Confessions of an English Opium Eater


{1} “Not yet recorded,” I say; for there is one celebrated man of the present day, who, if all be true which is reported of him, has greatly exceeded me in quantity.

{2} A third exception might perhaps have been added; and my reason for not adding that exception is chiefly because it was only in his juvenile efforts that the writer whom I allude to expressly addressed hints to philosophical themes; his riper powers having been all dedicated (on very excusable and very intelligible grounds, under the present direction of the popular mind in England) to criticism and the Fine Arts. This reason apart, however, I doubt whether he is not rather to be considered an acute thinker than a subtle one. It is, besides, a great drawback on his mastery over philosophical subjects that he has obviously not had the advantage of a regular scholastic education: he has not read Plato in his youth (which most likely was only his misfortune), but neither has he read Kant in his manhood (which is his fault).

{3} I disclaim any allusion to existing professors, of whom indeed I know only one.

{4} To this same Jew, by the way, some eighteen months afterwards, I applied again on the same business; and, dating at that time from a respectable college, I was fortunate enough to gain his serious attention to my proposals. My necessities had not arisen from any extravagance or youthful levities (these my habits and the nature of my pleasures raised me far above), but simply from the vindictive malice of my guardian, who, when he found himself no longer able to prevent me from going to the university, had, as a parting token of his good nature, refused to sign an order for granting me a shilling beyond the allowance made to me at school—viz., £100 per annum. Upon this sum it was in my time barely possible to have lived in college, and not possible to a man who, though above the paltry affectation of ostentatious disregard for money, and without any expensive tastes, confided nevertheless rather too much in servants, and did not delight in the petty details of minute economy. I soon, therefore, became embarrassed, and at length, after a most voluminous negotiation with the Jew (some parts of which, if I had leisure to rehearse them, would greatly amuse my readers), I was put in possession of the sum I asked for, on the “regular” terms of paying the Jew seventeen and a half per cent. by way of annuity on all the money furnished; Israel, on his part, graciously resuming no more than about ninety guineas of the said money, on account of an attorney’s bill (for what services, to whom rendered, and when, whether at the siege of Jerusalem, at the building of the second Temple, or on some earlier occasion, I have not yet been able to discover). How many perches this bill measured I really forget; but I still keep it in a cabinet of natural curiosities, and some time or other I believe I shall present it to the British Museum.

{5} The Bristol mail is the best appointed in the Kingdom, owing to the double advantages of an unusually good road and of an extra sum for the expenses subscribed by the Bristol merchants.

{6} It will be objected that many men, of the highest rank and wealth, have in our own day, as well as throughout our history, been amongst the foremost in courting danger in battle. True; but this is not the case supposed; long familiarity with power has to them deadened its effect and its attractions.

{7} Φιλον υπνη θελyητρον επικουρον νοσον.

{8} ηδυ δουλευμα. EURIP. Orest.

{9} αναξανδρων ’Αyαμεμνων.

{10} ομμα θεισ’ ειτω πεπλων. The scholar will know that throughout this passage I refer to the early scenes of the Orestes; one of the most beautiful exhibitions of the domestic affections which even the dramas of Euripides can furnish. To the English reader it may be necessary to say that the situation at the opening of the drama is that of a brother attended only by his sister during the demoniacal possession of a suffering conscience (or, in the mythology of the play, haunted by the Furies), and in circumstances of immediate danger from enemies, and of desertion or cold regard from nominal friends.

{11} Evanesced: this way of going off the stage of life appears to have been well known in the 17th century, but at that time to have been considered a peculiar privilege of blood-royal, and by no means to be allowed to druggists. For about the year 1686 a poet of rather ominous name (and who, by-the-bye, did ample justice to his name), viz., Mr. Flat-man, in speaking of the death of Charles II. expresses his surprise that any prince should commit so absurd an act as dying, because, says he,

“Kings should disdain to die, and only disappear.”

They should abscond, that is, into the other world.

{12} Of this, however, the learned appear latterly to have doubted; for in a pirated edition of Buchan’s Domestic Medicine, which I once saw in the hands of a farmer’s wife, who was studying it for the benefit of her health, the Doctor was made to say—“Be particularly careful never to take above five-and-twenty ounces of laudanum at once;” the true reading being probably five-and-twenty drops, which are held equal to about one grain of crude opium.

