Archive for August 3rd, 2016

Mlle de Scudéri (edited)

A Tale of the Times of Louis the Fourteenth

E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822)

Magdaleine de Scudéri, so famous for her charming poetical and other writings, lived in a small mansion in the Rue St. Honoré, by favour of Louis the XIVth and Madame de Maintenon.

Late one night – about midnight – in the autumn of the year 1680, there came a knocking at the door of this house, so loud and violent that it shook the very ground. Baptiste, who filled the offices of cook, butler and doorkeeper in the lady’s modest establishment, had gone, by her leave, to the country to his sister’s wedding, so that La Martinière, the femme de chambre, was the only person still awake in the house. She heard this knocking, which went on without ceasing almost.

She and her mistress were alone and unprotected. She thought of the housebreakings, robberies and murders which were so frequent in Paris at that time; so she remained in her room, trembling and terrified, cursing Baptiste, and his sister’s marriage into the bargain.

Meantime the thundering knocking went on at the door, and she thought she heard a voice calling in the intervals, “Open, for the love of Christ Open! – open!” At last, her alarm increasing, she took her candle and ran out on to the landing, where she distinctly heard the voice crying, “Open the door, for the love of Christ!”

“After all,” she said to herself, “one knows that a robber would not be crying out in that way. Perhaps it is somebody who is being pursued and is come to my lady for refuge. She is known to be always ready to do a kind action – but we must be very careful!”

She opened a window and called down into the street in a voice which she tried to make as like a man’s as she could. By the glimmer of the moon, which was beginning to break through dark clouds, she could make out a tall figure in a long grey cloak, with a broad hat drawn down over his forehead.

Then she cried, in a loud voice, so that this person in the street should hear, “Baptiste! Claude! Pierre! Get up, and see who this rascal is who is trying to get in at this time of night.”

But a gentle, entreating voice spoke from beneath, saying, “Ah, La Martinière, I know it is you, you kind soul, though you are trying to alter your voice; and I know well enough that Baptiste is away in the country, and that there is nobody in the house but your mistress and yourself. Let me in. I must speak with your lady this instant.”

“Do you imagine,” asked La Martinière, “that my lady is going to speak to you in the middle of the night? ”

“I know,” answered the person beneath, “that she has just this moment put away the manuscript of the novel Clelia, at which she is working so hard, and is writing some verses which she means to read tomorrow at Madame de Maintenon’s. I implore you, Madame La Martinière, be so compassionate as to open the door. Upon your doing so depends the escape of an unfortunate creature from destruction. Nay, honour, freedom, a human life, depend on this moment. Remember, her anger will rest upon you for ever when she comes to know that it was you who cruelly drove away from her door the unfortunate wretch who came to beg for her help.”

“But why should you come for her help at such an extraordinary time of the night?” asked La Martinière. “Come back in the morning at a reasonable hour.” La Martinière heard the stranger moaning and groaning as he uttered those words in the deepest sorrow. The tone of his voice was that of a youth, soft and gentle, and most touching to the heart; and so, deeply moved. she went without much more hesitation and fetched the key.

As soon as she opened the door, the form shrouded in the mantle burst violently in and, passing La Martinière, cried in a wild voice, “Take me to your lady!” La Martinière held up the light which she was carrying, and the glimmer fell on the face of a very young man, distorted and frightfully drawn, and as pale as death. She almost fell down on the landing for terror when he opened his cloak and showed the glittering hilt of a stiletto sticking out of his doublet. He flashed his gleaming eyes at her, and cried, more wildly than before, “Take me to your lady, I tell you.”

La Martinière saw that her mistress was in the utmost danger. All her affection for her, who was to her as the kindest of mothers, flamed up and created a courage which she herself would scarcely have thought herself capable of. She quickly closed the door of her room, moved rapidly in front of it, and said in a brave, firm voice, “Your furious behaviour, now that you have got into the house, is very different from what I should have expected from the way you spoke down in the street. I see now that I had pity on you a little too easily. You shall not see or speak with my lady at this hour..”

He heaved a hollow sigh, glared at La Martinière with a terrible expression, and grasped his dagger. She silently commended her soul to God, but stood firm and looked him straight in the face, pressing herself more firmly against the door through which he would have to pass in order to reach her mistress.

“Let me get to your lady, I tell you!” he cried once more.

“Do what you will,” said La Martinière, “I shall not move from this spot. Complete the crime which you have begun. A shameful death on the Place de la Grève will overtake you.”

“Ha! you are right, La Martinière,” he cried. “I am armed, and I look as if I were an accursed robber and murderer. But my comrades are not executed – are not executed,” and he drew his dagger, advancing with poisonous looks towards the terrified woman.

“Jesus!” she cried, expecting her death-wound; but at that moment there came up from the street below the clatter and the ring of arms, and the hoof-tread of horses.

“La Marechausée! La Marechausée! Help! help!” she cried.

“Wretched woman, you will be my destruction,” he cried. “All is over now – all over! Here, take it; take it. Give this to your lady now, or tomorrow if you like it better.” As he said this in a whisper, he took the candelabra from her, blew out the tapers, and placed a casket in her hands. “As you prize your eternal salvation,” he cried, “give this to your lady.” He dashed out of the door, and was gone.

La Martinière had sunk to the floor. Presently she heard the rattling of the bolts, which she had left unfastened when she closed the house door. To her inexpressible joy the door opened, and by the pale light of the night-lamp she saw it was Baptiste. He was deadly pale, and much upset.

“For the love of all the saints,” he exclaimed, “tell me what has happened! Oh, what a state I am in. Something – don’t know what it was – told me to come away from the wedding yesterday – forced me to come away. So when I got to this street, I thought, Madame Martinière isn’t a heavy sleeper; she’ll hear me if I knock quietly at the door, and let me in. Then up came a strong patrol, horsemen and foot, armed to the teeth. They stopped me, and wouldn’t let me go. Luckily Desgrais was there, the lieutenant of the Marechaussée. He knows me, and as they were holding their lanterns under my nose, he said, ‘Ho, Baptiste! How come you here in the streets at this time of the night? You ought to be at home, taking care of the house. This is not a very safe spot just at this moment. We’re expecting to make a fine haul, and important arrest, tonight.’ You can’t think, Madame La Martinière, how I felt when he said that. And when I got to the door, lo! and behold! a man in a cloak comes bursting out with a drawn dagger in his hand, dodges me, and makes off. The door was open, the keys in the lock. What, in the name of all that’s holy, is the meaning of it all?”

La Martinière, relieved from her alarm, told him all that had happened, and both she and he went back to the hall; and there they found the candelabra on the floor, where the stranger had thrown it on taking his flight. “There can’t be the slightest doubt that our mistress was within an ace of being robbed, and murdered too very likely,” Baptiste said. “According to what you say, the scoundrel knew well enough that there was nobody in the house. And the little casket, Madame Martinière, that I think we’ll throw into the Seine where it’s deepest. Who shall be our warrant that some monster or other isn’t lying in wait for our mistress’s life? Very likely, if she opens the casket, she may tumble down dead, as the old Marquis de Tournay did when he opened a letter which came to him, he didn’t know where from.”

After a long consultation, they came to the conclusion that next morning they would tell their lady everything that had happened, and even hand her the mysterious casket, which might, perhaps, be opened if proper precautions were taken.

There were good grounds for Baptiste’s fears. Paris, at the time in question, was the scene of atrocious deeds of violence, and that just at a period when the most diabolical inventions of hell provided the most facile means for their execution.

Glaser, a German apothecary, the most learned chemist of his day, occupied himself – as people who cultivate his science often do – with alchemical researches and experiments. He had set himself the task of discovering the philosopher’s stone. An Italian of the name of Exili associated himself with him; but to him the art of goldmaking formed a mere pretext. What he aimed at mastering was the blending, preparation, and sublimation of the various poisonous substances which Glaser hoped would give him the results he was in search of; and at length Exili discovered how to prepare that delicate poison which has no odour nor taste, and which, killing either slowly or in a moment, leaves not the slightest trace in the human organism, and baffles the utmost skill of the physician who, not suspecting poison as the means of death, ascribes it to natural causes. But cautiously as Exili went about this, he fell under suspicion of dealing with poisons, and was thrown into the Bastille.

In the same cell with him there was presently quartered an officer of the name of Godin de Sainte-Croix, who had long lived in relations with the Marquise de Brinvilliers; which brought shame upon all her family, till at length, as her husband cared nothing about her conduct, her father (Dreux d’Aubray, Civil Lieutenant of Paris) had to part the guilty pair by means of a lettre de cachet against Sainte-Croix. The captain was a passionate man without character or religion, a hypocrite given to all manner of vice from his youth. What is more, he was addicted to the most furious jealousy and envy. So nothing could be more welcome to him than Exili’s devilish secret, which gave him the power of destroying all his enemies. He became Exili’s assiduous pupil, and soon equalled his instructor; so that when he was released from prison he was in a position to carry on operations by himself on his own account.

La Brinvilliers was a depraved woman, and Sainte-Croix made her a monster. She managed, by degrees, to poison first her own father (with whom she was living in the hypocritical presence of taking care of him in his declining years), next her two brothers, and then her sister; the father out of revenge, and the others for their fortunes. The histories of more than one poisoner bear terrible evidence that crimes of this description assume the form of an irresistible passion. Just as a chemist makes experiments for the pleasure and the interest of watching them, poisoners have often, without the smallest ulterior object, killed persons whose living or dying was to them a matter of complete indifference. The sudden deaths of a number of paupers, patients at the Hôtel Dieu, a little time after the events just alluded to, led to suspicion that the bread which La Brinvilliers was in the habit of giving them every week (so as to appear a model of piety and benevolence) was poisoned. And it is certain that she poisoned pigeon pasties which were served up to her own invited guests. The Chevalier du Guet, and many more, were the victims of those diabolical entertainments. Sainte-Croix, his accomplice La Chaussée, and La Brinvilliers, managed to hide their crimes for a long while under a veil of impenetrable secrecy. But, however the wicked may brazen matters out, there comes a time when the Eternal Power of Heaven punishes the criminal, even here on earth.

The poisons which Sainte-Croix prepared were so marvellously delicate that if the powder (which the Parisians appositely named “poudre de succession”) were uncovered while being made, a single inhalation of it was sufficient to cause immediate death. Therefore Sainte-Croix always wore a glass mask when at work. This mask fell off one day just as he was shaking a finished powder into a phial, and, having inhaled some of the powder, he fell dead in an instant. As he had no heirs, the law courts at once placed his property under seal, when the whole diabolical arsenal of murder which had been at the villain’s disposal was discovered, and also the letters of Madame de Brinvilliers, which left no doubt as to her crimes. She fled to a convent at Liège. Desgrais, an officer of the Marechaussée, was sent after her. Disguised as a priest, he got admitted into the convent, and succeeded in involving the terrible woman in a love-affair, and in getting her to grant him a clandestine meeting in a sequestered garden outside the town. When she arrived there she found herself surrounded by Desgrais’ myrmidons; and her ecclesiastical gallant speedily transformed himself into the officer of the Marechaussée. He compelled her to get into the carriage which was waiting outside the garden, and drove straight away to Paris, surrounded by an ample guard. La Chaussée had been beheaded previously to this, and La Brinvilliers suffered the same death. Her body was burnt, and its ashes scattered to the winds.

The Parisians breathed freely again when the world was freed from the presence of this monster, who had so long wielded with impunity the weapon of secret murder against friend and foe. But it soon became bruited abroad that the terrible art of the accursed La Croix had been, somehow, handed down to a successor, who was carrying it on triumphantly. Murder came gliding like an invisible, capricious spectre into the narrowest and most intimate circles of relationship, love and friendship, pouncing securely and swiftly upon its unhappy victims. Men who today, were seen in robust health, were tottering about on the morrow feeble and sick; and no skill of physicians could restore them. Wealth, a good appointment or office, a nice-looking wife, perhaps a little too young for her husband, were ample reasons for a man’s being dogged to death. The most frightful mistrust snapped the most sacred ties.

The husband trembled before his wife; the father dreaded the son; the sister the brother.

For the repression of this ever-increasing disorder the King constituted a fresh tribunal, to which he entrusted the special investigation and punishment of those secret crimes. This was the Chambre Ardente, which held its sittings near the Bastille. La Regnie was its president. For a considerable time La Regnie’s efforts, assiduous as they were, were unsuccessful, and it was the lot of the much overworked Desgrais to discover the most secret den of that foul crime.

In the Faubourg Saint-Germain there lived an old woman, named La Voisin, who followed the calling of teller of fortunes and summoner of spirits, and she, assisted by her accomplices Le Sage and Le Vigoureux, managed to alarm and astonish people who were by no means to be considered weak or superstitious. But she did more than this. She was, like La Croix, a pupil of Exili’s and, like him, prepared the delicate, traceless poison, which helped wicked sons to speedy inheritances and unprincipled wives to other, younger husbands. Desgrais fathomed her secrets; she made full confession; the Chambre Ardente sentenced her to be burned, and the sentence was carried out on the Place de la Grève. Amongst her effects was found a list of those who had availed themselves of her services; whence it followed, not only that execution succeeded execution, but that strong suspicion fell on persons in important positions. Thus it was believed that Cardinal Bonzy had obtained from La Voisin the means of disembarrassing himself of all the persons to whom, in his capacity of Archbishop of Narbonne, he was bound to pay pensions. Similarly, the Duchess de Bouillon and the Countess de Soissons (their names having been found in La Voisin’s list) were accused of having had relations with her; and even François Henri de Montmorenci-Boudebelle, Duc de Luxembourg, Peer and Marshal of the realm, did not escape arraignment before the Chambre Ardente. He surrendered himself to imprisonment in the Bastille, where the hatred of Louvois and La Regnie immured him in a cell only six feet long. Months elapsed before it was proved that his offences did not deserve so severe a punishment. He had once gone to La Voisin to have his horoscope drawn.

What is certain is that an excess of inconsiderate zeal led President La Regnie into violently illegal and barbarous measures. His Court assumed the character of the Inquisition. The very slightest suspicion rendered any one liable to severe imprisonment, and the establishment of the innocence of a person tried for his life was often only a matter of the merest chance. Besides, La Regnie was repulsive to behold, and of malicious disposition, so that he excited the hatred of those whose avenger or protector he was called upon to be. When he asked the Duchess de Bouillon if she had ever seen the devil, she answered, “I think I see him at this moment.”

Whilst now, on the Place de la Grève, the blood of the guilty and of the merely suspected was flowing in streams, and secret deaths by poison were, at last, becoming more and more rare, a trouble of another description showed itself, spreading abroad fresh consternation. It seemed that a gang of robbers had made up their minds to possess themselves of all the jewels in the city. Whenever a valuable set of ornaments was bought, it disappeared in an inexplicable manner, however carefully preserved and protected. And everybody who dared to wear precious stones in the evening was certain to be robbed, either in the public streets or in the dark passages of houses. Very often they were not only robbed, but murdered. Such of them as escaped with their lives said they had been felled by the blow of a clenched fist on the head, which came on them like a thunderbolt. And when they recovered their senses they found that they had been robbed, and were in a totally different place from where they had been knocked down.

Those who were murdered – and they were found nearly every morning lying in the streets or in houses – had all the selfsame mortal wound – a dagger-thrust, right through the heart, which the surgeons said must have been delivered with such swiftness and certainty that the victim would have fallen dead without the power of uttering a sound. Now who, in all the luxurious Court of Louis Quatorze, was there who was not implicated in some secret love-affair and, consequently, often gliding about the streets late at night with valuable presents in his pockets? Just as if this robber-gang were in intercourse with spirits, they always knew perfectly well when anything of this kind was going on.

It was in vain that Argenson, the Minister of Police, arrested every individual, in all Paris, who seemed to be touched by the very faintest suspicion;  It was a remarkable feature of this business that, notwithstanding all search and investigation in every quarter where there seemed to be any chance of dealing in jewels going on, not a trace of even the smallest of the plundered precious stones ever came to light.

Desgrais foamed in fury that even his acumen and skill were powerless to prevent the escape of those scoundrels. Whatever part of the town he happened to be in was let alone for the time, whilst in some other quarter robbery and murder were lying in wait for their rich prey.

Desgrais hit upon the clever idea of setting several facsimiles of himself on foot – various Desgrais, exactly alike in gait, speech, figure, face, etc.; so that his own men could not tell the one of them from the other, or say which was the real Desgrais. But this also was to no avail.This artifice of his was as well known to the culprits as everything else seemed to be. Desgrais was in utter despair.

One morning he came to President La Regnie, pale, strained, almost out of his mind.

“What is it – what news? Have you come upon the clue?” the President cried to him as he came in.”Ah, Monsieur!” said Desgrais, stammering in fury, “last night, near the Louvre, the Marquis de la Fare was set upon under my very nose!”

“Heaven and earth!” cried La Regnie, overjoyed, “we have got them!”

“Wait a moment, listen,” said Desgrais, with a bitter smile. “I was standing near the Louvre, watching and waiting, with hell itself in my heart, for those devils who have been baffling me for such a length of time. There came a figure close by me – not seeing me – with uncertain steps, always looking behind him. By the moonlight I recognised the Marquis de la Fare. I expected that he would be passing. I knew where he was gliding to. Scarcely had he got ten or twelve paces beyond me when, out of the ground apparently, springs a figure, dashes the Marquis to the ground, falls down upon him. Losing my self-control at this occurrence, which seemed to be likely to deliver the murderer into my hands, I cried out aloud, and meant to spring from my hiding-place with a great bound and seize hold of him. But I tripped up on my cloak and fell down. I saw the fellow flee away as if on the wings of the wind. I picked myself up, and made off after him as fast as I could. As I ran, I sounded my horn. Out of the distance the whistles of my men answered me. Things grew lively – clatter of arms, tramp of horses on all sides. ‘Here! – come to me! – Desgrais!’ I cried, till the streets re-echoed. All the time I saw the man before me in the bright moonlight, turning off right – left – to get away from me. We came to the Rue Niçaise. There his strength seemed to begin to fail. I gathered mine up. He was not more than fifteen paces ahead of me.”

“You got hold of him! – your men came up!” cried La Regnie, with flashing eyes, grasping Desgrais by the arm as if he were the fleeing murderer himself.

“Fifteen paces ahead of me,” said Desgrais, in a hollow voice, and drawing his breath hard, “this fellow, before my eyes, dodged to one side, and vanished through the wall.”

“Vanished! – through the wall! Are you out of your senses?” La Regnie cried, taking three steps backwards, and striking his hands together.

“Call me as great a madman as you please, Monsieur,” said Desgrais, rubbing his forehead like one tortured by evil thoughts. “Call me a madman, or a fool that sees spooks; but what I have told you is the literal truth.  I have looked into the whole thing again this morning in broad daylight. It must be the very devil himself who is at work befooling us in the matter.”

This story got bruited abroad through Paris, where all heads were full of the sorceries, callings up of spirits and pacts with the devil indulged in by La Voisin, Le Vigoureux, and the wicked priest Le Sage; and as it lies in our eternal nature that the bent towards the supernatural and the marvellous overpasses all reason, people soon positively believed what Desgrais had only said in his impatience – that the very devil himself must protect the rascals, and that they had sold their souls to him. (To be continued)

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Once upon a time there lived a stonecutter, who went every day to a great rock in the side of a big mountain and cut out slabs for gravestones or for houses. He understood very well the kinds of stones wanted for the different purposes, and as he was a careful workman he had plenty of customers. For a long time he was quite happy and contented, and asked for nothing better than what he had.

Now in the mountain dwelt a spirit which now and then appeared to men, and helped them in many ways to become rich and prosperous. The stonecutter, however, had never seen this spirit, and only shook his head, with an unbelieving air, when anyone spoke of it. But a time was coming when he learned to change his opinion.

One day the stonecutter carried a gravestone to the house of a rich man, and saw there all sorts of beautiful things, of which he had never even dreamed. Suddenly his daily work seemed to grow harder and heavier, and he said to himself: “Oh, if only I were a rich man, and could sleep in a bed with silken curtains and golden tassels, how happy I should be!”

And a voice answered him: “Your wish is heard; a rich man you shall be!”

At the sound of the voice the stonecutter looked around, but could see nobody. He thought it was all his fancy, and picked up his tools and went home, for he did not feel inclined to do any more work that day. But when he reached the little house where he lived, he stood still with amazement, for instead of his wooden hut was a stately palace filled with splendid furniture, and most splendid of all was the bed, in every respect like the one he had envied. He was nearly beside himself with joy, and in his new life the old one was soon forgotten.

It was now the beginning of summer, and each day the sun blazed more fiercely. One morning the heat was so great that the stonecutter could scarcely breathe, and he determined he would stop at home till the evening. He was rather dull, for he had never learned how to amuse himself, and was peeping through the closed blinds to see what was going on in the street, when a little carriage passed by, drawn by servants dressed in blue and silver. In the carriage sat a prince, and over his head a golden umbrella was held, to protect him from the sun’s rays.

“Oh, if I were only a prince!” said the stonecutter to himself, as the carriage vanished around the corner. “Oh, if I were only a prince, and could go in such a carriage and have a golden umbrella held over me, how happy I should be!”

And a prince he was. Before his carriage rode one company of men and another behind it; servants dressed in scarlet and gold bore him along, the coveted umbrella was held over his head, everything his heart could desire was his. But yet it was not enough. He looked around still for something to wish for, and when he saw that in spite of the water he poured on the grass the rays of the sun scorched it, and that in spite of the umbrella held over his head each day his face grew browner and browner, he cried in his anger: “The sun is mightier than I; oh, if I were only the sun!”

And the mountain spirit answered: “Your wish is heard; the sun you shall be.”

And the sun he was, and felt himself proud in his power. He shot his beams above and below, on earth and in heaven; he burnt up the grass in the fields and scorched the faces of princes as well as of poorer folk. but in a short time he began to grow tired of his might, for there seemed nothing left for him to do. Discontent once more filled his soul, and when a cloud covered his face, and hid the earth from him, he cried in his anger: “Does the cloud hold captive my rays, and is it mightier than I? Oh, that I were a cloud, and mightier than any!”

And the mountain spirit answered: “Your wish is heard; a cloud you shall be!”

And a cloud he was, and lay between the sun and the earth. He caught the sun’s beams and held them, and to his joy the earth grew green again and flowers blossomed. But that was not enough for him, and for days and week he poured forth rain till the rivers overflowed their banks, and the crops of rice stood in water. Towns and villages were destroyed by the power of the rain, only the great rock on the mountainside remained unmoved. The cloud was amazed at the sight, and cried in wonder: “Is the rock, then, mightier than I? Oh, if I were only the rock!”

And the mountain spirit answered; “Your wish is heard; the rock you shall be!”

And the rock he was, and gloried in his power. Proudly he stood, and neither the heat of the sun nor the force of the rain could move him. “This is better than all!” he said to himself. But one day he heard a strange noise at his feet, and when he looked down to see what it could be, he saw a stonecutter driving tools into his surface. Even while he looked a trembling feeling ran all through him, and a great block broke off and fell upon the ground. Then he cried in his wrath: “Is a mere child of earth mightier than a rock? Oh, if I were only a man!”

And the mountain spirit answered: “Your wish is heard. A man once more you shall be!”

And a man he was, and in the sweat of his brow he toiled again at his trade of stone cutting. His bed was hard and his food scanty, but he had learned to be satisfied with it, and did not long to be something or somebody else. And as he never asked for things he did not have, or desired to be greater and mightier than other people, he was happy at last, and never again heard the voice of the mountain spirit.

This story is very similar to the Grimm brother story,  The Fisherman and His Wife.

Culture is derived out of one Source in that group of people living n some part of the earth can adapt it  to be as fitting as a garment as it were. In Japan  people believe inanimate objects as stone, water do have soul. If they treat their ground as sacred and revere the old trees and learn to see beauty in gnarled forms of rocks what are we to assume from their expression? Beauty is truth and truth is beauty. It is what they in their material form can appreciate and identify with.




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