of great typographical elegance, and embellished with many beautiful
It contains an article, which, for several reasons, appears to us so
that we leave aside several effusions of our ordinary contributors in
to make room for an abridgment of it. The writer, Mr Edgar A. Poe, is
an acute observer of mental phenomena; and we have to thank him for one
of the aptest illustrations which could well be conceived, of that
play of two minds, in which one person, let us call him A., guesses
another, B, will do, judging that B will adopt a particular line of
to circumvent A.
THE PURLOINED LETTER.
At Paris, just after dark, one gusty
autumn of 18—, I was enjoying the twofold luxury of meditation and a
in company with my friend C. Auguste Dupin, in his little back library,
or book-closet, au troisiême, No. 33, Rue Dunôt, Faubourg
Germain. For one hour at least we had maintained a profound silence,
the door of our apartment was thrown open, and admitted our old
Monsieur G——, the Prefect of the Parisian police.
We gave him a hearty welcome. The
and shortly disclosed a most perpelexing case, in which his
services had been inrequisition. His story was this. 'I have received
that a certain document, of the last importance, has been purloined
the royal apartments. The individual who purloined it is known; this is
beyond a doubt, for he was seen to take it. It is known, also, that it
still remains in his possession. The person on whom the was committed
a certain royal personage, a female, over whom the holder of the
has gained by this means a dangerous ascendancy — her honour and peace
'But this ascendancy,' I interposed,
upon the robber's knowledge of the loser's knowledge of the robber. Who
would dare ——'
'The thief,' said G——, 'is the
Minister D——, who
dares all things — those unbecoming, as well as those becoming a man.
method of the theft was not less ingenious than bold. The document in
a letter, had been received by the personage robbed while alone in the
royal boudoir. During its perusal, she was suddenly interrupted
by the entrance of another exalted individual, from whom especially it
was her wish to conceal it. After a hurried and vain endeavour to
it in a drawer, she was forced to place it, open as it was, upon a
The address, however, was uppermost; and the contents thus unexposed,
letter [page 344:] escaped notice. At this
enters the Minister D——. His lynx eye immediately perceives the paper,
recognises the handwriting of the address, observes the confusion of
personage addressed, and fathoms her secret. After some business
hurried through in his ordinary manner, he produces a letter somewhat
to the one in question, opens it, pretends to read it, and then places
it in close juxtaposition to the other. Again he converses, for some
minutes, upon the public affairs. At length, in taking leave, he takes
also from the table the letter to which he had no claim. Its rightful
saw, but, of course, dared not call attention to the act, in the
of the third personage who stood at her elbow. The minister decamped;
his own letter — one of no importance — upon the
'Here, then,' said Dupin to me, 'you have precisely what you demand to
make the ascendancy complete — the robber's knowledge of the loser's
of the robber.' 'Yes,' replied the Prefect; 'and the power thus
has, for some months past, been wielded, for political purposes, to a
dangerous extent. The personage robbed is more thoroughly convinced,
day, of the necessity of reclaiming her letter. But this, of course,
be done openly. In fine, driven to despair, she has committed the
'It is clear,' said I, 'as you
observe, that the
letter is still in possession of the minister; since it is this
and not any employment of the letter, which bestows the power. With the
employment the power departs.'
'True,' said G——: 'and upon this
My first care was to make thorough search of the minister's hotel; and
here my chief embarrassment lay in the necessity of searching without
knowledge. Beyond all things, I have been warned of the danger which
result from giving him reason to suspect our design.'
'But,' said I, 'you are quite au
investigations. The Parisian police have done this thing often before.'
'O yes; and for this reason I did not
habits of the minister gave me, too, a great advantage. He is
absent from home all night. His servants are by no means numerous. They
sleep at a distance from their master's apartments, and, being chiefly
Neapolitans, are readily made drunk. I have keys, as you know, with
I can open any chamber or cabinet in Paris. For three months a night
not passed, during the greater part of which I have not been engaged,
in ransacking the D—— Hotel. My honor is interested, and, to mention a
great secret, the reward is enormous. So I did not abandon the search
I had become fully satisfied that the thief is a more astute man than
I fancy that I have investigated every nook and corner of the premises
in which it is possible that the paper can be concealed. Yet, neither
the letter on hte person of the minister. He has been twice waylaid, as
if by footpads, and his person rigorously searched under my own
'Suppose you detail,' said I, 'the
your search of the premises.'
