Biography of Thomas de Quincey

Thomas de Quincey

Thomas de Quincey was a nineteenth century author famous for writing “Confessions of an English Opium Eater”.

When and Where was he Born?

15th August 1785, 86 Cross Street, Manchester, England.

De Quincey's birthplace
The site of Thomas De Quincey’s birthplace is now a Betting Shop in Cross Street, Manchester (copyright Anthony Blagg)
De Quincey Plaque
Close up of plaque (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Family Background:

Thomas De Quincey was the fifth child and second son (of eight children) of a successful and wealthy linen merchant.

Education:

Schools at Salford, Bath and Winkfield. Manchester Grammar School (Ran away from aged 17). Worcester College, Oxford (failed to take degree).

Timeline of Thomas De Quincey:

1792: Death of his father and taken by his mother to live in Bath.

1802: De Quincey ran away from school and toured Wales with the blessing of his mother and his uncle. Finally ended up living in London with a prostitute called Ann.

1803: He returned to his family.

1804: De Quincey first started using opium at Worcester College, Oxford when he used it for relief from neuralgia.

1807: Her meets Samuel Taylor Coleridge for the first time in Bath. Travels as escort to the Lake District with Sara Coleridge and her two sons whilst Coleridge is lecturing in London.

1809: He rented Dove Cottage, Grasmere after it was vacated by Wordsworth and Coleridge so that he could be near the two poets.

Dove Cottage
Dove Cottage, Grasmere, Cumbria. Home to the Wordsworth’s and later De Quincey. (copyright  Anthony Blagg)

1812: De Quincey started a series of illnesses which meant he took stronger and stronger doses of laudanum (opium in solution, usually of brandy).

1813: He was now taking up to ten wine glasses of opium a day.

1817: Now taking opium daily. Having used up all of his private fortune from his family he had to earn a living as a journalist and was appointed the Editor of the local Tory newspaper the Westmoreland Gazette. Moved into Nab Cottage the home of Margaret (Peggy) Simpson, a farmer’s daughter made pregnant and married.

1821: De Quincey left Dove Cottage in Grasmere and moved to London where he wrote for Blackwood’s Magazine and the London Magazine. Published his most famous work “Confessions of an English Opium Eater”. It became an instant bestseller and an inspiration to other writers.

Tavistock Square sire of Opium Eater
The house at 36 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, London 
that Thomas de Quincey lived in while writing, “Confessions of an English Opium Eater”  (copyright  Anthony Blagg)

1826: He moved to Edinburgh with his wife and family of eight children.

1828: He lodged with Professor John Wilson.

1831: Imprisoned for his debts.

1832: Death of one of his sons aged two.

1833: De Quincey convicted twice more for debts.

1834: He was convicted three times for debts. Death of another of his sons aged eighteen.

1837: After the death of his wife, known as Peggy, he was convicted twice more for debts. Began taking laudanum more and more frequently. Hartley Coleridge, the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, moves into Nab Cottage with him and is to remain there until he died in 1849.

Nab Cottage
Nab Cottage, Rydal, Lake District. Now a college. (copyright  Anthony Blagg)

1841: De Quincey moved briefly to Glasgow to try and escape from his creditors.

1842: One of his sons died fighting in the Opium Wars in China.

1843: Lived in a small cottage in Lasswade.

1850: De Quincey moved back to Edinburgh. His works began to be put out in book form by publishers both in Britain and the United States.

When and Where did he Die?

8th December 1859. Polton, Midlothian (Near Edinburgh), Scotland.

Age at Death:

74.

Written Works:

1821: “Confessions of an English Opium Eater”. “Recollections of the Lakes and the Lake Poets”.
1823: “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth.”
1825: “Walladmor”.
1827: “On Murder Considered as One of the Many Fine Arts”.
1832: “Klosterheim, or the Masque”.
1834: “Lake Reminiscences”.
1844: “The Logic of Political Economy”.
1845: “Suspira de Profundis”.
1849: “The English Mail Coach”.
1853: “Autobiographical Sketches”.
1853: “Selections Grave and Gay.”
(1889): Collected Writings”.

Marriage:

1817: Margaret (Peggy) Simpson, a farmer’s daughter whom he had made pregnant. (died 1837).

Site of Grave:

Saint Cuthbert’s (West) Churchyard in Edinburgh next to his wife and two of his children.

Places of Interest:

CUMBRIA:

Dove Cottage Museum and Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere.
Nab Cottage, Rydal. Now a language school.

EDINBURGH:

Saint Cuthbert’s Churchyard.