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Literary Terrorism

- Abstract

“AFTER the national toasts had been given, the first official toast of the day was the Old Man of the Mountains-drunk in solemn silence…. The next toast was-the Jewish Sicarii. Upon which I made the following explanation to the company: ‘Gentlemen, I am sure it will interest you all to hear that the Assassins, ancient as they were, had a race of predecessors in the very same country.’” This is the opium-eater Thomas De Quincey speaking, the harbinger of the Decadents, describing a dinner attended by members of a (possibly imaginary) club who, like himself, are fascinated by all forms of murder. That De Quincey is seeking to disguise his own fascination with violent death beneath a mask of quirky humor and sardonic irony need not put us off the scent. His daughter would say in an aside that “the excitement of terror was a real delight to him.” Twice, in 1839 and again in 1854, he added to the essay he wrote in 1827 on “Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts,” that odd outpouring of an eccentric and introspective spirit.

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