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Contents > Author > Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley > Frankenstein 04 1797- 1851
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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Frankenstein 04
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Chapter 4

From this day natural philosophy, and particularly chemistry, in the
most comprehensive sense of the term, became nearly my sole
occupation. I read with ardour those works, so full of genius and
discrimination, which modern inquirers have written on these subjects.
I attended the lectures and cultivated the acquaintance of the men of
science of the university, and I found even in M. Krempe a great deal
of sound sense and real information, combined, it is true, with a
repulsive physiognomy and manners, but not on that account the less
valuable. In M. Waldman I found a true friend. His gentleness was
never tinged by dogmatism, and his instructions were given with an air
of frankness and good nature that banished every idea of pedantry. In
a thousand ways he smoothed for me the path of knowledge and made the
most abstruse inquiries clear and facile to my apprehension. My
application was at first fluctuating and uncertain; it gained strength
as I proceeded and soon became so ardent and eager that the stars often
disappeared in the light of morning whilst I was yet engaged in my

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. Professor Krempe often asked me,
with a sly smile, how Cornelius Agrippa went on, whilst M. Waldman
expressed the most heartfelt exultation in my progress. Two years
passed in this manner, during which I paid no visit to Geneva, but was
engaged, heart and soul, in the pursuit of some discoveries which I
hoped to make. None but those who have experienced them can conceive
of the enticements of science. In other studies you go as far as
others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in
a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder.
A mind of moderate capacity which closely pursues one study must
infallibly arrive at great proficiency in that study; and I, who
continually sought the attainment of one object of pursuit and was
solely wrapped up in this, improved so rapidly that at the end of two
years I made some discoveries in the improvement of some chemical
instruments, which procured me great esteem and admiration at the
university. 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. Unless I
had been animated by an almost supernatural enthusiasm, my application
to this study would have been irksome and almost intolerable. To
examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death. I
became acquainted with the science of anatomy, but this was not
sufficient; I must also observe the natural decay and corruption of the
human body. In my education my father had taken the greatest
precautions that my mind should be impressed with no supernatural
horrors. I do not ever remember to have trembled at a tale of
superstition or to have feared the apparition of a spirit. Darkness
had no effect upon my fancy, and a churchyard was to me merely the
receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of
beauty and strength, had become food for the worm. Now I was led to
examine the cause and progress of this decay and forced to spend days
and nights in vaults and charnel-houses. My attention was fixed upon
every object the most insupportable to the delicacy of the human
feelings. I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I
beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I
saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain. I paused,
examining and analysing all the minutiae of causation, as exemplified
in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the
midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me--a light so
brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with
the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised
that among so many men of genius who had directed their inquiries
towards the same science, that I alone should be reserved to discover
so astonishing a secret.

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.

The astonishment which I had at first experienced on this discovery
soon gave place to delight and rapture. After so much time spent in
painful labour, to arrive at once at the summit of my desires was the
most gratifying consummation of my toils. But this discovery was so
great and overwhelming that all the steps by which I had been
progressively led to it were obliterated, and I beheld only the
result. What had been the study and desire of the wisest men since the
creation of the world was now within my grasp. Not that, like a magic
scene, it all opened upon me at once: the information I had obtained
was of a nature rather to direct my endeavours so soon as I should
point them towards the object of my search than to exhibit that object
already accomplished. I was like the Arabian who had been buried with
the dead and found a passage to life, aided only by one glimmering and
seemingly ineffectual light.

I see by your eagerness and the wonder and hope which your eyes
express, my friend, that you expect to be informed of the secret with
which I am acquainted; that cannot be; listen patiently until the end
of my story, and you will easily perceive why I am reserved upon that
subject. I will not lead you on, unguarded and ardent as I then was,
to your destruction and infallible misery. Learn from me, if not by my
precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of
knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town
to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature
will allow.

When I found so astonishing a power placed within my hands, I hesitated
a long time concerning the manner in which I should employ it.
Although I possessed the capacity of bestowing animation, yet to
prepare a frame for the reception of it, with all its intricacies of
fibres, muscles, and veins, still remained a work of inconceivable
difficulty and labour. I doubted at first whether I should attempt the
creation of a being like myself, or one of simpler organization; but my
imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to
doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful
as man. The materials at present within my command hardly appeared
adequate to so arduous an undertaking, but I doubted not that I should
ultimately succeed. I prepared myself for a multitude of reverses; my
operations might be incessantly baffled, and at last my work be
imperfect, yet when I considered the improvement which every day takes
place in science and mechanics, I was encouraged to hope my present
attempts would at least lay the foundations of future success. Nor
could I consider the magnitude and complexity of my plan as any
argument of its impracticability. It was with these feelings that I
began the creation of a human being. As the minuteness of the parts
formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first
intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say,
about eight feet in height, and proportionably large. After having
formed this determination and having spent some months in successfully
collecting and arranging my materials, I began.

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 realize. 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. It was
indeed but a passing trance, that only made me feel with renewed
acuteness so soon as, the unnatural stimulus ceasing to operate, I had
returned to my old habits. I collected bones from charnel-houses and
disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human
frame. In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house,
and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase,
I kept my workshop of filthy creation; my eyeballs were starting from
their sockets in attending to the details of my employment. The
dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my
materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my
occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually
increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion.

The summer months passed while I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in
one pursuit. It was a most beautiful season; never did the fields
bestow a more plentiful harvest or the vines yield a more luxuriant
vintage, but my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature. And the
same feelings which made me neglect the scenes around me caused me also
to forget those friends who were so many miles absent, and whom I had
not seen for so long a time. I knew my silence disquieted them, and I
well remembered the words of my father: "I know that while you are
pleased with yourself you will think of us with affection, and we shall
hear regularly from you. You must pardon me if I regard any
interruption in your correspondence as a proof that your other duties
are equally neglected."

I knew well therefore what would be my father's feelings, but I could
not tear my thoughts from my employment, loathsome in itself, but which
had taken an irresistible hold of my imagination. I wished, as it
were, to procrastinate all that related to my feelings of affection
until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of my nature,
should be completed.

I then thought that my father would be unjust if he ascribed my neglect
to vice or faultiness on my part, but I am now convinced that he was
justified in conceiving that I should not be altogether free from
blame. 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, Caesar would have spared his
country, America would have been discovered more gradually, and the
empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed.

But I forget that I am moralizing in the most interesting part of my
tale, and your looks remind me to proceed. My father made no reproach
in his letters and only took notice of my silence by inquiring into my
occupations more particularly than before. Winter, spring, and summer
passed away during my labours; but I did not watch the blossom or the
expanding leaves--sights which before always yielded me supreme
delight--so deeply was I engrossed in my occupation. The leaves of
that year had withered before my work drew near to a close, and now
every day showed me more plainly how well I had succeeded. But my
enthusiasm was checked by my anxiety, and I appeared rather like one
doomed by slavery to toil in the mines, or any other unwholesome trade
than an artist occupied by his favourite employment. Every night I was
oppressed by a slow fever, and I became nervous to a most painful
degree; the fall of a leaf startled me, and I shunned my fellow
creatures as if I had been guilty of a crime. Sometimes I grew alarmed
at the wreck I perceived that I had become; the energy of my purpose
alone sustained me: my labours would soon end, and I believed that
exercise and amusement would then drive away incipient disease; and I
promised myself both of these when my creation should be complete.


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