Part 4 out of 7
trifling requests, very little matters in your way,--save my soul,
and (whispering) make interest to get me a parish coffin,--I have
not enough left to bury me. I always told everyone I was poor, but
the more I told them so, the less they believed me."
John, greatly shocked, retired from the bedside, and sat down in a
distant corner of the room. The women were again in the room,
which was very dark. Melmoth was silent from exhaustion, and there
was a deathlike pause for some time. At this moment John saw the
door open, and a figure appear at it, who looked round the room,
and then quietly and deliberately retired, but not before John had
discovered in his face the living original of the portrait. His
first impulse was to utter an exclamation of terror, but his breath
felt stopped. He was then rising to pursue the figure, but a
moment's reflection checked him. What could be more absurd, than
to be alarmed or amazed at a resemblance between a living man and
the portrait of a dead one! The likeness was doubtless strong
enough to strike him even in that darkened room, but it was
doubtless only a likeness; and though it might be imposing enough
to terrify an old man of gloomy and retired habits, and with a
broken constitution, John resolved it should not produce the same
effect on him.
But while he was applauding himself for this resolution, the door
opened, and the figure appeared at it, beckoning and nodding to
him, with a familiarity somewhat terrifying. John now started up,
determined to pursue it; but the pursuit was stopped by the weak
but shrill cries of his uncle, who was struggling at once with the
agonies of death and his housekeeper. The poor woman, anxious for
her master's reputation and her own, was trying to put on him a
clean shirt and nightcap, and Melmoth, who had just sensation
enough to perceive they were taking something from him, continued
exclaiming feebly, "They are robbing me,--robbing me in my last
moments,--robbing a dying man. John, won't you assist me,--I shall
die a beggar; they are taking my last shirt,--I shall die a
beggar."--And the miser died.
. . . . .
A few days after the funeral, the will was opened before proper
witnesses, and John was found to be left sole heir to his uncle's
property, which, though originally moderate, had, by his grasping
habits, and parsimonious life, become very considerable.
As the attorney who read the will concluded, he added, "There are
some words here, at the corner of the parchment, which do not
appear to be part of the will, as they are neither in the form of a
codicil, nor is the signature of the testator affixed to them; but,
to the best of my belief, they are in the handwriting of the
deceased." As he spoke he showed the lines to Melmoth, who
immediately recognized his uncle's hand (that perpendicular and
penurious hand, that seems determined to make the most of the very
paper, thriftily abridging every word, and leaving scarce an atom
of margin), and read, not without some emotion, the following
words: "I enjoin my nephew and heir, John Melmoth, to remove,
destroy, or cause to be destroyed, the portrait inscribed J.
Melmoth, 1646, hanging in my closet. I also enjoin him to search
for a manuscript, which I think he will find in the third and
lowest left-hand drawer of the mahogany chest standing under that
portrait,--it is among some papers of no value, such as manuscript
sermons, and pamphlets on the improvement of Ireland, and such
stuff; he will distinguish it by its being tied round with a black
tape, and the paper being very moldy and discolored. He may read
it if he will;--I think he had better not. At all events, I adjure
him, if there be any power in the adjuration of a dying man, to
After reading this singular memorandum, the business of the meeting
was again resumed; and as old Melmoth's will was very clear and
legally worded, all was soon settled, the party dispersed, and John
Melmoth was left alone.
. . . . .
He resolutely entered the closet, shut the door, and proceeded to
search for the manuscript. It was soon found, for the directions
of old Melmoth were forcibly written, and strongly remembered. The
manuscript, old, tattered, and discolored, was taken from the very
drawer in which it was mentioned to be laid. Melmoth's hands felt
as cold as those of his dead uncle, when he drew the blotted pages
from their nook. He sat down to read,--there was a dead silence
through the house. Melmoth looked wistfully at the candles,
snuffed them, and still thought they looked dim, (perchance he
thought they burned blue, but such thought he kept to himself).
Certain it is, he often changed his posture, and would have changed
his chair, had there been more than one in the apartment.
He sank for a few moments into a fit of gloomy abstraction, till
the sound of the clock striking twelve made him start,--it was the
only sound he had heard for some hours, and the sounds produced by
inanimate things, while all living beings around are as dead, have
at such an hour an effect indescribably awful. John looked at his
manuscript with some reluctance, opened it, paused over the first
lines, and as the wind sighed round the desolate apartment, and the
rain pattered with a mournful sound against the dismantled window,
wished--what did he wish for?--he wished the sound of the wind less
dismal, and the dash of the rain less monotonous.--He may be
forgiven, it was past midnight, and there was not a human being
awake but himself within ten miles when he began to read.
. . . . .
The manuscript was discolored, obliterated, and mutilated beyond
any that had ever before exercised the patience of a reader.
Michaelis himself, scrutinizing into the pretended autograph of St.
Mark at Venice, never had a harder time of it.--Melmoth could make
out only a sentence here and there. The writer, it appeared, was
an Englishman of the name of Stanton, who had traveled abroad
shortly after the Restoration. Traveling was not then attended
with the facilities which modern improvement has introduced, and
scholars and literati, the intelligent, the idle, and the curious,
wandered over the Continent for years, like Tom Corvat, though they
had the modesty, on their return, to entitle the result of their
multiplied observations and labors only "crudities."
Stanton, about the year 1676, was in Spain; he was, like most of
the travelers of that age, a man of literature, intelligence, and
curiosity, but ignorant of the language of the country, and
fighting his way at times from convent to convent, in quest of what
was called "Hospitality," that is, obtaining board and lodging on
the condition of holding a debate in Latin, on some point
theological or metaphysical, with any monk who would become the
champion of the strife. Now, as the theology was Catholic, and the
metaphysics Aristotelian, Stanton sometimes wished himself at the
miserable Posada from whose filth and famine he had been fighting
his escape; but though his reverend antagonists always denounced
his creed, and comforted themselves, even in defeat, with the
assurance that he must be damned, on the double score of his being
a heretic and an Englishman, they were obliged to confess that his
Latin was good, and his logic unanswerable; and he was allowed, in
most cases, to sup and sleep in peace. This was not doomed to be
his fate on the night of the 17th August 1677, when he found
himself in the plains of Valencia, deserted by a cowardly guide,
who had been terrified by the sight of a cross erected as a
memorial of a murder, had slipped off his mule unperceived,
crossing himself every step he took on his retreat from the
heretic, and left Stanton amid the terrors of an approaching storm,
and the dangers of an unknown country. The sublime and yet
softened beauty of the scenery around, had filled the soul of
Stanton with delight, and he enjoyed that delight as Englishmen
generally do, silently.
The magnificent remains of two dynasties that had passed away, the
ruins of Roman palaces, and of Moorish fortresses, were around and
above him;--the dark and heavy thunder clouds that advanced slowly,
seemed like the shrouds of these specters of departed greatness;
they approached, but did not yet overwhelm or conceal them, as if
Nature herself was for once awed by the power of man; and far
below, the lovely valley of Valencia blushed and burned in all the
glory of sunset, like a bride receiving the last glowing kiss of
the bridegroom before the approach of night. Stanton gazed around.
The difference between the architecture of the Roman and Moorish
ruins struck him. Among the former are the remains of a theater,
and something like a public place; the latter present only the
remains of fortresses, embattled, castellated, and fortified from
top to bottom,--not a loophole for pleasure to get in by,--the
loopholes were only for arrows; all denoted military power and
despotic subjugation a l'outrance. The contrast might have pleased
a philosopher, and he might have indulged in the reflection, that
though the ancient Greeks and Romans were savages (as Dr. Johnson
says all people who want a press must be, and he says truly), yet
they were wonderful savages for their time, for they alone have
left traces of their taste for pleasure in the countries they
conquered, in their superb theaters, temples (which were also
dedicated to pleasure one way or another), and baths, while other
conquering bands of savages never left anything behind them but
traces of their rage for power. So thought Stanton, as he still
saw strongly defined, though darkened by the darkening clouds, the
huge skeleton of a Roman amphitheater, its arched and gigantic
colonnades now admitting a gleam of light, and now commingling with
the purple thunder cloud; and now the solid and heavy mass of a
Moorish fortress, no light playing between its impermeable walls,--
the image of power, dark, isolated, impenetrable. Stanton forgot
his cowardly guide, his loneliness, his danger amid an approaching
storm and an inhospitable country, where his name and country would
shut every door against him, and every peal of thunder would be
supposed justified by the daring intrusion of a heretic in the
dwelling of an old Christian, as the Spanish Catholics absurdly
term themselves, to mark the distinction between them and the
All this was forgot in contemplating the glorious and awful scenery
before him,--light struggling with darkness,--and darkness menacing
a light still more terrible, and announcing its menace in the blue
and livid mass of cloud that hovered like a destroying angel in the
air, its arrows aimed, but their direction awfully indefinite. But
he ceased to forget these local and petty dangers, as the sublimity
of romance would term them, when he saw the first flash of the
lightning, broad and red as the banners of an insulting army whose
motto is Vae victis, shatter to atoms the remains of a Roman
tower;--the rifted stones rolled down the hill, and fell at the
feet of Stanton. He stood appalled, and, awaiting his summons from
the Power in whose eye pyramids, palaces, and the worms whose toil
has formed them, and the worms who toil out their existence under
their shadow or their pressure, are perhaps all alike contemptible,
he stood collected, and for a moment felt that defiance of danger
which danger itself excites, and we love to encounter it as a
physical enemy, to bid it "do its worst," and feel that its worst
will perhaps be ultimately its best for us. He stood and saw
another flash dart its bright, brief, and malignant glance over the
ruins of ancient power, and the luxuriance of recent fertility.
Singular contrast! The relics of art forever decaying,--the
productions of nature forever renewed.--(Alas! for what purpose are
they renewed, better than to mock at the perishable monuments which
men try in vain to rival them by.) The pyramids themselves must
perish, but the grass that grows between their disjointed stones
will be renewed from year to year.
Stanton was thinking thus, when all power of thought was suspended,
by seeing two persons bearing between them the body of a young, and
apparently very lovely girl, who had been struck dead by the
lightning. Stanton approached, and heard the voices of the bearers
repeating, "There is none who will mourn for her!" "There is none
who will mourn for her!" said other voices, as two more bore in
their arms the blasted and blackened figure of what had once been a
man, comely and graceful;--"there is not ONE to mourn for her now!"
They were lovers, and he had been consumed by the flash that had
destroyed her, while in the act of endeavoring to defend her. As
they were about to remove the bodies, a person approached with a
calmness of step and demeanor, as if he were alone unconscious of
danger, and incapable of fear; and after looking on them for some
time, burst into a laugh so loud, wild, and protracted, that the
peasants, starting with as much horror at the sound as at that of
the storm, hurried away, bearing the corpses with them. Even
Stanton's fears were subdued by his astonishment, and, turning to
the stranger, who remained standing on the same spot, he asked the
reason of such an outrage on humanity. The stranger, slowly
turning round, and disclosing a countenance which--(Here the
manuscript was illegible for a few lines), said in English--(A long
hiatus followed here, and the next passage that was legible, though
it proved to be a continuation of the narrative, was but a
. . . . .
