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Thomas De Quincey

Thomas De Quincey Thomas De Quincey[1†]

Thomas Penson De Quincey (1785–1859) was an influential English writer and essayist, renowned for his groundbreaking work "Confessions of an English Opium-Eater" (1821). Born in Manchester, England, De Quincey is credited with pioneering addiction literature in the West. His writings have made a lasting impact on English literature and the exploration of psychological themes[1†][2†][3†].

Early Years and Education

Thomas Penson De Quincey was born on August 15, 1785, in Manchester, Lancashire, England[1†]. His father was a successful merchant with an interest in literature[1†]. The family later adopted the name De Quincey, hypothesizing that they were related to an old Anglo-French family named de Quincis that dated back to the time of the Norman Conquest[1†]. De Quincey was the fourth of five children; he was close to his siblings and was deeply affected by the deaths of his sisters Jane and Elizabeth during his childhood[1†][4†].

De Quincey’s father died in 1793, leaving the family with sufficient financial resources for the time being[1†]. De Quincey was educated in private schools and quickly showed a gift for language in general[1†][4†]. When he was about eight, he impressed a local bookseller by translating a book of a Latin-language copy of the Bible into English at sight, and by the time he was 15 he could speak, read, and write ancient Greek fluently[1†][4†]. One teacher at the Bath Grammar School remarked to a visitor that De Quincey could have given a better oration in front of an ancient Athenian mob than he, the teacher, could have done before an English one[1†][4†].

In 1801, De Quincey began attending the Manchester Grammar School, a prep school-like institution that could have earned him a valuable Oxford University scholarship[1†][4†]. He learned some important literary lessons while he was there, reading the early works of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and other English Romantic poets who would greatly influence his own writing in the future[1†][4†][1†].

Career Development and Achievements

Thomas De Quincey’s career was marked by his prolific writings and his significant contributions to literature. His journey began when he was still at college in 1804, where he took his first opium to relieve the pain of facial neuralgia[2†]. By 1813, he had become a regular and confirmed opium-eater, a habit that would persist for the rest of his life[2†].

De Quincey was an early admirer of “Lyrical Ballads”, and in 1807, he became a close associate of its authors, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge[2†]. He rented Wordsworth’s former home, Dove Cottage at Grasmere, on and off from 1809 to 1833[2†]. In 1817, De Quincey married Margaret Simpson, who had already borne him a son[2†].

Despite his personal struggles, De Quincey’s professional achievements were remarkable. He wrote voluminously, though he published almost nothing initially[2†]. His financial position as head of a large family went from bad to worse until the appearance of “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” (1821) in London Magazine made him famous[2†]. It was reprinted as a book in 1822[2†]. The avowed purpose of the first version of the “Confessions” is to warn the reader of the dangers of opium, and it combines the interest of a journalistic exposé of a social evil, told from an insider’s point of view, with a somewhat contradictory picture of the subjective pleasures of drug addiction[2†].

De Quincey’s earliest work was “Juvenilia” (1799–1800), and his latest work was “Appendix to ‘Lord Carlisle on Pope’” (1859)[2†][5†]. His writings covered a wide range of subjects, including history, biography, economics, psychology, and German metaphysics[2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Thomas De Quincey’s literary career was marked by a series of notable works, each contributing to his reputation as a profound thinker and eloquent writer[1†][6†][7†].

Each of these works contributed to De Quincey’s reputation as a profound and innovative thinker. His writings, particularly “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater”, had a significant impact on literature and remain influential to this day[1†][6†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Thomas De Quincey, born in 1785 and died in 1859, was an autobiographer and essayist best known for his work “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” (1821, 1856), which is considered the foundational modern account of drug addiction[9†]. His prolific output for the periodical press also included memorable reminiscences of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and their circle[9†].

De Quincey’s work is characterized by its highly poetic and imaginative prose, making it an enduring masterpiece of English style[9†][10†]. As a critic, he is best known for the essay “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth” (1823)[9†][10†]. His writings, particularly “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater”, had a significant impact on literature and remain influential to this day[9†][10†].

His critical and narrative prose includes his skilled rewriting of a German forgery of a Waverly novel, as well as such better-known works as ‘Suspiria de Profundis’, ‘Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts’, ‘On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth’, ‘The English Mail-Coach,’ and 'Wordsworth’s Poetry’[9†][11†][12†].

De Quincey was admired in 19th-century Britain, France, and America as the prophet of opium, and as a prose stylist in both grand and comic veins[9†]. His reputation declined in the first half of the 20th century, but rose again starting in the 1960s, with renewed interest in his contributions to drug literature, autobiography, and British and European Romanticism[9†].

Personal Life

Thomas De Quincey married Margaret Simpson in 1816[13†]. Together, they had eight children, but tragically, only four survived infancy[13†]. De Quincey’s life was marked by personal loss, with the death of his wife Margaret in 1837[13†]. His son Paul migrated to New Zealand, while his three daughters took care of him when they were older[13†].

De Quincey’s personal life was also characterized by his friendships with notable figures of his time. While living in Cumbria, he became good friends with Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge[13†][14†]. He reportedly endeared himself to the Lakes Poets through extravagant gifts[13†][14†].

Despite his personal challenges, including his struggles with opium addiction and debt[13†][1†], De Quincey’s life was rich in experiences and relationships. His personal life, much like his professional one, was complex and full of contrasts.

Conclusion and Legacy

Thomas De Quincey’s life and work have left a significant impact on literature and the genre of addiction literature in particular[1†][14†]. His most famous work, “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” (1821), is considered a masterpiece of English style[1†][10†] and has inspired the genre of addiction literature[1†][14†]. The highly poetic and imaginative prose of this work has ensured its enduring popularity[1†][10†].

As a critic, De Quincey is best known for the essay “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth” (1823)[1†][10†]. His writings cover a wide range of subjects including history, biography, economics, psychology, and German metaphysics[1†][2†]. His unique style and profound insights have left a lasting impact on these fields[1†][2†].

Despite his personal struggles with opium addiction and debt[1†], De Quincey’s legacy as a writer and critic remains strong. His life, marked by sensitivity, precocity, and a deep reverence for literature, continues to inspire and influence writers and readers alike[1†][2†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Thomas De Quincey [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Thomas De Quincey: British author [website] - link
  3. Wikiwand - Thomas De Quincey - Wikiwand [website] - link
  4. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Thomas De Quincey Biography [website] - link
  5. Oxford Scholarly Editions - Thomas De Quincey - ThomasDe Quincey [website] - link
  6. GradeSaver - Thomas De Quincey Biography [website] - link
  7. Unknwon error - link
  8. Wikisource (English) - Thomas De Quincey [website] - link
  9. Oxford Bibliographies - Thomas De Quincey - British and Irish Literature [website] - link
  10. Britannica - Thomas De Quincey summary [website] - link
  11. Springer Link - Thomas de Quincey: Knowledge and Power [website] - link
  12. Stanford University SearchWorks - Thomas De Quincey : knowledge and power in SearchWorks catalog [website] - link
  13. SunSigns - Thomas De Quincey Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  14. TheLakeDistrict.org - Thomas De Quincey [website] - link
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