For some a more sophisticated way of ingesting tobacco is via the snout in the form of snuff. No need to ignite a cigarette or cigar and pollute the room and inconvenience bystanders with their noxious fumes. Simply tip some of the powder on to the back of your hand and sniff vigorously. The effects are almost instantaneous and the resulting sneezing fit will be loud and soil your handkerchief with the contents of your nose.
I had never considered taking snuff to have any medicinal benefits but, perhaps, that is because I had overlooked Angelick snuff, so named because it was flavoured with angelica rather than because it was manna from heaven. It was available in the first half of the 18th century and, according to an advertisement which appeared in the Daily Post of January 17th 1739, only available from Jacob’s Coffee House, against the Angel and Crown Tavern in Broad Street, behind the Royal Exchange in London, price one shilling a paper with directions.
As we have grown to expect, the claims for its properties were fulsome. The advertisement described it as “the most noble composition in the world”. So what was it good for? Well, you name it. “instantly removing all manner of disorder of the head and brain, easing the most excruciating pain in a moment; taking away all swimming or giddiness, proceeding from Vapours, or any other cause”. But that was not all, “also drowsiness, sleepiness and all other lethargic effects, perfectly curing deafness to admiration, and all humours and soreness in the eyes, wonderfully strengthening them when weak”.
The list of maladies that succumbed to the power of the snuff included catarrhs, defluxions of rheum and toothache instantaneously. It was also claimed to be beneficial in apoplectic fits and falling sickness as well as comforting the nerves and raising the spirits. And then to testimonials, “its admirable efficacy… has been experienced above a thousand times and very justly causes it to be esteemed the most beneficial snuff in the world, being good for all sorts of persons. And as most of the above disorders are sudden, and the remedy by this most noble Angelick snuff as speedy, no family ought to be without it, nor ever will, when they have once used it”.
A reference in the Spectator claimed it was only available at Mr Payn’s Toy Shop but as this was also said to be by the Angel and Crown Tavern, I suspect this was the same as the Coffee House. Whilst probably not injurious, at least if you shut your eyes to the addictive and carcinogenic properties of concentrated tobacco, it is hard to imagine that it had the slightest effect on many of the maladies cited in the glowing advertisement. It may have caused a momentary distraction, watering of the eyes, volcanic sneezing fits and the like, which took the user’s attention away from anything else that was afflicting him. At best, it was a temporary fix but, of course, that meant you had to repeat the dose – more money for the supplier and enhancing the chances of addiction.
When you indulge in something that you know deep down is bad for you, it is a comfort to delude yourself that it may just be doing some good too.