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p. ixIntroductionlocked

p. ixIntroductionlocked

  • Robert Morrison

Nobody who knows the nineteenth-century literature can fail to notice that there was a curious effort, under the surface, to make … Asiatic drugs as normal as European drinks,’ G. K. Chesterton remarked in his essay on Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1936). ‘It is a sort of subterranean conspiracy that ranges from the Confessions of De Quincey to the Moonstone of Wilkie Collins.’1 Chesterton is right to emphasize the link between Thomas De Quincey and Wilkie Collins, but their shared preoccupation with drugs was far more than a ‘subterranean conspiracy’. Asiatic drugs—specifically opium—are everywhere in nineteenth-century literature, not just under the surface but flowing openly through daily life, for De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) launched a fascination with drug use and abuse that passed up through Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Charles Dickens, and Collins to encompass Francis Thompson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson, and Arthur Conan Doyle in the later nineteenth century, and that was vigorously extended across the twentieth by Jean Cocteau, Aleister Crowley, William Burroughs, Aldous Huxley, Hunter S. Thompson, Ann Marlowe, and many others.

In ‘The Crawling Chaos’ (1921), H. P. Lovecraft saw much further than Chesterton when he observed that ‘of the pleasures and pains of opium much has been written. The ecstasies and horrors of De Quincey … are preserved and interpreted with an art which makes them immortal, and the world knows well the beauty, the terror, and the mystery of those obscure realms into which the inspired dreamer is transported.’2 In the Confessions, De Quincey reconceived the confessional genre and transformed our perception of drugs in ways that continue to inform current debates, not only by inventing recreational drug taking, but by putting in place two other formidable narratives of drug experience: the inexorable decline and collapse of the addict, and ‘that other, even more pathos-ridden narrative called p. xkicking the habit’, as Eve Sedgwick observes.3 Further, in Suspiria de Profundis (1845), De Quincey’s ‘sequel’ to the Confessions, he expands his consideration of opium to comment incisively on issues ranging from the Industrial Revolution to the deep traumas of his childhood, though he also explicitly shifts his focus from the powers of the drug to the powers of the dreamer. Finally, in ‘The English Mail-Coach’, an essay that at one point formed part of Suspiria, De Quincey opens with engaging and nostalgic banter that steadily gives way to nightmare worlds of personal tragedy and apocalypse played out with horrifying repetitiveness in the tortured mind of the dreamer, as he relives again and again his opium-saturated self seated atop a mail-coach as it thunders down upon a young couple huddled in a small gig. Taken together, the essays in this volume constitute one of the most innovative autobiographical expressions of the nineteenth century, and one that has had a profound impact on our understanding of memory, addiction, creativity, and desire.

De Quincey was not the first to publish his confession. ‘Since the Middle Ages at least,’ observes Michel Foucault, ‘Western societies have established the confession as one of the main rituals we rely on for the production of truth’, and he proceeds to examine its central role in the administration of religious and legal power.4 De Quincey’s two key predecessors in the confessional mode are St Augustine, who wrote his Confessions from 397 to 400, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose Confessions were posthumously published in 1782 and 1789. De Quincey was also acutely aware of the voracious popular appetite for criminal confessions such as Thomas Purney’s Account of the behaviour, last dying speeches and confessions of the 4 malefactors who were executed at Tyburn (1725), Henry James’s The confessions and behaviour of H. James and C. Griffiths (1791), William Henry Ireland’s The Confessions of William Henry Ireland (1805), Thomas Ashe’s Memoirs and Confessions of Captain Ashe (1815), and the anonymous Authentic Memoirs, Memorandums, and Confessions: Taken from the journal of his Predatorial Majesty, the King of the Swindlers (1820). De Quincey, too, was fascinated by the Gothic, and undoubtedly recognized the ways in which the confessional mode had been exploited p. xiin recent novels such as Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian; or the Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797), Charlotte Dacre’s Confessions of the Nun of St Omer (1805), and Robert Pearse Gillies’s Confessions of Sir Henry Longueville (1814).

When De Quincey stepped forward with his Confessions, he made it plain that he knew the history of the genre but also that he intended to transform it. In his opening paragraph he refers to the confessions of English ‘demireps, adventurers, or swindlers’, as well as to the Confessions of Rousseau, but only to distance himself from these precedents (p. 3). He acknowledges the religious and legal dimensions of the genre, but with irony and bravado. ‘This is the doctrine of the true church on the subject of opium: of which church I acknowledge myself to be the only member’, he proclaims during his enthusiastic exploration of the ‘Pleasures of Opium’ (p. 42). And when he introduces the ‘Pains of Opium’, he asks mischievously whether the reader by this point regards him as ‘the hero of the piece, or … the criminal at the bar’? (pp. 60–1). Above all, De Quincey turns the confession into a mode that is fundamentally concerned, not with crime or sin, but with the subjectivity of the confessor, and with those powerful moments of experience and feeling that inform his understanding of himself and the world around him. In De Quincey’s hands, the confession was extended to include medicine, education, and relationships. It became a form that centred on personal desire rather than on institutions of power that wanted—or forced—confession from us. We now confessed willingly, and for reasons that reached from money to peace of mind. ‘We have … become a singularly confessing society,’ Foucault contends. ‘One confesses in public and in private, to one’s parents, one’s educators, one’s doctor, to those one loves; one admits to oneself, in pleasure and in pain, things it would be impossible to tell to anyone else, the things people write books about.’5

Yet at the same time—and like many before him and since—De Quincey also compromised the notion of the confession as a ritual for the ‘production of truth’ by lacing his own with self-interest, tergiversation, duplicity, and overstatement. He emphasizes that his Confessions are centrally concerned with the truth and ‘nothing but the truth’, yet he concedes that ‘regards of delicacy towards some who are yet living, and of just tenderness to the memory of others p. xiiwho are dead’ has prevented him from telling ‘the whole truth’ (Appendix A, p. 228). He equivocates, half accepting what he is bent on denying: ‘Guilt, therefore, I do not acknowledge: and, if I did, it is possible that I might still resolve on the present act of confession’ (p. 4). In several instances he contradicts himself. ‘[O]n all occasions when I had an opportunity, I never failed to drink wine’, he announces, only to declare a few pages later that he has ‘never been a great wine-drinker’ (pp. 33, 42). Or he states that he will not embark on any ‘desperate adventures of morality’, and then concludes his narrative with ‘the moral’: if the opium-eater ‘is taught to fear and tremble, enough has been effected’ (pp. 54, 78). Virginia Woolf once astutely observed of De Quincey that in his many pieces of autobiography he tells us only what he wishes us to know, and ‘even that has been chosen for the sake of some adventitious quality—as that it fitted in here, or was the right colour to go there—never for its truth’.6 In the Confessions, De Quincey confesses his desire to confess, but that is not the same thing as telling the truth. For him self-representation was often the subtlest form of self-concealment.

Opium was the central fact of De Quincey’s experience, and for over fifty years he celebrated, denied, and renounced his relationship with it. He was, however, far from the first to write about it. Opium is perhaps the oldest drug known to humankind, and is derived from the milky sap found within the unripe seedpod of the poppy plant, Papaver somniferum. The ancient Greek poet Homer almost certainly refers to it in the Odyssey when he describes ‘a drug to quiet all pain and strife, and bring forgetfulness of every ill’.7 For centuries opium was the principal analgesic known to medicine, and consumed in various forms and under various names. In the 1660s, the English physician Thomas Sydenham introduced laudanum, which is Latin for ‘praiseworthy’, and which is prepared by dissolving opium in alcohol. Sydenham was an enthusiastic exponent of its use: ‘Here I cannot but break out in praise of the great God, the giver of all good things, who hath granted to the human race, as a comfort in their afflictions, no medicine of the value of opium.’8 p. xiiiLeading eighteenth-century medical discussions included Philippe Hecquet’s Reflexions sur l’usage de l’opium (1726), George Young’s A Treatise on Opium (1753), and Robert Hamilton’s Practical Hints on Opium Considered as a Poison (1790). Samuel Crumpe gives a balanced account of the drug’s effects in An Inquiry into the Nature and Properties of Opium (1793): ‘I have myself, frequently and uniformly, experienced from large doses an increased flow of spirits, an observable gaiety, cheerfulness, and alertness, which, subsiding into a state of pleasing languor, terminated ultimately in a degree of drowsiness, stupor, and disinclination to motion.’9 Other users, however, raised more serious concerns about the drug. In The Mysteries of Opium Reveal’d (1700), John Jones reported that someone who took opium habitually and then stopped invariably brought on ‘great, and even intolerable Distresses, Anxieties and Depressions of Spirits, which in a few days commonly end in a most miserable Death, attended with strange Agonies’.10 Horace Walpole put the same case rather more mildly in 1771 when he observed that ‘opium is a very false friend’.11 On balance, though, the medical community regarded the drug as a crucially important painkiller and tranquillizer, and saw its various side effects as regrettable but relatively infrequent consequences.12

At the turn of the nineteenth century opium was consumed ubiquitously by people of every class and age for self-medication in much the same way as aspirin is used today. Robert Southey took it for hay fever; Jane Austen’s mother took it for travel sickness; Charles Lamb took it for a bad cold.13 It was cheap: people who could not afford ale or spirits could afford the drug. It was legal: there was no effort to limit its sale until the Pharmacy Act of 1868. It could be purchased in a vast range of commercial cure-alls: Batley’s Sedative Solution, Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne, Godfrey’s Cordial, the Kendal Black Drop, and Mother Bailey’s Quieting Syrup, to name only a few. It was used to treat all manner of major and minor ailments: cancer, p. xivcholera, depression, diabetes, gout, pneumonia, tetanus, ulcers, and much else. It was available everywhere: chemists and pharmacists sold it, as did grocers, tailors, rent collectors, and street vendors. In the early nineteenth century, Britain imported almost all of its opium from Turkey. Morphine, which is the principal active agent in opium, was isolated in 1803, and commercially available by the early 1820s. With the introduction of the hypodermic syringe in the mid-1850s, the ‘morphia solution’ became widely known for its unparalleled efficacy in dealing with severe pain. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the drug has been better known in the form of one of its chief derivatives: heroin. De Quincey was unquestionably what we would call an ‘opium addict’, but in the terminology of his day he had an ‘opium habit’, for medical professionals did not begin to develop modern ideas of drug ‘addiction’ until the second half of the nineteenth century. Two hundred years ago, it was a moral issue, a question of character. Today, the moral argument persists, but it is vigorously challenged by those who see addiction as a medical concern, a ‘disease of the brain’ rather than a ‘disease of the will’.14

De Quincey published the vast majority of what he wrote in the leading magazines of his day. For many years he clung to the notion of himself as a leisured gentleman pursuing his scholarship in a rural retreat, and declared indignantly that he was thoroughly indisposed to sell his knowledge for money, and to ‘commence trading author’.15 But by 1818—with a young family, an exhausted patrimony, burgeoning debts, and his grander intellectual aspirations frozen by opium—the periodical press had come to seem his best option. In late 1820 De Quincey journeyed to Edinburgh, where his closest friend John Wilson was one of the mainstays of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, which had been launched in 1817, and which had quickly established itself as the most original, exuberant, vicious, and unpredictable publication of the day, thanks in large measure to contributions from Wilson, John Gibson Lockhart, James Hogg, and William Maginn. De Quincey soon offered an ‘Opium article’ to the magazine. p. xvThe drug had reduced him for several years ‘to one general discourtesy of utter silence’, he told its editor William Blackwood. ‘But this I shall think of with not so much pain, if this same Opium enables me (as I think it will) to send you an article not unserviceable to your Magazine.’16 Before De Quincey could complete the essay, however, he and Blackwood quarrelled, and six months later De Quincey went to work for Blackwood’s chief rival, the London, which was patterned on Blackwood’s but much more polished, dispassionate, and liberal in tone, and which under the editorship of John Taylor and James Hessey became one of the finest literary magazines of nineteenth-century Britain. ‘Certainly’, De Quincey later observed, ‘a literary Pleiad might have been gathered out of the stars connected with this journal’, and from 1821 to 1825 he published almost exclusively in its pages, alongside Thomas Carlyle, John Clare, William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Walter Savage Landor, Mary Shelley, and many others.17

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Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

In his Confessions, De Quincey offers an intimate, if highly selective, exploration of his past life in which he presents himself as a philosopher and solitary who has endured extraordinary experience in both urban and rural scenes. He discusses his boyhood and education, but in this account the teenager is father of the man, and De Quincey concentrates on his sorrows as a runaway in Wales and especially London, where his relationship with the young prostitute Ann of Oxford Street forms ‘the most memorable and the most suggestively pathetic incident’ (Appendix A, p. 241). The circumstantial evidence suggests that—despite De Quincey’s explicit denials—he was involved in a sexual relationship with Ann, and that his inability to trace her may not have been an accident, for ‘where he was going’, notes Charles Rzepka, ‘whether it was to the relatively more upscale and independent life of a gentleman-scholar in London or matriculation at Worcester College in Oxford, Ann simply could not follow’.18 p. xviYet at the same time De Quincey idealizes Ann as his ‘benefactress’ and ‘saviour’, and invests her with a nobility that transcends class (pp. 23, 28). When he collapses in Soho Square, her generosity and presence of mind save him, and though his future holds severe trials, losing her is his ‘heaviest affliction’ (p. 34). These two sharply differing attitudes towards Ann—one carnal, the other protective—go a long way towards explaining the deep feelings of remorse and anxiety that he so clearly associates with her. Lamb—who once apostrophized London as ‘O City abounding in whores’—teased De Quincey one evening about his experiences with Ann.19 De Quincey did not find it funny.

‘There are,’ said he, ‘certain places & events & circumstances, which have been mixed up or connected with parts of my life which have been very unfortunate, and these, from constant meditation & reflection upon them, have obtained with me a sort of sacredness, & become associated with solemn feelings so that I cannot bear without the greatest mental agony to advert to the subject, or to hear it adverted to by others in any tone of levity or witticism. It seems to me a sort of desecration & unhallowing analogous to the profanation of a temple’.20

The Confessions are a commercial venture in which De Quincey exploits the circumstances of his past in order to engage a mass magazine readership. But they are also a sincere if partial record of his teenage sorrows, and they powerfully commemorate his deep personal sadness over the loss of Ann.

The notion of being an ‘English opium-eater’ creates a series of paradoxes that run throughout the narrative. Consuming the drug for non-medical reasons was supposed to be an exclusively oriental practice, and one that led directly to oblivion.21 De Quincey dramatically overturned that view. Mounting his argument along racial lines, he sneeringly remarks that the Turks who took opium usually sat ‘like so many equestrian statues, on logs of wood as stupid as themselves’. De Quincey, on the other hand, is emphatically an English opium-eater, which means that the drug produces a very different effect on his refined faculties and profound sensibilities. ‘I question p. xviiwhether any Turk, of all that ever entered the Paradise of opium-eaters, can have had half the pleasure I had,’ he observes. ‘But, indeed, I honour the Barbarians too much by supposing them capable of any pleasures approaching to the intellectual ones of an Englishman’ (p. 44–5). By ingesting vast quantities of an Eastern drug, however, De Quincey undermines the very Englishness he is intent on extolling. He is an uneasy hybrid, at once domestic and foreign, familiar and exotic, clean and contaminated, Eastern and English.

Equally paradoxical are the politics of the Confessions. De Quincey presents himself as a conservative and a traditionalist. He fraternizes with Etonians and Oxonians. He knows eminent men in the government, the church, and the law. He is on friendly terms with members of the aristocracy, including Lord Altamont and his son Lord Westport. He quotes the arch-conservative Edmund Burke. He comments rather glibly on the pleasures of his opiated wanderings among London’s working classes: ‘If wages were a little higher … I was glad: yet, if the contrary were true, I drew from opium some means of consoling myself’ (p. 47). At the same time, however, De Quincey defies parental and educational authority and lives outside traditional social structures. He is an exile, a recluse, a sinner. He draws on the work of the abolitionist William Roscoe. He lauds David Ricardo for his revolutionary economic doctrines. The radical poet Percy Bysshe Shelley is quoted on three occasions, while the radical essayist William Hazlitt is the third finest analytic thinker in England. Indeed, De Quincey himself sounds remarkably democratic when he maintains that he sees himself ‘in an equal relation to high and low—to educated and uneducated, to the guilty and the innocent’, and stresses that ‘at no time’ in his life has he been a person to hold himself ‘polluted by the touch or approach of any creature that wore a human shape’ (p. 21). His fierce xenophobia, though, soon subverts such claims: ‘I have often thought that if I were compelled to forego England, and to live in China, and among Chinese manners and modes of life and scenery, I should go mad’ (p. 72). In the Confessions, De Quincey is both humane and bigoted, an insider and an outsider, a reactionary and a rebel.

The writings of some of De Quincey’s most important contemporaries give further shape to the work. Charles Lamb’s ‘Confessions of a Drunkard’ appeared in 1813, and while much shorter than De Quincey’s Confessions, it clearly anticipates them in its concern p. xviiiwith despair, addiction, and moral disorder: ‘Life itself, my waking life, has much of the confusion, the trouble, and obscure perplexity, of an ill dream,’ Lamb writes. ‘In the day time I stumble upon dark mountains.’22 Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s public persona was by 1821 closely associated with opium dependence, unfulfilled potential, Gothic imaginings, the Lake District, the poetry of William Wordsworth, and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. De Quincey seizes on these circumstances, modifies them to suit his own experience, and then markets them in the Confessions with a savvy that Coleridge could not match. De Quincey is a scholar and drug addict besieged by intellectual torpor. He lives in the Lake District and studies German metaphysics, but has collapsed under the weight of trying to complete his great philosophical treatise. Further, as Grevel Lindop notes, ‘the most intense accounts of De Quincey’s opium-induced nightmares in the Confessions seem to emulate the visionary Orientalism of Kubla Khan but render it horrible by organizing it around the self-tormenting psychic divisions of The Pains of Sleep’.23 Wordsworth too is central to the Confessions. When De Quincey flees from Manchester Grammar School, he has a copy of Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads in his pocket, and in the Confessions he transposes its descriptions of the rural poor into vivid accounts of urban despair. Wordsworth’s autobiographical masterwork The Prelude informs De Quincey’s discussions of the growth of his dreaming mind, and the ways in which his reading has come to infuse and complicate his dreams. In the ‘Pains of Opium’ section, De Quincey describes how his imagination is haunted by a power of infinite growth and self-reproduction that he finds mirrored in a passage from Wordsworth’s 1814 poem The Excursion, where a ‘mighty city’ appears in the clouds, its ‘towers begirt | With battlements that on their restless fronts | Bore stars’. The ‘sublime circumstance’ of those ‘restless fronts’, De Quincey explains, ‘might have been copied from my architectural dreams’ (pp. 70–1).

