Poem: The Saint and His Shrine

The Saint and His Shrine

A poem about the apocryphal Saint Nicotine, taken from James Thompsons’ contributions to Cope’s Smoke Room Booklets No.3. I’m not clear when it was written, although given the mention of Lord Hartington and how he “cuts his party”, I presume it was some time around his leadership of the Liberal Unionist Party (1886–1903).

Although there is a second poem entitled “The Pilgrimage to St. Nicotine of the Holy Herb”, I only have the first part (I. The Pilgrims). If I can find a copy of the full poem, that too will be posted.


Behold the Legend and the Shrine,

Of Him and all Saints most benign,

The blessedest Saint Nicotine,

The Patron of our Herb Divine.

Stanza I

And now behoves me tell you of our Saint,

And try to sketch, since never a pen could paint,

The dreadful persecutions which he bore;

Beyond all parallel, enough and more

To set up common martyrs half a score.

He was a native of that large New World

Which we know not until Columbus furled

His sails at last after that weary quest

For utmost East which led to utmost West;

Since ever as men sayn extremes will meet,

That so Life’s circles may be all complete.

Millenniums beyond the range of story

He lived and died and won supernal glory,

As sent by the Great Spirit in its grace

For solace to the suffering human race;

But at the first as every is the case

With poor mankind so stupid or so base,

They did maltreat, then tortue, and then kill

Their greatest Benefactor; and as still

Malignant having slaim him, sans remorse

Wreaked direst outrage upon his corse:

Go murder myriads of your fellow men,

You shall be haled a glorious Conqueror and then;

Go bear some message of new love and truth,

You shall be smitted without any ruth:

So be it; who shall criticse the plan

Whereon the good God hath created man?

Stanza II

They first exposed him in the open air

To stand long days and night unmoving there;

Then scalped him as their Indian custom was,

And pinced out pieces from his sides, alas!

And still he smiled with more benignitie

Upon these cruel men, ah, woe is me!

They cut his legs from under him the while

He stood regarding them with that sweet smile;

Then he was hanged, immitigable Fates!

Then taken down and crushed with monstrous weights;

And when the body was all mummy-dry

They cut the backbone out, Oh fie! oh fie!

Then shred down all the flesh as we may shred

A salted ox-tongue, poor dear body dead!

And of the morsels some they ground to dust,

And snuffed it with an eager savage lust;

And some they put in censers to consume

To ashes, and inhaled with joy the fume;

And some these horrid cannibals did bite

And chew and savour with a wild delight:

Such were some tortures of this sweetest Saint,

Whose mere recital makes us sick and faint.

Stanza III

Yet ere that he was wholly done to death

He spake unto them, yea, with his last breath :-

“My friends, my brothers, ye poor wretched men

Who know not your own good; never agen

Will ye be troubled with my voice and glance,

Who came in love, but whom your ignorance

Misweeneth for a foe; my words attend,

And ye shall know I was in sooth your friend;

For I must bless you in your own despite,

Since ill with good we ever should requite:

The boon I brought for you I must bequeathe

Who cannot now bestow it while I breath;

My gift must be a legacy, I fear

Less rich tho’ rich than if I still were here:

Lo from my blood, yea from this very place,

Shall spring and spread an Herb of Holy grace;

Shall spread from North to South, from East to West,

Until the whole land shall by it be blest;

And in the aftertime shall carried be

To other lands beyond the Eastern Sea,

To other lands beyond the Western Main,

Whereof ye wot not, and they shall be fain

Its bountiful beneficence to share,

And tend and cherish it with loving care.

And you must treat it as myself you treat,

That it may still my martyrdom repeat;

Not this for your reproach, friends, but because

It standeth written in the eternal laws,

That what is good in man and everything

Is proved and fortified by suffering.

