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Opium Use In Victorian England And Its Impact On Literature

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Plant with the Latin name Papaver somniferum through a process of cutting the seedpod so that the juice oozes out and then drying it and combining it with other substances (Booth, 1998, pp. It has a soporific effect and is a relaxant and an efficient painkiller. Side effects include appetite suppression and vivid dreams, along with addiction over time, and depression/anxiety during withdrawal periods. The drug appears to have been known as far back as Neolithic times, and historical evidence proves it was used by the ancient Egyptians, and the also the Romans who linked it to Morpheus, the god of sleep and dreams.

(Plant, 1999, p. The opiate drug morphine is named after this. The poppies grow in Europe and across Asia, and during the middle ages the drug was traded all around the Mediterranean and brought increasingly to Western Europe for medical purposes. The Victorians made it into pills or combined it with alcohol to make a preparation called laudanum which was taken by the drop from a bottle. In those days this was seen as an entirely normal and logical thing to do, and the drug was used even for very young babies, ensuring that they would sleep for long periods and not cause their mothers or carers too much trouble.

(Booth, 1998, p. One of the first British authors to publicly link his use of laudanum with the act of writing poetry was Coleridge. He was the son of a vicar, born in a large but respectable family in Devon, and a great lover of books and poetry. He claimed that he wrote his mysterious poem Kubla Khan in 1797 (Coleridge, 1985, p.

104-5) immediately after waking up from an opium-induced deep sleep. He writes about himself saying that he felt able to write some two or three hundred lines “ without any sensation or consciousness of effort” . (Coleridge, 1985, p. 102) but then a messenger interrupted him in the middle of writing it down and the resulting fragment is “ some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision” , implying that Coleridge would have been able to fully record the magnificence of the vision.

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