Monday, July 16, 2007

Victorian Culture: Drugs


Absinthe artwork

Clergymen and reformers in the 19th century might worry about drugs, and writers from Thomas de Quincey to Aleister Crowley made money from lurid accounts of their use, but they were sold without prescription to anyone who wanted them, over the counter or by mail. In 1839, when the Chinese Empire tried to shut down the opium trade, the British Empire declared war to enforce the right of civilized men to sell drugs – and picked up Hong Kong along the way.


A Victorian cased syringe set

Such interference became widespread in the 20th century; the United States restricted opiates in 1914 (the Harrison Act), alcohol in 1919 (the Prohibition Amendment), and marijuana in 1937 (the Marijuana Tax Act). Many heroes of 20th century popular culture, from the Untouchables to the Lensmen, were enforces of drug laws. Such heroes are an anachronism in the 19th century, when a popular literary character’s regular use of cocaine is a minor eccentricity , comparable to his playing the violin.

Stoddard, W.H. (2000) - Gurps Steampunk, pg. 64, SJG:Austin
[edited for removal of game specific content]

For further information, please follow the links below:

http://drugs.uta.edu/drugs.html (a particularly extensive site on Victorian drug usage)

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