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Publié par Moicani

 


What say of it? what say of CONSCIENCE grim,
That spectre in my path?


Chamberlaine's Pharronida.

 

   

   Let me call myself, for the present, William Wil-
son. The fair page now lying before me need not
be sullied with my real appellation. This has been
already too much an object for the scorn, for the
horror, for the detestation of my race. To the utter-
most regions of the globe have not the indignant
winds bruited its unparalleled infamy? Oh, outcast
of all outcasts most abandoned! To the earth art
thou not forever dead? to its honors, to its flowers,
to its golden aspirations? and a cloud, dense, dismal,
and limitless, does it not hang eternally between thy
hopes and heaven?

   I would not, if I could, here or to-day, embody a
record of my later years of unspeakable misery, and
unpardonable crime. This epoch -- these later years --
took unto themselves a sudden elevation in turpitude,
whose origin alone it is my present purpose to assign.
Men usually grow base by degrees. From me, in an
instant, all virtue dropped bodily as a mantle. I
shrouded my nakedness in triple guilt. From com-
paratively trivial wickedness I passed, with the stride
of a giant, into more than the enormities of an Elah-
Gabalus. What chance, what one event brought this
evil thing to pass, bear with me while I relate. Death
approaches; and the shadow which foreruns him has
thrown a softening influence over my spirit. I long,
in passing through the dim valley, for the sympathy --
I had nearly said for the pity -- of my fellow-men. I
would fain have them believe that I have been, in
some measure, the slave of circumstances beyond
human control. I would wish them to seek out for
me, in the details I am about to give, some little oasis
of fatality amid a wilderness of error. I would have
them allow -- what they cannot refrain from allow-
ing -- that, although temptation may have erewhile
existed as great, man was never thus, at least, tempted
before -- certainly, never thus fell. And therefore
has he never thus suffered. Have I not indeed been
living in a dream? And am I not now dying a victim
to the horror and the mystery of the wildest of all
sublunary visions?

 

   I am come of a race whose imaginative and easily
excitable temperament has at all times rendered them
remarkable; and, in my earliest infancy, I gave evi-
dence of having fully inherited the family character.
As I advanced in years it was more strongly deve-
loped; becoming, for many reasons, a cause of serious
disquietude to my friends, and of positive injury to
myself. I grew self-willed, addicted to the wildest
caprices, and a prey to the most ungovernable pas-
sions. Weak-minded, and beset with constitutional
infirmities akin to my own, my parents could do but
little to check the evil propensities which distinguished
me. Some feeble and ill-directed efforts resulted in
complete failure on their part, and, of course, in total
triumph on mine. Thenceforward my voice was a
household law; and at an age when few children
have abandoned their leading-strings, I was left to the
guidance of my own will, and became, in all but
name, the master of my own actions.

 

   My earliest recollections of a school-life are con-
nected with a large, rambling, cottage-built, and some-
what decayed building in a misty-looking village of
England, where were a vast number of gigantic and
gnarled trees, and where all the houses were exces-
sively ancient and inordinately tall. In truth, it was
a dream-like and spirit-soothing place, that venerable
old town. At this moment, in fancy, I feel the re-
freshing chilliness of its deeply-shadowed avenues,
inhale the fragrance of its thousand shrubberies, and
thrill anew with undefinable delight, at the deep,
hollow note of the church-bell, breaking each hour,
with sullen and sudden roar, upon the stillness of the
dusky atmosphere in which the old, fretted, Gothic
steeple lay imbedded and asleep.

   It gives me, perhaps, as much of pleasure as I can
now in any manner experience, to dwell upon minute
recollections of the school and its concerns. Steeped
in misery as I am -- misery, alas! only too real -- I
shall be pardoned for seeking relief, however slight
and temporary, in the weakness of a few rambling
details. These, moreover, utterly trivial, and even
ridiculous in themselves, assume, to my fancy, ad-
ventitious importance as connected with a period and
a locality, when and where I recognise the first am-
biguous monitions of the destiny which afterwards so
fully overshadowed me. Let me then remember.

 

   The house, I have said, was old, irregular, and
cottage-built. The grounds were extensive, and an
enormously high and solid brick wall, topped with a
bed of mortar and broken glass, encompassed the
whole. This prison-like rampart formed the limit of
our domain; beyond it we saw but thrice a week --
once every Saturday afternoon, when, attended by
two ushers, we were permitted to take brief walks
in a body through some of the neighbouring fields --
and twice during Sunday, when we were paraded in
the same formal manner to the morning and evening
service in the one church of the village. Of this
church the principal of our school was pastor. With
how deep a spirit of wonder and perplexity was I
wont to regard him from our remote pew in the
gallery, as, with step solemn and slow, he ascended
the pulpit! This reverend man, with countenance
so demurely benign, with robes so glossy and so
clerically flowing, with wig so minutely powdered,
so rigid and so vast -- could this be he who of late,
with sour visage, and in snuffy habiliments, admin-
istered, ferule in hand, the Draconian laws of the
academy? Oh, gigantic paradox, too utterly mon-
strous for solution!

 

   At an angle of the ponderous wall frowned a more
ponderous gate. It was riveted and studded with
iron bolts, and surmounted with jagged iron spikes.
What impressions of deep awe it inspired! It was
never opened save for the three periodical egressions
and ingressions already mentioned; then, in every
creak of its mighty hinges we found a plenitude of
mystery, a world of matter for solemn remark, or
for more solemn meditation.

   The extensive enclosure was irregular in form,
having many capacious recesses. Of these, three or
four of the largest constituted the play-ground. It
was level, and covered with fine, hard gravel. I well
remember it had no trees, nor benches, nor anything
similar within it. Of course it was in the rear of
the house. In front lay a small parterre, planted
with box and other shrubs; but through this sacred
division we passed only upon rare occasions indeed,
such as a first advent to school or final departure
thence, or perhaps, when a parent or friend having
called for us, we joyfully took our way home for the
Christmas or Midsummer holydays.

   But the house -- how quaint an old building was
this! -- to me how veritably a palace of enchantment!
There was really no end to its windings, to its in-
comprehensible subdivisions. It was impossible, at
any given time, to say with certainty upon which of
its two stories one happened to be. From each room
to every other there were sure to be found three or
four steps either in ascent or descent. Then the
lateral branches were innumerable -- inconceivable
-- and so returning in upon themselves, that our most
exact ideas in regard to the whole mansion were not
very far different from those with which we pondered
upon infinity. During the five years of my residence
here I was never able to ascertain with precision, in
what remote locality lay the little sleeping apartment
assigned to myself and some eighteen or twenty other
scholars.

 

   The school-room was the largest in the house -- I
could not help thinking in the world. It was very
long, narrow, and dismally low, with pointed Gothic
windows and a ceiling of oak. In a remote and
terror-inspiring angle was a square enclosure of eight
or ten feet, comprising the sanctum, "during hours,"
of our principal, the Reverend Dr. Bransby. It was
a solid structure, with massy door, sooner than open
which in the absence of the "Dominie," we would all
have willingly perished by the peine forte et dure.
In other angles were two other similar boxes, far less
reverenced, indeed, but still greatly matters of awe.
One of these was the pulpit of "the classical" usher,
one of the "English and mathematical." Interspersed
about the room, crossing and recrossing in endless
irregularity, were innumerable benches and desks,
black, ancient, and time-worn, piled desperately with
much-bethumbed books, and so beseamed with initial
letters, names at full length, meaningless gashes, gro-
tesque figures, and other multiplied efforts of the
knife, as to have entirely lost what little of original
form might have been their portion in days long
departed. A huge bucket with water stood at one
extremity of the room, and a clock of stupendous
dimensions at the other.

 

   Encompassed by the massy walls of this venerable
academy I passed, yet not in tedium or disgust, the
years of the third lustrum of my life. The teeming
brain of childhood requires no external world of
incident to occupy or amuse it, and the apparently
dismal monotony of a school was replete with more
intense excitement than my riper youth has derived
from luxury, or my full manhood from crime. Yet
I must believe that my first mental development had
in it much of the uncommon, even much of the outré.
Upon mankind at large the events of very early
existence rarely leave in mature age any definite im-
pression. All is gray shadow -- a weak and irregular
remembrance -- an indistinct regathering of feeble
pleasures and phantasmagoric pains. With me this
is not so. In childhood I must have felt with the
energy of a man what I now find stamped upon
memory in lines as vivid, as deep, and as durable as
the exergues of the Carthaginian medals.

   Yet in fact -- in the fact of the world's view --
how little was there to remember! The morning's
awakening, the nightly summons to bed; the con-
nings, the recitations; the periodical half-holidays,
and perambulations; the play-ground, with its broils,
its pastimes, its intrigues -- these, by a mental sorcery
long forgotten, were made to involve a wilderness
of sensation, a world of rich incident, an universe of
varied emotion, of excitement the most passionate
and spirit-stirring. "
Oh, le bon temps, que ce siecle
de fer!
"

 

   In truth, the ardency, the enthusiasm, and the im-
periousness of my disposition, soon rendered me a
marked character among my schoolmates, and by
slow, but natural gradations, gave me an ascendency
over all not greatly older than myself -- over all with
one single exception. This exception was found in
the person of a scholar, who, although no relation,
bore the same Christian and surname as myself -- a
circumstance, in fact, little remarkable, for, notwith-
standing a noble descent, mine was one of those
every-day appellations which seem, by prescriptive
right, to have been, time out of mind, the common
property of the mob. In this narrative I have there-
fore designated myself as William Wilson -- a fictitious
title not very dissimilar to the real. My namesake
alone, of those who in school phraseology constituted
"our set," presumed to compete with me in the studies
of the class, in the sports and broils of the play-ground
-- to refuse implicit belief in my assertions, and sub-
mission to my will -- indeed to interfere with my
arbitrary dictation in any respect whatsoever. If
there be on earth a supreme and unqualified despotism,
it is the despotism of a master mind in boyhood over
the less energetic spirits of its companions.

