Tag Archive: morality


Gaspard Hauser, as he appeared to the two cobblers.

On this Monday of Pentecost 1828, all is calm is Nuremberg, where two cobblers are returning home, drunk from all the beer that they have consumed.  At the precise moment when the bell of the old cathedral finishes ringing its five chimes, the two companions suddenly stop.  In front of them, leaning against a house which is already in the shadow of the two cathedral towers, they can see a very strange creature…  One of them, Weichmann, firstly asks himself if it is not an old mannequin that a junk collector has placed there to signal his business.  The other, Beck, follows the person who is now dragging himself ahead of them, looking more and more tired.  He catches up to him and sees a young man around fifteen, covered in mud, with bushy hair under his old flat hat, and wearing scarecrow clothes.  When he sees the two men, he jumps and turns a bewildered face towards them.  Moved, as much by the beer as by this spectacle, Beck asks the child if he is ill and where he comes from.  His only answer is a painful sigh.  Beck shakes him by the arm before thinking to search his pockets.  He takes out a crushed letter which he holds out to Weichmann.  It is addressed to Captain von Wessnich, Commander of the 4th Light Horse Squadron, at Nuremberg.

Beck asks whether the Captain is related to the boy and receives a grunt in reply.  Weichmann is beginning to find this meeting a nuisance.  Beck decides that they can’t leave the child there and proposes to take him to the officer’s home.

Only the Captain’s wife is at home.  A good woman, who comforts the child, sits him down on a chair and asks him all sorts of questions…  He endlessly replies in such strange German that the woman takes a long time to understand what he means:

“I want to be a cavalier.”

She renounces questioning him because he appears so tired, and gives him a piece of roast meat, with a glass of beer.  The adolescent turns his head away in disgust.  On the other hand, he accepts some dry bread and swallows several glasses of water.

Nuremberg, where on 26 May 1828, two cobblers saw an unknown adolescent staggering down the street.

It is clear to see that it is mostly sleep that he needs and Frau von Wessnich decides to take him to the stable.  The child lets himself fall into the straw and immediately goes into a deep sleep.

The Captain soon returns home and reads the letter, which says this:

“Honoured Captain, I send you a boy who wants to serve the King in the Army.  He was left at my home on 7 October 1812.  I am only a working-man, employed by the day.  I have ten children of my own;  I have enough to do to raise them.  The mother abandoned this child to me.  But I don’t know who she was and I didn’t contact the Police;  I raised him as a Christian.  Since 1812, he has not been outside the house.  No-one knows where he has been raised and he, himself, does not know the name of the town, nor where my house is;  you can question him about it as much as you want, he will not be able to answer you.  I taught him to read and write a bit, and when he is asked what he wants to do, he says that he wants to be a soldier like his father.  I have taken him as far as Neumarkt;  he has to make the rest of the way alone.

Good Captain, don’t beat him to make him say where he has come from, since he doesn’t know.  I took him away at night, and he will not be able to find his way back,  If you don’t want to keep him, you can kill him or hang him in your fireplace.”

A note written on the same type of paper, coming from the child’s mother, it says, indicates:

“The little one has been baptised under the name of Gaspard.  Give him a Surname and deign to take care of him, whoever finds him.  When he is seventeen, send him to Nuremberg, to the 6th Cavalry Regiment, his father was a soldier there.  He was born on 30 April 1812.  I am an unfortunate girl and cannot keep him.  His father is dead.”

These letters, written in the same hand by someone who has made an awkward attempt at disguising his writing, seem to be fakes.  The Captain, who doesn’t want to be taken advantage of, goes to shake the sleeper.  Here is our vagabond at the Post of Police where he is again assailed with questions.  Once more, he says his litany, then pulls his head into his oversized jacket, with an infinitely distressed air.  He looks so pitiful that the public servants renounce tormenting him any more.  One of them however slips a pencil into his hand.  He is mocked by his colleagues who say that this miserable child can’t know how to write since he doesn’t even know how to speak!…  We’ll see tomorrow!  Just put the poor dog in one of the city’s towers and let him sleep!

But as soon as he sees the pencil, the child appears to be delighted.  He takes it and slowly writes with great application these two words:  Gaspard Hauser.  It’s probably his name, decide the policemen, who notice that, although the letters are not well drawn, like those traced by children in kindergarten, the name is perfectly spelt.  Unfortunately, Gaspard’s science stops there and, when he is asked to write also where he comes from, he mumbles lamentably.

What is Gaspard Hauser’s physical aspect?  He is fairly tall, he has fine skin, a fair complexion, very blue eyes and his hair is so blond that it appears silvery.  Above all, there is something in his allure that appears to be perplexity, hesitancy, constraint, as if he has just, at that moment, fallen from another planet…

To be continued.

Don Miguel de Manara, better known as Don Juan.

The young girl, Don Miguel’s half-sister, is rapidly conquered by this beautiful Andalusian man who says that he is a friend of her half-brother.  But at the moment of celebrating their clandestine marriage, by a devilish refinement, he reveals his identity to her.  What a victory if the lovely lady had accepted to lose her soul, and what savour the taste of mortal sin would have added to the thing!…  But the young girl pushes him away and, having slapped him, alerts the household.  The lord of the place arrives, Don Miguel kills him and, while fleeing, also kills a domestic who was pursuing him.

This first defeat marks the beginning of a series of events which would vividly impress the young libertine.

On his way one night to a convent with his equerry to kidnap a nun – who was consenting, by the way – (this type of sacrilege was still missing from his collection), he hears some mortuary psalms being chanted inside a church.  Intrigued, he enters.  The church is empty.

Don Miguel fought many duels. He was a clever swordsman and killed the husbands whose wives he had taken...

He has scarcely taken a few steps when a violent blow to the back of his neck throws him to the ground unconscious.  His companion brings him round and they both distinctly hear a lugubrious voice crying out:

“Bring the coffin, he is dead!”

Terrified, they rush home and renounce the kidnapping.

From this moment on, the hallucinations continue to occur.  Called by a pretty girl who is dreaming on her balcony, he climbs up via a silk ladder and finds an empty bedroom draped in black, where a skeleton is lying surrounded by four candles.

He is on the verge of folly when he meets the only woman that he would ever love:  Dona Jeronima.  He marries her and lives happily with her for thirteen years.

The whole of Seville marvels.  Don Juan has calmed down.  Don Juan is faithful.  To tell the truth, Don Juan has found the love that he has been passionately seeking…

Suddenly, Dona Jeronima dies, and Don Miguel, crushed with pain, again suffers hallucinations, appalling hallucinations which make him ill.  To find peace again, he wants to enter a convent.  His Confessor opposes this:

“You need to be active.  The contemplative life is not suitable for you.”

And Don Miguel puts his fortune at the service of the poor, founds hospices, collects money for charity, cares for the sick, directs the convent of the Caridad with the same passion which formerly pushed him to debauchery.

At the end of his life, Don Miguel lived like Saint Vincent de Paul.

Doing in Spain what Saint Vincent de Paul does in France, he exhausts himself at the task and dies at 52, surrounded by the respect of his peers and the admiration of the whole of Spain.

