Thomas de Quincey

Portrait of Thomas de Quincey

Thomas de Quincey was an English author most famous for writing “Confessions of an English Opium Eater”. He was born on 15th August 1785 in Manchester, England and died on 8th December 1859 in Polton, Midlothian, Scotland aged 74.

Major Works

“The Confessions of an English Opium Eater” (1821)
“Walladmor” (1825)
“On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts” (1827)
“Lake Reminiscences” (1834–40)
“The Logic of Political Economy” (1844)

Biography Timeline

Thomas De Quincey was born on 15th August 1785 at 86 Cross Street, Manchester, England and was the fifth child and second son (of eight children) of Thomas, a successful and wealthy linen merchant and his wife Elizabeth Penson. He was educated at schools at Salford, Bath and Winkfield then Manchester Grammar School which he ran away from aged 17. He later went to Worcester College, Oxford but failed to take his degree.

1793: His father dies.

1796: He is taken by his mother to live in Bath and enters the Grammar School. His mother takes the name “De Quincey.”

1799: He goes to Winkfield School, Wiltshire where he reads Wordsworth and Coleridge’sLyrical Ballads“, which he describes as “the greatest event in the unfolding of my own mind.”

1800: He wins a prize for his translation from Horace’s Twenty-Second Ode. 

1802: He runs away from school and tours Wales without the blessing of his mother and his uncle. He finally ends up penniless living in London with a prostitute called Ann.

1803: He returns to his family. He writes a fan letter to Wordsworth and the two begin a correspondence. He enters Worcester College, Oxford.

1804: He first starts using opium at Oxford when he uses it for relief from neuralgia. He meets Charles Lamb for the first time.

1807: He meets Samuel Taylor Coleridge for the first time in Bath and gives him £300 which he pretends is a loan. He travels as an escort to the Lake District with Sara Coleridge and her two sons whilst Coleridge is lecturing in London. He finally meets Wordsworth in Grasmere.

1808: He works with Coleridge on his lectures for the Royal Institution on Poetry and Principles of Taste. He runs away from Oxford during his final examinations and does not receive his degree.

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

1812: He enters the Middle Temple in London briefly to study for the Bar (as a lawyer). He starts a series of illnesses which meant he took stronger and stronger doses of laudanum (opium in solution, usually of brandy).

1816: Birth of his son, called William Penson, with Margaret Simpson a farmer’s daughter (known as Peggy) and he becomes estranged from the Wordsworths due to his erratic behaviour.

1817: He is still taking opium daily. He marries Peggy and he moves into her home Nab Cottage in the Lake District.

1818: He has to earn a living as a journalist and is appointed the Editor of the local Tory newspaper the Westmoreland Gazette.

1819: He is sacked as Editor of the Gazette. He writes a review of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “The Revolt of Islam” for Blackwood’s Magazine.

1821: He moves to London where he writes for Blackwood’s Magazine and the London Magazine. He publishes his most famous work “Confessions of an English Opium Eater” in serial form.

1825: He leaves the London Magazine.

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

1831: He is imprisoned for his debts.

1833: De Quincey is convicted four more times for debts and takes refuge in the Holyrood debtor’s sanctuary.

1834: He is convicted five times more for debts. 

1837: After the death of his wife, Peggy, he is convicted ten times for debts. He begins 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.

1843: He moves back to the Edinburgh area.

1850: His works begin to be put out in book form by publishers both in Britain and the United States. 

Thomas de Quincey died on 8th December 1859 at Polton, Midlothian (near Edinburgh), Scotland and was buried in Saint Cuthbert’s (West) Churchyard in Edinburgh next to his wife and two of his children.

Further Information

For more information see Britain Unlimited’s page on de Quincey here.

Gutenberg project’s list of works by de Quincy in order of popularity.