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THOMAS DE QUINCEY AND HIS WORKS. On entering upon the study of De road which conduct you to your office, Quincey's writings, the first thing with you are soon ready to exclaim that this which we are impressed is, a certain air is trilling, and that you wish the author of perfect ease, and as it were relaxa- could speak to the point. But there is tion, which breathes around. The river some witchery which still detains you: glideth at his own sweet will;' now the trifling seems to be flavoured by lingering to dally with the water-lilies, some indefinable essence, which spreads now wandering into green nooks to an irresistible charm around; you recolreflect the grey rock and silvery birch, lect that nature has innumerable freaks, now rolling in stately silence through and may present, in one quarter of a the rich smooth meadow, now leaping mile, the giant rock and the quivering amid a thousand rainbows into the blue-bell, the defiant oak and the trodden echoing chasm, while the spray rises lichen, the almost stagnant pool and the upwards in a wavering and painted surging cataract: at length the thought column; mildness, or majesty, or wild dawns upon you, that this author is great Titanic strength may be displayed, but because he cannot help it; that he is a the river is ever at the same perfect ease, force in the hand of nature; that, whether all-unconscious of the spectator. We you smile, or frown, or weep, or wonder, think the metaphor is no exaggerated he goes on with the bounding grace of expression of De Quincey's mode of writ- absolute ease, speaking with pure sponing. "My way of writing is rather to taneity the thoughts that arise within think aloud, and follow my own humours, him. Then your trust becomes deeper, than much to consider who is listening your earnestness of study redoubles: you to me;' these words, used with express are profoundly convinced that here is no reference to the mode in which he com- pretence, no unnatural effort, and your posed the Confessions, may be taken as murmuring turns to astonishment at characterising, in a degree more or less the complexity, richness, and strangely eminent, his universal manner. The blended variety of nature's effects. If goal, indeed, is always kept in view; your experience is the same as ours most however circuitous the wandering may honestly was, you will proceed from a be, there is always a return to the certain pleasureable titillation produced subject; the river's course is always by what you deem twaddle, though seawards: but there are no fixed em- twaddle deliciously spiced by genius, to bankments, between which, in straight the conviction that, however hampered, purpose-like course, the stream is com- however open to objection, here is an pelled to flow: you are led aside in the intellect, in all the great faculties of most wayward unaccountable manner, analysis, combination, and reception, of a and though you must allow that every power and range which you are at a loss individual bay and wooded creek is in to measure or define. De Quincey's itself beautiful, yet, being a Briton, writings lie scattered wide: we hesitate accustomed to feed on facts, like the not to think that those on which a alligators whom the old naturalists as- correct and definite appreciation of his serted to live upon stones, and thinking merits may best be grounded, have not it right to walk to the purpose of a book yet been separately published in this with that firm step and by that nearest country; we at least never formed any
VOL. III.—July, 1854.
thing approaching to an adequate con- of study to the works of express mystics. ception of his genius, even though ac- We indeed think that this last is not of quainted with the Confessions,' until we material importance in estimating his
' found access to certain of his papers, writings; the influence of these writers published long ago, and since hidden was not, it appears to us, of sufficient from the general gaze in 'that vast abyss' power materially to colour his originality. which, to use his own words, 'has, like By the quality of mysticism, as attachthe sea, swallowed treasures without end, ing to the mind of De Quincey, we mean that no diving-bell will bring up again.
' rather a certain affinity, so to speak, for His analytic powers were comparatively the mysterious, a strange idiosyncrasy, in a secret to us until we read his' Templars' which associations of terror, of gladness, Dialogues, which indicate to us more or of gloom, link themselves with certain strikingly than even his large work on seasons and places. Voices of sympathy political economy-in which, indeed, we awaken for him, where no sound falls on made but slight progress-à clear, far- the general ear; sorrows, from which seeing intellect; and we had no idea, the common mail of custom and coarseeven after reading his 'Confessions, that ness, or even active practical occupation, there had ever existed an Englishman defends other men, affect him with who could have written 'The Vision of poignant anguish; and joys which are Sudden Death, and the 'Dream Fugue' far too delicate and aerial to approach founded thereon. It is well the diving- the hard man of the world, float over his bell is at work in the bringing up of soul like spiritual music; he has a sure those and other treasures.* If readers footing in dim and distant regions, where judge our estimate of De Quincey anywise phantasy piles her towers, and raises her too high, we bid them wait. Let them, colonnades, and wraps all in her wierd besides, consider that we take into account, and wondrous drapery. He tells us that, in judging of the powers of De Quincey, 'like Sir Thomas Brown, his mind almost the fact that his life has been shadowed demanded mysteries in so mysterious a by one great cloud, which would have system of relations as those which confatally obscured any ordinary intellect, nect us with another world;' and we that he has seen the stars through å cannot hesitate to use the hint for the veil, and that we have to mete the power explication of much to which he does of that vision which could pierce such an ' not, in that connection, intend to obstruction. Once more, let it be re- apply. I know we are met by expresmembered that the mind of De Quincey sions of sentiment, regarding summer, must, on all hands, be allowed to be one and death, and solitude, which may of a very singular and original kind. appear strange or far-fetched, and we are It is prominently characterised by two told of woes which our duller imaginaqualities, which are partially regarded tions and less tremulous sympathies with suspicion by hard thinkers, and almost compel us to deem fantastic. tend to lower the expectation of the Altogether, to the matter-of-fact English reader who is in search of substantial reader, the phenomena presented by these intellectual sustenance: we mean hu- works are astonishing and alarming; and mour, and what we can only call mysti- it is well for him, if his hasty practicality cism. De Quincey is essentially and does not prompt him to close them at always a humorist; a humorist of a once, deciding that there is no real metal very rare and delicate order, but whose for life's highway to be found there, but very delicacy is mistaken by hard minds only such airy materials as might be used for feebleness or silly trifling. He is by some Macadam of the clouds. Now, also, to some extent, an intellectual we are confident that De Quincey has mystic. We use this word in no dis- performed intellectual service for the age, paraging sense; nor do we lay emphasis which could be shown to be practically upon the fact, that he has devoted years substantial to the most rigorously prac
* We need scarcely remind our readers tical mind; but we would specially urge, that the publisher of the INSTRUCTOR is that it is quite possible that writings may bringing out at present a beautiful edition be of the highest values, although one of the works of De Quincey, entitled 'Selec- cannot trace their association with any tions Grave and Gay, from the Writings: department of economisc affairs. Published and Unpublished, of Thomas De
We Quincey. Revised and enlarged by himself.' are practical enough, and make no The third volume has just appeared. pretension to having
wings for the
ether. But let it at once be said, that clearly in their mutual relations. Beginthe world is not a manufactory. There ning with mere abstractions, or what apare regions where the spirit of man can pear such, with factors which must be expatiate above the corn-field or the dealt with algebraically, and seem abcounter; it is lawful for the immortal solutely independent of practice, it proprinciple within us to rise for a time out ceeds onwards until it embraces every of the atmosphere of the labour curse; complexity of our social existence, until the universe is really wonderful, and it is every mathematical line is turned into an not well to forget the fact; nay, finally, actual visible extension, and every ideal it is well for a man, perhaps at times it form has to take what shape it can amid is best for him, to spread the wings of his the jostling and scrambling of life. It is mind for regions positively removed from, thus, in our opinion, perhaps the very antipodal to, practice, if haply he may best study in which a man can engage for gain glimpses of habitations higher than the culture of his argumentative nature. earth, and destinies nobler than those of For, as we say, it has every stage: it detime. Bold as the assertion looks, we mands mathematical accuracy in one part, should question the power of any man to and lays down rigidly the ideal law; it be a docile and accurate disciple of the brings you on till you are in the field and Comte school of philosophy, who found workshop, till you have to calculate the the highest enjoyment of understanding strength of varied desires, the probable and sympathy in the works of De upshot of complicated chances, the modiQuincey!
fications produced by a thousand nameWhen, beneath all its drapery of cloud less influences. From the mathematical and rainbow, the grand physiognomic diagram to the table of statistics, from the outlines of De Quincey's mind reveal academy to the street, from the closet of the themselves to the reader, his primary ob- philosopher to the world of the statesman, servation will probably be, that it is political economy conducts the student. marked by an extraordinary analytic fa- Whatever the practical value of the culty. De Quincey's own opinion declares science to the merchant, legislator, mothis to be the principal power in his mind; ralist, or philanthropist and we have no and though we should not deem this in leisure to demonstrate, as we think is itself conclusive, we cannot but think it possible, its practical value to each-it strongly confirmatory of the general evi- scarcely admits of a doubt, that, as an indence gathered from other quarters. 'My strument of mental culture, it is invaluproper vocation,' these are his words, 'as able. But this remark is incidental: we I well knew, was the exercise of the ana- have glanced at the general nature of the lytic understanding. The more we know science of political economy, in order that of De Quincey's writings, the more are we we may exhibit clearly the particular dedriven to the conviction, that his mind is, partment in which De Quincey is distinin this regard, of an extremely high order. guished. This, of course, is the abstract His intensely clear perception of the re- portion. The fundamental laws of-the lation between ideas, the delight with science, or rather the one fundamental which he expatiates in regions of pure law on which it is all built, furnished his abstraction, where no light lives but that mind with occupation. This one fundaof the 'inevitable eye' of the mind, the mental law is the law of value. It deterease with which he unravels and winds off mines what is, viewed abstractly, the what appears a mere skein of cloud- grand cause which fixes the relative value streamers, too closely blended to be taken of articles—how much of any one will exapart, and too delicate not to rend asunder, change for so much of any other. Once afford irresistible evidence of rare ana- this is found, you know whence all devialytic power. That our words may be seen tions depart, you know how each modifyto be no mere rhetorical painting of our ing element will act, you havé, so to own fancies, but a feeble attempt to indi- speak, formed your theory of the seasons, cate what our eyes have seen, we shall although you cannot tell what showers glance cursorily at one or two of those may fall, what winds may blow, what portions of De Quincey's works which give ripening weeks of sunshine may usher in attestation of this power.
