|Opium poppy - from Wikipedia|
“Let me have some Laudanum.”
“Certainly, miss. Excuse my asking the question – it is only a matter of form. You are staying at Aldborough, I think?”
“Yes. I am Miss Bygrave of North Shingles.”
The chemist bowed; and, turning to his shelves, filled an ordinary half-ounce bottle with laudanum immediately. In ascertaining his customer’s name and address beforehand, the owner of the shop had taken a precaution which was natural to a careful man, but which was by no means universal, under similar circumstances, in the state of the law at the time.
“Shall I put you up a little cotton wool with the laudanum?” he asked, after he had placed a label on the bottle, and had written a word on it in large letters.
“If you please. What have you just written on the bottle?” She put the question sharply, with something of distrust as well as curiosity in her manner. The chemist answered the question by turning the label toward her. She saw written on it in large letters – POISON.
“I like to be on the safe side, miss,” said the old man, smiling. “Very worthy people in other respects are often sadly careless where poisons are concerned.”
Wilkie Collins - No Name
Wilkie Collins mentions laudanum about 80 times in his writings while Dickens referred to it only 20 times. Not surprising as Collins took laudanum to ease the pain of rheumatic gout and would have been well aware of real life transactions like this. On the whole I think Victorians had a good understanding of drugs such as laudanum and other forms of opium - just as they were familiar with many dangers we are now less aware of.
Who was the man who invented laudanum? I thank him from the bottom of my heart whoever he was. If all the miserable wretches in pain of body and mind, whose comforter he has been, could meet together to sing his praises, what a chorus it would be!
I have had six delicious hours of oblivion; I have woke up with my mind composed; I have written a perfect little letter to Midwinter; I have drunk my nice cup of tea, with a real relish of it; I have dawdled over my morning toilet with an exquisite sense of relief – and all through the modest little bottle of “Drops”, you are a darling! If I love nothing else, I love you.
Wilkie Collins – Armadale
The quote is from Lydia Gwilt – the anti-heroine of the story and a fallen woman in the eyes of society. Again, the dangers of laudanum are presented in a way that his Victorian audience would understand very well.