Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas de Quincey

Nicholas Spice writes:

De Quincey’s size mattered to him. He was uncommonly small. But he was also uncommonly clever, and his ambitions were large. As a young man, he idolised Wordsworth and Coleridge, and then sought them out and tried to make them his friends. For a while they all got on, but then increasingly they didn’t. Wordsworth was in the habit of condescending to De Quincey, but Wordsworth condescended to most people and anyway condescending to De Quincey was hard to resist: ‘He is a remarkable and very interesting young man,’ Dorothy Wordsworth wrote, ‘very diminutive in person, which, to strangers, makes him appear insignificant; and so modest, and so very shy.’ ‘Little Mr De Quincey is at Grasmere … I wish he were not so little, and I wish he wouldn’t leave his greatcoat always behind him on the road. But he is a very able man, with a head brimful of information,’ Southey wrote. As relations soured, the belittlements grew sardonic: for Wordsworth, De Quincey was ‘a little friend of ours’; for Lamb, ‘the animalcule’; Dorothy and Mary Wordsworth took to calling him Peter Quince. Even his friends tended to diminish him: ‘Poor little fellow!’ Carlyle exclaimed to his wife, Jane, who mused: ‘What would one give to have him in a box, and take him out to talk.’

(LRB 18 May 2017)

Other Titles of Interest