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THE ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER.
I BOUGHT my copy new for fourpence-halfpenny, in Holywell Street. It was published by George Routledge and Sons, of the Broadway, London. The little volume is made up of a “Preface,” by Thomas de Quincey; “Confessions of an English Opium-eater;" and “ Notes from the Pocket-book of a late Opium-eater;" including “Walking Stewart,” “On the Knocking at the Gates in Macbeth," and "On Suicide." When it last left my hands it boasted a paper cover, on which appeared the head of the illustrious Laker. At my elbow now it lies, divested of its shield; and I sit face to face with the title-page, as though my author had taken off his hat and overcoat, and I were asking him which he preferred, clear or thick soup, while the servant stood behind filling his glass
with Amontillado. How that cover came to be removed I do not know. The last borrower was of the less destructive sex, and I am at a great loss to account for the injury.
I object to the presence of “Walking Stewart,” and “On Suicide," otherwise I count my copy perfect. With the exception of Robinson Crusoe and Poe's Tales I have read nothing so often as the Opium-eater. Only twice in my life up to'five-and-twenty years of age did I sit. up all night to read a book: once when about midnight I came into possession of Enoch Arden, and a second time when, at the same witching hour I drew a red cloth-bound edition of the Opium-eater out of my pocket, in my lonely, dreary bedroom, five hundred miles from where I am now writing. The household were all asleep, and I by no means strong of nerve. The room was large, the dwelling ghostly. I sat in an embrasure of one of the windows, with a little table supporting the candles on one side, and on the other a small movable bookcase. Thus I was in a kind of dock, only open on one side, that fronting the room. It was in
the beginning of autumn, and a low, warm wind blew the complaining rain against the pane on a level with my ear. At that time I had not seen London, and I remember being overpowered and broken before the spectacle of that sensitive and imaginative boy in the text, hungry and forlorn, in the unsympathetic mass of innumerable houses, every door of which was shut against him.
As I read on and the hour grew late, the succession of splendours and terrors wrought on my imagination, until I felt cold and exhausted, and had scarcely strength to sit upright in my chair. My hand trembled, and my
mind became tremulously apprehensive of something vague and awful ; I could not tell what. Sounds of the night which I had heard a thousand times before, which were as familiar to me as the bell of my parish church, now assumed dire, uncertain imports. The rattling of the sash was not the work of the wind, not the work of ghostly hands, but worse still, of human hands belonging to men in some more dire extremity than the approach of death. The beat
ing of the rain against the glass was made to cover voices trying to tell me secrets I could not hear and live, and which yet I would have given my life to know.
I cannot tell why I was so exhilarated by terror. The Confessions alone are not calculated to produce inexplicable disturbance of the mind. It may be I had eaten little or nothing that day; it may be I had steeped myself too deeply in nicotine. All I know for certain is that I was in such a state of abject panic I had not courage to cross the room to my bed. It was in the dreary, pitiless, raw hour before the dawn I finished the book. Then I found I durst not rise. I put down the book and looked at the candles. They would last till daylight.
I would have given all the world to lie on that bed over there, with my back secure against it, warmed by it, comforted by it. But that open space was more terrible to me than if it were filled with flame. I should have been much more at my ease in the dark, yet I could not bring myself to blow out the lights; not because I dreaded the darkness, but because I shrank from encountering the possibilities of that awful moment of twilight between the full light of the candles and the blank gloom.
When I thought of blowing out the lights and imagined the dread of catching a glimpse of some spectacle of supreme horror, I imprudently gave my imagination rein, and set myself to find out what would terrify me most. All at once, and before I had made more than the inquiry of my mind, I saw in fancy between me and the bed, a thing of unapproachable terror; I had not been recently reading Christabel, and yet it must have been remotely from that poem I conjured the spectre which so awed me. I placed out in the open of the room on the floor, between me and the door, and close to a straight line drawn between me and the bed, a figure shrouded in a black cloak, from hidden shoulder to invisible feet. Over the head of this figure was cast a cowl, which completely concealed the head and face. At any moment the cloak might open and disclose the body of that figure. I knew the body