What do we hold against drug addicts? It is not their desire for transcendence—we all share that—but their taste for simulacra, p. xixhallucination, oblivion. ‘Drugs in general are not condemned for the pleasure they bring, but rather because this aphrodisiac is not the right one,’ Jacques Derrida argues. The ‘hierarchy of pleasures goes together’ with the ‘metaphysics of work’, and ‘a poem ought to be the product of real work, even if the traces of that work should be washed away’. It is, he concludes, ‘always nonwork that is stigmatized’.24 In the Confessions, De Quincey charts both the pleasures and the pains of his drug use, passing inexorably from euphoria through stupor to dysphoric misery and deadlock, and mapping in the central narratives of the literature of addiction. His first dose of laudanum changed everything. ‘I took it,’ De Quincey recalls: ‘and in an hour, oh! Heavens! what a revulsion! what an upheaving, from its lowest depths, of the inner spirit! what an apocalypse of the world within me! … Here was a panacea … for all human woes: here was the secret of happiness’ (p. 39). De Quincey had many pleasurable experiences on opium, but no high seems ever to have matched this first one. In a marked degree, he was hooked from the start, and in the years that followed he took the drug recreationally on many occasions as a way of intensifying the pleasure of music, conversation, books, and solitude. Yet before long De Quincey came also to know the agonies of opium, and the devastating ways in which it eroded his judgement and determination. ‘The opium-eater loses none of his moral sensibilities, or aspirations,’ he states: ‘he wishes and longs, as earnestly as ever, to realize what he believes possible, and feels to be exacted by duty; but his intellectual apprehension of what is possible infinitely outruns his power, not of execution only, but even of power to attempt. He lies under the weight of incubus and nightmare’ (p. 66). On countless occasions De Quincey resolved to rise above these circumstances—to pull himself together, kick his laudanum habit, and fulfil his many responsibilities. Typically, these attempts met initially with success. ‘I went off under easy sail—130 drops a day for 3 days: on the 4th I plunged at once to 80 … and for about a month I continued off and on about this mark: then I sunk to 60: and the next day to –––– none at all’ (Appendix A, p. 232). In the end, though, De Quincey always returned to the drug: the effects of abstinence were ‘so dreadful and utterly unconjectured by p. xxmedical men’ that he was ‘glad to get back under shelter’.25 Opium inspired De Quincey, and gave him his most famous subject matter. But for nearly fifty years it also wedged him between ‘the collision of both evils—that from the laudanum, and that from the want of laudanum’.26

The impact of the Confessions was enormous. Some of the early reviewers faulted De Quincey for disorganization, vanity, and moral laxity, but most were enthusiastic. The Imperial Magazine described the Confessions as produced by a ‘mind gifted with first-rate talents’. The United States Literary Gazette found that De Quincey’s language was ‘always exquisitely felicitous … and sometimes powerful and magnificent in the extreme’. Declared The Album, ‘We thought it one of the most interesting, and certainly the very most extraordinary, production that we had ever seen.’27 De Quincey published the work anonymously, and while Edgar Allan Poe insisted that it was ‘composed by my pet baboon, Juniper, over a rummer of Hollands and water’, Henry Crabb Robinson recognized that it was ‘a fragment of autobiography in emulation of Coleridge’s diseased egotism’, and that it ‘must be by De Quincey’.28 For some readers, the Confessions were a warning. ‘Better, a thousand times better, die than have anything to do with such a Devil’s own drug!’, Thomas Carlyle exclaimed after reading the work.29 But for scores of others, De Quincey’s account of his experience was almost as seductive as the drug itself, and his Confessions were embraced as an invitation to experimentation. In 1823, one doctor reported an alarming increase in the number of people dying from an overdose of opium, ‘in consequence of a little book that has been published by a man of literature’. Southey cited p. xxi‘one who had never taken a dose of opium before’, but ‘took so large a one for the sake of experiencing the sensation which had made De Quincey a slave to it, that a very little addition to the dose might have proved fatal’. The painter and poet William Bell Scott recalled the time when he and a fellow student took opium in ‘imitation’ of De Quincey, ‘till my friend went into a comatose state, out of which he could not be roused. All night long I sat by him, and into the next day, when he came to himself.’30

For his part, De Quincey was characteristically divided on the influence of his Confessions. In the work itself he declares that his primary objective is to reveal the powers of the drug: opium is ‘the true hero of the tale’, and ‘the legitimate centre on which the interest revolves’ (p. 77). Yet later he sought to dodge the charge that his writing had encouraged drug abuse: ‘Teach opium-eating!—Did I teach wine-drinking? Did I reveal the mystery of sleeping? Did I inaugurate the infirmity of laughter? … My faith is—that no man is likely to adopt opium or to lay it aside in consequence of anything he may read in a book’ (Appendix B, pp. 250–1). De Quincey did not resolve this tension in his own response to the Confessions, and modern commentators continue to grapple with his legacy, for his name is still routinely invoked in debates about drug cultures but there is no agreement on whether he should be blamed, or absolved, or praised. Theodore Dalrymple, for example, states flatly that ‘[I]n modern society the main cause of drug addiction … is a literary tradition of romantic claptrap, started by Coleridge and De Quincey, and continued without serious interruption ever since’. Will Self, however, argues vigorously against such a view. ‘The truth is that books like … De Quincey’s Confessions no more create drug addicts than video nasties engender prepubescent murderers,’ he asserts. ‘Rather, culture, in this wider sense, is a hall of mirrors in which cause and effect endlessly reciprocate one another in a diminuendo that tends ineluctably towards the trivial.’ Ann Marlowe takes yet another position on De Quincey, aligning herself with the earliest enthusiasts of the Confessions, and decisively setting herself apart from both Dalrymple and Self. ‘Ever since p. xxiiI read De Quincey in my early teens,’ she declares, ‘I’d planned to try opium.’31

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Suspiria de Profundis

De Quincey’s exploration of the drug continued in Suspiria de Profundis, which he published in 1845 in Blackwood’s at a time when the magazine regularly featured the work of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Catherine Gore, Walter Savage Landor, George Henry Lewes, Samuel Warren, and John Wilson. Opium, De Quincey stresses in Suspiria, offers great spiritual consolations to a population struggling to cope with the ‘colossal pace’ of industrialization and urbanization, and ‘the continual development of vast physical agencies’ such as steam. Some minds have been reduced to ‘lunacy’, others to ‘a reagency of fleshly torpor’. Forces of ‘corresponding magnitude’ are needed ‘that shall radiate centrifugally against this storm of life so perilously centripetal towards the vortex of the merely human’, forces such as religion, philosophy, literature, and preeminently ‘the power of dreaming’, which De Quincey describes as ‘the one great tube through which man communicates with the shadowy’, and which at its noblest ‘forces the infinite into the chambers of a human brain’. Solitude used to assist the faculties of the dreaming mind, but it is now ‘becoming a visionary idea’ amongst the many stresses of modern life. Opium, however, is everywhere, and it has a critical role to play, for it ‘seems to possess a specific power … not merely for exalting the colours of dream-scenery, but for deepening its shadows; and, above all, for strengthening the sense of its fearful realities’ (pp. 81–2).