the harvest. 'He,' says De Quincey, The science of political economy is re- who is fully master of the subject of
markable as one of those in which the value, is already a good political econo1 abstract and the concrete are seen most mist. We perfectly agree with him, and
think that political economy first and and rinsings of the human intellect; and for ever became an established science, that any man of sound head, and practised when the theory of value was perfected. in wielding logic with a scholastic adroitThe honour of having published the de- ness, might take up the whole academy monstration belongs to David Ricardo; of modern economists, and throttle them but De Quincey, as has so often happened, between heaven and earth with his finger found himself anticipated with the public, and thumb, or bray their fungus heads to for he had arrived at the same results: as powder with a lady's fan.' Such sudden it was, little remained for him to do, but and amazing proficiency, we presume, to silence a few objectors who long con- scientific professors would not extremely tinued to oppose Ricardo. This he did in desire. However, this surprising pupil the 'Dialogues 'to which we have referred, was soon to meet the master:- At in a manner so clear and conclusive, that length,' he proceeds, 'in 1819, a friend in assent may be said to have become syno- Edinburgh sent me down Mr Ricardo's nymous with comprehension. It is diffi- book; and, recurring to my own prophetic cult to convey any idea of these papers to anticipation of the advent of some legisone who has not read them. To quote lator for this science, I said, before I had any passage were an improvement upon finished the first chapter, "Thou art the the brick sample of the house, for it would man!” Wonder and curiosity were emobe to offer a stone as sample of an arch; tions that had long been dead in me. Yet to abridge is out of the question, for they I wondered once more: I wondered at are a model of terseness. Considered as myself, that I could once again be stimupieces of reasoning, they are really mas- lated to the effort of reading; and, much terly. There is an artistic perfection more, I wondered at the book. Had this about them. The beauty of precision, of profound book been really written in clearness, of absolute performance of the England during the nineteenth century ? thing required, is the only beauty admis- Could it be that an Englishman, sible. Accordingly, there is not an illus- and he not in academic bowers, but opprestration which is not there simply because sed by mercantile and senatorial* cares, it speaks more clearly than words; there had accomplished what all the universities are no flourishes of rhetoric: all is quiet, of Europe, and a century of thought, had orderly, conclusive, like the British liné failed to advance even by one hair'sadvancing to the charge, and with the breadth ? All other writers had been same result. It is true that, even in crushed and overlaid by the enormous them, De Quincey could not be dull, and weight of facts and documents; Mr so there is the slightest infusion of hu- Ricardo had deduced à priori, from the mour, which adds a raciness to the whole, understanding itself, laws which first gave and is thus promotive of the general a ray of light into the unwieldy chaos of effect. Mr M°Culloch, a man not given materials
, and had constructed what to enthusiasm, says of these papers, that had been but a collection of tentative they'are unequalled, perhaps, for brevity, discussions into a science of regular propungency, and force.
portions, now first standing on an eternal De Quincey's introduction to political basis.' economy was characteristic, and illustrates Are our readers acquainted with the remarkably the nature of his powers. He 'Principles of Political Economy and took to it as an amusement, when debility Taxation, by David Ricardo? If not, had caused the cessation of severer studies. they will hardly appreciate De Quincey's About the year 1811, he became acquaint- enthusiasm, or understand what it implies. ed with a great many books and pamphlets Butler and Edwards are by no means on the subject; but it seems that what drawing-room authors, yet the perusal of had employed the concentrated, protract- their works seems to us to approach the ed, and healthful energies of men for nature of an intellectual recreation, comabout a couple of centuries, could not for pared with that of this book of Ricardo's. a moment bide the scrutiny of his lan- We consider it that volume which, of all guishing eye. Nous politely and compos- we know, requires the highest tension and edly does he indicate his general impres- effort of intellect. It has a thousand sion of what books, pamphlets, speeches, times been charged with obscurity, and a and other compositions bearing on political
*'Senatorial:- This is a mistake. Ricardo economy had come in his way:
entered the House of Commons in 1819; his that these were generally the very dregs work was published in 1817.