Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “Mesmeric Revelation,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. III: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 1024-1042 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 1024, continued:]


This is the second of Poe's three tales involving mesmerism.* That Poe was, for a time at least, seriously interested in the subject is indicated by his praise of Chauncey Hare Townshend's Facts in Mesmerism (London, 1840). Lectures, demonstrations, and publications, both responsible and irresponsible, had intensified general interest in mesmerism; sensationalism and quackery were concurrent [page 1025:] with serious scientific investigation. The notion that mesmerized persons might be clairvoyant was widespread. The following is copied from the New York Brother Jonathan of November 18, 1843:

ANIMAL MAGNETISM! — A series of experiments are now going forward in different parts of this Country, with different subjects, by different magnetiserswholly ignorant of what others are doing — and by people who have not direct communication with one another; all of which go to prove that the Moon is inhabited — that the people have a written language — and make war. The most miraculous coincidences have happened. We are quite serious.

This series of experiments gave Poe the setting for his story, and he seized the opportunity to establish “a framework of mesmeric experimentation as the basis for his venture into metaphysical speculation” (Lind, p. 1087). He called the piece an “Essay” in a letter of February 24, 1845 to Griswold, and referred to it several times as an article. Apparently he thought of it primarily as a piece of exposition, and undoubtedly saw its principal significance not in the fictitious account of mesmerism but in the discussion of ideas that A. H. Quinn (Poe, p. 419) called “a prelude to Eureka.”

The tale is entirely fictional, but some of the ideas propounded by the principal speaker were hypothetical opinions of the author. He expounds the idea, going back to Democritus and to the Epicureans, that spirit is a rarified kind of matter. Poe seems to have believed in it himself. The technical term for it is Materialism, but the notion is not incompatible with orthodox Christian ideas, in the form used by Poe.

“Mesmeric Revelation” was listed as completed but not yet published in Poe's letter to Lowell dated May 28, 1844, and mentioned in his letter of July 10 to Chivers, as forthcoming in the Columbian Magazine, where it appeared before the end of the month. On August 18 Poe wrote to Lowell again, sending a copy of the first publication with “many corrections and alterations.” He lamented [page 1026:] that “the article was wofully misprinted,” and begged Lowell to have it “copied (with corrections) in the ... Boston Notion — or any other paper where you have interest.” Lowell did not arrange for any reprint or preserve the revised copy of the story.

There were reprints, however. In the climate of belief in the wonders of animal magnetism, the credulous were many. The editor of the New York New World reprinted the “marvellous article” in the number for August 3, 1844, remarking:

Mr. Poe cannot, on so serious a subject, trifle with his readers: yet more extraordinary statements can hardly be conceived. We do believe in the facts of mesmerism, although we have not yet been able to arrive at any theory sufficient to explain them. Here, however, we are almost staggered.

This was duly copied in the Philadelphia Saturday Museum of August 31, 1844.

Other editors and reviewers, especially in the newer fields of thought, were inclined to take it as a factual report. In “Marginal Notes” in Godey's, August 1845, p. 50 (“Marginalia,” number 130), Poe said:

The Swedenborgians inform me that they have discovered all that I said in a magazine article entitled “Mesmeric Revelation,” to be absolutely true, although at first they were very strongly inclined to doubt my veracity — a thing which, in this particular instance, I never dreamed of not doing myself. The story is a pure fiction front beginning to end.§

One John S. Clackner of Rochester, New York, wrote to the Regenerator of Fruit Hills, Ohio, on July 18, 1845: “I feel inclined to make a few remarks on the subject of Mesmerism — or rather on a piece entitled, ‘A Mesmeric Revelation,’ which I saw in the ‘Western Luminary,’ May 31st, ’45, also in the Regenerator, May 14th do., by ‘Edgar A. Poe.’ ” He summarized the first part of the narrative, apparently accepting it as a true account of a mesmeric experiment “entered into with faith and alacrity by both sides,” but expressed doubts concerning the validity of the revelation. “I am not yet so great a novice, or so credulous, as to believe that Deity condescended [page 1027:] to reveal such astounding mysteries to a clairvoyant, which have hitherto been withheld from the intelligent mass of mankind.” He went on to argue that the “revelations” might well be the product of the clairvoyant's illness and imagination.

Clackner's letter was published in the Regenerator of September 1,* and Poe remarked on it in the Broadway Journal, September 20: “The Mesmeric journals, and some others, are still making a to-do about the tenability of Mr. Vankirk's doctrines as broached in a late Magazine paper of our own, entitled ‘Mesmeric Revelation.’ ‘The Regenerator’ has some very curious comments indeed.” His response fizzled out, however; after quoting a part of Clackner's summary of the discussion over “What is God?” he took issue only with Clackner's charge of “incoherent language,” and concluded: “These things, however, are of little consequence. We wait with great patience for the end of the argumentation.”

The piece was sensibly received by some, like Eli Ballou, the editor who reprinted it in the Universalist Watchman of Montpelier, Vermont, August 30 and September 6, 1845, with an introduction saying: “We do not take the following article as an historical account, nor, as a burlesque on mesmerism; but, as a presentation of the writer's philosophical theory which he wished to commend to the attention of his readers.” But credulity continued. The American Phrenological Journal of Philadelphia published “Mesmeric Revelation” in its issue for September 1845 with introductory remarks carrying enthusiastic support:

As chroniclers of magnetic occurrences, we cannot well refuse admission to our pages of an article as important as the subject matter of the following “Magnetic Revelation” ... claims to be ... [It] was written by Edgar A. Poe, a man favorably known in the literary world; so that it may be relied on as authentic. Its mere literary merit, the reader will perceive, is by no means inconsiderable. Read and re-read. [page 1028:]

Some spiritualists were a bit more guarded. Clarence S. Brigham found in the Lowell, Massachusetts, Star of Bethlehem, October 4, 1845, a reprint with an introduction saying:

The following extraordinary article was, we believe, originally published in the “Columbian Magazine.” Whether it is a statement of facts, or merely a development of the writer's system of mental philosophy we know not. Be that as it may it is worthy of a careful perusal. The reader can draw his own conclusions. — We give it as it is, without farther comments.

In its issue for November 29, 1845, the London Popular Record of Modern Science printed Poe's story with the heading “The Last Conversation of a Somnambule” — a change of title that Poe criticized severely in “Marginalia,” number 200 (Graham's Magazine, March 1848); see note 1 below.

Poe was obviously amused by the reception accorded his story, and made the most of it in society. A common acquaintance wrote Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman of meeting Mr. Poe “very often at the receptions” (of Miss Anne Lynch) where “People seem to think there is something uncanny about him, and the strangest stories are told, what is more, believed, about his mesmeric experiences, at the mention of which he always smiles.”

By the middle of 1848, Poe's story was known in Paris, where Charles Baudelaire published in La Liberté de Penser for July 15, 1848, “Révélation magnétique.” As Wagenknecht notes, “It is eloquent testimony to the interests of the time that ‘Mesmeric Revelation’ should have been the very first piece Baudelaire selected for translation.”§


(A) Columbian Magazine for August 1844 (2:67-70); (B) Tales (1845), pp. 47-57; (C) J. Lorimer Graham copy of Tales, with a manuscript correction; (D) Works (1850), I, 110-120.

The J. Lorimer Graham copy of Tales (C) is followed. Its only change is the correction of a misprinted word. Griswold (D) followed an uncorrected copy of Tales (B). The copy of the magazine text with changes sent to J. R. Lowell on August 18, 1844, is not preserved. [page 1029:]


All derived from the Columbian Magazine text: the New World (New York), August 3, 1844; the Philadelphia Saturday Museum (copied from the New World), August 31, 1844; The Universalist Watchman and Christian Repository (Montpelier, Vermont), August 30 (first installment) and September 6 (second installment), 1845; the American Phrenological Journal (Philadelphia), September 1845; the Star of Bethlehem (Lowell, Mass.), October 4, 1845 (Poe not named but the Columbian Magazine credited); Popular Record of Modern Science (London), November 29, 1845, as “The Last Conversation of a Somnambule.”

Reprints Not Located

Poe, in his letter to George Bush, January 4, 1845, says: “With this I take the liberty of sending you a newspaper — ‘The Dollar Weekly’ — in which there is an article by myself, entitled ‘Mesmeric Revelation.’ It has been copied into the paper from a Monthly Magazine — ‘The Columbian’ in which it originally appeared in July last.” The paper referred to was not the Dollar Newspaper which was searched for me in 1961 by John D, Kilbourne, Librarian of the Maryland Historical Society, but was probably the Dollar Weekly, published by Herrick and Ropes, listed in the New York City Directory for 1844-1845, of which only a very few copies are extant. See Louis H. Fox, “New York City Newspapers, 1820-1850, A Bibliography,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America for 1927 (v. 21, parts I and II), published in December 1928. The issue containing Poe's story has not been found.

The reprints cited by John S. Clackner (see the introduction to this tale) as appearing in the Regenerator and in the Western Luminary have not been located.

Separate Printing

The Conversation of a Somnambule. Held just before Death with his Magnetiser Edgar A. Poe. London: V.  Torras [n.d. 1845 or 1846?] from the Popular Record.


In La Liberté de Penser, July 15, 1848, as “Révélation magnétique,” from Tales (1845).


WHATEVER doubt may still envelop the rationale of mesmerism, its startling facts are now almost universally admitted. Of these latter, those who doubt, are your mere doubters by profession — an unprofitable and disreputable tribe. There can be no more absolute waste of time than the attempt to prove, at the present day, that man, by mere exercise of will, can so impress his fellow, as to [page 1030:] cast him into an abnormal condition, of which the{a} phenomena resemble very closely those of death, or at least resemble them more nearly than they do the phenomena of any other normal condition within our cognizance; that, while in this state, the person so impressed employs only with effort, and then feebly, the external organs of sense, yet perceives, with keenly refined perception, and through channels supposed unknown, matters beyond the scope of the physical organs; that, moreover, his intellectual faculties are wonderfully exalted and invigorated; that his sympathies with the person so impressing him are profound; and, finally, that his susceptibility to the impression increases with its frequency, while, in the same proportion, the peculiar phenomena elicited are more extended and more pronounced.

I say that these — which are the laws of mesmerism in its general features — it would be supererogation to demonstate; nor shall I inflict upon my readers so needless a demonstration to-day. My purpose at present is a very different one indeed. I am impelled, even in the teeth of a world of prejudice, to detail without comment the very remarkable substance of a colloquy, occurring{b} between a sleep-waker(1) and myself.

I had been long in the habit of mesmerizing the person in question, (Mr. Vankirk,)(2) and the usual acute susceptibility and exaltation of the mesmeric perception had supervened. For many months he had been laboring under confirmed phthisis, the more distressing effects of which had been relieved by my manipulations; and on the night of Wednesday, the fifteenth instant, I was summoned to his bedside.

The invalid was suffering with acute pain in the region of the heart, and breathed with great difficulty, having all the ordinary symptoms of asthma. In spasms such as these he had usually found relief from the application of mustard to the nervous centres, but to-night this had been attempted in vain.

As I entered his room he greeted me with a cheerful smile, and although evidently in much bodily pain, appeared to be, mentally, quite at ease. [page 1031:]

“I sent for you to-night,” he said, “not so much to administer to my bodily ailment, as to satisfy me concerning certain psychal(3) impressions which, of late, have occasioned me much anxiety and surprise. I need not tell you how sceptical I have hitherto been on the topic of the soul's immortality. I cannot deny that there has always existed, as if in that very soul which I have been denying, a vague half-sentiment of its own existence. But this half-sentiment at no time amounted to conviction. With it my reason had nothing to do. All attempts at logical inquiry resulted, indeed, in leaving me more sceptical than before. I had been advised to study Cousin.(4) I studied him in his own works as well as in those of his European and American echoes. The ‘Charles Elwood’ of Mr. Brownson, for example, was placed in my hands.(5) I read it with profound attention. Throughout I found it logical, but the portions which were not merely logical were unhappily the initial arguments of the disbelieving hero of the book. In his summing up it seemed evident to me that the reasoner had not even succeeded in convincing himself. His end had plainly forgotten his beginning, like the government of Trinculo.(6) In short, I was not long in perceiving that if man is to be intellectually convinced of his own immortality, he will never be so convinced by the mere abstractions{c} which have been so long the fashion of the moralists of England, of France, and of Germany. Abstractions may amuse and exercise, but take no hold on{d} the mind. Here upon earth, at least, philosophy, I am persuaded, will always in vain call upon us to look upon qualities as things. The will may assent — the soul — the intellect, never.

{e}“I repeat, then, that I only half felt, and never intellectually believed. But latterly there has been a certain deepening of the feeling, until it has come so nearly to resemble the acquiescence of reason, that I find it difficult to distinguish between the two. I am enabled, too, plainly to trace this effect to the mesmeric influence. I cannot better explain my meaning than by the hypothesis that the mesmeric exaltation(7) enables me to perceive a train {ff}of ratiocination{ff} which, in my abnormal existence, convinces, but which, in full [page 1032:] accordance with the mesmeric phenomena, does not extend, except through its effect, into my normal condition. In sleep-waking, the reasoning and its conclusion — the cause and its effect — are present together. In my natural state, the cause vanishing, the effect only, and perhaps only partially, remains.

“These considerations have led me to think that some good results might ensue from a series of well-directed questions propounded to me while mesmerized. You have often observed the profound self-cognizance evinced by the sleep-waker — the extensive knowledge he displays upon all points relating to the mesmeric condition itself; and from this self-cognizance may be deduced hints for the proper conduct of a catechism.”

I consented of course to make this experiment. A few passes threw Mr. Vankirk into the mesmeric sleep. His breathing became immediately more easy, and he seemed to suffer no physical uneasiness. The following conversation then ensued: — V.  in the dialogue representing the patient,{g} and P.  myself.

P.  Are you asleep?

V.  Yes — no; I would rather sleep more soundly.

P.  [After a few more passes.]{h} Do you sleep now?

V.  Yes.{i}

P.  How do you think your present illness will result?

V.  [After a{j} long hesitation and speaking as if with effort.] I must die.

P.  Does the idea of death afflict you?

V.  [Very quickly.] No — no!

P.  Are you pleased with the prospect?

V.  If I were awake I should like to die, but now it is no matter. The mesmeric condition is so near death as to content me.

P.  I wish you would explain yourself, Mr. Vankirk.

V.  I am willing to do so, but it requires more effort than I feel able to make. You do not question me properly.

P.  What then shall I ask? [page 1033:]

V.  You must begin at the beginning.

P.  The beginning! but where is the beginning?{k}

V.  You know that the beginning is GOD.(8) [This was said in a low, fluctuating tone, and with every sign of the most profound veneration.]{l}

P.  What then is God?

V.  [Hesitating for many minutes.] I cannot tell.

P.  Is not God spirit?(9)

V.  While I was awake I knew what you meant by “spirit,” but now it seems only a word — such for instance as truth, beauty — a quality, I mean.

P.  Is not God immaterial?

V.  There is no immateriality — it is a mere word. That which is not matter, is not at all — unless qualities are things.

P.  Is God, then, material?

V.  No. [This reply startled me very much.]

P.  What then is he?

V.  [After a long pause, and mutteringly.] I see — but it is a thing difficult to tell. [Another long pause.]{m} He is not spirit, for he exists. Nor is he matter, as you understand it. But there are gradations of matter of which man knows nothing; the grosser impelling the finer, the finer pervading the grosser. The atmosphere, for example, impels{n} the electric principle, while the electric principle permeates the atmosphere. These gradations of matter increase in rarity or fineness, until we arrive at a matter unparticled — without particles — indivisible — one; and here the law of impulsion and permeation is modified. The ultimate, or unparticled matter, not only permeates all things but impels all things — and thus is all things within itself. This matter is God. What men{o} attempt to embody in the word “thought,” is this matter in motion.(10)

P.  The metaphysicians maintain that all action is reducible to motion and thinking, and that the latter is the origin of the former.

V.  Yes; and I now see the confusion of idea. Motion is the action of mind — not of thinking. The unparticled matter, or God, in [page 1034:] quiescence, is (as nearly as we can conceive it) what men call mind. And the power of self-movement (equivalent in effect to human volition) is, in the unparticled matter, the result of its unity and omniprevalence; how I know not, and now clearly see that I shall never know. But the unparticled matter, set in motion by a law, or quality, existing within itself, is thinking.

P.  Can you give me no more precise idea of what you term the unparticled matter?

V.  The matters of which man is cognizant, escape the senses in gradation. We have, for example, a metal, a piece of wood, a drop of water, the atmosphere, a gas, caloric,{p} electricity, the luminiferous ether. Now we call all these things matter, and embrace all matter in one general definition; but in spite of this, there can be no two ideas more essentially distinct than that which we attach to a metal, and that which we attach to the luminiferous ether. When we reach the latter, we feel an almost irresistible inclination to class it with spirit, or with nihility. The only consideration which restrains us is our conception of its atomic constitution; and here, even, we have to seek aid from our notion of an atom, as something{q} possessing in infinite minuteness, solidity, palpability, weight. Destroy the idea of the atomic constitution and we should no longer be able to regard the ether as an entity, or at least as matter. For want of a better word we might term it spirit. Take, now, a step beyond the luminiferous ether — conceive a matter as much more rare than the ether, as this ether is more rare than the metal, and we arrive at once (in spite of all the school dogmas) at a {rr}unique mass — an{rr} unparticled matter. For although we may admit infinite littleness in the atoms themselves, the infinitude of littleness in the spaces between them is an absurdity. There will be a point — there will be a degree of rarity, at which, if the atoms are sufficiently numerous, the interspaces must vanish, and the mass absolutely coalesce. But the consideration of the atomic constitution{s} being now taken away, the nature of the mass inevitably glides into what we conceive of spirit.{t} It is clear, however, that it is as fully matter{u} as before. The truth is, it is impossible [page 1035:] to conceive spirit, since it is impossible to imagine what is not. When we flatter ourselves that we have formed its conception, we have merely deceived our understanding by the consideration of infinitely rarified matter.

{vv}P.  There seems to me an insurmountable objection to the idea of absolute coalescence; — and that is the very slight resistance experienced by the heavenly bodies in their revolutions through space — a resistance now ascertained, it is true, to exist in some degree, but which is, nevertheless, so slight as to have been quite overlooked by the sagacity even of Newton. We know that the resistance of bodies is, chiefly, in proportion to their density. Absolute coalescence is absolute density. Where there are no interspaces, there can be no yielding. An ether, absolutely dense, would put an infinitely more effectual stop to the progress of a star than would an ether of adamant or of iron.(11)

V.  Your objection is answered with an ease which is nearly in the ratio of its apparent unanswerability. — As regards the progress of the star, it can make no difference whether the star passes through the ether or the ether through it. There is no astronomical error more unaccountable than that which reconciles the known retardation of the comets with the idea of their passage through an ether: for, however rare this ether be supposed, it would put a stop to all sidereal revolution in a very far briefer period than has been admitted by those astronomers who have endeavored to slur over a point which they found it impossible to comprehend. The retardation actually experienced is, on the other hand, about that which might be expected from the friction of the ether in the instantaneous passage through the orb. In the one case, the retarding force is momentary and complete within itself — in the other it is endlessly accumulative.{vv}

P.  But in all {ww}this — in this identification of mere matter with God — is{ww} there nothing of irreverence? [I was forced to repeat this question before the sleep-waker fully comprehended my meaning.]{x}

V.  Can you say why matter should be less reverenced than [page 1036:] mind? But you forget that the matter of which I speak is, in all respects,{y} the very “mind” or “spirit” of the schools, so far as regards its high capacities, and is, moreover, the “matter” of these schools at the same time. God, with all the powers attributed to spirit, is but the perfection of matter.

P.  You assert, then, that the unparticled matter, in motion, is thought?

V.  In general, this motion is the universal thought of the universal mind. This thought creates. All created things are but the thoughts of God.

P.  You say, “in general.”

V.  Yes. The universal mind is God. For new individualities, matter is necessary.

P.  But you now speak of “mind” and “matter” as do the metaphysicians.

V.  Yes — to avoid confusion. When I say “mind,” I mean the unparticled or ultimate matter; by “matter,” I intend all else.

P.  You were saying that “for new individualities matter is necessary.”

V.  Yes; for mind, existing unincorporate, is merely God. To create individual, thinking beings, it was necessary to incarnate portions of the divine mind. Thus man is individualized. Divested of corporate investiture, he were God. Now, the particular motion of the incarnated portions of the unparticled matter is the thought of man; as the motion of the whole is that of God.

P.  You say that divested of the body man will be God?

V.  [After much hesitation.] I could not have said this; it is an absurdity.

P.  [Referring to my notes.] You did say that “divested of corporate investiture man were God.”

V.  And this is true. Man thus divested would be God — would be unindividualized. But he can never be thus divested — at least never will be — else we must imagine an action of God returning upon itself — a purposeless and futile action. Man is a creature. Creatures are thoughts of God. It is the nature of thought to be irrevocable. [page 1037:]

P.  I do not comprehend. You say that man will never put off the body?

V.  I say that he will never be bodiless.

P.  Explain.

V.  There are two bodies — the rudimental and the complete; corresponding with the two conditions of the worm and the butterfly.(12) What we call “death,” is but the painful metamorphosis. Our present incarnation is progressive, preparatory, temporary. Our future is perfected, ultimate, immortal. The ultimate life is the full design.

P.  But of the worm's metamorphosis we are palpably cognizant.

V.  We, certainly — but not the worm. The matter of which our rudimental body is composed, is within the ken of the organs of that body; or, more distinctly, our rudimental organs are adapted to the matter of which is formed the rudimental body; but not to that of which the ultimate is composed. The ultimate body thus escapes our rudimental senses, and we perceive only the shell which falls, in decaying, from the inner form; not that inner form itself; but this inner form, as well as the shell, is appreciable by those who have already acquired the ultimate life.

P.  You have often said that the mesmeric state very nearly resembles death. How is this?

V.  When I say that it resembles death, I mean that it resembles the ultimate life; {zz}for when I am entranced{zz} the senses of my rudimental life are in abeyance, and I perceive external things directly, without organs, through a medium which I shall employ in the ultimate, unorganized life.

P.  Unorganized?

V.  Yes; organs are contrivances by which the individual is brought into sensible relation with particular classes and forms of matter, to the exclusion of other classes and forms. The organs of man are adapted to his rudimental condition, and to that only; his ultimate condition, being unorganized, is of unlimited comprehension in all points but one — the nature of the {aa}volition of God — that is to say, the motion{aa} of the unparticled matter. You will have a distinct idea of the ultimate body by conceiving it to be entire brain. [page 1038:]

This it is not; but a conception of this nature will bring you near a comprehension of what it is. A luminous body imparts vibration to the luminiferous ether. The vibrations generate similar ones within the {bb}retina; these{bb} again communicate similar ones to the optic nerve. The nerve conveys similar ones to the brain; the brain, also, similar ones to the unparticled matter which permeates it. The motion of this latter is thought, of which perception is the first undulation. This is the mode by which the mind of the rudimental life communicates with the external world; and this external world {cc}is, to the rudimental life,{cc} limited, through the idiosyncrasy of its{d} organs. But in the ultimate, unorganized life, the external world reaches the whole body, (which is of a substance having affinity to brain, as I have said,) with no other intervention than that of an infinitely rarer ether than even the luminiferous; and to this ether — in unison with it — the whole body vibrates, setting in motion the unparticled matter which permeates it. It is to the absence of idiosyncratic organs, therefore, that we must attribute the nearly unlimited perception of the ultimate life. To rudimental beings, organs are the cages necessary to confine them until fledged.

P.  You speak of rudimental “beings.” Are there other rudimental thinking beings than man?

V.  The multitudinous conglomeration of rare matter into nebulæ, planets, suns, and other bodies which are neither nebulæ suns, nor planets, is for the sole purpose of supplying pabulum for the idiosyncrasy of the organs of an infinity of rudimental beings. But for the necessity of the rudimental, prior to the ultimate life, there would have been no bodies such as these. Each of these is tenanted by a distinct variety of organic, rudimental, thinking creatures. In all, the organs vary with the features of the place tenanted. At death, or metamorphosis, these creatures, enjoying the ultimate {ee}life — immortality — and{ee} cognizant of all secrets but the one, {ff}act all things and pass everywhere by mere volition: — indwelling, not the stars, which to us seem the sole palpabilities, and for the accommodation of which we blindly deem space created — but that SPACE itself — that infinity of which the truly substantive [page 1039:] vastness swallows up the star — shadows — blotting them out as nonentities from the perception of the angels.{ff}

{gg}P.  You say that “but for the necessity of the rudimental life” there would have been no stars. But why this necessity?(13)

V.  In the inorganic life, as well as in the inorganic matter generally, there is nothing to impede the action of one simple unique law — the Divine Volition. With the view of producing impediment, the organic life and matter, (complex, substantial, and law-encumbered,) were contrived.

P.  But again — why need this impediment have been produced?

V.  The result of law inviolate is perfection — right — negative happiness. The result of law violate is imperfection, wrong, positive pain. Through the impediments afforded by the number, complexity, and substantiality of the laws of organic life and matter, the violation of law is rendered, to a certain extent, practicable. Thus pain, which in the inorganic life is impossible, is possible in the organic.

P.  But to what good end is pain thus rendered possible?

V.  All things are either good or bad by comparison. A sufficient analysis will show that pleasure, in all cases, is but the contrast of pain. Positive pleasure is a mere idea. To be happy at any one point we must have suffered at the same. Never to suffer would have been never to have been blessed. But it has been shown that, in the inorganic life, pain cannot be; thus the necessity for the organic. The pain of the primitive life of Earth, is the sole basis of the bliss of the ultimate life in heaven.

P.  Still, there is one of your expressions which I find it impossible to comprehend — “the truly substantive vastness of infinity.”

V.  This, probably, is because you have no sufficiently generic conception of the term “substance” itself. We must not regard it as a quality, but as a sentiment: — it is the perception, in thinking beings, of the adaptation of matter to their organization. There are many things on the Earth, which would be nihility to the inhabitants of Venus — many things visible and tangible in Venus, which we could not be brought to appreciate as existing at all. But to the [page 1040:] inorganic beings — to the angels — the whole of the unparticled matter is substance; that is to say, the whole of what we term “space” is to them the truest substantiality; — the stars, meantime, through what we consider their materiality, escaping the angelic sense, just in proportion as the unparticled matter, through what we consider its immateriality, eludes the organic.{gg}

As the sleep-waker pronounced these latter words, in a feeble tone, I observed on{h} his countenance a singular expression, which somewhat alarmed me, and induced me to awake him at once. No sooner had I done this, than, with a bright smile irradiating all his features, he fell back upon his pillow and expired. I noticed that in less than a minute afterward his corpse had all the stern rigidity of stone.(14) {ii}His brow was of the coldness of ice. Thus, ordinarily, should it have appeared, only after long pressure from Azrael's hand.(15) Had the sleep-waker, indeed, during the latter portion of his discourse, been addressing me from out the region of the shadows?{ii}


[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1030:]

a  of which the / whose (A)

b  occurring not many days ago (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1031:]

c  abstractions (A)

d  upon (A)

e  No quotation marks here or in next paragraph (A)

ff ... ff  of convincing ratiocination — a train (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1032:]

g  the patient, / Mr. Vankirk, (A)

h  pauses.] (A)

i  Followed by two paragraphs in A:

P. Do you still feel the pain in your heart?

V. No.

j  Omitted (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1033:]

k  beginning. (A)

l  This sentence not italicized (A)

m  Not italicized (A)

n  impels or modifies (A)

o  men vaguely (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1034:]

p  caloric, light, (A)

q  as something omitted (A)

rr ... rr  unique mass — at (A)

s  construction (A)

t  spirit. (A)

u  matter (A)

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vv ... vv  Omitted (A)

ww ... ww  this, is (A)

x  Sentence not italicized (A)

[The following variant appears at the bottom of page 1036:]

y  respcets (B, D) corrected in C

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1037:]

zz ... zz  for (A)

aa ... aa  volition, or motion, (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1038:]

bb ... bb  retina, which (A)

cc ... cc  is (A)

d  the (A)

ee ... ee  life, and (A)

ff ... ff  pervade at pleasure the weird dominions of the infinite. (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1039:]

gg ... gg  Eight paragraphs omitted (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1040:]

h  upon (A)

ii ... ii  Omitted (A)

[page 1040, continued:]


1.  A sleep-waker here means a person in a mesmeric trance. Chauncey Hare Townshend, undoubtedly one of Poe's sources on mesmerism, used the term “sleepwaking” throughout his book, “on the ground that Somnambulism, strictly speaking, was not always, nor necessarily, an adjunct of the condition I wished to describe” (Facts in Mesmerism, Harper edition, New York, 1841, p. vi). Poe followed Townshend, insisting upon the distinction between the old term and the new; see “Marginalia,” number 200 (Graham's Magazine, March 1848, p. 178).

2.  Vankirk means “of a church“; all authorized texts spell the name thus, although most New York Dutch names with the “van” prefix retain the two-word form: Van Cortlandt, Van Rensselaer — and Van Buskirk, employer of the stage driver who recognized Mary Rogers (see n. 38 to “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt“).

3.  “Psychal” is listed as rare, in both the Century Dictionary and the OED.

4.  Victor Cousin (1792-1867), French eclectic philosopher, editor of Proclus and Descartes, brilliant translator of Plato, liberal, active in educational reform, exerted a wide influence through both his lectures and his writings, notably, perhaps, from Poe's point of view, his important Fragments philosophiques (1826) and his Cours de philosophie professé ... pendant l’année 1818 ... sur le fondement [page 1041:] des idées absolues du vrai, du beau, et du bien (1836; many subsequent editions). Though Poe made few mentions of Cousin in his writings, the significance of his mention here may be suggested by his nearly contemporary reference (in reviewing Horne's “Orion” — Graham's, March 1844) to “that divine sixth sense which is yet so faintly understood — that sense which phrenology has attempted to embody in its organ of ideality — that sense which is the basis of all Cousin's dreams — that sense which speaks of God through his purest, if not his sole attribute — which proves, and which alone proves his existence.”

5.  Orestes A. Brownson (1803-1876), “eloquent and irascible” New England liberal, was “one of the most attractive and commanding figures in the periodical history of the times,” according to Mott, History of American Magazines, I, 367-368. His Charles Elwood, or the Infidel Converted (1840) is “a semi-autobiographical romance, in which the infidel hero is converted, through Cousin's philosophy, to a rather tepid unitarianism” (E. S. Bates, in DAB). Poe included an appreciative and discerning paragraph on Brownson in “A Chapter on Autography,” Graham's Magazine, November 1841. He is also mentioned in “X-ing a Paragrab.”

6.  The “government of Trinculo” is a confused allusion to The Tempest, II, i, 158: “The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning.” Antonio says this, not of Trinculo but of Gonzalo's description of his ideal commonwealth (II, i, 148-169), a description that is Shakespeare's echo of Montaigne's praise of primitive American society. The “Literati” sketch of Miss Sedgwick (Godey's, September 1846) and “Marginalia,” number 273 (SLM, July 1849, P. 415) repeat the same confused reference.

7.  Compare a statement from the account by Signor Ranieri regarding his mesmerization by Townshend (Facts, p. 387): “All my conceptions were more rapid; I experienced nervous startings to which I am not accustomed; in short, my whole nervous system was in a state of exaltation, and appeared to have acquired all the super abundance of power which the muscular system had lost.”

8.  Compare Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

9.  See St. John 4:24: “God is a Spirit ...

10.  The “philosophical lucubrations” (Woodberry, 1885, p. 214) that follow concerning the nature of God, immateriality, and particled and unparticled matter were discussed briefly in Poe's letters of July 2 to Lowell and July 10 to Chivers, and were to be elaborated in 1848, in Eureka.

11.  This paragraph and the next one were added for Tales in 1845.

12.  See St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, 15:44, “There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” — words especially familiar as part of the funeral service in the Book of Common Prayer. The analogy of the worm and the butterfly appears in the letters of July 2 and 10 to Lowell and Chivers, mentioned above. It is undoubtedly a familiar figure: Townshend, p. 355, says: “Everywhere we behold that one state includes the embryo of the next, not metaphysically, but materially; and entering on a new scene of existence is not so much a change as a continuation of what went before ... [page 1042:]

‘The wings that form

The butterfly lie folded in the worm.’ ”

In Greek the word psyche means both “butterfly” and “soul”; compare “Ulalume,” line 12 (and, in another mood, the first paragraph of “How to Write a Blackwood Article”).

13.  This and the next seven paragraphs were added for Tales in 1845.

14.  The original version of the story ended here. The next three sentences may have been added as another of Poe's concessions to the incredulous reader.

15.  Poe also referred to Azrael, the Mahometan angel of death, in the first version of “Metzengerstein”; in Politian, IX, 4; and in “Ligeia.”


[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1024:]

*  For “animal magnetism” and the background of mesmerism in the United States, see the introduction and notes 3 and 4 to “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” and Sidney E. Lind's important paper, “Poe and Mesmerism,” PMLA, December 1947.

  See note 1 below. Poe's enthusiastic comment, calling Townshend's book “one of the most truly profound and philosophical works of the day — a work to be valued properly only in a day to come,” appeared near the end of a carping review of William Newnham's Human Magnetism in the Broadway Journal, April 5, 1845. The last part was repeated in “Marginalia,” number 180 (Graham's Magazine, November 1846, p. 248).

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 1025:]

  See Poe's letters of July 2, 1844 to Lowell and July 10, 1844 to Chivers for the ideas of particled and unparticled matter. See also his letter of January 4, 1845 to the Reverend George Bush, professor of Hebrew at New York University, enclosing a copy of the tale and saying, “You will, of course, understand that the article is purely a fiction; but I have embodied in it some thoughts which are original with myself and I am exceedingly anxious to learn if they have claim to absolute originality, and also how far they will strike you as well based.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 1026:]

§  The reviewer of Poe's Tales in the Aristidean for October 1845 was led to remark on the story, “A large number of the mesmerists, ... take it all for gospel. Some of the Swedenborgians, at Philadelphia, wrote word to Poe, that at first they doubted, but in the end became convinced, of its truth. This was excruciatingly ... funny ... It is evidently meant to be nothing more than the vehicle of the author's views concerning the Deity, immateriality, spirit, etc., which he apparently believes to be true, in which belief he is joined by Professor Bush.” The writer was Dr. English, but his remarks obviously are based on a discussion with Poe.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1027:]

*  I consulted the copy of this issue at Cornell University.

  In the next issue, however, having learned that Poe himself had declared the tale to be fiction, the editor of the Phrenological Journal issued a retraction, saying: “The article in his last number, quoted from Mr. Poe, proves not to be that ‘magnetic revelation’ it claims for itself, but simply the production of its author's own brain ... The Editor ... gave it the insertion it really merited, provided it had been genuine ... [but] takes back all responsibility concerning it, and regrets its occupancy of his pages.” For both quoted passages see Madeline B. Stern in “Poe: ‘The Mental Temperament for Phrenologists,’ ” American Literature, May 1968, pp. 162-163.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1028:]

  The letter, dated January 7, 1846, presumably by Mrs. Mary E. Hewitt, was quoted by E. L. Didier, Life and Poems of ... Poe (1877), p. 13.

§  Edgar Allan Poe, The Man Behind the Legend (1963), p. 240, n. 8.



Copies of the Western Luminary and the Regenerator have been located at, respectively, the University of Minnesota and Cornell University. The date for the reprint of “Mesmeric Revelation” in the Regenerator was incorrectly provided by J. S. Clackner; there was no issue for May 12, 1845. Instead, the story appears in the issue for April 28, 1845.


[S:1 - TOM3T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions-The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Mesmeric Revelation)