A Story of Wall-street.
I AM a rather elderly man. The nature of my avocations for the last thirtyyears has brought me into more than ordinary
contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of menof whom as yet nothing that I know of has
ever been written:--I mean the law-copyists or scriveners. I have known verymany of themprofessionally and privatelyand
if I pleasedcould relate divers historiesat which good-natured gentlemenmight smileand sentimental souls might weep.
But I waive the biographies of all other scriveners for a few passages in thelife of Bartlebywho was a scrivener the
strangest I ever saw or heard of. While of other law-copyists I might writethe complete lifeof Bartleby nothing of that sort
can be done. I believe that no materials exist for a full and satisfactorybiography of this man. It is an irreparable loss to
literature. Bartleby was one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainableexcept from the original sourcesand in his
case those are very small. What my own astonished eyes saw of Bartlebythatis all I know of himexceptindeedone
vague report which will appear in the sequel.
Ere introducing the scriveneras he first appeared to meit is fit I makesome mention of myselfmyemployéesmy
businessmy chambersand general surroundings; because some suchdescription is indispensable to an adequate
understanding of the chief character about to be presented.
Imprimis: I am a man whofrom his youth upwardshas been filled with aprofound conviction that the easiest way of life is
the best. Hencethough I belong to a profession proverbially energetic andnervouseven to turbulenceat timesyet nothing
of that sort have I ever suffered to invade my peace. I am one of thoseunambitious lawyers who never addresses a juryor in
any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquillity of a snugretreatdo a snug business among rich men's
bonds and mortgages and title-deeds. All who know me consider me an eminentlysafe man.The late John Jacob Astora
personage little given to poetic enthusiasmhad no hesitation in pronouncingmy first grand point to be prudence; my next
method. I do not speak it in vanitybut simply record the factthat I wasnot unemployed in my profession by the late John
Jacob Astor; a name whichI admitI love to repeatfor it hath a roundedand orbicular sound to itand rings like unto
bullion. I will freely addthat I was not insensible to the late John JacobAstor's good opinion.
Some time prior to the period at which this little history beginsmyavocations had been largely increased. The good old
officenow extinct in the State of New-Yorkof a Master in Chanceryhadbeen conferred upon me. It was not a very
arduous officebut very pleasantly remunerative. I seldom lose my temper;much more seldom indulge in dangerous
indignation at wrongs and outrages; but I must be permitted to be rash hereand declarethat I consider the sudden and
violent abrogation of the office of Master of Chanceryby the newConstitutionas a ---- premature act; inasmuch as I had
counted upon a life-lease of the profitswhereas I only received those of afew short years. But this is by the way.
My chambers were up stairs at No. -- Wall-street. At one end they looked uponthe white wall of the interior of a spacious
sky-light shaftpenetrating the building from top to bottom. This view mighthave been considered rather tame than
otherwisedeficient in what landscape painters call "life." But ifsothe view from the other end of my chambers offeredat
leasta contrastif nothing more. In that direction my windows commanded anunobstructed view of a lofty brick wallblack
by age and everlasting shade; which wall required no spy-glass to bring outits lurking beautiesbut for the benefit of all
near-sighted spectatorswas pushed up to within ten feet of my window panes.Owing to the great height of the surrounding
buildingsand my chambers being on the second floorthe interval betweenthis wall and mine not a little resembled a huge
At the period just preceding the advent of BartlebyI had two persons ascopyists in my employmentand a promising lad as
an office-boy. FirstTurkey; secondNippers; thirdGinger Nut. These mayseem namesthe like of which are not usually
found in the Directory. In truth they were nicknamesmutually conferred uponeach other by my three clerksand were
deemed expressive of their respective persons or characters. Turkey was ashortpursy Englishman of about my own age
that issomewhere not far from sixty. In the morningone might sayhisface was of a fine florid huebut after twelve
o'clockmeridian--his dinner hour--it blazed like a grate full of Christmascoals; and continued blazing--butas it werewith.HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
a gradual wane--till 6 o'clockP. M. or thereaboutsafter which I saw nomore of the proprietor of the facewhich gaining its
meridian with the sunseemed to set with itto riseculminateand declinethe following daywith the like regularity and
undiminished glory. There are many singular coincidences I have known in thecourse of my lifenot the least among which
was the factthat exactly when Turkey displayed his fullest beams from hisred and radiant countenancejust thentooat
that critical momentbegan the daily period when I considered his businesscapacities as seriously disturbed for the
remainder of the twenty-four hours. Not that he was absolutely idleoraverse to business then; far from it. The difficulty
washe was apt to be altogether too energetic. There was a strangeinflamedflurriedflighty recklessness of activity about
him. He would be incautious in dipping his pen into his inkstand. All hisblots upon my documentswere dropped there after
twelve o'clockmeridian. Indeednot only would he be reckless and sadlygiven to making blots in the afternoonbut some
days he went furtherand was rather noisy. At such timestoohis faceflamed with augmented blazonryas if cannel coal
had been heaped on anthracite. He made an unpleasant racket with his chair;spilled his sand-box; in mending his pens
impatiently split them all to piecesand threw them on the floor in a suddenpassion; stood up and leaned over his table
boxing his papers about in a most indecorous mannervery sad to behold in anelderly man like him. Neverthelessas he was
in many ways a most valuable person to meand all the time before twelveo'clockmeridianwas the quickeststeadiest
creature tooaccomplishing a great deal of work in a style not easy to bematched--for these reasonsI was willing to
overlook his eccentricitiesthough indeedoccasionallyI remonstrated withhim. I did this very gentlyhoweverbecause
though the civilestnaythe blandest and most reverential of men in themorningyet in the afternoon he was disposedupon
provocationto be slightly rash with his tonguein factinsolent. Nowvaluing his morning services as I didand resolved
not to lose them; yetat the same time made uncomfortable by his inflamedways after twelve o'clock; and being a man of
peaceunwilling by my admonitions to call forth unseemly retorts from him; Itook upon meone Saturday noon (he was
always worse on Saturdays)to hint to himvery kindlythat perhaps nowthat he was growing oldit might be well to
abridge his labors; in shorthe need not come to my chambers after twelveo'clockbutdinner overhad best go home to his
lodgings and rest himself till tea-time. But no; he insisted upon hisafternoon devotions. His countenance became intolerably
fervidas he oratorically assured me--gesticulating with a long ruler at theother end of the room--that if his services in the
morning were usefulhow indispensiblethenin the afternoon?
"With submissionsir" said Turkey on this occasion"Iconsider myself your right-hand man. In the morning I but marshal
and deploy my columns; but in the afternoon I put myself at their headandgallantly charge the foethus!"--and he made a
violent thrust with the ruler.
"But the blotsTurkey" intimated I.
"True--butwith submissionsirbehold these hairs! I am getting old.Surelysira blot or two of a warm afternoon is not to
be severely urged against gray hairs. Old age--even if it blot the page--ishonorable. With submissionsirwebothare
This appeal to my fellow-feeling was hardly to be resisted. At all eventsIsaw that go he would not. So I made up my mind
to let him stayresolvingneverthelessto see to itthat during theafternoon he had to do with my less important papers.
Nippersthe second on my listwas a whiskeredsallowandupon the wholerather piratical-looking young man of about
five and twenty. I always deemed him the victim of two evil powers--ambitionand indigestion. The ambition was evinced by
a certain impatience of the duties of a mere copyistan unwarrantableusurpation of strictly professional affairssuch as the
original drawing up of legal documents. The indigestion seemed betokened inan occasional nervous testiness and grinning
irritabilitycausing the teeth to audibly grind together over mistakescommitted in copying; unnecessary maledictions
hissedrather than spokenin the heat of business; and especially by acontinual discontent with the height of the table where
he worked. Though of a very ingenious mechanical turnNippers could neverget this table to suit him. He put chips under it
blocks of various sortsbits of pasteboardand at last went so far as toattempt an exquisite adjustment by final pieces of
folded blotting-paper. But no invention would answer. Iffor the sake ofeasing his backhe brought the table lid at a sharp
angle well up towards his chinand wrote there like a man using the steeproof of a Dutch house for his desk:--then he
declared that it stopped the circulation in his arms. If now he lowered thetable to his waistbandsand stooped over it in
writingthen there was a sore aching in his back. In shortthe truth of thematter wasNippers knew not what he wanted. Or
if he wanted any thingit was to be rid of a scrivener's table altogether.Among the manifestations of his diseased ambition
was a fondness he had for receiving visits from certain ambiguous-lookingfellows in seedy coatswhom he called his
clients. Indeed I was aware that not only was heat timesconsiderable of award-politicianbut he occasionally did a little
business at the Justices' courtsand was not unknown on the steps of theTombs. I have good reason to believehoweverthat
one individual who called upon him at my chambersand whowith a grand airhe insisted was his clientwas no other than
a dunand the alleged title-deeda bill. But with all his failingsand theannoyances he caused meNipperslike his
compatriot Turkeywas a very useful man to me; wrote a neatswift hand;andwhen he chosewas not deficient in a.HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
gentlemanly sort of deportment. Added to thishe always dressed in agentlemanly sort of way; and soincidentally
reflected credit upon my chambers. Whereas with respect to TurkeyI had muchado to keep him from being a reproach to
me. His clothes were apt to look oily and smell of eating-houses. He wore hispantaloons very loose and baggy in summer.
His coats were execrable; his hat not be to handled. But while the hat was athing of indifference to meinasmuch as his
natural civility and deferenceas a dependent Englishmanalways led him todoff it the moment he entered the roomyet his
coat was another matter. Concerning his coatsI reasoned with him; but withno effect. The truth wasI supposethat a man
with so small an incomecould not afford to sport such a lustrous face and alustrous coat at one and the same time. As
Nippers once observedTurkey's money went chiefly for red ink. One winterday I presented Turkey with a highly-respectable
looking coat of my owna padded gray coatof a most comfortable warmthandwhich buttoned straight up from
the knee to the neck. I thought Turkey would appreciate the favorand abatehis rashness and obstreperousness of
afternoons. But no. I verily believe that buttoning himself up in so downyand blanket-like a coat had a pernicious effect
upon him; upon the same principle that too much oats are bad for horses. Infactprecisely as a rashrestive horse is said to
feel his oatsso Turkey felt his coat. It made him insolent. He was a manwhom prosperity harmed.
Though concerning the self-indulgent habits of Turkey I had my own privatesurmisesyet touching Nippers I was well
persuaded that whatever might be his faults in other respectshe wasatleasta temperate young man. But indeednature
herself seemed to have been his vintnerand at his birth charged him sothoroughly with an irritablebrandy-like disposition
that all subsequent potations were needless. When I consider howamid thestillness of my chambersNippers would
sometimes impatiently rise from his seatand stooping over his tablespreadhis arms wide apartseize the whole deskand
move itand jerk itwith a grimgrinding motion on the flooras if thetable were a perverse voluntary agentintent on
thwarting and vexing him; I plainly perceive that for Nippersbrandy andwater were altogether superfluous.
It was fortunate for me thatowing to its peculiar cause--indigestion--theirritability and consequent nervousness of Nippers
were mainly observable in the morningwhile in the afternoon he wascomparatively mild. So that Turkey's paroxysms only
coming on about twelve o'clockI never had to do with their eccentricitiesat one time. Their fits relieved each other like
guards. When Nippers' was onTurkey's was off; andviceversa. This was a good naturalarrangement under the
Ginger Nutthe third on my listwas a lad some twelve years old. His fatherwas a carmanambitious of seeing his son on
the bench instead of a cartbefore he died. So he sent him to my office asstudent at lawerrand boyand cleaner and
sweeperat the rate of one dollar a week. He had a little desk to himselfbut he did not use it much. Upon inspectionthe
drawer exhibited a great array of the shells of various sorts of nuts.Indeedto this quick-witted youth the whole noble
science of the law was contained in a nut-shell. Not the least among theemployments of Ginger Nutas well as one which he
discharged with the most alacritywas his duty as cake and apple purveyorfor Turkey and Nippers. Copying law papers
being proverbially a dryhusky sort of businessmy two scriveners were fainto moisten their mouths very often with
Spitzenbergs to be had at the numerous stalls nigh the Custom House and PostOffice. Alsothey sent Ginger Nut very
frequently for that peculiar cake--smallflatroundand very spicy--afterwhich he had been named by them. Of a cold
morning when business was but dullTurkey would gobble up scores of thesecakesas if they were mere wafers--indeed
they sell them at the rate of six or eight for a penny--the scrape of his penblending with the crunching of the crisp particles
in his mouth. Of all the fiery afternoon blunders and flurried rashnesses ofTurkeywas his once moistening a ginger-cake
between his lipsand clapping it on to a mortgage for a seal. I came withinan ace of dismissing him then. But he mollified
me by making an oriental bowand saying--"With submissionsirit wasgenerous of me to find you in stationery on my own
Now my original business--that of a conveyancer and title hunteranddrawer-up of recondite documents of all sorts--was
considerably increased by receiving the master's office. There was now greatwork for scriveners. Not only must I push the
clerks already with mebut I must have additional help. In answer to myadvertisementa motionless young man one
morningstood upon my office thresholdthe door being openfor it wassummer. I can see that figure now--pallidly neat
pitiably respectableincurably forlorn! It was Bartleby.
After a few words touching his qualificationsI engaged himglad to haveamong my corps of copyists a man of so
singularly sedate an aspectwhich I thought might operate beneficially uponthe flighty temper of Turkeyand the fiery one
I should have stated before that ground glass folding-doors divided mypremises into two partsone of which was occupied
by my scrivenersthe other by myself. According to my humor I threw openthese doorsor closed them. I resolved to assign
Bartleby a corner by the folding-doorsbut on my side of themso as to havethis quiet man within easy callin case any
trifling thing was to be done. I placed his desk close up to a smallside-window in that part of the rooma window which
originally had afforded a lateral view of certain grimy back-yards andbricksbut whichowing to subsequent erections.HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
commanded at present no view at allthough it gave some light. Within threefeet of the panes was a walland the light came
down from far abovebetween two lofty buildingsas from a very smallopening in a dome. Still further to a satisfactory
arrangementI procured a high green folding screenwhich might entirelyisolate Bartleby from my sightthough not remove
him from my voice. And thusin a mannerprivacy and society were conjoined.
At first Bartleby did an extraordinary quantity of writing. As if longfamishing for something to copyhe seemed to gorge
himself on my documents. There was no pause for digestion. He ran a day andnight linecopying by sun-light and by
candle-light. I should have been quite delighted with his applicationhad bebeen cheerfully industrious. But he wrote on
It isof coursean indispensable part of a scrivener's business to verifythe accuracy of his copyword by word. Where there
are two or more scriveners in an officethey assist each other in thisexaminationone reading from the copythe other
holding the original. It is a very dullwearisomeand lethargic affair. Ican readily imagine that to some sanguine
temperaments it would be altogether intolerable. For exampleI cannot creditthat the mettlesome poet Byron would have
contentedly sat down with Bartleby to examine a law document ofsay fivehundred pagesclosely written in a crimpy hand.
Now and thenin the haste of businessit had been my habit to assist incomparing some brief document myselfcalling
Turkey or Nippers for this purpose. One object I had in placing Bartleby sohandy to me behind the screenwas to avail
myself of his services on such trivial occasions. It was on the third dayIthinkof his being with meand before any
necessity had arisen for having his own writing examinedthatbeing muchhurried to complete a small affair I had in handI
abruptly called to Bartleby. In my haste and natural expectancy of instantcomplianceI sat with my head bent over the
original on my deskand my right hand sidewaysand somewhat nervouslyextended with the copyso that immediately
upon emerging from his retreatBartleby might snatch it and proceed tobusiness without the least delay.
In this very attitude did I sit when I called to himrapidly stating what itwas I wanted him to do--namelyto examine a small
paper with me. Imagine my surprisenaymy consternationwhen withoutmoving from his privacyBartleby in a singularly
mildfirm voicereplied"I would prefer not to."
I sat awhile in perfect silencerallying my stunned faculties. Immediatelyit occurred to me that my ears had deceived meor
Bartleby had entirely misunderstood my meaning. I repeated my request in theclearest tone I could assume. But in quite as
clear a one came the previous reply"I would prefer not to."
"Prefer not to" echoed Irising in high excitementand crossingthe room with a stride. "What do you mean? Are you moon-struck?
I want you to help me compare this sheet here--take it" and I thrust ittowards him.
"I would prefer not to" said he.
I looked at him steadfastly. His face was leanly composed; his gray eye dimlycalm. Not a wrinkle of agitation rippled him.
Had there been the least uneasinessangerimpatience or impertinence in hismanner; in other wordshad there been any
thing ordinarily human about himdoubtless I should have violently dismissedhim from the premises. But as it wasI should
have as soon thought of turning my pale plaster-of-paris bust of Cicero outof doors. I stood gazing at him awhileas he went
on with his own writingand then reseated myself at my desk. This is verystrangethought I. What had one best do? But my
business hurried me. I concluded to forget the matter for the presentreserving it for my future leisure. So calling Nippers
from the other roomthe paper was speedily examined.
A few days after thisBartleby concluded four lengthy documentsbeingquadruplicates of a week's testimony taken before
me in my High Court of Chancery. It became necessary to examine them. It wasan important suitand great accuracy was
imperative. Having all things arranged I called TurkeyNippers and GingerNut from the next roommeaning to place the
four copies in the hands of my four clerkswhile I should read from theoriginal. Accordingly TurkeyNippers and Ginger
Nut had taken their seats in a roweach with his document in handwhen Icalled to Bartleby to join this interesting group.
"Bartleby! quickI am waiting."
I heard a slow scrape of his chair legs on the uncarpeted floorand soon heappeared standing at the entrance of his
"What is wanted?" said he mildly.
"The copiesthe copies" said I hurriedly. "We are going toexamine them. There"--and I held towards him the fourth
"I would prefer not to" he saidand gently disappeared behind thescreen..Herman MelvilleBartlebythe Scrivener
For a few moments I was turned into a pillar of saltstanding at the head ofmy seated column of clerks. Recovering myself
I advanced towards the screenand demanded the reason for such extraordinaryconduct.
"I would prefer not to."
With any other man I should have flown outright into a dreadful passionscorned all further wordsand thrust him
ignominiously from my presence. But there was something about Bartleby thatnot only strangely disarmed mebut in a
wonderful manner touched and disconcerted me. I began to reason with him.
"These are your own copies we are about to examine. It is labor savingto youbecause one examination will answer for your
four papers. It is common usage. Every copyist is bound to help examine hiscopy. Is it not so? Will you not speak?
"I prefer not to" he replied in a flute-like tone. It seemed to methat while I had been addressing himhe carefully revolved
every statement that I made; fully comprehended the meaning; could notgainsay the irresistible conclusion; butat the same
timesome paramount consideration prevailed with him to reply as he did.
"You are decidedthennot to comply with my request--a request madeaccording to common usage and common sense?"
He briefly gave me to understand that on that point my judgment was sound.Yes: his decision was irreversible.
It is not seldom the case that when a man is browbeaten in some unprecedentedand violently unreasonable wayhe begins to
stagger in his own plainest faith. He beginsas it werevaguely to surmisethatwonderful as it may beall the justice and all
the reason is on the other side. Accordinglyif any disinterested personsare presenthe turns to them for some reinforcement
for his own faltering mind.
"Turkey" said I"what do you think of this? Am I notright?"
"With submissionsir" said Turkeywith his blandest tone"I think that you are."
"Nippers" said I"what doyouthink of it?"
"I think I should kick him out of the office."
(The reader of nice perceptions will here perceive thatit being morningTurkey's answer is couched in polite and tranquil
termsbut Nippers replies in ill-tempered ones. Orto repeat a previoussentenceNippers's ugly mood was on dutyand
"Ginger Nut" said Iwilling to enlist the smallest suffrage in mybehalf"what doyou thinkof it?"
"I thinksirhe's a littleluny"replied Ginger Nutwith agrin.
"You hear what they say" said Iturning towards the screen"come forth and do your duty."
But he vouchsafed no reply. I pondered a moment in sore perplexity. But oncemore business hurried me. I determined again
to postpone the consideration of this dilemma to my future leisure. With alittle trouble we made out to examine the papers
without Bartlebythough at every page or twoTurkey deferentially droppedhis opinion that this proceeding was quite out
of the common; while Nipperstwitching in his chair with a dyspepticnervousnessground out between his set teeth
occasional hissing maledictions against the stubborn oaf behind the screen.And for his (Nippers's) partthis was the first and
the last time he would do another man's business without pay.
Meanwhile Bartleby sat in his hermitageoblivious to every thing but his ownpeculiar business there.
Some days passedthe scrivener being employed upon another lengthy work. Hislate remarkable conduct led me to regard
his ways narrowly. I observed that he never went to dinner; indeed that henever went any where. As yet I had never of my
personal knowledge known him to be outside of my office. He was a perpetualsentry in the corner. At about eleven o'clock
thoughin the morningI noticed that Ginger Nut would advance toward theopening in Bartleby's screenas if silently
beckoned thither by a gesture invisible to me where I sat. The boy would thenleave the office jingling a few penceand
reappear with a handful of ginger-nuts which he delivered in the hermitagereceiving two of the cakes for his trouble.
He livesthenon ginger-nutsthought I; never eats a dinnerproperlyspeaking; he must be a vegetarian then; but no; he
never eats even vegetableshe eats nothing but ginger-nuts. My mind then ranon in reveries concerning the probable effects
upon the human constitution of living entirely on ginger-nuts. Ginger-nutsare so called because they contain ginger as one.HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
of their peculiar constituentsand the final flavoring one. Now what wasginger? A hotspicy thing. Was Bartleby hot and
spicy? Not at all. Gingerthenhad no effect upon Bartleby. Probably hepreferred it should have none.
Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance. If theindividual so resisted be of a not inhumane temper
and the resisting one perfectly harmless in his passivity; thenin thebetter moods of the formerhe will endeavor charitably
to construe to his imagination what proves impossible to be solved by hisjudgment. Even sofor the most partI regarded
Bartleby and his ways. Poor fellow! thought Ihe means no mischief; it isplain he intends no insolence; his aspect
sufficiently evinces that his eccentricities are involuntary. He is useful tome. I can get along with him. If I turn him away
the chances are he will fall in with some less indulgent employerand thenhe will be rudely treatedand perhaps driven forth
miserably to starve. Yes. Here I can cheaply purchase a deliciousself-approval. To befriend Bartleby; to humor him in his
strange wilfulnesswill cost me little or nothingwhile I lay up in my soulwhat will eventually prove a sweet morsel for my
conscience. But this mood was not invariable with me. The passiveness ofBartleby sometimes irritated me. I felt strangely
goaded on to encounter him in new oppositionto elicit some angry spark fromhim answerable to my own. But indeed I
might as well have essayed to strike fire with my knuckles against a bit ofWindsor soap. But one afternoon the evil impulse
in me mastered meand the following little scene ensued:
"Bartleby" said I"when those papers are all copiedI willcompare them with you."
"I would prefer not to."
"How? Surely you do not mean to persist in that mulish vagary?"
I threw open the folding-doors near byand turning upon Turkey and Nippersexclaimed in an excited manner--
"He saysa second timehe won't examine his papers. What do you thinkof itTurkey?"
It was afternoonbe it remembered. Turkey sat glowing like a brass boilerhis bald head steaminghis hands reeling among
his blotted papers.
"Think of it?" roared Turkey; "I think I'll just step behindhis screenand black his eyes for him!"
So sayingTurkey rose to his feet and threw his arms into a pugilisticposition. He was hurrying away to make good his
promisewhen I detained himalarmed at the effect of incautiously rousingTurkey's combativeness after dinner.
"Sit downTurkey" said I"and hear what Nippers has to say.What do you think of itNippers? Would I not be justified in
immediately dismissing Bartleby?"
"Excuse methat is for you to decidesir. I think his conduct quiteunusualand indeed unjustas regards Turkey and myself.
But it may only be a passing whim."
"Ah" exclaimed I"you have strangely changed your mindthen--you speak very gently of him now."
"All beer" cried Turkey; "gentleness is effects ofbeer--Nippers and I dined together to-day. You see how gentleIamsir.
Shall I go and black his eyes?"
"You refer to BartlebyI suppose. Nonot to-dayTurkey" Ireplied; "prayput up your fists."
I closed the doorsand again advanced towards Bartleby. I felt additionalincentives tempting me to my fate. I burned to be
rebelled against again. I remembered that Bartleby never left the office.
"Bartleby" said I"Ginger Nut is away; just step round tothe Post Officewon't you? (it was but a three minutes walk) and
see if there is any thing for me."
"I would prefer not to."
I staggered to my deskand sat there in a deep study. My blind inveteracyreturned. Was there any other thing in which I
could procure myself to be ignominiously repulsed by this leanpennilesswight?--my hired clerk? What added thing is
thereperfectly reasonablethat he will be sure to refuse to do?
"Bartleby!".HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
"Bartleby" in a louder tone.
"Bartleby" I roared.
Like a very ghostagreeably to the laws of magical invocationat the thirdsummonshe appeared at the entrance of his
"Go to the next roomand tell Nippers to come to me."
"I prefer not to" he respectfully and slowly saidand mildlydisappeared.
"Very goodBartleby" said Iin a quiet sort of serenely severeself-possessed toneintimating the unalterable purpose of
some terrible retribution very close at hand. At the moment I half intendedsomething of the kind. But upon the wholeas it
was drawing towards my dinner-hourI thought it best to put on my hat andwalk home for the daysuffering much from
perplexity and distress of mind.
Shall I acknowledge it? The conclusion of this whole business wasthat itsoon became a fixed fact of my chambersthat a
pale young scrivenerby the name of Bartlebyhad a desk there; that hecopied for me at the usual rate of four cents a folio
(one hundred words); but he was permanently exempt from examining the workdone by himthat duty being transferred to
Turkey and Nippersone of compliment doubtless to their superior acuteness;moreoversaid Bartleby was never on any
account to be dispatched on the most trivial errand of any sort; and thateven if entreated to take upon him such a matterit
was generally understood that he would prefer not to--in other wordsthat hewould refuse point-blank.
As days passed onI became considerably reconciled to Bartleby. Hissteadinesshis freedom from all dissipationhis
incessant industry (except when he chose to throw himself into a standingrevery behind his screen)his great stillnesshis
unalterableness of demeanor under all circumstancesmade him a valuableacquisition. One prime thing was this--hewas
always there;--first in themorningcontinually through the dayand the last at night. I had a singularconfidence in his
honesty. I felt my most precious papers perfectly safe in his hands.Sometimes to be sure I could notfor the very soul of me
avoid falling into sudden spasmodic passions with him. For it was exceedingdifficult to bear in mind all the time those
strange peculiaritiesprivilegesand unheard of exemptionsforming thetacit stipulations on Bartleby's part under which he
remained in my office. Now and thenin the eagerness of dispatching pressingbusinessI would inadvertently summon
Bartlebyin a shortrapid toneto put his fingersayon the incipienttie of a bit of red tape with which I was about
compressing some papers. Of coursefrom behind the screen the usual answer"I prefer not to" was sure to come; and then
how could a human creature with the common infirmities of our naturerefrainfrom bitterly exclaiming upon such
perverseness--such unreasonableness. Howeverevery added repulse of thissort which I received only tended to lessen the
probability of my repeating the inadvertence.
Here it must be saidthat according to the custom of most legal gentlemenoccupying chambers in densely-populated law
buildingsthere were several keys to my door. One was kept by a womanresiding in the atticwhich person weekly scrubbed
and daily swept and dusted my apartments. Another was kept by Turkey forconvenience sake. The third I sometimes carried
in my own pocket. The fourth I knew not who had.
Nowone Sunday morning I happened to go to Trinity Churchto hear acelebrated preacherand finding myself rather early
on the groundI thought I would walk round to my chambers for a while.Luckily I had my key with me; but upon applying it
to the lockI found it resisted by something inserted from the inside. QuitesurprisedI called out; when to my consternation
a key was turned from within; and thrusting his lean visage at meandholding the door ajarthe apparition of Bartleby
appearedin his shirt sleevesand otherwise in a strangely tattereddishabillesaying quietly that he was sorrybut he was
deeply engaged just thenand--preferred not admitting me at present. In abrief word or twohe moreover addedthat
perhaps I had better walk round the block two or three timesand by thattime he would probably have concluded his affairs.
Nowthe utterly unsurmised appearance of Bartlebytenanting my law-chambersof a Sunday morningwith his
cadaverously gentlemanlynonchalanceyet withal firm andself-possessedhad such a strange effect upon methat
incontinently I slunk away from my own doorand did as desired. But notwithout sundry twinges of impotent rebellion
against the mild effrontery of this unaccountable scrivener. Indeedit washis wonderful mildness chieflywhich not only
disarmed mebut unmanned meas it were. For I consider that onefor thetimeis a sort of unmanned when he tranquilly
permits his hired clerk to dictate to himand order him away from his ownpremises. FurthermoreI was full of uneasiness as
to what Bartleby could possibly be doing in my office in his shirt sleevesand in an otherwise dismantled condition of a
Sunday morning. Was any thing amiss going on? Naythat was out of thequestion. It was not to be thought of for a moment.HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
that Bartleby was an immoral person. But what could he be doingthere?--copying? Nay againwhatever might be his
eccentricitiesBartleby was an eminently decorous person. He would be thelast man to sit down to his desk in any state
approaching to nudity. Besidesit was Sunday; and there was something aboutBartleby that forbade the supposition that we
would by any secular occupation violate the proprieties of the day.
Neverthelessmy mind was not pacified; and full of a restless curiosityatlast I returned to the door. Without hindrance I
inserted my keyopened itand entered. Bartleby was not to be seen. Ilooked round anxiouslypeeped behind his screen;
but it was very plain that he was gone. Upon more closely examining theplaceI surmised that for an indefinite period
Bartleby must have atedressedand slept in my officeand that too withoutplatemirroror bed. The cushioned seat of a
ricketty old sofa in one corner bore the faint impress of a leanrecliningform. Rolled away under his deskI found a blanket;
under the empty gratea blacking box and brush; on a chaira tin basinwith soap and a ragged towel; in a newspaper a few
crumbs of ginger-nuts and a morsel of cheese. Yetthought Iit is evidentenough that Bartleby has been making his home
herekeeping bachelor's hall all by himself. Immediately then the thoughtcame sweeping across meWhat miserable
friendlessness and loneliness are here revealed! His poverty is great; buthis solitudehow horrible! Think of it. Of a Sunday
Wall-street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is anemptiness. This building toowhich of week-days hums
with industry and lifeat nightfall echoes with sheer vacancyand allthrough Sunday is forlorn. And here Bartleby makes his
home; sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous--a sort ofinnocent and transformed Marius brooding
among the ruins of Carthage!
For the first time in my life a feeling of overpowering stinging melancholyseized me. BeforeI had never experienced aught
but a not-unpleasing sadness. The bond of a common humanity now drew meirresistibly to gloom. A fraternal melancholy!
For both I and Bartleby were sons of Adam. I remembered the bright silks andsparkling faces I had seen that dayin gala
trimswan-like sailing down the Mississippi of Broadway; and I contrastedthem with the pallid copyistand thought to
myselfAhhappiness courts the lightso we deem the world is gay; butmisery hides aloofso we deem that misery there is
none. These sad fancyings--chimerasdoubtlessof a sick and sillybrain--led on to other and more special thoughts
concerning the eccentricities of Bartleby. Presentiments of strangediscoveries hovered round me. The scrivener's pale form
appeared to me laid outamong uncaring strangersin its shivering windingsheet.
Suddenly I was attracted by Bartleby's closed deskthe key in open sightleft in the lock.
I mean no mischiefseek the gratification of no heartless curiositythoughtI; besidesthe desk is mineand its contents too
so I will make bold to look within. Every thing was methodically arrangedthe papers smoothly placed. The pigeon holes
were deepand removing the files of documentsI groped into their recesses.Presently I felt something thereand dragged it
out. It was an old bandanna handkerchiefheavy and knotted. I opened itandsaw it was a savings' bank.
I now recalled all the quiet mysteries which I had noted in the man. Iremembered that he never spoke but to answer; that
though at intervals he had considerable time to himselfyet I had never seenhim reading--nonot even a newspaper; that for
long periods he would stand looking outat his pale window behind thescreenupon the dead brick wall; I was quite sure he
never visited any refectory or eating house; while his pale face clearlyindicated that he never drank beer like Turkeyor tea
and coffee evenlike other men; that he never went any where in particularthat I could learn; never went out for a walk
unless indeed that was the case at present; that he had declined telling whohe wasor whence he cameor whether he had
any relatives in the world; that though so thin and palehe never complainedof ill health. And more than allI remembered a
certain unconscious air of pallid--how shall I call it?--of pallidhaughtinesssayor rather an austere reserve about him
which had positively awed me into my tame compliance with his eccentricitieswhen I had feared to ask him to do the
slightest incidental thing for meeven though I might knowfrom hislong-continued motionlessnessthat behind his screen
he must be standing in one of those dead-wall reveries of his.
Revolving all these thingsand coupling them with the recently discoveredfact that he made my office his constant abiding
place and homeand not forgetful of his morbid moodiness; revolving allthese thingsa prudential feeling began to steal
over me. My first emotions had been those of pure melancholy and sincerestpity; but just in proportion as the forlornness of
Bartleby grew and grew to my imaginationdid that same melancholy merge intofearthat pity into repulsion. So true it is
and so terrible toothat up to a certain point the thought or sight ofmisery enlists our best affections; butin certain special
casesbeyond that point it does not. They err who would assert thatinvariably this is owing to the inherent selfishness of the
human heart. It rather proceeds from a certain hopelessness of remedyingexcessive and organic ill. To a sensitive beingpity
is not seldom pain. And when at last it is perceived that such pity cannotlead to effectual succorcommon sense bids the
soul be rid of it. What I saw that morning persuaded me that the scrivenerwas the victim of innate and incurable disorder. I
might give alms to his body; but his body did not pain him; it was his soulthat sufferedand his soul I could not reach..HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
I did not accomplish the purpose of going to Trinity Church that morning.Somehowthe things I had seen disqualified me
for the time from church-going. I walked homewardthinking what I would dowith Bartleby. FinallyI resolved upon this;--
I would put certain calm questions to him the next morningtouching hishistory&c.and if he declined to answer then
openly and reservedly (and I supposed he would prefer not)then to give hima twenty dollar bill over and above whatever I
might owe himand tell him his services were no longer required; but that ifin any other way I could assist himI would be
happy to do soespecially if he desired to return to his native placewherever that might beI would willingly help to defray
the expenses. Moreoverifafter reaching homehe found himself at any timein want of aida letter from him would be sure
of a reply.
The next morning came.
"Bartleby" said Igently calling to him behind his screen.
"Bartleby" said Iin a still gentler tone"come here; I amnot going to ask you to do any thing you would prefer not to do--I
simply wish to speak to you."
Upon this he noiselessly slid into view.
"Will you tell meBartlebywhere you were born?"
"I would prefer not to."
"Will you tell meanything about yourself?"
"I would prefer not to."
"But what reasonable objection can you have to speak to me? I feelfriendly towards you."
He did not look at me while I spokebut kept his glance fixed upon my bustof Cicerowhich as I then satwas directly
behind mesome six inches above my head.
"What is your answerBartleby?" said Iafter waiting aconsiderable time for a replyduring which his countenance
remained immovableonly there was the faintest conceivable tremor of thewhite attenuated mouth.
"At present I prefer to give no answer" he saidand retired intohis hermitage.
It was rather weak in me I confessbut his manner on this occasion nettledme. Not only did there seem to lurk in it a certain
disdainbut his perverseness seemed ungratefulconsidering the undeniablegood usage and indulgence he had received
Again I sat ruminating what I should do. Mortified as I was at his behaviorand resolved as I had been to dismiss him when I
entered my officenevertheless I strangely felt something superstitiousknocking at my heartand forbidding me to carry out
my purposeand denouncing me for a villain if I dared to breathe one bitterword against this forlornest of mankind. At last
familiarly drawing my chair behind his screenI sat down and said:"Bartlebynever mind then about revealing your history;
but let me entreat youas a friendto comply as far as may be with theusages of this office. Say now you will help to
examine papers to-morrow or next day: in shortsay now that in a day or twoyou will begin to be a little reasonable:--say so
"At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable" was hismildly cadaverous reply.
Just then the folding-doors openedand Nippers approached. He seemedsuffering from an unusually bad night's rest
induced by severer indigestion than common. He overheard those final words ofBartleby.
"Prefer noteh?"gritted Nippers--"I'd preferhimif I were yousir"addressing me--"I'd prefer him;I'd give him
preferencesthe stubborn mule! What is itsirpraythat heprefersnot to do now?"
Bartleby moved not a limb.
"Mr. Nippers" said I"I'd prefer that you would withdraw forthe present."
Somehowof late I had got into the way of involuntarily using this word"prefer" upon all sorts of not exactly suitable
occasions. And I trembled to think that my contact with the scrivener hadalready and seriously affected me in a mental way.
And what further and deeper aberration might it not yet produce? Thisapprehension had not been without efficacy in
determining me to summary means..HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
As Nipperslooking very sour and sulkywas departingTurkey blandly anddeferentially approached.
"With submissionsir" said he"yesterday I was thinkingabout Bartleby hereand I think that if he would but prefer to take
a quart of good ale every dayit would do much towards mending himandenabling him to assist in examining his papers."
"So you have got the word too" said Islightly excited.
"With submissionwhat wordsir" asked Turkeyrespectfullycrowding himself into the contracted space behind the screen
and by so doingmaking me jostle the scrivener. "What wordsir?"
"I would prefer to be left alone here" said Bartlebyas ifoffended at being mobbed in his privacy.
"That'sthe wordTurkey" said I--"that'sit."
"Ohprefer? ohyes--queer word. I never use it myself. Butsiras I was sayingif he wouldbut prefer--"
"Turkey" interrupted I"you will please withdraw."
"Ohcertainlysirif you prefer that I should."
As he opened the folding-door to retireNippers at his desk caught a glimpseof meand asked whether I would prefer to
have a certain paper copied on blue paper or white. He did not in the leastroguishly accent the word prefer. It was plain that
it involuntarily rolled from his tongue. I thought to myselfsurely I mustget rid of a demented manwho already has in some
degree turned the tonguesif not the heads of myself and clerks. But Ithought it prudent not to break the dismission at once.
The next day I noticed that Bartleby did nothing but stand at his window inhis dead-wall revery. Upon asking him why he
did not writehe said that he had decided upon doing no more writing.
"Whyhow now? what next?" exclaimed I"do no morewriting?"
"And what is the reason?"
"Do you not see the reason for yourself" he indifferently replied.
I looked steadfastly at himand perceived that his eyes looked dull andglazed. Instantly it occurred to methat his
unexampled diligence in copying by his dim window for the first few weeks ofhis stay with me might have temporarily
impaired his vision.
I was touched. I said something in condolence with him. I hinted that ofcourse he did wisely in abstaining from writing for a
while; and urged him to embrace that opportunity of taking wholesome exercisein the open air. Thishoweverhe did not
do. A few days after thismy other clerks being absentand being in a greathurry to dispatch certain letters by the mailI
thought thathaving nothing else earthly to doBartleby would surely beless inflexible than usualand carry these letters to
the post-office. But he blankly declined. Somuch to my inconvenienceIwent myself.
Still added days went by. Whether Bartleby's eyes improved or notI couldnot say. To all appearanceI thought they did.
But when I asked him if they didhe vouchsafed no answer. At all eventshewould do no copying. At lastin reply to my
urgingshe informed me that he had permanently given up copying.
"What!" exclaimed I; "suppose your eyes should get entirelywell--better than ever before--would you not copy then?"
"I have given up copying" he answeredand slid aside.
He remained as evera fixture in my chamber. Nay--if that were possible--hebecame still more of a fixture than before.
What was to be done? He would do nothing in the office: why should he staythere? In plain facthe had now become a
millstone to menot only useless as a necklacebut afflictive to bear. YetI was sorry for him. I speak less than truth when I
say thaton his own accounthe occasioned me uneasiness. If he would buthave named a single relative or friendI would
instantly have writtenand urged their taking the poor fellow away to someconvenient retreat. But he seemed alone
absolutely alone in the universe. A bit of wreck in the mid Atlantic. Atlengthnecessities connected with my business
tyrannized over all other considerations. Decently as I couldI toldBartleby that in six days' time he must unconditionally
leave the office. I warned him to take measuresin the intervalforprocuring some other abode. I offered to assist him in this
endeavorif he himself would but take the first step towards a removal."And when you finally quit meBartleby" added I
"I shall see that you go not away entirely unprovided. Six days fromthis hourremember."
At the expiration of that periodI peeped behind the screenand lo!Bartleby was there..HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
I buttoned up my coatbalanced myself; advanced slowly towards himtouchedhis shoulderand said"The time has come;
you must quit this place; I am sorry for you; here is money; but you mustgo."
"I would prefer not" he repliedwith his back still towards me.
He remained silent.
Now I had an unbounded confidence in this man's common honesty. He hadfrequently restored to me sixpences and
shillings carelessly dropped upon the floorfor I am apt to be very recklessin such shirt-button affairs. The proceeding then
which followed will not be deemed extraordinary.
"Bartleby" said I"I owe you twelve dollars on account; hereare thirty-two; the odd twenty are yours.--Will you take it?"
and I handed the bills towards him.
But he made no motion.
"I will leave them here then" putting them under a weight on thetable. Then taking my hat and cane and going to the door I
tranquilly turned and added--"After you have removed your things fromthese officesBartlebyyou will of course lock the
door--since every one is now gone for the day but you--and if you pleaseslip your key underneath the matso that I may
have it in the morning. I shall not see you again; so good-bye to you. Ifhereafter in your new place of abode I can be of any
service to youdo not fail to advise me by letter. Good-byeBartlebyandfare you well."
But he answered not a word; like the last column of some ruined templeheremained standing mute and solitary in the
middle of the otherwise deserted room.
As I walked home in a pensive moodmy vanity got the better of my pity. Icould not but highly plume myself on my
masterly management in getting rid of Bartleby. Masterly I call itand suchit must appear to any dispassionate thinker. The
beauty of my procedure seemed to consist in its perfect quietness. There wasno vulgar bullyingno bravado of any sortno
choleric hectoringand striding to and fro across the apartmentjerking outvehement commands for Bartleby to bundle
himself off with his beggarly traps. Nothing of the kind. Without loudlybidding Bartleby depart--as an inferior genius might
have done--Iassumed theground that depart he must; and upon the assumption built all I had to say. Themore I thought
over my procedurethe more I was charmed with it. Neverthelessnextmorningupon awakeningI had my doubts--I had
somehow slept off the fumes of vanity. One of the coolest and wisest hours aman hasis just after he awakes in the morning.
My procedure seemed as sagacious as ever--but only in theory. How it wouldprove in practice--there was the rub. It was
truly a beautiful thought to have assumed Bartleby's departure; butafterallthat assumption was simply my ownand none
of Bartleby's. The great point wasnot whether I had assumed that he wouldquit mebut whether he would prefer so to do.
He was more a man of preferences than assumptions.
(To be continued.)
(Concluded from page 557.)
AFTER breakfastI walked down townarguing the probabilitiesproand con.One moment I thought it wouldprove a
miserable failureand Bartleby would be found all alive at my office asusual; the next moment it seemed certain that I
should see his chair empty. And so I kept veering about. At the corner ofBroadway and Canal-streetI saw quite an excited
group of people standing in earnest conversation.
"I'll take odds he doesn't" said a voice as I passed.
"Doesn't go?--done!" said I"put up your money."
I was instinctively putting my hand in my pocket to produce my ownwhen Iremembered that this was an election day. The
words I had overheard bore no reference to Bartlebybut to the success ornon-success of some candidate for the mayoralty.
In my intent frame of mindI hadas it wereimagined that all Broadwayshared in my excitementand were debating the
same question with me. I passed onvery thankful that the uproar of thestreet screened my momentary absent-mindedness.
As I had intendedI was earlier than usual at my office door. I stoodlistening for a moment. All was still. He must be gone. I
tried the knob. The door was locked. Yesmy procedure had worked to a charm;he indeed must be vanished. Yet a certain
melancholy mixed with this: I was almost sorry for my brilliant success. Iwas fumbling under the door mat for the key
which Bartleby was to have left there for mewhen accidentally my kneeknocked against a panelproducing a summoning
soundand in response a voice came to me from within--"Not yet; I amoccupied.".Herman MelvilleBartlebythe Scrivener
It was Bartleby.
I was thunderstruck. For an instant I stood like the man whopipe in mouthwas killed one cloudless afternoon long ago in
Virginiaby summer lightning; at his own warm open window he was killedandremained leaning out there upon the
dreamy afternoontill some one touched himwhen he fell.
"Not gone!" I murmured at last. But again obeying that wondrousascendancy which the inscrutable scrivener had over me
and from which ascendencyfor all my chafingI could not completely escapeI slowly went down stairs and out into the
streetand while walking round the blockconsidered what I should next doin this unheard-of perplexity. Turn the man out
by an actual thrusting I could not; to drive him away by calling him hardnames would not do; calling in the police was an
unpleasant idea; and yetpermit him to enjoy his cadaverous triumph overme--this too I could not think of. What was to be
done? orif nothing could be donewas there any thing further that I couldassumein the matter? Yesas before Ihad
prospectively assumed that Bartleby would departso now I mightretrospectively assume that departed he was. In the
legitimate carrying out of this assumptionI might enter my office in agreat hurryand pretending not to see Bartleby at all
walk straight against him as if he were air. Such a proceeding would in asingular degree have the appearance of a home-thrust.
It was hardly possible that Bartleby could withstand such an application ofthe doctrine of assumptions. But upon
second thoughts the success of the plan seemed rather dubious. I resolved toargue the matter over with him again.
"Bartleby" said Ientering the officewith a quietly severeexpression"I am seriously displeased. I am painedBartleby. I
had thought better of you. I had imagined you of such a gentlemanlyorganizationthat in any delicate dilemma a slight hint
would suffice--in shortan assumption. But it appears I am deceived.Why" I addedunaffectedly starting"you have not
even touched the money yet" pointing to itjust where I had left itthe evening previous.
He answered nothing.
"Will youor will you notquit me?" I now demanded in a suddenpassionadvancing close to him.
"I would prefernot toquit you" he repliedgently emphasizing the not.
"What earthly right have you to stay here? Do you pay any rent? Do youpay my taxes? Or is this property yours?"
He answered nothing.
"Are you ready to go on and write now? Are your eyes recovered? Couldyou copy a small paper for me this morning? or
help examine a few lines? or step round to the post-office? In a wordwillyou do any thing at allto give a coloring to your
refusal to depart the premises?"
He silently retired into his hermitage.
I was now in such a state of nervous resentment that I thought it but prudentto check myself at present from further
demonstrations. Bartleby and I were alone. I remembered the tragedy of theunfortunate Adams and the still more
unfortunate Colt in the solitary office of the latter; and how poor Coltbeing dreadfully incensed by Adamsand imprudently
permitting himself to get wildly excitedwas at unawares hurried into hisfatal act--an act which certainly no man could
possibly deplore more than the actor himself. Often it had occurred to me inmy ponderings upon the subjectthat had that
altercation taken place in the public streetor at a private residenceitwould not have terminated as it did. It was the
circumstance of being alone in a solitary officeup stairsof a buildingentirely unhallowed by humanizing domestic
associations--an uncarpeted officedoubtlessof a dustyhaggard sort ofappearance;--this it must have beenwhich greatly
helped to enhance the irritable desperation of the hapless Colt.
But when this old Adam of resentment rose in me and tempted me concerningBartlebyI grappled him and threw him.
How? Whysimply by recalling the divine injunction: "A new commandmentgive I unto youthat ye love one another."
Yesthis it was that saved me. Aside from higher considerationscharityoften operates as a vastly wise and prudent
principle--a great safeguard to its possessor. Men have committed murder forjealousy's sakeand anger's sakeand hatred's
sakeand selfishness' sakeand spiritual pride's sake; but no man that everI heard ofever committed a diabolical murder for
sweet charity's sake. Mere self-interestthenif no better motive can beenlistedshouldespecially with high-tempered men
prompt all beings to charity and philanthropy. At any rateupon the occasionin questionI strove to drown my exasperated
feelings towards the scrivener by benevolently construing his conduct. Poorfellowpoor fellow! thought Ihe don't mean
any thing; and besideshe has seen hard timesand ought to be indulged.
I endeavored also immediately to occupy myselfand at the same time tocomfort my despondency. I tried to fancy that in
the course of the morningat such time as might prove agreeable to himBartlebyof his own free accordwould emerge
from his hermitageand take up some decided line of march in the directionof the door. But no. Half-past twelve o'clock.HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
came; Turkey began to glow in the faceoverturn his inkstandand becomegenerally obstreperous; Nippers abated down
into quietude and courtesy; Ginger Nut munched his noon apple; and Bartlebyremained standing at his window in one of his
profoundest dead-wall reveries. Will it be credited? Ought I to acknowledgeit? That afternoon I left the office without
saying one further word to him.
Some days now passedduring whichat leisure intervals I looked a littleinto "Edwards on the Will" and "Priestley on
Necessity." Under the circumstancesthose books induced a salutaryfeeling. Gradually I slid into the persuasion that these
troubles of mine touching the scrivenerhad been all predestinated frometernityand Bartleby was billeted upon me for
some mysterious purpose of an all-wise Providencewhich it was not for amere mortal like me to fathom. YesBartleby
stay there behind your screenthought I; I shall persecute you no more; youare harmless and noiseless as any of these old
chairs; in shortI never feel so private as when I know you are here. Atleast I see itI feel it; I penetrate to the predestinated
purpose of my life. I am content. Others may have loftier parts to enact; butmy mission in this worldBartlebyis to furnish
you with office-room for such period as you may see fit to remain.
I believe that this wise and blessed frame of mind would have continued withmehad it not been for the unsolicited and
uncharitable remarks obtruded upon me by my professional friends who visitedthe rooms. But thus it often isthat the
constant friction of illiberal minds wears out at last the best resolves ofthe more generous. Though to be surewhen I
reflected upon itit was not strange that people entering my office shouldbe struck by the peculiar aspect of the
unaccountable Bartlebyand so be tempted to throw out some sinisterobservations concerning him. Sometimes an attorney
having business with meand calling at my officeand finding no one but thescrivener therewould undertake to obtain
some sort of precise information from him touching my whereabouts; butwithout heeding his idle talkBartleby would
remain standing immovable in the middle of the room. So after contemplatinghim in that position for a timethe attorney
would departno wiser than he came.
Alsowhen a Reference was going onand the room full of lawyers andwitnesses and business was driving fast; some
deeply occupied legal gentleman presentseeing Bartleby wholly unemployedwould request him to run round to his (the
legal gentleman's) office and fetch some papers for him. ThereuponBartlebywould tranquilly declineand yet remain idle
as before. Then the lawyer would give a great stareand turn to me. And whatcould I say? At last I was made aware that all
through the circle of my professional acquaintancea whisper of wonder wasrunning roundhaving reference to the strange
creature I kept at my office. This worried me very much. And as the idea cameupon me of his possibly turning out a long-lived
manand keep occupying my chambersand denying my authority; and perplexingmy visitors; and scandalizing my
professional reputation; and casting a general gloom over the premises;keeping soul and body together to the last upon his
savings (for doubtless he spent but half a dime a day)and in the endperhaps outlive meand claim possession of my office
by right of his perpetual occupancy: as all these dark anticipations crowdedupon me more and moreand my friends
continually intruded their relentless remarks upon the apparition in my room;a great change was wrought in me. I resolved
to gather all my faculties togetherand for ever rid me of this intolerableincubus.
Ere revolving any complicated projecthoweveradapted to this endI firstsimply suggested to Bartleby the propriety of his
permanent departure. In a calm and serious toneI commended the idea to hiscareful and mature consideration. But having
taken three days to meditate upon ithe apprised me that his originaldetermination remained the same; in shortthat he still
preferred to abide with me.
What shall I do? I now said to myselfbuttoning up my coat to the lastbutton. What shall I do? what ought I to do? what
does conscience say Ishould dowith this manor rather ghost. Rid myself of himI must; gohe shall. Buthow? You will
not thrust himthe poorpalepassive mortal--you will not thrust such ahelpless creature out of your door? you will not
dishonor yourself by such cruelty? NoI will notI cannot do that. Ratherwould I let him live and die hereand then mason
up his remains in the wall. What then will you do? For all your coaxinghewill not budge. Bribes he leaves under your own
paperweight on your table; in shortit is quite plain that he prefers tocling to you.
Then something severesomething unusual must be done. What! surely you willnot have him collared by a constableand
commit his innocent pallor to the common jail? And upon what ground could youprocure such a thing to be done?--a
vagrantis he? What! he a vagranta wandererwho refuses to budge? It isbecause he willnot bea vagrantthenthat you
seek to count himas avagrant. That is too absurd. No visible means of support: there I have him.Wrong again: for
indubitably hedoes supporthimselfand that is the only unanswerable proof that any man can show of hispossessing the
means so to do. No more then. Since he will not quit meI must quit him. Iwill change my offices; I will move elsewhere;
and give him fair noticethat if I find him on my new premises I will thenproceed against him as a common trespasser..HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
Acting accordinglynext day I thus addressed him: "I find thesechambers too far from the City Hall; the air is unwholesome.
In a wordI propose to remove my offices next weekand shall no longerrequire your services. I tell you this nowin order
that you may seek another place."
He made no replyand nothing more was said.
On the appointed day I engaged carts and menproceeded to my chambersandhaving but little furnitureevery thing was
removed in a few hours. Throughoutthe scrivener remained standing behindthe screenwhich I directed to be removed the
last thing. It was withdrawn; and being folded up like a huge folioleft himthe motionless occupant of a naked room. I stood
in the entry watching him a momentwhile something from within me upbraidedme.
I re-enteredwith my hand in my pocket--and--and my heart in my mouth.
"Good-byeBartleby; I am going--good-byeand God some way bless you;and take that" slipping something in his hand.
But it dropped upon the floorand then--strange to say--I tore myself fromhim whom I had so longed to be rid of.
Established in my new quartersfor a day or two I kept the door lockedandstarted at every footfall in the passages. When I
returned to my rooms after any little absenceI would pause at the thresholdfor an instantand attentively listenere
applying my key. But these fears were needless. Bartleby never came nigh me.
I thought all was going wellwhen a perturbed looking stranger visited meinquiring whether I was the person who had
recently occupied rooms at No. -- Wall-street.
Full of forebodingsI replied that I was.
"Then sir" said the strangerwho proved a lawyer"you areresponsible for the man you left there. He refuses to do any
copying; he refuses to do any thing; he says he prefers not to; and herefuses to quit the premises."
"I am very sorrysir" said Iwith assumed tranquillitybut aninward tremor"butreallythe man you allude to is nothing to
me--he is no relation or apprentice of minethat you should hold meresponsible for him."
"In mercy's namewho is he?"
"I certainly cannot inform you. I know nothing about him. Formerly Iemployed him as a copyist; but he has done nothing
for me now for some time past."
"I shall settle him then--good morningsir."
Several days passedand I heard nothing more; and though I often felt acharitable prompting to call at the place and see
poor Bartlebyyet a certain squeamishness of I know not what withheld me.
All is over with himby this timethought I at lastwhen through anotherweek no further intelligence reached me. But
coming to my room the day afterI found several persons waiting at my doorin a high state of nervous excitement.
"That's the man--here he comes" cried the foremost onewhom Irecognized as the lawyer who had previously called upon
"You must take him awaysirat once" cried a portly person amongthemadvancing upon meand whom I knew to be the
landlord of No. -- Wall-street. "These gentlemenmy tenantscannotstand it any longer; Mr. B----" pointing to the lawyer
"has turned him out of his roomand he now persists in haunting thebuilding generallysitting upon the banisters of the
stairs by dayand sleeping in the entry by night. Every body is concerned;clients are leaving the offices; some fears are
entertained of a mob; something you must doand that without delay."
Aghast at this torrentI fell back before itand would fain have lockedmyself in my new quarters. In vain I persisted that
Bartleby was nothing to me--no more than to any one else. In vain:--I was thelast person known to have any thing to do with
himand they held me to the terrible account. Fearful then of being exposedin the papers (as one person present obscurely
threatened) I considered the matterand at length saidthat if the lawyerwould give me a confidential interview with the
scrivenerin his (the lawyer's) own roomI would that afternoon strive mybest to rid them of the nuisance they complained
Going up stairs to my old hauntthere was Bartleby silently sitting upon thebanister at the landing.
"What are you doing hereBartleby?" said I.
"Sitting upon the banister" he mildly replied..HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
I motioned him into the lawyer's roomwho then left us.
"Bartleby" said I"are you aware that you are the cause ofgreat tribulation to meby persisting in occupying the entry after
being dismissed from the office?"
"Now one of two things must take place. Either you must do somethingorsomething must be done to you. Now what sort of
business would you like to engage in? Would you like to re-engage in copyingfor some one?"
"No; I would prefer not to make any change."
"Would you like a clerkship in a dry-goods store?"
"There is too much confinement about that. NoI would not like aclerkship; but I am not particular."
"Too much confinement" I cried"why you keep yourselfconfined all the time!"
"I would prefer not to take a clerkship" he rejoinedas if tosettle that little item at once.
"How would a bar-tender's business suit you? There is no trying of theeyesight in that."
"I would not like it at all; thoughas I said beforeI am notparticular."
His unwonted wordiness inspirited me. I returned to the charge.
"Well thenwould you like to travel through the country collectingbills for the merchants? That would improve your
"NoI would prefer to be doing something else."
"How then would going as a companion to Europeto entertain some younggentleman with your conversation--how would
that suit you?"
"Not at all. It does not strike me that there is any thing definiteabout that. I like to be stationary. But I am not particular."
"Stationary you shall be then" I criednow losing all patienceand for the first time in all my exasperating connection with
him fairly flying into a passion. "If you do not go away from thesepremises before nightI shall feel bound--indeed Iam
bound--to--to--to quit the premises myself!" I rather absurdlyconcludedknowing not with what possible threat to try to
frighten his immobility into compliance. Despairing of all further effortsIwas precipitately leaving himwhen a final
thought occurred to me--one which had not been wholly unindulged before.
"Bartleby" said Iin the kindest tone I could assume under suchexciting circumstances"will you go home with me now--
not to my officebut my dwelling--and remain there till we can conclude uponsome convenient arrangement for you at our
leisure? Comelet us start nowright away."
"No: at present I would prefer not to make any change at all."
I answered nothing; but effectually dodging every one by the suddenness andrapidity of my flightrushed from the building
ran up Wall-street towards Broadwayand jumping into the first omnibus wassoon removed from pursuit. As soon as
tranquillity returned I distinctly perceived that I had now done all that Ipossibly couldboth in respect to the demands of the
landlord and his tenantsand with regard to my own desire and sense of dutyto benefit Bartlebyand shield him from rude
persecution. I now strove to be entirely care-free and quiescent; and myconscience justified me in the attempt; though
indeed it was not so successful as I could have wished. So fearful was I ofbeing again hunted out by the incensed landlord
and his exasperated tenantsthatsurrendering my business to Nippersfor afew days I drove about the upper part of the
town and through the suburbsin my rockaway; crossed over to Jersey City andHobokenand paid fugitive visits to
Manhattanville and Astoria. In fact I almost lived in my rockaway for thetime.
When again I entered my officeloa note from the landlord lay upon thedesk. I opened it with trembling hands. It informed
me that the writer had sent to the policeand had Bartleby removed to theTombs as a vagrant. Moreoversince I knew more
about him than any one elsehe wished me to appear at that placeand make asuitable statement of the facts. These tidings
had a conflicting effect upon me. At first I was indignant; but at lastalmost approved. The landlord's energeticsummary
disposition had led him to adopt a procedure which I do not think I wouldhave decided upon myself; and yet as a last resort
under such peculiar circumstancesit seemed the only plan..HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
As I afterwards learnedthe poor scrivenerwhen told that he must beconducted to the Tombsoffered not the slightest
obstaclebut in his pale unmoving waysilently acquiesced.
Some of the compassionate and curious bystanders joined the party; and headedby one of the constables arm in arm with
Bartlebythe silent procession filed its way through all the noiseandheatand joy of the roaring thoroughfares at noon.
The same day I received the note I went to the Tombsor to speak moreproperlythe Halls of Justice. Seeking the right
officerI stated the purpose of my calland was informed that theindividual I described was indeed within. I then assured
the functionary that Bartleby was a perfectly honest manand greatly to becompassionatedhowever unaccountably
eccentric. I narrated all I knewand closed by suggesting the idea ofletting him remain in as indulgent confinement as
possible till something less harsh might be done--though indeed I hardly knewwhat. At all eventsif nothing else could be
decided uponthe alms-house must receive him. I then begged to have aninterview.
Being under no disgraceful chargeand quite serene and harmless in all hiswaysthey had permitted him freely to wander
about the prisonand especially in the inclosed grass-platted yards thereof.And so I found him therestanding all alone in
the quietest of the yardshis face towards a high wallwhile all aroundfrom the narrow slits of the jail windowsI thought I
saw peering out upon him the eyes of murderers and thieves.
"I know you" he saidwithout looking round--"and I wantnothing to say to you."
"It was not I that brought you hereBartleby" said Ikeenlypained at his implied suspicion. "And to youthis should not be
so vile a place. Nothing reproachful attaches to you by being here. And seeit is not so sad a place as one might think. Look
there is the skyand here is the grass."
"I know where I am" he repliedbut would say nothing moreand soI left him.
As I entered the corridor againa broad meat-like manin an apronaccostedmeand jerking his thumb over his shoulder
said--"Is that your friend?"
"Does he want to starve? If he doeslet him live on the prison farethat's all."
"Who are you?" asked Inot knowing what to make of such anunofficially speaking person in such a place.
"I am the grub-man. Such gentlemen as have friends herehire me toprovide them with something good to eat."
"Is this so?" said Iturning to the turnkey.
He said it was.
"Well then" said Islipping some silver into the grub-man's hands(for so they called him). "I want you to give particular
attention to my friend there; let him have the best dinner you can get. Andyou must be as polite to him as possible."
"Introduce mewill you?" said the grub-manlooking at me with anexpression which seem to say he was all impatience for
an opportunity to give a specimen of his breeding.
Thinking it would prove of benefit to the scrivenerI acquiesced; and askingthe grub-man his namewent up with him to
"Bartlebythis is Mr. Cutlets; you will find him very useful toyou."
"Your sarvantsiryour sarvant" said the grub-manmaking a lowsalutation behind his apron. "Hope you find it pleasant
heresir;--spacious grounds--cool apartmentssir--hope you'll stay with ussome time--try to make it agreeable. May Mrs.
Cutlets and I have the pleasure of your company to dinnersirin Mrs.Cutlets' private room?"
"I prefer not to dine to-day" said Bartlebyturning away."It would disagree with me; I am unused to dinners." So saying he
slowly moved to the other side of the inclosureand took up a positionfronting the dead-wall.
"How's this?" said the grub-manaddressing me with a stare ofastonishment. "He's oddaint he?"
"I think he is a little deranged" said Isadly.
"Deranged? deranged is it? Well nowupon my wordI thought that friendof yourn was a gentleman forger; they are always
pale and genteel-likethem forgers. I can't help pity 'em--can't help itsir. Did you know Monroe Edwards?" he added.HermanMelville Bartlebythe Scrivener
touchinglyand paused. Thenlaying his hand pityingly on my shouldersighed"he died of consumption at Sing-Sing. So
you weren't acquainted with Monroe?"
"NoI was never socially acquainted with any forgers. But I cannot stoplonger. Look to my friend yonder. You will not lose
by it. I will see you again."
Some few days after thisI again obtained admission to the Tombsand wentthrough the corridors in quest of Bartleby; but
without finding him.
"I saw him coming from his cell not long ago" said a turnkey"may be he's gone to loiter in the yards."
So I went in that direction.
"Are you looking for the silent man?" said another turnkey passingme. "Yonder he lies--sleeping in the yard there. 'Tis not
twenty minutes since I saw him lie down."
The yard was entirely quiet. It was not accessible to the common prisoners.The surrounding wallsof amazing thickness
kept off all sounds behind them. The Egyptian character of the masonryweighed upon me with its gloom. But a soft
imprisoned turf grew under foot. The heart of the eternal pyramidsitseemedwhereinby some strange magicthrough the
cleftsgrass-seeddropped by birdshad sprung.
Strangely huddled at the base of the wallhis knees drawn upand lying onhis sidehis head touching the cold stonesI saw
the wasted Bartleby. But nothing stirred. I paused; then went close up tohim; stooped overand saw that his dim eyes were
open; otherwise he seemed profoundly sleeping. Something prompted me to touchhim. I felt his handwhen a tingling
shiver ran up my arm and down my spine to my feet.
The round face of the grub-man peered upon me now. "His dinner is ready.Won't he dine to-dayeither? Or does he live
"Lives without dining" said Iand closed the eyes.
"Eh!--He's asleepaint he?"
"With kings and counsellors" murmured I.
There would seem little need for proceeding further in this history.Imagination will readily supply the meagre recital of poor
Bartleby's interment. But ere parting with the readerlet me saythat ifthis little narrative has sufficiently interested himto
awaken curiosity as to who Bartleby wasand what manner of life he led priorto the present narrator's making his
acquaintanceI can only replythat in such curiosity I fully sharebut amwholly unable to gratify it. Yet here I hardly know
whether I should divulge one little item of rumorwhich came to my ear a fewmonths after the scrivener's decease. Upon
what basis it restedI could never ascertain; and hencehow true it is Icannot now tell. But inasmuch as this vague report
has not been without a certain strange suggestive interest to mehoweversadit may prove the same with some others; and
so I will briefly mention it. The report was this: that Bartleby had been asubordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at
Washingtonfrom which he had been suddenly removed by a change in theadministration. When I think over this rumorI
cannot adequately express the emotions which seize me. Dead letters! does itnot sound like dead men? Conceive a man by
nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessnesscan any business seemmore fitted to heighten it than that of
continually handling these dead letters and assorting them for the flames?For by the cart-load they are annually burned.
Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring:--the fingerit was meant forperhapsmoulders in the grave;
a bank-note sent in swiftest charity:--he whom it would relievenor eats norhungers any more; pardon for those who died
despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who diedstifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands
of lifethese letters speed to death.
Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!
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