A Chronology of Thomas De Quincey


1785Born (15 August) in Manchester, son of Thomas Quincey, textile importer, and Elizabeth Penson.
1790Death of his sister Jane, aged three.
1792Death of his sister Elizabeth, aged nine.
1793Death of his father.
1796Moves to Bath. Enters Bath Grammar School. His mother takes the name “De Quincey.”
1799Enters Winkfield School, Wiltshire. Reads Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which he later describes as “the greatest event in the unfolding of my own mind.”
1800His translation from Horace’s Twenty-Second Ode wins third prize in a contest, and is published in The Monthly Preceptor. Accidentally meets George III at Frogmore. Summer holiday in Ireland. Enters Manchester Grammar School.
1801Spends summer in Everton, near Liverpool, where he meets William Roscoe, James Currie, and other Whig intellectuals.
1802 Flees from Manchester Grammar School. Wanders in North Wales and then spends four months penniless and hungry on the streets of London.
1803 Reconciled with his mother and guardians. Spends another summer in Everton. Reads gothic fiction voraciously. Plans literary career: “I have besides always intended of course that poems should form the corner-stones of my fame.” Deepening admiration for Coleridge, whom he begins to think the “greatest man that has ever appeared.” Writes fan letter to Wordsworth, and the two begin a correspondence. Enters Worcester College, Oxford.
1804Begins occasional use of opium. Meets Charles Lamb.
1805Travels to the Lake District to meet Wordsworth, but loses his nerve and turns back without meeting the poet.
1806 Travels again to the Lake District to meet Wordsworth, and again loses his nerve. He writes his ‘Constituents of Happiness,’ a list of twelve items that includes ‘some great intellectual project,’ ‘health and vigour,’ and ‘the education of a child.’
1807Meets Coleridge. Gives him three hundred pounds under the polite pretence of a “loan.” Escorts Coleridge’s family to the Lake District and meets Wordsworth at Grasmere.
1808Sees Coleridge daily and assists him with his lectures for the Royal Institution on Poetry and Principles of Taste. Bolts from Oxford midway through his final examinations and does not receive his degree. Introduced to John Wilson, the future “Christopher North” of Blackwood’s Magazine. The two become close friends.
1809 Supervises the printing of Wordsworth’s pamphlet on The Convention of Cintra, and contributes a lengthy “Postscript on Sir John Moore’s Letters.” Moves to Grasmere, where he rents Dove Cottage, the former home of the Wordsworths. With Wilson and Alexander Blair, publishes ‘The Letter of Mathetes’ in Coleridge’s metaphysical newspaper The Friend.
1810Enters period of greatest intimacy with Wordsworth and Coleridge. Reads manuscript of Wordsworth’s Prelude.
1812Enters the Middle Temple briefly to read for the Bar. Grief-stricken by the death of Wordsworth’s three-year-old daughter Catherine.
1813Becomes addicted to opium. Strained relations with the Wordsworths. Courts Margaret Simpson, the daughter of a Lake District farmer.
1814 Visits Edinburgh with Wilson, where he meets leading members of the Scottish literary scene, including J. G. Lockhart, the future biographer of Walter Scott, and James Hogg, the “Ettrick Shepherd.”
1816Birth of son, William Penson, by Margaret Simpson. Estranged from the Wordsworths.
1817Marries Margaret Simpson. William Blackwood founds and edits Blackwood’s Magazine, with Wilson, Lockhart, and Hogg as major contributors.
1818 Publishes the Tory jeremiad “Close Comments Upon a Straggling Speech,“ a denunciation of Henry Brougham, Independent Whig candidate in the parliamentary election campaign in Westmorland. Appointed editor of the local Tory newspaper, The Westmorland Gazette. Battles debt and addiction. Lucid opium nightmares.
1819Dismissed from editorship of The Westmorland Gazette. With Wilson and Lockhart, writes review of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Revolt of Islam for Blackwood’s Magazine.
1821Translation of Friedrich Schiller’s “The Sport of Fortune” published in Blackwood’s Magazine. Quarrels with William Blackwood. Publishes Confessions of an English Opium-Eater in the London Magazine. Conversations with John Keats’s friend Richard Woodhouse.
1822First publication of the Confessions in book form. Projects a work entitled Confessions of a Murderer but it does not appear.
1823 Notes from the Pocket Book of a Late Opium-Eater, including “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth,” in the London Magazine. Appears as “The Opium-Eater” in the “Noctes Ambrosianae,” a series of raucous and wide-ranging dialogues published in Blackwood’s Magazine (completed 1835), and written in the main by John Wilson.
1824 Unfavourable review of Thomas Carlyle’s translation of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship in The London Magazine.
1825 Translates and abridges the German pseudo-Waverley novel Walladmor. Leaves The London Magazine.
1826 Rejoins Blackwood’s Magazine, where he publishes his review of Robert Gillies’s German Stories, and begins his ‘Gallery of German Prose Classics’ (completed 1827), which includes portraits of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Immanuel Kant.
