Confessions of an English Opium Eater

Confessions of an English Opium Eater Study Guide

Thomas de Quincey reluctantly became a journalist in 1819 in order to alleviate increasingly dire financial difficulties. He initially worked for Blackwood's along with his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Blackwood's had a vicious rivalry with a similar publication, London Magazine, which grew in intensity during the years that de Quincey was a contributor. In 1819, he promised an "Opium Article" to Blackwood's, but after the magazine played a role in the duel that led to Sir Walter Scott's death, De Quincey switched allegiances and sold his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater to London. It was published there in September and October of 1821. (Morrison 33)

The article was an instant bestseller. Although De Quincey writes that his memoir is intended to warn people away from opium, many readers complained that Confessions glorified opium use and that De Quincey spent more time on the pleasures of the drug while glossing over its negative effects. Many scientists also used the article, since there had been little research at that time into the effects narcotics had on their users. (Lyon) De Quincey took these complaints seriously, and expanded his section on the drawbacks of opium use in his extensive 1856 revision of the memoir. This revision doubled the work's length, and it was the only edition that was readily available for nearly 100 years after its publication (Jack 122). However, critical opinion has slowly shifted and now the 1821 edition is considered better and more deserving of academic study. This is the edition that is most readily available today, and the one that is most frequently assigned in classroom settings.