Sunday, August 2, 2015

Harriet Martineau's Chibouque

"Harriet at Home" from an engraving by
Alfred Croquis (Rischgitz Studios)
UPDATE 12/15: I just discovered that Martineau is the great great great great grandmother of Princess Kate Middleton.

10/15: Martineau is included in the new book Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.

Ladies who have courage to do what is good for them, and agreeable to them, in new circumstances, in disregard of former prejudices, will try the virtues of the chibouque while in the East: and if they like it, they will go on with it as long as they feel that they want it. The chibouque would not be in such universal use as it is in the East, if there were not some reason for it: and the reason is that it is usually found eminently good for health. I found it so: and I saw no more reason why I should not take it than why English ladies should not take their daily glass of sherry at home — an indulgence which I do not need. I continued the use of my chibouque for some weeks after my return; and then left it off only on account of its inconvenience: and in the East, it is not inconvenient. 

Harriet Martineau, Eastern Life Present and Past

Often called the first female sociologist, English author Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was a prolific and influential writer whose admirers included a young Queen Victoria.

Nearly deaf from childhood and with a spotty education sometimes handled by some of her seven siblings, Martineau was first published at the age of 18 with an article titled "Female Writers on Practical Divinity."  Her father was so impressed that he declared, "Leave it to the other women to make shirts and darn stockings; and do you devote yourself to this." When The Central Unitarian Association advertised for three prize essays discussing how Catholics, Jews and Mohammedans might embrace Unitarianism, she entered all three contests under different names and won them all, and 45 pounds.

Her first commissioned work, Illustrations of Political Economy, was so successful across Europe that she was hired to produce monthly volumes for 24 months, each critiquing various political and economic affairs. Beseeched by a fellow writer to curb her pen so as not to offend French king Louis-Philippe, Martineau replied, "I write with a view to the people, and particularly the most suffering of them." In The Charmed Sea  she drew attention to poor treatment of Polish exiles in Eastern Siberia, causing the Russian czar to order all copies burnt. Traveling to the United States, she took flack for her books deploring British slavery in the colonies and was warned against traveling to any Southern states. She nonetheless visited Columbia, Charleston, and New Orleans, traveling by boat up the Mississippi to Kentucky, and producing Society in America and other volumes about her experiences.

Martineau traveled to the East in 1846, writing Eastern Life Present and Past as a study in comparative religion and an attempt to track down the evolution of faith. "Eastern travel and the production of Eastern Life were the turning point in Martineau's biography" writes Billie Melman in Women's Orients: English Women and the Middle East. "It was immediately after the journey that she abandoned her rational, Necessarian brand of Unitarianism for Positivism, soon to become [sociologist Auguste] Comte's first populariser in Britain and his first translator."

Melman writes that on her travels Martineau became "quite addicted" to the chibouque, a pipe used to smoke hashish. In Eastern Life, Martineau wrote that "the stem of my chibouque was one day embossed with fresh-gathered roses" and called a bottle of ale "the greatest possible refreshment in the desert, except the chibouque....I was very well satisfied with myself if I wrote my journal after dressing and chibouque, and before dinner."

Of one evening, she wrote, "Then the chibouques were brought,— at once the indispensable comfort and chief luxury of Eastern life:— a comfort of whose importance there no more conception can be formed at home than the people of the Guinea coast can appreciate our winter clothing and fires."

Harem Girls Smoking a Hookah
from an early 20th century postcard

Writing about a jolly time spent in a harem, she describes a cross-cultural experience: 

The next joke was on behalf of the Jewesses, four or five of whom sat in a row on the divan. Almost everybody else was puffing away at a chibouque or a nargeeleh, and the place was one cloud of smoke. The poor Jewesses were obliged to decline joining us; for it happened to be Saturday: they must not smoke on the Sabbath. They were naturally much pitied: and some of the young wives did what was possible for them. Drawing in a long breath of smoke, they puffed it forth in the faces of the Jewesses, who opened mouth and nostrils eagerly to receive it. Thus was the Sabbath observed, to shouts of laughter. 
In her Autobiography, written in 1855, Martineau says:

At past forty years of age, I began to relish life, without drawback; and for ten years I have been vividly conscious of its delights, as undisturbed by cares as my anxious nature, and my long training to trouble could permit me ever to be. I believe there never was before any time in my life when I should not have been rather glad than sorry to lay it down. During this last sunny period, I have not acquired any dread or dislike of death; but I have felt, for the first time, a keen and unvarying relish of life. ...

I had little idea the convictions and the action of the remnant of my life would be shaped and determined by what I saw and thought during those all-important months that I spent in the East....there were effects produced on my own character of mind which it would have been impertinent to offer here, even if the lapse of years had not been necessary to make them clear to myself. I never before had better opportunity for quiet meditation....

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