The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 37 out of 51
seem very strange that if one person in every score or two could not
tell red from green there might be other curious individual
peculiarities relating to color. A case has already been referred to
where the subject of observation fainted at the sight of any red
object. What if this were the trouble with Maurice Kirkwood? It
will be seen at once how such a congenital antipathy would tend to
isolate the person who was its unfortunate victim. It was an
hypothesis not difficult to test, but it was a rather delicate
business to be experimenting on an inoffensive stranger. Miss
Vincent was thinking it over, but said nothing, even to Euthymia, of
any projects she might entertain.
MISS VINCENT AS A MEDICAL STUDENT.
The young lady whom we have known as The Terror, as Lurida, as Miss
Vincent, Secretary of the Pansophian Society, had been reading
various works selected for her by Dr. Butts,--works chiefly relating
to the nervous system and its different affections. She thought it
was about time to talk over the general subject of the medical
profession with her new teacher,--if such a self-directing person as
Lurida could be said to recognize anybody as teacher.
She began at the beginning. "What is the first book you would put in
a student's hands, doctor?" she said to him one day. They were in
his study, and Lurida had just brought back a thick volume on
Insanity, one of Bucknill and Puke's, which she had devoured as if it
had been a pamphlet.
"Not that book, certainly," he said. "I am afraid it will put all
sorts of notions into your head. Who or what set you to reading
that, I should like to know?"
"I found it on one of your shelves, and as I thought I might perhaps
be crazy some time or other, I felt as if I should like to know what
kind of a condition insanity is. I don't believe they were ever very
bright, those insane people, most of them. I hope I am not stupid
enough ever to lose my wits."
"There is no telling, my dear, what may happen if you overwork that
busy brain of yours. But did n't it make you nervous, reading about
so many people possessed with such strange notions?"
"Nervous? Not a bit. I could n't help thinking, though, how many
people I had known that had a little touch of craziness about them.
Take that poor woman that says she is Her Majesty's Person,--not Her
Majesty, but Her Majesty's Person,--a very important distinction,
according to her: how she does remind me of more than one girl I have
known! She would let her skirts down so as to make a kind of train,
and pile things on her head like a sort of crown, fold her arms and
throw her head back, and feel as grand as a queen. I have seen more
than one girl act very much in that way. Are not most of us a little
crazy, doctor,--just a little? I think so. It seems to me I never
saw but one girl who was free from every hint of craziness."
"And who was that, pray?"
"Why, Euthymia,--nobody else, of course. She never loses her head,--
I don't believe she would in an earthquake. Whenever we were at work
with our microscopes at the Institute I always told her that her mind
was the only achromatic one I ever looked into,--I did n't say looked
through.---But I did n't come to talk about that. I read in one of
your books that when Sydenham was asked by a student what books he
should read, the great physician said, 'Read "Don Quixote."' I want
you to explain that to me; and then I want you to tell me what is the
first book, according to your idea, that a student ought to read."
"What do you say to my taking your question as the subject of a paper
to be read before the Society? I think there may be other young
ladies at the meeting, besides yourself, who are thinking of pursuing
the study of medicine. At any rate, there are a good many who are
interested in the subject; in fact, most people listen readily to
anything doctors tell them about their calling."
"I wish you would, doctor. I want Euthymia to hear it, and I don't
doubt there will be others who will be glad to hear everything you
have to say about it. But oh, doctor, if you could only persuade
Eutbymia to become a physician! What a doctor she would make! So
strong, so calm, so full of wisdom! I believe she could take the
wheel of a steamboat in a storm, or the hose of a fire-engine in a
conflagration, and handle it as well as the captain of the boat or of
"Have you ever talked with her about studying medicine?"
"Indeed I have. Oh, if she would only begin with me! What good
times we would have studying together!"
"I don't doubt it. Medicine is a very pleasant study. But how do
you think practice would be? How would you like being called up to
ride ten miles in a midnight snow-storm, just when one of your raging
headaches was racking you?"
"Oh, but we could go into partnership, and Euthymia is n't afraid of
storms or anything else. If she would only study medicine with me!"
"Well, what does she say to it?"
"She does n't like the thought of it. She does n't believe in women
doctors. She thinks that now and then a woman may be fitted for it
by nature, but she does n't think there are many who are. She gives
me a good many reasons against their practising medicine, you know
what most of them are, doctor,--and ends by saying that the same
woman who would be a poor sort of doctor would make a first-rate
nurse; and that, she thinks, is a woman's business, if her instinct
carries her to the hospital or sick-chamber. I can't argue her ideas
out of her."
"Neither can I argue you out of your feeling about the matter; but I
am disposed to agree with your friend, that you will often spoil a
good nurse to make a poor doctor. Doctors and side-saddles don't
seem to me to go together. Riding habits would be awkward things for
practitioners. But come, we won't have a controversy just now. I am
for giving women every chance for a good education, and if they think
medicine is one of their proper callings let them try it. I think
they will find that they had better at least limit themselves to
certain specialties, and always have an expert of the other sex to
fall back upon. The trouble is that they are so impressible and
imaginative that they are at the mercy of all sorts of fancy systems.
You have only to see what kinds of instruction they very commonly
flock to in order to guess whether they would be likely to prove
sensible practitioners. Charlatanism always hobbles on two crutches,
the tattle of women, and the certificates of clergymen, and I am
afraid that half the women doctors will be too much under both those
Lurida believed in Dr. Butts, who, to use the common language of the
village, had "carried her through" a fever, brought on by over-
excitement and exhausting study. She took no offence at his
reference to nursery gossip, which she had learned to hold cheap.
Nobody so despises the weaknesses of women as the champion of woman's
rights. She accepted the doctor's concession of a fair field and
open trial of the fitness of her sex for medical practice, and did
not trouble herself about his suggested limitations. As to the
imaginative tendencies of women, she knew too well the truth of the
doctor's remark relating to them to wish to contradict it.
"Be sure you let me have your paper in season for the next meeting,
doctor," she said; and in due season it came, and was of course
approved for reading.
DR. BUTTS READS A PAPER.
"Next to the interest we take in all that relates to our immortal
souls is that which we feel for our mortal bodies. I am afraid my
very first statement may be open to criticism. The care of the body
is the first thought with a great many,--in fact, with the larger
part of the world. They send for the physician first, and not until
he gives them up do they commonly call in the clergyman. Even the
minister himself is not so very different from other people. We must
not blame him if he is not always impatient to exchange a world of
multiplied interests and ever-changing sources of excitement for that
which tradition has delivered to us as one eminently deficient in the
stimulus of variety. Besides, these bodily frames, even when worn
and disfigured by long years of service, hang about our consciousness
like old garments. They are used to us, and we are used to them.
And all the accidents of our lives,--the house we dwell in, the
living people round us, the landscape we look over, all, up to the
sky that covers us like a bell glass,--all these are but looser
outside garments which we have worn until they seem a part of us, and
we do not like the thought of changing them for a new suit which we
have never yet tried on. How well I remember that dear ancient lady,
who lived well into the last decade of her century, as she repeated
the verse which, if I had but one to choose, I would select from that
string of pearls, Gray's 'Elegy'!
"'For who to dumb forgetfulness a prey
This pleasing, anxious being e'er resigned,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing, lingering look behind?'
"Plotinus was ashamed of his body, we are told. Better so, it may be,
than to live solely for it, as so many do. But it may be well
doubted if there is any disciple of Plotinus in this Society. On the
contrary, there are many who think a great deal of their bodies, many
who have come here to regain the health they have lost in the wear
and tear of city life, and very few who have not at some time or
other of their lives had occasion to call in the services of a
"There is, therefore, no impropriety in my offering to the members
some remarks upon the peculiar difficulties which beset the medical
practitioner in the discharge of his laborious and important duties.
"A young friend of mine, who has taken an interest in medical
studies, happened to meet with a very familiar story about one of the
greatest and most celebrated of all English physicians, Thomas
Sydenham. The story is that, when a student asked him what books he
should read, the great doctor told him to read 'Don Quixote.'
"This piece of advice has been used to throw contempt upon the study
of books, and furnishes a convenient shield for ignorant pretenders.
But Sydenham left many writings in which he has recorded his medical
experience, and he surely would not have published them if he had not
thought they would be better reading for the medical student than the
story of Cervantes. His own works are esteemed to this day, and he
certainly could not have supposed that they contained all the wisdom
of all the past. No remedy is good, it was said of old, unless
applied at the right time in the right way. So we may say of all
anecdotes, like this which I have told you about Sydenham and the
young man. It is very likely that he carried him to the bedside of
some patients, and talked to him about the cases he showed him,
instead of putting a Latin volume in his hand. I would as soon begin
in that way as any other, with a student who had already mastered the
preliminary branches,--who knew enough about the structure and
functions of the body in health.
"But if you ask me what reading I would commend to the medical
student of a philosophical habit of mind, you may be surprised to
hear me say it would be certain passages in 'Rasselas.' They are the
ones where the astronomer gives an account to Imlac of his management
of the elements, the control of which, as he had persuaded himself,
had been committed to him. Let me read you a few sentences from this
story, which is commonly bound up with the 'Vicar of Wakefield,' like
a woollen lining to a silken mantle, but is full of stately wisdom in
processions of paragraphs which sound as if they ought to have a
grammatical drum-major to march before their tramping platoons.
"The astronomer has taken Imlac into his confidence, and reveals to
him the secret of his wonderful powers:--
"'Hear, Imlac, what thou wilt not without difficulty credit. I have
possessed for five years the regulation of the weather and the
distribution of the seasons the sun has listened to my dictates, and
passed from tropic to tropic by my direction; the clouds, at my call,
have poured their waters, and the Nile has overflowed at my command;
I have restrained the rage of the dog-star, and mitigated the fervors
of the crab. The winds alone, of all the elemental powers, have
hitherto eluded my authority, and multitudes have perished by
equinoctial tempests, which I found myself unable to prohibit or
"The reader naturally wishes to know how the astronomer, a sincere,
devoted, and most benevolent man, for forty years a student of the
heavens, came to the strange belief that he possessed these
miraculous powers. This is his account:
"'One day, as I was looking on the fields withering with heat, I felt
in my mind a sudden wish that I could send rain on the southern
mountains, and raise the Nile to an inundation. In the hurry of my
imagination I commanded rain to fall, and by comparing the time of my
command with that of the inundation I found that the clouds had
listened to my lips.'
"'Might not some other cause,' said I, 'produce this concurrence?
The Nile does not always rise on the same day.'
"'Do not believe,' said he, with impatience, I that such objections
could escape me: I reasoned long against my own conviction, and
labored against truth with the utmost obstinacy. I sometimes
suspected myself of madness, and should not have dared to impart this
secret but to a man like you, capable of distinguishing the wonderful
from the impossible and the incredible from the false.'
"The good old astronomer gives his parting directions to Imlac, whom
he has adopted as his successor in the government of the elements and
the seasons, in these impressive words:
"Do not, in the administration of the year, indulge thy pride by
innovation; do not please thyself with thinking that thou canst make
thyself renowned to all future ages by disordering the seasons. The
memory of mischief is no desirable fame. Much less will it become
thee to let kindness or interest prevail. Never rob other countries
of rain to pour it on thine own. For us the Nile is sufficient.'
"Do you wonder, my friends, why I have chosen these passages, in
which the delusions of an insane astronomer are related with all the
pomp of the Johnsonian vocabulary, as the first lesson for the young
person about to enter on the study of the science and art of healing?
Listen to me while I show you the parallel of the story of the
astronomer in the history of medicine.
"This history is luminous with intelligence, radiant with
benevolence, but all its wisdom and all its virtue have had to
struggle with the ever-rising mists of delusion. The agencies which
waste and destroy the race of mankind are vast and resistless as the
elemental forces of nature; nay, they are themselves elemental
forces. They may be to some extent avoided, to some extent diverted
from their aim, to some extent resisted. So may the changes of the
seasons, from cold that freezes to heats that strike with sudden
death, be guarded against. So may the tides be in some small measure
restrained in their inroads. So may the storms be breasted by walls
they cannot shake from their foundations. But the seasons and the
tides and the tempests work their will on the great scale upon
whatever stands in their way; they feed or starve the tillers of the
soil; they spare or drown the dwellers by the shore; they waft the
seaman to his harbor or bury him in the angry billows.
"The art of the physician can do much to remove its subjects from
deadly and dangerous influences, and something to control or arrest
the effects of these influences. But look at the records of the
life-insurance offices, and see how uniform is the action of nature's
destroying agencies. Look at the annual reports of the deaths in any
of our great cities, and see how their regularity approaches the
uniformity of the tides, and their variations keep pace with those of
the seasons. The inundations of the Nile are not more certainly to
be predicted than the vast wave of infantile disease which flows in
upon all our great cities with the growing heats of July,--than the
fevers and dysenteries which visit our rural districts in the months
of the falling leaf.
"The physician watches these changes as the astronomer watched the
rise of the great river. He longs to rescue individuals, to protect
communities from the inroads of these destroying agencies. He uses
all the means which experience has approved, tries every rational
method which ingenuity can suggest. Some fortunate recovery leads
him to believe he has hit upon a preventive or a cure for a malady
which had resisted all known remedies. His rescued patient sounds
his praises, and a wide circle of his patient's friends joins in a
chorus of eulogies. Self-love applauds him for his sagacity. Self-
interest congratulates him on his having found the road to fortune;
the sense of having proved a benefactor of his race smooths the
pillow on which he lays his head to dream of the brilliant future
opening before him. If a single coincidence may lead a person of
sanguine disposition to believe that he has mastered a disease which
had baffled all who were before his time, and on which his
contemporaries looked in hopeless impotence, what must be the effect
of a series of such coincidences even on a mind of calmer temper!
Such series of coincidences will happen, and they may well deceive
the very elect. Think of Dr. Rush,--you know what a famous man he
was, the very head and front of American medical science in his day,
--and remember how he spoke about yellow fever, which he thought he
"Thus the physician is entangled in the meshes of a wide conspiracy,
in which he and his patient and their friends, and-Nature herself,
are involved. What wonder that the history of Medicine should be to
so great an extent a record of self-delusion!
"If this seems a dangerous concession to the enemies of the true
science and art of healing, I will remind you that it is all implied
in the first aphorism of Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. Do not
draw a wrong inference from the frank statement of the difficulties
which beset the medical practitioner. Think rather, if truth is so
hard of attainment, how precious are the results which the consent of
the wisest and most experienced among the healers of men agrees in
accepting. Think what folly it is to cast them aside in favor of
palpable impositions stolen from the records of forgotten
charlatanism, or of fantastic speculations spun from the squinting
brains of theorists as wild as the Egyptian astronomer.
"Begin your medical studies, then, by reading the fortieth and the
following four chapters of 'Rasselas.' Your first lesson will teach
you modesty and caution in the pursuit of the most deceptive of all
practical branches of knowledge. Faith will come later, when you
learn how much medical science and art have actually achieved for the
relief of mankind, and how great are the promises it holds out of
still larger triumphs over the enemies of human health and
After the reading of this paper there was a lively discussion, which
we have no room to report here, and the Society adjourned.
MISS VINCENT'S STARTLING DISCOVERY.
The sober-minded, sensible, well-instructed Dr. Butts was not a
little exercised in mind by the demands made upon his knowledge by
his young friend, and for the time being his pupil, Miss Lurida
"I don't wonder they called her The Terror," he said to himself.
"She is enough to frighten anybody. She has taken down old books
from my shelves that I had almost forgotten the backs of, and as to
the medical journals, I believe the girl could index them from
memory. She is in pursuit of some special point of knowledge, I feel
sure, and I cannot doubt what direction she is working in, but her
wonderful way of dealing with books amazes me."
What marvels those "first scholars" in the classes of our great
universities and colleges are, to be sure! They are not, as a rule,
the most distinguished of their class in the long struggle of life.
The chances are that "the field" will beat "the favorite" over the
long race-course. Others will develop a longer stride and more
staying power. But what fine gifts those "first scholars" have
received from nature! How dull we writers, famous or obscure, are in
the acquisition of knowledge as compared with them! To lead their
classmates they must have quick apprehension, fine memories, thorough
control of their mental faculties, strong will, power of
concentration, facility of expression,--a wonderful equipment of
mental faculties. I always want to take my hat off to the first
scholar of his year.
Dr. Butts felt somewhat in the same way as he contemplated The
Terror. She surprised him so often with her knowledge that he was
ready to receive her without astonishment when she burst in upon him
one allay with a cry of triumph, "Eureka! Eureka!"
"And what have you found, my dear?" said the doctor.
Lurida was flushed and panting with the excitement of her new
"I do believe that I have found the secret of our strange visitor's
dread of all human intercourse!"
The seasoned practitioner was not easily thrown off his balance.
"Wait a minute and get your breath," said the doctor. "Are you not a
little overstating his peculiarity? It is not quite so bad as that.
He keeps a man to serve him, he was civil with the people at the Old
Tavern, he was affable enough, I understand, with the young fellow he
pulled out of the water, or rescued somehow,--I don't believe be
avoids the whole human race. He does not look as if he hated them,
so far as I have remarked his expression. I passed a few words with
him when his man was ailing, and found him polite enough. No, I
don't believe it is much more than an extreme case of shyness,
connected, perhaps, with some congenital or other personal repugnance
to which has been given the name of an antipathy."
Lurida could hardly keep still while the doctor was speaking. When
he finished, she began the account of her discovery:
"I do certainly believe I have found an account of his case in an
Italian medical journal of about fourteen years ago. I met with a
reference which led me to look over a file of the Giornale degli
Ospitali lying among the old pamphlets in the medical section of the
Library. I have made a translation of it, which you must read and
then tell me if you do not agree with me in my conclusion."
"Tell me what your conclusion is, and I will read your paper and see
for myself whether I think the evidence justifies the conviction you
seem to have reached."
Lurida's large eyes showed their whole rounds like the two halves of
a map of the world, as she said,
"I believe that Maurice Kirkwood is suffering from the effects of the
bite of a TARANTULA!"
The doctor drew a long breath. He remembered in a vague sort of way
the stories which used to be told of the terrible Apulian spider, but
he had consigned them to the limbo of medical fable where so many
fictions have clothed themselves with a local habitation and a name.
He looked into the round eyes and wide pupils a little anxiously, as
if he feared that she was in a state of undue excitement, but, true
to his professional training, he waited for another symptom, if
indeed her mind was in any measure off its balance.
"I know what you are thinking," Lurida said, "but it is not so. 'I
am not mad, most noble Festus.' You shall see the evidence and judge
for yourself. Read the whole case,--you can read my hand almost as
if it were print, and tell me if you do not agree with me that this
young man is in all probability the same person as the boy described
in the Italian journal,
"One thing you might say is against the supposition. The young
patient is spoken of as Signorino M . . . Ch. . . . But you
must remember that ch is pronounced hard in Italian, like k, which
letter is wanting in the Italian alphabet; and it is natural enough
that the initial of the second name should have got changed in the
record to its Italian equivalent."
Before inviting the reader to follow the details of this
extraordinary case as found in a medical journal, the narrator wishes
to be indulged in a few words of explanation, in order that he may
not have to apologize for allowing the introduction of a subject
which may be thought to belong to the professional student rather
than to the readers of this record. There is a great deal in medical
books which it is very unbecoming to bring before the general
public,--a great deal to repel, to disgust, to alarm, to excite
unwholesome curiosity. It is not the men whose duties have made them
familiar with this class of subjects who are most likely to offend by
scenes and descriptions which belong to the physician's private
library, and not to the shelves devoted to polite literature.
Goldsmith and even Smollett, both having studied and practised
medicine, could not by any possibility have outraged all the natural
feelings of delicacy and decency as Swift and Zola have outraged
them. But without handling doubtful subjects, there are many curious
medical experiences which have interest for every one as extreme
illustrations of ordinary conditions with which all are acquainted.
No one can study the now familiar history of clairvoyance profitably
who has not learned something of the vagaries of hysteria. No one
can read understandingly the life of Cowper and that of Carlyle
without having some idea of the influence of hypochondriasis and of
dyspepsia upon the disposition and intellect of the subjects of these
maladies. I need not apologize, therefore, for giving publicity to
that part of this narrative which deals with one of the most singular
maladies to be found in the records of bodily and mental infirmities.
The following is the account of the case as translated by Miss
Vincent. For obvious reasons the whole name was not given in the
original paper, and for similar reasons the date of the event and the
birthplace of the patient are not precisely indicated here.
[Giornale degli Ospitali, Luglio 21, 18-.]
REMARKABLE CASE OF TARANTISM.
"The great interest attaching to the very singular and exceptional
instance of this rare affection induces us to give a full account of
the extraordinary example of its occurrence in a patient who was the
subject of a recent medical consultation in this city.
"Signorino M . . . Ch . . . is the only son of a gentleman
travelling in Italy at this time. He is eleven years of age, of
sanguine-nervous temperament, light hair, blue eyes, intelligent
countenance, well grown, but rather slight in form, to all appearance
in good health, but subject to certain peculiar and anomalous nervous
symptoms, of which his father gives this history.
"Nine years ago, the father informs us, he was travelling in Italy
with his wife, this child, and a nurse. They were passing a few days
in a country village near the city of Bari, capital of the province
of the same name in the division (compartamento) of Apulia. The
child was in perfect health and had never been affected by any
serious illness. On the 10th of July he was playing out in the field
near the house where the family was staying when he was heard to
scream suddenly and violently. The nurse rushing to him found him in
great pain, saying that something had bitten him in one of his feet.
