Thomas Penson De Quincey (/də ˈkwɪnsi/; 15 August 1785 – 8 December 1859) was an English essayist, best known for his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821). Many scholars suggest that in publishing this work De Quincey inaugurated the tradition of addiction literature in the West.
Thomas Quincey was born at 86 Cross Street, Manchester, Lancashire. 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." In the same year, De Quincey's mother moved to Bath, Somerset, and enrolled him at King Edward's School.
De Quincey was a weak and sickly child. His youth was spent in solitude, and when his elder brother, William, came home, he wreaked 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. It is said that at this time, in 1799, De Quincey first read Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge.
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." 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.
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.
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.
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. He completed his studies, but failed to take the oral examination leading to a degree; he left the university without graduating. 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. De Quincey was married in 1816, and soon after, having no money left, he took up literary work in earnest.
In July 1818 De Quincey became editor of The Westmorland Gazette, a Tory newspaper published in Kendal, after its first editor had been dismissed. 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. 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.
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. 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 …" 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 …"
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. In the 1830s he is listed as living at 1 Forres Street, a large townhouse on the edge of the Moray Estate in Edinburgh.
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.
Along with his opium addiction, debt was one of the primary constraints of De Quincey's adult life. 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. (At the time, Holyrood Park formed a debtors' sanctuary; people could not be arrested for debt within those bounds. 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.
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.
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. 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." 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."
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.
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.
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.
During the final decade of his life, De Quincey laboured on a collected edition of his works. 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 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. Yet another volume, New Essays by De Quincey, appeared in 1966.
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.
Autobiographic Sketches, sometimes referred to as the Autobiography of Thomas De Quincey, is a work first published in 1853.Biathanatos
Biathanatos is a work by the English writer and clergyman John Donne. Written in 1608 and published after his death, it contains a heterodox defense of self-homicide (suicide), listing prominent Biblical examples including Jesus, Samson, Saul, and Judas Iscariot. Thomas De Quincey responds to the work in his Writings VIII, page 336, and Jorge Luis Borges responds in Biathanatos, in his collected non-fiction.Blackwood (publishing house)
William Blackwood and Sons was a Scottish publishing house and printer founded by William Blackwood in 1804. It played a key role in literary history, publishing many important authors, for example John Buchan, George Tomkyns Chesney, Joseph Conrad, George Eliot, E. M. Forster, John Galt, Thomas de Quincey, Charles Reade, Margaret Oliphant, John Hanning Speke and Anthony Trollope, both in books and in the monthly Blackwood’s Magazine.Confessions of an English Opium-Eater
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..."First published anonymously in September and October 1821 in the London Magazine, the Confessions was released in book form in 1822, and again in 1856, in an edition revised by De Quincey.Confessions of an Opium Eater
Confessions of an Opium Eater is a 1962 American crime film produced and directed by Albert Zugsmith. It is loosely based on the 1822 autobiographical novel, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, by Thomas De Quincey. After circulating for years as a bootleg, it was released on DVD as part of the Warner Archive Collection in 2012.The film was something of a departure for Price; the prolific actor never performed another role that involved so much physical action.David Morrell
David Morrell (born April 24, 1943) is a Canadian-American novelist, best known for his debut 1972 novel First Blood, which would later become the successful Rambo film franchise starring Sylvester Stallone. He has written 28 novels, and his work has been translated into 26 languages. He also wrote the 2007–2008 Captain America comic book miniseries The Chosen.Greenheys, Manchester
Greenheys is an inner-city area of south Manchester, England, between Hulme to the north and west, Chorlton-on-Medlock to the east and Moss Side to the south.
Elizabeth Gaskell's first novel, Mary Barton, published in 1848, opens with a description of Greenheys, then still a rural area on the outskirts of the city. The writer Thomas De Quincey and pioneer socialist Robert Owen both lived at Greenheys House, overlooking the now culverted Cornbrook river.Jo Bogaert
Jo Bogaert (born 19 May 1956) is a Flemish Belgian musician and producer. Working under his own name and a long list of pseudonyms (usually Thomas de Quincey or a variation thereof), he was one of the most successful artists in the New Beat, and the man behind Technotronic.Lake Poets
The Lake Poets were a group of English poets who all lived in the Lake District of England, United Kingdom, in the first half of the nineteenth century. As a group, they followed no single "school" of thought or literary practice then known. They were named, only to be uniformly disparaged, by the Edinburgh Review. They are considered part of the Romantic Movement.
