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music by mere imaginative description; and in that attempt many critics think that De Quincey was not wholly successful; but it is interesting to note how Richard Wagner, against prolonged critical hostility, carried to success in actual music the imaginative method De Quincey here uses in language description.
While the “Dream-Fugue" may be considered a pure opium dream, still we should lose the point and meaning of it if we failed to note how every lyrical image in this part of the composition corresponds to a prose fact in the first and second parts. The logical relationship is perfect, and is elaborated with the utmost thought and care. Success is attained by self-restraint; it is freedom through self-mastery and obedience to the everlasting laws of thought and emotion and universal truth. This is lyrical writing that attains its success in mature life, not in youth as lyrical poetry does, and not only genius but time is required for its perfection.
De Quincey's ordinary style, seen to admirable advantage in the first parts of." The English Mail Coach,” is graceful and sinuous in the extreme, winding in and out through a complicated labyrinth, yet without ever losing the clue of the thought, or becoming for a moment obscure, or being betrayed into the slightest awkwardness; and when we come to the “Dream-Fugue think of the musician passionately devoted to his musical art who steals into the organ loft when he knows that but one or two chance devotees are listening in the empty cathedral, and pours forth his most triumphant chords. “Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow" is in a more subdued and subtle key, more delicately artistic, more perfect; yet we could hardly understand it on a first reading were we not prepared for it by the more obvious" Mail Coach."
THE ENGLISH MAIL COACH
N the Preface to the volume of his collected
works containing “ The English Mail Coach,” De Quincey gave a brief explanation of his design. After summarizing the facts given at length in the second section, entitled “The Vision of Sudden Death,” he goes on as follows: “But a movement of horror, and of spontaneous recoil from the dreadful scene, naturally carried the whole of that scene, raised and idealised, into my dreams, and very soon into a rolling succession of dreams. The actual scene, as looked down upon from the box of the mail, was transformed into a dream, as tumultuous and changing as a musical fugue. This troubled dream is circumstantially reported in Section the Third, entitled 'Dream-Fugue on the Theme of Sudden Death.'
The first section The Glory of Motion” was a general discursive essay on the English mail coach and the pleasures and observations incident to riding upon the top of it. It formed nearly half of the whole work. Of this De Quincey says: - What I had beheld from my seat upon the mail,
- the scenical strife of action and passion, of anguish and fear, as I had there witnessed them moving in ghostly silence, this duel between life and death narrowing itself to a point of such exquisite evanescence as the collision neared: all these elements of the scene blended, under the law of association, with the previous and permanent features of distinction investing the mail itself; which features at that time lay - first, in velocity unprecedented; secondly, in the power and beauty of the horses; thirdly, in the official connection with the government of a great nation; and, fourthly, in the function, almost a consecrated function, of publishing and diffusing through the land the great political events, and especially the great battles, during a 'conflict of unparalleled grandeur. These honorary distinctions are all described circumstantially in the first or introductory section "The Glory of Motion.' The three first were distinctions maintained at all times; but the fourth and grandest belonged exclusively to the war with Napoleon; and this it was which most naturally introduced Waterloo into the dream. ... So far as I know, every element in the shifting movements of the Dream derived itself either primarily from the incidents of the actual scene, or from secondary features associated with the mail. For example, the cathedral aisle derived itself from the mimic combination of features which grouped themselves together at the point of collision --- namely, an arrow-like section of the road, six hundred yards long, under the solemn lights described, with lofty trees meeting overhead in arches. The guard's
horn, again a humble instrument in itselfyet glorified as the organ of publication for so many great national events. And the incident of the Dying Trumpeter, who rises from a marble basrelief, and carries a marble trumpet to his marble lips for the purpose of warning the female infant, was doubtless secretly suggested by my own imperfect effort to seize the guard's horn, and to blow a warning blast. But the Dream knows best; and the Dream, I say again, is the responsible party."
In addition to the items mentioned by De Quincey as especially influencing his Dream, two specific instances of observations described in “The Glory of Motion " are worked into the Dream, and are here reprinted complete.
SECTION I-THE GLORY OF MOTION
How else, for example, than as a constant watcher for the dawn, and for the London mail that in summer months entered about daybreak amongst the lawny thickets of Marlborough forest, couldst thou, sweet Fanny of the Bath road, have become the glorified inmate of my dreams? Yet Fanny, as the loveliest young woman for face and person that perhaps in my whole life I have beheld, merited the station which even now, from a distance of forty years, she holds in my dreams; yes, though by links of natural association she brings along with her a troop of dreadful creatures, fabulous and not fabulous, that are more abominable to the heart than Fanny and the dawn are delightful.
Miss Fanny of the Bath road, strictly speaking, lived at a mile's distance from that road, but came so continually to meet the mail that I on my frequent transits rarely missed her, and naturally connected her image with the great thoroughfare where only I had ever seen her. Why she came so punctually I do not exactly know; but I believe with some burden of commissions, to be executed in Bath, which had gathered to her own residence as a central rendezvous for converging them. The mailcoachman who drove the Bath mail and wore the royal livery happened to be Fanny's grandfather. A good man he was, that loved his beautiful granddaughter, and, loving her wisely, was vigilant over her deportment in any case where young Oxford might happen to be concerned. Did my vanity then suggest that I myself, individually, could fall within the line of his terrors ? Certainly not, as regarded any physical pretensions that I could plead; for Fanny (as a chance passenger from her own neighbourhood once told me) counted in her train a hundred and ninety-nine professed admirers, if not open aspirants to her favour; and probably not one of the whole brigade but excelled myself in personal advantages. Ulysses even, with the unfair advantage of his accursed bow, could hardly have undertaken that amount of suitors. So the danger might have seemed slight — only that woman is universally aristocratic; it is amongst her nobilities of heart that she is so. Now, the aristocratic distinctions in my favour might easily with Miss Fanny have compensated my physical deficiencies. Did I then make love to Fanny? Why, yes; about as much love as one could make whilst the mail was