'Why the fact is, we took our time,
where. I have had long experience in these affairs. I took the
building, room by room; devoting the nights of a whole week to each. We
examined, first, the furniture of each apartment. We opened every
drawer; and I presume you know that, to a properly trained police
such a thing as a secret drawer is impossible. Any man is a
who permits a 'secret' drawer to escape him in a search of this
kind. The thing is so plain. There is a certain amount of bulk
of space — to be accounted for in every cabinet. Then we have accurate
rules. The fiftieth part of a line could not escape us. After the
we took the chairs. The cushions we probed with the fine long needles
have seen me employ. From the tables we removed the tops.' 'Why
'Sometimes the top of a table, or
arranged piece of furniture, is removed by the person wishing to
an article; then the leg is excavated, [column 2:]
the article deposited within the cavity, and the top replaced. The
and tops of bedposts are employed in the same way.'
'But could not the cavity be detected
'By no means, if, when the article is
a sufficient wadding of cotton be placed around it. Besides, in our
we were obliged to proceed without noise.'
'But you could not have removed — you
taken to pieces all articles of furniture in which it would
been possible to make a deposit in the manner you mention. A letter may
be compressed into a thin spiral roll, not differing much in shape or
from a large knitting-needle, and in this form it might be inserted
the rung of a chair, for example. You did not take to pieces all the
'Certainly not; but we did better —
rungs of every chair in the hotel, and, indeed the jointings of every
of furniture, by the aid of a most powerful microscope. Had there been
any traces of recent disturbance we should not have failed to detect it
instanter. A single grain of gimlet-dust, or saw-dust, for example,
have been as obvious as an apple. Any disorder in the glueing — any
gaping in the joints — would have sufficed to insure detection.'
'Of course you looked to the mirrors,
boards and the plates, and you probed the beds and the bed-clothes, as
well as the curtains and carpets.'
'That of course; and when we had
every particle of the furniture in this way, then we examined the house
itself. We divided its entire surface into compartments, which we
so that none might be missed; then we scrutinized each individual
inch throughout the premises, including the two houses immediately
with the microscope, as before.'
'The two houses adjoining!' I
have had a great deal of trouble?'
'We had; but the reward offered is
'You explored the floors beneath the
'Beyond doubt. We removed every
the boards with the microscope.'
'And the paper on the
'You looked into the cellars?'
'We did; and, as time and labour were
we dug up every one of them to the depth of four feet.'
'Then,' I said, 'you have been making
and the letter is not upon the premises, as you suppose.'
'I fear you are right there,' said
now, Dupin, what would you advise me to do?'
'To make a thorough re-search of the
'That is absolutely needless,'
replied G——. 'I am
not more sure that I breathe than I am that the letter is not at the
'I have no better advice to give
'You have, of course, an accurate description of the letter?'
'Oh yes!' And here the Prefect,
memorandum-book proceeded to read aloud a minute account of the
and especially of the external appearance of the missing document. Soon
after finishing the perusal of this description, he took his departure,
more entirely depressed in spirits than I had ever known the good
In about a month afterwards he paid
and found us occupied very nearly as before. He took a pipe and a chair
and entered into some ordinary conversation. At length I said, —
'Well, but G——, what of the purloined
you have at last made up your mind that there is no such thing as
'Too true; I made the re-examination,
Dupin suggested; but it was all labour lost, as I knew it would be.'
'How much was the reward offered, did
Dupin. [page 345:]
'Why, a very great deal — a very
— I don't like to say how much, precisely; but one thing I will
say, that I wouldn't mind giving my individual check for fifty thousand
francs to any one who could obtain me that letter. The fact is, it is
of more and more importance every day; and the reward has been lately
I would really give fifty thousand francs, every centime of it, to any
one who would aid me in the matter.'
'In that case,' replied Dupin,
opening a drawer,
and producing a check-book, 'you may as well fill me up a check for the
amount mentioned. When you have signed it, I will hand you the letter.'
