Ref No920 MD 424
TitleDiary and letter of Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859)
DescriptionThe Diary, 1803

This diary was written in April - June 1803 during a visit to Everton on which De Quincey had been sent to recover from his experiences in Wales and London (see above). He had stayed in Everton with his family in the summer of 1801 and by himself in the spring of 1802. One "... of the attractions of Everton" may have been William Clarke [presumably William Clarke, Junior, (1754-1805), banker and close friend of William Roscoe, see John Hughes Liverpool Banks and Bankers, 1760-1837, 1906, Ch. 5, William Clarke and Sons, pp. 56 - 83] who had been a friend of De Quincey's father and whose house in Everton was "... the centre of a circle of minor writers and local intellectuals ..." De Quincey met "... these Liverpool worthies and ... observed them ... with the merciless eye of intelligent adolescence (Lindop, p. 52). (Those he met included William Roscoe (1753-1831), Rev. William Shepherd (1768-1847) and Dr. James Currie (1756-1805). (Years later in Autobiographical Sketches in 1837 De Quincey was to write with good humoured contempt of this circle, portraying them as "... postasters, and dilettanti amusingly burdened with delusions of grandeur ..." In Liverpool, where Roscoe and his friends were still warmly remembered, great offence was taken ..." (see Lindop, p. 323). Hughes op. cit. p. 58 writes of this "Liverpool Literary Coterie" " ... whose hospitality as an unlicked cub of sixteen, De Quincey enjoyed, and on whose memory he, after years of debauchery had dulled his moral feelings, scattered the venom of ingratitude.")

Everton in the first years of the 19th century was reached by a road which was "pleasant and rural" and was a "... favourite resort of opulance ... [with] an assemblage of elegant villas, many of which ... connect with architectural taste, the beauty of situation and the decorations of rural scenery ...", see The Stranger in Liverpool, 2nd ed., 1810, pp. 185, 186. William Moss' Liverpool Guide, 1801, p. 80, describes the descent towards the lower part of Everton which "... offers a very charming display of the river and sea, with the town below, which would afford a subject for the pencil of an artist ... that could scarcely be exceeded in beauty, variety and extension ...". As on previous visits De Quincey stayed at the cottage of a Mrs. Best in Everton Terrace (formerly called Middle Road). This cottage stood opposite the "far grander mansion of William Clarke".

Eaton, p. 8, quotes a letter from De Quincey's mother - "Mrs. Best's cottage is on the middle road ... it is a sweet cottage which has a delightful view of the water; the bathing is not so near as might be wished, but within compass of a walk ...". A watercolour of H.C. Pidgeon (1807-1880), c. 1840, shows Everton Terrace with Mrs. Best's former cottage. Gore's Directory of Liverpool, 1803, lists "Best, Anabella. Lodging House, Everton" and Robert Syers History of Everton including familiar dissertations on the people ..., 1830, p. 303, gives the following "Crossing the Terrace-road ... stands a humble looking but very comfortable, brick-built cottage ... there long dwelt a good and kind matron, one who has often attended and cherished, with care and tenderness, the sick, the infirm, the delicate of constitution, and the convalescent, and at all times administered to the comforts, wants and conveniences of those who occasionally lodged under her roof. Such was the late Nurse Best, who died 23rd November, 1815; her daughter ... still strives to make her residence a happy and confortable home to its inmates ..."

The diary itself is part diary and part notebook. According to Lindop, p. 99, there was little to record in the diary because De Quincey "... was bored at Everton and the general atmosphere of the diary is one of mild depression ..." His time was spent walking in the country near Everton (Walton, Bootle, Kirkdale), visiting booksellers and circulating libraries, paying visits to drink tea or coffee, dining out and talking, going to church, reading by himself. These activities are recorded in the diary but it also serves as a notebook with copies and drafts of letters (a number of these to his mother), lists of expenses, lists of books, of poets and of "... works which I have, at sometime or other seriously intended to execute ..."    

Lindop states on p. 101, that at the time the diary was written De Quincey was "preoccupied with questions of literary theory" and that the diary shows "signs of a developing critical intelligence". In the diary De Quincey states his own theories and reflections and enlarges on and extends themes discussed at social gatherings. Eaton, p. 12, writes that the "... major emphasis of the little book is not upon creation, but as we might expect, upon analysis and intellectual interest" and on p. 13 "that he does not develop his half thoughts so that they may be clearly comprehensible to us who were never meant to overhear them ... He gives us jottings only, merely meant to remind himself ..."Dr. Woof, p. 40, suggests that from certain passages in the diary "... De Quincey was concerned with reverie and dream even before he took any opium ..." There are some references to national and local events (see draft letter to De Quincey's mother, 31 May 1803 referring to Pitt and "The Corsican", and accounts of the press gang in Liverpool, notably on 9 May 1803) but the diary does not concern itself too much with these.    
Sources (if not quoted in full above): Horace Eaton (ed.) Diary of Thomas de Quincey ... (see full details at end of list of 920 MD 424/1). Grevel Lindop The Opium Eater ... (as given above under biographical details) (ref. 828.808 DEQ). Thomas De Quincey catalogue, notes by Dr. R. Woof (as given above under biographical details).
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