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Narrative And Miscellaneous Papers by Thomas De Quincey

Part 8 out of 8

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extravagances of feeling, could not, however, forbear smiling good-
humoredly on being made acquainted with this instance of _naďveté_
and enthusiasm in his young admirer.

I now come to an event in Kant's life, which ushered in its closing
stage. On the 8th of October, 1803, for the first time since his youth,
he was seriously ill. When a student at the University, he had once
suffered from an ague, which, however, gave way to pedestrian exercise;
and in later years, he had endured some pain from a contusion on his
head; but, with these two exceptions, (if they can be considered such,)
he had never (properly speaking) been ill. The cause of his illness was
this: his appetite had latterly been irregular, or rather I should say
depraved; and he no longer took pleasure in anything but bread and
butter, and English cheese.[Footnote: Mr. W. here falls into the
ordinary mistake of confounding the cause and the occasion, and would
leave the impression, that Kant (who from his youth up had been a model
of temperance) died of sensual indulgence. The cause of Kant's death
was clearly the general decay of the vital powers, and in particular
the atony of the digestive organs, which must soon have destroyed him
under any care or abstinence whatever. This was the cause. The
accidental occasion, which made that cause operative on the 7th of
October, might or might not be what Mr. W. says. But in Kant's
burthensome state of existence, it could not be a question of much
importance whether his illness were to commence in an October or a
November.] On the 7th of October, at dinner, he ate little else, in
spite of everything that I and another friend then dining with him,
could urge to dissuade him. And for the first time I fancied that he
seemed displeased with my importunity, as though I were overstepping
the just line of my duties. He insisted that the cheese never had done
him any harm, nor would now. I had no course left me but to hold my
tongue; and he did as he pleased. The consequence was what might have
been anticipated--a restless night, succeeded by a day of memorable
illness. The next morning all went on as usual, till nine o'clock, when
Kant, who was then leaning on his sister's arm, suddenly fell senseless
to the ground. A messenger was immediately despatched for me; and I
hurried down to his house, where I found him lying in his bed, which
had now been removed into his study, speechless and insensible. I had
already summoned his physician; but, before he arrived, nature put
forth efforts which brought Kant a little to himself. In about an hour
he opened his eyes, and continued to mutter unintelligibly till towards
the evening, when he rallied a little, and began to talk rationally.
For the first time in his life, he was now, for a few days, confined to
his bed, and ate nothing. On the 12th October, he again took some
refreshment, and would have had his favorite food; but I was now
resolved, at any risk of his displeasure, to oppose him firmly. I
therefore stated to him the whole consequences of his last indulgence,
of all which he manifestly had no recollection. He listened to what I
said very attentively, and calmly expressed his conviction that I was
perfectly in the wrong; but for the present he submitted. However, some
days after, I found that he had offered a florin for a little bread and
cheese, and then a dollar, and even more. Being again refused, he
complained heavily; but gradually he weaned himself from asking for it,
though at times he betrayed involuntarily how much he desired it.

On the 13th of October, his usual dinner parties were resumed, and he
was considered convalescent; but it was seldom indeed that he recovered
the tone of tranquil spirits which he had preserved until his late
attack. Hitherto he had always loved to prolong this meal, the only one
he took--or, as he expressed it in classical phrase, 'coenam
_ducere_;' but now it was difficult to hurry it over fast enough
for his wishes. From dinner, which terminated about two o'clock, he
went straight to bed, and at intervals fell into slumbers; from which,
however, he was regularly awoke by phantasmata or terrific dreams. At
seven in the evening came on duly a period of great agitation, which
lasted till five or six in the morning--sometimes later; and he
continued through the night alternately to walk about and lie down,
occasionally tranquil, but more often in great distress. It now became
necessary that somebody should sit up with him, his man-servant being
wearied out with the toils of the day. No person seemed to be so proper
for this office as his sister, both as having long received a very
liberal pension from him, and also as his nearest relative, who would
be the best witness to the fact that her illustrious brother had wanted
no comforts or attention in his last hours, which his situation
admitted of. Accordingly she was applied to, and undertook to watch him
alternately with his footman--a separate table being kept for her, and
a very handsome addition made to her allowance. She turned out to be a
quiet gentle-minded woman, who raised no disturbances amongst the
servants, and soon won her brother's regard by the modest and retiring
style of her manners; I may add, also, by the truly sisterly affection
which she displayed towards him to the last.

