The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
by Edgar Allan Poe
OF course I shall not pretend to consider it any matter for wonder, that
the extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited discussion. It would
have been a miracle had it not-especially under the circumstances. Through
the desire of all parties concerned, to keep the affair from the public,
at least for the present, or until we had farther opportunities for
investigation—through our endeavors to effect this—a garbled
or exaggerated account made its way into society, and became the source of
many unpleasant misrepresentations, and, very naturally, of a great deal
It is now rendered necessary that I give the facts—as far as I
comprehend them myself. They are, succinctly, these:
My attention, for the last three years, had been repeatedly drawn to the
subject of Mesmerism; and, about nine months ago it occurred to me, quite
suddenly, that in the series of experiments made hitherto, there had been
a very remarkable and most unaccountable omission:—no person had as
yet been mesmerized in articulo mortis. It remained to be seen, first,
whether, in such condition, there existed in the patient any
susceptibility to the magnetic influence; secondly, whether, if any
existed, it was impaired or increased by the condition; thirdly, to what
extent, or for how long a period, the encroachments of Death might be
arrested by the process. There were other points to be ascertained, but
these most excited my curiosity—the last in especial, from the
immensely important character of its consequences.
In looking around me for some subject by whose means I might test these
particulars, I was brought to think of my friend, M. Ernest Valdemar, the
well-known compiler of the "Bibliotheca Forensica," and author (under the
nom de plume of Issachar Marx) of the Polish versions of "Wallenstein" and
"Gargantua." M. Valdemar, who has resided principally at Harlaem, N.Y.,
since the year 1839, is (or was) particularly noticeable for the extreme
spareness of his person—his lower limbs much resembling those of
John Randolph; and, also, for the whiteness of his whiskers, in violent
contrast to the blackness of his hair—the latter, in consequence,
being very generally mistaken for a wig. His temperament was markedly
nervous, and rendered him a good subject for mesmeric experiment. On two
or three occasions I had put him to sleep with little difficulty, but was
disappointed in other results which his peculiar constitution had
naturally led me to anticipate. His will was at no period positively, or
thoroughly, under my control, and in regard to clairvoyance, I could
accomplish with him nothing to be relied upon. I always attributed my
failure at these points to the disordered state of his health. For some
months previous to my becoming acquainted with him, his physicians had
declared him in a confirmed phthisis. It was his custom, indeed, to speak
calmly of his approaching dissolution, as of a matter neither to be
avoided nor regretted.
When the ideas to which I have alluded first occurred to me, it was of
course very natural that I should think of M. Valdemar. I knew the steady
philosophy of the man too well to apprehend any scruples from him; and he
had no relatives in America who would be likely to interfere. I spoke to
him frankly upon the subject; and, to my surprise, his interest seemed
vividly excited. I say to my surprise, for, although he had always yielded
his person freely to my experiments, he had never before given me any
tokens of sympathy with what I did. His disease was of that character
which would admit of exact calculation in respect to the epoch of its
termination in death; and it was finally arranged between us that he would
send for me about twenty-four hours before the period announced by his
physicians as that of his decease.
It is now rather more than seven months since I received, from M. Valdemar
himself, the subjoined note:
My DEAR P—-,
You may as well come now. D—— and F—— are agreed
that I cannot hold out beyond to-morrow midnight; and I think they have
hit the time very nearly.
I received this note within half an hour after it was written, and in
fifteen minutes more I was in the dying man's chamber. I had not seen him
for ten days, and was appalled by the fearful alteration which the brief
interval had wrought in him. His face wore a leaden hue; the eyes were
utterly lustreless; and the emaciation was so extreme that the skin had
been broken through by the cheek-bones. His expectoration was excessive.
The pulse was barely perceptible. He retained, nevertheless, in a very
remarkable manner, both his mental power and a certain degree of physical
strength. He spoke with distinctness—took some palliative medicines
without aid—and, when I entered the room, was occupied in penciling
memoranda in a pocket-book. He was propped up in the bed by pillows.
Doctors D—— and F—— were in attendance.
