Friday, December 14, 2012

The Mysteries of Opium Reveal'd

It would be interesting to read an essay on the various ways in which drugs have manifested themselves in Welsh culture. Certainly there is no shortage of narcotically-related material. From the distinctly psilocybic transformational myths of The Mabinogion to Howard Marks; from Johnny Hop to Operation Julie; from Smokin' by the Super Furry Animals to Katherine Jenkins' cocaine confession, drugs have long been a presence lurking at the darker edges of our culture.

An early and often overlooked example of drugs literature written by a Welsh person is The Mysteries of Opium Reveal'd (1700) by John Jones. The author's exact birthplace remains unknown though it is thought his family hailed from Pentyrch. Educated at Jesus College, Oxford, Jones went on to become a physician and lawyer. In 1686 he became Chancellor of Llandaff. It was during this period that he wrote his monograph on opium. Evidently an enthusiastic user he believed that the drug could not only dull pain but increase sexual desire and improve sexual performance. His opium as aphrodisiac theory might surprise the modern reader. Jones also described in clinical detail the agonies of withdrawal - making him one of the first writers in western Europe to do so. Jones died in 1709 and is buried near the west door of Llandaff Cathedral. The Mysteries of Opium Reveal'd has recently been digitised and you can read it in full here.