Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “William Wilson,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 422-451 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 422:]

WILLIAM WILSON

The story of “William Wilson” is generally recognized as one of Poe’s greatest achievements in prose, and it has always been deservedly popular. Although a work of poetic imagination, clearly containing an allegory, it is told so straightforwardly that he who runs may read it with pleasure as a pure account of extraordinary adventures. Some of the adventures are too marvelous for belief in the cold light of reason, but the element of the absolutely incredible is reduced to a minimum. The story may be said to mark the beginning of a trend to realism in the author’s fiction.

The main theme, a man’s struggle with his conscience, is nothing unusual. But Poe’s setting is not commonplace, since the action involves relations between people who look alike and notions about what speculative philosophers term a bipartite soul.

Poe’s principal source is now definitely known from his own statement. In a letter to Washington Irving he wrote on October 12, 1839:

I take the liberty of sending you the Octo: No: of the Gents’ Magazine, containing the Tale “William Wilson.” This is the tale of which I spoke in my former letter, and which is based upon a brief article of your own in the first “Gift” — that for 1836. Your article is called “An Unwritten Drama of Lord [page 423:] Byron.” I have hoped that, having thus a right of ownership in my “William Wilson,” you will be induced to read it — and I also hope that . . . you will find in it something to appro[v]e.*

The essential parts, for Poe’s purposes, of Irving’s article follow:

The hero, . . . Alfonso, is a Spanish nobleman. . . . His passions, from early and unrestrained indulgence, have become impetuous and ungovernable, and he follows their impulses with a . . . disregard of consequences.

Soon after his entrance into the world, he finds himself followed, occasionally, in public places, by a person masked and muffled up so as to conceal both countenance and figure. He at first pays but little attention to the circumstance. . . By degrees, however, the frequent intrusion of this silent and observant follower becomes extremely irksome. The mystery, too, which envelopes him, heightens the annoyance. Alfonso is unable to identify him . . . — his name, his country, his place of abode; all are unknown, — and it is impossible even to conjecture his motives for this singular espionage. It is carried, by degrees, to such lengths, that he becomes, as it were, Alfonso’s shadow — his second self. Not only the most private actions of the latter pass under the scrutiny of this officious monitor, but his most secret thoughts seem known to hum. Speak of him, he stands by his side; think of him, he feels his presence, though invisible, oppress and weigh upon his spirits, like a troubled atmosphere. Waking or sleeping, Alfonso has him in thought or in view. He crosses his path at every turn; like the demon in Faust, he intrudes in his solitude. He follows him in the crowded street, or the brilliant saloon; thwarting his schemes, and marring all his intrigues of love or of ambition. In the giddy mazes of the dance, in which Alfonso is addressing his fair partner with the honeyed words of seduction, he sees the stranger pass like a shadow before him; a voice, like the voice of his own soul, whispers in his ear; the words of seduction die from his lips; he no longer hears the music of the dance.

The hero of the drama becomes abstracted and gloomy. Youth, health, wealth, power — all that promised to give a zest to life, have lost their charm. The sweetest cup of pleasure becomes poison to him. Existence is a burthen. To add to his despair, he doubts the fidelity of the fair but frail object of his affection; and suspects the unknown to have supplanted him in her thoughts.

Alfonso now thirsts only for vengeance, but the mysterious stranger eludes his pursuit, and his emissaries in vain endeavour to discover his retreat. At length he succeeds in tracing him to the house of his mistress, and attacks him with the fury of frantic jealousy, taxes him with his wrongs, and demands satisfaction. They fight; his rival scarcely defends himself; at the first thrust he receives the sword of Alfonso in his bosom; and in falling, exclaims, “Are you satisfied!”

The mask and mantle of the unknown drop off, and Alfonso discovers his own image — the spectre of himself — he dies with horror!

The spectre is an allegorical being, the personification of conscience, or of the passions . . . [page 424:]

The foregoing sketch of the plot may hereafter suggest a rich theme to a poet or dramatist of the Byron school.

Poe characteristically took up the challenge, and followed his source rather closely, even to the vagueness about some of his [page 425:] hero’s evil deeds. But he did use also one or two minor sources, pointed out in the notes below.

Telling the story in the first person, Poe gave his protagonist his own birthday, and had him attend a school of the same name as one he attended. But he describes a different building from the real school, and has his hero commit one crime — cheating at cards — of which nobody who knows of Poe’s gambling debts can imagine the author was ever guilty.

Poe’s originality in “William Wilson” lies in one idea. Each man has only half a complete soul, and the pair has but one conscience, which abides wholly in the half that belongs to the whisperer.

The precise date of the composition of “William Wilson” is uncertain, but it was first published in The Gift for 1840, of which the prefatory “Advertisement” is dated “May 1st, 1839.” On September 21, 1839 Poe wrote Philip Pendleton Cooke, “This tale . . . is perhaps the best, although not the last, I have done.” Hence it has been given its present position in this edition.

An adaptation, “James Dixon, ou la funeste resemblance,” by Gustave Brunet, was published in the Parisian newspaper La Quotidienne, December 3 and 4, 1844 — the earliest known appearance of Poe’s influence in France.§

Finally, for the general interpretation of this tale it hardly seems necessary to point out that, as in the case of Roderick Usher, Poe is not William Wilson, but the creator of William Wilson.*

TEXTS

(A) The Gift: a Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1840 (1839), pp. 229-253; (B) Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, October 1839 (5:205-212); (C) Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), I, 27-57; (D) PHANTASY-PIECES (copy of [page 426:] the last with manuscript changes, 1842); (E) Broadway Journal, August 30, 1845 (2:113-119); (F) Works (1850), I, 417-436; (G) Graham’s Magazine, May 1842 (20:298-300), brief extracts in a review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales; (H) Works (1850), III, 201, from the last.

Griswold’s version (F) is followed. Besides verbal changes, PHANTASY-PIECES has thirty-three punctuation changes, two abortive. Twelve dashes were removed and ten were added. The most careful and extensive revision occurs in the Broadway Journal (E). The brief extracts in the review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales (G, H) follow essentially text C, adopting certain changes indicated in PHANTASY-PIECES (D) and adapting certain other wording to emphasize Poe’s implied claim of plagiary.

Reprint

Spirit of the Times (Philadelphia), September 5, 6 and 8, 1845, probably from the Broadway Journal.

WILLIAM WILSON.   [F]   [[n]]   [[v]]

What say of it? what say of CONSCIENCE grim,

That spectre in my path?

Chamberlayne’s Pharonnida.   [[n]]   [[v]]

Let me call myself, for the present, William Wilson. The fair page now lying before me need not be sullied with my real appellation. This has been already too much an object for the scorn — for the horror — for the detestation of my race. To the uttermost regions of the globe have not the indignant winds bruited its unparalleled infamy? Oh, outcast of all outcasts most abandoned! — to the earth art then not forever{a} dead? to its honors, to its flowers, to its golden aspirations? — and a cloud, dense, dismal, and limitless, does it not hang eternally between thy hopes and heaven?

I would not, if I could, here or to-day, embody a record of my later years of unspeakable misery, and unpardonable crime. This epoch — these later years — took unto themselves a sudden elevation in turpitude, whose origin alone it is my present purpose to assign. Men usually grow base by degrees. From me, in an instant, all virtue dropped bodily as a mantle.{b} From comparatively trivial [page 427:] wickedness I passed, with the stride of a giant, into more than the enormities of an Elah-Gabalus.(1) What chance — what one event brought this evil thing to pass, bear with me while I relate. Death approaches; and the shadow which foreruns him has thrown a softening influence over my spirit. I long, in passing through the dim valley, for the sympathy — I had nearly said for the pity — of my fellow men. I would fain have them believe that I have been, in some measure, the slave of circumstances beyond human control. I would wish them to seek out for me, in the details I am about to give, some little oasis of fatality amid a wilderness of error. I would have them allow — what they cannot refrain from allowing — that, although temptation may have ere-while existed as great, man was never thus, at least, tempted before — certainly, never thus fell. {cc}And is it therefore that he has never thus suffered?{cc} Have I not indeed been living in a dream? And am I not now dying a victim to the horror and the mystery of the wildest of all sublunary visions?

I am {dd}the descendant{dd} of a race whose imaginative and easily excitable temperament has at all times rendered them remarkable; and, in my earliest infancy, I gave evidence of having fully inherited the family character. As I advanced in years it was more strongly developed; becoming, for many reasons, a cause of serious disquietude to my friends, and of positive injury to myself. I grew self-willed, addicted to the wildest caprices, and a prey to the most ungovernable passions. Weak-minded, and beset with constitutional infirmities akin to my own, my parents could do but little to check the evil propensities which distinguished me. Some feeble and ill-directed efforts resulted in complete failure on their part, and, of course, in total triumph on mine. Thenceforward my voice was a household law; and at an age when few children have abandoned their leading-strings, I was left to the guidance of my own will, and became, in all but name, the master of my own actions.

My earliest recollections of a school-life{e} are connected with a large, rambling, {ff}Elizabethan house,{ff} in a misty-looking village of [page 428:] England, where were a vast number of gigantic and gnarled trees, and where all the houses were excessively ancient.{g} In truth, it was a dream-like and spirit-soothing place, that venerable old town. At this moment, in fancy, I feel the refreshing chilliness of its deeply-shadowed avenues, inhale the fragrance of its thousand shrubberies, and thrill anew with undefinable delight, at the deep hollow note of the church-bell, breaking, each hour, with sullen and sudden roar, upon the stillness of the dusky atmosphere in which the{h} fretted Gothic steeple lay imbedded and asleep.(2)

It gives me, perhaps, as much of pleasure as I can now in any manner experience, to dwell upon minute recollections of the school and its concerns. Steeped in misery as I am — misery, alas! only too real — I shall be pardoned for seeking relief, however slight and temporary, in the weakness of a few rambling details. These, moreover, utterly trivial, and even ridiculous in themselves, assume, to my fancy, adventitious importance, as connected with a period and a locality when and where I recognise the first ambiguous monitions of the destiny which afterwards so fully overshadowed me. Let me then remember.

The house, I have said, was {ii}old and irregular.{ii} The grounds were extensive, and a{j} high and solid brick wall, topped with a bed of mortar and broken glass, encompassed the whole. This prison-like rampart formed the limit of our domain; beyond it we saw but thrice a week — once every Saturday afternoon, when, attended by two ushers, we were permitted to take brief walks in a body through some of the neighboring fields — and twice during Sunday, when we were paraded in the same formal manner to the morning and evening service in the one church of the village. Of this church the principal of our school was pastor. With how deep a spirit of wonder and perplexity was I wont to regard him from our remote pew in the gallery, as, with step solemn and slow, he ascended the pulpit!(3) This reverend man, with countenance so demurely benign, with robes so glossy and so clerically flowing, with wig so minutely powdered, so rigid and so vast, — could this be he [page 429:] who, of late, with sour visage, and in snuffy habiliments, administered, ferule in hand, the Draconian Laws of the academy?(4) Oh, gigantic paradox, too utterly monstrous for solution!

At an angle of the ponderous wall frowned a more ponderous gate. It was riveted and studded with iron bolts, and surmounted with jagged iron spikes. What impressions of deep awe {kk}did it in spire!{kk} It was never opened save for the three periodical egressions and ingressions already mentioned; then, in every creak of its mighty hinges, we found a plenitude of mystery — a world of matter for solemn remark, or for{l} more solemn meditation.

The extensive enclosure was irregular in form, having many capacious recesses. Of these, three or four of the largest constituted the play-ground. It was level, and covered with fine hard gravel. I well remember it had no trees, nor benches, nor anything similar within it. Of course it was in the rear of the house. In front lay a small parterre, planted with box and other shrubs; but through this sacred division we passed only upon rare occasions indeed — such as a first advent {mm}to school or final departure thence,{mm} or perhaps, when a parent or friend having called for us, we joyfully took our way home for the Christmas or Midsummer holydays.

But the house! — how quaint an old building was this! — to me how veritably a palace of enchantment! There was really no end to its windings — to its incomprehensible subdivisions. It was difficult,{n} at any given time, to say with certainty upon which of its two stories one happened to be. From each room to every other there were sure to be found three or four steps either in ascent or descent. Then the lateral branches were innumerable — inconceivable — and so returning in upon themselves, that our most exact ideas in regard to the whole mansion were not very far different from those with which we pondered upon infinity. During the five years of my residence here, I was never able to ascertain with precision, in what remote locality lay the little sleeping apartment assigned to myself and some eighteen or twenty other scholars.

The school-room was the largest in the house — I could not [page 430:] help thinking, in the world. It was very long, narrow, and dismally low, with pointed Gothic windows and a ceiling of oak. In a remote and terror-inspiring angle was a square enclosure of eight or ten feet, comprising the sanctum,{o} “during hours,” of our principal, the Reverend Dr. Bransby. It was a solid structure, with massy door, sooner than open which in the absence of the “Dominie,” we would all have willingly perished by the peine forte et dure.(5) In other angles were two other similar boxes, far less reverenced, indeed, but still greatly matters of awe. One of these was the pulpit of the “classical” usher, one of the “English and mathematical.” Interspersed about the room, crossing and recrossing in endless irregularity, were innumerable benches and desks, black, ancient, and time-worn, piled desperately with much-bethumbed books, and so beseamed with initial letters, names at full length,{p} grotesque figures, and other multiplied efforts of the knife, as to have entirely{q} lost what little of original form might have been their portion in days long departed. A huge bucket with water stood at one extremity of the room, and a clock of stupendous dimensions at the other.

Encompassed by the massy walls of this venerable academy, I passed, yet not in tedium or disgust, the years of the third lustrum of my life. The teeming brain of childhood requires no external world of incident to occupy or amuse it; and the apparently dismal monotony of a school was replete with more intense excitement than my riper youth has derived from luxury, or my full manhood from crime. Yet I must believe that my first mental development had in it much of the uncommon — even much of the outré.{r} Upon mankind at large the events of very early existence rarely leave in mature age any definite impression. All is gray shadow — a weak and irregular remembrance — an indistinct regathering of feeble pleasures and phantasmagoric pains. With me this is not so. In childhood I must have felt with the energy of a man what I now find stamped upon memory in lines as vivid, as deep, and as durable as the exergues{s} of the Carthaginian medals.(6) [page 431:]

Yet in fact — in the fact of the world’s view — how little was there to remember! The morning’s awakening, the nightly summons to bed; the connings, the recitations; the periodical half-holidays, and perambulations; the play-ground, with its broils, its pastimes, its intrigues; — these, by a mental sorcery long forgotten, were made to involve a wilderness of sensation, a world of rich incident, an universe of varied emotion, of excitement the most passionate and spirit-stirring. “Oh, le bon temps, que ce siecle de fer!(7)

In truth, the ardor,{t} the enthusiasm, and the imperiousness of my disposition, soon rendered me a marked character among my schoolmates, and by slow, but natural gradations, gave me an ascendancy over all not greatly older than myself; — over all with a{u} single exception. This exception was found in the person of a scholar, who, although no relation, bore the same Christian{v} and surname as myself; — a circumstance, in fact,{w} little remarkable; for, notwithstanding a noble descent, mine was one of those everyday appellations which seem, by prescriptive right, to have been, time out of mind, the common property of the mob.(8) In this narrative I have therefore designated myself as William Wilson, — a fictitious title not very dissimilar to the real. My namesake alone, of those who in school-phraseology{x} constituted “our set,” presumed to compete with me in the studies of the class — in the sports and broils of the play-ground — to refuse implicit belief in my assertions, and submission to my will — indeed, to interfere with my arbitrary dictation in any respect whatsoever. If there is{y} on earth a supreme and unqualified despotism, it is the despotism of a master-mind{z} in boyhood over the less energetic spirits of its{a} companions.

Wilson’s rebellion was to me a source of the greatest embarrassment; the more so as, in spite of the bravado with which in public I made a point of treating him and his pretensions, I secretly felt [page 432:] that I feared him, and could not help thinking the equality which he maintained so easily with myself, a proof of his true superiority; since not to be overcome cost me a perpetual struggle. Yet this superiority — even this equality — was in truth acknowledged by no one but myself; our associates,{b} by some unaccountable blindness, seemed not even to suspect it. Indeed, his competition, his resistance, and especially his impertinent and dogged interference with my purposes, were not more pointed than private. He appeared to be{c} destitute alike of the ambition which urged, and of the passionate energy of mind which enabled me to excel. In his rivalry he might have been supposed actuated solely by a whimsical desire to thwart, astonish, or mortify myself; although there were times when I could not help observing, with a feeling made up of wonder, abasement, and pique, that he mingled with his injuries, his insults, or his contradictions, a certain most inappropriate, and assuredly most unwelcome affectionateness of manner. I could only conceive this singular behavior to arise from a consummate self-conceit assuming the vulgar airs of patronage and protection.

Perhaps it was this latter trait in Wilson’s conduct, conjoined with our identity of name, and the mere accident of our having entered the school upon the same day, which set afloat the notion that we were brothers, among the senior classes in the academy. These do not usually inquire with much strictness into the affairs of their juniors. I have before said, or should have said, that Wilson was not, in the most remote degree, connected with my family. But assuredly if we had been brothers we must have been twins; for, after{d} leaving Dr. Bransby’s, I casually learned that my namesake{e} was born on the nineteenth of January, 1813{f}{gg}and this is a somewhat remarkable coincidence; for the day is precisely that{gg} of my own nativity.(9)

It may seem strange that in spite of the continual anxiety occasioned me by the rivalry of Wilson, and his intolerable spirit of [page 433:] contradiction, I could not bring myself to hate him altogether. We had, to be sure, nearly every day a quarrel in which, yielding me publicly the palm of victory, he, in some manner, contrived to make me feel that it was he who had deserved it; yet a sense of pride on{h} my part, and a veritable dignity on{i} his own, kept us always upon what are called “speaking terms,” while there were many points of strong congeniality in our tempers, operating to awake in me a sentiment which our position alone, perhaps, prevented from ripening into friendship. It is difficult, indeed, to define, or even to describe, my real feelings towards him. They {jj}formed a motley and{jj} heterogeneous {kk}admixture; — some{kk} petulant animosity, which was not yet hatred, some esteem, more respect, much fear, with a world of uneasy curiosity. {ll}To the moralist it will be unnecessary{ll} to say, in addition, that Wilson and myself were the most inseparable of companions.

It was no doubt the anomalous state of affairs existing between us, which turned all my attacks upon him, (and they were many, either open or covert) into the channel of banter or practical joke (giving pain while assuming the aspect of mere fun) rather than into{m} a more serious and determined hostility. But my endeavors on this head were by no means uniformly successful, even when my plans were the most wittily concocted; for my namesake had much about him, in character, of that unassuming and quiet austerity which, while enjoying the poignancy of its own jokes, has no heel of Achilles in itself,(10) and absolutely refuses to be laughed at. I could find, indeed, but one vulnerable point, and that, lying in a personal peculiarity, arising, perhaps, from constitutional disease, would have been spared by any antagonist less at his wit’s end than myself; — my rival had a weakness in the faucial or guttural organs, which precluded him from raising his voice at any time above a very low whisper. Of this defect I did not fail to take what poor advantage lay in my power.

Wilson’s retaliations in kind were many; and there was one [page 434:] form of his practical wit that disturbed me beyond measure. How his sagacity first discovered at all that so petty a thing would vex me, is a question I never could solve; but,{n} having discovered, he habitually practised the annoyance. I had always felt aversion to my uncourtly patronymic, and its very common, if not plebeian prænomen.{o} The words were venom in my ears; and when, upon the day of my arrival, a second William Wilson came also to the academy, I felt angry with him for bearing the name, and doubly disgusted with the name because a stranger bore it, who would be the cause of its twofold repetition, who would be constantly in my presence, and whose concerns, in the ordinary routine of the school business, must inevitably, on account of the detestable coincidence, be often confounded with my own.

The feeling of vexation thus engendered grew stronger with every circumstance tending to show resemblance, moral or physical, between my rival and myself. I had not then discovered the remarkable fact that we were of the same age; but I saw that we were of the same height, and I perceived that we were {pp}even singularly alike{pp} in general contour of person and outline of feature. I was galled, too, by the rumor touching a relationship, which had grown current in the upper forms. In a word, nothing could more seriously disturb me, (although I scrupulously concealed such disturbance,) than any allusion to a similarity of mind, person, or condition existing between us. But, in truth, I had no reason to believe that (with the exception of the matter of relationship, and in the case of Wilson himself,) this similarity had ever been made a subject of comment, or even observed at all by our schoolfellows. That he observed it in all its bearings, and as fixedly as I, was apparent; but that he could discover in such circumstances so fruitful a field of annoyance,{q} can only be attributed, as I said before, to his more than ordinary penetration.

His cue, which was to perfect an imitation of myself, lay both in words and in actions; and most admirably did he play his part. My dress it was an easy matter to copy; my gait and general manner [page 435:] were, without difficulty, appropriated; in spite of his constitutional defect, even my voice did not escape him. My louder tones were, of course, unattempted, but then the key, it was identical; and his singular whisper, it grew the very echo of my own.

How greatly this most exquisite portraiture harassed me, (for it could not justly be termed a caricature,) I will not now venture to describe. I had but one consolation — in the fact that the imitation, apparently, was noticed by myself alone, and that I had to endure only the knowing and strangely sarcastic smiles of my namesake himself. Satisfied with having produced in my bosom the intended effect, he seemed to chuckle in secret over the sting he had inflicted, and was characteristically disregardful of the public applause which the success of his witty endeavors might have so easily elicited. That the school, indeed, did not feel his design, perceive its accomplishment, and participate in his sneer, was, for many anxious{r} months, a riddle I could not resolve. Perhaps the gradation of his copy rendered it not so readily perceptible; or, more possibly, I owed my security to the masterly air of the copyist, who, disdaining the letter, (which in a painting is all the obtuse can see,) gave but the full spirit of his original for my individual contemplation and chagrin.

I have already more than once spoken of the disgusting air of patronage which he assumed toward{s} me, and of his frequent officious interference with my will. This interference often took the ungracious character of advice; advice not openly given, but hinted or insinuated. I received it with a repugnance which gained strength as I grew in years. Yet, at this distant day, let me do him the simple justice to acknowledge that I can recall no occasion when the suggestions of my rival were on the side of those errors or follies so usual to his immature age and seeming inexperience; that his moral sense, at least, if not his general talents and worldly wisdom, was far keener than my own; and that I might, to-day, have been a better, and thus a happier man, had I {tt}less frequently{tt} rejected the counsels embodied in those meaning whispers which I then but too cordially hated and too bitterly despised.{u} [page 436:]

As it was, I at length grew restive in the extreme under his distasteful supervision, and daily resented more and more openly what I considered his intolerable{v} arrogance. I have said that, in the first years of our connexion as schoolmates, my feelings in regard to him might have been easily ripened into friendship: but, in the latter months of my residence at the academy, although the intrusion of his ordinary manner had, beyond doubt, in some measure, abated, my sentiments, in nearly similar proportion, partook very much of positive hatred. Upon one occasion he saw this, I think, and afterwards avoided, or made a show of avoiding me.

It was about the same period, if I remember aright, that, in an altercation of violence with him, in which he was more than usually thrown off his guard, and spoke and acted with an open ness of demeanor rather foreign to his nature, I discovered, or fancied I discovered, in his accent, his air, and general appearance, a something which first startled, and then deeply interested me, by bringing to mind dim visions of my earliest infancy — wild, confused and thronging memories of a time when memory herself was yet unborn. I cannot better describe the sensation which oppressed me, than by saying that{w} I could with difficulty shake off the belief {xx}of my having been acquainted with the being who stood before me,{xx} at some epoch very long ago — some point of the past even infinitely remote. The delusion, however, faded rapidly as it came; and I mention it at all but to define the day of the last conversation I there held with my singular namesake.

