Medical Observations Concerning the History and Cure of Acute Diseases


Medical Observations Concerning the History and Cure of Acute Diseases


While a compiled work of Thomas Sydenham's has already been included in this exhibit, it is valuable to consider one of his work’s influence in English economic history and the history of opium as a whole. In his book discussing medical observations of acute diseases Sydenham prescribes a proprietary mixture of dissolved opium, which he refers to as laudanum, as a cure for a wide range of diseases, from fevers to “hysteria.” His new medicine was so successful that laudanum came to refer to any suspension of opium in alcohol, not just Sydenham’s original mixture (Hodgson). Aside from the influence this had on British medicine, the acceptance of opium as a legitimate medical cure led to significant changes in the way by which the British traded with India and China. By the mid-18th century British trade with China had become an important part of the British economy, but the English were constantly at a trade deficit with the Chinese, only receiving Chinese imports without exporting anything in return. The discovery of opium’s medical capabilities changed this however, leading to massive trade in opium in its many forms to China (Van Dyke). This trade existed before Sydenham’s work in creating laudanum however, by normalizing it amongst other medicines lead to the trade in laudanum coming to the mainland of Europe and Britain in a way that had not occurred before Sydenham’s work.


Thomas Sydenham





Jack Williams


Public Domain


Thomas Sydenham, “Medical Observations Concerning the History and Cure of Acute Diseases,” HIST 139 - Early Modern Europe, accessed March 25, 2023,

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