Story 8 - The Facts in the Case of by Spitoufs
Story 8 - The Facts in the Case of by Spitoufs
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.
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.
M. Valdemar, who has resided principally at Harlaem, 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 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 if 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.
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 - are agreed that I cannot
hold out beyond to-morrow midnight and I think they have hit
the time very nearly.
I received this note within half an hour after it was written,
and in fifteen minutes more I was in the dying mans 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.
He was propped up in the bed by pillows.
Doctors D - and F - were in attendance.
After pressing Valdemars hand, I took these gentlemen aside,
and obtained from them a minute account of the patients
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 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 about midnight on
the morrow Sunday. It was then seven oclock on Saturday
On quitting the invalids 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, 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 of eight when, taking the
patients 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
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 oclock, 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, 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 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 patients 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
changed 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
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 the bed at a moderate
distance from the loin. The head was very slightly elevated.
When I had accomplished this, it was fully midnight, and I
requested the gentlemen present to examine M. Valdemars
condition. After a few experiments, they admitted him to be
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 daybreak. Mr. L - l
and the nurses remained.
We left M. Valdemar entirely undisturbed until about three
oclock 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 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 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 eyelids 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 to 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.
The 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 first
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 wonderfully,
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. Valdemars 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 to 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-wakers state at this epoch. Other nurses were
procured and at ten oclock 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. Valdemars house, accompanied, now and then, by medical and
other friends. All this time the sleeper-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
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 was now suggested that I should attempt to influence the
patients 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 Gods 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
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 putridity.