Globalization Poverty Development Sustainability
It seems to me that imagination and reasoning have reached magnificent heights with some writers, especially poets. Among them, I strongly believe, the highest ever was Edgar Allan Poe. With Baudelaire I state that "le poete est souverainement intelligent, qu'il est l'intelligence par excellence, -et que l'imagination est la plus scientifique des facultes, parce que seule elle comprend l'analogie universelle...". One of those poets was Edgar Allan Poe. I reproduce here "The Works of Edgar Allan Poe" as a gesture against what Baudelaire called "la ferocite de l'hypocrisie bourgeoise", and what I personally call mediocrity, imbecility, and comprehensive intellectual dishonesty, all of which is presented as "realistic thinking". And, as we know, contemporary development studies are full of  "realistic thinking". So, let us learn something from Edgar Allan Poe!.  (Róbinson Rojas)
The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe V. 1
Volume 1 of the Raven Edition  #6 in our series by Edgar Allan Poe

VOLUME II  Contents
The Purloined Letter
The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherezade
A Descent into the Maelström
Von Kempelen and his Discovery
Mesmeric Revelation
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
The Black Cat
The Fall of the House of Usher
Silence -- a Fable
The Masque of the Red Death
The Cask of Amontillado
The Imp of the Perverse
The Island of the Fay
The Assignation
The Pit and the Pendulum
The Premature Burial
The Domain of Arnheim
Landor's Cottage
William Wilson
The Tell-Tale Heart
Eleonora                                       BACK TO MAIN INDEX
What say of it? what say of CONSCIENCE grim,
That spectre in my path?
                      _Chamberlayne's Pharronida._
    LET me call myself, for the present, William Wilson. The fair
page now lying before me need not be sullied with my real
appellation. This has been already too much an object for the scorn
-- for the horror -- for the detestation of my race. To the uttermost
regions of the globe have not the indignant winds bruited its
unparalleled infamy? Oh, outcast of all outcasts most abandoned! --
to the earth art thou not forever dead? to its honors, to its
flowers, to its golden aspirations? -- and a cloud, dense, dismal,
and limitless, does it not hang eternally between thy hopes and
I would not, if I could, here or to-day, embody a record of my later
years of unspeakable misery, and unpardonable crime. This epoch --
these later years -- took unto themselves a sudden elevation in
turpitude, whose origin alone it is my present purpose to assign. Men
usually grow base by degrees. From me, in an instant, all virtue
dropped bodily as a mantle. From comparatively trivial wickedness I
passed, with the stride of a giant, into more than the enormities of
an Elah-Gabalus. What chance -- what one event brought this evil
thing to pass, bear with me while I relate. Death approaches; and the
shadow which foreruns him has thrown a softening influence over my
spirit. I long, in passing through the dim valley, for the sympathy
-- I had nearly said for the pity -- of my fellow men. I would fain
have them believe that I have been, in some measure, the slave of
circumstances beyond human control. I would wish them to seek out for
me, in the details I am about to give, some little oasis of fatality
amid a wilderness of error. I would have them allow -- what they
cannot refrain from allowing -- that, although temptation may have
erewhile existed as great, man was never thus, at least, tempted
before -- certainly, never thus fell. And is it therefore that he has
never thus suffered? Have I not indeed been living in a dream? And am
I not now dying a victim to the horror and the mystery of the wildest
of all sublunary visions?
I am the descendant of a race whose imaginative and easily excitable
temperament has at all times rendered them remarkable; and, in my
earliest infancy, I gave evidence of having fully inherited the
family character. As I advanced in years it was more strongly
developed; becoming, for many reasons, a cause of serious disquietude
to my friends, and of positive injury to myself. I grew self-willed,
addicted to the wildest caprices, and a prey to the most ungovernable
passions. Weak-minded, and beset with constitutional infirmities akin
to my own, my parents could do but little to check the evil
propensities which distinguished me. Some feeble and ill-directed
efforts resulted in complete failure on their part, and, of course,
in total triumph on mine. Thenceforward my voice was a household law;
and at an age when few children have abandoned their leading-strings,
I was left to the guidance of my own will, and became, in all but
name, the master of my own actions.
My earliest recollections of a school-life, are connected with a
large, rambling, Elizabethan house, in a misty-looking village of
England, where were a vast number of gigantic and gnarled trees, and
where all the houses were excessively ancient. In truth, it was a
dream-like and spirit-soothing place, that venerable old town. At
this moment, in fancy, I feel the refreshing chilliness of its
deeply-shadowed avenues, inhale the fragrance of its thousand
shrubberies, and thrill anew with undefinable delight, at the deep
hollow note of the church-bell, breaking, each hour, with sullen and
sudden roar, upon the stillness of the dusky atmosphere in which the
fretted Gothic steeple lay imbedded and asleep.
It gives me, perhaps, as much of pleasure as I can now in any manner
experience, to dwell upon minute recollections of the school and its
concerns. Steeped in misery as I am -- misery, alas! only too real --
I shall be pardoned for seeking relief, however slight and temporary,
in the weakness of a few rambling details. These, moreover, utterly
trivial, and even ridiculous in themselves, assume, to my fancy,
adventitious importance, as connected with a period and a locality
when and where I recognise the first ambiguous monitions of the
destiny which afterwards so fully overshadowed me. Let me then
The house, I have said, was old and irregular. The grounds were
extensive, and a high and solid brick wall, topped with a bed of
mortar and broken glass, encompassed the whole. This prison-like
rampart formed the limit of our domain; beyond it we saw but thrice a
week -- once every Saturday afternoon, when, attended by two ushers,
we were permitted to take brief walks in a body through some of the
neighbouring fields -- and twice during Sunday, when we were paraded
in the same formal manner to the morning and evening service in the
one church of the village. Of this church the principal of our school
was pastor. With how deep a spirit of wonder and perplexity was I
wont to regard him from our remote pew in the gallery, as, with step
solemn and slow, he ascended the pulpit! This reverend man, with
countenance so demurely benign, with robes so glossy and so
clerically flowing, with wig so minutely powdered, so rigid and so
vast, -- -could this be he who, of late, with sour visage, and in
snuffy habiliments, administered, ferule in hand, the Draconian laws
of the academy? Oh, gigantic paradox, too utterly monstrous for
At an angle of the ponderous wall frowned a more ponderous gate. It
was riveted and studded with iron bolts, and surmounted with jagged
iron spikes. What impressions of deep awe did it inspire! It was
never opened save for the three periodical egressions and ingressions
already mentioned; then, in every creak of its mighty hinges, we
found a plenitude of mystery -- a world of matter for solemn remark,
or for more solemn meditation.
The extensive enclosure was irregular in form, having many capacious
recesses. Of these, three or four of the largest constituted the
play-ground. It was level, and covered with fine hard gravel. I well
remember it had no trees, nor benches, nor anything similar within
it. Of course it was in the rear of the house. In front lay a small
parterre, planted with box and other shrubs; but through this sacred
division we passed only upon rare occasions indeed -- such as a first
advent to school or final departure thence, or perhaps, when a parent
or friend having called for us, we joyfully took our way home for the
Christmas or Midsummer holy-days.
But the house! -- how quaint an old building was this! -- to me how
veritably a palace of enchantment! There was really no end to its
windings -- to its incomprehensible subdivisions. It was difficult,
at any given time, to say with certainty upon which of its two
stories one happened to be. From each room to every other there were
sure to be found three or four steps either in ascent or descent.
Then the lateral branches were innumerable -- inconceivable -- and so
returning in upon themselves, that our most exact ideas in regard to
the whole mansion were not very far different from those with which
we pondered upon infinity. During the five years of my residence
here, I was never able to ascertain with precision, in what remote
locality lay the little sleeping apartment assigned to myself and
some eighteen or twenty other scholars.
The school-room was the largest in the house -- I could not help
thinking, in the world. It was very long, narrow, and dismally low,
with pointed Gothic windows and a ceiling of oak. In a remote and
terror-inspiring angle was a square enclosure of eight or ten feet,
comprising the sanctum, "during hours," of our principal, the
Reverend Dr. Bransby. It was a solid structure, with massy door,
sooner than open which in the absence of the "Dominic," we would all
have willingly perished by the peine forte et dure. In other angles
were two other similar boxes, far less reverenced, indeed, but still
greatly matters of awe. One of these was the pulpit of the
"classical" usher, one of the "English and mathematical."
Interspersed about the room, crossing and recrossing in endless
irregularity, were innumerable benches and desks, black, ancient, and
time-worn, piled desperately with much-bethumbed books, and so
beseamed with initial letters, names at full length, grotesque
figures, and other multiplied efforts of the knife, as to have
entirely lost what little of original form might have been their
portion in days long departed. A huge bucket with water stood at one
extremity of the room, and a clock of stupendous dimensions at the
Encompassed by the massy walls of this venerable academy, I passed,
yet not in tedium or disgust, the years of the third lustrum of my
life. The teeming brain of childhood requires no external world of
incident to occupy or amuse it; and the apparently dismal monotony of
a school was replete with more intense excitement than my riper youth
has derived from luxury, or my full manhood from crime. Yet I must
believe that my first mental development had in it much of the
uncommon -- even much of the outre. Upon mankind at large the events
of very early existence rarely leave in mature age any definite
impression. All is gray shadow -- a weak and irregular remembrance --
an indistinct regathering of feeble pleasures and phantasmagoric
pains. With me this is not so. In childhood I must have felt with the
energy of a man what I now find stamped upon memory in lines as
vivid, as deep, and as durable as the exergues of the Carthaginian
Yet in fact -- in the fact of the world's view -- how little was
there to remember! The morning's awakening, the nightly summons to
bed; the connings, the recitations; the periodical half-holidays, and
perambulations; the play-ground, with its broils, its pastimes, its
intrigues; -- these, by a mental sorcery long forgotten, were made to
involve a wilderness of sensation, a world of rich incident, an
universe of varied emotion, of excitement the most passionate and
spirit-stirring. "Oh, le bon temps, que ce siecle de fer!"
