Tennyson's Smoking Habit

 Alfred, Lord Tennyson, despite his wife’s delicate constitution and dislike of the habit, was a heavy smoker.

‘Theere! I ha’ master’d them! Hed I married the Tommies—O Lord,
To loove an’ obaäy the Tommies! I couldn’t ’a stuck by my word.
To be horder’d about, an’ waäked, when Molly ’d put out the light,
By a man coomin’ in wi’ a hiccup at ony hour o’ the night!
An’ the taäble staäin’d wi’ ’is aäle, an’ the mud o’ ’is boots o’ the stairs,
An’ the stink o’ ’is pipe i’ the ’ouse, an’ the mark o’ ’is ’eäd o’ the chairs!’ – ‘The Spinster’s Sweet-Arts’

This somewhat vitriolic quote from ‘The Spinster’s Sweet Arts’ is about the female narrator’s gladness that she hasn’t married and therefore doesn’t have to deal with a man’s hiccups in the middle of the night, the way he stains the kitchen table with ail, his muddy boots and, most of all, the stink of his pipe – Emily Tennyson was not so lucky! Alfred, Lord Tennyson, despite his wife’s delicate constitution and dislike of the habits, was an avid walker on the Downs and a heavy smoker, perhaps this was the reason for their nine-year engagement. However, eventually, Jane Carlyle’s gloomy prediction for Tennyson that ‘[He is] unlikely to marry as no-one could live in the atmosphere of tobacco-smoke, which he makes about him from morn to night’, was proved wrong.

Smoking in Style

Both Tennyson’s clothes for walking, and his personal pipes are on display at Farringford, his home on the Isle of Wight. However, Tennyson, unlike ‘Tommy’ from ‘The Spinster’s Sweet Arts’, new how to smoke in style, in a velvet smoking cap which is on display at Farringford House. Alongside this cap  he most likely wore smoking slippers and a smoking jacket, which would have been removed before re-entering rooms where Ladies were present. Indeed, smoking was thought to be a highly unladylike habit in this era (witness Rose’s mother’s distaste for the habit in James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’).

The Art of Smoking

For Tennyson however, smoking was an art, and one that he was very committed to. He possessed an entire rack of pipes, one of which was used for each day of a fortnightly cycle and is said to have smoked tobacco for almost 12 hours a day. Tennyson’s language about smoking was as artistic as his approach to it, he describes himself smoking with a friend in a pub and instead of speaking merely ‘staring smokey babies’ at each other. According to William Allingham, Tennyson and Thomas Carlyle (the famous Scottish essayist and lecturer), each criticised each other’s smoking habits. ‘Each thought the other smoked too much – or at all events too strong tobacco. T. Carefully drys his tobacco before putting it in his pipe, which, he says, lessens the strength, while C. asserts that this process makes it stronger’.

In Good Company

As a smoker, Tennyson was not in bad literary company, including Walter de la Mare, Arthur Conan Doyle and J.R.R. Tolkein. Perhaps this proves Michelle Pfeiffer right when she argues ‘I used to smoke two packs a day and I just hate being a nonsmoker... but I will never consider myself a nonsmoker because I always find smokers the most interesting people at the table.’

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