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An essay by Thomas De Quincey

Omitted Passages And Varied Readings

Title:     Omitted Passages And Varied Readings
Author: Thomas De Quincey [More Titles by De Quincey]


In London and other great capitals it is well known that new diseases have manifested themselves of late years: and more would be known about them, were it not for the tremulous delicacy which waits on the afflictions of the rich. We do not say this invidiously. It is right that such forbearance should exist. Medical men, as a body, are as manly a race as any amongst us, and as little prone to servility. But obviously the case of exposure under circumstances of humiliating affliction is a very different thing for the man whose rank and consideration place him upon a hill conspicuous to a whole city or nation, and for the unknown labourer whose name excites no feeling whatever in the reader of his case. Meantime it is precisely amongst the higher classes, privileged so justly from an exposure pressing so unequally upon _their_ rank, that these new forms of malady emerge. Any man who visits London at intervals long enough to make the spectacle of that great vision impressive to him from novelty and the force of contrast, more especially if this contrast is deepened by a general residence in some quiet rural seclusion, will not fail to be struck by the fever and tumult of London as its primary features. _Struck_ is not the word: _awed_ is the only adequate expression as applied to the hurry, the uproar, the strife, the agony of life as it boils along some of the main arteries among the London streets. About the hour of equinoctial sunset comes a periodic respite in the shape of dinner. Were it not for that, were it not for the wine and the lustre of lights, and the gentle restraints of courtesies, and the soothing of conversation, through which a daily reaction is obtained, London would perish from excitement in a year. The effect upon one who like ourselves simply beholds the vast frenzy attests its power. The mere sympathy, into which the nerves are forced by the eye, expounds the fury with which it must act upon those who are acting and suffering participators in the mania. Rome suffered in the same way, but in a less degree: and the same relief was wooed daily in a brilliant dinner (_caena_), but two and a half hours earlier.

The same state of things exists proportionately in other capitals--Edinburgh, Dublin, Naples, Vienna. And doubtless, if the curtain were raised, the same penalties would be traced as pursuing this agitated life; the penalties, we mean, that exist in varied shapes of nervous disease.



Mr. Bennett personally is that good man who interests us the more because he seems to be an ill-used one. By the way, here is a combination which escaped the Roman moralist: _Vir bonus_, says he, _mala fortuna compositus_, is a spectacle for the gods. Yet what is that case, the case of a man matched in duel with the enmity of a malicious fellow-creature--naturally his inferior, but officially having means to oppress him? No man is naturally or easily roused to anger by a blind abstraction like Fortune; and therefore he is under no temptation to lose his self-command. He sustains no trial that can make him worthy of a divine contemplation. Amongst all the extravagancies of human nature, never yet did we hear of a person who harboured a sentiment of private malice against Time for moving too rapidly, or against Space for being infinitely divisible. Even animated annoyers, if they are without spite towards ourselves, we regard with no enmity. No man in all history, if we except the twelfth Caesar, has nourished a deadly feud against flies[1]: and if Mrs. Jameson allowed a sentiment of revenge to nestle in her heart towards the Canadian mosquitoes, it was the race and not the individual parties to the trespass on herself against whom she protested. Passions it is, human passions, intermingling with the wrong itself that envenom the sense of wrong. We have ourselves been caned severely in passing through a wood by the rebound, the recalcitration we may call it, of elastic branches which we had displaced. And passing through the same wood with a Whitehaven dandy of sixty, now in _Hades_, who happened to wear a beautiful wig from which on account of the heat he had removed his hat, we saw with these eyes of ours one of those same thickets which heretofore had been concerned in our own caning, deliberately lift up, suspend, and keep dangling in the air for the contempt of the public that auburn wig which was presumed by its wearer to be simular of native curls. The ugliness of that death's head which by this means was suddenly exposed to daylight, the hideousness of that grinning skull so abruptly revealed, may be imagined by poets. Neither was the affair easily redressed: the wig swung buoyantly in the playful breezes: to catch it was hard, to release it without injuring the tresses was a matter of nicety: ladies were heard approaching from Rydal Mount: the dandy was agitated: he felt himself, if seen in this condition, to be a mere _memento mori_: for the first time in his life, as we believe, he blushed on meeting our eye: he muttered something, in which we could only catch the word 'Absalom': and finally we extricated ourselves from the cursed thicket barely in time to meet the ladies. Here were insufferable affronts: greater cannot be imagined: wanton outrages on two inoffensive men: and for ourselves, who could have identified and sworn to one of the bushes as an accomplice in _both_ assaults, it was not easy altogether to dismiss the idea of malice. Yet, because this malice did not organize and concentrate itself in an eye looking on and genially enjoying our several mortifications, we both pocketed the affronts. All this we say to show Mr. Bennett how fully we do justice to his situation, and allow for the irritation natural to such cases as his, where the loss is clothed with contumely, and the wrong is barbed by malice. But, for all _that_, we do not think such confidential communications of ill-usage properly made to the public.

In fact, this querulous temper of expostulation, running through the book, disfigures its literary aspect. And possibly for our own comfort we might have turned away from a feature of discontent so gloomy and painful, were it not that we are thus accidentally recalled to a grievance in our Eastern administrations upon which we desire to enter a remark. Life is languid, the blood becomes lazy, at the extremities of our bodily system, as we ourselves know by dolorous experience under the complaint of _purpura_; and analogously we find the utility of our supreme government to droop and languish before it reaches the Indian world. Hence partly it is (for nearer home we see nothing of the kind), that foreign adventurers receive far too much encouragement from our British Satraps in the East. To find themselves within 'the regions of the morn,' and cheek to cheek with famous Sultans far inferior in power and substantial splendour, makes our great governors naturally proud. They are transfigured by necessity; and, losing none of their justice or integrity, they lose a good deal of their civic humility. In such a state they become capable of flattery, apt for the stratagems of foreign adulation. We know not certainly that Mr. Bennett's injuries originated in that source; though we suspect as much from the significant stories which he tells of interloping foreigners on the pension list in Ceylon. But this we _do_ know, that, from impulses easily deciphered, foreigners creep into favour where an Englishman would not; and why? For two reasons: 1st, because a foreigner _must_ be what is meant by 'an adventurer,' and in his necessity he is allowed to find his excuse; 2ndly, because an Englishman, attempting to play the adulatory character, finds an obstacle to his success in the standard of his own national manners from which it requires a perpetual effort to wean himself: whereas the oily and fluent obsequiousness found amongst Italians and Frenchmen makes the transition to a perfect Phrygian servility not only more easy to the artist, and less extravagantly palpable, but more agreeable in the result to his employer. This cannot be denied, and therefore needs no comment. But, as to the other reason, viz., that a foreigner _must_ be an adventurer, allow us to explain. Every man is an adventurer, every man is _in sensu strictissimo_ sometimes a knave.

You might imagine the situation of an adventurer who had figured virtually in many lives, to resemble that of the late revered Mr. Prig Bentham, when sitting like a contrite spider at the centre of his 'panopticon'; all the lines, which meet in a point at his seat, radiate outwards into chambers still widening as they increase their distance. This _may_ be an image of an adventurer's mind when open to compunction, but generally it is exactly reversed; he sees the past sections of his life, however spacious heretofore, crowding up and narrowing into vanishing points to his immediate eye. And such also they become for the public. The villain, who walks, like AEneas at Carthage, shrouded in mist, is as little pursued by any bad report for his forgotten misdeeds as he is usually by remorse. In the process of losing their relation to any known and visible person, acts of fraud, robbery, murder, lose all distinct place in the memory. Such acts are remembered only through persons. And hence it is that many interesting murders, worthy to become cabinet gems in a museum of such works, have wasted their sweetness on the desert air even in our time, for no other reason than that the parties concerned did not amplify their proportions upon the public eye; the sufferers were perhaps themselves knaves; and the doers had retreated from all public knowledge into the mighty crowds of London or Glasgow.

This excursus, on the case of adventurers who run away from their own crimes into the pathless wildernesses of vast cities, may appear disproportionate. But excuse it, reader, for the subject is interesting; and with relation to our Eastern empire it is peculiarly so. Many are the anecdotes we could tell, derived from Oriental connections, about foreign scamps who have first exposed the cloven foot when inextricably connected with political intrigues or commercial interests, or possibly with domestic and confidential secrets. The dangerousness of their characters first began to reveal itself after they had become dangerous by their present position.