The huge old house, with its countless subdivisions, had several{y} large chambers communicating with each other, where slept the greater number of the students. There were, however, (as must necessarily happen in a building so awkwardly planned,) many little nooks or recesses, the odds and ends of the structure; and these the economic ingenuity of Dr. Bransby had also fitted up as dormitories; although, being the merest closets, they were capable of accommodating but{z} a single individual. One of these small apartments was occupied by Wilson. [page 437:]

{aa}One night,{aa} about the close of my fifth year at the school, and immediately after the altercation just mentioned,{b} finding every one wrapped in sleep, I arose from bed, and, lamp in hand, stole through a wilderness of narrow passages from my own bedroom to that of my rival. I had long been{c} plotting one of those ill-natured pieces of practical wit at his expense in which I had hitherto been so uniformly unsuccessful. It was my intention, now, to put my scheme in operation, and I resolved to make him feel the whole extent of the malice with which I was imbued. Having reached his closet, I noiselessly entered, leaving the lamp, with a shade over it, on the outside. I advanced a step, and listened to the sound of his tranquil breathing. Assured of his being asleep, I returned, took the light, and with it again approached the bed. Close curtains were around it, which, in the prosecution of my plan, I slowly and quietly withdrew, when the bright rays fell vividly upon the sleeper, and my eyes, at the same moment, upon his countenance. I looked; — and a numbness, an iciness of feeling instantly pervaded my frame. My breast heaved, my knees tottered, my whole spirit became possessed with an objectless yet intolerable horror. Gasping for breath, I lowered the lamp in still nearer proximity to the face. Were these, — these the lineaments of William Wilson? I saw, indeed, that they were his, but I shook as if{d} with a fit of the ague, in fancying they were not. What was there about them to confound me in this manner? I gazed; — while my brain reeled with a multitude of incoherent thoughts. Not thus he appeared — assuredly not thus — in the vivacity of his waking hours. The same name! the same contour of person! the same day of arrival at the academy! And then his dogged and meaningless imitation of my gait, my voice, my habits, and my manner! Was it, in truth, within the bounds of human possibility, that what I now saw{e} was the result, merely,{f} of the habitual practice of this sarcastic imitation? Awe-stricken, and with a creeping shudder, I extinguished the lamp, passed silently from the chamber, and left, at once, the halls of that old academy, never to enter them again. [page 438:]

After a lapse of some months, spent at home in mere idleness, I found myself a student at Eton. The brief interval had been sufficient to enfeeble my remembrance of the events at Dr. Bransby’s, or at least to effect a material change in the nature of the feelings with which I remembered them. The truth — the tragedy — of the drama was no more. I could now find room to doubt the evidence of my senses; and seldom called up the subject at all but with wonder at the extent of human credulity, and a smile at the vivid force of the imagination which I hereditarily possessed. Neither was this species of skepticism likely to be diminished by the character of the life I led at Eton. The vortex of thoughtless folly into which I there so immediately and so recklessly plunged, washed away all but the froth of my past hours, ingulfed{g} at once every solid or serious impression, and left to memory only the veriest levities of a former existence.

I do not wish, however, to trace the course of my miserable profligacy here — a profligacy which set at defiance the laws, while it eluded the vigilance of the institution. Three years of folly, passed without profit, had but given me rooted habits of vice, and added, in a somewhat unusual degree, to my bodily stature, when, after a week of soulless dissipation, I invited a small party of the most dissolute students to a secret carousal in my chambers.{h} We met at a late hour of the night; for our debaucheries were to be faithfully protracted until morning. The wine flowed freely, and there were not wanting other and{i} perhaps more dangerous seductions; so that the gray dawn had already faintly appeared in the east, while our delirious extravagance was at its height. Madly flushed with cards and intoxication, I was in the act of insisting upon a toast of more than wonted{j} profanity, when my attention was suddenly diverted by the violent, although partial unclosing of the door of the apartment, and by the eager voice {kk}of a servant from without.{kk} He said that some person, apparently in great haste, demanded to speak with me in the hall. [page 439:]

Wildly excited with wine,{l} the unexpected interruption rather delighted than surprised me. I staggered forward at once, and a few steps brought me to the vestibule of the building. In this low and small room there hung no lamp; and now no light at all was admitted, save that of the exceedingly feeble dawn which made its way through the{m} semi-circular window. As I put my foot over the threshold, I became aware of the figure of a youth about my own height, and{n} habited in a white kerseymere{o} morning frock,(11) cut in the novel fashion of the one I myself wore at the moment. This the faint light enabled me to perceive; but the features of his face I could not distinguish. Upon{p} my entering, he strode hurriedly up to me, and, seizing me by the arm with a gesture of petulant impatience, whispered the words “William Wilson!” in my ear.

I grew perfectly sober in an instant.

There was that in the manner of the stranger, and in the tremulous shake of his uplifted finger, as he held it between my eyes and the light, which filled me with unqualified amazement; but it was not this which had so violently moved me. It was the pregnancy of solemn admonition in the singular, low, hissing utterance; and, above all, it was the character, the tone, the key, of those few, simple, and familiar, yet whispered{q} syllables, which came with a thousand thronging memories of by-gone days, and struck upon my soul with the shock of a galvanic battery. Ere I could recover the use of my senses he was gone.

Although this event failed not of a vivid effect upon my disordered imagination, yet was it evanescent as vivid. For some weeks, indeed, I busied myself in earnest inquiry, or was wrapped in a cloud of morbid speculation. I did not pretend to disguise from my perception the identity of the singular individual who thus perseveringly interfered with my affairs, and harassed me with his insinuated counsel. But who and what was this Wilson? — and whence came he? — and what were his purposes? Upon neither of these points could I be satisfied — merely ascertaining, in regard to [page 440:] him, that a sudden accident in his family had caused his removal from Dr. Bransby’s academy on the afternoon of the day in which I myself had eloped. But in a brief period I ceased to think upon the subject, my attention being all absorbed in a contemplated departure for Oxford. Thither I soon went, the uncalculating vanity of my parents furnishing{r} me with an outfit and annual establishment, which would enable me to indulge at will in the luxury already so dear to my heart — to vie in profuseness of expenditure with the haughtiest heirs of the wealthiest earldoms in Great Britain.

Excited by such appliances to vice, my constitutional temperament broke forth with redoubled ardor, and I spurned even the common restraints of decency in the mad infatuation of my revels. But it were absurd to pause in the detail of my extravagance. Let it suffice, that among spendthrifts I out-Heroded{s} Herod,(12) and that, giving name to a multitude of novel follies, I added no brief appendix to the long catalogue of vices then usual in the most dissolute university of Europe.

It could hardly be credited, however, that I had, even here, so utterly fallen from the gentlemanly estate, as to seek acquaintance with the vilest arts of the gambler by profession, and, having become an adept in his despicable science, to practise it habitually as a means of increasing my already enormous income at the expense of the weak-minded among my fellow-collegians. Such, nevertheless, was the fact. And the very enormity of this offence against all manly and honorable sentiment proved, beyond doubt, the main if not the sole reason of the impunity with which it was committed. Who, indeed, among my most abandoned associates, would not rather have disputed the clearest evidence of his senses, than have suspected of such courses, the gay, the frank, the generous William Wilson — the noblest and most liberal commoner at Oxford — him whose follies (said his parasites) were but the follies of youth and unbridled fancy — whose errors but inimitable whim — whose darkest vice but a careless and dashing extravagance?

