Thomas de Quincey
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater
Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow


Thomas de Quincey was born in Manchester in 1785. His father was a well-off linen merchant who had interests in literature. De Quincey went to schools in Bath and Winkfield before settling at Manchester Grammar School at 15. However, eighteenth months after arriving there he ran away to wander homeless through Wales and London. These juvenile adventures would be documented in his most famous book, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1822), notably his acquaintance with a prostitute called Ann.

His guardians sent him to Worcester College at Oxford University where he spent most of his time alone. He would follow this solitary path for much of his life. During this period, de Quincey began taking opium, initially for toothache in 1804 (he became an addict in 1812). He shared this habit with Coleridge, who he met - along with Wordsworth - after leaving Oxford without a degree. He settled in Grasmere, in Dove Cottage where the Wordsworths had lived previously. In 1817, he married Margaret Simpson, a local farmer's daughter.

Having finished off the last of his personal fortune through a combination of poor luck and recklessness, he took up a career in writing, initially editing the rather insignificant Westmoreland Gazette. Moving to London in 1821, he came under the wing of Charles Lamb and began writing for the London Magazine. It was in this forum, in October and November 1821 that De Quincey first published his Confessions of an English Opium Eater (it appeared in book form in 1822) that - despite its name - was by no means an apologetic work. He wrote a great deal in magazines over the next thirty years of his life while living mainly in Edinburgh. The need to write so much to support his family meant that the quality of his numerous outpourings was varied: he was often prey to tedious digression or allowed his distinctive black humour to become plain facetious. Nonetheless, his learning and his stately manner gave his writing a distinctive style, best seen in his fine essay, "On the Knocking on the Gate in 'Macbeth'" and his Recollections of the Lake Poets (1834-9).

De Quincey extended upon his original Confessions for a much expanded version, printed in 1856, in which much of the autobiographical material was bolstered by new material. Many feel, however that he weakened the text with his additions. He spent the last years of his life putting together a collected edition of his works, Selections Grave and Gay (1853-60). Further, he produced but did not complete some pioneering pre-Freud psychological work on the influence of childhood experience and memory on dreams (see the posthumous The English Mail Coach). His influence is felt strongly in the works of Poe and Baudelaire.

Calendar of Authors Resource site which contains a biography and further information on Thomas DeQuincey
Confessions of an English Opium Eater Summary of Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Also includes an autobiography

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