{13} Amongst the great herd of travellers, &c., who show sufficiently by their stupidity that they never held any intercourse with opium, I must caution my readers specially against the brilliant author of Anastasius. This gentleman, whose wit would lead one to presume him an opium-eater, has made it impossible to consider him in that character, from the grievous misrepresentation which he gives of its effects at pp. 215-17 of vol. i. Upon consideration it must appear such to the author himself, for, waiving the errors I have insisted on in the text, which (and others) are adopted in the fullest manner, he will himself admit that an old gentleman “with a snow-white beard,” who eats “ample doses of opium,” and is yet able to deliver what is meant and received as very weighty counsel on the bad effects of that practice, is but an indifferent evidence that opium either kills people prematurely or sends them into a madhouse. But for my part, I see into this old gentleman and his motives: the fact is, he was enamoured of “the little golden receptacle of the pernicious drug” which Anastasius carried about him; and no way of obtaining it so safe and so feasible occurred as that of frightening its owner out of his wits (which, by the bye, are none of the strongest). This commentary throws a new light upon the case, and greatly improves it as a story; for the old gentleman’s speech, considered as a lecture on pharmacy, is highly absurd; but considered as a hoax on Anastasius, it reads excellently.

{14} I have not the book at this moment to consult; but I think the passage begins—“And even that tavern music, which makes one man merry, another mad, in me strikes a deep fit of devotion,” &c.

{15} A handsome newsroom, of which I was very politely made free in passing through Manchester by several gentlemen of that place, is called, I think, The Porch; whence I, who am a stranger in Manchester, inferred that the subscribers meant to profess themselves followers of Zeno. But I have been since assured that this is a mistake.

{16} I here reckon twenty-five drops of laudanum as equivalent to one grain of opium, which, I believe, is the common estimate. However, as both may be considered variable quantities (the crude opium varying much in strength, and the tincture still more), I suppose that no infinitesimal accuracy can be had in such a calculation. Teaspoons vary as much in size as opium in strength. Small ones hold about 100 drops; so that 8,000 drops are about eighty times a teaspoonful. The reader sees how much I kept within Dr. Buchan’s indulgent allowance.

{17} This, however, is not a necessary conclusion; the varieties of effect produced by opium on different constitutions are infinite. A London magistrate (Harriott’s Struggles through Life, vol. iii. p. 391, third edition) has recorded that, on the first occasion of his trying laudanum for the gout he took forty drops, the next night sixty, and on the fifth night eighty, without any effect whatever; and this at an advanced age. I have an anecdote from a country surgeon, however, which sinks Mr. Harriott’s case into a trifle; and in my projected medical treatise on opium, which I will publish provided the College of Surgeons will pay me for enlightening their benighted understandings upon this subject, I will relate it; but it is far too good a story to be published gratis.

{18} See the common accounts in any Eastern traveller or voyager of the frantic excesses committed by Malays who have taken opium, or are reduced to desperation by ill-luck at gambling.

{19} The reader must remember what I here mean by thinking, because else this would be a very presumptuous expression. England, of late, has been rich to excess in fine thinkers, in the departments of creative and combining thought; but there is a sad dearth of masculine thinkers in any analytic path. A Scotchman of eminent name has lately told us that he is obliged to quit even mathematics for want of encouragement.

{20} William Lithgow. His book (Travels, &c.) is ill and pedantically written; but the account of his own sufferings on the rack at Malaga is overpoweringly affecting.

{21} In saying this I mean no disrespect to the individual house, as the reader will understand when I tell him that, with the exception of one or two princely mansions, and some few inferior ones that have been coated with Roman cement, I am not acquainted with any house in this mountainous district which is wholly waterproof. The architecture of books, I flatter myself, is conducted on just principles in this country; but for any other architecture, it is in a barbarous state, and what is worse, in a retrograde state.

{22} On which last notice I would remark that mine was too rapid, and the suffering therefore needlessly aggravated; or rather, perhaps, it was not sufficiently continuous and equably graduated. But that the reader may judge for himself, and above all that the Opium-eater, who is preparing to retire from business, may have every sort of information before him, I subjoin my diary:—

First Week Second Week

Drops of Laud. Drops of Laud.

Mond. June 24 ... 130 Mond. July 1 ... 80

25 ... 140 2 ... 80

26 ... 130 3 ... 90

27 ... 80 4 ... 100

28 ... 80 5 ... 80

29 ... 80 6 ... 80

30 ... 80 7 ... 80

Third Week Fourth Week

Mond. July 8 ... 300 Mond. July 15 ... 76

9 ... 50 16 ... 73.5

10 } 17 ... 73.5

11 } Hiatus in 18 ... 70

12 } MS. 19 ... 240

13 } 20 ... 80

14 ... 76 21 ... 350

Fifth Week

Mond. July 22 ... 60

23 ... none.

24 ... none.

25 ... none.

26 ... 200

27 ... none.

What mean these abrupt relapses, the reader will ask perhaps, to such numbers as 300, 350, &c.? The impulse to these relapses was mere infirmity of purpose; the motive, where any motive blended with this impulse, was either the principle, of “reculer pour mieux sauter;” (for under the torpor of a large dose, which lasted for a day or two, a less quantity satisfied the stomach, which on awakening found itself partly accustomed to this new ration); or else it was this principle—that of sufferings otherwise equal, those will be borne best which meet with a mood of anger. Now, whenever I ascended to my large dose I was furiously incensed on the following day, and could then have borne anything.