Its powder then shall spur the weary brain

And make its heavy dulness bright again;

Its juice shall be instead of drunk and food

To famished hunters in their solitude;

Its fumes all pain and sorrow shall allay,

And soothe fatigue and cark and care away:

Yea it shall be to all who peak and pine

A sweet nepenthe and strong anodyne,

And unto all in health and sans annoy

A deep refreshment and a quiet joy:

Sore-wounded men shall yearn for its sweet breath

Beyond all drugs and simples foes to death;

Many diseases shall by it be cured,

And many more prevented ere endured;

A safeguard shall it be against the pest

And all infections that are most unblest;

An incense of devoutest joy and calm,

A nectaeous food, a most ambrosial balm,

The holy healing Herb, the Plant of Grace,

The panacea of the Human Race;

Whose epithets in the far future time

Among far peoples shall be the Sublime,

The Sovereign, the Divine, and truly this

Shall best express its universal bliss.

Not when this comes to pass do ye repent

And over my brief martyrdom lament;

I have sad prescience that your progenie

Remote shall rue and dree it, do not ye;

Ye have but wrought as men are wont to do,

And I have looked for this my whole life through;

Ye only send me earliest to that rest

Where I shall in Eternitie be blest.” -

This spoke our sweet Saint calmly ere he died

Under those savage tortures multiplied.

Stanza IIII

Because the solemn words of dying men

Are awful, hushed they harken to him, then

Began to jeer and torture him again;

To good by far was what he prophesied,

They could but disbelieve him and derride :-

“Lo if he speaketh truly, by his death

We gain at once the prize he prometh;

But if mere falsehoods, then he merits worse

Than we can wreak upon him, with our curse.”

And so they carried out their fell intent

As ye have learnt from this true muniment.

Stanza V

But when they found his marvellous prophecy,

Incredible for gloriousness, no lie

But in its every word the solid truth;

Then joy and sorrow, then delight and ruth,

Then love and anguish, triumph and remorse,

Then wailings for the unexistent corse:

For it is verily a law of Fate

Repentance evermore must come too late;

Since what is done can never be undone

Till backwards on his pathways rolls the sun;

Since that which has been as it was must last,

Nor gods themselves have power upon the Past.

Then they adored his Name as one divine,

And eke the Plant his symbol and his sign;

And evermore its fragrant incense rose

In mild propitiation for his wores.

And when the destined periods were past

Columbus and the others came at last;

Lustful for gold and land, in bands and legions;

And then the people of those Western regions

Were punished for the murder of our Saint;

For some were conquered into hard constraint

Of cruelest servitude; and others killed

By myriads, yea by millions, all unskilled

To cope with the white Centaurs hurling fire;

Some tortured even to a priest’s desire;

While countless others perished in stark dearth,

Or piously improved from off the earth:

Thus was fulfilled what our sweet Saint foresaw,

Divining the austerities of the law.

How frequently the sins of men and nations

Are visited on distant generations,

The sinners going scathless to the tomb;

It is common ordinance of Doom.

Stanza VI

But these adventurers so barbarous there

Brought back to us a blessing past compare,

Back to our poor Old World emerged to light

From the long dreary Madaeval Night;

I mean not those poor things they mainly sought,

As jewels, gold and silver; but they brought

The Legend of that martyrdom acerb,

And above all the testimonial Herb;

The Holy Herb, Tobacco the Divine!

The tale of him we call Saint Nicotine!

(For verily we hold that Master Cope

Can canonise as well as ever a Pope;

And our Saint hath more votaries by far

Than all the other blessèd saints that are,

Nor in the whole huge hagiologie

Is Legend more authentical perdie.)

And ever since, this Plant of glorious grace,

For now three centuries, hath blest our race. -

Doth not compassion make you sigh and moan

When ye reflect that it was all unknown

Unto the lofty ones of former ages,

The heroes, prophets, poets scholars, sages?

That it never did bless with joy and peace

Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Rome or Greece?

But we who have its bounties in full store

Behoves us to be greatful evermore,

To ever love and cherish and adore.

Stanza VII

Lo now you know for why our motley train

Set forth upon this Pilgrimage full fain;

And now you are prepared to look above

And hold the image of the Saint they love.

Behold Him as they see him in his Shrine

In Nephelococcygia the divine,

The City of the Clouds, where took his ease

Our smoker manqué Aristophanes:

The cloud-compeller of the Clouds and Birds,

The smoker of crass Cleon and the herds

Of fools, knaves, rowdies, all the catalogues

That sweel the fortunes of your demagogues;

Your shameless charlatans whose dirty tricks

And frothy gab define all politics,

Shame honest Liberals, delight old Tories,

Retard sure progress, - damn such vomitories!

