ChiveGen Demo

Chapter 4

From this day natural philosophy, and particularly chemistry, in the
most comprehensive sense of the term, became nearly my sole occupation.
I read with ardour those works, so full of genius and discrimination,
which modern inquirers have written on these subjects. I attended the
lectures and cultivated the acquaintance of the men of science of the
university, and I found even in M. Krempe a great deal of sound sense
and real information, combined, it is true, with a repulsive
physiognomy and manners, but not on that account the less valuable. In
M. Waldman I found a true friend. His gentleness was never tinged by
dogmatism, and his instructions were given with an air of frankness and
good nature that banished every idea of pedantry. In a thousand ways
he smoothed for me the path of knowledge and made the most abstruse
inquiries clear and facile to my apprehension. My application was at
first fluctuating and uncertain; it gained strength as I proceeded and
soon became so ardent and eager that the stars often disappeared in the
light of morning whilst I was yet engaged in my laboratory.

As I applied so closely, it may be easily conceived that my progress
was rapid. My ardour was indeed the astonishment of the students, and
my proficiency that of the masters. Professor Krempe often asked me,
with a sly smile, how Cornelius Agrippa went on, whilst M. Waldman
expressed the most heartfelt exultation in my progress. Two years
passed in this manner, during which I paid no visit to Geneva, but was
engaged, heart and soul, in the pursuit of some discoveries which I
hoped to make. None but those who have experienced them can conceive
of the enticements of science. In other studies you go as far as
others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in
a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder.
A mind of moderate capacity which closely pursues one study must
infallibly arrive at great proficiency in that study; and I, who
continually sought the attainment of one object of pursuit and was
solely wrapped up in this, improved so rapidly that at the end of two
years I made some discoveries in the improvement of some chemical
instruments, which procured me great esteem and admiration at the
university. When I had arrived at this point and had become as well
acquainted with the theory and practice of natural philosophy as
depended on the lessons of any of the professors at Ingolstadt, my
residence there being no longer conducive to my improvements, I thought
of returning to my friends and my native town, when an incident
happened that protracted my stay.

One of the phenomena which had peculiarly attracted my attention was
the structure of the human frame, and, indeed, any animal endued with
life. Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?
It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a
mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming
acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our
inquiries. I revolved these circumstances in my mind and determined
thenceforth to apply myself more particularly to those branches of
natural philosophy which relate to physiology. Unless I had been
animated by an almost supernatural enthusiasm, my application to this
study would have been irksome and almost intolerable. To examine the
causes of life, we must first have recourse to death. I became
acquainted with the science of anatomy, but this was not sufficient; I
must also observe the natural decay and corruption of the human body.
In my education my father had taken the greatest precautions that my
mind should be impressed with no supernatural horrors. I do not ever
remember to have trembled at a tale of superstition or to have feared
the apparition of a spirit. Darkness had no effect upon my fancy, and
a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of
life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become
food for the worm. Now I was led to examine the cause and progress of
this decay and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and
charnel-houses. My attention was fixed upon every object the most
insupportable to the delicacy of the human feelings. I saw how the
fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I beheld the corruption of
death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I saw how the worm
inherited the wonders of the eye and brain. I paused, examining and
analysing all the minutiae of causation, as exemplified in the change
from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this
darkness a sudden light broke in upon me—a light so brilliant and
wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity
of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that among so
many men of genius who had directed their inquiries towards the same
science, that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a

Remember, I am not recording the vision of a madman. The sun does not
more certainly shine in the heavens than that which I now affirm is
true. Some miracle might have produced it, yet the stages of the
discovery were distinct and probable. After days and nights of
incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of
generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing
animation upon lifeless matter.

The astonishment which I had at first experienced on this discovery
soon gave place to delight and rapture. After so much time spent in
painful labour, to arrive at once at the summit of my desires was the
most gratifying consummation of my toils. But this discovery was so
great and overwhelming that all the steps by which I had been
progressively led to it were obliterated, and I beheld only the result.
What had been the study and desire of the wisest men since the creation
of the world was now within my grasp. Not that, like a magic scene, it
all opened upon me at once: the information I had obtained was of a
nature rather to direct my endeavours so soon as I should point them
towards the object of my search than to exhibit that object already
accomplished. I was like the Arabian who had been buried with the dead
and found a passage to life, aided only by one glimmering and seemingly
ineffectual light.

I see by your eagerness and the wonder and hope which your eyes
express, my friend, that you expect to be informed of the secret with
which I am acquainted; that cannot be; listen patiently until the end
of my story, and you will easily perceive why I am reserved upon that
subject. I will not lead you on, unguarded and ardent as I then was,
to your destruction and infallible misery. Learn from me, if not by my
precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of
knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town
to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature
will allow.

When I found so astonishing a power placed within my hands, I hesitated
a long time concerning the manner in which I should employ it.
Although I possessed the capacity of bestowing animation, yet to
prepare a frame for the reception of it, with all its intricacies of
fibres, muscles, and veins, still remained a work of inconceivable
difficulty and labour. I doubted at first whether I should attempt the
creation of a being like myself, or one of simpler organization; but my
imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to
doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful
as man. The materials at present within my command hardly appeared
adequate to so arduous an undertaking, but I doubted not that I should
ultimately succeed. I prepared myself for a multitude of reverses; my
operations might be incessantly baffled, and at last my work be
imperfect, yet when I considered the improvement which every day takes
place in science and mechanics, I was encouraged to hope my present
attempts would at least lay the foundations of future success. Nor
could I consider the magnitude and complexity of my plan as any
argument of its impracticability. It was with these feelings that I
began the creation of a human being. As the minuteness of the parts
formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first
intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say,
about eight feet in height, and proportionably large. After having
formed this determination and having spent some months in successfully
collecting and arranging my materials, I began.

No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like
a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death
appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and
pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless
me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would
owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his
child so completely as I should deserve theirs. Pursuing these
reflections, I thought that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless
matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible)
renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.

These thoughts supported my spirits, while I pursued my undertaking
with unremitting ardour. My cheek had grown pale with study, and my
person had become emaciated with confinement. Sometimes, on the very
brink of certainty, I failed; yet still I clung to the hope which the
next day or the next hour might realise. One secret which I alone
possessed was the hope to which I had dedicated myself; and the moon
gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless
eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places. Who shall conceive
the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps
of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless
clay? My limbs now tremble, and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but
then a resistless and almost frantic impulse urged me forward; I seemed
to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit. It was
indeed but a passing trance, that only made me feel with renewed
acuteness so soon as, the unnatural stimulus ceasing to operate, I had
returned to my old habits. I collected bones from charnel-houses and
disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human
frame. In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house,
and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase,
I kept my workshop of filthy creation; my eyeballs were starting from
their sockets in attending to the details of my employment. The
dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials;
and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation,
whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I
brought my work near to a conclusion.

The summer months passed while I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in
one pursuit. It was a most beautiful season; never did the fields
bestow a more plentiful harvest or the vines yield a more luxuriant
vintage, but my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature. And the
same feelings which made me neglect the scenes around me caused me also
to forget those friends who were so many miles absent, and whom I had
not seen for so long a time. I knew my silence disquieted them, and I
well remembered the words of my father: “I know that while you are
pleased with yourself you will think of us with affection, and we shall
hear regularly from you. You must pardon me if I regard any
interruption in your correspondence as a proof that your other duties
are equally neglected.”

I knew well therefore what would be my father’s feelings, but I could
not tear my thoughts from my employment, loathsome in itself, but which
had taken an irresistible hold of my imagination. I wished, as it
were, to procrastinate all that related to my feelings of affection
until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of my nature,
should be completed.

I then thought that my father would be unjust if he ascribed my neglect
to vice or faultiness on my part, but I am now convinced that he was
justified in conceiving that I should not be altogether free from
blame. A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and
peaceful mind and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to
disturb his tranquillity. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge
is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself
has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for
those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that
study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human
mind. If this rule were always observed; if no man allowed any pursuit
whatsoever to interfere with the tranquillity of his domestic
affections, Greece had not been enslaved, Cæsar would have spared his
country, America would have been discovered more gradually, and the
empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed.

But I forget that I am moralizing in the most interesting part of my
tale, and your looks remind me to proceed.

My father made no reproach in his letters and only took notice of my
silence by inquiring into my occupations more particularly than before.
Winter, spring, and summer passed away during my labours; but I did not
watch the blossom or the expanding leaves—sights which before always
yielded me supreme delight—so deeply was I engrossed in my
occupation. The leaves of that year had withered before my work drew near
to a close, and now every day showed me more plainly how well I had
succeeded. But my enthusiasm was checked by my anxiety, and I appeared
rather like one doomed by slavery to toil in the mines, or any other
unwholesome trade than an artist occupied by his favourite employment.
Every night I was oppressed by a slow fever, and I became nervous to a most
painful degree; the fall of a leaf startled me, and I shunned my fellow
creatures as if I had been guilty of a crime. Sometimes I grew alarmed at
the wreck I perceived that I had become; the energy of my purpose alone
sustained me: my labours would soon end, and I believed that exercise and
amusement would then drive away incipient disease; and I promised myself
both of these when my creation should be complete.