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Answer 105. Thomas De Quincey. The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

De Quincey remained in hiding for the next eight days. He sat in coffee shops all day – a bit like J.K. Rowling – writing his confessions over a cup of coffee bought on credit. He found it ‘difficult to write at all: for it happened that the only coffee-rooms where I was known enough to expect credit, were those of great Coach-Inns.’ Coaching inns were the railway stations of their day, always very busy and noisy.

De Quincey sneaked back to Tavistock Street on 17 August. Six days later, the first half of the book was done. It appeared in the London Magazine‘s September issue and was an immediate success. The second half followed in October and De Quincey’s fame was assured.


Time was running out for Oscar Wilde on the afternoon of 5 April 1895. He had lost a libel action that morning against the Marquess of Queensberry (see Question 47), during which he had been outed as a practising homosexual, then a criminal offence.

Oscar WildeIt was only a matter of time before the police came to arrest him. Oscar holed up at the Cadogan Hotel while he pondered his next move. His friends Robbie Ross and Reggie Turner begged him to escape to France while he still could. The authorities were deliberately delaying his arrest for a few hours to give him a chance to get away.

Oscar refused to go. ‘I shall stay and do my sentence, whatever it is,’ he insisted. His boyfriend Lord Alfred Douglas arrived and pleaded with him to go, but Oscar was adamant. A combination of inertia and an Irish desire for martyrdom prompted him to stay and face the music instead.

The police arrived at ten past six. A waiter showed them to Oscar’s room on the first floor (the floor above the ground, room no 120 then, 118 now). He listened drunkenly as they told him that they had a warrant for his arrest on a charge of committing indecent acts.

Oscar went quietly. If I must go,’ he told them, ‘I will give you the least possible trouble.’

HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 106. A cab was waiting outside the hotel. What happened to Oscar Wilde after the police took him away?

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