In the Hall of the Opium King

1 April 2012

Opium KingFrom A. Brierre de Boismont, On Hallucinations (1855):—

This writer relates the case of an English ambassador, who was sent on a political mission to one of the Indian kings. On his arrival at the palace of the sovereign, he was conducted through a long suite of magnificent apartments, lined by officers of state clad in the richest apparel; he was then led into a small chamber, where the furniture and decorations were of a still more costly description than what he had already seen. 

There he was left by himself. In a short time two persons of high rank entered, preceding a litter borne by slaves, and covered with rich silks and cashmere shawls of great value. On the couch was stretched a human form, which he should have mistaken for a corpse but for the motion of the head, which corresponded to that of the bearers; two of the officers in attendance had in their hands a golden waiter, on each of which was a cup, and a small bottle containing a bluish-looking liquid. 

The ambassador, thinking he was the involuntary witness of some funeral ceremony, wished to retire; but he was soon undeceived upon observing one of the officers raise the head of this apparently lifeless being, replace the tongue, which was hanging from the mouth, and make it swallow some black liquid, at the same time closing the mouth, and gently rubbing the throat in order to facilitate its passage. When this operation had been repeated five or six times, the figure opened its eyes and closed its mouth of its own accord; it then swallowed, without assistance, another large dose of the liquid, and, in less than an hour, became revived, and sat up on the couch, having somewhat recovered its natural colour and the partial use of its limbs. He then addressed the envoy in Persian, and asked him the objects of his mission. For nearly two hours this extraordinary person remained perfectly conscious and capable of transacting business of the greatest importance. The English ambassador took the liberty of asking him some questions concerning the strange scene which he had witnessed.

“Sir,” he replied, “I have long been an opium-eater, and by degrees have fallen into this deplorable condition. I pass three parts of the day in the torpid state in which you have seen me. Although incapable of moving or of speaking, I retain my consciousness, and during this time I am surrounded with the most delightful visions; but I should never awake if I was not surrounded by zealous and affectionate attendants, who watch over me with the most anxious solicitude. When, from the state of my pulse, they know that my heart is becoming enfeebled, and my respiration is scarcely perceptible, they then make me swallow a solution of opium, which revives me in the manner you have seen. During these four hours I shall have swallowed several ounces, and in a short time I shall relapse into my habitual torpor.” 
 

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