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De Quincey, Wordsworth and the Art of Prose by D.D. Devlin

By D.D. Devlin

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He recognised that there was in England an aversion to the very word because it had been cultivated by the Roman Catholic clergy too much with a view to 'an indulgent and dispensing morality'. This he considers simply an abuse of casuistry; but casuistry proper, 'the application of a moral principle to the cases arising in human life', is something we must have, for without it 'no practical decision could be made in the accidents of daily life'. He finds in the people of Great Britain 'a keener sensibility to moral distinctions; more attention to shades of difference in the modes of action; more anxiety as to the grounds of action'.

Novels, for 34 De Quincey, Wordsworth and the Art qf Prose De Quincey, are largely a matter of story and character, but in Wilhelm Meister Goethe's treatment of Mignon is condemned because in the movement of the story nothing is 'hastened or retarded by her'; every incident or situation in the novel 'would remain uninjured though Mignon were wholly removed from the story'. De Quincey condemned novels because they could not offer the catholic, the normal, the ideal, and because he contemptuously considered the 'habit of minute distinction' which they applied to the study of society and manners to be one of the 'lower faculties of the mind'.

18 It would be wrong to suspect cant; though he might extend or expand neo-classic theory he was always unwilling, through temperament and veneration for Wordsworth, to reject it. In addition, De Quincey was a deeply shy man; to use his own phrase, it was not in his power to lay aside reserve. From his birth he 'was made an intellectual creature' and what interested him most was the formation of his mind. He says that into one of his autobiographical articles he had intended to introduce an outline of Kant's transcendental philosophy; not by any logical necessity, 'but as a very allowable digression in the record of[his own] life to whom, in the way ofhope and profound disappointment, it had been so memorable an object'.

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