In truth, the ardor, the enthusiasm, and the imperiousness of my
disposition, soon rendered me a marked character among my
schoolmates, and by slow, but natural gradations, gave me an
ascendancy over all not greatly older than myself; -- over all with a
single exception. This exception was found in the person of a
scholar, who, although no relation, bore the same Christian and
surname as myself; -- a circumstance, in fact, little remarkable;
for, notwithstanding a noble descent, mine was one of those everyday
appellations which seem, by prescriptive right, to have been, time
out of mind, the common property of the mob. In this narrative I have
therefore designated myself as William Wilson, -- a fictitious title
not very dissimilar to the real. My namesake alone, of those who in
school phraseology constituted "our set," presumed to compete with me
in the studies of the class -- in the sports and broils of the
play-ground -- to refuse implicit belief in my assertions, and
submission to my will -- indeed, to interfere with my arbitrary
dictation in any respect whatsoever. If there is on earth a supreme
and unqualified despotism, it is the despotism of a master mind in
boyhood over the less energetic spirits of its companions.
Wilson's rebellion was to me a source of the greatest embarrassment;
-- the more so as, in spite of the bravado with which in public I
made a point of treating him and his pretensions, I secretly felt
that I feared him, and could not help thinking the equality which he
maintained so easily with myself, a proof of his true superiority;
since not to be overcome cost me a perpetual struggle. Yet this
superiority -- even this equality -- was in truth acknowledged by no
one but myself; our associates, by some unaccountable blindness,
seemed not even to suspect it. Indeed, his competition, his
resistance, and especially his impertinent and dogged interference
with my purposes, were not more pointed than private. He appeared to
be destitute alike of the ambition which urged, and of the passionate
energy of mind which enabled me to excel. In his rivalry he might
have been supposed actuated solely by a whimsical desire to thwart,
astonish, or mortify myself; although there were times when I could
not help observing, with a feeling made up of wonder, abasement, and
pique, that he mingled with his injuries, his insults, or his
contradictions, a certain most inappropriate, and assuredly most
unwelcome affectionateness of manner. I could only conceive this
singular behavior to arise from a consummate self-conceit assuming
the vulgar airs of patronage and protection.
Perhaps it was this latter trait in Wilson's conduct, conjoined with
our identity of name, and the mere accident of our having entered the
school upon the same day, which set afloat the notion that we were
brothers, among the senior classes in the academy. These do not
usually inquire with much strictness into the affairs of their
juniors. I have before said, or should have said, that Wilson was
not, in the most remote degree, connected with my family. But
assuredly if we had been brothers we must have been twins; for, after
leaving Dr. Bransby's, I casually learned that my namesake was born
on the nineteenth of January, 1813 -- and this is a somewhat
remarkable coincidence; for the day is precisely that of my own
It may seem strange that in spite of the continual anxiety occasioned
me by the rivalry of Wilson, and his intolerable spirit of
contradiction, I could not bring myself to hate him altogether. We
had, to be sure, nearly every day a quarrel in which, yielding me
publicly the palm of victory, he, in some manner, contrived to make
me feel that it was he who had deserved it; yet a sense of pride on
my part, and a veritable dignity on his own, kept us always upon what
are called "speaking terms," while there were many points of strong
congeniality in our tempers, operating to awake me in a sentiment
which our position alone, perhaps, prevented from ripening into
friendship. It is difficult, indeed, to define, or even to describe,
my real feelings towards him. They formed a motley and heterogeneous
admixture; -- some petulant animosity, which was not yet hatred, some
esteem, more respect, much fear, with a world of uneasy curiosity. To
the moralist it will be unnecessary to say, in addition, that Wilson
and myself were the most inseparable of companions.
It was no doubt the anomalous state of affairs existing between us,
which turned all my attacks upon him, (and they were many, either
open or covert) into the channel of banter or practical joke (giving
pain while assuming the aspect of mere fun) rather than into a more
serious and determined hostility. But my endeavours on this head were
by no means uniformly successful, even when my plans were the most
wittily concocted; for my namesake had much about him, in character,
of that unassuming and quiet austerity which, while enjoying the
poignancy of its own jokes, has no heel of Achilles in itself, and
absolutely refuses to be laughed at. I could find, indeed, but one
vulnerable point, and that, lying in a personal peculiarity, arising,
perhaps, from constitutional disease, would have been spared by any
antagonist less at his wit's end than myself; -- my rival had a
weakness in the faucal or guttural organs, which precluded him from
raising his voice at any time above a very low whisper. Of this
defect I did not fall to take what poor advantage lay in my power.
Wilson's retaliations in kind were many; and there was one form of
his practical wit that disturbed me beyond measure. How his sagacity
first discovered at all that so petty a thing would vex me, is a
question I never could solve; but, having discovered, he habitually
practised the annoyance. I had always felt aversion to my uncourtly
patronymic, and its very common, if not plebeian praenomen. The words
were venom in my ears; and when, upon the day of my arrival, a second
William Wilson came also to the academy, I felt angry with him for
bearing the name, and doubly disgusted with the name because a
stranger bore it, who would be the cause of its twofold repetition,
who would be constantly in my presence, and whose concerns, in the
ordinary routine of the school business, must inevitably, on account
of the detestable coincidence, be often confounded with my own.
