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An essay by Thomas De Quincey

Suspiria De Profundis

Title:     Suspiria De Profundis
Author: Thomas De Quincey [More Titles by De Quincey]


The finale to the first part of the 'Suspiria,' as we find from a note of the author's own, was to include 'The Dark Interpreter,' 'The Spectre of the Brocken,' and 'Savannah-la-Mar.' The references to 'The Dark Interpreter' in the latter would thus become intelligible, as the reader is not there in any full sense informed who the 'Dark Interpreter' was; and the piece, recovered from his MSS. and now printed, may thus be regarded as having a special value for De Quincey students, and, indeed, for readers generally. In _Blackwood's Magazine_ he did indeed interpolate a sentence or two, and these were reproduced in the American edition of the works (Fields's); but they are so slight and general compared with the complete 'Suspiria' now presented, that they do not in any way detract from its originality and value.

The master-idea of the 'Suspiria' is the power which lies in suffering, in agony unuttered and unutterable, to develop the intellect and the spirit of man; to open these to the ineffable conceptions of the infinite, and to some discernment, otherwise impossible, of the beneficent might that lies in pain and sorrow. De Quincey seeks his symbols sometimes in natural phenomena, oftener in the creation of mighty abstractions; and the moral of all must be set forth in the burden of 'The Daughter of Lebanon,' that 'God may give by seeming to refuse.' Prose-poems, as they have been called, they are deeply philosophical, presenting under the guise of phantasy the profoundest laws of the working of the human spirit in its most terrible disciplines, and asserting for the darkest phenomena of human life some compensating elements as awakeners of hope and fear and awe. The sense of a great pariah world is ever present with him--a world of outcasts and of innocents bearing the burden of vicarious woes; and thus it is that his title is justified--_Suspiria de Profundis_: 'Sighs from the Depths.'

We find De Quincey writing in his prefatory notice to the enlarged edition of the 'Confessions' in November, 1856:

'All along I had relied upon a crowning grace, which I had reserved for the final page of this volume, in a succession of some twenty or twenty-five dreams and noon-day visions, which had arisen under the latter stage of opium influence. These have disappeared; some under circumstances which allow me a reasonable prospect of recovering them, some unaccountably, and some dishonourably. Five or six I believe were burned in a sudden conflagration which arose from the spark of a candle falling unobserved amongst a very large pile of papers in a bedroom, where I was alone and reading. Falling not _on_, but amongst and within the papers, the fire would soon have been ahead of conflict, and, by communicating with the slight woodwork and draperies of a bed, it would have immediately enveloped the laths of the ceiling overhead, and thus the house, far from fire-engines, would have been burned down in half-an-hour. My attention was first drawn by a sudden light upon my book; and the whole difference between a total destruction of the premises and a trivial loss (from books charred) of five guineas was due to a large Spanish cloak. This, thrown over and then drawn down tightly, by the aid of one sole person, somewhat agitated, but retaining her presence of mind, effectually extinguished the fire. Amongst the papers burned partially, but not so burned as to be absolutely irretrievable, was "The Daughter of Lebanon," and this I have printed and have intentionally placed it at the end, as appropriately closing a record in which the case of poor "Ann the Outcast" formed not only the most memorable and the most suggestively pathetic incident, but also _that_ which, more than any other, coloured--or (more truly, I should say) shaped, moulded and remoulded, composed and decomposed--the great body of opium dreams.'

After this loss of the greater portion of the 'Suspiria' copy, De Quincey seems to have become indifferent in some degree to their continuity and relation to each other. He drew the 'Affliction of Childhood' and 'Dream Echoes,' which stood early in the order of the 'Suspiria,' into the 'Autobiographic Sketches,' and also the 'Spectre of the Brocken,' which was meant to come somewhat later in the series as originally planned; and, as we have seen, he appended 'The Daughter of Lebanon' to the 'Opium Confessions,' without any reference, save in the preface, to its really having formed part of a separate collection of dreams.

From a list found among his MSS. we are able to give the arrangement of the whole as it would have appeared had no accident occurred, and all the papers been at hand. Those followed by a cross are those which are now recovered, and those with a dagger what were reprinted either as 'Suspiria' or otherwise in Messrs. Black's editions.