Mr. Bennett mentions one lively illustration of this in the case of a foreigner, who had come immediately from the Cape of Good Hope; so far, but not farther, he could be traced. And what part had he played at the Cape? The illustrious one of private sentinel, with a distant prospect perhaps of rising to be a drum-major. This man--possibly a refugee from the bagnio at Marseilles, or from the Italian galleys--was soon allowed to seat himself in an office of L1,000 per annum. For what? For which of his vices? Our English and Scottish brothers, honourable and educated, must sacrifice country, compass land and sea, face a life of storms, with often but a slender chance of any result at all from their pains, whilst a foreign rascal (without any allegation of merit in his favour) shall at one bound, by planting his servility in the right quarter and at the fortunate hour, vault into an income of 25,000 francs per annum; the money, observe, being national money--yours, ours, everybody's--since at that period Ceylon did not pay her own expenses. Now, indeed, she does, and furnishes beside, annually, a surplus of L50,000 sterling. But still, we contend that places of trust, honour, and profit, won painfully by British blood, are naturally and rightfully to be held in trust as reversions for the children of the family. To return, however, and finish the history of our scamp, it happened that through the regular action of his office, and in part perhaps through some irregular influence or consideration with which his station invested him, he became the depositary of many sums saved laboriously by poor Ceylonese. These sums he embezzled; or, as a sympathizing countryman observed of a similar offence in similar circumstances, he 'gave an irregular direction to their appropriation.' You see, he could not forget his old Marseilles tricks. This, however, was coming it too strong for his patron, who in spite of his taste for adulation was a just governor. Our poor friend was summoned most peremptorily to account for the missing dollars; and because it did not occur to him that he might plead, as another man from Marseilles in another colony had done, 'that the white ants had eaten the dollars,' he saw no help for it but to cut his throat, and cut his throat he did. This being done, you may say that he had given such a receipt as he could, and had entitled himself to a release. Well, we are not unmerciful; and were the case of the creditors our own, we should not object. But we remark, besides the private wrong, a posthumous injury to the British nation which this foreigner was enabled to commit; and it was twofold: he charged the pension-list of Ceylon with the support of his widow, in prejudice of other widows left by our meritorious countrymen, some of whom had died in battle for the State; and he had attainted, through one generation at least, the good faith of our nation amongst the poor ignorant Cinghalese, who cannot be expected to distinguish between true Englishmen and other Europeans whom English governors may think proper to exalt in the colony.

Cases such as these, it is well known to the learned in that matter, have been but too frequent in our Eastern colonies; and we do assert that any single case of that nature is too much by one. Even where the question is merely one of courtesy to science or to literature, we complain heavily, not at all of that courtesy, but that by much too great a preponderance is allowed to the pretensions of foreigners. Everybody at Calcutta will recollect the invidious distinctions (invidious upon contrast) paid by a Governor-General some years ago to a French _savant_, who came to the East as an itinerant botanist and geologist on the mission of a Parisian society. The Governor was Lord William Bentinck. His Excellency was a radical, and, being such, could swallow 'homage' by the gallon, which homage the Frenchman took care to administer. In reward he was publicly paraded in the _howdah_ of Lady William Bentinck, and caressed in a way not witnessed before or since. Now this Frenchman, after visiting the late king of the Sikhs at Lahore, and receiving every sort of service and hospitality from the English through a devious route of seven thousand miles (treatment which in itself we view with pleasure), finally died of liver complaint through his own obstinacy. By way of honour to his memory, the record of his three years' wanderings has been made public. What is the expression of his gratitude to the English? One service he certainly rendered us: he disabused, if _that_ were possible, the French of their silly and most ignorant notions as to our British government in India and Ceylon: he could do no otherwise, for he had himself been astounded at what he saw as compared with what he had been taught to expect. Thus far he does us some justice and therefore some service, urged to it by his bitter contempt of the French credulity wherever England is slandered. But otherwise he treats with insolence unbounded all our men of science, though his own name has made little impression anywhere: and, in his character of traveller he speaks of himself as of one laying the foundation-stone of any true knowledge with regard to India. In particular he dismisses with summary contempt the Travels of Bishop Heber--not very brilliant perhaps, but undoubtedly superior both in knowledge and in style to his own. Yet this was the man selected for _feting_ by the English Governor-General; as though courtesy to a Frenchman could not travel on any line which did not pass through a mortifying slight to Englishmen.



Variation on the opening of 'Coleridge and Opium-eating.'

What is the deadest thing known to philosophers? According to popular belief, it is a door-nail. For the world says, 'Dead as a door-nail!' But the world is wrong. Dead may be a door-nail; but deader and most dead is Gillman's Coleridge. Which fact in Natural History we demonstrate thus: Up to Waterloo it was the faith of every child that a sloth took a century for walking across a street. His mother, if she 'knew he was out,' must have had a pretty long spell of uneasiness before she saw him back again. But Mr. Waterton, Baptist of a new generation in these mysteries, took that conceit out of Europe: the sloth, says he, cannot like a snipe or a plover run a race neck and neck with a first-class railway carriage; but is he, therefore, a slow coach? By no means: he would go from London to Edinburgh between seedtime and harvest. Now Gillman's Coleridge, vol. i., has no such speed: it has taken six years to come up with those whom chiefly it concerned. Some dozen of us, Blackwood-men and others, are stung furiously in that book during the early part of 1838; and yet none of us had ever perceived the nuisance or was aware of the hornet until the wheat-fields of 1844 were white for the sickle. In August of 1844 we saw Gillman.



