Review of A Journal of Eight Days' Journey

By Samuel Johnson

Edited by Jack Lynch from the 1825 Oxford Works; it originally appeared in The Literary Magazine 2, no. 13 (1757). Please send notices of errors to Jack Lynch.


OUR readers may, perhaps, remember, that we gave them a short account of this book, with a letter, extracted from it, in November, 1756. The author then sent us an injunction, to forbear his work, till a second edition should appear: this prohibition was rather too magisterial; for an author is no longer the sole master of a book, which he has given to the publick; yet he has been punctually obeyed; we had no desire to offend him; and, if his character may be estimated by his book, he is a man whose failings may well be pardoned for his virtues.

The second edition is now sent into the world, corrected and enlarged, and yielded up, by the author, to the attacks of criticism. But he shall find in us, no malignity of censure. We wish, indeed, that, among other corrections, he had submitted his pages to the inspection of a grammarian, that the elegancies of one line might not have been disgraced by the improprieties of another; but, with us, to mean well is a degree of merit, which overbalances much greater errours than impurity of style.

We have already given, in our collections, one of the letters, in which Mr. Hanway endeavours to show, that the consumption of tea is injurious to the interest of our country. We shall now endeavour to follow him, regularly, through all his observations on this modern luxury; but, it can scarcely be candid not to make a previous declaration, that he is to expect little justice from the author of this extract, a hardened and shameless tea-drinker, who has, for twenty years, diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and, with tea, welcomes the morning.

He begins by refuting a popular notion, that bohea and green tea are leaves of the same shrub, gathered at different times of the year. He is of opinion, that they are produced by different shrubs. The leaves of tea are gathered in dry weather; then dried and curled over the fire, in copper pans. The Chinese use little green tea, imagining, that it hinders digestion, and excites fevers. How it should have either effect, is not easily discovered; and, if we consider the innumerable prejudices, which prevail concerning our own plants, we shall very little regard these opinions of the Chinese vulgar, which experience does not confirm.

When the Chinese drink tea, they infuse it slightly, and extract only the more volatile parts; but though this seems to require great quantities at a time, yet the author believes, perhaps, only because he has an inclination to believe it, that the English and Dutch use more than all the inhabitants of that extensive empire. The Chinese drink it, sometimes, with acids, seldom with sugar; and this practice our author, who has no intention to find anything right at home, recommends to his countrymen.

The history of the rise and progress of tea-drinking is truly curious. Tea was first imported, from Holland, by the earls of Arlington and Ossory, in 1666; from their ladies the women of quality learned its use. Its price was then three pounds a pound, and continued the same to 1707. In 1715, we began to use green tea, and the practice of drinking it descended to the lower class of the people. In 1720, the French began to send it hither by a clandestine commerce. From 1717 to 1726, we imported, annually, seven hundred thousand pounds. From 1732 to 1742, a million and two hundred thousand pounds were every year brought to London; in some years afterwards three millions; and in 1755, near four millions of pounds, or two thousand tons, in which we are not to reckon that which is surreptitiously introduced, which, perhaps, is nearly as much. Such quantities are, indeed, sufficient to alarm us; it is, at least, worth inquiry, to know what are the qualities of such a plant, and what the consequences of such a trade.

He then proceeds to enumerate the mischiefs of tea, and seems willing to charge upon it every mischief that he can find. He begins, however, by questioning the virtues ascribed to it, and denies that the crews of the Chinese ships are preserved, in their voyage homewards, from the scurvy by tea. About this report I have made some inquiry, and though I cannot find that these crews are wholly exempt from scorbutick maladies, they seem to suffer them less than other mariners, in any course of equal length. This I ascribe to the tea, not as possessing any medicinal qualities, but as tempting them to drink more water, to dilute their salt food more copiously, and, perhaps, to forbear punch, or other strong liquors.

He then proceeds, in the pathetick strain, to tell the ladies how, by drinking tea, they injure their health, and, what is yet more dear, their beauty.

“To what can we ascribe the numerous complaints which prevail? How many sweet creatures of your sex languish with a weak digestion, low spirits, lassitudes, melancholy, and twenty disorders, which, in spite of the faculty, have yet no names, except the general one of nervous complaints? Let them change their diet, and, among other articles, leave off drinking tea, it is more than probable, the greatest part of them will be restored to health.”

“Hot water is also very hurtful to the teeth. The Chinese do not drink their tea so hot as we do, and yet they have had teeth. This cannot be ascribed entirely to sugar, for they use very little, as already observed; but we all know, that hot or cold things, which pain the teeth, destroy them also. If we drank less tea, and used gentle acids for the gums and teeth, particularly sour oranges, though we had a less number of French dentists, I fancy this essential part of beauty would be much better preserved.

“The women in the United Provinces, who sip tea from morning till night, are also as remarkable for bad teeth. They also look pallid, and many are troubled with certain feminine disorders, arising from a relaxed habit. The Portuguese ladies, on the other hand, entertain with sweetmeats, and yet they have very good teeth; but their food, in general, is more of a farinaceous and vegetable kind than ours. They also drink cold water, instead of sipping hot, and never taste any fermented liquors; for these reasons, the use of sugar does not seem to be at all pernicious to them.”

“Men seem to have lost their stature and comeliness, and women their beauty. I am not young, but, methinks, there is not quite so much beauty in this land as there was. Your very chambermaids have lost their bloom, I suppose, by sipping tea. Even the agitations of the passions at cards are not so great enemies to female charms. What Shakespeare ascribes to the concealment of love, is, in this age, more frequently occasioned by the use of tea.”

To raise the fright still higher, he quotes an account of a pig's tail, scalded with tea, on which, however, he does not much insist.

That the diseases, commonly called nervous, tremours, fits, habitual depression, and all the maladies which proceed from laxity and debility, are more frequent than in any former time, is, I believe, true, however deplorable. But this new race of evils will not be expelled by the prohibition of tea. This general languor is the effect of general luxury, of general idleness. If it be most to be found among tea-drinkers, the reason is, that tea is one of the stated amusements of the idle and luxurious. The whole mode of life is changed; every kind of voluntary labour, every exercise that strengthened the nerves, and hardened the muscles, is fallen into disuse. The inhabitants are crowded together in populous cities, so that no occasion of life requires much motion; every one is near to all that he wants; and the rich and delicate seldom pass from one street to another, but in carriages of pleasure. Yet we eat and drink, or strive to eat and drink, like the hunters and huntresses, the farmers and the housewives, of the former generation; and they that pass ten hours in bed, and eight at cards, and the greater part of the other six at the table, are taught to impute to tea all the diseases which a life, unnatural in all its parts, may chance to bring upon them.

Tea, among the greater part of those who use it most, is drunk in no great quantity. As it neither exhilarates the heart, nor stimulates the palate, it is commonly an entertainment merely nominal, a pretence for assembling to prattle, for interrupting business, or diversifying idleness. They, who drink one cup, and, who drink twenty, are equally punctual in preparing or partaking it; and, indeed, there are few but discover, by their indifference about it, that they are brought together not by the tea, but the teatable. Three cups make the common quantity, so slightly impregnated, that, perhaps, they might be tinged with the Athenian cicuta, and produce less effects than these letters charge upon tea.

Our author proceeds to show yet other bad qualities of this hated leaf.

“Green tea, when made strong, even by infusion, is an emetick; nay, I am told, it is used as such in China; a decoction of it certainly performs this operation; yet, by long use, it is drunk by many without such an effect. The infusion also, when it is made strong, and stands long to draw the grosser particles, will convulse the bowels: even in the manner commonly used, it has this effect on some constitutions, as I have already remarked to you from my own experience.

“You see I confess my weakness without reserve; but those who are very fond of tea, if their digestion is weak, and they find themselves disordered, they generally ascribe it to any cause, except the true one. I am aware that the effect, just mentioned, is imputed to the hot water; let it be so, and my argument is still good: but who pretends to say, it is not partly owing to particular kinds of tea? perhaps, such as partake of copperas, which, there is cause to apprehend, is sometimes the case: if we judge from the manner in which it is said to be cured, together with its ordinary effects, there is some foundation for this opinion. Put a drop of strong tea, either green or bohea, but chiefly the former, on the blade of a knife, though it is not corrosive, in the same manner as vitriol, yet there appears to be a corrosive quality in it, very different from that of fruit, which stains the knife.”

He afterwards quotes Paulli, to prove, that tea is a “desiccative, and ought not to be used after the fortieth year.” I have, then, long exceeded the limits of permission, but I comfort myself, that all the enemies of tea cannot be in the right. If tea be a desiccative, according to Paulli, it cannot weaken the fibres, as our author imagines; if it be emetick, it must constringe the stomach, rather than relax it.

The formidable quality of tinging the knife, it has in common with acorns, the bark, and leaves of oak, and every astringent bark or leaf: the copperas, which is given to the tea, is really in the knife. Ink may be made of any ferruginous matter, and astringent vegetable, as it is generally made of galls and copperas.

From tea, the writer digresses to spirituous liquors, about which he will have no controversy with the Literary Magazine; we shall, therefore, insert almost his whole letter, and add to it one testimony, that the mischiefs arising, on every side, from this compendious mode of drunkenness, are enormous and insupportable; equally to be found among the great and the mean; filling palaces with disquiet, and distraction, harder to be borne, as it cannot be mentioned; and overwhelming multitudes with incurable diseases, and unpitied poverty.

“Though tea and gin have spread their baneful influence over this island, and his majesty's other dominions, yet, you may be well assured, that the governors of the Foundling Hospital will exert their utmost skill and vigilance, to prevent the children, under their care, from being poisoned, or enervated by one or the other. This, however, is not the case of workhouses: it is well known, to the shame of those who are charged with the care of them, that gin has been too often permitted to enter their gates; and the debauched appetites of the people, who inhabit these houses, has been urged as a reason for it.

“Desperate diseases require desperate remedies: if laws are rigidly executed against murderers in the highway, those who provide a draught of gin, which we see is murderous, ought not to be countenanced. I am now informed, that in certain hospitals, where the number of the sick used to be about 5600 in 14 years,

From 1704 to 1718, they increased to 8189;
From 1718 to 1734, still augmented to 12,710;
And from 1734 to 1749, multiplied to 38,147.

“What a dreadful spectre does this exhibit! nor must we wonder, when satisfactory evidence was given, before the great council of the nation, that near eight millions of gallons of distilled spirits, at the standard it is commonly reduced to for drinking, was actually consumed annually in drams! the shocking difference in the numbers of the sick, and, we may presume, of the dead also, was supposed to keep pace with gin; and the most ingenious and unprejudiced physicians ascribed it to this cause. What is to be done under these melancholy circumstances? shall we still countenance the distillery, for the sake of the revenue; out of tenderness to the few, who will suffer by its being abolished; for fear of the madness of the people; or that foreigners will run it in upon us? There can be no evil so great as that we now suffer, except the making the same consumption, and paying for it to foreigners in money, which I hope never will be the case.

“As to the revenue, it certainly may be replaced by taxes upon the necessaries of life, even upon the bread we eat, or, in other words, upon the land, which is the great source of supply to the public, and to individuals. Nor can I persuade myself, but that the people may be weaned from the habit of poisoning themselves. The difficulty of smuggling a bulky liquid, joined to the severity which ought to be exercised towards smugglers, whose illegal commerce is of so infernal a nature, must, in time, produce the effect desired. Spirituous liquors being abolished, instead of having the most undisciplined and abandoned poor, we might soon boast a race of men, temperate, religious, and industrious, even to a proverb. We should soon see the ponderous burden of the poor's rate decrease, and the beauty and strength of the land rejuvenate. Schools, workhouses, and hospitals, might then be sufficient to clear our streets of distress and misery, which never will be the case, whilst the love of poison prevails, and the means of ruin is sold in above one thousand houses in the city of London, in two thousand two hundred in Westminster, and one thousand nine hundred and thirty in Holborn and St. Giles's.

“But if other uses still demand liquid fire, I would really propose, that it should be sold only in quart bottles, sealed up, with the king's seal, with a very high duty, and none sold without being mixed with a strong emetic.

“Many become objects of charity by their intemperance, and this excludes others, who are such by the unavoidable accidents of life, or who cannot, by any means, support themselves. Hence it appears, that the introducing new habits of life, is the most substantial charity; and that the regulation of charity-schools, hospitals, and workhouses, not the augmentation of their number, can make them answer the wise ends, for which they were instituted.

“The children of beggars should be also taken from them, and bred up to labour, as children of the public. Thus the distressed might be relieved, at a sixth part of the present expense; the idle be compelled to work or starve; and the mad be sent to Bedlam. We should not see human nature disgraced by the aged, the maimed, the sickly, and young children, begging their bread; nor would compassion be abused by those, who have reduced it to an art to catch the unwary. Nothing is wanting but common sense and honesty in the execution of laws.

“To prevent such abuse in the streets, seems more practicable than to abolish bad habits within doors, where greater numbers perish. We see, in many familiar instances, the fatal effects of example. The careless spending of time among servants, who are charged with the care of infants, is often fatal: the nurse frequently destroys the child! the poor infant, being left neglected, expires whilst she is sipping her tea! This may appear to you as rank prejudice, or jest; but, I am assured, from the most indubitable evidence, that many very extraordinary cases of this kind have really happened, among those whose duty does not permit of such kind of habits.

“It is partly from such causes, that nurses of the children of the public often forget themselves, and become impatient when infants cry; the next step to this is using extraordinary means to quiet them. I have already mentioned the term killing nurse, as known in some work-houses: Venice treacle, poppy water, and Godfrey's cordial, have been the kind instruments of lulling the child to his everlasting rest. If these pious women could send up an ejaculation, when the child expired, all was well, and no questions asked by the superiors. An ingenious friend of mine informs me, that this has been so often the case, in some workhouses, that Venice treacle has acquired the appellation of ‘the Lord have mercy upon me,’ in allusion to the nurses' hackneyed expression of pretended grief, when infants expire! Farewell.”

I know not upon what observation Mr. Hanway founds his confidence in the governours of the Foundling Hospital, men of whom I have not any knowledge, but whom I entreat to consider a little the minds, as well as bodies, of the children. I am inclined to believe irreligion equally pernicious with gin and tea, and, therefore, think it not unseasonable to mention, that, when, a few months ago, I wandered through the hospital, I found not a child that seemed to have heard of his creed, or the commandments. To breed up children in this manner, is to rescue them from an early grave, that they may find employment for the gibbet; from dying in innocence, that they may perish by their crimes.

Having considered the effects of tea upon the health of the drinker, which, I think, he has aggravated in the vehemence of his zeal, and which, after soliciting them by this watery luxury, year after year, I have not yet felt, he proceeds to examine, how it may be shown to affect our interest; and first calculates the national loss, by the time spent in drinking tea. I have no desire to appear captious, and shall, therefore, readily admit, that tea is a liquor not proper for the lower classes of the people, as it supplies no strength to labour, or relief to disease, but gratifies the taste, without nourishing the body. It is a barren superfluity, to which those who can hardly procure what nature requires, cannot prudently habituate themselves. Its proper use is to amuse the idle, and relax the studious, and dilute the full meals of those who cannot use exercise, and will not use abstinence. That time is lost in this insipid entertainment cannot be denied; many trifle away, at the tea-table, those moments which would be better spent; but that any national detriment can be inferred from this waste of time, does not evidently appear, because I know not that any work remains undone, for want of hands. Our manufactures seem to be limited, not by the possibility of work, but by the possibility of sale.

His next argument is more clear. He affirms, that one hundred and fifty thousand pounds, in silver, are paid to the Chinese, annually, for three millions of pounds of tea, and, that for two millions more, brought clandestinely from the neighbouring coasts, we pay, at twenty-pence a pound, one hundred sixty-six thousand six hundred and sixty-six pounds. The author justly conceives, that this computation will waken us; for, says he: “the loss of health, the loss of time, the injury of morals, are not very sensibly felt by some, who are alarmed when you talk of the loss of money.” But he excuses the East India company, as men not obliged to be political arithmeticians, or to inquire so much, what the nation loses, as how themselves may grow rich. It is certain, that they, who drink tea, have no right to complain of those that import it; but if Mr. Hanway's computation be just, the importation, and the use of it, ought, at once, to be stopped by a penal law.

The author allows one slight argument in favour of tea, which, in my opinion, might be, with far greater justice, urged both against that and many other parts of our naval trade. “The tea-trade employs,” he tells us, “six ships, and five or six hundred seamen, sent annually to China. It, likewise, brings in a revenue of three hundred and sixty thousand pounds, which, as a tax on luxury, may be considered as of great utility to the state.” The utility of this tax I cannot find: a tax on luxury is no better than another tax, unless it hinders luxury, which cannot be said of the impost upon tea, while it is thus used by the great and the mean, the rich and the poor. The truth is, that, by the loss of one hundred and fifty thousand pounds, we procure the means of shifting three hundred and sixty thousand, at best, only from one hand to another; but, perhaps, sometimes into hands by which it is not very honestly employed. Of the five or six hundred seamen, sent to China, I am told, that sometimes half, commonly a third part, perish in the voyage; so that, instead of setting this navigation against the inconveniencies already alleged, we may add to them, the yearly loss of two hundred men, in the prime of life; and reckon, that the trade of China has destroyed ten thousand men, since the beginning of this century.

If tea be thus pernicious, if it impoverishes our country, if it raises temptation, and gives opportunity to illicit commerce, which I have always looked on, as one of the strongest evidences of the inefficacy of our law, the weakness of our government, and the corruption of our people, let us, at once, resolve to prohibit it for ever.

“If the question was, how to promote industry most advantageously, in lieu of our tea-trade, supposing every branch of our commerce to be already fully supplied with men and money? If a quarter the sum, now spent in tea, were laid out, annually, in plantations, in making public gardens, in paving and widening streets, in making roads, in rendering rivers navigable, erecting palaces, building bridges, or neat and convenient houses, where are now only huts; draining lands, or rendering those, which are now barren, of some use; should we not be gainers, and provide more for health, pleasure, and long life, compared with the consequences of the tea-trade?”

Our riches would be much better employed to these purposes; but if this project does not please, let us first resolve to save our money, and we shall, afterwards, very easily find ways to spend it.