author unknown

Putnam’s Magazine
January 1853

WHY the fancy has seized me to write the strange history which follows, is to me inexplicable. My utter indifference to human sympathy, human praise, or human opinion, which will soon be seen to be no vain affectation would seem to render such an act superfluous. Perhaps the necessity for some species of action, which even the inert granite is supposed to be imbued with by the progressive spirit of Nature, may account for the proceeding. Since, how ever, I intend to write, I propose to write intelligibly. It is difficult to describe sensations where memory alone must furnish their corresponding ideas. Were I a human being, in the strict sense of the word, I should, if I may judge by what I see others do apologize for the imperfection of my narrative. As it is, I shall reproduce the images of the past with the fidelity as also with the indifference of an echo. It is perhaps the first time that a DEAD MAN has spoken in the language of the living, though approximations to the phenomenon are to be found in many writers of the day, whose works, I being absolutely destitute of passions, can alone dispassionately criticise. Weak minds will either fail to comprehend, or recoil with horror from my revelations. To the thinking few, they will be a curiosity, which I affirm gravely to be unparalleled in the annals of literature, or the records of history.

I was not always a living corpse. I am not a natural monster. I was born alive, in the full sense of the word. Nay, I was the result of an unbridled passion, and gifted with all the fiery vitality which such lawless indulgences not unfrequently produce. My mother was an Italian Princess, my father a private soldier in the Prussian cavalry. My birth took place in secrecy, and with all the precautions of pride and shameful terror. I was brought up in an atmosphere of mystery, and though invisibly protected, was, from my earliest recollection, an utterly isolated being. At the age of one-and-twenty, after completing, as they say, my studies at the University of ——, I was placed in possession of a fortune of one hundred thousand dollars invested in the English funds, and informed that henceforth I was my own master; whilst I was supplied with a plain and probable legend to serve as a convenient substitute for a more authentic pedigree. It was under these circumstances that I set out on my travels, in the prime of youth and love of enjoyment. My form was tall and powerful, my face of a rare and marked beauty, and my talents of that order which make the great heroes, poets, and criminals of this imperfect world. My destiny was in my own hands, and I became, if not the greatest, at least the most extraordinary of earth’s children. I state these facts in their naked simplicity, because what is termed vanity, is so utterly impossible to a being of my unique nature, that I can waive all common forms, and introduce myself at once in my true colors to the reader.

I shall commence by a brief account of my youth and education, or rather of the early movements of my mind, which led me to adopt a course so singular in its audacity, both of conception and execution.

My two dominant passions, before the extraordinary events which it is the main purpose of this tale to record, were an intense longing for exalted sensations of pleasure, and as a means to this end, a burning thirst for knowledge. Having renounced all religious creeds, and set at defiance all social prejudices, I resolved to make the aim of my existence the attainment by study and experiment, of the most certain methods of scientific enjoyment.

I was naturally what the world calls pre-eminently selfish; as if one man could be more or less selfish than another; as if, in obeying the laws of his organization, any one could act otherwise than yield invariably to the strongest motive, as if any motive could be aught else than a certain amount of force acting upon an individual being!

But I will not philosophize. My human and living readers would not understand me if I did. Their perceptions are clogged by passions and prejudices. Hence truth is strange to them, and even terrible. There are some few, eagle-eyed, who can gaze upon the sun, undazzled. To these my philosophy would be impertinent; to the mass it is incomprehensible.

I will tell my story without obscurity. I will use the plainest language, and speak to popular acceptations.

I was then, a voluptuary, but not a common voluptuary. I saw that the ordinary mines of enjoyment were soon exhausted, or only to be worked more deeply by labor that defeated its object. I perceived that the most crowded paths of pleasure turned back, by circuitous courses, in never-ending circles.

I resolved to abandon these pastures of gregarious man. But before abandoning them, I tested them by experience. I plunged into all the dissipations of my age. I sought all the distractions that youth, a strong well-nerved body, and an active mind could hope to obtain. I bought all the diversion that gold could buy. I lived with my generation; I surpassed them; I led them. I practised systematized moderation. I essayed unbridled excesses. And — I was disappointed.

I did not, as the cant phrase goes, awake from my illusions. I had read, seen, and thought too much. I was too clear-headed to have any illusions. Where others saw misty prospects, I saw naked facts. I summed up, and found the balance on the wrong side. My experiment was a failure.

