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Title: The Spectre-Smitten
Author: Samuel Warren
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Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
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The Spectre-Smitten
Samuel Warren

Few topics of medical literature have occasioned more wide and
contradictory speculation than that of insanity, with reference, as
well to its predisposing and immediate causes, as to its best method
of treatment. Since experience is the only substratum of real
knowledge, the surest way of arriving at those principles which may
regulate our researches, especially concerning the subtle disorder
mania, is, when one does meet with some well-marked case, to watch it
closely throughout, and be particularly anxious to seize on all those
more transient indications, which are truer characteristics of the
complaint than perhaps any other. With this object did I pay close
attention to the very singular case detailed in the following
narrative. The apparent eccentricity of the title will be found
accounted for in the course of the narrative.

Mr M, as one of a very large party, had been enjoying the splendid
hospitality of Lady--, and did not leave till a late, or rather
early, hour in the morning. Pretty women, music, and champagne had
almost turned his head, and it was rather fortunate for him that a
hackney-coach stand was within a stone's-throw of the house he was
leaving. Muffling his cloak closely around him, he contrived to move
towards it in a tolerably direct line, and a few moments' time beheld
him driving, at the usual snail's pace of those rickety vehicles, to
Lincoln's Inn; for Mr M was a law student. In spite of the transient
exhilaration produced by the scenes he had just quitted, and the
excitement consequent on the prominent share he took in an animated
though accidental discussion, in the presence of about thirty of the
most elegant women that could well be brought together, he found
himself becoming the subject of a most unaccountable depression of

Even while at Lady--'s, he had latterly perceived himself talking
often for mere talking's sake, the chain of his thoughts perpetually
broken, and an impatience and irritability of manner towards those
whom he addressed, which he readily resolved, however, into the
reaction following high excitement.

M, I ought before, perhaps, to have mentioned, was a man of great
talent--chiefly, however, imaginative--and had that evening been
particularly brilliant on his favourite topic, diablerie and
mysticism. He had been dilating, in particular, on the power possessed
by Mr Maturin of exciting the most fearful and horrific ideas in the
minds of his readers, instancing a particular passage of one of his
romances, the title of which I have forgotten, where the fiend
suddenly presents himself to his appalled victim, amidst the silence
and gloom of his prison-cell. Long before he had reached home the
fumes of the wine had evaporated, and the influence of excitement
subsided; and with reference to intoxication, he was sober and calm as
ever he was in his life. Why he knew not, but his heart seemed to grow
heavier and heavier, and his thoughts gloomier, every step by which he
neared Lincoln's Inn.

It struck three o'clock as he entered the sombrous portals of the
ancient inn of court. The silence, the moonlight shining sadly on the
dusky buildings, the cold, quivering stars--all these together
combined to enhance his nervousness. He described it to me as though
things seemed to wear a strange, spectral, supernatural aspect. Not a
watchman of the inn was heard crying the hour, not a porter moving--no
living being but himself visible in the large square he was crossing.
As he neared his staircase, he perceived his heart fluttering; in
short, he felt under some strange, unaccountable influence, which, had
he reflected a little, he would have discovered to arise merely from
an excitable nervous temperament operating on an imagination
peculiarly attuned to sympathies with terror. His chambers lay on the
third floor of the staircase, and, on reaching it, he found his door-
lamp glimmering with its last expiring ray. He opened his door, and
after groping some time in the dark of his sitting-room, found his
chamber-candlestick. In attempting to light his candle, he put out the
lamp. He went downstairs, but found that the lamp of every landing had
shared the fate of his own; so he returned rather irritated, thinking
to amerce the porter of his customary Christmas-box for his niggard
supply of oil. After some time spent in the search, he discovered his
finder-box, and proceeded to strike a light. This was not the work of
a moment; and where is the bachelor to whom it is! The potent spark,
however, dropped at last into the very centre of the soft tinder; M
blew--it caught--spread! the match quickly kindled, and he lighted his
candle. He took it in his hand, and was making for bed, when his eyes
caught a glimpse of an object which brought him senseless to the
floor. The furniture of his room was disposed as when he had left it,
for his laundress had neglected to come and put things in order: the
table, with a few books on it, was drawn towards the fireplace, and by
its side stood the ample-cushioned easy-chair.

The first object visible, with sudden distinctness, was a figure
sitting in the arm-chair. It was that of a gentleman dressed in dark-
coloured clothes, his hands, white as alabaster, closed together over
his lap, and the face looking away; but it turned slowly towards M,
revealing to him a countenance of a ghastly hue, the features glowing
like steel heated to a white heat; and the two eyes turned full
towards him, and blazing--absolutely blazing, he described it--with a
most horrible lustre.

The appalling spectre, while M's eyes were riveted upon it, though
glazing fast with fright, slowly rose from its seat, stretched out
both its arms, and seemed approaching him, when he fell down senseless
on the floor, as if smitten with apoplexy. He recollected nothing more
till he found himself, about the middle of the next day, in bed--his
laundress, myself and apothecary, and several others, standing round

His situation was not discovered till more than an hour after he had
fallen, as nearly as could be subsequently ascertained--nor would it
then but for a truly fortunate accident. He had neglected to close
either of his outer doors (I believe it is usual for chambers in the
inns of court to have double outer doors), and an old woman who
happened to be leaving the adjoining set about five o'clock, on seeing
Mr M's doors both open at such an untimely hour, was induced, by
feelings of curiosity and alarm, to return to the rooms she had left
for a light, with which she entered his chambers, after having
repeatedly called his name without receiving any answer.

What will it be supposed had been her occupation at such an early hour
in the adjoining chambers?--Laying out the corpse of their occupant, a
Mr T, who had expired about eight o'clock the preceding evening! Mr M
had known him, though not very intimately; and there were some painful
circumstances attending his death which, even though on no other
grounds than mere sympathy, M had laid much to heart. In addition to
this, he had been observed by his friends as being latterly the
subject of very high excitement, owing to the successful prosecution
of an extensive literary undertaking. We all accounted for his present
situation by referring it to some apoplectic seizure; for we were, of
course, ignorant of the real occasion, fright, which I did not learn
till long afterwards. The laundress told me that she found Mr M
stretched along the floor in his cloak and full dress, and with a
candlestick lying beside him. She at first supposed him intoxicated;
but on finding all her efforts to rouse him unsuccessful, and seeing
his fixed features and rigid frame, she hastily summoned to her
assistance a fellow-laundress whom she had left in charge of the
corpse next door, undressed him, and laid him on the bed..A
neighbouring medical man was then called in, who pronounced it to be a
case of epilepsy; and he was sufficiently warranted by the appearance
of a little froth about the lips, prolonged stupor, resembling sleep,
and frequent convulsions of the most violent kind. The remedies
resorted to produced no alleviation of the symptoms; and matters
continued to wear such a threatening and alarming aspect, that I was
summoned in by his brother, and was at his bedside by two o'clock. His
countenance was dark, and highly intellectual; its lineaments were,
naturally, full of power and energy, but now overclouded with an
expression of trouble and horror. He was seized with a dreadful fit
soon after I had entered the room.

M was a very powerful man; and, during the fits, it was next to
impossible for all present, united, to control his movements. The foam
at his mouth suggested to his terrified brother that the case was one
of hydrophobia. None of my assurances to the contrary sufficed to
quiet him, and his distress added to the confusion of the scene. After
prescribing to the best of my ability, I left, considering the case to
be one of simple epilepsy. During the rest of the day and night the
fits abated both in violence and frequency; but he was left in a state
of the utmost exhaustion, from which, however, he seemed to be rapidly
recovering during the space of the four succeeding days, when I was
suddenly summoned to his bedside, which I had left only two hours
before, with the intelligence that he had disclosed symptoms of more
alarming illness than ever.

I hurried to his chambers, and found that the danger had not been
magnified. One of his friends met me on the staircase, and told me
that, about half an hour before, while he and Mr C M, the patient's
brother, were sitting beside him, he suddenly enquired, in a tone full
of apprehension and terror, 'Is Mr T dead?' 'Oh, dear! yes; he died
several days ago,' was the reply. 'Then it was he,' he gasped, 'it was
he whom I saw, and he is surely damned! Yes, merciful Maker! he is, he
is!' he continued, elevating his voice to a perfect roar; 'and the
flames have reduced his face to ashes! Horror! horror! horror!' He
then shut his eyes, and relapsed into silence for about ten minutes,
when he exclaimed, 'Hark you, there--secure me! tie me! make me fast,
or I shall burst upon you and destroy you all, for I am going mad--I
feel it!' He ceased, and commenced breathing fast and heavily, his
chest heaving as if under the pressure of enormous weight, and his
swelling, quivering features evidencing the dreadful uproar within.
Presently he began to grind his teeth, and his expanding eyes glared
about him in all directions, as though following the motions of some
frightful object, and he muttered fiercely through his closed teeth,
'Oh! save me from him--save me--save me!'

It was a fearful thing to see him lying in such a state, grinding his
teeth as if he would crush them to powder--his livid lips crested with
foam--his features swollen, writhing, blackening; and, which gave his
face a peculiarly horrible and fiendish expression, his eyes
distorted, or inverted upwards, so that nothing but the glaring whites
of them could be seen--his whole frame rigid--and his hands clenched,
as though they would never open again! Every one round the bedside of
the unfortunate patient stood trembling with pale and momentarily
averted faces. The return of these epileptic fits, in such violence,
and after such an interval, alarmed me with apprehensions, lest, as is
not unfrequently the case, apoplexy should supervene, or even ultimate
insanity. It was rather singular that M was never known to have had an
epileptic fit, previous to the present seizure, and he was then in his
twenty-fifth year.

I was then conjecturing what sudden fright or blow, or accident of any
kind, or congestions of the vessels of the brain, from frequent
inebriation, could have brought on the present fit, when my patient,
whose features had gradually sunk again into their natural
disposition, gave a sigh of exhaustion--the perspiration burst forth,
and he murmured--some time before we could distinctly catch the words,
'Oh! spectre-smitten! spectre-smitten!' (which expression I have
adopted as the title of this paper) 'I shall never recover again!' We
endeavoured to divert his thoughts from the fantasy, if such there
were, which seemed to possess them, by enquiring into the nature of
his symptoms. He disregarded us, however; feebly grasped my hand in
his clammy fingers, and, looking at me languidly, muttered, 'What--oh,
what brought the fiend into my chambers?'--and I felt his whole frame
pervaded by a cold shiver. 'Poor T! Horrid fate!'

On hearing him mention T's name, a suspicion crossed our minds that
his highly-wrought feelings, acting on a strong imagination, always
tainted with superstitious terrors, had conjured up some hideous
object, which had scared him nearly to madness--probably some fancied
apparition of his deceased neighbour. He began again to utter long
deep-drawn groans, that gradually gave place to the heavy stertorous
breathing, which, with other symptoms--his pulse for instance, beating
about 115 a minute--confirmed me in the opinion that he was suffering
from a very severe congestion of the vessels of the brain. I directed
copious venesection--his head to be shaven, and covered perpetually
with cloths soaked in evaporating lotions--blisters behind his ears
and at the nape of the neck--and appropriate internal medicines.

I then left him, apprehending the worst consequences: for I had once
before a similar case under my care--one in which a young lady was,
which I strongly suspected to be the ease with M, absolutely
frightened to death, and went through nearly the same round of
symptoms as those which were beginning to make their appearance in my
present patient--a sudden epileptic seizure, terminating in outrageous
madness, which destroyed both the physical and intellectual energies;
and the young lady expired.

The next morning, about eleven, saw me again at Mr M's chambers, where
I found three or four members of his family--two of them his married
sisters--seated round his sitting-room fire, in melancholy silence.
Mr--, the apothecary, had just left, but was expected to return to
meet me in consultation. My patient lay alone in his bedroom asleep,
and apparently better than he had been since his first seizure. He had
experienced only one slight fit during the night; and though he had
been a little delirious in the earlier part of the evening, he had
been, on the whole, so calm and quiet, that his friends' apprehensions
of insanity were beginning to subside; so he was left, as I said,
alone; for the nurse, just before my arrival, had left her seat by his
bedside for a few moments, thinking him 'in a comfortable and easy
nap,' and was engaged, in a low whisper, conversing with the members
of M's family, who were in the sitting-room. Hearing such a report of
my patient, I sat down quietly among his relatives, determining not to
disturb him, at least till the arrival of the apothecary. Thus were we
engaged, questioning the nurse in an undertone, when a loud laugh from
the bedroom suddenly silenced our whisperings, and turned us all pale.

We started to our feet with blank amazement in each countenance,
scarcely crediting the evidence of our senses. Could it be M? It must,
there was none else in the room. What, then, was he laughing about?
While we were standing silently gazing on one another, with much
agitation, the laugh was repeated, but longer and louder than before,
accompanied with the sound of footsteps, now crossing the room--then,
as if of one jumping! The ladies turned paler than before, and seemed
scarcely able to stand. They sank again into their chairs, gasping
with terror.

'Go in, nurse, and see what's the matter,' said I, standing by the
side of the younger of the ladies, whom I expected every instant to
fall into my arms in a swoon.

'Doctor!--go in?--I--I--I dare not!' stammered the nurse, pale as
ashes, and trembling violently.

'Do you come here, then, and attend to Mrs--,' said I, 'and I will
go'. The nurse staggered to my place, in a state not far removed from
that of the lady whom she was called to attend; for a third laugh--
long, loud, uproarious--had burst from the room while I was speaking.
After cautioning the ladies and the nurse to observe profound silence,
and not to attempt following me till I sent for them, I stepped
noiselessly to the bedroom door, and opened it slowly and softly, not
to alarm him.

All was silent within; but the first object that presented itself,
when I saw fairly into the room, can never be effaced from my mind to
the day of my death. Mr M had got out of bed, pulled off his shirt,
and stepped to the dressing-table, where he stood stark naked before
the glass, with a razor in his right hand, with which he had just
finished shaving off his eye-brows; and he was eyeing himself
steadfastly in the glass, holding the razor elevated above his head.
On seeing the door open, and my face peering at him, he turned full
towards me (the grotesque aspect of his countenance, denuded of so
prominent a feature as his eyebrows, and his head completely shaved,
and the wildfire of madness flashing from his staring eyes, exciting
the most frightful ideas), brandishing the razor over his head with an
air of triumph, and shouting nearly at the top of his voice, 'Ah, ha,
ha!--What do you think of this?'

Merciful Heaven! may I never be placed again in such perilous
circumstances, nor have my mind overwhelmed with such a gush of horror
as burst over it at that moment! What was I to do?

Obeying a sudden impulse, I had entered the room, shutting the door
after me; and, should anyone in the sitting-room suddenly attempt to
open it again, or make a noise or disturbance of any kind, by giving
vent to their emotions, what was to become of the madman or ourselves?
He might, in an instant, almost sever his head from his shoulders, or
burst upon me or his sisters, and do us some deadly mischief! I felt
conscious that the lives of all of us depended on my conduct; and I
devoutly thank God for the measure of tolerable self-possession which
was vouchsafed to me at that dreadful moment. I continued standing
like a statue, motionless and silent, endeavouring to fix my eye on
him, that I might gain the command of his; that successful, I had some
hopes of being able to deal with him. He, in turn, now stood
speechless, and I thought he was quailing--that I had overmastered
him--when I was suddenly fit to faint with despair, for at that awful
instant I heard the door-handle tried--the door pushed gently open--
and saw the nurse, I supposed, or one of the ladies, peeping through
it. The maniac also heard it--the spell was broken--and, in a frenzy,
he leaped several times successively in the air, brandishing the razor
over his head as before.

While he was in the midst of these feats, I turned my head hurriedly
to the person who had so cruelly disobeyed my orders, thereby
endangering my life, and whispered in low, affrighted accents, 'At the
peril of your lives--of mine--shut the door--away, away--hush! or we
are all murdered!' I was obeyed--the intruder withdrew, and I heard a
sound as if she had fallen to the floor, probably in a swoon.
Fortunately the madman was so occupied with his antics, that he did
not observe what had passed at the door. It was the nurse who made the
attempt to discover what was going on, I afterwards learned--but
unsuccessfully, for she had seen nothing. My injunctions were obeyed
to the letter, for they maintained silence, unbroken but by a faint
sighing sound, which I should not have heard, but that my ears were
painfully sensitive to the slightest noise. To return, however, to
myself and my fearful chamber companion.

'Mighty talisman!' he exclaimed, holding the razor before him, and
gazing earnestly at it, 'how utterly unworthy--how infamous the common
use men put thee to!' Still he continued standing with his eyes fixed
intently upon the deadly weapon--I all the while uttering not a sound,
nor moving a muscle, but waiting for our eyes to meet once more.

'Ha! Doctor--! how easily I keep you at bay, though little my
weapon--thus,' he gaily exclaimed, at the same time assuming one of
the postures of the broadsword exercize; but I observed that he
cautiously avoided meeting my eye again. I crossed my arms
submissively on my breast, and continued in perfect silence,
endeavouring, but in vain, to catch a glance of his eye. I did not
wish to excite any emotion in him, except such as might have a
tendency to calm, pacify, disarm him. Seeing me stand thus, and
manifesting no disposition to meddle with him, he raised his left hand
to his face, and rubbed his fingers rapidly over the site of his
shaved eyebrows.

He seemed, I thought, inclined to go over them a second time, when a
knock was heard at the outer chamber door, which I instantly
recognized as that of Mr--, the apothecary. The madman also heard it,
and turned suddenly pale, and moved away from the glass opposite which
he had been stooping. 'Oh--oh!' he groaned, while his features assumed
an air of the blankest affright, every muscle quivering, and every
limb trembling from bead to foot--'Is that--is--is that T come for
me?' He let fall the razor on the floor, and clasping his hands in an
agony of apprehension, he retreated, crouching and cowering down,
towards the more distant part of the room, where he continued peering
round the bed-post, his eyes straining, as though they would start
from their sockets, and fixed steadfastly upon the door. I heard him
rustling the bed-curtain and shaking it; but very gently, as if
wishing to cover and conceal himself within its folds. My attention
was wholly occupied with one object, the razor on the floor. How I
thanked God for the gleam of hope that all might yet be right--that I
might succeed in obtaining possession of the deadly weapon, and
putting it beyond his reach! I stole gradually towards the spot where
the razor lay, without removing once my eye from his, nor he his from
the dreaded door, intending, as soon as I should have come pretty near
it, to make a sudden snatch at the horrid implement of destruction. I
did--I succeeded--I got it into my possession. I had hardly grasped my
prize when the door opened, and Mr--, the apothecary, entered,
sufficiently startled and bewildered, as it may be supposed, with the
strange aspect of things.

'Ha--ha--ha! It's you, is it--it's you--you anatomy!--you plaster! How
dare you mock me in this horrid way, eh?' shouted the maniac; and,
springing like a lion from his lair, he made for the spot where the
confounded apothecary stood, stupified with terror. I verily believe
he would have been destroyed, torn to pieces, or cruelly maltreated in
some way or other, had I not started and thrown myself between the
maniac and the unwitting object of his vengeance, exclaiming at the
same time, as a dernier ressort, a sudden and strong appeal to his
fears--'Remember!--T! T!


'I do--I do!' stammered the maniac, stepping back perfectly aghast. He
seemed utterly petrified, and sank shivering down again into his
former position at the corner of the bed, moaning--'Oh me! wretched
me! Away--away--away!' I then stepped to Mr--, who had not moved an
inch, directed him to retire instantly, conduct all the females out of
the chambers, and return as soon as possible with two or three of the
inn-porters, or any other able-bodied men he could procure on the spur
of the moment; and I concluded by slipping the razor, unobservedly as
I thought, into his hands, and bidding him remove it to a place of
safety. He obeyed, and I found myself once more alone with the madman.

'M! dear Mr M! I've got something to say to you--I have indeed; it's
very, very particular.' I commenced, approaching him slowly, and
speaking in the softest tones conceivable.

'But you've forgotten this, you fool, you!--you have!' he replied
fiercely, approaching the dressing-table, and suddenly seizing another
razor--the fellow of the one I had got hold of with such pains and
peril--and which, alas, alas! had never once caught my eye! I gave
myself up for lost, fully expecting that I should be murdered, when I
saw the bloodthirsty spirit with which he clutched it, brandished it
over his head, and with a smile of fiendish derision, shook it full
before me! I trembled, however, the next moment, for himself; for he
drew it rapidly to and fro before his throat, as though he would give
the fatal gash, but did not touch the skin. He gnashed his teeth with
a kind of savage satisfaction, at the dreadful power with which he was
consciously armed.

'Oh, Mr M! think of your poor mother and sisters!' I exclaimed in a
sorrowful tone, my voice faltering with uncontrollable agitation. He
shook the razor again before me with an air of defiance, and really
'grinned horribly a ghastly smile.'

'Now, suppose I choose to punish your perfidy, you wretch! and do what
you dread, eh?' said he, holding the razor as if he were going to cut
his throat.

'Why, wouldn't it be nobler to forgive and forget, Mr M?' I replied
with tolerable firmness, and folding my arms on my breast, anxious to
appear quite at ease.

'Too--too--too doctor!--Too--too--too--too! Ha! by the way--what do
you say to a razor hornpipe--eh?--Ha, ha, ha! a novelty at least!' He
began forthwith to dance a few steps, leaping frantically high, and
uttering at intervals a sudden, shrill dissonant cry, resembling that
used by those who dance the Highland 'fling', or some other species of
Scottish dance I affected to admire his dancing, even to ecstasy,
clapping my hands and shouting, 'Bravo, bravo! Encore!'

He seemed inclined to go over it again, but was too much exhausted,
and sat down panting on the window seat, which was close behind him.

'You'll catch cold, Mr M, sitting in that draught of air, naked and
perspiring as you are. Will you put on your clothes?' said I,
approaching him.

'No!' he replied sternly, and extended the razor threateningly. I fell
back, of course, not knowing what to do, nor choosing to risk either
his destruction or my own by attempting any active interference; for
what was to be done with a madman who had an open razor in his hand?

Mr--, the apothecary, seemed to have been gone an age; and I found
even my temper beginning to fail me, for I was tired with his tricks,
deadly dangerous as they were.

My attention, however, was soon riveted again on the motions of the
maniac. 'Yes--yes, decidedly so--I'm too hot to do it now--I am!' said
he, wiping the perspiration from his forehead, and eyeing the razor
intently. 'I must get calm and cool--and then--then for the sacrifice!
Aha, the sacrifice! An offering--expiation--even as Abraham--ha, ha,
ha! But, by the way, how did Abraham do it--that is, how did he intend
to have done it? Ah, I must ask my familiar?'

'A sacrifice, Mr M? Why, what do you mean?' I enquired, attempting a
laugh--I say, attempting--for my blood trickled chillily through my
veins, and my heart seemed frozen.

'What do I mean, eh? Wretch! Dolt! What do I mean? Why, a peace-
offering to my Maker, for a badly spent life, to be sure! One would
think that you had never heard of such a thing as religion, you

'I deny that the sacrifice would be accepted; and for two reasons,' I
replied, suddenly recollecting that he plumed himself on his
casuistry, and hoping to engage him on some new crotchet, which might
keep him in play till Mr--returned with assistance; but I was

'Well, well, Doctor--, let that be for the present--I can't resolve
doubts now--no, no,' he replied solemnly--"tis a time for action--for
action--for action,' he continued, gradually elevating his voice,
using vehement gesticulations, and rising from his seat.

'Yes, yes,' said I warmly; 'but though you've followed closely enough
the advice of the Talmudist, in shaving off your eyebrows, as a

'Aha! aha! What!--have you seen the Talmud!--have you really? Well,'
he added, after a doubtful pause, 'in what do you think I've failed,
eh?'.I need hardly say that I myself scarcely knew what led me to
utter the nonsense in question; but I have several times found, in
cases of insanity, that suddenly and readily supplying a motive for
the patient's conduct--referring it to a cause, of some sort or other,
with steadfast intrepidity--even be the said cause never so
preposterously absurd--has been attended with the happiest effects, in
arresting the patient's attention. I have several times recommended
this little device to those who have been entrusted with the care of
the insane, and have been assured of its success.

'You are very near the mark, I own; but it strikes me that you have
shaved them off too equally, too uniformly. You ought to have left
some little ridges--furrows--hem, hem!--to--to--to terminate, or
resemble the--the striped stick which Jacob held up before the ewes!'

'Oh--ay--ay! Exactly--true! Strange oversight!' he replied, as if
struck with the truth of the remark, and yet puzzled by vain attempts
to corroborate it by his own recollections; 'I--I recollect it now--
but it isn't too late yet--is it?'

'I think not,' I replied, with apparent hesitation, hardly crediting
the success of my strange stratagem. 'To be sure, it will require very
great delicacy; but as you have not shaved them off very closely, I
think I can manage it,' I continued doubtfully.

'Oh, oh, oh!' growled the maniac, while his eyes flashed fire at me.
'There's one sitting by me that tells me you are dealing falsely with
me--oh, lying villain! oh, perfidious wretch!' At that moment the door
opened gently behind me, and the voice of Mr--, the apothecary,
whispered in a low hurried tone, 'Doctor, I have got three of the inn-
porters here, in the sitting-room.' Though the whisper was almost
inaudible even to me, when uttered close to my ear, to my utter
amazement M had heard every syllable of it, and understood it too, as
if some officious minion of Satan himself had quickened his ears, or
conveyed the intelligence to him.

'Ah, ha, ha!--Ha, ha, ha!--Fools! knaves, harpies!--and what are you
and your hired desperadoes to me? Thus--thus do I outwit you--thus!'
and, springing from his seat, he suddenly drew up the lower part of
the window frame, and looked through it--then at the razor--and again
at me, with one of the most awful glances--full of dark diabolical
meaning, the momentary suggestion, surely, of the great Tempter--that
I ever encountered in my life.

'Which!--which!--which!' he muttered fiercely through his closed
teeth, while his right foot rested on the window-seat, ready for him
to spring out, and his eye travelled, as before, rapidly from the
razor to the window. Can anything be conceived more palsying to the
beholders? 'Why did not you and your strong reinforcement spring at
once upon him and overpower him?' possibly someone is asking. What!
and he armed with a naked razor? His head might have been severed from
his shoulders, before we could have over-mastered him--or we might
ourselves--at least one of us--have been murdered, or cruelly maimed
in the attempt. We knew not what to do!

M suddenly withdrew his head from the window through which he had been
gazing, with a shuddering, horror-stricken emotion, and groaned, 'No!
no! no! I won't--can't--for there's T standing just beneath, his face
all blazing, and waiting with outspread arms to catch me,' standing,
at the same time shading his eyes with his left hand--when I
whispered, 'Now, now, go up to him, secure him--all three spring on
him at once, and disarm him!' They obeyed me, and were in the act of
rushing into the room, when M suddenly planted himself into a posture
of defiance, elevated the razor to his throat, and almost howled, 'One
step--one step nearer--and I--I--I--so!' motioning as though he would
draw it from one ear to the other. We all fell back, horror struck,
and in silence. What could we do? If we moved towards him, or made use
of any threatening gestures, we should see the floor in an instant
deluged with his blood. I once more crossed my arms on my breast, with
an air of mute submission.

'Ha, ha!' he exclaimed after a pause, evidently pleased with such a
demonstration of his power, 'obedient, however!--well--that's one
merit! But still, what a set of cowards--bullies you must all be!
What! all four of you afraid of one man?' In the course of his frantic
gesticulations, he had drawn the razor so close to his neck, that its
edge had slightly grazed the skin under his left ear, and a little
blood trickled from it over his shoulders and breast.

'Blood!--blood? What a strange feeling! How coldly it fell on my
breast! How did I do it?

Shall--I--go--on, as I have made a beginning?' he exclaimed, drawling
the words at great length. He shuddered, and--to my unutterable joy
and astonishment--deliberately closed the razor, replaced it in its
case, put both in the drawer; and having done all this, before we
ventured to approach him, he fell at his full length on the floor, and
began to yell in a manner that was perfectly frightful; but, in a few
moments, he burst into tears, and cried and sobbed like a child.

We took him up in our arms, he groaning, 'Oh! shorn of my strength!--
shorn! shorn like Samson! Why part with my weapon? The Philistines be
upon me!'--and laid him down on the bed, where, after a few moments,
he fell asleep.

When he awoke again, a strait-waistcoat put all his tremendous
strugglings at defiance, though his strength seemed increased in a
tenfold degree, and prevented his attempting either his own life or
that of any one near him. When he found all his writhings and heavings
utterly useless, he gnashed his teeth, the foam issued from his mouth,
and he shouted, 'I'll be even with you, you incarnate devils! I
will!--I'll suffocate myself!' and he held his breath till he grew
black in the face, when he gave over the attempt. It was found
necessary to have him strapped down to the bed; and his howlings were
so shocking and loud, that we began to think of removing him, even in
that dreadful condition, to a madhouse. I ordered his head to be
shaved again, and kept perpetually covered with cloths soaked in
evaporating lotions; blisters to be applied behind each ear, and at
the nape of the neck; leeches to the temples; and the appropriate
internal medicines in such cases; and left him, begging I might be
sent for instantly in the event of his getting worse.

Oh! I shall never forget this harrowing scene! My feelings were wound
up almost to bursting; nor did they recover their proper tone for many
a week. I cannot conceive that the people whom the New Testament
speaks of as being 'possessed of devils' could have been more dreadful
in appearance, or more outrageous in their actions, than was M; nor
can I help suggesting the thought, that, possibly, they were in
reality nothing more than the maniacs of the worst kind. And is not a
man transformed into a devil, when his reason is utterly overturned?

On seeing M the next morning, I found he had passed a terrible
night--that the constraint of the strait-waistcoat filled him
incessantly with a fury that was absolutely diabolical. His tongue was
dreadfully lacerated; and the whites of his eyes, with perpetual
straining, were discoloured with a reddish hue, like ferrets' eyes. He
was truly a piteous spectacle!

He lay in a most precarious state for a fortnight; and though the fits
of outrageous madness had ceased or become much mitigated, and
interrupted not unfrequently with 'lucid intervals', as the phrase is,
I began to be apprehensive of his sinking eventually into that
deplorable condition, idiocy.

During one of his intervals of sanity--when the savage field relaxed
for a moment the hold he had taken of the victim's faculties--M said
something according with a fact which it was impossible for him to
have any knowledge of by the senses, which was to me inexplicable. It
was about nine o'clock in the morning of the third day after that on
which the scene above described took place that M, who was lying in a
state of lassitude and exhaustion, scarcely able to open his eyes,
turned his head slowly towards Mr--, the apothecary, who was sitting
by his bedside, and whispered to him, 'They are preparing to bury that
wretched fellow next door--hush! hush!--one of the coffin trestles
has fallen--hush!' Mr--and the nurse, who had heard him, both strained
their ears to listen, but could hear not even a mouse stirring.
'There's somebody come in--a lady, kissing his lips before he's
screwed down. Oh! I hope she won't be scorch'd--that's all!' He then
turned away his head, with no appearance of emotion, and presently
fell asleep.

Through curiosity Mr looked at his watch, and from subsequent enquiry
ascertained that, sure enough, about the time when his patient had
spoken, they were about burying his neighbour; that one of the
trestles did slip a little aside, and the coffin, in consequence, was
near falling; and finally, marvellous to tell, that a lady, one of the
deceased's relatives, I believe, did come and kiss the corpse, and cry
bitterly over it! Neither Mr--nor the nurse heard any noise whatever
during the time of the burial preparations next door, for the people
had been earnestly requested to be as quiet about them as possible,
and really made no disturbance whatever.

By what strange means he had acquired his information--whether or not
he was indebted for some portion of it to the exquisite delicacy, the
morbid sensitiveness of the organs of hearing, I cannot conjecture;
but how are we to account for the latter part of what he uttered,
about the lady's kissing the corpse, etc?

On another occasion, during one of his most placid moods, but not in
any lucid interval, he insisted on my taking pen, ink, and paper, and
turning amanuensis. To quiet him, I acquiesced, and wrote what he
dictated; and the manuscript now lies before me, and is, verbatim et
literatim, as follows:

'I, T M, saw--what saw I? A solemn silver grove--there were
innumerable spirits sleeping among the branches--(and it is this,
though unobserved of naturalists, that makes the aspen tree's leaves
to quiver so much--it is this, I say, namely, the rustling movements
of the spirits)--and in the midst of this grove was a beautiful site
for a statue, and one there assuredly was--but what a statue!
Transparent, of a stupendous size, through which--the sky was cloudy
and troubled--a ship was seen sinking at sea, and the crew at cards;
but the good spirit of the storm saved them, for he showed them the
key of the universe: and a shoal of sharks, with murderous eyes, were
disappointed of a meal. Lo, man, behold!--another part of this
statue--what a one!--has a fissure in it: it opens--widens into a
parlour, in darkness; and now shall be disclosed the horror of
horrors; for lo! some one sitting--easy chair--fiery face--fiend--
fiend--O God! O God! save me!' cried he.

He ceased speaking, with a shudder; nor did he resume the dictation,
for he seemed in a moment to have forgotten that he had dictated at
all. I preserved the paper; and, gibberish though it is, I consider it
both curious and highly characteristic throughout. Judging from the
latter part of it, where he speaks of a 'dark parlour, with some
fiery-faced fiend sitting in an easy-chair', and coupling this with
various similar expressions and allusions which he made during his
ravings, I felt convinced that his fancy was occupied with some one
individual image of horror, which had scared him into madness, and now
clung to his disordered faculties like a fiend. He often talked about
'spectres', 'spectral'; and uttered incessantly the words 'spectre-
smitten'. The nurse once asked him what he meant by these words. He
started--grew disturbed--his eye glanced with affright--and he shook
his head, exclaiming 'Horror!'

A few days afterwards he hired an amanuensis, who, of course, was duly
apprized of the sort of person he had to deal with; and, after a
painfully ludicrous scene, M attempting to beat down the man's terms
from a guinea and a half a week, to half-a-crown, he engaged him for
three guineas, he said, and insisted on his taking up his station at
the side of the bed, in order that he might minute down every word
that was uttered. M told him he was going to dictate a romance! It
would have required, in truth, the 'pen of a ready writer' to keep
pace with poor M's utterance; for he raved on at a prodigious rate, in
a strain, it need hardly be said, of unconnected absurdities.

Really, it was inconceivable nonsense; rhapsodical rantings in the
Maturin style, full of vaults, sepulchres, spectres, devils, magic;
with here and there a thought of real poetry. It was piteous to peruse
it! His amanuensis found it impossible to keep up with him, and
therefore profited by a hint from one of us, and instead of writing,
merely moved his pen rapidly over the paper, scrawling all sorts of
ragged lines and figures to resemble writing!

M never asked him to read it over, nor requested to see it for
himself; but, after about fifty pages were done, dictated a title-
page--pitched on publishers--settled the price and number of volumes--
four!--and then exclaimed, 'Well!--thank God--that's off my mind at
last!' He never mentioned it afterwards; and his brother committed the
whole to the flames about a week after. M had not, however, yet done
with his amanuensis, but put his services in requisition in quite
another capacity--that of reader. Milton was the book he selected;
and, actually, they went through very nearly nine books, M perpetually
interrupting him with comments, sometimes saying surpassingly absurd,
and occasionally very fine, forcible things.

As there was no prospect of his speedily recovering the use of his
reasoning faculties, he was removed to a private asylum, where I
attended him regularly for more than six months. He was reduced to a
state of drivelling idiocy--complete fatuity! Lamentable! heart-
rending! Oh! how deplorable to see a man of superior intellect--one
whose services are really wanted in society--the prey of madness! Dr
Johnson was well known to express a peculiar horror of insanity. 'O
God!' said he, 'afflict my body with what tortures Thou willest, but
spare my reason.' Where is he that does not join him in uttering such
a prayer?

The reader may possibly recollect seeing something like the following
expression occurring in 'The Broken Heart'. 'A candle flickering and
expiring in its socket, which suddenly shoots up into an instantaneous
brilliance, and then is utterly extinguished.' I have referred to it
merely because it affords a very apt illustration--apter than any that
now suggests itself to me--of what sometimes takes place in madness.
The roaring flame of insanity sinks into the sullen, smouldering
embers of complete fatuity, and remains so for months, when, like that
of the candle just alluded to, it will instantaneously gather up and
concentrate its expiring energies into one terrific blaze, one final
paroxysm of outrageous mania, and lo! it has consumed itself utterly,
burnt itself out, and the patient is unexpectedly restored to reason.

The experience of my medical readers, if it has lain in the track of
insanity, must have presented such cases to their notice not
unfrequently. However metaphysical ingenuity may set us speculating
about 'the why and wherefore of it', the fact is undeniable. It was
thus with Mr M.

He had sunk into the orable condition of a simple, harmless,
melancholy idiot, and was released from formal constraint; but
suddenly, one morning while at breakfast, he sprang upon the person
who always attended him, and had not the man been very muscular, and
practised in such matters, he must have been soon overpowered, and
perhaps murdered. A long and deadly wrestle took place between them.
Thrice they threw each other; and the keeper saw that the madman
several times cast a longing eye towards a knife which lay on the
breakfast-table, and endeavoured to sway his antagonist so as to get
himself within its reach. Both were getting exhausted with the
prolonged struggle; and the keeper, really afraid of his life,
determined to settle matters as soon as possible. The instant,
therefore, that he could get his right arm disengaged, he hit poor M a
dreadful blow on the side of the head, which felled him, and he lay
senseless on the floor, the blood pouring fast from his ears, nose,
and mouth. He was again confined in a strait-waistcoat, and conveyed
to bed, when, what with exhaustion, and the effect of the medicines
which had been administered, he fell into profound sleep, which
continued all day and, with little intermission, through the night.
When he awoke in the morning, lo! he was 'in his right mind'. His
calm, tranquillized features, and the sobered expression of his eyes,
showed that the sun of reason had really once more dawned upon his
long-benighted faculties.

I heard of the good news before I saw him, and, on hastening to his
room, found it was indeed so; his altered appearance, at first sight,
amply corroborated it! How different the mild, sad smile now beaming
on his pallid features, from the vacant stare, the unmeaning laugh of
idiocy, or the fiendish glare of madness! He spoke in a very feeble,
almost inarticulate voice, complained of dreadful exhaustion,
whispered something indistinctly about 'waking from a long and dreary
dream,' and said that he felt, as it were, only half awake or alive--
all was new, strange, startling!

Fearful of taxing too much his newborn powers, I feigned an excuse and
took my leave, recommended him cooling and quieting medicines, and
perfect seclusion from visitors. How exhilarated I felt my own spirits
all that day!

He gradually, very gradually, but surely recovered. One of the
earliest indications of his reviving interest in life, 'and all its
busy, thronging scenes,' was an abrupt enquiry whether Trinity Term
had commenced, and whether or not he was now eligible to be called to
the bar. He was utterly unconscious that three terms had flitted over
him while he lay in the gloomy wilderness of insanity; and when I
satisfied him of this fact, he alluded with a sigh to the beautiful
thought of one of our old dramatists, who, illustrating the
unconscious lapse of years over 'Endymion', makes one tell him--'And
behold, the twig to which thou laidest thy head, is now become a

It was not till several days after his restoration to reason that I
ventured to enter into anything like detailed conversation with him,
or to make particular allusions to his late illness; and on this
occasion it was that he related to me his rencontre with the fearful
object which had overturned his reason; adding, with intense emotion,
that not ten thousand a year should induce him to live in the same
chambers any more. During the course of his progress towards complete
recovery, memory shot its strengthening rays further and further back
into the inspissated gloom in which the long interval of insanity had
shrouded his mind; but it was too dense, too 'palpable an obscure', to
be ever completely and thoroughly illuminated.

