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Smoking Clubs in Graphic Satire and the Anglicizing of Tobacco in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 May 2021

Cynthia Roman*
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University, USA


Focusing on A smoking club (1793/7) by James Gillray, this essay presents satiric representations of smoking clubs in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British prints, arguing that they reflect and mediate contemporary understandings of tobacco as an intoxicant in British associational life. The breadth of potential cultural connotations – from political and social parody to light-hearted humour – is traced through the content and imagery of selected prints. These prints rely on the familiarity of contemporary audiences with political and social knowledge, as well as a visual iconography iconically realized in William Hogarth's A midnight modern conversation (1732).

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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1 The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University, 793.02.13.01+ and M. George, Dorothy, Catalogue of prints and drawings in the British Museum: division I, political and personal satires (11 vols., London, 1870–1954)Google Scholar, cat. no. 8303. Hereafter, references to satirical prints will be given as BMC numbers.

2 The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, holds an impression printed on Whatman paper with 1808 watermark. See Auchincloss Gillray album, vol. 3, leaf 27, online at

3 The 300 most frequent words in the 1.5 million words in the dataset were presented at the ‘Defining curatorial voice’ workshop organized by Andrew Salway and James Baker, Digital Humanities Lab, University of Sussex, 26–27 February 2019. ‘Pipe’ was the 297th most frequent word. Andrew Salway and James Baker in Curatorial voice: legacy descriptions of art objects and their contemporary uses, 22 March 2019,

4 Taylor, David Francis, The politics of parody: a literary history of caricature, 1760–1830 (New Haven, CT, 2018), pp. ix–xGoogle Scholar.

5 In her article in this issue, Lauren Working shows that, during the seventeenth century, the relationship between tobacco, sociability, and English imperial aspirations dissociated the intoxicant from its origins and that the Indigenous ritual practice of smoking was likewise anglicized in accordance with notions of civility. The thorough assimilation of tobacco into British society parallels what Brian Cowan calls the complete ‘Anglicization of oriental coffee’ by the early eighteenth century. Cowan, Brian, The social life of coffee: the emergence of the British coffee house (New Haven, CT, 2005), p. 4Google Scholar.

6 Withington, Phil, ‘Intoxicants and society in early modern England’, Historical Journal, 54 (2011), pp. 631–57Google Scholar.

7 Withington, Philip, Society in early modern England: the vernacular origins of some powerful ideas (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 13 and 231Google Scholar.

8 Withington, Phil, ‘Company and sociability in early modern England’, Social History, 32 (2003), pp. 291–307Google Scholar.

9 In the hierarchy of price and status of alcoholic drinks, punch was in the middling range, somewhat more expensive than beer. Neither was prohibitively expensive. While different types of drinks were commonly associated with different vessel materials, punch was consumed at a range of venues, but the material culture of punch-drinking crossed material lines of demarcation. Harvey, Karen, ‘Ritual encounters: punch parties and masculinity in the eighteenth century’, Past & Present, 214 (2010), pp. 165–203, at pp. 176–7Google Scholar.

10 Paulson, Ronald, Hogarth's graphic works (3rd edn, London, 1989), pp. 185–6Google Scholar (BMC 3126 and 3136).

11 For a comparison of Algonquin and English tobacco pipes, see Lauren Working, ‘Tobacco and the social life of conquest in London, 1580–1625’, in this issue. See also Ayto, Eric G., Clay tobacco pipes (Aylesbury, 2002)Google Scholar.

12 Identified in manuscript annotation on the print and by Wright and Evans as Loughborough, ‘cogitating’ between the parties. This, however, is inconsistent with the House of Commons setting and with Loughborough's appointment (26 Jan. 1793) as chancellor. Wright, Thomas (ed.), Works of James Gillray, the caricaturist with the history of his life and times (London, 1873), p. 166Google Scholar.

13 Wright, Works of James Gillray, p. 166.

14 Davison, Kate, ‘Occasional politeness and gentlemen's laughter in 18th c England’, Historical Journal, 57 (2014), pp. 921–45Google Scholar.

15 W. S. Lewis et al., eds., Horace Walpole's correspondence (48 vols., New Haven, CT, 1937–83), XII, p. 63.

16 Ibid., II, p. 34, 21 Feb. 1777, n. 1.

17 See Working, ‘Tobacco and the social life of conquest’. Some argued that smoking was virtuous and patriotic because it kept the transatlantic trade afloat; others believed that it subverted morality. Medicinal and health benefits were presented against concerns about addiction. For a concise summary, see Walvin, James, Fruits of empire: exotic produce and British taste, 1660–1800 (New York, NY, 1997), ch. 5CrossRefGoogle Scholar, ‘The Indian weed: tobacco’, pp. 66–88.

18 George, M. Dorothy, Hogarth to Cruikshank: social change in graphic satire (New York, NY, 1967), p. 43Google Scholar; see also Paulson, Hogarth's graphic works, pp. 84–5.

