DR. STURLER'S EXPERIMENT
The epilogue to the play "Le Comte Hermann"
by Alexandre Dumas père, 1849
Translated and adapted by Frank Morlock
Translation is Copyright © 1996 by Frank Morlock. Reproduction in any form is prohibited without explicit consent of Frank Morlock. Please contact email@example.com for licensing information.
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Dr. Sturler is dressed in a fashionable vest and waistcoat -- common to the 1840's. Sturler is in his twenties. He speaks with a German accent.
The decor is that of 1840 in Germany.
The room of a doctor and chemist.
Fritz is alone and has before him a table. On the table are two glasses -- one contains a liquor of thick red, the other brown.
When a man like me has seen a hope nourished for three years, evaporate and with this evaporated hope miscarry a project which would have changed the face of his life -- such a man doesn't try a second time, doesn't attempt a second experience -- such a man dies.
Anyway, what's the good of living --what's a man's life? A light in eternity -- Let's suppose that light which represents my life began to shine about 60 years and extinguishes today -- wouldn't that be exactly the same thing as if, having begun to shine today, the light went out in 60 years? It would have lit up other events and other men -- that's all. Would these events have been more interesting than those I've seen accomplished? Would those men be better or worse than those I have known? That I doubt. In the three thousand years we've read from the book of the past, the sum of good and evil, in addition or subtraction has it changed the equilibrium of good and evil? No: From the day Socrates died by hemlock until the day Lavoisier died by the guillotine, from Hannibal's poisoning at the home of Prusias to Napoleon dying of cancer at Saint Helena, I see no other progress in the normal order than the substitution of one God for several gods, of one Heaven for an Olympus.
Is heaven anything more than untouchable ether, transparent, infinite? Is God more than the word which I use to name this unknown being for whom I search and I shall never find -- any more than have the millions of generations which preceded ours and which will follow? "I believe in God," say the Faithful. "I believe in nothing", says science.
(getting up and walking back and forth)
To nothingness from which I came -- to nothingness, I am going to return. Why, if nothingness existed before me why should anything of me exist after I die?
My soul exists or it does not. If it does, it is eternal and will exist for eternity.
Why then, haven't I even a vague memory, a confused perception of the past? The soul of Pythagoras recalled the body it animated the centuries during which it lived. Pythagoras lied like the head of every cult! Strange! Whoever wishes to be believed must lie.
All the same, in a quarter of an hour, this mystery, if I choose, will no longer be a mystery to me. Why don't I want to choose? It would really be worth the trouble to do it, it seems to me.
But still, in a quarter of an hour, I shall have ceased to exist.
What matter, if, in ceasing to exist I leave to science a name more shining than my name will ever become by continuing to live?
Nothing could be easier. Instead of dying for my own profit, we shall die for the betterment of science.
Anyway, if it pleases me not to die, I will say to death, my slave, 'enough' and death will return to the abyss.
(pointing to the red liquor)
Here in this glass, the poison
(pointing to the brown liquor)
Here the antidote.
O man, proud creature, boasting of your admirable energy, animated, enlightened, driven by your immortal soul!
Thirty grains of opium in an ounce of wine -- that can produce death.
Thirty drops of citron in an ounce of coffee. That can give you life back! At a given moment, if I repent what I have done, I can destroy what I have done. Am I not God like God -- more God than God since I can retake and give back life, cause death to be born, and destroy death?
(drawing his watch and placing it on the table)
At the 130th pulse we shall see what we will do.
(sitting down, he takes a pen and writes)
"The 10th of October 1840 -- I, Fritz Sturler, doctor of the University of Heidelberg, designing to leave to the world a great study -- ambitious of doing for science what has never yet been done, I have decided to give myself to death with laudanum of syridenham, and to write one after the other, all the sensations which result from the poison -- from the moment my hand places back the empty cup on the table until it releases the powerless pen.
I have chosen laudanum of syridenham because it contains two opposed principles still ill defined on the effects it produces -- narcotine which excites and morphine which stupefies.
Which blows does death strike with the first, which are the blows death strikes with the second of these substances? What are the primary effects, what are the secondary?
That's the question to be answered"
(He rereads what he has written.)
That's that. So, at the moment I am taking the resolution to die, my thoughts and my body are calm.
My mind dictates without difficulty, my hand writes without trembling.
I am completely master of myself -- I feel neither pride nor weakness. I take the cup with a firm hand, I carry it to my mouth with a firm hand --
(he empties the glass in a single swallow and places it back on the table)
"At eleven ten without hesitation, I tested the experience of drinking an ounce of Malaga wine in which I have dissolved 30 grains of opium.
(moment of silence)
Eleven twelve: Nothing yet.
Eleven fifteen: Nothing.
Eleven twenty: Nothing. I'm sorry I didn't put 40 grains instead of 30.
Eleven thirty: I am feeling the first effects of the poison.
My pulse is rising from 68 to 72 pulsations and I feel my heart beating although I didn't feel it before. So it's the narcotine, that is to say, the exciting ingredient which acts first.
Quarter to twelve: my pulse has risen from 72 to 90 pulsations. I sense a light vertigo, like that which precedes intoxication. I feel some heaviness, some sluggishness and giddiness in my head and a certain need to lie down which I resist by walking.
From time to time, ideas abound, they are rather gay, and even touch on madness, sometimes profound and then become sublime.
Up to the present, all that I sense seems to be due to the first principle to the exciting principle, that is to say the narcotine.
I am not repentant, and find neither in my mind nor my heart the least religious idea.
Noon: My pulse is accelerating more and more. I count 120 pulsations a minute, my imagination seems to leap like a horse that has thrown his rider, my blood rushes to my brain, my pulse is accelerating more and more. Five minutes past noon. It is beating 130 -- at 8 minutes past noon it's a 140.
I am fully and entirely conscious but there's a sensation of heat in my eyes and an almost irresistible need to close them.
Narcotine has accomplished its work, doubtless, the morphine will commence its work.
If I want to live I have not a moment to lose. The antidote can still act, perhaps the coffee can still neutralize the opium but in five minutes, there will no longer be time.
(He takes in his hand the glass containing the antidote. A moment of silence during which Fritz's face remains impassive. All his life is passing before his fixed and shining eyes. You might say that by the strength of his will he suspends the effect of the poison then be puts the glass back on the table and starts writing.)
I held the antidote in my hand for four minutes. Twice I was tempted to take it. Once I brought it almost to my lips -- but disdain for life took it away.
If I believed in something beyond this world, I should have drunk and I would be saved -- I believe in nothing and that convinced me to die!
At twelve-fifteen, my pulse diminished. My eyes are convulsed, half open, sight obscured, the lids keep falling. The pupils are dilated and motionless. The stupefying principle is substituting itself for the principle of excitation. In several seconds I won't be able to see the hands on the face of my watch.
I can no longer tell the time, but I am still able to describe my sensations, it's almost an hour and a half since I took the poison. In this next-to-last period here is what one finds:
Symptoms of sleep, the beginning of torpor -- cold in the extremities. Misgivings. You have pale coloring, terrors, an emaciated face, which at moments becomes red and burning, you feel great laxity in the facial muscles -- tremblings and twitchings at the corners of the mouth.
Your breath is burning, you feel a great dryness in your tongue and throat, an ardent thirst consumes you -- your pulse becomes weak, your face blue, you make violent efforts to cough, your skin shrivels and pales, the pen is failing from your hands.
(The pen indeed falls from his hand but he continues to speak.)
You shiver and shake. You feel yourself fainting. It's the third and last period. You understand that in 10 minutes your body will be a cadaver. You feel death approaching, you see it come, then you recoil, you fear, you're terrified and you grasp that everything is finished in the this world. That there's nothing more than a few words to say -- after which your words will be extinguished forever --you gather all your strength, you extend your arm towards heaven and you shout to God.
"My God! Lord -- pardon me!"
(He falls, rolls over and dies.)