Marginalia, no.164

Tobacco, divine, rare, superexcellent tobacco, which goes far beyond all the panaceas, potable gold, and philosopher’s stones, a sovereign remedy to all diseases.  A good vomit, I confess, a virtuous herb if it be well qualified, opportunely taken, and medicinally used; but as it is commonly abused by most men, which take it as tinkers do ale, ‘tis a plague, a mischief, a violent purger of goods, lands, health; hellish, devilish, and damned tobacco, the ruin and overthrow of body and soul.

~ Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

Now that it’s cold again I take my pipe and whisky and sit on the porch to blow smoke in my children’s faces from the other side of the window. My enthusiasm for tobacco had stalled over the summer.  I’ve taken it up again for the sake of my health on the mithridatic principle that deadly things in moderation make for strength. The king sips small doses of arsenic as a hedge against poisoning.  The infant gets immunity by exposure to a weakened virus. If only life (the deadliest thing of all) could be taken in small amounts, I might live forever.


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3 responses to “Marginalia, no.164

  1. Hello Ian,

    As to your ultimate sentence, this, from “The Devil’s Dictionary”: “BIRTH, n. The first and direst of all disasters. As to the nature of it there appears to be no uniformity. Castor and Pollux were born from the egg. Pallas came out of a skull. Galatea was once a block of stone. Peresilis, who wrote in the tenth century, avers that he grew up out of the ground where a priest had spilled holy water. It is known that Arimaxus was derived from a hole in the earth, made by a stroke of lightning. Leucomedon was the son of a cavern in Mount Aetna, and I have myself seen a man come out of a wine cellar.”

    That last man might well have been me, had I not been born in 1963, according (as a certificate on record in Richmond County, GA, avers) to merely natural means. I feel as if I’d come from a wine cellar now. Or from a keg of Guinness.

    As to your remarks generally, well, A.E. Housman is on record, as you know:

    “I tell the tale that I heard told.
    Mithridates, he died old.”

    Enjoy that pipe.


  2. Ian Wolcott

    Ambrose Bierce is wonderful. Thank you for that.

    Have you been in the wine cellar tonight then? Have one for me. I’m fighting a cold and not sure it’s the best idea this evening. But then I was just reading JG Farrell’s ‘Troubles’ and everytime someone got sick they took whisky medicinally (but in large quantities).

  3. There’s nothing like Lagavulin and Red Rapparee copiously consumed on the year’s longest eve.

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