After pressing Valdemar's hand, I took these gentlemen aside, and obtained
from them a minute account of the patient's condition. The left lung had
been for eighteen months in a semi-osseous or cartilaginous state, and
was, of course, entirely useless for all purposes of vitality. The right,
in its upper portion, was also partially, if not thoroughly, ossified,
while the lower region was merely a mass of purulent tubercles, running
one into another. Several extensive perforations existed; and, at one
point, permanent adhesion to the ribs had taken place. These appearances
in the right lobe were of comparatively recent date. The ossification had
proceeded with very unusual rapidity; no sign of it had been discovered a
month before, and the adhesion had only been observed during the three
previous days. Independently of the phthisis, the patient was suspected of
aneurism of the aorta; but on this point the osseous symptoms rendered an
exact diagnosis impossible. It was the opinion of both physicians that M.
Valdemar would die about midnight on the morrow (Sunday). It was then
seven o'clock on Saturday evening.
On quitting the invalid's bed-side to hold conversation with myself,
Doctors D—— and F—— had bidden him a final
farewell. It had not been their intention to return; but, at my request,
they agreed to look in upon the patient about ten the next night.
When they had gone, I spoke freely with M. Valdemar on the subject of his
approaching dissolution, as well as, more particularly, of the experiment
proposed. He still professed himself quite willing and even anxious to
have it made, and urged me to commence it at once. A male and a female
nurse were in attendance; but I did not feel myself altogether at liberty
to engage in a task of this character with no more reliable witnesses than
these people, in case of sudden accident, might prove. I therefore
postponed operations until about eight the next night, when the arrival of
a medical student with whom I had some acquaintance, (Mr. Theodore L—l,)
relieved me from farther embarrassment. It had been my design, originally,
to wait for the physicians; but I was induced to proceed, first, by the
urgent entreaties of M. Valdemar, and secondly, by my conviction that I
had not a moment to lose, as he was evidently sinking fast.
Mr. L—l was so kind as to accede to my desire that he would take
notes of all that occurred, and it is from his memoranda that what I now
have to relate is, for the most part, either condensed or copied verbatim.
It wanted about five minutes of eight when, taking the patient's hand, I
begged him to state, as distinctly as he could, to Mr. L—l, whether
he (M. Valdemar) was entirely willing that I should make the experiment of
mesmerizing him in his then condition.
He replied feebly, yet quite audibly, "Yes, I wish to be. I fear you have
mesmerized"—adding immediately afterwards, "deferred it too long."
While he spoke thus, I commenced the passes which I had already found most
effectual in subduing him. He was evidently influenced with the first
lateral stroke of my hand across his forehead; but although I exerted all
my powers, no further perceptible effect was induced until some minutes
after ten o'clock, when Doctors D— and F— called, according to
appointment. I explained to them, in a few words, what I designed, and as
they opposed no objection, saying that the patient was already in the
death agony, I proceeded without hesitation—exchanging, however, the
lateral passes for downward ones, and directing my gaze entirely into the
right eye of the sufferer.
By this time his pulse was imperceptible and his breathing was stertorous,
and at intervals of half a minute.
This condition was nearly unaltered for a quarter of an hour. At the
expiration of this period, however, a natural although a very deep sigh
escaped the bosom of the dying man, and the stertorous breathing ceased—that
is to say, its stertorousness was no longer apparent; the intervals were
undiminished. The patient's extremities were of an icy coldness.
At five minutes before eleven I perceived unequivocal signs of the
mesmeric influence. The glassy roll of the eye was changed for that
expression of uneasy inward examination which is never seen except in
cases of sleep-waking, and which it is quite impossible to mistake. With a
few rapid lateral passes I made the lids quiver, as in incipient sleep,
and with a few more I closed them altogether. I was not satisfied,
however, with this, but continued the manipulations vigorously, and with
the fullest exertion of the will, until I had completely stiffened the
limbs of the slumberer, after placing them in a seemingly easy position.
The legs were at full length; the arms were nearly so, and reposed on the
bed at a moderate distance from the loin. The head was very slightly
When I had accomplished this, it was fully midnight, and I requested the
gentlemen present to examine M. Valdemar's condition. After a few
experiments, they admitted him to be an unusually perfect state of
mesmeric trance. The curiosity of both the physicians was greatly excited.
Dr. D—— resolved at once to remain with the patient all night,
while Dr. F—— took leave with a promise to return at daybreak.
Mr. L—l and the nurses remained.
We left M. Valdemar entirely undisturbed until about three o'clock in the
morning, when I approached him and found him in precisely the same
condition as when Dr. F—went away—that is to say, he lay in
the same position; the pulse was imperceptible; the breathing was gentle
(scarcely noticeable, unless through the application of a mirror to the
lips); the eyes were closed naturally; and the limbs were as rigid and as
cold as marble. Still, the general appearance was certainly not that of
As I approached M. Valdemar I made a kind of half effort to influence his
right arm into pursuit of my own, as I passed the latter gently to and fro
above his person. In such experiments with this patient, I had never
perfectly succeeded before, and assuredly I had little thought of
succeeding now; but to my astonishment, his arm very readily, although
feebly, followed every direction I assigned it with mine. I determined to
hazard a few words of conversation.
"M. Valdemar," I said, "are you asleep?" He made no answer, but I
perceived a tremor about the lips, and was thus induced to repeat the
question, again and again. At its third repetition, his whole frame was
agitated by a very slight shivering; the eyelids unclosed themselves so
far as to display a white line of the ball; the lips moved sluggishly, and
from between them, in a barely audible whisper, issued the words:
"Yes;—asleep now. Do not wake me!—let me die so!"
I here felt the limbs and found them as rigid as ever. The right arm, as
before, obeyed the direction of my hand. I questioned the sleep-waker
"Do you still feel pain in the breast, M. Valdemar?"
The answer now was immediate, but even less audible than before: "No pain—I
I did not think it advisable to disturb him farther just then, and nothing
more was said or done until the arrival of Dr. F—, who came a little
before sunrise, and expressed unbounded astonishment at finding the
patient still alive. After feeling the pulse and applying a mirror to the
lips, he requested me to speak to the sleep-waker again. I did so, saying:
"M. Valdemar, do you still sleep?"
As before, some minutes elapsed ere a reply was made; and during the
interval the dying man seemed to be collecting his energies to speak. At
my fourth repetition of the question, he said very faintly, almost
"Yes; still asleep—dying."
It was now the opinion, or rather the wish, of the physicians, that M.
Valdemar should be suffered to remain undisturbed in his present
apparently tranquil condition, until death should supervene—and
this, it was generally agreed, must now take place within a few minutes. I
concluded, however, to speak to him once more, and merely repeated my
While I spoke, there came a marked change over the countenance of the
sleep-waker. The eyes rolled themselves slowly open, the pupils
disappearing upwardly; the skin generally assumed a cadaverous hue,
resembling not so much parchment as white paper; and the circular hectic
spots which, hitherto, had been strongly defined in the centre of each
cheek, went out at once. I use this expression, because the suddenness of
their departure put me in mind of nothing so much as the extinguishment of
a candle by a puff of the breath. The upper lip, at the same time, writhed
itself away from the teeth, which it had previously covered completely;
while the lower jaw fell with an audible jerk, leaving the mouth widely
extended, and disclosing in full view the swollen and blackened tongue. I
presume that no member of the party then present had been unaccustomed to
death-bed horrors; but so hideous beyond conception was the appearance of
M. Valdemar at this moment, that there was a general shrinking back from
the region of the bed.
I now feel that I have reached a point of this narrative at which every
reader will be startled into positive disbelief. It is my business,
however, simply to proceed.
There was no longer the faintest sign of vitality in M. Valdemar; and
concluding him to be dead, we were consigning him to the charge of the
nurses, when a strong vibratory motion was observable in the tongue. This
continued for perhaps a minute. At the expiration of this period, there
issued from the distended and motionless jaws a voice—such as it
would be madness in me to attempt describing. There are, indeed, two or
three epithets which might be considered as applicable to it in part; I
might say, for example, that the sound was harsh, and broken and hollow;
but the hideous whole is indescribable, for the simple reason that no
similar sounds have ever jarred upon the ear of humanity. There were two
particulars, nevertheless, which I thought then, and still think, might
fairly be stated as characteristic of the intonation—as well adapted
to convey some idea of its unearthly peculiarity. In the first place, the
voice seemed to reach our ears—at least mine—from a vast
distance, or from some deep cavern within the earth. In the second place,
it impressed me (I fear, indeed, that it will be impossible to make myself
comprehended) as gelatinous or glutinous matters impress the sense of
I have spoken both of "sound" and of "voice." I mean to say that the sound
was one of distinct—of even wonderfully, thrillingly distinct—syllabification.