The rays of recollection, however, settled distinctly on some of the
more prominent points, and I was several times astonished by his
sudden reference to things which he had said and done during the 'very
depth and quagmire of his disorder.' He asked me once, for instance,
whether he had not made an attempt on his life, and with a razor, and
how it was that he did not succeed. He had no recollection, however,
of the long and deadly struggle with his keeper--at least, he never
made the slightest allusion to it; nor, of course, did anyone else.

'I don't much mind talking these horrid things over with you, doctor,
for you know all the ins and outs of the whole affair; but if any of
my friends or relatives presume to torture me with any allusions or
enquiries of this sort, I'll fight them--they'll drive me mad again!'
The reader may suppose the hint was not disregarded.

'Did the horrible spectre which occasioned your illness in the first
instance ever present itself to you afterwards?' I once enquired. He
paused and turned pale. Presently he replied, with considerable
agitation: 'Yes, yes; it scarcely ever left me. It has not always
preserved its spectral consistency, but has entered into the most
astounding, the most preposterous combinations conceivable with other
objects and scenes--all of them, however, more or less of a
distressing or fearful character, many of them terrific!' I begged
him, if it were not unpleasant to him, to give me a specimen of them.

'It is certainly far from gratifying to trace scenes of such shame and
horror, but I will comply as far as I am able,' said he, rather
gloomily. 'Once I saw him' (meaning the spectre) 'leading on an army
of huge speckled and crested serpents against me; and when they came
upon me--for I had no power to run away--I suddenly found myself in
the midst of a pool of stagnant water, absolutely alive with slimy,
shapeless reptiles; and while endeavouring to make my way out, he rose
to the surface, his face hissing in the water and blazing bright as
ever! Again, I thought I saw him in single combat, by the gates of
Eden, with Satan, and the air thronged and heated with swart faces
looking on!' This was unquestionably some dim, confused recollection
of the Milton readings, in the earlier part of his illness.

'Again, I thought I was in the act of opening my snuff box, when he
issued from it, diminutive at first in size, but swelling soon into
gigantic proportions, and his fiery features diffusing a light and
heat around that absolutely scorched and blasted! At another time, I
thought I was gazing upwards on a sultry summer sky, and in the midst
of a luminous fissure in it, made by the lightning, I distinguished
his accursed figure, with his glowing features wearing an expression
of horror, and his limbs outstretched, as if he had been hurled down
from some height or other, and was falling through the sky towards me.
He came--he came--flung himself into my recoiling arms, and clung to
me, burning, scorching, withering my soul within me! I thought,
further, that I was all the while the subject of strange, paradoxical,
contradictory feelings towards him--that I, at one and the same time,
loved and loathed, feared and despised him!' He mentioned several
other instances of the confusions in his 'chamber of imagery'.

I told him of his sudden exclamation concerning Mr T--'s burial, and
its singular corroboration; but he either did not, or affected not to
recollect anything about it. He told me he had a full and distinct
recollection of being for a long time possessed with the notion of
making himself a 'sacrifice' of some sort or other, and that he was
seduced or goaded on to do so by the spectre, by the most dazzling
temptations, and under the most appalling threats--one of which latter
was, that God would plunge him into hell for ever if he did not offer
up himself; that if he did so, he should be a sublime spectacle to the
universe, ete, etc, etc.

'Do you recollect anything about dictating a novel or a romance?' He
started, as if struck with some sudden recollection. 'No; but I'll
tell you what I recollect well--that the spectre and I were set to
copy all the tales and romances that ever had been written, in a
large, bold, round hand, and then translate them into Greek or Latin
verse!' He smiled, nay, even laughed at the thought, almost the first
time of his giving way to such emotions since his recovery. He added
that, as to the latter, the idea of the utter hopelessness of ever
getting through such a stupendous undertaking never once presented
itself to him, and that he should have gone on with it, but that he
lost his inkstand!

'Had you ever a clear and distinct idea that you had lost the right
use of reason?'

'Why, about that, to tell the truth, I've been puzzling myself a good
deal, and yet I cannot say anything decisive. I do fancy that at times
I had short, transient glimpses into the real state of things, but
they were so evanescent. I am conscious of feeling, at these times,
incessant fury, arising from a sense of personal constraint, and I
longed once to strangle some one who was giving me medicine.'

But one of the most singular of all is yet to come. He still
persisted--yes, then, after his complete recovery, as we supposed--in
avowing his belief that we had hired a huge boa-serpent from Exeter
'Change to come and keep constant watch over him, to constrain his
movements when he threatened to become violent, and that it lay
constantly coiled up under his bed for that purpose; that he could now
and then feel the motions--the writhing, undulating motions--of its
coils; hear it utter a sort of sigh, and see it often elevate its head
over the bed, and play with its slippery, delicate, forked tongue over
his face, to soothe him to sleep.

When poor M, with a serious, earnest air, assured me he still believed
all this, my hopes of his complete and final restoration to sanity
were dashed at once! How such an absurd idea could possibly be
persisted in, I was bewildered in attempting to conceive. I frequently
strove to reason him out of it, but in vain. To no purpose did I
burlesque and caricature the notion almost beyond all bounds; it was
useless to remind him of the blank impossibility of it; he regarded me
with such a face as I should exhibit to a fluent personage quite in
earnest in demonstrating to me that the moon was made of green cheese.


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