1. Dreaming, [cross]
2. The Affliction of Childhood. [cross]
Dream Echoes. [cross]
3. The English Mail Coach. [cross]
(1) The Glory of Motion.
(2) Vision of Sudden Death.
(3) Dream-fugue.
4. The Palimpsest of the Human Brain. [cross]
5. Vision of Life. [cross]
6. Memorial Suspiria. [cross]
7. Levana and our Ladies of Sorrow.
8. Solitude of Childhood. [big cross]
9. The Dark Interpreter. [big cross]
10. The Apparition of the Brocken. [cross]
11. Savannah-la-Mar.
12. The Dreadful Infant. (There was the glory of innocence
made perfect; there was the dreadful beauty
of infancy that had seen God.)
13. Foundering Ships.
14. The Archbishop and the Controller of Fire.
15. God that didst Promise.
16. Count the Leaves in Vallombrosa.
17. But if I submitted with Resignation, not the less
I searched for the Unsearchable--sometimes in
Arab Deserts, sometimes in the Sea.
18. That ran before us in Malice.
19. Morning of Execution.
20. Daughter of Lebanon. [cross]
21. Kyrie Eleison.
22. The Princess that lost a Single Seed of a Pomegranate.
[big cross]
23. The Nursery in Arabian Deserts.
24. The Halcyon Calm and the Coffin.
25. Faces! Angels' Faces!
26. At that Word.
27. Oh, Apothanate! that hatest Death, and cleansest
from the Pollution of Sorrow.
28. Who is this Woman that for some Months has
followed me up and down? Her face I cannot
see, for she keeps for ever behind me.
29. Who is this Woman that beckoneth and warneth
me from the Place where she is, and in whose
Eyes is Woeful remembrance? I guess who she is.
[big cross]
30. Cagot and Cressida.
31. Lethe and Anapaula.
32. Oh, sweep away, Angel, with Angelic Scorn, the
Dogs that come with Curious Eyes to gaze.

Thus of the thirty-two 'Suspiria' intended by the author, we have only nine that received his final corrections, and even with those now recovered, we have only about one half of the whole, presuming that those which are lost or remained unwritten would have averaged about the same length as those we have. To those who have studied the 'Suspiria' as published, how suggestive many of these titles will be! 'Count the Leaves in Vallombrosa'--what phantasies would that have conjured up! The lost, the apparently wasted of the leaves from the tree of human life, and the possibilities of use and redemption! De Quincey would there doubtless have given us under a form more or less fanciful or symbolical his reading of the problem:

'Why Nature out of fifty seeds
So often brings but one to bear.'

The case of the Cagots, the pariahs of the Pyrenees, as we know from references elsewhere, excited his curiosity, as did all of the pariah class, and much engaged his attention; and in the 'Cagot and Cressida' 'Suspiria' we should probably have had under symbols of mighty abstractions the vision of the pariah world, and the world of health and outward fortune which scorns and excludes the other, and partly, at all events, actively dooms it to a living death in England of to-day, as in India of the past, and in Jewry of old, where the leper was thrust outside the wall to wail 'Unclean! unclean!'


'Oh, eternity with outstretched wings, that broodest over the secret truths in whose roots lie the mysteries of man--his whence, his whither--have I searched thee, and struck a right key on thy dreadful organ!'

Suffering is a mightier agency in the hands of nature, as a Demiurgus creating the intellect, than most people are aware of.

The truth I heard often in sleep from the lips of the Dark Interpreter. Who is he? He is a shadow, reader, but a shadow with whom you must suffer me to make you acquainted. You need not be afraid of him, for when I explain his nature and origin you will see that he is essentially inoffensive; or if sometimes he menaces with his countenance, that is but seldom: and then, as his features in those moods shift as rapidly as clouds in a gale of wind, you may always look for the terrific aspects to vanish as fast as they have gathered. As to his origin--what it is, I know exactly, but cannot without a little circuit of preparation make _you_ understand. Perhaps you are aware of that power in the eye of many children by which in darkness they project a vast theatre of phantasmagorical figures moving forwards or backwards between their bed-curtains and the chamber walls. In some children this power is semi-voluntary--they can control or perhaps suspend the shows; but in others it is altogether automatic. I myself, at the date of my last confessions, had seen in this way more processions--generally solemn, mournful, belonging to eternity, but also at times glad, triumphal pomps, that seemed to enter the gates of Time--than all the religions of paganism, fierce or gay, ever witnessed. Now, there is in the dark places of the human spirit--in grief, in fear, in vindictive wrath--a power of self-projection not unlike to this. Thirty years ago, it may be, a man called Symons committed several murders in a sudden epilepsy of planet-struck fury. According to my recollection, this case happened at Hoddesdon, which is in Middlesex. 'Revenge is sweet!' was his hellish motto on that occasion, and that motto itself records the abysses which a human will can open. Revenge is _not_ sweet, unless by the mighty charm of a charity that seeketh not her own it has become benignant.[1] And what he had to revenge was woman's scorn. He had been a plain farm-servant; and, in fact, he was executed, as such men often are, on a proper point of professional respect to their calling, in a smock-frock, or blouse, to render so ugly a clash of syllables. His young mistress was every way and by much his superior, as well in prospects as in education. But the man, by nature arrogant, and little acquainted with the world, presumptuously raised his eyes to one of his young mistresses. Great was the scorn with which she repulsed his audacity, and her sisters participated in her disdain. Upon this affront he brooded night and day; and, after the term of his service was over, and he, in effect, forgotten by the family, one day he suddenly descended amongst the women of the family like an Avatar of vengeance. Right and left he threw out his murderous knife without distinction of person, leaving the room and the passage floating in blood.

