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Grevel Lindop, General Editor. The Works of Thomas De Quincey.

Grevel Lindop, General Editor. The Works of Thomas De Quincey. 21 volumes. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2000-2003. $925.00.

Volumes 1-7

Until Pickering and Chatto's splendid new edition of his works began to appear in print some five years ago, few English authors of comparable stature and world renown had been as ill-served by their editors as Thomas De Quincey. It might be safe to say that of the four who made the attempt, the first, J. T. Fields of the Boston firm of Ticknor and Fields, probably did the least substantive damage. Beginning in 1850, he published whatever he could cull from the periodicals where De Quincey had deposited his multifarious contributions over some thirty years, and left them as he found them. However, he depended on inaccurate pirated editions of longer works and American reprints of many shorter British originals, and his overworked printers and compositors routinely repunctuated text and missed errors. Nor could Fields pretend to anything like completeness, even with the elderly De Quincey's letters from Edinburgh to help him sniff things out.

In 1852, when De Quincey began to take a direct hand in a new edition of his work published by his friend James Hogg under the title Selections Grave and Gay, he might be said to have become his own worst editor. Accuracy improved, but more serious problems arose. De Quincey insisted on revising, expanding, and adding long footnotes to his original texts. The trim fighting weight of the London Magazine version of his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, to cite the most alarming example, ballooned to more than twice its original size, and similar revisions left us with a portrait of the artist as a pedantic and verbose fuss-budget. While some new additions were made to the ranks of De Quincey's famous literary "involutes," the clean lines of his stylistic and intellectual development were smudged. Hogg's indulgence of the opium-eater's whimsies extended to his agreeing to exclude pieces, like the political essays, that the author considered incongruous with the "Grave and Gay" image he was aiming at. To top it off, as Grevel Lindop notes in his introduction to the new edition (1.xxiv), Hogg pinched pennies on binding the set, insuring its swift destruction.

The edition compiled by David Masson and published in 1889-90 has served as the standard scholarly text for more than a century. It was intended to set right the egregious wrongs of Field and Hogg, and managed to do a fairly decent job by comparison. Lindop is rather harsh in his assessment of it, however (1.xxiv-xxvi), scolding Masson for leaving out De Quincey's translation of the German novel, Walladmoor, and the original Confessions, among other important items. Given the editorial standards of the day, however, one can understand the rationale: the first was not, in Masson's view, original work, and the second had been superceded by the 1856 Hogg edition, which represented the last version approved by the author before his death in 1859. Moreover, it is hardly fair to beat Masson about the head and shoulders with his own printed "Register of Unincluded De Quincey Relics." At least he compiled one, as well as an extensive index and a chronology for those interested in the growth of the author's mind. Nor is Masson credited with being the first of De Quincey's editors to provide a note for each work indicating the original date and circumstances of its publication.

More deserved is Lindop's reprobation of Masson's high-handedness in repunctuating, retitling, and resectioning De Quincey's originals, and in certain cases even censoring them. Some of these actions were motivated by little more than expediency, like his decision to publish only those fragments of the Suspiria de Profundis that De Quincey had not incorporated in the Autobiographic Sketches compiled for Hogg's Selections. The butchered result has done a serious disservice to De Quincey scholarship ever since. Clearly, Masson left a great deal for later editors to fix.

As for Alexander Japp, the less said about his Jack-the-Kipper approach to De Quincey's posthumous manuscripts, which he surgically rearranged with scissors and paste, the better all of us will sleep tonight.

Since the appearance of Masson's fourteen-volume edition and Japp's four volumes of uncollected and posthumous writings, a wealth of manuscript material and previously undiscovered publications has come to light, including De Quincey's teenage diary of 1803, edited by Horace Eaton in 1927, and obscure or anonymous articles and reviews, many of which were included in Stuart Tave's New Essays by De Quincey in 1966. In addition, the original Confessions of 1821 (and the book version of 1822) has seen almost continuous reprinting by both trade and academic publishers, including Penguin, Vintage, and Oxford, either in whole or in part, in the course of the last century. Lindop himself edited the Oxford version, which has become the standard scholarly edition of the 1821 Confessions. Together with his masterful The Opium-Eater: A Life of Thomas De Quincey of 1981, and several ground-breaking papers and essays, it has pushed Lindop to the forefront of modern De Quincey scholarship.

Pickering and Chatto is thus highly fortunate to have Grevel Lindop in charge of its superb new edition--doubly so, considering the team of knowledgeable, talented, and committed editors he has assembled for these first seven volumes. Although Lindop is too experienced and cautious to pretend to "completeness," with so much material still squirreled away in private collections or buried in uncatalogued corners of public archives, this is certainly the most comprehensive Works to date. It includes not only all known published writings, but all relevant (and accessible) manuscripts (excluding correspondence), with deletions restored and identified. It is the first edition of De Quincey containing not only explanatory but also textual annotations, listing all printed variants. Perhaps most importantly, it is the first complete edition to be arranged in chronological order of publication by volume, taking as copy text the first printed version of each published work, or the most complete manuscript copy of each unpublished work, and grouping periodical essays within each volume according to venue. The chronology of publication has been violated only in cases of extensive revision such as the Confessions, where the second version is printed in its entirety immediately following the first.

Lindop seems to think that, with its adherence to an arrangement by date of first publication and its relegation of later revisions largely to entries in the "Textual Annotations," the Pickering and Chatto edition is in need of some defense. "The most controversial feature of the present edition," he writes, "must be its decision uniformly to offer the first published texts of De Quincey's work" (1.xxviii). Such an arrangement, however, especially with the inclusion of relevant manuscript sources, simply reflects the historicist shift in editorial philosophy that has occurred since the classical period of modern editing, epitomized by the copy-text practice and theory of Fredson Bowers and his school at mid-century. The Cornell Wordsworth set the standard for this new historicizing of editions, and Jerome McGann became its early champion. But other forces have also been at work. With the announcement of the "death of the author" in modern literary studies and the contemporary focus on discourses, sociolects, and cultural reception at the expense of style, intention, and iconic form, we are less inclined than De Quincey's early editors, or De Quincey himself for that matter, to see a collected edition as the expression of a single, integrated artistic personality. Nor do we still believe that the best way to display such a personality--assuming there might be some value in doing so-is in the range, specificity, and grouping of topical volumes filled with revised and updated palimpsests of the author's cumulative states of mind. We like to see our authors, when we can spot them hiding behind the sliding signifiers of their logocentric Doppelgangers, perpetually under construction.

Nonetheless, I think most of us can understand, and perhaps even sympathize with if not approve, the pruning, shaping, revising, and recasting impulses of Hogg, Masson, and even Japp. As Masson reminds us at the end of his own introductory essay of 1889, he knew the man behind the words--or at least, as much of him as the man himself let Masson know--and could "in reading any paper in the volumes, or any sentence in any of the papers, re-imagine distinctly ... the face, voice, and manner of the living De Quincey" (1.xxxvii). All of De Quincey's first editors except Fields apparently felt an obligation to tailor the prose to fit the personality of this "little druid wight," as Masson described him, borrowing a phrase from Thomson's Castle of Indolence (1.xxvi). The Leviathan of politics must have seemed as irrelevant to the present life of this furtive, diminutive, and enchanting creature as a barrel of whale oil.

The first seven volumes of this new edition cover the period from De Quincey's early years at Winkfield school, near Bath, to 1831, the year before the passage of the Reform Bill. They thus contain some of the most often reprinted and well-known of the opium-eater's writings, including the original Confessions of 1821, along with the Appendix to the 1822 book edition and the 1856 expanded version; his early foray into the psychology of literary violence, "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth" (1823) and its facetious successor, the first installment of the three-part series, "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" (1827); and the "Letters to a Young Man Whose Education has been Neglected" (1823), where De Quincey first makes public his famous distinction between the "Literature of Power" and the "Literature of Knowledge."

Barry Symonds kicks off the first volume in fine style with three pieces of juvenilia and the Diary of 1803, the latter previously available only in the Eaton edition (which some may still wish to consult for its holographic reproductions). Not only does Symonds provide annotations deciphering De Quincey's coded descriptions of his adolescent sex life, placing the Diary in the context of his humiliating return home, at the age of 17, from a lengthy truancy in London, but he also includes the catalogue of books from De Quincey's father's library at Greenhay, which appeared in the pages of the original diary and is a crucial source of information on the opium-eater's early reading habits. As indispensable as the Diary may be to serious De Quinceyans, however, many will find themselves drawn to the second half of the volume devoted to the author's editorial and other contributions to the Westmorland Gazette, the Lowther political organ that he edited from 1818 to 1820. This is a treasure trove of materials for those interested in De Quincey's development as a writer in the years immediately preceding his debut as the author of the Confessions, and one cannot but be grateful to find this previously scattered material at last collected in one place.