I had been now two years successfully busied in this way, when there came to the university a young parvenu nobleman, Glendinning(13) [page 441:] — rich, said report, as Herodes Atticus — his riches, too, as easily acquired.(14) I soon found him of weak intellect, and, of course, marked him as a fitting subject for my skill. I frequently engaged him in play, and contrived, with the{t} gambler’s usual art, to let him win considerable sums, the more effectually to entangle him in my snares. At length, my schemes being ripe, I met him (with the full intention that this meeting should be final and decisive) at the chambers of a fellow-commoner, (Mr. Preston,)(15) equally intimate with both, but who, to do him justice, entertained not even a remote suspicion of my design. To give to this a better coloring, I had contrived to have assembled a party of some eight or ten, and was solicitously careful that the introduction of cards should appear accidental, and originate in the proposal of my contemplated dupe himself. To be brief upon a vile topic, none of the low finesse was omitted, so customary upon similar occasions{t’} that it is a just matter for wonder how any are still found so besotted as to fall its victim.

We had protracted our sitting far into the night, and I had at length effected the manœuvre of getting Glendinning as my sole antagonist. The game, too, was my favorite écarté.{u} The rest of the company, interested in the extent of our play, had abandoned their own cards, and were standing around us as spectators. The parvenu, who had been induced by my artifices in the early part of the evening, to drink deeply, now shuffled, dealt, or played, with a wild nervousness of manner for which his intoxication, I thought, might partially, but could not altogether account. In a very short period he had become my debtor to a large amount,{v} when, having taken a long draught of port, he did precisely what I had been coolly anticipating — he{w} proposed to double our already extravagant stakes. With a well-feigned show of reluctance, and not until after my repeated refusal had seduced him into some angry words which gave a color of pique to my compliance, did I finally comply. The result, of course, did but prove how entirely [page 442:] the prey was in my toils: in less than an{x} hour he had quadrupled his debt. For some time his countenance had been losing the florid tinge lent it by the wine; but now, to my astonishment, I perceived that it had grown to a pallor{y} truly fearful. I say, to my astonishment. Glendinning had been represented to my eager inquiries as immeasurably wealthy; and the sums which he had as yet lost, although in themselves vast, could not, I supposed, very seriously annoy, much less so violently affect him. That he was overcome by the wine just swallowed, was the idea which most readily presented itself; and, rather with a view to the preservation of my own character in the eyes of my associates, than from any less interested motive, I was about to insist, peremptorily, upon a discontinuance of the play, when some expressions at my elbow from among the company, and an ejaculation evincing utter despair on the part of Glendinning, gave me to understand that I had effected his total ruin under circumstances which, rendering him an object for the pity of all, should have protected him from the ill offices even of a fiend.

What now might have been my conduct it is difficult to say. The pitiable condition of my dupe had thrown an air of embarrassed gloom over all; and, for some moments, a profound{z} silence was maintained, during which I could not help feeling my cheeks tingle with the many burning glances of scorn or reproach cast upon me by the less abandoned of the party. I will even own that an intolerable weight of anxiety was for a brief instant lifted from my bosom by the sudden and extraordinary interruption which ensued. The wide, heavy folding doors of the apartment were all at once thrown open, to their full extent, with a vigorous and rushing impetuosity that extinguished, as if by magic, every candle in the room. Their light, in dying, enabled us just to perceive that a stranger had entered, about{a} my own height, and closely muffled in a cloak. The darkness, however, was now total; and we could only feel{b} that he was standing in our midst. Before any one of us could recover from the extreme astonishment into [page 443:] which this rudeness had thrown all, we heard the voice of the intruder.

“Gentlemen,” he said, in a low, distinct, and never-to-be-forgotten whisper which thrilled to the very marrow of my bones, “Gentlemen, I make no apology for this behavior, because in thus behaving, I am but fulfilling a duty. You are, beyond doubt, uninformed of the true character of the person who has to-night won at écarté{c} a large sum of money from Lord Glendinning. I will therefore put you upon an expeditious and decisive plan of obtaining this very necessary information. Please to examine, at your leisure, the inner linings of the cuff of his left sleeve, and the several little packages which may be found in the somewhat capacious pockets of his embroidered morning wrapper.”(16)

While he spoke, so profound was the stillness that one might have heard a pin drop{d} upon the floor. In ceasing, he {ee}departed at once,{ee} and as abruptly as he had entered. Can I — shall I describe my sensations? Must{f} I say that I felt all the horrors of the damned? Most assuredly I had{g} little time{h} for reflection. Many hands roughly seized me upon the spot, and lights were immediately re-procured. A search ensued. In the lining of my sleeve were found all{i} the court cards essential in écarté,{j} and, in the pockets of my wrapper, a number of packs, fac-similes of those used at our sittings, with the single exception that mine were of the species called, technically, arrondées;{k} the honors being slightly convex at the ends, the lower cards slightly convex at the sides. In this disposition, the dupe who cuts, as customary, at the length{l} of the pack, will invariably find that he cuts his antagonist an honor; while the gambler, cutting at the breadth,{m} will, as certainly, cut nothing for his victim which may count in the records of the game.(17)

Any{n} burst of indignation upon this{o} discovery would have [page 444:] affected me less than the silent contempt, or the sarcastic composure, with which it was received.

“Mr. Wilson,” said our host, stooping to remove from beneath his feet an exceedingly luxurious cloak of rare furs, “Mr. Wilson, this is your property.” (The weather was cold; and, upon quitting my own room, I had thrown a cloak over my dressing wrapper, putting it off upon reaching the scene of play.) “I presume it is supererogatory to seek here (eyeing the folds of the garment with a bitter smile) for any farther evidence of your skill. Indeed, we have had enough. You will see the necessity, I hope, of quitting Oxford — at all events, of quitting instantly my chambers.”

Abased, humbled to the dust as I then was, it is probable that I should have resented this galling language by immediate personal violence, had not my whole attention been {pp}at the moment{pp} arrested by a fact of the most startling character. The cloak which I had worn was of a rare description of fur; how rare, how extravagantly costly, I shall not venture to say. Its fashion, too, was of my own fantastic invention; for I was fastidious to {qq}an absurd degree of{qq} coxcombry, in matters of this frivolous nature. When, therefore, Mr. Preston reached me that which he had picked up upon the floor, and near the folding-doors of the apartment, it was with an astonishment nearly bordering upon terror, that I perceived my own already hanging on my arm, (where I had no doubt unwittingly placed it,) and that the one presented me was but its exact counterpart in every, {rr}in even the minutest possible{rr} particular. The singular being who had so disastrously exposed me, had been muffled, I remember, in a cloak; and none had been worn at all by any of the members of our party, with the exception of myself. Retaining some presence of mind, I took the one offered me by Preston; placed it, unnoticed, over my own; left the apartment with a resolute scowl of defiance; and, next morning ere dawn of day, commenced a hurried journey from Oxford to the continent, in a perfect agony of horror and of shame.

I fled in vain. My evil destiny pursued me as if in exultation, and proved, indeed, that the exercise of its mysterious dominion [page 445:] had as yet only begun. Scarcely had I set foot in Paris, ere I had fresh evidence of the detestable interest taken by this Wilson in my concerns. Years flew, while I experienced no relief. Villain! — at Rome, with how untimely, yet with how spectral an officiousness, stepped he in between me and my ambition! At Vienna, too — at Berlin — and at Moscow! Where, in truth, had I not bitter cause to curse him within my heart? From his inscrutable tyranny did I at length flee, panic-stricken, as from a pestilence; and to the very ends of the earth I fled in vain.

And again, and again, in secret communion with my own spirit, would I demand the questions “Who is he? — whence came he? — and what are his objects?” But no answer was there found. And now I scrutinized, with a minute scrutiny, the forms, and the methods, and the leading traits of his impertinent supervision. But even here there was very little upon which to base a conjecture. It was noticeable, indeed, that, in no one of the multiplied instances in which he had of late crossed my path, had he so crossed it except to frustrate those schemes, or to disturb those actions, which, if{s} fully carried out, might have resulted in bitter mischief. Poor justification this, in truth, for an authority so imperiously assumed! Poor indemnity for natural rights of self-agency so pertinaciously, so insultingly denied!

