This book, widely regarded as the origin of the 'addiction literature' tradition of Western writing, was first published in 1821, as a compilation of articles which had appeared in the 'London Magazine'. Speculation as to the physical ailments that may have caused the author to resort to opium, has included "a mild … case of infantile paralysis" (possibly contracted from Wordsworth's children). He certainly had intestinal problems, and (possibly related) problems with vision: "uncorrected myopic astigmatism … manifests itself as digestive problems in men." Neuralgic facial pain, "trigeminal neuralgia"/"attacks of piercing pain in the face, of such severity that they sometimes drive the victim to suicide" was also one of his afflictions. The book recounts the effects of his use of opium from 1804 (to relieve his neuralgia); for pleasure, but no more than weekly, through 1812, and from 1813-19 daily, in response to illness and his grief over the death of Wordsworth's young daughter Catherine. During this time his daily dose was very high, and resulted in the sufferings recounted in the final sections of his Confessions. For the rest of his life his opium use fluctuated between extremes; he took "enormous doses" in 1843, but late in 1848 he went for 61 days with none at all. There are many theories surrounding the effects of opium on literary creation, and notably, his periods of low usage were literarily unproductive.
Thomas Penson De Quincey (1785–1859) was an English essayist, best known for his "Confessions of an English Opium-Eater" (1821).
Our copy may be unique, as it remains In its original 'paper over board' publisher's binding, with gilt page tops (implying an intention to re-bind in something rather more expensive, such as morocco or calf). Such binding were becoming less common by 1885, as cloth had been in use for some 50 or 60 years as a preferred material, so this is a remarkable survivor. The covers were originally cream, with the publisher's device printed at the bottom of the front cover, the title in red lettering above, and on the spine, and the editor's details also on the spine in black letters. The publisher's name was in red letters at the foot of the spine, now almost invisible. The whole exterior is extremely grubby with age, but remarkably unworn, with only minor damage to the edges and corners, and one very small wormhole near the top of the back cover, penetrating into the final 2 or 3 pages. Inside, the rough-cut pages are generally clean and clear, the sewn binding is firm, and there is only slight browning to the endpapers. The front fep bears a neat ink-written (undated) gift inscription. The back paste-down has a 'Burn & Co' binder's label.