From the first importation of tobacco into Europe, to Spain, round about 1528, folks tried various ways to get into the nicotine habit. By the Regency, folks had their choice of snuff, cigars, or pipes.
Now, snuff is a whole extensive subject I am not going to go into except to say that it leads to a snuff boxes, like those on the right, which are the delightful byproduct of a nasty habit. If I’d been living in the Georgian era I would have collected snuff boxes and carried them about full of little fruit pastilles.
Were there cigarettes?
Well, no. Not really. Technically there was something fairly similar to cigarettes in Spain well before the Regency. They were called papelate and based on the South American custom of wrapping cut tobacco in rolled corn husks or bark or something other than a tobacco leaf. We have paintings of Spanish folks smoking this way, but no way to tell if papelate were routinely wrapped in paper.
The French, in the 1830s, saw the papelate, renamed it ‘cigarette’, and wrapped the tobacco in fine, thin paper. Voila. The rest is history.
Most significantly, the word cigarette is not used in English till 1842, so our Regency hero cannot step out onto the terrace to meditatively smoke a cigarette, overhear the heroine being reluctant with some man, and toss his cigarette down before he stomps off to be heroic.
Pipes were the perennial favorite. Folks caught on to the whole pipe thing from the first introduction of tobacco. As the Eighteenth Century nipped along and tobacco became less prohibitively expensive, the pipe slid down the social ladder a bit. Those long clay pipes became maybe a wee bit vulgar. A bit rustic. Not quite the fashionable way to indulge … which was snuff taking, which we aren't going to go into.
My characters are generally a clean-living lot who do not smoke, but Doyle has been known to enjoy a pipe now and then when he’s lolled back in some tavern, playing one of the criminal underclass.
And finally, we got cigars.
Cigars, which is to say the rolled leaf kinda tucked up neatly for smoking, were ancient in the New World when Columbus dropped by. This way of smoking came over to Europe with tobacco itself. Cheroot is another term. This means a cylindrical cigar, one made without the tapered ends. It would have existed in the Regency period but would probably have come from India or points east.
We have the rare Regency painting that shows men smoking cigars.
Here's one to the right. See the luxury of the furniture, the fine clothes, and the supreme informality of the scene? That probably conveys something of how cigars figured in fashionable life.
We have a good many have period references. Byron, in 1813, writes in his letters:
“… the bluff burghers, puffing freedom out of their short tobacco pipes, though I prefer a cigar, or a hooka …”
“Seriously, I don’t care a cigar about it, and I don’t see why Sam should.”
In about the same time period, Pierce Egan, in Boxiana writes:
At a sporting dinner given to the Followers of the Fancy, at Oliver’s, a few days after the above fight, by one of the highest in the scientific circles, no want of game, it appears was discovered to render the table incomplete; and when the cloth was removed, the cigars ignited, the Kindly glass replenished, the merits and capabilities of various heroes became the animated subject of discussion.
We can almost see that dinner. This must have been a typical scene. Cigars and a bottle passed around the table would have definitely been part of our Regency period.
Okay. Here's my question.
Would you be willing to have your heroic character smoke? Is it a matter of indifference to you? Would you really dislike it? Or would you dislike it in real life but you don't mind if a fictional character does it?
Some lucky commenter will win a copy of any one of my books they choose, including the latest, Rogue Spy.