokers irritate all those around you with your cloud of toxic fumes, and are the most selfish, inconsiderate litterbug a-holes on the planet. You smokers are probably the ones who complain the most about others with BO at the table, failing to grasp that your wet ashtray smell is even worse because you do it to yourself willingly. Then hop up every ten minutes to give yourself a fresh coat of stench. Personally, I think everyone has some bad habits whether it's drink, drugs or McDonalds, but those aren't as offensive to everyone around you as smoking is. And there's gonna be a special circle of Hell for all you parents who burn through a pack a day around your babies, particularly in the car.

Smoking-related illnesses kill over 1000 people a DAY in this country ALONE. They're so dangerous they kill people who don't even smoke. One baseball player (Steve Bechler) dies from taking ephedra? Bam! It's taken off the market. That's just one guy! Some college kid dies from drinking Four Loko? Bam! Caffeine, taurine & guarine are removed from the product. But Marlboros stay on the shelves despite their proven deathcount. The hypocrisy is astounding. Pot is illegal, cigarettes are legal. Makes no sense. If cigs were invented today, they'd NEVER be allowed on the market, but the tobacco lobby is strong and corrupt.

By the way, kalomono: Secondhand smoke causes approximately 3,400 deaths from lung cancer and 22,700 to 69,600 deaths from heart disease each year according to the Lung Assn website. Gun deaths in 2006 only amounted to 30,000, but over half of those were suicides, compared to 440,000 deaths per year in USA from cigarettes, but I guess all those are suicides too. Just irks me that smokers are allowed to take us all down with you as you kill yourselves by your preferred method.

Brett said...

@zippyboy. I am not a smoker either but I can be 100% sure you and I wouldn't get along. It must be real fun for your friends to disagree with you. Chill dude.

bellatrix78 said...

I hope it wasn't Vegas heat that you drove around the palette of cokes with. Those things explode!

Kahomono said...

@zippyboy Nope, not a smoker. Quit 7 years ago. You should be glad I am not a gun nut either. Because there is a certain level of annoying self-righteousness that would knock down my last inhibition. And you have it, buddy.

Wolynski said...

Heh, heh, very funny.

For the Anonymous on the oncology unit: Andy Kaufman died at 36 of lung cancer - never smoked. It was genetic. You could also say the ill 9/11 workers are not happy they helped out.

I guess Coke is as pleasant to you as cigarettes to me. The downside of Coke is that they're using up precious drinking water, especially in third world countries.

Smoking is foul, no doubt about it. I'm not excusing it, I just do it.

Anonymous said...

Wolynski brings up Andy Kaufman, who worked in smoke filled night clubs for years. Might as well also bring up the 95 year old who smoked all his life and never got cancer. If you read this blog you know all about odds and probabilities and making intelligent, well reasoned decisions based on these. So if you know the strong link between lung and oral cancers, heart disease and emphysema and smoking why would you continue to smoke? In 10 years of work on my oncology unit I have yet to meet one person with lung or oral cancer who had not smoked. Talk all you want about Andy Kaufman but better to admit this is a rationalization used to justify a habit you will one day deeply regret

Suzi said...

I particularly enjoyed the bit about making intelligent, well reasoned decisions based on the odds and probabilities....upon which planet does this person live?

Most of the humans I know don't do that sort of thing unless they're looking at their bank statements. As for everybody else, just check out the news - we're all nuts in some way or another it seems.

A hospital killed my mother. Sent her home with a load of MRSA on board. It wasn't particularly well-reasoned to neglect to check for that sort of thing and it wasn't a pleasant way to die. None of my friends who have died have found it particularly pleasant, no matter the cause.

Now dermatology and cosmetic surgery...that's where it's pleasant. Big bucks, happy patients (well, mostly). You get to make breasts bigger and noses smaller, lift butts and faces, not too much death to deal with. If it didn't involve needles and knives even I would find that a very pleasant career.