Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fitz-James O'Brien's Final Weird Tale

     I have nothing to write about except myself, a rather one sided subject. Still I must write or die. I haven’t yet told you of my sufferings, and don’t intend to; but the fit is on me and I must harrow you a little. I hope to God you never will have to go through what I have experienced, and what I am liable to. For the first week of my wound, nothing but enormous doses of morphine kept me from going half crazy with pain. I had to be kept all day in a lazy, half-slumberous condition, in which I felt like a kind of hot-house plant, dozing and living, and that’s all.

     It was at this period I conceived the prejudice against my left arm, which has since ripened into hate. I cannot express the feelings which I now regard that limb. I long to cast it off, to disinherit it, to cut it off with a (sharp) slicing [?], and thrust it out upon the world to beg. Its hand at present is fit for no higher occupation than to clutch pennies. While highly morphinized, and in a semi-conscious state, I formed the idea that the aggravating limb did not belong to me, but was a vagabond and malicious arm that had attached itself to me for the purpose of preventing my being Commander-in-Chief, which was to be as soon as I had fought [Confederate General P.G.T.] Beauregard in the Coliseum with a trident and a shrimp-net. All my arrangements had been made. Both armies of the Potomac were to assist at the spectacle, when, during my sleep, a rebel spy took away the arm on which I depended for using the shrimp-net, and left me a mutilated member instead! This is the true history of the case, although prejudiced persons might be apt to call it a morphine hallucination.

An extract from a letter written from what was to have been a convalescent bed, but shortly became the deathbed of the Irish-American author Fitz-James O’Brien. Lieutenant O’Brien of the United States Army was wounded in the breast by a Confederate officer on a confused battlefield at Bloomery Gap, Virginia (now West Virginia), on February 26, 1862. O’Brien was carried away to a hospital in Maryland, where he lingered until April 6. O’Brien’s body was interred in New York City, where he had met with so much success as a teller of weird tales.

Original text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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