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La Sorciere: The Witch of the Middle Ages
by Jules Michelet
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LA SORCIERE.

J. MICHELET.

LONDON: PRINTED BY WOODFALL AND KINDER, ANGEL COURT, SKINNER STREET.



THE WITCH OF THE MIDDLE AGES.

FROM THE FRENCH OF J. MICHELET.

BY L. J. TROTTER.

(The only Authorized English Translation.)

LONDON: SIMPKIN, MARSHALL, AND CO., STATIONERS' HALL COURT. MDCCCLXIII.



PREFACE.

In this translation of a work rich in the raciest beauties and defects of an author long since made known to the British public, the present writer has striven to recast the trenchant humour, the scornful eloquence, the epigrammatic dash of Mr. Michelet, in language not all unworthy of such a word-master. How far he has succeeded others may be left to judge. In one point only is he aware of having been less true to his original than in theory he was bound to be. He has slurred or slightly altered a few of those passages which French readers take as a thing of course, but English ones, because of their different training, are supposed to eschew. A Frenchman, in short, writes for men, an Englishman rather for drawing-room ladies, who tolerate grossness only in the theatres and the columns of the newspapers. Mr. Michelet's subject, and his late researches, lead him into details, moral and physical, which among ourselves are seldom mixed up with themes of general talk. The coarsest of these have been pruned away, but enough perhaps remain to startle readers of especial prudery. The translator, however, felt that he had no choice between shocking these and sinning against his original. Readers of a larger culture will make allowance for such a strait, will not be so very frightened at an amount of plain-speaking, neither in itself immoral, nor, on the whole, impertinent. Had he docked his work of everything condemned by prudish theories, he might have made it more conventionally decent; but Michelet would have been puzzled to recognize himself in the poor maimed cripple that would then have borne his name.

Nor will a reader of average shrewdness mistake the religious drift of a book suppressed by the Imperial underlings in the interests neither of religion nor of morals, but merely of Popery in its most outrageous form. If its attacks on Rome seem, now and then, to involve Christianity itself, we must allow something for excess of warmth, and something for the nature of inquiries which laid bare the rotten outgrowths of a religion in itself the purest known among men. In studying the so-called Ages of Faith, the author has only found them worthy of their truer and older title, the Ages of Darkness. It is against the tyranny, feudal and priestly, of those days, that he raises an outcry, warranted almost always by facts which a more mawkish philosophy refuses to see. If he is sometimes hasty and onesided; if the Church and the Feudal System of those days had their uses for the time being; it is still a gain to have the other side of the subject kept before us by way of counterpoise to the doctrines now in vogue. We need not be intolerant; but Rome is yet alive.

Taken as a whole, Mr. Michelet's book cannot be called unchristian. Like most thoughtful minds of the day, he yearns for some nobler and larger creed than that of the theologians; for a creed which, understanding Nature, shall reconcile it with Nature's God. Nor may he fairly be called irreverent for talking, Frenchman like, of things spiritual with the same freedom as he would of things temporal. Perhaps in his heart of hearts he has nearly as much religious earnestness as they who call Dr. Colenso an infidel, and shake their heads at the doubtful theology of Frederic Robertson. At any rate, no translator who should cut or file away so special a feature of French feeling would be doing justice to so marked an original.

For English readers who already know the concise and sober volumes of their countryman, Mr. Wright, the present work will offer mainly an interesting study of the author himself. It is a curious compound of rhapsody and sound reason, of history and romance, of coarse realism and touching poetry, such as, even in France, few save Mr. Michelet could have produced. Founded on truth and close inquiry, it still reads more like a poem than a sober history. As a beautiful speculation, which has nearly, but not quite, grasped the physical causes underlying the whole history of magic and illusion in all ages, it may be read with profit as well as pleasure in this age of vulgar spirit-rapping. But the true history of Witchcraft has yet to be written by some cooler hand.

L. T.

May 11th, 1863.



CONTENTS.

PAGE

INTRODUCTION 1 To One Wizard Ten Thousand Witches 1 The Witch was the sole Physician of the People 4 Terrorism of the Middle Ages 5 The Witch was the Offspring of Despair 9 She in her Turn created Satan 12 Satan, Prince of the World, Physician, Innovator 13 His School—of Witches, Shepherds, and Headsmen 15 His Decline 16

BOOK I.

CHAPTER I.—THE DEATH OF THE GODS 19 Christianity thought the World was Dying 20 The World of Demons 24 The Bride of Corinth 26

CHAPTER II.—WHY THE MIDDLE AGES FELL INTO DESPAIR 30 The People make their own Legends 31 But are forbidden to do so any more 35 The People guard their Territory 38 But are made Serfs 40

CHAPTER III.—THE LITTLE DEVIL OF THE FIRESIDE 43 Ancient Communism of the Villa 43 The Hearth made independent 44 The Wife of the Serf 45 Her Loyalty to the Olden Gods 46 The Goblin 53

CHAPTER IV.—TEMPTATIONS 57 The Serf invokes the Spirit of Hidden Treasures 58 Feudal Raids 59 The Wife turns her Goblin into a Devil 66

CHAPTER V.—POSSESSION 69 The Advent of Gold in 1300 69 The Woman makes Terms with the Demon of Gold 71 Impure Horrors of the Middle Ages 75 The Village Lady 78 Hatred of the Lady of the Castle 84

CHAPTER VI.—THE COVENANT 88 The Woman-serf gives Herself up to the Devil 90 The Moor and the Witch 93

CHAPTER VII.—THE KING OF THE DEAD 96 The dear Dead are brought back to Earth 97 The Idea of Satan is softened 103

CHAPTER VIII.—THE PRINCE OF NATURE 106 The Thaw in the Middle Ages 108 The Witch calls forth the East 109 She conceives Nature 112

CHAPTER IX.—THE DEVIL A PHYSICIAN 116 Diseases of the Middle Ages 116 The Comforters, or Solaneae 121 The Middle Ages anti-natural 128

CHAPTER X.—CHARMS AND PHILTRES 131 Blue-Beard and Griselda 133 The Witch consulted by the Castle 137 Her Malice 141

CHAPTER XI.—THE REBELS' COMMUNION—SABBATHS—THE BLACK MASS 143 The old Half-heathen Sabasies 144 The Four Acts of the Black Mass 150 Act I. The Introit, the Kiss, the Banquet 151 Act II. The Offering: the Woman as Altar and Host 153

CHAPTER XII.—THE SEQUEL—LOVE AND DEATH—SATAN DISAPPEARS 157 Act III. Love of near Kindred 158 Act IV. Death of Satan and the Witch 165

BOOK II.

CHAPTER I.—THE WITCH IN HER DECLINE—SATAN MULTIPLIED AND MADE COMMON 168 Witches and Wizards employed by the Great 172 The Wolf-lady 174 The last Philtre 179

CHAPTER II.—PERSECUTIONS 180 The Hammer for Witches 181 Satan Master of the World 193

CHAPTER III.—CENTURY OF TOLERATION IN FRANCE: REACTION 198 Spain begins when France stops short 199 Reaction: French Lawyers burn as many as the Priests 203

CHAPTER IV.—THE WITCHES OF THE BASQUE COUNTRY 207 They give Instructions to their own Judges 212

CHAPTER V.—SATAN TURNS PRIEST 218 Jokes of the Modern Sabbath 221

CHAPTER VI.—GAUFFRIDI: 1610 228 Wizard Priests prosecuted by Monks 232 Jealousies of the Nuns 234

CHAPTER VII.—THE DEMONIACS OF LOUDUN: URBAN GRANDIER 255 The Vicar a fine Speaker, and a Wizard 263 Sickly Rages of the Nuns 264

CHAPTER VIII.—THE DEMONIACS OF LOUVIERS—MADELINE BAVENT 277 Illuminism: the Devil a Quietist 277 Fight between the Devil and the Doctor 285

CHAPTER IX.—THE DEVIL TRIUMPHS IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY 294

CHAPTER X.—FATHER GIRARD AND LA CADIERE 303

CHAPTER XI.—CADIERE IN THE CONVENT 339

CHAPTER XII.—TRIAL OF CADIERE 367

EPILOGUE 395 Can Satan and Jesus be reconciled? 396 The Witch is dead, but the Fairy will live again 399 Oncoming of the Religious Revival 399



INTRODUCTION.

It was said by Sprenger, before the year 1500, "Heresy of witches, not of wizards, must we call it, for these latter are of very small account." And by another, in the time of Louis XIII.: "To one wizard, ten thousand witches."

"Witches they are by nature." It is a gift peculiar to woman and her temperament. By birth a fay, by the regular recurrence of her ecstasy she becomes a sibyl. By her love she grows into an enchantress. By her subtlety, by a roguishness often whimsical and beneficent, she becomes a Witch; she works her spells; does at any rate lull our pains to rest and beguile them.

All primitive races have the same beginning, as so many books of travel have shown. While the man is hunting and fighting, the woman works with her wits, with her imagination: she brings forth dreams and gods. On certain days she becomes a seeress, borne on boundless wings of reverie and desire. The better to reckon up the seasons, she watches the sky; but her heart belongs to earth none the less. Young and flower-like herself, she looks down toward the enamoured flowers, and forms with them a personal acquaintance. As a woman, she beseeches them to heal the objects of her love.

In a way so simple and touching do all religion and all science begin. Ere long everything will get parcelled out; we shall mark the beginning of the professional man as juggler, astrologer, or prophet, necromancer, priest, physician. But at first the woman is everything.

A religion so strong and hearty as that of Pagan Greece begins with the Sibyl to end in the Witch. The former, a lovely maiden in the broad daylight, rocked its cradle, endowed it with a charm and glory of its own. Presently it fell sick, lost itself in the darkness of the Middle Ages, and was hidden away by the Witch in woods and wilds: there, sustained by her compassionate daring, it was made to live anew. Thus, of every religion woman is the mother, the gentle guardian, the faithful nurse. With her the gods fare like men: they are born and die upon her bosom.