He is buried inside the convent’s chapel, underneath a plaque on which he had asked that these words be written:

Here lie the bones and ashes

of the worst man who was ever in the world.

Pray for him.

Soon, miracles take place near his tomb.  When Guy Breton was writing this text, the Congregation of Rites was studying the dossier for the canonisation of Don Miguel.  It is possible that he is now, or soon will be, a saint in the Roman Catholic calendar.  This atheist, criminal libertine could have his statue in churches.

***

Don Miguel had many visions.  One evening, on his way out, he passes a group of men who are walking rapidly carrying a stretcher.  He stops and asks the bearers why they are going so fast.  They tell him that Don Miguel de Manara is dead.  He rushes to the stretcher and glimpses a cadaver which he recognizes…  He is the one being carried away…

A few days later, he meets a procession which is coming out of a street and advancing noiselessly without displacing the slightest breath of air.  Penitents are following in long rows, holding lighted candles…  And he notices that the flames of these candles are rigorously motionless despite the walking.

This nightmare cortege literally turns him icy cold.  He then asks which saint is being honoured.  He receives the reply that they are carrying Don Miguel de Manara to his burial…

Don Miguel bursts out laughing.  A nervous laugh which stops suddenly for he perceives a bier covered in black velvet and supported by monks.  Behind them, the penitents are walking slowly.  Don Miguel insists:

“What are you carrying there?”

One of the monks looks at him through glassy eyes and tells him that they are going to bury Don Miguel de Manara.

The cortege continues on its way and enters San Isodoro Church.  Don Miguel follows it.  He hears lugubrious chants and attends a Mass for the Dead.  When it is over, he dares to approach the coffin placed in the centre of the nave and snatches off the black velvet covering it.  He then sees in horror that the dead man’s face is once more his own.

He faints.  He is discovered, unconscious, in the early hours of the morning, lying in the church.

***

All of his hallucinations were just as morbid as these.  Here is a third example among dozens of others.  One day when he is going to see a businessman about a farm destroyed by fire, he notices a woman who seems to have exactly the same body and is walking in exactly the same way as his dear Jeronima.  He follows her.  The unknown woman walks faster and faster and he is almost obliged to run so as not to lose her.  She enters a church.  He enters too and approaches her.  He is about to touch her when she turns around.  Under the mantilla, Don Miguel sees in terror a jeering skeleton looking at him…

***

These hallucinations were well-known in Seville.  Everyone was talking about them…

***

If he had been the only one to have seen these things, a psychiatrist could probably explain them by the disgust that he felt for his former life, for his sinning with his body and even for the human body itself.  But often, friends – sometimes high-ranking people in Seville – shared his visions.  So these phenomena are inexplicable.

***

His mourning for his wife does not explain the hallucinations that he had before his marriage, the authenticity of which is certified by witnesses.

***

These appalling visions finally changed him.  He founded a hospice and completely devoted his life to the poor.  This lasted eighteen years.  In Seville, he was called the Father of the Poor…  His only distraction was to busy himself with the roses that he had had planted in the garden of the hospice.  In 1678, the plague struck Andalusia, attacking thousands of people.  Don Miguel devoted himself without counting to help the victims and died of exhaustion in 1679, after having cared for hundreds of sick people…  Seven months later, his body was exhumed to be transferred.  It was noted that it was intact.  The face was smiling, and underneath the perfectly healthy flesh, people had the impression that blood was still circulating…

As for the roses that he had planted, they continue to flower every year, for more than three centuries now.

***

The Don Juan saint

Don Miguel de Manara, better known as Don Juan.

On 27 July 1680, the city of Seville and the Brothers of Charity, along with numerous Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, monks, laymen, great lords and Masters of the University, introduced into the Court of Rome a request for the canonisation of Brother Don Miguel de Manara, who had died one year earlier in odour of sanctity at the convent of the Caridad.  The enquiry undertaken by the eminent Doctors of the Congregation of Rites was long and minutious.  It lasted ten years and permitted the discovery that the person proposed for judgement in the Court of Rome had had a particularly edifying life.  In faith of which the Pope signed the decree making Don Miguel de Manara a Venerable, the first sanctification grade before beatification.

Immediately, the monks of the Caridad went to work so that the Vatican would take interest in the miracles which were taking place near the tomb of their former Brother and would decide to accord him the title of Blessed.

When Guy Breton wrote this text in the XXth Century, the Congregation of Rites was studying the canonisation dossier of Don Miguel de Manara.

But who is this holy man possessing such remarkable virtues that Rome was considering granting him a halo?

Seville in the XVIIth Century.

He was a Sevillian who lived in the XVIIth Century and was better known by the name of Don Juan…  That’s right:  Don Juan, the lover of a thousand and three women, rapist, adventurer, assassin!…  However, this very real character must not be confused with the legendary Don Juan created by Tirso de Molina and taken up by Moliere.

Born in Seville in 1627, Don Miguel has the revelation of his vocation of seductor when he is only fourteen years old.  Having attended a performance of Burlador by Tirso de Molina, he leaves the theatre declaring with tranquil assurance:

“I will be Don Juan!”,

as another child would say:  “I will be a sailor!”

And straight away, he tries to gain some experience.  As a member of a noble family, he needs, as a true conquistador, brilliant beginnings.  And, for a trial run, it is indeed brilliant:  he becomes the lover of the Archbishop of Seville’s mistress.  He draws from this first contact some lessons that a long apprenticeship with a commoner lady would not have given him.

Don Miguel seduced marquises, servant-girls, washerwomen, nuns, duchesses, middle-class women, sales-girls and princesses.

Then he turns to the married women whom he charms by his words, marvels by his audacity and sends into ecstasy by a very knowledgeable technique…

When a husband, learning of his misfortune, displays any threatening contrarity, Don Miguel draws his sword and kills the interferer.

Wanting to equal his model by any means, he backs away from no peril.  One evening, he arranges to meet a young girl in a hunting pavillion and alerts the lady’s brother.  The brother, thinking that it is just boasting, goes to the bedroom door and listens.  Recognizing his sister’s voice, he insults Don Miguel, but has to remain on the landing and await the end of the duet, a few characteristic sounds of which permit him to follow the different stages.  After which, Don Miguel comes out with raised sword, kills the brother and calmly goes home.

All of these exploits do a lot for his reputation, as can be imagined.  Soon, he has the nickname that he wants.  The whole of Seville calls him “Don Juan”.  It is said of him that he attracts women more than a magnet attracts iron.

But one evening, just like the Don Juan of the legend, while he is in a young girl’s bedchamber – her name is Dona Teresa – the father appears, a torch in his hand.  Don Miguel leaps from the bed, seizes his sword and, in the dark corridor, engages in a terrible duel.  The elderly man, who has drawn his sword, fights furiously, but Don Miguel kills him with a thrust to the heart and flees.

This time, the business is too serious for the parents of the young man to arrange.  Dona Teresa’s father being the head of a powerful Andalusian family, the King himself orders that he be pursued in Justice.  Don Miguel has to flee, to leave Spain, to take refuge in Italy, then in the Netherlands where the charm of the beautiful Flemish ladies soon contains no secrets for him.

Engaged in a Spanish regiment which is warring against Holland, he displays exceptional bravery which merits him being mentioned in Army dispatches.  His brilliant conduct is quickly known in Seville and, by royal decision, the judiciary pursuits are abandoned.  Don Miguel can return home.

He has barely arrived, when he finds a new way to fascinate the beautiful Spanish women:  he participates in corridas and displays, there again, extraordinary dexerity.

One day, he falls seriously ill.  All the husbands of Andalusia rejoice, but Don Miguel recovers, despite expectations.  It is said of him:

“He even beats death!”

It would be wrong to think that this eternally dissatisfied man was a brainless butterfly without method.  Don Miguel kept his accounts.  He possessed a complete list of his “victims” with, opposite, a list of the husbands or lovers he had fooled according to their professions.  All social classes were represented.  At the top of the masculine column, the Pope’s name could be read…  During his stay in Italy, Don Miguel had in fact seduced a beautiful Florentine to whom, it was said, His Holiness had accorded his favours…

Then came an Emperor.  His principal biographer, Mrs Esther Van Loo says:

“The enumeration continued, brutal, direct, precise.  It was an astounding pele-mele of Bishops, of reigning Princes and Dukes, of Marquis, of Counts, of Knights, of bourgeois or of modest tradesmen.”

One evening, while reading over his strange “accounting”, he noticed that he had not yet tasted incest.  His sisters being nuns in a convent, the severe Rule of which forbade all hope, he was going to resign himself to abusing one of his aunts, when he remembered the existence of a half-sister, the bastard daughter of his father, who lived in Corsica.

The following day, Don Miguel embarked.

To be continued.

Frontispiece of "L'Ariane", one of a dozen exceptionally bad tragedies written and presented by Desmaret de Saint-Sorlin.

Simon Morin is even more assured of his mission, as a man of quality, a truly superior mind – an Academician no less – has just joined his busy little crowd of disciples.  His name is Jean Desmaret de Saint-Sorlin.  Morin effusively welcomes this spiritual brother to his hovel.  He informs him that he, Desmaret, will be the Saint Paul to the new Christ that Morin, himself, is.  He promises to reveal all his secrets to him soon.

In vain, Morin’s wife tries to warn him.  She finds Saint-Sorlin highly suspicious.  After a few days, Morin puts him in contact with “spirits” that he evokes during seances, and exposes the new religion to him.  That of the “Inner Circle of the Holy Spirit” that Louis XIV must install as quickly as possible.  If he doesn’t, he will die that same year.  These mind wanderings are heard by an attentive Desmaret who, hands joined and eyes lowered, appears to be listening to the Sermon on the Mount.

Morin adds that, at a certain degree of purity, carnal excesses, with whichever sex they are performed, are cleansed in advance of any stain.  Desmaret pudically lowers his eyes and manages to extort a few other insanities from the fellow.  Then, while these redoubtable confidences are still fresh in his mind, he rushes off to give an account of them to the ecclesiastical judge.

He clamours:

“Lese-majeste, sorcery, sodomy!”

He receives the retort:

“In intention, only!”

So what?  Is one less culpable of only wishing the death of the King than of killing him?

Simon is therefore arrested again.  Confronted with the Academician, he denies nothing of these platitudes.  This time, he even assures that he is ready to die for them.  And what does the stake matter to him, since the angels would come to snatch him from the flames and consecrate his glory?  From the hearing room, he goes directly to the torture chamber.  There, before a Doctor in Sorbonne and a clerk of the Criminal Chamber to whom a Confessor is added, he has to suffer the Extraordinary Question.  Do they even listen to what he screams in his abominable torments?  He is condemned to be burnt alive in front of the Notre-Dame porch, the next day at Dawn.  At four o’clock, he leaves the torture chamber broken, is thrown panting onto a tumbril, with a few books and a few sheets of his vaticinations.  When the lamentable cortege arrives Place de Greve, he contains his atrocious sufferings and cries out:

Simon Morin's atrociously mutilated body was delivered to the flames before an hilarious crowd of onlookers.

“I am innocent!  It is not permitted to shed the blood of the just!”

A great crowd is assembled Place de Greve.  It had already enjoyed seeing one of Morin’s mistresses whipped and marked with a red-hot brand.  The executioner then drags the broken body of the unfortunate man onto the faggots and between two screams of pain, just before the flames and smoke rise, the dying man’s voice can again be heard:

“Jesus!  Mary!  My God!…  Give me misericord!”

The Confessor turns toward the good people of Paris and invites it to pray…

In his Hotel du Marais, Saint-Sorlin has also recited his Matins.  A messenger has kept him informed of the good result of his work.  Instead of taking a bit of rest, he immediately calls his secretary and dictates for La Gazette rimee seven lines of poetry on “the imposter” and his death.

***

The Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement was a secret society founded in 1627, under the devout Louis XIII, to restore Catholicism after the upheavals of the Renaissance.  It was open to monks, nuns, priests as well as laics, and counted at one time nearly 60 centres throughout Paris and in the provinces.  In the beginning, its members were above all devoted to charitable enterprises, the improvement of the lot of those condemned to hard labour, notably, but always with the idea of wiping out “immorality” everywhere.  They also went to war against gallant rendez-vous inside churches, the “nudities of the throat“, “dishonest or abominable paintings or almanachs” and prostitutes [filles publiques]

Little by little, the repressive aspect, the occult denunciation and spying, on the Protestants in particular, take over from all of the other activities.  To the point that the clergy itself becomes worried about it, and supports in 1660 a request for its dissolution by the Paris Parliament.  Thanks to the intervention of Lamoignou, its First President, and of Anne of Austria, the mother of Louis XIV, who was very religious at the end of her life, the dissolution is not total.  But by the action of Mazarin, whose joyous life was discretely criticized by the Company, and the immense success of Moliere’s Tartuffe in 1669, its influence is gradually reduced to nothing.

***

Simon Morin was a poor devil who earned his living by copying official documents for illiterate people or by writing their letters.  He represents a heresy which goes right back to the XIIth Century.  It prophesies that, after the time of the Father and of the Son, will come the time of the Holy Spirit, when all the sacraments will be abolished and when each would be able to save himself by the grace of the Holy Spirit.  There will be no more sins, and therefore no more reason to not commit as many as possible, say its sectaries, who do not deprive themselves of doing it…  In 1281, a nun named Guillelmine dies in Milan, in odour of sanctity.  Shortly after her death, the Inquisition sets off an Enquiry which permits to establish that “the saint” had frenetically fallen into this heresy.  Her cadaver is dug up and is taken in great pomp to the stake.

This belief in a Holy Spirit carrying away on his wings all the conventions of established morality would last for a very long time, and Simon Morin is only one of the last links in a long heretical chain which causes talk for half a millenium in the Catholic world.

***

Saint-Sorlin was very proud of what he had done…  Starting from there, he busied himself creating a force similar to the Ligue du Bien Public, which had suscitated, among other miseries, the Saint-Barthelemy Massacre.  He also wrote a book where he recounted all his evil actions, which he hoped would be a best-seller.  He only left his study to hunt out new victims and he sent denunciations in such great numbers that the Prosecutors, irritated, asked him to deposit bail.  That is to say to become partie civile and pay the costs of the trial when his victims were acquitted.  He died at a very old age, 81, in 1676, not at all tired of hunting true and false heretics.  Alas, the fashion had passed, and he finally died very sad to have been able to roast only one unfortunate person…

***

Reception of a French Academician in the XVIIth Century.

