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- Memorials and Other Papers V1 - 1/45 -


MEMORIALS, AND OTHER PAPERS, VOL. I.

BY THOMAS DE QUINCEY

FROM THE AUTHOR, TO THE AMERICAN EDITOR OF HIS WORKS.

These papers I am anxious to put into the hands of your house, and, so far as regards the U.S., of your house exclusively; not with any view to further emolument, but as an acknowledgment of the services which you have already rendered me; namely, first, in having brought together so widely scattered a collection--a difficulty which in my own hands by too painful an experience I had found from nervous depression to be absolutely insurmountable; secondly, in having made me a participator in the pecuniary profits of the American edition, without solicitation or the shadow of any expectation on my part, without any legal claim that I could plead, or equitable warrant in established usage, solely and merely upon your own spontaneous motion. Some of these new papers, I hope, will not be without their value in the eyes of those who have taken an interest in the original series. But at all events, good or bad, they are now tendered to the appropriation of your individual house, the Messrs. TICKNOR & FIELDS, according to the amplest extent of any power to make such a transfer that I may be found to possess by law or custom in America.

I wish this transfer were likely to be of more value. But the veriest trifle, interpreted by the spirit in which I offer it, may express my sense of the liberality manifested throughout this transaction by your honorable house.

Ever believe me, my dear sir,

Your faithful and obliged,

THOMAS DE QUINCEY.

CONTENTS OF VOLUME I.

EXPLANATORY NOTICES THE ORPHAN HEIRESS. VISIT TO LAXTON THE PRIORY OXFORD THE PAGAN ORACLES THE REVOLUTION OF GREECE

EXPLANATORY NOTICES.

Many of the papers in my collected works were originally written under one set of disadvantages, and are now revised under another. They were written generally under great pressure as to time, in order to catch the critical periods of monthly journals; written oftentimes at a distance from the press (so as to have no opportunity for correction); and always written at a distance from libraries, so that very many statements, references, and citations, were made on the authority of my unassisted memory. Under such circumstances were most of the papers composed; and they are now reissued in a corrected form, sometimes even partially recast, under the distraction of a nervous misery which embarrasses my efforts in a mode and in a degree inexpressible by words. Such, indeed, is the distress produced by this malady, that, if the present act of republication had in any respect worn the character of an experiment, I should have shrunk from it in despondency. But the experiment, so far as there was any, had been already tried for me vicariously amongst the Americans; a people so nearly repeating our own in style of intellect, and in the composition of their reading class, that a success amongst them counts for a success amongst ourselves. For some few of the separate papers in these volumes I make pretensions of a higher cast. These pretensions I will explain hereafter. All the rest I resign to the reader's unbiased judgment, adding here, with respect to four of them, a few prefatory words--not of propitiation or deprecation, but simply in explanation as to points that would otherwise be open to misconstruction.

1. The paper on "Murder as one of the Fine Arts" [Footnote: Published in the "Miscellaneous Essays."] seemed to exact from me some account of Williams, the dreadful London murderer of the last generation; not only because the amateurs had so much insisted on his merit as the supreme of artists for grandeur of design and breadth of style; and because, apart from this momentary connection with my paper, the man himself merited a record for his matchless audacity, combined with so much of snaky subtlety, and even insinuating amiableness, in his demeanor; but also because, apart from the man himself, the works of the man (those two of them especially which so profoundly impressed the nation in 1812) were in themselves, for dramatic effect, the most impressive on record. Southey pronounced their preeminence when he said to me that they ranked amongst the few domestic events which, by the depth and the expansion of horror attending them, had risen to the dignity of a _national_ interest. I may add that this interest benefited also by the mystery which invested the murders; mystery as to various points but especially as respected one important question, Had the murderer any accomplice? [Footnote: Upon a large overbalance of probabilities, it was, however, definitively agreed amongst amateurs that Williams must have been alone in these atrocities. Meantime, amongst the colorable presumptions on the other side was this:--Some hours after the last murder, a man was apprehended at Barnet (the first stage from London on a principal north road), encumbered with a quantity of plate. How he came by it, or whither he was going, he steadfastly refused to say. In the daily journals, which he was allowed to see, he read with eagerness the police examinations of Williams; and on the same day which announced the catastrophe of Williams, he also committed suicide in his cell.] There was, therefore, reason enough, both in the man's hellish character, and in the mystery which surrounded him, for a Postscript [Footnote: Published in the "Note Book."] to the original paper; since, in a lapse of forty-two years, both the man and his deeds had faded away from the knowledge of the present generation; but still I am sensible that my record is far too diffuse. Feeling this at the very time of writing, I was yet unable to correct it; so little self-control was I able to exercise under the afflicting agitations and the unconquerable impatience of my nervous malady.

2. "War." [Footnote: Published in "Narrative and Miscellaneous Essays."]--In this paper, from having faultily adjusted its proportions in the original outline, I find that I have dwelt too briefly and too feebly upon the capital interest at stake. To apply a correction to some popular misreadings of history, to show that the criminal (because trivial) occasions of war are not always its trifle causes, or to suggest that war (if resigned to its own natural movement of progress) is cleansing itself and ennobling itself constantly and inevitably, were it only through its connection with science ever more and more exquisite, and through its augmented costliness,--all this may have its use in offering some restraint upon the levity of action or of declamation in Peace Societies. But all this is below the occasion. I feel that far grander interests are at stake in this contest. The Peace Societies are falsely appreciated, when they are described as merely deaf to the lessons of experience, and as too "_romantic_" in their expectations. The very opposite is, to _my_ thinking, their criminal reproach. He that is romantic errs usually by too much elevation. He violates the standard of reasonable expectation, by drawing too violently upon the nobilities of human nature. But, on the contrary, the Peace Societies would, if their power kept pace with their guilty purposes, work degradation for man by drawing upon his most effeminate and luxurious cravings for ease. Most heartily, and with my profoundest sympathy, do I go along with Wordsworth in his grand lyrical proclamation of a truth not less divine than it is mysterious, not less triumphant than it is sorrowful, namely, that amongst God's holiest instruments for the elevation of human nature is "mutual slaughter" amongst men; yes, that "Carnage is God's daughter." Not deriving my own views in this matter from Wordsworth,--not knowing even whether I hold them on the same grounds, since Wordsworth has left _his_ grounds unexplained,--nevertheless I cite them in honor, as capable of the holiest justification. The instruments rise in grandeur, carnage and mutual slaughter rise in holiness, exactly as the motives and the interests rise on behalf of which such awful powers are invoked. Fighting for truth in its last recesses of sanctity, for human dignity systematically outraged, or for human rights mercilessly trodden under foot--champions of such interests, men first of all descry, as from a summit suddenly revealed, the possible grandeur of bloodshed suffered or inflicted. Judas and Simon Maccabæus in days of old, Gustavus Adolphus [Footnote: The Thirty Years' War, from 1618 to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, was notoriously the last and the decisive conflict between Popery and Protestantism; the result of that war it was which finally enlightened all the Popish princes of Christendom as to the impossibility of ever suppressing the antagonist party by mere force of arms. I am not meaning, however, to utter any opinion whatever on the religious position of the two great parties. It is sufficient for entire sympathy with the royal Swede, that he fought for the freedom of conscience. Many an enlightened Roman Catholic, supposing only that he were not a Papist, would have given his hopes and his confidence to the Protestant king.] in modern days, fighting for the violated rights of conscience against perfidious despots and murdering oppressors, exhibit to us the incarnations of Wordsworth's principle. Such wars are of rare occurrence. Fortunately they are so; since, under the possible contingencies of human strength and weakness, it might else happen that the grandeur of the principle should suffer dishonor through the incommensurate means for maintaining it. But such cases, though emerging rarely, are always to be reserved in men's minds as ultimate appeals to what is most divine in man. Happy it is for human welfare that the blind heart of man is a thousand times wiser than his understanding. An _arrière pensée_ should lie hidden in all minds--a holy reserve as to cases which _may_ arise similar to such as HAVE arisen, where a merciful bloodshed [Footnote: "_Merciful bloodshed_"--In reading either the later religious wars of the Jewish people under the Maccabees, or the earlier under Joshua, every philosophic reader will have felt the true and transcendent spirit of mercy which resides virtually in such wars, as maintaining the unity of God against Polytheism and, by trampling on cruel idolatries, as indirectly opening the channels for benign principles of morality through endless generations of men. Here especially he will have read one justification of Wordsworth's bold doctrine upon war. Thus far he will destroy a wisdom working from afar, but, as regards the immediate present, he will be apt to adopt the ordinary view, namely, that in the Old Testament severity prevails approaching to cruelty. Yet, on consideration, he will be disposed to qualify this opinion. He will have observed many indications of a relenting kindness and a tenderness


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