After a separation of ten years I met my old friend, Major___, at a railway station. If he had not spoken first I should not have recognizes my Virginia comrade of ’64. it was not merely the disguise of a silken hat and shaven cheek, but—as I told him after we had chatted a little about each other’s ups and downs since the war—I was sure this was the first time I ever saw him away from the table without a cigar in his mouth.
“Haven’t smoked for five years," was his reply. “I’m down to tobacco as thoroughly as you ever were.”
“Good! Tell me all about it.”
We locked arms and walked leisurely up and down the platform. Dropping the dialogue, this was, in substance, his story:--
“It wasn’t a sudden conversion. I never was quite so easy in my mind over it as I pretended to be. I intended to taper off when I got home from the army. And I did, smoked less in three weeks than I used to in one. But one summer I went off on some business for our company, which kept me up in the mountains, among the charcoal burners, three days longer than I expected. I got out of cigars, and couldn’t obtain any for love or money. In forty-eight hours I was more uncomfortable and unstrung than I ever was before in all my life. I actually borrowed an old Irishman’s filthy clay pipe, and tried to smoke it. I thought of that miserable summer we spent crawling about the trenches in Virginia, and I wished I was there again, with a cigar in my mouth. Then I began to realize what a shameful bondage I was in to mere self-indulgence. I, a man who secretly prided himself on his self-control, nerve, and manliness,--who never flinched at hard fare or rough weather,--a downright slave to a bad habit; unnerved and actually unfit for business for lack of a cigar. It made me angry at myself; I despised myself for my pusillanimity.
“Going into the matter a little farther, I found that the money I had spent for cigars in a dozen years would have paid for my house and furnished it. I had smoked away more money than I had laid out for our library, our periodicals, and our intellectual culture generally. Cigars had cost me nearly twice as much as I had given to church work, missions, and charity. My conscience rose up at the record. I knew I could not plead any equivalent for the outlay; It had not fed me; It had not strengthened me; it had simply drugged me. Every cigar had made the next cigar a little more necessary to my comfort. To use the mildest word, it had been a useless expenditure.
“My detention in the mountains was calculated to open my eyes to my domestic shortcomings, and I saw, as I never saw before, how selfishly unsocial tobacco had made me at home. I smoked before I was married, and my wife never entered any protest against my cigars afterward. But our first baby was a nervous child, and the doctor told me it would not do for it to breathe tobacco smoke. So I got in the way of shutting myself up in the library of evenings, and after meals, to enjoy my cigars. As I look at it now, nothing is more absurd than to call smoking a social habit. It’s a poor pretense of sociability, where a man is simply intent on his own enjoyment. My wife owns now, that my tobacco-tainted breath and tobacco-tainted clothing were always more or less a trial to her. The satisfaction it has given her to be rid of a tobacco atmosphere, and the thought of my contemptibly selfish indifference to her comfort all these years, have humbled me, I tell you. And I wouldn’t exchange my own daily satisfaction nowadays in being a cleaner man—inside and out—for the delight that anybody gets out of his cigars.
“I didn’t need to go outside my own doors to find reasons enough for giving up the habit; but I think I found still stronger ones, after all, when I went away from home. The more I thought about what tobacco does in the community at large, the more sure I felt that it was time for me to stop giving it the moral support of my example. I know I smoked too much, and that my nervous system is the worse for it; and the people who are likely to be hurt the most by it are just the ones who are the ones who are most likely to smoke excessively. And then, I’ve noticed that the medical men who stand up for tobacco, are always men who use it, and are liable to the suspicion of straining a point in justification of their own self-indulgence.
“On one point, though, I believe the authorities agree. No one denies that it is a damaging indulgence for boys. It means a good deal when smoking is forbidden to the pupils in the polytechnic schools in Paris, and the military schools in Germany, purely on hygienic grounds. The governments of these smoking nations are not likely to be notional on that matter. But the use of tobacco by our American boys and men is excessive and alarming. We ought to save our rising generation for better work than they can do if tobacco saps the strength of their growing years, and makes the descent easier. As no doubt it often does, to worse vices. I don’t know how to forgive myself for the temptations I set before my Sabbath-school class of bright boys, year after year, by my smoking habits.
“It isn’t in the family, either, that the selfishness of the habit is most apparent. I don’t believe, other things being equal, there is any other class of men who show such disregard in public for other people’s comfort as tobacco user’s do. A man would be considered a rowdy or a boor who should willfully spatter mud on the clothing of a lady as she passed him on the sidewalk. But a lady to whom tobacco fumes are more offensive than mud, can hardly walk the street in these days, but that men who call themselves gentlemen—and who are gentlemen in most other respects—blow their cigar smoke into her face at almost every step. Smokers drive non-smokers out of the cabins on the ferry-boats and the gentlemen’s waiting room in railway stations, monopolizing these rooms as coolly as if only they had any rights in them. I can’t explain such phenomena except on the theory that tobacco befogs the moral sense, and makes men specially selfish.”
The Major’s train came in just then, and as he took my hand to say good-by, its smoking-car drew his parting shot; “See there! Did you ever reflect how the tobacco habit levies its taxes on everybody? The railway company furnishes an extra seat to every smoker, which, in the nature of the case, must be paid for by an extra charge on the tickets of all the passengers. What a stir it would raise if the legislature should attempt to furnish luxuries to any special class, at public cost, in this way. How we’d vote them down! I vote against this thing by throwing away my cigar!”
WHAT TO MIND.
Mind your tongue! Don’t let it speak
An angry, an unkind
A cruel, or a wicked word
Don’t let it, boys—now, mind!
Mind eyes and ears! Don’t ever look
At wicked books or boys
From wicked pictures turn away—
All sinful acts despise.
And mind your lips! Tobacco stains
Strong drink, too, keep away—
And let no bad word pass your lips—
Mind everything you say.
Mind hands and feet! Don’t let them do
A single wicked thing
Don’t steal or strike, don’t kick or fight
Don’t walk in paths of sin.