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THOMAS DE QUINCE Y.
In the notice of so memorable a man, even they did not increase, or ever give direction to the briefest prelusive flourish seems uncalled his meditative power, at least magnified it, both for; and so indeed it would be, if by such means optically, as to its visual capacity, and creatively, it were meant simply to justify the undertaking. as to its constructive faculty. These two conIn regard to any of the great powers in literature ditions, each concurrent with the other in its there exists already a prevailing interest, which ruling influence, impart to his life a degree of cannot be presumed to slumber for one moment psychological interest which belongs to no other in any thinking 'mind. Yet there are occasions, on record Nor is this all. The reader knows as, for example, the entrances of kings, which how often a secondary interest will attach to the absolutely demand the inaugural flourish of trum- mightiest of conquerors or to the wisest of pets which, like the rosy flood of dawn, require sovereigns, who is not merely in himself, and to be usbered in by a train of twilight glories. through his own deeds, magnificent, but whose And there are lives which proceed as by the glory is many times repeated and piled up by movements of music, which must therefore be numerous reverberations of itself from a contemheralded by overtures : majestic steppings, heard porary race of Titans. Thus, doubtless, Charles in the background, compel us, through mere V., although himself King of Spain, Germany, sympathy with their pomp of procession, to sound the Netherlands, and a portion of Italy, gloried the note of preparation.
in the sublime empery of the Turkish Solyman, Else I should plunge in medias res upon a as by some subtle connection of fate sympathetic sketch of De Quincey's life; were it not a rude with his own. A secondary interest of this ness amounting to downright profanity to omit nature belongs to the life of De Quincey,-a lise the important ceremony of prelibation, and that which enclosed, as an island, a whole period of at a banquet to which, implicitly, gods are invited. English literature, one, too, which in activity and The reader will assuredly uuite with me in all originality is unsurpassed by any other, including such courtesies,
the names of Scott and Dickens, of Wordsworth,
Coleridge, Lamb, and Southey, of Moore, Byron, “Neu desint epulis rose";
Shelley, and Keats. His connection with very
many of these was not simply that of coexistence, particularly as the shade we deal with can be but also of familiar intercourse. evoked only by peculiar incantations, -only the Between De Quincey's life and lis writings heralding of certain precise claims will this it is impossible that there should be any dismonarch listen to as the just inferie, the fitting traction of interest, so intimately are the two sacrifice or hecatomb of our homage.
interwoven: in this case more so than in that of The key-note of preparation, the claim which any known author. Particularly is this true of pre-eminently should be set forth in advance, is bis more impassioned writings, which are a faiththis : that De Quincey was the prince of hiero- ful rescript of bis all-impassioned life. Hierophants, as regards all those profound mysteries phant we have called him,-the prince of hierowhich from the beginning have swayed the human phants,- having reference to the matter of his heart, sometimes through the light of angelic revelations ; but in his manner, in his style of smiles listing it upwards to an altitude just composition, he is something more than this : beneath the heavens, and sometimes shattering here he stands the monarch amongst rhapsodists. it, with the shock of quaking anguish, down to In these writings are displayed the main peculiearth.