The final result of this carnage was not so terrific as it threatened to be. Some, I think, recovered; but, also, one, who did _not_ recover, was unhappily a stranger to the whole cause of his fury. Now, this murderer always maintained, in conversation with the prison chaplain, that, as he rushed on in his hellish career, he perceived distinctly a dark figure on his right hand, keeping pace with himself. Upon _that_ the superstitious, of course, supposed that some fiend had revealed himself, and associated his superfluous presence with the dark atrocity. Symons was not a philosopher, but my opinion is, that he was too much so to tolerate that hypothesis, since, if there was one man in all Europe that needed no tempter to evil on that evening, it was precisely Mr. Symons, as nobody knew better than Mr. Symons himself. I had not the benefit of his acquaintance, or I would have explained it to him. The fact is, in point of awe a fiend would be a poor, trivial _bagatelle_ compared to the shadowy projections, _umbras_ and _penumbras_, which the unsearchable depths of man's nature is capable, under adequate excitement, of throwing off, and even into stationary forms. I shall have occasion to notice this point again. There are creative agencies in every part of human nature, of which the thousandth part could never be revealed in one life.

You have heard, reader, in vision which describes our Ladies of Sorrow, particularly in the dark admonition of Madonna, to her wicked sister that hateth and tempteth, what root of dark uses may lie in moral convulsions: not the uses hypocritically vaunted by theatrical devotion which affronts the majesty of God, that ever and in all things loves Truth--prefers sincerity that is erring to piety that cants. Rebellion which is the sin of witchcraft is more pardonable in His sight than speechifying resignation, listening with complacency to its own self-conquests. Show always as much neighbourhood as thou canst to grief that abases itself, which will cost thee but little effort if thine own grief hath been great. But God, who sees thy efforts in secret, will slowly strengthen those efforts, and make that to be a real deed, bearing tranquillity for thyself, which at first was but a feeble wish breathing homage to _Him_.

In after-life, from twenty to twenty-four, on looking back to those struggles of my childhood, I used to wonder exceedingly that a child could be exposed to struggles on such a scale. But two views unfolded upon me as my experience widened, which took away that wonder. The first was the vast scale upon which the sufferings of children are found everywhere expanded in the realities of life. The generation of infants which you see is but part of those who belong to it; were born in it; and make, the world over, not one half of it. The missing half, more than an equal number to those of any age that are now living, have perished by every kind of torments. Three thousand children per annum--that is, three hundred thousand per century; that is (omitting Sundays), about ten every day--pass to heaven through flames[2] in this very island of Great Britain. And of those who survive to reach maturity what multitudes have fought with fierce pangs of hunger, cold, and nakedness! When I came to know all this, then reverting my eye to _my_ struggle, I said oftentimes it was nothing! Secondly, in watching the infancy of my own children, I made another discovery--it is well known to mothers, to nurses, and also to philosophers--that the tears and lamentations of infants during the year or so when they have no _other_ language of complaint run through a gamut that is as inexhaustible as the cremona of Paganini. An ear but moderately learned in that language cannot be deceived as to the rate and _modulus_ of the suffering which it indicates. A fretful or peevish cry cannot by any efforts make itself impassioned. The cry of impatience, of hunger, of irritation, of reproach, of alarm, are all different--different as a chorus of Beethoven from a chorus of Mozart. But if ever you saw an infant suffering for an hour, as sometimes the healthiest does, under some attack of the stomach, which has the tiger-grasp of the Oriental cholera, then you will hear moans that address to their mothers an anguish of supplication for aid such as might storm the heart of Moloch. Once hearing it, you will not forget it. Now, it was a constant remark of mine, after any storm of that nature (occurring, suppose, once in two months), that always on the following day, when a long, long sleep had chased away the darkness and the memory of the darkness from the little creature's brain, a sensible expansion had taken place in the intellectual faculties of attention, observation, and animation. It renewed the case of our great modern poet, who, on listening to the raving of the midnight storm, and the crashing which it was making in the mighty woods, reminded himself that all this hell of trouble

