by Edgar Allan Poe
MANY years ago, it was the fashion to ridicule the idea of "love at
first sight;" but those who think, not less than those who feel
deeply, have always advocated its existence. Modern discoveries,
indeed, in what may be termed ethical magnetism or magnetoesthetics,
render it probable that the most natural, and, consequently, the
truest and most intense of the human affections are those which arise
in the heart as if by electric sympathy -- in a word, that the
brightest and most enduring of the psychal fetters are those which
are riveted by a glance. The confession I am about to make will add
another to the already almost innumerable instances of the truth of
My story requires that I should be somewhat minute. I am still a very
young man -- not yet twenty-two years of age. My name, at present, is
a very usual and rather plebeian one -- Simpson. I say "at present;"
for it is only lately that I have been so called -- having
legislatively adopted this surname within the last year in order to
receive a large inheritance left me by a distant male relative,
Adolphus Simpson, Esq. The bequest was conditioned upon my taking the
name of the testator, -- the family, not the Christian name; my
Christian name is Napoleon Bonaparte -- or, more properly, these are
my first and middle appellations.
I assumed the name, Simpson, with some reluctance, as in my true
patronym, Froissart, I felt a very pardonable pride -- believing that
I could trace a descent from the immortal author of the "Chronicles."
While on the subject of names, by the bye, I may mention a singular
coincidence of sound attending the names of some of my immediate
predecessors. My father was a Monsieur Froissart, of Paris. His wife
-- my mother, whom he married at fifteen -- was a Mademoiselle
Croissart, eldest daughter of Croissart the banker, whose wife,
again, being only sixteen when married, was the eldest daughter of
one Victor Voissart. Monsieur Voissart, very singularly, had married
a lady of similar name -- a Mademoiselle Moissart. She, too, was
quite a child when married; and her mother, also, Madame Moissart,
was only fourteen when led to the altar. These early marriages are
usual in France. Here, however, are Moissart, Voissart, Croissart,
and Froissart, all in the direct line of descent. My own name,
though, as I say, became Simpson, by act of Legislature, and with so
much repugnance on my part, that, at one period, I actually hesitated
about accepting the legacy with the useless and annoying proviso
As to personal endowments, I am by no means deficient. On the
contrary, I believe that I am well made, and possess what nine tenths
of the world would call a handsome face. In height I am five feet
eleven. My hair is black and curling. My nose is sufficiently good.
My eyes are large and gray; and although, in fact they are weak a
very inconvenient degree, still no defect in this regard would be
suspected from their appearance. The weakness itself, however, has
always much annoyed me, and I have resorted to every remedy -- short
of wearing glasses. Being youthful and good-looking, I naturally
dislike these, and have resolutely refused to employ them. I know
nothing, indeed, which so disfigures the countenance of a young
person, or so impresses every feature with an air of demureness, if
not altogether of sanctimoniousness and of age. An eyeglass, on the
other hand, has a savor of downright foppery and affectation. I have
hitherto managed as well as I could without either. But something too
much of these merely personal details, which, after all, are of
little importance. I will content myself with saying, in addition,
that my temperament is sanguine, rash, ardent, enthusiastic -- and
that all my life I have been a devoted admirer of the women.
One night last winter I entered a box at the P- -- Theatre, in
company with a friend, Mr. Talbot. It was an opera night, and the
bills presented a very rare attraction, so that the house was
excessively crowded. We were in time, however, to obtain the front
seats which had been reserved for us, and into which, with some
little difficulty, we elbowed our way.
For two hours my companion, who was a musical fanatico, gave his
undivided attention to the stage; and, in the meantime, I amused
myself by observing the audience, which consisted, in chief part, of
the very elite of the city. Having satisfied myself upon this point,
I was about turning my eyes to the prima donna, when they were
arrested and riveted by a figure in one of the private boxes which
had escaped my observation.
If I live a thousand years, I can never forget the intense emotion
with which I regarded this figure. It was that of a female, the most
exquisite I had ever beheld. The face was so far turned toward the
stage that, for some minutes, I could not obtain a view of it -- but
the form was divine; no other word can sufficiently express its
magnificent proportion -- and even the term "divine" seems
ridiculously feeble as I write it.
The magic of a lovely form in woman -- the necromancy of female
gracefulness -- was always a power which I had found it impossible to
resist, but here was grace personified, incarnate, the beau ideal of
my wildest and most enthusiastic visions. The figure, almost all of
which the construction of the box permitted to be seen, was somewhat
above the medium height, and nearly approached, without positively
reaching, the majestic. Its perfect fullness and tournure were
delicious. The head of which only the back was visible, rivalled in
outline that of the Greek Psyche, and was rather displayed than
concealed by an elegant cap of gaze aerienne, which put me in mind of
the ventum textilem of Apuleius. The right arm hung over the
balustrade of the box, and thrilled every nerve of my frame with its
exquisite symmetry. Its upper portion was draperied by one of the
loose open sleeves now in fashion. This extended but little below the
elbow. Beneath it was worn an under one of some frail material,
close-fitting, and terminated by a cuff of rich lace, which fell
gracefully over the top of the hand, revealing only the delicate
fingers, upon one of which sparkled a diamond ring, which I at once
saw was of extraordinary value. The admirable roundness of the wrist
was well set off by a bracelet which encircled it, and which also was
ornamented and clasped by a magnificent aigrette of jewels-telling,
in words that could not be mistaken, at once of the wealth and
fastidious taste of the wearer.
I gazed at this queenly apparition for at least half an hour, as if I
had been suddenly converted to stone; and, during this period, I felt
the full force and truth of all that has been said or sung concerning
"love at first sight." My feelings were totally different from any
which I had hitherto experienced, in the presence of even the most
celebrated specimens of female loveliness. An unaccountable, and what
I am compelled to consider a magnetic, sympathy of soul for soul,
seemed to rivet, not only my vision, but my whole powers of thought
and feeling, upon the admirable object before me. I saw -- I felt --
I knew that I was deeply, madly, irrevocably in love -- and this even
before seeing the face of the person beloved. So intense, indeed, was
the passion that consumed me, that I really believe it would have
received little if any abatement had the features, yet unseen, proved
of merely ordinary character, so anomalous is the nature of the only
true love -- of the love at first sight -- and so little really
dependent is it upon the external conditions which only seem to
create and control it.
While I was thus wrapped in admiration of this lovely vision, a
sudden disturbance among the audience caused her to turn her head
partially toward me, so that I beheld the entire profile of the face.
Its beauty even exceeded my anticipations -- and yet there was
something about it which disappointed me without my being able to
tell exactly what it was. I said "disappointed," but this is not
altogether the word. My sentiments were at once quieted and exalted.
They partook less of transport and more of calm enthusiasm of
enthusiastic repose. This state of feeling arose, perhaps, from the
Madonna-like and matronly air of the face; and yet I at once
understood that it could not have arisen entirely from this. There
was something else- some mystery which I could not develope -- some
expression about the countenance which slightly disturbed me while it
greatly heightened my interest. In fact, I was just in that condition
of mind which prepares a young and susceptible man for any act of
extravagance. Had the lady been alone, I should undoubtedly have
entered her box and accosted her at all hazards; but, fortunately,
she was attended by two companions -- a gentleman, and a strikingly
beautiful woman, to all appearance a few years younger than herself.
I revolved in my mind a thousand schemes by which I might obtain,
hereafter, an introduction to the elder lady, or, for the present, at
all events, a more distinct view of her beauty. I would have removed
my position to one nearer her own, but the crowded state of the
theatre rendered this impossible; and the stern decrees of Fashion
had, of late, imperatively prohibited the use of the opera-glass in a
case such as this, even had I been so fortunate as to have one with
me -- but I had not -- and was thus in despair.
At length I bethought me of applying to my companion.
"Talbot," I said, "you have an opera-glass. Let me have it."
"An opera -- glass! -- no! -- what do you suppose I would be doing
with an opera-glass?" Here he turned impatiently toward the stage.
"But, Talbot," I continued, pulling him by the shoulder, "listen to
me will you? Do you see the stage -- box? -- there! -- no, the next.
-- did you ever behold as lovely a woman?"
"She is very beautiful, no doubt," he said.
"I wonder who she can be?"
"Why, in the name of all that is angelic, don't you know who she is?
'Not to know her argues yourself unknown.' She is the celebrated
Madame Lalande -- the beauty of the day par excellence, and the talk
of the whole town. Immensely wealthy too -- a widow, and a great
match -- has just arrived from Paris."
"Do you know her?"
"Yes; I have the honor."
"Will you introduce me?"
"Assuredly, with the greatest pleasure; when shall it be?"
"To-morrow, at one, I will call upon you at B--'s.
"Very good; and now do hold your tongue, if you can."
In this latter respect I was forced to take Talbot's advice; for he
remained obstinately deaf to every further question or suggestion,
and occupied himself exclusively for the rest of the evening with
what was transacting upon the stage.
In the meantime I kept my eyes riveted on Madame Lalande, and at
length had the good fortune to obtain a full front view of her face.
It was exquisitely lovely -- this, of course, my heart had told me
before, even had not Talbot fully satisfied me upon the point -- but
still the unintelligible something disturbed me. I finally concluded
that my senses were impressed by a certain air of gravity, sadness,
or, still more properly, of weariness, which took something from the
youth and freshness of the countenance, only to endow it with a
seraphic tenderness and majesty, and thus, of course, to my
enthusiastic and romantic temperment, with an interest tenfold.
While I thus feasted my eyes, I perceived, at last, to my great
trepidation, by an almost imperceptible start on the part of the
lady, that she had become suddenly aware of the intensity of my gaze.
Still, I was absolutely fascinated, and could not withdraw it, even
for an instant. She turned aside her face, and again I saw only the
chiselled contour of the back portion of the head. After some
minutes, as if urged by curiosity to see if I was still looking, she
gradually brought her face again around and again encountered my
burning gaze. Her large dark eyes fell instantly, and a deep blush
mantled her cheek. But what was my astonishment at perceiving that
she not only did not a second time avert her head, but that she
actually took from her girdle a double eyeglass -- elevated it --
adjusted it -- and then regarded me through it, intently and
deliberately, for the space of several minutes.
Had a thunderbolt fallen at my feet I could not have been more
thoroughly astounded -- astounded only -- not offended or disgusted
in the slightest degree; although an action so bold in any other
woman would have been likely to offend or disgust. But the whole
thing was done with so much quietude -- so much nonchalance -- so
much repose- with so evident an air of the highest breeding, in short
-- that nothing of mere effrontery was perceptible, and my sole
sentiments were those of admiration and surprise.
I observed that, upon her first elevation of the glass, she had
seemed satisfied with a momentary inspection of my person, and was
withdrawing the instrument, when, as if struck by a second thought,
she resumed it, and so continued to regard me with fixed attention
for the space of several minutes -- for five minutes, at the very
least, I am sure.
This action, so remarkable in an American theatre, attracted very
general observation, and gave rise to an indefinite movement, or
buzz, among the audience, which for a moment filled me with
confusion, but produced no visible effect upon the countenance of
Having satisfied her curiosity -- if such it was -- she dropped the
glass, and quietly gave her attention again to the stage; her profile
now being turned toward myself, as before. I continued to watch her
unremittingly, although I was fully conscious of my rudeness in so
doing. Presently I saw the head slowly and slightly change its
position; and soon I became convinced that the lady, while pretending
to look at the stage was, in fact, attentively regarding myself. It
is needless to say what effect this conduct, on the part of so
fascinating a woman, had upon my excitable mind.
Having thus scrutinized me for perhaps a quarter of an hour, the fair
object of my passion addressed the gentleman who attended her, and
while she spoke, I saw distinctly, by the glances of both, that the
conversation had reference to myself.
Upon its conclusion, Madame Lalande again turned toward the stage,
and, for a few minutes, seemed absorbed in the performance. At the
expiration of this period, however, I was thrown into an extremity of
agitation by seeing her unfold, for the second time, the eye-glass
which hung at her side, fully confront me as before, and,
disregarding the renewed buzz of the audience, survey me, from head
to foot, with the same miraculous composure which had previously so
delighted and confounded my soul.
This extraordinary behavior, by throwing me into a perfect fever of
excitement -- into an absolute delirium of love-served rather to
embolden than to disconcert me. In the mad intensity of my devotion,
I forgot everything but the presence and the majestic loveliness of
the vision which confronted my gaze. Watching my opportunity, when I
thought the audience were fully engaged with the opera, I at length
caught the eyes of Madame Lalande, and, upon the instant, made a
slight but unmistakable bow.
She blushed very deeply -- then averted her eyes -- then slowly and
cautiously looked around, apparently to see if my rash action had
been noticed -- then leaned over toward the gentleman who sat by her
I now felt a burning sense of the impropriety I had committed, and
expected nothing less than instant exposure; while a vision of
pistols upon the morrow floated rapidly and uncomfortably through my
brain. I was greatly and immediately relieved, however, when I saw
the lady merely hand the gentleman a play-bill, without speaking, but
the reader may form some feeble conception of my astonishment -- of
my profound amazement -- my delirious bewilderment of heart and soul
-- when, instantly afterward, having again glanced furtively around,
she allowed her bright eyes to set fully and steadily upon my own,
and then, with a faint smile, disclosing a bright line of her pearly
teeth, made two distinct, pointed, and unequivocal affirmative
inclinations of the head.
It is useless, of course, to dwell upon my joy -- upon my transport-
upon my illimitable ecstasy of heart. If ever man was mad with excess
of happiness, it was myself at that moment. I loved. This was my
first love -- so I felt it to be. It was love supreme-indescribable.
It was "love at first sight;" and at first sight, too, it had been
appreciated and returned.
Yes, returned. How and why should I doubt it for an instant. What
other construction could I possibly put upon such conduct, on the
part of a lady so beautiful -- so wealthy -- evidently so
accomplished -- of so high breeding -- of so lofty a position in
society -- in every regard so entirely respectable as I felt assured
was Madame Lalande? Yes, she loved me -- she returned the enthusiasm
of my love, with an enthusiasm as blind -- as uncompromising -- as
uncalculating -- as abandoned -- and as utterly unbounded as my own!
These delicious fancies and reflections, however, were now
interrupted by the falling of the drop-curtain. The audience arose;
and the usual tumult immediately supervened. Quitting Talbot
abruptly, I made every effort to force my way into closer proximity
with Madame Lalande. Having failed in this, on account of the crowd,
I at length gave up the chase, and bent my steps homeward; consoling
myself for my disappointment in not having been able to touch even
the hem of her robe, by the reflection that I should be introduced by
Talbot, in due form, upon the morrow.
This morrow at last came, that is to say, a day finally dawned upon a
long and weary night of impatience; and then the hours until "one"
were snail-paced, dreary, and innumerable. But even Stamboul, it is
said, shall have an end, and there came an end to this long delay.
The clock struck. As the last echo ceased, I stepped into B--'s and
inquired for Talbot.
"Out," said the footman -- Talbot's own.
"Out!" I replied, staggering back half a dozen paces -- "let me tell
you, my fine fellow, that this thing is thoroughly impossible and
impracticable; Mr. Talbot is not out. What do you mean?"
"Nothing, sir; only Mr. Talbot is not in, that's all. He rode over to
S--, immediately after breakfast, and left word that he would not be
in town again for a week."
I stood petrified with horror and rage. I endeavored to reply, but my
tongue refused its office. At length I turned on my heel, livid with
wrath, and inwardly consigning the whole tribe of the Talbots to the
innermost regions of Erebus. It was evident that my considerate
friend, il fanatico, had quite forgotten his appointment with myself
-- had forgotten it as soon as it was made. At no time was he a very
scrupulous man of his word. There was no help for it; so smothering
my vexation as well as I could, I strolled moodily up the street,
propounding futile inquiries about Madame Lalande to every male
acquaintance I met. By report she was known, I found, to all- to many
by sight -- but she had been in town only a few weeks, and there were
very few, therefore, who claimed her personal acquaintance. These
few, being still comparatively strangers, could not, or would not,
take the liberty of introducing me through the formality of a morning
call. While I stood thus in despair, conversing with a trio of
friends upon the all absorbing subject of my heart, it so happened
that the subject itself passed by.
"As I live, there she is!" cried one.
"Surprisingly beautiful!" exclaimed a second.
"An angel upon earth!" ejaculated a third.
I looked; and in an open carriage which approached us, passing slowly
down the street, sat the enchanting vision of the opera, accompanied
by the younger lady who had occupied a portion of her box.
"Her companion also wears remarkably well," said the one of my trio
who had spoken first.
"Astonishingly," said the second; "still quite a brilliant air, but
art will do wonders. Upon my word, she looks better than she did at
Paris five years ago. A beautiful woman still; -- don't you think so,
Froissart? -- Simpson, I mean."
"Still!" said I, "and why shouldn't she be? But compared with her
friend she is as a rush -- light to the evening star -- a glow --
worm to Antares.
"Ha! ha! ha! -- why, Simpson, you have an astonishing tact at making
discoveries -- original ones, I mean." And here we separated, while
one of the trio began humming a gay vaudeville, of which I caught
only the lines-
Ninon, Ninon, Ninon a bas-
A bas Ninon De L'Enclos!
During this little scene, however, one thing had served greatly to
console me, although it fed the passion by which I was consumed. As
the carriage of Madame Lalande rolled by our group, I had observed
that she recognized me; and more than this, she had blessed me, by
the most seraphic of all imaginable smiles, with no equivocal mark of
As for an introduction, I was obliged to abandon all hope of it until
such time as Talbot should think proper to return from the country.
In the meantime I perseveringly frequented every reputable place of
public amusement; and, at length, at the theatre, where I first saw
her, I had the supreme bliss of meeting her, and of exchanging
glances with her once again. This did not occur, however, until the
lapse of a fortnight. Every day, in the interim, I had inquired for
Talbot at his hotel, and every day had been thrown into a spasm of
wrath by the everlasting "Not come home yet" of his footman.
Upon the evening in question, therefore, I was in a condition little
short of madness. Madame Lalande, I had been told, was a Parisian --
had lately arrived from Paris -- might she not suddenly return? --
return before Talbot came back -- and might she not be thus lost to
me forever? The thought was too terrible to bear. Since my future
happiness was at issue, I resolved to act with a manly decision. In a
word, upon the breaking up of the play, I traced the lady to her
residence, noted the address, and the next morning sent her a full
and elaborate letter, in which I poured out my whole heart.
I spoke boldly, freely -- in a word, I spoke with passion. I
concealed nothing -- nothing even of my weakness. I alluded to the
romantic circumstances of our first meeting -- even to the glances
which had passed between us. I went so far as to say that I felt
assured of her love; while I offered this assurance, and my own
intensity of devotion, as two excuses for my otherwise unpardonable
conduct. As a third, I spoke of my fear that she might quit the city
before I could have the opportunity of a formal introduction. I
concluded the most wildly enthusiastic epistle ever penned, with a
frank declaration of my worldly circumstances -- of my affluence --
and with an offer of my heart and of my hand.
In an agony of expectation I awaited the reply. After what seemed the
lapse of a century it came.
Yes, actually came. Romantic as all this may appear, I really
received a letter from Madame Lalande -- the beautiful, the wealthy,
the idolized Madame Lalande. Her eyes -- her magnificent eyes, had
not belied her noble heart. Like a true Frenchwoman as she was she
had obeyed the frank dictates of her reason -- the generous impulses
of her nature -- despising the conventional pruderies of the world.
She had not scorned my proposals. She had not sheltered herself in
silence. She had not returned my letter unopened. She had even sent
me, in reply, one penned by her own exquisite fingers. It ran thus:
"Monsieur Simpson vill pardonne me for not compose de butefulle tong
of his contree so vell as might. It is only de late dat I am arrive,
and not yet ave do opportunite for to -- l'etudier.
"Vid dis apologie for the maniere, I vill now say dat, helas!-
Monsieur Simpson ave guess but de too true. Need I say de more?
Helas! am I not ready speak de too moshe? -- "Eugenie Laland."
This noble -- spirited note I kissed a million times, and committed,
no doubt, on its account, a thousand other extravagances that have
now escaped my memory. Still Talbot would not return. Alas! could he
have formed even the vaguest idea of the suffering his absence had
occasioned his friend, would not his sympathizing nature have flown
immediately to my relief? Still, however, he came not. I wrote. He
replied. He was detained by urgent business -- but would shortly
return. He begged me not to be impatient -- to moderate my transports
-- to read soothing books -- to drink nothing stronger than Hock --
and to bring the consolations of philosophy to my aid. The fool! if
he could not come himself, why, in the name of every thing rational,
could he not have enclosed me a letter of presentation? I wrote him
again, entreating him to forward one forthwith. My letter was
returned by that footman, with the following endorsement in pencil.
The scoundrel had joined his master in the country:
"Left S- -- yesterday, for parts unknown -- did not say where -- or
when be back -- so thought best to return letter, knowing your
handwriting, and as how you is always, more or less, in a hurry.
"Yours sincerely, Stubbs"
After this, it is needless to say, that I devoted to the infernal
deities both master and valet: -- but there was little use in anger,
and no consolation at all in complaint.
But I had yet a resource left, in my constitutional audacity.
Hitherto it had served me well, and I now resolved to make it avail
me to the end. Besides, after the correspondence which had passed
between us, what act of mere informality could I commit, within
bounds, that ought to be regarded as indecorous by Madame Lalande?
Since the affair of the letter, I had been in the habit of watching
her house, and thus discovered that, about twilight, it was her
custom to promenade, attended only by a negro in livery, in a public
square overlooked by her windows. Here, amid the luxuriant and
shadowing groves, in the gray gloom of a sweet midsummer evening, I
observed my opportunity and accosted her.
The better to deceive the servant in attendance, I did this with the
assured air of an old and familiar acquaintance. With a presence of
mind truly Parisian, she took the cue at once, and, to greet me, held
out the most bewitchingly little of hands. The valet at once fell
into the rear, and now, with hearts full to overflowing, we
discoursed long and unreservedly of our love.
As Madame Lalande spoke English even less fluently than she wrote it,
our conversation was necessarily in French. In this sweet tongue, so
adapted to passion, I gave loose to the impetuous enthusiasm of my
nature, and, with all the eloquence I could command, besought her to
consent to an immediate marriage.
At this impatience she smiled. She urged the old story of decorum-
that bug-bear which deters so many from bliss until the opportunity
for bliss has forever gone by. I had most imprudently made it known
among my friends, she observed, that I desired her acquaintance- thus
that I did not possess it -- thus, again, there was no possibility of
concealing the date of our first knowledge of each other. And then
she adverted, with a blush, to the extreme recency of this date. To
wed immediately would be improper -- would be indecorous -- would be
outre. All this she said with a charming air of naivete which
enraptured while it grieved and convinced me. She went even so far as
to accuse me, laughingly, of rashness -- of imprudence. She bade me
remember that I really even know not who she was -- what were her
prospects, her connections, her standing in society. She begged me,
but with a sigh, to reconsider my proposal, and termed my love an
infatuation -- a will o' the wisp -- a fancy or fantasy of the moment
-- a baseless and unstable creation rather of the imagination than of
the heart. These things she uttered as the shadows of the sweet
twilight gathered darkly and more darkly around us -- and then, with
a gentle pressure of her fairy-like hand, overthrew, in a single
sweet instant, all the argumentative fabric she had reared.
I replied as best I could -- as only a true lover can. I spoke at
length, and perseveringly of my devotion, of my passion -- of her
exceeding beauty, and of my own enthusiastic admiration. In
conclusion, I dwelt, with a convincing energy, upon the perils that
encompass the course of love -- that course of true love that never
did run smooth -- and thus deduced the manifest danger of rendering
that course unnecessarily long.
This latter argument seemed finally to soften the rigor of her
determination. She relented; but there was yet an obstacle, she said,
which she felt assured I had not properly considered. This was a
delicate point -- for a woman to urge, especially so; in mentioning
it, she saw that she must make a sacrifice of her feelings; still,
for me, every sacrifice should be made. She alluded to the topic of
age. Was I aware -- was I fully aware of the discrepancy between us?
That the age of the husband, should surpass by a few years -- even by
fifteen or twenty -- the age of the wife, was regarded by the world
as admissible, and, indeed, as even proper, but she had always
entertained the belief that the years of the wife should never exceed
in number those of the husband. A discrepancy of this unnatural kind
gave rise, too frequently, alas! to a life of unhappiness. Now she
was aware that my own age did not exceed two and twenty; and I, on
the contrary, perhaps, was not aware that the years of my Eugenie
extended very considerably beyond that sum.
About all this there was a nobility of soul -- a dignity of candor-
which delighted -- which enchanted me -- which eternally riveted my
chains. I could scarcely restrain the excessive transport which
"My sweetest Eugenie," I cried, "what is all this about which you are
discoursing? Your years surpass in some measure my own. But what
then? The customs of the world are so many conventional follies. To
those who love as ourselves, in what respect differs a year from an
hour? I am twenty-two, you say, granted: indeed, you may as well call
me, at once, twenty-three. Now you yourself, my dearest Eugenie, can
have numbered no more than -- can have numbered no more than -- no
more than -- than -- than -- than-"
Here I paused for an instant, in the expectation that Madame Lalande
would interrupt me by supplying her true age. But a Frenchwoman is
seldom direct, and has always, by way of answer to an embarrassing
query, some little practical reply of her own. In the present
instance, Eugenie, who for a few moments past had seemed to be
searching for something in her bosom, at length let fall upon the
grass a miniature, which I immediately picked up and presented to
"Keep it!" she said, with one of her most ravishing smiles. "Keep it
for my sake -- for the sake of her whom it too flatteringly
represents. Besides, upon the back of the trinket you may discover,
perhaps, the very information you seem to desire. It is now, to be
sure, growing rather dark -- but you can examine it at your leisure
in the morning. In the meantime, you shall be my escort home
to-night. My friends are about holding a little musical levee. I can
promise you, too, some good singing. We French are not nearly so
punctilious as you Americans, and I shall have no difficulty in
smuggling you in, in the character of an old acquaintance."
With this, she took my arm, and I attended her home. The mansion was
quite a fine one, and, I believe, furnished in good taste. Of this
latter point, however, I am scarcely qualified to judge; for it was
just dark as we arrived; and in American mansions of the better sort
lights seldom, during the heat of summer, make their appearance at
this, the most pleasant period of the day. In about an hour after my
arrival, to be sure, a single shaded solar lamp was lit in the
principal drawing-room; and this apartment, I could thus see, was
arranged with unusual good taste and even splendor; but two other
rooms of the suite, and in which the company chiefly assembled,
remained, during the whole evening, in a very agreeable shadow. This
is a well-conceived custom, giving the party at least a choice of
light or shade, and one which our friends over the water could not do
better than immediately adopt.
The evening thus spent was unquestionably the most delicious of my
life. Madame Lalande had not overrated the musical abilities of her
friends; and the singing I here heard I had never heard excelled in
any private circle out of Vienna. The instrumental performers were
many and of superior talents. The vocalists were chiefly ladies, and
no individual sang less than well. At length, upon a peremptory call
for "Madame Lalande," she arose at once, without affectation or
demur, from the chaise longue upon which she had sat by my side, and,
accompanied by one or two gentlemen and her female friend of the
opera, repaired to the piano in the main drawing-room. I would have
escorted her myself, but felt that, under the circumstances of my
introduction to the house, I had better remain unobserved where I
was. I was thus deprived of the pleasure of seeing, although not of
hearing, her sing.
The impression she produced upon the company seemed electrical but
the effect upon myself was something even more. I know not how
adequately to describe it. It arose in part, no doubt, from the
sentiment of love with which I was imbued; but chiefly from my
conviction of the extreme sensibility of the singer. It is beyond the
reach of art to endow either air or recitative with more impassioned
expression than was hers. Her utterance of the romance in Otello --
the tone with which she gave the words "Sul mio sasso," in the
Capuletti -- is ringing in my memory yet. Her lower tones were
absolutely miraculous. Her voice embraced three complete octaves,
extending from the contralto D to the D upper soprano, and, though
sufficiently powerful to have filled the San Carlos, executed, with
the minutest precision, every difficulty of vocal
composition-ascending and descending scales, cadences, or fiorituri.
In the final of the Somnambula, she brought about a most remarkable
effect at the words:
Ah! non guinge uman pensiero
Al contento ond 'io son piena.
Here, in imitation of Malibran, she modified the original phrase of
Bellini, so as to let her voice descend to the tenor G, when, by a
rapid transition, she struck the G above the treble stave, springing
over an interval of two octaves.
Upon rising from the piano after these miracles of vocal execution,
she resumed her seat by my side; when I expressed to her, in terms of
the deepest enthusiasm, my delight at her performance. Of my surprise
I said nothing, and yet was I most unfeignedly surprised; for a
certain feebleness, or rather a certain tremulous indecision of voice
in ordinary conversation, had prepared me to anticipate that, in
singing, she would not acquit herself with any remarkable ability.
Our conversation was now long, earnest, uninterrupted, and totally
unreserved. She made me relate many of the earlier passages of my
life, and listened with breathless attention to every word of the
narrative. I concealed nothing -- felt that I had a right to conceal
nothing -- from her confiding affection. Encouraged by her candor
upon the delicate point of her age, I entered, with perfect
frankness, not only into a detail of my many minor vices, but made
full confession of those moral and even of those physical
infirmities, the disclosure of which, in demanding so much higher a
degree of courage, is so much surer an evidence of love. I touched
upon my college indiscretions -- upon my extravagances -- upon my
carousals- upon my debts -- upon my flirtations. I even went so far
as to speak of a slightly hectic cough with which, at one time, I had
been troubled -- of a chronic rheumatism -- of a twinge of hereditary
gout- and, in conclusion, of the disagreeable and inconvenient, but
hitherto carefully concealed, weakness of my eyes.
"Upon this latter point," said Madame Lalande, laughingly, "you have
been surely injudicious in coming to confession; for, without the
confession, I take it for granted that no one would have accused you
of the crime. By the by," she continued, "have you any recollection-"
and here I fancied that a blush, even through the gloom of the
apartment, became distinctly visible upon her cheek -- "have you any
recollection, mon cher ami of this little ocular assistant, which now
depends from my neck?"
As she spoke she twirled in her fingers the identical double
eye-glass which had so overwhelmed me with confusion at the opera.
"Full well -- alas! do I remember it," I exclaimed, pressing
passionately the delicate hand which offered the glasses for my
inspection. They formed a complex and magnificent toy, richly chased
and filigreed, and gleaming with jewels, which, even in the deficient
light, I could not help perceiving were of high value.
"Eh bien! mon ami" she resumed with a certain empressment of manner
that rather surprised me -- "Eh bien! mon ami, you have earnestly
besought of me a favor which you have been pleased to denominate
priceless. You have demanded of me my hand upon the morrow. Should I
yield to your entreaties -- and, I may add, to the pleadings of my
own bosom -- would I not be entitled to demand of you a very -- a
very little boon in return?"
"Name it!" I exclaimed with an energy that had nearly drawn upon us
the observation of the company, and restrained by their presence
alone from throwing myself impetuously at her feet. "Name it, my
beloved, my Eugenie, my own! -- name it! -- but, alas! it is already
yielded ere named."
"You shall conquer, then, mon ami," said she, "for the sake of the
Eugenie whom you love, this little weakness which you have at last
confessed -- this weakness more moral than physical -- and which, let
me assure you, is so unbecoming the nobility of your real nature --
so inconsistent with the candor of your usual character -- and which,
if permitted further control, will assuredly involve you, sooner or
later, in some very disagreeable scrape. You shall conquer, for my
sake, this affectation which leads you, as you yourself acknowledge,
to the tacit or implied denial of your infirmity of vision. For, this
infirmity you virtually deny, in refusing to employ the customary
means for its relief. You will understand me to say, then, that I
wish you to wear spectacles; -- ah, hush! -- you have already
consented to wear them, for my sake. You shall accept the little toy
which I now hold in my hand, and which, though admirable as an aid to
vision, is really of no very immense value as a gem. You perceive
that, by a trifling modification thus -- or thus -- it can be adapted
to the eyes in the form of spectacles, or worn in the waistcoat
pocket as an eye-glass. It is in the former mode, however, and
habitually, that you have already consented to wear it for my sake."
This request -- must I confess it? -- confused me in no little
degree. But the condition with which it was coupled rendered
hesitation, of course, a matter altogether out of the question.
"It is done!" I cried, with all the enthusiasm that I could muster at
the moment. "It is done -- it is most cheerfully agreed. I sacrifice
every feeling for your sake. To-night I wear this dear eye-glass, as
an eye-glass, and upon my heart; but with the earliest dawn of that
morning which gives me the pleasure of calling you wife, I will place
it upon my -- upon my nose, -- and there wear it ever afterward, in
the less romantic, and less fashionable, but certainly in the more
serviceable, form which you desire."
Our conversation now turned upon the details of our arrangements for
the morrow. Talbot, I learned from my betrothed, had just arrived in
town. I was to see him at once, and procure a carriage. The soiree
would scarcely break up before two; and by this hour the vehicle was
to be at the door, when, in the confusion occasioned by the departure
of the company, Madame L. could easily enter it unobserved. We were
then to call at the house of a clergyman who would be in waiting;
there be married, drop Talbot, and proceed on a short tour to the
East, leaving the fashionable world at home to make whatever comments
upon the matter it thought best.
Having planned all this, I immediately took leave, and went in search
of Talbot, but, on the way, I could not refrain from stepping into a
hotel, for the purpose of inspecting the miniature; and this I did by
the powerful aid of the glasses. The countenance was a surpassingly
beautiful one! Those large luminous eyes! -- that proud Grecian nose!
-- those dark luxuriant curls! -- "Ah!" said I, exultingly to myself,
"this is indeed the speaking image of my beloved!" I turned the
reverse, and discovered the words -- "Eugenie Lalande -- aged
twenty-seven years and seven months."
I found Talbot at home, and proceeded at once to acquaint him with my
good fortune. He professed excessive astonishment, of course, but
congratulated me most cordially, and proffered every assistance in
his power. In a word, we carried out our arrangement to the letter,
and, at two in the morning, just ten minutes after the ceremony, I
found myself in a close carriage with Madame Lalande -- with Mrs.
Simpson, I should say -- and driving at a great rate out of town, in
a direction Northeast by North, half-North.
It had been determined for us by Talbot, that, as we were to be up
all night, we should make our first stop at C--, a village about
twenty miles from the city, and there get an early breakfast and some
repose, before proceeding upon our route. At four precisely,
therefore, the carriage drew up at the door of the principal inn. I
handed my adored wife out, and ordered breakfast forthwith. In the
meantime we were shown into a small parlor, and sat down.
It was now nearly if not altogether daylight; and, as I gazed,
enraptured, at the angel by my side, the singular idea came, all at
once, into my head, that this was really the very first moment since
my acquaintance with the celebrated loveliness of Madame Lalande,
that I had enjoyed a near inspection of that loveliness by daylight
"And now, mon ami," said she, taking my hand, and so interrupting
this train of reflection, "and now, mon cher ami, since we are
indissolubly one -- since I have yielded to your passionate
entreaties, and performed my portion of our agreement -- I presume
you have not forgotten that you also have a little favor to bestow --
a little promise which it is your intention to keep. Ah! let me see!
Let me remember! Yes; full easily do I call to mind the precise words
of the dear promise you made to Eugenie last night. Listen! You spoke
thus: 'It is done! -- it is most cheerfully agreed! I sacrifice every
feeling for your sake. To-night I wear this dear eye-glass as an
eye-glass, and upon my heart; but with the earliest dawn of that
morning which gives me the privilege of calling you wife, I will
place it upon my -- upon my nose, -- and there wear it ever
afterward, in the less romantic, and less fashionable, but certainly
in the more serviceable, form which you desire.' These were the exact
words, my beloved husband, were they not?"
"They were," I said; "you have an excellent memory; and assuredly, my
beautiful Eugenie, there is no disposition on my part to evade the
performance of the trivial promise they imply. See! Behold! they are
becoming -- rather -- are they not?" And here, having arranged the
glasses in the ordinary form of spectacles, I applied them gingerly
in their proper position; while Madame Simpson, adjusting her cap,
and folding her arms, sat bolt upright in her chair, in a somewhat
stiff and prim, and indeed, in a somewhat undignified position.
"Goodness gracious me!" I exclaimed, almost at the very instant that
the rim of the spectacles had settled upon my nose -- "My goodness
gracious me! -- why, what can be the matter with these glasses?" and
taking them quickly off, I wiped them carefully with a silk
handkerchief, and adjusted them again.
But if, in the first instance, there had occurred something which
occasioned me surprise, in the second, this surprise became elevated
into astonishment; and this astonishment was profound -- was extreme-
indeed I may say it was horrific. What, in the name of everything
hideous, did this mean? Could I believe my eyes? -- could I? -- that
was the question. Was that -- was that -- was that rouge? And were
those- and were those -- were those wrinkles, upon the visage of
Eugenie Lalande? And oh! Jupiter, and every one of the gods and
goddesses, little and big! what -- what -- what -- what had become of
her teeth? I dashed the spectacles violently to the ground, and,
leaping to my feet, stood erect in the middle of the floor,
confronting Mrs. Simpson, with my arms set a-kimbo, and grinning and
foaming, but, at the same time, utterly speechless with terror and
Now I have already said that Madame Eugenie Lalande -- that is to
say, Simpson -- spoke the English language but very little better
than she wrote it, and for this reason she very properly never
attempted to speak it upon ordinary occasions. But rage will carry a
lady to any extreme; and in the present care it carried Mrs. Simpson
to the very extraordinary extreme of attempting to hold a
conversation in a tongue that she did not altogether understand.
"Vell, Monsieur," said she, after surveying me, in great apparent
astonishment, for some moments -- "Vell, Monsieur? -- and vat den? --
vat de matter now? Is it de dance of de Saint itusse dat you ave? If
not like me, vat for vy buy de pig in the poke?"
"You wretch!" said I, catching my breath -- "you -- you -- you
villainous old hag!"
"Ag? -- ole? -- me not so ver ole, after all! Me not one single day
more dan de eighty-doo."
"Eighty-two!" I ejaculated, staggering to the wall -- "eighty-two
hundred thousand baboons! The miniature said twenty-seven years and
"To be sure! -- dat is so! -- ver true! but den de portraite has been
take for dese fifty-five year. Ven I go marry my segonde usbande,
Monsieur Lalande, at dat time I had de portraite take for my daughter
by my first usbande, Monsieur Moissart!"
"Moissart!" said I.
"Yes, Moissart," said she, mimicking my pronunciation, which, to
speak the truth, was none of the best, -- "and vat den? Vat you know
about de Moissart?"
"Nothing, you old fright! -- I know nothing about him at all; only I
had an ancestor of that name, once upon a time."
"Dat name! and vat you ave for say to dat name? 'Tis ver goot name;
and so is Voissart -- dat is ver goot name too. My daughter,
Mademoiselle Moissart, she marry von Monsieur Voissart, -- and de
name is bot ver respectaable name."
"Moissart?" I exclaimed, "and Voissart! Why, what is it you mean?"
"Vat I mean? -- I mean Moissart and Voissart; and for de matter of
dat, I mean Croissart and Froisart, too, if I only tink proper to
mean it. My daughter's daughter, Mademoiselle Voissart, she marry von
Monsieur Croissart, and den again, my daughter's grande daughter,
Mademoiselle Croissart, she marry von Monsieur Froissart; and I
suppose you say dat dat is not von ver respectaable name.-"
"Froissart!" said I, beginning to faint, "why, surely you don't say
Moissart, and Voissart, and Croissart, and Froissart?"
"Yes," she replied, leaning fully back in her chair, and stretching
out her lower limbs at great length; "yes, Moissart, and Voissart,
and Croissart, and Froissart. But Monsieur Froissart, he vas von ver
big vat you call fool -- he vas von ver great big donce like yourself
-- for he lef la belle France for come to dis stupide Amerique- and
ven he get here he went and ave von ver stupide, von ver, ver stupide
sonn, so I hear, dough I not yet av ad de plaisir to meet vid him --
neither me nor my companion, de Madame Stephanie Lalande. He is name
de Napoleon Bonaparte Froissart, and I suppose you say dat dat, too,
is not von ver respectable name."
Either the length or the nature of this speech, had the effect of
working up Mrs. Simpson into a very extraordinary passion indeed; and
as she made an end of it, with great labor, she lumped up from her
chair like somebody bewitched, dropping upon the floor an entire
universe of bustle as she lumped. Once upon her feet, she gnashed her
gums, brandished her arms, rolled up her sleeves, shook her fist in
my face, and concluded the performance by tearing the cap from her
head, and with it an immense wig of the most valuable and beautiful
black hair, the whole of which she dashed upon the ground with a
yell, and there trammpled and danced a fandango upon it, in an
absolute ecstasy and agony of rage.
Meantime I sank aghast into the chair which she had vacated.
"Moissart and Voissart!" I repeated, thoughtfully, as she cut one of
her pigeon-wings, and "Croissart and Froissart!" as she completed
another -- "Moissart and Voissart and Croissart and Napoleon
Bonaparte Froissart! -- why, you ineffable old serpent, that's me --
that's me -- d'ye hear? that's me" -- here I screamed at the top of
my voice -- "that's me-e-e! I am Napoleon Bonaparte Froissart! and if
I havn't married my great, great, grandmother, I wish I may be
Madame Eugenie Lalande, quasi Simpson -- formerly Moissart -- was, in
sober fact, my great, great, grandmother. In her youth she had been
beautiful, and even at eighty-two, retained the majestic height, the
sculptural contour of head, the fine eyes and the Grecian nose of her
girlhood. By the aid of these, of pearl-powder, of rouge, of false
hair, false teeth, and false tournure, as well as of the most skilful
modistes of Paris, she contrived to hold a respectable footing among
the beauties en peu passees of the French metropolis. In this
respect, indeed, she might have been regarded as little less than the
equal of the celebrated Ninon De L'Enclos.
She was immensely wealthy, and being left, for the second time, a
widow without children, she bethought herself of my existence in
America, and for the purpose of making me her heir, paid a visit to
the United States, in company with a distant and exceedingly lovely
relative of her second husband's -- a Madame Stephanie Lalande.
At the opera, my great, great, grandmother's attention was arrested
by my notice; and, upon surveying me through her eye-glass, she was
struck with a certain family resemblance to herself. Thus interested,
and knowing that the heir she sought was actually in the city, she
made inquiries of her party respecting me. The gentleman who attended
her knew my person, and told her who I was. The information thus
obtained induced her to renew her scrutiny; and this scrutiny it was
which so emboldened me that I behaved in the absurd manner already
detailed. She returned my bow, however, under the impression that, by
some odd accident, I had discovered her identity. When, deceived by
my weakness of vision, and the arts of the toilet, in respect to the
age and charms of the strange lady, I demanded so enthusiastically of
Talbot who she was, he concluded that I meant the younger beauty, as
a matter of course, and so informed me, with perfect truth, that she
was "the celebrated widow, Madame Lalande."
In the street, next morning, my great, great, grandmother encountered
Talbot, an old Parisian acquaintance; and the conversation, very
naturally turned upon myself. My deficiencies of vision were then
explained; for these were notorious, although I was entirely ignorant
of their notoriety, and my good old relative discovered, much to her
chagrin, that she had been deceived in supposing me aware of her
identity, and that I had been merely making a fool of myself in
making open love, in a theatre, to an old woman unknown. By way of
punishing me for this imprudence, she concocted with Talbot a plot.
He purposely kept out of my way to avoid giving me the introduction.
My street inquiries about "the lovely widow, Madame Lalande," were
supposed to refer to the younger lady, of course, and thus the
conversation with the three gentlemen whom I encountered shortly
after leaving Talbot's hotel will be easily explained, as also their
allusion to Ninon De L'Enclos. I had no opportunity of seeing Madame
Lalande closely during daylight; and, at her musical soiree, my silly
weakness in refusing the aid of glasses effectually prevented me from
making a discovery of her age. When "Madame Lalande" was called upon
to sing, the younger lady was intended; and it was she who arose to
obey the call; my great, great, grandmother, to further the
deception, arising at the same moment and accompanying her to the
piano in the main drawing-room. Had I decided upon escorting her
thither, it had been her design to suggest the propriety of my
remaining where I was; but my own prudential views rendered this
unnecessary. The songs which I so much admired, and which so
confirmed my impression of the youth of my mistress, were executed by
Madame Stephanie Lalande. The eyeglass was presented by way of adding
a reproof to the hoax -- a sting to the epigram of the deception. Its
presentation afforded an opportunity for the lecture upon affectation
with which I was so especially edified. It is almost superfluous to
add that the glasses of the instrument, as worn by the old lady, had
been exchanged by her for a pair better adapted to my years. They
suited me, in fact, to a T.
The clergyman, who merely pretended to tie the fatal knot, was a boon
companion of Talbot's, and no priest. He was an excellent "whip,"
however; and having doffed his cassock to put on a great-coat, he
drove the hack which conveyed the "happy couple" out of town. Talbot
took a seat at his side. The two scoundrels were thus "in at the
death," and through a half-open window of the back parlor of the inn,
amused themselves in grinning at the denouement of the drama. I
believe I shall be forced to call them both out.
Nevertheless, I am not the husband of my great, great, grandmother;
and this is a reflection which affords me infinite relief, -- but I
am the husband of Madame Lalande -- of Madame Stephanie Lalande --
with whom my good old relative, besides making me her sole heir when
she dies -- if she ever does -- has been at the trouble of concocting
me a match. In conclusion: I am done forever with billets doux and am
never to be met without SPECTACLES.