Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “The Spectacles” [Text-03], “Horne” manuscript, March or April 1844


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The Spectacles.

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Some persons ridicule the idea of “love at first sight”; but those who think clearly, not less than those who feel deeply, have always advocated its existence. Modern discoveries, indeed, in what may be termed ethical magnetism, or magnetæsthetics, render it probable that the most natural, and, consequently, the most real and the most intense of the human affections, are those which arise in the heart as if by electric sympathy — in a word, that the brightest and most enduring of the psychal fetters are those which are riveted at a glance. The confession I am about to make, will add another to the already numerous instances of the truth of this position.

It is necessary that I be somewhat minute. I am still a young man — not yet twenty-two. My name, at present, is a very usual and rather plebeian one — Simpson. I say “at present”; for it is only lately that I have been so called — having legislatively adopted this surname, within the last year, in order to receive an inheritance left me by a distant male relative — Adolphus Simpson, Esquire. The bequest was conditioned upon my taking the name of the testator; — the family, not the Christian name. My Christian or baptismal names are Napoleon Buonaparte. I am now Napoleon Buonaparte Simpson. I assumed [page 2:] the “Simpson” with much reluctance; for in my true patronym, Froissart, I felt a very pardonable pride; believing that I could trace a descent from the immortal author of the “Chronicles.” While on the subject of names, by the bye, I may as well mention a singular coincidence of sound, attending the names of some of my immediate predecessors. My father was a Monsieur George Froissart, of Paris. His wife, my mother, whom he married at fifteen, was a Mademoiselle Croissart, eldest daughter of Croissart, the banker. His wife, again, only sixteen when married, was the eldest daughter of one Monsieur Voissart; and this gentleman, very singularly, had wedded a lady of similar name — a Mademoiselle Moissart. She, too, was quite a child when married; and her mother, also, Madame Moissart, was only fourteen when led to the altar. These early marriages are usual in France. But what I speak of now is the coincidence. Observe! Here are Moissart, Voissart, Croissart, and Froissart — all in the direct line of descent. My own name, though, as I say, became Simpson by Act of the Pennsylvania Legislature; but with so much repugnance on my part, that, at one period, I actually hesitated about accepting the legacy with the annoying and useless proviso attached.

As to personal endowments, I am so, so. I believe that I am well made, and that I possess what nine tenths of the world would call a handsome face. I am five feet eleven. My hair is [page 3:] black and curling. My nose is sufficiently good. My eyes are large and grey; and although, in fact, they are weak to a very inconvenient degree, still no defect in this regard would be suspected from their appearance. The weakness itself, however, has always much annoyed me; and I have resorted to every remedy — short of wearing spectacles. Being youthful and good-looking, I naturally dislike these, and have resolutely refused to employ them. I know nothing, indeed, which so disfigures the countenance of a young person, or which so impresses every feature with an air of demureness, if not exactly of sanctimoniousness. An eye-glass, on the other hand, has a savor of downright foppery and affectation. I have hitherto managed, as well as I could, without either. But something too much of these merely personal details, which, after all, are of little importance. I will content myself with saying, in addition, that my temperament is sanguine, rash, ardent, enthusiastic — and that all my life I have been a devout admirer of the gentle sex.

One night, last winter, I entered a box at the —— theatre, in company with a friend, Mr Talbot. It was an opera night; the bills presented a very rare attraction; and thus the house was excessively crowded. We were in time, however, to obtain the front seats which had been preserved for us, and into which, with some little difficulty, we elbowed our way.

For two hours my companion, who was a [page 4:] musical fanatico, gave his undivided attention to the stage; and, in the meantime, I amused myself by observing the audience, which consisted, in chief part, of the very élite of the city. Having satisfied myself upon this point, I was about turning my eyes to the prima donna, when they were arrested and riveted by a figure in one of the private boxes which had escaped my observation.

If I live a thousand years I can never forget the intense emotion with which I gazed at this figure. It was that of a female, the most exquisite imaginable. The face was so far turned towards the stage that for some minutes I could not obtain a view of it — but the form was divine — no other word can sufficiently express its magnificent proportion; and even the term “divine” seems ridiculously feeble as I write it.

The magic of a lovely form in woman — the necromancy of female gracefulness — was always a power which I had found it impossible to resist; but here was Grace personified — incarnate — the beau idéal of my wildest and most enthusiastic visions. The construction of the box permitted nearly all of the person to be seen. It was somewhat above the medium height, and nearly approached, without positively reaching, the majestic. Its perfect fulness and tournure were delicious. The head, of which only the back was visible, rivalled, in outline, that of the Greek Psyche, and was rather displayed than concealed [page 5:] by an elegant cap of gaze äerienne, which put me in mind of the ventum textilem of Apuleius. The right arm hung over the balustrade of the box, and thrilled every nerve of my frame with its delicious symmetry. Its upper portion was draperied by one of the loose open sleeves now in fashion. This extended but little below the elbow. Beneath it was worn an under one, of some gossamer material, close-fitting, and terminated by a cuff of rich lace, which fell gracefully over the top of the hand, revealing only the delicate fingers, upon one of which sparkled a diamond ring, which, I at once saw, was of extraordinary value. The admirable roundness of the wrist was well set off by a bracelet which encircled it, and which, also, was ornamented and clasped by a magnificent aigrette of jewels — telling, in words that not to be misunderstood, at once of the wealth and of the fastidious taste of the wearer.

I gazed at this queenly apparition for at least half an hour, as if I had been suddenly converted to stone; and, during this period, I felt the full force of all that has been said or sung about “love at first sight”. My feelings were totally different from any which I had hitherto experienced, in the presence of even the most celebrated specimens of female loveliness. An unaccountable, and what I am compelled to consider a magnetic sympathy of soul for soul, seemed to rivet, not only my vision, but my whole powers of thought and feeling, upon the admirable object before me. I saw [page 6:] — I felt — I knew that I was deeply, madly, irrecoverably in love — and this even before seeing the face of the one beloved. So intense, indeed, was the passion that consumed me, that I really believe it would have received little if any abatement, had the features yet unseen proved of merely ordinary character. So anomalous is the nature of the only true love — of the love at first sight — and so little really dependent is it upon the external conditions which only seem to create and control it.

While I was wrapped in admiration of this enchanting vision, a sudden disturbance among the audience caused her to turn her head partially towards me, so that I beheld the entire profile of the face. Its beauty even exceeded my anticipations — and yet there was something about it which disappointed, me without my being able to tell exactly what it was.

I said “disappointed” — but this is not altogether the word. My sentiments were at once exalted and subdued. They partook less of transport, and more of a calm enthusiasm — of an enthusiastic repose. This state of feeling arose, perhaps, from the Madonna-like — from the matronly air of the face; and yet I at once understood that it could not have arisen entirely from this. There was something behind — some mystery I could not develope — some expression about the countenance which slightly disturbed me, while it heightened my interest. In fact, I was just in that condition of mind which prepares a young and susceptible man for any act of extravagance. Had the lady been alone, I should undoubtedly have entered her box [page 7:] and accosted her at all hazards; but, fortunately, she was attended by two companions — a gentleman, and a strikingly beautiful woman, to all appearance a few years younger than herself.

I revolved in [[my]] mind a thousand schemes by which I might obtain, hereafter, an introduction to the elder lady, or, for the present at all events, a more distinct view of her beauty. I would have removed my position to one nearer my [[her]] own, but the crowded state of the theatre rendered this impossible, and the stern decrees of Fashion had, of late, imperatively prohibited the use of the opera-glass, in a case such as this. But even if this had not been so, I had no glass with me, and was thus in despair.

At length I bethought me of applying to my companion, whose very existence I had for some time forgotten.

“Talbot,” I said, “you have a lorgnette — let me have it.”

“A lorgnette! — no! — what do you suppose I would be doing with a lorgnette? “ Here he turned impatiently towards the stage.

“But, Talbot,” I resumed, pulling him by the shoulder — “listen to me, will you? Do you see the stage-box? — there! — no, the next — did you ever behold so lovely a woman?”

“No doubt she is very beautiful,” he said.

“I wonder who she can be.”

“Why, in the name of all that is angelic, don’t you know who she is? ‘Not to know her, argues yourself unknown.’ She is the celebrated Madame Lalande — the beauty of the day par excellence, and the talk of the whole town. Immensely wealthy, too, — a widow, and a [page 8:] great match. Has just arrived from Paris.”

“Do you know her?”

“I have the honor.”

“Will you present me?”

“Assuredly. When shall it be?”

“To-morrow — at one — I will call upon you at B—’s.”

“Very good! — and now oblige me by just holding your tongue — if you can.”

In this latter respect I was forced to put Talbot under the obligation desired; for he remained obstinately deaf to every further question or suggestion, and occupied himself exclusively, for the rest of the evening, with what was transacting upon the stage.

In the meantime I kept my eyes riveted upon Madame Lalande, and, at length, had the good fortune to obtain a full front view of her face. It was supremely lovely — this, of course, my heart had told me before, even had not Talbot fully satisfied me upon the point — but still the unintelligible something which disturbed me. I finally concluded that my imagination was impressed by a certain air of gravity, of sadness, or, still more properly, of weariness, which took something from the youth and freshness of the countenance, only to endow it with a seraphic tenderness and majesty — and thus, to my enthusiastic and romantic temperament, with an interest ten-fold.

While I thus feasted my eyes, I perceived, at last, to my great trepidation, by an almost imperceptible start on the part of the lady, that she had become aware of the intensity of my gaze. Nevertheless, I was absolutely fascinated, and could not withdraw it, even for an instant. She averted her face; and, again, I saw [page 9:] only the chiselled contour of the back portion of the head. After some minutes, as if urged by curiosity to see if I was still looking, she gradually brought her face again around, and again encountered my burning gaze. Her large dark eyes fell instantly, and a deep blush mantled her cheek. But what was my astonishment at perceiving that she not only did not a second time turn aside her head, but that she actually took from her girdle a double eye-glass, elevated it, and regarded me through it, intently and deliberately, for the space of several minutes.

Had a thunderbolt fallen at my feet, I could not have been more thoroughly astounded — astounded only — not offended or disgusted in the slightest degree; although an action so bold, in any other woman, would have been sure to offend or to disgust. But the whole thing was done with so much quietude — so much nonchalance — so much repose — in short, with so evident an air of the highest breeding — that nothing of mere effrontery was perceptible, and my sole sentiments were those of admiration and surprise.

I observed that, upon her first elevation of the glass, she had seemed satisfied with a momentary inspection of my person, and was withdrawing the instrument, when, as if struck by a second thought, she resumed it, and so continued to regard me, with fixed attention, for several minutes — for five minutes at the very least, I am sure.

The action, so remarkable in an American theatre, attracted universal observation, and gave rise [page 10:] to an indefinite movement, or buzz, among the audience, which, for a moment, filled me with confusion, but produced no visible effect upon the countenance of Madame Lalande.

Having satisfied her curiosity — if such it was — she dropped the glass, and, quietly, gave her attention again to the stage; — her profile being now turned towards myself, as before. I continued to watch her unremittingly, although I was fully conscious of my rudeness in so doing. Presently I saw the head slowly and slightly change its position; and soon I became convinced that the lady, while pretending to look at the stage, was, in fact, attentively regarding myself. It is needless to say what effect this conduct, on the part of so fascinating a woman, had upon my excitable mind.

She scrutinized me thus for, perhaps, a quarter of an hour, and then suddenly addressed the gentleman who attended her. While she spoke, I saw distinctly, by the glances of both, that the conversation had reference to myself. Upon its conclusion, she again turned towards the stage, and, for a few minutes, seemed absorbed in the performances. At the expiration of this period, however, I was thrown into an extremity of agitation, by seeing her unfold, for the second time, the eye-glass which hung at her side — fully confront me, as before, — and, disregarding the renewed buzz of the audience, survey me, from head to foot, with the same miraculous composure which had previously so delighted and confounded my soul. [page 11:]

This extraordinary behaviour, by throwing me into a perfect fever of excitement — into an absolute delirium of love — served rather to embolden than to disconcert me. In the mad intensity of my devotion, I forgot everything but the presence and the majestic loveliness of the vision which confronted my gaze. Watching my opportunity, when I thought the audience were fully engaged with the opera, I at length caught the eyes of Madame Lalande, and, upon the instant, made a slight but unmistakable bow.

She blushed very deeply — then averted her eyes — then slowly and cautiously looked around, apparently to see if my rash action had been noticed — then leaned over to the gentleman who sat by her side.

I now felt a burning sense of the impropriety I had committed, and expected nothing less than instant exposure; while a vision of pistols upon the morrow, flitted rapidly and uncomfortably through my brain. I was immediately relieved, however, when I saw the lady merely hand the gentleman a play-bill, without speaking, — but the reader may form some feeble conception of my astonishment — of my profound amazement — of my delirious bewilderment of heart and soul — when, instantly afterwards, having again glanced furtively around, she allowed her bright eyes to set fully and steadily upon my own, and then, with a faint smile, disclosing a bright line of her pearly teeth, made two distinct, pointed, and unequivocal nods.

It is useless, of course, to dwell upon my joy — upon my transport — upon my illimitable ecstasy. If ever man was mad with excess of happiness, it was myself [page 12:] at that moment.

I loved. This was my first love — so I felt it to be. It was love supreme — indescribable. It was “love at first sight “. At first sight, too, it had been appreciated, and was returned.

Yes; — returned. How, and why should I doubt it for an instant? What other construction could I possibly put upon such conduct, on the part of a lady so beautiful — so wealthy — evidently so accomplished — of so high breeding — so refined — of so lofty a position in society — in every regard so entirely respectable as I felt assured was Madame Lalande? Yes! — she loved me — she returned the enthusiasm of my love, with an enthusiasm as blind, as uncalculating, as uncompromising, as abandoned, and as utterly unbounded as my own!

These delicious fancies and reflections, however, were now interrupted by the falling of the drop curtain. The audience arose; and the usual tumult supervened. Quitting Talbot abruptly, I made every endeavour to force my way into proximity with Madame Lalande. Having failed in this attempt, on account of the crowd, I at length gave up the chase, and bent my steps homewards; consoling myself for not having been able to touch even the hem of her robe, with the reflection that I should be introduced by Talbot, in due form, upon the morrow.

This morrow at last came; — that is to say, a day finally dawned upon a long and weary night of impatience; and then the hours until “one” were dreary, snail-paced, and innumerable. But “even Stamboul,” it is said, “shall have an end,” and there [page 13:] came an end to this long delay. The clock struck. As its last echo ceased, I stepped into B—’s and inquired for Talbot.

“Out”; said a footman — Talbot’s own.

“Out!” I replied, staggering back half a dozen paces, “out! — let me tell you, my fine fellow, that this thing is thoroughly impossible and impracticable; Mr Talbot is not out. What do you mean?”

“Nothing, Sir; only Mr Talbot is not in — that’s all. He rode over to S—, immediately after breakfast, and left word that he should not be in town again for a week.”

I stood petrified with horror and rage. I endeavoured to say something, but my tongue refused its office. At length I turned on my heel, livid with wrath, and inwardly consigning the whole tribe of the Talbots to the innermost regions of Erebus. It was evident that my considerate friend, il fanatico, had quite forgotten his appointment with myself; perhaps, indeed, he had forgotten it as soon as it was made. At no time had he been a very scrupulous man of his word. There was no help for it; so smothering my vexation as well as I could, I strolled moodily up the street, propounding futile inquiries about Madame Lalande to every acquaintance I met. By report I found, she was known to all — by sight to many — but she had been in town only a few days, and thus there were not more than one or two who professed a personal knowledge. These, being still comparatively strangers, could not, or would not take the liberty of introducing me with the formality of a morning call. While I stood, however, in despair, [page 14:] conversing with a trio of friends upon the all-absorbing subject of my heart, it so happened that the subject itself passed by.

“As I live, there she is!” cried one.

“How surpassingly beautiful!” exclaimed the second.

“An angel upon earth!” ejaculated the third.

I looked; and, in an open carriage, which approached us as it passed slowly down the street, sate the enchanting vision of the opera, accompanied by the younger lady who had occupied a portion of her box.

“Her companion, also, wears remarkably well,” said the one of my trio who had spoken first.

“Astonishingly,” said the second; “has still quite a brilliant air; but art will do wonders. Upon my word, she looks better than she did at Paris five years ago. A lovely woman still; — do n’t [[don’t]] you think so, Froissart? — Simpson, I mean.”

“Still!” said I, “and why not? But, compared with her friend, she is a rush-light to the Evening Star — a glow-worm to Antares.

Here the whole trio laughted.

“Ha! ha! ha” said the third, “why, Simpson, you have an astonishing tact at making discoveries — original ones, I mean;” and here, as we separated, he commenced humming a gay vaude ville, of which I caught only the lines:

Ninon, Ninon, Ninon à bas!

A bas Ninon de L’Enclos!

During this little scene, however, one thing had served greatly to console me, although it fed [page 15:] the passion by which I was consumed. As the carriage of Madame Lalande rolled by our group, I had observed that she recognized me; and, more than this, she had blessed me, by the most seraphic of smiles, with no equivocal mark of the recognition.

As for an introduction, I was forced to abandon all hope of it until such time as Talbot should think proper to return from the country. In the meantime, I perseveringly frequented every reputable place of public amusement, and, at length, at the theatre where I first saw her, I had the supreme bliss of meeting her, and of exchanging glances with her, once again.

This did not occur, however, until after the lapse of a fortnight. Every day in the interim, I had inquired for Talbot at his Hotel; and every day had been thrown into a spasm of wrath, by the everlasting “Not come home yet” of his footman.

Upon the evening in question, therefore, I was in a condition little short of madness. Madame Lalande, I had been told, was a Parisian — had lately arrived from Paris — might she not suddenly return? — return before Talbot came back — and might she not thus be lost to me forever? The thought was too terrible to bear. Since my future happiness was at issue, I resolved to act with a manly decision. In a word, upon the breaking up of the play, I traced the lady to her residence, noted her address, and, next morning, sent her a full and elaborate letter, in which I poured out my whole heart.

I spoke boldly — freely — in a word, I spoke [page 16:] with passion. I concealed nothing — nothing even of my folly. I alluded to the romantic circumstances of our first meeting — even to the glances which had passed between us. I went so far as to say that I felt assured of her love; while I offered this assurance, and my own intensity of devotion, as two excuses for my otherwise unpardonable conduct. As a third, I spoke of my fear that she might leave the city before I could have the opportunity of a formal presentation. I concluded the most wildly enthusiastic epistle ever penned, with a frank declaration of my worldly circumstances — of my affluence — and with an offer of my hand, as of my heart.

In an agony of expectation I awaited the reply. After what seemed the lapse of a century, it came.

Yes; — came. Romantic as all this may appear, I really received a letter from Madame Lalande — from the beautiful, the wealthy, the idolized Madame Lalande. Her eyes — her magnificent eyes — had not belied her heart. Like a true Frenchwoman, as she was, she had obeyed the frank dictates of her reason — the generous impulses of her nature — despising the conventional pruderies of the world. She had not scorned my proposal. She had not sheltered herself in silence. She had not returned my letter unopened. She had even sent me, in reply, one penned by her own exquisite fingers. It ran thus:

“Monsieur Simpson vill pardonne me for not compose de butefulle tong of his contrée so vell as might. It is only of de late dat I am arrive, [page 17:] and not yet ave de opportunité for to learn.

“Vid dis apologie for de maniére of dis leettle note, I vill now say dat, hélas! Monsieur Simpson ave guess but de too true. Vat is need I say de more? Hélas! am I not ready speake de too moshe?

Eugénie Lalande.”
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This noble-spirited letter I kissed a million times, and committed, no doubt, on its account, a thousand other extravagances which have now escaped my memory.

And still Talbot would not return. Alas! could he have formed even the vaguest idea of the suffering his absence had occasioned his friend, would not his sympathising nature have flown instantly to my relief? Still, however, he came not. I wrote. He replied. He was detained by urgent business, but would now shortly return. He begged me not to be impatient — to moderate my transports — to read soothing books — to drink nothing stronger than Hock — and to bring the consolations of philosophy to my aid. The fool! I had acquainted him with the exigencies of the case, and, if he could not come himself, why, in the name of everything rational, could he not enclose me an introduction? I wrote again, entreating him to forward one forthwith. My letter was returned by that footman, with the following endorsement in pencil:

“Mr Talbot left S— yesterday for parts unknown. Did n’t [[Didn’t]] say where, or when be back — so thought best to return letter, knowing your hand-writing, and as [page 18:] how you is always more or less in a hurry.

Yours sincerely,

Stubbs.”
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After this, it is needless to say that I devoted to the Infernal Deities both master and valet; but there was little use in anger, and no consolation at all in complaint.

I had yet a resource left me, however, in my constitutional audacity. Hitherto it had served me well, and I resolved to make it avail me to the end. Besides, after the correspondence which had passed between us, what act of mere informality could I commit, within bounds, that ought to be regarded as indecorous by Madame Lalande? Since the affair of the letter, I had been in the custom of watching her house, and thus discovered that, about twilight every fine evening, it was her practice to promenade, attended only by a negro in livery, in a certain one of public squares overlooked by the windows of her residence. Here, amid the luxuriant and overshadowing grove, in the grey uncertainty of a Midsum- [[Midsummer]] gloaming — here, at length, watching my opportunity, I accosted her.

The better to deceive the servant in attendance, I did this with the assured air of an old and familiar acquaintance. With a presence of mind truly Parisian, she took the cue at once, and, to welcome me, held out the most bewitchingly diminutive of hands. The valet at once fell into the rear; — and now, with hearts full to overflowing, we discoursed [page 19:] long and unreservedly of our love.

As Madame Lalande spoke English even much less fluently than she wrote it, our conversation was necessarily in French. In this sweet tongue, so adapted to passion, I gave loose to all the impetuous enthusiasm of my nature, and, with all the eloquence I could command, besought her to consent to an immediate union.

At this impatience she smiled. She urged the old story of decorum — that bug-bear which deters so many from bliss, until the opportunity for bliss has forever departed. What would the world say? I had most imprudently made it known among my friends, she observed, that I desired her acquaintance — thus, of course, that I did not possess it: — thus, again, there was no possibility of concealing the date of our first knowledge of each other. And then she adverted, with a blush, to the extreme recency of this date. To wed immediately, would be improper — would be indecorous — would be outré. All this she said with an air of näiveté which enraptured, while it grieved and convinced me. She went even so far as to accuse me, laughingly, of rashness — of imprudence. She bade me remember that I really even knew not who she was — what were her prospects — her connexions — her standing in society. She begged me — but with a sigh — to reconsider my proposal, and termed my love an infatuation — a Will o’ the Wisp — a phantasy of the moment — a baseless and unstable creation, rather of the imagination than of the heart. These things she uttered as the shadows of the sweet twilight gathered darkly and more darkly around us — and then, with a gentle pressure of her fairy-like hand, overthrew, in a single sweet instant, all the fabric of [page 20:] argumentation she had reared.

I replied as I best could — as only a true lover can. I spoke at length, and perseveringly, of my passion — of my devotion — of her exceeding beauty and of my own enthusiastic adoration. In conclusion, I dwelt, with a convincing energy, upon the perils that encompass the course of true love — that course of true love that “never did run smooth,” and thus deduced the danger of rendering that course unnecessarily long.

This latter argument seemed, finally, to soften the rigor of her resistance. She relented; — but there was yet an obstacle, she said, which she felt assured I had not sufficiently considered. This was a delicate point — for a woman to urge, especially delicate. In touching upon it, she saw that she must make a sacrifice of her feelings — of the finest sensibilities of her nature; — still, for me, every sacrifice should and would be willingly made. She alluded to the topic of age. Was I aware — was I fully aware of the discrepancy between us? That the age of the husband should surpass, by a few years — even by fifteen or twenty — the age of the wife, was regarded by the world as admissible, and indeed as very proper; but she had always entertained the belief that the years of the wife should, under no circumstances, exceed in number those of the husband. A discrepancy of this unnatural kind, gave rise, too frequently, alas! to a life of unhappiness. Now, she was aware that my own age did not exceed two-and-twenty; and I, on the contrary, perhaps, was not aware that the years of my Eugénie extended very considerably [page 21:] beyond that sum.

About all this there was a nobility of soul — a dignity of candor — which delighted — which enchanted me — which eternally riveted my chains. I could scarcely restrain the excessive transport which possessed me.

“Dearest,” I cried, “what is all this about which you are discoursing? Your age surpasses, in some measure, my own. What then? The customs of the world — what are they, after all, but so many conventional impertinences? To those who love as we do, in what respect differs a year from an hour? I am twenty-two, you say; granted: — indeed you may as well call me, at once, twenty-three. Now you yourself, my sweetest Eugénie, can have numbered no more than — can have numbered no more than — no more than — than — than” —

Here I paused for an instant, in the expectation that Madame Lalande would interrupt me by supplying her true age. But a Frenchwoman is seldom direct, and has always, by way of answer to an embarrassing question, some little practical reply of her own. In the present instance Eugénie, who, for a few moments past, had seemed to be searching for something in her bosom, at length let fall upon the grass a miniature, which I immediately picked up and presented.

“Keep it”, she said, with one of her most ravishing smiles; — “keep it for my sake — for the sake of her whom it too flatteringly represents. Besides — upon the back of the trinket you may discover, perhaps, the information you seem just now to desire. It is growing rather dark to be sure, — but you can examine it, at your leisure, in the morning. In the meantime, you [page 22:] shall be my escort home, to-night. My friends here are about holding a little musical levée. I can promise you some good singing. We French are not nearly so punctilious as you Americans, and I shall have no difficulty in smuggling you in, in the character of an old acquaintance.”

With this, she took my arm, and I attended her home. The mansion, which belonged to one of her relatives, was quite a fine one, and, I believe, furnished in good taste. Of this latter point, however, I am scarcely qualified to judge; for it was just dark as we arrived; and, in American mansions of the better sort, lights seldom, during the heat of summer, make their appearance at this the most pleasant period of the twenty-four hours. Not long after my arrival, to be sure, a single shaded solar lamp was lit in the principal drawing-room; and this apartment, I could thus see, was arranged with unusual good taste, and even splendor; but two other rooms of the suite, and in which the company chiefly assembled, remained, during the whole evening, in a very agreeable shadow. This is a well-conceived custom, giving the individual members of a party at least a choice of light or shade — a custom which our friends over the water could not do better than immediately adopt.

The evening thus spent was, unquestionably, the most delicious of my life. Madame Lalande had not overrated the musical abilities of her friends; and the singing I here heard, I had never heard excelled in any private circle out of Vienna. The instrumental [page 23:] performers were many and of superior talents. The vocalists were chiefly ladies, and no individual sang less than well. At length, upon a peremptory call for Madame Lalande, she arose at once, without affectation of demur, from the chaise longue upon which she had been sitting by my side, and, accompanied by one or two gentlemen and her female companion at the opera, repaired to the piano in the main drawing-room. I would have escorted her thither myself, but felt that, under the peculiar circumstances of my introduction to the house, it might be more agreeable to Madame Lalande that I should remain unobserved where I was. I was thus deprived of the pleasure of seeing, although not of hearing her, sing.

The impression she produced upon the company was electrical — but the effect upon myself was even more. I know not how adequately to describe it. It arose in part, no doubt, from the sentiment of love with which I was imbued; but chiefly from my conviction of the extreme sensibility of the singer. It is beyond the reach of art to endow either air or recitative with more impassioned expression than was hers. Her utterance of the romance in “Otello” — the tone with which she gave the words “Sul mio sasso “ in the “Capuletti” — are ringing in my memory yet. Her lower tones were absolutely miraculous. Her voice embraced three complete octaves, extending from the contralto D to the D upper soprano; and, though sufficiently powerful to have filled the San Carlos, it executed, with the minutest precision, every difficulty of vocal composition — ascending and descending scales, cadences, or fiorituri [[fioriture]]. In the finale of the “Somnambula” she wrought a most remarkable effect at the words,

Ah! non guinge [[giunge]] uman pensiero

Al contento ond ‘io son piena. [page 24:]

Here, in imitation of Malibran, she modified the original phrase of Bellini, so as to let her voice descend to the tenor G, when by a rapid transition, she struck the G above the treble stave, springing over an interval of two octaves.

Upon rising from the piano after these miracles of vocal execution, she resumed her seat by my side — when I expressed to her, in terms of the deepest enthusiasm, my delight at her performance. Of my surprise I said nothing — and yet was I most unfeignedly surprised; for a certain feebleness, or rather, a certain tremulous indecision of voice, in ordinary conversation, had prepared me to imagine that, in singing, she would not acquit herself with any remarkable ability.

Our conversation was now long, earnest, uninterrupted, and totally unreserved. She made me relate many of the earlier passages of my life, while she listened, with breathless attention, to every word of the narrative. I concealed nothing — I felt that I had a right to conceal nothing from her confiding affection. Encouraged by her candor upon the delicate point of her age, I entered, with perfect frankness, not only into a detail of my many minor vices, but made full confession of those moral, and even of those physical infirmities, the disclosure of which, in demanding so much higher a degree of courage, is so much more acceptable an evidence of love.

I touched upon my college indiscretions — upon my extravagances — upon my carousals — upon my flirtations — even upon my personal defects. I went so far as to speak of a slightly hectic cough with which at one time I had been troubled; of a chronic rheumatism [page 25:] — of a twinge of hereditary gout — and, in conclusion, of the disagreeable and inconvenient, but hitherto carefully concealed weakness of my eyes.

“Upon this latter point,” said Madame Lalande, laughingly, “you have surely been injudicious in coming to confession; for I take it for granted that, without the confession, you would never have been suspected of the crime. By the bye,” she continued, “have you any remembrance” — and here I fancied that a blush, even through the gloom of the apartment, became distinctly visible upon her cheek — “have you any recollection, mon cher ami, of this little ocular assistant — of this little aid to vision, which now depends from my neck?”

As she spoke, she twirled in her fingers the identical double eye-glass which had so overwhelmed me with confusion at the opera, while she had employed it with so magnificent a nonchalance.

“Full well — alas! too well do I remember it”, I exclaimed, pressing passionately the delicate hand which offered the glass, or rather glasses, for my inspection. They formed a gorgeous and complex toy, richly chased and fillagreed, and gleaming with jewels, which, even in the deficient light, I could not help perceiving were of high value.

Eh bien, mon ami “, she resumed, with a certain empressment of manner that somewhat surprised me, — “Eh bien, mon ami, you have earnestly besought of me a favor which you have been pleased to denominate priceless. You have demanded of me my hand upon the morrow. Should I yield to your entreaties — and, I may add, to the pleadings of my own bosom — would I not be entitled to demand of [page 26:] you a little — a very little boon in return?”

“Name it!” I exclaimed, with an energy that had nearly drawn upon us the observation of the company, and restrained by their presence alone from throwing myself impetuously at her feet — “Name it, my beloved, my Eugénie, my own! — name it! — but, alas! it is already yielded ere named.”

“You shall conquer, then,” she said, “for the sake of the Eugénie whom you love, this little weakness which you have at last confessed — this weakness rather moral than physical — and this weakness so unbecoming the nobility of your real nature — so inconsistent with the candor of your usual character — and which, if permitted farther control, will assuredly involve you, sooner or later, in some very disagreeable scrape. You shall conquer, for my sake, this paltry affectation, which leads you, as you yourself acknowledge, to the tacit or implied denial of your infirmity of vision; — for, this infirmity you virtually deny, in refusing to employ the customary means for its relief. You will understand me to say, then, that I wish you to wear spectacles: — ah, hush! — you have already consented to wear them for my sake. You shall accept the little toy which I now hold in my hand, and which, although admirable as an aid to vision, is really of no very great value intrinsically. You perceive that by a trifling modification — thus — the jewels with which is it set, disappear, and it assumes the form of ordinary spectacles; by sliding it thus, again, it re-appears in the more gaudy [page 27:] dress, and more tonnish shape, of an eye-glass. It is in the former arrangement, however, and habitually, that you have consented to wear it, for my sake.”

This request — must I confess it? — confused and annoyed me in no small degree; but the condition with which it was coupled, rendered hesitation, of course, a matter altogether out of the question.

“It is done!” I cried, with all the enthusiasm I could muster at the moment. “It is done — it is most cheerfully agreed. I sacrifice every feeling for your sake. To-night, I wear this dear eye-glass, as an eye-glass, in my waistcoat-pocket, and upon my heart; but, with the earliest dawn of that morning which gives me the privilege of calling you ‘wife,’ I will place it upon my — upon my nose — and there wear it, ever afterwards, in the less romantic and less fashionable, but certainly in the more serviceable form, which you desire.”

The conversation now turned upon the details of our arrangement for the morrow. Talbot, I learned from my betrothed, had just arrived in town. I was to see him at once, and procure a carriage. The soirée would scarcely break up before two; and by this hour the vehicle was to be at the door — when, in the confusion occasioned by the departure of the company, Madame L. could easily enter it unobserved. We were then to call at the house of a clergyman who would be in waiting; there be married, drop Talbot, and proceed on a short tour to the East — leaving the fashionable world at home [page 28:] to make whatever comments upon the matter it thought best.

Having planned all this, I immediately took leave and went in search of Talbot; but, on the way, I could not refrain from stepping into an Hotel, for the purpose of inspecting the miniature; and this I did by the powerful aid of the glasses.

The countenance was a surpassingly beautiful one. Those large luminous eyes! — those resplendent teeth! — that proud Grecian nose! — those dark luxuriant curls! — “ah!” said I exultingly to myself, “this is indeed the speaking image of my beloved!” I turned the reverse, and discovered the words — “Eugénie Lalande — aged twenty-seven years and seven months.”

I found Talbot at home, and proceeded at once to acquaint him with my good fortune. He professed excessive astonishment, of course, but congratulated me most cordially, and proffered every assistance in his power. In a word, we carried out our arrangements to the letter; and, at two in the morning, just ten minutes after the ceremony, I found myself in a close carriage with Madame Lalande — with Mrs Simpson, I should say — and driving at a great rate out of town, in a direction North East and by North half North.

It had been determined for us by Talbot that, as we were to be up all night, we should make our first stop at C—, a village about twenty miles from the city, there to get an early breakfast, and some repose, before proceeding upon our route. At four precisely, [page 29:] therefore, the carriage drew up at the door of the principal inn. I handed my adored wife out, and ordered breakfast forthwith. In the meantime we were shown into a small parlor, and sate down.

It was now nearly, if not altogether, daylight; and as I gazed, enraptured, at the angel by my side, the singular idea came, all at once, into my head, that this was really the very first moment, since my acquaintance with the celebrated loveliness of Madame Lalande, that I had enjoyed a near inspection of that loveliness by daylight.

“And now, mon ami,” said she, taking my hand, and thus interrupting my reflections, “and now, mon cher ami, since we are, at length, indissolubly one — since I have yielded to your passionate entreaties — since I have performed my portion of our agreement — I presume you have not forgotten that you, also, have a little favor to bestow — a little promise which it is your intention to keep. Ah! — let me see! — let me remember! Yes; full easily do I call to mind the precise words of the dear promise you made to Eugénie last night. Listen! You spoke thus:

“ ‘It is done’, you said, — ‘it is most cheerfully agreed! I sacrifice every feeling for your sake. To-night, I wear this dear eye-glass in my waistcoat-pocket, and upon my heart; but, with the earliest dawn of that morning which gives me the privilege of calling you ‘wife,’ I will place it upon my — upon my nose — and there wear it, ever afterwards, in the less [page 30:] romantic and less fashionable, but certainly in the more serviceable form, which you desire.’ — These were the exact words, my beloved husband; were they not?”

“They were”, I replied — “by the bye, you have a capital memory — and assuredly, my beautiful Eugénie, there is no disposition on my part to evade the performance of the trivial promise these words imply. See! Behold! They are becoming — rather — are they not?”

Here, taking the glasses from my waistcoat-pocket, and arranging them in the ordinary form of spectacles, I applied them, gingerly, in their proper position; while Mrs Simpson, adjusting her cap, and folding her arms, sat bolt upright in her chair, in a somewhat stiff and prim, and indeed, I am sorry to say, in a rather undignified posture.

“Goodness gracious me!” I exclaimed, almost at the very instant that the rim of the spectacles settled upon my nose — “My! goodness gracious me! — why, what can be the matter with these glasses?” — and, taking them hurriedly off, I wiped them carefully with a silk handkerchief, and adjusted them again. While I was doing all this, Mrs Simpson said not a word, and moved not a muscle, but looked very serious and very solemn, and continued to sit bolt upright, as before.

Well, I adjusted the glasses and put them on again; but if, in the first instance, there had occurred something which occasioned me surprise, in the second, this surprise became elevated into astonishment — and this astonishment was immense — was profound — was extreme — indeed I may say, at once, it [page 31:] was horrific! What, in the name of everything hideous, did this mean? Could I believe my eyes? — could I? that was the question. Was that — was that — was that rouge? And were those — were those — were those wrinkles upon the visage of Eugénie Lalande? And oh, Jupiter! and every one of the Gods and Goddesses, little and big! — what, what, what — what had become of her teeth? I dashed the spectacles to the ground, and, leaping to my feet, stood erect in the middle of the floor, confronting Mrs Simpson, and grinning and foaming, but at the same time utterly speechless and helpless, with terror and with rage.

Now I have already said that Madame Eugénie Lalande — that is to say, Simpson — spoke the English language but very little better, if not a great deal worse, than she wrote it; and, for this reason, very properly, she never attempted to speak it upon ordinary occasions. But rage will carry a lady to any extreme; and, in the present case, it carried Mrs Simpson to the very extraordinary extreme of attempting to hold a conversation in a tongue she knew nothing about.

“Vell, Monsieur,” said she, after surveying me, with great disdain, for some moments — “Vell, Monsieur, and vat den? — vat de matter now? — Is it de dance of de Saint Vitusse dat you ave? — If not like me, vat for vy buy de pig in de poke?”

“You wretch!” said I, catching my breath, — “you — you — you villanous [[villainous]] old hag!”

“Ag! — ole! — me not so ver ole, after all — me [page 32:] not von day more dan de eighty-doo!”

Eighty-two! “ I ejaculated, staggering to the wall — “eighty-two hundred thousand of she baboons! — the miniature said twenty-seven years and seven months.”

“To be sure! — dat is so! — ver true! — but den de portraite has been take for dis fifty-five year. Ven I go marry my segonde usbande, Monsieur Lalande, at dat time I had de portraite take for my daughter by my first usbande, Monsieur Moissart.”

“Moissart!” said I.

“Yes, Moissart, Moissart,” said she, mimicking my pronunciation, which, to speak the truth, was none of the best — “and vat den? — vat you know bout de Moissart?”

“Nothing, you old fright, — I know nothing about him at all — only I had an ancestor of that name, once upon a time.”

“Dat name! — and vat you ave for say to dat name? ‘Tis ver goot name — and so is Voissart — dat is ver goot name too. My daughter, Ma’mselle Moissart, she marry von Monsieur Voissart — and de name is bote ver respectaable name.”

“Moissart!” I exclaimed, “and Voissart! — why, what is it you mean?”

“Vat I mean?” said she, putting her arms akimbo — “vy, I mean Moissart, and Voissart; and, for de matter of dat, I mean Croissart and Froisart, too, if I only tink proper for to mean it. My daughter’s daughter, Ma’mselle Voissart, she marry von Monsieur Croissart; and, den agin, my daughter’s grande-daughter, [page 33:] Ma’mselle Croissart, she marry von Monsieur Froissart — and I suppose you say dat dat is not von ver respectaable name!”

“Froissart!” said I, beginning to faint, “why surely you do n’t [[don’t]] say Moissart, and Voissart, and Croissart, and Froissart!”

“Yes,” she replied, shaking her head up and down, as some people do when very much in a passion, — “Yes! Yes! — Moissart, and Voissart, and Croissart, and Froissart! But Monsieur Froissart, who married my grande-daughter, he was von ver big vat you call de fool — he vas von ver great big donce like youself — for he lef la belle France, for come to dis stoopide Amerique — and, ven he get here, he vent and ave von ver stoopide — von ver ver stoopide sonn — so I hear — for I not yet ad de plaisir to meet vid him — neider me nor my companion, de Madame Stéphanie Lalande. He is name, dough, de Napoleon Buonaparte Froissart — and I sooppose you say dat dat, too, is not de von ver respectaable name.”

Either the length or the nature of this speech, had the effect of working up Mrs Simpson into a very stupendous excitement, indeed; and as, with great labor, she made an end of it, she jumped up from her chair like somebody bewitched; dropping upon the floor an entire universe of bustle as she jumped. Once upon her feet, she gnashed her gums, brandished her arms, rolled up her sleeves, shook her fist in my face, and [page 34:] concluded the performance by tearing the cap from her head, and, with it, an immense wig of valuable black hair, the whole of which she dashed upon the floor with a yell — there trampling and dancing a fandango upon it, in an absolute ecstasy and agony of rage.

Meantime, I sank aghast into the chair which she had vacated.

“Moissart and Voissart!” I repeated, musingly, as she cut one of her pigeon-wings, and “Croissart and Froissart!” as she completed another — “Moissart. and Voissart, and Croissart, and Napoleon Buonaparte Froissart! — why, you ineffable old wretch, that’s me. D’ye hear? — that’s me — that’s mee “ [Here I shouted at the top of my voice] — “that’s me-e-e-e! I am Napoleon Buonaparte Froissart, and if I hav n’t married my great-great-grandmother, I wish I may be everlastingly confounded!!”

————————————————

Madame Eugénie Lalande, quasi Simpson, formerly Moissart, was, in sober fact, my great, great, grandmother [[great-great-grandmother]]. In her youth she had been beautiful, and, even at eighty-two, retained the majestic height, the sculptural contour of head, the fine eyes and the Grecian nose of her girlhood. By the aid of these — of rouge, of pearl-powder, of false hair, false teeth, and false tournure, as well as of the most skilful modistes of Paris, she easily contrived to hold a respectable footing among the beauties un peu passées of the [page 35:] French metropolis. In this respect, indeed, she might have been regarded as little less than the equal of the celebrated Ninon de L’Enclos.

She was immensely wealthy; and, being left for the second time a widow, with no surviving children, she bethought herself of my existence in America, and resolved, in a freak of fancy, to make me her heir. For this purpose she paid a visit to the United States, in company with a very lovely and accomplished friend — a distant relative of her second husband — a Madame Stéphanie Lalande.

At the opera, my great-great-grandmother’s attention was arrested by my notice; and, upon surveying me through her eye-glass, she was struck with a certain family resemblance to herself. Thus interested, and knowing that the heir she sought was actually in the city, she made inquiries of her party respecting me. The gentleman who attended her knew my person, and told her who I was. The information thus obtained, induced her to renew her scrutiny; and it was this scrutiny which emboldened me to behave in the absurd manner already detailed. She returned my bow, however, under the impression that, by some odd accident, I had discovered her identity. When, deceived by my weakness of vision and the arts of the toilet, in respect to the age and charms of the strange lady, I demanded so enthusiastically of [page 36:] Talbot who she was, he concluded, as a matter of course, that it was the younger beauty whom I meant. He therefore told me, with perfect sincerity, that she was “the celebrated widow, Madame Lalande.”

In the street, next morning, my great-great-grandmother encountered Talbot, an old Parisian acquaintance; when the conversation, very naturally, turned upon myself. My deficiencies of vision were then explained — for these were notorious, although I was entirely ignorant of their notoriety. My good old relative thus discovered, much to her chagrin, that she had been deceived in supposing me aware of her identity, and that I had been merely making a fool of myself, in making open love, in a theatre, to an old woman unknown.

By way of punishing me for this imprudence, she concocted, with Talbot, a plot. To avoid giving me an introduction, he purposely kept out of my way. My street inquiries, about “the lovely widow, Madame Lalande,” were supposed to refer to the younger lady, of course; and thus will be understood my conversation with the three gentlemen whom I encountered upon leaving Talbot’s Hotel. Thus, also, is explained the allusion of one of them to Ninon de L’Enclos.

I had no opportunity of seeing Madame Lalande closely during daylight; and, at the musical soirée, my silly weakness, in refusing the aid of glasses, effectually prevented me from making a discovery [page 37:] of her age. When “Madame Lalande” was called upon to sing, Madame Stéphanie Lalande was intended; and it was she who arose to obey the call; — my great-great-grandmother, to further the deception, arising at the same moment, and accompanying her to the piano in the main drawing-room. Had I decided upon escorting her thither, it had been her design to suggest the propriety of my remaining where I was; my own prudential views, however, rendered this unnecessary. The songs which I so much admired, and which so confirmed my impressions of the youth of my mistress, were executed, of course, by Madame Stéphanie Lalande.

The eye-glass was presented by way of adding a reproof to the hoax — a sting to the epigram of the deception. Its presentation afforded an opportunity for the lecture upon affectation with which I was so especially edified. It is almost superfluous to add that the glasses of the instrument, as worn by the old lady, had been exchanged by her for a pair better adapted to my years. They suited me, in fact, to a T.

The “clergyman,” who merely pretended to tie the fatal knot, was a boon companion of Talbot’s, and no priest. He was an excellent “whip,” however; and, having donned his cassock to put on a great coat, he drove the hack which conveyed the “happy couple” out of town. Talbot took a seat at his side. The two scoundrels were thus “in at the death,” and, through a half open window of the back parlor of the inn, amused themselves [page 38:] in grinning at the dénouement of the drama. I believe I shall have to call them both out.

Nevertheless — I am not the husband of my great-great-grandmother; and this is a reflection which affords me infinite relief; — but I am the husband of Madame Lalande — of Madame Stéphanie Lalande — with whom my good old relative (besides making me her sole heir when she dies — if she ever does) has been at the trouble of concocting me a match.

In conclusion, I am done with billets-doux, and am never to be seen without SPECTACLES.


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Notes:

This manuscript was formerly owned by William H. Koester, and is currently in the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin. Poe sent the manuscript to Richard Hengist Horne in March or April 1844. Horne, apparently unable to find an English publisher for the story, kept it for many years. Horne died on March 13, 1884, and left his library and papers to Henry Buxton Forman (1842-1917) (of London). Forman’s library was sold at auction by Anderson Galleries on March 15, 1920, as item 551. (ABC lists the sale price as $9,100). It was apparently purchased by Frank Brewer Bemis (of Boston). Frank J. Hogan acquired it from Bemis (along with other items), and it remained in his collection until his death. Hogan’s library was sold by Parke-Bernet Galleries, January 24, 1945 (item 562). (ABC lists the sale price as $7,000.) Koester presumably purchased the manuscript at this sale, along with several other items.

It is interesting to note that Forman, along with Thomas J. Wise, became famous as a forger of literary treasures. Although this manuscript is certainly genuine, it may connect Forman to the dubious 1830 edition of Poe’s tale acquired as authentic by Richard Gimbel, and somewhat embarrasingly issued as a pamphlet in July 1938 and publicized by Edward Doherty in Liberty on September 24, 1938. J. Moldenhauer notes a second forgery as having been acquired by Koester, and being still kept with the authentic manuscript. That second forgery is claimed as having been printed by Carey & Lea in Philadelphia, and dated 1842. Interestingly, both pamphlets give Poe’s name in full, almost never actually printed as a byline during Poe’s lifetime but reflecting the name as given in the manuscript. The actual text of the pamphlets bears no resemblance to the manuscript or other printed forms of Poe’s tale.


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[S:1 - MS, 1844 (photocopy)] - - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Tales - The Spectacles [Text-03]