Confessions of an English Opium-Eater HTML version

The Pleasures Of Opium
It is so long since I first took opium that if it had been a trifling incident in my life I
might have forgotten its date; but cardinal events are not to be forgotten, and
from circumstances connected with it I remember that it must be referred to the
autumn of 1804. During that season I was in London, having come thither for the
first time since my entrance at college. And my introduction to opium arose in the
following way. From an early age I had been accustomed to wash my head in
cold water at least once a day: being suddenly seized with toothache, I attributed
it to some relaxation caused by an accidental intermission of that practice,
jumped out of bed, plunged my head into a basin of cold water, and with hair thus
wetted went to sleep. The next morning, as I need hardly say, I awoke with
excruciating rheumatic pains of the head and face, from which I had hardly any
respite for about twenty days. On the twenty-first day I think it was, and on a
Sunday, that I went out into the streets, rather to run away, if possible, from my
torments, than with any distinct purpose. By accident I met a college
acquaintance, who recommended opium. Opium! dread agent of unimaginable
pleasure and pain! I had heard of it as I had of manna or of ambrosia, but no
further. How unmeaning a sound was it at that time: what solemn chords does it
now strike upon my heart! what heart-quaking vibrations of sad and happy
remembrances! Reverting for a moment to these, I feel a mystic importance
attached to the minutest circumstances connected with the place and the time
and the man (if man he was) that first laid open to me the Paradise of Opium-
eaters. It was a Sunday afternoon, wet and cheerless: and a duller spectacle this
earth of ours has not to show than a rainy Sunday in London. My road
homewards lay through Oxford Street; and near "the stately Pantheon" (as Mr.
Wordsworth has obligingly called it) I saw a druggist's shop. The druggist--
unconscious minister of celestial pleasures!--as if in sympathy with the rainy
Sunday, looked dull and stupid, just as any mortal druggist might be expected to
look on a Sunday; and when I asked for the tincture of opium, he gave it to me as
any other man might do, and furthermore, out of my shilling returned me what
seemed to be real copper halfpence, taken out of a real wooden drawer.
Nevertheless, in spite of such indications of humanity, he has ever since existed
in my mind as the beatific vision of an immortal druggist, sent down to earth on a
special mission to myself. And it confirms me in this way of considering him, that
when I next came up to London I sought him near the stately Pantheon, and
found him not; and thus to me, who knew not his name (if indeed he had one), he
seemed rather to have vanished from Oxford Street than to have removed in any
bodily fashion. The reader may choose to think of him as possibly no more than a
sublunary druggist; it may be so, but my faith is better--I believe him to have
evanesced, {11} or evaporated. So unwillingly would I connect any mortal