Edgar Allan Poe

The Purloined Letter

Nil sapientiae odiosius acumine nimio.


AT Paris, just after dark one gusty evening in the autumn of 18--, I was 
enjoying the twofold luxury of meditation and a meerschaum, in company with my 
friend C. Auguste Dupin, in his little back library, or book-closet, au 
troisieme, No. 33, Rue Dunot, Faubourg St. Germain. For one hour at least we had 
maintained a profound silence; while each, to any casual observer, might have 
seemed intently and exclusively occupied with the curling eddies of smoke that 
oppressed the atmosphere of the chamber. For myself, however, I was mentally 
discussing certain topics which had formed matter for conversation between us at 
an earlier period of the evening; I mean the affair of the Rue Morgue, and the 
mystery attending the murder of Marie Roget. I looked upon it, therefore, as 
something of a coincidence, when the door of our apartment was thrown open and 
admitted our old acquaintance, Monsieur G--, the Prefect of the Parisian police.

We gave him a hearty welcome; for there was nearly half as much of the 
entertaining as of the contemptible about the man, and we had not seen him for 
several years. We had been sitting in the dark, and Dupin now arose for the 
purpose of lighting a lamp, but sat down again, without doing so, upon G.'s 
saying that he had called to consult us, or rather to ask the opinion of my 
friend, about some official business which had occasioned a great deal of 

"If it is any point requiring reflection," observed Dupin, as he forbore to 
enkindle the wick, "we shall examine it to better purpose in the dark."

"That is another of your odd notions," said the Prefect, who had a fashion of 
calling every thing "odd" that was beyond his comprehension, and thus lived amid 
an absolute legion of "oddities."

"Very true," said Dupin, as he supplied his visitor with a pipe, and rolled 
towards him a comfortable chair.

"And what is the difficulty now?" I asked. "Nothing more in the assassination 
way, I hope?"

"Oh no; nothing of that nature. The fact is, the business is very simple indeed, 
and I make no doubt that we can manage it sufficiently well ourselves; but then 
I thought Dupin would like to hear the details of it, because it is so 
excessively odd."

"Simple and odd," said Dupin.

"Why, yes; and not exactly that, either. The fact is, we have all been a good 
deal puzzled because the affair is so simple, and yet baffles us altogether."

"Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thing which puts you at fault," said 
my friend.

"What nonsense you do talk!" replied the Prefect, laughing heartily.

"Perhaps the mystery is a little too plain," said Dupin.

"Oh, good heavens! who ever heard of such an idea?"

"A little too self-evident."

"Ha! ha! ha! --ha! ha! ha! --ho! ho! ho!" --roared our visitor, profoundly 
amused, "oh, Dupin, you will be the death of me yet!"

"And what, after all, is the matter on hand?" I asked.

"Why, I will tell you," replied the Prefect, as he gave a long, steady, and 
contemplative puff, and settled himself in his chair. "I will tell you in a few 
words; but, before I begin, let me caution you that this is an affair demanding 
the greatest secrecy, and that I should most probably lose the position I now 
hold, were it known that I confided it to any one.

"Proceed," said I.

"Or not," said Dupin.

"Well, then; I have received personal information, from a very high quarter, 
that a certain document of the last importance, has been purloined from the 
royal apartments. The individual who purloined it is known; this beyond a doubt; 
he was seen to take it. It is known, also, that it still remains in his 

"How is this known?" asked Dupin.

"It is clearly inferred," replied the Prefect, "from the nature of the document, 
and from the nonappearance of certain results which would at once arise from its 
passing out of the robber's possession; --that is to say, from his employing it 
as he must design in the end to employ it."

"Be a little more explicit," I said.

"Well, I may venture so far as to say that the paper gives its holder a certain 
power in a certain quarter where such power is immensely valuable." The Prefect 
was fond of the cant of diplomacy.

"Still I do not quite understand," said Dupin.

"No? Well; the disclosure of the document to a third person, who shall be 
nameless, would bring in question the honor of a personage of most exalted 
station; and this fact gives the holder of the document an ascendancy over the 
illustrious personage whose honor and peace are so jeopardized."

"But this ascendancy," I interposed, "would depend upon the robber's knowledge 
of the loser's knowledge of the robber. Who would dare--"

"The thief," said G., is the Minister D--, who dares all things, those 
unbecoming as well as those becoming a man. The method of the theft was not less 
ingenious than bold. The document in question --a letter, to be frank --had been 
received by the personage robbed while alone in the royal boudoir. During its 
perusal she was suddenly interrupted by the entrance of the other exalted 
personage from whom especially it was her wish to conceal it. After a hurried 
and vain endeavor to thrust it in a drawer, she was forced to place it, open as 
it was, upon a table. The address, however, was uppermost, and, the contents 
thus unexposed, the letter escaped notice. At this juncture enters the Minister 
D--. His lynx eye immediately perceives the paper, recognises the handwriting of 
the address, observes the confusion of the personage addressed, and fathoms her 
secret. After some business transactions, hurried through in his ordinary 
manner, he produces a letter somewhat similar to the one in question, opens it, 
pretends to read it, and then places it in close juxtaposition to the other. 
Again he converses, for some fifteen minutes, upon the public affairs. At 
length, in taking leave, he takes also from the table the letter to which he had 
no claim. Its rightful owner saw, but, of course, dared not call attention to 
the act, in the presence of the third personage who stood at her elbow. The 
minister decamped; leaving his own letter --one of no importance --upon the 

"Here, then," said Dupin to me, "you have precisely what you demand to make the 
ascendancy complete --the robber's knowledge of the loser's knowledge of the 

"Yes," replied the Prefect; "and the power thus attained has, for some months 
past, been wielded, for political purposes, to a very dangerous extent. The 
personage robbed is more thoroughly convinced, every day, of the necessity of 
reclaiming her letter. But this, of course, cannot be done openly. In fine, 
driven to despair, she has committed the matter to me."

"Than whom," said Dupin, amid a perfect whirlwind of smoke, "no more sagacious 
agent could, I suppose, be desired, or even imagined."

"You flatter me," replied the Prefect; "but it is possible that some such 
opinion may have been entertained."

"It is clear," said I, "as you observe, that the letter is still in possession 
of the minister; since it is this possession, and not any employment of the 
letter, which bestows the power. With the employment the power departs."

"True," said G. "and upon this conviction I proceeded. My first care was to make 
thorough search of the minister's hotel; and here my chief embarrassment lay in 
the necessity of searching without his knowledge. Beyond all things, I have been 
warned of the danger which would result from giving him reason to suspect our 

"But," said I, "you are quite au fait in these investigations. The Parisian 
police have done this thing often before."

"Oh yes; and for this reason I did not despair. The habits of the minister gave 
me, too, a great advantage. He is frequently absent from home all night. His 
servants are by no means numerous. They sleep at a distance from their master's 
apartment, and, being chiefly Neapolitans, are readily made drunk. I have keys, 
as you know, with which I can open any chamber or cabinet in Paris. For three 
months a night has not passed, during the greater part of which I have not been 
engaged, personally, in ransacking the D-–Hotel. My honor is interested, and, to 
mention a great secret, the reward is enormous. So I did not abandon the search 
until I had become fully satisfied that the thief is a more astute man than 
myself. I fancy that I have investigated every nook and corner of the premises 
in which it is possible that the paper can be concealed."

"But is it not possible," I suggested, "that although the letter may be in 
possession of the minister, as it unquestionably is, he may have concealed it 
elsewhere than upon his own premises?"

"This is barely possible," said Dupin. "The present peculiar condition of 
affairs at court, and especially of those intrigues in which D-–is known to be 
involved, would render the instant availability of the document --its 
susceptibility of being produced at a moment's notice --a point of nearly equal 
importance with its possession."

"Its susceptibility of being produced?" said I.

"That is to say, of being destroyed," said Dupin.

"True," I observed; "the paper is clearly then upon the premises. As for its 
being upon the person of the minister, we may consider that as out of the 

"Entirely," said the Prefect. "He has been twice waylaid, as if by footpads, and 
his person rigorously searched under my own inspection.

"You might have spared yourself this trouble," said Dupin. "D--, I presume, is 
not altogether a fool, and, if not, must have anticipated these waylayings, as a 
matter of course."

"Not altogether a fool," said G., "but then he's a poet, which I take to be only 
one remove from a fool."

"True," said Dupin, after a long and thoughtful whiff from his meerschaum, 
"although I have been guilty of certain doggerel myself."

"Suppose you detail," said I, "the particulars of your search."

"Why the fact is, we took our time, and we searched every where. I have had long 
experience in these affairs. I took the entire building, room by room; devoting 
the nights of a whole week to each. We examined, first, the furniture of each 
apartment. We opened every possible drawer; and I presume you know that, to a 
properly trained police agent, such a thing as a secret drawer is impossible. 
Any man is a dolt who permits a 'secret' drawer to escape him in a search of 
this kind. The thing is so plain. There is a certain amount of bulk --of space -
-to be accounted for in every cabinet. Then we have accurate rules. The fiftieth 
part of a line could not escape us. After the cabinets we took the chairs. The 
cushions we probed with the fine long needles you have seen me employ. From the 
tables we removed the tops."

"Why so?"

"Sometimes the top of a table, or other similarly arranged piece of furniture, 
is removed by the person wishing to conceal an article; then the leg is 
excavated, the article deposited within the cavity, and the top replaced. The 
bottoms and tops of bedposts are employed in the same way."

"But could not the cavity be detected by sounding?" I asked.

"By no means, if, when the article is deposited, a sufficient wadding of cotton 
be placed around it. Besides, in our case, we were obliged to proceed without 

"But you could not have removed --you could not have taken to pieces all 
articles of furniture in which it would have been possible to make a deposit in 
the manner you mention. A letter may be compressed into a thin spiral roll, not 
differing much in shape or bulk from a large knitting-needle, and in this form 
it might be inserted into the rung of a chair, for example. You did not take to 
pieces all the chairs?"

"Certainly not; but we did better --we examined the rungs of every chair in the 
hotel, and, indeed, the jointings of every description of furniture, by the aid 
of a most powerful microscope. Had there been any traces of recent disturbance 
we should not have failed to detect it instantly. A single grain of gimlet-dust, 
for example, would have been as obvious as an apple. Any disorder in the glueing 
--any unusual gaping in the joints --would have sufficed to insure detection."

"I presume you looked to the mirrors, between the boards and the plates, and you 
probed the beds and the bed-clothes, as well as the curtains and carpets."

"That of course; and when we had absolutely completed every particle of the 
furniture in this way, then we examined the house itself. We divided its entire 
surface into compartments, which we numbered, so that none might be missed; then 
we scrutinized each individual square inch throughout the premises, including 
the two houses immediately adjoining, with the microscope, as before."

"The two houses adjoining!" I exclaimed; "you must have had a great deal of 

"We had; but the reward offered is prodigious.

"You include the grounds about the houses?"

"All the grounds are paved with brick. They gave us comparatively little 
trouble. We examined the moss between the bricks, and found it undisturbed."

"You looked among D--'s papers, of course, and into the books of the library?"

"Certainly; we opened every package and parcel; we not only opened every book, 
but we turned over every leaf in each volume, not contenting ourselves with a 
mere shake, according to the fashion of some of our police officers. We also 
measured the thickness of every book-cover, with the most accurate 
admeasurement, and applied to each the most jealous scrutiny of the microscope. 
Had any of the bindings been recently meddled with, it would have been utterly 
impossible that the fact should have escaped observation. Some five or six 
volumes, just from the hands of the binder, we carefully probed, longitudinally, 
with the needles."

"You explored the floors beneath the carpets?"

"Beyond doubt. We removed every carpet, and examined the boards with the 

"And the paper on the walls?"


"You looked into the cellars?"

"We did."

"Then," I said, "you have been making a miscalculation, and the letter is not 
upon the premises, as you suppose.

"I fear you are right there," said the Prefect. "And now, Dupin, what would you 
advise me to do?"

"To make a thorough re-search of the premises."

"That is absolutely needless," replied G--. "I am not more sure that I breathe 
than I am that the letter is not at the Hotel."

"I have no better advice to give you," said Dupin. "You have, of course, an 
accurate description of the letter?"

"Oh yes!" --And here the Prefect, producing a memorandum-book, proceeded to read 
aloud a minute account of the internal, and especially of the external 
appearance of the missing document. Soon after finishing the perusal of this 
description, he took his departure, more entirely depressed in spirits than I 
had ever known the good gentleman before.

In about a month afterwards he paid us another visit, and found us occupied very 
nearly as before. He took a pipe and a chair and entered into some ordinary 
conversation. At length I said,--

"Well, but G--, what of the purloined letter? I presume you have at last made up 
your mind that there is no such thing as overreaching the Minister?"

"Confound him, say I --yes; I made the reexamination, however, as Dupin 
suggested --but it was all labor lost, as I knew it would be."

"How much was the reward offered, did you say?" asked Dupin.

"Why, a very great deal --a very liberal reward --I don't like to say how much, 
precisely; but one thing I will say, that I wouldn't mind giving my individual 
check for fifty thousand francs to any one who could obtain me that letter. The 
fact is, it is becoming of more and more importance every day; and the reward 
has been lately doubled. If it were trebled, however, I could do no more than I 
have done."

"Why, yes," said Dupin, drawlingly, between the whiffs of his meerschaum, "I 
really --think, G--, you have not exerted yourself--to the utmost in this 
matter. You might --do a little more, I think, eh?"

"How? --In what way?"

"Why --puff, puff --you might --puff, puff --employ counsel in the matter, eh? -
-puff, puff, puff. Do you remember the story they tell of Abernethy?"

"No; hang Abernethy!"

"To be sure! hang him and welcome. But, once upon a time, a certain rich miser 
conceived the design of spunging upon this Abernethy for a medical opinion. 
Getting up, for this purpose, an ordinary conversation in a private company, he 
insinuated his case to the physician, as that of an imaginary individual.

"'We will suppose,' said the miser, 'that his symptoms are such and such; now, 
doctor, what would you have directed him to take?'

"'Take!' said Abernethy, 'why, take advice, to be sure.'"

"But," said the Prefect, a little discomposed, "I am perfectly willing to take 
advice, and to pay for it. I would really give fifty thousand francs to any one 
who would aid me in the matter."

"In that case," replied Dupin, opening a drawer, and producing a check-book, 
"you may as well fill me up a check for the amount mentioned. When you have 
signed it, I will hand you the letter."

I was astounded. The Prefect appeared absolutely thunderstricken. For some 
minutes he remained speechless and motionless, less, looking incredulously at my 
friend with open mouth, and eyes that seemed starting from their sockets; then, 
apparently in some measure, he seized a pen, and after several pauses and vacant 
stares, finally filled up and signed a check for fifty thousand francs, and 
handed it across the table to Dupin. The latter examined it carefully and 
deposited it in his pocket-book; then, unlocking an escritoire, took thence a 
letter and gave it to the Prefect. This functionary grasped it in a perfect 
agony of joy, opened it with a trembling hand, cast a rapid glance at its 
contents, and then, scrambling and struggling to the door, rushed at length 
unceremoniously from the room and from the house, without having uttered a 
syllable since Dupin had requested him to fill up the check.

When he had gone, my friend entered into some explanations.

"The Parisian police," he said, "are exceedingly able in their way. They are 
persevering, ingenious, cunning, and thoroughly versed in the knowledge which 
their duties seem chiefly to demand. Thus, when G-–detailed to us his mode of 
searching the premises at the Hotel D--, I felt entire confidence in his having 
made a satisfactory investigation --so far as his labors extended."

"So far as his labors extended?" said I.

"Yes," said Dupin. "The measures adopted were not only the best of their kind, 
but carried out to absolute perfection. Had the letter been deposited within the 
range of their search, these fellows would, beyond a question, have found it."

I merely laughed --but he seemed quite serious in all that he said.

"The measures, then," he continued, "were good in their kind, and well executed; 
their defect lay in their being inapplicable to the case, and to the man. A 
certain set of highly ingenious resources are, with the Prefect, a sort of 
Procrustean bed, to which he forcibly adapts his designs. But he perpetually 
errs by being too deep or too shallow, for the matter in hand; and many a 
schoolboy is a better reasoner than he. I knew one about eight years of age, 
whose success at guessing in the game of 'even and odd' attracted universal 
admiration. This game is simple, and is played with marbles. One player holds in 
his hand a number of these toys, and demands of another whether that number is 
even or odd. If the guess is right, the guesser wins one; if wrong, he loses 
one. The boy to whom I allude won all the marbles of the school. Of course he 
had some principle of guessing; and this lay in mere observation and 
admeasurement of the astuteness of his opponents. For example, an arrant 
simpleton is his opponent, and, holding up his closed hand, asks, 'are they even 
or odd?' Our schoolboy replies, 'odd,' and loses; but upon the second trial he 
wins, for he then says to himself, the simpleton had them even upon the first 
trial, and his amount of cunning is just sufficient to make him have them odd 
upon the second; I will therefore guess odd'; --he guesses odd, and wins. Now, 
with a simpleton a degree above the first, he would have reasoned thus: 'This 
fellow finds that in the first instance I guessed odd, and, in the second, he 
will propose to himself upon the first impulse, a simple variation from even to 
odd, as did the first simpleton; but then a second thought will suggest that 
this is too simple a variation, and finally he will decide upon putting it even 
as before. I will therefore guess even' guesses even, and wins. Now this mode of 
reasoning in the schoolboy, whom his fellows termed "lucky," --what, in its last 
analysis, is it?"

"It is merely," I said, "an identification of the reasoner's intellect with that 
of his opponent."

"It is," said Dupin;" and, upon inquiring of the boy by what means he effected 
the thorough identification in which his success consisted, I received answer as 
follows: 'When I wish to find out how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how 
wicked is any one, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the 
expression of my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with the 
expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my 
mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression.' This response 
of the schoolboy lies at the bottom of all the spurious profundity which has 
been attributed to Rochefoucauld, to La Bougive, to Machiavelli, and to 

"And the identification," I said, "of the reasoner's intellect with that of his 
opponent, depends, if I understand you aright upon the accuracy with which the 
opponent's intellect is admeasured."

"For its practical value it depends upon this," replied Dupin; and the Prefect 
and his cohort fall so frequently, first, by default of this identification, 
and, secondly, by ill-admeasurement, or rather through non-admeasurement, of the 
intellect with which they are engaged. They consider only their own ideas of 
ingenuity; and, in searching for anything hidden, advert only to the modes in 
which they would have hidden it. They are right in this much --that their own 
ingenuity is a faithful representative of that of the mass; but when the cunning 
of the individual felon is diverse in character from their own, the felon foils 
them, of course. This always happens when it is above their own, and very 
usually when it is below. They have no variation of principle in their 
investigations; at best, when urged by some unusual emergency --by some 
extraordinary reward --they extend or exaggerate their old modes of practice, 
without touching their principles. What, for example, in this case of D--, has 
been done to vary the principle of action? What is all this boring, and probing, 
and sounding, and scrutinizing with the microscope, and dividing the surface of 
the building into registered square inches --what is it all but an exaggeration 
of the application of the one principle or set of principles of search, which 
are based upon the one set of notions regarding human ingenuity, to which the 
Prefect, in the long routine of his duty, has been accustomed? Do you not see he 
has taken it for granted that all men proceed to conceal a letter, --not exactly 
in a gimlet-hole bored in a chair-leg --but, at least, in some hole or corner 
suggested by the same tenor of thought which would urge a man to secrete a 
letter in a gimlet-hole bored in a chair-leg? And do you not see also, that such 
recherches nooks for concealment are adapted only for ordinary occasions, and 
would be adopted only by ordinary intellects; for, in all cases of concealment, 
a disposal of the article concealed --a disposal of it in this recherche manner, 
--is, in the very first instance, presumable and presumed; and thus its 
discovery depends, not at all upon the acumen, but altogether upon the mere 
care, patience, and determination of the seekers; and where the case is of 
importance --or, what amounts to the same thing in the policial eyes, when the 
reward is of magnitude, --the qualities in question have never been known to 
fall. You will now understand what I meant in suggesting that, had the purloined 
letter been hidden anywhere within the limits of the Prefect's examination --in 
other words, had the principle of its concealment been comprehended within the 
principles of the Prefect --its discovery would have been a matter altogether 
beyond question. This functionary, however, has been thoroughly mystified; and 
the remote source of his defeat lies in the supposition that the Minister is a 
fool, because he has acquired renown as a poet. All fools are poets; this the 
Prefect feels; and he is merely guilty of a non distributio medii in thence 
inferring that all poets are fools."

"But is this really the poet?" I asked. "There are two brothers, I know; and 
both have attained reputation in letters. The Minister I believe has written 
learnedly on the Differential Calculus. He is a mathematician, and no poet."

"You are mistaken; I know him well; he is both. As poet and mathematician, he 
would reason well; as mere mathematician, he could not have reasoned at all, and 
thus would have been at the mercy of the Prefect."

"You surprise me," I said, "by these opinions, which have been contradicted by 
the voice of the world. You do not mean to set at naught the well-digested idea 
of centuries. The mathematical reason has long been regarded as the reason par 

"'Il y a a parier,'" replied Dupin, quoting from Chamfort, "'que toute idee 
publique, toute convention recue, est une sottise, car elle a convenu au plus 
grand nombre.' The mathematicians, I grant you, have done their best to 
promulgate the popular error to which you allude, and which is none the less an 
error for its promulgation as truth. With an art worthy a better cause, for 
example, they have insinuated the term 'analysis' into application to algebra. 
The French are the originators of this particular deception; but if a term is of 
any importance --if words derive any value from applicability --then 'analysis' 
conveys 'algebra' about as much as, in Latin, 'ambitus' implies 'ambition,' 
'religio' religion or 'homines honesti,' a set of honorable men."

"You have a quarrel on hand, I see," said I, "with some of the algebraists of 
Paris; but proceed."

"I dispute the availability, and thus the value, of that reason which is 
cultivated in any especial form other than the abstractly logical. I dispute, in 
particular, the reason educed by mathematical study. The mathematics are the 
science of form and quantity; mathematical reasoning is merely logic applied to 
observation upon form and quantity. The great error lies in supposing that even 
the truths of what is called pure algebra, are abstract or general truths. And 
this error is so egregious that I am confounded at the universality with which 
it has been received. Mathematical axioms are not axioms of general truth. What 
is true of relation --of form and quantity --is often grossly false in regard to 
morals, for example. In this latter science it is very usually untrue that the 
aggregated parts are equal to the whole. In chemistry also the axiom falls. In 
the consideration of motive it falls; for two motives, each of a given value, 
have not, necessarily, a value when united, equal to the sum of their values 
apart. There are numerous other mathematical truths which are only truths within 
the limits of relation. But the mathematician argues, from his finite truths, 
through habit, as if they were of an absolutely general applicability --as the 
world indeed imagines them to be. Bryant, in his very learned 'Mythology,' 
mentions an analogous source of error, when he says that 'although the Pagan 
fables are not believed, yet we forget ourselves continually, and make 
inferences from them as existing realities.' With the algebraists, however, who 
are Pagans themselves, the 'Pagan fables' are believed, and the inferences are 
made, not so much through lapse of memory, as through an unaccountable addling 
of the brains. In short, I never yet encountered the mere mathematician who 
could be trusted out of equal roots, or one who did not clandestinely hold it as 
a point of his faith that x squared + px was absolutely and unconditionally 
equal to q. Say to one of these gentlemen, by way of experiment, if you please, 
that you believe occasions may occur where x squared + px is not altogether 
equal to q, and, having made him understand what you mean, get out of his reach 
as speedily as convenient, for, beyond doubt, he will endeavor to knock you 

I mean to say," continued Dupin, while I merely laughed at his last 
observations, "that if the Minister had been no more than a mathematician, the 
Prefect would have been under no necessity of giving me this check. I knew him, 
however, as both mathematician and poet, and my measures were adapted to his 
capacity, with reference to the circumstances by which he was surrounded. I knew 
him as a courtier, too, and as a bold intriguant. Such a man, I considered, 
could not fall to be aware of the ordinary policial modes of action. He could 
not have failed to anticipate --and events have proved that he did not fail to 
anticipate --the waylayings to which he was subjected. He must have foreseen, I 
reflected, the secret investigations of his premises. His frequent absences from 
home at night, which were hailed by the Prefect as certain aids to his success, 
I regarded only as ruses, to afford opportunity for thorough search to the 
police, and thus the sooner to impress them with the conviction to which G--, in 
fact, did finally arrive --the conviction that the letter was not upon the 
premises. I felt, also, that the whole train of thought, which I was at some 
pains in detailing to you just now, concerning the invariable principle of 
policial action in searches for articles concealed --I felt that this whole 
train of thought would necessarily pass through the mind of the Minister. It 
would imperatively lead him to despise all the ordinary nooks of concealment. He 
could not, I reflected, be so weak as not to see that the most intricate and 
remote recess of his hotel would be as open as his commonest closets to the 
eyes, to the probes, to the gimlets, and to the microscopes of the Prefect. I 
saw, in fine, that he would be driven, as a matter of course, to simplicity, if 
not deliberately induced to it as a matter of choice. You will remember, 
perhaps, how desperately the Prefect laughed when I suggested, upon our first 
interview, that it was just possible this mystery troubled him so much on 
account of its being so very self-evident."

"Yes," said I, "I remember his merriment well. I really thought he would have 
fAllan into convulsions."

"The material world," continued Dupin, "abounds with very strict analogies to 
the immaterial; and thus some color of truth has been given to the rhetorical 
dogma, that metaphor, or simile, may be made to strengthen an argument, as well 
as to embellish a description. The principle of the vis inertiae, for example, 
seems to be identical in physics and metaphysics. It is not more true in the 
former, that a large body is with more difficulty set in motion than a smaller 
one, and that its subsequent momentum is commensurate with this difficulty, than 
it is, in the latter, that intellects of the vaster capacity, while more 
forcible, more constant, and more eventful in their movements than those of 
inferior grade, are yet the less readily moved, and more embarrassed and full of 
hesitation in the first few steps of their progress. Again: have you ever 
noticed which of the street signs, over the shop doors, are the most attractive 
of attention?"

"I have never given the matter a thought," I said.

"There is a game of puzzles," he resumed, "which is played upon a map. One party 
playing requires another to find a given word --the name of town, river, state 
or empire --any word, in short, upon the motley and perplexed surface of the 
chart. A novice in the game generally seeks to embarrass his opponents by giving 
them the most minutely lettered names; but the adept selects such words as 
stretch, in large characters, from one end of the chart to the other. These, 
like the over-largely lettered signs and placards of the street, escape 
observation by dint of being excessively obvious; and here the physical 
oversight is precisely analogous with the moral inapprehension by which the 
intellect suffers to pass unnoticed those considerations which are too 
obtrusively and too palpably self-evident. But this is a point, it appears, 
somewhat above or beneath the understanding of the Prefect. He never once 
thought it probable, or possible, that the Minister had deposited the letter 
immediately beneath the nose of the whole world, by way of best preventing any 
portion of that world from perceiving it.

"But the more I reflected upon the daring, dashing, and discriminating ingenuity 
of D--; upon the fact that the document must always have been at hand, if he 
intended to use it to good purpose; and upon the decisive evidence, obtained by 
the Prefect, that it was not hidden within the limits of that dignitary's 
ordinary search --the more satisfied I became that, to conceal this letter, the 
Minister had resorted to the comprehensive and sagacious expedient of not 
attempting to conceal it at all.

"Full of these ideas, I prepared myself with a pair of green spectacles, and 
called one fine morning, quite by accident, at the Ministerial hotel. I found D-
–at home, yawning, lounging, and dawdling, as usual, and pretending to be in the 
last extremity of ennui. He is, perhaps, the most really energetic human being 
now alive --but that is only when nobody sees him.

"To be even with him, I complained of my weak eyes, and lamented the necessity 
of the spectacles, under cover of which I cautiously and thoroughly surveyed the 
apartment, while seemingly intent only upon the conversation of my host.

"I paid special attention to a large writing-table near which he sat, and upon 
which lay confusedly, some miscellaneous letters and other papers, with one or 
two musical instruments and a few books. Here, however, after a long and very 
deliberate scrutiny, I saw nothing to excite particular suspicion.

"At length my eyes, in going the circuit of the room, fell upon a trumpery 
filigree card-rack of pasteboard, that hung dangling by a dirty blue ribbon, 
from a little brass knob just beneath the middle of the mantelpiece. In this 
rack, which had three or four compartments, were five or six visiting cards and 
a solitary letter. This last was much soiled and crumpled. It was torn nearly in 
two, across the middle --as if a design, in the first instance, to tear it 
entirely up as worthless, had been altered, or stayed, in the second. It had a 
large black seal, bearing the D-–cipher very conspicuously, and was addressed, 
in a diminutive female hand, to D--, the minister, himself. It was thrust 
carelessly, and even, as it seemed, contemptuously, into one of the upper 
divisions of the rack.

"No sooner had I glanced at this letter, than I concluded it to be that of which 
I was in search. To be sure, it was, to all appearance, radically different from 
the one of which the Prefect had read us so minute a description. Here the seal 
was large and black, with the D-–cipher; there it was small and red, with the 
ducal arms of the S-–family. Here, the address, to the Minister, was diminutive 
and feminine; there the superscription, to a certain royal personage, was 
markedly bold and decided; the size alone formed a point of correspondence. But, 
then, the radicalness of these differences, which was excessive; the dirt; the 
soiled and torn condition of the paper, so inconsistent with the true methodical 
habits of D--, and so suggestive of a design to delude the beholder into an idea 
of the worthlessness of the document; these things, together with the 
hyperobtrusive situation of this document, full in the view of every visitor, 
and thus exactly in accordance with the conclusions to which I had previously 
arrived; these things, I say, were strongly corroborative of suspicion, in one 
who came with the intention to suspect.

"I protracted my visit as long as possible, and, while I maintained a most 
animated discussion with the Minister, on a topic which I knew well had never 
failed to interest and excite him, I kept my attention really riveted upon the 
letter. In this examination, I committed to memory its external appearance and 
arrangement in the rack; and also fell, at length, upon a discovery which set at 
rest whatever trivial doubt I might have entertained. In scrutinizing the edges 
of the paper, I observed them to be more chafed than seemed necessary. They 
presented the broken appearance which is manifested when a stiff paper, having 
been once folded and pressed with a folder, is refolded in a reversed direction, 
in the same creases or edges which had formed the original fold. This discovery 
was sufficient. It was clear to me that the letter had been turned, as a glove, 
inside out, re-directed, and re-sealed. I bade the Minister good morning, and 
took my departure at once, leaving a gold snuff-box upon the table.

"The next morning I called for the snuff-box, when we resumed, quite eagerly, 
the conversation of the preceding day. While thus engaged, however, a loud 
report, as if of a pistol, was heard immediately beneath the windows of the 
hotel, and was succeeded by a series of fearful screams, and the shoutings of a 
mob. D-–rushed to a casement, threw it open, and looked out. In the meantime, I 
stepped to the card-rack, took the letter, put it in my pocket, and replaced it 
by a fac-simile, (so far as regards externals,) which I had carefully prepared 
at my lodgings; imitating the D-–cipher, very readily, by means of a seal formed 
of bread.

"The disturbance in the street had been occasioned by the frantic behavior of a 
man with a musket. He had fired it among a crowd of women and children. It 
proved, however, to have been without ball, and the fellow was suffered to go 
his way as a lunatic or a drunkard. When he had gone, D-came from the window, 
whither I had followed him immediately upon securing the object in view. Soon 
afterwards I bade him farewell. The pretended lunatic was a man in my own pay.

"But what purpose had you," I asked, in replacing the letter by a fac-simile? 
Would it not have been better, at the first visit, to have seized it openly, and 

"D--," replied Dupin, "is a desperate man, and a man of nerve. His hotel, too, 
is not without attendants devoted to his interests. Had I made the wild attempt 
you suggest, I might never have left the Ministerial presence alive. The good 
people of Paris might have heard of me no more. But I had an object apart from 
these considerations. You know my political prepossessions. In this matter, I 
act as a partisan of the lady concerned. For eighteen months the Minister has 
had her in his power. She has now him in hers; since, being unaware that the 
letter is not in his possession, he will proceed with his exactions as if it 
was. Thus will he inevitably commit himself, at once, to his political 
destruction. His downfall, too, will not be more precipitate than awkward. It is 
all very well to talk about the facilis descensus Averni; but in all kinds of 
climbing, as Catalani said of singing, it is far more easy to get up than to 
come down. In the present instance I have no sympathy --at least no pity --for 
him who descends. He is the monstrum horrendum, an unprincipled man of genius. I 
confess, however, that I should like very well to know the precise character of 
his thoughts, when, being defied by her whom the Prefect terms 'a certain 
personage,' he is reduced to opening the letter which I left for him in the 

"How? did you put any thing particular in it?"

"Why --it did not seem altogether right to leave the interior blank --that would 
have been insulting. D--, at Vienna once, did me an evil turn, which I told him, 
quite good-humoredly, that I should remember. So, as I knew he would feel some 
curiosity in regard to the identity of the person who had outwitted him, I 
thought it a pity not to give him a clue. He is well acquainted with my MS., and 
I just copied into the middle of the blank sheet the words--

--Un dessein si funeste,

S'il n'est digne d'Atree, est digne de Thyeste.

They are to be found in Crebillon's 'Atree.'"