To Mrs. Saville, England.
August 5th, 17-.
So strange an accident has happened to us that I cannot forbear recording it,
although it is very probable that you will see me before these papers can come
into your possession.
Last Monday (July 31st) we were nearly surrounded by ice, which closed in the
ship on all sides, scarcely leaving her the sea-room in which she floated. Our
situation was somewhat dangerous, especially as we were compassed round by a
very thick fog. We accordingly lay to, hoping that some change would take
place in the atmosphere and weather.
About two o'clock the mist cleared away, and we beheld, stretched out in every
direction, vast and irregular plains of ice, which seemed to have no end. Some
of my comrades groaned, and my own mind began to grow watchful with anxious
thoughts, when a strange sight suddenly attracted our attention and diverted
our solicitude from our own situation. We perceived a low carriage, fixed on a
sledge and drawn by dogs, pass on towards the north, at the distance of half a
mile; a being which had the shape of a man, but apparently of gigantic
stature, sat in the sledge and guided the dogs. We watched the rapid progress
of the traveller with our telescopes until he was lost among the distant
inequalities of the ice.
This appearance excited our unqualified wonder. We were, as we believed, many
hundred miles from any land; but this apparition seemed to denote that it was
not, in reality, so distant as we had supposed. Shut in, however, by ice, it
was impossible to follow his track, which we had observed with the greatest
About two hours after this occurrence we heard the ground sea, and before
night the ice broke and freed our ship. We, however, lay to until the morning,
fearing to encounter in the dark those large loose masses which float about
after the breaking up of the ice. I profited of this time to rest for a few
In the morning, however, as soon as it was light, I went upon deck and found
all the sailors busy on one side of the vessel, apparently talking to someone
in the sea. It was, in fact, a sledge, like that we had seen before, which had
drifted towards us in the night on a large fragment of ice. Only one dog
remained alive; but there was a human being within it whom the sailors were
persuading to enter the vessel. He was not, as the other traveller seemed to
be, a savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island, but a European. When I
appeared on deck the master said, "Here is our captain, and he will not allow
you to perish on the open sea."
On perceiving me, the stranger addressed me in English, although with a
foreign accent. "Before I come on board your vessel," said he, "will you have
the kindness to inform me whither you are bound?"
You may conceive my astonishment on hearing such a question addressed to me
from a man on the brink of destruction and to whom I should have supposed that
my vessel would have been a resource which he would not have exchanged for the
most precious wealth the earth can afford. I replied, however, that we were on
a voyage of discovery towards the northern pole.
Upon hearing this he appeared satisfied and consented to come on board. Good
God! Margaret, if you had seen the man who thus capitulated for his safety,
your surprise would have been boundless. His limbs were nearly frozen, and his
body dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering. I never saw a man in so
wretched a condition. We attempted to carry him into the cabin, but as soon as
he had quitted the fresh air he fainted. We accordingly brought him back to
the deck and restored him to animation by rubbing him with brandy and forcing
him to swallow a small quantity. As soon as he showed signs of life we wrapped
him up in blankets and placed him near the chimney of the kitchen stove. By
slow degrees he recovered and ate a little soup, which restored him
Two days passed in this manner before he was able to speak, and I often feared
that his sufferings had deprived him of understanding. When he had in some
measure recovered, I removed him to my own cabin and attended on him as much
as my duty would permit. I never saw a more interesting creature: his eyes
have generally an expression of wildness, and even madness, but there are
moments when, if anyone performs an act of kindness towards him or does him
any the most trifling service, his whole countenance is lighted up, as it
were, with a beam of benevolence and sweetness that I never saw equalled. But
he is generally melancholy and despairing, and sometimes he gnashes his teeth,
as if impatient of the weight of woes that oppresses him.
When my guest was a little recovered I had great trouble to keep off the men,
who wished to ask him a thousand questions; but I would not allow him to be
tormented by their idle curiosity, in a state of body and mind whose
restoration evidently depended upon entire repose. Once, however, the
lieutenant asked why he had come so far upon the ice in so strange a vehicle.
His countenance instantly assumed an aspect of the deepest gloom, and he
replied, "To seek one who fled from me."
"And did the man whom you pursued travel in the same fashion?"
"Then I fancy we have seen him, for the day before we picked you up we saw
some dogs drawing a sledge, with a man in it, across the ice."
This aroused the stranger's attention, and he asked a multitude of questions
concerning the route which the daemon, as he called him, had pursued. Soon
after, when he was alone with me, he said, "I have, doubtless, excited your
curiosity, as well as that of these good people; but you are too considerate
to make inquiries."
"Certainly; it would indeed be very impertinent and inhuman in me to trouble
you with any inquisitiveness of mine."
"And yet you rescued me from a strange and perilous situation; you have
benevolently restored me to life."
Soon after this he inquired if I thought that the breaking up of the ice had
destroyed the other sledge. I replied that I could not answer with any degree
of certainty, for the ice had not broken until near midnight, and the
traveller might have arrived at a place of safety before that time; but of
this I could not judge.
From this time a new spirit of life animated the decaying frame of the
stranger. He manifested the greatest eagerness to be upon deck to watch for
the sledge which had before appeared; but I have persuaded him to remain in
the cabin, for he is far too weak to sustain the rawness of the atmosphere. I
have promised that someone should watch for him and give him instant notice if
any new object should appear in sight.
Such is my journal of what relates to this strange occurrence up to the
present day. The stranger has gradually improved in health but is very silent
and appears uneasy when anyone except myself enters his cabin. Yet his manners
are so conciliating and gentle that the sailors are all interested in him,
although they have had very little communication with him. For my own part, I
begin to love him as a brother, and his constant and deep grief fills me with
sympathy and compassion. He must have been a noble creature in his better
days, being even now in wreck so attractive and amiable.
I said in one of my letters, my dear Margaret, that I should find no friend on
the wide ocean; yet I have found a man who, before his spirit had been broken
by misery, I should have been happy to have possessed as the brother of my
I shall continue my journal concerning the stranger at intervals, should I
have any fresh incidents to record.
August 13th, 17-.
My affection for my guest increases every day. He excites at once my
admiration and my pity to an astonishing degree. How can I see so noble a
creature destroyed by misery without feeling the most poignant grief? He is so
gentle, yet so wise; his mind is so cultivated, and when he speaks, although
his words are culled with the choicest art, yet they flow with rapidity and
He is now much recovered from his illness and is continually on the deck,
apparently watching for the sledge that preceded his own. Yet, although
unhappy, he is not so utterly occupied by his own misery but that he interests
himself deeply in the projects of others. He has frequently conversed with me
on mine, which I have communicated to him without disguise. He entered
attentively into all my arguments in favour of my eventual success and into
every minute detail of the measures I had taken to secure it. I was easily led
by the sympathy which he evinced to use the language of my heart, to give
utterance to the burning ardour of my soul and to say, with all the fervour
that warmed me, how gladly I would sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my
every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise. One man's life or death were
but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought,
for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our
race. As I spoke, a dark gloom spread over my listener's countenance. At first
I perceived that he tried to suppress his emotion; he placed his hands before
his eyes, and my voice quivered and failed me as I beheld tears trickle fast
from between his fingers; a groan burst from his heaving breast. I paused; at
length he spoke, in broken accents: "Unhappy man! Do you share my madness?
Have you drunk also of the intoxicating draught? Hear me; let me reveal my
tale, and you will dash the cup from your lips!"
Such words, you may imagine, strongly excited my curiosity; but the paroxysm
of grief that had seized the stranger overcame his weakened powers, and many
hours of repose and tranquil conversation were necessary to restore his
Having conquered the violence of his feelings, he appeared to despise himself
for being the slave of passion; and quelling the dark tyranny of despair, he
led me again to converse concerning myself personally. He asked me the history
of my earlier years. The tale was quickly told, but it awakened various trains
of reflection. I spoke of my desire of finding a friend, of my thirst for a
more intimate sympathy with a fellow mind than had ever fallen to my lot, and
expressed my conviction that a man could boast of little happiness who did not
enjoy this blessing.
"I agree with you," replied the stranger; "we are unfashioned creatures, but
half made up, if one wiser, better, dearer than ourselves-such a friend ought
to be-do not lend his aid to perfectionate our weak and faulty natures. I once
had a friend, the most noble of human creatures, and am entitled, therefore,
to judge respecting friendship. You have hope, and the world before you, and
have no cause for despair. But I-I have lost everything and cannot begin life
As he said this his countenance became expressive of a calm, settled grief
that touched me to the heart. But he was silent and presently retired to his
Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the
beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these
wonderful regions seem still to have the power of elevating his soul from
earth. Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery and be
overwhelmed by disappointments, yet when he has retired into himself, he will
be like a celestial spirit that has a halo around him, within whose circle no
grief or folly ventures.
Will you smile at the enthusiasm I express concerning this divine wanderer?
You would not if you saw him. You have been tutored and refined by books and
retirement from the world, and you are therefore somewhat fastidious; but this
only renders you the more fit to appreciate the extraordinary merits of this
wonderful man. Sometimes I have endeavoured to discover what quality it is
which he possesses that elevates him so immeasurably above any other person I
ever knew. I believe it to be an intuitive discernment, a quick but
never-failing power of judgment, a penetration into the causes of things,
unequalled for clearness and precision; add to this a facility of expression
and a voice whose varied intonations are soul-subduing music.
August 19th, 17-.
Yesterday the stranger said to me, "You may easily perceive, Captain Walton,
that I have suffered great and unparalleled misfortunes. I had determined at
one time that the memory of these evils should die with me, but you have won
me to alter my determination. You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once
did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a
serpent to sting you, as mine has been. I do not know that the relation of my
disasters will be useful to you; yet, when I reflect that you are pursuing the
same course, exposing yourself to the same dangers which have rendered me what
I am, I imagine that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale, one that may
direct you if you succeed in your undertaking and console you in case of
failure. Prepare to hear of occurrences which are usually deemed marvellous.
Were we among the tamer scenes of nature I might fear to encounter your
unbelief, perhaps your ridicule; but many things will appear possible in these
wild and mysterious regions which would provoke the laughter of those
unacquainted with the ever-varied powers of nature; nor can I doubt but that
my tale conveys in its series internal evidence of the truth of the events of
which it is composed."
You may easily imagine that I was much gratified by the offered communication,
yet I could not endure that he should renew his grief by a recital of his
misfortunes. I felt the greatest eagerness to hear the promised narrative,
partly from curiosity and partly from a strong desire to ameliorate his fate
if it were in my power. I expressed these feelings in my answer.
"I thank you," he replied, "for your sympathy, but it is useless; my fate is
nearly fulfilled. I wait but for one event, and then I shall repose in peace.
I understand your feeling," continued he, perceiving that I wished to
interrupt him; "but you are mistaken, my friend, if thus you will allow me to
name you; nothing can alter my destiny; listen to my history, and you will
perceive how irrevocably it is determined."
He then told me that he would commence his narrative the next day when I
should be at leisure. This promise drew from me the warmest thanks. I have
resolved every night, when I am not imperatively occupied by my duties, to
record, as nearly as possible in his own words, what he has related during the
day. If I should be engaged, I will at least make notes. This manuscript will
doubtless afford you the greatest pleasure; but to me, who know him, and who
hear it from his own lips-with what interest and sympathy shall I read it in
some future day! Even now, as I commence my task, his full-toned voice swells
in my ears; his lustrous eyes dwell on me with all their melancholy sweetness;
I see his thin hand raised in animation, while the lineaments of his face are
irradiated by the soul within. Strange and harrowing must be his story,
frightful the storm which embraced the gallant vessel on its course and