New Historian

Thomas de Quincey’S Confessions

Thomas De Quincey

<![CDATA[Thomas De Quincey was a talented British writer of the early to mid-nineteenth century. He is best known for his classic “Confessions of an English Opium Eater” which was first published in 1821. A modern reader who hears about this strange book title for the first time is likely to assume the book contains some lurid descriptions of a depraved drug abuser, but nothing could be further from the truth. De Quincey was certainly a drug addict but substance abuse is not the main theme of this book. De Quincey’s “Confessions” are in effect an autobiography of the author’s early life. However, this is far from a typical autobiography built around a series of chronological events. While De Quincey does refer to episodes that had a dramatic impact on his life, in particular the death of his young sister and his unhappy experiences at school, the focus is very much on describing his feelings and moods. De Quincey is a master of literary English. His vivid descriptions of his impressions of his surroundings and experiences of opium-induced dreams make this book essential reading for lovers of the English language. So who was the brilliant writer capable of producing this classic English work? De Quincey was born in Manchester, Lancashire in 1785. His father Thomas was a textile merchant. Although Thomas was born into a more privileged situation than many of the other inhabitants of this rapidly growing factory town his early years were far from happy. The death of his three year old sister when he was just five years old deeply affected the young Thomas. His father died a few years later and Thomas was sent to Manchester Grammar School. After the death of his father his mother added the De” prefix was added to the family surname for the status benefits of having a more aristocratic sounding-name. Unable to adjust to the discipline of school life and dismissive of his teachers’ competence, seventeen year old Thomas De Quincey ran away to Wales and later to London. Without access to financial support he wondered around the capital’s streets. A young prostitute named Ann befriended the lonely De Quincey. He had youthful dreams of making her his life partner. Her failure to make a designated meeting and her disappearance from his life became another of incidents he chose to focus on in later writings. His youthful poverty and ill health led him to make his first experiments with opium-eating. He valued the relief it brought him from his troubles even though he certainly realised the temporary nature of this palliative. De Quincey cultivated the acquaintance of Wordsworth and the other leading literary figures who settled around him in the Lake District. De Quincey also settled in Wordsworth’s proximity and became a member of his literary circle. He married a local farmer’s daughter and started a family. Throughout his life his financial skills failed to match his literary abilities. The image of the impoverished writer living in some rundown garret was not far from the truth for much of De Quincey’s long literary career. He brought out several new editions of his Confessions and wrote “The English Mail Coach” and other works that are still read today, although his prime fame still springs from the wonderful imagery creating and atmosphere-conjuring abilities he displayed in the Confessions. De Quincey died in Edinburgh in 1859. Related Books: The Confessions of an English Opium Book The Confessions of an English Opium – Eater Being an Extract from the Life of a Scholar by Thomas de Quincey PIBN: 1000534747 [gap height="20"] Other Sources: Confessions of an English Opium Eater and Other Writings, Edited by Grevel Lindop, Oxford University Press 1998 [gap height="20"]  ]]>

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