Thursday, March 11, 2010

Malays were pretty fierce back then it seems

While we are on the subject of opium, it would be remiss of the Amateur Historian not to mention Thomas de Quincey, whose rambling but fascinating narrative Confessions of an English Opium Eater, is not only an intriguing look at addiction, altered states of consciousness, English Romanticism and 18th-19th century England, but a repository of bizarre happenings, such as the Malay Incident. It is best to leave most of the description of this even in de Quincey's own words.

‘One day a Malay knocked on my door. What business could a Malay have to transact among the recesses of the English mountains was not my business to conjecture, but possibly he was on the road to Seaport, about forty miles distant’.

Though the servant girl, 'who had never seen an Asiatic before' was left in mutual bewilderment with the Malay, who spoke English as well as she spoke Malay, de Quincey took it upon himself to see to it that said nameless Malay got a place to stay and something to it. Then de Quincey gave him a parting gift in the form of (you guessed it!) a large lump of opium. de Quincey writes:

‘I was struck with some little consternation when I saw him suddenly raise his hand to his mouth, and bolt the whole, divided into three pieces, at one mouthful. The quantity (of opium) was enough to kill some half-dozen dragoons, together with their horses, supposing neither bipeds nor quadrupeds were trained opium-eaters.'

The Malay was perfectly fine, though de Quincey had highly symbolic nightmares for several pages after that.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Elyse. I realise this is four weeks late. Living in London I have a passion for photographing blue plaques. If you've been to London you will have seen them dotted about the place on various buildings. They commemorate a famous person who lived in the house at some stage in their lives.

    I've got a picture of the house Thomas de Quincy lived in when he was writing, Confessions of an Opium Eater.It is in Tavistock Street just round the corner from the Lyceum Theater and Wellington Street.That is interesting in itself because Charles Dickens had offices for his magazine, All the Year Round, on the corner of Tavistock Street and Wellington Street. Dickens moved into the premises on the corner the year de Quincy died. Whether they ever came across each other we can only speculate.

    I'll post some pictures of the two premises on my BLOG for you. All the best, Tony