The Last War of the Romantics: De Quincey, Macaulay, the First Chinese Opium War

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This essay discusses the public debate surrounding the First Opium War with China of 1840-42. It features the contributions, to that debate of Thomas Babington Macaulay, then secretary for war in the Melbourne government, and Thomas De Quincey, the famous "opium eater". The essay argues that Macaulay and De Quincey are engaged in a form of literary competition that surfaces in this debate of the 1840s. Central to the debate is the commodity of opium and its paradoxical representation and presence in Britain, Bengal and China. The essay argues that this debate is a product of the circumstances on the 1840s and that De Quincey's essay should not be taken as representative of romantic attitudes to China.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Wordsworth Circle
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • Romantic
  • China
  • Opium DeQuincey
  • Macaulay
  • Opium War

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