It is on a late night mail coach moving into the dawn drawn by 6 horses controlled by a giant one eyed coachman that this irruption of horror occurs. De Quincey as his wont is fortified by a light breakfast and what he describes as:
Having mounted the box, I took a small quantity of laudanum, having already travelled two hundred and fifty miles—viz., from a point seventy miles beyond London, upon a simple breakfast. In the taking of laudanum there was nothing extraordinary. But by accident it drew upon me the special attention of my assessor on the box, the coachman. And in that there was nothing extraordinary. But by accident, and with great delight, it drew my attention to the fact that this coachman was a monster in point of size, and that he had but one eye. In fact he had been foretold by Virgil as—
"Monstrum. horrendum, informe, ingens cui lumen adempium."
One sees here that device beloved of the British practitioner of the essay, the learned aside and the wilful divagation into pedantry with an outbreak of footnotes. Here we are artfully suspended in the ho hum tedium of the abstruse, the better to lull you with my dear. The coachman falls into a deep slumber having been engaged during the day in a court case at the local assizes. They are rushing along in the sandy margin of the road on the wrong side and the horses grateful for the mild going are picking up speed.
Suddenly from thoughts like these, I was awakened to a sullen sound, as of some motion on the distant road. It stole upon the air for a moment; I listened in awe; but then it died away. Once roused, however, I could not but observe with alarm the quickened motion of our horses. Ten years' experience had made my eye learned in the valuing of motion; and I saw that we were now running thirteen miles an hour.
Yes indeed, uh-uh:
Before us lay an avenue, straight as an arrow, six hundred yards, perhaps, in length; and the umbrageous trees, which rose in a regular line from either side, meeting high overhead, gave to it the character of a cathedral aisle. These trees lent a deeper solemnity to the early light; but there was still light enough to perceive, at the further end of this gothic aisle, a light, reedy gig, in which were seated a young man, and, by his side, a young lady. Ah, young sir! what are you about? If it is necessary that you should whisper your communications to this young lady—though really I see nobody at this hour, and on this solitary road, likely to overhear your conversation—is it, therefore, necessary that you should carry your lips forward to hers? The little carriage is creeping on at one mile an hour; and the parties within it, being thus tenderly engaged, are naturally bending down their heads. Between them and eternity, to all human calculation, there is but a minute and a half.
In Irish mythology there is the coach which comes to fetch your soul, the coiste bodhar. Coiste Bodhar
Was this bearer of the King’s Mail to be such a vehicle?