1827 The first instalment of “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts” in Blackwood’s Magazine. Begins to write for The Edinburgh Saturday Post. Meets Carlyle and an intimacy develops.
1828“The Toilette of the Hebrew Lady” and “Elements of Rhetoric” in Blackwood’s Magazine.
1829“Sketch of Professor Wilson“ in The Edinburgh Literary Gazette.
1830“Kant in his Miscellaneous Essays,” “Richard Bentley,” and a series of heated Tory diatribes, including “French Revolution” and “Political Anticipations,” in Blackwood’s Magazine. Moves permanently to Edinburgh.
1831 “Dr Parr and his Contemporaries” in Blackwood’s Magazine. Prosecuted for debt.
1832 Klosterheim: or, the Masque, a one-volume gothic romance, published by William Blackwood. ‘In purity of style and idiom’ the novel reaches ‘an excellence’ to which Walter Scott ‘appears never to have aspired,’ Coleridge observes. Briefly imprisoned twice for debt. Death of son Julius, age three.
1833 Contributes a translation of Kant’s “Age of the Earth” and an assessment of “Mrs Hannah More” to Tait’s Magazine, the leading Scottish rival of Blackwood’s Magazine. Prosecuted for debt four times. Takes refuge in debtor’s sanctuary at Holyrood.
1834 ‘Samuel Taylor Coleridge’ (completed 1835) and ‘Sketches of Life and Manners from the Autobiography of a Late Opium-Eater’ (completed 1841) in Tait's Magazine. Five times prosecuted for debt. Death of eldest son William – ‘the crown and glory of my life’ – from acute leukaemia. Death of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blackwood, and Charles Lamb. Blackwood’s sons Robert and Alexander take over the management of the magazine.
1835“Oxford” and “A Tory’s Account of Toryism, Whiggism, and Radicalism” in Tait’s Magazine.
1837“The Revolt of the Tartars” in Blackwood’s Magazine. Prosecuted for debt on ten occasions. Grief-stricken by the death of his wife Margaret.  
1838Two tales of terror, “The Household Wreck” and “The Avenger,” in Blackwood’s Magazine. “Recollections of Charles Lamb” in Tait’s Magazine.
1839“Second Paper on Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts” in Blackwood’s Magazine. “William Wordsworth” in Tait’s Magazine.
1840 The Opium and the China Question’ in Blackwood's Magazine. Prosecuted for debt. Flees Edinburgh for Glasgow.
1841Visits J. P. Nichol at the Glasgow Observatory.
1842Death of his son, Lieutenant Horace De Quincey in China, aged twenty-two.
1843Moves to Mavis Bush Cottage, Lasswade, outside Edinburgh.
1844Publishes one-volume treatise on The Logic of Political Economy with Blackwood.
1845 ‘Coleridge and Opium-Eating’ and ‘Suspiria de Profundis’ in Blackwood's Magazine. John Blackwood becomes editor ofBlackwood's Magazine. ‘On Wordsworth’s Poetry’ and ‘Notes on Gilfillan’s “Gallery of Literary Portraits”: Godwin, Foster, Hazlitt, Shelley, Keats’ (completed 1846) in Tait's Magazine.
1846“System of the Heavens as Revealed by Lord Rosse’s Telescope” in Tait’s Magazine.
1847“Joan of Arc” and “The Nautico-Military Nun of Spain” in Tait’s Magazine.
1848“Final Memorials of Charles Lamb” in The North British Review. Meets Ralph Waldo Emerson.
1849 Briefly imprisoned for debt. “The English Mail-Coach,” his last essay for Blackwood’s Magazine.
1850 Contributes several essays to Hogg’s weekly magazine, The Instructor. Ticknor, Reed, and Fields of Boston begin publication of De Quincey's Writings (twenty-two volumes, completed 1856). Death of Wordsworth.
1851“Lord Carlisle on Pope,” his last essay for Tait’s Magazine.
1853 Begins sometimes extensive revision of his work for Selections Grave and Gay, an edition issued by the Edinburgh publisher James Hogg (fourteen volumes, completed 1860). Autobiographic Sketches appear as Volumes One and Two (completed 1854). Much of ‘Suspiria de Profundis’ is folded into Volume One.
1854Takes lodgings at 42 Lothian Street, Edinburgh . Publishes his “Postscript” to “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts” in Volume Four of Selections Grave and Gay. Death of Wilson.
1856Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, revised and expanded, appears as Volume V of Selections Grave and Gay. Begins to contribute to Hogg’s monthly magazine, The Titan.
1857Publishes his pamphlet on China with Hogg. Articles on the Indian Mutiny for The Titan (completed 1858).
1859 Dies (8 December) in Edinburgh. Buried beside Margaret in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard. Hearing of the death, Charles Baudelaire spoke of De Quincey as having ‘one of the most original’ minds in ‘all of England.’

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