Introduction of Opium to Britain

Lord Herny is written as looking at Basil "through the thin blue wreaths of smoke that curled up in such fanciful whorls from his heavy, opium-tainted cigarette" (Wilde). The introduction of Opium into British society began in the early 1600s when the East India Company began to trade with India. During this time, other goods were traded from India such as silk and sugar and in return, the British traded back wool and silver. However, by 1773 Great Britain had become the most frequent buyers of opium. Opium was used medicinally to cure pain, insomnia, and dysentery but its most popular use in Britain was recreational. People consume it by smoking it or through laudanum, a mixture of alcohol and opium. It wasn’t until the early 1800s that it was discovered opium was addictive. Many famous writers and poets had become addicted to the drug including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. It was popular because it was usually cheaper than alcohol when in the form of laudanum.  By 1868, laudanum and opium were labeled as poisons and were restricted, only sold through chemists; This means that at the time The Picture of Dorian Gray was published in 1890, the opium smoked by Lord Henry was known to be dangerous.

Oh to feel young again! From the blue vapors of an opium laced cigarette, I feel as though I am free from age. Age is such a fickle thing; I can’t sleep anymore, my knees ache from age. My face is wrinkled. My hair gray. Gray! Can you believe it? The Adonis I once was…now I am old. But when shrouding myself in this blue curtain I feel as though age’s ugly and tattered blanket has been lifted off of me and I am new. I think about my youth (what a fleeting thing it was, like a hummingbird drinking out of a rose) and how invincible and infinite I was. And now look at me, feeling alive only by the inhalation of the sky itself. Sometimes the only thing that puts me to rest at last is a swig of the sweet liquid from a blown amber bottle. Maybe soon I will finally succumb to it, become one with it. Maybe in the sky I will be young and lovely forever. Until then, however, I am stuck on Earth’s crusted plane. Sometimes I think that I must be as old as the Earth, I definitely look as such! For now, I am here with the eternal flame of my opium laced cigarette; us against time.

Works Cited

Cock-Starkey, Claire. “The Lure of Laudanum, the Victorians’ Favorite Drug” Mental Floss, 29 November 2016,

“Drug Use During the Victorian Era”, Victorian Era, 2020,

McNamara, Robert. "East India Company." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020,

The Editors of the Encyclopedia of Britannica. “Opium Trade”, Encyclopedia Britannica, 12 May 2020,

Wilde, Oscar.The Picture of Dorian Gray. Cove Studio. 1890,

Associated Place(s)

Event date:

circa. 1600

Parent Chronology: