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date: 23 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter places Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater alongside Humphry Davy’s nitrous oxide experiments in order to reveal both the medicalization of De Quincey’s account and the recreational aspects of Davy’s. In the context of other drug experiences in the period, De Quincey’s claims to be offering new medical research seem less hyperbolic than has been assumed. Conversely, Davy’s account of the euphoria produced by nitrous oxide can be read within the discourse of the sublime; his connection with literary figures such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, and his own ventures into Romantic poetry, underline this link. The similarities between De Quincey’s and Davy’s accounts demonstrate how contemporary understanding of drug-taking needs to be rethought in its historical context.

Keywords: drugs, opium, laudanum, sublime, confession, medicine

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