The Diamond Lens by Fitz-James O'Brien
Chapter 1: THE BENDING OF THE TWIG.
From a very early period of my life the entire bent of my inclinations
had been towards microscopic investigations. When I was not more than
ten years old, a distant relative of our family, hoping to astonish my
inexperience, constructed a simple microscope for me, by drilling in a
disk of copper a small hole, in which a drop of pure water was sustained
by capillary attraction. This very primitive apparatus, magnifying some
fifty diameters, presented, it is true, only indistinct and imperfect
forms, but still sufficiently wonderful to work up my imagination to a
preternatural state of excitement.
Seeing me so interested in this rude instrument, my cousin explained to
me all that he knew about the principles of the microscope, related to
me a few of the wonders which had been accomplished through its agency,
and ended by promising to send me one regularly constructed, immediately
on his return to the city. I counted the days, the hours, the minutes,
that intervened between that promise and his departure.
Meantime I was not idle. Every transparent substance that bore the
remotest semblance to a lens I eagerly seized upon and employed in vain
attempts to realize that instrument, the theory of whose construction I
as yet only vaguely comprehended. All panes of glass containing those
oblate spheroidal knots familiarly known as "bull's eyes" were
ruthlessly destroyed, in the hope of obtaining lenses of marvellous
power. I even went so far as to extract the crystalline humor from the
eyes of fishes and animals, and endeavored to press it into the
microscopic service. I plead guilty to having stolen the glasses from my
Aunt Agatha's spectacles, with a dim idea of grinding them into lenses
of wondrous magnifying properties -- in which attempt it is scarcely
necessary to say that I totally failed.
At last the promised instrument came. It was of that order known as
Field's simple microscope, and had cost perhaps about fifteen dollars.
As far as educational purposes went, a better apparatus could not have
been selected. Accompanying it was a small treatise on the microscope,
-- its history, uses, and discoveries. I comprehended then for the first
time the "Arabian Nights' Entertainments." The dull veil of ordinary
existence that hung across the world seemed suddenly to roll away, and
to lay bare a land of enchantments. I felt towards my companions as the
seer might feel towards the ordinary masses of men. I held conversations
with Nature in a tongue which they could not understand. I was in daily
communication with living wonders, such as they never imagined in their
wildest visions. I penetrated beyond the external portal of things, and
roamed through the sanctuaries. Where they beheld only a drop of rain
slowly rolling down the window-glass, I saw a universe of beings
animated with all the passions common to physical life, and convulsing
their minute sphere with struggles as fierce and protracted as those of
men. In the common spots of mould, which my mother, good housekeeper
that she was, fiercely scooped away from her jam pots, there abode for
me, under the name of mildew, enchanted gardens, filled with dells and
avenues of the densest foliage and most astonishing verdure, while from
the fantastic boughs of these microscopic forests hung strange fruits
glittering with green and silver and gold.
It was no scientific thirst that at this time filled my mind. It was the
pure enjoyment of a poet to whom a world of wonders has been disclosed.
I talked of my solitary pleasures to none. Alone with my microscope, I
dimmed my sight, day after day and night after night poring over the
marvels which it unfolded to me. I was like one who, having discovered
the ancient Eden still existing in all its primitive glory, should
resolve to enjoy it in solitude, and never betray to mortal the secret
of its locality. The rod of my life was bent at this moment. I destined
myself to be a microscopist.
Of course, like every novice, I fancied myself a discoverer. I was
ignorant at the time of the thousands of acute intellects engaged in the
same pursuit as myself, and with the advantages of instruments a
thousand times more powerful than mine. The names of Leeuwenhoek,
Williamson, Spencer, Ehrenberg, Schultz, Dujardin, Schact, and Schleiden
were then entirely unknown to me, or if known, I was ignorant of their
patient and wonderful researches. In every fresh specimen of Cryptogamia
which I placed beneath my instrument I believed that I discovered
wonders of which the world was as yet ignorant. I remember well the
thrill of delight and admiration that shot through me the first time
that I discovered the common wheel animalcule (Rotifera vulgaris)
expanding and contracting its flexible spokes, and seemingly rotating
through the water. Alas! as I grew older, and obtained some works
treating of my favorite study, I found that I was only on the threshold
of a science to the investigation of which some of the greatest men of
the age were devoting their lives and intellects.
As I grew up, my parents, who saw but little likelihood of anything
practical resulting from the examination of bits of moss and drops of
water through a brass tube and a piece of glass, were anxious that I
should choose a profession. It was their desire that I should enter the
counting-house of my uncle, Ethan Blake, a prosperous merchant, who
carried on business in New York. This suggestion I decisively combated.
I had no taste for trade; I should only make a failure; in short, I
refused to become a merchant.
But it was necessary for me to select some pursuit. My parents were
staid New England people, who insisted on the necessity of labor; and
therefore, although, thanks to the bequest of my poor Aunt Agatha, I
should, on coming of age, inherit a small fortune sufficient to place me
above want, it was decided, that, instead of waiting for this, I should
act the nobler part, and employ the intervening years in rendering
After much cogitation I complied with the wishes of my family, and
selected a profession. I determined to study medicine at the New York
Academy. This disposition of my future suited me. A removal from my
relatives would enable me to dispose of my time as I pleased, without
fear of detection. As long as I paid my Academy fees, I might shirk
attending the lectures, if I chose; and as I never had the remotest
intention of standing an examination, there was no danger of my being
"plucked." Besides, a metropolis was the place for me. There I could
obtain excellent instruments, the newest publications, intimacy with men
of pursuits kindred to my own, -- in short, all things necessary to
insure a profitable devotion of my life to my beloved science. I had an
abundance of money, few desires that were not bounded by my illuminating
mirror on one side and my object-glass on the other; what, therefore,
was to prevent my becoming an illustrious investigator of the veiled
worlds? It was with the most buoyant hopes that I left my New England
home and established myself in New York.
Chapter 2: THE LONGING OF A MAN OF SCIENCE.
My first step, of course, was to find suitable apartments. These I
obtained, after a couple of days' search, in Fourth Avenue; a very
pretty second-floor unfurnished, containing sitting-room, bedroom, and a
smaller apartment which I intended to fit up as a laboratory. I
furnished my lodgings simply, but rather elegantly, and then devoted all
my energies to the adornment of the temple of my worship. I visited
Pike, the celebrated optician, and passed in review his splendid
collection of microscopes, -- Field's Compound, Higham's, Spencer's,
Nachet's Binocular, (that founded on the principles of the stereoscope,)
and at length fixed upon that form known as Spencer's Trunnion
Microscope, as combining the greatest number of improvements with an
almost perfect freedom from tremor. Along with this I purchased every
possible accessory, -- draw-tubes, micrometers, a camera-lucida,
lever-stage, achromatic condensers, white cloud illuminators, prisms,
parabolic condensers, polarizing apparatus, forceps, aquatic boxes,
fishing-tubes, with a host of other articles, all of which would have
been useful in the hands of an experienced microscopist, but, as I
afterwards discovered, were not of the slightest present value to me. It
takes years of practice to know how to use a complicated microscope. The
optician looked suspiciously at me as I made these wholesale purchases.
He evidently was uncertain whether to set me down as some scientific
celebrity or a madman. I think he inclined to the latter belief. I
suppose I was mad. Every great genius is mad upon the subject in which
he is greatest. The unsuccessful madman is disgraced, and called a
Mad or not, I set myself to work with a zeal which few scientific
students have ever equalled. I had everything to learn relative to the
delicate study upon which I had embarked, -- a study involving the most
earnest patience, the most rigid analytic powers, the steadiest hand,
the most untiring eye, the most refined and subtile manipulation.
For a long time half my apparatus lay inactively on the shelves of my
laboratory, which was now most amply furnished with every possible
contrivance for facilitating my investigations. The fact was that I did
not know how to use some of my scientific accessories, -- never having
been taught microscopics, -- and those whose use I understood
theoretically were of little avail, until by practice I could attain the
necessary delicacy of handling. Still, such was the fury of my ambition,
such the untiring perseverance of my experiments, that, difficult of
credit as it may be, in the course of one year I became theoretically
and practically an accomplished microscopist.
During this period of my labors, in which I submitted specimens of every
substance that came under my observation to the action of my lenses, I
became a discoverer, -- in a small way, it is true, for I was very
young, but still a discoverer. It was I who destroyed Ehrenberg's theory
that the Volcox globator was an animal, and proved that his "monads"
with stomachs and eyes were merely phases of the formation of a
vegetable cell, and were, when they reached their mature state,
incapable of the act of conjugation, or any true generative act, without
which no organism rising to any stage of life higher than vegetable can
be said to be complete. It was I who resolved the singular problem of
rotation in the cells and hairs of plants into ciliary attraction, in
spite of the assertions of Mr. Wenham and others, that my explanation
was the result of an optical illusion.
But notwithstanding these discoveries, laboriously and painfully made as
they were, I felt horribly dissatisfied. At every step I found myself
stopped by the imperfections of my instruments. Like all active
microscopists, I gave my imagination full play. Indeed, it is a common
complaint against many such, that they supply the defects of their
instruments with the creations of their brains. I imagined depths beyond
depths in Nature which the limited power of my lenses prohibited me from
exploring. I lay awake at night constructing imaginary microscopes of
immeasurable power, with which I seemed to pierce through all the
envelopes of matter down to its original atom. How I cursed those
imperfect mediums which necessity through ignorance compelled me to use!
How I longed to discover the secret of some perfect lens whose
magnifying power should be limited only by the resolvability of the
object, and which at the same time should be free from spherical and
chromatic aberrations, in short from all the obstacles over which the
poor microscopist finds himself continually stumbling! I felt convinced
that the simple microscope, composed of a single lens of such vast yet
perfect power, was possible of construction. To attempt to bring the
compound microscope up to such a pitch would have been commencing at the
wrong end; this latter being simply a partially successful endeavor to
remedy those very defects of the simple instrument, which, if conquered,
would leave nothing to be desired.
It was in this mood of mind that I became a constructive microscopist.
After another year passed in this new pursuit, experimenting on every
imaginable substance, -- glass, gems, flints, crystals, artificial
crystals formed of the alloy of various vitreous materials, -- in short,
having constructed as many varieties of lenses as Argus had eyes, I
found myself precisely where I started, with nothing gained save an
extensive knowledge of glass-making. I was almost dead with despair. My
parents were surprised at my apparent want of progress in my medical
studies, (I had not attended one lecture since my arrival in the city,)
and the expenses of my mad pursuit had been so great as to embarrass me
I was in this frame of mind one day, experimenting in my laboratory on a
small diamond, -- that stone, from its great refracting power, having
always occupied my attention more than any other, -- when a young
Frenchman, who lived on the floor above me, and who was in the habit of
occasionally visiting me, entered the room.
I think that Jules Simon was a Jew. He had many traits of the Hebrew
character: a love of jewelry, of dress, and of good living. There was
something mysterious about him. He always had something to sell, and yet
went into excellent society. When I say sell, I should perhaps have said
peddle; for his operations were generally confined to the disposal of
single articles, -- a picture, for instance, or a rare carving in ivory,
or a pair of duelling-pistols, or the dress of a Mexican caballero. When
I was first furnishing my rooms, he paid me a visit, which ended in my
purchasing an antique silver lamp, which he assured me was a Cellini, --
it was handsome enough even for that, -- and some other knick-knacks for
my sitting-room. Why Simon should pursue this petty trade I never could
imagine. He apparently had plenty of money, and had the entree of the
best houses in the city, -- taking care, however, I suppose, to drive no
bargains within the enchanted circle of the Upper Ten. I came at length
to the conclusion that this peddling was but a mask to cover some
greater object, and even went so far as to believe my young acquaintance
to be implicated in the slave-trade. That, however, was none of my
On the present occasion, Simon entered my room in a state of
"Ah! mon ami!" he cried, before I could even offer him the ordinary
salutation, "it has occurred to me to be the witness of the most
astonishing things in the world. I promenade myself to the house of
Madame -- How does the little animal -- le renard -- name himself in the
"Vulpes," I answered.
"Ah! yes, -- Vulpes. I promenade myself to the house of Madame Vulpes."
"The spirit medium?"
"Yes, the great medium. Great Heavens! what a woman! I write on a slip
of paper many of questions concerning affairs the most secret, --
affairs that conceal themselves in the abysses of my heart the most
profound; and behold! by example! what occurs? This devil of a woman
makes me replies the most truthful to all of them. She talks to me of
things that I do not love to talk of to myself. What am I to think? I am
fixed to the earth!"
"Am I to understand you, M. Simon, that this Mrs. Vulpes replied to
questions secretly written by you, which questions related to events
known only to yourself?"
"Ah! more than that, more than that," he answered, with an air of some
alarm. "She related to me things -- But," he added, after a pause, and
suddenly changing his manner, "why occupy ourselves with these follies?
It was all the Biology, without doubt. It goes without saying that it
has not my credence. -- But why are we here, mon ami? It has occurred to
me to discover the most beautiful thing as you can imagine, -- a vase
with green lizards on it, composed by the great Bernard Palissy. It is
in my apartment; let us mount. I go to show it to you."
I followed Simon mechanically; but my thoughts were far from Palissy and
his enamelled ware, although I, like him, was seeking in the dark after
a great discovery. This casual mention of the spiritualist, Madame
Vulpes, set me on a new track. What if this spiritualism should be
really a great fact? What if, through communication with subtiler
organisms than my own, I could reach at a single bound the goal, which
perhaps a life of agonizing mental toil would never enable me to attain?
While purchasing the Palissy vase from my friend Simon, I was mentally
arranging a visit to Madame Vulpes.
Chapter 3: THE SPIRIT OF LEEUWENHOEK.
TWO evenings after this, thanks to an arrangement by letter and the
promise of an ample fee, I found Madame Vulpes awaiting me at her
residence alone. She was a coarse-featured woman, with a keen and rather
cruel dark eye, and an exceedingly sensual expression about her mouth
and under jaw. She received me in perfect silence, in an apartment on
the ground floor, very sparsely furnished. In the centre of the room,
close to where Mrs. Vulpes sat, there was a common round mahogany table.
If I had come for the purpose of sweeping her chimney, the woman could
not have looked more indifferent to my appearance. There was no attempt
to inspire the visitor with any awe. Everything bore a simple and
practical aspect. This intercourse with the spiritual world was
evidently as familiar an occupation with Mrs. Vulpes as eating her
dinner or riding in an omnibus.
"You come for a communication, Mr. Linley?" said the medium, in a dry,
business-like tone of voice.
"By appointment, -- yes."
"What sort of communication do you want? -- a written one?"
"Yes, -- I wish for a written one."
"From any particular spirit?"
"Have you ever known this spirit on this earth?"
"Never. He died long before I was born. I wish merely to obtain from him
some information which he ought to be able to give better than any
"Will you seat yourself at the table, Mr. Linley," said the medium, "and
place your hands upon it?"
I obeyed, -- Mrs. Vulpes being seated opposite me, with her hands also
on the table. We remained thus for about a minute and a half, when a
violent succession of raps came on the table, on the back of my chair,
on the floor immediately under my feet, and even on the window-panes.
Mrs. Vulpes smiled composedly.
"They are very strong to-night," she remarked. "You are fortunate." She
then continued, "Will the spirits communicate with this gentleman?"
"Will the particular spirit he desires to speak with communicate?"
A very confused rapping followed this question.
"I know what they mean," said Mrs. Vulpes, addressing herself to me;
"they wish you to write down the name of the particular spirit that you
desire to converse with. Is that so?" she added, speaking to her
That it was so was evident from the numerous affirmatory responses.
While this was going on, I tore a slip from my pocket-book, and
scribbled a name under the table.
"Will this spirit communicate in writing with this gentleman?" asked the
medium once more.
After a moment's pause her hand seemed to be seized with a violent
tremor, shaking so forcibly that the table vibrated. She said that a
spirit had seized her hand and would write. I handed her some sheets of
paper that were on the table, and a pencil. The latter she held loosely
in her hand, which presently began to move over the paper with a
singular and seemingly involuntary motion. After a few moments had
elapsed she handed me the paper, on which I found written, in a large,
uncultivated hand, the words, "He is not here, but has been sent for." A
pause of a minute or so now ensued, during which Mrs. Vulpes remained
perfectly silent, but the raps continued at regular intervals. When the
short period I mention had elapsed, the hand of the medium was again
seized with its convulsive tremor, and she wrote, under this strange
influence, a few words on the paper, which she handed to me. They were
as follows: --
"I am here. Question me.
I was astounded. The name was identical with that I had written beneath
the table, and carefully kept concealed. Neither was it at all probable
that an uncultivated woman like Mrs. Vulpes should know even the name of
the great father of microscopics. It may have been Biology; but this
theory was soon doomed to be destroyed. I wrote on my slip -- still
concealing it from Mrs. Vulpes -- a series of questions, which, to avoid
tediousness, I shall place with the responses in the order in which they
I. -- Can the microscope be brought to perfection?
SPIRIT. -- Yes.
I. -- Am I destined to accomplish this great task?
SPIRIT. -- You are.
I. -- I wish to know how to proceed to attain this end. For the love
which you bear to science, help me!
SPIRIT. -- A diamond of one hundred and forty carats, submitted to
electromagnetic currents for a long period, will experience a
rearrangement of its atoms inter se, and from that stone you will form
the universal lens.
I. -- Will great discoveries result from the use of such a lens?
SPIRIT. -- So great, that all that has gone before is as nothing.
I. -- But the refractive power of the diamond is so immense, that the
image will be formed within the lens. How is that difficulty to be
SPIRIT. -- Pierce the lens through its axis, and the difficulty is
obviated. The image will be formed in the pierced space, which will
itself serve as a tube to look through. Now I am called. Good night!
I cannot at all describe the effect that these extraordinary
communications had upon me. I felt completely bewildered. No biological
theory could account for the discovery of the lens. The medium might, by
means of biological rapport with my mind, have gone so far as to read my
questions, and reply to them coherently. But Biology could not enable
her to discover that magnetic currents would so alter the crystals of
the diamond as to remedy its previous defects, and admit of its being
polished into a perfect lens. Some such theory may have passed through
my head, it is true; but if so, I had forgotten it. In my excited
condition of mind there was no course left but to become a convert, and
it was in a state of the most painful nervous exaltation that I left the
medium's house that evening. She accompanied me to the door, hoping that
I was satisfied. The raps followed us as we went through the hall,
sounding on the balusters, the flooring, and even the lintels of the
door. I hastily expressed my satisfaction, and escaped hurriedly into
the cool night air. I walked home with but one thought possessing me, --
how to obtain a diamond of the immense size required. My entire means
multiplied a hundred times over would have been inadequate to its
purchase. Besides, such stones are rare, and become historical. I could
find such only in the regalia of Eastern or European monarchs.
Chapter 4: THE EYE OF MORNING.
There was a light in Simon's room as I entered my house. A vague impulse
urged me to visit him. As I opened the door of his sitting-room
unannounced, he was bending, with his back toward me, over a carcel
lamp, apparently engaged in minutely examining some object which he held
in his hands. As I entered, he started suddenly, thrust his hand into
his breast pocket, and turned to me with a face crimson with confusion.
"What!" I cried, "poring over the miniature of some fair lady? Well,
don't blush so much; I won't ask to see it."
Simon laughed awkwardly enough, but made none of the negative
protestations usual on such occasions. He asked me to take a seat.
"Simon," said I, "I have just come from Madame Vulpes."
This time Simon turned as white as a sheet, and seemed stupefied, as if
a sudden electric shock had smitten him. He babbled some incoherent
words, and went hastily to a small closet where he usually kept his
liquors. Although astonished at his emotion, I was too preoccupied with
my own idea to pay much attention to anything else.
"You say truly when you call Madame Vulpes a devil of a woman," I
continued. "Simon, she told me wonderful things tonight, or rather was
the means of telling me wonderful things. Ah! if I could only get a
diamond that weighed one hundred and forty carats!"
Scarcely had the sigh with which I uttered this desire died upon my
lips, when Simon, with the aspect of a wild beast, glared at me
savagely, and rushing to the mantel-piece, where some foreign weapons
hung on the wall, caught up a Malay creese, and brandished it furiously
"No!" he cried in French, into which he always broke when excited. "No!
you shall not have it! You are perfidious! You have consulted with that
demon, and desire my treasure! But I will die first! Me! I am brave! You
cannot make me fear!"
All this, uttered in a loud voice trembling with excitement, astounded
me. I saw at a glance that I had accidentally trodden upon the edges of
Simon's secret, whatever it was. It was necessary to reassure him.
"My dear Simon," I said, "I am entirely at a loss to know what you mean.
I went to Madame Vulpes to consult with her on a scientific problem, to
the solution of which I discovered that a diamond of the size I just
mentioned was necessary. You were never alluded to during the evening,
nor, so far as I was concerned, even thought of. What can be the meaning
of this outburst? If you happen to have a set of valuable diamonds in
your possession, you need fear nothing from me. The diamond which I
require you could not possess; or if you did possess it, you would not
be living here."
Something in my tone must have completely reassured him; for his
expression immediately changed to a sort of constrained merriment,
combined, however, with a certain suspicious attention to my movements.
He laughed, and said that I must bear with him; that he was at certain
moments subject to a species of vertigo, which betrayed itself in
incoherent speeches, and that the attacks passed off as rapidly as they
came. He put his weapon aside while making this explanation, and
endeavored, with some success, to assume a more cheerful air.
All this did not impose on me in the least. I was too much accustomed to
analytical labors to be baffled by so flimsy a veil. I determined to
probe the mystery to the bottom.
"Simon," I said, gayly, "let us forget all this over a bottle of
Burgundy. I have a case of Lausseure's Clos Vougeot downstairs, fragrant
with the odors and ruddy with the sunlight of the Cote d'Or. Let us have
up a couple of bottles. What say you?"
"With all my heart," answered Simon, smilingly.
I produced the wine and we seated ourselves to drink. It was of a famous
vintage, that of 1848, a year when war and wine throve together, -- and
its pure, but powerful juice seemed to impart renewed vitality to the
system. By the time we had half finished the second bottle, Simon's
head, which I knew was a weak one, had begun to yield, while I remained
calm as ever, only that every draught seemed to send a flush of vigor
through my limbs. Simon's utterance became more and more indistinct. He
took to singing French chansons of a not very moral tendency. I rose
suddenly from the table just at the conclusion of one of those
incoherent verses, and fixing my eyes on him with a quiet smile, said:
"Simon, I have deceived you. I learned your secret this evening. You may
as well be frank with me. Mrs. Vulpes, or rather, one of her spirits,
told me all."
He started with horror. His intoxication seemed for the moment to fade
away, and he made a movement towards the weapon that he had a short time
before laid down. I stopped him with my hand.
"Monster!" he cried, passionately, "I am ruined! What shall I do? You
shall never have it! I swear by my mother!"
"I don't want it," I said; "rest secure, but be frank with me. Tell me
all about it."
The drunkenness began to return. He protested with maudlin earnestness
that I was entirely mistaken, -- that I was intoxicated; then asked me
to swear eternal secrecy, and promised to disclose the mystery to me. I
pledged myself, of course, to all. With an uneasy look in his eyes, and
hands unsteady with drink and nervousness, he drew a small case from his
breast and opened it. Heavens! How the mild lamp-light was shivered into
a thousand prismatic arrows, as it fell upon a vast rose-diamond that
glittered in the case! I was no judge of diamonds, but I saw at a glance
that this was a gem of rare size and purity. I looked at Simon with
wonder, and -- must I confess it? -- with envy. How could he have
obtained this treasure? In reply to my questions, I could just gather
from his drunken statements (of which, I fancy, half the incoherence was
affected) that he had been superintending a gang of slaves engaged in
diamond-washing in Brazil; that he had seen one of them secrete a
diamond, but, instead of informing his employers, had quietly watched
the negro until he saw him bury his treasure; that he had dug it up, and
fled with it, but that as yet he was afraid to attempt to dispose of it
publicly, -- so valuable a gem being almost certain to attract too much
attention to its owner's antecedents, -- and he had not been able to
discover any of those obscure channels by which such matters are
conveyed away safely. He added, that, in accordance with Oriental
practice, he had named his diamond by the fanciful title of "The Eye of
While Simon was relating this to me, I regarded the great diamond
attentively. Never had I beheld anything so beautiful. All the glories
of light, ever imagined or described, seemed to pulsate in its
crystalline chambers. Its weight, as I learned from Simon, was exactly
one hundred and forty carats. Here was an amazing coincidence. The hand
of Destiny seemed in it. On the very evening when the spirit of
Leeuwenhoek communicates to me the great secret of the microscope, the
priceless means which he directs me to employ start up within my reach!
I determined, with the most perfect deliberation, to possess myself of
I sat opposite him while he nodded over his glass, and calmly revolved
the whole affair. I did not for an instant contemplate so foolish an act
as a common theft, which would of course be discovered, or at least
necessitate flight and concealment, all of which must interfere with my
scientific plans. There was but one step to be taken, -- to kill Simon.
After all, what was the life of a little peddling Jew, in comparison
with the interests of science? Human beings are taken every day from the
condemned prisons to be experimented on by surgeons. This man, Simon,
was by his own confession a criminal, a robber, and I believed on my
soul a murderer. He deserved death quite as much as any felon condemned
by the laws; why should I not, like government, contrive that his
punishment should contribute to the progress of human knowledge?
The means for accomplishing everything I desired lay within my reach.
There stood upon the mantel-piece a bottle half full of French laudanum.
Simon was so occupied with his diamond, which I had just restored to
him, that it was an affair of no difficulty to drug his glass. In a
quarter of an hour he was in a profound sleep.
I now opened his waistcoat, took the diamond from the inner pocket in
which he had placed it, and removed him to the bed, on which I laid him
so that his feet hung down over the edge. I had possessed myself of the
Malay creese, which I held in my right hand, while with the other I
discovered as accurately as I could by pulsation the exact locality of
the heart. It was essential that all the aspects of his death should
lead to the surmise of self-murder. I calculated the exact angle at
which it was probable that the weapon, if levelled by Simon's own hand,
would enter his breast; then with one powerful blow I thrust it up to
the hilt in the very spot which I desired to penetrate. A convulsive
thrill ran through Simon's limbs. I heard a smothered sound issue from
his throat, precisely like the bursting of a large air-bubble, sent up
by a diver, when it reaches the surface of the water; he turned half
round on his side, and as if to assist my plans more effectually, his
right hand, moved by some mere spasmodic impulse, clasped the handle of
the creese, which it remained holding with extraordinary muscular
tenacity. Beyond this there was no apparent struggle. The laudanum, I
presume, paralyzed the usual nervous action. He must have died
There was yet something to be done. To make it certain that all
suspicion of the act should be diverted from any inhabitant of the house
to Simon himself, it was necessary that the door should be found in the
morning locked on the inside. How to do this, and afterwards escape
myself? Not by the window; that was a physical impossibility. Besides, I
was determined that the windows also should be found bolted. The
solution was simple enough. I descended softly to my own room for a
peculiar instrument which I had used for holding small slippery
substances, such as minute spheres of glass, etc. This instrument was
nothing more than a long slender hand-vice, with a very powerful grip,
and a considerable leverage, which last was accidentally owing to the
shape of the handle. Nothing was simpler than, when the key was in the
lock, to seize the end of its stem in this vice, through the keyhole,
from the outside, and so lock the door. Previously, however, to doing
this, I burned a number of papers on Simon's hearth. Suicides almost
always burn papers before they destroy themselves. I also emptied some
more laudanum into Simon's glass, -- having first removed from it all
traces of wine, -- cleaned the other wine-glass, and brought the bottle
away with me. If traces of two persons drinking had been found in the
room, the question naturally would have arisen, Who was the second?
Besides, the wine-bottle might have been identified as belonging to me.
The laudanum I poured out to account for its presence in his stomach, in
case of a post-mortem examination. The theory naturally would be, that
he first intended to poison himself, but, after swallowing a little of
the drug, was either disgusted with its taste, or changed his mind from
other motives, and chose the dagger. These arrangements made, I walked
out, leaving the gas burning, locked the door with my vice, and went to
Simon's death was not discovered until nearly three in the afternoon.
The servant, astonished at seeing the gas burning, -- the light
streaming on the dark landing from under the door, -- peeped through the
keyhole and saw Simon on the bed. She gave the alarm. The door was burst
open, and the neighborhood was in a fever of excitement.
Every one in the house was arrested, myself included. There was an
inquest; but no clue to his death, beyond that of suicide, could be
obtained. Curiously enough, he had made several speeches to his friends
the preceding week, that seemed to point to self-destruction. One
gentleman swore that Simon had said in his presence that"he was tired of
life." His landlord affirmed, that Simon, when paying him his last
month's rent, remarked that "he would not pay him rent much longer." All
the other evidence corresponded, -- the door locked inside, the position
of the corpse, the burnt papers. As I anticipated, no one knew of the
possession of the diamond by Simon, so that no motive was suggested for
his murder. The jury, after a prolonged examination, brought in the
usual verdict, and the neighborhood once more settled down into its
Chapter 5: ANIMULA.
THE three months succeeding Simon's catastrophe I devoted night and day
to my diamond lens. I had constructed a vast galvanic battery, composed
of nearly two thousand pairs of plates, -- a higher power I dared not
use, lest the diamond should be calcined. By means of this enormous
engine I was enabled to send a powerful current of electricity
continually through my great diamond, which it seemed to me gained in
lustre every day. At the expiration of a month I commenced the grinding
and polishing of the lens, a work of intense toil and exquisite
delicacy. The great density of the stone, and the care required to be
taken with the curvatures of the surfaces of the lens, rendered the
labor the severest and most harassing that I had yet undergone.
At last the eventful moment came; the lens was completed. I stood
trembling on the threshold of new worlds. I had the realization of
Alexander's famous wish before me. The lens lay on the table, ready to
be placed upon its platform. My hand fairly shook as I enveloped a drop
of water with a thin coating of oil of turpentine, preparatory to its
examination, -- a process necessary in order to prevent the rapid
evaporation of the water. I now placed the drop on a thin slip of glass
under the lens, and throwing upon it, by the combined aid of a prism and
a mirror, a powerful stream of light, I approached my eye to the minute
hole drilled through the axis of the lens. For an instant I saw nothing
save what seemed to be an illuminated chaos, a vast luminous abyss. A
pure white light, cloudless and serene, and seemingly limitless as space
itself, was my first impression. Gently, and with the greatest care, I
depressed the lens a few hairs' breadths. The wondrous illumination
still continued, but as the lens approached the object, a sense of
indescribable beauty was unfolded to my view.
I seemed to gaze upon a vast space, the limits of which extended far
beyond my vision. An atmosphere of magical luminousness permeated the
entire field of view. I was amazed to see no trace of animalculous life.
Not a living thing, apparently, inhabited that dazzling expanse. I
comprehended instantly, that, by the wondrous power of my lens, I had
penetrated beyond the grosser particles of aqueous matter, beyond the
realms of Infusoria and Protozoa, down to the original gaseous globule,
into whose luminous interior I was gazing, as into an almost boundless
dome filled with a supernatural radiance.
It was, however, no brilliant void into which I looked. On every side I
beheld beautiful inorganic forms, of unknown texture, and colored with
the most enchanting hues. These forms presented the appearance of what
might be called, for want of a more specific definition, foliated clouds
of the highest rarity; that is, they undulated and broke into vegetable
formations, and were tinged with splendors compared with which the
gilding of our autumn woodlands is as dross compared with gold. Far away
into the illimitable distance stretched long avenues of these gaseous
forests, dimly transparent, and painted with prismatic hues of
unimaginable brilliancy. The pendent branches waved along the fluid
glades until every vista seemed to break through half-lucent ranks of
many-colored drooping silken pennons. What seemed to be either fruits or
flowers, pied with a thousand hues lustrous and ever varying, bubbled
from the crowns of this fairy foliage. No hills, no lakes, no rivers, no
forms animate or inanimate were to be seen, save those vast auroral
copses that floated serenely in the luminous stillness, with leaves and
fruits and flowers gleaming with unknown fires, unrealizable by mere
How strange, I thought, that this sphere should be thus condemned to
solitude! I had hoped, at least, to discover some new form of animal
life, -- perhaps of a lower class than any with which we are at present
acquainted, -- but still, some living organism. I find my newly
discovered world, if I may so speak, a beautiful chromatic desert.
While I was speculating on the singular arrangements of the internal
economy of Nature, with which she so frequently splinters into atoms our
most compact theories, I thought I beheld a form moving slowly through
the glades of one of the prismatic forests. I looked more attentively,
and found that I was not mistaken. Words cannot depict the anxiety with
which I awaited the nearer approach of this mysterious object. Was it
merely some inanimate substance, held in suspense in the attenuated
atmosphere of the globule? or was it an animal endowed with vitality and
motion? It approached, flitting behind the gauzy, colored veils of
cloud-foliage, for seconds dimly revealed, then vanishing. At last the
violet pennons that trailed nearest to me vibrated; they were gently
pushed aside, and the Form floated out into the broad light.
It was a female human shape. When I say "human," I mean it possessed the
outlines of humanity, -- but there the analogy ends. Its adorable beauty
lifted it illimitable heights beyond the loveliest daughter of Adam.
I cannot, I dare not, attempt to inventory the charms of this divine
revelation of perfect beauty. Those eyes of mystic violet, dewy and
serene, evade my words. Her long lustrous hair following her glorious
head in a golden wake, like the track sown in heaven by a falling star,
seems to quench my most burning phrases with its splendors. If all the
bees of Hybla nestled upon my lips, they would still sing but hoarsely
the wondrous harmonies of outline that enclosed her form.
She swept out from between the rainbow-curtains of the cloud-trees into
the broad sea of light that lay beyond. Her motions were those of some
graceful Naiad, cleaving, by a mere effort of her will, the clear,
unruffled waters that fill the chambers of the sea. She floated forth
with the serene grace of a frail bubble ascending through the still
atmosphere of a June day. The perfect roundness of her limbs formed
suave and enchanting curves. It was like listening to the most spiritual
symphony of Beethoven the divine, to watch the harmonious flow of lines.
This, indeed, was a pleasure cheaply purchased at any price. What cared
I, if I had waded to the portal of this wonder through another's blood?
I would have given my own to enjoy one such moment of intoxication and
Breathless with gazing on this lovely wonder, and forgetful for an
instant of everything save her presence, I withdrew my eye from the
microscope eagerly, -- alas! As my gaze fell on the thin slide that lay
beneath my instrument, the bright light from mirror and from prism
sparkled on a colorless drop of water! There, in that tiny bead of dew,
this beautiful being was forever imprisoned. The planet Neptune was not
more distant from me than she. I hastened once more to apply my eye to
Animula (let me now call her by that dear name which I subsequently
bestowed on her) had approached the wondrous forest, and was gazing
earnestly upwards. Presently one of the trees -- as I must call them --
unfolded a long ciliary process, with which it seized one of the
gleaming fruits that glittered on its summit, and sweeping slowly down,
held it within reach of Animula. The sylph took it in her delicate hand,
and began to eat. My attention was so entirely absorbed by her, that I
could not apply myself to the task of determining whether this singular
plant was or was not instinct with volition.
I watched her, as she made her repast, with the most profound attention.
The suppleness of her motions sent a thrill of delight through my frame;
my heart beat madly as she turned her beautiful eyes in the direction of
the spot in which I stood. What would I not have given to have had the
power to precipitate myself into that luminous ocean, and float with her
through those groves of purple and gold! While I was thus breathlessly
following her every movement, she suddenly started, seemed to listen for
a moment, and then cleaving the brilliant ether in which she was
floating, like a flash of light, pierced through the opaline forest, and
Instantly a series of the most singular sensations attacked me. It
seemed as if I had suddenly gone blind. The luminous sphere was still
before me, but my daylight had vanished. What caused this sudden
disappearance? Had she a lover, or a husband? Yes, that was the
solution! Some signal from a happy fellow-being had vibrated through the
avenues of the forest, and she had obeyed the summons.
The agony of my sensations, as I arrived at this conclusion, startled
me. I tried to reject the conviction that my reason forced upon me. I
battled against the fatal conclusion, -- but in vain. It was so. I had
no escape from it. I loved an animalcule!
It is true, that, thanks to the marvellous power of my microscope, she
appeared of human proportions. Instead of presenting the revolting
aspect of the coarser creatures, that live and struggle and die, in the
more easily resolvable portions of the water-drop, she was fair and
delicate and of surpassing beauty. But of what account was all that?
Every time that my eye was withdrawn from the instrument, it fell on a
miserable drop of water, within which, I must be content to know, dwelt
all that could make my life lovely.
Could she but see me once! Could I for one moment pierce the mystical
walls that so inexorably rose to separate us, and whisper all that
filled my soul, I might consent to be satisfied for the rest of my life
with the knowledge of her remote sympathy. It would be something to have
established even the faintest personal link to bind us together, -- to
know that at times, when roaming through those enchanted glades, she
might think of the wonderful stranger, who had broken the monotony of
her life with his presence, and left a gentle memory in her heart!
But it could not be. No invention, of which human intellect was capable,
could break down the barriers that Nature had erected. I might feast my
soul upon her wondrous beauty, yet she must always remain ignorant of
the adoring eyes that day and night gazed upon her, and, even when
closed, beheld her in dreams. With a bitter cry of anguish I fled from
the room, and, flinging myself on my bed, sobbed myself to sleep like a
Chapter 6: THE SPILLING OF THE CUP.
I AROSE the next morning almost at daybreak, and rushed to my
microscope. I trembled as I sought the luminous world in miniature that
contained my all. Animula was there. I had left the gas-lamp, surrounded
by its moderators, burning, when I went to bed the night before. I found
the sylph bathing, as it were, with an expression of pleasure animating
her features, in the brilliant light which surrounded her. She tossed
her lustrous golden hair over her shoulders with innocent coquetry. She
lay at full length in the transparent medium, in which she supported
herself with ease, and gambolled with the enchanting grace that the
Nymph Salmacis might have exhibited when she sought to conquer the
modest Hermaphroditus. I tried an experiment to satisfy myself if her
powers of reflection were developed. I lessened the lamp-light
considerably. By the dim light that remained, I could see an expression
of pain flit across her face. She looked upward suddenly, and her brows
contracted. I flooded the stage of the microscope again with a full
stream of light, and her whole expression changed. She sprang forward
like some substance deprived of all weight. Her eyes sparkled, and her
lips moved. Ah! if science had only the means of conducting and
reduplicating sounds, as it does the rays of light, what carols of
happiness would then have entranced my ears! what jubilant hymns to
Adonais would have thrilled the illumined air!
I now comprehended how it was that the Count de Gabalis peopled his
mystic world with sylphs, -- beautiful beings whose breath of life was
lambent fire, and who sported forever in regions of purest ether and
purest light. The Rosicrucian had anticipated the wonder that I had
How long this worship of my strange divinity went on thus I scarcely
know. I lost all note of time. All day from early dawn, and far into the
night, I was to be found peering through that wonderful lens. I saw no
one, went nowhere, and scarce allowed myself sufficient time for my
meals. My whole life was absorbed in contemplation as rapt as that of
any of the Romish saints. Every hour that I gazed upon the divine form
strengthened my passion, -- a passion that was always overshadowed by
the maddening conviction, that, although I could gaze on her at will,
she never, never could behold me!
At length I grew so pale and emaciated, from want of rest, and continual
brooding over my insane love and its cruel conditions, that I determined
to make some effort to wean myself from it. "Come," I said, "this is at
best but a fantasy. Your imagination has bestowed on Animula charms
which in reality she does not possess. Seclusion from female society has
produced this morbid condition of mind. Compare her with the beautiful
women of your own world, and this false enchantment will vanish."
I looked over the newspapers by chance. There I beheld the advertisement
of a celebrated danseuse who appeared nightly at Niblo's. The Signorina
Caradolce had the reputation of being the most beautiful as well as the
most graceful woman in the world. I instantly dressed and went to the
The curtain drew up. The usual semi-circle of fairies in white muslin
were standing on the right toe around the enamelled flower-bank, of
green canvas, on which the belated prince was sleeping. Suddenly a flute
is heard. The fairies start. The trees open, the fairies all stand on
the left toe, and the queen enters. It was the Signorina. She bounded
forward amid thunders of applause, and lighting on one foot remained
poised in air. Heavens! was this the great enchantress that had drawn
monarchs at her chariot-wheels? Those heavy muscular limbs, those thick
ankles, those cavernous eyes, that stereotyped smile, those crudely
painted cheeks! Where were the vermeil blooms, the liquid expressive
eyes, the harmonious limbs of Animula?
The Signorina danced. What gross, discordant movements! The play of her
limbs was all false and artificial. Her bounds were painful athletic
efforts; her poses were angular and distressed the eye. I could bear it
no longer; with an exclamation of disgust that drew every eye upon me, I
rose from my seat in the very middle of the Signorina's
pas-de-fascination, and abruptly quitted the house.
I hastened home to feast my eyes once more on the lovely form of my
sylph. I felt that henceforth to combat this passion would be
impossible. I applied my eye to the lens. Animula was there, -- but what
could have happened? Some terrible change seemed to have taken place
during my absence. Some secret grief seemed to cloud the lovely features
of her I gazed upon. Her face had grown thin and haggard; her limbs
trailed heavily; the wondrous lustre of her golden hair had faded. She
was ill! -- ill, and I could not assist her! I believe at that moment I
would have gladly forfeited all claims to my human birthright, if I
could only have been dwarfed to the size of an animalcule, and permitted
to console her from whom fate had forever divided me.
I racked my brain for the solution of this mystery. What was it that
affected the sylph? She seemed to suffer intense pain. Her features
contracted, and she even writhed, as if with some internal agony. The
wondrous forests appeared also to have lost half their beauty. Their
hues were dim and in some places faded away altogether. I watched
Animula for hours with a breaking heart, and she seemed absolutely to
wither away under my very eye. Suddenly I remembered that I had not
looked at the water-drop for several days. In fact, I hated to see it;
for it reminded me of the natural barrier between Animula and myself. I
hurriedly looked down on the stage of the microscope. The slide was
still there, -- but, great heavens! the water-drop had vanished! The
awful truth burst upon me; it had evaporated, until it had become so
minute as to be invisible to the naked eye; I had been gazing on its
last atom, the one that contained Animula, -- and she was dying!
I rushed again to the front of the lens, and looked through. Alas! the
last agony had seized her. The rainbow-hued forests had all melted away,
and Animula lay struggling feebly in what seemed to be a spot of dim
light. Ah! the sight was horrible: the limbs once so round and lovely
shrivelling up into nothings; the eyes -- those eyes that shone like
heaven -- being quenched into black dust; the lustrous golden hair now
lank and discolored. The last throe came. I beheld that final struggle
of the blackening form -- and I fainted.
When I awoke out of a trance of many hours, I found myself lying amid
the wreck of my instrument, myself as shattered in mind and body as it.
I crawled feebly to my bed, from which I did not rise for months.
They say now that I am mad; but they are mistaken. I am poor, for I have
neither the heart nor the will to work; all my money is spent, and I
live on charity. Young men's associations that love a joke invite me to
lecture on Optics before them, for which they pay me, and laugh at me
while I lecture. "Linley, the mad microscopist," is the name I go by. I
suppose that I talk incoherently while I lecture. Who could talk sense
when his brain is haunted by such ghastly memories, while ever and anon
among the shapes of death I behold the radiant form of my lost Animula!