Hidden in plain sight: what part did tobacco play in the clubs that fuelled the Enlightenment?
Jane Macnaughton (Durham University)
Paper short abstract:
Clubs and societies played an important part in the development of Enlightenment thinking but little attention has been paid to their material culture. Contemporary literary allusions suggest a role for tobacco which this paper will discuss.
Paper long abstract:
Much has been written about the membership and social relations in the discussion clubs and societies that fuelled Enlightenment thinking. 'The Easy Club', 'The Mirror Club' and the 'Select Society' were all formed in the 18th Century and involved important Enlightenment thinkers such as Adam Smith and David Hume, who was enthusiastic about these voluntary associations: 'Both sexes meet in an easy and sociable manner; and the tempers of men, as well as their behaviour, refine apace..' (Porter, 2000: 246). The formation of these clubs reflected not only a burgeoning in intellectual ideas but also huge social changes as they were only possible in the context of a rising educated middle class whose wealth was in part, in cities such as Glasgow, created by the Tobacco industry. In view of this, it is surprising how little attention has been paid to the role of tobacco as part of the material culture of clubbable society during the Enlightenment. We have some intriguing glimpses of it in, for example, the work of Robert Burns, whose amusingly entitled poem 'The Twa Dogs. A Tale' (written in 1706) describes the easy sociability of two dogs discussing human class politics in which 'the luntan pipe, an' sneeshing mill [snuff box]' play a part. This paper will draw on contemporary anthropological theories of materiality to investigate some of these glimpses. From these morsels, it will attempt to reconstruct tobacco's place within the sociability of the Enlightenment.
Tobacco and Enlightenment