Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The Opium Habit by Horace B. Day

Part 3 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

seriously hurt by my blow, flung himself on the ground, and there lay
with outstretched limbs. I hung over him mourning and in a great
fright; he leaped up, and with a horse-laugh gave me a severe blow in
the face. I seized a knife and was running at him, when my mother came
in and took me by the arm. I expected a flogging, and struggling from
her I ran away to a little hill or slope, at the bottom of which the
Otter flows, about a mile from Ottery. There I stayed. My rage died
away, but my obstinancy vanquished my fears, and taking out a shilling
book, which had at the end morning and evening prayers, I very
devoutly repeated them--thinking at the same time, with a gloomy
inward satisfaction, how miserable my mother must be!.... It grew dark
and I fell asleep. It was toward the end of October, and it proved a
stormy night. I felt the cold in my sleep, and dreamed that I was
pulling the blanket over me, and actually pulled over me a dry
thorn-bush which lay on the ground near me. In my sleep I had rolled
from the top of the hill till within three yards of the river, which
flowed by the unfenced edge of the bottom. I awoke several times, and
finding myself wet, and cold, and stiff, closed my eyes again that I
might forget it.

"In the mean time my mother waited about half an hour, expecting my
return when the _sulks_ had evaporated. I not returning, she sent
into the church-yard and round the town. Not found! Several men and
all the boys were sent out to ramble about and seek me. In vain! My
mother was almost distracted, and at ten o'clock at night I was
_cried_ by the crier in Ottery and in two villages near it, with
a reward offered for me. No one went to bed; indeed I believe half the
town were up all the night. To return to myself. About five in the
morning, or a little after, I was broad awake and attempted to get up
and walk, but I could not move. I saw the shepherds and workmen at a
distance and cried, but so faintly that it was impossible to hear me
thirty yards off, and there I might have lain and died--for I was now
almost given over, the pond and even the river near which I was lying
having been dragged--but providentially Sir Stafford Northcote, who
had been out all night, resolved to make one other trial, and came so
near that he heard me crying. He carried me in his arms for nearly a
quarter of a mile, when we met my father and Sir Stafford Northcote's
servants. I remember and never shall forget my father's face as he
looked upon me while I lay in the servant's arms--so calm, and the
tears stealing down his face, for I was the child of his old age. My
mother, as you may suppose, was outrageous with joy. Meantime in
rushed a young lady, crying out, 'I hope you'll whip him,
Mr. Coleridge.' This woman still lives at Ottery, and neither
philosophy nor religion has been able to conquer the antipathy which I
feel toward her whenever I see her. I was put to bed and recovered in
a day or so; but I was certainly injured, for I was weakly and subject
to ague for many years after."

The next year he writes to two other friends: "I have been confined to
my bed for some days through a fever occasioned by the stump of a
tooth which baffled chirurgical efforts to eject, and which by
affecting my eye affected my stomach, and through that my whole
frame. I am better, but still weak in consequence of such long
sleeplessness and wearying pains; weak, very weak.

"I have even now returned from a little excursion that I have taken
for the confirmation of my health, which has suffered a rude assault
from the anguish of the stump of a tooth which had baffled the
attempts of our surgeon here, and which confined' me to my bed. I
suffered much from the disease, and more from the doctor. Rather than
again put my mouth into his hands, I would put my hands into a lion's

His nephew says of him: "He was naturally of a joyous temperament, and
in one amusement, swimming, he excelled and took singular
delight. Indeed he believed, and probably with truth, that his health
was singularly injured by his excess in bathing, coupled with such
tricks as swimming across the New River in his clothes, and drying
them on his back, and the like."

In the biography of the poet by his friend Dr. Gilman, in whose family
he resided for the last twenty years of his life, the subjoined
statements are found:

"From his own account, as well as from Lamb and others who knew him
when at school, he must have been a delicate and suffering boy. His
principal ailments he owed much to the state of his stomach, which was
at that time so delicate that when compelled to go to a large closet
containing shoes, to pick out a pair easy to his feet, which were
always tender, the smell from the number in this place used to make
him so sick that I have often seen him shudder, even in late life,
when he gave an account of it.

"'Conceive,' says Coleridge, 'what I must have been at fourteen. I was
in a continual low fever. My whole being was, with eyes closed to
every object of present sense, to crumple myself up in a sunny corner
and read, read, read; fancy myself on Robinson Crusoe's Island,
finding a mountain of plum-cake, and eating a room for myself, and
then eating it into the shapes of tables and chairs--hunger and

"Full half the time from seventeen to eighteen was passed in the
sick-ward of Christ's Hospital, afflicted with jaundice and rheumatic
fever. From these indiscretions and their consequences may be dated
all his bodily sufferings in future life--in short, rheumatism sadly
afflicting him, while the remedies only slightly alleviated his
sufferings, without hope of a permanent cure. Medical men are too
often called upon to witness the effects of acute rheumatism in the
young subject. In some the attack is on the heart, and its
consequences are immediate; in others it leaves behind bodily
suffering, which may indeed be palliated, but terminates only in a
lingering dissolution.

"In early life he was remarkably joyous. Nature had blessed him with a
buoyancy of spirits, and even when suffering he deceived the partial

"At this time (while a soldier) he frequently complained of a pain at
the pit of his stomach, accompanied with sickness, which totally
prevented his stooping, and in consequence he could never arrive at
the power of bending his body to rub the heels of his horse. During
the latter part of his life he became nearly crippled by the

Under date of July 24, 1800, Coleridge writes: "I have been more
unwell than I have ever been since I left school. For many days was
forced to keep my bed, and when released from that incarceration I
suffered most grievously from a brace of swollen eyelids and a head
into which, on the least agitation, the blood was felt as rushing in
and flowing back again, like the raking of the tide on a coast of
loose stones."

In January, 1803, he says: "I write with difficulty, with all the
fingers but one of my right hand very much swollen. Before I was half
up the _Kirkstone mountain_, the storm had wetted me through and
through. In spite of the wet and the cold I should have had some
pleasure in it, but for two vexations; first, an almost intolerable
pain came into my right eye, a smarting and burning pain; and
secondly, in consequence of riding with such cold water under my seat,
extremely uneasy and burdensome feelings attacked my groin, so that,
what with the pain from the one, and the alarm from the other, I had
no enjoyment at all!

"I went on to Grasmere. I was not at all unwell when I arrived there,
though wet of course to the skin. My right eye had nothing the matter
with it, either to the sight of others or to my own feelings, but I
had a bad night with distressful dreams, chiefly about my eye; and
waking often in the dark, I thought it was the effect of mere
recollection, but it appeared in the morning that my right eye was
bloodshot and the lid swollen. That morning, however, I walked home,
and before I reached Keswick my eye was quite well, but _I felt
unwell all over_. Yesterday I continued unusually unwell all over
me till eight o'clock in the evening. I took no _laudanum or
opium_, but at eight o'clock, unable to bear the stomach uneasiness
and aching of my limbs, I took two large tea-spoons full of ether in a
wine-glass of camphorated gum-water, and a third tea-spoon full at ten
o'clock, and I received complete relief, my body calmed, my sleep
placid; but when I awoke in the morning my right hand, with three of
the fingers, were swollen and inflamed. The swelling in the hand is
gone down, and of two of the fingers somewhat abated, but the middle
finger is still twice its natural size, so that I write with

A few days later, he writes to the same friend: "On Monday night I had
an attack in my stomach and right side, which in pain, and the length
of its continuance, appeared to me by far the severest I ever
had. About one o'clock the pain passed out of my stomach, like
lightning from a cloud, into the extremities of my right foot. My toe
swelled and throbbed, and I was in a state of delicious ease which the
pain in my toe did not seem at all to interfere with. On Wednesday I
was well, and after dinner wrapped myself up warm and walked to

"The walk appears to have done me good, but I had a wretched night:
shocking pains in my head, occiput, and teeth, and found in the
morning that I had two bloodshot eyes. But almost immediately after
the receipt and perusal of your letter the pains left me, and I am
bettered to this hour; and am now indeed as well as usual saving that
my left eye is very much bloodshot. It is a sort of duty with me to be
particular respecting parts that relate to my health. I have retained
a good sound appetite through the whole of it, without any craving
after exhilarants or narcotics, and I have got well as in a
moment. Rapid recovery is constitutional with me; but the former
circumstances I can with certainty refer to the system of diet,
abstinence of vegetables, wine, spirits, and beer, which I have
adopted by your advice."

The same year he writes to a friend suffering from a chronic disorder,
and records the trial of Bang--"the powder of the leaves of a kind of
hemp that grows in the hot climates. It is prepared, and I believe
used, in all parts of the east, from Morocco to China. In Europe it is
found to act very differently on different constitutions. Some it
elevates in the extreme; others it renders torpid, and scarcely
observant of any evil that may befall them. In Barbary it is always
taken, if it can be procured, by criminals condemned to suffer
amputation, and it is said to enable those miserables to bear the
rough operations of an unfeeling executioner more than we Europeans
can the keen knife of our most skillful chirurgeons:

"We will have a fair trial of Bang. Do bring down some of the
Hyoscyamine pills, and I will give a fair trial to Opium, Henbane, and
Nepenthe. By the bye, I always considered Homer's account of the
Nepenthe as a _Banging_ lie."

In September, 1803, he gives a gloomy account of his condition. It
seems probable that at this time his use of opium must have become

"For five months past my mind has been strangely shut up. I have
taken the paper with the intention to write to you many times, but it
has been one blank feeling--one blank idealess feeling. I had nothing
to say--could say nothing. How dearly I love you, my very dreams make
known to me. I will not trouble you with the gloomy tale of my
health. When I am awake, by patience, employment, effort of mind, and
walking, I can keep the fiend at arm's-length, but the night is my
Hell! sleep my tormenting Angel. Three nights out of four I fall
asleep, struggling to lie awake, and my frequent night-screams have
almost made me a nuisance in my own house. Dreams with me are no
shadows, but the very calamities of my life.

"In the hope of drawing the gout, if gout it should be, into my feet,
I walked, previously to my getting into the coach at Perth, 263 miles
in eight days, with no unpleasant fatigue. My head is equally strong;
but acid or not acid, gout or not gout, something there is in my

"To diversify this dusky letter, I will write an _Epitaph_, which
I composed in my sleep for myself while dreaming that I was dying. To
the best of my recollection I have not altered a word:

"'Here sleeps at length poor Col. and without screaming,
Who died as he had always lived, a dreaming;
Shot dead, while sleeping, by the gout within,
Alone, and all unknown, at E'nbro' in an Inn'"

In the beginning of the next year, 1804, the state of his health is
thus indicated: "I stayed at Grasmere (Mr. Wordsworth's) a
month--three-fourths of the time bedridden--and deeply do I feel the
enthusiastic kindness of Wordsworth's wife and sister, who sat up by
me, one or the other, in order to awaken me at the first symptoms of
distressful feeling; and even when they went to rest, continued often
and often to weep and watch for me even in their dreams.

"Though my right hand is so much swollen that I can scarcely keep my
pen steady between my thumb and finger, yet my stomach is easy and my
breathing comfortable, and I am eager to hope all good things of my
health. That gained, I have a cheering and I trust prideless
confidence that I shall make an active and perseverant use of the
faculties and requirements that have been entrusted to my keeping, and
a fair trial of their height, depth, and width."

A few days later he writes to a friend who was suffering like himself:
"Have you ever thought of trying large doses of opium, a hot climate,
keeping your body open by grapes, and the fruits of the climate? Is it
possible that by drinking freely you might at last produce the gout,
and that a violent pain and inflammation in the extremities might
produce new trains of motion and feeling in your stomach, and the
organs connected with the stomach, known and unknown? I know by a
little what your sufferings are, and that to shut the eyes and stop up
the ears is to give one's self up to storm and darkness, and the lurid
forms and horrors of a dream."