The feeling of vexation thus engendered grew stronger with every
circumstance tending to show resemblance, moral or physical, between
my rival and myself. I had not then discovered the remarkable fact
that we were of the same age; but I saw that we were of the same
height, and I perceived that we were even singularly alike in general
contour of person and outline of feature. I was galled, too, by the
rumor touching a relationship, which had grown current in the upper
forms. In a word, nothing could more seriously disturb me, although I
scrupulously concealed such disturbance,) than any allusion to a
similarity of mind, person, or condition existing between us. But, in
truth, I had no reason to believe that (with the exception of the
matter of relationship, and in the case of Wilson himself,) this
similarity had ever been made a subject of comment, or even observed
at all by our schoolfellows. That he observed it in all its bearings,
and as fixedly as I, was apparent; but that he could discover in such
circumstances so fruitful a field of annoyance, can only be
attributed, as I said before, to his more than ordinary penetration.
His cue, which was to perfect an imitation of myself, lay both in
words and in actions; and most admirably did he play his part. My
dress it was an easy matter to copy; my gait and general manner were,
without difficulty, appropriated; in spite of his constitutional
defect, even my voice did not escape him. My louder tones were, of
course, unattempted, but then the key, it was identical; and his
singular whisper, it grew the very echo of my own.
How greatly this most exquisite portraiture harassed me, (for it
could not justly be termed a caricature,) I will not now venture to
describe. I had but one consolation -- in the fact that the
imitation, apparently, was noticed by myself alone, and that I had to
endure only the knowing and strangely sarcastic smiles of my namesake
himself. Satisfied with having produced in my bosom the intended
effect, he seemed to chuckle in secret over the sting he had
inflicted, and was characteristically disregardful of the public
applause which the success of his witty endeavours might have so
easily elicited. That the school, indeed, did not feel his design,
perceive its accomplishment, and participate in his sneer, was, for
many anxious months, a riddle I could not resolve. Perhaps the
gradation of his copy rendered it not so readily perceptible; or,
more possibly, I owed my security to the master air of the copyist,
who, disdaining the letter, (which in a painting is all the obtuse
can see,) gave but the full spirit of his original for my individual
contemplation and chagrin.
I have already more than once spoken of the disgusting air of
patronage which he assumed toward me, and of his frequent officious
interference withy my will. This interference often took the
ungracious character of advice; advice not openly given, but hinted
or insinuated. I received it with a repugnance which gained strength
as I grew in years. Yet, at this distant day, let me do him the
simple justice to acknowledge that I can recall no occasion when the
suggestions of my rival were on the side of those errors or follies
so usual to his immature age and seeming inexperience; that his moral
sense, at least, if not his general talents and worldly wisdom, was
far keener than my own; and that I might, to-day, have been a better,
and thus a happier man, had I less frequently rejected the counsels
embodied in those meaning whispers which I then but too cordially
hated and too bitterly despised.
As it was, I at length grew restive in the extreme under his
distasteful supervision, and daily resented more and more openly what
I considered his intolerable arrogance. I have said that, in the
first years of our connexion as schoolmates, my feelings in regard to
him might have been easily ripened into friendship: but, in the
latter months of my residence at the academy, although the intrusion
of his ordinary manner had, beyond doubt, in some measure, abated, my
sentiments, in nearly similar proportion, partook very much of
positive hatred. Upon one occasion he saw this, I think, and
afterwards avoided, or made a show of avoiding me.
It was about the same period, if I remember aright, that, in an
altercation of violence with him, in which he was more than usually
thrown off his guard, and spoke and acted with an openness of
demeanor rather foreign to his nature, I discovered, or fancied I
discovered, in his accent, his air, and general appearance, a
something which first startled, and then deeply interested me, by
bringing to mind dim visions of my earliest infancy -- wild, confused
and thronging memories of a time when memory herself was yet unborn.
I cannot better describe the sensation which oppressed me than by
saying that I could with difficulty shake off the belief of my having
been acquainted with the being who stood before me, at some epoch
very long ago -- some point of the past even infinitely remote. The
delusion, however, faded rapidly as it came; and I mention it at all
but to define the day of the last conversation I there held with my
singular namesake.
