Edgar Allan Poe

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

OF course I shall not pretend to consider it any matter for wonder, that the 
extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited discussion. It would have been a 
miracle had it not-especially under the circumstances. Through the desire of all 
parties concerned, to keep the affair from the public, at least for the present, 
or until we had farther opportunities for investigation --through our endeavors 
to effect this --a garbled or exaggerated account made its way into society, and 
became the source of many unpleasant misrepresentations, and, very naturally, of 
a great deal of disbelief.

It is now rendered necessary that I give the facts --as far as I comprehend them 
myself. They are, succinctly, these:

My attention, for the last three years, had been repeatedly drawn to the subject 
of Mesmerism; and, about nine months ago it occurred to me, quite suddenly, that 
in the series of experiments made hitherto, there had been a very remarkable and 
most unaccountable omission: --no person had as yet been mesmerized in articulo 
mortis. It remained to be seen, first, whether, in such condition, there existed 
in the patient any susceptibility to the magnetic influence; secondly, whether, 
if any existed, it was impaired or increased by the condition; thirdly, to what 
extent, or for how long a period, the encroachments of Death might be arrested 
by the process. There were other points to be ascertained, but these most 
excited my curiosity --the last in especial, from the immensely important 
character of its consequences.

In looking around me for some subject by whose means I might test these 
particulars, I was brought to think of my friend, M. Ernest Valdemar, the well-
known compiler of the "Bibliotheca Forensica," and author (under the nom de 
plume of Issachar Marx) of the Polish versions of "WAllanstein" and "Gargantua." 
M. Valdemar, who has resided principally at Harlaem, N.Y., since the year 1839, 
is (or was) particularly noticeable for the extreme spareness of his person --
his lower limbs much resembling those of John Randolph; and, also, for the 
whiteness of his whiskers, in violent contrast to the blackness of his hair --
the latter, in consequence, being very generally mistaken for a wig. His 
temperament was markedly nervous, and rendered him a good subject for mesmeric 
experiment. On two or three occasions I had put him to sleep with little 
difficulty, but was disappointed in other results which his peculiar 
constitution had naturally led me to anticipate. His will was at no period 
positively, or thoroughly, under my control, and in regard to clairvoyance, I 
could accomplish with him nothing to be relied upon. I always attributed my 
failure at these points to the disordered state of his health. For some months 
previous to my becoming acquainted with him, his physicians had declared him in 
a confirmed phthisis. It was his custom, indeed, to speak calmly of his 
approaching dissolution, as of a matter neither to be avoided nor regretted.

When the ideas to which I have alluded first occurred to me, it was of course 
very natural that I should think of M. Valdemar. I knew the steady philosophy of 
the man too well to apprehend any scruples from him; and he had no relatives in 
America who would be likely to interfere. I spoke to him frankly upon the 
subject; and, to my surprise, his interest seemed vividly excited. I say to my 
surprise, for, although he had always yielded his person freely to my 
experiments, he had never before given me any tokens of sympathy with what I 
did. His disease was if that character which would admit of exact calculation in 
respect to the epoch of its termination in death; and it was finally arranged 
between us that he would send for me about twenty-four hours before the period 
announced by his physicians as that of his decease.

It is now rather more than seven months since I received, from M. Valdemar 
himself, the subjoined note:

My DEAR P--,

You may as well come now. D-–and F-–are agreed that I cannot hold out beyond to-
morrow midnight; and I think they have hit the time very nearly.


I received this note within half an hour after it was written, and in fifteen 
minutes more I was in the dying man's chamber. I had not seen him for ten days, 
and was appalled by the fearful alteration which the brief interval had wrought 
in him. His face wore a leaden hue; the eyes were utterly lustreless; and the 
emaciation was so extreme that the skin had been broken through by the cheek-
bones. His expectoration was excessive. The pulse was barely perceptible. He 
retained, nevertheless, in a very remarkable manner, both his mental power and a 
certain degree of physical strength. He spoke with distinctness --took some 
palliative medicines without aid --and, when I entered the room, was occupied in 
penciling memoranda in a pocket-book. He was propped up in the bed by pillows. 
Doctors D-- and F-–were in attendance.

After pressing Valdemar's hand, I took these gentlemen aside, and obtained from 
them a minute account of the patient's condition. The left lung had been for 
eighteen months in a semi-osseous or cartilaginous state, and was, of course, 
entirely useless for all purposes of vitality. The right, in its upper portion, 
was also partially, if not thoroughly, ossified, while the lower region was 
merely a mass of purulent tubercles, running one into another. Several extensive 
perforations existed; and, at one point, permanent adhesion to the ribs had 
taken place. These appearances in the right lobe were of comparatively recent 
date. The ossification had proceeded with very unusual rapidity; no sign of it 
had discovered a month before, and the adhesion had only been observed during 
the three previous days. Independently of the phthisis, the patient was 
suspected of aneurism of the aorta; but on this point the osseous symptoms 
rendered an exact diagnosis impossible. It was the opinion of both physicians 
that M. Valdemar would die about midnight on the morrow (Sunday). It was then 
seven o'clock on Saturday evening.

On quitting the invalid's bed-side to hold conversation with myself, Doctors D-
–and F-–had bidden him a final farewell. It had not been their intention to 
return; but, at my request, they agreed to look in upon the patient about ten 
the next night.

When they had gone, I spoke freely with M. Valdemar on the subject of his 
approaching dissolution, as well as, more particularly, of the experiment 
proposed. He still professed himself quite willing and even anxious to have it 
made, and urged me to commence it at once. A male and a female nurse were in 
attendance; but I did not feel myself altogether at liberty to engage in a task 
of this character with no more reliable witnesses than these people, in case of 
sudden accident, might prove. I therefore postponed operations until about eight 
the next night, when the arrival of a medical student with whom I had some 
acquaintance, (Mr. Theodore L--l,) relieved me from farther embarrassment. It 
had been my design, originally, to wait for the physicians; but I was induced to 
proceed, first, by the urgent entreaties of M. Valdemar, and secondly, by my 
conviction that I had not a moment to lose, as he was evidently sinking fast.

Mr. L--l was so kind as to accede to my desire that he would take notes of all 
that occurred, and it is from his memoranda that what I now have to relate is, 
for the most part, either condensed or copied verbatim.

It wanted about five minutes of eight when, taking the patient's hand, I begged 
him to state, as distinctly as he could, to Mr. L--l, whether he (M. Valdemar) 
was entirely willing that I should make the experiment of mesmerizing him in his 
then condition.

He replied feebly, yet quite audibly, "Yes, I wish to be "I fear you have 
mesmerized" --adding immediately afterwards, deferred it too long."

While he spoke thus, I commenced the passes which I had already found most 
effectual in subduing him. He was evidently influenced with the first lateral 
stroke of my hand across his forehead; but although I exerted all my powers, no 
farther perceptible effect was induced until some minutes after ten o'clock, 
when Doctors D-–and F-- called, according to appointment. I explained to them, 
in a few words, what I designed, and as they opposed no objection, saying that 
the patient was already in the death agony, I proceeded without hesitation --
exchanging, however, the lateral passes for downward ones, and directing my gaze 
entirely into the right eye of the sufferer.

By this time his pulse was imperceptible and his breathing was stertorous, and 
at intervals of half a minute.

This condition was nearly unaltered for a quarter of an hour. At the expiration 
of this period, however, a natural although a very deep sigh escaped the bosom 
of the dying man, and the stertorous breathing ceased --that is to say, its 
stertorousness was no longer apparent; the intervals were undiminished. The 
patient's extremities were of an icy coldness.

At five minutes before eleven I perceived unequivocal signs of the mesmeric 
influence. The glassy roll of the eye was changed for that expression of uneasy 
inward examination which is never seen except in cases of sleep-waking, and 
which it is quite impossible to mistake. With a few rapid lateral passes I made 
the lids quiver, as in incipient sleep, and with a few more I closed them 
altogether. I was not satisfied, however, with this, but continued the 
manipulations vigorously, and with the fullest exertion of the will, until I had 
completely stiffened the limbs of the slumberer, after placing them in a 
seemingly easy position. The legs were at full length; the arms were nearly so, 
and reposed on the bed at a moderate distance from the loin. The head was very 
slightly elevated.

When I had accomplished this, it was fully midnight, and I requested the 
gentlemen present to examine M. Valdemar's condition. After a few experiments, 
they admitted him to be an unusually perfect state of mesmeric trance. The 
curiosity of both the physicians was greatly excited. Dr. D-–resolved at once to 
remain with the patient all night, while Dr. F-–took leave with a promise to 
return at daybreak. Mr. L--l and the nurses remained.

We left M. Valdemar entirely undisturbed until about three o'clock in the 
morning, when I approached him and found him in precisely the same condition as 
when Dr. F-–went away --that is to say, he lay in the same position; the pulse 
was imperceptible; the breathing was gentle (scarcely noticeable, unless through 
the application of a mirror to the lips); the eyes were closed naturally; and 
the limbs were as rigid and as cold as marble. Still, the general appearance was 
certainly not that of death.

As I approached M. Valdemar I made a kind of half effort to influence his right 
arm into pursuit of my own, as I passed the latter gently to and fro above his 
person. In such experiments with this patient had never perfectly succeeded 
before, and assuredly I had little thought of succeeding now; but to my 
astonishment, his arm very readily, although feebly, followed every direction I 
assigned it with mine. I determined to hazard a few words of conversation.

"M. Valdemar," I said, "are you asleep?" He made no answer, but I perceived a 
tremor about the lips, and was thus induced to repeat the question, again and 
again. At its third repetition, his whole frame was agitated by a very slight 
shivering; the eyelids unclosed themselves so far as to display a white line of 
the ball; the lips moved sluggishly, and from between them, in a barely audible 
whisper, issued the words:

"Yes; --asleep now. Do not wake me! --let me die so!"

I here felt the limbs and found them as rigid as ever. The right arm, as before, 
obeyed the direction of my hand. I questioned the sleep-waker again:

"Do you still feel pain in the breast, M. Valdemar?"

The answer now was immediate, but even less audible than before:

"No pain --I am dying."

I did not think it advisable to disturb him farther just then, and nothing more 
was said or done until the arrival of Dr. F--, who came a little before sunrise, 
and expressed unbounded astonishment at finding the patient still alive. After 
feeling the pulse and applying a mirror to the lips, he requested me to speak to 
the sleep-waker again. I did so, saying:

"M. Valdemar, do you still sleep?"

As before, some minutes elapsed ere a reply was made; and during the interval 
the dying man seemed to be collecting his energies to speak. At my fourth 
repetition of the question, he said very faintly, almost inaudibly:

"Yes; still asleep --dying."

It was now the opinion, or rather the wish, of the physicians, that M. Valdemar 
should be suffered to remain undisturbed in his present apparently tranquil 
condition, until death should supervene --and this, it was generally agreed, 
must now take place within a few minutes. I concluded, however, to speak to him 
once more, and merely repeated my previous question.

While I spoke, there came a marked change over the countenance of the sleep-
waker. The eyes rolled themselves slowly open, the pupils disappearing upwardly; 
the skin generally assumed a cadaverous hue, resembling not so much parchment as 
white paper; and the circular hectic spots which, hitherto, had been strongly 
defined in the centre of each cheek, went out at once. I use this expression, 
because the suddenness of their departure put me in mind of nothing so much as 
the extinguishment of a candle by a puff of the breath. The upper lip, at the 
same time, writhed itself away from the teeth, which it had previously covered 
completely; while the lower jaw fell with an audible jerk, leaving the mouth 
widely extended, and disclosing in full view the swollen and blackened tongue. I 
presume that no member of the party then present had been unaccustomed to death-
bed horrors; but so hideous beyond conception was the appearance of M. Valdemar 
at this moment, that there was a general shrinking back from the region of the 

I now feel that I have reached a point of this narrative at which every reader 
will be startled into positive disbelief. It is my business, however, simply to 

There was no longer the faintest sign of vitality in M. Valdemar; and concluding 
him to be dead, we were consigning him to the charge of the nurses, when a 
strong vibratory motion was observable in the tongue. This continued for perhaps 
a minute. At the expiration of this period, there issued from the distended and 
motionless jaws a voice --such as it would be madness in me to attempt 
describing. There are, indeed, two or three epithets which might be considered 
as applicable to it in part; I might say, for example, that the sound was harsh, 
and broken and hollow; but the hideous whole is indescribable, for the simple 
reason that no similar sounds have ever jarred upon the ear of humanity. There 
were two particulars, nevertheless, which I thought then, and still think, might 
fairly be stated as characteristic of the intonation --as well adapted to convey 
some idea of its unearthly peculiarity. In the first place, the voice seemed to 
reach our ears --at least mine --from a vast distance, or from some deep cavern 
within the earth. In the second place, it impressed me (I fear, indeed, that it 
will be impossible to make myself comprehended) as gelatinous or glutinous 
matters impress the sense of touch.

I have spoken both of "sound" and of "voice." I mean to say that the sound was 
one of distinct --of even wonderfully, thrillingly distinct --syllabification. 
M. Valdemar spoke --obviously in reply to the question I had propounded to him a 
few minutes before. I had asked him, it will be remembered, if he still slept. 
He now said:

"Yes; --no; --I have been sleeping --and now --now --I am dead.

No person present even affected to deny, or attempted to repress, the 
unutterable, shuddering horror which these few words, thus uttered, were so well 
calculated to convey. Mr. L--l (the student) swooned. The nurses immediately 
left the chamber, and could not be induced to return. My own impressions I would 
not pretend to render intelligible to the reader. For nearly an hour, we busied 
ourselves, silently --without the utterance of a word --in endeavors to revive 
Mr. L--l. When he came to himself, we addressed ourselves again to an 
investigation of M. Valdemar's condition.

It remained in all respects as I have last described it, with the exception that 
the mirror no longer afforded evidence of respiration. An attempt to draw blood 
from the arm failed. I should mention, too, that this limb was no farther 
subject to my will. I endeavored in vain to make it follow the direction of my 
hand. The only real indication, indeed, of the mesmeric influence, was now found 
in the vibratory movement of the tongue, whenever I addressed M. Valdemar a 
question. He seemed to be making an effort to reply, but had no longer 
sufficient volition. To queries put to him by any other person than myself he 
seemed utterly insensible --although I endeavored to place each member of the 
company in mesmeric rapport with him. I believe that I have now related all that 
is necessary to an understanding of the sleep-waker's state at this epoch. Other 
nurses were procured; and at ten o'clock I left the house in company with the 
two physicians and Mr. L--l.

In the afternoon we all called again to see the patient. His condition remained 
precisely the same. We had now some discussion as to the propriety and 
feasibility of awakening him; but we had little difficulty in agreeing that no 
good purpose would be served by so doing. It was evident that, so far, death (or 
what is usually termed death) had been arrested by the mesmeric process. It 
seemed clear to us all that to awaken M. Valdemar would be merely to insure his 
instant, or at least his speedy dissolution.

From this period until the close of last week --an interval of nearly seven 
months --we continued to make daily calls at M. Valdemar's house, accompanied, 
now and then, by medical and other friends. All this time the sleeper-waker 
remained exactly as I have last described him. The nurses' attentions were 

It was on Friday last that we finally resolved to make the experiment of 
awakening or attempting to awaken him; and it is the (perhaps) unfortunate 
result of this latter experiment which has given rise to so much discussion in 
private circles --to so much of what I cannot help thinking unwarranted popular 

For the purpose of relieving M. Valdemar from the mesmeric trance, I made use of 
the customary passes. These, for a time, were unsuccessful. The first indication 
of revival was afforded by a partial descent of the iris. It was observed, as 
especially remarkable, that this lowering of the pupil was accompanied by the 
profuse out-flowing of a yellowish ichor (from beneath the lids) of a pungent 
and highly offensive odor.

It was now suggested that I should attempt to influence the patient's arm, as 
heretofore. I made the attempt and failed. Dr. F-- then intimated a desire to 
have me put a question. I did so, as follows:

"M. Valdemar, can you explain to us what are your feelings or wishes now?"

There was an instant return of the hectic circles on the cheeks; the tongue 
quivered, or rather rolled violently in the mouth (although the jaws and lips 
remained rigid as before;) and at length the same hideous voice which I have 
already described, broke forth:

"For God's sake! --quick! --quick! --put me to sleep --or, quick! --waken me! --
quick! --I say to you that I am dead!"

I was thoroughly unnerved, and for an instant remained undecided what to do. At 
first I made an endeavor to re-compose the patient; but, failing in this through 
total abeyance of the will, I retraced my steps and as earnestly struggled to 
awaken him. In this attempt I soon saw that I should be successful --or at least 
I soon fancied that my success would be complete --and I am sure that all in the 
room were prepared to see the patient awaken.

For what really occurred, however, it is quite impossible that any human being 
could have been prepared.

As I rapidly made the mesmeric passes, amid ejaculations of "dead! dead!" 
absolutely bursting from the tongue and not from the lips of the sufferer, his 
whole frame at once --within the space of a single minute, or even less, shrunk 
--crumbled --absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that 
whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome --of detestable