Grevel Lindop himself has, appropriately, undertaken the editing of the Confessions, both the early and late versions, for the second volume. It is difficult to overstate the usefulness of having these two states of De Quincey's most famous work in a responsibly edited, handy, back-to-back format, and the transcription of the manuscript version of Part 1, from the Wordsworth Library at Dove Cottage, is an added bonus that should give the rising generation of De Quincey scholars enough to keep them busy until retirement. As in his Oxford edition of the 1821 text, so throughout this volume, Lindop does a painstaking and comprehensive job of annotation, including thumbnail disquisitions on everything from "fee simple" to "omnibus."

In addition to providing exemplary contemporary and historical contextualization and identifying dozens of personal friends and acquaintances of the opium-eater, Lindop often goes beyond the requirements of an academic or scholarly edition to gloss words and phrases presumably unfamiliar to undergraduates and the common reader, e.g., "bona fide" or "prima facie." This practice is continued throughout the edition, presumably at his insistence, and I consider it all to the good. Having recently assigned Lindop's similarly annotated version of "On Murder Considered" from volume six for a class of undergraduates studying detective fiction, I can report that his efforts were well received. Clearly, Lindop intends this Works to have a wide readership beyond an audience of his peers.

There is one option in the explanatory apparatus, however, that I would like to have seen revised in order to further lighten the burden for nonspecialists: wherever feasible, annotations to material from 1821 also appearing in 1856 should have been repeated in full, as long as they did not appreciably exceed the length of an instruction to the reader directing him or her to the identical note for 1821. This would have required much less thumbing back and forth by uninformed readers perusing Lindop's 1856 version, which bristles with such redirects. "Paludaments,] Roman Military Cloaks," for instance, takes up only three more spaces in the annotations for 1821 than does 'Paludaments,] see p. 338, n. 110 above" in those for 1856.

Volumes 3 and 4 have been edited by Frederick Burwick, one of the pre-eminent De Quinceyans of our time. In volume 3, Burwick tackles the London Magazine writings of 1821-1823, which immediately followed the appearance of the Confessions in its pages, and contributions to Blackwood's for the same period. Those who have followed Burwick's career will immediately recognize, in casting an eye over the opium-eater's numerous engagements with German literature and philosophy in these years, the advantages to be gained by the editor's mastery of German literary and cultural history. That mastery also makes him the most qualified among De Quincey's critics to unravel the tangled history of the opium-eater's facetious review of Walladmoor, the fake German "translation" of an imaginary Scott novel that De Quincey subsequently translated "back" into English. Both the review and the translation appear in volume 4, along with contributions to the London Magazine for the years 1824-1825.

David Groves has edited volume 5 and most of volume 6, the latter of which he shares with Lindop, whose most important contribution is the first part of "Murder Considered." These two volumes cover the writings of De Quincey's earliest Edinburgh period, from 1826 to 1829, including several important essays on the slave trade and reform, and dozens of anonymous and unattributed pieces. Groves has devoted more than a decade and a half to locating and identifying these essays, and those who were fortunate enough to attend the 1997 MLA Convention and hear him speak on De Quincey's chameleonic political views in relation to those of his editors will not be surprised at the careful workmanship and intimate knowledge, both of the periodical trade and of De Quincey's involvement in it, that he displays here.

The seventh volume, containing work published in The Edinbugh Gazette and Blackwood's for the years 1829-1831, is edited by Robert Morrison, a prolific contributor of essays and articles on things De Quinceyan, including the provocative "Red De Quincey" that he wrote for The Wordsworth Circle in 1998. Among the pieces Morrison includes are two of De Quincey's most important biographical works--the three-part "Sketch of Professor Wilson" and the two-part "Life of Richard Bentley"--several essays on politics, and the posthumous "Novels, 1830." The political essays written for Blackwood's in these turbulent years of Revolution abroad and Reform at home are of particular importance, constituting, as Morrison notes, De Quincey's "most sustained and impassioned response to contemporary events" (160). Morrison has not only maintained the high standards of his predecessors throughout this series of articles, but has set a standard of his own in the conciseness, lucidity, and completeness of his headnotes. Describing the political context of Catholic Emancipation in his introduction to "The Duke of Wellington and Mr. Peel," for instance, Morrison easily negotiates several transitions from wide to narrow focus within the space of a brisk but comprehensive three paragraphs.

One anomaly of nomenclature arises in a later headnote, however, that might cause confusion to readers not weaned on the Masson edition. In his introduction to "Kant in his Miscellaneous Essays," Morrison refers us back to volume six for "The Last Days of Kant," De Quincey's previous contribution to Blackwood's on the same topic. Unfortunately, the essay that went by that title in Masson (or something close to it) appears in volume six of Picketing and Chatto under its original title, "Gallery of the German Prose Classics. By the English Opium-Eater. No. III.-Kant." Not only will newcomers to De Quincey be confused by this reference to a ghostly Massonic precursor, but older hands seeking the "Last Days" essay will not know to look for it under its new title. Whether this is an isolated problem, or portends similar difficulties arising in volumes 8 to 21, I am unable to say. It might have been helpful, though irksome, to have provided throughout the edition (where relevant) the Masson title for each piece, identified as such with something like a brand on the forehead. Then again, there's no need to perpetuate inaccuracy for the sake of convenience.

By now it should be apparent that the impeccable work of Lindop and his crew has left this reviewer with very narrow latitude for complaint. Their efforts, spanning more than a decade, have resulted in an edition of De Quincey that is a model of craftsmanship, imagination, patience, and accuracy. At the dawn of a century that, according to Jerome McGann, will not pass the half-way mark before "the entirety of our inherited archive of cultural works will have to be reedited within a network of digital storage" (Critical Inquiry 30.2 [2004]: 410), this magnificent paper monument to No. 42 Lothian Street's most famous tenant will defy any and all efforts by software successors, let alone hardware wannabees, to improve upon it.

Charles J. Rzepka

Boston University

Volumes 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18

"The majority of books are never opened," De Quincey writes in an 1841 essay for Blackwood's Magazine, apparently for a readership that he cannot be sure of: "Popular journals, again, which carry a promiscuous miscellany of papers into the same number of hands, as a stage-coach must convey all its passengers at the same rate of speed, dupe the public with a notion that here at least all are read. Not at all" ("Style No. IV" 12.75). The period 1831 to 1858, during which the works in the present volumes were written and most were published, finds De Quincey increasingly interested in the modernity of the literary culture he wrote for, with a number of his essays from the early 1850s, in particular, commenting upon its formation and conditions. In "Lord Carlisle on Pope [1]" (1851) he traces its rise from the eighteenth-century through such factors as the growth of London and the expansion of the suffrage, which functioned "to bring politics within the lawful privilege of ordinary conversation," and of commerce, which "forced us into the continual necessity of talking with strangers." Finally, "all these changes, gradually breaking up the repulsion which separated our ungarrulous nation, had been ratified by continual improvements applied to the construction of roads and the arts of locomotion" (17.203). Indeed, he writes in 1852 that "railways ... are not only swift in themselves, but the causes of swiftness in everything else," including the accelerated "contagion" of new words and ideas ("Sir William Hamilton, Bart." 17.151). Whereas in his 1841 essay on "Style" De Quincey is wary of the literary market, seeing it as a commercially forced mode of delivery akin to the stage coach, he is more optimistic at mid-century, when he sees such pace to belong to a dynamic, constantly reinvigorated, culture: "The revolutionary character of the times, the consequent evocation of new interests, new questions, new sympathies--and the remarkable concurrence, with this intellectual awakening, of a far cheaper and more stirring literature--have thrown a volume of new life-blood into the intellectual pleasures and cravings of Young England" ("Logic" [1850] 17.27). In an 1853 essay "On the Supposed Scriptural Expression for Eternity" he champions the rise of the Victorian autodidacts that this culture and technology Facilitated, observing that "the reading public and the thinking public is every year outgrowing more and more notoriously the mere learned public" so that "An attention to the unlearned part of an audience, which 15 years ago might have rested upon pure courtesy, now rests upon a basis of absolute justice" (18.4).

The contents of volumes 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 17, and 18 of the new Works cater to this increasingly diverse readership with a Fascinating range of texts, which includes De Quincey's gothic novel Klosterheim, the autobiographical Sketches From Childhood, essays on such topics as "Homer and the Homeridae," "The Caesars," the Corn Laws, Political Economy, British Imperialism, Natural Philosophy, gold-rushes, China and India, language, politics and "The Sphinx's Riddle," along with manuscript transcripts on French drama, financial frauds, Robert Peel, and other areas. Rather than attempting to survey such various works the remainder of this essay traces some of the fundamental presuppositions about thought, experience, and language that inform them.

