To Keep Him Company
Dreamed January 23, 1806 by Robert Southey
I was in Germany, and because some German friend was going to poison himself, agreed to poison myself to keep him company. Accordingly, in a large party I first drank to him 'to our next meeting,' then let him put the poison into my next glass, unperceived by anyone. It was a brown powder which by no means improved the wine.
Presently we were both seized with violent pains in the stomach, and both fell; I suppose by the pain which I actually felt that I must have been plagued with flatulence at the time. We were each laid upon a bed to die there, and not one of the company, though they now knew what had happened, went for any assistance; it seemed to be a matter of etiquette to let us die if we chose it.
Now for my part, though I was perfectly well satisfied to go upon a voyage of discovery to the next world, yet it certainly would not have displeased me to have had the physician sent for. My pain, however, abated and got into the abdomen. I went to my friend and told him this, and that I suspected the dose would not do its work. He said he was in the last agonies, and so should I be presently; but, however, it all went off.
European readers in 1806 would instantly see this dream had a satirical edge. Goethe's book "The Sorrows of Young Werther" had been a Romantic bestseller, and Wertherian suicides were rumored all over Europe--if real, perhaps the first copycat crimes based on fiction. The dream mocks the whole lemming-stampede, turning it all mundane and finally trailing off into... gas.
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