Later he confessed that he could remember not a word of what he had written but judged the opium chapters to be the best.
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Six months later the work was finished and he was dead. Two inventions ended the sway of laudanum-opium. Disappointingly, morphine proved far more dangerously habit-forming than laudanum. And second, Charles-Gabriel Pravaz, a hard-working French surgeon and charitable Christian, invented the gadget that became the parent of the subcutaneous syringe.
He had an instrument made of silver and platinum which he carried in a compartment in his top hat and used for injecting coagulating fluid into the varicose veins of the poor factory women of Lyon. A fashionable Parisian colleague saw the potential of the implement and started to inject morphine into aristocratic and even imperial buttocks. Heroin, synthethised from morphine in in the struggling pharmaceutical workshop of Bayer in the Rhineland, was also hoped to be a non-addictive form of opium; and for 15 years it was marketed as an effective and non-habit-forming cough mixture.
It was the first, but the opposite of the second; and eventually it gave birth to the most powerful international criminal organisation and the most expensive and ineffectual anti-criminal force the world has ever seen. Yet even heroin continued to inspire the arts, only this time it was jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday, the Flower Children, the Beat Generation, John Lennon and countless others.
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And he continued to self-medicate his various ailments with increasing doses of laudanum. Wine robs a man of his self-possession; opium greatly invigorates it.
But this I shall think of with not so much pain, if this same opium enables me as I think it will to send you an article. For all its drawbacks, opium had one beneficial effect for De Quincey, that of acting as the ice-axe to free the frozen sea within him.
Signed anonymously and buried midway down the table of contents; it was an instant success, and the next month the second part was prominently featured in the magazine. Most significantly, its approach to time was radically different.
De Quincey found in opium a completely different relationship to the world around him. But time it is upon which the exact and multiplying power of opium chiefly spends its operation. Time becomes infinitely elastic, stretching out to such immeasurable and vanishing termini, that it seems ridiculous to compute the sense of it on waking by expressions commensurate to human life. Not as pleasant interludes, as they had with Wordsworth, but as fantastical nightmares.
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Written not as an unknown youth but as an established author whose public was hungry for more, he could afford to take liberties. She also is the mother of lunacies, and the suggestress of suicides… she can approach only those in whom a profound nature has been upheaved by central convulsions; in whom the heart trembles and the brain rocks under conspiracies of tempest from without and tempest from within. De Quincey continued to write, gradually overcoming his habitual procrastination and inability to make good on promises.
Erudite, engaging, and biting, these works help fill out the life of a long misunderstood scholar—one who changed the face of the essay and of our understanding of addiction.