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British State RomanticismAuthorship, Agency, and Bureaucratic Nationalism$

Anne Frey

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780804762281

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804762281.001.0001

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De Quincey's Imperial Systems

De Quincey's Imperial Systems

(p.140) Five De Quincey's Imperial Systems
British State Romanticism
Stanford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues that Thomas De Quincey imagines the British mail system during the Napoleonic Wars as an organ spreading British identity from a single, central point across the countryside. As De Quincey rides on the British mail coaches, he claims to be a part of the medium that conveys the news of victory to the masses. He combines an ethnic model that locates nationality in a people's blood with a nonorganic model in which nationality is imposed from the outside by an imperial administration. In such a model, Romantic inspiration derives solely from organization: terms such as “sympathy” and “vision” no longer refer to personal attributes but rather to the author's imbrication within vast communication networks overseen by the British state. In this way, De Quincey exemplifies the late Romantic recontextualization of Romantic aesthetics as part of the British state as he redefines the state as the privileged agent of national identity.

Keywords:   Thomas De Quincey, British mail system, British identity, nationality, Romantic aesthetics, British state, national identity

Thomas De Quincey was one of the last living Romantics. When De Quincey died in 1859, Dickens had already published many of his major novels. The Chartist movement had incited riots but had failed to make suffrage universal. The factory acts had called attention to and begun to regulate industrial working conditions. But even if he lived through the events that inform the pages of Victorian novels, De Quincey continued to classify himself among the Romantic writers, publishing on Wordsworth and Coleridge as late as 1845. One of his last essays, “The English Mail-Coach” (1849), nostalgically recalls the era of the Napoleonic Wars as the glory days of the British nation. However, even as De Quincey associates himself with the high Romantic era, he defines his own project and himself as author in a manner that resembles the State Romanticism that Wordsworth and Coleridge exemplified in their post-Napoleonic careers.

Much of the best criticism of Thomas De Quincey focuses on the relationship between De Quincey and Wordsworth. Charles Rzepka and Alina Clej, for instance, read De Quincey's friendship and subsequent hostility to Wordsworth as an anxiety of influence, an attempt to upstage the more (p.141) illustrious writer.1 Margaret Russett, in contrast, argues that De Quincey does not attempt to avoid Wordsworth's influence but parasitically to profit from it: De Quincey befriends the poet, inhabits his former house, and claims to interpret his genius for the popular magazine audience.2 I find Russett's account especially compelling because it explains De Quincey's continual tendency to stake his own literary authority on other people and agencies, whether Wordsworth, Ricardo, opium, or as this chapter will argue, the English mail.3 While the attention to the Wordsworth–De Quincey relationship provides illuminating readings of De Quincey's early career, focusing on the relationship between the writers has prevented critics from noticing that De Quincey's later works shift from dependence on a person such as Wordsworth to dependence on vast, impersonal state organizations.

One example from De Quincey's revised Confessions of an English Opium Eater can quickly illustrate this shift from an interpersonal to a national context. In the 1821 Confessions, when De Quincey explains his strong attraction to the Lake District, he credits Wordsworth: Wordsworth's poetry has so amazed and intrigued him that he wants not only to meet the poet but to wander the very hills depicted in his poetry. When De Quincey revises and expands the Confessions in 1856, however, he diminishes the role of Wordsworth and of poetry more generally in drawing him to the lakes. In 1856 Wordsworth appears (along with Ann Radcliffe and the landscape painters) as merely one of many influences provoking his curiosity. De Quincey ultimately attributes his interest in the lakes to English administrative divisions: due to the “mere legal fiction” that the southern section of the lakes was part of De Quincey's Lancashire home, the lakes held “a secret fascination, subtle, sweet, fantastic, and even from [his] seventh or eighth year spiritually strong.”4 He cannot claim acquaintance with the lake region, and he cannot claim that any similarity between landscapes or peoples connects this portion of the lakes to Lancashire. Still, writing retrospectively, De Quincey allows the legal identity of the lakes to assign them a “spiritual” meaning even before he reads Wordsworth's poetry. Even more than literature, local culture, or any author's personal charisma, “the eccentric geography of English law” identifies De Quincey as a native of the lakes.

In moving from Wordsworth to “English law,” De Quincey refuses the organic relationship to the lakes that Wordsworth claimed for his boyhood in The Prelude. Equally crucially for my argument here, De Quincey shifts his interest in the lakes out of the psychological register. The passage of time cannot account for this change. The Wordsworth–De Quincey friendship (p.142) had already turned acrimonious by the time De Quincey published the earlier passage in 1821, and since Wordsworth was arguably more popular in 1856, after his death, than at the time of the first version of the Confessions, De Quincey stood to gain just as much cultural prestige from his claim to be the first to recognize Wordsworth's genius in 1856 as he did in 1821.5 Instead, I will argue, De Quincey identifies with national bureaucracy because by 1856 he locates authorship within a national system of information rather than in individual genius. This redefinition of authorship culminates in De Quincey's 1849 essay, “The English Mail-Coach.”

De Quincey's turn to the mail follows a growth in the importance of such organizations in Britain following the Napoleonic Wars.6 Far from simply responding to a historical and social growth in the number and importance of state organizations, however, De Quincey turns to the mail to find an alternative means to achieve literary authority. In locating himself in the English mail, De Quincey moves from disseminating the ideas of an illustrious predecessor to disseminating English nationality. To do so requires redefining what constitutes nationalism and how individuals identify with nations. In “The English Mail-Coach,” De Quincey insists that an ethnic understanding of nationality must be combined with an imperially defined nationality, which imposes Englishness upon its own people. Only those with English blood can truly share in the joy of English victory, but even those of English blood must have that blood stirred by the conquering force of the English mails.

Even if De Quincey proves far from a disinterested historical observer, I find his version of national identification interesting because of the challenge it offers to our current models of nationalism. First, De Quincey's appeal to a specifically English national identity and his insistence on the primacy of English blood contradict Linda Colley's argument that the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw the development of a British national identity.7 Second, De Quincey's model of a top-down transmission of national identity reverses Colley's assertion that national identity began among the people. For Colley, British national identity first arose during Britain's eighteenth and early nineteenth-century wars with France, as England, Scotland, Wales, and (to a lesser extent) Ireland united to oppose a common enemy. Colley narrates a historically situated specular exchange: as they gaze across the channel at France, the English, Scots, and Welsh find pride and unity in their Protestant religion, their wealth of trade, and their tradition of liberty. In “The English Mail-Coach,” in contrast, nationalism (p.143) descends onto the English people rather than arising from them. Colley's model of national identification as a moment of specular exchange neglects the role that organizations play in determining the very categories with which people identify. Indeed, for each of Colley's sources of national pride, we could specify a corresponding national bureaucratic institution: for Protestantism, the English Church; for trade, the East India Company and other trading organizations; for liberty, the courts.