Yet as the drug is to De Quincey both poison and cure, both without and within his body, both a natural and an artificial paradise, so it simultaneously exalts and eviscerates his private sense of the sublime.32 Twice, he maintains, he has fought the ‘dark idol’ of opium, and twice he has emerged victorious, though on both occasions he p. xxiiihas relapsed because of his failure to undertake rigorous exercise as ‘the one sole resource’ for making withdrawal endurable. On a third occasion he falls, but this time he knows almost instinctively that there is no possibility of re-ascent. The ‘dreadful symptoms’ of his addiction have been ‘moving forward for ever, by a pace steadily, solemnly, and equably increasing’, and now at last they have run him down (p. 83). ‘Were the ruin conditional, or were it in any point doubtful, it would be natural to utter ejaculations, and to seek sympathy,’ De Quincey observes. ‘But where the ruin is understood to be absolute, where sympathy cannot be consolation, and counsel cannot be hope,’ the case is otherwise. When De Quincey realizes that there is no way back, that ‘those awful gates’ are ‘closed and hung with draperies of woe, as for a death already past’, he is unable even to protest or groan (p. 85). In Suspiria, as in the Confessions, opium is inspiration and annihilation, at once enriching and silencing the self.

How did De Quincey manage to surmount this devastation? The answer in many instances is that ‘the true hero’ of his tale is not opium but the powers of his imaginative—and especially of his dreaming—mind. In the Confessions, De Quincey foregrounds the powers of the drug but the dream finale reveals just how fully he was able to transform his experience into art with an explicitly poetic prose that captures the intensely associative qualities of his dreaming mind, and the tremendous energy and gloom of his nightmares. In Suspiria, however, he rewrites his intentions in the Confessions and maintains that the dream finale had been his objective all along, and that the primary purpose of the work had been to reveal the powers, not of opium, but of the Opium-Eater. The Confessions, De Quincey contends in Suspiria, ‘were written with some slight secondary purpose of exposing this specific power of opium upon the faculty of dreaming, but much more with the purpose of displaying the faculty itself’ (p. 82). Indeed, De Quincey makes this point at the start of both the Confessions and Suspiria when he notes that ‘[h]e whose talk is of oxen, will probably dream of oxen’, by which he means that, for all its enormous power, opium cannot make a dullard interesting (pp. 81, 6). It can only darken and distend materials that already lie within the mind of the dreamer, and in Suspiria he makes it plain that the most crucial of these materials are found in his childhood. Charles Baudelaire, who deeply admired De Quincey, and who translated large passages from Suspiria in Les Paradis artificiels (1860), once p. xxivobserved that ‘genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will, childhood equipped now with man’s physical means to express itself’.33 Suspiria is not in fact a ‘sequel’ to the Confessions, but a ‘prequel’ in which De Quincey pushes back past Ann of Oxford Street and Manchester Grammar School into the tragedies of his childhood.

The death of his beloved sister Elizabeth when he was only 6 years old was the most traumatic event in De Quincey’s life, and Suspiria is dedicated to exploring his deep grief over her loss. De Quincey had what he described in Suspiria as ‘a constitutional determination to reverie’, and long before he tampered with opium he experienced intense visions and hallucinations (p. 81). Most poignantly, on the day following Elizabeth’s death, De Quincey determined to see her again and slipped quietly up to her bedside. People in the house said that her features had not changed, ‘but the frozen eyelids, the darkness that seemed to steal from beneath them, the marble lips, the stiffening hands, laid palm to palm, as if repeating the supplications of closing anguish, could these be mistaken for life?’ (p. 98). De Quincey felt awe take hold of him. A ‘solemn wind began to blow’. He fell into a trance.

A vault seemed to open in the zenith of the far blue sky, a shaft which ran up for ever. I in spirit rose as if on billows that also ran up the shaft for ever; and the billows seemed to pursue the throne of God; but that also ran before us and fled away continually. The flight and the pursuit seemed to go on for ever and ever. Frost, gathering frost, some Sarsar wind of death, seemed to repel me; I slept—for how long I cannot say; slowly I recovered my self-possession, and found myself standing, as before, close to my sister’s bed. (pp. 98–9)

De Quincey experienced other visions in the days and weeks that followed Elizabeth’s death, as he fought to comprehend her loss, and tormented the heavens with ‘obstinate scrutiny, sweeping them with my eyes and searching them for ever after one angelic face that might perhaps have permission to reveal itself for a moment’ (p. 104). Eventually his grief died down, but twelve years later when he was an Oxford undergraduate and regularly tasting opium, the memories of Elizabeth’s death began to co-operate with the drug to produce a ‘tremendous result’, and De Quincey found himself p. xxvonce again beset by ‘the trance in my sister’s chamber,—the blue heavens, the everlasting vault, the soaring billows, the throne steeped in the thought (but not the sight) of “Him that sate thereon;” the flight, the pursuit, the irrecoverable steps of my return to earth’ (pp. 129–30).

Elizabeth haunts De Quincey’s autobiography. She is not mentioned explicitly in the Confessions, but her presence can be felt in De Quincey’s observation that he loved Ann ‘as affectionately as if she had been my sister’, or his apostrophe to ‘just, subtle, and mighty opium’ for its power to restore ‘blessed household countenances, cleansed from the “dishonours of the grave”’ (pp. 28, 49–50). Similarly, Elizabeth is not named in the prose poems that close ‘Part I’ of Suspiria, but her death echoes powerfully through them. De Quincey argues in ‘Savannah-la-Mar’, for example, that God ‘works by earthquake’, and that ‘[u]pon the sorrow of an infant, he raises oftentimes from human intellects glorious vintages that could not else have been’ (p. 150). ‘The Apparition of the Brocken’ is highlighted by a dialogue between De Quincey and his 6-year-old self: ‘your heart was deeper than the Danube; and, as was your love, so was your grief,’ he writes. ‘Many years are gone since that darkness settled on your head; many summers, many winters; yet still its shadows wheel round upon you at intervals’ (p. 147). In ‘The Palimpsest’, De Quincey develops a highly suggestive metaphor of the human brain, where ‘[e]verlasting layers’ of ideas, images, and feelings fall upon one another as ‘softly as light’, effacing what was transient for the ‘young man’ or the ‘boy’, but unable to obscure ‘the deep deep tragedies of infancy, as when the child’s hands were unlinked for ever from his mother’s neck, or his lips for ever from his sister’s kisses’. These griefs, De Quincey states, ‘remain lurking below all, and these lurk to the last’ (pp. 135, 137).