I had travelled, I had seen the wonders of art and the beauties of nature. I had had access to the best and to the worst of society. I had labored, and been rewarded by fame. The book which I wrote, won the applause of a nation. I foresaw that it would obtain new triumphs in foreign lands; and my foresight has been confirmed by fact. Lastly, I was united to the woman I loved; who brought me thrice the fortune I expected, and a mind cultivated beyond my hopes. And with all this — I was dissatisfied. I craved for intenser pleasure; more exalted excitement; and I could not disguise from myself that it was so. I reflected deeply.

“What,” said I, “is happiness? Is it a monotony of sensations, which are taken to be pleasurable on the faith of popular opinion, whilst the inward voice still whispers languor and tedium, whilst half the day is passed in a dreary vacuity of mind, which is, at best, merely the bare negative of pain? Is it a feverish working and striving for objects which on attainment invariably become insipid and indifferent?”

“Certainly not. Reasonably regarded, it is surely a positive, appreciable state of consciousness, in which we can say without hesitation to the moment, in the words of Goethe, ‘0 linger yet, thou art so fair!’ It is a certain condition of the nervous system, and without that condition — misery.”

I fell to watching myself studiously at different times, and under various circumstances.

I observed that, at a certain stage, wine produced sensations of extreme delight. But I also observed that these sensations soon gave way to other and more sombre feelings; that, in fact, there was a happy crisis in alcoholic stimulus, which, when once past, could not be recalled on one and the same occasion. Indulgence, too, in wine was, I perceived, followed by a vague, dreary despondency, that lasted incomparably longer than the brief passing moments of delicious exhilaration it produced.

On the whole, it was better to leave the mind to nature and mere mental excitements, than to attempt to light the sacred fire at the now neglected altars of Bacchus.

I need not say, that to become vulgarly intoxicated, was, with me, out of the question. There are some strong brains that defy the utmost possibilities of wine. I could have poisoned myself; but I could not render myself an unreasoning animal, by any amount of spirituous liquors. Often I persevered to the last, and when all my wild companions had sunk, I may say in many cases fallen beneath their potent draughts, I alone sat erect, and at worst discovered that my stomach was a weaker organ than my head. In such cases a feeling of awful and gloomy sadness would possess me, and after sitting long in silent and strangely lucid meditations, I would walk home calmly in the gray of the morning with little outward indication of the debauch from which I had emerged.

It was evident that no cascades of wine — even though they beggared Niagara in their ruby or topaz-like curves — could overarch for me that enchanted palace, in which I desired to spend my days, and defy the adversary — Pain, Evil, Devil, Typhon, Ariman or Sathanas, in a word, the dread foe, named or nameless, described or indescribable, of human happiness and its continuance.

Apart from all more palpable causes of suffering, man sits between Memory and Desire, between the Past and the Future as between two rival mistresses, each dragging him towards her by turns with uneasy passion; whilst before him, and as it were balanced on an eternal and invisible tight-rope, sways the only nymph that can bless him with her love, the only goddess he can really and truly possess, if indeed he can possess anything, the divine Present — and he — dares not clasp the radiant virgin to his heart, dares not drive to the East nor to the West, along the interminable roads of space, the furies that torment him, madden him, and devour him, now, then, and evermore!

For my part, I said to the sad and pale brunette, the angel Præterita, and to the blonde seductive blue-eyed spirit Futura, a like farewell. The genii of Past and Future ruled the race of man — the Earth-God. But one was a rebel and an outlaw; and that one was I.

I said to the Universe, “Let me feel happiness, not merely dream it.” And everlasting echoes from all the depths of Kosmos, even from the farthest bounds where creation, ever encroaching, borders upon awful chaos, everlasting echoes answered “DREAM!”

And I replied to the spirits of the Infinite, and demanded proudly, “Ye blind legions of monitors! where in nature is your unclouded happiness? where is your perfection?

And the echoes laughed back in mockery, “perfection!

Then I ceased to ask counsel of any men or spirits. For I was determined to be my own guide, and my own teacher, since all the wisdom of the world had not yet led to happiness. Therefore I scorned its pretensions, and derided its impotence with justice.

* * * * * *

I became a great smoker. I purchased the rarest tobaccos and the costliest pipes. I had a perfect museum of meerschaums, nargulés, chibouques, and tubes and bowls of all sorts of shape, size, and contrivance for the inhalation of the fragrant weed. I purchased, at extravagant prices, the choicest boxes of cigars. I smoked grandly, incessantly, infernally. The atmosphere grew dark with my smoking; at least to my imagination. I wrapped my soul in the incense of tobacco. I created worlds of fancies out of its wreathing vapors. I began to think I had found the resource I wanted, and I often exclaimed in dreamy ecstasy — “Divine Nicotiana!”* I doubted whether the vapors which inspired the Pythoness did not arise from the hookahs of the priests smoking in solemn divan in the subterranean halls of Delphi. And I gave them high credit for having so well preserved the secret they had discovered.

At the same time, like a true Turk, I took care to have the finest coffee of Mocha prepared by the most perfect machinery. I found that, after fasting, the effect of coffee upon the nerves was almost supernatural; but combined with tobacco, it was Elysian. It produced an intense state of enjoyment, during which, I would discourse with a marvellous eloquence to my adoring Mira, who was never weary of following the train of my prolific and far-stretching fantasies. How easily in this period of my madness (as I have since learned to deem it) did I unravel knots in science and philosophy, that had puzzled the wise men of ages. How intuitively did I seize on combinations, whose results, in the hands of practical men, might have rendered them the acknowledged benefactors of the world and enriched whole nations of workers! But with me, all was a reverie of selfish recreation. I created glorious plans, I foreshadowed mighty inventions, as a voluptuous exercise of the mind; I played as it were grand symphonies on the most intellectual themes, and the compositions perished with the dying sounds, like the fantasias of musicians, which are never to be repeated.

But this could not last. My powerful organization resisted for a time the exaggerated abuse of drugs, which, common though they be, are in excess like all other substances, the deadliest poisons. Smoking destroys the appetite, and ruins the digestive powers. Its effect upon the nerves then becomes tremendous. I soon made this discovery. A neuralgic irritation attacked me, which, as I still pursued my diabolical fumigations went on with a fearfully crescendo movement. Deadly sickness of a peculiar inactive character, fits of the horrors, in which all things became repugnant, wearisome, and nauseating; ideas of suicide, and awful despondencies, descended upon me like a flight of vultures on a dying antelope. I abandoned the poisons. My prostration was complete and unbearable. I partially resumed them, and tried change of air and scene. I just recovered sufficiently to be able to suffer more acutely. I had evidently, at least temporarily, undermined my constitution. It was at this period, that, like a demon watching his occasion, opium became my comforter.

For the first time a book fell into my hands, a dangerous book, which has made many wretched: I mean “The confessions of an English opium-eater.” This work, as all the world knows, was written by Thomas de Quincy, an Englishman of letters, who is still living. And with regard to this de Quincy, I will mention one thing that is curious. He is intimately persuaded that he is a great philosopher. In reality he is a fragmentary poet, imbued with considerable transcendentalism. His book is extremely amusing, but the reverse of philosophical, for it arrives at no conclusion. It is an opium book in more senses than the writer would have you believe. Such as it is, however, this book was the immediate cause of my taking to opium.

Its first effects were delightful. It tranquillized my irritated nerves, and I entered, as it were, a new world of dreamy speculation. An invisible barrier seemed raised between me and the external world. Nothing troubled me, nothing annoyed me. I was on the verge of being utterly inpoverished by a dispute as to the title of my wife’s property. But it gave me no uneasiness. The danger passed away as it came — like a fleeting fancy. The only thing that slightly interfered with my peaceful ecstasy of indolent reverie, was the apprehensions of my wife. She had heard that opium-eating was a shocking thing, and she could not at once get reconciled to the idea. Nor would any thing induce her personally to taste the talismanic liquid — the happiness in bottles, as de Quincy has aptly termed it.

The effect of opium in producing dreams, so forcibly dwelt upon and splendidly illustrated by that writer, I need not enlarge upon. Enough to state that the number and variety of my visions were infinite. Ages were crowded into nights. The most monstrous and gigantic images were familiar things. Time and space were extended beyond all conception, except that of an opium-eater. Nevertheless, opium palled upon me, and the opium-dream-world became almost tedious. I had, too: an excessive dislike to the taste of laudanum, which, strange to say, increased rather than diminished. One day I returned home with a small vial of bright green liquid in my pocket. It’s very color had a mystic poisonous fascination. How much more potent and cabalistic was its spell than the dark, thick, brown, drowsy-looking laudanum! It was Haschisch. Haschisch is a sort of Indian hemp (Canabis Indicus). The liquid in the vial was an extract from its stalks. This Indian poison is mentioned in Lamartine’s Vision of the Future, and in Alexander Dumas’s Monte-Cristo. Their exaggerated, or rather apparently exaggerated descriptions of its effects have no doubt caused the majority of their readers to consider this marvellous drug as a mere figment of the poet and novelist’s brains. It has, however, a real existence, and is in extensive demand amongst the initiated. In effect it resembles opium, but is more exhilarating, and less narcotic. I continued for a whole year to increase my doses of this new elixir of happiness, and did not find myself assaulted by any of the horrible fancies which de Quincy complains of as the after results of opium. Like King Mithridates, I was becoming familiar with poisons, and they began to respect their master. But, though I lived as much in another world from that of ordinary mortals, as if my habitation had been in the planet Uranus, I could not escape a more terrible poison than even the Hydrocianic, commonly called Prussic acid, in which, as an antidote to certain effects of the Canabis Indicus, I freely indulged. Ennui, the spleen, that mysterious and tyrannical malady, pursued me, even into my poison-guarded dream-world. I grew accustomed to the life, the old dreams and fancies recurred, and became tiresome. Already I meditated a deeper plunge in Venemum. I fell in, accidentally, in some review, with an account of the Arsenic-eaters of Styria, and of the results of that mania, in heightening the personal beauty of its devotees. Certainly the pure delicacy of Mira’s clear fair complexion left no room for improvement except in the fancy of a madman. Nevertheless, I longed to try the effect of an arsenic varnish — if I may so express myself — upon both her and my own countenance. Who could tell whether seeming more beautiful to one another, our love might not acquire new strength, and develope new sources of delight. I was in the midst of a profound reverie or rather Haschisch dream on this subject, when I received a letter from a scientific friend, announcing the discovery of the effects of inhaling ether, in destroying sensation and rendering surgical operations painless.

I thought that new light burst upon my soul. In one instant I became a convert to an entirely new system of nervous influence. I rushed out to buy some rectified sulphuric ether, and a machine for inhalation. The latter consisted of a bottle to which was attached a flexible tube, about two feet long, and two inches in diameter. I eagerly poured in some ether and applied the funnel-like mouth-piece to my lips. After a few inspirations of the vaporized ether I felt a most marvellous and delicious effect. I felt a stream of joyous expansion steal rapidly through my veins, even to the tips of my toes, which tingled with delight. I at once felt the vast superiority of inhaling the stimulant over swallowing it. Instead of going through the tedious process of digestion, whose functions it disturbed and impeded, as in the case of wine, the purified and refined spirit (for ether is but rectified alcohol) entered at once into the lungs, thence into the aerated blood, and thus through every part of the body with the crimson flood of impatient arteries, and so back with the blue current of the veins, to evaporate harmlessly, leaving nothing but its memory behind it!

“Hence !” I exclaimed, “wine, coffee, tobacco, opium, haschisch! away henbane, arsenic, hydrociana! Coarse and noxious stimulants, narcotics, and nerve-swindlers, who wrap the soul in cumbrous veils that, like the robe of Dejanira, invades the life of your votaries. I am no de Quincy, I, to mock myself with vain half realized fantasies, to stand up to the middle in Styx, and murmur vaguely — Suspiria de profundis!

And now a new field opened to my researches. The world of gas spread temptingly before me. Little do the vain mob understand the import of that word — to them the emblem of emptiness. “It is all gas!” they cry. Yes, truly every thing is gas, is, was, and ever shall be gas. The most solid and material things resolve themselves into mere gaseous combinations. A little more of one gas, a little less of another, and lo! all the varieties in nature are produced. All was originally gas. Chaos was the confusion of gases. All must resolve itself ultimately into gas. You and I are gas, and gas is every thing.

I became a man of gas, a maker and an experimentalist of gaseous mixtures. I remembered the exhibitions which in my youth I had witnessed of the effects of laughing gas, the inhalation of which causes the wildest intoxication, or rather, exaltation of the brain, and causes those who breathe it to exhibit the most fantastic feats, illustrative of their predominant passions. If there is truth in wine, in gas there is revelation. Yet the man in whom reason is the ruling faculty, will subdue all outward indications of the mighty aftlatus. There is a supreme gas, a gas of gases, and its particles are souls. All other gases exist by numerical arrangement, as Pythagoras well conjectured, when he prefigured the atomic theories of modern days. But there is an ultimate atom, a gas which is the basis of all others, and without which all is vacuum.

