Collection by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The other day, having a leisure hour at my disposal, I stept into a
new museum, to which my notice was casually drawn by a small and
unobtrusive sign: "To be seen here, a Virtuoso's Collection." Such was
the simple, yet not altogether unpromising announcement, that turned my
steps aside, for a little while, from the sunny sidewalk of our
principal thoroughfare. Mounting a sombre stair-case, I pushed open a
door at its summit, and found myself in the presence of a person, who
mentioned the moderate sum that would entitle me to admittance:
"Three shillings, Massachusetts tenor," said he; "no, I mean half a
dollar, as you reckon in these days."
While searching my pocket for the coin, I glanced at the
door-keeper, the marked character and individuality of whose aspect
encouraged me to expect something not quite in the ordinary way. He
wore an old-fashioned great coat, much faded, within which his meagre
person was so completely enveloped that the rest of his attire was
undistinguishable. But his visage was remarkably wind-flushed,
sun-burnt, and weather-worn, and had a most unquiet, nervous, and
apprehensive expression. It seemed as if this man had some
all-important object in view, some point of deepest interest to be
decided, some momentous question to ask, might he but hope for a reply.
As it was evident, however, that I could have nothing to do with his
private affairs, I passed through an open doorway, which admitted me
into the extensive hall of the Museum.
Directly in front of the portal was the bronze statue of a youth
with winged feet. He was represented in the act of flitting away from
earth, yet wore such a look of earnest invitation that it impressed me
like a summons to enter the hall.
"It is the original statue of Opportunity, by the ancient sculptor
Lysippus," said a gentleman who now approached me; "I place it at the
entrance of my Museum, because it is not at all times that one can gain
admittance to such a collection."
The speaker was a middle-aged person, of whom it was not easy to
determine whether he had spent his life as a scholar, or as a man of
action; in truth, all outward and obvious peculiarities had been worn
away by an extensive and promiscuous intercourse with the world. There
was no mark about him of profession, individual habits, or scarcely of
country; although his dark complexion and high features made me
conjecture that he was a native of some southern clime of Europe. At
all events, he was evidently the Virtuoso in person.
"With your permission," said he, "as we have no descriptive
catalogue, I will accompany you through the Museum, and point out
whatever may be most worthy of attention. In the first place, here is a
choice collection of stuffed animals."
Nearest the door stood the outward semblance of a wolf, exquisitely
prepared, it is true, and showing a very wolfish fierceness in the
large glass eyes, which were inserted into its wild and crafty head.
Still it was merely the skin of a wolf, with nothing to distinguish it
from other individuals of that unlovely breed.
"How does this animal deserve a place in your collection?" inquired
"It is the wolf that devoured Little Red Riding-Hood," answered the
Virtuoso; "and by his side,—with a milder and more matronly look, as
you perceive,—stands the she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus."
"Ah, indeed!" exclaimed I. "And what lovely lamb is this, with the
snow-white fleece, which seems to be of as delicate a texture as
"Methinks you have but carelessly read Spenser," replied my guide,
"or you would at once recognize the `milk-white lamb' which Una led.
But I set no great value upon the lamb. The next specimen is better
worth our notice."
"What!" cried I, "this strange animal, with the black head of an ox
upon the body of a white horse? Were it possible to suppose it, I
should say that this was Alexander's steed Bucephalus."
"The same," said the Virtuoso. "And can you likewise give a name to
the famous charger that stands beside him?
Next to the renowned Bucephalus stood the mere skeleton of a horse,
with the white bones peeping through his ill-conditioned hide. But, if
my heart had not warmed towards that pitiful anatomy, I might as well
have quitted the Museum at once. Its rarities had not been collected
with pain and toil from the four quarters of the earth, and from the
depths of the sea, and from the palaces and sepulchres of ages, for
those who could mistake this illustrious steed.
"It is Rosinante!" exclaimed I, with enthusiasm.
And so it proved! My admiration for the noble and gallant horse
caused me to glance with less interest at the other animals, although
many of them might have deserved the notice of Cuvier himself. There
was the donkey which Peter Bell cudgelled so soundly; and a brother of
the same species, who had suffered a similar infliction from the
ancient prophet Balaam. Some doubts were entertained, however, as to
the authenticity of the latter beast. My guide pointed out the
venerable Argus, that faithful dog of Ulysses, and also another dog
(for so the skin bespoke it), which, though imperfectly preserved,
seemed once to have had three heads. It was Cerberus. I was
considerably amused at detecting, in an obscure corner, the fox that
became so famous by the loss of his tail. There were several stuffed
cats, which, as a dear lover of that comfortable beast, attracted my
affectionate regards. One was Dr. Johnson's cat Hodge; and in the same
row stood the favorite cats of Mahomet, Gray, and Walter Scott,
together with Puss in Boots, and a cat of very noble aspect who had
once been a deity of ancient Egypt. Byron's tame bear came next. I must
not forget to mention the Erymanthean boar, the skin of St. George's
Dragon, and that of the serpent Python; and another skin, with
beautifully variegated hues, supposed to have been the garment of the
"spirited Sly Snake," which tempted Eve. Against the walls were
suspended the horns of a stag that Shakspeare shot; and on the floor
lay the ponderous shell of the tortoise which fell upon the head of
Æschylus. In one row, as natural as life, stood the sacred bull Apis,
the "cow with the crumpled horn," and a very wild looking young heifer,
which I guessed to be the cow that jumped over the moon. She was
probably killed by the rapidity of her descent. As I turned away, my
eyes fell upon an indescribable monster, which proved to be a griffin.
"I look in vain," observed I, "for the skin of an animal which might
well deserve the closest study of a naturalist,—the winged horse
"He is not yet dead," replied the Virtuoso, "but he is so hard
ridden by many young gentlemen of the day, that I hope soon to add his
skin and skeleton to my collection."
We now passed to the next alcove of the hall, in which was a
multitude of stuffed birds. They were very prettily arranged, some upon
the branches of trees, others brooding upon nests, and others suspended
by wires so artificially that they seemed in the very act of flight.
Among them was a white dove, with a withered branch of olive leaves in
"Can this be the very dove," inquired I, "that brought the message
of peace and hope to the tempest-beaten passengers of the ark?"
"Even so," said my companion.
"And this raven, I suppose," continued I, "is the same that fed
Elijah in the wilderness."
"The raven?—no," said the Virtuoso, "it is a bird of modern date.
He belonged to one Barnaby Rudge; and many people fancied that the
devil himself was disguised under his sable plumage. But poor Grip has
drawn his last cork, and has been forced to `say die' at last. This
other raven, hardly less curious, is that in which the soul of King
George the First revisited his lady love, the Duchess of Kendall."
My guide next pointed out Minerva's owl, and the vulture that preyed
upon the liver of Prometheus. There was likewise the sacred Ibis of
Egypt, and one of the Stymphalides, which Hercules shot in his sixth
labor. Shelley's sky-lark, Bryant's water-fowl, and a pigeon from the
belfry of the Old South Church, preserved by N. P. Willis, were placed
on the same perch. I could not but shudder on beholding Coleridge's
albatross, transfixed with the Ancient Mariner's crossbow shaft. Beside
this bird of awful poesy stood a grey goose of very ordinary aspect.
"Stuffed goose is no such rarity," observed I. "Why do you preserve
such a specimen in your Museum?"
"It is one of the flock whose cackling saved the Roman Capitol,"
answered the Virtuoso. "Many geese have cackled and hissed, both before
and since; but none, like those, have clamored themselves into
There seemed to be little else that demanded notice in this
department of the Museum, unless we except Robinson Crusoe's parrot, a
live phoenix, a footless bird of Paradise, and a splendid peacock,
supposed to be the same that once contained the soul of Pythagoras. I
therefore passed to the next alcove, the shelves of which were covered
with a miscellaneous collection of curiosities, such as are usually
found in similar establishments. One of the first things that took my
eye was a strange looking cap, woven of some substance that appeared
to be neither woollen, cotton, nor linen.
"Is this a magician's cap?" I asked.
"No," replied the Virtuoso, "it is merely Dr. Franklin's cap of
asbestos. But here is one which, perhaps, may suit you better. It is
the wishing-cap of Fortunatus. Will you try it on?"
"By no means," answered I, putting it aside with my hand. "The day
of wild wishes is past with me. I desire nothing that may not come in
the ordinary course of Providence."
"Then, probably," returned the Virtuoso, "you will not be tempted to
rub this lamp?"
While speaking, he took from the shelf an antique brass lamp,
curiously wrought with embossed figures, but so covered with verdigris
that the sculpture was almost eaten away.
"It is a thousand years," said he, "since the genius of this lamp
constructed Aladdin's palace in a single night. But he still retains
his power; and the man who rubs Aladdin's lamp, has but to desire
either a palace or a cottage."
"I might desire a cottage," replied I, "but I would have it founded
on sure and stable truth, not on dreams and fantasies. I have learned
to look for the real and the true."
My guide next showed me Prospero's magic wand, broken into three
fragments by the hand of its mighty master. On the same shelf lay the
gold ring of ancient Gyges, which enabled the wearer to walk invisible.
On the other side of the alcove was a tall looking-glass in a frame of
ebony, but veiled with a curtain of purple silk, through the rents of
which the gleam of the mirror was perceptible.
"This is Cornelius Agrippa's magic glass," observed the Virtuoso.
"Draw aside the curtain, and picture any human form within your mind,
and it will be reflected in the mirror."
"It is enough if I can picture it within my mind," answered I. "Why
should I wish it to be repeated in the mirror? But, indeed, these
works of magic have grown wearisome to me. There are so many greater
wonders in the world, to those who keep their eyes open, and their
sight undimmed by custom, that all the delusions of the old sorcerers
seem flat and stale. Unless you can show me something really curious, I
care not to look further into your Museum."
"Ah, well, then," said the Virtuoso, composedly, "perhaps you may
deem some of my antiquarian rarities deserving of a glance."
He pointed out the Iron Mask, now corroded with rust; and my heart
grew sick at the sight of this dreadful relic, which had shut out a
human being from sympathy with his race. There was nothing half so
terrible in the axe that beheaded King Charles, nor in the dagger that
slew Henry of Navarre, nor in the arrow that pierced the heart of
William Rufus,—all of which were shown to me. Many of the articles
derived their interest, such as it was, from having been formerly in
the possession of royalty. For instance, here was Charlemagne's
sheepskin cloak, the flowing wig of Louis Quatorze, the spinning-wheel
of Sardanapalus, and King Stephen's famous breeches, which cost him but
a crown. The heart of the Bloody Mary, with the word "Calais" worn into
its diseased substance, was preserved in a bottle of spirits; and near
it lay the golden case in which the queen of Gustavus Adolphus
treasured up that hero's heart. Among these relics and heirlooms of
kings, I must not forget the long, hairy ears of Midas, and a piece of
bread, which had been changed to gold by the touch of that unlucky
monarch. And as Grecian Helen was a queen, it may here be mentioned,
that I was permitted to take into my hand a lock of her golden hair,
and the bowl which a sculptor modelled from the curve of her perfect
breast. Here, likewise, was the robe that smothered Agamemnon, Nero's
fiddle, the Czar Peter's brandy-bottle, the crown of Semiramis, and
Canute's sceptre, which he extended over the sea. That my own land may
not deem itself neglected, let me add, that I was favored with a sight
of the skull of King Philip, the famous Indian chief, whose head the
Puritans smote off and exhibited upon a pole.
"Show me something else," said I to the Virtuoso. "Kings are in such
an artificial position, that people in the ordinary walks of life
cannot feel an interest in their relics. If you could show me the straw
hat of sweet little Nell, I would far rather see it than a king's
"There it is," said my guide, pointing carelessly with his staff to
the straw hat in question. "But, indeed, you are hard to please. Here
are the seven-league boots. Will you try them on?"
"Our modern railroads have superseded their use," answered I; "and
as to these cow-hide boots, I could show you quite as curious a pair at
the transcendental community in Roxbury."
We next examined a collection of swords and other weapons, belonging
to different epochs, but thrown together without much attempt at
arrangement. Here was Arthur's sword Excalibar, and that of the Cid
Campeodor, and the sword of Brutus rusted with Cæsar's blood and his
own, and the sword of Joan of Arc, and that of Horatius, and that with
which Virginius slew his daughter, and the one which Dionysius
suspended over the head of Damocles. Here, also, was Arria's sword,
which she plunged into her own breast, in order to taste of death
before her husband. The crooked blade of Saladin's scimetar next
attracted my notice. I know not by what chance, but so it happened,
that the sword of one of our own militia generals was suspended between
Don Quixote's lance and the brown blade of Hudibras. My heart throbbed
high at the sight of the helmet of Miltiades, and the spear that was
broken in the breast of Epaminondas. I recognized the shield of
Achilles by its resemblance to the admirable cast in the possession of
Professor Felton. Nothing in this apartment interested me more than
Major Pitcairn's pistol, the discharge of which, at Lexington, began
the war of the revolution, and was reverberated in thunder around the
land for seven long years. The bow of Ulysses, though unstrung for
ages, was placed against the wall, together with a sheaf of Robin
Hood's arrows, and the rifle of Daniel Boon.
"Enough of weapons," said I, at length; "although I would gladly
have seen the sacred shield which fell from Heaven in the time of Numa.
And surely you should obtain the sword which Washington unsheathed at
Cambridge. But the collection does you much credit. Let up pass on."
In the next alcove we saw the golden thigh of Pythagoras, which had
so divine a meaning; and, by one of the queer analogies to which the
Virtuoso seemed to be addicted, this ancient emblem lay on the same
shelf with Peter Stuyvesant's wooden leg, that was fabled to be of
silver. Here was a remnant of the Golden Fleece; and a sprig of yellow
leaves that resembled the foliage of a frost-bitten elm, but was duly
authenticated as a portion of the golden branch by which Æneas gained
admittance to the realm of Pluto. Atalanta's golden apple, and one of
the apples of discord, were wrapt in the napkin of gold which
Rampsinitus brought from Hades; and the whole were deposited in the
golden vase of Bias, with its inscription: "To the wisest."
"And how did you obtain this vase?" said I to the Virtuoso
"It was given me long ago," replied he, with a scornful expression
in his eye, "because I had learned to despise all things"
It had not escaped me that, though the Virtuoso was evidently a man
of high cultivation, yet he seemed to lack sympathy with the spiritual,
the sublime, and the tender. Apart from the whim that had led him to
devote so much time, pains, and expense to the collection of this
Museum, he impressed me as one of the hardest and coldest men of the
world whom I had ever met.
"To despise all things!" repeated I. "This, at best, is the wisdom
of the understanding. It is the creed of a man whose soul,—whose
better and diviner part,—has never been awakened, or has died out of
"I did not think that you were still so young," said the Virtuoso.
"Should you live to my years, you will acknowledge that the vase of
Bias was not ill bestowed."
Without farther discussion of the point, he directed my attention to
other curiosities. I examined Cinderella's little glass slipper, and
compared it with one of Diana's sandals, and with Fanny Elssler's shoe,
which bore testimony to the muscular character of her illustrious foot.
On the same shelf were Thomas the Rhymer's green velvet shoes, and the
brazen shoe of Empedocles, which was thrown out of Mount Ætna.
Anacreon's drinking-cup was placed in apt juxtaposition with one of Tom
Moore's wine-glasses and Circe's magic bowl. These were symbols of
luxury and riot; but near them stood the cup whence Socrates drank his
hemlock; and that which Sir Philip Sydney put from his death-parched
lips to bestow the draught upon a dying soldier. Next appeared a
cluster of tobacco pipes, consisting of Sir Walter Raleigh's, the
earliest on record, Dr. Parr's, Charles Lamb's, and the first calumet
of peace which was ever smoked between a European and an Indian. Among
other musical instruments, I noticed the lyre of Orpheus, and those of
Homer and Sappho, Dr. Franklin's famous whistle, the trumpet of Anthony
Van Corlear, and the flute which Goldsmith played upon in his rambles
through the French provinces. The staff of Peter the Hermit stood in a
corner, with that of good old Bishop Jewel, and one of ivory, which had
belonged to Papirius, the Roman Senator. The ponderous club of Hercules
was close at hand. The Virtuoso showed me the chisel of Phidias,
Claude's palette, and the brush of Apelles, observing that he intended
to bestow the former either on Greenough, Crawford, or Powers, and the
two latter upon Washington Allston. There was a small vase of oracular
gas from Delphos, which, I trust, will be submitted to the scientific
analysis of Professor Silliman. I was deeply moved on beholding a phial
of the tears into which Niobe was dissolved; nor less so on learning
that a shapeless fragment of salt was a relic of that victim of
despondency and sinful regrets, Lot's wife. My companion appeared to
set great value upon some Egyptian darkness in a blacking jug. Several
of the shelves were covered by a collection of coins; among which,
however, I remember none but the Splendid Shilling, celebrated by
Phillips, and a dollar's worth of the iron money of Lycurgus, weighing
about fifty pounds.
Walking carelessly onward, I had nearly fallen over a huge bundle,
like a pedlar's pack, done up in sackcloth, and very securely strapped
"It is Christian's burthen of sin," said the Virtuoso.
"Oh, pray let us open it!" cried I. "For many a year I have longed
to know its contents."
"Look into your own consciousness and memory," replied the Virtuoso.
"You will there find a list of whatever it contains."
As this was an undeniable truth, I threw a melancholy look at the
burthen, and passed on. A collection of old garments, hanging on pegs,
was worthy of some attention, especially the shirt of Nessus, Cæsar's
mantle, Joseph's coat of many colors, the Vicar of Bray's cassock,
Goldsmith's peach-bloom suit, a pair of President Jefferson's scarlet
breeches, John Randolph's red baize hunting-shirt, the drab small
clothes of the Stout Gentleman, and the rags of the "man all tattered
and torn." George Fox's hat impressed me with deep reverence, as a
relic of perhaps the truest apostle that has appeared on earth for
these eighteen hundred years. My eye was next attracted by an old pair
of shears, which I should have taken for a memorial of some famous
tailor, only that the Virtuoso pledged his veracity that they were the
identical scissors of Atropos. He also showed me a broken hour-glass,
which had been thrown aside by Father Time, together with the old
gentleman's grey forelock, tastefully braided into a brooch. In the
hour-glass was the handful of sand, the grains of which had numbered
the years of the Cumæan Sibyl. I think it was in this alcove that I saw
the inkstand which Luther threw at the Devil, and the ring which Essex,
while under sentence of death, sent to Queen Elizabeth. And here was
the blood-encrusted pen of steel with which Faust signed away his
The Virtuoso now opened the door of a closet, and showed me a lamp
burning, while three others stood unlighted by its side. One of the
three was the lamp of Diogenes, another that of Guy Faux, and the third
that which Hero set forth to the midnight breeze in the high tower of
"See!" said the Virtuoso, blowing with all his force at the lighted
The flame quivered and shrank away from his breath, but clung to the
wick, and resumed its brilliancy as soon as the blast was exhausted.
"It is an undying lamp from the tomb of Charlemagne," observed my
guide. "That flame was kindled a thousand years ago."
"How ridiculous, to kindle an unnatural light in tombs!" exclaimed
I. "We should seek to behold the dead in the light of heaven. But what
is the meaning of this chafing-dish of glowing coals?"
"That," answered the Virtuoso, "is the original fire which
Prometheus stole from Heaven. Look steadfastly into it, and you will
discern another curiosity."
I gazed into that fire,—which, symbolically, was the origin of all
that was bright and glorious in the soul of man,—and in the midst of
it, behold! a little reptile, sporting with evident enjoyment of the
fervid heat. It was a salamander.
"What a sacrilege!" cried I, with inexpressible disgust. "Can you
find no better use for this ethereal fire than to cherish a loathsome
reptile in it? Yet there are men who abuse the sacred fire of their own
souls to as foul and guilty a purpose."
The Virtuoso made no answer, except by a dry laugh, and an assurance
that the salamander was the very same which Benvenuto Cellini had seen
in his father's household fire. He then proceeded to show me other
rarities; for this closet appeared to be the receptacle of what he
considered most valuable in his collection.
"There," said he, "is the great carbuncle of the White Mountains."
I gazed with no little interest at this mighty gem, which it had
been one of the wild projects of my youth to discover. Possibly it
might have looked brighter to me in those days than now; at all events,
it had not such brilliancy as to detain me long from the other articles
of the Museum. The Virtuoso pointed to me a crystalline stone, which
hung by a gold chain against the wall.
"That is the Philosopher's Stone," said he.
"And have you the Elixir Vitæ, which generally accompanies it?"
"Even so—this urn is filled with it," he replied. "A draught would
refresh you. Here is Hebe's cup,—will you quaff a health from it?"
My heart thrilled within me at the idea of such a reviving draught;
for methought I had great need of it, after travelling so far on the
dusty road of life. But I know not whether it were a peculiar glance in
the Virtuoso's eye, or the circumstance that this most precious liquid
was contained in an antique sepulchral urn, that made me pause. Then
came many a thought, with which, in the calmer and better hours of
life, I had strengthened myself to feel that Death is the very friend
whom, in his due season, even the happiest mortal should be willing to
"No, I desire not an earthly immortality," said I. "Were man to live
longer on the earth, the spiritual would die out of him. The spark of
ethereal fire would be choked by the material, the sensual. There is a
celestial something within us that requires, after a certain time, the
atmosphere of Heaven to preserve it from decay and ruin. I will have
none of this liquid. You do well to keep it in a sepulchral urn; for it
would produce death, while bestowing the shadow of life."
"All this is unintelligible to me," responded my guide, with
indifference. "Life,—earthly life,—is the only good. But you refuse
the draught? Well, it is not likely to be offered twice within one
man's experience. Probably you have griefs which you seek to forget in
death. I can enable you to forget them in life. Will you take a draught
As he spoke the Virtuoso took from the shelf a crystal vase
containing a sable liquor, which caught no reflected image from the
"Not for the world!" exclaimed I, shrinking back. "I can spare none
of my recollections,—not even those of error or sorrow. They are all
alike the food of my spirit. As well never to have lived, as to lose
Without further parley we passed to the next alcove, the shelves of
which were burthened with ancient volumes, and with those rolls of
papyrus, in which was treasured up the eldest wisdom of the earth.
Perhaps the most valuable work in the collection, to a bibliomaniac,
was the Book of Hermes. For my part, however, I would have given a
higher price for those six of the Sibyl's books which Tarquin refused
to purchase, and which the Virtuoso informed me he had himself found in
the cave of Trophonius. Doubtless these old volumes contain prophecies
of the fate of Rome, both as respects the decline and fall of her
temporal empire, and the rise of her spiritual one. Not without value,
likewise, was the work of Anaxagoras on Nature, hitherto supposed to be
irrecoverably lost; and the missing treatises of Longinus, by which
modern criticism might profit; and those books of Livy, for which the
classic student has so long sorrowed without hope. Among these precious
tomes I observed the original manuscript of the Koran, and also that of
the Mormon Bible, in Joe Smith's authentic autograph. Alexander's copy
of the Iliad was also there, enclosed in the jewelled casket of Darius,
still fragrant of the perfumes which the Persian kept in it.
Opening an iron-clasped volume, bound in black leather, I discovered
it to be Cornelius Agrippa's book of magic; and it was rendered still
more interesting by the fact that many flowers, ancient and modern,
were pressed between its leaves. Here was a rose from Eve's bridal
bower, and all those red and white roses which were plucked in the
garden of the Temple, by the partizans of York and Lancaster. Here was
Halleck's Wild Rose of Alloway. Cowper had contributed a Sensitive
Plant, and Wordsworth an Eglantine, and Burns a Mountain Daisy, and
Kirke White a Star of Bethlehem, and Longfellow a Sprig of Fennel, with
its yellow flowers. James Russell Lowell had given a Pressed Flower,
but fragrant still, which had been shadowed in the Rhine. There was
also a sprig from Southey's Holly-Tree. One of the most beautiful
specimens was a Fringed Gentian, which had been plucked and preserved
for immortality by Bryant. From Jones Very,—a poet whose voice is
scarcely heard among us, by reason of its depth,—there was a Wind
Flower and a Columbine.
As I closed Cornelius Agrippa's magic volume, an old, mildewed
letter fell upon the floor; it proved to be an autograph from the
Flying Dutchman to his wife. I could linger no longer among books, for
the afternoon was waning, and there was yet much to see. The bare
mention of a few more curiosities must suffice. The immense skull of
Polyphemus was recognizable by the cavernous hollow in the centre of
the forehead, where once had blazed the giant's single eye. The tub of
Diogenes, Medea's cauldron, and Psyché's vase of beauty, were placed
one within another. Pandora's box, without the lid, stood next,
containing nothing but the girdle of Venus, which had been carelessly
flung into it. A bundle of birch rods, which had been used by
Shenstone's schoolmistress, were tied up with the Countess of
Salisbury's garter. I knew not which to value most, a Roc's egg, as big
as an ordinary hogshead, or the shell of the egg which Columbus set
upon its end. Perhaps the most delicate article in the whole Museum was
Queen Mab's chariot, which, to guard it from the touch of meddlesome
fingers, was placed under a glass tumbler.
Several of the shelves were occupied by specimens of entomology.
Feeling but little interest in the science, I noticed only Anacreon's
Grasshopper, and an Humble-Bee, which had been presented to the
Virtuoso by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In the part of the hall which we had now reached, I observed a
curtain that descended from the ceiling to the floor in voluminous
folds, of a depth, richness, and magnificence which I had never seen
equalled. It was not to be doubted that this splendid, though dark and
solemn veil, concealed a portion of the Museum even richer in wonders
than that through which I had already passed. But, on my attempting to
grasp the edge of the curtain and draw it aside, it proved to be an
"You need not blush," remarked the Virtuoso, "for that same curtain
deceived Zeuxis. It is the celebrated painting of Parrhasius."
In a range with the curtain, there were a number of other choice
pictures, by artists of ancient days. Here was the famous Cluster of
Grapes by Zeuxis, so admirably depicted that it seemed as if the ripe
juice were bursting forth. As to the picture of the Old Woman, by the
same illustrious painter, and which was so ludicrous that he himself
died with laughing at it, I cannot say that it particularly moved my
risibility. Ancient humor seems to have little power over modern
muscles. Here, also, was the Horse, painted by Apelles, which living
horses neighed at; his first portrait of Alexander the Great, and his
last unfinished picture of Venus Asleep. Each of these works of art,
together with others by Parrhasius, Timanthes, Polygnotus, Apollodorus,
Pausias, and Pamphilus, required more time and study than I could
bestow, for the adequate perception of their merits. I shall therefore
leave them undescribed and uncriticised, nor attempt to settle the
question of superiority between ancient and modern art.
For the same reason I shall pass lightly over the specimens of
antique sculpture, which this indefatigable and fortunate Virtuoso had
dug out of the dust of fallen empires. Here was Æ\tion's cedar statue
of Æsculapius, much decayed, and Alcon's iron statue of Hercules,
lamentably rusted. Here was the statue of Victory, six feet high, which
the Jupiter Olympus of Phidias had held in his hand. Here was a
fore-finger of the Colossus of Rhodes, seven feet in length. Here was
the Venus Urania of Phidias, and other images of male and female beauty
or grandeur, wrought by sculptors who appear never to have debased
their souls by the sight of any meaner forms than those of gods, or
godlike mortals. But the deep simplicity of these great works was not
to be comprehended by a mind excited and disturbed, as mine was, by the
various objects that had recently been presented to it. I therefore
turned away, with merely a passing glance, resolving, on some future
occasion, to brood over each individual statue and picture, until my
inmost spirit should feel their excellence. In this department, again,
I noticed the tendency to whimsical combinations and ludicrous
analogies, which seemed to influence many of the arrangements of the
Museum. The wooden statue, so well known as the Palladium of Troy, was
placed in close apposition with the wooden head of General Jackson,
which was stolen a few years since from the bows of the Constitution.
We had now completed the circuit of the spacious hall, and found
ourselves again near the door. Feeling somewhat wearied with the survey
of so many novelties and antiquities, I sat down upon Cowper's sofa,
while the Virtuoso threw himself carelessly into Rabelais's easy-chair.
Casting my eyes upon the opposite wall, I was surprised to perceive the
shadow of a man, flickering unsteadily across the wainscot, and looking
as if it were stirred by some breath of air that found its way through
the door or windows. No substantial figure was visible, from which this
shadow might be thrown; nor, had there been such, was there any
sunshine that would have caused it to darken upon the wall.
"It is Peter Schlemihl's shadow," observed the Virtuoso, "and one of
the most valuable articles in my collection."
"Methinks a shadow would have made a fitting door-keeper to such a
Museum," said I, "although, indeed, yonder figure has something strange
and fantastic about him, which suits well enough with many of the
impressions which I have received here. Pray, who is he?"
While speaking, I gazed more scrutinizingly than before at the
antiquated presence of the person who had admitted me, and who still
sat on his bench, with the same restless aspect, and dim, confused,
questioning anxiety, that I had noticed on my first entrance. At this
moment he looked eagerly towards us, and half-starting from his seat,
"I beseech you, kind sir," said he, in a cracked, melancholy tone,
"have pity on the most unfortunate man in the world! For heaven's sake
answer me a single question! Is this the town of Boston?"
"You have recognized him now," said the Virtuoso. "It is Peter Rugg,
the Missing Man. I chanced to meet him, the other day, still in search
of Boston, and conducted him hither; and, as he could not succeed in
finding his friends, I have taken him into my service as door-keeper.
He is somewhat too apt to ramble, but otherwise a man of trust and
"And—might I venture to ask," continued I, "to whom am I indebted
for this afternoon's gratification?"
The Virtuoso, before replying, laid his hand upon an antique dart of
juvelin, the rusty steel head of which seemed to have been blunted, as
if it had encountered the resistance of a tempered shield or
"My name has not been without its distinction in the world, for a
longer period than that of any other man alive," answered he. "Yet many
doubt of my existence,—perhaps you will do so, to-morrow. This dart,
which I had in my hand, was once grim Death's own weapon. It served him
well for the space of four thousand years. But it fell blunted, as you
see, when he directed it against my breast."
These words were spoken with the calm and cold courtesy of manner
that had characterized this singular personage throughout our
interview. I fancied, it is true, that there was a bitterness
indefinably mingled with his tone, as of one cut off from natural
sympathies, and blasted with a doom that had been inflicted on no other
human being, and by the results of which he had ceased to be human.
Yet, withal, it seemed one of the most terrible consequences of that
doom, that the victim no longer regarded it as a calamity, but had
finally accepted it as the greatest good that could have befallen him.
"You are the Wandering Jew!" exclaimed I.
The Virtuoso bowed, without emotion of any kind; for, by centuries
of custom, he had almost lost the sense of strangeness in his fate, and
was but imperfectly conscious of the astonishment and awe with which it
affected such as are capable of death.
"Your doom is indeed a fearful one" said I. with irrepressible
feeling, and a frankness that afterwards startled me; "yet perhaps the
ethereal spirit is not entirely extinct, under all this corrupted or
frozen mass of earthly life. Perhaps the immortal spark may yet be
rekindled by a breath of heaven. Perhaps you may yet be permitted to
die, before it is too late to live eternally. You have my prayers for
such a consummation. Farewell."
"Your prayers will be in vain," replied he, with a smile of cold
triumph. "My destiny is linked with the realities of earth. You are
welcome to your visions and shadows of a future state; but give me what
I can see, and touch, and understand, and I ask no more."
"It is indeed too late," thought I. "The soul is dead within him!"
Struggling between pity and horror, I extended my hand, to which the
Virtuoso gave his own, still with the habitual courtesy of a man of the
world, but without a single heart-throb of human brotherhood. The touch
seemed like ice, yet I know not whether morally or physically. As I
departed, he bade me observe that the inner door of the hall was
constructed with the ivory leaves of the gateway through which Æneas
and the Sibyl had been dismissed from Hades.