Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “The Fall of the House of Usher,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. II: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 392-422 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 392, continued:]


“The Fall of the House of Usher” is probably the most popular of Poe's earlier tales of wonder. Woodberrry says it is unsurpassed for “unity of design” and continues:

In artistic construction it does not come short of absolute perfection. The adaptation of the related parts and their union in the total effect are a triumph of literary craft; the intricate details, ... like premonitions and echoes of the theme in music, ... secure their end with the certainty of harmonic law itself. The sombre landscape ... the subtle yet not overwrought sympathy between the mansion and the race that had reared it; the looks, traits and pursuits of Usher, ... and the at first scarce-felt presence of Madeline ... his sister — all is like a narrowing and ever-intensifying force drawing in to some unknown point; and when this is reached, in the ... vault ... the mind, after that midnight scene, expands and breathes freer air, a hundred intimations, each slight in itself, startle and enchain it, until, slowly as obscurity takes shape in a glimmer of light, Usher's dread discloses itself in its concrete and fearful fulfillment, and at once by the ... stroke of death, house, race and all sink into the black tarn where its glassy image had so long built a shadowy reality.

Never has the impression of total destruction ... been more strongly given ... Doom rests upon all things within the shadow of those walls; it is felt to be impending: and therefore, Poe, identifying himself with his reader, places the sure seal of truth on the illusion as he exclaims “From that chamber and that mansion I fled aghast.” The mind is already upon the recoil as it turns to view the accomplished fatality... [Poe's] work in this kind was done. [page 393:]

Woodberry rightly saw what Vincent Buranelli said quite plainly: “Poe is not Roderick Usher. He is the creator of Roderick Usher.”*

The theme of the tale is succinctly explained by Howard Phillips Lovecraft who wrote:

Usher ... hints shudderingly of obscure life in inorganic things, ... an abnormally linked trinity of entities at the end of a long and isolated family history — a brother, his twin sister, and their ... ancient house all sharing a single soul and meeting one common dissolution at the same moment.

In a later study Richard Wilbur observed: “The House of Usher is, in allegorical fact, the physical body of Roderick Usher, and its dim interior is, in fact, Roderick Usher's visionary Mind.”

The tale is autobiographical only insofar as it concerns a real brother and sister, James Campbell Usher and Agnes Pye Usher, children of Luke Noble Usher and Harriet Ann L’Estrange Usher, who were actors and the closest friends of Poe's mother. The children were orphaned in 1814, and grew up as neurotics.

To what extent Poe modeled his characters on the real Ushers cannot be known. The malady of Roderick Usher, a fear of making any decision, is known clinically, and now sometimes can be cured. Medical theory of Poe's day held that fogs and damp places were conducive to melancholia.§

Poe certainly gives his twins characteristics usually associated [page 394:] with identical twins, but they do not share one sex, and Poe was interested in people who look alike.*

Miss Alterton thought she had found a partial source in the story “Thunder Struck” in the Passages from the Diary of a Late Physician (1835) by Dr. Samuel Warren. She pointed out that a number of the details are alike: A beautiful young lady falls into a cataleptic trance; the action takes place in a storm. There is a coffin, an apprehensive waiting for a sound, and the lady coming to life covered with blood. Miss Alterton mentions another idea, that of a gloomy house as a symbol of a family being destroyed by the death of its members, found in “Das Majorat” by E. T. A. Hoffmann. Poe undoubtedly knew Warren's book — he mentions it in “How to Write a Blackwood Article” — and Hoffmann's story had been discussed by Sir Walter Scott in the Foreign Quarterly Review, July 1827.

A suggestion that Poe owed something to William Godwin's Imogen, a Pastoral Romance (1784) has been made by Burton R. Pollin. That analogies exist is undeniable, but they all seem to me to be common themes of Gothick romance.

Readers generally have understood the purport of Poe's story, but some details have proved puzzling. Therefore, a scenario is offered. The House of Usher has only one soul which has its abode in the mansion and in the members of the family. Roderick Usher is aware of this, although his sister may not be, and he has concluded that since they are twins, and childless, this soul is interdependent with them and the building. Hence, if one dies, all must perish together. Roderick also fears that he is going mad, and [page 395:] so summons his friend, the only person he trusts who has no part in the fate of his ancient house. Both brother and sister are dying; the latter seems to die first, but the former is sure that she is still alive because he is. He avoids her actual burial by a temporary entombment. He reads books which deal with unusual ideas about the relation of matter to spirit, of doubles, and of demoniac possession. Roderick also reads a burial service for himself (and his sister), and plays a dirge based on a musical air supposed to have been written on the last day of its composer's life. The reading of the weird romance, The Mad Trist — the only purely imaginary book named among the books listed as in Usher's library — probably has a subtle influence too, and climactically “the dragon is slain,” for Madeline escapes, but so injured that she reaches her brother only to die with him as the house totters and falls — slowly enough to allow the narrator (who does not share its curse) to escape. As Darrell Abel says, “Throughout the tale, alternative explanations, natural and supernatural, of the phenomena are set forth; and we are induced by the consistently maintained device of a common-sense witness, gradually convinced in spite of his determined scepticism, to accept imaginatively the supernatural explanation.”§

Thomas Dunn English, reviewing Poe's Tales in the Aristidean for October 1845, observed: “The thesis of this tale is the revulsion of feeling consequent upon discovering that for a long period of time we have been mistaking sounds of agony, for those of mirth or indifference.” Dr. English had undoubtedly discussed the story with Poe, but probably included ideas of his own.

Several interpretations that I think must be rejected in the light of present knowledge must be mentioned. In Studies in Classic American Literature (1923), D. H. Lawrence sought references to incest; but conscious use of such a theme is contrary to Poe's general practice. Some readers have thought vampirism involved, but J. O. Bailey, who inclined to the view,* wrote me that [page 396:] he regarded his idea only as a hypothesis. The ways of vampires are well known in British and American fiction, and Madeline is certainly not an orthodox vampire.

The merit of the story was recognized immediately. The New York Evening Star, September 7, 1839, said, “Mr. Poe's tale of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ would have been considered a chef d’œuvre if it had appeared in the pages of Blackwood.” It was copied abroad in Bentley's Miscellany, August 1840, and thence into the Boston Notion of September 5. Griswold put it in The Prose Writers of America (1847), and his example has been followed by countless anthologists to this day.


(A) Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, September 1839 (5:145-152); (B) Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), I, 75-103; (C) PHANTASY-PIECES, copy of last with manuscript changes, 1842; (D) Tales (1845), pp. 64-82; (E) Griswold's Prose Writers of America (1847), pp. 524-530; (F) Works (1850), I, 291-309.

