THE WORKS OF EDGAR ALLEN POE

 

VOLUME II

 

The Raven Edition

 

[Redactor's Note--Some endnotes are by Poe and some were added by

Griswold. In this volume the notes are at the end.]

 

Contents:

 

     The Purloined Letter

     The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherezade

     A Descent into the Maelstroem

     Von Kempelen and his Discovery

     Mesmeric Revelation

     The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

     The Black Cat

     The Fall of the House of Usher

     Silence--a Fable

     The Masque of the Red Death

     The Cask of Amontillado

     The Imp of the Perverse

     The Island of the Fay

     The Assignation

     The Pit and the Pendulum

     The Premature Burial

     The Domain of Arnheim

     Landor's Cottage

     William Wilson

     The Tell-Tale Heart

     Berenice

     Eleonora

 

 

 

 

THE PURLOINED LETTER

 

     Nil sapientiae odiosius acumine nimio.

 

                                _Seneca_.

 

At Paris, just after dark one gusty evening in the autumn of 18-, I was

enjoying the twofold luxury of meditation and a meerschaum, in company

with my friend C. Auguste Dupin, in his little back library, or

book-closet, au troisieme, No. 33, Rue Dunot, Faubourg St. Germain. For

one hour at least we had maintained a profound silence; while each, to

any casual observer, might have seemed intently and exclusively occupied

with the curling eddies of smoke that oppressed the atmosphere of the

chamber. For myself, however, I was mentally discussing certain topics

which had formed matter for conversation between us at an earlier period

of the evening; I mean the affair of the Rue Morgue, and the mystery

attending the murder of Marie Roget. I looked upon it, therefore, as

something of a coincidence, when the door of our apartment was thrown

open and admitted our old acquaintance, Monsieur G--, the Prefect of the

Parisian police.

 

We gave him a hearty welcome; for there was nearly half as much of the

entertaining as of the contemptible about the man, and we had not seen

him for several years. We had been sitting in the dark, and Dupin now

arose for the purpose of lighting a lamp, but sat down again, without

doing so, upon G.'s saying that he had called to consult us, or rather

to ask the opinion of my friend, about some official business which had

occasioned a great deal of trouble.

 

"If it is any point requiring reflection," observed Dupin, as he

forebore to enkindle the wick, "we shall examine it to better purpose in

the dark."

 

"That is another of your odd notions," said the Prefect, who had a

fashion of calling every thing "odd" that was beyond his comprehension,

and thus lived amid an absolute legion of "oddities."

 

"Very true," said Dupin, as he supplied his visiter with a pipe, and

rolled towards him a comfortable chair.

 

"And what is the difficulty now?" I asked. "Nothing more in the

assassination way, I hope?"

 

"Oh no; nothing of that nature. The fact is, the business is very simple

indeed, and I make no doubt that we can manage it sufficiently well

ourselves; but then I thought Dupin would like to hear the details of

it, because it is so excessively odd."

 

"Simple and odd," said Dupin.

 

"Why, yes; and not exactly that, either. The fact is, we have all been

a good deal puzzled because the affair is so simple, and yet baffles us

altogether."

 

"Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thing which puts you at

fault," said my friend.

 

"What nonsense you do talk!" replied the Prefect, laughing heartily.

 

"Perhaps the mystery is a little too plain," said Dupin.

 

"Oh, good heavens! who ever heard of such an idea?"

 

"A little too self-evident."

 

"Ha! ha! ha--ha! ha! ha!--ho! ho! ho!" roared our visiter, profoundly

amused, "oh, Dupin, you will be the death of me yet!"

 

"And what, after all, is the matter on hand?" I asked.

 

"Why, I will tell you," replied the Prefect, as he gave a long, steady

and contemplative puff, and settled himself in his chair. "I will tell

you in a few words; but, before I begin, let me caution you that this

is an affair demanding the greatest secrecy, and that I should most

probably lose the position I now hold, were it known that I confided it

to any one."

 

"Proceed," said I.

 

"Or not," said Dupin.

 

"Well, then; I have received personal information, from a very high

quarter, that a certain document of the last importance, has been

purloined from the royal apartments. The individual who purloined it is

known; this beyond a doubt; he was seen to take it. It is known, also,

that it still remains in his possession."

 

"How is this known?" asked Dupin.

 

"It is clearly inferred," replied the Prefect, "from the nature of the

document, and from the non-appearance of certain results which would at

once arise from its passing out of the robber's possession; that is to

say, from his employing it as he must design in the end to employ it."

 

"Be a little more explicit," I said.

 

"Well, I may venture so far as to say that the paper gives its holder

a certain power in a certain quarter where such power is immensely

valuable." The Prefect was fond of the cant of diplomacy.

 

"Still I do not quite understand," said Dupin.

 

"No? Well; the disclosure of the document to a third person, who shall

be nameless, would bring in question the honor of a personage of most

exalted station; and this fact gives the holder of the document an

ascendancy over the illustrious personage whose honor and peace are so

jeopardized."

 

"But this ascendancy," I interposed, "would depend upon the robber's

knowledge of the loser's knowledge of the robber. Who would dare--"

 

"The thief," said G., "is the Minister D--, who dares all things, those

unbecoming as well as those becoming a man. The method of the theft was

not less ingenious than bold. The document in question--a letter, to

be frank--had been received by the personage robbed while alone in the

royal boudoir. During its perusal she was suddenly interrupted by the

entrance of the other exalted personage from whom especially it was her

wish to conceal it. After a hurried and vain endeavor to thrust it in

a drawer, she was forced to place it, open as it was, upon a table. The

address, however, was uppermost, and, the contents thus unexposed, the

letter escaped notice. At this juncture enters the Minister D--. His

lynx eye immediately perceives the paper, recognises the handwriting

of the address, observes the confusion of the personage addressed, and

fathoms her secret. After some business transactions, hurried through in

his ordinary manner, he produces a letter somewhat similar to the one

in question, opens it, pretends to read it, and then places it in

close juxtaposition to the other. Again he converses, for some fifteen

minutes, upon the public affairs. At length, in taking leave, he takes

also from the table the letter to which he had no claim. Its rightful

owner saw, but, of course, dared not call attention to the act, in the

presence of the third personage who stood at her elbow. The minister

decamped; leaving his own letter--one of no importance--upon the table."

 

"Here, then," said Dupin to me, "you have precisely what you demand

to make the ascendancy complete--the robber's knowledge of the loser's

knowledge of the robber."

 

"Yes," replied the Prefect; "and the power thus attained has, for some

months past, been wielded, for political purposes, to a very dangerous

extent. The personage robbed is more thoroughly convinced, every day, of

the necessity of reclaiming her letter. But this, of course, cannot be

done openly. In fine, driven to despair, she has committed the matter to

me."

 

"Than whom," said Dupin, amid a perfect whirlwind of smoke, "no more

sagacious agent could, I suppose, be desired, or even imagined."

 

"You flatter me," replied the Prefect; "but it is possible that some

such opinion may have been entertained."

 

"It is clear," said I, "as you observe, that the letter is still in

possession of the minister; since it is this possession, and not any

employment of the letter, which bestows the power. With the employment

the power departs."

 

"True," said G.; "and upon this conviction I proceeded. My first care

was to make thorough search of the minister's hotel; and here my chief

embarrassment lay in the necessity of searching without his knowledge.

Beyond all things, I have been warned of the danger which would result

from giving him reason to suspect our design."

 

"But," said I, "you are quite au fait in these investigations. The

Parisian police have done this thing often before."

 

"O yes; and for this reason I did not despair. The habits of the

minister gave me, too, a great advantage. He is frequently absent from

home all night. His servants are by no means numerous. They sleep at a

distance from their master's apartment, and, being chiefly Neapolitans,

are readily made drunk. I have keys, as you know, with which I can

open any chamber or cabinet in Paris. For three months a night has

not passed, during the greater part of which I have not been engaged,

personally, in ransacking the D-- Hotel. My honor is interested, and, to

mention a great secret, the reward is enormous. So I did not abandon

the search until I had become fully satisfied that the thief is a more

astute man than myself. I fancy that I have investigated every nook and

corner of the premises in which it is possible that the paper can be

concealed."

 

"But is it not possible," I suggested, "that although the letter may

be in possession of the minister, as it unquestionably is, he may have

concealed it elsewhere than upon his own premises?"

 

"This is barely possible," said Dupin. "The present peculiar condition

of affairs at court, and especially of those intrigues in which D--

is known to be involved, would render the instant availability of the

document--its susceptibility of being produced at a moment's notice--a

point of nearly equal importance with its possession."

 

"Its susceptibility of being produced?" said I.

 

"That is to say, of being destroyed," said Dupin.

 

"True," I observed; "the paper is clearly then upon the premises. As for

its being upon the person of the minister, we may consider that as out

of the question."

 

"Entirely," said the Prefect. "He has been twice waylaid, as if by

footpads, and his person rigorously searched under my own inspection."

 

"You might have spared yourself this trouble," said Dupin. "D--, I

presume, is not altogether a fool, and, if not, must have anticipated

these waylayings, as a matter of course."

 

"Not altogether a fool," said G., "but then he's a poet, which I take to

be only one remove from a fool."

 

"True," said Dupin, after a long and thoughtful whiff from

 

his meerschaum, "although I have been guilty of certain doggrel myself."

 

"Suppose you detail," said I, "the particulars of your search."

 

"Why the fact is, we took our time, and we searched every where. I have

had long experience in these affairs. I took the entire building, room

by room; devoting the nights of a whole week to each. We examined,

first, the furniture of each apartment. We opened every possible drawer;

and I presume you know that, to a properly trained police agent, such a

thing as a secret drawer is impossible. Any man is a dolt who permits a

'secret' drawer to escape him in a search of this kind. The thing is so

plain. There is a certain amount of bulk--of space--to be accounted for

in every cabinet. Then we have accurate rules. The fiftieth part of a

line could not escape us. After the cabinets we took the chairs. The

cushions we probed with the fine long needles you have seen me employ.

From the tables we removed the tops."

 

"Why so?"

 

"Sometimes the top of a table, or other similarly arranged piece of

furniture, is removed by the person wishing to conceal an article; then

the leg is excavated, the article deposited within the cavity, and the

top replaced. The bottoms and tops of bedposts are employed in the same

way."

 

"But could not the cavity be detected by sounding?" I asked.

 

"By no means, if, when the article is deposited, a sufficient wadding

of cotton be placed around it. Besides, in our case, we were obliged to

proceed without noise."

 

"But you could not have removed--you could not have taken to pieces all

articles of furniture in which it would have been possible to make a

deposit in the manner you mention. A letter may be compressed into

a thin spiral roll, not differing much in shape or bulk from a large

knitting-needle, and in this form it might be inserted into the rung of

a chair, for example. You did not take to pieces all the chairs?"

 

"Certainly not; but we did better--we examined the rungs of every

chair in the hotel, and, indeed the jointings of every description of

furniture, by the aid of a most powerful microscope. Had there been

any traces of recent disturbance we should not have failed to detect it

instantly. A single grain of gimlet-dust, for example, would have been

as obvious as an apple. Any disorder in the glueing--any unusual gaping

in the joints--would have sufficed to insure detection."

 

"I presume you looked to the mirrors, between the boards and the plates,

and you probed the beds and the bed-clothes, as well as the curtains and

carpets."

 

"That of course; and when we had absolutely completed every particle of

the furniture in this way, then we examined the house itself. We divided

its entire surface into compartments, which we numbered, so that

none might be missed; then we scrutinized each individual square inch

throughout the premises, including the two houses immediately adjoining,

with the microscope, as before."

 

"The two houses adjoining!" I exclaimed; "you must have had a great deal

of trouble."

 

"We had; but the reward offered is prodigious!"

 

"You include the grounds about the houses?"

 

"All the grounds are paved with brick. They gave us comparatively

little trouble. We examined the moss between the bricks, and found it

undisturbed."

 

"You looked among D--'s papers, of course, and into the books of the

library?"

 

"Certainly; we opened every package and parcel; we not only opened

every book, but we turned over every leaf in each volume, not contenting

ourselves with a mere shake, according to the fashion of some of our

police officers. We also measured the thickness of every book-cover,

with the most accurate admeasurement, and applied to each the most

jealous scrutiny of the microscope. Had any of the bindings been

recently meddled with, it would have been utterly impossible that the

fact should have escaped observation. Some five or six volumes, just

from the hands of the binder, we carefully probed, longitudinally, with

the needles."

 

"You explored the floors beneath the carpets?"

 

"Beyond doubt. We removed every carpet, and examined the boards with the

microscope."

 

"And the paper on the walls?"

 

"Yes."

 

"You looked into the cellars?"

 

"We did."

 

"Then," I said, "you have been making a miscalculation, and the letter

is not upon the premises, as you suppose."

 

"I fear you are right there," said the Prefect. "And now, Dupin, what

would you advise me to do?"

 

"To make a thorough re-search of the premises."

 

"That is absolutely needless," replied G--. "I am not more sure that I

breathe than I am that the letter is not at the Hotel."

 

"I have no better advice to give you," said Dupin. "You have, of course,

an accurate description of the letter?"

 

"Oh yes!"--And here the Prefect, producing a memorandum-book proceeded

to read aloud a minute account of the internal, and especially of the

external appearance of the missing document. Soon after finishing

the perusal of this description, he took his departure, more entirely

depressed in spirits than I had ever known the good gentleman before. In

about a month afterwards he paid us another visit, and found us occupied

very nearly as before. He took a pipe and a chair and entered into some

ordinary conversation. At length I said,--

 

"Well, but G--, what of the purloined letter? I presume you have at

last made up your mind that there is no such thing as overreaching the

Minister?"

 

"Confound him, say I--yes; I made the re-examination, however, as Dupin

suggested--but it was all labor lost, as I knew it would be."

 

"How much was the reward offered, did you say?" asked Dupin.

 

"Why, a very great deal--a very liberal reward--I don't like to say how

much, precisely; but one thing I will say, that I wouldn't mind giving

my individual check for fifty thousand francs to any one who could

obtain me that letter. The fact is, it is becoming of more and more

importance every day; and the reward has been lately doubled. If it were

trebled, however, I could do no more than I have done."

 

"Why, yes," said Dupin, drawlingly, between the whiffs of his

meerschaum, "I really--think, G--, you have not exerted yourself--to the

utmost in this matter. You might--do a little more, I think, eh?"

 

"How?--in what way?'

 

"Why--puff, puff--you might--puff, puff--employ counsel in the

matter, eh?--puff, puff, puff. Do you remember the story they tell of

Abernethy?"

 

"No; hang Abernethy!"

 

"To be sure! hang him and welcome. But, once upon a time, a certain rich

miser conceived the design of spunging upon this Abernethy for a medical

opinion. Getting up, for this purpose, an ordinary conversation in a

private company, he insinuated his case to the physician, as that of an

imaginary individual.

 

"'We will suppose,' said the miser, 'that his symptoms are such and

such; now, doctor, what would you have directed him to take?'

 

"'Take!' said Abernethy, 'why, take advice, to be sure.'"

 

"But," said the Prefect, a little discomposed, "I am perfectly willing

to take advice, and to pay for it. I would really give fifty thousand

francs to any one who would aid me in the matter."

 

"In that case," replied Dupin, opening a drawer, and producing

a check-book, "you may as well fill me up a check for the amount

mentioned. When you have signed it, I will hand you the letter."

 

I was astounded. The Prefect appeared absolutely thunder-stricken.

For some minutes he remained speechless and motionless, looking

incredulously at my friend with open mouth, and eyes that seemed

starting from their sockets; then, apparently recovering himself in some

measure, he seized a pen, and after several pauses and vacant stares,

finally filled up and signed a check for fifty thousand francs, and

handed it across the table to Dupin. The latter examined it carefully

and deposited it in his pocket-book; then, unlocking an escritoire, took

thence a letter and gave it to the Prefect. This functionary grasped it

in a perfect agony of joy, opened it with a trembling hand, cast a rapid

glance at its contents, and then, scrambling and struggling to the

door, rushed at length unceremoniously from the room and from the house,

without having uttered a syllable since Dupin had requested him to fill

up the check.

 

When he had gone, my friend entered into some explanations.

 

"The Parisian police," he said, "are exceedingly able in their way.

They are persevering, ingenious, cunning, and thoroughly versed in the

knowledge which their duties seem chiefly to demand. Thus, when G--

detailed to us his made of searching the premises at the Hotel D--,

I felt entire confidence in his having made a satisfactory

investigation--so far as his labors extended."

 

"So far as his labors extended?" said I.

 

"Yes," said Dupin. "The measures adopted were not only the best of

their kind, but carried out to absolute perfection. Had the letter been

deposited within the range of their search, these fellows would, beyond

a question, have found it."

 

I merely laughed--but he seemed quite serious in all that he said.

 

"The measures, then," he continued, "were good in their kind, and well

executed; their defect lay in their being inapplicable to the case, and

to the man. A certain set of highly ingenious resources are, with the

Prefect, a sort of Procrustean bed, to which he forcibly adapts his

designs. But he perpetually errs by being too deep or too shallow, for

the matter in hand; and many a schoolboy is a better reasoner than he. I

knew one about eight years of age, whose success at guessing in the game

of 'even and odd' attracted universal admiration. This game is simple,

and is played with marbles. One player holds in his hand a number of

these toys, and demands of another whether that number is even or odd.

If the guess is right, the guesser wins one; if wrong, he loses one. The

boy to whom I allude won all the marbles of the school. Of course he

had some principle of guessing; and this lay in mere observation and

admeasurement of the astuteness of his opponents. For example, an arrant

simpleton is his opponent, and, holding up his closed hand, asks, 'are

they even or odd?' Our schoolboy replies, 'odd,' and loses; but upon the

second trial he wins, for he then says to himself, 'the simpleton

had them even upon the first trial, and his amount of cunning is just

sufficient to make him have them odd upon the second; I will therefore

guess odd;'--he guesses odd, and wins. Now, with a simpleton a degree

above the first, he would have reasoned thus: 'This fellow finds that in

the first instance I guessed odd, and, in the second, he will propose to

himself, upon the first impulse, a simple variation from even to odd,

as did the first simpleton; but then a second thought will suggest that

this is too simple a variation, and finally he will decide upon putting

it even as before. I will therefore guess even;'--he guesses even, and

wins. Now this mode of reasoning in the schoolboy, whom his fellows

termed 'lucky,'--what, in its last analysis, is it?"

 

"It is merely," I said, "an identification of the reasoner's intellect

with that of his opponent."

 

"It is," said Dupin; "and, upon inquiring, of the boy by what means he

effected the thorough identification in which his success consisted, I

received answer as follows: 'When I wish to find out how wise, or how

stupid, or how good, or how wicked is any one, or what are his thoughts

at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as

possible, in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see

what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or

correspond with the expression.' This response of the schoolboy lies at

the bottom of all the spurious profundity which has been attributed to

Rochefoucault, to La Bougive, to Machiavelli, and to Campanella."

 

"And the identification," I said, "of the reasoner's intellect with that

of his opponent, depends, if I understand you aright, upon the accuracy

with which the opponent's intellect is admeasured."

 

"For its practical value it depends upon this," replied Dupin; "and the

Prefect and his cohort fail so frequently, first, by default of this

identification, and, secondly, by ill-admeasurement, or rather through

non-admeasurement, of the intellect with which they are engaged. They

consider only their own ideas of ingenuity; and, in searching for

anything hidden, advert only to the modes in which they would have

hidden it. They are right in this much--that their own ingenuity is a

faithful representative of that of the mass; but when the cunning of the

individual felon is diverse in character from their own, the felon foils

them, of course. This always happens when it is above their own, and

very usually when it is below. They have no variation of principle in

their investigations; at best, when urged by some unusual emergency--by

some extraordinary reward--they extend or exaggerate their old modes of

practice, without touching their principles. What, for example, in this

case of D--, has been done to vary the principle of action? What is

all this boring, and probing, and sounding, and scrutinizing with the

microscope and dividing the surface of the building into registered

square inches--what is it all but an exaggeration of the application of

the one principle or set of principles of search, which are based upon

the one set of notions regarding human ingenuity, to which the Prefect,

in the long routine of his duty, has been accustomed? Do you not see he

has taken it for granted that all men proceed to conceal a letter,--not

exactly in a gimlet hole bored in a chair-leg--but, at least, in some

out-of-the-way hole or corner suggested by the same tenor of thought

which would urge a man to secrete a letter in a gimlet-hole bored in

a chair-leg? And do you not see also, that such recherches nooks for

concealment are adapted only for ordinary occasions, and would be

adopted only by ordinary intellects; for, in all cases of concealment,

a disposal of the article concealed--a disposal of it in this recherche

manner,--is, in the very first instance, presumable and presumed; and

thus its discovery depends, not at all upon the acumen, but altogether

upon the mere care, patience, and determination of the seekers; and

where the case is of importance--or, what amounts to the same thing in

the policial eyes, when the reward is of magnitude,--the qualities in

question have never been known to fail. You will now understand what I

meant in suggesting that, had the purloined letter been hidden any where

within the limits of the Prefect's examination--in other words, had the

principle of its concealment been comprehended within the principles of

the Prefect--its discovery would have been a matter altogether beyond

question. This functionary, however, has been thoroughly mystified;

and the remote source of his defeat lies in the supposition that the

Minister is a fool, because he has acquired renown as a poet. All fools

are poets; this the Prefect feels; and he is merely guilty of a non

distributio medii in thence inferring that all poets are fools."

 

"But is this really the poet?" I asked. "There are two brothers, I know;

and both have attained reputation in letters. The Minister I believe has

written learnedly on the Differential Calculus. He is a mathematician,

and no poet."

 

"You are mistaken; I know him well; he is both. As poet and

mathematician, he would reason well; as mere mathematician, he could

not have reasoned at all, and thus would have been at the mercy of the

Prefect."

 

"You surprise me," I said, "by these opinions, which have been

contradicted by the voice of the world. You do not mean to set at naught

the well-digested idea of centuries. The mathematical reason has long

been regarded as the reason par excellence."

 

"'Il y a a parier,'" replied Dupin, quoting from Chamfort, "'que toute

idee publique, toute convention recue est une sottise, car elle a

convenue au plus grand nombre.' The mathematicians, I grant you, have

done their best to promulgate the popular error to which you allude, and

which is none the less an error for its promulgation as truth. With an

art worthy a better cause, for example, they have insinuated the term

'analysis' into application to algebra. The French are the originators

of this particular deception; but if a term is of any importance--if

words derive any value from applicability--then 'analysis' conveys

'algebra' about as much as, in Latin, 'ambitus' implies 'ambition,'

'religio' 'religion,' or 'homines honesti,' a set of honorablemen."

 

"You have a quarrel on hand, I see," said I, "with some of the

algebraists of Paris; but proceed."

 

"I dispute the availability, and thus the value, of that reason which

is cultivated in any especial form other than the abstractly logical.

I dispute, in particular, the reason educed by mathematical study. The

mathematics are the science of form and quantity; mathematical reasoning

is merely logic applied to observation upon form and quantity. The great

error lies in supposing that even the truths of what is called pure

algebra, are abstract or general truths. And this error is so egregious

that I am confounded at the universality with which it has been

received. Mathematical axioms are not axioms of general truth. What is

true of relation--of form and quantity--is often grossly false in regard

to morals, for example. In this latter science it is very usually untrue

that the aggregated parts are equal to the whole. In chemistry also the

axiom fails. In the consideration of motive it fails; for two motives,

each of a given value, have not, necessarily, a value when united, equal

to the sum of their values apart. There are numerous other mathematical

truths which are only truths within the limits of relation. But the

mathematician argues, from his finite truths, through habit, as if

they were of an absolutely general applicability--as the world indeed

imagines them to be. Bryant, in his very learned 'Mythology,' mentions

an analogous source of error, when he says that 'although the Pagan

fables are not believed, yet we forget ourselves continually, and make

inferences from them as existing realities.' With the algebraists,

however, who are Pagans themselves, the 'Pagan fables' are believed, and

the inferences are made, not so much through lapse of memory, as

through an unaccountable addling of the brains. In short, I never yet

encountered the mere mathematician who could be trusted out of equal

roots, or one who did not clandestinely hold it as a point of his faith

that x2+px was absolutely and unconditionally equal to q. Say to one of

these gentlemen, by way of experiment, if you please, that you believe

occasions may occur where x2+px is not altogether equal to q, and,

having made him understand what you mean, get out of his reach as

speedily as convenient, for, beyond doubt, he will endeavor to knock you

down.

 

"I mean to say," continued Dupin, while I merely laughed at his

last observations, "that if the Minister had been no more than a

mathematician, the Prefect would have been under no necessity of giving

me this check. I know him, however, as both mathematician and poet,

and my measures were adapted to his capacity, with reference to the

circumstances by which he was surrounded. I knew him as a courtier, too,

and as a bold intriguant. Such a man, I considered, could not fail to be

aware of the ordinary policial modes of action. He could not have

failed to anticipate--and events have proved that he did not fail to

anticipate--the waylayings to which he was subjected. He must have

foreseen, I reflected, the secret investigations of his premises. His

frequent absences from home at night, which were hailed by the Prefect

as certain aids to his success, I regarded only as ruses, to afford

opportunity for thorough search to the police, and thus the sooner to

impress them with the conviction to which G--, in fact, did finally

arrive--the conviction that the letter was not upon the premises. I

felt, also, that the whole train of thought, which I was at some pains

in detailing to you just now, concerning the invariable principle of

policial action in searches for articles concealed--I felt that this

whole train of thought would necessarily pass through the mind of the

Minister. It would imperatively lead him to despise all the ordinary

nooks of concealment. He could not, I reflected, be so weak as not to

see that the most intricate and remote recess of his hotel would be

as open as his commonest closets to the eyes, to the probes, to the

gimlets, and to the microscopes of the Prefect. I saw, in fine, that

he would be driven, as a matter of course, to simplicity, if not

deliberately induced to it as a matter of choice. You will remember,

perhaps, how desperately the Prefect laughed when I suggested, upon our

first interview, that it was just possible this mystery troubled him so

much on account of its being so very self-evident."

 

"Yes," said I, "I remember his merriment well. I really thought he would

have fallen into convulsions."

 

"The material world," continued Dupin, "abounds with very strict

analogies to the immaterial; and thus some color of truth has been

given to the rhetorical dogma, that metaphor, or simile, may be made

to strengthen an argument, as well as to embellish a description. The

principle of the vis inertiae, for example, seems to be identical in

physics and metaphysics. It is not more true in the former, that a large

body is with more difficulty set in motion than a smaller one, and that

its subsequent momentum is commensurate with this difficulty, than it

is, in the latter, that intellects of the vaster capacity, while more

forcible, more constant, and more eventful in their movements than those

of inferior grade, are yet the less readily moved, and more embarrassed

and full of hesitation in the first few steps of their progress. Again:

have you ever noticed which of the street signs, over the shop-doors,

are the most attractive of attention?"

 

"I have never given the matter a thought," I said.

 

"There is a game of puzzles," he resumed, "which is played upon a map.

One party playing requires another to find a given word--the name of

town, river, state or empire--any word, in short, upon the motley and

perplexed surface of the chart. A novice in the game generally seeks to

embarrass his opponents by giving them the most minutely lettered names;

but the adept selects such words as stretch, in large characters, from

one end of the chart to the other. These, like the over-largely lettered

signs and placards of the street, escape observation by dint of being

excessively obvious; and here the physical oversight is precisely

analogous with the moral inapprehension by which the intellect suffers

to pass unnoticed those considerations which are too obtrusively and too

palpably self-evident. But this is a point, it appears, somewhat above

or beneath the understanding of the Prefect. He never once thought

it probable, or possible, that the Minister had deposited the letter

immediately beneath the nose of the whole world, by way of best

preventing any portion of that world from perceiving it.

 

"But the more I reflected upon the daring, dashing, and discriminating

ingenuity of D--; upon the fact that the document must always have been

at hand, if he intended to use it to good purpose; and upon the decisive

evidence, obtained by the Prefect, that it was not hidden within the

limits of that dignitary's ordinary search--the more satisfied I

became that, to conceal this letter, the Minister had resorted to the

comprehensive and sagacious expedient of not attempting to conceal it at

all.

 

"Full of these ideas, I prepared myself with a pair of green spectacles,

and called one fine morning, quite by accident, at the Ministerial

hotel. I found D-- at home, yawning, lounging, and dawdling, as usual,

and pretending to be in the last extremity of ennui. He is, perhaps,

the most really energetic human being now alive--but that is only when

nobody sees him.

 

"To be even with him, I complained of my weak eyes, and lamented the

necessity of the spectacles, under cover of which I cautiously and

thoroughly surveyed the whole apartment, while seemingly intent only

upon the conversation of my host.

 

"I paid especial attention to a large writing-table near which he sat,

and upon which lay confusedly, some miscellaneous letters and other

papers, with one or two musical instruments and a few books. Here,

however, after a long and very deliberate scrutiny, I saw nothing to

excite particular suspicion.

 

"At length my eyes, in going the circuit of the room, fell upon a

trumpery fillagree card-rack of pasteboard, that hung dangling by a

dirty blue ribbon, from a little brass knob just beneath the middle of

the mantel-piece. In this rack, which had three or four compartments,

were five or six visiting cards and a solitary letter. This last

was much soiled and crumpled. It was torn nearly in two, across the

middle--as if a design, in the first instance, to tear it entirely up

as worthless, had been altered, or stayed, in the second. It had a

large black seal, bearing the D-- cipher very conspicuously, and was

addressed, in a diminutive female hand, to D--, the minister, himself.

It was thrust carelessly, and even, as it seemed, contemptuously, into

one of the uppermost divisions of the rack.

 

"No sooner had I glanced at this letter, than I concluded it to be

that of which I was in search. To be sure, it was, to all appearance,

radically different from the one of which the Prefect had read us so

minute a description. Here the seal was large and black, with the D--

cipher; there it was small and red, with the ducal arms of the S--

family. Here, the address, to the Minister, diminutive and feminine;

there the superscription, to a certain royal personage, was markedly

bold and decided; the size alone formed a point of correspondence. But,

then, the radicalness of these differences, which was excessive; the

dirt; the soiled and torn condition of the paper, so inconsistent with

the true methodical habits of D--, and so suggestive of a design to

delude the beholder into an idea of the worthlessness of the document;

these things, together with the hyper-obtrusive situation of this

document, full in the view of every visiter, and thus exactly in

accordance with the conclusions to which I had previously arrived; these

things, I say, were strongly corroborative of suspicion, in one who came

with the intention to suspect.

 

"I protracted my visit as long as possible, and, while I maintained a

most animated discussion with the Minister upon a topic which I knew

well had never failed to interest and excite him, I kept my attention

really riveted upon the letter. In this examination, I committed to

memory its external appearance and arrangement in the rack; and also

fell, at length, upon a discovery which set at rest whatever trivial

doubt I might have entertained. In scrutinizing the edges of the paper,

I observed them to be more chafed than seemed necessary. They presented

the broken appearance which is manifested when a stiff paper, having

been once folded and pressed with a folder, is refolded in a reversed

direction, in the same creases or edges which had formed the original

fold. This discovery was sufficient. It was clear to me that the letter

had been turned, as a glove, inside out, re-directed, and re-sealed. I

bade the Minister good morning, and took my departure at once, leaving a

gold snuff-box upon the table.

 

"The next morning I called for the snuff-box, when we resumed, quite

eagerly, the conversation of the preceding day. While thus engaged,

however, a loud report, as if of a pistol, was heard immediately beneath

the windows of the hotel, and was succeeded by a series of fearful

screams, and the shoutings of a terrified mob. D-- rushed to a casement,

threw it open, and looked out. In the meantime, I stepped to the

card-rack took the letter, put it in my pocket, and replaced it by

a fac-simile, (so far as regards externals,) which I had carefully

prepared at my lodgings--imitating the D-- cipher, very readily, by

means of a seal formed of bread.

 

"The disturbance in the street had been occasioned by the frantic

behavior of a man with a musket. He had fired it among a crowd of women

and children. It proved, however, to have been without ball, and the

fellow was suffered to go his way as a lunatic or a drunkard. When

he had gone, D-- came from the window, whither I had followed him

immediately upon securing the object in view. Soon afterwards I bade him

farewell. The pretended lunatic was a man in my own pay."

 

"But what purpose had you," I asked, "in replacing the letter by a

fac-simile? Would it not have been better, at the first visit, to have

seized it openly, and departed?"

 

"D--," replied Dupin, "is a desperate man, and a man of nerve. His

hotel, too, is not without attendants devoted to his interests. Had

I made the wild attempt you suggest, I might never have left the

Ministerial presence alive. The good people of Paris might have heard

of me no more. But I had an object apart from these considerations. You

know my political prepossessions. In this matter, I act as a partisan of

the lady concerned. For eighteen months the Minister has had her in his

power. She has now him in hers--since, being unaware that the letter is

not in his possession, he will proceed with his exactions as if it

was. Thus will he inevitably commit himself, at once, to his political

destruction. His downfall, too, will not be more precipitate than

awkward. It is all very well to talk about the facilis descensus Averni;

but in all kinds of climbing, as Catalani said of singing, it is far

more easy to get up than to come down. In the present instance I have

no sympathy--at least no pity--for him who descends. He is that monstrum

horrendum, an unprincipled man of genius. I confess, however, that I

should like very well to know the precise character of his thoughts,

when, being defied by her whom the Prefect terms 'a certain personage'

he is reduced to opening the letter which I left for him in the

card-rack."

 

"How? did you put any thing particular in it?"

 

"Why--it did not seem altogether right to leave the interior blank--that

would have been insulting. D--, at Vienna once, did me an evil turn,

which I told him, quite good-humoredly, that I should remember. So, as

I knew he would feel some curiosity in regard to the identity of the

person who had outwitted him, I thought it a pity not to give him a

clue. He is well acquainted with my MS., and I just copied into the

middle of the blank sheet the words--

 

"'-- -- Un dessein si funeste, S'il n'est digne d'Atree, est digne de

Thyeste. They are to be found in Crebillon's 'Atree.'"

 

 

 

 

 

THE THOUSAND-AND-SECOND TALE OF SCHEHERAZADE

 

                     Truth is stranger than fiction.

 

                              OLD SAYING.

 

HAVING had occasion, lately, in the course of some Oriental

investigations, to consult the Tellmenow Isitsoornot, a work which (like

the Zohar of Simeon Jochaides) is scarcely known at all, even in Europe;

and which has never been quoted, to my knowledge, by any American--if

we except, perhaps, the author of the "Curiosities of American

Literature";--having had occasion, I say, to turn over some pages of the

first--mentioned very remarkable work, I was not a little astonished to

discover that the literary world has hitherto been strangely in error

respecting the fate of the vizier's daughter, Scheherazade, as that

fate is depicted in the "Arabian Nights"; and that the denouement there

given, if not altogether inaccurate, as far as it goes, is at least to

blame in not having gone very much farther.

 

For full information on this interesting topic, I must refer the

inquisitive reader to the "Isitsoornot" itself, but in the meantime, I

shall be pardoned for giving a summary of what I there discovered.

 

It will be remembered, that, in the usual version of the tales, a

certain monarch having good cause to be jealous of his queen, not only

puts her to death, but makes a vow, by his beard and the prophet, to

espouse each night the most beautiful maiden in his dominions, and the

next morning to deliver her up to the executioner.

 

Having fulfilled this vow for many years to the letter, and with a

religious punctuality and method that conferred great credit upon him

as a man of devout feeling and excellent sense, he was interrupted one

afternoon (no doubt at his prayers) by a visit from his grand vizier, to

whose daughter, it appears, there had occurred an idea.

 

Her name was Scheherazade, and her idea was, that she would either

redeem the land from the depopulating tax upon its beauty, or perish,

after the approved fashion of all heroines, in the attempt.

 

Accordingly, and although we do not find it to be leap-year (which

makes the sacrifice more meritorious), she deputes her father, the grand

vizier, to make an offer to the king of her hand. This hand the king

eagerly accepts--(he had intended to take it at all events, and had put

off the matter from day to day, only through fear of the vizier),--but,

in accepting it now, he gives all parties very distinctly to understand,

that, grand vizier or no grand vizier, he has not the slightest design

of giving up one iota of his vow or of his privileges. When, therefore,

the fair Scheherazade insisted upon marrying the king, and did actually

marry him despite her father's excellent advice not to do any thing of

the kind--when she would and did marry him, I say, will I, nill I, it

was with her beautiful black eyes as thoroughly open as the nature of

the case would allow.

 

It seems, however, that this politic damsel (who had been reading

Machiavelli, beyond doubt), had a very ingenious little plot in her

mind. On the night of the wedding, she contrived, upon I forget what

specious pretence, to have her sister occupy a couch sufficiently near

that of the royal pair to admit of easy conversation from bed to bed;

and, a little before cock-crowing, she took care to awaken the good

monarch, her husband (who bore her none the worse will because he

intended to wring her neck on the morrow),--she managed to awaken him, I

say, (although on account of a capital conscience and an easy digestion,

he slept well) by the profound interest of a story (about a rat and a

black cat, I think) which she was narrating (all in an undertone, of

course) to her sister. When the day broke, it so happened that this

history was not altogether finished, and that Scheherazade, in the

nature of things could not finish it just then, since it was high time

for her to get up and be bowstrung--a thing very little more pleasant

than hanging, only a trifle more genteel.

 

The king's curiosity, however, prevailing, I am sorry to say, even over

his sound religious principles, induced him for this once to postpone

the fulfilment of his vow until next morning, for the purpose and with

the hope of hearing that night how it fared in the end with the black

cat (a black cat, I think it was) and the rat.

 

The night having arrived, however, the lady Scheherazade not only put

the finishing stroke to the black cat and the rat (the rat was blue)

but before she well knew what she was about, found herself deep in the

intricacies of a narration, having reference (if I am not altogether

mistaken) to a pink horse (with green wings) that went, in a violent

manner, by clockwork, and was wound up with an indigo key. With this

history the king was even more profoundly interested than with the

other--and, as the day broke before its conclusion (notwithstanding

all the queen's endeavors to get through with it in time for the

bowstringing), there was again no resource but to postpone that ceremony

as before, for twenty-four hours. The next night there happened a

similar accident with a similar result; and then the next--and then

again the next; so that, in the end, the good monarch, having been

unavoidably deprived of all opportunity to keep his vow during a

period of no less than one thousand and one nights, either forgets it

altogether by the expiration of this time, or gets himself absolved of

it in the regular way, or (what is more probable) breaks it outright, as

well as the head of his father confessor. At all events, Scheherazade,

who, being lineally descended from Eve, fell heir, perhaps, to the whole

seven baskets of talk, which the latter lady, we all know, picked up

from under the trees in the garden of Eden-Scheherazade, I say, finally

triumphed, and the tariff upon beauty was repealed.

 

Now, this conclusion (which is that of the story as we have it upon

record) is, no doubt, excessively proper and pleasant--but alas! like

a great many pleasant things, is more pleasant than true, and I am

indebted altogether to the "Isitsoornot" for the means of correcting the

error. "Le mieux," says a French proverb, "est l'ennemi du bien," and,

in mentioning that Scheherazade had inherited the seven baskets of talk,

I should have added that she put them out at compound interest until

they amounted to seventy-seven.

 

"My dear sister," said she, on the thousand-and-second night, (I quote

the language of the "Isitsoornot" at this point, verbatim) "my dear

sister," said she, "now that all this little difficulty about the

bowstring has blown over, and that this odious tax is so happily

repealed, I feel that I have been guilty of great indiscretion in

withholding from you and the king (who I am sorry to say, snores--a

thing no gentleman would do) the full conclusion of Sinbad the sailor.

This person went through numerous other and more interesting adventures

than those which I related; but the truth is, I felt sleepy on the

particular night of their narration, and so was seduced into cutting

them short--a grievous piece of misconduct, for which I only trust that

Allah will forgive me. But even yet it is not too late to remedy my

great neglect--and as soon as I have given the king a pinch or two in

order to wake him up so far that he may stop making that horrible noise,

I will forthwith entertain you (and him if he pleases) with the sequel

of this very remarkable story."

 

Hereupon the sister of Scheherazade, as I have it from the

"Isitsoornot," expressed no very particular intensity of gratification;

but the king, having been sufficiently pinched, at length ceased

snoring, and finally said, "hum!" and then "hoo!" when the queen,

understanding these words (which are no doubt Arabic) to signify that

he was all attention, and would do his best not to snore any more--the

queen, I say, having arranged these matters to her satisfaction,

re-entered thus, at once, into the history of Sinbad the sailor:

 

"'At length, in my old age, [these are the words of Sinbad himself, as

retailed by Scheherazade]--'at length, in my old age, and after enjoying

many years of tranquillity at home, I became once more possessed of a

desire of visiting foreign countries; and one day, without acquainting

any of my family with my design, I packed up some bundles of such

merchandise as was most precious and least bulky, and, engaged a porter

to carry them, went with him down to the sea-shore, to await the arrival

of any chance vessel that might convey me out of the kingdom into some

region which I had not as yet explored.

 

"'Having deposited the packages upon the sands, we sat down beneath some

trees, and looked out into the ocean in the hope of perceiving a ship,

but during several hours we saw none whatever. At length I fancied that

I could hear a singular buzzing or humming sound; and the porter, after

listening awhile, declared that he also could distinguish it. Presently

it grew louder, and then still louder, so that we could have no doubt

that the object which caused it was approaching us. At length, on

the edge of the horizon, we discovered a black speck, which rapidly

increased in size until we made it out to be a vast monster, swimming

with a great part of its body above the surface of the sea. It came

toward us with inconceivable swiftness, throwing up huge waves of foam

around its breast, and illuminating all that part of the sea through

which it passed, with a long line of fire that extended far off into the

distance.

 

"'As the thing drew near we saw it very distinctly. Its length was equal

to that of three of the loftiest trees that grow, and it was as wide as

the great hall of audience in your palace, O most sublime and munificent

of the Caliphs. Its body, which was unlike that of ordinary fishes, was

as solid as a rock, and of a jetty blackness throughout all that portion

of it which floated above the water, with the exception of a narrow

blood-red streak that completely begirdled it. The belly, which floated

beneath the surface, and of which we could get only a glimpse now and

then as the monster rose and fell with the billows, was entirely covered

with metallic scales, of a color like that of the moon in misty weather.

The back was flat and nearly white, and from it there extended upwards

of six spines, about half the length of the whole body.

 

"'The horrible creature had no mouth that we could perceive, but, as if

to make up for this deficiency, it was provided with at least four

score of eyes, that protruded from their sockets like those of the green

dragon-fly, and were arranged all around the body in two rows, one above

the other, and parallel to the blood-red streak, which seemed to answer

the purpose of an eyebrow. Two or three of these dreadful eyes were much

larger than the others, and had the appearance of solid gold.

 

"'Although this beast approached us, as I have before said, with the

greatest rapidity, it must have been moved altogether by necromancy--for

it had neither fins like a fish nor web-feet like a duck, nor wings like

the seashell which is blown along in the manner of a vessel; nor yet

did it writhe itself forward as do the eels. Its head and its tail were

shaped precisely alike, only, not far from the latter, were two small

holes that served for nostrils, and through which the monster puffed

out its thick breath with prodigious violence, and with a shrieking,

disagreeable noise.

 

"'Our terror at beholding this hideous thing was very great, but it was

even surpassed by our astonishment, when upon getting a nearer look, we

perceived upon the creature's back a vast number of animals about the

size and shape of men, and altogether much resembling them, except that

they wore no garments (as men do), being supplied (by nature, no doubt)

with an ugly uncomfortable covering, a good deal like cloth, but fitting

so tight to the skin, as to render the poor wretches laughably awkward,

and put them apparently to severe pain. On the very tips of their heads

were certain square-looking boxes, which, at first sight, I thought

might have been intended to answer as turbans, but I soon discovered

that they were excessively heavy and solid, and I therefore concluded

they were contrivances designed, by their great weight, to keep the

heads of the animals steady and safe upon their shoulders. Around

the necks of the creatures were fastened black collars, (badges of

servitude, no doubt,) such as we keep on our dogs, only much wider

and infinitely stiffer, so that it was quite impossible for these poor

victims to move their heads in any direction without moving the body at

the same time; and thus they were doomed to perpetual contemplation of

their noses--a view puggish and snubby in a wonderful, if not positively

in an awful degree.

 

"'When the monster had nearly reached the shore where we stood, it

suddenly pushed out one of its eyes to a great extent, and emitted from

it a terrible flash of fire, accompanied by a dense cloud of smoke, and

a noise that I can compare to nothing but thunder. As the smoke cleared

away, we saw one of the odd man-animals standing near the head of the

large beast with a trumpet in his hand, through which (putting it to

his mouth) he presently addressed us in loud, harsh, and disagreeable

accents, that, perhaps, we should have mistaken for language, had they

not come altogether through the nose.

 

"'Being thus evidently spoken to, I was at a loss how to reply, as I

could in no manner understand what was said; and in this difficulty

I turned to the porter, who was near swooning through affright, and

demanded of him his opinion as to what species of monster it was, what

it wanted, and what kind of creatures those were that so swarmed

upon its back. To this the porter replied, as well as he could for

trepidation, that he had once before heard of this sea-beast; that it

was a cruel demon, with bowels of sulphur and blood of fire, created

by evil genii as the means of inflicting misery upon mankind; that the

things upon its back were vermin, such as sometimes infest cats and

dogs, only a little larger and more savage; and that these vermin had

their uses, however evil--for, through the torture they caused the beast

by their nibbling and stingings, it was goaded into that degree of wrath

which was requisite to make it roar and commit ill, and so fulfil the

vengeful and malicious designs of the wicked genii.

 

"This account determined me to take to my heels, and, without once even

looking behind me, I ran at full speed up into the hills, while the

porter ran equally fast, although nearly in an opposite direction, so

that, by these means, he finally made his escape with my bundles, of

which I have no doubt he took excellent care--although this is a point I

cannot determine, as I do not remember that I ever beheld him again.

 

"'For myself, I was so hotly pursued by a swarm of the men-vermin (who

had come to the shore in boats) that I was very soon overtaken, bound

hand and foot, and conveyed to the beast, which immediately swam out

again into the middle of the sea.

 

"'I now bitterly repented my folly in quitting a comfortable home to

peril my life in such adventures as this; but regret being useless, I

made the best of my condition, and exerted myself to secure the goodwill

of the man-animal that owned the trumpet, and who appeared to exercise

authority over his fellows. I succeeded so well in this endeavor that,

in a few days, the creature bestowed upon me various tokens of his

favor, and in the end even went to the trouble of teaching me the

rudiments of what it was vain enough to denominate its language; so

that, at length, I was enabled to converse with it readily, and came to

make it comprehend the ardent desire I had of seeing the world.

 

"'Washish squashish squeak, Sinbad, hey-diddle diddle, grunt unt

grumble, hiss, fiss, whiss,' said he to me, one day after dinner--but

I beg a thousand pardons, I had forgotten that your majesty is not

conversant with the dialect of the Cock-neighs (so the man-animals were

called; I presume because their language formed the connecting

link between that of the horse and that of the rooster). With your

permission, I will translate. 'Washish squashish,' and so forth:--that

is to say, 'I am happy to find, my dear Sinbad, that you are really a

very excellent fellow; we are now about doing a thing which is called

circumnavigating the globe; and since you are so desirous of seeing the

world, I will strain a point and give you a free passage upon back of

the beast.'"

 

When the Lady Scheherazade had proceeded thus far, relates the

"Isitsoornot," the king turned over from his left side to his right, and

said:

 

"It is, in fact, very surprising, my dear queen, that you omitted,

hitherto, these latter adventures of Sinbad. Do you know I think them

exceedingly entertaining and strange?"

 

The king having thus expressed himself, we are told, the fair

Scheherazade resumed her history in the following words:

 

"Sinbad went on in this manner with his narrative to the caliph--'I

thanked the man-animal for its kindness, and soon found myself very much

at home on the beast, which swam at a prodigious rate through the ocean;

although the surface of the latter is, in that part of the world, by

no means flat, but round like a pomegranate, so that we went--so to

say--either up hill or down hill all the time.'

 

"That I think, was very singular," interrupted the king.

 

"Nevertheless, it is quite true," replied Scheherazade.

 

"I have my doubts," rejoined the king; "but, pray, be so good as to go

on with the story."

 

"I will," said the queen. "'The beast,' continued Sinbad to the caliph,

'swam, as I have related, up hill and down hill until, at length, we

arrived at an island, many hundreds of miles in circumference, but

which, nevertheless, had been built in the middle of the sea by a colony

of little things like caterpillars'" (*1)

 

"Hum!" said the king.

 

"'Leaving this island,' said Sinbad--(for Scheherazade, it must be

understood, took no notice of her husband's ill-mannered ejaculation)

'leaving this island, we came to another where the forests were of solid

stone, and so hard that they shivered to pieces the finest-tempered axes

with which we endeavoured to cut them down."' (*2)

 

"Hum!" said the king, again; but Scheherazade, paying him no attention,

continued in the language of Sinbad.

 

"'Passing beyond this last island, we reached a country where there

was a cave that ran to the distance of thirty or forty miles within the

bowels of the earth, and that contained a greater number of far more

spacious and more magnificent palaces than are to be found in all

Damascus and Bagdad. From the roofs of these palaces there hung myriads

of gems, liked diamonds, but larger than men; and in among the streets

of towers and pyramids and temples, there flowed immense rivers as black

as ebony, and swarming with fish that had no eyes.'" (*3)

 

"Hum!" said the king. "'We then swam into a region of the sea where

we found a lofty mountain, down whose sides there streamed torrents of

melted metal, some of which were twelve miles wide and sixty miles long

(*4); while from an abyss on the summit, issued so vast a quantity of

ashes that the sun was entirely blotted out from the heavens, and it

became darker than the darkest midnight; so that when we were even at

the distance of a hundred and fifty miles from the mountain, it was

impossible to see the whitest object, however close we held it to our

eyes.'" (*5)

 

"Hum!" said the king.

 

"'After quitting this coast, the beast continued his voyage until we met

with a land in which the nature of things seemed reversed--for we here

saw a great lake, at the bottom of which, more than a hundred feet

beneath the surface of the water, there flourished in full leaf a forest

of tall and luxuriant trees.'" (*6)

 

"Hoo!" said the king.

 

"Some hundred miles farther on brought us to a climate where the

atmosphere was so dense as to sustain iron or steel, just as our own

does feather.'" (*7)

 

"Fiddle de dee," said the king.

 

"Proceeding still in the same direction, we presently arrived at the

most magnificent region in the whole world. Through it there meandered

a glorious river for several thousands of miles. This river was of

unspeakable depth, and of a transparency richer than that of amber.

It was from three to six miles in width; and its banks which arose on

either side to twelve hundred feet in perpendicular height, were crowned

with ever-blossoming trees and perpetual sweet-scented flowers, that

made the whole territory one gorgeous garden; but the name of this

luxuriant land was the Kingdom of Horror, and to enter it was inevitable

death'" (*8)

 

"Humph!" said the king.

 

"'We left this kingdom in great haste, and, after some days, came to

another, where we were astonished to perceive myriads of monstrous

animals with horns resembling scythes upon their heads. These hideous

beasts dig for themselves vast caverns in the soil, of a funnel shape,

and line the sides of them with, rocks, so disposed one upon the other

that they fall instantly, when trodden upon by other animals, thus

precipitating them into the monster's dens, where their blood is

immediately sucked, and their carcasses afterwards hurled contemptuously

out to an immense distance from "the caverns of death."'" (*9)

 

"Pooh!" said the king.

 

"'Continuing our progress, we perceived a district with vegetables that

grew not upon any soil but in the air. (*10) There were others that

sprang from the substance of other vegetables; (*11) others that derived

their substance from the bodies of living animals; (*12) and then again,

there were others that glowed all over with intense fire; (*13) others

that moved from place to place at pleasure, (*14) and what was still

more wonderful, we discovered flowers that lived and breathed and moved

their limbs at will and had, moreover, the detestable passion of mankind

for enslaving other creatures, and confining them in horrid and solitary

prisons until the fulfillment of appointed tasks.'" (*15)

 

"Pshaw!" said the king.

 

"'Quitting this land, we soon arrived at another in which the bees and

the birds are mathematicians of such genius and erudition, that they

give daily instructions in the science of geometry to the wise men

of the empire. The king of the place having offered a reward for the

solution of two very difficult problems, they were solved upon the

spot--the one by the bees, and the other by the birds; but the king

keeping their solution a secret, it was only after the most profound

researches and labor, and the writing of an infinity of big books,

during a long series of years, that the men-mathematicians at length

arrived at the identical solutions which had been given upon the spot by

the bees and by the birds.'" (*16)

 

"Oh my!" said the king.

 

"'We had scarcely lost sight of this empire when we found ourselves

close upon another, from whose shores there flew over our heads a flock

of fowls a mile in breadth, and two hundred and forty miles long; so

that, although they flew a mile during every minute, it required no less

than four hours for the whole flock to pass over us--in which there were

several millions of millions of fowl.'" (*17)

 

"Oh fy!" said the king.

 

"'No sooner had we got rid of these birds, which occasioned us great

annoyance, than we were terrified by the appearance of a fowl of another

kind, and infinitely larger than even the rocs which I met in my

former voyages; for it was bigger than the biggest of the domes on your

seraglio, oh, most Munificent of Caliphs. This terrible fowl had no head

that we could perceive, but was fashioned entirely of belly, which was

of a prodigious fatness and roundness, of a soft-looking substance,

smooth, shining and striped with various colors. In its talons, the

monster was bearing away to his eyrie in the heavens, a house from which

it had knocked off the roof, and in the interior of which we distinctly

saw human beings, who, beyond doubt, were in a state of frightful

despair at the horrible fate which awaited them. We shouted with all our

might, in the hope of frightening the bird into letting go of its prey,

but it merely gave a snort or puff, as if of rage and then let fall upon

our heads a heavy sack which proved to be filled with sand!'"

 

"Stuff!" said the king.

 

"'It was just after this adventure that we encountered a continent of

immense extent and prodigious solidity, but which, nevertheless, was

supported entirely upon the back of a sky-blue cow that had no fewer

than four hundred horns.'" (*18)

 

"That, now, I believe," said the king, "because I have read something of

the kind before, in a book."

 

"'We passed immediately beneath this continent, (swimming in between the

legs of the cow), and, after some hours, found ourselves in a wonderful

country indeed, which, I was informed by the man-animal, was his own

native land, inhabited by things of his own species. This elevated the

man-animal very much in my esteem, and in fact, I now began to feel

ashamed of the contemptuous familiarity with which I had treated him;

for I found that the man-animals in general were a nation of the most

powerful magicians, who lived with worms in their brain, (*19) which,

no doubt, served to stimulate them by their painful writhings and

wrigglings to the most miraculous efforts of imagination!'"

 

"Nonsense!" said the king.

 

"'Among the magicians, were domesticated several animals of very

singular kinds; for example, there was a huge horse whose bones were

iron and whose blood was boiling water. In place of corn, he had black

stones for his usual food; and yet, in spite of so hard a diet, he was

so strong and swift that he would drag a load more weighty than the

grandest temple in this city, at a rate surpassing that of the flight of

most birds.'" (*20)

 

"Twattle!" said the king.

 

"'I saw, also, among these people a hen without feathers, but bigger

than a camel; instead of flesh and bone she had iron and brick; her

blood, like that of the horse, (to whom, in fact, she was nearly

related,) was boiling water; and like him she ate nothing but wood or

black stones. This hen brought forth very frequently, a hundred chickens

in the day; and, after birth, they took up their residence for several

weeks within the stomach of their mother.'" (*21)

 

"Fa! lal!" said the king.

 

"'One of this nation of mighty conjurors created a man out of brass and

wood, and leather, and endowed him with such ingenuity that he would

have beaten at chess, all the race of mankind with the exception of the

great Caliph, Haroun Alraschid. (*22) Another of these magi constructed

(of like material) a creature that put to shame even the genius of him

who made it; for so great were its reasoning powers that, in a second,

it performed calculations of so vast an extent that they would have

required the united labor of fifty thousand fleshy men for a year. (*23)

But a still more wonderful conjuror fashioned for himself a mighty thing

that was neither man nor beast, but which had brains of lead, intermixed

with a black matter like pitch, and fingers that it employed with such

incredible speed and dexterity that it would have had no trouble in

writing out twenty thousand copies of the Koran in an hour, and this

with so exquisite a precision, that in all the copies there should not

be found one to vary from another by the breadth of the finest hair.

This thing was of prodigious strength, so that it erected or overthrew

the mightiest empires at a breath; but its powers were exercised equally

for evil and for good.'"

 

"Ridiculous!" said the king.

 

"'Among this nation of necromancers there was also one who had in his

veins the blood of the salamanders; for he made no scruple of sitting

down to smoke his chibouc in a red-hot oven until his dinner was

thoroughly roasted upon its floor. (*24) Another had the faculty of

converting the common metals into gold, without even looking at them

during the process. (*25) Another had such a delicacy of touch that he

made a wire so fine as to be invisible. (*26) Another had such quickness

of perception that he counted all the separate motions of an elastic

body, while it was springing backward and forward at the rate of nine

hundred millions of times in a second.'" (*27)

 

"Absurd!" said the king.

 

"'Another of these magicians, by means of a fluid that nobody ever yet

saw, could make the corpses of his friends brandish their arms, kick out

their legs, fight, or even get up and dance at his will. (*28) Another

had cultivated his voice to so great an extent that he could have made

himself heard from one end of the world to the other. (*29) Another had

so long an arm that he could sit down in Damascus and indite a letter

at Bagdad--or indeed at any distance whatsoever. (*30) Another commanded

the lightning to come down to him out of the heavens, and it came at his

call; and served him for a plaything when it came. Another took two

loud sounds and out of them made a silence. Another constructed a

deep darkness out of two brilliant lights. (*31) Another made ice in a

red-hot furnace. (*32) Another directed the sun to paint his portrait,

and the sun did. (*33) Another took this luminary with the moon and the

planets, and having first weighed them with scrupulous accuracy, probed

into their depths and found out the solidity of the substance of which

they were made. But the whole nation is, indeed, of so surprising a

necromantic ability, that not even their infants, nor their commonest

cats and dogs have any difficulty in seeing objects that do not exist at

all, or that for twenty millions of years before the birth of the nation

itself had been blotted out from the face of creation."' (*34)

 

Analogous experiments in respect to sound produce analogous results.

 

"Preposterous!" said the king.

 

"'The wives and daughters of these incomparably great and wise magi,'"

continued Scheherazade, without being in any manner disturbed by

these frequent and most ungentlemanly interruptions on the part of her

husband--"'the wives and daughters of these eminent conjurers are every

thing that is accomplished and refined; and would be every thing that is

interesting and beautiful, but for an unhappy fatality that besets them,

and from which not even the miraculous powers of their husbands and

fathers has, hitherto, been adequate to save. Some fatalities come in

certain shapes, and some in others--but this of which I speak has come

in the shape of a crotchet.'"

 

"A what?" said the king.

 

"'A crotchet'" said Scheherazade. "'One of the evil genii, who are

perpetually upon the watch to inflict ill, has put it into the heads of

these accomplished ladies that the thing which we describe as personal

beauty consists altogether in the protuberance of the region which lies

not very far below the small of the back. Perfection of loveliness, they

say, is in the direct ratio of the extent of this lump. Having been long

possessed of this idea, and bolsters being cheap in that country, the

days have long gone by since it was possible to distinguish a woman from

a dromedary-'"

 

"Stop!" said the king--"I can't stand that, and I won't. You have

already given me a dreadful headache with your lies. The day, too, I

perceive, is beginning to break. How long have we been married?--my

conscience is getting to be troublesome again. And then that dromedary

touch--do you take me for a fool? Upon the whole, you might as well get

up and be throttled."

 

These words, as I learn from the "Isitsoornot," both grieved and

astonished Scheherazade; but, as she knew the king to be a man of

scrupulous integrity, and quite unlikely to forfeit his word, she

submitted to her fate with a good grace. She derived, however, great

consolation, (during the tightening of the bowstring,) from the

reflection that much of the history remained still untold, and that the

petulance of her brute of a husband had reaped for him a most righteous

reward, in depriving him of many inconceivable adventures.

 

 

 

 

A DESCENT INTO THE MAELSTROeM.

 

  The ways of God in Nature, as in Providence, are not as our

  ways;  nor are the models that we frame any way commensurate to the

  vastness, profundity, and unsearchableness of His works, which have

  a depth in them greater than the well of Democritus.

 

  Joseph Glanville.

 

WE had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag. For some minutes the

old man seemed too much exhausted to speak.

 

"Not long ago," said he at length, "and I could have guided you on this

route as well as the youngest of my sons; but, about three years past,

there happened to me an event such as never happened to mortal man--or

at least such as no man ever survived to tell of--and the six hours of

deadly terror which I then endured have broken me up body and soul. You

suppose me a _very_ old man--but I am not. It took less than a single

day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken

my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least

exertion, and am frightened at a shadow. Do you know I can scarcely look

over this little cliff without getting giddy?"

 

The "little cliff," upon whose edge he had so carelessly thrown himself

down to rest that the weightier portion of his body hung over it, while

he was only kept from falling by the tenure of his elbow on its extreme

and slippery edge--this "little cliff" arose, a sheer unobstructed

precipice of black shining rock, some fifteen or sixteen hundred feet

from the world of crags beneath us. Nothing would have tempted me to

within half a dozen yards of its brink. In truth so deeply was I excited

by the perilous position of my companion, that I fell at full length

upon the ground, clung to the shrubs around me, and dared not even

glance upward at the sky--while I struggled in vain to divest myself of

the idea that the very foundations of the mountain were in danger from

the fury of the winds. It was long before I could reason myself into

sufficient courage to sit up and look out into the distance.

 

"You must get over these fancies," said the guide, "for I have brought

you here that you might have the best possible view of the scene of that

event I mentioned--and to tell you the whole story with the spot just

under your eye."

 

"We are now," he continued, in that particularizing manner which

distinguished him--"we are now close upon the Norwegian coast--in the

sixty-eighth degree of latitude--in the great province of Nordland--and

in the dreary district of Lofoden. The mountain upon whose top we sit is

Helseggen, the Cloudy. Now raise yourself up a little higher--hold on to

the grass if you feel giddy--so--and look out, beyond the belt of vapor

beneath us, into the sea."

 

I looked dizzily, and beheld a wide expanse of ocean, whose waters wore

so inky a hue as to bring at once to my mind the Nubian geographer's

account of the _Mare Tenebrarum_. A panorama more deplorably desolate no

human imagination can conceive. To the right and left, as far as the eye

could reach, there lay outstretched, like ramparts of the world, lines

of horridly black and beetling cliff, whose character of gloom was but

the more forcibly illustrated by the surf which reared high up against

its white and ghastly crest, howling and shrieking forever. Just

opposite the promontory upon whose apex we were placed, and at a

distance of some five or six miles out at sea, there was visible

a small, bleak-looking island; or, more properly, its position was

discernible through the wilderness of surge in which it was enveloped.

About two miles nearer the land, arose another of smaller size,

hideously craggy and barren, and encompassed at various intervals by a

cluster of dark rocks.

 

The appearance of the ocean, in the space between the more distant

island and the shore, had something very unusual about it. Although,

at the time, so strong a gale was blowing landward that a brig in the

remote offing lay to under a double-reefed trysail, and constantly

plunged her whole hull out of sight, still there was here nothing like a

regular swell, but only a short, quick, angry cross dashing of water in

every direction--as well in the teeth of the wind as otherwise. Of foam

there was little except in the immediate vicinity of the rocks.

 

"The island in the distance," resumed the old man, "is called by

the Norwegians Vurrgh. The one midway is Moskoe. That a mile to the

northward is Ambaaren. Yonder are Islesen, Hotholm, Keildhelm, Suarven,

and Buckholm. Farther off--between Moskoe and Vurrgh--are Otterholm,

Flimen, Sandflesen, and Stockholm. These are the true names of the

places--but why it has been thought necessary to name them at all, is

more than either you or I can understand. Do you hear anything? Do you

see any change in the water?"

 

We had now been about ten minutes upon the top of Helseggen, to which

we had ascended from the interior of Lofoden, so that we had caught no

glimpse of the sea until it had burst upon us from the summit. As the

old man spoke, I became aware of a loud and gradually increasing sound,

like the moaning of a vast herd of buffaloes upon an American prairie;

and at the same moment I perceived that what seamen term the _chopping_

character of the ocean beneath us, was rapidly changing into a current

which set to the eastward. Even while I gazed, this current acquired

a monstrous velocity. Each moment added to its speed--to its headlong

impetuosity. In five minutes the whole sea, as far as Vurrgh, was lashed

into ungovernable fury; but it was between Moskoe and the coast that the

main uproar held its sway. Here the vast bed of the waters, seamed

and scarred into a thousand conflicting channels, burst suddenly into

phrensied convulsion--heaving, boiling, hissing--gyrating in gigantic

and innumerable vortices, and all whirling and plunging on to the

eastward with a rapidity which water never elsewhere assumes except in

precipitous descents.

 

In a few minutes more, there came over the scene another radical

alteration. The general surface grew somewhat more smooth, and the

whirlpools, one by one, disappeared, while prodigious streaks of foam

became apparent where none had been seen before. These streaks,

at length, spreading out to a great distance, and entering into

combination, took unto themselves the gyratory motion of the

subsided vortices, and seemed to form the germ of another more vast.

Suddenly--very suddenly--this assumed a distinct and definite existence,

in a circle of more than a mile in diameter. The edge of the whirl was

represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray; but no particle of this

slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose interior, as far

as the eye could fathom it, was a smooth, shining, and jet-black wall of

water, inclined to the horizon at an angle of some forty-five degrees,

speeding dizzily round and round with a swaying and sweltering motion,

and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half

roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of Niagara ever lifts up in

its agony to Heaven.

 

The mountain trembled to its very base, and the rock rocked. I threw

myself upon my face, and clung to the scant herbage in an excess of

nervous agitation.

 

"This," said I at length, to the old man--"this _can_ be nothing else

than the great whirlpool of the Maelstroem."

 

"So it is sometimes termed," said he. "We Norwegians call it the

Moskoe-stroem, from the island of Moskoe in the midway."

 

The ordinary accounts of this vortex had by no means prepared me

for what I saw. That of Jonas Ramus, which is perhaps the most

circumstantial of any, cannot impart the faintest conception either

of the magnificence, or of the horror of the scene--or of the wild

bewildering sense of _the novel_ which confounds the beholder. I am not

sure from what point of view the writer in question surveyed it, nor at

what time; but it could neither have been from the summit of Helseggen,

nor during a storm. There are some passages of his description,

nevertheless, which may be quoted for their details, although their

effect is exceedingly feeble in conveying an impression of the

spectacle.

 

"Between Lofoden and Moskoe," he says, "the depth of the water is

between thirty-six and forty fathoms; but on the other side, toward Ver

(Vurrgh) this depth decreases so as not to afford a convenient passage

for a vessel, without the risk of splitting on the rocks, which happens

even in the calmest weather. When it is flood, the stream runs up the

country between Lofoden and Moskoe with a boisterous rapidity; but the

roar of its impetuous ebb to the sea is scarce equalled by the loudest

and most dreadful cataracts; the noise being heard several leagues off,

and the vortices or pits are of such an extent and depth, that if a ship

comes within its attraction, it is inevitably absorbed and carried down

to the bottom, and there beat to pieces against the rocks; and when

the water relaxes, the fragments thereof are thrown up again. But these

intervals of tranquility are only at the turn of the ebb and flood,

and in calm weather, and last but a quarter of an hour, its violence

gradually returning. When the stream is most boisterous, and its fury

heightened by a storm, it is dangerous to come within a Norway mile

of it. Boats, yachts, and ships have been carried away by not guarding

against it before they were within its reach. It likewise happens

frequently, that whales come too near the stream, and are overpowered by

its violence; and then it is impossible to describe their howlings and

bellowings in their fruitless struggles to disengage themselves. A

bear once, attempting to swim from Lofoden to Moskoe, was caught by the

stream and borne down, while he roared terribly, so as to be heard on

shore. Large stocks of firs and pine trees, after being absorbed by the

current, rise again broken and torn to such a degree as if bristles grew

upon them. This plainly shows the bottom to consist of craggy rocks,

among which they are whirled to and fro. This stream is regulated by the

flux and reflux of the sea--it being constantly high and low water every

six hours. In the year 1645, early in the morning of Sexagesima Sunday,

it raged with such noise and impetuosity that the very stones of the

houses on the coast fell to the ground."

 

In regard to the depth of the water, I could not see how this could have

been ascertained at all in the immediate vicinity of the vortex. The

"forty fathoms" must have reference only to portions of the channel

close upon the shore either of Moskoe or Lofoden. The depth in the

centre of the Moskoe-stroem must be immeasurably greater; and no better

proof of this fact is necessary than can be obtained from even the

sidelong glance into the abyss of the whirl which may be had from the

highest crag of Helseggen. Looking down from this pinnacle upon the

howling Phlegethon below, I could not help smiling at the simplicity

with which the honest Jonas Ramus records, as a matter difficult of

belief, the anecdotes of the whales and the bears; for it appeared to

me, in fact, a self-evident thing, that the largest ship of the line in

existence, coming within the influence of that deadly attraction, could

resist it as little as a feather the hurricane, and must disappear

bodily and at once.

 

The attempts to account for the phenomenon--some of which, I remember,

seemed to me sufficiently plausible in perusal--now wore a very

different and unsatisfactory aspect. The idea generally received is that

this, as well as three smaller vortices among the Ferroe islands, "have

no other cause than the collision of waves rising and falling, at flux

and reflux, against a ridge of rocks and shelves, which confines the

water so that it precipitates itself like a cataract; and thus the

higher the flood rises, the deeper must the fall be, and the natural

result of all is a whirlpool or vortex, the prodigious suction of which

is sufficiently known by lesser experiments."--These are the words of

the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Kircher and others imagine that in the

centre of the channel of the Maelstroem is an abyss penetrating the

globe, and issuing in some very remote part--the Gulf of Bothnia being

somewhat decidedly named in one instance. This opinion, idle in itself,

was the one to which, as I gazed, my imagination most readily assented;

and, mentioning it to the guide, I was rather surprised to hear him say

that, although it was the view almost universally entertained of the

subject by the Norwegians, it nevertheless was not his own. As to the

former notion he confessed his inability to comprehend it; and here I

agreed with him--for, however conclusive on paper, it becomes altogether

unintelligible, and even absurd, amid the thunder of the abyss.

 

"You have had a good look at the whirl now," said the old man, "and if

you will creep round this crag, so as to get in its lee, and deaden

the roar of the water, I will tell you a story that will convince you I

ought to know something of the Moskoe-stroem."

 

I placed myself as desired, and he proceeded.

 

"Myself and my two brothers once owned a schooner-rigged smack of about

seventy tons burthen, with which we were in the habit of fishing among

the islands beyond Moskoe, nearly to Vurrgh. In all violent eddies at

sea there is good fishing, at proper opportunities, if one has only the

courage to attempt it; but among the whole of the Lofoden coastmen, we

three were the only ones who made a regular business of going out to the

islands, as I tell you. The usual grounds are a great way lower down to

the southward. There fish can be got at all hours, without much risk,

and therefore these places are preferred. The choice spots over here

among the rocks, however, not only yield the finest variety, but in far

greater abundance; so that we often got in a single day, what the more

timid of the craft could not scrape together in a week. In fact, we made

it a matter of desperate speculation--the risk of life standing instead

of labor, and courage answering for capital.

 

"We kept the smack in a cove about five miles higher up the coast than

this; and it was our practice, in fine weather, to take advantage of

the fifteen minutes' slack to push across the main channel of the

Moskoe-stroem, far above the pool, and then drop down upon anchorage

somewhere near Otterholm, or Sandflesen, where the eddies are not so

violent as elsewhere. Here we used to remain until nearly time for

slack-water again, when we weighed and made for home. We never set

out upon this expedition without a steady side wind for going and

coming--one that we felt sure would not fail us before our return--and

we seldom made a mis-calculation upon this point. Twice, during six

years, we were forced to stay all night at anchor on account of a dead

calm, which is a rare thing indeed just about here; and once we had to

remain on the grounds nearly a week, starving to death, owing to a

gale which blew up shortly after our arrival, and made the channel too

boisterous to be thought of. Upon this occasion we should have been

driven out to sea in spite of everything, (for the whirlpools threw us

round and round so violently, that, at length, we fouled our anchor

and dragged it) if it had not been that we drifted into one of the

innumerable cross currents--here to-day and gone to-morrow--which drove

us under the lee of Flimen, where, by good luck, we brought up.

 

"I could not tell you the twentieth part of the difficulties we

encountered 'on the grounds'--it is a bad spot to be in, even in

good weather--but we made shift always to run the gauntlet of the

Moskoe-stroem itself without accident; although at times my heart has

been in my mouth when we happened to be a minute or so behind or before

the slack. The wind sometimes was not as strong as we thought it at

starting, and then we made rather less way than we could wish, while

the current rendered the smack unmanageable. My eldest brother had a son

eighteen years old, and I had two stout boys of my own. These would have

been of great assistance at such times, in using the sweeps, as well as

afterward in fishing--but, somehow, although we ran the risk ourselves,

we had not the heart to let the young ones get into the danger--for,

after all is said and done, it _was_ a horrible danger, and that is the

truth.

 

"It is now within a few days of three years since what I am going to

tell you occurred. It was on the tenth day of July, 18-, a day which the

people of this part of the world will never forget--for it was one

in which blew the most terrible hurricane that ever came out of

the heavens. And yet all the morning, and indeed until late in the

afternoon, there was a gentle and steady breeze from the south-west,

while the sun shone brightly, so that the oldest seaman among us could

not have foreseen what was to follow.

 

"The three of us--my two brothers and myself--had crossed over to the

islands about two o'clock P. M., and had soon nearly loaded the smack

with fine fish, which, we all remarked, were more plenty that day

than we had ever known them. It was just seven, _by my watch_, when we

weighed and started for home, so as to make the worst of the Stroem at

slack water, which we knew would be at eight.

 

"We set out with a fresh wind on our starboard quarter, and for some

time spanked along at a great rate, never dreaming of danger, for indeed

we saw not the slightest reason to apprehend it. All at once we

were taken aback by a breeze from over Helseggen. This was most

unusual--something that had never happened to us before--and I began to

feel a little uneasy, without exactly knowing why. We put the boat on

the wind, but could make no headway at all for the eddies, and I was

upon the point of proposing to return to the anchorage, when, looking

astern, we saw the whole horizon covered with a singular copper-colored

cloud that rose with the most amazing velocity.

 

"In the meantime the breeze that had headed us off fell away, and we

were dead becalmed, drifting about in every direction. This state of

things, however, did not last long enough to give us time to think about

it. In less than a minute the storm was upon us--in less than two the

sky was entirely overcast--and what with this and the driving spray, it

became suddenly so dark that we could not see each other in the smack.

 

"Such a hurricane as then blew it is folly to attempt describing. The

oldest seaman in Norway never experienced any thing like it. We had let

our sails go by the run before it cleverly took us; but, at the first

puff, both our masts went by the board as if they had been sawed

off--the mainmast taking with it my youngest brother, who had lashed

himself to it for safety.

 

"Our boat was the lightest feather of a thing that ever sat upon water.

It had a complete flush deck, with only a small hatch near the bow, and

this hatch it had always been our custom to batten down when about to

cross the Stroem, by way of precaution against the chopping seas. But for

this circumstance we should have foundered at once--for we lay entirely

buried for some moments. How my elder brother escaped destruction I

cannot say, for I never had an opportunity of ascertaining. For my part,

as soon as I had let the foresail run, I threw myself flat on deck,

with my feet against the narrow gunwale of the bow, and with my hands

grasping a ring-bolt near the foot of the fore-mast. It was mere

instinct that prompted me to do this--which was undoubtedly the very

best thing I could have done--for I was too much flurried to think.

 

"For some moments we were completely deluged, as I say, and all this

time I held my breath, and clung to the bolt. When I could stand it no

longer I raised myself upon my knees, still keeping hold with my hands,

and thus got my head clear. Presently our little boat gave herself

a shake, just as a dog does in coming out of the water, and thus rid

herself, in some measure, of the seas. I was now trying to get the

better of the stupor that had come over me, and to collect my senses so

as to see what was to be done, when I felt somebody grasp my arm. It was

my elder brother, and my heart leaped for joy, for I had made sure

that he was overboard--but the next moment all this joy was turned into

horror--for he put his mouth close to my ear, and screamed out the word

'_Moskoe-stroem!_'

 

"No one ever will know what my feelings were at that moment. I shook

from head to foot as if I had had the most violent fit of the ague. I

knew what he meant by that one word well enough--I knew what he wished

to make me understand. With the wind that now drove us on, we were bound

for the whirl of the Stroem, and nothing could save us!

 

"You perceive that in crossing the Stroem _channel_, we always went a

long way up above the whirl, even in the calmest weather, and then had

to wait and watch carefully for the slack--but now we were driving right

upon the pool itself, and in such a hurricane as this! 'To be sure,' I

thought, 'we shall get there just about the slack--there is some little

hope in that'--but in the next moment I cursed myself for being so great

a fool as to dream of hope at all. I knew very well that we were doomed,

had we been ten times a ninety-gun ship.

 

"By this time the first fury of the tempest had spent itself, or perhaps

we did not feel it so much, as we scudded before it, but at all events

the seas, which at first had been kept down by the wind, and lay flat

and frothing, now got up into absolute mountains. A singular change,

too, had come over the heavens. Around in every direction it was still

as black as pitch, but nearly overhead there burst out, all at once, a

circular rift of clear sky--as clear as I ever saw--and of a deep bright

blue--and through it there blazed forth the full moon with a lustre that

I never before knew her to wear. She lit up every thing about us with

the greatest distinctness--but, oh God, what a scene it was to light up!

 

"I now made one or two attempts to speak to my brother--but, in some

manner which I could not understand, the din had so increased that I

could not make him hear a single word, although I screamed at the top

of my voice in his ear. Presently he shook his head, looking as pale as

death, and held up one of his finger, as if to say _'listen! '_

 

"At first I could not make out what he meant--but soon a hideous thought

flashed upon me. I dragged my watch from its fob. It was not going. I

glanced at its face by the moonlight, and then burst into tears as I

flung it far away into the ocean. _It had run down at seven o'clock!

We were behind the time of the slack, and the whirl of the Stroem was in

full fury!_

 

"When a boat is well built, properly trimmed, and not deep laden, the

waves in a strong gale, when she is going large, seem always to slip

from beneath her--which appears very strange to a landsman--and this is

what is called _riding_, in sea phrase. Well, so far we had ridden the

swells very cleverly; but presently a gigantic sea happened to take us

right under the counter, and bore us with it as it rose--up--up--as

if into the sky. I would not have believed that any wave could rise so

high. And then down we came with a sweep, a slide, and a plunge,

that made me feel sick and dizzy, as if I was falling from some lofty

mountain-top in a dream. But while we were up I had thrown a quick

glance around--and that one glance was all sufficient. I saw our exact

position in an instant. The Moskoe-Stroem whirlpool was about a quarter

of a mile dead ahead--but no more like the every-day Moskoe-Stroem, than

the whirl as you now see it is like a mill-race. If I had not known

where we were, and what we had to expect, I should not have recognised

the place at all. As it was, I involuntarily closed my eyes in horror.

The lids clenched themselves together as if in a spasm.

 

"It could not have been more than two minutes afterward until we

suddenly felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The

boat made a sharp half turn to larboard, and then shot off in its new

direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of

the water was completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek--such a

sound as you might imagine given out by the waste-pipes of many thousand

steam-vessels, letting off their steam all together. We were now in the

belt of surf that always surrounds the whirl; and I thought, of course,

that another moment would plunge us into the abyss--down which we could

only see indistinctly on account of the amazing velocity with which we

wore borne along. The boat did not seem to sink into the water at

all, but to skim like an air-bubble upon the surface of the surge. Her

starboard side was next the whirl, and on the larboard arose the world

of ocean we had left. It stood like a huge writhing wall between us and

the horizon.

 

"It may appear strange, but now, when we were in the very jaws of the

gulf, I felt more composed than when we were only approaching it. Having

made up my mind to hope no more, I got rid of a great deal of that

terror which unmanned me at first. I suppose it was despair that strung

my nerves.

 

"It may look like boasting--but what I tell you is truth--I began to

reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how

foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my own

individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God's power.

I do believe that I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind.

After a little while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about

the whirl itself. I positively felt a _wish_ to explore its depths, even

at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that

I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the

mysteries I should see. These, no doubt, were singular fancies to occupy

a man's mind in such extremity--and I have often thought since, that the

revolutions of the boat around the pool might have rendered me a little

light-headed.

 

"There was another circumstance which tended to restore my

self-possession; and this was the cessation of the wind, which could not

reach us in our present situation--for, as you saw yourself, the belt of

surf is considerably lower than the general bed of the ocean, and this

latter now towered above us, a high, black, mountainous ridge. If you

have never been at sea in a heavy gale, you can form no idea of the

confusion of mind occasioned by the wind and spray together. They

blind, deafen, and strangle you, and take away all power of action

or reflection. But we were now, in a great measure, rid of these

annoyances--just us death-condemned felons in prison are allowed petty

indulgences, forbidden them while their doom is yet uncertain.

 

"How often we made the circuit of the belt it is impossible to say.

We careered round and round for perhaps an hour, flying rather than

floating, getting gradually more and more into the middle of the surge,

and then nearer and nearer to its horrible inner edge. All this time I

had never let go of the ring-bolt. My brother was at the stern, holding

on to a small empty water-cask which had been securely lashed under the

coop of the counter, and was the only thing on deck that had not been

swept overboard when the gale first took us. As we approached the brink

of the pit he let go his hold upon this, and made for the ring, from

which, in the agony of his terror, he endeavored to force my hands, as

it was not large enough to afford us both a secure grasp. I never felt

deeper grief than when I saw him attempt this act--although I knew he

was a madman when he did it--a raving maniac through sheer fright. I did

not care, however, to contest the point with him. I knew it could make

no difference whether either of us held on at all; so I let him have the

bolt, and went astern to the cask. This there was no great difficulty

in doing; for the smack flew round steadily enough, and upon an even

keel--only swaying to and fro, with the immense sweeps and swelters of

the whirl. Scarcely had I secured myself in my new position, when we

gave a wild lurch to starboard, and rushed headlong into the abyss. I

muttered a hurried prayer to God, and thought all was over.

 

"As I felt the sickening sweep of the descent, I had instinctively

tightened my hold upon the barrel, and closed my eyes. For some seconds

I dared not open them--while I expected instant destruction, and

wondered that I was not already in my death-struggles with the water.

But moment after moment elapsed. I still lived. The sense of falling had

ceased; and the motion of the vessel seemed much as it had been before,

while in the belt of foam, with the exception that she now lay more

along. I took courage, and looked once again upon the scene.

 

"Never shall I forget the sensations of awe, horror, and admiration with

which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by

magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in

circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides

might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity

with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance

they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift

amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of

golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost

recesses of the abyss.

 

"At first I was too much confused to observe anything accurately.

The general burst of terrific grandeur was all that I beheld. When I

recovered myself a little, however, my gaze fell instinctively downward.

In this direction I was able to obtain an unobstructed view, from the

manner in which the smack hung on the inclined surface of the pool. She

was quite upon an even keel--that is to say, her deck lay in a plane

parallel with that of the water--but this latter sloped at an angle of

more than forty-five degrees, so that we seemed to be lying upon our

beam-ends. I could not help observing, nevertheless, that I had scarcely

more difficulty in maintaining my hold and footing in this situation,

than if we had been upon a dead level; and this, I suppose, was owing to

the speed at which we revolved.

 

"The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound

gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a

thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which there

hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering bridge which

Mussulmen say is the only pathway between Time and Eternity. This mist,

or spray, was no doubt occasioned by the clashing of the great walls of

the funnel, as they all met together at the bottom--but the yell that

went up to the Heavens from out of that mist, I dare not attempt to

describe.

 

"Our first slide into the abyss itself, from the belt of foam above, had

carried us a great distance down the slope; but our farther descent

was by no means proportionate. Round and round we swept--not with

any uniform movement--but in dizzying swings and jerks, that sent

us sometimes only a few hundred yards--sometimes nearly the complete

circuit of the whirl. Our progress downward, at each revolution, was

slow, but very perceptible.

 

"Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were

thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the

embrace of the whirl. Both above and below us were visible fragments of

vessels, large masses of building timber and trunks of trees, with

many smaller articles, such as pieces of house furniture, broken boxes,

barrels and staves. I have already described the unnatural curiosity

which had taken the place of my original terrors. It appeared to grow

upon me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful doom. I now began to

watch, with a strange interest, the numerous things that floated in our

company. I _must_ have been delirious--for I even sought _amusement_

in speculating upon the relative velocities of their several descents

toward the foam below. 'This fir tree,' I found myself at one time

saying, 'will certainly be the next thing that takes the awful plunge

and disappears,'--and then I was disappointed to find that the wreck of

a Dutch merchant ship overtook it and went down before. At length, after

making several guesses of this nature, and being deceived in all--this

fact--the fact of my invariable miscalculation--set me upon a train of

reflection that made my limbs again tremble, and my heart beat heavily

once more.

 

"It was not a new terror that thus affected me, but the dawn of a more

exciting _hope_. This hope arose partly from memory, and partly from

present observation. I called to mind the great variety of buoyant

matter that strewed the coast of Lofoden, having been absorbed and

then thrown forth by the Moskoe-stroem. By far the greater number of the

articles were shattered in the most extraordinary way--so chafed

and roughened as to have the appearance of being stuck full of

splinters--but then I distinctly recollected that there were _some_ of

them which were not disfigured at all. Now I could not account for this

difference except by supposing that the roughened fragments were the

only ones which had been _completely absorbed_--that the others had

entered the whirl at so late a period of the tide, or, for some reason,

had descended so slowly after entering, that they did not reach the

bottom before the turn of the flood came, or of the ebb, as the case

might be. I conceived it possible, in either instance, that they might

thus be whirled up again to the level of the ocean, without undergoing

the fate of those which had been drawn in more early, or absorbed more

rapidly. I made, also, three important observations. The first was,

that, as a general rule, the larger the bodies were, the more rapid

their descent--the second, that, between two masses of equal extent, the

one spherical, and the other _of any other shape_, the superiority

in speed of descent was with the sphere--the third, that, between two

masses of equal size, the one cylindrical, and the other of any other

shape, the cylinder was absorbed the more slowly. Since my escape, I

have had several conversations on this subject with an old school-master

of the district; and it was from him that I learned the use of the words

'cylinder' and 'sphere.' He explained to me--although I have forgotten

the explanation--how what I observed was, in fact, the natural

consequence of the forms of the floating fragments--and showed me how it

happened that a cylinder, swimming in a vortex, offered more resistance

to its suction, and was drawn in with greater difficulty than an equally

bulky body, of any form whatever. (*1)

 

"There was one startling circumstance which went a great way in

enforcing these observations, and rendering me anxious to turn them to

account, and this was that, at every revolution, we passed something

like a barrel, or else the yard or the mast of a vessel, while many of

these things, which had been on our level when I first opened my eyes

upon the wonders of the whirlpool, were now high up above us, and seemed

to have moved but little from their original station.

 

"I no longer hesitated what to do. I resolved to lash myself securely to

the water cask upon which I now held, to cut it loose from the counter,

and to throw myself with it into the water. I attracted my brother's

attention by signs, pointed to the floating barrels that came near us,

and did everything in my power to make him understand what I was about

to do. I thought at length that he comprehended my design--but, whether

this was the case or not, he shook his head despairingly, and refused to

move from his station by the ring-bolt. It was impossible to reach him;

the emergency admitted of no delay; and so, with a bitter struggle, I

resigned him to his fate, fastened myself to the cask by means of the

lashings which secured it to the counter, and precipitated myself with

it into the sea, without another moment's hesitation.

 

"The result was precisely what I had hoped it might be. As it is myself

who now tell you this tale--as you see that I _did_ escape--and as you

are already in possession of the mode in which this escape was effected,

and must therefore anticipate all that I have farther to say--I will

bring my story quickly to conclusion. It might have been an hour, or

thereabout, after my quitting the smack, when, having descended to a

vast distance beneath me, it made three or four wild gyrations in rapid

succession, and, bearing my loved brother with it, plunged headlong, at

once and forever, into the chaos of foam below. The barrel to which I

was attached sunk very little farther than half the distance between the

bottom of the gulf and the spot at which I leaped overboard, before a

great change took place in the character of the whirlpool. The slope of

the sides of the vast funnel became momently less and less steep.

The gyrations of the whirl grew, gradually, less and less violent. By

degrees, the froth and the rainbow disappeared, and the bottom of the

gulf seemed slowly to uprise. The sky was clear, the winds had gone

down, and the full moon was setting radiantly in the west, when I

found myself on the surface of the ocean, in full view of the shores

of Lofoden, and above the spot where the pool of the Moskoe-stroem

_had been_. It was the hour of the slack--but the sea still heaved

in mountainous waves from the effects of the hurricane. I was borne

violently into the channel of the Stroem, and in a few minutes was

hurried down the coast into the 'grounds' of the fishermen. A boat

picked me up--exhausted from fatigue--and (now that the danger was

removed) speechless from the memory of its horror. Those who drew me on

board were my old mates and daily companions--but they knew me no more

than they would have known a traveller from the spirit-land. My hair

which had been raven-black the day before, was as white as you see

it now. They say too that the whole expression of my countenance had

changed. I told them my story--they did not believe it. I now tell it

to _you_--and I can scarcely expect you to put more faith in it than did

the merry fishermen of Lofoden."

 

 

 

 

VON KEMPELEN AND HIS DISCOVERY

 

AFTER THE very minute and elaborate paper by Arago, to say nothing of

the summary in 'Silliman's Journal,' with the detailed statement just

published by Lieutenant Maury, it will not be supposed, of course,

that in offering a few hurried remarks in reference to Von Kempelen's

discovery, I have any design to look at the subject in a scientific

point of view. My object is simply, in the first place, to say a few

words of Von Kempelen himself (with whom, some years ago, I had the

honor of a slight personal acquaintance), since every thing which

concerns him must necessarily, at this moment, be of interest; and, in

the second place, to look in a general way, and speculatively, at the

results of the discovery.

 

It may be as well, however, to premise the cursory observations which

I have to offer, by denying, very decidedly, what seems to be a

general impression (gleaned, as usual in a case of this kind, from the

newspapers), viz.: that this discovery, astounding as it unquestionably

is, is unanticipated.

 

By reference to the 'Diary of Sir Humphrey Davy' (Cottle and Munroe,

London, pp. 150), it will be seen at pp. 53 and 82, that this

illustrious chemist had not only conceived the idea now in question,

but had actually made no inconsiderable progress, experimentally, in the

very identical analysis now so triumphantly brought to an issue by Von

Kempelen, who although he makes not the slightest allusion to it, is,

without doubt (I say it unhesitatingly, and can prove it, if required),

indebted to the 'Diary' for at least the first hint of his own

undertaking.

 

The paragraph from the 'Courier and Enquirer,' which is now going the

rounds of the press, and which purports to claim the invention for a

Mr. Kissam, of Brunswick, Maine, appears to me, I confess, a little

apocryphal, for several reasons; although there is nothing either

impossible or very improbable in the statement made. I need not go into

details. My opinion of the paragraph is founded principally upon its

manner. It does not look true. Persons who are narrating facts, are

seldom so particular as Mr. Kissam seems to be, about day and date and

precise location. Besides, if Mr. Kissam actually did come upon the

discovery he says he did, at the period designated--nearly eight years

ago--how happens it that he took no steps, on the instant, to reap the

immense benefits which the merest bumpkin must have known would have

resulted to him individually, if not to the world at large, from the

discovery? It seems to me quite incredible that any man of common

understanding could have discovered what Mr. Kissam says he did, and yet

have subsequently acted so like a baby--so like an owl--as Mr. Kissam

admits that he did. By-the-way, who is Mr. Kissam? and is not the whole

paragraph in the 'Courier and Enquirer' a fabrication got up to 'make

a talk'? It must be confessed that it has an amazingly moon-hoaxy-air.

Very little dependence is to be placed upon it, in my humble opinion;

and if I were not well aware, from experience, how very easily men of

science are mystified, on points out of their usual range of inquiry,

I should be profoundly astonished at finding so eminent a chemist as

Professor Draper, discussing Mr. Kissam's (or is it Mr. Quizzem's?)

pretensions to the discovery, in so serious a tone.

 

But to return to the 'Diary' of Sir Humphrey Davy. This pamphlet was not

designed for the public eye, even upon the decease of the writer, as any

person at all conversant with authorship may satisfy himself at once by

the slightest inspection of the style. At page 13, for example, near the

middle, we read, in reference to his researches about the protoxide

of azote: 'In less than half a minute the respiration being continued,

diminished gradually and were succeeded by analogous to gentle pressure

on all the muscles.' That the respiration was not 'diminished,' is not

only clear by the subsequent context, but by the use of the plural,

'were.' The sentence, no doubt, was thus intended: 'In less than half

a minute, the respiration [being continued, these feelings] diminished

gradually, and were succeeded by [a sensation] analogous to gentle

pressure on all the muscles.' A hundred similar instances go to show

that the MS. so inconsiderately published, was merely a rough note-book,

meant only for the writer's own eye, but an inspection of the pamphlet

will convince almost any thinking person of the truth of my suggestion.

The fact is, Sir Humphrey Davy was about the last man in the world

to commit himself on scientific topics. Not only had he a more than

ordinary dislike to quackery, but he was morbidly afraid of appearing

empirical; so that, however fully he might have been convinced that he

was on the right track in the matter now in question, he would never

have spoken out, until he had every thing ready for the most practical

demonstration. I verily believe that his last moments would have been

rendered wretched, could he have suspected that his wishes in regard

to burning this 'Diary' (full of crude speculations) would have been

unattended to; as, it seems, they were. I say 'his wishes,' for that he

meant to include this note-book among the miscellaneous papers directed

'to be burnt,' I think there can be no manner of doubt. Whether it

escaped the flames by good fortune or by bad, yet remains to be seen.

That the passages quoted above, with the other similar ones referred to,

gave Von Kempelen the hint, I do not in the slightest degree question;

but I repeat, it yet remains to be seen whether this momentous discovery

itself (momentous under any circumstances) will be of service or

disservice to mankind at large. That Von Kempelen and his immediate

friends will reap a rich harvest, it would be folly to doubt for a

moment. They will scarcely be so weak as not to 'realize,' in time, by

large purchases of houses and land, with other property of intrinsic

value.

 

In the brief account of Von Kempelen which appeared in the

'Home Journal,' and has since been extensively copied, several

misapprehensions of the German original seem to have been made by the

translator, who professes to have taken the passage from a late number

of the Presburg 'Schnellpost.' 'Viele' has evidently been misconceived

(as it often is), and what the translator renders by 'sorrows,' is

probably 'lieden,' which, in its true version, 'sufferings,' would give

a totally different complexion to the whole account; but, of course,

much of this is merely guess, on my part.

 

Von Kempelen, however, is by no means 'a misanthrope,' in appearance, at

least, whatever he may be in fact. My acquaintance with him was casual

altogether; and I am scarcely warranted in saying that I know him

at all; but to have seen and conversed with a man of so prodigious a

notoriety as he has attained, or will attain in a few days, is not a

small matter, as times go.

 

'The Literary World' speaks of him, confidently, as a native of Presburg

(misled, perhaps, by the account in 'The Home Journal') but I am pleased

in being able to state positively, since I have it from his own lips,

that he was born in Utica, in the State of New York, although both his

parents, I believe, are of Presburg descent. The family is connected, in

some way, with Maelzel, of Automaton-chess-player memory. In person, he

is short and stout, with large, fat, blue eyes, sandy hair and whiskers,

a wide but pleasing mouth, fine teeth, and I think a Roman nose. There

is some defect in one of his feet. His address is frank, and his whole

manner noticeable for bonhomie. Altogether, he looks, speaks, and

acts as little like 'a misanthrope' as any man I ever saw. We were

fellow-sojouners for a week about six years ago, at Earl's Hotel, in

Providence, Rhode Island; and I presume that I conversed with him, at

various times, for some three or four hours altogether. His principal

topics were those of the day, and nothing that fell from him led me

to suspect his scientific attainments. He left the hotel before me,

intending to go to New York, and thence to Bremen; it was in the latter

city that his great discovery was first made public; or, rather, it was

there that he was first suspected of having made it. This is about all

that I personally know of the now immortal Von Kempelen; but I have

thought that even these few details would have interest for the public.

 

There can be little question that most of the marvellous rumors afloat

about this affair are pure inventions, entitled to about as much credit

as the story of Aladdin's lamp; and yet, in a case of this kind, as in

the case of the discoveries in California, it is clear that the truth

may be stranger than fiction. The following anecdote, at least, is so

well authenticated, that we may receive it implicitly.

 

Von Kempelen had never been even tolerably well off during his residence

at Bremen; and often, it was well known, he had been put to extreme

shifts in order to raise trifling sums. When the great excitement

occurred about the forgery on the house of Gutsmuth & Co., suspicion

was directed toward Von Kempelen, on account of his having purchased

a considerable property in Gasperitch Lane, and his refusing, when

questioned, to explain how he became possessed of the purchase money. He

was at length arrested, but nothing decisive appearing against him, was

in the end set at liberty. The police, however, kept a strict watch upon

his movements, and thus discovered that he left home frequently, taking

always the same road, and invariably giving his watchers the slip in the

neighborhood of that labyrinth of narrow and crooked passages known

by the flash name of the 'Dondergat.' Finally, by dint of great

perseverance, they traced him to a garret in an old house of seven

stories, in an alley called Flatzplatz,--and, coming upon him suddenly,

found him, as they imagined, in the midst of his counterfeiting

operations. His agitation is represented as so excessive that the

officers had not the slightest doubt of his guilt. After hand-cuffing

him, they searched his room, or rather rooms, for it appears he occupied

all the mansarde.

 

Opening into the garret where they caught him, was a closet, ten feet by

eight, fitted up with some chemical apparatus, of which the object has

not yet been ascertained. In one corner of the closet was a very small

furnace, with a glowing fire in it, and on the fire a kind of duplicate

crucible--two crucibles connected by a tube. One of these crucibles was

nearly full of lead in a state of fusion, but not reaching up to the

aperture of the tube, which was close to the brim. The other crucible

had some liquid in it, which, as the officers entered, seemed to be

furiously dissipating in vapor. They relate that, on finding himself

taken, Kempelen seized the crucibles with both hands (which were encased

in gloves that afterwards turned out to be asbestic), and threw the

contents on the tiled floor. It was now that they hand-cuffed him; and

before proceeding to ransack the premises they searched his person, but

nothing unusual was found about him, excepting a paper parcel, in his

coat-pocket, containing what was afterward ascertained to be a mixture

of antimony and some unknown substance, in nearly, but not quite, equal

proportions. All attempts at analyzing the unknown substance have,

so far, failed, but that it will ultimately be analyzed, is not to be

doubted.

 

Passing out of the closet with their prisoner, the officers went through

a sort of ante-chamber, in which nothing material was found, to the

chemist's sleeping-room. They here rummaged some drawers and boxes,

but discovered only a few papers, of no importance, and some good coin,

silver and gold. At length, looking under the bed, they saw a large,

common hair trunk, without hinges, hasp, or lock, and with the top lying

carelessly across the bottom portion. Upon attempting to draw this trunk

out from under the bed, they found that, with their united strength

(there were three of them, all powerful men), they 'could not stir it

one inch.' Much astonished at this, one of them crawled under the bed,

and looking into the trunk, said:

 

'No wonder we couldn't move it--why it's full to the brim of old bits of

brass!'

 

Putting his feet, now, against the wall so as to get a good purchase,

and pushing with all his force, while his companions pulled with an

theirs, the trunk, with much difficulty, was slid out from under the

bed, and its contents examined. The supposed brass with which it was

filled was all in small, smooth pieces, varying from the size of a pea

to that of a dollar; but the pieces were irregular in shape, although

more or less flat-looking, upon the whole, 'very much as lead looks when

thrown upon the ground in a molten state, and there suffered to grow

cool.' Now, not one of these officers for a moment suspected this metal

to be any thing but brass. The idea of its being gold never entered

their brains, of course; how could such a wild fancy have entered it?

And their astonishment may be well conceived, when the next day it

became known, all over Bremen, that the 'lot of brass' which they

had carted so contemptuously to the police office, without putting

themselves to the trouble of pocketing the smallest scrap, was not only

gold--real gold--but gold far finer than any employed in coinage-gold,

in fact, absolutely pure, virgin, without the slightest appreciable

alloy.

 

I need not go over the details of Von Kempelen's confession (as far as

it went) and release, for these are familiar to the public. That he has

actually realized, in spirit and in effect, if not to the letter, the

old chimaera of the philosopher's stone, no sane person is at liberty

to doubt. The opinions of Arago are, of course, entitled to the greatest

consideration; but he is by no means infallible; and what he says of

bismuth, in his report to the Academy, must be taken cum grano salis.

The simple truth is, that up to this period all analysis has failed; and

until Von Kempelen chooses to let us have the key to his own published

enigma, it is more than probable that the matter will remain, for years,

in statu quo. All that as yet can fairly be said to be known is, that

'Pure gold can be made at will, and very readily from lead in connection

with certain other substances, in kind and in proportions, unknown.'

 

Speculation, of course, is busy as to the immediate and ultimate results

of this discovery--a discovery which few thinking persons will hesitate

in referring to an increased interest in the matter of gold generally,

by the late developments in California; and this reflection brings us

inevitably to another--the exceeding inopportuneness of Von Kempelen's

analysis. If many were prevented from adventuring to California, by the

mere apprehension that gold would so materially diminish in value,

on account of its plentifulness in the mines there, as to render

the speculation of going so far in search of it a doubtful one--what

impression will be wrought now, upon the minds of those about to

emigrate, and especially upon the minds of those actually in the

mineral region, by the announcement of this astounding discovery of Von

Kempelen? a discovery which declares, in so many words, that beyond its

intrinsic worth for manufacturing purposes (whatever that worth may be),

gold now is, or at least soon will be (for it cannot be supposed that

Von Kempelen can long retain his secret), of no greater value than

lead, and of far inferior value to silver. It is, indeed, exceedingly

difficult to speculate prospectively upon the consequences of the

discovery, but one thing may be positively maintained--that the

announcement of the discovery six months ago would have had material

influence in regard to the settlement of California.

 

In Europe, as yet, the most noticeable results have been a rise of two

hundred per cent. in the price of lead, and nearly twenty-five per cent.

that of silver.

 

 

 

 

MESMERIC REVELATION

 

 WHATEVER doubt may still envelop the _rationale_ of mesmerism,

its startling _facts_ are now almost universally admitted. Of these

latter, those who doubt, are your mere doubters by profession--an

unprofitable and disreputable tribe. There can be no more absolute waste

of time than the attempt to _prove_, at the present day, that man, by

mere exercise of will, can so impress his fellow, as to cast him into an

abnormal condition, of which the phenomena resemble very closely those

of _death_, or at least resemble them more nearly than they do the

phenomena of any other normal condition within our cognizance; that,

while in this state, the person so impressed employs only with effort,

and then feebly, the external organs of sense, yet perceives, with

keenly refined perception, and through channels supposed unknown,

matters beyond the scope of the physical organs; that, moreover, his

intellectual faculties are wonderfully exalted and invigorated; that his

sympathies with the person so impressing him are profound; and, finally,

that his susceptibility to the impression increases with its frequency,

while, in the same proportion, the peculiar phenomena elicited are more

extended and more _pronounced_.

 

 I say that these--which are the laws of mesmerism in its

general features--it would be supererogation to demonstrate; nor shall I

inflict upon my readers so needless a demonstration; to-day. My purpose

at present is a very different one indeed. I am impelled, even in

the teeth of a world of prejudice, to detail without comment the very

remarkable substance of a colloquy, occurring between a sleep-waker and

myself.

 

 I had been long in the habit of mesmerizing the person in

question, (Mr. Vankirk,) and the usual acute susceptibility and

exaltation of the mesmeric perception had supervened. For many months he

had been laboring under confirmed phthisis, the more distressing effects

of which had been relieved by my manipulations; and on the night of

Wednesday, the fifteenth instant, I was summoned to his bedside.

 

 The invalid was suffering with acute pain in the region of the

heart, and breathed with great difficulty, having all the ordinary

symptoms of asthma. In spasms such as these he had usually found relief

from the application of mustard to the nervous centres, but to-night

this had been attempted in vain.

 

 As I entered his room he greeted me with a cheerful smile, and

although evidently in much bodily pain, appeared to be, mentally, quite

at ease.

 

 "I sent for you to-night," he said, "not so much to administer

to my bodily ailment, as to satisfy me concerning certain psychal

impressions which, of late, have occasioned me much anxiety and

surprise. I need not tell you how sceptical I have hitherto been on the

topic of the soul's immortality. I cannot deny that there has always

existed, as if in that very soul which I have been denying, a vague

half-sentiment of its own existence. But this half-sentiment at no

time amounted to conviction. With it my reason had nothing to do.

All attempts at logical inquiry resulted, indeed, in leaving me more

sceptical than before. I had been advised to study Cousin. I studied

him in his own works as well as in those of his European and American

echoes. The 'Charles Elwood' of Mr. Brownson, for example, was placed

in my hands. I read it with profound attention. Throughout I found it

logical, but the portions which were not _merely_ logical were unhappily

the initial arguments of the disbelieving hero of the book. In his

summing up it seemed evident to me that the reasoner had not even

succeeded in convincing himself. His end had plainly forgotten his

beginning, like the government of Trinculo. In short, I was not long in

perceiving that if man is to be intellectually convinced of his own

immortality, he will never be so convinced by the mere abstractions

which have been so long the fashion of the moralists of England, of

France, and of Germany. Abstractions may amuse and exercise, but take no

hold on the mind. Here upon earth, at least, philosophy, I am persuaded,

will always in vain call upon us to look upon qualities as things. The

will may assent--the soul--the intellect, never.

 

 "I repeat, then, that I only half felt, and never intellectually

believed. But latterly there has been a certain deepening of the

feeling, until it has come so nearly to resemble the acquiescence of

reason, that I find it difficult to distinguish between the two. I am

enabled, too, plainly to trace this effect to the mesmeric influence.

I cannot better explain my meaning than by the hypothesis that the

mesmeric exaltation enables me to perceive a train of ratiocination

which, in my abnormal existence, convinces, but which, in full

accordance with the mesmeric phenomena, does not extend, except through

its _effect_, into my normal condition. In sleep-waking, the reasoning

and its conclusion--the cause and its effect--are present together. In

my natural state, the cause vanishing, the effect only, and perhaps only

partially, remains.

 

 "These considerations have led me to think that some good

results might ensue from a series of well-directed questions

propounded to me while mesmerized. You have often observed the profound

self-cognizance evinced by the sleep-waker--the extensive knowledge he

displays upon all points relating to the mesmeric condition itself; and

from this self-cognizance may be deduced hints for the proper conduct of

a catechism."

 

 I consented of course to make this experiment.  A few passes

threw Mr. Vankirk into the mesmeric sleep. His breathing became

immediately more easy, and he seemed to suffer no physical uneasiness.

The following conversation then ensued:--V. in the dialogue representing

the patient, and P. myself.

 

_ P._ Are you asleep?

 

_ V._ Yes--no I would rather sleep more soundly.

 

_P._ [_After a few more passes._] Do you sleep now?

 

_V._ Yes.

 

_P._ How do you think your present illness will result?

 

_V._ [_After a long hesitation and speaking as if with effort_.] I must

die.

 

_P._ Does the idea of death afflict you?

 

_V._ [_Very quickly_.] No--no!

 

_P._ Are you pleased with the prospect?

 

_V._ If I were awake I should like to die, but now it is no matter. The

mesmeric condition is so near death as to content me.

 

_P._ I wish you would explain yourself, Mr. Vankirk.

 

_V._ I am willing to do so, but it requires more effort than I feel able

to make. You do not question me properly.

 

_P._ What then shall I ask?

 

_V._ You must begin at the beginning.

 

_P._ The beginning! but where is the beginning?

 

_V._ You know that the beginning is GOD. [_This was said in a low,

fluctuating tone, and with every sign of the most profound veneration_.]

 

_P._ What then is God?

 

_V._ [_Hesitating for many minutes._] I cannot tell.

 

_P._ Is not God spirit?

 

_V._ While I was awake I knew what you meant by "spirit," but now it

seems only a word--such for instance as truth, beauty--a quality, I

mean.

 

_P._ Is not God immaterial?

 

_V._ There is no immateriality--it is a mere word. That which is not

matter, is not at all--unless qualities are things.

 

_P._ Is God, then, material?

 

_V._ No. [_This reply startled me very much._]

 

_P._ What then is he?

 

_V._ [_After a long pause, and mutteringly._] I see--but it is a thing

difficult to tell. [_Another long pause._] He is not spirit, for

he exists. Nor is he matter, as _you understand it_. But there are

_gradations_ of matter of which man knows nothing; the grosser impelling

the finer, the finer pervading the grosser. The atmosphere, for example,

impels the electric principle, while the electric principle permeates

the atmosphere. These gradations of matter increase in rarity

or fineness, until we arrive at a matter _unparticled_--without

particles--indivisible--_one_ and here the law of impulsion and

permeation is modified. The ultimate, or unparticled matter, not only

permeates all things but impels all things--and thus _is_ all things

within itself. This matter is God. What men attempt to embody in the

word "thought," is this matter in motion.

 

_P._ The metaphysicians maintain that all action is reducible to motion

and thinking, and that the latter is the origin of the former.

 

_V._ Yes; and I now see the confusion of idea. Motion is the action

of _mind_--not of _thinking_. The unparticled matter, or God, in

quiescence, is (as nearly as we can conceive it) what men call mind. And

the power of self-movement (equivalent in effect to human volition) is,

in the unparticled matter, the result of its unity and omniprevalence;

_how_ I know not, and now clearly see that I shall never know. But the

unparticled matter, set in motion by a law, or quality, existing within

itself, is thinking.

 

_P._ Can you give me no more precise idea of what you term the

unparticled matter?

 

_V._ The matters of which man is cognizant, escape the senses in

gradation. We have, for example, a metal, a piece of wood, a drop of

water, the atmosphere, a gas, caloric, electricity, the luminiferous

ether. Now we call all these things matter, and embrace all matter in

one general definition; but in spite of this, there can be no two ideas

more essentially distinct than that which we attach to a metal, and that

which we attach to the luminiferous ether. When we reach the latter, we

feel an almost irresistible inclination to class it with spirit, or with

nihility. The only consideration which restrains us is our conception

of its atomic constitution; and here, even, we have to seek aid from

our notion of an atom, as something possessing in infinite minuteness,

solidity, palpability, weight. Destroy the idea of the atomic

constitution and we should no longer be able to regard the ether as an

entity, or at least as matter. For want of a better word we might term

it spirit. Take, now, a step beyond the luminiferous ether--conceive a

matter as much more rare than the ether, as this ether is more rare than

the metal, and we arrive at once (in spite of all the school dogmas) at

a unique mass--an unparticled matter. For although we may admit infinite

littleness in the atoms themselves, the infinitude of littleness in the

spaces between them is an absurdity. There will be a point--there will

be a degree of rarity, at which, if the atoms are sufficiently numerous,

the interspaces must vanish, and the mass absolutely coalesce. But

the consideration of the atomic constitution being now taken away, the

nature of the mass inevitably glides into what we conceive of spirit. It

is clear, however, that it is as fully matter as before. The truth is,

it is impossible to conceive spirit, since it is impossible to

imagine what is not. When we flatter ourselves that we have formed

its conception, we have merely deceived our understanding by the

consideration of infinitely rarified matter.

 

_P._ There seems to me an insurmountable objection to the idea

of absolute coalescence;--and that is the very slight resistance

experienced by the heavenly bodies in their revolutions through space--a

resistance now ascertained, it is true, to exist in _some_ degree, but

which is, nevertheless, so slight as to have been quite overlooked by

the sagacity even of Newton. We know that the resistance of bodies

is, chiefly, in proportion to their density. Absolute coalescence

is absolute density. Where there are no interspaces, there can be no

yielding. An ether, absolutely dense, would put an infinitely more

effectual stop to the progress of a star than would an ether of adamant

or of iron.

 

_V._ Your objection is answered with an ease which is nearly in the

ratio of its apparent unanswerability.--As regards the progress of the

star, it can make no difference whether the star passes through the

ether _or the ether through it_. There is no astronomical error more

unaccountable than that which reconciles the known retardation of the

comets with the idea of their passage through an ether: for, however

rare this ether be supposed, it would put a stop to all sidereal

revolution in a very far briefer period than has been admitted by those

astronomers who have endeavored to slur over a point which they found

it impossible to comprehend. The retardation actually experienced is, on

the other hand, about that which might be expected from the _friction_

of the ether in the instantaneous passage through the orb. In the one

case, the retarding force is momentary and complete within itself--in

the other it is endlessly accumulative.

 

_P._ But in all this--in this identification of mere matter with God--is

there nothing of irreverence? [_I was forced to repeat this question

before the sleep-waker fully comprehended my meaning_.]

 

_V._ Can you say _why_ matter should be less reverenced than mind? But

you forget that the matter of which I speak is, in all respects, the

very "mind" or "spirit" of the schools, so far as regards its high

capacities, and is, moreover, the "matter" of these schools at the

same time. God, with all the powers attributed to spirit, is but the

perfection of matter.

 

_P._ You assert, then, that the unparticled matter, in motion, is

thought?

 

_V._ In general, this motion is the universal thought of the universal

mind. This thought creates. All created things are but the thoughts of

God.

 

_P._ You say, "in general."

 

_V._ Yes. The universal mind is God. For new individualities, _matter_

is necessary.

 

_P._ But you now speak of "mind" and "matter" as do the metaphysicians.

 

_V._ Yes--to avoid confusion. When I say "mind," I mean the unparticled

or ultimate matter; by "matter," I intend all else.

 

_P._ You were saying that "for new individualities matter is necessary."

 

_V._ Yes; for mind, existing unincorporate, is merely God. To create

individual, thinking beings, it was necessary to incarnate portions

of the divine mind. Thus man is individualized. Divested of corporate

investiture, he were God. Now, the particular motion of the incarnated

portions of the unparticled matter is the thought of man; as the motion

of the whole is that of God.

 

_P._ You say that divested of the body man will be God?

 

_V._ [_After much hesitation._] I could not have said this; it is an

absurdity.

 

_P._ [_Referring to my notes._] You _did_ say that "divested of

corporate investiture man were God."

 

_V._ And this is true. Man thus divested _would be_ God--would be

unindividualized. But he can never be thus divested--at least never

_will be_--else we must imagine an action of God returning upon

itself--a purposeless and futile action. Man is a creature. Creatures

are thoughts of God. It is the nature of thought to be irrevocable.

 

_P._ I do not comprehend. You say that man will never put off the body?

 

_V._ I say that he will never be bodiless.

 

_P._ Explain.

 

_V._ There are two bodies--the rudimental and the complete;

corresponding with the two conditions of the worm and the butterfly.

What we call "death," is but the painful metamorphosis. Our present

incarnation is progressive, preparatory, temporary. Our future is

perfected, ultimate, immortal. The ultimate life is the full design.

 

_P._ But of the worm's metamorphosis we are palpably cognizant.

 

_V._ _We_, certainly--but not the worm. The matter of which our

rudimental body is composed, is within the ken of the organs of that

body; or, more distinctly, our rudimental organs are adapted to the

matter of which is formed the rudimental body; but not to that of which

the ultimate is composed. The ultimate body thus escapes our rudimental

senses, and we perceive only the shell which falls, in decaying, from

the inner form; not that inner form itself; but this inner form, as

well as the shell, is appreciable by those who have already acquired the

ultimate life.

 

_P._ You have often said that the mesmeric state very nearly resembles

death. How is this?

 

_V._ When I say that it resembles death, I mean that it resembles the

ultimate life; for when I am entranced the senses of my rudimental

life are in abeyance, and I perceive external things directly,

without organs, through a medium which I shall employ in the ultimate,

unorganized life.

 

_P._ Unorganized?

 

_V._ Yes; organs are contrivances by which the individual is brought

into sensible relation with particular classes and forms of matter, to

the exclusion of other classes and forms. The organs of man are adapted

to his rudimental condition, and to that only; his ultimate condition,

being unorganized, is of unlimited comprehension in all points but

one--the nature of the volition of God--that is to say, the motion of

the unparticled matter. You will have a distinct idea of the ultimate

body by conceiving it to be entire brain. This it is _not_; but a

conception of this nature will bring you near a comprehension of what it

_is_. A luminous body imparts vibration to the luminiferous ether.

The vibrations generate similar ones within the retina; these again

communicate similar ones to the optic nerve. The nerve conveys similar

ones to the brain; the brain, also, similar ones to the unparticled

matter which permeates it. The motion of this latter is thought, of

which perception is the first undulation. This is the mode by which the

mind of the rudimental life communicates with the external world; and

this external world is, to the rudimental life, limited, through the

idiosyncrasy of its organs. But in the ultimate, unorganized life, the

external world reaches the whole body, (which is of a substance having

affinity to brain, as I have said,) with no other intervention than that

of an infinitely rarer ether than even the luminiferous; and to this

ether--in unison with it--the whole body vibrates, setting in motion

the unparticled matter which permeates it. It is to the absence of

idiosyncratic organs, therefore, that we must attribute the nearly

unlimited perception of the ultimate life. To rudimental beings, organs

are the cages necessary to confine them until fledged.

 

_P._ You speak of rudimental "beings." Are there other rudimental

thinking beings than man?

 

_V._ The multitudinous conglomeration of rare matter into nebulae,

planets, suns, and other bodies which are neither nebulae, suns,

nor planets, is for the sole purpose of supplying _pabulum_ for the

idiosyncrasy of the organs of an infinity of rudimental beings. But for

the necessity of the rudimental, prior to the ultimate life, there

would have been no bodies such as these. Each of these is tenanted by a

distinct variety of organic, rudimental, thinking creatures. In all,

the organs vary with the features of the place tenanted. At death,

or metamorphosis, these creatures, enjoying the ultimate

life--immortality--and cognizant of all secrets but _the one_, act all

things and pass everywhere by mere volition:--indwelling, not the stars,

which to us seem the sole palpabilities, and for the accommodation

of which we blindly deem space created--but that SPACE itself--that

infinity of which the truly substantive vastness swallows up the

star-shadows--blotting them out as non-entities from the perception of

the angels.

 

_P._ You say that "but for the _necessity_ of the rudimental life" there

would have been no stars. But why this necessity?

 

_V._ In the inorganic life, as well as in the inorganic matter

generally, there is nothing to impede the action of one simple _unique_

law--the Divine Volition. With the view of producing impediment, the

organic life and matter, (complex, substantial, and law-encumbered,)

were contrived.

 

_P._ But again--why need this impediment have been produced?

 

_V._ The result of law inviolate is perfection--right--negative

happiness. The result of law violate is imperfection, wrong, positive

pain. Through the impediments afforded by the number, complexity, and

substantiality of the laws of organic life and matter, the violation of

law is rendered, to a certain extent, practicable. Thus pain, which in

the inorganic life is impossible, is possible in the organic.

 

_P._ But to what good end is pain thus rendered possible?

 

_V._ All things are either good or bad by comparison. A sufficient

analysis will show that pleasure, in all cases, is but the contrast of

pain. _Positive_ pleasure is a mere idea. To be happy at any one point

we must have suffered at the same. Never to suffer would have been never

to have been blessed. But it has been shown that, in the inorganic

life, pain cannot be thus the necessity for the organic. The pain of the

primitive life of Earth, is the sole basis of the bliss of the ultimate

life in Heaven.

 

_P._ Still, there is one of your expressions which I find it impossible

to comprehend--"the truly _substantive_ vastness of infinity."

 

_V._ This, probably, is because you have no sufficiently generic

conception of the term "_substance_" itself. We must not regard it as a

quality, but as a sentiment:--it is the perception, in thinking beings,

of the adaptation of matter to their organization. There are many things

on the Earth, which would be nihility to the inhabitants of Venus--many

things visible and tangible in Venus, which we could not be brought

to appreciate as existing at all. But to the inorganic beings--to the

angels--the whole of the unparticled matter is substance--that is

to say, the whole of what we term "space" is to them the truest

substantiality;--the stars, meantime, through what we consider their

materiality, escaping the angelic sense, just in proportion as the

unparticled matter, through what we consider its immateriality, eludes

the organic.

 

  As the sleep-waker pronounced these latter words, in a feeble tone,

I observed on his countenance a singular expression, which somewhat

alarmed me, and induced me to awake him at once. No sooner had I done

this, than, with a bright smile irradiating all his features, he fell

back upon his pillow and expired. I noticed that in less than a minute

afterward his corpse had all the stern rigidity of stone. His brow was

of the coldness of ice. Thus, ordinarily, should it have appeared, only

after long pressure from Azrael's hand. Had the sleep-waker, indeed,

during the latter portion of his discourse, been addressing me from out

the region of the shadows?

 

 

 

 

THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR

 

OF course I shall not pretend to consider it any matter for wonder, that

the extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited discussion. It would

have been a miracle had it not-especially under the circumstances.

Through the desire of all parties concerned, to keep the affair from the

public, at least for the present, or until we had farther opportunities

for investigation--through our endeavors to effect this--a garbled or

exaggerated account made its way into society, and became the source of

many unpleasant misrepresentations, and, very naturally, of a great deal

of disbelief.

 

It is now rendered necessary that I give the facts--as far as I

comprehend them myself. They are, succinctly, these:

 

My attention, for the last three years, had been repeatedly drawn to

the subject of Mesmerism; and, about nine months ago it occurred to me,

quite suddenly, that in the series of experiments made hitherto, there

had been a very remarkable and most unaccountable omission:--no person

had as yet been mesmerized in articulo mortis. It remained to be seen,

first, whether, in such condition, there existed in the patient any

susceptibility to the magnetic influence; secondly, whether, if any

existed, it was impaired or increased by the condition; thirdly, to what

extent, or for how long a period, the encroachments of Death might be

arrested by the process. There were other points to be ascertained,

but these most excited my curiosity--the last in especial, from the

immensely important character of its consequences.

 

In looking around me for some subject by whose means I might test these

particulars, I was brought to think of my friend, M. Ernest Valdemar,

the well-known compiler of the "Bibliotheca Forensica," and author

(under the nom de plume of Issachar Marx) of the Polish versions of

"Wallenstein" and "Gargantua." M. Valdemar, who has resided principally

at Harlaem, N.Y., since the year 1839, is (or was) particularly

noticeable for the extreme spareness of his person--his lower limbs much

resembling those of John Randolph; and, also, for the whiteness of his

whiskers, in violent contrast to the blackness of his hair--the latter,

in consequence, being very generally mistaken for a wig. His temperament

was markedly nervous, and rendered him a good subject for mesmeric

experiment. On two or three occasions I had put him to sleep with little

difficulty, but was disappointed in other results which his peculiar

constitution had naturally led me to anticipate. His will was at no

period positively, or thoroughly, under my control, and in regard to

clairvoyance, I could accomplish with him nothing to be relied upon. I

always attributed my failure at these points to the disordered state of

his health. For some months previous to my becoming acquainted with

him, his physicians had declared him in a confirmed phthisis. It was his

custom, indeed, to speak calmly of his approaching dissolution, as of a

matter neither to be avoided nor regretted.

 

When the ideas to which I have alluded first occurred to me, it was

of course very natural that I should think of M. Valdemar. I knew the

steady philosophy of the man too well to apprehend any scruples

from him; and he had no relatives in America who would be likely to

interfere. I spoke to him frankly upon the subject; and, to my surprise,

his interest seemed vividly excited. I say to my surprise, for, although

he had always yielded his person freely to my experiments, he had never

before given me any tokens of sympathy with what I did. His disease was

if that character which would admit of exact calculation in respect

to the epoch of its termination in death; and it was finally arranged

between us that he would send for me about twenty-four hours before the

period announced by his physicians as that of his decease.

 

It is now rather more than seven months since I received, from M.

Valdemar himself, the subjoined note:

 

My DEAR P---,

 

You may as well come now. D--and F--are agreed that I cannot hold out

beyond to-morrow midnight; and I think they have hit the time very

nearly.

 

VALDEMAR

 

I received this note within half an hour after it was written, and in

fifteen minutes more I was in the dying man's chamber. I had not seen

him for ten days, and was appalled by the fearful alteration which the

brief interval had wrought in him. His face wore a leaden hue; the eyes

were utterly lustreless; and the emaciation was so extreme that the

skin had been broken through by the cheek-bones. His expectoration was

excessive. The pulse was barely perceptible. He retained, nevertheless,

in a very remarkable manner, both his mental power and a certain degree

of physical strength. He spoke with distinctness--took some palliative

medicines without aid--and, when I entered the room, was occupied in

penciling memoranda in a pocket-book. He was propped up in the bed by

pillows. Doctors D---- and F---- were in attendance.

 

After pressing Valdemar's hand, I took these gentlemen aside, and

obtained from them a minute account of the patient's condition. The left

lung had been for eighteen months in a semi-osseous or cartilaginous

state, and was, of course, entirely useless for all purposes of

vitality. The right, in its upper portion, was also partially, if

not thoroughly, ossified, while the lower region was merely a mass

of purulent tubercles, running one into another. Several extensive

perforations existed; and, at one point, permanent adhesion to the

ribs had taken place. These appearances in the right lobe were of

comparatively recent date. The ossification had proceeded with very

unusual rapidity; no sign of it had discovered a month before, and

the adhesion had only been observed during the three previous days.

Independently of the phthisis, the patient was suspected of aneurism

of the aorta; but on this point the osseous symptoms rendered an exact

diagnosis impossible. It was the opinion of both physicians that M.

Valdemar would die about midnight on the morrow (Sunday). It was then

seven o'clock on Saturday evening.

 

On quitting the invalid's bed-side to hold conversation with myself,

Doctors D--and F--had bidden him a final farewell. It had not been their

intention to return; but, at my request, they agreed to look in upon the

patient about ten the next night.

 

When they had gone, I spoke freely with M. Valdemar on the subject

of his approaching dissolution, as well as, more particularly, of the

experiment proposed. He still professed himself quite willing and even

anxious to have it made, and urged me to commence it at once. A male and

a female nurse were in attendance; but I did not feel myself altogether

at liberty to engage in a task of this character with no more reliable

witnesses than these people, in case of sudden accident, might prove.

I therefore postponed operations until about eight the next night, when

the arrival of a medical student with whom I had some acquaintance, (Mr.

Theodore L--l,) relieved me from farther embarrassment. It had been my

design, originally, to wait for the physicians; but I was induced to

proceed, first, by the urgent entreaties of M. Valdemar, and secondly,

by my conviction that I had not a moment to lose, as he was evidently

sinking fast.

 

Mr. L--l was so kind as to accede to my desire that he would take notes

of all that occurred, and it is from his memoranda that what I now have

to relate is, for the most part, either condensed or copied verbatim.

 

It wanted about five minutes of eight when, taking the patient's hand, I

begged him to state, as distinctly as he could, to Mr. L--l, whether he

(M. Valdemar) was entirely willing that I should make the experiment of

mesmerizing him in his then condition.

 

He replied feebly, yet quite audibly, "Yes, I wish to be. I fear you

have mesmerized"--adding immediately afterwards, "deferred it too long."

 

While he spoke thus, I commenced the passes which I had already found

most effectual in subduing him. He was evidently influenced with the

first lateral stroke of my hand across his forehead; but although I

exerted all my powers, no farther perceptible effect was induced

until some minutes after ten o'clock, when Doctors D-- and F-- called,

according to appointment. I explained to them, in a few words, what I

designed, and as they opposed no objection, saying that the patient was

already in the death agony, I proceeded without hesitation--exchanging,

however, the lateral passes for downward ones, and directing my gaze

entirely into the right eye of the sufferer.

 

By this time his pulse was imperceptible and his breathing was

stertorous, and at intervals of half a minute.

 

This condition was nearly unaltered for a quarter of an hour. At the

expiration of this period, however, a natural although a very deep

sigh escaped the bosom of the dying man, and the stertorous breathing

ceased--that is to say, its stertorousness was no longer apparent; the

intervals were undiminished. The patient's extremities were of an icy

coldness.

 

At five minutes before eleven I perceived unequivocal signs of the

mesmeric influence. The glassy roll of the eye was changed for that

expression of uneasy inward examination which is never seen except in

cases of sleep-waking, and which it is quite impossible to mistake.

With a few rapid lateral passes I made the lids quiver, as in incipient

sleep, and with a few more I closed them altogether. I was not

satisfied, however, with this, but continued the manipulations

vigorously, and with the fullest exertion of the will, until I had

completely stiffened the limbs of the slumberer, after placing them in

a seemingly easy position. The legs were at full length; the arms were

nearly so, and reposed on the bed at a moderate distance from the loin.

The head was very slightly elevated.

 

When I had accomplished this, it was fully midnight, and I requested

the gentlemen present to examine M. Valdemar's condition. After a few

experiments, they admitted him to be an unusually perfect state of

mesmeric trance. The curiosity of both the physicians was greatly

excited. Dr. D---- resolved at once to remain with the patient all

night, while Dr. F---- took leave with a promise to return at daybreak.

Mr. L--l and the nurses remained.

 

We left M. Valdemar entirely undisturbed until about three o'clock in

the morning, when I approached him and found him in precisely the same

condition as when Dr. F--went away--that is to say, he lay in the

same position; the pulse was imperceptible; the breathing was gentle

(scarcely noticeable, unless through the application of a mirror to the

lips); the eyes were closed naturally; and the limbs were as rigid and

as cold as marble. Still, the general appearance was certainly not that

of death.

 

As I approached M. Valdemar I made a kind of half effort to influence

his right arm into pursuit of my own, as I passed the latter gently

to and fro above his person. In such experiments with this patient had

never perfectly succeeded before, and assuredly I had little thought of

succeeding now; but to my astonishment, his arm very readily, although

feebly, followed every direction I assigned it with mine. I determined

to hazard a few words of conversation.

 

"M. Valdemar," I said, "are you asleep?" He made no answer, but I

perceived a tremor about the lips, and was thus induced to repeat the

question, again and again. At its third repetition, his whole frame was

agitated by a very slight shivering; the eyelids unclosed themselves so

far as to display a white line of the ball; the lips moved sluggishly,

and from between them, in a barely audible whisper, issued the words:

 

"Yes;--asleep now. Do not wake me!--let me die so!"

 

I here felt the limbs and found them as rigid as ever. The right arm,

as before, obeyed the direction of my hand. I questioned the sleep-waker

again:

 

"Do you still feel pain in the breast, M. Valdemar?"

 

The answer now was immediate, but even less audible than before: "No

pain--I am dying."

 

I did not think it advisable to disturb him farther just then, and

nothing more was said or done until the arrival of Dr. F--, who came a

little before sunrise, and expressed unbounded astonishment at finding

the patient still alive. After feeling the pulse and applying a mirror

to the lips, he requested me to speak to the sleep-waker again. I did

so, saying:

 

"M. Valdemar, do you still sleep?"

 

As before, some minutes elapsed ere a reply was made; and during the

interval the dying man seemed to be collecting his energies to speak.

At my fourth repetition of the question, he said very faintly, almost

inaudibly:

 

"Yes; still asleep--dying."

 

It was now the opinion, or rather the wish, of the physicians, that

M. Valdemar should be suffered to remain undisturbed in his present

apparently tranquil condition, until death should supervene--and this,

it was generally agreed, must now take place within a few minutes. I

concluded, however, to speak to him once more, and merely repeated my

previous question.

 

While I spoke, there came a marked change over the countenance of

the sleep-waker. The eyes rolled themselves slowly open, the pupils

disappearing upwardly; the skin generally assumed a cadaverous hue,

resembling not so much parchment as white paper; and the circular hectic

spots which, hitherto, had been strongly defined in the centre of each

cheek, went out at once. I use this expression, because the

suddenness of their departure put me in mind of nothing so much as the

extinguishment of a candle by a puff of the breath. The upper lip,

at the same time, writhed itself away from the teeth, which it had

previously covered completely; while the lower jaw fell with an audible

jerk, leaving the mouth widely extended, and disclosing in full view the

swollen and blackened tongue. I presume that no member of the party

then present had been unaccustomed to death-bed horrors; but so hideous

beyond conception was the appearance of M. Valdemar at this moment, that

there was a general shrinking back from the region of the bed.

 

I now feel that I have reached a point of this narrative at which every

reader will be startled into positive disbelief. It is my business,

however, simply to proceed.

 

There was no longer the faintest sign of vitality in M. Valdemar; and

concluding him to be dead, we were consigning him to the charge of the

nurses, when a strong vibratory motion was observable in the tongue.

This continued for perhaps a minute. At the expiration of this period,

there issued from the distended and motionless jaws a voice--such as it

would be madness in me to attempt describing. There are, indeed, two or

three epithets which might be considered as applicable to it in part; I

might say, for example, that the sound was harsh, and broken and hollow;

but the hideous whole is indescribable, for the simple reason that no

similar sounds have ever jarred upon the ear of humanity. There were two

particulars, nevertheless, which I thought then, and still think, might

fairly be stated as characteristic of the intonation--as well adapted to

convey some idea of its unearthly peculiarity. In the first place, the

voice seemed to reach our ears--at least mine--from a vast distance,

or from some deep cavern within the earth. In the second place, it

impressed me (I fear, indeed, that it will be impossible to make myself

comprehended) as gelatinous or glutinous matters impress the sense of

touch.

 

I have spoken both of "sound" and of "voice." I mean to say that

the sound was one of distinct--of even wonderfully, thrillingly

distinct--syllabification. M. Valdemar spoke--obviously in reply to the

question I had propounded to him a few minutes before. I had asked him,

it will be remembered, if he still slept. He now said:

 

"Yes;--no;--I have been sleeping--and now--now--I am dead."

 

No person present even affected to deny, or attempted to repress, the

unutterable, shuddering horror which these few words, thus uttered, were

so well calculated to convey. Mr. L--l (the student) swooned. The nurses

immediately left the chamber, and could not be induced to return. My own

impressions I would not pretend to render intelligible to the reader.

For nearly an hour, we busied ourselves, silently--without the utterance

of a word--in endeavors to revive Mr. L--l. When he came to himself,

we addressed ourselves again to an investigation of M. Valdemar's

condition.

 

It remained in all respects as I have last described it, with the

exception that the mirror no longer afforded evidence of respiration. An

attempt to draw blood from the arm failed. I should mention, too, that

this limb was no farther subject to my will. I endeavored in vain to

make it follow the direction of my hand. The only real indication,

indeed, of the mesmeric influence, was now found in the vibratory

movement of the tongue, whenever I addressed M. Valdemar a question.

He seemed to be making an effort to reply, but had no longer sufficient

volition. To queries put to him by any other person than myself he

seemed utterly insensible--although I endeavored to place each member

of the company in mesmeric rapport with him. I believe that I have now

related all that is necessary to an understanding of the sleep-waker's

state at this epoch. Other nurses were procured; and at ten o'clock I

left the house in company with the two physicians and Mr. L--l.

 

In the afternoon we all called again to see the patient. His condition

remained precisely the same. We had now some discussion as to the

propriety and feasibility of awakening him; but we had little difficulty

in agreeing that no good purpose would be served by so doing. It was

evident that, so far, death (or what is usually termed death) had been

arrested by the mesmeric process. It seemed clear to us all that to

awaken M. Valdemar would be merely to insure his instant, or at least

his speedy dissolution.

 

From this period until the close of last week--an interval of nearly

seven months--we continued to make daily calls at M. Valdemar's house,

accompanied, now and then, by medical and other friends. All this time

the sleeper-waker remained exactly as I have last described him. The

nurses' attentions were continual.

 

It was on Friday last that we finally resolved to make the experiment

of awakening or attempting to awaken him; and it is the (perhaps)

unfortunate result of this latter experiment which has given rise to

so much discussion in private circles--to so much of what I cannot help

thinking unwarranted popular feeling.

 

For the purpose of relieving M. Valdemar from the mesmeric trance, I

made use of the customary passes. These, for a time, were unsuccessful.

The first indication of revival was afforded by a partial descent of the

iris. It was observed, as especially remarkable, that this lowering

of the pupil was accompanied by the profuse out-flowing of a yellowish

ichor (from beneath the lids) of a pungent and highly offensive odor.

 

It was now suggested that I should attempt to influence the patient's

arm, as heretofore. I made the attempt and failed. Dr. F--then intimated

a desire to have me put a question. I did so, as follows:

 

"M. Valdemar, can you explain to us what are your feelings or wishes

now?"

 

There was an instant return of the hectic circles on the cheeks; the

tongue quivered, or rather rolled violently in the mouth (although the

jaws and lips remained rigid as before;) and at length the same hideous

voice which I have already described, broke forth:

 

"For God's sake!--quick!--quick!--put me to sleep--or, quick!--waken

me!--quick!--I say to you that I am dead!"

 

I was thoroughly unnerved, and for an instant remained undecided what to

do. At first I made an endeavor to re-compose the patient; but, failing

in this through total abeyance of the will, I retraced my steps and as

earnestly struggled to awaken him. In this attempt I soon saw that I

should be successful--or at least I soon fancied that my success would

be complete--and I am sure that all in the room were prepared to see the

patient awaken.

 

For what really occurred, however, it is quite impossible that any human

being could have been prepared.

 

As I rapidly made the mesmeric passes, amid ejaculations of "dead!

dead!" absolutely bursting from the tongue and not from the lips of the

sufferer, his whole frame at once--within the space of a single minute,

or even less, shrunk--crumbled--absolutely rotted away beneath my hands.

Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass

of loathsome--of detestable putridity.

 

 

 

 

THE BLACK CAT.

 

FOR the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I

neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it,

in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I

not--and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day

I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before

the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of

mere household events. In their consequences, these events have

terrified--have tortured--have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to

expound them. To me, they have presented little but Horror--to many

they will seem less terrible than _barroques_. Hereafter, perhaps,

some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the

common-place--some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less

excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I

detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very

natural causes and effects.

 

From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my

disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make

me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was

indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent

most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing

them. This peculiarity of character grew with my growth, and in my

manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. To

those who have cherished an affection for a faithful and sagacious

dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining the nature or the

intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is something in the

unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly

to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry

friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere _Man_.

 

I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not

uncongenial with my own. Observing my partiality for domestic pets, she

lost no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable kind. We

had birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and _a cat_.

 

This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black,

and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence,

my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition,

made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all

black cats as witches in disguise. Not that she was ever _serious_ upon

this point--and I mention the matter at all for no better reason than

that it happens, just now, to be remembered.

 

Pluto--this was the cat's name--was my favorite pet and playmate. I

alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It

was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me

through the streets.

 

Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which

my general temperament and character--through the instrumentality of the

Fiend Intemperance--had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical

alteration for the worse. I grew, day by day, more moody, more

irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself

to use intemperate language to my wife. At length, I even offered her

personal violence. My pets, of course, were made to feel the change

in my disposition. I not only neglected, but ill-used them. For

Pluto, however, I still retained sufficient regard to restrain me from

maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the rabbits, the

monkey, or even the dog, when by accident, or through affection, they

came in my way. But my disease grew upon me--for what disease is like

Alcohol!--and at length even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and

consequently somewhat peevish--even Pluto began to experience the

effects of my ill temper.

 

One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about

town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in

his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with

his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself

no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my

body and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every

fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened

it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of

its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the

damnable atrocity.

 

When reason returned with the morning--when I had slept off the fumes of

the night's debauch--I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of

remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it was, at best,

a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched. I again

plunged into excess, and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed.

 

In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost eye

presented, it is true, a frightful appearance, but he no longer appeared

to suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but, as might be

expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach. I had so much of my

old heart left, as to be at first grieved by this evident dislike on

the part of a creature which had once so loved me. But this feeling

soon gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and

irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit

philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives,

than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the

human heart--one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments,

which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred

times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other

reason than because he knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual

inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which

is _Law_, merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit

of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this

unfathomable longing of the soul _to vex itself_--to offer violence to

its own nature--to do wrong for the wrong's sake only--that urged me to

continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the

unoffending brute. One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about

its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree;--hung it with the

tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my

heart;--hung it _because_ I knew that it had loved me, and _because_

I felt it had given me no reason of offence;--hung it _because_ I knew

that in so doing I was committing a sin--a deadly sin that would

so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it--if such a thing wore

possible--even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most

Merciful and Most Terrible God.

 

On the night of the day on which this cruel deed was done, I was aroused

from sleep by the cry of fire. The curtains of my bed were in flames.

The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my wife,

a servant, and myself, made our escape from the conflagration. The

destruction was complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and

I resigned myself thenceforward to despair.

 

I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause

and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity. But I am detailing a

chain of facts--and wish not to leave even a possible link imperfect.

On the day succeeding the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls, with

one exception, had fallen in. This exception was found in a compartment

wall, not very thick, which stood about the middle of the house, and

against which had rested the head of my bed. The plastering had here,

in great measure, resisted the action of the fire--a fact which I

attributed to its having been recently spread. About this wall a

dense crowd were collected, and many persons seemed to be examining a

particular portion of it with very minute and eager attention. The

words "strange!" "singular!" and other similar expressions, excited my

curiosity. I approached and saw, as if graven in _bas relief_ upon the

white surface, the figure of a gigantic _cat_. The impression was given

with an accuracy truly marvellous. There was a rope about the animal's

neck.

 

When I first beheld this apparition--for I could scarcely regard it as

less--my wonder and my terror were extreme. But at length reflection

came to my aid. The cat, I remembered, had been hung in a garden

adjacent to the house. Upon the alarm of fire, this garden had been

immediately filled by the crowd--by some one of whom the animal must

have been cut from the tree and thrown, through an open window, into my

chamber. This had probably been done with the view of arousing me

from sleep. The falling of other walls had compressed the victim of my

cruelty into the substance of the freshly-spread plaster; the lime of

which, with the flames, and the _ammonia_ from the carcass, had then

accomplished the portraiture as I saw it.

 

Although I thus readily accounted to my reason, if not altogether to my

conscience, for the startling fact just detailed, it did not the less

fail to make a deep impression upon my fancy. For months I could not rid

myself of the phantasm of the cat; and, during this period, there came

back into my spirit a half-sentiment that seemed, but was not, remorse.

I went so far as to regret the loss of the animal, and to look about me,

among the vile haunts which I now habitually frequented, for another pet

of the same species, and of somewhat similar appearance, with which to

supply its place.

 

One night as I sat, half stupified, in a den of more than infamy, my

attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon

the head of one of the immense hogsheads of Gin, or of Rum, which

constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking

steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now

caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the

object thereupon. I approached it, and touched it with my hand. It was

a black cat--a very large one--fully as large as Pluto, and closely

resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a white hair upon

any portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite

splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast. Upon

my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my

hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then, was the very

creature of which I was in search. I at once offered to purchase it

of the landlord; but this person made no claim to it--knew nothing of

it--had never seen it before.

 

I continued my caresses, and, when I prepared to go home, the animal

evinced a disposition to accompany me. I permitted it to do so;

occasionally stooping and patting it as I proceeded. When it reached

the house it domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great

favorite with my wife.

 

For my own part, I soon found a dislike to it arising within me. This

was just the reverse of what I had anticipated; but--I know not how

or why it was--its evident fondness for myself rather disgusted and

annoyed. By slow degrees, these feelings of disgust and annoyance rose

into the bitterness of hatred. I avoided the creature; a certain sense

of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty, preventing

me from physically abusing it. I did not, for some weeks, strike, or

otherwise violently ill use it; but gradually--very gradually--I came

to look upon it with unutterable loathing, and to flee silently from its

odious presence, as from the breath of a pestilence.

 

What added, no doubt, to my hatred of the beast, was the discovery, on

the morning after I brought it home, that, like Pluto, it also had been

deprived of one of its eyes. This circumstance, however, only endeared

it to my wife, who, as I have already said, possessed, in a high degree,

that humanity of feeling which had once been my distinguishing trait,

and the source of many of my simplest and purest pleasures.

 

With my aversion to this cat, however, its partiality for myself seemed

to increase. It followed my footsteps with a pertinacity which it would

be difficult to make the reader comprehend. Whenever I sat, it would

crouch beneath my chair, or spring upon my knees, covering me with its

loathsome caresses. If I arose to walk it would get between my feet and

thus nearly throw me down, or, fastening its long and sharp claws in my

dress, clamber, in this manner, to my breast. At such times, although

I longed to destroy it with a blow, I was yet withheld from so doing,

partly by a memory of my former crime, but chiefly--let me confess it at

once--by absolute dread of the beast.

 

This dread was not exactly a dread of physical evil--and yet I should be

at a loss how otherwise to define it. I am almost ashamed to own--yes,

even in this felon's cell, I am almost ashamed to own--that the terror

and horror with which the animal inspired me, had been heightened by one

of the merest chimaeras it would be possible to conceive. My wife had

called my attention, more than once, to the character of the mark of

white hair, of which I have spoken, and which constituted the sole

visible difference between the strange beast and the one I had

destroyed. The reader will remember that this mark, although large, had

been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees--degrees nearly

imperceptible, and which for a long time my Reason struggled to reject

as fanciful--it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinctness of

outline. It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to

name--and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have

rid myself of the monster _had I dared_--it was now, I say, the image

of a hideous--of a ghastly thing--of the GALLOWS!--oh, mournful and

terrible engine of Horror and of Crime--of Agony and of Death!

 

And now was I indeed wretched beyond the wretchedness of mere Humanity.

And _a brute beast _--whose fellow I had contemptuously destroyed--_a

brute beast_ to work out for _me_--for me a man, fashioned in the image

of the High God--so much of insufferable wo! Alas! neither by day nor

by night knew I the blessing of Rest any more! During the former the

creature left me no moment alone; and, in the latter, I started, hourly,

from dreams of unutterable fear, to find the hot breath of _the thing_

upon my face, and its vast weight--an incarnate Night-Mare that I had no

power to shake off--incumbent eternally upon my _heart!_

 

Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant

of the good within me succumbed. Evil thoughts became my sole

intimates--the darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of

my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind;

while, from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury

to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas!

was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers.

 

One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar

of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit. The cat

followed me down the steep stairs, and, nearly throwing me headlong,

exasperated me to madness. Uplifting an axe, and forgetting, in my

wrath, the childish dread which had hitherto stayed my hand, I aimed a

blow at the animal which, of course, would have proved instantly fatal

had it descended as I wished. But this blow was arrested by the hand of

my wife. Goaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal,

I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain. She

fell dead upon the spot, without a groan.

 

This hideous murder accomplished, I set myself forthwith, and with

entire deliberation, to the task of concealing the body. I knew that I

could not remove it from the house, either by day or by night, without

the risk of being observed by the neighbors. Many projects entered

my mind. At one period I thought of cutting the corpse into minute

fragments, and destroying them by fire. At another, I resolved to dig

a grave for it in the floor of the cellar. Again, I deliberated about

casting it in the well in the yard--about packing it in a box, as if

merchandize, with the usual arrangements, and so getting a porter to

take it from the house. Finally I hit upon what I considered a far

better expedient than either of these. I determined to wall it up in the

cellar--as the monks of the middle ages are recorded to have walled up

their victims.

 

For a purpose such as this the cellar was well adapted. Its walls were

loosely constructed, and had lately been plastered throughout with a

rough plaster, which the dampness of the atmosphere had prevented from

hardening. Moreover, in one of the walls was a projection, caused by

a false chimney, or fireplace, that had been filled up, and made to

resemble the red of the cellar. I made no doubt that I could readily

displace the bricks at this point, insert the corpse, and wall the whole

up as before, so that no eye could detect any thing suspicious. And in

this calculation I was not deceived. By means of a crow-bar I easily

dislodged the bricks, and, having carefully deposited the body against

the inner wall, I propped it in that position, while, with little

trouble, I re-laid the whole structure as it originally stood. Having

procured mortar, sand, and hair, with every possible precaution, I

prepared a plaster which could not be distinguished from the old, and

with this I very carefully went over the new brickwork. When I had

finished, I felt satisfied that all was right. The wall did not present

the slightest appearance of having been disturbed. The rubbish on

the floor was picked up with the minutest care. I looked around

triumphantly, and said to myself--"Here at least, then, my labor has not

been in vain."

 

My next step was to look for the beast which had been the cause of so

much wretchedness; for I had, at length, firmly resolved to put it to

death. Had I been able to meet with it, at the moment, there could have

been no doubt of its fate; but it appeared that the crafty animal had

been alarmed at the violence of my previous anger, and forebore to

present itself in my present mood. It is impossible to describe, or to

imagine, the deep, the blissful sense of relief which the absence of the

detested creature occasioned in my bosom. It did not make its

appearance during the night--and thus for one night at least, since its

introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept

even with the burden of murder upon my soul!

 

The second and the third day passed, and still my tormentor came not.

Once again I breathed as a freeman. The monster, in terror, had fled the

premises forever! I should behold it no more! My happiness was supreme!

The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little. Some few inquiries

had been made, but these had been readily answered. Even a search had

been instituted--but of course nothing was to be discovered. I looked

upon my future felicity as secured.

 

Upon the fourth day of the assassination, a party of the police came,

very unexpectedly, into the house, and proceeded again to make rigorous

investigation of the premises. Secure, however, in the inscrutability of

my place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment whatever. The officers

bade me accompany them in their search. They left no nook or corner

unexplored. At length, for the third or fourth time, they descended into

the cellar. I quivered not in a muscle. My heart beat calmly as that of

one who slumbers in innocence. I walked the cellar from end to end. I

folded my arms upon my bosom, and roamed easily to and fro. The police

were thoroughly satisfied and prepared to depart. The glee at my heart

was too strong to be restrained. I burned to say if but one word, by

way of triumph, and to render doubly sure their assurance of my

guiltlessness.

 

"Gentlemen," I said at last, as the party ascended the steps, "I delight

to have allayed your suspicions. I wish you all health, and a little

more courtesy. By the bye, gentlemen, this--this is a very well

constructed house." [In the rabid desire to say something easily, I

scarcely knew what I uttered at all.]--"I may say an _excellently_ well

constructed house. These walls are you going, gentlemen?--these walls

are solidly put together;" and here, through the mere phrenzy of

bravado, I rapped heavily, with a cane which I held in my hand, upon

that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the corpse of the

wife of my bosom.

 

But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend! No

sooner had the reverberation of my blows sunk into silence, than I was

answered by a voice from within the tomb!--by a cry, at first muffled

and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into

one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman--a

howl--a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as

might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the

dammed in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation.

 

Of my own thoughts it is folly to speak. Swooning, I staggered to

the opposite wall. For one instant the party upon the stairs remained

motionless, through extremity of terror and of awe. In the next, a dozen

stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already

greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of

the spectators. Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye

of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder,

and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled

the monster up within the tomb!

 

 

 

 

THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER

 

     Son coeur est un luth suspendu;

     Sitot qu'on le touche il resonne..

 

                             _  De Beranger_.

 

DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the

year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had

been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of

country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew

on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how

it was--but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of

insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the

feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic,

sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest

natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene

before me--upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the

domain--upon the bleak walls--upon the vacant eye-like windows--upon a

few rank sedges--and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees--with an

utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation

more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium--the

bitter lapse into everyday life--the hideous dropping off of the veil.

There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart--an unredeemed

dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture

into aught of the sublime. What was it--I paused to think--what was it

that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a

mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that

crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the

unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there _are_

combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus

affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations

beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different

arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the

picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its

capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined

my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in

unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down--but with a shudder

even more thrilling than before--upon the remodelled and inverted images

of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and

eye-like windows.

 

Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself a

sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher, had been one of

my boon companions in boyhood; but many years had elapsed since our last

meeting. A letter, however, had lately reached me in a distant part of

the country--a letter from him--which, in its wildly importunate nature,

had admitted of no other than a personal reply. The MS. gave evidence of

nervous agitation. The writer spoke of acute bodily illness--of a mental

disorder which oppressed him--and of an earnest desire to see me, as his

best, and indeed his only personal friend, with a view of attempting, by

the cheerfulness of my society, some alleviation of his malady. It

was the manner in which all this, and much more, was said--it was the

apparent _heart_ that went with his request--which allowed me no

room for hesitation; and I accordingly obeyed forthwith what I still

considered a very singular summons.

 

Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really

knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and

habitual. I was aware, however, that his very ancient family had been

noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament,

displaying itself, through long ages, in many works of exalted art, and

manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive

charity, as well as in a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps

even more than to the orthodox and easily recognisable beauties, of

musical science. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the

stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put forth, at no

period, any enduring branch; in other words, that the entire family lay

in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and

very temporary variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I considered,

while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of

the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while

speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long

lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other--it was this

deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent undeviating

transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the name, which

had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the original title

of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the "House

of Usher"--an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the

peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.

 

I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish

experiment--that of looking down within the tarn--had been to deepen the

first singular impression. There can be no doubt that the consciousness

of the rapid increase of my superstition--for why should I not so term

it?--served mainly to accelerate the increase itself. Such, I have

long known, is the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror as a

basis. And it might have been for this reason only, that, when I again

uplifted my eyes to the house itself, from its image in the pool, there

grew in my mind a strange fancy--a fancy so ridiculous, indeed, that I

but mention it to show the vivid force of the sensations which oppressed

me. I had so worked upon my imagination as really to believe that

about the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar

to themselves and their immediate vicinity--an atmosphere which had

no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the

decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn--a pestilent and

mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.

 

Shaking off from my spirit what _must_ have been a dream, I scanned more

narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed

to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been

great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine

tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any

extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and

there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect

adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual

stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality

of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected

vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond

this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little

token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might

have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the

roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag

direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.

 

Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to the house. A

servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered the Gothic archway of

the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence conducted me, in silence,

through many dark and intricate passages in my progress to the _studio_

of his master. Much that I encountered on the way contributed, I know

not how, to heighten the vague sentiments of which I have already

spoken. While the objects around me--while the carvings of the ceilings,

the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of the floors,

and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode, were

but matters to which, or to such as which, I had been accustomed from my

infancy--while I hesitated not to acknowledge how familiar was all

this--I still wondered to find how unfamiliar were the fancies which

ordinary images were stirring up. On one of the staircases, I met the

physician of the family. His countenance, I thought, wore a mingled

expression of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me with

trepidation and passed on. The valet now threw open a door and ushered

me into the presence of his master.

 

The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows

were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black

oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams

of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellissed panes,

and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects

around; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles

of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling.

Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse,

comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments

lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene. I

felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and

irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.

 

Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on which he had been lying at

full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmth which had much in

it, I at first thought, of an overdone cordiality--of the constrained

effort of the _ennuye_; man of the world. A glance, however, at his

countenance, convinced me of his perfect sincerity. We sat down; and for

some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half

of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered,

in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher! It was with difficulty that

I could bring myself to admit the identity of the wan being before me

with the companion of my early boyhood. Yet the character of his face

had been at all times remarkable. A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye

large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and

very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a

delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar

formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence,

of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and

tenuity; these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions

of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be

forgotten. And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character

of these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay

so much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. The now ghastly pallor

of the skin, and the now miraculous lustre of the eye, above all things

startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to

grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated

rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connect

its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity.

 

In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an incoherence--an

inconsistency; and I soon found this to arise from a series of feeble

and futile struggles to overcome an habitual trepidancy--an excessive

nervous agitation. For something of this nature I had indeed been

prepared, no less by his letter, than by reminiscences of certain

boyish traits, and by conclusions deduced from his peculiar physical

conformation and temperament. His action was alternately vivacious and

sullen. His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision (when the

animal spirits seemed utterly in abeyance) to that species of energetic

concision--that abrupt, weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding

enunciation--that leaden, self-balanced and perfectly modulated

guttural utterance, which may be observed in the lost drunkard, or the

irreclaimable eater of opium, during the periods of his most intense

excitement.

 

It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of his earnest

desire to see me, and of the solace he expected me to afford him. He

entered, at some length, into what he conceived to be the nature of his

malady. It was, he said, a constitutional and a family evil, and one

for which he despaired to find a remedy--a mere nervous affection, he

immediately added, which would undoubtedly soon pass off. It displayed

itself in a host of unnatural sensations. Some of these, as he detailed

them, interested and bewildered me; although, perhaps, the terms, and

the general manner of the narration had their weight. He suffered much

from a morbid acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone

endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odors

of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint

light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed

instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.

 

To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave. "I shall

perish," said he, "I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus,

and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events of the future,

not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at the thought

of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate upon this

intolerable agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger,

except in its absolute effect--in terror. In this unnerved--in this

pitiable condition--I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive

when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the

grim phantasm, FEAR."

 

I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken and equivocal

hints, another singular feature of his mental condition. He was

enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling

which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never ventured

forth--in regard to an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed

in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated--an influence which some

peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion, had,

by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit--an effect

which the _physique_ of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn

into which they all looked down, had, at length, brought about upon the

_morale_ of his existence.

 

He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much of the

peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to a more

natural and far more palpable origin--to the severe and long-continued

illness--indeed to the evidently approaching dissolution--of a tenderly

beloved sister--his sole companion for long years--his last and only

relative on earth. "Her decease," he said, with a bitterness which I can

never forget, "would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last

of the ancient race of the Ushers." While he spoke, the lady Madeline

(for so was she called) passed slowly through a remote portion of the

apartment, and, without having noticed my presence, disappeared. I

regarded her with an utter astonishment not unmingled with dread--and

yet I found it impossible to account for such feelings. A sensation of

stupor oppressed me, as my eyes followed her retreating steps. When a

door, at length, closed upon her, my glance sought instinctively and

eagerly the countenance of the brother--but he had buried his face

in his hands, and I could only perceive that a far more than ordinary

wanness had overspread the emaciated fingers through which trickled many

passionate tears.

 

The disease of the lady Madeline had long baffled the skill of her

physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the person,

and frequent although transient affections of a partially cataleptical

character, were the unusual diagnosis. Hitherto she had steadily borne

up against the pressure of her malady, and had not betaken herself

finally to bed; but, on the closing in of the evening of my arrival

at the house, she succumbed (as her brother told me at night with

inexpressible agitation) to the prostrating power of the destroyer;

and I learned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would thus

probably be the last I should obtain--that the lady, at least while

living, would be seen by me no more.

 

For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned by either Usher or

myself: and during this period I was busied in earnest endeavors to

alleviate the melancholy of my friend. We painted and read together; or

I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild improvisations of his speaking

guitar. And thus, as a closer and still closer intimacy admitted me more

unreservedly into the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did

I perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which

darkness, as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all

objects of the moral and physical universe, in one unceasing radiation

of gloom.

 

I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many solemn hours I thus

spent alone with the master of the House of Usher. Yet I should fail in

any attempt to convey an idea of the exact character of the studies,

or of the occupations, in which he involved me, or led me the way. An

excited and highly distempered ideality threw a sulphureous lustre over

all. His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my ears. Among

other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain singular perversion and

amplification of the wild air of the last waltz of Von Weber. From the

paintings over which his elaborate fancy brooded, and which grew, touch

by touch, into vaguenesses at which I shuddered the more thrillingly,

because I shuddered knowing not why;--from these paintings (vivid as

their images now are before me) I would in vain endeavor to educe more

than a small portion which should lie within the compass of merely

written words. By the utter simplicity, by the nakedness of his designs,

he arrested and overawed attention. If ever mortal painted an idea, that

mortal was Roderick Usher. For me at least--in the circumstances then

surrounding me--there arose out of the pure abstractions which the

hypochondriac contrived to throw upon his canvass, an intensity of

intolerable awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the contemplation

of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of Fuseli.

 

One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking not so

rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed forth, although

feebly, in words. A small picture presented the interior of an immensely

long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls, smooth, white, and

without interruption or device. Certain accessory points of the design

served well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at an exceeding

depth below the surface of the earth. No outlet was observed in any

portion of its vast extent, and no torch, or other artificial source of

light was discernible; yet a flood of intense rays rolled throughout,

and bathed the whole in a ghastly and inappropriate splendor.

 

I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditory nerve which

rendered all music intolerable to the sufferer, with the exception of

certain effects of stringed instruments. It was, perhaps, the narrow

limits to which he thus confined himself upon the guitar, which gave

birth, in great measure, to the fantastic character of his performances.

But the fervid _facility_ of his _impromptus_ could not be so accounted

for. They must have been, and were, in the notes, as well as in the

words of his wild fantasias (for he not unfrequently accompanied himself

with rhymed verbal improvisations), the result of that intense mental

collectedness and concentration to which I have previously alluded

as observable only in particular moments of the highest artificial

excitement. The words of one of these rhapsodies I have easily

remembered. I was, perhaps, the more forcibly impressed with it, as

he gave it, because, in the under or mystic current of its meaning, I

fancied that I perceived, and for the first time, a full consciousness

on the part of Usher, of the tottering of his lofty reason upon her

throne. The verses, which were entitled "The Haunted Palace," ran very

nearly, if not accurately, thus:

 

                         I.

     In the greenest of our valleys,

         By good angels tenanted,

     Once a fair and stately palace--

         Radiant palace--reared its head.

     In the monarch Thought's dominion--

         It stood there!

     Never seraph spread a pinion

         Over fabric half so fair.

                         II.

     Banners yellow, glorious, golden,

         On its roof did float and flow;

     (This--all this--was in the olden

         Time long ago)

     And every gentle air that dallied,

         In that sweet day,

     Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,

         A winged odor went away.

                         III.

     Wanderers in that happy valley

         Through two luminous windows saw

     Spirits moving musically

         To a lute's well-tuned law,

     Round about a throne, where sitting

         (Porphyrogene!)

     In state his glory well befitting,

         The ruler of the realm was seen.

                          IV.

     And all with pearl and ruby glowing

         Was the fair palace door,

     Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,

         And sparkling evermore,

     A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty

         Was but to sing,

     In voices of surpassing beauty,

         The wit and wisdom of their king.

                         V.

     But evil things, in robes of sorrow,

         Assailed the monarch's high estate;

     (Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow

         Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)

     And, round about his home, the glory

         That blushed and bloomed

     Is but a dim-remembered story

         Of the old time entombed.

                         VI.

     And travellers now within that valley,

         Through the red-litten windows, see

     Vast forms that move fantastically

         To a discordant melody;

     While, like a rapid ghastly river,

         Through the pale door,

     A hideous throng rush out forever,

         And laugh--but smile no more.

 

I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad, led us into

a train of thought wherein there became manifest an opinion of Usher's

which I mention not so much on account of its novelty, (for other men

* have thought thus,) as on account of the pertinacity with which

he maintained it. This opinion, in its general form, was that of the

sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the

idea had assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under certain

conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization. I lack words to express

the full extent, or the earnest _abandon_ of his persuasion. The belief,

however, was connected (as I have previously hinted) with the gray

stones of the home of his forefathers. The conditions of the sentience

had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of

these stones--in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of

the many _fungi_ which overspread them, and of the decayed trees which

stood around--above all, in the long undisturbed endurance of this

arrangement, and in its reduplication in the still waters of the tarn.

Its evidence--the evidence of the sentience--was to be seen, he

said, (and I here started as he spoke,) in the gradual yet certain

condensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters and the

walls. The result was discoverable, he added, in that silent, yet

importunate and terrible influence which for centuries had moulded the

destinies of his family, and which made _him_ what I now saw him--what

he was. Such opinions need no comment, and I will make none.

 

* Watson, Dr. Percival, Spallanzani, and especially the Bishop of

Landaff.--See "Chemical Essays," vol v.

 

Our books--the books which, for years, had formed no small portion of

the mental existence of the invalid--were, as might be supposed, in

strict keeping with this character of phantasm. We pored together over

such works as the Ververt et Chartreuse of Gresset; the Belphegor of

Machiavelli; the Heaven and Hell of Swedenborg; the Subterranean Voyage

of Nicholas Klimm by Holberg; the Chiromancy of Robert Flud, of Jean

D'Indagine, and of De la Chambre; the Journey into the Blue Distance of

Tieck; and the City of the Sun of Campanella. One favorite volume was

a small octavo edition of the _Directorium Inquisitorium_, by the

Dominican Eymeric de Gironne; and there were passages in Pomponius Mela,

about the old African Satyrs and OEgipans, over which Usher would sit

dreaming for hours. His chief delight, however, was found in the perusal

of an exceedingly rare and curious book in quarto Gothic--the manual of

a forgotten church--the _Vigiliae Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecclesiae

Maguntinae_.

 

I could not help thinking of the wild ritual of this work, and of its

probable influence upon the hypochondriac, when, one evening, having

informed me abruptly that the lady Madeline was no more, he stated his

intention of preserving her corpse for a fortnight, (previously to its

final interment,) in one of the numerous vaults within the main walls

of the building. The worldly reason, however, assigned for this singular

proceeding, was one which I did not feel at liberty to dispute. The

brother had been led to his resolution (so he told me) by consideration

of the unusual character of the malady of the deceased, of certain

obtrusive and eager inquiries on the part of her medical men, and of the

remote and exposed situation of the burial-ground of the family. I will

not deny that when I called to mind the sinister countenance of the

person whom I met upon the staircase, on the day of my arrival at

the house, I had no desire to oppose what I regarded as at best but a

harmless, and by no means an unnatural, precaution.

 

At the request of Usher, I personally aided him in the arrangements for

the temporary entombment. The body having been encoffined, we two alone

bore it to its rest. The vault in which we placed it (and which had

been so long unopened that our torches, half smothered in its oppressive

atmosphere, gave us little opportunity for investigation) was small,

damp, and entirely without means of admission for light; lying, at great

depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in which was my

own sleeping apartment. It had been used, apparently, in remote feudal

times, for the worst purposes of a donjon-keep, and, in later days, as a

place of deposit for powder, or some other highly combustible substance,

as a portion of its floor, and the whole interior of a long archway

through which we reached it, were carefully sheathed with copper. The

door, of massive iron, had been, also, similarly protected. Its immense

weight caused an unusually sharp grating sound, as it moved upon its

hinges.

 

Having deposited our mournful burden upon tressels within this region of

horror, we partially turned aside the yet unscrewed lid of the coffin,

and looked upon the face of the tenant. A striking similitude between

the brother and sister now first arrested my attention; and Usher,

divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which

I learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and that

sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between

them. Our glances, however, rested not long upon the dead--for we could

not regard her unawed. The disease which had thus entombed the lady in

the maturity of youth, had left, as usual in all maladies of a strictly

cataleptical character, the mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and

the face, and that suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip which is

so terrible in death. We replaced and screwed down the lid, and, having

secured the door of iron, made our way, with toil, into the scarcely

less gloomy apartments of the upper portion of the house.

 

And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed, an observable change

came over the features of the mental disorder of my friend. His

ordinary manner had vanished. His ordinary occupations were neglected or

forgotten. He roamed from chamber to chamber with hurried, unequal, and

objectless step. The pallor of his countenance had assumed, if possible,

a more ghastly hue--but the luminousness of his eye had utterly gone

out. The once occasional huskiness of his tone was heard no more; and a

tremulous quaver, as if of extreme terror, habitually characterized

his utterance. There were times, indeed, when I thought his unceasingly

agitated mind was laboring with some oppressive secret, to divulge which

he struggled for the necessary courage. At times, again, I was obliged

to resolve all into the mere inexplicable vagaries of madness, for I

beheld him gazing upon vacancy for long hours, in an attitude of the

profoundest attention, as if listening to some imaginary sound. It was

no wonder that his condition terrified--that it infected me. I felt

creeping upon me, by slow yet certain degrees, the wild influences of

his own fantastic yet impressive superstitions.

 

It was, especially, upon retiring to bed late in the night of the

seventh or eighth day after the placing of the lady Madeline within the

donjon, that I experienced the full power of such feelings. Sleep came

not near my couch--while the hours waned and waned away. I struggled to

reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me. I endeavored to

believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was due to the bewildering

influence of the gloomy furniture of the room--of the dark and tattered

draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a rising

tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasily

about the decorations of the bed. But my efforts were fruitless. An

irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame; and, at length, there

sat upon my very heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm. Shaking

this off with a gasp and a struggle, I uplifted myself upon the pillows,

and, peering earnestly within the intense darkness of the chamber,

harkened--I know not why, except that an instinctive spirit prompted

me--to certain low and indefinite sounds which came, through the pauses

of the storm, at long intervals, I knew not whence. Overpowered by an

intense sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable, I threw on

my clothes with haste (for I felt that I should sleep no more during the

night), and endeavored to arouse myself from the pitiable condition into

which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro through the apartment.

 

I had taken but few turns in this manner, when a light step on an

adjoining staircase arrested my attention. I presently recognised it as

that of Usher. In an instant afterward he rapped, with a gentle touch,

at my door, and entered, bearing a lamp. His countenance was, as usual,

cadaverously wan--but, moreover, there was a species of mad hilarity in

his eyes--an evidently restrained _hysteria_ in his whole demeanor. His

air appalled me--but anything was preferable to the solitude which I had

so long endured, and I even welcomed his presence as a relief.

 

"And you have not seen it?" he said abruptly, after having stared about

him for some moments in silence--"you have not then seen it?--but, stay!

you shall." Thus speaking, and having carefully shaded his lamp, he

hurried to one of the casements, and threw it freely open to the storm.

 

The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted us from our feet.

It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful night, and one

wildly singular in its terror and its beauty. A whirlwind had apparently

collected its force in our vicinity; for there were frequent and violent

alterations in the direction of the wind; and the exceeding density of

the clouds (which hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the house)

did not prevent our perceiving the life-like velocity with which they

flew careering from all points against each other, without passing

away into the distance. I say that even their exceeding density did

not prevent our perceiving this--yet we had no glimpse of the moon or

stars--nor was there any flashing forth of the lightning. But the

under surfaces of the huge masses of agitated vapor, as well as all

terrestrial objects immediately around us, were glowing in the unnatural

light of a faintly luminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation

which hung about and enshrouded the mansion.

 

"You must not--you shall not behold this!" said I, shudderingly, to

Usher, as I led him, with a gentle violence, from the window to a seat.

"These appearances, which bewilder you, are merely electrical phenomena

not uncommon--or it may be that they have their ghastly origin in

the rank miasma of the tarn. Let us close this casement;--the air is

chilling and dangerous to your frame. Here is one of your favorite

romances. I will read, and you shall listen;--and so we will pass away

this terrible night together."

 

The antique volume which I had taken up was the "Mad Trist" of Sir

Launcelot Canning; but I had called it a favorite of Usher's more in sad

jest than in earnest; for, in truth, there is little in its uncouth and

unimaginative prolixity which could have had interest for the lofty

and spiritual ideality of my friend. It was, however, the only book

immediately at hand; and I indulged a vague hope that the excitement

which now agitated the hypochondriac, might find relief (for the history

of mental disorder is full of similar anomalies) even in the extremeness

of the folly which I should read. Could I have judged, indeed, by the

wild overstrained air of vivacity with which he harkened, or apparently

harkened, to the words of the tale, I might well have congratulated

myself upon the success of my design.

 

I had arrived at that well-known portion of the story where Ethelred,

the hero of the Trist, having sought in vain for peaceable admission

into the dwelling of the hermit, proceeds to make good an entrance by

force. Here, it will be remembered, the words of the narrative run thus:

 

"And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart, and who was now

mighty withal, on account of the powerfulness of the wine which he had

drunken, waited no longer to hold parley with the hermit, who, in sooth,

was of an obstinate and maliceful turn, but, feeling the rain upon his

shoulders, and fearing the rising of the tempest, uplifted his mace

outright, and, with blows, made quickly room in the plankings of the

door for his gauntleted hand; and now pulling therewith sturdily, he so

cracked, and ripped, and tore all asunder, that the noise of the dry and

hollow-sounding wood alarummed and reverberated throughout the forest."

 

At the termination of this sentence I started, and for a moment, paused;

for it appeared to me (although I at once concluded that my excited

fancy had deceived me)--it appeared to me that, from some very remote

portion of the mansion, there came, indistinctly, to my ears, what might

have been, in its exact similarity of character, the echo (but a stifled

and dull one certainly) of the very cracking and ripping sound which

Sir Launcelot had so particularly described. It was, beyond doubt,

the coincidence alone which had arrested my attention; for, amid the

rattling of the sashes of the casements, and the ordinary commingled

noises of the still increasing storm, the sound, in itself, had nothing,

surely, which should have interested or disturbed me. I continued the

story:

 

"But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within the door, was sore

enraged and amazed to perceive no signal of the maliceful hermit; but,

in the stead thereof, a dragon of a scaly and prodigious demeanor, and

of a fiery tongue, which sate in guard before a palace of gold, with a

floor of silver; and upon the wall there hung a shield of shining brass

with this legend enwritten--

 

     Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;

     Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win;

 

And Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of the dragon,

which fell before him, and gave up his pesty breath, with a shriek so

horrid and harsh, and withal so piercing, that Ethelred had fain to

close his ears with his hands against the dreadful noise of it, the like

whereof was never before heard."

 

Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wild

amazement--for there could be no doubt whatever that, in this instance,

I did actually hear (although from what direction it proceeded I

found it impossible to say) a low and apparently distant, but harsh,

protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound--the exact

counterpart of what my fancy had already conjured up for the dragon's

unnatural shriek as described by the romancer.

 

Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of this second and

most extraordinary coincidence, by a thousand conflicting sensations,

in which wonder and extreme terror were predominant, I still retained

sufficient presence of mind to avoid exciting, by any observation, the

sensitive nervousness of my companion. I was by no means certain that

he had noticed the sounds in question; although, assuredly, a strange

alteration had, during the last few minutes, taken place in his

demeanor. From a position fronting my own, he had gradually brought

round his chair, so as to sit with his face to the door of the chamber;

and thus I could but partially perceive his features, although I saw

that his lips trembled as if he were murmuring inaudibly. His head had

dropped upon his breast--yet I knew that he was not asleep, from the

wide and rigid opening of the eye as I caught a glance of it in profile.

The motion of his body, too, was at variance with this idea--for he

rocked from side to side with a gentle yet constant and uniform sway.

Having rapidly taken notice of all this, I resumed the narrative of Sir

Launcelot, which thus proceeded:

 

"And now, the champion, having escaped from the terrible fury of the

dragon, bethinking himself of the brazen shield, and of the breaking up

of the enchantment which was upon it, removed the carcass from out of

the way before him, and approached valorously over the silver pavement

of the castle to where the shield was upon the wall; which in sooth t

 feet upon the silver floor, with a mighty great and terrible ringing

sound."

 

No sooner had these syllables passed my lips, than--as if a shield

of brass had indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily upon a floor of

silver--I became aware of a distinct, hollow, metallic, and clangorous,

yet apparently muffled reverberation. Completely unnerved, I leaped to

my feet; but the measured rocking movement of Usher was undisturbed. I

rushed to the chair in which he sat. His eyes were bent fixedly

before him, and throughout his whole countenance there reigned a stony

rigidity. But, as I placed my hand upon his shoulder, there came a

strong shudder over his whole person; a sickly smile quivered about his

lips; and I saw that he spoke in a low, hurried, and gibbering murmur,

as if unconscious of my presence. Bending closely over him, I at length

drank in the hideous import of his words.

 

"Not hear it?--yes, I hear it, and _have_ heard it.

Long--long--long--many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard

it--yet I dared not--oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am!--I dared

not--I _dared_ not speak! _We have put her living in the tomb!_ Said I

not that my senses were acute? I _now_ tell you that I heard her first

feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I heard them--many,

many days ago--yet I dared not--_I dared not speak!_ And

now--to-night--Ethelred--ha! ha!--the breaking of the hermit's door,

and the death-cry of the dragon, and the clangor of the shield!--say,

rather, the rending of her coffin, and the grating of the iron hinges of

her prison, and her struggles within the coppered archway of the vault!

Oh whither shall I fly? Will she not be here anon?  Is she not hurryin

 my haste? Have I not heard her footstep on the stair? Do I not

distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart? Madman!"--here

he sprang furiously to his feet, and shrieked out his syllables, as if

in the effort he were giving up his soul--"_Madman! I tell you that she

now stands without the door!_"

 

As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there had been found

the potency of a spell--the huge antique pannels to which the speaker

pointed, threw slowly back, upon the instant, their ponderous and ebony

jaws. It was the work of the rushing gust--but then without those doors

there _did_ stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline

of Usher. There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some

bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame. For a moment

she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold--then,

with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her

brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the

floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.

 

From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm

was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old

causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned

to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house

and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full,

setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once

barely-discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending

from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While

I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened--there came a fierce breath of

the whirlwind--the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my

sight--my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder--there

was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand

waters--and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and

silently over the fragments of the "_House of Usher_."

 

 

 

 

SILENCE--A FABLE

 

     ALCMAN. The mountain pinnacles slumber; valleys, crags and

     caves are silent.

 

"LISTEN to me," said the Demon as he placed his hand upon my head. "The

region of which I speak is a dreary region in Libya, by the borders of

the river Zaire. And there is no quiet there, nor silence.

 

"The waters of the river have a saffron and sickly hue; and they flow

not onwards to the sea, but palpitate forever and forever beneath the

red eye of the sun with a tumultuous and convulsive motion. For many

miles on either side of the river's oozy bed is a pale desert of

gigantic water-lilies. They sigh one unto the other in that solitude,

and stretch towards the heaven their long and ghastly necks, and nod to

and fro their everlasting heads. And there is an indistinct murmur which

cometh out from among them like the rushing of subterrene water. And

they sigh one unto the other.

 

"But there is a boundary to their realm--the boundary of the dark,

horrible, lofty forest. There, like the waves about the Hebrides, the

low underwood is agitated continually. But there is no wind throughout

the heaven. And the tall primeval trees rock eternally hither and

thither with a crashing and mighty sound. And from their high summits,

one by one, drop everlasting dews. And at the roots strange poisonous

flowers lie writhing in perturbed slumber. And overhead, with a rustling

and loud noise, the gray clouds rush westwardly forever, until they

roll, a cataract, over the fiery wall of the horizon. But there is no

wind throughout the heaven. And by the shores of the river Zaire there

is neither quiet nor silence.

 

"It was night, and the rain fell; and falling, it was rain, but, having

fallen, it was blood. And I stood in the morass among the tall and the

rain fell upon my head--and the lilies sighed one unto the other in the

solemnity of their desolation.

 

"And, all at once, the moon arose through the thin ghastly mist, and was

crimson in color. And mine eyes fell upon a huge gray rock which stood

by the shore of the river, and was lighted by the light of the moon. And

the rock was gray, and ghastly, and tall,--and the rock was gray. Upon

its front were characters engraven in the stone; and I walked through

the morass of water-lilies, until I came close unto the shore, that I

might read the characters upon the stone. But I could not decypher them.

And I was going back into the morass, when the moon shone with a

fuller red, and I turned and looked again upon the rock, and upon the

characters;--and the characters were DESOLATION.

 

"And I looked upwards, and there stood a man upon the summit of the

rock; and I hid myself among the water-lilies that I might discover the

actions of the man. And the man was tall and stately in form, and was

wrapped up from his shoulders to his feet in the toga of old Rome. And

the outlines of his figure were indistinct--but his features were the

features of a deity; for the mantle of the night, and of the mist, and

of the moon, and of the dew, had left uncovered the features of his

face. And his brow was lofty with thought, and his eye wild with care;

and, in the few furrows upon his cheek I read the fables of sorrow, and

weariness, and disgust with mankind, and a longing after solitude.

 

"And the man sat upon the rock, and leaned his head upon his hand, and

looked out upon the desolation. He looked down into the low unquiet

shrubbery, and up into the tall primeval trees, and up higher at the

rustling heaven, and into the crimson moon. And I lay close within

shelter of the lilies, and observed the actions of the man. And the

man trembled in the solitude;--but the night waned, and he sat upon the

rock.

 

"And the man turned his attention from the heaven, and looked out upon

the dreary river Zaire, and upon the yellow ghastly waters, and upon the

pale legions of the water-lilies. And the man listened to the sighs of

the water-lilies, and to the murmur that came up from among them. And I

lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the

man trembled in the solitude;--but the night waned and he sat upon the

rock.

 

"Then I went down into the recesses of the morass, and waded afar in

among the wilderness of the lilies, and called unto the hippopotami

which dwelt among the fens in the recesses of the morass. And the

hippopotami heard my call, and came, with the behemoth, unto the foot

of the rock, and roared loudly and fearfully beneath the moon. And I lay

close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man

trembled in the solitude;--but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.

 

"Then I cursed the elements with the curse of tumult; and a frightful

tempest gathered in the heaven where, before, there had been no wind.

And the heaven became livid with the violence of the tempest--and the

rain beat upon the head of the man--and the floods of the river came

down--and the river was tormented into foam--and the water-lilies

shrieked within their beds--and the forest crumbled before the wind--and

the thunder rolled--and the lightning fell--and the rock rocked to its

foundation. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of

the man. And the man trembled in the solitude;--but the night waned and

he sat upon the rock.

 

"Then I grew angry and cursed, with the curse of silence, the river,

and the lilies, and the wind, and the forest, and the heaven, and the

thunder, and the sighs of the water-lilies. And they became accursed,

and were still. And the moon ceased to totter up its pathway to

heaven--and the thunder died away--and the lightning did not flash--and

the clouds hung motionless--and the waters sunk to their level and

remained--and the trees ceased to rock--and the water-lilies sighed no

more--and the murmur was heard no longer from among them, nor any shadow

of sound throughout the vast illimitable desert. And I looked upon the

characters of the rock, and they were changed;--and the characters were

SILENCE.

 

"And mine eyes fell upon the countenance of the man, and his countenance

was wan with terror. And, hurriedly, he raised his head from his hand,

and stood forth upon the rock and listened. But there was no voice

throughout the vast illimitable desert, and the characters upon the rock

were SILENCE. And the man shuddered, and turned his face away, and fled

afar off, in haste, so that I beheld him no more."

 

Now there are fine tales in the volumes of the Magi--in the iron-bound,

melancholy volumes of the Magi. Therein, I say, are glorious histories

of the Heaven, and of the Earth, and of the mighty sea--and of the Genii

that over-ruled the sea, and the earth, and the lofty heaven. There was

much lore too in the sayings which were said by the Sybils; and holy,

holy things were heard of old by the dim leaves that trembled around

Dodona--but, as Allah liveth, that fable which the Demon told me as

he sat by my side in the shadow of the tomb, I hold to be the most

wonderful of all! And as the Demon made an end of his story, he fell

back within the cavity of the tomb and laughed. And I could not laugh

with the Demon, and he cursed me because I could not laugh. And the lynx

which dwelleth forever in the tomb, came out therefrom, and lay down at

the feet of the Demon, and looked at him steadily in the face.

 

 

 

 

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH.

 

THE "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever

been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal--the

redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden

dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The

scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim,

were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy

of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of

the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

 

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his

dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand

hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of

his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his

castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the

creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and

lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers,

having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts.

They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden

impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply

provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to

contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime

it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the

appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori,

there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty,

there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the "Red

Death."

 

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion,

and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince

Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most

unusual magnificence.

 

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the

rooms in which it was held. There were seven--an imperial suite. In many

palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the

folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that

the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was

very different; as might have been expected from the duke's love of the

bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision

embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at

every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the

right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic

window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of

the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in

accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber

into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for

example, in blue--and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber

was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were

purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The

fourth was furnished and lighted with orange--the fifth with white--the

sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black

velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls,

falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But

in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with

the decorations. The panes here were scarlet--a deep blood color. Now in

no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid

the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or

depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from

lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors

that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy

tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that protected its rays through the

tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced

a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or

black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark

hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and

produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered,

that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its

precincts at all.

 

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western

wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a

dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit

of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the

brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and

exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at

each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained

to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound;

and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a

brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the

clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the

more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in

confused reverie or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased,

a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at

each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made

whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock

should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of

sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of

the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock,

and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as

before.

 

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel.

The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and

effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold

and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are

some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not.

It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was

not.

 

He had directed, in great part, the moveable embellishments of the seven

chambers, upon occasion of this great fete; and it was his own guiding

taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they

were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and

phantasm--much of what has been since seen in "Hernani." There were

arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were

delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There was much of the

beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the

terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.

To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of

dreams. And these--the dreams--writhed in and about, taking hue from the

rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo

of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in

the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is

silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they

stand. But the echoes of the chime die away--they have endured but an

instant--and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they

depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe

to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many-tinted

windows through which stream the rays from the tripods. But to the

chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven, there are now none of

the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away; and there flows a

ruddier light through the blood-colored panes; and the blackness of the

sable drapery appals; and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet,

there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly

emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulge in the more

remote gaieties of the other apartments.

 

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat

feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at

length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then

the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers

were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before.

But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the

clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with

more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who

revelled. And thus, too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last

echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many

individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the

presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no

single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having

spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the

whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and

surprise--then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.

 

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be

supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation.

In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but

the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds

of even the prince's indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts

of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with