Τηλε μειργουσι ψυχαι, ειδοωλα καμοντων.
When, after some days interval, the Spaniard attempted to describe his feelings on the receipt of his brother’s letter, the sudden resuscitation of heart, and hope, and existence, that followed its perusal, he trembled, — uttered some inarticulate sounds, — wept; — and his agitation appeared to Melmoth, with his uncontinental feelings, so violent, that he entreated him to spare the description of his feelings, and proceed with his narrative.
‘You are right,’ said the Spaniard, drying his tears, ‘joy is a convulsion, but grief is a habit, and to describe what we never can communicate, is as absurd as to talk of colours to the blind. I will hasten on, not to tell of my feelings, but of the results which they produced. A new world of hope was opened to me. I thought I saw liberty on the face of heaven when I walked in the garden. I laughed at the jar of the doors as they opened, and said to myself, ‘You shall soon expand to me for ever.’ I behaved with uncommon complacency to the community. But I did not, amid all this, neglect the most scrupulous precautions suggested by my brother. Am I confessing the strength or the weakness of my heart? In the midst of all the systematic dissimulation that I was prepared and eager to carry on, the only circumstance that gave me real compunction, was my being obliged to destroy the letters of that dear and generous youth who had risked every thing for my emancipation. In the mean time, I pursued my preparations with industry inconceivable to you, who have never been in a convent.
‘Lent was now begun, — all the community were preparing themselves for the great confession. They shut themselves up, — they prostrated themselves before the shrines of the saints, — they occupied themselves whole hours in taking minutes of their consciences, and magnifying the trivial defects of conventual discipline into offences in the eye of God, in order to give consequence to their penitence in the hearing of the confessor, — in fact, they would have been glad to accuse themselves of a crime, to escape from the monotony of a monastic conscience. There was a kind of silent bustle in the house, that very much favoured my purposes. Hour after hour I demanded paper for my confession. I obtained it, but my frequent demands excited suspicion, — they little knew what I was writing. Some said, for every thing excites inquiry in a convent, ‘He is writing the history of his family; he will discharge it into the ears of the confessor, along with the secrets of his own soul.’ Others said, ‘He has been in a state of alienation for some time, he is giving an account to God for it, — we shall never hear a word about it.’ Others, who were more judicious, said, ‘He is weary of the monastic life, he is writing an account of his monotony and ennui, doubtless that must be very long;’ and the speakers yawned as they uttered these words, which gave a very strong attestation to what they said. The Superior watched me in silence. He was alarmed, and with reason. He consulted with some of the discreet brethren, whom I mentioned before, and the result was a restless vigilance on their part, to which I supplied an incessant fuel, by my absurd and perpetual demand for paper. Here, I acknowledge, I committed a great oversight. It was impossible for the most exaggerated conscience to charge itself, even in a convent, with crimes enough to fill all the paper I required. I was filling them all the time with their crimes, not my own. Another great mistake I made, was being wholly unprepared for the great confession when it came on. I received intimations of this as we walked in the garden, — I have before mentioned that I had assumed an amicability of habit toward them. They would say to me, ‘You have made ample preparations for the great confession.’ ‘I have prepared myself.’ ‘But we expect great edification from its results.’ ‘I trust you will receive it.’ — I said no more, but I was very much disturbed at these hints. Others would say, ‘My brother, amid the multitudinous offences that burden your conscience, and which you have found necessary to employ quires of paper to record, would it not be a relief to you to open your mind to the Superior, and ask for a few previous moments of consolation and direction from him.’ To this I answered, ‘I thank you, and will consider of it.’ — I was thinking all the time of something else.
‘It was a few nights before the time of the great confession, that I had to entrust the last packet of my memorial to the porter. Our meetings had been hitherto unsuspected. I had received and answered my brother’s communications, and our correspondence had been conducted with a secrecy unexampled in convents. But this last night, as I put my packet into the porter’s hand, I saw a change in his appearance that terrified me. He had been a comely, robust man, but now, even by the moon-light, I could perceive he was wasted to a shadow, — his hands trembled as he took the papers from me, — his voice faultered as he promised his usual secrecy. The change, which had been observed by the whole convent, had escaped me till that night; my mind had been too much occupied by my own situation. I noticed it then, however, and I said, ‘But what is the matter?’ ‘Can you then ask? I am withered to a spectre by the terrors of the office I have been bribed to. Do you know what I risk? — incarceration for life, or rather for death, — perhaps a denunciation to the Inquisition. Every line I deliver from you, or to you, seems a charge against my own soul, — I tremble when I meet you. I know that you have the sources of life and death, temporal and eternal, in your hands. The secret in which I am an agent should never be intrusted but to one, and you are another. As I sit in my place, I think every step in the cloister is advancing to summon me to the presence of the Superior. When I attend in the choir, amid the sounds of devotion your voice swells to accuse me. When I lie down at night, the evil spirit is beside my bed, reproaching me with perjury, and reclaiming his prey; — his emissaries surround me wherever I move, — I am beset by the tortures of hell. The saints from their shrines frown on me, — I see the painting of the traitor Judas on every side I turn to. When I sleep for a moment, I am awakened by my own cries. I exclaim, ‘Do not betray me, he has not yet violated his vows, I was but an agent, — I was bribed, — do not kindle those fires for me.’ I shudder, — I start up in a cold sweat. My rest, my appetite, are gone. Would to God you were out of this convent; — and O! would that I had never been instrumental to your release, then both of us might have escaped damnation to all eternity.’ I tried to pacify him, to assure him of his safety, but nothing could satisfy him but my solemn and sincere assurance that this was the last packet I would ever ask him to deliver. He departed tranquillized by this assurance; and I felt the dangers of my attempt multiplying around me every hour.
‘This man was faithful, but he was timid; and what confidence can we have in a being whose right hand is held out to you, while his left trembles to be employed in transferring your secret to your enemy. This man died a few weeks after. I believe I owed his dying fidelity to the delirium that seized on his last moments. But what I suffered during those moments! — his death under such circumstances, and the unchristian joy I felt at it, were only in my mind stronger evidences against the unnatural state of life that could render such an event, and such feelings, almost necessary. It was on the evening after this, that I was surprised to see the Superior, with four of the monks, enter my cell. I felt this visit boded me no good. I trembled all over, while I received them with deference. The Superior seated himself opposite to me, arranging his seat so as that I was opposite the light. I did not understand what this precaution meant, but I conceive now, that he wished to watch every change in my countenance, while his was concealed from me. The four monks stood at the back of his chair; their arms were folded, their lips closed, their eyes half shut, their heads declined — they looked like men assembled reluctantly to witness the execution of a criminal. The Superior began, in a mild voice, ‘My son, you have been intently employed on your confession for some time — that was laudable. But have you, then, accused yourself of every crime your conscience charges you with?’ ‘I have, my father.’ ‘Of all, you are sure?’ ‘My father, I have accused myself of all I was conscious of. Who but God can penetrate the abysses of the heart? I have searched mine as far as I could.’ ‘And you have recorded all the accusations you found there?’ ‘I have.’ ‘And you did not discover among them the crime of obtaining the means of writing out your confession, to abuse them to a very different purpose?’ — This was coming to the point. I felt it necessary to summon my resolution — and I said, with a venial equivocation, ‘That is a crime of which my conscience does not accuse me? ‘My son, do not dissemble with your conscience, or with me. I should be even above it in your estimation; for if it errs and deceives you, it is to me you should apply to enlighten and direct it. But I see it is in vain to attempt to touch your heart. I make my last appeal to it in these plain words. A few moments only of indulgence await you — use them or abuse them, as you will. I have to ask you a few plain questions, which, if you refuse to answer, or do not answer truly, your blood be on your own head.’ I trembled, but I said, ‘My father, have I then refused to answer your questions?’ ‘Your answers are all either interrogations or evasions. They must be direct and simple to the questions I am about to propose in the presence of these brethren. More depends on your answer than you are aware of. The warning voice breaks forth in spite of me.’ — Terrified at these words, and humbled to the wish to propitiate them, I rose from my chair — then gasping, I leant on it for support. I said, ‘My God! what is all this terrible preparation for? Of what am I guilty? Why am I summoned by this warning voice so often, whose warnings are only so many mysterious threatenings? Why am I not told of my offence?’
‘The four monks, who had never spoken or lifted up their heads till that moment, now directed their livid eyes at me, and repeated, all together, in a voice that seemed to issue from the bottom of a sepulchre, ‘Your crime is — ‘ The Superior gave them a signal to be silent, and this interruption increased my consternation. It is certain, that when we are conscious of guilt, we always suspect that a greater degree of it will be ascribed to us by others. Their consciences avenge the palliations of our own, by the most horrible exaggerations. I did not know of what crime they might be disposed to accuse me; and already I felt the accusation of my clandestine correspondence as dust in the balance of their resentment. I had heard the crimes of convents were sometimes unutterably atrocious; and I felt as anxious now for a distinct charge to be preferred against me, as I had a few moments before to evade it. These indefinite fears were soon exchanged for real ones, as the Superior proposed his questions. ‘You have procured a large quantity of paper — -how did you employ it?’ I recovered myself, and said, ‘As I ought to do.’ ‘How, in unburdening your conscience?’ ‘Yes, in unburdening my conscience.’ ‘That is false; the greatest sinner on earth could not have blotted so many pages with the record of his crimes.’ ‘I have often been told in the convent, I was the greatest sinner on earth.’ ‘You equivocate again, and convert your ambiguities into reproaches — this will not do — you must answer plainly: For what purpose did you procure so much paper, and how have you employed it?’ ‘I have told you already.’ ‘It was, then, employed in your confession?’ — I was silent, but bowed assentingly. — ‘You can, then, shew us the proofs of your application to your duties. Where is the manuscript that contains your confession?’ I blushed and hesitated, as I showed about half-a-dozen blotted and scrawled pages as my confession. It was ridiculous. It did not occupy more than a tenth part of the paper which I had received. ‘And this is your confession?’ ‘It is.’ ‘And you dare to say that you have employed all the paper entrusted to you for that purpose.’ — I was silent. ‘Wretch!’ said the Superior, losing all patience, ‘disclose instantly for what purpose you have employed the paper granted you. Acknowledge instantly that it was for some purpose contrary to the interests of this house.’ — At these words I was roused. I saw again the cloven foot of interest peeping from beneath the monastic garb. I answered, ‘Why am I suspected if you are not guilty? What could I accuse you of? What could I complain of if there were no cause? Your own consciences must answer this question for me.’ At these words, the monks were again about to interpose, when the Superior, silencing them by a signal, went on with his matter-of-fact questions, that paralyzed all the energy of passion. ‘You will not tell me what you have done with the paper committed to you?’ — I was silent. — ‘I enjoin you, by your holy obedience, to disclose it this moment.’ — His voice rose in passion as he spoke, and this operated as a signal on mine. I said, ‘You have no right, my father, to demand such a declaration.’ ‘Right is not the question now. I command you to tell me. I require your oath on the altar of Jesus Christ, and by the image of his blessed Mother.’ ‘You have no right to demand such an oath. I know the rules of the house — I am responsible to the confessor.’ ‘Do you, then, make a question between right and power? You shall soon feel, within these walls, they are the same.’ ‘I make no question — perhaps they are the same.’ ‘And you will not tell what you have done with those papers, blotted, doubtless, with the most infernal calumnies?’ ‘I will not.’ ‘And you will take the consequences of your obstinacy on your own head?’ ‘I will.’ And the four monks chorussed again, all in the same unnatural tone, ‘The consequences be on his own head.’ But while they spoke thus, two of them whispered in my ears, ‘Deliver up your papers, and all is well. The whole convent knows you have been writing.’ I answered, ‘I have nothing to give up — nothing on the faith of a monk. I have not a single page in my possession, but what you have seized on.’ The monks, who had whispered in a conciliatory tone to me before, quitted me. They conversed in whispers with the Superior, who, darting on me a terrible look, exclaimed, ‘And you will not give up your papers?’ ‘I have nothing to give up: Search my person — search my cell — every thing is open to you.’ ‘Every thing shall be soon,’ said the Superior in fury. In a moment the examination commenced. There was not an article of furniture in my cell that was not the object of their investigation. My chair and table were overturned, shaken, and finally broken, in the attempt to discover whether any papers had been secreted in them. The prints were snatched from the walls, — held up between them and the light. — Then the very frames were broken, to try if any thing was concealed in them. Then they examined my bed; — they threw all the furniture about the floor, they unripped the mattress, and tore out the straw; one of them, during this operation, actually applied his teeth to facilitate it, — and this malice of activity formed a singular contrast to the motionless and rigid torpor with which they had clothed themselves but a few moments before. All this time, I stood in the centre of the floor, as I was ordered, without turning to right or left. Nothing was found to justify their suspicions. They then surrounded me; and the examination of my person was equally rapid, minute, and indecorous. Every thing I wore was on the floor in a moment: The very seams of my habit were ript open; and, during the examination, I covered myself with one of the blankets they had taken from my bed. When it was over, I said, ‘Have you discovered any thing?’ The Superior answered, in a voice of rage, struggling proudly, but vainly, with disappointment, ‘I have other means of discovery — prepare for them, and tremble when they are resorted to.’ At these words he rushed from my cell, giving a sign to the four monks to follow him. I was left alone. I had no longer any doubt of my danger. I saw myself exposed to the fury of men who would risk nothing to appease it. I watched, waited, trembled, at every step I heard in the gallery — at the sound of every door that opened or shut near me. Hours went on in this agony of suspense, and terminated at last without an event. No one came near me that night — the next was to be that of the great confession. In the course of the day, I took my place in the choir, trembling, and watching every eye. I felt as if every countenance was turned on me, and every tongue said in silence, ‘Thou art the man.’ Often I wished that the storm I felt was gathering around me, would burst at once. It is better to hear the thunder than to watch the cloud. It did not burst, however, then. And when the duties of the day were over, I retired to my cell, and remained there, pensive, anxious, and irresolute.