The best text, that of Tales (D), is followed. It does not differ verbally from Works (F), and no changes were made in the J. Lorimer Graham copy of Poe's volume. The version in Griswold's anthology (E) was printed with Poe's consent, but the few verbal variants seem not to be the author's changes.

As the variants show, some verbal changes were made in PHANTASY-PIECES (C) — twenty punctuation changes were indicated — most of them eliminating dashes; eight of these were used in later editions; but it was for the Tales text (D) that Poe made his most careful and extensive revisions. [page 397:]


Bentley's Miscellany (English and American editions), August 1840, from Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, without acknowledgment; Boston Notion, September 5, 1840, from Bentley's Miscellany; The Oquawka Spectator (Oquawka, Illinois), August 23 and 30, 1848, from Burton's Gentleman's Magazine [described in M. D. McElroy's “Poe's Last Partner,” Papers on Language and Literature, Summer 1971, which, however, is wrong in saying there was no acknowledgment of authorship; both installments carry Poe's name].


Son cœur est un luth suspendu;

Sitôt qu’on le touche il résonne.

De Béranger.   [[n]]   [[v]]

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was — but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit.(1) I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me — upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain — upon the bleak walls — upon the vacant eye-like windows — upon a few rank sedges — and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees — with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium — (2) the bitter lapse into every-day{a} life — the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart — an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it — I paused to think — what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that [page 398:] crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond{b} doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still{c} the analysis of this power lies{d} among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down — but with a shudder even more thrilling than before — upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.

Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself a sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher, had been one of my boon companions in boyhood; but many years had elapsed since our last meeting. A letter, however, had lately reached me in a distant part of the country — a letter from him — which, in its wildly importunate nature, had admitted of no other than a personal reply. The MS. gave evidence of nervous agitation. The writer spoke of acute bodily illness — of a {ee}mental disorder{ee} which oppressed him — and of an earnest desire to see me, as his best, and indeed his only personal friend, with a view of attempting, by the cheerfulness of my society, some alleviation of his malady. It was the manner in which all this, and much more, was said — it was the apparent heart that went with his request — which allowed me no room for hesitation; and I accordingly obeyed forthwith{f} what I still considered a very singular summons.{g}

Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and habitual. I was aware, however, that his very ancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages, in many [page 399:] works of exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well as in a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even more than to the orthodox and easily recognisable beauties, of musical science. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other words, that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other — it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the “House of Usher” — an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.(3)

I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish experiment — that{h} of looking down within the tarn — had been to deepen the first singular impression. There can be no doubt that the consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition — for why should I not so term it? — served mainly to accelerate the increase itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror as a basis. And it might have been for this reason only, that, when I again uplifted my eyes to the house itself, from its image in the pool, there grew in my mind a strange fancy — a fancy so ridiculous, indeed, that I but mention it to show the vivid force of the sensations which oppressed me. I had so worked upon my imagination as really to believe that{i} about the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity — an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the [page 400:] decayed trees, and the gray wall{j} and{k} the silent {ll}tarn — a pestilent and mystic vapor,{ll} dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.

Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling{m} condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious{n} totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.

Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to the house. A servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered the Gothic archway of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence conducted me, in silence, through many dark and intricate passages in my progress to the studio{o} of his master. Much that I encountered on the way contributed, I know not how, to heighten the vague sentiments of which I have already spoken. While the objects around me — while the carvings of the ceilings, the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode, were but matters to which, or to such as which, I had been accustomed from my infancy — while I hesitated not to acknowledge how familiar was all this — I still wondered to find how unfamiliar were the [page 401:] fancies which ordinary images were stirring up. On one of the staircases, I met the physician of the family. His countenance, I thought, wore a mingled expression of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me with trepidation and passed on. The valet now threw open a door and ushered me into the presence of his master.

The room in which 1 found myself was very large and{p} lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellised{q} panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.

Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on{r} which he had been lying at full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmth which had much in it, I at first thought, of an overdone cordiality — of the constrained effort of the ennuyé{s} man of the world. A glance, however, at his countenance, convinced me of his perfect sincerity. We sat down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher! It was with difficulty that I could bring myself to admit the identity of the wan being before me with the companion of my early boyhood. Yet the character of his face had been at all times remarkable. A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; tips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want [page 402:] of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity; these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten.(4) And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character of these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay so much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. The now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the now miraculous lustre of the eye, above all things startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple{t} humanity.

In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an incoherence — an inconsistency; and I soon found this to arise from a series of feeble and futile struggles to overcome an habitual trepidancy — an excessive nervous agitation. For something of this nature I had indeed been prepared, no less by his letter, than by reminiscences of certain boyish traits, and by conclusions deduced from his peculiar physical conformation and temperament. His action was alternately vivacious and sullen. His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits seemed utterly in abeyance) to that species of energetic concision — that abrupt, weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation — that leaden, self-balanced and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may be observed in the {uu}lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium, during the periods of his most intense excitement.{uu}

It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of his earnest desire to see me, and of the solace he expected me to afford him. He entered, at some length, into what he conceived to be the nature of his malady. It was, he said, a constitutional and a family evil, and one for which he despaired to find a remedy — a mere nervous affection, he {vv}immediately added,{vv} which would undoubtedly soon pass. It displayed itself in a host of unnatural sensations. [page 403:] Some of these, as he detailed them, interested and bewildered me; although, perhaps, the terms, and the general manner of the narration had their weight. He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the sense;(5) the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odors of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.

To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave.(6) “I shall perish,” said he, “I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate upon this intolerable agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect — in terror. In this unnerved — in this pitiable condition — I feel that {ww}the period will sooner or later arrive when I must{ww} abandon life and reason together, in {xx}some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.”{xx}

I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken and equivocal hints, another singular feature of his mental condition. He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence,{y} for many years, he had never ventured forth — in regard to an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated — an influence which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion, had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit — an effect which the physique of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down, had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence.

He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much of the peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to a more natural and far more palpable origin — to the severe and long-continued illness — indeed to the evidently approaching dissolution [page 404:] — of a tenderly beloved sister — his sole companion for long years — his last and only relative on earth. “Her decease,” he said, with a bitterness which I can never forget, “would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last of the ancient race of the Ushers.” While{z} he spoke, the lady Madeline (for so was she called) passed slowly through a remote portion of the apartment, and, without having noticed my presence, disappeared. I regarded her with an utter astonishment not unmingled with {aa}dread — and yet I found it impossible to account for such feelings.{aa} A sensation{b} of stupor oppressed me, as my eyes followed her retreating steps. When{c} a door, at length, closed upon her,{d} my glance sought instinctively and eagerly the countenance of the brother — but he had buried his face in his hands, and I could only perceive that a far more than ordinary wanness had overspread the emaciated fingers through which trickled many passionate tears.

The disease of the lady Madeline had long baffled the skill of her physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the person, and frequent although transient affections of a partially cataleptical character, were the unusual diagnosis. Hitherto she had steadily borne up against the pressure of her malady, and had not betaken herself finally to bed; but, on the closing in of the evening of my arrival at the house, she succumbed (as her brother told me at night with inexpressible agitation) to the prostrating power of the destroyer; and I learned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would thus probably be the last I should obtain — that the lady, at least while living, would be seen by me no more.

For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned by either Usher or myself: and during this period I was busied in earnest endeavors to alleviate the melancholy of my friend. We painted and read together; or I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild improvisations of his speaking guitar. And thus, as a closer and still [page 405:] closer intimacy admitted me more unreservedly into the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness, as if an inherent positive quality,(7) poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical universe, in one unceasing radiation of gloom.

I shall ever bear about me,{e} (8) a memory of the many solemn hours I thus spent alone with the master of the House of Usher. Yet I should fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the exact character of the studies, or of the occupations, in which he involved me, or led me the way. An excited and highly distempered ideality threw a sulphureous{f} lustre over all. His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my ears. Among other things, I hold{g} painfully in mind a certain singular perversion and amplification of the wild air of the last waltz of Von Weber.(9) From the paintings over which his elaborate fancy brooded, and which grew, touch by touch, into vaguenesses at which I shuddered the more thrillingly, because I shuddered knowing not why; — from these paintings (vivid as their images now are before me) I would in vain endeavor to educe more than a small portion which should lie within the compass of merely written words. By the utter simplicity, by the nakedness of his designs, he arrested and overawed attention. If ever mortal painted an idea, that mortal was Roderick Usher. For me at least — in the circumstances then surrounding me — there arose out of the pure abstractions which the hypochondriac contrived to throw upon his canvass,{h} an intensity of intolerable awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the contemplation of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of Fuseli.(10)

One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking not so rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed forth, although feebly, in words. A small picture presented the interior of an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls, smooth, white, and without interruption or device.(11) Certain accessory points of the design served well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at an exceeding depth below the surface [page 406:] of the earth. No outlet was observed in any portion of its vast extent, and no torch, or other artificial source of light was discernible; yet a flood of intense rays rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in a ghastly and inappropriate splendor.

I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditory nerve which rendered all music intolerable to the sufferer with the exception of certain effects of stringed instruments. It was, perhaps, the narrow limits to which he thus confined himself upon the guitar, which gave birth, in great measure, to the fantastic character of his performances. But the fervid facility of his impromptus{i} could not be so accounted for. They must have been, and were, in the notes, as well as in the words of his wild fantasias (for he not unfrequently accompanied himself with rhymed verbal improvisations), the result of that intense mental collectedness and concentration to which I have previously alluded as observable only in particular moments of the highest artificial excitement. The words of one of these rhapsodies I have easily remembered.{j} I was, perhaps, the more forcibly impressed with it, as he gave it, because, in the under or mystic current of its meaning, I fancied that I perceived, and for the first time, a full consciousness on the part of Usher, of the tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne. The verses, which were entitled “The Haunted Palace,”(12) ran very nearly, if not accurately, thus:


In the greenest of our valleys,

By good angels tenanted,

Once a fair and stately palace —

Radiant{k} palace — reared its head.

In the monarch Thought's dominion —

It stood there!

Never seraph spread a pinion

Over fabric half so fair.


Banners yellow, glorious, golden,

On its roof did float and flow;

(This — all this — was in the olden [page 407:]

Time long ago)

And every gentle air that dallied,

In that sweet day,

Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,

A winged{l} odor went away.


Wanderers in that happy valley

Through two luminous windows saw

Spirits moving musically

To a lute's well-tunéd law,

Round about a throne, where sitting


In state his glory well befitting,

The ruler{m} of the realm was seen.


And all with pearl and ruby glowing

Was the fair palace door,

Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,

And sparkling evermore,

A troop of Echoes whose sweet{n} duty

Was but to sing,

In voices of surpassing beauty,

The wit and wisdom of their king.


But evil things, in robes of sorrow,

Assailed the monarch's high estate;

(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow

Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)

And, round about his home, the glory

That blushed and bloomed

Is but a dim-remembered story

Of the old time entombed.


And travellers now within that valley,

Through the red-litten windows, see

Vast forms that move fantastically

To a discordant melody;

While, like a rapid ghastly river,

Through the pale door,

A hideous throng rush out forever,

And laugh — but smile no more. [page 408:]

I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad{n′} led us into a train of thought wherein there became manifest an opinion of Usher's which I mention not so much on account of its novelty, (for other men{o} * have thought thus,)(13) as on account of the pertinacity with which he maintained it. This opinion, in its general form, was that of the sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the idea had assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under certain conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization.(14) I lack words to express the full extent, or the earnest abandon of his persuasion. The belief, however, was connected (as I have previously hinted) with the gray stones of the home of his forefathers. The conditions{p} of the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these stones — in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi{q} which overspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood around — above all, in the long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in its reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Its evidence — the evidence of the sentience — was to be seen, he said, (and I here started as he spoke,) in {rr}the gradual yet certain condensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters and the walls.{rr} The result was discoverable, he added, in that silent, yet importunate and terrible influence which for centuries had moulded the destinies of his family, and which made him what I now saw him — what he was. Such opinions need no comment, and I will make none.

Our books — the books which, for years, had formed no small portion of the mental existence of the invalid — were, as might be supposed, in strict keeping with this character of phantasm.(15) We pored together over such works as the Ververt et Chartreuse of Gresset;(16) the Belphegor of Machiavelli;{s} (17) the Heaven and Hell [page 409:] of Swedenborg;(18) the Subterranean Voyage of Nicholas Klimm by{t} Holberg;(19) the Chiromancy of Robert Flud, of Jean D’Indaginé, and of De la Chambre;(20) the Journey into the Blue Distance of Tieck;(21) and the City of the Sun of Campanella.(22) One favorite volume was a small octavo edition of the Directorium Inquisitorum,{u} by the Dominican Eymeric de Gironne;(23) and there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about the old African Satyrs and Œgipans, over which Usher would sit dreaming for hours.(24) His chief delight, however, was found in the{v} perusal of an exceedingly rare and curious book in quarto Gothic — the manual of a forgotten church — the Vigiliae{w} Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae. (25)

I could not help thinking of the wild ritual of this work, and of its probable influence upon the hypochondriac, when, one evening, having informed me abruptly that the lady Madeline was no more, he stated his intention of preserving her corpse for a fortnight, (previously to its final interment,) in one of the numerous vaults within the main walls of the building. The worldly{x} reason, however, assigned for this singular proceeding, was one which I did not feel at liberty to dispute. The brother had been led to his resolution (so he told me) by consideration{y} of the unusual character of the malady of the deceased, of certain obtrusive and eager inquiries on the part of her medical men, and of the remote and exposed situation of the burial-ground of the family. I will not deny that when I called to mind the sinister countenance of the person whom I met upon the staircase, on the day of my arrival at the house, I had no desire to oppose what I regarded as at best but a harmless, and by no{z} means an unnatural, precaution.

At the request of Usher, I personally aided him in the arrangements for the temporary entombment. The body having been encoffined, we two alone bore it to its rest. The vault in which we placed it (and which had been so long unopened that our torches, half smothered in its oppressive atmosphere, gave us little opportunity [page 410:] for investigation) was small, damp, and entirely{a} without means of admission for light; lying, at great depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in which was my own sleeping apartment. It had been used, apparently, in remote feudal times, for the worst purposes of a donjon-keep, and, in later days, as a place of deposit for powder, or some{b} other highly combustible substance, as a portion of its floor, and the whole interior of a long archway through which we reached it, were carefully sheathed with copper. The door, of massive iron, had been, also, similarly protected. Its immense weight caused an unusually sharp grating sound, as it moved upon its hinges.

Having deposited our mournful burden upon tressels within this region of horror, we partially turned aside the yet unscrewed lid of the coffin, and looked upon the face of the tenant. A striking{c} similitude between the brother and sister {dd}now first arrested my attention; and{dd} Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them. Our glances, however, rested not long upon the dead — for we could not regard her unawed. The disease which had thus entombed the lady in the maturity of youth, had left, as usual in all maladies of a strictly cataleptical character, the mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and the face, and that suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible in death.(26) We replaced and screwed down the lid, and, having secured the door of iron, made our way, with toil, into the scarcely less gloomy apartments of the upper portion of the house.

And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed, an observable change came over the features of the mental disorder of my friend. His ordinary manner had vanished. His ordinary occupations were neglected or forgotten. He roamed from chamber to chamber with hurried, unequal, and objectless step. The pallor of his countenance had assumed, if possible, a more ghastly hue — [page 411:] but the luminousness of his eye had utterly gone out. The once occasional huskiness of his tone was heard no more; and a tremulous quaver, as if of extreme terror, habitually characterized his utterance. There were times, indeed, when I thought his {ee}unceasingly agitated mind{ee} was laboring with some{f} oppressive secret, to divulge which he struggled for the necessary courage. At times, again, I was obliged to resolve all into the mere inexplicable vagaries of madness, for{g} I beheld him gazing upon vacancy for long hours, in an attitude of the profoundest attention, as if listening to some imaginary sound. It was no wonder that his condition terrified — that it infected me. I felt creeping upon me, by slow yet certain degrees, the wild influences of his own fantastic yet impressive superstitions.

It was, especially,{h} upon retiring to bed late in the night of the seventh or eighth day after the {ii}placing of the lady Madeline within the donjon,{ii} that I experienced the full power of such feelings. Sleep came not near my couch — while the hours waned and waned away.(27) I struggled to reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me. I endeavored to believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was due to the bewildering{j} influence of the gloomy furniture of the room — of the dark and tattered draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the bed.(28) But my efforts were fruitless. An irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame; and, at length, there sat upon my very heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm.(29) Shaking this off with a gasp and a struggle, I uplifted myself upon the pillows, and, peering earnestly within the intense darkness of the chamber, harkened — I know not why, except that an instinctive spirit prompted me — to certain low and indefinite sounds which came, through the pauses of the storm, at long intervals, I knew not whence. Overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable, I threw on my clothes with haste (for [page 412:] I felt that I should sleep no more during the night), and endeavored to arouse myself from the pitiable condition into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro through the apartment.

I had taken but few turns in this manner, when a light step on an adjoining staircase arrested my attention. I presently recognised it as that of Usher. In an instant afterward{k} he rapped, with a gentle touch, at my door, and entered, bearing a lamp. His countenance was, as usual, cadaverously wan — but, moreover,{l} there was a species of mad hilarity in his eyes — an evidently restrained hysteria{m} in his whole demeanor. His air appalled me — but anything was preferable to the solitude which I had so long endured, and I even welcomed his presence as a relief.

“And you have not seen it?” he said abruptly, after having stared about him for some moments in silence — “you have not then seen it? — but, stay! you shall.” Thus speaking, and having carefully shaded his lamp, he hurried to one of the{n} casements, and threw it freely open to the storm.

The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted us from our feet. It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful night, and one wildly singular in its terror and its beauty. A whirlwind had apparently collected its force in our vicinity; for there were frequent and violent alterations in the direction of the wind; and the exceeding density of the clouds (which hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the house) did not prevent our perceiving the life-like velocity with which they flew careering from all points against each other, without passing away into the distance. I say that even their exceeding density did not prevent our perceiving this — yet we had no glimpse of the moon or stars — nor was there any flashing forth of the lightning. But the under surfaces of the huge masses of agitated vapor, as well as all terrestrial objects immediately around us, were glowing in the unnatural{o} light of a faintly luminous and{p} distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung about and enshrouded the mansion.

“You must not — you shall not behold this!” said I, shudderingly, [page 413:] to Usher, as I led him, with a gentle violence, from the window to a seat. “These appearances, which bewilder you, are merely electrical phenomena not uncommon — or it may be that they have their ghastly origin in the rank miasma of the tarn. Let us close this casement; — the air is chilling and dangerous to your frame. Here is one of your favorite romances. I will read, and you shall listen; — and so we will pass away this terrible night together.”

The antique volume which I had taken up was the “Mad Trist” of Sir Launcelot Canning;(30) but I had called it a{q} favorite of Usher's more in sad jest than in earnest; for, in truth, there is little in its uncouth {rr}and unimaginative{rr} prolixity which could have had interest for the lofty and spiritual ideality of my friend. It was, however, the only book immediately at hand; and I indulged a vague hope that the excitement which now agitated the hypochondriac, might find relief (for the history of mental disorder is full of similar anomalies) even in the extremeness{s} of the folly which I should read. Could I have judged, indeed, by the wild overstrained air of vivacity with which he harkened, or apparently harkened, to the words of the tale, I might well have{t} congratulated myself upon the success of my design.

I had arrived at that well-known portion of the story where Ethelred, the hero of the Trist, having sought in vain for peaceable admission into the dwelling of the hermit, proceeds to make good an entrance by force. Here, it will be remembered, the words of the narrative run thus:

“And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart,(31) and who was now mighty withal, on account of the powerfulness of the wine which he had drunken, waited no longer to hold parley with the hermit, who, in sooth, was of an obstinate and maliceful turn, but, feeling the rain upon his shoulders, and fearing the rising of the tempest, uplifted his mace outright, and, with blows, made quickly room in the plankings of the door for his gauntleted hand; and now pulling therewith sturdily, he so cracked, and ripped, and tore all asunder, that the noise of the dry and hollow-sounding wood alarummed and reverberated throughout the forest.” [page 414:]

At the termination of this sentence I started, and for a moment, paused; for it appeared to me (although I at once concluded that my excited fancy had deceived me) — it appeared to me that, from some very remote portion of the mansion,{u} there came, indistinctly, to my ears, what might have been, in its exact similarity of character, the echo (but a stifled and dull one certainly) of the very cracking and ripping sound which Sir Launcelot had so particularly described. It was, beyond doubt, the coincidence alone which had arrested my attention; for, amid the rattling of the sashes of the casements, and the ordinary commingled noises of the still increasing storm, the sound, in itself, had nothing, surely, which should have interested or disturbed me. I continued the story:

“But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within the door, was sore enraged and amazed to perceive no signal of the maliceful hermit; but, in the stead thereof, a dragon of a scaly and prodigious demeanor, and of a fiery tongue, which sate in guard before a palace of gold, with a floor of silver; and upon the wall there hung a shield of shining brass with this legend enwritten —

Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;

Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win;

And Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of{v} the dragon, which fell before him, and gave up his pesty breath, with a shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so piercing, that Ethelred had fain to close his ears with his hands against the dreadful noise of it, the like whereof was never before heard.”

Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wild{w} amazement — for there could be no doubt whatever that, in this instance, I did actually hear (although from what direction it proceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and apparently distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound — the exact counterpart of what my fancy had already conjured up for{x} the dragon's unnatural shriek as described by the romancer.

Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of this second and most extraordinary coincidence, by a thousand conflicting [page 415:] sensations, in which wonder and extreme terror were predominant, I still retained sufficient presence of mind to avoid exciting, by any observation, the sensitive nervousness of my companion. I was by no means certain that he had noticed the sounds in question; although, assuredly, a strange alteration had, during the last few minutes, taken place in his demeanor. From a position fronting my own, he had gradually brought round his chair, so as to sit with his face to the door of the chamber; and thus I could but partially perceive his features, although I saw that his lips trembled as if he were murmuring inaudibly. His head had dropped upon his breast — yet I knew that he was not asleep, from the wide and rigid opening of the eye as I caught a glance of it in profile. The motion of his body, too, was at variance with this idea — for he rocked from side to side with a gentle yet constant and uniform sway. Having rapidly taken notice of all this, I resumed the narrative of Sir Launcelot, which thus proceeded:

“And now, the champion, having escaped from the terrible fury of the dragon, bethinking himself of the brazen shield, and of the breaking up of the enchantment which was upon it, removed the carcass from out of the way before him, and approached valorously over the silver pavement of the castle to where the shield was upon the wall; which in sooth tarried not for his full coming, but fell down at his feet upon the silver floor, with a mighty great and terrible ringing sound.”

No sooner had these syllables passed my lips, than — as if a shield of brass had indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily upon a floor of silver — I became aware of a distinct, hollow, metallic, and clangorous, yet apparently muffled reverberation. Completely{y} unnerved, I leaped{z} to my feet; but the measured rocking movement of Usher was undisturbed. I rushed to the chair in which he sat. His eyes were bent fixedly before hint, and throughout his whole countenance there reigned a{a} stony rigidity. But, as I placed{b} my hand upon his shoulder, there came a strong shudder over his whole person;{c} a sickly smile quivered about his lips; and I saw [page 416:] that he spoke in a low, hurried, and gibbering murmur, as if unconscious of my presence. Bending closely over him,{d} I at length drank in the hideous import of his words.

“Not hear it? — yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long — long — long — many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it — yet I dared not — oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am! — I dared not — I dared not speak! We have put her living in the tomb! Said I not that my senses were acute? I now tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I heard them — many, many days ago — yet I dared not — I dared not speak! And now — to-night — Ethelred — ha! ha! — the breaking of the hermit's door, and the death-cry of the dragon, and the clangor of the shield! — say, rather, the rending of her{e} coffin, and the grating of the iron {ff}hinges of her prison,{ff} and her struggles within the coppered archway of the vault! Oh whither shall I fly?(32) Will she not be here anon? Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for my haste? Have I not heard her footstep{g} on the stair? Do I not distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart?(33) Madman!” — here he {hh}sprang furiously{hh} to his feet, and shrieked out his syllables, as if in the effort he were giving up his soul — “Madman!{i} I tell you that she now stands without the door!

As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there had been found the potency of a spell — the huge{j} antique pannels{k} to which the speaker pointed, threw slowly back, upon the instant, their ponderous and ebony jaws. It was the work of the rushing gust — but then without those doors there did stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of Usher. There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold — then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent{l} and now final death-agonies, [page 417:] bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.{m}

From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened — there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind — the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight — my brain reeled as I saw the mighty halls rushing asunder — there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters(34) — and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “House of Usher.”{n}

[[Poe's Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears near the bottom of page 408:]

*  Watson, Dr. Percival, Spallanzani, and especially the Bishop of Landaff. — See “Chemical Essays,” vol. v. [Poe's note]


[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 397:]

Motto:  First added in D; rèsonne (D, E, F)

a  common (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 398:]

b  beyond a (E)

c  still the reason, and (A, B) changed in C

d  lie (A, B) changed in C

ee ... ee  pitiable mental idiosyncrasy (A, B, C)

f  Omitted (A, B, C)

g  summons, forthwith. (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 399:]

h  Omitted (A, B, C)

i  that around (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 400:]

j  walls, (A)

k  and in (E)

ll ... ll  tarn, in the form of an inelastic vapor or gas — (A, B, C)

m  utterly porous, and evidently decayed (A, B) changed in C

n  spacious (E) misprint

o  studio (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 401:]

p  and excessively (A, B, C)

q  trelliced (A, B, C); trellissed (D) corrected from E

r  upon (A, B, C)

s  ennuyé (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 402:]

t  simply (B, C) misprint

uu ... uu  moments of the intensest excitement of the lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium. (A, B, C)

vv ... vv  added in a breath, (C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 403:]

ww ... ww  I must inevitably (A, B, C)

xx ... xx  my struggles with some fatal demon of fear.” (A, B, C)

y  from which, (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 404:]

z  As (A, B, C)

aa ... aa  dread. Her figure, her air, her features — all, in their very minutest development were those — were identically (I can use no other sufficient term) were identically those of the Roderick Usher who sat beside me. (A, B, C)

b  feeling (A, B, C)

c  As (A, B, C)

d  her exit, (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 405:]

e  me, as Moslemin their shrouds at Mecca, (A)

f  sulphurous (A, B, C)

g  bear (A, B, C)

h  canvas (A, B, C, E)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 406:]

i  impromptus (A, B, C)

j  borne away in memory. (A, B, C)

k  Snow-white (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 407:]

l  wingéd (C)

m  sovereign (A, B) changed in C

n  sole (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 408:]

n’  ballad, (D, E, F) comma deleted to follow A, B, C

o  No note in A, B, C, E

p  condition (A)

q  fungi (A, B, C)

rr ... rr  Italicized in A, B, C

s  After this: the Selenography of Brewster; (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 409:]

t  de (A, B) changed in C

u  Inquisitorium (A, B, C, D, E, F) corrected from the original title

v  the earnest and repeated (A, B, C)

w  Vigilae (A, B) changed in C

x  wordly (A, B, C) misprint

y  considerations (A, B) changed in C

z  by no / not by any (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 410:]

a  utterly (A)

b  Omitted (A, B, C)

c  A striking / The exact (A, B, C)

dd ... dd  even here again startled and confounded me. (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 411:]

ee ... ee  mind (C)

f  an (A, B, C)

g  as (A, B, C)

h  most especially, (A, B) changed in C

ii ... ii  entombment of the lady Madeline, (A)

j  phantasmagoric (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 412:]

k  afterwards (A, B, C)

l  but, moreover, / but (A, B, C)

m  hysteria (A, B, C)

n  the gigantic (A, B, C)

o  Canceled (C)

p  yet (C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 413:]

q  Omitted (E)

rr ... rr  Canceled (C)

s  utterness (A)

t  well have / have well (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 414:]

u  mansion or of its vicinity, (A, B, C)

v  sf (A) misprint

w  utter (A)

x  as the sound of (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 415:]

y  Utterly (A)

z  started convulsively (A, B); leapt (C)

a  a more than (A, B) changed in C

b  laid (A, B, C)

c  whole person; / frame; (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 416:]

d  his person, (A, B, C)

e  the (A, B, C)

ff ... ff  hinges, (A, B, C)

g  footsteps (A, B, C)

hh ... hh  sprung violently (A, B, C)

i  “Madman! (A, B, C)

j  Canceled (C)

k  pannels (all texts)

l  horrible (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 417:]

m  dreaded. (A, B, C)

n  At the end is a note in A: The ballad of “The Haunted Palace,” introduced in this tale, was published separately, some months ago, in the Baltimore “Museum.”

[page 417, continued:]


Motto:  This is adapted (Son being substituted for Mon) from a poem called “Le Refus,” lines 41-42, addressed by the popular French lyricist, Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857) to General Galignani, wherein the poet refused a pension for his “services” in the Revolution of 1830. Poe changes the wording slightly, as he often did, for his own purposes. Killis Campbell thought it an inspiration of Poe's “Israfel.” But the motto was not used until 1845; and it is hard to say how Poe could have seen the poem before he met with his quotation in R. M. Walsh's Sketches of Conspicuous Living Characters of France (translated from Louis L. de Lomémie, 1841), a book he reviewed carefully in Graham's for April 1841, and often used. The quotation may be translated, “His heart is a hanging lute; as soon as it is touched, it responds.” (See the notes on the poem “Israfel” — Mabbott, I, 177.) A lute is really shaped like a human heart.

1.  The solitary horseman was a favorite in the opening scenes of the once popular works of the English novelist, George Payne Rainsford James (1799-1860). However, my correspondent, George Wetzel, points out that there are verbal echoes of the opening of Irving's “Westminster Abbey” in The Sketch Book: “One of those sober and rather melancholy days in the latter part of autumn, when the shadows of morning and evening almost mingle together, [page 418:] and throw a gloom over the decline of the year, I passed several hours in rambling about Westminster Abbey.”

2.  The eyelike windows suggest the personality of the house. And the reference to opium is, as always in Poe, a suggestion that unimaginative readers may consider the whole story hallucination.

3.  Compare Politian, II, 74: “Di Broglio's haughty and time-honored line”; “Berenicë”: “Yet there are no towers in the land more time-honored than my gloomy, gray, hereditary halls”; and “Ligeia”: “The gloomy and dreary grandeur of the buildings.” The author here hints that the family has had the single soul for generations.

4.  Compare the heroine's nose in “Ligeia,” and the hair of Bedloe in “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains.” Phrenologists consider great expansion above the regions of the temple a sign of ideality, or poetic gift. Poe used the word “ideality” in the phrenological sense in his criticism, and may have liked the notion, for he had a high forehead himself.

5.  Compare “The Tell-Tale Heart”: “What you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses.” See also “Colloquy of Monos and Una” at note 19.

6.  Compare “I had become a bounden slave,” in “Ligeia.”

7.  Compare Paradise Lost, I, 63: “No light, but rather darkness visible.”

8.  Compare the canceled phrase “as Moslemin their shrouds at Mecca” with “Morella” at note 11.

9.  Roderick Usher is playing a dirge for himself, as will be understood when one knows of the early editions of the waltz. In the Library of Congress is a copy called:

Weber's Last Waltz / Composed by him a few hours before his death / for the Piano Forte. / Philad.a Published and sold by Geo. Willig 171 Chesnut (sic) St. Folio, one leaf, [circa 1830.]

The waltz was actually composed by Karl Gottlieb Reissiger (1798-1859) and copied out by his friend Karl Maria, Baron von Weber (1786-1826), to play in his concerts in London. Weber died suddenly; the music in his handwriting was believed to be his own composition and was published as such. Poe did not know of the real composer's relation to it. [For added details, see Pollin, Discoveries in Poe, pp. 85-86.]

10.  Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) was an English painter of Swiss extraction, admired by William Blake, and a master of strange subjects.

11.  The painting Poe seems to have imagined, but his inspiration may have been a view through the West Lawn Arcade at the University of Virginia. (This idea has occurred independently to both Richard Wilbur and myself.)

12.  “The Haunted Palace,” first published, separately, in the Baltimore American Museum of Science, Literature, and the Arts for April 1839, is discussed in detail in the volume of Poems (Mabbott, I, 312-318). It may be repeated here, however, that it is not autobiographical, but an allegory of a [page 419:] deranged mind. Poe's poem was probably inspired by a serious “Ballade” of John Wolcot (Peter Pindar), beginning, “Couldst thou looke into myne harte.”

13.  Poe's footnote is confusing. His sole authority is Richard Watson (1737-1816), Professor of Chemistry at Cambridge and later Bishop of Llandaff in Wales, author of An Essay on the Subjects of Chemistry, which was originally printed in 1771 and collected as the third in the fifth volume of his Chemical Essays (1787), V, 127-128. Watson there adds references to the Abbé Lazzaro Spallanzani's Dissertations Relative to the Natural History of Animals and Vegetables (translated from the Italian, London, 1784), and to the article by Dr. Thomas Percival on “the perceptive power of vegetables” (1785) included in the Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester [5 vols, London, 1785-1802], II, 114), as well as to works in Greek or Latin by Joannes Stobaeus, Hieronymus Cardanus, and John Ray. See Harry R. Warfel in MLN, February 1939.

14.  The kingdom of inorganization is the Mineral Kingdom. See Herbert Smith, “Usher's Madness and Poe's Organicism: A Source” (AL, November 1967). He believes that the debt to Watson goes further and that in Watson's scientific essay Poe might have found the idea that “vegetable sentience is simply a major piece of evidence in the organic relatedness of all matter.”

15.  The books mentioned as in the library of Roderick Usher are all — save The Mad Trist, which is integral to the action — actual books. Poe supposed they dealt with ideas about spirit pervading matter, “bipart soul,” and the relations of microcosm to macrocosm. Some of them he could not have seen, but he knew of their nature from encyclopedias and perhaps from the conversation of the learned bookseller, William Gowans, with whom he boarded in New York in 1837. Some, I believe, Poe actually had read.

16.  A translation by “Father Prout” (Francis Mahony) of Jean-Baptiste-Louis Gresset's poem “Vert-vert, the Parrot,” was published in Fraser's Magazine for September 1834; and Poe must have seen in L’Erudition Universelle, Book II, chapter vi, section 17, Bielfeld's mention of Gresset's Ververt and La Chartreuse. Bielfeld said these were a special kind of composition, between heroic and burlesque poetry, and having something of the moral, satirical, serious, mocking, and nobly comic. Ververt is a convent parrot who talks ignorantly but sometimes meaningfully of holy things. He visits the waterfront, learns to swear, and is exiled, but, being heartbroken, is taken home again, forgiven, and dies in the arms of the abbess. His poem made the Jesuits expel Gresset, but many readers find it a pious allegory of frail mankind with mystical implications. La Chartreuse lacks mystical qualities and Poe had probably not seen it, nor, I suspect, had Bielfeld.

17.  “The little novel of Belphegor is pleasantly conceived and pleasantly told,” wrote T. B. Macaulay, reviewing a French edition of the works of Machiavelli in the Edinburgh Review for March 1827. Written about 1515, the novella was translated into English as early as 1660. The protagonist, a fallen archangel, comes to earth to investigate the complaints of many souls that their wives are to blame for their damnation. In Florence, well supplied with money, he marries the beautiful Onesta Donati, who fleeces him so that he must run away from his [page 420:] creditors. He “possesses” three ladies in succession, and finally, hearing that his wife is coming after him, he returns to Hell. The demoniac possession is what fascinates Roderick Usher.

Poe canceled “the Selonography of Brewster” mentioned in the early versions but in his manuscript notes for “Hans Phaall” he mentioned it as if it was something to look up. Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), Scottish physicist, distinguished for his work in optics and polarized light, editor, educator, prolific writer on scientific subjects, principal of Edinburgh University, was one of the best known scientists of his day.

18.  Emanuel Swedenborg's great work Heaven and Hell (1758) deals with visions and mystical experiences.

19.  The Iter Subterraneum (the “Voyage Underground”) by Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754), founder of modern Danish literature, tells of a country inside the earth where the people are trees who walk and talk. Poe presumably found a reference in Bielfeld, Book II, chapter vi, section 45, for in the earliest version of his story he refers to “Nicholas Klimm de Holberg” as if it were a personal name.

20.  The works on chiromancy (palmistry) are mentioned by Bielfeld, Book II, chapter xvii, section 10, in a single sentence. They are: Tractatus de Geomantia, by Robert Fludd, M.D., 1687; Discours sur les Principes de la Chiromancie, by Marin Cureau de la Chambre, 1653 (English translation, 1658); Introductiones Apotelesmatici ... in Chiromantiam, by Joannes ab Indagine of Steinheim, 1522, English translation, 1598. As the title indicates, the first is primarily concerned with geomancy, a method of divination by means of marking the earth with a pointed stick. It is most unlikely that Poe ever saw any of these hooks, but he obviously knew that these methods of fortune-telling are based on a belief in a mysterious relation between the stars, the configuration of the palms, and so forth; that is, between microcosm and macrocosm.

21.  Poe refers to “A Journey into the Blue Distance” in “Marginalia,” number 78 (Democratic Review, December 1844, p, 585). It is a satirical story within a story — “Das alte Buch and die Reise ins Blaue hinein,” a novella by Johann Ludvig Tieck. First published in 1834 in the annual Urania (Leipzig) for 1835, it was briefly noticed in “A Glance at the German Annuals” in Blackwood's Magazine for February 1835, p. 388:

The tale by Tieck, which opens the Urania of this year, (Das alte Buch,) the Old Book, is one of those phantasmata in which an attempt is made to blend, somewhat in Tieck's earlier style ... the dreams of fairy land with the satirical exposure of the vices of modern taste ... the first half of the tale is written in Tieck's serious vein, full of all his usual vague melancholy and romance ... while the latter is a mere diatribe against the corruptions of modern times, and particularly of the French school in matters literary.

Further mention of the tale appeared — with the title translated — in a review of Tieck's Life of a Poet in Blackwood's for September 1837.

The story recounts the adventures of a medieval noble who marries Gloriana, the Faerie Queene. She reigns in a paradise inside a mountain, where dwell the [page 421:] souls of great poets — Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare. Ugly gnomes have taken over authors like E. T. A. Hoffmann and Victor Hugo, but an emissary of Gloriana has embraced the young Goethe. (This note is by courtesy of my pupil Heidrun Smolka.)

22.  The Civitas Solis (1623) by the Italian poet and philosopher, Tommaso Campanella, is mentioned by Bielfeld, Book II, chapter vi, section 45. It recounts a visit to the people who inhabit a Utopia in the Sun. Campanella held that the world and all its parts have a spiritual nature.

23.  Nicholas Eymeric of Gironne, who became Inquisitor of Aragon in 1356, wrote instructions to priests examining heretics and gave a list of forbidden books such as Usher wished to consult. The first edition of the Directorium was printed in 1503.

24.  Pomponius Mela, the Latin geographer of the first century A. D., is cited by Poe in a note on “The Island of the Fay.” The passages that fascinated Roderick Usher are in De Situ Orbis, I, 8, and III, 95:

The Satyrs have nothing human save the form. The form of the Ægipans (goat-pans) is as they are named.

The fields, as far as can be seen, are those of the Pans and Satyrs. This opinion is held because, although there is no trace of cultivation therein, no houses of inhabitants, no pathways, a solitude vast by day, and a vaster silence, at night frequent fires gleam, and as if camps widely spread are indicated, cymbals and drums resound, and flutes are heard, sounding more than human.

25.  Copies of two quarto editions, printed in Gothic type, of the Vigiliae mortuorum secundum chorum ecclesiae Maguntinae (“Vigils for the dead according to the use of the church of Mainz”), are known. There is a copy of one edition in the University Library, Cambridge, England, which has been examined for me. No specimen of either edition is located in America, and I have not found even printed descriptions accessible in Poe's day; but his friend William Gowans was interested in incunabula, and may have spoken of the very rare book. Poe (who knew little of the Roman Catholic Church) may have supposed the work unorthodox, but incorrectly. Prior to the Council of Trent, the texts of Breviaries (with which the Vigiliae would commonly be bound) varied somewhat from place to place; but the rites of Mainz in 1500 differed little, and in nothing very important, from those in use in Baltimore in 1839.

26.  See “Marginalia,” number 77 (Democratic Review, December 1844, p. 585), for a rebuke to Bulwer's reference to the “sweet smile ... of the dying” in Ernest Maltravers (1837), IX, vii. See also “Shadow — a Parable.”

27.  Compare “Al Aaraaf,” II, 262: “The night that waned and waned and brought no day.”

28.  Compare “The Sleeper,” lines 22-24: “The bodiless airs, a wizard rout, / Flit through thy chamber in and out, / And wave the curtain canopy”; and “Ligeia”: “a strong continual current of wind behind the draperies — giving a hideous and uneasy animation to the whole.”

29.  Compare “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” at note 5 for “an incubus upon our hearts, and a shadow upon our brains.” [page 422:]

30.  The Mad Trist is a product of Poe's imagination, and part of the plot of his tale. Its fictional author, Sir Launcelot Canning, gets his name from the greatest knight of Arthurian story and from a central figure in the “Rowley” poems of Thomas Chatterton. William Canynges, Mayor of Bristol in the fifteenth century (DNB), was a real person about whom Chatterton made up an elaborate legend. “Sir Launcelot Canning” is named as the author of the original rhymed motto for Poe's Stylus magazine, discussed at length in the volume of Poems. (See Mabbott, I, 328-329.)

31.  Ethelred may get his name from a character in Scott's Ivanhoe, who is doughty indeed.

32.  Compare Psalm 139:7: “... whither shall I flee from thy presence?”

33.  Compare the conclusion of “The Tell-Tale Heart”: “ ‘Villains,’ I shrieked ... ‘I admit the deed! ... it is the beating of his hideous heart!’ ”

34.  Compare Ezekiel 43:2: “His voice like a noise of many waters,” and Revelation 1:15: “as the sound of many waters.” See also “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” at note 1.


[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 393:]

*  Woodberry, Poe (1885), pp. 120-121; Life (1909), I, 229-231; Buranelli, p. 138.

  Lovecraft's statement is from the seventh chapter of his long essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” originally published in an amateur magazine in 1927, reprinted in The Outsider and Others (1939, see p. 530). Wilbur's observation is made in his discussion of allegory in the works of Poe, “The House of Poe,” Anniversary Lectures, Library of Congress (1959), p. 28. (Wilbur's essay is more easily accessible in Eric Carlson's The Recognition of Poe, 1966, pp. 255-277.)

  Information reaches me from two independent sources: the Reverend Anson Titus of Somerville, Massachusetts (see Phillips, II, 1611ff), and John P. Poe who about 1890 told my correspondent, Frederick H. Howard, of the poet's use of the younger Ushers in his narrative. He alone reported Mrs. Usher's second given name.

§  My pupil, Lula Nelson Snyder Warden, showed this elaborately in an unpublished master's essay (Columbia University, 1925). [For a more recent study of the atmospheric source of Usher's madness, see Ian Walker in Modern Language Review, October 1966.]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 394:]

*  Compare “Morella,” “William Wilson,” and “Mystification.” The last concerns a mirror-image, something found again in the doubling of the Ushers’ house in the waters of the tarn. Familial soul-sharing is not necessarily that of twins. Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, VII, 53, tells of two brothers named Corfidius. The elder seemed to die but revived, knowing where his brother had hidden a treasure — and then received word that his brother was really dead.

  See Margaret Alterton, Origins of Poe's Critical Theory (1925), pp. 25-26, citing Palmer Cobb's Influence of E. T. A. Hoffmann on ... Poe (1908). See also Woodberry's Life (1909), I, 380.

  See his reprint of the romance issued in New York in 1964, pp. 88, 104, and 133. This reprint is of the second edition, and first in America, although a copy of the original edition was in a circulating library in New York before 1810. I greatly doubt that Godwin's very rare book was ever seen by Poe.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 395:]

§  See his fine study “A Key to the House of Usher,” The University of Toronto Quarterly, January 1949. [See also Poe Studies for June 1972 which is devoted to articles on “The Fall of the House of Usher.”]

*  See his paper “What Happens in the House of Usher” (AL, January 1964).

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 396:]

  Lyle H. Kendall in College English, March 1963, held that Madeline was a succubus, and that Roderick read the black mass from the Vigiliae. I find it difficult to take this seriously.

  The Broadway Journal, August 30, 1845, had a humorous comment on this:

We have written paper after paper which attracted no notice at all until it appeared as original in “Bentley's Miscellany” or the “Paris Charivari.” The “Boston Notion” once abused us very lustily for having written “The House of Usher.” Not long afterwards Bentley published it anonymously, as original with itself, — whereupon “The Notion,” having forgotten that we wrote it, not only lauded it ad nauseam, but copied it in toto.

[In “Poe and the Boston Notion,” English Language Notes, September 1970, B. Pollin discusses Poe's relation to this paper, but he should have indicated the reprinting of “The Fall of the House of Usher” was noted by Heartman and Canny, p. 160.]



There is a complication in the spelling of the title of Gresset's poem. It was published, in French, as Ververt, and it did appear in Fraser's as “Vert-Vert,” both in the title and in the text. It is regularly cited under both forms, so the inconsistency in the text above is allowed to stand.


[S:1 - TOM2T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions-The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (The Fall of the House of Usher)