|EA Poe Story:
The Bargin Lost
[["]]The heathen philosopher, when he had a mind to eat a grape, would open his lips when he put it into his mouth, meaning thereby that grapes were made to eat and lips to open.[["]] As You Like It.
At Venice, in the year , in the street , lived Pedro Garcia, a metaphysician. With regard to date and residence, circumstances of a private and sacred nature forbid me to be more explicit. In all mental qualifications our hero was gigantic. Moreover, in bodily circumference, he had no cause of complaint; but, in right ascension, four feet five was the philosopher's ne plus ultra.
Now Pedro was descended from a noble Florentine family; yet it was with little concern that, in certain boilings of the pot revolutionary, (during which, saith Machiavelli, the scum always comes uppermost) he beheld his large estates silently slipping through his fingers. Indeed, from his earliest youth, had Pedro Garcia been addicted to the most desperate abstrusities. He had studied at Padua, at Milan, at Gottingen. It is he but let this go no farther it is he to whom Kant is mainly indebted for his metaphysics. I have MSS. in my possession sufficient to establish what I say.
The doctrines of our friend were not very generally understood, although by no means difficult of comprehension. He was not, it is true, a Platonist nor strictly an Aristotelian nor did he, with Leibnitz, reconcile things irreconcileable [[sic]]. He was, emphatically, a Pedronist. He was Ionic and Italic. He reasoned a priori and a posterior). His ideas were innate, or otherwise. He believed in George of Trebizond, he believed in Bossarion. Of his other propensities little is recorded. It is said that he preferred Catullus to Homer, and Sauterne to Medoc.
Yet even this comprehensive philosophy proved an insufficient protection against the shafts of calumny and malice. At Venice wicked men were not wanting to hint that the doctrines of certain people evinced neither the purity of the Academy nor the depth of the Lyceum.
The great bell of St. Mark's had already sounded midnight, yet our hero was not in bed. He sat, alone, in the little chamber, his study, redeemed from the filth and bustle of the day. I hold minute attention to trifles unworthy the dignity of serious narrative; otherwise I might here, following the example of the novelist, dilate upon the subject of habiliment, and other mere matters of the outward man. I might say that the hair of our patrician was worn short, combed smoothly over his forehead, and surmounted with a violet-coloured, conical cap with tassels that his green fustian jerkin was not after the fashion of those worn by the nobility of Venice at that day that the sleeves were more deeply slashed than the reigning costume permitted that the slashes were faced not, as usual in that barbarous period, with parti-coloured silk, but with the beautiful red leather of Morocco that his stiletto was a specimen piece of workmanship from the factory of Pan Ispan, of Damascus, attaghan-maker to the Effendi that his slip pers were of a bright purple, curiously filagreed, and might have been made in Japan, but for the exquisite pointing of the toes, and the fact that Baptista, the Spanish cobler on the Rialto, opined to the contrary that his breeches were of the white, satin-like cloth called 'celeste' that his sky-blue cloak, or wrapper, resembling, in form, the anomaly, ycleped, a morning-gown, floated, like a mist, upon his shoulders, richly bestudded with crimson and yellow patches and that his tout ensemble gave rise to the remarkable words of Benevenuta, the improvisatrice, to wit: "That the paroquet, upon a certain cathedral, resembled nothing so much as Pedro, the metaphysician." All this and more had I been a novelist might I have detailed. But, thanks to St. Urfino [[type is broken, the saints name uncertain]], whatever I am, that am I not. Therefore upon all these subjects I say 'mum.'
The chamber in which sat our hero was of singular beauty. The floor was covered with a mat (for it was the summer season) of the most brilliant and glossy pale yellow, formed from the rare and valuable reeds of Siam. All around from the ceiling fell tapestry-hangings of the richest crimson velvet. The ceiling, itself, was of brown and highly-polished oak, vaulted, carved, and fretted, until all its innumerable angles were rounded into a dense mass of shadow, from whose gloomy depth, by a slender golden chain with very long links, swung a fantastic Arabesque lamp of solid silver. A black, heavy, and curiously-pannelled door, opening inwardly, was closed, after the fashion of that day, with a chased brazen bar; while a single, huge, bowed, and trelliced window glared out upon the waters of the Adriatic.
The minor furniture of the room consisted, principally, of a profusion of elegantly-bound and illuminated books scattered here and there in classical disorder, on the tables, on the floor, and on two or three luxurious settees, having every appearance of the ottomans of Mahomet.
It was a dark and stormy night. The rain fell in cataracts; and drowsy citizens started, from dreams of the deluge, to gaze upon the boisterous sea, which foamed and bellowed for admittance into the proud towers and marble palaces. Who would have thought of passions so fierce in that calm water that slumbers all day long? At a slight alabaster stand, trembling beneath the ponderous tomes which it supported, sat the hero of our story.
He heeded not the clanging of the half extinguished lamp, as it rattled overhead in the currents of air; and the roar of the waters he heard not. A voluminous MSS., intended for publication on the morrow, was receiving the last touches of its author. I am sorry that our record has extracted nothing from this valuable work, which has, undoubtedly, perished in some ecclesiastical intrigue. Its title, however, I find to be "A complete exposition of things not to be exposed;" and its motto a line from Pulci, thus happily translated by a modern satirist:
Brethren, I come from lands afarAs the storm grew stronger and more terrible, Pedro, totally absorbed in his occupation, could not perceive that, while his left palm rested upon a volume in sable binding, the blue lightning fluttered among its leaves with most portentous velocity.
"I am in no hurry, Signor Pedro," whispered a soft voice in the apartment.
"The devil!" ejaculated our hero, starting from his seat, upsetting the alabaster stand, and looking around him in astonishment.
"Very true!" calmly replied the voice.
"Very true! What is very true? How came you here?" vociferated the metaphysician, as his eye fell upon a man with singularly thin features, who lay, at full length, upon an ottoman in a corner of the chamber.
"I was saying," continued the figure, without replying to Pedro's interrogatories, "I was saying that I am in no hurry that the business upon which I took the liberty of calling is of minor importance that I can wait until you have finished your Exposition."
"My Exposition! How do you know I am writing an Exposition? Good God!"
"Hush!" replied the figure in a shrill undertone; and, arising from the settee, he made a step towards our hero, while the arabesque lamp suddenly ceased its convulsive swinging and became motionless.
The philosopher's amazement did not prevent a narrow scrutiny of the stranger's dress and appearance. The outlines of a figure much above the common standard were blurred and rendered indefinite by the huge folds of a black Roman toga. Above his left ear he carried, after the fashion of a modern scribe, an instrument resembling the stylus of the ancients; and, from his left arm, depended a crimson bag of a material totally unknown to our hero, being luminous. There was another article of habiliment equally a mystery to the patrician. The toga, being left open at the throat, displayed the neatly folded cravat and starched shirt-collar of 1832. All these things excited little of Pedro's attention; for his antiquarian eye had fallen upon the sandals of the intruder, and he recognised therein the exact pattern of those worn before the flood, as given, with minute accuracy, in the Ptolemaiad of the Rabbi Vathek.
I find, upon looking over certain archives in Venice, that "Garcia, the metaphysician, was an exceedingly little, yet pugnacious man." Accordingly, when his visitor drew a chair close by the huge bowed window that looked out upon the sea, our hero silently followed his example.
"A clever book that of yours, Pedro," said the stranger, tapping our friend, knowingly, upon the shoulder.
"It is a work after my own heart," continued the former, "I suppose you knew Confucius.''
Our hero's amazement redoubled.
A sad set of fools now-a-days I tell you. Philosophy is a mere trumpery. O, nous estin autos, as some one very justly observed, meaning 'auyos.' But, to tell the truth, it was very little better at any time. The fact is, Garcia," here the stranger's voice dropped to a whisper, "men know nothing about these matters. Your doctrines, however, come nearer to the point than any with which I am acquainted. I like your doctrines, Signor Pedro, and have come a long way to tell you so."
The philosopher's eyes sparkled, and he fumbled, in great haste, among the rubbish on the floor, for his overthrown MSS. Having found it, he took, from an ivory escrutoire, a flask of the delightful wine of Sauterne, and placing them, with the sable-bound volume, on the alabaster stand, wheeled it before the visitor, and re-seated himself at his elbow.
Here, if the reader should wish to know why our hero troubled himself to place upon the stand any thing so ominous as that book in sable binding, I reply that Pedro Garcia was, by no means, a fool; no man ever accused him of being a fool. He had, accordingly, very soon arrived at the conclusion that his knowing friend was neither more nor less than his August and Satanic Majesty. Now, although persons of greater height have been frightened at less serious circumstances, and although under certain dispensations of Providence (such as the visitation of a spider, a rat, or a physician) Pedro did not always evince the philosopher, yet fear of the devil never once entered his imagination. To tell the truth, he was rather gratified, than otherwise, at a visit from a gentleman whom he so highly respected. He flattered himself with spending an agreeable hour; and it was with the air of being 'up to snuff' that he accommodated his visitor with a volume best suited to his acquirements and literary taste.
"But I must say," continued the stranger, without noticing Pedro's arrangements, "I must say that, upon some points, you are wrong, my friend, wrong; totally out, as that rogue Sanconiathon used to say ha! ha! ha! poor Sanconiathon!''
"Pray, sir, how old may you call yourself?" inquired the metaphysician, with a cut of his eye.
"Old? Sir? Eh? Oh! a mere trifle. As I was saying, you have certain very outre notions in that book of yours. Now, what do you mean by all that humbug about the soul? Pray, sir, what is the soul ? "
"The soul," replied Pedro, referring to his MSS., "is undoubtedly "
"And beyond all question "
"No, sir! the soul is no such thing."
"Then what is it?"
"That is neither here nor there, Signor Pedro," replied the stranger, musing, "I have tasted that is I mean I have known some very bad souls and some pretty good ones."
Here the stranger licked his lips; and having, unconsciously, let fall his hand upon the sable volume, was seized with a violent fit of sneezing upon which our hero, reaching his common-place book, inserted the follow memorandum:
N. B. Divorum inferorum cachinnatio sternutamentis mortalium verisimillima est.
The stranger continued. "There was the soul of Cratinus passable! Aristophanes racy! Plato exquisite! Not your Plato, but Plato the comic poet your Plato would have turned the stomach of Cerberus faugh! Then let me see there were Catullus, and Naso, and Plautus, and Quinty dear Quinty, as I called him when he sung a 'seculare' for my amusement, while I toasted him good-humouredly on a fork. But they want flavour, these Romans, one fat Greek is worth a dozen of them, and, besides, will keep, which cannot be said of a Quirite. Terence, however, was an exception firm as an Esquimaux, and juicy as a German the very recollection of the dog makes my mouth water. Let us taste your Sauterne."
Our hero had, by this time, made up his mind to the 'nil admirari,' and merely filled his visitor's glass. He was, however, conscious of a strange sound in the chamber, like the wagging of a tail, but of this he took no notice, simply kicking the large water-dog that lay asleep under his chair, and requesting him to be quiet. The stranger proceeded.
"But, if I have a penchant, Signor Pedro, if I have a penchant, it is for a philosopher. Yet let me tell you, sir, it is not every dev I mean every gentleman who knows how to choose a philosopher. Long ones are not good, and the best, if not very carefully shelled, are apt to be a little rancid on account of the gall.
"I mean taken out of the body.
"What do you think of a physician?"
"Don't mention them," here the stranger retched violently, "ugh! I never tried but one, that rascal (ugh!) Hippocrates. Smelt of asaftida (ugh! ugh!) took particular pains with the villain too caught a wretched cold washing him in the Styx and, after all, he gave me the cholera morbus."
"The wretch! the abortion of a pill box!" ejaculated Pedro, dropping a tear, and, reaching another bottle of Sauterne, he swallowed three bumpers in rapid succession. The stranger followed his example.
"After all, Signor Pedro," said he, "if a dev if a gentleman wishes to live, he must have more talents than one or two, and, with us, a fat face is an evidence of diplomacy."
"Why we are, sometimes, exceedingly pushed for provisions. You ought to know that, in a climate so sultry as mine, it is frequently impossible to keep a soul alive for more than two or three hours; and after death, unless pickled immediately, (and a pickled spirit is not good) they will smell you understand eh? Putrefaction is always to be apprehended when the spirits are consigned to us in the usual way."
"Good God! how do you manage?"
Here the Arabesque lamp commenced swinging with redoubled violence, and the stranger half started from his seat; however, with a slight sigh, he recovered his composure; merely saying to our hero, in a low tone: "I tell you what, Pedro Garcia, once for all, we must have no more swearing."
Pedro swallowed another bumper, and his visitor continued.
"Why there are several ways of managing. The most of us starve. Some put up with the pickle. For my part, I purchase my spirits vivente corpore, in which case I find they keep very well."
"But the body, my dear sir, the body!" vociferated the philosopher, for the wine had gotten a little into his head. Here he reached another bottle of Sauterne.
"The body! well, what of the body? oh! ah! I perceive why the body is not all affected by the transaction. I have made innumerable purchases of the kind in my day, and the parties never experience any inconvenience. There was Cain, and Nimrod, and Nero, and Caligula, and Dionysius, and Pisistratus, and and the Jew and and a thousand others, all very good men in their way, who never knew what a soul was during the latter part of their lives. Yet these men adorned society. Why is n't [[sic]] there V , now? whom you know as well as I is he not in full possession of his faculties, mental and corporeal? Who writes a keener epigram? Who reasons more wittily? Who - but I have his agreement in my pocket book." Thus saying, he drew, from the luminous bag, a book with clasps of cornelian, and, from the book, a bundle of papers, upon some of which Pedro caught a glimpse of the letters MACHIA, MAZA, RICHEL, and the words DOMITIAN and ELIZABETH. From these papers he selected a narrow slip of parchment, and, from it, read aloud the following words:
In consideration of certain mental endowments, which it would be unnecessary to specify, and in farther consideration of the sum of one thousand Louis d'or, I, being aged one year and one month, do, hereby, from this date, make over, to the bearer of this bond, all my right, title, and appurtenance in the shadow called 'my soul.'
Done at Paris, this day of , in the year of our Lord , FRANCOIS MARIE AROUET.
"A clever fellow that," resumed the stranger, "but he was wrong about the shadow the soul a shadow! no such nonsense, Signor Pedro. Only think of a fricaseed shadow!"
"Only think of a fricaseed s h a d o w!" echoed our hero, whose faculties were becoming gloriously illuminated, "now, damme," continued he, "Mr. humph! damme! (hiccup) if I would have been such a nincompoop. My soul, Mr. humph! yes, sir, my soul."
"Your soul, Signor Pedro?"
"Yes, sir, my soul is is is no shadow, damme!"
"I should be sorry to suppose, Signor Pedro "
"Yes, sir, my soul is peculiarly calculated for for a stew, damme! "
"A ragout "
"A fricasee "
"Or (hiccup) a cotelette and I'll let you have it a bargain."
"Could n't think of such a thing," said the stranger, calmly, at the same time arising from his seat.
"Am supplied at present "
"Have no cash on hand "
"Very ungentlemanly in me "
"Humph! " "To take advantage of "
"Your peculiar situation."
Here the stranger bowed and withdrew, in what manner our philosopher could not exactly ascertain; but, in a well concerted effort to discharge a bottle at the scoundrel, the slender chain was severed that hung from the ceiling, and the metaphysician prostrated by the downfall of the lamp.