In reference to these statements regarding Coleridge's physical
condition, Cottle remarks: "I can testify that, during the four or
five years in which Mr. C. resided in or near Bristol, no young man
could enjoy more robust health. Dr. Carlyon also verbally stated that
Mr. C., both at Cambridge and at Gottingen, 'possessed sound health.'
From these premises the conclusion is fair that Mr. Coleridge's
unhappy use of narcotics, which commenced thus early, was the true
cause of all his maladies, his languor, his acute and chronic pains,
his indigestion, his swellings, the disturbances of his general
corporeal system, his sleepless nights, and his terrific dreams."

Scattered through Dr. Gilman's "Life of Coleridge" are indications of
this kind:

"In 1804, his rheumatic sufferings increasing, he determined on a
change of climate, and went in May to Malta. He seemed at this time,
in addition to his rheumatism, to have been oppressed in his
breathing, which oppression crept on him, imperceptibly to himself,
without suspicion of its cause. Yet so obvious was it that it was
noticed by others 'as laborious;' and continuing to increase, though
with little apparent advancement, at length terminated in death.

"At first he remarked that he was relieved by the climate of Malta,
but afterward speaks of his limbs 'as lifeless tools,' and of the
violent pain in his bowels, which neither opium, ether, nor
peppermint, separately or combined, could relieve.

"Coleridge _began_ the use of opium from bodily pain
(rheumatism), and for the same reason _continued_ it, till he had
acquired a habit too difficult uder his own management to control. To
him it was the thorn in the flesh, which will be seen in the following
note found in his pocket-book: 'I have never loved evil for its own
sake; no! nor ever sought pleasure for its own sake, but only as the
means of escaping from pains that coiled around my mental powers as a
serpent around the body and wings of an eagle! My sole sensuality was
_not_ to be in pain.'"

Little is known of Coleridge's opium habits during his residence at
Malta. On his return to England in 1807, he wrote to Mr. Cottle: "On
my return to Bristol, whenever that may be, I will certainly give you
the right hand of old fellowship; but, alas! you will find me the
wretched wreck of what you knew me, rolling, rudderless. My health is
extremely bad. Pain I have enough of, but that is indeed to me a mere
trifle, but the almost unceasing, overpowering sensations of
wretchedness--achings in my limbs, with an indescribable restlessness
that makes action to any available purpose almost impossible--and
worst of all the sense of blighted utility, regrets, not
remorseless. But enough; yea, more than enough, if these things
produce or deepen the conviction of the utter powerlessness of
ourselves, and that we either perish or find aid from something that
passes understanding."

A period of seven years here intervenes, during which no light is
thrown upon the opium life of Coleridge. The following extract from a
letter written by him during this period, sufficiently indicates,
however, both his consciousness of his great powers and his remorse
for their imperfect use:

"As to the letter you propose to write to a man who is unworthy even
of a rebuke from you, I might most unfeignedly object to some parts of
it from a pang of conscience forbidding me to allow, even from a dear
friend, words of admiration which are inapplicable in exact proportion
to the power given to me of having deserved them if I had done my

"It is not of comparative utility I speak; for as to what has been
actually done, and in relation to useful effects produced--whether on
the minds of individuals or of the public--I dare boldly stand
forward, and (let every man have his own, and that be counted mine
which but for and through me would not have existed) will challenge
the proudest of my literary contemporaries to compare proofs with me
of usefulness in the excitement of reflection, and the diffusion of
original or forgotten yet necessary and important truths and
knowledge; and this is not the less true because I have suffered
others to reap all the advantages. But, O dear friend, this
consciousness, raised by insult of enemies and alienated friends,
stands me in little stead to my own soul--in how little, then, before
the all-righteous Judge! who, requiring back the talents he had
entrusted, will, if the mercies of Christ do not intervene, not demand
of me what I have done, but why I did not do more; why, with powers
above so many, I had sunk in many things below most!"

In 1814 he returned to Bristol, and here the painful narrative of
Mr. Cottle comes in: "Is it expedient, is it lawful, to give publicity
to Mr. Coleridge's practice of inordinately taking opium; which to a
certain extent, at one part of his life, inflicted on a heart
naturally cheerful the stings of conscience, and sometimes almost the
horrors of despair?

"In the year 1814, all this, I am afflicted to say, applied to
Mr. Coleridge. Once Mr. Coleridge expressed to me, with indescribable
emotion, the joy he should feel if he could collect around him all who
were 'beginning to tamper with the lulling but fatal draught,' so that
he might proclaim as with a trumpet, 'the worse than death that opium

"When it is considered, also, how many men of high mental endowments
have shrouded their lustre by a passion for this stimulus, would it not
be a criminal concession to unauthorized feelings to allow so
impressive an exhibition of this subtle species of intemperance to
escape from public notice? In the exhibition here made, the
inexperienced in future may learn a memorable lesson, and be taught to
shrink from opium as they would from a scorpion, which, before it
destroys, invariably expels peace from the mind, and excites the worst
species of conflict--that of setting a man at war with himself.

"I had often spoken to Hannah More of S. T. Coleridge, and proceeded
with him one morning to Barley Wood, her residence, eleven miles from
Bristol. The interview was mutually agreeable, nor was there any lack
of conversation; but I was struck with something singular in
Mr. Coleridge's eye. I expressed to a friend, the next day, my concern
at having beheld him during his visit to Hannah More so extremely
paralytic, his hands shaking to an alarming degree, so that he could
not take a glass of wine without spilling it, though one hand
supported the other! 'That,' said he, 'arises from the immoderate
quantity of OPIUM he takes.'

"It is remarkable that this was the first time the melancholy fact of
Mr. Coleridge's excessive indulgence in opium had come to my
knowledge. It astonished and afflicted me. Now the cause of his
ailments became manifest. On this subject Mr. C. may have been
communicative to others, but to me he was silent.

"I ruminated long upon this subject with indescribable sorrow; and
having ascertained from others not only the existence of the evil but
its extent, I determined to write to Mr. Coleridge. I addressed him
the following letter, under the full impression that it was a case of
'life and death,' and that if some strong effort were not made to
arouse him from his insensibility, speedy destruction must inevitably

"'BRISTOL, April 25,1814.

"'DEAR COLERIDGE:--I am conscious of being influenced by the purest
motives in addressing to you the following letter. Permit me to
remind you that I am the oldest friend you have in Bristol, that I was
such when my friendship was of more consequence to you than it is at
present, and that at that time you were neither insensible of my
kindnesses nor backward to acknowledge them. I bring these things to
your remembrance to impress on your mind that it is still a
_friend_ who is writing to you; one who ever has been such, and
who is now going to give you the most decisive evidence of his

"'When I think of Coleridge I wish to recall the image of him such as
he appeared in past years; now, how has the baneful use of opium
thrown a dark cloud over you and your prospects! I would not say any
thing needlessly harsh or unkind, but I must be _faithful_. It is
the irresistible voice of conscience. Others may still flatter you,
and hang upon your words, but I have another, though a less gracious
duty to perform. I see a brother sinning a sin unto death, and shall I
not warn him? I see him perhaps on the borders of eternity; in
effect, despising his Maker's law, and yet indifferent to his perilous

"'In recalling what the expectations concerning you once were, and the
excellency with which seven years ago you wrote and spoke on religious
truth, my heart bleeds to see how you are now fallen, and thus to
notice how many exhilarating hopes are almost blasted by your present
habits. This is said, not to wound, but to arouse you to reflection.

"'I know full well the evidences of the pernicious drug! You can not
be unconscious of the effects, though you may wish to forget the
cause. All around you behold the wild eye, the sallow countenance, the
tottering step, the trembling hand, the disordered frame! and yet will
you not be awakened to a sense of your danger, and I must add, your
guilt? Is it a small thing, that one of the finest of human
understandings should be lost? That your talents should be buried?
That most of the influences to be derived from your present example
should be in direct opposition to right and virtue? It is true you
still talk of religion, and profess the warmest admiration of the
Church and her doctrines, in which it would not be lawful to doubt
your sincerity; but can you be unaware that by your unguarded and
inconsistent conduct you are furnishing arguments to the infidel;
giving occasion for the enemy to blaspheme; and (among those who
imperfectly know you) throwing suspicion over your religious
profession? Is not the great test in some measure against you, "By
their fruits ye shall know them?" Are there never any calm moments,
when you impartially judge of your own actions by their consequences?

"'Not to reflect on you-not to give you a moment's _needless_
pain, but in the spirit of friendship, suffer me to bring to your
recollection some of the sad effects of your undeniable intemperance.

"'I know you have a correct love of honest independence, without which
there can be no true nobility of mind; and yet for opium you will sell
this treasure, and expose yourself to the liability of arrest by some
"dirty fellow" to whom you choose to be indebted for "ten pounds!" You
had, and still have, an acute sense of moral right and wrong, but is
not the feeling sometimes overpowered by self-indulgence? Permit me
to remind you that you are not more suffering in your mind than you
are in your body, while you are squandering largely your money in the
purchase of opium, which, in the strictest equity, should receive a
_different direction_.

"I will not again refer to the mournful effects produced on your own
health from this indulgence in opium, by which you have undermined
your strong constitution; but I must notice the injurious consequences
which this passion for the narcotic drug has on your literary
efforts. What you have already done, excellent as it is, is considered
by your friends and the world as the bloom, the mere promise of the
harvest. Will you suffer the fatal draught, which is ever accompanied
by sloth, to rob you of your fame, and, what to you is a higher
motive, of your power of doing good; of giving fragrance to your
memory, among the worthies of future years, when you are numbered with
the dead?

"'And now let me conjure you, alike by the voice of friendship and the
duty you owe yourself and family; above all, by the reverence you feel
for the cause of Christianity; by the fear of God and the awfulness of
eternity, to renounce from this moment opium and spirits as your bane!
Frustrate not the great end of your existence. Exert the ample
abilities which God has given you, as a faithful steward. So will you
secure your rightful pre-eminence among the sons of genius; recover
your cheerfulness, your health--I trust it is not too late--become
reconciled to yourself; and, through the merits of that Saviour in
whom you profess to trust, obtain at last the approbation of your
Maker, My dear Coleridge, be wise before it be too late. I do hope to
see you a renovated man; and that you will still burst your inglorious
fetters and justify the best hopes of your friends.

"'Excuse the freedom with which I write. If at the first moment it
should offend, on reflection you will approve at least of the motive,
and perhaps, in a better state of mind, thank and bless me. If all the
good which I have prayed for should not be effected by this letter, I
have at least dis charged an imperious sense of duty. I wish my
manner were less exceptionable, as I do that the advice through the
blessing of the Almighty might prove effectual. The tear which bedims
my eye is an evidence of the sincerity with which I subscribe myself
your affectionate friend,


"The following is Mr. Coleridge's reply:

"'April 26,1814.

"'You have poured oil in the raw and festering wound of an old
friend's conscience Cottle, but it is _oil of vitriol!_ I but
barely glanced at the middle of the first page of your letter, and
have seen no more of it-not from resentment, God forbid! but from the
state of my bodily and mental sufferings, that scarcely permitted
human fortitude to let in a new visitor of affliction.

"'The object of my present reply is to state the case just as it
is--first, that for ten years the anguish of my spirit has been
indescribable, the sense of my danger staring, but the consciousness
of my GUILT worse--far worse than all! I have prayed, with drops of
agony on my brow; trembling not only before the justice of my Maker,
but even before the mercy of my Redeemer. "I gave thee so many
talents, what hast thou done with them?" Secondly, overwhelmed as I am
with a sense of my direful infirmity, I have never attempted to
disguise or conceal the cause. On the contrary, not only to friends
have I stated the whole case with tears and the very bitterness of
shame, but in two instances I have warned young men--mere
acquaintances, who had spoken of having taken laudanum--of the direful
consequences, by an awful exposition of its tremendous effects on

"'Thirdly, though before God I can not lift up my eyelids, and only do
not despair of his mercy because to despair would be adding crime to
crime, yet to my fellow-men I may say that I was seduced into the
ACCURSED habit ignorantly. I had been almost bedridden for many
months with swellings in my knees. In a medical journal I unhappily
met with an account of a cure performed in a similar case, or what
appeared to me so, by rubbing in of laudanum, at the same time taking
a given dose internally. It acted like a charm, like a miracle! I
recovered the use of my limbs, of my appetite, of my spirits, and this
continued for near a fortnight. At length the unusual stimulus
subsided, the complaint returned--the supposed remedy was recurred
to--but I can not go through the dreary history.

