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EDITOR'S PREFACE

THE three preceding volumes contain those writings of De Quincey which collectively constitute his AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND LITERARY REMINISCENCEs. They carry us on, in a general way, to about the year 1825, when De Quincey had become famous as “The English Opium-Eater,” a versatile contributor to London periodicals, but had returned to his home at Grasmere after unsatisfactory trials of residence in London, and had begun to think that, if ever he removed from Grasmere permanently, it must be to Edinburgh. While the volumes make vivid for us, however, the main course of his life to the date indicated,—when he was in the fortieth year of his age, there are some particulars of his family history through the time traversed about which they have left us uninformed. It may be well, at the present point, to supply this defect, and at the same time to add such particulars of his later family history as may be required, by way of biographical accompaniment and elucidation, here and there, in the series of his writings generally. Of De Quincey's father we have heard a good deal. We can recollect him as the Manchester merchant, much of an invalid, who died in 1793, at the age of forty, when De Quincey was but a child. Of De Quincey's brothers and sisters we have also heard a good deal. There have been immortalised for us especially those two child-sisters, Jane and Elizabeth, who had died before their father, so that De Quincey's memories of them survived but as mysterious gleams from his dreamy infancy. Nor are we likely to forget either his eldest and all-domineering brother, William, VOL. IV B

whose energetic life was cut short when he had not completed his sixteenth year, or that younger brother, Richard, known as “Pink,” whose romantic career of sailor-adventure, revealed to the family only in rare glimpses of him when he turned up ashore, was so interesting to De Quincey as running parallel with a considerable portion of his own manhood. There remain, however, two important persons of the Autobiography and the Confessions respecting whom the information has hardly been sufficient. (1) De Quincey's Mother—Respecting her it cannot be said that De Quincey has left us quite ignorant. He has even sketched for us her character, and the general tenor of her life to a certain point. We see her, the Elizabeth Penson who had become the wife of the Manchester merchant in 1778 or thereabouts, left a widow in 1793, when she was about forty-one years of age, in clear possession of £1600 a year, and conjoint-guardian, with other trustees, under hēr husband's will, of six surviving children, each of whom had a separate and independent provision. We see her in her continued widowhood, a stately and accomplished English lady, of somewhat Roman severity,+especially after she had become acquainted with Hannah More, and had adopted the strict religious principles of the Clapham Evangelical School, —changing her residence from the Manchester neighbourhood to Bath, and thence to Chester, always the stately and accomplished lady and mixing in the best Society, but perplexed not a little by the question of the proper education for her sons, and by the erratic tendencies of two of them. We see her more particularly in her antique residence at Chester, in that month of July 1802 when her brother, Colonel Penson, home from India on furlough, was domiciled with her, and when her son Thomas, then the eldest living, came in upon them imploringly as a fugitive from Manchester Grammar School. To her, with her grave notions of law and decorum, this apparition of her runaway boy, we are told, was like “the opening of the seventh seal in the Revelations”; but, Uncle Penson taking an easier and more soldierly view of the subject, the runaway was not sent back, as he dreaded he might be, but was allowed, after a while, to have as much of a ramble in North Wales, all by himself, as he could manage on a guinea a week. It was in the following year, 1803, after he had not been heard of for months, and after his Welsh wanderings had been followed by his wild plunge into London and his desperate time of vagrancy and semi-starvation there, that he was tracked, reclaimed, and brought back to Chester, till mother and uncle could decide what should be done with him next. Whoever wants to look at a portrait of De Quincey at this critical epoch of his young life may turn to the vignette in our last volume. It will speak for itself. The deliberations at the Priory, Chester, resulted, as we know, in his being sent to Oxford in the end of 1803, to make the most of University life there on an allowance of £100 a year. From this point forward De Quincey’s mother all but vanishes from his autobiographic narrative. Almost all that we hear of her afterwards, and that but incidentally, is that she did not remain much longer at Chester, but removed thence to Somersetshire, in the Bristol neighbourhood, where De Quincey was able to visit her now and then during his years at Oxford, and afterwards from the Lakes, and that finally her residence was again near Bath. What we have now to remark is that nearly all this information about De Quincey's mother was first given to the world by him in those additions to his Autobiographic Sketches and his Confessions which were made in 1853 and 1856 for the collective edition of his writings. In the original or 1822 edition of the Confessions, and in the series of the Autobiographic Sketches as they appeared in Tait's Edinburgh Magazine in 1834 and some subsequent years, one seeks in vain for anything equivalent. The reticence there as to De Quincey's mother in her relations to himself is so careful, the suppression of all direct mentions of her so complete, that, had we been left to depend on these alone, we should have had but the faintest image of her or memorial of her existence. The explanation of this reticence for a while, and of the subsequent amends made for it, is now easy. De Quincey’s mother was alive at the time when he first flashed into literary notoriety by his Confessions of an Opium-Eater; and she may have read them, as others did, in the published volume of 1822, discerning references to herself which others could not discern, and

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