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Alphabe Thursday Q is for Thomas de Quincey

March 12, 2015

quincey1Along my walking alphabet I meet Thomas Penson De Quincey 1785 – 1859) was an English essayist and a close friend of  William Wordsworth.

As a school boy De Quincey read the poems of Wordsworth. It is said that the Lyrical Ballads (1798) had consoled him in fits of depression and hoped one day to meet him. He walked many miles to fulfil his dream but he was not able to finance the journey so lived close to starvation rather than return home to his family.  So after a poor start to his further education he did get a place at Worcester College, Oxford. Here, he met among others William Wordsworth (1770-1850) he left university before graduating and moved to to Grasmere, in the Lake District in 1809; and they became neighbours.

Sometimes De Quincey joined his friend on walks in the Pennines.  It would seem that William Wordsworth’s  legs were often discussed among females knowledgeable on the subject and were ‘pointedly condemned’ Thomas De Quincey replied ‘ There is no deformity about them ; and undoubtedly they have been serviceable legs beyond the average of human requisition; for I calculate, upon good data, that with these identical legs Wordsworth must have traversed a distance of 175-180,000 English miles – a mode of exertion, which to him, stood in the stead of wine, spirits, and other stimulants whatsoever to the animal spirits; to which he has been indebted for a life of unclouded happiness, and we for much of what is most excellent in his writings’.    

De Quincey went on to have a lifelong passion for walking comparable to Wordsworth. We cannot measure the pleasure, but it is noted that walking was neither a subject nor a compositional method for the younger writer; perhaps he had other things on his mind. He was among the first to go on a walking tour with a tent; during his previously mentioned wanderings he needed to save money so it was a sensible alternative to lodging houses.

De Quincey’s best writing about walking was about the prowling the streets of London.  We understand from his book the Confessions of an English opium eater , that he at the age of 17  ran away from a dull school and unsympathetic guardians; as a destitute youth; it was a  very different kind of walking and writing. For 16 weeks he starved and made friends with other female street walkers  who protected him against watchman who tried to drive him away.

For De Quincey his time in London was to have a profound effect of him and while there was no sequel, the rest of the book was devoted to the effects of opium and the rest of his life in rural places.  

alphabet thursday


8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2015 2:35 pm

    Very educational and informative Q post!

    Happy Weekend to you,
    artmusedog and carol

  2. March 12, 2015 9:26 pm

    I love stopping by. I am always learning something here. Thank you, this was a fascinating share!

    • March 12, 2015 10:05 pm

      I always enjoy writing the Thursday blog post … thank you for the visit and kind comment

  3. March 13, 2015 10:50 pm

    You’ve introduced me to another person I would not have ever learned about if i didn’t stop by. Thank you!

  4. March 13, 2015 11:46 pm

    All that walking and he only lived to be 74? I guess that was a ripe old age back then. Very interesting reading about his life.

  5. March 27, 2015 5:23 pm

    Although made famous by Confessions of an Opium-Eater, De Quincey should be further remembered for his other great passion: translation of German literature

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