" 0 just, subtle, and all-conquering opium ! that to the hearts of rich and poor alike, for the wounds that will never heal and for the pangs of grief that ' tempt the spirit to rebel,' bringest an assuaging balm:-eloquent opium ! that with thy potent rhetoric stealest away the purposes of wrath, pleadest effectually for relenting pity, and through one night's heavenly sleep callest back to the guilty man the visions of his infancy, and hands washed pure from blood;-0 just and righteous opium ! that to the chancery of dreams summonest for the triumphs of despairing innocence false witnesses, confoundest perjury, and dost reverse the sentences of unrighteous judges ; then buildest upon the bosom of darkness, out of the fastastic imagery of the brain, cities and temples, beyond the art of Phidias and Praxiteles-beyond the splendours of Babylon and Hekatompylos ; and,' from the anarchy of dreaming sleep ' cullest into sunny light the faces of long-buried beauties, and the blessed household countenances, cleansed from the ' dishonours of the grave.' Thou only givest those gifts to man; and thou hast the keys to Paradise, 0 just, subtle, and mighty opium ! "
Opium indeed was in the air of Manchester, the cotton - spinners being much addicted to its use. And it called aloud to Francis in these words of de Quincey. Damnable things become reasonable or tolerable in a city. It harbours such a multitude of distresses, such a conflict of right and wrong - the purposes of nature stand confused, instincts go haltingly along the streets, conscience and reasonings are stunned between stone walls. In one thing, then, did Francis mishear the edict of lawfulness. He took opium - a very pitiful and, surely, very excusable misunderstanding. Constitutionally he was a target for the temptation of the drug; doubly a target when set up in the mis-fitting guise of a medical student, and sent about his work in the middle of the city of Manchester, long, according to de Quincey, a dingy den of opium, with every facility of access, and all the pains that were de Quincey's excuse. He took opium at the hands of de Quincey and his mother. That she, "giver of life, death, peace, distress," should thus have confirmed and renewed her gifts was a strange thing to befall. From her copy of the Confessions of an English Opium Eater he learnt a new existence at her hands. That the life that opium conserved in him triumphed over the death that opium dealt out to him shall be part argument of this book. On the one hand, it staved off the assaults of tuberculosis ; it gave him the wavering strength that made life just possible for him, whether on the streets or through all those other distresses and discomforts that it was his character deeply to resent but not to remove by any normal courses ; if it could threaten physical degradation he was able by conquest to tower in moral and mental glory. It made doctoring or any sober course of life even more impractical than it was already rendered by native incapacities, and to his failure in such careers we owe his poetry. On the other hand, it dealt with him remorselessly as it dealt with Coleridge and all its consumers. It put him in such constant strife with his own conscience that he had ever to hide himself from himself, and for concealment he fled to that which made him ashamed, until it was as if the fig-leaf were of necessity plucked from the Tree of the Fall. It killed in him the capacity for acknowledging those duties to his family and friends which, had his heart not been in shackles, he would have owned with no ordinary ardour.
It is on account of a hundred passages of the Confessions that the friendship was established. What solace of companionship must Francis have discovered when de Quincey told him, " But alas ! my eye is quick to value the logic of evil chances. Prophet of evil I ever am to myself; forced for ever into sorrowful auguries that I have no power to hide from my own heart, no, not through one night's solitary dreams." Here was a boon though sorrowful companion. For here was one who could translate his distresses into a brave art; one who could extract good writing out of his disabilities. Doubtless it was he who first showed to Francis the profitableness of bitter experiences, and that, if gallant prose might come of weakness, poetry might be sown in the fields of failure, and the crown of thorns be turned to the chaplet of laurel. As it serves us in following the friendship that Francis had imagined for himself, a passage in which no immediate relation to him can be traced may perhaps be pardoned on this page. It is necessary inasmuch as it shows the equal ground trodden by the two men; they were going the same road, the stride of their thoughts was equal. It occurs in the part of the Confessions telling of the eve of de Quincey's flight from school. Evening prayers are being said, and with nerves highly strung by the responsibilities of the morrow there comes to de Quincey the higher meanings and motives of the school devotions. He feels how "the marvellous magnetism of Christianity" has gathered into her service the wonders of nature, and builded her temple with the bricks of Creation :-
" Flowers, for example, that are so pathetic in their beauty, frail as the clouds, and in their colouring as gorgeous as the heavens, had through thousands of years been the heritage of children honoured as the jewellery of God only by them-when suddenly the voice of Christianity, countersigning the voice of infancy, raised them to a grandeur transcending the Hebrew throne, although founded by God Himself, and pronounced Solomon in all his glory not to be arrayed like one of these. Winds again, hurricanes, the eternal breathings, soft or loud, of ^Eolian power, wherefore had they, raving or sleeping, escaped all moral arrest and detention ? Simply because vain it were to offer a nest for the reception of some new moral birth whilst no religion is yet moving amongst men that can furnish such a birth. Vain is the image that should illustrate a heavenly sentiment, if the sentiment is yet unborn. Then, first, when it had become necessary to the purposes of a spiritual religion that the spirit of man, as the fountain of all religion, should in some commensurate reflex image have its grandeur and its mysteriousness emblazoned, suddenly the pomp and mysterious paths of winds and tempests, blowing whither they list, and from what fountains no man knows, are cited from darkness and neglect, to give and to receive reciprocally an impassioned glorification, where the lower mystery enshrines and illustrates the higher. Call for the grandest of all earthly spectacles, what is that 1 It is the sun going to his rest. Call for the grandest of all human sentiments, what is that? It is that man should forget his anger before he lies down to sleep. And these two grandeurs, the mighty sentiment and the mighty spectacle, are by Christianity married together."