Thomas De Quincey was born in Manchester in 1785. He died in Edinburgh in 1859.
During the first part of his life De Quincey, although an intimate friend of the greatest writers of his time, himself wrote nothing. After he had completed in 1821 The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, his first and perhaps his finest work, he retired from literary society and began to make his living as an author.
Coleridge described De Quincey's turn of mind as 'anxious yet dilatory, confused over accuracy, and at once systematic and labyrinthine'. These temperamental weaknesses, allied to the effects of drug-taking, help to explain why, for so many years, he suffered perpetual harassment and adversity. Yet his comprehensive knowledge, his voracious reading and the tenacity of his memory enabled him to pour out a copious stream of periodical writing on a huge variety of themes. As Mr. Sykes Davies suggests in this sympathetic and discerning essay, the bulk of De Quincey's work has no more than an historical interest, but a few pieces of his literary criticism and of his biographical writings are of permanent value, together with his major achievement—the autobiographical writings. Mr. Sykes Davies draws attention to De Quincey's original observations on the nature and qualities of prose, and demonstrates how De Quincey's sense of the analogies of prose with music informs the most eloquent passages of the Confessions and of the Suspiria de Profunlis.
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