10 September 2015

De Quincey's phobia of public conveyances

While I'm a firm believer in the benefits of a comprehensive public transport system, English essayist Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859), author of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, took a rather different view:

In 1853 James Payn visited De Quincey at his home a few miles out of Edinburgh:

'As I took my leave, after a most enjoyable interview, to meet the coach, I asked him whether he ever came by it into Edinburgh.

'What!' he answered, in a tone of extreme surprise; 'by coach? Certainly not.'

I was not aware of his peculiarities; but the succession of commonplace people and their pointless observations were in fact intolerable to him. They did not bore him in the ordinary sense, but seemed, as it were, to outrage his mind. To me, whom the study of human nature in any form had become even then attractive, this was unintelligible, and I suppose I showed it in my face, for he proceeded to explain matters. 'Some years ago,' he said, 'I was standing on the pier at Tarbet, on Loch Lomond, waiting for the steamer. A stout old lady joined me; I felt that she would presently address me; and she did. Pointing to the smoke of the steamer, which was making itself seen above the next headland, "There she comes," she said; "La, sir! if you and I had seen that fifty years ago, how wonderful we should have thought it!" Now the same thing,' added my host, with a shiver, 'might happen to me any
day, and that is why I always avoid a public conveyance.'

John Gross (ed.), The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, Oxford, 2012, p.100.
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