I was astounded. The prefect appeared
thunder-stricken. For some minutes he remained speechless and
looking incredulously at my friend with open mouth, and eyes that
starting from their sockets; then, apparently recovering himself in
measure, he seized a pen, and after several pauses and vacant stares,
filled up and signed a check for fifty thousand francs, and handed it
the table to Dupin. The latter examined it carefully and deposited it
his pocket-book; then, unlocking an escritoire, took thence a
and gave it to the Prefect. This functionary grasped it in a perfect
of joy, opened it with a trembling hand, cast a rapid glance at its
and then, scrambling and struggling to the door, rushed at length
from the room and from the house, without having uttered a solitary
since Dupin had requested him to fill up the check.
When he had gone, my friend entered
'The Parisian police,' he said, 'are
able in their way. They are persevering, ingenious, cunning, and
versed in the knowledge which their duties seem chiefly to demand.
when G—— detailed to us his mode of searching the premises at the Hotel
D——, I felt entire confidence in his having made a satisfactory
— so far as his labors extended.'
'So far as his labors extended?' said
'Yes,' said Dupin. 'The measures
adopted were not
only the best of their kind, but carried out to absolute perfection.
the letter been deposited within the range of their search, these
would, beyond a question, have found it.'
I merely laughed — but he seemed
quite serious in
all that he said.
'The measures, then,' he continued, '
their kind, and well executed; their defect lay in their being
to the case, and to the man. A certain set of highly ingenious
are, with the Prefect, a sort of Procrustean bed, to which he forcibly
adapts his designs. But he perpetually errs by being too deep or too
for the matter in hand; and many a schoolboy is a better reasoner than
he. I knew one about eight years of age, whose success at guessing in
game of 'even and odd' attracted universal admiration. This game is
and is played with marbles. One player holds in his hand a number of
toys, and demands of another whether that number is even or odd. If the
guess is right, the guesser wins one; if wrong, he loses one. The boy
whom I allude won all the marbles of the school. Of course he had some
principle of guessing; and this lay in mere observation and
of the astuteness of his opponents. For example, an arrant simpleton is
his opponent, and, holding up his closed hand, asks, 'are they even or
odd?' Our schoolboy replies, 'odd,' and loses; but upon the second
he wins, for he then says to himself, 'the simpleton had them even upon
the first trial, and his amount of cunning is just sufficient to make
have them odd upon the second; I will therefore guess odd;' — he
odd, and wins. Now, with a simpleton a degree above the first, he would
have reasoned thus: 'This fellow finds that in the first instance I
odd, and, in the second, he will propose to himself, upon the first
a simple variation [column 2:] from even to odd,
did the first simpleton; but then a second thought will suggest that
is too simple a variation, and finally he will decide upon putting it
as before. I will therefore guess even;' — he guesses even, and wins.
this mode of reasoning in the schoolboy, whom his fellows termed
— what, in its last analysis, is it?'
'It is merely,' I said, 'an
identification of the
reasoner's intellect with that of his opponent.'
'It is,' said Dupin; 'and, upon
inquiring of the
boy by what means he effected the thorough identification in
his success consisted, I received answer as follows: 'When I wish to
out how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked is any one, or
what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my
as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his,
then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart,
as if to match or correspond with the expression.' This response of the
schoolboy lies at the bottom of all the spurious profundity which has
attributed to Rochefoucault, to La Bougive, to Machiavelli, and to
'And the identification,' I said, 'of
intellect with that of his opponent, depends, if I understand you
upon the accuracy with which the opponent's intellect is admeasured.'
'For its practical value it depends
Dupin; 'and the Prefect and his cohort fail so frequently, first, by
of this identification, and, secondly, by ill-admeasurement, or rather
through non-admeasurement, of the intellect with which they are
They consider only their own ideas of ingenuity; and, in
for anything hidden, advert only to the modes in which they
have hidden it. They are right in this much — that their own ingenuity
is a faithful representative of that of the mass; but when the
of the individual felon is diverse in character from their own, the
foils them, of course. This always happens when it is above their own,
and very usually when it is below. They have no variation of principle
in their investigations; at best, when urged by some unusual emergency
— by some extraordinary reward — they extend or exaggerate their old
of practice, without touching their principles. What, for
in this case of D——, has been done to vary the principle of action?
is all this boring, and probing, and sounding, and scrutinizing with
microscope, and dividing the surface of the building into registered
inches — what is it all but an exaggeration of the application
the one principle or set of principles of search, which are based upon
the one set of notions regarding human ingenuity, to which the Prefect,
in the long routine of his duty, has been accustomed? Do you not see he
has taken it for granted that all men proceed to conceal a
— not exactly in a gimlet-hole bored in a chair-leg — but, at least, in
out-of-the-way hole or corner suggested by the same tenor of thought
would urge a man to secrete a letter in a gimlet-hole bored in a
And do you not see also, that such recherches nooks for
are adapted only for ordinary occasions, and would be adopted only by
intellects; for, in all cases of concealment, a disposal of the article
concealed — a disposal of it in this recherché manner, —
is, in the very first instance, presumed and presumable; and thus its
depends, not at all upon the acumen, but altogether upon the mere care,
patience, and determination of the seekers; and where the case is of
— or, what amounts to the same thing in the policial eyes, when the
is of magnitude, — the qualities in question have
never been known
to fail. You will now understand what I meant in suggesting that, had
purloined letter been hidden any where within the limits of the
examination — in other words, had the principle of its concealment been
comprehended within the principles of the Prefect — its discovery would
have been a matter altogether beyond question. This functionary,
has been thoroughly mystified; and the remote source of his defeat lies
in [page 346:] the supposition that the minister
do what he would have done himself — taken vast care to conceal the
on account of its being so very precious. I went to work differently.
measures were adapted to the minister's capacity, with reference to the
circumstances by which he was surrounded. I knew him as a courtier,
and as a bold intriguant. Such a man, I considered, could not
to be aware of the ordinary policial modes of action. He could not have
failed to anticipate — and events have proved that he did not fail to
— the waylayings to which he was subjected. He must have foreseen, I
the secret investigations of his premises. His frequent absences from
at night, which were hailed by the Prefect as certain aids to his
I regarded only as ruses, to afford opportunity for thorough
to the police, and thus the sooner to impress them with the conviction
to which G—, in fact, did finally arrive — the conviction that the
was not upon the premises. I felt, also, that the whole train of
which I was at some pains in detailing to you just now, concerning the
invariable principle of policial action in searches for articles
— I felt that this whole train of thought would necessarily pass
the mind of the Minister. It would imperatively lead him to despise all
the ordinary nooks of concealment. He could not, I
be so weak as not to see that the most intricate and remote recess of
hotel would be as open as his commonest closets to the eyes, to the
to the gimlets, and to the microscopes of the Prefect. I saw, in fine,
that he would be driven, as a matter of course, to simplicity,
not deliberately induced to it as a matter of choice. This conjecture
above or beneath the understanding of the Prefect. He never once
it probable, or possible, that the Minister had deposited the letter
beneath the nose of the whole world, by way of best preventing any
of that world from perceiving it.
'But the more I reflected upon the
and discriminating ingenuity of D——; upon the fact that the document
always have been at hand, if he intended to use it to good
and upon the decisive evidence, obtained by the Prefect, that it was
hidden within the limits of that dignitary's ordinary search — the more
satisfied I became that, to conceal this letter, the Minister had
to the comprehensive and sagacious expedient of not attempting to
it at all.
'Full of these ideas, I prepared
myself with a
of green spectacles, and called one fine morning, quite by accident, at
the Ministerial hotel. I found D—— at home, yawning, lounging, and
as usual, and pretending to be in the last extremity of ennui.
is, perhaps, the most really energetic human being now alive — but that
is only when nobody sees him.
'To be even with him, I complained of
and lamented the necessity of the spectacles, under cover of which I
and thoroughly surveyed the whole apartment, while seemingly intent
upon the conversation of my host.
'I paid especial attention to a large
near which he sat, and upon which lay confusedly, some miscellaneous
and other papers, with one or two musical instruments and a few books.
Here, however, after a long and very deliberate scrutiny, I saw nothing
to excite particular suspicion.
'At length my eyes, in going the
circuit of the
fell upon a trumpery fillagree card-rack of pasteboard, that hung
by a dirty blue riband, from a little brass knob just beneath the
of the mantel-piece. In this rack, which had three or four
were five or six visiting cards and a solitary letter. This last was
soiled and crumpled. It was torn nearly in two, across the middle — as
if a design, in the first instance, to tear it entirely up as
had been altered, or stayed, in the second. It had a large black seal,
bearing the D—— cipher very conspicuously, and was addressed,
a diminutive female hand, to [column 2:] D——, the
himself. It was thrust carelessly, and even, as it seemed,
into one of the uppermost divisions of the rack.
'No sooner had I glanced at this
letter, than I
it to be that of which I was in search. To be sure, it was, to all
radically different from the one of which the Prefect had read us so
a description. Here the seal was large and black, with the D—— cipher;
there it was small and red, with the ducal arms of the S—— family.
the address, to the Minister, diminutive and feminine; there the
to a certain royal personage, was markedly bold and decided; the size
formed a point of correspondence. But, then, the radicalness of
these differences, which was excessive; the dirt; the soiled and torn
of the paper, so inconsistent with the true methodical habits
D——, and so suggestive of a design to delude the beholder into an idea
of the worthlessness of the document; these things, together with the
situation of this document, full in the view of every visiter, and thus
exactly in accordance with the conclusions to which I had previously
these things, I say, were strongly corroborative of suspicion, in one
came with the intention to suspect.
'I protracted my visit as long as
while I maintained a most animated discussion with the Minister, upon a
topic which I knew well had never failed to interest and excite him, I
kept my attention really riveted upon the letter. In this examination,
I committed to memory its external appearance and arrangement in the
and also fell, at length, upon a discovery which set at rest whatever
doubt I might have entertained. In scrutinizing the edges of the paper,
I observed them to be more chafed than seemed necessary. They
the broken appearance which is manifested when a stiff paper,
been once folded and pressed with a folder, is refolded in a reversed
in the same creases or edges which had formed the original fold. This
was sufficient. It was clear to me that the letter had been turned, as
a glove, inside out, re-directed, and re-sealed. I bade the Minister
morning, and took my departure at once, leaving a gold snuff-box upon
'The next morning I called for the
we resumed, quite eagerly, the conversation of the preceding day. While
thus engaged, however, a loud report, as if of a pistol, was heard
beneath the windows of the hotel, and
succeeded by a series of fearful screams, and the shoutings of a
mob. D—— rushed to a casement, threw it open, and looked out. In the
I stepped to the card-rack took the letter, put it in my pocket, and
it by a fac-simile, which I had carefully prepared at my
— imitating the D—— cipher, very readily, by means of a seal formed of
'The disturbance in the street had
by the frantic behavior of a man with a musket. He had fired it among a
crowd of women and children. It proved, however, to have been without
and the fellow was suffered to go his way as a lunatic or a drunkard.
he had gone, D—— came from the window, whither I had followed him
upon securing the object in view. Soon afterwards I bade him farewell.
The pretended lunatic was a man in my own pay.'
'But what purpose had you,' I asked,
the letter by a fac-simile? Would it not have been better, at
first visit, to have seized it openly, and departed?'
'D——,' replied Dupin, 'is a desperate
man, and a
man of nerve. His hotel, too, is not without attendants devoted to his
interests. Had I made the wild attempt you suggest, I should never have
left the Ministerial presence alive. The good people of Paris would
heard of me no more. But I had an object apart from these
You know my political prepossessions. In this matter, I act as a
of the lady concerned. For eighteen months the Minister has had [page
347:] her in his power. She has now him in hers — since,
unaware that the letter is not in his possession, he will proceed with
his exactions as if it was. Thus will he inevitably commit himself, at
once, to his political destruction. His downfall, too, will not be more
precipitate than awkward. It is all very well to talk about the facilis
descensus Averni; but in all kinds of climbing, as Catalini
said of singing, it is far more easy to get up than to come down. In
present instance I have no sympathy — at least no pity — for him who
He is that monstrum horrendum, an unprincipled man of genius. I
confess, however, that I should like very well to know the precise
of his thoughts, when, being defied by her whom the Prefect terms 'a
personage' he is reduced to opening the letter which I left for him in
'How? did you put any thing
particular in it?'
'Why — it did not seem altogether
right to leave
the interior blank — that would have been insulting. To be sure, D——,
Vienna once, did me an evil turn, which I told him, quite
that I should remember. So, as I knew he would feel some curiosity in
to the identity of the person who had outwitted him, I thought it a
not to give him a clue. He is well acquainted with my manuscript, and I
just copied into the middle of the blank sheet the words —
'———— Un dessein si funeste,
S'il n'est digne d'Atrée, est digne de Thyeste.
They are to be found in Crébillon's "Atrée."