The terrors of the night rendered Stanton a sturdy and unappeasable
applicant; and the shrill voice of the old woman, repeating, "no
heretic--no English--Mother of God protect us--avaunt Satan!"--
combined with the clatter of the wooden casement (peculiar to the
houses in Valencia) which she opened to discharge her volley of
anathematization, and shut again as the lightning glanced through
the aperture, were unable to repel his importunate request for
admittance, in a night whose terrors ought to soften all the
miserable petty local passions into one awful feeling of fear for
the Power who caused it, and compassion for those who were exposed
to it.--But Stanton felt there was something more than national
bigotry in the exclamations of the old woman; there was a peculiar
and personal horror of the English.--And he was right; but this did
not diminish the eagerness of his. . . .
. . . . .
The house was handsome and spacious, but the melancholy appearance
of desertion . . . .
. . . . .
--The benches were by the wall, but there were none to sit there;
the tables were spread in what had been the hall, but it seemed as
if none had gathered round them for many years;--the clock struck
audibly, there was no voice of mirth or of occupation to drown its
sound; time told his awful lesson to silence alone;--the hearths
were black with fuel long since consumed;--the family portraits
looked as if they were the only tenants of the mansion; they seemed
to say, from their moldering frames, "there are none to gaze on
us;" and the echo of the steps of Stanton and his feeble guide, was
the only sound audible between the peals of thunder that rolled
still awfully, but more distantly,--every peal like the exhausted
murmurs of a spent heart. As they passed on, a shriek was heard.
Stanton paused, and fearful images of the dangers to which
travelers on the Continent are exposed in deserted and remote
habitations, came into his mind. "Don't heed it," said the old
woman, lighting him on with a miserable lamp;--"it is only he. . . .
. . . . .
The old woman having now satisfied herself, by ocular
demonstration, that her English guest, even if he was the devil,
had neither horn, hoof, nor tail, that he could bear the sign of
the cross without changing his form, and that, when he spoke, not a
puff of sulphur came out of his mouth, began to take courage, and
at length commenced her story, which, weary and comfortless as
Stanton was, . . . .
. . . . .
Every obstacle was now removed; parents and relations at last gave
up all opposition, and the young pair were united. Never was there
a lovelier,--they seemed like angels who had only anticipated by a
few years their celestial and eternal union. The marriage was
solemnized with much pomp, and a few days after there was a feast
in that very wainscoted chamber which you paused to remark was so
gloomy. It was that night hung with rich tapestry, representing
the exploits of the Cid, particularly that of his burning a few
Moors who refused to renounce their accursed religion. They were
represented beautifully tortured, writhing and howling, and
"Mahomet! Mahomet!" issuing out of their mouths, as they called on
him in their burning agonies;--you could almost hear them scream.
At the upper end of the room, under a splendid estrade, over which
was an image of the blessed Virgin, sat Donna Isabella de Cardoza,
mother to the bride, and near her Donna Ines, the bride, on rich
almohadas; the bridegroom sat opposite to her, and though they
never spoke to each other, their eyes, slowly raised, but suddenly
withdrawn (those eyes that blushed), told to each other the
delicious secret of their happiness. Don Pedro de Cardoza had
assembled a large party in honor of his daughter's nuptials; among
them was an Englishman of the name of MELMOTH, a traveler; no one
knew who had brought him there. He sat silent like the rest, while
the iced waters and the sugared wafers were presented to the
company. The night was intensely hot, and the moon glowed like a
sun over the ruins of Saguntum; the embroidered blinds flapped
heavily, as if the wind made an effort to raise them in vain, and
(Another defect in the manuscript occurred here, but it was soon
. . . . .
The company were dispersed through various alleys of the garden;
the bridegroom and bride wandered through one where the delicious
perfume of the orange trees mingled itself with that of the myrtles
in blow. On their return to the ball, both of them asked, Had the
company heard the exquisite sounds that floated through the garden
just before they quitted it? No one had heard them. They
expressed their surprise. The Englishman had never quitted the
hall; it was said he smiled with a most particular and
extraordinary expression as the remark was made. His silence had
been noticed before, but it was ascribed to his ignorance of the
Spanish language, an ignorance that Spaniards are not anxious
either to expose or remove by speaking to a stranger. The subject
of the music was not again reverted to till the guests were seated
at supper, when Donna Ines and her young husband, exchanging a
smile of delighted surprise, exclaimed they heard the same
delicious sounds floating round them. The guests listened, but no
one else could hear it;--everyone felt there was something
extraordinary in this. Hush! was uttered by every voice almost at
the same moment. A dead silence followed,--you would think, from
their intent looks, that they listened with their very eyes. This
deep silence, contrasted with the splendor of the feast, and the
light effused from torches held by the domestics, produced a
singular effect,--it seemed for some moments like an assembly of
the dead. The silence was interrupted, though the cause of wonder
had not ceased, by the entrance of Father Olavida, the Confessor of
Donna Isabella, who had been called away previous to the feast, to
administer extreme unction to a dying man in the neighborhood. He
was a priest of uncommon sanctity, beloved in the family, and
respected in the neighborhood, where he had displayed uncommon
taste and talents for exorcism;--in fact, this was the good
Father's forte, and he piqued himself on it accordingly. The devil
never fell into worse hands than Father Olavida's, for when he was
so contumacious as to resist Latin, and even the first verses of
the Gospel of St. John in Greek, which the good Father never had
recourse to but in cases of extreme stubbornness and difficulty,--
(here Stanton recollected the English story of the Boy of Bilson,
and blushed even in Spain for his countrymen),--then he always
applied to the Inquisition; and if the devils were ever so
obstinate before, they were always seen to fly out of the
possessed, just as, in the midst of their cries (no doubt of
blasphemy), they were tied to the stake. Some held out even till
the flames surrounded them; but even the most stubborn must have
been dislodged when the operation was over, for the devil himself
could no longer tenant a crisp and glutinous lump of cinders. Thus
Father Olavida's fame spread far and wide, and the Cardoza family
had made uncommon interest to procure him for a Confessor, and
happily succeeded. The ceremony he had just been performing had
cast a shade over the good Father's countenance, but it dispersed
as he mingled among the guests, and was introduced to them. Room
was soon made for him, and he happened accidentally to be seated
opposite the Englishman. As the wine was presented to him, Father
Olavida (who, as I observed, was a man of singular sanctity)
prepared to utter a short internal prayer. He hesitated,--
trembled,--desisted; and, putting down the wine, wiped the drops
from his forehead with the sleeve of his habit. Donna Isabella
gave a sign to a domestic, and other wine of a higher quality was
offered to him. His lips moved, as if in the effort to pronounce a
benediction on it and the company, but the effort again failed; and
the change in his countenance was so extraordinary, that it was
perceived by all the guests. He felt the sensation that his
extraordinary appearance excited, and attempted to remove it by
again endeavoring to lift the cup to his lips. So strong was the
anxiety with which the company watched him, that the only sound
heard in that spacious and crowded hall was the rustling of his
habit as he attempted to lift the cup to his lips once more--in
vain. The guests sat in astonished silence. Father Olavida alone
remained standing; but at that moment the Englishman rose, and
appeared determined to fix Olavida's regards by a gaze like that of
fascination. Olavida rocked, reeled, grasped the arm of a page,
and at last, closing his eyes for a moment, as if to escape the
horrible fascination of that unearthly glare (the Englishman's eyes
were observed by all the guests, from the moment of his entrance,
to effuse a most fearful and preternatural luster), exclaimed, "Who
is among us?--Who?--I cannot utter a blessing while he is here. I
cannot feel one. Where he treads, the earth is parched!--Where he
breathes, the air is fire!--Where he feeds, the food is poison!--
Where he turns his glance is lightning!--WHO IS AMONG US?--WHO?"
repeated the priest in the agony of adjuration, while his cowl
fallen back, his few thin hairs around the scalp instinct and alive
with terrible emotion, his outspread arms protruded from the
sleeves of his habit, and extended toward the awful stranger,
suggested the idea of an inspired being in the dreadful rapture of
prophetic denunciation. He stood--still stood, and the Englishman
stood calmly opposite to him. There was an agitated irregularity
in the attitudes of those around them, which contrasted strongly
the fixed and stern postures of those two, who remained gazing
silently at each other. "Who knows him?" exclaimed Olavida,
starting apparently from a trance; "who knows him? who brought him
The guests severally disclaimed all knowledge of the Englishman,
and each asked the other in whispers, "who HAD brought him there?"
Father Olavida then pointed his arm to each of the company, and
asked each individually, "Do you know him?" No! no! no!" was
uttered with vehement emphasis by every individual. "But I know
him," said Olavida, "by these cold drops!" and he wiped them off;--
"by these convulsed joints!" and he attempted to sign the cross,
but could not. He raised his voice, and evidently speaking with
increased difficulty,--"By this bread and wine, which the faithful
receive as the body and blood of Christ, but which HIS presence
converts into matter as viperous as the suicide foam of the dying
Judas,--by all these--I know him, and command him to be gone!--He
is--he is--" and he bent forward as he spoke, and gazed on the
Englishman with an expression which the mixture of rage, hatred,
and fear rendered terrible. All the guests rose at these words,--
the whole company now presented two singular groups, that of the
amazed guests all collected together, and repeating, "Who, what is
he?" and that of the Englishman, who stood unmoved, and Olavida,
who dropped dead in the attitude of pointing to him.
. . . . .
The body was removed into another room, and the departure of the
Englishman was not noticed till the company returned to the hall.
They sat late together, conversing on this extraordinary
circumstance, and finally agreed to remain in the house, lest the
evil spirit (for they believed the Englishman no better) should
take certain liberties with the corse by no means agreeable to a
Catholic, particularly as he had manifestly died without the
benefit of the last sacraments. Just as this laudable resolution
was formed, they were roused by cries of horror and agony from the
bridal chamber, where the young pair had retired.
They hurried to the door, but the father was first. They burst it
open, and found the bride a corse in the arms of her husband.
. . . . .
He never recovered his reason; the family deserted the mansion
rendered terrible by so many misfortunes. One apartment is still
tenanted by the unhappy maniac; his were the cries you heard as you
traversed the deserted rooms. He is for the most part silent
during the day, but at midnight he always exclaims, in a voice
frightfully piercing, and hardly human, "They are coming! they are
coming!" and relapses into profound silence.
