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De Quincey’s Portrait
by [?]

Excuse the imperfect development which in some places of the sketch may have been given to my meaning. I suffer from a most afflicting derangement of the nervous system, which at times makes it difficult for me to write at all, and always makes me impatient, in a degree not easily understood, of recasting what may seem insufficiently, or even incoherently, expressed.–Believe me, ever yours,


This letter was a preface to ‘A Sketch from Childhood,’ of which the first and second parts appeared in that Volume.

After this came a blank of six months–a whole Volume containing nothing. In Volume VIII. (January, 1852), ‘A Sketch from Childhood’ was resumed with the following whimsical apology. It then ran for five months consecutively:–

(January, 1852.)

I understand that several readers of my Sketch from Childhood have lodged complaints against me for not having pursued it to what they can regard as a satisfactory close. Some may have done this in a gentle tone, as against an irreclaimable procrastinator, amiably inclined, perhaps, to penitence, though constitutionally incapable of amendment; but others more clamorously, as against one faithless to his engagements, and deliberately a defaulter. Themselves they regard in the light of creditors, and me as a slippery debtor, who, having been permitted to pay his debts by instalments–three, suppose, or four:–has paid two, and then absconded in order to evade the rest. Certainly to this extent I go along with them myself, that, in all cases of a tale or story moving through the regular stages of a plot, the writer, by the act of publishing the introductory parts, pledges himself to unweave the whole tissue to the last. The knot that he has tied, though it should prove a very Gordian knot, he is bound to untie. And, if he fails to do so, I doubt whether a reader has not a right of action against him for having wantonly irritated a curiosity that was never meant to be gratified–for having trifled with his feelings–and, possibly, for having distressed and perplexed his moral sense; as, for instance, by entangling the hero and heroine (two young people that can be thoroughly recommended for virtue) in an Irish bog of misfortunes, and there leaving them to their fate–the gentleman up to his shoulders, and the poor lady, therefore, in all probability up to her lips. But, in a case like the present, where the whole is offered as a sketch, an action would not lie. A sketch, by its very name, is understood to be a fragmentary thing: it is a torso, which may want the head, or the feet, or the arms, and still remain a marketable piece of sculpture. In buying a horse, you may look into his mouth, but not in buying a torso: for, if all his teeth have been gone for ten centuries, which would certainly operate in the way of discount upon the price of a horse, very possibly the loss would be urged as a good ground for an extra premium upon the torso. Besides, it is hard to see how any proper end could be devised for a paper of this nature, reciting a few incidents, sad and gay, from the records of a half-forgotten childhood, unless by putting the child to death; for which denouement, unhappily, there was no solid historical foundation.

Right or wrong, however, my accusers are entitled to my gratitude; since in the very fact of their anger is involved a compliment. By proclaiming their indignation against the procrastinating or absconding sketcher, they proclaim their interest in the sketch; and, therefore, if any fierce Peter Peebles should hang upon my skirts, haling me back to work, and denouncing me to the world as a fugitive from my public duties, I shall not feel myself called upon to contradict him. As often as he nails me with the charge of being a skulker from work in meditatione fugae, I shall turn round and nail him with the charge of harbouring an intense admiration for me, and putting a most hyperbolical value upon my services; or else why should he give himself so much trouble, after so many months are gone by, in pursuing and recapturing me? On this principle, I shall proceed with others who may have joined the cry of the accusers, obediently submitting to their pleasure, doing my best, therefore, to supply a conclusion which in my own eyes had not seemed absolutely required, and content to bear the utmost severity of their censure as applied to myself, the workman, in consideration of the approbation which that censure carries with it by implication to the work itself.