Jean Desmaret de Saint-Sorlin is one of the ancestors of the Forty Members of the Academie francaise.  He was one of the first to enter the Academy, but was a really nasty piece of work, whose name is carefully not spoken by anyone hoping to don the Academy’s green jacket.

Cardinal de Richelieu, who founded the Academy, was very fond of beautifully written literary and poetic works.  But although he was a political genius, his literary talents were non-existent, and it is our Desmaret who would ghost-write the verses that are slightly less bad that the ones that the Cardinal wrote on his own.  Under his name of Armand du Plessis, Richelieu even gives Mirame, a tragedy, ghost-written by this same Desmaret.  Naturally, the ghost draws advantages from this situation.  Lucrative positions for a start, and soon a seat in the Academy.  Beautiful in appearance, and in favour at Court, he then begins to lead a voluptuous life, woven with gold and silk…

In 1645, he arrives at the age of fifty and has an attack of religiosity.  He assures it anyway, in a work that he very simply entitles Les Delices de l’Esprit.  But our man has the itch for action, and the idea of serving the Church, excites him diabolically, literally…

As it happens, at this epoch, the Compagnie du Saint Sacrement is recruiting.  Founded by the Duke de Ventadour, the King’s Lieutenant-General in Languedoc, and Viceroy of Canada, this institution proposes to promote God’s glory “by all means”.  Which is supposed to make libertines, Protestants, unmarried mothers and prostitutes think twice, along with all those who are taking care not to let the lights of the Renaissance go out altogether, while awaiting those of the Grand Century…

Armand du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu

What is sure, in any case, is that our man enters into a secret Society, which acts everywhere in an underhand way, which declares the Arts and theatres to be heretical, and wants to purge society of all those who do not say their Rosary every day…  In the name of this Society, our religious man uses his pen with great zeal, spending whole days writing texts to save God and the Holy Church.

He is heard to thunder:

“Christianity is lost if a strong army does not rise to combat and exterminate impieties and heresies everywhere.  This army must be composed of one hundred and forty-four thousand fighters, who would have the mark of the living God on their foreheads.  Its chief must be Louis the Fourteenth in person.”

Although he is Controller at the Extraordinaire des Guerres and Secretary of the Marine du Levant, Desmaret has no intention of mounting a palfrey in an army of fighters of infidels.  He reserves for himself another role in this crusade.  The very distinguished role of snitch…

Let us leave our Academician for an instant and visit the little people, among those of “mechanical condition” as was said at the time.

Public writer's booth. That of Simon Morin was in Paris near Notre-Dame.

A man of the people, Simon Morin has a booth of writer-copier in the Notre-Dame quarter.  Which does not give him nor his children enough to eat every day.  But he doesn’t care, since Simon Morin is the Holy Spirit in person.

Illuminated people of this kind are legion under the Sun-King, a sombre epoch where spirits and spells still have all their powers.  For Simon Morin, the world has known only two religions:  a religion of the Jews, with Moses, a religion of the Christians, with Jesus.  But now a third religion is being announced, that of the Holy Spirit.  The Church, he proclaims, has nothing more to say, and the sacraments, along with laws of morality, have no more significance.  The Holy Spirit is here now, in the person of a few pure people.  And all is pure for the pure;  whatever they do, they commit no sin.  They are the annunciators of absolute liberty under the reign of the Holy Spirit…

And Morin carries his message to servant girls, washerwomen, shop girls, who are quickly won over to his prophecy, for he is a beautiful-looking man, his female assistant, as well as a few young, fresh male adolescents who barely leave him, and his wife, who says that all this will end badly.  In 1646, his pretty female penitents, whom he neglects from time to time, denounce him as being idolatrous.  He is imprisoned and almost immediately released for, with good sense, these Gentlemen of the Official, judge him to be more silly than heretical.  This brief stay in the Bastille builds up his popularity and his exaltation.  In 1647, he publishes Les Pensees de Simon Morin, that he dedicates directly to the King, to exhort him to get rid of the Church and take himself, Simon Morin, as his spiritual advisor…

As he persists and proclaims that he is the new Christ, he is bundled into prison for more than twenty months this time.  Upon leaving, he meets up with a cortege of his faithful followers, his legitimate children and others at their head, followed by a whole collection of washerwomen and maids.

After a short time of silence, he again says directly to the people of the City, that he is the messiah and the saviour of France.  This time, the ecclesiastical judge gets really upset.  Imprisoned for a third time, he is threatened with torture and even worse.  When he is presented with the brodequins and the red-hot pincers, he weakens and signs an abjuration in which he recognizes all his errors and swears that he will no longer prophesy…

A few years pass by, and one beautiful day our augure is again found perched on the grilles of the Louvre.  He wants to put into the King’s own hands, his most recent work, which he has modestly entitled Temoignage du Second Avenement du fils de l’Homme.  He is of course arrested, but, and here the justice of the Ancien Regime shows itself in an inhabitual light, the tribunal only sees in him an obstinate demented man and has him released.  But all these scandals have earned him disciples that are more and more numerous.  His wife keeps telling him that he is going to end by the hand of Charlot (the Paris executioner) he answers with outstretched arms and eyes raised to the sky:

“Gabriel and his celestial militia will come to deliver me!…

To be continued.

Count Roger de Bussy-Rabutin.

Roger de Bussy, Count of Rabutin, better known as Bussy-Rabutin, recounted this story in his Memoires.  An excellent General, an even better writer, the cousin of Madame de Sevigne, to whom he was very much attracted, had had a most tumultuous youth.  A man of wit and of the Court, he had actively participated in the Fronde and had been disgraced by Louis XIV.  He wrote songs and epigrams on the young Sun-King’s love affairs which landed him one year of Bastille and definitive exile to his lands.  But this story happened roughly twenty years before that, at the beginning of the reign, when the Duke d’Enghien, called “The Great Conde”, definitively removed the Spanish threat from France by taking back Dunkerque.

***

The antique and noble city of Lerida – its university shines since the year 1300 – of course knew how to defend itself.  Since 49 before the present era, it is the padlock which blocks access to the heart of Spain.  After having to surrender to Caesar, it is then the Moors who beseige it for four centuries, conquer it and lose it again to the Christians.  If it victoriously resists the Great Conde, it succumbs a few years later to the Duke of Orleans, the future Regent, whose qualities of man of war are less well-known than his moral turpitude.  Suchet pillages it in 1810, and in 1936, followers of Franco and Republicans turn it into ruins from top to bottom again…  That said, more natural plagues than the malediction of the mummy could have come to help the good bourgeois of Lerida.  The thing that troubles Louis Pauwels, whose work I have translated, is that the plague which, since the middle of the XIIIth Century – when it killed 25 million people in Europe – was endemic on the Continent, is not signalled in these parts at the epoch when this story is situated…

***

The Spanish city of Lerida in the XVIIth Century.

It is not possible to determine the exact nature of these terrible pandemics which, over the centuries and up until the XIXth Century, come for the most part from the Indies.  They surely cover very diverse maladies.  Louis Pauwels thinks that the beseiged knew how to break the seige by combining all the tricks of the art of defence with supernatural resources.

***

Let us firstly say that on both sides of the walls, the fate of the combatants was equally unenviable.  Those who were camping outside, in their trenches and their canvas shelters, were even more roughed up than those inside.  Apart from rain, mud, cholera, we know that it is dangerous to sleep outside, at night.  The nocturnal hours in fact seem to accentuate the nocive effect of certain cosmic rays.  An American doctor in Patton’s army was able to verify, at the end of the last war [WWII], that sleeping under the stars could constitute a grave danger.  Out of 23 wounded that he had had to leave without shelter on the outskirts of Pfortzheim, more than half died, while those, more seriously wounded, but who had benefited from the simple protection of a sheet, survived at 95%.  At the epoch which interests us, the troops of mercenaries, notably, slept under the stars, while on campaign at least.

The number of wounded having succumbed like this could have been a first element of demoralisation…

***

At Lerida, an epidemic was doubtless determining.  All begins by the death of La Valliere, probably killed by one of those snipers who rise up in Spain as soon as the country risks falling under foreign rule.  In 1808, they decimated the armies of Napoleon.  La Valliere, who was close to the Commander-in-Chief, was perhaps not buried fast enough, in the heat of this month of June.  Thereby carrying the contagion into the army.  More surely, the beseiged could have set off a heavy offensive, starting with this successful guerilla action, supported by the bacteriological weapons of the epoch, dead animal bodies abandoned near the places where food was to be found, poisoned fountains, rivers and wells.  As Catalina Fiosela used to do, 50 years before.  This Catalan woman went through Provence, Franche-Comte and Flanders, poisoning people and animals for whomever hired her.  She was burnt alive with three of her companions, in Bordeaux, on 1 March 1610.  At this epoch, the manufacture and use of redoubtable poisons was very well-known.  Bands of “greasers” collected them in the hospices, by removing the fat of plague victims, either dead or alive.  From the XVth Century, there exists real brotherhoods of poisoners, who exchange their magical incantations, their recipes and their antedotes right under the noses of the prevote.  Jean Le Francois, at the epoch of the seige of Lerida, is arrested carrying vials of belladonna, camphre, white lead and Peru Balm.  Tortured, he confesses that his colleagues, both male and female, spread the plague by coating doors and locks with a poisoned pomade.  In August 1628, the Lyon thieves succeeded in carrying out, inside their city, the operation that the beseiged of Lerida launched against the French.  They “greased” the doors of the inhabitants and, as the plague has already been declared, these people flee, abandoning their houses to pillage…

***

It is probable that, once sober, the young officers regretted their unqualifiable conduct.  In his Memoires Bussy writes:

“This horrified me and I told them so many times to find that particular pleasure ridiculous, that finally they put the cadaver back in its coffin.”

Bussy perhaps wants to give himself the best role, for he was far from being a tender person, but he seems to suggest that the end of La Valliere could have appeared to his companions as the effect of the divine finger striking down the impious.  Or, as they believed in neither God nor the devil, as an effect of immanent justice, fallen from the empire of the dead.  Let us not forget that the XVIIth Century is a century that is totally delivered up to superstitions, to the belief in fate, to “Jettatura” as the Napolitans say.  The evil eye, charms and evil spells from the dead, strike firstly the sick, the wounded, and weak- or fragile-minded people.  As were without doubt the minds of our joyous officers, tormented by fear and remorse.  And what is the effect of the evil eye on those who are its victims?  For those who believe in it, it suscitates the “old man”, that is to say…  convulsions and fevers which are almost always mortal.

***

The Count and the mummy

The Spanish city of Lerida in the XVIIth Century.

We are on the banks of a river which weaves through an arid countryside.  It is early June, and the Segre, which irrigates Catalogna, already has only a little yellow, muddy water…  Everything is yellow in this austere province:  the burnt Dawn sky, the dried grass, the hill, the ramparts and the high walls of Lerida, which is today a beseiged city.  Again.  For a river of blood has not ceased flowing through this martyr city for centuries.  Since Pompey delivered it to Caesar, and the Moors and the Christians slit each others throats there, not to mention the French, who never march on Spain without occupying it…

The Prince de Conde commanded the troops that beseiged Lerida.

Once more it had been taken and pillaged.  And these French, whom the people of Lerida had fiercely fought and finally chased away, have come back again to attack them, innumerable, in this 1647 Spring.  The beseigers, whose tents and bivouac fires stretch over the horizon, are led by the Great Conde himself, the greatest war-chief of his century, the one who put an end to centuries of the Spanish Infantry’s invincibility, at the Battle of Rocroi…

Victory here too is assured.  Lerida, surrounded, lacks water, bread, powder and bullets.  So, inside the walls, they are getting ready for the final assault, and the men, but also the women, are trying not to think about the horrors which are about to befall them.

Of course, between army chiefs, there is a lot of bowing, politeness and posing.  But these magnificent courtesies change nothing about the fate of the poor people and the rank and file.  For them, “the war in laces” is accompanied by firing, mud, hunger.  And always massacres and rapes.

Before Lerida, the trench that is the most exposed to the Catalan fire is that of the Prince.  Precisely because of the dangers of being there, it is a supreme honour to command it.  It is Roger de Bussy, Count of Rabutin to whom this honour has fallen.  For his fantastic bravery, and also because he is in favour at Court.

Count Roger de Bussy-Rabutin.

On 2 June in the morning, he is on guard duty in this trap, exposed to the firing of the beseiged, and in particular, to their attempts to break out, which are still frequent and murderous.  Day has barely dawned when an emissary of the Chevalier de La Valliere presents himself before Bussy-Rabutin.  He is the bearer of a very pleasing message:  to break the monotony of the seige, La Valliere is organizing, that same day, a luncheon to which are also invited Barbantane, Lieutenant of Conde’s Guard, and Jumeaux his “Battle Marshal”, a title which sounds better than that of the staff officer that he would later become.

At the appointed time, Bussy-Rabutin, all joyous, clothes himself in full dress, with ribbons, laces and a hat with feathers, then, trotting on his horse, followed by all his footmen, sets off for Headquarters, which is installed out of reach of the couleuvrines [small cannons], inside the ruins of an old church.  When he appears, dashing and superb, cries of joy greet him.  With feathers fluttering, they embrace lengthily, as is the fashion.  Soon, without there being any need for questions, our cavalier knows everything and more, about the adulteries and the sexual scandals of Chantilly, Paris and Saint-Germain…

Gossiping makes them thirsty, and youth and all these gallantry rumours make them hungry.  Behind some bushes, a wide table has been set…  It is covered with bottles and food, everything that Enghien’s Guards had been able to swipe within a twenty-league radius…  The wines in particular are abundant.  Bubbly clarets from the South of France, but also deep burgundies and, so as not to neglect the local production, wines from Alicante, Cyprus and marsalas.  On the side-boards, away from the sun, spicy cakes and brioches, wafer biscuits and blancmanges.

A delicate attention,  Monsieur the Prince, Chief of the Armies, has sent his violinists…

A fifth good fellow, La Breteche, Second Lieutenant of Monsieur the Prince’s Guard, arrives.  Frankly greedy, fond of sword-play and loud-mouthed, always the first to break the peace and raise skirts, in other words, the most brazen of libertines.  Worse even than Bussy-Rabutin.

In the shade, they drain the bottles in one draught.  They ply each other with food.  They stuff themselves, and when their hunger is appeased, there is more wine, sun and singing to keep them awake.  All is perfect on this beautiful day, except…  there are no women.

Monsieur the Prince would do anything to oblige his officers.  But where can such game be found at this time?  There are not even any more girls to rape in the whole province.  It must be said that the last ones had to have daggers taken from their hands first…  Barbantane rises from the table.  He is swaying a bit and hurls his hunger for fresh flesh to the sky, begging it to rain girls down upon them.

Barbantane now runs to repeat his prayer inside the church… 

Our proud gentlemen take up his invocation in a drunken chant, and the amorous fever goes up a notch…  Suddenly Barbantane, from the depths of the church, calls out:

“Messieurs!  One pretty woman coming up!  God!  How cute she is!”

His companions rush in, hats in their hands, to rape in all urbanity.  They remain frozen in horror.

Barbantane has kicked open a coffin which was abandoned – how long ago? – in the depository, the “rotter” as they say in Catalogna.  Through the planks of the disjointed lid of the coffin, they can in fact see a woman.  Or rather what is left of a woman.  A yellowish face of boiled leather, empty eye-sockets, the grimace of teeth deprived of lips.

Barbantane, completely drunk, finishes breaking open the lid.  The cadaver appears in its entirety.  It is dressed in black velvet, with gold sequins, a Toledo necklace at its fleshless neck, rings on its joined hands, which look like bird claws…  some noble lady, without a doubt, who was embalmed, and that the extreme dryness of the air had mummified.

Bussy-Rabutin has been suddenly sobered by the horror of it.  He begs the others not to profane her…

La Valliere, whose alcohol abuse had not led him too far astray until now, is suddenly the craziest.  He accuses Bussy-Rabutin of being afraid of a dead body.  Bussy-Rabutin, insulted, is ready for a duel.  He declares that he fears neither the living nor the dead.

Completely occupied with his sacrilegious work, Barbantane now pulls the mummy out of the coffin.  He puts back into place a poor tuft of hair, straightens the cracked bodice, flirts with it.  Finally, he holds it amorously in his arms, places its head on his shoulder.  Its arms dangling, the body curves with a cracking sound.

The gentlemen roar with laughter and say:

“Not only you!  Give her to us too…”

“But she has to be amused, Messieurs!  Look at her face!  The pretty little thing is bored!”

Then they send for the violinists.  Who arrive.  Jumeaux orders them to play a dance in fashion.  They obey.  Barbantane, Jumeaux and La Valliere make the body dance.  Its stiffened members resist.  Its head nods and bobs.  All these men laugh until they cry…

All things come to an end.  They finally put the dead woman back in her coffin, like a doll that is no longer amusing.

What happens next?  They are all so drunk and out of it, that the memories become hazy, and Bussy, relating it in his Memoires, hesitates, remains vague…

They return to the table.  The sun is already declining on the horizon that is fuzzy with heat.  A superior officer, the Marquis de La Trousse, comes to find La Valliere for a question of service.  The two men walk a few steps.  La Valliere crumples, his head shattered by a musket shot.

No-one heard the detonation.  No-one saw the shooter.  This was the only shot fired throughout the whole day.

A few days later, Barbantane, Jumeaux and La Breteche die asphyxiated by convulsions and a mysterious fever.  Bussy-Rabutin himself suffers from it.  He only just survives.  Then a deadly epidemic strikes the French camp.  The ranks of the army melt away with terrifying rapidity.  Horrified, those who remain valid, desert, taking off into the mountains where the Spanish massacre them to the last man.

Behind its ochre ramparts, Lerida, this time, remains invincible.  Saved by a profaned dead woman.

The war in laces really existed.  As hideous as all the others.  And the end of this terrible story is even more cruel.  Here is what Michelet says about it:

“Desperate, Conde was obliged to leave.  And, to relieve his heart, he slit the throats of everyone in a little village which he took along the way.”

***

To be continued.

Etienne Claviere

It could be thought that in the Parisian Lodge of the United Friends, alchemist zeal was stronger than elsewhere.  Duchanteau barely buried, another worker on the Great Work sets tongues wagging Rue de la Sourdiere and even very far beyond…  His name is Etienne Claviere and he is born in Geneva in 1735.  He is a banker by profession but is a revolutionary banker, which is extremely rare.  In this end of the XVIIIth Century, the Geneva middle-class no longer wants to put up with the haughty authority of their patricians.  Along with a lot of other bankers as well as industrialists, Claviere constitutes Clubs and Committees of Public Safety which substitute themselves for the authorities.  Nearly ten years before the Storming of the Bastille in France…  The insurgents stockpile kegs of powder in Saint Peter’s Cathedral and threaten to blow up the city, if the French and Bernois Coalition does not retreat.  But under the pressure of numbers, the valliant bourgeois of Geneva have to resolve to deliver up the keys to their City, and Claviere condemns himself to voluntary exile in England.  His prestige is so great that he obtains a sum of fifty thousand pounds from the London Cabinet which is supposed to allow him to build the “New Geneva” in Ireland.  In his exile, he maintains an active correspondence with Marat, Mirabeau, who by the way holds him to be his master, and the brothers of the Lodge of the United Friends, of which he is one of the benefactors.

Marat and Mirabeau maintained a correspondence with Claviere.

When the Swiss Necker returns to power, Claviere asks to settle in France and obtains this.  He attaches himself to the Party of the Girondins, occupies a subaltern post in the Finance Ministry, very happy to now be able to meet as much as he likes with his friends the Philaletes.  This seems to be an epoch where good financiers are rare:  less than a year later he is to be found at the head of his Ministry, very busy galloping behind an inflation which each day is gathering speed.

Is it at this epoch that he comes up with an idea even more bizarre and much crueller than that of Brother Duchanteau?  One evening in 1792, he can be seen slipping through the low door of 37 rue de la Sourdiere.  Once in the little room on the second floor, he greets, with bent index, the five dignitaries from the Lodge who are waiting for him, and pulls a grimoire from his riding-coat.  When he opens it before these very carefully chosen men, they see that it is a manuscript and is probably very old…

Gravely, Claviere begins:

“To obtain the result, should we dare to use the means?  Brothers!  The Revolution is betrayed from within, beseiged from without, gold is flying away in a paper fog!…  I believe that I have the power to surely fill the coffers again!”

Claviere bows his head and adds:

“But at what price!…”

He draws the book to him and begins to read.  Or rather, he comments, page after page, the teaching contained in this ageless book.  And what he says firstly provokes stupor and then horror in those who are listening to him.  To begin with, they learn that Claviere is a most distinguished alchemist who has already performed alchemy in numerous European laboratories.  That during his later voyages he had found a thousand-year-old parchment which delivers a transmutation procedure just as singular as that of Duchanteau, with horror added to it.  Claviere explains:

“First of all we have to get hold of a young girl and a young boy, both virgins, then we have to obtain from them the conception of a child, necessarily a boy, who has to be born under the influence of a particular constellation…  This child has to be prepared…  by baths of ashes and sand and by rubbing him for a long time with elixir.  Then the child must be placed…  alive…  if we want to succeed, in a glass recipient, itself contained in a crucible in the form of a pelican.”