The funeral of Father Olavida was attended by an extraordinary
circumstance. He was interred in a neighboring convent; and the
reputation of his sanctity, joined to the interest caused by his
extraordinary death, collected vast numbers at the ceremony. His
funeral sermon was preached by a monk of distinguished eloquence,
appointed for the purpose. To render the effect of his discourse
more powerful, the corse, extended on a bier, with its face
uncovered, was placed in the aisle. The monk took his text from
one of the prophets,--"Death is gone up into our palaces." He
expatiated on mortality, whose approach, whether abrupt or
lingering, is alike awful to man.--He spoke of the vicisstudes of
empires with much eloquence and learning, but his audience were not
observed to be much affected.--He cited various passages from the
lives of the saints, descriptive of the glories of martyrdom, and
the heroism of those who had bled and blazed for Christ and his
blessed mother, but they appeared still waiting for something to
touch them more deeply. When he inveighed against the tyrants
under whose bloody persecution those holy men suffered, his hearers
were roused for a moment, for it is always easier to excite a
passion than a moral feeling. But when he spoke of the dead, and
pointed with emphatic gesture to the corse, as it lay before them
cold and motionless, every eye was fixed, and every ear became
attentive. Even the lovers, who, under pretense of dipping their
fingers into the holy water, were contriving to exchange amorous
billets, forbore for one moment this interesting intercourse, to
listen to the preacher. He dwelt with much energy on the virtues
of the deceased, whom he declared to be a particular favorite of
the Virgin; and enumerating the various losses that would be caused
by his departure to the community to which he belonged, to society,
and to religion at large; he at last worked up himself to a
vehement expostulation with the Deity on the occasion. "Why hast
thou," he exclaimed, "why hast thou, Oh God! thus dealt with us?
Why hast thou snatched from our sight this glorious saint, whose
merits, if properly applied, doubtless would have been sufficient
to atone for the apostasy of St. Peter, the opposition of St. Paul
(previous to his conversion), and even the treachery of Judas
himself? Why hast thou, Oh God! snatched him from us?"--and a deep
and hollow voice from among the congregation answered,--"Because he
deserved his fate." The murmurs of approbation with which the
congregation honored this apostrophe half drowned this
extraordinary interruption; and though there was some little
commotion in the immediate vicinity of the speaker, the rest of the
audience continued to listen intently. "What," proceeded the
preacher, pointing to the corse, "what hath laid thee there,
servant of God?"--"Pride, ignorance, and fear," answered the same
voice, in accents still more thrilling. The disturbance now became
universal. The preacher paused, and a circle opening, disclosed
the figure of a monk belonging to the convent, who stood among
. . . . .
After all the usual modes of admonition, exhortation, and
discipline had been employed, and the bishop of the diocese, who,
under the report of these extraordinary circumstances, had visited
the convent in person to obtain some explanation from the
contumacious monk in vain, it was agreed, in a chapter
extraordinary, to surrender him to the power of the Inquisition.
He testified great horror when this determination was made known to
him,--and offered to tell over and over again all that he COULD
relate of the cause of Father Olavida's death. His humiliation,
and repeated offers of confession, came too late. He was conveyed
to the Inquisition. The proceedings of that tribunal are rarely
disclosed, but there is a secret report (I cannot answer for its
truth) of what he said and suffered there. On his first
examination, he said he would relate all he COULD. He was told
that was not enough, he must relate all he knew.
. . . . .
"Why did you testify such horror at the funeral of Father
Olavida?"--"Everyone testified horror and grief at the death of
that venerable ecclesiastic, who died in the odor of sanctity. Had
I done otherwise, it might have been reckoned a proof of my guilt."
"Why did you interrupt the preacher with such extraordinary
exclamations?"--To this no answer. "Why do you refuse to explain
the meaning of those exclamations?"--No answer. "Why do you
persist in this obstinate and dangerous silence? Look, I beseech
you, brother, at the cross that is suspended against this wall,"
and the Inquisitor pointed to the large black crucifix at the back
of the chair where he sat; "one drop of the blood shed there can
purify you from all the sin you have ever committed; but all that
blood, combined with the intercession of the Queen of Heaven, and
the merits of all its martyrs, nay, even the absolution of the
Pope, cannot deliver you from the curse of dying in unrepented
sin."--"What sin, then, have I committed?"--"The greatest of all
possible sins; you refuse answering the questions put to you at the
tribunal of the most holy and merciful Inquisition;--you will not
tell us what you know concerning the death of Father Olavida."--"I
have told you that I believe he perished in consequence of his
ignorance and presumption." "What proof can you produce of that?"--
"He sought the knowledge of a secret withheld from man." "What
was that?"--"The secret of discovering the presence or agency of
the evil power." "Do you possess that secret?"--After much
agitation on the part of the prisoner, he said distinctly, but very
faintly, "My master forbids me to disclose it." "If your master
were Jesus Christ, he would not forbid you to obey the commands, or
answer the questions of the Inquisition."--"I am not sure of that."
There was a general outcry of horror at these words. The
examination then went on. "If you believed Olavida to be guilty of
any pursuits or studies condemned by our mother the church, why did
you not denounce him to the Inquisition?"--"Because I believed him
not likely to be injured by such pursuits; his mind was too weak,--
he died in the struggle," said the prisoner with great emphasis.
"You believe, then, it requires strength of mind to keep those
abominable secrets, when examined as to their nature and
tendency?"--"No, I rather imagine strength of body." "We shall try
that presently," said an Inquisitor, giving a signal for the
. . . . .
The prisoner underwent the first and second applications with
unshrinking courage, but on the infliction of the water-torture,
which is indeed insupportable to humanity, either to suffer or
relate, he exclaimed in the gasping interval, he would disclose
everything. He was released, refreshed, restored, and the
following day uttered the following remarkable confession. . . .
. . . . .
The old Spanish woman further confessed to Stanton, that. . . .
. . . . .
and that the Englishman certainly had been seen in the neighborhood
since;--seen, as she had heard, that very night. "Great G--d!"
exclaimed Stanton, as he recollected the stranger whose demoniac
laugh had so appalled him, while gazing on the lifeless bodies of
the lovers, whom the lightning had struck and blasted.
As the manuscript, after a few blotted and illegible pages, became
more distinct, Melmoth read on, perplexed and unsatisfied, not
knowing what connection this Spanish story could have with his
ancestor, whom, however, he recognized under the title of the
Englishman; and wondering how Stanton could have thought it worth
his while to follow him to Ireland, write a long manuscript about
an event that occurred in Spain, and leave it in the hands of his
family, to "verify untrue things," in the language of Dogberry,--
his wonder was diminished, though his curiosity was still more
inflamed, by the perusal of the next lines, which he made out with
some difficulty. It seems Stanton was now in England.
. . . . .
About the year 1677, Stanton was in London, his mind still full of
his mysterious countryman. This constant subject of his
contemplations had produced a visible change in his exterior,--his
walk was what Sallust tells us of Catiline's,--his were, too, the
"faedi oculi." He said to himself every moment, "If I could but
trace that being, I will not call him man,"--and the next moment he
said, "and what if I could?" In this state of mind, it is singular
enough that he mixed constantly in public amusements, but it is
true. When one fierce passion is devouring the soul, we feel more
than ever the necessity of external excitement; and our dependence
on the world for temporary relief increases in direct proportion to
our contempt of the world and all its works. He went frequently to
the theaters, THEN fashionable, when
"The fair sat panting at a courtier's play,
And not a mask went unimproved away."
. . . . .
It was that memorable night, when, according to the history of the
veteran Betterton,* Mrs. Barry, who personated Roxana, had a green-
room squabble with Mrs. Bowtell, the representative of Statira,
about a veil, which the partiality of the property man adjudged to
the latter. Roxana suppressed her rage till the fifth act, when,
stabbing Statira, she aimed the blow with such force as to pierce
through her stays, and inflict a severe though not dangerous wound.
Mrs. Bowtell fainted, the performance was suspended, and, in the
commotion which this incident caused in the house, many of the
audience rose, and Stanton among them. It was at this moment that,
in a seat opposite to him, he discovered the object of his search
for four years,--the Englishman whom he had met in the plains of
Valencia, and whom he believed the same with the subject of the
extraordinary narrative he had heard there.
* Vide Betterton's History of the Stage.
He was standing up. There was nothing particular or remarkable in
his appearance, but the expression of his eyes could never be
mistaken or forgotten. The heart of Stanton palpitated with
violence,--a mist overspread his eye,--a nameless and deadly
sickness, accompanied with a creeping sensation in every pore, from
which cold drops were gushing, announced the. . . .
. . . . .
Before he had well recovered, a strain of music, soft, solemn, and
delicious, breathed round him, audibly ascending from the ground,
and increasing in sweetness and power till it seemed to fill the
whole building. Under the sudden impulse of amazement and
pleasure, he inquired of some around him from whence those
exquisite sounds arose. But, by the manner in which he was
answered, it was plain that those he addressed considered him
insane; and, indeed, the remarkable change in his expression might
well justify the suspicion. He then remembered that night in
Spain, when the same sweet and mysterious sounds were heard only by
the young bridegroom and bride, of whom the latter perished on that
very night. "And am I then to be the next victim?" thought
Stanton; "and are those celestial sounds, that seem to prepare us
for heaven, only intended to announce the presence of an incarnate
fiend, who mocks the devoted with 'airs from heaven,' while he
prepares to surround them with 'blasts from hell'?" It is very
singular that at this moment, when his imagination had reached its
highest pitch of elevation,--when the object he had pursued so long
and fruitlessly, had in one moment become as it were tangible to
the grasp both of mind and body,--when this spirit, with whom he
had wrestled in darkness, was at last about to declare its name,
that Stanton began to feel a kind of disappointment at the futility
of his pursuits, like Bruce at discovering the source of the Nile,
or Gibbon on concluding his History. The feeling which he had
dwelt on so long, that he had actually converted it into a duty,
was after all mere curiosity; but what passion is more insatiable,
or more capable of giving a kind of romantic grandeur to all its
wanderings and eccentricities? Curiosity is in one respect like
love, it always compromises between the object and the feeling; and
provided the latter possesses sufficient energy, no matter how
contemptible the former may be. A child might have smiled at the
agitation of Stanton, caused as it was by the accidental appearance
of a stranger; but no man, in the full energy of his passions, was
there, but must have trembled at the horrible agony of emotion with
which he felt approaching, with sudden and irresistible velocity,
the crisis of his destiny.
When the play was over, he stood for some moments in the deserted
streets. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and he saw near him a
figure, whose shadow, projected half across the street (there were
no flagged ways then, chains and posts were the only defense of the
foot passenger), appeared to him of gigantic magnitude. He had
been so long accustomed to contend with these phantoms of the
imagination, that he took a kind of stubborn delight in subduing
them. He walked up to the object, and observing the shadow only
was magnified, and the figure was the ordinary height of man, he
approached it, and discovered the very object of his search,--the
man whom he had seen for a moment in Valencia, and, after a search
of four years, recognized at the theater.
. . . . .
"You were in quest of me?"--"I was." "Have you anything to inquire
of me?"--"Much." "Speak, then."--"This is no place." "No place!
poor wretch, I am independent of time and place. Speak, if you
have anything to ask or to learn."--"I have many things to ask, but
nothing to learn, I hope, from you." "You deceive yourself, but
you will be undeceived when next we meet."--"And when shall that
be?" said Stanton, grasping his arm; "name your hour and your
place." "The hour shall be midday," answered the stranger, with a
horrid and unintelligible smile; "and the place shall be the bare
walls of a madhouse, where you shall rise rattling in your chains,
and rustling from your straw, to greet me,--yet still you shall
have THE CURSE OF SANITY, and of memory. My voice shall ring in
your ears till then, and the glance of these eyes shall be
reflected from every object, animate or inanimate, till you behold
them again."--"Is it under circumstances so horrible we are to meet
again?" said Stanton, shrinking under the full-lighted blaze of
those demon eyes. "I never," said the stranger, in an emphatic
tone,--"I never desert my friends in misfortune. When they are
plunged in the lowest abyss of human calamity, they are sure to be
visited by me."
. . . . .
The narrative, when Melmoth was again able to trace its
continuation, described Stanton, some years after, plunged in a
state the most deplorable.
He had been always reckoned of a singular turn of mind, and the
belief of this, aggravated by his constant talk of Melmoth, his
wild pursuit of him, his strange behavior at the theater, and his
dwelling on the various particulars of their extraordinary
meetings, with all the intensity of the deepest conviction (while
he never could impress them on any one's conviction but his own),
suggested to some prudent people the idea that he was deranged.
Their malignity probably took part with their prudence. The
selfish Frenchman* says, we feel a pleasure even in the misfortunes
of our friends,--a plus forte in those of our enemies; and as
everyone is an enemy to a man of genius of course, the report of
Stanton's malady was propagated with infernal and successful
industry. Stanton's next relative, a needy unprincipled man,
watched the report in its circulation, and saw the snares closing
round his victim. He waited on him one morning, accompanied by a
person of a grave, though somewhat repulsive appearance. Stanton
was as usual abstracted and restless, and, after a few moments'
conversation, he proposed a drive a few miles out of London, which
he said would revive and refresh him. Stanton objected, on account
of the difficulty of getting a hackney coach (for it is singular
that at this period the number of private equipages, though
infinitely fewer than they are now, exceeded the number of hired
ones), and proposed going by water. This, however, did not suit
the kinsman's views; and, after pretending to send for a carriage
(which was in waiting at the end of the street), Stanton and his
companions entered it, and drove about two miles out of London.
The carriage then stopped. Come, Cousin," said the younger
Stanton,--"come and view a purchase I have made." Stanton absently
alighted, and followed him across a small paved court; the other
person followed. "In troth, Cousin," said Stanton, "your choice
appears not to have been discreetly made; your house has somewhat
of a gloomy aspect."--"Hold you content, Cousin," replied the
other; "I shall take order that you like it better, when you have
been some time a dweller therein." Some attendants of a mean
appearance, and with most suspicious visages, awaited them on their
entrance, and they ascended a narrow staircase, which led to a room
meanly furnished. "Wait here," said the kinsman, to the man who
accompanied them, "till I go for company to divertise my cousin in
his loneliness." They were left alone. Stanton took no notice of
his companion, but as usual seized the first book near him, and
began to read. It was a volume in manuscript,--they were then much
more common than now.
The first lines struck him as indicating insanity in the writer.
It was a wild proposal (written apparently after the great fire of
London) to rebuild it with stone, and attempting to prove, on a
calculation wild, false, and yet sometimes plausible, that this
could be done out of the colossal fragments of Stonehenge, which
the writer proposed to remove for that purpose. Subjoined were
several grotesque drawings of engines designed to remove those
massive blocks, and in a corner of the page was a note,--"I would
have drawn these more accurately, but was not allowed a KNIFE to
mend my pen."
The next was entitled, "A modest proposal for the spreading of
Christianity in foreign parts, whereby it is hoped its
entertainment will become general all over the world."--This modest
proposal was, to convert the Turkish ambassadors (who had been in
London a few years before), by offering them their choice of being
strangled on the spot, or becoming Christians. Of course the
writer reckoned on their embracing the easier alternative, but even
this was to be clogged with a heavy condition,--namely, that they
must be bound before a magistrate to convert twenty Mussulmans a
day, on their return to Turkey. The rest of the pamphlet was
reasoned very much in the conclusive style of Captain Bobadil,--
these twenty will convert twenty more apiece, and these two hundred
converts, converting their due number in the same time, all Turkey
would be converted before the Grand Signior knew where he was.
Then comes the coup d'eclat,--one fine morning, every minaret in
Constantinople was to ring out with bells, instead of the cry of
the Muezzins; and the Imaum, coming out to see what was the matter,
was to be encountered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in
pontificalibus, performing Cathedral service in the church of St.
Sophia, which was to finish the business. Here an objection
appeared to arise, which the ingenuity of the writer had
anticipated.--"It may be redargued," saith he, "by those who have
more spleen than brain, that forasmuch as the Archbishop preacheth
in English, he will not thereby much edify the Turkish folk, who do
altogether hold in a vain gabble of their own." But this (to use
his own language) he "evites," by judiciously observing, that where
service was performed in an unknown tongue, the devotion of the
people was always observed to be much increased thereby; as, for
instance, in the church of Rome,--that St. Augustine, with his
monks, advanced to meet King Ethelbert singing litanies (in a
language his majesty could not possibly have understood), and
converted him and his whole court on the spot;--that the sybilline
books. . . .
. . . . .
Cum multis aliis.
Between the pages were cut most exquisitely in paper the likenesses
of some of these Turkish ambassadors; the hair of the beards, in
particular, was feathered with a delicacy of touch that seemed the
work of fairy fingers,--but the pages ended with a complaint of the
operator, that his scissors had been taken from him. However, he
consoled himself and the reader with the assurance, that he would
that night catch a moonbeam as it entered through the grating, and,
when he had whetted it on the iron knobs of his door, would do
wonders with it. In the next page was found a melancholy proof of
powerful but prostrated intellect. It contained some insane lines,
ascribed to Lee the dramatic poet, commencing,
"O that my lungs could bleat like buttered pease," &c.
There is no proof whatever that these miserable lines were really
written by Lee, except that the measure is the fashionable quatrain
of the period. It is singular that Stanton read on without
suspicion of his own danger, quite absorbed in the album of a
madhouse, without ever reflecting on the place where he was, and
which such compositions too manifestly designated.
It was after a long interval that he looked round, and perceived
that his companion was gone. Bells were unusual then. He
proceeded to the door,--it was fastened. He called aloud,--his
voice was echoed in a moment by many others, but in tones so wild
and discordant, that he desisted in involuntary terror. As the day
advanced, and no one approached, he tried the window, and then
perceived for the first time it was grated. It looked out on the
narrow flagged yard, in which no human being was; and if there had,
from such a being no human feeling could have been extracted.
Sickening with unspeakable horror, he sunk rather than sat down
beside the miserable window, and "wished for day."
. . . . .
At midnight he started from a doze, half a swoon, half a sleep,
which probably the hardness of his seat, and of the deal table on
which he leaned, had not contributed to prolong.
He was in complete darkness; the horror of his situation struck him
at once, and for a moment he was indeed almost qualified for an
inmate of that dreadful mansion. He felt his way to the door,
shook it with desperate strength, and uttered the most frightful
cries, mixed with expostulations and commands. His cries were in a
moment echoed by a hundred voices. In maniacs there is a peculiar
malignity, accompanied by an extraordinary acuteness of some of the
senses, particularly in distinguishing the voice of a stranger.
The cries that he heard on every side seemed like a wild and
infernal yell of joy, that their mansion of misery had obtained
He paused, exhausted,--a quick and thundering step was heard in the
passage. The door was opened, and a man of savage appearance stood
at the entrance,--two more were seen indistinctly in the passage.
"Release me, villain!"--"Stop, my fine fellow, what's all this
noise for?" "Where am I?" "Where you ought to be." "Will you
dare to detain me?"--"Yes, and a little more than that," answered
the ruffian, applying a loaded horsewhip to his back and shoulders,
till the patient soon fell to the ground convulsed with rage and
pain. "Now you see you are where you ought to be," repeated the
ruffian, brandishing the horsewhip over him, "and now take the
advice of a friend, and make no more noise. The lads are ready for
you with the darbies, and they'll clink them on in the crack of
this whip, unless you prefer another touch of it first." They then
were advancing into the room as he spoke, with fetters in their
hands (strait waistcoats being then little known or used), and
showed, by their frightful countenances and gestures, no
unwillingness to apply them. Their harsh rattle on the stone
pavement made Stanton's blood run cold; the effect, however, was
useful. He had the presence of mind to acknowledge his (supposed)
miserable condition, to supplicate the forbearance of the ruthless
keeper, and promise complete submission to his orders. This
pacified the ruffian, and he retired.
Stanton collected all his resolution to encounter the horrible
night; he saw all that was before him, and summoned himself to meet
it. After much agitated deliberation, he conceived it best to
continue the same appearance of submission and tranquillity, hoping
that thus he might in time either propitiate the wretches in whose
hands he was, or, by his apparent inoffensiveness, procure such
opportunities of indulgence, as might perhaps ultimately facilitate
his escape. He therefore determined to conduct himself with the
utmost tranquillity, and never to let his voice be heard in the
house; and he laid down several other resolutions with a degree of
prudence which he already shuddered to think might be the cunning
of incipient madness, or the beginning result of the horrid habits
of the place.
These resolutions were put to desperate trial that very night.
Just next to Stanton's apartment were lodged two most uncongenial
neighbors. One of them was a puritanical weaver, who had been
driven mad by a single sermon from the celebrated Hugh Peters, and
was sent to the madhouse as full of election and reprobation as he
could hold,--and fuller. He regularly repeated over the five
points while daylight lasted, and imagined himself preaching in a
conventicle with distinguished success; toward twilight his visions
were more gloomy, and at midnight his blasphemies became horrible.
In the opposite cell was lodged a loyalist tailor, who had been
ruined by giving credit to the cavaliers and their ladies,--(for at
this time, and much later, down to the reign of Anne, tailors were
employed by females even to make and fit on their stays),--who had
run mad with drink and loyalty on the burning of the Rump, and ever
since had made the cells of the madhouse echo with fragments of the
ill-fated Colonel Lovelace's song, scraps from Cowley's "Cutter of
Coleman street," and some curious specimens from Mrs. Aphra Behn's
plays, where the cavaliers are denominated the heroicks, and Lady
Lambert and Lady Desborough represented as going to meeting, their
large Bibles carried before them by their pages, and falling in
love with two banished cavaliers by the way. The voice in which he
shrieked out such words was powerfully horrible, but it was like
the moan of an infant compared to the voice which took up and
reechoed the cry, in a tone that made the building shake. It was
the voice of a maniac, who had lost her husband, children,
subsistence, and finally her reason, in the dreadful fire of
London. The cry of fire never failed to operate with terrible
punctuality on her associations. She had been in a disturbed
sleep, and now started from it as suddenly as on that dreadful
night. It was Saturday night too, and she was always observed to
be particularly violent on that night,--it was the terrible weekly
festival of insanity with her. She was awake, and busy in a moment
escaping from the flames; and she dramatized the whole scene with
such hideous fidelity, that Stanton's resolution was far more in
danger from her than from the battle between his neighbors
Testimony and Hothead. She began exclaiming she was suffocated by
the smoke; then she sprung from her bed, calling for a light, and
appeared to be struck by the sudden glare that burst through her
casement.--"The last day," she shrieked, "The last day! The very
heavens are on fire!"--"That will not come till the Man of Sin be
first destroyed," cried the weaver; "thou ravest of light and fire,
and yet thou art in utter darkness.--I pity thee, poor mad soul, I
pity thee!" The maniac never heeded him; she appeared to be
scrambling up a staircase to her children's room. She exclaimed
she was scorched, singed, suffocated; her courage appeared to fail,
and she retreated. "But my children are there!" she cried in a
voice of unspeakable agony, as she seemed to make another effort;
"here I am--here I am come to save you.--Oh God! They are all
blazing!--Take this arm--no, not that, it is scorched and disabled--
well, any arm--take hold of my clothes--no, they are blazing too!--
Well, take me all on fire as I am!--And their hair, how it
hisses!--Water, one drop of water for my youngest--he is but an
infant--for my youngest, and let me burn!" She paused in horrid
silence, to watch the fall of a blazing rafter that was about to
shatter the staircase on which she stood.--"The roof has fallen on
my head!" she exclaimed. "The earth is weak, and all the
inhabitants thereof," chanted the weaver; "I bear up the pillars of
The maniac marked the destruction of the spot where she thought she
stood by one desperate bound, accompanied by a wild shriek, and
then calmly gazed on her infants as they rolled over the scorching
fragments, and sunk into the abyss of fire below. "There they go,--
one--two--three--all!" and her voice sunk into low mutterings, and
her convulsions into faint, cold shudderings, like the sobbings of
a spent storm, as she imagined herself to "stand in safety and
despair," amid the thousand houseless wretches assembled in the
suburbs of London on the dreadful nights after the fire, without
food, roof, or raiment, all gazing on the burning ruins of their
dwellings and their property. She seemed to listen to their
complaints, and even repeated some of them very affectingly, but
invariably answered them with the same words, "But I have lost all
my children--all!" It was remarkable, that when this sufferer
began to rave, all the others became silent. The cry of nature
hushed every other cry,--she was the only patient in the house who
was not mad from politics, religion, ebriety, or some perverted
passion; and terrifying as the outbreak of her frenzy always was,
Stanton used to await it as a kind of relief from the dissonant,
melancholy, and ludicrous ravings of the others.
But the utmost efforts of his resolution began to sink under the
continued horrors of the place. The impression on his senses began
to defy the power of reason to resist them. He could not shut out
these frightful cries nightly repeated, nor the frightful sound of
the whip employed to still them. Hope began to fail him, as he
observed, that the submissive tranquillity (which he had imagined,
by obtaining increased indulgence, might contribute to his escape,
or perhaps convince the keeper of his sanity) was interpreted by
the callous ruffian, who was acquainted only with the varieties of
MADNESS, as a more refined species of that cunning which he was
well accustomed to watch and baffle.
On his first discovery of his situation, he had determined to take
the utmost care of his health and intellect that the place allowed,
as the sole basis of his hope of deliverance. But as that hope
declined, he neglected the means of realizing it. He had at first
risen early, walked incessantly about his cell, and availed himself
of every opportunity of being in the open air. He took the
strictest care of his person in point of cleanliness, and with or
without appetite, regularly forced down his miserable meals; and
all these efforts were even pleasant, as long as hope prompted
them. But now he began to relax them all. He passed half the day
in his wretched bed, in which he frequently took his meals,
declined shaving or changing his linen, and, when the sun shone
into his cell, he turned from it on his straw with a sigh of
heartbroken despondency. Formerly, when the air breathed through
his grating, he used to say, "Blessed air of heaven, I shall
breathe you once more in freedom!--Reserve all your freshness for
that delicious evening when I shall inhale you, and be as free as
you myself." Now when he felt it, he sighed and said nothing. The
twitter of the sparrows, the pattering of rain, or the moan of the
wind, sounds that he used to sit up in his bed to catch with
delight, as reminding him of nature, were now unheeded.
He began at times to listen with sullen and horrible pleasure to
the cries of his miserable companions. He became squalid,
listless, torpid, and disgusting in his appearance.
. . . . .
It was one of those dismal nights, that, as he tossed on his
loathsome bed,--more loathsome from the impossibility to quit it
without feeling more "unrest,"--he perceived the miserable light
that burned in the hearth was obscured by the intervention of some
dark object. He turned feebly toward the light, without curiosity,
without excitement, but with a wish to diversify the monotony of
his misery, by observing the slightest change made even
accidentally in the dusky atmosphere of his cell. Between him and
the light stood the figure of Melmoth, just as he had seen him from
the first; the figure was the same; the expression of the face was
the same,--cold, stony, and rigid; the eyes, with their infernal
and dazzling luster, were still the same.
Stanton's ruling passion rushed on his soul; he felt this
apparition like a summons to a high and fearful encounter. He
heard his heart beat audibly, and could have exclaimed with Lee's
unfortunate heroine,--"It pants as cowards do before a battle; Oh
the great march has sounded!"
Melmoth approached him with that frightful calmness that mocks the
terror it excites. "My prophecy has been fulfilled;--you rise to
meet me rattling from your chains, and rustling from your straw--am
I not a true prophet?" Stanton was silent. "Is not your situation
very miserable?"--Still Stanton was silent; for he was beginning to
believe this an illusion of madness. He thought to himself, "How
could he have gained entrance here?"--"Would you not wish to be
delivered from it?" Stanton tossed on his straw, and its rustling
seemed to answer the question. "I have the power to deliver you
from it." Melmoth spoke very slowly and very softly, and the
melodious smoothness of his voice made a frightful contrast to the
stony rigor of his features, and the fiendlike brilliancy of his
eyes. "Who are you, and whence come you?" said Stanton, in a tone
that was meant to be interrogatory and imperative, but which, from
his habits of squalid debility, was at once feeble and querulous.
His intellect had become affected by the gloom of his miserable
habitation, as the wretched inmate of a similar mansion, when
produced before a medical examiner, was reported to be a complete
Albino.--His skin was bleached, his eyes turned white; he could not
bear the light; and, when exposed to it, he turned away with a
mixture of weakness and restlessness, more like the writhings of a
sick infant than the struggles of a man.
Such was Stanton's situation. He was enfeebled now, and the power
of the enemy seemed without a possibility of opposition from either
his intellectual or corporeal powers.
. . . . .
Of all their horrible dialogue, only these words were legible in
the manuscript, "You know me now."--"I always knew you."--"That is
false; you imagined you did, and that has been the cause of all the
wild . of the . . . . .
. of your finally being lodged in this mansion of misery, where
only I would seek, where only I can succor you."--"You, demon!"--
"Demon!--Harsh words!--Was it a demon or a human being placed you
here?--Listen to me, Stanton; nay, wrap not yourself in that
miserable blanket,--that cannot shut out my words. Believe me,
were you folded in thunder clouds, you must hear ME! Stanton,
think of your misery. These bare walls--what do they present to
the intellect or to the senses?--Whitewash, diversified with the
scrawls of charcoal or red chalk, that your happy predecessors have
left for you to trace over. You have a taste for drawing--I trust
it will improve. And here's a grating, through which the sun
squints on you like a stepdame, and the breeze blows, as if it
meant to tantalize you with a sigh from that sweet mouth, whose
kiss you must never enjoy. And where's your library,--intellectual
man,--traveled man?" he repeated in a tone of bitter derision;
"where be your companions, your peaked men of countries, as your
favorite Shakespeare has it? You must be content with the spider
and the rat, to crawl and scratch round your flock bed! I have
known prisoners in the Bastille to feed them for companions,--why
don't you begin your task? I have known a spider to descend at the
tap of a finger, and a rat to come forth when the daily meal was
brought, to share it with his fellow prisoner!--How delightful to
have vermin for your guests! Aye, and when the feast fails them,
they make a meal of their entertainer!--You shudder.--Are you,
then, the first prisoner who has been devoured alive by the vermin
that infested his cell?--Delightful banquet, not 'where you eat,
but where you are eaten'! Your guests, however, will give you one
token of repentance while they feed; there will be gnashing of
teeth, and you shall hear it, and feel it too perchance!--And then
for meals--Oh you are daintily off!--The soup that the cat has
lapped; and (as her progeny has probably contributed to the hell
broth) why not? Then your hours of solitude, deliciously
diversified by the yell of famine, the howl of madness, the crash
of whips, and the broken-hearted sob of those who, like you, are
supposed, or DRIVEN mad by the crimes of others!--Stanton, do you
imagine your reason can possibly hold out amid such scenes?--
Supposing your reason was unimpaired, your health not destroyed,--
suppose all this, which is, after all, more than fair supposition
can grant, guess the effect of the continuance of these scenes on
your senses alone. A time will come, and soon, when, from mere
habit, you will echo the scream of every delirious wretch that
harbors near you; then you will pause, clasp your hands on your
throbbing head, and listen with horrible anxiety whether the scream
proceeded from YOU or THEM. The time will come, when, from the
want of occupation, the listless and horrible vacancy of your
hours, you will feel as anxious to hear those shrieks, as you were
at first terrified to hear them,--when you will watch for the
ravings of your next neighbor, as you would for a scene on the
stage. All humanity will be extinguished in you. The ravings of
these wretches will become at once your sport and your torture.
You will watch for the sounds, to mock them with the grimaces and
bellowings of a fiend. The mind has a power of accommodating
itself to its situation, that you will experience in its most
frightful and deplorable efficacy. Then comes the dreadful doubt
of one's own sanity, the terrible announcer that THAT doubt will
soon become fear, and THAT fear certainty. Perhaps (still more
dreadful) the FEAR will at last become a HOPE,--shut out from
society, watched by a brutal keeper, writhing with all the impotent
agony of an incarcerated mind, without communication and without
sympathy, unable to exchange ideas but with those whose ideas are
only the hideous specters of departed intellect, or even to hear
the welcome sound of the human voice, except to mistake it for the
howl of a fiend, and stop the ear desecrated by its intrusion,--
then at last your fear will become a more fearful hope; you will
wish to become one of them, to escape the agony of consciousness.
As those who have long leaned over a precipice, have at last felt a
desire to plunge below, to relieve the intolerable temptation of
their giddiness,* you will hear them laugh amid their wildest
paroxysms; you will say, 'Doubtless those wretches have some
consolation, but I have none; my sanity is my greatest curse in
this abode of horrors. They greedily devour their miserable meals,
while I loathe mine. They sleep sometimes soundly, while my sleep
is--worse than their waking. They are revived every morning by
some delicious illusion of cunning madness, soothing them with the
hope of escaping, baffling or tormenting their keeper; my sanity
precludes all such hope. I KNOW I NEVER CAN ESCAPE, and the
preservation of my faculties is only an aggravation of my
sufferings. I have all their miseries,--I have none of their
consolations. They laugh,--I hear them; would I could laugh like
them.' You will try, and the very effort will be an invocation to
the demon of insanity to come and take full possession of you from
that moment forever."
* A fact, related to me by a person who was near committing suicide
in a similar situation, to escape what he called "the excruciating
torture of giddiness."
(There were other details, both of the menaces and temptations
employed by Melmoth, which are too horrible for insertion. One of
them may serve for an instance.)
"You think that the intellectual power is something distinct from
the vitality of the soul, or, in other words, that if even your
reason should be destroyed (which it nearly is), your soul might
yet enjoy beatitude in the full exercise of its enlarged and
exalted faculties, and all the clouds which obscured them be
dispelled by the Sun of Righteousness, in whose beams you hope to
bask forever and ever. Now, without going into any metaphysical
subtleties about the distinction between mind and soul, experience
must teach you, that there can be no crime into which madmen would
not, and do not, precipitate themselves; mischief is their
occupation, malice their habit, murder their sport, and blasphemy
their delight. Whether a soul in this state can be in a hopeful
one, it is for you to judge; but it seems to me, that with the loss
of reason (and reason cannot long be retained in this place) you
lose also the hope of immortality.--Listen," said the tempter,
pausing, "listen to the wretch who is raving near you, and whose
blasphemies might make a demon start.--He was once an eminent
puritanical preacher. Half the day he imagines himself in a
pulpit, denouncing damnation against Papists, Arminians, and even
Sublapsarians (he being a Supra-lapsarian himself). He foams, he
writhes, he gnashes his teeth; you would imagine him in the hell he
was painting, and that the fire and brimstone he is so lavish of
were actually exhaling from his jaws. At night his creed
retaliates on him; he believes himself one of the reprobates he has
been all day denouncing, and curses God for the very decree he has
all day been glorifying Him for.
"He, whom he has for twelve hours been vociferating 'is the
loveliest among ten thousand,' becomes the object of demoniac
hostility and execration. He grapples with the iron posts of his
bed, and says he is rooting out the cross from the very foundations
of Calvary; and it is remarkable, that in proportion as his morning
exercises are intense, vivid, and eloquent, his nightly blasphemies
are outrageous and horrible.--Hark! Now he believes himself a
demon; listen to his diabolical eloquence of horror!"
Stanton listened, and shuddered . .
. . . . .
"Escape--escape for your life," cried the tempter; "break forth
into life, liberty, and sanity. Your social happiness, your
intellectual powers, your immortal interests, perhaps, depend on
the choice of this moment.--There is the door, and the key is in my
hand.--Choose--choose!"--"And how comes the key in your hand? and
what is the condition of my liberation?" said Stanton.
. . . . .
The explanation occupied several pages, which, to the torture of
young Melmoth, were wholly illegible. It seemed, however, to have
been rejected by Stanton with the utmost rage and horror, for
Melmoth at last made out,--"Begone, monster, demon!--begone to your
native place. Even this mansion of horror trembles to contain you;
its walls sweat, and its floors quiver, while you tread them."
. . . . .
The conclusion of this extraordinary manuscript was in such a
state, that, in fifteen moldy and crumbling pages, Melmoth could
hardly make out that number of lines. No antiquarian, unfolding
with trembling hand the calcined leaves of an Herculaneum
manuscript, and hoping to discover some lost lines of the Aeneis in
Virgil's own autograph, or at least some unutterable abomination of
Petronius or Martial, happily elucidatory of the mysteries of the
Spintriae, or the orgies of the Phallic worshipers, ever pored with
more luckless diligence, or shook a head of more hopeless
despondency over his task. He could but just make out what tended
rather to excite than assuage that feverish thirst of curiosity
which was consuming his inmost soul. The manuscript told no more
of Melmoth, but mentioned that Stanton was finally liberated from
his confinement,--that his pursuit of Melmoth was incessant and
indefatigable,--that he himself allowed it to be a species of
insanity,--that while he acknowledged it to be the master passion,
he also felt it the master torment of his life. He again visited
the Continent, returned to England,--pursued, inquired, traced,
bribed, but in vain. The being whom he had met thrice, under
circumstances so extraordinary, he was fated never to encounter
again IN HIS LIFETIME. At length, discovering that he had been
born in Ireland, he resolved to go there,--went, and found his
pursuit again fruitless, and his inquiries unanswered. The family
knew nothing of him, or at least what they knew or imagined, they
prudently refused to disclose to a stranger, and Stanton departed
unsatisfied. It is remarkable, that he too, as appeared from many
half-obliterated pages of the manuscript, never disclosed to mortal
the particulars of their conversation in the madhouse; and the
slightest allusion to it threw him into fits of rage and gloom
equally singular and alarming. He left the manuscript, however, in
the hands of the family, possibly deeming, from their incuriosity,
their apparent indifference to their relative, or their obvious
unacquaintance with reading of any kind, manuscript or books, his
deposit would be safe. He seems, in fact, to have acted like men,
who, in distress at sea, intrust their letters and dispatches to a
bottle sealed, and commit it to the waves. The last lines of the
manuscript that were legible, were sufficiently extraordinary. . .
. . . . .
"I have sought him everywhere.--The desire of meeting him once more
is become as a burning fire within me,--it is the necessary
condition of my existence. I have vainly sought him at last in
Ireland, of which I find he is a native.--Perhaps our final meeting
will be in. . . .
. . . . .
Such was the conclusion of the manuscript which Melmoth found in
his uncle's closet. When he had finished it, he sunk down on the
table near which he had been reading it, his face hid in his folded
arms, his senses reeling, his mind in a mingled state of stupor and
excitement. After a few moments, he raised himself with an
involuntary start, and saw the picture gazing at him from its
canvas. He was within ten inches of it as he sat, and the
proximity appeared increased by the strong light that was
accidentally thrown on it, and its being the only representation of
a human figure in the room. Melmoth felt for a moment as if he
were about to receive an explanation from its lips.
He gazed on it in return,--all was silent in the house,--they were
alone together. The illusion subsided at length: and as the mind
rapidly passes to opposite extremes, he remembered the injunction
of his uncle to destroy the portrait. He seized it;--his hand
shook at first, but the moldering canvas appeared to assist him in
the effort. He tore it from the frame with a cry half terrific,
half triumphant,--it fell at his feet, and he shuddered as it fell.
He expected to hear some fearful sounds, some unimaginable
breathings of prophetic horror, follow this act of sacrilege, for
such he felt it, to tear the portrait of his ancestor from his
native walls. He paused and listened:--"There was no voice, nor
any that answered;"--but as the wrinkled and torn canvas fell to
the floor, its undulations gave the portrait the appearance of
smiling. Melmoth felt horror indescribable at this transient and
imaginary resuscitation of the figure. He caught it up, rushed
into the next room, tore, cut, and hacked it in every direction,
and eagerly watched the fragments that burned like tinder in the
turf fire which had been lit in his room. As Melmoth saw the last
blaze, he threw himself into bed, in hope of a deep and intense
sleep. He had done what was required of him, and felt exhausted
both in mind and body; but his slumber was not so sound as he had
hoped for. The sullen light of the turf fire, burning but never
blazing, disturbed him every moment. He turned and turned, but
still there was the same red light glaring on, but not
illuminating, the dusky furniture of the apartment. The wind was
high that night, and as the creaking door swung on its hinges,
every noise seemed like the sound of a hand struggling with the
lock, or of a foot pausing on the threshold. But (for Melmoth
never could decide) was it in a dream or not, that he saw the
figure of his ancestor appear at the door?--hesitatingly as he saw
him at first on the night of his uncle's death,--saw him enter the
room, approach his bed, and heard him whisper, "You have burned me,
then; but those are flames I can survive.--I am alive,--I am beside
you." Melmoth started, sprung from his bed,--it was broad
daylight. He looked round,--there was no human being in the room
but himself. He felt a slight pain in the wrist of his right arm.
He looked at it, it was black and blue, as from the recent gripe of
a strong hand.
Balzac's tale, Melmoth Reconciled, in Vol. IV., furnishes a
solution to the terrible problem which Maturin has stated in this
Introduction to "A Mystery with a Moral"
The next Mystery Story is like no other in these volumes. The
editor's defense lies in the plea that Laurence Sterne is not like
other writers of English. He is certainly one of the very
greatest. Yet nowadays he is generally unknown. His rollicking
frankness, his audacious unconventionality, are enough to account
for the neglect. Even the easy mannered England of 1760 opened its
eyes in horror when "Tristram Shandy" appeared. "A most unclerical
clergyman," the public pronounced the rector of Sutton and
prebendary of York.
Besides, his style was rambling to the last degree. Plot concerned
him least of all authors of fiction.
For instance, it is more than doubtful that the whimsical parson
really INTENDED a moral to be read into the adventures of his
"Sentimental Journey" that follow in these pages. He used to
declare that he never intended anything--he never knew whither his
pen was leading--the rash implement, once in hand, was likely to
fly with him from Yorkshire to Italy--or to Paris--or across the
road to Uncle Toby's; and what could the helpless author do but
improve each occasion?
So here is one such "occasion" thus "improved" by disjointed
sequels--heedless, one would say, and yet glittering with the
unreturnable thrust of subtle wit, or softening with simple
emotion, like a thousand immortal passages of this random
Even the slightest turns of Sterne's pen bear inspiration. No less
a critic than the severe Hazlitt was satisfied that "his works
consist only of brilliant passages."
And because the editors of the present volumes found added to "The
Mystery" not only a "Solution" but an "Application" of worldly
wisdom, and a "Contrast" in Sterne's best vein of quiet happiness--
they have felt emboldened to ascribe the passage "A Mystery with a
As regards the "Application": Sterne knew whereof he wrote. He
sought the South of France for health in 1762, and was run after
and feted by the most brilliant circles of Parisian litterateurs.
This foreign sojourn failed to cure his lung complaint, but
suggested the idea to him of the rambling and charming "Sentimental
Journey." Only three weeks after its publication, on March 18,
1768, Sterne died alone in his London lodgings.
Spite of all that marred his genius, his work has lived and wil1
live, if only for the exquisite literary art which ever made great
things out of little.--The EDITOR.
A Mystery with a Moral
Parisian Experience of Parson Yorick, on his "Sentimental Journey"
I remained at the gate of the hotel for some time, looking at
everyone who passed by, and forming conjectures upon them, till my
attention got fixed upon a single object, which confounded all kind
of reasoning upon him.
It was a tall figure of a philosophic, serious adult look, which
passed and repassed sedately along the street, making a turn of
about sixty paces on each side of the gate of the hotel. The man
was about fifty-two, had a small cane under his arm, was dressed in
a dark drab-colored coat, waistcoat, and breeches, which seemed to
have seen some years' service. They were still clean, and there
was a little air of frugal propriete throughout him. By his
pulling off his hat, and his attitude of accosting a good many in
his way, I saw he was asking charity; so I got a sous or two out of
my pocket, ready to give him as he took me in his turn. He passed
by me without asking anything, and yet he did not go five steps
farther before he asked charity of a little woman. I was much more
likely to have given of the two. He had scarce done with the
woman, when he pulled his hat off to another who was coming the
same way. An ancient gentleman came slowly, and after him a young
smart one. He let them both pass and asked nothing. I stood
observing him half an hour, in which time he had made a dozen turns
backward and forward, and found that he invariably pursued the same
There were two things very singular in this which set my brain to
work, and to no purpose; the first was, why the man should only
tell his story to the sex; and secondly, what kind of a story it
was and what species of eloquence it could be which softened the
hearts of the women which he knew it was to no purpose to practice
upon the men.
There were two other circumstances which entangled this mystery.
The one was, he told every woman what he had to say in her ear, and
in a way which had much more the air of a secret than a petition;
the other was, it was always successful--he never stopped a woman
but she pulled out her purse and immediately gave him something.
I could form no system to explain the phenomenon.
I had got a riddle to amuse me for the rest of the evening, so I
walked upstairs to my chamber.
The man who either disdains or fears to walk up a dark entry may be
an excellent, good man, and fit for a hundred things, but he will
not do to make a sentimental traveler. I count little of the many
things I see pass at broad noonday, in large and open streets;
Nature is shy, and hates to act before spectators; but in such an
unobservable corner you sometimes see a single short scene of hers
worth all the sentiments of a dozen French plays compounded
together; and yet they are ABSOLUTELY fine, and whenever I have a
more brilliant affair upon my hands than common, as they suit a
preacher just as well as a hero, I generally make my sermon out of
them, and for the text, "Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and
Pamphilia," is as good as anyone in the Bible.
There is a long, dark passage issuing out from the Opera Comique
into a narrow street. It is trod by a few who humbly wait for a
fiacre* or wish to get off quietly o' foot when the opera is done.
At the end of it, toward the theater, 'tis lighted by a small
candle, the light of which is almost lost before you get halfway
down, but near the door--it is more for ornament than use--you see
it as a fixed star of the least magnitude; it burns, but does
little good to the world that we know of.
In returning [from the opera] along this passage, I discerned, as I
approached within five or six paces of the door, two ladies
standing arm in arm with their backs against the wall, waiting, as
I imagined, for a fiacre. As they were next the door, I thought
they had a prior right, so I edged myself up within a yard or
little more of them, and quietly took my stand. I was in black and
The lady next me was a tall, lean figure of a woman of about
thirty-six; the other, of the same size and make of about forty.
There was no mark of wife or widow in any one part of either of
them. They seemed to be two upright vestal sisters, unsapped by
caresses, unbroke in upon by tender salutations. I could have
wished to have made them happy. Their happiness was destined, that
night, to come from another quarter.
A low voice with a good turn of expression and sweet cadence at the
end of it, begged for a twelve-sous piece between them for the love
of heaven. I thought it singular that a beggar should fix the
quota of an alms, and that the sum should be twelve times as much
as what is usually given in the dark. They both seemed astonished
at it as much as myself. "Twelve sous," said one. "A twelve-sous
piece," said the other, and made no reply.
The poor man said he knew not how to ask less of ladies of their
rank, and bowed down his head to the ground.
"Pooh!" said they, "we have no money."
The beggar remained silent for a moment or two, and renewed his
"Do not, my fair young ladies," said he, "stop your good ears
"Upon my word, honest man," said the younger, "we have no change."
"Then God bless you," said the poor man, "and multiply those joys
which you can give to others without change."
I observed the older sister put her hand into her pocket. "I will
see," said she, "if I have a sous."
"A sous! Give twelve," said the suppliant. "Nature has been
bountiful to you; be bountiful to a poor man."
"I would, friend, with all my heart," said the younger, "if I had
"My fair charitable," said he, addressing himself to the elder,
"what is it but your goodness and humanity which make your bright
eyes so sweet that they outshine the morning even in this dark
passage? And what was it which made the Marquis de Santerre and
his brother say so much of you both, as they just passed by?"
The two ladies seemed much affected, and impulsively at the same
time they put their hands into their pockets and each took out a
The contest between them and the poor suppliant was no more. It
was continued between themselves which of the two should give the
twelve-sous piece in charity, and, to end the dispute, they both
gave it together, and the man went away.
I stepped hastily after him; it was the very man whose success in
asking charity of the woman before the door of the hotel had so
puzzled me, and I found at once his secret, or at least the basis
of it: it was flattery.
Delicious essence! how refreshing art thou to Nature! How strongly
are all its powers and all its weaknesses on thy side! How sweetly
dost thou mix with the blood, and help it through the most
difficult and tortuous passages to the heart!
The poor man, as he was not straitened for time, had given it here
in a larger dose. It is certain he had a way of bringing it into
less form for the many sudden causes he had to do with in the
streets; but how he contrived to correct, sweeten, concenter, and
qualify it--I vex not my spirit with the inquiry. It is enough,
the beggar gained two twelve-sous pieces, and they can best tell
the rest who have gained much greater matters by it.
We get forward in the world not so much by doing services as
receiving them. You take a withering twig and put it in the
ground, and then you water it because you have planted it.
Monsieur le Comte de B----, merely because he had done me one
kindness in the affair of my passport, would go on and do me
another the few days he was at Paris, in making me known to a few
people of rank; and they were to present me to others, and so on.
I had got master of my SECRET just in time to turn these honors to
some little account; otherwise, as is commonly the case, I should
have dined or supped a single time or two round, and then by
TRANSLATING French looks and attitudes into plain English, I should
presently have seen that I had got hold of the couvert* of some
more entertaining guest; and in course of time should have resigned
all my places one after another, merely upon the principle that I
could not keep them. As it was, things did not go much amiss.
* Plate, napkin, knife, fork, and spoon.
I had the honor of being introduced to the old Marquis de B----.
In days of yore he had signalized himself by some small feats of
chivalry in the Cour d'Amour, and had dressed himself out to the
idea of tilts and tournaments ever since. The Marquis de B----
wished to have it thought the affair was somewhere else than in his
brain. "He could like to take a trip to England," and asked much
of the English ladies. "Stay where you are, I beseech you,
Monsieur le Marquis," said I. "Les Messieurs Anglais can scarce
get a kind look from them as it is." The marquis invited me to
M. P----, the farmer-general, was just as inquisitive about our
taxes. They were very considerable, he heard. "If we knew but how
to collect them," said I, making him a low bow.
I could never have been invited to M. P----'s concerts upon any
I had been misrepresented to Mme. de Q---- as an esprit--Mme. de Q----
was an esprit herself; she burned with impatience to see me and
hear me talk. I had not taken my seat before I saw she did not
care a sou whether I had any wit or no. I was let in to be
convinced she had. I call Heaven to witness I never once opened
the door of my lips.
Mme. de V---- vowed to every creature she met, "She had never had a
more improving conversation with a man in her life."
There are three epochs in the empire of a Frenchwoman--she is
coquette, then deist, then devote. The empire during these is
never lost--she only changes her subjects. When thirty-five years
and more have unpeopled her dominion of the slaves of love she
repeoples it with slaves of infidelity, and, then with the slaves
of the church.
Mme. de V---- was vibrating between the first of these epochs; the
color of the rose was fading fast away; she ought to have been a
deist five years before the time I had the honor to pay my first
She placed me upon the same sofa with her for the sake of disputing
the point of religion more closely. In short, Mme. de V---- told
me she believed nothing.
I told Mme. de V---- it might be her principle, but I was sure it
could not be her interest, to level the outworks, without which I
could not conceive how such a citadel as hers could be defended;
that there was not a more dangerous thing in the world than for a
beauty to be a deist; that it was a debt I owed my creed not to
conceal it from her; that I had not been five minutes upon the sofa
beside her before I had begun to form designs; and what is it but
the sentiments of religion, and the persuasion they had existed in
her breast, which could have checked them as they rose up?
"We are not adamant," said I, taking hold of her hand, "and there
is need of all restraints till age in her own time steals in and
lays them on us; but, my dear lady," said I, kissing her hand, "it
is too--too soon."
I declare I had the credit all over Paris of unperverting Mme. de
V----. She affirmed to M. D---- and the Abbe M---- that in one
half hour I had said more for revealed religion than all their
encyclopaedia had said against it. I was listed directly into Mme.
de V----o's coterie, and she put off the epoch of deism for two
I remember it was in this coterie, in the middle of a discourse, in
which I was showing the necessity of a first cause, that the young
Count de Faineant took me by the hand to the farthest corner of the
room, to tell me that my solitaire was pinned too strait about my
neck. "It should be plus badinant," said the count, looking down
upon his own; "but a word, M. Yorick, to the wise--"
"And from the wise, M. le Comte," replied I, making him a bow, "is
The Count de Faineant embraced me with more ardor than ever I was
embraced by mortal man.
For three weeks together I was of every man's opinion I met.
"Pardi! ce M. Yorick a autant d'esprit que nous autres."
"Il raisonne bien," said another.
"C'est un bon enfant," said a third.
And at this price I could have eaten and drunk and been merry all
the days of my life at Paris; but it was a dishonest reckoning. I
grew ashamed of it; it was the gain of a slave; every sentiment of
honor revolted against it; the higher I got, the more was I forced
upon my beggarly system; the better the coterie, the more children
of Art, I languished for those of Nature. And one night, after a
most vile prostitution of myself to half a dozen different people,
I grew sick, went to bed, and ordered horses in the morning to set
out for Italy.
A shoe coming loose from the forefoot of the thill horse at the
beginning of the ascent of Mount Taurira, the postilion dismounted,
twisted the shoe off, and put it in his pocket; as the ascent was
of five or six miles, and that horse our main dependence I made a
point of having the shoe fastened on again as well as we could, but
the postilion had thrown away the nails, and the hammer in the
chaise box being of no great use without them, I submitted to go
He had not mounted half a mile higher when, coming to a flinty
piece of road, the poor devil lost a second shoe, and from off his
other forefoot. I then got out of the chaise in good earnest, and
seeing a house about a quarter of a mile to the left hand, with a
great deal to do I prevailed upon the postilion to turn up to it.
The look of the house, and of everything about it, as we drew
nearer, soon reconciled me to the disaster. It was a little
farmhouse surrounded with about twenty acres of vineyard, about as
much corn, and close to the house on one side was a potagerie of an
acre and a half, full of everything which could make plenty in a
French peasant's house, and on the other side was a little wood
which furnished wherewithal to dress it. It was about eight in the
evening when I got to the house, so I left the postilion to manage
his point as he could, and for mine I walked directly into the
The family consisted of an old gray-headed man and his wife, with
five or six sons and sons-in-laws, and their several wives, and a
joyous genealogy out of them.
They were all sitting down together to their lentil soup. A large
wheaten loaf was in the middle of the table, and a flagon of wine
at each end of it promised joy through the stages of the repast--
'twas a feast of love.
The old man rose up to meet me, and with a respectful cordiality
would have me sit down at the table. My heart was sat down the
moment I entered the room, so I sat down at once like a son of the
family, and to invest myself in the character as speedily as I
could, I instantly borrowed the old man's knife, and taking up the
loaf cut myself a hearty luncheon; and, as I did it, I saw a
testimony in every eye, not only of an honest welcome, but of a
welcome mixed with thanks that I had not seemed to doubt it.
Was it this, or tell me, Nature, what else it was that made this
morsel so sweet, and to what magic I owe it that the draught I took
of their flagon was so delicious with it that they remain upon my
palate to this hour?
If the supper was to my taste, the grace which followed it was much
When supper was over, the old man gave a knock upon the table with
the haft of his knife to bid them prepare for the dance. The
moment the signal was given, the women and girls ran all together
into a back apartment to tie up their hair, and the young men to
the door to wash their faces and change their sabots, and in three
minutes every soul was ready upon a little esplanade before the
house to begin. The old man and his wife came out last, and,
placing me betwixt them, sat down upon a sofa of turf by the door.
