Robert Morrison, ed. 'Richard Woodhouse's Cause Book: The Opium-Eater, the Magazine Wars, and the London Literary Scene in 1821.' Harvard Library Bulletin 9.3 (Fall 1998). ISSN: 0017-8136. Price: US$15.00 (single issue), US$35.00 (annual subscription).[Notice]

  • David S. Hogsette

…plus d’informations

  • David S. Hogsette
    New York Institute of Technology

Editor's Note:

You can find more information on how to purchase this issue of the Harvard Library Bulletinonline.

As a literary scholar interested in the social and historical construction of nineteenth-century writers, I thoroughly enjoy reading first-hand accounts of various literary figures. Of particular interest are notebooks, journals, diaries, and letters. However, I must admit that reading such personal writing is somewhat of a guilty pleasure, as I feel like an uninvited guest peering into the writer's private thoughts and judgments. Nevertheless, historical distance and professional necessity lessen the guilt, and literary scholarship marches forward. Upon reading Robert Morrison's excellent edition of Richard Woodhouse's Cause Book, I found another literary indulgence that is actually quite a scholarly treasure. Readers, historians, literary scholars, and students of nineteenth-century literature and culture—particularly those interested in Thomas De Quincey and the volatile dynamics of the periodical press—will want to take a look at this new and extensively researched edition of Woodhouse's Cause Book. Morrison prefaces his version of the Cause Book with a discussion of its textual history and critical importance. This detailed and concisely written essay secures the scholarly value of the text and clearly situates it within a specific historical and cultural context. Woodhouse is more commonly known as one of John Keats's closest friends. His kindness comforted Keats and provided him a sympathetic audience. This same compassionate ear was apparently lent to De Quincey for hours at a time—often into the early morning—during a three-month period in the autumn of 1821. Woodhouse would then record these conversations in a diary written in a legal cause book. Morrison notes that Richard Garnett first published this Cause Book in 1885 in a 'bowdlerized form in which nearly forty percent of the manuscript had been cut away' (p. vii). Later editions of the Cause Book and subsequent De Quincey biographies have not completely filled in the gaps and, according to Morrison, most scholars referring to such editions 'are unaware that they are reading a severely truncated version' (p. vii). With nearly thirty percent of the text previously unpublished, the need for Morrison's unabridged edition is quite apparent. Morrison's new edition reveals a very different portrait of De Quincey. Garnett's tendency to delete repeated topics of discussion and to cut out harsh, personal details results in a more pleasant, agreeable, and emotionally stable De Quincey, Morrison notes, than we get in the unabridged edition. Three striking examples are the previously excised discussions of the rumors that De Quincey was the father of Wordsworth's daughter Catherine (p. 23), conversations about rumors of incest in the Wordsworth family (p. 23), and De Quincey's attacks on John Wilson's lack of critical originality (p. 24). In these passages we witness frank discussions of social impropriety, harsh criticism of Wordsworth's insensitive and 'course-minded neighbors' (p. 23), and cutting attacks on Wilson's professional and personal character. Such language and attitudes would have assaulted the Victorian sensibilities of Garnett's public. In the restored edition, however, these passages lend De Quincey an intriguing human dimension denied him in the abridged version. Morrison's restored edition also provides a wealth of information about the Confessions of an English Opium Eater, first published in the London Magazine in 1821. With the publication of the Confessions, De Quincey became an instant celebrity and was invited to a number of social events where the literary elite gathered. Often at these social engagements, De Quincey discussed various details of his Confessions, and Woodhouse meticulously recorded many of these conversations. This new unabridged Cause Book offers readers and scholars another invaluable resource for better understanding the personal and social significance of one of De Quincey's greatest works. As Morrison points out: In addition …