We can read De Quincey's insistence on the need for state intervention to incite even popular feelings of nationalism as part of the “official nationalism” identified by Benedict Anderson. Although Anderson locates the origins of nationalism in the middle class, specifically in bourgeois print capitalism, he suggests that “official nationalism” begins in the second half of the nineteenth century as “responses by power groups—primarily, but not exclusively, dynastic and aristocratic—threatened with exclusion from, or marginalization in, popular imagined communities” and consists of “conservative, not to say reactionary, policies, adapted from the model of the largely spontaneous popular nationalisms that preceded them.”8 De Quincey's model of nationality, however, goes further in marking the government as the origin of all popular feelings. In doing so, he makes the nation look increasingly like the empire it governs. Anderson's model of “official nationalism” and Hannah Arendt's study of imperialism both point to a core contradiction in the definition of the imperial nation, but they site this contradiction in the contrast between the nation's projects at home and abroad: a nation rules over like individuals, whereas empire places one people in conquest over an ethnically different people.9 Nation, on this account, is created by a figurative plebiscite: people are a nation when they imagine themselves to be one. Empire, on the other hand, offers subjects no choice over affiliation: empires take populations by force or coercion; the resident population does not identify with its conquerors and never assimilates into the conquering country. A nation such as nineteenth-century Britain that defines itself as imperial must therefore combine two contradictory understandings of its purpose. De Quincey undoes this contradiction by insisting that even national identity is imperial because nationality imposes upon a citizen's other identities. The nation must imperially conquer its own people in the name of the King, if only through a battle of information.

De Quincey finds the imperial model of national identity so compelling because it serves his literary ambitions. Only when national identity is imposed in a central system of information can De Quincey claim to (p.144) be the author of Englishness. Locating his authority in a government organization therefore challenges high Romantic models of authorial genius. When riding the English mail, De Quincey finds literary authority in the position in which he sits and in the message he distributes rather than in his own capabilities; terms such as “sympathy” and “imagination” refer not to the author but to the vast system whose center he occupies. Transmitting national identity through a government organization also supports De Quincey's Tory politics. No radical reforming voices will offer rival claims to speak for the nation.

If De Quincey's top-down model of nationality offers the possibility of nullifying potential discord, however, he also fears that joining a nation requires the sacrifice of persons as well as personal allegiances. In “The English Mail-Coach,” De Quincey finds a position of personal and authorial safety, imagining that the official authority of the mail protects all those who ride it. Nevertheless, like Austen, De Quincey remains acutely aware that the nation's wars kill many of its citizens; even when he does not worry over his personal safety, he feels guilt over others' sacrifice, guilt that is all the more acute because he so firmly identifies himself with the message of victory he carries. Turning in conclusion to his final, revised Confessions, I argue that the terrors, rather than the benefits, of national membership might predominate if the authority granted him by his position on the mails cannot protect him from the sacrifice that national identification potentially demands.

Over thirty years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, De Quincey nostalgically remembers riding on the mail coaches as they carried across the countryside the first news of English victory over France. De Quincey describes riding on the outside seat of the mail coach as a theatrical experience. Sitting on the outside, he watches the passersby at the very moment when they see the laurelled coach and learn of victory. Moreover, he knows that these passersby also see him on the coach, part of the spectacle conveying the news. He not only shares in the observers' exultation but also feels that he has played a role in arousing it. On the outside of the coach, he becomes not merely a passenger but part of the medium that conveys information to the people along the coach's route.

De Quincey turns back to the era of the Napoleonic Wars to remember a time of national unity. He attributes this national unity, however, not only to the message of victory that the mails carried but also to the system of its (p.145) dissemination. De Quincey argues that the mail coaches presented information in a manner that unified rather than dispersed the English people. He prefers the old mails to the modern rails because “the gatherings of gazers about a laurelled mail had one centre, and acknowledged one sole interest. But the crowds attending at a railway station have as little unity as running water, and own as many centres as there are separate carriages in the train.”10 The crowd surrounding the mail coach demonstrates in miniature the nation's unity at a moment of victory, as citizens forget their individual concerns before their shared glory. Even more, De Quincey requires an audience with a single center because it is only when he rides at the center of the crowd's attention that he himself feels a part of the news he carries. Only when every eye looks at him and the mail can De Quincey feel connected to the entire nation. On the mail, the laurels celebrating victory recall the laurels that bedecked classical poets, and like these poets the mail stirs the sentiments of a nation. And when riding the mail, De Quincey earns these laurels simply by virtue of his position. When he finds himself at the center of the news's distribution and a part of the message he carries, De Quincey claims a status equivalent to “laurelled” poets such as Wordsworth or Milton.

De Quincey prefers the mails to the rails not only because the mails place him in a position from which he can join in disseminating the news of victory but because he feels connected to its source. De Quincey argues that only the mail allows passengers to experience their “imperial natures.” First, only on the mails, and not on the rails, could passengers feel the speed at which they traveled. On the mails, every passenger witnesses the speed in the exertion of the horse and knows that this speed began as an order from the driver. Riding the mail, speed “was incarnated in the fiery eyeballs of an animal, in his dilated nostril, spasmodic muscles, and echoing hoofs” (193). In contrast, on the rails, De Quincey insists, it is impossible to ascertain how fast the coach is traveling without a watch; even if the rails move more quickly than the mail, the passenger experiences this velocity “not … as a consciousness, but as a fact of our lifeless knowledge, resting upon alien evidence” (193). And this produces a sense of disconnection from the car's movement: “iron tubes and boilers have disconnected man's heart from the ministers of his locomotion. Nile nor Trafalgar has power to raise an extra bubble in a steam-kettle. The galvanic cycle is broken up for ever; man's imperial nature no longer sends itself forward through the electric sensibility of the horse” (193–94). The horse is more “imperial” than the rails because (p.146) the horse better promulgates the thrill of victory. Unlike the mechanical rails, the horse responds to its driver's excitement with increased speed and exertion and therefore carries this excitement to both passengers and observers, who note the horse's effort. Once again, man's nature proves “imperial,” not only because of its grand reach, to Nile and Trafalgar, but because he experiences his own power in directing and observing the exertion of another. Not only does the horse give more visible signs of its exertion; it also allows the passenger to sympathize with this effort in a way one cannot sympathize with the rails' “blind insensate agencies, that had no sympathy to give” (194). In De Quincey's imperialist discourse, sympathy for the horse does not imply concern for its degree of effort but simply an awareness that its motion is created by muscles and that those muscles are controlled by man. Sympathy does not oppose imperialism (as it might in anti-imperial discourse, where an individual's suffering would be used to suggest a system's immorality) but fuels the Empire's mechanism: the connection of horse to man allows the individual to experience his connection to empire as a feeling of exhilaration.

