Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. III: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 1228-1244 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 1228:]

THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR

This repulsive masterpiece develops further one of the themes — mesmerism of the dying — previously used in “Mesmeric Revelation.” It is not surprising to learn that at least one editor rejected it,* but it is surprising that many early readers believed the story, which Poe had never expected.

The setting of Poe’s story comes from a factual letter from Dr. A. Sidney Doane of 32 Warren Street, New York, printed in the Broadway Journal of February 1, 1845, of which the more pertinent portions may be quoted:

On the 16th of January I was requested by my friend Dr. S. Vital Bodinier, recently from Paris, to witness the extirpation of a tumor from the neck of a female, which he said would be performed without her consciousness, and without suffering, “while she was in a magnetic sleep,” he having operated twice under similar circumstances in Paris, and with success.

. . . I went to No. — Chambers street, previous to the hour appointed for the operation (which was halt-past one), in order to witness the process of putting the female to sleep. After being in the house about five minutes, the patient came into the basement room and seated herself in an easy chair. She seemed extremely bright and nowise sleepy, with a rosy cheek, black eyes, and dark hair. After an inquiry or two as to her health, and feeling her pulse, which was natural, Dr. B. proceeded to make what are termed “magnetic passes,” and so successfully, that in five minutes the eyelids drooped, and in ten minutes — say at twenty minutes of twelve — she was sound asleep. I learned from Dr. B. that she had been placed in this state some ten or twelve times previously, with a view to secure her entire insensibility . . . I left the patient at twelve o’clock, still sleeping soundly.

I returned to the house at quarter past one, in company with Prof. J. W. Francis and Mr. J. S. Redfield, the publisher. A few moments after, we were joined by Drs. Mott, Delafield, J. Kearney Rodgers, Taylor, Nelson, Dr. Alfaro, a highly distinguished physician from Madrid, Mr. Parmly the dentist, and one or two others. Descending to the basement, we found the patient still asleep . . . [The tumor] was the size of a pullet’s egg, and the operation occupied two and a half minutes only . . . [The patient] continued to sleep on quietly and calmly through the whole of it. Dr. Bodinier seemed to be operating rather upon a cadaver than on a living being . . . I . . . went again to the house at ten minutes past four. She was still sleeping, but at quarter past four, the time indicated, she was demagnetized by Dr. B., Drs. Taylor, Parmly, and others being present. I immediately [page 1229:] inquired, “How she felt?” She answered, “rather tired.” “Had she suffered during her sleep?” She said, “No.” “Had she been cut?” She replied “No, the operation was to be performed the next day,” as Dr. B. had previously stated to her would be the case. She was now shown the tumor, at which she seemed much surprised and gratified. Since that time the patient has recovered rapidly, and to-day, Thursday, one week since the operation, the wound is entirely healed, and she has resumed her duties in the family.

Another probable source is a statement in the fourth edition (London, 1844) of Chauncey Hare Townshend’s Facts in Mesmerism — a work for which Poe had high regard. In his “Notice” to that edition (p. xvi) Townshend said:

I have watched the effects of mesmeric treatment upon a suffering friend, who was dying of that most fearful disorder — Lumbar Abscess. Unfortunately, through various hindrances, Mesmerism was not resorted to till late in the progress of the disease, so that, of course, that it should effect a cure was out of the question . . . I have no hesitation in saying, that, under God, the life of my friend, R. T. was prolonged, at least, two months by the action of Mesmerism.

A third source, pointed out as long ago as 1855, is the conclusion (p. 119) of The Seeress of Prevorst (1845), translated by Catherine Crowe from the German of Justinus Andreas Kerner — poet, spiritualist, and chief physician of Weinsberg. He described the death of the Seeress:

She often called loudly for me, though I was absent at the time; and once, when she appeared dead, someone having uttered my name, she started into life again, and seemed unable to die, — the magnetic relation between us being not yet broken. She was, indeed, susceptible to magnetic influences, to the last; for, when she was already cold and her jaws stiff, her mother having made three passes over her face, she lifted her eyelids and moved her lips. At ten o’clock, her sister saw a tall bright form enter the chamber, and, at the same instant, the dying woman uttered a loud cry of joy; her spirit then seemed to be set free. After a short interval, her soul also departed; leaving behind it a totally irrecognizable husk — not a single trace of her former features remaining.

