| |by Herman Melville |
I am an old lawyer, and I have three men working for me. My business continued to grow and so I decided to get one more man to help write legal papers.
I have met a great many people in my days, but the man who answered my advertisement was the strangest person I have ever heard of or met.
He stoodoutside my office and waited for me to speak. He was a small man, quiet and dressed in a clean but old suit of clothes. I asked him his name. It was Bartleby.
At first Bartleby almost worked himself too hard writing the legal papers I gave him. He worked through the day by sunlight, and into the night by candlelight. I was happy with his work, but not happy with the way he worked. He was tooquiet. But, he worked well…like a machine, never looking or speaking.
One day, I asked Bartleby to come to my office to study a legal paper with me. Without moving from his chair, Bartleby said: “I do not want to.”
I sat for a short time, too surprised to move. Then I became excited.
“You do not want to. What do you mean, are you sick? I want you to help me with this paper.”
“I do not wantto.”
His face was calm. His eyes showed no emotion. He was not angry. This is strange, I thought. What should I do? But, the telephone rang, and I forgot the problem for the time being.
A few days later, four long documents came into the office. They needed careful study, and I decided to give one document to each of my men. I called and all came to my office. But not Bartleby.
“Bartleby,quick, I am waiting.”
He came, and stood in front of me for a moment. “I don’t want to,” he said then turned and went back to his desk.
I was so surprised, I could not move. There was something about Bartleby that froze me, yet, at the same time, made me feel sorry for him.
As time passed, I saw that Bartleby never went out to eat dinner. Indeed, he never went anywhere. At eleven o’clockeach morning, one of the men would bring Bartleby some ginger cakes.
“Umm. He lives on them,” I thought. “Poor fellow!” He is a little foolish at times, but he is useful to me.
“Bartleby,” I said one afternoon. “Please go to the post office and bring my mail.”
“I do not want to.”
I walked back to my office too shocked to think. Let’s see, the problem here is…one of my workers namedBartleby will not do some of the things I ask him to do. One important thing about him though, he is always in his office.
One Sunday I walked to my office to do some work. When I placed the key in the door, I couldn’t open it. I stood a little surprised, then called, thinking someone might be inside. There was. Bartleby. He came from his office and told me he did not want to let me in.
Theidea of Bartleby living in my law office had a strange effect on me. I slunk away much like a dog does when it has been shouted at…with its tail between its legs.
Was anything wrong? I did not for a moment believe Bartleby would keep a woman in my office. But for some time he must have eaten, dressed and slept there. How lonely and friendless Bartleby must be.
I decided to help him. The nextmorning I called him to my office.
“Bartleby, will you tell me anything about yourself?”
“I do not want to.”
I sat down with him and said, “You do not have to tell me about your personal history, but when you finish writing that document…
“I have decided not to write anymore,” he said. And left my office.
What was I to do? Bartleby would not work at all. Then why should he stay onhis job? I decided to tell him to go. I gave him six days to leave the office and told him I would give him some extra money. If he would not work, he must leave.
On the sixth day, somewhat hopefully, I looked into the office Bartleby used. He was still there.
The next morning, I went to the office early. All was still. I tried to open the door, but it was locked. Bartleby’s voice came from...