The broad philosophical orientation with which the mature De Quincey approaches experience is indicated in his essay "Mrs Hannah More," which he wrote after the popular author's death in 1833. He recalls having been asked by More to explain both Kant's critical philosophy and Hume's theory of causation, and congratulates himself for having "so dovetailed the two answers together, that the explanation of Kant was made to arise naturally and easily out of the mere statement of Hume's problem on the idea of necessary connexion" (9.355). Hume observes that relations amongst things and ideas cannot be regarded as intrinsic to their terms, as held together by necessity, but that they are on the contrary external to them, superadded by experience through their repeated association together. Kant responds to Hume by trying to reinstate a form of necessary connection within and between thoughts through his principle of synthetic a priori judgements and the bureaucratic Faculty psychology that facilitates them. De Quincey explains this relation between the two philosophers at some length in the account he gives in the Autobiography (1840-41) of his developing thought in 1805. Frustrated by Hume he looks hopefully to Kant for "the keys of a new and creative philosophy," but after "six weeks study" finds it to be on the contrary "a philosophy of destruction." (1) "Mrs Hannah More" shows that the importance of Kant has receded for De Quincey, as has the need he felt in 1805 for a "solution" to "Hume's problem." Instead the "problem" itself appears to have risen in his estimation, for he describes it here not only as "that famous discovery" but furthermore as "unquestionably the most remarkable contribution to philosophy ever made by man" (9.355). Such high praise may indicate De Quincey's abiding faith that, despite his disappointment with Kant's response to it, the Humean idea could still furnish the basis for "a new and creative philosophy." Distrustful of philosophical systematizing, the mature De Quincey appears to have found Hume's open question preferable to any complete answer to it. Hume's radical recognition of contingency as prior to and foundational for mental activity attributes the mind with a creativity and freedom that the Kantian faculty psychology constricts in its imperative drive to secure the objectivity and necessity of synthetic a priori knowledge. As Gilles Deleuze observes, Hume's epistemology replaces the model of knowledge with that of belief, so that mental life ultimately takes the form of a "delirium" in which impressions and ideas enjoy complete freedom of association. (2) The freedom and creativity of thought that Deleuze's account highlights provides the premise for De Quincey's own theory of mind and a foundational presupposition for his diverse writings in the volumes before us.

The sixty-seven year old De Quincey offers a moving and lyrical account of memory in his first essay on "Sir William Hamilton, Bart." (1852). It sees thoughts to be mobilized and organized in part through the principle of association, which assumes a form here that suggestively prefigures Proustian involuntary memory: "And as regards myself, touch but some particular key of laughter and of echoing music, sound but for a moment one bar of preparation, and immediately the pomps and glory of all that has composed for me the delirious vision of life re-awaken for torment; the orchestras of the earth open simultaneously to my inner ear; and in a moment I behold, forming themselves into solemn groups and processions, and passing over sad phantom stages, all that chiefly I have loved" (17.146). This "delirious vision" consequent upon the individual mind's associations is like a dream or nightmare. The gothic tenor of his stories Klosterheim (1832), "The Avenger" and "The Household Wreck" (1838) allows De Quincey to describe and explore similarly liminal states of mind, principally those between waking and sleeping, in which the capacity for associative mental activity is unleashed. The "approach of sleep" (8.252) and the state of "nervous apprehensiveness" that yields a "creative state of the eye" cause the mind to shape images associatively from such sensory stimuli as fire, tapestries, and, more abstractly, "occasional combinations of colour, modified by light and shade" (9.224). But it is the "unimaginable chaos" (9.266) of the dream itself, rather than the hypnogogic states that lead to and from it, that most strongly suggests the associative delirium that Deleuze attributes to the Humean model of mind. In "The Household Wreck" De Quincey describes the ways in which the conscious mind works creatively to reinstate order from such chaos in his account of the process of waking up, "when the clouds of sleep, and the whole fantastic illusions of dreaminess are dispersing, just as the realities of life are re-assuming their steadfast forms--re-shaping themselves--and settling anew into those fixed relations which they are to preserve throughout the waking hours" (9.234). Being subject to dispersal and shaping, mental images and thoughts are accordingly reducible to more fundamental elements. The "crisis of transition from the unreal to the real" (9.234) as we come to consciousness and our thoughts become reliable, move from chaos to order, occurs as an a priori "re-shaping" of such elementary mental representations, a reinstatement of "fixed relations." De Quincey outlines this creative model of mind lightly and self-deprecatingly in "Sir William Hamilton Bart.": "With this brain, so time-shattered, I must work, in order to give significancy and value to the few facts which I possess--alas! far too scanty as a basis for the very slightest superstructure" (17.146). It falls to the mind here to provide the "superstructure," to organize its fundamental impressions and ideas, its "facts."

"[I]t is," De Quincey observes in "Style No. III" (1840), "most instructive to see how many apparent scenes of confusion break up into orderly arrangement, when you are able to apply an a priori principle of organization to their seeming chaos" (12.57). Such a priori principles are for the mature De Quincey not Kantian but creative and often idiosyncratic. Even in writing a testimonial in 1852 for J. F. Ferrier, whose metaphysic of consciousness itself springs largely from German idealism, De Quincey repudiates such objectivist theories of mind, asserting instead that "Every man's private impressions have an internal truth for himself--are self-lighted by an evidence which cannot be transferred to another" (17.252). The rather Proustian reverie contained in the "Hamilton" essay cited earlier, where particular sounds summon up by association memories of dead loved ones, offers an example of this phenomenon. De Quincey's skeptical appreciation of the contingent "self-lighted" "internal truth" of individual thought indicates a Humean epistemological model of belief rather than classical models of knowledge. He recognizes another such epistemological principle of belief in prejudice, a consideration that he suggests threatens to undermine Descartes' universalist project to establish a philosophy of consciousness. Finding it laughable that one of the "golden rules" with which Descartes begins his philosophical investigations is "that he would guard himself against all 'prejudices,'" De Quincey argues in the "Philosophy of Herodotus" (1842) that prejudices are inevitable and, by definition, invisible to those who hold them: "Those are the true baffling prejudices for man, which he never suspects for prejudices" (13.106). The "prejudices" and "private impressions" that have such conviction for individuals suggest Hume's principles of "custom and habit," by which he sees relations to be formed amongst impressions and ideas. This governing principle makes the association of ideas, as Deleuze puts it, "a practice of cultural and conventional formations (conventional instead of contractual), rather than a theory of the human mind. Hence, the association of ideas exists for the sake of law, political economy, aesthetics, and so on" (Deleuze ix). Hume wrote not only on philosophy but also politics and history, fields of experience where the contingent "custom or habit" to which his philosophy traces our ideas of relation play decisive roles. De Quincey also implicates cultural life in epistemology, finding the medium and focus for the formal principle that Hume attributes to "custom or habit" in the great social convention of language.

De Quincey discusses the containment and shaping of thought in his 1853 essay "Table-Talk" through an empiricist metaphor for language as "the mould, the set of channels, into which the metal of the thought is meant to run" (18.32). The "mould" is a principle extrinsic to the thought that is given form by it and figured here as either mercuric or, more probably, molten metal, which holds the implication that it can become set, formed finally by its mould, like lead type. The specific "mould" referred to here is a poetic form, an epigram on Milton by Dryden. De Quincey finds that in this case the perfection of the form has distracted readers from noticing the mere "accidental filling up of the mould" (18.32), that is, that it has no content. The discussion suggests Lessing's thesis in Laocoon, a work that De Quincey began to translate and abridge in 1827, which maintains that the peculiar forms of each art occasion its expressive possibilities. The power of language forms is discussed further in "Style [No. I]" (1840), again through the metaphor of the mould. Here, however, it is not poetry but the forms of everyday language that are seen to shape collective thought, and to in turn perpetuate such modes of expression and thought: "Pedantry, though it were unconscious pedantry, once steadily diffused through a nation as to the very moulds of its thinking, and the general tendencies of its expression, could not but stiffen the natural graces of composition, and weave fetters about the free movement of human thought" (12.16). Thought and experience are shaped by a prevalent style, instilling in the Humean manner "habits of intellect such as result from the modern vice of English style," the scourge of pedantry that he attributes to the widespread readership and emulation of newspaper style (12.26). This is De Quincey's bete noir, the antithesis to the principle of style he identifies with the best uses of language: "There is a strong idea expressed by the Latin word inconditus, disorganized, or rather unorganized. Now, in spite of its artificial bias, that is the very epithet which will best characterize our newspaper style" (12.18).

Style functions, in De Quincey's example of pedantry, as a principle of intellectual and social engineering. But as well as replicating itself, stamping its forms upon minds en masse in the manner of industrial machinery, language can also function as a generative machine that facilitates individual and creative thought. De Quincey uses the analogy of mechanics in "Style [No. I]" to explain two complementary aspects of style:
 Style may be viewed as an organic thing and as a mechanic thing.
 By organic, we mean that which, being acted upon, reacts--and which
 propagates the communicated power without loss. By mechanic, that
 which, being impressed with motion, cannot throw it back without
 loss, and therefore soon conies to an end. The human body is an
 elaborate system of organs: it is sustained by organs. But the
 human body is exercised as a machine, and, as such, may be viewed
 in the arts of riding, dancing, leaping &c., subject to the laws
 of motion and equilibrium. Now the use of words is an organic
 thing, in so far as language is connected with thoughts, and
 modified by thoughts. It is a mechanic thing, in so far as words
 in combination determine or modify each other. The science of
 style, as an organ of thought, of style in relation to the ideas
 and feelings, might be called the organology of style. The science
 of style, considered as a machine, in which words act upon words,
 and through a particular grammar, might be called the mechanology
 of style. (12.24-25)


Language, De Quincey suggests, like the "human body[,] is exercised as a machine," but as such depends upon an "organic" principle that articulates its mechanical parts, the words and grammar that correspond here to the body's system of the nerves, the muscles and the bones they lever. (3) The "mechanology of style" recognizes the mechanical body of the language system, "in which words act upon words, and through a particular grammar." This machine is, however, presented as rather like the steam engine, which dissipates part of its capacity for work in unusable heat; "By mechanic, [we mean] that which, being impressed with motion, cannot throw it back without loss, and therefore soon comes to an end." Analogous to the human body, which "is sustained by organs," the mechanics of style requires the idealized Newtonian economy of the organic principle, "that which, being acted upon, reacts--and which propagates the communicated power without loss." The "organology of style" sees language to function "as an organ of thought": it fulfills the a priori organizing principle of "expressing all possible relations that can arise between thoughts and words--the total effect of a writer, as derived from manner."

