Thomas De Quincey

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Thomas de Quincey by Sir John Watson-Gordon. Thomas de Quincey by Sir John Watson-Gordon.jpg
Thomas de Quincey by Sir John Watson-Gordon.

Thomas Penson De Quincey ( /dəˈkwɪnsi/ ; [1] 15 August 1785 8 December 1859) was an English essayist, best known for his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821). [2] [3] Many scholars suggest that in publishing this work De Quincey inaugurated the tradition of addiction literature in the West. [4]

<i>Confessions of an English Opium-Eater</i> book

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) is an autobiographical account written by Thomas De Quincey, about his laudanum addiction and its effect on his life. The Confessions was "the first major work De Quincey published and the one which won him fame almost overnight..."

Contents

Life and work

Child and student

Thomas Quincey was born at 86 Cross Street, Manchester, Lancashire. [5] His father, a successful merchant with an interest in literature, died when De Quincey was quite young. Soon after his birth the family went to The Farm and then later to Greenheys, a larger country house in Chorlton-on-Medlock near Manchester. In 1796, three years after the death of his father, Thomas Quincey, his mother – the erstwhile Elizabeth Penson – took the name "De Quincey." [6] In the same year, De Quincey's mother moved to Bath, Somerset, and enrolled him at King Edward's School.

Manchester City and metropolitan borough in England

Manchester is a major city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England, with a population of 545,500 as of 2017. It lies within the United Kingdom's second-most populous urban area, with a population of 2.7 million, and third-most populous metropolitan area, with a population of 3.3 million. It is fringed by the Cheshire Plain to the south, the Pennines to the north and east, and an arc of towns with which it forms a continuous conurbation. The local authority for the city is Manchester City Council.

Lancashire County of England

Lancashire is a ceremonial county in North West England. The administrative centre is Preston. The county has a population of 1,449,300 and an area of 1,189 square miles (3,080 km2). People from Lancashire are known as Lancastrians.

Chorlton-on-Medlock inner city area of Manchester, England

Chorlton-on-Medlock is an inner city area of Manchester, England.

De Quincey was a weak and sickly child. His youth was spent in solitude, and when his elder brother, William, came home, he wrought havoc in the quiet surroundings. De Quincey's mother (who counted Hannah More amongst her friends) was a woman of strong character and intelligence, but seems to have inspired more awe than affection in her children. She brought them up strictly, taking De Quincey out of school after three years because she was afraid he would become big-headed, and sending him to an inferior school at Wingfield in Wiltshire. [7] It is said that at this time, in 1799, De Quincey first read Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge. [6]

Hannah More English religious writer, poet, playwright, philanthropist (1745-1833)

Hannah More was an English religious writer and philanthropist, remembered as a poet and playwright in the circle of Johnson, Reynolds and Garrick, as a writer on moral and religious subjects, and as a practical philanthropist. Born in Bristol, she taught at a school established there by her father and began writing plays. She became involved with the London literary elite as a leading Bluestocking member. Her plays and poetry became more evangelical and she joined a group campaigning against the slave trade. In the 1790s she wrote several Cheap Repository Tracts on moral, religious and political topics, for distribution to the literate poor. Meanwhile, she did increasing philanthropic work in the Mendip area, encouraged by William Wilberforce.

Wingfield, Wiltshire small village and civil parish in the west of the county of Wiltshire, England in the United Kingdom

Wingfield is a small village and civil parish in the county of Wiltshire, England, about 2.2 miles (3.5 km) west of the town of Trowbridge.

Wiltshire County of England

Wiltshire is a county in South West England with an area of 3,485 km2. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. The county town was originally Wilton, after which the county is named, but Wiltshire Council is now based in the county town of Trowbridge.

In 1800, De Quincey, aged 15, was ready for the University of Oxford; his scholarship was far in advance of his years. "That boy," his master at Bath had said, "could harangue an Athenian mob better than you or I could address an English one." [8] He was sent to Manchester Grammar School, in order that after three years' stay he might obtain a scholarship to Brasenose College, Oxford, but he took flight after 19 months. [9]

University of Oxford university in Oxford, United Kingdom

The University of Oxford is a collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's second-oldest university in continuous operation after the University of Bologna. It grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled north-east to Cambridge where they established what became the University of Cambridge. The two 'ancient universities' are frequently jointly called 'Oxbridge'. The history and influence of the University of Oxford has made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Manchester Grammar School Independent day school in Manchester, United Kingdom

The Manchester Grammar School (MGS) in Manchester, England, is the largest independent day school for boys in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1515 as a free grammar school next to Manchester Parish Church, in 1931 it moved to its present site at Fallowfield. In accordance with its founder's wishes, MGS has remained a predominantly academic school and belongs to the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference.

Brasenose College, Oxford college of the University of Oxford

Brasenose College (BNC), officially The Principal and Scholars of the King’s Hall and College of Brasenose in Oxford, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1509, with the library and chapel added in the mid-17th century and the new quadrangle in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bust of Thomas De Quincey, by Sir John Steell. Bust of Thomas de Quincey.jpg
Bust of Thomas De Quincey, by Sir John Steell.

His first plan had been to reach William Wordsworth, whose Lyrical Ballads (1798) had consoled him in fits of depression and had awakened in him a deep reverence for the poet. But for that De Quincey was too timid, so he made his way to Chester, where his mother dwelt, in the hope of seeing a sister; he was caught by the older members of the family, but, through the efforts of his uncle, Colonel Penson, received the promise of a guinea (£1.05) a week to carry out his later project of a solitary tramp through Wales. From July to November 1802, De Quincey lived as a wayfarer. He soon lost his guinea by ceasing to keep his family informed of his whereabouts, and had difficulty making ends meet. Still, apparently fearing pursuit, he borrowed some money and travelled to London, where he tried to borrow more. Having failed, he lived close to starvation rather than return to his family. [10]

Chester City in Cheshire, England

Chester is a walled city in Cheshire, England, on the River Dee, close to the border with Wales. With a population of 79,645 in 2011, it is the most populous settlement of Cheshire West and Chester, which had a population of 329,608 in 2011, and serves as the unitary authority's administrative headquarters. Chester is the second-largest settlement in Cheshire after Warrington.

Guinea (coin) coin of approximately one quarter ounce of gold that was minted in Great Britain between 1663 and 1814

The guinea was a coin of approximately one quarter ounce of gold that was minted in Great Britain between 1663 and 1814. The name came from the Guinea region in West Africa, where much of the gold used to make the coins originated. It was the first English machine-struck gold coin, originally worth one pound sterling, equal to twenty shillings, but rises in the price of gold relative to silver caused the value of the guinea to increase, at times to as high as thirty shillings. From 1717 to 1816, its value was officially fixed at twenty-one shillings.

This deprived period left a profound mark upon De Quincey's psychology, and upon the writing he would later do; it forms a major and crucial part of the first section of the Confessions, and re-appears in various forms throughout the vast body of his lifetime literary work.

Fox Ghyll near Rydal, De Quincey's home from 1820 to 1825 Fox Ghyll.jpg
Fox Ghyll near Rydal, De Quincey's home from 1820 to 1825

Discovered by chance by his friends, De Quincey was brought home and finally allowed to go to Worcester College, Oxford, on a reduced income. Here, we are told, "he came to be looked upon as a strange being who associated with no one." In 1804, while at Oxford, he began the occasional use of opium. [6] He completed his studies, but failed to take the oral examination leading to a degree; he left the university without graduating. [11] He became an acquaintance of Coleridge and Wordsworth, having already sought out Charles Lamb in London. His acquaintance with Wordsworth led to his settling in 1809 at Grasmere, in the Lake District. He lived for ten years in Dove Cottage, which Wordsworth had occupied and which is now a popular tourist attraction, and for another five years at Fox Ghyll near Rydal. [12] De Quincey was married in 1816, and soon after, having no money left, he took up literary work in earnest. [13]

Worcester College, Oxford college of the University of Oxford

Worcester College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. The college was founded in 1714 by the benefaction of Sir Thomas Cookes, 2nd Baronet (1648-1701) of Norgrove, Worcestershire, whose coat of arms was adopted by the College. Its predecessor, Gloucester College, had been an institution of learning on the same site since the late 13th century until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Founded as a men's college, Worcester has been coeducational since 1979.

