Confessions of an English Opium Eater


From its first appearance, the literary style of the Confessions attracted attention and comment. De Quincey was well-read in the English literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and assimilated influences and models from Sir Thomas Browne and other writers. Arguably the most famous and often-quoted passage in the Confessions is the apostrophe to opium in the final paragraph of The Pleasures:

"Oh! just, subtle, and mighty opium! that to the hearts of poor and rich alike, for the wounds that will never heal, and for 'the pangs that tempt the spirit to rebel,' bringest an assuaging balm; eloquent opium! that with thy potent rhetoric stealest away the purposes of wrath; and to the guilty man, for one night givest back the hopes of his youth, and hands washed pure of blood...."

De Quincey modelled this passage on the apostrophe "O eloquent, just and mightie Death!" in Sir Walter Raleigh's History of the World.[6]

Earlier in The Pleasures of Opium, De Quincey describes the long walks he took through the London streets under the drug's influence:

"Some of these rambles led me to great distances; for an opium-eater is too happy to observe the motions of time. And sometimes in my attempts to steer homewards, upon nautical principles, by fixing my eye on the pole-star, and seeking ambitiously for a north-west passage, instead of circumnavigating all the capes and headlands I had doubled in my outward voyage, I came suddenly upon such knotty problems of alleys, such enigmatical entries, and such sphinx's riddles of streets without thoroughfares, as must, I conceive, baffle the audacity of porters, and confound the intellects of hackney-coachmen."[7]

The Confessions represents De Quincey's initial effort to write what he called "impassioned prose," an effort that he would later resume in Suspiria de Profundis (1845) and The English Mail-Coach (1849).

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