Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

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many of the advanced members of the profession, who
made this a lounge after the fatigues of the morning.

THE *' DREAM OF UE A.TH.'* 863

"Now, however, I approached this duty with fear and
trembling : the events of the morning liad depressed my
mind greatly, and I longed for rest and retirement. The
passing glance I threw at the lecture-room through the
half-opened door, showed it to be crowded to the very
roof, and as I walked along the corridor, I heard the

' name of some foreign physician of eminence, who was
among my auditory. I cannot describe the agitation of

; mind I felt at this moment. My confusion, too, became
greater as I remembered that the few notes I had drawn
up were left in the pocket of the carriage, which I had
just dismissed, intending to return on foot. It was already
considerably past the usual hour, and I was utterly
unable to decide how to proceed. I hastily drew out a
portfolio that contained many scattered notes, and hints
for lectures, and hurriedly throwing my eye across them,
discovered some singular memoranda on the subject of
insanity. On these I resolved at once to dilate a little,
and eke out, if possible, the materials for a lecture.

" The events of the remainder of that day are wrapt in
much obscurity to my mind, yet I well remember the
loud thunder of applause which greeted me on entering
the lecture-room, and how, as for some moments I ap-
peared to hesitate, they were renewed again and again,
till at last, summoning resolution, I collected myself suf-
ficiently to open my discourse. I well remember, too,
the difficulty the first few sentences cost me, the doubts,
the fears, the pauses, which beset me at every step as I
went on. My anxiety to be clear and accurate in convey-
ing my meaning, making me recapitulate and repeat, till
I felt myself, as it were, working in a circle. By degrees,
however, I grew warmed as I proceeded, and the evident

■ signs of attention my auditory exhibited, gave rue renewed

' courage, while they impressed me with the necessity to
make a more than common exertion. By degrees, too, I
felt the mist clearing from my brain, and that even with-
out efibrt, my ideas came faster, and my words fell from
me with ease and rapidity. Simile and illustration came
in abundance, and distinctions which had hitherto struck
me as the most subtle and difficult of description I now
drew with readiness and accuracy. Points of au abstruse


and recondite nature, which, under other circumstances, I
should not have wished to touch upon, I now approached
fearlessly and boldly, and felt, in the very moment of
speaking, they became clearer and clearer to myself.
Theories and hypotheses, which were of old and acknow-
ledged acceptance, I glanced hurriedly at as I went on,
and with a perspicuity and clearness I never before felt,
exposed their fallacies and unmasked their errors. I
thought I was rather describing events, and things pass-
ing actually before my eyes at the instant, than relating'
the results of a life's experience and reflection. My
memory, usually a defective one, now canned me back to
the days of my early childhood ; and the whole passages
of a life long lay displayed before me like a picture. If
I quoted, the very words of the author rushed to mj
mind as palpably as though the page lay open before me.
I have still some vague recollection of an endeavour I
made to trace the character of the insanity in every case,
to some early trait of the individual in childhood, when,
overcome by passion, or overbalanced by excitement, the
faculties run wild into all those excesses, which, in after
years, develop eccentricities of character, and, in some
weaker temperaments, aberrations of intellect. Anec-
dotes illustrating this novel position came thronging to
my mind ; and events in the early years of some who
subsequently died insane, and seemed to support my
theory, came rushing to my memory. As I proceeded, I
became gradually more and more excited, the very ease
and rapidity with which my ideas suggested themselves
increased the fervour of my imaginings, till at last I felt
my words come without effort, and spontaneousl}'', while
there seemed a commingling of my thoughts which left
me unable to trace connection between them, while I con-
tinued to speak as fluently as before. I felt at this in-
stant a species of indistinct terror of some unknown
danger which impended me, yet which it was impossible
to avert or to avoid. I was like one who, borne on the
rapid current of a fast-flowing river, sees the foam of the
cataract before him, yet waits passively for the moment
of his destruction, without an effort to save. The power
which maintained my mind in its balance had gradually

THE ''dream of death.' 3G5

forsaken rae, and shapes and fantasies of every odd and
fantastic character flitted around and about me. The
ideas and descriptions my mind had conjured up assumed
a living, breathing vitality, and 1 felt like a necromancer
waving his wand over the living and the dead. I paused;
there was a dead silence in the lecture-room : a thought
rushed like a meteor-flash my brain, and bursting
forth into a loud laugh of hysteric passion, I cried, —
* AND I, AND I, TOO, AM A MANIAC ! ' My class rosc like
one man — a cry of horror burst through the room. I
know no more.

# # « * # 3|C

" I was ill, very ill, and in bed. I looked around me
— every object was familiar to me. Through the half-
closed window-shutter there streamed one long line of
red sunlight — I felt it was evening. There was no one in
the room, and, as I endeavoured to recall my scattered
thoughts sufficiently to find out why I was thus there
came an oppressive weakness over me. I closed my eyes
and tried to sleep, and was roused by some one entering

the room: it was my friend Doctor G : he walked

stealthily towards my bed, and looked at me fixedly for
several minutes ; I watched him closely, and saw that his
countenance changed as he looked on me ; I felt his
hand tremble slightly as he placed it on my wrist, and
heard him mutter to himself, in a low tone, ' My God !
how altere(\ ! ' I heard now a voice at the door, saying,
in a soft whisper, ' May I come in?' The doctor made
no reply, and my wife glided gently into the apartment.
She looked deathly pale, and appeared to have been weep-
ing ; she leaned over me, and I felt the warm tears fall
one by one upon my forehead. She took my hand within
both of hers, and putting her lips to my ear, said, ' Do
you know me, William?' There was a long p.iase. I
tried to speak, but I could not ; I endeavoured to make
some sign of recognition, and stared her fully in the face ;
but I heard her say, in a broken voice, ' He does not
know me now;' and then I felt it was in vain. The
doctor came over, and taking my wife's hand, endeavoured
to lead her from the room. I heard her say, ' Not now,
not now,' and I sank back into a heavy unconsciousness.


" I awoke from what appeared to have been a long and
deep sleep. I was, however, unrefreshed and nnrested.
Mj eyes were dimmed and clouded, and I in vain ti-ied
to ascertain if there was any one in the room with me.
The sensation of fever had subsided, and left behind the
most lowering and depressing debility. As by degrees I
came to myself, I found that the doctor was sitting beside
my bed ; "he bent over me, and said, ' Are you better,
William?' Fever until now had my inability to reply
given me any pain or uneasiness; now, however, the
abortive struggle to speak was torture. I thought and
felt that my senses were gradually yielding beneath me,
and a cold shuddering at my heart told me that the hand
of death was upon me. The exertion now made to repel
the fatal lethai-gy must have been great, for a cold, clammy
perspiration broke profusely over my body; a rushing
sound, as if of water, filled my ears ; a succession of short
convulsive spasms, as if given by an electiic machine,
shook my limbs ; I grasped the doctor's hand firmly in
mine, and starting to the sitting posture, I looked wildly
about me. My breathing became shorter and shorter,
my grasp relaxed, my eyes swam, and I fell back heavily
in the bed ; the last recollection of that moment was the

muttered expression of my poor friend G , saying, ' It

is over at last.'

" Many hours must have elapsed ere I returned to any
consciousness. My first sensation was feeling the cold
wind across my face, which seemed to come from an open
window. My eyes were closed, and the lids felt as if
pressed down by a weight. My arms lay along my side,
and though the position in which I lay was constrained
and unpleasant, I could make no effort to alter it ,• I tried
to speak, but I could not.

" As I lay thus, the footsteps of many persons traversing
the apartment, broke upon my ear, followed by a heavy,
dull sound, as if some weighty body had been laid upon
the floor ; a harsh voice of one near me now said, as if

reading, ' William H , aged thirty-eight years ; I

thought him much more.' The words rushed through
my brain, and with the rapidity of a lightning (lash, every
circumstance of my illness came before me, and I now


knew that I Lad died, and that for my interment were
intended the awful preparations about me. Was this
then death? Could it be that though coldness wrapt
the suffering clay, passion and sense should still survive ;
and that while every extci-nal trace of life had fled, con-
sciousness should still cling to the cold corpse destined for
the earth ? Oh ! how horrible, how more than horrible !
the terror of the thought ! Then I thought it might be
what is termed a trance, but that poor hope deserted me
as I brought to mind the words of the doctor, who knew
too well all the unerring signs of death, to be deceived by
its counterfeit, and my heart sank as they lifted me into
the cofiin, and I felt that ray limbs had stiffened, and I
knew this never took place in a trance. How shall I tell
the heart-cutting anguish of that moment, as my mind
looked forward to a iuturity too dreadful to think upon ;
when memory should call up many a sunny hour of
existence, the loss of friends, the triumph of exertion, and
then fall back upon the dread consciousness of the ever-
buried life the grave closed over; and then I thought
that perhaps sense but lingered round the lifeless clay, as
the spirits of the dead are said to hover around the places
and homes they have loved in life, ere they leave them
for ever ; and that soon the lamp should expire upon the
shrine when the temple that sheltered it lay mouldering
and in ruins. Alas ! how fearful to dream of even the
happiness of the past, in that cold grave where the worm
only is a reveller ; to think that though —

Friends, brothers, and sisters, are laid side by side,
Yet none have ere questioned, nor none have replied ;

yet that all felt in their cold and mouldering hearts the
loves and affections of life, budding and blossoming as
though the stem was not rotting to corruption that bore
them ; I brought to mind the awful punishment of the
despot, who chained the living to the dead man, and
thought it mercy when compai-ed to this.

" How long I lay thus I know not, but the dreary
silence of the chamber was again broken, and I found
that some of my dearest friends were come to take a fare-
well look at me ere the coffin was closed upon me for


ever. Again the horror of my state struck me with all its
forcible reality, and like a meteor there shot through my
heart the bitterness of years of misery condensed into the
space of a minute. And then, I remembered, how gradual
is death, and how by degrees it ci'eeps over every portion
of the frame, like the track of the destroyer, blighting as
it goes, and said to my heart, All may yet be still within
me, and the mind as lifeless as the body it dwelt in ; and
yet these feelings partook of life in all their strength and
vigour. There was the Will to move, to speak, to see, to
live, and yet all was torpid and inactive, as though it had
never lived. "Was it that the nerves, from some depress-
ing cause, had ceased to transmit the influence of the
brain ? Had these winged messengers of the mind re-
fused their office ? And then I called to mind the almost
miraculous efficacy of the Will, exerted under circum-
stances of great exigency, and with a concentration of
power that some men only are capable of. I had heard of
the Indian father who suckled his child at his own bosom,
M'hen he had laid its mother in her grave ; yet, was it not
the will had wrought this miracle ? I myself have seen
the paralytic limb awake to life and motion by the power-
ful application of the mind stimulating the nervous chan-
nels of communication, and awakening the dormant powers
of vitality to their exercise. I knew of one whose heart
beat fast or slow as he did will it. Yes I thought I, in a
transport, the Will to live, is the power to live ; and only
when this faculty has yielded with bodily strength need
death be the conqueror over us. The thought of reani-
mation was ecstatic, but I dare not dwell upon it ; the
moments passed rapidly on, and even now the last prepara-
tions were about to be made, ere they committed my body
to the grave. And how was the effort to be made? If
the Will did indeed possess the power I trusted in, how
was it to be applied ? I bad olten wished to speak or
move during my illness, yet was unable to do either. I
then remembered that in those cases where the Will had
worked its wonders, the powers of the mind had entirely
centred themselves in the one heart-filling desire to accom-
plish a certain object, as the athlete in the games strains
every muscle to lift some ponderous weight. And thus, I


knew, that if the heart could be so subjected to the principle
of volition, as that, yielding to its impulse, it would again
transmit the blood along its accustomed channels, and that
then the lungs should be brought to act upon the blood by
the same agency, the other functions of the body would
be more readily restored by the sympathy with these great
ones. Besides, I trusted that so long as the powers of the
mind existed in the vigour I felt them in, that much of
what might be called latent vitality existed in the body.
Then I set myself to think upon those nerves which pre-
side over the action of the heart — their origin, their course,
their distribution, their relation, their sympathies. I traced
them as they arose in the brain, and tracked them till they
were lost in millions of tender threads upon the muscle of
the heart. I thought, too, upon the lungs as they lay
flaccid and collapsed within my chest — the life-blood stag-
nant in their vessels, — and tried to possess my mind with
the relation of these two parts, to the utter exclusion of
every othei-. I endeavoured then to transmit along the
nerves the impulse of that faculty my whole hopes rested
on. Alas ! it was in vain, I tried to heave my chest and
breathe, but could not; — my heart sank within me, and all
my former terrors came thickening around me, more dread-
ful by far, as the stir and bustle in the room indicated they
were about to close the cofEn. At this moment my dear

friend B entered the room. He had come many milea

to see me once more, and they made way for him to ap-
proach me as I lay. He placed his warm hand upon my
breast, and oh ! the throb it sent through my heart ! Again,
but almost unconsciously to myself, the impulse rushed
along my nerves ; a bursting sensation seized my chest, a
tingling ran through my frame, a crashing, jarring sensa-
tion, as if the tense nervous cords were vibrating to some
sudden and severe shock, took hold on me ; and then, after
one violent convulsive throe which brought the blood from
my mouth and eyes, my heart swelled, at first slowly, then
faster, and the nerves reverberated, clank ! clank ! respon-
sive to the stroke. At the same time the chest expanded,
the muscles strained like the cordage of a ship in a heavy
sea, and I breathed once more. While thus tlie faint
impulse to returning -life was given, the dread thought

B n


flashed on me that it might not be real, and that to my
own imagination alone were refei'able the phenomena I
experienced. At the same instant the gloomy doubt crossed
my mind it was dispelled, for I heard a cry of horror
through the room, and the words, ' He is alive ! he still
lives ! ' from a number of voices around me. The noise
and confusion increased. I heard them say, * Carry out
B before he sees him again — he has fainted ! ' Direc-
tions and exclamations of wonder and dread followed one
npon another ; and I can but call to mind the lifting me
from the coffin, and the feeling of returning warmth I
experienced, as I was placed before a fire, and supported
by the arms of my friend.

" I will only add that after some weeks of painful debility
I was again restored to health, having tasted the full
bitterness of death."



The "Eil Wagen," into whose bowels I had committed
myself on leaving Frankfort, rolled along for twenty-four
hours before I could come to any determination as to
whither I should go ; for ro is ifc that perfect liberty is
sometimes rather an inconvenience, and a little despotism
is now and then no bad thing; and at this moment 1 could
have given a ten-gulden piece to any one who should have
named my road, and settled my destination.

" Where are we ? " said I, at length, as we straggled —
tiine horses and all — into a great vaulted porte-cochere.

" At the Koenig von Preussen, MeinHerr," said a yellow-
haired waiter, who flourished a napkin about him in very
professional style.

" Ah ! very true ; but in what town, city, or village, and
In whose kingdom ? "


** Ach du lieber Gott ! " exclaimed he, witli his eyes
opened to their fullest extent. " Where would you be bu.
in the city of Hesse Cassel, in the Grand Duchy of Seiner
Kouiglichen Hocheit "

" Enough — more than enough ! Let me have supper."

The " Speiss Saal " was crowded with travellers and
townspeople as I entered ; but the room was of great size,
and a goodly table, amply provided, occupied the middle
of it ; taking my place at which, I went ahead through
the sliced shoe-leather, yclept beef, the kalbs-brateu and
the gurkin salad, and all the other indigestible abomina-
tions of that light meal a German takes before he lies
down at night. The company were, with the exception of
a few military men, of that nondescript class every German
town abounds with — a large-headed, long-haired, plodding-
looking generation, with huge side-pockets in their trousers,
from one of which a cherry-wood pipe-stick is sure to pro-
ject ; civil, obliging, good sort of people they are, but by
no means remarkable for intelligence or agreeability. But
then, what mind could emerge from beneath twelve solid
inches of beetroot and bouilli, and what brain could bear
immersion in " Bavarian beer ? "

One never can understand fullyhow atrocious the tyranny
of Napoleon must have been in Gei'many, until he has
visited that country and seen something of its inhabitants.
Then only can one compute what must the hurricane have
been that convulsed the waters of such a land-locked bay.
Never was there a peoi^le so little disposed to compete with
their rulers — never was obedience more thoroughly an
instinct. The whole philosophy of the German's mind
teaches him to look within, rather than without ; his own '
resources are more his object in life than the enjoyment of
state privileges ; and to his peaceful temper endurance is
a pleasanter remedy than resistance. Almost a Turk in
his love of tranquillity, he has no sympathy with revolutions
or public disturbances of any kind, and the provocation
must indeed be great when he arouses himself to resist it.
That, when he is thus called on, he can act with energy
and vigour, the campaigns of 1813 and 1814 abundantly
testify. Twice the French armies had to experience the
lieavy retribution on unjust invasion j both Spain and

B n 2


Germany repaid the injuries they had endured, but with a
characteristic difference of spirit. In the one case, it was-
the desultory attacks of savage guerillas, animated by the-
love of plunder as much as by patriotism ; in the other,
the rising of a great people to defend their homes and
altars, presented the glorious spectacle of a nation going
forth to the fight. The wild notes of the Basque bugle
rang not out with such soul-stirring effect as the beautiful
songs of Korner, heard beside the watch fire or at the
peasant's hearth. The conduct of their own princes might
have debased the national spirit of any other people ; but
the German's attachment to Vatei'land is not a thing of
courtly rule, nor conventional agreement. He loves the
land and the literature of his fathers ; he is proud of the
good faith and honesty which are the acknowledged traits
of Saxon character ; he holds to the " sittliche Leben," the
orderly domestic habits of his countiy ; and as he wages
not a war of aggression on others, he resists the spoliation
of an enemy on the fields of his native country.

"When the French revolution first broke out, the
students were amongst its most ardent admirers ; the
destruction of the I3astile was celebrated among the
secret festivals of the Burschenscraft, and although the
fever was a brief one, and never extended among the more
thinking portion of the nation, to that same enthusiasm
for liberty was owing the great burst of national energy
that in 1813 convulsed the land from the Baltic to the
Tyrol, and made Leipsic the compensation for Jena.

With all his grandeur of intellect. Napoleon never
understood the national character — perhaps he may have
despised it. One of his most fatal errors, undoubtedly^
was the little importance he attached to the traits which
distinguish one country from another, and the seeming^
indifference with which he propounded notions of govern-
ment diametrically opposed to all the traditions and pre-
judices of those for whom they were intended. The great
desire for centralization, the ambition to make France the
heart of Europe, through whose impulse the life-blood
should circulate over the entire Continent, to merge all
distinctions of race and origin, and make Frenchmen of
one quarter of the globe, was a stupendous idea ; and, if


nations were enrolled in armies, miglit not be impossible.
The eflbrt to ellect it, however, cost him the greatest
throne of Christendom.

The French rule in Spain, in Italy, and in Holland, t
far from conciliating the goodwill and affection of th»,
f)eople, has sown the seeds of that hatred to France in each
(•of these countries, that a century will not eradicate;
while no greater evidence of Napoleon's ignorance of
national character need be adduced, than in the expecta-
tions he indulged in the event of his landing an army in

His calculation on support from any part of the Britisli
people, — no matter how opposed to the ministry of the
day, or how extreme in their wishes for extended liberties,
was the most chimerical thought that ever eutei-ed the
brain of man. Very little knowledge of our country might
have taught him that the differences of party spirit never
sui'vive the mere threat of foreign invasion ; that however
Englishmen may oppose each other, they reserve a very
■different spirit of resistance for the stranger who should
attack their common country ; and that party, however it
may array men in opposite ranks, is itself but the evidence
of pati'iotisra, seeking different paths for its development.

It was at the close of a little reverie to this purpose,
that I found myself sitting with one other guest at the
long table of the " Speiss Saal ;" the rest had dropped off
one by one, leaving him in the calm enjoyment of his
meerschaum and his cup of black coffee.

There was something striking in the air and appeai'ance
of this man, and I could not help regarding him closely ;
he was about fifty years of age, but with a carriage as
•erect and a step as firm as any man of twenty. A large
white moustache met his whiskers of the same colour, and
hung in heavy curl over his upper lip ; his forehead was
high and narrow, and his eyes, deeply set, were of a green-

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 33 of 40)