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, it was later published in Hawthorne's collection Twice-Told Tales in 1837.


Dr. Heidegger was a strange old man. Once, he invited four elderly friends to participate in an experiment. He shows them a rose that he claims is fifty-five years old. He produces a vase, a gift from a friend, that contains a quantity of water. Heidegger explains that this water is from the legendary Fountain of Youth. The water causes the old rose to bloom when dropped into the water.

Dr. Heidegger's friends become excited and wish to taste the water, hoping it will restore their youth and give them an opportunity to live life free from the mistakes they made when they were younger. As Heidegger watches, they greedily consume the water. Their youth restored, they begin acting as foolishly as youths, and the three men of the group begin competing for the attentions of the lone female member. The transformation does not last, thus reverting them back to their original old age. To obtain more of the magic water, the four test subjects travel to Florida to find the Fountain. Dr. Heidegger had felt sorry about his friend's mistakes.


  • Dr. Heidegger - Old and wise physician who is the protagonist of the story.
  • Colonel Killigrew - A man who throughout his life has had many different sexual partners and many different pleasures.
  • Mr. Medbourne - Once a rich merchant who lost most of his money in speculation.
  • Mr. Gascoigne - A politician whose career was cut short.
  • Widow Wycherley - Formerly a beautiful woman loved by the three gentlemen. (Colonel Killigrew, Mr. Medbourne, Mr. Gascoigne)
  • Sylvia Ward- Woman whose portrait hangs on the wall. She was supposed to marry Dr. Heidegger but died a day before their marriage.

Publication history[edit]

The story was first published anonymously as "The Fountain of Youth" in 1837 in Lewis Gaylord Clark's The Knickerbocker magazine.[1] It was later included in the collection Twice-Told Tales.



  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

External links[edit]