De Quincey's Revolt of the Tartars by Thomas de Quincey


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Page 1

The student's attention is called frequently to the _form_ of
expression; the discriminating use of epithets, the employment of
foreign phrases, the allusions to Milton and the Bible, the structure
of paragraphs, the treatment of incident, the development of feeling,
the impressiveness of a present personality; all this, however, is
with the purpose, not of mechanic exercise, nor merely to illustrate
"rhetoric," but to illuminate _De Quincey_. It is with this intention,
presumably, that the text is prescribed. There is little
attractiveness, after all, in the idea of a style so colorless and so
impersonal that the individuality of its victim is lost in its own
perfection; this was certainly not the Opium-Eater's mind concerning
literary form, nor does it appear to have been the aim of any of our
masters. Indeed, it may be well in passing to point out to pupils how
fatal to success in writing is the attempt to imitate the style of any
man, De Quincey included; it is always in order to emphasize the
naturalness and spontaneity of the "grand style" wherever it is found.
The teacher should not inculcate a blind admiration of all that De
Quincey has said or done; there is opportunity, even in this brief
essay, to exercise the pupil in applying the commonplace tests of
criticism, although it should be seen to as well that a true
appreciation is awakened for the real excellences of this little











Thomas De Quincey is one of the eccentric figures in English
literature. Popularly he is known as the English Opium-Eater and as
the subject of numerous anecdotes which emphasize the oddities of his
temperament and the unconventionality of his habits. That this man of
distinguished genius was the victim--pitifully the victim--of opium is
the lamentable fact; that he was morbidly shy and shunned intercourse
with all except a few intimate, congenial friends; that he was
comically indifferent to the fashion of his dress; that he was the
most unpractical and childlike of men; that he was often betrayed,
because of these peculiarities, into many ridiculous embarrassments,
such as are described by Mr. Findlay, Mr. Hogg, and Mr. Burton,--of
all this there can be no doubt; but these idiosyncrasies are, after
all, of minor importance, the accidents, not the essentials in the
life and personality of this remarkable man. The points that should
attract our notice, the qualities that really give distinction to De
Quincey, are the broad sweep of his knowledge, almost unlimited in its
scope and singularly accurate in its details, a facility of phrasing
and a word supply that transformed the mere power of discriminating
expression into a fine art, and a style that, while it lapsed
occasionally from the standard of its own excellence, was generally
self-corrective and frequently forsook the levels of commonplace
excellence for the highest reaches of impassioned prose. Nor is this
all. His pages do not lack in humor--humor of the truest and most
delicate type; and if De Quincey is at times impelled beyond the
bounds of taste, even these excursions demonstrate his power, at least
in handling the grotesque. His sympathies, however, are always
genuine, and often are profound. The pages of his autobiographic
essays reveal the strength of his affections, while in the
interpretation of such a character as that of Joan of Arc, or in
allusions like those to the pariahs,--defenceless outcasts from
society, by whose wretched lot his heart was often wrung,--he writes
in truest pathos.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Tue 25th Feb 2020, 5:52