Although De Quincey insists that passengers feel their “imperial nature” only through animal nerves rather than mechanical technologies, he still relies on technological structures to authorize his position. In other words, if De Quincey prefers that the mail's messages travel through human and animal nerves, he still requires the centralized bureaucracy of the mail system to direct the flow of information across these nerves to the waiting English people. De Quincey needs the mail to place him at the center of every crowd in order to enable him to transmit national identity. And in transmitting information from a single center, the mail imposes an analogously central political system: power flows from the King to the provinces, because the King and his agents control the movement of information. Indeed, the mail proves a “medium” in Friedrich Kittler's sense of the word, because the way in which it organizes and transmits information transforms the social and political structure of its society by dictating who will hold information and how they will gather and transmit it.11 The very power of technology to determine social structures and authorial possibilities, however, ironically propels De Quincey's attempt to return to a past era. Only in the “discourse network” of the Napoleonic Wars can he find the technological and political conditions that support his authorial position.

De Quincey's 1834 essay “Travelling in England in the Old Days” also considers the role of transportation networks in developing patterns of (p.147) communication that ultimately underwrite political systems. The 1834 essay, however, imagines a more democratically structured civic order. If technology improved to the point of allowing instantaneous communication, De Quincey suggests, a new political system might arise:

Action and reaction from every point of the compass being thus perfect and instantaneous, we should then first begin to understand, in a practical sense, what is meant by the unity of a political body, and we should approach to a more adequate appreciation of the powers which are latent in organization…. Then every part of the empire will react upon the whole with the power, life, and effect of immediate conference amongst parties brought face to face. Then first will be seen a political system truly organic—i.e., in which each acts upon all, and all react upon each: and a new earth will arise from the indirect agency of this merely physical revolution. [M, 1:218–19]

De Quincey imagines a technological revolution that would create a cultural revolution: a change in the movement of information (specifically its velocity) would indelibly join vast expanses of territory and create a “new earth.” He describes this transformation, however, with a word we have come to associate with a much less technological Romanticism: the technological and organizational advances will create “a political system truly organic.” In crediting an organic society to a revolution in technology, De Quincey revises Samuel Taylor Coleridge's strict opposition between organic and mechanic forms. In his Lectures on Shakespeare, Coleridge quotes Schlegel to distinguish the two: “the form is mechanic when on any given material we impress a pre-determined form, not necessarily arising out of the material … the organic form on the other hand is innate, it shapes as it develops itself from within.”12 In his late career, as we saw in Chapter 1, Coleridge imagines an institutional structure—the British Constitution—forming the nation as an organic whole. De Quincey, however, imagines technology performing this function. And although for Coleridge and for Schlegel organic and mechanic forms are opposites, for De Quincey the “indirect agency” of a mechanism reveals society's “latent” organic form. The British nation he imagines is organic because its organization arises from within; however, this organization arises only through mechanical assistance. One specific technology, instantaneous communication, harnesses the “powers latent in organization” to allow their “life” to spring forth.

The organic system that De Quincey envisions in “Travelling in England in the Old Days” is democratic. There is no single center, no single place (p.148) or person controlling the Empire or originating all information. Instead, when communication moves instantaneously, “each acts upon all, and all react upon each.” For this reason, the new technology allows a democratically formed national identity to emerge. The 1834 essay comments that “the national will has never been able to express itself upon one in a thousand of the public acts, simply because the national voice was lost in the distance, and could not collect itself through the time and the space rapidly enough to connect itself immediately with the evanescent measure of the moment” (218). With instantaneous communication, the movement of the whole follows the sum of the actions and reactions of all of its parts, with each part voting in a representative assembly, as it were, of parts. But if this technology succeeds in creating a truly organic national identity, it also diffuses agency. It is difficult to suggest where an action or movement might begin, and what part any one individual plays in its propagation.

Even as De Quincey credits the new communication technologies with producing a “new earth,” he indicates some dissatisfaction with this “merely physical revolution.” De Quincey introduces his expectation of technological revolution with the assertion that he has “always maintained, that under a representative government, where the great cities of the empire must naturally have the power, each in its proportion, of reacting upon the capital and the councils of the nation in so conspicuous a way, there is a result waiting on the final improvements of the arts of travelling, and of transmitting intelligence with velocity” (217–18). He suggests that looking back on these lines (written twenty years previously), he found that “already, in this paragraph … a prefiguring instinct spoke within me of some great secret yet to come in the art of distant communication. At present I am content to regard the electric telegraph as the oracular response to that prefiguration. But I still look for some higher and transcendent response” (219). Although the telegraph connects the Empire and forms the nation into an organic whole, it is not sufficiently “transcendent.” Like the telegraph, De Quincey's mail coaches mechanically impose an organic identity upon the English people. The mail system, however, proves more “transcendent” in two ways. First, as I have discussed, De Quincey states that the mail operates on animal and human nerves rather than on electric wires and thus allows passengers to feel their own power over the horse, and to imagine that human agency controls the news's dissemination. More importantly, however, whereas the telegraph system that De Quincey imagines weighs each voice proportionally, the mail encourages individuals to abandon, and (p.149) therefore to “transcend,” their individual identity as they celebrate national victory. And for De Quincey, the mail coach unifies the nation because its message propagates from a single center, so that every English person owes the news of victory to the same original source.

The telegraph system also differs from the mail because, lacking a center, it does not allow De Quincey to place himself at the center of national discourse. Riding the mails, however, De Quincey derives both his national identity and his personal authority from the system of which he is a part. Sitting in London at the central mail terminal and watching the coaches depart, De Quincey envisions himself connected to every British citizen who will hear the news of victory. He positions himself at the center of the Empire not because he performed any wartime action or extended Britain's foreign possessions but because all those who learn of British victory owe their information to the English mail.

The half-slumbering consciousness that all night long, and all the next day—perhaps for even a longer period—many of these mails, like fire racing along a train of gunpowder, will be kindling at every instant new successions of burning joy, has an obscure effect of multiplying the victory itself, by multiplying to the imagination into infinity the stages of its progressive diffusion. A fiery arrow seems to be let loose, which from that moment is destined to travel, without intermission westwards for three hundred miles—northwards for six hundred; and the sympathy of our Lombard Street friends at parting is exalted a hundredfold by a sort of visionary sympathy with the yet slumbering sympathies which in so vast a succession we are going to awake. [204–5]

De Quincey determines his personal importance from the “infinite” number of people who will hear the news he carries: here imagination verges on mathematical calculus, in which each instantaneous moment of a line is taken to infinity.13 De Quincey need not see every person who hears the news in order to imagine that he is responsible for conveying it; instead, he simply imagines the reach of the mails. When he terms this imagination “visionary sympathy,” sympathy becomes not a matter of knowing and feeling for individuals but of envisioning the system of which one is a small part; envisioning the system links one with each individual in it. De Quincey redefines “vision,” “sympathy,” and “imagination,” then, as aspects of one's placement within a system of information and communication rather than as poetic qualities requiring a special sort of mind.14 When De Quincey rides the mails, his imaginative reach extends beyond his physical (p.150) movement, for he identifies himself with the outward movement of the news he carries.

