Quincey's universal manner. The goal, indeed, is always kept in view; however circuitous the wandering may be, there is always a return to the subject; the river's course is always seawards : but there are no fixed embankments, between which, in straight, purpose-like course, the stream is compelled to flow : you are led aside in the most wayward, unaccountable manner, and though you must allow that every individual bay and wooded creek is in itself beautiful, yet, being a Briton, accustomed to feed on facts, like the alligators whom the old naturalists asserted to live upon stones, and thinking it right to walk to the purpose of a book with that firm step and by that nearest road which conduct you to your office, you are soon ready to exclaim that this is trifling, and that you wish the author could speak to the point. But there is some witchery which still detains you; the trifling seems to be flavored by some indefinable essence, which spreads an irresistible charm around; you recollect that nature has innumerable freaks, and may present, in one quarter of a mile, the giant rock and the quivering blue-bell, the defiant oak and the trodden lichen, the almost stagnant pool and the surging cataract: at length the thought dawns upon you, that this author is great because he cannot help it; that he is a force in the hand of nature; that, whether you smile, or frown, or weep, or wonder, he goes on with the same absolute ease, speaking with pure spontaneity the thoughts that arise within him. Then your trust becomes deeper, your earnestness of study redoubles; you are profoundly convinced that here is no pretence, no unnatural effort; your murmuring turns to astonishment at the complexity, richness, and strangely blended variety of nature's effects. If your experience is the same as ours most honestly was, you will proceed from a certain pleasurable titillation, produced by what you deem twaddle, though twaddle deliciously spiced by genius, to the conviction that, however hampered, however open to objection, here is an intellect, in all the great faculties of analysis, combination, and reception, of a power and range which you are at a loss to measure or define. We must take into account, in judging of the powers of De Quincey, the fact that his life has been shadowed by one great cloud, which would have fatally obscured any ordinary intellect; that he has seen the stars through a vail, and that we have to mete the power of that vision which could pierce such an obstruction. It must be remembered, too, that the mind of De Quincey is, on all hands, allowed to be one of a very singular and original kind. It is pre-eminently characterized by two qualities, which are partially regarded with suspicion by hard thinkers, and tend to lower the expectation of the reader who is in search of substantial intellectual sustenance: we mean humor, and what we can only call mysticism. De Quincey is essentially and always a humorist; a humorist of a very rare and delicate order, but whose very delicacy is mistaken by hard minds for feebleness or silly trifling. He is also, to some extent, an intellectual mystic. We use this word in no disparaging sense; nor do we lay emphasis upon the fact, that he has devoted years of study to the works of express mystics. We indeed think that this last is not of material importance in estimating his writings; the influence of these writers was not, it appears to us, of sufficient power materially to color his originality. By the quality of mysticism, as attaching to the mind of De Quincey, we mean rather a certain affinity, so to speak, for the mysterious, - a strange idiosyncrasy, in which associations of terror, of gladness, or of gloom, link themselves with certain seasons and places. Voices of sympathy awaken for him, where no sound falls on the general ear; sorrows, from which the common mail of custom and coarseness, or even active practical occupation, defends other men, affect him with poignant anguish; and joys which are far too delicate and aerial to approach the hard man of the world, float over his soul like spiritual music. He has a sure footing in dim and distant regions, where phantasy piles her towers, and raises her colonnades, and wraps all in her weird and wondrous drapery. He tells us that, “like Sir Thomas Brown, his mind almost demanded mysteries in so mysterious a system of relations as those which connect us with another world ;" and we cannot hesitate to use the hint for the explication of much to which he does not, in that connection, intend it to apply. We are met by expressions of sentiment, regarding summer, and death, and solitude, which may appear strange or far fetched, and told of woes which our duller imaginations and less tremulous sympathies almost compel us to deem fantastic. Altogether, to the matter of fact English reader, the phenomena presented by these works are astonishing and alarming; and it is well for him, if his hasty practicality does not prompt him to close them at once, deciding that here is no real metal for life's highway, but only such airy materials as might be used by some Macadam of the clouds. Yet we are confident that De Quincey has performed intellectual service for the age, which could be shown to be practically substantial to the most rigorously practical mind. We would specially urge, moreover, that it is quite possible that writings may be of the highest value, although one cannot trace their association with any department of economic affairs. We are practical enough, and make no pretension to having “wings for the ether.” But let it at once be said, that the world is not a manufactory. There are regions where the spirit of man can expatiate above the corn field or the counter; it is lawful for the immortal principle to rise for a time out of the atmosphere of the labor curse; the universe is really wonderful, and it is not well to forget the fact; nay, finally, it is well for a man, perhaps at times it is best for him, to spread the wings of his mind for regions positively removed from, antipodal to, practice, if haply he may gain glimpses of habitations higher than earth, and destinies nobler than those of time. Bold as the assertion looks, we should question the power of any man to be a docile and accurate disciple of the Comte school of philosophy, who found the highest enjoyment of understanding and sympathy in the works of De Quincey!

When, beneath all its drapery of cloud and rainbow, the grand physiognomic outlines of De Quincey's mind reveal themselves to the reader, his primary observation will probably be, that it is marked by an extraordinary analytic faculty. De Quincey's own opinion declares this to be the principal power in his mind; and though we should not deem this in itself conclusive, we cannot but think it strongly confirmatory of the general evidence gathered from other quarters. "My proper vocation,” these are his words, "as I well knew, was the exercise of the analytic understanding." The more we know of De Quincey's writings, the more are we driven to the conviction, that his mind is, in this regard, of an extremely high order. His intensely clear perception of the relation between ideas, the delight with which he expatiates in regions of pure abstraction, where no light lives but that of the “inevitable eye” of the mind, the ease with which he unravels and winds off what appears a mere skein of cloud streamers, too closely twined to be taken apart, and too delicate not to rend asunder, afford irresistible evidence of rare analytic power. That our words may be seen to be no rhetorical painting of our own fancies, but a feeble attempt to indicate a fact, we shall glance cursorily at one or two of those portions of De Quincey's works which give attestation of this power.

The science of political economy is remarkable as one of those in which the abstract and the concrete are seen most clearly in their mutual relations. Beginning with mere abstractions, or what appear such, with factors which must be dealt with algebraically, and seem absolutely independent of practice, it proceeds onwards until it embraces every complexity of our social existence, until every mathematical line is turned into an actual, visible extension, and every ideal form has to take what shape it can amid the jostling and scrambling of life. It is thus, in our opinion, perhaps the

very best study in which a man can engage for the culture of his argumentative nature. For, as we say, it has every stage: it demands mathematical accuracy in one part, and lays down rigidly the ideal law; it brings you on till you are in the field and workshop, till you have to calculate the strength of varied desires, the probable upshot of complicated chances, the modifications produced by a thousand nameless influences. From the mathematical diagram to the table of statistics, from the academy to the street, from the closet of the philosopher to the world of the statesman, political economy conducts the student. Whatever the practical value of the science to the merchant, legislator, moralist, or philanthropist, ---- and we have no leisure to demonstrate, as we think is posssible, its practical value to each, - it scarcely admits of a doubt, that, as an instrument of mental culture, it is invaluable. But this remark is incidental: we have glanced at the general nature of the science of political economy, in order that we may exhibit

« VorigeDoorgaan »