Since ancient times the nature and behaviour of people taking psychic altering drugs has been surrounded by a lot of preconceptions. When reading Tomas de Quincey’s book you are transported into the 19th century English society and discover the stereotypes and preconceptions regarding drug use. de Quincey starts in a more descriptive and apologetic note just to make sure that he appeals to his readers. At first this style seems a little too contrived in 21st century biographic writing, but one must keep in mind that when this book appeared it stirred the high circles of society and created a new awareness regarding the use of opium.
It seems a courageous move to describe and expose publicly a private behaviour, such as drug usage. Whether the reason was to make the public aware of this or simply the book emerged as a result of de Quincey’s belief that preconceptions must be changed is a matter of historical hypothesising. Needless to say, you come into first contact with the exhilaration of the drugs effect but also with the negative effects that it can have on the consumer and his family.
I enjoyed reading this book simply because it was a way to gain access into a world of sealed doors and social stigma. I applaud his heroic act of describing his behaviour and by doing so exposing himself to public criticism. A lot has changed since that time, but the stigma surrounding the drug consumption still remains. Even the author warns against opium usage and argues that better medical care or better living conditions should be a necessary condition for all those who wish not to take the drug or be tempted by other psychedelic drugs. At one point de Quincey presents his hypothesis stating that opium might alleviate the symptoms of Consumptions or other grave medical condition that affected British Society at that time, but tones down his tone to include a cautionary message that the drugs early positive effects should not be abused and care must be taken when measuring the dosage. Another noteworthy hypothesis is that a life that includes regular exercise and a balanced diet could provide more positive effects on overall health rather than subsiding to drug use.
Taken together the messages that de Quincey sends to his readers are worthy of consideration and admirable, especially when thinking that this is the first biographic book to expose opium usage.