In describing the English people as gunpowder, De Quincey implicitly resorts to an ethnic model of national identity, suggesting that some Englishness is necessary in order to take pride in English victory: those not made of gunpowder cannot be lit aflame. In De Quincey's model of nationality, English ethnicity is necessary to share authentically in the glory of victory even if the battles were fought by a united Britain. At the moment of victory, “one heart, one pride, one glory connects every man by the transcendent bond of his English blood” (203). De Quincey uses the term “English” rather than “British” deliberately. “The English Mail-Coach” never considers imperial subjects, and most of the essay imagines only English people receiving the news of victory, and therefore imagines only a population that should rise together in glorious sympathy with the spread of empire. The only episode that features a non-English Briton treats skeptically the ability of the Welsh (and by analogy the Scots and Irish) truly to sympathize with English victory. De Quincey and a Welshman are fellow mail passengers on an occasion in which a Birmingham coach dares to race the mails. After the mail coach accelerates and speeds past the upstart coach, the Welshman asks if De Quincey “had not felt [his] heart burn … during the continuance of the race.” In reply De Quincey insists that he had remained calm because there was no possibility of a local coach beating the mail: “‘Race us, perhaps,’ I replied, ‘though even that has an air of sedition, but not beat us’” (192). De Quincey's whimsical insistence on the priority of the mail places the mail's authority not only in the strength of the horses but in something more ineffable: “on our side, besides the physical superiority, was a tower of strength, namely the king's name” (192). The Welshman persists in denying the mail's absolute supremacy and refuses De Quincey's suggestion that to pass a mail would be treason, a capital offense. Although the Welshman takes pride in the victory, he cannot properly understand the priority of the King's name and the King's agent, the mail. He exults in the mail's victory and, by extrapolation, in British victories abroad, only because he identifies with the coach he happens to be riding. If he were riding the Birmingham coach, he would probably wish just as strongly for its victory. English identity enduringly ties one to the King and the nation in a way that Welsh identity does not.

If English blood is necessary truly to conceive the nation's glory, blood alone is not sufficient. The racing mail coach needs the authority of the (p.151) King, rather than simply English passengers or an English driver, in order to beat the local coach. And likewise, the English people unite in a shared glory only when the news of victory travels under the King's aegis, through the aid of appropriate technology. Even if Englishness lies latent as an ethnic category, stirring it to the surface proves coercive. Although the news of British victories brings joy, this joy takes each individual violently. After the battle is over, the dissemination of news figuratively continues the fighting. Information appears as “fiery arrows” and moves like “fire racing along a train of gunpowder … kindling at every instant new successions of burning joy.” People are merely the “gunpowder” and require a spark to flare. Setting individual emotions aflame, the mail's “fiery arrows” seem almost as powerful as actual munitions, but it is the English people (rather than the French or the colonies) that they conquer.15

To understand why De Quincey insists that national identity imposes itself upon the English people and cannot simply rise up within them, we need to consider De Quincey's political as well as authorial concerns. In restructuring the national communication system around a single center, De Quincey insists upon an imperial center-periphery political structure rather than the more “democratic” organization seen in the telegraph system. As I have argued, De Quincey finds in such a centralized structure a surer authorial position: he can only be certain that every man, woman, and child in England listens to his message when he joins his message to the King's mail. An 1836 political essay, however, demonstrates a second reason for seeking a centralized structure and an imperial context for national identity. “Toryism, Whiggism, and Radicalism” considers the question of who can speak for the nation and worries that the reform movement claims to rise above partisan politics to speak with a national voice. The reformers once spoke with such great numbers, De Quincey acknowledges, that they reasonably approximated a nation: “whether for achieving the victory, or for commemorating it … [the reformers] were able to put forth a power greater than that of kings—most despotic. And thus far they were entitled to style themselves ‘national,’ or even, in a popular sense, ‘the nation’” (M, 9:347). De Quincey admits that the reformers do indeed achieve the numbers to win a democratic contest for the national voice. Within this democratic system, however, De Quincey imagines the power of the people as “despotic” because their sheer numbers co-opt those like himself who disagree with the goals of reform.

De Quincey and his fellow Tories cannot defeat the reformers in any fairly contested election or contest of voices. Instead, he counters the reformers (p.152) first by suggesting that there is no room for a third party in the British government: in a division of labor, the Whigs “take[] charge of the popular influence” and the Tories “take[] charge of the antagonist or non-popular influence,” leaving no position for reform (M, 9:337). Second, he turns outward from a contest for the national voice to the battle for empire, attributing the essay to “a letter to a friend in Bengal.” By admitting that the English government of Bengal needs reform, even if such reform is currently too “perilous” to attempt, he claims the position of a moderate: he desires some reforms (in Bengal) but not others (in Britain). Furthermore, when speaking to the colonies, he becomes a member of the center in a way he does not while participating in English partisan debates. In a version of what John Barrell has termed “this, that, and the other,” he incorporates the near other, the British working classes, by opposing both the upper and working classes to a more distant other, Bengal.16

“The English Mail-Coach” raises the same question as “Toryism, Whiggism, and Radicalism”: Who speaks for the nation? The mail coach, however, need not worry over rhetorical positioning but decisively overruns all opposition. In turning to the mail, De Quincey's memory serves his politics. He looks to the Napoleonic War era rather than to some other moment of mass union (such as the rallies for the Reform Bill) to represent the national imagination at a moment when the nation thinks like a Tory. Only at such a moment can De Quincey be supremely sure that no individual citizen will break the chain of “burning joy” (205). De Quincey figures this unified vision, however, as a consequence not only of the historical moment but also of the action of the mail. The mail stirs a consensual national identity among all English people. At that moment, there was no question of argument or error: the mail irresistibly presented truth and elicited the same patriotic feelings in every English person. Even more than locating a historical moment of union in the Tory cause, however, the essay's insistence that national identity derives from the King and descends through the motions of the mail onto the people removes the possibility of democratically counting the voices. Only the messages sanctioned by the mail reach the masses.

“The English Mail-Coach” most decisively combats the figure of reform by figuring any opposition to the essay's message of patriotism as personal, not political. The individuals who cannot share in national joy do not seek an alternative national voice. Instead, they have “suffered some deep personal affliction,” perhaps losing sons or brothers or husbands in the war, that prevents them from celebrating national glory. The news of victory (p.153) merely reminds them of their loss or causes them to sympathize with other families now experiencing similar tragedy. Passing one lady in mourning, De Quincey worries that she, “having formerly suffered, might, erroneously perhaps, be distressing herself with anticipations of another similar suffering” (207). De Quincey does not seem to care that some English citizens will not be able to share in English patriotic joy. As long as grief remains personal and not political, it will not spread among the population. Patriotic joy, in contrast, moves so quickly that a few nonparticipants cannot halt its inevitable spread. The point is not that every single citizen will sympathize in exactly the same way but that most will, and so the few who equate battle victory with grief will be drowned out by the majority's resounding imperial pride.