The analogy of the body attributes to style an essential integrity, for as De Quincey puts it in "On the Present Stage of the English Language" (1850), in its highest form, "style cannot be regarded as a dress or alien covering, but ... the incarnation of the thoughts. The human body is not the dress or apparel of the human spirit; far more mysterious is the mode of their union." In contrast to mere rhetoric, the organic nature of imagery and other parts of style "absolutely makes the thought" (17.67). De Quincey argues in this essay that the "offices of style," namely "to brighten the intellegibility of a subject" and "to regenerate the normal power and impressiveness of a subject," "are really not essentially below the level of those other offices attached to the original discovery of truth" (17.66). Style is in its highest form seen to enhance the epistemological efficacy of language. Its mechanology facilitates the free association of ideas and impressions within the mind, much as classical Newtonian mechanics allows and theorizes the interactions of all physical entities, while the organic principle, "that which, being acted upon, reacts," creatively draws together relations amongst these ciphers according to the "ideas and feelings" that distinguish the individual "human spirit." De Quincey's coinages "mechanology" and "organology" demonstrate the creative potential of language they serve to explain, which facilitates the recognition by its practitioners of new relations. Neologism is explained in "On the Present Stage of the English Language" as the creative response of thought and language to the changing events and perceptions that in the extract cited earlier from "Logic" (which also dates from 1850) describes the "revolutionary character" of his own time: "Neologism, in revolutionary times, is not an infirmity of caprice ... but is a mere necessity of the unresting intellect. New ideas, new aspects of old ideas, new relations of objects to each other, or to man--the subject who contemplates those objects--absolutely insist on new words" (17.56).

De Quincey's principle of style effectively extends the thesis of Lessing's Laocoon to describe the artifice of the language system, recognizing it as a great generative structure, a machine for facilitating and organizing thought and experience. So, for example, he writes in "Style No. II" (1840) that "for the Pagan of twenty-five hundred years back, and for us modems, the arts of public speaking, and consequently of prose as opposed to metrical composition, have been the capital engine--the one intellectual machine--of civil life" (12.30). We can recall from the passage cited earlier from "Style [No. I]" that "The human body is exercised as a machine, and, as such may be viewed in the arts of riding, dancing, leaping &c., subject to the laws of motion and equilibrium," a remark that echoes directly an earlier statement that De Quincey makes of Lessing's thesis in a footnote to his translation of the Laocoon: "the freedom of a fine art is found not in the absence of restraint, but in the conflict with it. The beauty of dancing, for instance, as of one part of it, lies in the conflict between the freedom of motion and the law of equilibrium, which is constantly threatened by it" (6.53). The mechanology of language that provides the conditions by which linguistic creativity can be realized is presented in "Style [No. I]" as analogous to the natural laws of the Newtonian physical world, which similarly facilitate the creativity of the dancer. He writes in his essay on "Conversation" (1850) that "an able disputant ... cannot display his own powers but through something of a corresponding power in the resistance of his antagonist," and he amplifies his point with the analogies of "playing at ball, or battledore, or in dancing" (17.8).

The metaphor of the dance is amusingly invoked in De Quincey's Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on "Pope" (1838-39), where, while it glosses what he judges to be the decadent rhetorical exercises of eighteenth-century "fine letter writing," it nevertheless illustrates concretely the rather abstract analogy from "Style [No. I]" that describes style as like the "human body": "To us, in this age of purer and more masculine taste, the whole scene takes the ludicrous air of old and young fops dancing a minuet with each other, practising the most elaborate grimaces, sinkings and risings the most awful, bows the most overshadowing, until plain walking, running, or the motions of natural dancing, are thought too insipid for endurance" (13.255). The mechanics of the body, suited to "plain" walking and other such "natural" motions, are manipulated elaborately into the correspondent stylized movements of the minuets, much as the letter-writers, "Every nerve ... strained to outdo each other," draw from the material of language and thought "a filagree work of rhetoric" (13.254). While the letters of Pope and his peers are smeared with the taint of effeminacy, the counterveiling principle of good prose style is for De Quincey epitomized by "the purity of female English" to be found in letters by certain women from his own age. In lauding these natural expressions of personal independence and dignity belonging to "the interesting class of women unmarried upon scruples of sexual honour" (12.12-13), De Quincey expresses his enthusiasm for such purity and chastity rather jarringly with a direct appeal to the reader's "desire" and an urgent entreaty that it be satisfied through rapacious acts of criminal violation: "Would you desire at this day to read our noble language in its native beauty, picturesque from idiomatic propriety, racy in its phraseology, delicate yet sinewy in its composition--steal the mail bags, and break open all the letters in female handwriting" (12.12). The body of language here is exhibited in its "native beauty," perfectly poised, "delicate yet sinewy in its composition." In contrast to the foppish minuets of Pope and his peers, (4) good prose is, as De Quincey observes in the "Philosophy of Herodotus," again invoking the analogy of the body, the healthy but nonetheless accomplished exercise of language: "To walk well, it is not enough that a man abstains from dancing" (13.85).

The analogy that De Quincey draws of style to the body allows him to emphasize and explore language's responsiveness to change, and ultimately to find in language the basis for an historicist epistemology. He notes that the objective use of language in, for example, positivist science has little need of style as its truths can be registered in language simply and directly, a point that is made pithily in "Style No. IV": "Whatsoever is entirely independent of the mind, and external to it, is generally equal to its own enunciation" (12.73). Similarly, in "Style [No. I]," simple place names are seen to be "faithful to the local truth, grave and unaffected" because, in accordance with simple empiricist psychology, "they are not inventions of any active faculty, but mere passive depositions from a real impression upon the mind" (12.10). In contrast to such objective uses of language, in which matter prevails over manner, subjective uses necessarily demand stylistic creativity. De Quincey demonstrates this with the case of classical Greece, which as a result of "accidents of time and place" was, he writes in "Style No. IV," "obliged ... to spin most of her speculations, like a spider, out of her own bowels" (12.66). Like the spider's web the Greeks' speculations emerge a priori but apt for their immediate purposes in the outside world. Once again, creativity is seen to be demanded by changing circumstances and perceptions, a historical factor that makes the subjective employments of language, which largely describe style, necessarily less "durable" than the objective and external uses. As De Quincey observes in another essay from 1841, "Homer and the Homeridae Part III," by "applying itself to the subtler phenomena of human nature, [the subjective use of language] exactly in that proportion applies itself to what is capable of being variously viewed, or viewed in various combinations, as society shifts its aspects" (13-49). This presupposes a normative physicalist model of reciprocal forces, "that which, being acted upon, reacts," a subtle responsiveness in "proportion" to societal change. Style is for De Quincey the body of language dancing to the music of time.

The analogy of the human body and its pre-adaptation to the Newtonian physical world, which allows it to maintain a dynamic equilibrium with it, demonstrates De Quincey's common-sense approach to language and the supple epistemological functions he considers it to serve. Just as the body negotiates the forces that the outside world subjects it to, happily heightening the conflict to exercise its own nature in such activities as walking and dancing, so style, the active body of language, similarly engages in the Newtonian reciprocity of action and reaction with both the objective world and subjective thought and experience. The mechanical principle of equilibrium that defines the workings of language here is discussed in a footnote to De Quincey's first paper on "Sir William Hamilton, With a Glance at his Logical Reforms" (1852), where he examines Zeno's paradox as the archetypal statement of the conflict between idealist thought and empirical experience, the former of which, recognizing "one among the many confounding consequences which may be deduced from the endless divisibility of space" (17.165) discredits the principle of motion, while the latter credits it: "Metaphysics denied it as conceivable. Experience affirmed it as actual." "The conflict depends," for De Quincey, "upon the parity of the conflicting forces," a "centrifugal force, which ... corresponds to a centripetal force" and so forms an "equilibrium" (17.168). With these appeals to his favorite analogy from physics De Quincey cuts through the "Gordian knot" of Zeno's paradox (17.165) and the subsequent restless oppositional history of Western philosophy, of idealism and empiricism, that he sees it to highlight.