The Fathers grant to the Oracles a real power of foresight and prophecy, but in all cases explain these supernatural functions out of diabolic inspiration. Van Dale, on the other hand, with all his Vandalish followers, treats this hypothesis, both as regards the power itself of looking into the future and as regards the supposed source of that power, in the light of a contemptible chimera. They discuss it scarcely with gravity: indeed, the very frontispiece to Van Dale's book already announces the repulsive spirit of scoffing and mockery in which he means to dismiss it; men are there represented in the act of juggling and coarsely exulting over their juggleries by protruding the tongue or exchanging collusive winks with accomplices. Now, in a grave question obliquely affecting Christianity and the course of civilization, this temper of discussion is not becoming, were the result even more absolutely convincing than it is. Everybody can see at a glance that it is not this particular agency of evil spirits which Van Dale would have found so ridiculous, were it not that he had previously addicted himself to viewing the whole existence of evil spirits as a nursery fable. Now it is not our intention to enter upon any speculation so mysterious. It is clear from the first that no man by human researches can any more add one scintillation of light to the obscure indications of Scripture upon this dark question, than he can add a cubit to his stature. We do not know, nor is it possible to know, what is even likely to be the exact meaning of various Scriptural passages partly, perhaps, adapted to the erring preconceptions of the Jews; for never let it be forgotten that upon all questions alike, which concerned no moral interest of man, all teachers alike who had any heavenly mission, patriarchs or lawgivers conversing immediately with God, prophets, apostles, or even the Founder of our religion Himself, never vouchsafe to reveal one ray of illumination. And to us it seems the strangest oversight amongst all the oversights of commentators that, in respect to the Jewish errors as to astronomy, etc., they should not have seen the broad open doctrine which vindicates the profound Scriptural neglect of errors however gross in that quality of speculation. The solution of this neglect is not such as to leave a man under any excuse for apologizing or shuffling. The solution is technical, precise, and absolute. It is not sufficient to say, as the best expounders do generally say, that science, that astronomy for instance, that geology, that physiology, were not the kind of truth which divine missionaries were sent to teach; that is true, but is far short of the whole truth. Not only was it negatively no part of the offices attached to a divine mission that it should extend its teaching to merely intellectual questions (an argument which still leaves the student to figure it as a work not indispensable, not absolutely to be expected, yet in case it _were_ granted as so much of advantage, as a _lucro ponatur_), but in the most positive and commanding sense it _was_ the business of revelation to refuse all light of this kind. According to all the analogies which explain the meaning of a revelation, it would have been a capital schism in the counsels of Providence, if in one single instance it had condescended to gratify human curiosity by anticipation with regard to any subject whatever, which God had already subjected to human capacity through the ample faculties of the human intellect.



The evangelist, stepping forward, touched her forehead. 'She is mortal,' he said; and guessing that she was waiting for some one amongst the youthful revellers, he groaned heavily; and then, half to himself and half to _her_, he said, 'O flower too gorgeous, weed too lovely, wert thou adorned with beauty in such excess, that not Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like thee, no nor even the lily of the field, only that thou mightest grieve the Holy Spirit of God?' The woman trembled exceedingly, and answered, 'Rabbi, what should I do? For, behold! all men forsake me.'

Brief had been the path, and few the steps, which had hurried her to destruction. Her father was a prince amongst the princes of Lebanon; but proud, stern, and inflexible.



[1] 'Against flies'--whence he must have merited the anger of Beelzebub, whom Syrians held to be the tutelary god of flies; meaning probably by 'flies' all insects whatever, as the Romans meant by _passer_ and _passerculus_, all little birds of whatsoever family, and by _malum_ every fruit that took the shape and size of a ball. How honoured were the race of flies, to have a deity of the first rank for their protector, a Caesar for their enemy! Caesar made war upon them with his stylus; he is supposed to have massacred openly, or privately and basely to have assassinated, more than seven millions of that unfortunate race, who however lost nothing of that indomitable pertinacity in retaliating all attacks, which Milton has noticed with honour in 'Paradise Regained.' In reference to this notorious spirit of persecution in the last prince of the Flavian house, Suetonius records a capital repartee: 'Is the Emperor alone?' demanded a courtier. 'Quite alone.' 'Are you sure? Really now is nobody with him?' Answer: '_Ne musca quidem._'

[The end]
Thomas De Quincey's essay: Omitted Passages And Varied Readings