The huge old house, with its countless subdivisions, had several
large chambers communicating with each other, where slept the greater
number of the students. There were, however, (as must necessarily
happen in a building so awkwardly planned,) many little nooks or
recesses, the odds and ends of the structure; and these the economic
ingenuity of Dr. Bransby had also fitted up as dormitories; although,
being the merest closets, they were capable of accommodating but a
single individual. One of these small apartments was occupied by
One night, about the close of my fifth year at the school, and
immediately after the altercation just mentioned, finding every one
wrapped in sleep, I arose from bed, and, lamp in hand, stole through
a wilderness of narrow passages from my own bedroom to that of my
rival. I had long been plotting one of those ill-natured pieces of
practical wit at his expense in which I had hitherto been so
uniformly unsuccessful. It was my intention, now, to put my scheme in
operation, and I resolved to make him feel the whole extent of the
malice with which I was imbued. Having reached his closet, I
noiselessly entered, leaving the lamp, with a shade over it, on the
outside. I advanced a step, and listened to the sound of his tranquil
breathing. Assured of his being asleep, I returned, took the light,
and with it again approached the bed. Close curtains were around it,
which, in the prosecution of my plan, I slowly and quietly withdrew,
when the bright rays fell vividly upon the sleeper, and my eyes, at
the same moment, upon his countenance. I looked; -- and a numbness,
an iciness of feeling instantly pervaded my frame. My breast heaved,
my knees tottered, my whole spirit became possessed with an
objectless yet intolerable horror. Gasping for breath, I lowered the
lamp in still nearer proximity to the face. Were these -- these the
lineaments of William Wilson? I saw, indeed, that they were his, but
I shook as if with a fit of the ague in fancying they were not. What
was there about them to confound me in this manner? I gazed; -- while
my brain reeled with a multitude of incoherent thoughts. Not thus he
appeared -- assuredly not thus -- in the vivacity of his waking
hours. The same name! the same contour of person! the same day of
arrival at the academy! And then his dogged and meaningless imitation
of my gait, my voice, my habits, and my manner! Was it, in truth,
within the bounds of human possibility, that what I now saw was the
result, merely, of the habitual practice of this sarcastic imitation?
Awe-stricken, and with a creeping shudder, I extinguished the lamp,
passed silently from the chamber, and left, at once, the halls of
that old academy, never to enter them again.
After a lapse of some months, spent at home in mere idleness, I found
myself a student at Eton. The brief interval had been sufficient to
enfeeble my remembrance of the events at Dr. Bransby's, or at least
to effect a material change in the nature of the feelings with which
I remembered them. The truth -- the tragedy -- of the drama was no
more. I could now find room to doubt the evidence of my senses; and
seldom called up the subject at all but with wonder at extent of
human credulity, and a smile at the vivid force of the imagination
which I hereditarily possessed. Neither was this species of
scepticism likely to be diminished by the character of the life I led
at Eton. The vortex of thoughtless folly into which I there so
immediately and so recklessly plunged, washed away all but the froth
of my past hours, engulfed at once every solid or serious impression,
and left to memory only the veriest levities of a former existence.
I do not wish, however, to trace the course of my miserable
profligacy here -- a profligacy which set at defiance the laws, while
it eluded the vigilance of the institution. Three years of folly,
passed without profit, had but given me rooted habits of vice, and
added, in a somewhat unusual degree, to my bodily stature, when,
after a week of soulless dissipation, I invited a small party of the
most dissolute students to a secret carousal in my chambers. We met
at a late hour of the night; for our debaucheries were to be
faithfully protracted until morning. The wine flowed freely, and
there were not wanting other and perhaps more dangerous seductions;
so that the gray dawn had already faintly appeared in the east, while
our delirious extravagance was at its height. Madly flushed with
cards and intoxication, I was in the act of insisting upon a toast of
more than wonted profanity, when my attention was suddenly diverted
by the violent, although partial unclosing of the door of the
apartment, and by the eager voice of a servant from without. He said
that some person, apparently in great haste, demanded to speak with
me in the hall.
Wildly excited with wine, the unexpected interruption rather
delighted than surprised me. I staggered forward at once, and a few
steps brought me to the vestibule of the building. In this low and
small room there hung no lamp; and now no light at all was admitted,
save that of the exceedingly feeble dawn which made its way through
the semi-circular window. As I put my foot over the threshold, I
became aware of the figure of a youth about my own height, and
habited in a white kerseymere morning frock, cut in the novel fashion
of the one I myself wore at the moment. This the faint light enabled
me to perceive; but the features of his face I could not distinguish.
Upon my entering he strode hurriedly up to me, and, seizing me by.
the arm with a gesture of petulant impatience, whispered the words
"William Wilson!" in my ear.
I grew perfectly sober in an instant. There was that in the manner of
the stranger, and in the tremulous shake of his uplifted finger, as
he held it between my eyes and the light, which filled me with
unqualified amazement; but it was not this which had so violently
moved me. It was the pregnancy of solemn admonition in the singular,
low, hissing utterance; and, above all, it was the character, the
tone, the key, of those few, simple, and familiar, yet whispered
syllables, which came with a thousand thronging memories of bygone
days, and struck upon my soul with the shock of a galvanic battery.
Ere I could recover the use of my senses he was gone.