19 George, Hogarth to Cruikshank, p. 43; BMC 2122.

20 George, Hogarth to Cruikshank, p. 42.

21 John Ireland, Hogarth illustrated (2nd edn, 3 vols., London, 1793), II, p. 96.

22 Ibid., II, pp. 93–102.

23 See Brewer, David, ‘Making Hogarth heritage’, Representations, 72 (2000) pp. 2163, at p. 32CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and idem, ‘Ritual encounters: punch parties and masculinity in the eighteenth century’, Past & Present, 214 (2012), pp. 165–203.

24 George, Hogarth to Cruikshank, p. 42.

25 The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University (LWL), folio 75 H67 800 v.1.

26 Copy by Samuel Ireland in 1794. LWL, folio 75 H67 800 v.1.

27 Molineux, Catherine, Faces of perfect ebony: encountering Atlantic slavery in imperial Britain (Cambridge, MA, 2012), p. 157CrossRefGoogle Scholar and passim.

28 See Working, ‘Tobacco and the social life of conquest’.

29 LWL, folio 75 H67 800 v.1.

30 Conversation with Scott Wilcox, Deputy Director for Collections, Yale Center for British Art.

31 Respectively at the Yale Center for British Art and the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI.4523).

32 Sheila O'Connell, The popular print in England (London, 1999), p. 115.

33 Capdeville, Valérie, ‘The ambivalent identity of eighteenth-century London clubs as a prelude to Victorian clublife’, Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, 81 (2015)Google Scholar,

34 Johnson, Samuel, Dictionary (London, 1755)Google Scholar.

35 Ralph Neville, London clubs: their history and treasures (New York, NY, c. 1911), p. 7.

36 Clark, Peter, British clubs and societies, 1580–1800: the origins of an associational world (Oxford, 2000), p. 5Google Scholar.

37 Ibid., p. 2.

38 Ibid., pp. 3–4.

39 Ellis, Markman, The coffee-house: a cultural history (London, 2004), p. xiGoogle Scholar.

40 Despite historical associations ranging from sedition to sociability to civility, coffeehouses were ‘so politically au courant, so ideologically up-to-date, so accurate a gauge of public opinion’ that they were the places that politicians and journalists went to collect news and opinions. The coffeehouse provided a venue for public political discussion and, even more, provided the social and cultural locus for an early modern English public sphere. See Pincus, Steve, ‘“Coffee politicians does create”: coffeehouses and restoration political culture’, Journal of Modern History, 67 (1995), pp. 807–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at pp. 831–2. Fascinatingly, Phil Withington demonstrates that little material evidence of coffee-making and drinking survives, thereby corroborating the idea that the coffeehouse was more powerful than the act of consumption. See Phil Withington, ‘Addiction, intoxicants, and the humoral body’, in this issue.

41 Capdeville, ‘Ambivalent identity’, p. 2.

42 Ibid., p. 4.

43 Quoted in ibid., p. 5.

44 A version of this painting is at the LWL.

45 A drawing is at the LWL. For the related print, see BMC 8339.

46 Walvin, Fruits of empire, pp. 71–2.

47 Neville, London clubs, p. 4.

48 Clark, British clubs, p. 10.

49 These include a print titled City smoking club published by William Holland in 1787/8. This very rare print may be the same as an impression at the Wilhelm Busch Museum, Hanover. I am thankful to Cristina Martinez for bringing this print to my attention. See The World, 7 Nov. 1789. Other advertisements announce prints of smoking clubs by William Henry Bunbury.

50 Morning Post (London, Edinburgh), 4 Oct. 1806, issue no. 11,118.

51 ‘Old Bailey’, Morning Chronicle, 19 Sept. 1807.

52 Whitehall Evening Post, 30 Sept.–2 Oct. 1784, issue no. 5,769.

53 Dermott, Laurence, Ahiman Rezon: or a help to all that are, or would be free and accepted masons (3rd edn, London, 1778)Google Scholar. See also Ward, Edward, The history of London clubs, or, the citizens’ pastime (London, 1709)Google Scholar.

54 LWL, 801.12.01.09+ (BMC 9764).

55 Lauren Working, review of Thomas, Keith, In pursuit of civility: manners and civilization in early modern England, Journal of Social History, 53 (2020), pp. 820–3Google Scholar.

56 See Mark Hallett's analysis of William Hogarth's A harlot's progress in Hallett, Mark, The spectacle of difference: graphic satire in the age of Hogarth (New Haven, CT, 1999), p. 100Google Scholar.

57 The drawing is in LWL, drawings W87, no. 22. Publication details for the print are based on dealer records.

58 LWL, Hogarth 761., impression 2. Paulson, Hogarth's graphic works, cat. no. 208; BMC 3836.

59 Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of painting in England (4 vols., Strawberry Hill, 1771), IV, p. viii.

60 LWL, 792.01.10.02++. BMC 8220.

61 LWL, 784.01.11.01. BMC 6730.

62 LWL, 813.00.00.04+. Not in BMC.

63 Paulson, Hogarth's graphic works, cat. no. 128, pp. 84–5.

64 LWL, 795.05.27.01+. BMC 8651.

65 LWL, 797.02.04.01+. BMC 8984.

66 Wright, Works of James Gillray, p. 226.

67 Lewis et al., eds., Horace Walpole's correspondence, XXXVII, pp. 89–90.

68 Clark, British clubs, pp. 4–5.

69 Taylor, Politics of parody, p. xi.