Thomas De Quincey
De Quincey wrote some of the most powerfully imaginative essays in the English language. In his best work he combined poetic effects of rhythm and imagery with scholarly detail and painstaking logic. His subjects ranged from literary criticism and biography to personal reminiscence and the analysis of dreams. De Quincey's best-known work, the autobiographical Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1822), is one of the classics of English prose. It is a frank and compelling description of his long struggle to break his addiction to drugs. Among De Quincey's important shorter essays are On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth and Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.
As a boy, De Quincey ran away from school and wandered through Wales and the streets of London. He later studied at Oxford University but left without taking a degree. While at Oxford, he began to take opium to relieve a painful ailment, and he became permanently addicted to the drug. Its influence on his work has been the subject of much critical study.
De Quincey was a friend of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth and was one of the first literary critics to appreciate his talent. For many years he lived near Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey in the Lake District. Some of his reminiscences about these poets were so startlingly intimate that Southey called him a "cowardly spy" and a "traitor." In 1830, De Quincey settled in Edinburgh, Scotland, where Blackwood's Magazine published many of his essays. During the last years of his life he revised and collected his work into a 14-volume edition. Although many of his essays are no longer widely read, the best of them are considered outstanding contributions to English literature.