Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “The Imp of the Perverse” (comparative text - GM and TMF46)


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Texts Represented:

  • 1845-01 - Graham’s Magazine (July 1845)
  • 1845-02 - The May Flower for 1846 (late 1845)

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THE IMP OF THE PERVERSE.

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BY EDGAR A. POE.

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IN the consideration of the faculties and impulses {{1845-01:}} of the prima mobilia of the human soul, the phrenologists have failed to make room for a propensity {{1845-02: , }} which, although obviously existing as a radical, primitive, irreducible sentiment, has been equally overlooked by all the moralists who have preceded them. In the pure arrogance of the reason {{1845-02: , }} we have all overlooked it. We have suffered its existence to escape our senses {{1845-02: , }} solely through want of belief — of faith {{1845-02: ; }} — whether it be faith in Revelation {{1845-02: , }} or faith in the {{1845-01: inner teachings // 1845-02: Kabbala. The idea }} of {{1845-01: the spirit. Its idea has not // 1845-02: it has never }} occurred to us, simply because of its seeming supererogation. We saw no need {{1845-02: of the impulse — }} for the propensity {{1845-01: in question }} . We could not perceive its necessity. We could not understand {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} that is to say, we could not have understood, had the notion of this primum mobile ever obtruded itself {{1845-02: ; }}{{1845-02: we could not have understood }} in what manner it might be made to further the objects of humanity, either temporal or eternal. It cannot be denied that {{1845-02: phrenology, and in great measure, }} all metaphysicianism {{1845-01: has // 1845-02: , have }} been concocted à priori. The intellectual or logical man, rather than the understanding or observant man, set himself to imagine designs — to dictate purposes to God. Having thus fathomed to his satisfaction {{1845-02: , }} the intentions of Jehovah, out of these intentions he {{1845-01: reared // 1845-02: built }} his innumerable systems of {{1845-01: Mind // 1845-02: mind }} . In the matter of {{1845-01: Phrenology // 1845-02: phrenology }} , for example, we first determined, naturally enough, that it was the design of {{1845-02: the }} Deity that man should eat. We then assigned to man an organ of {{1845-01: Alimentiveness // 1845-02: alimentiveness }} , and this organ is the scourge {{1845-01: by // 1845-02: with }} which {{1845-02: the }} Deity compels man {{1845-01: to his food. Again // 1845-02: , will-I nill-I, into eating. Secondly }} , having settled it to be God’s will that man should continue his species, we discovered an organ of {{1845-01: Amativeness // 1845-02: amativeness, }} forthwith. And so with {{1845-01: Combativeness // 1845-02: combativeness }} , with {{1845-01: Ideality // 1845-02: ideality }} , with {{1845-01: Causality // 1845-02: causality }} , with {{1845-01: Constructiveness; // 1845-02: constructiveness, — }} so, in short, with every organ, whether representing a propensity, a moral sentiment, or a faculty of the pure intellect. And in these arrangements of the principia of human action, the Spurzheimites, whether right or wrong, in part, or upon the whole, have but followed, in principle, the footsteps of their predecessors; deducing and establishing {{1845-01: every thing // 1845-02: everything }} from the preconceived destiny of man, and upon the ground of the {{1845-01: objects // 1845-02: objects }} of his Creator.

It would have been {{1845-02: wiser, it would have been }} safer {{1845-01:// 1845-02: to classify, ( }} if classify we must {{1845-01: — to classify // 1845-02: ,) }} upon the basis of what man usually or occasionally did, and was always occasionally doing, rather than upon the basis of what we took it for granted the Deity intended him to do. If we cannot comprehend God in his visible works, how then in his inconceivable thoughts {{1845-02: , }} that call the works into being? If we cannot understand him in his objective creatures, how then in his substantive moods and phases of creation?

Induction {{1845-02: , }} à posteriori {{1845-02: , }} would have brought {{1845-01: Phrenology // 1845-02: phrenology }} to admit, as an innate and primitive principle of human action, a paradoxical something {{1845-02: , }} which {{1845-02: we may call perverseness }} , for want of a {{1845-01: better // 1845-02: more characteristic }} term {{1845-01: , we may call {{1845-01: Perverseness // 1845-02: perverseness }} }} . In the sense I intend, it is, in fact, a mobile without motive {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} a motive not motivirt. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object {{1845-01: . Or // 1845-02: ; or, }} if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say {{1845-02: , }} that through its promptings we act {{1845-02: , }} for the reason that we should not. In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable; but {{1845-02: , }} in {{1845-01: reality // 1845-02: fact, }} there is none {{1845-01: so // 1845-02: more }} strong. With certain minds, under certain conditions, it becomes absolutely irresistible. I am not more {{1845-01: sure // 1845-02: certain }} that I breathe, than that the {{1845-01: conviction // 1845-02: assurance }} of the wrong or {{1845-01: impolicy of an // 1845-02: error of any }} action is often the one unconquerable force which impels us, and alone impels us {{1845-01: , }} to its prosecution. Nor will this overwhelming tendency to do wrong for the wrong’s sake, admit of analysis, or resolution into ulterior elements. It is a radical, a primitive impulse — elementary. It will be said, I am aware, that when we persist in acts because we feel we should not persist in them, our conduct is but a modification of that which ordinarily springs from the {{1845-01: Combativeness // 1845-02: combativeness }} of {{1845-01: Phrenology // 1845-02: phrenology }} . But a glance will show the fallacy of this idea. The phrenological {{1845-01: Combativeness // 1845-02: combativeness }} has for its essence {{1845-02: , }} the necessity of self-defence. It is our safeguard against injury. Its principle regards our well-being; and thus the desire to be well {{1845-01: must be // 1845-02: , is }} excited simultaneously with its development. It follows, that the desire to be well must be excited simultaneously with any principle which shall be merely a modification of {{1845-01: Combativeness. But // 1845-02: combativeness, but }} in the case of that something which I term {{1845-01: Perverseness // 1845-02: perverseness }} , the desire to be well is not only {{1845-01: not // 1845-02: not }} aroused, but a strongly antagonistical sentiment {{1845-01: prevails // 1845-02: exists }} .

An appeal to one’s own heart is, after all, the best reply to the sophistry just noticed. No one who trustingly consults {{1845-02: and thoroughly questions }} his own soul {{1845-02: , }} will be disposed to deny the entire radicalness of the propensity in question. It is not more incomprehensible than {{1845-01: distinct // 1845-02: distinctive }} . There lives no man who {{1845-01: , }} at some period, has not been tormented, for example, by an earnest desire to tantalize a listener by circumlocution. The speaker {{1845-01: , in such case, }} is aware that he displeases; he has every intention to please; he is usually curt, precise, and clear; the most laconic and luminous language is struggling for utterance upon his tongue; it is only with difficulty that he restrains himself from giving it flow; he dreads and deprecates the anger of him whom he addresses; yet {{1845-01: a shadow seems to flit across the brain, and suddenly // 1845-02: , }} the thought strikes {{1845-02: him , }} that {{1845-01: , }} by certain involutions and parentheses, this anger may be engendered. That single thought is enough. The impulse increases to a wish {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} the wish to a desire {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} the desire to an uncontrollable longing {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} and the longing, {{1845-02: (to the deep regret and mortification of the speaker, and }} in defiance of all consequences, {{1845-02: ) }} is indulged.

{{1845-01: Again: — }} We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, {{1845-01: and // 1845-02: with the anticipation of whose glorious result }} our whole souls are on fire {{1845-01: with the anticipation of the glorious result }} . It must {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} it shall be undertaken to-day {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} and yet we put it off until to-morrow {{1845-01: . And // 1845-02: , and }} why? There is no answer {{1845-02: , }} except that we feel perverse {{1845-01: — employing // 1845-02: , using }} the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with it a more impatient anxiety to do our duty {{1845-01: ; // 1845-02: , }} but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} a positively fearful, because unfathomable {{1845-01: , }} craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand. We tremble with the violence of the conflict within us, — of the definite with the indefinite — of the {{1845-01: Substance // 1845-02: substance }} with the {{1845-01: Shadow ; but // 1845-02: shadow. But }} , if the contest have proceeded thus far, it is the {{1845-01: Shadow // 1845-02: shadow }} which prevails {{1845-01: . We // 1845-02: , — we }} struggle in vain. The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare {{1845-01: , but at // 1845-02: . At }} the same time {{1845-02: , it }} is the chanticleer-note to the {{1845-01: thing // 1845-02: ghost }} that has so long {{1845-01: overawed // 1845-02: over-awed }} us. It flies {{1845-01: . It // 1845-02: — it }} disappears {{1845-01: . We // 1845-02: — we }} are free. The old energy returns. We will labor now {{1845-01: — alas // 1845-02: . Alas }} , it is too late!

{{1845-01: And yet again: — }} We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss {{1845-01: . We // 1845-02: — we }} grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger {{1845-01: , and yet, unaccountably, // 1845-02: . Unaccountably }} we remain. By slow degrees our sickness, and dizziness, and horror, become merged in a cloud of unnameable feeling. By gradations {{1845-02: , }} still more imperceptible {{1845-02: , }} this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the {{1845-01: Genius // 1845-02: genius }} in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows into palpability {{1845-02: , }} a shape {{1845-02: , }} far more terrible than any {{1845-01: Genius // 1845-02: genius, }} or any {{1845-01: Demon // 1845-02: demon }} of a tale {{1845-01: . And // 1845-02: , and }} yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall — this rushing annihilation — for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination — {{1845-01: for this very cause // 1845-02: for this very cause }} do we now the most {{1845-01: impetuously // 1845-02: vividly }} desire it. And because our reason {{1845-01: strenuously // 1845-02: violently }} deters us from the brink, therefore {{1845-02: , }} do we the {{1845-01: more unhesitatingly // 1845-02: most impetuously }} approach it. There is no passion in {{1845-01: Nature of // 1845-02: nature }} so {{1845-01: demoniac an impatience // 1845-02: demoniacally impatient, }} as that of him, who shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a plunge. To indulge {{1845-01: , even }} for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to {{1845-01: throw // 1845-02: prostrate }} ourselves backward from the {{1845-01: danger, and so out of its sight // 1845-02: abyss }} , we plunge {{1845-02: , }} and are destroyed.

Examine these and similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the Perverse. We perpetrate them merely because we feel that we should not. Beyond or behind this, there is no {{1845-01: principle that men, in their fleshy nature, can understand; and // 1845-02: intelligible principle. And we might, indeed, deem this perverseness a direct instigation of the Arch-Fiend, }} were it not occasionally known to operate in furtherance of good {{1845-01: , we might deem the anomlalous feeling a direct instigation of the Arch-fiend }} .

I have {{1845-01: premised // 1845-02: said }} thus much {{1845-01: that // 1845-02: , that in some measure }} I may {{1845-01: be able, in some degree, to give an intelligible}} answer {{1845-01: to }} your {{1845-01: queries — // 1845-02: question, }} that I may explain to you why I am here {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} that I may assign to you something {{1845-01: like // 1845-02: that shall have at least the faint aspect of }} a {{1845-01: reason // 1845-02: cause }} for my wearing these fetters {{1845-02: , }} and for {{1845-02: my }} tenanting {{1845-01: the // 1845-02: this }} cell of the condemned. Had I not been thus prolix, you might either have misunderstood me altogether {{1845-01: , // 1845-02: ; }} or {{1845-01: , }} with the rabble, you might have fancied me mad. {{1845-02: As it is, you will easily perceive that I am one of the many uncounted victims of the Imp of the Perverse. }}

It is impossible that any deed could have been wrought with {{1845-02: a }} more thorough deliberation. For weeks {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} for months {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} I pondered upon the means of the murder. I rejected a thousand schemes because their accomplishment involved a chance of detection. At length, in reading some French {{1845-01: memoirs // 1845-02: Memoirs }} , I found an account of a nearly fatal illness that occurred to Madame Pilau, through the agency of a candle accidentally poisoned. The idea struck my fancy at once. I knew my victim’s habit of reading in bed. I knew, too, that his apartment was narrow and {{1845-01: ill-ventilated // 1845-02: ill ventilated }} . But I need not vex you with impertinent details. I need not describe the easy artifices by which I substituted, in his {{1845-01: candle-stand // 1845-02: bed-room candlestand }} , a wax-light of my own making {{1845-02: , }} for the one which I there found. The next morning he was discovered dead in his bed, and the {{1845-02: Coroner’s }} verdict was {{1845-02: , }} “Death by the visitation of God.”

Having inherited his estate, all went {{1845-01: merrily // 1845-02: well }} with me for years. The idea of detection never {{1845-01: obtruded itself // 1845-02: once entered my brain }} . Of the remains of the fatal taper {{1845-02: , }} I had myself carefully disposed {{1845-01: , nor // 1845-02: . I }} had {{1845-01: I }} left {{1845-01: the // 1845-02: no }} shadow of a clue by which it would be possible to convict {{1845-02: , }} or even to suspect me of the crime. {{1845-01: [[new paragraph]] }} It is inconceivable how rich a sentiment of satisfaction arose in my bosom as I reflected upon my {{1845-01: absolute // 1845-02: absolute }} security. For a very long period of time {{1845-02: , }} I {{1845-01: reveled // 1845-02: was accustomed to revel }} in this sentiment. It afforded me {{1845-01: , I believe, }} more real delight than all the mere worldly advantages accruing from my sin. {{1845-01: [[new paragraph]] }} {{1845-01: There // 1845-02: But there }} arrived at length an epoch, {{1845-01: after // 1845-02: from }} which {{1845-01: this // 1845-02: the }} pleasurable feeling {{1845-01: took to a new tone, and }} grew, by scarcely perceptible gradations, into a haunting and harassing thought {{1845-01: — a thought that // 1845-02: . It }} harassed because it haunted. {{1845-01: [[new paragraph]] }} I could scarcely get rid of it for an instant. It is quite a common thing to be thus annoyed {{1845-01: by // 1845-02: with }} the ringing in our ears, or {{1845-02: rather in our }} memories, of the {{1845-01: burden // 1845-02: burthen }} of {{1845-01: an // 1845-02: some }} ordinary song, or some unimpressive snatches from an opera. Nor will we be the less tormented {{1845-01: though // 1845-02: if }} the song in itself be good, or the {{1845-01: opera-air // 1845-02: opera air }} meritorious. In this manner, at last, I would perpetually {{1845-01: find // 1845-02: catch }} myself pondering upon my {{1845-01: impunity and }} security, and {{1845-01: very frequently would catch myself }} repeating, in a low, {{1845-01: under-tone // 1845-02: undertone }} , the {{1845-01: phrases // 1845-02: phrase, }}{{1845-01: I am safe — }} I am safe.”

One day, {{1845-01: while // 1845-02: whilst }} sauntering {{1845-01: listlessly about // 1845-02: along }} the streets, I arrested myself in the act of murmuring, half aloud, these customary syllables. In a fit of petulance {{1845-01: at my indiscretion // 1845-02: , }} I remodelled them thus: — “I am safe — I am safe — yes — {{1845-01: if I do not prove fool enough to make open confession. // 1845-02: if I be not fool enough to make open confession! }}  ”

No sooner had I {{1845-01: uttered // 1845-02: spoken }} these words, than I felt an icy chill creep to my heart. I had had {{1845-01: (long ago, during childhood) }} some experience in {{1845-01: those // 1845-02: these }} fits of {{1845-01: Perversity // 1845-02: perversity, }} whose nature I have been at {{1845-01: so much // 1845-02: some }} trouble {{1845-01: in explaining // 1845-02: to explain }} , and I remembered well, that in no instance {{1845-02: , I }} had {{1845-01: I }} successfully resisted their attacks. And now my own casual self-suggestion {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} that I might possibly {{1845-01: prove // 1845-02: be }} fool enough to {{1845-01: make open confession — // 1845-02: confess the murder of which I had been guilty, }} confronted me, as if the very ghost of him whom I had murdered {{1845-01: , // 1845-02:}} and beckoned me on to death.

At first {{1845-02: , }} I made {{1845-01: a strong // 1845-02: an }} effort to shake off this nightmare of the soul. {{1845-01: I whistled — I laughed aloud — }} I walked vigorously — faster {{1845-01: and // 1845-02:}} still faster {{1845-01: . At // 1845-02: — at }} length I ran. I felt a maddening desire to shriek aloud. Every succeeding wave of thought overwhelmed me with new terror {{1845-01:// 1845-02: , }} for, alas! I {{1845-02: well, too well }} understood {{1845-01: too well }} that {{1845-02: , }} to think, in my {{1845-01: condition // 1845-02: situation }} , was to be {{1845-01: undone // 1845-02: lost }} . I still quickened my {{1845-01: steps // 1845-02: pace }} . I bounded like a madman through the crowded thoroughfares. {{1845-01: But now // 1845-02: At length, }} the populace took {{1845-02: the }} alarm {{1845-02: , }} and pursued {{1845-01: . Then — then, // 1845-02: me . }} I felt {{1845-02: then }} the consummation of my {{1845-01: Fate // 1845-02: fate }} . Could I have torn out my tongue {{1845-02: , }} I would have done it {{1845-01: . But // 1845-02: , but }} a rough voice {{1845-01: from some member of the crowd }} resounded in my ears {{1845-01: , and // 1845-02:}} a rougher grasp seized me by the {{1845-01: arm // 1845-02: shoulder }} . I turned — I gasped for breath. For a moment I experienced all the pangs of suffocation {{1845-01:// 1845-02: ; }} I became blind, and deaf, and giddy {{1845-01: — and at this instant it was no mortal hand // 1845-02: ; and then, some invisible fiend }} , I {{1845-01: knew, that // 1845-02: thought, }} struck me {{1845-01: violently }} with {{1845-01: a // 1845-02: his }} broad {{1845-01: and massive }} palm upon the back. {{1845-01: At that blow the long-imprisoned // 1845-02: The long imprisoned }} secret burst forth from my soul.

They say that I spoke with {{1845-02: a }} distinct enunciation, but with {{1845-02: marked }} emphasis {{1845-02: , }} and passionate hurry, as if in dread of interruption before concluding the brief {{1845-02: , }} but pregnant sentences that consigned me to the hangman {{1845-02: , }} and to {{1845-01: Hell // 1845-02: hell }} .

{{1845-02:

Having related all that was necessary for the fullest judicial conviction, I fell prostrate in a swoon.

But why shall I say more? To-day I wear these chains, and am here! To-morrow I shall be fetterless! — but where?

}}


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Notes:

For an explanation of the formatting used in this comparative text, see editorial policies and methods.

Because this presentation represents multiple texts, with differing pagination, page numbers have been omitted.

 

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[S:1 - JAS] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Tales - The Imp of the Perverse (Comparative Text - GM and TMF46)