He was physically small, just under five feet tall. He was constantly in debt, hounded by his creditors, often shuttling between his family and an official sanctuary at Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh. As a young man, he stalked William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He married well below his station, and while fathering nine children he would abandon his family for months at a time.
He was also one of the most brilliant men of his age – an age that specialized in producing brilliant men (and women). His essays are still considered among the best ever written. He created a literary sub-genre – the memoir of addiction. He invented a new kind of professional critic, creating the review-like essay (still a trademark of The New York Times Book Review, The London Review of Books, and numerous other publications).
He helped invent tabloid journalism. He had a direct influence on such authors as Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte, Wilkie Collins, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jorge Luis Borges, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Charles Baudelaire, Nikolai Gogol, William Burroughs, D.H. Lawrence, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell, Henrik Ibsen, Vladimir Nabokov, and Truman Capote, to mention a few. His influence even extended to the films of Alfred Hitchcock.
Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) came of age in the Romantic era, was friends with Wordsworth and Coleridge and their families, and likely did more to shape the literary canon of the 19th and 20th centuries than any other writer. And he is the subject of a new biography, Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey, by Frances Wilson.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Painting: Thomas De Quincey, oil on canvas by Sir John Watson-Gordon (1846).