The 8th of October had grievously affected Kant's faculties, but had
not wholly destroyed them. For short intervals the clouds seemed to
roll away that had settled upon his majestic intellect, and it shone
forth as heretofore. During these moments of brief self-possession, his
wonted benignity returned to him; and he expressed his gratitude for
the exertions of those about him, and his sense of the trouble they
underwent, in a very affecting way. With regard to his man-servant in
particular, he was very anxious that he should be rewarded by liberal
presents; and he pressed me earnestly on no account to be parsimonious.
Indeed Kant was nothing less than princely in his use of money; and
there was no occasion on which he was known to express the passion of
scorn very powerfully, but when he was commenting on mean and penurious
acts or habits. Those who knew him only in the streets, fancied that he
was not liberal; for he steadily refused, upon principle, to relieve
all common beggars. But, on the other hand, he was liberal to the
public charitable institutions; he secretly assisted his own poor
relations in a much ampler way than could reasonably have been expected
of him; and it now appeared that he had many other deserving pensioners
upon his bounty; a fact that was utterly unknown to any of us, until
his increasing blindness and other infirmities devolved the duty of
paying these pensions upon myself. It must be recollected, also, that
Kant's whole fortune, which amounted to about twenty thousand dollars,
was the product of his own honorable toils for nearly threescore years;
and that he had himself suffered all the hardships of poverty in his
youth, though he never once ran into any man's debt,--circumstances in
his history, which, as they express how fully he must have been
acquainted with the value of money, greatly enhance the merit of his

In December, 1803, he became incapable of signing his name. His sight,
indeed, had for some time failed him so much, that at dinner he could
not find his spoon without assistance; and, when I happened to dine
with him, I first cut in pieces whatever was on his plate, next put it
into a spoon, and then guided his hand to find the spoon. But his
inability to sign his name did not arise merely from blindness: the
fact was, that, from irretention of memory, he could not recollect the
letters which composed his name; and, when they were repeated to him,
he could not represent the figure of the letters in his imagination. At
the latter end of November, I had remarked that these incapacities were
rapidly growing upon him, and in consequence I prevailed on him to sign
beforehand all the receipts, &c., which would be wanted at the end of
the year; and, afterwards, on my representation, to prevent all
disputes, he gave me a regular legal power to sign on his behalf.

Much as Kant was now reduced, yet he had occasionally moods of social
hilarity. His birth-day was always an agreeable subject to him: some
weeks before his death, I was calculating the time which it still
wanted of that anniversary, and cheering him with the prospect of the
rejoicings which would then take place: 'All your old friends,' said I,
'will meet together, and drink a glass of champagne to your health.'
'That,' said he, 'must be done upon the spot:' and he was not satisfied
till the party was actually assembled. He drank a glass of wine with
them, and with great elevation of spirits celebrated this birth-day
which he was destined never to see.

In the latter weeks of his life, however, a great change took place in
the tone of his spirits. At his dinner-table, where heretofore such a
cloudless spirit of joviality had reigned, there was now a melancholy
silence. It disturbed him to see his two dinner companions conversing
privately together, whilst he himself sat like a mute on the stage with
no part to perform. Yet to have engaged him in the conversation would
have been still more distressing; for his hearing was now very
imperfect; the effort to hear was itself painful to him; and his
expressions, even when his thoughts were accurate enough, became nearly
unintelligible. It is remarkable, however, that at the very lowest
point of his depression, when he became perfectly incapable of
conversing with any rational meaning on the ordinary affairs of life,
he was still able to answer correctly and distinctly, in a degree that
was perfectly astonishing, upon any question of philosophy or of
science, especially of physical geography, [Footnote: _Physical_
Geography, in opposition to _Political_.] chemistry, or natural
history. He talked satisfactorily, in his very worst state, of the
gases, and stated very accurately different propositions of Kepler's,
especially the law of the planetary motions. And I remember in
particular, that upon the very last Monday of his life, when the
extremity of his weakness moved a circle of his friends to tears, and
he sat amongst us insensible to all we could say to him, cowering down,
or rather I might say collapsing into a shapeless heap upon his chair,
deaf, blind, torpid, motionless,--even then I whispered to the others
that I would engage that Kant should take his part in conversation with
propriety and animation. This they found it difficult to believe. Upon
which I drew close to his ear, and put a question to him about the
Moors of Barbary. To the surprise of everybody but myself, he
immediately gave us a summary account of their habits and customs; and
told us by the way, that in the word _Algiers_, the _g_ ought to be
pronounced hard (as in the English word _gear_).

During the last fortnight of Kant's life, he busied himself unceasingly
in a way that seemed not merely purposeless but self-contradictory.
Twenty times in a minute he would unloose and tie his neck
handkerchief--so also with a sort of belt which he wore about his
dressing-gown, the moment it was clasped, he unclasped it with
impatience, and was then equally impatient to have it clasped again.
But no description can convey an adequate impression of the weary
restlessness with which from morning to night he pursued these labors
of Sisyphus--doing and undoing--fretting that he could not do it,
fretting that he had done it.

By this time he seldom knew any of us who were about him, but took us
all for strangers. This happened first with his sister, then with me,
and finally with his servant. Such an alienation distressed me more
than any other instance of his decay: though I knew that he had not
really withdrawn his affection from me, yet his air and mode of
addressing me gave me constantly that feeling. So much the more
affecting was it, when the sanity of his perceptions and his
remembrances returned; but these intervals were of slower and slower
occurrence. In this condition, silent or babbling childishly, self-
involved and torpidly abstracted, or else busy with self-created
phantoms and delusions, what a contrast did he offer to _that_
Kant who had once been the brilliant centre of the most brilliant
circles for rank, wit, or knowledge, that Prussia afforded! A
distinguished person from Berlin, who had called upon him during the
preceding summer, was greatly shocked at his appearance, and said,
'This is not Kant that I have seen, but the shell of Kant!' How much
more would he have said this, if he had seen him now!

Now came February, 1804, which was the last month that Kant was
destined to see. It is remarkable that, in the memorandum book which I
have before mentioned, I found a fragment of an old song, (inserted by
Kant, and dated in the summer about six months before the time of his
death,) which expressed that February was the month in which people had
the least weight to carry, for the obvious reason that it was shorter
by two and by three days than the others; and the concluding sentiment
was in a tone of fanciful pathos to this effect--'Oh, happy February!
in which man has least to bear--least pain, least sorrow, least self-
reproach!' Even of this short month, however, Kant had not twelve
entire days to bear; for it was on the 12th that he died; and in fact
he may be said to have been dying from the 1st. He now barely
vegetated; though there were still transitory gleams flashing by fits
from the embers of his ancient intellect.

On the 3d of February the springs of life seemed to be ceasing from
their play, for, from this day, strictly speaking, he ate nothing more.
His existence henceforward seemed to be the mere prolongation of an
impetus derived from an eighty years' life, after the moving power of
the mechanism was withdrawn. His physician visited him every day at a
particular hour; and it was settled that I should always be there to
meet him. Nine days before his death, on paying his usual visit, the
following little circumstance occurred, which affected us both, by
recalling forcibly to our minds the ineradicable courtesy and goodness
of Kant's nature. When the physician was announced, I went up to Kant
and said to him, 'Here is Dr. A----.' Kant rose from his chair, and,
offering his hand to the Doctor, murmured something in which the word
'posts' was frequently repeated, but with an air as though he wished to
be helped out with the rest of the sentence. Dr. A----, who thought
that, by _posts_, he meant the stations for relays of post-horses, and
therefore that his mind was wandering, replied that all the horses were
engaged, and begged him to compose himself. But Kant went on, with
great effort to himself, and added--'Many posts, heavy posts--then much
goodness--then much gratitude.' All this he said with apparent
incoherence, but with great warmth, and increasing self-possession. I
meantime perfectly divined what it was that Kant, under his cloud of
imbecility, wished to say, and I interpreted accordingly. 'What the
Professor wishes to say, Dr. A----, is this, that, considering the many
and weighty offices which you fill in the city and in the university,
it argues great goodness on your part to give up so much of your time
to him,' (for Dr. A---- would never take any fees from Kant;) 'and that
he has the deepest sense of this goodness.' 'Right,' said Kant,
earnestly, 'right!' But he still continued to stand, and was nearly
sinking to the ground. Upon which I remarked to the physician, that I
was so well acquainted with Kant, that I was satisfied he would not sit
down, however much he suffered from standing, until he knew that his
visitors were seated. The Doctor seemed to doubt this--but Kant, who
heard what I said, by a prodigious effort confirmed my construction of
his conduct, and spoke distinctly these words--'God forbid I should be
sunk so low as to forget the offices of humanity.'

When dinner was announced, Dr. A---- took his leave. Another guest had
now arrived, and I was in hopes, from the animation which Kant had so
recently displayed, that we should to-day have a pleasant party, but my
hopes were vain--Kant was more than usually exhausted, and though he
raised a spoon to his mouth, he swallowed nothing. For some time
everything had been tasteless to him; and I had endeavored, but with
little success, to stimulate the organs of taste by nutmeg, cinnamon,
&c. To-day all failed, and I could not even prevail upon him to taste a
biscuit, rusk, or anything of that sort. I had once heard him say that
several of his friends, who had died of _marasmus_, had closed
their illness by four or five days of entire freedom from pain, but
totally without appetite, and then slumbered tranquilly away. Through
this state I apprehended that he was himself now passing.

Saturday, the 4th of February, I heard his guests loudly expressing
their fears that they should never meet him again; and I could not but
share these fears myself. However, on

Sunday, the 5th, I dined at his table in company with his particular
friend Mr. R. R. V. Kant was still present, but so weak that his head
drooped upon his knees, and he sank down against the right side of the
chair. I went and arranged his pillows so as to raise and support his
head; and, having done this, I said--'Now, my dear Sir, you are again
in right order.' Great was our astonishment when he answered clearly
and audibly in the Roman military phrase--'Yes, _testudine et
facie;_' and immediately after added, 'Ready for the enemy, and in
battle array.' His powers of mind were (if I may be allowed that
expression) smouldering away in their ashes; but every now and then
some lambent flame, or grand emanation of light, shot forth to make it
evident that the ancient fire still slumbered below.

Monday, the 6th, he was much weaker and more torpid: he spoke not a
word, except on the occasion of my question about the Moors, as
previously stated, and sate with sightless eyes, lost in himself, and
manifesting no sense of our presence, so that we had the feeling of
some mighty shade or phantom from some forgotten century being seated
amongst us.

About this time, Kant had become much more tranquil and composed. In
the earlier periods of his illness, when his yet unbroken strength was
brought into active contest with the first attacks of decay, he was apt
to be peevish, and sometimes spoke roughly or even harshly to his
servants. This, though very opposite to his natural disposition, was
altogether excusable under the circumstances. He could not make himself
understood: things were therefore brought to him continually which he
had not asked for; and often it happened that what he really wanted he
could not obtain, because all his efforts to name it were
unintelligible. A violent nervous irritation, besides, affected him
from the unsettling of the equilibrium in the different functions of
his nature; weakness in one organ being made more palpable to him by
disproportionate strength in another. But now the strife was over; the
whole system was at length undermined, and in rapid and harmonious
progress to dissolution. And from this time forward, no movement of
impatience, or expression of fretfulness, ever escaped him.