The three main figures of what has become known as the Lakes School were William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey. They were associated with several other poets and writers, including Dorothy Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, Mary Lamb, Charles Lloyd, Hartley Coleridge, John Wilson, and Thomas De Quincey.Noctes Ambrosianae
The Noctes Ambrosianae, a series of 71 imaginary colloquies, appeared in Blackwood's Magazine from 1822 to 1835. The earlier ones had several different authors, including John Gibson Lockhart, William Maginn, James Hogg and Professor John Wilson, but from 1825, with the 19th in the series, the contributions by Wilson predominate, and he eventually wrote all or most of 39 of the dialogues, as well as parts of some others. The scene is usually set in Ambrose's Tavern in Edinburgh, and the central characters are "Christopher North" (Wilson himself), "Timothy Tickler" (based on Robert Sym, 1750-1840, previously a Writer to the Signet), and the "Ettrick Shepherd" (based on James Hogg). Several other characters, imaginary or based on real people, including the "English Opium Eater" (Thomas de Quincey) and "The tailor o' Yarrow Ford" (David Brunton) occur in some episodes. The series is particularly noted for the expressive Scots dialogue of the Ettrick Shepherd.On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts
"On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts" is an essay by Thomas De Quincey first published in 1827 in Blackwood's Magazine. The essay is a fictional, satirical account of an address made to a gentleman's club concerning the aesthetic appreciation of murder. It focuses particularly on a series of murders allegedly committed in 1811 by John Williams in the neighborhood of Ratcliffe Highway, London. The essay was enthusiastically received and led to numerous sequels, including "A Second Paper on Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts" in 1839 and a "Postscript" in 1854. These essays have exerted a strong influence on subsequent literary representations of crime and were lauded by such critics as G. K. Chesterton, Wyndham Lewis and George Orwell.De Quincey also refers to the Williams murders in his "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth".
The 1964 French film On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts takes its name from the essay.On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth
"On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth" is an essay in Shakespearean criticism by the English author Thomas De Quincey, first published in the October 1823 edition of The London Magazine. Though brief, less than 2,000 words in length, it has been called "De Quincey's finest single critical piece" and "one of the most penetrating critical footnotes in our literature". Commentators who are dismissive of De Quincey's literary criticism in general make an exception for his essay on Macbeth.The essay concerns Act II, scene three in The Tragedy of Macbeth, in which the murder of King Duncan by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is succeeded by Macduff and Lennox knocking at the gate of the castle. The knocking ends Act II, scene 2 and opens Act II, 3, the Porter scene. De Quincey wrote that for him, the knocking always had a pronounced effect: "it reflected back upon the murderer a peculiar awfulness and a depth of solemnity...." De Quincey could not account rationally for this response, according to the then-accepted canons of literary criticism; and he proceeded, through his essay, to venture a more psychological interpretation than had previously been applied to Shakespeare. The essay foreshadows the psychological approaches of much later criticism.
