Saturday, April 13, 2013

Nicot or not Nicot, That is the Question

In the beginning of the XVIth century,  

Sailing ship near Java la Grande in Vallard Atlas 1547, Dieppe school.

Dieppe was an important harbor for French privateers such as the famous Jean Ango,

Jean Ango

and the Florentine Giovanni da Verrazano,  

Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485–1528)

who sailed the Dauphine equipped by Jean Ango and named for the Dauphin of France, Francis III, Duke of Brittany. He sailed to the east coast of North America and in April 1524 discovered the site that would become New York, to which he gave the name Land of Angoulême

1527 map by Visconte Maggiolo showing the east coast of North America with "Tera Florida" at the top and "Lavoradore" (Labrador) at the bottom. The information came from Giovanni da Verrazzano's voyage in 1524.(Biblioteca Ambrosiana Milan.)

Pierre Crignon, a poet, cartographer from the famous School of Cartography of Dieppe, turned ship captain under Jean Ango's mentorship, and the author of the Chanson des pilotes de Jean Dango, wrote in 1525:

"Hier j'ai rencontré un vieux matelot et j'ai bu avec lui un broc de vin de Bretagne. Tout en buvant, il a soudain sorti de sa bougette un objet en terre blanche, que j'ai pris d'abord pour une écritoire d'écolier; on eût dit d'un encrier avec un long tuyau et un petit gallimard;  Il a rempli le gros bout de feuilles brunes, cassés par lui dans le creux de sa main, a bouté le feu dessus au moyen d'un briquet, et l'instant d'apres ayant mis le tuyau entre ses lèvres il soufflait de la fumée par la bouche ce qui fort m'émerveilla. Il m'apprit alors que les Portugais lui avaient appris cela et qu'eux-mêmes le tenaient des Indiens Mexicos. Il appela cela pétuner et dit que ce pétunage éclaircit les idées et donne des pensées joyeuses"

"Yesterday, I met an old sailor and I drank with him a jug of wine from Brittany. While drinking, he suddenly drew from his purse an object made of white clay, that I mistook first for a schoolchildren writing utensil; it looked like an ink with a long stem and a small gallimard; He filled the large end with pieces of brown leaves, that he had broken in the palm of his hand, he lit a fire above using a flint,and moments later after having brought the stem to his mouth, he blew some smoke from his mouth which made me marvel. He explained that the Portuguese had taught him and that they themselves had learnt from the Indians Mexicos. He called it pétuner and said that it cleared his ideas and gave him pleasant thoughts."

This, to our knowledge, is the earliest reference to a tobacco pipe smoker in France.

On April 20, 1534, another French adventurer, Jacques Cartier,

Portrait of Jacques Cartier
[No one really knows what Cartier looked like. This famous portrait in the Canadian Archives, was executed by Theophile Hamel in 1860. It is based on a copy of one in Hotel de Ville in St. Malo, Cartier's birthplace, painted by Francois Riss in 1839.]

set sail under a commission from the king, hoping to discover a western passage to the wealthy markets of Asia. In the words of the commission, he was to "discover certain islands and lands where it is said that a great quantity of gold and other precious things are to be found". It took him twenty days to sail across the ocean. Starting on May 10 of that year, he explored parts of Newfoundland, today's Atlantic Canada and the Gulf of Saint-Laurence. On the 19th of May 1535 Cartier set forth on his second,

Arrival of Jacques Cartier at Quebec 1535

and most important expedition to the new world.

All along Cartier took the time to observe and interrogate the Natives about their beliefs and habits and took copious notes.  

Sample page from Cartier's diary

Cartier was intrigued by their habit of smoking and provided this description of their use of tobacco: 

"Il y pousse une certaine herbe , dont ils font une grande provision pendant tout l'été pour l'hiver et qu'ils apprecient hautement. Les hommes seuls s'en servent près l'avoir séchée au soleil; ils la portent dans un sachet fait de peau d'animal qu'ils s'attachent au cou et dans lequel ils mettent également une petite corne de pierre ou de bois. A chaque instant, ils pulvérisent cette herbe et en remplissent l'une des extrémités de la corne; ils placent au-dessus un charbon allumé et aspirent si fort à l'autre extrémité, qu'ils s'ingrugitent dans tout le corps une fumée qui leur sort ensuite par la bouche et par les narines comme un tuyau de cheminée. Ils disent que cette action les tient chauds et sains, et ils ne marchent jamais sans la dite poudre. Nous avons expérimenté cette fumée, et, l'ayant mise dans la bouche, il nous a paru avoir mis de la poudre de poivre, tant elle nous a réchauffés."

