Dr. Heidegger's Experiment

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Hawthorne, c1860

"Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" is a short story by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, about a doctor who claims to have been sent water from the Fountain of Youth. Originally published anonymously in 1837, it was later published in Hawthorne's collection Twice-Told Tales, also in 1837.


Dr. Heidegger is an eccentric (and perhaps supernatural) old man. He invites four elderly friends to participate in an experiment in his mysterious, gloomy study. He shows them a withered rose that he claims is fifty-five years old. He then displays a vase, a gift from an acquaintance, that contains a generous quantity of sparkling water. Heidegger explains that this bewitching water is from the legendary Fountain of Youth, near Lake Macaco (now known as Lake Okeechobee, in Florida). The water wondrously causes the old rose to bloom again when it is dropped into it.

Dr. Heidegger's friends become cautiously intrigued and wish to taste the water, hoping it will restore their youth and give them an opportunity to live life again, free from the mistakes they made when they were young. As Heidegger watches, they anxiously consume the water. Their youth restored, they begin acting as fatuously as they did in their prime. Soon, the three men of the group begin competing for the attentions of the now-youthful and beautiful widow. (While experiencing their new-found youth, however, a tall ominous mirror in the study reflects an image of the four guests as still being elderly and feeble.) The vase is accidentally smashed when the men fight over her, and its miraculous water is lost. The guests's transformation only lasts for minutes, and therefore returns them to their original old age. To obtain more of the enchanted water, the four test subjects determine to travel to Florida to find the Fountain of Youth. Dr. Heidegger shrewdly looks on, knowing that his four foolish guests would not learn to lead wiser lives. (Early in the story, the doctor himself states that he had troubles in growing old and has no interest in growing young again himself.)


  • Dr. Heidegger - An aged and wise physician who is the protagonist of the story.
  • Colonel Killigrew - A man who, throughout his life, has had many self-indulgent, sinful pleasures.
  • Mr. Medbourne - A once-rich merchant who lost most of his fortune in speculation.
  • Mr. Gascoigne - A politician whose career was ruined by his corruption.
  • Widow Wycherley - A formerly beautiful woman loved by the three gentlemen (Colonel Killigrew, Mr. Medbourne, Mr. Gascoigne).
  • Sylvia Ward- A youthful woman whose portrait hangs upon a wall in the study. She was supposed to marry Dr. Heidegger but died the day before their marriage. (The rose Dr. Heidegger uses in his experiment is one he received from Sylvia for their wedding.)

Publication history[edit]

The story was first published anonymously as "The Fountain of Youth" in the January 1837 issue of Lewis Gaylord Clark's The Knickerbocker magazine.[1](What Hawthorne's motive was in publishing it without his name attached to it is not known.) Later in 1837, it was included in the collection Twice-Told Tales. In 1842, when Edgar Allan Poe reviewed the second edition of the Twice-Told Tales, he wrote that "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment is exceedingly well imagined and executed with surpassing ability. The artist breathes in every line of it."



  1. ^ Miller, Perry. The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville. New York: Harvest Book, 1956: 14.
  2. ^ "ST55: Dr. Heideggers Experiment by Favorite Story" Castroller.com
  3. ^ "Opera versions of Hawthorne's works, scores, librettos, and vocal recordings" ibiblio.org 5 August 2011

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