The Dourraunee Empire
First published in Blackwood’s, March 1841, pp. 281–302. Never reprinted. There is no known manuscript. For the attribution, see W. E. A. Axon, ‘The Canon of De Quincey’s Writings’, Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom, 32 (1914), pp. 1–46.
For the political context of this article, see the headnote to ‘Foreign Politics’ (above, p. 138). British intervention in Afghanistan, much discussed in the press, had led to a hunger for information about the region.
The article is based on the 1839 second edition of Mountstuart Elphinstone’s An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, and its Dependencies, in Persia, Tartary, and India; Comprising a View of the Afghaun Nation, and a History of the Dooraunee Monarchy, 2 vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1839), whose first edition had appeared in 1815. De Quincey’s choice (contrary to Elphinstone’s example) of the spelling ‘Dourraunee’ is puzzling. Opposite the article’s opening page Blackwood’s printed a map of the region adapted from that in Elphinstone’s book. This is discussed below, p. 171.
De Quincey is occasionally very free in elaborating his material. The notable instance in the present article is his account of Mr Durie and his many pairs of trousers, which is based on a short passage in ‘Mr Durie’s Narrative’, which forms Elphinstone’s ‘Appendix B’. Durie’s reference to his trousers consists, in its entirety, of the statement that ‘an Afghaun…behaved kindly to me,…and gave me a pair of trowsers…As I had several pieces of my old trowsers packed up round my waist, I was often searched [for valuables].’