chapter  9
22 Pages

On the Language of the Sublime and the Sublime Nation in De Quincey

Toward a Reading of ‘The English Mail-Coach’
WithIan Balfour

This chapter extends between discourse of sublime and discourse of nation especially as crystallized in Thomas De Quincey's work. De Quincey certainly shares something of the shudder of the philosophers–and not just them–when contemplating the vastness of the universe. Even the rhetoric of the far more sober Immanuel Kant features something of a De Quinceyean heightening when he invokes 'worlds beyond worlds,' or 'systems of systems,' as thought spirals outward far beyond what is available to the senses or to a 'meta'-level where only imagination and speculation can reign. Perhaps even more telling for De Quincey's establishment of Wordsworth as sublime poet and regenerator of the national poetry is his response to a far more muted passage from the 'Boy of Winander' lyric, which elicits response from De Quincey. De Quincey claims that the text radiates 'as a natural expansion' from the scene of sudden death and yet the title–which should in some way signify the 'whole'–is 'The English Mail-Coach'.