Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 8 >> Dance Of Death to Dean >> De Quincey_P1

De Quincey

life, london, support, magazine, death, habit, till, edinburgh and oxford

Page: 1 2 3

DE QUINCEY, Thomas, English miscel laneous writer: b. Manchester, England, 15 Aug. 1785; d. Edinburgh, 8 Dec. 1859. In a striking sense, DeQuincey's life and writings are distinct; for by far the most interesting events in his life took place before 1821, the year of his first publication, after which the course of his life is of an interest wholly sec ondary to his writing. He was the son of Thomas DeQuincey, a well-to-do merchant, of a family that had come to England with the Conqueror. His mother was a Miss Penson, a lady of quality. He was the fifth child and second son among eight children of diverse temperaments. Most of his youth was spent at Greenhay, an estate near Manchester, where, though dominated by the will of an imperious older brother, his life was that of a shy, sensi tive child, of lively imagination, and with a great love for mysterious and fanciful litera ture. After studying with a private tutor, he was sent to school at Bath, where he distin guished himself in Latin and Greek, and, in 1800, after a visit at Eton and a ramble in Wales with his friend, Lord Westport, to the Manchester Grammar School, to the end that he might prepare for Brasenose College, Ox ford. A year and a half, however, was all that he could stand of a regime which deprived him "of health, of society, of amusement, of liberty, of congeniality of pursuits and which, to com plete the precious [admitted] of no variety." Early one morning in July 1802, he ran away from his master's house, and for nearly a year lived a vagrant life. For some months he roamed about North Wales, with the knowledge of his mother and the support of his uncle, but in November he cast away this support and went to London. Here, according to his own account, he endured many hardships, was frequently obliged to sleep in the streets, to share the lot of vagrants like himself, and to resort to money-lenders for support. Through the aid of one of the latter he was finally dis covered by his family. In .the fall of 1803 he was sent to College, Oxford, and here he remained off and on till 1809, but never took a degree. Though little in particular is known about his life at the university, he was distinguished as an admirable Greek scholar and read prodigiously in English literature and German metaphysics. His feeling of superior ity and his desire for privacy, together with a straitened income, were the reasons for his se clusion. Leaving Oxford in 1809, he went to live at Grasmere in order to be near Words worth and Coleridge, and in the Lake region he remained almost continuously till 1821. His life here was a very studious one, in which the most conspicuous determinant was the confirma tion of his habit of opium taking. He had first

experimented with the drug in 1804, at Oxford, as a relief for an attack of neuralgia, and there after, until 1813, took it systematically at inter vals of two or three weeks simply for the pleasure that it gave. In the latter year, how ever, he "was attacked," as he says, "by a most appalling irritation of the stomach, in all re spects the same as that which had caused me so much suffering in youth, and accompanied by a revival of the old dreams." It was then that he began taking opium regularly and in large quantities. To some extent he broke the habit at the time of his marriage, in 1816, to Margaret Simpson, the daughter of a farmer in his neighborhood, but the general effect was great prostration of his will, and, though in later years, he had the habit under control, he probably never altogether shook it off. It was some time before he could bring himself to do anything. His first piece of active work, after the failure of his attempt to write a philosoph ical work, 'De Emendatione Humani Intel leans) and an unfinished

Page: 1 2 3