is surprising that the vast outpouring of words 0n the `drug problem‘
in the last ten years has produced no serious historical examination of
the place of narcotics in English society. Reactions to contemporary
events have been immediate and specific, strangely isolated in their
assumption that drug use is peculiarly a feature of the 1960s and
1970s. This book attempts to fill at least part of that gap by
examining the place of opium in nineteenth-century society, in language
which it is hoped will appeal to that much sought-after being, the
`general reader‘, as much as to the academic historian or drug
researcher. Technical language is kept to a minimum. But where it is
unavoidable, as for instance with the term `narcotic‘ or the battery of
language used to describe drug habits and their pharmacological basis,
readers will find definitions in the Introduction.
This book is,
like any history, the product of its own time. It reflects the
interests of the I970s, and in particular the efflorescence of writing
on social history which has taken place in the last twenty years.
Social history as `history with everything else left out‘ is no longer
acceptable; its place has been taken by a concern for the structure of
social groups, the study of social movements, popular culture, for
urban history and demography. Had this history of opium in the
nineteenth century been written say even ten years ago, it would
undoubtedly have been classified as `medical‘ rather than `social‘
history. It would have concentrated on the `public health‘ aspects of
opium, and would have accepted at face value the testimony 0f the
official reports and inquiries.
Today there is a greater awareness
of the bias of the sources which earlier writers so unhesitatingly and
unquestioningly used, a willingness to use a wider range of evidence or
to ask different questions of it. There is a desire to re-create not
just `official opinion‘ but the actual experience of people living at
the time, and to consider more analytically the contribution of the
social groups involved. This book, in devoting itself primarily to such
matters as the `popular culture‘ of opium, the place of opium in
working-class life, and the contribution of the medical and
pharmaceutical professions to changed perceptions of opium use, rather
than to
the individual experience of `famous opium eaters‘ such as
Thomas De Quincey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is very much the product
of those concerns.

Any writing, historical writing in
particular, is the outcome of cooperation and help, both practically
and in terms of ideas and insights, from a large number of people. In a
joint publication, this is particularly the case. Virginia Berridge, as
a social historian, has been responsible for the historical section
(part of the Introduction and Chapters 1 to 17) and Griffith Edwards,
as a psychiatrist concerned with drug research and the formation of
control policy, for the consideration of the nineteenth century in
relation to the present position and for the section of definitions
(Chapter 18 and part of the Introduction). The inter-disciplinary
nature of the project was an unusual one. It is not often that a
historian is so directly confronted with the contemporary implications
of historical arguments, or that a psychiatrist looks back to the
perceptions and structures which moulded present-day approaches to drug
Comments and criticisms on each other’s drafts have thus
flowed freely. The disjunction between the conclusions of academic
historical research and present-day concerns in many respects remains
great; but the authors feel that they have at least attempted an
exercise in collaboration which could prove productive in other
areas of social policy.
historical research on which the nineteenth-century section is based
has involved the assistance of many others. Virginia Berridge would
like in particular to thank the staffs of the Pharmaceutical Society
and Miss Jones, the librarian; those of the Wellcome Institute for the
History of Medicine, and the Royal Society
of Medicine, the
Society of Friends, the University of London Library, Goldsmiths‘
Library, the Guildhall Library and the library of the Institute of
Actuaries. Her thanks are due to the staff of the Greater London
Council Record Office, Pauline Sears in particular, and the Middlesex
Record Office, to Dr Charles
Newman, Harveian Librarian at the
Royal College of Physicians, and to Patricia Allderidge, archivist of
Bethlem Royal Hospital. The Librarian of Tower Hamlets Local History
Library was helpful in providing access to that library’s unrivalled
collection of material on East London opium `dens‘. The staff of the
British  Museum and the Public Record Office gave considerable
assistance; and the pharmacists and others who provided reminiscences
about the open dispensing of opium at the turn of the century have
added a valuable perspective.
A debt is owed to the many historians
who contributed suggestions and criticisms when earlier versions and
sections of the book were presented as papers. For an historian working
in a non-historical environment there is a danger of becoming isolated;
and particular thanks are due to members of research seminars at the
of Historical Research, at Bedford College Social Research Group and at
University College History of Medicine department who helped ensure
that this did not take place. Members of the Pharmaceutical Society,
the British Society for the History of Pharmacy, the Social History
Society and the Society for the Social History of Medicine also gave
valuable help. A transatlantic perspective was provided by the
contributions from members of  the Social Research Group of the
University of California at Berkeley and the staff of the Center for
Socio-Cultural Research into Drug Use at Columbia University in New
York. Professor E. J. Hobsbawm and Professor F. M. L. Thompson gave
helpful guidance as did Alethea Hayter, Pat Thane, Meta Zimmeck, Anna
Davin and Linda Deer. Phil Kuhn, the late Stella Cripps and Pat
Whitehead worked hard as research assistants on the project at various
We both owe a considerable debt to our colleagues,
ex-colleagues and friends in the Addiction Research Unit. Particular
thanks must go to Margaret Sheehan for unfailingly patient help, to
Gerry Stimson, to Nigel Rawson and Edna Oppenheimer.
drafts have been patiently typed by Pat Davis, Sara Marshall, Jean
Crutch, Linda Stevens and Diane Hallett. But we are especially indebted
to Julia Polglaze, who has provided much more than secretarial
assistance and advice, and to Jacqueline May, who patiently and
expertly produced the final version.

The research on which the
book is based was funded by generous grants from the Drug Abuse Council
in Washington and the United Kingdom Social Science Research Council,
and we would like to express our thanks to both these organizations.




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