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This review is taken from PN Review 25, Volume 8 Number 5, May - June 1982.

BEYOND THE STEREOTYPE Grevel Lindop, The Opium-Eater: A Life of Thomas De Quincey (Dent) £12.00

I was fortunate to have read The Confessions of an English Opium Eater, to say nothing of The Revolt of the Tartars, The English Mail-Coach and Suspiria de Profundis, at an age when I did not know that Romanticism was wrong. Of the Confessions, I remember being astonished that they were mostly about matters which appeared to have no connection with opium eating, such as schoolboys reading Grotius and the bore of the River Dee. The facts I took to be incontrovertible. Such was the authenticity of the writing and the prestige of the author, that I was considerably offended when it was suggested to me that perhaps opium had not improved his memory. Probably it did not, I would now concede, yet the Confessions are the youth of De Quincey, so far as that remains in human memory-which in itself makes a biography of this author an unusually difficult undertaking.

The Confessions remains one of those books everyone has to read, who cares at all for English literature. There is nothing else that one must read, unless it is the Reminiscences of the Lake Poets which have been admirably edited for Penguin by David Wright, but there are fourteen volumes of collected work, all more or less profitable, and you cannot know your De Quincey until you have read some at any rate of the miscellaneous writings. For all that he passes as a romantic, there is a good deal of the eighteenth century about De ...


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