Several critics have sought to identify the central features in the
multiplicity of Thomas De Quincey's work. J. Hillis Miller speaks of the
'common essence', Robert Maniquis of 'those essential patterns', Edmund
Baxter of 'the key themes which, to my mind, make of De Quincey's
disparate works a unified whole.' Yet despite their merits, these
critical deliberatior>xhave not revealed the essential De Quincey.
De Quincey's genius is constituted in four distinct elements. One:
the periodical writer. De Quincey never sat down to write anything
without one eye fixed firmly on the monthly magazine audiences he was
expected to entertain and enlighten. It was his job to provoke an
argument, debunk a trend, relate an amusing anecdote, interpret an idea.
Two: the logician. De Quincey's analytical bent is the primary
influence on his work as a literary critic and a detective and it serves
him extremely well as a populariser, especially of economics. The
same bent leads De Quincey to insist on precision in the use of
language. Even highly imaginative works like Suspiria are
characterised by his love of the analytical.
Three: the disciple. Wordsworth is everywhere in the writings of
De Quincey. At the same time Wordsworth respected De Quincey's
literary abilities and often sought to exploit them. Yet Wordsworth and
De Quincey are two strikingly different writers. The most critical
difference between the two is the way in which they depict the guilt
and fear of their childhood experience.
Four: the rhetorician. De Quincey championed the 'literature of
power' as a moral force which would galvanise and enliven the energies
of man's heart. In the vast majority of his essays he crafts a
mellifluous and pliant prose. But in works of 'impassioned prose' like
the Confessions Trilogy he produces his own form of 'power' in order to
try and beat back the blight of modern industrial advance.
and beat back the blight of modern industrial advance.
These four elements make his work instantly identifiable:
they are the fundamental and indelible strands from which he weaves
the endless variety of his writing, the 'fixed predetermined centres'
around which gather 'whatever heterogeneous elements...may have
accumulated from without.'