   Wilson's rebellion was to me a source of the greatest
embarrassment -- the more so as, in spite of the bravado
with which in public I made a point of treating him
and his pretensions, I secretly felt that I feared him,
and could not help thinking the equality which he
maintained so easily with myself, a proof of his true
superiority, since not to be overcome cost me a per-
petual struggle. Yet this superiority -- even this
equality -- was in truth acknowledged by no one but
myself; our associates, by some unaccountable blind-
ness, seemed not even to suspect it. Indeed, his com-
petition, his resistance, and especially his impertinent
and dogged interference with my purposes, were not
more pointed than private. He appeared to be utterly
destitute alike of the ambition which urged, and of
the passionate energy of mind which enabled me to
excel. In his rivalry he might have been supposed
actuated solely by a whimsical desire to thwart,
astonish, or mortify myself; although there were
times when I could not help observing, with a feeling
made up of wonder, abasement, and pique, that he
mingled with his injuries, his insults, or his contradic-
tions, a certain most inappropriate, and assuredly
most unwelcome affectionateness of manner. I could
only conceive this singular behaviour to arise from a
consummate self-conceit assuming the vulgar airs of
patronage and protection.

 

   Perhaps it was this latter trait in Wilson's conduct,
conjoined with our identity of name, and the mere
accident of our having entered the school upon the
same day, which set afloat the notion that we were
brothers, among the senior classes in the academy.
These do not usually inquire with much strictness
into the affairs of their juniors. I have before said,
or should have said, that Wilson was not, in the most
remote degree, connected with my family. But as-
suredly if we had been brothers we must have been
twins, for, after leaving Dr. Bransby's, I casually
learned that my namesake -- a somewhat remarkable
coincidence -- was born on the nineteenth of January,
1809 -- and this is precisely the day of my own
nativity.

 

   It may seem strange that in spite of the continual
anxiety occasioned me by the rivalry of Wilson,
and his intolerable spirit of contradiction, I could
not bring myself to hate him altogether. We had,
to be sure, nearly every day a quarrel, in which,
yielding me publicly the palm of victory, he, in some
manner, contrived to make me feel that it was he
who had deserved it; yet a sense of pride upon my
part, and a veritable dignity upon his own, kept us
always upon what are called "speaking terms,"
while there were many points of strong congeniality
in our tempers, operating to awake in me a sentiment
which our position alone, perhaps, prevented from
ripening into friendship. It is difficult, indeed, to
define, or even to describe, my real feelings towards
him. They were formed of a heterogeneous mixture
-- some petulant animosity, which was not yet hatred,
some esteem, more respect, much fear, with a world
of uneasy curiosity. To the moralist fully acquainted
with the minute spirings of human action, it will be
unnecessary to say, in addition, that Wilson and my-
self were the most inseparable of companions.

   It was no doubt the anomalous state of affairs ex-
isting between us which turned all my attacks upon
him, (and they were many, either open or covert) into
the channel of banter or practical joke (giving pain
while assuming the aspect of mere fun) rather than
into that of a more serious and determined hostility.
But my endeavors on this head were by no means
uniformly successful, even when my plans were the
most wittily concocted; for my namesake had much
about him, in character, of that unassuming and quiet
austerity which, while enjoying the poignancy of its
own jokes, has no heel of Achilles in itself, and ab-
solutely refuses to be laughed at. I could find,
indeed, but one vulnerable point, and that, lying in a
personal peculiarity, arising, perhaps, from constitu-
tional disease, would have been spared by any an-
tagonist less at his wit's end than myself -- my rival
had a weakness in the faucial or guttural organs,
which precluded him from raising his voice at any
time above a very low whisper. Of this defect I did
not fail to take what poor advantage lay in my
power.

 

   Wilson's retaliations in kind were many, and there
was one form of his practical wit that disturbed me
beyond measure. How his sagacity first discovered
at all that so petty a thing would vex me is a ques-
tion I never could solve -- but, having discovered, he
habitually practised the annoyance. I had always
felt aversion to my uncourtly patronymic, and its very
common, if not plebeian praenomen. The words
were venom in my ears; and when, upon the day of
my arrival, a second William Wilson came also to
the academy, I felt angry with him for bearing the
name, and doubly disgusted with the name because
a stranger bore it, who would be the cause of its
twofold repetition, who would be constantly in my
presence, and whose concerns, in the ordinary
routine of the school business, must, inevitably, on
account of the detestable coincidence, be often con-
founded with my own.

 

   The feeling of vexation thus engendered grew
stronger with every circumstance tending to show
resemblance, moral or physical, between my rival
and myself. I had not then discovered the remark-
able fact that we were of the same age; but I saw
that we were of the same height, and I perceived
that we were not altogether unlike in general con-
tour of person and outline of feature. I was galled,
too, by the rumor touching a relationship which had
grown current in the upper forms. In a word,
nothing could more seriously disturb me, (although
I scrupulously concealed such disturbance,) than any
allusion to a similarity of mind, person, or condition
existing between us. But, in truth, I had no reason
to believe that (with the exception of the matter of
relationship, and in the case of Wilson himself), this
similarity had ever been made a subject of comment,
or even observed at all by our schoolfellows. That
he observed it in all its bearings, and as fixedly as I,
was apparent, but that he could discover in such cir-
cumstances so fruitful a field of annoyance for my-
self can only be attributed, as I said before, to his
more than ordinary penetration.

   His cue, which was to perfect an imitation of
myself, lay both in words and in actions; and most
admirably did he play his part. My dress it was an
easy matter to copy; my gait and general manner,
were, without difficulty, appropriated; in spite of his
constitutional defect, even my voice did not escape
him. My louder tones were, of course, unattempted,
but then the key, it was identical;
and his singular
whisper, it grew the very echo of my own
.

 

   How greatly this most exquisite portraiture harassed
me, (for it could not justly be termed a caricature,)
I will not now venture to describe. I had but one
consolation -- in the fact that the imitation, ap-
parently, was noticed by myself alone, and that I
had to endure only the knowing and strangely sar-
castic smiles of my namesake himself. Satisfied
with having produced in my bosom the intended
effect, he seemed to chuckle in secret over the sting
he had inflicted, and was characteristically disre-
gardful of the public applause which the success of
his witty endeavors might have so easily elicited.
That the school, indeed, did not feel his design,
perceive its accomplishment, and participate in his
sneer, was, for many anxious months, a riddle I
could not resolve. Perhaps the gradation of his
copy rendered it not so readily perceptible, or, more
possibly, I owed my security to the masterly air of
the copyist, who, disdaining the letter, which in a
painting is all the obtuse can see, gave but the full
spirit of his original for my individual contemplation
and chagrin.

   I have already more than once spoken of the dis-
gusting air of patronage which he assumed towards
me, and of his frequent officious interference with
my will. This interference often took the ungracious
character of advice; advice not openly given, but
hinted or insinuated. I received it with a repug-
nance which gained strength as I grew in years.
Yet, at this distant day, let me do him the simple
justice to acknowledge that I can recall no occasion
when the suggestions of my rival were on the side of
those errors or follies so usual to his immature age,
and seeming inexperience; that his moral sense, at
least, if not his general talents and worldly wisdom,
was far keener than my own; and that I might, to-
day, have been a better, and thus a happier man,
had I more seldom rejected the counsels embodied
in those meaning whispers which I then but too
cordially hated, and too bitterly derided.

 

   As it was, I at length grew restive in the extreme,
under his distasteful supervision, and daily resented
more and more openly what I considered his in-
tolerable arrogance. I have said that, in the first
years of our connexion as schoolmates, my feelings
in regard to him might have been easily ripened
into friendship; but, in the latter months of my
residence at the academy, although the intrusion of
his ordinary manner had, beyond doubt, in some
measure, abated, my sentiments, in nearly similar
proportion, partook very much of positive hatred.
Upon one occasion he saw this, I think, and after-
wards avoided, or made a show of avoiding me.

   It was about the same period, if I remember aright,
that, in an altercation of violence with him, in which
he was more than usually thrown off his guard, and
spoke and acted with an openness of demeanor
rather foreign to his nature, I discovered, or fancied
I discovered, in his accent, his air, and general ap-
pearance, a something which first startled, and then
deeply interested me, by bringing to mind dim visions
of my earliest infancy -- wild, confused and throng-
ing memories of a time when memory herself was
yet unborn. I cannot better describe the sensation
which oppressed me than by saying that I could
with difficulty shake off the belief that myself and
the being who stood before me had been acquainted
at some epoch very long ago; some point of the past
even infinitely remote. The delusion, however, faded
rapidly as it came; and I mention it at all but to
define the day of the last conversation I there held
with my singular namesake.

 

   The huge old house, with its countless subdivisions,
had several enormously large chambers communica-
ting with each other, where slept the greater number
of the students. There were, however, as must
necessarily happen in a building so awkwardly
planned, many little nooks or recesses, the odds and
ends of the structure; and these the economic in-
genuity of Dr. Bransby had also fitted up as dormi-
tories -- although, being the merest closets, they
were capable of accommodating only a single indi-
vidual. One of these small apartments was occupied
by Wilson.

   It was upon a gloomy and tempestuous night of
an early autumn, about the close of my fifth year at
the school, and immediately after the altercation just
mentioned, that, finding every one wrapped in sleep,
I arose from bed, and, lamp in hand, stole through a
wilderness of narrow passages from my own bed-
room to that of my rival. I had been long plotting
one of those ill-natured pieces of practical wit at his
expense in which I had hitherto been so uniformly
unsuccessful. It was my intention, now, to put my
scheme in operation, and I resolved to make him feel
the whole extent of the malice with which I was
imbued. Having reached his closet, I noiselessly
entered, leaving the lamp, with a shade over it, on the
outside. I advanced a step, and listened to the sound
of his tranquil breathing. Assured of his being asleep,
I returned, took the light, and with it again approach-
ed the bed. Close curtains were around it, which,
in the prosecution of my plan, I slowly and quietly
withdrew, when the bright rays fell vividly upon the
sleeper, and my eyes, at the same moment, upon his
countenance. I looked, and a numbness, an iciness
of feeling instantly pervaded my frame. My breast
heaved, my knees tottered, my whole spirit became
possessed with an objectless yet intolerable horror.
Gasping for breath, I lowered the lamp in still nearer
proximity to the face. Were these -- these the linea-
ments of William Wilson? I saw, indeed, that they
were his, but I shook as with a fit of the ague in
fancying they were not. What was there about them
to confound me in this manner? I gazed -- while my
brain reeled with a multitude of incoherent thoughts.


Not thus he appeared -- assuredly not thus -- in the
vivacity of his waking hours. The same name; the
same contour of person; the same day of arrival at
the academy! And then his dogged and meaningless
imitation of my gait, my voice, my habits, and my
manner! Was it, in truth, within the bounds of
human possibility that what I now witnessed was the
result of the habitual practice of this sarcastic imita-
tion? Awe-stricken, and with a creeping shudder, I
extinguished the lamp, passed silently from the cham-
ber, and left, at once, the halls of that old academy,
never to enter them again.

 

   After a lapse of some months, spent at home in
mere idleness, I found myself a student at Eton. The
brief interval had been sufficient to enfeeble my re-
membrance of the events at Dr. Bransby's, or at least
to effect a material change in the nature of the feel-
ings with which I remembered them. The truth --
the tragedy -- of the drama was no more. I could
now find room to doubt the evidence of my senses:
and seldom called up the subject at all but with
wonder at the extent of human credulity, and a smile
at the vivid force of the imagination which I heredi-
tarily possessed. Neither was this species of scep-
ticism likely to be diminished by the character of the
life I led at Eton. The vortex of thoughtless folly
into which I there so immediately and so recklessly
plunged, washed away all but the froth of my past
hours -- engulfed at once every solid or serious im-
pression, and left to memory only the veriest levities
of a former existence.

   I do not wish, however, to trace the course of my
miserable profligacy here -- a profligacy which set at
defiance the laws, while it eluded the vigilance of
the institution. Three years of folly, passed without
profit, had but given me rooted habits of vice, and
added, in a somewhat unusual degree, to my bodily
stature, when, after a week of soulless dissipation, I
invited a small party of the most dissolute students to
a secret carousal in my chamber. We met at a late
hour of the night, for our debaucheries were to be
faithfully protracted until morning. The wine flowed
freely, and there were not wanting other, perhaps
more dangerous, seductions; so that the gray dawn
had already faintly appeared in the east, while our
delirious extravagance was at its height. Madly
flushed with cards and intoxication, I was in the act
of insisting upon a toast of more than intolerable
profanity, when my attention was suddenly diverted
by the violent, although partial unclosing of the door
of the apartment, and by the eager voice from with-
out of a servant. He said that some person, ap-
parently in great haste, demanded to speak with me
in the hall.

   Wildly excited with the potent Vin de Barac, the
unexpected interruption rather delighted than sur-
prised me. I staggered forward at once, and a few
steps brought me to the vestibule of the building. In
this low and small room there hung no lamp; and
now no light at all was admitted, save that of the
exceedingly feeble dawn which made its way through
a semicircular window. As I put my foot over the
threshold I became aware of the figure of a youth
about my own height, and (what then peculiarly
struck my mad fancy) habited in a white cassimere
morning frock, cut in the novel fashion of the one I
myself wore at the moment. This the faint light
enabled me to perceive -- but the features of his face
I could not distinguish. Immediately upon my en-
tering he strode hurriedly up to me, and, seizing me
by the arm with a gesture of petulant impatience,
whispered the words "William Wilson!" in my ear.
I grew perfectly sober in an instant.

 

   There was that in the manner of the stranger, and
in the tremulous shake of his uplifted finger, as he
held it between my eyes and the light, which filled
me with unqualified amazement -- but it was not this
which had so violently moved me. It was the preg-
nancy of solemn admonition in the singular, low,
hissing utterance; and, above all, it was the character,
the tone, the key, of those few, simple, and familiar,
yet whispered, syllables, which came with a thousand
thronging memories of by-gone days, and struck upon
my soul with the shock of a galvanic battery. Ere
I could recover the use of my senses he was gone.

   Although this event failed not of a vivid effect
upon my disordered imagination, yet was it evanes-
cent as vivid. For some weeks, indeed, I busied
myself in earnest inquiry, or was wrapped in a
cloud of morbid speculation. I did not pretend to
disguise from my perception the identity of the
singular individual who thus perseveringly interfered
with my affairs, and harassed me with his insinuated
counsel. But who and what was this Wilson? --
and whence came he? -- and what were his pur-
poses? Upon neither of these points could I be
satisfied -- merely ascertaining, in regard to him,
that a sudden accident in his family had caused his
removal from Dr. Bransby's academy on the after-
noon of the day in which I myself had eloped. But
in a brief period I ceased to think upon the subject;
my attention being all absorbed in a contemplated
departure for Oxford. Thither I soon went; the
uncalculating vanity of my parents furnishing me
with an outfit, and annual establishment, which
would enable me to indulge at will in the luxury
already so dear to my heart -- to vie in profuseness
of expenditure with the haughtiest heirs of the
wealthiest earldoms in Great Britain.

 

   Excited by such appliances to vice, my constitu-
tional temperament broke forth with redoubled ardor,
and I spurned even the common restraints of decency
in the mad infatuation of my revels. But it were
absurd to pause in the detail of my extravagance.
Let it suffice, that among spendthrifts I out-heroded
Herod, and that, giving name to a multitude of novel
follies, I added no brief appendix to the long cata-
logue of vices then usual in the most dissolute uni-
versity of Europe.

   It could hardly be credited, however, that I had,
even here, so utterly fallen from the gentlemanly
estate as to seek acquaintance with the vilest arts of
the gambler by profession, and, having become an
adept in his despicable science, to practise it habitu-
ally as a means of increasing my already enormous
income at the expense of the weak-minded among
my fellow-collegians. Such, nevertheless, was the
fact. And the very enormity of this offence against
all manly and honourable sentiment proved, beyond
doubt, the main, if not the sole reason of the impunity
with which it was committed. Who, indeed, among
my most abandoned associates, would not rather
have disputed the clearest evidence of his senses,
than have suspected of such courses the gay, the
frank, the generous William Wilson -- the noblest
and most liberal commoner at Oxford -- him whose
follies (said his parasites) were but the follies of
youth and unbridled fancy -- whose errors but in-
imitable whim -- whose darkest vice but a careless
and dashing extravagance?

 

   I had been now two years successfully busied in
this way, when there came to the university a
young parvenu nobleman, Glendinning -- rich, said
report, as Herodes Atticus -- his riches, too, as easily
acquired. I soon found him of weak intellect, and,
of course, marked him as a fitting subject for my
skill. I frequently engaged him in play, and con-
trived, with a gambler's usual art, to let him win
considerable sums, the more effectually to entangle
him in my snares. At length, my schemes being
ripe, I met him (with the full intention that this meet-
ing should be final and decisive) at the chambers of
a fellow-commoner, (Mr. Preston,) equally intimate
with both, but who, to do him justice, entertained
not even a remote suspicion of my design. To give
to this a better coloring, I had contrived to have
assembled a party of some eight or ten, and was
solicitously careful that the introduction of cards
should appear accidental, and originate in the pro-
posal of my contemplated dupe himself. To be brief
upon a vile topic, none of the low finesse was omitted,
so customary upon similar occasions that it is a just
matter for wonder how any are still found so besotted
as to fall its victim.

 

   We had protracted our sitting far into the night,
and I had at length effected the manoeuvre of getting
Glendinning as my sole antagonist. The game, too,
was my favorite écarté. The rest of the company,
interested in the extent of our play, had abandoned
their own cards, and were standing around us as
spectators. The parvenu, who had been induced by
my artifices in the early part of the evening to drink
deeply, now shuffled, dealt, or played, with a wild
nervousness of manner for which his intoxication, I
thought, might partially, but could not altogether
account. In a very short period he had become my
debtor to a large amount of money, when, having
taken a long draught of port, he did precisely what
I had been coolly anticipating, he proposed to double
our already extravagant stakes. With a well-feigned
show of reluctance, and not until after my repeated
refusal had seduced him into some angry words
which gave a color of pique to my compliance, did I
finally comply. The result, of course, did but prove
how entirely the prey was in my toils -- in less than
a single hour he had quadrupled his debt. For some
time his countenance had been losing the florid tinge
lent it by the wine -- but now, to my astonishment,
I perceived that it had grown to a palor truly fear-
ful. I say to my astonishment. Glendinning had
been represented to my eager inquiries as immeasur-
ably wealthy; and the sums which he had as yet
lost, although in themselves vast, could not, I sup-
posed, very seriously annoy, much less so violently
affect him. That he was overcome by the wine just
swallowed, was the idea which most readily presented
itself; and, rather with a view to the preservation of
my own character in the eyes of my associates, than
from any less interested motive, I was about to insist,
peremptorily, upon a discontinuance of the play,
when some expressions at my elbow from among
the company, and an ejaculation evincing utter
despair on the part of Glendinning, gave me to
understand that I had effected his total ruin under
circumstances which, rendering him an object for
the pity of all, should have protected him from the
ill offices even of a fiend.

 

   What now might have been my conduct it is diffi-
cult to say. The pitiable condition of my dupe had
thrown an air of embarrassed gloom over all, and,
for some moments, a profound and unbroken silence
was maintained, during which I could not help feel-
ing my cheeks tingle with the many burning glances
of scorn or reproach cast upon me by the less aban-
doned of the party. I will even own that an in-
tolerable weight of anxiety was for a brief instant
lifted from my bosom by the sudden and extraor-
dinary interruption which ensued. The wide, heavy,
folding doors of the apartment were all at once
thrown open, to their full extent, with a vigorous
and rushing impetuosity that extinguished, as if by
magic, every candle in the room. Their light, in
dying, enabled us just to perceive that a stranger had
entered, of about my own height, and closely muffled
in a cloak. The darkness, however, was now total;
and we could only feel that he was standing in our
midst. Before any one of us could recover from the
extreme astonishment into which this rudeness had
thrown all, we heard the voice of the intruder.

 

   "Gentlemen," he said, in a low, distinct, and never-
to-be-forgotten whisper which thrilled to the very
marrow of my bones, "Gentlemen, I make no apo-
logy for this behaviour, because in thus behaving I
am but fulfilling a duty. You are, beyond doubt,
uninformed of the true character of the person who
has to-night won at écarté a large sum of money from
Lord Glendinning. I will therefore put you upon an
expeditious and decisive plan of obtaining this very
necessary information. Please to examine, at your
leisure, the inner linings of the cuff of his left sleeve,
and the several little packages which may be found
in the somewhat capacious pockets of his embroidered
morning wrapper."

   While he spoke, so profound was the stillness that
one might have heard a pin dropping upon the floor.
In ceasing, he at once departed, and as abruptly as
he had entered. Can I -- shall I describe my sensa-
tions? -- must I say that I felt all the horrors of the
damned? Most assuredly I had little time given for
reflection. Many hands roughly seized me upon the
spot, and lights were immediately reprocured. A
search ensued. In the lining of my sleeve were
found all of the court-cards essential in écarté, and,
in the pockets of my wrapper, a number of packs,
fac-similes of those used at our sittings, with the single
exception that mine were of the species called, tech-
nically, arrondées; the honors being slightly convex
at the ends, the lower cards slightly convex at the
sides. In this disposition, the dupe who cuts, as cus-
tomary, at the breadth of the pack, will invariably
find that he cuts his antagonist an honor; while the
gambler, cutting at the length, will, as certainly, cut
nothing for his victim which may count in the
records of the game.

 

   Any outrageous burst of indignation upon this
shameful discovery would have affected me less than
the silent contempt, or the sarcastic composure with
which it was received.

   "Mr. Wilson," said our host, stooping to remove
from beneath his feet an exceedingly luxurious cloak
of rare furs, "Mr. Wilson, this is your property." (The
weather was cold; and, upon quitting my own room,
I had thrown a cloak over my dressing wrapper,
putting it off upon reaching the scene of play.) "I
presume it is supererogatory to seek here (eyeing the
folds of the garment with a bitter smile), for any
farther evidence of your skill. Indeed we have had
enough. You will see the necessity, I hope, of
quitting Oxford -- at all events, of quitting, instantly,
my chambers."

 

   Abased, humbled to the dust as I then was, it is
probable that I should have resented this galling
language by immediate personal violence, had not
my whole attention been at the moment arrested, by
a fact of the most startling character. The cloak
which I had worn was of a rare description of fur;
how rare, how extravagantly costly, I shall not
venture to say. Its fashion, too, was of my own
fantastic invention; for I was fastidious, to a degree
of absurd coxcombry, in matters of this frivolous
nature. When, therefore, Mr. Preston reached me
that which he had picked up upon the floor, and near
the folding doors of the apartment, it was with an
astonishment nearly bordering upon terror, that I per-
ceived my own already hanging on my arm, (where
I had no doubt unwittingly placed it,) and that the
one presented me was but its exact counterpart in
every, in even the minutest possible particular.
The singular being who had so disastrously exposed
me, had been muffled, I remembered, in a cloak;
and none had been worn at all by any of the mem-
bers of our party with the exception of myself. Re-
taining some presence of mind, I took the one offered
me by Preston, placed it, unnoticed, over my own,
left the apartment with a resolute scowl of defiance,
and, next morning ere dawn of day, commenced a
hurried journey from Oxford to the continent, in a
perfect agony of horror and of shame.

   

   I fled in vain. My evil destiny pursued me as if
in exultation, and proved, indeed, that the exercise
of its mysterious dominion had as yet only begun.
Scarcely had I set foot in Paris ere I had fresh
evidence of the detestable interest taken by this
Wilson in my concerns. Years flew, while I ex-
perienced no relief. Villain! -- at Rome, with how
untimely, yet with how spectral an officiousness,
stepped he in between me and my ambition! At
Vienna, too, at Berlin, and at Moscow! Where, in
truth, had I not bitter cause to curse him within my
heart? From his inscrutable tyranny did I at length
flee, panic-stricken, as from a pestilence; and to the
very ends of the earth I fled in vain.

   And again, and again, in secret communion with
my own spirit, would I demand the questions "Who
is he? -- whence came he? -- and what are his ob-
jects?" But no answer was there found. And now
I scrutinized, with a minute scrutiny, the forms, and
the methods, and the leading traits of his impertinent
supervision. But even here there was very little
upon which to base a conjecture. It was noticeable,
indeed, that, in no one of the multiplied instances in
which he had of late crossed my path, had he so
crossed it except to frustrate those schemes, or to
disturb those actions, which, fully carried out, might
have resulted in bitter mischief. Poor justification
this, in truth, for an authority so imperiously assumed!
Poor indemnity for natural rights of self-agency so
pertinaciously, so insultingly denied!

   I had also been forced to notice that my tormentor
for a very long period of time, (while scrupulously
and with miraculous dexterity maintaining his whim
of an identity of apparel with myself,) had so con-
trived it, in the execution of his varied interference
with my will, that I saw not, at any moment, the
features of his face. Be Wilson what he might, this,
at least, was but the veriest of affectation, or of folly.
Could he, for an instant, have supposed that, in my
admonisher at Eton, in the destroyer of my honor
at Oxford, in him who thwarted my ambition at
Rome, my revenge in Paris, my passionate love at
Naples, or what he falsely termed my avarice in
Egypt, that in this, my arch-enemy and evil genius,
I could fail to recognise the William Wilson of my
schoolboy days, the namesake, the companion, the
rival, the hatred and dreaded rival at Dr. Bransby's?
Impossible! -- But let me hasten to the last eventful
scene of the drama.

 

   Thus far I had succumbed supinely to this im-
perious domination. The sentiments of deep awe
with which I habitually regarded the elevated
character, the majestic wisdom, the apparent omni-
presence and omnipotence of Wilson, added to a
feeling of even terror, with which certain other traits
in his nature and assumptions inspired me, had
operated, hitherto, to impress me with an idea of my
own utter weakness and helplessness, and to suggest
an implicit, although bitterly reluctant submission to
his arbitrary will. But, of late days, I had given
myself up entirely to wine; and its maddening in-
fluence upon my hereditary temper rendered me more
and more impatient of control. I began to murmur, to
hesitate, to resist. And was it only fancy which
induced me to believe that, with the increase of my
own firmness, that of my tormentor underwent a
proportional diminution? Be this as it may, I now
began to feel the inspiration of a burning hope, and
at length nurtured in my secret thoughts a stern and
desperate resolution that I would submit no longer
to be enslaved.

 

   It was at Rome, during the carnival of 18 -- , that
I attended a masquerade in the palazzo of the
Neapolitan Duke Di Broglio. I had indulged more
freely than usual in the excesses of the wine-table;
and now the suffocating atmosphere of the crowded
rooms irritated me beyond endurance. The dif-
ficulty, too, of forcing my way through the mazes of
the company contributed not a little to the ruffling
of my temper; for I was anxiously seeking, let me
not say with what unworthy motive, the young, the
gay, the beautiful wife of the aged and doting Di
Broglio. With a too unscrupulous confidence she
had previously communicated to me the secret of
the costume in which she would be habited, and
now, having caught a glimpse of her person, I was
hurrying to make my way into her presence. At
this moment I felt a light hand placed upon my
shoulder, and that ever-remembered, low, damnable
whisper within my ear.

   In a perfect whirlwind of wrath, I turned at once
upon him who had thus interrupted me, and seized
him violently by the collar. He was attired, as I
had expected, like myself; wearing a large Spanish
cloak, and a mask of black silk which entirely covered
his features.

 

   "Scoundrel!" I said, in a voice husky with rage,
while every syllable I uttered seemed as new fuel to
my fury, "scoundrel! impostor! accursed villain!
you shall not -- you shall not dog me unto death!
Follow me, or I stab you where you stand," and I
broke my way from the room into a small ante-
chamber adjoining, dragging him unresistingly with
me as I went.

   Upon entering, I thrust him furiously from me.
He staggered against the wall, while I closed the
door with an oath, and commanded him to draw. He
hesitated but for an instant, then, with a slight sigh,
drew in silence, and put himself upon his defence.

   The contest was brief indeed. I was frantic with
every species of wild excitement, and felt within my
single arm the energy and the power of a multitude.
In a few seconds I forced him by sheer strength
against the wainscoting, and thus, getting him at
mercy, plunged my sword, with brute ferocity, re-
peatedly through and through his bosom.

   At this instant some person tried the latch of the
door. I hastened to prevent an intrusion, and then
immediately returned to my dying antagonist. But
what human language can adequately portray that
astonishment, that horror which possessed me at the
spectacle then presented to view. The brief moment
in which I averted my eyes had been sufficient to
produce, apparently, a material change in the ar-
angements at the upper or farther end of the room.
A large mirror, it appeared to me, now stood where
none had been perceptible before; and, as I stepped
up to it in extremity of terror, mine own image, but
with features all pale and dabbled in blood, advanced,
with a feeble and tottering gait, to meet me.

 

   Thus it appeared, I say, but was not. It was my
antagonist -- it was Wilson, who then stood before
me in the agonies of his dissolution. Not a line in
all the marked and singular lineaments of that face
which was not, even identically, mine own! His
mask and cloak lay where he had thrown them,
upon the floor.

   It was Wilson, but he spoke no longer in a whisper,
and I could have fancied that I myself was speaking
while he said --

   "You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, hence-
forward art thou also dead -- dead to the world and
its hopes. In me didst thou exist -- and, in my death,
see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou
hast murdered thyself
."



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