Edgar Allan Poe.

The works of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume 8) online

. (page 1 of 12)
Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeThe works of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume 8) → online text (page 1 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


B 14




From an etching by Wogel






/tr~0 3 ,. /c> /


an intro3ucron





















Loss OF BREATH. . . 180



[Sent to R. H. Home, April, 1844. Published in th
Broadway Journal, II., 20.]

MANY years ago, it was the fashion to ridicule
the idea of "love at first sight ; but those who
think, not less than those who feel deeply, have
always advocated its existence. Modern discov
eries, indeed, in what may be termed ethical mag
netism or magnetoaBsthetics, render it probable
that the most natural, and, consequently, the tru
est and most intense of the human affections are
those which arise in the heart as if by electric
sympathy in a word, that the brightest and
most enduring of the psychal fetters are those
which are riveted by a glance. The confession I
am about to make will add another to the already
almost innumerable instances of the truth of the

My story requires that I should be somewhat
minute. I am still a very young man not yet
twenty-two years of age. My name, at present,
is a very usual and rather plebeian one Simp
son. I say "at present"; for it is only lately
that I have been so called having legislatively
adopted this surname within the last year, in


order to receive a large inheritance left me by a
distant ma!e reJ alive. Aoolphus Simpson, Esq.

The bequest was conditioned upon my taking
the name of the testator the family, not the
Christian name ; my Christian name is Napoleon
Bonaparte or, more properly, these are my first
and middle appellations.

I assumed the name, Simpson, with some re
luctance, as in my true patronym, Proissart, I
felt a very pardonable pride believing that I
could trace a descent from the immortal author
of the "Chronicles." While on the subject of
names, by the by, I may mention a singular coin
cidence of sound attending the names of some of
my immediate predecessors. My father was a
Monsieur Froissart, of Paris. His wife my
mother, whom he married at fifteen was a
Mademoiselle Croissart, eldest daughter of Crois-
sart the banker; whose wife, again being only
sixteen when married, was the eldest daughter of
one Victor Voissart. Monsieur Voissart, very
singularly, had married a lady of similar name
a Mademoiselle Moissart. She, too, was quite a
child when married; and her mother, also,
Madame Moissart, was only fourteen when led
to the altar. These early marriages are usual in
France. Here, however, are Moissart, Voissart,
Croissart, and Froissart, all in the direct line of
descent. My own name, though, as I say, became
Simpson, by act of Legislature, and with so much
repugnance on my part, that, at one period, I
actually hesitated about accepting the legacy
with the useless and annoying proviso attached.


As to personal endowments, I am by no means
deficient. On the contrary, I believe that I am well
made, and possess what nine tenths of the world
would call a handsome face. In height I am five
feet eleven. My hair is black and curling. My
nose is sufficiently good. My eyes are large and
gray ; and, although, in fact, they are weak to a
very inconvenient degree, still no defect in this
regard would be suspected from their appear
ance. The weakness itself, however, has always
much annoyed me, and I have resorted to every
remedy short of wearing glasses. Being youth
ful and good-looking, I naturally dislike these,
and have resolutely refused to employ them. I
know nothing, indeed, which so disfigures the
countenance of a young person, or so impresses
every feature with an air of demureness, if not
altogether of sanctimoniousness and of age. An
eye-glass, on the other hand, has a savor of down
right foppery and affectation. I have hitherto
managed as well as I could without either. But
something too much of these merely personal de
tails, which, after all, are of little importance. I
will content myself with saying, in addition, that
my temperament is sanguine, rash, ardent, en
thusiastic and that all my life I have been a de
voted admirer of the women.

One night last winter I entered a box at the

P Theatre, in company with a friend, Mr.

Talbot. It was an opera night, and the bills pre
sented a very rare attraction, so that the house
was excessively crowded. We were in time, how
ever, to obtain the front seats which had been re-


served for us, and into which, with some little
difficulty, we elbowed our way.

For two hours my companion, who was a musi
cal fanatico, gave his undivided attention to the
stage ; and, in the meantime, I amused myself by
observing the audience, which consisted, in chief
part, of the very elite of the city. Having satis
fied myself upon this point, I was about turning
my eyes to the prima donna, when, they were
arrested and riveted by a figure in one of the pri
vate boxes which had escaped my observation.

