Opium

Amid the extensive concerns of the British East-india Company, it is well known that growth and manufacture of Opium has for many years been considered as a great source of public revenue and of private wealth; whole districts have for these purposes been devoted to the culture of the poppy; the superintendence and collection of the taxes have been the employments of officers or high rank in the company's service; and the privilege of the commodity for a season, one of the most lucrative gifts which the Governors of the East could bestow on their nearest connections.

China was the grand mart for this article, and so strong was the attachment of the Chinese to its use, that any quantity sent to Canton was sure to be purchased at a high price. It appears, however, that this valuable traffic will now be lost to the Company, the Chinese Government having discovered that great evils result from the abuse of Opium, the particulars of which have been detailed in instructions from the Fooyuen to the Hoppo at Canton, who has in consequence issued the following Edict, which, after recapitulating the Fooyuen's instructions wholly prohibits the importation of Opium into the Chinese dominions.

'Whereas I have received advices from his Excellency the Fooyuen, setting forth that the ship of foreign nations have long since been permitted to enter at Whampoo, and Macao, in the province of Quantong, for the purpose of carrying on a trade by the free interchange of those commodities which were in demand on the one hand, and superfluous on the other.

'From this general rule, the article of Opium was excepted; a substance of whose composition we are unacquainted, but which is of a violent and powerful nature, and possesses a fetid and odious flavour; being, however, remarkable at the same time for a quality of exciting and raising spirits, it has been sought after, and purchased by persons without fixed homes, of professions, who, having prepared an extract from it, opened shops for this branch of trade.

The use of Opium originally prevailed only among vagrants, and disreputable persons, who associated together for the purpose of partaking of this substance; but it has since extended itself among the members and descendants of reputable families, students, as well as officers of government, who, infatuated in their attachment of this drug, make an habitual use of it.

'Their inducement of this occasion appears to be, the power which this substance communicates by those who partake of it, of not closing their eyes for entire nights, and spending them in gratification of impure and sensual desires, whereby their respective duties and occupations are neglected; when this habit becomes established by frequent repetition, it gains an entire ascendant, and the consumer of Opium is not only unable to forbear the daily use of it; but on passing the accustomed hour, he is immediately seized with pains in the head, and feverish heat; and cannot refrain from tears, or command himself in any degree. For relief, therefore, from these painful symptoms, and to regain his wonted health, he has necessarily recourse to the same pernicious substance.

'When, at length, the gradual and progressive effects of this poison have pervaded the lungs, and the whole bodily frame, the sufferers, with the pale and sickly hue of doves, or small fluttering birds, are no longer within the reach of medical assistance; desirous, though in vain, of quitting so dreadful a practice, they would willingly end it with their lives, by tearing out their entrails in despair.

'The extraordinary expense of this article is further to be noticed, each mace weight of which, in the extract, is exchanged for eight or nine maces in money, and the constant use of it raises at the same time an extraordinary appetite for other kinds of food, which the fortunes of the bulk of the community are unable to satisfy, and are therefore in the course of a few years wholly dilapidated, and wasted away, of these the infirm and weak perish gradually from want and hunger, while the Strong and vigorous become thieves and robbers; the ruin of either being equally certain and inevitable.

'Others again, among the deluded and misjudging people, from trifling causes, or absurd conceits, take the premature resolution of swallowing a decoction of Opium in wine; thus ending their existence by means of readier access, than are the generality of vegetable substances esteemed poisonous and destructive to humane frame.

'The pernicious effects arising from the use of this substance, were formerly confined to Fokien, and Quantong; but have spread, in the course of time, through the other provinces of the Empire, where the eagerness after the traffic and consumption of this article, have even exceeded that of the first introducers.

'This it is, that foreigners, by the means of a vile excrementitious substance, derive from this Empire the most solid profits and advantages; but that our countrymen should blindly pursue this destructive and ensuring vice, even till death is the consequence, without being undeceived, is indeed a fast, odious and deplorable in the highest degree.'

(The Derby Mercury (Derby, England), Thursday, January 7, 1802; Issue 3642. Category: Arts & Entertainment)

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