Opium Eating online

. (page 5 of 9)
Online LibraryAnonymousOpium Eating → online text (page 5 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Had he written at all times without regard to his condition, in the first
stages the ravages following stimulation would have so undone his mind,
that it would have fallen far short of its natural ability; and had he
written from stimulation clear through reaction, his compositions would
have been lop-sided things indeed. Or, had he in the advanced stages
abnegated the short and only period of intellectual complacency afforded
him by opium, and written only during the wretched condition which
generally subsists, his productions must of necessity have been more
gloomy, and less able than they are. He had to make the most of his
unfortunate situation, and seize his opportunities as they presented. It
was impossible to write at all times and in all conditions, and hence he
disappointed the expectations of many. Yes, and who blamed him for lacking
energy? Oh, ignorant men! When an opium eater, himself surrounded by the
same circumstances and in the same condition as Coleridge, contemplates
the results of his labors, they seem almost miraculous. And let me tell
you, dear reader, they are almost my only source of hope and consolation
in this my proscribed and benighted state. In life, but not living; a man,
but incapable of the happiness and pleasures of man. Nothing but darkness
and dejection is my lot. Cut off forever, irretrievably cut off, from
almost every social enjoyment. If I have a particle of enjoyment, it is
very faint and vague; dim as the filmy line that divides me from the world
and those in it, and all that enjoy this life. Wretched dejection and
despair are mine; my mind a "Stygian cave forlorn," which breeds "horrid
shapes and shrieks and sights unholy." But it seems the peculiar province
of those so happy as to escape this earthly damnation, to deride and blame
for want of energy and force the poor victim - perhaps to the crime of some
one else, - and nothing but black looks and condemnation from his
fellow-man does he receive; he, from whom even the face of his Maker
seems almost turned away, as he winds his weary pilgrimage through a chaos
of unutterable woe down to his soon-forgotten grave.

"Here lies one who prostituted every human gift to the use of opium," is
the verdict upon a life of more suffering and more effort, perhaps, than
appears in the life of one in ten thousand.

For, be it known, everything accomplished by an opium eater is done in the
sweat of blood, and with the load of Atlas weighing upon the spirit.

But the reader must pardon me. I seem to gravitate naturally towards the
results in the latter stages, to which a great part of that I have just
written must apply, - especially where I speak of one having a right to
denounce opium "always, even while taking advantage of its best
manifestations." Before opium has injured a man, and in the very
commencement of the habit, should he wilfully use the drug as a means of
giving him pleasure, and brilliancy to his mind, when the requirements of
the habit do not make the taking of the opium necessary, he is to blame;
but let him long continue in this practice, and he will find to his sorrow
that all the mental power the stimulation of opium can give him would not
equal that of his natural abilities, unincumbered by the habit.



From the first unlucky indulgence "till he that died to-day," the habitual
use of opium is attended with gloom, despondency, and unhappiness.

The victim takes his first dose and feels exalted, serene, confident. His
intellectual faculties are so adjusted that he needs but call and they
obey; discipline and order reign. His load of care, the tedium of life,
his aches and pains, and "the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy
takes," are all lifted from his shoulders, as the sun lifts the
mist-clouds from the river, and care-soothing peace in rich effulgence
smiles in upon his soul. The beams pour in, the clouds disperse, and all
is bright as noonday.

But this calm is only that which precedes the storm. The nerves, that
system of exquisite mechanism in man, have been interfered with and
abused. There has been an unnatural strain; the harmony of tension has
been disturbed and deranged, and now, instead of discipline and
equanimity, cruel disorder and distraction rule the hour, and collapse and
utter exhaustion follow.

The above is the great axis around which all these following "petty
consequences" revolve. They appear and disappear in their proper orbit
according to the law of nature and of opium. One is here to-day, another
present to-morrow, or each in turn present at different times during a
day, or all of them present at once as effect follows cause. It may be
impossible to remember all of these "small annexments" and "petty
consequences" that participate in, and go to make up, the "boisterous
ruin," but among which gloom and melancholy take a position in the front
rank: - melancholy when under the influence of opium, and gloomy and
dispirited when not. A sickening, death-like sensation about the heart; a
self-accusing sense of having committed some wrong, - of being guilty
before God; a load of fear and trembling, continually abide with and
oppress the victim in the first stages; - but more especially when the
influence of the drug is dying away. During the height of stimulation,
these feelings are submerged to a great extent by the more generous and
exciting influence of the drug that causes them; but this period forms but
a short space in the total of an opium eater's existence.

Great nervousness attends the subsiding of the effect of opium, and one is
much torn and distracted in mind. General shakiness ensues. Unreliability
of intellect or capacity, owing to the up-hill and down-dale of
stimulation and its antitheton, collapse: a result of the tearing of the
brain out by the roots, as it were, and the exhaustion and debility

One is often weighed and found wanting, called upon and not at home,
mentally. Great shame and mortification attend this consequence, as one in
this nerveless, enfeebled state is morbidly sensitive. Opium usurps the
function of nerve, and is nerve in the victim. Without it he is a ship
without sails, an engine without steam, - loose, unscrewed, unjointed,
powerless. As the effect of opium passes off, a deep feeling of gloom
settles upon the heart, such as might follow suddenly and unexpectedly
hearing the death-knell of a dear friend. In this condition, at times the
most painful, remorseful, despairing thoughts stream in like vultures upon
a carcass. One exists either in a sickening, unnatural excitement, or in a
gloomy suspension and stagnation of every faculty. One state follows the
other in solemn succession, as long as the habit is continued, which is
generally until the victim has passed the boundaries of this "breathing
world," and the gates of death are closed and forever barred behind him;
or until he becomes a tough, seasoned, and dried-out opium eater, when the
drug no longer has the power to stimulate him.

Could one go into the habit of taking opium fully advised as to its
various effects and results, he might avoid a great deal of inconvenience
and suffering usually entailed upon the novice.

In my own case, knowing nothing of the peculiar secondary effects of opium
upon the physical system, I paid the penalty of my ignorance in continual
derangements and distress in my stomach and bowels. Not knowing when or
how to take it to the best advantage, constantly threw me into spells of
indigestion, loss of appetite, and diarrhoea; also constipation and
distress in the epigastrium. I was taking morphia for the headache, and if
the intermission "in this kind" were prolonged beyond a certain time, the
result was diarrhoea, and a general confounding of the entire stomachic
apparatus. I did not then observe myself so closely as I have learned to
do since, or I should have noticed the conjunction of circumstances that
caused this derangement. Had I taken the morphia at proper intervals, this
would not have occurred; but I was not aware of that fact, and did not
become acquainted with it until months after, when I consulted a
physician, on the eve of making an attempt to renounce the habit. Allowing
too long a period of time to elapse between doses, threw me into this
disorder; additional distress and inconvenience were incurred by taking
the drug at the wrong time in the day, and at an improper distance from
meals. As to the dose, I have nothing to say. How much better or worse I
may have felt, taking a different quantity as a dose, I cannot imagine. I
can only speak of what I finally observed and learned after reploughed,
resowed, and rereaped experience. Allowing too long a time to elapse
between doses, occasioned loss of appetite, disorganized the stomach, and
prevented digestion; and taking the drug at the wrong time in the day, and
at an improper distance from a meal, constipated me, and gave me distress
in the epigastrium.

This distress in the epigastrium was terrible on the nervous system, and
rendered the mind almost impotent and powerless for the time it lasted.
Likewise, taking the medicine at wrong times, would sometimes cause my
food to lodge in me whilst passing through my intestines. This was one of
the most potent causes of misery with which it was my unfortunate lot to
be afflicted. My food would frequently be arrested in the lower bowels,
where it would seem determined to abide with me forever, cutting me like a
sharp-cornered stone, rendering me almost wild with nervous distress, and
almost entirely dethroning my mind for the time being. It was a perfect
hell-rack, and sometimes lasted for days. I could do but little during
these spells, and that little not well, having no command over my nervous
system. They generally left me relaxed and exhausted. A prolonged series
of attacks of this kind so impaired my mind, that it required considerable
time thereafter to recover. These attacks came the nearest realizing the
torments of hell upon earth, complete, unabrogated, or unabridged, of
anything I ever suffered.

When stimulated by morphia taken by the hypodermic syringe, unless I would
continue reading, with my mind concentrated, I soon got into a state of
mental distraction. Loss of sleep at night comes in at about this point.
This punishment for outraging the laws of nature by the use of opium began
to scourge me after I had quit taking it hypodermically, and had commenced
taking it daily and by the mouth.[3] Any one who has suffered much from
the terrors of sleeplessness - inability to sleep at night - can understand
and appreciate my condition during this time.

Loss of sleep, and getting physically out of order incessantly through my
ignorance of the secondary effects of opium, and from the effects thereof
which no foreknowledge could have avoided, kept me in a state of mind
bordering on that of Phlegyas in ancient mythology, who was punished by
having an immense stone suspended over his head, which perpetually
threatened to fall and crush him. I dreaded the advent of each new day,
not knowing what agony or discomfiture it had in store for me.

I neglected to mention in the proper place that which, perhaps, is too
much of a truism to be referred to at all, - that, as far as a person's
nerves and spirits are concerned, the farther away he is from a dose of
opium, the better he feels in this respect, no matter what inconvenience
he may undergo in others. I mean, the longer time he allows to elapse
between doses, the more cheerful and less shaky he will feel. In the
prostration that ensues after the relaxation of stimulation, one is truly
and indeed miserable in every respect, and goes down into the very depths
of despondency and gloom. The period I refer to now is, when nature has
reascended from the dismal realms of "Cerberus and blackest midnight," and
has recovered somewhat from the baleful and crucifying effects of opium;
in fact, when the effect of the drug has passed out of the system for the
time. Nature commences to assert herself, and would fully recover her
wonted vigor and spirit, did not the drug-damned victim resume again the
hell-invented curse. The diarrhoea and other inconveniences and disorders
in the stomach and bowels that now set in, are simply the result of
nature's effort to throw off the hideous fiend poisoning and destroying
her very life. And just here is shown what a terrible violation of the
laws of nature the habitual use of opium constitutes. Its action I can
compare to nothing more justly than to that of a powerful man knocking
down a delicate one as fast as he arises; or, to the tempest-tossed sea
washing a mariner ashore, who no sooner rises to his feet than he is
caught back by the cruel waves again, repeating the process until at
last, faint and exhausted, his life is quenched in the remorseless flood;
or, to the mythological fable of Tityus, who, for having the temerity to
insult Diana, was cast into Tartarus: there,

"Two ravenous vultures, furious for their food,
Scream o'er the fiend, and riot in his blood;
Incessant gore the liver in his breast;
The immortal liver grows, and gives the immortal feast."

Its hatred of the laws of health is undying, and is only equalled by its
power and facility of destruction; its cruel, persistent, and merciless
warfare on the human system, and its eternal antagonism to, and
annihilation of, human happiness.



I am no physician, and not learned in physiology, therefore I cannot enter
into a learned analysis of the opium appetite. Neither have I read any
books upon the subject. I know nothing about the matter save from my own
observation or experience. But whether I know _why this_ is true, or
_that_ is _so_, or not, one fact I am entirely conscious of, and that is,
that in this appetite abides the enslaving power of opium. The influences
of opium in the latter stages would not have such an attraction for the
habituate but that he could easily forego them; but the appetite comes in
and makes him feel that he _must_ have opium if he has existence, and
there is an end to all resistance. Here dwell the Circean spells of opium.
Should one become accustomed to large doses, or rather a large quantity
per diem, it is almost impossible to induce the mind to take less, for
fear of falling to pieces, going into naught, etc. It seems in such a
state that existence would be insupportable were a reduction made. An
intense fear of being plunged into an abyss of darkness and despair
besets the mind. Hence the opium eater goes on ever increasing until his
final doom.

Opium as a medicine is a grand and powerful remedy, and without a
substitute, though as imperfectly understood in its complex action and
far-reaching consequences by the mass of the medical profession as by the
people at large. Its abstruser mysteries and remoter effects are yet to be
discovered and developed by the science of physic.

When the true nature of opium becomes generally known (and by the word
nature I mean all the possibilities for good and evil embraced in the
medical properties of the drug), the poor victim of its terrors will be
taken by the hand and sympathized with by his fellow-man, instead of being
ostracized from society, and treated with contempt and reprehension, as he
now is.

The difference between the condition of the victim in the primary, as
contrasted with that in the secondary or advanced stages, consists in
this: Of course, it is a self-evident proposition, from the description I
have given of the effects of opium, that the longer a human being is
subjected to the suffering it inflicts, the worse he will look, feel, and
actually be. But to take the same man out of the advanced stages, and
compare him with himself in the first stages, there will be found
difference enough between the two living testimonies to the power of
opium to interest the investigator, and repay him for the labor required
to make the comparison. In the first stages, opium commits its ravages on
the human system by expansion and explosion; in the after stages, it does
its work by contraction and compression; the weary victim totters beneath
a heavy load.

In the first stages he has occasional periods of enjoyment; in the latter
he has none; he is so benumbed by opium as to be incapable of enjoyment.
Temporary manumission from positive pain or distress only brings out into
stronger relief his miserable situation. He sees and feels that he is not
happy; cannot be at his best; and yet his sensibilities are so impervious
to all deep feeling, that it is impossible for him to give way to the
luxury of weeping, - the solace of tears. His heart is as "dry" and as dead
"as summer dust." The same numbness and deadness isolate him from the
enjoyment of the society of his fellow-man. He has lost all capacity or
capability to enjoy. He likewise has lost all interest in the things in
which mankind generally take pleasure. He has lost all power to take
interest in them. The world to him is a "sterile promontory," a "foul and
pestilent congregation of vapors." "Man delights not him."

In addition to the general deadness of the sensibilities, the buried-alive
condition of the victim, he suffers daily misery and sometimes agony from
the abnormal condition of the stomach and bowels produced by opium. The
stomach is dry and hard, - dead as the rest of the physical man. The least
variation in the dose deranges everything, and brings on a horrible
indigestion. This, whether the variation be on the side of less or more;
each holds in store its peculiar retribution for law violated. Too little
may have some appetite (and may not), but no digestion. Too much may have
a little appetite, but no digestion. In either case there may be no
appetite at all. To subtract a certain quantity would be _certain_ to
upset the stomach, both for appetite and digestion. To add a certain
quantity, would be to so benumb the stomach as to prevent all appetite,
relish, and digestion. In the one case - too little - it is a lack of
strength in the stomach; in the other - too much - the organ is already
satiated by opium, and desires no food.

During the seasons of taking too much (that is, per day, and not per
dose), that frequently assail the opium eater, and which, as I have before
stated, it is almost impossible to break up, the poor unfortunate passes
"a weary time," silent, passive, dead, in the day; at night deprived of
natural sleep; arising in the morning in a suicidal state of mind, he
lives "an unloved, solitary thing;" knowing himself to be miserable, yet
dreading other evils from taking less; until at last, nature becoming
exhausted, sickness, and consequent distaste for, and failure of effect
in, opium come to his relief. O God! O God! believe me, reader, 'tis no
chimera: I suffer daily untold misery, and some days my wretched condition
is almost intolerable.

The inability to take a reasonable quantity is, of course, one of the
greatest misfortunes in the habit of opium eating. Jeremy Taylor says that
in the regenerate person it sometimes comes to pass that the "old man" is
so used to obey that, like the Gibeonites, he is willing to do inferior
offices for the simple privilege of abiding in the land. Not so with the
opium fiend; he thinks it better to "reign in hell than to serve in
heaven;" his reign is absolute wherever he takes up his residence. "There
is a medium in all things" except opium eating; there it is up hill and
down dale; the poor victim is tossed about like a mariner at sea. But,
speaking of mariners, his condition is more like that of the "Ancient
Mariner" than is the condition of any one else like his. To him frequently
in dreams, both day and night,

"Slimy things _do_ crawl with legs upon the slimy sea."

There was a period in my experience, now happily passed, thank heaven,
when day or night I need only shut my eyes to see groups of enormous
sea-monsters and serpents, with frightful heads, coiling and intercoiling
about one another. You may, dear reader, whoever you are, rest assured
that I indulged this privilege as seldom as possible. During that season,
too, I suffered acutely from horrible dreams at night, waking in depths of
gloom so appalling, so overpowered and undone, that I could not have borne
it to have remained alone. Indeed, I became so afflicted with these
nightmares (night horrors being the products of opium), that my wife was
charged to turn me clear over and wake me up on the least evidence that I
was suffering from one of them. This evidence, she said, came from me in
the character of low, painful moans; I, conscious of my predicament when
at the worst, always struggled with all my strength, and strained every
nerve to cry out at the top of my voice: - I was perfectly powerless. I
have always thought it the acme of the ridiculous to attribute to the
peculiar formation of De Quincey's brain a special aptitude for dreaming
magnificent dreams. Let any one, bold enough to undertake so costly an
experiment, try the virtues of opium in the capacity of producing dreams,
and, my word for it, he will either claim a special aptitude for dreaming
himself, or, with me, give all the credit to the subtle and mighty powers
of opium.



The opium eater has but a poor address. The sources of all feeling and
geniality are frozen up; he stands stiff, cold, and out of place: or in
place as a piece of statuary, to be looked at, as, for instance, the
statue of the god of pain, or as a specimen from the contents of Pandora's
box. He is kind and sincere, but cordial he cannot be. His personal
appearance is not inviting: shrunken and sallow, and with the air of a man
who desires to escape and hide. Business matters and interviews of all
kinds are consummated with the greatest possible despatch, and away he
goes to some solitary retreat. If he is a business man, he of course must
get through with the affairs of the day the best he can; as soon as
through with these, he hies with speed to things congenial to his soul.[4]
Books and literature are his favorite studies; they constitute his
greatest and most constant enjoyment. Sitting in his chair, he
alternately reads, writes, and dozes. Solitude and silence are his refuge
and fortress, and his chiefest friends: companions of his own choosing.
Visitors and company of all kinds are intruders. That this is so is not
his fault as a man; it is the result of opium. Opium has unfitted him for
the enjoyment of the society of mixed companies, and it is perhaps better
that it isolates him also, which secures him from mortification to himself
and grief to his friends.

The disposition of the opium eater is mild and quiet, as a rule. All
passion is dead, - unless the wretched irritability which comes from loss
of natural sleep and other suffering caused by opium can be called
passion. His general conduct is mild, simple, and child-like. All the
animal is dormant, quite dead. The beautiful, the good, the free from
sham, the genuine and unaffected, meet his approval. Anything that shocks
by suddenness, that is obtrusive and noisy, he desires to be out of the
reach of. Quiet and solitude, with those he loves within call, are his
proper element.

NOTE. - Among the ever-living cares and worriments that beset and
afflict the much-tortured mind of the opium eater, the dread of being
thrown out of employment, with consequent inability to procure opium,
is not the least. And it begets a species of slavery at once abject
and galling, - galling to the "better part of man," which it "cows;"
and abject, in the perfect fear and sense of helplessness which it

The opium eater is not an attractive personage. The appearance is
even worse than the reality. He looks weak and inefficient; the
lack-lustre of his eye, the pallor of his face, and the _offishness_
of his general expression, are the reverse of fascinating. This he
knows, and feels keenly and continually. He feels absolutely
dependent, and that, were he thrown out of employment, it might be
utterly impossible to obtain another situation, with his tell-tale

1 2 3 5 7 8 9

Online LibraryAnonymousOpium Eating → online text (page 5 of 9)