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INTRODUCTION By Ft'ederick Burwick FROM 1'HE Confessions of an English Opium-Eater', published in 1821 at the very beginning of his literary career, to the English Mail-Coach, composed in 1849 when that career was drawing to a close, Thomas De Quincey contributed to }i~nglish literature some of the finest prose ever written ill the language. The same sensitivity that made him. such ~t of "impassioned prose" also enabled him to discuss perceptively the problems of rhetoric and style. Following his own interests as a writer and critic, De Quincey's concern with rhetoric is belletristic rather than oratorical, and the theory which he developed is one of the most original and, for a few critics, the most puzzling of the nineteenth century. In reading his essays, we must keep in mind that De Quincey attempted only an informal commentary and not a systematic treatise on rhetoric, for the very factors which have previously puzzled some of De Quincey's critics are those factors which arise fl'om De Quincey's own concept of the nature and function of the informal essay. The essay itself, as De Quincey defines it, is a rhetorical act, based upon paradox and developed with polemic skill. "These specimens," De Quincey says of 'one volume of his essays, "are sufficient for the purpose of informing the reader that I do not write without a t.houghtful consideration of my subject, and also that to think reasonably upon any question has never been/tllowed by me as a sufficient ground for writing upon it, unless I believed myself able to offer some considerable novelty." 1 A paradox, which counters the orthodox and "contradicts the popular opinion," provides 1 7'lUl Collected Writings of '1'lwmas De Quincey, ed. David Masson (Edinburgh, 1889-90), VI, 2. xii IN1'RODUCTION the needed element of novelty. Rhetorically, the special function of paradoxes is that they "fix the public attention" by shouting


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