The Man Who
Never Was Young
- The Atlantic
At Munich, last summer, I made the acquaintance of M—-y, the famous
painter. I had heard much of him during my stay there, and of his
eccentricities. Just then it was quite the mode to circulate stories
about him, and I listened to so many which were incredible that I was
seized with an irresistible desire to meet him. I took, certainly, a
roundabout way to accomplish this. M—-y had a horror of forming new
acquaintances,—so it was said. He fled from letters of introduction
coming in the ordinary way, as from the plague. Neither prince nor
noble could win his intimacy or tempt him out of the pale of his daily
routine. We are most eager in the pursuit of what is forbidden. I became
the more determined to make M—-y's acquaintance, the more difficult it
seemed. After revolving the matter carefully, I wrote to America to my
intimate friend R., who I knew had subdued "the savage," as M—-y was
sometimes called, and begged him to put me in the way of getting hold
of the strange fellow. In four or five weeks I received an answer.
R. simply inclosed me his own card with the painter's name in pencil
written on it,—advising me to go to the artist's house, deliver the
card in person, and trust the result to fortune. Now I had heard, as
before intimated, all sorts of stories about M—-y. He was a bachelor,
at least fifty years old. He lived by himself, as was reported,—in
a superb house in an attractive part of the town. Gossip circulated
various tales about its interior. Sometimes he reigned a Sardanapalus;
at other times, a solitary queen graced but a temporary throne. He was
addicted to various vices. He played high, lost generally large sums,
and was in perpetual fear of the bailiffs. It was even reported that a
royal decree had been issued to exempt so extraordinary a genius from
ordinary arrest. In short, scarcely anything extravagant in the category
of human occurrences was omitted in the daily changing detail of the
scandal-loving society of Magnificent Munich. Only, no one ever imputed
a mean or dishonorable thing to M—-y; but for the rest, there was
nothing he did not do or permit to be done. He painted when he liked and
what he liked. His compositions, whether of landscape or history, were
eagerly snatched up at extravagant prices,—for M—-y was always
exorbitant in his demands. Besides, when he chose, M—-y painted
portraits,—never on application, nor for the aristocracy or the
rich,—but as the mood seized him, of some subject that attracted him
while on his various excursions, or of some of his friends. Yet who
were his friends? Could any one tell? I could not find a person who
claimed to know him intimately. Everybody had something to praise him
for: "But it was such a pity that"—and here would follow one of the
thousand bits of gossip which were floating about and had been floating
for years, I had seen M—-y often,—for he was no recluse, and could be
met daily in the streets. His general appearance so fascinated me that
the desire to know the man led me to adopt the course I have just
mentioned. So much by way of explanation.
And now, furnished with the card and the advice contained in my friend
R.'s letter, I proceeded one afternoon to the —— Strasse, and sought
admittance. A decent-looking servant-woman opened the door, and to my
inquiry replied that Herr M—-y was certainly at home, but whether
engaged or not she could not answer. She ushered me into a small
apartment on my right, which seemed intended for a reception-room. I was
about sending some kind of message to the master of the house, for I did
not like to trust the magic card out of my possession, when I heard a
door open and shut at the end of the hall, and the quick, nervous step
of a along the passage. Seeing the servant standing by the door, M—-y,
for it was he, walked toward it and presented himself bodily before me.
He wore a cap and dressing-gown, and looked vexed, but not ill-natured,
on seeing me. I was much embarrassed, and, forgetting what I had
proposed to say to him, I put R.'s card into his hand without a word.
His eye lighted up instantly.
"You are from America?—You are welcome!—How is my friend?" were words
rapidly enunciated. "Come with me,—leave your hat there,—so!"—and
we mounted a flight of stairs, passed what I perceived to be a fine
salon, then through a charming, domestic-looking apartment into one
still smaller, around the walls of which hung three portraits. Portraits
did I say? I can employ no other name,—but so life-like and so human,
my first impression was that I was entering a room where were three
"Never you mind these," exclaimed M—-y, pleasantly, "but sit down
there," pointing to a large fauteuil, "and tell me when you reached
Munich, and if you will stay some time: then I can judge better how to
do for you."
My face flushed, for I felt guilty at the little fraud I seemed to have
practised on him. I hesitated only an instant, and then frankly told him
the truth: how it was eighteen months since I left America; how I had
been three months in Munich already; how, hearing so much about him
and observing him frequently in the streets, I became anxious for his
acquaintance, and had written to R. accordingly.
The man has the face of a child: cloud and sunshine pass rapidly over
it. Pleasure and chagrin, sometimes anger, oftener joy, flit across
it, swiftly as the flashing of a meteor. While I was making this
explanation, he looked at me with a searching scrutiny,—at first
angrily, then sadly, as if he were going to cry; but when I finished, he
took my hand in both of his, and said, very seriously,—
"You are welcome just the same."
Soon he commenced laughing: the oddity of the affair was just beginning
to strike him. After conversing awhile, he said,—
"Ah, we shall like each other,—shall we not? Where do you stay? You
shall come and live with me. But will that content you? Have you seen
enough of the outside of Munich?"
I really knew not what to make of so unexpected a demonstration. Should
I accept his invitation, so entirely a stranger as I was? Why not? M—-y
was in earnest; he meant what he said; yet I hesitated.
"You need feel no embarrassment," he said, kindly. "I really want you to
come,—unless, indeed, it is not agreeable to you."
"A thousand thanks!" I exclaimed,—"I will come."
"Not a single one," said M—-y. "Go and arrange affairs at your hotel,
and make haste back for dinner: it will be served in an hour."
The next day I was domesticated in M—-y's house.
I have not the present design to give any account of him. Should the
reader find anything in what is written to interest or attract, it is
possible that in a future number a chapter may be devoted to the great
artist of Munich. Now, however, I remark simply, that the gossip and
strange stories and incidents and other et ceteras told of him proved
to be ridiculous creations, with scarcely a shadow to rest on, having
their inception in M—-y's peculiarities,—peculiarities which
originated from an entire and absolute independence of thought and
manner and conduct. A grown-up man in intellect, experience, and
sagacity,—a child in simplicity and feeling, and in the effect produced
by the forms and ceremonies and conventionalities of life: these seemed
always to astonish him, and he never, as he said, could understand why
people should live with masks over their faces, when they would breathe
so much freer and be so much more at their ease by taking them off. This
was the man who invited me to come to his house,—and who would not have
given the invitation, had he not wanted me to accept it.
I have spoken of three paintings which excited my attention the day I
paid my first visit. These were masterpieces,—three portraits, not
life-like, but life itself. They did not attract by the perpetual
stare of the eyes following one, whichever way one turned, as in many
pictures; in these the eyes were not thrown on the spectator. One
portrait was that of a man of at least fifty: an intellectual head;
eyes, I know not what they were,—fierce, defiant, hardly human, but
earthly, devilish; a mouth repulsive to behold, in its eager, absorbing,
selfish expression. Another,—the same person evidently: the same clear
breadth and development of brain, but a subdued and almost heavenly
expression of the eyes, while the mouth was quite a secondary feature,
scarcely disagreeable. The third was the likeness of a young girl,
beautiful, even to perfection. What character, what firmness, what power
to love could be read in those features! What hate, what revulsion, what
undying energy for the true and the right were there! A fair, young
creation,—so fair and so young, it seemed impossible that her destiny
should be an unhappy one: yet her destiny was unhappy. The shadow on the
brow, the melancholy which softened the clear hazel eye, the slightest
possible compression of the mouth, said,—"Destined to misfortune!"
Were these actual portraits of living persons, or at least of persons
who had lived? Was there any connection between the man with two faces
and two lives and the maiden with an unhappy destiny? After I became
better acquainted with M—-y, I asked him the question, and in reply he
told me the following story, which I now give as nearly as possible in
his own words.
* * * * *
Many years ago, in one of my excursions, I came to Baden-Baden. It was a
favorite resort for me, because I found there so many varieties of the
human countenance, and I liked to study them. One evening I was in the
Conversation-Haus, looking at the players at rouge-et-noir. At one end
of the table I saw seated a man apparently past fifty; around him were
three or four young fellows of twenty or twenty-five. It is nothing
unusual to see old men at the gaming-table,—quite the contrary. But
this person's head and forehead gave the lie to his countenance, and
I stopped to regard him. While I was doing so, his eyes met mine.
I suppose my gaze was earnest; for his eyes instantly fell, but,
recovering, he returned my look with a stare so impudently defiant that
I directed my attention at once elsewhere. Ever and anon, however, I
would steal a glance at this person,—for there was something in his
looks which fascinated me. He entered with gusto into the game, won
and lost with a good-natured air, yet so premeditated, so, in fact,
youthfully-old, I felt a chill pass over me while I was looking at
him. Later in the evening I encountered him again. It was in the public
room of my own hotel, at supper. He was drinking Rhine-wine with the
same young men who were with him at rouge-et-noir. The tone of the
whole company was boisterous, and became more so as each fresh bottle
was emptied. The young fellows were very noisy, but impulsively so. The
man also was turbulent and inclined to be merry in the extreme; but as
I watched his eye, I shuddered, for there enthroned was a permanent
expression indicating a consciousness in every act which he committed.
Once again our eyes met, and I turned away and left the apartment.
During my walk half an hour afterwards, I encountered the same party,
still more excited and hilarious, in company with some women, whose
character it was not easy to mistake. As I passed, the Unknown brushed
close by me, and again his glance met my own. He seemed half-maddened
by my curious look, which he could not but perceive, and, as I thought,
made use of some insulting expression. I took no notice of it, but
passed on my way, and saw him no more during my stay in the place.
From Baden I made an excursion into Switzerland. I was stopping at a
pleasant village in the romantic neighborhood of the Bernese Alps. One
afternoon I took a walk of several miles in a new direction. I left the
road and pursued a path used only by pedestrians, which shortened the
distance to another village not far off. A little way from this path was
erected a small chapel, and in a niche stood an image of Christ, well
executed in fine white marble. The work was so superior to the rude
designs we find throughout the country that I stopped to examine it.
I was amply repaid. In place of the painful-looking Christ on the
Cross,—too often a mere caricature,—the image was that of the Youthful
Saviour,—mild, benignant, forgiving. In his left palm, which was not
extended, but held near his person, rested a globe, which he seemed to
regard with a heavenly love and compassion, and the effect on me was so
impressive that the words came impulsively to my lips,—"I am the light
of the world."
For several minutes I stood regarding with intense admiration this
beautiful exhibition of the Saviour of Sinners. Presently, I saw the
door of the chapel was open. Should I look in? I did so. What did
I behold? The individual I had seen at Baden,—the gamester, the
bacchanal, the debauchee! Now, how changed! He was kneeling at a
tomb,—the only one in the chapel. The setting sun fell directly on his
features. His fine brow seemed fairer and more intellectual than before.
His eyes were soft and subdued, and destitute of anything which could
partake of an earthly element. Even the mouth, which had so disgusted
me, was no longer disagreeable. Contrition, humility, an earnest,
sincere repentance, were tokens clearly to be read in every line of his
face. I took very quietly some steps backward, so as to quit the spot
unobserved, if possible. In doing so, I stumbled and fell over some
loose stones. The noise startled the stranger, who was, I think, about
to leave the chapel. He came forward just as I was recovering myself. We
stood close together, facing each other. A flush passed over the man's
face. He seized my arm and exclaimed fiercely,—
"What are you doing here?"
Without appearing to recognize him, I hastened to explain that my
presence there was quite accidental, and it was in attempting to retreat
quietly, after discovering I was likely to prove an intruder, that my
falling over some stones had attracted his notice. Thus saying, and
bowing, I was about to proceed homeward, when the stranger suddenly
He came up close to me. Every trace of angry excitement had vanished.
Calm and self-possessed, but very mournfully, he said,—
"Are you willing I should put my arm in yours, and walk back with you
to the inn? I am alone,—and God above knows," he added, after a pause,
"how utterly so."
I could only bow an assent, for this sudden exhibition of weakness was
annoying to me. My new acquaintance took my arm, much in the manner a
child would do, and we walked along together.
"I am staying at the same house with you," he said, as we proceeded.
"Did you know it?"
"No, I did not."
"Yes," he continued,—"I saw you when you dismounted, and I knew you at
once. Don't you recognize me?" he inquired, sadly.
"I do," was all I replied.
"So much the better!" he went on. "I like your countenance,—nay, I love
to look at your face. You are a good man; do you know it? I suppose not:
the good are never conscious, and I should not tell you. Excuse my rude
approach just now: the Devil had for a moment dominion over me. Will you
remain here awhile? Shall we sit and be together? And will you—say,
will you talk with me?"
I promised I would. My feelings, despite his miserable weakness, were
becoming interested, and in this manner we reached the inn. Then I
persuaded this strange person to sit down in my room, where I ordered
something comfortable provided for supper. In fact, I thought it the
best thing I could do for him. Very soon I gained his entire confidence.
After two or three days he exhibited to me a small portrait, exquisitely
painted, of a most lovely young girl, and permitted me to copy it. It is
one of the three which you see on the wall there. The others, I need not
add, are portraits of the man himself in the two moods I have described.
For his history, it teaches its lesson, and I shall tell it to you. He
narrated it to me the evening before he left the inn, where we spent two
weeks or more, and I have neither seen nor heard from him since. Seated
near me, in my room, he gave the following account of himself.
* * * * *
I was born in Frankfort. My parents had several children, all of whom
died in infancy except me. I was the youngest, and I lived through the
periods which had proved so fatal to the rest. The extraordinary care
of my mother, who watched me with a melancholy tenderness, no doubt
contributed to save a life which in boyhood, and indeed to a mature age,
was at the best a precarious one. My parents were respectable people, in
easy circumstances. I grew up selfish and effeminate, in consequence of
being so much indulged. I exhibited early a studious disposition, and it
was decided to give me an accomplished education, with reference to
my occupying, could I attain it at a future day, a chair in some
university. My mother was a very religious woman. From the first, she
had a morbid sense of the responsibility of bringing up a boy. She
believed my way to manhood was beset by innumerable temptations, almost
impossible to escape, difficult to be resisted, and absolutely ruinous
to my soul, if yielded to. She preached to me incessantly. She kept
me from the society of boys of my own age, for fear I should be
contaminated,—and from the approach of any of the other sex, lest my
mind should be diverted from serious matters and led into wantonness
and folly. She would have made a priest of me, had it not been for
my father;—he objected. His brother, for whom I was named, was a
distinguished professor, to whom I bore, as he thought, a close
resemblance, and he desired I should imitate him in my pursuits. I had
good abilities, and was neither inefficient nor wanting in resolution or
industry. At first I longed for natural life and society; but by degrees
habit helped me to endure, and finally to conquer. In fact, I was taught
that I was doing God service in cultivating an ascetic life. My studies
were pursued with success. I rapidly mastered what was placed before
me, and my relations were proud of my progress. At the usual period the
ordinary craving for female society became strong in me. My mother took
great pains to impress on me that here commenced my first struggle with
Satan, and, if I yielded, I should certainly and beyond all peradventure
become a child of the Devil. I was in a degree conscientious. I was
ambitious to attain to a holy life. I believed what my mother had from
my infancy labored so hard to inculcate, and I trod out with an iron
step every fresh rising emotion of my heart, every genuine passion of
my nature. But I suffered much. The imagination could not always be
subdued, and there were periods when. I felt that the "strong man armed"
had possession of me. Nevertheless his time was not come, and at length
the struggle was over. It was not that I had gained a laudable control
of myself; but, having crucified every rebellious thought, there was
nothing left for control. I had marked my victory by extermination.
To live was no joy; neither was it specially the reverse: a long,
monotonous, changeless platitude; yet no desire to quit the terrible
I was forty years old. I had obtained my purpose. I was a learned
professor. As I gained in acquirements and reputation, I became more and
more laborious. My health, which had become quite firm, began to yield
under incessant application. I was advised, indeed commanded, by my
physician to take repose and recreation. I came here among the Alps. I
stopped at this very house. The season was fine, the inns were filled
with tourists, and great glee and hilarity prevailed. It was not without
its effect on me. By slow degrees, with returning health, the pulses
of life beat with what seemed an unnatural excitement. The world, as I
opened my eyes on it from the window of the inn, was for the first time
not without its attractions. I quieted myself with the idea, that, once
back with my books, my thoughts would flow in the regular channel; and I
called to mind something the physician had said about the necessity of
my being amused, and so forth, to quiet my conscience, which began to
reproach me for enjoying the small ray of sunlight which shone in on my
One day, in a little excursion with two or three gentlemen, I was
attracted by the beauty of a spot away from the travelled road. Leaving
my acquaintances resting under some trees to await my return, I strolled
by a narrow path, across the small valley, till I reached the wished-for
place. You know it already. It is where you beheld erected the Christ
and the Tomb. I was looking around with much admiration, when from the
opposite direction came some strolling Savoyards, with a species
of puppet, or marionnette, called by these people Mademoiselle
Catherina. Without waiting for my assent, the man stopped, and with
the aid of his wife arranged the machine and set Catherina in motion,
accompanying the dance with a song of his own:—
"Ma commère, quand ja danse,
Mon cotillon, va-t-il bien?
Il va d'ici, il va de là,
Ha, ha, ha!
Ma commère, quand je danse," etc.
I stopped and looked, and was amused. The music was rude, but wild, and
carried with it an abandon of feeling. I avow to you, it stole upon
me, penetrating soul and body. How I wished I could, on the spot, throw
off the coil which surrounded me and wander away with these children of
While I stood preoccupied and abstracted, I was roused by a low voice
pronouncing something,—I did not hear what,—and, coming to myself, I
saw standing before me, with her tambourine outstretched, a young girl,
fourteen or fifteen years old. She spoke again,—"S'il vous plait,
Monsieur." Large, lustrous, beaming eyes were turned on me,—not
boldly, not with assurance, neither altogether bashfully,—but honestly
regarding me full in the face, questioning if, after being so attentive
a spectator, I were willing to bestow something. It was strange I had
not noticed this girl before. I had hardly perceived there were three
in the company. Now that I did observe her, I kept looking so earnestly
that I forgot to respond to her request. She was faultless in form and
physical development,—absolutely and unequivocally faultless. Her face,
though browned by constant exposure, was classically beautiful; the foot
and hand very small and delicate. Heavens! how every fibre in my frame
thrilled with an ecstatic emotion, as, for the first time in my life, I
was brought under the influence of female charms! My head swam, my eyes
grew dim,—I staggered. I think I should have fallen, had not the young
girl herself seized my arm and supported me. This brought me to myself.
I bestowed nothing on the strollers, but asked if they were coming to
the village. They answered in the affirmative; and telling them to come
and play at the inn where I was lodging, I hastily quitted the scene.
Do not think I am in the least exaggerating in this narrative. God
knows, what I have to recount is sufficiently extraordinary. I hastened
homeward, my soul in a tumult. On a sudden, the labor of a lifetime was
destroyed, the opinions and convictions of a lifetime stultified and set
at nought. And how?—by what? By a strolling, vagrant Savoyard. Rather
by an exquisite specimen of God's handiwork in flesh and blood! And if
God's handiwork, why might I not be roused and touched and thrilled
and entranced? Something within boldly, in fact audaciously, put that
question to me.
I slept none that night. I was haunted by that form and face. I essayed
to be calm, and to compose myself to slumber. Impossible! For the moment
was swept away my past, with its dreary, lifeless forms, its ghostly
ceremonies, its masked shapes, its soulless, rayless, emotionless
existence. To awake and find life has been one grand error,—to awake
and know that youth and early manhood are gone, and that you have been
cheated of your honest and legitimate enjoyments,—to feel that Pleasure
might have wooed you gracefully when young, and when it would become
you to sacrifice at her shrine,—gods and fiends! I gnashed my teeth in
impotent rage,—I blasphemed,—I was mad!
The morning brought to me composure. While I was dressing, I heard the
music of my Savoyards under the window. I did not trust myself to look
out; but, after breakfasting, I went into the street to search for them.
I was not long unsuccessful, and was immediately recognized with a
profusion of nods and grimaces by the man and a coarse smile by the
woman, who prepared to set Mademoiselle Catherina instantly at work.
The young girl took scarcely any notice of me. I bestowed some money
on the couple, and bade them go to the nearest wine-shop and procure
whatever they desired. They started off, quite willing, I thought, to
leave me alone with the girl. I lost no time. Going close to her, I
"You are not the child of these people?"
"Alas, no, Monsieur!—I have neither father nor mother."
"And no relations?"
"No relations, Monsieur."
"How long have you lived in this way?"
"Almost always, I suppose. But I remember something many years ago—very
strange. I was all the time in one place,—such a beautiful spot, it
makes it hurt here," (putting her hand on her heart) "when I think of
that. Afterwards it was dark a long time. I do not remember any more."
"And do you like to wander about in this way?"
"Oh, no, Monsieur!—no, indeed!"
"Would you be pleased to go to a nice home, and stay, as you say, all
the time in one place, and learn to read and write, and have friends to
love you and take care of you?"
"Yes! oh, yes!"
"Would you be afraid to go with me?"
The young girl regarded me with a look of penetration which was
surprising, and replied calmly, but with some timidity,—
"Then it shall be so," I said.
I bade the child sit down and wait for my return, I took the direction
which the man and his wife had pursued, and found them already busily
engaged in the wine-shop, where they had purchased what for them was a
"You have stolen that girl," I exclaimed, with severity; "and I shall
have the matter investigated before the Syndic."
They were not so frightened as I expected to see them, although a good
"Monsieur mistakes," said the man. "It was we who saved the poor thing's
life, when the father and mother were put to death far away from here
in Hungary, and not a soul to take compassion on her. She was only four
years old; the prison-door was opened and her parents led to execution,
and she left to wander about until she should starve."
I asked if they knew who her parents were. They did not, but were sure
they were people of distinction, condemned for political offences. This
was all I could learn. The child, they said, was in possession of no
relic which betrayed her name or origin. She only wore a small gold
medallion on which was engraved a youthful Christ,—the same in
design as you see erected near the tomb in yonder valley. It has been
It was difficult to induce the couple to part with Eudora,—that was her
name. She was now useful to them, and her marvellous beauty began to
attract and brought additional coin to their collections, after the
performances of the marionnette. But I was resolved. I offered to the
strollers so large a sum in gold that they could not resist. It was
arranged on the spot. With very little ceremony they said "Good-bye" to
Eudora, and, taking the path over the mountain, in a few minutes were
out of sight.
What a new, what a strange attitude for me! Could I believe in my own
existence? There I stood, a grave professor of the University of ——,
educated and trained in the discipline I have already explained to you.
There stood Eudora, just as perfect in form and feature as imagination
of poet ever pictured.
My plan was formed on the spot, instantly. It was praiseworthy; but I
deserved no praise for it. A deep, engrossing selfishness, pervading
alike sense and spirit, actuated me. I had already brought under control
the fever of the previous day. I could reason calmly; but my conclusions
had reference only to my own gratification and my own happiness. I
regarded Eudora as mine,—my property,—literally belonging to me. I was
forty,—she not fifteen. Yet what was I to do with her? Recommend her
to the care of my mother, who was still alive? Certainly not; she would
then be lost to me. I had a cousin, a lady of high respectability, well
married, who resided in the same town in which I lived. She had no child
of her own; she had often spoken of adopting one. I frequently visited
her house; and when there, she never ceased to criticize me for leading
such an ascetic life. Here was an excellent opportunity for my new
charge. My cousin would be delighted to have the guardianship of such a
lovely creature. She would be as devoted to her as to an own child. She
would sympathize in my plans, and would be careful to train Eudora for
Such was the programme. It flashed on me and was definitely settled
before I had time to bid her follow me to the inn. She came
unhesitatingly, and as if she had confidence in my kind intentions. I
did not converse much with her, but, making hasty preparations, we left
the place and proceeded rapidly homeward.
I was not disappointed. My cousin entered readily into my plans. She was
a really good person, seeing all things which she undertook through
the complacent medium of duty. This was, she thought, such a fortunate
incident! It gave her what she had long desired, and it would serve to
distract me from the wretched life I had always led. Thereupon Eudora
was installed in her new home, where she found father and mother in my
cousin and her husband, where her education was commenced and got on
fast. She had a quick intellect, instinctively seizing what was most
important and rapidly forming conclusions. How, day by day, I witnessed
the development of her mind! How I watched every new play of the
emotions! How I saw with a beating heart, as she advanced toward
womanhood, fresh charms displayed and additional beauty manifested! I
shall not tire you with a prolonged narrative of how I enjoyed, month
after month, for more than two years, the society of Eudora,
during which time she made satisfactory advances in education and
accomplishment and attained in grace and loveliness the absolute
perfection of womanhood.
And what, during this period, were my relations with Eudora?—what were
her feelings toward me? I approach the subject with pain. I look back
now on those feelings and on my conduct with an abhorrence and disgust
which I cannot describe. From the first she trusted to me with implicit
confidence. Discriminating in an extraordinary degree, her gratitude
prevented her perceiving my real character. She gave me credit for
absolute, unqualified, disinterested benevolence in rescuing her from
the wretched and precarious condition of a vagrant. Thus she set about
in her own mind to adorn me with every virtue. I was magnanimous, noble,
unselfish, truthful, brave, the soul of honor, incapable of anything
mean or petty. How often has she told me this, holding my hand in hers,
looking full in my face, her own beaming with honest enthusiasm! How my
soul literally shrank within me! How like a guilty wretch I felt to
hear these words! How I wished I could be all Eudora pictured me! How
I essayed to act the part! How careful I was lest ever my real nature
should disclose itself! Even when, despite my efforts, something did
transpire to excite an instant's question, she put it aside at once by
giving an interpretation to it worthy of me. Now, what was I to do?
Eudora had reached a marriageable age. She had seen but little of
society, though by no means living a recluse. My cousin had watched
carefully over her, and was to her, indeed, all a mother could be. I had
remained perfectly tranquil, secure, as I supposed, in her affections. I
thought I had but to wait till the proper period should arrive and then
take her to myself.
My cousin, as I have intimated, understood my views. It was therefore
with no sort of perturbation, that, one day, I heard her ask me to
step into her little sitting-room in order to converse about Eudora.
I supposed she was going to tell me that it was time we were
married,—indeed, I thought so myself. I was therefore very much
astonished when she commenced by saying that I ought now to begin to
treat Eudora as a young lady, especially if I expected ever to win her
hand. I turned deadly pale, and asked her what she meant.
"I mean," she replied, "that you ought to act toward Eudora as men
generally act who wish to win a fair lady. Do not deceive yourself with
the idea that she loves you. She would tell you she did in a moment, if
you asked her,—and wonder, besides, why you thought it necessary to put
the question. But she knows nothing about it. The thought of becoming
your wife never enters her head, and you would frighten her, if you
spoke to her on such a subject. No, my cousin; it is time you behaved
as other men behave. Eudora is grateful to you beyond expression. She
believes you to be perfect; and you seem content to sit and let her tell
you so, when you ought to be a manly wooer."
I will not detail the remarks of my cousin. She talked with me at least
two hours. I was perfectly confounded by what she said. I began to hate
her for the ridiculous advice she gave me. I put it down to a curious,
meddlesome nature. I grew vexed, too, with Eudora, because my cousin
said she did not love me. I did not reflect that I had done nothing
to excite love. I had drawn perpetually on a heart overflowing and
grateful,—selfish caitiff that I was! This, however, I did not then
understand,—so completely were my eyes blinded!
I left my cousin in a petulant spirit, and sought Eudora. She saw I
was troubled, and asked me the cause. I told her. A shadow, a dark,
portentous shadow, suddenly clouded her face;—as suddenly it passed
away, giving place to a look of sharp, painful agony, which was
succeeded by a return of something like her natural expression. Then she
scrutinized my face calmly, critically. All this did not occupy half a
minute. Ere one could say it had been, Eudora was apparently the same as
ever. God alone knows all which in that half-minute rose in that young
girl's heart. She took my hand; she reproached me for my apparent
distrust of her; she said she was mine to love and to honor me forever.
She would go at once to her mother—so she called my cousin—and tell
her so. Thus saying, she left me. And I—I did not then understand
the struggle and the victory of the poor girl over herself. I did not
reflect that no maidenly blush, no charming confusion, announced my
happy destiny,—no kiss, no caress, no sign that the heart's citadel had
surrendered; but, instead, a calmness, a composure, and a hastening from
my presence. No, I thought nothing of this; I only considered that now
the time was at hand when Eudora would be mine!
I married her. It was but three weeks after this conversation. I was
in haste, and Eudora herself seemed desirous that the day should be an
early one. My cousin was amazed. I enjoyed her discomfiture; for she did
not relish the thought that I should thus set at nought her advice and
overturn her theory. She shook her head,—she attempted a protest,—and
then began zealously the preparations for the wedding.
I wish I could give you some clear idea of the wife I had gained,
some slight notion of the happiness and delight and bliss in which I
revelled,—that is, if a man purely and unutterably selfish has a right
to call that happiness—which he enjoys. Eudora lived only for me. She
rose, she sat, she came, she went only to pleasure me. She had
one thought, one idea: it was for me. And what was my return?
Nothing,—absolutely and literally nothing. I accepted every service,
every sweet, loving token, every delicate act of devotion, as something
to which I was entitled,—as my right. Forty-four years old, a life with
one idea, a narrow, selfish, overbearing nature, ministered to by such a
creature, noble, lovely, true, with eighteen years of life!
Three years thus passed,—three years which ate slowly into Eudora's
heart,—teaching her she had a heart, and bringing forth such fruit as
such experiences would produce. Yet she had not lost faith in me. She
might have felt that perfection did not belong to man, and therefore I
was not perfect; but she cheated herself as to all the rest. If she were
not perfectly happy with a husband who took no pains to sympathize with
her, who repressed instead of encouraging the natural vivacity of her
nature, who never went abroad with her to places where every one was
accustomed to go, still she did not lay the cause at my door.
I had another cousin: this cousin was a man, twenty-four years old when
he first came, by a mere chance, to the town where we lived. He was,
like you, a painter,—not one of those poor romantic vagabonds who
multiply pictures of themselves in every new composition, and who
starve on their own sighs. This man was in the enjoyment of a handsome
competence, and made painting his profession because he loved the art.
My cousin who resided in the place knew this man-cousin of mine. He paid
her a visit; and while he was in her house, my wife happened to go in.
Thus the acquaintance began. The next day he came to see me. I received
him cordially, and invited him to visit us often. At length he became
perfectly at home in our house. I was pleased with this,—for I began
to feel that Eudora drew heavily on my time, insisting too much on my
society; and I was only glad to escape by leaving her to the society of
my relative,—blind fool that I was! But I must do him justice. He was a
noble specimen of a fresh-hearted young man,—loyal and honorable. Yet
how could he escape the fascination of Eudora's presence?—how tear
himself away from it, when he had no thought that it was dangerous? At
my request, my wife sat to him for a small portrait: this is it which I
have permitted you to copy. By-and-by, and really to keep Eudora from
engrossing too much of my time, I allowed her to go out with our
artist-cousin; and in company they examined paintings, and viewed
scenery, and talked, and walked, and sometimes read together.
One evening, while seated in my library, deeply abstracted, the door
opened and Eudora entered. I looked up, saw who it was, and relapsed
"My husband," exclaimed she, in a soft, sweet tone, "put down your book;
sit upon this sofa; I want to speak with you."
I rose, a little petulantly, and did as she desired. She threw her arms
around my neck, and kissed me tenderly.
"I have something to ask of you," she said,—"something to request."
"What is it?" I exclaimed,—almost sharply.
"It is that you would not invite Alphonse to come here any more,—that
you would never speak of my going out with him again, but encourage his
leaving here,—and that you would give me more of your society."
"Pray, what does all this mean, Eudora?" I demanded. "Alphonse and you
have been quarrelling, I suppose."
"No, my husband."
"Then, what do you mean by such nonsense?" I asked, in an irritated
"I scarcely have courage to tell you," she cried,—"for I fear it will
make us both forever miserable."
Thoroughly aroused by this astounding avowal, I repeated, in a stern
tone and without one touch of sympathy, my demand for an explanation.
She knelt lovingly at my feet,—not in a posture submissive or
humiliating, but as if thus she could get nearer my heart,—and began,
"Sometimes, my husband, I have thought my feelings for you were such as
I ought to entertain for my father or an elder brother. I venerate and
admire your character; I would die for you,—oh, how willingly!—but
sometimes I fear it is not love I feel for you."
She paused, and looked at me earnestly.
"How long have you felt as you now do?" I asked, with an icy calmness.
"I do not know. I cannot tell. But I have not thought of it seriously
till Alphonse came here,—and I want you to send him away."
"And do you love Alphonse?" I asked, slowly.
"Oh, God! I do not know. I cannot tell what is the matter with me.
Perhaps it is mere infatuation. Alas! I cannot tell."
"And why do you come with this to me?" I said sneeringly, devil that I
"Because you are my husband,—because you are wise and strong and good,
and the only one who can advise me,—because I am in danger, and you can
save me," she cried, looking imploringly on my frigid features.
"And for that purpose you come to me?"
"I do, I do!" she exclaimed. At the same time she threw her arms around
me passionately, buried her face in my bosom, and wept.
There was a struggle within me,—not violent nor desperate, but calm and
cold,—while the face of that fair young creature was pressed close to
my heart by her own arms thrown clingingly around me. I did not move
the while; I did not respond to her sad embrace even by the slightest
pressure of my hand. Yet I was all the time conscious that a pure and
noble being was supplicating me for help,—a being who had devoted her
life to me,—whose soul was stainless, while mine was spotted with the
leprosy of a selfish nature. Like one under the influence of nightmare,
who knows he does but dream and makes an effort fruitless as imaginary
to lift himself out of it, I did try to follow what my heart said I
should do,—fold my dear wife in my arms, and reassure her in all
things. But I did no such thing. The other spirit—I should say seven
others more hateful and detestable than any which had before possession
of me—conquered. I raised Eudora from her kneeling posture. I placed
her on the sofa beside me. I began to hate her,—to hate her for her
goodness, her gentleness, her truthfulness, her fidelity,—to hate her
because she dared make such an avowal, and because it was true. What
right had she to permit her feelings to be influenced by another,—she,
my lawfully wedded wife? I would not admit the truth to myself that I
was the sole, miserable, detestable cause. Oh, no!
"Eudora," I said at length, "I have never seen you manifest so much
nervous excitement. Do you not see how ridiculous is your request? You
want me to bring ridicule, not to say disgrace, on myself, by suddenly
forbidding Alphonse my house. What will he suppose, what will the world
think, except that there has been some extraordinary cause for such a
procedure? And all out of a silly, romantic, imaginary notion which has
got into your head. Now, listen: if you would do your duty and honor me,
let Alphonse come and go as usual; let him perceive no difference in
your manner or in your treatment of him: in this way only I shall escape
mortification and chagrin."
She rose as I finished,—slowly rose,—with a countenance disheartened
and despairing. She uttered no word, and turned slowly to leave the
room. She had reached the door, when, not content with the merciless
outrage on her heart already inflicted, under the instigation of the
demon working within me, I prepared another stab.
"Eudora," I said, "one word more."
She came immediately back, doubtless with a slight hope that I would
show some sympathy for her.
"Eudora," I continued, rising and laying my hand on her shoulder, "have
you permitted any improper familiarities from Alphonse?"
Quick as lightning was my hand struck from its resting-place; swift as
thought her face changed to an expression so terrible that instinctively
I stepped back to avoid her. It was but an instant. Then came a last
awful look of recognition, whereby I knew I was found out, my soul was
stripped of all hypocritical coverings, and she saw and understood me.
What a scene! To discover in the one she had revered and worshipped so
long her moral assassin! To stand face to face and have the dreadful
truth suddenly revealed! The darkness of despair gathered around her
brow; an agony, like that which finds no comforter, was stamped on her
face; and with these a hate, a horror, a contempt, mingled triumphantly.
The door opened,—it was closed,—and my wife was lost to me forever. I
essayed to call her back. "Eudora" came faintly to my lips. It was too
late. Then a contemptible, jealous hatred took possession of me. Ere I
left my apartment, I said, "She shall pay dear for this! she shall soon
come submissive to my feet! she cannot live away from me; and before I
forgive, she must be humiliated!" How little did I know her!
From that period Eudora simply treated me with the courtesy of a lady.
She never looked in my face,—her eyes never met mine. On my part, to
carry out a plan I had adopted, I encouraged more and more the visits
of Alphonse. He had expected to leave that week; but I persuaded him to
remain another month, and pressed him to stay at my house. I told him
that this would be agreeable to my wife, who could have his society when
I was not able to be with her, and I should insist on his accepting my
invitation. This was after I saw how rebellious, as I termed it, Eudora
was becoming; and I was determined to torture her all I could.
Alphonse was now an inmate of our house, which greatly increased
the opportunities for his being with Eudora. She appeared to enjoy
intercourse with him just as usual; I think, in fact, she did enjoy
it more than usual; and it made me hate her to see that she was not
repentant and miserable. Three weeks passed in this way;—I becoming
more hateful and severe by every petty, petulant, despicable device of
which my nature was capable; she continuing with little change of manner
or conduct; and Alphonse unconsciously growing more devoted.
It was a cold, stormy afternoon: the rain had increased since morning.
Eudora had gone out immediately after breakfast. She did not come back
to dinner, and Alphonse, who had remained in all day, said she spoke of
going to my cousin's. I took it for granted the storm detained her; but
when it was evening and she did not appear, I began to be disturbed
and asked Alphonse to go for her. In a short time he returned with the
information that Eudora had not been at my cousin's that day. I was
alarmed; I could see the shadow of my Nemesis close by me. It had fallen
suddenly, and with no warning. For a moment I suspected Alphonse; but
the distress he manifested was too genuine to be counterfeited, and I
dismissed the thought. In the midst of this confusion and dismay,—now
late in the evening,—a letter was put into my hands, just left by a
messenger at my door. The address was in my wife's hand. I tore open the
envelope, and read,—
"Man! I can endure no longer."
This was the end of the chapter beginning with my introduction to the
strolling Savoyards, the dance of the marionnette, the transfer of
Eudora! I attempted no search for her; too well I knew it would be
useless; indeed, I felt a strange sense of freedom. My professor's life
disgusted me: I threw it off. I resigned my chair, and sold my house, my
furniture, my books,—everything. My nature clamored for indulgence, my
senses for enjoyment. I quitted the place. I threw off all restraint.
Literally I let myself loose on the world. I sought the company of the
young. I drank, I gamed, I was as debauched as the worst. But although
with them, I was not of them. They—only from the effervescence
of strong animal spirits did they do into excesses. What they did was
without reflection, impulsive, unpremeditated. Me a calm consciousness
pervaded always. Go where I would, do what I would, amidst every
criminal indulgence, every noisy debauch or riotous dissipation, it
always rode the storm and was present in the fury of the tempest;—that
fearful, awful conscious Egomet! How I wished I could commit one
After three years, I was passing with a gay company through the Swiss
town of ——. In that place is the convent of the Sisterhood of Our
Mother of Pity. The night I stayed there, one of the number died. I
heard of it in the morning, as we were preparing to leave. From what was
said in connection with the circumstance, I knew it was Eudora. I left
my companions to go on by themselves. I made my way to the convent and
begged permission to look on the dead face of my wife. It was granted.
She was already arrayed for the grave. I came and threw myself on the
lifeless form, and cried as children dry. The fountains of my heart gave
way, the sympathies of my nature were upheaved, and for two hours I wept
on unrestrained. Even consciousness fled for once and left me to the
luxury of grief. At length the worthy people came to me and took me
from the room. I asked many questions, to which they could give me but
unsatisfactory replies. They knew little of Eudora's history. She had
come directly from my house to this place, and had been remarkable for
her acts of untiring benevolence in ministering to the sick and the
destitute. She lost her life from too great exposure in watching at
the bedside of a miserable woman whom all the world seemed to have
abandoned, and who died of some malignant fever. I will not attempt to
describe what I passed through. I became sincerely repentant. I saw my
character in its true light. I prayed that my sins might be forgiven.
The place where Eudora died was not far from the spot where we first
met. I begged the good priest who acted as her confessor to consecrate
a little chapel which I should build there, and permit me to place my
wife's remains in it. He consented. I caused the image of the Christ
which she always wore to be carefully copied in marble and placed before
the chapel, and I spent several weeks there, deploring my sins and
seeking for light from above.
It was not to be that I should thus easily settle the error of a
lifetime. After a while I felt the desperate gnawing of the senses
inexpressible and irresistible. Satan had come again, and I was called
for. And I went! There was no escape,—there is no escape! Once more
I plunged into riotous folly and excess, giving full license to my
unbridled appetites,—but conscious always. When the fever subsided,
I was once more repentant and sorrowful, and I came here,—only to be
carried off again to renew the same wretched scenes. I know not how long
this will last. I know not if Heaven or Hell will triumph. Yet, strange
as you may think it, I believe I am not so bad a man as when I was a
professor in ——, slowly destroying my lovely wife. From each paroxysm
I fancy I escape somewhat stronger, somewhat more manly than before. I
think, too, my periods of excess are shorter, and of repentance longer;
and I sometimes entertain a hope that folly and madness will in me, as
in the young, become exhausted, and that beyond still lies the goal of
peace and wisdom.
Such as it is, strange as it may seem, you have from me a truthful
history. Would that the world might hear it and be wiser! Mark me! Let
not those who undertake to train the young attempt to destroy what
Nature has implanted. Let them direct and modify, but not extinguish.
The impulsive freedom of youth is generally the result of an exuberant
and overflowing spirit, and should be treated accordingly,—else, later
in life, it may burst forth fierce and unconquerable, or, what is worse,
be indulged in secret and make of us hypocrites and dissemblers.
WOE TO THE MAN WHO HAS HAD NO YOUTH!