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by friends, he was persuaded to go home; and in the autumn was entered at Worcester College, Oxford.
Introduction to Opium. At the university he lived much to himself, and read extensively; and the habit of solitude which he cultivated increased natural diffidence. The result was that, after passing written examinations brilliantly, he so dreaded the orals that he ran away and hence received no degree. During these years, while on a visit to London, he first used opium, the practice to which he unquestionably owed not a little of his fame. His own minute record, however, of a not entirely successful struggle against opium would hardly lead one to desire fame at so great a cost.
To the Lake District. After the Wordsworths left Dove Cottage, Grasmere, De Quincey occupied it for a number of years. Though Wordsworth was the chief attraction in the region for him, he found another in the person of Margaret Simpson, a Westmoreland farmer's daughter, whom he married in 1816.
Publication of the "Confessions."- The year 1821, when De Quincey removed to London, stands out prominently in his life. In that year there appeared in the London Magazine, in two instalments, The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater: Being an Extract from the Life of a Scholar: and De Quincey's career as a contributor to magazines was determined. Readers who had become used to new and striking things in both poetry and prose found in this work a yet greater surprise. The intimate self-revelation, together with the wonderful style which revealed new capacities in the language, made the Confessions eclipse in interest even the Essays of Elia appearing in the same magazine.
A Peculiar Character. De Quincey returned to Grasmere, and continued to reside there until 1828. In that year he removed to Edinburgh, in and near which city he spent the remaining thirty-one years of his life. After the death of his wife in 1837, his daughters tried to make a home for him; but he was impatient of company and regularity, and
De Quincey gives a full description of the entire house in his Confessions.
occupied lodgings in various parts of Edinburgh. To the end he continued a peculiar man. He would remain in one abode, we are told, until his accumulation of books and papers made work impossible; then he would move, leaving his property behind him. One of his daughters would then follow him, sort the worthless from the valuable, and take the latter to her father's new home.
A complete list of De Quincey's works would fill several
pages of this book. Not only was he a voluminous writer; he wrote on a wide range of subjects, classified by Masson as
criticism of Goethe, in which he asserts that the German poet's reputation will sink for several generations till it reaches its proper level, is a classic of misconception. One of his literary essays, however, On the Knocking at the
Gate in Macbeth, is a classic piece of analysis and interpretation.
In his autobiographical writings De Quincey is seen at his best. These include, besides the Confessions, chapters dealing with his early life, and sketches of prominent men in the Lake District and in London.
Self-revelation in the "Confessions."- By the Confessions De Quincey will always be best known, and by them his position as a prose writer may not unfairly be determined. Even after we allow for some exaggeration, some inaccuracy of memory, and some coloring due to use of the drug, this work remains a wonderful piece of self-revelation. It is also a memorable record of a struggle even the beginning of which would be beyond most men in such a situation. The pleasures of opium are set forth in picturesque language that might tempt the unwary; but this is followed by a presentation of the pains of opium forceful enough to deter the most daring.
Defects of De Quincey's Style. We have said that De Quincey is to readers of to-day important for his style, and that it is not a style altogether meritorious or the reverse. There is a tendency frequently to use too many unfamiliar words of Latin origin, such as "pandiculation," "hypochondriacally," sternutation." His sentences too frequently run to unwieldy lengths, and are made more objectionable by digressions. He too often drops suddenly from a dignified to almost a colloquial manner.
Chief Attraction of his Style. These and more serious defects one can overlook in view of the quality that is properly described as "poetical." This quality is apparent
on almost every page in that wonderful apostrophe to opium, beginning:
"Oh! just, subtle, and mighty opium!"
in the contrasting of " the beautiful English face of the girl" and "the sallow and bilious skin of the Malay; " in various descriptions of an opium-eater; and in accounts of tremendous opium "dreams." Despite his digressions, De Quincey shows also great constructive power; and the combination of this with the flow of poetical, "impassioned" language results in literary art of a high order.
In addition to reaching great heights in poetry and essay, the Romantic period is marked by high achievements in another field, the novel. Of the two chief novelists of the period we may say that each created a type of novel, and attained a preeminence in that type which has not yet been successfully disputed. Sir Walter Scott, the "Wizard of the North," is still, after a century of imitation, our foremost historical novelist; Miss Austen, in like manner, remains our foremost writer of the novel of social comedy.
SIR WALTER SCOTT, 1771-1832
One of the fullest, most varied, and most attractive lives to be found in the annals of literature is that of Sir Walter Scott. His literary life began, while he was engaged in the practice of law, with translations from the German; proceeded with a collection of ballads from the Border peasantry; continued with a series of romances in verse; with lives of Napoleon, Dryden, Swift, and the novelists; extensive editions of the works of Dryden and Swift; essays on a