I knew that in an atmosphere of pure oxygen, the gas essential to life, and at the same time the agent of all decay, the sour stuff (sauer stoff) as the Germans call it, an animal could live, and live with a wondrous acceleration of all the physical processes. In man this rapid consumption of matter was accompanied by an equal intensifying exaltation of the mental faculties. On this fact I founded my experiments, and the result was at length, the combination of oxygen with other gases, in an artificial atmosphere of the most astounding and admirable qualities.

To breathe this air, was to breathe positive enjoyment. It was vaporized nectar and ambrosia. Its respiration was the life of a God. But it was also the embodied Sansar — “the icy wind of death.” No mortal could live more than a few months even in its partially diluted perfection. It was the short life and merry of the reckless popular adage, reduced to palpable embodiment.

On the other hand, this rapidity of life was only apparent. For we measure time by sensations; and the exalted powers of sensation, confirmed by breathing the wondrous gas, gave time a supernatural extension similar to the life of dreams but free from all their shadowy indistinctness.

My resolution at once was taken. I would live and die in this glorified atmosphere. I would bid farewell to all that was earthly, without hesitation. I bought a magnificent chateau in the South of France. I furnished it by the expenditure of one-third of my fortune, in a few days, with all the luxury that imagination could suggest. I fitted up my apparatus for the production of the gas, and engaged, at the rate of some thousands of francs, monthly, a young chemist of first-rate education, and superior energy and abilities. To him I confided all the management and regulation of the apparatus, and also the absolute control of the servants and of the whole establishment. One suite of rooms, the most splendid, and with the finest prospect in the chateau, were to be my own enchanted habitation. Into these apartments, except at certain times and with due precautions, no servants were to enter. Every thing that I required was to be sent up through the floor, by means of tables that screwed up and down, by noiseless machinery. No one was to disturb me on any pretext; no letters were to be given me, and, as the chemist was poor, almost starving when I first patronized him, I knew that so long as every month brought him a little fortune in itself; I might count on his absolute devotion. Besides, I deceived him as to my intentions. There was only one room — the largest and most splendidly furnished in the house — which was to be actually filled with the life-accelerating gas. It communicated with the other apartments by carefully constructed double doors, and of course it never entered the mind of the chemist that I intended to live and die in the deadly atmosphere which he was to create, or that, after so carefully ordering these hermetically closing double doors, I should purpose fixing them wide open, the moment I was shut up within my mysterious domicile, and thus causing the whole suite of apartments to fill with the same ethereal poison.

In other respects, the chemist was just the person I wanted; he was patient; faithful, and industrious. At the same time, he was a cold stern man, well fitted to repress any insubordination or curiosity on the part of the household. And now all was prepared for the experiment. It only remained to persuade Mira to be my companion. For I confess that without her, even the potence of the marvellous gas must have failed in its action on my nerves. Her love had become a habit, a part of my being, I could not live or die without her.

And here let me for the first time say a few words about Mira.

She was an entirely exceptional woman. When I married her, some three years before the date of my final experiment, she was only sixteen years of age. Her beauty (I can find no newer or more intelligible image) was of the order which the finest painters strive to impart to their embodiments of angels, and beings superior to man. Its supreme loveliness was not in its delicate regularity of feature, dazzling whiteness and purity of skin, and majestic symmetry of form. All these seemed merely indispensable conditions of such an individuality. What made her irresistibly pleasing to the perceptions of an imaginative and thoughtful man, was a certain calm, unalterable dignity and noble gentleness, that placed her above even the possibility of any of the meannesses and pettinesses of the sex. She had the strong mind of a man with all the purity and softness of an exquisitely delicate female organization. In temperment, she was my opposite, although intellectually, there existed between us a perfect sympathy. She was as calm and serenely contented, as I was feverishly dissatisfied and eager for excitement. Yet she understood and entered into all my wild speculations, as into an interesting drama, of which she was the sympathizing spectator. She was my only confidant, my only friend, my only real companion. With all my restless cravings for greater intensity of enjoyment her love was my world, my treasure, and my hope — the more so that I might almost be said to mistrust its possession.

