(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The anonymous narrator, who was trained as a surgeon, has been arranging the papers of his deceased mentor, Dr. Martin Hesselius. One case in particular, from about sixty-four years before, draws his attention; forthwith the narrator presents a set of letters, with a memorandum, that discuss the doctor’s efforts to treat a particularly insidious and vexing complaint.

One evening, Dr. Hesselius meets the Reverend Mr. Robert Lynder Jennings at the house of a mutual friend, Lady Mary Heyduke. In an aside, the hostess informs the doctor of Mr. Jennings’s probity and good standing in the community; nevertheless, the clergyman’s health is uncertain and he seems subject to sudden and mysterious collapses. With some evident embarrassment, the clergyman engages Dr. Hesselius in a discussion of Metaphysical Medicine, and evinces an active interest in the doctor’s publications on the subject. Later, Lady Mary mentions that Mr. Jennings’s late father had seen and spoken with a ghost. On the following evening, the clergyman sends his calling card with a note requesting a consultation with Dr. Hesselius.

At Mr. Jennings’s house in Richmond, the doctor is received by Jones, the vicar’s servant; the clergyman has been detained by work in his parish. While waiting in his host’s library, Dr. Hesselius comes on a set of the complete works, in Latin, of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish mystical philosopher; perusal indicates that Mr. Jennings has underscored such passages as “May God compassionate me.” As Dr. Hesselius continues, he realizes with a start that “four eyes were reading the passage.” Mr. Jennings’s unannounced return is revealed by his features reflected in an overhanging mirror. He abruptly embarks on a conversation about the origins of illness, and he confounds the doctor with his spirited denunciation of...

(The entire section is 756 words.)