Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater was first published in 1821 in the London Magazine. It professes to tear away the ‘decent drapery’ of convention and present the reader with ‘the record of a remarkable period’ in the author’s life, beginning when he ran away from school at the age of 17 and spent several months as a vagrant. It is the sections that describe his opium addiction, however, that have become the most famous. De Quincey began to take the drug as a student at Oxford, to relieve a severe bout of toothache, and remained dependent on it for the rest of his life. He describes, in vivid detail, the visions and dreams he experiences, conjuring up a world of contrasts that was both a ‘paradise’ and a place of ‘incubus and nightmare’.
De Quincey wrote his Confessions while unknown and in debt, but the work caused such a sensation that his literary fame was secured, and his account of his addiction has become a central Romantic text.
- Article by:
- Seamus Perry
Dr Seamus Perry considers the composition and publication history of Kubla Khan, and explores how Coleridge transforms language into both image and music.
- Article by:
- Sharon Ruston
- Romanticism, Fin de siècle, Technology and science
Opium was widely available in the 19th century, sold by barbers, tobacconists and stationers. Writers including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens all used the drug, for pleasure or as medicine. Professor Sharon Ruston explores how drugs provided both inspiration and subject matter for the literature of the period.