‘The confession had begun; and as I heard the penitents, one by one, return from the church, and close the doors of their cells, I began to dread that I was to be excluded from approaching the holy chair, and that this exclusion from a sacred and indispensible right, was to be the commencement of some mysterious course of rigour. I waited, however, and was at last summoned. This restored my courage, and I went through my duties more tranquilly. After I had made my confession, only a few simple questions were proposed to me, as, Whether I could accuse myself of any inward breach of conventual duty? of any thing I had reserved? any thing in my conscience? &c. — and on my answering them in the negative, was suffered to depart. It was on that very night the porter died. My last packet had gone some days before, — all was safe and well. Neither voice or line could bear witness against me now, and hope began to revisit me, as I reflected that my brother’s zealous industry would discover some other means for our future communication.
‘All was profound calm for a few days, but the storm was to come soon enough. On the fourth evening after the confession, I was sitting alone in my cell, when I heard an unusual bustle in the convent. The bell was rung, — the new porter seemed in great agitation, — the Superior hurried to the parlour first, then to his cell, — then some of the elder monks were summoned. The younger whispered in the galleries, — shut their doors violently, — all seemed in agitation. In a domestic building, occupied by the smallest family, such circumstances would hardly be noticed, but, in a convent, the miserable monotony of what may be called their internal existence, gives an importance, — an interest, to the most trivial external circumstance in common life. I felt all this. I said to myself, ‘Something is going on.’ — I added, ‘Something is going on against me.’ I was right in both my conjectures. Late in the evening I was ordered to attend the Superior in his own apartment, — I said I was ready to go. Two minutes after the order was reversed, and I was desired to remain in my cell, and await the approach of the Superior, — I answered I was willing to obey. But this sudden change of orders filled me with an indefinite fear; and in all the changes of my life, and vicissitude of my feelings, I have never felt any fear so horrible. I walked up and down, I repeated incessantly, ‘My God protect me! my God strengthen me!’ Then I dreaded to ask the protection of God, doubting whether the cause in which I was engaged merited his protection. My ideas, however, were all scattered by the sudden entrance of the Superior and the four monks who had attended him on the visit previous to the confession. At their entrance I rose, — no one desired me to sit down. The Superior advanced with a look of fury, and, dashing some papers on my table, said, ‘Is that your writing?’ I threw a hurried and terrified eye over the papers, — they were a copy of my memorial. I had presence of mind enough to say, ‘That is not my writing.’ ‘Wretch! you equivocate, it is a copy of your writing.’ — I was silent. — ‘Here is a proof of it,’ he added, throwing down another paper. It was a copy of the memoir of the advocate, addressed to me, and which, by the influence of a superior court, they had not the power of withholding from me. I was expiring with anxiety to examine it, but I did not dare to glance at it. The Superior unfolded page after page. He said, ‘Read, wretch! read, — look into it, examine it line by line.’ I approached trembling, — I glanced at it, — in the very first lines I read hope. My courage revived. — I said, ‘My father, I acknowledge this to be the copy of my memorial. I demand your permission to read the answer of the advocate, you cannot refuse me this right.’ ‘Read it,’ said the Superior, and he flung it towards me.
‘You may readily believe, Sir, that, under such circumstances, I could not read with very steady eyes; and my penetration was not at all quickened by the four monks disappearing from the cell, at a signal I did not see. The Superior and I were now alone. He walked up and down my cell, while I appeared to hang over the advocate’s memoir. Suddenly he stopped; — he struck his hand with violence on the table, — the pages I was trembling over quivered from the violence of the blow, — I started from my chair. ‘Wretch,’ said the Superior, ‘when have such papers as those profaned the convent before? When, till your unhallowed entrance, were we insulted with the memoirs of legal advocates? How comes it that you have dared to — ‘ ‘Do what, my father?’ ‘Reclaim your vows, and expose us to all the scandal of a civil court and its proceedings.’ ‘I weighed it all against my own misery.’ ‘Misery! is it thus you speak of a conventual life, the only life that can promise tranquillity here, or ensure salvation hereafter.’ These words, uttered by a man convulsed by the most frantic passion, were their own refutation. My courage rose in proportion to his fury; and besides, I was driven to a point, and forced to act on my defence. The sight of the papers added to my confidence. I said, ‘My father, it is in vain to endeavour to diminish my repugnance to the monastic life; the proof that that repugnance is invincible lies before you. If I have been guilty of a step that violates the decorum of a convent, I am sorry, — but I am not reprehensible. Those who forced me into a convent, are guilty of the violence which is falsely ascribed to me. I am determined, if it be possible, to change my situation. You see the efforts I have already made, be assured they will never cease. Disappointment will only redouble their energy; and if it be in the power of heaven or earth to procure the annulment of my vows, there is no power in either I will not have recourse to.’ I expected he would not have heard me out, but he did. He even listened with calmness, and I prepared myself to encounter and repel that alternation of reproach and remonstrance, of solicitation and menace, which they so well know how to employ in a convent. ‘Your repugnance to a conventual life is then invincible?’ ‘It is.’ ‘But to what do you object? — not to your duties, for you perform them with the most edifying punctuality, — not to the treatment you receive, for it has been the most indulgent that our discipline admits of, — not to the community itself, who are all disposed to cherish and love you; — of what do you complain?’ ‘Of the life itself, — that comprehends every thing. I am not fit to be a monk.’ ‘Remember, I implore you, that though the forms of earthly courts must be obeyed, from the necessity that makes us dependent on human institutions, in all matters between man and man, they never can be available in matters between God and man. Be assured, my deluded child, that if all the courts on earth pronounced you absolved from your vows this moment, your own conscience never can absolve you. All your ignominious life, it will continue to reproach you with the violation of a vow, whose breach man has connived at, but God has not. And, at your last hour, how horrible will those reproaches be!’ ‘Not so horrible as at the hour I took that vow, or rather at the hour when it was extorted.’ ‘Extorted!’ ‘Yes, my father, yes, — I take Heaven to witness against you. On that disastrous morning, your anger, your remonstrances, your pleadings, were as ineffectual as they are now, till you flung the body of my mother before my feet.’ ‘And do you reproach me with my zeal in the cause of your salvation?’ ‘I do not wish to reproach you. You know the step I have taken, you must be aware I will pursue it with all the powers of nature, — that I will never rest till my vows are annulled, while a hope of it remains, — and that a soul, determined as mine, can convert despair itself into hope. Surrounded, suspected, watched as I have been, I yet found the means of conveying my papers to the hands of the advocate. Calculate the strength of that resolution which could effectuate such a measure in the very heart of a convent. Judge of the futility of all future opposition, when you failed in defeating, or even detecting, the first steps of my design.’ At these words the Superior was silent. I believed I had made an impression on him. I added, ‘If you wish to spare the community the disgrace of my prosecuting my appeal within its walls, the alternative is easy. Let the door he left unguarded some day, connive at my escape, and my presence shall never molest or dishonour you another hour.’ ‘How! would you make me not only a witness, but an accomplice in your crime? Apostate from God, and plunged in perdition as you are, do you repay the hand stretched out to save you, by seizing it, that you may drag me into the infernal gulph along with you?’ and he walked up and down the cell in the most violent agitation. This unlucky proposal operated on his master-passion, (for he was exemplarily rigid in discipline), and produced only convulsions of hostility. I stood waiting till this fresh burst had subsided, while he continued to exclaim incessantly, ‘My God, for what offence am I thus humiliated? — for what inconceivable crime is this disgrace precipitated on the whole convent? What will become of our character? What will all Madrid say?’ ‘My father, whether an obscure monk lives, dies, or recalls his vows, is an object of little importance beyond the walls of his convent. They will forget me soon, and you will be consoled by the restored harmony of the discipline, in which I should always be a jarring note. Besides, all Madrid, with all the interest you ascribe to it, could never be made responsible for my salvation.’ He continued to walk up and down, repeating, ‘What will the world say? What will become of us?’ till he had worked himself into a state of fury; and, suddenly turning on me, he exclaimed, ‘Wretch! renounce your horrible resolution, — renounce it this moment! I give you but five minutes for consideration.’ ‘Five thousand would make no change.’ ‘Tremble, then, lest you should not have life spared to see the fulfilment of your impious purposes.’
‘As he uttered these words he rushed from my cell. The moments I passed during his absence were, I think, the most horrible of my life. Their terror was aggravated by darkness, for it was now night, and he had carried away the light along with him. My agitation did not at first permit me to observe this. I felt I was in the dark, but knew not how or why. A thousand images of indescribable horror rushed in a host on me. I had heard much of the terrors of convents, — of their punishments, often carried to the infliction of death, or of reducing their victim to a state in which death would have been a blessing. Dungeons, chains, and scourges, swam before my eyes in a fiery mist. The threatening words of the Superior appeared emblazoned on the darkened walls of my cell in characters of flame. I shuddered, — I cried aloud, though conscious that my voice would be echoed by no friendly answering tones in a community of sixty persons, — such is the sterility of humanity in a convent. At last my very fears recovered me by their excess. I said to myself, ‘They dare not murder me, — they dare not incarcerate me; — they are answerable to the court to which I have appealed for my forthcoming, — they dare not be guilty of any violence.’ Just as I had come to this comfortable conclusion, which indeed was the triumph of the sophistry of hope, the door of my cell was thrown open, and the Superior, attended by his four satellites re-entered. My eyes were dim from the darkness in which I had been left, but I could distinguish that they carried with them a rope and a piece of sackcloth. I drew the most frightful presages from this apparatus. I altered my reasoning in a moment, and instead of saying they dare not do so and so, I instantly argued ‘What dare they not do? I am in their power, — they know it. I have provoked them to the utmost, — what is it monks will not do in the impotence of their malignity? — what is to become of me?’ They advanced, and I imagined the rope was to strangle me, and the sackcloth to inclose my murdered body. A thousand images of blood swam before me, — a gush of fire choaked up my respiration. The groans of a thousand victims seemed to rise from the vaults of the convent, to which they had been hurried by a fate like mine. I know not what is death, but I am convinced I suffered the agonies of many deaths in that moment. My first impulse was to throw myself on my knees. I said, ‘I am in your power, — I am guilty in your eyes, — accomplish your purpose, but do not keep me long in pain.’ The Superior, without heeding, or perhaps hearing me, said, ‘Now you are in the posture that becomes you.’ At hearing these words, which sounded less dreadful than I had feared, I prostrated myself to the ground. A few moments before I would have thought this a degradation, but fear is very debasing. I had a dread of violent means, — I was very young, and life was not the less attractive from its being arrayed only in the brilliant drapery of imagination. The monks observed my posture, — they feared its effect on the Superior. They said, in that choral monotony, — that discordant unison that had frozen my blood when I knelt in the same posture but a few nights before, ‘Reverend father, do not suffer yourself to be imposed on by this prostituted humiliation, — the time for mercy is past. You gave him his moments of deliberation, — he refused to avail himself of them. You come now not to listen to pleadings, but to inflict justice.’ At these words, that announced every thing horrible, I went on my knees from one to the other, as they all stood in a grim and executioner-like row. I said to each with tears, ‘Brother Clement, — Brother Justin, — why do you try to irritate the Superior against me? Why do you precipitate a sentence which, whether just or not, must be severe, since you are to be the executioners? What have I done to offend you? I interceded for you when you were guilty of any slight deviation — Is this my return?’ ‘This is wasting time,’ said the monks. ‘Hold, said the Superior; ‘give him leave to speak. Will you avail yourself of the last moment of indulgence I can ever afford you, to renounce your horrible resolution of recalling your vows?’ Those words renewed all my energies. I stood upright before them all. I said, in a loud distinct voice, ‘Never — I stand at the bar of God.’ ‘Wretch! you have renounced God.’ ‘Well, then, my father, I have only to hope that God will not renounce me. I have appealed to a bar also, over which you have no power.’ ‘But we have power here, and that you shall feel.’ He made a signal, and the four monks approached. I uttered one short cry of fear, but submitted the next moment. I felt convinced it was to be my last. I was astonished, when, instead of fastening the cords round my neck, they bound my arms with them. They then took off my habit, and covered me with the sackcloth. I made no resistance; but shall I confess to you, Sir, I felt some disappointment. I was prepared for death, but something worse than death appeared threatened in these preparations. When we are driven to the precipice of mortality, we spring forward with resolution, and often defeat the triumph of our murderers, by merging it in our own. But when we are led to it step by step, held often over it, and then withdrawn, we lose our resolution along with our patience; and feel, that the last blow would be mercy, compared with its long-suspended, slowly descending, wavering, mutilating, hesitating stroke. I was prepared for every thing but what followed. Bound with this rope as fast as a felon, or a galley-slave, and covered only with the sackcloth, they dragged me along the gallery. I uttered no cry, made no resistance. They descended the stairs that led to the church. I followed, or rather was dragged after them. They crossed the aisle; there was a dark passage near it which I had never observed before. We entered it. A low door at the end presented a frightful perspective. At sight of it I cried aloud, ‘You will not immure me? You will not plunge me in that horrible dungeon, to be withered by damps, and devoured by reptiles? No, you will not, — remember you are answerable for my life.’ At these words, they surrounded me; then, for the first time, I struggled, — I called for help; — this was the moment they waited for; they wanted some repugnance on my part. The signal was instantly given to a lay-brother, who waited in the passage, — the bell was rung, — that terrible bell, that requires every member of a convent to plunge into his cell, as something extraordinary is going on in the house. At the first toll I lost all hope. I felt as if not a living being was in existence but those who surrounded me, and who appeared, in the livid light of one taper burning faintly in that dismal passage, like spectres hurrying a condemned soul to his doom. They hurried me down the steps to this door, which was considerably below the level of the passage. It was a long time before they could open it; many keys were tried; perhaps they might have felt some agitation at the thoughts of the violence they were going to commit. But this delay increased my terrors beyond expression; I imagined this terrible vault had never been unclosed before; that I was to be the first victim inhumed within it; and that their determination was, I should never quit it alive. As these thoughts occurred, in unutterable agony I cried aloud, though I felt I was beyond all human hearing; but my cries were drowned in the jarring of the heavy door, as it yielded to the efforts of the monks, who, uniting their strength, pushed it with extended arms, grating all the way against the floor of stone. The monks hurried me in, while the Superior stood at the entrance with the light, appearing to shudder at the view it disclosed. I had time to view all the furniture of what I thought my last abode. It was of stone; the roof formed an arch; a block of stone supported a crucifix, and a death’s head, with a loaf and a pitcher of water. There was a mat on the floor, to lie on; another rolled up at the end of it formed a pillow. They flung me on it, and prepared to depart. I no longer struggled, for I knew escape was in vain, but I supplicated them at least to leave me a light; and I petitioned for this with as much earnestness as I could have done for my liberty. Thus it is that misery always breaks down the mind into petty details. We have not strength to comprehend the whole of our calamity. We feel not the mountain which is heaped on us, but the nearest grains press on and grind us. I said, ‘In Christian mercy leave me a light, if it be but to defend myself against the reptiles that must swarm here.’ And already I saw this was true, for some of extraordinary size, disturbed by the phenomenon of the light, came crawling down the walls. All this time the monks were straining their strength to close the heavy door; they did not utter a word. ‘I adjure you to leave me light, if it is but to gaze on that skull; fear not the exercise of sight can be any indulgence in this place; but still let me have a light; think that when I wish to pray, I must feel my way to that crucifix.’ As I spoke, the door was with difficulty closed and locked, and I heard their departing steps. You will hardly believe, Sir, that I slept profoundly; yet I did; but I would rather never sleep again, than awake so horribly. I awoke in the darkness of day. I was to behold the light no more; nor to watch those divisions of time, which, by measuring our portions of suffering, appear to diminish them. When the clock strikes, we know an hour of wretchedness is past, never to return. My only time-keeper was the approach of the monk, who every day renewed my allowance of bread and water; and had he been the object I loved most on earth, the sound of his steps could not have made more delicious music. These æras by which we compute the hours of darkness and inanity are inconceivable to any but those who are situated as I was. You have heard, Sir, no doubt, that the eye which, on its being first immersed into darkness, appears deprived of the power of vision for ever, acquires, imperceptibly, a power of accommodating itself to its darkened sphere, and even of distinguishing objects by a kind of conventional light. The mind certainly possesses the same power, otherwise, how could I have had the power to reflect, to summon some resolution, and even to indulge some hope, in this frightful abode? Thus it is, when all the world seems sworn to hostility against us, we turn friends to ourselves with all the obstinacy of despair; — and while all the world is flattering and deifying us, we are the perpetual victims of lassitude and self-reproach.
‘The prisoner whose hours are visited by a dream of emancipation, is less a prey to ennui than the sovereign on a throne, begirt with adulation, voluptuousness, and satiety. I reflected that all my papers were safe, — that my cause was prosecuting with vigour, — that, owing to my brother’s zeal, I had the ablest advocate in Madrid, — that they dared not murder me, and were answerable with the whole credit of the house for my re-appearance whenever the courts demanded it, — that the very rank of my family was a powerful protection, though none of them but my generous fiery Juan was probably favourable to me; — that if I was permitted to receive and read the advocate’s first memoir, even through the hands of the Superior, it was absurd to imagine that I could be denied intercourse with him in a more advanced and important stage of the business. These were the suggestions of my hope, and they were plausible enough. What were the suggestions of my despair, I shudder even at this moment to reflect on. The most terrible of all was, that I might be murdered conventually before it was possible that my liberation could be accomplished.