He counters this principle of opposition, which he denotes using the Kantian term "antinomy," with the mechanical concept of equilibrium, and closes his argument finally with an analogy drawn from language and a rhetorical question: "The antinomy it is--the frightful co-existence of the to be and the not to be--this it is that agitates and distresses you. But how is that antinomy, a secret word of two horns, which we may represent for the moment under the figure of two syllables, lessened or reconciled by repeating one of these syllables, as did Zeno, leaving the secret consciousness to repeat the other?" (17.168). This analogy contrasts language, which is implicitly credited with facilitating balanced and complete acknowledgements of the world and experience, with the partisanship of the philosophical tradition. Each of the syllables of philosophy's devilish "secret word of two horns" is credited with an ontological reality and parity, much as reciprocally and more playfully the "four male guardians" of De Quincey's childhood in the "Sketch from Childhood No. V" and "VII," which also date from 1852, are similarly designated by their initials and treated as physical parts of speech: "the consonants, the vowel, and the hermaphrodite aspirate" (17.142).

De Quincey observes in "Style No. II" that Socratic dialectic, in contrast to the irresolvable antinomies of Kant's Transcendental Dialectic, presupposes that truth reveals itself "by moments, (to borrow a word from dynamics)" (12.39), the principle by which different forces combine as a third summary force, which is Hegel's foundational metaphor for the process of Aufhebung that impells his grand historical dialectic. But De Quincey's historicism is dynamic without being inherently progressive in either the Socratic or the Hegelian manner. Opposites call out each other in his dynamic cosmology, but largely it seems to maintain the status quo, as his mechanistic characterization of Toryism and Whiggism in "A Tory's account of Toryism, Whiggism, and Radicalism, Part I" (1835) indicates: "There are two great forces at work in the British constitution; and the constitution is sustained, in its integrity, by their equilibrium--just as the compound power which maintains a planet in its orbit, is made up of the centripetal force balancing the centrifugal; and as reasonable would it be to insist on the superior efficacy of the centripetal force to the centrifugal, or vice versa, as to ascribe any superiority to the Whig or the Tory, considered in their abstract relation to the constitution.... Taken jointly, they make up the total truth" (9.395). There is in this political cosmology accordingly no room for radicals and "Reformers," as he makes clear in "Part II" of "A Tory's Account" (1836); "we exhaust the whole possibilities of political principle. The ground--the whole arena--is preoccupied: there is no standing-room for a new party" (9.411). Similarly, in the manuscript transcript "On Reform as Affecting the Habits of Private Life" (1831), which is published for the first time in the new Works, he invokes his Newtonian principle in order to defy the radical's dynamic of progressive revolution: "'One deep calleth to another;' violence is the parent of violence; and action ensures reaction" (8.350). Reform is perceived as a radical threat to a feudal society in which, parallel to the political plenum of Toryism and Whiggism, complementary principles are seen to have formed a contained and inherently stable equilibrium: "Farewell to the old relations of duty and affection which bound together the upper and lower classes in village communities, and which built up spiritual influence upon the basis of earthly charities!" (8.361). The metaphor of dynamic equilibrium that promotes the vivacity of language in De Quincey's discussions of style, becomes in his discussions of politics, social mores and ethics the static and conservative principle of moderation. So, for example, in "Lord Carlisle on Pope [I]" (1851) he cites approvingly the understanding in Aristotelian ethics "that all vices formed one or other of two polar extremes, one pole being in excess, the other in defect; and the corresponding virtue lay on an equatorial line between these two poles" (17.208). Similarly, his essay on "French and English Manners" (1850) is organized around "the balance" these nationalities present between exhibiting principles of respect for others and for oneself (17.44).

As their use to characterize organic bodies demonstrates, De Quincey's extensive employ of analogies drawn from mechanics does not arise from reductionist science, which began to prevail in the 1840S, but rather is still rooted in romantic science, his familiarity with which is clear from his translation of one of Kant's scientific essays under the title of "The Age of the Earth." Such phenomena as combustion and electricity are theorized here as polar "forces of attraction and repulsion," a principle that chimes in with his physicalist metaphor of dynamic equilibrium and also forms the basic principle for Mesmerism, which De Quincey champions in "Animal Magnetism" (1834). Mesmer's practices of faith healing and hypnotism are, De Quincey writes, the occasion of a "new power detected in the animal system," "a mode of magnetism" that he distinguishes as "animal magnetism" for it, like "mineral magnetism," is based upon "the circumstance of friction" and "the circumstance of polarity" (9.361). This "natural supernaturalism" allows him to argue that "the resources of mere physical nature are more ample, and more effective in the production of the marvellous, than the imaginary world of magic or oriental enchantment." (In keeping with this ethos the gothic tale Klosterheim ends by dissolving its ostensibly supernatural elements in naturalistic explanations). In his description of the compass at the start of "Animal Magnetism" De Quincey claims magnetism for the romantic value of "sympathy," indeed the ostensibly imaginative leap of "sympathy with an unknown object": "Never was any natural agent discovered which wore so much the appearance of a magical device; nor even, to this day, has science succeeded in divesting of mystery that sympathy with an unknown object, which constitutes its power" (9-359). Conversely, he attributes national and historical schools of artistic creativity in "Style No. II" to a universal equilibrium of affect, a parallel to the magnetic forces that suffuse the physical world: "This contagion of sympathy runs electrically through society, searches high and low for congenial powers, and suffers none to lurk unknown to the possessor. A vortex is created which draws into its suction whatever is liable to a similar action" (12.53).

Parallel to the polar powers of sympathy that he naturalizes in his romantic science, De Quincey's Sketches from Childhood looks back to his earliest formative experiences to describe complementary principles of sympathetic imagination. Through one of these capacities, an adjunct to the principle of memory introduced earlier through the extract from the "Hamilton" essay, he participates, helplessly and haunted, in the ultimate human realities of death and suffering. This is exemplified most poignantly by his recollection of some impoverished deaf, scrofulous and intellectually simple twin girls, who died of scarlatina: "The mother it was ... that revived, by the altered glances of her haunted eye (at least revived for me), a visionary spectacle of twin sisters, moving for ever up and down the stairs--sisters born apparently for the single purpose of suffering" (17.138). However, in the case of his father, who died when De Quincey was eight, he knows him only "through a priori ideas" (17.75), a facility for shaping reality that is suggestive for his later reflections on language and thought, and which he practices in games with his elder brother William, such as the wars between William's imaginary kingdom of Tigrosylvania and his imaginary island of Gombroon, the inhabitants of which are rendered primitive and ineffectual by the brother's decree that they illustrate Lord Monboddo's evolutionary hypothesis. The Sketches begin with the death of Thomas' older sister and, after many vivid and amusing accounts of William, come to a close with the elder brother's death, a few terse statements in helpless positivist language: "My brother separated from me for ever. I never saw him again ... before he had completed his sixteenth year, he died of typhus fever" (17.144). William was the boy who with "the vertiginous motion of the human top would overpower the force of gravitation" (17.80), while the mature Thomas engages this mortal force of falling with correspondingly vigorous ideas and words, walks and dances in the more permanent body of language.

Daniel Brown

The University of Western Australia

(1.) David Masson, ed., The Collected Writings of Thomas De Quincey (London: A & C Black, 1897) 2.86.

(2.) Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume's Theory of Human Nature, trans. Constantin V. Boundas (New York: Columbia UP, 1991) 23, 83.

(3.) This mechanistic understanding of the body was well understood by the early 1840S. See for example Sir Charles Bell's Bridgewater Treatise The Hand: Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as Evincing Design (London: William Pickering, 1833) III-15.

(4.) Cf. "Pope" (1838-39): "the best of those later letters between Pope and Swift, &c. are not in themselves at all superior to the letters of sensible and accomplished women, such as leave every town in the island by every post" (13.256).

Volumes 10, 11, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21

Tennyson was once asked to identify the six authors in whose work he found the "stateliest English prose," apart from the Bible, the Psalms and the Book of Common Prayer. He answered: "Probably in Hooker, Bacon, Milton, Jeremy Taylor, De Quincey, Ruskin." (1) Significantly, all of these writers were heavily influenced by the cadences of the Bible, and the last two were careful readers of the previous four. But what about the chronological spread of Tennyson's Big Six? Skipping the Restoration and the eighteenth century, he jumps from Taylor to De Quincey, surely a Romantic, the friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge, who inhabited their Lakeland cottages when they had done with them and wrote intimate pen portraits of them? In fact, Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-92) was saluting two of his contemporaries: John Ruskin (1819-1900), ten years his junior, and a prose writer whose rolling periods cast a powerful spell over his many readers in the 1840S and 1850s; and Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859), Tennyson's senior by 24 years, but a writer who took a keen interest in the Indian Mutiny, during which his son-in-law was involved in the siege of Delhi, and who died in the year of the Origin of Species. Who better than De Quincey, then, to serve as a test case for those who are interested in the continuities between "Romantic" and "Victorian" cultures, and who are tired of debating about watersheds, obscure geographical features, hidden somewhere in the obscure landscape of the 1820S and early 1830s?

One very tangible example of continuity between the literary and intellectual worlds of Walter Scott and George Eliot presents itself in the heavyweight periodicals that take up so much space in the section of the library devoted to the first half of the nineteenth century, the golden age of the higher journalism. It was as a contributor to Blackwood's, Tait's and other "North British" journals that De Quincey addressed a rapidly growing reading public, hungry for instructive entertainment and unafraid of long essays. Whereas some writers, such as Thomas Carlyle, launched their careers this way, but went on to produce a number of famous books, De Quincey continued to write for the journals until the end, and was always known as "the author of the Confessions of an English Opium Eater," the only book for which he was widely known. This is why our own scholarly community is so deeply indebted to Grevel Lindop and his colleagues, and to Pickering Chatto, for carrying through the monumental task of recovering the rest of De Quincey for us, and for editing the whole aeuvre with such care. This reviewer will not be the only Victorianist for whom these volumes represent nothing less than a revelation.

De Quincey contributed to Blackwood's Magazine from 1826 and to Tait's Magazine from 1834. He moved to Edinburgh in 1828, and installed his whole family there by 1830. As a boy he had lost his father and two sisters. Between 1833 and 1837, he lost his wife and two sons. Relapsing into opium excesses, he set up a separate home for his remaining children. In 1844 he managed to cut down to six grains a day--a dose which he is said never to have exceeded again. In what remained something of a peripatetic life, he had the habit of filling his lodgings with a chaos of papers until he could no longer inhabit the rooms; at which point he would lock the outer door and move on--an expensive business, as Leslie Stephen comments in his DNB article on De Quincey. But then De Quincey was never any good with money, always pleadingly borrowing here and generously giving there, to the despair of his friends and family. This freewheeling style of life went with an openness to new impressions--often the germs of his best work--and with an indulgence in old obsessions. He was always the enthusiast. He loved music. He loved nocturnal rambles in the country, sleeping under the nearest hedge when he felt tired. He loved to study murder trials. Stephen offered a stern "Victorian" assessment, arguing that "his reason is too often the slave of effeminate prejudices." He concludes, however, that, "imperfect as is much of his work, he has left many writings which, in their special variety of excellencies, are unrivalled in modern English." The Victorian reading public seems to have agreed, if the number of editions of his collected works is anything to go by:

24 vols. (Boston, 1851-59)

14 vols. ("Selections, Grave and Gay," Edinburgh, 1853-60)

17 vols. (Edinburgh, 1862-63)

16 vols. (Edinburgh, 1871)

22 vols. in 11 (Boston, 1873)

11 vols. (Boston, 1877)

16 vols. (Edinburgh, 1878)

14 vols., ed. David Masson (Edinburgh, 1889-90)

With the new Pickering edition, De Quincey's Works have at last been published in London, a city that fascinated him. This new 21 volume set is presented in grey cloth bindings, decorated with claret faux labels and gilded lettering. The effect is one of elegant Quakerism. The scholarly apparatus is generous in its scope and bulk: textual notes and explanatory notes (long on quantity, short on commentary) are gathered at the end of each volume. Where De Quincey adds notes of his own, they are printed in eight-point type at the foot of the page. Many pages contain no notes, however, and simply present around 450 words of main text, printed in nine-point type. This might put off the mythical general reader, who today is most certainly not hungry for instructive entertainment and not unafraid of long essays. For the student of De Quincey, however, the rewards are worth the effort of concentration, as they would have been for Victorian readers who had to put up with pages that were even more crowded.

And so to content. Volume 10, edited by Alina Clej, contains "Sketches of Life and Manners; from the Autobiography of an English Opium-Eater," published serially in Wait's Edinburgh Magazine, 1834-38. This is the first time that the articles on which the famous Autobiographic Sketches (2 vols., 1853-54) were later based have been made available to the modern reader. We can now set these articles alongside the text of Autobiographic Sketches printed in volume 19, the editor of which, Daniel Sanjiv Roberts, tells us that "there are signs of careful revision in every chapter," and that "several chapters comprise largely or wholly new material." Comparison offers insight into De Quincey's editorial priorities. (2)

Volume 11, edited by Julian North, contains articles from Tait's Magazine and Blackwood's Magazine, 1838-41, including, among other pieces, "A Brief Appraisal of the Greek Literature," "Lake Reminiscences," "Sketches of Life and Manners," "Dilemmas on the Corn Law Question," "On Hume's Argument Against Miracles," "Casuistry," "Dinner Real and Reputed," "Milton," "On the Essenes," "Modern Superstition" and "The Opium and the China Question." (Like most of the volumes, this one also contains manuscript transcriptions of fragments, cancelled passages, and so on.) Volume 15, edited by Frederick Burwick, contains articles from Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine and Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, 1844-46, some of which were not reprinted in subsequent editions during De Quincey's lifetime. Titles include "Secession from the Church of Scotland," "Ireland," "Affghanistan," "Coleridge and Opium-Eating," "Suspira De Profundis: Being a Sequel to the Confessions of an English Opium-Eater," "Maynooth," "On Wordsworth's Poetry" and "On Christianity, as an Organ of Political Movement." Volume 16--articles from Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, Macphail's Edinburgh Ecclesiastical Journal, the Glasgow Athenaeum Album, the North British Review and Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 1847-49--is edited by Robert Morrison, who has harvested a particularly rich crop of essays, including "Milton versus Southey and Landor," "Joan of Arc," "The Nantico-Military Nun of Spain," "Protestantism," "The Life and Adventures of Oliver Goldsmith," "Final Memorials of Charles Lamb" and "The English Mail-Coach, or the Glory of Motion."

In volume 20, eight editors team up to glean in the field after the reapers and produce Prefaces &c, to the Collected Editions, Published Addenda, Marginalia, Manuscript Addenda, Undatable Manuscripts. Head gleaner, however, with almost fourteen years of service to the whole project, is the General Editor, Grevel Lindop, who provides Transcripts of Unlocated Manuscripts in volume 21, to which Judith Moore also contributes an invaluable index to the edition, with thematic subheadings to main entries.

So although the Pickering Edition was conceived by Romanticists--Lindop himself, and his Advisory Editors, Thomas McFarland, Robert Woof and Jonathan Wordsworth--there is plenty for Victorian scholars to feed upon. Let me offer some examples, and turn first to the series of "Sketches of Life and Manners" (just pre-Victorian) in volume 10, which De Quincey thought of as the "leftovers" from the Confessions. Sometimes reminiscent of Dickens or Carlyle, De Quincey can also be Shandean or Coleridgean in manner. Often garrulous, but seldom tediously so, he is the master of the kind of associationism which moves a conversation on from topic to topic. He also loves digressions. "It was a most heavenly day in May of this year, (1800)," he writes, "when I first beheld and first entered this mighty wilderness, as to me it was, the city--no! not the city, but the nation--of London." He then refers to ancient Rome, inserting a footnote on the subject of its size. "To discuss this question thoroughly," he announces there, "would require a separate memoir: meantime I will make this remark...." A page of commentary follows. He moves easily from points of view that are universal, as when he writes brilliantly on being "no longer noticed" in London, with its "mysterious grandeur and Babylonian confusion," to observations that are off the planet: "To have 'doubled Cape Horn'--at one time, what a sound it had!--Yet how ashamed we should be, if that Cape were ever to be seen from the moon!"

Then consider this sentence as a classic description of life in the middle: "I was born in a situation the most favourable to happiness of any, perhaps, which can exist; of parents neither too high nor too low; not very rich, which is too likely to be a snare; nor too poor, which is oftentimes a greater." Each of his parents, he records, "in a different sense, was a high-toned moralist." The enthusiasm gene was certainly strong in his father, who, when King George recovered from his first attack of lunacy, illuminated his country house (another expensive business), even though there was nobody to see it. At his father's funeral in 1792, when he was seven, the words from Corinthians made a deep impression on him: they "fell upon my ear; and, concurring with my whole previous feelings, for ever fixed that vast subject upon my mind." (3)

Religion is a major theme in De Quincey. In "Modern Superstition" (1840), for example, he looks at contemporary beliefs and future possibilities. The essay opens like this:
 It is said continually--that the age of miracles is past. We deny
 that it is so in any sense which implies this age to differ from
 all other generations of man except one. It is neither past, nor
 ought we to wish it past.


He goes on to argue that superstition "will finally pass into pure forms of religion as man advances"--an interesting argument for a Tory who loves the Constitution. In the year of Hardy's birth, he writes:
 All domesticated cattle, having the benefit of man's guardianship
 and care, are believed throughout England and Germany to go down
 upon their knees at one particular moment of Christmas-eve, when
 the fields are covered with darkness, when no eye looks down but
 that of God, and when the exact anniversary hour revolves of the
 angelic song, once rolling over the fields and flocks of Palestine.


There is critical distance in the words "believed throughout England and Germany"; yet he maintains his own sense of wonder in the face of mystery.

Mystery is to be encountered principally within the self. De Quincey is always present in his prose, sharing his thought processes and his emotional responses with the reader as he unfolds his commentary or narrative. The reader is thus drawn into an intimate relationship with him. In "Milton," for example, he makes a characteristic rhetorical move when his discussion on the charge against Milton of "having blended the Pagan and Christian forms" follows the path of his own thinking on the subject:
 At one time we were ourselves inclined to fear that Milton had
 been here caught tripping. In this instance, at least, he seems to
 be in error. But there is no trusting to appearances. In meditating
 upon the question, we happened to remember that the most colossal
 and Miltonic of painters had fallen into the very same fault, if
 fault it were. In his Last Judgment, Michael Angelo has introduced
 the Pagan deities in connexion with the hierarchy of the Christian
 heavens. Now, it is very true that one great man cannot palliate the
 error of another great man, by committing the same error himself.
 But, though it cannot avail as an excuse, such a conformity of ideas
 serves as a summons to a much more vigilant examination of the case
 than might else be instituted. One man might err from inadvertency;
 but that two, and both men trained to habits of constant meditation,
 should fall into the same error--makes the marvel tenfold greater.


Nowhere is this intimacy closer than in his treatment of dreams. As one might expect from the author of Confessions, De Quincey constantly returns to the borderlands between sleeping and waking in order to reflect upon the unconscious mind and upon intimations of immortality. In "Suspira de Profundis: Being a Sequel to the Confessions of an English Opium-Eater" (1845), he writes:
 The machinery for dreaming planted in the human brain was not
 planted for nothing. That faculty, in alliance with the mystery of
 darkness, is the one great tube through which man communicates
 with the shadowy. And the dreaming organ, in connexion with the
 heart, the eye, and the ear, compose the magnificent apparatus
 which forces the infinite into the chambers of a human brain, and
 throws dark reflections from eternities below all life upon the
 mirrors of the sleeping mind.


In the section of "Suspiria" entitled "The Palimpsest," De Quincey describes a parchment which once contained the text of a Greek tragedy. A Christian monk later washed this away, or so he thought, replacing it with a monastic legend. Later still, the same parchment is wanted for a knightly romance. Each text--the Greek tragedy, the monkish legend and the knightly romance--has "ruled its own period." But modern chemistry has allowed us to retrieve each text. De Quincey--the first writer to use the word "subconscious" in print (4)--then develops his central analogy:
 What else than a natural and mighty palimpsest is the human brain?
 ... Everlasting layers of ideas, images, feelings, have fallen upon
 your brain softly as light. Each succession has seemed to bury all
 that went before. And yet in reality not one has been extinguished.


He then turns to a classic description by a lady of his acquaintance--in fact his mother--of a near drowning episode in her childhood, when she was aged nine:
 At a certain stage of this descent, a blow seemed to strike
 her--phosphoric radiance sprang forth from her eyeballs; and
 immediately a mighty theatre expanded within her brain. In a
 moment, in the twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15.52], every
 act--every design of her past life lived again--arraying themselves
 not as a succession, but as parts of a coexistence. Such a light
 fell upon the whole path of her life backwards into the shades of
 infancy, as the light perhaps which wrapt the destined apostle on
 his road to Damascus [Acts 9.3-9)]. Yet that light blinded for a
 season, but hers poured celestial vision upon the brain, so that
 her consciousness became omnipresent at one moment to every feature
 in the infinite review.


When first recorded, in Confessions of an English Opium Eater, this anecdote was "treated sceptically" by some critics. Yet other similar accounts have emerged since. What staggers De Quincey is the "possibility of resurrection, for what had so long slept in the dust." But the greatest mystery is "repeated, and ten thousand times repeated by opium, for those who are its martyrs." The language of transcendence is applied by De Quincey to the sublime abysses of unconsciousness that lie within:
 Yes, reader, countless are the mysterious handwritings of grief
 or joy which have inscribed themselves successively upon the
 palimpsest of your brain; and, like the annual leaves of aboriginal
 forests, or the undissolving snows on the Himalaya, or light
 falling upon light, the endless strata have covered up each other in
 forgetfulness. But by the hour of death, but by fever, but by the
 searchings of opium, all these can revive in strength. They are not
 dead, but sleeping [Luke 8.51]. In the illustration imagined by
 myself, from the case of some individual palimpsest, the Grecian
 tragedy had seemed to be displaced, but was not displaced, by the
 monkish legend; and the monkish legend had seemed to be displaced,
 but was not displaced, by the knightly romance. In some potent
 convulsion of the system, all wheels back into its earliest
 elementary stage. The bewildering romance, light tarnished with
 darkness, the semi-fabulous legend, truth celestial mixed with
 human falsehoods, these fade even of themselves as life advances.
 The romance has perished that the young man adored. The legend has
 gone that deluded the boy. But the deep deep tragedies of infancy,
 as when the child's hands were unlinked for ever from his mother's
 neck, or his lips for ever from his sister's kisses, these remain
 lurking below all, and these lurk to the last. Alchemy there is none
 of passion or disease that can scorch away these immortal impresses.


I make no apology, incidentally, for quoting at length, in emulation of the periodicals in which De Quincey published his own review articles: this is the only way to show how, like Carlyle, Ruskin and Newman, he thinks in paragraphs and uses the springboard of the subordinate clause to propel the prose forward. Let me round off this consideration of De Quincey and the unconscious by quoting from "Joan of Arc." La Pucelle d'Orleans was a favorite nineteenth-century theme: her story was told by Southey, Hallam, Sharon Turner, Carlyle and Landor, for example. It was De Quincey's essay, however, that was regarded as a masterpiece. Joan's apotheosis is presented in an extraordinary piece of baroque martyrology:
 The shepherd girl that had delivered France--she, from her dungeon,
 she, from her baiting at the stake, she, from her duel with fire--as
 she entered her last dream, saw Domremy, saw the fountain of
 Domremy, saw the pomp of forests in which her childhood had
 wandered. That Easter festival, which man had denied to her
 languishing heart--that resurrection of spring-time, which the
 darkness of dungeons had intercepted from her, hungering after the
 glorious liberty of forests--were by God given back into her hands,
 as jewels that had been stolen from her by robbers. With those,
 perhaps (for the minutes of dreams can stretch into ages), was given
 back to her by God the bliss of childhood. By special privilege, for
 her might be created, in this farewell dream, a second childhood,
 innocent as the first; but not, like that, sad with the gloom of a
 fearful mission in the rear. This mission had now been fulfilled.
 The storm was weathered, the skirts even of that mighty storm were
 drawing off. The blood, that she was to reckon for, had been
 exacted; the tears, that she was to shed in secret, had been paid to
 the last. The hatred to herself in all eyes had been faced steadily,
 had been suffered, had been survived. And in her last fight upon
 the scaffold, she had triumphed gloriously; victoriously she had
 tasted the stings of death. For all except this comfort from her
 farewell dream, she had died--died amidst the tears of ten thousand
 enemies--died amidst the drums and trumpets of armies--died amidst
 peals redoubling upon peals, volleys upon volleys, from the saluting
 clarions of martyrs.


Drawing deeply upon apocalyptic tradition, De Quincey ends with a last judgment for the condemning bishops. The Bishop of Beauvais suffers terrible nightmares, and again a dream offers access to the unconscious drives behind the burning. One is of a great building--another scaffold?--no, a tribunal, and the bishop is the prisoner at the bar. He has no counsel:
 Alas! the time is short, the tumult is wondrous, the crowd stretches
 away into infinity, but yet I will search in it for somebody to take
 your brief: I know of somebody that will be your counsel. Who is
 this that cometh from Domremy? Who is she that cometh in bloody
 coronation robes from Rheims? Who is she that cometh with blackened
 flesh from walking the furnaces of Rouen? This is she, the shepherd
 girl, counsellor that had none for herself, whom I choose, Bishop,
 for yours. She it is, I engage, that shall take my lord's brief. She
 it is, Bishop, that would plead for you: yes Bishop, SHE--when
 Heaven and Earth are silent.


De Quincey himself wrote of this ending: "Next after the Vision of Sudden Death, it is the most elaborate and solemn bravura of rhetoric that I have composed."

Held in creative tension with this powerful sense of the sublime as a sign of the moral order of the universe is a delightful sense of fascination in the mundane. It is his close engagement with everyday reality, in all its infinite variety, that provides the emotional lift in his writing. De Quincey was regarded as one of the great conversationalists of his age: "What would one give," Jane Welsh Carlyle once remarked, "to have him in a box, and take him out to talk!" In his essay entitled "Conversation," he comments on Dr Johnson's melancholy:
 ... but for his piety, he would not only have counselled hanging in
 general, but hanged himself in particular. Now, this gloomy
 temperament, not as an occasional but as a permanent state, is fatal
 to the power of brilliant conversation, in so far as that power
 rests upon raising a continual succession of topics, and not merely
 of using with lifeless talent the topics offered by others.... From
 the heart, from an interest of love or hatred, of hope or care,
 springs all permanent eloquence; and the elastic spring of
 conversation is gone, if the talker is a mere showy man of talent,
 pulling at an oar which he detests.