An American edition of The Seeress of Prevorst in paper covers, published by Harper & Brothers, was advertised in the Broadway Journal of August 2, 1845, for twenty-five cents.

The climate of belief in the wonderful accomplishments of Dr. Mesmer has been mentioned in my introduction to “Mesmeric [page 1230:] Revelation.” The far wilder tale of the imaginary Valdemar found credence too. A writer in the New-York Daily Tribune of December 10, 1845, observed that the story was “of course a romance” but that “several good matter-of-fact citizens” had been sorely puzzled by it. He concluded, “It is a pretty good specimen of Poe’s style of giving an air of reality to fictions . . . but whoever thought it a veracious recital must have the bump of Faith large, very large indeed.”

Poe reprinted the paragraph from the Tribune in the Broadway Journal of December 13, 1845, with an ironical rejoinder:

For our parts we find it difficult to understand how any dispassionate transcendentalist can doubt the facts as we state them; they are by no means so incredible as the marvels which are hourly narrated, and believed, on the topic of Mesmerism. Why cannot a man’s death be postponed indefinitely by Mesmerism? Why cannot a man talk after he is dead? Why?Why? — that is the question; and as soon as the Tribune has answered it to our satisfaction we will talk to it farther.

The author followed this up by reprinting his story in the Broadway Journal of December 20, 1845, with a quizzical introduction:

The Facts in the case of M. Valdemar.

An article of ours, thus entitled, was published in the last number of Mr. Colton’s “American Review,” and has given rise to some discussion — especially in regard to the truth or falsity of the statements made. It does not become us, of course, to offer one word on the point at issue. We have been requested to reprint the article, and do so with pleasure. We leave it to speak for itself. We may observe, however, that there are a certain class of people who pride themselves upon Doubt, as a profession. — Ed. B. J.

Meanwhile, on December 16, 1845, Robert Collyer, the eminent Mesmerist, wrote Poe from Boston: “Your account of M. Valdemar’s case has been universally copied in this city, and has created a very great sensation.” He requested a reply “for publication, in order to put at rest the growing impression that your account is merely a splendid creation of your own brain, not having any truth in fact.” Collyer added that he had sent an account to London for a spiritualist periodical called the Zoist, which apparently disregarded it. Poe printed Collyer’s letter in the Broadway Journal of December 27, 1845, with an amusing reply: [page 1231:]

We have not doubt that Mr. Collyer is perfectly correct in all that he says — and all that he desires us to say — but the truth is, there was a very small modicum of truth in the case of M. Valdemar — which, in consequence, may be called a hard case — very hard for M. Valdemar, for Mr. Collyer, and ourselves. If the story was not true, however, it should have been — and perhaps “The Zoist” may discover that it is true after all.

The British press, whether alerted by Collyer or someone else, was soon busy. The London Morning Post on January 5, 1846 printed the story from the American Review, with a heading “Mesmerism in America,” including a suggestion that it was fiction.§ But the weekly Popular Record of Modern Science (which had previously reprinted “Mesmeric Revelation”), in the issue of January tenth reprinted and gave some credence to the story of Valdemar.

It was then published as a pamphlet, Mesmerismin articulo mortis,”* with a prefatory note worth quoting:

Advertisement.

The following astonishing narrative first appeared in the American Magazine, a work of some standing in the United States, where the case has excited the most intense interest.

The effects of mesmeric influence, in this case, were so astounding, so contrary to all past experience, that no one could have possibly anticipated the final result. The narrative, though only a plain recital of facts, is of so extraordinary a nature as almost to surpass belief. It is only necessary to add, that credence is given to it in America, where the occurrence took place.

Nor was this all. On November 30, 1846, Arch Ramsay, “druggist, of Stonehaven,” Scotland, wrote Poe, asking if the pamphlet was a hoax. In reply, the author wrote on December 30, 1846, “ ‘Hoax’ is precisely the word suited to M. Valdemar’s case . . . The article . . . is now circulating in France. Some few persons believe it — but I do not — and don’t you.” On April 14, 1847, the obtuse Ramsay wrote, “I thought you could at once affirm or deny it . . . this appears not to be the case.” [page 1232:]

The comment of Poe’s friend Philip Pendleton Cooke was of another nature. He wrote on August 4, 1846:

The “Valdemar Case” I read in a number of your Broadway Journal last winter — as I lay in a Turkey blind, muffled to the eyes in overcoats, &c., and pronounce it without hesitation the most damnable, vraisemblable, horrible, hairlifting, shocking, ingenious chapter of fiction that any brain ever conceived, or hands traced. That gelatinous, viscous sound of man’s voice! there never was such an idea before. The story scared me in broad day, armed with a double-barrel Tryon Turkey gun. What would it have done at midnight in some old ghostly country-house?§

On March 11, 1847, Poe wrote George W. Eveleth, “ ‘The Valdemar Case’ was a hoax, of course.”

In Graham’s Magazine for March 1848 (pp. 178-179), Poe devoted an installment of his “Marginalia” to the reception abroad of the two stories of mesmerism of the dying.* He ridiculed both the London Morning Post and the Popular Record for discussions written confidently without any investigation in New York.

TEXTS

(A) American Review: A Whig Journal, December 1845 (2:561-565); (B) Broadway Journal, December 20, 1845 (2:365-368); (C) Mrs. Whitman’s copy of the last with a manuscript revision, 1848; (D) Works (1850), I, 121-130.

Our text follows C, which was not available to Griswold; in it Poe corrected four of the twelve misprints, and in the last sentence changed putrescence to putridity.

Reprints

Spirit of the Times (Philadelphia), December 23, 24, 1845, from the Broadway Journal; and the following from the American Review (the first text): Sunday Times (London), January 4, 1846, as “Mesmerism in America: Astounding and Horrifying Narrative“; the Morning Post (London), January 5, 1846, as “Mesmerism in America“; the Popular Record of Modern Science (London), January 10, 1846, as “Mesmerism in America. Death of M. Valdemar of New York” (copied from the Morning Post); Boston Museum, August 18, 1849.

Separate Printing

MESMERISM / “in articulo mortis.” / Astounding & Horrifying Narrative, / shewing the extraordinary power of mesmerism / in arresting the / Progress of [page 1233:] Death. / By Edgar A. Poe, Esq. / of New York. London: Short & Co., 8, King Street, Bloomsbury, 1846. 16 pp.

Reprints Not Located

The copies referred to by Collyer in his letter quoted in the introduction have not yet been found.

Philip Pendleton Cooke, in an article on Poe in SLM, January 1848, says, “The editor of the Baltimore Visiter republished it as a statement of facts, and was at pains to vouch for Mr. Poe’s veracity.”

THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR.   [C]   [[v]]   [[n]]

OF course I shall not pretend to consider it any matter for wonder, that the extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited discussion. It would have been a miracle had it not — especially under the circumstances. Through the desire of all parties concerned, to keep the affair from the public, at least for the present, or until we had farther opportunities for investigation — through our endeavors to effect this — a garbled or exaggerated account made its way into society, and became the source of many unpleasant misrepresentations, and, very naturally, of a great deal of disbelief.

It is now rendered necessary that I give the facts — as far as I comprehend them myself. They are, succinctly, these:

My attention, for the last three years, had been repeatedly drawn to the subject of Mesmerism; and, about nine months ago, it occurred to me, quite suddenly, that in the series of experiments made hitherto, there had been a very remarkable and most unaccountable omission: — no person had as yet been mesmerized in articulo mortis. It remained to be seen, first, whether, in such condition, there existed in the patient any susceptibility to the magnetic influence; secondly, whether, if any existed, it was impaired or increased by the condition; thirdly, to what extent, or for how long a period, the encroachments of Death might be arrested by the process. There were other points to be ascertained, but these most excited my curiosity — the last in especial, from the immensely important character of its consequences. [page 1234:]

In looking around me for some subject by whose means I might test these particulars, I was brought to think of my friend, M. Ernest Valdemar, the well-known compiler of the “Bibliotheca Forensica,” and author (under the nom de plume of Issachar Marx) of the Polish versions of “Wallenstein” and “Gargantua.”(1) M. Valdemar, who has resided principally at Harlaem,{a} N. Y., since the year 1839, is (or was) particularly noticeable for the extreme spareness of his person — his lower limbs much resembling those of John Randolph;(2) and, also, for the whiteness of his whiskers, in violent contrast to the blackness of his hair — the latter, in consequence, being very generally mistaken for a wig. His temperament was markedly nervous, and rendered him a good subject for mesmeric experiment. On two or three occasions I had put him to sleep with little difficulty, but was disappointed in other results which his peculiar constitution had naturally led me to anticipate. His will was at no period positively, or thoroughly, under my control, and in regard to clairvoyance, I could accomplish with him nothing to be relied upon. I always attributed my failure at these points to the disordered state of his health. For some months previous to my becoming acquainted with him, his physicians had declared him in a confirmed phthisis. It was his custom, indeed, to speak calmly of his approaching dissolution, as of a matter neither to be avoided nor regretted.

When the ideas to which I have alluded first occurred to me, it was of course very natural that I should think of M. Valdemar. I knew the steady philosophy of the man too well to apprehend any scruples from him; and he had no relatives in America who would be likely to interfere. I spoke to him frankly upon the subject; and, to my surprise, his interest seemed vividly excited. I say to my surprise; for, although he had always yielded his person freely to my experiments, he had never before given me any tokens of sympathy with what I did. His disease was of that character which would admit of exact calculation in respect to the epoch of its termination in death; and it was finally arranged between us that he would send for me about twenty-four hours before the period announced by his physicians as that of his decease. [page 1235:]

It is now rather more than seven months since I received, from M. Valdemar himself, the subjoined note:

MY DEAR P——,

You may as well come now. D—— and F——(3) are agreed that I cannot hold out beyond to-morrow midnight; and I think they have hit the time very nearly.

VALDEMAR.

I received this note within half an hour after it was written, and in fifteen minutes more I was in the dying man’s chamber. I had not seen him for ten days, and was appalled by the fearful alteration which the brief interval had wrought in him. His face wore a leaden hue; the eyes were utterly lustreless; and the emaciation was so extreme that the skin had been broken through by the cheek-bones. His expectoration was excessive. The pulse was barely perceptible. He retained, nevertheless, in a very remarkable manner, both his mental power and a certain degree of physical strength. He spoke with distinctness — took some palliative medicines without aid — and, when I entered the room, was occupied in penciling memoranda in a pocket-book.(4) He was propped up in the bed by pillows. Doctors D—— and F—— were in attendance.

After pressing Valdemar’s hand, I took these gentlemen aside, and obtained from them a minute account of the patient’s condition. The left lung had been for eighteen months in a semi-osseous or cartilaginous state, and was, of course, entirely useless for all purposes of vitality. The right, in its upper portion, was also partially, if not thoroughly, ossified, while the lower region was merely a mass of purulent tubercles, running one into another. Several extensive perforations existed; and, at one point, permanent adhesion to the ribs had taken place. These appearances in the right lobe were of comparatively recent date. The ossification had proceeded with very unusual rapidity; no sign of it had been discovered a month before, and the adhesion had only been observed during the three previous days. Independently of the phthisis, the patient was suspected of aneurism of the aorta; but on this point the osseous symptoms rendered an exact diagnosis impossible. It was the opinion of both physicians that M. Valdemar would die [page 1236:] about midnight on the morrow (Sunday). It was then seven o’clock on Saturday evening.

On quitting the invalid’s bed-side to hold conversation with myself, Doctors D—— and F—— had bidden him a final farewell. It had not been their intention to return; but, at my request, they agreed to look in upon the patient about ten the next night.

When they had gone, I spoke freely with M. Valdemar on the subject of his approaching dissolution, as well as, more particularly, of the experiment proposed. He still professed himself quite willing and even anxious to have it made, and urged me to commence it at once. A male and a female nurse were in attendance; but I did not feel myself altogether at liberty to engage in a task of this character with no more reliable witnesses than these people, in case of sudden accident, might prove. I therefore postponed operations until about eight the next night, when the arrival of a medical student with whom I had some acquaintance, (Mr. Theodore L——l,)(5) relieved me from farther embarrassment. It had been my design, originally, to wait for the physicians; but I was induced to proceed, first, by the urgent entreaties of M. Valdemar, and secondly, by my conviction that I had not a moment to lose, as he was evidently sinking fast.

