Thomas Penson De Quincey (/ /; 15 August 1785 – 8 December 1859) was an English essayist, best known for his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821). Many scholars suggest that in publishing this work De Quincey inaugurated the tradition of addiction literature in the West. His immediate influence extended to Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire and Nikolai Gogol, but . Berlioz also loosely based his Symphonie fantastique on Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, drawing on the theme of the internal struggle with one's self.
This biography of the craven Romantic and self-confessed ‘Pope of Opium’ Thomas de Quincy concludes with the ominous words: ‘We are all De Quinceyan now.’
De Quincey's life was shambolic yet his legacy endures.
Many spores from his fevered mind have lodged in modern popular culture: his narcotic excursions inspired Baudelaire and Burroughs, his sensitivity to place influenced the psychogeographers Guy Debord and Iain Sinclair, his laconic, jaunty essay ‘On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts’ was deemed ‘delightful’ by Alfred Hitchcock, and his Escher-like imaginative double consciousness prompted Jorge Luis Borges to ask: ‘I wonder if I would have existed without De Quincey?’
And yet behold the man himself. Broke, pompous and high as a kite, he dressed like a beggar and wrote surrounded by an ‘ocean’ of books, papers and candles so that, as Frances Wilson dryly notes, ‘It was habitual for his daughters to point out to De Quincey as he worked that his hair was alight’