'Tells also of bright calms that shall succeed.'

Pain driven to agony, or grief driven to frenzy, is essential to the ventilation of profound natures. A sea which is deeper than any that Count Massigli[3] measured cannot be searched and torn up from its sleeping depths without a levanter or a monsoon. A nature which is profound in excess, but also introverted and abstracted in excess, so as to be in peril of wasting itself in interminable reverie, cannot be awakened sometimes without afflictions that go to the very foundations, heaving, stirring, yet finally harmonizing; and it is in such cases that the Dark Interpreter does his work, revealing the worlds of pain and agony and woe possible to man--possible even to the innocent spirit of a child.


As nothing which is impassioned escapes the eye of poetry, neither has this escaped it--that there is, or may be, through solitude, 'sublime attractions of the grave.' But even poetry has not perceived that these attractions may arise for a child. Not, indeed, a passion for the grave _as_ the grave--from _that_ a child revolts; but a passion for the grave as the portal through which it may recover some heavenly countenance, mother or sister, that has vanished. Through solitude this passion may be exalted into a frenzy like a nympholepsy. At first, when in childhood we find ourselves torn away from the lips that we could hang on for ever, we throw out our arms in vain struggles to snatch at them, and pull them back again. But when we have felt for a time how hopeless is that effort, and that they cannot come to _us_, we desist from that struggle, and next we whisper to our hearts, Might not we go to _them_?

Such in principle and origin was the famous _Dulce Domum_[4] of the English schoolboy. Such is the _Heimweh_ (home-sickness) of the German and Swiss soldier in foreign service. Such is the passion of the Calenture. Doubtless, reader, you have seen it described. The poor sailor is in tropical latitudes; deep, breathless calms have prevailed for weeks. Fever and delirium are upon him. Suddenly from his restless hammock he starts up; he will fret no longer in darkness; he ascends upon deck. How motionless are the deeps! How vast--how sweet are these shining zaarrahs of water! He gazes, and slowly under the blazing scenery of his brain the scenery of his eye unsettles. The waters are swallowed up; the seas have disappeared. Green fields appear, a silent dell, and a pastoral cottage. Two faces appear--are at the door--sweet female faces, and behold they beckon him. 'Come to us!' they seem to say. The picture rises to his wearied brain like a _sanctus_ from the choir of a cathedral, and in the twinkling of an eye, stung to madness by the cravings of his heart, the man is overboard. He is gone--he is lost for this world; but if he missed the arms of the lovely women--wife and sister--whom he sought, assuredly he has settled into arms that are mightier and not less indulgent.

I, young as I was, had one feeling not learned from books, and that _could_ not have been learned from books, the deepest of all that connect themselves with natural scenery. It is the feeling which in 'The Hart-leap Well' of Wordsworth, in his 'Danish Boy,' and other exquisite poems is brought out, viz., the breathless, mysterious, Pan-like silence that haunts the noon-day. If there were winds abroad, then I was roused myself into sympathetic tumults. But if this dead silence haunted the air, then the peace which was in nature echoed another peace which lay in graves, and I fell into a sick languishing for things which a voice from heaven seemed to say '_cannot_ be granted.'

There is a German superstition, which eight or ten years after I read, of the Erl-king and his daughter. The daughter had power to tempt infants away into the invisible world; but it is, as the reader understands, by collusion with some infirmity of sick desire for such worlds in the infant itself.

'Who is that rides through the forest so fast?'

It is a knight who carries his infant upon his saddle-bow. The Erl-king's daughter rides by his side; and, in words audible only when she means them to be heard, she says:

'If thou wilt, dear baby, with me go away,
We will see a fine show, we will play a fine play.'

