« ForrigeFortsett »
Biographical Introduction DE QUINCEY held that his family was not of recent French importation, but that it" came over with the Conquest.” For some generations before his own period, however, the Quinceys were unknown and insignificant persons; and his father spelt the name without the dignified prefix de. De Quincey describes his father as “ literary to the extent of having written a book.” The book was a description of a tour in the Midland counties, and was published when the author, who was then a commercial traveller, was twenty-three years of age. Five years later Thomas Quincey was a considerable merchant in Manchester with business transactions extending so far as America and the West Indies. His ill-health necessitated constant sojourns abroad, and when he was barely forty he died of consumption; but he left his affairs in good order, and his wife and children inherited a fortune of sixteen hundred pounds a year.
Thomas de Quincey was the fifth child and the second son, and was born at The Farm, just outside Manchester, on the 15th of August 1785. “ The general impression he conveys of himself,” says Professor Masson, “ from his second or third year upwards, is that of a diminutive, shy, sensitive and dreamy child, moving about, when out of doors, always among young brothers and sisters in a home of wealthy and even luxurious elegance.
..” Mrs de Quincey was a strict religionist of the antique evangelical type, and she had her son instructed in the rudiments of knowledge by a clergyman. In a year or two she sent him to the Bath Grammar School, but an illness, which was the result of a blow on the head given to him by an usher, caused her to remove him to a school at Winkfield in Wiltshire, of which the chief recommendation lay in the religious character of the master. About this time Lord Westport, the son of the Marquis of Sligo, induced de Quincey to accompany him upon a tour of his father's estates in Ireland. De Quincey was present at the last sittings of the Irish House of Peers, when the Act of Union was passed, and during his travels, he tells us that he met a young lady with whom for a day he discussed Latin poetry: “From this day,” he says, “I was an altered creature, never again relapsing into the careless, irreflective mind of childhood." Upon his return home, he was sent to the Manchester Grammar School, but de Quincey was no longer a boy, and he soon tired of the monotony of school life, from which intellectually he could hope to derive nothing. He wanted to go to the University, and incensed by his guardian's refusal to allow him, he borrowed ten guineas from a friend, and with a volume of English poetry and an old copy of Euripides in his pockets, he ran away. He was then in his seventeenth year.
De Quincey wandered for a time among the Welsh hills. Reaching the neighbourhood of Chester he visited his mother, whose strict views made her look upon his exploit * much as she would have done upon the opening of the seventh seal in the Revelations.” But by the offices of his uncle, Colonel Thomas Penson, he was given a guinea a week and granted permission to roam abroad at will. He wandered on to London, and commenced the period of vagrancy in the slums, which he describes with so much magic in the Confessions. A reconciliation with his friends enabled him in the autumn of 1803 to enter Worcester College, Oxford, and he remained at the University, with occasional outbursts of vagrancy, until 1808. In the course of one of these excursions de Quincey visited Coleridge, whose disciple he had become, at Nether Stowey, and later on presented the poet with a gift of three hundred pounds anonymously, which he could ill afford. Through Coleridge, de Quincey became acquainted with Wordsworth and Southey, and for some time after he left Oxford made Grasmere his residence. In 1816 he married the daughter of a farmer of the neighbourhood.