"'Suffice it to say that effects were produced which acted on me by
terror and cowardice of pain and sudden death, not (so help me God!)
by any temptation of pleasure, or expectation or desire of exciting
pleasurable senstations. On the very contrary, Mrs. Morgan and her
sister will bear witness so far as to say that the longer I abstained
the higher my spirits were, the keener my enjoyments, till the moment,
the direful moment arrived when my pulse began to fluctuate, my heart
to palpitate, and such falling abroad as it were of my whole frame,
such intolerable restlessness and incipient bewilderment, that in the
last of my several attempts to abandon the dire poison I exclaimed in
agony, which I now repeat in seriousness and solemnity, "I am too poor
to hazard this!" Had I but a few hundred pounds--but L200--half to
send to Mrs. Coleridge, and half to place myself in a private
mad-house, where I could procure nothing but what a physician thought
proper, and where a medical attendant could be constantly with me for
two or three months (in less than that time life or death would be
determined), then there might be hope. Now there is none!! O God! how
willingly would I place myself under Dr. Fox in his establishment; for
my case is a species of madness, only that it is a derangement, an
utter impotence of the volition and not of the intellectual
faculties. You bid me rouse myself. Go bid a man paralytic in both
arms to rub them briskly together and that will cure him. "Alas!" he
would reply, "that I can not move my arms is my complaint and my
mysery." May God bless you, and your affectionate but most afflicted


"On receiving this full and mournful disclosure I felt the deepest
compassion for Mr. C.'s state, and sent him a letter to which I
received the following reply:

"'O, dear friend! I have too much to be forgiven to feel any
difficulty in forgiving the cruellest enemy that ever trampled on me:
and you I have only to _thank!_ You have no conception of the
dreadful hell of my mind, and conscience, and body. You bid me
pray. Oh, I do pray inwardly to be able to pray; but indeed to pray,
to pray with a faith to which a blessing is promised, this is the
reward of faith, this is the gift of God to the elect. Oh! if to feel
how infinitely worthless I am, how poor a wretch, with just free-will
enough to be deserving of wrath and of my own contempt, and of none to
merit a moment's peace, can make a part of a Christian's creed--so far
I am a Christian,

S. T. C.'

"'April 26, 1814.

"At this time Mr. Coleridge was indeed in a pitiable condition. His
passion for opium had so completely subdued his _will_ that he
seemed carried away, without resistance, by an overwhelming flood. The
impression was fixed on his mind that he should inevitably die unless
he were placed under _constraint_, and that constraint he thought
could be alone effected in an asylum. Dr. Fox, who presided over an
establishment of this description in the neighborhood of Bristol,
appeared to Mr. C. the individual to whose subjection he would most
like to submit. This idea still impressing his imagination, he
addressed to me the following letter:

"'DEAR COTTLE:--I have resolved to place myself in any situation in
which I can remain for a month or two as a child, wholly in the power
of others. But, alas! I have no money. Will you invite Mr. Hood, a
most dear and affectionate friend to worthless me, and Mr. Le Breton,
my old school-fellow and likewise a most affectionate friend, and
Mr. Wade, who will return in a few days; desire them to call on you,
any evening after seven o'clock that they can make convenient, and
consult with them whether any thing of this kind can be done. Do you
know Dr. Fox? Affectionately,

"'S. T. C.'

"I _did_ know the late Dr. Fox, who was an opulent and
liberal-minded man, and if I had applied to him, or any friend had so
done, I can not doubt but that he would instantly have received
Mr. Coleridge gratuitously; but nothing could have induced me to make
the application but that extreme case which did not then appear fully
to exist.

"The years 1814 and 1815 were the darkest periods in Mr. Coleridge's
life. However painful the detail, it is presumed that the reader would
desire a knowledge of the undisguised truth. This can not be obtained
without introducing the following letters of Mr. Southey, received
from him after having sent him copies of the letters which passed
between Mr. Coleridge and myself.

"'KESWICK, April, 1814.

"'MY DEAR COTTLE:--You may imagine with what feelings I have read your
correspondence with Coleridge. Shocking as his letters are, perhaps
the most mournful thing they discover is, that while acknowledging the
guilt of the habit he imputes it still to morbid bodily causes,
whereas after every possible allowance is made for these, every person
who has witnessed his habits knows that for the greater, infinitely
the greater part, inclination and indulgence are its motives.

"'It seems dreadful to say this, with his expressions before me, but
it is so, and I know it to be so from my own observation, and that of
all with whom he has lived. The Morgans, with great difficulty and
perseverance, _did_ break him of the habit at a time when his
ordinary consumption of laudanum was from _two quarts a week to a
pint a day!_ He suffered dreadfully during the first abstinence, so
much so as to say it was better for him to die than to endure his
present feelings. Mrs. Morgan resolutely replied, it was indeed better
that he should die than that he should continue to live as he had been
living. It angered him at the time, but the effort was persevered in.

"'To what, then, was the relapse owing? I believe to this cause--that
no use was made of renewed health and spirits; that time passed on in
idleness, till the lapse of time brought with it a sense of neglected
duties, and then relief was again sought for _a self-accusing
mind_ in bodily feelings, which, when the stimulus ceased to act,
added only to the load of self-accusation. This, Cottle, is an
insanity which none but the soul's Physician can cure. Unquestionably,
restraint would do as much for him as it did when the Morgans tried
it, but I do not see the slightest reason for believing it would be
more permanent. This, too, I ought to say, that all the medical men to
whom Coleridge has made his confession have uniformly ascribed the
evil not to bodily disease but indulgence. The restraint which alone
could effectually cure is that which no person can impose upon
him. Could he be compelled to a certain quantity of labor every day
for his family, the pleasure of having done it would make his heart
glad, and the sane mind would make the body whole.

"'His great object should be to get out a play, and appropriate the
whole produce to the support of his son Hartley at college. Three
months' pleasurable exertion would effect this. Of some such fit of
industry I by no means despair; of any thing more than fits I am
afraid I do. But this of course I shall never say to him. From me he
shall never hear aught but cheerful encouragement and the language of

"After anxious consideration I thought the only effectual way of
benefiting Mr. Coleridge would be to renew the project of an annuity,
by raising for him among his friends one hundred, or, if possible, one
hundred and fifty pounds a year, purposing through a committee of
three to pay for his comfortable board and all necessaries, but not of
giving him the disposition of any part till it was hoped the
correction of his bad habits and the establishment of his better
principles might qualify him for receiving it for his own
distribution. It was difficult to believe that his subjection to
_opium_ could much longer resist the stings of his own conscience
and the solicitations of his friends, as well as the pecuniary
destitution to which his _opium habits_ had reduced him. The
proposed object was named to Mr. C., who reluctantly gave his consent.

"I now drew up a letter, intending to send a copy to all
Mr. Coleridge's old and steady friends (several of whom approved of
the design), but before any commencement was made I transmitted a copy
of my proposed letter to Mr. Southey to obtain his sanction. The
following is his reply:

"'April 17th, 1814.

"'DEAR COTTLE:--I have seldom in the course of my life felt it so
difficult to answer a letter as on the present occasion. There is,
however, no alternative. I must sincerely express what I think, and be
thankful I am writing to one who knows me thoroughly.

"'Of sorrow and humiliation I will say nothing. No part of Coleridge's
embarrassment arises from his wife and children, except that he has
insured his life for a thousand pounds, and pays the annual
premium. He never writes to them, and never opens a letter from them.

"'In truth, Cottle, his embarrassments and his miseries of body and
mind all arise from one accursed cause--excess in _opium_, of
which he habitually takes more than was ever known to be taken by any
person before him. The Morgans, with great effort, succeeded in making
him leave it off for a time, and he recovered in consequence
_health_ and _spirits_. He has now taken to it again. Of
this indeed I was too sure before I heard from you--that his looks
bore testimony to it. Perhaps you are not aware of the costliness of
this drug. In the quantity which C. takes, it would consume
_more_ than the whole which you propose to raise. A frightful
consumption of _spirits_ is added. In this way bodily ailments
are produced, and the wonder is that he is still alive.

"'Nothing is wanting to make him easy in circumstances and happy in
himself but to leave off opium, and to direct a certain portion of his
time to the discharge of _his duties.'_

"During my illness at this time, Mr. Coleridge sent my sister the
following letter, and the succeeding one to myself:

"'13th May, 1814.

"'DEAR MADAM:--I am uneasy to know how my friend, J. Cottle, goes
on. The walk I took last Monday to inquire in person proved too much
for my strength, and shortly after my return I was in such a swooning
way that I was directed to go to bed, and orders were given that no
one should interrupt me. Indeed I can not be sufficiently grateful for
the skill with which _the surgeon treats me._ But it must be a
slow, and occasionally an interrupted progress, after a sad retrogress
of nearly twelve years.'

"'Friday, 27th May, 1814.

"'MY DEAR COTTLE:--I feel, with an intensity unfathomable by words, my
utter nothingness, impotence, and worthlessness, in and for myself. I
have learned what a sin is against an infinite, imperishable being,
such as is the soul of man.

"'I have had more than a glimpse of what is meant by death and outer
darkness, and the worm that dieth not--and that all the _hell_ of the
reprobate, is no more inconsistent with the love of God, than the
blindness of one who has occasioned loathsome and guilty diseases to
eat out his eyes is inconsistent with the light of the sun. But the
consolations, at least the sensible sweetness of hope, I do not
possess. On the contrary, the temptation which I have constantly to
fight up against, is a fear that if _annihilation_ and the
_possibility_ of _heaven_ were offered to my choice, I should choose
the former. "'Mr. Eden gave you a too flattering account of me. It is
true I am restored, as much beyond my expectations almost as my
deserts; but I am exceedingly weak. I need for myself solace and
refocillation of animal spirits, instead of being in a condition of
offering it to others.'

"The serious expenditure of money resulting from Mr. C.'s consumption
of opium was the least evil, though very great, and must have absorbed
all the produce of Mr. C.'s lectures and all the liberalities of his
friends. It is painful to record such circumstances as the following,
but the picture would be incomplete without it.

"Mr. Coleridge, in a late letter, with something it is feared, if not
of duplicity, of self-deception, extols the skill of his surgeon in
having gradually lessened his consumption of laudanum, it was
understood, to twenty drops a day. With this diminution the habit was
considered as subdued, at which result no one appeared to rejoice more
than Mr. Coleridge himself. The reader will be surprised to learn
that, notwithstanding this flattering exterior, Mr. C., while
apparently submitting to the directions of his medical adviser, was
secretly indulging in his usual overwhelming quanties of opium!
Heedless of his health and every honorable consideration, he contrived
to obtain surreptitiously the fatal drug, and thus to baffle the hopes
of his warmest friends.

"Mr. Coleridge had resided at this time for several months with his
kind friend Mr. Josiah Wade, of Bristol, who in his solicitude for his
benefit had procured for him, so long as it was deemed necessary, the
professional assistance stated above. The surgeon on taking leave,
after the cure had been _effected_, well knowing the expedients
to which opium patients would often recur to obtain their proscribed
draughts--at least till the habit of temperance was fully
established--cautioned Mr. W. to prevent Mr. Coleridge by all possible
means from obtaining that by stealth from which he was openly
debarred. It reflects great credit on Mr. Wade's humanity that, to
prevent all access to opium, and thus if possible to rescue his friend
from destruction, he engaged a respectable old decayed tradesman
constantly to attend Mr. C, and, to make that which was sure, doubly
certain, placed him even in his bedroom; and this man always
accompanied him whenever he went out. To such surveillance
Mr. Coleridge cheerfully acceded, in order to show the promptitude
with which he seconded the efforts of his friends. It has been stated
that every precaution was unavailing. By some unknown means and
dexterous contrivances Mr. C. afterward confessed that he still
obtained his usual lulling potions.

