Dr. Heidegger's Experiment
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Dr. Heidegger's Experiment Foolishness and Folly Quotes
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That very singular man, old Dr. Heidegger, once invited four venerable friends to meet him in his study. (1)
It's interesting that the narrator uses the word "venerable" to describe Heidegger's four guests. Venerable means worthy of respect, often because of age and wisdom. Yet Heidegger's four guests are anything but. Indeed, the story seems to prove that old age and wisdom do not necessarily go hand in hand.
Mr. Medbourne, in the vigor of his age, had been a prosperous merchant, but had lost his all by a frantic speculation, and was now little better than a mendicant. Colonel Killigrew had wasted his best years, and his health and substance, in the pursuit of sinful pleasures, which had given birth to a brood of pains, such as the gout, and divers other torments of soul and body. Mr. Gascoigne was a ruined politician, a man of evil fame, or at least had been so till time had buried him from the knowledge of the present generation, and made him obscure instead of infamous. As for the Widow Wycherly, tradition tells us that she was a great beauty in her day; but, for a long while past, she had lived in deep seclusion, on account of certain scandalous stories which had prejudiced the gentry of the town against her. (1)
Each of Heidegger's four guests represents a different vice. Each has squandered his or her youth in a different way.
Before proceeding further, I will merely hint that Dr. Heidegger and all his foul guests were sometimes thought to be a little beside themselves. (1)
This is one of the rare lines in the text where we explicitly see the narrator's judgment of Dr. Heidegger's guests (he calls them "foul," which is pretty clear as judgments go).