On 'De Quincey in Glasgow'

by Paula Jansen

Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) is most famous for his work Confessions of an English-Opium Eater, published in 1822. From an early age, he got the reputation of being a brilliant classicist. He was educated at different schools, but this ended abruptly when he ran away to Wales at the age of 17. In 1802 and 1803 he lived in London, being very poor, before returning home. This is also described in his work. He went back to school in 1804 in Oxford, where he first began to use opium to relieve acute neuralgia pains. He soon became addicted.
Later in his life (in 1841-1843), when he was still heavily addicted to opium, De Quincey's debts were so high that he decided to hide from his creditors in Glasgow. It is probable that Morgan used this period in De Quincey's life, of which not much is known, as the basis for this sonnet.
Morgan shows De Quincey as a severe addict, who needs his drug to make it through the day. His days are bleak, filled with laudanum and writing (he still wrote articles for several magazines and newspapers). His world consists of his room in Rottenrow, a street in Glasgow that looks out on the cemetery called the Necropolis.
This cemetery also plays an important role in the opium dream Morgan sketches at the end of the sonnet. In this dream De Quincey sees the cemetery come to life, with the bloody image of "the dripping bronze of a used kris". This can not only refer to a grave monument that De Quincey sees under the influence of opium, but the whole image can also be connected to one of his articles titled "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" for which he wrote a supplementary paper in 1839.
Again Morgan combines in this sonnet facts and the personal, but fictionalised perspective, of a historical figure.

 

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