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The Opium Eater
by [?]

‘With other ministrations, thou, O Nature!
Healest thy wandering and distempered child.'”

He smiled bitterly; it was a heartless, melancholy relaxation of features, a mere muscular movement, with which the eye had no sympathy; for its wild and dreamy expression, the preternatural lustre, without transparency, remained unaltered, as if rebuking, with its cold, strange glare, the mockery around it. He sat before me like a statue, whose eye alone retained its stony and stolid rigidity, while the other features were moved by some secret machinery into “a ghastly smile.”

“I am not desirous, even were it practicable,” he said, “to defend the use of opium, or rather the abuse of it. I can only say, that the substitutes you propose are not suited to my condition. The world has now no enticements for me; society no charms. Love, fame, wealth, honor, may engross the attention of the multitude; to me they are all shadows; and why should I grasp at them? In the solitude of my own thoughts, looking on but not mingling in them, I have taken the full gauge of their hollow vanities. No, leave me to myself, or rather to that new existence which I have entered upon, to the strange world to which my daily opiate invites me. In society I am alone, fearfully solitary; for my mind broods gloomily over its besetting sorrow, and I make myself doubly miserable by contrasting my own darkness with the light and joy of all about me; nay, you cannot imagine what a very hard thing it is, at such times, to overcome some savage feelings of misanthropy which will present themselves. But when I am alone, and under the influence of opium, I lose for a season my chief source of misery, myself; my mind takes a new and unnatural channel; and I have often thought that any one, even that of insanity, would be preferable to its natural one. It is drawn, as it were, out of itself; and I realize in my own experience the fable of Pythagoras, of two distinct existences, enjoyed by the same intellectual being.

“My first use of opium was the consequence of an early and very bitter disappointment. I dislike to think of it, much more to speak of it. I recollect, on a former occasion, you expressed some curiosity concerning it. I then repelled that curiosity, for my mind was not in a situation to gratify it. But now, since I have been talking of myself, I think I can go on with my story with a very decent composure. In complying with your request, I cannot say that my own experience warrants, in any degree, the old and commonly received idea that sorrow loses half its poignancy by its revelation to others. It was a humorous opinion of Sterne, that a blessing which ties up the tongue, and a mishap which unlooses it, are to be considered equal; and, indeed, I have known some people happy under all the changes of fortune, when they could find patient auditors. Tully wept over his dead daughter, but when he chanced to think of the excellent things he could say on the subject, he considered it, on the whole, a happy circumstance. But, for my own part, I cannot say with the Mariner in Coleridge’s ballad, that

“‘At an uncertain hour My agony returns;

And, till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.'”

He paused a moment, and rested his head upon his hand. “You have seen Mrs. H——, of ——-?” he inquired, somewhat abruptly. I replied in the affirmative.

“Do you not think her a fine woman?”

“Yes, certainly, a fine woman. She was once, I am told, very beautiful.”

“Once? is she not so now?” he asked. “Well, I have heard the same before. I sometimes think I should like to see her now, now that the mildew of years and perhaps of accusing recollections are upon her; and see her toss her gray curls as she used to do her dark ones, and act over again her old stratagem of smiles upon a face of wrinkles. Just Heavens! were I revengeful to the full extent of my wrongs, I could wish her no worse punishment.