Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Milk of Paradise: The Effect of Opium Visions on the Works of DeQuincey, Crabbe, Francis Thompson, and Coleridge by M.H. Abrams

This short work began as an undergraduate essay, expanded into a senior thesis by Abrams before being published by Harvard University Press in 1934. My 1970 Harper & Row Perennial edition paperback includes a new introduction by the author as well a selection of three works referenced in the text.  These consist of two opium-inspired poems by George Crabbe (who was an otherwise decidedly uninspired author) and a short story by Francis Thompson* entitled “Finis Coronat Opus”.   While Abrams’ work is a pleasant curiosity regarding opium use among 19th century British authors, most obviously Coleridge and DeQuincey, it’s the Thompson story that’s the real attraction here.  This is a tale of a vainglorious author of diabolical temperament who sacrifices his true love to a demonic power for a transitory taste of fame.  The suitably opulent - and somewhat creepy - prose is informed (it is Abrams’ contention) by Thompson’s opium-induced visions.  

I don’t recall seeing “Finis Coronat Opus” heavily anthologized in any of the abundant, and often repetitive, collections of classic horror stories, of which David Tibet’s The Moons At Your Door is the most recent example.  Tibet has another anthology on the way entitled There Is a Graveyard That Dwells in Man; if it isn’t too late, perhaps he could squeeze this little piece into it? 

*Thompson, whom I understand Chesterton enthused over, is considered a “Catholic” poet for his major poem “The Hound of Heaven”, and is known to have spent a good portion of his adult life on the streets as an opium fiend.