by Revilo P. Oliver
I SUPPOSE there still are many who escaped or survived the blight of the public schools and read English literature, including that of the Nineteenth Century. I wonder how many have noticed in many writings of that great age a lesson on the basic structure of civilized society that is particularly relevant today.
De Quincey was one of the great masters of English prose. The best-known of his many works is the Confessions of an English Opium Eater, from which you will have learned that in his time opium was as generally available and not much more expensive than is aspirin today. From Wilkie Collins’ delightful Moonstone, you learned that every respectable British household kept on hand a supply of common medicines, including laudanum, the tincture of opium, which was used freely to relieve insomnia, neuralgic pains, and the like.
Dickens’ Mystery of Edwin Drood opens in a squalid opium den, frequented by a small assortment of human garbage, where John Jasper, the eminent and highly respected organist of one of England’s great cathedrals, awakes from a stupor induced by smoking opium. The den is an unsavory but entirely legitimate business in the cathedral town. Everyone knows that Sherlock Holmes used to escape ennui with hypodermic injections of a solution of cocaine, although Dr. Watson warned him that excessive use of cocaine might be injurious to his health. And in one story, Dr. Watson goes to an opium den in Limehouse to bring home a friend whose wife is worried by his absence.
One could add a score or more of examples that show the modern reader that narcotic drugs, opium, cocaine, and their derivatives, were freely available at moderate prices to everyone who wished to purchase them, and that no one was worried by that fact. The drugs were, of course, as freely available in this country. In the early years of this century, the catalogues of Sears, Roebuck & Co., a large mail-order house, offered a variety of tonics made from cocaine. And if you have read the biography of Harry Elmer Barnes, you will recall that when he was earning money for his years in college, he worked as a pharmacist and naturally sold cocaine and, no doubt, morphine and other derivatives of opium to anyone who asked for them.
The attitude of society at that time is expressed by the eminent British pharmacologist, Edward Morell Holmes, who, around 1910, discussed the use of opium in the Orient and concluded that the government of China had good reason to try to restrict the use of opium by the Chinese. He did not even think of a possible restriction of the sale of the narcotics in Anglo-Saxon nations. It was true that some persons did become addicted to and dependent on such drugs, but other persons became alcoholics. Addiction to alcohol and drugs was simply proof of the weak will-power of “moral imbeciles,” who were commonly “addicted to other forms of depravity” also, and he implies that such individuals are no loss to society. It is taken for granted that the sooner such individuals rid society of themselves, the better.
There was no “drug problem,” no hysterical running about the world to inhibit the production of narcotics and make them expensive and highly lucrative, because society before 1914 took the common sense view that it is foolish and futile to try to save individuals from themselves. There was no “drug problem” because our world was governed by a force far more powerful and effective than frantic legislation and hordes of policemen: the ethos of Aryan civilization, which had, as yet, been only marginally rotted by the proletarian fever with which it was infected by its alien enemies.
It was world dominated by a species now virtually extinct: ladies and gentlemen. A gentleman drank in moderation and might even become inebriated on special occasions, but his inner moral force and his self-respect kept him from addiction and enslavement to physical or psychic drugs, whether alcohol, opium, or hallucinatory superstitions.
If our race, in a now problematical future, recovers its independence and again has nations of its own, it will have to recreate the racial ethos without which a civilized society cannot endure.
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Source: Liberty Bell magazine, July 1987
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