Despite its title, the [book] carries no overtones of repentance, and much of its fascination lies in the unveiling of the shadowy dream world of the unconscious which [the author]’s opium-taking is said to have made possible….[The author] stated that the effects of the drug were much preferable to those of alcoholic intoxication. ‘The opium-eater…feels that the diviner part of his nature is paramount – that is, the moral affections are in a state of cloudless serenity: and high over all the great light of the majestic intellect.’ And the ‘majestic intellect’ is the real subject of the [book]....Continua
(The version I read was a different edition)
At Whitby in the 2nd hand bookshop I found a 1886 copy of “Confessions of an English Opium Eater” by Thomas de Quincy. It was a fantastic little copy with some uncut pages, and also contained “Levena” and “Our lady of Sorrows” from his Suspira de Profundis as well as some other later excerpts on Opium, an essay on the history of the Rosicrucian and the Freemasons, and some translations of Kant. All in all most delightful.
I enjoyed the book no end. It seemed more fantastical that autobiographical. But I loved the writing style and the descriptions. The dreams themselves did not give as lasting an impression of the descriptions of starving on Oxford Street. Even with the fall into death and despair it did sound very lovely. One of my professors pointed out that de Quincy was not in fact taking pure opium but rather laudanum that made the experience different to that of an opium smoker. But I greatly enjoyed the story of the young classical scholar and his use of drugs. I liked that for a long time he was able to use them in a reasonable way, but that it was (or he claimed it was) in treating illness that he finally succumbed to using the drugs habitually. I wish he’d gone into more detail on a number of occasions and stayed with the time a little longer, rather than going into the delirium that happened later. The nightmares didn’t seem all that terrifying (especially because of the odd orientalist confusions they seemed to be) but I suppose it’s hard to get the same fear from another person. I did find the later confessions, including the diary of his daily doses when he was trying to quit, to be really interesting. It was a fascinating look into the past in a way that you normally don’t get to see.
The part I enjoyed the most however, was not the confessions rather it was “Our Lady of Sorrows” which was some of the most stunning prose I’d read in ages. It reminded me of Dunsany at his best and was just beautiful beyond words. To give a taste I’ll quote from the speech at the end of the story, by Our Lady of Sighs,
"Lo! Here he is, whom in childhood I dedicated to my altars. This is he that once I made my darling. Him I led astray, him I beguiled, and from heaven I stole away his young heart to mine. Through me did he become idolatrous; and through me it was, by languishing desires, that he worshiped the worm, and prayed to the wormy grave. Holy was the grave to him; lovely was its darkness; saintly its corruption…”...Continua