Opium Eating online

. (page 4 of 9)
Online LibraryAnonymousOpium Eating → online text (page 4 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Whether to annoy the reader with the history of my repeated attempts and
failures, that is the question: for that I did attempt to throw off my
shackles, honestly and earnestly, I would have the reader fairly believe.

Yet why traverse again step by step this sad pilgrimage; the reader has
read similar experiences; then why trouble him with mine? Simply because
in the lives of all persons there is some variation, one from another; and
besides this, though I have taken some pains to read fully our opium
literature, as I may properly term it, I must say that I have found it in
a very demoralizing condition. That is, it does the reader, with reference
to opium, more harm than good - and much more. I know this from experience,
and it is one of the moving reasons why this personal history is written.

I might tire the reader's patience over and again, by recounting my
frequent attempts to throw off the accursed incubus, but shall content
myself with briefly referring to such as may benefit the public, and
especially those who are in danger from opium, but who as yet have not
passed beyond recovery. The first attempt of any real interest I made
about one year after the commencement of my unfortunate medical treatment,
which resulted in fastening the habit upon me.

In order that I might be as well advised in the undertaking as convenient,
I called upon a veteran physician, as well as opium eater, of the place
for information and counsel. One of the consequences attending previous
attempts had been diarrhoea, and a general upsetting of all the gastric
functions. I did not know why this was, or that it attended all cases

The physician gave me a great deal of information, which, taking it simply
as a much better knowledge of my condition, rallied and cheered my spirits
considerably. In referring to the diarrhoea, he said that it invariably
followed; that leaving off the opium unlocked all the secretions, and the
diarrhoea was a natural consequence. I was not using much morphia at this
time. The quantity was indeed so small that the physician almost ridiculed
the idea of my being in the habit at all. I knew better than that,
however. He said it was hardly necessary to give anything to check the
diarrhoea, in fact, that it was almost useless, and unless it actually
became too severe, it was better to let it take its own course; that when
it stopped of its own accord I would perceive that I was better. He gave
me a few powders to take along, nevertheless, which I did not find it
necessary to use.

I stopped square off. The first day I felt meanly and sleepy, and had such
an influx of remorseful and melancholy thoughts, and such a complete loss
of command over myself, that I could have wept the livelong day, - I felt
so crushed and broken-hearted. The second day was similar to the first,
except the diarrhoea now set in. On the third day I began to feel more
comfortable in some respects, the sleepy, drowsy feeling having passed
away; I also had gained a little more command over my feelings, though I
was still morbidly sensitive, sad, and broken in spirit, and at a word
would have burst into tears. The diarrhoea was rushing off at a fearful
rate; but that I did not mind much, - it was carrying away my trouble, and
this was what I desired. My stomach and bowels were in an unsettled,
surging, and wishy-washy condition, the gastric processes so completely
disturbed that my stomach was no stomach, and felt simply like a
bottomless pipe that ran straight through me. I describe these phenomena
now thus particularly, not because I had not observed them in previous
attempts, but because I have not described any other attempts to the
reader. I intend, as I proceed with this narrative to describe the effect
of morphia at the beginning, and at and up to the time of which I am now
writing, and its effect years after, and the phenomena observed and
suffering undergone in attempting to abandon its use in the latter years.

The experienced reader will observe, from the attending phenomena which I
have so far described, that I was not very deep into it at the period now
referred to.

Generally, during the day (to recur to the subject in hand), did my
stomach feel like a straight and bottomless pipe, but when I attempted to
eat or drink I felt as though it incorporated a volcano; and every time I
thought of food its whirling, surging contents threatened an eruption and
overflow. Everything eaten seemed perfectly insipid and tasteless, and to
fall flat upon the very bottom of my bowels. The region "round about" my
epigastrium was in a state of communistic insurrection and rebellion.
Nothing digested during this time, or if anything, digestion was very
imperfect. Nothing remained in me long enough to pass through a complete
process of digestion. I did not become hungry. To eat a meal of victuals
was precisely like taking a dose of physic, only much more quick in
operation. I experienced constant flushes of heat and cold (hot flushes
predominating), and was in a continual perspiration, all the secretions
being thrown wide open. My flesh seemed stretched tightly after the third
day, and at night my limbs pained me, - principally my legs below the
knees. I could do, and did, nothing but stand and gaze vacantly; too
nerveless and shattered to attempt any mental labor.

My voice was hollow and weak, and sometimes almost inarticulate. After the
fifth day my remorseful and melancholy thoughts and feelings gave way, to
some extent, to more cheerful ones. I continued ten days without touching
morphia, or anything of the kind. By that time my diarrhoea had ceased,
and my stomach about the region of the epigastrium seemed drawn together
as tightly as if tied in a knot. I had some appetite for food, though not
much, and poor digestion. Everything was still quite tasteless to me. I
craved something eternally which seemed absolutely necessary to make up
the proper constitution of my stomach: - and of my happiness, also, I
should add, for this is the whole truth.

The appetite for morphia, which while I was suffering I was able to
control, grew much sharper after I had reached the tenth day, and my pains
and physical difficulties had subsided, as it were. This is a point which
I have ever observed in my case, namely, that, while undergoing severe
pain or suffering, I have had power to resist appetite and carry out my
purposes against the habit, but so soon as the pain or strain upon me
departed, it left me collapsed in my will and powerless. But, in the
instance under consideration, while my stomach was in a disorganized
condition, the appetite was not near so strong as when I regained a more
natural state, when it returned with an irresistible vigor. I believe the
appetite destroys the will as firmly as I do that God exists.

I took a small dose of morphia, thinking I might thus stay the violent
cravings of the appetite, and be thereafter clear of it. The time was in
the midst of a political campaign; I was in a public office as a clerk; my
employer was rendering his fealty to the party that gave him his place,
and I was compelled to remain in the office and work. I was suffering in
secret, my employer knowing nothing of my thraldom, and I could not work
with the accursed appetite raging within me.

The affinity between the brain and the stomach is most plainly
demonstrated by the disease of the opium habit; the appetite feeds as much
on the brain as on the stomach. I could not work; I could do nothing but
look, and that in a blank and dazed way; and being compelled to work, I
took a small dose, thinking that would quiet the enemy and give me peace,
and that thereafter I could probably worry it through. Cruel illusion! My
unhappy fate willed differently, and the peculiar effects of opium can
only be learned by bitter experience. I fell prostrate as before, with
this difference, that I was less hopeful.

Oh, the melancholy years that have intervened between then and now!
Hopeless upon a dark and boundless sea, drifting farther and farther from
land! Oh, the youthful aspirations that have been wrecked by, and gone
down forever in, this all-swallowing deep! - the mortifications,
disappointments, and humiliations that stand out upon this black ocean of
despair, and like huge and abortive figures of deformity mock me in my
dreams, and taunt me in my waking hours! For I sing only the "pains" of
opium; its "pleasures" I have yet to see. For that cannot be accounted a
pleasure which is attended with sadness, and that stimulation will not be
considered a benefit which is followed by reaction and collapse.

De Quincey says that he never experienced the collapse and depression
consequent upon indulgence in opium. The first doses I took, though they
stimulated me to the skies, sickened me at the same time, and left me in
such a collapsed condition that it required twenty-four hours to
completely recover. I do admit that, when one's sensibilities have become
deadened and hardened by long use of opium, when all the fervor is burnt
out of one, and it no longer stimulates, or its stimulation is barely
perceptible, - that then, indeed, there is not much reaction. But what
eater of opium, after taking much of the drug the day previous, ever
arose in the morning without feeling unutterably miserable? What would you
call this, unless reaction?

"The time has been, my senses would have cool'd
To hear a night-shriek; and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir,
As life were in't."

And I could not even go into an unlighted room after nightfall without the
most terrifying feelings of abject fear. There was not a night came during
a certain period without bringing with it the most harrowing and dreadful
forebodings of death before morning. I must in justice state that I was
using some quinine at this time to break up a fever that was continually
attacking me, and that I was then again using morphia by means of the
hypodermic syringe (having been induced to adopt that mode by another
person who was using it in the same way, - which I found to be much more
injurious than taking it per mouth); nevertheless, it was still the opium
habit, and it was that which induced the fever, and made necessary the

No tongue or pen will ever describe - mine shrinks from the attempt, and
the imagination of another, without suffering it all, could scarcely
conceive it possible - the depth of horror in which my life was plunged at
this time; the days of humiliation and anguish, nights of terror and
agony, through which I dragged my wretched being. But I am anticipating
other and future parts of this narration. It is my intention to disclose,
as I proceed, the effects of opium from the first dose, and commencement
of the habit, till it reaches its ultimate and final effects, and to
describe an attempt to renounce its use at the latter stage.

Still, I have thought it proper, even at this juncture, to give the reader
to understand that the opium habit, from first to last, produces nothing
but misery, - and that of a kind entirely without hope in this world. This
I expect to prove in detail as I proceed.



The life of De Quincey, as gathered from his constant and unguarded, and
therefore sincere, expressions of his wretched condition, which he made to
others while living, shows the effect opium had upon him much more
truthfully than do his writings. His extravagant eulogy of opium, and
almost wildly-gay and lively manner of treating such a sardonically solemn
subject as the effects of opium, though under the anomalous title, "The
Pleasures of Opium," show the man to have been morally depraved,[1] and
utterly regardless of the influence of his writings. The result of the
opium habit, first, last, and always, is to bring hopeless unhappiness.

I began taking opium by having it administered through a hypodermic
syringe, as the reader is aware. The effect, taking it in this way,
differs somewhat from that which follows taking it in the usual way. It is
more pleasant, ethereal, and less gross, I may say. It had not previously
been possible for me to use morphia in the usual way. I had tried it to
relieve myself in a season of severe headaches, and it had given me such a
distressing pain in my stomach that I dropped it as a useless remedy, and
tried it no more. Taking it per hypodermic injection, it did not seem to
come so directly in contact with the sensitive part of my stomach; and
there was, therefore, no impediment in the way of my taking it in this

Although the effect of morphia taken hypodermically is more pure, and
perhaps more forcible for the time being, its force is expended much more
quickly than when taken in the customary way. The effect of a dose of
morphia - that is, its immediate and exhilarating effect or influence - may
often last but a very short time, and rarely longer than three or four
hours, but the ultimate and narcotic effect does not leave the system
until twenty-four hours have elapsed. This is an effect in morphia that
can be relied on. In stating that the exhilarating effect may last three
or four hours, I mean that it may do this in the first stages of the
habit. Of course, all I have to say just now refers to the first stages.
But to begin with the second dose, the first having been too heavy, and
nearly burst me.

The second dose happened to be the proper quantity, and had the legitimate
effect. As I have not the slightest doubt that I was suffering as much,
and was just as sensitive, I might (though I will not) expatiate with Mr.
De Quincey to the following effect: "Heavens! what a revulsion! what an
upheaving, from its lowest depths, of the inner spirit! what an apocalypse
of the world within me! That my pains had vanished, was now a trifle in my
eyes; this negative effect was swallowed up in the immensity of those
positive effects which had opened before me - in the abyss of divine
enjoyment thus suddenly revealed. Here was a panacea for all human woes;
here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed
for so many ages, at once discovered; happiness might now be bought for a
penny, and carried in the waistcoat pocket; portable ecstasies might be
had corked up in a pint bottle; and peace of mind sent down in gallons by
the mail-coach. But, if I talk in this way, the reader will think I am
laughing; and I can assure him that no one will laugh long who deals much
with opium; its pleasures even are of a grave and solemn complexion; and
in his happiest state, the opium eater cannot present himself in the
character of _L'Allegro_; even then he speaks and thinks as becomes _Il
Penseroso_. Nevertheless, I have a very reprehensible way of jesting at
times in the midst of my own misery; and, unless when I am checked by some
more powerful feelings, I am afraid I shall be guilty of this indecent
practice, even in these annals of suffering or enjoyment. The reader must
allow a little to my infirm nature in this respect; and with a few
indulgences of that sort, I shall endeavor to be as grave, if not drowsy,
as fits a theme like opium, so anti-mercurial as it really is, and so
drowsy as it is falsely reputed." I will say, and admit, however, that
this second dose of mine highly stimulated me; that I retired from the
doctor's presence in an extremely sentimental condition of complacency and
self-assurance, with a partly-defined feeling that the world had injured
me; but that I did not care particularly; that the remainder of my life I
could live alone and without it very comfortably. Opium does not
intoxicate, as liquor, even at the beginning of its use; it does not
deprive one of reason or judgment, but, while under its influence, it
makes one more sanguine and hopeful.

The next day after taking this first dose, as I may call it (though
second in reality), I was physically wilted and mentally collapsed, and
felt a kind of nervous headache whenever I stirred the least from perfect
quietness. I was unfit to do any work, a thumping, distressing headache
and mental distraction, with nothing but a shaken and nervously exhausted
system to withstand it, followed quickly and overpoweringly upon the least
exertion. I found myself in wretched plight, and could have exclaimed in
the language of our ever-beloved poet:

"I 'gin to be aweary of the sun,
And wish the estate o' the world were now undone."

It was my experience straight along that for every stimulation I had a
corresponding depression. I confess that the drug did stimulate me, and
highly enough, but there was always an attending sickishness, and the
general tenor of the stimulation was to produce melancholy rather than a
healthy cheerfulness of spirit. This melancholy seemed a _relaxation_,
which the mind and feelings could lay back and enjoy sometimes, but the
appearance of a mortal and intruder on the scene would throw a person into
a deplorable state of irritability and confusion.[2] The stimulation bred
nervousness very fast, and the distraction of the intellectual forces was
one of the first and worst consequences and devastations experienced.

After I had come to take the drug daily, I often passed sleepless nights,
the brain in uncontrollable action during the whole night. Having started
it, I could not stop it at pleasure, and I was then but a novice in the
art of opium taking. Yet I do not know, either, but that, had I taken it
at any time during the day then, the result would have been the same, as I
was still very susceptible to its influence, which, in its shattering
effects on the nervous system, extended over the period of twenty-four

After a time, when my body became more benumbed and deadened by opium, and
consequently less susceptible to its stimulating influence, I could, and
did, so regulate my taking of the drug as to insure sleep at night, and
the best digestion possible under the circumstances at meals. But as to
sleep, I could not do this in the first stages; the effect was too
powerful, and extended over too long a time.

The effect of opium, the reader must bear in mind, always lasts
twenty-four hours; but its higher, more refined and stimulating influence
exists but a few hours, when it sinks into the soporific effect, which
extends over the remainder of the time. In the advanced stages of the
opium habit, the stimulating influence, if there be any at all, lasts but
a few minutes. I mean, that is, the pleasurable sensation and revival of
the spirits; there may be at times or always an almost imperceptible
stimulation which obtains a short time after taking a dose of opium, but
this is an effect entirely different from the pleasurable sensation,
though it may exist with or follow it for a short time. This I may term
stimulation without sensation. A person's body may be so deadened by opium
that it can no longer produce sensation, but may produce slight
stimulation for a short time. One may become conscious of this by an
increase of power in the faculties of the brain, and in the temporary
removal of the obstructions that weigh upon the brain, and which the poor
opium eater so often suffers from. "Suffers from?" Days upon days my head
has felt as though it were encircled by an iron helmet, which was
gradually becoming more and more contracted, until it would literally
crush my skull. Add to this the distress so often experienced in the
region of the epigastrium (pit of the stomach), which, perhaps, more at
one time than another, but which does always, impair the working of the
brain for the time being, and often cuts off almost totally the use of the
mind, and what is left of a man mentally is very little indeed. Yet all
these miseries he must endure, and more; but of these in the proper place,
for we must now return to the subject properly in hand, - the first stages
of opium eating, - from which I beg the reader's pardon for having
digressed too far.



De Quincey charges Coleridge with having written many of his best things
under the stimulus of opium. This may be so; he could not well write at
all without being in some way affected by opium, seeing that he took it
every day; but if this applied to the latter stage of opium eating (and I
have reason to think it did), the little pleasurable sensation and
stimulation he might well take advantage of, as at other times his
condition must have been such as to interfere greatly with his writing at
all to any purpose. But if this applied to the first stages, and he
continued on writing after the stimulation and pleasurable sensation had
subsided, his writings must have presented a very zigzag appearance;
passing suddenly from the height of pleasure to the depth of
misery - falling from the top round of stimulation and enjoyment to the
lowest depth of dejection and debility. For it was my invariable
experience during the first stages, that for every benefit received in
intellectual force from stimulation, I suffered a corresponding injury or
offset in the mental debility and prostration which ensued. The reaction
that always followed the long strain of stimulation upon the brain, found
me completely wilted and mentally exhausted. Up to the heights and down
into the depths was the routine. Glorying in the skies or sweltering in
the Styx. Like Sisyphus rolling his stone of punishment up the steep
mountain, with which he no sooner reaches the top than away it rebounds to
the bottom again, and so on eternally.

In the latter stages, an opium eater cannot be blamed for taking advantage
of the little pleasurable sensation which his nepenthe affords him. The
enjoyment he gets lasts but a moment, and would not equal the pleasure
derived by a healthy and sound man from the simple act of writing. And, as
far as power gained from stimulation is concerned, the reader must
remember that opium shatters, tears, and wears out the subject as it goes,
and that all the benefit he could derive from stimulation, after having
become an habituate, could not place his powers upon a level with what
they would have been naturally had he never touched opium.

De Quincey speaks of Coleridge as though the latter had denounced opium,
and not given it credit for benefits conferred, when the truth is it
confers no benefits. It gives, but it takes away, and the highest point
stimulation can reach will not elevate a man's abilities to the plane
from which they have fallen, in the latter and confirmed stages of the
habit. Therefore, a man can justly and always condemn the use of opium,
even while taking advantage of its best manifestations. It is he that is
the loser at all times, and not it. The case I wish to make out is just
this: When a man is once a confirmed opium eater, all the pleasure he can
derive from opium would not equal the enjoyment a well man receives from
the animal spirits alone; and all the intellectual force obtainable from
stimulation can never approach that which would have been his own freely
in a natural condition. Hence, to charge Coleridge with ingratitude to
opium - for that is about what it amounts to - is all bosh. It ruined him
for poetry, crippled him for everything, and made his life miserable. He
did the best he could under the circumstances, - to continue the argument.

1 2 4 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryAnonymousOpium Eating → online text (page 4 of 9)