"There groweth a certain kind of herb whereof in summer they make a great provision for all the year. They wear it about their necks wrapped in a little beast's skin made like a little bag with a hollow piece of wood or stone. At frequent intervals they crumble up this plant into powder, which they place in one of the large openings of the hollow instrument and laying a live coal on top suck at the other end to such an extent that they fill their bodies so full of smoke that it streams out of their mouths and nostrils as from a chimney. They say it keeps them warm and in good health and never go about without these things. We made a trial of this smoke. When it is in one's mouth one would think one had taken powdered pepper it was so hot."[1534]

In 1555, a monk by the name of André de Thevet,

André de Thevet par Thomas de Leu (1586)

headed out with Nicolas-Edouard Villagagnomo to Brazil where he stayed three months to learn about the local customs.

Portulan by Pierre Desceliers, School of Cartography, Dieppe, 1550

In 1556, he returned to France with seeds of pétun and offered some with samples of the tobacco plant to King Henri II whose geographer he was, 

 King Henri II by Janet

and to Queen Catherine de Médicis, whose confessor he was. In 1558, he published his findings under the title "les Singularités de la France Antarctique also called America" ,

where he gave precise details about the natives custom of smoking the pétun.

Herbe pétun ou angoumoisine (Cosmographie universelle)

Despite those early accounts of tobacco pipe smoking provided by Crignon and Cartier and the plants and seeds brought back by de Thevet, it is Jean Nicot who would be the catalyst for the adoption of tobacco in France.

Nicot was named embassador of France to Portugal in 1559. He would return to France in 1561.

Nicot kept himself informed of all issues that mattered to the Court of Portugal and developments with India and the New World, shipments of goods arriving in the harbor of Lisboa as well as the reports from French merchants dealing with Portuguese counterparts.

When he was introduced to this new plant from the New World and personally witnessed the miraculous healing power it had upon patients with incurable diseases at the time, Nicot decided to inform the French Court. 

Nicotiana Tabacum

In a letter addressed on the 26 of April 1560 to the Cardinal of Lorraine, who was sharing with his brother the Duc de Guise the power King François II was too young to exercise, 

François II by François Clouet

Nicot wrote:

"J'ay recouvré d'une herbe d'Inde, de merveilleuse et expérimentée propriété contre le Noli me tangere et les fistules déplorées comme irrémédiables par les médecins, et de prompt et singulier remèdes aulx Naures. Si tost qu'elle aura donné sa greine, j'en enverray à vostre jardinier, a Marmoutier, et de la plante mesmes dedant un baril avec une instruction pour la replanter et entretenir tout ainsy qu'ay faict pour es orengiers."

"I have come into possession of an herb from Western Indies, of marvelous and proven cure against the Noli me tangere and the fistulas considered as terminal by doctors, and of prompt and singular remedy for the Naures. As soon as it produces its seeds, I will send them to your gardener in Marmoutier, together with the plant itself in a barrel with instructions as to how to replant and care for, in the same way I did for orange trees."

(Edmond Falgairolle, Jean Nicot, sa correspondence diplomatique, Paris, 1897, page XC)

Jean Nicot presenting the tobacco plant to Queen Catherine de Medicis, François II and the Grand Prior of the House of Lorraine in 1561

Catherine de Médicis found out that snuffing the powdered leaf eased her violent migraines, and called it her miracle cure. It is said that it helped her save the life of her second son Charles IX who was disabled by chronic disease. The barons and courtiers quickly adopted and perfected the snuffing ritual.

The herb was called Herbe de la Reine, Reine des Herbes, Catherinaire, Médicée , Herbe du grand prieur, Herbe de l'ambassadeur and Nicotiane or Pétun.

So while it is clear that Nicot was not the first to bring tobacco or pipe smoking in France, he is undeniably the one who gave them their lettres de noblesse...

The definition of Nicotiane in Le grand dictionaire françois-latin, augmenté outre les précédentes impressions d'infinies dictions françoises, spécialement des mots de marine, vénerie, et faulconnerie. Recuelli des observations de plusieurs hommes doctes : entre autres de M. Nicod conseiller du roy et maistre des requestes de l'hostel, et réduit à la forme et perfection des dictionaires grecs et latins. -Jacob Stoer-1593

During Henri IV's reign (1589-1610), 

tobacco's reputation as a miracle plant continued to grow,

Olivier de Serres (1539 – 1619) was a French author and soil scientist whose Théâtre d'Agriculture (1600) was the text book of French agriculture in the 17th century.

Nicotiane by Olivier de Serres
And everyone who was anyone was snuffing powdered tobacco. 

Nicotiane, f. penac. Est une espece d'herbe, de vertu admirable pour guarir toutes navrures, playes, ulceres, chancres, dartres, et autres tels accidents au corps humain, que Jean Nicot de Nismes Conseiller du Roy, et maistre des requestes de l'hostel dudit Seigneur, estant Ambassadeur de sa Majesté Tres-chrestienne en Portugal, lequel a recueilli ce present Thresor ou Dictionaire de la langue Françoise, envoya en France l'an mil cinq cens soixante. Dont toutes Provinces de ce Royaume ont esté engées et peuplées, à cause de quoy laditte herbe a obtenu et porté ledit nom de Nicotiane, pour de laquelle sçavoir l'histoire entiere, voyez le ch. 59. du li. 2. de la Maison rustique. by Jean Nicot, 1606

Sailors, soldiers and "common people" smoked a pipe. 

DASSONVILLE Jacques, ca 1625, musée des beaux-arts Nancy

Artists soon followed.

This triple portrait, which Simon de Vos painted in 1626, shows him flanked by two friends, Jan Cossiers and Johan Geerlof. The three artists were together in Aix-en-Provence, South of France. © Musée du Louvre, © Direction des Musées de France, 1999,© Hervé Lewandowski

When the Cardinal Richelieu needed to raise taxes to balance the royal budget, he looked at the two million pounds in weight of tobacco imported in 1625 and decided it should become a source of revenue for the kingdom. 

Engraved portrait of Cardinal Richelieu (1582-1642)

And the first legislation concerning tobacco in France was signed into law by King Louis XIII,

Louis XIII (reign 1610-1643) by Philippe de Champagne

on the 17 of November 1629 with a tax of thirty sols per pound on tobacco or pétun.

Traicté du tabac, ou Nicotiane, Panacee, Petun: autrement Herbe à la Reyne, Avec sa preparation & son usage, pour la plus part des indispositions du corps humain, ensemble les diverses façons de le falsifier, & les marques pour le recognoistre. Lyon: Barthelemy Vincent, 1626

In 1633, a pipe manufacture was established in Rouen 

Nicolas Tassin : "Plans et profilz des principales villes de la province de Normandie,
 avec la carte générale et les particulières de chascun gouvernement d'icelles" (1631)

by Jacques Véron, faiseur de pipes à prendre pétun, living in the Saint-Sever district.

(Bulletin de la Commission des Antiquités t. XII, p.281).

Jacques Véron's makers' mark from "makers' marks in Rouen" by Léon De Vesly in 1916

The clay is extracted in Saint-Aubin and BelleBoeuf, some five miles upstream the Seine river.

Encyclopedie Methodique Arts et Metiers Mechaniques, Tome Sixieme,  Jacques Lacombe - 1782

After twenty-three years of marriage with Louis XIII, Anne of Austria gave birth to a son on 5 September 1638, the future Louis XIV. No doubt tobacco was part of the celebrations.

Louis XIV as a child

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating... I did not realize that the European history of tobacco smoking dated so far back. Thank you!