Text: Robert A. Stewart (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Notes to Loss of Breath,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. II: Tales - part 01 (1902), pp. 356-367


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[page 356:]

LOSS OF BREATH.

SOUTHERN LITERARY MESSENGER, SEPTEMBER, 1835; 1840; BROADWAY JOURNAL II., 26.

The text follows the Broadway Journal, with Poe’s MS. Notes (Mrs. Whitman’s copy).

1840 shows but few variations from the earlier form.

In the Broadway Journal the tale appears in a much shortened and revised form. Especially to be noted is the omission of the long passage recounting the death on the gallows and subsequent burial.

In the Messenger the tale is entitled:

LOSS OF BREATH.

A TALE À LA BLACKWOOD. BY EDGAR A. POE.

O breathe not, &c.

Moore’s Melodies.

Variations of Southern Literary Messenger from the text.

Page 151 l. 5 ; yet (:) l. 6 ; but (:) l. 8 lustrum; (:) l. 13 said (— said) l. 13 wedding, (—) l. 14 whipper-snapper (o. h.) l. 17 here (cap.) page 152 l. 1 , which (o. c.) l. 7 ; but (,) l. 8 bona (bonâ) l. 10 imagine, (o. c.) l. 12 never (never, at any time,) l. 15 Lord . . . “Julie” (Rousseau) l. 36 véritable (o. a.) l. 18 I (I unhesitatingly) l. 19 at . . . conceal (to conceal at all events) l. 20 wife, (o. c.) l. 28 Zéphyr (o, a.) l. 31 alive, (o. c.) l. 32 dead, (o. c.) page 153 l. 6 , upon trial, (o. c.) l. 20 idea of suicide (phantom Suicide) l. 24 while (, while) l. 26 ; each (,) l. 32 footsteps (footstep) page 154 l. 10 , and this (. This,) l. 11 is (, is) l. 13 , it (—) l. 13 remembered, (—) l. 16 ; but (:) l. 22 anything (any thing) l. 25 and (and,) l. 29 Before “But” insert: — It is by logic similar to this that true philosophy is enabled to set misfortune at defiance. page 155 [page 357:] l. 1 Granjean . . . angels (Hewitt’s “Seraphic and Highly-Scented Extract of Heaven or Oil of Archangels”) l. 1 bottle (bottle (I had a remarkably sweet breath),) l. 16 tragedy (tragedies) l. 16 “Metamora” (. . . , and . . .) l. 17-1 8 this drama (these dramas) l. 19 the hero (their heroes) l. 23-24 well frequented (well-frequented) l. 24 marsh; — (—) l. 32 tragedy — (tragedies,) page 156 l. 6 sure, (o. c.) l. 7 but, (o. c.) l. 12 , among (o. c.) l. 12 acquaintances, (o. c.) l. 14 in that city (o.) l. 15 ; but (—) l. 24 to (to the) l. 24-25 the bull of Phalaris (a Phalarian bull) l. 28 , however (o. c.) l. 30 and (and,) l. 33 and (, and) page 157 l. 3 living (living bonâ fide) l. 4 ; here (—) l. 5 demonstrating (evidencing) l. 7 Hereupon (Thereupon) l. 8 , believed (o. c.) l. 13 a (their) l. 16 , accordingly, (o. c.) l. 30 ten (five and twenty) l. 32-33 cut off my ears, however, (, however, cut off my ears) page 158 l. 1 case (case, however,) l. 12 galvanic battery (caps.) l. 15 , I (o. c.) l. 18 in abeyance (ital.) l. 22 pathology (cap.) l. 25 farther (further) l. 29 pocket handkerchief (pocket-handkerchief) page 159 l. 1-2 the . . . Deity” (the —) l. 7 to (to unseemly and) l. 16 bandage, — (.) l. 17 and, (o. c.) l. 19 , very (—) l. 19 dexterously, (—)1. 20 robber, (o. c.) l. 23-24 long continued (long-continued) l. 26 one (a dress) l. 30 , who (o. c.) page 160 l. 1 , he (o. c.) l. 2 recruits, (o. c). l. 7-8 the rascal . . . escape, (“the rascal . . . escape,”) l. 7 rascal (rascal,) l. 8 themselves, (o. c.) After par. II. insert: — My convulsions were said to be extraordinary. Several gentlemen swooned, and some kdies were carried home in hysterics. Pinxit, too, availed himself of the opportunity to retouch, from a sketch taken on the spot, his admirable painting of the “Marsyas flayed alive.” l. 19 forbear (will endeavor) l. 19-22 gallows; . . . , to write (gallows. To write) l. 25 composed (wrote) l. 25 getting drunk (drunkenness) After 25 insert: —

Die I certainly did not. The sudden jerk given to my neck upon the falling of the drop, merely proved a corrective [page 358:] to the unfortunate twist afforded me by the gentlemen in the coach. Although my body certainly was, I had, alas! no breath to be suspended; and but for the

shaking [chafing, 1840] of the rope, the pressure of the knot under my ear, and the rapid determination of blood to the brain, should, I dare say, have experienced very little inconvenience.

