Thomas De Quincey

15 August 1785 – 8 December 1859


Thomas De Quincey

(Sir John Watson-Gordon,

Thomas De Quincey is best known for his controversial essay, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, in which he details his use of laudanum, a drug made from opium and alcohol that had widespread use in the Victorian era.

De Quincey was great admirer of the Lakes Poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Robert Southey, and travelled to the Lake District to become close to them. This would greatly influence his work as an essayist and journalist, though the friendship he had with the poets would eventually turn sour.


Thomas De Quincey was born in Manchester, son of Thomas Quincey and Elizabeth Pension. De Quincey’s father died when he was a young child, and therefore, his mother, who was reportedly very strict, primarily raised him. De Quincey suffered from depression, and would later drop out of Manchester Grammar School. A solitary figure, he spent several months as a teenager wandering the country, running up debts, a habit that would follow him into later years. Returned to his family, he was then enrolled at Oxford University, where he encountered opium for the first time. His drug use would eventually define him with most of his literary work being created whilst using the drug.

After attending Oxford, De Quincey travelled to the Lake District, where he would live for 15 years. He became the editor of the Westmoreland Gazette, but his unreliability, most likely as a result of his drug use, would eventually see him removed from this post. De Quincey married his wife Margaret whilst in Cumbria, and with her he would have eight children in total. He became good friends with Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge whilst living there, reportedly endearing himself to the Lakes Poets through extravagant gifts. However, the friendship later turned sour, and several years later De Quincey published “Recollections of the Lakes Poets” in which he revealed personal and intimate details about his encounters with the three men.

De Quincey spent some time in London, where he wrote and published Confessions of an Opium Eater, and worked as a contributor for several magazines. However, his liberal use of money and poor budgeting saw him acquire ever-greater amounts of debt, and he was forced to withdraw to Edinburgh, where Holyrood offered a sanctuary to debtors. De Quincey suffered a number of medical ailments throughout his life, and this perhaps led him to use opium on an almost daily basis. He died in 1859 in Edinburgh.


Confessions of an Opium Eater is said to have inspired the genre of addiction literature. Its publication at the time reportedly led to a number of people trying the drug for the first time, inspired by De Quincey’s somewhat glamourous and exciting depiction of the side effects. De Quincey would later add an appendix in which he gave advice on how to withdraw from the drug. More widely, De Quincey’s writing style is said to have inspired other authors, most notably, Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens.

Links to the Lake District

De Quincey came to the Lake District in pursuit of the Lakes Poets, having been inspired by Coleridge and Wordsworth’s collection “Lyrical Ballards”. He moved to Dove Cottage in 1809, which by then had been vacated by the Wordsworths in favour of a larger property. He would later move to Foxghyll near Ambleside. The Westmoreland Gazette, the paper for which he spent a brief period as an editor, is still published today.

Sites of Interest

You can visit Dove Cottage, the former home of Thomas De Quincey and William Wordsworth. Today, it is a museum devoted to the memory of William Wordsworth, though it does also house manuscripts by Thomas De Quincey. Additionally, De Quincey’s second home, Foxghyll, is now a luxurious Bed and Breakfast.