* * * * *

Alas! her loyalty costs her dear. Ye magian queens of Persia; bewitching Circe; sublime Sibyl! Into what have ye grown, and how cruel the change that has come upon you! She who from her throne in the East taught men the virtues of plants and the courses of the stars; who, on her Delphic tripod beamed over with the god of light, as she gave forth her oracle to a world upon its knees;—she also it is whom, a thousand years later, people hunt down like a wild beast; following her into the public places, where she is dishonoured, worried, stoned, or set upon the burning coals!

For this poor wretch the priesthood can never have done with their faggots, nor the people with their insults, nor the children with their stones. The poet, childlike, flings her one more stone, for a woman the cruellest of all. On no grounds whatever, he imagines her to have been always old and ugly. The word "witch" brings before us the frightful old women of Macbeth. But their cruel processes teach us the reverse of that. Numbers perished precisely for being young and beautiful.

The Sibyl foretold a fortune, the Witch accomplishes one. Here is the great, the true difference between them. The latter calls forth a destiny, conjures it, works it out. Unlike the Cassandra of old, who awaited mournfully the future she foresaw so well, this woman herself creates the future. Even more than Circe, than Medea, does she bear in her hand the rod of natural miracle, with Nature herself as sister and helpmate. Already she wears the features of a modern Prometheus. With her industry begins, especially that queen-like industry which heals and restores mankind. As the Sibyl seemed to gaze upon the morning, so she, contrariwise, looks towards the west; but it is just that gloomy west, which long before dawn—as happens among the tops of the Alps—gives forth a flush anticipant of day.

Well does the priest discern the danger, the bane, the alarming rivalry, involved in this priestess of nature whom he makes a show of despising. From the gods of yore she has conceived other gods. Close to the Satan of the Past we see dawning within her a Satan of the Future.

* * * * *

The only physician of the people for a thousand years was the Witch. The emperors, kings, popes, and richer barons had indeed their doctors of Salerno, their Moors and Jews; but the bulk of people in every state, the world as it might well be called, consulted none but the Saga, or wise-woman. When she could not cure them, she was insulted, was called a Witch. But generally, from a respect not unmixed with fear, she was called good lady or fair lady (belle damebella donna[1]), the very name we give to the fairies.

[1] Whence our old word Beldam, the more courteous meaning of which is all but lost in its ironical one.—TRANS.

Soon there came upon her the lot which still befalls her favourite plant, belladonna, and some other wholesome poisons which she employed as antidotes to the great plagues of the Middle Ages. Children and ignorant passers-by would curse those dismal flowers before they knew them. Affrighted by their questionable hues, they shrink back, keep far aloof from them. And yet among them are the comforters (Solaneae) which, when discreetly employed, have cured so many, have lulled so many sufferings to sleep.

You find them in ill-looking spots, growing all lonely and ill-famed amidst ruins and rubbish-heaps. Therein lies one other point of resemblance between these flowers and her who makes use of them. For where else than in waste wildernesses could live the poor wretch whom all men thus evilly entreated; the woman accursed and proscribed as a poisoner, even while she used to heal and save; as the betrothed of the Devil and of evil incarnate, for all the good which, according to the great physician of the Renaissance, she herself had done? When Paracelsus, at Basle, in 1527, threw all medicine into the fire,[2] he avowed that he knew nothing but what he had learnt from witches.

[2] Alluding to the bonfire which Paracelsus, as professor of medicine, made of the works of Galen and Avicenna.—TRANS.

This was worth a requital, and they got it. They were repaid with tortures, with the stake. For them new punishments, new pangs, were expressly devised. They were tried in a lump; they were condemned by a single word. Never had there been such wastefulness of human life. Not to speak of Spain, that classic land of the faggot, where Moor and Jew are always accompanied by the Witch, there were burnt at Treves seven thousand, and I know not how many at Toulouse; five hundred at Geneva in three months of 1513; at Wurtzburg eight hundred, almost in one batch, and fifteen hundred at Bamberg; these two latter being very small bishoprics! Even Ferdinand II., the savage Emperor of the Thirty Years' War, was driven, bigot as he was, to keep a watch on these worthy bishops, else they would have burned all their subjects. In the Wurtzburg list I find one Wizard a schoolboy, eleven years old; a Witch of fifteen: and at Bayonne two, infernally beautiful, of seventeen years.

Mark how, at certain seasons, hatred wields this one word Witch, as a means of murdering whom she will. Woman's jealousy, man's greed, take ready hold of so handy a weapon. Is such a one wealthy? She is a Witch. Is that girl pretty? She is a Witch. You will even see the little beggar-woman, La Murgui, leave a death-mark with that fearful stone on the forehead of a great lady, the too beautiful dame of Lancinena.

The accused, when they can, avert the torture by killing themselves. Remy, that excellent judge of Lorraine, who burned some eight hundred of them, crows over this very fear. "So well," said he, "does my way of justice answer, that of those who were arrested the other day, sixteen, without further waiting, strangled themselves forthwith."

* * * * *

Over the long track of my History, during the thirty years which I have devoted to it, this frightful literature of witchcraft passed to and fro repeatedly through my hands. First I exhausted the manuals of the Inquisition, the asinine foolings of the Dominicans. (Scourges, Hammers, Ant-hills, Floggings, Lanterns, &c., are the titles of their books.) Next, I read the Parliamentarists, the lay judges who despised the monks they succeeded, but were every whit as foolish themselves. One word further would I say of them here: namely, this single remark, that, from 1300 to 1600, and yet later, but one kind of justice may be seen. Barring a small interlude in the Parliament of Paris, the same stupid savagery prevails everywhere, at all hours. Even great parts are of no use here. As soon as witchcraft comes into question, the fine-natured De Lancre, a Bordeaux magistrate and forward politician under Henry IV., sinks back to the level of a Nider, a Sprenger; of the monkish ninnies of the fifteenth century.

It fills one with amazement to see these different ages, these men of diverse culture, fail in taking the least step forward. Soon, however, you begin clearly to understand how all were checked alike, or let us rather say blinded, made hopelessly drunk and savage, by the poison of their guiding principle. That principle lies in the statement of a radical injustice: "On account of one man all are lost; are not only punished but worthy of punishment; depraved and perverted beforehand, dead to God even before their birth. The very babe at the breast is damned."

Who says so? Everyone, even Bossuet himself. A leading doctor in Rome, Spina, a Master of the Holy Palace, formulates the question neatly: "Why does God suffer the innocent to die?—For very good reasons: even if they do not die on account of their own sins, they are always liable to death as guilty of the original sin." (De Strigibus, ch. 9.)

From this atrocity spring two results, the one pertaining to justice, the other to logic. The judge is never at fault in his work: the person brought before him is certainly guilty, the more so if he makes a defence. Justice need never beat her head, or work herself into a heat, in order to distinguish the truth from the falsehood. Everyhow she starts from a foregone conclusion. Again, the logician, the schoolman, has only to analyse the soul, to take count of the shades it passes through, of its manifold nature, its inward strifes and battles. He had no need, as we have, to explain how that soul may grow wicked step by step. At all such niceties and groping efforts, how, if even he could understand them, would he laugh and wag his head! And, oh! how gracefully then would quiver those splendid ears which deck his empty skull!

Especially in treating of the compact with the Devil, that awful covenant whereby, for the poor profit of one day, the spirit sells itself to everlasting torture, we of another school would seek to trace anew that road accursed, that frightful staircase of mishaps and crimes, which had brought it to a depth so low. Much, however, cares our fine fellow for all that! To him soul and Devil seem born for each other, insomuch that on the first temptation, for a whim, a desire, a passing fancy, the soul will throw itself at one stroke into so horrible an extremity.

* * * * *

Neither do I find that the moderns have made much inquiry into the moral chronology of witchcraft. They cling too much to the connection between antiquity and the Middle Ages; connection real indeed, but slight, of small importance. Neither from the magician of old, nor the seeress of Celts and Germans, comes forth the true Witch. The harmless "Sabasies" (from Bacchus Sabasius), and the petty rural "Sabbath" of the Middle Ages, have nothing to do with the Black Mass of the fourteenth century, with the grand defiance then solemnly given to Jesus. This fearful conception never grew out of a long chain of tradition. It leapt forth from the horrors of the day.

At what date, then, did the Witch first appear? I say unfalteringly, "In the age of despair:" of that deep despair which the gentry of the Church engendered. Unfalteringly do I say, "The Witch is a crime of their own achieving."

I am not to be taken up short by the excuses which their sugary explanations seem to furnish. "Weak was that creature, and giddy, and pliable under temptation. She was drawn towards evil by her lust." Alas! in the wretchedness, the hunger of those days, nothing of that kind could have ruffled her even into a hellish rage. An amorous woman, jealous and forsaken, a child hunted out by her step-mother, a mother beaten by her son (old subjects these of story), if such as they were ever tempted to call upon the Evil Spirit, yet all this would make no Witch. These poor creatures may have called on Satan, but it does not follow that he accepted them. They are still far, ay, very far from being ripe for him. They have not yet learned to hate God.

* * * * *

For the better understanding of this point, you should read those hateful registers which remain to us of the Inquisition, not only in the extracts given by Llorente, by Lamothe-Langon, &c., but in what remains of the original registers of Toulouse. Read them in all their flatness, in all their dryness, so dismal, so terribly savage. At the end of a few pages you feel yourself stricken with a chill; a cruel shiver fastens upon you; death, death, death, is traceable in every line. Already you are in a bier, or else in a stone cell with mouldy walls. Happiest of all are the killed. The horror of horrors is the In pace. This phrase it is which comes back unceasingly, like an ill-omened bell sounding again and again the heart's ruin of the living dead: always we have the same word, "Immured."