Opium Dried latex obtained from the opium poppy

Opium is dried latex obtained from the seed capsules of the opium poppy Papaver somniferum. Approximately 12 percent of opium is made up of the analgesic alkaloid morphine, which is processed chemically to produce heroin and other synthetic opioids for medicinal use and for illegal drug trade. The latex also contains the closely related opiates codeine and thebaine, and non-analgesic alkaloids such as papaverine and noscapine. The traditional, labor-intensive method of obtaining the latex is to scratch ("score") the immature seed pods (fruits) by hand; the latex leaks out and dries to a sticky yellowish residue that is later scraped off and dehydrated. The word "meconium" historically referred to related, weaker preparations made from other parts of the opium poppy or different species of poppies.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge English poet, literary critic and philosopher

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He also shared volumes and collaborated with Charles Lamb, Robert Southey, and Charles Lloyd. He wrote the poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, as well as the major prose work Biographia Literaria. His critical work, especially on William Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. Coleridge coined many familiar words and phrases, including suspension of disbelief. He had a major influence on Ralph Waldo Emerson and on American transcendentalism.

His wife Margaret bore him eight children before her death in 1837. Three of De Quincey's daughters survived him. One of his sons, Paul Frederick de Quincey (1828–1894), emigrated to New Zealand. [14]

Journalist

De Quincey's large house at 1 Forres Street, Edinburgh. 1 Forres Street, Edinburgh.jpg
De Quincey's large house at 1 Forres Street, Edinburgh.

In July 1818 De Quincey became editor of The Westmorland Gazette , a Tory newspaper published in Kendal, after its first editor had been dismissed. [15] He was unreliable at meeting deadlines, and in June 1819 the proprietors complained about "their dissatisfaction with the lack of 'regular communication between the Editor and the Printer'", and he resigned in November 1819. [16] De Quincey's political sympathies tended towards the right. He was "a champion of aristocratic privilege," reserved "Jacobin" as his highest term of opprobrium, held reactionary views on the Peterloo Massacre and the Sepoy rebellion, on Catholic Emancipation and the enfranchisement of the common people, and yet was also a staunch abolitionist on the issue of slavery. [17]

Translator and essayist

In 1821 he went to London to dispose of some translations from German authors, but was persuaded first to write and publish an account of his opium experiences, which that year appeared in the London Magazine . This new sensation eclipsed Lamb's Essays of Elia , which were then appearing in the same periodical. The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater were soon published in book form. [18] De Quincey then made literary acquaintances. Thomas Hood found the shrinking author "at home in a German ocean of literature, in a storm, flooding all the floor, the tables and the chairs – billows of books …" [19] De Quincey was famous for his conversation; Richard Woodhouse wrote of the "depth and reality, as I may so call it, of his knowledge … His conversation appeared like the elaboration of a mine of results …" [20]

From this time on De Quincey maintained himself by contributing to various magazines. He soon exchanged London and the Lakes for Edinburgh, the nearby village of Polton, and Glasgow; he spent the remainder of his life in Scotland. [21] In the 1830s he is listed as living at 1 Forres Street, a large townhouse on the edge of the Moray Estate in Edinburgh. [22]

Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine and its rival Tait's Magazine received numerous contributions. Suspiria de Profundis (1845) appeared in Blackwood's, as did The English Mail-Coach (1849). Joan of Arc (1847) was published in Tait's. Between 1835 and 1849, Tait's published a series of De Quincey's reminiscences of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Robert Southey and other figures among the Lake Poets – a series that taken together constitutes one of his most important works. [23]

Financial pressures

Thomas De Quincey, by George Hamlin Fitch. Thomas de Quincey's Portrait.jpg
Thomas De Quincey, by George Hamlin Fitch.

Along with his opium addiction, debt was one of the primary constraints of De Quincey's adult life. [24] He pursued journalism as the one way available to him to pay his bills; and without financial need it is an open question how much writing he would ever have done.

De Quincey came into his patrimony at the age of 21, when he received £2,000 from his late father's estate. He was unwisely generous with his funds, making loans that could not or would not be repaid, including a £300 loan to Coleridge in 1807. After leaving Oxford without a degree, he made an attempt to study law, but desultorily and unsuccessfully; he had no steady income and spent large sums on books (he was a lifelong collector). By the 1820s he was constantly in financial difficulties. More than once in his later years, De Quincey was forced to seek protection from arrest in the debtors' sanctuary of Holyrood in Edinburgh. [25] (At the time, Holyrood Park formed a debtors' sanctuary; people could not be arrested for debt within those bounds. [26] The debtors who took sanctuary there could only emerge on Sundays, when arrests for debt were not allowed.) Yet De Quincey's money problems persisted; he got into further difficulties for debts he incurred within the sanctuary. [27]

His financial situation improved only later in his life. His mother's death in 1846 brought him an income of £200 per year. When his daughters matured, they managed his budget more responsibly than he ever had himself. [28]

Medical issues

A number of medical practitioners have speculated on the physical ailments that inspired and underlay De Quincey's resort to opium, and searched the corpus of his autobiographical works for evidence. One possibility is "a mild … case of infantile paralysis" that he may have contracted from Wordsworth's children. [29] De Quincey certainly had intestinal problems, and problems with his vision – which could have been related: "uncorrected myopic astigmatism … manifests itself as digestive problems in men." [30] De Quincey also suffered neuralgic facial pain, "trigeminal neuralgia"  – "attacks of piercing pain in the face, of such severity that they sometimes drive the victim to suicide." [31]

As with many addicts, De Quincey's opium addiction may have had a "self-medication" aspect for real physical illnesses, as well as a psychological aspect. [32]

De Quincey's grave in St. Cuthbert's Kirkyard, Edinburgh. Grave of Thomas De Quincey.jpg
De Quincey's grave in St. Cuthbert's Kirkyard, Edinburgh.

By his own testimony, De Quincey first used opium in 1804 to relieve his neuralgia; he used it for pleasure, but no more than weekly, through 1812. It was in 1813 that he first commenced daily usage, in response to illness and his grief over the death of Wordsworth's young daughter Catherine. During 1813–1819 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. [33]

He died in Edinburgh and is buried in St Cuthbert's Churchyard at the west end of Princes Street. His stone, in the southwest section of the churchyard on a west facing wall, is plain and says nothing of his work.

Collected works

During the final decade of his life, De Quincey laboured on a collected edition of his works. [34] Ticknor and Fields, a Boston publishing house, first proposed such a collection, and solicited De Quincey's approval and co-operation. It was only when De Quincey, a chronic procrastinator, failed to answer repeated letters from James Thomas Fields [35] that the American publisher proceeded independently, reprinting the author's works from their original magazine appearances. Twenty-two volumes of De Quincey's Writings were issued from 1851 to 1859.

The existence of the American edition prompted a corresponding British edition. Since the spring of 1850 De Quincey had been a regular contributor to an Edinburgh periodical called Hogg's Weekly Instructor whose publisher, James Hogg, undertook to publish Selections Grave and Gay from Writings Published and Unpublished by Thomas De Quincey. De Quincey edited and revised his works for the Hogg edition; the 1856 second edition of the Confessions was prepared for inclusion in Selections Grave and Gay…. The first volume of that edition appeared in May 1853, and the fourteenth and last in January 1860, a month after the author's death.

Both of these were multi-volume collections, yet made no pretense to be complete. Scholar and editor David Masson attempted a more definitive collection: The Works of Thomas De Quincey appeared in fourteen volumes in 1889 and 1890. Yet De Quincey's writings were so voluminous and widely dispersed that further collections followed: two volumes of The Uncollected Writings (1890), and two volumes of Posthumous Works (1891–93). De Quincey's 1803 diary was published in 1927. [36] Yet another volume, New Essays by De Quincey, appeared in 1966.

Influence

His immediate influence extended to Edgar Allan Poe, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, Charles Baudelaire and Nikolai Gogol, but even major 20th-century writers such as Jorge Luis Borges admired and claimed to be partly influenced by his work. Berlioz also loosely based his Symphonie fantastique on Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, drawing on the theme of the internal struggle with one's self.

Dario Argento used De Quincey's Suspiria, particularly "Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow", as an inspiration for his "Three Mothers" trilogy of films, which include Suspiria , Inferno and The Mother of Tears . This influence carried over into Luca Guadagnino's 2018 version of the film.

Shelby Hughes created Jynxies Natural Habitat, an online archive of stamp art on glassine heroin bags, under the pseudonym "Dequincey Jinxey," in reference to De Quincey. She also used the pseudonym in interviews related to the archive.

Major publications

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References

  1. De Quincey. Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/de_quincey (accessed: 29 June 2013).
  2. Eaton, Horace Ainsworth, Thomas De Quincey: A Biography, New York, Oxford University Press, 1936; reprinted New York, Octagon Books, 1972;
  3. Lindop, Grevel The Opium-Eater: A Life of Thomas De Quincey, London, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1981.
  4. Morrison, Robert. "De Quincey's Wicked Book." OUP Blog. Oxford University Press, 2013. http://blog.oup.com/2013/02/de-quinceys-confessions-english-opium-eater/
  5. The later building on the site (adjoining John Dalton Street) bears a stone inscription referring to de Quincey.
  6. 1 2 3 Morrison, Robert. "Thomas De Quincey: Chronology." TDQ Homepage. Kingston: Queen's University, 2013. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 24 December 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. Eaton, pp. 1–40; Lindop, pp. 2–43.
  8. Morrison, Robert. "Thomas De Quincey: Biography." TDQ Homepage. Kingston: Queen's University, 2013. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 May 2007. Retrieved 12 June 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. Lindop, pp. 25, 46–62 and ff.
  10. Eaton, pp. 57–87.
  11. Eaton, pp. 106–29.
  12. "Nomination for the English Lake District Cultural Landscape: An Evolving Masterpiece" (PDF) (PDF). Lake District National Park Partnership. 20 May 2015. p. 39. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  13. Eaton, pp. 255–308.
  14. "Death of Colonel de Quincey". The New Zealand Herald . XXXI (9486). 16 April 1894. p. 5. Retrieved 10 December 2013.
  15. Liukkonen, Petri. "Thomas De Quincey". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 10 October 2014.
  16. Lindop, Grevel (September 2004). "Quincey, Thomas Penson De (1785–1859)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 4 July 2010. Online edition available by subscription
  17. Purdon, James (6 December 2009). "The English Opium Eater by Robert Morrison". The Guardian. London.
  18. Confessions was first published in London Magazine in 1821. It was published in book form the following year. (Morrison, Robert. "Thomas De Quincey: Chronology." TDQ Homepage. Kingston: Queen's University, 2013. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 24 December 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link))
  19. Lindop. pp. 259–60.
  20. Eaton, pp. 280.
  21. Eaton, pp. 309–33 and ff.
  22. "Edinburgh Post Office annual directory, 1832-1833". National Library of Scotland. p. 153. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  23. Thomas De Quincey, Recollections of the Lakes and the Lake Poets , David Wright, ed., New York, Penguin Books, 1970.
  24. Lindop, pp. 246, 255, 257, 269, 271 and ff., especially 319-39.
  25. Lindop, pp. 310–11; Eaton, pp. 342–3.
  26. "A Parliament for a People..." (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 September 2012. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
  27. Eaton, p. 372.
  28. Eaton, pp. 429–30.
  29. C. H. Hendricks, cited in: Judson S. Lyon, Thomas De Quincey, New York, Twayne Publishers, 1969; p. 57.
  30. George M. Gould, cited in Lyon, p. 55.
  31. Philip Sandblom, Creativity and Disease, Seventh Edition, New York, Marion Boyars, 1992; p. 49.
  32. Lyon, pp. 57–8.
  33. Alethea Hayter, Opium and the Romantic Imagination, revised edition, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, Crucible, 1988; pp. 229–31.
  34. Eaton, pp. 469–82.
  35. Eaton, p. 472.
  36. Eaton, p. 525.

Further reading