A deft history of opium spans the personal and the politicalIn 1840, Elizabeth Barrett wrote to Robert Browing, asking: "Can I be as good for you as morphine is for me, I wonder, even at the cost of being as bad also?" Both solace and scourge, opium has infiltrated our literary culture and history like no other substance. In the 1660s, Thomas Sydenham created an opium tincture. This purple syrup, laudanum, became the drug of choice for Romantics such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and George Crabbe. Thomas de Quincey spoke of "an apocalypse of the world within me". At the same time, the "lulling charities" of the poppy could help to ease pain – like many tuberculosis sufferers, Chopin passed away while sipping laudanum through a straw. Modern palliative care could not exist without opiates, even while soldiers decimate Afghan poppy fields.The history of opium lives between the intimately personal...
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