Laudanum bottles, 19th century.

Laudanum bottles, 19th century.

Exton, David

© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

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Laudanum consists of opium disolved in alcohol. It was first introduced by a Swis physician named Paracelsus in the 16th century, but became popular in the 19th century as a treatment for a wide variety of ailments, and particularly as a painkiller. Laudanum's addictive character was not initially realised, but by Victorian times it was a widely consumed narcotic. Well-known literary figures including Shelley, Byron, Coleridge and Dickens were habitual users of laudanum. Some of Coleridge's finest poems are reputed to have been written while under the influence of the drug.
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