De Quincey Essays

First published without a byline in London Magazine, Confessions came along when English journalism was especially hungry for copy.

Boosted by improvements in printing technology, the periodical trade was booming, with essayists such as Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt enjoying a steady pipeline for their work.

It was a publishing sensation in its time, going through more than two-dozen editions by the end of the century.

Nearly two centuries after publication, De Quincey's masterwork remains in print.

Remarking on the placement of a small screen to divide different classes of passengers from each other, he invites us to consider how we can render unpleasantness invisible simply by choosing not to look at it.

He also plays with our notions of hierarchy by arguing that a coach's outside seats, which are cheaper, are actually better than the socially coveted ones inside the carriage.

n the vivid and varied world of 19th-century British literature, Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) endures as a striking footnote.

He produced 250 essays published in 21 volumes, along with dabbling in fiction, yet is known today—to the extent he's known at all—for one book, an 1822 memoir of addiction entitled Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

In beautifully rendered compositions such as "New Year's Eve" and "A Bachelor's Complaint of the Behaviour of Married People," the bittersweet loneliness of Lamb and his quietly heroic resilience come through.

But what often seems missing from De Quincey, despite his promise of candor, is a sense of true intimacy with his audience.

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