A laborer, one Tommaso, ran up at the moment and perceived in the
grass, near where the boy was standing, an enormous spider, which he
at once recognized as a tarantula. He managed to catch the creature
in a large leaf, from which he was afterwards transferred to a wide-
mouthed bottle, where he lived without any food for a month or more.
The creature was covered with short hairs, and had a pair of nipper-
like jaws, with which he could inflict an ugly wound. His body
measured about an inch in length, and from the extremity of one of
the longest limbs to the other was between two and three inches.
Such was the account given by the physician to whom the peasant
carried the great spider.
"The boy who had been bitten continued screaming violently while his
stocking was being removed and the foot examined. The place of the
bite was easily found and the two marks of the claw-like jaws already
showed the effects of the poison, a small livid circle extending
around them, with some puffy swelling. The distinguished Dr. Amadei
was immediately sent for, and applied cups over the wounds in the
hope of drawing forth the poison. In vain all his skill and efforts!
Soon, ataxic (irregular) nervous symptoms declared themselves, and it
became plain that the system had been infected by the poison.
"The symptoms were very much like those of malignant fever, such as
distress about the region of the heart, difficulty of breathing,
collapse of all the vital powers, threatening immediate death. From
these first symptoms the child rallied, but his entire organism had
been profoundly affected by the venom circulating through it. His
constitution has never thrown off the malady resulting from this
toxic (poisonous) agent. The phenomena which have been observed in
this young patient correspond so nearly with those enumerated in the
elaborate essay of the celebrated Baglivi that one might think they
had been transcribed from his pages.
"He is very fond of solitude,--of wandering about in churchyards and
other lonely places. He was once found hiding in an empty tomb,
which had been left open. His aversion to certain colors is
remarkable. Generally speaking, he prefers bright tints to darker
ones, but his likes and dislikes are capricious, and with regard to
some colors his antipathy amounts to positive horror. Some shades
have such an effect upon him that he cannot remain in the room with
them, and if he meets any one whose dress has any of that particular
color he will turn away or retreat so as to avoid passing that
person. Among these, purple and dark green are the least endurable.
He cannot explain the sensations which these obnoxious colors produce
except by saying that it is like the deadly feeling from a blow on
the epigastrium (pit of the stomach).
"About the same season of the year at which the tarantular poisoning
took place he is liable to certain nervous seizures, not exactly like
fainting or epilepsy, but reminding the physician of those
affections. All the other symptoms are aggravated at this time.
"In other respects than those mentioned the boy is in good health.
He is fond of riding, and has a pony on which he takes a great deal
of exercise, which seems to do him more good than any other remedy.
"The influence of music, to which so much has been attributed by
popular belief and even by the distinguished Professor to whom we
shall again refer, has not as yet furnished any satisfactory results.
If the graver symptoms recur while the patient is under our
observation, we propose to make use of an agency discredited by
modern skepticism, but deserving of a fair trial as an exceptional
remedy for an exceptional disease.
"The following extracts from the work of the celebrated Italian
physician of the last century are given by the writer of the paper in
the Giornale in the original Latin, with a translation into Italian,
subjoined. Here are the extracts, or rather here is a selection from
them, with a translation of them into English.
"After mentioning the singular aversion to certain colors shown by
the subject of Tarantism, Baglivi writes as follows:
"'Et si astantes incedant vestibus eo colore difusis, qui Tarantatis
ingrates est, necesse est ut ab illorum aspectu recedant; nam ad
intuitum molesti coloris angore cordis, et symptomatum recrudescantia
stating corripiuntur.' (G. Baglivi, Op. Omnia, page 614. Lugduni,
"That is, 'if the persons about the patient wear dresses of the color
which is offensive to him, he must get away from the sight of them,
for on seeing the obnoxious color he is at once seized with distress
in the region of the heart, and a renewal of his symptoms.'
"As to the recurrence of the malady, Baglivi says:
"'Dam calor solis ardentius exurere incip at, quod contingit circa
initia Julii et Augusti, Tarantati lente venientem recrudescentiam
veneni percipiunt.' (Ibid., page 619.)
"Which I render, 'When the heat of the sun begins to burn more
fiercely, which happens about the beginning of July and August, the
subjects of Tarantism perceive the gradually approaching
recrudescence (returning symptoms) of the poisoning. Among the
remedies most valued by this illustrious physician is that mentioned
in the following sentence:
"'Laudo magnopere equitationes in aere rusticano factas singulis
diebus, hord potissimum matutina, quibus equitationibus morbos
chronicos pene incurabiles protanus eliminavi.'
"Or in translation,
"'I commend especially riding on horseback in country air, every day,
by preference in the morning hours, by the aid of which horseback
riding I have driven off chronic diseases which were almost
Miss Vincent read this paper aloud to Dr. Butts, and handed it to him
to examine and consider. He listened with a grave countenance and
As she finished reading her account, she exclaimed in the passionate
tones of the deepest conviction,
"There, doctor! Have n't I found the true story of this strange
visitor? Have n't I solved the riddle of the Sphinx? Who can this
man be but the boy of that story? Look at the date of the journal
when he was eleven years old, it would make him twenty-five now, and
that is just about the age the people here think he must be of. What
could account so entirely for his ways and actions as that strange
poisoning which produces the state they call Tarantism? I am just as
sure it must be that as I am that I am alive. Oh, doctor, doctor, I
must be right,--this Signprino M . . . Ch . . . was the boy
Maurice Kirkwood, and the story accounts for everything,--his
solitary habits, his dread of people,--it must be because they wear
the colors he can't bear. His morning rides on horseback, his coming
here just as the season was approaching which would aggravate all his
symptoms, does n't all this prove that I must be right in my
conjecture,--no, my conviction?"
The doctor knew too much to interrupt the young enthusiast, and so he
let her run on until she ran down. He was more used to the rules of
evidence than she was, and could not accept her positive conclusion
so readily as she would have liked to have him. He knew that
beginners are very apt to make what they think are discoveries. But
he had been an angler and knew the meaning of a yielding rod and an
easy-running reel. He said quietly,
"You are a most sagacious young lady, and a very pretty prima facie
case it is that you make out. I can see no proof that Mr. Kirkwood
is not the same person as the M . . . Ch . . . of the medical
journal,--that is, if I accept your explanation of the difference in
the initials of these two names. Even if there were a difference,
that would not disprove their identity, for the initials of patients
whose cases are reported by their physicians are often altered for
the purpose of concealment. I do not know, however, that Mr.
Kirkwood has shown any special aversion to any particular color. It
might be interesting to inquire whether it is so, but it is a
delicate matter. I don't exactly see whose business it is to
investigate Mr. Maurice Kirkwood's idiosyncrasies and constitutional
history. If he should have occasion to send for me at any time, he
might tell me all about himself, in confidence, you know. These old
accounts from Baglivi are curious and interesting, but I am cautious
about receiving any stories a hundred years old, if they involve an
improbability, as his stories about the cure of the tarantula bite by
music certainly do. I am disposed to wait for future developments,
bearing in mind, of course, the very singular case you have
unearthed. It wouldn't be very strange if our young gentleman had to
send for me before the season is over. He is out a good deal before
the dew is off the grass, which is rather risky in this neighborhood
as autumn comes on. I am somewhat curious, I confess, about the
young man, but I do not meddle where I am not asked for or wanted,
and I have found that eggs hatch just as well if you let them alone
in the nest as if you take them out and shake them every day. This
is a wonderfully interesting supposition of yours, and may prove to
be strictly in accordance with the facts. But I do not think we have
all the facts in this young man's case. If it were proved that he
had an aversion to any color, it would greatly strengthen your case.
His 'antipatia,' as his man called it, must be one which covers a
wide ground, to account for his self-isolation,--and the color
hypothesis seems as plausible as any. But, my dear Miss Vincent,
I think you had better leave your singular and striking hypothesis in
my keeping for a while, rather than let it get abroad in a community
like this, where so many tongues are in active exercise. I will
carefully study this paper, if you will leave it with me, and we will
talk the whole matter over. It is a fair subject for speculation,
only we must keep quiet about it."
This long speech gave Lurida's perfervid brain time to cool off a
little. She left the paper with the doctor, telling him she would
come for it the next day, and went off to tell the result of this
visit to her bosom friend, Miss Euthymia Tower.
DR. BUTTS CALLS ON EUTHYMIA.
The doctor was troubled in thinking over his interview with the young
lady. She was fully possessed with the idea that she had discovered
the secret which had defied the most sagacious heads of the village.
It was of no use to oppose her while her mind was in an excited
state. But he felt it his duty to guard her against any possible
results of indiscretion into which her eagerness and her theory of
the equality, almost the identity, of the sexes might betray her.
Too much of the woman in a daughter of our race leads her to forget
danger. Too little of the woman prompts her to defy it. Fortunately
for this last class of women, they are not quite so likely to be
perilously seductive as their more emphatically feminine sisters.
Dr. Butts had known Lurida and her friend from the days of their
infancy. He had watched the development of Lurida's intelligence
from its precocious nursery-life to the full vigor of its trained
faculties. He had looked with admiration on the childish beauty of
Euthymia, and had seen her grow up to womanhood, every year making
her more attractive. He knew that if anything was to be done with
his self-willed young scholar and friend, it would be more easily
effected through the medium of Euthymia than by direct advice to the
young lady herself. So the thoughtful doctor made up his mind to
have a good talk with Euthymia, and put her on her guard, if Lurida
showed any tendency to forget the conventionalities in her eager
pursuit of knowledge.
For the doctor's horse and chaise to stop at the door of Miss
Euthymia Tower's parental home was an event strange enough to set all
the tongues in the village going. This was one of those families
where illness was hardly looked for among the possibilities of life.
There were other families where a call from the doctor was hardly
more thought of than a call from the baker. But here he was a
stranger, at least on his professional rounds, and when he asked for
Miss Euthymia the servant, who knew his face well, stared as if he
had held in his hand a warrant for her apprehension.
Euthymia did not keep the doctor waiting very long while she made
ready to meet him. One look at her glass to make sure that a lock
had not run astray, or a ribbon got out of place, and her toilet for
a morning call was finished. Perhaps if Mr. Maurice Kirkwood had
been announced, she might have taken a second look, but with the good
middle-aged, married doctor one was enough for a young lady who had
the gift of making all the dresses she wore look well, and had no
occasion to treat her chamber like the laboratory where an actress
Euthymia welcomed the doctor very heartily. She could not help
suspecting his errand, and she was very glad to have a chance to talk
over her friend's schemes and fancies with him.
The doctor began without any roundabout prelude.
"I want to confer with you about our friend Lurida. Does she tell
you all her plans and projects?"
"Why, as to that, doctor, I can hardly say, positively, but I do not
believe she keeps back anything of importance from me. I know what
she has been busy with lately, and the queer idea she has got into
her head. What do you think of the Tarantula business? She has
shown you the paper, she has written, I suppose."