arities of his life and genius. The peculiarities of his life all point in the But, besides these, there is a large section of direction here indicated. It was his remarkable his works, the aim of which is purely intellectual, experience which furnished him the key to where feeling is not at all involved; and surely certain secret recesses of human nature hitherto there is not, iu either ancient or modern literasealed up in darkness. Along that border-line ture, a section which, in the same amount of by which the glimmerings of consciousness are, space, exhibits the same degree of intense activity as by the thinnest, yet the most impervious veil
, on the part of the analytic understanding, applied separated from the regions of the unexplored and to the illustration of truth or to the solution of the undefinable, De Quincey walked familiarly and vexed problems. This latter class is the more with privileged eye and ear. The conditions of remarkable from its polar antithesis to the forhis power in this respect are psychologically in mer; just as, in his life, it is a most remarkable separable from the remarkable conditions of his characteristic of the man, that, rising above all life, two of which are especially to be noticed. other men through the rhapsodies of dreams, be First, a ruling disposition towards meditation, should yet be able truly to say of himself that he constituting hin, in the highest sense of the had devoted a greater number of hours to word, a poet. Secondly, the peculiar qualities intellectual pursuits than any other man whom he which this singular mental constitution derived bad seen, heard of, or read of. A wider range is from his use of opium, -qualities which, although thus exhibited, not of thought merely, but also of the possible modes of expressing thought, | order. To have written these would bave than is elsewhere to be found, even in writers the entitled Rousseau to a separate sceptre. Or, most skilled in rhetorical subtilty. The distance moving into a realm of art totally distinct from between these two opposites De Quincey does this, suppose him to have been the author of not traverse by violent leaps ; he does not by “Murder considered as one of the Fine Arts": some feat of legerdemain evanish from the fields that would mount a new plume in Rousseau's of impassioned eloquence, where he is an un hat. But I happen just now to be reminded of rivalled master, to appear forthwith in those of another little paper, numbering about six pages, intellectual gymnastics, where, at least, he is not entitled, “On the Knocking at the Gate, in Macsurpassed. He is familiar with every one of the beth :" give him that, too. Why, the little intervening stages between the rhapsody and the French king is beginning to assume an imperial demonstration,-between the loftiest reach of consequence! We beg the reader's pardon for aspirant passion, from which, with reptile instinct, indulging in comparisons of this nature, which the understanding slinks downwards to the are always disagreeable; but we have this excuse, earth, and that fierce antagonism of naked that the two writers are often mentioned as on thoughts, where the crested serpent "mounts and the same level, and with no appreciation of that burns.” His alchemy is infinite, combining light unlimited range of power which belongs to De with warmth in all degrees,-in pathos, in Quincey, but not at all to Rousseau. Nor is bumour,* in genial illumination. Let the this one imperial column adorned by these alone: reader, if he can, imagine Rousseau to have there are, besides,- alas for Rousseau ! two other written "Dinner, Real and Reputed,” or the spolia opima by which the French master is, in paper on " The Essenes,” in both of which great his own field, proved not the first, nor even the crudition is necessary, but in which erudition is second, proximus, sed non secundus, so wide is as nothing compared to the faculty of recombining the distance between De Quincey and any other into novel forms what previously had been so antagonist. These two are the essays respectgrouped as to be misunderstood, or had lacked ively entitled, “ Joan of Arc," and "'T'he English just the one element necessary for introducing Mail-Coach.”
It is ins possible to be exhaustive upon such a
subject as that which I have undertaken. I * There was sufficient humour in De Quincey to about which the thoughts which I wish to present
shall select, therefore, two prominent centres, bare endowed a dozen Aristophaneses. There was something, too, in its order, by which it resembled naturally revolve: De Quincey's childbood, and the gigantesque features of the old Greek master. I his opium-experiences. will illustrate my meaning by a single instance from Thomas De Quincey-hierophant, rhapsodist, each.
In Aristophaues's Clouds,” Strepsiades is philosopher, was born at Greenhay, then a suburb being initiated into the Socratic Phrontisterium, and of Manchester, in Lancashire County, on the in the course of the ceremony Socrates directs his 15th of August, 1785. According to his own pupil's attention to the moon for certain mysterious account, the family of the De Quinceys was of purposes. But the moon only reminds Strepsy of Norwegian origin ; and after its transfer to numerons imperturbable duns that storm about his France, in connection with William the Norman, cars with lunar exactness (literally so, since the it received its territorial appellation from the Greeks paid
or refused to pay, regularly on the last village of Quincy, in Normandy. Thence, at the day of the month), and here it is that the opportunity time of the Norman Invasion, it was transplanted is offered for a monstrous stroke of humour; for, at this crisis, Strepsy is made to exclaim,
to England, where, as afterwards in Scotland, it is it, 0 Socrates, about the moon? Well ! since you tion with a lordly title and princely estates, but
rose to the highest position, not merely in connecare up to that sort of thing, what do you say, now, a spell by which I could snap the old monster out of chiefly on account of valuable services rendered her course for a generation or so?” Now for the to the State, and conferring pre-eminence in parallel case from De Quincey. It is from his paper baronial privilege and consideration. on“ California,” a politico-economical treatise. The So sensitive was De Quincey, even at the early author's object is to illustrate the fact that scarcity age of fifteen, on the point of his descent, lest of gold is not due to its non-existence, but to the from his name he might be supposed of French difficulty of obtaining it. Emeralds and sapphires,” extraction, that, even into the ears of George III. says he, are lying at this moment in a place which I (that king having, in an accidental interview with could indicate, and no policeman is on duty in the
him at Frogmore, suggested the possibility of his whole neighbourhood to hinder me or the reader from family having come to England at the time of the pocketing as many as we please. We are also at perfect liberty to pocket the anchors of Her Majesty's breathe the most earnest protest against any
Huguenot exodus from France) he ventured to ship Victoria, (one hundred and twenty guns), and to sell them for old iron. Pocket them by all means,
supposition of that nature, and boldly insisted and I engage that the magistrate sitting at the Thames upon his purely Norman blood, -blood that in police-office will have too much respect for your powers earliest basis of English constitutional liberty, and
the baronial wars had helped to establish the to think of detaining you. If he does, your course is to pocket the police office, and all which it inherits. that had flowed from knightly veins in the wars The man that pockets an anchor may be dangero
of the Crusade3. Robert De Quincey came into customer, but not a customer to be sncezed at.” This England with William the Conqueror, uniting strikes us as very similar to Strepsiades’s bagging the with whose fortunes, be fared after the Conquest moon.
as a feudal baron, founding the line of win
chester; and that he was a baron of the first based on substantial worth, is easily, and without rank is evident from the statement of Gerard a sigh, exchanged for that everlasting sunshine Leigh, that his armorial device was inscribed reflected from the loving remembrances of human (and how inscribed, if not memorially and as a hearts. mark of eminent distinction ?) on the stained
But, at the same time that we so willingly glass in the old church of St. Paul's.
dispense with these nominal conditions in the But the Earls of Winchester, whatever may case of De Quincey, -though, assuredly, there was have been their prosperity during the nine or ten never a man upon earth whom these conditions, generations after the Conquest, came suddenly to considered as aërial hierolglyphs of the most an abrupt termination, abutting at length on some regal pomp and magnificence, would more conguilty traitor in the line, who, like a special Adam sistently fit, we cannot thus easily set aside those for the family, involved in his own ruin that other outward conditions of affluence and respecprosperity which would else have continued to his tability, which, by their presence or absence, so
The dissevered fragments of the old materially shape and mould the life, and particufeudal estate, however, remained in possession of larly in its earliest tendencies and impulses. several members of the family, as De Quincey In this respect De Quincey was eminently fortutells us, until the generation next preceding his nate. The powers of heaven and of earth andown, when the last vestige slipped out of the if we side with Milton and other pagan mytholohands of the one sole squire who, together with gists in attributing the gift of wealth to some the name, held also some relic of its ancient Plutonian dynasty, the dark powers under the belongings. But above the diluvial wreck of the earth seem to have conjointly arrayed themselves Winchester estates there has arisen an estate far in his behalf. Whatever 'storms were in the more royal and magnificent, and beneath a far- book of Fate written against his name they were reaching bow of promise, sealed in _magical postponed till a far-off future, in the meantime security against a similar disaster. For just granting him the happiest of all childhoods. here, where every hold is lost upon the original Really of gentle blood, and thus gaining whatheritage, is the family freshly grounded upon a ever substantial benefits in constitutional tempersecond heritage, -one sublime in its order above ament and susceptibilities could be thence that of all earthly possessions, one that is forever derived, although lacking, as Pope also had imperishable, namely, the large domain which the lacked, the factitious circumstance and airy gigantic intellect of Thomas De Quincey has heralding of this distinction, he was, in addition absolved from aboriginal darkness and brought to this, surrounded by elements of aristocratic under distinct illumination for all time to refinement and luxury, and thus hedged in not
merely against the assault, in any form, of pinch
ing poverty (as would be anyone in tolerably wust henceforth soar, acres that have been, most trivial hint of possible want, against all
comfortable circumstances), but even against the through the mighty realizations of human genius, built out into the mysterious ocean-depths of necessity of limitation or retrenchment in any chaotic Nature, and that have in some measure
normal line of expenditure. bridged over infinite chasms in thought, and by He was the son of a merchant, who, at the just so far have extended the fluctuating early age of thirty-nine, died, leaving to his boundaries of human empire. And for De family, (a wife and six children), an estate yielding Quincey himself, in view of that monumental annually an income of sixteen hundred pounds. structure which rises above the shattered wrecks And as at his father's death Do Quincey was of his poor, frail body, as above the mummied seven years old, we may reasonably infer, that, dust of Egyptian kings remain eternally the pyra- during this previous period, while his father was mids which they wrought in their life-time, we, still living, and adding to this fixed a fluctuating find it impossible to cherish a single regret, that, income from his yearly gains (which to a wholepossibly, by the treasonable slip of a predecessor, sale merchant of his standing were considerable), he may have been robbed of an earldom, or even the family-fortunes were even more auspicious, that, during a life which by some years overlapped amounting to the yearly realization of between the average allotment to humanity, and through two and three thousand pounds, and that at a which were daily accumulating the most splendid time when Napoleon had not as yet meddled with results in the very highest departments of the financial affairs of Europe, nor by his intimiphilosophy and art, these accumulations nererthe-dations caused even pounds and shillings to less went on without any notable_recognition shrink into less worth and significance than they from a court the most liberal in all Europe; no formerly liad, in view of which fact, if we are to badge of outward knighthood coming to him charge Alexander the Great (as in a famous anecthrough all these years, as formerly to Sir Thomas dote he was charged) with the crime of highway; Browne for his subtle meditations, and to Sir robbery, as the “
snapper-up of unconsidered William Hamilton for his philosophic specu- trifless' in the way of crowns and a few dozen lations. The absence of such merely nominal sceptres, what a heinous charge must be brought titles excites in us no deep regret; there is in against this Co as universal pickpocket! them little that is monumental, and the pretty This pecuniary depreciation De Quincey himself tinsel, with which they gild monuments already realized some years later, when, determining to
quit school, he thought himself compelled* to Nature and of human life. In this general cut off all communication with his guardians, and office they stand together: both wear, in gave himself up to a Bohemian life among the eyes, the regal purple; both have caused to rise Welsh mountains, wandering from one rustic between earth and heaven miracles of grandeur, valley to another with the most scanty means of such as never Cheops wrought through his support, for just then the Allies were in full rig myriad slaves, or Solomon with his fabled ring. against France, and the shrinkage of guineas in But in the final result, as in the whole modus our young wanderer's pocket became palpably operandi, of their architecture, they stand apart evident in view of the increased price of his toto cælo. Byron builds a structure that repeats dinner.
certain elements in Nature or humanity; but The time did come at length when the full they are those elements only which are allied to epos of a remarkable prosperity was closed up gloom, for he builds in suspicion and distrust, and and sealed for De Quincey. But that was in upon the basis of a cynicism that has been nurthe unseen future. To the child it was not tured in his very flesh and blood from birth; he permitted to look beyond the hazy lines that erects a Pisa-like tower which overhangs and bounded his oasis of flowers into the fruitless threatens all human hopes and all that is beauti. waste abroad. Poverty, want, at least so great ful in human love. Who else, save this archas to compel the daily exercise of his mind for angelic intellect, shut out by a mighty shadow of mercenary ends, was stealthily advancing from eclipse from the bright hopes and warm affections the rear, but the sound of its stern steppings of all sunny hearts, could lave orignated such a was wholly muffled by intervening years of Pandemonian monster as the poem on “Darkluxurions opulence and ease.
ness ?” The most striking specimen of Byron's I dwell thus at length upon the aristocratic imaginative power, and nearly the most striking elegance of De Quincey's earliest surroundings, that has ever been produced, is the apostrophe (which, coming at a later period, I should notice to the sea, in “ Childe Harold.” But what is it merely as an accident), because, although not a in the sea which affects Lord Byron's susceptipotential element, capable of producing or of bilities to grandeur ? Its destructiveness alone. adding one single iota to the essential character And horo? Is it through any high moral purof genius, it is yet a negative condition-a sine pose or meaning that seems to sway the movequa non-to the displays of genius in certain ments of destruction ? No; it is only through directions and under certain aspects. By mis. the gloomy mystery of the ruin itself, -ruin fortune it is true that power may be intensified. revealed upon a scale so vast and under conSo may it by the baptism of malice. But, given ditions of terror the most appalling, -ruin a certain degree of power, there still remains a wrought under the semblance of an almighty question as to its kind. So deep is the sky: passion for revenge directed against the human but of what hue, of what aspect ? Wine is strong, race. Thus, as an expression of the attitude and so is the crude alcohol: but what the mellow which the sea maintains toward man, we have ness? And the blood in our veins, it is an the following passage of Æschylian grandeur, but infinite force: but of what temper? Is it warm, also of Æschylian gloom : or is it cold? Does it minister to Moloch, or to
“Thou dost arise Apollo ? Will it shape the Madonna face, or the And shake him fro thee; the vile strength he wields Medusa ? Why, the simple fact that the rich For earth’s destruction thou dost all despise, blue sky overarches this earth of ours, or that it Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies, is warm blood which flows in our veins, is And send’st him, shivering in thy ployful spray, sufficient to prove that no malignant Ahriman
And howling, to his gods, where haply lies made the world. Just here the question is not, And dashest him again to earth : there let him lay!"
His petty hope in some near port or bay, what increment or what momentum genius may receive from outward circumstances, but what Who but this dark spirit, forever wooing the colouring, what mood. Here it is that a Mozart powers of darkness, and of darkness the most differs from a Mendelssohn. The important sullen, praying to Nemesis alone, could, with difference which obtains, in this respect, between such lamentable lack of faith in the purity and great powers in literature, otherwise co-ordinate, soundness of human affections, have given will receive illustration from a comparison be- utterance to a sentiment like this: tween De Quincey and Byron. For both these writers were capable, in a degree rarely equalled
“ O love! no habitant of earth thou art,in any literature, of reproducing, or rather, we
An unseen seraph we believe in thee ?" should say, of reconstructing, the pomp of or the following:
"Who loves, raves, —’tis youth's frenzy," etc.? But afterwards he discovered his mistake, and that
and again : it was only by the lack on his part of that frankness which the kindness of his guardians deserved that he
"Few-none-find what they love or could have loved, had brought so much misery upon himself in after-life. Though accident, blind contact, and the strong His younger brother, Richard, the Pink of the Necessity of loving have removed
Antobiographic Sketches," made the same mistake, Antipathies ?” a mistake which in his case was never rectified, but led to a life of perilous wanderings and adventures." This, then, is the nearest approach to human luve, the reu.oval of all antipathies ! But even ture furnishes its basis; but it is the externa. these
structure of circumstance, built up or building
"recur erelong, about childhood—to shelter or imprison-which, Envenomed with irrevocable wrong:
more than all else, gives it its determinate chaAnd circumstance—that unspiritual god
racter ; and though this outward structure may And miscreator--makes and helps along
in aster-life be thoroughly obliterated, or reOur coming evils with a crutch-like rod, Whose touch turns hope to dust,—the dust which all originally developed remain and hold a sway
placed by its opposite-yet will the tendencies have trod.”
almost uninterrupted over life. And, generally, De Quincey, on the other hand, in whose the happy influences that preside over the child heart there was laid no such hollow basis for may be reduced under three heads : first, a infidelity toward the master-passions of humanity, genial temperament—one that naturally, and of repeated the pomps of joy or of sorrow, as
its own motion, inclines toward a centre of peace evolved out of universal human nature, and as, and rest rather than toward the opposite centre throngh sunshine and tempest, typified in the of strife ; secondly, profound domestic affec. outside world, but never for one instant did he tions; and, thirdly, affluence, which, although seek alliance, on the one side, with the shallow of all three it is the most negative, and most enthusiasm of the raving Bacchante, or, on the material condition, is yet practically the most other, with the overshadowing despotism of important, because of the degree in which it is gloom ; nor can there be found on a single page necessary to the full and unlimited prosperity of of all his writings the slightest hint indicating the other two. For how frequent are the cases even a latent sympathy with the power which in which the happiest of temperaments are per. builds only to crush, or with the intellect that verted by the necessities of toil, too burdensome denies, and that against the dearest objects of to tender years, or in which corroding anxieties, human faith fulminates its denials and shocking weighing upon parents' hearts, check the free recantations solely for the purposes of scorn.
play of domestic love! And in all cases where Whence this marked difference? To ac- such limitations are present, even in the gentlest count for it, we must needs trace back form, there must be a cramping up of the to the first haunts of childhood the steps human organization and individuality someof these two fugitives, each of whom has passed where; and everywhere, and under all cir. thence, the one into desert mirage, teeming with cumstances, there must be sensibly felt the processions of the gloomiest falsities in life, and absence of that leisure which crowns and ihe other—also into the desert, but where he is glorifies ths affections of bome, making them yet refreshed and solaced by an unshaken faith seem the most like summer sunsbine, or rather in the genial verities of life, though separated like a sunshine which knows no season, which from them by irrecoverable miles of trackless is an eternal presence in the soul. waste, and where, however apparently aban
As regards all these three elements, De doned and desolate, he is yet ministered unto Quincey's childhood was prosperous; afterby angels, and no mimic fantasies are suffered wards, vicissitudes came - mighty changes, to exercise upon his heart their overmastering capable of affecting all other transmutations, seductions to
but thoroughly impotent to annul the inwrought
grace of a pre-established beauty. On the other Allure, or terrify, or undermine.”
hand, Byron's childhood was in all these ele
ments, unfortunate. The sting lest in his Whether the days of childhood be our mother's heart by the faitbless desertion of her happiest days, is a question all by itself. But husband, after the desolation of ber fortunes, there can be no question as to the inevitable was for ever ioflicted upon him, and intencertainty with which the conditions of child. sified by her fitful temper; and, notwithstanding hood, fortunate or unfortunate, determine the change in his outward prospects which the main temper and disposition of our lives. occurred after wards, he was never able to lift For it is underneath the multitude of fleeting himself out of the Trophonian cave into wbich proposals and concious efforts, born of reason, his infancy had been thrust, any more than and which, to one looking upon life from any
Vulcan could have cured that crooked gait of superficial stand-point, seem to have all to do his, which dated from some vague infantile rewith its conduct, that there runs the under- membrances of having been rudely kicked out current of disposition, which is born to Na- of heaven over its brazen battlements, one ture, which is cradled and nurtured with us in summer's day,- for that it was a summer's day our infancy, which is itself a general choice, we are certain from a line of “ Paradise Lost, branching out into our specific choices of cer- commemorating the tragic circumstance: tain directions and aims, among all opposite directions and aims, and which, although we
“ From morn till noon he fell, from noon till dewy rarely recognize its important functions, is in all cases the arbiter of our destiny. And in the | -1 summer's day.” very word disposition is indicated the finality of its arbitraments as contrasted with all pro- And this allusion to Vulcan reminds us that position.
Byron, in addition to all his other early inisNow, with respect to this disposition : Na-Ihaps, had also the identical club-foot of the