Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

Southern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry online

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detailed them, interested and bewildered me ; although, per
haps, the terms and the general manner of the narration had
their weight. He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of
the senses ; the most insipid food was alone endurable ; he
could wear only garments of certain texture ; the odors of all
flowers were oppressive ; his eyes were tortured by even a
faint light ; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from
stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.

To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden
slave. " I shall perish," said he, " I must perish in this deplor
able folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I
dread the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their"
results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the most trivial,


incident, which may operate upon this intolerable agitation of
soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its
absolute effect in terror. In this unnerved in this pitiable
condition, I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when
I must abandon life and reason together in some struggle with
the grim phantasm, FEAR."

I learned moreover at intervals, and through broken and
equivocal hints, another singular feature of his mental condi
tion. He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions
in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for
many years, he had never ventured forth in regard to an
influence whose supposititious force was conveyed in terms
too shadowy here to be restated an influence which some
peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family
mansion had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over
his spirit an effect which the physique of the gray walls and
turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down,
had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence.

He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much
of the peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced
to a more natural and far more palpable origin to the severe
and long-continued illness, indeed to the evidently approaching
dissolution, of a tenderly beloved sister his sole companion
for long years, his last and only relative on earth. " Her
decease," he said, with a bitterness which I can never forget,
" would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last of
the ancient race of the Ushers." While he spoke, the lady
Madeline (for so was she called) passed slowly through a
remote portion of the apartment, and, without having noticed
my presence, disappeared. I regarded her with an utter aston
ishment not unmingled with dread, and yet I found it impossible
to account for such feelings. A sensation of stupor oppressed
me, as my eyes followed her retreating steps. When a door, at


length, closed upon her, my glance sought instinctively and
eagerly the countenance of the brother ; but he had buried his
face in his hands, and I could only perceive that a far more
than ordinary wanness had overspread the emaciated fingers
through which trickled many passionate tears.

The disease of the lady Madeline had long baffled the skill
of her physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away
of the person, and frequent although transient affections of
a partially cataleptical character, were the unusual diagnosis.
Hitherto she had steadily borne up against the pressure of her
malady, and had not betaken herself finally to bed ; but on
the closing in of the evening of my arrival at the house she
succumbed (as her brother told me at night with inexpressible
agitation) to the prostrating power of the destroyer ; and I
learned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would
thus probably be the last I should obtain that the lady, at
least while living, would be seen by me no more.

For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned by
either Usher or myself; and during this period I was busied
in earnest endeavors to alleviate the melancholy of my friend.
We painted and read together ; or I listened, as if in a dream,
to the wild improvisations of his speaking guitar. And thus,
as a closer and still closer intimacy admitted me more unre
servedly into the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I
perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from
which darkness, as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth
upon all objects of the moral and physical universe, in one
unceasing radiation of gloom.

I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many solemn
hours I thus spent alone with the master of the House of
Usher. Yet I should fail in any attempt to convey an idea of
the exact character of the studies, or of the occupations, in
which he involved me, or led me the way. An excited and


highly distempered ideality threw a sulphureous luster over all.
His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my ears.
Among other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain singu
lar perversion and amplification of the wild air of the last
waltz of Von Weber. From the paintings over which his elabo
rate fancy brooded, and which grew, touch by touch, into
vaguenesses at which I shuddered the more thrillingly because
I shuddered knowing not why from these paintings (vivid
as their images now are before me) I would in vain endeavor
to educe more than a small portion which should lie within the
compass of merely written words. By the utter simplicity, by
the nakedness of his designs, he arrested and overawed atten
tion. If ever mortal painted an idea, that mortal was Roderick
Usher. For me at least, in the circumstances then surrounding
me, there arose, out of the pure abstractions which the hypo
chondriac contrived to throw upon his canvas, an intensity of
intolerable awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the con
templation of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries
of Fuseli.

One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, par
taking not so rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be
shadowed forth, although feebly, in words. A small picture
presented the interior of an immensely long and rectangular
vault or tunnel, with low walls, smooth, white, and without
interruption or device. Certain accessory points of the design
served well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at an
exceeding depth below the surface of the earth. No outlet
was observed in any portion of its vast extent, and no torch or
other artificial source of light was discernible ; yet a flood of
intense rays rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in a
ghastly and inappropriate splendor.