"Indeed she has. It is a very curious case she has got hold of, and
I do not wonder at all that she should have felt convinced that she
had come at the true solution of the village riddle. It may be that
this young man is the same person as the boy mentioned in the Italian
medical journal. But it is very far from clear that he is so. You
know all her reasons, of course, as you have read the story. The
times seem to agree well enough. It is easy to conceive that Ch
might be substituted for K in the report. The singular solitary
habits of this young man entirely coincide with the story. If we
could only find out whether he has any of those feelings with
reference to certain colors, we might guess with more chance of
guessing right than we have at present. But I don't see exactly how
we are going to submit him to examination on this point. If he were
only a chemical compound, we could analyze him. If he were only a
bird or a quadruped, we could find out his likes and dislikes. But
being, as he is, a young man, with ways of his own, and a will of his
own, which he may not choose to have interfered with, the problem
becomes more complicated. I hear that a newspaper correspondent has
visited him so as to make a report to his paper,--do you know what he
"Certainly I do, very well. My brother has heard his own story,
which was this: He found out he had got hold of the wrong person to
interview. The young gentleman, he says, interviewed him, so that he
did not learn much about the Sphinx. But the newspaper man told
Willy about the Sphinx's library and a cabinet of coins he had; and
said he should make an article out of him, anyhow. I wish the man
would take himself off. I am afraid Lurida's love of knowledge will
get her into trouble!"
"Which of the men do you wish would take himself off?"
"I was thinking of the newspaper man."
She blushed a little as she said, "I can't help feeling a strange
sort of interest about the other, Mr. Kirkwood. Do you know that I
met him this morning, and had a good look at him, full in the face?"
"Well, to be sure! That was an interesting experience. And how did
you like his looks?"
"I thought his face a very remarkable one. But he looked very pale
as he passed me, and I noticed that he put his hand to his left side
as if he had a twinge of pain, or something of that sort,--spasm or
neuralgia,--I don't know what. I wondered whether he had what you
call angina pectoris. It was the same kind of look and movement, I
remember, as you trust, too, in my uncle who died with that
The doctor was silent for a moment. Then he asked, "Were you dressed
as you are now?"
"Yes, I was, except that I had a thin mantle over my shoulders. I
was out early, and I have always remembered your caution."
"What color was your mantle?"
"It was black. I have been over all this with Lucinda. A black
mantle on a white dress. A straw hat with an old faded ribbon.
There can't be much in those colors to trouble him, I should think,
for his man wears a black coat and white linen,--more or less white,
as you must have noticed, and he must have seen ribbons of all colors
often enough. But Lurida believes it was the ribbon, or something in
the combination of colors. Her head is full of Tarantulas and
Tarantism. I fear that she will never be easy until the question is
settled by actual trial. And will you believe it? the girl is
determined in some way to test her supposition!"
"Believe it, Euthymia? I can believe almost anything of Lurida. She
is the most irrepressible creature I ever knew. You know as well as
I do what a complete possession any ruling idea takes of her whole
nature. I have had some fears lest her zeal might run away with her
discretion. It is a great deal easier to get into a false position
than to get out of it."
"I know it well enough. I want you to tell me what you think about
the whole business. I don't like the look of it at all, and yet I
can do nothing with the girl except let her follow her fancy, until I
can show her plainly that she will get herself into trouble in some
way or other. But she is ingenious,--full of all sorts of devices,
innocent enough in themselves, but liable to be misconstrued. You
remember how she won us the boat-race?"
"To be sure I do. It was rather sharp practice, but she felt she was
paying off an old score. The classical story of Atalanta, told, like
that of Eve, as illustrating the weakness of woman, provoked her to
make trial of the powers of resistance in the other sex. But it was
audacious. I hope her audacity will not go too far. You must watch
her. Keep an eye on her correspondence."
The doctor had great confidence in the good sense of Lurida's friend.
He felt sure that she would not let Lurida commit herself by writing
foolish letters to the subject of her speculations, or similar
indiscreet performances. The boldness of young girls, who think no
evil, in opening correspondence with idealized personages is
something quite astonishing to those who have had an opportunity of
knowing the facts. Lurida had passed the most dangerous age, but her
theory of the equality of the sexes made her indifferent to the
by-laws of social usage. She required watching, and her two
guardians were ready to check her, in case of need.
MISS VINCENT WRITES A LETTER.
Euthymia noticed that her friend had been very much preoccupied for
two or three days. She found her more than once busy at her desk,
with a manuscript before her, which she turned over and placed inside
the desk, as Euthymia entered.
This desire of concealment was not what either of the friends
expected to see in the other. It showed that some project was under
way, which, at least in its present stage, the Machiavellian young
lady did not wish to disclose. It had cost her a good deal of
thought and care, apparently, for her waste-basket was full of scraps
of paper, which looked as if they were the remains of a manuscript
like that at which she was at work. "Copying and recopying,
probably," thought Euthymia, but she was willing to wait to learn
what Lurida was busy about, though she had a suspicion that it was
something in which she might feel called upon to interest herself.
"Do you know what I think?" said Euthymia to the doctor, meeting him
as he left his door. "I believe Lurida is writing to this man, and I
don't like the thought of her doing such a thing. Of course she is
not like other girls in many respects, but other people will judge
her by the common rules of life."
"I am glad that you spoke of it," answered the doctor; "she would
write to him just as quickly as to any woman of his age. Besides,
under the cover of her office, she has got into the way of writing to
anybody. I think she has already written to Mr. Kirkwood, asking him
to contribute a paper for the Society. She can find a pretext easily
enough if she has made up her mind to write. In fact, I doubt if she
would trouble herself for any pretext at all if she decided to write.
Watch her well. Don't let any letter go without seeing it, if you
can help it."
Young women are much given to writing letters to persons whom they
only know indirectly, for the most part through their books, and
especially to romancers and poets. Nothing can be more innocent and
simple-hearted than most of these letters. They are the spontaneous
outflow of young hearts easily excited to gratitude for the pleasure
which some story or poem has given them, and recognizing their own
thoughts, their own feelings, in those expressed by the author, as if
on purpose for them to read. Undoubtedly they give great relief to
solitary young persons, who must have some ideal reflection of
themselves, and know not where to look since Protestantism has taken
away the crucifix and the Madonna. The recipient of these letters
sometimes wonders, after reading through one of them, how it is that
his young correspondent has managed to fill so much space with her
simple message of admiration or of sympathy.
Lurida did not belong to this particular class of correspondents, but
she could not resist the law of her sex, whose thoughts naturally
surround themselves with superabundant drapery of language, as their
persons float in a wide superfluity of woven tissues. Was she indeed
writing to this unknown gentleman? Euthymia questioned her point-
"Are you going to open a correspondence with Mr. Maurice Kirkwood,
Lurida? You seem to be so busy writing, I can think of nothing else.
Or are you going to write a novel, or a paper for the Society,--do
tell me what you are so much taken up with."
"I will tell you, Euthymia, if you will promise not to find fault
with me for carrying out my plan as I have made up my mind to do.
You may read this letter before I seal it, and if you find anything
in it you don't like you can suggest any change that you think will
improve it. I hope you will see that it explains itself. I don't
believe that you will find anything to frighten you in it."
This is the letter, as submitted to Miss Tower by her friend. The
bold handwriting made it look like a man's letter, and gave it
consequently a less dangerous expression than that which belongs to
the tinted and often fragrant sheet with its delicate thready
characters, which slant across the page like an April shower with a
south wind chasing it.
ARROWHEAD VILLAGE, August--, 18--.
MY DEAR SIR,--You will doubtless be surprised at the sight of a
letter like this from one whom you only know as the Secretary of the
Pansophian Society. There is a very common feeling that it is
unbecoming in one of my sex to address one of your own with whom she
is unacquainted, unless she has some special claim upon his
attention. I am by no means disposed to concede to the vulgar
prejudice on this point. If one human being has anything to
communicate to another,--anything which deserves being communicated,
--I see no occasion for bringing in the question of sex. I do not
think the homo sum of Terence can be claimed for the male sex as its
private property on general any more than on grammatical grounds,
I have sometimes thought of devoting myself to the noble art of
healing. If I did so, it would be with the fixed purpose of giving
my whole powers to the service of humanity. And if I should carry
out that idea, should I refuse my care and skill to a suffering
fellow-mortal because that mortal happened to be a brother, and not a
sister? My whole nature protests against such one-sided humanity!
No! I am blind to all distinctions when my eyes are opened to any
form of suffering, to any spectacle of want.
You may ask me why I address you, whom I know little or nothing of,
and to whom such an advance may seem presumptuous and intrusive. It
is because I was deeply impressed by the paper which I attributed to
you,--that on Ocean, River, and Lake, which was read at one of our
meetings. I say that I was deeply impressed, but I do not mean this
as a compliment to that paper. I am not bandying compliments now,
but thinking of better things than praises or phrases. I was
interested in the paper, partly because I recognized some of the
feelings expressed in it as my own,--partly because there was an
undertone of sadness in all the voices of nature as you echoed them
which made me sad to hear, and which I could not help longing to
cheer and enliven. I said to myself, I should like to hold communion
with the writer of that paper. I have had my lonely hours and days,
as he has had. I have had some of his experiences in my intercourse
with nature. And oh! if I could draw him into those better human
relations which await us all, if we come with the right dispositions,
I should blush if I stopped to inquire whether I violated any
conventional rule or not.
You will understand me, I feel sure. You believe, do you not? in the
insignificance of the barrier which divides the sisterhood from the
brotherhood of mankind. You believe, do you not? that they should be
educated side by side, that they should share the same pursuits, due
regard being had to the fitness of the particular individual for hard
or light work, as it must always be, whether we are dealing with the
"stronger" or the "weaker" sex. I mark these words because,
notwithstanding their common use, they involve so much that is not
true. Stronger! Yes, to lift a barrel of flour, or a barrel of
cider,--though there have been women who could do that, and though
when John Wesley was mobbed in Staffordshire a woman knocked down
three or four men, one after another, until she was at last
overpowered and nearly murdered. Talk about the weaker sex! Go and
see Miss Euthymia Tower at the gymnasium! But no matter about which
sex has the strongest muscles. Which has most to suffer, and which
has most endurance and vitality? We go through many ordeals which
you are spared, but we outlast you in mind and body. I have been led
away into one of my accustomed trains of thought, but not so far away
from it as you might at first suppose.
My brother! Are you not ready to recognize in me a friend, an equal,
a sister, who can speak to you as if she had been reared under the
same roof? And is not the sky that covers us one roof, which makes
us all one family? You are lonely, you must be longing for some
human fellowship. Take me into your confidence. What is there that
you can tell me to which I cannot respond with sympathy? What
saddest note in your spiritual dirges which will not find its chord
I long to know what influence has cast its shadow over your
existence. I myself have known what it is to carry a brain that
never rests in a body that is always tired. I have defied its
infirmities, and forced it to do my bidding. You have no such
hindrance, if we may judge by your aspect and habits. You deal with
horses like a Homeric hero. No wild Indian could handle his bark
canoe more dexterously or more vigorously than we have seen you
handling yours. There must be some reason for your seclusion which
curiosity has not reached, and into which it is not the province of
curiosity to inquire. But in the irresistible desire which I have to
bring you into kindly relations with those around you, I must run the
risk of giving offence that I may know in what direction to look for
those restorative influences which the sympathy of a friend and
sister can offer to a brother in need of some kindly impulse to
change the course of a life which is not, which cannot be, in
accordance with his true nature.
I have thought that there may be something in the conditions with
which you are here surrounded which is repugnant to your feelings,--
something which can be avoided only by keeping yourself apart from
the people whose acquaintance you would naturally have formed. There
can hardly be anything in the place itself, or you would not have
voluntarily sought it as a residence, even for a single season.
there might be individuals here whom you would not care to meet,
there must be such, but you cannot have a personal aversion to
everybody. I have heard of cases in which certain sights and sounds,
which have no particular significance for most persons, produced
feelings of distress or aversion that made, them unbearable to the
subjects of the constitutional dislike. It has occurred to me that
possibly you might have some such natural aversion to the sounds of
the street, or such as are heard in most houses, especially where a
piano is kept, as it is in fact in almost all of those in the
village. Or it might be, I imagined, that some color in the dresses
of women or the furniture of our rooms affected you unpleasantly. I
know that instances of such antipathy have been recorded, and they
would account for the seclusion of those who are subject to it.
If there is any removable condition which interferes with your free
entrance into and enjoyment of the social life around you, tell me, I
beg of you, tell me what it is, and it shall be eliminated. Think it
not strange, O my brother, that I thus venture to introduce myself
into the hidden chambers of your life. I will never suffer myself to
be frightened from the carrying out of any thought which promises to
be of use to a fellow-mortal by a fear lest it should be considered
"unfeminine." I can bear to be considered unfeminine, but I cannot
endure to think of myself as inhuman. Can I help you, my brother'?
Believe me your most sincere well-wisher,
Euthymia had carried off this letter and read it by herself. As she
finished it, her feelings found expression in an old phrase of her
grandmother's, which came up of itself, as such survivals of early
days are apt to do, on great occasions.
"Well, I never!"
Then she loosened some button or string that was too tight, and went
to the window for a breath of outdoor air. Then she began at the
beginning and read the whole letter all over again.
What should she do about it? She could not let this young girl send
a letter like that to a stranger of whose character little was known
except by inference,--to a young man, who would consider it a most
extraordinary advance on the part of the sender. She would have
liked to tear it into a thousand pieces, but she had no right to
treat it in that way. Lurida meant to send it the next morning, and
in the mean time Euthymia had the night to think over what she should
do about it.
There is nothing like the pillow for an oracle. There is no voice
like that which breaks the silence--of the stagnant hours of the
night with its sudden suggestions and luminous counsels. When
Euthymia awoke in the morning, her course of action was as clear
before her as if it bad been dictated by her guardian angel. She
went straight over to the home of Lurida, who was just dressed for
She was naturally a little surprised at this early visit. She was
struck with the excited look of Euthymia, being herself quite calm,
and contemplating her project with entire complacency.
Euthymia began, in tones that expressed deep anxiety.
"I have read your letter, my dear, and admired its spirit and force.
It is a fine letter, and does you great credit as an expression of
the truest human feeling. But it must not be sent to Mr. Kirkwood.
If you were sixty years old, perhaps if you were fifty, it might be
admissible to send it. But if you were forty, I should question its
propriety; if you were thirty, I should veto it, and you are but a
little more than twenty. How do you know that this stranger will not
show your letter to anybody or everybody? How do you know that he
will not send it to one of the gossiping journals like the 'Household
Inquisitor'? But supposing he keeps it to himself, which is more
than you have a right to expect, what opinion is he likely to form of
a young lady who invades his privacy with such freedom? Ten to one
he will think curiosity is at the bottom of it,--and,--come, don't be
angry at me for suggesting it,--may there not be a little of that
same motive mingled with the others? No, don't interrupt me quite
yet; you do want to know whether your hypothesis is correct. You are
full of the best and kindest feelings in the world, but your desire
for knowledge is the ferment under them just now, perhaps more than
Lurida's pale cheeks flushed and whitened more than once while her
friend was speaking. She loved her too sincerely and respected her
intelligence too much to take offence at her advice, but she could
not give up her humane and sisterly intentions merely from the fear
of some awkward consequences to herself. She had persuaded herself
that she was playing the part of a Protestant sister of charity, and
that the fact of her not wearing the costume of these ministering
angels made no difference in her relations to those who needed her
"I cannot see your objections in the light in which they appear to
you," she said gravely. "It seems to me that I give up everything
when I hesitate to help a fellow-creature because I am a woman. I am
not afraid to send this letter and take all the consequences."
"Will you go with me to the doctor's, and let him read it in our
presence? And will you agree to abide by his opinion, if it
coincides with mine?"
Lurida winced a little at this proposal. "I don't quite like," she
said, "showing this letter to--to" she hesitated, but it had to come
out--"to a man, that is, to another man than the one for whom it was
The neuter gender business had got a pretty damaging side-hit.
"Well, never mind about letting him read the letter. Will you go
over to his house with me at noon, when he comes back after his
morning visits, and have a talk over the whole matter with him? You
know I have sometimes had to say must to you, Lurida, and now I say
you must go to the doctor's with me and carry that letter."
There was no resisting the potent monosyllable as the sweet but firm
voice delivered it. At noon the two maidens rang at the doctor's
door. The servant said he had been at the house after his morning
visits, but found a hasty summons to Mr. Kirkwood, who had been taken
suddenly ill and wished to see him at once. Was the illness
dangerous? The servant-maid did n't know, but thought it was pretty
bad, for Mr. Paul came in as white as a sheet, and talked all sorts
of languages which she couldn't understand, and took on as if he
thought Mr. Kirkwood was going to die right off.
And so the hazardous question about sending the letter was disposed
of, at least for the present.
Dr. BUTTS'S PATIENT.
The physician found Maurice just regaining his heat after a chill of
a somewhat severe character. He knew too well what this meant, and
the probable series of symptoms of which it was the prelude. His
patient was not the only one in the neighborhood who was attacked in
this way. The autumnal fevers to which our country towns are
subject, in the place of those "agues," or intermittents, so largely
prevalent in the South and West, were already beginning, and Maurice,
who had exposed himself in the early and late hours of the dangerous
season, must be expected to go through the regular stages of this
always serious and not rarely fatal disease.
Paolo, his faithful servant, would fain have taken the sole charge of
his master during his illness. But the doctor insisted that he must
have a nurse to help him in his task, which was likely to be long and
At the mention of the word "nurse" Paolo turned white, and exclaimed
in an agitated and thoroughly frightened way,
"No! no nuss! no woman! She kill him! I stay by him day and night,
but don' let no woman come near him,--if you do, he die!"
The doctor explained that he intended to send a man who was used to
taking care of sick people, and with no little effort at last
succeeded in convincing Paolo that, as he could not be awake day and
night for a fortnight or three weeks, it was absolutely necessary to
call in some assistance from without. And so Mr. Maurice Kirkwood
was to play the leading part in that drama of nature's composing
called a typhoid fever, with its regular bedchamber scenery, its
properties of phials and pill-boxes, its little company of stock
actors, its gradual evolution of a very simple plot, its familiar
incidents, its emotional alternations, and its denouement, sometimes
tragic, oftener happy.
It is needless to say that the sympathies of all the good people of
the village, residents and strangers, were actively awakened for the
young man about whom they knew so little and conjectured so much.
Tokens of their kindness came to him daily: flowers from the woods
and from the gardens; choice fruit grown in the open air or under
glass, for there were some fine houses surrounded by well-kept
grounds, and greenhouses and graperies were not unknown in the small
but favored settlement.
On all these luxuries Maurice looked with dull and languid eyes. A
faint smile of gratitude sometimes struggled through the stillness of
his features, or a murmured word of thanks found its way through his
parched lips, and he would relapse into the partial stupor or the
fitful sleep in which, with intervals of slight wandering, the slow
hours dragged along the sluggish days one after another. With no
violent symptoms, but with steady persistency, the disease moved on
in its accustomed course. It was at no time immediately threatening,
but the experienced physician knew its uncertainties only too well.
He had known fever patients suddenly seized with violent internal
inflammation, and carried off with frightful rapidity. He remembered
the case of a convalescent, a young woman who had been attacked while
in apparently vigorous general health, who, on being lifted too
suddenly to a sitting position, while still confined to her bed,
fainted, and in a few moments ceased to breathe. It may well be
supposed that he took every possible precaution to avert the
accidents which tend to throw from its track a disease the regular
course of which is arranged by nature as carefully as the route of a
railroad from one city to another. The most natural interpretation
which the common observer would put upon the manifestations of one of
these autumnal maladies would be that some noxious combustible
element had found its way into the system which must be burned to
ashes before the heat which pervades the whole body can subside.
Sometimes the fire may smoulder and seem as if it were going out, or
were quite extinguished, and again it will find some new material to
seize upon, and flame up as fiercely as ever. Its coming on most
frequently at the season when the brush fires which are consuming the
dead branches, and withered leaves, and all the refuse of vegetation
are sending up their smoke is suggestive. Sometimes it seems as if
the body, relieved of its effete materials, renewed its youth after
one of these quiet, expurgating, internal fractional cremations.
Lean, pallid students have found themselves plump and blooming, and
it has happened that one whose hair was straight as gnat of an Indian
has been startled to behold himself in his mirror with a fringe of
hyacinthine curls about his rejuvenated countenance.
There was nothing of what medical men call malignity in the case of
Maurice Kirkwood. The most alarming symptom was a profound
prostration, which at last reached such a point that he lay utterly
helpless, as unable to move without aid as the feeblest of
paralytics. In this state he lay for many days, not suffering pain,
but with the sense of great weariness, and the feeling that he should
never rise from his bed again. For the most part his intellect was
unclouded when his attention was aroused. He spoke only in whispers,
a few words at a time. The doctor felt sure, by the expression which
passed over his features from time to time, that something was
worrying and oppressing him; something which he wished to
communicate, and had not the force, or the tenacity of purpose, to
make perfectly clear. His eyes often wandered to a certain desk, and
once he had found strength to lift his emaciated arm and point to it.
The doctor went towards it as if to fetch it to him, but he slowly
shook his head. He had not the power to say at that time what he
wished. The next day he felt a little less prostrated; and succeeded
in explaining to the doctor what he wanted. His words, so far as the
physician could make them out, were these which follow. Dr. Butts
looked upon them as possibly expressing wishes which would be his
last, and noted them down carefully immediately after leaving his
"I commit the secret of my life to your charge. My whole story is
told in a paper locked in that desk. The key is--put your hand under
my pillow. If I die, let the story be known. It will show that I
was--human--and save my memory from reproach."
He was silent for a little time. A single tear stole down his hollow
cheek. The doctor turned his head away, for his own eyes were full.
But he said to himself, "It is a good sign; I begin to feel strong
hopes that he will recover."
Maurice spoke once more. "Doctor, I put full trust in you. You are
wise and kind. Do what you will with this paper, but open it at once
and read. I want you to know the story of my life before it is
finished--if the end is at hand. Take it with you and read it before
you sleep." He was exhausted and presently his eyes closed, but the
doctor saw a tranquil look on his features which added encouragement
to his hopes.
MAURICE KIRKWOOD'S STORY OF HIS LIFE.
I am an American by birth, but a large part of my life has been
passed in foreign lands. My father was a man of education, possessed
of an ample fortune; my mother was considered, a very accomplished
and amiable woman. I was their first and only child. She died while
I was yet an infant. If I remember her at all it is as a vision,
more like a glimpse of a pre-natal existence than as a part of my
earthly life. At the death of my mother I was left in the charge of
the old nurse who had enjoyed her perfect confidence. She was
devoted to me, and I became absolutely dependent on her, who had for
me all the love and all the care of a mother. I was naturally the
object of the attentions and caresses of the family relatives. I
have been told that I was a pleasant, smiling infant, with nothing to
indicate any peculiar nervous susceptibility; not afraid of
strangers, but on the contrary ready to make their acquaintance. My
father was devoted to me and did all in his power to promote my
health and comfort.
I was still a babe, often carried in arms, when the event happened
which changed my whole future and destined me to a strange and lonely
existence. I cannot relate it even now without a sense of terror. I
must force myself to recall the circumstances as told me and vaguely
remembered, for I am not willing that my doomed and wholly
exceptional life should pass away unrecorded, unexplained,
unvindicated. My nature is, I feel sure, a kind and social one, but
I have lived apart, as if my heart were filled with hatred of my
fellow-creatures. If there are any readers who look without pity,
without sympathy, upon those who shun the fellowship of their fellow
men and women, who show by their downcast or averted eyes that they
dread companionship and long for solitude, I pray them, if this paper
ever reaches them, to stop at this point. Follow me no further, for
you will not believe my story, nor enter into the feelings which I am
about to reveal. But if there are any to whom all that is human is
of interest, who have felt in their own consciousness some stirrings
of invincible attraction to one individual and equally invincible
repugnance to another, who know by their own experience that elective
affinities have as their necessary counterpart, and, as it were,
their polar opposites, currents not less strong of elective
repulsions, let them read with unquestioning faith the story of a
blighted life I am about to relate, much of it, of course, received
from the lips of others.
My cousin Laura, a girl of seventeen, lately returned from Europe,
was considered eminently beautiful. It was in my second summer that
she visited my father's house, where he was living with his servants
and my old nurse, my mother having but recently left him a widower.
Laura was full of vivacity, impulsive, quick in her movements,
thoughtless occasionally, as it is not strange that a young girl of
her age should be. It was a beautiful summer day when she saw me for
the first time. My nurse had me in her arms, walking back and
forward on a balcony with a low railing, upon which opened the
windows of the second story of my father's house. While the nurse
was thus carrying me, Laura came suddenly upon the balcony. She no
sooner saw me than with all the delighted eagerness of her youthful
nature she rushed toward me, and, catching me from the nurse's arms,
began tossing me after the fashion of young girls who have been so
lately playing with dolls that they feel as if babies were very much
of the same nature. The abrupt seizure frightened me; I sprang from
her arms in my terror, and fell over the railing of the balcony. I
should probably enough have been killed on the spot but for the fact
that a low thorn-bush grew just beneath the balcony, into which I
fell and thus had the violence of the shock broken. But the thorns
tore my tender flesh, and I bear to this day marks of the deep wounds
That dreadful experience is burned deep into my memory. The sudden
apparition of the girl; the sense of being torn away from the
protecting arms around me; the frantic effort to escape; the shriek
that accompanied my fall through what must have seemed unmeasurable
space; the cruel lacerations of the piercing and rending thorns,--all
these fearful impressions blended in one paralyzing terror.
When I was taken up I was thought to be dead. I was perfectly white,
and the physician who first saw me said that no pulse was
perceptible. But after a time consciousness returned; the wounds,
though painful, were none of them dangerous, and the most alarming
effects of the accident passed away. My old nurse cared for me
tenderly day and night, and my father, who had been almost distracted
in the first hours which followed the injury, hoped and believed
that no permanent evil results would be found to result from it. My
cousin Laura was of course deeply distressed to feel that her
thoughtlessness had been the cause of so grave an accident. As soon
as I had somewhat recovered she came to see me, very penitent, very
anxious to make me forget the alarm she had caused me, with all its
consequences. I was in the nursery sitting up in my bed, bandaged,
but not in any pain, as it seemed, for I was quiet and to all
appearance in a perfectly natural state of feeling. As Laura came
near me I shrieked and instantly changed color. I put my hand upon
my heart as if I had been stabbed, and fell over, unconscious. It
was very much the same state as that in which I was found immediately
after my fall.
The cause of this violent and appalling seizure was but too obvious.
The approach of the young girl and the dread that she was about to
lay her hand upon me had called up the same train of effects which
the moment of terror and pain had already occasioned. The old nurse
saw this in a moment. "Go! go!" she cried to Laura, "go, or the
child will die! "Her command did not have to be repeated. After
Laura had gone I lay senseless, white and cold as marble, for some
time. The doctor soon came, and by the use of smart rubbing and
stimulants the color came back slowly to my cheeks and the arrested
circulation was again set in motion.
It was hard to believe that this was anything more than a temporary
effect of the accident. There could be little doubt, it was thought
by the doctor and by my father, that after a few days I should
recover from this morbid sensibility and receive my cousin as other
infants receive pleasant-looking young persons. The old nurse shook
her head. "The girl will be the death of the child," she said, "if
she touches him or comes near him. His heart stopped beating just as
when the girl snatched him out of my arms, and he fell over the
balcony railing." Once more the experiment was tried, cautiously,
almost insidiously. The same alarming consequences followed. It was
too evident that a chain of nervous disturbances had been set up in
my system which repeated itself whenever the original impression gave
the first impulse. I never saw my cousin Laura after this last
trial. Its result had so distressed her that she never ventured
again to show herself to me.
If the effect of the nervous shock had stopped there, it would have
been a misfortune for my cousin and myself, but hardly a calamity.
The world is wide, and a cousin or two more or less can hardly be
considered an essential of existence. I often heard Laura's name
mentioned, but never by any one who was acquainted with all the
circumstances, for it was noticed that I changed color and caught at
my breast as if I wanted to grasp my heart in my hand whenever that
fatal name was mentioned.
Alas! this was not all. While I was suffering from the effects of my
fall among the thorns I was attended by my old nurse, assisted by
another old woman, by a physician, and my father, who would take his
share in caring for me. It was thought best to keep--me perfectly
quiet, and strangers and friends were alike excluded from my nursery,
with one exception, that my old grandmother came in now and then.
With her it seems that I was somewhat timid and shy, following her
with rather anxious eyes, as if not quite certain whether or not she
was dangerous. But one day, when I was far advanced towards
recovery, my father brought in a young lady, a relative of his, who
had expressed a great desire to see me. She was, as I have been
told, a very handsome girl, of about the same age as my cousin Laura,
but bearing no personal resemblance to her in form, features, or
complexion. She had no sooner entered the room than the same sudden
changes which had followed my cousin's visit began to show
themselves, and before she had reached my bedside I was in a state of
deadly collapse, as on the occasions already mentioned.
Some time passed before any recurrence of these terrifying seizures.
A little girl of five or six years old was allowed to come into the
nursery one day and bring me some flowers. I took them from her
hand, but turned away and shut my eyes. There was no seizure, but
there was a certain dread and aversion, nothing more than a feeling
which it might be hoped that time would overcome. Those around me
were gradually finding out the circumstances which brought on the
deadly attack to which I was subject.
The daughter of one of our near neighbors was considered the
prettiest girl of the village where we were passing the summer. She
was very anxious to see me, and as I was now nearly well it was
determined that she should be permitted to pay me a short visit. I
had always delighted in seeing her and being caressed by her. I was
sleeping when she entered the nursery and came and took a seat at my
side in perfect silence. Presently I became restless, and a moment
later I opened my eyes and saw her stooping over me. My hand went to
my left breast,--the color faded from my cheeks,--I was again the
cold marble image so like death that it had well-nigh been mistaken
Could it be possible that the fright which had chilled my blood had
left me with an unconquerable fear of woman at the period when she is
most attractive not only to adolescents, but to children of tender
age, who feel the fascination of her flowing locks, her bright eyes,
her blooming cheeks, and that mysterious magnetism of sex which draws
all life into its warm and potently vitalized atmosphere? So it did
indeed seem. The dangerous experiment could not be repeated
indefinitely. It was not intentionally tried again, but accident
brought about more than one renewal of it during the following years,
until it became fully recognized that I was the unhappy subject of a
mortal dread of woman,--not absolutely of the human female, for I had
no fear of my old nurse or of my grandmother, or of any old wrinkled
face, and I had become accustomed to the occasional meeting of a
little girl or two, whom I nevertheless regarded with a certain ill-
defined feeling that there was danger in their presence. I was sent
to a boys' school very early, and during the first ten or twelve
years of my life I had rarely any occasion to be reminded of my
As I grew out of boyhood into youth, a change came over the feelings
which had so long held complete possession of me. This was what my
father and his advisers had always anticipated, and was the ground of
their confident hope in my return to natural conditions before I
should have grown to mature manhood.
How shall I describe the conflicts of those dreamy, bewildering,
dreadful years? Visions of loveliness haunted me sleeping and
waking. Sometimes a graceful girlish figure would so draw my eyes
towards it that I lost sight of all else, and was ready to forget all
my fears and find myself at her side, like other youths by the side
of young maidens,--happy in their cheerful companionship, while I,--
I, under the curse of one blighting moment, looked on, hopeless.
Sometimes the glimpse of a fair face or the tone of a sweet voice
stirred within me all the instincts that make the morning of life
beautiful to adolescence. I reasoned with myself:
Why should I not have outgrown that idle apprehension which had been
the nightmare of my earlier years? Why should not the rising tide of
life have drowned out the feeble growths that infested the shallows
of childhood? How many children there are who tremble at being left
alone in the dark, but who, a few years later, will smile at their
foolish terrors and brave all the ghosts of a haunted chamber! Why
should I any longer be the slave of a foolish fancy that has grown
into a half insane habit of mind? I was familiarly acquainted with
all the stories of the strange antipathies and invincible repugnances
to which others, some of them famous men, had been subject. I said
to myself, Why should not I overcome this dread of woman as Peter the
Great fought down his dread of wheels rolling over a bridge? Was I,
alone of all mankind, to be doomed to perpetual exclusion from the
society which, as it seemed to me, was all that rendered existence
worth the trouble and fatigue of slavery to the vulgar need of
supplying the waste of the system and working at the task of
respiration like the daughters of Danaus,--toiling day and night as
the worn-out sailor labors at the pump of his sinking vessel?
Why did I not brave the risk of meeting squarely, and without regard
to any possible danger, some one of those fair maidens whose far-off
smile, whose graceful movements, at once attracted and agitated me?
I can only answer this question to the satisfaction of any really
inquiring reader by giving him the true interpretation of the
singular phenomenon of which I was the subject. For this I shall
have to refer to a paper of which I have made a copy, and which will
be found included with this manuscript. It is enough to say here,
without entering into the explanation of the fact, which will be
found simple enough as seen by the light of modern physiological
science, that the "nervous disturbance" which the presence of a woman
in the flower of her age produced in my system was a sense of
impending death, sudden, overwhelming, unconquerable, appalling. It
was a reversed action of the nervous centres,--the opposite of that
which flushes the young lover's cheek and hurries his bounding pulses
as he comes into the presence of the object of his passion. No one
who has ever felt the sensation can have failed to recognize it as an
imperative summons, which commands instant and terrified submission.
It was at this period of my life that my father determined to try the
effect of travel and residence in different localities upon my bodily
and mental condition. I say bodily as well as mental, for I was too
slender for my height and subject to some nervous symptoms which were
a cause of anxiety. That the mind was largely concerned in these
there was no doubt, but the mutual interactions of mind and body are
often too complex to admit of satisfactory analysis. Each is in part
cause and each also in part effect.
We passed some years in Italy, chiefly in Rome, where I was placed in
a school conducted by priests, and where of course I met only those
of my own sex. There I had the opportunity of seeing the influences
under which certain young Catholics, destined for the priesthood, are
led to separate themselves from all communion with the sex associated
in their minds with the most subtle dangers to which the human soul
can be exposed. I became in some degree reconciled to the thought of
exclusion from the society of women by seeing around me so many who
were self-devoted to celibacy. The thought sometimes occurred to me
whether I should not find the best and the only natural solution of
the problem of existence, as submitted to myself, in taking upon me
the vows which settle the whole question and raise an impassable
barrier between the devotee and the object of his dangerous
How often I talked this whole matter over with the young priest who
was at once my special instructor and my favorite companion! But
accustomed as I had become to the forms of the Roman Church, and
impressed as I was with the purity and excellence of many of its
young members with whom I was acquainted, my early training rendered
it impossible for me to accept the credentials which it offered me as
authoritative. My friend and instructor had to set me down as a case
of "invincible ignorance." This was the loop-hole through which he
crept out of the prison-house of his creed, and was enabled to look
upon me without the feeling of absolute despair with which his
sterner brethren would, I fear, have regarded me.
I have said that accident exposed me at times to the influence which
I had such reasons for dreading. Here is one example of such an
occurrence, which I relate as simply as possible, vividly as it is
impressed upon my memory. A young friend whose acquaintance I had
made in Rome asked me one day to come to his rooms and look at a
cabinet of gems and medals which he had collected. I had been but a
short time in his library when a vague sense of uneasiness came over
me. My heart became restless,--I could feel it stirring irregularly,
as if it were some frightened creature caged in my breast. There was
nothing that I could see to account for it. A door was partly open,
but not so that I could see into the next room. The feeling grew
upon me of some influence which was paralyzing my circulation. I
begged my friend to open a window. As be did so, the door swung in
the draught, and I saw a blooming young woman,--it was my friend's
sister, who had been sitting with a book in her hand, and who rose at
the opening of the door. Something had warned me of the presence of
a woman, that occult and potent aura of individuality, call it
personal magnetism, spiritual effluence, or reduce it to a simpler
expression if you will; whatever it was, it had warned me of the
nearness of the dread attraction which allured at a distance and
revealed itself with all the terrors of the Lorelei if approached too
recklessly. A sign from her brother caused her to withdraw at once,
but not before I had felt the impression which betrayed itself in my
change of color, anxiety about the region of the heart, and sudden
failure as if about to fall in a deadly fainting-fit.
Does all this seem strange and incredible to the reader of my
manuscript? Nothing in the history of life is so strange or
exceptional as it seems to those who have not made a long study of
its mysteries. I have never known just such a case as my own, and
yet there must have been such, and if the whole history of mankind
were unfolded I cannot doubt that there have been many like it. Let
my reader suspend his judgment until he has read the paper I have
referred to, which was drawn up by a Committee of the Royal Academy
of the Biological Sciences. In this paper the mechanism of the
series of nervous derangements to which I have been subject since the
fatal shock experienced in my infancy is explained in language not
hard to understand. It will be seen that such a change of polarity
in the nervous centres is only a permanent form and an extreme degree
of an emotional disturbance, which as a temporary and comparatively
unimportant personal accident is far from being uncommon,--is so
frequent, in fact, that every one must have known instances of it,
and not a few must have had more or less serious experiences of it in
their own private history.
It must not be supposed that my imagination dealt with me as I am now
dealing with the reader. I was full of strange fancies and wild
superstitions. One of my Catholic friends gave me a silver medal
which had been blessed by the Pope, and which I was to wear next my
body. I was told that this would turn black after a time, in virtue
of a power which it possessed of drawing out original sin, or certain
portions of it, together with the evil and morbid tendencies which
had been engrafted on the corrupt nature. I wore the medal
faithfully, as directed, and watched it carefully. It became
tarnished and after a time darkened, but it wrought no change in my
There was an old gypsy who had the reputation of knowing more of
futurity than she had any right to know. The story was that she had
foretold the assassination of Count Rossi and the death of Cavour.
However that may have been, I was persuaded to let her try her black
art upon my future. I shall never forget the strange, wild look of
the wrinkled hag as she took my hand and studied its lines and fixed
her wicked old eyes on my young countenance. After this examination
she shook her head and muttered some words, which as nearly as I
could get them would be in English like these:
Fair lady cast a spell on thee,
Fair lady's hand shall set thee free.
Strange as it may seem, these words of a withered old creature, whose
palm had to be crossed with silver to bring forth her oracular
response, have always clung to my memory as if they were destined to
fulfilment. The extraordinary nature of the affliction to which I
was subject disposed me to believe the incredible with reference to
all that relates to it. I have never ceased to have the feeling
that, sooner or later, I should find myself freed from the blight
laid upon me in my infancy. It seems as if it would naturally come
through the influence of some young and fair woman, to whom that
merciful errand should be assigned by the Providence that governs our
destiny. With strange hopes, with trembling fears, with mingled
belief and doubt, wherever I have found myself I have sought with
longing yet half-averted eyes for the "elect lady," as I have learned
to call her, who was to lift the curse from my ruined life.
Three times I have been led to the hope, if not the belief, that I
had found the object of my superstitious belief.--Singularly enough
it was always on the water that the phantom of my hope appeared
before my bewildered vision. Once it was an English girl who was a
fellow passenger with me in one of my ocean voyages. I need not say
that she was beautiful, for she was my dream realized. I heard her
singing, I saw her walking the deck on some of the fair days when
sea-sickness was forgotten. The passengers were a social company
enough, but I had kept myself apart, as was my wont. At last the
attraction became too strong to resist any longer. "I will venture
into the charmed circle if it kills me," I said to my father. I did
venture, and it did not kill me, or I should not be telling this
story. But there was a repetition of the old experiences. I need
not relate the series of alarming consequences of my venture. The
English girl was very lovely, and I have no doubt has made some one
supremely happy before this, but she was not the "elect lady" of the
prophecy and of my dreams.
A second time I thought myself for a moment in the presence of the
destined deliverer who was to restore me to my natural place among my
fellow men and women. It was on the Tiber that I met the young
maiden who drew me once more into that inner circle which surrounded
young womanhood with deadly peril for me, if I dared to pass its
limits. I was floating with the stream in the little boat in which I
passed many long hours of reverie when I saw another small boat with
a boy and a young girl in it. The boy had been rowing, and one of
his oars had slipped from his grasp. He did not know how to paddle
with a single oar, and was hopelessly rowing round and round, his oar
all the time floating farther away from him. I could not refuse my
assistance. I picked up the oar and brought my skiff alongside of
the boat. When I handed the oar to the boy the young girl lifted her
veil and thanked me in the exquisite music of the language which
'Sounds as if it should be writ on satin.'
She was a type of Italian beauty,--a nocturne in flesh and blood, if
I may borrow a term certain artists are fond of; but it was her voice
which captivated me and for a moment made me believe that I was no
longer shut off from all relations with the social life of my race.
An hour later I was found lying insensible on the floor of my boat,
white, cold, almost pulseless. It cost much patient labor to bring
me back to consciousness. Had not such extreme efforts been made, it
seems probable that I should never have waked from a slumber which
was hardly distinguishable from that of death.
Why should I provoke a catastrophe which appears inevitable if I
invite it by exposing myself to its too well ascertained cause? The
habit of these deadly seizures has become a second nature. The
strongest and the ablest men have found it impossible to resist the
impression produced by the most insignificant object, by the most
harmless sight or sound to which they had a congenital or acquired
antipathy. What prospect have I of ever being rid of this long and
deep-seated infirmity? I may well ask myself these questions, but my
answer is that I will never give up the hope that time will yet bring
its remedy. It may be that the wild prediction which so haunts me
shall find itself fulfilled. I have had of late strange
premonitions, to which if I were superstitious I could not help
giving heed. But I have seen too much of the faith that deals in
miracles to accept the supernatural in any shape,--assuredly when it
comes from an old witch-like creature who takes pay for her
revelations of the future. Be it so: though I am not superstitious,
I have a right to be imaginative, and my imagination will hold to
those words of the old zingara with an irresistible feeling that,
sooner or later, they will prove true.
Can it be possible that her prediction is not far from its
realization? I have had both waking and sleeping visions within
these last months and weeks which have taken possession of me and
filled my life with new thoughts, new hopes, new resolves.
Sometimes on the bosom of the lake by which I am dreaming away this
season of bloom and fragrance, sometimes in the fields or woods in a
distant glimpse, once in a nearer glance, which left me pale and
tremulous, yet was followed by a swift reaction, so that my cheeks
flushed and my pulse bounded, I have seen her who--how do I dare to
tell it so that my own eyes can read it?---I cannot help believing is
to be my deliverer, my saviour.
