Contents
The Premature Burial
The Oblong Box
Mystification
The Sphinx
The Spectacles
The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether
The Premature Burial
THERE are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but
which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction.
These the mere romanticist must eschew, if he do not wish to offend
or to disgust. They are with propriety handled only when the severity
and majesty of Truth sanctify and sustain them. We thrill, for
example, with the most intense of “pleasurable pain” over the
accounts of the Passage of the Beresina, of the Earthquake at Lisbon,
of the Plague at London, of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, or of
the stifling of the hundred and twenty-three prisoners in the Black
Hole at Calcutta. But in these accounts it is the fact — it is the reality
— it is the history which excites. As inventions, we should regard
them with simple abhorrence.
I have mentioned some few of the more prominent and august
calamities on record; but in these it is the extent, not less than the
character of the calamity, which so vividly impresses the fancy. I
need not remind the reader that, from the long and weird catalogue
of human miseries, I might have selected many individual instances
more replete with essential suffering than any of these vast
generalities of disaster. The true wretchedness, indeed — the
ultimate woe — is particular, not diffuse. That the ghastly extremes
of agony are endured by man the unit, and never by man the mass
— for this let us thank a merciful God!
To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of
these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.
That it has frequently, very frequently, so fallen will scarcely be
denied by those who think. The boundaries which divide Life from
Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one
ends, and where the other begins? We know that there are diseases in
which occur total cessations of all the apparent functions of vitality,
and yet in which these cessations are merely suspensions, properly
so called. They are only temporary pauses in the incomprehensible
mechanism. A certain period elapses, and some unseen mysterious
principle again sets in motion the magic pinions and the wizard
wheels. The silver cord was not for ever loosed, nor the golden bowl
irreparably broken. But where, meantime, was the soul?
Apart, however, from the inevitable conclusion, a priori that
such causes must produce such effects — that the well-known
occurrence of such cases of suspended animation must naturally
give rise, now and then, to premature interments — apart from this
consideration, we have the direct testimony of medical and ordinary
experience to prove that a vast number of such interments have
actually taken place. I might refer at once, if necessary to a hundred
well authenticated instances. One of very remarkable character, and
of which the circumstances may be fresh in the memory of some of
my readers, occurred, not very long ago, in the neighboring city of
Baltimore, where it occasioned a painful, intense, and widelyextended excitement. The wife of one of the most respectable
citizens-a lawyer of eminence and a member of Congress — was
seized with a sudden and unaccountable illness, which completely
baffled the skill of her physicians. After much suffering she died, or
was supposed to die. No one suspected, indeed, or had reason to
suspect, that she was not actually dead. She presented all the
ordinary appearances of death. The face assumed the usual pinched
and sunken outline. The lips were of the usual marble pallor. The
eyes were lustreless. There was no warmth. Pulsation had ceased. For
three days the body was preserved unburied, during which it had
acquired a stony rigidity. The funeral, in short, was hastened, on
account of the rapid advance of what was supposed to be
decomposition.
The lady was deposited in her family vault, which, for three
subsequent years, was undisturbed. At the expiration of this term it
was opened for the reception of a sarcophagus;— but, alas! how
fearful a shock awaited the husband, who, personally, threw open the
door! As its portals swung outwardly back, some white-apparelled
object fell rattling within his arms. It was the skeleton of his wife in
her yet unmoulded shroud.
A careful investigation rendered it evident that she had revived
within two days after her entombment; that her struggles within the
coffin had caused it to fall from a ledge, or shelf to the floor, where
it was so broken as to permit her escape. A lamp which had been
accidentally left, full of oil, within the tomb, was found empty; it
might have been exhausted, however, by evaporation. On the
uttermost of the steps which led down into the dread chamber was a
large fragment of the coffin, with which, it seemed, that she had
endeavored to arrest attention by striking the iron door. While thus
occupied, she probably swooned, or possibly died, through sheer
terror; and, in failing, her shroud became entangled in some iron —
work which projected interiorly. Thus she remained, and thus she
rotted, erect.
In the year 1810, a case of living inhumation happened in
France, attended with circumstances which go far to warrant the
assertion that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. The heroine of
the story was a Mademoiselle Victorine Lafourcade, a young girl of
illustrious family, of wealth, and of great personal beauty. Among
her numerous suitors was Julien Bossuet, a poor litterateur, or
journalist of Paris. His talents and general amiability had
recommended him to the notice of the heiress, by whom he seems to
have been truly beloved; but her pride of birth decided her, finally,
to reject him, and to wed a Monsieur Renelle, a banker and a
diplomatist of some eminence. After marriage, however, this
gentleman neglected, and, perhaps, even more positively ill-treated
her. Having passed with him some wretched years, she died,— at
least her condition so closely resembled death as to deceive every
one who saw her. She was buried — not in a vault, but in an ordinary
grave in the village of her nativity. Filled with despair, and still
inflamed by the memory of a profound attachment, the lover
journeys from the capital to the remote province in which the
village lies, with the romantic purpose of disinterring the corpse, and
possessing himself of its luxuriant tresses. He reaches the grave. At
midnight he unearths the coffin, opens it, and is in the act of
detaching the hair, when he is arrested by the unclosing of the
beloved eyes. In fact, the lady had been buried alive. Vitality had not
altogether departed, and she was aroused by the caresses of her lover
from the lethargy which had been mistaken for death. He bore her
frantically to his lodgings in the village. He employed certain
powerful restoratives suggested by no little medical learning. In fine,
she revived. She recognized her preserver. She remained with him
until, by slow degrees, she fully recovered her original health. Her
woman’s heart was not adamant, and this last lesson of love sufficed
to soften it. She bestowed it upon Bossuet. She returned no more to
her husband, but, concealing from him her resurrection, fled with
her lover to America. Twenty years afterward, the two returned to
France, in the persuasion that time had so greatly altered the lady’s
appearance that her friends would be unable to recognize her. They
were mistaken, however, for, at the first meeting, Monsieur Renelle
did actually recognize and make claim to his wife. This claim she
resisted, and a judicial tribunal sustained her in her resistance,
deciding that the peculiar circumstances, with the long lapse of
years, had extinguished, not only equitably, but legally, the authority
of the husband.
The “Chirurgical Journal” of Leipsic — a periodical of high
authority and merit, which some American bookseller would do well
to translate and republish, records in a late number a very
distressing event of the character in question.
An officer of artillery, a man of gigantic stature and of robust
health, being thrown from an unmanageable horse, received a very
severe contusion upon the head, which rendered him insensible at
once; the skull was slightly fractured, but no immediate danger was
apprehended. Trepanning was accomplished successfully. He was
bled, and many other of the ordinary means of relief were adopted.
Gradually, however, he fell into a more and more hopeless state of
stupor, and, finally, it was thought that he died.
The weather was warm, and he was buried with indecent haste in
one of the public cemeteries. His funeral took place on Thursday. On
the Sunday following, the grounds of the cemetery were, as usual,
much thronged with visiters, and about noon an intense excitement
was created by the declaration of a peasant that, while sitting upon
the grave of the officer, he had distinctly felt a commotion of the
earth, as if occasioned by some one struggling beneath. At first little
attention was paid to the man’s asseveration; but his evident terror,
and the dogged obstinacy with which he persisted in his story, had at
length their natural effect upon the crowd. Spades were hurriedly
procured, and the grave, which was shamefully shallow, was in a few
minutes so far thrown open that the head of its occupant appeared.
He was then seemingly dead; but he sat nearly erect within his
coffin, the lid of which, in his furious struggles, he had partially
uplifted.
He was forthwith conveyed to the nearest hospital, and there
pronounced to be still living, although in an asphytic condition.
After some hours he revived, recognized individuals of his
acquaintance, and, in broken sentences spoke of his agonies in the
grave.
From what he related, it was clear that he must have been
conscious of life for more than an hour, while inhumed, before
lapsing into insensibility. The grave was carelessly and loosely filled
with an exceedingly porous soil; and thus some air was necessarily
admitted. He heard the footsteps of the crowd overhead, and
endeavored to make himself heard in turn. It was the tumult within
the grounds of the cemetery, he said, which appeared to awaken him
from a deep sleep, but no sooner was he awake than he became fully
aware of the awful horrors of his position.
This patient, it is recorded, was doing well and seemed to be in a
fair way of ultimate recovery, but fell a victim to the quackeries of
medical experiment. The galvanic battery was applied, and he
suddenly expired in one of those ecstatic paroxysms which,
occasionally, it superinduces.
The mention of the galvanic battery, nevertheless, recalls to my
memory a well known and very extraordinary case in point, where
its action proved the means of restoring to animation a young
attorney of London, who had been interred for two days. This
occurred in 1831, and created, at the time, a very profound sensation
wherever it was made the subject of converse.
The patient, Mr. Edward Stapleton, had died, apparently of
typhus fever, accompanied with some anomalous symptoms which
had excited the curiosity of his medical attendants. Upon his
seeming decease, his friends were requested to sanction a postmortem examination, but declined to permit it. As often happens,
when such refusals are made, the practitioners resolved to disinter
the body and dissect it at leisure, in private. Arrangements were
easily effected with some of the numerous corps of body-snatchers,
with which London abounds; and, upon the third night after the
funeral, the supposed corpse was unearthed from a grave eight feet
deep, and deposited in the opening chamber of one of the private
hospitals.
An incision of some extent had been actually made in the
abdomen, when the fresh and undecayed appearance of the subject
suggested an application of the battery. One experiment succeeded
another, and the customary effects supervened, with nothing to
characterize them in any respect, except, upon one or two occasions,
a more than ordinary degree of life-likeness in the convulsive action.
It grew late. The day was about to dawn; and it was thought
expedient, at length, to proceed at once to the dissection. A student,
however, was especially desirous of testing a theory of his own, and
insisted upon applying the battery to one of the pectoral muscles. A
rough gash was made, and a wire hastily brought in contact, when
the patient, with a hurried but quite unconvulsive movement, arose
from the table, stepped into the middle of the floor, gazed about him
uneasily for a few seconds, and then — spoke. What he said was
unintelligible, but words were uttered; the syllabification was
distinct. Having spoken, he fell heavily to the floor.
For some moments all were paralyzed with awe — but the
urgency of the case soon restored them their presence of mind. It
was seen that Mr. Stapleton was alive, although in a swoon. Upon
exhibition of ether he revived and was rapidly restored to health, and
to the society of his friends — from whom, however, all knowledge
of his resuscitation was withheld, until a relapse was no longer to be
apprehended. Their wonder — their rapturous astonishment — may
be conceived.
The most thrilling peculiarity of this incident, nevertheless, is
involved in what Mr. S. himself asserts. He declares that at no period
was he altogether insensible — that, dully and confusedly, he was
aware of everything which happened to him, from the moment in
which he was pronounced dead by his physicians, to that in which he
fell swooning to the floor of the hospital. “I am alive,” were the
uncomprehended words which, upon recognizing the locality of the
dissecting-room, he had endeavored, in his extremity, to utter.
It were an easy matter to multiply such histories as these — but I
forbear — for, indeed, we have no need of such to establish the fact
that premature interments occur. When we reflect how very rarely,
from the nature of the case, we have it in our power to detect them,
we must admit that they may frequently occur without our
cognizance. Scarcely, in truth, is a graveyard ever encroached upon,
for any purpose, to any great extent, that skeletons are not found in
postures which suggest the most fearful of suspicions.
Fearful indeed the suspicion — but more fearful the doom! It
may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well
adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress,
as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs
— the stifling fumes from the damp earth — the clinging to the
death garments — the rigid embrace of the narrow house — the
blackness of the absolute Night — the silence like a sea that
overwhelms — the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror
Worm — these things, with the thoughts of the air and grass above,
with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but
informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they
can never be informed — that our hopeless portion is that of the
really dead — these considerations, I say, carry into the heart, which
still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from
which the most daring imagination must recoil. We know of nothing
so agonizing upon Earth — we can dream of nothing half so hideous
in the realms of the nethermost Hell. And thus all narratives upon
this topic have an interest profound; an interest, nevertheless, which,
through the sacred awe of the topic itself, very properly and very
peculiarly depends upon our conviction of the truth of the matter
narrated. What I have now to tell is of my own actual knowledge —
of my own positive and personal experience.
For several years I had been subject to attacks of the singular
disorder which physicians have agreed to term catalepsy, in default
of a more definitive title. Although both the immediate and the
predisposing causes, and even the actual diagnosis, of this disease are
still mysterious, its obvious and apparent character is sufficiently
well understood. Its variations seem to be chiefly of degree.
Sometimes the patient lies, for a day only, or even for a shorter
period, in a species of exaggerated lethargy. He is senseless and
externally motionless; but the pulsation of the heart is still faintly
perceptible; some traces of warmth remain; a slight color lingers
within the centre of the cheek; and, upon application of a mirror to
the lips, we can detect a torpid, unequal, and vacillating action of the
lungs. Then again the duration of the trance is for weeks — even for
months; while the closest scrutiny, and the most rigorous medical
tests, fail to establish any material distinction between the state of
the sufferer and what we conceive of absolute death. Very usually he
is saved from premature interment solely by the knowledge of his
friends that he has been previously subject to catalepsy, by the
consequent suspicion excited, and, above all, by the non-appearance
of decay. The advances of the malady are, luckily, gradual. The first
manifestations, although marked, are unequivocal. The fits grow
successively more and more distinctive, and endure each for a
longer term than the preceding. In this lies the principal security
from inhumation. The unfortunate whose first attack should be of
the extreme character which is occasionally seen, would almost
inevitably be consigned alive to the tomb.
My own case differed in no important particular from those
mentioned in medical books. Sometimes, without any apparent
cause, I sank, little by little, into a condition of hemi-syncope, or half
swoon; and, in this condition, without pain, without ability to stir, or,
strictly speaking, to think, but with a dull lethargic consciousness of
life and of the presence of those who surrounded my bed, I
remained, until the crisis of the disease restored me, suddenly, to
perfect sensation. At other times I was quickly and impetuously
smitten. I grew sick, and numb, and chilly, and dizzy, and so fell
prostrate at once. Then, for weeks, all was void, and black, and silent,
and Nothing became the universe. Total annihilation could be no
more. From these latter attacks I awoke, however, with a gradation
slow in proportion to the suddenness of the seizure. Just as the day
dawns to the friendless and houseless beggar who roams the streets
throughout the long desolate winter night — just so tardily — just
so wearily — just so cheerily came back the light of the Soul to me.
Apart from the tendency to trance, however, my general health
appeared to be good; nor could I perceive that it was at all affected
by the one prevalent malady — unless, indeed, an idiosyncrasy in my
ordinary sleep may be looked upon as superinduced. Upon awaking
from slumber, I could never gain, at once, thorough possession of
my senses, and always remained, for many minutes, in much
bewilderment and perplexity;— the mental faculties in general, but
the memory in especial, being in a condition of absolute abeyance.
In all that I endured there was no physical suffering but of
moral distress an infinitude. My fancy grew charnel, I talked “of
worms, of tombs, and epitaphs.” I was lost in reveries of death, and
the idea of premature burial held continual possession of my brain.
The ghastly Danger to which I was subjected haunted me day and
night. In the former, the torture of meditation was excessive — in
the latter, supreme. When the grim Darkness overspread the Earth,
then, with every horror of thought, I shook — shook as the quivering
plumes upon the hearse. When Nature could endure wakefulness no
longer, it was with a struggle that I consented to sleep — for I
shuddered to reflect that, upon awaking, I might find myself the
tenant of a grave. And when, finally, I sank into slumber, it was only
to rush at once into a world of phantasms, above which, with vast,
sable, overshadowing wing, hovered, predominant, the one
sepulchral Idea.
From the innumerable images of gloom which thus oppressed
me in dreams, I select for record but a solitary vision. Methought I
was immersed in a cataleptic trance of more than usual duration and
profundity. Suddenly there came an icy hand upon my forehead, and
an impatient, gibbering voice whispered the word “Arise!” within my
ear.
I sat erect. The darkness was total. I could not see the figure of
him who had aroused me. I could call to mind neither the period at
which I had fallen into the trance, nor the locality in which I then
lay. While I remained motionless, and busied in endeavors to collect
my thought, the cold hand grasped me fiercely by the wrist, shaking
it petulantly, while the gibbering voice said again:
“Arise! did I not bid thee arise?”
“And who,” I demanded, “art thou?”
“I have no name in the regions which I inhabit,” replied the
voice, mournfully; “I was mortal, but am fiend. I was merciless, but
am pitiful. Thou dost feel that I shudder.— My teeth chatter as I
speak, yet it is not with the chilliness of the night — of the night
without end. But this hideousness is insufferable. How canst thou
tranquilly sleep? I cannot rest for the cry of these great agonies.
These sights are more than I can bear. Get thee up! Come with me
into the outer Night, and let me unfold to thee the graves. Is not this
a spectacle of woe?— Behold!”
I looked; and the unseen figure, which still grasped me by the
wrist, had caused to be thrown open the graves of all mankind, and
from each issued the faint phosphoric radiance of decay, so that I
could see into the innermost recesses, and there view the shrouded
bodies in their sad and solemn slumbers with the worm. But alas! the
real sleepers were fewer, by many millions, than those who
slumbered not at all; and there was a feeble struggling; and there
was a general sad unrest; and from out the depths of the countless
pits there came a melancholy rustling from the garments of the
buried. And of those who seemed tranquilly to repose, I saw that a
vast number had changed, in a greater or less degree, the rigid and
uneasy position in which they had originally been entombed. And
the voice again said to me as I gazed:
“Is it not — oh! is it not a pitiful sight?”— but, before I could find
words to reply, the figure had ceased to grasp my wrist, the
phosphoric lights expired, and the graves were closed with a sudden
violence, while from out them arose a tumult of despairing cries,
saying again: “Is it not — O, God, is it not a very pitiful sight?”
Phantasies such as these, presenting themselves at night,
extended their terrific influence far into my waking hours. My
nerves became thoroughly unstrung, and I fell a prey to perpetual
horror. I hesitated to ride, or to walk, or to indulge in any exercise
that would carry me from home. In fact, I no longer dared trust
myself out of the immediate presence of those who were aware of
my proneness to catalepsy, lest, falling into one of my usual fits, I
should be buried before my real condition could be ascertained. I
doubted the care, the fidelity of my dearest friends. I dreaded that, in
some trance of more than customary duration, they might be
prevailed upon to regard me as irrecoverable. I even went so far as to
fear that, as I occasioned much trouble, they might be glad to
consider any very protracted attack as sufficient excuse for getting
rid of me altogether. It was in vain they endeavored to reassure me
by the most solemn promises. I exacted the most sacred oaths, that
under no circumstances they would bury me until decomposition
had so materially advanced as to render farther preservation
impossible. And, even then, my mortal terrors would listen to no
reason — would accept no consolation. I entered into a series of
elaborate precautions. Among other things, I had the family vault so
remodelled as to admit of being readily opened from within. The
slightest pressure upon a long lever that extended far into the tomb
would cause the iron portal to fly back. There were arrangements
also for the free admission of air and light, and convenient
receptacles for food and water, within immediate reach of the coffin
intended for my reception. This coffin was warmly and softly
padded, and was provided with a lid, fashioned upon the principle of
the vault-door, with the addition of springs so contrived that the
feeblest movement of the body would be sufficient to set it at liberty.
Besides all this, there was suspended from the roof of the tomb, a
large bell, the rope of which, it was designed, should extend through
a hole in the coffin, and so be fastened to one of the hands of the
corpse. But, alas? what avails the vigilance against the Destiny of
man? Not even these well-contrived securities sufficed to save from
the uttermost agonies of living inhumation, a wretch to these
agonies foredoomed!
There arrived an epoch — as often before there had arrived — in
which I found myself emerging from total unconsciousness into the
first feeble and indefinite sense of existence. Slowly — with a tortoise
gradation — approached the faint gray dawn of the psychal day. A
torpid uneasiness. An apathetic endurance of dull pain. No care —
no hope — no effort. Then, after a long interval, a ringing in the
ears; then, after a lapse still longer, a prickling or tingling sensation
in the extremities; then a seemingly eternal period of pleasurable
quiescence, during which the awakening feelings are struggling into
thought; then a brief re-sinking into non-entity; then a sudden
recovery. At length the slight quivering of an eyelid, and
immediately thereupon, an electric shock of a terror, deadly and
indefinite, which sends the blood in torrents from the temples to the
heart. And now the first positive effort to think. And now the first
endeavor to remember. And now a partial and evanescent success.
And now the memory has so far regained its dominion, that, in some
measure, I am cognizant of my state. I feel that I am not awaking
from ordinary sleep. I recollect that I have been subject to catalepsy.
And now, at last, as if by the rush of an ocean, my shuddering spirit
is overwhelmed by the one grim Danger — by the one spectral and
ever-prevalent idea.
For some minutes after this fancy possessed me, I remained
without motion. And why? I could not summon courage to move. I
dared not make the effort which was to satisfy me of my fate — and
yet there was something at my heart which whispered me it was
sure. Despair — such as no other species of wretchedness ever calls
into being — despair alone urged me, after long irresolution, to
uplift the heavy lids of my eyes. I uplifted them. It was dark — all
dark. I knew that the fit was over. I knew that the crisis of my
disorder had long passed. I knew that I had now fully recovered the
use of my visual faculties — and yet it was dark — all dark — the
intense and utter raylessness of the Night that endureth for
evermore.
I endeavored to shriek-, and my lips and my parched tongue
moved convulsively together in the attempt — but no voice issued
from the cavernous lungs, which oppressed as if by the weight of
some incumbent mountain, gasped and palpitated, with the heart, at
every elaborate and struggling inspiration.
The movement of the jaws, in this effort to cry aloud, showed me
that they were bound up, as is usual with the dead. I felt, too, that I
lay upon some hard substance, and by something similar my sides
were, also, closely compressed. So far, I had not ventured to stir any
of my limbs — but now I violently threw up my arms, which had
been lying at length, with the wrists crossed. They struck a solid
wooden substance, which extended above my person at an elevation
of not more than six inches from my face. I could no longer doubt
that I reposed within a coffin at last.
And now, amid all my infinite miseries, came sweetly the cherub
Hope — for I thought of my precautions. I writhed, and made
spasmodic exertions to force open the lid: it would not move. I felt
my wrists for the bell-rope: it was not to be found. And now the
Comforter fled for ever, and a still sterner Despair reigned
triumphant; for I could not help perceiving the absence of the
paddings which I had so carefully prepared — and then, too, there
came suddenly to my nostrils the strong peculiar odor of moist
earth. The conclusion was irresistible. I was not within the vault. I
had fallen into a trance while absent from home-while among
strangers — when, or how, I could not remember — and it was they
who had buried me as a dog — nailed up in some common coffin —
and thrust deep, deep, and for ever, into some ordinary and nameless
grave.
As this awful conviction forced itself, thus, into the innermost
chambers of my soul, I once again struggled to cry aloud. And in
this second endeavor I succeeded. A long, wild, and continuous
shriek, or yell of agony, resounded through the realms of the
subterranean Night.
“Hillo! hillo, there!” said a gruff voice, in reply.
“What the devil’s the matter now!” said a second.
“Get out o’ that!” said a third.
“What do you mean by yowling in that ere kind of style, like a
cattymount?” said a fourth; and hereupon I was seized and shaken
without ceremony, for several minutes, by a junto of very rough-
looking individuals. They did not arouse me from my slumber — for
I was wide awake when I screamed — but they restored me to the
full possession of my memory.
This adventure occurred near Richmond, in Virginia.
Accompanied by a friend, I had proceeded, upon a gunning
expedition, some miles down the banks of the James River. Night
approached, and we were overtaken by a storm. The cabin of a small
sloop lying at anchor in the stream, and laden with garden mould,
afforded us the only available shelter. We made the best of it, and
passed the night on board. I slept in one of the only two berths in the
vessel — and the berths of a sloop of sixty or twenty tons need
scarcely be described. That which I occupied had no bedding of any
kind. Its extreme width was eighteen inches. The distance of its
bottom from the deck overhead was precisely the same. I found it a
matter of exceeding difficulty to squeeze myself in. Nevertheless, I
slept soundly, and the whole of my vision — for it was no dream, and
no nightmare — arose naturally from the circumstances of my
position — from my ordinary bias of thought — and from the
difficulty, to which I have alluded, of collecting my senses, and
especially of regaining my memory, for a long time after awaking
from slumber. The men who shook me were the crew of the sloop,
and some laborers engaged to unload it. From the load itself came
the earthly smell. The bandage about the jaws was a silk
handkerchief in which I had bound up my head, in default of my
customary nightcap.
The tortures endured, however, were indubitably quite equal for
the time, to those of actual sepulture. They were fearfully — they
were inconceivably hideous; but out of Evil proceeded Good; for
their very excess wrought in my spirit an inevitable revulsion. My
soul acquired tone — acquired temper. I went abroad. I took
vigorous exercise. I breathed the free air of Heaven. I thought upon
other subjects than Death. I discarded my medical books. “Buchan” I
burned. I read no “Night Thoughts”— no fustian about churchyards
— no bugaboo tales — such as this. In short, I became a new man,
and lived a man’s life. From that memorable night, I dismissed
forever my charnel apprehensions, and with them vanished the
cataleptic disorder, of which, perhaps, they had been less the
consequence than the cause.
There are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the
world of our sad Humanity may assume the semblance of a Hell —
but the imagination of man is no Carathis, to explore with impunity
its every cavern. Alas! the grim legion of sepulchral terrors cannot
be regarded as altogether fanciful — but, like the Demons in whose
company Afrasiab made his voyage down the Oxus, they must sleep,
or they will devour us — they must be suffered to slumber, or we
perish.
The Oblong Box
SOME YEARS ago, I engaged passage from Charleston, S. C, to the
city of New York, in the fine packet-ship “Independence,” Captain
Hardy. We were to sail on the fifteenth of the month (June), weather
permitting; and on the fourteenth, I went on board to arrange some
matters in my state-room.
I found that we were to have a great many passengers, including
a more than usual number of ladies. On the list were several of my
acquaintances, and among other names, I was rejoiced to see that of
Mr. Cornelius Wyatt, a young artist, for whom I entertained feelings
of warm friendship. He had been with me a fellow-student at C—
University, where we were very much together. He had the ordinary
temperament of genius, and was a compound of misanthropy,
sensibility, and enthusiasm. To these qualities he united the warmest
and truest heart which ever beat in a human bosom.
I observed that his name was carded upon three state-rooms;
and, upon again referring to the list of passengers, I found that he
had engaged passage for himself, wife, and two sisters — his own.
The state-rooms were sufficiently roomy, and each had two berths,
one above the other. These berths, to be sure, were so exceedingly
narrow as to be insufficient for more than one person; still, I could
not comprehend why there were three state-rooms for these four
persons. I was, just at that epoch, in one of those moody frames of
mind which make a man abnormally inquisitive about trifles: and I
confess, with shame, that I busied myself in a variety of ill-bred and
preposterous conjectures about this matter of the supernumerary
state-room. It was no business of mine, to be sure, but with none the
less pertinacity did I occupy myself in attempts to resolve the
enigma. At last I reached a conclusion which wrought in me great
wonder why I had not arrived at it before. “It is a servant of course,” I
said; “what a fool I am, not sooner to have thought of so obvious a
solution!” And then I again repaired to the list — but here I saw
distinctly that no servant was to come with the party, although, in
fact, it had been the original design to bring one — for the words
“and servant” had been first written and then overscored. “Oh, extra
baggage, to be sure,” I now said to myself —“something he wishes
not to be put in the hold — something to be kept under his own eye
— ah, I have it — a painting or so — and this is what he has been
bargaining about with Nicolino, the Italian Jew.” This idea satisfied
me, and I dismissed my curiosity for the nonce.
Wyatt’s two sisters I knew very well, and most amiable and clever
girls they were. His wife he had newly married, and I had never yet
seen her. He had often talked about her in my presence, however,
and in his usual style of enthusiasm. He described her as of
surpassing beauty, wit, and accomplishment. I was, therefore, quite
anxious to make her acquaintance.
On the day in which I visited the ship (the fourteenth), Wyatt and
party were also to visit it — so the captain informed me — and I
waited on board an hour longer than I had designed, in hope of
being presented to the bride, but then an apology came. “Mrs. W. was
a little indisposed, and would decline coming on board until tomorrow, at the hour of sailing.”
The morrow having arrived, I was going from my hotel to the
wharf, when Captain Hardy met me and said that, “owing to
circumstances” (a stupid but convenient phrase), “he rather thought
the ‘Independence’ would not sail for a day or two, and that when all
was ready, he would send up and let me know.” This I thought
strange, for there was a stiff southerly breeze; but as “the
circumstances” were not forthcoming, although I pumped for them
with much perseverance, I had nothing to do but to return home and
digest my impatience at leisure.
I did not receive the expected message from the captain for
nearly a week. It came at length, however, and I immediately went
on board. The ship was crowded with passengers, and every thing
was in the bustle attendant upon making sail. Wyatt’s party arrived
in about ten minutes after myself. There were the two sisters, the
bride, and the artist — the latter in one of his customary fits of
moody misanthropy. I was too well used to these, however, to pay
them any special attention. He did not even introduce me to his wife
— this courtesy devolving, per force, upon his sister Marian — a very
sweet and intelligent girl, who, in a few hurried words, made us
acquainted.
Mrs. Wyatt had been closely veiled; and when she raised her veil,
in acknowledging my bow, I confess that I was very profoundly
astonished. I should have been much more so, however, had not long
experience advised me not to trust, with too implicit a reliance, the
enthusiastic descriptions of my friend, the artist, when indulging in
comments upon the loveliness of woman. When beauty was the
theme, I well knew with what facility he soared into the regions of
the purely ideal.
The truth is, I could not help regarding Mrs. Wyatt as a
decidedly plain-looking woman. If not positively ugly, she was not, I
think, very far from it. She was dressed, however, in exquisite taste —
and then I had no doubt that she had captivated my friend’s heart by
the more enduring graces of the intellect and soul. She said very few
words, and passed at once into her state-room with Mr. W.
My old inquisitiveness now returned. There was no servant —
that was a settled point. I looked, therefore, for the extra baggage.
After some delay, a cart arrived at the wharf, with an oblong pine
box, which was every thing that seemed to be expected. Immediately
upon its arrival we made sail, and in a short time were safely over
the bar and standing out to sea.
The box in question was, as I say, oblong. It was about six feet in
length by two and a half in breadth; I observed it attentively, and
like to be precise. Now this shape was peculiar; and no sooner had I
seen it, than I took credit to myself for the accuracy of my guessing.
I had reached the conclusion, it will be remembered, that the extra
baggage of my friend, the artist, would prove to be pictures, or at
least a picture; for I knew he had been for several weeks in
conference with Nicolino:— and now here was a box, which, from its
shape, could possibly contain nothing in the world but a copy of
Leonardo’s “Last Supper;” and a copy of this very “Last Supper,” done
by Rubini the younger, at Florence, I had known, for some time, to
be in the possession of Nicolino. This point, therefore, I considered as
sufficiently settled. I chuckled excessively when I thought of my
acumen. It was the first time I had ever known Wyatt to keep from
me any of his artistical secrets; but here he evidently intended to
steal a march upon me, and smuggle a fine picture to New York,
under my very nose; expecting me to know nothing of the matter. I
resolved to quiz him well, now and hereafter.
One thing, however, annoyed me not a little. The box did not go
into the extra state-room. It was deposited in Wyatt’s own; and there,
too, it remained, occupying very nearly the whole of the floor — no
doubt to the exceeding discomfort of the artist and his wife;— this
the more especially as the tar or paint with which it was lettered in
sprawling capitals, emitted a strong, disagreeable, and, to my fancy, a
peculiarly disgusting odor. On the lid were painted the words —“Mrs.
Adelaide Curtis, Albany, New York. Charge of Cornelius Wyatt, Esq.
This side up. To be handled with care.”
Now, I was aware that Mrs. Adelaide Curtis, of Albany, was the
artist’s wife’s mother,— but then I looked upon the whole address as
a mystification, intended especially for myself. I made up my mind,
of course, that the box and contents would never get farther north
than the studio of my misanthropic friend, in Chambers Street, New
York.
For the first three or four days we had fine weather, although the
wind was dead ahead; having chopped round to the northward,
immediately upon our losing sight of the coast. The passengers were,
consequently, in high spirits and disposed to be social. I must except,
however, Wyatt and his sisters, who behaved stiffly, and, I could not
help thinking, uncourteously to the rest of the party. Wyatt’s conduct
I did not so much regard. He was gloomy, even beyond his usual
habit — in fact he was morose — but in him I was prepared for
eccentricity. For the sisters, however, I could make no excuse. They
secluded themselves in their staterooms during the greater part of
the passage, and absolutely refused, although I repeatedly urged
them, to hold communication with any person on board.
Mrs. Wyatt herself was far more agreeable. That is to say, she was
chatty; and to be chatty is no slight recommendation at sea. She
became excessively intimate with most of the ladies; and, to my
profound astonishment, evinced no equivocal disposition to coquet
with the men. She amused us all very much. I say “amused”— and
scarcely know how to explain myself. The truth is, I soon found that
Mrs. W. was far oftener laughed at than with. The gentlemen said
little about her; but the ladies, in a little while, pronounced her “a
good-hearted thing, rather indifferent looking, totally uneducated,
and decidedly vulgar.” The great wonder was, how Wyatt had been
entrapped into such a match. Wealth was the general solution — but
this I knew to be no solution at all; for Wyatt had told me that she
neither brought him a dollar nor had any expectations from any
source whatever. “He had married,” he said, “for love, and for love
only; and his bride was far more than worthy of his love.” When I
thought of these expressions, on the part of my friend, I confess that
I felt indescribably puzzled. Could it be possible that he was taking
leave of his senses? What else could I think? He, so refined, so
intellectual, so fastidious, with so exquisite a perception of the faulty,
and so keen an appreciation of the beautiful! To be sure, the lady
seemed especially fond of him — particularly so in his absence —
when she made herself ridiculous by frequent quotations of what
had been said by her “beloved husband, Mr. Wyatt.” The word
“husband” seemed forever — to use one of her own delicate
expressions — forever “on the tip of her tongue.” In the meantime, it
was observed by all on board, that he avoided her in the most
pointed manner, and, for the most part, shut himself up alone in his
state-room, where, in fact, he might have been said to live altogether,
leaving his wife at full liberty to amuse herself as she thought best,
in the public society of the main cabin.
My conclusion, from what I saw and heard, was, that, the artist,
by some unaccountable freak of fate, or perhaps in some fit of
enthusiastic and fanciful passion, had been induced to unite himself
with a person altogether beneath him, and that the natural result,
entire and speedy disgust, had ensued. I pitied him from the bottom
of my heart — but could not, for that reason, quite forgive his
incommunicativeness in the matter of the “Last Supper.” For this I
resolved to have my revenge.
One day he came upon deck, and, taking his arm as had been my
wont, I sauntered with him backward and forward. His gloom,
however (which I considered quite natural under the circumstances),
seemed entirely unabated. He said little, and that moodily, and with
evident effort. I ventured a jest or two, and he made a sickening
attempt at a smile. Poor fellow!— as I thought of his wife, I
wondered that he could have heart to put on even the semblance of
mirth. I determined to commence a series of covert insinuations, or
innuendoes, about the oblong box — just to let him perceive,
gradually, that I was not altogether the butt, or victim, of his little bit
of pleasant mystification. My first observation was by way of opening
a masked battery. I said something about the “peculiar shape of that
box-,” and, as I spoke the words, I smiled knowingly, winked, and
touched him gently with my forefinger in the ribs.
The manner in which Wyatt received this harmless pleasantry
convinced me, at once, that he was mad. At first he stared at me as if
he found it impossible to comprehend the witticism of my remark;
but as its point seemed slowly to make its way into his brain, his
eyes, in the same proportion, seemed protruding from their sockets.
Then he grew very red — then hideously pale — then, as if highly
amused with what I had insinuated, he began a loud and boisterous
laugh, which, to my astonishment, he kept up, with gradually
increasing vigor, for ten minutes or more. In conclusion, he fell flat
and heavily upon the deck. When I ran to uplift him, to all
appearance he was dead.
I called assistance, and, with much difficulty, we brought him to
himself. Upon reviving he spoke incoherently for some time. At
length we bled him and put him to bed. The next morning he was
quite recovered, so far as regarded his mere bodily health. Of his
mind I say nothing, of course. I avoided him during the rest of the
passage, by advice of the captain, who seemed to coincide with me
altogether in my views of his insanity, but cautioned me to say
nothing on this head to any person on board.
Several circumstances occurred immediately after this fit of
Wyatt which contributed to heighten the curiosity with which I was
already possessed. Among other things, this: I had been nervous —
drank too much strong green tea, and slept ill at night — in fact, for
two nights I could not be properly said to sleep at all. Now, my stateroom opened into the main cabin, or dining-room, as did those of all
the single men on board. Wyatt’s three rooms were in the after-cabin,
which was separated from the main one by a slight sliding door,
never locked even at night. As we were almost constantly on a wind,
and the breeze was not a little stiff, the ship heeled to leeward very
considerably; and whenever her starboard side was to leeward, the
sliding door between the cabins slid open, and so remained, nobody
taking the trouble to get up and shut it. But my berth was in such a
position, that when my own state-room door was open, as well as the
sliding door in question (and my own door was always open on
account of the heat,) I could see into the after-cabin quite distinctly,
and just at that portion of it, too, where were situated the state-rooms
of Mr. Wyatt. Well, during two nights (not consecutive) while I lay
awake, I clearly saw Mrs. W., about eleven o’clock upon each night,
steal cautiously from the state-room of Mr. W., and enter the extra
room, where she remained until daybreak, when she was called by
her husband and went back. That they were virtually separated was
clear. They had separate apartments — no doubt in contemplation of
a more permanent divorce; and here, after all I thought was the
mystery of the extra state-room.
There was another circumstance, too, which interested me much.
During the two wakeful nights in question, and immediately after
the disappearance of Mrs. Wyatt into the extra state-room, I was
attracted by certain singular cautious, subdued noises in that of her
husband. After listening to them for some time, with thoughtful
attention, I at length succeeded perfectly in translating their import.
They were sounds occasioned by the artist in prying open the oblong
box, by means of a chisel and mallet — the latter being apparently
muffled, or deadened, by some soft woollen or cotton substance in
which its head was enveloped.
In this manner I fancied I could distinguish the precise moment
when he fairly disengaged the lid — also, that I could determine
when he removed it altogether, and when he deposited it upon the
lower berth in his room; this latter point I knew, for example, by
certain slight taps which the lid made in striking against the wooden
edges of the berth, as he endeavored to lay it down very gently —
there being no room for it on the floor. After this there was a dead
stillness, and I heard nothing more, upon either occasion, until
nearly daybreak; unless, perhaps, I may mention a low sobbing, or
murmuring sound, so very much suppressed as to be nearly
inaudible — if, indeed, the whole of this latter noise were not rather
produced by my own imagination. I say it seemed to resemble
sobbing or sighing — but, of course, it could not have been either. I
rather think it was a ringing in my own ears. Mr. Wyatt, no doubt,
according to custom, was merely giving the rein to one of his
hobbies — indulging in one of his fits of artistic enthusiasm. He had
opened his oblong box, in order to feast his eyes on the pictorial
treasure within. There was nothing in this, however, to make him
sob. I repeat, therefore, that it must have been simply a freak of my
own fancy, distempered by good Captain Hardy’s green tea. just
before dawn, on each of the two nights of which I speak, I distinctly
heard Mr. Wyatt replace the lid upon the oblong box, and force the
nails into their old places by means of the muffled mallet. Having
done this, he issued from his state-room, fully dressed, and
proceeded to call Mrs. W. from hers.
We had been at sea seven days, and were now off Cape Hatteras,
when there came a tremendously heavy blow from the southwest.
We were, in a measure, prepared for it, however, as the weather had
been holding out threats for some time. Every thing was made snug,
alow and aloft; and as the wind steadily freshened, we lay to, at
length, under spanker and foretopsail, both double-reefed.
In this trim we rode safely enough for forty-eight hours — the
ship proving herself an excellent sea-boat in many respects, and
shipping no water of any consequence. At the end of this period,
however, the gale had freshened into a hurricane, and our after —
sail split into ribbons, bringing us so much in the trough of the water
that we shipped several prodigious seas, one immediately after the
other. By this accident we lost three men overboard with the caboose,
and nearly the whole of the larboard bulwarks. Scarcely had we
recovered our senses, before the foretopsail went into shreds, when
we got up a storm stay — sail and with this did pretty well for some
hours, the ship heading the sea much more steadily than before.
The gale still held on, however, and we saw no signs of its
abating. The rigging was found to be ill-fitted, and greatly strained;
and on the third day of the blow, about five in the afternoon, our
mizzen-mast, in a heavy lurch to windward, went by the board. For
an hour or more, we tried in vain to get rid of it, on account of the
prodigious rolling of the ship; and, before we had succeeded, the
carpenter came aft and announced four feet of water in the hold. To
add to our dilemma, we found the pumps choked and nearly useless.
All was now confusion and despair — but an effort was made to
lighten the ship by throwing overboard as much of her cargo as
could be reached, and by cutting away the two masts that remained.
This we at last accomplished — but we were still unable to do any
thing at the pumps; and, in the meantime, the leak gained on us
very fast.
At sundown, the gale had sensibly diminished in violence, and as
the sea went down with it, we still entertained faint hopes of saving
ourselves in the boats. At eight P. M., the clouds broke away to
windward, and we had the advantage of a full moon — a piece of
good fortune which served wonderfully to cheer our drooping spirits.
After incredible labor we succeeded, at length, in getting the
longboat over the side without material accident, and into this we
crowded the whole of the crew and most of the passengers. This
party made off immediately, and, after undergoing much suffering,
finally arrived, in safety, at Ocracoke Inlet, on the third day after the
wreck.
Fourteen passengers, with the captain, remained on board,
resolving to trust their fortunes to the jolly-boat at the stern. We
lowered it without difficulty, although it was only by a miracle that
we prevented it from swamping as it touched the water. It contained,
when afloat, the captain and his wife, Mr. Wyatt and party, a Mexican
officer, wife, four children, and myself, with a negro valet.
We had no room, of course, for any thing except a few positively
necessary instruments, some provisions, and the clothes upon our
backs. No one had thought of even attempting to save any thing
more. What must have been the astonishment of all, then, when
having proceeded a few fathoms from the ship, Mr. Wyatt stood up
in the stern-sheets, and coolly demanded of Captain Hardy that the
boat should be put back for the purpose of taking in his oblong box!
“Sit down, Mr. Wyatt,” replied the captain, somewhat sternly,
“you will capsize us if you do not sit quite still. Our gunwhale is
almost in the water now.”
“The box!” vociferated Mr. Wyatt, still standing —“the box, I say!
Captain Hardy, you cannot, you will not refuse me. Its weight will be
but a trifle — it is nothing — mere nothing. By the mother who bore
you — for the love of Heaven — by your hope of salvation, I implore
you to put back for the box!”
The captain, for a moment, seemed touched by the earnest
appeal of the artist, but he regained his stern composure, and merely
said:
“Mr. Wyatt, you are mad. I cannot listen to you. Sit down, I say, or
you will swamp the boat. Stay — hold him — seize him!— he is
about to spring overboard! There — I knew it — he is over!”
As the captain said this, Mr. Wyatt, in fact, sprang from the boat,
and, as we were yet in the lee of the wreck, succeeded, by almost
superhuman exertion, in getting hold of a rope which hung from the
fore-chains. In another moment he was on board, and rushing
frantically down into the cabin.
In the meantime, we had been swept astern of the ship, and
being quite out of her lee, were at the mercy of the tremendous sea
which was still running. We made a determined effort to put back,
but our little boat was like a feather in the breath of the tempest. We
saw at a glance that the doom of the unfortunate artist was sealed.
As our distance from the wreck rapidly increased, the madman
(for as such only could we regard him) was seen to emerge from the
companion — way, up which by dint of strength that appeared
gigantic, he dragged, bodily, the oblong box. While we gazed in the
extremity of astonishment, he passed, rapidly, several turns of a
three-inch rope, first around the box and then around his body. In
another instant both body and box were in the sea — disappearing
suddenly, at once and forever.
We lingered awhile sadly upon our oars, with our eyes riveted
upon the spot. At length we pulled away. The silence remained
unbroken for an hour. Finally, I hazarded a remark.
“Did you observe, captain, how suddenly they sank? Was not that
an exceedingly singular thing? I confess that I entertained some
feeble hope of his final deliverance, when I saw him lash himself to
the box, and commit himself to the sea.”
“They sank as a matter of course,” replied the captain, “and that
like a shot. They will soon rise again, however — but not till the salt
melts.”
“The salt!” I ejaculated.
“Hush!” said the captain, pointing to the wife and sisters of the
deceased. “We must talk of these things at some more appropriate
time.”
We suffered much, and made a narrow escape, but fortune
befriended us, as well as our mates in the long-boat. We landed, in
fine, more dead than alive, after four days of intense distress, upon
the beach opposite Roanoke Island. We remained here a week, were
not ill-treated by the wreckers, and at length obtained a passage to
New York.
About a month after the loss of the “Independence,” I happened
to meet Captain Hardy in Broadway. Our conversation turned,
naturally, upon the disaster, and especially upon the sad fate of poor
Wyatt. I thus learned the following particulars.
The artist had engaged passage for himself, wife, two sisters and
a servant. His wife was, indeed, as she had been represented, a most
lovely, and most accomplished woman. On the morning of the
fourteenth of June (the day in which I first visited the ship), the lady
suddenly sickened and died. The young husband was frantic with
grief — but circumstances imperatively forbade the deferring his
voyage to New York. It was necessary to take to her mother the
corpse of his adored wife, and, on the other hand, the universal
prejudice which would prevent his doing so openly was well known.
Nine-tenths of the passengers would have abandoned the ship rather
than take passage with a dead body.
In this dilemma, Captain Hardy arranged that the corpse, being
first partially embalmed, and packed, with a large quantity of salt, in
a box of suitable dimensions, should be conveyed on board as
merchandise. Nothing was to be said of the lady’s decease; and, as it
was well understood that Mr. Wyatt had engaged passage for his
wife, it became necessary that some person should personate her
during the voyage. This the deceased lady’s -maid was easily
prevailed on to do. The extra state-room, originally engaged for this
girl during her mistress’ life, was now merely retained. In this stateroom the pseudo-wife, slept, of course, every night. In the daytime
she performed, to the best of her ability, the part of her mistress —
whose person, it had been carefully ascertained, was unknown to any
of the passengers on board.
My own mistake arose, naturally enough, through too careless,
too inquisitive, and too impulsive a temperament. But of late, it is a
rare thing that I sleep soundly at night. There is a countenance
which haunts me, turn as I will. There is an hysterical laugh which
will forever ring within my ears.
Mystification
“Slid, if these be your “passados” and “montantes,” I’ll have none o’
them.”— NED KNOWLES.
THE BARON RITZNER VON JUNG was a noble Hungarian
family, every member of which (at least as far back into antiquity as
any certain records extend) was more or less remarkable for talent of
some description — the majority for that species of grotesquerie in
conception of which Tieck, a scion of the house, has given a vivid,
although by no means the most vivid exemplifications. My
acquaintance with Ritzner commenced at the magnificent Chateau
Jung, into which a train of droll adventures, not to be made public,
threw a place in his regard, and here, with somewhat more difficulty,
a partial insight into his mental conformation. In later days this
insight grew more clear, as the intimacy which had at first permitted
it became more close; and when, after three years of the character of
the Baron Ritzner von Jung.
I remember the buzz of curiosity which his advent excited within
the college precincts on the night of the twenty-fifth of June. I
remember still more distinctly, that while he was pronounced by all
parties at first sight “the most remarkable man in the world,” no
person made any attempt at accounting for his opinion. That he was
unique appeared so undeniable, that it was deemed impertinent to
inquire wherein the uniquity consisted. But, letting this matter pass
for the present, I will merely observe that, from the first moment of
his setting foot within the limits of the university, he began to
exercise over the habits, manners, persons, purses, and propensities
of the whole community which surrounded him, an influence the
most extensive and despotic, yet at the same time the most indefinite
and altogether unaccountable. Thus the brief period of his residence
at the university forms an era in its annals, and is characterized by
all classes of people appertaining to it or its dependencies as “that
very extraordinary epoch forming the domination of the Baron
Ritzner von Jung.” then of no particular age, by which I mean that it
was impossible to form a guess respecting his age by any data
personally afforded. He might have been fifteen or fifty, and was
twenty-one years and seven months. He was by no means a
handsome man — perhaps the reverse. The contour of his face was
somewhat angular and harsh. His forehead was lofty and very fair;
his nose a snub; his eyes large, heavy, glassy, and meaningless.
About the mouth there was more to be observed. The lips were
gently protruded, and rested the one upon the other, after such a
fashion that it is impossible to conceive any, even the most complex,
combination of human features, conveying so entirely, and so singly,
the idea of unmitigated gravity, solemnity and repose.
It will be perceived, no doubt, from what I have already said, that
the Baron was one of those human anomalies now and then to be
found, who make the science of mystification the study and the
business of their lives. For this science a peculiar turn of mind gave
him instinctively the cue, while his physical appearance afforded
him unusual facilities for carrying his prospects into effect. I
quaintly termed the domination of the Baron Ritzner von Jung, ever
rightly entered into the mystery which overshadowed his character. I
truly think that no person at the university, with the exception of
myself, ever suspected him to be capable of a joke, verbal or
practical:— the old bull-dog at the garden-gate would sooner have
been accused,— the ghost of Heraclitus,— or the wig of the
Emeritus Professor of Theology. This, too, when it was evident that
the most egregious and unpardonable of all conceivable tricks,
whimsicalities and buffooneries were brought about, if not directly
by him, at least plainly through his intermediate agency or
connivance. The beauty, if I may so call it, of his art mystifique, lay
in that consummate ability (resulting from an almost intuitive
knowledge of human nature, and a most wonderful self-possession,)
by means of which he never failed to make it appear that the
drolleries he was occupied in bringing to a point, arose partly in
spite, and partly in consequence of the laudable efforts he was
making for their prevention, and for the preservation of the good
order and dignity of Alma Mater. The deep, the poignant, the
overwhelming mortification, which upon each such failure of his
praise worthy endeavors, would suffuse every lineament of his
countenance, left not the slightest room for doubt of his sincerity in
the bosoms of even his most skeptical companions. The adroitness,
too, was no less worthy of observation by which he contrived to shift
the sense of the grotesque from the creator to the created — from
his own person to the absurdities to which he had given rise. In no
instance before that of which I speak, have I known the habitual
mystific escape the natural consequence of his manoevres — an
attachment of the ludicrous to his own character and person.
Continually enveloped in an atmosphere of whim, my friend
appeared to live only for the severities of society; and not even his
own household have for a moment associated other ideas than those
of the rigid and august with the memory of the Baron Ritzner von
Jung. the demon of the dolce far niente lay like an incubus upon the
university. Nothing, at least, was done beyond eating and drinking
and making merry. The apartments of the students were converted
into so many pot-houses, and there was no pot-house of them all
more famous or more frequented than that of the Baron. Our
carousals here were many, and boisterous, and long, and never
unfruitful of events.
Upon one occasion we had protracted our sitting until nearly
daybreak, and an unusual quantity of wine had been drunk. The
company consisted of seven or eight individuals besides the Baron
and myself. Most of these were young men of wealth, of high
connection, of great family pride, and all alive with an exaggerated
sense of honor. They abounded in the most ultra German opinions
respecting the duello. To these Quixotic notions some recent
Parisian publications, backed by three or four desperate and fatal
conversation, during the greater part of the night, had run wild upon
the all — engrossing topic of the times. The Baron, who had been
unusually silent and abstracted in the earlier portion of the evening,
at length seemed to be aroused from his apathy, took a leading part
in the discourse, and dwelt upon the benefits, and more especially
upon the beauties, of the received code of etiquette in passages of
arms with an ardor, an eloquence, an impressiveness, and an
affectionateness of manner, which elicited the warmest enthusiasm
from his hearers in general, and absolutely staggered even myself,
who well knew him to be at heart a ridiculer of those very points for
which he contended, and especially to hold the entire fanfaronade of
duelling etiquette in the sovereign contempt which it deserves.
Looking around me during a pause in the Baron’s discourse (of
which my readers may gather some faint idea when I say that it bore
resemblance to the fervid, chanting, monotonous, yet musical
sermonic manner of Coleridge), I perceived symptoms of even more
than the general interest in the countenance of one of the party. This
gentleman, whom I shall call Hermann, was an original in every
respect — except, perhaps, in the single particular that he was a very
great fool. He contrived to bear, however, among a particular set at
the university, a reputation for deep metaphysical thinking, and, I
believe, for some logical talent. As a duellist he had acquired who
had fallen at his hands; but they were many. He was a man of
courage undoubtedly. But it was upon his minute acquaintance with
the etiquette of the duello, and the nicety of his sense of honor, that
he most especially prided himself. These things were a hobby which
he rode to the death. To Ritzner, ever upon the lookout for the
grotesque, his peculiarities had for a long time past afforded food for
mystification. Of this, however, I was not aware; although, in the
present instance, I saw clearly that something of a whimsical nature
was upon the tapis with my friend, and that Hermann was its
especial object.
As the former proceeded in his discourse, or rather monologue I
perceived the excitement of the latter momently increasing. At
length he spoke; offering some objection to a point insisted upon by
R., and giving his reasons in detail. To these the Baron replied at
length (still maintaining his exaggerated tone of sentiment) and
concluding, in what I thought very bad taste, with a sarcasm and a
sneer. The hobby of Hermann now took the bit in his teeth. This I
could discern by the studied hair-splitting farrago of his rejoinder.
His last words I distinctly remember. “Your opinions, allow me to
say, Baron von Jung, although in the main correct, are, in many nice
points, discreditable to yourself and to the university of which you
are a member. In a few respects they are even unworthy of serious
refutation. I would say more than this, sir, were it not for the fear of
giving you offence (here the speaker smiled blandly), I would say,
sir, that your opinions are not the opinions to be expected from a
gentleman.”
As Hermann completed this equivocal sentence, all eyes were
turned upon the Baron. He became pale, then excessively red; then,
dropping his pocket-handkerchief, stooped to recover it, when I
caught a glimpse of his countenance, while it could be seen by no
one else at the table. It was radiant with the quizzical expression
which was its natural character, but which I had never seen it
assume except when we were alone together, and when he unbent
himself freely. In an instant afterward he stood erect, confronting
Hermann; and so total an alteration of countenance in so short a
period I certainly never saw before. For a moment I even fancied
that I had misconceived him, and that he was in sober earnest. He
appeared to be stifling with passion, and his face was cadaverously
white. For a short time he remained silent, apparently striving to
master his emotion. Having at length seemingly succeeded, he
reached a decanter which stood near him, saying as he held it firmly
clenched “The language you have thought proper to employ,
Mynheer Hermann, in addressing yourself to me, is objectionable in
so many particulars, that I have neither temper nor time for
specification. That my opinions, however, are not the opinions to be
expected from a gentleman, is an observation so directly offensive as
to allow me but one line of conduct. Some courtesy, nevertheless, is
due to the presence of this company, and to yourself, at this moment,
as my guest. You will pardon me, therefore, if, upon this
consideration, I deviate slightly from the general usage among
gentlemen in similar cases of personal affront. You will forgive me
for the moderate tax I shall make upon your imagination, and
endeavor to consider, for an instant, the reflection of your person in
yonder mirror as the living Mynheer Hermann himself. This being
done, there will be no difficulty whatever. I shall discharge this
decanter of wine at your image in yonder mirror, and thus fulfil all
the spirit, if not the exact letter, of resentment for your insult, while
the necessity of physical violence to your real person will be
obviated.”
With these words he hurled the decanter, full of wine, against
the mirror which hung directly opposite Hermann; striking the
reflection of his person with great precision, and of course shattering
the glass into fragments. The whole company at once started to their
feet, and, with the exception of myself and Ritzner, took their
departure. As Hermann went out, the Baron whispered me that I
should follow him and make an offer of my services. To this I
agreed; not knowing precisely what to make of so ridiculous a piece
of business.
The duellist accepted my aid with his stiff and ultra recherche
air, and, taking my arm, led me to his apartment. I could hardly
forbear laughing in his face while he proceeded to discuss, with the
profoundest gravity, what he termed “the refinedly peculiar
character” of the insult he had received. After a tiresome harangue
in his ordinary style, he took down from his book shelves a number
of musty volumes on the subject of the duello, and entertained me
for a long time with their contents; reading aloud, and commenting
earnestly as he read. I can just remember the titles of some of the
works. There were the “Ordonnance of Philip le Bel on Single
Combat”; the “Theatre of Honor,” by Favyn, and a treatise “On the
Permission of Duels,” by Andiguier. He displayed, also, with much
pomposity, Brantome’s “Memoirs of Duels,”— published at Cologne,
1666, in the types of Elzevir — a precious and unique vellum-paper
volume, with a fine margin, and bound by Derome. But he requested
my attention particularly, and with an air of mysterious sagacity, to a
thick octavo, written in barbarous Latin by one Hedelin, a
Frenchman, and having the quaint title, “Duelli Lex Scripta, et non;
aliterque.” From this he read me one of the drollest chapters in the
world concerning “Injuriae per applicationem, per constructionem,
et per se,” about half of which, he averred, was strictly applicable to
his own “refinedly peculiar” case, although not one syllable of the
whole matter could I understand for the life of me. Having finished
the chapter, he closed the book, and demanded what I thought
necessary to be done. I replied that I had entire confidence in his
superior delicacy of feeling, and would abide by what he proposed.
With this answer he seemed flattered, and sat down to write a note to
the Baron. It ran thus:
To the Baron Ritzner von Jung,
Sir,— My friend, M. P.-, will hand you this note. I find it
incumbent upon me to request, at your earliest convenience, an
explanation of this evening’s occurrences at your chambers. In the
event of your declining this request, Mr. P. will be happy to arrange,
with any friend whom you may appoint, the steps preliminary to a
meeting.
With sentiments of perfect respect,
Your most humble servant,
JOHANN HERMAN.
Not knowing what better to do, I called upon Ritzner with this
epistle. He bowed as I presented it; then, with a grave countenance,
motioned me to a seat. Having perused the cartel, he wrote the
following reply, which I carried to Hermann.
The Herr Johann Hermann
SIR,— Through our common friend, Mr. P., I have received your
note of this evening. Upon due reflection I frankly admit the
propriety of the explanation you suggest. This being admitted, I still
find great difficulty, (owing to the refinedly peculiar nature of our
disagreement, and of the personal affront offered on my part,) in so
wording what I have to say by way of apology, as to meet all the
minute exigencies, and all the variable shadows, of the case. I have
great reliance, however, on that extreme delicacy of discrimination,
in matters appertaining to the rules of etiquette, for which you have
been so long and so pre-eminently distinguished. With perfect
certainty, therefore, of being comprehended, I beg leave, in lieu of
offering any sentiments of my own, to refer you to the opinions of
Sieur Hedelin, as set forth in the ninth paragraph of the chapter of
“Injuriae per applicationem, per constructionem, et per se,” in his
“Duelli Lex scripta, et non; aliterque.” The nicety of your
discernment in all the matters here treated, will be sufficient, I am
assured, to convince you that the mere circumstance of me referring
you to this admirable passage, ought to satisfy your request, as a
man of honor, for explanation.
With sentiments of profound respect,
Your most obedient servant,
VON JUNG.
Hermann commenced the perusal of this epistle with a scowl,
which, however, was converted into a smile of the most ludicrous
self-complacency as he came to the rigmarole about Injuriae per
applicationem, per constructionem, et per se. Having finished
reading, he begged me, with the blandest of all possible smiles, to be
seated, while he made reference to the treatise in question. Turning
to the passage specified, he read it with great care to himself, then
closed the book, and desired me, in my character of confidential
acquaintance, to express to the Baron von Jung his exalted sense of
his chivalrous behavior, and, in that of second, to assure him that the
explanation offered was of the fullest, the most honorable, and the
most unequivocally satisfactory nature.
Somewhat amazed at all this, I made my retreat to the Baron. He
seemed to receive Hermann’s amicable letter as a matter of course,
and after a few words of general conversation, went to an inner room
and brought out the everlasting treatise “Duelli Lex scripta, et non;
aliterque.” He handed me the volume and asked me to look over
some portion of it. I did so, but to little purpose, not being able to
gather the least particle of meaning. He then took the book himself,
and read me a chapter aloud. To my surprise, what he read proved to
be a most horribly absurd account of a duel between two baboons.
He now explained the mystery; showing that the volume, as it
appeared prima facie, was written upon the plan of the nonsense
verses of Du Bartas; that is to say, the language was ingeniously
framed so as to present to the ear all the outward signs of
intelligibility, and even of profundity, while in fact not a shadow of
meaning existed. The key to the whole was found in leaving out
every second and third word alternately, when there appeared a
series of ludicrous quizzes upon a single combat as practised in
modern times.
The Baron afterwards informed me that he had purposely
thrown the treatise in Hermann’s way two or three weeks before the
adventure, and that he was satisfied, from the general tenor of his
conversation, that he had studied it with the deepest attention, and
firmly believed it to be a work of unusual merit. Upon this hint he
proceeded. Hermann would have died a thousand deaths rather than
acknowledge his inability to understand anything and everything in
the universe that had ever been written about the duello.
— LITTLETON BARRY.
The Sphinx
DURING the dread reign of the Cholera in New York, I had accepted
the invitation of a relative to spend a fortnight with him in the
retirement of his cottage ornee on the banks of the Hudson. We had
here around us all the ordinary means of summer amusement; and
what with rambling in the woods, sketching, boating, fishing,
bathing, music, and books, we should have passed the time
pleasantly enough, but for the fearful intelligence which reached us
every morning from the populous city. Not a day elapsed which did
not bring us news of the decease of some acquaintance. Then as the
fatality increased, we learned to expect daily the loss of some friend.
At length we trembled at the approach of every messenger. The very
air from the South seemed to us redolent with death. That palsying
thought, indeed, took entire posession of my soul. I could neither
speak, think, nor dream of any thing else. My host was of a less
excitable temperament, and, although greatly depressed in spirits,
exerted himself to sustain my own. His richly philosophical intellect
was not at any time affected by unrealities. To the substances of
terror he was sufficiently alive, but of its shadows he had no
apprehension.
His endeavors to arouse me from the condition of abnormal
gloom into which I had fallen, were frustrated, in great measure, by
certain volumes which I had found in his library. These were of a
character to force into germination whatever seeds of hereditary
superstition lay latent in my bosom. I had been reading these books
without his knowledge, and thus he was often at a loss to account for
the forcible impressions which had been made upon my fancy.
A favorite topic with me was the popular belief in omens — a
belief which, at this one epoch of my life, I was almost seriously
disposed to defend. On this subject we had long and animated
discussions — he maintaining the utter groundlessness of faith in
such matters,— I contending that a popular sentiment arising with
absolute spontaneity — that is to say, without apparent traces of
suggestion — had in itself the unmistakable elements of truth, and
was entitled to as much respect as that intuition which is the
idiosyncrasy of the individual man of genius.
The fact is, that soon after my arrival at the cottage there had
occurred to myself an incident so entirely inexplicable, and which
had in it so much of the portentous character, that I might well have
been excused for regarding it as an omen. It appalled, and at the
same time so confounded and bewildered me, that many days
elapsed before I could make up my mind to communicate the
circumstances to my friend.
Near the close of exceedingly warm day, I was sitting, book in
hand, at an open window, commanding, through a long vista of the
river banks, a view of a distant hill, the face of which nearest my
position had been denuded by what is termed a land-slide, of the
principal portion of its trees. My thoughts had been long wandering
from the volume before me to the gloom and desolation of the
neighboring city. Uplifting my eyes from the page, they fell upon
the naked face of the bill, and upon an object — upon some living
monster of hideous conformation, which very rapidly made its way
from the summit to the bottom, disappearing finally in the dense
forest below. As this creature first came in sight, I doubted my own
sanity — or at least the evidence of my own eyes; and many minutes
passed before I succeeded in convincing myself that I was neither
mad nor in a dream. Yet when I described the monster (which I
distinctly saw, and calmly surveyed through the whole period of its
progress), my readers, I fear, will feel more difficulty in being
convinced of these points than even I did myself.
Estimating the size of the creature by comparison with the
diameter of the large trees near which it passed — the few giants of
the forest which had escaped the fury of the land-slide — I
concluded it to be far larger than any ship of the line in existence. I
say ship of the line, because the shape of the monster suggested the
idea — the hull of one of our seventy-four might convey a very
tolerable conception of the general outline. The mouth of the
animal was situated at the extremity of a proboscis some sixty or
seventy feet in length, and about as thick as the body of an ordinary
elephant. Near the root of this trunk was an immense quantity of
black shaggy hair — more than could have been supplied by the
coats of a score of buffaloes; and projecting from this hair
downwardly and laterally, sprang two gleaming tusks not unlike
those of the wild boar, but of infinitely greater dimensions.
Extending forward, parallel with the proboscis, and on each side of it,
was a gigantic staff, thirty or forty feet in length, formed seemingly
of pure crystal and in shape a perfect prism,— it reflected in the
most gorgeous manner the rays of the declining sun. The trunk was
fashioned like a wedge with the apex to the earth. From it there were
outspread two pairs of wings — each wing nearly one hundred yards
in length — one pair being placed above the other, and all thickly
covered with metal scales; each scale apparently some ten or twelve
feet in diameter. I observed that the upper and lower tiers of wings
were connected by a strong chain. But the chief peculiarity of this
horrible thing was the representation of a Death’s Head, which
covered nearly the whole surface of its breast, and which was as
accurately traced in glaring white, upon the dark ground of the
body, as if it had been there carefully designed by an artist. While I
regarded the terrific animal, and more especially the appearance on
its breast, with a feeling or horror and awe — with a sentiment of
forthcoming evil, which I found it impossible to quell by any effort
of the reason, I perceived the huge jaws at the extremity of the
proboscis suddenly expand themselves, and from them there
proceeded a sound so loud and so expressive of wo, that it struck
upon my nerves like a knell and as the monster disappeared at the
foot of the hill, I fell at once, fainting, to the floor.
Upon recovering, my first impulse, of course, was to inform my
friend of what I had seen and heard — and I can scarcely explain
what feeling of repugnance it was which, in the end, operated to
prevent me.
At length, one evening, some three or four days after the
occurrence, we were sitting together in the room in which I had seen
the apparition — I occupying the same seat at the same window, and
he lounging on a sofa near at hand. The association of the place and
time impelled me to give him an account of the phenomenon. He
heard me to the end — at first laughed heartily — and then lapsed
into an excessively grave demeanor, as if my insanity was a thing
beyond suspicion. At this instant I again had a distinct view of the
monster — to which, with a shout of absolute terror, I now directed
his attention. He looked eagerly — but maintained that he saw
nothing — although I designated minutely the course of the
creature, as it made its way down the naked face of the hill.
I was now immeasurably alarmed, for I considered the vision
either as an omen of my death, or, worse, as the fore-runner of an
attack of mania. I threw myself passionately back in my chair, and
for some moments buried my face in my hands. When I uncovered
my eyes, the apparition was no longer apparent.
My host, however, had in some degree resumed the calmness of
his demeanor, and questioned me very rigorously in respect to the
conformation of the visionary creature. When I had fully satisfied
him on this head, he sighed deeply, as if relieved of some intolerable
burden, and went on to talk, with what I thought a cruel calmness, of
various points of speculative philosophy, which had heretofore
formed subject of discussion between us. I remember his insisting
very especially (among other things) upon the idea that the principle
source of error in all human investigations lay in the liability of the
understanding to under-rate or to over-value the importance of an
object, through mere mis-admeasurement of its propinquity. “To
estimate properly, for example,” he said, “the influence to be
exercised on mankind at large by the thorough diffusion of
Democracy, the distance of the epoch at which such diffusion may
possibly be accomplished should not fail to form an item in the
estimate. Yet can you tell me one writer on the subject of
government who has ever thought this particular branch of the
subject worthy of discussion at all?”
He here paused for a moment, stepped to a book-case, and
brought forth one of the ordinary synopses of Natural History.
Requesting me then to exchange seats with him, that he might the
better distinguish the fine print of the volume, he took my armchair
at the window, and, opening the book, resumed his discourse very
much in the same tone as before.
“But for your exceeding minuteness,” he said, “in describing the
monster, I might never have had it in my power to demonstrate to
you what it was. In the first place, let me read to you a schoolboy
account of the genus Sphinx, of the family Crepuscularia of the
order Lepidoptera, of the class of Insecta — or insects. The account
runs thus:
“‘Four membranous wings covered with little colored scales of
metallic appearance; mouth forming a rolled proboscis, produced by
an elongation of the jaws, upon the sides of which are found the
rudiments of mandibles and downy palpi; the inferior wings retained
to the superior by a stiff hair; antennae in the form of an elongated
club, prismatic; abdomen pointed, The Death’s — headed Sphinx has
occasioned much terror among the vulgar, at times, by the
melancholy kind of cry which it utters, and the insignia of death
which it wears upon its corslet.’”
He here closed the book and leaned forward in the chair, placing
himself accurately in the position which I had occupied at the
moment of beholding “the monster.”
“Ah, here it is,” he presently exclaimed —“it is reascending the
face of the hill, and a very remarkable looking creature I admit it to
be. Still, it is by no means so large or so distant as you imagined it,—
for the fact is that, as it wriggles its way up this thread, which some
spider has wrought along the window-sash, I find it to be about the
sixteenth of an inch in its extreme length, and also about the
sixteenth of an inch distant from the pupil of my eye.”
The Spectacles
MANY years ago, it was the fashion to ridicule the idea of “love at
first sight;” but those who think, not less than those who feel deeply,
have always advocated its existence. Modern discoveries, indeed, in
what may be termed ethical magnetism or magnetoesthetics, render
it probable that the most natural, and, consequently, the truest and
most intense of the human affections are those which arise in the
heart as if by electric sympathy — in a word, that the brightest and
most enduring of the psychal fetters are those which are riveted by a
glance. The confession I am about to make will add another to the
already almost innumerable instances of the truth of the position.
My story requires that I should be somewhat minute. I am still a
very young man — not yet twenty-two years of age. My name, at
present, is a very usual and rather plebeian one — Simpson. I say “at
present;” for it is only lately that I have been so called — having
legislatively adopted this surname within the last year in order to
receive a large inheritance left me by a distant male relative,
Adolphus Simpson, Esq. The bequest was conditioned upon my
taking the name of the testator,— the family, not the Christian
name; my Christian name is Napoleon Bonaparte — or, more
properly, these are my first and middle appellations.
I assumed the name, Simpson, with some reluctance, as in my
true patronym, Froissart, I felt a very pardonable pride — believing
that I could trace a descent from the immortal author of the
“Chronicles.” While on the subject of names, by the bye, I may
mention a singular coincidence of sound attending the names of
some of my immediate predecessors. My father was a Monsieur
Froissart, of Paris. His wife — my mother, whom he married at
fifteen — was a Mademoiselle Croissart, eldest daughter of Croissart
the banker, whose wife, again, being only sixteen when married, was
the eldest daughter of one Victor Voissart. Monsieur Voissart, very
singularly, had married a lady of similar name — a Mademoiselle
Moissart. She, too, was quite a child when married; and her mother,
also, Madame Moissart, was only fourteen when led to the altar.
These early marriages are usual in France. Here, however, are
Moissart, Voissart, Croissart, and Froissart, all in the direct line of
descent. My own name, though, as I say, became Simpson, by act of
Legislature, and with so much repugnance on my part, that, at one
period, I actually hesitated about accepting the legacy with the
useless and annoying proviso attached.
As to personal endowments, I am by no means deficient. On the
contrary, I believe that I am well made, and possess what nine tenths
of the world would call a handsome face. In height I am five feet
eleven. My hair is black and curling. My nose is sufficiently good.
My eyes are large and gray; and although, in fact they are weak a
very inconvenient degree, still no defect in this regard would be
suspected from their appearance. The weakness itself, however, has
always much annoyed me, and I have resorted to every remedy —
short of wearing glasses. Being youthful and good-looking, I
naturally dislike these, and have resolutely refused to employ them.
I know nothing, indeed, which so disfigures the countenance of a
young person, or so impresses every feature with an air of
demureness, if not altogether of sanctimoniousness and of age. An
eyeglass, on the other hand, has a savor of downright foppery and
affectation. I have hitherto managed as well as I could without
either. But something too much of these merely personal details,
which, after all, are of little importance. I will content myself with
saying, in addition, that my temperament is sanguine, rash, ardent,
enthusiastic — and that all my life I have been a devoted admirer of
the women.
One night last winter I entered a box at the P— Theatre, in
company with a friend, Mr. Talbot. It was an opera night, and the
bills presented a very rare attraction, so that the house was
excessively crowded. We were in time, however, to obtain the front
seats which had been reserved for us, and into which, with some
little difficulty, we elbowed our way.
For two hours my companion, who was a musical fanatico, gave
his undivided attention to the stage; and, in the meantime, I amused
myself by observing the audience, which consisted, in chief part, of
the very elite of the city. Having satisfied myself upon this point, I
was about turning my eyes to the prima donna, when they were
arrested and riveted by a figure in one of the private boxes which
had escaped my observation.
If I live a thousand years, I can never forget the intense emotion
with which I regarded this figure. It was that of a female, the most
exquisite I had ever beheld. The face was so far turned toward the
stage that, for some minutes, I could not obtain a view of it — but
the form was divine; no other word can sufficiently express its
magnificent proportion — and even the term “divine” seems
ridiculously feeble as I write it.
The magic of a lovely form in woman — the necromancy of
female gracefulness — was always a power which I had found it
impossible to resist, but here was grace personified, incarnate, the
beau ideal of my wildest and most enthusiastic visions. The figure,
almost all of which the construction of the box permitted to be seen,
was somewhat above the medium height, and nearly approached,
without positively reaching, the majestic. Its perfect fullness and
tournure were delicious. The head of which only the back was
visible, rivalled in outline that of the Greek Psyche, and was rather
displayed than concealed by an elegant cap of gaze aerienne, which
put me in mind of the ventum textilem of Apuleius. The right arm
hung over the balustrade of the box, and thrilled every nerve of my
frame with its exquisite symmetry. Its upper portion was draperied
by one of the loose open sleeves now in fashion. This extended but
little below the elbow. Beneath it was worn an under one of some
frail material, close-fitting, and terminated by a cuff of rich lace,
which fell gracefully over the top of the hand, revealing only the
delicate fingers, upon one of which sparkled a diamond ring, which I
at once saw was of extraordinary value. The admirable roundness of
the wrist was well set off by a bracelet which encircled it, and which
also was ornamented and clasped by a magnificent aigrette of jewelstelling, in words that could not be mistaken, at once of the wealth
and fastidious taste of the wearer.
I gazed at this queenly apparition for at least half an hour, as if I
had been suddenly converted to stone; and, during this period, I felt
the full force and truth of all that has been said or sung concerning
“love at first sight.” My feelings were totally different from any
which I had hitherto experienced, in the presence of even the most
celebrated specimens of female loveliness. An unaccountable, and
what I am compelled to consider a magnetic, sympathy of soul for
soul, seemed to rivet, not only my vision, but my whole powers of
thought and feeling, upon the admirable object before me. I saw — I
felt — I knew that I was deeply, madly, irrevocably in love — and
this even before seeing the face of the person beloved. So intense,
indeed, was the passion that consumed me, that I really believe it
would have received little if any abatement had the features, yet
unseen, proved of merely ordinary character, so anomalous is the
nature of the only true love — of the love at first sight — and so
little really dependent is it upon the external conditions which only
seem to create and control it.
While I was thus wrapped in admiration of this lovely vision, a
sudden disturbance among the audience caused her to turn her head
partially toward me, so that I beheld the entire profile of the face. Its
beauty even exceeded my anticipations — and yet there was
something about it which disappointed me without my being able to
tell exactly what it was. I said “disappointed,” but this is not
altogether the word. My sentiments were at once quieted and
exalted. They partook less of transport and more of calm enthusiasm
of enthusiastic repose. This state of feeling arose, perhaps, from the
Madonna-like and matronly air of the face; and yet I at once
understood that it could not have arisen entirely from this. There
was something else — some mystery which I could not develope —
some expression about the countenance which slightly disturbed me
while it greatly heightened my interest. In fact, I was just in that
condition of mind which prepares a young and susceptible man for
any act of extravagance. Had the lady been alone, I should
undoubtedly have entered her box and accosted her at all hazards;
but, fortunately, she was attended by two companions — a
gentleman, and a strikingly beautiful woman, to all appearance a
few years younger than herself.
I revolved in my mind a thousand schemes by which I might
obtain, hereafter, an introduction to the elder lady, or, for the
present, at all events, a more distinct view of her beauty. I would
have removed my position to one nearer her own, but the crowded
state of the theatre rendered this impossible; and the stern decrees of
Fashion had, of late, imperatively prohibited the use of the operaglass in a case such as this, even had I been so fortunate as to have
one with me — but I had not — and was thus in despair.
At length I bethought me of applying to my companion.
“Talbot,” I said, “you have an opera-glass. Let me have it.”
“An opera — glass!— no!— what do you suppose I would be
doing with an opera-glass?” Here he turned impatiently toward the
stage.
“But, Talbot,” I continued, pulling him by the shoulder, “listen to
me will you? Do you see the stage — box?— there!— no, the next.—
did you ever behold as lovely a woman?”
“She is very beautiful, no doubt,” he said.
“I wonder who she can be?”
“Why, in the name of all that is angelic, don’t you know who she
is? ‘Not to know her argues yourself unknown.’ She is the celebrated
Madame Lalande — the beauty of the day par excellence, and the
talk of the whole town. Immensely wealthy too — a widow, and a
great match — has just arrived from Paris.”
“Do you know her?”
“Yes; I have the honor.”
“Will you introduce me?”
“Assuredly, with the greatest pleasure; when shall it be?”
“To-morrow, at one, I will call upon you at B—’s .
“Very good; and now do hold your tongue, if you can.”
In this latter respect I was forced to take Talbot’s advice; for he
remained obstinately deaf to every further question or suggestion,
and occupied himself exclusively for the rest of the evening with
what was transacting upon the stage.
In the meantime I kept my eyes riveted on Madame Lalande,
and at length had the good fortune to obtain a full front view of her
face. It was exquisitely lovely — this, of course, my heart had told
me before, even had not Talbot fully satisfied me upon the point —
but still the unintelligible something disturbed me. I finally
concluded that my senses were impressed by a certain air of gravity,
sadness, or, still more properly, of weariness, which took something
from the youth and freshness of the countenance, only to endow it
with a seraphic tenderness and majesty, and thus, of course, to my
enthusiastic and romantic temperment, with an interest tenfold.
While I thus feasted my eyes, I perceived, at last, to my great
trepidation, by an almost imperceptible start on the part of the lady,
that she had become suddenly aware of the intensity of my gaze.
Still, I was absolutely fascinated, and could not withdraw it, even for
an instant. She turned aside her face, and again I saw only the
chiselled contour of the back portion of the head. After some
minutes, as if urged by curiosity to see if I was still looking, she
gradually brought her face again around and again encountered my
burning gaze. Her large dark eyes fell instantly, and a deep blush
mantled her cheek. But what was my astonishment at perceiving
that she not only did not a second time avert her head, but that she
actually took from her girdle a double eyeglass — elevated it —
adjusted it — and then regarded me through it, intently and
deliberately, for the space of several minutes.
Had a thunderbolt fallen at my feet I could not have been more
thoroughly astounded — astounded only — not offended or
disgusted in the slightest degree; although an action so bold in any
other woman would have been likely to offend or disgust. But the
whole thing was done with so much quietude — so much
nonchalance — so much repose — with so evident an air of the
highest breeding, in short — that nothing of mere effrontery was
perceptible, and my sole sentiments were those of admiration and
surprise.
I observed that, upon her first elevation of the glass, she had
seemed satisfied with a momentary inspection of my person, and was
withdrawing the instrument, when, as if struck by a second thought,
she resumed it, and so continued to regard me with fixed attention
for the space of several minutes — for five minutes, at the very least,
I am sure.
This action, so remarkable in an American theatre, attracted very
general observation, and gave rise to an indefinite movement, or
buzz, among the audience, which for a moment filled me with
confusion, but produced no visible effect upon the countenance of
Madame Lalande.
Having satisfied her curiosity — if such it was — she dropped
the glass, and quietly gave her attention again to the stage; her
profile now being turned toward myself, as before. I continued to
watch her unremittingly, although I was fully conscious of my
rudeness in so doing. Presently I saw the head slowly and slightly
change its position; and soon I became convinced that the lady,
while pretending to look at the stage was, in fact, attentively
regarding myself. It is needless to say what effect this conduct, on
the part of so fascinating a woman, had upon my excitable mind.
Having thus scrutinized me for perhaps a quarter of an hour, the
fair object of my passion addressed the gentleman who attended her,
and while she spoke, I saw distinctly, by the glances of both, that the
conversation had reference to myself.
Upon its conclusion, Madame Lalande again turned toward the
stage, and, for a few minutes, seemed absorbed in the performance.
At the expiration of this period, however, I was thrown into an
extremity of agitation by seeing her unfold, for the second time, the
eye-glass which hung at her side, fully confront me as before, and,
disregarding the renewed buzz of the audience, survey me, from
head to foot, with the same miraculous composure which had
previously so delighted and confounded my soul.
This extraordinary behavior, by throwing me into a perfect fever
of excitement — into an absolute delirium of love-served rather to
embolden than to disconcert me. In the mad intensity of my
devotion, I forgot everything but the presence and the majestic
loveliness of the vision which confronted my gaze. Watching my
opportunity, when I thought the audience were fully engaged with
the opera, I at length caught the eyes of Madame Lalande, and, upon
the instant, made a slight but unmistakable bow.
She blushed very deeply — then averted her eyes — then slowly
and cautiously looked around, apparently to see if my rash action
had been noticed — then leaned over toward the gentleman who sat
by her side.
I now felt a burning sense of the impropriety I had committed,
and expected nothing less than instant exposure; while a vision of
pistols upon the morrow floated rapidly and uncomfortably through
my brain. I was greatly and immediately relieved, however, when I
saw the lady merely hand the gentleman a play-bill, without
speaking, but the reader may form some feeble conception of my
astonishment — of my profound amazement — my delirious
bewilderment of heart and soul — when, instantly afterward, having
again glanced furtively around, she allowed her bright eyes to set
fully and steadily upon my own, and then, with a faint smile,
disclosing a bright line of her pearly teeth, made two distinct,
pointed, and unequivocal affirmative inclinations of the head.
It is useless, of course, to dwell upon my joy — upon my
transport — upon my illimitable ecstasy of heart. If ever man was
mad with excess of happiness, it was myself at that moment. I loved.
This was my first love — so I felt it to be. It was love supremeindescribable. It was “love at first sight;” and at first sight, too, it had
been appreciated and returned.
Yes, returned. How and why should I doubt it for an instant.
What other construction could I possibly put upon such conduct, on
the part of a lady so beautiful — so wealthy — evidently so
accomplished — of so high breeding — of so lofty a position in
society — in every regard so entirely respectable as I felt assured was
Madame Lalande? Yes, she loved me — she returned the enthusiasm
of my love, with an enthusiasm as blind — as uncompromising — as
uncalculating — as abandoned — and as utterly unbounded as my
own! These delicious fancies and reflections, however, were now
interrupted by the falling of the drop-curtain. The audience arose;
and the usual tumult immediately supervened. Quitting Talbot
abruptly, I made every effort to force my way into closer proximity
with Madame Lalande. Having failed in this, on account of the
crowd, I at length gave up the chase, and bent my steps homeward;
consoling myself for my disappointment in not having been able to
touch even the hem of her robe, by the reflection that I should be
introduced by Talbot, in due form, upon the morrow.
This morrow at last came, that is to say, a day finally dawned
upon a long and weary night of impatience; and then the hours until
“one” were snail-paced, dreary, and innumerable. But even Stamboul,
it is said, shall have an end, and there came an end to this long delay.
The clock struck. As the last echo ceased, I stepped into B—’s and
inquired for Talbot.
“Out,” said the footman — Talbot’s own.
“Out!” I replied, staggering back half a dozen paces —“let me tell
you, my fine fellow, that this thing is thoroughly impossible and
impracticable; Mr. Talbot is not out. What do you mean?”
“Nothing, sir; only Mr. Talbot is not in, that’s all. He rode over to
S—, immediately after breakfast, and left word that he would not be
in town again for a week.”
I stood petrified with horror and rage. I endeavored to reply, but
my tongue refused its office. At length I turned on my heel, livid
with wrath, and inwardly consigning the whole tribe of the Talbots
to the innermost regions of Erebus. It was evident that my
considerate friend, il fanatico, had quite forgotten his appointment
with myself — had forgotten it as soon as it was made. At no time
was he a very scrupulous man of his word. There was no help for it;
so smothering my vexation as well as I could, I strolled moodily up
the street, propounding futile inquiries about Madame Lalande to
every male acquaintance I met. By report she was known, I found, to
all — to many by sight — but she had been in town only a few
weeks, and there were very few, therefore, who claimed her personal
acquaintance. These few, being still comparatively strangers, could
not, or would not, take the liberty of introducing me through the
formality of a morning call. While I stood thus in despair,
conversing with a trio of friends upon the all absorbing subject of
my heart, it so happened that the subject itself passed by.
“As I live, there she is!” cried one.
“Surprisingly beautiful!” exclaimed a second.
“An angel upon earth!” ejaculated a third.
I looked; and in an open carriage which approached us, passing
slowly down the street, sat the enchanting vision of the opera,
accompanied by the younger lady who had occupied a portion of her
box.
“Her companion also wears remarkably well,” said the one of my
trio who had spoken first.
“Astonishingly,” said the second; “still quite a brilliant air, but art
will do wonders. Upon my word, she looks better than she did at
Paris five years ago. A beautiful woman still;— don’t you think so,
Froissart?— Simpson, I mean.”
“Still!” said I, “and why shouldn’t she be? But compared with her
friend she is as a rush — light to the evening star — a glow — worm
to Antares.
“Ha! ha! ha!— why, Simpson, you have an astonishing tact at
making discoveries — original ones, I mean.” And here we
separated, while one of the trio began humming a gay vaudeville, of
which I caught only the lines —
Ninon, Ninon, Ninon a bas-
A bas Ninon De L’Enclos!
During this little scene, however, one thing had served greatly to
console me, although it fed the passion by which I was consumed. As
the carriage of Madame Lalande rolled by our group, I had observed
that she recognized me; and more than this, she had blessed me, by
the most seraphic of all imaginable smiles, with no equivocal mark
of the recognition.
As for an introduction, I was obliged to abandon all hope of it
until such time as Talbot should think proper to return from the
country. In the meantime I perseveringly frequented every reputable
place of public amusement; and, at length, at the theatre, where I
first saw her, I had the supreme bliss of meeting her, and of
exchanging glances with her once again. This did not occur,
however, until the lapse of a fortnight. Every day, in the interim, I
had inquired for Talbot at his hotel, and every day had been thrown
into a spasm of wrath by the everlasting “Not come home yet” of his
footman.
Upon the evening in question, therefore, I was in a condition
little short of madness. Madame Lalande, I had been told, was a
Parisian — had lately arrived from Paris — might she not suddenly
return?— return before Talbot came back — and might she not be
thus lost to me forever? The thought was too terrible to bear. Since
my future happiness was at issue, I resolved to act with a manly
decision. In a word, upon the breaking up of the play, I traced the
lady to her residence, noted the address, and the next morning sent
her a full and elaborate letter, in which I poured out my whole heart.
I spoke boldly, freely — in a word, I spoke with passion. I
concealed nothing — nothing even of my weakness. I alluded to the
romantic circumstances of our first meeting — even to the glances
which had passed between us. I went so far as to say that I felt
assured of her love; while I offered this assurance, and my own
intensity of devotion, as two excuses for my otherwise unpardonable
conduct. As a third, I spoke of my fear that she might quit the city
before I could have the opportunity of a formal introduction. I
concluded the most wildly enthusiastic epistle ever penned, with a
frank declaration of my worldly circumstances — of my affluence —
and with an offer of my heart and of my hand.
In an agony of expectation I awaited the reply. After what
seemed the lapse of a century it came.
Yes, actually came. Romantic as all this may appear, I really
received a letter from Madame Lalande — the beautiful, the
wealthy, the idolized Madame Lalande. Her eyes — her magnificent
eyes, had not belied her noble heart. Like a true Frenchwoman as she
was she had obeyed the frank dictates of her reason — the generous
impulses of her nature — despising the conventional pruderies of
the world. She had not scorned my proposals. She had not sheltered
herself in silence. She had not returned my letter unopened. She had
even sent me, in reply, one penned by her own exquisite fingers. It
ran thus:
“Monsieur Simpson vill pardonne me for not compose de
butefulle tong of his contree so vell as might. It is only de late dat I
am arrive, and not yet ave do opportunite for to — l’etudier.
“Vid dis apologie for the maniere, I vill now say dat, helas!—
Monsieur Simpson ave guess but de too true. Need I say de more?
Helas! am I not ready speak de too moshe?
“EUGENIE LALAND.”
This noble — spirited note I kissed a million times, and
committed, no doubt, on its account, a thousand other extravagances
that have now escaped my memory. Still Talbot would not return.
Alas! could he have formed even the vaguest idea of the suffering
his absence had occasioned his friend, would not his sympathizing
nature have flown immediately to my relief? Still, however, he came
not. I wrote. He replied. He was detained by urgent business — but
would shortly return. He begged me not to be impatient — to
moderate my transports — to read soothing books — to drink
nothing stronger than Hock — and to bring the consolations of
philosophy to my aid. The fool! if he could not come himself, why, in
the name of every thing rational, could he not have enclosed me a
letter of presentation? I wrote him again, entreating him to forward
one forthwith. My letter was returned by that footman, with the
following endorsement in pencil. The scoundrel had joined his
master in the country:
“Left S— yesterday, for parts unknown — did not say where — or
when be back — so thought best to return letter, knowing your
handwriting, and as how you is always, more or less, in a hurry.
“Yours sincerely,
“STUBBS.”
After this, it is needless to say, that I devoted to the infernal
deities both master and valet:— but there was little use in anger, and
no consolation at all in complaint.
But I had yet a resource left, in my constitutional audacity.
Hitherto it had served me well, and I now resolved to make it avail
me to the end. Besides, after the correspondence which had passed
between us, what act of mere informality could I commit, within
bounds, that ought to be regarded as indecorous by Madame
Lalande? Since the affair of the letter, I had been in the habit of
watching her house, and thus discovered that, about twilight, it was
her custom to promenade, attended only by a negro in livery, in a
public square overlooked by her windows. Here, amid the luxuriant
and shadowing groves, in the gray gloom of a sweet midsummer
evening, I observed my opportunity and accosted her.
The better to deceive the servant in attendance, I did this with
the assured air of an old and familiar acquaintance. With a presence
of mind truly Parisian, she took the cue at once, and, to greet me,
held out the most bewitchingly little of hands. The valet at once fell
into the rear, and now, with hearts full to overflowing, we discoursed
long and unreservedly of our love.
As Madame Lalande spoke English even less fluently than she
wrote it, our conversation was necessarily in French. In this sweet
tongue, so adapted to passion, I gave loose to the impetuous
enthusiasm of my nature, and, with all the eloquence I could
command, besought her to consent to an immediate marriage.
At this impatience she smiled. She urged the old story of
decorum — that bug-bear which deters so many from bliss until the
opportunity for bliss has forever gone by. I had most imprudently
made it known among my friends, she observed, that I desired her
acquaintance — thus that I did not possess it — thus, again, there
was no possibility of concealing the date of our first knowledge of
each other. And then she adverted, with a blush, to the extreme
recency of this date. To wed immediately would be improper —
would be indecorous — would be outre. All this she said with a
charming air of naivete which enraptured while it grieved and
convinced me. She went even so far as to accuse me, laughingly, of
rashness — of imprudence. She bade me remember that I really
even know not who she was — what were her prospects, her
connections, her standing in society. She begged me, but with a sigh,
to reconsider my proposal, and termed my love an infatuation — a
will o’ the wisp — a fancy or fantasy of the moment — a baseless and
unstable creation rather of the imagination than of the heart. These
things she uttered as the shadows of the sweet twilight gathered
darkly and more darkly around us — and then, with a gentle
pressure of her fairy-like hand, overthrew, in a single sweet instant,
all the argumentative fabric she had reared.
I replied as best I could — as only a true lover can. I spoke at
length, and perseveringly of my devotion, of my passion — of her
exceeding beauty, and of my own enthusiastic admiration. In
conclusion, I dwelt, with a convincing energy, upon the perils that
encompass the course of love — that course of true love that never
did run smooth — and thus deduced the manifest danger of
rendering that course unnecessarily long.
This latter argument seemed finally to soften the rigor of her
determination. She relented; but there was yet an obstacle, she said,
which she felt assured I had not properly considered. This was a
delicate point — for a woman to urge, especially so; in mentioning
it, she saw that she must make a sacrifice of her feelings; still, for
me, every sacrifice should be made. She alluded to the topic of age.
Was I aware — was I fully aware of the discrepancy between us?
That the age of the husband, should surpass by a few years — even
by fifteen or twenty — the age of the wife, was regarded by the world
as admissible, and, indeed, as even proper, but she had always
entertained the belief that the years of the wife should never exceed
in number those of the husband. A discrepancy of this unnatural
kind gave rise, too frequently, alas! to a life of unhappiness. Now she
was aware that my own age did not exceed two and twenty; and I, on
the contrary, perhaps, was not aware that the years of my Eugenie
extended very considerably beyond that sum.
About all this there was a nobility of soul — a dignity of candor
— which delighted — which enchanted me — which eternally
riveted my chains. I could scarcely restrain the excessive transport
which possessed me.
“My sweetest Eugenie,” I cried, “what is all this about which you
are discoursing? Your years surpass in some measure my own. But
what then? The customs of the world are so many conventional
follies. To those who love as ourselves, in what respect differs a year
from an hour? I am twenty-two, you say, granted: indeed, you may as
well call me, at once, twenty-three. Now you yourself, my dearest
Eugenie, can have numbered no more than — can have numbered
no more than — no more than — than — than — than-”
Here I paused for an instant, in the expectation that Madame
Lalande would interrupt me by supplying her true age. But a
Frenchwoman is seldom direct, and has always, by way of answer to
an embarrassing query, some little practical reply of her own. In the
present instance, Eugenie, who for a few moments past had seemed
to be searching for something in her bosom, at length let fall upon
the grass a miniature, which I immediately picked up and presented
to her.
“Keep it!” she said, with one of her most ravishing smiles. “Keep
it for my sake — for the sake of her whom it too flatteringly
represents. Besides, upon the back of the trinket you may discover,
perhaps, the very information you seem to desire. It is now, to be
sure, growing rather dark — but you can examine it at your leisure
in the morning. In the meantime, you shall be my escort home tonight. My friends are about holding a little musical levee. I can
promise you, too, some good singing. We French are not nearly so
punctilious as you Americans, and I shall have no difficulty in
smuggling you in, in the character of an old acquaintance.”
With this, she took my arm, and I attended her home. The
mansion was quite a fine one, and, I believe, furnished in good taste.
Of this latter point, however, I am scarcely qualified to judge; for it
was just dark as we arrived; and in American mansions of the better
sort lights seldom, during the heat of summer, make their
appearance at this, the most pleasant period of the day. In about an
hour after my arrival, to be sure, a single shaded solar lamp was lit
in the principal drawing-room; and this apartment, I could thus see,
was arranged with unusual good taste and even splendor; but two
other rooms of the suite, and in which the company chiefly
assembled, remained, during the whole evening, in a very agreeable
shadow. This is a well-conceived custom, giving the party at least a
choice of light or shade, and one which our friends over the water
could not do better than immediately adopt.
The evening thus spent was unquestionably the most delicious of
my life. Madame Lalande had not overrated the musical abilities of
her friends; and the singing I here heard I had never heard excelled
in any private circle out of Vienna. The instrumental performers
were many and of superior talents. The vocalists were chiefly ladies,
and no individual sang less than well. At length, upon a peremptory
call for “Madame Lalande,” she arose at once, without affectation or
demur, from the chaise longue upon which she had sat by my side,
and, accompanied by one or two gentlemen and her female friend of
the opera, repaired to the piano in the main drawing-room. I would
have escorted her myself, but felt that, under the circumstances of
my introduction to the house, I had better remain unobserved where
I was. I was thus deprived of the pleasure of seeing, although not of
hearing, her sing.
The impression she produced upon the company seemed
electrical but the effect upon myself was something even more. I
know not how adequately to describe it. It arose in part, no doubt,
from the sentiment of love with which I was imbued; but chiefly
from my conviction of the extreme sensibility of the singer. It is
beyond the reach of art to endow either air or recitative with more
impassioned expression than was hers. Her utterance of the romance
in Otello — the tone with which she gave the words “Sul mio sasso,”
in the Capuletti — is ringing in my memory yet. Her lower tones
were absolutely miraculous. Her voice embraced three complete
octaves, extending from the contralto D to the D upper soprano, and,
though sufficiently powerful to have filled the San Carlos, executed,
with the minutest precision, every difficulty of vocal compositionascending and descending scales, cadences, or fiorituri. In the final
of the Somnambula, she brought about a most remarkable effect at
the words:
Ah! non guinge uman pensiero
Al contento ond ‘io son piena.
Here, in imitation of Malibran, she modified the original phrase of
Bellini, so as to let her voice descend to the tenor G, when, by a rapid
transition, she struck the G above the treble stave, springing over an
interval of two octaves.
Upon rising from the piano after these miracles of vocal
execution, she resumed her seat by my side; when I expressed to her,
in terms of the deepest enthusiasm, my delight at her performance.
Of my surprise I said nothing, and yet was I most unfeignedly
surprised; for a certain feebleness, or rather a certain tremulous
indecision of voice in ordinary conversation, had prepared me to
anticipate that, in singing, she would not acquit herself with any
remarkable ability.
Our conversation was now long, earnest, uninterrupted, and
totally unreserved. She made me relate many of the earlier passages
of my life, and listened with breathless attention to every word of the
narrative. I concealed nothing — felt that I had a right to conceal
nothing — from her confiding affection. Encouraged by her candor
upon the delicate point of her age, I entered, with perfect frankness,
not only into a detail of my many minor vices, but made full
confession of those moral and even of those physical infirmities, the
disclosure of which, in demanding so much higher a degree of
courage, is so much surer an evidence of love. I touched upon my
college indiscretions — upon my extravagances — upon my
carousals — upon my debts — upon my flirtations. I even went so
far as to speak of a slightly hectic cough with which, at one time, I
had been troubled — of a chronic rheumatism — of a twinge of
hereditary gout — and, in conclusion, of the disagreeable and
inconvenient, but hitherto carefully concealed, weakness of my eyes.
“Upon this latter point,” said Madame Lalande, laughingly, “you
have been surely injudicious in coming to confession; for, without
the confession, I take it for granted that no one would have accused
you of the crime. By the by,” she continued, “have you any
recollection-” and here I fancied that a blush, even through the
gloom of the apartment, became distinctly visible upon her cheek —
“have you any recollection, mon cher ami of this little ocular
assistant, which now depends from my neck?”
As she spoke she twirled in her fingers the identical double eyeglass which had so overwhelmed me with confusion at the opera.
“Full well — alas! do I remember it,” I exclaimed, pressing
passionately the delicate hand which offered the glasses for my
inspection. They formed a complex and magnificent toy, richly
chased and filigreed, and gleaming with jewels, which, even in the
deficient light, I could not help perceiving were of high value.
“Eh bien! mon ami” she resumed with a certain empressment of
manner that rather surprised me —“Eh bien! mon ami, you have
earnestly besought of me a favor which you have been pleased to
denominate priceless. You have demanded of me my hand upon the
morrow. Should I yield to your entreaties — and, I may add, to the
pleadings of my own bosom — would I not be entitled to demand of
you a very — a very little boon in return?”
“Name it!” I exclaimed with an energy that had nearly drawn
upon us the observation of the company, and restrained by their
presence alone from throwing myself impetuously at her feet.
“Name it, my beloved, my Eugenie, my own!— name it!— but, alas! it
is already yielded ere named.”
“You shall conquer, then, mon ami,” said she, “for the sake of the
Eugenie whom you love, this little weakness which you have at last
confessed — this weakness more moral than physical — and which,
let me assure you, is so unbecoming the nobility of your real nature
— so inconsistent with the candor of your usual character — and
which, if permitted further control, will assuredly involve you,
sooner or later, in some very disagreeable scrape. You shall conquer,
for my sake, this affectation which leads you, as you yourself
acknowledge, to the tacit or implied denial of your infirmity of
vision. For, this infirmity you virtually deny, in refusing to employ
the customary means for its relief. You will understand me to say,
then, that I wish you to wear spectacles;— ah, hush!— you have
already consented to wear them, for my sake. You shall accept the
little toy which I now hold in my hand, and which, though admirable
as an aid to vision, is really of no very immense value as a gem. You
perceive that, by a trifling modification thus — or thus — it can be
adapted to the eyes in the form of spectacles, or worn in the
waistcoat pocket as an eye-glass. It is in the former mode, however,
and habitually, that you have already consented to wear it for my
sake.”
This request — must I confess it?— confused me in no little
degree. But the condition with which it was coupled rendered
hesitation, of course, a matter altogether out of the question.
“It is done!” I cried, with all the enthusiasm that I could muster
at the moment. “It is done — it is most cheerfully agreed. I sacrifice
every feeling for your sake. To-night I wear this dear eye-glass, as an
eye-glass, and upon my heart; but with the earliest dawn of that
morning which gives me the pleasure of calling you wife, I will
place it upon my — upon my nose,— and there wear it ever
afterward, in the less romantic, and less fashionable, but certainly in
the more serviceable, form which you desire.”
Our conversation now turned upon the details of our
arrangements for the morrow. Talbot, I learned from my betrothed,
had just arrived in town. I was to see him at once, and procure a
carriage. The soiree would scarcely break up before two; and by this
hour the vehicle was to be at the door, when, in the confusion
occasioned by the departure of the company, Madame L. could easily
enter it unobserved. We were then to call at the house of a
clergyman who would be in waiting; there be married, drop Talbot,
and proceed on a short tour to the East, leaving the fashionable
world at home to make whatever comments upon the matter it
thought best.
Having planned all this, I immediately took leave, and went in
search of Talbot, but, on the way, I could not refrain from stepping
into a hotel, for the purpose of inspecting the miniature; and this I
did by the powerful aid of the glasses. The countenance was a
surpassingly beautiful one! Those large luminous eyes!— that proud
Grecian nose!— those dark luxuriant curls!—“Ah!” said I, exultingly
to myself, “this is indeed the speaking image of my beloved!” I
turned the reverse, and discovered the words —“Eugenie Lalande —
aged twenty-seven years and seven months.”
I found Talbot at home, and proceeded at once to acquaint him
with my good fortune. He professed excessive astonishment, of
course, but congratulated me most cordially, and proffered every
assistance in his power. In a word, we carried out our arrangement to
the letter, and, at two in the morning, just ten minutes after the
ceremony, I found myself in a close carriage with Madame Lalande
— with Mrs. Simpson, I should say — and driving at a great rate out
of town, in a direction Northeast by North, half-North.
It had been determined for us by Talbot, that, as we were to be
up all night, we should make our first stop at C—, a village about
twenty miles from the city, and there get an early breakfast and
some repose, before proceeding upon our route. At four precisely,
therefore, the carriage drew up at the door of the principal inn. I
handed my adored wife out, and ordered breakfast forthwith. In the
meantime we were shown into a small parlor, and sat down.
It was now nearly if not altogether daylight; and, as I gazed,
enraptured, at the angel by my side, the singular idea came, all at
once, into my head, that this was really the very first moment since
my acquaintance with the celebrated loveliness of Madame Lalande,
that I had enjoyed a near inspection of that loveliness by daylight at
all.
“And now, mon ami,” said she, taking my hand, and so
interrupting this train of reflection, “and now, mon cher ami, since
we are indissolubly one — since I have yielded to your passionate
entreaties, and performed my portion of our agreement — I
presume you have not forgotten that you also have a little favor to
bestow — a little promise which it is your intention to keep. Ah! let
me see! Let me remember! Yes; full easily do I call to mind the
precise words of the dear promise you made to Eugenie last night.
Listen! You spoke thus: ‘It is done!— it is most cheerfully agreed! I
sacrifice every feeling for your sake. To-night I wear this dear eyeglass as an eye-glass, and upon my heart; but with the earliest dawn
of that morning which gives me the privilege of calling you wife, I
will place it upon my — upon my nose,— and there wear it ever
afterward, in the less romantic, and less fashionable, but certainly in
the more serviceable, form which you desire.’ These were the exact
words, my beloved husband, were they not?”
“They were,” I said; “you have an excellent memory; and
assuredly, my beautiful Eugenie, there is no disposition on my part
to evade the performance of the trivial promise they imply. See!
Behold! they are becoming — rather — are they not?” And here,
having arranged the glasses in the ordinary form of spectacles, I
applied them gingerly in their proper position; while Madame
Simpson, adjusting her cap, and folding her arms, sat bolt upright in
her chair, in a somewhat stiff and prim, and indeed, in a somewhat
undignified position.
“Goodness gracious me!” I exclaimed, almost at the very instant
that the rim of the spectacles had settled upon my nose —“My
goodness gracious me!— why, what can be the matter with these
glasses?” and taking them quickly off, I wiped them carefully with a
silk handkerchief, and adjusted them again.
But if, in the first instance, there had occurred something which
occasioned me surprise, in the second, this surprise became elevated
into astonishment; and this astonishment was profound — was
extreme — indeed I may say it was horrific. What, in the name of
everything hideous, did this mean? Could I believe my eyes?— could
I?— that was the question. Was that — was that — was that rouge?
And were those — and were those — were those wrinkles, upon the
visage of Eugenie Lalande? And oh! Jupiter, and every one of the
gods and goddesses, little and big! what — what — what — what had
become of her teeth? I dashed the spectacles violently to the ground,
and, leaping to my feet, stood erect in the middle of the floor,
confronting Mrs. Simpson, with my arms set a-kimbo, and grinning
and foaming, but, at the same time, utterly speechless with terror
and with rage.
Now I have already said that Madame Eugenie Lalande — that is
to say, Simpson — spoke the English language but very little better
than she wrote it, and for this reason she very properly never
attempted to speak it upon ordinary occasions. But rage will carry a
lady to any extreme; and in the present care it carried Mrs. Simpson
to the very extraordinary extreme of attempting to hold a
conversation in a tongue that she did not altogether understand.
“Vell, Monsieur,” said she, after surveying me, in great apparent
astonishment, for some moments —“Vell, Monsieur?— and vat
den?— vat de matter now? Is it de dance of de Saint itusse dat you
ave? If not like me, vat for vy buy de pig in the poke?”
“You wretch!” said I, catching my breath —“you — you — you
villainous old hag!”
“Ag?— ole?— me not so ver ole, after all! Me not one single day
more dan de eighty-doo.”
“Eighty-two!” I ejaculated, staggering to the wall —“eighty-two
hundred thousand baboons! The miniature said twenty-seven years
and seven months!”
“To be sure!— dat is so!— ver true! but den de portraite has been
take for dese fifty-five year. Ven I go marry my segonde usbande,
Monsieur Lalande, at dat time I had de portraite take for my
daughter by my first usbande, Monsieur Moissart!”
“Moissart!” said I.
“Yes, Moissart,” said she, mimicking my pronunciation, which, to
speak the truth, was none of the best,—“and vat den? Vat you know
about de Moissart?”
“Nothing, you old fright!— I know nothing about him at all; only
I had an ancestor of that name, once upon a time.”
“Dat name! and vat you ave for say to dat name? ’Tis ver goot
name; and so is Voissart — dat is ver goot name too. My daughter,
Mademoiselle Moissart, she marry von Monsieur Voissart,— and de
name is bot ver respectaable name.”
“Moissart?” I exclaimed, “and Voissart! Why, what is it you
mean?”
“Vat I mean?— I mean Moissart and Voissart; and for de matter
of dat, I mean Croissart and Froisart, too, if I only tink proper to
mean it. My daughter’s daughter, Mademoiselle Voissart, she marry
von Monsieur Croissart, and den again, my daughter’s grande
daughter, Mademoiselle Croissart, she marry von Monsieur
Froissart; and I suppose you say dat dat is not von ver respectaable
name.-”
“Froissart!” said I, beginning to faint, “why, surely you don’t say
Moissart, and Voissart, and Croissart, and Froissart?”
“Yes,” she replied, leaning fully back in her chair, and stretching
out her lower limbs at great length; “yes, Moissart, and Voissart, and
Croissart, and Froissart. But Monsieur Froissart, he vas von ver big
vat you call fool — he vas von ver great big donce like yourself —
for he lef la belle France for come to dis stupide Amerique — and
ven he get here he went and ave von ver stupide, von ver, ver stupide
sonn, so I hear, dough I not yet av ad de plaisir to meet vid him —
neither me nor my companion, de Madame Stephanie Lalande. He is
name de Napoleon Bonaparte Froissart, and I suppose you say dat
dat, too, is not von ver respectable name.”
Either the length or the nature of this speech, had the effect of
working up Mrs. Simpson into a very extraordinary passion indeed;
and as she made an end of it, with great labor, she lumped up from
her chair like somebody bewitched, dropping upon the floor an
entire universe of bustle as she lumped. Once upon her feet, she
gnashed her gums, brandished her arms, rolled up her sleeves,
shook her fist in my face, and concluded the performance by tearing
the cap from her head, and with it an immense wig of the most
valuable and beautiful black hair, the whole of which she dashed
upon the ground with a yell, and there trammpled and danced a
fandango upon it, in an absolute ecstasy and agony of rage.
Meantime I sank aghast into the chair which she had vacated.
“Moissart and Voissart!” I repeated, thoughtfully, as she cut one of
her pigeon-wings, and “Croissart and Froissart!” as she completed
another —“Moissart and Voissart and Croissart and Napoleon
Bonaparte Froissart!— why, you ineffable old serpent, that’s me —
that’s me — d’ye hear? that’s me”— here I screamed at the top of my
voice —“that’s me-e-e! I am Napoleon Bonaparte Froissart! and if I
havn’t married my great, great, grandmother, I wish I may be
everlastingly confounded!”
Madame Eugenie Lalande, quasi Simpson — formerly Moissart
— was, in sober fact, my great, great, grandmother. In her youth she
had been beautiful, and even at eighty-two, retained the majestic
height, the sculptural contour of head, the fine eyes and the Grecian
nose of her girlhood. By the aid of these, of pearl-powder, of rouge,
of false hair, false teeth, and false tournure, as well as of the most
skilful modistes of Paris, she contrived to hold a respectable footing
among the beauties en peu passees of the French metropolis. In this
respect, indeed, she might have been regarded as little less than the
equal of the celebrated Ninon De L’Enclos.
She was immensely wealthy, and being left, for the second time,
a widow without children, she bethought herself of my existence in
America, and for the purpose of making me her heir, paid a visit to
the United States, in company with a distant and exceedingly lovely
relative of her second husband’s — a Madame Stephanie Lalande.
At the opera, my great, great, grandmother’s attention was
arrested by my notice; and, upon surveying me through her eyeglass, she was struck with a certain family resemblance to herself.
Thus interested, and knowing that the heir she sought was actually
in the city, she made inquiries of her party respecting me. The
gentleman who attended her knew my person, and told her who I
was. The information thus obtained induced her to renew her
scrutiny; and this scrutiny it was which so emboldened me that I
behaved in the absurd manner already detailed. She returned my
bow, however, under the impression that, by some odd accident, I
had discovered her identity. When, deceived by my weakness of
vision, and the arts of the toilet, in respect to the age and charms of
the strange lady, I demanded so enthusiastically of Talbot who she
was, he concluded that I meant the younger beauty, as a matter of
course, and so informed me, with perfect truth, that she was “the
celebrated widow, Madame Lalande.”
In the street, next morning, my great, great, grandmother
encountered Talbot, an old Parisian acquaintance; and the
conversation, very naturally turned upon myself. My deficiencies of
vision were then explained; for these were notorious, although I was
entirely ignorant of their notoriety, and my good old relative
discovered, much to her chagrin, that she had been deceived in
supposing me aware of her identity, and that I had been merely
making a fool of myself in making open love, in a theatre, to an old
woman unknown. By way of punishing me for this imprudence, she
concocted with Talbot a plot. He purposely kept out of my way to
avoid giving me the introduction. My street inquiries about “the
lovely widow, Madame Lalande,” were supposed to refer to the
younger lady, of course, and thus the conversation with the three
gentlemen whom I encountered shortly after leaving Talbot’s hotel
will be easily explained, as also their allusion to Ninon De L’Enclos. I
had no opportunity of seeing Madame Lalande closely during
daylight; and, at her musical soiree, my silly weakness in refusing
the aid of glasses effectually prevented me from making a discovery
of her age. When “Madame Lalande” was called upon to sing, the
younger lady was intended; and it was she who arose to obey the
call; my great, great, grandmother, to further the deception, arising
at the same moment and accompanying her to the piano in the main
drawing-room. Had I decided upon escorting her thither, it had been
her design to suggest the propriety of my remaining where I was;
but my own prudential views rendered this unnecessary. The songs
which I so much admired, and which so confirmed my impression of
the youth of my mistress, were executed by Madame Stephanie
Lalande. The eyeglass was presented by way of adding a reproof to
the hoax — a sting to the epigram of the deception. Its presentation
afforded an opportunity for the lecture upon affectation with which I
was so especially edified. It is almost superfluous to add that the
glasses of the instrument, as worn by the old lady, had been
exchanged by her for a pair better adapted to my years. They suited
me, in fact, to a T.
The clergyman, who merely pretended to tie the fatal knot, was a
boon companion of Talbot’s, and no priest. He was an excellent
“whip,” however; and having doffed his cassock to put on a greatcoat, he drove the hack which conveyed the “happy couple” out of
town. Talbot took a seat at his side. The two scoundrels were thus “in
at the death,” and through a half-open window of the back parlor of
the inn, amused themselves in grinning at the denouement of the
drama. I believe I shall be forced to call them both out.
Nevertheless, I am not the husband of my great, great,
grandmother; and this is a reflection which affords me infinite
relief,— but I am the husband of Madame Lalande — of Madame
Stephanie Lalande — with whom my good old relative, besides
making me her sole heir when she dies — if she ever does — has
been at the trouble of concocting me a match. In conclusion: I am
done forever with billets doux and am never to be met without
SPECTACLES.
The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether
DURING the autumn of 18 —, while on a tour through the extreme
southern provinces of France, my route led me within a few miles of
a certain Maison de Sante or private mad-house, about which I had
heard much in Paris from my medical friends. As I had never visited
a place of the kind, I thought the opportunity too good to be lost;
and so proposed to my travelling companion (a gentleman with
whom I had made casual acquaintance a few days before) that we
should turn aside, for an hour or so, and look through the
establishment. To this he objected — pleading haste in the first
place, and, in the second, a very usual horror at the sight of a lunatic.
He begged me, however, not to let any mere courtesy towards
himself interfere with the gratification of my curiosity, and said that
he would ride on leisurely, so that I might overtake him during the
day, or, at all events, during the next. As he bade me good-bye, I
bethought me that there might be some difficulty in obtaining
access to the premises, and mentioned my fears on this point. He
replied that, in fact, unless I had personal knowledge of the
superintendent, Monsieur Maillard, or some credential in the way of
a letter, a difficulty might be found to exist, as the regulations of
these private mad-houses were more rigid than the public hospital
laws. For himself, he added, he had, some years since, made the
acquaintance of Maillard, and would so far assist me as to ride up to
the door and introduce me; although his feelings on the subject of
lunacy would not permit of his entering the house.
I thanked him, and, turning from the main road, we entered a
grass-grown by-path, which, in half an hour, nearly lost itself in a
dense forest, clothing the base of a mountain. Through this dank and
gloomy wood we rode some two miles, when the Maison de Sante
came in view. It was a fantastic chateau, much dilapidated, and
indeed scarcely tenantable through age and neglect. Its aspect
inspired me with absolute dread, and, checking my horse, I half
resolved to turn back. I soon, however, grew ashamed of my
weakness, and proceeded.
As we rode up to the gate-way, I perceived it slightly open, and
the visage of a man peering through. In an instant afterward, this
man came forth, accosted my companion by name, shook him
cordially by the hand, and begged him to alight. It was Monsieur
Maillard himself. He was a portly, fine-looking gentleman of the old
school, with a polished manner, and a certain air of gravity, dignity,
and authority which was very impressive.
My friend, having presented me, mentioned my desire to inspect
the establishment, and received Monsieur Maillard’s assurance that
he would show me all attention, now took leave, and I saw him no
more.
When he had gone, the superintendent ushered me into a small
and exceedingly neat parlor, containing, among other indications of
refined taste, many books, drawings, pots of flowers, and musical
instruments. A cheerful fire blazed upon the hearth. At a piano,
singing an aria from Bellini, sat a young and very beautiful woman,
who, at my entrance, paused in her song, and received me with
graceful courtesy. Her voice was low, and her whole manner
subdued. I thought, too, that I perceived the traces of sorrow in her
countenance, which was excessively, although to my taste, not
unpleasingly, pale. She was attired in deep mourning, and excited in
my bosom a feeling of mingled respect, interest, and admiration.
I had heard, at Paris, that the institution of Monsieur Maillard
was managed upon what is vulgarly termed the “system of
soothing”— that all punishments were avoided — that even
confinement was seldom resorted to — that the patients, while
secretly watched, were left much apparent liberty, and that most of
them were permitted to roam about the house and grounds in the
ordinary apparel of persons in right mind.
Keeping these impressions in view, I was cautious in what I said
before the young lady; for I could not be sure that she was sane; and,
in fact, there was a certain restless brilliancy about her eyes which
half led me to imagine she was not. I confined my remarks,
therefore, to general topics, and to such as I thought would not be
displeasing or exciting even to a lunatic. She replied in a perfectly
rational manner to all that I said; and even her original observations
were marked with the soundest good sense, but a long acquaintance
with the metaphysics of mania, had taught me to put no faith in
such evidence of sanity, and I continued to practise, throughout the
interview, the caution with which I commenced it.
Presently a smart footman in livery brought in a tray with fruit,
wine, and other refreshments, of which I partook, the lady soon
afterward leaving the room. As she departed I turned my eyes in an
inquiring manner toward my host.
“No,” he said, “oh, no — a member of my family — my niece,
and a most accomplished woman.”
“I beg a thousand pardons for the suspicion,” I replied, “but of
course you will know how to excuse me. The excellent
administration of your affairs here is well understood in Paris, and I
thought it just possible, you know —
“Yes, yes — say no more — or rather it is myself who should
thank you for the commendable prudence you have displayed. We
seldom find so much of forethought in young men; and, more than
once, some unhappy contre-temps has occurred in consequence of
thoughtlessness on the part of our visitors. While my former system
was in operation, and my patients were permitted the privilege of
roaming to and fro at will, they were often aroused to a dangerous
frenzy by injudicious persons who called to inspect the house. Hence
I was obliged to enforce a rigid system of exclusion; and none
obtained access to the premises upon whose discretion I could not
rely.”
“While your former system was in operation!” I said, repeating
his words —“do I understand you, then, to say that the ‘soothing
system’ of which I have heard so much is no longer in force?”
“It is now,” he replied, “several weeks since we have concluded to
renounce it forever.”
“Indeed! you astonish me!”
“We found it, sir,” he said, with a sigh, “absolutely necessary to
return to the old usages. The danger of the soothing system was, at
all times, appalling; and its advantages have been much overrated. I
believe, sir, that in this house it has been given a fair trial, if ever in
any. We did every thing that rational humanity could suggest. I am
sorry that you could not have paid us a visit at an earlier period, that
you might have judged for yourself. But I presume you are
conversant with the soothing practice — with its details.”
“Not altogether. What I have heard has been at third or fourth
hand.”
“I may state the system, then, in general terms, as one in which
the patients were menages-humored. We contradicted no fancies
which entered the brains of the mad. On the contrary, we not only
indulged but encouraged them; and many of our most permanent
cures have been thus effected. There is no argument which so
touches the feeble reason of the madman as the argumentum ad
absurdum. We have had men, for example, who fancied themselves
chickens. The cure was, to insist upon the thing as a fact — to accuse
the patient of stupidity in not sufficiently perceiving it to be a fact —
and thus to refuse him any other diet for a week than that which
properly appertains to a chicken. In this manner a little corn and
gravel were made to perform wonders.”
“But was this species of acquiescence all?”
“By no means. We put much faith in amusements of a simple
kind, such as music, dancing, gymnastic exercises generally, cards,
certain classes of books, and so forth. We affected to treat each
individual as if for some ordinary physical disorder, and the word
‘lunacy’ was never employed. A great point was to set each lunatic to
guard the actions of all the others. To repose confidence in the
understanding or discretion of a madman, is to gain him body and
soul. In this way we were enabled to dispense with an expensive body
of keepers.”
“And you had no punishments of any kind?”
“None.”
“And you never confined your patients?”
“Very rarely. Now and then, the malady of some individual
growing to a crisis, or taking a sudden turn of fury, we conveyed him
to a secret cell, lest his disorder should infect the rest, and there kept
him until we could dismiss him to his friends — for with the raging
maniac we have nothing to do. He is usually removed to the public
hospitals.”
“And you have now changed all this — and you think for the
better?”
“Decidedly. The system had its disadvantages, and even its
dangers. It is now, happily, exploded throughout all the Maisons de
Sante of France.”
“I am very much surprised,” I said, “at what you tell me; for I
made sure that, at this moment, no other method of treatment for
mania existed in any portion of the country.”
“You are young yet, my friend,” replied my host, “but the time
will arrive when you will learn to judge for yourself of what is going
on in the world, without trusting to the gossip of others. Believe
nothing you hear, and only one-half that you see. Now about our
Maisons de Sante, it is clear that some ignoramus has misled you.
After dinner, however, when you have sufficiently recovered from
the fatigue of your ride, I will be happy to take you over the house,
and introduce to you a system which, in my opinion, and in that of
every one who has witnessed its operation, is incomparably the most
effectual as yet devised.”
“Your own?” I inquired —“one of your own invention?”
“I am proud,” he replied, “to acknowledge that it is — at least in
some measure.”
In this manner I conversed with Monsieur Maillard for an hour
or two, during which he showed me the gardens and conservatories
of the place.
“I cannot let you see my patients,” he said, “just at present. To a
sensitive mind there is always more or less of the shocking in such
exhibitions; and I do not wish to spoil your appetite for dinner. We
will dine. I can give you some veal a la Menehoult, with cauliflowers
in veloute sauce — after that a glass of Clos de Vougeot — then your
nerves will be sufficiently steadied.”
At six, dinner was announced; and my host conducted me into a
large salle a manger, where a very numerous company were
assembled — twenty-five or thirty in all. They were, apparently,
people of rank-certainly of high breeding — although their
habiliments, I thought, were extravagantly rich, partaking somewhat
too much of the ostentatious finery of the vielle cour. I noticed that
at least two-thirds of these guests were ladies; and some of the latter
were by no means accoutred in what a Parisian would consider good
taste at the present day. Many females, for example, whose age could
not have been less than seventy were bedecked with a profusion of
jewelry, such as rings, bracelets, and earrings, and wore their bosoms
and arms shamefully bare. I observed, too, that very few of the
dresses were well made — or, at least, that very few of them fitted
the wearers. In looking about, I discovered the interesting girl to
whom Monsieur Maillard had presented me in the little parlor; but
my surprise was great to see her wearing a hoop and farthingale,
with high-heeled shoes, and a dirty cap of Brussels lace, so much too
large for her that it gave her face a ridiculously diminutive
expression. When I had first seen her, she was attired, most
becomingly, in deep mourning. There was an air of oddity, in short,
about the dress of the whole party, which, at first, caused me to recur
to my original idea of the “soothing system,” and to fancy that
Monsieur Maillard had been willing to deceive me until after dinner,
that I might experience no uncomfortable feelings during the repast,
at finding myself dining with lunatics; but I remembered having
been informed, in Paris, that the southern provincialists were a
peculiarly eccentric people, with a vast number of antiquated
notions; and then, too, upon conversing with several members of the
company, my apprehensions were immediately and fully dispelled.
The dining-room itself, although perhaps sufficiently
comfortable and of good dimensions, had nothing too much of
elegance about it. For example, the floor was uncarpeted; in France,
however, a carpet is frequently dispensed with. The windows, too,
were without curtains; the shutters, being shut, were securely
fastened with iron bars, applied diagonally, after the fashion of our
ordinary shop-shutters. The apartment, I observed, formed, in itself,
a wing of the chateau, and thus the windows were on three sides of
the parallelogram, the door being at the other. There were no less
than ten windows in all.
The table was superbly set out. It was loaded with plate, and
more than loaded with delicacies. The profusion was absolutely
barbaric. There were meats enough to have feasted the Anakim.
Never, in all my life, had I witnessed so lavish, so wasteful an
expenditure of the good things of life. There seemed very little taste,
however, in the arrangements; and my eyes, accustomed to quiet
lights, were sadly offended by the prodigious glare of a multitude of
wax candles, which, in silver candelabra, were deposited upon the
table, and all about the room, wherever it was possible to find a
place. There were several active servants in attendance; and, upon a
large table, at the farther end of the apartment, were seated seven or
eight people with fiddles, fifes, trombones, and a drum. These
fellows annoyed me very much, at intervals, during the repast, by an
infinite variety of noises, which were intended for music, and which
appeared to afford much entertainment to all present, with the
exception of myself.
Upon the whole, I could not help thinking that there was much
of the bizarre about every thing I saw — but then the world is made
up of all kinds of persons, with all modes of thought, and all sorts of
conventional customs. I had travelled, too, so much, as to be quite an
adept at the nil admirari; so I took my seat very coolly at the right
hand of my host, and, having an excellent appetite, did justice to the
good cheer set before me.
The conversation, in the meantime, was spirited and general.
The ladies, as usual, talked a great deal. I soon found that nearly all
the company were well educated; and my host was a world of goodhumored anecdote in himself. He seemed quite willing to speak of
his position as superintendent of a Maison de Sante; and, indeed, the
topic of lunacy was, much to my surprise, a favorite one with all
present. A great many amusing stories were told, having reference to
the whims of the patients.
“We had a fellow here once,” said a fat little gentleman, who sat
at my right,—“a fellow that fancied himself a tea-pot; and by the
way, is it not especially singular how often this particular crotchet
has entered the brain of the lunatic? There is scarcely an insane
asylum in France which cannot supply a human tea-pot. Our
gentleman was a Britannia — ware tea-pot, and was careful to polish
himself every morning with buckskin and whiting.”
“And then,” said a tall man just opposite, “we had here, not long
ago, a person who had taken it into his head that he was a donkey —
which allegorically speaking, you will say, was quite true. He was a
troublesome patient; and we had much ado to keep him within
bounds. For a long time he would eat nothing but thistles; but of this
idea we soon cured him by insisting upon his eating nothing else.
Then he was perpetually kicking out his heels-so-so-”
“Mr. De Kock! I will thank you to behave yourself!” here
interrupted an old lady, who sat next to the speaker. “Please keep
your feet to yourself! You have spoiled my brocade! Is it necessary,
pray, to illustrate a remark in so practical a style? Our friend here
can surely comprehend you without all this. Upon my word, you are
nearly as great a donkey as the poor unfortunate imagined himself.
Your acting is very natural, as I live.”
“Mille pardons! Ma’m’selle!” replied Monsieur De Kock, thus
addressed —“a thousand pardons! I had no intention of offending.
Ma’m’selle Laplace — Monsieur De Kock will do himself the honor
of taking wine with you.”
Here Monsieur De Kock bowed low, kissed his hand with much
ceremony, and took wine with Ma’m’selle Laplace.
“Allow me, mon ami,” now said Monsieur Maillard, addressing
myself, “allow me to send you a morsel of this veal a la St. Menhoult
— you will find it particularly fine.”
At this instant three sturdy waiters had just succeeded in
depositing safely upon the table an enormous dish, or trencher,
containing what I supposed to be the “monstrum horrendum,
informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum.” A closer scrutiny assured
me, however, that it was only a small calf roasted whole, and set
upon its knees, with an apple in its mouth, as is the English fashion
of dressing a hare.
“Thank you, no,” I replied; “to say the truth, I am not particularly
partial to veal a la St.— what is it?— for I do not find that it
altogether agrees with me. I will change my plate, however, and try
some of the rabbit.”
There were several side-dishes on the table, containing what
appeared to be the ordinary French rabbit — a very delicious
morceau, which I can recommend.
“Pierre,” cried the host, “change this gentleman’s plate, and give
him a side-piece of this rabbit au-chat.”
“This what?” said I.
“This rabbit au-chat.”
“Why, thank you — upon second thoughts, no. I will just help
myself to some of the ham.”
There is no knowing what one eats, thought I to myself, at the
tables of these people of the province. I will have none of their rabbit
au-chat — and, for the matter of that, none of their cat-au-rabbit
either.
“And then,” said a cadaverous looking personage, near the foot of
the table, taking up the thread of the conversation where it had been
broken off,—“and then, among other oddities, we had a patient, once
upon a time, who very pertinaciously maintained himself to be a
Cordova cheese, and went about, with a knife in his hand, soliciting
his friends to try a small slice from the middle of his leg.”
“He was a great fool, beyond doubt,” interposed some one, “but
not to be compared with a certain individual whom we all know,
with the exception of this strange gentleman. I mean the man who
took himself for a bottle of champagne, and always went off with a
pop and a fizz, in this fashion.”
Here the speaker, very rudely, as I thought, put his right thumb
in his left cheek, withdrew it with a sound resembling the popping of
a cork, and then, by a dexterous movement of the tongue upon the
teeth, created a sharp hissing and fizzing, which lasted for several
minutes, in imitation of the frothing of champagne. This behavior, I
saw plainly, was not very pleasing to Monsieur Maillard; but that
gentleman said nothing, and the conversation was resumed by a very
lean little man in a big wig.
“And then there was an ignoramus,” said he, “who mistook
himself for a frog, which, by the way, he resembled in no little
degree. I wish you could have seen him, sir,”— here the speaker
addressed myself —“it would have done your heart good to see the
natural airs that he put on. Sir, if that man was not a frog, I can only
observe that it is a pity he was not. His croak thus — o-o-o-o-gh — oo-o-o-gh! was the finest note in the world — B flat; and when he put
his elbows upon the table thus — after taking a glass or two of wine
— and distended his mouth, thus, and rolled up his eyes, thus, and
winked them with excessive rapidity, thus, why then, sir, I take it
upon myself to say, positively, that you would have been lost in
admiration of the genius of the man.”
“I have no doubt of it,” I said.
“And then,” said somebody else, “then there was Petit Gaillard,
who thought himself a pinch of snuff, and was truly distressed
because he could not take himself between his own finger and
thumb.”
“And then there was Jules Desoulieres, who was a very singular
genius, indeed, and went mad with the idea that he was a pumpkin.
He persecuted the cook to make him up into pies — a thing which
the cook indignantly refused to do. For my part, I am by no means
sure that a pumpkin pie a la Desoulieres would not have been very
capital eating indeed!”
“You astonish me!” said I; and I looked inquisitively at Monsieur
Maillard.
“Ha! ha! ha!” said that gentleman —“he! he! he!— hi! hi! hi!— ho!
ho! ho!— hu! hu! hu! hu!— very good indeed! You must not be
astonished, mon ami; our friend here is a wit — a drole — you must
not understand him to the letter.”
“And then,” said some other one of the party,—“then there was
Bouffon Le Grand — another extraordinary personage in his way.
He grew deranged through love, and fancied himself possessed of
two heads. One of these he maintained to be the head of Cicero; the
other he imagined a composite one, being Demosthenes’ from the
top of the forehead to the mouth, and Lord Brougham’s from the
mouth to the chin. It is not impossible that he was wrong; but he
would have convinced you of his being in the right; for he was a
man of great eloquence. He had an absolute passion for oratory, and
could not refrain from display. For example, he used to leap upon
the dinner-table thus, and — and-”
Here a friend, at the side of the speaker, put a hand upon his
shoulder and whispered a few words in his ear, upon which he ceased
talking with great suddenness, and sank back within his chair.
“And then,” said the friend who had whispered, “there was
Boullard, the tee-totum. I call him the tee-totum because, in fact, he
was seized with the droll but not altogether irrational crotchet, that
he had been converted into a tee-totum. You would have roared with
laughter to see him spin. He would turn round upon one heel by the
hour, in this manner — so —
Here the friend whom he had just interrupted by a whisper,
performed an exactly similar office for himself.
“But then,” cried the old lady, at the top of her voice, “your
Monsieur Boullard was a madman, and a very silly madman at best;
for who, allow me to ask you, ever heard of a human tee-totum? The
thing is absurd. Madame Joyeuse was a more sensible person, as you
know. She had a crotchet, but it was instinct with common sense, and
gave pleasure to all who had the honor of her acquaintance. She
found, upon mature deliberation, that, by some accident, she had
been turned into a chicken-cock; but, as such, she behaved with
propriety. She flapped her wings with prodigious effect — so — so —
and, as for her crow, it was delicious! Cock-a-doodle-doo!— cock-adoodle-doo!— cock-a-doodle-de-doo-dooo-do-o-o-o-o-o-o!”
“Madame Joyeuse, I will thank you to behave yourself!” here
interrupted our host, very angrily. “You can either conduct yourself
as a lady should do, or you can quit the table forthwith-take your
choice.”
The lady (whom I was much astonished to hear addressed as
Madame Joyeuse, after the description of Madame Joyeuse she had
just given) blushed up to the eyebrows, and seemed exceedingly
abashed at the reproof. She hung down her head, and said not a
syllable in reply. But another and younger lady resumed the theme.
It was my beautiful girl of the little parlor.
“Oh, Madame Joyeuse was a fool!” she exclaimed, “but there was
really much sound sense, after all, in the opinion of Eugenie
Salsafette. She was a very beautiful and painfully modest young lady,
who thought the ordinary mode of habiliment indecent, and wished
to dress herself, always, by getting outside instead of inside of her
clothes. It is a thing very easily done, after all. You have only to do so
— and then so — so — so — and then so — so — so — and then so
— so — and then —
“Mon dieu! Ma’m’selle Salsafette!” here cried a dozen voices at
once. “What are you about?— forbear!— that is sufficient!— we see,
very plainly, how it is done!— hold! hold!” and several persons were
already leaping from their seats to withhold Ma’m’selle Salsafette
from putting herself upon a par with the Medicean Venus, when the
point was very effectually and suddenly accomplished by a series of
loud screams, or yells, from some portion of the main body of the
chateau.
My nerves were very much affected, indeed, by these yells; but
the rest of the company I really pitied. I never saw any set of
reasonable people so thoroughly frightened in my life. They all grew
as pale as so many corpses, and, shrinking within their seats, sat
quivering and gibbering with terror, and listening for a repetition of
the sound. It came again — louder and seemingly nearer — and
then a third time very loud, and then a fourth time with a vigor
evidently diminished. At this apparent dying away of the noise, the
spirits of the company were immediately regained, and all was life
and anecdote as before. I now ventured to inquire the cause of the
disturbance.
“A mere bagtelle,” said Monsieur Maillard. “We are used to these
things, and care really very little about them. The lunatics, every
now and then, get up a howl in concert; one starting another, as is
sometimes the case with a bevy of dogs at night. It occasionally
happens, however, that the concerto yells are succeeded by a
simultaneous effort at breaking loose, when, of course, some little
danger is to be apprehended.”
“And how many have you in charge?”
“At present we have not more than ten, altogether.”
“Principally females, I presume?”
“Oh, no — every one of them men, and stout fellows, too, I can
tell you.”
“Indeed! I have always understood that the majority of lunatics
were of the gentler sex.”
“It is generally so, but not always. Some time ago, there were
about twenty-seven patients here; and, of that number, no less than
eighteen were women; but, lately, matters have changed very much,
as you see.”
“Yes — have changed very much, as you see,” here interrupted
the gentleman who had broken the shins of Ma’m’selle Laplace.
“Yes — have changed very much, as you see!” chimed in the
whole company at once.
“Hold your tongues, every one of you!” said my host, in a great
rage. Whereupon the whole company maintained a dead silence for
nearly a minute. As for one lady, she obeyed Monsieur Maillard to
the letter, and thrusting out her tongue, which was an excessively
long one, held it very resignedly, with both hands, until the end of
the entertainment.
“And this gentlewoman,” said I, to Monsieur Maillard, bending
over and addressing him in a whisper —“this good lady who has just
spoken, and who gives us the cock-a-doodle-de-doo — she, I presume,
is harmless — quite harmless, eh?”
“Harmless!” ejaculated he, in unfeigned surprise, “why — why,
what can you mean?”
“Only slightly touched?” said I, touching my head. “I take it for
granted that she is not particularly not dangerously affected, eh?”
“Mon dieu! what is it you imagine? This lady, my particular old
friend Madame Joyeuse, is as absolutely sane as myself. She has her
little eccentricities, to be sure — but then, you know, all old women
— all very old women — are more or less eccentric!”
“To be sure,” said I,—“to be sure — and then the rest of these
ladies and gentlemen-”
“Are my friends and keepers,” interupted Monsieur Maillard,
drawing himself up with hauteur,—“my very good friends and
assistants.”
“What! all of them?” I asked,—“the women and all?”
“Assuredly,” he said,—“we could not do at all without the
women; they are the best lunatic nurses in the world; they have a
way of their own, you know; their bright eyes have a marvellous
effect;— something like the fascination of the snake, you know.”
“To be sure,” said I,—“to be sure! They behave a little odd, eh?—
they are a little queer, eh?— don’t you think so?”
“Odd!— queer!— why, do you really think so? We are not very
prudish, to be sure, here in the South — do pretty much as we please
— enjoy life, and all that sort of thing, you know-”
“To be sure,” said I,—“to be sure.”
And then, perhaps, this Clos de Vougeot is a little heady, you
know — a little strong — you understand, eh?”
“To be sure,” said I,—“to be sure. By the bye, Monsieur, did I
understand you to say that the system you have adopted, in place of
the celebrated soothing system, was one of very rigorous severity?”
“By no means. Our confinement is necessarily close; but the
treatment — the medical treatment, I mean — is rather agreeable to
the patients than otherwise.”
“And the new system is one of your own invention?”
“Not altogether. Some portions of it are referable to Professor
Tarr, of whom you have, necessarily, heard; and, again, there are
modifications in my plan which I am happy to acknowledge as
belonging of right to the celebrated Fether, with whom, if I mistake
not, you have the honor of an intimate acquaintance.”
“I am quite ashamed to confess,” I replied, “that I have never
even heard the names of either gentleman before.”
“Good heavens!” ejaculated my host, drawing back his chair
abruptly, and uplifting his hands. “I surely do not hear you aright!
You did not intend to say, eh? that you had never heard either of the
learned Doctor Tarr, or of the celebrated Professor Fether?”
“I am forced to acknowledge my ignorance,” I replied; “but the
truth should be held inviolate above all things. Nevertheless, I feel
humbled to the dust, not to be acquainted with the works of these, no
doubt, extraordinary men. I will seek out their writings forthwith,
and peruse them with deliberate care. Monsieur Maillard, you have
really — I must confess it — you have really — made me ashamed
of myself!”
And this was the fact.
“Say no more, my good young friend,” he said kindly, pressing
my hand,—“join me now in a glass of Sauterne.”
We drank. The company followed our example without stint.
They chatted — they jested — they laughed — they perpetrated a
thousand absurdities — the fiddles shrieked — the drum row-dedowed — the trombones bellowed like so many brazen bulls of
Phalaris — and the whole scene, growing gradually worse and worse,
as the wines gained the ascendancy, became at length a sort of
pandemonium in petto. In the meantime, Monsieur Maillard and
myself, with some bottles of Sauterne and Vougeot between us,
continued our conversation at the top of the voice. A word spoken in
an ordinary key stood no more chance of being heard than the voice
of a fish from the bottom of Niagra Falls.
“And, sir,” said I, screaming in his ear, “you mentioned
something before dinner about the danger incurred in the old
system of soothing. How is that?”
“Yes,” he replied, “there was, occasionally, very great danger
indeed. There is no accounting for the caprices of madmen; and, in
my opinion as well as in that of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether, it is
never safe to permit them to run at large unattended. A lunatic may
be ‘soothed,’ as it is called, for a time, but, in the end, he is very apt to
become obstreperous. His cunning, too, is proverbial and great. If he
has a project in view, he conceals his design with a marvellous
wisdom; and the dexterity with which he counterfeits sanity,
presents, to the metaphysician, one of the most singular problems in
the study of mind. When a madman appears thoroughly sane,
indeed, it is high time to put him in a straitjacket.”
“But the danger, my dear sir, of which you were speaking, in
your own experience — during your control of this house — have
you had practical reason to think liberty hazardous in the case of a
lunatic?”
“Here?— in my own experience?— why, I may say, yes. For
example:— no very long while ago, a singular circumstance
occurred in this very house. The ‘soothing system,’ you know, was
then in operation, and the patients were at large. They behaved
remarkably well-especially so, any one of sense might have known
that some devilish scheme was brewing from that particular fact,
that the fellows behaved so remarkably well. And, sure enough, one
fine morning the keepers found themselves pinioned hand and foot,
and thrown into the cells, where they were attended, as if they were
the lunatics, by the lunatics themselves, who had usurped the offices
of the keepers.”
“You don’t tell me so! I never heard of any thing so absurd in my
life!”
“Fact — it all came to pass by means of a stupid fellow — a
lunatic — who, by some means, had taken it into his head that he
had invented a better system of government than any ever heard of
before — of lunatic government, I mean. He wished to give his
invention a trial, I suppose, and so he persuaded the rest of the
patients to join him in a conspiracy for the overthrow of the reigning
powers.”
“And he really succeeded?”
“No doubt of it. The keepers and kept were soon made to
exchange places. Not that exactly either — for the madmen had
been free, but the keepers were shut up in cells forthwith, and
treated, I am sorry to say, in a very cavalier manner.”
“But I presume a counter-revolution was soon effected. This
condition of things could not have long existed. The country people
in the neighborhood-visitors coming to see the establishment —
would have given the alarm.”
“There you are out. The head rebel was too cunning for that. He
admitted no visitors at all — with the exception, one day, of a very
stupid-looking young gentleman of whom he had no reason to be
afraid. He let him in to see the place — just by way of variety,— to
have a little fun with him. As soon as he had gammoned him
sufficiently, he let him out, and sent him about his business.”
“And how long, then, did the madmen reign?”
“Oh, a very long time, indeed — a month certainly — how much
longer I can’t precisely say. In the meantime, the lunatics had a jolly
season of it — that you may swear. They doffed their own shabby
clothes, and made free with the family wardrobe and jewels. The
cellars of the chateau were well stocked with wine; and these
madmen are just the devils that know how to drink it. They lived
well, I can tell you.”
“And the treatment — what was the particular species of
treatment which the leader of the rebels put into operation?”
“Why, as for that, a madman is not necessarily a fool, as I have
already observed; and it is my honest opinion that his treatment was
a much better treatment than that which it superseded. It was a very
capital system indeed — simple — neat — no trouble at all — in fact
it was delicious it was
Here my host’s observations were cut short by another series of
yells, of the same character as those which had previously
disconcerted us. This time, however, they seemed to proceed from
persons rapidly approaching.
“Gracious heavens!” I ejaculated —“the lunatics have most
undoubtedly broken loose.”
“I very much fear it is so,” replied Monsieur Maillard, now
becoming excessively pale. He had scarcely finished the sentence,
before loud shouts and imprecations were heard beneath the
windows; and, immediately afterward, it became evident that some
persons outside were endeavoring to gain entrance into the room.
The door was beaten with what appeared to be a sledge-hammer, and
the shutters were wrenched and shaken with prodigious violence.
A scene of the most terrible confusion ensued. Monsieur
Maillard, to my excessive astonishment threw himself under the
side-board. I had expected more resolution at his hands. The
members of the orchestra, who, for the last fifteen minutes, had been
seemingly too much intoxicated to do duty, now sprang all at once
to their feet and to their instruments, and, scrambling upon their
table, broke out, with one accord, into, “Yankee Doodle,” which they
performed, if not exactly in tune, at least with an energy
superhuman, during the whole of the uproar.
Meantime, upon the main dining-table, among the bottles and
glasses, leaped the gentleman who, with such difficulty, had been
restrained from leaping there before. As soon as he fairly settled
himself, he commenced an oration, which, no doubt, was a very
capital one, if it could only have been heard. At the same moment,
the man with the teetotum predilection, set himself to spinning
around the apartment, with immense energy, and with arms
outstretched at right angles with his body; so that he had all the air
of a tee-totum in fact, and knocked everybody down that happened
to get in his way. And now, too, hearing an incredible popping and
fizzing of champagne, I discovered at length, that it proceeded from
the person who performed the bottle of that delicate drink during
dinner. And then, again, the frog-man croaked away as if the
salvation of his soul depended upon every note that he uttered. And,
in the midst of all this, the continuous braying of a donkey arose
over all. As for my old friend, Madame Joyeuse, I really could have
wept for the poor lady, she appeared so terribly perplexed. All she
did, however, was to stand up in a corner, by the fireplace, and sing
out incessantly at the top of her voice, “Cock-a-doodle-de-dooooooh!”
And now came the climax — the catastrophe of the drama. As
no resistance, beyond whooping and yelling and cock-a-doodling,
was offered to the encroachments of the party without, the ten
windows were very speedily, and almost simultaneously, broken in.
But I shall never forget the emotions of wonder and horror with
which I gazed, when, leaping through these windows, and down
among us pele-mele, fighting, stamping, scratching, and howling,
there rushed a perfect army of what I took to be Chimpanzees,
Ourang-Outangs, or big black baboons of the Cape of Good Hope.
I received a terrible beating — after which I rolled under a sofa
and lay still. After lying there some fifteen minutes, during which
time I listened with all my ears to what was going on in the room, I
came to same satisfactory denouement of this tragedy. Monsieur
Maillard, it appeared, in giving me the account of the lunatic who
had excited his fellows to rebellion, had been merely relating his
own exploits. This gentleman had, indeed, some two or three years
before, been the superintendent of the establishment, but grew crazy
himself, and so became a patient. This fact was unknown to the
travelling companion who introduced me. The keepers, ten in
number, having been suddenly overpowered, were first well tarred,
then — carefully feathered, and then shut up in underground cells.
They had been so imprisoned for more than a month, during which
period Monsieur Maillard had generously allowed them not only the
tar and feathers (which constituted his “system”), but some bread and
abundance of water. The latter was pumped on them daily. At
length, one escaping through a sewer, gave freedom to all the rest.
The “soothing system,” with important modifications, has been
resumed at the chateau; yet I cannot help agreeing with Monsieur
Maillard, that his own “treatment” was a very capital one of its kind.
As he justly observed, it was “simple — neat — and gave no trouble
at all — not the least.”
I have only to add that, although I have searched every library in
Europe for the works of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, I have, up
to the present day, utterly failed in my endeavors at procuring an
edition.

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