Romancing History

Join Lily Silver in a Romantic waltz through History with unique stories of enduring love.

Absinthe; Have You Met The Green Fairy?


In the 19th century, a new popular drink was introduced, Absinthe!  It made from distillation of certain herbs in alcohol, mainly Artemisia Absinthium, or wormwood.  


This potent mix was 120 proof. It was not aged or fermented, like alcohol as we know it. It could be steeped for 24 hours and then distilled further through steam methods to make the lovely emerald green drink that artists and writers came to love. 


The idea was to have only one glass, not the whole bottle. We know from addictions today that those who craved the high from this drink would not have stopped at one glass per evening.  


The painting above depicts the Green Fairy, said be brought forth by sipping Absinthe, coming to a writer's loft to infuse him with creativity. Note her hands on his head, and the papers strewn about the floor behind him. 



While writing my 10th novel, Some Enchanted Dream, I researched the use of Absinthe in 1889 Paris. It was made more popular due to a blight in the grape harvest years earlier and was at that time cheaper than wine.  


One book I researched on Paris life in the 19th century spoke of the Green Hour, or 

L' Heure Verte, a time from 5 to 7pm in Paris when people sat in cafes sipping the popular drink. It is said you could smell the scent of Absinthe being carried on the evening air through the boulevards. Men and women indulged in the drink , and creative types had learned in earlier decades that this drink did pack quite an inspirational punch.



 In the early 20th century it was banned in some countries and no longer produced. Studies show the wormwood in it proved to affect the brain with heavy use, as with any such elixir reputed to be a boon to mankind. So, wormwood could be the cause for madness reported in some artist's lives, like Van Gogh or Toulouse-Lautrec. Both spent time in asylums for the mentally ill. Van Gogh shot himself, committing suicide about a year after being released from one, while Toulouse-Lautrec died in an asylum at a relatively early age. 


This drink was readily available in every shop and cafe in Paris of the 19th century, and it's folklore and the attributes of creativity and inspiration made it as popular as Coca Cola in later Victorian times. Yes, it was a lovely time in Paris, a time when strolling the boulevards in the early evening you might be able to pop into a cafe and have a drink of Absinthe with your favorite French artist. 


Here's to the Green Fairy, Absinthe and the lovely image of The Green Hour. 

     The Late 18th Century English Loved
            Their Gothic Tales!

Many People don't realize that the craze for Gothic Literature began in the late 18th century with writer Ann Radcliffe. Radcliffe wrote several Gothic romances that influenced later writers such as Jane Austen, Mary Shelly, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe. Even Bram Stoker was influenced by this charming, reclusive female author. 

 

This print is a caricature created by James Gilray. It was a satire of the current fashion for Gothic Novels. Note the expressions of suspense and anticipation on the listeners. Print was published by H. Humprey in 1802. 

Want to learn more about the First Lady of Gothic Literature?   Strictly gothic blog

 

Goya's Painting depicts Cruelties of War in 1808 Spain

 

This Famous painting depicts some of the horrors of the war in Spain in the early 19th Century. Spain had been France's and Napoleon's ally against Great Britain, but then Napoleon invaded Spain and deposed the Spanish King. He placed his own brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the throne in Spain in July of 1808 as Jose' I.  Seeing this as a betrayal, the Spanish rose up against the invader. This scene depicts the French firing squad lining up citizens of Madrid who took part in a rebellion on May 2nd, 1808 and shooting them on the morning of May 3rd, 1808.

My newest novel, (Still working on it) Gallant Rogue, takes place in Spain during this time, as Chloe Ramirez journeys from the safety of her home in the Caribbean in an attempt to connect with her Spanish family. She, and her hero, Captain Jack Rawlings, will encounter scenes such as this during their adventure in Spain. 


Confessions of an Opium Eater:                                    Laudanum use in the 18th Century

 

 

If you were suffering from pain or discomfort in the 18th century, you could self medicate without any difficulty, provided you had sufficient funds. Laudanum was widely used by everyone, no prescription required. It is interesting to note that Laudanum was available as a street drug, considering the base ingredient in it was opium.The juice of the poppy was scraped from the pods and dried, and then the dried paste was mixed with a 90%  alcohol base to dilute it. It was said to be very bitter. The drug was used freely by the wealthier classes, prescribed for nearly everything from melancholy, pain, nervousness, as a sleep aid, even for mild afflictions such as tooth aches or menstrual cramps. In a word, it was passed about the way we use aspirin or advil today. 

 Diagram of a Poppy

 

 While Laudanum was recognized by some physicians to be addictive if used too frequently, its use was not regulated until the early 20th century.  In 1821, work was published anonymously in The London Magazine entitled "Confessions of an English Opium Eater", depicting the writer's experiences with regularly using Laudanum from 1804-1812. The work has many parts, some entitled, "The Pleasures of Opium" extolling the positive virtues of the potion and it's effects on the writer's life. Later in the work, the author reveals his difficulties with the drug in a section entitled "The Pain of Opium". 

The article, and later the book were written by Thomas De Young. It was published first in book form in 1822. The work was criticized from it's inception because it was perceived to present a much too positive and seductive a picture of opium use that may have influenced successive generations in the 19th century to embrace it's narcotic effects for pleasure and adventure, not merely for medicinal purposes. 

For further reading check out this interesting blog article on Meriwether Lewis (Lewis & Clark) and his Laudanum addiction. Frances Hunter's American Heroes blog 

Sources for this article:

London Magazine, Vol. IV, No. xxi, pp. 293-312, and No. xxii, pp. 353-79.

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, edited by Alethea Hayter, New York, Penguin Books, 1971, provides the original magazine text.

Alethea Hayter, Opium and the Romantic Imagination: Addiction and Creativity in de Quincey, Coleridge, Baudelaire and Others, revised edition, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, Crucible, 1988; pp. 101-31 and ff.