The latter feeling, however, grew momentarily more painful. I heard my heart beating with violence — the veins in my hands and wrists swelled nearly to bursting — my temples throbbed tempestuously — and I felt that my eyes were starting from their sockets. Yet when I say that in spite of all this my sensations were not absolutely intolerable, I will not be believed.

There were noises in my ears, first like the tolling of huge bells — then like the beating of a thousand drums — then, lastly, like the low, sullen murmurs of the sea. But these noises were very far from disagreeable.

Although, too, the powers of my mind were confused and distorted, yet I was — strange to say! — well aware of such confusion and distortion. I could, with unerring promptitude determine at will in what particulars my sensations were correct — and in what particulars I wandered from the path. I could even feel with accuracy how farto what very point, such wanderings had misguided me, but still without the power of correcting my deviations. I took besides, at the same time, a wild delight in analyzing my conceptions.

(Note at bottom of page.)

[The general reader will I dare say recognize, in these sensations of Mr. Lack-o’-Breath, much of the absurd metaphysicianism of the redoubted Schelling.]

Memory, which, of all other faculties, should have first taken its departure, seemed on the contrary to have been endowed with quadrupled power. Each incident of my past life flitted before me like a shadow. There was not a brick in the building where I was born — not a dog-leaf in the primer I had thumbed over when a child — [page 359:] not a tree in the forest where I hunted when a boy — not a street in the cities I had traversed when a man — that I did not at that time most palpably behold. I could repeat to myself entire lines, passages, chapters,

books, from the studies of my earliest days; and while, I dare say, the crowd around me were blind with horror, or aghast with awe, I was alternately with Aeschylus, a demi-god, or with Aristophanes, a frog.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A dreamy delight now took hold upon my spirit, and I imagined that I had been eating opium, or feasting upon the Hashish of the old Assassins. But glimpses of pure, unadulterated reason — during which I was still buoyed up by the hope of finally escaping that death which hovered, like a vulture above me — were still caught occasionally by my soul.

By some unusual pressure of the rope against my face, a portion of the cap was chafed away, and I found to my astonishment that my powers of reason were not altogether destroyed. A sea of waving heads rolled around me. In the intensity of my delight I eyed them with feelings of the deepest commiseration, and blessed, as I looked upon the haggard assembly, the superior benignity of my proper stars.

I now reasoned, rapidly I believe — profoundly I am sure — upon principles of common law — propriety of that law especially, for which I hung — absurdities in political economy which till then I had never been able to acknowledge — dogmas in the old Arisitotelians now generally denied, but not the less intrinsically true — detestable school formulae in Bourdon, in Gamier, in Lacroix — synonymes in Crabbe — lunar-lunatic theories in St. Pierre — falsities in the Pelham novels — beauties in Vivian Grey — more than beauties in Vivian Grey — profundity in Vivian Grey — genius in Vivian Grey — every thing in Vivian Grey.

Then came, like a flood, Coleridge, Kant, Fichte, and Pantheism — then like a deluge, the Academie, Pergola, [page 360:] La Scala, San Carlo, Paul, Albert, Noblet, Ronzi Vestris, Fanny Bias, and Taglion.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A rapid change was now taking place in my sensations. The last shadows of connection flitted away from my meditations. A storm — a tempest of ideas, vast, novel, and soul-stirring, bore my spirit like a feather afar off. Confusion crowded upon confusion like a wave upon a wave. In a very short time Schelling himself would have been satisfied with my entire loss of self- identity. The crowd became a mass of mere abstraction.

About this time I became aware of a heavy fall and shock — but, although the concession jarred through my frame, I had not the slightest idea of its having been sustained in my own proper person, and thought of it as an incident peculiar to some other existence — an idiosyncrasy belonging to some other Ens. It was at this moment — as I afterwards discovered — that having been suspended for the full term of execution, it was thought proper to remove my body from the gallows — this the more especially as the real culprit had been retaken and recognized.