If I live a thousand years I can never forget
the intense emotion with which I regarded this
figure. It was that of a female, the most exquis
ite I had ever beheld. The face was so far turned
toward the stage that, for some minutes, I could
not obtain a view of it, but the form was di
vine; no other word can sufficiently express its
magnificent proportion, and even the term * di
vine seems ridiculously feeble as I write it.

The magic of a lovely form in woman the
necromancy of female gracefulness was always
a power which I had found it impossible to re
sist; but here was grace personified, incarnate,
the beau ideal of my wildest and most enthusias
tic visions. The figure, almost all of which the
construction of the box permitted to be seen, was
somewhat above the medium height, and nearly
approached, without positively reaching, the ma
jestic. Its perfect fulness and tournure were de
licious. The head, of which only the back was
visible, rivalled in outline that of the Greek Psy
che, and was rather displayed than concealed by


an elegant cap of gaze aerienne, which put me in
mind of the ventum textilem of Apuleius. The
right arm hung over the balustrade of the box,
and thrilled every nerve of my frame with its
exquisite symmetry. Its upper portion was drap-
eried by one of the loose open sleeves now in
fashion. This extended but little below the el*
bow. Beneath it was worn an under one of some
frail material, close-fitting, and terminated by a
cuff of rich lace, which fell gracefully over the
top of the hand, revealing only the delicate fin
gers, upon one of which sparkled a diamond ring,
which I at once saw was of extraordinary value.
The admirable roundness of the wrist was well
set off by a bracelet which encircled it, and which
also was ornamented and clasped by a magnifi
cent aigrette of jewels telling, in words that
could not be mistaken, at once of the wealth and
fastidious taste of the wearer.

I gazed at this queenly apparition for at least
half an hour, as if I had been suddenly convert-
en to stone ; and, during this period, I felt the
full force and truth of all that has been said or
sung concerning "love at first sight. " My feel
ings were totally different from any which I had
hitherto experienced, in the presence of even the
most celebrated specimens of female loveliness.
An unaccountable, and what I am compelled to
consider a magnetic, sympathy of soul for soul,
seemed to rivet, not only my vision, but my whole
powers qf thought and feeling, upon the admir
able object before me. I saw I felt I knew
that I was deeply, madly, irrevocably in love


and this even before seeing the face of the person
beloved. So intense, indeed, was the passion that
consumed me, that I really believe it would have
received little if any abatement had the features,
yet unseen, proved of merely ordinary character ;
so anomalous is the nature of the only true love
of the love at first sight and so little really
dependent is it upon the external conditions
which only seem to create and control it.

While I was thus wrapped in admiration of
this lovely vision, a sudden disturbance among
the audience caused her to turn her head partial
ly toward me, so that I beheld the entire profile
of the face. Its beauty even exceeded my antici
pations and yet there was something about it
which disappointed me without my being able to
tell exactly what it was. I said "disappointed,"
but this is not altogether the word. My senti
ments were at once quieted and exalted. They
jpartook less of transport and more of calm en-
|thusiasm of enthusiastic repose. This state of
feeling arose, perhaps, from the Madonna-like
and matronly air of the face ; and yet I at once
understood that it could not have arisen entirely
from this. There was something else some mys
tery which I could not develop some expression
about the countenance which slightly disturbed
me while it greatly heightened my interest. In
fact, I was just in that condition of mind which
prepares a young and susceptible man for any
act of extravagance. Had the lady been alone, I
should undoubtedly have entered her box and ac
costed her at all hazards; but, fortunately, she


was attended by two companions a gentleman,
and a strikingly beautiful woman, to all appear
ance a few years younger than herself.

I revolved in my mind a thousand schemes by
which I might obtain, hereafter, an introduction
to the elder lady, or for the present, at all events,
a more distinct view of her beauty. I would have
removed my position to one nearer her own, but
the crowded state of the theatre rendered this
impossible; and the stern decrees of Fashion
had, of late, imperatively prohibited the use of
the opera-glass in a case such as this, even had I
been so fortunate as to have one with me but I
had not and was thus in despair.

At length I bethought me of applying to my

"Talbot," I said, "you have an opera-glass.
Let me have it."

"An opera-glass! no! what do you suppose
/ would be doing with an opera-glass?" Here
he turned impatiently toward the stage.

"But, Talbot," I continued, pulling him by
the shoulder, listen to me will you ? Do you see
the stage-box? there! no, the next. Did you
ever behold as lovely a woman ?

* She is very beautiful, no doubt, he said.

"I wonder who she can be?"

"Why, in the name of all that is angelic, don t
you know who she is ? Not to know her argues
yourself unknown. She is the celebrated Ma
dame Lalande the beauty of the day par excel
lence, and the talk of the whole town. Immense-


ly wealthy too a widow and a great match,
has just arrived from Paris."

"Do you know her?"

"Yes I have the honor."

* Will you introduce me ?

" Assuredly with the greatest pleasure; when
shall it be 1""

"To-morrow, at one, I will call upon you at

1 1 Very good ; and now do hold your tongue, if
you can.

In this latter respect I was forced to take Tal-
bot ? s advice ; for he remained obstinately deaf to
every further question or suggestion, and occu
pied himself exclusively for the rest of the even
ing with what was transacting upon the stage.

In the meantime I kept my eyes riveted on Ma
dame Lalande, and at length had the good for
tune to obtain a full front view of her face. It
was exquisitely lovely : this, of course, my heart
had told me before, even had not Talbot fully
satisfied me upon the point but still the unin
telligible something disturbed me. I finally con
cluded that my senses were impressed by a cer
tain air of gravity, sadness, or, still more proper
ly, of weariness, which took something from the
youth and freshness of the countenance, only to
endow it with a seraphic tenderness and majesty,
and thus, of course, to my enthusiastic and ro
mantic temperament, with an interest tenfold.

While I thus feasted my eyes, I perceived, at
last, to my great trepidation, by an almost imper
ceptible start on the part of the lady, that she


had become suddenly aware of the intensity of
my gaze. Still, I was absolutely fascinated, and
could not withdraw it, even for an ins tant. She
turned aside her face, and again I saw only the
chiselled contour of the back portion of the head.
After some minutes, as if urged by curiosity to
see if I was still looking, she gradually brought
her face again around and again encountered my
burning gaze. Her large dark eyes fell instantly,
and a deep blush mantled her cheek. But what
was my astonishment at perceiving that she not
only did not a second time avert her head, but
that she actually took from her girdle a double
eye-glass elevated it adjusted it and then re
garded me through it, intently and deliberately,
for the space of several minutes.

Had a thunderbolt fallen at my feet I could not
have been more thoroughly astounded astound
ed only not offended or disgusted in the slight
est degree; although an action so bold in any
other woman would have been likely to offend or
disgust. But the whole thing was done with so
much quietude so much nonchalance so much
repose with so evident an air of the highest
breeding, in short that nothing of mere effron
tery was perceptible, and my sole sentiments
were those of admiration and surprise.

I observed that, upon her first elevation of the
glass, she had seemed satisfied with a momentary
inspection of my person, and was withdrawing
the instrument, when, as if struck by a second
thought, she resumed it, and so continued to
regard me with fixed attention for the space of


several minutes for five minutes, at the very
least, I am sure.

This action, so remarkable in an American
theatre, attracted very general observation, and
gave rise to an indefinite movement, or buzz,
among the audience, which for a moment filled
me with confusion, but produced no visible effect
upon the countenance of Madame Lalande.

Having satisfied her curiosity if such it was
she dropped the glass, and quietly gave her at
tention again to the stage ; her profile now being
turned toward myself as before. I continued to
watch her unremittingly, although I was fully
conscious of my rudeness in so doing. Presently
I saw the head slowly and slightly change its
position; and soo I became convinced that the
lady, while pretending to look at the stage was, In
fact, attentively regarding myself. It is needless
to say what effect this conduct, on the part of so
fascinating a woman, had upon my excitable

Having thus scrutinized me for perhaps a
quarter of an hour, the fair object of my passion
addressed the gentleman who attended her, and,
while she spoke, I saw distinctly, by the glances
of both, that the conversation had reference to

Upon its conclusion, Madame Lalande again
turned toward the stage, and for a few minutes,
seemed absorbed in the performance. At the
expiration of tkis period, however, I was thrown
into aa extremity of agitation by seeing her
unfold, for the second time, the eye-glass which


hung at .her side, fully confront me as before,
and, disregarding the renewed buzz of the au
dience, survey me, from head to foot, with the
same miraculous composure which had previous
ly so delighted and confounded my soul.

This extraordinary behavior, by throwing me
into a perfect fever of excitement into an ab
solute delirium of love served rather to em
bolden than to disconcert me. In the mad in
tensity of my devotion, I forgot every thing but
the presence and the majestic loveliness of the
vision which confronted my gaze. Watching my
opportunity, when I thought the audience were
fully engaged with the opera, I at length caught
the eyes of Madame Lalande, and, upon the in
stant, made a slight but unmistakable bow.

She blushed very deeply then averted her
eyes then slowly and cautiously looked around,
apparently to see if my rash action had been
noticed then leaned over toward the gentleman
who sat by her side.

I now felt a burning sense of the impropriety
I had committed, and expected nothing less than
instant exposure ; while a vision of pistols upon
the morrow floated rapidly and uncomfortably
through my brain. I was greatly and immedi
ately relieved, however, when I saw the lady
merely hand the gentleman a play-bill, without
speaking; but the reader may form some feeble
conception of my astonishment of my profound
amazement my delirious bewilderment of heart
and soul when, instantly afterward, having
again glanced furtively around, she allowed her


bright eyes to set fully and steadily upon my
own, and then, with a faint smile, disclosing a
bright line of her pearly teeth, made two distinct,
pointed, and unequivocal affirmative inclinations
of the head.

It is useless, of course, to dwell upon my joy
upon my transport upon my illimitable
ecstasy of heart. If ever man was mad with
excess of happiness, it was myself at that mo
ment. I loved. This was my -first love so I
felt it to be. It was love supreme indescrib
able. It was "love at first sight ;" and at first
sight, too, it had been appreciated and returned.

Yes, returned. How and why should I doubt
it for an instant. What other construction could
I possibly put upon such conduct, on the part of
a lady so beautiful so wealthy evidently so ac
complished of so high breeding of so lofty a
position in society in every regard so entirely
respectable as I felt assured was Madame La-
lande ? Yes, she loved me she returned the en
thusiasm of my love, with an enthusiasm as blind
as uncompromising as uncalculating as
abandoned and as utterly unbounded as my
own! These delicious fancies and reflections,
however, were now interrupted by the falling of
the drop-curtain. The audience arose; and the
usual tumult immediately supervened. Quitting
Talbot abruptly, I made every effort to force my
way into closer proximity with Madame Lalande.
Having failed in this, on account of the crowd, I
at length gave up the ehase, and bent my steps
homeward ; consoling myself for my disappoint-


ment in not having been able to touch even the
hem of her robe, by the reflection that I should
be introduced by Talbot, in due form, upon the

This morrow at last came; that is to say, a
day finally dawned upon a long and weary night
of impatience; and then the hours until "one"
were snail-paced, dreary, and innumerable. But
even Stamboul, it is said, shall have an end, and
there c.ame an end to this long delay. The clock
struck: As the last echo ceased, I stepped into
B s and inquired for Talbot.

"Out/ said the footman Talbot s own.

Out ! I replied, staggering back half a dozen
paces "let me tell you, my fine fellow, that this
thing is thoroughly impossible and impracti
cable; Mr. Talbot is not out. What do you
mean ?

"Nothing, sir; only Mr. Talbot is not in.

That s all. He rode over to S , immediately

after breakfast, and left word that he would not
be in town again for a week.

I stood petrified with horror and rage. I en
deavored to reply, but my tongue refused its
office. At length I turned on my heel, livid with
wrath, and inwardly consigning the whole tribe
of the Talbots to the innermost regions of Ere
bus. It was evident that my considerate friend,
il fanatico, had quite forgotten his appointment
with himself had forgotten it as soon as it was
made. At no time was he a very scrupulous man
of his word. There was no help for it; so
smothering my vexation as well as I could, I


strolled moodily up the street, propounding fu
tile inquiries about Madame Lalande to every
male acquaintance I met. By report she was
known, I found, to all to many by sight but
she had been in town only a few weeks, and there
were very few, therefore, who claimed her per
sonal acquaintance. These few being still com
paratively strangers, could not, or would not,
take the liberty of introducing me through the
formality of a morning call. While I stood thus
in despair, conversing with a trio of friends upon
the all-absorbing subject of my heart, it so hap
pened that the subject itself passed by.

" As I live, there she is ! cried one.

"Surprisingly beautiful I" exclaimed a sec

"An angel upon earth !" ejaculated a third.

I looked; and in an open carriage which ap
proached us, passing slowly down the street, sat
the enchanting vision of the opera, accompanied
by the younger lady who had occupied a portion
or her box.

"Her companion also wears remarkably
well/ said the one of my trio who had spoken

" Astonishingly ," said the second; "still quite
a brilliant air; but art will do wonders. Upon
my word, she looks better than she did at Paris
five years ago. A beautiful woman still:
don t you think so, Froissart? Simpson, I

"SMI!" said I, "and why shouldn t she be?
But compared with her friend she is as a


light to the evening star aglow-worm to

"Ha! ha! ha! why, Simpson, you have an
astonishing tact at making discoveries original
ones, I mean." And here we separated, while
one of the trio began humming a gay vaudeville,
of which I caught only the lines

Ninon, Ninon, Ninon & bas
A bas Ninon De L Enclos !

During this little scene, however, one thing
had served greatly to console me, although it fed
the passion by which I was consumed. As the
carriage of Madame Lalande rolled by our group,
I had observed that she recognized me ; and more
than this, she had blessed me, by the most
seraphic of all imaginable smiles, with no equivo
cal mark of the recognition.

As for an introduction, I was obliged to aban
don all hope of it, until such time as Talbot
should think proper to return from the country.
In the meantime I perseveringly frequented
every reputable place of public amusement ; and,
at length, at the theatre, where I first saw her, I
had the supreme bliss of meeting her, and of ex
changing glances with her once again. This did
not occur, however, until the lapse of a fortnight.
Every day, in the interim, I had inquired for
Talbot at his hotel, and every day had been
thrown into a spasm of wrath by the everlasting
"Not come home yet" of his footman.

Upon the evening in question, therefore, I was
in a condition little short of madness. Madame


Lalande, I had been told, was a Parisian had
lately arrived from Paris might she not sud
denly return? return before Talbot came back
and might she not be thus lost to me forever?
The thought was too terrible to bear. Since my
future happiness was at issue, I resolved to act
with a manly decision. In a word, upon the
breaking up of the play, I traced the lady to her
residence, noted the address, and the next morn
ing sent her a full and elaborate letter, in which
I poured out my whole heart.

I spoke boldly, freely in a word, I spoke with
passion. I concealed nothing nothing even of
my weakness. I alluded to the romantic circum
stances of our first meeting even to the glances
which had passed between us. I went so far as
to say that I felt assured of her love; while I
offered this assurance, and my own intensity of
devotion, as two excuses for my otherwise unpar
donable conduct. As a third, I spoke of my fear
that she might quit the city before I could have
the opportunity of a formal introduction. I
concluded the most wildly enthusiastic epistle
ever penned, with a frank declaration of my
worldly circumstances of my affluence and
with an offer of my heart and of my hand.

In an agony of expectation I awaited the re
ply. After what seemed the lapse of a century
it came.

Yes, actually came. Romantic as all this may
appear, I really received a letter from Madame
Lalande the beautiful, the wealthy, the idolized
Madame Lalande. Her eyes her magnificent


eyes, had not belied her noble heart. Like a true
Frenchwoman as she was she had obeyed the

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeThe works of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume 8) → online text (page 1 of 12)