I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditory
nerve which rendered all music intolerable to the sufferer, with


the exception of certain effects of stringed instruments. It
was, perhaps, the narrow limits to which he thus confined him
self upon the guitar, which gave birth, in great measure, to the
fantastic character of his performances. But the fervid facility
of his impromptus could not be so accounted for. They must
have been, and were, in the notes as well as in the words of
his wild fantasias (for he not unfrequently accompanied him
self with rhymed verbal improvisations), the result of that
intense mental collectedness and concentration to which I have
previously alluded as observable only in particular moments of
the highest artificial excitement. The words of one of these
rhapsodies I have easily remembered. I was, perhaps, the
more forcibly impressed with it, as he gave it, because, in the
under or mystic current of its meaning, I fancied that I per
ceived, and for the first time, a full consciousness, on the part
of Usher, of the tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne.
The verses, which were entitled " The Haunted Palace," ran
very nearly, if not accurately, thus :

In the greenest of our valleys

By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace

Radiant palace reared its head.
In the monarch Thought s dominion

It stood there ;
Never seraph spread a pinion

Over fabric half so fair.


Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow,

(This nil this was in the olden
Time long ago)


And every gentle air that dallied,

In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,

A winged odor went away.


Wanderers in that happy valley

Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically

To a lute s well-tuned law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,

In state his glory well befitting,

The ruler of the realm was seen.


And all with pearl and ruby glowing

Was the fair palace door.
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing.

And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty

Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,

The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,

Assailed the monarch s high estate ;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow

Shall dawn upon him, desolate !)
And round about his home the glory

That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story

Of the old time entombed.



And travelers now within that valley

Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically

To a discordant melody ;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,

Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,

And laugh but smile no more.

I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad
led us into a train of thought, wherein there became manifest
an opinion of Usher s which I mention not so much on account
of its novelty (for other men 1 have thought thus) as on ac
count of the pertinacity with which he maintained it. This
opinion, in its general form, was that of the sentience of all
vegetable things. But in his disordered fancy the idea had
assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under certain
conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization. I lack words
to express the full extent or the earnest abandon of his per
suasion. The belief, however, was connected (as I have pre
viously hinted) with the gray stones of the home of his fore
fathers. The conditions of the sentience had been here, he
imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these stones
in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the
many fungi which overspread them, and of the decayed trees
which stood around above all, in the long undisturbed en
durance of this arrangement, and in its reduplication in the
still waters of the tarn. Its evidence the evidence of the
sentience was to be seen, he said (and I here started as he
spoke), in the gradual yet certain condensation of an atmos
phere of their own about the waters and the walls. The result

1 Watson, Dr. Percival, Spallanzani, and especially the Bishop of Landaff .
See Chemical Essays," Vol. V.


was discoverable, he added, in that silent, yet importunate and
terrible, influence which for centuries had molded the destinies
of his family, and which made him what I now saw him
what he was. Such opinions need no comment, and I will
make none.

Our books the books which, for years, had formed no
small portion of the mental existence of the invalid were,
as might be supposed, in strict keeping with this character of
phantasm. We pored together over such works as the Ververt
and Chartreuse of Gresset ; the Belphegor of Machiavelli ; the
Heaven and Hell of Swedenborg ; the Subterranean Voyage of
Nicholas Klimm by Holberg ; the Chiromancy of Robert Flud,
of Jean DTndagine, and of De la Chambre ; the Journey into
the Blue Distance of Tieck ; and the City of the Sun of Cam-
panella. One favorite volume was a small octavo edition of
the Directorium Inquisitor um, by the Dominican Eymeric de
Gironne ; and there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about
the old African Satyrs and yEgipans, over which Usher would
sit dreaming for hours. His chief delight, however, was found
in the perusal of an exceedingly rare and curious book in
quarto Gothic the manual of a forgotten church the I igilice
Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecdesia Maguntince.

I could not help thinking of the wild ritual of this work, and
of its probable influence upon the hypochondriac, when one
evening, having informed me abruptly that the lady Madeline
was no more, he stated his intention of preserving her corpse
for a fortnight (previously to its final interment) in one of the
numerous vaults within the main walls of the building. The
worldly reason, however, assigned for this singular proceeding
was one which I did not feel at liberty to dispute. The brother
had been led to his resolution (so he told me) by consideration
of the unusual character of the malady of the deceased, of
certain obtrusive and eager inquiries on the part of her medical


men, and of the remote and exposed situation of the burial
ground of the family. I will not deny that when I called to
mind the sinister countenance of the person whom I met upon
the staircase, on the day of my arrival at the house, I had no
desire to oppose what I regarded as at best but a harmless,
and by no means an unnatural, precaution.

At the request of Usher I personally aided him in the ar
rangements for the temporary entombment. The body having
been encoffined, we two alone bore it to its rest. The vault in
which we placed it (and which had been so long unopened that
our torches, half smothered in its oppressive atmosphere, gave
us little opportunity for investigation) was small, damp, and
entirely without means of admission for light, lying, at great
depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in
which was my own sleeping apartment. It had been used,
apparently, in remote feudal times, for the worst purposes of a
donjon keep, and in later days as a place of deposit for powder,
or some other highly combustible substance, as a portion of its
floor, and the whole interior of a long archway through which
we reached it, were carefully sheathed with copper. The door,
of massive iron, had been, also, similarly protected. Its im
mense weight caused an unusually sharp, grating sound as it
moved upon its hinges.

Having deposited our mournful burden upon tressels within
this region of horror, we partially turned aside the yet un
screwed lid of the coffin and looked upon the face of the
tenant. A striking similitude between the brother and sister
now first arrested my attention ; and Usher, divining, perhaps,
my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I
learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and
that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always
existed between them. Our glances, however, rested not long
upon the dead for we could not regard her unawed. The


disease which had thus entombed the lady in the maturity of
youth had left, as usual in all maladies of a strictly cataleptical
character, the mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and
the face, and that suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip
which is so terrible in death. We replaced and screwed down
the lid, and, having secured the door of iron, made our way,
with toil, into the scarcely less gloomy apartments of the upper
portion of the house.

And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed, an
observable change came over the features of the mental dis
order of my friend. His ordinary manner had vanished. His
ordinary occupations were neglected or forgotten. He roamed
from chamber to chamber with hurried, unequal, and objectless
step. The pallor of his countenance had assumed, if possible,
a more ghastly hue but the luminousness of his eye had
utterly gone out. The once occasional huskiness of his tone
was heard no more ; and a tremulous quaver, as if of extreme
terror, habitually characterized his utterance. There were times,
indeed, when I thought his unceasingly agitated mind was
laboring with some oppressive secret, to divulge which he
struggled for the necessary courage. At times, again, I was
obliged to resolve all into the mere inexplicable vagaries of
madness, for I beheld him gazing upon vacancy for long hours,
in an attitude of the profoundest attention, as if listening to
some imaginary sound. It was no wonder that his condition
terrified that it infected me. I felt creeping upon me, by
slow yet certain degrees, the wild influences of his own fantas
tic yet impressive superstitions.

It was, especially, upon retiring to bed late in the night of
the seventh or eighth day after the placing of the lady Madeline
within the donjon that I experienced the full power of such feel
ings. Sleep came not near my couch, while the hours waned
and waned away. I struggled to reason off the nervousness


which had dominion over me. I endeavored to believe that
much, if not all, of what I felt was due to the bewilder
ing influence of the gloomy furniture of the room of the
dark and tattered draperies which, tortured into motion by
the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon
the walls and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the
bed. But my efforts were fruitless. An irrepressible tremor
gradually pervaded my frame ; and at length there sat upon
my very heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm. Shaking
this off with a gasp and a struggle, I uplifted myself upon the
pillows, and, peering earnestly within the intense darkness of
the chamber, hearkened I know not why, except that an
instinctive spirit prompted me to certain low and indefinite
sounds which came, through the pauses of the storm, at long
intervals, I knew not whence. Overpowered by an intense
sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable, I threw
on my clothes with haste (for I felt that I should sleep no
more during the night) and endeavored to arouse myself from
the pitiable condition into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly
to and fro through the apartment.

I had taken but few turns in this manner when a light step
on an adjoining staircase arrested my attention. I presently
recognized it as that of Usher. In an instant afterward he
rapped, with a gentle touch, at my door, and entered, bearing
a lamp. His countenance was, as usual, cadaverously wan ;
but, moreover, there was a species of mad hilarity in his eyes,
an evidently restrained hysteria in his whole demeanor. His
air appalled me but anything was preferable to the solitude
which I had so long endured, and I even welcomed his
presence as a relief.

" And you have not seen it ? " he said abruptly, after having
stared about him for some moments in silence "you have
not then seen it? but, stay! you shall." Thus speaking, and


having carefully shaded his lamp, he hurried to one of the
casements and threw it freely open to the storm.

The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted us
from our feet. It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beau
tiful night, and one wildly singular in its terror and its beauty.
A whirlwind had apparently collected its force in our vicinity ;
for there were frequent -and violent alterations in the direction
of the wind ; and the exceeding density of the clouds (which
hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the house) did not
prevent our perceiving the lifelike velocity with which they flew
careering from all points against each other, without passing
away into the distance. I say that even their exceeding density
did not prevent our perceiving this ; yet we had no glimpse of
the moon or stars, nor was there any flashing forth of the light
ning. But the under surfaces of the huge masses of agitated
vapor, as well as all terrestrial objects immediately around us,
were glowing in the unnatural light of a faintly luminous and
distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung about and
enshrouded the mansion.

"You must not you shall not behold this!" said I, shud-
deringly, to L T sher, as I led him with a gentle violence from
the window to a seat. " These appearances, which bewilder
you are merely electrical phenomena not uncommon or it
may be that they have their ghastly origin in the rank miasma
of the tarn. Let us close this casement ; the air is chilling and
dangerous to your frame. Here is one of your favorite
romances. I will read, and you shall listen ; and so we will
pass away this terrible night together."

The antique volume which I had taken up was the " Mad
Trist " of Sir Launcelot Canning ; but I had called it a favorite
of Usher s more in sad jest than in earnest ; for, in truth, there
is little in its uncouth and unimaginative prolixity which could
have had interest for the lofty and spiritual ideality of my


friend. It was, however, the only book immediately at hand ;
and I indulged a vague hope that the excitement which now
agitated the hypochondriac might find relief (for the history
of mental disorder is full of similar anomalies) even in the
extremeness of the folly which I should read. Could I have
judged, indeed, by the wild overstrained air of vivacity with
which he hearkened, or apparently hearkened, to the words
of the tale, I might well have congratulated myself upon the
success of my design.

I had arrived at that well-known portion of the story where
Ethelred, the hero of the Trist, having sought in vain for
peaceable admission into the dwelling of the hermit, proceeds
to make good an entrance by force. Here, it will be remem
bered, the words of the narrative run thus :

" And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart, and who
was now mighty withal, on account of the powerfulness of the wine
which he had drunken, waited no longer to hold parley with the
hermit, who, in sooth, was of an obstinate and maliceful turn, but,
feeling the rain upon his shoulders, and fearing the rising of the
tempest, uplifted his mace outright, and with blows made quickly
room in the plankings of the door for his gauntleted hand ; and now
pulling therewith sturdily, he so cracked, and ripped, and tore
all asunder, that the noise of the dry and hollow-sounding wood
alarumed and reverberated throughout the forest."

At the termination of this sentence I started, and for a
moment paused; for it appeared to me (although I at once
concluded that my excited fancy had deceived me) it
appeared to me that from some very remote portion of the
mansion there came, indistinctly, to my ears, what might have
been, in its exact similarity of character, the echo (but a stifled
and dull one certainly) of the very cracking and ripping sound
which Sir Launcelot had so particularly described. It was,
beyond doubt, the coincidence alone which had arrested my


attention ; for, amid the rattling of the sashes of the casements
and the ordinary commingled noises of the still increasing
storm, the sound, in itself, had nothing, surely, which should
have interested or disturbed me. I continued the story :

" But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within the door,
was sore enraged and amazed to perceive no signal of the maliceful
hermit ; but, in the stead thereof, a dragon of a scaly and prodigious
demeanor, and of a fiery tongue, which sate in guard before a palace
of gold, with a floor of silver ; and upon the wall there hung, a shield
of shining brass with this legend en written

Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin ;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win.

And Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of the
dragon, which fell before him, and gave up his pesty breath, with a
shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so piercing, that Ethelred had
fain to close his ears with his hands against the dreadful noise of it,
the like whereof was never before heard."

Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of
wild amazement ; for there could be no doubt whatever that,
in this instance, I did actually hear (although from what
direction it proceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and
apparently distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual
screaming or grating sound the exact counterpart of what
my fancy had already conjured up for the dragon s unnatural
shriek as described by the romancer.

Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of tl
second and most extraordinary coincidence, by a tho
conflicting sensations, in which wonder and extreme ;
were predominant, I still retained sufficient presence of mind
to avoid exciting, by any observation, the sensitive ncrvo 1

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonSouthern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry → online text (page 4 of 35)