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Narrative and Miscellaneous Papers, Volume Ii

By De Quincey, Thomas

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Title: Narrative and Miscellaneous Papers, Volume Ii  
Author: De Quincey, Thomas
Language: English
Subject: Literature & thought, Literature and history, Literature & philosophy
Collections: Project Gutenberg Consortia Center
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Publisher: Project Gutenberg Consortia Center


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Quincey, T. D. (n.d.). Narrative and Miscellaneous Papers, Volume Ii. Retrieved from

Meantime, what Kant understood by being old, is something that still remains to be explained. If one stumbled, in the steppes of Tartary, on the grave of a Megalonyx, and, after long study, had deciphered from some pre-Adamite heiro-pothooks, the following epitaph, ?Hic jacet a Megalonyx, or Hic jacet a Mammoth, (as the case might be,) who departed this life, to the grief of his numerous acquaintance in the seventeen thousandth year of his age,??of course, one would be sorry for him; because it must be disagreeable at any age to be torn away from life, and from all one?s little megalonychal comforts; that?s not pleasant, you know, even if one is seventeen thousand years old. But it would make all the difference possible in your grief, whether the record indicated a premature death, that he had been cut off, in fact, whilst just stepping into life, or had kicked the bucket when full of honors, and been followed to the grave by a train of weeping grandchildren. He had died ?in his teens,? that?s past denying. But still we must know to what stage of life in a man, had corresponded seventeen thousand years in a Mammoth. Now exactly this was what Kant desired to know about our planet. Let her have lived any number of years that you suggest, (shall we say if you please, that she is in her billionth year?) still that tells us nothing about the period of life, the stage, which she may be supposed to have reached. Is she a child, in fact, or is she an adult? And, if an adult, and that you gave a ball to the Solar System, is she that kind of person, that you would introduce to a 4 waltzing partner, some fiery young gentlemen like Mars, or would you rather suggest to her the sort of partnership which takes place at a whist-table? On this, as on so many other questions, Kant was perfectly sensible that people, of the finest understandings, may and do take the most opposite views. Some think that our planet is in that stage of her life, which corresponds to the playful period of twelve or thirteen in a spirited girl. Such a girl, were it not that she is checked by a sweet natural sense of feminine grace, you might call a romp; but not a hoyden, observe; no horse-play; oh, no, nothing of that sort. And these people fancy that earthquakes, volcanoes, and all such little escapades will be over, they will, in lawyer?s phrase, ?cease and determine,? as soon as our Earth reaches the age of maidenly bashfullness. Poor thing! It?s quite natural, you know, in a healthy growing girl. A little overflow of vivacity, a pirouette more or less, what harm should that do to any of us? Nobody takes more delight than I in the fawn-like sportiveness of an innocent girl, at this period of life: even a shade of espieglerie does not annoy me. But still my own impressions incline me rather to represent the Earth as a fine noble young woman, full of the pride which is so becoming to her sex, and well able to take her own part, in case that, at any solitary point of the heavens, she should come across one of those vulgar fussy Comets, disposed to be rude and take improper liberties. These Comets, by the way, are public nuisances, very much like the mounted messengers of butchers in great cities, who are always at full gallop, and moving upon such an infinity of angles to human shinbones, that the final purpose of such boys (one of whom lately had the audacity nearly to ride down the Duke of Wellington) seems to be?not the translation of mutton, which would certainly find its way into human mouths even if riding boys were not, but the improved geometry of transcendental curves. They ought to be numbered, ought these boys, and to wear badges?X 10, &c. And exactly the same evil, asking therefore by implication for exactly the same remedy, affects the Comets. A respectable planet is known everywhere, and responsible for any mischief that he does. But if a cry should arise, ?Stop that wretch, who was rude to the Earth: who is he?? twenty voices will answer, perhaps, ?It?s Encke?s Comet; he is always doing mischief;? well, what can you say? it may be Encke?s, it may be some other man?s Comet; there are so many abroad and on so many roads, that you might as well ask upon a night of fog, such fog as may be opened with an oyster knife, whose cab that was (whose, viz., out of 27,000 in London) that floored you into the kennel.

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