That sounds lovely to my ears. Oh yes, that collusion with dim sleeping infancy is lovely to me; but I was too advanced in intellect to have been tempted by _such_ temptations. Still there was a perilous attraction for me in worlds that slept and rested; and if the Erl-king's daughter had revealed herself to my perceptions, there was one 'show' that she might have promised which would have wiled me away with her into the dimmest depths of the mightiest and remotest forests.


In my dreams were often prefigurements of my future, as I could not but read the signs. What man has not some time in dewy morn, or sequestered eve, or in the still night-watches, when deep sleep falleth on other men but visiteth not his weary eyelids--what man, I say, has not some time hushed his spirit and questioned with himself whether some things seen or obscurely felt, were not anticipated as by mystic foretaste in some far halcyon time, post-natal or ante-natal he knew not; only assuredly he knew that for him past and present and future merged in one awful moment of lightning revelation. Oh, spirit that dwelleth in man, how subtle are _thy_ revelations; how deep, how delirious the raptures thou canst inspire; how poignant the stings with which thou canst pierce the heart; how sweet the honey with which thou assuagest the wound; how dark the despairs and accusings that lie behind thy curtains, and leap upon us like lightning from the cloud, with the sense as of some heavenly blazoning, and oftentimes carry us beyond ourselves!

It is a sweet morning in June, and the fragrance of the roses is wafted towards me as I move--for I am walking in a lawny meadow, still wet with dew--and a wavering mist lies over the distance. Suddenly it seems to lift, and out of the dewy dimness emerges a cottage, embowered with roses and clustering clematis; and the hills, in which it is set like a gem, are tree-clad, and rise billowy behind it, and to the right and to the left are glistening expanses of water. Over the cottage there hangs a halo, as if clouds had but parted there. From the door of that cottage emerges a figure, the countenance full of the trepidation of some dread woe feared or remembered. With waving arm and tearful uplifted face the figure first beckons me onward, and then, when I have advanced some yards, frowning, warns me away. As I still continue to advance, despite the warning, darkness falls: figure, cottage, hills, trees, and halo fade and disappear; and all that remains to me is the look on the face of her that beckoned and warned me away. I read that glance as by the inspiration of a moment. We had been together; together we had entered some troubled gulf; struggled together, suffered together. Was it as lovers torn asunder by calamity? was it as combatants forced by bitter necessity into bitter feud, when we only, in all the world, yearned for peace together? Oh, what a searching glance was that which she cast on me! as if she, being now in the spiritual world, abstracted from flesh, remembered things that I could not remember. Oh, how I shuddered as the sweet sunny eyes in the sweet sunny morning of June--the month that was my 'angelical'; half spring, yet with summer dress, that to me was very 'angelical'--seemed reproachfully to challenge in me recollections of things passed thousands of years ago (old indeed, yet that were made new again for us, because now first it was that we met again). Oh, heavens! it came over me as doth the raven over the infected house, as from a bed of violets sweeps the saintly odour of corruption. What a glimpse was thus revealed! glory in despair, as of that gorgeous vegetation that hid the sterilities of the grave in the tropics of that summer long ago; of that heavenly beauty which slept side by side within my sister's coffin in the month of June; of those saintly swells that rose from an infinite distance--I know not whether to or from my sister. Could this be a memorial of that nature? Are the nearer and more distant stages of life thus dimly connected, and the connection hidden, but suddenly revealed for a moment?

This lady for years appeared to me in dreams; in that, considering the electric character of my dreams, and that they were far less like a lake reflecting the heavens than like the pencil of some mighty artist--Da Vinci or Michael Angelo--that cannot copy in simplicity, but comments in freedom, while reflecting in fidelity, there was nothing to surprise. But a change in this appearance was remarkable. Oftentimes, after eight years had passed, she appeared in summer dawn at a window. It was a window that opened on a balcony. This feature only gave a distinction, a refinement, to the aspect of the cottage--else all was simplicity. Spirit of Peace, dove-like dawn that slept upon the cottage, ye were not broken by any participation in my grief and despair! For ever the vision of that cottage was renewed. Did I roam in the depths of sweet pastoral solitudes in the West, with the tinkling of sheep-bells in my ears, a rounded hillock, seen vaguely, would shape itself into a cottage; and at the door my monitory, regretful Hebe would appear. Did I wander by the seashore, one gently-swelling wave in the vast heaving plain of waters would suddenly transform itself into a cottage, and I, by some involuntary inward impulse, would in fancy advance toward it.