Frightful machinery for crushing and flattening; most cruel press for shattering the soul! One turn of the screw follows another, until, all breathless, and with a loud crack, it has burst forth from the machine and fallen into the unknown world.

On her first appearance the Witch has neither father nor mother, nor son, nor husband, nor family. She is a marvel, an aerolith, alighted no one knows whence. Who, in Heaven's name, would dare to draw near her?

Her place of abode? It is in spots impracticable, in a forest of brambles, on a wild moor where thorn and thistle intertwining forbid approach. The night she passes under an old cromlech. If anyone finds her there, she is isolated by the common dread; she is surrounded, as it were, by a ring of fire.

And yet—would you believe it?—she is a woman still. This very life of hers, dreadful though it be, tightens and braces her woman's energy, her womanly electricity. Hence, you may see her endowed with two gifts. One is the inspiration of lucid frenzy, which in its several degrees, becomes poesy, second-sight, depth of insight, cunning simplicity of speech, the power especially of believing in yourself through all your delusions. Of such a gift the man, the wizard, knows nothing. On his side no beginning would have been made.

From this gift flows that other, the sublime power of unaided conception, that parthenogenesis which our physiologists have come to recognise, as touching fruitfulness of the body in the females of several species; and which is not less a truth with regard to the conceptions of the spirit.

* * * * *

By herself did she conceive and bring forth—what? A second self, who resembles her in his self-delusions. The son of her hatred, conceived upon her love; for without love can nothing be created. For all the alarm this child gave her, she has become so well again, is so happily engrossed with this new idol, that she places it straightway upon her altar, to worship it, yield her life up to it, and offer herself up as a living and perfect sacrifice. Very often she will even say to her judge, "There is but one thing I fear; that I shall not suffer enough for him."—(Lancre.)

Shall I tell you what the child's first effort was? It was a fearful burst of laughter. Has he not cause for mirth on his broad prairie, far away from the Spanish dungeons and the "immured" of Toulouse? The whole world is his In pace. He comes, and goes, and walks to and fro. His is the boundless forest, his the desert with its far horizons, his the whole earth, in the fulness of its teeming girdle. The Witch in her tenderness calls him "Robin mine," the name of that bold outlaw, the joyous Robin Hood, who lived under the green bowers. She delights too in calling him fondly by such names as Little Green, Pretty-Wood, Greenwood; after the little madcap's favourite haunts. He had hardly seen a thicket when he took to playing the truant.[3]

[3] Here, as in some other passages, the play of words in the original is necessarily lost.—TRANS.

* * * * *

What astounds one most is, that at one stroke the Witch should have achieved an actual Being. He bears about him every token of reality. We have heard and seen him; anyone could draw his likeness.

The Saints, those darling sons of the house, with their dreams and meditations make but little stir; they look forward waitingly, as men assured of their part in Elysium. What little energy they have is all centred in the narrow round of Imitation; a word which condenses the whole of the Middle Ages. He on the other hand—this accursed bastard whose only lot is the scourge—has no idea of waiting. He is always seeking and will never rest. He busies himself with all things between earth and heaven. He is exceedingly curious; will dig, dive, ferret, and poke his nose everywhere. At the consummatum est he only laughs, the little scoffer! He is always saying "Further," or "Forward." Moreover, he is not hard to please. He takes every rebuff; picks up every windfall. For instance, when the Church throws out nature as impure and doubtworthy, Satan fastens on her for his own adornment. Nay, more; he employs her, and makes her useful to him as the fountain-head of the arts; thus accepting the awful name with which others would brand him; to wit, the Prince of the World.

Some one rashly said, "Woe to those who laugh." Thus from the first was Satan intrusted with too pretty a part; he had the sole right of laughing, and of declaring it an amusement—rather let us say a necessity; for laughing is essentially a natural function. Life would be unbearable if we could not laugh, at least in our afflictions.

Looking on life as nothing but a trial, the Church is careful not to prolong it. Her medicine is resignation, the looking for and the hope of death. A broad field this for Satan! He becomes the physician, the healer of the living. Better still, he acts as comforter: he is good enough to shew us our dead, to call up the shades of our beloved.

One more trifle the Church rejected, namely, logic or free reason. Here was a special dainty, to which the other greedily helped himself. The Church had carefully builded up a small In pace, narrow, low-roofed, lighted by one dim opening, a mere cranny. That was called The School. Into it were turned loose a few shavelings, with this commandment, "Be free." They all fell lame. In three or four centuries the paralysis was confirmed, and Ockham's standpoint is the very same as Abelard's.[4]

[4] Abelard flourished in the twelfth, William of Ockham (pupil of Duns Scotus) in the fourteenth century.—TRANS.

It is pleasant to track the Renaissance up to such a point. The Renaissance took place indeed, but how? Through the Satanic daring of those who pierced the vault, through the efforts of the damned who were bent on seeing the sky. And it took place yet more largely away from the schools and the men of letters, in the School of the Bush, where Satan had set up a class for the Witch and the shepherd.

Perilous teaching it was, if so it happened; but the very dangers of it heightened the eager passion, the uncontrollable yearning to see and to know. Thus began those wicked sciences, physic debarred from poisoning, and that odious anatomy. There, along with his survey of the heavens, the shepherd who kept watch upon the stars applied also his shameful nostrums, made his essays upon the bodies of animals. The Witch would bring out a corpse stolen from the neighbouring cemetery; and, for the first time, at risk of being burned, you might gaze upon that heavenly wonder, "which men"—as M. Serres has well said—"are foolish enough to bury, instead of trying to understand."

Paracelsus, the only doctor whom Satan admitted there, saw yet a third worker, who, stealing at times into that dark assembly, displayed there his surgical art. This was the surgeon of those happy days, the headsman stout of hand, who could play patly enough with the fire, could break bones and set them again; who if he killed, would sometimes save, by hanging one only for a certain time.

By the more sacrilegious of its essays this convict university of witches, shepherds, and headsmen, emboldened the other, obliged its rival to study. For everyone wanted to live. The Witch would have got hold of everything: people would for ever have turned their backs on the doctor. And so the Church was fain to suffer, to countenance these crimes. She avowed her belief in good poisons (Grillandus). She found herself driven and constrained to allow of public dissections. In 1306 one woman, in 1315 another, was opened and dissected by the Italian Mondino. Here was a holy revelation, the discovery of a greater world than that of Christopher Columbus! Fools shuddered or howled; but wise men fell upon their knees.

* * * * *

With such conquests the Devil was like enough to live on. Never could the Church alone have put an end to him. The stake itself was useless, save for some political objects.

Men had presently the wit to cleave Satan's realm in twain. Against the Witch, his daughter, his bride, they armed his son, the doctor. Heartily, utterly as the Church loathed the latter, yet to extinguish the Witch, she established his monopoly nevertheless. In the fourteenth century she proclaimed, that any woman who dared to heal others without having duly studied, was a witch and should therefore die.

But how was she to study in public? Fancy what a scene of mingled fun and horror would have occurred, if the poor savage had risked an entrance into the schools! What games and merry-makings there would have been! On Midsummer Day they used to chain cats together and burn them in the fire. But to tie up a Witch in that hell of caterwaulers, a Witch yelling and roasting, what fun it would have been for that precious crew of monklings and cowlbearers!

In due time we shall see the decline of Satan. Sad to tell, we shall find him pacified, turned into a good old fellow. He will be robbed and plundered, until of the two masks he wore at the Sabbath, the dirtiest is taken by Tartuffe. His spirit is still everywhere, but of his bodily self, in losing the Witch he lost all. The wizards were only wearisome.

Now that we have hurled him so far downwards, are we fully aware of what has happened? Was he not an important actor, an essential item in the great religious machine just now slightly out of gear? All organisms that work properly are twofold, twosided. Life can otherwise not go on at all. It is a kind of balance between two forces, opposite, symmetrical, but unequal; the lower answering to the other as its counterpoise. The higher chafes at it, seeks to put it down. So doing, it is all wrong.

When Colbert, in 1672, got rid of Satan, with very little ceremony, by forbidding the judges to entertain pleas of witchcraft, the sturdy Parliament of Normandy with its sound Norman logic pointed out the dangerous drift of such a decision. The Devil is nothing less than a dogma holding on to all the rest. If you meddle with the Eternally Conquered, are you not meddling with the Conqueror likewise? To doubt the acts of the former, leads to doubting the acts of the second, the miracles he wrought for the very purpose of withstanding the Devil. The pillars of heaven are grounded in the Abyss. He who thoughtlessly removes that base infernal, may chance to split up Paradise itself.

Colbert could not listen, having other business to mind. But the Devil perhaps gave heed and was comforted. Amidst such minor means of earning a livelihood as spirit-rapping or table-turning, he grows resigned, and believes at least that he will not die alone.



BOOK I.



CHAPTER I.

THE DEATH OF THE GODS.

Certain authors have declared that, shortly before the triumph of Christianity, a voice mysterious ran along the shores of the AEgean Sea, crying, "Great Pan is dead!" The old universal god of nature was no more; and great was the joy thereat. Men fancied that with the death of nature temptation itself was dead. After the troublings of so long a storm, the soul of man was at length to find rest.

Was it merely a question touching the end of that old worship, its overthrow, and the eclipse of old religious rites? By no means. Consult the earliest Christian records, and in every line you may read the hope, that nature is about to vanish, life to be extinguished; that the end of the world, in short, is very near. It is all over with the gods of life, who have spun out its mockeries to such a length. Everything is falling, breaking up, rushing down headlong. The whole is becoming as nought: "Great Pan is dead!"

It was nothing new that the gods must perish. Many an ancient worship was grounded in that very idea. Osiris, Adonis die indeed in order to rise again. On the stage itself, in plays which were only acted for the feast days of the gods, AEschylus expressly averred by the mouth of Prometheus, that some day they should suffer death: but how? As conquered and laid low by the Titans, the ancient powers of nature.

Here, however, things are quite otherwise. Alike in generals and particulars, in the past and the future, would the early Christians have cursed Nature herself. So utterly did they condemn her, as to find the Devil incarnate in a flower. Swiftly may the angels come again, who erst overwhelmed the cities of the Dead Sea! Oh, that they may sweep off, may crumple up as a veil the hollow frame of this world; may at length deliver the saints from their long trial!

The Evangelist said, "The day is coming:" the Fathers, "It is coming immediately." From the breaking-up of the Empire and the invasion of the Barbarians, St. Augustin draws the hope that very soon no city would remain but the city of God.

And yet, how hard of dying is the world; how stubbornly bent on living! Like Hezekiah, it begs a respite, one turn more of the dial. Well, then, be it so until the year one thousand. But thereafter, not one day.

* * * * *

Are we quite sure of what has been so often repeated, that the gods of old had come to an end, themselves wearied and sickened of living; that they were so disheartened as almost to send in their resignation; that Christianity had only to blow upon these empty shades?

They point to the gods in Rome; they point out those in the Capitol, admitted there only by a kind of preliminary death, on the surrender, I might say, of all their local pith; as having disowned their country, as having ceased to be the representative spirits of the nations. In order to receive them, indeed, Rome had performed on them a cruel operation: they were enervated, bleached. Those great centralized deities became in their official life the mournful functionaries of the Roman Empire. But the decline of that Olympian aristocracy had in no wise drawn down the host of home-born gods, the mob of deities still keeping hold of the boundless country-sides, of the woods, the hills, the fountains; still intimately blended with the life of the country. These gods abiding in the heart of oaks, in waters deep and rushing, could not be driven therefrom.

Who says so? The Church. She rudely gainsays her own words. Having proclaimed their death, she is indignant because they live. Time after time, by the threatening voice of her councils[5] she gives them notice of their death—and lo! they are living still.

[5] See Mansi, Baluze; Council of Arles, 442; of Tours, 567; of Leptines, 743; the Capitularies, &c., and even Gerson, about 1400.

"They are devils."—Then they must be alive. Failing to make an end of them, men suffer the simple folk to clothe, to disguise them. By the help of legends they come to be baptized, even to be foisted upon the Church. But at least they are converted? Not yet. We catch them stealthily subsisting in their own heathen character.

Where are they? In the desert, on the moor, in the forest? Ay; but, above all, in the house. They are kept up by the most intimate household usages. The wife guards and hides them in her household things, even in her bed. With her they have the best place in the world, better than the temple,—the fireside.

* * * * *

Never was revolution so violent as that of Theodosius. Antiquity shows no trace of such proscription of any worship. The Persian fire-worshipper might, in the purity of his heroism, have insulted the visible deities, but he let them stand nevertheless. He greatly favoured the Jews, protecting and employing them. Greece, daughter of the light, made merry with the gods of darkness, the tunbellied Cabiri; but yet she bore with them, adopted them as workmen, even to shaping out of them her own Vulcan. Rome in her majesty welcomed not only Etruria, but even the rural gods of the old Italian labourer. She persecuted the Druids, but only as the centre of a dangerous national resistance.

Christianity conquering sought and thought to slay the foe. It demolished the schools, by proscribing logic and uprooting the philosophers, whom Valens slaughtered. It razed or emptied the temples, shivered to pieces the symbols. The new legend would have been propitious to the family, had the father not been cancelled in Saint Joseph; had the mother been set up as an educatress, as having morally brought forth Jesus. A fruitful road there was, but abandoned at the very outset through the effort to attain a high but barren purity.

So Christianity turned into that lonely path where the world was going of itself; the path of a celibacy in vain opposed by the laws of the emperors. Down this slope it was hurled headlong by the establishment of monkery.

But in the desert was man alone? The Devil kept him company with all manner of temptations. He could not help himself, he was driven to create anew societies, nay whole cities of anchorites. We all know those dismal towns of monks which grew up in the Thebaid; how wild, unruly a spirit dwelt among them; how deadly were their descents on Alexandria. They talked of being troubled, beset by the Devil; and they told no lie.

A huge gap was made in the world; and who was to fill it? The Christians said, The Devil, everywhere the Devil: ubique daemon.[6]

[6] See the Lives of the Desert Fathers, and the authors quoted by A. Maurie, Magie, 317. In the fourth century, the Messalians, thinking themselves full of devils, spat and blew their noses without ceasing; made incredible efforts to spit them forth.

Greece, like all other nations, had her energumens, who were sore tried, possessed by spirits. The relation there is quite external; the seeming likeness is really none at all. Here we have no spirits of any kind: they are but black children of the Abyss, the ideal of waywardness. Thenceforth we see them everywhere, those poor melancholics, loathing, shuddering at their own selves. Think what it must be to fancy yourself double, to believe in that other, that cruel host who goes and comes and wanders within you, making you roam at his pleasure among deserts, over precipices! You waste and weaken more and more; and the weaker grows your wretched body, the more is it worried by the devil. In woman especially these tyrants dwell, making her blown and swollen. They fill her with an infernal wind, they brew in her storms and tempests, play with her as the whim seizes them, drive her to wickedness, to despair.

And not ourselves only, but all nature, alas! becomes demoniac. If there is a devil in the flower, how much more in the gloomy forest! The light we think so pure teems with children of the night. The heavens themselves—O blasphemy!—are full of hell. That divine morning star, whose glorious beams not seldom lightened a Socrates, an Archimedes, a Plato, what is it now become? A devil, the archfiend Lucifer. In the eventime again it is the devil Venus who draws me into temptation by her light so soft and mild.

That such a society should wax wroth and terrible is not surprising. Indignant at feeling itself so weak against devils, it persecutes them everywhere, in the temples, at the altars once of the ancient worship, then of the heathen martyrs. Let there be more feasts?—they will likely be so many gatherings of idolaters. The Family itself becomes suspected: for custom might bring it together round the ancient Lares. And why should there be a family?—the empire is an empire of monks.

But the individual man himself, thus dumb and isolated though he be, still watches the sky, still honours his ancient gods whom he finds anew in the stars. "This is he," said the Emperor Theodosius, "who causes famines and all the plagues of the empire." Those terrible words turned the blind rage of the people loose upon the harmless Pagan. Blindly the law unchained all its furies against the law.

Ye gods of Eld, depart into your tombs! Get ye extinguished, gods of Love, of Life, of Light! Put on the monk's cowl. Maidens, become nuns. Wives, forsake your husbands; or, if ye will look after the house, be unto them but cold sisters.

But is all this possible? What man's breath shall be strong enough to put out at one effort the burning lamp of God? These rash endeavours of an impious piety may evoke miracles strange and monstrous. Tremble, guilty that ye are!

Often in the Middle Ages will recur the mournful tale of the Bride of Corinth. Told at a happy moment by Phlegon, Adrian's freedman, it meets us again in the twelfth, and yet again in the sixteenth century, as the deep reproof, the invincible protest of nature herself.

* * * * *

"A young man of Athens went to Corinth, to the house of one who had promised him his daughter. Himself being still a heathen, he knew not that the family which he thought to enter had just turned Christian. It is very late when he arrives. They are all gone to rest, except the mother, who serves up for him the hospitable repast and then leaves him to sleep. Dead tired, he drops down. Scarce was he fallen asleep, when a figure entered the room: 'tis a girl all clothed and veiled in white; on her forehead a fillet of black and gold. She sees him. In amazement she lifts her white hand: 'Am I, then, such a stranger in the house already? Alas, poor recluse!... But I am ashamed, and withdraw. Sleep on.'

"'Stay, fair maiden! Here are Bacchus, Ceres, and with thee comes Love. Fear not, look not so pale!'

"'Ah! Away from me, young man! I have nothing more to do with happiness. By a vow my mother made in her sickness my youth and my life are bound for ever. The gods have fled, and human victims now are our only sacrifices.'

"'Ha! can it be thou, thou, my darling betrothed, who wast given me from my childhood? The oath of our fathers bound us for evermore under the blessing of heaven. Maiden, be mine!'

"'No, my friend, not I. Thou shalt have my younger sister. If I moan in my chilly dungeon, do thou in her arms think of me, of me wasting away and thinking only of thee; of me whom the earth is about to cover again.'

"'Nay, I swear by this flame, the torch of Hymen, thou shalt come home with me to my father. Rest thee, my own beloved.'

"As a wedding-gift he offers her a cup of gold. She gives him her chain, but instead of the cup desires a curl of his hair.

"It is the hour of spirits; her pale lip drinks up the dark blood-red wine. He too drinks greedily after her. He calls on the god of Love. She still resisted, though her poor heart was dying thereat. But he grows desperate, and falls weeping on the couch. Anon she throws herself by his side.

"'Oh! how ill thy sorrow makes me! Yet, if thou wast to touch me—— Oh, horror!—white as the snow, and cold as ice, such, ah me! is thy bride.'

"'I will warm thee again: come to me, wert thou come from the very grave.'

"Sighs and kisses many do they exchange.

"'Dost thou feel how warm I am?'

"Love twines and holds them fast. Tears mingle with their joy. She changes with the fire she drinks from his mouth: her icy blood is aglow with passion; but the heart in her bosom will not beat.

"But the mother was there listening. Soft vows, cries of wailing and of pleasure.

"'Hush, the cock is crowing: to-morrow night!' Then with kiss on kiss they say farewell.

"In wrath the mother enters; sees what? Her daughter. He would have hidden her, covered her up. But freeing herself from him, she grew from the couch up to the roof.

"'O mother, mother, you grudge me a pleasant night; you would drive me from this cosy spot! Was it not enough to have wrapped me in my winding-sheet and borne me to the grave? A greater power has lifted up the stone. In vain did your priests drone over the trench they dug for me. Of what use are salt and water, where burns the fire of youth? The earth cannot freeze up love. You made a promise; I have just reclaimed my own.

"'Alas, dear friend, thou must die: thou wouldst but pine and dry up here. I have thy hair; it will be white to-morrow.... Mother, one last prayer! Open my dark dungeon, set up a stake, and let the loving one find rest in the flames. Let the sparks fly upward and the ashes redden. We will go to our olden gods.'"[7]

[7] Here I have suppressed a shocking phrase. Goethe, so noble in the form, is not so in the spirit of his poem. He spoils the marvel of the legend by sullying the Greek conception with a horrible Slavish idea. As they are weeping, he turns the maiden into a vampire. She comes because she thirsts for blood, that she may suck the blood from his heart. And he makes her coldly say this impious and unclean thing: "When I have done with him, I will pass on to others: the young blood shall fall a prey to my fury."

In the Middle Ages this story put on a grotesque garb, by way of frightening us with the Devil Venus. On the finger of her statue a young man imprudently places a ring, which she clasps tight, guarding it like a bride, and going in the night to his couch, to assert her rights. He cannot rid himself of his infernal spouse without an exorcism. The same tale, foolishly applied to the Virgin, is found in the Fabliaux. If my memory does not mislead me, Luther also, in his "Table Talk," takes up the old story in a very coarse way, till you quite smell the body. The Spanish Del Rio shifts the scene of it to Brabant. The bride dies shortly before her marriage; the death-bells are rung. The bridegroom rushed wildly over the country. He hears a wail. It is she herself wandering about the heath. "Seest thou not"—she says—"who leads me?" But he catches her up and bears her home. At this point the story threatened to become too moving; but the hard inquisitor, Del Rio, cuts the thread. "On lifting her veil," says he, "they found only a log of wood covered with the skin of a corpse." The Judge le Loyer, silly though he be, has restored the older version.

Thenceforth these gloomy taletellers come to an end. The story is useless when our own age begins; for then the bride has triumphed. Nature comes back from the grave, not by stealth, but as mistress of the house.



CHAPTER II.

WHY THE MIDDLE AGES FELL INTO DESPAIR.

"Be ye as newborn babes (quasi modo geniti infantes); be thoroughly childlike in the innocence of your hearts; peaceful, forgetting all disputes, calmly resting under the hand of Christ." Such is the kindly counsel tendered by the Church to this stormy world on the morning after the great fall. In other words: "Volcanoes, ruins, ashes, and lava, become green. Ye parched plains, get covered with flowers."

One thing indeed gave promise of the peace that reneweth: the schools were all shut up, the way of logic forsaken. A method infinitely simple for the doing away with argument, offered all men a gentle slope, down which they had nothing to do but go. If the creed was doubtful, the life was all traced out in the pathway of the legend. From first to last but the one word Imitation.

"Imitate, and all will go well. Rehearse and copy." But is this the way to that true childhood which quickens the heart of man, which leads back to its fresh and fruitful springs? In this world that is to make us young and childlike, I see at first nothing but the tokens of age; only cunning, slavishness, want of power. What kind of literature is this, confronted with the glorious monuments of Greeks and Jews? We have just the same literary fall as happened in India from Brahminism to Buddhism; a twaddling flow of words after a noble inspiration. Books copy from books, churches from churches, until they cannot so much as copy. They pillage from each other: Aix-la-Chapelle is adorned with the marbles torn from Ravenna. It is the same with all the social life of those days. The bishop-king of a city, the savage king of a tribe, alike copy the Roman magistrates. Original as one might deem them, our monks in their monasteries simply restored their ancient Villa, as Chateaubriand well said. They had no notion either of forming a new society or of fertilizing the old. Copying from the monks of the East, they wanted their servants at first to be themselves a barren race of monkling workmen. It was in spite of them that the family in renewing itself renewed the world.

Seeing how fast these oldsters keep on oldening; how in one age we fall from the wise monk St. Benedict down to the pedantic Benedict of Aniane;[8] we feel that such gentry were wholly guiltless of that great popular creation which bloomed amidst ruins; namely, the Lives of the Saints. If the monks wrote, it was the people made them. This young growth might throw out some leaves and flowers from the crannies of an old Roman ruin turned into a convent: but most assuredly not thence did it first arise. Its roots go deep into the ground: sown by the people and cultivated by the family, it takes help from every hand, from men, from women, from children. The precarious, troubled life of those days of violence, made these poor folk imaginative, prone to believe in their own dreams, as being to them full of comfort: strange dreams withal, rich in marvels, in fooleries; absurd, but charming.

[8] Benedict founded a convent at Aniane in Languedoc, in the reign of Charlemagne.

These families, isolated in forests and mountains, as we still see them in the Tyrol or the Higher Alps, and coming down thence but once a week, never wanted for illusions in the desert. One child had seen this, some woman had dreamed that. A new saint began to rise. The story went abroad in the shape of a ballad with doggrel rhymes. They sang and danced to it of an evening at the oak by the fountain. The priest, when he came on Sunday to perform service in the woodland chapel, found the legendary chant already in every mouth. He said to himself, "After all, history is good, is edifying.... It does honour to the Church. Vox populi, vox Dei!—But how did they light upon it?" He could be shown the true, the irrefragable proofs of it in some tree or stone which had witnessed the apparition, had marked the miracle. What can he say to that?

Brought back to the abbey, the tale will find a monk good for nothing, who can only write; who is curious, believes everything, no matter how marvellous. It is written out, broidered with his dull rhetoric, and spoilt a little. But now it has come forth, confirmed and consecrated, to be read in the refectory, ere long in the church. Copied, loaded and overloaded with ornaments chiefly grotesque, it will go on from age to age, until at last it comes to take high rank in the Golden Legend.

* * * * *

When those fair stories are read again to us in these days, even as we listen to the simple, grave, artless airs into which those rural peoples threw all their young heart, we cannot help marking a great inspiration; and we are moved to pity as we reflect upon their fate.

They had taken literally the touching advice of the Church: "Be ye as newborn babes." But they gave to it a meaning, the very last that one would dream of finding in the original thought. As much as Christianity feared and hated Nature, even so much did these others cherish her, deeming her all guileless, hallowing her even in the legends wherewith they mingled her up.

Those hairy animals, as the Bible sharply calls them, animals mistrusted by the monks who fear to find devils among them, enter in the most touching way into these beautiful stories; as the hind, for instance, who refreshes and comforts Genevieve of Brabant.

Even outside the life of legends, in the common everyday world, the humble friends of his hearth, the bold helpmates of his work, rise again in man's esteem. They have their own laws,[9] their own festivals. If in God's unbounded goodness there is room for the smallest creatures, if He seems to show them a pitying preference, "Wherefore," says the countryman, "should my ass not have entered the church? Doubtless, he has his faults, wherein he only resembles me the more. He is a rough worker, but has a hard head; is intractable, stubborn, headstrong; in short, just like myself."

[9] See J. Grimm, Rechts Alterthuemer, and my Origines du Droit.

Thence come those wonderful feasts, the fairest of the Middle Ages; feasts of Innocents, of Fools, of the Ass. It is the people itself, moreover, which, in the shape of an ass, draws about its own image, presents itself before the altar, ugly, comical, abased. Verily, a touching sight! Led by Balaam, he enters solemnly between Virgil and the Sibyl;[10] enters that he may bear witness. If he kicked of yore against Balaam, it was that before him he beheld the sword of the ancient law. But here the law is ended, and the world of grace seems opening its two-leaved gate to the mean and to the simple. The people innocently believes it all. Thereon comes that lofty hymn, in which it says to the ass what it might have said to itself:—

"Down on knee and say Amen! Grass and hay enough hast eaten. Leave the bad old ways, and go!

* * * * *

For the new expels the old: Shadows fly before the noon: Light hath hunted out the night."

[10] According to the ritual of Rouen. See Ducange on the words Festum and Kalendae: also Martene, iii. 110. The Sibyl was crowned and followed by Jews and Gentiles, by Moses, the Prophets, Nebuchadnezzar, &c. From a very early time, and continually from the seventh to the seventeenth century, the Church strove to proscribe the great people's feasts of the Ass, of Innocents, of Children, and of Fools. It never succeeded until the advent of the modern spirit.

How bold and coarse ye are! Was it this we asked of you, children rash and wayward, when we told you to be as children? We offered you milk; you are drinking wine. We led you softly, bridle in hand, along the narrow path. Mild and fearful, ye hesitated to go forward: and now, all at once, the bridle is broken; the course is cleared at a single bound. Ah! how foolish we were to let you make your own saints; to dress out the altar; to deck, to burden, to cover it up with flowers! Why, it is hardly distinguishable! And what we do see is the old heresy condemned of the Church, the innocence of nature: what am I saying?—a new heresy, not like to end to-morrow, the independence of man.

Listen and obey!—You are forbidden to invent, to create. No more legends, no more new saints: we have had enough of them. You are forbidden to introduce new chants in your worship: inspiration is not allowed. The martyrs you would bring to light should stay modestly within their tombs, waiting to be recognised by the Church. The clergy, the monks are forbidden to grant the tonsure of civil freedom to husbandmen and serfs. Such is the narrow fearful spirit that fills the Church of the Carlovingian days.[11] She unsays her words, she gives herself the lie, she says to the children, "Be old!"

[11] See the Capitularies, passim.

* * * * *

A fall indeed! But is this earnest? They had bidden us all be young.—Ah! but priest and people are no longer one. A divorce without end begins, a gulf unpassable divides them for ever. The priest himself, a lord and prince, will come out in his golden cope, and chant in the royal speech of that great empire which is no more. For ourselves, a mournful company, bereft of human speech, of the only speech that God would care to hear, what else can we do but low and bleat with the guileless friends who never scorn us, who, in winter-time will keep us warm in their stable, or cover us with their fleeces? We will live with dumb beasts, and be dumb ourselves.

In sooth there is less need than before for our going to church. But the church will not hold us free: she insists on our returning to hear what we no longer understand. Thenceforth a mighty fog, a fog heavy and dun as lead, enwraps the world. For how long? For a whole millennium of horror. Throughout ten centuries, a languor unknown to all former times seizes upon the Middle Ages, even in part on those latter days that come midway betwixt sleep and waking, and holds them under the sway of a visitation most irksome, most unbearable; that convulsion, namely, of mental weariness, which men call a fit of yawning.

When the tireless bell rings at the wonted hours, they yawn; while the nasal chant is singing in the old Latin words, they yawn. It is all foreseen, there is nothing to hope for in the world, everything will come round just the same as before. The certainty of being bored to-morrow sets one yawning from to-day; and the long vista of wearisome days, of wearisome years to come, weighs men down, sickens them from the first with living. From brain to stomach, from stomach to mouth, the fatal fit spreads of its own accord, and keeps on distending the jaws without end or remedy. An actual disease the pious Bretons call it, ascribing it, however, to the malice of the Devil. He keeps crouching in the woods, the peasants say: if anyone passes by tending his cattle, he sings to him vespers and other rites, until he is dead with yawning.[12]

[12] An illustrious Breton, the last man of the Middle Ages, who had gone on a bootless errand to convert Rome, received there some brilliant offers. "What do you want?" said the Pope.—"Only one thing: to have done with the Breviary."

* * * * *

To be old is to be weak. When the Saracens, when the Norsemen threaten us, what will come to us if the people remain old? Charlemagne weeps, and the Church weeps too. She owns that her relics fail to guard her altars from these Barbarian devils.[13] Had she not better call upon the arm of that wayward child whom she was going to bind fast, the arm of that young giant whom she wanted to paralyse? This movement in two opposite ways fills the whole ninth century. The people are held back, anon they are hurled forward: we fear them and we call on them for aid. With them and by means of them we throw up hasty barriers, defences that may check the Barbarians, while sheltering the priests and their saints escaped thither from their churches.

[13] The famous avowal made by Hincmar.

In spite of the Bald Emperor's[14] command not to build, there grows up a tower on the mountain. Thither comes the fugitive, crying, "In God's name, take me in, at least my wife and children! Myself with my cattle will encamp in your outer enclosure." The tower emboldens him and he feels himself a man. It gives him shade, and he in his turn defends, protects his protector.

[14] Charles the Bald.—TRANS.

Formerly in their hunger the small folk yielded themselves to the great as serfs; but here how great the difference! He offers himself as a vassal, one who would be called brave and valiant.[15] He gives himself up, and keeps himself, and reserves to himself the right of going elsewhere. "I will go further: the earth is large: I, too, like the rest, can rear my tower yonder. If I have defended the outworks, I can surely look after myself within."

[15] A difference too little felt by those who have spoken of the personal recommendation, &c.

Thus nobly, thus grandly arose the feudal world. The master of the tower received his vassals with some such words as these: "Thou shalt go when thou willest, and if need be with my help; at least, if thou shouldst sink in the mire, I myself will dismount to succour thee." These are the very words of the old formula.[16]

[16] Grimm, Rechts Alterthuemer, and my Origines du Droit.

* * * * *

But, one day, what do I see? Can my sight be grown dim? The lord of the valley, as he rides about, sets up bounds that none may overleap; ay, and limits that you cannot see. "What is that? I don't understand." That means that the manor is shut in. "The lord keeps it all fast under gate and hinge, between heaven and earth."

Most horrible! By virtue of what law is this vassus (or valiant one) held to his power? People will thereon have it, that vassus may also mean slave. In like manner the word servus, meaning a servant, often indeed a proud one, even a Count or Prince of the Empire, comes in the case of the weak to signify a serf, a wretch whose life is hardly worth a halfpenny.

In this damnable net are they caught. But down yonder, on his ground, is a man who avers that his land is free, a freehold, a fief of the sun. Seated on his boundary-stone, with hat pressed firmly down, he looks at Count or Emperor passing near. "Pass on, Emperor; go thy ways! If thou art firm on thy horse, yet more am I on my pillar. Thou mayest pass, but so will not I: for I am Freedom."

But I lack courage to say what becomes of this man. The air grows thick around him: he breathes less and less freely. He seems to be under a spell: he cannot move: he is as one paralysed. His very beasts grow thin, as if a charm had been thrown over them. His servants die of hunger. His land bears nothing now; spirits sweep it clean by night.

Still he holds on: "The poor man is a king in his own house." But he is not to be let alone. He gets summoned, must answer for himself in the Imperial Court. So he goes, like an old-world spectre, whom no one knows any more. "What is he?" ask the young. "Ah, he is neither a lord, nor a serf! Yet even then is he nothing?"

"Who am I? I am he who built the first tower, he who succoured you, he who, leaving the tower, went boldly forth to meet the Norse heathens at the bridge. Yet more, I dammed the river, I tilled the meadow, creating the land itself by drawing it God-like out of the waters. From this land who shall drive me?"

"No, my friend," says a neighbour—"you shall not be driven away. You shall till this land, but in a way you little think for. Remember, my good fellow, how in your youth, some fifty years ago, you were rash enough to wed my father's little serf, Jacqueline. Remember the proverb, 'He who courts my hen is my cock.' You belong to my fowl-yard. Ungird yourself; throw away your sword! From this day forth you are my serf."

There is no invention here. The dreadful tale recurs incessantly during the Middle Ages. Ah, it was a sharp sword that stabbed him. I have abridged and suppressed much, for as often as one returns to these times, the same steel, the same sharp point, pierces right through the heart.

There was one among them who, under this gross insult, fell into so deep a rage that he could not bring up a single word. It was like Roland betrayed. His blood all rushed upwards into his throat. His flaming eyes, his mouth so dumb, yet so fearfully eloquent, turned all the assembly pale. They started back. He was dead: his veins had burst. His arteries spurted the red blood over the faces of his murderers.[17]

[17] This befell the Count of Avesnes when his freehold was declared a mere fief, himself a mere vassal, a serf of the Earl of Hainault. Read, too, the dreadful story of the Great Chancellor of Flanders, the first magistrate of Bruges, who also was claimed as a serf.—Gualterius, Scriptores Rerum Francicarum, viii. 334.

* * * * *

The doubtful state of men's affairs, the frightfully slippery descent by which the freeman becomes a vassal, the vassal a servant, and the servant a serf,—in these things lie the great terror of the Middle Ages, and the depth of their despair. There is no way of escape therefrom; for he who takes one step is lost. He is an alien, a stray, a wild beast of the chase. The ground grows slimy to catch his feet, roots him, as he passes, to the spot. The contagion in the air kills him; he becomes a thing in mortmain, a dead creature, a mere nothing, a beast, a soul worth twopence-halfpenny, whose murder can be atoned for by twopence-halfpenny.

These are outwardly the two great leading traits in the wretchedness of the Middle Ages, through which they came to give themselves up to the Devil. Meanwhile let us look within, and sound the innermost depths of their moral life.



CHAPTER III.

THE LITTLE DEVIL OF THE FIRESIDE.

There is an air of dreaming about those earlier centuries of the Middle Ages, in which the legends were self-conceived. Among countryfolk so gently submissive, as these legends show them, to the Church, you would readily suppose that very great innocence might be found. This is surely the temple of God the Father. And yet the penitentiaries, wherein reference is made to ordinary sins, speak of strange defilements, of things afterwards rare enough under the rule of Satan.

These sprang from two causes, from the utter ignorance of the times, and from the close intermingling of near kindred under one roof. They seem to have had but a slight acquaintance with our modern ethics. Those of their day, all counterpleas notwithstanding, resemble the ethics of the patriarchs, of that far antiquity which regarded marriage with a stranger as immoral, and allowed only of marriage amongst kinsfolk. The families thus joined together became as one. Not daring to scatter over the surrounding deserts, tilling only the outskirts of a Merovingian palace or a monastery, they took shelter every evening under the roof of a large homestead (villa). Thence arose unpleasant points of analogy with the ancient ergastulum, where the slaves of an estate were all crammed together. Many of these communities lasted through and even beyond the Middle Ages. About the results of such a system the lord would feel very little concern. To his eyes but one family was visible in all this tribe, this multitude of people "who rose and lay down together, ... who ate together of the same bread, and drank out of the same mug."

Amidst such confusion the woman was not much regarded. Her place was by no means lofty. If the virgin, the ideal woman, rose higher from age to age, the real woman was held of little worth among these boorish masses, in this medley of men and herds. Wretched was the doom of a condition which could only change with the growth of separate dwellings, when men at length took courage to live apart in hamlets, or to build them huts in far-off forest-clearings, amidst the fruitful fields they had gone out to cultivate. From the lonely hearth comes the true family. It is the nest that forms the bird. Thenceforth they were no more things, but men; for then also was the woman born.

* * * * *

It was a very touching moment, the day she entered her own home. Then at last the poor wretch might become pure and holy. There, as she sits spinning alone, while her goodman is in the forest, she may brood on some thought and dream away. Her damp, ill-fastened cabin, through which keeps whistling the winter wind, is still, by way of a recompense, calm and silent. In it are sundry dim corners where the housewife lodges her dreams.

And by this time she has some property, something of her own. The distaff, the bed, and the trunk, are all she has, according to the old song.[18] We may add a table, a seat, perhaps two stools. A poor dwelling and very bare; but then it is furnished with a living soul! The fire cheers her, the blessed box-twigs guard her bed, accompanied now and again by a pretty bunch of vervein. Seated by her door, the lady of this palace spins and watches some sheep. We are not yet rich enough to keep a cow; but to that we may come in time, if Heaven will bless our house. The wood, a bit of pasture, and some bees about our ground—such is our way of life! But little corn is cultivated as yet, there being no assurance of a harvest so long of coming. Such a life, however needy, is anyhow less hard for the woman: she is not broken down and withered, as she will be in the days of large farming. And she has more leisure withal. You must never judge of her by the coarse literature of the Fabliaux and the Christmas Carols, by the foolish laughter and license of the filthy tales we have to put up with by and by. She is alone; without a neighbour. The bad, unwholesome life of the dark, little, walled towns, the mutual spyings, the wretched dangerous gossipings, have not yet begun. No old woman comes of an evening, when the narrow street is growing dark, to tempt the young maiden by saying how for the love of her somebody is dying. She has no friend but her own reflections; she converses only with her beasts or the tree in the forest.

[18]

"Trois pas du cote du banc, Et trois pas du cote du lit; Trois pas du cote du coffre, Et trois pas—— Revenez ici."

(Old Song of the Dancing Master.)

Such things speak to her, we know of what. They recall to her mind the saws once uttered by her mother and grandmother; ancient saws handed down for ages from woman to woman. They form a harmless reminder of the old country spirits, a touching family religion which doubtless had little power in the blustering hurly-burly of a great common dwellinghouse, but now comes back again to haunt the lonely cabin.

It is a singular, a delicate world of fays and hobgoblins, made for a woman's soul. When the great creation of the saintly Legend gets stopped and dried up, that other older, more poetic legend comes in for its share of welcome; reigns privily with gentle sway. It is the woman's treasure; she worships and caresses it. The fay, too, is a woman, a fantastic mirror wherein she sees herself in a fairer guise.

Who were these fays? Tradition says, that of yore some Gaulish queens, being proud and fanciful, did on the coming of Christ and His Apostles behave so insolently as to turn their backs upon them. In Brittany they were dancing at the moment, and never stopped dancing. Hence their hard doom; they are condemned to live until the Day of Judgment.[19] Many of them were turned into mice or rabbits; as the Kow-riggwans for instance, or Elves, who meeting at night round the old Druidic stones entangle you in their dances. The same fate befell the pretty Queen Mab, who made herself a royal chariot out of a walnut-shell. They are all rather whimsical, and sometimes ill-humoured. But can we be surprised at them, remembering their woeful lot? Tiny and odd as they are, they have a heart, a longing to be loved. They are good and they are bad and full of fancies. On the birth of a baby they come down the chimney, to endow it and order its future. They are fond of good spinning-women—they even spin divinely themselves. Do we not talk of spinning like a fairy?

[19] All passages bearing on this point have been gathered together in two learned works by M. Maury (Les Fees, 1843; and La Magie, 1860). See also Grimm.

The fairy-tales, stripped of the absurd embellishments in which the latest compilers muffled them up, express the heart of the people itself. They mark a poetic interval between the gross communism of the primitive villa, and the looseness of the time when a growing burgess-class made our cynical Fabliaux.[20]

[20] A body of tales by the Trouveres of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.—TRANS.

These tales have an historical side, reminding us, in the ogres, &c., of the great famines. But commonly they soar higher than any history, on the Blue Bird's wing, in a realm of eternal poesy; telling us our wishes which never vary, the unchangeable history of the heart.

The poor serf's longing to breathe, to rest, to find a treasure that may end his sufferings, continually returns. More often, through a lofty aspiration, this treasure becomes a soul as well, a treasure of love asleep, as in The Sleeping Beauty: but not seldom the charming person finds herself by some fatal enchantment hidden under a mask. Hence that touching trilogy, that admirable crescendo of Riquet with the Tuft, Ass's Skin, and Beauty and the Beast. Love will not be discouraged. Through all that ugliness it follows after and gains the hidden beauty. In the last of these tales that feeling touches the sublime, and I think that no one has ever read it without weeping.

A passion most real, most sincere, lurks beneath it—that unhappy, hopeless love, which unkind nature often sets between poor souls of very different ranks in life. On the one hand is the grief of the peasant maid at not being able to make herself fair enough to win the cavalier's fancy; on the other the smothered sighs of the serf, when along his furrow he sees passing, on a white horse, too exquisite a glory, the beautiful, the majestic Lady of the Castle. So in the East arises the mournful idyll of the impossible loves of the Rose and the Nightingale. Nevertheless, there is one great difference: the bird and the flower are both beautiful; nay, are alike in their beauty. But here the humbler being, doomed to a place so far below, avows to himself that he is ugly and monstrous. But amidst his wailing he feels in himself a power greater than the East can know. With the will of a hero, through the very greatness of his desire, he breaks out of his idle coverings. He loves so much, this monster, that he is loved, and, in return, through that love grows beautiful.

An infinite tenderness pervades it all. This soul enchanted thinks not of itself alone. It busies itself in saving all nature and all society as well. Victims of every kind, the child beaten by its step-mother, the youngest sister slighted, ill-used by her elders, are the surest objects of its liking. Even to the Lady of the Castle does its compassion extend; it mourns her fallen into the hands of so fierce a lord as Blue-Beard. It yearns with pity towards the beasts; it seeks to console them for being still in the shape of animals. Let them be patient, and their day will come. Some day their prisoned souls shall put on wings, shall be free, lovely, and beloved. This is the other side of Ass's Skin and such like stories. There especially we are sure of finding a woman's heart. The rude labourer in the fields may be hard enough to his beasts, but to the woman they are no beasts. She regards them with the feeling of a child. To her fancy all is human, all is soul: the whole world becomes ennobled. It is a beautiful enchantment. Humble as she is, and ugly as she thinks herself, she has given all her beauty, all her grace to the surrounding universe.

* * * * *

Is she, then, so ugly, this little peasant-wife, whose dreaming fancy feeds on things like these? I tell you she keeps house, she spins and minds the flock, she visits the forest to gather a little wood. As yet she has neither the hard work nor the ugly looks of the countrywoman as afterwards fashioned by the prevalent culture of grain crops. Nor is she like the fat townswife, heavy and slothful, about whom our fathers made such a number of fat stories. She has no sense of safety; she is meek and timid, and feels herself, as it were, in God's hand. On yonder hill she can see the dark frowning castle, whence a thousand harms may come upon her. Her husband she holds in equal fear and honour. A serf elsewhere, by her side he is a king. For him she saves of her best, living herself on nothing. She is small and slender like the women-saints of the Church. The poor feeding of those days must needs make women fine-bred, but lacking also in vital strength. The children die off in vast numbers: those pale roses are all nerves. Hence, will presently burst forth the epileptic dances of the fourteenth century. Meanwhile, towards the twelfth century, there come to be two weaknesses attached to this state of half-grown youth: by night somnambulism; in the daytime seeing of visions, trance, and the gift of tears.

* * * * *

This woman, for all her innocence, still has a secret which the Church may never be told. Locked up in her heart she bears the pitying remembrance of those poor old gods who have fallen into the state of spirits;[21] and spirits, you must know, are not exempt from suffering. Dwelling in rocks, and in hearts of oak, they are very unhappy in winter; being particularly fond of warmth. They ramble about houses; they are sometimes seen in stables warming themselves beside the beasts. Bereft of incense and burnt-offerings, they sometimes take of the milk. The housewife being thrifty, will not stint her husband, but lessens her own share, and in the evening leaves a little cream.

[21] This loyalty of hers is very touching indeed. In the fifth century the peasants braved persecution by parading the gods of the old religion in the shape of small dolls made of linen or flour. Still the same in the eighth century. The Capitularies threaten death in vain. In the twelfth century, Burchard, of Worms, attests their inutility. In 1389, the Sorbonne inveighs against certain traces of heathenism, while in 1400, Gerson talks of it as still a lively superstition.

Those spirits who only appear at night, regret their banishment from the day and are greedy of lamplight. By night the housewife starts on her perilous trip, bearing a small lantern, to the great oak where they dwell, or to the secret fountain whose mirror, as it multiplies the flame, may cheer up those sorrowful outlaws.

But if anyone should know of it, good heavens! Her husband is canny and fears the Church: he would certainly give her a beating. The priest wages fierce war with the sprites, and hunts them out of every place. Yet he might leave them their dwelling in the oaks! What harm can they do in the forest? Alas! no: from council to council they are hunted down. On set days the priest will go even to the oak, and with prayers and holy water drive away the spirits.

How would it be if no kind soul took pity on them? This woman, however, will take them under her care. She is an excellent Christian, but will keep for them one corner of her heart. To them alone can she entrust those little natural affairs, which, harmless as they are in a chaste wife's dwelling, the Church at any rate would count as blameworthy. They are the confidants, the confessors of these touching womanly secrets. Of them she thinks, when she puts the holy log on the fire. It is Christmastide; but also is it the ancient festival of the Northern spirits, the Feast of the Longest Night. So, too, the Eve of May-day is the Pervigilium of Maia, when the tree is planted. So, too, with the Eve of St. John, the true feast-day of life, of flowers, and newly-awakened love. She who has no children makes it her especial duty to cherish these festivals, and to offer them a deep devotion. A vow to the Virgin would perhaps be of little avail, it being no concern of Mary's. In a low whisper, she prefers addressing some ancient genius, worshipped in other days as a rustic deity, and afterwards by the kindness of some local church transformed into a saint.[22] And thus it happens that the bed, the cradle, all the sweetest mysteries on which the chaste and loving soul can brood, belong to the olden gods.

[22] A. Maury, Magie, 159.

* * * * *

Nor are the sprites ungrateful. One day she awakes, and without having stirred a finger, finds all her housekeeping done. In her amazement she makes the sign of the cross and says nothing. When the good man goes she questions herself, but in vain. It must have been a spirit. "What can it be? How came it here? How I should like to see it! But I am afraid: they say it is death to see a spirit."—Yet the cradle moves and swings of itself. She is clasped by some one, and a voice so soft, so low that she took it for her own, is heard saying, "Dearest mistress, I love to rock your babe, because I am myself a babe." Her heart beats, and yet she takes courage a little. The innocence of the cradle gives this spirit also an innocent air, causing her to believe it good, gentle, suffered at least by God.

From that day forth she is no longer alone. She readily feels its presence, and it is never far from her. It rubs her gown, and she hears the grazing. It rambles momently about her, and plainly cannot leave her side. If she goes to the stable, it is there; and she believes that the other day it was in the churn.[23]

[23] This is a favourite haunt of the little rogue's. To this day the Swiss, knowing his tastes, make him a present of some milk. His name among them is troll (drole); among the Germans kobold, nix. In France he is called follet, goblin, lutin; in England, Puck, Robin Goodfellow. Shakespeare says, he does sleepy servants the kindness to pinch them black and blue, in order to rouse them.

Pity she cannot take it up and look at it! Once, when she suddenly touched the brands, she fancied she saw the tricksy little thing tumbling about in the sparks; another time she missed catching it in a rose. Small as it is, it works, sweeps, arranges, saves her a thousand cares.

It has its faults, however; is giddy, bold, and if she did not hold it fast, might perhaps shake itself free. It observes and listens too much. It repeats sometimes of a morning some little word she had whispered very, very softly on going to bed, when the light was put out. She knows it to be very indiscreet, exceedingly curious. She is irked with feeling herself always followed about, complains of it, and likes complaining. Sometimes, having threatened him and turned him off, she feels herself quite at ease. But just then she finds herself caressed by a light breathing, as it were a bird's wing. He was under a leaf. He laughs: his gentle voice, free from mocking, declares the joy he felt in taking his chaste young mistress by surprise. On her making a show of great wrath, "No, my darling, my little pet," says the monkey, "you are not a bit sorry to have me here."

She feels ashamed and dares say nothing more. But she guesses now that she loves him overmuch. She has scruples about it, and loves him yet more. All night she seems to feel him creeping up to her bed. In her fear she prays to God, and keeps close to her husband. What shall she do? She has not the strength to tell the Church. She tells her husband, who laughs at first incredulously. Then she owns to a little more,—what a madcap the goblin is, sometimes even overbold. "What matters? He is so small." Thus he himself sets her mind at ease.

Should we too feel reassured, we who can see more clearly? She is quite innocent still. She would shrink from copying the great lady up there who, in the face of her husband, has her court of lovers and her page. Let us own, however, that to that point the goblin has already smoothed the way. One could not have a more perilous page than he who hides himself under a rose; and, moreover, he smacks of the lover. More intrusive than anyone else, he is so tiny that he can creep anywhere.

He glides even into the husband's heart, paying him court and winning his good graces. He looks after his tools, works in his garden, and of an evening, by way of reward, curls himself up in the chimney, behind the babe and the cat. They hear his small voice, just like a cricket's; but they never see much of him, save when a faint glimmer lights a certain cranny in which he loves to stay. Then they see, or think they see, a thin little face; and cry out, "Ah! little one, we have seen you at last!"

In church they are told to mistrust the spirits, for even one that seems innocent, and glides about like a light breeze, may after all be a devil. They take good care not to believe it. His size begets a belief in his innocence. Whilst he is there, they thrive. The husband holds to him as much as the wife, and perhaps more. He sees that the tricksy little elf makes the fortune of the house.



CHAPTER IV.

TEMPTATIONS.

I have kept this picture clear of those dreadful shadows of the hour by which it would have been sadly overdarkened. I refer especially to the uncertainty attending the lot of these rural households, to their constant fear and foreboding of some casual outrage which might at any moment descend on them from the castle.

There were just two things which made the feudal rule a hell: on one hand, its exceeding steadfastness, man being nailed, as it were, to the ground, and emigration made impossible; on the other, a very great degree of uncertainty about his lot.

The optimist historians who say so much about fixed rents, charters, buying of immunities, forget how slightly all this was guaranteed. So much you were bound to pay the lord, but all the rest he could take if he chose; and this was very fitly called the right of seizure. You may work and work away, my good fellow! But while you are in the fields, yon dreaded band from the castle will fall upon your house and carry off whatever they please "for their lord's service."

Look again at that man standing with his head bowed gloomily over the furrow! And thus he is always found, his face clouded, his heart oppressed, as if he were expecting some evil news. Is he meditating some wrongful deed? No; but there are two ideas haunting him, two daggers piercing him in turn. The one is, "In what state shall I find my house this evening?" The other, "Would that the turning up of this sod might bring some treasure to light! O that the good spirit would help to buy us free!"

We are assured that, after the fashion of the Etruscan spirit which one day started up from under the ploughshare in the form of a child, a dwarf or gnome of the tiniest stature would sometimes on such an appeal come forth from the ground, and, setting itself on the furrow, would say, "What wantest thou?" But in his amazement the poor man would ask for nothing; he would turn pale, cross himself, and presently go quite away.

Did he never feel sorry afterwards? Said he never to himself, "Fool that you are, you will always be unlucky?" I readily believe he did; but I also think that a barrier of dread invincible stopped him short. I cannot believe with the monks who have told us all things concerning witchcraft, that the treaty with Satan was the light invention of a miser or a man in love. On the contrary, nature and good sense alike inform us that it was only the last resource of an overwhelming despair, under the weight of dreadful outrages and dreadful sufferings.

* * * * *

But those great sufferings, we are told, must have been greatly lightened about the time of St. Louis, who forbade private wars among the nobles. My own opinion is quite the reverse. During the fourscore or hundred years that elapsed between his prohibition and the wars with England (1240-1340), the great lords being debarred from the accustomed sport of burning and plundering their neighbours' lands, became a terror to their own vassals. For the latter such a peace was simply war.

The spiritual, the monkish lords, and others, as shown in the Journal of Eudes Rigault, lately published, make one shudder. It is a repulsive picture of profligacy at once savage and uncontrolled. The monkish lords especially assail the nunneries. The austere Rigault, Archbishop of Rouen, confessor of the holy king, conducts a personal inquiry into the state of Normandy. Every evening he comes to a monastery. In all of them he finds the monks leading the life of great feudal lords, wearing arms, getting drunk, fighting duels, keen huntsmen over all the cultivated land; the nuns living among them in wild confusion, and betraying everywhere the fruits of their shameless deeds.

If things are so in the Church, what must the lay lords have been? What like was the inside of those dark towers which the folk below regarded with so much horror? Two tales, undoubtedly historical, namely, Blue-Beard and Griselda, tell us something thereanent. To his vassals, his serfs, what indeed must have been this devotee of torture who treated his own family in such a way? He is known to us through the only man who was brought to trial for such deeds; and that not earlier than the fifteenth century,—Gilles de Retz, who kidnapped children.

Sir Walter Scott's Front de Boeuf, and the other lords of melodramas and romances, are but poor creatures in the face of these dreadful realities. The Templar also in Ivanhoe, is a weak artificial conception. The author durst not assay the foul reality of celibate life in the Temple, or within the castle walls. Few women were taken in there, being accounted not worth their keep. The romances of chivalry altogether belie the truth. It is remarkable, indeed, how often the literature of an age expresses the very opposite of its manners, as, for instance, the washy theatre of eclogues after Florian,[24] during the years of the Great Terror.

[24] A writer of eclogues, fables and dramas; in youth a friend of Voltaire, afterwards imprisoned during the Terror.—TRANS.

The rooms in these castles, in such at least as may be seen to-day, speak more plainly than any books. Men-at-arms, pages, footmen, crammed together of nights under low-vaulted roofs, in the daytime kept on the battlements, on narrow terraces, in a state of most sickening weariness, lived only in their pranks down below; in feats no longer of arms on the neighbouring domains, but of hunting, ay, and hunting of men; insults, I may say, without number, outrages untold on families of serfs. The lord himself well knew that such an army of men, without women, could only be kept in order by letting them loose from time to time.

The awful idea of a hell wherein God employs the very guiltiest of the wicked spirits to torture the less guilty delivered over to them for their sport,—this lovely dogma of the Middle Ages was exemplified to the last letter. Men felt that God was not among them. Each new raid betokened more and more clearly the kingdom of Satan, until men came to believe that thenceforth their prayers should be offered to him alone.

Up in the castle there was laughing and joking. "The women-serfs were too ugly." There is no question raised as to their beauty. The great pleasure lay in deeds of outrage, in striking and making them weep. Even in the seventeenth century the great ladies died with laughing, when the Duke of Lorraine told them how, in peaceful villages, his people went about harrying and torturing all the women, even to the old.

These outrages fell most frequently, as we might suppose, on families well to do and comparatively distinguished among the serfs; the families, namely, of those serf-born mayors, who already in the twelfth century appear at the head of the village. By the nobles they were hated, jeered, cruelly plagued. Their newborn moral dignity was not to be forgiven. Their wives and daughters were not allowed to be good and wise: they had no right to be held in any respect. Their honour was not their own. Serfs of the body, such was the cruel phrase cast for ever in their teeth.

* * * * *

In days to come people will be slow to believe, that the law among Christian nations went beyond anything decreed concerning the olden slavery; that it wrote down as an actual right the most grievous outrage that could ever wound man's heart. The lord spiritual had this foul privilege no less than the lord temporal. In a parish outside Bourges, the parson, as being a lord, expressly claimed the firstfruits of the bride, but was willing to sell his rights to the husband.[25]

[25] Lauriere, ii. 100 (on the word Marquette). Michelet, Origines du Droit, 264.

It has been too readily believed that this wrong was formal, not real. But the price laid down in certain countries for getting a dispensation, exceeded the means of almost every peasant. In Scotland, for instance, the demand was for "several cows:" a price immense, impossible. So the poor young wife was at their mercy. Besides, the Courts of Bearn openly maintain that this right grew up naturally: "The eldest-born of the peasant is accounted the son of his lord, for he perchance it was who begat him."[26]

[26] When I published my Origines in 1837, I could not have known this work, published in 1842.

All feudal customs, even if we pass over this, compel the bride to go up to the castle, bearing thither the "wedding-dish." Surely it was a cruel thing to make her trust herself amongst such a pack of celibate dogs, so shameless and so ungovernable.

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