Thomas De Quincey

Thomas De Quincey, who is best known for his “Confessions of an English Opium Eater”, was born on 15 August 1785 in Manchester, England. He also wrote a wonderful book of gossip and memories of the Lake Poets, called “Recollections of the Lakes and Lake Poets”. He was educated at schools in Bath and Winkfield. At the age of seventeen he ran way from Manchester Grammar School to Wales, with the knowledge and support of his mother and uncle (his father, who was a wealthy linen merchant, died in 1793). However, before returning home, he lived in London in extreme poverty. It was whilst he was studying at Worcester College in Oxford in 1804 that he became an addict. He used it at first to relieve acute neuralgia pains, but steadily increased the dosage. He left Oxford without taking his degree.

He was an early fan of William Wordsworth. He had previously made three separate attempts to visit Wordsworth at Dove Cottage, however, each time his nerved failed him and he retreated. Fortunately, on a visit to the town of Bath in 1807 he met the romantic writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge introduced his new friend to Robert Southey and William Wordsworth. In 1808 De Quincey took over the lease of Dove Cottage when Wordsworth and family moved out. Although he became a daily user of opium, he was able to control his habit successfully until approximately 1817.

Dorothy Wordsworth, who made him some curtains for Dove Cottage, was amazed at the huge amount of books he installed in the house. He, unfortunately, upset the Wordsworths by knocking down their summer house at Dove Cottage and by cutting down the orchard to allow more light into the cottage. Dorothy refused to speak to him after that. He further enraged the Wordsworths by having an affair with a local farmer’s daughter, Margaret Simpson, whom he eventually married and had eight children with. She came from Nab Cottage in Ambleside. He moved into The Nab in 1829, however, he kept Dove Cottage to store all his books. He became the second editor of the Westmorland Gazette, but was fired for not going to the office. He died on 8 December 1859 in Edinburgh.

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