[This section starts at the end of the original’s third chapter, and continues through the original’s fourth chapter. The italicized parts are lifted word-for-word from the original section. The regular font parts are the interventions.]
“The ancient teachers of this science,” said M. Waldman, “promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera but these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pour over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.”
Such were the professor’s words — rather let me say such the words of the fate — enounced to destroy me. As he went on I felt as if my soul were grappling with a palpable enemy; one by one the various keys were touched which formed the mechanism of my being; chord after chord was sounded, and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose. So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein — more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.
I closed not my eyes that night. My internal being was in a state of insurrection and turmoil; I felt that order would thence arise, but I had no power to produce it. By degrees, after the morning’s dawn, sleep came. I awoke, and my yesternight’s thoughts were as a dream. There only remained a resolution to return to my ancient studies and to devote myself to a science for which I believed myself to possess a natural talent. On the same day I paid M. Waldman a visit.
. . . . .
“I am happy,” said M. Waldman, “to have gained a disciple; and if your application equals your ability, I have no doubt of your success. Chemistry is that branch of natural philosophy in which the greatest improvements have been and may be made; it is on that account that I have made it my peculiar study; but at the same time, I have not neglected the other branches of science. A man would make but a very sorry chemist if he attended to that department of human knowledge alone. If your wish is to become really a man of science and not merely a petty experimentalist, I should advise you to apply to every branch of natural philosophy, including mathematics.”
He then took me into his laboratory and explained to me the uses of his various machines, instructing me as to what I ought to procure and promising me the use of his own when I should have advanced far enough in the science not to derange their mechanism. He also gave me the list of books which I had requested, and I took my leave. As I turned, he cleared his throat, bringing me back round. “A final thought — one I wish I’d received at your age, as I believe it would have spared me many years of wasted effort, and at least one great regret.” Involuntarily I clenched my fists, ready to steel and shield myself against any wisdom, be it ever so sound, that might dissuade me from my fixed purpose. Forcing a grin of expectant interest, I steadied my wobbling eyes and met his gentle gaze.
“Always remember that science — indeed anything — has value only because True Goodness exists, endowing this earthly life with a spiritual — and thus solid and nonrelative — meaning. Moreover, True Goodness’s most fundamental Knowledge is that we are here to be kind to one another, help one another, enjoy one another’s company and together make life better for everyone. Any action contrary to this principle is self-defeating. Knowledge for its own sake is as useless as it is impossible: useless because only ideas and actions grounded in aware, clear, honest, competent kindness add anything to an individual life or to the totality of human lives; impossible because the only completely True and useful human knowledge is an in-dwelling Knowing Light of infinite kindness that — to the extent one nurtures and heeds this most sacred of human birthrights — wisely arranges all thoughts and actions around its benevolent designs. Absent a loving heart, no undertaking has any meaning, for the meaning of life — the only meaning that could ever be truly meaningful to any human — is a loving heart.”
I relaxed my fists. The tension trickled out my shoulders. Sound advice! Nothing new, but smartly and charmingly phrased. I thanked him for his counsel and time, and left for the open air, bright and dry.
Thus ended a day memorable to me; it decided my future destiny.
[Go to the original Frankenstein: Beginning of Chapter 4]
From this day natural philosophy, and particularly chemistry, in the most comprehensive sense of the term, became nearly my sole occupation.
. . . . .
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.
. . . . .
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.
. . . . . .
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.
. . . . . .
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.
Yet M. Waldman’s advice never completely departed, but rather lined the back of my thoughts, glowing, however faintly, like a beacon of safe haven through the mad fevers swamping my sobriety and overturning my humanity. As if imbued with a gravity of goodness, his words pulled me all the while gently back to my better, truer self.
One day I found myself powerless to quit my bed. My body seemed an infinite mass, no more capable of relocation than a mountain. I saw in my mind’s eye the half-assembled pieces of my creation likewise strapped onto its gurney. My mind reeled, recoiling from my gorey work and drifting involuntarily over paths long banished: recollections of my loving family; the beauty of certain walks enjoyed in earlier youth; the duty, consistency and support of my parents and mentors; and of the wholesome and abiding pleasure of real friendship, which I had once considered the most precious and sacred of my many earthly blessings, but which I had now, for the sake of my macabre ambitions, scorned as an unacceptable interruption.
Fessled thus inside an internal rebellion against the mania imposed by my heedless hubris, which I then recognized as a much more external and less vital aspect of my totality, and floating in an inundation of heretofore suppressed wholesome and gentle thoughts, M. Waldman’s words began circulating around and around as if written out and hovering above my head:
“Knowledge for its own sake is as useless as it is impossible. Absent a loving heart, no undertaking has any meaning, for the meaning of life is a loving heart.”
I began to consider the prospect of a day outside my attic laboratory. Immediately the possibility overwhelmed my senses with joyous release; but yet vaguely, as the impossible dreams of free skies and his old familiar haunts might tantalize a condemned man.
Against this manna from heaven I fought, contrary to all sense and decency, to keep myself in chains. Gathering up all my bile and vainglory as if these moral sludges were my true and heroic strength, I forced my mind back upon my glorious work, finding many and sundry arguments why the project at this stage permitted no delay:
What if another were at this very moment on the brink of the same discovery?! Who remembers, what histories celebrate the second to the summit? Or, if that consideration must be dismissed as the vainest of glories: What if, as seemed only too likely, a day of inactivity would exhaust the final reserves of my flagging momentum and turn me irrevocably from my current course of action? Was it desirable, or even forgivable!, to consign years of effort and an incomparable — yes even godlike! — insight to the rubbish heap? Or what if the bodily elements necessary for life were not stored as adequately against decay as I’d thought? What if success or failure hung upon one day’s industry or rest?
However, try as I might, I found I could not sustain these objections. Deeper, wider, wiser reflections continuously reasserted themselves, and gradually I had to concede that the circumstances warranted but one conclusion: a day outside in the fresh air, where my caged soul might breathe free and proclaim itself, however fatal its counsel might prove to my progress. Immediate upon this resolution, the infinitude of mass fell off my body; my limbs again obeyed my commands. I sat bolt upright. A rush of relief and elation convulsed my breast until a torrent of suppressed passions burst through and I folded over in heaving sobs.
Taking a few slices of buttered bread for my breakfast and lunch, I dashed down flights of shaky, creaking, rattling wooden steps. Outside the fresh, sharp, soft spring air worked wonders on my frame. I felt the cool indifference of nature lifting me up, pulling my shoulders up and back, expanding my chest and back, holding my head aloft, uncoiling and relaxing my cramped and angry muscles. I walked quickly, head high, arms swinging, along the wide Danube.
What was this escapade I’d lost myself within? What had I, my family and the world reasonably to hope and fear from my creation? What life would I, crowned with the success I’d so fervently sought, forfeit? Questions long overrun with mindless efforts and fantastical daydreams of only the rosiest and most glorious scenarios now swept irrepressibly through. I opened as best I could towards them, praying God’s good counsel that I might serve what was worthy, preserve what was better, and avoid what was worse.
A human creature made by my own inexpert and unenlightened efforts. A thinking person much larger and more powerful than any such creature ever before formed. Was it not the nature and indeed right of all thinking beings to decide upon their own beliefs, thoughts, aims, and actions? What if my giant chose not to help humans, nor even live peaceably amongst them, but, consequent biological and/or spiritual particulars which I could neither control nor guess, preferred rather to hurt his fellows? For, while my knowledge of ligaments and the gross stuff of organs including minds was sufficient to form a living man, I despaired of ever discovering those principles — if indeed they exist in a scientifically locatable, quantifiable, and controllable fashion! — underlying the manner in which a human’s thoughts fit together.
How does flesh and blood give rise to passions and reasonings, and what then decides how these mental objects hang upon or loose themselves from that kind and gentle fire that M. Waldman rightly named the true and proper center of all human activity? Surely I could not create a new species of thinking creatures without answering these unanswerable riddles — or at least discovering adequate safeguards and protocols; perhaps, for example, if I could be assured that my activity amounted to no more than rearranging the existing, heaven-consecrated raw material of conscious thought and moral life, and that, further, this monster-sized humanoid would be of a calm and peaceable disposition. But where would such assurance be found?
Why had I not given further thought to the dimensions of my monster? Why had I not reflected upon the dangers that his bulk and power posed to himself and others? Through the long months of single-minded toils, I’d implicitly recognized my seething, unreflective, forward-lunging frenzy as the motor of my success; but was any success worth submitting to this state of mind, or to the unknown and unchecked consequences of action without reflection?
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.
I returned to my laboratory. I severed my creation’s limbs from his torso. I removed any trace of sex. I enlarged his brain, heightened his sense of smell, of vision, and hearing. I prayed for a companion whose thought would aid my own. I sought to create a mind so large and even that it would consider a limbless sexless life just as good if not better than a normal one — so devoted would he be to study and contemplation, to a safe and steady application of gentle thought.
With heavy feet I found my way upstairs, collapsed on my bed, fell into a deep deathlike sleep.
I awoke with a deep melancholy seeping through my whole being, weighing my limbs, scarring my throat, tearing my heart. Who was I to give this creature half a life? Who was I to declare it an invalid mystic? Who was I, for that matter, to put either the world or the creature at risk? I found any thought of destroying my work unbearable, like murdering my babe in the womb; and yet, was this murder not the sole means to reliably avoid burdening myself, the world, and this unfortunate creature with consequences that might be the undoing of us all?
What to do? What was the difference between my creature and a thinking machine? Or must a thinking machine — no matter its fabrics and origins — be of necessity no machine at all, but a living, ensouled being? What is thought? How does it relate to the soul? What is the soul? Do we each have our own or do we all partake of the one soul that wears here now the waddle of a duck, here now the violent strides of a warrior, here now the measured pacings of a philosopher?
A man and a woman join to create a child; have their desperate art and mindless secretions more right to a child than my brainstorm? But the question is not so much one of rights as of right and wrong: Does this undertaking help or hinder myself and my fellows? How am I to tally the possible harms against the possible benefits? Most particularly when I admit how greatly my conjectures may fail to anticipate the results of my experiments.
What is our goal? What is the proper goal of we humanthings? To keep to the Light. To live in and through and for the Light that Knows we are all in this together and must treat ourselves and others with respect and kindness, growing together ever more in the joyful wisdom of how to help without hurting, how to love wholly and effectively. And my monster? Frankenstein’s monster? What is its proper place within this noble goal?
I resolved upon another day out of doors. But the sweet soft cool spring air brought no succor. I felt only the loneliness of the past year suddenly all over and through, crushing me; this utter isolation of the spirit had pulverized and wrecked me all along, but now, with no mania monopolizing my attention, I felt myself driven as if by anvil blows into the cold smooth cobblestones. No friends. No love. No clarity. Only blind, raging ambition, detached from all sense of my true and rightful center — that clear kind joy with which all is bearable, and without which nothing is.
I wandered into a cafe to hear the chatter of others. The lively jostling chattering clanking humanity lifted my spirits, buoying me up beyond my immediate hopes and fears. I knew then that my torn and tattered spirit longed for Elizabeth as wildfire longs to snuff itself out upon barren ash; that without reuniting my strength with hers, I possessed no purpose that I could inhabit. We two were bound by a thread more powerful than all my ideas, and in forgetting her for them, I’d ignored that holy power that holds all us humans together. I needed to tell her I loved her and to hold her and be held by her.
Insgold I must flee. Perhaps I could study medicine in Geneva. Perhaps with gestation my ideas might yet yield results useful and safely employable.
I destroyed my work and notes and took the next train home.
Author/Editor of interventions: BW/AW
Copyright of interventions: AM Watson
[Go to the original Frankenstein: Near the end of Chapter 4]