Friday, 15 December 2006

The Curse of Opium

Have you noticed about drunkards; how they will worry; with a sublime sense of the pity of such folly, about the excesses of others. ‘I am but a man overcome by an excess of humanity but Tommy’s gone to hell’. From the vantage point of momentary righteousness the drunkard issues a mild sigh as though surveying the long gallery of pissartists and portersharks; the friendly, goodly company of the dunned and dammed. ‘If I am the way I am, my reasons are excellent; his are spurious’ is another theme. So it was with Coleridge and De Quincy on the subject of their addiction to opium. The complexities of the attack and counter attack on the high moral ground takes a tone of truly comedic sense of injury and injustice.

“A letter of his, which I hope he did not design to have published, but which, however; has been published, point the attention of his correspondent to a broad distinction separating my case as an opium-eater from his own: he, it seems, had fallen excusably (because unavoidably) into this habit of eating opium – as the one sole therapeutic resource available against his particular malady; but I, wretch that I am, being so notoriously charmed by fairies against pain, must have resorted to opium in the abominable character of an adventurous voluptuary, angling in all streams for variety of pleasures. Coleridge is wrong to the whole extent of what was possible; wrong in his fact, wrong in his doctrine; in his little fact, and his big doctrine. I did not do the thing which he charges upon me; and if I had done it, this would not convict me as a citizen of Sybaris or Daphne.”
(From Confessions of an English Opium-Eater)

When the pain for which opium was the anodyne is revealed we are reminded of two carpenters comparing the nicks and notches that tools and machinery have wrought on their limbs.

“Coleridge’s bodily affliction was simple rheumatism. Mine, which intermittently raged for ten years, was rheumatism in the face combined with toothache. This I had inherited from my father; or inherited (I should rather say) from my own desperate ignorance…..”

That’s right blame father. I ask you is it fortuitous that ‘father’ and ‘fault’ are side by side in the Irish sign language for the Deaf? How very adjacent?

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