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Omitted Passages And Variations
by [?]

For nearly two years I believe that I read no book but one, and I owe it to the author, Mr. Ricardo, to make grateful record of it.

And then he proceeds:

Suddenly, in 1818, a friend in Edinburgh sent me down Mr. Ricardo’s book, etc.


In the account which De Quincey gives of the highwayman’s skeleton, which figured in the museum of the distinguished surgeon, Mr. White, in his chapter in the ‘Autobiographic Sketches’ headed ‘The Manchester Grammar School,’ he was evidently restrained from inserting one passage, which we have found among his papers, from considerations of delicacy towards persons who might then still be living. But as he has there plainly given the names of the leading persons concerned–the famous Surgeon Cruikshank,[1] there can at this time of day be little risk of offending or hurting anyone by presenting the passage, which the curious student of the Autobiography can insert at the proper point, and may feel that its presence adds to the completeness of the impression, half-humorous, half-eerie, which De Quincey was fain to produce by that somewhat grim episode. Here is the passage:


[1] [Born 1746, died 1800.–ED.]

It was a regular and respectable branch of public industry which was carried on by the highwaymen of England, and all the parties to it moved upon decent motives and by considerate methods. In particular, the robbers themselves, as the leading parties, could not be other than first-rate men, as regarded courage, animal vigour, and perfect horsemanship. Starting from any lower standard than this, not only had they no chance of continued success–their failure was certain as regarded the contest with the traveller, but also their failure was equally certain as regarded the competition within their own body. The candidates for a lucrative section of the road were sure to become troublesome in proportion as all administration of the business upon that part of the line was feebly or indiscreetly worked. Hence it arose that individually the chief highwaymen were sure to command a deep professional interest amongst the surgeons of the land. Sometimes it happened that a first-rate robber was arrested and brought to trial, but from defective evidence escaped. Meanwhile his fine person had been locally advertised and brought under the notice of the medical body. This had occurred in a more eminent degree than was usual to the robber who had owned when living the matchless skeleton possessed by Mr. White. He had been most extensively surveyed with anatomical eyes by the whole body of the medical profession in London: their deliberate judgment upon him was that a more absolutely magnificent figure of a man did not exist in England than this highwayman, and naturally therefore very high sums were offered to him as soon as his condemnation was certain. The robber, whose name I entirely forget, finally closed with the offer of Cruikshank, who was at that time the most eminent surgeon in London. Those days, as is well known, were days of great irregularity in all that concerned the management of prisons and the administration of criminal justice. Consequently there is no reason for surprise or for doubt in the statement made by Mr. White, that Cruikshank, whose pupil Mr. White then was, received some special indulgences from one of the under-sheriffs beyond what the law would strictly have warranted. The robber was cut down considerably within the appointed time, was instantly placed in a chaise-and-four, and was thus brought so prematurely into the private rooms of Cruikshank, that life was not as yet entirely extinct. This I heard Mr. White repeatedly assert. He was himself at that time amongst the pupils of Cruikshank, and three or four of the most favoured amongst these were present, and to one of them Cruikshank observed quietly: ‘I think the subject is not quite dead; pray put your knife in (Mr. X. Y.) at this point.’ That was done; a solemn finis was placed to the labours of the robber, and perhaps a solemn inauguration to the labours of the student. A cast was taken from the superb figure of the highwayman; he was then dissected, his skeleton became the property of Cruikshank, and subsequently of Mr. White. We were all called upon to admire the fine proportions of the man, and of course in that hollow and unmeaning way which such unlearned expressors of judgment usually assume, we all obsequiously met the demand levied upon our admiration. But, for my part, though readily confiding in the professional judgment of anatomists, I could not but feel that through my own unassisted judgment I never could have arrived at such a conclusion. The unlearned eye has gathered no rudimental points to begin with. Not having what are the normal outlines to which the finest proportions tend, an eye so untutored cannot of course judge in what degree the given subject approaches to these.