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107 DANA GIOIA A Short History of Tobacco Profitable, poisonous, and purely American— it was Columbus who discovered it on reaching China, noticing the leaves on a canoe. He sent his men ashore to find the Great Khan’s palace. The returned to tell of squatting natives who drank smoke. Rolfe smuggled seeds to cold, bankrupt Virginia. When he returned years later, all the streets were planted with the crop, the marketplace and churchyards overgrown. Grim ministers preached harvest from the pulpit and stood out among the fields at night to guard their tithes. More valuable than silver, worth ten times the price of peppercorn. In Africa six rolls could buy a man. The ships would reach Virginia stocked with slaves or English wives while every year the farms moved farther west abandoning their dry, exhausted fields. Tenacious, fertile, rank as any weed, Linnaeus counted forty thousand seeds inside one pod. Miraculus, he wrote, the cure for toothache, shingles, running sores or pushed by bellows through a patient’s lung, the panacea of the alchemists. 108 Fragrant, prophylactic, and medicinal, Pepys chewed it during the Great Plague. It cost a fortune, but it saved his life. Later he spent an afternoon to watch a surgeon kill a cat with just one drop of the quintessence of Virginia leaf. . . . But when a bear was killed, tobacco smoke was blown into his throat to soothe the spirit. The elders smoked and chanted in a trance. The Mayans blew the smoke to the four corners of the world. It was a gift from God, profitable, poisonous, and purely American. ...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781597093293
Related ISBN
9781597091329
MARC Record
OCLC
867786097
Pages
240
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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