WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY HOWARD MARKS
Once upon a time, opium (the main ingredient of heroin) was easily available over the chemist's counter. The secret of happiness, about which philosophers have disputed for so many ages, could be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat pocket: portable ecstasies could be corked up in a pint bottle. Paradise? So thought Thomas de Quincey, but he soon discovered that 'nobody will laugh long who deals much with opium'.
Thomas De Quincey was born on 15 August 1789 in Manchester, the son of an affluent cloth merchant. He ran away from the Manchester Grammar school aged 17 and travelled in poverty in Wales and London before being reconciled with his family. He then attended Oxford University, where he first began to take opium. Despite excelling at his studies, De Quincey left university without completing his degree and married Margaret Simpson, the daughter of a local farmer. Having exhausted his inheritance, partly due to his addiction to opium, De Quincey found work as a journalist and wrote prolifically on various subjects for numerous publications. Confessions of a English Opium-Eater was published in the London Magazine in 1821 and found instant success. He went on to write several novels and biographies, and his unusual autobiographical style made his work extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic. When De Quincey's wife Margaret died in 1837, his opium addiction worsened and he moved away from London to Scotland to relieve his straitened finances. He died in Edinburgh on 8 December 1859.