Examination of the Affair of Hocque, Magician

 [This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010.  Copyright as such.]


Monsieur de St. André, consulting physician in ordinary to the king, in his sixth letter against magic, maintains that in the affair of Hocque which has been mentioned, there was neither magic, nor sorcery, nor any operation of the demon; that the venomous drug which Hocque placed in the stables, and by means of which he caused the death of the cattle stalled therein, was nothing but a poisonous compound, which, by its smell and the diffusion of its particles, poisoned the animals and caused their death; it required only for these drugs to be taken away for the cattle to be safe, or else to keep the cattle from the stable in which the poison was placed. The difficulty laid in discovering where these poisonous drugs were hidden; the shepherds, who were the authors of the mischief, taking all sorts of precautions to conceal them, knowing that their lives were in danger if they should be discovered.

He further remarks that these gogues or poisoned drugs lose their effects after a certain time, unless they are renewed or watered with something to revive them and make them ferment again. If the devil had any share in this mischief, the drug would always possess the same virtue, and it would not be necessary to renew it and refresh it to restore it to its pristine power.

In all this, M. de St. André supposes that if the demon had any power to deprive animals of their lives, or to cause them fatal maladies, he could do so independently of secondary causes; which will not be easily granted him by those who hold that God alone can give life and death by an absolute power, independently of all secondary causes and of any natural agent. The demon might have revealed to Hocque the composition of this fatal and poisonous drug—he might have taught him its dangerous effects, after which the venom acts in a natural way; it recovers and resumes its pristine strength when it is watered; it acts only at a certain distance, and according to the reach of the corpuscles which exhale from it. All these effects have nothing supernatural in them, nor which ought to be attributed to the demon; but it is credible enough that he inspired Hocque with the pernicious design to make use of a dangerous drug, which the wretched man knew how to make up, or the composition of which was revealed to him by the evil spirit.

M. de St. André continues, and says that there is nothing in the death of Hocque which ought to be attributed to the demon; it is, says he, a purely natural effect, which can proceed from no other cause than the venomous effluvia which came from the poisonous drug when it was taken up, and which were carried towards the malefactor by those which proceeded from his own body while he was preparing it, and placing it in the ground, which remained there and were preserved in that spot, so that none of them had been dissipated.

These effluvia proceeding from the person of Hocque, then finding themselves liberated, returned to whence they originated, and drew with them the most malignant and corrosive particles of the charge or drug, which acted on the body of this shepherd as they did on those of the animals who smelled them. He confirms what he has just said, by the example of sympathetic powder which acts upon the body of a wounded person, by the immersion of small particles of the blood, or the pus of the wounded man upon whom it is applied, which particles draw with them the spirit of the drugs of which it (the powder) is composed, and carry them to the wound.

But the more I reflect on this pretended evaporation of the venomous effluvia emanating from the poisoned drug, hidden at Passy en Brie, six leagues from Paris, which are supposed to come straight to Hocque, shut up at la Tournelle, borne by the animal effluvia proceeding from this malefactor's body at the time he made up the poisonous drug and put it in the ground, so long before the dangerous composition was discovered; the more I reflect on the possibility of these evaporations the less I am persuaded of them. I could wish to have proofs of this system, and not instances of the very doubtful and very uncertain effects of sympathetic powder, which can have no place in the case in question. It is proving the obscure by the obscure, and the uncertain by the uncertain; and even were we to admit generally some effects of the sympathetic powder, they could not be applicable here; the distance between the places is too great, and the time too long; and what sympathy can be found between this shepherd's poisonous drug and his person for it to be able to return to him who is imprisoned at Paris, when the gogue is discovered at Passy?

The account composed and printed on this event bears, that the fumes of the wine which Hocque had drank having evaporated, and he reflecting on what Beatrice had made him do, began to agitate himself, howled, and complained most strangely, saying that Beatrice had taken him by surprise, that it would occasion his death, and that he must die the instant that Bras-de-fer—another shepherd, to whom Beatrice had persuaded Hocque to write word to take off the poisoned drug which he had scattered on the ground at Passy—should take away the dose. He attacked Beatrice, whom he wanted to strangle; and even excited the other felons who were with him in prison and condemned to the galleys, to maltreat her, through the pity they felt for the despair of Hocque, who, at the time the dose was taken off the land, had died in a moment, in strange convulsions, and agitating himself like one possessed.

M. de St. André would again explain all this by supposing Hocque's imagination being struck with the idea of his dying, which he was persuaded would happen at the time they carried away the poison, had a great deal to do with his sufferings and death. How many people have been known to die at the time they had fancied they should, when struck with the idea of their approaching death. The despair and agitation of Hocque had disturbed the mass of his blood, altered the humors, deranged the motion of the effluvia, and rendered them much susceptible of the actions of the vapors proceeding from the poisonous composition.

M. de St. André adds that, if the devil had any share in this kind of mischievous spell, it could only be in consequence of some compact, either expressed or tacit, that as soon as the poison should be taken up, he who had put it there should die immediately. Now, what likelihood is there that the person who should make this compact with the devil should have made use of such a stipulation, which would expose him to a cruel and inevitable death?

1. We may reply that fright can cause death; but that it is not possible for it to produce it at a given time, nor can he who falls into a paroxysm of grief say that he shall die at such a moment; the moment of death is not in the power of man in similar circumstances.

2. That so corrupt a character as Hocque, a man who, without provocation, and to gratify his ill-will, kills an infinite number of animals, and causes great damage to innocent persons, is capable of the greatest excess, may give himself up to the evil spirit, by implicated or explicit compacts, and engage, on pain of losing his life, never to take off the charge he had thrown upon a village. He believed he should risk nothing by this stipulation, since he was free to take it away or to leave it, and it was not probable that he should ever lightly thus expose himself to certain death. That the demon had some share in this virtue of the poisonous composition is very likely, when we consider the circumstances of its operations, and those of the death and despair of Hocque. This death is the just penalty of his crimes, and of his confidence in the exterminating angel to whom he had yielded himself.

It is true that impostors, weak minds, heated imaginations, ignorant and superstitious persons have been found who have taken for black magic, and operations of the demon, what was quite natural, and the effect of some subtlety of philosophy or mathematics, or even an illusion of the senses, or a secret which deceives the eye and the senses. But to conclude from thence that there is no magic at all, and that all that is said about it is pure prejudice, ignorance, and superstition, is to conclude what is general from what is particular, and to deny what is true and certain, because it is not easy to distinguish what is true from what is false, and because men will not take the trouble to examine into causes. It is far easier to deny everything than to enter upon a serious examination of facts and circumstances.




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