That Mira loved me, was indeed indubitable, yet there was a calmness, a purity, and passive even tenor in her love that could not be called coldness, and which yet in a manner disappointed the fiery adoration with which I loved her. I would not have lost one of her kisses for all the embraces of all the beauties of the earth and yet, to my fierce and impassioned nature there seemed more snow upon her bosom, than a poet’s simile implies, more than perchance would ever melt beneath my lip’s ecstatic pressure.

In the delusion of my wild tempest-tost soul, which, after all, was but that of a mad poet’s, astray in the deserts and primeval forests of thought, I knew not that the crown of her glorious beauty and of my delicious, because never satiated, passion, lay in the very qualities which I regretted, and which I insanely hoped to conquer by my infernal and pitiless inventions.

To my surprise, I had no difficulty in persuading Mira to enter the enchanted atmosphere. A first trial of its virtues was of course decisive. We gave ourselves up to the intense joy of a life, to which pain, care, and sorrow, regret for the past or apprehension for the future, were necessarily strange. The outer world became nothing to us. Love, exalted to a degree of power which to the breathers of common air is inconceivable, appreciation of beauty and delights which are alike inexplicable and incomprehensible, made up the sum of our existence. I pass over, therefore the seven times seven days of our ethereal life, a period which in ideas and sensations was equivalent to the ordinary lapse of ages, and hasten onward to the extraordinary catastrophe which left me what I am — a monster more rare and wonderful than the sphinxes and chimeras of old, my fabulous prototypes.

Nor let the reader foolishly imagine that, because memory or science give me the power of describing passion, and thereby exciting his sympathies, that I personally do or can feel any echoing vibration of the wild chords which I cause to resound. Unearthly is the music — unearthly the musician.

Opening from the grand saloon of the chateau, was a superb conservatory of more than ordinary dimensions, commanding a view of one of the most splendid landscapes in the world. In the foreground, yet not sufficiently near to intercept the view, rose from the side of the hill, on which stood the chateau the mingled foliage of an old and primitive forest, while beyond was visible the shining stream of the Rhone, lying, like the crooked sabre of some gigantic Paladin, upon the greensward; and far, far beyond rose the bluish shadowy outlines of mountains behind which the sun would set in golden glory, that made each snow-crowned peak a throne worthy of Sathanas — “the Emperor of the furnace.”

Round this conservatory were arranged a collection of strange exotic and tropical plants, so as to leave the centre unoccupied, save by a few couches, chairs and tables, on which lay volumes of poetry and philosophy, and portfolios of exquisite engravings and drawings. This was our favorite sitting-room. It was only necessary to open the glass doors between it and the saloon, to fill it with the same enchanted air; and I may mention as a curious example of the effects of this atmosphere on vegetation, that the grapes which were quite green and hard on its first introduction, ripened perfectly in a few days, and were the largest and most luscious fruit I had ever tasted or seen. It was one of Mira’s greatest enjoyments to call me to watch the camelias budding and flowering actually before our eyes! Were I in the humor I could write a hundred pages on the wonders of vegetation with which my residence in this gas-world made me acquainted. But I refrain without difficulty. To me no science is worth a thought.

In the centre of this hall of crystal stood a white marble statue of Minerva, the only statue in which that goddess has ever been represented entirely without drapery. The figure was Mira’s. I myself modelled it during the first year of our marriage, and it was carved by one of the most eminent French sculptors, who afterwards died mad from a hopeless passion for the original. The fountain sprang from and formed the foliage of a glass tree stem, against which she leant, whilst the point of her spear drooped earthward from her arm, as if languid with the warfare against folly. Her head alone was covered with a helmet, which imparted a singular charm to the divine beauty of Mira’s countenance.

At length, one day, towards evening, after seven weeks of solitude and happiness, which no Paradise could more than realize, a fatal accident destroyed at once our enjoyment, our experiment in science, and our lives. Yes — I learned it afterwards — we were killed by the merest accident. My chemist who managed the gas-generating apparatus, forgot to examine the metre at the proper time. The gas continued to enter in unprecedented volumes, and its effects were speedily perceptible.

We were seated in our favorite place in the conservatory, our eyes turned towards the setting sun, listening to the swelling and harmonious cadences of Weber, produced by a self-playing instrument of the rarest workmanship, which I had purchased at Paris for an enormous sum, of its inventor, when a more than usual ecstasy seemed to possess us. Our arms, entwined round one another’s forms, seemed to contract almost convulsively, our eyes, our lips met with delirious love, and — I remember no more. When I recovered possession, not of my senses, but of my consciousness, I was still seated upon the sofa on which the angel of death had surprised us, whilst on the marble pavement, at full length, her face turned upwards with an expression of supernatural felicity, lay Mira — Mira, my wife, friend, and goddess — the fairest and noblest of women. She was dead.