‘Levana and our Ladies of Sorrow’, however, is the most compelling of these prose poems, and is suffused with both the tragedy of Elizabeth’s death and the blight of the opium addiction that follows. Levana is the Roman goddess of early childhood, and she ‘controls the education of the nursery’, by which De Quincey means ‘not the poor machinery that moves by spelling-books and grammars, but that mighty system of central forces hidden in the deep bosom of human life, which by passion, by strife, by temptation, by the energies of resistance, works for ever upon children’ (pp. 138–9). Levana is p. xxviassisted in her labours by three sisters. The first, Mater Lachrymarum, is ‘Our Lady of Tears’. ‘She it is that night and day raves and moans, calling for vanished faces’. De Quincey enters her kingdom when Elizabeth dies, as he hopes fervently to see her face again, and cries so often that he is ‘told insultingly’ to cease his ‘girlish tears’ (pp. 141, 103). The second sister, Mater Suspiriorum, is ‘Our Lady of Sighs’. ‘She weeps not. She groans not. … She is humble to abjectness. Hers is the meekness that belongs to the hopeless.’ De Quincey is within her kingdom in Suspiria when he realizes that he will never escape the bondage of his drug addiction: ‘One profound sigh ascended from my heart, and I was silent for days’ (pp. 142, 85). The third sister, Mater Tenebrarum, is ‘Our Lady of Darkness’. She is ‘the mother of lunacies, and the suggestress of suicides’. In the Confessions, De Quincey moves within her kingdom when a change takes place in his dreams and he seems ‘literally to descend, into chasms and sunless abysses’ from which he cannot reascend. This ‘state of gloom’, he remarks, ‘amounting at last to utter darkness, as of some suicidal despondency, cannot be approached by words’ (pp. 143, 67–8). Over the course of Suspiria and then the Confessions, De Quincey’s moral and spiritual education is profoundly shaped by these three sisters, and yet much of their work remains to be done. ‘So shall he read elder truths, sad truths, grand truths, fearful truths,’ avers Mater Lachrymarum. ‘So shall he rise again before he dies. And so shall our commission be accomplished which from God we had—to plague his heart until we had unfolded the capacities of his spirit’ (p. 144).

‘Part II’ of Suspiria eloquently expands upon the belief that underwrites much of ‘Part I’. The ‘rapture of life’, affirms De Quincey, ‘… does not arise, unless as perfect music arises—music of Mozart or Beethoven—by the confluence of the mighty and terrific discords with the subtle concords. Not by contrast, or as reciprocal foils do these elements act, which is the feeble conception of many, but by union’ (p. 151). Yet ‘Part II’ is most notable for a sentimental vignette that is only tangentially related to the concerns of ‘Part I’, and that features a young girl named Grace, who is ‘of pure English blood’ but who ‘speaks very little English’, for she was born and raised in India and converses fluently in Bengali with her Indian nurse (p. 170). Much critical attention has been paid to De Quincey as a ‘furious jingoist’, yet his attitude towards the East was much p. xxviimore complicated than is often allowed.34 Daniel Sanjiv Roberts, for example, notes that in the Confessions the ‘fear and loathing’ of ‘all things Chinese and Indian’ in the Malay dream ‘is followed by a dream of a different character wherein the Hebraic or Biblical orient promises a salvific and regenerative potential’.35 Likewise, in Suspiria, De Quincey’s sympathetic portrait of Grace is a remarkable blend of East and West, and while she comes from a family that has been ravaged by afflictions, there may still be hope in her future. De Quincey did not complete ‘Part II’ and his grander designs for Suspiria were never realized. Yet even in its fragmentary form it remains one of his most powerful pieces of autobiography, in its treatment not only of his childhood grief, but in its searching attempts to assess the variable effects of opium, dreams, industrialism, imperialism, and addiction. ‘My heart trembled through from end to end,’ wrote De Quincey’s fellow opium addict Elizabeth Barrett Browning after reading Suspiria. ‘What a poet that man is! how he vivifies words, & deepens them, & gives them profound significance.’36

  • Top of page

‘The English Mail-Coach’

De Quincey published ‘The English Mail-Coach’ in Blackwood’s in 1849 as his final contribution to the magazine. At one point it was an extended section within Suspiria, but De Quincey ‘did not scruple to detach it, and to publish it apart, as sufficiently intelligible even when dislocated from its place in a larger whole’ (Appendix C, p. 258). De Quincey structured ‘The Mail-Coach’ around what he called an ‘involute’, an imaginative concept that he introduced in Suspiria. ‘[O]ften I have been struck with the important truth’, he asserts, ‘—that far more of our deepest thoughts and feelings pass to us through perplexed combinations of concrete objects, pass to us as involutes (if I may coin that word) in compound experiences incapable of being disentangled, than ever reach us directly, and in their own abstract shapes’ (p. 97). The definition is as evocative as it is misleading. p. xxviiiInvolutes, in fact, are capable of being disentangled partially or perhaps even fully, a point De Quincey himself makes in the fourth instalment of his Blackwood’s essay on ‘Style’, which he published in 1841, four years before the appearance of Suspiria. ‘[T]he problem before the writer is—to project his own inner mind,’ he explains; ‘to bring out consciously what yet lurks by involution in many unanalysed feelings; in short, to pass through a prism, and radiate into distinct elements, what previously had been even to himself but dim and confused ideas, intermixed with each other.’37 In Suspiria, De Quincey explores feelings that had long lain ‘unanalysed’ and ‘intermixed’ in his ‘inner mind’, a process that enables him to identify the five ‘distinct elements’—summer sunlight, the grave, the Bible, a solemn wind, and a gathering frost—that are at the core of his experience in the bedchamber of his dead sister, and that he then weaves together to communicate his ‘deepest thought and feelings’ about the event. He adopts a similar strategy in ‘The Mail-Coach’, though on a far more elaborate scale. He begins the essay with a list of the five factors that he associates with these vehicles, and then steadily broadens and distorts them into impassioned strains of resurrection and grief.

Speed tops De Quincey’s list. On the mail-coaches, he states, ‘the vital experience of the glad animal sensibilities made doubts impossible on the question of our speed; we heard our speed, we saw it, we felt it as a thrilling’ (p. 183). Second on his list is the ‘grand effects for the eye between lamp-light and the darkness’ as the mail-coaches journey through the night ‘under accidents of mists that hid, or sudden blazes that revealed’ (pp. 173, 184). The third factor is the power of the horses. The fourth is the role of these coaches as agents of the British government. And the fifth is the central part they play in distributing news of the great battles of the Napoleonic Wars: ‘The mail-coach, as the national organ for publishing these mighty events,’ De Quincey announces, ‘became itself a spiritualised and glorified object to an impassioned heart’ (p. 174). In the opening two sections of the essay—‘The Glory of Motion’ and ‘Going Down with Victory’—De Quincey elaborates upon and illustrates these five factors with meandering badinage, anecdotal humour, and impassioned reminiscences of the beautiful Fanny of the Bath Road, the ‘loveliest p. xxixyoung woman for face and person that perhaps in my whole life I have beheld’ (p. 184). Yet as is so often the case in his writings, terror resides just below the polished wit and nostalgia, and the most trivial incident or association brings it surging to the surface. In the lurid nightmares that close ‘The Glory of Motion’, De Quincey calls up the face of Fanny, which in turn invokes a rose in June, and these two images proliferate until he sees ‘roses and Fannies, Fannies and roses, without end’. Then come thoughts of Fanny’s grandfather, a coachman whose inability to turn round reminds De Quincey of a crocodile, an association which immediately calls forth a ‘dreadful host of wild semi-legendary animals’, including griffins, dragons, and sphinxes. At length the whole vision of these ‘fighting images’ crowds together ‘into one towering armorial shield’, and De Quincey is brought face to face with his deepest fear. ‘The dreamer finds housed within himself’, he trembles, ‘… some horrid alien nature.’

What if it were his own nature repeated,—still, if the duality were distinctly perceptible, even that—even this mere numerical double of his own consciousness—might be a curse too mighty to be sustained. But how, if the alien nature contradicts his own, fights with it, perplexes, and confounds it? How, again, if not one alien nature, but two, but three, but four, but five, are introduced within what once he thought the inviolable sanctuary of himself? (pp. 188, 190)

De Quincey’s sense of alienation and self-rupture was strong even in childhood, as Suspiria makes plain. But in detailing these dream horrors he is undoubtedly speaking too about his experience of addiction, and how he has fractured under the pressure of it. In Derrida’s formulation, a drug such as opium ‘desocializes’, it leads ‘to the disintegration of the self’.38

De Quincey centres the second half of the essay on his memory of the night when the mail-coach on which he was riding was involved in the near-fatal collision with a small gig. He builds on key features of the involute already introduced, such as the ways in which the mail-coach’s speed and power sometimes lead it to ‘trample on humanity’ (p. 181). But he also compounds the involute with features from the accident scene, such as the umbrageous isle formed by the trees, and more crucially the image of the innocent young woman terrified by the possibility of her own sudden death, ‘as she rose and p. xxxsank upon her seat, sank and rose, threw up her arms wildly to heaven, clutched at some visionary object in the air, fainting, praying, raving, despairing!’ (p. 213). Then, in the closing dream fugue, De Quincey exalts and vastly expands all the various features of the involute into kaleidoscopic nightmares in which the political mission of the mail-coach and the accident scene are assimilated within a broader myth of Britain as a righteous colonial power charged by God with the task of preserving Christian civilization.

In the opening two movements, De Quincey transposes the collision scene onto the ocean, where ‘the unknown lady from the dreadful vision and I myself are floating: she upon a fairy pinnace, and I upon an English three-decker’ (p. 214). In the third movement, the young woman runs ashore and is trapped in quicksand, where De Quincey watches helplessly as God leaves her to die: ‘I saw by the early twilight this fair young head, as it was sinking down to darkness—saw this marble arm, as it rose above her head and her treacherous grave, tossing, faultering, rising, clutching as at some false deceiving hand stretched out from the clouds’ (p. 216). The scene changes again, and now in the fourth movement of the fugue a celestial mail-coach carrying the words ‘Waterloo and Recovered Christendom’ flies headlong down the grand aisle of a cathedral towards a frail gig carrying a female infant who is at once the goddess Britannia, the young woman aboard the gig, and—inevitably—Elizabeth: ‘Ah! Pariah heart within me, that couldst never hear the sound of joy without sullen whispers of treachery in ambush,’ De Quincey laments; ‘that, from six years old, didst never hear the promise of perfect love, without seeing aloft amongst the stars fingers as of a man’s hand writing the secret legend—“ashes to ashes, dust to dust!”—wherefore shouldst thou not fear though all men should rejoice?’ (p. 221). A fatal collision between the coach and the gig seems unavoidable, and yet in this fourth movement death is cheated. For ‘at the last, with one motion of his victorious arm’, God sweeps the girl, now grown to a woman’s height, far upwards to an altar, where she stands ‘sinking, rising, trembling, fainting’, but safe (pp. 222, 220). In the fifth and final movement, De Quincey and all the ‘children of the grave’ emerge through the eastern gates of the mighty cathedral, ‘rendering thanks to God in the highest—that, having hid his face through one generation behind thick clouds of War, once again was ascending—was ascending from Waterloo—in p. xxxithe visions of Peace’ (p. 221). It is perhaps the most astonishing moment in all of De Quincey, a moment in which he exploits in full the imaginative potential he associates with the mail-coach to produce an intense amalgamation of Protestantism, patriotism, history, and the self in which innocence is redeemed and God’s ways are justified. In her essay on ‘The English Mail-Coach’, Virginia Woolf remarks that ‘De Quincey’s writing at its best has the effect of rings of sound which break into each other and widen out and out till the brain can hardly expand far enough to realise the last remote vibrations which spend themselves on the verge of everything where speech melts into silence’.39

De Quincey ranked the Confessions and the various parts of Suspiria as his finest work, and for two reasons. One, ‘the perilous difficulty besieging all attempts to clothe in words the visionary scenes derived from the world of dreams, where a single false note, a single word in a wrong key, ruins the whole music’. And two, ‘the utter sterility of universal literature in this one department of impassioned prose’ (Appendix A, p. 238). De Quincey was not the first to write about opiates, and he was far from the first to consume them for non-medical purposes. But he was the first to memorialize his experience of drugs in a compelling confession that was aimed at a broad commercial audience, and that greatly increased the range and emotional intensity of the confessional genre. Opium battered De Quincey, but it did not finally defeat his creativity or his resolve. In the Confessions, Suspiria, and ‘The Mail-Coach’ he produced a pioneering autobiography that continues to illuminate our fascination with drugs, imagination, addiction, and desire. ‘Of course it was stupor that he wanted’, C. H. Sisson observes in ‘Thomas De Quincey’, ‘But his mind would work. | He followed the eloquence whose end is silence | Into the dark.’40


  • 1 G. K. Chesterton, ‘About S. T. C.’, in As I was Saying (London: Methuen, 1936), 90.

  • 2 H. P. Lovecraft, ‘The Crawling Chaos’, in The Doom that Came to Sarnath (New York: Ballantine Books, 1971), 132. Lovecraft wrote this tale with Elizabeth Berkeley.

  • 3 Eve Sedgwick, ‘Epidemics of the Will’, in Tendencies (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 131 (Sedgwick’s italics).

  • 4 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. i, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 58.

  • 5 Ibid. 59.

  • 6 The Essays of Virginia Woolf, ed. Andrew McNeillie and Stuart N. Clarke, 6 vols. (London: The Hogarth Press, 1986–2011), iv. 366.

  • 7 Homer, The Odyssey, ed. A. T. Murray and George E. Dimock (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995), 135.

  • 8 Cited in Martin Booth, Opium: A History (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1998), 27.

  • 9 Samuel Crumpe, An Inquiry into the Nature and Properties of Opium (London: Robinson, 1793), 45–6.

  • 10 Cited in Booth, Opium: A History, 31.

  • 11 The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, ed. W. S. Lewis et al., 48 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937–83), xxxix. 149.

  • 12 Terry M. Parssinen, Secret Passions, Secret Remedies: Narcotic Drugs in British Society, 1820–1930 (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1983), 8.

  • 13 Cited in Alethea Hayter, Opium and the Romantic Imagination (London: Faber, 1968), 30–1.

  • 14 See Louise Foxcroft, The Making of Addiction: The ‘Use and Abuse’ of Opium in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007); and Barry Milligan, Pleasures and Pains: Opium and the Orient in Nineteenth-Century British Culture (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995).

  • 15 Cited in Robert Morrison, The English Opium-Eater: A Biography of Thomas De Quincey (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2009), 184.

  • 16 ‘De Quincey and His Publishers: The Letters of Thomas De Quincey to His Publishers’, ed. Barry Symonds (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1994), 57, 56.

  • 17 The Works of Thomas De Quincey, vol. xi, ed. Julian North (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2003), 273.

  • 18 Charles Rzepka, Sacramental Commodities: Gift, Text, and the Sublime in De Quincey (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995), 147.

  • 19 The Letters of Charles Lamb, ed. E. V. Lucas, 3 vols. (London: Dent, 1935), i. 224.

  • 20 ‘Richard Woodhouse’s Cause Book: The Opium-Eater, the Magazine Wars, and the London Literary Scene in 1821’, ed. Robert Morrison, Harvard Library Bulletin, 9 (1998), 22.

  • 21 Barry Milligan, Pleasures and Pains, 25–7.

  • 22 Charles Lamb, Elia and the Last Essays of Elia, ed. Jonathan Bate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 319.

  • 23 Grevel Lindop, ‘Lamb, Hazlitt, and De Quincey’, in Richard Gravil and Molly Lefebure (eds.), The Coleridge Connection: Essays for Thomas McFarland (New York: St Martin’s, 1990), 129.

  • 24 Jacques Derrida, ‘The Rhetoric of Drugs’, in Anna Alexander and Mark S. Roberts (eds.), High Culture: Reflections on Addiction and Modernity (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), 25, 37, 30 (Derrida’s italics).

  • 25 Cited in Morrison, The English Opium-Eater, 344.

  • 26 The Works of Thomas De Quincey, vol. X, ed. Alina Clej (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2003), 263.

  • 27 Anonymous, ‘Confessions of an English Opium Eater’, Imperial Magazine, 5 (1823), 89; Anonymous, ‘Confessions of an English Opium Eater’, United States Literary Gazette, 1 (1825), 40; Anonymous, ‘Confessions of an English Opium Eater’, The Album, 2 (1822), 177.

  • 28 Edgar Allan Poe, ‘How to Write a Blackwood Article’, in The Collected Works, ed. T. O. Mabbott, 3 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969–78), ii. 340; Henry Crabb Robinson On Books and Their Writers, ed. Edith J. Morley, 3 vols. (London: Dent, 1938), i. 267.

  • 29 David Alec Wilson, Carlyle Till Marriage (London: Kegan Paul, 1923), 250 (Carlyle’s italics).

  • 30 Anonymous, Advice to Opium Eaters (London: Goodluck, 1823), p. iv; New Letters of Robert Southey, ed. Kenneth Curry, 2 vols. (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 1965), ii. 450; William Bell Scott, Autobiographical Notes, ed. W. Minto, 2 vols. (London: Osgood, McIlvaine, and Company, 1892), i. 98–9.

  • 31 Theodore Dalrymple, Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy (New York: Encounter Books, 2006), 61; Will Self, Junk Mail (London: Bloomsbury, 1995), 59; Ann Marlowe, How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 239.

  • 32 See Natalie Ford, ‘Beyond Opium: De Quincey’s Range of Reveries’, Cambridge Quarterly, 36 (2007), 229–49.

  • 33 Baudelaire: Selected Writings on Art and Artists, ed. P. E. Charvet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 398.

  • 34 John Barrell, The Infection of Thomas De Quincey: A Psychopathology of Imperialism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), 50.

  • 35 Daniel Sanjiv Roberts, ‘“Mix(ing) a Little with Alien Natures”: Biblical Orientalism in De Quincey’, in Robert Morrison and Daniel Sanjiv Roberts (eds.), Thomas De Quincey: New Theoretical and Critical Directions (London: Routledge, 2008), 31.

  • 36 The Brownings’ Correspondence, ed. Philip Kelley, Scott Lewis, et al., 19 vols. (Winfield, Kans.: Wedgestone Press, 1984–), x. 125.

  • 37 The Works of Thomas De Quincey, vol. xii, ed. Grevel Lindop (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2001), 71.

  • 38 Derrida, ‘The Rhetoric of Drugs’, 37.

  • 39 The Essays of Virginia Woolf, i. 367.

  • 40 C. H. Sisson, ‘Thomas De Quincey’, in Collected Poems, 1943–1983 (Manchester: Carcanet, 1984), 86.