Mr. L——l was so kind as to accede to my desire that he would take notes of all that occurred; and it is from his memoranda that what I now have to relate is, for the most part, either condensed or copied verbatim.

It wanted about five minutes{b} of eight when, taking the patient’s hand, I begged him to state, as distinctly as he could, to Mr. L——l, whether he (M. Valdemar) was entirely willing that I should make the experiment of mesmerizing him in his then condition.

He replied feebly, yet quite audibly, “Yes, I wish to be mesmerized” — adding immediately afterwards, “I fear you have deferred it too long.”

While he spoke thus, I commenced the passes which I had already found most effectual in subduing him. He was evidently [page 1237:] influenced with the first lateral stroke of my hand across his forehead; but although I exerted all my powers, no farther perceptible effect was induced until some minutes after ten o’clock, when Doctors D—— and F—— called, according to appointment. I explained to them, in a few words, what I designed, and as they opposed no objection, saying that the patient was already in the death agony, I proceeded without hesitation — exchanging, however, the lateral passes for downward ones, and directing my gaze entirely into the right eye of the sufferer.

By this time his pulse was imperceptible and his breathing was stertorous,{c} and at intervals of half a minute.

This condition was nearly unaltered for a quarter of an hour. At the expiration of this period, however, a natural although a{d} very deep sigh escaped the bosom of the dying man, and the stertorous{e} breathing ceased — that is to say, its stertorousness{f} was no longer apparent; the intervals were undiminished. The patient’s extremities were of an icy coldness.

At five minutes{g} before eleven I perceived unequivocal signs of the mesmeric influence. The glassy roll of the eye was changed{h} for that expression of uneasy inward examination which is never seen except in cases of sleep-waking,(6) and which it is quite impossible to mistake. With a few rapid lateral passes I made the lids quiver, as in incipient sleep, and with a few more I closed them altogether. I was not satisfied, however, with this, but continued the manipulations vigorously, and with the fullest exertion of the will, until I had completely stiffened the limbs of the slumberer, after placing them in a seemingly easy position. The legs were at full length; the arms were nearly so, and reposed on{i} the bed at a moderate distance from the loins. The head was very slightly elevated.

When I had accomplished this, it was fully midnight, and I requested the gentlemen present to examine M. Valdemar’s condition. After a{j} few experiments, they admitted him to be in an [page 1238:] unusually{k} perfect state of mesmeric trance. The curiosity of both the physicians was greatly excited. Dr. D—— resolved at once to remain with the patient all night, while Dr. F—— took leave with a promise to return at day-break. Mr. L——l{l} and the nurses remained.

We left M. Valdemar entirely undisturbed until about three o’clock in the morning, when I approached him and found him in precisely the same condition as when Dr. F—— went away — that is to say, he lay in the same position; the pulse was imperceptible; the breathing was gentle (scarcely noticeable, unless through the application of a mirror to the lips); the eyes were closed naturally; and the limbs were as rigid and as cold as marble. Still, the general appearance was certainly not that of death.

As I approached M. Valdemar I made a kind of half effort to influence his right arm into pursuit of my own, as I passed the latter gently to and fro above his person. In such experiments with this patient I had never perfectly succeeded before, and assuredly I had little thought of succeeding now; but to my astonishment, his arm very readily, although feebly, followed every direction I assigned it with mine. I determined to hazard a few words of conversation.

“M. Valdemar,” I said, “are you asleep?” He made{m} no answer, but I perceived a tremor about the lips, and was thus induced to repeat the question, again and again. At its third repetition, his whole frame was agitated by a very slight shivering; the eye-lids unclosed themselves so far as to display a white line of the{n} ball; the lips moved sluggishly, and from between them, in a barely audible whisper, issued the words:

“Yes; — asleep now. Do not wake me! — let me die so!”