"As an example, among others of a similar nature, one ingenious
expedient to which he resorted to cheat the doctor he thus disclosed
to Mr. Wade, from whom I received it. He said, in passing along the
quay where the ships were moored, he noticed by a side glance a
druggist's shop, probably an old resort, and standing near the door he
looked toward the ships, and pointing to one at some distance he said
to his attendant, 'I think that's an American.' 'Oh, no, that I am
sure it is not,' said the man. 'I think it is,' replied Mr. C.' I
wish you would step over and ask, and bring me the particulars.' The
man accordingly went; when as soon as his back was turned
Mr. C. stepped into the shop, had his portly bottle filled with
laudanum, which he always carried in his pocket, and then
expeditiously placed himself in the spot where he was left. The man
now returned with the particulars, beginning, 'I told you, Sir, it was
not an American, but I have learned all about her.' 'As I am mistaken,
never mind the rest,' said Mr. C, and walked on.

"A common impression prevailed on the minds of his friends that it was
a desperate case that paralyzed all their efforts; that to assist
Mr. C. with money, which under favorable circumstances would have been
most promptly advanced, would now only enlarge his capacity to obtain
the opium which was consuming him. We at length learned that Mr.
Coleridge was gone to reside with his friend Mr. John Morgan, in a
small house, at Calne, in Wiltshire. So gloomy were our apprehensions,
that even the death of Mr. C. was mournfully expected at no distant
period, for his actions at this time were, we feared, all indirectly
of a suicidal description.

"In a letter dated October 27, 1814, Mr. Southey thus writes:

"'Can you tell me any thing of Coleridge? We know that he is with the
Morgans at Calne. What is to become of him? He may find men who will
give him board and lodging for the sake of his conversation, but who
will pay his other expenses? He leaves his family to chance and
charity. With good feelings, good principles, as far as the
understanding is concerned, and an intellect as clear and as powerful
as was ever vouchsafed to man, he is the slave of degrading
sensuality, and sacrifices every thing to it. The case is equally
deplorable and monstrous.'"

The intimacy between Coleridge and Cottle seems about this period to
have entirely ceased. After the death of Coleridge, Mr. Cottle
prepared his "Recollections" of his friend, but was restrained from
its publication by considerations of propriety, until the following
letter was placed in his hands by the gentleman to whom it was
addressed, with permission to use it:

"BRISTOL, June 26, 1814.

"DEAR SIR:--For I am unworthy to call any good man friend--much less
you, whose hospitality and love I have abused; accept, however, my
entreaties for your forgiveness and your prayers.

"Conceive a poor miserable wretch, who for many years has been
attempting to beat off pain by a constant recurrence to the vice that
reproduces it. Conceive a spirit in hell employed in tracing out for
others the road to that heaven from which his crimes exclude him! In
short, conceive whatever is most wretched, helpless, and hopeless, and
you will form as tolerable a notion of my state as it is possible for
a good man to have.

"I used to think the text in St. James, that 'he who offended in one
point, offends in all,' very harsh, but I now feel the awful, the
tremendous truth of it. In the one crime of OPIUM, what crime have I
not made myself guilty of? Ingratitude to my Maker! and to my
benefactors, injustice! _and unnatural cruelty to my poor
children!_--self-contempt for my repeated promise--breach, nay, too
often, actual falsehood.

"After my death, I earnestly entreat that a full and unqualified
narration of my wretchedness and of its guilty cause may be made
public, that at least some little good may be effected by the direful

"May God Almighty bless you, and have mercy on your still
affectionate, and in his heart grateful,



"It appears that in the spring of 1816 Mr. Coleridge left Mr. Morgan's
house at Calne, and in a desolate state of mind repaired to London;
when the belief remaining strong on his mind that his opium habits
would never be effectually subdued till he had subjected himself to
medical restraint, he called on Dr. Adams, an eminent physician, and
disclosed to him the whole of his painful circumstances, stating what
he conceived to be his only remedy. The doctor, being a humane man,
sympathized with his patient, and knowing a medical gentleman who
resided three or four miles from town, who would be likely to
undertake the charge, he addressed the following letter to Mr. Gilman:

"'HATTON GARDEN, April 9,1816.

"'DEAR SIR:--A very learned, but in one respect an unfortunate
gentleman, has applied to me on a singular occasion. He has for
several years been in the habit of taking large quantities of
opium. For some time past he has been in vain endeavoring to break
himself off it. It is apprehended his friends are not firm enough,
from a dread lest he should suffer by suddenly leaving it off, though
he is conscious of the contrary, and has proposed to me to submit
himself to any regimen, however severe. With this view he wishes to
fix himself in the house of some medical gentleman, who will have
courage to refuse him any laudanum, and under whose assistance, should
he be the worse for it, he may be relieved. As he is desirous of
retirement and a garden, I could think of none so readily as
yourself. Be so good as to inform me whether such a proposal is
absolutely inconsistent with your family arrangements. I should not
have proposed it, but on account of the great importance of the
character as a literary man. His communicative temper will make his
society very interesting as well as useful. Have the goodness to favor
me with an immediate answer; and believe me, dear Sir, your faithful
humble servant,


Mr. Gilman, in his "Life of Coleridge," says: "I had seen the writer
of this letter but twice in my life, and had no intention of receiving
an inmate into my house. I however determined on seeing Dr. Adams, for
whether the person referred to had taken opium from choice or
necessity, to me Dr. Adams informed me that the patient had been
warned of the danger of discontinuing opium by several eminent medical
men, who at the same time represented the frightful consequences that
would most probably ensue. I had heard of the failure of
Mr. Wilberforce's case under an eminent physician at Bath, in addition
to which the doctor gave me an account of several others within his
own knowledge. After some further conversation it was agreed that Dr.
Adams should drive Coleridge to Highgate the following evening. On the
following evening came Coleridge _himself_, and alone. Coleridge
proposed to come the following evening, but he first informed me of
the painful opinion which he had received concerning his case,
especially from one medical man of celebrity. The tale was sad, and
the opinion given unprofessional and cruel, sufficient to have
deterred most men so afflicted from making the attempt Coleridge was
contemplating, and in which his whole soul was so deeply and so
earnestly engaged. My situation was new, and there was something
affecting in the thought that one of such amiable manners, and at the
same time so highly gifted, should seek comfort and medical aid in our
quiet home. Deeply interested, I began to reflect seriously on the
duties imposed upon me, and with anxiety to expect the approaching
day. It brought me the following letter:

"'MY DEAR SIR:.... And now of myself. My ever-wakeful reason and the
keenness of my moral feelings will secure you from all unpleasant
circumstances Connected with me save only one, viz., the evasion of a
specific madness. You will never _hear_ any thing but truth from
me. Prior habits render it out of my power to tell an untruth, but
unless carefully observed, I dare not promise that I should not, with
regard to this detested poison, be capable of acting one. No sixty
hours have yet passed without my having taken laudanum, though for the
last week comparatively trifling doses. I have full belief that your
anxiety need not be extended beyond the first week, and for the first
week I shall not, I must not, be permitted to leave your house unless
with you. Delicately or indelicately, this must be done, and both the
servants and the assistant must receive absolute commands from
you. The stimulus of conversation suspends the terror that haunts my
mind; but when I am alone the horrors I have suffered from laudanum,
the degradation, the blighted utility, almost overwhelm me. If (as I
feel for the _first time_ a soothing confidence it will prove) I
should leave you restored to my moral and bodily health, it is not
myself only that will love and honor you; every friend I have (and,
thank God! in spite of this wretched vice I have many and warm ones,
who were friends of my youth and have never deserted me) will thank
you with reverence.'"

Dr. Gilman's admiration of Coleridge's talents and respect for his
character soon became so enthusiastic that the remainder of the poet's
life was made comfortable by his care and under his roof. After the
death of Coleridge the first volume of a biography was published by
Dr. G., but has never been completed. We are therefore left in
ignorance of the process by which his addiction to opium was reduced
to the small daily allowance which he used during the later years of
his life. It seems from the following letter addressed to Dr. Gilman
more than six years after he was received as a member of his
household, that the conflict with the habit was still going on. "I am
still too much under the cloud of past misgivings--too much of the
stun and stupor from the recent peals and thunder-crash still
remain--to permit me to anticipate others than by wishes and prayers."

Coleridge wrote but little respecting his own infirmity. Ten years
after his domestication in the family of Dr. Gilman he made the
following memorandum:

"I wrote a few stanzas twenty years ago--soon after my eyes had been
opened to the true nature of the habit into which I had been
ignorantly deluded by the seeming magic effects of opium in the sudden
removal of a supposed rheumatic affection, attended with swellings in
my knees and palpitations of the heart, and pains all over me, by
which I had been bedridden for nearly six months. Unhappily, among my
neighbor's and landlord's books was a large parcel of medical reviews
and magazines. I had always a fondness (a common case, but most
mischievous turn with reading men who are at all dyspeptic) for
dabbling in medical writings; and in one of these reviews I met a case
which I fancied very like my own, in which a cure had been affected by
the Kendal Black Drop. In an evil hour I procured it. It worked
miracles. The swellings disappeared, the pains vanished; I was all
alive; and all around me being as ignorant as myself, nothing could
exceed my triumph. I talked of nothing else, prescribed the
newly-discovered panacea for all complaints, and carried a bottle
about with me, not to lose any opportunity of administering 'instant
relief and speedy cure' to all complainers, stranger or friend, gentle
or simple. Need I say that my own apparent convalescence was of no
long continuance? But what then? the remedy was at hand and
infallible. Alas! it is with a bitter smile, a laugh of gall and
bitterness, that I recall this period of unsuspecting delusion, and
how I first became aware of the Maelstrom, the fatal whirlpool to
which I was drawing just when the current was already beyond my
strength to stem. God knows that from that moment I was the victim of
pain and terror, nor had I at any time taken the flattering poison as
a stimulus, or for any craving after pleasurable sensation. I needed
none--and oh! with what unutterable sorrow did I read the 'Confessions
of an Opium-eater,' in which the writer with morbid vanity makes a
boast of what was my misfortune, for he had been faithfully and with
an agony of zeal warned of the gulf, and yet willfully struck into the
current! Heaven be merciful to him!

"Even under the direful yoke of the necessity of daily poisoning by
narcotics, it is somewhat less horrible through the knowledge that it
was not from any craving for pleasurable animal excitement, but from
pain, delusion, error, of the worst ignorance, medical sciolism, and
(alas! too late the plea of error was removed from my eyes) from
terror and utter perplexity and infirmity--sinful infirmity, indeed,
but yet not a willful sinfulness--that I brought my neck under it. Oh,
may the God to whom I look for mercy through Christ, show mercy on the
author of the 'Confessions of an Opium-eater,' if, as I have too
strong reason to believe, his book has been the occasion of seducing
others into this withering vice through wantonness. From this
aggravation I have, I humbly trust, been free as far as acts of my
freewill and intention are concerned; even to the author of that work
I pleaded with flowing tears, and with an agony of forewarning. He
utterly denied it, but I fear that I had even then to _deter_,
perhaps not to forewarn."

Referring to the character of Coleridge's disorder, Dr. Gilman says:
"He had much bodily suffering. The _cause_ of this was the
organic change slowly and gradually taking place in the structure of
the heart itself. But it was so masked by other sufferings, though at
times creating despondency, and was so generally overpowered by the
excitement of animated conversation, as to leave its real cause
undiscovered." [Footnote: "_My heart, or some part_ about it,
seems breaking, as if a weight were suspended from it that stretches
it. Such is the _bodily feeling_ as far as I can express it by
words."--_Coleridge's letter to Morgan_.]