‘Such, Sir, were my reflections; you may ask, what were my occupations? My situation supplied me with those, and, revolting as they were, they were still occupations. I had my devotions to perform; religion was my only resource in solitude and darkness, and while I prayed only for liberty and peace, I felt I was not at least insulting God by the prayers of hypocrisy, which I would have been compelled to utter in the choir. There I was obliged to join in a sacrifice that was odious to me, and offensive to him; — in my dungeon I offered up the sacrifice of my heart, and felt it was not unacceptable. During the glimpse of light afforded me by the approach of the monk who brought me bread and water, I arranged the crucifix so as that I could feel it when I awoke. This was very often, and not knowing whether it was day or night, I uttered my prayers at random. I knew not whether it was matins or vespers; there was neither morning or evening for me, but it was like a talisman to me to touch the crucifix, and I said as I felt for it, ‘My God is with me in the darkness of my dungeon; he is a God who has suffered, and can pity me. My extremest point of wretchedness can be nothing to what this symbol of divine humiliation for the sins of man, has undergone for mine!’ — and I kissed the sacred image (with lips wandering from the darkness) with more emotion than I had ever felt when I saw it illuminated by the blaze of tapers, amid the elevation of the Host, the tossing of the perfumed censers, the gorgeous habits of the priests, and the breathless prostration of the faithful. I had other occupations less dignified, but quite as necessary. The reptiles, who filled the hole into which I had been thrust, gave me opportunity for a kind of constant, miserable, ridiculous hostility. My mat had been placed in the very seat of warfare; — I shifted it, — still they pursued me; — I placed it against the wall, — the cold crawling of their bloated limbs often awoke me from my sleep, and still oftener made me shudder when awake. I struck at them; — I tried to terrify them by my voice, to arm myself against them by the help of my mat; but above all, my anxiety was ceaseless to defend my bread from their loathsome incursions, and my pitcher of water from their dropping into it. I adopted a thousand precautions, trivial as they were inefficacious, but still there was occupation. I do assure you, Sir, I had more to do in my dungeon than in my cell. To be fighting with reptiles in the dark appears the most horrible struggle that can be assigned to man; but what is it compared to his combat with those reptiles which his own heart hourly engenders in a cell, and of which, if his heart be the mother, solitude is the father. I had another employment, — I cannot call it occupation. I had calculated with myself, that sixty minutes made an hour, and sixty seconds a minute. I began to think I could keep time as accurately as any clock in a convent, and measure the hours of my confinement or — my release. So I sat and counted sixty; a doubt always occurred to me, that I was counting them faster than the clock. Then I wished to be the clock, that I might have no feeling, no motive for hurrying on the approach of time. Then I reckoned slower. Sleep sometimes overtook me in this exercise, (perhaps I adopted it from that hope); but when I awoke, I applied to it again instantly. Thus I oscillated, reckoned, and measured time on my mat, while time withheld its delicious diary of rising and setting suns, — of the dews of dawn and of twilight, — of the glow of morning and the shades of the evening. When my reckoning was broken by my sleep, (and I knew not whether I slept by day or by night), I tried to eke it out by my incessant repetition of minutes and seconds, and I succeeded; for I always consoled myself, that whatever hour it was, sixty minutes must go to an hour. Had I led this life much longer, I might have been converted into the idiot, who, as I have read, from the habit of watching a clock, imitated its mechanism so well, that when it was down, he sounded the hour as faithfully as ear could desire. Such was my life. On the fourth day, (as I reckoned by the visits of the monk), he placed my bread and water on the block of stone as usual, but hesitated for some time before he departed. In fact, he felt a repugnance at delivering an intimation of hope; it was not consonant either to his profession, or the office which, in the wantonness of monastic malignity, he had accepted as penance. You shudder at this, Sir, but it is nevertheless true; this man thought he was doing service to God, by witnessing the misery of a being incarcerated amid famine, darkness, and reptiles. He recoiled when his penance terminated. Alas! how false is that religion which makes our aggravating the sufferings of others our mediator with that God who willeth all men to be saved. But this is a question to be solved in convents. This man hesitated long, struggled with the ferocity of his nature, and at last departed and bolted the door, that he might indulge it a few moments longer. Perhaps in those moments he prayed to God, and ejaculated a petition, that this protraction of my sufferings might be accepted as a melioration of his own. I dare say he was very sincere; but if men were taught to look to the one great Sacrifice, would they be so ready to believe that their own, or those of others, could ever be accepted as a commutation for it? You are surprised, Sir, at these sentiments from a Catholic; but another part of my story will disclose the cause of my uttering them. At length this man could delay his commission no longer. He was obliged to tell me that the Superior was moved by my sufferings, that God had touched his heart in my behalf, and that he permitted me to quit my dungeon. The words were scarce out of his mouth, before I rose, and rushed out with a shout that electrified him. Emotion is very unusual in convents, and the expression of joy a phenomenon. I had gained the passage before he recovered his surprise; and the convent walls, which I had considered as those of a prison, now appeared the area of emancipation. Had its doors been thrown open to me that moment, I don’t think I could have felt a more exquisite sensibility of liberty. I fell on my knees in the passage to thank God. I thanked him for the light, for the air, for the restored power of respiration. As I was uttering these effusions, (certainly not the least sincere that were ever poured forth within those walls), suddenly I became sick, — my head swam round, — I had feasted on the light to excess. I fell to the ground, and remember nothing for many hours afterwards. When I recovered my senses, I was in my cell, which appeared just as I had left it; it was day-light, however; and I am persuaded that circumstance contributed more to my restoration, than the food and cordials with which I was now liberally supplied. All that day I heard nothing, and had time to meditate on the motives of the indulgence with which I had been treated. I conceived that an order might have been issued to the Superior to produce me, or, at all events, that he could not prevent those interviews between the advocate and me, which the former might insist on as necessary while my cause was carrying on. Towards evening some monks entered my cell; they talked of indifferent matters, — affected to consider my absence as the result of indisposition, and I did not undeceive them. They mentioned, as if incidentally, that my father and mother, overwhelmed with grief at the scandal I had brought on religion by appealing against my vows, had quitted Madrid. At this intelligence I felt much more emotion than I showed. I asked them how long I had been ill? They answered, Four days. This confirmed my suspicions with regard to the cause of my liberation, for the advocate’s letter had mentioned, that on the fifth day he would require an interview with me on the subject of my appeal. They then departed; but I was soon to receive another visitor. After vespers, (from which I was excused), the Superior entered my cell alone. He approached my bed. I attempted to rise, but he desired me to compose myself, and sat down near me with a calm but penetrating look. He said, ‘You have now found we have it in our power to punish.’ — ‘I never doubted it.’ — ‘Before you tempt that power to an extremity, which, I warn you, you will not be able to endure, I come to demand of you to resign this desperate appeal against your vows, which can terminate only in dishonouring God, and disappointing yourself.’ — ‘My father, without entering into details, which the steps taken on both sides have rendered wholly unnecessary, I can only reply, that I will support my appeal with every power Providence puts within my reach, and that my punishment has only confirmed my resolution.’ — ‘And this is your final determination?’ — ‘It is, and I implore you to spare me all further importunity, — it will be useless.’ He was silent for a long time; at length he said, ‘And you will insist on your right to an interview with the advocate to-morrow?’ — ‘I shall claim it.’ — ‘It will not be necessary, however, to mention to him your late punishment.’ These words struck me. I comprehended the meaning which he wished to conceal in them, and I answered, ‘It may not be necessary, but it will probably be expedient.’ — ‘How? — would you violate the secrets of the house, while you are yet within its walls?’ — ‘Pardon me, my father, for saying, that you must be conscious of having exceeded your duty, to be so anxious for its concealment. It is not, then, the secrets of your discipline, but the violation of it, I shall have to disclose.’ — He was silent, and I added, ‘If you have abused your power, though I have been the sufferer, it is you who are guilty.’ — The Superior rose, and quitted my cell in silence. The next morning I attended matins. Service went on as usual, but at its conclusion, when the community were about to rise from their knees, the Superior, striking the desk violently with his hand, commanded them all to remain in the same posture. He added, in a thundering voice, ‘The intercession of this whole community with God is supplicated for a monk who, abandoned by the Spirit of God, is about to commit an act dishonourable to Him, disgraceful to the church, and infallibly destructive of his own salvation.’ At these terrible sounds the monks, all shuddering, sunk on their knees again. I was kneeling among them, when the Superior, calling me by my name, said aloud, ‘Rise, wretch! rise, and pollute not our incense with your unhallowed breath!’ I rose trembling and confounded, and shrunk to my cell, where I remained till I was summoned by a monk to the parlour, to meet the advocate, who waited for me there. This interview was rendered quite ineffective by the presence of the monk, who was desired by the Superior to witness our conference, and whom the advocate could not order away. When we entered into details, he interrupted us with declarations, that his duty would not permit such a violation of the rules of the parlour. When I asserted a fact, he contradicted it, gave me the lie repeatedly, and finally disturbed the purpose of our conference so completely, that in mere self-defence, I spoke of the subject of my punishment, which he could not deny, and to which my livid looks bore a testimony invincible. The moment I spoke on this subject the monk became silent, (he was treasuring every word for the Superior), and the advocate redoubled his attention. He took minutes of every thing I said, and appeared to lay more stress on the matter than I had imagined, or indeed wished for. When the conference was over, I retired again to my cell. The advocate’s visits were repeated for some days, till he had obtained the information requisite for carrying on my suit; and during this time, my treatment in the convent was such as to give me no cause of complaint; and this doubtless was the motive of their forbearance. But the moment those visits ceased, the warfare of persecution commenced. They considered me as one with whom no measures were to be kept, and they treated me accordingly. I am convinced it was their intention that I should not survive the event of my appeal; at least it is certain they left nothing unaccomplished that could verify that intention. This began, as I mentioned, on the day of the advocate’s last visit. The bell rung for refection; — I was going to take my place as usual, when the Superior said, ‘Hold, — place a mat for him in the midst of the hall.’ This was done, and I was required to sit down on it, and supplied with bread and water. I eat a little, which I moistened with my tears. I foresaw what I had to undergo, and did not attempt to expostulate. When grace was about to be said, I was desired to stand without the door, lest my presence should frustrate the benediction they implored.
‘I retired, and when the bell rung for vespers, I presented myself among the rest at the door of the church. I was surprised to find it shut, and they all assembled. When the bell ceased, the Superior appeared, the door was opened, and the monks hurried in. I was following, when the Superior repelled me, exclaiming, ’You, wretch, you! Remain where you are.’ I obeyed; and the whole community entered the church, while I remained at the door. This species of excommunication produced its full effect of terror on me. As the monks slowly came out, and cast on me looks of silent horror, I thought myself the most abject being on earth; I could have hid myself under the pavement till the event of my appeal was over.
‘The next morning, when I went to matins, the same scene was renewed, with the horrible addition of audible reproaches, and almost imprecations, denounced against me, as they entered and returned. I knelt at the door. I did not answer a word. I returned not ‘railing for railing,’ and lifted up my heart with a trembling hope, that this offering might be as acceptable to God as the sonorous chaunt of the choir, which I still felt it was miserable to be excluded from joining.
‘In the course of the day, every sluice of monastic malignity and vengeance was thrown open. I appeared at the door of the refectory. I did not dare to enter. Alas! Sir, how are monks employed in the hour of refection? It is an hour, when, while they swallow their meal, they banquet on the little scandal of the convent. They ask, ‘Who was late at prayers? Who is to undergo penance?’ This serves them for conversation; and the details of their miserable life supply no other subject for that mixture of exhaustless malignity and curiosity, which are the inseparable twins of monastic birth. As I stood at the door of the refectory, a lay-brother, to whom the Superior nodded, bid me retire. I went to my cell, waited for several hours, and just when the bell for vespers had rung, was supplied with food, which famine itself would have shrunk from. I tried to swallow it, but could not, and hurried away, as the bell tolled, to attend vespers; for I wished to have no cause of complaint against my neglect of duties. I hastened down. The door was again shut; service began; and again I was compelled to retire without partaking of it. The next day I was excluded from matins; the same degrading scene was acted over when I appeared at the door of the refectory. Food was sent to my cell, that a dog would have rejected; and the door was shut when I attempted to enter the church. A thousand circumstances of persecution, too contemptible, too minute, either for recollection or repetition, but infinitely harassing to the sufferer, were heaped on me every day. Imagine, Sir, a community of upwards of sixty persons, all sworn to each other to make the life of one individual insupportable; joined in a common resolution to insult, harass, torment, and persecute him; and then imagine how that individual can support such a life. I began to dread the preservation of my reason — of my existence, which, miserable as it was, still fed on the hope of my appeal. I will sketch one day of my life for you. Ex uno disce omnes. I went down to matins, and knelt at the door; I did not dare to enter. When I retired to my cell, I found the crucifix taken away. I was about to go to the Superior’s apartment to complain of this outrage; in the passage I happened to meet a monk and two boarders. They all shrunk close to the walls; they drew in their garments, as if trembling to encounter the pollution of my touch. I said mildly, ‘There is no danger; the passage is wide enough.’ The monk replied, ‘Apage Satana. My children,’ addressing the boarders, ‘repeat with me, apage Satana; avoid the approach of that demon, who insults the habit he desecrates.’ They did so; and to render the exorcism complete, they spit in my face as they passed. I wiped it off, and thought how little of the spirit of Jesus was to be found in the house of his nominal brethren. I proceeded to the apartment of the Superior, and knocked timidly at the door. I heard the words, ‘Enter in peace;’ and I prayed that it might be in peace. As I opened the door, I saw several monks assembled with the Superior. The latter uttered an exclamation of horror when he saw me, and threw his robe over his eyes; the monks understood the signal; the door was closed, and I was excluded. That day I waited several hours in my cell before any food was brought me. There is no state of feeling that exempts us from the wants of nature. I had no food for many days requisite for the claims of adolescence, which were then rapidly manifesting themselves in my tall, but attenuated frame. I descended to the kitchen to ask for my share of food. The cook crossed himself as I appeared at the door; for even at the door of the kitchen I faultered at the threshold. He had been taught to consider me as a demon incarnate, and shuddered, while he asked, ‘What do you want?’ — ‘Food,’ I replied; ‘food; — that is all.’ — ‘Well, you shall have it — but come no further — there is food.’ And he flung me the offal of the kitchen on the earth; and I was so hungry, that I devoured it eagerly. The next day I was not so lucky; the cook had learned the secret of the convent, (that of tormenting those whom they no longer have hopes of commanding), and mixed the fragments he threw to me, with ashes, hair, and dust. I could hardly pick out a morsel that, famished as I was, was eatable. They allowed me no water in my cell; I was not permitted to partake of it at refection; and, in the agonies of thirst, aggravated by my constant solicitude of mind, I was compelled to kneel at the brink of the well, (as I had no vessel to drink out of), and take up the water in my hand, or lap it like a dog. If I descended to the garden for a moment, they took the advantage of my absence to enter my cell, and remove or destroy every article of furniture. I have told you that they took away my crucifix. I had still continued to kneel and repeat my prayers before the table on which it stood. That was taken away, — table, chair, missal, rosary, every thing, disappeared gradually; and my cell presented nothing but four bare walls, with a bed, on which they had rendered it impossible for me to taste repose. Perhaps they dreaded I might, however, and they hit on an expedient, which, if it had succeeded, might have deprived me of reason as well as repose.
‘I awoke one night, and saw my cell in flames; I started up in horror, but shrunk back on perceiving myself surrounded by demons, who, clothed in fire, were breathing forth clouds of it around me. Desperate with horror, I rushed against the wall, and found what I touched was cold. My recollection returned, and I comprehended, that these were hideous figures scrawled in phosphorous, to terrify me. I then returned to my bed, and as the day-light approached, observed these figures gradually decline. In the morning, I took a desperate resolution of forcing my way to the Superior, and speaking to him. I felt my reason might be destroyed amid the horrors they were surrounding me with.
‘It was noon before I could work myself up to execute this resolution. I knocked at his cell, and when the door was opened, he exhibited the same horror as at my former intrusion, but I was not to be repelled. ‘My father, I require you to hear me, nor will I quit this spot till you do so.’ — ‘Speak.’ — ‘They famish me, — I am not allowed food to support nature.’ — ‘Do you deserve it?’ — ‘Whether I do or not, neither the laws of God or man have yet condemned me to die of hunger; and if you do, you commit murder.’ — ‘Have you any thing else to complain of?’ — ‘Every thing; I am not allowed to enter the church, — I am forbid to pray, — they have stripped my cell of crucifix, rosary, and the vessel for holy water. It is impossible for me to perform my devotions even alone.’ — ‘Your devotions!’ — ‘My father, though I am not a monk, may I not still be a Christian?’ — ‘In renouncing your vows, you have abjured your claim to either character.’ — ‘But I am still a human being, and as such — But I appeal not to your humanity, I call on your authority for protection. Last night, my cell was covered with representations of fiends. I awoke in the midst of flames and spectres.’ — ‘So you will at the last day!’ — ‘My punishment will then be enough, it need not commence already.’ — ‘These are the phantoms of your conscience.’ — ‘My father, if you will deign to examine my cell, you will find the traces of phosphorous on the walls.’ — ’I examine your cell? I enter it?’ — ‘Am I then to expect no redress? Interpose your authority for the sake of the house over which you preside. Remember that, when my appeal becomes public, all these circumstances will become so to, and you are to judge what degree of credit they will attach to the community.’ ‘Retire!’ I did so, and found my application attended to, at least with regard to food, but my cell still remained in the same dismantled state, and I continued under the same desolating interdiction from all communion, religious or social. I assure you, with truth, that so horrible was this amputation from life to me, that I have walked hours in the cloister and the passages, to place myself in the way of the monks, who, I knew, as they passed, would bestow on me some malediction or reproachful epithet. Even this was better than the withering silence which surrounded me. I began almost to receive it as a customary salutation, and always returned it with a benediction. In a fortnight my appeal was to be decided on; this was a circumstance I was kept in ignorance of, but the Superior had received a notification of it, and this precipitated his resolution to deprive me of the benefit of its eventual success, by one of the most horrible schemes that ever entered the human (I retract the expression) the monastic heart. I received an indistinct intimation of it the very night after my application to the Superior; but had I been apprised, from the first, of the whole extent and bearings of their purpose, what resources could I have employed against it?
‘That evening I had gone into the garden; my heart felt unusually oppressed. Its thick troubled beatings, seemed like the vibrations of a time-piece, as it measures our approach to some hour of sorrow.
‘It was twilight; the garden was empty; and kneeling on the ground, in the open air, (the only oratory they had left me), I attempted to pray. The attempt was in vain; — I ceased to articulate sounds that had no meaning; — and, overcome by a heaviness of mind and body inexpressible, I fell on the ground, and remained extended on my face, torpid, but not senseless. Two figures passed, without perceiving me; they were in earnest conversation. One of them said, ‘More vigorous measures must be adopted. You are to blame to delay them so long. You will be answerable for the disgrace of the whole community, if you persist in this foolish lenity.’ — ‘But his resolution remains unbroken,’ said the Superior, (for it was he). — ‘It will not be proof against the measure I have proposed.’ — ‘He is in your hands then; but remember I will not be accountable for — ’ They were by this time out of hearing. I was less terrified than you will believe, by what I had heard. Those who have suffered much, are always ready to exclaim, with the unfortunate Agag, ‘Surely the bitterness of death is past.’ They know not, that that is the very moment when the sword is unsheathed to hew them in pieces. That night, I had not been long asleep, when I was awoke by a singular noise in my cell: I started up, and listened. I thought I heard some one hurry away barefooted. I knew I had no lock to my door, and could not prevent the intrusion of any one into my cell who pleased to visit it; but still I believed the discipline of the convent too strict to allow of this. I composed myself again, but was hardly asleep, when I was again awoke by something that touched me. I started up again; a soft voice near me said in whispers, ‘Compose yourself; I am your friend.’ — ‘My friend? Have I one? — but why visit me at this hour?’ — ‘It is the only hour at which I am permitted to visit you.’ — ‘But who are you, then?’ — ‘One whom these walls can never exclude. One to whom, if you devote yourself, you may expect services beyond the power of man.’ — There was something frightful in these words. I cried out, ‘Is it the enemy of souls that is tempting me?’ As I uttered these words, a monk rushed in from the passage, (where he had been evidently waiting, for his dress was on). He exclaimed, ‘What is the matter? You have alarmed me by your cries, — you pronounced the name of the infernal spirit, — what have you seen? what is it you fear?’ I recovered myself, and said, ‘I have seen or heard nothing extraordinary. I have had frightful dreams, that is all. Ah! Brother St. Joseph, no wonder, after passing such days, my nights should be disturbed.’
‘The monk retired, and the next day passed as usual; but at night the same whispering sounds awoke me again. The preceding night these sounds had only startled me; they now alarmed me. In the darkness of night, and the solitude of my cell, this repeated visitation overcame my spirits. I began almost to admit the idea that I was exposed to the assaults of the enemy of man. I repeated a prayer, but the whisper, which seemed close to my ear, still continued. It said, ‘Listen, — listen to me, and be happy. Renounce your vows, place yourself under my protection, and you shall have no cause to complain of the exchange. Rise from your bed, trample on the crucifix which you will find at the foot of it, spit on the picture of the Virgin that lies beside it, and — ‘ At these words I could not suppress a cry of horror. The voice ceased in a moment, and the same monk, who occupied the cell next to mine, rushed in with the same exclamations as on the preceding night; and, as he entered my cell, the light in his hand shewed a crucifix, and a picture of the blessed Virgin, placed at the foot of my bed. I had sprung up when the monk entered my cell; I saw them, and recognized them to be the very crucifix and picture of the Virgin which had been taken from my cell. All the hypocritical outcries of the monk, at the disturbance I had again caused him, could not efface the impression which this slight circumstance made on me. I believed, and not without reason, they had been left there by the hands of some human tempter. I started, awake to this horrible imposition, and required the monk to leave my cell. He demanded, with a frightful paleness in his looks, why I had again disturbed him? said it was impossible to obtain repose while such noises were occurring in my cell; and, finally, stumbling over the crucifix and picture, demanded how they came there. I answered, ‘You know best.’ — ‘How, then, do you accuse me of a compact with the infernal demon? By what means could these have been brought to your cell?’ — ‘By the very hands that removed them,’ I answered and these words appeared to produce an effect on him for a moment; but he retired, declaring, that if the nightly disturbance in my cell continued, he must represent it to the Superior. I answered, the disturbance did not proceed from me, — but I trembled for the following night.
‘I had reason to tremble. That night, before I lay down, I repeated prayer after prayer, the terrors of my excommunication pressing heavy on my soul. I also repeated the prayers against possession or temptation by the evil spirit. These I was compelled to utter from memory, for I have told you that they had not left a book in my cell. In repeating these prayers, which were very long, and somewhat verbose, I at last fell asleep. That sleep was not to continue long. I was again addressed by the voice that whispered close to my bed. The moment I heard it, I rose without fear. I crept around my cell with my hands extended, and my feet bare. I could feel nothing but the empty walls, — not a single object, tangible or visible, could I encounter. I lay down again, and had hardly begun the prayer with which I tried to fortify myself, when the same sounds were repeated close to my ear, without the possibility either of my discovering from whence they proceeded, or preventing their reaching me. Thus I was completely deprived of sleep; and if I dozed for a moment, the same terrible sounds were re-echoed in my dreams. I became feverish from want of rest. The night was passed in watching for these sounds, or listening to them, and the day in wild conjectures or fearful anticipations. I felt a mixture of terror and impatience inconceivable at the approach of night. I had a consciousness of imposture the whole time, but this gave me no consolation, for there is a point to which human malice and mischief may be carried, that would baffle those of a demon. Every night the persecution was renewed, and every night it became more terrible. At times the voice would suggest to me the most unutterable impurities, — at another, blasphemies that would make a demon shudder. Then it would applaud me in a tone of derision, and assure me of the final success of my appeal, then change to the most appalling menaces. The wretched sleep I obtained, during the intervals of this visitation, was any thing but refreshing. I would awake in a cold perspiration, catching at the bed-furniture, and repeating in an inarticulate voice, the last sounds that had rung in my closing ears. I would start up and see the bed surrounded by monks, who assured me they had been disturbed by my cries, — that they had hurried in terror to my cell. Then they would cast looks of fear and consternation on each other and on me; say, ‘Something extraordinary is the matter, — something presses on your mind that you will not disburden it of.’ They implored me, in the most awful names, and for the interests of my salvation, to disclose the cause of these extraordinary visitations. At these words, however agitated before, I always became calm. I said, ‘Nothing is the matter, — why do you intrude into my cell?’ They shook their heads, and affected to retire slowly and reluctantly, as if from pity of my dreadful situation, while I repeated, ‘Ah, Brother Justin, ah Brother Clement, I see you, I understand you, — remember there is a God in heaven.’
‘One night I lay for a considerable time without hearing any sound. I fell asleep, but was soon awoke by an extraordinary light. I sat up in my bed, and beheld displayed before me the mother of God, in all the glorious and irradiated incarnation of beatitude. She hovered, rather than stood, in an atmosphere of light at the foot of my bed, and held a crucifix in her hand, while she appeared to invite me, with a benign action, to kiss the five mysterious wounds.1 For a moment I almost believed in the actual presence of this glorious visitor, but just then the voice was heard louder than ever, ‘Spurn them, — spit on them, — you are mine, and I claim this homage from my vassal.’ At these words the figure disappeared instantly, and the voice was renewing its whispers, but they were repeated to an insensible ear, for I fell into a swoon. I could easily distinguish between this state and sleep, by the deadly sickness, the cold sweats, and the horrid sense of evanition, that preceded it, and by the gasping, sobbing, choaking efforts that attended my recovery. In the mean time the whole community carried on and even aggravated the terrible delusion, which, while it was my torment to detect, it was my greater to be the victim of. When art assumes the omnipotence of reality, when we feel we suffer as much from an illusion as from truth, our sufferings lose all dignity and all consolation. We turn demons against ourselves, and laugh at what we are writhing under. All day long I was exposed to the stare of horror, the shudder of suspicion, and, worst of all, the hastily-averted glance of hypocritical commiseration, that dropt its pitying ray on me for a moment, and was then instantly raised to heaven, as if to implore forgiveness for the involuntary crime of compassionating one whom God had renounced. When I encountered any of them in the garden, they would strike into another walk, and cross themselves in my sight. If I met them in the passages of the convent, they drew their garments close, turned their faces to the wall, and told their beads as I went by. If I ventured to dip my hands in the holy water that stood at the door of the church, it was thrown out before my face. Certain extraordinary precautions were adopted by the whole community against the power of the evil one. Forms of exorcism were distributed, and additional prayers were used in the service of matins and vespers. A report was industriously diffused, that Satan was permitted to visit a favoured and devoted servant of his in the convent, and that all the brethren might expect the redoubled malice of his assaults. The effect of this on the young boarders was indescribable. They flew with the speed of lightning from me, whenever they saw me. If accident forced us to be near each other for a moment, they were armed with holy water, which they flung at me in pailfuls; and when that failed, what cries, — what convulsions of terror! They knelt, — they screamed, — they shut their eyes, — they cried, ‘Satan have mercy on me, — do not fix your infernal talons on me, — take your victim,’ and they mentioned my name. The terror that I inspired I at last began to feel. I began to believe myself — I know not what, whatever they thought me. This is a dreadful state of mind, but one impossible to avoid. In some circumstances, where the whole world is against us, we begin to take its part against ourselves, to avoid the withering sensation of being alone on our own side. Such was my appearance, too, my flushed and haggard look, my torn dress, my unequal gait, my constant internal muttering, and my complete isolation from the habits of the house, that it was no wonder I should justify, by my exterior, all of horrible and awful that might be supposed passing in my mind. Such an impression I must have made on the minds of the younger members. They had been taught to hate me, but their hatred was now combined with fear, and such a union is the most terrible amid all the complications of human passion. Desolate as my cell was, I retired to it early, as I was excluded from the exercises of the community. The bell for vespers would ring, I would hear the steps of those who were hastening to join in the service of God, and tedious as that service had once appeared to me, I would now have given worlds to be permitted to join in it, as a defence against that horrible midnight mass of Satan,2 that I was awaiting to be summoned to. I knelt however in my cell, and repeated what prayers I could recollect, while every toll of the bell struck on my heart, and the chaunt of the choir from below sounded like a repulsive echo to an answer which my fears already anticipated from heaven.
1 Vide Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History for the truth of this part of the narrative. I have suppressed circumstances in the original too horrible for modern ears.
2 This expression is not exaggerated. In the dreams of sorcery, or of imposture, the evil spirit was supposed to perform a mass in derision; and in Beaumont and Fletcher there is mention of ’howling a black Santis,’ i.e. Satan’s mass.
‘One evening that I still continued to pray, and audibly, as the monks passed my cell they said, ‘Do you presume to pray? Die, desperate wretch, — die and be damned. Precipitate yourself into the infernal gulph at once, no longer desecrate these walls by your presence.’ At these words I only redoubled my prayers; but this gave greater offence, for churchmen cannot bear to hear prayers uttered in a form different from their own. The cry of a solitary individual to God, sounds like profanation in their ears. They ask, Why do they not employ our form? How dare they hope to be heard? Alas! is it forms then that God regards? or is it not rather the prayer of the heart which alone reaches him, and prospers in its petition? As they called out, passing my cell, ‘Perish, impious wretch, perish, — God will not hear you,’ I answered them on my knees with blessings, — which of us had the spirit of prayer? That night was one of trial I could no longer support. My frame was exhausted, my mind excited, and, owing to our frail nature, this battle of the senses and soul is never long carried on without the worst side remaining conqueror. I was no sooner laid down than the voice began to whisper. I began to pray, but my head swam round, my eyes flashed fire, — fire almost tangible, my cell appeared in flames. Recollect my frame worn out with famine, my mind worn out with persecution. I struggled with what I was conscious was delirium, — but this consciousness aggravated its horror. It is better to be mad at once, than to believe that all the world is sworn to think and make you be so, in spite of your own consciousness of your sanity. The whispers this night were so horrible, so full of ineffable abominations, of — I cannot think of them, — that they maddened my very ear. My senses seemed deranged along with my intellect. I will give you an instance, it is but a slight one, of the horrors which — ‘ Here the Spaniard whispered Melmoth.1 The hearer shuddered, and the Spaniard went on in an agitated tone.
1 We do not venture to guess at the horrors of this whisper, but every one conversant with ecclesiastical history knows, that Tetzel offered indulgences in Germany, even on the condition that the sinner had been guilty of the impossible crime of violating the mother of God.’
‘I could bear it no longer. I sprung from my bed, I ran through the gallery like a maniac, knocking at the doors of the cells, and exclaiming, ‘Brother such a one, pray for me, — pray for me, I beseech you.’ I roused the whole convent. Then I flew down to the church; it was open, and I rushed in. I ran up the aisle, I precipitated myself before the altar, I embraced the images, I clung to the crucifix with loud and reiterated supplications. The monks, awakened by my outcries, or perhaps on the watch for them, descended in a body to the church, but, perceiving I was there, they would not enter, — they remained at the doors, with lights in their hands, gazing on me. It was a singular contrast between me, hurrying round the church almost in the dark, (for there were but a few lamps burning dimly), and the groupe at the door, whose expression of horror was strongly marked by the light, which appeared to have deserted me to concentrate itself among them. The most impartial person on earth might have supposed me deranged, or possessed, or both, from the state in which they saw me. Heaven knows, too, what construction might have been put on my wild actions, which the surrounding darkness exaggerated and distorted, or on the prayers which I uttered, as I included in them the horrors of the temptation against which I implored protection. Exhausted at length, I fell to the ground, and remained there, without the power of moving, but able to hear and observe every thing that passed. I heard them debate whether they should leave me there or not, till the Superior commanded them to remove that abomination from the sanctuary; and such was the terror of me into which they had acted themselves, that he had to repeat his orders before he could procure obedience to them. They approached me at last, with the same caution that they would an infected corse, and dragged me out by the habit, leaving me on the paved floor before the door of the church. They then retired, and in this state I actually fell asleep, and continued so till I was awoke by the bell for matins. I recollected myself, and attempted to rise; but my having slept on a damp floor, when in a fever from terror and excitement, had so cramped my limbs, that I could not accomplish this without the most exquisite pain. As the community passed in to matins, I could not suppress a few cries of pain. They must have seen what was the matter, but not one of them offered me assistance, nor did I dare to implore it. By slow and painful efforts, I at last reached my cell; but, shuddering at the sight of the bed, I threw myself on the floor for repose.
‘I was aware that some notice must be taken of a circumstance so extraordinary — that such a subversion of the order and tranquillity of a convent, would force an inquiry, even if the object was less remarkable. But I had a sad foreboding, (for suffering makes us full of presages), that this inquiry, however conducted, would terminate unfavourably to me. I was the Jonah of the vessel — let the storm blow from what point it would, I felt the lot was to fall on me. About noon, I was summoned to the apartment of the Superior. I went, but not as at former times, with a mixture of supplication and remonstrance on my lips, — with hope and fear in my heart, — in a fever of excitement or of terror, — I went sullen, squalid, listless, reckless; my physical strength, borne down by fatigue and want of sleep; my mental, by persecution, incessant and insupportable. I went no longer shrinking from, and deprecating their worst, but defying, almost desiring it, in the terrible and indefinite curiosity of despair. The apartment was full of monks; the Superior stood among them, while they formed a semicircle at a respectful distance from him. I must have presented a miserable contrast to these men arrayed against me in their pride of power, — their long and not ungraceful habits, giving their figures an air of solemnity, perhaps more imposing than splendour — while I stood opposed to them, ragged, meagre, livid, and obdurate, the very personification of an evil spirit summoned before the angels of judgment. The Superior addressed me in a long discourse, in which he but slightly touched on the scandal given by the attempt to repeal my vows. He also suppressed any allusion to the circumstance which was known to every one in the convent but myself, that my appeal would be decided on in a few days. But he adverted in terms that (in spite of my consciousness that they were hollow) made me shudder, to the horror and consternation diffused through the convent by my late tremendous visitation, as he called it. ‘Satan hath desired to have you,’ he said, ‘because you have put yourself within his power, by your impious reclamation of your vows. You are the Judas among the brethren; a branded Cain amid a primitive family; a scape-goat that struggles to burst from the hands of the congregation into the wilderness. The horrors that your presence is hourly heaping on us here, are not only intolerable to the discipline of a religious house, but to the peace of civilized society. There is not a monk who can sleep within three cells of you. You disturb them by the most horrible cries — you exclaim that the infernal spirit is perpetually beside your bed — that he is whispering in your ears. You fly from cell to cell, supplicating the prayers of the brethren. Your shrieks disturb the holy sleep of the community — that sleep which they snatch only in the intervals of devotion. All order is broken, all discipline subverted, while you remain among us. The imaginations of the younger members are at once polluted and inflamed, by the idea of the infernal and impure orgies which the demon celebrates in your cell; and of which we know not whether your cries, (which all can hear), announce triumph in, or remorse for. You rush at midnight into the church, deface the images, revile the crucifix, spurn at the altar; and when the whole community is forced, by this unparalleled atrocity of blasphemy, to drag you from the spot you are desecrating, you disturb, by your cries, those who are passing to the service of God. In a word; your howls, your distortions, your demoniac language, habits, and gestures, have but too well justified the suspicion entertained when you first entered the convent. You were abominable from your very birth, — you were the offspring of sin — you are conscious of it. Amid the livid paleness, that horrible unnatural white that discolours your very lips, I see a tinge like crimson burning on your cheek at the mention of it. The demon who was presiding at your natal hour — the demon of impurity and antimonasticism — pursues you in the very walls of a convent. The Almighty, in my voice, bids you begone; — depart, and trouble us no more. — Stop,’ he added, as he saw I was obeying his directions literally, ‘hold, the interests of religion, and of the community, have required that I should take particular notice of the extraordinary circumstances that have haunted your unhallowed presence within these walls. In a short time you may expect a visit from the Bishop — prepare yourself for it as you may.’ I considered these as the final words addressed to me, and was about to retire, when I was recalled. I was desired to utter some words, which every one was eager to put into my mouth, of expostulation, of remonstrance, of supplication. I resisted them all as steadily as if I had known (which I did not) that the Bishop had himself instituted the examination into the deranged state of the convent; and that instead of the Superior inviting the Bishop to examine into the cause of the disturbance in his convent, (the very last step he would have taken), the Bishop, (a man whose character will shortly be developed), had been apprized of the scandal of the convent, and had determined to take the matter into his own hands. Sunk in solitude and persecution, I knew not that all Madrid was on fire, — that the Bishop had determined to be no longer a passive hearer of the extraordinary scenes reported to pass in the convent, — that, in a word, my exorcism and my appeal were quivering in alternate scales, and that the Superior himself doubted which way the scale might incline. All this I was ignorant of, for no one dared to tell it to me. I therefore was about to retire without uttering a word in answer to the many whispered speeches to humble myself to the Superior, to implore his intercession with the Bishop to suspend this disgraceful examination that threatened us all I broke from them as they surrounded me; and standing calm and sullen at the door, I threw a retorting look at them, and said, ‘God forgive you all, and grant you such an acquittal at his judgment-seat, as I hesitate not to claim at that of the Bishop-visitant.’ These words, though uttered by a ragged demoniac, (as they thought me), made them tremble. Truth is rarely heard in convents, and therefore its language is equally emphatical and portentous.
‘The monks crossed themselves, and, as I left the apartment, repeated, ‘But how then, — what if we prevented this mischief?’ — ‘By what means?’ — ‘By any that the interests of religion may suggest, — the character of the convent is at stake. The Bishop is a man of a strict and scrutinizing character, — he will keep his eyes open to the truth, — he will inquire into facts, — what will become of us? Were it not better that — ‘ ‘What?’ — ‘You comprehend us.’ — ‘And if I dared to comprehend you, the time is too short,’ — ‘We have heard of the death of maniacs being very sudden, of — ‘ ‘What do you dare to hint at?’ — ‘Nothing, we only spoke of what every one knows, that a profound sleep is often a restorative to lunatics. He is a lunatic, as all the convent are ready to swear, — a wretch possessed by the infernal spirit, whom he invocates every night in his cell, — he disturbs the whole convent by his outcries.’
‘The Superior all this time walked impatiently up and down his apartment. He entangled his fingers in his rosary, — he threw on the monks angry looks from time to time; at last he said, ‘I am myself disturbed by his cries, — his wanderings, — his undoubted commerce with the enemy of souls. I need rest, — I require a profound sleep to repair my exhausted spirits, — what would you prescribe?’ Several pressed forward, not understanding the hint, and eagerly recommended the common opiates — Mithridate, &c. &c. An old monk whispered in his ear, ‘Laudanum, — it will procure a deep and sound sleep. Try it, my father, if you want rest; but to make the experiment sure, were it not best to try it first on another?’ The Superior nodded, and the party were about to disperse, when the Superior caught the old monk by his habit, and whispered, ‘But no murder!’ — ‘Oh no! only profound sleep. — What matter when he wakes? It must be to suffering in this life or the next. We are not guilty in the business. What signifies a few moments sooner or later?’ The Superior was of a timid and passionate character. He still kept hold of the monk’s habit; — he whispered, ‘But it must not be known.’ — ‘But who can know it?’ At this moment the clock struck, and an old ascetic monk, who occupied a cell adjacent to the Superior’s, and who had accustomed himself to the exclamation, ‘God knoweth all things,’ whenever the clock struck, repeated it aloud. The Superior quitted his hold of the monk’s habit, — the monk crawled to his cell God-struck, if I may use the expression, — the laudanum was not administered that night, — the voice did not return, — I slept the entire night, and the whole convent was delivered from the harassings of the infernal spirit. Alas! none haunted it, but that spirit which the natural malignity of solitude raises within the circle of every heart, and forces us, from the terrible economy of misery, to feed on the vitals of others, that we may spare our own.
‘This conversation was repeated to me afterwards by a monk who was on his dying bed. He had witnessed it, and I have no reason to doubt his sincerity. In fact, I always considered it as rather a palliation than an aggravation of their cruelty to me. They had made me suffer worse than many deaths, — the single suffering would have been instantaneous, — the single act would have been mercy. The next day the visit of the Bishop was expected. There was an indescribable kind of terrified preparation among the community. This house was the first in Madrid, and the singular circumstance of the son of one of the highest families in Spain having entered it in early youth, — having protested against his vows in a few months, — having been accused of being in a compact with the infernal spirit a few weeks after, — the hope of a scene of exorcism, — the doubt of the success of my appeal, — the probable interference of the Inquisition, — the possible festival of an auto da fe, — had set the imagination of all Madrid on fire; and never did an audience long more for the drawing up of the curtain at a popular opera, than the religious and irreligious of Madrid did for the developement of the scene which was acting at the convent of the Ex-Jesuits.
‘In Catholic countries, Sir, religion is the national drama; the priests are the principal performers, the populace the audience; and whether the piece concludes with a ‘Don Giovanni’ plunging in flames, or the beatification of a saint, the applause and the enjoyment is the same.
‘I feared my destiny was to be the former. I knew nothing of the Bishop, and hoped nothing from his visit; but my hopes began to rise in proportion to the visible fears of the society. I argued, with the natural malignity of wretchedness, ‘If they tremble, I may exult.’ When suffering is thus weighed against suffering, the hand is never steady; we are always disposed to make the balance incline a little on our own side. The Bishop came early, and passed some hours with the Superior in his own apartment. During this interval, there was a stillness in the house that was strongly contrasted with its previous agitation. I stood alone in my cell, — stood, for I had no seat left me. I said to myself, ‘This event bodes neither good or evil to me. I am not guilty of what they accuse me of. They never can prove it, — an accomplice with Satan! — the victim of diabolical delusion! — Alas! my only crime is my involuntary subjection to the delusions they have practised on me. This man, this Bishop, cannot give me freedom, but he may at least do me justice.’ All this time the community were in a fever — the character of the house was at stake — my situation was notorious. They had laboured to represent me as a possessed being beyond their walls, and to make me appear as one within them. The hour of trial approached. For the honour of human nature, — from the dread of violating decency, — from the dread of apparently violating truth, I will not attempt to relate the means they had recourse to the morning of the Bishop’s visitation, to qualify me to perform the part of a possessed, insane, and blasphemous wretch. The four monks I have before mentioned, were the principal executioners, (I must call them so). — Under pretence that there was no part of my person which was not under the influence of the demon, * * * * *
‘This was not enough. I was deluged almost to suffocation with aspersions of holy water. Then followed, &c. * * * * *
‘The result was, that I remained half-naked, half-drowned, gasping, choaking, and delirious with rage, shame, and fear, when I was summoned to attend the Bishop, who, surrounded by the Superior and the community, awaited me in the church. This was the moment they had fixed on — I yielded myself to them. I said, stretching out my arms, ‘Yes, drag me naked, mad — religion and nature alike violated in my abused figure — before your Bishop. If he speaks truth, — if he feels conscience, — woe be to you, hypocritical, tyrannical wretches. You have half-driven me mad! — half-murdered me, by the unnatural cruelties you have exercised on me! — and in this state you drag me before the Bishop! Be it so, I must follow you.’ As I uttered these words, they bound my arms and legs with ropes, carried me down, and placed me at the door of the church, standing close to me. The Bishop was at the altar, the Superior near him; the community filled the choir. They flung me down like a heap of carrion, and retreated as if they fled from the pollution of my touch. This sight struck the Bishop: He said, in a loud voice, ‘Rise, unhappy, and come forward.’ I answered, in a voice whose tones appeared to thrill him, ‘Bid them unbind me, and I will obey you.’ The Bishop turned a cold and yet indignant look on the Superior, who immediately approached and whispered him. This whispering consultation was carried on for some time; but, though lying on the ground, I could perceive the Bishop shook his head at every whisper of the Superior; and the end of the business was an order to unbind me. I did not fare much the better for this order, for the four monks were still close to me. They held my arms as they led me up the steps to the altar. I was then, for the first time, placed opposite to the Bishop. He was a man, the effect of whose physiognomy was as indelible as that of his character. — The one left its impress on the senses, as strongly as the other did on the soul. He was tall, majestic, and hoary; not a feeling agitated his frame — not a passion had left its trace on his features. He was a marble statue of Episcopacy, chiselled out by the hand of Catholicism, — a figure magnificent and motionless. His cold black eyes did not seem to see you, when they were turned on you. His voice, when it reached you, did not address you, but your soul. Such was his exterior:— for the rest, his character was unimpeachable, his discipline exemplary, his life that of an Anchorite hewed out in stone. But he was partially suspected of what is called liberality in opinions, (that is, of an inclination to Protestantism), and the sanctity of his character went bail in vain for this imputed heterodoxy, which the Bishop could hardly redeem by his rigid cognizance of every conventual abuse in his district, among which my convent happened to be. Such was the man before whom I stood. At the command to unloose me, the Superior shewed much agitation; but the command was positive, and I was released. I was then between the four monks, who held me, and I felt that my appearance must have justified the impression he had received. I was ragged, famished, livid, and on fire, with the horrible treatment I had just received. I hoped, however, that my submission to whatever was to be performed, might, in some degree, redeem the opinion of the Bishop. He went with evident reluctance through the forms of exorcism, which were delivered in Latin, while all the time, the monks crossed themselves, and the Acolytes were not sparing of holy water and of incense. Whenever the terms ‘diabole te adjuro’ occurred, the monks who held me twisted my arms, so that I appeared to make contortions, and uttered cries of pain. This, at first, seemed to disturb the Bishop; but when the form of exorcism was over, he commanded me to approach the altar alone. I attempted to do so; but the four monks surrounding me, made it appear an act of great difficulty. He said, ‘Stand apart — let him alone.’ They were compelled to obey. I advanced alone, trembling. I knelt. The Bishop, placing his stole on my head, demanded, ‘Did I believe in God, and the holy Catholic church?’ Instead of answering, I shrieked, flung off the stole, and trampled in agony on the steps of the altar. The Bishop retreated, while the Superior and the rest advanced. I collected courage as I saw them approach; and, without uttering a word, pointed to the pieces of broken glass which had been thrown on the steps where I stood, and which had pierced me through my torn sandals. The Bishop instantly ordered a monk to sweep them away with the sleeve of his tunic. The order was obeyed in a moment, and the next I stood before him without fear or pain. He continued to ask, ‘Why do you not pray in the church?’ — ‘Because its doors are shut against me.’ — ‘How? what is this? A memorial is in my hands urging many complaints against you, and this among the first, that you do not pray in the church.’ — ‘I have told you the doors of the church are shut against me. — Alas! I could no more open them, than I could open the hearts of the community — every thing is shut against me here.’ He turned to the Superior, who answered, ‘The doors of the church are always shut to the enemies of God.’ The Bishop said, with his usual stern calmness, ‘I am asking a plain question — evasive and circuitous answers will not do. Have the doors of the church been shut against this wretched being? — have you denied him the privilege of addressing God?’ — ‘I did so, because I thought and believed — ‘ ‘I ask not what you thought or believed; I ask a plain answer to a matter-of-fact question. Did you, or did you not, deny him access to the house of God?’ — ‘I had reason to believe that — ‘ ‘I warn you, these answers may compel me to make you exchange situations in one moment with the object you accuse. Did you, or did you not shut the doors of the church against him? — answer yes or no.’ The Superior, trembling with fear and rage, said, ‘I did; and I was justified in doing so.’ — ‘That is for another tribunal to judge. But it seems you plead guilty to the fact of which you accuse him.’ The Superior was dumb. The Bishop then examining his paper, addressed me again, ‘How is it that the monks cannot sleep in their cells from the disturbance you cause?’ — ‘I know not — you must ask them.’ — ‘Does not the evil spirit visit you nightly? Are not your blasphemies, your execrable impurities, disgorged even in the ears of those who have the misfortune to be placed near you? Are you not the terror and the torment of the whole community?’ I answered, ‘I am what they have made me. I do not deny there are extraordinary noises in my cell, but they can best account for them. I am assailed by whispers close to my bed-side: It seems these whispers reach the ears of the brethren, for they burst into my cell, and take advantage of the terror with which I am overwhelmed, to put the most incredible constructions on it.’ — ‘Are there no cries, then, heard in your cell at night?’ — ‘Yes, cries of terror — cries uttered not by one who is celebrating infernal orgies, but dreading them.’ — ‘But the blasphemies, the imprecations, the impurities, which proceed from your lips?’ — ‘Sometimes, in irrepressible terror, I have repeated the sounds that were suggested to my ears; but it was always with an exclamation of horror and aversion, that proved these sounds were not uttered but echoed by me, — as a man may take up a reptile in his hand, and gaze on its hideousness a moment, before he flings it from him. I take the whole community to witness the truth of this. The cries I uttered, the expressions I used, were evidently those of hostility to the infernal suggestions which had been breathed into my ears. Ask the whole community — they must testify, that when they broke into my cell, they found me alone, trembling, convulsed. That I was the victim of those disturbances, they affected to complain of; and though I never was able to guess the means by which this persecution was effected, I am not rash in ascribing it to the hands that covered the walls of my cell with representations of demons, the traces of which still remain.’ — ‘You are also accused of having burst into the church at midnight, defaced the images, trampled on the crucifix, and performed all the acts of a demon violating the sanctuary.’ At this accusation, so unjust and cruel, I was agitated beyond controul. I exclaimed, ‘I flew to the church for protection in a paroxysm of terror, which their machinations had filled me with! I flew there at night, because it was shut against me during the day, as you have discovered! I prostrated myself before the cross, instead of trampling on it! I embraced the images of the blessed saints, instead of violating them! And I doubt whether prayers more sincere were ever offered within these walls, than those I uttered that night amid helplessness, terror, and persecutions!’ — ‘Did you not obstruct and deter the community next morning by your cries, as they attempted to enter the church?’ — ‘I was paralyzed from the effects of lying all night on the stone pavement, where they had flung me. I attempted to rise and crawl away at their approach, and a few cries of pain were extorted from me by my efforts to do so — efforts rendered more painful by their refusing to offer me the slightest assistance. In a word, the whole is a fabrication. I flew to the church to implore for mercy, and they represent it as the outrages of an apostate spirit. Might not the same arbitrary and absurd construction be put on the daily visits of multitudes of afflicted souls, who weep and groan audibly as I did? If I attempted to overturn the crucifix, to deface the images, would not the marks of this violence remain? Would they not have been preserved with care, to substantiate the accusation against me? Is there a trace of them? — there is not, there cannot be, because they never existed.’ The Bishop paused. An appeal to his feelings would have been vain, but this appeal to facts had its full effect. After some time, he said, ‘You can have no objection, then, to render before the whole community the same homage to the representations of the Redeemer and the holy saints, that you say it was your purpose to render them that night?’ — ‘None.’ A crucifix was brought me, which I kissed with reverence and unction, and prayed, while the tears streamed from my eyes, an interest in the infinite merits of the sacrifice it represented. The Bishop then said, ‘Make a deed of faith, of love, of hope.’ I did so; and though they were extempore, my expressions, I could perceive, made the dignified ecclesiastics who attended on the Bishop, cast on each other looks in which were mingled compassion, interest, and admiration. The Bishop said, ‘Where did you learn those prayers?’ — ‘My heart is my only teacher — I have no other — I am allowed no book.’ — ‘How! — recollect what you say.’ — ‘I repeat I have none. They have taken away my breviary, my crucifix; — they have stript my cell of all its furniture. I kneel on the floor — I pray from the heart. If you deign to visit my cell, you will find I have told you the truth.’ At these words, the Bishop cast a terrible look on the Superior. He recovered himself, however, immediately, for he was a man unaccustomed to any emotion, and felt it at once a suspension of his habits, and an infringement of his rank. In a cold voice he bid me retire; then, as I was obeying him, he recalled me, — my appearance for the first time seemed to strike him. He was a man so absorbed in the contemplation of that waveless and frozen tide of duty in which his mind was anchored, without fluctuation, progress, or improvement, that physical objects must be presented before him a long time before they made the least impression on him, — his senses were almost ossified. Thus he had come to examine a supposed demoniac; but he had made up his mind that there must be injustice and imposture in the case, and he acted in the matter with a spirit, decision, and integrity, that did him honour.
‘But, all the time, the horror and misery of my appearance, which would have made the first impression on a man whose feelings were at all external, made the last. They struck him as I slowly and painfully crawled from the steps of the altar, and the impression was forcible in proportion to its slowness. He called me back and inquired, as if he saw me for the first time, ‘How is it your habit is so scandalously ragged?’ At these words I thought I could disclose a scene that would have added to the Superior’s humiliation, but I only said, ‘It is the consequence of the ill treatment I have experienced.’ Several other questions of the same kind, relating to my appearance, which was deplorable enough, followed, and at last I was forced to make a full discovery. The Bishop was incensed at the detail more than was credible. Rigid minds, when they yield themselves to emotion, do it with a vehemence inconceivable, for to them every thing is a duty, and passion (when it occurs) among the rest. Perhaps the novelty of emotion, too, may be a delightful surprise to them.
‘More than all this was the case now with the good Bishop, who was as pure as he was rigid, and shrunk with horror, disgust, and indignation, at the detail I was compelled to give, which the Superior trembled at my uttering, and which the community dared not to contradict. He resumed his cold manner; for to him feeling was an effort, and rigour a habit, and he ordered me again to retire. I obeyed, and went to my cell. The walls were as bare as I had described them, but, even contrasted with all the splendour and array of the scene in the church, they seemed emblazoned with my triumph. A dazzling vision passed before me for a moment, then all subsided; and, in the solitude of my cell, I knelt and implored the Almighty to touch the Bishop’s heart, and impress on him the moderation and simplicity with which I had spoken. As I was thus employed, I heard steps in the passage. They ceased for a moment, and I was silent. It appeared the persons overheard me, and paused; and these few words, uttered in solitude, made, I found, a deep impression on them. A few moments after the Bishop, with some dignified attendants, followed by the Superior, entered my cell. The former all stopped, horror-struck at its appearance.
‘I have told you, Sir, that my cell now consisted of four bare walls and a bed; — it was a scandalous, degrading sight. I was kneeling in the middle of the floor, God knows, without the least idea of producing an effect. The Bishop gazed around him for some time, while the ecclesiastics who attended him testified their horror by looks and attitudes that needed no interpretation. The Bishop, after a pause, turned to the Superior, ‘Well, what do you say to this?’ The Superior hesitated, and at last said, ‘I was ignorant of this.’ — ‘That is false,’ said the Bishop; ‘and even if it was true, it would be your crimination, not your apology. Your duty binds you to visit the cells every day; how could you be ignorant of the shameful state of this cell, without neglecting your own duties?’ He took several turns about the cell, followed by the ecclesiastics, shrugging their shoulders, and throwing on each other looks of disgust. The Superior stood dismayed. They went out, and I could hear the Bishop say, in the passage, ‘All this disorder must be rectified before I quit the house.’ And to the Superior, ‘You are unworthy of the situation you hold, — you ought to be deposed.’ And he added in severer tones, ‘Catholics, monks, Christians, this is shocking, — horrible! tremble for the consequences of my next visit, if the same disorders exist, — I promise you it shall be repeated soon.’ He then returned, and standing at the door of my cell, said to the Superior, ‘Take care that all the abuses committed in this cell are rectified before to-morrow morning.’ The Superior signified his submission to this order in silence.
‘That evening I went to sleep on a bare mattress, between four dry walls. I slept profoundly, from exhaustion and fatigue. I awoke in the morning far beyond the time for matins, and found myself surrounded by all the comforts that can be bestowed on a cell. As if magic had been employed during my sleep, crucifix, breviary, desk, table, every thing was replaced. I sprung from bed, and actually gazed in extasy around my cell. As the day advanced, and the hour for refection approached, my extasy abated, and my terrors increased; — it is not easy to pass from extreme humiliation and utter abhorrence, to your former state in the society of which you are a member. When the bell rung I went down. I stood at the door for a moment, — then, with an impulse like despair, I entered and took my usual place. No opposition was made, — not a word was said. The community separated after dinner. I watched for the toll of the bell for vespers, — I imagined that would be decisive. The bell tolled at last, — the monks assembled. I joined them without opposition, — I took my place in the choir, — my triumph was complete, and I trembled at it. Alas! in what moment of success do we not feel a sensation of terror? Our destiny always acts the part of the ancient slave to us, who was required every morning to remind the monarch that he was a man; and it seldom neglects to fulfil its own predictions before the evening. Two days passed away, — the storm that had so long agitated us, seemed to have sunk into a sudden calm. I resumed my former place, — I performed the customary duties, — no one congratulated or reviled me. They all seemed to consider me as one beginning monastic life de novo. I passed two days of perfect tranquillity, and I take God to witness, I enjoyed this triumph with moderation. I never reverted to my former situation, — I never reproached those who had been agents in it, — I never uttered a syllable on the subject of the visitation, which had made me and the whole convent change places in the space of a few hours, and the oppressed take the part (if he pleased) of the oppressor. I bore my success with temperance, for I was supported by the hope of liberation. The Superior’s triumph was soon to come.
‘On the third morning I was summoned to the parlour, where a messenger put into my hands a packet, containing (as I well understood) the result of my appeal. This, according to the rules of the convent, I was compelled to put first into the hands of the Superior to read, before I was permitted to read it myself. I took the packet, and slowly walked to the Superior’s apartment. As I held it in my hand, I considered it, felt every corner, weighed it over and over again in my hand, tried to catch an omen from its very shape. Then a withering thought crossed me, that, if its intelligence was auspicious, the messenger would have put it into my hands with an air of triumph, that, in spite of convent etiquette, I might break open the seals which inclosed the sentence of my liberation. We are very apt to take our presages from our destination, and mine being that of a monk, no wonder its auguries were black, — and were verified.
‘I approached the Superior’s cell with the packet. I knocked, was desired to enter, and, my eyes cast down, could only distinguish the hems of many habits, whose wearers were all assembled in the Superior’s apartment. I offered the packet with reverence. The Superior cast a careless eye over it, and then flung it on the floor. One of the monks approached to take it up. The Superior exclaimed, ‘Hold, let him take it up.’ I did so, and retired to my cell, making first a profound reverence to the Superior. I then went to my cell, where I sat down with the fatal packet in my hands. I was about to open it, when a voice from within me seemed to say, — It is useless, you must know the contents already. It was some hours before I perused it, — it contained the account of the failure of my appeal. It seemed, from the detail, that the advocate had exerted his abilities, zeal, and eloquence to the utmost; and that, at one time, the court had been near deciding in favour of my claims, but the precedent was reckoned too dangerous. The advocate on the other side had remarked, ‘If this succeeds, we shall have all the monks in Spain appealing against their vows.’ Could a stronger argument have been used in favour of my cause? An impulse so universal must surely originate in nature, justice, and truth.’
On reverting to the disastrous issue of his appeal, the unfortunate Spaniard was so much overcome, that it was some days before he could resume his narrative.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57