The Opium-Habit, With Suggestions as to the Remedy

New York: Harper and Brothers.
NOTHING from this book appears more certain than that if the burnt child does dread the fire, he cannot keep out of it. It is the unburnt child who shuns it; and reform is for the most part confined to those who have not gone astray. In other words, the chief, if not the sole use of the book, which recounts in many experiences, and in the moving language of its victims, the horrible effects of the opium habit, is to terrify from its formation, not to persuade to its relinquishment. Yet even here the good to be done is of limited degree, if we are to believe, as the compilation teaches, that in most if not in all cases the opium habit is formed upon the physician’s prescription ; that the drug is rarely or never taken in the first or even second place for the delight it gives, but for the relief it affords from intense physical pain. The remedy seems to lie in the substitution of some other alleviative for opium, or in strict warning from the physician to his patient that he must never prescribe opium for himself. It is of course possible that, with the habit of deceit and self-deceit which opiumearing creates in its victims, they romance the beginning of their ruin, and that they take the drug more for pleasure than they allow in their confessions. Southey suspected this of Coleridge. But whatever is the cause of the opium habit, the effect is ineffably tragic, no doubt. This book, where so many dreadful facts are grouped, is to be read with thrilling nerves, and the excitement is not to be allayed even by Mr. Ludlow’s “ What shall they do to be saved ? ” though if anything could soothe the reader, that gentleman’s gift of making truth appear stronger than fiction would do it. There is very much in his letter, which ends the book, sketching the outlines of an opium-cure to be operated in an opiumeater’s asylum, which must strike every one as very sensible; but every one is not a judge of this part of the business. Inveterate opium-eaters generally cannot be cured ; their attempts at reformation end in death, if persevered in beyond the capacity to resume the habit, which if resumed duly kills. Among the cases here presented at less or greater length there is one “ Successful Attempt to abandon Opium” and one “ Morphine Habit overcome.” In the first, the patient succeeded in breaking the habit by gradual reduction of his potion of laudanum, after De Quincey’s method; in the second, the drug seems to have been abruptly and totally relinquished. But in the one case, the writer addresses himself almost entirely to those who have only briefly and moderately indulged their fatal appetite, and, in giving advice for their cure, confesses that the best advice is never to begin the habit; in the other case, the cure is of but two months’ standing.