I have been warned in the most solemn and impressive language by the
experts most deeply read in the laws of life and the history of its
disturbing and destroying influences, that it would be at the
imminent risk of my existence if I should expose myself to the
repetition of my former experiences. I was reminded that unexplained
sudden deaths were of constant, of daily occurrence; that any emotion
is liable to arrest the movements of life: terror, joy, good news or
bad news,--anything that reaches the deeper nervous centres. I had
already died once, as Sir Charles Napier said of himself; yes, more
than once, died and been resuscitated. The next time, I might very
probably fail to get my return ticket after my visit to Hades. It
was a rather grim stroke of humor, but I understood its meaning full
well, and felt the force of its menace.
After all, what had I to live for if the great primal instinct which
strives to make whole the half life of lonely manhood is defeated,
suppressed, crushed out of existence? Why not as well die in the
attempt to break up a wretched servitude to a perverted nervous
movement as in any other way? I am alone in the world,--alone save
for my faithful servant, through whom I seem to hold to the human
race as it were by a single filament. My father, who was my
instructor, my companion, my dearest and best friend through all my
later youth and my earlier manhood, died three years ago and left me
my own master, with the means of living as might best please my
fancy. This season shall decide my fate. One more experiment, and I
shall find myself restored to my place among my fellow-beings, or, as
I devoutly hope, in a sphere where all our mortal infirmities are
past and forgotten.
I have told the story of a blighted life without reserve, so that
there shall not remain any mystery or any dark suspicion connected
with my memory if I should be taken away unexpectedly. It has cost
me an effort to do it, but now that my life is on record I feel more
reconciled to my lot, with all its possibilities, and among these
possibilities is a gleam of a better future. I have been told by my
advisers, some of them wise, deeply instructed, and kind-hearted men,
that such a life-destiny should be related by the subject of it for
the instruction of others, and especially for the light it throws on
certain peculiarities of human character often wrongly interpreted as
due to moral perversion, when they are in reality the results of
misdirected or reversed actions in some of the closely connected
For myself I can truly say that I have very little morbid sensibility
left with reference to the destiny which has been allotted to me. I
have passed through different stages of feeling with reference to it,
as I have developed from infancy to manhood. At first it was mere
blind instinct about which I had no thought, living like other
infants the life of impressions without language to connect them in
series. In my boyhood I began to be deeply conscious of the
infirmity which separated me from those around me. In youth began
that conflict of emotions and impulses with the antagonistic
influence of which I have already spoken, a conflict which has never
ceased, but to which I have necessarily become to a certain degree
accustomed; and against the dangers of which I have learned to guard
myself habitually. That is the meaning of my isolation. You, young
man,--if at any time your eyes shall look upon my melancholy record,
--you at least will understand me. Does not your heart throb, in the
presence of budding or blooming womanhood, sometimes as if it "were
ready to crack" with its own excess of strain? What if instead of
throbbing it should falter, flutter, and stop as if never to beat
again? You, young woman, who with ready belief and tender sympathy
will look upon these pages, if they are ever spread before you, know
what it is when your breast heaves with uncontrollable emotion and
the grip of the bodice seems unendurable as the embrace of the iron
virgin of the Inquisition. Think what it would be if the grasp were
tightened so that no breath of air could enter your panting chest!
Does your heart beat in the same way, young man, when your honored
friend, a venerable matron of seventy years, greets you with her
kindly smile as it does in the presence of youthful loveliness? When
a pretty child brings you her doll and looks into your eyes with
artless grace and trustful simplicity, does your pulse quicken, do
you tremble, does life palpitate through your whole being, as when
the maiden of seventeen meets your enamored sight in the glow of her
rosebud beauty? Wonder not, then, if the period of mystic attraction
for you should be that of agitation, terror, danger, to one in whom
the natural current of the instincts has had its course changed as
that of a stream is changed by a convulsion of nature, so that the
impression which is new life to you is death to him.
I am now twenty-five years old. I have reached the time of life
which I have dreamed, nay even ventured to hope, might be the limit
of the sentence which was pronounced upon me in my infancy. I can
assign no good reason for this anticipation. But in writing this
paper I feel as if I were preparing to begin a renewed existence.
There is nothing for me to be ashamed of in the story I have told.
There is no man living who would not have yielded to the sense of
instantly impending death which seized upon me under the conditions I
have mentioned. Martyrs have gone singing to their flaming shrouds,
but never a man could hold his breath long enough to kill himself; he
must have rope or water, or some mechanical help, or nature will make
him draw in a breath of air, and would make him do so though he knew
the salvation of the human race would be forfeited by that one gasp.
This paper may never reach the eye of any one afflicted in the same
way that I have been. It probably never will; but for all that,
there are many shy natures which will recognize tendencies in
themselves in the direction of my unhappy susceptibility. Others, to
whom such weakness seems inconceivable, will find their scepticism
shaken, if not removed, by the calm, judicial statement of the Report
drawn up for the Royal Academy. It will make little difference to me
whether my story is accepted unhesitatingly or looked upon as largely
a product of the imagination. I am but a bird of passage that lights
on the boughs of different nationalities. I belong to no flock; my
home may be among the palms of Syria, the olives of Italy, the oaks
of England, the elms that shadow the Hudson or the Connecticut; I
build no nest; to-day I am here, to-morrow on the wing.
If I quit my native land before the trees have dropped their leaves I
shall place this manuscript in the safe hands of one whom I feel sure
that I can trust; to do with it as he shall see fit. If it is only
curious and has no bearing on human welfare, he may think it well to
let it remain unread until I shall have passed away. If in his
judgment it throws any light on one of the deeper mysteries of our
nature,--the repulsions which play such a formidable part in social
life, and which must be recognized as the correlatives of the
affinities that distribute the individuals governed by them in the
face of impediments which seem to be impossibilities,--then it may be
freely given to the world.
But if I am here when the leaves are all fallen, the programme of my
life will have changed, and this story of the dead past will be
illuminated by the light of a living present which will irradiate all
its saddening features. Who would not pray that my last gleam of
light and hope may be that of dawn and not of departing day?
The reader who finds it hard to accept the reality of a story so far
from the common range of experience is once more requested to suspend
his judgment until he has read the paper which will next be offered
for his consideration.
THE REPORT OF THE BIOLOGICAL COMMITTEE.
Perhaps it is too much to expect a reader who wishes to be
entertained, excited, amused, and does not want to work his passage
through pages which he cannot understand without some effort of his
own, to read the paper which follows and Dr. Butts's reflections upon
it. If he has no curiosity in the direction of these chapters, he
can afford to leave them to such as relish a slight flavor of
science. But if he does so leave them he will very probably remain
sceptical as to the truth of the story to which they are meant to
furnish him with a key.
Of course the case of Maurice Kirkwood is a remarkable and
exceptional one, and it is hardly probable that any reader's
experience will furnish him with its parallel. But let him look back
over all his acquaintances, if he has reached middle life, and see if
he cannot recall more than one who, for some reason or other, shunned
the society of young women, as if they had a deadly fear of their
company. If he remembers any such, he can understand the simple
statements and natural reflections which are laid before him.
One of the most singular facts connected with the history of Maurice
Kirkwood was the philosophical equanimity with which he submitted to
the fate which had fallen upon him. He did not choose to be pumped
by the Interviewer, who would show him up in the sensational columns
of his prying newspaper. He lived chiefly by himself, as the easiest
mode of avoiding those meetings to which he would be exposed in
almost every society into which he might venture. But he had learned
to look upon himself very much as he would upon an intimate not
himself,--upon a different personality. A young man will naturally
enough be ashamed of his shyness. It is something which others
believe, and perhaps he himself thinks, he might overcome. But in
the case of Maurice Kirkwood there was no room for doubt as to the
reality and gravity of the long enduring effects of his first
convulsive terror. He had accepted the fact as he would have
accepted the calamity of losing his sight or his hearing. When he
was questioned by the experts to whom his case was submitted, he told
them all that he knew about it almost without a sign of emotion.
Nature was so peremptory with him,--saying in language that had no
double meaning: "If you violate the condition on which you hold my
gift of existence I slay you on the spot,"--that he became as
decisive in his obedience as she was in her command, and accepted his
fate without repining.
Yet it must not be thought for a moment,--it cannot be supposed,--
that he was insensible because he looked upon himself with the
coolness of an enforced philosophy. He bore his burden manfully,
hard as it was to live under it, for he lived, as we have seen, in
hope. The thought of throwing it off with his life, as too grievous
to be borne, was familiar to his lonely hours, but he rejected it as
unworthy of his manhood. How he had speculated and dreamed about it
is plain enough from the paper the reader may remember on Ocean,
River, and Lake.
With these preliminary hints the paper promised is submitted to such
as may find any interest in them.
ACCOUNT OF A CASE OF GYNOPHOBIA.
Being the Substance of a Report to the Royal Academy of the Biological
Sciences by a Committee of that Institution.
"The singular nature of the case we are about to narrate and comment
upon will, we feel confident, arrest the attention of those who have
learned the great fact that Nature often throws the strongest light
upon her laws by the apparent exceptions and anomalies which from
time to time are observed. We have done with the lusus naturae of
earlier generations. We pay little attention to the stories of
'miracles,' except so far as we receive them ready-made at the hands
of the churches which still hold to them. Not the less do we meet
with strange and surprising facts, which a century or two ago would
have been handled by the clergy and the courts, but today are calmly
recorded and judged by the best light our knowledge of the laws of
life can throw upon them. It must be owned that there are stories
which we can hardly dispute, so clear and full is the evidence in
their support, which do, notwithstanding, tax our faith and sometimes
leave us sceptical in spite of all the testimony which supports them.
" In this category many will be disposed to place the case we commend
to the candid attention of the Academy. If one were told that a
young man, a gentleman by birth and training, well formed, in
apparently perfect health, of agreeable physiognomy and manners,
could not endure the presence of the most attractive young woman, but
was seized with deadly terror and sudden collapse of all the powers
of life, if he came into her immediate presence; if it were added
that this same young man did not shrink from the presence of an old
withered crone; that he had a certain timid liking for little maidens
who had not yet outgrown the company of their dolls, the listener
would be apt to smile, if he did not laugh, at the absurdity of the
fable. Surely, he would say, this must be the fiction of some
fanciful brain, the whim of some romancer, the trick of some
playwright. It would make a capital farce, this idea, carried out.
A young man slighting the lovely heroine of the little comedy and
making love to her grandmother! This would, of course, be
overstating the truth of the story, but to such a misinterpretation
the plain facts lend themselves too easily. We will relate the
leading circumstances of the case, as they were told us with perfect
simplicity and frankness by the subject of an affection which, if
classified, would come under the general head of Antipathy, but to
which, if we give it a name, we shall have to apply the term
Gynophobia, or Fear of Woman."
Here follows the account furnished to the writer of the paper, which
is in all essentials identical with that already laid before the
" Such is the case offered to our consideration. Assuming its
truthfulness in all its particulars, it remains to see in the first
place whether or not it is as entirely exceptional and anomalous as
it seems at first sight, or whether it is only the last term of a
series of cases which in their less formidable aspect are well known
to us in literature, in the records of science, and even in our
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