I here felt the limbs and found them as rigid as ever. The right arm, as before, obeyed the direction of my hand. I questioned the sleep-waker again:

“Do you still feel pain in the breast, M. Valdemar?”

The answer now was immediate, but even less audible than before: [page 1239:]

“No pain — I am dying.”

I did not think it advisable to disturb him farther just then, and nothing more was said or done until the arrival of Dr. F——, who came a little before sunrise, and expressed unbounded astonishment at finding the patient still alive. After feeling the pulse and applying a mirror to the lips, he requested me to speak to{o} the sleep-waker again. I did so, saying:

“M. Valdemar, do you still sleep?”

As before, some minutes elapsed ere a reply was made; and during the interval the dying man seemed to be collecting his energies to speak. At my fourth repetition of the question, he said very faintly, almost inaudibly:

“Yes; still asleep — dying.”

It was now the opinion, or rather the wish, of the physicians, that M. Valdemar should be suffered to remain undisturbed in his present apparently tranquil condition, until death should supervene — and this, it was generally agreed, must now take place within a few minutes. I concluded, however, to speak to him once more, and merely repeated my previous question.

While I spoke, there came a marked change over the couutenance of the sleep-waker. The eyes rolled themselves slowly open, the pupils disappearing upwardly; the skin generally assumed a cadaverous hue, resembling not so much parchment as white paper; and the circular hectic spots which, hitherto, had been strongly defined in the centre of each cheek, went out at once. I use this expression, because the suddenness of their departure put me in mind of nothing so much as the extinguishment of a candle by a puff of the breath. The upper lip, at the same time, writhed itself away from the teeth, which it had previously covered completely;(7) while the lower jaw fell with an audible jerk, leaving the mouth widely extended, and disclosing in full view the swollen and blackened tongue. I presume that no member of the party then present had been unaccustomed to death-bed horrors; but so hideous beyond conception was the appearance of M. Valdemar at this moment, that there was a general shrinking back from the region of the bed. [page 1240:]

I now feel that I have reached a point of this narrative at which every reader will be startled into positive disbelief. It is my business, however, simply to proceed.

There was no longer the faintest sign of vitality in M. Valdemar; and concluding him to be dead, we were consigning him to the charge of the nurses, when a strong vibratory motion was observable in the tongue. This continued for perhaps a minute. At the expiration of this period, there issued from the distended and motionless jaws a voice — such as it would be madness in me to attempt describing. There are, indeed, two or three epithets which might be considered as applicable to it in part; I might say, for example, that the sound was harsh, and broken and hollow; but the hideous whole is indescribable, for the simple reason that no similar sounds have ever jarred upon the ear of humanity. There were two particulars, nevertheless, which I thought then, and still think, might fairly be stated as characteristic of the intonation — as well adapted to convey some idea of its unearthly peculiarity. In the first place, the voice seemed to reach our ears — at least mine — from a vast distance, or from some deep cavern within the earth.{p} (8) In the second place, it impressed me (I fear, indeed, that it will be impossible to make myself comprehended) as gelatinous or glutinous matters impress the sense of touch.

I have spoken both of “sound” and of “voice.” I mean to say that the sound was one of distinct — of even wonderfully, thrillingly distinct — syllabification{q} M. Valdemar spoke — obviously in reply to the question I had propounded to him a few minutes before. I had asked him, it will be remembered, if he still slept. He now said:

“Yes; — no; — I have been sleeping — and now — now — I am dead.”

No person present even affected to deny, or attempted to repress, the unutterable,{r} shuddering horror which these few words, thus uttered, were so well calculated to convey. Mr. L——l (the student) swooned. The nurses immediately left the chamber, and could not be induced to return. My own impressions I would [page 1241:] not pretend to render intelligible to the reader. For nearly an hour, we busied ourselves, silently — without the utterance of a word — in endeavors to revive Mr.{s} L——l. When he came to himself, we addressed ourselves again to an investigation of M. Valdemar’s condition.

It remained in all respects as I have last described it, with the exception that the mirror no longer afforded evidence of respiration. An attempt to draw blood from the arm{t} failed. I should mention, too, that this limb was no farther subject to my will. I endeavored in vain to make it follow the direction of my hand. The only real indication,{u} indeed, of the mesmeric influence, was now found in the vibratory movement of the tongue, whenever I addressed M. Valdemar a question. He seemed to be making an effort at reply, but had no longer sufficient volition. To queries put to him by any other person than myself he seemed utterly insensible — although I{v} endeavored to place each member of the company in mesmeric rapport with him. I believe that I have now related all that is necessary to an understanding of the sleep-waker’s state at this epoch. Other nurses were procured; and at ten o’clock I left the house in company with the two physicians and Mr. L——l.

In the afternoon we all called again to see the patient. His condition remained precisely the same. We had now some discussion as to the propriety and feasibility of awakening him; but we had little difficulty in agreeing that no good purpose would be served by so doing. it was evident that, so far, death (or what is usually termed death) had been arrested by the mesmeric process. It seemed clear to us all that to awaken M. Valdemar would be merely to insure his instant, or at least his speedy dissolution.

From this period until the close of last week — an interval of nearly seven months — we continued to make daily calls at M. Valdemar’s house, accompanied, now and then, by medical and other friends. All this time the sleep-waker remained exactly as I have last described him. The nurses’ attentions were continual.

It was on Friday last that we finally resolved to make the experiment [page 1242:] of awakening, or attempting to awaken him; and it is the (perhaps) unfortunate result of this latter experiment which has given rise to so much discussion in private circles — to so much of what I cannot help thinking unwarranted popular feeling.{w}

For the purpose of relieving M. Valdemar from the mesmeric trance, I made use of the customary passes. These, for a time, were unsuccessful. The first indication of revival was afforded by a partial descent of the iris. It was observed, as especially remarkable, that this lowering of the pupil was accompanied by the profuse out-flowing of a yellowish ichor (from beneath the lids) of a pungent and highly offensive odor.

It now was{x} suggested that I should{y} attempt to influence the patient’s arm, as heretofore. I made the attempt and failed. Dr. F—— then intimated a desire to have me put a question. I did so as follows:

“M. Valdemar, can you explain to us what are your feelings or wishes now?”

There was an instant return of the hectic circles on the cheeks; the tongue quivered, or rather rolled violently in the mouth (although the jaws and lips remained rigid as before;) and at length the same hideous voice which I have already described, broke forth:

“For God’s sake! — quick! — quick! — put me to sleep — or, quick! — waken me! — quick! — I say to you that I am dead!(9)

I was thoroughly unnerved, and for an instant remained undecided what to do. At first I made an endeavor to re-compose the patient; but, failing in this through total abeyance of the will, I retraced my steps and as earnestly struggled to awaken him. In this attempt I soon saw that I should be successful — or at least I soon fancied that my success would be complete — and I am sure that all in the room were prepared to see the patient awaken.

For what really occurred, however, it is quite impossible that any human being could have been prepared.

As I rapidly made the mesmeric passes,{z} amid ejaculations of [page 1243:] “dead! dead!” absolutely bursting from the tongue and not from the lips of the sufferer, his whole frame at once — within the space of a single minute, or even less, shrunk — crumbled — absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome — of detestable putridity.{a} (10)

 


VARIANTS

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1233:]

Title:  The Facts of M. Valdemar s Case (A)

[The following variant appears at the bottom of page 1234:]

a  Harlem, (D)

[The following variant appears at the bottom of page 1236:]

b  minntes (B, C) misprint

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1237:]

c  stertorious, (D)

d  Omitted (A)

e  stertorious (D)

f  stertoriousness (D)

g  miutes (B, C) misprint

h  exchanged (A)

i  upon (A)

j  a very (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1238:]

k  unusually (B, C) misprint

l  L —— l / L ——— (A)

m  made me (A)

n a (D) misprint

[The following variant appears at the bottom of page 1239:]

o  with (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1240:]

p  earth, (B, C) misprint

q  syllibification. (D) misprint

r  unuterable, (B) misprint, corrected in C

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1241:]

s  Mr, (B, C) misprint

t  arm not clear (B) corrected in C

u  indicatiom (B, C) misprint

v  I missing (B) corrected in C

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1242:]

w  eeling. (B) misprint, corrected in C

x  now was / was now (A)

y  sdould (B, C) misprint

z  pasess, (B, C) misprint

[The following variant appears at the bottom of page 1243:]

a  putrescence. (A, B, D)

 


[page 1243, continued:]

NOTES

Title:  The name Valdemar may have been suggested by mention in the Southern Literary Messenger, July 1835, of a play, “Valdemar, or the German Exiles, by Mr. T—, actor, scene-painter and tavern-keeper of Montreal,” in an article, “My First Night in a Watchhouse,” by Edward V. Sparhawk. This mention was pointed out to me by David K. Jackson. Mrs. Nellie Reiss, reference librarian of McGill University, found that Waldemar by Mr. Turnbull was often performed about 1821 in Montreal. Turnbull came from England to Boston about 1799, and later settled in Canada. He is clearly the “Mr. T—” mentioned by Sparhawk, for his scene-painting is recorded.

1.  Poe’s original may have been Piero Maroncelli (1795-August 1, 1846). He was a translator (from the Italian) and in 1846, according to Poe’s sketch in “The Literati” (Godey’s, June 1846), was “suffering from severe illness, and from this it can scarcely be expected that he will recover.” See Angeline H. Lograsso, “Poe’s Piero Maroncelli” (PMLA, September 1943). The “Bibliotheca Forensica” is made up, and its compiler’s pseudonym is jocular; Issachar means “He brings gifts,” but in Genesis 49:14, we are told that Jacob, blessing his sons, said, “Issachar is a strong ass, couching down between two burdens.” Schiller’s tragedy, and the work of Rabelais, in Poe’s opinion, were burdensome.

2.  Poe must have himself seen the cadaverous Virginia statesman, John Randolph of Roanoke (1773-1833), who was often in Richmond.

3.  Readers may well have expanded P as Poe; F as Dr. John W. Francis, president of the Academy of Medicine and one of Poe’s Literati, who was the poet’s own physician; and D as Dr. John W. Draper, the best-known professor in the Medical School of New York University. Poe did not like Draper, who is mentioned slightingly in “Von Kempelen and His Discovery.” According to Poe’s letter of June 26, 1849 to Eveleth, Draper was satirized in Eureka.

4.  A pocket-book here means a notebook, as usual at the time, as in “Diddling.”

5.  L——l has not been identified.

6.  Sleep-waking is the mesmeric state, not a misprint for sleep-walking, as was sometimes supposed in England. See “Mesmeric Revelation,” n. 1. [page 1244:]

7.  Compare “Berenice”: “The teeth . . . with the pale lips writhing about them”; and “The Pit and the Pendulum”: “I saw the lips of the black-robed judges . . . I saw them writhe with a deadly locution.”

8.  Roderick Usher painted a picture of “a vault or tunnel” which suggested that “this excavation lay at an exceeding depth below the surface of the earth.”

9.  With the passage above, beginning with “It was on Friday last,” compare the account quoted from The Seeress of Prevorst in the introduction above.

10.  This gruesome passage has a parallel in the thirteenth chapter of Arthur Gordon Pym.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 1228:]

*  Poe refers to the rejection in the still unprinted manuscript, “The Living Writers of America” (now in the Pierpont Morgan Library), but he does not name the editor.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1229:]

  Quoted by Lind in “Poe and Mesmerism,” cited on p. 1024 above.

  In an anonymous work, Rambler and Reveries of an Art-Student (Philadelphia, Thomas T. Watts, 1855), pp. 37f

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1231:]

§  [An earlier appearance is now known to have been in the Sunday Times (London), January 4, 1846. This was located in 1974 by Ian Walker. Poe had written to Joseph M. Field, June 15, 1846, saying “The Times! — the matter of fact ‘Times!’ — copies the Valdemar Case.’ ”]

*  This is the true first edition, though pirated; see below.

  No French version printed in Poe’s lifetime has been found.

  Both of Ramsay’s letters are printed by Harrison, 17:268 and 284.

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1232:]

§  Harrison, 17:262; Woodberry, Life, II, 205.

*  This is the first item in Griswold’s collection of the “Marginalia” (Works, III, 486-488), and number 200 in the present edition. Harrison inadvertently omitted it.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - TOM3T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar)