AddThis Smart Layers

Mr Hogg re-launches the Opium Eater

Thomas De Quincey was born in Manchester in 1785 to a prosperous linen merchant. As a young boy he read widely and acquired a reputation as a brilliant classicist. "That boy," said his headmaster at Bath Grammar School, "that boy could harangue an Athenian mob, better than you or I could address an English one."

Thomas De Quincey “was the only Romantic to have had his photograph taken.” The daguerreotype was done by James Howie in Edinburgh in 1850. De Quincey was around sixty-five years old at the time. An engraving was subsequently made from it by Frank Croll. (Source: Nick Louras 2019)

At seventeen, De Quincey ran away from Manchester Grammar School and spent five harrowing months penniless and hungry on the streets of London, an episode recorded with great vividness in his best-known work, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Reconciled with his family, he entered Oxford in 1804, but left four years later without taking his degree.

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey ~ 1950 edition, The Heritage Press , New York

He moved to the English Lake District to be near his two literary idols, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. After an initial period of intimacy, he was gradually estranged from both men, and in 1813 he became dependent on opium, a drug he began experimenting with during his student days at Oxford. Over the next few years he slid deeper into debt and addiction before penury forced him to join Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1819 at the urging of his close friend John Wilson.

Following the success of the Confessions, he produced over two hundred magazine articles on topics ranging from philosophy and history to aesthetics, economics, literary criticism and contemporary politics. His well-known essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" was published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1827, and a second instalment appeared in the same magazine in 1839. His many "Literary Reminiscences" of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Robert Southey and others appeared in Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine beginning in 1834. Blackwood’s published his 1845 sequel to the Confessions, 'Suspiria de Profundis.'

In 1854, as his Collected Works were appearing, The Westminster Review praised De Quincey’s writings as "filled with passages of a power and beauty which have never been surpassed by any other prose writer of the age." The same year The Eclectic Review noted that, when completed, De Quincey’s Works would "constitute the most valuable and most enduring collection of papers, which had originally appeared in a periodical form, to be found in the entire world of literature."

De Quincey died in Edinburgh on 8 December 1859.

Source : The Homepage of Thomas De Quincey is devoted to the study of the life and writings of the nineteenth-century English essayist and opium addict Thomas De Quincey

Frances Wilson's 2016 scintillating biography of Thomas De Quincey is highly recommended 

The publishers blurb captures something of the enduring allure of the man who invented the drug memoir! 'Life for De Quincey was either angels ascending on vaults of cloud or vagrants shivering on the city streets.'

Thomas De Quincey - opium-eater, celebrity journalist, and professional doppelgänger – is embedded in our culture. Modelling his character on Coleridge and his sensibility on Wordsworth, De Quincey took over the poet's former cottage in Grasmere and turned it into an opium den. Here, increasingly detached from the world, he nurtured his growing hatred of his former idols and his obsession with murder as one of the fine arts.

De Quincey may never have felt the equal of the giants of the Romantic Literature he so worshipped but the writing style he pioneered – scripted and sculptured emotional memoir – was to inspire generations of writers: Dickens, Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf. James Joyce knew whole pages of his work off by heart and he was arguably the father of what we now call psychogeography. (It is what I do all the time when ambling in the cemeteries!)

Image of broken headstone in Brockley cemetery -Source : Ancestry UK.

Hidden amidst a phalanx of headstones off one of the pathways in Brockley cemetery lies one that has toppled and is lettered Edward Swinden Sanderson d.1903. But although the Rev.Sanderson who was a Headmaster in his day has a rightful claim to be remembered. He is but one of eight burials in this plot.

But the one personage of particular historic interest for this post sadly does not merit any lapidary memorial!

The Publisher James Hogg 1806-1888 is buried here -

James Robert Hogg, the son of James Hogg, was born near Edinburgh on 26 March 1806, and educated under Rev. Thomas Sheriff (died 1836) who became minister of Fala, in the presbytery of Dalkeith, in 1828. On 24 Aug 1818 Hogg was bound as an apprentice to James Muirhead, a printer in Edinburgh. He subsequently entered the book house attached to the Caledonian Mercury,

In 1837, he commenced business on his own account as a printer and publisher in Edinburgh. The first publication which bears his imprint is The Honest Waterman, a small tract brought out in 1837. On 1 March 1845 appeared the first number of Hogg's Weekly Instructor, an unsectarian periodical of promise. In 1849 the title was changed to the Instructor; later on it was known as the Titan. The last number is dated December 1859, and the entire work is comprised in 29 volumes. Hogg was his own editor, being in the later part assisted by his eldest son, James.

In 1849, he made the acquaintance of Thomas De Quincey. To the Weekly Instructor De Quincey contributed his Autobiographic Sketches and other papers, and then agreed with Hogg to bring out his Collected Works.

In 1858, Hogg's printing office was discontinued, and in the autumn of that year his sons John and James (1829-1910), who had been taken into partnership, established a branch publishing office in London, where Hogg later moved the whole business. Besides other works, including the Churchman's Family Magazine, the firm now published several series of successful juvenile books, and the periodical entitled London Society : An Illustrated Magazine of Light and Amusing Literature for the Hours of Relaxation.

One of the most popular journals of its time, at one point it attained a monthly circulation of 25,000 copies. The firm of James Hogg & Sons was dissolved in July 1867. Hogg married Helen Hutchison (1803–1890) of Hutchiestown Farm, near Dunblane, on 13 November 1832. He died at the residence of his son John, The Acacia, Crescent Road, St. John's, Kent, on 14 March 1888.

The material in the above biography was drawn from George Clement Boase - Vol 27 .Dictionary of National Biography 1891.*

* George Clement Boase, d.1897 was a well known 19c. bibliographer and antiquary. He is buried in Ladywell cemetery.