De Quincey's biographer Horace Ainsworth Eaton called the essay "penetrating and philosophic", adding that De Quincey in this essay "produced conclusions as significant as anything in Coleridge or Hazlitt".De Quincey also views his responses to the play in reference to another of his classic essays, "On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts".Opium and Romanticism
Opium and Romanticism are well-connected subjects, as readers of Romantic poetry often come into contact with literary criticisms about the influence of opium on its works. The idea that opium has had a direct effect on works of romantic poetry is still under debate; however, the literary criticism that has emerged throughout the years suggests very compelling ideas about opium and its impact on Romantic texts. Usually these criticisms tend to focus on poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey and George Crabbe.Quincey
Quincey may refer to:
PeopleKyle Quincey (born 1985), Canadian ice hockey player
Thomas de Quincey (1785–1859), English author and intellectualFictional charactersQuincey Morris, American character in Bram Stoker's horror novel Dracula.PlacesQuincey, Côte-d'Or, France
Quincey, Haute-Saône, France
Ferreux-Quincey, Aube, FranceRecollections of the Lake Poets
Recollections of the Lake Poets is a collection of biographical essays written by the English author Thomas De Quincey. In these essays, originally published in Tait's Edinburgh Magazine between 1834 and 1840, De Quincey provided some of the earliest, best informed, and most candid accounts of the Lake Poets, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey, and others in their circle. Together, the essays "form one of the most entertaining of Lakeland books."Robert J. H. Morrison
Robert J. H. Morrison (born 6 January 1961) is a Canadian author, editor, academic, and professor of English at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is a scholar of late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature and culture, particularly of Romanticism and the works of Thomas De Quincey.Rydal Water
Rydal Water is a small body of water in the central part of the English Lake District, in the county of Cumbria. It is located near the hamlet of Rydal, between Grasmere and Ambleside in the Rothay Valley.The lake is 1,290 yards (1.18 km) long and varies in width up to a maximum of 380 yards (350m), covering an area of 0.12 mi² (0.31 km²). It has a maximum depth of 65 ft (17m) and an elevation above sea level of 177 ft (54m). The lake is both supplied and drained by the river Rothay, which flows from Grasmere upstream and towards Windermere downstream.The waters of the southern half of the lake are leased by the Lowther Estate to the National Trust, whilst those of the northern half belong to the estate of Rydal Hall. Navigation is prohibited, except for residents of Rydal Hall.Numerous walks are possible in the surrounding hills, as well as a walk around the lake itself, which takes in Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, both homes to William Wordsworth, and Rydal Cave, a former quarry working. At the western end of the lake, steps lead to Wordsworth's Seat, which is considered to have been Wordsworth's favourite viewpoint in the Lake District.
White Moss House, at the northern end of the lake, is believed to be the only house that Wordsworth ever bought. He bought it for his son Willie, and the family lived there until the 1930s. Nab Cottage overlooks the lake and it was once home to Thomas de Quincey and Hartley Coleridge, the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Close by is the historic Rydal Hall.Suspiria de Profundis
Suspiria de profundis (a Latin phrase meaning "sighs from the depths") is one of the best-known and most distinctive literary works of the English essayist Thomas De Quincey.Tait's Edinburgh Magazine
Tait's Edinburgh Magazine was a monthly periodical founded in 1832. It was an important venue for liberal political views, as well as contemporary cultural and literary developments, in early-to-mid-nineteenth century Britain.The magazine was founded by William Tait (1792–1864), the son of a builder and an inheritor of a large fortune. Tait was an "independent radical" in politics; he strongly favored the Whig party. 1832 was a time of great political ferment, with the first Reform Bill the dominant subject of discourse. Tait's periodical was intended as a "Radical riposte" to "the politically revanchist but culturally avant-garde Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine." Tait's welcomed many new and unknown writers like Robert Nicoll, as well as established voices like James Henry Leigh Hunt, and figures of future fame like Harriet Martineau and John Stuart Mill.
From 1833 on, Tait's Magazine was a regular venue for the essays of Thomas De Quincey. De Quincey's series of biographical essays on the Lake Poets (later collected as Recollections of the Lake Poets) were featured in Tait's between 1834 and 1840. Tait published a range of other selections by De Quincey, including, somewhat surprisingly, "A Tory's Account of Toryism, Whiggism and Radicalism" (December 1835, January 1836). That article, however, was supplied with many sarcastic footnotes disagreeing with its points — "objecting foot-notes from the pen, presumably, of Tait himself."In 1834 Tait's Magazine was combined with Johnstone's Edinburgh Magazine, a liberal periodical started two years earlier by husband and wife John Johnstone and Christian Isobel Johnstone. She was an early feminist who wrote extensively for Tait's in the following years, becoming the magazine's "chief contributor and director" under William Tait himself. Christian Johnstone was "the first woman to serve as paid editor of a major Victorian periodical," to which she brought "fresh life and popularity." In the same year Alexander Bailey Richmond took the magazine's London agents to court, for reviewing a work calling Richmond a government spy: the defence was successful.Christian Johnstone died in 1857; Tait's Magazine ceased publication in 1861.