Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus
THE MODERN PROMETHEUS.
[Transcriber's Note: This text was produced from a photo-reprint of the1818 edition.]
IN THREE VOLUMES.
Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?——
LACKINGTON, HUGHES, HARDING, MAVOR, & JONES,
AUTHOR OF POLITICAL JUSTICE, CALEB WILLIAMS, &c.
Are respectfully inscribed
The event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Dr.Darwin, and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not ofimpossible occurrence. I shall not be supposed as according the remotestdegree of serious faith to such an imagination; yet, in assuming it asthe basis of a work of fancy, I have not considered myself as merelyweaving a series of supernatural terrors. The event on which theinterest of the story depends is exempt from the disadvantages of a meretale of spectres or enchantment. It was recommended by the novelty ofthe situations which it developes; and, however impossible as a physicalfact, affords a point of view to the imagination for the delineating ofhuman passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which theordinary relations of existing events can yield.
I have thus endeavoured to preserve the truth of the elementaryprinciples of human nature, while I have not scrupled to innovateupon their combinations. The Iliad, the tragic poetry ofGreece,—Shakespeare, in the Tempest and Midsummer Night’sDream,—and most especially Milton, in Paradise Lost, conform to thisrule; and the most humble novelist, who seeks to confer or receiveamusement from his labours, may, without presumption, apply to prosefiction a licence, or rather a rule, from the adoption of which so manyexquisite combinations of human feeling have resulted in the highestspecimens of poetry.
The circumstance on which my story rests was suggested in casualconversation. It was commenced, partly as a source of amusement, andpartly as an expedient for exercising any untried resources of mind.Other motives were mingled with these, as the work proceeded. I am by nomeans indifferent to the manner in which whatever moral tendencies existin the sentiments or characters it contains shall affect the reader; yetmy chief concern in this respect has been limited to the avoiding of theenervating effects of the novels of the present day, and to theexhibitions of the amiableness of domestic affection, and the excellenceof universal virtue. The opinions which naturally spring from thecharacter and situation of the hero are by no means to be conceived asexisting always in my own conviction; nor is any inference justly to bedrawn from the following pages as prejudicing any philosophical doctrineof whatever kind.
It is a subject also of additional interest to the author, that thisstory was begun in the majestic region where the scene is principallylaid, and in society which cannot cease to be regretted. I passed thesummer of 1816 in the environs of Geneva. The season was cold and rainy,and in the evenings we crowded around a blazing wood fire, andoccasionally amused ourselves with some German stories of ghosts, whichhappened to fall into our hands. These tales excited in us a playfuldesire of imitation. Two other friends (a tale from the pen of one ofwhom would be far more acceptable to the public than any thing I canever hope to produce) and myself agreed to write each a story, foundedon some supernatural occurrence.
The weather, however, suddenly became serene; and my two friends left meon a journey among the Alps, and lost, in the magnificent scenes whichthey present, all memory of their ghostly visions. The following tale isthe only one which has been completed.
To Mrs. Saville, England.
St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17—.
You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied thecommencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evilforebodings. I arrived here yesterday; and my first task is to assure mydear sister of my welfare, and increasing confidence in the success ofmy undertaking.
I am already far north of London; and as I walk in the streets ofPetersburgh, I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, whichbraces my nerves, and fills me with delight. Do you understand thisfeeling? This breeze, which has travelled from the regions towards whichI am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes. Inspirited bythis wind of promise, my day dreams become more fervent and vivid. I tryin vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost anddesolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region ofbeauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sun is for ever visible; itsbroad disk just skirting the horizon, and diffusing a perpetualsplendour. There—for with your leave, my sister, I will put some trustin preceding navigators—there snow and frost are banished; and, sailingover a calm sea, we may be wafted to a land surpassing in wonders and inbeauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe. Itsproductions and features may be without example, as the phænomena of theheavenly bodies undoubtedly are in those undiscovered solitudes. Whatmay not be expected in a country of eternal light? I may there discoverthe wondrous power which attracts the needle; and may regulate athousand celestial observations, that require only this voyage to rendertheir seeming eccentricities consistent for ever. I shall satiate myardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never beforevisited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man.These are my enticements, and they are sufficient to conquer all fear ofdanger or death, and to induce me to commence this laborious voyage withthe joy a child feels when he embarks in a little boat, with his holidaymates, on an expedition of discovery up his native river. But, supposingall these conjectures to be false, you cannot contest the inestimablebenefit which I shall confer on all mankind to the last generation, bydiscovering a passage near the pole to those countries, to reach whichat present so many months are requisite; or by ascertaining the secretof the magnet, which, if at all possible, can only be effected by anundertaking such as mine.
These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began myletter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me toheaven; for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as asteady purpose,—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years. I haveread with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have beenmade in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through theseas which surround the pole. You may remember, that a history of allthe voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the whole of ourgood uncle Thomas’s library. My education was neglected, yet I waspassionately fond of reading. These volumes were my study day and night,and my familiarity with them increased that regret which I had felt, asa child, on learning that my father’s dying injunction had forbidden myuncle to allow me to embark in a sea-faring life.
These visions faded when I perused, for the first time, those poetswhose effusions entranced my soul, and lifted it to heaven. I alsobecame a poet, and for one year lived in a Paradise of my own creation;I imagined that I also might obtain a niche in the temple where thenames of Homer and Shakespeare are consecrated. You are well acquaintedwith my failure, and how heavily I bore the disappointment. But just atthat time I inherited the fortune of my cousin, and my thoughts wereturned into the channel of their earlier bent.
Six years have passed since I resolved on my present undertaking. I can,even now, remember the hour from which I dedicated myself to this greatenterprise. I commenced by inuring my body to hardship. I accompaniedthe whale-fishers on several expeditions to the North Sea; I voluntarilyendured cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep; I often worked harderthan the common sailors during the day, and devoted my nights to thestudy of mathematics, the theory of medicine, and those branches ofphysical science from which a naval adventurer might derive the greatestpractical advantage. Twice I actually hired myself as an under-mate ina Greenland whaler, and acquitted myself to admiration. I must own Ifelt a little proud, when my captain offered me the second dignity inthe vessel, and entreated me to remain with the greatest earnestness; sovaluable did he consider my services.
And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some greatpurpose. My life might have been passed in ease and luxury; but Ipreferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path. Oh,that some encouraging voice would answer in the affirmative! My courageand my resolution is firm; but my hopes fluctuate, and my spirits areoften depressed. I am about to proceed on a long and difficult voyage;the emergencies of which will demand all my fortitude: I am required notonly to raise the spirits of others, but sometimes to sustain my own,when their’s are failing.
This is the most favourable period for travelling in Russia. They flyquickly over the snow in their sledges; the motion is pleasant, and, inmy opinion, far more agreeable than that of an English stage-coach. Thecold is not excessive, if you are wrapt in furs, a dress which I havealready adopted; for there is a great difference between walking thedeck and remaining seated motionless for hours, when no exerciseprevents the blood from actually freezing in your veins. I have noambition to lose my life on the post-road between St. Petersburgh andArchangel.
I shall depart for the latter town in a fortnight or three weeks; and myintention is to hire a ship there, which can easily be done by payingthe insurance for the owner, and to engage as many sailors as I thinknecessary among those who are accustomed to the whale-fishing. I do notintend to sail until the month of June: and when shall I return? Ah,dear sister, how can I answer this question? If I succeed, many, manymonths, perhaps years, will pass before you and I may meet. If I fail,you will see me again soon, or never.
Farewell, my dear, excellent, Margaret. Heaven shower down blessings onyou, and save me, that I may again and again testify my gratitude forall your love and kindness.
Your affectionate brother,
To Mrs. Saville, England.
Archangel, 28th March, 17—.
How slowly the time passes here, encompassed as I am by frost and snow;yet a second step is taken towards my enterprise. I have hired a vessel,and am occupied in collecting my sailors; those whom I have alreadyengaged appear to be men on whom I can depend, and are certainlypossessed of dauntless courage.
But I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy; and theabsence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil. I haveno friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success,there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed bydisappointment, no one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection. Ishall commit my thoughts to paper, it is true; but that is a poor mediumfor the communication of feeling. I desire the company of a man whocould sympathize with me; whose eyes would reply to mine. You may deemme romantic, my dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend. Ihave no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated aswell as of a capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approveor amend my plans. How would such a friend repair the faults of yourpoor brother! I am too ardent in execution, and too impatient ofdifficulties. But it is a still greater evil to me that I amself-educated: for the first fourteen years of my life I ran wild on acommon, and read nothing but our uncle Thomas’s books of voyages. Atthat age I became acquainted with the celebrated poets of our