[This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
Answer to a Letter on the subject of the Apparition of St. Maur.
"You have been before me, sir, respecting the spirit of St. Maur, which causes so much conversation at Paris; for I had resolved to send you a short detail of that event, in order that you might impart to me your reflections on a matter so delicate and so interesting to all Paris. But since you have read an account of it, I cannot understand why you have hesitated a moment to decide what you ought to think of it. What you do me the honor to tell me, that you have suspended your judgment of the case until I have informed you of mine, does me too much honor for me to be persuaded of it; and I think there is more probability in believing that it is a trick you are playing me, to see how I shall extricate myself from such slippery ground. Nevertheless, I cannot resist the entreaties, or rather the orders, with which your letter is filled; and I prefer to expose myself to the pleasantry of the free thinkers, or the reproaches of the credulous, than the anger of those with which I am threatened by yourself.
"You ask if I believe that spirits come back, and if the circumstance which occurred at St. Maur can be attributed to one of those incorporeal substances?
"To answer your two questions in the same order that you propose them to me, I must first tell you, that the ancient heathens acknowledge various kinds of spirits, which they called lares, larvæ, lemures, genii, manes.
"For ourselves, without pausing at the folly of our cabalistic philosophers, who fancy spirits in every element, calling those sylphs which they pretend to inhabit the air; gnomes, those which they feign to be under the earth; ondines, those which dwell in the water; and salamanders, those of fire; we acknowledge but three sorts of created spirits, namely, angels, demons, and the souls which God has united to our bodies, and which are separated from them by death.
"The Holy Scriptures speak in too many places of the apparitions of the angels to Abraham, Jacob, Tobit, and several other holy patriarchs and prophets, for us to doubt of it. Besides, as their name signifies their ministry, being created by God to be his messengers, and to execute his commands, it is easy to believe that they have often appeared visibly to men, to announce to them the will of the Almighty. Almost all the theologians agree that the angels appear in the aerial bodies with which they clothe themselves.
"To make you understand in what manner they take and invest themselves with these bodies, in order to render themselves visible to men, and to make themselves heard by them, we must first of all explain what is vision, which is only the bringing of the species within the compass of the organ of sight. This "species" is the ray of light broken and modified upon a body, on which, forming different angles, this light is converted into colors. For an angle of a certain kind makes red, another green, blue or yellow, and so on of all the colors, as we perceive in the prism, on which the reflected rays of the sun forms the different colors of the rainbow; the species visible is then nothing else than the ray of light which returns from the object on which it breaks to the eyes.
"Now, light falls only on three kinds of objects or bodies, of which some are diaphanous, others opaque, and the others participate in these two qualities, being partly diaphanous and partly opaque. When the light falls on a diaphanous body which is full of an infinity of little pores, as the air, it passes through without causing any reflection. When the light falls on a body entirely opaque, as a flower, for instance, not being able to penetrate it, its ray is reflected from it, and returns from the flower to the eye, to which it carries the species, and renders the colors distinguishable, according to the angles formed by reflection. If the body on which the light falls is in part opaque and in part diaphanous, like glass, it passes through the diaphanous part, that is to say, through the pores of the glass which it penetrates, and reflects itself on the opaque particles, that is to say, which are not porous. Thus the air is invisible, because it is absolutely penetrated with light: the flower sends back a color to the eye, because, being impenetrable to the light, it obliges it to reflect itself; and the glass is visible only because it contains some opaque particles, which, according to the diversity of angles formed upon it by the ray of light, reflect different colors.
"That is the manner in which vision is formed, so that air being invisible, on account of its extreme transparency, an angel could not clothe himself with it and render himself visible, but by thickening the air so much, that from diaphanous it became opaque, and capable of reflecting the ray of light to the eye of him who perceived him. Now, as the angels possess knowledge and power far beyond anything we can imagine, we need not be astonished if they can form aerial bodies, which are rendered visible by the opacity they impart to them. In respect to the organs necessary to these aerial bodies, to form sounds and make themselves heard, without having any recourse to the disposition of matter, we must attribute them entirely to a miracle.
"It is thus that angels have appeared to the holy patriarchs. It is thus that the glorious souls that participate the angelic nature can assume an aerial body to render themselves visible, and that even demons, by thickening and condensing the air, can make to themselves a body of it, so as to become visible to men, by the particular permission of God, to accomplish the secrets of his providence, as they are said to have appeared to St. Anthony the Hermit, and to other saints, in order to tempt them.
"Excuse, sir, this little physical digression, with which I could not dispense, in order to make you understand the manner in which angels, who are purely spiritual substances, can be perceived by our fleshly senses.
"The only point on which the holy doctors do not agree on this subject is, to know if angels appear to men of their own accord, or whether they can do it only by an express command from God. It seems to me that nothing can better contribute to the decision of this difficulty, than to determine the way in which the angels know all things here below; for if it is by means of "species" which God communicates to them every day, as St. Augustine believes, there is no reason to doubt of their knowing all the wants of mankind, or that they can, in order to console and strengthen them, render their presence sensible to them, by God's permission, without receiving an express command from him on the subject; which may be concluded from what St. Ambrose says on the subject of the apparition of angels, who are by nature invisible to us, and whom their will renders visible. Hujus naturæ est non videri, voluntatis, videri.
"On the subject of demons, it is certain that their power was very great before the coming of Jesus Christ, since he calls them himself, the powers of darkness, and the princes of this world. It cannot be doubted that they had for a long time deceived mankind, by the wonders which they caused to be performed by those who devoted themselves more particularly to their service; that several oracles have been the effect of their power and knowledge, although part of them must be ascribed to the subtlety of men; and that they may have appeared under fantastic forms, which they assumed in the same way as the angels, that is to say, in aerial bodies, which they organized. The Holy Scriptures assure us even, that they took possession of the bodies of living persons. But Jesus Christ says too precisely, that he has destroyed the kingdom of the demons, and delivered us from their tyranny, for us possibly to think rationally that they still possess that power over us which they had formerly, so far as to work wonderful things which appeared miraculous; such as they relate of the vestal virgin, who, to prove her virginity, carried water in a sieve; and of her who by means of her sash alone, towed up the Tiber a boat, which had been so completely stranded that no human power could move it. Almost all the holy doctors agree, that the only means they now have of deceiving us is by suggestion, which God has left in their power to try our virtue.
"I shall not amuse myself by combating all the impositions which have been published concerning demons, incubi, and succubi, with which some authors have disfigured their works, any more than I shall reply to the pretended possession of the nuns of Loudun, and of Martha Brossier, which made so much noise at Paris at the commencement of the last century; because several learned men who have favored us with their reflections on these adventures, have sufficiently shown that the demons had nothing to do with them; and the last, above all, is perfectly quashed by the report of Marescot, a celebrated physician, who was deputed by the Faculty of Theology to examine this girl who performed so many wonders. Here are his own words, which may serve as a general reply to all these kind of adventures:—A naturâ multa plura ficta, à Dæmone nulla. That is to say, that the constitution of Martha Brossier, who was apparently very melancholy and hypochondriacal, contributed greatly to her fits of enthusiasm; that she feigned still more, and that the devil had nothing to do with it.
"If some of the fathers, as St. Thomas, believe that the demons sometimes produce sensible effects, they always add, that it can be only by the particular permission of God, for his glory and the salvation of mankind.
"In regard to all those prodigies and those common spells, which the people ascribe to sorcery or commerce with the demon, it is proved that they can be performed only by natural magic, which is the knowledge of secret effects of natural causes, and several by the subtlety of art. It is the opinion of the greater number of the fathers of the church who have spoken of it; and without seeking testimony of it in Pagan authors, such as Xenophon, Athenæus, and Pliny, whose works are full of an infinity of wonders which are all natural, we see in our own time the surprising effects of nature, as those of the magnet, of steel, and mercury, which we should attribute to sorcery as did the ancients, had we not seen sensible demonstrations of their powers. We also see jugglers do such extraordinary things, which seem so contrary to nature, that we should look upon these charlatans as magicians, if we did not know by experience, that their address alone, joined to constant practice, makes them able to perform so many things which seem marvelous to us.
"All the share that the demons have in the criminal practices of those who are commonly called sorcerers, is suggestion; by which means they invite them to the abominable research of every natural cause which can do injury to others.
"I am now, sir, at the most delicate point of your question, which is, to know if our souls can return to earth after they are separated from our bodies.
"As the ancient philosophers erred so strongly on the nature of the soul—some believing that it was but a fire which animated us, and others a subtle air, and others affirming that it was nothing else but the proper arrangement of all the machine of the body, a doctrine which could not be admitted any more as the cause of in men than in beasts; we cannot therefore be surprised that they had such gross ideas concerning their state after death.
"The error of the Greeks, which they communicated to the Romans, and the latter to our ancestors was, that the souls whose bodies were not solemnly interred by the ministry of the priests of religion, wandered out of Hades without finding any repose, until their bodies had been burned and their ashes collected. Homer makes Patroclus, who was killed by Hector, appear to his friend Achilles in the night to ask him for burial, without which, he is deprived, he says, of the privilege of passing the river Acheron. There were only the souls of those who had been drowned, whom they believed unable to return to earth after death; for which we find a curious reason in Servius, the interpreter of Virgil, who says, the greater number of the learned in Virgil's time, and Virgil himself, believing that the soul was nothing but a fire, which animated and moved the body, were persuaded that the fire was entirely extinguished by the water—as if the material could act upon the spiritual. Virgil explains his opinions on the subject of souls very clearly in these verses:—
'Igneus est ollis vigor, et celestis origo.'
And a little after,
'totos infusa per artus
Mens agitat molem, et toto se corpore miscet;'
to mark the universal soul of the world, which he believed with the greater part of the philosophers of his time.
"Again, it was a common error amongst the pagans, to believe that the souls of those who died before they were of their proper age, which they placed at the end of their growth, wandered about until the time came when they ought naturally to be separated from their bodies. Plato, more penetrating and better informed than the others, although like them mistaken, said, that the souls of the just who had obeyed virtue ascended to the sky; and that those who had been guilty of impiety, retaining still the contagion of the earthly matter of the body, wandered incessantly around the tombs, appearing like shadows and phantoms.
"For us, whom religion teaches that our souls are spiritual substances created by God, and united for a time to bodies, we know that there are three different states after death.
"Those who enjoy eternal beatitude, absorbed, as the holy doctors say, in the contemplation of the glory of God, cease not to interest themselves in all that concerns mankind, whose miseries they have undergone; and as they have attained the happiness of angels, all the sacred writers ascribe to them the same privilege of possessing the power, as aerial bodies, of rendering themselves visible to their brethren who are still upon earth, to console them, and inform them of the Divine will; and they relate several apparitions, which always happened by the particular permission of God.
"The souls whose abominable crimes have plunged them into that gulf of torment, which the Scripture terms hell, being condemned to be detained there forever, without being able to hope for any relief, care not to have permission to come and speak to mankind in fantastic forms. The Scripture clearly set forth the impossibility of this return, by the discourse which is put into the mouth of the wicked rich man in hell, introduced speaking to Abraham; he does not ask leave to go himself, to warn his brethren on earth to avoid the torments which he suffers, because he knows that it is not possible; but he implores Abraham to send thither Lazarus, who was in glory. And to observe en passant how very rare are the apparitions of the blessed and of angels, Abraham replies to him, that it would be useless, since those who are upon earth have the Law and the Prophets, which they have but to follow.
"The story of the canon of Rheims, in the eleventh century, who, in the midst of the solemn service which was being performed for the repose of his soul, spoke aloud and said, That he was sentenced and condemned, has been refuted by so many of the learned, who have shown that this circumstance is clearly supposititious, since it is not found in any contemporaneous author; that I think no enlightened person can object it against me. But even were this story as incontestable as it is apocryphal, it would be easy for me to say in reply, that the conversion of St. Bruno, who has won so many souls to God, was motive enough for the Divine Providence to perform so striking a miracle.
"It now remains for me to examine if the souls which are in purgatory, where they expiate the rest of their crimes before they pass to the abode of the blessed, can come and converse with men, and ask them to pray for their relief.
"Although those who have desired to maintain this popular error, have done their endeavors to support it by different passages from St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and St. Thomas, it is certain that all these fathers speak only of the return of the blessed to manifest the glory of God; and of St. Augustine says precisely, that if it were possible for the souls of the dead to appear to men, not a day would pass without his receiving a visit from Monica his mother.
"Tertullian, in his Treatise on the Soul, laughs at those who in his time believed in apparitions. St. John Chrysostom, speaking on the subject of Lazarus, formally denies them; as well as the law glossographer, Canon John Andreas, who calls them phantoms of a sickly imagination, and all that is reported about spirits which people think they hear or see, vain apparitions. The 7th chapter of Job, and the song of King Hezekiah, reported in the 38th chapter of Isaiah, are all full of the witnesses which the Holy Spirit seems to have desired to give us of this truth, that our souls cannot return to earth after our death until God has made them angels.
"But in order to establish this still better, we must reply to the strongest objections of those who combat it. They adduce the opinion of the Jews, which they pretend to prove by the testimony of Josephus and the rabbis; the words of Jesus Christ to his apostles, when he appeared to them after his resurrection; the authority of the council of Elvira; some passages from St. Jerome, in his Treatise against Vigilantius; of decrees issued by different Parliaments, by which the leases of several houses had been broken on account of the spirits which haunted them daily, and tormented the lodgers or tenants; in short an infinite number of instances, which are scattered in every story.
"To destroy all these authorities in a few words, I say first of all, that it cannot be concluded that the Jews believed in the return of spirits after death, because Josephus assures us that the spirit which the Pythoness caused to appear to Saul was the true spirit of Samuel; for, besides that the holiness of this prophet had placed him in the number of the blessed, there are circumstances attending this apparition which have caused most of the holy fathers to doubt whether it really was the ghost of Samuel, believing that it might be an illusion with which the Pythoness deceived Saul, and made him believe that he saw that which he desired to see.
"What several rabbis relate of patriarchs, prophets, and kings whom they saw on the mountain of Gerizim, does not prove either that the Jews believed that the spirits of the dead could come back, since it was only a vision proceeding from the spirit in ecstasy, which believed it saw what it saw not truly; all those who compose this appearance were persons of whose holiness the Jews were persuaded. What Jesus Christ says to his apostles, that the spirits have 'neither flesh nor bones,' far from making us believe that spirits can come back again, proves on the contrary evidently, that they cannot without a miracle make us sensible of their presence, since it requires absolutely a corporeal substance and bodily organs to utter sounds; the description does agree with souls, they being pure substances, exempt from matter, invisibles, and therefore cannot naturally be subject to our senses.
"The Provincial Council held in Spain during the pontificate of Sylvester I., which forbids us to light a taper by day in the cemeteries of martyrs, adding, as a reason, that we must not disturb the spirits of the saints, is of no consideration; because besides that these words are liable to different interpretations, and may even have been inserted by some copyist, as some learned men believe, they only relate to the martyrs, of whom we cannot doubt that their spirits are blessed.
"I make the same reply to a passage of St. Jerome, because arguing against the heresiarch Vigilantius, who treated as illusions all the miracles which were worked at the tombs of the martyrs; he endeavors to prove to him that the saints who are in heaven always take part in the miseries of mankind, and sometimes even appear to them visibly to strengthen and console them.
"As for the decrees which have annulled the leases of several houses on account of the inconvenience caused by ghosts to those who lodged therein, it suffices to examine the means and the reasons upon which they were obtained, to comprehend that either the judges were led into error by the prejudices of their childhood, or that they were obliged to yield to the proofs produced, often even against their own superior knowledge, or they have been deceived by imposture, or by the simplicity of the witnesses.
"With respect to the apparitions, with which all such stories are filled, one of the strongest which can be objected against my argument, and to which I think myself the more obliged to reply, is that which is affirmed to have occurred at Paris in the last century, and of which five hundred witnesses are cited, who have examined into the truth of the matter with particular attention. Here is the adventure, as related by those who wrote at the time it took place.
"The Marquis de Rambouillet, eldest brother of the Duchess of Montauzier, and the Marquis de Précy, eldest son of the family of Nantouillet, both of them between twenty and thirty, were intimate friends, and went to the wars, as in France do all men of quality. As they were conversing one day together on the subject of the other world, after several speeches which sufficiently showed that they were not too well persuaded of the truth of all that is said concerning it, they promised each other that the first who died should come and bring the news to his companion. At the end of three months the Marquis de Rambouillet set off for Flanders, where the war was then being carried on; and de Précy, detained by a high fever, remained at Paris. Six weeks afterwards de Précy, at six in the morning, heard the curtains of his bed drawn, and turning to see who it was, he perceived the Marquis de Rambouillet in his buff vest and boots; he sprung out of bed to embrace him to show his joy at his return, but Rambouillet, retreating a few steps, told him that these caresses were no longer seasonable, for he only came to keep his word with him; that he had been killed the day before on such an occasion; that all that was said of the other world was certainly true; that he must think of leading a different life; and that he had no time to lose, as he would be killed the first action he was engaged in.
"It is impossible to express the surprise of the Marquis de Précy at this discourse; as he could not believe what he heard, he made several efforts to embrace his friend, whom he thought desirous of deceiving him, but he embraced only air; and Rambouillet, seeing that he was incredulous, showed the wound he had received, which was in the side, whence the blood still appeared to flow. After that the phantom disappeared, and left de Précy in a state of alarm more easy to comprehend than describe; he called at the same time his valet-de-chambre, and awakened all the family with his cries. Several persons ran to his room, and he related to them what he had just seen. Every one attributed this vision to the violence of the fever, which might have deranged his imagination; they begged him to go to bed again, assuring him that he must have dreamed what he told them.
"The Marquis in despair, on seeing that they took him for a visionary, related all the circumstances I have just recounted; but it was in vain for him to protest that he had seen and heard his friend, being wide awake; they persisted in the same idea until the arrival of the post from Flanders, which brought the news of the death of the Marquis de Rambouillet.
"This first circumstance being found true, and in the same manner as de Précy had said, those to whom he had related the adventure began to think that there might be something in it, because Rambouillet having been killed precisely the eve of the day he had said it, it was impossible de Précy should have known of it in a natural way. This event having spread in Paris, they thought it was the effect of a disturbed imagination, or a made up story; and whatever might be said by the persons who examined the thing seriously, there remained in people's minds a suspicion, which time alone could disperse: this depended on what might happen to the Marquis de Précy, who was threatened that he should be slain in the first engagement; thus every one regarded his fate as the dénouement of the piece; but he soon confirmed everything they had doubted the truth of, for as soon as he recovered from his illness he would go to the combat of St. Antoine, although his father and mother, who were afraid of the prophecy, said all they could to prevent him; he was killed there, to the great regret of all his family.
"Supposing all these circumstances to be true, this is what I should say to counteract the deductions that some wish to derive from them.
"It is not difficult to understand that the imagination of the Marquis de Précy, heated by fever, and troubled by the recollection of the promise that the Marquis de Rambouillet and himself had exchanged, may have represented to itself the phantom of his friend, whom he knew to be fighting, and in danger every moment of being killed. The circumstances of the wound of the Marquis de Rambouillet, and the prediction of the death of de Précy, which was fulfilled, appears more serious: nevertheless, those who have experienced the power of presentiments, the effects of which are so common every day, will easily conceive that the Marquis de Précy, whose mind, agitated by a burning fever, followed his friend in all the chances of war, and expected continually to see announced to himself by the phantom of his friend what was to happen, may have imagined that the Marquis de Rambouillet had been killed by a musket-shot in the side, and that the ardor which he himself felt for war might prove fatal to him in the first action. We shall see by the words of St. Augustine, which I shall cite by-and-by, how fully that Doctor of the Church was persuaded of the power of imagination, to which he attributes the knowledge of things to come. I shall again establish the authority of presentiments by a most singular instance.
"A lady of talent, whom I knew particularly well, being at Chartres, where she was residing, dreamt in the night that in her sleep she saw Paradise, which she fancied to herself was a magnificent hall, around which were in different ranks the angels and spirits of the blessed, and God, who presided in the midst, on a shining throne. She heard some one knock at the door of this delightful place; and St. Peter having opened it, she saw two pretty children, one of them clothed in a white robe, and the other quite naked. St. Peter took the first by the hand and led him to the foot of the throne, and left the other crying bitterly at the door. She awoke at that moment, and related her dream to several persons, who thought it very remarkable. A letter which she received from Paris in the afternoon informed her that one of her daughters was brought to bed with two children, who were dead, and only one of them had been baptized.
"Of what may we not believe the imagination capable, after so strong a proof of its power? Can we doubt that amongst all the pretended apparitions that are related, imagination alone produces all those which do not proceed from angels and blessed spirits, or which are not the effect of fraudulent contrivance?
"To explain more fully what has given rise to those phantoms, the apparition of which has been published in all ages, without availing myself of the ridiculous opinion of the skeptics, who doubt of everything, and assert that our senses, however sound they may be, can only imagine everything falsely, I shall remark that the wisest amongst the philosophers maintain that deep melancholy, anger, frenzy, fever, depraved or debilitated senses, whether naturally, or by accident, can make us see and hear many things which have no foundation.
"Aristotle says that in sleep the interior senses act by the local movement of the humors and the blood, and that this action descends sometimes to the sensitive organs, so that on awaking, the wisest persons think they see the images they have dreamt of.
"Plutarch, in the Life of Brutus, relates that Cassius persuaded Brutus that a specter which the latter declared he had seen on waking, was an effect of his imagination; and this is the argument which he puts in his mouth:—
"'The spirit of man being extremely active in its nature, and in continual motion, which produces always some fantasy; above all, melancholy persons, like you, Brutus, are more apt to form to themselves in the imagination ideal images, which sometimes pass to their external senses.'
"Galen, so skilled in the knowledge of all the springs of the human body, attributes specters to the extreme subtlety of sight and hearing.
"What I have read in Cardan seems to establish the opinion of Galen. He says that, being in the city of Milan, it was reported that there was an angel in the air, who appeared visibly, and having ran to the market-place, he, with two thousand others, saw the same. As even the most learned were in admiration at this wonder, a clever lawyer, who came to the spot, having observed the thing attentively, sensibly made them remark that what they saw was not an angel, but the figure of an angel, in stone, placed on the top of the belfry of St. Gothard, which being imprinted in a thick cloud by means of a sunbeam which fell upon it, was reflected to the eyes of those who possessed the most piercing vision. If this fact had not been cleared up on the spot by a man exempt from all prejudice, it would have passed for certain that it was a real angel, since it had been seen by the most enlightened persons in the town to the number of two thousand.
"The celebrated du Laurent, in his treatise on Melancholy, attributes to it the most surprising effects; of which he gives an infinite number of instances, which seem to surpass the power of nature.
"St. Augustine, when consulted by Evodius, Bishop of Upsal, on the subject I am treating of, answers him in these terms: 'In regard to visions, even of those by which we learn something of the future, it is not possible to explain how they are formed, unless we could first of all know how everything arises which passes through our minds when we think; for we see clearly that a number of images are excited in our minds, which images represent to us what has struck either our eyes or our other senses. We experience it every day and every hour.' And a little after, he adds: 'At the moment I dictate this letter, I see you with the eyes of my mind, without your being present, or your knowing anything about it; and I represent to myself, through my knowledge of your character, the impression that my words will make on your mind, without nevertheless knowing or being able to understand how all this passes within me.'
"I think, sir, you will require nothing more precise than these words of St. Augustine to persuade you that we must attribute to the power of imagination the greater number of apparitions, even of those through which we learn things which it would seem could not be known naturally; and you will easily excuse my undertaking to explain to you how the imagination works all these wonders, since this holy doctor owns that he cannot himself comprehend it, though quite convinced of the fact.
"I can tell you only that the blood which circulates incessantly in our arteries and veins, being purified and warmed in the heart, throws out thin vapors, which are its most subtle parts, and are called animal spirits; which, being carried into the cavities of the brain, set in motion the small gland which is, they say, the seat of the soul, and by this means awaken and resuscitate the species of the things that they have heard or seen formerly, which are, as it were, enveloped within it, and form the internal reasoning which we call thought. Whence comes it that beasts have memory as well as ourselves, but not the reflections which accompany it, which proceed from the soul, and that they have not.
"If what Mr. Digby, a learned Englishman, and chancellor of Henrietta, Queen of England, Father Kircher, a celebrated Jesuit, Father Schort, of the same society, Gaffarelli and Vallemont, publish of the admirable secret of the palingenesis, or resurrection of plants, has any foundation, we might account for the shades and phantoms which many persons declare to have seen in cemeteries.
"This is the way in which these curious researchers arrive at the marvelous operation of the palingenesis:—
"They take a flower, burn it, and collect all the ashes of it, from which they extract the salts by calcination. They put these salts into a glass phial, wherein having mixed certain compositions capable of setting them in motion when heated, all this matter forms a dust of a bluish hue; of this dust, excited by a gentle warmth, arises a stem, leaves, and a flower; in a word, they perceive the apparition of a plant springing from its ashes. As soon as the warmth ceases, all the spectacle vanishes, the matter deranges itself and falls to the bottom of the vessel, to form there a new chaos. The return of heat resuscitates this vegetable phoenix, hidden in its ashes. And as the presence of warmth gives it life, its absence causes its death.
"Father Kircher, who tries to give a reason for this admirable phenomenon, says that the seminal virtue of every mixture is concentrated in the salts, and that as soon as warmth sets them in motion they rise directly and circulate like a whirlwind in this glass vessel. These salts, in this suspension, which gives them liberty to arrange themselves, take the same situation and form the same figure as nature had primitively bestowed on them; retaining the inclination to become what they had been, they return to their first destination, and form themselves into the same lines as they occupied in the living plant; each corpuscle of salt re-entering its original arrangement which it received from nature; those which were at the foot of the plant place themselves there; in the same manner, those which compose the top of the stem, the branches, the leaves, and the flowers, resume their former place, and thus form a perfect apparition of the whole plant.
"It is affirmed that this operation has been performed upon a sparrow; and the gentlemen of the Royal Society of England, who are making their experiments on this matter, hope to succeed in making them on human beings also.
"Now, according to the principle of Father Kircher and the most learned chemists, who assert that the substantial form of bodies resides in the salts, and that these salts, set in motion by warmth, form the same figure as that which had been given to them by nature, it is not difficult to comprehend that dead bodies being consumed away in the earth, the salts which exhale from them with the vapors, by means of the fermentations which so often occur in this element, may very well, in arranging themselves above ground, form those shadows and phantoms which have frightened so many people. Thus we may perceive how little reason there is to ascribe them to the return of spirits, or to demons, as some ignorant people have done.
"To all the authorities by means of which I have combated the apparitions of spirits which are in purgatory, I shall still add some very natural reflections. If the souls which are in purgatory could return hither to ask for prayers to pass into the abode of glory, there would be no one who would not receive similar entreaties from his relations and friends, since all the spirits being disposed to do the same thing, apparently, God would grant them all the same permission. Besides, if they possessed this liberty, no sensible person could understand why they should accompany their appearance with all the follies so circumstantially related in those stories, as rolling up a bed, opening the curtains, pulling off a blanket, overturning the furniture, and making a frightful noise. In short, if there were any reality in these apparitions, it is morally impossible that in so many ages one would not have been found so well authenticated that it could not be doubted.
"After having sufficiently proved that all the apparitions which cannot be ascribed to angels or to the souls of the blessed are produced only by one of the three following causes—the extreme subtlety of the senses; the derangement of the organs, as in madness and high fever; and the power of imagination—let us see what we must think of the circumstance which occurred at St. Maur.
"Although you have already seen the account that has been given of it, I believe, sir, that you will not be displeased if I here give you the detail of the more particular circumstances. I shall endeavor to omit nothing that has been done to confirm the truth of the circumstance, and I shall even make use of the exact words of the author, as much as I can, that I may not be accused of detracting from the adventure.
"Monsieur de S——, to whom it happened, is a young man, short in stature, well made for his height, between four and five-and-twenty years of age. Being in bed, he heard several loud knocks at his door without the maid servant, who ran thither directly, finding any one; and then the curtains of his bed were drawn, although there was only himself in the room. The 22d of last March, being, about eleven o'clock at night, busy looking over some lists of works in his study, with three lads who are his domestics, they all heard distinctly a rustling of the papers on the table; the cat was suspected of this performance, but M. de S. having taken a light and looked diligently about, found nothing.
