Dunn’s Chemist: A scruple of morphium


In April 1816 the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge came to Moreton House (14 South Grove) – home of Mr Gillman (surgeon) and his wife Anne. He intended to stay for one month in the hope of breaking his opium habit under Mr Gillman’s supervision.

Seven years later Coleridge was still there. In December 1823 he moved with the Gillmans to No. 3 The Grove, where he remained until his death in 1834.

As the letter shows, Coleridge’s opium habit persisted. Dunn’s Chemist was on the corner of Highgate High Street and Townsend Yard, with a convenient and discreet side door accessed from Townsend Yard.

To Mr T H Dunn, Chemist and Druggist, Highgate, 1824

My Dear Sir

I am almost wild with pain affecting the Sciatic Nerve, as if four and twenty Rats “all  in a row” from the right Hip to the Ankle Bone were gnawing away at me.

Thank Heaven it is without any nervous disturbance, pure pain, and not that worse than pain, miserable Sensations. Nevertheless, it is so severe, and so continuous (remitting only for four or five hours in the evening, say from 4 to 10 or 11), that it has deprived me of sleep for the last two nights — and if this continues, I shall be worn out.

I must therefore have recourse to an Anodyne — till I can see my friend, Mr Green, that is, till Monday or Tuesday. You will therefore greatly oblige me by sending by the Bearer a Scruple of the Acetate of Morphium, in the accompanying little Bottle, which I shall try, a gram at a time, giving six hourly, till the Pain is sufficiently lulled to permit me to have some Sleep.

It sometimes goes off, after a pause has been once obtained. I will do myself the pleasure of calling on you and winding up my little account, as soon as this damp-begotten Vagrant, Rheumatism by name (for want of a better) shall have taken to his Heels, like the fugitive Turnkey in Sir W Scott’s Rob Roy, and left the Prison Door open for.

Your obliged Friend S T Coleridge

Photo credit: From the Archive of the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution