"Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street" (1853)
Prepared by Ann
Woodlief, Virginia Commonwealth University
Click on text in red for hypertext notes and questions
am a man. The nature of my
for the last thirty years has brought me into more than ordinary contact
with what an interesting and somewhat singular set of men of whom as yet
nothing that I know of has ever been written:-- I mean the
I have known very many of them, professionally and privately, and if I
pleased, could relate divers histories, at which good-natured gentlemen
might smile, and sentimental souls might weep. But I waive the biographies
of all other scriveners for a few
in the life of Bartleby, who was a scrivener the
I ever saw or heard of. While of other law-copyists I might write the
, of Bartleby nothing of that sort can be done. I believe that
no materials exist for a full and of this man. It is an irreparable loss to literature. Bartleby
was one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable, except from
the original sources, and in his case those are very small. What my own
astonished eyes saw of Bartleby, that is all I know of him, except, indeed,
one vague report which will appear in the .
Ere introducing the scrivener, as he first appeared to me, it is fit
I make some mention of myself, my employees, my business, my chambers,
and general surroundings; because some such description is indispensable
to an adequate understanding of the chief character about to be presented.
Imprimis: I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has been
filled with a profound conviction that . Hence, though I belong to a profession
proverbially energetic and nervous, even to turbulence, at times, yet
nothing of that sort have I ever suffered to
my peace. I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses
a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquillity
of a snug retreat, do a among rich men's bonds and mortgages and title-deeds. The
late , a personage little given to poetic enthusiasm, had
no hesitation in pronouncing my to be prudence; my next, method. I do not , but simply record the fact, that I was not unemployed
in my profession by the last John Jacob Astor; a name which, I admit,
I love to repeat, for it hath a rounded and orbicular sound to it, and
I will freely add, that I was the late John Jacob Astor's good opinion.
Some time prior to the period at which this little history begins,
my avocations had been largely increased. The good old office, in the State of New York, of a Master in Chancery, had been
conferred upon me. It was not a very arduous office, but very pleasantly
remunerative. ; much more seldom indulge in dangerous indignation
at wrongs and outrages; but I must be permitted to be rash here and
declare, that I consider the sudden and violent abrogation of the office
of Master of Chancery, by the new Constitution, as a----; inasmuch as I had counted upon a life-lease of the profits,
whereas I only received those of a few short years. But this is .
My chambers were up stairs at No.--Wall-street. At one end they looked
upon the white wall of the interior of a spacious sky-light shaft, penetrating
the building from top to bottom. This view might have been considered
rather tame than otherwise, But if so, the view from
the other end of my chambers offered, at least, a contrast, if nothing
more. In that direction my windows commanded an unobstructed view of
a black by age and everlasting shade; which wall required
no spy-glass to bring out its lurking beauties, but for the benefit
of all near-sighted spectators, was pushed up to within ten feet of
my window panes. Owing to the great height of the surrounding buildings,
and my chambers being on the second floor, the interval between this
wall and mine not a little resembled a huge square .
At the period just preceding the advent of Bartleby, I had two persons
as copyists in my employment, and a promising lad as an office-boy.
First, Turkey; second, Nippers; third, Ginger Nut.These may seem names,
the like of which are not usually found in the Directory. In truth they
mutually conferred upon each other by my three clerks, and were deemed
expressive of their respective persons or characters. Turkey was a short,
pursy Englishman of about my own age, that is, somewhere not far from
sixty. In the morning, one might say, his face was of a fine florid
hue, but after twelve o'clock, meridian---- it blazed like a grate full of Christmas coals; and
continued blazing--but, as it were, with a gradual wane--till 6 o'clock,
P.M. or thereabouts, after which I saw no more of the proprietor of
the face, which gaining its meridian with the sun, seemed to set with
it, to rise, culminate, and decline the following day, with the like
regularity and undiminished glory. There are many singular coincidences
I have known in the course of my life, not the least among which was
the fact that exactly when Turkey displayed his fullest beams from his
red and radiant countenance, just then, too, at the critical moment,
began the daily period when I considered his business capacities as
seriously disturbed for the remainder of the twenty-four hours. Not
that he was absolutely idle, or averse to business then; far from it.
The difficulty was, he was apt to be altogether . There was a strange, inflamed, flurried, flighty recklessness
of activity about him. He would be incautious in dipping his pen into
his inkstand. All his blots upon my documents, were dropped there after
twelve o'clock, meridian. Indeed, not only would he be reckless and
sadly given to making blots in the afternoon, but some days he went
further, and was rather .
At such times, too, his face flamed with augmented blazonry, as if 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 pieces, and threw them on the floor in a sudden passion;
stood up and leaned over his table, boxing his papers about in a most
like him. Nevertheless,
as he was in many ways a most valuable person to me, and all the time
before twelve o'clock, meridian, was the quickest, steadiest creature
too, accomplishing a great deal of work in a style not easy to be matched--for
these reasons, to overlook his eccentricities, though indeed, occasionally,
I remonstrated with him. I did this very gently, however, because, though
the civilest, nay, the blandest and most reverential of men in the morning,
yet in the afternoon he was disposed, upon provocation, to be slightly
rash with his tongue, in fact, insolent. Now, valuing his morning services
as I did, and resolved not to lose them; yet, at the same time made
uncomfortable by his inflamed ways after twelve o'clock; and being a
, unwilling by my admonitions to call forth unseemingly
retorts from him; I took upon me, one Saturday noon (he was always worse
on Saturdays), to hint to him, very kindly, that perhaps now that he
was growing old, it might be well to abridge his labors; in short, he
need not come to my chambers after twelve o'clock, but, dinner over,
had best go home to his lodgings and rest himself till tea-time. But
no; he insisted upon his afternoon .
His countenance became intolerably fervid, as he oratorically assured
me--gesticulating with a long ruler at the other end of the room--that
if his services in the morning were useful, how indispensible, then,
in the afternoon?
"" said Turkey on this occasion, "I consider myself
your right-hand man. In the morning I but marshal and deploy my columns;
but in the afternoon , and gallantly charge the foe, thus!"--and
he made a with the ruler.
"But the blots, Turkey," intimated I.
"True,--but, with submission, sir, behold these hairs! I am getting
old. Surely, sir, a blot or two of a warm afternoon is not the page--is
honorable. With submission, sir, we both are getting old."
was hardly to be resisted. At all events,
I saw that go he would not. So I made up my mind to let him stay, resolving,
nevertheless, to see to it, that during the afternoon he had to do with
my less important papers.
Nippers, the second on my list, was a whiskered, sallow, and, upon
the whole, rather
young man of about five and twenty. I always deemed him the victim of
two evil powers-- ambition and indigestion. The ambition was evinced
by a certain impatience of the duties of a an unwarrantable usurpation of strictly profession affairs,
such as the of legal documents. The indigestion seemed betokened
in an occasional nervous testiness and grinning irritability, causing
the teeth to audibly grind together over mistakes committed in copying;
unnecessary maledictions, hissed, rather than spoken, in the heat of
business; and especially by a with the height of the table where he worked. Though
of a very ingenious mechanical turn, Nippers could never get this table
to suit him. He put chips under it, blocks of various sorts, bits of
pasteboard, and at last went so far as to attempt an exquisite adjustment
by final pieces of folded blotting-paper. But no invention would answer.
If, for the sake of easing his back, he brought the table lid at a sharp
angle well up towards his chin, and wrote there like a man using the
steep roof of a Dutch house for his desk:--then he declared that it
stopped the circulation in his arms. If now he lowered the table to
his waistbands, and stooped over it in writing, then there was a sore
aching in his back. In short, the truth of the matter was, Nippers knew
not what he wanted. Or, , it 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-looking fellows in seedy
coats, whom he called his clients. Indeed I was aware that not only
was he, at times, considerable of a ward-politician, but he occasionally
did at the Justices' courts, and was not unknown on
the steps of the Tombs. I have good reason to believe, however, that
one individual who called upon him at my chambers, and who, with a grand
air, he insisted was his client, was no other than a dun, and the alleged
title-deed, a bill. But with all his failings, and the annoyances he
caused me, Nippers, like his compatriot Turkey, was a very to me; wrote a neat, swift hand; and, when he chose, was not
deficient in a gentlemanly sort of deportment. Added to this, he in a gentlemanly sort of way; and so, incidentally, reflected
credit upon my chambers. Whereas with respect to Turkey, I had much
ado to keep him from being a reproach to me. His clothes were apt to
look oily and smell of eating-houses. He wore his pantaloons very loose
and baggy in summer. His coats were execrable; his hat not to be handled.
But while the
was a thing of indifference to me, inasmuch as his natural civility
and deference, as a dependent Englishman, always led him to doff it
the moment he entered the room, yet his coat was another matter. Concerning
his coats, I reasoned with him; but with no effect. The truth was, I
suppose, that a man with so small an income, could not afford to sport
such a lustrous face and a lustrous coat at one and the same time. As
Nippers once observed, Turkey's money went chiefly for red ink. One
winter day with a highly-respectable looking coat of my
own, a padded gray coat, of a most comfortable warmth, and which buttoned
straight up from the knee to the neck. I thought Turkey would appreciate
the favor, and abate his rashness and obstreperousness of afternoons.
But no. I verily believe that buttoning himself up in so downy and blanket-like
a coat had a pernicious effect upon him; upon the same principle that
too much oats are bad for horses. In fact, precisely as a rash, restive
, so Turkey felt his coat. It made him insolent.
He was a man whom prosperity harmed.
Though concerning the self-indulgent habits of Turkey I had my own
private surmises, yet touching Nippers I was well persuaded that whatever
might be his faults in other respects, he was, at least, a temperate
young man. But indeed, nature herself seemed to have been his ,
and at his birth charged him so thoroughly with an irritable, brandy-like
disposition, that all subsequent potations were needless. When I consider
how, amid the stillness of my chambers, Nippers would sometimes impatiently
rise from his seat, and stooping over his table, spread his arms wide
apart, seize the whole desk, and move it, and jerk it, with a grim,
grinding motion on the floor, as if the table were a , intent on thwarting and vexing him; I plainly perceive
that for Nippers, brandy and water were altogether superfluous.
It was fortunate for me that, owing to its course--indigestion--the
irritability and consequent nervousness of Nippers, were mainly observable
in the morning, while in the afternoon he was comparatively mild. So
that Turkey's paroxysms only coming on about twelve o'clock, I never
had to do with their eccentricities at one time. Their fits relieved
each other like guards. When Nippers' was on, Turkey's was off, and
vice versa. This was a under the circumstances.
Ginger Nut, the third on my list, was a lad some twelve years old.
His father was a carman, ambitious of seeing his son on the bench instead
of a cart, before he died. So he sent him to my office as a student
at law, errand boy, and cleaner and sweeper, at the rate of one dollar
a week. He had a little desk to himself, but he did not use it much.
Upon inspection, the drawer exhibited a great array of the shells of
various sorts of nuts. Indeed, to this quick-witted youth the whole
noble science of the law was . Not the least among the employments of Ginger Nut,
as well as one which he discharged with the most alacrity, was his duty
as cake and apple purveyor for Turkey and Nippers. Copying law papers
being proverbially a sort of business, my two scriveners were fain to moisten their
mouths very often with Spitzenbergs to be had at the numerous stalls
nigh the Custom House and Post Office. Also, they sent Ginger Nut very
frequently for that peculiar cake--small, flat, round, and very spicy--after
which he had been named by them. Of a cold morning when business was
but dull, Turkey would gobble up scores of these cakes, as if they were
mere wafers--indeed they sell them at the rate of six or eight for a
penny--the scrape of his pen blending with the crunching of the crisp
particles in his mouth. Of all the fiery afternoon blunders and flurried
rashnesses of Turkey, was his once moistening a ginger-cake between
his lips, and clapping it on to a mortgage for a seal. of dismissing him then. But he mollified me by
making an oriental bow, and saying--"With submission, sir, it was generous
of me in stationery on my own account."
Now my original business--that of a , and drawer-up of recondite documents of all sorts--was
considerably increased by receiving the master's office. There was now
great work for scriveners. Not only must I push the clerks already with
me, but I must have additional help. In answer to my advertisement,
a motionless young man one morning, stood upon my office threshold,
the door being open, for it was summer. I can see that figure now--, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn! It was Bartleby.
After a few words touching his qualifications, I engaged him, glad
to have among of copyists a man of so an aspect, which I thought might operate beneficially upon
the flighty temper of Turkey, and the fiery one of Nippers.
I should have stated before that ground glass folding-doors divided
my premises into two parts, one of which was occupied by my scriveners,
the other by myself. I threw open these doors, or closed them. I resolved
to assign Bartleby a corner by the folding-doors, but on my side of
them, so as to have this quiet man within easy call, in case any was to be done. I placed his desk close up to a small side
window in that part of the room, a window which originally had afforded
a lateral view of certain grimy back-yards and bricks, but which, owing
to commanded at present no view at all, though it gave some
light. Within three feet of the panes was a wall, and the light came
down from far above, between two lofty buildings, as from a very small
opening in a dome. Still further to a satisfactory arrangement, I procured
, which might entirely isolate Bartleby
from my sight, though not remove him from . And thus, in a manner, privacy and society were
At first Bartleby did an extraordinary quantity of writing. As if
for something to copy, he seemed to
himself on my documents. There was no pause for digestion. He ran a
day and night line, copying by sun-light and by candle-light. I should
have been quite delighted with his application, had be been . But he wrote on silently, palely,
It is, of course, an indispensable part of a scrivener's business
to verify the accuracy of his copy, word by word. Where there are two
or more scriveners in an office, they assist each other in this examination,
one reading from the copy, the other holding the original. It is a affair. I can readily imagine that
temperaments it would be altogether intolerable. For example, I cannot
credit that the would have contentedly sat down with Bartleby to examine
a law document of, say five hundred pages, closely written in a crimpy
Now and then, in the haste of business, it had been my habit to assist
in comparing some brief document myself, calling Turkey or Nippers for
this purpose. One object I had in placing Bartleby so handy to me behind
the screen, was to avail myself of his services on such . It was on the third day, I think, of his being with me,
and before any necessity had arisen for having his own writing examined,
that, being much hurried to complete a small affair I had in hand, I
abruptly called to Bartleby. In my haste and , I sat with my head bent over the
original on my desk, and my right hand sideways, and somewhat nervously
extended with the copy, so that immediately upon emerging from his retreat,
it and proceed to business without the least delay.
In this very attitude did I sit when I called to him, rapidly stating
what it was I wanted him to do--namely, to examine a small paper with
me. Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving
from his privacy, Bartleby in a singularly , replied,
I sat awhile in perfect silence, rallying my stunned faculties. Immediately
it occurred to me that my ears had deceived me, or Bartleby had entirely
misunderstood my meaning. I repeated my request in the clearest tone
I could assume. But in quite as clear a one came the previous reply,
"I would prefer not to."
"Prefer not to," echoed I, rising in high excitement, and crossing
the room with a stride, "What do you mean? Are you ?
I want you to help me compare this sheet here--take it," and I thrust
it towards him.
"I would prefer not to," said he.
I looked at him steadfastly. His face was leanly composed; his gray
eye dimly calm. Not a wrinkle of agitation rippled him. Had there been
the least uneasiness, anger, impatience or impertinence in his manner;
in other words, had there been any thing about him, doubtless him from the premises. But as it
was, I should have as soon thought of turning my pale out of doors. I stood gazing at him awhile, as he
went on with his own writing, and then reseated myself at my desk. This
is very strange, thought I. What had
best do? But my business hurried me. I concluded to forget the matter
for the present, reserving it for my future leisure. So calling Nippers
from the other room, the paper was speedily examined.
A few days after this, Bartleby concluded four lengthy documents,
being quadruplicates of a week's testimony taken before me in my High
Court of Chancery. It became necessary to examine them. It was an important
suit, and great accuracy was imperative. Having all things arranged
I called Turkey, Nippers and Ginger Nut from the next room, meaning
to place the four copies in the hands of my four clerks, while I should
read from the original. Accordingly Turkey, Nippers and Ginger Nut had
taken their seats in a row, each with his document in hand, when I called
to Bartleby to join this .
"Bartleby! quick, I am waiting."
I heard a low scrape of his chair legs on the unscraped floor, and
soon he appeared standing at the entrance of his
"What is wanted?" said he mildly.
"The copies, the copies," said I hurriedly. "We are going to examine
them. There"--and I held towards him the fourth quadruplicate.
"I would prefer not to," he said, and gently disappeared behind the
For a few moments I was turned into standing at the head of my seated column of clerks.
Recovering myself, I
towards the screen, and demanded the reason for such extraordinary conduct.
"Why do you refuse?"
"I would prefer not to."
With any other man I should have scorned all further words, and
thrust him ignominiously from my presence. But there was something about
Bartleby that not only strangely disarmed me, but 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 saving
to you, because one examination will answer for your four papers. Every copyist is bound to help examine his copy.
Is it not so? Will you not speak? Answer!"
"I prefer not to," he replied in a flute-like tone. It seemed to me
that while I had been addressing him, he carefully revolved every statement
that I made; fully comprehended the meaning; could not gainsay the irresistible
conclusion; but, at the same time, some paramount consideration prevailed
with him to reply as he did.
"You are decided, then, not to comply with my request--a request made
according to common usage and common sense?"
He briefly gave me to understand that on that point Yes: his decision was irreversible.
It is not seldom the case that when a man is
in some unprecedented and violently unreasonable way, in his own plainest faith. He begins, as it were,
vaguely to surmise that, wonderful as it may be, all the justice and
all the reason is on the other side. Accordingly, if any disinterested
persons are present, he turns to them for some reinforcement for his
"Turkey," said I, "what do you think of this? Am I not right?"
"With submission, sir," said Turkey, with his blandest tone, "I think
that you are."
"Nippers," said I, "what do you think of it?"
"I think I should kick him out of the office."
(The reader of nice perceptions will here perceive that, it being morning,
Turkey's answer is couched in polite and tranquil terms, but Nippers
replies in ill-tempered ones. Or, to repeat a previous sentence, Nipper's
ugly mood was on duty, and Turkey's off.)
"Ginger Nut," said I, willing to enlist the smallest suffrage in my
behalf, "what do you think of it?"
"I think, sir, he's a little luny," replied Ginger Nut, with
"You hear what they say," said I, turning towards the screen, "come
forth and ."
But he vouchsafed no reply. I pondered a moment in sore perplexity.
But once more business hurried me. I determined
to postpone the consideration of this dilemma to my future leisure.
With a little trouble we made out to examine the papers without Bartleby,
though at every page or two, Turkey deferentially dropped his opinion
that this proceeding was quite out of the common; while Nippers, twitching
in his chair with a dyspeptic nervousness, ground out between his set
teeth occasional hissing maledictions against the stubborn oaf behind
the screen. And for his (Nipper's) part, this was the first and the
last time he would do another man's business without pay.
Meanwhile Bartleby sat in his hermitage, oblivious to every thing but
his own peculiar business there.
Some days passed, the scrivener being employed upon another lengthy
work. His late remarkable conduct led me to regard his way narrowly.
I observed that he never went to dinner; indeed that he never went any
where. As yet I had never of my personal knowledge known him to be outside
of my office. He was a in the corner. At about eleven o'clock though, in
the morning, I noticed that Ginger Nut would advance toward the opening
in Bartleby's screen, as if silently beckoned thither by a gesture invisible
to me where I sat. That boy would then leave the office jingling a few
pence, and reappear with a handful of ginger-nuts which he delivered
in the hermitage, receiving two of the cakes for his trouble.
He lives, then, on ginger-nuts, thought I; never eats a dinner, properly
speaking; he must be a vegetarian then, but no; he never eats even vegetables,
he . My mind then ran on in reveries concerning
the probable effects upon the human constitution of living entirely
on ginger-nuts. Ginger-nuts are so called because they contain ginger
as one of their peculiar constituents, and the final flavoring one.
Now what was ginger? A hot, spicy thing. Was Bartleby hot and spicy?
Not at all. Ginger, then, had no effect upon Bartleby. Probably
Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a If the individual so resisted be of a not inhumane temper,
and the resisting one perfectly harmless in his passivity; then, in
the better moods of the former, he will endeavor charitably to what proves impossible to be solved by his judgment.
Even so, for the most part, I regarded Bartleby and his ways. Poor fellow!
thought I, he means no mischief; it is plain he intends no insolence;
his aspect sufficiently evinces that his eccentricities are involuntary.
. I can get along with him. If I turn him away, the
chances are he will fall in with some less indulgent employer, and then
he will be rudely treated, and perhaps driven forth miserably to starve.
Yes. Here a delicious self-approval. To befriend Bartleby;
to humor him in his strange willfulness, will cost me little or nothing,
while I lay up in my soul what will eventually prove a for my conscience. But this mood was not invariable with
me. The passiveness of Bartleby sometimes irritated me. I felt strangely
goaded on to encounter him in new opposition, to elicit some angry spark
from him answerable to my own. But indeed I might as well have essayed
to strike fire with my knuckles against a bit of . But one afternoon the evil impulse in me mastered me, and
the following little scene ensued:
"Bartleby," said I, "when those papers are all copied, I will compare
them with you."
"I would prefer not to."
"How? Surely you do not mean to persist in that "
I threw open the folding-doors near by, and turning upon Turkey and
Nippers, exclaimed in an excited manner--
"He says, a second time, he won't examine his papers. What do you think
of it, Turkey?"
It was afternoon, be it remembered. Turkey sat glowing like a brass
boiler, his bald head steaming, his hands reeling among his blotted
"Think of it?" roared Turkey; "I think I'll just step behind his screen,
and black his eyes for him!"
So saying, Turkey rose to his feet and threw his arms into a . He was hurrying away to make good his promise, when I
detained him, alarmed at the effect of incautiously rousing Turkey's
combativeness after dinner.
"Sit down, Turkey," said I, "and hear what Nippers has to say. What
do you think of it, Nippers? Would I not be justified in immediately
"Excuse me, that is for you to decide, sir. I think his conduct quite
unusual, and indeed unjust, as regards Turkey and myself. But it may
only be a passing whim."
"Ah," exclaimed I, "you have strangely changed your mind then--you
speak very gently of him now."
"All beer," cried Turkey; "gentleness is effects of beer--Nippers and
I dined together to-day. You see how gentle I am, sir. Shall I go and
black his eyes?"
"You refer to Bartleby, I suppose. No, not to-day, Turkey," I replied;
"pray, put up your fists."
I closed the doors, and again advanced towards Bartleby. I felt additional
incentives tempting me to my fate. I remembered that Bartleby
never left the office.
"Bartleby," said I, "Ginger Nut is away; just step round to the , won't you? (it was but a three minutes walk,) and see if
there is any thing for me."
"I would prefer not to."
"You will not?"
"I prefer not."
to my desk, and sat there in a deep study. My returned. Was there any other thing in which I could
procure myself to be
repulsed by this lean, penniless with?--? What added thing is there, perfectly reasonable, that
he will be sure to refuse to do?
"Bartleby," in a louder tone.
"Bartleby," I roared.
Like , agreeably to the laws of magical invocation, at the
third summons, he appeared at the entrance of his hermitage.
"Go to the next room, and tell Nippers to come to me."
"I prefer not to," he and slowly said, and mildly disappeared.
"Very good, Bartleby," said I, in a quiet sort of serenely severe self-possessed
tone, intimating the unalterable purpose of some very close at hand. At the moment I half intended something
of the kind. But upon the whole, as it was drawing towards my dinner-hour,
I thought it best to put on my hat and walk home for the day, .
The conclusion of this whole business was that
it soon became a fixed fact of my chambers, that a pale young scrivener,
by the name of Bartleby, had a desk there; that he copied for me at
the usual rate of (one hundred words); but he was permanently exempt
from examining the work done by him, that duty being transferred to
Turkey and Nippers, one of compliment doubtless to their superior acuteness;
moreover, said Bartleby was never on any account to be dispatched on
the most trivial errand of any sort; and that even if entreated to take
upon him such a matter, it was generally understood that he would prefer
not to--in other words, that he would refuse
32 As days passed on, I became considerably reconciled to Bartleby.
His steadiness, his freedom from all dissipation, his incessant industry
(except when he chose to throw himself into a standing revery behind
his screen), his great stillness, his unalterableness of demeanor under
all circumstances, made him . One prime thing was this,--he was always there;--first
in the morning, continually through the day, and the last at night.
I had a singular confidence in his honesty. I felt my most precious
papers perfectly safe in his hands. Sometimes to be sure I could not,
, avoid falling into sudden spasmodic passions
with him. For it was exceeding difficult to bear in mind all the time
those strange peculiarities, privileges, and unheard of exemptions,
forming the tacit stipulations on Bartleby's part under which he remained
in my office. Now and then, in the eagerness of dispatching pressing
business, I would inadvertently summon Bartleby, in a short, rapid tone,
to put his finger, say, on the incipient tie of a bit of red tape with
which I was about compressing some papers. Of course, from behind the
screen the usual answer, "I prefer not to," was sure to come; and then,
with the common infirmities of our nature,
refrain from bitterly exclaiming upon such perverseness--such unreasonableness.
However, every added repulse of this sort which I received only the probability of my repeating the inadvertence.
Here is must be said, that according to the custom of most legal gentlemen
occupying chambers in densely-populated law buildings, there were several
keys to my door. One was kept by a woman residing in the attic, which
person weekly scrubbed and daily swept and dusted my apartments. Another
was kept by Turkey for convenience sake. The third I sometimes carried
in my own pocket. The fourth I knew not who had.
Now, one Sunday morning I happened to go to Trinity Church, , and finding myself rather early on the
ground, I thought I would walk round to my chambers for a while. Luckily
I had my key with me; but upon applying it to the lock, I found it resisted
by something inserted from the inside. Quite surprised, I called out;
when to my consternation a key was turned from within; and thrusting
his lean visage at me, and holding the door ajar, of Bartleby appeared, in his shirt sleeves, and otherwise
in a strangely tattered dishabille, saying quietly that he was sorry,
but he was deeply engaged just then, and--preferred not admitting me
at present. In a brief word or two, he moreover added, that perhaps
I had better walk round the block two or three times, and by that time
he would probably have concluded his affairs. Now, the utterly of Bartleby, tenanting my law-chambers of a Sunday morning,
gentlemanly nonchalance, yet withal firm and self-possessed, had such
a strange effect upon me, that incontinently I slunk away from my own
door, and did as desired. But not without sundry twinges of impotent
rebellion against the mild effrontery of this unaccountable scrivener.
Indeed, it was his wonderful mildness chiefly, which not only disarmed
me, as it were. For I consider that one, for the time, is a sort of
unmanned when he tranquilly permits his hired clerk to dictate to him,
and away from his own premises. Furthermore, I was full of uneasiness
as to what Bartleby could possibly be doing in my office in his shirt
sleeves, and in an otherwise dismantled condition of a Sunday morning.
Was any thing amiss going on? Nay, that was out of the question. It
was not to be thought of for a moment that Bartleby was an immoral person.
But what could he be doing there?--copying? Nay again, whatever might
be his eccentricities, Bartleby was an eminently decorous person. He
would be the last man to sit down to his desk in any state approaching
to nudity. Besides, it was Sunday; and there was something about Bartleby
that forbade the supposition that we would by any secular occupation
violate of the day.
Nevertheless, my mind was not pacified; and full of a restless curiosity,
at last I returned to the door. Without hindrance I inserted my key,
opened it, and entered. Bartleby was not to be seen. I looked round
anxiously, peeped behind his screen; but it was very plain that he was
gone. Upon more closely examining the place, I surmised that for an
indefinite period Bartleby must have ate, dressed, and slept in my office,
and that too without plate, mirror, or bed. The cushioned seat of a
rickety old sofa in one corner bore t faint impress of a lean, reclining
form. Rolled away under his desk, I found a blanket; under the empty
grate, a blacking box and brush; on a chair, a tin basin, with soap
and a ragged towel; in a newspaper a few crumbs of ginger-nuts and a
morsel of cheese. Yet, thought I, it is evident enough that Bartleby
has been making his home here, keeping all by himself. Immediately then the thought came sweeping
across me, What miserable friendlessness and loneliness are here revealed!
His poverty is great; but his solitude, Think of it. Of a Sunday, Wall-street is deserted as ;
and every night of every day it is an emptiness. This building too,
which of week-days hums with industry and life, at nightfall echoes
with sheer vacancy, and all through Sunday is forlorn. And here Bartleby
makes his home; sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous--a
sort of innocent and transformed
For the a feeling of overpowering stinging melancholy seized
me. Before, I had never experienced aught but a not-unpleasing sadness.
The bond of a common humanity now drew me irresistibly to gloom. A fraternal
melancholy! For both I and Bartleby were . I remembered the bright silks and sparkling faces I had
seen that day in gala trim, swan-like sailing down the Mississippi of
Broadway; and I contrasted them with the pallid copyist, and thought
to myself, Ah, happiness courts the light, so we deem the world is gay;
but misery hides aloof, so we deem that misery there is none. These
sad fancyings-- ,
doubtless, of a sick and silly brain--led on to other and more special
thoughts, concerning the eccentricities of Bartleby. Presentiments of
strange discoveries hovered round me. The scrivener's pale form appeared
to me , among uncaring strangers, in its shivering winding sheet.
Suddenly I was attracted by Bartleby's closed desk, the key in open
sight left in the lock.
seek the gratification of no heartless curiosity,
thought I; besides, the desk is mine, and its contents too, so I will
make bold to look within. Every thing was methodically arranged, the
papers smoothly placed. The pigeon holes were deep, and removing the
files of documents, I groped into their recesses. Presently I felt something
there, and dragged it out. It was an old bandanna handkerchief, heavy
and knotted. I opened it, and saw it was a savings' bank.
I now recalled all the quiet mysteries which I had noted in the man.
I remembered that he never spoke but to answer; that though at intervals
he had considerable time to himself, yet I had never seen him reading--no,
not even a newspaper; that for long periods he would stand looking out,
at his pale window behind the screen, upon the dead brick wall; I was
quite sure he never visited any refectory or eating house; while his
pale face clearly indicated that he never drank beer like Turkey, or
tea and coffee even, like other men; that he never went any where in
particular that I could learn; never went out for a walk, unless indeed
that was the case at present; that he had declined telling who he was,
or whence he came, or whether he had any relatives in the world; that
though so thin and pale, he never complained of ill health. And more
than all, I remembered a certain unconscious air of pallid--how shall
I call it?--of , say, or rather an austere reserve about him, which
had positively awed me into my tame compliance with his eccentricities,
when I had feared to ask him to do the slightest incidental thing for
me, even though I might know, from his long-continued motionlessness,
that behind his screen he must be standing in one of those of his.
Revolving all these things, and coupling them with the recently discovered
fact that he made my office his constant abiding place and home, and
not forgetful of his morbid moodiness; revolving all these things, a
began to steal over me. My first emotions had been those
of pure melancholy and sincerest pity; but just in proportion as the
forlornness of Bartleby grew and grew to my imagination, did that same
melancholy merge into ,
that pity into repulsion. So true it is, and so terrible too, that up
to a certain point the thought or sight of misery enlists our best affections;
but, in certain special cases, beyond that point it does not. They err
who would assert that invariably this is owing to the inherent selfishness
of the human heart. It rather proceeds from a certain hopelessness of
remedying excessive and organic ill. To a sensitive being, pity is not
seldom pain. And when at last it is perceived that such pity cannot
lead to effectual succor, common sense bids the soul be rid of it. What
I saw that morning persuaded me that the scrivener was the victim I might give alms to his body; but
his body did not pain him; it was his soul that suffered, and
I did not accomplish the purpose of going to Trinity Church that morning.
Somehow, for the time from church-going.
I walked homeward, thinking what I would do with Bartleby. Finally,
I upon this;--I would put certain calm questions to him the next morning,
touching his history, &c., and if he declined to answer then openly
and reservedly (and I supposed he would prefer not), then to give him
a twenty dollar bill over and above whatever I might owe him, and tell
him his services were no longer required; but that if in any other way
I could assist him, I would be happy to do so, especially if he desired
to return to his native place, wherever that might be, I would willingly
help to defray the expenses. Moreover, if after reaching home, he found
himself at any time in want of aid, a letter from him would be sure
of a reply.
The next morning came.
"Bartleby," said I, gently calling to him behind the screen.
"Bartleby," said I, in a still gentler tone, "come here; I am not 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 me, Bartleby,
"I would prefer not to."
"Will you tell me anything about yourself?"
"I would prefer not to."
"But what can you have to speak to me? I feel friendly towards you."
He did not look at me while I spoke, but kept his glance fixed upon
my , which as I then sat, was directly behind me, some six
inches above my head. "What is your answer, Bartleby?" said I, after
waiting a considerable time for a reply, during which his countenance
remained immovable, only there was the of the white attenuated mouth.
"At present I prefer to give no answer," he said, and retired into
It was rather weak in me I confess, but his manner on this occasion
nettled me. Not only did there seem to lurk in it a certain disdain,
but , considering the undeniable good
usage and indulgence he had received from me.
Again I sat ruminating what I should do.
as I was at his behavior, and resolved as I had been to dismiss him
when I entered my office, nevertheless I strangely felt something superstitious
knocking at my heart, and forbidding me to carry out my purpose, and
denouncing me for a villain if I dared to breathe one bitter word against
this forlornest of mankind. At last, familiarly drawing my chair behind
his screen, I sat down and said: "Bartleby, never mind then about revealing
your history; but let me entreat you, , to comply as far as may be with the usages of this office.
Say now you will help to examine papers tomorrow or next day: in short,
say now that in a day or two you will begin to be a little reasonable:--say
"At present I would prefer not to be a little ,"
Just then the folding-doors opened, and Nippers approached. He seemed
suffering from an unusually bad night's rest, induced by severer indigestion
than common. He overheard those final words of Bartleby.
not, eh?" gritted Nippers--"I'd prefer him, if I were you, sir,"
addressing me--"I'd prefer him; I'd give him preferences, the
stubborn mule! What is it, sir, pray, that he prefers not to
Bartleby moved not a limb.
Somehow, of late I had got into the way of involuntary using this word
"prefer" upon all sorts of not exactly suitable occasions. And I trembled
to think that my contact with the scrivener had already and seriously
affected me in a mental way. And what further and deeper
might it not yet produce? This apprehension had not been without
in determining me to summary means.
As Nippers, looking very sour and sulky, was departing, Turkey blandly
and deferentially approached.
"With submission, sir," said he, "yesterday I was thinking about Bartleby
here, and I think that if he would but prefer to take a quart of good
ale every day, it would do much towards mending him, and enabling him
to assist in examining his papers."
"So you have got the word too," said I, slightly excited.
"With submission, what word, sir," asked Turkey, respectfully crowding
himself into the contracted space behind the screen, and by so doing,
making me "What word, sir?"
"I would prefer to be left alone here," said Bartleby, as if offended
"That's the word, Turkey," said I--"that's it."
"Oh, prefer oh yes--queer word. I never use it myself. But,
sir as I was saying, if he would but prefer--"
"Turkey," interrupted I, "you will please withdraw."
"Oh, certainly, sir, ."
As he opened the folding-door to retire, Nippers at his desk caught
a glimpse of me, and asked whether I would prefer to have a certain
paper copied on blue paper or white. He did not in the least roguishly
accent the word prefer. It was plain that it involuntarily rolled from
his tongue. I thought to myself, surely I must get rid of a
man, who already has in some degree turned the tongues, if not the heads
of myself and clerks. But I thought it
not to break the dismission at once.
The next day I noticed that but stand at his window in his dead-wall revery. Upon
asking him why he did not write, he said that he had decided upon doing
no more writing.
"Why, how now? what next?" exclaimed I, "do no more writing?"
"And what is the reason?"
" for yourself," he indifferently replied.
I looked steadfastly at him, and perceived that his eyes looked dull
and glazed. Instantly it occurred to me, that his unexampled diligence
in copying by his dim window for the first few weeks of his stay with
me might have temporarily .
I was touched. I said something in condolence with him. I hinted that
of course he did wisely in abstaining from writing for a while; and
urged him to embrace that opportunity of taking wholesome exercise in
the open air. This, however, . A few days after this, my other clerks being absent,
and being in a great hurry to dispatch certain letters by the mail,
I thought that, having nothing else earthly to do, Bartleby would surely
be less inflexible than usual, and carry these letters . But he blankly declined. So, much to my inconvenience,
I went myself.
Still Whether Bartleby's eyes improved or not, I could not
say. To all appearance, I thought they did. But when I asked him if
they did, he vouchsafed no answer. At all events, he would do no copying.
At last, in reply to my urgings, he informed me that he had permanently
given up copying.
"What!" exclaimed I; "suppose your eyes should get entirely well- better
than ever before--would you not copy then?"
"I have given up copying," he answered, and
He remained as ever, in my chamber. Nay--if that were possible--he became still
more of a fixture than before. What was to be done? He would do nothing
in the office: why should he stay there? In plain fact, he had now become
a millstone to me, not only useless as a necklace, but afflictive to
bear. Yet I was sorry for him. I speak less than truth when I say that,
on his own account, he occasioned me uneasiness. If he would but have
named a single relative or friend, I would instantly have written, and
urged their taking the poor fellow away to some convenient retreat.
But he seemed alone, absolutely alone in the universe. /font> in the mid Atlantic. At length, necessities
connected with my business tyrannized over all other considerations.
Decently as I could, I told Bartleby that in six days' time he must
unconditionally leave the office. I warned him to take measures, in
the interval, for procuring some other abode. I offered to assist him
in this endeavor, if he himself would but take the first step towards
a removal. "And when you finally quit me, Bartleby," added I, "I shall
see that you go not away entirely unprovided. Six days from this hour,
At the expiration of that period, I peeped behind the screen, and
I , balanced myself; advanced slowly towards him, touched
his shoulder, and said, "The time has come; you must quit this place;
I am sorry for you; here is money; but you must go."
"I would prefer not," he replied, with his back still towards me.
He remained silent.
Now I had an unbounded confidence in this man's common honesty. He
had frequently restored to me six pences and shillings carelessly dropped
upon the floor, for I am apt to be very reckless in such . The proceeding then which followed will not be deemed extraordinary.
" and I handed the bills
But he made no motion.
"I will leave them here then," putting them under a weight on the table.
Then taking my hat and cane and going to the door I tranquilly turned
and added--"After you have removed your things from these offices, Bartleby,
you will of course lock the door--since every one is now gone for the
day but you--and if you please, slip your key underneath the mat, so
that I may have it in the morning. I shall not see you again; so good-bye
to you. If hereafter in your new place of abode I can be of any service
to you, do not fail to advise me by letter. Good-bye, Bartleby, and
fare you well."
But he answered not a word; like , he remained standing mute and
solitary in the middle of the otherwise deserted room.
As I walked home in a pensive mood, my . I could not but highly plume myself on
my masterly management in getting rid of Bartleby. Masterly I call it,
and such it must appear to any dispassionate thinker. The beauty of
my procedure seemed to consist in its perfect quietness. There was , no bravado of any sort, no choleric hectoring and
striding to and fro across the apartment, jerking out vehement commands
for Bartleby to bundle himself off with his beggarly traps. Nothing
of the kind. Without loudly bidding Bartleby depart--as might have done--I assumed the ground that depart
he must; and upon the assumption built all I had to say. The more I
thought over my procedure, the more I was charmed with it. Nevertheless,
next morning, upon awakening, I had my doubts,--I had somehow slept
off the fumes of vanity. One of the coolest and wisest hours a man has,
is just after he awakes in the morning. My procedure seemed as sagacious
as ever,--but only in theory. How it would prove in practice--there
was the rub. It was truly a beautiful thought to have assumed Bartleby's
departure; but, after all, that assumption was simply my own, and none
of Bartleby's. The great point was, not whether I had assumed that he
would quit me, but whether he would prefer so to do. He was more a .
After breakfast, I walked down town, arguing the probabilities pro
and con. One moment I thought it would prove a miserable failure, and
Bartleby would be found all alive at my office as usual; the next moment
it seemed certain that I should see his chair empty. And so I kept veering
about. At the corner of Broadway and Canal- street, I 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 own,
when I remembered that this was an election day. The words I had overheard
bore no reference to Bartleby, but to the success or non-success of
some candidate for the mayoralty. In my intent frame of mind, I had,
as it were, , and were debating the
same question with me. I passed on, very thankful that the uproar of
the street screened my momentary absent-mindedness.
As I had intended, I was earlier than usual at my office door. I stood
listening for a moment. All was still. He must be gone. I tried the
knob. The door was locked. Yes, my procedure had worked to a charm;
he indeed must be vanished. Yet a certain melancholy mixed with this:
I was . I was fumbling under the door mat
for the key, which Bartleby was to have left there for me, when accidentally
my knee knocked against a panel, producing a summoning sound, and in
response a voice came to me from within--"Not yet; I am occupied."
It was Bartleby.
I was thunderstruck. For an instant I stood one cloudless afternoon long
ago in Virginia, by summer lightning; at his own warm open window he
was killed, and remained leaning out there upon the dreamy afternoon,
till some one touched him, when he fell. "Not gone!" I murmured at last.
But again obeying that which the inscrutable scrivener had over me, and from
which ascendancy, for all my chafing, I could not completely escape,
I slowly went down stairs and out into the street, and while walking
round the block, considered what I should next do in this unheard-of-perplexity.
Turn the man out by an actual thrusting I could not; to drive him away
by calling him hard names would not do; calling in the police was an
unpleasant idea; and yet, to enjoy his cadaverous triumph over me,--this too I could not
think of. What was to be done? or, if nothing could be done, was there
any thing further that I could
in the matter? Yes, as before I had prospectively assumed that Bartleby
would depart, so now I might retrospectively assume that departed he
was. In the legitimate carrying out of this assumption, I might enter
my office in a great hurry, and pretending not to see Bartleby at all,
walk straight against him as if he were air. Such a proceeding would
in a singular degree have the appearance of a .
It was hardly possible that Bartleby could withstand such an application
of the doctrine of assumptions. But upon second thoughts the success
of the plan seemed rather dubious. I resolved to argue the matter over
with him again.
Bartleby," said I, entering the office, with a quietly severe expression.
"I am seriously displeased. I am pained, Bartleby. I had thought better
of you. I had imagined you of such a , that in any delicate dilemma a slight hint would suffice--in
short, an assumption. But it appears I am deceived. Why," I added, , "you have not even touched the money yet," pointing to
it, just where I had left it the evening previous.
He answered nothing.
"Will you, or will you not, quit me?" I now demanded in a , advancing close to him.
"I would prefer not to quit you," he replied, the not.
"What have you to stay here? do you pay any rent? Do you pay my
taxes? Or is this property yours?"
He answered nothing.
"Are you ready to go on and write now? Are your eyes recovered? Could
you copy a small paper for me this morning? or help examine a few lines?
or step round to the post-office? In a word, will you do any thing at
all, to give a coloring to your refusal to depart the premises?"
I was now in such a state of nervous resentment that I thought it but
to check myself at present from further demonstrations. Bartleby and
I were alone. the tragedy of the unfortunate Adams and the still more
unfortunate Colt in the solitary office of the latter; and how poor
Colt, being dreadfully incensed by Adams, and imprudently permitting
himself to get wildly excited, was at unawares hurried into his --an act which certainly more than the actor himself. Often it
had occurred to me in my
upon the subject, that had that altercation taken place in the public
street, or at a private residence, it would not have terminated as it
did. It was the circumstance of being alone in a solitary office, up
stairs, of a building entirely unhallowed by humanizing domestic associations--an
, doubtless of a dusty, haggard sort of appearance;--this
it must have been, which greatly helped to enhance the irritable desperation
of the hapless Colt.
But when this rose in me and tempted me concerning Bartleby,
I grappled him and threw him. How? Why, simply by recalling the : "A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one
another." Yes, this it was that saved me. Aside from higher considerations,
charity often operates as principle--a great safeguard to its possessor.
Men have committed murder for jealousy's sake, and anger's sake, and
hatred's sake, and selfishness' sake, and spiritual pride's sake; but
no man that ever I heard of, ever for sweet charity's sake. , then, if no better motive can be enlisted, should,
especially with high-tempered men, prompt all beings to charity and
philanthropy. At any rate, upon the occasion in question, I strove to
towards the scrivener by benevolently construing
his conduct. Poor fellow, poor fellow! thought I, he don't mean any
thing; and besides, he has seen hard times, and ought to be indulged.
I endeavored also immediately to occupy myself, and at the same time
I tried to fancy that in the course of the
morning, at such time as might prove agreeable to him, Bartleby, of
his own free accord, would emerge from his hermitage, and take up some
decided line of march in the direction of the door. But no. Half-past
twelve o'clock came; Turkey began to glow in the face, overturn his
inkstand, and become generally obstreperous; Nippers abated down into
quietude and courtesy; Ginger Nut munched his noon apple; and Bartleby
remained standing at his window in one of his profoundest
reveries. Ought I to acknowledge it? That afternoon I left
the office without saying one further word to him.
Some days now passed, during which, at leisure intervals I looked
a little into " and "Priestly on Necessity." Under the circumstances,
those books induced a salutary feeling. Gradually I that these troubles of mine touching the scrivener,
had been all , and Bartleby was
upon me for some mysterious purpose of an all-wise Providence, which
it was not for a mere mortal like me to fathom. Yes, Bartleby, stay
there behind your screen, ; I shall persecute you no more; you are harmless and noiseless
as any of these old chairs; in short, I never feel so private as when
I know you are here. At least I see it, I feel it; I penetrate to the
predestinated purpose of my life. I am content. Others may have loftier
parts to enact; but in this world, Bartleby, is 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
with me, had it not been for the unsolicited and uncharitable remarks
obtruded upon me by who visited the rooms. But thus it often is,
that the constant friction of illiberal minds wears out at last the
best resolves of the more .
Though to be sure, when I reflected upon it, it was not strange that
people entering my office should be struck by the peculiar aspect of
the unaccountable Bartleby, and so be tempted to throw out some sinister
observations concerning him. Sometimes an attorney having business with
me, and calling at my office, and finding no one but the scrivener there,
would undertake to obtain some sort of precise information from him
touching my whereabouts; but without heeding his Bartleby would remain standing immovable in the middle of
the room. So after contemplating him in that position for a time, the
attorney would depart, no wiser than he came.
Also, when a Reference was going on, and the room full of lawyers and
witnesses and business was driving fast; some deeply occupied legal
gentleman present, seeing Bartleby wholly unemployed, would request
him to run round to his (the legal gentleman's) office and fetch some
papers for him. Thereupon, Bartleby would tranquilly decline, and remain
idle as before. Then the lawyer would give a great stare, and turn to
me. And what could I say? At last I was made aware that all through
the circle of my professional acquaintance, a whisper of wonder was
running round, having reference to the strange creature I kept at my
office. This . And as the idea came upon me of his possibly turning
out a long-lived man, and keep occupying my chambers, and ; and perplexing my 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 end perhaps , and claim possession of my office by right of his perpetual
occupancy: as all these dark anticipations crowded upon me more and
more, and 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 together, and for ever rid me of this .
Ere revolving any complicated project, however, adapted to this end,
I first simply suggested to Bartleby the of his permanent departure.
In a calm and serious tone, I commended the idea to his careful and
mature consideration. But having taken three days to meditate upon it,
he apprised me that his original determination remained the same; in
short, that he still preferred to .
What shall I do? I now said to myself, to the last button. What shall I do? what ought I to
do? what does conscience say I should do with this man, or rather ghost.
Rid myself of him, I must; go, he shall. But how? You will not thrust
him, the poor, pale, passive mortal,--you will not thrust such a helpless
creature out of your door? you will not by such cruelty? No, I will not, I cannot do that. Rather
would I let him live and die here, and then in the wall. What then will you do? For all your
coaxing, he will not budge.
he leaves under your own paperweight on your table; in short, it is
quite plain that he prefers.
Then something severe, something unusual must be done. What! surely
you will not have him collared by a constable, and commit his innocent
pallor to the common jail? And upon what ground could you procure such
a thing to be done?--a vagrant, is he?
he a vagrant, a wanderer, who refuses to budge? It is because he will
not be a vagrant, then, that you seek to count him as a vagrant. That
is too absurd. No visible means of support: there I have him. Wrong
again: for indubitably he does support himself, and that is the only
unanswerable proof that any man can show of his possessing the means
so to do. No more then. Since he will not quit me, I must quit him.
I will change my offices; I will move elsewhere; and give him fair notice,
that if I find him on my new premises I will then proceed against him
as a common trespasser.
Acting accordingly, next day I thus addressed him: "I find these chambers
too far from the City Hall; the air is unwholesome. In a word, I propose
to remove my offices next week, and shall no longer require your services.
I tell you this now, in order that you may seek another place."
He made no reply, and nothing more was said.
On the appointed day I engaged carts and men, proceeded to my chambers,
and having but little furniture, every thing was removed in a few hours.
Throughout, the scrivener remained standing behind which I directed to be removed the last thing. It was withdrawn;
and being folded up like a huge folio, left him the I stood in the entry watching him a moment,
while something from within me upbraided me.
I re-entered, with my
"Good-bye, Bartleby; I am going--good-bye, and God some way bless you;
and take that," slipping something in his hand. But it dropped to the
floor, and then,--I tore myself from him whom I had so longed to be rid of.
Established in my new quarters, for a day or two I kept the door locked,
and started at every footfall in the passages. When I returned to my
rooms after any little absence, I would pause at the threshold for an
instant, and attentively listen, ere applying my key. But these fears
were needless. Bartleby never came nigh me.
I thought all was going well, when a perturbed looking stranger visited
me, inquiring whether I was the person who had recently occupied rooms
Full of forebodings, I replied that I was.
"Then, sir," said the , "you are responsible 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 he refuses to quit the premises."
"I am very sorry, sir," said I, with assumed tranquillity, but an inward
tremor, "but, really, --he is no relation or apprentice
of mine, that you should hold me responsible for him."
"In mercy's name, who is he?"
"I certainly cannot inform you. I know nothing about him. Formerly
I employed him as a copyist; but he has done nothing for me now for
some time past."
" then,--good morning, sir."
Several days passed, and I heard nothing more; and though I often
felt a charitable prompting to call at the place and see poor Bartleby,
yet a certain
of I know not what withheld me.
All is over with him, by this time, thought I at last, when through
another week no further intelligence reached me. But coming to my room
the day after, I found several persons waiting at my door in a high
state of nervous excitement.
"That's the man--here he comes," cried the foremost one, whom recognized
as the lawyer who had previously called upon me alone.
"You must take him away, sir, at once," cried a portly person among
them, advancing upon me, and whom I knew to be the landlord of No.--Wall-street.
"These gentlemen, my tenants, cannot stand it any longer; Mr. B--" pointing
to the lawyer, "has turned him out of his room, and he now persists
in generally, sitting upon the banisters of the stairs
by day, and sleeping in the entry by night. Every body is concerned;
clients are leaving the offices; ; something you must do, and that
, I fell back before it, and would fain have 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 the last
person known to have any thing to do with him, and they held me to the
terrible account. in the papers (as one person present obscurely
threatened) I considered the matter, and at length said, that if the
lawyer would give me a confidential interview with the scrivener, in
his (the lawyer's) own room, I would that afternoon strive my best to
rid them of the nuisance they complained of.
Going up stairs to my old haunt, there was Bartleby silently sitting
upon the banister at the landing.
"What are you doing here, Bartleby?" said I.
"Sitting upon the banister," he mildly replied.
I motioned him into the lawyer's room, who then left us.
", "are you aware that you are the cause of great tribulation
to me, by persisting in occupying the entry after being dismissed from
"Now one of two things must take place. Either you must do something
or something must be done to you. Now what sort of business would you
like to engage in? Would you like to re-engage in copying for 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. No, I would not like a clerkship;
but I am not particular."
"Too much confinement," I cried, "why you keep yourself confined all
"I would prefer not to take a clerkship," he rejoined, as if to settle
that little item at once.
"How would a bar-tender's business suit you? There is no trying of
the eyesight in that."
"I would not like it at all; though, as I said before, I am not particular."
His unwonted wordiness inspirited me. I returned to the charge.
"Well then, would you like to travel through the country collecting
bills for the merchants? That would improve your health."
"No, I would prefer to be doing something else."
"How then would going as a companion to Europe, to entertain some young
gentleman with your conversation,--how would that suit you?"
"Not at all. It does not strike me that there is any thing definite
about that. I like to be stationary. But I am not particular.
"Stationary you shall be then," I cried, now losing all patience, and
for the first time in all my exasperating connection with him fairly
flying into a passion. "If you do not go away from these premises before
night, --indeed I am bound--to-- to--to quit the premises
myself!" I rather absurdly concluded, knowing not with what his immobility into compliance. Despairing
of all further efforts, I was precipitately leaving him, when a final
thought occurred to me--
"Bartleby," said I, in the kindest under such exciting circumstances, "will you go home
with me now--not to my office, but my dwelling--and remain there till
we can conclude upon some convenient arrangement for you at our leisure?
Come, let us start now, right away."
"No: at present I would prefer not to make any change at all."
I answered nothing; but effectualy dodging every one by the rushed from the building, ran up Wall-street
towards Broadway, and jumping into the first omnibus was soon removed
from pursuit. As soon as tranquility returned I distinctly perceived
that I had now done all that I possibly could, both in respect to the
demands of the landlord and his tenants, and with regard to my own desire
and sense of duty, to benefit Bartleby, and shield him from rude persecution.
I now strove to be entirely care-free and quiescent; and my conscience
justified me in the attempt; though indeed it was not so successful
as I could have wished. So fearful was I of being again hunted out by
the incensed landlord and his exasperated tenants, that, surrendering
my business to Nippers, for a few days I drove about the upper part
of the town and through the suburbs, in my rockaway; crossed over to
Jersey City and Hoboken, and paid fugitive visits to Manhattanville
and Astoria. In fact I almost lived in my
for the time.
When again I entered my office, lo, a note from the landlord lay upon desk. opened it with trembling hands. informed me that writer had sent to police, and Bartleby removed as a .
Moreover, since I knew more about him than any one else, he wished me
to appear at that place, and make a suitable statement of the facts.
These tidings had a conflicting effect upon me. At first I was indignant;
but at last almost approved. The landlord's energetic, summary disposition,
had led him to adopt a procedure which I do not think I would have decided
upon myself; and yet as a last resort, under such peculiar circumstances,
it seemed the only plan.
As I afterwards learned, the poor scrivener, when told that he must
be conducted to the Tombs, offered not the slightest obstacle, but in
his pale unmoving way,
Some of the compassionate and curious bystanders joined the party;
and headed by one of the constables arm in arm with Bartleby, filed its way through all the noise, and heat,
and joy of the roaring thoroughfares at noon.
The same day I received the note I went to the Tombs, or to speak
more properly, the Halls of Justice. Seeking the right officer, I stated
the purpose of my call, and was informed that the individual I described
was indeed within. I then assured the functionary that Bartleby was
a perfectly honest man, and greatly to be compassionated, however unaccountably
eccentric. and closed by suggesting the idea of letting
him remain in as indulgent confinement as possible till something less
harsh might be done--though indeed I hardly knew what. At all events,
if nothing else could be decided upon, the alms-house must receive him.
I then begged to have an interview.
Being under no disgraceful charge, and quite serene and harmless in
all his ways, they had permitted him freely to wander about the prison,
and especially in the inclosed grass-platted yards thereof. And so I
found him there, standing all alone in the quietest of the yards, his
face , while all around, from the narrow slits of the jail
windows, I thought
"," he said, without looking round,--"and I want nothing
to say to you."
"It was not I that brought you here, Bartleby," said I, at his implied suspicion. "And to you, this should not be
so vile a place. Nothing reproachful attaches to you by being here.
And see, a place as one might think. Look, there is the sky,
and here is the grass."
"I know where I am," he replied, but would say nothing more, and so
I left him.
As I entered the corridor again, a broad man in an apron, accosted me, and jerking his thumb over his shoulder
said--"Is that ?"
"Does he want to starve? If he does, let him live on the prison fare,
"Who are you?" asked I, not knowing what to make of such an in such a place.
"I am the grub-man. Such gentlemen as have friends here, hire me to
provide them with something good to eat."
"Is this so?" said I, turning to the turnkey.
He said it was.
"Well then," said I, slipping 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. And you must
be as polite to him as possible."
"Introduce me, will you?" said the grub-man, looking at me with an
expression which seemed to say he was all impatience for an opportunity
to give a specimen of his breeding.
Thinking it would prove of benefit to the scrivener, I acquiesced;
and , went up with him to Bartleby.
"Bartleby, this is you will find him very useful to you."
", sir, your sarvant," said the grub-man, making a low salutation
behind his apron. "Hope you find it , sir;--spacious grounds--cool apartments, sir--hope you'll
stay with us some time--try to make it agreeable. What will you have
for dinner today?"
"I prefer not to dine to-day," said Bartleby, turning away. "It would
disagree with me; I am unused to dinners." So saying he slowly moved
to the other side of the inclosure, and took up fronting the dead-wall.
"How's this?" said the grub-man, addressing me with a stare of astonishment.
"He's odd, aint he?"
"I think he is a little deranged," said I, sadly.
"Deranged? deranged is it? Well now, upon my word, I thought that
friend of yourn was a ; they are always pale and genteel-like, them forgers. --can't help it, sir. Did you know Monroe Edwards?"
he added touchingly, and paused. Then, laying his hand pityingly on
my shoulder, sighed, "he died of consumption at Sing-Sing. so you weren't
acquainted with Monroe?"
"No, I was never socially acquainted with any forgers. But I cannot
stop longer. Look to my friend yonder. You will not lose by it. I will
see you again."
Some few days after this, I again obtained admission to the Tombs,
and went through the corridors in quest of Bartleby; but without finding
"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 passing
me. "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 walls, of amazing thickness, behind them. The of the masonry weighed upon me with its gloom. But a soft
grew under foot. The heart of the eternal pyramids, it seemed,
wherein, by some strange magic, through the clefts, grass-seed, dropped
by birds, had sprung.
Strangely huddled at the base of the wall, , and lying on his side, his head touching the cold
stones, I saw the wasted Bartleby. But nothing stirred. I paused; then
went close up to him; stooped over, and saw that his dim eyes were open;
otherwise he seemed profoundly sleeping. Something prompted me . I felt his hand, when 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-day, either? Or does he live without dining?"
"Lives without dining," said I, and closed the eyes.
"Eh!--He's asleep, aint he?"
"," 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 reader, let me say, that if this
little narrative has sufficiently interested him, to awaken curiosity
as to who Bartleby was, and what manner of life he led prior to the
present narrator's making his acquaintance, I can only reply, that in
such curiosity I fully share, but am wholly unable to gratify it. Yet
here I hardly know whether I should divulge , which came to my ear a few months after the
scrivener's decease. Upon what basis it rested, I could never ascertain;
and hence how true it is I cannot now tell. But inasmuch as this vague
report has not been without a certain strange to me, however said, it may prove the same with some others;
and so I will briefly mention it. The report was this: that Bartleby
had been a subordinate clerk in the at Washington,
from which he had been suddenly removed by a change in the administration.
When I think over this rumor, I cannot adequately express the emotions
which seize me. does it not sound like dead men? Conceive a man by nature
and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem
more 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.
from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring:--the bank-note
sent in swiftest charity:--he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers
any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died
unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities.