Saturday, December 2, 2017

Snuff Etiquette and History


A tract in the British Museum on “The Natural History of Tobacco” reads: “The Irishmen do most commonly powder their tobacco and stuff it up their nostrils.” This makes the Irish the probable inventors of snuff. In some remote and primitive parts of Ireland at a dead man's wake, a plate of snuff is placed on the body of the deceased, and the etiquette is for all those who are invited to attend the funeral, to take a pinch on entering the house of mourning.


A History of Snuff
It Antedates Generally Conceived Opinions of the Dust

In the “First Part of King Henry IV” a speech is given to Hotspur, the famous and fiery Harry Percy, which has puzzled many readers, says the Troy Times. After the battle of Holmedon, on the Scottish border, in the year 1401, Hotspur, who was victorious, describes an interview he had, after the fight was done, with a certain effeminate courtier, and says:

He was perfumed like a milliner,
And 'twixt his finger and his thumb he held
A pouncet-box, which ever and anon
He gave his nose, and took't away again:
Who, there withangry, when it next came there,
Took it in snuff.
Shakespeare’s play was written, or at least published in the year 1598, near the close of Queen Elizabeth's reign, and the question propounded is not only was snuff taken in Hotspur's time, but nearly two centuries later, in Shakespeare's time. As far as can be ascertained, what is known in modern times as snuff, was used by fashionable gentlemen in Shakespeare's time. Tobacco was in use in England years before Shakespeare made Hotspur ridicule a fop for taking snuff in an affected manner. 

From the native Virginians came the practice of smoking (taken up by the English in 1500); but a tract in the British Museum on "The Natural History of Tobacco" says: “The Irishmen do most commonly powder their tobacco and stuff it up their nostrils." This makes the Irish the probable inventors of snuff. In some remote and primitive parts of Ireland at a dead man's wake, a plate of snuff is placed on the body of the deceased, and the etiquette is for all those who are invited to attend the funeral, to take a pinch on entering the house of mourning.

In the “Life of Columbus” it is stated that the great voyager had noticed smoking and snuff-taking in Hispaniola. Las Casas, writing in 1529, also mentions it, with much minuteness of detail. Frequent mention is made in the Spectator (Addison and Steele's well-known weekly, begun in 1711) of female snuff-takers in the reign of Queen Anne. 


Fashionable ladies, it is said, of all ages freely indulged in it, even offering their boxes to their friends as they sat in the church pews during divine worship. Queen Charlotte, wife of George III and grandmother of Queen Victoria, was a perpetual snuff-taker during the whole time of her residence in England, from her arrival and marriage in 1701 to her death in 1818. She had a great partiality for accepting presents of snuff, particularly when it was given in gold snuff-boxes. The enmity exhibited by Queen Charlotte against Caroline of Brunswick, the unfortunate wife of him who finally became George IV, has been attributed to the fact that in an intercepted letter from Caroline to her mother the Queen, was ridiculed as “snuffy old Charlotte.”

Snuff has very much fallen into disuse. In our time the fair sex do not patronize snuff. The leaders of “Martin Chuzzlewit” must sympathise with Betsy Prig's remarkable objections to Mrs. Gamp's untidy ways with her snuff, when she had to entreat that admirable harrican not to "go-a-dropping none of it” into the dish of sliced cucumber, prepared in vinegar which they were to have for supper. “In gruel, barley water, apple tea, mutton broth and that, it don't signify,” Mrs. Prig added, “and it stimulates a patient, but I don't relish it myself.” – San Francisco Call, 1891


Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia