In Pisa, professor Vaccà diagnosed Shelley’s drug habit (2020)


Excerpt from:

Edward John Trelawny (1878). Records of Shelley, Byron and the Author. London Pickering. (from the Preface)

“Shelley never was a boy in mind; whilst they of his age were playing marbles, he was reading. His mental hunger for knowledge was insatiable – no one ever saw him without a book in his hand or pocket.

At Eton, after an illness, the doctor who attended him took a liking of him, and Shelley borrowed his medical books and was deeply interested in chemistry from that time, and, unlike doctors, he experimented with some of the drugs on himself.

The power of laudanum to soothe pain and give rest especially delighted him; he was cautioned, and knew it was wrong; the seductive power of that drug retained a hold on him during the rest of his life, used with extreme caution at first and at long intervals.

People who take to opiates are enslaved and never abandon them; these may be traced in some of Shelley’s flights of imagination, and fancies of supernatural appearances.

On one occasion in London, and again in Italy, he so over-dosed himself that his life was only saved by those measures that are used to counteract the drug; but it must not be thought that, like De Quincey and many others, he habitually used it : he only took it on rare occasions, when in deep dejection. He was impatient of remonstrance, and so made a a mystery of it.

The effect of opiates s to deaden pain, but they benumb the vital powers and derange our vital organs; with Shelley they caused spasms.

The professor of anatomy at the University of Pisa, Vaccà, was renowned for his skill in surgery and medicine, and he came to the conclusion that Shelley was drugging himself, and earnestly interdicted medicine in all its forms; he said that Shelley was perfectly well constituted and of a healthy and vigorous frame – he recommended his varying his diet.

I often saw him in a state of nudity, and he always reminded me of a young Indian, strong-limbed and vigorous, and there were few men who would walk on broken ground at the pace he kept up; he beat us all in walking, and barring drugs and accidents, he might have lived as long as his father – to ninety.”

Last Updated on November 28, 2020 by Federico Soldani

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: