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Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (original 1821; edition 2016)

by Thomas De Quincey (Author)

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1,687267,724 (3.42)44
A timeless memoir of drug addiction from one of the leading intellectuals of the Victorian age At first, Thomas De Quincey found opium to be a harmless pleasure. A twenty-year-old intellectual living in nineteenth-century London, De Quincey took laudanum sparingly, spacing out his doses so their effect would not be dulled. But after years of casual use, intense stomach pains caused him to rely on the drug more and more, until he was taking opium daily, and living in a world divided between hallucinatory bliss and aching physical torment. De Quincey?s account of his addiction made him a celebrity. His rhapsodies of hallucination influenced generations of authors, from Poe and Baudelaire to Jorge Luis Borges, and warned countless readers of the dangers of drug dependency.… (more)
Member:Jrathbone9
Title:Confessions of an English Opium-Eater
Authors:Thomas De Quincey (Author)
Info:Open Road Integrated Media, Inc. (2016), 120 pages
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Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey (1821)

  1. 40
    On Wine and Hashish (Hesperus Classics) by Charles Baudelaire (lemontwist)
    lemontwist: I like On Wine and Hashish better but Baudelaire was clearly influenced by the work of De Quincey, and I think the two essays are well paired.
  2. 00
    Opium Fiend: A 21st Century Slave to a 19th Century Addiction by Steven Martin (Cecrow)
  3. 00
    The Doors of Perception / Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley (Sylak)
    Sylak: A different drug this time. Huxley experiments with mescalin, found in peyote.
  4. 00
    Baudelaire in Chains: A Portrait of the Artist as a Drug Addict by Frank Hilton (bertilak)
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» See also 44 mentions

English (24)  Italian (2)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
As far as I know, this book is the original addiction memoir, so it set the template for those that have followed. It has a three-part structure, written from the standpoint of one who has kicked the habit: First, one’s previous life, which helps illuminate why one took to the drug in the first place; secondly, the exquisite pleasures of what De Quincey calls “just, subtle, and mighty opium,” and finally, the terrors of a habit gone out of control.
Only a postscript reveals the coda: the stance of one having overcome his addiction was a fiction. It wasn’t true at the time he wrote, nor had his subsequent efforts been successful. Perhaps the most frightening sentence in the book is “not the Opium-eater, but the opium, is the true hero of the tale.”
De Quincey was a precocious scholar, especially of classical Greek. His awareness of attainment in it beyond that of his schoolmasters (and his masters’ awareness of it), combined with his inability to persuade his guardians (De Quincey was an orphan) to “go up” to Oxford ahead of time, led him to run away from school. This brought on years of intense poverty and hunger, resulting in chronic stomach pains (the cause, he asserts, of his opium abuse). This book shows evidence that the analytic ability he claims is no idle boast. He shows a keen insight into the workings of the human mind and society.
Along the way, De Quincey also challenges some of the common assumptions about the drug. One mistake, he asserts, is its designation as a narcotic. In his experience during the days of his occasional recreational use (a small dose every three weeks or so), his sip of laudanum (despite the title, he didn’t “eat” the opium, but drank it in a tincture) led to as much as eight hours of euphoria. Why waste that time sleeping! Instead, he went to the opera. Sounds appealing, but even then, he notes, “its pleasures even are of a grave and solemn complexion.”
When his stomach pain worsened, he increased both the dosage and the frequency, which soon led to harrowing experiences. In particular, his sleep becomes a nightly phantasmagoria, peopled by those he had lost through death. Even worse were the excursions to an Orient of the mind: a jumble of what he knew of China, India, and ancient Egypt. At the culmination of his description of the pains of opium, he reached the point where he felt that continued use would kill him; he was faced with a choice of two agonies: either continuing or quitting.
In rough outlines, a familiar tale. Though evident in the background, what is little expressed are the sufferings of his wife and children.
Some readers may be put off by the subject matter, others by the prose that is of its time and to current taste can seem purple. I, however, was fascinated by the combination of honesty and self-deception. Similarly, his acute insight into society didn’t keep him from failing to recognize aspects he took for granted: Part of the horror of his nocturnal dream excursions to Asia was being thrust into “the mystic sublimity of castes that have flowed apart, and refused to mix, through such immemorial tracts of time,” causing him to shudder, for as an Englishmen, he believed, he was “not bred in any knowledge of such institutions.”
Blind spots, self-deception: in the end, these are not just hallmarks of the addict. They are part of being human, and not even the sharpest mind is immune to them. It’s syllogistic then that I have them too, although, of course, I don’t know what they are. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
First Published in the London Magazine (1821)
  AliceDbooks | Aug 11, 2019 |
#10 A classic by an author that's new to you

I chose this book in part because I currently have contact with several current and former substance abusers, and wished to gain a little more insight into their situation of addiction. As I was reading it, I was also hearing news of the great opiate problem in the US, so it seemed particularly timely, especially as I understand he was first given opium as medicine. I read enough British classics not to be put off by the language of the book, but Mr. de Quincy seemed to be a little full of himself at times. And he seemed to extol the virtues of opium for many more pages than he spent speaking of the damage it does. On the other hand, I don't think any could come away from the book with the idea that opium consumption is an easy habit to break! I also think de Quincy either did not realize or overlooked the fact that different organisms react differently to different substances. Thus some of the "experts" of the day were probably right, at least regarding the effects of opium on the majority of the consuming population. One also wonders exactly how reliable a narrator the author is. ( )
  vikinga | Jul 31, 2019 |
Fascinating read actually. I was amazed at the lengths to which the author was willing to go in the name of authenticity! ( )
  Amelia1989 | Jun 10, 2019 |
finely printed by bh newdigate of the shakespeare head press on kelmscott paper
illustrated by zhenya gay
701/1500 ( )
  Drfreddy94 | Jul 17, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
First published in 1821, Confessions of an English Opium Eater was the book that kick-started Thomas De Quincey's literary career and the one that would ultimately lead to his canonisation as the patron saint of the erudite addict and the bookish dipsomaniac. Until then, he had been living in Wordsworth's cottage at Grasmere, scratching a living from his translations of German writers and feeding a laudanum habit acquired at the age of 19. This new edition displays the range of the author's learning, not only in classical and English literature, but in the Enlightenment philosophy that had been sweeping across Europe since his youth.

Certain moments of the narrative stand out with the kind of vividness De Quincey ascribes to an opium dream. The friendship with a young prostitute who saved his life and whom he lost among the thronging London crowds. The disquisition on music, which, in an 11-word parenthesis, gives as succinct a summary of Kantian aesthetics as can be imagined. Above all, the extraordinary prose hymn to the joys of winter, a warm cottage, a good library and a pot of hot tea.

"Nothing," writes De Quincey in his preface, "is more revolting to English feelings than the spectacle of a human being obtruding on our notice his moral ulcers or scars." Confessions confounded that theory by the sheer force of its style and launched the memoir of intoxication on to the literary scene. With Mill's Autobiography and Hazlitt's Liber Amoris, it is one of the classics of 19th-century life writing and its influence is still felt: to it we owe the mescaline experiments of Huxley and Michaux and the bleak satisfactions of Burroughs's Junky
 

» Add other authors (50 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
De Quincey, Thomasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bolitho, WilliamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Donini, FilippoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gay, ZhenyaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hayter, AletheaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jordan, John E.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the Reader.--I here present you, courteous reader, with the record of a remarkable period in my life: according to my application of it, I trust that it will prove, not merely an interesting record, but, in a considerable degree, useful and instructive.
Quotations
I was stared at, hooted at, grinned at, chattered at, by monkeys, by paroquets, by cockatoos. I ran into pagodas: and was fixed, for centuries, at the summit, or in secret rooms; I was the idol; I was the priest; I was worshipped; I was sacrificed. I fled from the wrath of Brama through all the forests of Asia: Vishnu hated me: Seeva laid wait for me. I came suddenly upon Isis and Osiris: I had done a deed, they said, which the ibis and the crocodile trembled at. I was buried, for a thousand years, in stone coffins, with mummies and sphynxes, in narrow chambers at the heart of eternal pyramids. I was kissed, with cancerous kisses, by crocodiles; and laid, confounded with all unutterable slimy things, amongst reeds and Nilotic mud.

I thus give the reader some abstraction of my oriental dreams, which always filled me with such amazement at the monstrous scenery, that horror seemed absorbed, for a while, in sheer astonishment.
(From 'Confessions of an English Opium-Eater')
" I say: for there is one celebrated man of the present day, who if all be true which is reported of him, has greatly exceeded me in quantity."
Death we can face: but knowing, as some of us do, what is human life, which of us is it that without shuddering could (if consciously we were summoned) face the hour of birth?
(last line of 'Suspiria de Profundis')
No dignity is perfect which does not at some point ally itself with the indeterminate and mysterious.

(from 'The English Mail-Coach')
Ah, reader! when I look back upon those days, it seems to me that all things change or perish. Even thunder and lightning, it pains me to say, are not the thunder and lightning which I seem to remember from the time of Waterloo. Roses, I fear, are degenerating, and, without a Red revolution, must come to the dust.

(from 'The English Mail-Coach')
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This is a short to medium length book, containing between less than 100 pages (in the first edition) and 275 pages (in the edition of 1856). Do not combine with editions that include "Other Writings" by the same author.
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A timeless memoir of drug addiction from one of the leading intellectuals of the Victorian age At first, Thomas De Quincey found opium to be a harmless pleasure. A twenty-year-old intellectual living in nineteenth-century London, De Quincey took laudanum sparingly, spacing out his doses so their effect would not be dulled. But after years of casual use, intense stomach pains caused him to rely on the drug more and more, until he was taking opium daily, and living in a world divided between hallucinatory bliss and aching physical torment. De Quincey?s account of his addiction made him a celebrity. His rhapsodies of hallucination influenced generations of authors, from Poe and Baudelaire to Jorge Luis Borges, and warned countless readers of the dangers of drug dependency.

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