VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational

Home Ghost Stories Categories Authors Books Search

Ghost Stories

The Muniment Room
My uncle had succeeded late in life to the family est...

The Female Sprites
In September 1764, the following extraordinary incide...

The Phantom 'rickshaw
"May no ill dreams disturb my rest, ...

The Warlock Of Glororum
'But are you sure your father wouldn't object?' I ask...

The Ghostly Warriors Of Worms
The abbot of Ursperg, in his Chronicle, year 1123,...

The Knot In The Shutter
"It is said that a dream produced a powerful effect on ...

This work owes its appearance to the absence of any che...

The Bright Scar
In 1867, Miss G., aged eighteen, died suddenly of chole...

The Examination Paper
This is a story which I believe. Of course, this is n...

A Man With Two Lives
Here is the queer story of David William Duck, rela...

The Fall Of The House Of Usher

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the
year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been
passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of
country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew
on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it
was--but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of
insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the
feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic,
sentiment with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural
images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before
me--upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the
domain--upon the bleak walls--upon the vacant eye-like windows--upon a
few rank sedges--and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees--with an
utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation
more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium--the
bitter lapse into everyday life--the hideous dropping off of the veil.
There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart--an unredeemed
dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture
into aught of the sublime. What was it--I paused to think--what was it
that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was
a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies
that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the
unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there _are_
combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus
affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations
beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different
arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the
picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its
capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined
my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in
unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down--but with a shudder
even more thrilling than before--upon the remodelled and inverted images
of the grey sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and
eye-like windows.

Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself a
sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher, had been one of
my boon companions in boyhood; but many years had elapsed since our last
meeting. A letter, however, had lately reached me in a distant part of
the country--a letter from him--which, in its wildly importunate nature,
had admitted of no other than a personal reply. The MS. gave evidence of
nervous agitation. The writer spoke of acute bodily illness--of a mental
disorder which oppressed him--and of an earnest desire to see me, as his
best, and indeed his only personal friend, with a view of attempting, by
the cheerfulness of my society, some alleviation of his malady. It was
the manner in which all this, and much more, was said--it was the
apparent _heart_ that went with his request--which allowed me no room
for hesitation; and I accordingly obeyed forthwith what I still
considered a very singular summons.

Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really
knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and
habitual. I was aware, however, that his very ancient family had been
noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament,
displaying itself, through long ages, in many works of exalted art, and
manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive
charity, as well as in a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps
even more than to the orthodox and easily recognisable beauties, of
musical science. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the
stem of the Usher race, all time-honoured as it was, had put forth, at
no period, any enduring branch; in other words, that the entire family
lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling
and very temporary variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I
considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the
character of the premises with the accredited character of the people,
and while speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the
long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other--it was
this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent
undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the
name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the
original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of
the "House of Usher"--an appellation which seemed to include, in the
minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the family

I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish
experiment--that of looking down within the tarn--had been to deepen the
first singular impression. There can be no doubt that the consciousness
of the rapid increase of my superstition--for why should I not so term
it?--served mainly to accelerate the increase itself. Such, I have long
known, is the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror as a
basis. And it might have been for this reason only, that, when I again
uplifted my eyes to the house itself, from its image in the pool, there
grew in my mind a strange fancy--a fancy so ridiculous, indeed, that I
but mention it to show the vivid force of the sensations which oppressed
me. I had so worked upon my imagination as really to believe that about
the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to
themselves and their immediate vicinity--an atmosphere which had no
affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the
decayed trees, and the grey wall, and the silent tarn--a pestilent and
mystic vapour, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.

Shaking off from my spirit what _must_ have been a dream, I scanned more
narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed
to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been
great. Minute _fungi_ overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine
tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any
extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and
there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect
adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual
stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality
of old woodwork which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault,
with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this
indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of
instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinising observer might have
discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof
of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag
direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.

Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to the house. A
servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered the Gothic archway of
the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence conducted me, in silence,
through many dark and intricate passages in my progress to the _studio_
of his master. Much that I encountered on the way contributed, I know
not how, to heighten the vague sentiments of which I have already
spoken. While the objects around me--while the carvings of the ceilings,
the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of the floors,
and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode, were
but matters to which, or to such as which, I had been accustomed from my
infancy--while I hesitated not to acknowledge how familiar was all
this--I still wondered to find how unfamiliar were the fancies which
ordinary images were stirring up. On one of the staircases, I met the
physician of the family. His countenance, I thought, wore a mingled
expression of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me with
trepidation and passed on. The valet now threw open a door and ushered
me into the presence of his master.

The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows
were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black
oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams
of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellised panes, and
served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects
around; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles
of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark
draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse,
comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments
lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene. I
felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and
irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.

Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on which he had been lying at
full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmth which had much in
it, I at first thought, of an overdone cordiality--of the constrained
effort of the _ennuye_ man of the world. A glance, however, at his
countenance, convinced me of his perfect sincerity. We sat down; and for
some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half
of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered,
in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher! It was with difficulty that
I could bring myself to admit the identity of the wan being before me
with the companion of my early boyhood. Yet the character of his face
had been at all times remarkable. A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye
large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and
very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate
Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril, unusual in similar
formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence,
of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and
tenuity; these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions
of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be
forgotten. And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character
of these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay
so much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. The now ghastly pallor
of the skin, and the now miraculous lustre of the eye, above all things
startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to
grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated
rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connect
its arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity.

In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an incoherence--an
inconsistency; and I soon found this to arise from a series of feeble
and futile struggles to overcome an habitual trepidancy--an excessive
nervous agitation. For something of this nature I had indeed been
prepared, no less by his letter, than by reminiscences of certain boyish
traits, and by conclusions deduced from his peculiar physical
conformation and temperament. His action was alternately vivacious and
sullen. His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision (when the
animal spirits seemed utterly in abeyance) to that species of energetic
concision--that abrupt, weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding
enunciation--that leaden, self-balanced and perfectly modulated guttural
utterance, which may be observed in the lost drunkard, or the
irreclaimable eater of opium, during the periods of his most intense

It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of his earnest
desire to see me, and of the solace he expected me to afford him. He
entered, at some length, into what he conceived to be the nature of his
malady. It was, he said, a constitutional and a family evil, and one for
which he despaired to find a remedy--a mere nervous affection, he
immediately added, which would undoubtedly soon pass on. It displayed
itself in a host of unnatural sensations. Some of these, as he detailed
them, interested and bewildered me; although, perhaps, the terms, and
the general manner of the narration had their weight. He suffered much
from a morbid acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone
endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odours of
all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint
light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed
instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.

To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave. "I shall
perish," said he, "I _must_ perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus,
and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events of the future,
not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at the thought of
any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate upon this
intolerable agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger,
except in its absolute effect--in terror. In this unnerved--in this
pitiable condition--I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive
when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the
grim phantasm, FEAR."

I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken and equivocal
hints, another singular feature of his mental condition. He was
enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling
which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never ventured
forth--in regard to an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed
in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated--an influence which some
peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion, had,
by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit--an effect
which the _physique_ of the grey walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn
into which they all looked down, had, at length, brought about upon the
_morale_ of his existence.

He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much of the
peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to a more
natural and far more palpable origin--to the severe and long-continued
illness--indeed to the evidently approaching dissolution--of a tenderly
beloved sister--his sole companion for long years--his last and only
relative on earth. "Her decease," he said, with a bitterness which I can
never forget, "would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last
of the ancient race of the Ushers." While he spoke, the Lady Madeline
(for so was she called) passed slowly through a remote portion of the
apartment, and, without having noticed my presence, disappeared. I
regarded her with an utter astonishment not unmingled with dread--and
yet I found it impossible to account for such feelings. A sensation of
stupor oppressed me, as my eyes followed her retreating steps. When a
door, at length, closed upon her, my glance sought instinctively and
eagerly the countenance of the brother--but he had buried his face in
his hands, and I could only perceive that a far more than ordinary
wanness had overspread the emaciated fingers through which trickled many
passionate tears.

The disease of the Lady Madeline had long baffled the skill of her
physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the person, and
frequent although transient affections of a partially cataleptical
character, were the unusual diagnosis. Hitherto she had steadily borne
up against the pressure of her malady, and had not betaken herself
finally to bed; but, on the closing in of the evening of my arrival at
the house, she succumbed (as her brother told me at night with
inexpressible agitation) to the prostrating power of the destroyer; and
I learned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would thus
probably be the last I should obtain--that the lady, at least while
living, would be seen by me no more.

For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned by either Usher or
myself: and during this period I was busied in earnest endeavours to
alleviate the melancholy of my friend. We painted and read together; or
I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild improvisations of his speaking
guitar. And thus, as a closer and still closer intimacy admitted me more
unreservedly into the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I
perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which
darkness, as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all
objects of the moral and physical universe, in one unceasing radiation
of gloom.

I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many solemn hours I thus
spent alone with the master of the House of Usher. Yet I should fail in
any attempt to convey an idea of the exact character of the studies, or
of the occupations, in which he involved me, or led me the way. An
excited and highly distempered ideality threw a sulphureous lustre over
all. His long improvised dirges will ring for ever in my ears. Among
other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain singular perversion and
amplification of the wild air of the last waltz of Von Weber. From the
paintings over which his elaborate fancy brooded and which grew, touch
by touch, into vagueness at which I shuddered the more thrillingly,
because I shuddered knowing not why;--from these paintings (vivid as
their images now are before me) I would in vain endeavour to educe more
than a small portion which should lie within the compass of merely
written words. By the utter simplicity, by the nakedness of his designs,
he arrested and overawed attention. If ever mortal painted an idea, that
mortal was Roderick Usher. For me at least--in the circumstances then
surrounding me--there arose out of the pure abstractions which the
hypochondriac contrived to throw upon his canvas, an intensity of
intolerable awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the contemplation
of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of Fuseli.

One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking not so
rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed forth, although
feebly, in words. A small picture presented the interior of an immensely
long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls, smooth, white, and
without interruption or device. Certain accessory points of the design
served well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at an exceeding
depth below the surface of the earth. No outlet was observed in any
portion of its vast extent, and no torch, or other artificial source of
light, was discernible; yet a flood of intense rays rolled throughout,
and bathed the whole in a ghastly and inappropriate splendour.

I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditory nerve which
rendered all music intolerable to the sufferer, with the exception of
certain effects of stringed instruments. It was, perhaps, the narrow
limits to which he thus confined himself upon the guitar, which gave
birth, in great measure, to the fantastic character of his performances.
But the fervid _facility_ of his _impromptus_ could not be so accounted
for. They must have been, and were, in the notes, as well as in the
words of his wild fantasias (for he not unfrequently accompanied himself
with rhymed verbal improvisations), the result of that intense mental
collectedness and concentration to which I have previously alluded as
observable only in particular moments of the highest artificial
excitement. The words of one of these rhapsodies I have easily
remembered. I was, perhaps, the more forcibly impressed with it, as he
gave it, because, in the under or mystic current of its meaning, I
fancied that I perceived, and for the first time, a full consciousness
on the part of Usher, of the tottering of his lofty reason upon her
throne. The verses, which were entitled "The Haunted Palace," ran very
nearly, if not accurately, thus:


In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted
Once a fair and stately palace--
Radiant palace--reared its head.
In the monarch Thought's dominion--
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.

Next: Ii

Add to Informational Site Network