Although this event failed not of a vivid effect upon my disordered
imagination, yet was it evanescent as vivid. For some weeks, indeed,
I busied myself in earnest inquiry, or was wrapped in a cloud of
morbid speculation. I did not pretend to disguise from my perception
the identity of the singular individual who thus perseveringly
interfered with my affairs, and harassed me with his insinuated
counsel. But who and what was this Wilson? -- and whence came he? --
and what were his purposes? Upon neither of these points could I be
satisfied; merely ascertaining, in regard to him, that a sudden
accident in his family had caused his removal from Dr. Bransby's
academy on the afternoon of the day in which I myself had eloped. But
in a brief period I ceased to think upon the subject; my attention
being all absorbed in a contemplated departure for Oxford. Thither I
soon went; the uncalculating vanity of my parents furnishing me with
an outfit and annual establishment, which would enable me to indulge
at will in the luxury already so dear to my heart, -- to vie in
profuseness of expenditure with the haughtiest heirs of the
wealthiest earldoms in Great Britain.
Excited by such appliances to vice, my constitutional temperament
broke forth with redoubled ardor, and I spurned even the common
restraints of decency in the mad infatuation of my revels. But it
were absurd to pause in the detail of my extravagance. Let it
suffice, that among spendthrifts I out-Heroded Herod, and that,
giving name to a multitude of novel follies, I added no brief
appendix to the long catalogue of vices then usual in the most
dissolute university of Europe.
It could hardly be credited, however, that I had, even here, so
utterly fallen from the gentlemanly estate, as to seek acquaintance
with the vilest arts of the gambler by profession, and, having become
an adept in his despicable science, to practise it habitually as a
means of increasing my already enormous income at the expense of the
weak-minded among my fellow-collegians. Such, nevertheless, was the
fact. And the very enormity of this offence against all manly and
honourable sentiment proved, beyond doubt, the main if not the sole
reason of the impunity with which it was committed. Who, indeed,
among my most abandoned associates, would not rather have disputed
the clearest evidence of his senses, than have suspected of such
courses, the gay, the frank, the generous William Wilson -- the
noblest and most commoner at Oxford -- him whose follies (said his
parasites) were but the follies of youth and unbridled fancy -- whose
errors but inimitable whim -- whose darkest vice but a careless and
dashing extravagance?
I had been now two years successfully busied in this way, when there
came to the university a young parvenu nobleman, Glendinning -- rich,
said report, as Herodes Atticus -- his riches, too, as easily
acquired. I soon found him of weak intellect, and, of course, marked
him as a fitting subject for my skill. I frequently engaged him in
play, and contrived, with the gambler's usual art, to let him win
considerable sums, the more effectually to entangle him in my snares.
At length, my schemes being ripe, I met him (with the full intention
that this meeting should be final and decisive) at the chambers of a
fellow-commoner, (Mr. Preston,) equally intimate with both, but who,
to do him Justice, entertained not even a remote suspicion of my
design. To give to this a better colouring, I had contrived to have
assembled a party of some eight or ten, and was solicitously careful
that the introduction of cards should appear accidental, and
originate in the proposal of my contemplated dupe himself. To be
brief upon a vile topic, none of the low finesse was omitted, so
customary upon similar occasions that it is a just matter for wonder
how any are still found so besotted as to fall its victim.
We had protracted our sitting far into the night, and I had at length
effected the manoeuvre of getting Glendinning as my sole antagonist.
The game, too, was my favorite ecarte!. The rest of the company,
interested in the extent of our play, had abandoned their own cards,
and were standing around us as spectators. The parvenu, who had been
induced by my artifices in the early part of the evening, to drink
deeply, now shuffled, dealt, or played, with a wild nervousness of
manner for which his intoxication, I thought, might partially, but
could not altogether account. In a very short period he had become my
debtor to a large amount, when, having taken a long draught of port,
he did precisely what I had been coolly anticipating -- he proposed
to double our already extravagant stakes. With a well-feigned show of
reluctance, and not until after my repeated refusal had seduced him
into some angry words which gave a color of pique to my compliance,
did I finally comply. The result, of course, did but prove how
entirely the prey was in my toils; in less than an hour he had
quadrupled his debt. For some time his countenance had been losing
the florid tinge lent it by the wine; but now, to my astonishment, I
perceived that it had grown to a pallor truly fearful. I say to my
astonishment. Glendinning had been represented to my eager inquiries
as immeasurably wealthy; and the sums which he had as yet lost,
although in themselves vast, could not, I supposed, very seriously
annoy, much less so violently affect him. That he was overcome by the
wine just swallowed, was the idea which most readily presented
itself; and, rather with a view to the preservation of my own
character in the eyes of my associates, than from any less interested
motive, I was about to insist, peremptorily, upon a discontinuance of
the play, when some expressions at my elbow from among the company,
and an ejaculation evincing utter despair on the part of Glendinning,
gave me to understand that I had effected his total ruin under
circumstances which, rendering him an object for the pity of all,
should have protected him from the ill offices even of a fiend.
What now might have been my conduct it is difficult to say. The
pitiable condition of my dupe had thrown an air of embarrassed gloom
over all; and, for some moments, a profound silence was maintained,
during which I could not help feeling my cheeks tingle with the many
burning glances of scorn or reproach cast upon me by the less
abandoned of the party. I will even own that an intolerable weight of
anxiety was for a brief instant lifted from my bosom by the sudden
and extraordinary interruption which ensued. The wide, heavy folding
doors of the apartment were all at once thrown open, to their full
extent, with a vigorous and rushing impetuosity that extinguished, as
if by magic, every candle in the room. Their light, in dying, enabled
us just to perceive that a stranger had entered, about my own height,
and closely muffled in a cloak. The darkness, however, was now total;
and we could only feel that he was standing in our midst. Before any
one of us could recover from the extreme astonishment into which this
rudeness had thrown all, we heard the voice of the intruder.
"Gentlemen," he said, in a low, distinct, and never-to-be-forgotten
whisper which thrilled to the very marrow of my bones, "Gentlemen, I
make no apology for this behaviour, because in thus behaving, I am
but fulfilling a duty. You are, beyond doubt, uninformed of the true
character of the person who has to-night won at ecarte a large sum of
money from Lord Glendinning. I will therefore put you upon an
expeditious and decisive plan of obtaining this very necessary
information. Please to examine, at your leisure, the inner linings of
the cuff of his left sleeve, and the several little packages which
may be found in the somewhat capacious pockets of his embroidered
morning wrapper."
While he spoke, so profound was the stillness that one might have
heard a pin drop upon the floor. In ceasing, he departed at once, and
as abruptly as he had entered. Can I -- shall I describe my
sensations? -- must I say that I felt all the horrors of the damned?
Most assuredly I had little time given for reflection. Many hands
roughly seized me upon the spot, and lights were immediately
reprocured. A search ensued. In the lining of my sleeve were found
all the court cards essential in ecarte, and, in the pockets of my
wrapper, a number of packs, facsimiles of those used at our sittings,
with the single exception that mine were of the species called,
technically, arrondees; the honours being slightly convex at the
ends, the lower cards slightly convex at the sides. In this
disposition, the dupe who cuts, as customary, at the length of the
pack, will invariably find that he cuts his antagonist an honor;
while the gambler, cutting at the breadth, will, as certainly, cut
nothing for his victim which may count in the records of the game.
Any burst of indignation upon this discovery would have affected me
less than the silent contempt, or the sarcastic composure, with which
it was received.
"Mr. Wilson," said our host, stooping to remove from beneath his feet
an exceedingly luxurious cloak of rare furs, "Mr. Wilson, this is
your property." (The weather was cold; and, upon quitting my own
room, I had thrown a cloak over my dressing wrapper, putting it off
upon reaching the scene of play.) "I presume it is supererogatory to
seek here (eyeing the folds of the garment with a bitter smile) for
any farther evidence of your skill. Indeed, we have had enough. You
will see the necessity, I hope, of quitting Oxford -- at all events,
of quitting instantly my chambers."
Abased, humbled to the dust as I then was, it is probable that I
should have resented this galling language by immediate personal
violence, had not my whole attention been at the moment arrested by a
fact of the most startling character. The cloak which I had worn was
of a rare description of fur; how rare, how extravagantly costly, I
shall not venture to say. Its fashion, too, was of my own fantastic
invention; for I was fastidious to an absurd degree of coxcombry, in
matters of this frivolous nature. When, therefore, Mr. Preston
reached me that which he had picked up upon the floor, and near the
folding doors of the apartment, it was with an astonishment nearly
bordering upon terror, that I perceived my own already hanging on my
arm, (where I had no doubt unwittingly placed it,) and that the one
presented me was but its exact counterpart in every, in even the
minutest possible particular. The singular being who had so
disastrously exposed me, had been muffled, I remembered, in a cloak;
and none had been worn at all by any of the members of our party with
the exception of myself. Retaining some presence of mind, I took the
one offered me by Preston; placed it, unnoticed, over my own; left
the apartment with a resolute scowl of defiance; and, next morning
ere dawn of day, commenced a hurried journey from Oxford to the
continent, in a perfect agony of horror and of shame.
I fled in vain. My evil destiny pursued me as if in exultation, and
proved, indeed, that the exercise of its mysterious dominion had as
yet only begun. Scarcely had I set foot in Paris ere I had fresh
evidence of the detestable interest taken by this Wilson in my
concerns. Years flew, while I experienced no relief. Villain! -- at
Rome, with how untimely, yet with how spectral an officiousness,
stepped he in between me and my ambition! At Vienna, too -- at Berlin
-- and at Moscow! Where, in truth, had I not bitter cause to curse
him within my heart? From his inscrutable tyranny did I at length
flee, panic-stricken, as from a pestilence; and to the very ends of
the earth I fled in vain.