One of the brothers interrupts:

“Why a pelican?”

The Minister-Mage explains with deliberation:

“The calcination of the child must be followed by repeated distillations that this form allows because the finest part will rise through the neck and will be brought back through the beak into the open chest!…  This is how we shall obtain the absolute philosophical matter, at the same time an elixir of long life and the powder of projection for the transmutation of metals into gold.”

When Claviere had finished his explanation, there was a great silence in the room.  He says:

“There you are.  I’m sure of the result!”

One of his scandalised guests then asks:

Robespierre had Claviere arrested and he was condemned to death.

“But what would gold acquired at this price cost?…”

Claviere will not have time to put his answer into figures.  A few days later he resigns so as to involve himself more closely with the popular effervescence.  He organizes the day of 20 June 1792, in the course of which the populace invades the Tuileries and forces Louis XVI to put on a Phrygian bonnet.  And, one year to the day after the lugubrious meeting Rue de la Sourdiere, Claviere, after having ardently fought Danton, Marat and Robespierre, is decreed in Accusation with all of the other Girondins.  Brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal on 5 September, he is firstly imprisoned in the Temple.  When he learns of his death sentence, he declaims these lines from Orphelin de la Chine, that Voltaire had adapted to illustrate the superiority of spiritual forces over brute instinct:

The trembling criminals are dragged to their execution

The generous mortals dispose of their fate.

The criminals?  Did Claviere therefore have time to engage in his deadly experiments?  Doubtless we shall never know.  But that a Swiss Finance Minister, an admirer of Gilles de Rais, had appealed to his alchemist brothers for help in saving France’s finances, is an extraordinary moment in French History all the same!

***

To be continued.

The Salon visionary – part 2

Louis XIV, who received only very carefully selected people, accorded two long audiences to the Salon blacksmith.

The next day, Francois-Michel presents himself at the Palace of Versailles and asks to speak to the King in private.  They laugh in his face.  On the following days, he comes back again and makes such a fuss that Louis XIV is finally informed.

“Go and tell this man that I don’t receive just anybody!”

Francois-Michel, who believes in his mission and wants to obey good Queen Marie-Therese’s ghost, replies to the King’s message that he will tell him “such secret things and so well-known to him alone” that he will well see that his message comes from God.

Louis XIV again refuses.  The Salon visionary then declares:

“Then send me one of the State Ministers”.

The Sovereign has him taken to Barbezieux;  but Francois-Michel bursts into laughter and answers that they are making fun of him:

“Barbezieux is not a minister, and it is to a minister that I must speak in the King’s absence.”

This declaration astounds everybody.  How can this blacksmith, who has never been interested in anything except his profession and who has come for the first time to Versailles, know that Barbezieux is only a Secretary of State?

The Marquis de Pomponne was the first to receive Francois-Michel at Versailles.

The King is soon intrigued by this provincial who seems to know the Court so well.  He orders the Marquis de Pomponne – who really is a State Minister – to receive him.  On three different occasions, Pomponne has a long interview with Francois-Michel.  After each conversation, he runs to the King with whom he remains locked up for hours.

Rumours then begin to circulate.  It is murmured that the blacksmith is a visionary who claims to have received a visit from the late Queen.  And of course they all snigger.  But one morning, the laughter freezes when it is learnt that Louis XIV has just let Francois-Michel into his private study.

This time, the Court is stunned.  Why would the most powerful sovereign in the world, who pitilessly keeps away from disagreeable and annoying people, accord a private audience to this blacksmith?

After an hour alone with the King, Francois-Michel leaves the royal study and goes back to his inn.  Immediately, everyone rushes to the King.  Doubtless His Majesty will recount some savoury anecdote about this visionary?  Report a few blunders?  Mock him?…  Already the courtiers are chuckling in anticipated pleasure.  But Louis XIV, looking preoccupied, crosses the salon without saying a word.

The following day, at the hour of the royal promenade, Monsieur de Duras, who thinks himself free to say whatever he likes to the King, exclaims:

“This Salon visionary is a madman, or the King is not noble!…”

Louis XIV has heard.  He stops, turns to Monsieur de Duras and answers gravely:

“Well then, Monsieur le Marechal, I am not noble!  For I had a long conversation with this man and I can assure you that he is far from being mad!…”

The Court is not at the end of its surprises.  A few days later, the King again receives Francois-Michel, remains with him for more than an hour, carefully seeing to it that no-one is near enough for them to be overheard, and ceremoniously accompanying him as far as the staircase.

In his youth, Louis XIV had glimpsed a ghost during a hunt in the Fontainebleau forest.

This time, Louis XIV reveals to his entourage that the blacksmith has spoken to him about an event known to him alone.  He adds:

“A ghost that I glimpsed, more than twenty years ago, in the Fontainebleau Forest, and of which I have never spoken to anyone…”

Francois-Michel’s mission is finished.

Before leaving Versailles, where his expenses are reimbursed by the King himself, he is received by Madame de Maintenon, by the Princesse de Savoie and by several courtiers who give him sumptuous gifts.  Finally, he will take leave of the Sovereign, publicly, like an ambassador, leave Versailles on 18 April and return home.

What on Earth did he say to Louis XIV?

It was never known, for neither he nor any of the ministers ever made the slightest revelation on the subject.  But doubtless the message from the Queen’s ghost was important, since the Court, more and more astounded, learned that the King had not only exempted Francois-Michel from taxes and the obligation for lodging the military, but that he had had him given a large sum of money, and that he had given orders to the Intendant de Provence to protect him for the rest of his life…

It was thus proven that one could be received by the King of France by presenting oneself on behalf of a ghost…

***

Madame de Maintenon who, according to Saint-Simon, would have organized the whole business.

Neither the blacksmith nor Louis XIV ever spoke of what was said while they were alone together.  However, there is an hypothesis held by a few historians which is founded on something reported by Saint-Simon:  After Francois-Michel’s visit to Versailles – which was much talked about, as songs were written about him and his portrait was engraved – the whole Court was asking questions.  And finally, one explanation came to the minds of a few people:  the adventure of the Salon visionary had been organized by someone who wanted to impress the King’s mind…  This person would be Madame de Maintenon.

The reason is very simple:  we are in 1697.  At this epoch the Court is agitated by the Quietist quarrel.  Quietism, that mystical doctrine according to which perfection consisted in the annihilation of the will, in short in the quietude of the soul, was preached by a slightly exalted woman called Madame Guyon who was protected by Fenelon;  this Fenelon was himself protected by Mme de Maintenon.  When Bossuet declared that Fenelon was an heretic, Mme de Maintenon found herself compromised at the same time and feared to see herself repudiated by the King…  This is when, knowing Louis XIV’s religiosity was tinted with superstition, she would have thought to make a being from the other world intervene in her favour.  And, as the clever woman that she was, she would have fixed her choice on the ghost of gentle Queen Marie-Therese…

Saint-Simon tells us that Mme de Maintenon would have addressed herself to one of her old friends, a certain Madame Arnoud who was the wife of the Intendant de Marseille, and would have asked her to create the whole scene of the apparition of the ghost…

We cannot always believe Saint-Simon.  However, Guy Breton thinks that this time he might be telling the truth.  For in 1750, an old man from Salon recounted to the author of the Dictionnaire de la Provence that a priest and Mme Arnoud, assisted by a young woman who had played the role of the ghost, had been the authors of this mystification.  This had apparently been told to him by the priest.

***

Francois-Michel would have absolutely believed in the ghost.

***

Still according to Saint-Simon, who situates this story in 1699 by mistake, Louis XIV would have been asked on behalf of Marie-Therese’s ghost, to declare Mme de Maintenon Queen of France, which would have strongly consolidated the situation of the lady formerly known as Widow Scarron.

This plot, according to Saint-Simon, did not work however, because Mme de Maintenon was never Queen of France.  But there is another hypothesis, advanced a few decades ago by some respected historians, like Monsieur Louis Hastier for example:  in 1697, the secret wedding of Louis XIV and Mme de Maintenon – the exact date of which is unknown – would not yet have been celebrated…  And it would have been to force the King to marry her that Mme de Maintenon would have created this ghost story.  In this case, she would have succeeded…

*** 

The Salon visionary

Maria-Theresa of Austria, Queen of France, spouse of Louis XIV.

In 1697, at Salon-de-Provence, there was a young blacksmith named Francois-Michel, who lived happily with his forge, his anvil, his wife and his four children.  Although he was a relation of Nostradamus on his mother’s side, he had never felt himself drawn to either the bizarreries of occultism or to the prestiges of magic.

He was a tall, ordinary fellow, jovial and smiley, who had conserved a resolute allure after his passage in the Grignan Cavalry Regiment.  Very pious, he sometimes went to pray inside a little chapel situated outside the town, on the road to Marseille.

One evening while he was coming back from his devotions, he found himself, according to Saint-Simon who reports this story, “invested by a great light near a tree”.  Very surprised, he stops and suddenly sees a beautiful, blonde woman appear, dressed in white, with a flaming torch in her hand.

The blacksmith is extremely moved:  he is asking himself if this is the Virgin Mary.

No.  After a moment, the apparition speaks in a gentle voice and introduces itself:

“Francois-Michel, I am Queen Marie-Therese…  I was the spouse of King Louis XIV and I died fourteen years ago…”

Francois-Michel, afraid, wants to flee, but the ghost holds him by the shoulders:

“Don’t be afraid, I do not want to hurt you…  I come to announce, in the name of God, that you must go to Versailles to speak to the King.  To prove to him that your mission is of divine origin, you will tell him this which he is the only one to know:  thirty years ago, he was hunting deer one day when he met a supernatural being who made his horse rear and who asked him to renounce his scandalous life…  Now, listen carefully…”

The blacksmith, half-fainting with fear, nods his head.  The ghost continues in a suave voice:

“I am going to give you the message that you must carry to the King.  But be very careful:  you must communicate it to no-one else.  If you disobey, or if you neglect to go through with your mission, you will be punished by death…  Before you, I have addressed myself to three Salon inhabitants.  The first revealed what I had confided to him to his wife.  He died immediately at her feet.  The second who, he too, revealed my secret, is also dead, as well as the third.  A similar fate is reserved for you if you reveal my words to any other but His Majesty…”

Francois-Michel, who had learnt of the mysterious deaths of three inhabitants of the town, his neighbours, in the preceding days, promises to be discrete.

Then, the Queen’s ghost leans over and tells him in a soft voice what he must say to Louis XIV, in the name of the Lord.

In his youth, Louis XIV had glimpsed a ghost during a hunt in the Fontainebleau forest.

Then it disappears and the blacksmith finds himself alone in the night, beside the tree, asking himself if he had dreamt it or if this spectre, whose perfume is still on his jacket, really did appear to him…

After a long moment of reflection, he returns home, persuaded that he had been the plaything of an illusion and decided to speak to no-one about this adventure.

But two days later, as he is passing by the same spot, the spectre appears again to him and tells him the same thing, before adding:

“Careful, Francois-Michel, I know that you have doubts about me…  How can one doubt the word of a dead person?  You know that dead people don’t lie.  Even more so when that person is a Queen of France…”

No-one had ever told the blacksmith that dead people didn’t lie, but it seems to him that it is quite logical, and he is ashamed of his doubts…  Then, he receives the order to go to tell the Intendant de Provence what he had seen.  The Queen’s spectre says to him:

“You will tell him that I have ordered you to go to Versailles, and I am sure that he will give you what you need to pay for your trip…”

This time, Francois-Michel is convinced.  But Saint-Simon tells us “floating between fear of punishments and the difficulties of the execution”, he hesitates to undertake the arrangements.

Another week goes by, during which he tergiverses with himself.  But one evening when he is passing near the chapel, the Queen appears to him again.  She is not smiling:  her eyes are glittering, her voice is hard, her tone is threatening.

A ghost is already very impressive.  An angry ghost is terrifying.  Francois-Michel trembles and swears that he will obey.

In fact, two days later, he goes to Aix to find Le Bret, the Intendant of the province, who receives him privately.  Francois-Michel tells him that he has met the ghost of Queen Marie-Therese, who had died fourteen years before, and that the Queen has ordered him to go to see the King at Versailles, and that Intendant Le Bret would give him the money for the trip.  The Intendant finds this attempt to extort money from him very amusing and rather ingenious, but a bit silly all the same…

“But I swear that it is all true.  I saw this ghost three times near the Saint-Anne Chapel..  Just like I see you, Monsieur…  It spoke to me.  And I have a mission to accomplish with the King…”

Intendant Le Bret is now convinced that he is dealing with an illumine.  Francois-Michel guesses what he is thinking.

“I’m not crazy, Monsieur l’Intendant, make enquiries about me.”

This tall young man of thirty-six with a clear gaze and flourishing health does not in fact appear to be deranged.  Le Bret is perplexed.

“Give me a few days.  I’ll think about it.”

And, very intrigued by this story, he orders an investigation of Francois-Michel from the Lieutenant-general de Salon, the following day.

A report is soon on his desk.  In it can be read that the blacksmith is a highly respected man in his town, with a healthy body and mind, and is known for his good sense.

So, the Intendant convokes Francois-Michel, makes him repeat all the details of the apparition, and finally – as extraordinary as this may seem – gives him the money necessary for the trip.

On the evening of 9 April 1697, Francois-Michel arrives at Versailles and books into an inn.  He is scarcely inside his bedchamber when, suddenly, the ghost that he knows well, thanks him for having obeyed it and gives him a few pieces of friendly advice for succeeding in his mission.  This time, the ghost is charming!  It tells him:

“You will doubtless have a few difficulties in obtaining a private audience;  but beware of discouragement, and above all do not let anyone know of your secret if you don’t want to die instantaneously…”

To be continued.

%d bloggers like this: