The Lifted Veil HTML version

Chapter 1
The time of my end approaches. I have lately been subject to attacks of angina pectoris;
and in the ordinary course of things, my physician tells me, I may fairly hope that my life
will not be protracted many months. Unless, then, I am cursed with an exceptional
physical constitution, as I am cursed with an exceptional mental character, I shall not
much longer groan under the wearisome burthen of this earthly existence. If it were to be
otherwise--if I were to live on to the age most men desire and provide for--I should for
once have known whether the miseries of delusive expectation can outweigh the miseries
of true provision. For I foresee when I shall die, and everything that will happen in my
last moments.
Just a month from this day, on September 20, 1850, I shall be sitting in this chair, in this
study, at ten o'clock at night, longing to die, weary of incessant insight and foresight,
without delusions and without hope. Just as I am watching a tongue of blue flame rising
in the fire, and my lamp is burning low, the horrible contraction will begin at my chest. I
shall only have time to reach the bell, and pull it violently, before the sense of suffocation
will come. No one will answer my bell. I know why. My two servants are lovers, and will
have quarrelled. My housekeeper will have rushed out of the house in a fury, two hours
before, hoping that Perry will believe she has gone to drown herself. Perry is alarmed at
last, and is gone out after her. The little scullery-maid is asleep on a bench: she never
answers the bell; it does not wake her. The sense of suffocation increases: my lamp goes
out with a horrible stench: I make a great effort, and snatch at the bell again. I long for
life, and there is no help. I thirsted for the unknown: the thirst is gone. O God, let me stay
with the known, and be weary of it: I am content. Agony of pain and suffocation--and all
the while the earth, the fields, the pebbly brook at the bottom of the rookery, the fresh
scent after the rain, the light of the morning through my chamber-window, the warmth of
the hearth after the frosty air--will darkness close over them for ever?
Darkness--darkness--no pain--nothing but darkness: but I am passing on and on through
the darkness: my thought stays in the darkness, but always with a sense of moving
onward . . .
Before that time comes, I wish to use my last hours of ease and strength in telling the
strange story of my experience. I have never fully unbosomed myself to any human
being; I have never been encouraged to trust much in the sympathy of my fellow-men.
But we have all a chance of meeting with some pity, some tenderness, some charity,
when we are dead: it is the living only who cannot be forgiven--the living only from
whom men's indulgence and reverence are held off, like the rain by the hard east wind.
While the heart beats, bruise it--it is your only opportunity; while the eye can still turn
towards you with moist, timid entreaty, freeze it with an icy unanswering gaze; while the
ear, that delicate messenger to the inmost sanctuary of the soul, can still take in the tones
of kindness, put it off with hard civility, or sneering compliment, or envious affectation
of indifference; while the creative brain can still throb with the sense of injustice, with the