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Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

first, and the resistance to it, in act or in effort, was earnest to the last. For my
own part, without breach of truth or modesty, I may affirm that my life has been,
on the whole, the life of a philosopher: from my birth I was made an intellectual
creature, and intellectual in the highest sense my pursuits and pleasures have
been, even from my schoolboy days. If opium-eating be a sensual pleasure, and
if I am bound to confess that I have indulged in it to an excess not yet
RECORDED {1} of any other man, it is no less true that I have struggled against
this fascinating enthralment with a religious zeal, and have at length
accomplished what I never yet heard attributed to any other man--have
untwisted, almost to its final links, the accursed chain which fettered me. Such a
self-conquest may reasonably be set off in counterbalance to any kind or degree
of self-indulgence. Not to insist that in my case the self-conquest was
unquestionable, the self-indulgence open to doubts of casuistry, according as
that name shall be extended to acts aiming at the bare relief of pain, or shall be
restricted to such as aim at the excitement of positive pleasure.
Guilt, therefore, I do not acknowledge; and if I did, it is possible that I might still
resolve on the present act of confession in consideration of the service which I
may thereby render to the whole class of opium-eaters. But who are they?
Reader, I am sorry to say a very numerous class indeed. Of this I became
convinced some years ago by computing at that time the number of those in one
small class of English society (the class of men distinguished for talents, or of
eminent station) who were known to me, directly or indirectly, as opium-eaters;
such, for instance, as the eloquent and benevolent -, the late Dean of -, Lord -,
Mr.--the philosopher, a late Under- Secretary of State (who described to me the
sensation which first drove him to the use of opium in the very same words as
the Dean of -, viz., "that he felt as though rats were gnawing and abrading the
coats of his stomach"), Mr. -, and many others hardly less known, whom it would
be tedious to mention. Now, if one class, comparatively so limited, could furnish
so many scores of cases (and THAT within the knowledge of one single inquirer),
it was a natural inference that the entire population of England would furnish a
proportionable number. The soundness of this inference, however, I doubted,
until some facts became known to me which satisfied me that it was not
incorrect. I will mention two. (1) Three respectable London druggists, in widely
remote quarters of London, from whom I happened lately to be purchasing small
quantities of opium, assured me that the number of AMATEUR opium-eaters (as
I may term them) was at this time immense; and that the difficulty of
distinguishing those persons to whom habit had rendered opium necessary from
such as were purchasing it with a view to suicide, occasioned them daily trouble
and disputes. This evidence respected London only. But (2)--which will possibly
surprise the reader more--some years ago, on passing through Manchester, I
was informed by several cotton manufacturers that their workpeople were rapidly
getting into the practice of opium-eating; so much so, that on a Saturday
afternoon the counters of the druggists were strewed with pills of one, two, or
three grains, in preparation for the known demand of the evening. The immediate
occasion of this practice was the lowness of wages, which at that time would not
allow them to indulge in ale or spirits, and wages rising, it may be thought that
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