Thomas De Quincey (dih KWIHN-see), a close associate of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, was near the center of the Romantic movement in England. Like the other Romantics, he placed great emphasis on feeling. He was a master of the curious and obscure in literature and was a creator of a poetic prose that, in its range of diction and display of surprising fancy, is the equal of any writing of his time. It is prose written by an isolated man, a man in whom dream and vigor are not antithetical.
De Quincey was the fifth child in a family of eight children. His busy and stern parents soon alienated De Quincey, who was a sensitive and quiet child much in need of understanding. The boy’s only comfort within his own family was an unusually close devotion to one of his sisters, whose untimely death left him alone, disturbed, and morose.
Since both of De Quincey’s parents were well-educated and interested in scholarship, he at least did not lack for opportunity of study. A brilliant if somewhat unbalanced boy, he could read, write, and speak Greek “as though it were his native tongue” by the age of fifteen. Dissatisfied with the restrictions of his home and by his own shortcomings, De Quincey fled his home at the age of seventeen. For almost a year, he hid in London, where he led a frugal and difficult life of study and introspection. There, he performed his deep reading of English poets, a reading characteristic of all the Romantics. This period he later called an “impassioned parenthesis of my life.” After reconciliation with his family, he was allowed to enter Oxford University in 1803. There, he quickly won the reputation of brilliant scholar and conversationalist, but in 1808 he left without taking a degree.
When De Quincey was about twenty he began to experience severe pain. Some say it was a stomach...
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