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Daniel Sanjiv Roberts, Revisionary Gleam: De Quincey, Coleridge and the High Romantic Argument. Liverpool University Press, 2000. ISBN: 0853238049. Price: £16.99 (US$24.95).[Record]

  • Laura Roman

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  • Laura Roman
    Worcester College, Oxford

'A paradox', De Quincey tells us, 'is simply that which contradicts the popular opinion—which in too many cases is the false opinion.' If we take the question of literary influence, the popular opinion for the past century has believed Wordsworth to be the paramount influence on De Quincey's literary career. However, what from many perspectives and opinions ought to be more obvious is the influence of Coleridge. The affinities between De Quincey and Coleridge find expression in many well-known contexts. They can be traced back to De Quincey's generous offer of the £300 gift (perhaps at this point a subconscious recognition of an affinity) before the commencement of his own literary career. It was Coleridge De Quincey used as his gauge in assessing his own addiction in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, and again, when he began composition on the sequel, Suspiria de Profundis in the summer of 1844, when he asked his editors at Blackwood's for a copy of Gillman's biography. Coleridge also influences the unpublished 'Introductory Notice' to Suspiria. However, Coleridge's influence, which has been crucial in establishing De Quincey as a literary critic, has not until now received full critical attention. Daniel Sanjiv Roberts fills this void in his wonderfully exhaustive study, Revisionary Gleam: De Quincey, Coleridge and the High Romantic Argument. In this book, Roberts maps out De Quincey's critical development by taking into account the nuances of Coleridge's influence, beginning with the impact of Coleridge's contributions to the Lyrical Ballads, De Quincey's meeting with Wordsworth as interpreted through his meeting with Coleridge, and his analysis of overlooked writing by De Quincey such as his essays on 'Style' and 'Rhetoric' that define his position as literary critic. Roberts makes full use of De Quincey's Diary of 1803, which provides us with images of characters he later develops as well as notions of language, such as the nature of 'poetic diction' that he later develops into critical theories. Roberts draws on these sources as well as unpublished manuscripts. He seeks to revise our understanding of De Quincey's literary career by looking at his relations with Coleridge primarily and then, Wordsworth, Burke, Kant and the Liverpool literary society of Roscoe to map out De Quincey's critical development with regard to political concerns of revolution, reform and colonial expansion. Roberts draws our attention to overlooked aspects of De Quincey's early politics and reminds us of De Quincey's role as a political journalist, as well as his position as the mediator of Kant in England after Coleridge. In the first chapter, Roberts draws attention to the impressions De Quincey had formed of Coleridge prior to their meeting and as recorded in his 1803 Diary. There De Quincey wrote: 'I walk home thinking of Coleridge;—am in transports of love and admiration for him . . . go to bed . . . still thinking of Coleridge who strikes me (as I believe he always did) with a resemblance to my mysterious character.' His mysterious character is an image of a man 'darkly wonderful' as recorded in his 1803 Diary: This passage from De Quincey's 1803 Diary is a key to understanding the intricate and subtle relationship De Quincey shares with Coleridge first in their affinities in personality. When we look at this passage closely it becomes a premonition of what De Quincey would become in his later year—a self-perception that finds expressions in poetic characters such as the Dark Interpreter from Suspiria. As Roberts argues, De Quincey is here indulging in a gothic strain that he associates with Coleridge and the character of the Ancient Mariner. …