The old man had some fifty years ago been no mean performer upon
the vielle,* and at the age he was then of, touched well enough for
the purpose. His wife sung now and then a little to the tune, then
intermitted, and joined her old man again, as their children and
grandchildren danced before them.
* A small violin, such as was used by the wandering jongleurs of
the Middle Ages.--EDITOR.
It was not till the middle of the second dance when, from some
pauses in the movement wherein they all seemed to look up, I
fancied I could distinguish an elevation of spirit different from
that which is the cause or the effect of simple jollity. In a
word, I thought I beheld RELIGION mixing in the dance; but, as I
had never seen her so engaged, I should have looked upon it now as
one of the illusions of an imagination, which is eternally
misleading me, had not the old man, as soon as the dance ended,
said that this was their constant way, and that all his life long
he had made it a rule, after supper was over, to call out his
family to dance and rejoice, believing, he said, that a cheerful
and contented mind was the best sort of thanks to heaven that an
illiterate peasant could pay--
"Or a learned prelate either," said I.
When you have gained the top of Mount Taurira, you run presently
down to Lyons. Adieu then to all rapid movements! It is a journey
of caution, and it fares better with sentiments not to be in a
hurry with them, so I contracted with a volturin to take his time
with a couple of mules and convey me in my own chaise safe to Turin
Poor, patient, quiet, honest people, fear not! Your poverty, the
treasury of your simple virtues, will not be envied you by the
world, nor will your values be invaded by it. Nature, in the midst
of thy disorders, thou art still friendly to the scantiness thou
hast created; with all thy great works about thee little hast thou
left to give, either to the scythe or to the sickle, but to that
little thou grantest safety and protection, and sweet are the
dwellings which stand so sheltered!
William Makepeace Thackeray
On Being Found Out
At the close (let us say) of Queen Anne's reign, when I was a boy
at a private and preparatory school for young gentlemen, I remember
the wiseacre of a master ordering us all, one night, to march into
a little garden at the back of the house, and thence to proceed one
by one into a tool or hen house (I was but a tender little thing
just put into short clothes, and can't exactly say whether the
house was for tools or hens), and in that house to put our hands
into a sack which stood on a bench, a candle burning beside it. I
put my hand into the sack. My hand came out quite black. I went
and joined the other boys in the schoolroom; and all their hands
were black too.
By reason of my tender age (and there are some critics who, I hope,
will be satisfied by my acknowledging that I am a hundred and
fifty-six next birthday) I could not understand what was the
meaning of this night excursion--this candle, this tool house, this
bag of soot. I think we little boys were taken out of our sleep to
be brought to the ordeal. We came, then, and showed our little
hands to the master; washed them or not--most probably, I should
say, not--and so went bewildered back to bed.
Something had been stolen in the school that day; and Mr. Wiseacre
having read in a book of an ingenious method of finding out a thief
by making him put his hand into a sack (which, if guilty, the rogue
would shirk from doing), all we boys were subjected to the trial.
Goodness knows what the lost object was, or who stole it. We all
had black hands to show the master. And the thief, whoever he was,
was not Found Out that time.
I wonder if the rascal is alive--an elderly scoundrel he must be by
this time; and a hoary old hypocrite, to whom an old schoolfellow
presents his kindest regards--parenthetically remarking what a
dreadful place that private school was; cold, chilblains, bad
dinners, not enough victuals, and caning awful!--Are you alive
still, I say, you nameless villain, who escaped discovery on that
day of crime? I hope you have escaped often since, old sinner.
Ah, what a lucky thing it is, for you and me, my man, that we are
NOT found out in all our peccadilloes; and that our backs can slip
away from the master and the cane!
Just consider what life would be, if every rogue was found out, and
flogged coram populo! What a butchery, what an indecency, what an
endless swishing of the rod! Don't cry out about my misanthropy.
My good friend Mealymouth, I will trouble you to tell me, do you go
to church? When there, do you say, or do you not, that you are a
miserable sinner, and saying so do you believe or disbelieve it?
If you are a M. S., don't you deserve correction, and aren't you
grateful if you are to be let off? I say again what a blessed
thing it is that we are not all found out!
Just picture to yourself everybody who does wrong being found out,
and punished accordingly. Fancy all the boys in all the school
being whipped; and then the assistants, and then the headmaster
(Dr. Badford let us call him). Fancy the provost marshal being
tied up, having previously superintended the correction of the
whole army. After the young gentlemen have had their turn for the
faulty exercises, fancy Dr. Lincolnsinn being taken up for certain
faults in HIS Essay and Review. After the clergyman has cried his
peccavi, suppose we hoist up a bishop, and give him a couple of
dozen! (I see my Lord Bishop of Double-Gloucester sitting in a
very uneasy posture on his right reverend bench.) After we have
cast off the bishop, what are we to say to the Minister who
appointed him? My Lord Cinqwarden, it is painful to have to use
personal correction to a boy of your age; but really . . . Siste
tandem carnifex! The butchery is too horrible. The hand drops
powerless, appalled at the quantity of birch which it must cut and
brandish. I am glad we are not all found out, I say again; and
protest, my dear brethren, against our having our deserts.
To fancy all men found out and punished is bad enough; but imagine
all the women found out in the distinguished social circle in which
you and I have the honor to move. Is it not a mercy that a many of
these fair criminals remain unpunished and undiscovered! There is
Mrs. Longbow, who is forever practicing, and who shoots poisoned
arrows, too; when you meet her you don't call her liar, and charge
her with the wickedness she has done and is doing. There is Mrs.
Painter, who passes for a most respectable woman, and a model in
society. There is no use in saying what you really know regarding
her and her goings on. There is Diana Hunter--what a little
haughty prude it is; and yet WE know stories about her which are
not altogether edifying. I say it is best for the sake of the
good, that the bad should not all be found out. You don't want
your children to know the history of that lady in the next box, who
is so handsome, and whom they admire so. Ah me, what would life be
if we were all found out and punished for all our faults? Jack
Ketch would be in permanence; and then who would hang Jack Ketch?
They talk of murderers being pretty certainly found out. Psha! I
have heard an authority awfully competent vow and declare that
scores and hundreds of murders are committed, and nobody is the
wiser. That terrible man mentioned one or two ways of committing
murder, which he maintained were quite common, and were scarcely
ever found out. A man, for instance, comes home to his wife,
and . . . but I pause--I know that this Magazine has a very large
circulation.* Hundreds and hundreds of thousands--why not say a
million of people at once?--well, say a million, read it. And
among these countless readers, I might be teaching some monster how
to make away with his wife without being found out, some fiend of a
woman how to destroy her dear husband. I will NOT then tell this
easy and simple way of murder, as communicated to me by a most
respectable party in the confidence of private intercourse.
Suppose some gentle reader were to try this most simple and easy
receipt--it seems to me almost infallible--and come to grief in
consequence, and be found out and hanged? Should I ever pardon
myself for having been the means of doing injury to a single one of
our esteemed subscribers? The prescription whereof I speak--that
is to say, whereof I DON'T speak--shall be buried in this bosom.
No, I am a humane man. I am not one of your Bluebeards to go and
say to my wife, "My dear! I am going away for a few days to
Brighton. Here are all the keys of the house. You may open every
door and closet, except the one at the end of the oak room opposite
the fireplace, with the little bronze Shakespeare on the
mantelpiece (or what not)." I don't say this to a woman--unless,
to be sure, I want to get rid of her--because, after such a
caution, I know she'll peep into the closet. I say nothing about
the closet at all. I keep the key in my pocket, and a being whom I
love, but who, as I know, has many weaknesses, out of harm's way.
You toss up your head, dear angel, drub on the ground with your
lovely little feet, on the table with your sweet rosy fingers, and
cry, "Oh, sneerer! You don't know the depth of woman's feeling,
the lofty scorn of all deceit, the entire absence of mean curiosity
in the sex, or never, never would you libel us so!" Ah, Delia!
dear, dear Delia! It is because I fancy I DO know something about
you (not all, mind--no, no; no man knows that).--Ah, my bride, my
ringdove, my rose, my poppet--choose, in fact, whatever name you
like--bulbul of my grove, fountain of my desert, sunshine of my
darkling life, and joy of my dungeoned existence, it is because I
DO know a little about you that I conclude to say nothing of that
private closet, and keep my key in my pocket. You take away that
closet key then, and the house key. You lock Delia in. You keep
her out of harm's way and gadding, and so she never CAN be found
* The Cornhill.--editor.
And yet by little strange accidents and coincidents how we are
being found out every day. You remember that old story of the Abbe
Kakatoes, who told the company at supper one night how the first
confession he ever received was--from a murderer, let us say.
Presently enters to supper the Marquis de Croquemitaine.
"Palsambleu, abbe!" says the brilliant marquis, taking a pinch of
snuff, "are you here? Gentlemen and ladies! I was the abbe's
first penitent, and I made him a confession, which I promise you
To be sure how queerly things are found out! Here is an instance.
Only the other day I was writing in these Roundabout Papers about a
certain man, whom I facetiously called Baggs, and who had abused me
to my friends, who of course told me. Shortly after that paper was
published another friend--Sacks let us call him--scowls fiercely at
me as I am sitting in perfect good humor at the club, and passes on
without speaking. A cut. A quarrel. Sacks thinks it is about him
that I was writing: whereas, upon my honor and conscience, I never
had him once in my mind, and was pointing my moral from quite
another man. But don't you see, by this wrath of the guilty-
conscienced Sacks, that he had been abusing me too? He has owned
himself guilty, never having been accused. He has winced when
nobody thought of hitting him. I did but put the cap out, and
madly butting and chafing, behold my friend rushes out to put his
head into it! Never mind, Sacks, you are found out; but I bear you
no malice, my man.
And yet to be found out, I know from my own experience, must be
painful and odious, and cruelly mortifying to the inward vanity.
Suppose I am a poltroon, let us say. With fierce mustache, loud
talk, plentiful oaths, and an immense stick, I keep up nevertheless
a character for courage. I swear fearfully at cabmen and women;
brandish my bludgeon, and perhaps knock down a little man or two
with it: brag of the images which I break at the shooting gallery,
and pass among my friends for a whiskery fire-eater, afraid of
neither man nor dragon. Ah me! Suppose some brisk little chap
steps up and gives me a caning in St. James's Street, with all the
heads of my friends looking out of all the club windows. My
reputation is gone. I frighten no man more. My nose is pulled by
whipper-snappers, who jump up on a chair to reach it. I am found
out. And in the days of my triumphs, when people were yet afraid
of me, and were taken in by my swagger, I always knew that I was a
lily liver, and expected that I should be found out some day.
That certainty of being found out must haunt and depress many a
bold braggadocio spirit. Let us say it is a clergyman, who can
pump copious floods of tears out of his own eyes and those of his
audience. He thinks to himself, "I am but a poor swindling,
chattering rogue. My bills are unpaid. I have jilted several
women whom I have promised to marry. I don't know whether I
believe what I preach, and I know I have stolen the very sermon
over which I have been sniveling. Have they found me out?" says
he, as his head drops down on the cushion.