I now visited him three times a-day; and on

Tuesday, Feb. 7th, going about dinner-time, I found the usual party of
friends sitting down alone; for Kant was in bed. This was a new scene
in his house, and increased our fears that his end was now at hand.
However, having seen him rally so often, I would not run the risk of
leaving him without a dinner-party for the next day; and accordingly,
at the customary hour of one, we assembled in his house on

Wednesday, Feb. 8th. I paid my respects to him as cheerfully as
possible, and ordered dinner to be served up. Kant sat at the table
with us; and, taking a spoon with a little soup in it, put it to his
lips; but immediately put it down again, and retired to bed, from which
he never rose again, except during the few minutes when it was re-

Thursday, the 9th, he had sunk into the weakness of a dying person, and
the corpse-like appearance had already taken possession of him. I
visited him frequently through the day; and, going at ten o'clock at
night, I found him in a state of insensibility. I could not draw any
sign from him that he knew me, and I left him to the care of his sister
and his servant.

Friday, the 10th, I went to see him at six o'clock in the morning. It
was very stormy, and a deep snow had fallen in the night-time. And, by
the way, I remember that a gang of house-breakers had forced their way
through the premises in order to reach Kant's next neighbor, who was a
goldsmith. As I drew near to his bed-side, I said, 'Good morning.' He
returned my salutation by saying, 'Good morning,' but in so feeble and
faltering a voice that it was hardly articulate. I was rejoiced to find
him sensible, and I asked him if he knew me:--'Yes,' he replied; and,
stretching out his hand, touched me gently upon the cheek. Through the
rest of the day, whenever I visited him, he seemed to have relapsed
into a state of insensibility.

Saturday, the 11th, he lay with fixed and rayless eyes; but to all
appearance in perfect peace. I asked him again, on this day, if he knew
me. He was speechless, but he turned his face towards me and made signs
that I should kiss him. Deep emotion thrilled me, as I stooped down to
kiss his pallid lips; for I knew that in this solemn act of tenderness
he meant to express his thankfulness for our long friendship, and to
signify his affection and his last farewell. I had never seen him
confer this mark of his love upon anybody, except once, and that was a
few weeks before his death, when he drew his sister to him and kissed
her. The kiss which he now gave to me was the last memorial that he
knew me.

Whatever fluid was now offered to him passed the oesophagus with a
rattling sound, as often happens with dying people; and there were all
the signs of death being close at hand.

I wished to stay with him till all was over; and as I had been witness
of his life, to be witness also of his departure; and therefore I never
quitted him except when I was called off for a few minutes to attend
some private business. The whole of this night I spent at his bed-side.
Though he had passed the day in a state of insensibility, yet in the
evening he made intelligible signs that he wished to have his bed put
in order; he was therefore lifted out in our arms, and the bed-clothes
and pillows being hastily arranged, he was carried back again. He did
not sleep; and a spoonful of liquid, which was sometimes put to his
lips, he usually pushed aside; but about one o'clock in the night he
himself made a motion towards the spoon, from which I collected that he
was thirsty; and I gave him a small quantity of wine and water
sweetened; but the muscles of his mouth had not strength enough to
retain it, so that to prevent its flowing back he raised his hand to
his lips, until with a rattling sound it was swallowed. He seemed to
wish for more; and I continued to give him more, until he said, in a
way that I was just able to understand,--'It is enough.' And these were
his last words. At intervals he pushed away the bed-clothes, and
exposed his person; I constantly restored the clothes to their
situation, and on one of these occasions I found that the whole body
and extremities were already growing cold, and the pulse intermitting.

At a quarter after three o'clock on Sunday morning, February 12, Kant
stretched himself out as if taking a position for his final act, and
settled into the precise posture which he preserved to the moment of
death. The pulse was now no longer perceptible to the touch in his
hands, feet or neck. I tried every part where a pulse beats, and found
none anywhere but in the left hip, where it beat with violence, but
often intermitted.

About ten o'clock in the forenoon he suffered a remarkable change; his
eye was rigid and his face and lips became discolored by a cadaverous
pallor. Still, such was the effect of his previous habits, that no
trace appeared of the cold sweat which naturally accompanies the last
mortal agony.

It was near eleven o'clock when the moment of dissolution approached.
His sister was standing at the foot of the bed, his sister's son at the
head. I, for the purpose of still observing the fluctuations of the
pulse in his hip, was kneeling at the bed-side; and I called his
servant to come and witness the death of his good master. Now began the
last agony, if to him it could be called an agony, where there seemed
to be no struggle. And precisely at this moment, his distinguished
friend, Mr. R. R. V., whom I had summoned by a messenger, entered the
room. First of all, the breath grew feebler; then it missed its
regularity of return; then it wholly intermitted, and the upper lip was
slightly convulsed; after this there followed one slight respiration or
sigh; and after that no more; but the pulse still beat for a few
seconds--slower and fainter, till it ceased altogether; the mechanism
stopped; the last motion was at an end; and exactly at that moment the
clock struck eleven.

Soon after his death the head of Kant was shaved; and, under the
direction of Professor Knorr, a plaster cast was taken, not a masque
merely, but a cast of the whole bead, designed (I believe) to enrich
the craniological collection of Dr. Gall.

The corpse being laid out and properly attired, immense numbers of
people of every rank, from the highest to the lowest, flocked to see
it. Everybody was anxious to make use of the last opportunity he would
have for entitling himself to say--'I too have seen Kant.' This went on
for many days--during which, from morning to night, the house was
thronged with the public. Great was the astonishment of all people at
the meagreness of Kant's appearance; and it was universally agreed that
a corpse so wasted and fleshless had never been beheld. His head rested
upon the same cushion on which once the gentlemen of the university had
presented an address to him; and I thought that I could not apply it to
a more honorable purpose than by placing it in the coffin, as the final
pillow of that immortal head.

Upon the style and mode of his funeral, Kant had expressed his wishes
in earlier years in a separate memorandum. He there desired that it
should take place early in the morning, with as little noise and
disturbance as possible, and attended only by a few of his most
intimate friends. Happening to meet with this memorandum, whilst I was
engaged at his request in arranging his papers, I very frankly gave him
my opinion, that such an injunction would lay me, as the executor of
his will, under great embarrassments; for that circumstances might very
probably arise under which it would be next to impossible to carry it
into effect. Upon this Kant tore the paper, and left the whole to my
own discretion. The fact was, I foresaw that the students of the
University would never allow themselves to be robbed of this occasion
for expressing their veneration by a public funeral. The event showed
that I was right; for a funeral such as Kant's, one so solemn and so
magnificent, the city of Königsberg has never witnessed before or
since. The public journals, and separate accounts in pamphlets, etc.,
have given so minute an account of its details, that I shall here
notice only the heads of the ceremony.

On the 28th of February, at two o'clock in the afternoon, all the
dignitaries of church and state, not only those resident in Königsberg,
but from the remotest parts of Prussia, assembled in the church of the
Castle. Hence they were escorted by the whole body of the University,
splendidly dressed for the occasion, and by many military officers of
rank, with whom Kant had always been a great favorite, to the house of
the deceased Professor; from which the corpse was carried by torch-
light, the bells of every church in Königsberg tolling, to the
Cathedral which was lit up by innumerable wax-lights. A never-ending
train of many thousand persons followed it on foot. In the Cathedral,
after the usual burial rites, accompanied with every possible
expression of national veneration to the deceased, there was a grand
musical service, most admirably performed, at the close of which Kant's
mortal remains were lowered into the academic vault, where he now rests
among the ancient patriarchs of the University. PEACE BE TO HIS DUST,


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