Thursday, 5 July 2007

Machen predicts Tobacco ban and more

Machen loved both tobacco and drink and the banning of the combination of both in their natural home of the Tavern would have led to much fury. He is no doubt fuming in his grave.

Yet this feeling leads onto greater mystery. Machen's works have had many curious effects, accidentaly creating the Angels of Mons for instance. But by what strange power did he predict the coming of the ban of smoking in pubs. He seems to have known some dark conspiracy was at work. In an essay in 1921 which defended beer included Dog and Duck he writes:

I think that good drink merely represents the first line of the cause which the bad people are attacking. It is my opinion that these bad people are only in the first stage or movement of a much more general attack. Tobacco will be the next line, the next engagement will centre round the meditative pipe, the gay cigarette, the magnificent Corona. Already that battle is preparing in America; soon, in powerful circles, a pipe will be inconsistent with piety.

Yet Machen goes on to make even more startling predictions:

Nor will matters stop there. The Vegetarians have long been aware that what is the matter with the world is Meat. They have their feelings, like the anti-Burgundy and anti-Bass people and the anti-Tobacco people. They are quite convinced, with Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, that Meat is the root of all evil.

'It's not Madness, ma'am,' replied Mr. Bumble ... 'it's Meat.'

These persons then, sharing the opinion and the intelligence of Mr. Bumble, will engage on an anti-meat campaign. If they win, they will divide into two parties. One set will allow us to cook our vegetables; the other side will insist that if you are to boil your green peas, you may as well dine off rumpsteak at once. And, of course, sham science will come to their aid. There are plenty of doctors already who are quite prepared to demonstrate by unanswerable arguments that if you cook anything you destroy all its value.

Before long there will be letters in The Times over signatures furnished with the most appalling array of degrees and qualifications showing that the way out of all our difficulties is to put out the kitchen fire. But it would be a great mistake to suppose that the campaign will stop here, with our palates and stomachs and general comfort and well-being. All the arts will next be the object of attack; tobacco, beer, beef and boiled beans having fallen, painting, sculpture, music, literature will be suspected, examined, denounced, prohibited.

This is no fantasy; for this has happened before. It happened in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and is generally known as Puritanism. The movement was then allied with certain theological views. It began by smashing and destroying all the beautiful things that were then to be found in churches. It blotted out of the world a mass of beauty in a manner which is really awful to contemplate. Macaulay, not by any means the acutest of critics in a general way, got to the heart of the matter in his account of the Puritan objection to bear-baiting. They disliked bear-baiting, he said, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators. So with their objection to sports and games of all sorts. They began by saying—and, no doubt, believing—that games were wicked when played on Sunday. They ended by banning games and sports of all kinds on any day. They shut up the theatres: they gave pleasure, and the Puritan hates pleasure because it is a good thing.

How could Machen know that the tobacco ban would be immediately targeted at theatres with actors smoking on stage. Could it be that the ban is not aimed at good health, but stopping theatres altogether? Likewise old films depicting smoking might be soon be banned. Let us hope Machen here is a false prophet.

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