Contrast that passage with his description of Lamb taking a postprandial nap--a gentle entry into the world of dreams--in "Final Memorials of Charles Lamb":
 It descended upon him as softly as a shadow. In a gross person,
 laden with superfluous flesh, and sleeping heavily, this would
 have been disagreeable; but in Lamb, thin even to meagreness, spare
 and wiry as an Arab of the desert, or as Thomas Aquinas, wasted by
 scholastic vigils, the affection of sleep seemed rather a network
 of aerial gossamer than of earthly cobweb--more like a golden haze
 failing upon him gently from the heavens than a cloud exhaling
 upwards from the flesh. Motionless in his chair as a bust, breathing
 so gently as scarcely to seem certainly alive, he presented the
 image of repose midway between life and death, like the repose of
 sculpture; and to one who knew his history a repose affectingly
 contrasting with the calamities and internal storms of his life. I
 have heard more persons than I can now distinctly recall, observe
 of Lamb when sleeping--that his countenance in that state assumed
 an expression almost seraphic, from its intellectual beauty of
 outline, its childlike simplicity, and its benignity. It could
 not be called a transfiguration that sleep had worked in his face;
 for the features wore essentially the same expression when waking;
 but sleep spiritualized that expression, exalted it, and also
 harmonized it.


I would like to end, however, with one of the most wide awake essays in De Quincey, "The English Mail-Coach, or The Glory of Motion." Published in 1849, the essay looks back to an era before the coming of the railways, and explores the nature of community, both local and national. (It thus prepares the ground for the opening of George Eliot's Felix Holt and for Ruskin's reflections on the "old road" in Praeterita.) Again, mystery is encountered in everyday reality, where order in arrangements bespeaks honor and a sense of national pride:
 No dignity is perfect which does not at some point ally itself
 with the indeterminate and mysterious. The connexion of the mail
 with the state and the executive government--a connexion obvious,
 but yet not strictly defined--gave to the whole mail establishment
 a grandeur and an official authority which did us service on the
 roads, and invested us with seasonable terrors. But perhaps these
 terrors were not the less impressive, because their exact legal
 limits were imperfectly ascertained. Look at those turnpike gates;
 with what deferential hurry, with what an obedient start, they fly
 open at our approach!

 ... seated on the old mail-coach, we need no evidence out of
 ourselves to indicate the velocity.... The vital experience of the
 glad animal sensibilities made doubts impossible on the question of
 our speed; we heard our speed, we saw it, we felt it as a thrilling;
 and this speed was not the product of blind insensate agencies, that
 had no sympathy to give, but was incarnated in the fiery eyeballs of
 an animal, in his dilated nostril, spasmodic muscles, and echoing
 hoofs. This speed was incarnated in the visible contagion amongst
 brutes of some impulse, that, radiating into their natures, had yet
 its centre and beginning in man.


De Quincey then homes in on one particular journey that he made in 1809. The "grandest chapter of our experience," he comments, "within the whole mail-coach service, was on those occasions when we went down from London with the news of victory":
 From eight P.M. to fifteen or twenty minutes later, imagine the
 mails assembled on parade in Lombard Street, where, at that time,
 was seated the General Post-Office. In what exact strength we
 mustered I do not remember; but, from the length of each separate
 attelage, we filled the street, though a long one, and though we
 were drawn up in double file. On any night the spectacle was
 beautiful. The absolute perfection of all the appointments about the
 carriages and the harness, and the magnificence of the horses, were
 what might first have fixed the attention. Every carriage, on every
 morning in the year, was taken down to an inspector for
 examination--wheels, axles, linch-pins, pole, glasses, &c., were all
 critically probed and tested. Every part of every carriage had been
 cleaned, every horse had been groomed, with as much rigour as if
 they belonged to a private gentleman; and that part of the spectacle
 offered itself always. But the night before us is a night of
 victory; and behold! to the ordinary display, what a heart-shaking
 addition!--horses, men, carriages--all are dressed in laurels
 and flowers, oak leaves and ribbons.

 ... Every moment are shouted aloud by the Post-Office servants the
 great ancestral names of cities known to history through a thousand
 years,--Lincoln, Winchester, Portsmouth, Gloucester, Oxford,
 Bristol, Manchester, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Perth, Glasgow--
 Expressing the grandeur of the empire by the antiquity of its towns,
 And the grandeur of the mail establishment by the diffusive
 radiation of its separate missions.

 Liberated from the embarrassments of the city, and issuing into the
 broad uncrowded avenues of the northern suburbs, we begin to enter
 upon our natural pace of ten miles an hour. In the broad light of
 the summer evening, the sun perhaps only just at the point of
 setting, we are seen from every storey of every house. Heads of
 every age crowd to the windows--young and old understand the
 language of our victorious symbols--and rolling volleys of
 sympathising cheers run along behind and before our course. The
 beggar, rearing himself against the wall, forgets his lameness--real
 or assumed--thinks not of his whining trade, but stands erect, with
 bold exulting smiles, as we pass him. The victory has healed him,
 and says--Be thou whole!


By now we can see that this kind of healing through empathy and a sense of belonging is central to De Quincey's world-view.

The victory to which he refers took place on 27-28 July 1809, when Wellesley routed the French at Talavera in central Spain, but suffered heavy casualties and was forced to retreat soon afterwards. So complete is the involvement of De Quincey in the movement of the coach and the response of the people it passes, that he represents the coach and its passengers as carrying, not the news of victory, but victory itself. There then occurs an incident which is etched on his memory, although it took place in only a few snatched minutes in a small town, the name of which he cannot remember, where they "happened to change horses near midnight":
 Some fair or wake had kept the people up out of their beds.... As we
 staid for three or four minutes, I alighted. And immediately from a
 dismantled stall in the street, where perhaps she had been presiding
 at some part of the evening, advanced eagerly a middle-aged woman.
 The sight of my newspaper it was that had drawn her attention upon
 myself. The victory which we were carrying down to the provinces
 on this occasion was the imperfect one of Talavera. I told her the
 main outline of the battle. But her agitation, though not the
 agitation of fear, but of exultation rather, and enthusiasm, had
 been so conspicuous when listening, and when first applying for
 information, that I could not but ask her if she had not some
 relation in the Peninsular army. Oh! yes: her only son was there. In
 what regiment? He was a trooper in the 23rd Dragoons. My heart sank
 within me as she made that answer. This sublime regiment, which an
 Englishman should never mention without raising his hat to their
 memory, had made the most memorable and effective charge recorded in
 military annals. They leaped their horses--over a trench, where they
 could into it, and with the result of death or mutilation where they
 could not. What proportion cleared the trench is nowhere stated.


The mother partakes in the victory through the fame of the 23rd and her son's membership in it.
 Of the 23rd, "not so many as one in four survived":

 And this, then, was the regiment--a regiment already for some hours
 known to myself and all London as stretched, by a large majority,
 upon one bloody aceldama [Acts 1.19, "field of blood"]--in which
 the young trooper served whose mother was now talking with myself
 in a spirit of such hopeful enthusiasm. Did I tell her the truth?
 Had I the heart to break up her dream? No. I said to myself,
 To-morrow, or the next day, she will hear the worst. For this night,
 wherefore should she not sleep in peace?... For the very few words
 that I had time for speaking, I governed myself accordingly. I
 showed her not the funeral banners under which the noble regiment
 was sleeping. I lifted not the overshadowing laurels from the bloody
 trench in which horse and rider lay mangled together. But I told her
 how these dear children of England, privates and officers, had
 leaped their horses over all obstacles as gaily as hunters to the
 morning's chase. I told her how they rode their horses into the
 mists of death, (saying to myself, but not saying to her,) and laid
 down their young lives for thee, O mother England! as willingly--
 poured out their noble blood as cheerfully--as ever, after a long
 day's sport, when infants, they had rested their wearied heads upon
 their mothers' knees, or had sunk to sleep in her arms.
 It is singular that she seemed to have no fears, even after this
 knowledge that the 23rd Dragoons had been conspicuously engaged, for
 her son's safety: but so much was she enraptured by the knowledge
 that his regiment, and therefore he, had rendered eminent service in
 the trying conflict--a service which had actually made them the
 foremost topic of conversation in London--that in the mere
 simplicity of her fervent nature, she threw her arms round my neck,
 and, poor woman, kissed me.


The "placing of "poor woman" in this closing sentence is a stroke of genius.

Michael Wheeler

Winchester, UK

(1.) Hallam Tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir (London: Macmillan, 1899) 765.

(2.) Also compare, for example, the two versions of De Quincey's description of him and his three sisters listening to their nurse read to them from the illustrated Bible, "by the firelight round the guard of our nursery," in Autobiographic Sketches (19.10) and "Suspira de Profundis" (1845; 15.142).

(3.) In the Burial Service from the Book of Common Prayer, the lesson is from I Corinthians 15 ("Now is Christ risen from the dead.... We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of any eye, at the last trump ...").

(4.) "Subconsciously" (1823), "subconscious" (1832-34), Oxford English Dictionary.
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Author:Rzepka, Charles J.; Brown, Daniel; Wheeler, Michael
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2005
Words:14363
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