THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR
THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR
Edgar Allan Poe, 1845
OF course I shall not pretend to consider it any matter for
wonder, that the extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited
discussion. It would have been a miracle had it not-especially under
the circumstances. Through the desire of all parties concerned, to
keep the affair from the public, at least for the present, or until we
had farther opportunities for investigation --through our endeavors to
effect this --a garbled or exaggerated account made its way into
society, and became the source of many unpleasant
misrepresentations, and, very naturally, of a great deal of disbelief.
It is now rendered necessary that I give the facts --as far as I
comprehend them myself. They are, succinctly, these:
My attention, for the last three years, had been repeatedly drawn to
the subject of Mesmerism; and, about nine months ago it occurred to
me, quite suddenly, that in the series of experiments made hitherto,
there had been a very remarkable and most unaccountable omission: --no
person had as yet been mesmerized in articulo mortis. It remained to
be seen, first, whether, in such condition, there existed in the
patient any susceptibility to the magnetic influence; secondly,
whether, if any existed, it was impaired or increased by the
condition; thirdly, to what extent, or for how long a period, the
encroachments of Death might be arrested by the process. There were
other points to be ascertained, but these most excited my curiosity
--the last in especial, from the immensely important character of
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
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
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
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 coldness.
At five minutes before eleven I perceived unequivocal signs of the
mesmeric influence. The glassy roll of the eye was changed for that
expression of uneasy inward examination which is never seen except
in cases of sleep-waking, and which it is quite impossible to mistake.
With a few rapid lateral passes I made the lids quiver, as in
incipient sleep, and with a few more I closed them altogether. I was
not satisfied, however, with this, but continued the manipulations
vigorously, and with the fullest exertion of the will, until I had
completely stiffened the limbs of the slumberer, after placing them in
a seemingly easy position. The legs were at full length; the arms were
nearly so, and reposed on the bed at a moderate distance from the
loin. The head was very slightly elevated.
When I had accomplished this, it was fully midnight, and I requested
the gentlemen present to examine M. 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 remained.
We left M. Valdemar entirely undisturbed until about three o'clock
in the morning, when I approached him and found him in precisely the
same condition as when Dr. F-- went away --that is to say, he lay in
the same position; the pulse was imperceptible; the breathing was
gentle (scarcely noticeable, unless through the application of a
mirror to the lips); the eyes were closed naturally; and the limbs
were as rigid and as cold as marble. Still, the general appearance was
certainly not that of death.
As I approached M. Valdemar I made a kind of half effort to
influence his right arm into pursuit of my own, as I passed the latter
gently to and fro above his person. In such experiments with this
patient 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
"Do you still feel pain in the breast, M. Valdemar?"
The answer now was immediate, but even less audible than before:
"No pain --I am dying."
I did not think it advisable to disturb him farther just then, and
nothing more was said or done until the arrival of Dr. F--, who came a
little before sunrise, and expressed unbounded astonishment at finding
the patient still alive. After feeling the pulse and applying a mirror
to the lips, he requested me to speak to the sleep-waker again. I
did so, saying:
"M. Valdemar, do you still sleep?"
As before, some minutes elapsed ere a reply was made; and during the
interval the dying man seemed to be collecting his energies to
speak. At my fourth repetition of the question, he said very
faintly, almost inaudibly:
"Yes; still asleep --dying."
It was now the opinion, or rather the wish, of the physicians,
that M. Valdemar should be suffered to remain undisturbed in his
present apparently tranquil condition, until death should supervene
--and this, it was generally agreed, must now take place within a
few minutes. I concluded, however, to speak to him once more, and
merely repeated my previous question.
While I spoke, there came a marked change over the countenance of
the sleep-waker. The eyes rolled themselves slowly open, the pupils
disappearing upwardly; the skin generally assumed a cadaverous hue,
resembling not so much parchment as white paper; and the circular
hectic spots which, hitherto, had been strongly defined in the
centre of each cheek, went out at once. I use this expression, because
the suddenness of their departure put me in mind of nothing so much as
the extinguishment of a candle by a puff of the breath. The upper lip,
at the same time, writhed itself away from the teeth, which it had
previously covered completely; while the lower jaw fell with an
audible jerk, leaving the mouth widely extended, and disclosing in
full view the swollen and blackened tongue. I presume that no member
of the party then present had been unaccustomed to death-bed
horrors; but so hideous beyond conception was the appearance of M.
Valdemar at this moment, that there was a general shrinking back
from the region of the bed.
I now feel that I have reached a point of this narrative at which
every reader will be startled into positive disbelief. It is my
business, however, simply to proceed.
There was no longer the faintest sign of vitality in M. Valdemar;
and concluding him to be dead, we were consigning him to the charge of
the nurses, when a strong vibratory motion was observable in the
tongue. This continued for perhaps a minute. At the expiration of this
period, there issued from the distended and motionless jaws a voice
--such as it would be madness in me to attempt describing. There
are, indeed, two or three epithets which might be considered as
applicable to it in part; I might say, for example, that the sound was
harsh, and broken and hollow; but the hideous whole is
indescribable, for the simple reason that no similar sounds have
ever jarred upon the ear of humanity. There were two particulars,
nevertheless, which I thought then, and still think, might fairly be
stated as characteristic of the intonation --as well adapted to convey
some idea of its unearthly peculiarity. In the first place, the
voice seemed to reach our ears --at least mine --from a vast distance,
or from some deep cavern within the earth. In the second place, it
impressed me (I fear, indeed, that it will be impossible to make
myself comprehended) as gelatinous or glutinous matters impress the
sense of touch.
I have spoken both of "sound" and of "voice." I mean to say that the
sound was one of distinct --of even wonderfully, thrillingly
distinct --syllabification. M. Valdemar spoke --obviously in reply
to the question I had propounded to him a few minutes before. I had
asked him, it will be remembered, if he still slept. He now said:
"Yes; --no; --I have been sleeping --and now --now --I am dead.
No person present even affected to deny, or attempted to repress,
the unutterable, shuddering horror which these few words, thus
uttered, were so well calculated to convey. Mr. L--l (the student)
swooned. The nurses immediately left the chamber, and could not be
induced to return. My own impressions I would not pretend to render
intelligible to the reader. For nearly an hour, we busied ourselves,
silently --without the utterance of a word --in endeavors to revive
Mr. L--l. When he came to himself, we addressed ourselves again to
an investigation of M. 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 Mr. L--l.
In the afternoon we all called again to see the patient. His
condition remained precisely the same. We had now some discussion as
to the propriety and feasibility of awakening him; but we had little
difficulty in agreeing that no good purpose would be served by so
doing. It was evident that, so far, death (or what is usually termed
death) had been arrested by the mesmeric process. It seemed clear to
us all that to awaken M. Valdemar would be merely to insure his
instant, or at least his speedy dissolution.
From this period until the close of last week --an interval of
nearly seven months --we continued to make daily calls at M.
Valdemar's house, accompanied, now and then, by medical and other
friends. All this time the 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
"M. Valdemar, can you explain to us what are your feelings or wishes
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.