Not a member?     Existing members login below:

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

artificial state of pleasurable excitement. This, however, is a misrepresentation of
my case. True it is that for nearly ten years I did occasionally take opium for the
sake of the exquisite pleasure it gave me; but so long as I took it with this view I
was effectually protected from all material bad consequences by the necessity of
interposing long intervals between the several acts of indulgence, in order to
renew the pleasurable sensations. It was not for the purpose of creating
pleasure, but of mitigating pain in the severest degree, that I first began to use
opium as an article of daily diet. In the twenty-eighth year of my age a most
painful affection of the stomach, which I had first experienced about ten years
before, attacked me in great strength. This affection had originally been caused
by extremities of hunger, suffered in my boyish days. During the season of hope
and redundant happiness which succeeded (that is, from eighteen to twenty-four)
it had slumbered; for the three following years it had revived at intervals; and
now, under unfavourable circumstances, from depression of spirits, it attacked
me with a violence that yielded to no remedies but opium. As the youthful
sufferings which first produced this derangement of the stomach were interesting
in themselves, and in the circumstances that attended them, I shall here briefly
retrace them.
My father died when I was about seven years old, and left me to the care of four
guardians. I was sent to various schools, great and small; and was very early
distinguished for my classical attainments, especially for my knowledge of Greek.
At thirteen I wrote Greek with ease; and at fifteen my command of that language
was so great that I not only composed Greek verses in lyric metres, but could
converse in Greek fluently and without embarrassment--an accomplishment
which I have not since met with in any scholar of my times, and which in my case
was owing to the practice of daily reading off the newspapers into the best Greek
I could furnish extempore; for the necessity of ransacking my memory and
invention for all sorts and combinations of periphrastic expressions as
equivalents for modern ideas, images, relations of things, &c., gave me a
compass of diction which would never have been called out by a dull translation
of moral essays, &c. "That boy," said one of my masters, pointing the attention of
a stranger to me, "that boy could harangue an Athenian mob better than you and
I could address an English one." He who honoured me with this eulogy was a
scholar, "and a ripe and a good one," and of all my tutors was the only one whom
I loved or reverenced. Unfortunately for me (and, as I afterwards learned, to this
worthy man's great indignation), I was transferred to the care, first of a
blockhead, who was in a perpetual panic lest I should expose his ignorance; and
finally to that of a respectable scholar at the head of a great school on an ancient
foundation. This man had been appointed to his situation by--College, Oxford,
and was a sound, well-built scholar, but (like most men whom I have known from
that college) coarse, clumsy, and inelegant. A miserable contrast he presented,
in my eyes, to the Etonian brilliancy of my favourite master; and beside, he could
not disguise from my hourly notice the poverty and meagreness of his
understanding.
Remove