I had also been forced to notice that my tormentor, for a very long period of time, (while scrupulously and with miraculous dexterity maintaining his whim of an identity of apparel with myself,) had so contrived it, in the execution of his varied interference with my will, that I saw not, at any moment, the features of his face. Be Wilson what he might, this, at least, was but the veriest of affectation, or of folly. Could he, for an instant, have supposed that, in my admonisher at Eton — in the destroyer of my honor at Oxford, — in him who thwarted my ambition at Rome, my revenge at{t} Paris, my passionate love at Naples, or what he falsely termed my avarice in Egypt, — that in this, my arch-enemy and evil genius, I could fail to recognise the William Wilson of my school-boy{u} days, — the namesake, the companion, the rival, — the hated{v} and [page 446:] dreaded rival at Dr. Bransby’s? Impossible! — But let me hasten to the last eventful scene of the drama.

Thus far I had succumbed supinely{w} to this imperious domination. The sentiment{x} of deep awe with which I habitually regarded the elevated character, the majestic wisdom, the apparent omnipresence and omnipotence of Wilson, added to a feeling of even terror, with which certain other traits in his nature and assumptions inspired me, had operated, hitherto, to impress me with an idea of my own utter {yy}weakness and{yy} helplessness, and to suggest an implicit, although bitterly reluctant submission to his arbitrary{z} will. But, of late days, I had given myself up entirely to wine; and its maddening influence upon my hereditary temper rendered me more and more impatient of control. I began to murmur, — to hesitate, — to resist. And was it only fancy which induced me to believe that, with the increase of my own firmness, that of my tormentor underwent a proportional diminution? Be this as it may, I now began to feel the inspiration{a} of a burning hope, and at length nurtured in my secret thoughts a stern and desperate resolution that I would submit no longer to be enslaved.

It was at Rome, during the Carnival of 18—, that I attended a masquerade in the palazzo of the Neapolitan Duke Di Brogljo.(18) I had indulged more freely than usual in the excesses of the winetable; and now the suffocating atmosphere of the crowded rooms irritated me beyond endurance. The difficulty, too, of forcing my way through the mazes of the company contributed not a little to the ruffling of my temper; for I was anxiously seeking (let me not say with what unworthy motive) the young, the gay, the beautiful wife of the aged and doting Di Broglio. With a too unscrupulous confidence she had previously communicated to me the secret of the costume in which she would be habited, and now, having caught a glimpse of her person, I was hurrying to make my way into her presence. At this moment I felt a light hand placed{b} upon my shoulder, and that ever-remembered, low, damnable whisper{c} within my ear. [page 447:]

In {dd}an absolute frenzy{dd} of wrath, I turned at once upon him who had thus interrupted me, and seized him violently by the collar. He was attired, as I had{e} expected, {ff}in a costume altogether similar to my own;{ff} wearing a {gg}Spanish cloak of blue velvet, begirt about the waist with a crimson belt sustaining a rapier. A mask of black silk entirely covered his face.{gg}

“Scoundrel!” I said, in a voice husky with rage, while every syllable I uttered seemed as new fuel to my fury; “scoundrel! impostor! accursed villain! you shall not — you shall{h} not dog me unto death! Follow me, or I stab you where you{i} stand!” — and I broke my way from the ball-room{j} into a small ante-chamber adjoining, dragging him unresistingly with me as I went.

Upon entering, I thrust him furiously from me. He staggered against the wall, while I closed the door with an oath, and commanded him to draw. He hesitated but for an instant; then, with a slight sigh, drew in silence, and put himself upon his defence.

The contest was brief indeed. I was frantic with every species of wild excitement, and felt within my single arm the energy and{k} power of a multitude. In a few seconds I forced him by sheer strength against the wainscoting, and thus, getting him at mercy, plunged my sword, with brute ferocity, repeatedly through and through his bosom.

At that{l} instant some person tried the latch of the door. I hastened to prevent an intrusion, and then immediately returned to my dying antagonist. But what human language can adequately portray that astonishment, that horror which possessed me at the spectacle then presented to view?{m} {nn}The brief{nn} moment in which I averted my eyes had been sufficient to produce, apparently, a material change in the arrangements{o} at the upper or farther end of the room. A large {pp}mirror, — so at first it seemed to me in my confusion [page 448:] — now{pp} stood where none had been perceptible before; and, as I stepped up to it in extremity of terror, mine own image, but with features all pale and dabbled in blood, {qq}advanced{r} to meet me with a feeble and tottering gait.{qq}

Thus it appeared, I say, but was not. {ss}It was my antagonist — it{ss} was Wilson, who then stood before me in the agonies of his{t} dissolution. {uu}His mask and cloak lay, where he had thrown them, upon the floor. Not a thread in all his raiment — not a line in all the marked and singular lineaments of his face which was not, even in the most absolute identity, mine own!{uu} (19)

It was Wilson; but he spoke no longer in a whisper, and I could have fancied that I myself was speaking while he said:

You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, henceforward art thou also dead — dead to the {vv}World, to Heaven and to Hope!{vv} In me didst thou exist — and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own,{w} how utterly thou hast murdered thyself.(20)

 


VARIANTS

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 426:]

Title:  William Wilson. A Tale. (A); William Wilson A Tale. (From the Gift for 1840) (B)

Motto:  Second of omitted (E, F), restored from A, B, C, D; conscience (A); Conscience (B); CHAMBERLAINE’S PHARRONIDA (A); Chamberlaine’s Pharronida (B, C, D); Chamberlain’s Pharronida (E, F) spelling corrected editorially

a  for ever (A, B, F) changed to follow C, D, E

b  After this: I shrouded my nakedness in triple guilt. (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 427:]

cc . . . cc  And therefore has he never thus suffered. (A, B, C) changed in D

dd . . . dd  come (A, B, C) changed in D

e  school-life / school-life, (E, F) comma deleted to follow, A, B, C, D

ff . . . ff  cottage-built, and somewhat decayed building (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 428:]

g  ancient and inordinately tall. (A, B, C) changed in D

h  the old, (A, B, C, D)

ii . . . ii  old, irregular, and cottage-built. (A, B, C, D)

j  an enormously (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 429:]

kk . . . kk  it inspired! (A, B, C) changed in D

l  for far (A, B)

mm . . . mm  or final departure from school, (A)

n  impossible, (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 430:]

o  sanctum, (A, B, C, D)

p  length, meaningless gashes, (A, B, C, D)

q  utterly (A)

r  outre. (F)

s  exergues (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 431:]

t  ardency, (A, B, C, D)

u  one (A, B, C, D)

v  christian (F) capitalized to follow A, B, C,D, E

w  truth, (A)

x  school phraseology (A, B, C, D, E)

y  be (A, B, C) changed in D

z  mastermind (A, B, C, D, E)

a  his (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 432:]

b  companions, (A)

c  be utterly (A, B, C) changed in D

d  since (A)

e  namesake — a somewhat remarkable coincidence — (A, B, C); all after namesake deleted in D

f  1811 (A, B); 1809 (C) changed back to 1811 in D

gg . . . gg  and this is precisely the day (A, B, C); a somewhat remarkable cöincidence; for the day is precisely that (D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 433:]

h  upon (A, B, C, D)

i  upon (A, B, C, D)

jj . . . jj  were formed of a (A, B, C); formed a (D)

kk . . . kk  mixture — some (A, B, C, D)

ll . . . ll  To the moralist fully acquainted with the minute springs of human action, it will be unnecessary (A, B, C); It will scarcely be necessary (D)

m  into that of (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 434:]

n  but (F) comma added from A, B, C, D, E

o  praenomen. (A, B, C) changed in D

pp . . . pp  not altogether unlike (A, B, C, D)

q  annoyance for myself (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 435:]

r  Canceled (D)

s  towards (A, B, C, D)

tt . . . tt  more seldom (A, B, C) changed in D

u  derided. (A, B, C) changed in D

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 436:]

v  Canceled (D)

w  Canceled (D)

xx . . . xx  that myself and the being who stood before me had been acquainted (A, B, C, D)

y  several enormously (A, B, C, D)

z  only (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 437:]

aa . . . aa  It was upon a gloomy and tempestuous night of an early autumn, (A, B, C, D)

b  mentioned, that, (A, B, C, D)

c  long been / been long (A, B, C, D)

d  Omitted (A, B, C, D)

e  witnessed (A, B, C) changed in D

f  result, merely, / result (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 438:]

g  engulfed (A, B, C, D, E)

h  chamber. (A, B, C) changed in D

i  other and / other, (A, B, C) changed in D

j  intolerable (A, B, C) changed in D

kk . . . kk  from without of a servant. (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 439:]

l  the potent Vin de Barac, (A, B, C, D)

m  a (A, B, C, D)

n  and (what then peculiarly struck my mad fancy) (A, B, C, D)

o  cassimere (A, B, C, D)

p  Immediately upon (A, B, C, D)

q  whispered (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 440:]

r  furnished (A)

s  out-heroded (A, B, C) capitalized in D

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 441:]

t  a (A, B, C, D)

t’  occasions, (F) comma deleted to follow A, B, C, D, E

u  ecarte. (F)

v  amount of money, (A, B, C) changed in D

w  Omitted (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 442:]

x  a single (A, B, C, D)

y  palor (C) corrected in D

z  profound and unbroken (A, B, C, D)

a  of about (A, B, C, D)

b  feel (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 443:]

c  ecarte (F)

d  dropping (A, B, C) changed in D

ee . . . ee  at once departed (A, B, C, D)

f  Must / — must (A, B, C, E) changed in D

g  had but (A, B)

h  time given (A, B, C, D, E)

i  all of (A, B, C, D)

j  ecarte (F)

k  arrondé; (A); arrondees; (F)

l  breadth (A, B, C, D)

m  length, (A, B, C, D)

n  Any outrageous (A, B, C, D)

o  this shameful (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 444:]

pp . . . pp  immediately (A)

qq . . . qq  a degree of absurd (A, B, C, D)

rr . . . rr  Canceled (D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 445:]

s  Omitted (A, B, C, D)

t  in (A, B, C, D)

u  schoolboy (A, B, C, D, E)

v  hatred (C, D) misprint

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 446:]

w  Canceled (D)

x  sentiments (A, B, C, D)

yy . . . yy  Canceled (D)

z  Canceled (D)

a  inspirations (A)

b  laid (A)

c  whisper (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 447:]

dd . . . dd  a perfect whirlwind (A, B, C, D)

e  Omitted (A)

ff . . . ff  like myself; (A, B, C, D)

gg . . . gg  large Spanish cloak, and a mask of black silk which entirely covered his features. (A, B, C, D)

h  shall (C, D)

i  I (A)

j  room (A, B, C, D)

k  and the (A, B, C, D)

l  this (A, B, C, D)

m  view? / view. (A, B, C) changed in D

n  The brief / [Here begin G and H]

o  arrangement (G, H)

pp . . . pp  mirror, it appeared to me, now (A, B, C, G, H); mirror (so at first it appeared to me in my confusion) now (D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 448:]

qq . . . qq  advanced, with a feeble and tottering gait, to meet me. (A, B, C, D, G, H)

r  advanced, (G, H)

ss . . . ss  It (G, H)

t  Omitted (G, H)

uu . . . uu  Not a line in all the marked and singular lineaments of that face which was not, even identically, mine own! His mask and cloak lay, where he had thrown them, upon the floor. (A, B, C, D, G, H); after Not is added a thread in all the raiment — not; and mine own! is italicized (D); the last sentence is italicized (G, H) [This is the end of the passage in the review.]

vv . . . vv  world and its hopes. (A, B, C, D)

w  thine own, / thine, (A)

 


[page 448, continued:]

NOTES

Title:  Poe actually knew of two men named William Wilson with whom John Allan did business; one was a Quaker living at Kendal, the other an agent for Washington College (now Washington and Lee) at Lexington, Virginia. See Killis Campbell’s Mind of Poe, p. 146.

Motto:  Compare the quotation from Poe’s Politian in note 3, below. The two lines of the motto here are not from William Chamberlayne’s Pharonnida (1659) — all Poe’s texts, as well as Harrison, and Mabbott, I, 319-320, misspell the title of the poem — but are perhaps a confused echo of a passage from a play by the same author, Love’s Victory (1658), V, 2746f.: “Conscience waits on me like the frighting shades / Of ghosts when gastly [sic] messengers of death,” etc. S. W. Singer had brought out an edition of Chamberlayne’s two works in three volumes in 1820. See Kenneth S. Rothwell in Modern Language Notes, April 1959. [page 449:]

1.  Elah-Gabalus, more properly Elagabalus, was the sobriquet of a Roman Emperor (218-222), described by Lemprière (see under “Heliogabalus”) as a monster of cruelty and depravity! Poe alludes to him also in “Epimanes” and in “Mellonta Tanta.”

2.  In his sketch of Poe in the Saturday Museum of March 4, 1843, Henry B. Hirst, almost certainly with Poe’s approval, pointed out that Poe really attended the Manor House School of the Reverend John Bransby at Stoke Newington and that these passages are based on the author’s experience there, and Griswold in his “Memoir,” p. xxiv, picked this up. But Poe romanticized it all (especially in revisions) and confused the actual building with neighboring Fleetwood House, a large mansion. Poe also gave St. Mary’s Church a steeple instead of a cupola. And the schoolmaster is a composite of Bransby and the Reverend George Gaskin, rector of the church, a secretary of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. (See Phillips, Poe the Man, I, 150-160, for illustrations and discussion.) The British author, Edward Shanks, Edgar Allan Poe (1937), p. 27, remarks on the cupola.

3.  With the description of the minister entering the pulpit compare Politian, VII, 55-56, “A spectral figure, solemn, and slow, and noiseless — / Like the grim shadow Conscience.”

4.  Draconian laws, propounded by the Athenian Draco about 624 B. C., were notoriously severe, punishing a great many offenses by death. The word here probably means unvarying, since English schoolboys were chastised bareskin with a rod for every kind of misbehavior.

5.  The peine forte et dure was pressing to death, the penalty for refusing to plead guilty or not guilty to a capital charge, something endured by courageous persons to save their estates from confiscation. Poe’s friend Henry B. Hirst later wrote a poem called The Penance of Roland (1849) on this grim subject.

6.  In referring to “the exergues of the Carthaginian medals” Poe had in mind two statements made in Baron Bielfeld’s chapter “Les Médailles et Monnoies,” in L’Erudition Universelle, Book III, Chapter XI, sections 11 and 12. He defines the exergue as the portion of the design found beneath the ground on which are placed the figures portrayed. Bielfeld describes “Les Puniques ou Carthaginoises” as including coins having on one side a standing spearman and the inscription Kart-hago, and on the other a horse’s head in profile and in exergue “XLII.” Médaille (like medal) formerly meant an old coin not current. Poe apparently supposed the exergue less liable to be worn by circulation than the rest of the coin, for in a review of Henry Lord Brougham’s Critical and Miscellaneous Writings in Graham’s Magazine for March 1842, he says, “Fifty years hence it will be difficult . . . to make out the deepest indentations of the exergue.” The coin described is now assigned to the Vandal King of Carthage, Gelimir (A.D. 530-534); XLII is the denomination. The exergue is very large, filling almost half of the design.

7.  The quotation is from Voltaire’s satires, “Le Mondain,” line 21, and means, “Oh, what a good time it was, that age of iron.” Poe probably saw it in Bielfeld, Book III, Chapter v, section 14. [page 450:]

8.  There is some evidence that Poe’s own name annoyed him; some Southerners so pronounce “poor.” “Poh!” is in expression of disgust, and there is an inelegant pun on French and Scottish pot. See Phillips, I, 137, 820; Quinn, Poe, p. 38; and Sidney P. Moss, Poe’s Literary Battles, p. 195.

9.  Poe was really born January 19, 1809, but gave the years 1811 and 1813 on occasion. Notice that the variants at this place show all three dates for the characters named “William Wilson.”

10.  Thetis dipped her son Achilles in the Styx to make him invulnerable, holding him by one ankle — that spot was not protected. Paris killed him by shooting him with an arrow in “the tendon of Achilles.”

11.  Kerseymere (cassimere) is a kind of woolen cloth. The word is derived from Kashmir.

12.  The quotation about Herod, from Hamlet, III, ii, 16, is a great favorite with Poe. See “Metzengerstein.”

13.  Colonel Melvin Helfers told me that Glendinning was the name of Poe’s successor as Sergeant Major in the First Artillery.

14.  Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes was the greatest rhetorician of the second century of our era. His wealth was easily acquired, for his father discovered a vast treasure, which the Emperor Trajan advised him “to use.” The rhetorician became a friend of the Emperor Hadrian, and built public works in Greek cities, especially in his native Athens, where the Odeon, or Music Hall, still stands.

15.  One of Poe’s Richmond schoolmates, and his lifelong friend, was John T. L. Preston.

16.  Poe here used an incident from “The Gamesters,” a chapter contributed anonymously by David Watson to William Wirt’s “Old Bachelor” series of 1810-1813, published in book form in 1814. Watson’s paper tells the troubles of a gentleman whose identical twin is a scoundrel. Coming to a group of old friends, the good brother is indignantly driven away because they suppose him to be his twin whom they have caught cheating at cards. See Richard Beale Davis in American Literature, November 1944.

17.  In early versions of his tale, Poe misdescribed the marked cards. His source of information has not been discovered.

18.  In “The Mysterious Stranger,” one of Irving’s Tales of a Traveller (1824), mention is made of the Broglio, the piazzetta in front of the Doge’s Palace in Venice; the unnamed hero of that story is a young nobleman from Naples. Poe has a character named the Duke di Broglio in his play, Politian. The Ducs de Broglio, long settled in France, descended from an Italian family originally named Broglio. In the preface to his translation of Poe’s play, Politian (Paris, 1924), p. 13, H. R. Woestyn notices an analogue of “William Wilson” to La Nuit de Décembre (1835) by Louis-Charles-Alfred de Musset, where the [page 451:] climax is at the end of “un bal masqué. . . dans le palais di Broglio.” This may well be fortuitous, since Poe is not known to have mentioned Alfred de Musset.

19.  This and the preceding paragraph Poe quotes as “parallel passages” in a review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales (Graham’s, May 1842), intimating that they were plagiarized in “Howe’s Masquerade.” Since that story was printed in the Democratic Review for May 1838, the charge is manifestly absurd. See Horace E. Thorner, “Hawthorne, Poe, and a Literary Ghost,” New England Quarterly, March 1934, for an entertaining demonstration that the similar episodes may have, ultimately, a common source far back of Calderon. [See also Robert Regan’s persuasive essay, “Hawthorne’s ‘Plagiary’; Poe’s Duplicity,” Nineteenth Century Fiction, December 1970.]

20.  Woodberry, in the Stedman and Woodberry edition of Poe’s Works, IV, 358, 359, points out as a possible inspiration of Poe the last paragraph of The Man of Two Lives by “Edward Sydenham,” a pen name of James Boaden (1762-1839), whose book first appeared in London in 1828 and was reprinted in Boston the next year. The paragraph reads:

“Here I shall close this narrative. I have reached that point of my existence when the connection of the two lives was dropt entirely. I describe the scenes only in which it influenced my present being. The world at large will not perhaps regret that this amazing privilege has been peculiar to myself. I do not think that they ought. Yet in fact most men are permitted two lives even here; one of action with its usual attendant error, — the other of Reflection and, as it ought to prove, of Atonement. To carry on the parallel, neither are they without a mysterious friend and guide, to whom the Magnetic Mesmer was but a shade, who comes upon them unannounced and knows them through all disguises. He is plain too and generally alarming in his addresses and urges them to take the only course that conducts to their real interest, their peace, their honor and their final happiness. The reader feels that I can only here mean the power of Conscience.”

Woodberry says nothing else in Boaden’s book is like Poe’s, and it is not sure that Poe was acquainted with it.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 423:]

*  Professor Ostrom gave a text of this letter in American Literature, November 1952. The “former letter” has not been found.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 424:]

  Irving’s article describes the plan of a drama projected by Byron, based on an idea supplied to him by Percy Bysshe Shelley from an old Spanish play. Byron did not carry out his plan, but talked about it with Captain Thomas Medwin, friend of both Byron and Shelley, who wrote down notes on it which he gave to Irving in 1825. In March of that year, Irving enthusiastically outlined the plot in a letter to his brother Peter. Neither Medwin nor Irving knew the right name of the play; Medwin thought it might have been by Pedro Calderon de la Barca and entitled El Capotado or El Embozado, but Irving was unable to find it under any such title and was still looking for it in 1850, when he asked George Ticknor if he could identify it (see P. M. Irving, Life and Letters of Washington Irving, 1826ff., II, 232 and IV, 71-72). Irving never collected his article, which was first printed in the Knickerbocker for August 1835 with an acknowledgment to Carey and Hart, who were soon to publish it in The Gift for 1836.

Meanwhile Medwin in his Memoir of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1833), pp. 84-86, in recounting an anecdote said to have come from Byron, added, “Shelley had been reading a strange drama which was supposed to have been written by Calderon, entitled El Embozado o el encapatado. It is so scarce that Washington Irving told me he had sought for it without success in several of the public libraries of Spain.” Medwin also gave a brief account of the plot. In his Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley (2 vols., 1847), II, 300, he repeated the anecdote in expanded form, including the reference to Irving and a summary of the plot, but this time he gave the supposed title of the play as “the El Encapotado.”

Resemblances between Poe’s tale and the Spanish play as described were noted in 1880, both by R. H. Stoddard (citing P. M. Irving) and by J. H. Ingram (citing Medwin’s Life of Shelley) in their respective biographies of Poe, but Stoddard dismissed the resemblance as “probably one of those curious coincidences with which all literature abounds,” while Ingram said, “Poe’s own tale is most closely paralleled in plot by a rare drama attributed to Calderon, called ‘El Encaporado’ which Washington Irving had called attention to.”

Woodberry (Poe, 1885, p. 123n., and Life, 1909, I 232n.), mentioning both Stoddard and Ingram as speaking of parallels between “William Wilson” and the Calderon play, identified the play as El Purgatorio de San Patricio, in which an important character is “Un Hombre Embozado” — a play that Shelley cites as his source for one passage in The Cenci. (In the Life, Woodberry also mentions Palmer Cobb’s attempt to connect Poe’s tale with E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “Elixiere des Teufels,” of which there is an account in Blackwood’s, July 1824. This last may be dismissed as peripheral.)

Woodberry like, apparently, most other Poe scholars, was still unaware of Irving’s article. Because it had appeared in the same issue of The Gift as Poe’s “MS. Found in a Bottle,” I assumed that it was Poe’s immediate source for his plot, and published it in the Americana Collector for November 1925, and thence as a separate volume (An Unwritten Drama of Lord Byron by Washington Irving) late in that year in an edition of 51 copies. I was not aware that my discovery had been anticipated in The Curio, January-February 1888, by John Preston Beecher.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 425:]

  “Bi-part soul” is mentioned in “Lionizing” and in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and the same notion is used in “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Persons who look alike appear in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and in “Morella.”

§  It was found in the 1950’s by W. T. Bandy; see, inter alia, Bandy’s “Baudelaire et Edgar Poe: Vue rétrospective,” Revue de Littérature comparée (Paris), avriljuin 1967, p. 184.

*  For an illuminating discussion of Poe’s use of narrators in his tales, see James W. Gargano, “The Question of Poe’s Narrators,” College English, December 1963, reprinted in Carlson’s Recognition of Edgar Allan Poe.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - TOM2T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (William Wilson)