Mira was dead. That was evident. But what was I? I rose, and regarded curiously the culpable chemist, who, having discovered his oversight, had hurried too late to our rescue. He had thrown wide open the windows of the conservatory. I inhaled the common air of the sky. But, though I breathed and moved, however incredible may appear the statement of a fact hitherto unknown to science, I was to all intents and purposes as much a dead person as Mira herself. That is to say. I was dead to all sensation, emotion, passion, or by whatever other phrase may be described the action of the external world upon the sensitive being. It is true, I could hear, see, feel, taste, and smell but such sensations had no longer any influence upon me either in causing dissatisfaction or satisfaction. My sensations were mere facts to my consciousness and no more. Mira was dead, that was a fact. She lay there, pale and beautiful, before me — a fact. I myself had lost the half of my life — a fact. The chemist who was the author of these hideous calamities, as men would say, stood trembling before me — another fact. In a word, I was a living corpse. One class of nerves, the nerves of sympathetic sensation, appeared either paralyzed or exhausted of their circulating fluid. Love and anger were no longer my attributes. I had reached, truly, and at one stride, the centre of indifference told of by some philosophers. But it was a centre of indifference which they talk of without understanding. I did not understand it — I was in it.

The chemist stood pallid and trembling before me. He was a cold, unimpassioned, little impressionable man. But in the presence of my dead eye and marble rigidity of feature he trembled involuntarily. No doubt he mistook my absence of emotion for sonic tremendous effect of internal passion. He evidently dreaded an explosion of a terrible nature. But I merely said —

“She is dead — you are no longer wanted — go.”

For one moment he looked at me with a most extraordinary expression, then, overwhelmed by the icy look with which I covered him, he departed in silence.

I remembered that his salary from the beginning was unpaid. Nor had he ever the courage to ask for it. Of course I could have no motive in sending it to him. The happiness of others was to me no longer a possible subject of interest. A man takes no interest in others, who can take none in himself. The chemist, driven to despair by poverty, committed suicide in the course of the same year.

At the end of a week, the body of Mira was buried. In the mean time, from physical habit, as it appeared, I one day took up a book — a volume of poetry. It was no longer poetry to me, but a collection of signs representing certain phenomena. A book of arithmetic was to me of precisely equal interest.

I had eaten and drunk nothing since the great catastrophe, though I had been urged to do so by people to whose entreaties and pity I was alike indifferent. But, remarking that my body was wasting away, I ate a measured quantity, which I continued to do regularly afterwards, though without any appetite or enjoyment.

I had reason and power of command over my body as much as ever. But those operations which formerly were the result of impulse, I had now to perform as pure acts of will. The only reason why I did not quietly await death, was a clear intellectual consciousness of the fact that I was in an abnormal state, and that it was also possible that I should return to the natural conditions of humanity.

Without being a desire, the discovery of the means of effecting this change became my only object; and in order to attain what, in reality, I cared nothing about (the contradiction is only apparent), I spent years in trying the most extraordinary experiments in natural science ever imagined. Perfectly indifferent to the success or non-success of my experiments, I yet worked on. If I might be said to have any thing left resembling a desire, it was a passionless inclination towards abstract truth, which seemed to be a sort of mechanico-spiritual law of my being. But to compare this mere gravitation towards an abstract centre to the ardent enthusiasm of ordinary men of science, would be absurd. And here, I recognize the impossibility of conveying to a living man the impressions of a corpse. Therefore I abandon further attempt at illustration.

Perhaps one fact may explain more than much analysis. After some years, during which time I made numerous scientific discoveries of the most remarkable character, I lighted upon the secret. I had it in my power at any moment to return to life, to rise again from the dead and once more to share the passions and cares of men. But I had no motive to change my condition. I remained a corpse. The discovery was to me — a fact.

Why should I again inhale the gas of happiness and destruction, why revive to an existence that would be a type of the fabled hells of legendary lore? Mira is dead. I am a living corpse; and I am the only being bearing the shape of man who could ever honestly declare himself to be perfectly contented with his lot.