M. Valdemar spoke—obviously in reply to the question I had
propounded to him a few minutes before. I had asked him, it will be
remembered, if he still slept. He now said:
"Yes;—no;—I have been sleeping—and now—now—I
No person present even affected to deny, or attempted to repress, the
unutterable, shuddering horror which these few words, thus uttered, were
so well calculated to convey. Mr. L—l (the student) swooned. The
nurses immediately left the chamber, and could not be induced to return.
My own impressions I would not pretend to render intelligible to the
reader. For nearly an hour, we busied ourselves, silently—without
the utterance of a word—in endeavors to revive Mr. L—l. When
he came to himself, we addressed ourselves again to an investigation of M.
It remained in all respects as I have last described it, with the
exception that the mirror no longer afforded evidence of respiration. An
attempt to draw blood from the arm failed. I should mention, too, that
this limb was no farther subject to my will. I endeavored in vain to make
it follow the direction of my hand. The only real indication, indeed, of
the mesmeric influence, was now found in the vibratory movement of the
tongue, whenever I addressed M. Valdemar a question. He seemed to be
making an effort to reply, but had no longer sufficient volition. To
queries put to him by any other person than myself he seemed utterly
insensible—although I endeavored to place each member of the company
in mesmeric rapport with him. I believe that I have now related all that
is necessary to an understanding of the sleep-waker's state at this epoch.
Other nurses were procured; and at ten o'clock I left the house in company
with the two physicians and Mr. L—l.
In the afternoon we all called again to see the patient. His condition
remained precisely the same. We had now some discussion as to the
propriety and feasibility of awakening him; but we had little difficulty
in agreeing that no good purpose would be served by so doing. It was
evident that, so far, death (or what is usually termed death) had been
arrested by the mesmeric process. It seemed clear to us all that to awaken
M. Valdemar would be merely to insure his instant, or at least his speedy
From this period until the close of last week—an interval of nearly
seven months—we continued to make daily calls at M. Valdemar's
house, accompanied, now and then, by medical and other friends. All this
time the sleeper-waker remained exactly as I have last described him. The
nurses' attentions were continual.
It was on Friday last that we finally resolved to make the experiment of
awakening or attempting to awaken him; and it is the (perhaps) unfortunate
result of this latter experiment which has given rise to so much
discussion in private circles—to so much of what I cannot help
thinking unwarranted popular feeling.
For the purpose of relieving M. Valdemar from the mesmeric trance, I made
use of the customary passes. These, for a time, were unsuccessful. The
first indication of revival was afforded by a partial descent of the iris.
It was observed, as especially remarkable, that this lowering of the pupil
was accompanied by the profuse out-flowing of a yellowish ichor (from
beneath the lids) of a pungent and highly offensive odor.
It was now suggested that I should attempt to influence the patient's arm,
as heretofore. I made the attempt and failed. Dr. F—then intimated a
desire to have me put a question. I did so, as follows:
"M. Valdemar, can you explain to us what are your feelings or wishes now?"
There was an instant return of the hectic circles on the cheeks; the
tongue quivered, or rather rolled violently in the mouth (although the
jaws and lips remained rigid as before;) and at length the same hideous
voice which I have already described, broke forth:
"For God's sake!—quick!—quick!—put me to sleep—or,
quick!—waken me!—quick!—I say to you that I am dead!"
I was thoroughly unnerved, and for an instant remained undecided what to
do. At first I made an endeavor to re-compose the patient; but, failing in
this through total abeyance of the will, I retraced my steps and as
earnestly struggled to awaken him. In this attempt I soon saw that I
should be successful—or at least I soon fancied that my success
would be complete—and I am sure that all in the room were prepared
to see the patient awaken.
For what really occurred, however, it is quite impossible that any human
being could have been prepared.
As I rapidly made the mesmeric passes, amid ejaculations of "dead! dead!"
absolutely bursting from the tongue and not from the lips of the sufferer,
his whole frame at once—within the space of a single minute, or even
less, shrunk—crumbled—absolutely rotted away beneath my hands.
Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of
loathsome—of detestable putridity.