And again, and again, in secret communion with my own spirit, would I
demand the questions "Who is he? -- whence came he? -- and what are
his objects?" But no answer was there found. And then I scrutinized,
with a minute scrutiny, the forms, and the methods, and the leading
traits of his impertinent supervision. But even here there was very
little upon which to base a conjecture. It was noticeable, indeed,
that, in no one of the multiplied instances in which he had of late
crossed my path, had he so crossed it except to frustrate those
schemes, or to disturb those actions, which, if fully carried out,
might have resulted in bitter mischief. Poor justification this, in
truth, for an authority so imperiously assumed! Poor indemnity for
natural rights of self-agency so pertinaciously, so insultingly
I had also been forced to notice that my tormentor, for a very long
period of time, (while scrupulously and with miraculous dexterity
maintaining his whim of an identity of apparel with myself,) had so
contrived it, in the execution of his varied interference with my
will, that I saw not, at any moment, the features of his face. Be
Wilson what he might, this, at least, was but the veriest of
affectation, or of folly. Could he, for an instant, have supposed
that, in my admonisher at Eton -- in the destroyer of my honor at
Oxford, -- in him who thwarted my ambition at Rome, my revenge at
Paris, my passionate love at Naples, or what he falsely termed my
avarice in Egypt, -- that in this, my arch-enemy and evil genius,
could fall to recognise the William Wilson of my school boy days, --
the namesake, the companion, the rival, -- the hated and dreaded
rival at Dr. Bransby's? Impossible! -- But let me hasten to the last
eventful scene of the drama.
Thus far I had succumbed supinely to this imperious domination. The
sentiment of deep awe with which I habitually regarded the elevated
character, the majestic wisdom, the apparent omnipresence and
omnipotence of Wilson, added to a feeling of even terror, with which
certain other traits in his nature and assumptions inspired me, had
operated, hitherto, to impress me with an idea of my own utter
weakness and helplessness, and to suggest an implicit, although
bitterly reluctant submission to his arbitrary will. But, of late
days, I had given myself up entirely to wine; and its maddening
influence upon my hereditary temper rendered me more and more
impatient of control. I began to murmur, -- to hesitate, -- to
resist. And was it only fancy which induced me to believe that, with
the increase of my own firmness, that of my tormentor underwent a
proportional diminution? Be this as it may, I now began to feel the
inspiration of a burning hope, and at length nurtured in my secret
thoughts a stern and desperate resolution that I would submit no
longer to be enslaved.
It was at Rome, during the Carnival of 18 -- , that I attended a
masquerade in the palazzo of the Neapolitan Duke Di Broglio. I had
indulged more freely than usual in the excesses of the wine-table;
and now the suffocating atmosphere of the crowded rooms irritated me
beyond endurance. The difficulty, too, of forcing my way through the
mazes of the company contributed not a little to the ruffling of my
temper; for I was anxiously seeking, (let me not say with what
unworthy motive) the young, the gay, the beautiful wife of the aged
and doting Di Broglio. With a too unscrupulous confidence she had
previously communicated to me the secret of the costume in which she
would be habited, and now, having caught a glimpse of her person, I
was hurrying to make my way into her presence. -- At this moment I
felt a light hand placed upon my shoulder, and that ever-remembered,
low, damnable whisper within my ear.
In an absolute phrenzy of wrath, I turned at once upon him who had
thus interrupted me, and seized him violently by tile collar. He was
attired, as I had expected, in a costume altogether similar to my
own; wearing a Spanish cloak of blue velvet, begirt about the waist
with a crimson belt sustaining a rapier. A mask of black silk
entirely covered his face.
"Scoundrel!" I said, in a voice husky with rage, while every syllable
I uttered seemed as new fuel to my fury, "scoundrel! impostor!
accursed villain! you shall not -- you shall not dog me unto death!
Follow me, or I stab you where you stand!" -- and I broke my way from
the ball-room into a small ante-chamber adjoining -- dragging him
unresistingly with me as I went.
Upon entering, I thrust him furiously from me. He staggered against
the wall, while I closed the door with an oath, and commanded him to
draw. He hesitated but for an instant; then, with a slight sigh, drew
in silence, and put himself upon his defence.
The contest was brief indeed. I was frantic with every species of
wild excitement, and felt within my single arm the energy and power
of a multitude. In a few seconds I forced him by sheer strength
against the wainscoting, and thus, getting him at mercy, plunged my
sword, with brute ferocity, repeatedly through and through his bosom.
At that instant some person tried the latch of the door. I hastened
to prevent an intrusion, and then immediately returned to my dying
antagonist. But what human language can adequately portray that
astonishment, that horror which possessed me at the spectacle then
presented to view? The brief moment in which I averted my eyes had
been sufficient to produce, apparently, a material change in the
arrangements at the upper or farther end of the room. A large mirror,
-- so at first it seemed to me in my confusion -- now stood where
none had been perceptible before; and, as I stepped up to it in
extremity of terror, mine own image, but with features all pale and
dabbled in blood, advanced to meet me with a feeble and tottering
Thus it appeared, I say, but was not. It was my antagonist -- it was
Wilson, who then stood before me in the agonies of his dissolution.
His mask and cloak lay, where he had thrown them, upon the floor. Not
a thread in all his raiment -- not a line in all the marked and
singular lineaments of his face which was not, even in the most
absolute identity, mine own!
It was Wilson; but he spoke no longer in a whisper, and I could have
fancied that I myself was speaking while he said:
"You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, henceforward art thou also
dead -- dead to the World, to Heaven and to Hope! In me didst thou
exist -- and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how
utterly thou hast murdered thyself."
~~~ End of Text ~~~