CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN
To the Public:
The flattering reception that has been given by the public to Arthur
Mervyn has prompted the writer to solicit a continuance of the same
favour and to offer to the world a new performance.
America has opened new views to the naturalist and politician but has
seldom furnished themes to the moral painter. That new springs of action
and new motives to curiosity should operate--that the field of
investigation opened to us by our own country should differ
essentially from those which exist in Europe--may be readily conceived.
The sources of amusement to the fancy and instruction to the heart that
are peculiar to ourselves are equally numerous and inexhaustible. It is
the purpose of this work to profit by some of these sources; to exhibit
a series of adventures growing out of the condition of our country and
connected with one of the most common and most wonderful diseases or
affections of the human frame.
One merit the writer may at least claim:--that of calling forth the
passions and engaging the sympathy of the reader by means hitherto
unemployed by preceding authors. Puerile superstition and exploded
manners Gothic castles and chimeras are the materials usually employed
for this end. The incidents of Indian hostility and the perils of the
Western wilderness are far more suitable; and for a native of America
to overlook these would admit of no apology. These therefore are in
part the ingredients of this tale and these he has been ambitious of
depicting in vivid and faithful colours. The success of his efforts must
be estimated by the liberal and candid reader.
C. B. B.
I sit down my friend to comply with thy request. At length does the
impetuosity of my fears the transports of my wonder permit me to
recollect my promise and perform it. At length am I somewhat delivered
from suspense and from tremors. At length the drama is brought to an
imperfect close and the series of events that absorbed my faculties
that hurried away my attention has terminated in repose.
Till now to hold a steadfast pen was impossible; to disengage my senses
from the scene that was passing or approaching; to forbear to grasp at
futurity; to suffer so much thought to wander from the purpose which
engrossed my fears and my hopes could not be.
Yet am I sure that even now my perturbations are sufficiently stilled
for an employment like this? That the incidents I am going to relate can
be recalled and arranged without indistinctness and confusion? That
emotions will not be reawakened by my narrative incompatible with order
and coherence? Yet when I shall be better qualified for this task I know
not. Time may take away these headlong energies and give me back my
ancient sobriety; but this change will only be effected by weakening my
remembrance of these events. In proportion as I gain power over words
shall I lose dominion over sentiments. In proportion as my tale is
deliberate and slow the incidents and motives which it is designed to
exhibit will be imperfectly revived and obscurely portrayed.
Oh why art thou away at a time like this. Wert thou present the office
to which my pen is so inadequate would easily be executed by my tongue.
Accents can scarcely be too rapid; or that which words should fail to
convey my looks and gestures would suffice to communicate. But I know
thy coming is impossible. To leave this spot is equally beyond my power.
To keep thee in ignorance of what has happened would justly offend thee.
There is no method of informing thee except by letter and this method
must I therefore adopt.
How short is the period that has elapsed since thou and I parted and
yet how full of tumult and dismay has been my soul during that period!
What light has burst upon my ignorance of myself and of mankind! How
sudden and enormous the transition from uncertainty to knowledge!
But let me recall my thoughts; let me struggle for so much composure as
will permit my pen to trace intelligible characters. Let me place in
order the incidents that are to compose my tale. I need not call on thee
to listen. The fate of Waldegrave was as fertile of torment to thee as
to me. His bloody and mysterious catastrophe equally awakened thy grief
thy revenge and thy curiosity. Thou wilt catch from my story every
horror and every sympathy which it paints. Thou wilt shudder with my
foreboding and dissolve with my tears. As the sister of my friend and
as one who honours me with her affection thou wilt share in all my
tasks and all my dangers.
You need not be reminded with what reluctance I left you. To reach this
place by evening was impossible unless I had set out early in the
morning; but your society was too precious not to be enjoyed to the last
moment. It was indispensable to be here on Tuesday but my duty required
no more than that I should arrive by sunrise on that day. To travel
during the night was productive of no formidable inconvenience. The air
was likely to be frosty and sharp but these would not incommode one who
walked with speed. A nocturnal journey in districts so romantic and wild
as these through which lay my road was more congenial to my temper
than a noonday ramble.
By nightfall I was within ten miles of my uncle's house. As the darkness
increased and I advanced on my way my sensations sunk into melancholy.
The scene and the time reminded me of the friend whom I had lost. I
recalled his features and accents and gestures and mused with
unutterable feelings on the circumstances of his death.
My recollections once more plunged me into anguish and perplexity. Once
more I asked Who was his assassin? By what motives could he be impelled
to a deed like this? Waldegrave was pure from all offence. His piety was
rapturous. His benevolence was a stranger to remissness or torpor. All
who came within the sphere of his influence experienced and acknowledged
his benign activity. His friends were few because his habits were timid
and reserved; but the existence of an enemy was impossible.
I recalled the incidents of our last interview my importunities that he
should postpone his ill-omened journey till the morning his
inexplicable obstinacy his resolution to set out on foot during a dark
and tempestuous night and the horrible disaster that befell him.
The first intimation I received of this misfortune the insanity of
vengeance and grief into which I was hurried my fruitless searches for
the author of this guilt my midnight wanderings and reveries beneath
the shade of that fatal elm were revived and reacted. I heard the
discharge of the pistol I witnessed the alarm of Inglefield I heard
his calls to his servants and saw them issue forth with lights and
hasten to the spot whence the sound had seemed to proceed. I beheld my
friend stretched upon the earth ghastly with a mortal wound alone
with no traces of the slayer visible no tokens by which his place of
refuge might be sought the motives of his enmity or his instruments of
mischief might be detected.
I hung over the dying youth whose insensibility forbade him to
recognise his friend or unfold the cause of his destruction. I
accompanied his remains to the grave; I tended the sacred spot where he
lay; I once more exercised my penetration and my zeal in pursuit of his
assassin. Once more my meditations and exertions were doomed to be
I need not remind thee of what is past. Time and reason seemed to have
dissolved the spell which made me deaf to the dictates of duty and
discretion. Remembrances had ceased to agonize to urge me to headlong
acts and foster sanguinary purposes. The gloom was half dispersed and a
radiance had succeeded sweeter than my former joys.
Now by some unseen concurrence of reflections my thoughts reverted
into some degree of bitterness. Methought that to ascertain the hand who
killed my friend was not impossible and to punish the crime was just.
That to forbear inquiry or withhold punishment was to violate my duty to
my God and to mankind. The impulse was gradually awakened that bade me
once more to seek the elm; once more to explore the ground; to
scrutinize its trunk. What could I expect to find? Had it not been a
hundred times examined? Had I not extended my search to the neighbouring
groves and precipices? Had I not pored upon the brooks and pried into
the pits and hollows that were adjacent to the scene of blood?
Lately I had viewed this conduct with shame and regret; but in the
present state of my mind it assumed the appearance of conformity with
prudence and I felt myself irresistibly prompted to repeat my search.
Some time had elapsed since my departure from this district--time
enough for momentous changes to occur. Expedients that formerly were
useless might now lead instantaneously to the end which I sought. The
tree which had formerly been shunned by the criminal might in the
absence of the avenger of blood be incautiously approached. Thoughtless
or fearless of my return it was possible that he might at this moment
be detected hovering near the scene of his offences.
Nothing can be pleaded in extenuation of this relapse into folly. My
return after an absence of some duration into the scene of these
transactions and sufferings the time of night the glimmering of the
stars the obscurity in which external objects were wrapped and which
consequently did not draw my attention from the images of fancy may in
some degree account for the revival of those sentiments and resolutions
which immediately succeeded the death of Waldegrave and which during
my visit to you had been suspended.
You know the situation of the elm in the midst of a private road on
the verge of Norwalk near the habitation of Inglefield but three miles
from my uncle's house. It was now my intention to visit it. The road in
which I was travelling led a different way. It was requisite to leave
it therefore and make a circuit through meadows and over steeps. My
journey would by these means be considerably prolonged; but on that
head I was indifferent or rather considering how far the night had
already advanced it was desirable not to reach home till the dawn.
I proceeded in this new direction with speed. Time however was allowed
for my impetuosities to subside and for sober thoughts to take place.
Still I persisted in this path. To linger a few moments in this shade
to ponder on objects connected with events so momentous to my happiness
promised me a mournful satisfaction. I was familiar with the way though
trackless and intricate and I climbed the steeps crept through the
brambles leaped the rivulets and fences with undeviating aim till at
length I reached the craggy and obscure path which led to Inglefield's
In a short time I descried through the dusk the widespread branches of
the elm. This tree however faintly seen cannot be mistaken for
another. The remarkable bulk and shape of its trunk its position in the
midst of the way its branches spreading into an ample circumference
made it conspicuous from afar. My pulse throbbed as I approached it.
My eyes were eagerly bent to discover the trunk and the area beneath the
shade. These as I approached gradually became visible. The trunk was
not the only thing which appeared in view. Somewhat else which made
itself distinguishable by its motions was likewise noted. I faltered
To a casual observer this appearance would have been unnoticed. To me
it could not but possess a powerful significance. All my surmises and
suspicions instantly returned. This apparition was human it was
connected with the fate of Waldegrave it led to a disclosure of the
author of that fate. What was I to do? To approach unwarily would alarm
the person. Instant flight would set him beyond discovery and reach.
I walked softly to the roadside. The ground was covered with rocky
masses scattered among shrub-oaks and dwarf-cedars emblems of its
sterile and uncultivated state. Among these it was possible to elude
observation and yet approach near enough to gain an accurate view of
At this time the atmosphere was somewhat illuminated by the moon
which though it had already set was yet so near the horizon as to
benefit me by its light. The shape of a man tall and robust was now
distinguished. Repeated and closer scrutiny enabled me to perceive that
he was employed in digging the earth. Something like flannel was wrapped
round his waist and covered his lower limbs. The rest of his frame was
naked. I did not recognise in him any one whom I knew.
A figure robust and strange and half naked to be thus employed at
this hour and place was calculated to rouse up my whole soul. His
occupation was mysterious and obscure. Was it a grave that he was
digging? Was his purpose to explore or to hide? Was it proper to watch
him at a distance unobserved and in silence or to rush upon him and
extort from him by violence or menaces an explanation of the scene?
Before my resolution was formed he ceased to dig. He cast aside his
spade and sat down in the pit that he had dug. He seemed wrapped in
meditation; but the pause was short and succeeded by sobs at first low
and at wide intervals but presently louder and more vehement. Sorely
charged was indeed that heart whence flowed these tokens of sorrow.
Never did I witness a scene of such mighty anguish such heart-bursting
What should I think? I was suspended in astonishment. Every sentiment
at length yielded to my sympathy. Every new accent of the mourner
struck upon my heart with additional force and tears found their way
spontaneously to my eyes. I left the spot where I stood and advanced
within the verge of the shade. My caution had forsaken me and instead
of one whom it was duty to persecute I beheld in this man nothing but
an object of compassion.
My pace was checked by his suddenly ceasing to lament. He snatched the
spade and rising on his feet began to cover up the pit with the
utmost diligence. He seemed aware of my presence and desirous of hiding
something from my inspection. I was prompted to advance nearer and hold
his hand but my uncertainty as to his character and views the
abruptness with which I had been ushered into this scene made me still
hesitate; but though I hesitated to advance there was nothing to
hinder me from calling.
"What ho!" said I. "Who is there? What are you doing?"
He stopped: the spade fell from his hand; he looked up and bent forward
his face towards the spot where I stood. An interview and explanation
were now methought unavoidable. I mustered up my courage to confront
and interrogate this being.
He continued for a minute in his gazing and listening attitude. Where I
stood I could not fail of being seen and yet he acted as if he saw
nothing. Again he betook himself to his spade and proceeded with new
diligence to fill up the pit. This demeanour confounded and bewildered
me. I had no power but to stand and silently gaze upon his motions.
The pit being filled he once more sat upon the ground and resigned
himself to weeping and sighs with more vehemence than before. In a short
time the fit seemed to have passed. He rose seized the spade and
advanced to the spot where I stood.
Again I made preparation as for an interview which could not but take
place. He passed me however without appearing to notice my existence.
He came so near as almost to brush my arm yet turned not his head to
either side. My nearer view of him made his brawny arms and lofty
stature more conspicuous; but his imperfect dress the dimness of the
light and the confusion of my own thoughts hindered me from discerning
his features. He proceeded with a few quick steps along the road but
presently darted to one side and disappeared among the rocks and bushes.
My eye followed him as long as he was visible but my feet were rooted
to the spot. My musing was rapid and incongruous. It could not fail to
terminate in one conjecture that this person was _asleep_. Such
instances were not unknown to me through the medium of conversation and
books. Never indeed had it fallen under my own observation till now
and now it was conspicuous and environed with all that could give edge
to suspicion and vigour to inquiry. To stand here was no longer of use
and I turned my steps towards my uncle's habitation.
I had food enough for the longest contemplation. My steps partook as
usual of the vehemence of my thoughts and I reached my uncle's gate
before I believed myself to have lost sight of the elm. I looked up and
discovered the well-known habitation. I could not endure that my
reflections should so speedily be interrupted. I therefore passed the
gate and stopped not till I had reached a neighbouring summit crowned
with chestnut-oaks and poplars.
Here I more deliberately reviewed the incidents that had just occurred.
The inference was just that the man half clothed and digging was a
sleeper; but what was the cause of this morbid activity? What was the
mournful vision that dissolved him in tears and extorted from him
tokens of inconsolable distress? What did he seek or what endeavour to
conceal in this fatal spot? The incapacity of sound sleep denotes a
mind sorely wounded. It is thus that atrocious criminals denote the
possession of some dreadful secret. The thoughts which considerations
of safety enable them to suppress or disguise during wakefulness
operate without impediment and exhibit their genuine effects when the
notices of sense are partly excluded and they are shut out from a
knowledge of their entire condition.
This is the perpetrator of some nefarious deed. What but the murder of
Waldegrave could direct his steps hither? His employment was part of
some fantastic drama in which his mind was busy. To comprehend it
demands penetration into the recesses of his soul. But one thing is
sure: an incoherent conception of his concern in that transaction
bewitches him hither. This it is that deluges his heart with bitterness
and supplies him with ever-flowing tears.
But whence comes he? He does not start from the bosom of the earth or
hide himself in airy distance. He must have a name and a terrestrial
habitation. It cannot be at an immeasurable distance from the haunted
elm. Inglefield's house is the nearest. This may be one of its
inhabitants. I did not recognise his features but this was owing to the
dusky atmosphere and to the singularity of his garb. Inglefield has two
servants one of whom was a native of this district simple guileless
and incapable of any act of violence. He was moreover devoutly
attached to his sect. He could not be the criminal.
The other was a person of a very different cast. He was an emigrant from
Ireland and had been six months in the family of my friend. He was a
pattern of sobriety and gentleness. His mind was superior to his
situation. His natural endowments were strong and had enjoyed all the
advantage of cultivation. His demeanour was grave and thoughtful and
compassionate. He appeared not untinctured with religion; but his
devotion though unostentatious was of a melancholy tenor.
There was nothing in the first view of his character calculated to
engender suspicion. The neighbourhood was populous. But as I conned
over the catalogue I perceived that the only foreigner among us was
Clithero. Our scheme was for the most part a patriarchal one. Each
farmer was surrounded by his sons and kinsmen. This was an exception to
the rule. Clithero was a stranger whose adventures and character
previously to his coming hither were unknown to us. The elm was
surrounded by his master's domains. An actor there must be and no one
was equally questionable.
The more I revolved the pensive and reserved deportment of this man the
ignorance in which we were placed respecting his former situation his
possible motives for abandoning his country and choosing a station so
much below the standard of his intellectual attainments the stronger my
suspicions became. Formerly when occupied with conjectures relative to
the same topic the image of this man did not fail to occur; but the
seeming harmlessness of his ordinary conduct had raised him to a level
with others and placed him equally beyond the reach of suspicion. I did
not till now advert to the recentness of his appearance among us and
to the obscurity that hung over his origin and past life. But now these
considerations appeared so highly momentous as almost to decide the
question of his guilt.
But how were these doubts to be changed into absolute certainty?
Henceforth this man was to become the subject of my scrutiny. I was to
gain all the knowledge respecting him which those with whom he lived
and were the perpetual witnesses of his actions could impart. For this
end I was to make minute inquiries and to put seasonable
interrogatories. From this conduct I promised myself an ultimate
solution of my doubts.
I acquiesced in this view of things with considerable satisfaction. It
seemed as if the maze was no longer inscrutable. It would be quickly
discovered who were the agents and instigators of the murder of my
But it suddenly occurred to me For what purpose shall I prosecute this
search? What benefit am I to reap from this discovery? How shall I
demean myself when the criminal is detected? I was not insensible at
that moment of the impulses of vengeance but they were transient. I
detested the sanguinary resolutions that I had once formed. Yet I was
fearful of the effects of my hasty rage and dreaded an encounter in
consequence of which I might rush into evils which no time could repair
nor penitence expiate.
"But why" said I "should it be impossible to arm myself with firmness?
If forbearance be the dictate of wisdom cannot it be so deeply engraven
on my mind as to defy all temptation and be proof against the most
abrupt surprise? My late experience has been of use to me. It has shown
me my weakness and my strength. Having found my ancient fortifications
insufficient to withstand the enemy what should I learn from thence but
that it becomes me to strengthen and enlarge them?
"No caution indeed can hinder the experiment from being hazardous. Is
it wise to undertake experiments by which nothing can be gained and
much may be lost? Curiosity is vicious if undisciplined by reason and
inconducive to benefit."
I was not however to be diverted from my purpose. Curiosity like
virtue is its own reward. Knowledge is of value for its own sake and
pleasure is annexed to the acquisition without regard to any thing
beyond. It is precious even when disconnected with moral inducements and
heartfelt sympathies; but the knowledge which I sought by its union with
these was calculated to excite the most complex and fiery sentiments in
Hours were employed in revolving these thoughts. At length I began to be
sensible of fatigue and returning home explored the way to my chamber
without molesting the repose of the family. You know that our doors are
always unfastened and are accessible at all hours of the night.
My slumbers were imperfect and I rejoiced when the morning light
permitted me to resume my meditations. The day glided away I scarcely
know how and as I had rejoiced at the return of morning I now hailed
with pleasure the approach of night.
My uncle and sisters having retired I betook myself instead of
following their example to the _Chestnut-hill_. Concealed among
its rocks or gazing at the prospect which stretched so far and so wide
around it my fancy has always been accustomed to derive its highest
enjoyment from this spot. I found myself again at leisure to recall the
scene which I had witnessed during the last night to imagine its
connection with the fate of Waldegrave and to plan the means of
discovering the secret that was hidden under these appearances.
Shortly I began to feel insupportable disquiet at the thoughts of
postponing this discovery. Wiles and stratagems were practicable but
they were tedious and of dubious success. Why should I proceed like a
plotter? Do I intend the injury of this person? A generous purpose will
surely excuse me from descending to artifices. There are two modes of
drawing forth the secrets of another--by open and direct means and by
circuitous and indirect. Why scruple to adopt the former mode? Why not
demand a conference and state my doubts and demand a solution of them