Much sympathy was now exercised in my behalf — and as no one in the city appeared to identify my body, it was ordered that I should be interred in the public sepulchre in the following morning. I lay, in the meantime, without signs of life — although from the moment, I suppose, when the rope was loosened from my neck, a dim consciousness of my situation oppressed me like the nightmare.

I was laid out in a chamber sufficiently small, and very much encumbered with furniture — yet to me it appeared of a size to contain the universe. I have never before or since, in body or in mind, suffered half so much agony as from that single idea. Strange! that the simple conception of abstract magnitude — of infinity — should have been accompanied with pain. Yet so it was. “With how vast a difference,’‘ said I, “in life as in [page 361:] death — in time and in eternity — here and hereafter, shall our merest sensations be imbodied!”

The day died away, and I was aware that it was growing dark — yet the same terrible conceit still over-whelmed me. Nor was it confined to the boundaries of the apartment — it extended, although in a more definite manner, to all objects, and, perhaps, I will not be understood in saying that it extended also to all sentiments. My fingers as they lay cold, clammy, stiff, and pressing helplessly one against another, were, in my imagination, swelled to a size according with the proportions of the Antaeus. Every portion of my frame betook of their enormity. The pieces of money — I well remember — which, being placed upon my eyelids, failed to keep them effectually closed, seemed huge, interminable chariot-wheels of the Olympia, or of the Sun.

Yet it is very singular that I experienced no sense of weight — of gravity. On the contrary I was put to much inconvenience by the buoyancy — that tantalizing difficulty of keeping down, which is felt by the swimmer in deep water. Amid the tumult of my terrors I laughed with a hearty internal laugh to think what incongruity there would be — could I arise and walk — between the elasticity of my motion, and the mountain of my form.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The night came — and with it a new crowd of horrors. The consciousness of my approaching interment, began to assume new distinctness, and consistency — yet never for one moment did I imagine that I was actually dead.

“This then “ — I mentally speculated — “ this darkness which is palpable, and oppresses with a sense of suffocation — this — this — is — indeed death. This is death — this is death the terrible — death the holy. This is the death undergone by Regulus — and equally by Seneca. Thus — thus, too, shall I always remain — always — always remain. Reason is folly, and Philosophy a lie. [page 362:] No one will know my sensations, my horror — my despair. Yet will men still persist in reasoning, and philosophizing, and making themselves fools. There is, I find, no hereafter but this. This — this — this — is the only Eternity! — and what, O Baalzebub! — what an Eternity! — to lie in this vast — this awful void — a hideous, vague, and unmeaning anomaly — motionless, yet wishing for motion — powerless, yet longing for power — forever, forever, and forever!”

But the morning broke at length, and with its misty and gloomy dawn arrived in triple horror the paraphernalia of the grave. Then — and not till then — was I fully sensible of the fearful fate hanging over me. The phantasms of the night had faded with its shadows, and the actual terrors of the yawning tomb left me no heart for the bugbear speculations of Transcendentalism.

I have before mentioned that my eyes were but imperfectly closed — yet I could not move them in any degree, those objects alone which crossed the direct line of vision were within the sphere of my comprehension. But across that line of vision spectral and stealthy figures were continually flitting, like the ghosts of Banquo. They were making hurried preparations for my interment. First came the coffin which they placed quietly by my side. Then the undertaker with attendants and a screw-driver. Then a stout man whom I could distinctly see and who took hold of my feet — while one whom I could only feel lifted me by the head and shoulders.

Together they placed me in the coffin, and drawing the shroud up over my face proceeded to fasten down the lid. One of the screws, missing its proper direction, was screwed by the carelessness of the undertaker deep — deep — down into my shoulder. A convulsive shudder ran through-out my frame. With what horror, with what sickening of heart did I reflect that one minute sooner a similar manifestation of life would, in all probability, have prevented my inhumation. But alas! it was now too late, and hope died away within my bosom as I felt myself [page 363:] lifted upon the shoulders of men — carried down the stair-way — and thrust within the hearse.

During the brief passage to the cemetery my sensations, which for sometime had been lethargic and dull, assumed, all at once, a degree of intense and unnatural vivacity for which I can in no manner account. I could distinctly hear the rustling of the plumes — the whispers of the attendants — the solemn breathings of the horses of death. Confused as I was in that narrow and strict embrace, I could feel the quicker or slower movement of the procession — the restlessness of the driver — die windings of the road as it led us to the right or to the left. I could distinguish the peculiar odor of the coffin — the sharp acid smell of the steel screws. I could see the texture of the shroud as it lay close against my face; and was even conscious of the rapid variations in light and shade which the flapping to and fro of the sable hangings occasioned within the body of the vehicle.

In a short time however, we arrived at the place of sculpture [sepulture] , and I felt myself deposited within the tomb. The entrance was secured — they departed — and I was left alone. A line of Marston’s “Malcontent,”

“Death’s a good fellow and keeps open house,”

struck me at that moment as a palpable lie.

Sullenly I lay at length, the quick among the dead — Anacharsis inter Scytbas.

From what I overheard early in the morning, I was led to believe that the occasions when the vault was made use of were of very rare occurrence. It was probable that many months might elapse before the doors of the tomb would be again unbarred — and even should I survive until that period, what means could I have more than at present, of making known my situation or of escaping from the coffin? I resigned myself, therefore, with much tranquility to my fate, and ^11, after many hours, into a deep and deathlike sleep. [page 364:]

How long I remained thus is to me a mystery. When I awoke my limbs were no longer cramped with the cramp of death — I was no longer without the power of motion. A very slight exertion was sufficient to force the lid of my prison — for the dampness of the atmosphere had already occasioned decay in the wood-work around the screws.

My steps as I groped around the sides of my habitation were, however, feeble and uncertain, and I felt all the gnawings of hunger with the pains of intolerable thirst. Yet, as time passed away, it is strange that I experienced little uneasiness from these scourges of the earth, in comparison with the more terrible visitations of the fiend Ennui. Stranger still were the resources by which I endeavored to banish him from my presence.

The sepulchre was large and subdivided into many compartments, and I busied myself in examining the peculiarities of their construction. I determined the length and breadth of my abode. I counted and recounted the stones of the masonry. But there were other methods by which I endeavored to lighten the tedium of my hours. Feeling my way among the numerous coffins ranged in order around, I lifted them down one by one, and breaking open their lids, busied myself in speculations about the mortality within.

Page 161 l. 31 soliloquized (reflected) page 162 l. 6 , and (—) l. 10 poetry (philosophy) l. 11 pirouette (cap.) l. 11 pas (cap.) l. 11 papillon (cap.) l. 12 new par. l. 13 new par. l. 14 Heat (new par.) l. 18 He (new par.) l. 19 , he (—) l. 21 He (new par.) l. 11 fans, (—) l. 22 sails, (—) l. 22 , and (—) l. 24 His (new par.) l. 25 a (o.) l. 27 — said (o. d.) l. 27 here’‘ — (here,” said I — “here) l. 33 fore-finger (o. h.) l. 34 and (and,) l. 33 its (his) l. 34 it (him) page 163 l. 1 it (him,) l. 3 Entitled (s. l. ) l. 5 , has (—) l. 8 lombardy (lombardy —) l. 8-9 “. . .” (‘’) l. 10-11 He . . . Bones’‘ (o.) l. 11-12 pneumatics (cap.) l. 12 , talked (—) l. 12 eternally, (—) l. 13 French-born (o. h.) l. 13 He (new [page 365:] par.) l. 16-17 — his . . . Phiz (o.) Note: — l. 1 , et (o. c.) l. 2 , maxime (—) l. 23 “how (how) l. 27 anything (any thing) l. 27 how (what a) l. 29 — In (p. d.) page 164 l. 1 , who (o. c.) l. 3 — Interruptions (o. d.) l. 6 — I (o. d.) l. 6-7 by-and-by (, by and bye) l. 7 — How (o. d.) l. 10 it, (o. c.) l. 13 — beard (o. d.) l. 13 “. . .” (‘. . .’) l. 18 epilepsis (cap.) l. 26 joy (extravagant joy) l. 28-29 (whom . . . Windenough) (— whom . . . Windenough —) l. 29 neighbor, (o. c.) l. 31 , place, (— place —) l. 31 circumstance (incidental circumstances) page 165 l. 1 lombardy-poplars (o. h.) First l. of par. II. is last l. of par. I. in Southern Literary Messenger, l. 6 which only (which) l. 7 be (be alone) l. 12 , or (—) l. 17 , I (—) l. 18 sigh, (—) l. 19 neighbor, (—) l. 25 W, (W) l. 27 I (— I) l. 28 indignation, (—) l. 28 monster; (!) l. 29 dost (cap.) l. 30 heaven (cap.) l. 32-33 “ ” (‘ ’) l. 33 sure! (sure) page 166 l. 4 not new par. l. 4 , I (o. c.) l. 11 ; for (—) l. 11 which (which —) l. 12 it) (it —) l. 14 , in (o. c.) l. 14 , of (o. c.) l. 17 this (all this) l. 20 I am sorry (, I am sorry,) l. 22 circumstances (n. i.) l. 24 so (n. i.) l. 25 sulphurous (o.) l. 31 sufficiently (efficiently) l. 34 — followed (o. d.) page 167 l. 1 a Democratic (an ultra) l. 10 neither be (be neither) l. 11 Ancient (s. l. ) l. 13 who, (o. c.) l. 16 , when (o. c.) l. 18 , as ( —) l. 19 , advised (—) l. 20 temple (temple to prostekonti Theo —).

Variations of Griswold from text.

Page 151 l. I must, (o. c.) page 152 l. 16 veritable (o. a. ) l. 20 farther (further) l. 24 coquettish (coquetish) l. 26 left (, left) l. 28 [Zéphyr] (o. a) page 154 l. 9 that (, that) l. 10 is (, is) l. 15 ; but (:) l. 27 which (, which) l. 34 , in (o. c.) page 155 l. 29 this (this,) page 156 l. 6 sure, (o. c.) l. 7 but — (,) l. 28 , in (o. c.) l. 32 motionless (motionless,) l. 33 ), (,) ) page 157 l. 7 another (another,) l. 8 ,) (),) l. 17 Crow (Crow,) l. 18 passing (passing,) l. 19 under (, under) page 159 l. 5 à (o. a.) [page 366:] l. 17 and, (o. c.) l. 20 robber, (o. c.) l. 30 , who (o. c.) page 160 l. 1 and, (o. c.) l. 11 but (butt) l. 13 course, (o. c.) l. 27 he (o. c.) l. 28 and, (o. c.) page 161 l. 8-9 toward (towards) l. 11 wonders (wonder) l. 14 course, (o. c.) l. 21 , and (o. c.) l. 28 and, (o. c.) page 163 l. 10 , on (o. c.) (Note) [corrumpitur] (comupitor [Broadway Journal corrupitur]) [fama] (famas) page 164 l. 29 neighbor, (o. c.) page 165 l. 29 whom (, whom) l. 34 , indeed (o. c.) page 166 l. 24 same time (time).

Variations of 1840 from Southern Literary Messenger.

Page 151 l. 5 ; yet (:) l. 6 ; but (:) l. 8 lustrum; (:) l. 17 here (cap.) page 152 l. 1 , which (o. c.) page 154 l. 29 Lack-o’ Breath (Lacko’ Breath [throughout]) page 156 l. 14 in that city (o.) l. 28 , however (o. c.) page 157 l. 3 living (living bona fide) l. 15 carcases (carcasses) l. 20 hind- (o. h.) l. 30 five-and-twenty (o. h.) page 158 l. 12 galvanic battery (caps.) l. 15 , I (o. c.) l. 18 in abeyance (i.) page 159 l. 30 recruits, (o. c.) page 160 l. 7 rascal (rascal) l. 7 themselves, (o. c.) l. 7-8 the rascal . . . escape (“the rascal . . . escape,”) l. 11 butt (but) page 358 l. 4 chafing (shaking) l. 6 I should (should) l. 8 The latter (new par.) l. 8 momently (momentarily) l. 30 say, (o. c.) l. 30 recognise (recognize) l. 31 Lacko’ Breath (Lack-o’-breath) page 359 l. 11 hashish (cap.) l. 11 assassins (cap.) l. 36 came (came,) page 360 l. 14 own (o.) l. 21 recognised (recognized) page 361 l. 2 imbodied (embodied) l. 17 Yet (not new par.) l. 30 “This (not new par.) l. 36 philosophy (cap.) page 362 l. 5-6 eternity (cap.) l. 16 transcendentalism (cap.) l. 30 up over (upon) l. 33 through (throughout) page 363 l. 20 sepulture (sculpture) page 162 l. 10 poetry (philosophy) l. 11 pirouette (cap.) l. 11 pas (cap.) l. 11 papillon (cap.) l. 12 new par. l. 13 He (new par.) l. 14 Heat (new par.) l. 33 fore-finger (o. h.) page 163 l. 3 Entitled (s. l.) l. 11-12 pneumatics (cap.) l. 13 French-born (o. h.) l. 13 He (new par.) l. 27 anything (any [page 367:] thing) page 164 l. 6-7 by-and-by (, by and bye) l. 10 it, (o. c.) l. 18 epilepsis (cap.) l. 28 recognised (recognized) page 165 l. 7 be (be alone) l. 25 W. (W) l. 29 dost (cap.) page 166 l. 4 I (, I) l. 24 so (n. i.) page 167 l. 16 , when (o. c.) l. 20 temple (temple to prostekonte Theo —).

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Notes to Loss of Breath)