"A little after this he went to bed, and sent to bed also those who had been with him in his kitchen, which is next to his sleeping-room; he again heard the same noise in his study or closet; he rose to see what it was, and not having found anything more than he did the first time, he was going to shut the door, but he felt some resistance to his doing so; he then went in to see what this obstacle might be, and at the same time heard a noise above his head towards the corner of the room, like a great blow on the wall; at this he cried out, and his people ran to him; he tried to reassure them, though alarmed himself; and having found naught he went to bed again and fell asleep. Hardly had these lads extinguished the light, than M. de S. was suddenly awakened by a shake, like that of a boat striking against the arch of a bridge; he was so much alarmed at it that he called his domestics; and when they had brought the light, he was strangely surprised to find his bed at least four feet out of its place, and he was then aware that the shock he had felt was when his bedstead ran against the wall. His people having replaced the bed, saw, with as much astonishment as alarm, all the bed-curtains open at the same moment, and the bedstead set off running towards the fire-place. M. de S. immediately got up, and sat up the rest of the night by the fire-side. About six in the morning, having made another attempt to sleep, he was no sooner in bed than the bedstead made the same movement again, twice, in the presence of his servants, who held the bed-posts to prevent it from displacing itself. At last, being obliged to give up the game, he went out to walk till dinner time; after which, having tried to take some rest, and his bed having twice changed its place, he sent for a man who lodged in the same house, as much to reassure himself in his company, as to render him a witness of so surprising a circumstance. But the shock which took place before this man was so violent, that the left foot at the upper part of the bedstead was broken; which had such an effect upon him, that in reply to the offers that were made to him to stay and see a second, he replied that what he had seen, with the frightful noise he had heard all night, were quite sufficient to convince him of the fact.
"It was thus that the affair, which till then had remained between M. de S. and his domestics, became public; and the report of it being immediately spread, and reaching the ears of a great prince who had just arrived at St. Maur, his highness was desirous of enlightening himself upon the matter, and took the trouble to examine carefully into the circumstances which were related to him. As this adventure became the subject of every conversation, very soon nothing was heard but stories of ghosts, related by the credulous, and laughed at and joked upon by the free-thinkers. However, M. de S. tried to reassure himself, and go the following night into his bed, and become worthy of conversing with the spirit, which he doubted not had something to disclose to him. He slept till nine o'clock the next morning, without having felt anything but slight shakes, as the mattresses were raised up, which had only served to rock him and promote sleep. The next day passed off pretty quietly; but on the 26th, the spirit, who seemed to have become well-behaved, resumed its fantastic humor, and began the morning by making a great noise in the kitchen; they would have forgiven it for this sport if it had stopped there, but it was much worse in the afternoon. M. de S., who owns that he felt himself particularly attracted towards his study, though he felt a repugnance to enter it, having gone into it about six o'clock, went to the end of the room, and returning towards the door to go into his bed-room again, was much surprised to see it shut of itself and barricade itself with the two bolts. At the same time, the two doors of a large press opened behind him, and rather darkened his study, because the window, which was open, was behind these doors.
"At this sight, the fright of M. de S. is more easy to imagine than to describe; however, he had sufficient calmness left, to hear at his left ear a distinct voice, which came from a corner of the closet, and seemed to him to be about a foot above his head. This voice spoke to him in very good terms during the space of half a miserere; and ordered him, theeing and thouing him to do some one particular thing, which he was recommended to keep secret. What he has made public is that the voice allowed him a fortnight to accomplish it in; and ordered him to go to a place, where he would find some persons who would inform him what he had to do; and that it would come back and torment him if he failed to obey. The conversation ended by an adieu.
"After that, M. de S. remembers that he fainted and fell down on the edge of a box, which caused him a pain in his side. The loud noise and the cries which he afterwards uttered brought several people in haste to the door, and after useless efforts to open it, they were going to force it open with a hatchet, when they heard M. de S. dragging himself towards the door, which he with much difficulty opened. Disordered as he was, and unable to speak, they first of all carried him to the fire, and then they laid him on his bed, where he received all the compassion of the great prince, of whom I have already spoken, who hastened to the house the moment this event was noised abroad. His highness having caused all the recesses and corners of the house to be inspected, and no one being found therein, wished that M. de S. should be bled; but his surgeon finding he had a very feeble pulsation, thought he could not do so without danger.
"When he recovered from his swoon, his highness, who wished to discover the truth, questioned him concerning his adventure; but he only heard the circumstances I have mentioned—M. de S. having protested to him that he could not, without risk to his life, tell him more.
"The spirit was heard of no more for a fortnight; but when that term was expired—whether his orders had not been faithfully executed, or that he was glad to come and thank M. de S. for being so exact—as he was, during the night, lying in a little bed near the window of his bed-room, his mother in the great bed, and one of his friends in an arm-chair near the fire, they all three heard some one rap several times against the wall, and such a blow against the window, that they thought all the panes were broken. M. de S. got up that moment, and went into his closet to see if this troublesome spirit had something else to say to him; but when there, he could neither find nor hear anything. And thus ended this adventure, which has made so much noise and drawn so many inquisitive persons to St. Maur.
"Now let us make some reflections on those circumstances which are the most striking, and most likely to make any impression.
"The noise which was heard several times during the night by the master, the female servant, and the neighbors, is quite equivocal; and the most prejudiced persons cannot deny that it may have been produced by different causes which are all quite natural.
"The same reply may be given as to the papers which were heard to rustle, since a breath of air or a mouse might have moved them.
"The moving of the bed is something more serious, because it is reported to have been witnessed by several persons; but I hope that a little reflection will dispense us from having recourse to fantastic hands in order to explain it.
"Let us imagine a bedstead upon castors; a person whose imagination is impressed, or who wishes to enliven himself by frightening his domestics, is lying upon it, and rolls about very much, complaining that he is tormented. Is it surprising that the bedstead should be seen to move, especially when the floor of the room is waxed and rubbed? But, you will say, some of the witnesses even made useless efforts to prevent this movement. Who are these witnesses? Two are youths in the service of the patient, who trembled all over with fright, and were not capable of examining the secret causes of this movement; and the other has since told several people that he would give ten pistoles not to have affirmed that he saw this bedstead remove itself without help.
"In regard to the voice, whose secret has been so carefully kept, as there is no witness of it, we can only judge of it by the state in which he who had been favored with this pretended revelation was found. Repeated cries from the man who, hearing his closet door beaten in, draws back the bolts which he had apparently drawn himself, his eyes quite wild, and his whole person in extraordinary disorder, would have caused the ancient heathens to take him for a sibyl full of enthusiasm, and must appear to us rather the consequence of some convulsion than of a conversation with a spiritual being.
"Lastly, the violent blows given upon the walls and panes of glass, in the night, in the presence of two witnesses, might make some impression, if we were sure that the patient, who was lying directly under the window in a small bed, had no part in the matter; for of the two witnesses who heard this noise, one was his mother, and the other an intimate friend, who, even reflecting on what he saw and heard, declares that it can only be the effect of a spell.
"How much good soever you may wish for this place, I do not believe, sir, that what I have just remarked on the circumstances of the adventure, will lead you to believe that it has been honored with an angelic apparition; I should rather fear that, attributing it to a disordered imagination, you may accuse the subtlety of the air which there predominates as having caused it. As I am somewhat interested in not doing the climate of St. Maur such an injury, I am compelled to add something else to what I have said of the person in question, in order that you may know his character.
"You need not be very clever in the art of physiognomy to remark in his countenance the melancholy which prevails in his temperament. This sad disposition, joined to the fever which has tormented him for some time, carried some vapors to his brain, which might easily lead him to believe that he heard all he has publicly declared; besides which, the desire to divert himself by alarming his domestics may have induced him to feign several things, when he saw that the adventure had come to the ears of a prince who might not approve of such a joke, and be severe upon it. Thus then, sir, you will think as I do, that the report of the celebrated Marescot on the subject of the famous Margaret Brossier agrees perfectly with our melancholy man, and well explains his adventure: à naturâ multa, plura ficta, à dæmone nulla. His temperament has made him fancy he saw and heard many things; he feigned still more in support of what his wanderings or his sport had induced him to assert; and no kind of spirit has had any share in his adventure. Without stopping to relate several effects of his melancholy, I shall simply remark that an embarkation which he made on one of the last jours gras, setting off at ten o'clock at night to make the tour of the peninsula of St. Maur, in a boat where he covered himself up with straw on account of the cold, appeared so singular to the great prince before mentioned, that he took the trouble to question him as to his motives for making such a voyage at so late an hour.
"I shall add that the discernment of his highness made him easily judge whence this adventure proceeded, and his behavior on this occasion has shown that he is not easily deceived. I do not think it is allowable for me to omit the opinion of his father, a man of distinguished merit, on this adventure of his son, when he learned all the circumstances by a letter from his wife, who was at St. Maur. He told several persons that he was certain that the spirit which acted on this occasion was that of his wife and son. The author of the relation was right in endeavoring to weaken such testimony; but I do not know if he flatters himself that he has succeeded, in saying that he who gave this opinion is an esprit fort, or freethinker who makes it a point of honor to be of the fashionable opinion concerning spirits.
"Lastly, to fix your judgment and terminate agreeably this little dissertation in which you have engaged me, I know of nothing better than to repeat the words of a princess, who is not less distinguished at court by the delicacy of her wit than by her high rank and personal charms. As they were conversing in her presence of the singularity of the adventure which here happened at St. Maur, 'Why are you so much astonished?' said she, with that gracious air which is so natural to her; 'Is it surprising that the son should have to do with spirits, since the mother sees the eternal Father three times every week? This woman is very happy,' added the witty princess; 'for my part, I should ask no other favor than to see him once in my life.'
"Laugh with your friends at this agreeable reflection; but, above all, take care, sir, not to make my letter public: it is the only reward that I ask for the exactitude with which I have obeyed you on so delicate an occasion.
"I am, sir,
"Your very humble, &c.
St. Maur, May 8, 1706."
"By order of the Lord Chancellor, this dissertation on what we must think of spirits in general, and of that of St. Maur in particular, has been read by me, and I have found nothing therein which ought to hinder its being printed.
"Done at Paris, the 17th of October, 1706.
(Signed) "La Marque Tilladet.
"The king's permission bears date the 21st November, 1706."
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