The Phantom World - or, The philosophy of spirits, apparitions, &c, &c.
by Augustin Calmet
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Others have sent me word that they could have wished that I had treated the subject of apparitions in the same way as the author of this dissertation, that is to say, simply as a philosopher, with the aim of destroying the credence and reality, rather than with any design of supporting the belief in apparitions which is so observable in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, in the fathers, and in the customs and prayers of the church. The author of whom we speak has cited the fathers, but in a general manner, and without marking the testimonies, and the express and formal passages. I do not know if he thinks much of them, and if he is well versed in them, but it would hardly appear so from his work.

The grand principle on which this third dissertation turns is, that since the advent and the death of Jesus Christ, all the power of the devil is limited to enticing, inspiring, and persuading to evil; but for the rest, he is tied up like a lion or a dog in his prison. He may bark, he may menace, but he cannot bite unless he is too nearly approached and yielded to, as St. Augustine truly says:[649] "Mordere omnino non potest nisi volentem."

But to pretend that Satan can do no harm, either to the health of mankind, or to the fruits of the earth; can neither attack us by his stratagems, his malice, and his fury against us, nor torment those whom he pursues or possesses; that magicians and wizards can make use of no spells and charms to cause both men and animals dreadful maladies, and even death, is a direct attack on the faith of the church, the Holy Scriptures, the most sacred practices, and the opinions of not only the holy fathers and the best theologians, but also on the laws and ordinances of princes, and the decrees of the most respectable parliaments.

I will not here cite the instances taken from the Old Testament, the author having limited himself to what has passed since the death and resurrection of our Saviour; because, he says, Jesus Christ has destroyed the kingdom of Satan, and the prince of this world is already judged.[650]

St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John, and the Evangelists, who were well informed of the words of the Son of God, and the sense given to them, teach us that Satan asked to have power over the apostles of Jesus Christ, to sift them like wheat;[651] that is to say, to try them by persecutions and make them renounce the faith. Does not St. Paul complain of the angel of Satan who buffeted him?[652] Did those whom he gave up to Satan for their crimes,[653] suffer nothing bodily? Those who took the communion unworthily, and were struck with sickness, or even with death, did they not undergo these chastisements by the operation of the demon?[654] The apostle warns the Corinthians not to suffer themselves to be surprised by Satan, who sometimes transforms himself into an angel of light.[655] The same apostle, speaking to the Thessalonians, says to them, that before the last day antichrist will appear,[656] according to the working of Satan, with extraordinary power, with wonders and deceitful signs. In the Apocalypse the demon is the instrument made use of by God, to punish mortals and make them drink of the cup of his wrath. Does not St. Peter[657] tell us that "the devil prowls about us like a roaring lion, always ready to devour us?" And St. Paul to the Ephesians,[658] "that we have to fight not against men of flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the princes of this world," that is to say, of this age of darkness, "against the spirits of malice spread about in the air?"

The fathers of the first ages speak often of the power that the Christians exercised against the demons, against those who called themselves diviners, against magicians and other subalterns of the devil; principally against those who were possessed, who were then frequently seen, and are so still from time to time, both in the church and out of the church. Exorcisms and other prayers of the church have always been employed against these, and with success. Emperors and kings have employed their authority and the rigor of the laws against those who have devoted themselves to the service of the demon, and used spells, charms, and other methods which the demon employs, to entice and destroy both men and animals, or the fruits of the country.

We might add to the remarks of the reverend Dominican father divers other propositions drawn from the same work; for instance, when the author says that "the angels know everything here below; for if it is by means of specialties, which God communicates to them every day, as St. Augustine thinks, there is no reason to believe that they do not know all the wants of mankind, and that they cannot console and strengthen them, render themselves visible to them by the permission of God, without always receiving from him an express order so to do."

This proposition is rather rash: it is not certain that the angels know everything that passes here below. Jesus Christ, in St. Matthew xxiv. 36, says that the angels do not know the day of his coming. It is still more doubtful that the angels can appear without an express command from God, and that St. Augustine has so taught.

He says, a little while after—"That demons often appeared before Jesus Christ in fantastic forms, which they assumed as the angels do," that is to say, in aerial bodies which they organized; "whilst at present, and since the coming of Jesus Christ, those wonders and spells have been so common that the people attributed them to sorcery and commerce with the devil, whereas it is attested that they can be operated only by natural magic, which is the knowledge of secret effects from natural causes, and many of them by the subtilty of the air alone. This is the opinion of the greater number of the fathers who have spoken of them."

This proposition is false, and contrary to the doctrine and practice of the church; and it is not true that it is the opinion of the greater number of the fathers; he should have cited some of them.[659]

He says that "the Book of Job and the song of Hezekiah are full of testimonies that the Holy Spirit seems to have taught us, that our souls cannot return to earth after our death, until God has made angels of them."

It is true that the Holy Scriptures speak of the resurrection and return of souls into their bodies as of a thing that is impossible in the natural course. Man cannot raise up himself from the dead, neither can he raise up his fellow-man without an effort of the supreme might of God. Neither can the spirits of the deceased appear to the living without the command or permission of God. But it is false to say, "that God makes angels of our souls, and that then they can appear to the living."

Our souls will never become angels; but Jesus Christ tells us that after our death our souls will be as the angels of God, (Matt. xxii. 30); that is to say, spiritual, incorporeal, immortal, and exempt from all the wants and weaknesses of this present life; but he does not say that our souls must become angels.

He affirms "that what Jesus Christ said, 'that spirits have neither flesh nor bones,' far from leading us to believe that spirits can return to earth, proves, on the contrary, evidently that they cannot without a miracle render themselves visible to mankind; since it requires absolutely a corporeal substance and organs of speech to make ourselves heard, which does not agree with the spirits, who naturally cannot be subject to our senses."

This is no more impossible than what he said beforehand of the apparitions of angels, since our souls, after the death of the body, are "like unto the angels," according to the Gospel. He acknowledges himself, with St. Jerome against Vigilantius, that the saints who are in heaven appear sometimes visibly to men. "Whence comes it that animals have, as well as ourselves, the faculty of memory, but not the reflection which accompanies it, which proceeds only from the soul, which they have not?"

Is not memory itself the reflection of what we have seen, done, or heard; and in animals is not memory followed by reflection,[660] since they avenge themselves on those who hurt them, avoid that which has incommoded them, foreseeing what might happen to themselves from it if they fell again into the same mistake?

After having spoken of natural palingenesis, he concludes—"And thus we see how little cause there is to attribute these appearances to the return of souls to earth, or to demons, as do some ignorant persons."

If those who work the wonders of natural palingenesis, and admit the natural return of phantoms in the cemeteries, and fields of battle, which I do not think happens naturally, could show that these phantoms speak, act, move, foretell the future, and do what is related of returned souls or other apparitions, whether good angels or bad ones, we might conclude that there is no reason to attribute them to souls, angels, and demons; but, 1, they have never been able to cause the appearance of the phantom of a dead man, by any secret of art. 2. If it had been possible to raise his shade, they could never have inspired it with thought or reasoning powers, as we see in the angels and demons, who appear, reason, and act, as intelligent beings, and gifted with the knowledge of the past, the present, and sometimes of the future.

He denies that the souls in purgatory return to earth; for if they could come back, "everybody would receive similar visits from their relations and friends, since all the souls would feel disposed to do the same. Apparently," says he, "God would grant them this permission, and if they had this permission, every person of good sense would be at a loss to comprehend why they should accompany all their appearances with all the follies so circumstantially related."

We may reply, that the return of souls to earth may depend neither on their inclination nor their will, but on the will of God, who grants this permission to whom he pleases, when he will, and as he will.

The wicked rich man asked that Lazarus[661] might be sent to this world to warn his brothers not to fall into the same misfortune as himself, but he could not obtain it. There are an infinity of souls in the same case and disposition, who cannot obtain leave to return themselves or to send others in their place.

If certain narratives of the return of spirits to earth have been accompanied by circumstances somewhat comic, it does not militate against the truth of the thing; since for one recital imprudently embellished by uncertain circumstances, there are a thousand written sensibly and seriously, and in a manner very conformable to truth.

He maintains that all the apparitions which cannot be attributed to angels or to blessed spirits, are produced only by one of these three causes:—the power of imagination; the extreme subtility of the senses; and the derangement of the organs, as in cases of madness and in high fevers.

This proposition is rash, and has before been refuted by the Reverend Father Richard.

The author recounts all that he has said of the spirit of St. Maur, in causing the motion of the bed in the presence of three persons who were wide awake, the repeated shrieks of a person whom they did not see, of a door well-bolted, of repeated blows upon the walls, of panes of glass struck with violence in the presence of three persons, without their being able to see the author of all this movement;—he reduces all this to a derangement of the imagination, the subtilty of the air, or the vapors casually arising in the brain of an invalid. Why did he not deny all these facts? Why did he give himself the trouble to compose so carefully a dissertation to explain a phenomenon, which, according to him, can boast neither truth nor reality? For my part, I am very glad to give the public notice that I neither adopt nor approve this anonymous dissertation, which I never saw before it was printed; that I know nothing of the author, take no part in it, and have no interest in defending him. If the subject of apparitions be purely philosophical, and it can without injury to religion be reduced to a problem, I should have taken a different method to destroy it, and I should have suffered my reasoning and my imagination to act more freely.


[645] Letter of the Reverend Father Richard, a Dominican of Amiens, of the 29th of July, 1746.

[646] See on this subject the letter of the Marquis Maffei, which follows.

[647] St. Thomas, i. part 9, 89, art. 8, ad. 2.

[648] The author had foreseen this objection from the beginning of his dissertation.

[649] Aug. Serm. de Semp. 197.

[650] John xvi. 11.

[651] Luke xxii. 31.

[652] 2 Cor. xi. 7.

[653] 1 Tim. i. 2.

[654] 1 Cor. xi. 30.

[655] 2 Cor. ii. 11, and xi. 14.

[656] 2 Thess. ii.

[657] 1 Pet. v. 8.

[658] Ephes. vi. 12.

[659] They are cited in the letter of the Marquis Maffei.

[660] The author, as we may see, is not a Cartesian, since he assigns reflection even to animals. But if they reflect, they choose; whence it consequently follows that they are free.

[661] Luke xiii. 14.



Answer to a Letter on the subject of the Apparition of St. Maur.

"You have been before me, sir, respecting the spirit of St. Maur, which causes so much conversation at Paris; for I had resolved to send you a short detail of that event, in order that you might impart to me your reflections on a matter so delicate and so interesting to all Paris. But since you have read an account of it, I cannot understand why you have hesitated a moment to decide what you ought to think of it. What you do me the honor to tell me, that you have suspended your judgment of the case until I have informed you of mine, does me too much honor for me to be persuaded of it; and I think there is more probability in believing that it is a trick you are playing me, to see how I shall extricate myself from such slippery ground. Nevertheless, I cannot resist the entreaties, or rather the orders, with which your letter is filled; and I prefer to expose myself to the pleasantry of the free thinkers, or the reproaches of the credulous, than the anger of those with which I am threatened by yourself.

"You ask if I believe that spirits come back, and if the circumstance which occurred at St. Maur can be attributed to one of those incorporeal substances?

"To answer your two questions in the same order that you propose them to me, I must first tell you, that the ancient heathens acknowledge various kinds of spirits, which they called lares, larvae, lemures, genii, manes.

"For ourselves, without pausing at the folly of our cabalistic philosophers, who fancy spirits in every element, calling those sylphs which they pretend to inhabit the air; gnomes, those which they feign to be under the earth; ondines, those which dwell in the water; and salamanders, those of fire; we acknowledge but three sorts of created spirits, namely, angels, demons, and the souls which God has united to our bodies, and which are separated from them by death.

"The Holy Scriptures speak in too many places of the apparitions of the angels to Abraham, Jacob, Tobit, and several other holy patriarchs and prophets, for us to doubt of it. Besides, as their name signifies their ministry, being created by God to be his messengers, and to execute his commands, it is easy to believe that they have often appeared visibly to men, to announce to them the will of the Almighty. Almost all the theologians agree that the angels appear in the aerial bodies with which they clothe themselves.

"To make you understand in what manner they take and invest themselves with these bodies, in order to render themselves visible to men, and to make themselves heard by them, we must first of all explain what is vision, which is only the bringing of the species within the compass of the organ of sight. This "species" is the ray of light broken and modified upon a body, on which, forming different angles, this light is converted into colors. For an angle of a certain kind makes red, another green, blue or yellow, and so on of all the colors, as we perceive in the prism, on which the reflected rays of the sun forms the different colors of the rainbow; the species visible is then nothing else than the ray of light which returns from the object on which it breaks to the eyes.

"Now, light falls only on three kinds of objects or bodies, of which some are diaphanous, others opake, and the others participate in these two qualities, being partly diaphanous and partly opake. When the light falls on a diaphanous body which is full of an infinity of little pores, as the air, it passes through without causing any reflection. When the light falls on a body entirely opake, as a flower, for instance, not being able to penetrate it, its ray is reflected from it, and returns from the flower to the eye, to which it carries the species, and renders the colors distinguishable, according to the angles formed by reflection. If the body on which the light falls is in part opake and in part diaphanous, like glass, it passes through the diaphanous part, that is to say, through the pores of the glass which it penetrates, and reflects itself on the opake particles, that is to say, which are not porous. Thus the air is invisible, because it is absolutely penetrated with light: the flower sends back a color to the eye, because, being impenetrable to the light, it obliges it to reflect itself; and the glass is visible only because it contains some opake particles, which, according to the diversity of angles formed upon it by the ray of light, reflect different colors.

"That is the manner in which vision is formed, so that air being invisible, on account of its extreme transparency, an angel could not clothe himself with it and render himself visible, but by thickening the air so much, that from diaphanous it became opake, and capable of reflecting the ray of light to the eye of him who perceived him. Now, as the angels possess knowledge and power far beyond anything we can imagine, we need not be astonished if they can form aerial bodies, which are rendered visible by the opacity they impart to them. In respect to the organs necessary to these aerial bodies, to form sounds and make themselves heard, without having any recourse to the disposition of matter, we must attribute them entirely to a miracle.

"It is thus that angels have appeared to the holy patriarchs. It is thus that the glorious souls that participate the angelic nature can assume an aerial body to render themselves visible, and that even demons, by thickening and condensing the air, can make to themselves a body of it, so as to become visible to men, by the particular permission of God, to accomplish the secrets of his providence, as they are said to have appeared to St. Anthony the Hermit, and to other saints, in order to tempt them.

"Excuse, sir, this little physical digression, with which I could not dispense, in order to make you understand the manner in which angels, who are purely spiritual substances, can be perceived by our fleshly senses.

"The only point on which the holy doctors do not agree on this subject is, to know if angels appear to men of their own accord, or whether they can do it only by an express command from God. It seems to me that nothing can better contribute to the decision of this difficulty, than to determine the way in which the angels know all things here below; for if it is by means of "species" which God communicates to them every day, as St. Augustine believes, there is no reason to doubt of their knowing all the wants of mankind, or that they can, in order to console and strengthen them, render their presence sensible to them, by God's permission, without receiving an express command from him on the subject; which may be concluded from what St. Ambrose says on the subject of the apparition of angels, who are by nature invisible to us, and whom their will renders visible. Hujus naturae est non videri, voluntatis, videri.[662]

"On the subject of demons, it is certain that their power was very great before the coming of Jesus Christ, since he calls them himself, the powers of darkness, and the princes of this world. It cannot be doubted that they had for a long time deceived mankind, by the wonders which they caused to be performed by those who devoted themselves more particularly to their service; that several oracles have been the effect of their power and knowledge, although part of them must be ascribed to the subtlety of men; and that they may have appeared under fantastic forms, which they assumed in the same way as the angels, that is to say, in aerial bodies, which they organized. The Holy Scriptures assure us even, that they took possession of the bodies of living persons. But Jesus Christ says too precisely, that he has destroyed the kingdom of the demons, and delivered us from their tyranny, for us possibly to think rationally that they still possess that power over us which they had formerly, so far as to work wonderful things which appeared miraculous; such as they relate of the vestal virgin, who, to prove her virginity, carried water in a sieve; and of her who by means of her sash alone, towed up the Tiber a boat, which had been so completely stranded that no human power could move it. Almost all the holy doctors agree, that the only means they now have of deceiving us is by suggestion, which God has left in their power to try our virtue.

"I shall not amuse myself by combating all the impositions which have been published concerning demons, incubi, and succubi, with which some authors have disfigured their works, any more than I shall reply to the pretended possession of the nuns of Loudun, and of Martha Brossier,[663] which made so much noise at Paris at the commencement of the last century; because several learned men who have favored us with their reflections on these adventures, have sufficiently shown that the demons had nothing to do with them; and the last, above all, is perfectly quashed by the report of Marescot, a celebrated physician, who was deputed by the Faculty of Theology to examine this girl who performed so many wonders. Here are his own words, which may serve as a general reply to all these kind of adventures:—A natura multa plura ficta, a Daemone nulla. That is to say, that the constitution of Martha Brossier, who was apparently very melancholy and hypochondriacal, contributed greatly to her fits of enthusiasm; that she feigned still more, and that the devil had nothing to do with it.

"If some of the fathers, as St. Thomas, believe that the demons sometimes produce sensible effects, they always add, that it can be only by the particular permission of God, for his glory and the salvation of mankind.

"In regard to all those prodigies and those common spells, which the people ascribe to sorcery or commerce with the demon, it is proved that they can be performed only by natural magic, which is the knowledge of secret effects of natural causes, and several by the subtlety of art. It is the opinion of the greater number of the fathers of the church who have spoken of it; and without seeking testimony of it in Pagan authors, such as Xenophon, Athenaeus, and Pliny, whose works are full of an infinity of wonders which are all natural, we see in our own time the surprising effects of nature, as those of the magnet, of steel, and mercury, which we should attribute to sorcery as did the ancients, had we not seen sensible demonstrations of their powers. We also see jugglers do such extraordinary things, which seem so contrary to nature, that we should look upon these charlatans as magicians, if we did not know by experience, that their address alone, joined to constant practice, makes them able to perform so many things which seem marvelous to us.

"All the share that the demons have in the criminal practices of those who are commonly called sorcerers, is suggestion; by which means they invite them to the abominable research of every natural cause which can do injury to others.

"I am now, sir, at the most delicate point of your question, which is, to know if our souls can return to earth after they are separated from our bodies.

"As the ancient philosophers erred so strongly on the nature of the soul—some believing that it was but a fire which animated us, and others a subtile air, and others affirming that it was nothing else but the proper arrangement of all the machine of the body, a doctrine which could not be admitted any more as the cause of in men than in beasts; we cannot therefore be surprised that they had such gross ideas concerning their state after death.

"The error of the Greeks, which they communicated to the Romans, and the latter to our ancestors was, that the souls whose bodies were not solemnly interred by the ministry of the priests of religion, wandered out of Hades without finding any repose, until their bodies had been burned and their ashes collected. Homer makes Patroclus, who was killed by Hector, appear to his friend Achilles in the night to ask him for burial, without which, he is deprived, he says, of the privilege of passing the river Acheron. There were only the souls of those who had been drowned, whom they believed unable to return to earth after death; for which we find a curious reason in Servius, the interpreter of Virgil, who says, the greater number of the learned in Virgil's time, and Virgil himself, believing that the soul was nothing but a fire, which animated and moved the body, were persuaded that the fire was entirely extinguished by the water—as if the material could act upon the spiritual. Virgil explains his opinions on the subject of souls very clearly in these verses:—

'Igneus est ollis vigor, et celestis origo.'

And a little after,

'totos infusa per artus Mens agitat molem, et toto se corpore miscet;'

to mark the universal soul of the world, which he believed with the greater part of the philosophers of his time.

"Again, it was a common error amongst the pagans, to believe that the souls of those who died before they were of their proper age, which they placed at the end of their growth, wandered about until the time came when they ought naturally to be separated from their bodies. Plato, more penetrating and better informed than the others, although like them mistaken, said, that the souls of the just who had obeyed virtue ascended to the sky; and that those who had been guilty of impiety, retaining still the contagion of the earthly matter of the body, wandered incessantly around the tombs, appearing like shadows and phantoms.

"For us, whom religion teaches that our souls are spiritual substances created by God, and united for a time to bodies, we know that there are three different states after death.

"Those who enjoy eternal beatitude, absorbed, as the holy doctors say, in the contemplation of the glory of God, cease not to interest themselves in all that concerns mankind, whose miseries they have undergone; and as they have attained the happiness of angels, all the sacred writers ascribe to them the same privilege of possessing the power, as aerial bodies, of rendering themselves visible to their brethren who are still upon earth, to console them, and inform them of the Divine will; and they relate several apparitions, which always happened by the particular permission of God.

"The souls whose abominable crimes have plunged them into that gulf of torment, which the Scripture terms hell, being condemned to be detained there forever, without being able to hope for any relief, care not to have permission to come and speak to mankind in fantastic forms. The Scripture clearly set forth the impossibility of this return, by the discourse which is put into the mouth of the wicked rich man in hell, introduced speaking to Abraham; he does not ask leave to go himself, to warn his brethren on earth to avoid the torments which he suffers, because he knows that it is not possible; but he implores Abraham to send thither Lazarus, who was in glory. And to observe en passant how very rare are the apparitions of the blessed and of angels, Abraham replies to him, that it would be useless, since those who are upon earth have the Law and the Prophets, which they have but to follow.

"The story of the canon of Rheims, in the eleventh century, who, in the midst of the solemn service which was being performed for the repose of his soul, spoke aloud and said, That he was sentenced and condemned,[664] has been refuted by so many of the learned, who have shown that this circumstance is clearly supposititious, since it is not found in any contemporaneous author; that I think no enlightened person can object it against me. But even were this story as incontestable as it is apocryphal, it would be easy for me to say in reply, that the conversion of St. Bruno, who has won so many souls to God, was motive enough for the Divine Providence to perform so striking a miracle.

"It now remains for me to examine if the souls which are in purgatory, where they expiate the rest of their crimes before they pass to the abode of the blessed, can come and converse with men, and ask them to pray for their relief.

"Although those who have desired to maintain this popular error, have done their endeavors to support it by different passages from St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and St. Thomas, it is certain that all these fathers speak only of the return of the blessed to manifest the glory of God; and of St. Augustine says precisely, that if it were possible for the souls of the dead to appear to men, not a day would pass without his receiving a visit from Monica his mother.

"Tertullian, in his Treatise on the Soul, laughs at those who in his time believed in apparitions. St. John Chrysostom, speaking on the subject of Lazarus, formally denies them; as well as the law glossographer, Canon John Andreas, who calls them phantoms of a sickly imagination, and all that is reported about spirits which people think they hear or see, vain apparitions. The 7th chapter of Job, and the song of King Hezekiah, reported in the 38th chapter of Isaiah, are all full of the witnesses which the Holy Spirit seems to have desired to give us of this truth, that our souls cannot return to earth after our death until God has made them angels.

"But in order to establish this still better, we must reply to the strongest objections of those who combat it. They adduce the opinion of the Jews, which they pretend to prove by the testimony of Josephus and the rabbis; the words of Jesus Christ to his apostles, when he appeared to them after his resurrection; the authority of the council of Elvira;[665] some passages from St. Jerome, in his Treatise against Vigilantius; of decrees issued by different Parliaments, by which the leases of several houses had been broken on account of the spirits which haunted them daily, and tormented the lodgers or tenants; in short an infinite number of instances, which are scattered in every story.

"To destroy all these authorities in a few words, I say first of all, that it cannot be concluded that the Jews believed in the return of spirits after death, because Josephus assures us that the spirit which the Pythoness caused to appear to Saul was the true spirit of Samuel; for, besides that the holiness of this prophet had placed him in the number of the blessed, there are circumstances attending this apparition which have caused most of the holy fathers[666] to doubt whether it really was the ghost of Samuel, believing that it might be an illusion with which the Pythoness deceived Saul, and made him believe that he saw that which he desired to see.

"What several rabbis relate of patriarchs, prophets, and kings whom they saw on the mountain of Gerizim, does not prove either that the Jews believed that the spirits of the dead could come back, since it was only a vision proceeding from the spirit in ecstasy, which believed it saw what it saw not truly; all those who compose this appearance were persons of whose holiness the Jews were persuaded. What Jesus Christ says to his apostles, that the spirits have 'neither flesh nor bones,' far from making us believe that spirits can come back again, proves on the contrary evidently, that they cannot without a miracle make us sensible of their presence, since it requires absolutely a corporeal substance and bodily organs to utter sounds; the description does agree with souls, they being pure substances, exempt from matter, invisibles, and therefore cannot naturally be subject to our senses.

"The Provincial Council held in Spain during the pontificate of Sylvester I., which forbids us to light a taper by day in the cemeteries of martyrs, adding, as a reason, that we must not disturb the spirits of the saints, is of no consideration; because besides that these words are liable to different interpretations, and may even have been inserted by some copyist, as some learned men believe, they only relate to the martyrs, of whom we cannot doubt that their spirits are blessed.

"I make the same reply to a passage of St. Jerome, because arguing against the heresiarch Vigilantius, who treated as illusions all the miracles which were worked at the tombs of the martyrs; he endeavors to prove to him that the saints who are in heaven always take part in the miseries of mankind, and sometimes even appear to them visibly to strengthen and console them.

"As for the decrees which have annulled the leases of several houses on account of the inconvenience caused by ghosts to those who lodged therein, it suffices to examine the means and the reasons upon which they were obtained, to comprehend that either the judges were led into error by the prejudices of their childhood, or that they were obliged to yield to the proofs produced, often even against their own superior knowledge, or they have been deceived by imposture, or by the simplicity of the witnesses.

"With respect to the apparitions, with which all such stories are filled, one of the strongest which can be objected against my argument, and to which I think myself the more obliged to reply, is that which is affirmed to have occurred at Paris in the last century, and of which five hundred witnesses are cited, who have examined into the truth of the matter with particular attention. Here is the adventure, as related by those who wrote at the time it took place.[667]

"The Marquis de Rambouillet, eldest brother of the Duchess of Montauzier, and the Marquis de Precy, eldest son of the family of Nantouillet, both of them between twenty and thirty, were intimate friends, and went to the wars, as in France do all men of quality. As they were conversing one day together on the subject of the other world, after several speeches which sufficiently showed that they were not too well persuaded of the truth of all that is said concerning it, they promised each other that the first who died should come and bring the news to his companion. At the end of three months the Marquis de Rambouillet set off for Flanders, where the war was then being carried on; and de Precy, detained by a high fever, remained at Paris. Six weeks afterwards de Precy, at six in the morning, heard the curtains of his bed drawn, and turning to see who it was, he perceived the Marquis de Rambouillet in his buff vest and boots; he sprung out of bed to embrace him to show his joy at his return, but Rambouillet, retreating a few steps, told him that these caresses were no longer seasonable, for he only came to keep his word with him; that he had been killed the day before on such an occasion; that all that was said of the other world was certainly true; that he must think of leading a different life; and that he had no time to lose, as he would be killed the first action he was engaged in.

"It is impossible to express the surprise of the Marquis de Precy at this discourse; as he could not believe what he heard, he made several efforts to embrace his friend, whom he thought desirous of deceiving him, but he embraced only air; and Rambouillet, seeing that he was incredulous, showed the wound he had received, which was in the side, whence the blood still appeared to flow. After that the phantom disappeared, and left de Precy in a state of alarm more easy to comprehend than describe; he called at the same time his valet-de-chambre, and awakened all the family with his cries. Several persons ran to his room, and he related to them what he had just seen. Every one attributed this vision to the violence of the fever, which might have deranged his imagination; they begged him to go to bed again, assuring him that he must have dreamed what he told them.

"The Marquis in despair, on seeing that they took him for a visionary, related all the circumstances I have just recounted; but it was in vain for him to protest that he had seen and heard his friend, being wide awake; they persisted in the same idea until the arrival of the post from Flanders, which brought the news of the death of the Marquis de Rambouillet.

"This first circumstance being found true, and in the same manner as de Precy had said, those to whom he had related the adventure began to think that there might be something in it, because Rambouillet having been killed precisely the eve of the day he had said it, it was impossible de Precy should have known of it in a natural way. This event having spread in Paris, they thought it was the effect of a disturbed imagination, or a made up story; and whatever might be said by the persons who examined the thing seriously, there remained in people's minds a suspicion, which time alone could disperse: this depended on what might happen to the Marquis de Precy, who was threatened that he should be slain in the first engagement; thus every one regarded his fate as the denouement of the piece; but he soon confirmed everything they had doubted the truth of, for as soon as he recovered from his illness he would go to the combat of St. Antoine, although his father and mother, who were afraid of the prophecy, said all they could to prevent him; he was killed there, to the great regret of all his family.

"Supposing all these circumstances to be true, this is what I should say to counteract the deductions that some wish to derive from them.

"It is not difficult to understand that the imagination of the Marquis de Precy, heated by fever, and troubled by the recollection of the promise that the Marquis de Rambouillet and himself had exchanged, may have represented to itself the phantom of his friend, whom he knew to be fighting, and in danger every moment of being killed. The circumstances of the wound of the Marquis de Rambouillet, and the prediction of the death of de Precy, which was fulfilled, appears more serious: nevertheless, those who have experienced the power of presentiments, the effects of which are so common every day, will easily conceive that the Marquis de Precy, whose mind, agitated by a burning fever, followed his friend in all the chances of war, and expected continually to see announced to himself by the phantom of his friend what was to happen, may have imagined that the Marquis de Rambouillet had been killed by a musket-shot in the side, and that the ardor which he himself felt for war might prove fatal to him in the first action. We shall see by the words of St. Augustine, which I shall cite by-and-by, how fully that Doctor of the Church was persuaded of the power of imagination, to which he attributes the knowledge of things to come. I shall again establish the authority of presentiments by a most singular instance.

"A lady of talent, whom I knew particularly well, being at Chartres, where she was residing, dreamt in the night that in her sleep she saw Paradise, which she fancied to herself was a magnificent hall, around which were in different ranks the angels and spirits of the blessed, and God, who presided in the midst, on a shining throne. She heard some one knock at the door of this delightful place; and St. Peter having opened it, she saw two pretty children, one of them clothed in a white robe, and the other quite naked. St. Peter took the first by the hand and led him to the foot of the throne, and left the other crying bitterly at the door. She awoke at that moment, and related her dream to several persons, who thought it very remarkable. A letter which she received from Paris in the afternoon informed her that one of her daughters was brought to bed with two children, who were dead, and only one of them had been baptized.

"Of what may we not believe the imagination capable, after so strong a proof of its power? Can we doubt that amongst all the pretended apparitions that are related, imagination alone produces all those which do not proceed from angels and blessed spirits, or which are not the effect of fraudulent contrivance?

"To explain more fully what has given rise to those phantoms, the apparition of which has been published in all ages, without availing myself of the ridiculous opinion of the skeptics, who doubt of everything, and assert that our senses, however sound they may be, can only imagine everything falsely, I shall remark that the wisest amongst the philosophers maintain that deep melancholy, anger, frenzy, fever, depraved or debilitated senses, whether naturally, or by accident, can make us see and hear many things which have no foundation.

"Aristotle says[668] that in sleep the interior senses act by the local movement of the humors and the blood, and that this action descends sometimes to the sensitive organs, so that on awaking, the wisest persons think they see the images they have dreamt of.

"Plutarch, in the Life of Brutus, relates that Cassius persuaded Brutus that a spectre which the latter declared he had seen on waking, was an effect of his imagination; and this is the argument which he puts in his mouth:—

"'The spirit of man being extremely active in its nature, and in continual motion, which produces always some fantasy; above all, melancholy persons, like you, Brutus, are more apt to form to themselves in the imagination ideal images, which sometimes pass to their external senses.'

"Galen, so skilled in the knowledge of all the springs of the human body, attributes spectres to the extreme subtility of sight and hearing.

"What I have read in Cardan seems to establish the opinion of Galen. He says that, being in the city of Milan, it was reported that there was an angel in the air, who appeared visibly, and having ran to the market-place, he, with two thousand others, saw the same. As even the most learned were in admiration at this wonder, a clever lawyer, who came to the spot, having observed the thing attentively, sensibly made them remark that what they saw was not an angel, but the figure of an angel, in stone, placed on the top of the belfry of St. Gothard, which being imprinted in a thick cloud by means of a sunbeam which fell upon it, was reflected to the eyes of those who possessed the most piercing vision. If this fact had not been cleared up on the spot by a man exempt from all prejudice, it would have passed for certain that it was a real angel, since it had been seen by the most enlightened persons in the town to the number of two thousand.

"The celebrated du Laurent, in his treatise on Melancholy, attributes to it the most surprising effects; of which he gives an infinite number of instances, which seem to surpass the power of nature.

"St. Augustine, when consulted by Evodius, Bishop of Upsal, on the subject I am treating of, answers him in these terms: 'In regard to visions, even of those by which we learn something of the future, it is not possible to explain how they are formed, unless we could first of all know how everything arises which passes through our minds when we think; for we see clearly that a number of images are excited in our minds, which images represent to us what has struck either our eyes or our other senses. We experience it every day and every hour.' And a little after, he adds: 'At the moment I dictate this letter, I see you with the eyes of my mind, without your being present, or your knowing anything about it; and I represent to myself, through my knowledge of your character, the impression that my words will make on your mind, without nevertheless knowing or being able to understand how all this passes within me.'

"I think, sir, you will require nothing more precise than these words of St. Augustine to persuade you that we must attribute to the power of imagination the greater number of apparitions, even of those through which we learn things which it would seem could not be known naturally; and you will easily excuse my undertaking to explain to you how the imagination works all these wonders, since this holy doctor owns that he cannot himself comprehend it, though quite convinced of the fact.

"I can tell you only that the blood which circulates incessantly in our arteries and veins, being purified and warmed in the heart, throws out thin vapors, which are its most subtile parts, and are called animal spirits; which, being carried into the cavities of the brain, set in motion the small gland which is, they say, the seat of the soul, and by this means awaken and resuscitate the species of the things that they have heard or seen formerly, which are, as it were, enveloped within it, and form the internal reasoning which we call thought. Whence comes it that beasts have memory as well as ourselves, but not the reflections which accompany it, which proceed from the soul, and that they have not.

"If what Mr. Digby, a learned Englishman, and chancellor of Henrietta, Queen of England, Father Kircher, a celebrated Jesuit, Father Schort, of the same society, Gaffarelli and Vallemont, publish of the admirable secret of the palingenesis, or resurrection of plants, has any foundation, we might account for the shades and phantoms which many persons declare to have seen in cemeteries.

"This is the way in which these curious researchers arrive at the marvelous operation of the palingenesis:—

"They take a flower, burn it, and collect all the ashes of it, from which they extract the salts by calcination. They put these salts into a glass phial, wherein having mixed certain compositions capable of setting them in motion when heated, all this matter forms a dust of a bluish hue; of this dust, excited by a gentle warmth, arises a stem, leaves, and a flower; in a word, they perceive the apparition of a plant springing from its ashes. As soon as the warmth ceases, all the spectacle vanishes, the matter deranges itself and falls to the bottom of the vessel, to form there a new chaos. The return of heat resuscitates this vegetable phoenix, hidden in its ashes. And as the presence of warmth gives it life, its absence causes its death.

"Father Kircher, who tries to give a reason for this admirable phenomenon, says that the seminal virtue of every mixture is concentrated in the salts, and that as soon as warmth sets them in motion they rise directly and circulate like a whirlwind in this glass vessel. These salts, in this suspension, which gives them liberty to arrange themselves, take the same situation and form the same figure as nature had primitively bestowed on them; retaining the inclination to become what they had been, they return to their first destination, and form themselves into the same lines as they occupied in the living plant; each corpuscle of salt re-entering its original arrangement which it received from nature; those which were at the foot of the plant place themselves there; in the same manner, those which compose the top of the stem, the branches, the leaves, and the flowers, resume their former place, and thus form a perfect apparition of the whole plant.

"It is affirmed that this operation has been performed upon a sparrow;[669] and the gentlemen of the Royal Society of England, who are making their experiments on this matter, hope to succeed in making them on human beings also.[670]

"Now, according to the principle of Father Kircher and the most learned chemists, who assert that the substantial form of bodies resides in the salts, and that these salts, set in motion by warmth, form the same figure as that which had been given to them by nature, it is not difficult to comprehend that dead bodies being consumed away in the earth, the salts which exhale from them with the vapors, by means of the fermentations which so often occur in this element, may very well, in arranging themselves above ground, form those shadows and phantoms which have frightened so many people. Thus we may perceive how little reason there is to ascribe them to the return of spirits, or to demons, as some ignorant people have done.

"To all the authorities by means of which I have combated the apparitions of spirits which are in purgatory, I shall still add some very natural reflections. If the souls which are in purgatory could return hither to ask for prayers to pass into the abode of glory, there would be no one who would not receive similar entreaties from his relations and friends, since all the spirits being disposed to do the same thing, apparently, God would grant them all the same permission. Besides, if they possessed this liberty, no sensible person could understand why they should accompany their appearance with all the follies so circumstantially related in those stories, as rolling up a bed, opening the curtains, pulling off a blanket, overturning the furniture, and making a frightful noise. In short, if there were any reality in these apparitions, it is morally impossible that in so many ages one would not have been found so well authenticated that it could not be doubted.

"After having sufficiently proved that all the apparitions which cannot be ascribed to angels or to the souls of the blessed are produced only by one of the three following causes—the extreme subtility of the senses; the derangement of the organs, as in madness and high fever; and the power of imagination—let us see what we must think of the circumstance which occurred at St. Maur.

"Although you have already seen the account that has been given of it, I believe, sir, that you will not be displeased if I here give you the detail of the more particular circumstances. I shall endeavor to omit nothing that has been done to confirm the truth of the circumstance, and I shall even make use of the exact words of the author, as much as I can, that I may not be accused of detracting from the adventure.

"Monsieur de S——, to whom it happened, is a young man, short in stature, well made for his height, between four and five-and-twenty years of age. Being in bed, he heard several loud knocks at his door without the maid servant, who ran thither directly, finding any one; and then the curtains of his bed were drawn, although there was only himself in the room. The 22d of last March, being, about eleven o'clock at night, busy looking over some lists of works in his study, with three lads who are his domestics, they all heard distinctly a rustling of the papers on the table; the cat was suspected of this performance, but M. de S. having taken a light and looked diligently about, found nothing.

"A little after this he went to bed, and sent to bed also those who had been with him in his kitchen, which is next to his sleeping-room; he again heard the same noise in his study or closet; he rose to see what it was, and not having found anything more than he did the first time, he was going to shut the door, but he felt some resistance to his doing so; he then went in to see what this obstacle might be, and at the same time heard a noise above his head towards the corner of the room, like a great blow on the wall; at this he cried out, and his people ran to him; he tried to reassure them, though alarmed himself; and having found naught he went to bed again and fell asleep. Hardly had these lads extinguished the light, than M. de S. was suddenly awakened by a shake, like that of a boat striking against the arch of a bridge; he was so much alarmed at it that he called his domestics; and when they had brought the light, he was strangely surprised to find his bed at least four feet out of its place, and he was then aware that the shock he had felt was when his bedstead ran against the wall. His people having replaced the bed, saw, with as much astonishment as alarm, all the bed-curtains open at the same moment, and the bedstead set off running towards the fire-place. M. de S. immediately got up, and sat up the rest of the night by the fire-side. About six in the morning, having made another attempt to sleep, he was no sooner in bed than the bedstead made the same movement again, twice, in the presence of his servants, who held the bed-posts to prevent it from displacing itself. At last, being obliged to give up the game, he went out to walk till dinner time; after which, having tried to take some rest, and his bed having twice changed its place, he sent for a man who lodged in the same house, as much to reassure himself in his company, as to render him a witness of so surprising a circumstance. But the shock which took place before this man was so violent, that the left foot at the upper part of the bedstead was broken; which had such an effect upon him, that in reply to the offers that were made to him to stay and see a second, he replied that what he had seen, with the frightful noise he had heard all night, were quite sufficient to convince him of the fact.

"It was thus that the affair, which till then had remained between M. de S. and his domestics, became public; and the report of it being immediately spread, and reaching the ears of a great prince who had just arrived at St. Maur, his highness was desirous of enlightening himself upon the matter, and took the trouble to examine carefully into the circumstances which were related to him. As this adventure became the subject of every conversation, very soon nothing was heard but stories of ghosts, related by the credulous, and laughed at and joked upon by the freethinkers. However, M. de S. tried to reassure himself, and go the following night into his bed, and become worthy of conversing with the spirit, which he doubted not had something to disclose to him. He slept till nine o'clock the next morning, without having felt anything but slight shakes, as the mattresses were raised up, which had only served to rock him and promote sleep. The next day passed off pretty quietly; but on the 26th, the spirit, who seemed to have become well-behaved, resumed its fantastic humor, and began the morning by making a great noise in the kitchen; they would have forgiven it for this sport if it had stopped there, but it was much worse in the afternoon. M. de S., who owns that he felt himself particularly attracted towards his study, though he felt a repugnance to enter it, having gone into it about six o'clock, went to the end of the room, and returning towards the door to go into his bed-room again, was much surprised to see it shut of itself and barricade itself with the two bolts. At the same time, the two doors of a large press opened behind him, and rather darkened his study, because the window, which was open, was behind these doors.

"At this sight, the fright of M. de S. is more easy to imagine than to describe; however, he had sufficient calmness left, to hear at his left ear a distinct voice, which came from a corner of the closet, and seemed to him to be about a foot above his head. This voice spoke to him in very good terms during the space of half a miserere; and ordered him, theeing and thouing him to do some one particular thing, which he was recommended to keep secret. What he has made public is that the voice allowed him a fortnight to accomplish it in; and ordered him to go to a place, where he would find some persons who would inform him what he had to do; and that it would come back and torment him if he failed to obey. The conversation ended by an adieu.

"After that, M. de S. remembers that he fainted and fell down on the edge of a box, which caused him a pain in his side. The loud noise and the cries which he afterwards uttered brought several people in haste to the door, and after useless efforts to open it, they were going to force it open with a hatchet, when they heard M. de S. dragging himself towards the door, which he with much difficulty opened. Disordered as he was, and unable to speak, they first of all carried him to the fire, and then they laid him on his bed, where he received all the compassion of the great prince, of whom I have already spoken, who hastened to the house the moment this event was noised abroad. His highness having caused all the recesses and corners of the house to be inspected, and no one being found therein, wished that M. de S. should be bled; but his surgeon finding he had a very feeble pulsation, thought he could not do so without danger.

"When he recovered from his swoon, his highness, who wished to discover the truth, questioned him concerning his adventure; but he only heard the circumstances I have mentioned—M. de S. having protested to him that he could not, without risk to his life, tell him more.

"The spirit was heard of no more for a fortnight; but when that term was expired—whether his orders had not been faithfully executed, or that he was glad to come and thank M. de S. for being so exact—as he was, during the night, lying in a little bed near the window of his bed-room, his mother in the great bed, and one of his friends in an arm-chair near the fire, they all three heard some one rap several times against the wall, and such a blow against the window, that they thought all the panes were broken. M. de S. got up that moment, and went into his closet to see if this troublesome spirit had something else to say to him; but when there, he could neither find nor hear anything. And thus ended this adventure, which has made so much noise and drawn so many inquisitive persons to St. Maur.

"Now let us make some reflections on those circumstances which are the most striking, and most likely to make any impression.

"The noise which was heard several times during the night by the master, the female servant, and the neighbors, is quite equivocal; and the most prejudiced persons cannot deny that it may have been produced by different causes which are all quite natural.

"The same reply may be given as to the papers which were heard to rustle, since a breath of air or a mouse might have moved them.

"The moving of the bed is something more serious, because it is reported to have been witnessed by several persons; but I hope that a little reflection will dispense us from having recourse to fantastic hands in order to explain it.

"Let us imagine a bedstead upon castors; a person whose imagination is impressed, or who wishes to enliven himself by frightening his domestics, is lying upon it, and rolls about very much, complaining that he is tormented. Is it surprising that the bedstead should be seen to move, especially when the floor of the room is waxed and rubbed? But, you will say, some of the witnesses even made useless efforts to prevent this movement. Who are these witnesses? Two are youths in the service of the patient, who trembled all over with fright, and were not capable of examining the secret causes of this movement; and the other has since told several people that he would give ten pistoles not to have affirmed that he saw this bedstead remove itself without help.

"In regard to the voice, whose secret has been so carefully kept, as there is no witness of it, we can only judge of it by the state in which he who had been favored with this pretended revelation was found. Repeated cries from the man who, hearing his closet door beaten in, draws back the bolts which he had apparently drawn himself, his eyes quite wild, and his whole person in extraordinary disorder, would have caused the ancient heathens to take him for a sibyl full of enthusiasm, and must appear to us rather the consequence of some convulsion than of a conversation with a spiritual being.

"Lastly, the violent blows given upon the walls and panes of glass, in the night, in the presence of two witnesses, might make some impression, if we were sure that the patient, who was lying directly under the window in a small bed, had no part in the matter; for of the two witnesses who heard this noise, one was his mother, and the other an intimate friend, who, even reflecting on what he saw and heard, declares that it can only be the effect of a spell.

"How much good soever you may wish for this place, I do not believe, sir, that what I have just remarked on the circumstances of the adventure, will lead you to believe that it has been honored with an angelic apparition; I should rather fear that, attributing it to a disordered imagination, you may accuse the subtility of the air which there predominates as having caused it. As I am somewhat interested in not doing the climate of St. Maur such an injury, I am compelled to add something else to what I have said of the person in question, in order that you may know his character.

"You need not be very clever in the art of physiognomy to remark in his countenance the melancholy which prevails in his temperament. This sad disposition, joined to the fever which has tormented him for some time, carried some vapors to his brain, which might easily lead him to believe that he heard all he has publicly declared; besides which, the desire to divert himself by alarming his domestics may have induced him to feign several things, when he saw that the adventure had come to the ears of a prince who might not approve of such a joke, and be severe upon it. Thus then, sir, you will think as I do, that the report of the celebrated Marescot on the subject of the famous Margaret Brossier agrees perfectly with our melancholy man, and well explains his adventure: a natura multa, plura ficta, a daemone nulla. His temperament has made him fancy he saw and heard many things; he feigned still more in support of what his wanderings or his sport had induced him to assert; and no kind of spirit has had any share in his adventure. Without stopping to relate several effects of his melancholy, I shall simply remark that an embarkation which he made on one of the last jours gras, setting off at ten o'clock at night to make the tour of the peninsula of St. Maur, in a boat where he covered himself up with straw on account of the cold, appeared so singular to the great prince before mentioned, that he took the trouble to question him as to his motives for making such a voyage at so late an hour.

"I shall add that the discernment of his highness made him easily judge whence this adventure proceeded, and his behavior on this occasion has shown that he is not easily deceived. I do not think it is allowable for me to omit the opinion of his father, a man of distinguished merit, on this adventure of his son, when he learned all the circumstances by a letter from his wife, who was at St. Maur. He told several persons that he was certain that the spirit which acted on this occasion was that of his wife and son. The author of the relation was right in endeavoring to weaken such testimony; but I do not know if he flatters himself that he has succeeded, in saying that he who gave this opinion is an esprit fort, or freethinker who makes it a point of honor to be of the fashionable opinion concerning spirits.

"Lastly, to fix your judgment and terminate agreeably this little dissertation in which you have engaged me, I know of nothing better than to repeat the words of a princess,[671] who is not less distinguished at court by the delicacy of her wit than by her high rank and personal charms. As they were conversing in her presence of the singularity of the adventure which here happened at St. Maur, 'Why are you so much astonished?' said she, with that gracious air which is so natural to her; 'Is it surprising that the son should have to do with spirits, since the mother sees the eternal Father three times every week? This woman is very happy,' added the witty princess; 'for my part, I should ask no other favor than to see him once in my life.'

"Laugh with your friends at this agreeable reflection; but, above all, take care, sir, not to make my letter public: it is the only reward that I ask for the exactitude with which I have obeyed you on so delicate an occasion.

"I am, sir, "Your very humble, &c.

St. Maur, May 8, 1706."


"By order of the Lord Chancellor, this dissertation on what we must think of spirits in general, and of that of St. Maur in particular, has been read by me, and I have found nothing therein which ought to hinder its being printed.

"Done at Paris, the 17th of October, 1706. (Signed) "LA MARQUE TILLADET.

"The king's permission bears date the 21st November, 1706."


[662] St. Ambrose, Com. on St. Luke, i. c. 1.

[663] Martha Brossier, daughter of a weaver at Romorantin, was shown as a demoniac, in 1578. See De Thou on this subject, book cxxiii. and tom. v. of the Journal of Henry III., edition of 1744, p. 206, &c. The affair of Loudun took place in the reign of Louis XIII.; and Cardinal Richelieu is accused of having caused this tragedy to be enacted, in order to ruin Urban Grandier, the cure of Loudun, for having written a cutting satire against him.

[664] M. de Lannoy has made a particular dissertation De Causa Secessionis S. Brunonis: he solidly refutes this fable. Nevertheless, this event is to be found painted in the fine pictures of the little monastery of the Chartreux at Paris.

[665] Eliberitan Council, an. 305 or 313, in the kingdom of Grenada. Others have thought, but mistakenly, that it was Collioure in Roussillon.

[666] Jesus, the son of Sirach, author of Ecclesiasticus, believes this apparition to be true. Ecclus. xlvi. 23.

[667] This story has been related in the former part of the work, but more succinctly.

[668] Arist. Treatise on Dreams and Vigils.

[669] The Abbe de Vallemont, in his work on the Singularities of Vegetation. Paris, 1 vol. 12mo.

[670] This was a century and a half ago; but the Philosophical Transactions record no account of any successful result to such experiments.

[671] Madame the Duchess-mother, daughter of the late king, Louis XIV., and mother of the duke lately dead, of M. the Count de Charolois, and of M. the Count de Clermont.




It is to the goodness of your reverence, in regard to myself, that I must attribute the curiosity you appear to feel to know what I think concerning the book which the Sieur Jerome Tartarotti has just published on the Nocturnal Assemblies of the Sorcerers. I reply to you with the greatest pleasure; and I am going to tell my opinion fully and unreservedly, on condition that you will examine what I write to you with your usual acuteness, and that you will tell me frankly whatever you remark in it, whether good or bad, and that may appear to deserve either your approbation or your censure. I had already read this book, and passed an eulogium on it, both for the great erudition displayed therein by the author, as because he refutes, in a very sensible manner, some ridiculous opinions with which people are infatuated concerning sorcerers, and some other equally dangerous abuses. But, to tell the truth, with that exception, I am little disposed to approve it; if M. Muratori has done so in his letter, which has been seen by several persons, either he has not read the work through, or he and I on that point entertain very different sentiments. In regard to my opinion, your reverence will see, by what I shall say, that it is the same as your own on this subject, as you have done me the favor to show by your letter.

I. In this work there is laid down, in the first place, as a certain and indubitable principle, the existence and reality of magic, and the truth of the effects produced by it—superior, they say, to all natural powers; he gives it the name of "diabolical magic," and defines it, "The knowledge of certain superstitious practices, such as words, verses, characters, images, signs (qy. moles), &c., by means of which magicians succeed in their designs." For my part, I am much inclined to believe that all the science of the pretended magicians had no other design than to deceive others, and ended sometimes in deceiving themselves; and that this magic, now so much vaunted, is only a chimera. Perhaps even it would be giving one's self superfluous trouble to undertake to show that everything related of those nocturnal hypogryphes,[672] of those pretended journeys through the air, of those assemblies and feasts of sorcerers, is only idle and imaginary; because those fables being done away with would not prevent that an infinite number of others would still remain, which have been repeated and spread on the same subject, and which, although more foolish and ridiculous than all the extravagances we read in romances, are so much the more dangerous, because they are more easily believed. It would, in the opinion of many, be doing these tales too much honor to attempt to refute them seriously, as there is no one at this day, in Italy, at least, even amongst the people, who has common sense, that does not laugh at all that is said of the witches' sabbath, and of those troops or bands of sorcerers who go through the air during the night to assemble in retired spots and dance. It is true, that notwithstanding, that if a man of any credit, whether amongst the learned or persons of high dignity, maintains an opinion, he will immediately find partisans; it will be useless to write or speak to the contrary, it will not be the less followed; and it is hardly possible that it can be otherwise, so many minds as there are, and so many different ways of thinking. But here the only question is, what is the common opinion, and what is most universally believed. It is not my intention to compose a work expressly on magic, nor to enter very lengthily on this matter; I shall only exhibit, in a few words, the reasons which oblige me to laugh at it, and which induce me to incline to the opinion of those who look upon it as a pure illusion, and a real chimera. I must, first of all, give notice that you must not be dazzled by the truth of the magical operations in the Old Testament, as if from thence we could derive a conclusive argument to prove the reality of the pretended magic of our own times. I shall demonstrate this clearly at the end of this discourse, in which I hope to show that my opinion on this subject is conformable to the Scripture, and founded on the tradition of the fathers. Now, then, let us speak of modern magicians.

II. If there is any reality in this art, to which so many wonders are ascribed, it must be the effect of a knowledge acquired by study, or of the impiety of some one who renounces what he owes to God to give himself up to the demon, and invokes him. It seems, in fact, that they would sometimes attribute it to acquired knowledge, since in the book I am combating the author often speaks "of the true mysteries of the magic art;" and he asserts that few "are perfectly instructed in the secret and difficult principles of this science;" which is not surprising, he says, since "the life of man would hardly suffice" to read all the works which have treated of it. He calls it sometimes the "magical science," or "magical philosophy;" he carries back the origin of it to the philosopher Pythagoras; he regards "ignorance of the magic art as one of the reasons why we see so few magicians in our days." He speaks only of the mysterious scale enclosed by Orpheus in unity, in the numbers of two and twelve; of the harmony of nature, composed of proportionable parts, which are the octave, or the double, and the fifth, or one and a half; of strange and barbarous names which mean nothing, and to which he attributes supernatural virtues; of the concert or the agreement of the inferior and superior parts of this universe, when understood; makes us, by means of certain words or certain stones, hold intercourse with invisible substances; of numbers and signs, which answer to the spirits which preside over different days, or different parts of the body; of circles, triangles, and pentagons, which have power to bind spirits; and of several other secrets of the same kind, very ridiculous, to tell the truth, but very fit to impose on those who admire everything which they do not understand.

III. But however thick may be the darkness with which nature is hidden from us, and although we may know but very imperfectly the essential principles and properties of things, who does not see, nevertheless, that there can be no proportion, no connection, between circles and triangles which we trace, or the long words which signify nothing, and immaterial spirits? Can people not conceive that it is a folly to believe that by means of a few herbs, certain stones, and certain signs or characters, we can make ourselves obeyed by invisible substances which are unknown to us? Let a man study as much as he will the pretended soul of the world, the harmony of nature, the agreement of the influence of all the parts it is composed of—is it not evident that all he will gain by his labor will be terms and words, and never any effects which are above the natural power of man? To be convinced of this truth, it suffices to observe that the pretended magicians are, and ever have been, anything but learned; on the contrary, they are very ignorant and illiterate men. Is it credible that so many celebrated persons, so many famous men, versed in all kinds of literature, should never have been able or willing to sound and penetrate the mysterious secrets of this art; and that of so many philosophers spoken of by Diogenes Laertius, neither Plato, nor Aristotle, nor any other, should have left us some treatise? It would be useless to attack the opinions of the world at that time on this subject. Do we not know with how many errors it has been infatuated in all ages, and which, though shared in common, were not the less mistakes? Was it not generally believed in former times, that there were no antipodes? that according to whether the sacred fowls had eaten or not, it was permitted or forbidden to fight? that the statues of the gods had spoken or changed their place? Add to those things all the knavery and artifice which the charlatans put in practice to deceive and delude the people, and then can we be surprised that they succeeded in imposing on them and gaining their belief? But let it not be imagined, nevertheless, that everyone was their dupe, and that amongst so many blind and credulous people there were not always to be found some men sensible and clear-sighted enough to perceive the truth.

IV. To be convinced of this, let us only consider what was thought of it by one of the most learned amongst the ancients, and we may say, one of the most curious and attentive observers of the wonders of nature—I speak of Pliny, who thus expresses himself at the beginning of his Thirtieth Book;[673] "Hitherto I have shown in this work, every time that it was necessary and the occasion presented itself, how very little reality there is in all that is said of magic; and I shall continue to do so as it goes on. But because during several centuries this art, the most deceptive of all, has enjoyed great credit among several nations, I think it is proper to speak of it more fully." "No men are more clever in hiding their knaveries than magicians;" and in seven or eight other places he endeavors to expose "their falsehoods, their deceptions, the uselessness of their art," and laughs at it. But one thing to which we should pay attention above all, is an invincible argument which he brings forward against this pretended art. For after having enumerated the diverse sorts of magic, which were employed with different kinds of instruments, and in several different ways, and from which they promised themselves effects that were "quite divine;" that is to say, superior to all the force of nature, even of "the power to converse with the shades and souls of the dead;" he adds, "But in our days the Emperor Nero has discovered that in all these things there is nothing but deceit and vanity." "Never prince," says he, a little lower down, "sought with more eagerness to render himself clever in any other art; and as he was the master of the world, it is certain that he wanted neither riches, nor power, nor wit, nor any other aid necessary to succeed therein. What stronger proof of the falsity of this art can we have than to see that Nero renounced it?" Suetonius informs us also, "That this prince uselessly employed magic sacrifices to evoke the shade of his mother, and speak to her." Again, Pliny says "that Tirdates the Mage (for it is thus it should be read, and not Tiridates the Great, as it is in the edition of P. Hardouin), having repaired to the court of Nero, and having brought several magi with him, initiated this prince in all the mysteries of magic. Nevertheless," he adds, "it was in vain for Nero to make him a present of a kingdom—he could not obtain from him the knowledge of this art; which ought to convince us that this detestable science is only vanity, or, if some shadow of truth is to be met within it, its real effects have less to do with the art of magic than the art of poisoning." Seneca, who also was very clever, after having repeated a law of the Twelve Tables, "which forbade the use of enchantments to destroy the fruits of the earth," makes this commentary upon it: "When our fathers were yet rude and ignorant, they imagined that by means of enchantments rain could be brought down upon the ground, or could be prevented from falling; but at this day it is so clear that both one and the other is impossible, that to be convinced of it it does not require to be a philosopher." It would be useless to collect in this place an infinity of passages from the ancients, which all prove the same thing; we can only the book written by Hippocrates on Caducity, which usually passed for the effect of the vengeance of the gods, and which for that reason was called the "sacred malady." We shall there see how he laughs "at magicians and charlatans," who boasted of being able to cure it by their enchantments and expiations. He shows there that by the profession which they made of being able to darken the sun, bring down the moon to the earth, give fine or bad weather, procure abundance or sterility, they seemed to wish to attribute to man more power than to the Divinity itself, showing therein much less religion than "impiety, and proving that they did not believe in the gods." I do not speak of the fables and tales invented by Philostrates on the subject of Apollonius of Thyana, they have been sufficiently refuted by the best pens: but I must not omit to warn you that the name of magic has been used in a good sense for any uncommon science, and a sublimer sort of philosophy. It is in this sense that it must be understood where Pliny says,[674] although rather obscurely, "that Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, and Plato, traveled a great deal to acquire instruction in it." For the rest, people are naturally led to attribute to sorcery everything that appears new and marvelous. Have not we ourselves, with M. Leguier, passed for magicians in the minds of some persons, because in our experiments on electricity they have seen us easily extinguish lights by putting them near cold water, which then appeared an unheard-of thing, and which many still firmly maintain even now cannot be done without a tacit compact? It is true that in the effects of electricity there is something so extraordinary and so wonderful, that we should be more disposed to excuse those persons who could not easily believe them to be natural than those who have fancied tacit compacts for things which it would be much more easy to explain naturally.

V. From what has just been said, it evidently results that it is folly to believe that by means of study and knowledge one can ever attain any of those marvelous effects attributed to magic; and it is profaning the name of science to give it an imposture so grossly imagined; it remains then that these effects might be produced by a diabolical power. In fact, we read in the work in question that all the effects of magic "must be attributed to the operation of the demon; that it is in virtue of the compact, express or tacit, that he has made with him that the magician works all these pretended prodigies; and that it is in regard to the different effects of this art, and the different ways in which they are produced, that authors have since divided it into several classes." But I beg, at first, that the reader will reflect seriously, if it is credible, that as soon as some miserable woman or unlucky knave have a fancy for it, God, whose wisdom and goodness are infinite, will ever permit the demon to appear to them, instruct them, obey them, and that they should make a compact with him. Is it credible that to please a scoundrel he would grant the demon power to raise storms, ravage all the country by hail, inflict the greatest pain on little innocent children, and even sometimes "to cause the death of a man by magic?" Does any one imagine that such things can be believed without offending God, and without showing a very injurious mistrust of his almighty power? It has several times happened to me, especially when I was in the army, to hear that some wretched creatures had given themselves to the devil, and had called upon him to appear to them with the most horrible blasphemies, without his appearing to them for all that, or their attempts being followed by any success. And, certainly, if to obtain what is promised by the art of magic it sufficed to renounce God and invoke the devil, how many people would soon perform the dreadful act? How many impious men do we see every day who for money, or to revenge themselves on some one, or to satisfy a criminal desire, rush without remorse into the greatest excesses! How many wretches who are suffering in prison, at the galleys, or otherwise, would have recourse to the demon to extricate them from their troubles! It would be very easy for me to relate here a great number of curious stories of persons generally believed to be bewitched, of haunted houses, or horses rubbed down by will-o'-the-wisp, which I have myself seen at different times and places, at last reduced to nothing. This I can affirm, that two monks, very sensible men, who had exercised the office of inquisitors, one for twenty-four years, and the other during twenty-eight, have assured me that of different accusations of sorcery which had been laid before them, and which appeared to be well proved, after having examined them carefully and maturely, they had not found one which was not mere knavery. How can any one imagine that the devil, who is the father of lies, should teach the magician the true secret of this art; and that this spirit, full of pride, of which he is the source, should teach an enchanter the means of forcing him to obey him? As soon as we rise above some old prejudices, which make us excuse those who in past ages gave credence to such follies, can we put faith in certain extravagant opinions, as what is related of demons, incubes, and seccubes, from a commerce with whom it is pretended children are born. Who will believe in our days that Ezzelin was the son of a will-o'-the-wisp? But can anything more strange be thought of than what is said of tacit compacts? They will have it, that when any one, of whatever country he may be, and however far he may be from wishing to make any compact with the devil, every time he shall say certain words, or make certain signs, a certain effect will follow; if I, who am perfectly ignorant of this convention, should happen to pronounce these same words, or make the same signs, the same effect ought to follow. They say that whoever makes a compact with the devil has a right to oblige him to produce a certain effect, not only when he shall make himself, for instance, certain figures, but also every time that they shall be made by any other person you please, at any time, or in any place whatever, and although the intention may be quite different. Certainly nothing is more proper to humble us than such ideas, and to show how very little man can count on the feeble light of his mind. Of all the extraordinary things said to have been performed by tacit compacts, many are absolutely false, and others have occurred quite differently than as they are related; some are true, and such as require no need of the demon's intervention to explain them.

VI. The evidence of these reasons seems to suffice to prove that all which is said of magic in our days is merely chimerical; but because, in reply to the substantial difficulties which were proposed to him by the Count Rinaldi Carli, the author of the book pretends that to deny is a heretical opinion condemned by the laws, it is proper to examine this article again. For the first proof of its reality, is advanced the general consent of all mankind; the tradition of all nations; stories and witnesses ad infinitum of theologians, philosophers, and jurisconsults; whence he concludes "that its existence cannot be denied, or even a doubt cast upon it, without sapping the foundations of what is called human belief." But the little I have said in No. IV. alone suffices to prove how false is this assertion concerning this pretended general consent. Horace, who passes for one of the wisest and most enlightened men amongst the ancients, reckons, on the contrary, among the virtues necessary to an honest man, the not putting faith in what is said concerning magic, and to laugh at it. His friend, believing himself very virtuous because he was not avaricious—"That is not sufficient," said he: "are you exempt from every other vice and every other fault; not ambitious, not passionate, fearless of death? Do you laugh at all that is told of dreams, magical operations, miracles, sorcerers, ghosts, and Thessalian wonders?"[675]—that is to say, in one word, of all kinds of magic. What is the aim of Lucian, in his Dialogue entitled "Philopseudis," but to turn into ridicule the magic art? and also is it not what he proposed to himself in the other, entitled "The Ass," whence Apuleius derived his "Golden Ass?" It is easy to perceive that in all this work, wherein he speaks so often, the power ascribed to magic of making rivers return to their source, staying the course of the sun, darkening the stars, and constraining the gods themselves to obey it, he had no other intention than to laugh at it, which he certainly would not have done if he had believed it able to produce, as they pretend, effects beyond those of nature. It is, then, jokingly and ironically that he says they see wonders worked "by the invincible power of magic,"[676] and by the blind necessity which imposes upon the gods themselves to be obedient to it. The poor man thinking he was to be changed into a bird, had had the grief to see himself metamorphosed into an ass, through the mistake of a woman who in a hurry had mistaken the box, and giving him one ointment for another. The most usual terms made use of by the ancients, in speaking of magic, were "play" and "badinage," which plainly shows that they saw nothing real in it. St. Cyprian, speaking of the mysteries of the magicians, calls them "hurtful and juggling operations." "If by their delusions and their jugglery," says Tertullian, "the charlatans seem to perform many wonders." And in his treatise on the soul, he exclaims, "What shall we say of magic? what almost all the world says of it—that it is mere knavery." Arnobius calls it, "the sports of the magic art;" and on these words of Minutius Felix, "all the marvels which they seem to work by their jugglery," his commentator remarks that the word badinage is in this place the proper term. This manner of expressing himself shows what was then the common opinion of all wise persons. "Let the farmer," says Columella, "frequent with neither soothsayers nor witches, because by their foolish superstitions they all cause the ignorant to spend much money, and thence they lead them to be criminal." We learn from Suidas, "that those were called magicians who filled their heads with vain imaginations." Thus, when speaking of one of these imposters, Dante was right when he said[677] "he knew all the trickery and knavery of the magic art." Thus, then, it is not true that a general belief in the art of magic has ever prevailed; and if, in our days, any one would gather the voice and opinion of men of letters, and the most celebrated academies, I am persuaded that hardly would one or two in ten be found who were convinced of its existence. It would not be, at least, one of the learned friends of the author of the book in question, who having been consulted by the latter on this matter, answers him in these terms—"Magic is a ridiculous art, which has no reality but in the head of a madman, who fancies that he is able to lead the devil to satisfy all his wishes." I have read in some catalogues which come from Germany, that they are preparing to give the public a "Magic Library:" oder grundliche nagrichen, &c. It is a vast collection of different writings, all tending to prove the uselessness and insufficiency of magic. I must remark that the poets have greatly contributed to set all these imaginations in vogue. Without this fruitful source, what becomes of the most ingenious fictions of Homer? We may say as much of Ariosto and of our modern poets. For the rest, what I have before remarked concerning Pliny must not be forgotten—that in the ancient authors, the word magic is often equivocal. For in certain countries, they gave the name of magi, or magicians, to those who applied as a particular profession to the study of astronomy, philosophy, or medicine; in others, philosophers of a certain sect were thus called: for this, the preface of Diogenes Laertius can be consulted. Plato writes that in Persia, by the name of magic was understood "the worship of the gods." "According to a great number of authors," says Apuleius, in his Apology, "the Persians called those magi to whom we give the name of priests." St. Jerome, writing against Jovinian, thus expresses himself—"Eubulus, who wrote the history of Mithras, in several volumes, relates that among the Persians they distinguish three kinds of magi, of whom the first are most learned and the most eloquent," &c. Notwithstanding that, there are still people to be found, who confound the chimera of pretended diabolical magic with philosophical magic, as Corneillus Agrippa has done in his books on "Secret Philosophy."

VII. Another reason which is brought forward to prove the reality and the power of the magic art, is that the laws decree the penalty of death against enchanters. "What idea," says he, "could we have of the ancient legislators, if we believe them capable of having recourse to such rigorous penalties to repress a chimera, an art which produced no effect?" Upon which it is proper to observe that, supposing this error to be universally spread, it would not be impossible that even those who made the laws might suffer themselves to be prejudiced by them; in which case, we might make the same commentary on Seneca, applied, as we have seen, to the Twelve Tables. But I go further still. This is not the place to speak of the punishments decreed in the Scripture against the impiety of the Canaanites, who joined to idolatry the most extravagant magic. In regard to the Greek laws, of which authors have preserved for us so great a number, I do not remember that they anywhere make mention of this crime, or that they subject it to any penalty. I can say the same of the Roman laws, contained in the Digest. It is true that in the Code of Theodosius, and in that of Justinian, there is an entire title concerning malefactors, in which we find many laws which condemn to the most cruel death magicians of all kinds; but are we not forced to confess that this condemnation was very just? Those wretches boasted that they were able to occasion when they pleased public calamities and mortalities; with this aim, they kept their charms and dark plots as secret as it was possible, which led the Emperor Constans to say, "Let all the magicians, in whatever part of the empire they may be found, be looked upon as the public enemies of mankind." What does it matter, in fact, that they made false boastings, and that their attempts were useless? "In evil doings," says the law, "it is the will, and not the event, which makes the crime." Also, Constantine wills that those amongst them should be pardoned who professed to cure people by such means, and to preserve the products of the earth. But in general these kind of persons aimed only at doing harm; for which reason the laws ordain that they should be regarded as "public enemies." The least harm they could be accused of was deluding the people, misleading the simple, and causing by that means an infinity of trouble and disorder. Besides that, of how many crimes were they not guilty in the use of their spells? It was that which led the Emperor Valentinian to decree the pain of death "against whomsoever should work at night, by impious prayers and detestable sacrifices, at magic operations." Sometimes even they adroitly made use of some other way to procure the evil which they desired to cause; after which, they gave out that it must be attributed to the power of their art. But what is the use of so many arguments? Is it not certain that the first step taken by those who had recourse to magic was to renounce God and Jesus Christ, and to invoke the demon? Was not magic looked upon as a species of idolatry; and was not that sufficient to render this crime capital, should the punishment have depended on the result? Honorius commanded that these kind of people should be treated with all the rigor of the laws, "unless they would promise to conform for the future to what was required by the Catholic religion, after having themselves, in presence of the bishops, burned the pernicious writings which served to maintain their error."

VIII. What is remarkable is, that if ever any one laughed at magic, it must certainly be the author in question—since all his book only tends to prove that there are no witches, and that all that is said of them is merely foolish and chimerical. But what appears surprising is, that at the same time he maintains that while in truth there are no witches, but that there are enchantresses or female magicians; that witchcraft is only a chimera, but that diabolical magic is very real. Is not that, as it appears to some, denying and affirming at the same time the same thing under different names? Tibullus took care not to make nothing of these distinctions, when he said: "As I was promised by a witch, whose magical operations never fail." While treating in this book of witchcraft and magic, it is affirmed that the demon intervenes on both, and that both work wonders." But if that is true, it is impossible to find any difference between them. If both perform wonders, and that by the intervention of the demon, they are then essentially the same. After that, is it not a contradiction to say that the magician acts and the witch has no power—that the former commands the devil and the latter obeys him—that magic is founded on compacts, expressed or tacit, while in witchcraft there is nothing but what is imaginary and chimerical? What reason is given for this? If the demon is always ready to appear to any one who invokes him, and is ready to enter into compact with him, why does he not show himself as directly to her whom the author terms a witch as to her to whom he is pleased to give the more respectable title of enchantress? If he is disposed to appear and take to himself the worship and adoration which are due to God alone, what matters it to him whether they proceed from a vile or a distinguished person, from an ignoramus or a learned man? The principal difference which the author admits between witchcraft and magic, is, that the latter "belongs properly to priests, doctors, and other persons who cultivate learning;" whilst witchcraft is purely fanaticism, "which only suits the vulgar and poor wretched women;" "also, it does not," says he, "derive its origin from philosophy or any other science, and has no foundation but in popular stories." For my part, I think it is very wrong that so much honor should here be paid to magic. I have proved above in a few words, by the authority of several ancient authors, that the most sensible men have always made a jest of it; that they have regarded it only as a play and a game; and that after having spared neither application nor expense, a Roman emperor could never succeed in beholding any effect. I have even remarked the equivocation of the name, which has often caused these popular opinions with philosophy and the sublimest sciences. But I think I can find in the book itself of the author, enough to prove that one cannot in fact make this distinction, since he says therein "that superstitious practices, such as figures, characters, conjurations, and enchantments, passing from one to the other, and coming to the knowledge of these unhappy women, operate in virtue of the tacit consent which they give to the operation of the demon." There then all distinction is taken away. He says again that, according to some, "nails, pins, bones, coals, packets of hair, or rags, found by the head, of children's beds, are indications of a compact express or tacit, because of the resemblance to the symbols made use of by true magicians." Thus, then, witches and those who are here styled true magicians employ equally the same follies; they equally place confidence in imaginary compacts—and consequently they should both be classed in the same category.

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