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among statesmen. Since the days of Charlemagne till the advent of Henri IV., France had been retrograding in the scale of civilised nations. The great king died before he could accomplish any effectual reform. Richelieu carried out his projects, and added to them with a firmer hand and a more enlightened capacity.
He extended the country to its natural limits by his systematic conquest. He improved the army, created the fleet, encouraged commerce, gave the first impulse to the arts, fixed the language by founding the celebrated Académie Française, protected literature, and quelled for a time the intolerable tyranny of the nobles. For all these benefits France has to thank him. But such complete changes could not have been made so suddenly without despotism and centralisation; and from these evils she is suffering now.
It was a system of government dependent on its head; and what head could be found to replace its author ?
ART. IV.—THE DEVILS OF LOUDUN.
Histoire du Merveillcux dans les temps modernes. Par Louis Figuier.
2 vols. Paris : Hachette, 1860. The history of human error, if such a book could be written with any approach to completeness, would probably be the most instructive work existing in any language. A Khalif Omar would be justified in destroying a Serapeion of volumes, if it were preserved. It would be an exposition of all human science: for since the apprehension of opposites is the same, to recognise error as such is to be possessed of the truth from which that error is a departure. It would also be a record of the gradual steps by which men have learned that which they now know. For, according to the saying of a French philosopher, no true hypothesis was ever yet established on any subject until all possible false hypotheses had been suggested, tried, and found wanting. These false hypotheses, therefore, arranged in chronological succession, would show us the slight element of rcality contained in the earliest and most imperfect of them, becoming greater and greater, and the error associated with it less and less, as time advanced, and thought exercised itself on the problem to be solved,
But although, in certain departments, a gradual, steady increase of discovered truth, and relative diminution of ignorance and mistake, are observable in the past, and may be confidently predicted for the future, in others the pretence that we are wiser than our fathers seems to be a very groundless boast. We must distinguish the theoretic errors of philosophers, which have their basis in false intellectual assumption or inadequate induction, from the follies and delusions which appear at intervals like epidemics, fastening on the weaker' minds as physical epidemics do on the frailer physical constitutions within their range. The former are but the miscalculations of a fallible judgment, which observation and experience are sure to correct, and which once refuted are refuted for ever. The latter bear resemblance rather to the hallucinations of the insane. They spring from vitiated perceptive powers. The experience which should refute them is itself perverted. The study of this latter class of errors is purely melancholy and humiliating. It is, however, instructive, and at the present time seasonable. The very aberrations of the human mind obey a law. Our nature being the same, and the experience to which it is subjected in its main features the same in all ages, since similar causes, acting under similar conditions, will produce similar results, the delusions into which men fall, generation after generation, will be in substance identical, in outward seeming only different. This fact may be turned to practical account. Madmen who were deemed incurable have been known to be restored to their right senses by being shown the same folly possessing the mind and influencing the conduct of a fellow-patient; they have learned to see themselves, as it were, in others :
“ For speculation turns not to itself
Till it is travelled, and is married there
Where it may see itself.” In the same way, the present generation may derive benefit from witnessing in the follies and delusions of past ages the counterpart of its own imagined insight and discoveries. Tableturners and spirit-rappers, to whom Faraday or Sir Henry Holland would address themselves in vain, may be converted by M. Figuier. Of course, an opposite result may ensue, and no doubt will do so in many instances. Instead of past superstitions discrediting those of the present time, present superstitions will accredit the past. Heathen oracles and miracles, mediæval tales of sorcery and diabolic possession, will be resuscitated, and appealed to as illustrating, not the credulity or absurdity, but the depth of spiritual discernment that characterised the pagan and dark ages. People who believe that Mr. John Quincy Adams, of Ohio, was by spiritual agency" transported through the air for the distance of nearly a mile, and that Mr. J. R. Squire “was frequently lifted to the ceiling of the room, in the presence of large circles of friends," remaining “there long enough to write on the ceiling," and doing this “ so often that the ceiling of one room in which this most frequently occurred was blackened with the marks of his pencil,”*-are not likely to stumble at stories of witches traversing the air on broomsticks, or any other of the degrading nonsense of sorcery, magic, and ghostly visitation.
M. Figuier's History of the Marvellous in Modern Times has been composed with the didactic aim to which we have referred, as is explained sufficiently in the following passage of his preface. After alluding to the forms which the appetite for the marvellous assumed in ancient and in mediæval times, he proceeds:
“ The movement of 1854, in which the marvellous embodied itself in turning tables, was not then an abnormal fact, a fortuitous accident, but the natural sequence of many anterior events. Man cannot do without the aliment of superstitions ; when the form under which the marvellous has appeared to one generation is superannuated, another appears, which renews the pleasure he feels in feeding on chimeras.
It was with the view of throwing light on this side of the human mind, and of demanding from history lessons for the advantage of the present time, that, in 1854, at the moment of the invasion of speaking tables and spirit-rappers, we conceived the project and the plan of the work which we now offer to the public: it was, indeed, prematurely advertised under the title of The Genealogy of Table-turning.
Once entered, however, upon these studies, our estimate of their importance increased; we were carried away by the attractions of so many varied recitals, in which all sources of interest seemed to blend, in which sinister dramas are mixed with scenes of the most extravagant buffoonery, in which tragedy and comedy meet and succeed one another, in which the sublime and the ridiculous jostle. We did not think it right, therefore, to limit ourselves, as at first we had intended, to very summary narrations, and instead of a sort of general dissertation, we have been induced to write a series of chapters of history. We have thus made the reading of the work more attractive, without losing sight of the general thought which should dominate it."
In a general introduction to his subject, M. Figuier treats rapidly, and somewhat superficially, of the marvellous in ancient and mediæval times. This sketch is followed by a History of the Devils of Loudun, and accounts of the Jansenist Convulsionnaires, the Divining Rod, and the Protestant Prophets who led the insurrection in the Cevennes, which was consequent on the repeal of the Edict of Nantes. In two volumes which remain
Spiritual Magazine for January 1860, p. 20.
to be published, the author will discuss the subjects of animal magnetism, speaking tables, and spirit-rappers. The explanation which M. Figuier offers of the prodigies and ecstatic phenomena which he describes is perhaps too purely physiological. Nevertheless, for ourselves, we may as well state in the outset our conviction (with him), that the most extraordinary occurrences which he relates may be satisfactorily accounted for by known laws of man's mental and bodily organisation, including among the former those laws on which the worth of testimony to alleged facts depends. To this point we shall subsequently recur. We turn now to the facts themselves, confining ourselves chiefly to the Diables de Loudun. In the narrative which follows, we reproduce, in a condensed form, the substance of M. Figuier's chapters.
Loudun is a well-built, pleasantly-situated old town, now with some 5000 inhabitants, in the modern department of Vienne, and the ancient province of Poitou. In the middle of the seventeenth century there existed there a convent of Ursuline nuns, consisting of ladies of noble families from Poitou and the adjacent provinces of Saintonge and Touraine. The quietness of their secluded life, spent in devotional exercises and in the instruction of female pupils in the convent-school, was first disturbed in the spring-time of 1632. Lay notions of feminine propriety and of religious gravity and decorum were startled by rumours that some of the nuns were in the habit of quitting their beds at night, running up and down the corridors, and clambering over the roof into the chambers of their sisters and pupils. They professed to be haunted by spectres ; among others, by the spirit of their late father confessor, Prior Moussaut, “ doomed for a certain time to walk the night.” The ghosts, we are sorry to say, made so bad a use of their return to earth as to address the sisters in improper language, and even to inflict blows upon them, of which they (the sisters) exhibited the marks to inquirers. Among those thus beset was the superior of the convent, Jeanne de Belfiel, of the noble family of the Baron du Cose in Saintonge. Of course, occurrences
of this kind could not long remain a secret. The sisters naturally communicated the misdeeds of his predecessor's ghost to their
actual confessor, Mignon, canon of the collegiate church of the Holy Cross in Loudun. Mignon saw in the circumstances which they related a plain case of diabolic possession. To assist him in exorcising the evil spirits, he called in the aid of Pierre Barré, curé of St. James's in the neighbouring town of Chinon. “Devotee, fanatic, and visionary, Barré was always on the look-out for, and finished by finding every where, demons and demoniacs. He would have exorcised the very stones."* By formalities of various kinds, the minds of the terrified nuns were completely thrown off their balance. For ten or twelve days the exorcisms were conducted in secret. It was ascertained that the name of the demon who possessed the superior was Astaroth, who further announced himself as the enemy of God. The demon of a lay sister gave his name as Sabulon.
The priests, having proceeded thus far, requested the presence of two of the civil magistrates at the next exorcism of the superior, whom they visited in one of the convent dormitories. She ard the lay sister were in separate beds, surrounded by various priests and nuns, and attended by a surgeon. At the sight of the magistrates she fell into violent convulsions. The following dialogue between the confessor Mignon and the demon Astaroth was the prologue to a sad and revolting tragedy. The confessor begins:
“ Propter quam causam ingressus es in corpus hujus virginis ? (Why have you entered into the body of this virgin?)
Causa animositas, answered Jeanne de Belfiel, a prey all the time to convulsions. (From animosity.)
Per quod pactum ? (By what pact ?)
(A diabolic personage.) ” The charmed roses, it was afterwards revealed by the demon, had been thrown over the garden-wall of the convent by a young girl, to whom an inferior magician, Jean Rivart, commissioned by Grandier for that purpose, had given them. The manner in which the pact was received was the following. At ten at night the superior, who was in bed, felt a pressure upon her hand, which seemed to be forcibly closed by some invisible agency upon three thorns. The nuns who were in the chamber with her, being immediately called, discovered upon her hand the marks of three thorns. During the recital of this prodigy to
• Vol. i. p. 86.