In a volume entitled "Letters, Conversations, and Recollections of
S. T. C.," written by an intimate friend, we find the following
declaration from Coleridge himself:

"My conscience indeed bears me witness, that from the time I quitted
Cambridge no human being was more indifferent to the pleasures of the
table than myself, or less needed any stimulation to my spirits; and
that, by a most unhappy quackery, after having been almost bedrid for
near six months with swollen knees, and other distressing symptoms of
disordered digestive functions, and through that most pernicious form
of ignorance, medical half-knowledge, I was _seduced_ into the
use of narcotics, not secretly, but (such was my ignorance) openly and
exultingly, as one who had discovered, and was never weary of
recommending, a grand panacea, and saw not the truth till my
_body_ had contracted a habit and a necessity; and that, even to
the latest, my responsibility is for cowardice and defect of
fortitude, not for the least craving after gratification or
pleasurable sensation of any sort, but for yielding to pain, terror,
and haunting bewilderment. But this I say to _man_ only, who
knows only what has been yielded, not what has been resisted; before
God I have but one voice--Mercy! mercy! woe is me.

"Pray for me, my dear friend, that I may not pass such another night
as the last. While I am awake and retain my reasoning powers the pang
is gnawing, but I am, except for a fitful moment or two, tranquil; it
is the howling wilderness of sleep that I dread." (July 31, 1820.)

From this _bodily_ slavery (for it was _bodily_) to a
baneful drug he was never _entirely_ free, though the quantity
was so greatly reduced as not materially to affect his health or

A good deal that is known respecting Coleridge's opium habits is
derived from the published papers of De Quincey, whose opportunities
for becoming fully informed on the subject are beyond question:

"I now gathered that procrastination in excess was, or had become, a
marked feature in Coleridge's daily life. Nobody who knew him ever
thought of depending on any appointment he might make. Spite of his
uniformly honorable intentions, nobody attached any weight to his
assurances _in re futura_. Those who asked him to dinner, or any
other party, as a matter of course sent a carriage for him, and went
personally or by proxy to fetch him; and as to letters, unless the
address was in some female hand that commanded his affectionate
esteem, he tossed them all into one general _dead-letter bureau_,
and rarely, I believe, opened them at all. But all this, which I heard
now for the first time and with much concern, was fully explained, for
already he was under the full dominion of opium, as he himself
revealed to me--with a deep expression of horror at the hideous
bondage--in a private walk of some length which I took with him about

"At night he entered into a spontaneous explanation of this unhappy
overclouding of his life, on occasion of my saying accidentally that a
toothache had obliged me to take a few drops of laudanum. At what time
or on what motive he had commenced the use of opium he did not say,
but the peculiar emphasis of horror with which he warned me against
forming a habit of the same kind, impressed upon my mind a feeling
that he never hoped to liberate himself from the bondage.

"For some succeeding years he did certainly appear to me released from
that load of despondency which oppressed him on my first
introduction. Grave, indeed, he continued to be, and at times absorbed
in gloom; nor did I ever see him in a state of perfectly natural
cheerfulness. But as he strove in vain for many years to wean himself
from his captivity to opium, a healthy state of spirits could not be
much expected. Perhaps, indeed, where the liver and other organs had
for so long a period in life been subject to a continual morbid
stimulation, it may be impossible for the system ever to recover a
natural action. Torpor, I suppose, must result from continued
artificial excitement, and perhaps upon a scale of corresponding
duration. Life, in such a case, may not offer a field of sufficient
extent for unthreading the fatal links that have been wound about the
machinery of health and have crippled its natural play.

"One or two words on Coleridge as an opium-eater. We have not often
read a sentence falling from a wise man with astonishment so profound
as that particular one in a letter of Coleridge to Mr. Gilman, which
speaks of the effort to wean one's self from opium as a trivial
task. There are, we believe, several such passages, but we refer to
that one in particular which assumes that a single 'week' will suffice
for the whole process of so mighty a revolution. Is indeed Leviathan
so tamed? In that case the quarantine of the opium-eater might be
finished within Coleridge's time and with Coleridge's romantic
ease. But mark the contradictions of this extraordinary man. He speaks
of opium excess, his own excess, we mean--the excess of twenty-five
years--as a thing to be laid aside easily and forever within seven
days; and yet, on the other hand, he describes it pathetically,
sometimes with a frantic pathos, as the scourge, the curse, the one
almighty blight which had desolated his life.

"This shocking contradiction we need not press. All will see
_that_. But some will ask, was Mr. Coleridge right in either
view? Being so atrociously wrong in the first notion (viz., that the
opium of twenty-five years was a thing easily to be forsworn), when a
child could know that he was wrong, was he even altogether right,
secondly, in believing that his own life, root and branch, had been
withered by opium? For it will not follow, because, with a relation to
happiness and tranquillity, a man may have found opium his curse, that
therefore, as a creature of energies and great purposes, he must have
been the wreck which he seems to suppose. Opium gives and takes
away. It defeats the _steady_ habit of exertion, but it creates
spasms of irregular exertion; it ruins the natural power of life, but
it develops preternatural paroxysms of intermitting power.

"Let us ask any man who holds that not Coleridge himself but the world
as interested in Coleridge's usefulness has suffered by his addiction
to opium, whether he is aware of the way in which opium affected
Coleridge; and secondly, whether he is aware of the actual
contributions to literature--how large they were--which Coleridge made
_in spite_ of opium. All who are intimate with Coleridge must
remember the fits of genial animation which were created continually
in his manner and in his buoyancy of thought by a recent or an
_extra_ dose of the omnipotent drug. A lady, who knew nothing
experimentally of opium, once told us that she 'could tell when
Mr. Coleridge had taken too much opium by his shining countenance.'
She was right. We know that mark of opium excesses well, and the cause
of it, or at least we believe the cause to lie in the quickening of
the insensible perspiration which accumulates and glistens on the
face. Be that as it may, a criterion it was that could not deceive us
as to the condition of Coleridge. And uniformly in that condition he
made his most effective intellectual displays. It is true that he
might not be happy under this fiery animation, and we believe that he
was not. Nobody is happy under laudanum except for a very short term
of years. But in what way did that operate upon his exertions as a
writer? We are of opinion that it killed Coleridge as a poet, but
proportionably it roused and stung by misery his metaphysical
instincts into more spasmodic life. Poetry can flourish only in the
atmosphere of happiness, but subtle and perplexed investigation of
difficult problems are among the commonest resources for beguiling the
sense of misery. It is urged, however, that even on his philosophic
speculations opium operated unfavorably in one respect, by often
causing him to leave them unfinished. This is true. Whenever Coleridge
(being highly charged or saturated with opium) had written with
distempered vigor upon any question, there occurred, soon after, a
recoil of intense disgust, not from his own paper only but even from
the subject. All opium-eaters are tainted with the infirmity of
leaving works unfinished and suffering reactions of disgust. But
Coleridge taxed himself with that infirmity in verse before he could
at all have commenced opium-eating. Besides, it is too much assumed by
Coleridge and by his biographer that to leave off opium was of course
to regain juvenile health. But all opium-eaters make the mistake of
supposing every pain or irritation which they suffer to be the product
of opium; whereas a wise man will say, 'Suppose you do leave off
opium, that will not deliver you from the load of years (say
sixty-three) which you carry on your back.'

"It is singular, as respects Coleridge, that Mr. Gilman never says one
word upon the event of the great Highgate experiment for leaving off
laudanum, though Coleridge came to Mr. Gilman for no other purpose;
and in a week this vast creation of new earth, sea, and all that in
them is, was to have been accomplished. We _rayther_ think, as
Bayley junior observes, 'that the explosion must have hung fire.'

"He [Mr. Gilman] has very improperly published some intemperate
passages from Coleridge's letters, which ought to have been considered
confidential unless Coleridge had left them for publication, charging
upon the author of the 'Opium Confessions' a reckless disregard of the
temptations which in that work he was scattering abroad among men. We
complain, also, that Coleridge raises a distinction, perfectly
perplexing to us, between himself and the author of the 'Opium
Confessions' upon the question--why they severally began the practice
of opium-eating. In himself it seems this motive was to relieve pain,
whereas the Confessor was surreptitiously seeking for pleasure. Ay,
indeed! where did he learn _that_? We have no copy of the
'Confessions' here, so we can not quote chapter and verse, but we
distinctly remember that toothache is recorded in that book as the
particular occasion which first introduced the author to the knowledge
of opium. Whether afterward, having been thus initiated by the demon
of pain, the opium Confessor did not apply powers thus discovered to
purposes of mere pleasure, is a question for himself, and the same
question applies with the same cogency to Coleridge. Coleridge began
in rheumatic pains. What then? This is no proof that he did not end in
voluptuousness. For our part, we are slow to believe that ever any man
did or could learn the somewhat awful truth, that in a certain
ruby-colored elixir there lurked a divine power to chase away the
genius of ennui, without subsequently abusing this power. True it is
that generations have used laudanum as an anodyne (for instance,
hospital patients) who have not afterward courted its powers as a
voluptuous stimulant; but that, be sure, has arisen from no abstinence
in _them._ There are in fact two classes of temperaments as to
this terrific drug--those which are and those which are not
preconformed to its power; those which genially expand to its
temptations, and those which frostily exclude them. Not in the
energies of the will, but in the qualities of the nervous
organization, lies the dread arbitration of--Fall or stand: doomed
thou art to yield, or strengthened constitutionally to resist. Most of
those who have but a low sense of the spells lying couchant in opium
have practically no sense at all; for the initial fascination is for
_these_ effectually defeated by the sickness which Nature has
associated with the first stages of opium-eating. But to that other
class whose nervous sensibilities vibrate to their profoundest depths
under the first touch of the angelic poison, opium is the Amreeta cup
of beatitude. Now in the original higher sensibility is found some
palliation for the _practice_ of opium-eating; in the greater
temptation is a greater excuse.

"Originally his sufferings, and the death within him of all hope--the
palsy, as it were, of that which is the life of life and the heart
within the heart--came from opium. But two things I must add--one to
explain Coleridge's case, and the other to bring it within the
indulgent allowance of equitable judges. _First_, the sufferings
from morbid derangement, originally produced by opium, had very
possibly lost that simple character, and had themselves reacted in
producing secondary states of disease and irritation, not any longer
dependent upon the opium, so as to disappear with its disuse; hence a
more than mortal discouragement to accomplish this disuse when the
pains of self-sacrifice were balanced by no gleams of restorative
feeling. Yet, _secondly_, Coleridge did make prodigious efforts
to deliver himself from this thraldom; and he went so far at one time
In Bristol, to my knowledge, as to hire a man for the express purpose,
and armed with a power of resolutely interposing between himself and
the door of any druggist's shop. It is true that an authority derived
only from Coleridge's will could not be valid against Coleridge's own
counter-determination: he could resume as easily as he could delegate
the power. But the scheme did not entirely fail. A man shrinks from
exposing to another that infirmity of will which he might else have
but a feeble motive for disguising to himself; and the delegated man,
the external conscience as it were of Coleridge, though destined in
the final resort, if matters came to absolute rupture--and to an
obstinate duel, as it were, between himself and his principal--in that
extremity to give way, yet might have long protracted the struggle
before coming to that sort of _dignus vindice nodus;_ and, in
fact, I know upon absolute proof that before reaching that crisis the
man showed fight; and faithful to his trust, and comprehending the
reasons for it, he declared that if he must yield he would 'know the
reason why.'

"His inducement to such a step [his visit to Malta] must have been
merely a desire to see the most interesting regions of the
Mediterranean, under the shelter and advantageous introduction of an
official station. It was, however, an unfortunate chapter of his life;
for being necessarily thrown a good deal upon his own resources in the
narrow society of a garrison, he there confirmed and cherished, if he
did not there form, his habit of taking opium in large quantities. I
am the last person in the world to press conclusions harshly or
uncandidly against Coleridge, but I believe it to be notorious that he
first began the use of opium not as a relief from any bodily pains or
nervous irritations--for his constitution was strong and
excellent--but as a source of luxurious sensation. It is a great
misfortune, at least it is a great peril, to have tasted the enchanted
cup of youthful rapture incident to the poetic temperament. That
standard of high-wrought sensibility once made known experimentally,
it is rare to see a submission afterward to the sobrieties of daily
life. Coleridge, to speak in the words of Cervantes, wanted better
bread than was made of wheat; and when youthful blood no longer
sustained the riot of his animal spirits, he endeavored to excite them
by artificial stimulants.

"Coleridge was at one time living uncomfortably enough at the
_Courier_ office in the Strand. In such a situation, annoyed by
the sound of feet passing his chamber-door continually to the
printing-room of this great establishment, and with no gentle
ministrations of female hands to sustain his cheerfulness, naturally
enough his spirits flagged, and he took more than ordinary doses of
opium. Thus unhappily situated, he sank more than ever under the
dominion of opium, so that at two o'clock, when he should have been in
attendance at the Royal Institute, he was too often unable to rise
from bed. His appearance was generally that of a person struggling
with pain and overmastering illness. His lips were baked with feverish
heat and often black in color, and in spite of the water which he
continued drinking through the whole course of his lecture, he often
seemed to labor under an almost paralytic inability to raise the upper
jaw from the lower.

"But apparently he was not happy himself. The accursed drug poisoned
all natural pleasure at its sources; he burrowed continually deeper
into scholastic subtleties and metaphysical abstraction; and, like
that class described by Seneca in the luxurious Rome of his days, he
lived chiefly by candle-light. At two or three o'clock in the
afternoon he would make his first appearance. Through the silence of
the night, when all other lights had long disappeared, in the quiet
cottage of Grassmere _his_ lamp might be seen invariably by the
belated traveller as he descended the long steep from Dun-mail-raise,
and at five or six o'clock in the morning, when man was going forth to
his labor, this insulated son of reveries was retiring to bed."

Those who were nearest and dearest to Coleridge by affection and biood
have left on record their sentiments respecting him in the following
language. His nephew says: "Coleridge was a student all his life. He
was very rarely indeed idle in the common sense of the term, but he
was consitutionally indolent, averse from continuous exertion
externally directed, and consequently the victim of a procrastinating
habit, the occasion of innumerable distresses to himself and of
endless solicitude to his friends, and which materially impaired
though it could not destroy the operation and influence of his
wonderful abilities. Hence also the fits of deep melancholy which from
time to time seized his whole soul, during which he seemed an
imprisoned man without hope of liberty."

His daughter remarks: "Mr. De Quincey mistook a constitution that had
vigor in it for a vigorous constitution. His body was originally full
of life, but it was full of death also from the first. There was in
him a slow poison which gradually leavened the whole lump, and by
which his muscular frame was prematurely slackened and stupefied.
Mr. Stuart says that his letters are 'one continued flow of complaint
of ill health and incapacity from ill health.' This is true of all his
letters (all the _sets_ of them) which have come under my eye,
even those written before he went to Malta, where his opium habits
were confirmed. If my father sought more from opium than the mere
absence of pain, I feel assured that it was not luxurious sensations
or the glowing phantasmagoria of passive dreams, but that the power of
the medicine might keep down the agitations of his nervous system,
released for a time at least from the tyranny of ailments which by a
spell of wretchedness fix the thoughts upon themselves, perpetually
throwing them inward as into a stifling gulf."

Miss Coleridge thus expresses the views of her father's family in
respect to Mr. Cottle's publications: "I take this opportunity of
expressing my sense of many kind acts and much friendly conduct of
Mr. Cottle toward my father, by whom he was ever remembered with
respect and affection. If I still regard with any disapproval his
publication of letters exposing his friend's unhappy bondage to opium,
and consequent embarrassments and deep distress of mind, it is not
that I would have wished a broad influencive fact, in the history of
one whose peculiar gifts had made him in some degree an object of
public interest, to be finally concealed, supposing it to be attested,
as this has been, by clear, unambiguous documents. I agree with
Mr. Cottle in thinking that he himself would have desired, even to the
last, that whatever benefit the world might obtain by the knowledge of
his sufferings from opium--the calamity which the unregulated use of
this drug had been to him and into which he first fell ignorantly and
innocently (not, as Mr. De Quincey has said, to restore the 'riot of
his animal spirits' when 'youthful blood no longer sustained it,' but
as a relief from bodily pain and nervous irritation) that others might
avoid the rack on which so great a part of his happiness for so long a
time was wrecked. Such a wish indeed he once strongly expressed, but I
believe myself to be speaking equally in his spirit when I say that
all such considerations of advantage to the public should be
subordinated to the prior claims of private and natural interests. I
should never think the public good a sufficient apology for publishing
the secret history of any man or woman whatever, who had connections
remaining upon earth; but if I were possessed of private notices
respecting one in whom the world takes an interest, I should think it
right to place them in the hands of his nearest relations, leaving it
to them to deal with such documents as a sense of what is due to the
public and what belongs to openness and honesty may demand."

The nephew of Coleridge, in the Preface to the "Table Talk," says: "A
time will come when Coleridge's life may be written without wounding
the feeling or gratifying the malice of any one; and then, among other
misrepresentations, that as to the origin of his recourse to opium
will be made manifest; and the tale of his long and passionate
struggle with and final victory over the habit will form one of the
brightest as well as most interesting traits of the moral and
religious being of this humble, this exalted Christian.

"Coleridge--blessings on his gentle memory!--Coleridge was a frail
mortal. He had indeed his peculiar weaknesses as well as his unique
powers; sensibilities that an averted look would rack; a heart which
would have beaten calmly in the tremblings of an earthquake. He shrank
from mere uneasiness like a child, and bore the preparatory agonies of
his death-attack like a martyr. Sinned against a thousand times more
than sinning, he himself suffered an almost lifelong punishment for
his errors, while the world at large has the unwithering fruits of his
labors, his genius, and his sacrifice."


The following narrative of a case of confirmed opium-eating was
communicated to the editor of the _Knickerbocker Magazine_, in
the year 1842, by Dr. B. W. M'Cready of New York, accompanied by the
following statement:

Poor Blair, whose account of himself I send you, was brought to the
City Hospital by a Baptist clergyman in 1835, at which time I was
Resident Physician of the establishment. His wretched habit had at
that time reduced him to a state of deplorable destitution, and he
came to the hospital as much for the sake of a temporary asylum as to
endeavor to wean himself from the vice which had brought him to such a
condition. When he entered it was with the proviso that he should be
allowed a certain quantity of opium per day, the amount of which was
slowly but steadily decreased. The dose he commenced with was eighty
grains; and this quantity he would roll into a large bolus, of a size
apparently too great for an ordinary person to swallow, and take
without any appearance of effort. Until he had swallowed his ordinary
stimulus he appeared languid, nervous, and dejected. He at all times
had a very pale and unhealthy look, and his spirits were irregular;
although it would be difficult to separate the effects produced by the
enormous quantity of opium to which he had been accustomed from the
feelings caused in a proud and intellectual man by the utter and
irretrievable ruin which he had brought upon himself. Finding him
possessed of great information and uncommon ability, I furnished him
with books and writing materials, and extended to him many privileges
not enjoyed by the ordinary patients in the wards. Observing that
he--as is common with most men of a proud disposition who have not met
with the success in the world which they deem due to their merits--had
paid great attention to his own feelings, I was desirous of having an
account written by himself of the effects which opium had produced
upon his system. On my making the request he furnished me with the
memoir of himself now in your possession. His health at this time was
very much impaired. I had been in the habit of giving him orders upon
the apothecary for his daily quantum of opium, but when the dose had
been reduced to sixteen grains I found that he had counterfeited the
little tickets I gave him and thus often obtained treble and quadruple
the quantity allowed. After this, of course, although I felt
profoundly sorry for the man, the intercourse between us was only that
presented by my duty. Shortly afterward he disappeared from the
hospital late at night. I have since met him several times in the
streets; but for the last three or four years I have neither seen nor
heard of him. With his habits it is scarcely probable that he still
survives. Poor fellow! He furnishes another melancholy instance of the
utter inefficiency of mere learning or intelligence in preserving a
man from the most vicious and degrading abuses. He had neither
religion nor moral principle; and that kind of gentlemanly feeling
which from association he did possess, only made him feel more
sensibly the degradation from which it could not preserve him.


Before I state the result of my experience as an opium-eater, it will
perhaps not be uninteresting, and it certainly will conduce to the
clearer understanding of such statement, if I give a slight and brief
sketch of my habits and history previous to my first indulgence in the
infernal drug which has embittered my existence for seven most weary
years. The death of my father when I was little more than twelve
months old made it necessary that I should receive only such an
education as would qualify me to pursue some business in my native
town of Birmingham; and in all probability I shoule at this moment be
entering orders or making out invoices in that great emporium had I
not at a very early age evinced an absorbing passion for reading,
which the free access to a tolerably large library enabled me to
indulge, until it had grown to be a confirmed habit of mind, which,
when the attention of my friends was called to the subject, had become
too strong to be broken through; and with the usual foolish family
vanity they determined to indulge a taste so early and decidedly
developed, in the expectation, I verily believe, of some day catching
a reflected beam from the fame and glory which I was to win by my
genius; for by that mystical name was the mere musty talent of a
_nelluo librorum_ called. The consequence was that I was sent
when eight years of age to a public school. I had however before this
tormented my elder brother with ceaseless importunity until he had
consented to teach me Latin, and by secretly poring over my sister's
books I had contrived to gain a tolerable book-knowledge of French.

From that hour my fate was decided. I applied with unwearied devotion
to the study of the classics--the only branch of education attended to
in the school--and I even considered it a favor to be allowed to
translate, write exercises and themes, and to compose Latin verses for
the more idle of my school-fellows. At the same time I devoured all
books of whatever description which came in my way--poems, novels,
history, metaphysics, or works of science--with an indiscriminating
appetite, which has proved very injurious to me through life. I drank
as eagerly of the muddy and stagnant pool of literature as of the pure
and sparkling fountain glowing in the many-hued sunlight of
genius. After two years had been spent in this manner I was removed to
another school, the principal of which, although a fair mathematician,
was a wretched classical scholar. In fact I frequently construed
passages of Virgil, which I had not previously looked at, when he
himself was forced to refer to Davidson for assistance. I stayed with
him, however, two years, during which time I spent all the money I
could get in purchasing Greek and Hebrew books, of which languages I
learned the rudiments and obtained considerable knowledge without any
instruction. After a year's residence at the house of my
brother-in-law, which I passed in studying Italian and Persian, the
Bishop of Litchfield's examining chaplain, to whom I had been
introduced in terms of the most hyperbolical praise, prevailed on his
Diocesan and the Earl of Calthorpe to share the expense of my further

In consequence of this unexpected good fortune I was now placed under
the care of the Rev. Thomas Fry, rector of the village of Emberton in
Buckinghamshire, a clergyman of great piety and profound learning,
with whom I remained about fifteen months, pursuing the study of
languages with increased ardor. During the whole of that period I
never allowed myself more than four hours' sleep; and still
unsatisfied, I very generally spent the whole night, twice a week, in
the insane pursuit of those avenues to distinction to which alone my
ambition was confined. I took no exercise, and the income allowed me
was so small that I could not afford a meat dinner more than once a
week, and at the same time set apart the half of that allowance for
the purchase of books, which I had determined to do. I smoked
incessantly; for I now required some stimulus, as my health was much
injured by my unrelaxing industry. My digestion was greatly impaired,
and the constitution of iron which Nature had given me threatened to
break down ere long under the effects of the systematic neglect with
which I treated its repeated warnings. I suffered from constant
headache; my total inactivity caused the digestive organs to become
torpid; and the unnutritious nature of the food which I allowed myself
would not supply me with the strength which my assiduous labor
required. My nerves were dreadfully shaken, and at the age of fourteen
I exhibited the external symptoms of old age. I was feeble and
emaciated; and had this mode of life continued twelve months longer, I
must have sank under it.

I had during these fifteen months thought and read much on the subject
of revealed religion, and had devoted a considerable portion of my
time to an examination of the evidences advanced by the advocates of
Christianity, which resulted in a reluctant conviction of their utter
weakness and inability. No sooner was I aware that so complete a
change of opinion had taken place, than I wrote to my patron, stating
the fact and explaining the process by which I had arrived at such a
conclusion. The reply I received was a peremptory order to return to
my mother's house immediately; and on arriving there, the first time I
had entered it for some years, I was met by the information that I had
nothing more to expect from the countenance of those who had supplied
me with the means of prosecuting my studies to "so bad a purpose." I
was so irritated by what I considered the unjustifiable harshness of
this decision, that at the moment I wrote a haughty and angry letter
to one of the parties, which of course widened the breach and made the
separation between us eternal.

What was I now to do? I was unfit for any business, both by habit,
inclination, and constitution. My health was ruined, and hopeless
poverty stared me in the face; when a distinguished solicitor in my
native town, who by the way has since become celebrated in the
political world, offered to receive me as a clerk. I at once accepted
the offer; but knowing that in my then condition it was impossible for
me to perform the duties required of me, I decided on TAKING OPIUM!
The strange confessions of De Quincey had long been a favorite with
me. The first part of it had in fact been given me both as a model in
English composition and also as an exercise to be rendered into
Patavinian Latin. The latter part, the "Miseries of Opium," I had most
unaccountably always neglected to read. Again and again, when my
increasing debility had threatened to bring my studies to an abrupt
conclusion, I had meditated this experiment, but an undefinable and
shadowy fear had as often stayed my hand. But now that I knew that
unless I could by artificial stimuli obtain a sudden increase of
strength I must STARVE, I no longer hesitated. I was desperate; I
believed that something horrible would result from it; though my
imagination, most vivid, could not conjure up visions of horror half
so terrific as the fearful reality. I knew that for every hour of
comparative ease and comfort its treacherous alliance might confer
upon me _now_, I must endure days of bodily suffering; but I did
not, could not conceive the mental hell into whose fierce, corroding
fires I was about to plunge.

All that occurred during the first day is imperishably engraved upon
my memory. It was about a week previous to the day appointed for my
debut in my new character as an attorney's clerk; and when I arose, I
was depressed in mind, and a racking pain to which I had lately been
subject, was maddening me. I could scarcely manage to crawl into the
breakfast-room. I had previously procured a drachm of opium, and I
took two grains with my coffee. It did not produce any change in my
feelings. I took two more--still without effect; and by six o'clock in
the evening I had taken ten grains. While I was sitting at tea I felt
a strange sensation, totally unlike any thing I had ever felt before;
a gradual _creeping thrill_, which in a few minutes occupied
every part of my body, lulling to sleep the before-mentioned racking
pain, producing a pleasing glow from head to foot, and inducing a
sensation of dreamy exhilaration (if the phrase be intelligible to
others as it is to me), similar in nature but not in degree to the
drowsiness caused by wine, though not inclining me to sleep; in fact
so far from it that I longed to engage in some active exercise--to
sing or leap. I then resolved to go to the theatre--the last place I
should the day before have dreamed of visiting; for the sight of
cheerfulness in others made me doubly gloomy. I went, and so vividly
did I feel my vitality--for in this state of delicious exhilaration
even mere excitement seemed absolute Elysium--that I could not resist
the temptation to break out in the strangest vagaries, until my
companions thought me deranged. As I ran up the stairs I rushed after
and flung back every one who was above me. I escaped numberless
beatings solely through the interference of my friends. After I had
become seated a few minutes, the nature of the excitement was changed,
and a "waking sleep" succeeded. The actors on the stage vanished; the
stage itself lost its ideality; and before my entranced sight
magnificent halls stretched out in endless succession, with gallery
above gallery, while the roof was blazing with gems like stars whose
rays alone illumined the whole building, which was thronged with
strange, gigantic figures--like the wild possessors of a lost globe,
such as Lord Byron has described in "Cain" as beheld by the
fratricide, when, guided by Lucifer, he wandered among the shadowy
existences of those worlds which had been destroyed to make way for
our pigmy earth. I will not attempt further to describe the
magnificent vision which a little pill of "brown gum" had conjured up
from the realm of ideal being. No words that I can command would do
justice to its Titanian splendor and immensity.

At midnight I was roused from my dreamy abstraction; and on my return
home the blood in my veins seemed to "run lightning," and I knocked
down (for I had the strength of a giant at that moment) the first
watchman I met. Of course there was a row, and for some minutes a
battle-royal raged in New Street, the principal thoroughfare of the
town, between my party and the "Charlies," who, although greatly
superior in numbers, were sadly "milled," for we were all somewhat
scientific bruisers--that sublime art or science having been
cultivated with great assiduity at the public school through which I
had, as was customary, fought my way. I reached home at two in the
morning with a pair of "Oxford spectacles" which confined me to the
house for a week. I slept disturbedly, haunted by terrific dreams, and
oppressed by the nightmare and her nine-fold, and awoke with a
dreadful headache; stiff in every joint, and with deadly sickness of
the stomach which lasted for two or three days; my throat contracted
and parched, my tongue furred, my eyes bloodshot, and the whole
surface of my body burning hot. I did not have recourse to opium again
for three days; for the strength it had excited did not till then fail
me. When partially recovered from the nausea the first dose had
caused, my spirits were good, though not exuberant, but I could eat
nothing and was annoyed by an insatiable thirst. I went to the office,
and for six months performed the services required of me without
lassitude or depression of spirits, though never again did I
experience the same delicious sensations as on that memorable night
which is an "oasis in the desert" of my subsequent existence; life I
can not call it, for the "_vivida vis animi et corporis_" was

In the seventh month my misery commenced. Burning heat, attended with
constant thirst, then began to torment me from morning till night; my
skin became scurfy; the skin of my feet and hands peeled off; my
tongue was always furred; a feeling of contraction in the bowels was
continual; my eyes were strained and discolored, and I had unceasing
headache. But internal and external heat was the pervading feeling
and appearance. My digestion became still weaker, and my incessant
costiveness was painful in the extreme. The reader must not however
imagine that all these symptoms appeared suddenly and at once; they
came on gradually, though with frightful rapidity, until I became a
"_morborum moles_," as a Roman physician whose lucubrations I met
with and perused with great amusement some years since in a little
country ale-house poetically expresses it. I could not sleep for hours
after I had lain down, and consequently was unable to rise in time to
attend the office in the morning, though as yet no visions of horror
haunted my slumbers. Mr. P., my employer, bore with this for some
months; but at length his patience was wearied, and I was informed
that I must attend at nine in the morning. I could not; for even if I
rose at seven, after two or three hours unhealthy and fitful sleep, I
was unable to walk or exert myself in any way for at least two
hours. I was at this time taking laudanum, and had no appetite for any
thing but coffee and acid fruits. I could and did drink great
quantities of ale, though it would not, as nothing would, quench my

Matters continued in this state for fifteen months, during which time
the only comfortable hours I spent were in the evening, when freed
from the duties of the office I sat down to study, which it is rather
singular I was able to do with as strong zest and as unwearied
application as ever; as will appear when I mention that in those
fifteen months I read through in the evenings the whole of Cicero,
Tacitus, the Corpus Potarurn (Latinorum), Boethius, Scriptores
Historia Augustina, Homer, Corpus Gracarum Tragediarum, a great part
of Plato, and a large mass of philological works. In fact, in the
evening I generally felt comparatively well, not being troubled with
many of the above symptoms. These evenings were the very happiest of
my life. I had ample means for the purchase of books, for I lived very
cheap on bread, ale, and coffee, and I had access to a library
containing all the Latin classics--Valpy's edition in one hundred and
fifty volumes, octavo, a magnificent publication--and about fifteen
thousand other books. Toward the end of the year 1829 I established at
my own expense, and edited myself, a magazine (there was not one in a
town as large and populous as New York!) by which I lost a
considerable sum; though the pleasure I derived from my monthly labors
amply compensated me. In December of that year my previous sufferings
became light in comparison with those which now seized upon me, never
completely to leave me again. One night, after taking about fifty
grains of opium, I sat down in my arm-chair to read the confession of
a Russian who had murdered his brother because he was the chosen of
her whom both loved. It was recorded by a French priest who visited
him in his last moments, and was powerfully and eloquently written. I
dozed while reading it; and immediately I was present in the
prison-cell of the fratricide. I saw his ghastly and death-dewed
features; his despairing yet defying look; the gloomy and impenetrable
dungeon; the dying lamp, which seemed but to render darkness visible;
and the horror-struck yet pitying expression of the priest's
countenance; but there I lost my identity. Though I was the recipient
of these impressions, yet I was not myself separately and
distinctively existent and sentient; but my entity was confounded with
that of not only the two figures before me, but of the inanimate
objects surrounding them. This state of compound existence I can no
further describe. While in this state I composed the "Fratricide's
Death," or rather it composed itself and forced itself upon my memory
without any activity or volition on my part.

And here again another phenomenon presented itself. The images
reflected (if the expression be allowable) in the verses rose bodily
and with perfect distinctness before me, simultaneously with their
verbal representations; and when I roused myself (I had not been
_sleeping_, but was only _abstracted_) all remained clear
and distinct in my memory. From that night for six months, darkness
always brought the most horrible fancies, and opticular and auricular
or acoustical delusions of a frightful nature, so vivid and real that
instead of a blessing, sleep became a curse, and the hours of darkness
became hours which seemed days of misery. For many consecutive nights
I dared not undress myself nor put out the light, lest the moment I
lay down some _"monstrum horrendum, informfe, ingens"_ should
blast my sight with his hellish aspect! I had a double sense of sight
and sound; one real, the other visionary; both equally strong and
apparently real; so that while I distinctly heard imaginary footsteps
ascending the stairs, the door opening and my curtains drawn, I at the
same time as plainly heard any actual sound in or outside the house,
and could not remark the slightest difference between them; and while
I _saw_ an imaginary assassin standing by my bed, bending over me
with a lamp in one hand and a dagger in the other, I could see any
real tangible object which the degree of light which might be then in
the room made visible. Though these visionary fears and imaginary
objects had presented themselves to me every night for months, yet I
never could convince myself of their non-existence; and every fresh
appearance caused suffering of as intense and as deadly horror as on
the first night! So great was the confusion of the real with the
unreal that I nearly became a convert to Bishop Berkeley's non-reality
doctrines. My health was also rapidly becoming worse; and before I
had taken my opium in the morning I had become unable to move hand or
foot, and of course could not rise from my bed until I had received
strength from the "damnable dirt." I could not attend the office at
all in the morning, and was forced to throw up my articles, and, as
the only chance left me of gaining a livelihood, turn to writing for
magazines for support.

I left B. and proceeded to London, where I engaged with Charles Knight
to supply the chapters on the use of elephants in the wars of the
ancients for the "History of Elephants," then preparing for
publication in the series of the Library of Entertaining
Knowledge. For this purpose I obtained permission to use the library
of the British Museum for six months, and again devoted myself with
renewed ardor to my favorite studies.

"But what a falling off was there!" My memory was impaired, and in
reading I was conscious of a confusion of mind which prevented my
clearly comprehending the full meaning of what I read. Some organ
appeared to be defective. My judgment too was weakened, and I was
frequently guilty of the most absurd actions, which at the time I
considered wise and prudent. THe strong common sense which I had at
one time boasted of, deserted me. I lived in a dreamy, imaginative
state which completely disqualified me for managing my own affairs. I
spent large sums of money in a day, and then starved for a month; and
all this while the "_chateux en Espagne_," which once only
afforded me an idle amusement, now usurped the place of the realities
of life and led me into many errors, and even unjustifiable acts of
immorality, which lowered me in the estimation of my acquaintances and
friends, who saw the effect but never dreamed the cause. Even those
who knew I was an opium-eater, not being aware of the effect which the
habitual use of it produced, attributed my mad conduct to either want
of principle or aberration of intellect, and I thus lost several of my
best friends and temporarily alienated many others. After a month or
two passed in this employment I regained a portion of strength
sufficient to enable me to obtain a livelihood by reporting, on my own
account, in the courts of law in Westminster, any cause which I judged
of importance enough to afford a reasonable chance of selling again;
and by supplying reviews and occasional original articles to the
periodicals, the _Monthly_, the _New Monthly, Metropolitan_,
etc. My health continued to improve, probably in consequence of my
indulging in higher living, and taking much more exercise than I had
done for two or three years; as I had no need of buying books, having
the use of at least five hundred thousand volumes in the Museum. I was
at last fortunate enough to obtain the office of Parliamentary
reporter to a morning paper, which produced about three hundred pounds
a year; but after working on an average fourteen or fifteen hours a
day for a few months, I was obliged to resign the situation and again
depend for support on the irregular employment I had before been
engaged in, and for which I was now alone fit. My constitution now
appeared to have completely sunk under the destroying influence of the
immense quantity of opium I had for some months taken--two hundred,
two hundred and fifty, and three hundred grains a day. I was
frequently obliged to repeat the dose several times a day, as my
stomach had become so weak that the opium would not remain upon it;
and I was besides afflicted with continual vomiting after having eaten
any thing. I really believed that I could not last much
longer. Tic-douloureux was also added to my other suffering; constant
headache, occasional spasms, heart-burn, pains in the legs and back,
and a general irritability of the nerves, which would not allow me to
remain above a few minutes in the same position. My temper became
soured and morose. I was careless of every thing, and drank to excess
in the hope of thus supplying the place of the stimulus which had lost
its power.

At length I was compelled to keep my bed by a violent attack of
pleurisy, which has since seized me about the same time every year. My
digestion was so thoroughly ruined that I was frequently almost
maddened by the sufferings which indigestion occasioned. I could not
sleep, though I was no longer troubled with visions, which had left me
about three months. At last I became so ill that I was forced to leave
London and visit my mother in Kenilworth, where I stayed; writing
occasionally, and instructing a few pupils in Greek and Hebrew. I was
also now compelled to sell my library, which contained several Arabic
and Persian MSS., a complete collection of Latin authors, nearly a
complete one of Greek, and a large collection of Hebrew and Rabbinic
works, which I had obtained at a great expense and with great
trouble. All went. The only relics of it I was able to retain were the
"Corpus Poetarum, Graecarum et Latinorum," and I have never since been
able to collect another library. Idleness, good living, and constant
exercise revived me; but with returning strength my nocturnal visitors
returned, and again my nights were made dreadful. I was terrified
through visions similar to those which had so alarmed me at first, and
I was obliged to drink deeply at night to enable me to sleep at
all. In this state I continued till June, 1833, when I determined once
more to return to London, and I left Kenilworth without informing any
one of my intention the night before. The curate of the parish called
at my lodging to inform me that he had obtained the gift of six
hundred pounds to enable me to reside at Oxford until I could
graduate. Had I stayed twenty-four hours longer I should not now be
living in hopeless poverty in a foreign country; but pursuing, under
more favorable auspices than ever brightened my path before, those
studies which supported and cheered me in poverty and illness, and
with a fair prospect of obtaining that learned fame for which I had
longed so ardently from my boyhood, and in the vain endeavor to obtain
which I had sacrificed my health and denied myself not only the
pleasures and luxuries but even the necessaries of life. I had while
at the office in B. entered my name on the books of Brazen-nose
College, Oxford, and resided there one term, not being able to afford
the expense attendant on a longer residence. Thus it has been with me
through life. Fortune has again and again thrown the means of success
in my way, but they have always been like the waters of
Tantalus--alluring but to escape from my grasp the moment I approached
to seize them.

I remained in London only a few days, and then proceeded to Amsterdam,
where I stayed a week, and then went to Paris. After completely
exhausting my stock of money I was compelled to walk back to Calais,
which I did with little inconvenience, as I found that money was
unnecessary; the only difficulty I met with being how to escape from
the overflowing hospitality I everywhere experienced from rich and
poor. My health was much improved when I arrived in town, and I
immediately proceeded on foot to Birmingham, where I engaged with
Dr. Palmer, a celebrated physician, to supply the Greek and Latin
synonyms and correct the press for a dictionary of the terms used by
the French in medicine, which he was preparing. The pay I received was
so very small that I was again reduced to the poorest and most meagre
diet, and an attack of pleurisy produced such a state of debility that
I was compelled to leave Birmingham and return to my mother's house in

I had now firmly resolved to free myself from my fatal habit; and the
very day I reached home I began to diminish the quantity I was then
taking by one grain per day. I received the most careful attention,
and every thing was done that could add to my comfort and alleviate
the sufferings I must inevitably undergo. Until I had arrived at
seventeen and a half grains a day I experienced but little uneasiness,
and my digestive organs acquired or regained strength very
rapidly. All constipation had vanished. My skin became moist and more
healthy, and my spirits instead of being depressed became equable and
cheerful. No visions haunted my sleep. I could not sleep, however,
more than two or three hours at a time, and from about 3 A.M. until
8--when I took my opium--I was restless and troubled with a gnawing,
twitching sensation in the stomach. From seventeen grains downward my
torment (for by that word alone can I characterize the pangs I
endured) commenced. I could not rest, either lying, sitting, or
standing. I was compelled to change my position every moment, and the
only thing that relieved me was walking about the country. My sight
became weak and dim; the gnawing at my stomach was perpetual,
resembling the sensation caused by ravenous hunger; but food, though I
ate voraciously, would not relieve me. I also felt a sinking in the
stomach, and such a pain in the back that I could not straighten
myself up. A dull, constant, aching pain took possession of the calves
of my legs, and there was a continual jerking motion of the nerves
from head to foot. My head ached, my intellect was terribly weakened
and confused, and I could not think, talk, read, nor write. To sleep
was impossible, until by walking from morning till night I had so
thoroughly tired myself that pain could not keep me awake, although I
was so weak that walking was misery to me. And yet under all these
_desagremens_ I did not feel dejected in spirit; although I
became unable to walk, and used to lie on the floor and roll about in
agony for hours together. I should certainly have taken opium again if
the chemist had not, by my mother's instructions, refused to sell
it. I became worse every day, and it was not till I had entirely left
off the drug--two months nearly--that any alleviation of my suffering
was perceptible. I gradually but very slowly recovered my strength
both of mind and body, though it was long before I could read or
write, or even converse. My appetite was too good; for though while an
opium-eater I could not endure to taste the smallest morsel of fat, I
now could eat at dinner a pound of bacon which had not a
hair's-breadth of lean in it. Previously to my arrival in Kenilworth
an intimate friend of mine had been ruined--reduced at once from
affluence to utter penury by the villainy of his partner, to whom he
had entrusted the whole of his business, and who had committed two
forgeries for which he was sentenced to transportation for life. In
consequence of this event, my friend, who was a little older than
myself and had been about twelve months married, determined to leave
his young wife and child and seek to rebuild his broken fortunes in
Canada. When he informed me that such was his plan I resolved to
accompany him, and immediately commenced preparations for my voyage. I
was not however ready, not having been able so soon to collect the sum
necessary, when he was obliged to leave, and as I could not have him
for my companion, I altered my course and took my passage for New
York, in the vain expectation of obtaining a better income here, where
the ground was comparatively unoccupied, than in London, where there
were hundreds of men as well qualified as myself, dependent on
literature for their support. I need not add how lamentably I was
disappointed. The first inquiries I made were met by advice to
endeavor to obtain a livelihood by some other profession than
authorship. I could get no employment as a reporter, and the
applications I addressed to the editors of several of the daily
newspapers received no answer. My prospects appeared as gloomy as they
could well be, and my spirits sunk beneath the pressure of the anxious
cares which now weighed so heavily upon me. I was alone in a strange
country, without an acquaintance into whose ear I might pour the
gathering bitterness of my blighted hopes. I was also much distressed
by the intense heat of July, which kept me from morning till night in
a state much like that occasioned by a vapor bath. I was so melancholy
and hopeless that I really found it necessary to have recourse to
brandy or opium. I preferred the latter, although to ascertain the
difference, merely as a philosophical experiment, I took rather
copious draughts of the former also. But observe; I did not intend
ever again to become the slave of opium. I merely proposed to take
three or four grains a day until I should procure some literary
engagement, and until the weather became more cool. All my efforts to
obtain such engagement were in vain; and I should undoubtedly have
sunk into hopeless despondency had not a gentleman (to whom I had
brought an order for a small sum of money, twice the amount of which
he had insisted on my taking), perceiving how injuriously I was
affected by my repeated disappointments, offered me two hundred
dollars to write "Passages from the Life of an Opium-eater," in two
volumes. I gladly accepted this disinterested offer, but before I had
written more than two or three sheets I became disgusted with the
subject. I attempted to proceed, but found that my former facility in
composition had deserted me; that, in fact, I could not write. I now
discovered that the attempt to leave off opium again would be one of
doubtful result. I had increased my quantum to forty grains. I again
became careless and inert, and I believe that the short time that had
elapsed since I had broken the habit in England had not been
sufficient to allow my system to free itself from the poison which had
been so long undermining its powers. I could not at once leave it off;
and in truth I was not very anxious to do so, as it enabled me to
forget the difficulties of the situation in which I had placed myself;
while I knew that with regained freedom the cares and troubles which
had caused me again to flee to my destroyer for relief, would press
upon my mind with redoubled weight. I remained in Brooklyn until
November. Since then, I have resided in the city, in great poverty,
frequently unable to procure a dinner, as the few dollars I received
from time to time scarcely sufficed to supply me with opium. Whether
I shall now be able to leave off opium, God only knows!


The manuscript of the narrative which follows was placed in the hands
of the compiler by a physician of Philadelphia who for many years had
shown great kindness to its writer, in the endeavor to cure him of his
pernicious habits. The writer seems from childhood to have been cursed
with an excessive sensibility, and an unusual constitutional craving
for excitement, coupled with an infirm and unreliable will. The habit
of daily dependence upon alcohol appears to have been established for
years before the use of opium was commenced; and the latter was begun
chiefly for the purpose of substituting the excitement of the drug in
place of the excitement furnished by brandy and wine. That any human
being can permanently substitute the daily use of the one in place of
the daily use of the other is more than doubtful. Attempts of this
kind are not unfrequently made, but the result is uniformly the
same--a double tyranny is established which no amount of resolution is
sufficient to conquer. This fact is so forcibly illustrated in this
autobiography, that although it is chiefly a story of suffering from
the use of alcoholic stimulants, its insertion here may serve as a
caution to that class of persons, not inconsiderable in number, who
are tempted to substitute one ruinous habit in place of another.

I am inclined to think I must have been born, if not literally with a
propensity to _stimulus_, at least with a susceptibility to fall
readily into the use of it; for my ancestors, so far as I know, all
used alcohol, though none of them, I believe, died drunkards. One of
my earliest recollections is that of seeing the tumbler of sling
occasionally partaken of by the elders of the family, even before
breakfast, and of myself with the other children being sometimes
gratified with a spoonful of the beverage or the sugar at the
bottom. Paregoric, too--combining two of the most dangerous of all
substances, alcohol and opium--was a favorite medicine of my excellent
mother, and in all the little ailments of childhood was freely
administered. So highly thought she of it that on my leaving home at
fifteen for Cambridge University she put a large vial of it in my
trunk, with the injunction to take of it, if ever sick.

In my young days I saw alcohol used everywhere. How in those days any
body failed of the drunkard's grave seems hardly less than
miraculous. How I myself escaped becoming inebriate for more than
twenty-five years, is with my organization, a deep mystery.

I can remember, when quite young, occasionally drinking--as I saw
every body else do, boys as well as men, and even women--and I
recollect also being two or three times overcome with liquor, to my
infinite horror and shame not less than bodily suffering. At fifteen,
as I said, I entered Harvard University, perfectly free from the
_habit_ of drinking as from all other bad habits. Here too, as
everywhere before, I saw alcohol flowing copiously, the most prevalent
kind being wine.

On Exhibition and Commencement Days, every student honored with a
"part" was accustomed at his room to make his friends and
acquaintances free of the cake-basket and especially of the
wine-cup. A good deal of wine and punch too was drank at the private
"Blows" (so called) of the students, at the meetings of their various
clubs, at their military musterings, and other like occasions. At all
such times there was more or less intoxication. I can remember being a
good deal disordered with wine two or three times during my four
college years, and I have no doubt I was considerably affected by it
more times than these; still scholastic ambition, somewhat diligent
habits of study, straitened means, and the want of any special

Book of the day: