Biography / Background:
Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) was born in Manchester to a rather cultured father who worked abroad and died when De Quincey was only seven. De Quincey was raised by his dominating mother, and perhaps this, along with his accusation of the "infirmity" of the headmaster at Manchester Grammar School, is the reason he quitted it before he completed the program (his mother wanted him to attend Oxford after completing Grammar School. The precocious De Quincey wanted to transfer there early).
After leaving school in the middle of the night, De Quincey walked to Chester to return home and, with the help of an adventure-seeking uncle who spent much time in India, persuaded his mother to allow him to travel on a guinea a week. He travelled on foot through Wales sleeping at various Inns or even outside, often commenting on the "sweet pastoral hills" (279) and beauty of Wales. Eventually, however, De Quincey grew bored ("mortal ennui" ) of his ramblings through Wales and (losing his weekly allowance in the process) broke off communication with his family and went to the boundless ocean of London" ( 338) where the cacophonous sounds of London Metropolis were foreboding for the young (now) vagrant in 1802-03.
Upon arriving, De Quincey found a Jew named "Dell" (of whom no record could I find) and attempted to borrow money from him, though having been denied Mr. Dell's "handler" Mr. Brunell (or Brown) allowed De Quincey to stay at his empty mansion (Brown, henceforth known, slept in different quarters of the city every night, according to De Quincey, probably due to the nefarious nature of his litigious work as a lawyer to a money "lender;" Dell, according to De Quincey, was later tried in a money scheme). The mansion at 58 Greek Street had no furniture and was inhabited at night with a young girl (unnamed) who was either an illegitimate child or servant of Mr. Brown's; De Quincey was a vagrant by day with a prostitute he met named Ann.
After failing to obtain the loan (and a period of extreme poverty), De Quincey moved back to his Mother's briefly, but soon thereafter (1804) came back to London and it is on Oxford Street here that he both looked for Ann (and failed to find her) and took his first opium, recommended for a toothache. He remained a casual user, chiefly on Tuesdays and Saturdays so he could visit the market or the theatre while under the influence of opium; the pleasure he got from attending the theatre while under the effects of opium shows that right from the start that he did not solely take the medication for pain. Several Years later, in 1812 after Wordsworth's (who he had befriended, along with Coleridge and many other leading literary figures) daughter Catherine (at three years of age) died, De Quincey entered a deep depression and become a daily opium user until he died. De Quincey spent his remaining years at Dove Cottage (Wordsworth's old house) and various other non-London locations (including Edinburgh) educating himself in Greek, German, and philosophy, among other pursuits, and wrote many other famous works including "The English Mail-Coach" and "On Murder Considered One of the Fine Arts." He died in 1859.
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater was first published in London Magazine in 1821 and was later published as a book in 1822. The publisher (and not De Quincey, so he says) was responsible for removing many of the names in the magazine and book, some of them implicated as opium users. The book was an immediate success and become an authority on the addictive qualities and the psychological effects of Opium. In 1856, just three years before he died, De Quincey updated the Confessions, and included much more information about the younger years of his life and over doubled the size of the book. Most critics claim he ruined the Confessions by taking away the force of the book "hastily writtin," in De Quincey's words. For this reason I have used Masson's edition of De Quincey's revised text, as it included the names previously omitted in the earlier edition, as well as more biographical and geographical detail, including enough information to place Brown's house in Greek Street with confidence.
Using TAPoR tools to collocate the Confessions yields the following:
Space and Time make up 7 of the 10 words (Oxford referring to Oxford Street). Mighty is an adjective almost always used with London and Opium is an obvious high-frequency word. The way we understand time is spatial (where is De Quincey during the night? Where during the day? And where does he appear over the years?) and the necessity to spatialise De Quincey is immediately apparent after the first read.
Editor of an important complete De Quincey, David Masson, in some ways anticipates a project like this over 100 years ago: "those Autobiographic papers of De Quincey which contain what may be called more especially his 'London Reminiscences' are brought into connexion, for the first time, with his famous 'Confessions of an English Opium-Eater' The connexion is close, chronologically and otherwise" (1). By paring Confessions with odds an ends that Masson called "London Reminiscences," he has set a precedence for grouping these writings geographically or spatially; there is an important spatiality of London that explicates the work. Aletha Hayter says the book has "no firm logical structure" (17), just like De Quincey's wanderings themselves, which were incredibly important for understanding his later opium visions.
I am using the revised edition (1856) because he said it was to be his authorative, and, though many scholars (perhaps all of them) consider the first edition (1821) to be superior and the debate of authorial attention that has been so rampant suggests we need not agree with De Quincey as to its authority, the revised edition of his work is used for the main reason that it provides more information: more biographical information, and more information of the places and people are added. This information is used to create visual apparatus that will amplify, augment, and aid readers of not just the first edition, but the second edition as well. As Martyn Jessop says, "what one is investigating is not the battle itself but the observers', or the researcher's, perceptions of it" ("Visualization" 347). He is talking about the "Animating Naval Battles from the Russo-Japanese War (1905)" project, but the information conveyed in a map is the same: if it does not help us view London along with the text (which it does), it does explain how De Quincey saw London (and shows this information much more clearly than annotations ever could) and that tells us quite a bit about Confessions, as mapping holds "the potential for new research methodologies that amplify cognition" ("Digital" 281).
This textual connexion between works based on similar geography (London), as well as the importance of De Quincey’s wandering around London to his later “Pain’s” chapter where he hallucinates about London both suggest the importance of topography and geographically in De Quincey’s autobiographic literature. The connexion, “close, chronologically and otherwise,” suggests the importance of spatial relations, geographic, topographic and demographic, and as such, for the first time, in THIS edition, De Quincey’s Confessions' relationships are brought together into digital connexion with the use of digital cartography in the Digital De Quincey to allow for a further understanding of the relations and how they are important to a new way of understanding and cognatising (visualising) De Quincey’s London.
De Quincey is very cognisant of the space he exists in; he says his house is "in a conpicuous location, well known in London," and writes that, "many of the readers passed it, no doubt hours within reading this" (358). What does this say about the space? It says that it is accessible and that it is a REAL space, no matter how many people (Julian Wolfreys) suggest with a Post-modern paradigm that it is an imaginary construction of the authors. That may be true: De Quincey's London may just be a mirror that we look into, but the fact remains that De Quincey is referencing, he is mapping, a REAL place and, as such, RE-MAPPING it (in what may be called digital cartography) is important in reading De Quincey in London Res and, the REAL london reflects the IMAGINARY London, London Imaginarius.
Mapping De Quincey:
So where does De Quincey go? The following colored labels (minus pink) are areas that De Quincey goes to in connexion with Confessions of an English Opium-Eater:
A little explication of the spaces are necessary. When is De Quincey where? An annotation of the map seems necessary:
Using some of the older mapping applications I have already spoken of, it is possible to facilitate reading by finding De Quincey's territorial wanderings, which appear to be in Soho. Between 1802 and 1804, when much of De Quinceys wandering is done he mentions things almost solely in Soho in St. James's Parish. One can immediately notice, especially when mapped besides Gay's Urban Pedestrian Pastoral, that a similar spatial construction is at work: De Quincey, as a vagrant, is free to walk around the city, but chooses to stay in Soho, near the house he sleeps in at Greek Street. Interestingly, however, De Quincey (in 1804 when he no longer is connected to Mr. Brown or Ann) still mentions places, such as the Opera House, that are in or near Soho. The first noticeable thing in mapping De Quincey is where he is when: he is in Soho as a vagrant, and he is other places at other times. This creates another version of the Urban Pedestrian Pastoral, where De Quincey stays within the invisible boundaries of his enclosure.
But how does this enclosure help us read De Quincey? Well, De Quincey, who only in an "extreme case, such as [his] had now become, … should not have absolutely disdained the humble station of 'devil'" (364) was very class conscious. De Quincey, born of an intelligent man and, as a great Greek scholar and great English writer, fancied himself a rather high class gentleman. Pat Rogers, in Hacks and Dunces: Pope, Swift and Grub Street, notices that the literary Dunces in the 18th century are associated, in Scribblerian writings, with "acknowledged lowlife haunts:" St. Giles in the fields and Cripplegate Ward are the poorer part of town; by mapping De Quincey, it is evident he is not in it. John Barrell writes "De Quincey's own fear of the working class is … very evident" (3); he claims to have kept the "'working poor' under surveillance" (3). He has some class anxieties and, as he is not in the less wealthy areas to the East, but remains in Soho in his "conspicuous" mansion, he wanders around a historically wealthier area of London. Covent Garden (in the area East of Soho) is an 'acknowledged lowlife haunt' (prostitution); De Quincey spends a lot of time with a prostitute (who he makes great pains to vindicate), but he spends it in Soho Square or Oxford street. Reading De Quincey on the map helps understand the working class anxiety he held during the beginning of the 19th century. De Quincey is beside the less wealthy, but never truly among them. Barrell says, "the pleasure is not at all to pretend to be one of the working and inferior class; it is to pretend to be like them, fundamentally the same, but different in all that really concerns one's sense of identity and self-esteem" (2). Mapping De Quincey as spatially located in Soho augments this reading: while he visits the markets and the Opera House with the poor, he never really considers himself that way (though he is, in effect, penniless). The 'De' in 'De Quincey' is fabricated, and long after his mother reverted to simply 'Quincy,' Thomas kept it in order to keep a noblesse de plume: though his father was an English merchant, something De Quincey bragged about in his Confessions, he considered himself, through birthright, above being a member of the working class. Soho is not a working class neighbourhood.
Later, when he would wander down Oxford Street in search of Ann, he would look down the connecting allies "that pierce north through the heart of Marylebone to the fields and the woods" (375). By those woods and fields he means, eventually, Grasmere where his future friend Wordsworth lives (and where De Quincey would eventually live), but he also means the wild, the rural, the hinterland just north of Soho, a place in which he never ventured very far.
The Poem "West London" by Matthew Arnold "helped visualise the proximity of poverty that the rich helped to create" in what Julian Wolfreys also calls a "heterogeneous London:"
Crouch'd on the pavement close by Belgrave Square
A tramp I saw, ill, moody, and tongue-tied;
A babe was in her arms, and at her side
A girl; their clothes were rags, their feet were bare.
Some labouring men, whose work lay somewhere there,
Pass'd opposite; she touch'd her girl, who hied
Across, and begg'd and came back satisfied.
The rich she had let pass with frozen stare.
Thought I: Above her state this spirit towers;
She will not ask of aliens, but of friends,
Of sharers in a common human fate.
She turns from that cold succour, which attends
The unknown little from the unknowing great,
And points us to a better time than ours.
- Matthew Arnold
The seperation of boundaries (and not intermediary spaces) links the proximity of the poor and the not poor in the heterogenous London: De Quincey in Soho is right beside the poor in St Giles. By mapping De Quincey in Soho, we understand Confessions as a class conscious text.
Another thing that we can do (which is not unique to literary cartography - digital or otherise) by mapping De Quincey (and realising he is almost solely in Soho as a wanderer) is find the markets (394) that he visits during his opium hazes where he people watches, as he has no money to buy things. I did not search for every market De Quincey may have visited, but I can easily find several likely candidates that were in Soho:
The major advantage of online digital mapping this way is that it allows others to quickly identify these areas, either as marked by the cartography or by themselves. In standard Web 2.0 fashion it becomes communal, and allows a sharing of ideas between scholars on a level not possible in print. The maps could also be marked by more than one person and changed/amplified easily and whenever necessary.
Another feature of digital mapping I've already mentioned is the temporal mapping. We can quickly locate De Quincey in Soho if we know day it is:
Here is the same space on a different day:
The Opera House and Market are still there, but where is he? Try Oxford buying opium for his next market day:
There is not quite enough information to confidently place him anywhere particular at ANY given time, but the ability to temporally understand De Quincey's spaces yields information. In a similar way, De Quincey writes, "every night afterwards, she [Ann] should wait for me, at 6 clock, near the bottom of Great Titchfield Street; which had formerly been our customary haven of rendezvous, to prevent our missing each other in the great Mediterranean of Oxford Street" (368). If we look at a specific hour when De Quincy is wandering perhaps we can locate him:
6:00 p.m. he waits:
8:00 p.m. in the same space he has left:
10 p.m. he is back to bed:
What does this tell us? We can see where De Quincey spends his time and when. This allows the reader to understand the space in terms of time, which shows how De Quincey envisioned London at specific times. For De Quincey London isn't the Opera, it isn't waiting at Great Titchfield Street: It is the Opera on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and Great Titchfield Street at six o'clock. Not only does this show culturally important places or geographically important landmarks, it also demonstrates the necessity for mobility.
There is a noted difference between walking in England (which is incriminating) as De Quincey says "a court of pié poudré (dusty foot) might have found the evidence of the crime on my shoes" (344). There is a difference between "tramps" (342) and walking in London, where De Quincey describes himself as peripatetic (360). Peripatetic means "walking up and down," but it is also the term for Aristotlean method of teaching, where he would pace back and forth while doing so. Walking London turns him from a "tramp" to a teacher (to Ann, to himself): its educational rather than elusory.
The paradox exists here that street-walkers are considered non-productive member of society, but De Quincey has some of the most important experiences of his life while wandering London. On the other hand, opium stereotypically makes one idle and unproductive: De Quincey moves from London, where he is active, to the country, where he becomes idle. Homelessness becomes equated with motion and Homeownership becomes equated with idleness (motively speaking). De Quincey attempts to debunk the stereotype: "Thus I have shown, or tried to show, that opium does not of necessity produce inactivity or torpor; but that, on the contrary, it often led me into markets and theatres" (394). The mobility that opium produced can be visualised through the map of London: just where did he go?
De Quincey also writes most productively while using opium (he quits at various stages of his life for short unproductive spans), instead of becoming completely "idle." When he is active he is idle (not writing) but productive (he is an active member of an urban society) and when he is idle, he is active (he writes) but besides that, loses his motive communality: there is a very complicated system of productivity here that is perhaps inherently contradictory, but the mapping of such production cycles helps understand them.
navigating the labyrinth:
De Quincey hates London; he has fond memories of Ann, and considers his London experience important in his development as human being, but he seems to unequivocally hate the capital. Certainly he must be ignorant of this fact when first approaching the metropolis, but upon reflecting on his first entry in to London De Quincey writes: "sole, dark, infinite … abyss in London; dreadful mouth of Acheron" (346/7). He often notes the sounds of the Metropolis, sounding like a cacophony (these are not unique opinions of London by any stretch), but it shows that De Quincey is very much the outsider in London. John Barton, from Mary Barton, exclaims that London is six times bigger than Manchester in horror, and De Quincey is equally aghast at the size of the "labyrinth" (375).
De Quincey, especially while under the influence of opium, had a tough time navigating what he called "the allies, the terra incognita, etc." (393) of the London Street, wondering if they had even been charted. De Quincey's anxieties of the street are hard to comprehend, no matter how many times he refers to them as a "labyrinth." Surely the influence of opium accelerated the effects of the confusing London streets, but the London streets as labyrinth become somewhat of a "drugscape": the labyrinth of London haunted his dreams tells us about the social atmosphere and WHY the city can become a literary symbol for labyrinths:
Here are some examples of the more confusing sections of London in the areas De Quincey frequented:
The many different directions the street run as well as the numerous short, arbitrarily distanced streets would cause slight confusion to any outsider, especially one who had consumed space-altering drugs (which opium very much was). Showing pictures of maps is by no means an incredibly novel way to view these streets, but it is yet another advantage that certain confusing "labyrinthal" streets of London can be viewed from the map, to help facilitate the reading of Confessions using the map as a helpful apparatus.
Drugscape as Dreamscape:
These labyrinths come back to haunt De Quincey's dreams. The dream and drugscape can be seen in this Virginia Project. Mapping De Quincey's dreams as they are is impossible: they are far too metaphorical and do not take place in London. But, the kernel of opiate dreams exists in the Labyrinth of London: De Quincey says of opium visions: "The sense of space, and in the end the sense of time, were both powerfully affected. … Space swelled, and was amplified to an extent of unutterable and self-repeating infinity" (435).
This is corroborated by Dupouy who says "le temps n'existe plus, l'espace est illimité" (quoted in Abrams 8) - "time no longer existed, space is limitless." Opium expands space, "let there be freedom" (279), De Quincey says. The space that is expanded is the London metropolis: he travels "along the endless terraces of Oxford Street" (446). De Quincey dreams of lakes as well, that expand:
Mapping the Opium Visions may be impossible, but understanding them through mapping De Quincey's experiences which caused them can augment one's reading of the text. We can look at the labyrinth's of London streets as well as the grandeur of the London map, the places he has been (which cover just one area of London) and see how he may have felt lost in the "ocean of London" - the same ocean that De Quincey talks about when he speaks of "the sea appeared paved with innumerable faces … faces that surged upwards by the thousands, by myriads, by generations." The same spatial expanding is found in Dupouy: "ce lac est immense, sans fond ni bournes" (quoted in Abrams 9): "This lake is immense, without bottom or limit."
When supposing De Quincey among the "sea of faces" you can see the grandeur or London as it is mapped:
The drug stores themselves are interesting spaces: they are at once both utopian, that is, they are a sought place, especially by addicts in need of purchasing more opium, and heterotopian (Foucault), as they are profaned and perverted and areas to be avoided. De Quincey relates a story of Coleridge's (also an Opium addict) that he "in Bristol … he went so far as to hire men -- porters, hackney-coachmen, and others -- to oppose by force his entrance into any druggist's shop" (230). De Quincey then follows with an amusing anecdote between "Transcendental Philosopher" and "Porter" where Coleridge would rationalise his necessity for opium. De Quincey at the same time applauds Opium - and the druggists who sell them. De Quincey said he felt a "mystic importance attached to the minutest circumstances connected wit ht the place, and the time, and the man (if man he was), that first laid open to me the paradise of opium-eaters" (380). Not only does this place an emphasis on the geography of druggists' shops in London, it shows a positive view of them. De Quincey explains that, upon returning for more opium, he finds the druggist to have "evanesced" (380), which he describes as a leaving of the material realm fit for Kings.
Willkie Collins also loved the drug. He wrote in 1865 "Who was the man who invented laudanum? I thank him from the bottom of my heart … Drops, you are darling! If I love nothing else, I love you!" (quoted in Berridge 57/58), as did many other 19th century writers (see Berridge). John Barton, from aforementioned Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell, however, consumes opium as a sign of his descent into poverty and dangerous political mindsets.
De Quincey whose "pleasures of opium" speaks largely of the benefits of opium, admits the dialecticism of the space however: he calls opium a "dream agent of unimaginable pleasure and pain" (379; italics mine). He equates it with manna or ambrosia (at the time), but laments "what solemn chords does it [opium] now strike upon my heart." The admittance that opium is neither fully good nor fully bad may be in his writing "just, subtle, and all-conquering opium … eloquent opium" (quoted in Abrams 4). The druggist shops for opium-eaters becomes a complex space. One both utopian and heterotopian, both positive and negative, both sought and feared/avoided.
There is no "opium district" at this time: apothecaries, druggists and chemists are all over London, and so this complex space exists in tiny islands throughout the London (too numerous to even map). Mapping these spaces in rich, poor, and in between districts shows that, unlike prostitution (and 'acknowledged lowlife haunt'), opium was not taboo and was not forced into one specific area of London: De Quincey’s own view parallels London’s ambivalence toward the drug (which was slowly falling out of favour throughout the 19th century).
Remembering London where De Quincey Forgets:
Julian Wolfreys writes in his exceptional yet dogmatically post-structuralist book Writing London: The Trace of the Urban Text from Blake to Dickens that London is written as a hyperreality (4) and, as such, becomes merely a mirror of the real London. Wolfreys says that literature "maps the conditions of London onto the text itself" (6) and seems to refute the idea that mapping the physicalities of a text is at all useful, noting that the "reality" of a textual London is "a reality beyond the experience of the empirical and quotidian" (4). He goes as far as to suggest that 18th century literature can be mapped confidently, but 19th century literature cannot. While I distinctly refute this claim, it becomes a moot point, as De Quincey's Confessions is far more 18th century than 19th century, in regards to time of De Quincey's wanderings (1802-4 as opposed to the publication date, 1821) and De Quincey's education was largely in the 18th century tradition. Wolfreys says 19th century literature written "in purely mimetic terms, the writing of London may be a 'fail,' if by this we might imagine a writing which accurately records the city" (25). He claims the writing is the impression, not the exactitude. If this is the case, how can digital humanists map London with a straight face and call it a useful scholarly exercise?
De Quincey certainly found his London startlingly REAL, and the creation of his London (through the medium of 'text') may create a post-modern hyperreality, but the kernel of verisimilitude that must exist because London is not an entirely fictitious place allows us to draw some usefulness out of mapping De Quincey's Confessions. De Quincey, however, has the (probably opium-aided) tendency to forget many of the details. In fact, many of his written dreams were burned in a fire caused by an over-turned candle, and he admits he can not remember them (so they are lost forever). De Quincey cannot remember Ann's last name, or if she ever even told him or not. De Quincey's forgetfulness has a profound impact on his writing: "topographical disappearance and absence are connected with the inability of the walking, writing, remembering self" (Wolfreys 108). Wolfreys suggests that the act of writing is an act of remembering, and remapping. De Quincey's identity crisis, as it were, forces the reader to enter the méconnaissance of De Quincey.
De Quincey writes, "our course lay though a part of the town which has not totally disappeared, so that I can no longer retrace its ancient boundaries - having been replaced by Regent Street and its adjacencies. Swallow Street is all that I remember of the names superseded by the large revolutionary usurpation" (367). Not only does that give us some sense of contemporary London during publication as different than when he was there (and for modern readers, that gap is much larger and even harder to traverse - luckily we have a map from 1799 that allows us to visualise precisely what he is talking about) it also shows how De Quincey's memory is, quite simply, not good.
By mapping the concrete London we are supplying a concrete reading apparatus that we are otherwise lacking. We are contrary to the writing of De Quincey, but it gives us a concrete value on the labyrinth of loss he dealt with: it distances us from his labyrinth and allows us to escape it and, by doing so, read De Quincey and his London. Without the map we are lost in the streets just as De Quincey is, and his anxieties become our anxieties. We need objectivity; we need to lose the anxieties in order to evaluate his own:
Wolfreys suggests that De Quincey's identity (or lack thereof) is connected to the geographies of London he is in or not in (107). Confessions is De Quincey's London, and it tell us how to read it. So as De Quincey imagines London, through his own constructed (past) self and the constructed words on a page, and he creates a mirror-image of London as a result, in which he attempts to locate himself in but will always slightly fail; but we can read how he sees himself in his locale and this represents for us. For instance: when the drug shop "evanesces" and "once more, London consumes, leaving absence, desire and anxiety in the trace of writing as the signs of it topography" (Wolfreys 110/111). This loss echoes the loss of identity for De Quincey among the vast London; this loss is what can be recovered by mapping London and seeing De Quincey's London as it was on the page, to view it objectively, contemporarily, and to augment the reading process.
Mapping De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is a useful tool. It elucidates many of the pedestrian and temporal patterns De Quincey follows, as well as the vagrancy and drugscapes that rule so much of De Quincey's Life. By re-mapping what De Quincey has remembered, we are able to escape his rhetoric and offer a fresh reading of his important autobiography.
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Berridge, Virgina. Opium and the Poeple: Opiate use and Drug Control Policy in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century England. London: Allen Lane, 1981.
De Quincey, Thomas. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater Revised Edition and London Reminiscences. The Collected Writings of Thomas De Quincey Vol. III. Edited by David Masson. London, 1897.
---. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater First Edition. Penguin Classics. Edited by Alethea Hayter. Toronto: Penguin, 1971.
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