De Quincey portrays the moment of national pride as a forgetting of one's self. In “The English Mail-Coach,” English identity lies dormant until awakened by news of victory. Only at the moment of victory do people give up their individual identities to identify themselves as members of a nation. De Quincey argues that the mail's conquering force is generous; it elevates even the basest spectators to greatness by demonstrating the glory of their English blood: “The beggar, rearing himself against the wall, forgets his lameness—real or assumed…. The victory has healed him, and says—Be thou whole!” (205). The poor charwomen “for this one night … feel themselves by birthright to be daughters of England, and answer to no humbler title” (206). Identifying with the nation makes the beggar and charwomen whole because it allows them to forget their poverty and social position. Indeed, it does not matter whether the beggar's lameness is true or feigned; in either case, he gives up his individual claim before a greater imperial spectacle. By taking on the identities of the imperial nation, these figures forget their personal identities.

In the cases of the beggar and the charwomen, the requisite forgetting seems benign: each forgets pain. When we set “The English Mail-Coach” alongside De Quincey's more explicitly political writings, however, we can see that the advent of national identity is not always so innocent. Indeed, in De Quincey's Tory logic the generous glory of the mail almost removes the need for reform by elevating the poor, in spirit if not in social class. And in every citizen it reaches, patriotic joy appears violently because it comes at the cost of an individual's other identifications. De Quincey does not imagine that it would be possible to identify oneself in more than one way at a time, and so even those with English blood can only experience national (p.154) pride as a conquering of national over individual feeling. National identification can never be neutral. Most, like one woman whom De Quincey meets, the mother of a soldier in a regiment that has just won a bloody victory, forget the uncertain fates of friends and relatives in the moment of joy. Not considering that the crucial role played by her son's regiment likely meant his death, she “blindly allowed herself to express an exultation so unmeasured in the news, and its details” (207). In one respect, the woman's exultation is far from “blind”: she responds to the visual spectacle of the mail coach, which only announces victory and does not foretell its costs. The mail itself is sublimely “unmeasured,” not only in the scale of the victory it announces but in the numbers of people it reaches: to count bodies, whether dead soldiers or living and celebrating English, would end the sublimity that De Quincey finds in the mail. Furthermore, “measuring” exultation would calculate nationalism democratically as a sum of individual voices rather than as a single spirit that proves “transcendent” in its ability to impose itself on the whole. Measurement will arrive the next day with the newspapers, when the numbers and names of casualties are listed. A few individuals cannot but help measure the personal costs of victory; for them, the sacrifice of a husband or son or brother will be too severe a price for them to share in the nation's glory. For most, however, the message of the mail will stir nationalistic pride, upholding De Quincey's confidence that he speaks to and for the English nation.

De Quincey figures this conquering of all feeling as the mail's utter indifference to any unofficial persons. The motion of the coach itself threatens to destroy whoever might step into its path, and De Quincey initially argues that such unresponsiveness cannot be helped: “Tied to post-office time, with an allowance in some cases of fifty minutes for eleven miles, could the royal mail pretend to undertake the offices of sympathy and condolence? Could it be expected to provide tears for the accidents of the road? If even it seemed to trample on humanity, it did so, I contended, in discharge of its own more peremptory duties” (191). The mail cannot worry about individuals and feelings while it completes its national duties. It displaces the mind of the rider toward a national purpose, removing any capacity for sympathy not dictated by the force with which he rides. Just as sympathy with the horse implies not a concern for its well-being but rather an awareness of how its exertion carries the movements of empire, so empire cannot show any concern for the people it might harm but only allow sympathy with its expansion. De Quincey's “visionary sympathy” when watching the (p.155) departure of the mails imagines the vast extent of the mail's reach but cannot concern itself with individuals. De Quincey accepts the constraints of the coach and indeed suggests that the nation is correct to attempt to penetrate and police private lives through mechanisms like the mail. He even thanks the mail for “regulating” his love affair with a girl at one stop, limiting his acquaintance with her to the short time necessary to change the horses.17

Although he recounts the potential danger of the mails, De Quincey claims to find power and safety for himself because of the mail's rhetorical functions. Indeed, he jokingly suggests that the mail's power as an agent of information protects him from the physical dangers of riding on a speeding coach.

There was an impression upon the public mind, natural enough from the continually augmenting velocity of the mail, but quite erroneous, that an outside seat on this class of carriages was a post of danger. On the contrary, I maintained that, if a man had become nervous from some gipsy prediction in his childhood, allocating to a particular moon now approaching some unknown danger, and he should inquire earnestly, “Whither can I fly for shelter? Is a prison the safest retreat? Or a lunatic hospital? Or the British Museum?” I should have replied, “Oh, no; I'll tell you what to do. Take lodgings for the next forty days on the box of his majesty's mail. Nobody can touch you there.” [188]

For fleeing pursuit, ever increasing velocity might be safer than stasis: the coach's motion makes it hard to track down to any one position, and its velocity enables it to outrun all other coaches. The mail offers supreme protection, however, not simply because of its speed but because of the national authority that underwrites its movement. The mail's regal authority matches the gypsies' mysticism and proves more powerful, because the mail is English rather than foreign. And the mail outdoes gypsy spells because its command over news lends it a form of rhetorical power, the power to seem to determine fates in the act of revealing them. De Quincey suggests when he meets the mother of the soldier that for the mother, her son is alive until the mails announce him dead. With such a power, the hazy predictions of gypsies cannot compete. And the mail's ability to determine fates makes it a safe place for those who ride it: the authority of the English government, in De Quincey's terms the greatest power in the world, is behind each passenger. As long as De Quincey rides the mail, he announces others' fates; when his position on the mail grants him authority, it also gives him protection. Nevertheless, he remains haunted by the individual sacrifices that the mail, both in its own terms and as a figure for the motion of England's imperial (p.156) expansion, demands. And he feels a sense of personal guilt for his own role in coalescing a nation that kills so many of its citizens.

The horrific danger of the mail's speed and the profundity of the sacrifice that national identification potentially demands climax in “The Vision of Sudden Death.” As the mail travels at increasing speeds through the dark, its driver asleep and De Quincey the only passenger, it veers into the wrong lane and heads straight for a young couple in a small cart. Absorbed in each other, the couple is unaware of the impending danger, and they take no action to remove their coach from the mail's path. De Quincey tries to sound the horn, but his reach is blocked by a large stack of foreign mail. Luckily, he says, he remembers a passage from the Iliad and thinks to shout a warning to the couple. The man looks up, sees the approaching mail, and is able to pull the cart just out of reach. When De Quincey looks back, he sees the young woman raising her arms to heaven, in fear and in acknowledgment.

This passage combines several of De Quincey's common themes: first, even at this moment of danger, De Quincey suggests that he is incapable of agency. De Quincey can only propagate, and not originate, a message and so needs another author or text—here, the Iliad—to give him voice. Even more importantly for my argument here, the passage portrays communication as a specifically national system. The stack of “foreign mail” blocks De Quincey's access to the coach's horn, interfering with his attempt to warn the young couple of their danger.18 Just as the French nation threatens to block England's imperial spread, the very existence of foreign letters threatens to stop De Quincey from communicating with fellow English citizens. The Iliad, a resource of a scholarly English education, written in a dead language rather than the language of an opposing nation, does not block communication but enables it. In the passage that De Quincey recalls, the shout of Achilles ends his battle with Agamemnon and begins their joint attack on Hector. This specific moment also offers a truce to the young couple, the fellow English, if they remove themselves from the path of the mail and allow its continued progress.

In portraying the near-victims of the mail as a young couple in love, De Quincey once again figures any English resistance to national progress as personal—or more exactly in this passage, sexual—rather than political. The young couple in the cart are so absorbed in their private conversation that they do not notice the approach of the bolting mail: “Ah, young sir! What are you about? If it is necessary that you should whisper your communications to this young lady—though really I see nobody at this hour, and on (p.157) this solitary road, likely to overhear your conversation—is it, therefore, necessary that you should carry your lips forward to hers?” (221). The couple's private conversation appears not only foolish but also dangerous when it prevents them from seeing or hearing the mail coach. The coach literally insists upon the nation's right-of-way over and through personal spaces and relationships. Just as the mail coach regulated (and thereby prevented) De Quincey's relationship with the girl at a station, the mail demands control over all private relationships. Neither the mail coach nor the national identity that it represents of course threatens De Quincey himself. As in the Malay incident in the Confessions, danger threatens only the innocent person at the end of the communication chain. When national identity demands a sacrifice, or when communication fails, it sacrifices those on the outskirts—the colonial subject, the young woman. But more than simply demanding recognition of the mail, portraying the personal relationship threatened by the mail as specifically sexual removes the political valence of De Quincey's model of nationalism. By reading private relationships as sexual rather than political, he can suggest the power of the mail over all individual concerns without evoking either the threat of reform or his own Toryism. A “whisper” in the dark signals romance, not sedition. Once again, “The English Mail-Coach” imagines only isolated and nonideological resistance to the encroaching force of a centrally distributed nationalism.

The incident nevertheless haunts De Quincey, I would suggest, because it illustrates the threat that national identity poses and the guilt that it elicits in citizens. If the nation demands sacrifice, no other temporal authority can intervene. But although he insists that the coach (as representative of the King) has the right to ride on the wrong side of the street and that everyone else must make way, De Quincey also finds himself personally responsible for the near accident because he cannot warn the young man in time. Many readers have noted the passage's sexual charge, with the mail coach enacting a form of phallic penetration. As Arden Reed notes, the passage places De Quincey in the position of rival lover, who by shouting to the young man pulls the lovers apart.19 And as Eva-Lynn Alicia Jagoe suggests, De Quincey's continual replay of the girl in his dream vision shows that De Quincey finds an erotic thrill even in his shame, as he proves unable to act to stop the nation's violence.20

In replaying the incident in his “Dream Fugue,” De Quincey responds to his sense of guilt and to his worries about whether his message successfully overruns all opposition. In the dream fugue, De Quincey imagines himself within a “saintly cathedral for the warrior dead that rested from their feuds (p.158) on earth” (229). The young woman reappears as a baby, who quickly grows into a woman who must be sacrificed as “the ransom for Waterloo” (230). But her guardian angel succeeds in pleading for her life, the woman is saved, the war ends, and the people wait to celebrate the “secret words,” “Waterloo and Recovered Christendom.” The end of the war indeed ends “sudden death” in the sense of ending one threat to British lives. But the dream assuages De Quincey's guilt over the nation's power, suggesting that Britain sacrifices no innocents, and that even those “warrior dead” who gave their lives for their nation experience Christian resurrection. He triumphantly equates nationalism and religion, then, to suggest that English victory is divinely ordained and to insist that the nation is correct to enforce its power over individuals.

The “Dream Fugue” also responds to De Quincey's worry that his writing cannot form the same kind of unified and receptive audience that the mail coach did. In his current day, De Quincey worries, not just individuals but entire (radical) publics stand in the way of his message of British union. As we have seen, De Quincey recalls the mail coaches so nostalgically because he trusted the medium of the coach and the message of victory to produce a unified national audience. Even if his essay revives the memory of the coach and its nationalist message, he cannot revive the medium. In the world of early Victorian journalism, too many publications address disparate audiences. Each publication serves as a center for a different public, defined through class and political agendas in ways that pit them against one another (and often against the Tory interests De Quincey holds dear). From his residence in Edinburgh, De Quincey is aware that he is not at the largest or most important of the nation's centers. Furthermore, as seen, De Quincey worries that when the public does claim to speak as one, the voice that emerges is a radical one that excludes him and threatens his interests. Whether addressing a fragmented magazine readership or a radical, unified public, De Quincey can no longer claim to be an author of national identity. And nationalism itself, at a time when the vision of the British nation is so contested, no longer can be the unifying force it once was.

De Quincey's dream fugue imagines the moment of apocalypse to conceive the British public as once again a single entity. In jingoistically equating Waterloo and “recovered Christendom,” De Quincey joins two moments in which he imagines entire communities speaking with a unified voice—the moment of British victory and the promised resurrection. This moment of apocalypse transforms a potentially dangerous and radicalized public into a unified and peaceful community of the dead. In describing his vision of (p.159) the girl, De Quincey repeats the same participial phrase he used to describe her near death in the coach accident: she is “sinking, rising, fluttering, fainting.” Here, however, his new ending for the phrase shows the ideological work the dream fugue performs: the girl is “suddenly reconciled, adoring” (233). De Quincey suggests, of course, that she is reconciled to her fate. But he also imagines both the girl and the crowd that clearly sympathizes with her as “reconciled” by religion and therefore as politically quiescent. The young couple in the cart represented for De Quincey a resistance, albeit an unmotivated and futile resistance, to the force of national power. When he relocates his model of national glory to the moment of resurrection, he nullifies this sense of resistance. And he transfers the “adoration” of each other that denoted the couple's desire to pull themselves apart from the nation to a religious adoration that he imagines is shared by the crowd as a whole, and that he channels into a sense of English nationalism. De Quincey hopes that shared religious identity will transcend political ideology, just as in the Napoleonic era national identity transcended personal interests. And he imagines himself speaking to and for this reconciled populace.

In his dream, at the moment when the girl is saved, De Quincey envisions himself once again at the center of a public united in exaltation, as the cathedral erupts in music that incorporates all peoples, the “[c]hoir and antechoir … filling fast with unknown voices” (231). De Quincey's confidence in this public allows him to suggest that his earlier fears of radical publics were hysterical. As the mail coach exits the cathedral, ready to spread the “secret words” to all people, De Quincey initially worries about the masses surrounding him: “We, that spread flight before us, heard the tumult, as of flight, mustering behind us. In fear we looked round for the unknown steps that, in flight or in pursuit, were gathering upon our own. Who were these that followed?” He then realizes, however, that these “faces, which no man could count” are the resurrected dead, who “from the crimson altar and the fiery font were visited with secret life” at the moment when the angel succeeded in pleading for the girl (231–32). De Quincey upbraids himself for fearing the masses that turned out to be Christian souls, asking,

could it be ye that had wrapped me in the reflux of panic? What ailed me that I should fear when the triumphs of earth were advancing? Ah! Pariah heart within me, that couldst never hear the sound of joy without sullen whispers of treachery in ambush; that from six years old, didst never hear the promise of perfect love, without seeing aloft amongst the stars fingers as of a man's hand writing the secret legend—“ashes to ashes, dust to dust!” [232]

(p.160) Although he acknowledges that he worries about the mass's “treachery,” he blames this worry not on the mass's political stance but on his own fear of death. Once again, he uses a personal explanation to avoid using politics as an explanation for his actions. But whether he acknowledges a political motivation or not, De Quincey consoles his Tory self by rereading the crowd, not as a radicalized mass but as enthusiasts who share his task of publishing national and religious glory. The essay's conclusion imagines the crowds, moving with “one step,” overtaking the mail coach on which he rides: “and, as with a garment, they wrapped us round with thunders that overpowered our own. As brothers we moved together; to the skies we rose—to the dawn that advanced—to the stars that fled: rendering thanks to God in the highest—that, having hid has face through one generation behind thick clouds of War, once again was ascending—was ascending from Waterloo—in the visions of Peace” (232). Here, it is no longer a problem that the masses are “overpower[ing]” him and his Tory interests; De Quincey is one with the crowd and so confident in its unity that he suggests the mass has no geographical boundaries. By joining nationalism with religious promise, De Quincey attempts to find a message that will unify his magazine audience, recreating the single mass public that coalesced around the mails.

De Quincey imagines his essay carrying on the work of the mail in the dream fugue, “publishing” the “secret words,” “Waterloo and recovered Christendom.” In imagining that his essay conveys a united religious and nationalist “glory,” De Quincey finds a message that he hopes outlives the Napoleonic era and resonates for his 1849 audience, regardless of politics or denomination. If so, perhaps he could impel his readers to abandon their individual concerns and be as “reconciled” and “adoring” as the girl and the masses of his dream. For De Quincey, the autobiographical essay operates as a type (and a typology) of resurrection, as it brings the characters and incidents of the past back to life. He emphasizes this effect by describing his vision of the girl as one of “the dreadful resurrections that are in dreams,” and by repeating the participial phrase—“sinking, rising, fluttering, fainting”—that describes her near death (232). The reader also experiences these “resurrections” when incidents, characters, and phrases from earlier episodes return and repeat in later visions, especially in the dream fugues that conclude both Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and “The English Mail-Coach.” In juxtaposing the “resurrections” of the soul, the “resurrections” he experiences in dreams, and the repetitions of his text, De Quincey makes himself as author into an agent of apocalypse. By facing his readers with a (p.161) moment of near death, he hopes for the apocalyptic power to force individuals to transcend for a moment their individual interests. In this way, he imagines for the medium of memoir one version of the kind of power he admired in the mail coach.

But if the dream's resurrections feed the essayist's power, they simultaneously signal his agony. On the one hand, depicting his vision of the girl as a recurring dream—and in the essay's final sentence calling this dream a vision from God—allows De Quincey to claim a kind of involuntary authorship like that he found while riding the mail. He imagines that he does not have to be responsible for the message but nevertheless joins in its transmission. On the other hand, the dream reminds De Quincey of his guilt, the guilt that accrues to any citizen of the nation. De Quincey feels this guilt especially deeply because he claims to author national identity while riding the mails, and because he sees the cost of the nation's violence personalized in the young woman's near death. His difficulty in acting to warn the young couple increases his sense that he shares responsibility for their fate. De Quincey's vision of the young woman's reprieve and of the warriors' resurrection partially assuages his guilt, since it promises one form of endless life to those innocents the nation sacrifices. Nevertheless, his continual dreams of the young woman's despair show that in “The English Mail-Coach,” guilt is the dark side of the nation's triumph, of the subject's powerful identification with the nation, and of the autobiographical author's confidence that he gathers agency from his position in spreading the nation's news.

For the most part, while riding the mails, De Quincey finds himself safe from the death that the nation threatens to require of others. But if the mails offer De Quincey a position of relative safety, his essay about the mail does not. His safety relies on motion, and writing requires stasis. His memoir fixes his words and position before an audience, forcing him to abandon the protection of the ever-moving coach. In the 1856 Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, De Quincey figures these concerns in recurring references to the Whispering Gallery in St. Paul's Cathedral. De Quincey introduces the Whispering Gallery as a symbol of his fears that he will later regret his words and actions. Recalling a visit to the Whispering Gallery during his youth, he remembers his horror at the thought that a “solemn whisper” at one end of the gallery could turn into a “volleying thunder” at the other. The very idea that his words or actions could have consequences beyond what he intended is enough to make De Quincey “nervous[ly] recoil from any word or deed that could not be recalled” (M, 3:296). In “The (p.162) English Mail-Coach,” the mail offers protection from these worries: as long as De Quincey rides the mail, the King's authority will sanction his words and actions and protect his person. Such protection, however, lasts only as long as he maintains his position on the moving coach.

De Quincey remembers the Whispering Gallery with the retrospective knowledge that the very chamber in which he had seen “pompously floating to and fro in the upward space of a great aisle running westward from ourselves, many flags captured from France, Spain, and Holland, … solemn trophies of chance and change among mighty nations” would five years later witness the burial of Lord Nelson (296). In his first visit to the Whispering Gallery, De Quincey identifies his own position in the cathedral with that of his nation; the flags “run[] westward from ourselves” as if he and his friend were the point of origin of their movement, the center of England's imperial power. That five years later Lord Nelson's casket stood in “pretty nearly the very spot” in which they had stood to watch the flags suggests that a triumphant position at the origin of national power cannot in fact protect the individual. The juxtaposition of De Quincey's national identification and Lord Nelson's burial demonstrates the precariousness of any attempt to derive authority from either a physical position, like De Quincey's position on the mail coach, or a national position, like the mail passenger's perceived (and temporary) assumption of the King's authority. Nelson's burial emphasizes the “chance and change among mighty nations,” not because it questions Britain's glory—the Empire long outlives Lord Nelson—but because it separates individual fate from national fate even in a person who possesses tremendous national authority. The near death of the young woman in the coach horrifies De Quincey but does not threaten him personally, because he believes that while riding the mail the authority of the King protects him. The death of Lord Nelson, however, demonstrates that even those whom the British government endows with authority are not protected by the grandeur of their position. As naval commander, Lord Nelson won for his country the battles of Nile and Trafalgar (two victories which figure significantly in “The English Mail-Coach”), but at Trafalgar he was killed by enemy fire. If Lord Nelson can die in the midst of the nation's greatest victory, then it seems that any action could signify differently on the private and the public levels. An aristocratic title and leadership in the navy were not enough to save Lord Nelson; can Thomas De Quincey suppose that riding the mail protects him? Or that he will not be called upon to sacrifice as well?

(p.163) Associating Nelson's death with the whispering gallery, which raises whispers into “volleying thunder,” also suggests to De Quincey the dangers of fame. Nelson's position as admiral of the navy—at the origin, as it were, of the national glory De Quincey and the mail coach celebrate—ties his name and his person too firmly to a single national role. De Quincey's position while riding the mail differs from Nelson's situation in several important respects: De Quincey's authority is temporary, impersonal, and nonfunctional; he performs no task for the mail or for the British nation—the news would travel just as well without him on board the coach—and the vision he imagines descending upon him would fall to any English person sitting in his position. Furthermore, the mail grants De Quincey rhetorical protection: the speed of the coach ensures that he travels ahead of any personally specific news, and the evanescence and impersonality of his position on the mail protect him from any significance in the public eye. However, publishing his autobiography—whether under a pseudonym or, in 1856, his own name—poses a danger similar to Lord Nelson's public identity. In constituting a reading public around a name and his memories, he fixes his identity. Only by refusing to locate his self and his literary persona can De Quincey claim to publish English identity and also protect his person from dissolution.

After “The English Mail-Coach,” De Quincey continues revising his autobiographical Confessions. In the context of De Quincey's meditations in the Whispering Gallery, these revisions serve two contrary purposes. On the one hand, his work records the personal identity the nation could annihilate. On the other hand, his continued expansions to his autobiographical corpus keep that very subject in constant motion, eliding any fixed identification of his authorial persona. De Quincey remains flexibly available to place himself within whatever information system may authorize his discourse and provide a speaking position. But the mail provides the most certain authority that De Quincey will find, because it underwrites an impersonal and ever-moving position before a national audience it forcefully, if briefly, constitutes. (p.164)


(1.) Alina Clej, A Genealogy of the Modern Self: Thomas De Quincey and the Intoxication of Writing (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995); Charles Rzepka, Sacramental Commodities: The Gift and the Text in Thomas De Quincey (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995). Clej considers the Wordsworth–De Quincey relationship as part of her study of De Quincey's modernity; Rzepka places De Quincey's anxiety over Wordsworth within a general anxiety of the marketplace. Daniel Sanjiv Roberts maintains the focus on De Quincey's relationship with predecessors but argues for Samuel Taylor Coleridge as his primary influence [Revisionary Gleam: De Quincey, Coleridge, and the High Romantic Argument (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000)].

(2.) Margaret Russett, De Quincey's Romanticism: Canonical Minority and the Forms of Transmission (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Russett also (p.196) helpfully locates De Quincey's authorial strategies within the contemporary magazine industry.

(3.) Josephine McDonaugh argues that De Quincey uses Ricardo to redefine debt (including literary debt) as central to all social interaction [De Quincey's Disciplines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) 42–65]. De Quincey's opium addiction figures both the power and danger of literary dependency; on opium, see Clej, Genealogy of the Modern Self; and Alethea Hayter, Opium and the Romantic Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968).

(4.) The Collected Writings of Thomas De Quincey, ed. David Masson (London, 1897) III, 282. Further references to the Masson edition will be cited parenthetically as M.

(5.) As Russett notes, the 1856 Confessions actually strengthens De Quincey's claim to be the first to recognize Wordsworth. On Wordsworth's popularity with Victorian audiences, see Stephen Gill, Wordsworth and the Victorians (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

(6.) I discuss this growth in the Introduction, but see especially C. A. Bayly, Imperial Meridians (New York: Longman, 1989) and Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India 1780–1870 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

(7.) Britons: Forging a Nation 1707–1837 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992).

(8.) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991) 109–10, Anderson's emphasis.

(9.) Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1973) 123–34. In Anderson, op. cit., see esp. 92–94.

(10.) Quotations of “The English Mail-Coach” are from the Oxford edition, ed. Grevel Lindop (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), cited here 194. References will be cited parenthetically in the text.

(11.) See Discourse Networks, 1800/1900, tran. Michael Metteer with Chris Cullens (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990).

(12.) Collected Works, Vol. 5: Lectures 1808–1819 On Literature, ed. R. A. Foakes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987) 495.

(13.) John Plotz terms this stage-by-stage reach of the mails “fractalization” and argues that for De Quincey the gradual accretion of the “national crowd” presents an important contrast to the newspapers, which distribute news simultaneously: “the coach's ride created a sense of organic connection among those who experience it as parallel publication of newspapers does not” [The Crowd: British Literature and Public Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000) 107, 119].

(14.) Redefining authorship as placement within a system therefore also frees De Quincey from comparing himself to Wordsworth. In a note to the Confessions, De Quincey compares English and American rivers to argue for judging an entity's importance by systemic function rather than size of output. Whereas Americans would measure a river's importance by its size, De Quincey notes that the small (p.197) Tiber River “has contrived to make itself heard of in this world for twenty-five centuries” and that “the glory of the Thames is measured by the destiny of the population to which it ministers, by the commerce which it supports, by the grandeur of the empire in which, though far from the largest, it is the most influential stream. Upon some such scale, and not by a transfer of Columbian standards, is the course of our English mails to be valued” (204 note). By analogy, while Wordsworth is an acknowledged literary giant, with an imagination as wide as the Mississippi, De Quincey is the great disseminator, spreading his knowledge of the poets among the population at large.

(15.) Charles Rzepka makes a similar point when he suggests that “driving His Majesty's coach-horses along the mail-routes of England is symbolically equivalent to riding His Majesty's horses into the thick of battle,” but “[i]n place of achieving victory, however, De Quincey seeks to achieve, or to identify himself with the successful achievement of, the display of victory” [“Bang Up! Theatricality and the ‘Diphrelatic Art’ in De Quincey's English Mail Coach,” Nineteenth-Century Prose 26:2 (Fall 2001): 92].

(16.) John Barrell, The Infection of Thomas De Quincey: A Psychopathology of Imperialism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991) esp. 8–15.

(17.) See also Eva-Lynn Alicia Jagoe's discussion of De Quincey's regulated love affair in “Degrading Forms of Pantomime: Englishness and Shame in De Quincey,” Studies in Romanticism 44:1 (Spring 2005): 23–40; Mary Favret similarly notes De Quincey's “suspicion of human contact outside the official lines of communication” [Romantic Correspondence: Women, Politics, and the Fiction of Letters (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993) 212].

(18.) In a similar instance, a note to the 1856 Confessions complains that a fire destroyed many of De Quincey's manuscript additions; the “Daughters of Levana,” however, survived because De Quincey threw a Spanish cloak over the fire, preventing it from “communicating with the slight woodwork and draperies of the bed” (M, 2:221). In both cases, foreign items prove a bar to communication (whether of humans or fires).

(19.) “Booked for Utter Perplexity on De Quincey's Mail Coach,” in Thomas De Quincey: Bicentenary Studies, ed. Robert Lance Snyder (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985) 279–307, esp. 296–98.

(20.) Jagoe, “Degrading Forms of Pantomime,” esp. 38–40. Jagoe also finds a similar form of erotic submission in De Quincey's dream of lying prostrate before a tiger.