페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

tian Institute. He became acquainted with the conductor of a Nubian caravan, of so striking a countenance, that he wished to paint his portrait. The African came with ten of his friends as an escort, when M. Rigo, with much persuasion, got them sent away, and afterwards painted him in full length. The poor fellow was at first much pleased with the drawing; but no sooner were colours put upon it, than he was terror-struck, and cried out as loud as he could, so that it was absolutely impossible to tranquillize him; and at last he ran home, saying that his head and part of his body were in the study of the painter. Mr. Rigo, some days after, brought into his house another Nubian, who became no less terrified at seeing the picture, and who afterwards told his countrymen, that he had seen at a Frenchman's house, a number of heads and parts of the body which had been cut off from men. At first they laughed at him; but six of them who went to the painter's were also struck with the belief of supernatural power, and so completely frightened, that they could not be persuaded to remain in the apartment.

From the seventh to the thirteenth century, the firmest belief in witches and devils universally prevailed over Europe. Formerly, according to our author, devils were only phantasms, but they then assumed bodily forms; and they are therefore described as appearing with broad great heads, long necks, meagre yellow faces, swarthy beards, horse teeth, eyes like coals of fire, and as breathing sulphurous fumes. Such was the terror which now prevailed, that many rural proprietors deemed it sound policy to form a convention with their allies the sorcerers, and to pay them an annual revenue to induce them to protect their fields. This is proved on the authority of Agobard, whom our author pronounces the wisest writer of his age. It appears, however, that these freebooters were not universally successful; and that this black mail did not always purchase indemnity. Worms, blights, and caterpillars, were then also supposed to be brought on by supernatural agency. At two villages in Switzerland, the worms, which had done incredible damage in the fields and gardens, were summoned from the pulpit of the church by order of the Bishop of Lausanne, in the name of the most holy Catholic Church, to appear six days after, at one o'clock, at Wiftisburg, either by themselves or attorney. The congregation having then knelt, prayed that the party now called on, might yield obedience to the summons. As may be supposed, they neglected to attend; so just, however, was the court, that it did not pronounce sentence of outlawry, but appointed the accused an advocate, that they might have a fair trial. They of course lost the cause; and an ejectment was pronounced by the bishop, backed with all the terror of ecclesiastical menaces. So obsti

nately heretical, nevertheless, were the worms, that they continued to commit trespasses for upwards of a year; and this example of successful rebellion rather injured the authority and credit of the worthy prelate.

In 1516, the environs of Troyes being annoyed with coek-chafers, the inhabitants served them in due form with a notice to remove; threatening, in case of disobedience, to prosecute them before the spiritual courts, and to procure a sentence of excommunication.

In the fourteenth century, sorcerers abounded in the South of France; and the fear of demons was at that time very general. A ludicrous instance of the latter is given. The magistrates of a certain town were assembled on business, when suddenly a noise was heard in the chimney, and a black figure fell into the room, which being supposed to be the Devil, put the whole company to flight. Some cries of distress at length induced the boldest to return, and assist a poor wounded chimney sweep, who had been precipitated into their presence.

In that century, after the prosecution of the Knight's Templars, the usual shape assumed by the spirits of darkness, is said to have been that of a buck, or a tom-cat. These Knights had been condemned in the beginning of that century for receiving the Devil under the latter form in their assemblies, and of paying him worship. But it is probable that, if they had not been possessed of extensive lands throughout Europe, their guilt woul not have been so easily established.

To shew what abuses were practised in former ages, under the pretence of punishing crimes, but in reality to advance the interested views of the corrupt judges, our author relates what happened at Arras in 1459.

"It was believed that men and women were, during the night, carried away by help of the devil, from the spot where they were, and brought suddenly either into woods or deserts, where they found large assemblies of men and women, and the devil amongst them in the shape of a man, whose face they never could see. The devil gave them his commands, and told them how they must worship him; and afterwards distributed amongst them money, wine, and bread; and they were very cheerful, and were afterwards brought back to the spot from whence they came. It is almost incredible, that in consequence of this absurd idea, many persons of distinction, and many of the lower orders, were arrested and sent to prison, and so dreadfully tormented and tortured, that some, from terror and agony of pain, confessed that it really had happened, and that many persons of distinction, prelates, and men in office had been there,-mentioning the names of all those persons respecting whom the enlightened judges had been most earnest and persevering in their inquiries. All these persons were then arrested and sent to prison; and the rich had to pay large sums of money to get free, but those who were unable to pay were tortured and burnt alive.”

The parliament of Paris examined into the proceedings respecting the persons condemned, but unfortunately not until forty-two years after they had been burnt, and pronounced them

innocent, a verdict which had some good effect, as it tended to check such proceedings in future.

Mankind were not all so absurd in those days, and we relate with pleasure the conduct of one of our English judges on the trial of a poor woman accused of witchcraft. A priest was present, according to the usual custom, to exhort and adjure the accused to weep if she were innocent; but the poor woman had already suffered so much from torture, that she could not shed tears. The priest exclaimed, "I assure you, upon my priestly honour, that this woman is a witch." "And I assure you, upon my honour as a judge," was the reply, "that you are-no conjuror." By this act of discernment and humanity, the life of the poor woman was saved. It is to be wished that all other judges had been as judicious and considerate; but we have only to search the records of our courts of law, even far down in the seventeenth century, to find the most dreadful murders perpetrated on like pretence, and with the approbation of all ranks of society. From a similar unhappy delusion, the annals of the courts of our American colonies are also stained with blood. But lest we become too grave with our subject, and excite melancholy reflections on the minds of our readers, we shall conclude with a story, which carries with it the amusing and harmless air of an Arabian fiction :-A wood-cutter, near Strasburg, was encountered by a large cat, which he contrived to drive away; when he was attacked by a second of larger dimensions, which he also repelled. A third, still larger, then came upon him; and all the three uniting, renewed the engagement. The poor man, now seriously alarmed, would have run away, had not shame prevented him; and, accordingly, after a long contest, he succeeded in putting to flight his troublesome assailants. Mark the consequence. An hour after his victory, he was arrested and sent to prison without his being conscious of any crime. He was at last brought to trial, and charged with having severely assaulted three of the most respectable ladies of the city, who, in consequence of the violence inflicted on them, were obliged to keep their beds. The wood-cutter, utterly astonished, confidently maintained that he had not seen any ladies the whole day, and that he had only beaten off three cats, who had come savagely upon him when he was employed in his ordinary occupation. The judge, and other persons present, fully admitting the validity of his defence, blessed and crossed themselves at what had happened; and the wood-cutter was therefore liberated, but on condition, however, that he should conceal the circumstance, for the honour of the accusers, whom, it seems, some potent magic had subjected for a time to a most invidious and discreditable metamorphosis !

[ocr errors]

ART. VI.-Some Account of the Life, Death, and Principles of Thomas Paine, together with Remarks on his Writings, and on their intimate Connection with the avowed objects of the Revolutionists of 1793, and of the Radicals of 1819. By JOHN S. HARFORD, Esq. Bristol, 1819.

IT may appear strange to some of our readers, that we should assist in dragging the memory of the profane and execrated being, whose name is given above, from that deep oblivion into which they may suppose it has long since been precipitated by a load of crime and infamy, such as hardly any other name has been fated to sustain. To disturb the ashes even of consummate but forgotten profligacy, would be base in point of motive, and hazardous in point of example; for the utmost that society can desire, in the case even of its mortal enemies, is, that all trace of their being should be blotted out, and that a thick and impenetrable shade should for ever close around their devoted sepulchres. The remembrance of unutterable, but irremediable wrongs, is not of safe or wholesome indulgence; for in those who are deeply sensitive to the injury done, it can tend only to feed some emotion kindred to resentment, and embittered by regret,-while, to those of a more placable temperament, the portrait, even of the most revolting vice, may exhibit, perchance, some softer lineament pleading for forgiveness or invoking compassion. There is danger often in hazarding before minds of a less stern and decided cast, the presentment of enormous wickedness, if not in the full and frightful energy of its evil operation; for all human profligacy, even in the entireness of its ordinary consummations, is yet a mixed and composite exhibition, shading, but not obliterating some of the better and nobler elements of our nature; and while our perennial sympathy with these, overcomes our waning resentment against the villainy which no longer lives in act, but only slumbers upon record, we are too apt to relax in that detestation of crime which, for the interests of virtue, ought ever to be intense and prevailing. We admit it as a general rule, therefore, that the memory of those whose principles have been so base, that they cannot even be scanned without contaminating the intellect, or whose actions have been so atrocious that they cannot be reviewed without lacerating the feelings, is best allowed to repose in the dark cemetery of guilt and oblivion, and that the instruction to be derived in such cases, from contemplating the headlong career, and watching the appropriate fate of crime, is, even when the delinquency and punishment are commensurate in this lower

world, dearly purchased at the double expense of a defiled ima gination and an agonized heart.

But there are cases in which this calm and scornful neglect will not suffice, and in which the spirits of the vile corruptors of the species will not be forgotten into their original nothingness. There are cases where the tomb has closed upon their loathsome carcases in vain, and their genius still continues to walk abroad in all the majesty of mischief. With the power of the subtlest attraction, it gathers to itself every kindred element of baseness and crime; and as the infected particles cluster around, it swells into greatness, and challenges a pestilential immortality, The weeds that had gathered and twined in impervious darkness over the abhorred sepulchre of the departed outcast, are carefully cleared away by the unhallowed zeal of his disciples; and the pit which was dishonoured by having consigned to it the bones of some stupendous villain, is enlivened by the crowded pilgrimages of his frantic worshippers. In such a case, departed guilt can no longer be forgotten, and the inflictions withheld from its terminated atrocity are extorted by its hideous notoriety. The privileges of the last mournful asylum of erring and suffering humanity are no longer sacred-the dearest interests of the yet untainted living, demand a stern judgment upon the merits of the guilty dead-the caitiff who, during his life, would have been the fitting tenant of a dungeon, becomes, by his apotheosis, the rightful heir of historic infamy.

It is worse than idle, it is arrant treachery to the cause of virtue and religion, to pretend that the seeming vulgarity of such a theme can apologize for the calm and contemptuous omission of it by those who aspire in any way to the direction of public opinion. The most indefatigable and effective assailants of human virtue and happiness have been truly of the reptile tribe in their whole intellectual structure, creeping through the merest sophistry to the mock elevation of blasphemous defiance. There is an essential coarseness and want of all liberal or generous feeling on the part of those who parade their contempt of morality and disbelief of religion. The lofty spirit, even when it is torn by the agony of doubt, and when the mysterious shades of unbelief encompass its highest and noblest thoughts, broods in humble silence over its own unspeakable affliction, and, mindful of the moral glories that beam from the star of faith, and the pure and inward joys diffused by its propitious ascendancy, shrinks with horror from any attempt to disturb the quiet and consecrated scene. It will not dare to peril the eternal destiny even of the meanest of human beings upon the uncertain cast

« 이전계속 »