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
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 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. 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 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 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,) 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 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 "I fear you have mesmerized" - adding immediately afterwards, 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 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, 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 patient's extremities were of an icy
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. Valdemar's 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
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
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
"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,
"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
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. 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 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-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
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 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 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 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 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!"
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 putridity.