La Sorciere: The Witch of the Middle Ages
by Jules Michelet
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Specially remarkable in the moving tale of Griselda is the fact, that throughout her heavy trials, she never seeks support in being devout or in loving another. She is evidently faithful, chaste, and pure. It never comes into her mind to love elsewhere.

Of the two feudal women, the Heiress and Griselda, it is peculiarly the first who has her household of gentlemen, her courts of love, who shows favour to the humblest lovers, encouraging them, delivering, as Eleanor did, the famous sentence, soon to become quite classical: "There can be no love between married folk."

Thereupon a secret hope, but hot and violent withal, arises in more than one young heart. If he must give himself to the Devil, he will rush full tilt on this adventurous intrigue. Let the castle be never so surely closed, one fine opening is still left for Satan. In a game so perilous, what chance of success reveals itself? Wisdom answers, None. But what if Satan said, Yes?

We must remember how great a distance feudal pride set between the nobles themselves. Words are misleading: one cavalier might be far below another.

The knight banneret, who brought a whole army of vassals to his king's side, would look with utter scorn from one end of his long table on the poor lackland knights seated at the other. How much greater his scorn for the simple varlets, grooms, pages, &c., fed upon his leavings! Seated at the lowermost end of the tables close to the door, they scraped the dishes sent down to them, often empty, from the personages seated above beside the hearth. It never would cross the great lord's mind, that those below would dare to lift eyes of fancy towards their lovely mistress, the haughty heiress of a fief, sitting near her mother, "crowned by a chaplet of white roses." Whilst he bore with wondrous patience the love of some stranger knight, appointed by his lady to bear her colours, he would have savagely punished the boldness of any servant who looked so high. Of this kind was the raging jealousy shown by the Lord of Fayel, who was stirred to deadly wrath, not because his wife had a lover, but because that lover was one of his household, the castellan or simple constable of his castle of Coucy.

The deeper and less passable seemed the gulf between the great heiress, lady of the manor, and the groom or page who, barring his shirt, had nothing, not even his coat, but what belonged to his master, the stronger became love's temptation to overleap that gulf.

The youth was buoyed up by the very impossibility. At length, one day that he managed to get out of the tower, he ran off to the Witch and asked her advice. Would a philtre serve as a spell to win her? Or, failing that, must he make an express covenant? He never shrank at all from the dreadful idea of yielding himself to Satan. "We will take care for that, young man: but hie thee up again; you will find some change already."

* * * * *

The change, however, is in himself. He is stirred by some ineffable hope, that escapes in spite of him from a deep downcast eye, scored by an ever-darting flame. Somebody, we may guess who, having eyes for him alone, is moved to throw him, as she passes, a word of pity. Oh, rapture! Kind Satan! Charming, adorable Witch!

He cannot eat nor drink until he has been to see the latter again. Respectfully kissing her hand, he almost falls at her feet. Whatever she may ask him, whatever she may bid him do, he will obey her. That moment, if she wishes it, he will give her his golden chain, will give her the ring upon his finger, though he had it from a dying mother. But the Witch, in her native malice, in her hatred of the Baron, feels an especial comfort in dealing him a secret blow.

Already a vague anxiety disturbs the castle. A dumb tempest, without lightning or thunder, broods over it, like an electric vapour on a marsh. All is silence, deep silence; but the lady is troubled. She suspects that some supernatural power has been at work. For why indeed be thus drawn to this youth, more than to some one else, handsomer, nobler, renowned already for deeds of arms? There is something toward, down yonder! Has that woman cast a spell upon her, or worked some hidden charm? The more she asks herself these questions, the more her heart is troubled.

* * * * *

The Witch has something to wreak her malice upon at last. In the village she was a queen; but now the castle comes to her, yields itself up to her on that side where its pride ran the greatest risk. For us this passion has a peculiar interest, as the rush of one soul towards its ideal against every social harrier, against the unjust decree of fate. To the Witch, on her side, it holds out the deep, keen delight of humbling the lady's pride, and revenging perhaps her own wrongs; the delight of serving the lord as he served his vassals, of levying upon him, through the boldness of a mere child, the firstfruits of his outrageous wedding-rights. Undoubtedly, in these intrigues where the Witch had to play her part, she often acted from a depth of levelling hatred natural to a peasant.

Already it was something gained to have made the lady stoop to love a menial. We should not be misled by such examples as John of Saintre and Cherubin. The serving-boy filled the lowest offices in the household. The footman proper did not then exist, while on the other hand, few, if any maidservants lived in military strongholds. Young hands did everything, and were not disgraced thereby. The service, specially the body-service of the lord and lady, honoured and raised them up. Nevertheless, it often placed the highborn page in situations sorrowful enough, prosaic, not to say ridiculous. The lord never distresses himself about that. And the lady must indeed be charmed by the Devil, not to see what every day she saw, her well-beloved employed in servile and unsuitable tasks.

* * * * *

In the Middle Ages the very high and the very low are continually brought together. That which is hidden by the poems, we can catch a glimpse of otherwhere. With those ethereal passions, many gross things were clearly blended.

All we know of the charms and philtres used by the witches is very fantastic, not seldom marked by malice, and recklessly mixed up with things that seem to us the least likely to have awakened love. By these methods they went a long way without the husband's perceiving in his blindness the game they made of him.

These philtres were of various kinds. Some were for exciting and troubling the senses, like the stimulants so much abused in the East. Others were dangerous, and often treacherous draughts to whose illusions the body would yield itself without the will. Others again were employed as tests when the passion was defied, when one wished to see how far the greediness of desire might derange the senses, making them receive as the highest and holiest of favours, the most disagreeable services done by the object of their love.

The rude way in which a castle was constructed, with nothing in it but large halls, led to an utter sacrifice of the inner life. It was long enough before they took to building in one of the turrets a closet or recess for meditation and the saying of prayers. The lady was easily watched. On certain days set or waited for, the bold youth would attempt the stroke, recommended him by the Witch, of mingling a philtre with her drink.

This, however, was a dangerous matter, not often tried. Less difficult was it to purloin from the lady things which escaped her notice, which she herself despised. He would treasure up the very smallest paring of a nail; he would gather up respectfully one or two beautiful hairs that might fall from her comb. These he would carry to the Witch, who often asked, as our modern sleep-wakers do, for something very personal and strongly redolent of the person, but obtained without her leave; as, for instance, some threads torn out of a garment long worn and soiled with the traces of perspiration. With much kissing, of course, and worshipping, the lover was fain reluctantly to throw these treasures into the fire, with a view to gathering up the ashes afterwards. By and by, when she came to look at her garment, the fine lady would remark the rent, but guessing at the cause, would only sigh and hold her tongue. The charm had already begun to work.

* * * * *

Even if she hesitated from regard for her marriage-vow, certain it is that life in a space so narrow, where they were always in each other's sight, so near and yet so far, became a downright torment. And even when she had once shown her weakness, still before her husband and others equally jealous the moments of happiness would assuredly be rare. Hence sprang many a foolish outbreak of unsatisfied desire. The less they came together, the more deeply they longed to do so. A disordered fancy sought to attain that end by means grotesque, unnatural, utterly senseless. So by way of establishing a means of secret correspondence between the two, the Witch had the letters of the alphabet pricked on both their arms. If one of them wanted to send a thought to the other, he brightened and brought out by sucking the blood-red letters of the wished-for word. Immediately, so it is said, the corresponding letters bled on the other's arm.

Sometimes in these mad fits they would drink each of the other's blood, so as to mingle their souls, it was said, in close communion. The devouring of Coucy's heart, which the lady "found so good that she never ate again," is the most tragical instance of these monstrous vows of loving cannibalism. But when the absent one did not die, but only the love within him, then the lady would seek counsel of the Witch, begging of her the means of holding him, of bringing him back.

The incantations used by the sorceress of Theocritus and Virgil, though employed also in the Middle Ages, were seldom of much avail. An attempt was made to win back the lover by a spell seemingly copied from antiquity, by means of a cake, of a confarreatio[49] like that which, both in Asia and Europe, had always been the holiest pledge of love. But in this case it is not the soul only, it is the flesh also they seek to bind; there must be so true an identity established between the two, that, dead to all other women, he shall live only for her. It was a cruel ceremony on the woman's side. "No haggling, madam," says the Witch. Suddenly the proud dame grows obedient, even to letting herself be stripped bare: for thus indeed it must be.

[49] One form of wedding among the Romans, in which the bride-cake was broken between the pair, in token of their union.—TRANS.

What a triumph for the Witch! And if this lady were the same as she who had once made her "run the gauntlet," how meet the vengeance, how dread the requital now! But it is not enough to have stripped her thus naked. About her loins is fastened a little shelf, on which a small oven is set for the cooking of the cake. "Oh, my dear, I cannot bear it longer! Make haste, and relieve me."

"You must bear it, madam; you must feel the heat. When the cake is done, he will be warmed by you, by your flame."

It is over; and now we have the cake of antiquity, of the Indian and the Roman marriage, but spiced and warmed up by the lecherous spirit of the Devil. She does not say with Virgil's wizard,[50]

"Ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnin!"

[50] "Hither, ye spells of mine, bring Daphnis home from the city!"—Virgil, Eclogue viii.

But she takes him the cake, steeped, as it were, in the other's suffering, and kept warm by her love. He has hardly bitten it when he is overtaken by an odd emotion, by a feeling of dizziness. Then as the blood rushes up to his heart he turns red and hot. Passion fastens anew on him, and inextinguishable desire.[51]

[51] I am wrong in saying inextinguishable. Fresh philtres were often needed; and the blame of this must lie with the lady, from whom the Witch in her mocking, malignant rage exacted the most humiliating observances.



We must now speak of the Sabbaths; a word which at different times clearly meant quite different things. Unhappily, we have no detailed accounts of these gatherings earlier than the reign of Henry IV.[52] By that time they were nothing more than a great lewd farce carried on under the cloak of witchcraft. But these very descriptions of a thing so greatly corrupted are marked by certain antique touches that tell of the successive periods and the different forms through which it had passed.

[52] The least bad of these is by Lancre, a man of some wit, whose evident connection with some young witches gave him something to say. The accounts of the Jesuit Del Rio and the Dominican Michaelis are the absurd productions of two credulous and silly pedants.

* * * * *

We may set out with this firm idea that, for many centuries, the serf led the life of a wolf or a fox; that he was an animal of the night, moving about, I may say, as little as possible in the daytime, and truly living in the night alone.

Still, up to the year 1000, so long as the people made their own saints and legends, their daily life was not to them uninteresting. Their nightly Sabbaths were only a slight relic of paganism. They held in fear and honour the Moon, so powerful over the good things of earth. Her chief worshippers, the old women, burn small candles to Dianom—the Diana of yore, whose other names were Luna and Hecate. The Lupercal (or wolf-man) is always following the women and children, disguised indeed under the dark face of ghost Hallequin (Harlequin). The Vigil of Venus was kept as a holiday precisely on the first of May. On Midsummer Day they kept the Sabaza by sacrificing the he-goat of Bacchus Sabasius. In all this there was no mockery; nothing but a harmless carnival of serfs.

But about the year 1000 the church is well-nigh shut against the peasant through the difference between his language and hers. By 1100 her services became quite unintelligible. Of the mysteries played at the church-doors, he has retained chiefly the comic side, the ox and the ass, &c. On these he makes Christmas carols, which grow ever more and more burlesque, forming a true Sabbatic literature.

* * * * *

Are we to suppose that the great and fearful risings of the twelfth century had no influence on these mysteries, on this night-life of the wolf, the game bird, the wild quarry. The great sacraments of rebellion among the serfs, when they drank of each other's blood, or ate of the ground by way of solemn pledge,[53] may have been celebrated at the Sabbaths. The "Marseillaise" of that time, sung by night rather than day, was perhaps a Sabbatic chant:—

"Nous sommes hommes commes ils sont! Tout aussi grand coeur nous avons! Tout autant souffrir nous pouvons!"[54]

[53] At the battle of Courtray. See also Grimm and my Origines.


"We are fashioned of one clay: Big as theirs our hearts are aye: We can bear as much as they."—TRANS.

But the tombstone falls again in 1200. Seated thereon the Pope and the King, with their enormous weight, have sealed up man. Has he now his old life by night? More than ever. The old pagan dances must by this time have waxed furious. Our negroes of the Antilles, after a dreadful day of heat and hard work, would go and dance away some four leagues off. So it was with the serf too. But with his dances there must have mingled a merriment born of revenge, satiric farces, burlesques and caricatures of the baron and the priest: a whole literature of the night indeed, that knew not one word of the literature of the day, that knew little even of the burgher Fabliaux.

* * * * *

Of such a nature were the Sabbaths before 1300. Before they could take the startling form of open warfare against the God of those days, much more was needed still, and especially these two things: not only a descending into the very depths of despair, but also an utter losing of respect for anything.

To this pass they do not come until the fourteenth century, under the Avignon popes, and during the Great Schism; when the Church with two heads seems no longer a church; when the king and all his nobles, being in shameful captivity to the English, are extorting the means of ransom from their oppressed and outraged people. Then do the Sabbaths take the grand and horrible form of the Black Mass, of a ritual upside down, in which Jesus is defied and bidden to thunder on the people if He can. In the thirteenth century this devilish drama was still impossible, through the horror it would have caused. And later again, in the fifteenth, when everything, even suffering itself, had become exhausted, so fierce an outburst could not have issued forth; so monstrous an invention no one would have essayed. It could only have belonged to the age of Dante.

* * * * *

It took place, I fancy, at one gush; an explosion as it were of genius raving, bringing impiety up to the height of a great popular passion-fit. To understand the nature of these bursts of rage, we must remember that, far from imagining the fixedness of God's laws, a people brought up by their own clergy to believe and depend on miracles, had for ages past been hoping and waiting for nothing else than a miracle which never came. In vain they demanded one in the desperate hour of their last worst strait. Heaven thenceforth appeared to them as the ally of their savage tormentors, nay, as itself a tormentor too.

Thereon began the Black Mass and the Jacquerie.[55]

[55] The Peasants' war which raged in France in 1364.

In the elastic shell of the Black Mass, a thousand variations of detail may afterwards have been inserted; but the shell itself was strongly made and, in my opinion, all of one piece.

This drama I succeeded in reproducing in my "History of France," in the year 1857. There was small difficulty in casting it anew in its four acts. Only at that time I left in it too many of the grotesque adornments which clothed the Sabbath of a later period; nor did I clearly enough define what belonged to the older shell, so dark and dreadful.

* * * * *

Its date is strongly marked by certain savage tokens of an age accursed, and yet more by the ruling place therein assigned to woman, a fact most characteristic of the fourteenth century.

It is strange to mark how, at that period, the woman who enjoys so little freedom still holds her royal sway in a hundred violent fashions. At this time she inherits fiefs, brings her kingdoms to the king. On the lower levels she has still her throne, and yet more in the skies. Mary has supplanted Jesus. St. Francis and St. Dominic have seen the three worlds in her bosom. By the immensity of her grace she washes away sin; ay, and sometimes helps the sinner,—as in the story of a nun whose place the Virgin took in the choir, while she herself was gone to meet her lover.

Up high, and down very low, we see the woman. Beatrice reigns in heaven among the stars, while John of Meung in the Romaunt of the Rose is preaching the community of women. Pure or sullied, the woman is everywhere. We might say of her what Raymond Lulle said of God: "What part has He in the world? The whole."

But alike in heaven and in poetry the true heroine is not the fruitful mother decked out with children; but the Virgin, or some barren Beatrice, who dies young.

A fair English damsel passed over into France, it is said, about the year 1300, to preach the redemption of women. She looked on herself as their Messiah.

* * * * *

In its earliest phase the Black Mass seemed to betoken this redemption of Eve, so long accursed of Christianity. The woman fills every office in the Sabbath. She is priestess, altar, pledge of holy communion, by turns. Nay, at bottom, is she not herself as God?

* * * * *

Many popular traits may be found herein, and yet it comes not wholly from the people. The peasant who honoured strength alone, made small account of the woman; as we see but too clearly in our old laws and customs. From him the woman would not have received the high place she holds here. It is by her own self the place is won.

I would gladly believe that the Sabbath in its then shape was woman's work, the work of such a desperate woman as the Witch was then. In the fourteenth century she saw open before her a horrible career of torments lighted up for three or four hundred years by the stake. After 1300 her medical knowledge is condemned as baleful, her remedies are proscribed as if they were poisons. The harmless drawing of lots, by which lepers then thought to better their luck, brought on a massacre of those poor wretches. Pope John XXII. ordered the burning of a bishop suspected of Witchcraft. Under a system of such blind repression there was just the same risk in daring little as in daring much. Danger itself made people bolder; and the Witch was able to dare anything.

* * * * *

Human brotherhood, defiance of the Christian heaven, a distorted worship of nature herself as God—such was the purport of the Black Mass.

They decked an altar to the arch-rebel of serfs, to Him who had been so wronged, the old outlaw, unfairly hunted out of heaven, "the Spirit by whom earth was made, the Master who ordained the budding of the plants." Such were the names of honour given him by his worshippers, the Luciferians, and also, according to a very likely opinion, by the Knights of the Temple.

The greatest miracle of those unhappy times is, the greater abundance found at the nightly communion of the brotherhood, than was to be found elsewhere by day. By incurring some little danger the Witch levied her contributions from those who were best off, and gathered their offerings into a common fund. Charity in a Satanic garb grew very powerful, as being a crime, a conspiracy, a form of rebellion. People would rob themselves of their food by day for the sake of the common meal at night.

* * * * *

Figure to yourself, on a broad moor, and often near an old Celtic cromlech, at the edge of a wood, this twofold scene: on one side a well-lit moor and a great feast of the people; on the other, towards yon wood, the choir of that church whose dome is heaven. What I call the choir is a hill commanding somewhat the surrounding country. Between these are the yellow flames of torch-fires, and some red brasiers emitting a fantastic smoke. At the back of all is the Witch, dressing up her Satan, a great wooden devil, black and shaggy. By his horns, and the goatskin near him, he might be Bacchus; but his manly attributes make him a Pan or a Priapus. It is a darksome figure, seen differently by different eyes; to some suggesting only terror, while others are touched by the proud melancholy wherein the Eternally Banished seems absorbed.[56]

[56] This is taken from Del Rio, but is not, I think, peculiar to Spain. It is an ancient trait, and marked by the primitive inspiration.

* * * * *

Act First. The magnificent In troit taken by Christendom from antiquity, that is, from those ceremonies where the people in long train streamed under the colonnades on their way to the sanctuary, is now taken back for himself by the elder god upon his return to power. The Lavabo, likewise borrowed from the heathen lustrations, reappears now. All this he claims back by right of age.

His priestess is always called, by way of honour, the Elder; but she would sometimes have been young. Lancre tells of a witch of seventeen, pretty, and horribly savage.

The Devil's bride was not to be a child: she must be at least thirty years old, with the form of a Medea, with the beauty that comes of pain; an eye deep, tragic, lit up by a feverish fire, with great serpent tresses waving at their will: I refer to the torrent of her black untamable hair. On her head, perhaps, you may see the crown of vervein, the ivy of the tomb, the violets of death.

When she has had the children taken off to their meal, the service begins: "I will come before thine altar; but save me, O Lord, from the faithless and violent man (from the priest and the baron)."

Then come the denial of Jesus, the paying of homage to the new master, the feudal kiss, like the greetings of the Temple, when all was yielded without reserve, without shame, or dignity, or even purpose; the denial of an olden god being grossly aggravated by a seeming preference for Satan's back.

It is now his turn to consecrate his priestess. The wooden deity receives her in the manner of an olden Pan or Priapus. Following the old pagan form she sits a moment upon him in token of surrender, like the Delphian seeress on Apollo's tripod. After receiving the breath of his spirit, the sacrament of his love, she purifies herself with like formal solemnity. Thenceforth she is a living altar.

* * * * *

The Introit over, the service is interrupted for the feast. Contrary to the festive fashion of the nobles, who all sit with their swords beside them, here, in this feast of brethren, are no arms, not even a knife.

As a keeper of the peace, each has a woman with him. Without a woman no one is admitted. Be she a kinswoman or none, a wife or none; be she old or young, a woman he must bring with him.

What were the drinks passed round among them? Mead, or beer, or wine; strong cider or perry? The last two date from the twelfth century.

The illusive drinks, with their dangerous admixture of belladonna, did they already appear at that board? Certainly not. There were children there. Besides, an excess of commotion would have prevented the dancing.

This whirling dance, the famous Sabbath-round, was quite enough to complete the first stage of drunkenness. They turned back to back, their arms behind them, not seeing each other, but often touching each other's back. Gradually no one knew himself, nor whom he had by his side. The old wife then was old no more. Satan had wrought a miracle. She was still a woman, desirable, after a confused fashion beloved.

* * * * *

Act Second. Just as the crowd, grown dizzy together, was led, both by the attraction of the women and by a certain vague feeling of brotherhood, to imagine itself one body, the service was resumed at the Gloria. The altar, the host, became visible. These were represented by the woman herself. Prostrate, in a posture of extreme abasement, her long black silky tresses lost in the dust; she, this haughty Proserpine, offered up herself. On her back a demon officiated, saying the Credo, and making the offering.[57]

[57] This important fact of the woman being her own altar, is known to us by the trial of La Voisin, which M. Ravaisson, Sen., is about to publish with the other Papers of the Bastille.

At a later period this scene came to be immodest. But at this time, amidst the calamities of the fourteenth century, in the terrible days of the Black Plague, and of so many a famine, in the days of the Jacquerie and those hateful brigands, the Free Lances,—on a people thus surrounded by danger, the effect was more than serious. The whole assembly had much cause to fear a surprise. The risk run by the Witch in this bold proceeding was very great, even tantamount to the forfeiting of her life. Nay, more; she braved a hell of suffering, of torments such as may hardly be described. Torn by pincers, and broken alive; her breasts torn out; her skin slowly singed, as in the case of the wizard bishop of Cahors; her body burned limb by limb on a small fire of red-hot coal, she was like to endure an eternity of agony.

Certainly all were moved when the prayer was spoken, the harvest-offering made, upon this devoted creature who gave herself up so humbly. Some wheat was offered to the Spirit of the Earth, who made wheat to grow. A flight of birds, most likely from the woman's bosom, bore to the God of Freedom the sighs and prayers of the serfs. What did they ask? Only that we, their distant descendants, might become free.[58]

[58] This grateful offering of wheat and birds is peculiar to France. In Lorraine, and no doubt in Germany, black beasts were offered, as the black cat, the black goat, or the black bull.

What was the sacrament she divided among them? Not the ridiculous pledge we find later in the reign of Henry IV., but most likely that confarreatio which we saw in the case of the philtres, the hallowed pledge of love, a cake baked on her own body, on the victim who, perhaps, to-morrow would herself be passing through the fire. It was her life, her death, they ate there. One sniffs already the scorching flesh.

Last of all they set upon her two offerings, seemingly of flesh; two images, one of the latest dead, the other of the newest-born in the district. These shared in the special virtue assigned to her who acted as altar and Host in one, and on these the assembly made a show of receiving the communion. Their Host would thus be threefold, and always human. Under a shadowy likeness of the Devil the people worshipped none other than its own self.

The true sacrifice was now over and done. The woman's work was ended, when she gave herself up to be eaten by the multitude. Rising from her former posture, she would not withdraw from the spot until she had proudly stated, and, as it were, confirmed the lawfulness of her proceedings by an appeal to the thunderbolt, by an insolent defiance of the discrowned God.

In mockery of the Agnus Dei, and the breaking of the Christian Host, she brought a toad dressed up, and pulled it to pieces. Then rolling her eyes about in a frightful way she raised them to heaven, and beheading the toad, uttered these strange words: "Ah, Philip,[59] if I had you here, you should be served in the same manner!"

[59] Lancre, 136. Why "Philip," I cannot say. By Satan Jesus is always called John or Janicot (Jack). Was she speaking of Philip of Valois, who brought on the wasting hundred years' war with England?

* * * * *

No answer being outwardly given to her challenge, no thunderbolt hurled upon her head, they imagine that she has triumphed over the Christ. The nimble band of demons seized their moment to astonish the people with various small wonders which amazed and overawed the more credulous. The toads, quite harmless in fact, but then accounted poisonous, were bitten and torn between their dainty teeth. They jumped over large fires and pans of live coal, to amuse the crowd and make them laugh at the fires of Hell.

Did the people really laugh after a scene so tragical, so very bold? I know not. Assuredly there was no laughing on the part of her who first dared all this. To her these fires must have seemed like those of the nearest stake. Her business rather lay in forecasting the future of that devilish monarchy, in creating the Witch to be.



And now the multitude is made free, is of good cheer. For some hours the serf reigns in short-lived freedom. His time indeed is scant enough. Already the sky is changing, the stars are going down. Another moment, and the cruel dawn remits him to his slavery, brings him back again under hostile eyes, under the shadow of the castle, beneath the shadow of the church; back again to his monotonous toiling, to the old unending weariness of heart, governed as it were by two bells, whereof one keeps saying "Always," the other "Never." Anon they will be seen coming each out of his own house, heavily, humbly, with an air of calm composure.

Let them at least enjoy the one short moment! Let each of these disinherited, for once fulfil his fancy, for once indulge his musings. What soul is there so all unhappy, so lost to all feeling, as never to have one good dream, one fond desire; never to say, "If this would only happen!"

The only detailed accounts we have, as I said before, are modern, belonging to a time of peace and well-doing, when France was blooming afresh, in the latter years of Henry VI., years of thriving luxury, entirely different from that dark age when the Sabbath was first set going.

No thanks to Mr. Lancre and others, if we refrain from pourtraying the Third Act as like the Church-Fair of Rubens, a very miscellaneous orgie, a great burlesque ball, which allowed of every kind of union, especially between near kindred. According to those authors, who would make us groan with horror, the main end of the Sabbath, the explicit doctrine taught by Satan, was incest; and in those great gatherings, sometimes of two thousand souls, the most startling deeds were done before the whole world.

This is hard to believe; and the same writers tell of other things which seem quite opposed to a view so cynical. They say that people went to those meetings only in pairs, that they sat down to the feast by twos, that even if one person came alone, she was assigned a young demon, who took charge of her, and did the honours of the feast. They say, too, that jealous lovers were not afraid to go thither in company with the curious fair.

We also find that the most of them came by families, children and all. The latter were sent off only during the first act, not during the feast, nor the services, nor yet while this third act was going on; a fact which proves that some decency was observed. Moreover, the scene was twofold. The household groups stayed on the moor in a blaze of light. It was only beyond the fantastic curtain of torch-smoke that the darker spaces, where people could roam in all directions, began.

The judges, the inquisitors, for all their enmity, are fain to allow the existence here of a general spirit of peace and mildness. Of the three things that startle us in the feasts of nobles, there is not one here; no swords, no duels, no tables reeking blood. No faithless gallantries here bring dishonour on some intimate friend. Unknown, unneeded here, for all they say, is the unclean brotherhood of the Temple; in the Sabbath, woman is everything.

The question of incest needs explaining. All alliances between kinsfolk, even those most allowable in the present day, were then regarded as a crime. The modern law, which is charity itself, understands the heart of man and the well-being of families.[60] It allows the widower to marry his wife's sister, the best mother his children could have. Above all, it allows a man to wed his cousin, whom he knows and may trust fully, whom he has loved perhaps from childhood, his playfellow of old, regarded by his mother with special favour as already the adopted of her own heart. In the Middle Ages all this was incestuous.

[60] Of course the allusion here, as shown in the next following sentence, is to French law in particular. As for the marriage of cousins, there is much to say on both sides of the question.—TRANS.

The peasant being fondest of his own family was driven to despair. It was a monstrous thing for him to marry a cousin, even in the sixth degree. It was impossible for him to get married in his own village where the question of kinship stood so much in his way. He had to look for a wife elsewhere, afar off. But in those days there was not much intercourse or acquaintance between different places, and each hated its own neighbours. On feast days one village would fight another without knowing the reason why, as may sometimes still be seen in countries never so thinly peopled. No one durst go seek a wife in the very spot where men had been fighting together, where he himself would have been in great danger.

There was another difficulty. The lord of the young serf forbade his marrying in the next lordship. Becoming the serf of his wife's lord he would have been wholly lost to his own. Thus he was debarred by the priest from his cousin, by the lord from a stranger; and so it happened that many did not marry at all.

The result was just what they pretended to avoid. In the Sabbath the natural sympathies sprang forth again. There the youth found again her whom he had known and loved at first, her whose "little husband" he had been called at ten years old. Preferring her as he certainly did, he paid but little heed to canonical hindrances.

When we come to know the Mediaeval Family better, we give up believing the declamatory assumptions of a general mingling together of the people forming so great a crowd. On the contrary, we feel that each small group is so closely joined together, as to be utterly barred to the entrance of a stranger.

The serf was not jealous towards his own kin, but his poverty and wretchedness made him exceedingly afraid of worsening his lot by multiplying children whom he could not support. The priest and the lord on their part wished to increase the number of their serfs—wanted the woman to be always bearing; and the strangest sermons were often delivered on this head,[61] varied sometimes with threats and cruel reproaches. All the more resolute was the prudence of the man. The woman, poor creature, unable to bear children fit to live on such conditions, bearing them only to her sorrow, had a horror of being made big. She never would have ventured to one of these night festivals without being first assured, again and again, that no woman ever came away pregnant.[62]

[61] The ingenious M. Genin has very recently collected the most curious information on this point.

[62] Boguet, Lancre, and other authors, are agreed on this question.

They were drawn thither by the banquet, the dancing, the lights, the amusements; in nowise by carnal pleasure. The last thing they cared for was to heighten their poverty, to bring one more wretch into the world, to give another serf to their lord.

* * * * *

Cruel indeed was the social system of those days. Authority bade men marry, but rendered marriage nearly impossible, at once by the excessive misery of most, and the senseless cruelty of the canonical prohibitions.

The result was quite opposed to the purity thus preached. Under a show of Christianity existed the patriarchate of Asia alone.

Only the firstborn married. The younger brothers and sisters worked under him and for him. In the lonely farms of the mountains of the South, far from all neighbours and every woman, brothers and sisters lived together, the latter serving and in all ways belonging to the former; a way of life analogous to that in Genesis, to the marriages of the Parsees, to the customs still obtaining in certain shepherd tribes of the Himalayas.

The mother's fate was still more revolting. She could not marry her son to a kinswoman, and thus secure to herself a kindly-affected daughter-in-law. Her son married, if he could, a girl from a distant village, an enemy often, whose entrance proved baneful either to the children of a former marriage, or to the poor mother, who was often driven away by the stranger wife. You may not think it, but the fact is certainly so. At the very least she was ill-used; banished from the fireside, from the very table.

There is a Swiss law forbidding the removal of the mother from her place by the chimney-corner.

She was exceedingly afraid of her son's marrying. But her lot was little happier if he did not marry. None the less servant was she of the young master of the house, who succeeded to all his father's rights, even to that of beating her. This impious custom I have seen still followed in the South: a son of five-and-twenty chastising his mother when she got drunk.

* * * * *

How much greater her suffering in those days of savagery! Then it was rather he who came back from the feast half-drunken, hardly knowing what he was about. But one room, but one bed, was all they had between them. She was by no means free from fear. He had seen his friends married, and felt soured thereat. Thenceforth her way is marked by tears, by utter weakness, by a woful self-surrender. Threatened by her only God, her son, heart-broken at finding herself in a plight so unnatural, she falls desperate. She tries to drown all her memories in sleep. At length comes an issue for which neither of them can fairly account, an issue such as nowadays will often happen in the poorer quarters of large towns, where some poor woman is forced, frightened, perhaps beaten, into bearing every outrage. Thus conquered, and, spite of her scruples, far too resigned, she endured thenceforth a pitiable bondage; a life of shame and sorrow, and abundant anguish, growing with the yearly widening difference between their several ages. The woman of six-and-thirty might keep watch over a son of twenty years: but at fifty, alas! or still later, where would he be? From the great Sabbath where thronged the people of far villages, he would be bringing home a strange woman for his youthful mistress, a woman hard, heartless, devoid of ruth, who would rob her of her son, her seat by the fire, her bed, of the very house which she herself had made.

To believe Lancre and others, Satan accounted the son for praiseworthy, if he kept faithful to his mother, thus making a virtue of a crime. If this be true, we must assume that the woman was protected by a woman, that the Witch sided with the mother, to defend her hearth against a daughter-in-law who, stick in hand, would have sent her forth to beg.

Lancre further maintains that "never was good Witch, but she sprang from the love of a mother for her son." In this way, indeed, was born the Persian soothsayer, the natural fruit, they say, of so hateful a mystery; and thus the secrets of the magical art were kept confined to one family which constantly renewed itself.

An impious error led them to imitate the harmless mystery of the husbandman, the unceasing vegetable round whereby the corn resown in the furrow, brings forth its corn.

The less monstrous unions of brother with sister, so common in the East, and in Greece, were cold and rarely fruitful. They were wisely abandoned; nor would people ever have returned to them, but for that rebellious spirit which, being aroused by absurd restrictions, flung itself foolishly into the opposite extreme. Thus from unnatural laws, hatred begot unnatural customs.

A cruel, an accursed time, a time big with despair!

* * * * *

We have been long discoursing; but the dawn is well-nigh come. In a moment the hour will strike for the spirits to take themselves away. The Witch feels her dismal flowers already withering on her brow. Farewell, her royalty, perhaps her life! Where would they be, if the day still found her there?

Of Satan, what shall she make? A flame, a cinder? He asks for nothing better; knowing well, in his craftiness, that the only way to live and to be born again, is first to die.

And will he die, he who as the mighty summoner of the dead, granted to them that mourn their only joy on earth, the love they had lost, the dream they had cherished? Ah, no! he is very sure to live.

Will he die, he that mighty spirit who, finding Creation accurst, and Nature lying cold upon the ground, flung thither like a dirty foster-child from off the Church's garment, gathered her up and placed her on his bosom? In truth it cannot be.

Will he die, he the one great physician of the Middle Ages, of a world that, falling sick, was saved by his poisons and bidden, poor fool, to live?

As the gay rogue is sure of living, he dies wholly at his ease. He shuffles out of himself, cleverly burns up his fine goatskin, and disappears in a blaze of dawn.

But she who made Satan, who made all things, good or ill, whose countenance was given to so many forms of love, of devotion, and of crime,—to what end will she come? Behold her all lonely on her waste moorland.

She is not, as they say, the dread of all. Many will bless her. More than one have found her beautiful, would sell their share in Paradise to dare be near her. But all around her is a wide gulf. They who admire, are none the less afraid of this all-powerful Medea, with her fair deep eyes, and the thrilling adders of her dark overflowing hair.

To her thus lonely for ever, for evermore without love, what is there left? Nothing but the Demon who had suddenly disappeared.

"'Tis well, good Devil, let us go. I am utterly loath to stay here any more. Hell itself is far preferable. Farewell to the world!"

She must live but a very little longer, to play out the dreadful drama she had herself begun. Near her, ready saddled by the obedient Satan, stood a huge black horse, the fire darting from his eyes and nostrils. She sprang upon him with one bound.

They follow her with their eyes. The good folk say with alarm, "What is to become of her?" With a frightful burst of laughter, she goes off, vanishing swift as an arrow. They would like much to know what becomes of the poor woman, but that they never will.[63]

[63] See the end of the Witch of Berkeley, as told by William of Malmesbury.




The Devil's delicate fondling, the lesser Witch, begotten of the Black Mass after the greater one's disappearance, came and bloomed in all her malignant cat-like grace. This woman is quite the reverse of the other: refined and sidelong in manner, sly and purring demurely, quick also at setting up her back. There is nothing of the Titan about her, to be sure. Far from that, she is naturally base; lewd from her cradle and full of evil daintinesses. Her whole life is the expression of those unclean thoughts which sometimes in a dream by night may assail him who would shrink with horror from any such by day.

She who is born with such a secret in her blood, with such instinctive mastery of evil, she who has looked so far and so low down, will have no religion, no respect for anything or person in the world; none even for Satan, since he is a spirit still, while she has a particular relish for all things material.

In her childhood she spoiled everything. Tall and pretty she startled all by her slovenly habits. With her Witchcraft becomes a mysterious cooking up of some mysterious chemistry. From an early date she delights to handle repulsive things, to-day a drug, to-morrow an intrigue. Among diseases and love-affairs she is in her element. She will make a clever go-between, a bold and skilful empiric. War will be made against her as a fancied murderer, as a woman who deals in poisons. And yet she has small taste for such things, is far from murderous in her desires. Devoid of goodness, she yet loves life, loves to work cures, to prolong others' lives. She is dangerous in two ways: on the one hand by selling receipts for barrenness, and even for abortion; while on the other, her headlong libertine fancy leads her to compass a woman's fall with her cursed potions, to triumph in the wicked deeds of love.

Different, indeed, is this one from the other! She is a manufacturer: the other was the ungodly one, the demon, the great rebellion, the wife, we might almost say, the mother of Satan; for out of her and her inward strength he grew up. But this one is the Devil's daughter notwithstanding. Two things she derives from him, her uncleanness, her love of handling life. These are her allotted walk, in these she is quite an artist; an artist already trading in her lore, and we are admitted into the business.

It was said that she would perpetuate herself by the incest from which she sprang. But she has no need of that: numberless little ones will she beget without help from another. In less than fifty years, at the opening of the fifteenth century, under Charles VI., a mighty contagion was spread abroad. Whoever thought he had any secrets or any receipts, whoever fancied himself a seer, whoever dreamed and travelled in his dreams, would call himself a pet of Satan. Every moonstruck woman adopted the awful name of Witch!

A perilous, profitable name, cast at her in their hatred by people who alternately insult and implore the unknown power. It is none the less accepted, nay, is often claimed. To the children who follow her, to the woman who, with threatening fists, hurl the name at her like a stone, she turns round, saying proudly, "'Tis true, you have said well!"

The business improves, and men are mingled in it. Hence another fall for the art. Still the least of the witches retains somewhat of the Sibyl. Those other frowsy charlatans, those clownish jugglers, mole-catchers, ratkillers, who throw spells over beasts, who sell secrets which they have not, defiled these times with the stench of a dismal black smoke, of fear and foolery. Satan grows enormous, gets multiplied without end. 'Tis a poor triumph, however, for him. He grows dull and sick at heart. Still the people keep flowing towards him, bent on having no other God than he. Himself only is to himself untrue.

* * * * *

In spite of two or three great discoveries, the fifteenth century is, to my thinking, none the less a century tired out, a century of few ideas.

It opened right worthily with the Sabbath Royal of St. Denis, the wild and woful ball given by Charles VI. in the abbey so named, to commemorate the burial of Du Guesclin, which had taken place so many years before. For three days and nights was Sodom wallowing among the graves. The foolish king, not yet grown quite an idiot, compelled his royal forefathers to share in the ball, by making their dry bones dance in their biers. Death, becoming a go-between whether he would or no, lent a sharp spur to the voluptuous revel. Then broke out those unclean fashions of an age when ladies made themselves taller by wearing the Devil's horned-bonnet, and gloried in dressing as if they were all with child.[64] To this fashion they clung for the next forty years. The younger folk on their side, not to be behind in shamelessness, eclipsed them in the display of naked charms. The woman wore Satan on her forehead in the shape of a horned head-dress: on the feet of the bachelor and the page he was visible in the tapering scorpion-like tips of their shoes. Under the mask of animals they represented the lowest side of brute nature. The famous child stealer, Retz, here took his first flight in villany. The great feudal ladies, unbridled Jezebels, with less sense of shame in them than the men, scorned all disguise whatever; displayed themselves with face uncovered. In their sensual rages, in their mad parade of debauchery, the king, the whole company might see the bottomless pit itself yawning for the life, the feeling, the body, and the soul of each.

[64] Even in a very mystic theme, in a work of such genius as the Lamb of Van Eyck (says John of Bruges), all the Virgins seem big. It was only the quaint fashion of the fifteenth century.

Out of such doings come forth the conquered of Agincourt, a poor generation of effete nobles, in whose miniatures you shiver to see the falling away of their sorry limbs, as shown through the treacherous tightness of their clothes.[65]

[65] This wasting away of a used-up, enervated race, mars the effect of all those splendid miniatures of the Court of Burgundy, the Duke of Berry, &c. No amount of clever handling could make good works of art out of subjects so very pitiable.

* * * * *

Much to be pitied is the Witch who, when the great lady came home from that royal feast, became her bosom-counsellor and agent charged with the doing of impossible things.

In her own castle, indeed, the lady is almost, if not all alone, amidst a crowd of single men. To judge from romances you would think she delighted in girding herself with an array of fair girls. Far otherwise are we taught by history and common sense. Eleanor is not so silly as to match herself against Rosamond. With all their own rakishness, those queens and great ladies could be frightfully jealous; witness she who is said by Henry Martin to have caused the death of a girl admired by her husband, under the outrageous handling of his soldiery. The power wielded by the lady's love depends, we repeat, on her being alone. Whatever her age and figure, she becomes the dream of all. The Witch takes mischievous delight in making her abuse her goddesship, in tempting her to make game of the men she humbles and befools. She goes to all lengths of boldness, even treating them like very beasts. Look at them being transformed! Down on all fours they tumble, like fawning monkeys, absurd bears, lewd dogs, or swine eager to follow their contemptuous Circe.

Her pity rises thereat? Nay, but she grows sick of it all, and kicks those crawling beasts with her foot. The thing is impure, but not heinous enough. An absurd remedy is found for her complaint. These others being so nought, she is to have something yet more nought—namely, a little sweetheart. The advice is worthy of the Witch. Love's spark shall be lighted before its time in some young innocent, sleeping the pure sleep of childhood! Here you have the ugly tale of little John of Saintre, pink of cherubim, and other paltry puppets of the Age of Decay.

Through all those pedantic embellishments and sentimental moralizings, one clearly marks the vile cruelty that lies below. The fruit was killed in the flower. Here, in a manner, is the very "eating of children," which was laid so often to the Witch's charge. Anyhow, she drained their lives. The fair lady who caresses one in so tender and motherly a way, what is she but a vampire, draining the blood of the weak? The upshot of such atrocities we may gather from the tale itself. Saintre becomes a perfect knight, but so utterly frail and weak as to be dared and defied by the lout of a peasant priest, in whom the lady, become better advised, has seen something that will suit her best.

* * * * *

Such idle whimsies heighten the surfeit, the mad rage of an empty mind. Circe among her beasts grows so weary and heartsick that she would be a beast herself. She fancies herself wild, and locks herself up. From her tower she casts an evil eye towards the gloomy forest. She fancies herself a prisoner, and rages like a wolf chained fast. "Let the old woman come this moment: I want her. Run!" Two minutes later again: "What! is she not come yet?"

At last she is come. "Hark you: I have a sore longing—invincible, as you know—to choke you, to drown you, or to give you up to the bishop, who already claims you. You have but one way of escape, that is, to satisfy another longing of mine by changing me into a wolf. I feel wretchedly bored, weary of keeping still. I want, by night at least, to run free about the forest. Away with stupid servants, with dogs that stun me with their noise, with clumsy horses that kick out and shy at a thicket."

"But if you were caught, my lady——"

"Insolent woman! You would rather die, then?"

"At least you have heard the story of the woman-wolf, whose paw was cut off.[66] But, oh! how sorry I should be."

[66] Among the great ladies imprisoned in their castles, this dreadful fancy was not rare. They hungered and thirsted for freedom, for savage freedom. Boguet mentions how, among the hills of Auvergne, a hunter one night drew his sword upon a she-wolf, but missing her, cut off her paw. She fled away limping. He came to a neighbouring castle to seek the hospitality of him who dwelt there. The gentleman, on seeing him, asked if he had had good sport. By way of answer he thought to draw out of his pouch the she-wolf's paw; but what was his amazement to find instead of the paw a hand, and on one of the fingers a ring, which the gentleman recognized as belonging to his wife! Going at once in search of her, he found her hurt and hiding her fore-arm. To the arm which had lost its hand he fitted that which the hunter had brought him, and the lady was fain to own that she it was, who in the likeness of a wolf had attacked the hunter, and afterwards saved herself by leaving a paw on the battle-field. The husband had the cruelty to give her up to justice, and she was burnt.

"That is my concern. I will hear nothing more, I am in a hurry—have been barking already. What happiness, to hunt all by myself in the clear moonlight; by myself to fasten on the hind, or man likewise if he comes near me; to attack the tender children, and, above all, to set my teeth in the women; ay, the women, for I hate them all—not one like yourself. Don't start, I won't bite you—you are not to my taste, and besides, you have no blood in you! 'Tis blood I crave—blood!"

She can no longer refuse. "Nothing easier, my lady. To-night, at nine o'clock, you will drink this. Lock yourself up, and then turning into a wolf, while they think you are still here, you can scour the forest."

It is done; and next morning the lady finds herself worn out and depressed. In one night she must have travelled some thirty leagues. She has been hunting and slaying until she is covered with blood. But the blood, perhaps, comes from her having torn herself among the brambles.

A great triumph and danger also for her who has wrought this miracle. From the lady, however, whose command provoked it, she receives but a gloomy welcome. "Witch, 'tis a fearful power you have; I should never have guessed it. But now I fear and dread you. Good cause, indeed, they have to hate you. A happy day will it be when you are burnt. I can ruin you when I please. One word of mine about last night, and my peasants would this evening whet their scythes upon you. Out, you black-looking, hateful old hag!"

* * * * *

The great folk, her patrons, launch her into strange adventures. For what can she refuse to her terrible protectors, when nothing but the castle saves her from the priest, from the faggot? If the baron, on his return from a crusade, being bent on copying the manners of the Turks, sends for her, and orders her to steal him a few children, what can she do? Raids such as those grand ones in which two thousand pages were sometimes carried off from Greek ground to enter the seraglio, were by no means unknown to the Christians; were known from the tenth century to the barons of England, at a later date to the knights of Rhodes and Malta. The famous Giles of Retz, the only one brought to trial, was punished, not for having stolen his small serfs, a crime not then uncommon, but for having sacrificed them to Satan. She who actually stole them, and was ignorant, doubtless, of their future lot, found herself between two perils: on the one hand the peasant's fork and scythe; on the other, those torments which awaited her, when recusant, within the tower. Retz's terrible Italian would have made nothing of pounding her in a mortar.[67]

[67] See my History of France, and still more the learned and careful account by the lamented Armand Gueraud: Notice sur Gilles de Rais, Nantes, 1855. We there find that the purveyors of that horrible child's charnel-house were mostly men.

On all sides the perils and the profits went together. A position more frightfully corrupting could not have been found. The Witches themselves did not deny the absurd powers imputed to them by the people. They averred that by means of a doll stuck over with needles they could weave their spells around whomever they pleased, making him waste away until he died. They averred that mandragora, torn from beneath the gallows by the teeth of a dog, who invariably died therefrom, enabled them to pervert the understanding; to turn men into beasts, to give women over to idiotcy and madness. Still more dreadful was the furious frenzy caused by the Thorn-apple, or Datura, which made men dance themselves to death, and go through a thousand shameful antics, without their own knowledge or remembrance.[68]

[68] Pouchet, on the Solaneae and General Botany. Nysten, Dictionary of Medicine, article Datura. The robbers employed these potions but too often. A butcher of Aix and his wife, whom they wanted to rob of their money, were made to drink of some such, and became so maddened thereby, that they danced all one night naked in a cemetery.

* * * * *

Hence there grew up against them a feeling of boundless hatred, mingled with as extreme a fear. Sprenger, who wrote the Hammer for Witches, relates with horror how, in a season of snow, when all the roads were broken up, he saw a wretched multitude, wild with terror, and spell-bound by evils all too real, fill up all the approaches to a little German town. "Never," says he, "did you behold so mighty a pilgrimage to our Lady of Grace, or her of the wilderness. All these people, who hobbled, crawled, and stumbled among the quagmires, were on their way to the Witch, to beseech the grace of the Devil upon themselves. How proud and excited must the old woman have felt at seeing so large a concourse prostrate before her feet!"[69]

[69] The Witch delighted in causing the noble and the great to undergo the most outrageous trials of their love. We know that queens and ladies of rank (in Italy even to the last century) held their court at times the most forbidding, and exacted the most unpleasant services from their favourites. There was nothing too mean, too repulsive, for the domestic brute—the cicisbeo, the priest, the half-witted page—to undergo, in the stupid belief that the power of a philtre increased with its nastiness. This was sad enough when the ladies were neither young, nor beautiful, nor witty. But what of that other astounding fact, that a Witch, who was neither a great lady, nor young, nor fair, but poor, and perhaps a serf, clad only in dirty rags, could still by her malice, by the strange power of her raging lewdness, by some bewitchingly treacherous spell, stupefy the gravest personages, and abase them to so low a depth? Some monks of a monastery on the Rhine, wherein, as in many other German convents, none but a noble of four hundred years' standing could gain admission, sorrowfully owned to Sprenger that they had seen three of their brethren bewitched in turn, and a fourth killed by a woman, who boldly said, "I did it, and will do so again: they cannot escape me, for they have eaten," &c. (Sprenger, Malleus maleficarum, quaestio, vii. p. 84.) "The worst of it is," says Sprenger, "that we have no means of punishing or examining her: so she lives still."



The witches took small care to hide their game. Rather they boasted of it; and it was, indeed, from their own lips that Sprenger picked up the bulk of the tales that grace his handbook. It is a pedantic work, marked out into the absurd divisions and subdivisions employed by the followers of St. Thomas Aquinas; but a work sincere withal, and frank-spoken, written by a man so thoroughly frightened by this dreadful duel between God and the Devil, wherein God generally allows the Devil to win, that the only remedy he can discern is to pursue the latter fire in hand, and burn with all speed those bodies which he had chosen for his dwelling-place.

Sprenger's sole merit is the fact of his having written a complete book, which crowns a mighty system, a whole literature. To the old Penitentiaries, handbooks of confessors for the inquisition of sin, succeeded the Directories for the inquisition of heresy, the greatest sin of all. But for Witchcraft, the greatest of all heresies, special handbooks or directories were appointed. Hammers for Witches, to wit. These handbooks, continually enriched by the zeal of the Dominicans, attained perfection in the Malleus of Sprenger, the book by which he himself was guided during his great mission to Germany, and which for a century after served as a guide and light for the courts of the Inquisition.

How was Sprenger led to the study of these things? He tells us that being in Rome, at a refectory where the monks were entertaining some pilgrims, he saw two from Bohemia; one a young priest, the other his father. The father sighing prayed for a successful journey. Touched with a kindly feeling Sprenger asked him why he sorrowed. Because his son was possessed: at great cost and with much trouble he had brought him to the tomb of the saints, at Rome.

"Where is this son of yours?" said the monk.

"By your side."

"At this answer I shrank back alarmed. I scanned the young priest's figure, and was amazed to see him eat with so modest an air, and answer with so much gentleness. He informed me that, on speaking somewhat sharply to an old woman, she had laid him under a spell, and that spell was under a tree. What tree? The Witch steadily refused to say."

Sprenger's charity led him to take the possessed from church to church, from relic to relic. At every halting-place there was an exorcism, followed by furious cries, contortions, jabbering in every language, and gambols without number: all this before the people, who followed the pair with shuddering admiration. The devils, so abundant in Germany, were scarcer among the Italians. For some days Rome talked of nothing else. The noise made by this affair doubtless brought the Dominican into public notice. He studied, collected all the Mallei, and other manuscript handbooks, and became a first-rate authority in the processes against demons. His Malleus was most likely composed during the twenty years between this adventure and the important mission entrusted to Sprenger by Pope Innocent VIII., in 1484.

* * * * *

For that mission to Germany a clever man was specially needed; a man of wit and ability, who might overcome the dislike of honest German folk for the dark system it would be his care to introduce. In the Low Countries Rome had suffered a rude check, which brought the Inquisition into vogue there, and consequently closed France against it: Toulouse alone, as being the old Albigensian country, having endured the Inquisition. About the year 1460 a Penitentiary[70] of Rome, being made Dean of Arras, thought to strike an awe-inspiring blow at the Chambers of Rhetoric, literary clubs which had begun to handle religious questions. He had one of these Rhetoricians burnt for a wizard, and along with him some wealthy burgesses, and even a few knights. The nobles were angry at this near approach to themselves: the public voice was raised in violent outcry. The Inquisition was cursed and spat upon, especially in France. The Parliament of Paris roughly closed its doors upon it; and thus by her awkwardness did Rome lose her opportunity of establishing that Reign of Terror throughout the North.

[70] Officer charged with the absolution of penitents.—TRANS.

About 1484 the time seemed better chosen. The Inquisition had grown to so dreadful a height in Spain, setting itself even above the king, that it seemed already confirmed as a conquering institution, able to move forward alone, to make its way everywhere, and seize upon everything. In Germany, indeed, it was hindered by the jealous antagonism of the spiritual princes, who, having courts of their own, and holding inquisitions by themselves, would never agree to accept that of Rome. But the position of these princes towards the popular movements by which they were then so greatly disquieted, soon rendered them more manageable. All along the Rhine, and throughout Swabia, even on the eastern side towards Salzburg, the country seemed to be undermined. At every moment burst forth some fresh revolt of the peasantry. A vast underground volcano, an invisible lake of fire, showed itself, as it were, from place to place, in continual spouts of flame. More dreaded than that of Germany, the foreign Inquisition appeared at a most seasonable hour for spreading terror through the country, and crushing the rebellious spirits, by roasting, as the wizards of to-day, those who might else have been the insurgents of to-morrow. It was a beautiful derivative, an excellent popular weapon for putting down the people. This time the storm got turned upon the Wizards, as in 1349, and on many other occasions it had been launched against the Jews.

Only the right man was needed. He who should be the first to set up his judgment-seat in sight of the jealous courts of Mentz and Cologne, in presence of the mocking mobs of Strazburg or Frankfort, must indeed be a man of ready wit. He would need great personal cleverness to atone for, to cause a partial forgetfulness of his hateful mission. Rome, too, has always plumed herself on choosing the best men for her work. Caring little for questions, and much for persons, she thought rightly enough that the successful issue of her affairs depended on the special character of her several agents abroad. Was Sprenger the right man? He was a German to begin with, a Dominican enjoying beforehand the support of that dreaded order through all its convents, through all its schools. Need was there of a worthy son of the schools, a good disputant, of a man well skilled in the Sum,[71] grounded firm in his St. Thomas, able at any moment to quote texts. All this Sprenger certainly was: and best of all, he was a fool.

[71] A mediaeval text-book on theology.—TRANS.

* * * * *

"It has been often said that diabolus comes from dia, 'two,' and bolus, 'a pill or ball,' because devouring alike soul and body, he makes but one pill, one mouthful of the two. But"—he goes on to say with the gravity of Sganarelle—"in Greek etymology diabolus means 'shut up in a house of bondage,' or rather 'flowing down' (Teufel?), that is to say, falling, because he fell from heaven."

Whence comes the word sorcery (malefice)? From maleficiendo, which means male de fide sentiendo.[72] A curious etymology, but one that will hold a great deal. Once trace a resemblance between witchcraft and evil opinions, and every wizard becomes a heretic, every doubter a wizard. All who think wrongly can be burnt for wizards. This was done at Arras; and they long to establish the same rule, little by little, everywhere else.

[72] "Thinking ill of the faith."—TRANS.

Herein lies the once sure merit of Sprenger. A fool, but a fearless one, he boldly lays down the most unwelcome theses. Others would have striven to shirk, to explain away, to diminish, the objections that might be made. Not he, however. From the first page he puts plainly forward, one by one, the natural manifest reasons for not believing in the Satanic miracles. To these he coldly adds: "They are but so many heretical mistakes." And without stopping to refute those reasons, he copies you out the adverse passages found in the Bible, St. Thomas, in books of legends, in the canonists, and the scholiasts. Having first shown you the right interpretation, he grinds it to powder by dint of authority.

He sits down satisfied, calm as a conqueror; seeming to say, "Well, what say you now? Will you dare use your reason again? Go and doubt away then; doubt, for instance, that the Devil delights in setting himself between wife and husband, although the Church and all the canonists repeatedly admit this reason for a divorce!"

Of a truth this is unanswerable: nobody will breathe so much as a whisper in reply. Since Sprenger heads his handbook for judges by declaring the slightest doubt heretical, the judge stands bound accordingly; he feels that he cannot stumble, that if unhappily he should ever be tempted by an impulse of doubt or humanity, he must begin by condemning himself and delivering his own body to the flames.

* * * * *

The same method prevails everywhere: first the sensible meaning, which is then confronted openly, without reserve, by the negation of all good sense. Some one, for instance, might be tempted to say that as love is in the soul, there is no need to account for it by the mysterious working of the Devil. That is surely specious, is it not?

"By no means," says Sprenger.

"I mark a difference. He who cuts wood does not cause it to burn: he only does so indirectly. The woodcutter is Love; see Denis the Areopagite, Origen, John of Damascus. Therefore, love is but the indirect cause of love."

What a thing, you see, to have studied! No weak school could have turned out such a man. Only Paris, Louvain, or Cologne, had machinery fit to mould the human brain. The school of Paris was mighty: for dog-Latin who can be matched with the Janotus of Gargantua?[73] But mightier yet was Cologne, glorious queen of darkness, whence Hutten drew the type of his Obscuri viri, that thriving and fruitful race of obscurantists and ignoramuses.[74]

[73] A character in Rabelais. "Date nobis clochas nostras, &c."—Gargantua, ch. 19.—TRANS.

[74] Ulrich von Hutten, friend of Luther, and author of the witty Epistolae obscurorum virorum.—TRANS.

This massive logician, so full of words, so devoid of meaning, sworn foe of nature as well as reason, takes his seat with a proud reliance on his books and gown, on his dirt and dust. On one side of his judgement-table lies the Sum, on the other the Directory. Beyond these he never goes: at all else he only smiles. On such a man as he there is no imposing: he is not the man to utter anent astrology or alchemy nonsense not so foolish but that others might be led thereby to observe truly. And yet Sprenger is a freethinker: he is sceptical about old receipts! Albert the Great may aver, that some sage in a spring of water will suffice to raise a storm, but Sprenger only shakes his head. Sage indeed! Tell that to others, I beg. For all my little experience, I see herein the craft of One who would put us on the wrong scent, that cunning Prince of the Air; but he will fare ill, for he has to deal with a doctor more subtle than the Subtle One himself.

I should have liked to see face to face this wonderful specimen of a judge, and the people who were brought before him. The creatures that God might bring together from two different worlds would not be more unlike, more strange to each other, more utterly wanting in a common language. The old hag, a skeleton in tatters, with an eye flashing forth evil things, a being thrice cooked in hell-fire; and the ill-looking hermit shepherd of the Black Forest or the upper Alpine wastes—such are the savages offered to the leaden gaze of a scholarling, to the judgement of a schoolman.

Not long will they let him toil in his judgment-seat. They will tell all without being tortured. Come the torture will indeed, but afterwards, by way of complement and crown to the law-procedure. They explain and relate to order whatever they have done. The Devil is the Witch's bedfellow, the shepherd's intimate friend. She, for her part, smiles triumphantly, feels a manifest joy in the horror of those around.

Truly, the old woman is very mad, and equally so the shepherd. Are they foolish? Not at all, but far otherwise. They are refined, subtle, skilled in growing herbs, and seeing through walls. Still more clearly do they see those monumental ass's ears that overshadow the doctor's cap. Clearest of all is the fear he has of them, for in vain does he try to bear him boldly; he does nought but tremble. He himself owns that, if the priest who adjures the demon does not take care, the Devil will change his lodging only to pass into the priest himself, feeling all the more proud of dwelling in a body dedicated to God. Who knows but these simple Devils of Witches and shepherds might even aspire to inhabit an inquisitor? He is far from easy in mind when in his loudest voice he says to the old woman, "If your master is so mighty, why do I not feel his blows?"

"And, indeed I felt them but too strongly," says the poor man in his book. "When I was in Ratisbon, how often he would come knocking at my windowpanes! How often he stuck pins in my cap! A hundred visions too did I have of dogs, monkeys," &c.

* * * * *

The dearest delight of that great logician, the Devil, is, by the mouth of the seeming old woman, to push the doctor with awkward arguments, with crafty questions, from which he can only escape by acting like the fish who saves himself by troubling the water and turning it black as ink. For instance, "The Devil does no more than God allows him: why, then, punish his tools?" Or again, "We are not free. As in the case of Job, the Devil is allowed by God to tempt and beset us, to urge us on by blows. Should we, then, punish him who is not free?" Sprenger gets out of that by saying, "We are free beings." Here come plenty of texts. "You are made serfs only by covenant with the Evil One." The answer to this would be but too ready: "If God allows the Evil One to tempt us into making covenants, he renders covenants possible," &c.

"I am very good," says he, "to listen to yonder folk. He is a fool who argues with the Devil." So say all the rest likewise. They all cheer the progress of the trial: all are strongly moved, and show in murmurs their eagerness for the execution. They have seen enough of men hanged. As for the Wizard and the Witch, 'twill be a curious treat to see those two faggots crackling merrily in the flames.

The judge has the people on his side, so he is not embarrassed. According to his Directory three witnesses would be enough. Are not three witnesses readily found, especially to witness a falsehood? In every slanderous town, in every envious village teeming with the mutual hate of neighbours, witnesses abound. Besides, the Directory is a superannuated book, a century old. In that century of light, the fifteenth, all is brought to perfection. If witnesses are wanting, we are content with the public voice, the general clamour.[75]

[75] Faustin Helie, in his learned and luminous Traite de l'Instruction Criminelle (vol. i. p. 398), has clearly explained the manner in which Pope Innocent III., about 1200, suppressed the safeguards theretofore required in any prosecution, especially the risk incurred by prosecutors of being punished for slander. Instead of these were established the dismal processes of Denunciation and Inquisition. The frightful levity of these latter methods is shown by Soldan. Blood was shed like water.

A genuine outcry, born of fear; the piteous cry of victims, of the poor bewitched. Sprenger is greatly moved thereat. Do not fancy him one of those unfeeling schoolmen, the lovers of a dry abstraction. He has a heart: for which very reason he is so ready to kill. He is compassionate, full of lovingkindness. He feels pity for yon weeping woman, but lately pregnant, whose babe the witch had smothered by a look. He feels pity for the poor man whose land she wasted with hail. He pities the husband, who though himself no wizard, clearly sees his wife to be a witch, and drags her with a rope round her neck before Sprenger, who has her burnt.

From a cruel judge escape was sometimes possible; but from our worthy Sprenger it was hopeless. His humanity is too strong: it needs great management, a very large amount of ready wit, to avoid a burning at his hands. One day there was brought before him the plaint of three good ladies of Strasburg who, at one same hour of the same day, had been struck by an arm unseen. Ah, indeed! They are fain to accuse a man of evil aspect, of having laid them under a spell. On being brought before the inquisitor, the man vows and swears by all the saints that he knows nothing about these ladies, has never so much as seen them. The judge is hard of believing: nor tears nor oaths avail aught with him. His great compassion for the ladies made him inexorable, indignant at the man's denials. Already he was rising from his seat. The man would have been tortured into confessing his guilt, as the most innocent often did. He got leave to speak, and said: "I remember, indeed, having struck some one yesterday at the hour named; but whom? No Christian beings, but only three cats which came furiously biting at my legs." The judge, like a shrewd fellow, saw the whole truth of the matter; the poor man was innocent; the ladies were doubtless turned on certain days into cats, and the Evil One amused himself by sending them at the legs of Christian folk, in order to bring about the ruin of these latter by making them pass for wizards.

A judge of less ability would never have hit upon this. But such a man was not always to be had. It was needful to have always handy on the table of the Inquisition a good fool's guide, to reveal to simple and inexperienced judges the tricks of the Old Enemy, the best way of baffling him, the clever and deep-laid tactics employed with such happy effect by the great Sprenger in his campaigns on the Rhine. To that end the Malleus, which a man was required to carry in his pocket, was commonly printed in small 18mo, a form at that time scarce. It would not have been seemly for a judge in difficulties to open a folio on the table before his audience. But his handbook of folly he might easily squint at from the corner of his eye, or turn over its leaves as he held it under the table.

* * * * *

This Malleus (or Mallet), like all books of the same class, contains a singular avowal, namely, that the Devil is gaining ground; in other words, that God is losing it; that mankind, after being saved by Christ, is becoming the Devil's prey. Too clearly indeed does he step forward from legend to legend. What a way he has made between the time of the Gospels, when he was only too glad to get into the swine, and the days of Dante, when, as lawyer and divine, he argues with the saints, pleads his cause, and by way of closing a successful syllogism, bears away the soul he was fighting for, saying, with a triumphant laugh, "You didn't know that I was a logician!"

In the earlier days of the Middle Ages he waits till the last pangs to seize the soul and bear it off. Saint Hildegarde, about 1100, thinks that "he cannot enter the body of a living man, for else his limbs would fly off in all directions: it is but the shadow and the smoke of the Devil which pass therein." That last gleam of good sense vanishes in the twelfth century. In the thirteenth we find a suppliant so afraid of being caught alive that he has himself watched day and night by two hundred armed men.

Then begins a period of increasing terror, in which men trust themselves less and ever less to God's protection. The Demon is no longer a stealthy sprite, no longer a thief by night, gliding through the gloom. He becomes the fearless adversary, the daring ape of Heaven, who in broad daylight mimics God's creation under God's own sun. Is it the legends tell us this? Nay, it is the greatest of the doctors. "The Devil," says Albert the Great, "transforms all living things." St. Thomas goes yet further. "All changes that may occur naturally by means of seeds, can be copied by the Devil." What an astounding concession, which coming from the mouth of so grave a personage, means nothing short of setting up one Creator face to face with another! "But in things done without the germinal process," he adds, "such as the changing of men into beasts or the resurrection of the dead, there the Devil can do nothing." Thus to God is left the smaller part of His work! He may only perform miracles, a kind of action alike singular and infrequent. But the daily miracle of life is not for Him alone: His copyist, the Devil, shares with Him the world of nature!

For man himself, whose weak eyes see no difference between nature as sprung from God and nature as made by the Devil, here is a world split in twain! A dreadful uncertainty hangs over everything. Nature's innocence is gone. The clear spring, the pale flower, the little bird, are these indeed of God, or only treacherous counterfeits, snares laid out for man? Back! all things look doubtful! The better of the two creations, being suspiciously like the other, becomes eclipsed and conquered. The shadow of the Devil covers up the day, spreads over all life. To judge by appearances and the fears of men, he has ceased to share the world; he has taken it all to himself.

So matters stand in the days of Sprenger. His book teems with saddest avowals of God's weakness. "These things," he says, "are done with God's leave." To permit an illusion so entire, to let people believe that God is nought and the Devil everything, is more than mere permission; is tantamount to decreeing the damnation of countless souls whom nothing can save from such an error. No prayers, no penances, no pilgrimages, are of any avail; nor even, so it is said, the sacrament of the altar. Strange and mortifying avowal! The very nuns who have just confessed themselves, declare while the host is yet in their mouths, that even then they feel the infernal lover troubling them without fear or shame, troubling and refusing to leave his hold. And being pressed with further questions, they add, through their tears, that he has a body because he has a soul.

* * * * *

The Manichees of old, and the more modern Albigenses, were charged with believing in the Power of Evil struggling side by side with Good, with making the Devil equal to God. Here, however, he is more than equal; for if God through His holy sacrament has still no power for good, the Devil certainly seems superior.

I am not surprised at the wondrous sight then offered by the world. Spain with a darksome fury, Germany with the frightened pedantic rage certified in the Malleus, assail the insolent conqueror through the wretches in whom he chooses to dwell. They burn, they destroy the dwellings in which he has taken up his abode. Finding him too strong for men's souls, they try to hunt him out of their bodies. But what is the good of it all? You burn one old woman and he settles himself in her neighbour. Nay, more; if Sprenger may be trusted, he fastens sometimes on the exorcising priest, and triumphs over his very judge.

Among other expedients, the Dominicans advised recourse to the intercession of the Virgin, by a continual repeating of the Ave Maria. Sprenger, for his part, always averred that such a remedy was but a momentary one. You might be caught between two prayers. Hence came the invention of the rosary, the chaplet of beads, by means of which any number of aves might be mumbled through, whilst the mind was busied elsewhere. Whole populations adopted this first essay of an art thereafter to be used by Loyola in his attempt to govern the world, an art of which his Exercises furnish the ingenious groundwork.

* * * * *

All this seems opposed to what was said in the foregoing chapter as to the decline of Witchcraft. The Devil is now popular and everywhere present. He seems to have come off conqueror: but has he gained by his victory? What substantial profit has he reaped therefrom?

Much, as beheld in his new phase of a scientific rebellion which is about to bring forth the bright Renaissance. None, if beheld under his old aspect, as the gloomy Spirit of Witchcraft. The stories told of him in the sixteenth century, if more numerous, more widespread than ever, readily swing towards the grotesque. People tremble, but they laugh withal.[76]

[76] See my Memoirs of Luther, concerning the Kilcrops, &c.



The Church forfeited the wizard's property to the judge and the prosecutor. Wherever the Canon Law was enforced the trials for witchcraft waxed numerous, and brought much wealth to the clergy. Wherever the lay tribunals claimed the management of these trials they grew scarce and disappeared, at least for a hundred years in France, from 1450 to 1550.

The first gleam of light shot forth from France in the middle of the fifteenth century. The inquiry made by Parliament into the trial of Joan of Arc, and her after reinstalment, set people thinking on the intercourse of spirits, good and bad; on the errors, also, of the spiritual courts. She whom the English, whom the greatest doctors of the Council of Basil pronounced a Witch, appeared to Frenchmen a saint and sibyl. Her reinstalment proclaimed to France the beginning of an age of toleration. The Parliament of Paris likewise reinstalled the alleged Waldenses of Arras. In 1498 it discharged as mad one who was brought before it as a wizard. None such were condemned in the reigns of Charles VIII., Louis XII., and Francis I.

* * * * *

On the contrary, Spain, under the pious Isabella (1506) and the Cardinal Ximenes, began burning witches. In 1515, Geneva, being then under a Bishop, burned five hundred in three months. The Emperor Charles V., in his German Constitutions, vainly sought to rule, that "Witchcraft, as causing damage to goods and persons, is a question for civil, not ecclesiastic law." In vain did he do away the right of confiscation, except in cases of treason. The small prince-bishops, whose revenues were largely swelled by trials for witchcraft, kept on burning at a furious rate. In one moment, as it were, six hundred persons were burnt in the infinitesimal bishopric of Bamberg, and nine hundred in that of Wurtzburg. The way of going to work was very simple. Begin by using torture against the witnesses; create witnesses for the prosecution by means of pain and terror; then, by dint of excessive kindliness, draw from the accused a certain avowal, and believe that avowal in the teeth of proven facts. A witch, for instance, owns to having taken from the graveyard the body of an infant lately dead, that she might use it in her magical compounds. Her husband bids them go the graveyard, for the child is there still. On being disinterred, the child is found all right in his coffin. But against the witness of his own eyes the judge pronounces it an appearance, a cheat of the Devil. He prefers the wife's confession to the fact itself; and she is burnt forthwith.[77]

[77] For this and other facts regarding Germany, see Soldan.

So far did matters go among these worthy prince-bishops, that after a while, Ferdinand II., the most bigoted of all emperors, the emperor of the Thirty Years' War, was fain to interfere, to set up at Bamberg an imperial commissary, who should maintain the law of the empire, and see that the episcopal judge did not begin the trial with tortures which settled it beforehand, which led straight to the stake.

* * * * *

Witches were easily caught by their confessions, sometimes without the torture. Many of them were half mad. They would own to turning themselves into beasts. The Italian women often became cats, and gliding under the doors, sucked, they said, the blood of children. In the land of mighty forests, in Lorraine and on the Jura, the women, of their own accord, became wolves, and, if you could believe them, devoured the passers by, even when nobody had passed by. They were burnt. Some girls, who swore they had given themselves to the Devil, were found to be maidens still. They, too, were burnt. Several seemed in a great hurry, as if they wanted to be burnt. Sometimes it happened from raging madness, sometimes from despair. An Englishwoman being led to the stake, said to the people, "Do not blame my judges. I wanted to put an end to my own self. My parents kept aloof from me in their dread. My husband had disowned me. I could not have lived on without disgrace. I longed for death, and so I told a lie."

The first words of open toleration against silly Sprenger, his frightful Handbook, and his Inquisitors, were spoken by Molitor, a lawyer of Constance. He made this sensible remark, that the confessions of witches should not be taken seriously, because it was the very Father of Lies who spoke by their mouths. He laughed at the miracles of Satan, affirming them to be all illusory. In an indirect way, such jesters as Hutten and Erasmus dealt violent blows at the Inquisition, through their satires on the Dominican idiots. Cardan[78] said, straightforwardly, "In order to obtain forfeit property, the same persons acted as accusers and judges, and invented a thousand stories in proof."

[78] A famous Italian physician, who lived through the greater part of the sixteenth century.—TRANS.

That apostle of toleration, Chatillon, who maintained against Catholics and Protestants both, that heretics should not be burnt, though he said nothing about wizards, put men of sense in a better way. Agrippa,[79] Lavatier, above all, Wyer[80]] the illustrious physician of Cleves, rightly said that if those wretched witches were the Devil's plaything, we must lay the blame on the Devil, not on them; must cure, instead of burning them. Some physicians of Paris soon pushed incredulity so far as to maintain that the possessed and the witches were simply knaves. This was going too far. Most of them were sufferers under the sway of an illusion.

[79] Cornelius Agrippa, of Cologne, born in 1486, sometime Secretary of the Emperor Maximilian, and author of two works famous in their day, Vanity of the Sciences, and Occult Philosophy.—TRANS.

[80] A friend of Sir Philip Sydney, who sent for him when dying.—TRANS.

The dark reign of Henry II. and Diana of Poitiers ends the season of toleration. Under Diana, they burn heretics and wizards again. On the other hand, Catherine of Medici, surrounded as she was by astrologers and magicians, would have protected the latter. Their numbers increased amain. The wizard Trois-Echelles, who was tried in the reign of Charles IX., reckons them at a hundred thousand, declaring all France to be one Witch.

Agrippa and others affirm, that all science is contained in magic. In white magic undoubtedly. But the fears of fools and their fanatic rage, put little difference between them. In spite of Wyer, in spite of those true philosophers, Light and Toleration, a strong reaction towards darkness set in from a quarter whence it was least expected. Our magistrates, who for nearly a century, had shown themselves enlightened and fair-dealing, now threw themselves into the Spanish Catholicon[81] and the fury of the Leaguists,[82] until they waxed more priest-like than the priests themselves. While scouting the Inquisition from France, they matched, and well-nigh eclipsed it by their own deeds: the Parliament of Toulouse alone sending four hundred human bodies at one time to the stake. Think of the horror, the black smoke of all that flesh, of the frightful melting and bubbling of the fat amidst those piercing shrieks and yells! So accursed, so sickening a sight had not been seen, since the Albigenses were broiled and roasted.

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