The wonder of De Quincey, is that although opium dominated his life, it never conquered him; indeed, he turned its use to gain when he published the story of its influence in the London Magazine.

Above the sentence, I couldn't understand what does it mean 'turned its use to gain', especially 'turn to'. Following my understanding, he used opium to gain some information when he published the story of opium. Is it right?

  • 2
    De Quincy turned his opium addiction [from an affliction] into an advantage by using it as source material for his best-selling Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. – FumbleFingers Jun 12 '17 at 15:04

In brief, it's to take something that typically causes a strong negative result and accentuating the small positive effect that the substance (or event) has in order to produce a substantial gain.

In this example, opium induces a dream-like state that enticed some creative authors to smoke it. Its effects are completely sedative to the point that slight overdoses kill. Because people who use opiates (Morphine and Heroin included) are out of the context of reason, it can quickly become a bad thing. This unattached state is often referred to as being "stoned".

For someone to turn this use to gain means that the dream-like state it induces can excite the mind in a psychotropic sense, and that imagination could then be used to write a creative story out of the context of reality. Other authors, such as Mary Shelley (Frankenstein) and Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol), would also take this highly addictive drug to induce these dream-like states and use that experience to sketch out characters or events in their stories.

Using the slight positive aspect of something with such a strong negative effect is what "turned its use to gain" is referring to.

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