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The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art, and Science/Volume 02/December 1845/The Facts of M. Valdemar's Case

< The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art, and Science‎ | Volume 02‎ | December 1845
For other versions of this work, see The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.

although very deep sigh escaped the bosom of the dying man, and the stertorous breathing ceased—that is to say, its stertorousness was no longer apparent; the intervals were undiminished. The patient's extremities were of an icy coldness.

At five minutes before eleven I perceived unequivocal signs of the mesmeric influence. The glassy roll of the eye was exchanged for that expression of uneasy inward examination which is never seen except in cases of sleep-waking, 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 morel closed them altogether. 1 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 upon the bed at a moderate distance from the loins. The head was very slight-ly elevated.

When I had accomplished this, it was fully midnight, and I requested the gentlemen present to examine M. Valdemar's condition. After a very few experiments, they admitted him to be in an unusually 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 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 vvith mine. I determined to hazard a few words of conversation.

"M. Valdemar," I said, "are you asleep?" He made me 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 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:

"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 with 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 countenance 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. I'he upper lip, at the same time, writhed itself away from the teeth, which it had previously covered completely; 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.

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 lirst place, the voice seemed to reach our ears—at least mine—from a vast distance, or from some deep cavern within the earth. 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 wonderiully, thrillingly distinct—syllabification. 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, 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 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. 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 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, 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 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 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. 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 lowerng 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 was now suggested that I should 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 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!"

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, amid ejaculations of "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 putrescence.


While the awakened cock crowed loudly
The dreamy watches of the morn,
Phrixus' ram, with neck arched proudly.
Stamped and pawed the graveled lawn;
The pebbles on his steel hooves tinkled.
The lustrous jasper gleamed and twinkled
Of his crooked horns, all wreathed and wrinkled.
Like an icy pine-branch in the dawn;
Gold tufts upon his forehead glimmered.
And burned with gold his woolly shroud.
As dying hues of sunset shimmered
On the light wreaths of sleeping cloud.

Tearfully drooped her dusky lashes.
O'er Helle's cheek the pale grief spread:
"The fires of my Father's hearth are ashes,
The joys ot my father's halls are dead;
Woe came with her he made my mother,
Her jealous heart his love did smother
For me and for my guardian brother—
A curse of him who twice hath wed!
But fast the Fates her life-web further,
While they her doom of blood recite,—
Chased to her son's and her own mother.
By the grim Daughters of the Night."

Soon melts the wreath, that lighted wildly
The raven depths of Helle's eyes;
Soon through her soul welled sadly, mildly,
The gush of sweeter memories:
"Sheathed in the hues of morn, the river
Glides on and murmurs Love forever;
Its fringing flowers still throb and quiver
With his and my pure ecstacies.
Yet thrills his heart with deep devotion;
But my fond smile and rosy wreath?—
In the Dawn-land, or where the Ocean
Breaks on the silent shores of death!

"Stars were gleaming, the moon was beaming.
When last his arms my waist did twine—
We were like twain of Heaven, dreaming
Dreams that made our loves divine;
Beneath the stars our troth was plighted.
Beneath the moon our souls united—
The stars and moon shall be benighted
Ere thrills his heart no more through mine.
fires! that his long kiss imparted.
Ye burn unquenched by bitter tears;
O Love! so true and tender-hearted,
Thou'lt droop not mid the blight of fears."

Crushed in heart and sobbing, sighing.
Heaved her white bosom with its woe.
Like rain-gusts sadly plaining, dying,
O'er the curved fountain's fall and flow.
"The hoary mountain's emerald wonders
Blaze forth alone, where cleave the thunders;
Only in hearts mad anguish sunders
"The live fires at the core can glow;
Their tears and blood must write the story
Of woman's truth and hero's worth;
The Heavens give a godlike glory,
Where wither all the joys of earth."

Spake these words her brave defender.
While, like the sun's fire in the moon.
His spirit's glow, with softer splendor.
In her pure soul enkindled soon.
Now soars their ram, self-poised, uplifting.
And bears them star-like on, unshifting.
Like a radiant cloudlet, drifting
Sky-ward some May afternoon;
Swift past the shores the gray sea washes.
High, where old Athos greets the star.
On where the sun's red chariot dashes
Up through Aurora's amber bars.

The skies seem whirled on buzzing spindles—
So swims and spins her dizzy brain;
Afar the dear earth dims and dwindles—
She swoons, her clasped hands fall atwain.
As shoots the hawk on folded pinion.
Or white star from its blue pavilion,
Her form athwart the morn's vermilion
Drops down into the blushing main;
Feather and curl the parting waters—
Soft arms her panting zone enwreathe—
With Nereus' silver-footed daughters
She treads the yellow sands beneath.

The singing choir of nymphs advances.
Waking the echoes in their glassy cells,
With measured footfalls, leading choral dances
O'er paths bestrownwith lustrous ocean-shells;
Above, in shifting tints auroral.
Glimmering with starry wreaths and floral.
Embowering avenues of coral
O'erarched their spiral pinnacles;
The swell of mingling tones ascended
From Tritons and the Naiades,
And chimes of wandering murmurs blended
With music of the hummin°r seas.

They led her, like a novice Nereid vestal,
Hymning and waving token-wreaths of glee,
Through all their crystal caverns, decked in festal
And gorgeous hangings from the jeweled sea,
Where sat the gray- beard ocean-seer.
Wrecked by age's woe and cheer.
From out whose ruined body year by year
His kingly soul seemed wearing free;
In eyes cavernous, black and hooded.
Flickered wild and ghastly gleams—
On whom their burning glances brooded,
They saw his thoughts, his hopes and dreams.

Soon knew he Helie's heart of sadness,
And spake these words his prophet-lips:
"When the lyre's sweet notes of gladness
Mark the oar's quick-cadenced dips.
Then, 'neath the ocean's crystal cover.
Thy heart shall throb upon its lover—
No woes of earth around you hover,
No doubts your marriage joys eclipse;
For you the brimming youth ne'er perish.
Your radiant beauty waneth never;
As mortals rapturous love ye cherish,
A Sea-Nymph and a God forever."