Up In Smoke: America Celebrates National Cigar Day

As traditional men in our more seasoned lives, we tend to advance through this age of crisis and uncertainty, longing for the Hegelian synthesis of stability and change, continuing to defy our loftier years through performing sterling, upright deeds to shoulder the burden of worldly progress. To those classic gentlemen who enjoy a good smoke, searching for words can only aspire to tell the hidden spirit of a fine cigar, reveling in its mystery, its dignified melancholy, its charm and understated elegance. To revel in all its glory, the cigar’s hardy, well-balanced smoke brings us delight from the thrill of the draw, mingled with strong attractions from its lingering aroma and satisfying bouquet. Its splendor arrives from the silent finish lingering on the palate, where the beholder perceives the awful glory of his being, unworn by men, and transformed only by the slow change of the ages through time everlasting.

To the traditional man, his cigar holds something of the purple in it, the kid glove, the blue stocking of a glorious past and golden bygone era. The gloriously powerful and noble cigar, whose fate is to rivet and quietly fatigue the attention of life’s civilized day-to-day toils. To be carefree and easy for the moment and lost in the total eclipse of the everlasting plume of the blue-grey cloud. The classic man’s love of cigars is part of his general sense of the robust joy of life, a joy from which smaller men would avoid and shrink from life’s endless curiosities and aspirations. As personal character and initiative are the prime prerequisites in business and the arts, so is the cigar reveling as a silent companion in the glory of industry, good work and the joy of living. That intense joy of happiness upon which we do well to touch only with the light hand of reverence. Thomas Hood, the 18th century poet, summed it up beautifully in his reflective and carefree poem:

To have my choice among,
The toys of life’s bazaar,
The deuce may take them all,
So I may have my cigar.

Hood’s lofty praise consumes us when used to describe the simple and elegant style of honoring the traditional Ivy man’s cigar, as with Kant within its own categorical imperative, properly placed within the full spiritual realm of those who aspire to the lofty aims of life. So let us praise the stability and tradition of our Ivy style men, in all walks of life, in diplomacy, science and the arts who are the gentlemen smokers, attentive to their affairs, untiring, original, and sagacious in every sound effort and way, with dash, pluck, courage, and redeeming love for their cigars – a punctual and in- austere adherence possessed by the rare faculty of everlasting companionship. Little can be done for the mass of mankind by the most enlightened and high- minded if they cannot make man-to-man friendships without appreciating more than a light and passing respect for the little things cherished by their own inclinations. Contemporaries may recall the classic Ivy style man’s clean and lofty aims in life with the happy reflection – the chief thing about him is “his loyalty to his own passionate hobbies, chiefly his cigars,” and the quixotic exaltation of this resolve, tempered in nobility with a genial boyishness, from which, for his many stirrings and ambitions, the quiet central things in life, like his cigar, count more.

Those sentiments are simple enough; but championing the brilliant, unflogging, and undaunted action upon the principles of the basic central things in life is so rare it’s hardly recognized as merit anymore. And if this world is ever to become more of what we hope some day it may become, it must be by the general recognition that the quiet central things in life, as in the smoke of a fine cigar, all contribute to the true and supreme value of a classic man’s worth and dignity. The pleasure of his cigar plays an essential role to his being, it’s the most dearest companion to his heart and soul in helping him to surpass that certain flatness of his mundane day-to-day activities.

The traditional smoker as such, like the transcendentalist, is a definition in balanced synthesis. Like poet Pope’s famous penned lines: “Homer was the greatest genius; Virgil the better artist: in the one, we most admire the man; in the other, the work. Homer hurries us with a commanding impetuosity; Virgil leads us with an attractive majesty ….” The cigar’s dichotomy is similar – it can be either commanding impetuosity or attractive majesty to the beholder. It takes in the man as a whole. The cigar is a satisfying force which brings us back down to reality – like Keat’s Grecian urn, it “.. teases us out of thought/As doth eternity.”

As such, we classic Ivy-styled men carry on the unwavering beacon of tradition, combining to a high degree the qualities of manliness with uprightness and cleanliness of character. On the outside it’s a pleasure to deal with such a man of high ideals who scorns everything mean and base, and who possesses those robust and hardy qualities of body and mind, for the lack of which no negative virtue could ever atone. While smoking he draws as good a picture of himself as his best friend could ever have done. Thomas Finch, a judge, poet and academic from the 1800s, had the promptitude to recognize the greatness of tradition and the classic gentleman’s cigar in his initial stanzas of Smoking Away:

Floating away like the fountains’ spray,
Or the snow-white plume of a maiden,
The smoke-wreaths rise to the starlit skies
With blissful fragrance laden.
Then smoke away till a golden ray
Lights up the dawn of the morrow,
For a cheerful cigar, like a shield, will bar,
The blows of care and sorrow.

Traditional gentlemen become enthralled by the sheer energy of their classic Ivy style with fine cigars, an atmosphere of earnestness and purity – the logic, the discipline of genius become self evident. In the formidable and supreme trial he holds his own unintentionally – by seeking the gentle truth among the hallow of intimacy of his faithful Havana smoke. We’ve never seen a more eager, high minded and efficient set of smokers than that portrayed in this century’s traditional Ivy style gentlemen. In heightened capacity and devotion these classic men of today have rapidly evolved, their horizons becoming vast to tame and conquer the uncertainty of today’s massive challenges.

The quiet and noble cigar, its fine smoke vitalizing the beholder, illuminating life at numberless points, giving a flashing sort of intuitive process characteristic to every classic gentlemanly figure within the world’s great gift of high minded men that lasts forever, and everlasting. — WILLIAM SWALM

William Swalm developed a passion for cigars during his early career in investment banking with Lehman Bros. and Oppenheimer & Co. at a time when cigar smoking was prevalent in the office in the banking industry. The above article is a modified passage from Swalm’s upcoming book entitled “Leaders and Cigars: Portraits of a Passion.” He received his M.B.A. degree from the Wharton School and his B.A. degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He previously wrote for Ivy Style about how the twilight years of the Ivy League Look fluctuated over the decades

6 Comments on "Up In Smoke: America Celebrates National Cigar Day"

  1. I’m not a smoker, but I understand from reading Kipling: A good cigar is a smoke.

  2. Minimalist Trad | February 27, 2021 at 11:13 pm |

    Having always associated cigars with Wall Street bankers, captains of industry, and short, fat gangsters, they’ve never had any appeal for me. I do, however, applaud Mr. Swalm on his literary style.

  3. To me, there is nothing sadder than an empty humidor.

  4. Old School Tie | February 28, 2021 at 8:21 am |

    Do people still smoke? No smoking in bars and restaurants mean my clothes do not end up smelling like an ashtray.

  5. Katharine Cornell | March 1, 2021 at 8:58 am |

    Bravo Billy! Envisioned my dear departed Bill hidden in some passages…a delightful, insightful read.

  6. Jesse Livermore | March 1, 2021 at 1:08 pm |

    After a truly good meal, an outstanding cigar is still the most satisfying after-dinner activity that doesn’t involve two human beings.

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