I write historicals. I buy them, I read them, I even speak them.
“Do you want to make a quick run to get coffee?”
“I can’t. I’m already in my nightrail.”
Nightrail is a common Regency term for nightgown. Peckish is a term for hungry. Foxed is a term for tipsy. These words, and others, have slipped into my vocabulary.
But today, I want to talk about another staple of the Regency period: laudanum. It was a painkiller, much like aspirin is today, and it is not in my vocabulary.
Laudanum is an opiate, containing almost all of the opium alkaloids, making it very strong, depending on dosage. In the Regency period it was available in many forms, but was most widely found in tinctures which were ten percent opium and ninety percent alcohol.
The medicine was sold by apothecaries, but also in pubs, general merchandise establishments, and a number of other places. Amounts were not regulated and while it was often prescribed by physicians and surgeons, a prescription was not needed. It was even prescribed for children.
Most people took it sparingly for minor afflictions. But others, who had more serious complaints, eventually found themselves addicted. In the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
“I was seduced into the ACCURSED Habit ignorantly – I had been almost bed ridden for many months with swelling in my knees – in a medical journal I happily met with an account of a cure performed in a similar case … by rubbing in of Laudanum, at the same time taking a given dose internally – it acted like a charm, like a miracle! At length, the unusual stimulus subsided – the complaint returned.”
In my latest Regency, Scandal’s Promise, out today, my hero has returned from the Napoleonic Wars where he was wounded in the shoulder. While given morphine initially, he was told to continue to take laudanum until his shoulder healed. He finds the pain subsides, only to return, and he takes more and more of the drug until he’s sure he’s addicted and vows to do something about it.
While researching addiction and withdrawal, I interviewed recovering addicts who had been clean and sober for several years. I was told that those who take opiates for long-term pain find they must continually increase dosage to get the same relief. They also said people who choose to go through withdrawal today usually do it under medical supervision and with the aid of synthetic drugs that help them through the process safely.
In 1816, the time period for my book, withdrawal would have been a dangerous, nasty process needing sheer will power and determination. My hero’s vow took courage, but he had great motivation.
Was laudanum ever regulated? The 1868 Pharmacy Act in England stated that only registered chemists could sell opium-based preparations, but the Act failed to limit the amount that could be sold. It was still widely in use in Britain until the opium trade ended around 1910.
Some notables who admitted to using laudanum included Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Dickens, Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron, Bram Stoker among others. Most folk medicines, like those sold in the old West, also contained small amounts of opiates, so it’s possible our ancestors became acquainted with them.
By 1899 aspirin had been developed and grew to be the painkiller of choice for most. But laudanum is still available—now by prescription only.
August 19, 2020
Historical ~ Regency ~ Enemies to Lovers ~ Second-Chance
Haunted by questions and her own insecurities, Lady Emily Sinclair longs to discover why her betrothed abandoned her and married another. Seven years have passed, but the pain of his betrayal still lingers, buried beneath layers of humiliation and mistrust. When he returns after the Napoleonic Wars, she vows to avoid him. If only her foolish heart felt the same.
Broken and addicted to his medication, widower Andrew Quimby, Lord Cardmore, rattles around his ancient manor, oblivious to his deteriorating health and state of mind. When he learns the woman he was forced to abandon remains unmarried, he vows to try to win her back, even if it means returning to a society he despises.
But Andrew soon discovers he has a secret enemy. Threatening notes appear and sinister accidents put those in his inner circle in danger. Can he overcome his demons in time to keep them safe, or will everyone and everything he loves disappear forever?
More About Pamela
Author of eight books on California history and fifteen romance novels, Pamela Gibson is a former City Manager who lives in the Nevada desert. Having spent the last three years messing about in boats, a hobby that included a five-thousand-mile trip in a 32-foot Nordic Tug, she now spends most of her time indoors happily reading, writing, cooking and keeping up with the antics of Ralph, the Rescue Cat. If you want to learn more about her activities go to https://www.pamelagibsonwrites.com and sign up for her quarterly newsletter and occasional blog. Or follow her in these places: