In fact, Melmoth is more an action hero than a horror villain. He is defined by his movements, by the fact that he is, like the cyber-villains of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars , everywhere and nowhere. And this archetype—the faceless villain whose evil stems from a great burden of personality—is perhaps the only aspect of gothic horror that carries over into present-day storytelling.
It makes sense, in this light, that Wilde would have so deeply identified with the character. The devil in exile: shunned, doomed, unable to shift his burden, unable to be anything but himself, unable to transfer his personality onto anyone else. Wilde made enemies in conversation throughout his entire life, and ended his life in complete exile. Melmoth, as a character, feels like a prediction of how his story would end. Wilde, no doubt pining for his sons, invited fifteen small boys of the neighborhood, along with with cure, the postman, the schoolmaster, and other local worthies.
He got Bonnet to decorate the banqueting room at the Hotel de la Plage with colored lamps and English flags. The children were given strawberries and cream, apricots, chocolates, cakes, and grenadine syrup. Each child was allowed to choose a present; six chose accordions, five trumpets and four bugles. The postman got an accordion. Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Melmoth the Wanderer , please sign up. Is this book out of print? Vasilis Manias Speaking for the GReek edition, i think not.
In Public Bookstores i think i saw the English version available too. See 2 questions about Melmoth the Wanderer…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Jul 05, Bill Kerwin rated it liked it Shelves: gothic , historical-fiction , 19th-c-brit , weird-fiction. There's an old story told by Ezra Pound--I believe it can be found either in "The ABC of Reading" or "From Confucius to Cummings"--about a retired sea captain, determined to improve his primary school Latin, who was tasked by his tutor the local vicar or schoolmaster with reading Vergil's Aeneid.
When he had finished, his mentor inquired, "How did you like the hero? What hero? You call him a hero? By God, I There's an old story told by Ezra Pound--I believe it can be found either in "The ABC of Reading" or "From Confucius to Cummings"--about a retired sea captain, determined to improve his primary school Latin, who was tasked by his tutor the local vicar or schoolmaster with reading Vergil's Aeneid.
By God, I thought he was a priest! He's supposed to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for two hundred years of life, but he's so incompetent that he never comes close to leading his would-be substitutes to damnation; instead, he whines about the inferior living to which he has been assigned by his demonic superiors, just like a dissatisfied curate. I believe, however, that it might very well have been theological rigidity that made it impossible for Maturin to create a thoughtful and thrilling gothic fiction.
Although he admired the sensational effects of "Monk" Lewis, the sombre tableaux of Mary Shelly, and the thoughtful meditations of William Godwin, Maturin's conventional moral limitations seem to have prevented him from learning useful literary lessons from any of them, and to have hampered him on every page of this extremely long--this much, much too long--novel.
Maturin is willing to expound on any given insight or expand any given image far beyond intellectual elucidation or sensuous delight. Whether it be a philosophical disquisition, a theological dispute, a sepulchral or an Edenic description, the reader may be sure that, although it may amaze by being exhaustive, it will never please by being succinct. The only exception is Maturin's extraordinary gift for vituperation.
Here, Melmoth speaks as eloquently as Shakespeare's Timon. His Juvenalian rants are impressive in their completeness and terrifying in their energy, but--alas! I would be surprised if any admirer of "Melmoth the Wanderer" wished the book longer. There is, however, much in this book to respect, though it lies more in the conception than in the execution.
Its Chinese box structure--with tales within tales breaking off and resuming in surprising places, the damaged "manuscripts" marred with lucunae-- not only evoke "The Arabian Nights" but also serve to help the reader suspend his disbelief and appreciate the unfolding narrative in a distinctly post-modernist fashion.
The glimpses of rural Ireland and its people are distinctly observed and well executed, reminding one of the better pages of Walter Scott. Also, the conception of Melmoth himself--a monstrous meld of Byron, Faust and Satan, a creature both human and inhuman, inside and outside of time--is despite the clerical prissiness inherited from his spiritual father Maturin a thoroughly original and influential creation.
Listen closely to Melmoth's conversation with the unspoiled Immalee and you may hear the voices of Lord Rochester and Jane Eyre. I was also pleasantly surprised by the ending, in which all the tales rush precipitously to a powerful conclusion with all the energy and abruptness of "Monk" Lewis. Maturin wanted to stretch the novel out to five volumes, but his publisher, having had enough, refused. All in all, I am glad I read the novel. I am even happier that I read it quickly.
I am sure I shall never read it again. View all 35 comments. Dec 13, Ahmad Sharabiani rated it really liked it Shelves: gothic , culture , horror , irish , ireland , pdf , literature , 19th-century. The novel's title character is a scholar who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for extra years of life, and searches the world for someone who will take over the pact for him, in a manner reminiscent of the Wandering Jew.
John Melmoth, a student in Dublin, visits his dying uncle. He finds a portrait of a mysterious ancestor called "Melmoth"; the portrait is dated At his uncle's funeral, John is told an old family story about a stranger called Stanton who arrived looking for 'Melmoth the Traveller' decades earlier.
View all 8 comments. View 2 comments. Sep 11, Timothy Mayer rated it really liked it Shelves: karl-wagner-memorial-library. Where do I begin with this one? To say I've been working on it thirty years plus would be bragging. I spent a summer working as a delivery man while in college, so I read the first part of Melmoth in the cab of a truck. This time around, I was working a part-time job on the graveyard shift, where I read the novel at 2AM while trying to fight sleep always the optimum way to experi Where do I begin with this one?
This time around, I was working a part-time job on the graveyard shift, where I read the novel at 2AM while trying to fight sleep always the optimum way to experience Gothic novels. And I finished it at the dentist's office. Melmoth is the story of a man named Melmoth who has somehow extended his life by years. It's never said how he did it, but the assumption is that he made a pact with Satan.
The only way Melmoth can escape the pact is to find someone to take his place. This situation forms the narrative of the book. The novel was written in by an Irish clergyman, who never saw any success from it he died a few years after it was published. Since it's written at the time of the Romantic revival, Melmoth is outside of the great Gothic wave. However, these post-Goth writers did love to use their words. They never let one sentence suffice when an entire page would do. For instance, here is a passage I have pulled from the manuscript at random: She was thus employed on the eighth morning, when she saw the stranger approach; and the wild and innocent delight with which she bounded towards him, excited in him for a moment a feeling of gloomy and reluctant compunction, which Immalee's quick susceptibility traced in his pausing step and averted eye.
She stood trembling in lovely and pleading diffidence, as if intreating pardon for an unconscious offence, and asking permission to approach by the very attitude in which she forbore it, while tears stood in her eyes ready to fall at another repelling motion. And that's just two sentences. Try enduring pages of this prose. Melmoth is actually a series of stories within stories. Such a style of writing is not new; Arabian Nights used this technique. The Polish film Saragossa Manuscript also utilized the same method. It's a good style to keep the reader engaged, but you can get lost in the narratives.
Melmoth links all the stories together with a mysterious wanderer who appears at a crucial time in someone's life. He makes them an offer they can't refuse. Whenever he appears, the subject of the story is at the lowest point in their life, usually near death. Melmoth's offer will take them out of the horrid situation, but at the cost of their soul. The first tale is that of John Melmoth, a college student who travels to the home of his uncle and benefactor.
Here he learns of his fabled ancestor who appears at dire moments in the history of the family. The description of his uncle's wretched genteel poverty is one of the best sections of the novel. The younger Melmoth soon locates a manuscript among his deceased uncle's papers which tells of the adventures abroad of an Englishman named Stanton after the Restoration.
Stanton has several encounters with the wanderer, one of them in a lunatic asylum. John Melmoth next encounters a Spaniard who tells him the story of a nobleman forced to become a monk. The wanderer appears when the monk is imprisoned by the Inquisition. Escaping from the cells of the Inquisition, the monk takes refuge with a Spanish Jew who shows him a manuscript describing the wanderer's encounter with a noble Spanish Christian family. The wanderer succeeds in wedding the daughter of the family, only to bring her tragedy.
Melmoth concludes with the wanderer making his final appearance to John Melmoth. My one-paragraph summary of the novel only skims the basics of the complicated plot. There's a whole passage where Melmoth encounters a jungle girl on an island off the coast of India. The description of the prisons of the Inquisitions out-goths anything Edgar Allan Poe wrote.
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But I should also mention Maturin's anti-catholic church diatribes are excessive to the point of parody. Melmoth is a crucial book in the development of Gothic horror literature. If the reader can endure the prose, it's a good tale. View all 10 comments. Sep 16, Simon rated it really liked it Shelves: horror.
This had been sitting on my shelf to read for some time now, for some reason it never felt like the time. Most of the classic fiction I have read has been in much shorter form and I was quite intimidated by this Gothic epic that I worried might be quite hard work. After completing it, it did feel like a mammoth undertaking but well worth the effort. Melmoth the Wanderer, damned for some undiscovered reason and doomed to wander the earth looking for individuals in the pit of despair and anguish i This had been sitting on my shelf to read for some time now, for some reason it never felt like the time.
Melmoth the Wanderer, damned for some undiscovered reason and doomed to wander the earth looking for individuals in the pit of despair and anguish in the hope that he can persuade them to take his place before he must submit to an unspecified and unspeakable fate. We gradually learn about the Wanderer through the investigations of a man who is his namesake and a descendent from the same family.
There is quite a complex narrative structure in which different stories become embedded within one another as we go back in time and discover some of the history of Wanderer and the kind of suffering of individuals went through before they were confronted by Melmoth and presented with his diabolical bargain. As the reader, we witness stories of the utmost tragedy as people's lives go from bad to worse and they plumb deeper depths of anguish and despair. Yet it seems that no level of human misery is bad enough to make it appear a less favourable alternative to that which Melmoth offers.
All this is set against a time in which Europe is beset by powerful religious institutions and stringent dogma.
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Corruption and cruelty in these institutions and the hypocrisy of their followers is a theme common to many of the stories contained here. I was also surprised by the amount of humour present, such as Melmoth's dying, miserly uncle and Isidora's priest who's obsessed with fine dining. Sometimes I felt the story rambled on a bit in places but more often than not I found myself rapt by the the tragic stories as they unfolded and overall, I found this a powerful piece of work. A flawed masterpiece perhaps.
Feb 10, Leah Rachel von Essen rated it it was amazing Shelves: fantasy-standalones. This book is technically an awful novel. It at one point reaches 4 nested narratives within the main one. Each nested narrative is closer to the ending of the book, and the last bit of the outward narrative makes up a couple chapters. The relations are mostly just Melmoth- little else combines them all. It's impossible to name a main character except perhaps for Melmoth, who is almost entirely absent at the beginning of the tale then increasing so throughout.
And that's the genius, somehow, of th This book is technically an awful novel. And that's the genius, somehow, of this novel. This novel builds. It has many small, fake-out builds that make you think you will reach a conclusion, know Melmoth's horrible request, know who he is, hear his story, where something big and wild will happen-- and the novel always falls back, pulls back, to bring you back to that suspense, until the peak ending of the last nested tale that made me actually shed a tear.
It is a truly strange and almost impossible to describe novel, that feels to make no sense until in the end, it makes perfect sense, even though no explanation has ever been provided. I destroyed the physical novel almost entirely with scribblings, underlinings, circlings, of love or of frustration, love particularly of the descriptions of nature and feeling, frustration particularly at the point where Orientalism briefly and badly comes into play, but also at the moments when suspense is most frustrated.
Nothing is simple. Melmoth is not human but we don't get to accuse him of being the Devil either. We just never get to know Beautiful, weird, weird novel. I felt like it was taking forever yet didn't want it to end. So bizarre. I defended myself, by trying to point out to my friend, that I had made the misery of conventual life depend less on the startling adventures one meets with in romances, than on that irritating series of petty torments which constitutes the misery of life in general, and which, amid the tideless stagnation of monastic existence, solitude gives its inmates leisure to invent, and power combined with malignity, the full disposition to practise.
I trust this defence will operate more on the conviction of the Reader, than it did on that of my friend. The original from which the Wife of Walberg is imperfectly sketched is a living woman, and long may she live. I cannot again appear before the public in so unseemly a character as that of a writer of romances, without regretting the necessity that compels me to it.
Did my profession furnish me with the means of subsistence, I should hold myself culpable indeed in having recourse to any other, but—am I allowed the choice? In the autumn of , John Melmoth, a student in Trinity College, Dublin, quitted it to attend a dying uncle on whom his hopes for independence chiefly rested. John was the orphan son of a younger brother, whose small property scarce could pay John's college expences; but the uncle was rich, unmarried, and old; and John, from his infancy, had been brought up to look on him with that mingled sensation of awe, and of the wish, without the means to conciliate, that sensation at once attractive and repulsive , with which we regard a being who as nurse, domestic, and parent have tutored us to believe holds the very threads of our existence in his hands, and may prolong or snap them when he pleases.
The beauty of the country through which he travelled it was the county Wicklow could not prevent his mind from dwelling on many painful thoughts, some borrowed from the past, and more from the future. His uncle's caprice and moroseness,—the strange reports concerning the cause of the secluded life he had led for many years,—his own dependent state,—fell like blows fast and heavy on his mind.
He roused himself to repel them,—sat up in the mail, in which he was a solitary passenger,—looked out on the prospect,—consulted his watch;—then he thought they receded for a moment,—but there was nothing to fill their place, and he was forced to invite them back for company. When the mind is thus active in calling over invaders, no wonder the conquest is soon completed. As the carriage drew near the Lodge, the name of old Melmoth's seat , John's heart grew heavier every moment.
The recollection of this awful uncle from infancy,—when he was never permitted to approach him without innumerable lectures,— not to be troublesome, —not to go too near his uncle,—not to ask him any questions,—on no account to disturb the inviolable arrangement of his snuff-box, hand-bell, and spectacles, nor to suffer the glittering of the gold-headed cane to tempt him to the mortal sin of handling it,—and, finally, to pilot himself aright through his perilous course in and out of the apartment without striking against the piles of books, globes, old newspapers, wig-blocks, tobacco-pipes, and snuff-cannisters, not to mention certain hidden rocks of rat-traps and mouldy books beneath the chairs,—together with the final reverential bow at the door, which was to be closed with cautious gentleness, and the stairs to be descended as if he were 'shod with felt.
Then his college life, passed in an attic in the second square, uncheered by an invitation to the country; the gloomy summer wasted in walking up and down the deserted streets, as his uncle would not defray the expences of his journey;—the only intimation of his existence, received in quarterly epistles, containing, with the scanty but punctual remittance, complaints of the expences of his education, cautions against extravagance, and lamentations for the failure of tenants and the fall of the value of lands.
All these recollections came over him, and along with them the remembrance of that last scene, where his dependence on his uncle was impressed on him by the dying lips of his father. You must look up, John, to your uncle for every thing. He has oddities and infirmities, but you must learn to bear with them, and with many other things too, as you will learn too soon. And now, my poor boy, may He who is the father of the fatherless look on your desolate state, and give you favour in the eyes of your uncle. He alighted, and with a change of linen in a handkerchief, his only travelling equipment , he approached his uncle's gate.
The lodge was in ruins, and a barefooted boy from an adjacent cabin ran to lift on its single hinge what had once been a gate, but was now a few planks so villainously put together, that they clattered like a sign in a high wind. The stubborn post of the gate, yielding at last to the united strength of John and his barefooted assistant, grated heavily through the mud and gravel stones, in which it left a deep and sloughy furrow, and the entrance lay open.
John, after searching his pocket in vain for a trifle to reward his assistant, pursued his way, while the lad, on his return, cleared the road at a hop step and jump, plunging through the mud with all the dabbling and amphibious delight of a duck, and scarce less proud of his agility than of his 'sarving a gentleman. There was not a fence or a hedge round the domain: an uncemented wall of loose stones, whose numerous gaps were filled with furze or thorns, supplied their place. There was not a tree or shrub on the lawn; the lawn itself was turned into pasture-ground, and a few sheep were picking their scanty food amid the pebblestones, thistles, and hard mould, through which a few blades of grass made their rare and squalid appearance.
The house itself stood strongly defined even amid the darkness of the evening sky; for there were neither wings, or offices, or shrubbery, or tree, to shade or support it, and soften its strong harsh outline. John, after a melancholy gaze at the grass-grown steps and boarded windows, 'addressed himself' to knock at the door; but knocker there was none: loose stones, however, there were in plenty; and John was making vigorous application to the door with one of them, till the furious barking of a mastiff, who threatened at every bound to break his chain, and whose yell and growl, accompanied by 'eyes that glow and fangs that grin,' savoured as much of hunger as of rage, made the assailant raise the siege on the door, and betake himself to a well-known passage that led to the kitchen.
A light glimmered in the window as he approached: he raised the latch with a doubtful hand; but, when he saw the party within, he advanced with the step of a man no longer doubtful of his welcome. Round a turf-fire, whose well-replenished fuel gave testimony to the 'master's' indisposition, who would probably as soon have been placed on the fire himself as seen the whole kish emptied on it once, were seated the old housekeeper, two or three followers, i.
Among the better sort, to whom she sometimes had access by the influence of servants, she tried the effects of some simples, her skill in which was sometimes productive of success. Among the lower orders she talked much of the effects of the 'evil eye,' against which she boasted a counter-spell, of unfailing efficacy; and while she spoke, she shook her grizzled locks with such witch-like eagerness, that she never failed to communicate to her half-terrified, half-believing audience, some portion of that enthusiasm which, amid all her consciousness of imposture, she herself probably felt a large share of; still, when the case at last became desperate, when credulity itself lost all patience, and hope and life were departing together, she urged the miserable patient to confess 'there was something about his heart ;' and when this confession was extorted from the weariness of pain and the ignorance of poverty, she nodded and muttered so mysteriously, as to convey to the bystanders, that she had had difficulties to contend with which were invincible by human power.
Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer
When there was no pretext, from indisposition, for her visiting either 'his honor's' kitchen, or the cottar's hut,—when the stubborn and persevering convalescence of the whole country threatened her with starvation,—she still had a resource:—if there were no lives to be shortened, there were fortunes to be told;—she worked 'by spells, and by such daubry as is beyond our element. No one knew so well as she to find where the four streams met, in which, on the same portentous season, the chemise was to be immersed, and then displayed before the fire, in the name of one whom we dare not mention to 'ears polite' , to be turned by the figure of the destined husband before morning.
No one but herself she said knew the hand in which the comb was to be held, while the other was employed in conveying the apple to the mouth,—while, during the joint operation, the shadow of the phantom-spouse was to pass across the mirror before which it was performed. No one, in short, knew better how to torment or terrify her victims into a belief of that power which may and has reduced the strongest minds to the level of the weakest; and under the influence of which the cultivated sceptic, Lord Lyttleton, yelled and gnashed and writhed in his last hours, like the poor girl who, in the belief of the horrible visitation of the vampire, shrieked aloud, that her grandfather was sucking her vital blood while she slept, and expired under the influence of imaginary horror.
Among this groupe John advanced,—recognising some,—disliking more,—distrusting all. The old housekeeper received him with cordiality;—he was always her 'white-headed boy,' she said,— imprimis, his hair was as black as jet , and she tried to lift her withered hand to his head with an action between a benediction and a caress, till the difficulty of the attempt forced on her the conviction that that head was fourteen inches higher than her reach since she had last patted it.
The men, with the national deference of the Irish to a person of superior rank, all rose at his approach, their stools chattering on the broken flags , and wished his honor 'a thousand years, and long life to the back of that; and would not his honor take something to keep the grief out of his heart;' and so saying, five or six red and bony hands tendered him glasses of whiskey all at once.
All this time the Sybil sat silent in the ample chimney-corner, sending redoubled whiffs out of her pipe. John gently declined the offer of spirits, received the attentions of the old housekeeper cordially, looked askance at the withered crone who occupied the chimney corner, and then glanced at the table, which displayed other cheer than he had been accustomed to see in his 'honor's time.
There was the salted salmon, a luxury unknown even in London. There was the slink-veal, flanked with tripe; and, finally, there were lobsters and fried turbot enough to justify what the author of the tale asserts, 'suo periculo,' that when his great grandfather, the Dean of Killala, hired servants at the deanery, they stipulated that they should not be required to eat turbot or lobster more than twice a-week.
There were also bottles of Wicklow ale, long and surreptitiously borrowed from his 'honor's' cellar, and which now made their first appearance on the kitchen hearth, and manifested their impatience of further constraint, by hissing, spitting, and bouncing in the face of the fire that provoked its animosity.
But the whiskey genuine illegitimate potsheen, smelling strongly of weed and smoke, and breathing defiance to excisemen appeared, the 'veritable Amphitryon' of the feast; every one praised, and drank as deeply as he praised. John, as he looked round the circle, and thought of his dying uncle, was forcibly reminded of the scene at Don Quixote's departure, where, in spite of the grief caused by the dissolution of the worthy knight, we are informed that 'nevertheless the niece eat her victuals, the housekeeper drank to the repose of his soul, and even Sancho cherished his little carcase.
At these words the Sybil who sat in the chimney corner slowly drew her pipe from her mouth, and turned towards the party: The oracular movements of a Pythoness on her tripod never excited more awe, or impressed for the moment a deeper silence. At this moment of involuntary awe on the part of John, and of terrified silence on that of the rest, an unusual sound was heard in the house, and the whole company started as if a musket had been discharged among them:—it was the unwonted sound of old Melmoth's bell. His domestics were so few, and so constantly near him, that the sound of his bell startled them as much as if he had been ringing the knell for his own interment.
The sound of the bell produced its full effect. These hags all surrounded the bed; and to witness their loud, wild, and desperate grief, their cries of 'Oh! Four of them wrung their hands and howled round the bed, while one, with all the adroitness of a Mrs. Quickly, felt his honor's feet, and 'upward and upward,' and 'all was cold as any stone.
Old Melmoth withdrew his feet from the grasp of the hag,—counted with his keen eye keen amid the approaching dimness of death the number assembled round his bed,—raised himself on his sharp elbow, and pushing away the housekeeper, who attempted to settle his nightcap, that had been shoved on one side in the struggle, and gave his haggard, dying face, a kind of grotesque fierceness , bellowed out in tones that made the company start,—'What the devil brought ye all here? How many years have you lived in this house?
Oh that I was up,' he added, rolling in impatient agony in his bed, 'Oh that I was up, to see the waste and ruin that is going on. But it would kill me,' he continued, sinking back on the bolster, for he never allowed himself a pillow; 'it would kill me,—the very thought of it is killing me now. Won't one of ye stay and listen while there's a prayer read for me? Ye may want it one day for yourselves, ye hags. The eyes of the dying man sparkled with vexation at the proposal.
Read the prayers yourself, you old ———; that will save something. She read with great solemnity,—it was a pity that two interruptions occurred during the performance, one from old Melmoth, who, shortly after the commencement of the prayers, turned towards the old housekeeper, and said, in a tone scandalously audible, 'Go down and draw the niggers of the kitchen fire closer, and lock the door, and let me hear it locked. I can't mind any thing till that's done.
He saw himself, too, surrounded by heartless and rapacious menials; and slight as must have been his dependence on a relative whom he had always treated as a stranger, he felt at this hour he was no stranger, and grasped at his support like a straw amid his wreck. John, who was a lad of feeling, rose from his knees in some degree of agitation. They, and his haggard eye wandered round the groupe , they would poison me.
I always told them there was nothing there, but they did not believe me, or I should not have been robbed as I have been. At one time I said it was whiskey, and then I fared worse than ever, for they drank twice as much of it. John took the key from his uncle's hand; the dying man pressed it as he did so, and John, interpreting this as a mark of kindness, returned the pressure. He was undeceived by the whisper that followed,—'John, my lad, don't drink any of that wine while you are there.
He had some difficulty in finding out the wine, and indeed staid long enough to justify his uncle's suspicions,—but his mind was agitated, and his hand unsteady. He could not but remark his uncle's extraordinary look, that had the ghastliness of fear superadded to that of death, as he gave him permission to enter his closet. He could not but see the looks of horror which the women exchanged as he approached it.
And, finally, when he was in it, his memory was malicious enough to suggest some faint traces of a story, too horrible for imagination, connected with it. He remembered in one moment most distinctly, that no one but his uncle had ever been known to enter it for many years. Before he quitted it, he held up the dim light, and looked around him with a mixture of terror and curiosity. There was a great deal of decayed and useless lumber, such as might be supposed to be heaped up to rot in a miser's closet; but John's eyes were in a moment, and as if by magic, rivetted on a portrait that hung on the wall, and appeared, even to his untaught eye, far superior to the tribe of family pictures that are left to moulder on the walls of a family mansion.
It represented a man of middle age.
There was nothing remarkable in the costume, or in the countenance, but the eyes, John felt, were such as one feels they wish they had never seen, and feels they can never forget. Had he been acquainted with the poetry of Southey, he might have often exclaimed in his after-life,. From an impulse equally resistless and painful, he approached the portrait, held the candle towards it, and could distinguish the words on the border of the painting,—Jno. Melmoth, anno John was neither timid by nature, or nervous by constitution, or superstitious from habit, yet he continued to gaze in stupid horror on this singular picture, till, aroused by his uncle's cough, he hurried into his room.
The old man swallowed the wine. He appeared a little revived; it was long since he had tasted such a cordial,—his heart appeared to expand to a momentary confidence. That man,' and he extended his meagre arm toward the closet, as if he was pointing to a living being; 'that man, I have good reason to know, is alive still. The house was now perfectly silent, and John had time and space for reflection. More thoughts came crowding on him than he wished to welcome, but they would not be repulsed.
He thought of his uncle's habits and character, turned the matter over and over again in his mind, and he said to himself, 'The last man on earth to be superstitious. He never thought of any thing but the price of stocks, and the rate of exchange, and my college expences, that hung heavier at his heart than all; and such a man to die of a fright,—a ridiculous fright, that a man living years ago is alive still, and yet—he is dying. I heard it in the kitchen, I have heard it from himself,—he could not be deceived. If I had ever heard he was nervous, or fanciful, or superstitious, but a character so contrary to all these impressions;—a man that, as poor Butler says, in his Remains, of the Antiquarian, would have 'sold Christ over again for the numerical piece of silver which Judas got for him,'—such a man to die of fear!
Yet he is dying,' said John, glancing his fearful eye on the contracted nostril, the glazed eye, the dropping jaw, the whole horrible apparatus of the facies Hippocratica displayed, and soon to cease its display. Old Melmoth at this moment seemed to be in a deep stupor; his eyes lost that little expression they had before, and his hands, that had convulsively been catching at the blankets, let go their short and quivering grasp, and lay extended on the bed like the claws of some bird that had died of hunger,—so meagre, so yellow, so spread.
John, unaccustomed to the sight of death, believed this to be only a sign that he was going to sleep; and, urged by an impulse for which he did not attempt to account to himself, caught up the miserable light, and once more ventured into the forbidden room,—the blue chamber of the dwelling. The motion roused the dying man;—he sat bolt upright in his bed. This John could not see, for he was now in the closet; but he heard the groan, or rather the choaked and guggling rattle of the throat, that announces the horrible conflict between muscular and mental convulsion.
He started, turned away; but, as he turned away, he thought he saw the eyes of the portrait, on which his own was fixed, move, and hurried back to his uncle's bedside. Old Melmoth died in the course of that night, and died as he had lived, in a kind of avaricious delirium. John could not have imagined a scene so horrible as his last hours presented.
He cursed and blasphemed about three half-pence, missing, as he said, some weeks before, in an account of change with his groom, about hay to a starving horse that he kept. Then he grasped John's hand, and asked him to give him the sacrament. They say I am rich,—look at this blanket;—but I would not mind that, if I could save my soul. I never troubled a clergyman before, and all I want is, that you will grant me two trifling requests, very little matters in your way,—save my soul, and whispering make interest to get me a parish coffin,—I have not enough left to bury me. I always told every one I was poor, but the more I told them so, the less they believed me.
John, greatly shocked, retired from the bed-side, and sat down in a distant corner of the room. The women were again in the room, which was very dark. Melmoth was silent from exhaustion, and there was a death-like pause for some time. At this moment John saw the door open, and a figure appear at it, who looked round the room, and then quietly and deliberately retired, but not before John had discovered in his face the living original of the portrait.
His first impulse was to utter an exclamation of terror, but his breath felt stopped. He was then rising to pursue the figure, but a moment's reflection checked him. What could be more absurd, than to be alarmed or amazed at a resemblance between a living man and the portrait of a dead one! The likeness was doubtless strong enough to strike him even in that darkened room, but it was doubtless only a likeness; and though it might be imposing enough to terrify an old man of gloomy and retired habits, and with a broken constitution, John resolved it should not produce the same effect on him.
But while he was applauding himself for this resolution, the door opened, and the figure appeared at it, beckoning and nodding to him, with a familiarity somewhat terrifying. John now started up, determined to pursue it; but the pursuit was stopped by the weak but shrill cries of his uncle, who was struggling at once with the agonies of death and his housekeeper.
The poor woman, anxious for her master's reputation and her own, was trying to put on him a clean shirt and nightcap, and Melmoth, who had just sensation enough to perceive they were taking something from him, continued exclaiming feebly, 'They are robbing me,—robbing me in my last moments,—robbing a dying man. John, won't you assist me,—I shall die a beggar; they are taking my last shirt,—I shall die a beggar.
A few days after the funeral, the will was opened before proper witnesses, and John was found to be left sole heir to his uncle's property, which, though originally moderate, had, by his grasping habits, and parsimonious life, become very considerable. As the attorney who read the will concluded, he added, 'There are some words here, at the corner of the parchment, which do not appear to be part of the will, as they are neither in the form of a codicil, nor is the signature of the testator affixed to them; but, to the best of my belief, they are in the hand-writing of the deceased.
Melmoth, , hanging in my closet. I also enjoin him to search for a manuscript, which I think he will find in the third and lowest left-hand drawer of the mahogany chest standing under that portrait,—it is among some papers of no value, such as manuscript sermons, and pamphlets on the improvement of Ireland, and such stuff; he will distinguish it by its being tied round with a black tape, and the paper being very mouldy and discoloured.
He may read it if he will;—I think he had better not. At all events, I adjure him, if there be any power in the adjuration of a dying man, to burn it. After reading this singular memorandum, the business of the meeting was again resumed; and as old Melmoth's will was very clear and legally worded, all was soon settled, the party dispersed, and John Melmoth was left alone. We should have mentioned, that his guardians appointed by the will for he was not yet of age advised him to return to College, and complete his education as soon as proper; but John urged the expediency of paying the respect due to his uncle's memory, by remaining a decent time in the house after his decease.
This was not his real motive. Curiosity, or something that perhaps deserves a better name, the wild and awful pursuit of an indefinite object, had taken strong hold of his mind. His guardians who were men of respectability and property in the neighbourhood, and in whose eyes John's consequence had risen rapidly since the reading of the will , pressed him to accept of a temporary residence in their respective houses, till his return to Dublin.
This was declined gratefully, but steadily. They called for their horses, shook hands with the heir, and rode off—Melmoth was left alone. The remainder of the day was passed in gloomy and anxious deliberation,—in traversing his late uncle's room,—approaching the door of the closet, and then retreating from it,—in watching the clouds, and listening to the wind, as if the gloom of the one, or the murmurs of the other, relieved instead of increasing the weight that pressed on his mind. Finally, towards evening, he summoned the old woman, from whom he expected something like an explanation of the extraordinary circumstances he had witnessed since his arrival at his uncle's.
The old woman, proud of the summons, readily attended, but she had very little to tell,—her communication was nearly in the following words: We spare the reader her endless circumlocutions, her Irishcisms, and the frequent interruptions arising from her applications to her snuff-box, and to the glass of whiskey punch with which Melmoth took care to have her supplied.
And further she could not tell. His honor young Melmoth knew as much as she,—he had witnessed his last illness, had heard his last words, he saw him die,—how could she know more than his honor. When he did, the answer was plain and decisive, 'No, never, never.
When his honor sat in the kitchen in winter, to save a fire in his own room, he could never bear the talk of the old women that came in to light their pipes betimes, from time to time. He used to shew such impatience of their superstitious nonsense, that they were fain to smoke them in silence, without the consolatory accompaniment of one whisper about a child that the evil eye had looked on, or another, that though apparently a mewling, peevish, crippled brat all day, went regularly out at night to dance with the good people on the top of a neighbouring mountain, summoned thereto by the sound of a bag-pipe, which was unfailingly heard at the cabin door every night.
If his uncle was not superstitious, might he not have been guilty, and might not his strange and sudden death, and even the terrible visitation that preceded it, have been owing to some wrong that his rapacity had done the widow and the fatherless. He questioned the old woman indirectly and cautiously on the subject,—her answer completely justified the deceased. He would have starved all the world, but he would not have wronged it of a farthing.
Melmoth's last resource was to send for Biddy Brannigan, who was still in the house, and from whom he at least hoped to hear the odd story that the old woman confessed was in the family. She came, and, on her introduction to Melmoth, it was curious to observe the mingled look of servility and command, the result of the habits of her life, which was alternately one of abject mendicity, and of arrogant but clever imposture.
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When she first appeared, she stood at the door, awed and curtseying in the presence, and muttering sounds which, possibly intended for blessings, had, from the harsh tone and witch-like look of the speaker, every appearance of malediction; but when interrogated on the subject of the story, she rose at once into consequence,—her figure seemed frightfully dilated, like that of Virgil's Alecto, who exchanges in a moment the appearance of a feeble old woman for that of a menacing fury.
When she had finished it, Melmoth remained in astonishment at the state of mind to which the late singular circumstances had reduced him,—at finding himself listening with varying and increasing emotions of interest, curiosity, and terror, to a tale so wild, so improbable, nay, so actually incredible, that he at least blushed for the folly he could not conquer.
The result of these impressions was, a resolution to visit the closet, and examine the manuscript that very night. This resolution he found it impossible to execute immediately, for, on inquiring for lights, the gouvernante confessed the very last had been burnt at his honor's wake; and a bare-footed boy was charged to run for life and death to the neighbouring village for candles; and if you could borry a couple of candlesticks, added the housekeeper.
So the gossoon ran for life and death, and Melmoth, towards the close of the evening, was left alone to meditate. It was an evening apt for meditation, and Melmoth had his fill of it before the messenger returned. The weather was cold and gloomy; heavy clouds betokened a long and dreary continuance of autumnal rains; cloud after cloud came sweeping on like the dark banners of an approaching host, whose march is for desolation.
As Melmoth leaned against the window, whose dismantled frame, and pieced and shattered panes, shook with every gust of wind, his eye encountered nothing but that most cheerless of all prospects, a miser's garden,—walls broken down, grass-grown walks whose grass was not even green, dwarfish, doddered, leafless trees, and a luxuriant crop of nettles and weeds rearing their unlovely heads where there had once been flowers, all waving and bending in capricious and unsightly forms, as the wind sighed over them. It was the verdure of the church-yard, the garden of death.
He turned for relief to the room, but no relief was there,—the wainscotting dark with dirt, and in many places cracked and starting from the walls,—the rusty grate, so long unconscious of a fire, that nothing but a sullen smoke could be coaxed to issue from between its dingy bars,—the crazy chairs, their torn bottoms of rush drooping inwards, and the great leathern seat displaying the stuffing round the worn edges, while the nails, though they kept their places, had failed to keep the covering they once fastened,—the chimney-piece, which, tarnished more by time than by smoke, displayed for its garniture half a pair of snuffers, a tattered almanack of , a time-keeper dumb for want of repair, and a rusty fowling-piece without a lock.
He recapitulated the Sybil's story word by word, with the air of a man who is cross-examining an evidence, and trying to make him contradict himself. The elder brother of this man was one who had travelled abroad, and resided so long on the Continent, that his family had lost all recollection of him. Their memory was not stimulated by their affection, for there were strange reports concerning the traveller. He was said to be like the 'damned magician, great Glendower,' 'a gentleman profited in strange concealments.
It must be remembered, that at this period, and even to a later, the belief in astrology and witchcraft was very general. Even so late as the reign of Charles II. Dryden calculated the nativity of his son Charles, the ridiculous books of Glanville were in general circulation, and Delrio and Wierus were so popular, that even a dramatic writer Shadwell quoted copiously from them, in the notes subjoined to his curious comedy of the Lancashire witches. It was said, that during the life-time of Melmoth, the traveller paid him a visit; and though he must have then been considerably advanced in life, to the astonishment of his family, he did not betray the slightest trace of being a year older than when they last beheld him.
His visit was short, he said nothing of the past or the future, nor did his family question him.
It was said that they did not feel themselves perfectly at ease in his presence. On his departure he left them his picture, the same which Melmoth saw in the closet, bearing date , and they saw him no more. Some years after, a person arrived from England, directed to Melmoth's house, in pursuit of the traveller, and exhibiting the most marvellous and unappeasable solicitude to obtain some intelligence of him. The family could give him none, and after some days of restless inquiry and agitation, he departed, leaving behind him, either through negligence or intention, a manuscript, containing an extraordinary account of the circumstances under which he had met John Melmoth the Traveller as he was called.
The manuscript and portrait were both preserved, and of the original a report spread that he was still alive, and had been frequently seen in Ireland even to the present century,—but that he was never known to appear but on the approaching death of one of the family, nor even then, unless when the evil passions or habits of the individual had cast a shade of gloomy and fearful interest over their dying hour.
It was therefore judged no favourable augury for the spiritual destination of the last Melmoth, that this extraordinary person had visited, or been imagined to visit, the house previous to his decease. Such was the account given by Biddy Brannigan, to which she added her own solemnly-attested belief, that John Melmoth the Traveller was still without a hair on his head changed, or a muscle in his frame contracted;—that she had seen those that had seen him, and would confirm their evidence by oath if necessary;—that he was never heard to speak, seen to partake of food, or known to enter any dwelling but that of his family;—and, finally, that she herself believed that his late appearance boded no good either to the living or the dead.
John was still musing on these things when the lights were procured, and, disregarding the pallid countenances and monitory whispers of the attendants, he resolutely entered the closet, shut the door, and proceeded to search for the manuscript. It was soon found, for the directions of old Melmoth were forcibly written, and strongly remembered.
Melmoth the Wanderer - Wikiwand
The manuscript, old, tattered, and discoloured, was taken from the very drawer in which it was mentioned to be laid. Melmoth's hands felt as cold as those of his dead uncle, when he drew the blotted pages from their nook. He sat down to read,—there was a dead silence through the house. Melmoth looked wistfully at the candles, snuffed them, and still thought they looked dim, perchance he thought they burned blue, but such thought he kept to himself. Certain it is, he often changed his posture, and would have changed his chair, had there been more than one in the apartment. He sunk for a few moments into a fit of gloomy abstraction, till the sound of the clock striking twelve made him start,—it was the only sound he had heard for some hours, and the sounds produced by inanimate things, while all living beings around are as dead, have at such an hour an effect indescribably awful.
John looked at his manuscript with some reluctance, opened it, paused over the first lines, and as the wind sighed round the desolate apartment, and the rain pattered with a mournful sound against the dismantled window, wished—what did he wish for? The manuscript was discoloured, obliterated, and mutilated beyond any that had ever before exercised the patience of a reader. Michaelis himself, scrutinizing into the pretended autograph of St Mark at Venice, never had a harder time of it. The writer, it appeared, was an Englishman of the name of Stanton, who had travelled abroad shortly after the Restoration.
Travelling was not then attended with the facilities which modern improvement has introduced, and scholars and literati, the intelligent, the idle, and the curious, wandered over the Continent for years, like Tom Coryat, though they had the modesty, on their return, to entitle the result of their multiplied observations and labours only 'crudities.