Ah, reader, you will think this which I am going to say too near, too holy, for recital. But not so. The deeper a woe touches me in heart, so much the more am I urged to recite it. The world disappears: I see only the grand reliques of a world--memorials of a love that has departed, has been--the record of a sorrow that is, and has its greyness converted into verdure--monuments of a wrath that has been reconciled, of a wrong that has been atoned for--convulsions of a storm that has gone by. What I am going to say is the most like a superstitious thing that I ever shall say. And I have reason to think that every man who is not a villain once in his life must be superstitious. It is a tribute which he pays to human frailty, which tribute if he will not pay, which frailty if he will not share, then also he shall not have any of its strength.

The face of this monitory Hebe haunted me for some years in a way that I must faintly attempt to explain. It is little to say that it was the sweetest face, with the most peculiar expression of sweetness, that I had ever seen: that was much, but that was earthly. There was something more terrific, believe me, than this; yet that was not the word: terror looks to the future; and this perhaps did, but not primarily. Chiefly it looked at some unknown past, and was for that reason awful; yes, awful--that was the word.

Thus, on any of those heavenly sunny mornings, that now are buried in an endless grave, did I, transported by no human means, enter that cottage, and descend to that breakfast-room, my earliest salute was to her, that ever, as the look of pictures do, with her eyes pursued me round the room, and oftentimes with a subtle checking of grief, as if great sorrow had been or would be hers. And it was, too, in the sweet Maytime. Oh yes; she was but as if she had been--as if it were her original ... chosen to have been the aurora of a heavenly clime; and then suddenly she was as one of whom, for some thousand years, Paradise had received no report; then, again, as if she entered the gates of Paradise not less innocent; and, again, as if she could not enter; and some blame--but I knew not what blame--was mine; and now she looked as though broken with a woe that no man could read, as she sought to travel back to her early joy--yet no longer a joy that is sublime in innocency, but a joy from which sprung abysses of memories polluted into anguish, till her tears seemed to be suffused with drops of blood. All around was peace and the deep silence of untroubled solitude; only in the lovely lady was a sign of horror, that had slept, under deep ages of frost, in her heart, and now rose, as with the rushing of wings, to her face. Could it be supposed that one life--so pitiful a thing--was what moved her care? Oh no; it was, or it seemed, as if this poor wreck of a life happened to be that one which determined the fate of some thousand others. Nothing less; nothing so abject as one poor fifty years--nothing less than a century of centuries could have stirred the horror that rose to her lovely lips, as once more she waved me away from the cottage.

Oh, reader, five years after I saw that sweet face in reality--saw it in the flesh; saw that pomp of womanhood; saw that cottage; saw a thousand times that lovely domicile that heard the cooing of the solitary dove in the solitary morning; saw the grace of childhood and the shadows of graves that lay, like creatures asleep, in the sunshine; saw, also, the horror, somehow realized as a shadowy reflection from myself, which warned me off from that cottage, and which still rings through the dreams of five-and-twenty years.

The general sentiment or sense of pre-existence, of which this _Suspiria_ may be regarded as one significant and affecting illustration, had this record in the outset of the 'Reminiscences of Wordsworth':

'Oh, sense of mysterious pre-existence, by which, through years, in which as yet a stranger to those valleys of Westmoreland, I viewed myself as a phantom self--a second identity projected from my own consciousness, and already living amongst them--how was it, and by what prophetic instinct, that already I said to myself oftentimes, when chasing day-dreams along the pictures of these wild mountainous labyrinths, which as yet I had not traversed, "Here, in some distant year, I shall be shaken with love, and there with stormiest grief and regret"? Whence was it that sudden revelations came upon me, like the drawings up of a curtain, and closing again as rapidly, of scenes that made the future heaven of my life? And how was it that in thought I _was_, and yet in reality _was not_, a denizen, already, in 1803, 1804, 1805, of lakes and forest lawns, which I never saw till 1807? and that, by a prophetic instinct of heart, I rehearsed and lived over, as it were, in vision those chapters of my life which have carried with them the weightiest burden of joy and sorrow, and by the margin of those very lakes and hills with which I prefigured this connection? and, in short, that for me, by a transcendent privilege, during the novitiate of my life, most truly I might say:

'"In to-day already walked to-morrow."'


There is a story told in the 'Arabian Nights' of a princess who, by overlooking one seed of a pomegranate, precipitated the event which she had laboured to make impossible. She lies in wait for the event which she foresees. The pomegranate swells, opens, splits; the seeds, which she knows to be roots of evil, rapidly she swallows; but one--only one--before it could be arrested, rolls away into a river. It is lost! it is irrecoverable! She has triumphed, but she must perish. Already she feels the flames mounting up which are to consume her, and she calls for water hastily--not to deliver herself (for that is impossible), but, nobly forgetting her own misery, that she may prevent that destruction of her brother mortal which had been the original object for hazarding her own. Yet why go to Arabian fictions? Even in our daily life is exhibited, in proportions far more gigantic, that tendency to swell and amplify itself into mountains of darkness, which exists oftentimes in germs that are imperceptible. An error in human choice, an infirmity in the human will, though it were at first less than a mote, though it should swerve from the right line by an interval less than any thread

'That ever spider twisted from her womb,'

sometimes begins to swell, to grow, to widen its distance rapidly, travels off into boundless spaces remote from the true centre, spaces incalculable and irretraceable, until hope seems extinguished and return impossible. Such was the course of my own opium career. Such is the history of human errors every day. Such was the original sin of the Greek theories on Deity, which could not have been healed but by putting off their own nature, and kindling into a new principle--absolutely undiscoverable, as I contend, for the Grecian intellect.

Oftentimes an echo goes as it were to sleep: the series of reverberations has died away. Suddenly a second series awakens: this subsides, then a third wakens up. So of actions done in youth. After great tumults all is quieted. You dream that they are over. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, on some fatal morning in middle-life the far-off consequences come back upon you. And you say to yourself, 'Oh, Heaven, if I had fifty lives this crime would reappear, as Pelion upon Ossa!' So was it with my affection. Left to natural peace, I might have conquered it: _Verschmerzeon_. To charm it down by the mere suffering of grief, to hush it by endurance, that was the natural policy--that was the natural process. But behold! A new form of sorrow arises, and the two multiply together. And the worm which was beginning to fall asleep is roused again to pestilential fierceness.


Mystery unfathomable of Death! Mystery unapproachable of God! Destined it was, from the foundations of the world, that each mystery should make war upon the other: once that the lesser mystery should swallow up for a moment a _limbus_ of the greater; and that woe is past: once that the greater mystery should swallow up for ever the whole vortex of the lesser; and that glory is yet to come. After which man, that is the son of God, shall lift up his eyes for ever, saying, 'Behold! these were two mysteries; and one is not; and there is but one mystery that survives for ever!'

If an eternity (Death supposed) is as vast as a star, yet the most miserable of earthly blocks not four feet square will eclipse, masque, hide it from centre to circumference. And so it really is. Incredible as it might seem apart from experience, the dreadful reality of death is utterly withdrawn from us because itself dwindles to an apparent mote, and the perishing non-reality thickens into a darkness as massy as a rock.

Great changes summon to great meditations. Daily we see the most joyous of events take a colouring of solemnity from the mere relation in which they stand to an uncertain future: the birth of a child, heir to the greatest expectations, and welcomed clamorously by the sympathy of myriads, speaks to the more reflecting in an undertone of monitory sadness, were it only as a tribute to the frailty of human expectations: and a marriage-day, of all human events the most lawfully festal, yet needs something of effort to chase away the boding sadness which settles unavoidably upon any new career; the promise is vague, but new hopes have created new dangers, and responsibilities contracted perhaps with rapture are charged with menace.

For every one of us, male or female, there is a year of crisis--a year of solemn and conscious transition, a year in which the light-hearted sense of the _irresponsible_ ceases to gild the heavenly dawn. A year there is, settled by no law or usage, for me perhaps the eighteenth, for you the seventeenth, for another the nineteenth, within the gates of which, underneath the gloomy archway of which, sits a phantom of yourself.

Turn a screw, tighten a linch-pin--which is not to disease, but perhaps to exalt, the mighty machinery of the brain--and the Infinities appear, before which the tranquillity of man unsettles, the gracious forms of life depart, and the ghostly enters. So profoundly is this true, that oftentimes I have said of my own tremendous experience in this region--destined too certainly, I fear, finally to swallow up intellect and the life of life in the heart, unless God of His mercy fetches me away by some sudden death--that death, considered as an entrance to this ghostly world, is but a postern-gate by comparison with the heaven-aspiring vestibule through which this world of the Infinite introduces the ghostly world.

Time, if it does not diminish grief, alters its character. At first we stretch out our hands in very blindness of heart, as if trying to draw back again those whom we have lost. But, after a season, when the impotence of such efforts has become too sensibly felt, finding that they will not come back to us, a strange fascination arises which yearns after some mode of going to _them_. There is a gulf fixed which childhood rarely can pass. But we link our wishes with whatsoever would gently waft us over. We stretch out our hands, and say, 'Sister, lend us thy help, and plead for us with God, that we may pass over without much agony.'

The joy of an infant, or joy-generation, without significance to an unprofound and common mind--how strange to see the excess of pathos in that; yet men of any (or at least of much) sensibility see in this a transpicuous masque for another form, viz., the eternal ground of sorrow in all human hearts. This, by the way, in an essay on William Wordsworth, should be noticed as the charm of his poetry; and the note differential, in fact. At least, I know not of any former poet who has so systematically sought his sadness in the very luxury of joy. Thus, in the 'Two April Mornings,' 'what a mortal freshness of dewy radiance! what an attraction of early summer! what a vision of roses in June! Yet it is all transmuted to a purpose of sadness.'

Ah, reader, scorn not that which--whether you refuse it or not as the reality of realities--is assuredly the reality of dreams, linking us to a far vaster cycle, in which the love and the languishing, the ruin and the horror, of this world are but moments--but elements in an eternal circle. The cycle stretches from an East that is forgotten to a West that is but conjectured. The mere fact of your own individual calamity is a life; the tragedy is a nature; the hope is but as a dim augury written on a flower.[5]

If the things that have fretted us had not some art for retiring into secret oblivion, what a hell would life become! Now, understand how in some nervous derangements this horror really takes place. Some things that had sunk into utter forgetfulness, others that had faded into visionary power, all rise as gray phantoms from the dust; the field of our earthly combats that should by rights have settled into peace, is all alive with hosts of resurrections--cavalries that sweep in gusty charges--columns that thunder from afar--arms gleaming through clouds of sulphur.

God takes care for the religion of little children wheresoever His Christianity exists. Wheresoever there is a national Church established, to which a child sees all his protectors resort; wheresoever he beholds amongst earthly creatures whom most he honours prostrate in devotion before these illimitable heavens, which fill to overflowing the total capacities of his young adoring heart; wheresoever at intervals he beholds the sleep of death, falling upon the men or women whom he has seen--a depth stretching as far below his power to fathom as those persons ascend beyond his powers to pursue--God speaks to their hearts by dreams and their tumultuous grandeurs. Even by solitude does God speak to little children, when made vocal by the services of Christianity, as also he does by darkness wheresoever it is peopled with visions of His almighty power. For a pagan child, for a Greek child, solitude was nothing; for a Christian child it is made the power of God, and the hieroglyphic of His most distant truth. The solitude in life is deep for the millions who have none to love them, and deep for those who suffer by secret and incommunicable woe and have none to pity them. Thus, be you assured that though infancy talks least of that which slumbers deepest, it yet rests in its own transcendent solitude. But infancy, you say, talks surely most of that which is uppermost in its heart. Yes, doubtless of that which is uppermost, but not at all of that which slumbers below the foundations of its heart.

[And then follows a suggestion to put in a note:]

I except one case, the case of any child who is marked for death by organic disease, and knows it. In such cases the creature is changed--that which would have been unchildlike ceases to offend, for a new character is forming.


[1] See the story of the young soldier who told his officer, on having been struck by him, that 'he would make him repent it.' (Close of autobiographic sketch, 'Infant Literature.')

[2] Three thousand children are annually burnt to death in the nations of England and Scotland, chiefly through the carelessness of parents. I shudder to add another and darker cause, which is a deep disgrace to the present age.

[3] Count Massigli (an Austrian officer in the imperial service) about sixty years ago fathomed and attempted to fathom many parts of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. If I remember rightly, he found the bottom within less than an English mile.

[4] The story and the verses are, or used to be, well known. A schoolboy, forbidden to return home at the holidays, is suspected to have written the lyrical Latin verses upon the rapture of returning home, and to have breathed out his life in the anguish of thus reviving the images which for him were never to be realized.... The reader must not fancy any flaw in the Latin title. It is elliptic; _revisere_ being understood, or some similar word.

[5] I allude to the _signatures_ of nature.

[The end]
Thomas De Quincey's essay: Suspiria De Profundis