Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
or
to get started!
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Dignity consists not in possessing honors, but in the consciousness that we deserve them."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Mystification

    by Edgar Allan Poe
    • Rate it:
    • 2 Favorites on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode


    Slid, if these be your "passados" and "montantes," I'll have none o'
    them. -- NED KNOWLES.

    THE BARON RITZNER VON JUNG was a noble Hungarian family, every member
    of which (at least as far back into antiquity as any certain records
    extend) was more or less remarkable for talent of some description --
    the majority for that species of grotesquerie in conception of which
    Tieck, a scion of the house, has given a vivid, although by no means
    the most vivid exemplifications. My acquaintance with Ritzner
    commenced at the magnificent Chateau Jung, into which a train of
    droll adventures, not to be made public, threw a place in his regard,
    and here, with somewhat more difficulty, a partial insight into his
    mental conformation. In later days this insight grew more clear, as
    the intimacy which had at first permitted it became more close; and
    when, after three years of the character of the Baron Ritzner von
    Jung.

    I remember the buzz of curiosity which his advent excited within the
    college precincts on the night of the twenty-fifth of June. I
    remember still more distinctly, that while he was pronounced by all
    parties at first sight "the most remarkable man in the world," no
    person made any attempt at accounting for his opinion. That he was
    unique appeared so undeniable, that it was deemed impertinent to
    inquire wherein the uniquity consisted. But, letting this matter pass
    for the present, I will merely observe that, from the first moment of
    his setting foot within the limits of the university, he began to
    exercise over the habits, manners, persons, purses, and propensities
    of the whole community which surrounded him, an influence the most
    extensive and despotic, yet at the same time the most indefinite and
    altogether unaccountable. Thus the brief period of his residence at
    the university forms an era in its annals, and is characterized by
    all classes of people appertaining to it or its dependencies as "that
    very extraordinary epoch forming the domination of the Baron Ritzner
    von Jung." then of no particular age, by which I mean that it was
    impossible to form a guess respecting his age by any data personally
    afforded. He might have been fifteen or fifty, and was twenty-one
    years and seven months. He was by no means a handsome man -- perhaps
    the reverse. The contour of his face was somewhat angular and harsh.
    His forehead was lofty and very fair; his nose a snub; his eyes
    large, heavy, glassy, and meaningless. About the mouth there was more
    to be observed. The lips were gently protruded, and rested the one
    upon the other, after such a fashion that it is impossible to
    conceive any, even the most complex, combination of human features,
    conveying so entirely, and so singly, the idea of unmitigated
    gravity, solemnity and repose.

    It will be perceived, no doubt, from what I have already said, that
    the Baron was one of those human anomalies now and then to be found,
    who make the science of mystification the study and the business of
    their lives. For this science a peculiar turn of mind gave him
    instinctively the cue, while his physical appearance afforded him
    unusual facilities for carrying his prospects into effect. I quaintly
    termed the domination of the Baron Ritzner von Jung, ever rightly
    entered into the mystery which overshadowed his character. I truly
    think that no person at the university, with the exception of myself,
    ever suspected him to be capable of a joke, verbal or practical: --
    the old bull-dog at the garden-gate would sooner have been accused,
    -- the ghost of Heraclitus, -- or the wig of the Emeritus Professor
    of Theology. This, too, when it was evident that the most egregious
    and unpardonable of all conceivable tricks, whimsicalities and
    buffooneries were brought about, if not directly by him, at least
    plainly through his intermediate agency or connivance. The beauty, if
    I may so call it, of his art mystifique, lay in that consummate
    ability (resulting from an almost intuitive knowledge of human
    nature, and a most wonderful self-possession,) by means of which he
    never failed to make it appear that the drolleries he was occupied in
    bringing to a point, arose partly in spite, and partly in consequence
    of the laudable efforts he was making for their prevention, and for
    the preservation of the good order and dignity of Alma Mater. The
    deep, the poignant, the overwhelming mortification, which upon each
    such failure of his praise worthy endeavors, would suffuse every
    lineament of his countenance, left not the slightest room for doubt
    of his sincerity in the bosoms of even his most skeptical companions.
    The adroitness, too, was no less worthy of observation by which he
    contrived to shift the sense of the grotesque from the creator to the
    created -- from his own person to the absurdities to which he had
    given rise. In no instance before that of which I speak, have I known
    the habitual mystific escape the natural consequence of his manoevres
    -- an attachment of the ludicrous to his own character and person.
    Continually enveloped in an atmosphere of whim, my friend appeared to
    live only for the severities of society; and not even his own
    household have for a moment associated other ideas than those of the
    rigid and august with the memory of the Baron Ritzner von Jung. the
    demon of the dolce far niente lay like an incubus upon the
    university. Nothing, at least, was done beyond eating and drinking
    and making merry. The apartments of the students were converted into
    so many pot-houses, and there was no pot-house of them all more
    famous or more frequented than that of the Baron. Our carousals here
    were many, and boisterous, and long, and never unfruitful of events.

    Upon one occasion we had protracted our sitting until nearly
    daybreak, and an unusual quantity of wine had been drunk. The company
    consisted of seven or eight individuals besides the Baron and myself.
    Most of these were young men of wealth, of high connection, of great
    family pride, and all alive with an exaggerated sense of honor. They
    abounded in the most ultra German opinions respecting the duello. To
    these Quixotic notions some recent Parisian publications, backed by
    three or four desperate and fatal conversation, during the greater
    part of the night, had run wild upon the all -- engrossing topic of
    the times. The Baron, who had been unusually silent and abstracted in
    the earlier portion of the evening, at length seemed to be aroused
    from his apathy, took a leading part in the discourse, and dwelt upon
    the benefits, and more especially upon the beauties, of the received
    code of etiquette in passages of arms with an ardor, an eloquence, an
    impressiveness, and an affectionateness of manner, which elicited the
    warmest enthusiasm from his hearers in general, and absolutely
    staggered even myself, who well knew him to be at heart a ridiculer
    of those very points for which he contended, and especially to hold
    the entire fanfaronade of duelling etiquette in the sovereign
    contempt which it deserves.

    Looking around me during a pause in the Baron's discourse (of which
    my readers may gather some faint idea when I say that it bore
    resemblance to the fervid, chanting, monotonous, yet musical sermonic
    manner of Coleridge), I perceived symptoms of even more than the
    general interest in the countenance of one of the party. This
    gentleman, whom I shall call Hermann, was an original in every
    respect -- except, perhaps, in the single particular that he was a
    very great fool. He contrived to bear, however, among a particular
    set at the university, a reputation for deep metaphysical thinking,
    and, I believe, for some logical talent. As a duellist he had
    acquired who had fallen at his hands; but they were many. He was a
    man of courage undoubtedly. But it was upon his minute acquaintance
    with the etiquette of the duello, and the nicety of his sense of
    honor, that he most especially prided himself. These things were a
    hobby which he rode to the death. To Ritzner, ever upon the lookout
    for the grotesque, his peculiarities had for a long time past
    afforded food for mystification. Of this, however, I was not aware;
    although, in the present instance, I saw clearly that something of a
    whimsical nature was upon the tapis with my friend, and that Hermann
    was its especial object.

    As the former proceeded in his discourse, or rather monologue I
    perceived the excitement of the latter momently increasing. At length
    he spoke; offering some objection to a point insisted upon by R., and
    giving his reasons in detail. To these the Baron replied at length
    (still maintaining his exaggerated tone of sentiment) and concluding,
    in what I thought very bad taste, with a sarcasm and a sneer. The
    hobby of Hermann now took the bit in his teeth. This I could discern
    by the studied hair-splitting farrago of his rejoinder. His last
    words I distinctly remember. "Your opinions, allow me to say, Baron
    von Jung, although in the main correct, are, in many nice points,
    discreditable to yourself and to the university of which you are a
    member. In a few respects they are even unworthy of serious
    refutation. I would say more than this, sir, were it not for the fear
    of giving you offence (here the speaker smiled blandly), I would say,
    sir, that your opinions are not the opinions to be expected from a
    gentleman."

    As Hermann completed this equivocal sentence, all eyes were turned
    upon the Baron. He became pale, then excessively red; then, dropping
    his pocket-handkerchief, stooped to recover it, when I caught a
    glimpse of his countenance, while it could be seen by no one else at
    the table. It was radiant with the quizzical expression which was its
    natural character, but which I had never seen it assume except when
    we were alone together, and when he unbent himself freely. In an
    instant afterward he stood erect, confronting Hermann; and so total
    an alteration of countenance in so short a period I certainly never
    saw before. For a moment I even fancied that I had misconceived him,
    and that he was in sober earnest. He appeared to be stifling with
    passion, and his face was cadaverously white. For a short time he
    remained silent, apparently striving to master his emotion. Having at
    length seemingly succeeded, he reached a decanter which stood near
    him, saying as he held it firmly clenched "The language you have
    thought proper to employ, Mynheer Hermann, in addressing yourself to
    me, is objectionable in so many particulars, that I have neither
    temper nor time for specification. That my opinions, however, are not
    the opinions to be expected from a gentleman, is an observation so
    directly offensive as to allow me but one line of conduct. Some
    courtesy, nevertheless, is due to the presence of this company, and
    to yourself, at this moment, as my guest. You will pardon me,
    therefore, if, upon this consideration, I deviate slightly from the
    general usage among gentlemen in similar cases of personal affront.
    You will forgive me for the moderate tax I shall make upon your
    imagination, and endeavor to consider, for an instant, the reflection
    of your person in yonder mirror as the living Mynheer Hermann
    himself. This being done, there will be no difficulty whatever. I
    shall discharge this decanter of wine at your image in yonder mirror,
    and thus fulfil all the spirit, if not the exact letter, of
    resentment for your insult, while the necessity of physical violence
    to your real person will be obviated."

    With these words he hurled the decanter, full of wine, against the
    mirror which hung directly opposite Hermann; striking the reflection
    of his person with great precision, and of course shattering the
    glass into fragments. The whole company at once started to their
    feet, and, with the exception of myself and Ritzner, took their
    departure. As Hermann went out, the Baron whispered me that I should
    follow him and make an offer of my services. To this I agreed; not
    knowing precisely what to make of so ridiculous a piece of business.

    The duellist accepted my aid with his stiff and ultra recherche air,
    and, taking my arm, led me to his apartment. I could hardly forbear
    laughing in his face while he proceeded to discuss, with the
    profoundest gravity, what he termed "the refinedly peculiar
    character" of the insult he had received. After a tiresome harangue
    in his ordinary style, he took down from his book shelves a number of
    musty volumes on the subject of the duello, and entertained me for a
    long time with their contents; reading aloud, and commenting
    earnestly as he read. I can just remember the titles of some of the
    works. There were the "Ordonnance of Philip le Bel on Single Combat";
    the "Theatre of Honor," by Favyn, and a treatise "On the Permission
    of Duels," by Andiguier. He displayed, also, with much pomposity,
    Brantome's "Memoirs of Duels," -- published at Cologne, 1666, in the
    types of Elzevir -- a precious and unique vellum-paper volume, with a
    fine margin, and bound by Derome. But he requested my attention
    particularly, and with an air of mysterious sagacity, to a thick
    octavo, written in barbarous Latin by one Hedelin, a Frenchman, and
    having the quaint title, "Duelli Lex Scripta, et non; aliterque."
    From this he read me one of the drollest chapters in the world
    concerning "Injuriae per applicationem, per constructionem, et per
    se," about half of which, he averred, was strictly applicable to his
    own "refinedly peculiar" case, although not one syllable of the whole
    matter could I understand for the life of me. Having finished the
    chapter, he closed the book, and demanded what I thought necessary to
    be done. I replied that I had entire confidence in his superior
    delicacy of feeling, and would abide by what he proposed. With this
    answer he seemed flattered, and sat down to write a note to the
    Baron. It ran thus:

    Sir, -- My friend, M. P.-, will hand you this note. I find it
    incumbent upon me to request, at your earliest convenience, an
    explanation of this evening's occurrences at your chambers. In the
    event of your declining this request, Mr. P. will be happy to
    arrange, with any friend whom you may appoint, the steps preliminary
    to a meeting.

    With sentiments of perfect respect,

    Your most humble servant,

    JOHANN HERMAN.

    To the Baron Ritzner von Jung,

    Not knowing what better to do, I called upon Ritzner with this
    epistle. He bowed as I presented it; then, with a grave countenance,
    motioned me to a seat. Having perused the cartel, he wrote the
    following reply, which I carried to Hermann.

    SIR, -- Through our common friend, Mr. P., I have received your note
    of this evening. Upon due reflection I frankly admit the propriety of
    the explanation you suggest. This being admitted, I still find great
    difficulty, (owing to the refinedly peculiar nature of our
    disagreement, and of the personal affront offered on my part,) in so
    wording what I have to say by way of apology, as to meet all the
    minute exigencies, and all the variable shadows, of the case. I have
    great reliance, however, on that extreme delicacy of discrimination,
    in matters appertaining to the rules of etiquette, for which you have
    been so long and so pre-eminently distinguished. With perfect
    certainty, therefore, of being comprehended, I beg leave, in lieu of
    offering any sentiments of my own, to refer you to the opinions of
    Sieur Hedelin, as set forth in the ninth paragraph of the chapter of
    "Injuriae per applicationem, per constructionem, et per se," in his
    "Duelli Lex scripta, et non; aliterque." The nicety of your
    discernment in all the matters here treated, will be sufficient, I am
    assured, to convince you that the mere circumstance of me referring
    you to this admirable passage, ought to satisfy your request, as a
    man of honor, for explanation.

    With sentiments of profound respect,

    Your most obedient servant,

    VON JUNG.

    The Herr Johann Hermann

    Hermann commenced the perusal of this epistle with a scowl, which,
    however, was converted into a smile of the most ludicrous
    self-complacency as he came to the rigmarole about Injuriae per
    applicationem, per constructionem, et per se. Having finished
    reading, he begged me, with the blandest of all possible smiles, to
    be seated, while he made reference to the treatise in question.
    Turning to the passage specified, he read it with great care to
    himself, then closed the book, and desired me, in my character of
    confidential acquaintance, to express to the Baron von Jung his
    exalted sense of his chivalrous behavior, and, in that of second, to
    assure him that the explanation offered was of the fullest, the most
    honorable, and the most unequivocally satisfactory nature.

    Somewhat amazed at all this, I made my retreat to the Baron. He
    seemed to receive Hermann's amicable letter as a matter of course,
    and after a few words of general conversation, went to an inner room
    and brought out the everlasting treatise "Duelli Lex scripta, et non;
    aliterque." He handed me the volume and asked me to look over some
    portion of it. I did so, but to little purpose, not being able to
    gather the least particle of meaning. He then took the book himself,
    and read me a chapter aloud. To my surprise, what he read proved to
    be a most horribly absurd account of a duel between two baboons. He
    now explained the mystery; showing that the volume, as it appeared
    prima facie, was written upon the plan of the nonsense verses of Du
    Bartas; that is to say, the language was ingeniously framed so as to
    present to the ear all the outward signs of intelligibility, and even
    of profundity, while in fact not a shadow of meaning existed. The key
    to the whole was found in leaving out every second and third word
    alternately, when there appeared a series of ludicrous quizzes upon a
    single combat as practised in modern times.

    The Baron afterwards informed me that he had purposely thrown the
    treatise in Hermann's way two or three weeks before the adventure,
    and that he was satisfied, from the general tenor of his
    conversation, that he had studied it with the deepest attention, and
    firmly believed it to be a work of unusual merit. Upon this hint he
    proceeded. Hermann would have died a thousand deaths rather than
    acknowledge his inability to understand anything and everything in
    the universe that had ever been written about the duello.

    Littleton Barry.
    If you're writing a Mystification essay and need some advice, post your Edgar Allan Poe essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?