Ah, if thou hadst but known our precious Herb,

How had it soothed thy humours most acerb!

How its fine fragrance dispelled the fogs

On fens of Brekekekex-coax-croaking Frogs!

(Our poor ears know too weel what rancous rant is

O ye aquatic accents of old Antis!

But now the tadpoles of our squashy noddies

Have just no heads, but are all tumid bodies.)

Its Pythian fumes inspiring heart and brains

To yet more glorious phantasies and strains!

Thou jolliest of all antique roistering jokers,

Only less jolly than our Saint of Smokers.

Stanza VIII

Yea after all his earthly sufferings rude

This is his likeness in beatitude,

As he revealed himself to our PIPESHANK

In lofty vision, for which we thank

His graciousness right fervently be sure:

Regard his radiant aspect fit to cure

All hypochondriacs without other aid;

The shead of censers on his left arm laid

(The more he is incensed the blither he,

For that the incense is so sweet perdie);

The missals in his left hand, or indeed

A pix for Weeds or powder of the WEED?

(Like to all the silver missals given Ravelais,

A flagon for all wines from Beaune to Chablis;

Because that great honour of the gods upstairs

To pour libations down his proper throat);

And above all things else I pray you note

The glorious halo of the Golden Cloud

Wherein his sanctity shines all avowed.

On either side of Him a Lady stands,

Sisters of Mercy with fair liberal hands,

His almoners, the bountiful dispensers

Unto all Pilgrims of his long-stemmed Censers

(Scorners of censorship, that burn sans doubt

All censors’ fingers who would put them out),

The kindlers throng with ferventest desire

And adoration not to be exprest

All devotees who would be truly blest;

Pell-mell they throng in their ecstatic need,

No matter what their politics or creed,

Or rank or nation; actors, men of state,

Journalists, singers, nobles, small and great:

Would you have thought that Shaftesbury and Manning

Could come together without mutual banning?

Could you conceive that Gladstone and Ben Dizzy

Might meet and yet no word of warfare busy?

Or could you think the Sultan and the Czar

Would worship at one altar from afar?

Manning and Shaftesbury are side by side,

Gladstone and Dizzy by one hope allied,

The Czar and the Sultan to the same Shrine press,

Grim Bismarck elbows eloquent Grant, U.S. -

Just note our Liberal leader, well I wis

Behind his followers, as he always is!

His mouth and arms stretched yawning, eyes-a-closing

In heavy-headed and oblivious dozing;

From which if he be wakened, in a scare

He’ll slope and leave his comrades planted there:

No party-leader his, this placid Hartington,

Who like the nobly-valiant Mrs. Partington,

As if engaged with some mere puddle-slop

Opposes stolidly a poor house-mop,

Soft-headed with bedraggled worn-out wigs,

As thus-far-and-no-farther to the rigs

Turbulent, wanton, never-pacified

Of the great Liberal Atlantic tide:

He cuts his party, does he? soon, we wish,

They’ll cut and smoke him as cut Cavendish. -

Some have already got the censers burning

For which the others unappeased are yearning;

While some in pastils the rich Herb consome,

Enraptured with the perfume of the fume,

This is the florious scene our Pilgrims see

As they approach the Saint and bow the knee;

And all its very truth I can attest,

I, Sigvat, who slipt in among the rest,

Wishing like others to be fully blest.

Stanza IX

Good people all, your greatful hearts incline,

However wretched Antis may repine

And whet against us pens and tongues malign,

Their goose-quills and sweet voices asinine,

Let none be aughtways backwards at the sign

To echo fervently this hymn of mine,

But lustily in unison combine,

Be it with beer or toddy, grog or wine.

Or coffee of aroma rich and fine: -

Glory for ever to the gracious SHRINE!

Glory for ever to the HERB DIVINE!

Glory for ever to our most benign

And blessèd Patron sweet SAINT NICOTINE!