Page images
PDF
EPUB

men, or refused to listen to their expostulations. One of the chief causes of the inordinate power acquired by the clergy was their mediatorial office, and their gigantic wealth was in a great degree due to the legacies of those who regarded them as the trustees of the poor. As time rolled on, charity assumed many forms, and every monastery became a centre from which it radiated. By the monks the nobles were overawed, the poor protected, the sick tended, travellers sheltered, prisoners ransomed, the remotest spheres of suffering explored. During the darkest period of the middle ages, monks founded a refuge for pilgrims amid the horrors of the Alpine snows. A solitary hermit often planted himself, with his little boat, by a bridgeless stream, and the charity of his life was to ferry over the traveller. I When the bideous disease of leprosy extended its ravages over Europe, when the minds of men were filled with terror, not only by its loathsomeness and its contagion, but also by the notion that it was in a peculiar sense supernatural,2 new hospitals. and refuges overspread Europe, and monks flocked in multitudes to serve in them.3 Sometimes, the legends say, the leper's form was in a moment transfigured, and he who came to tend the most loathsome of mankind received his reward, for he found himself in the presence of his Lord.

There is no fact of which an historian becomes more

1 Cibrario, Economica politica historique sur la Peinture sur verre, del Medio Evo, lib. ii. сар.

iii.

pp. 32-37. The most remarkable of these ? The fact of leprosy being saints was St. Julien l'Hospitalier, taken as the image of sin gave rise who having under a mistake killed to some curious notions of its his father and mother, as a penance supernatural character, and to became a ferryman of a great many legends of saints curing river, and having embarked on a leprosy by baptism. See Maury, very stormy and dangerous night Légendes pieuses du Moyen-Age, at the voice of a traveller in dis- pp. 64–65. tress, received Christ into his boat.

3 See on these hospitals Cibrario, His story is painted on a window Econ. Politica del Medio Evo, lib. of the thirteenth century, in Rouen iii. cap. ii. Cathedral. See Langlois, Essai

speedily or more painfully conscious than the great difference between the importance and the dramatic interest of the subjects he treats. Wars or massacres, the horrors of martyrdom or the splendours of individual prowess, are susceptible of such brilliant colouring, that with but little literary skill they can be so pourtrayed that their importance is adequately realised, and they appeal powerfully to the emotions of the reader. But this vast and unostentatious movement of charity, operating in the village hamlet and in the lonely hospital, staunching the widow's tears, and following all the windings of the poor man's griefs, presents few features the imagination can grasp, and leaves no deep impression upon the mind. The greatest things are often those which are most imperfectly realised; and surely no achievements of the Christian Church are more truly great than those which it has effected in the sphere of charity. For the first time in the history of mankind, it has inspired many thousands of men and women, at the sacrifice of all worldly interests, and often under circumstances of extreme discomfort or danger, to devote their entire lives to the single object of assuaging the sufferings of humanity. It has covered the globe with countless institutions of mercy, absolutely unknown to the whole Pagan world. It has indissolubly united, in the minds of men, the idea of supreme goodness with that of active and constant benevolence. It has placed in every parish a religious minister, who, whatever may be his other functions, has at least been officially charged with the superintendence of an organisation of charity, and who finds in this office one of the most important as well as one of the most legitimate sources of his power.

There are, however, two important qualifications to the admiration with which we regard the history of Christian charity-one relating to a particular form of suffering, and the other of a more general kind.

A strong, ill-defined notion of the supernatural character of insanity had existed

from the earliest times; but there were special circumstances which rendered the action of the Church peculiarly unfavourable to those who were either predisposed to or afflicted with this calamity. The reality both of witchcraft and diabolical possession had been distinctly recognised in the Jewish writings. The received opinions about eternal torture, and ever-present dæmons, and the continued strain upon the imagination, in dwelling upon an unseen world, v ere preeminently fitted to produce madness in those who were at all predisposed to it, and, where insanity had actually appeared, to determine the form and complexion of the hallucinations of the maniac. 1 Theology supplying all the images that acted most powerfully upon the imagination, most madness, for many centuries, took a theological cast. One important department of it appears chiefly in the lives of the saints. Men of lively imaginations and absolute ignorance, living apart from all their fellows, amid the horrors of a savage wilderness, practising austerities by which their physical system was thoroughly deranged, and firmly persuaded that innumerable devils were continually hovering about their cells and interfering with their devotions, speedily and very naturally became subject to constant hallucinations, which probably form the nucleus of truth in the legends of their lives. But it was impossible that insanity should confine itself to the orthodox forms of celestial visions, or of the apparitions and the defeats of devils. Very frequently it led the unhappy maniac to some delusion, which called down

[ocr errors]

i Calmeil observes : On a sou- caractère des événements relatifs å vent constaté depuis un demi-siècle la politique extérieure, le caractère que la folie est sujette à prendre des événements civils, la nature la teinte des croyances religieuses, des productions littéraires, des des idées philosophiques ou super- représentations théâtrales, suivant stitieuses, des préjugés sociaux qui la tournure, la direction, le genre ont cours, qui sont actuellement d'élan qu'y prennent l'industrie, les en vogue parmi les peuples ou les arts et les sciences.'-De la Folie, nations; que cette teinte varie tome i. pp. 122–123. dans un même pays suivant le

W

upon him the speedy sentence of the Church. Sometimes he imagined he was himself identified with the objects of his devotion. Thus, in the year 1300, a beautiful English girl was burnt at Milan, who imagined herself to be the Holy Ghost, incarnate for the redemption of women.' In the year 1359, a Spaniard declared himself to be the brother of the archangel Michael, and to be destined for the place in heaven which Satan had lost; and he added that he was accustomed every day both to mount into heaven and descend into hell, that the end of the world was at hand, and that it was reserved for him to enter into single combat with Antichrist. The poor lunatic fell into the hands of the Archbishop of Toledo, and was burnt alive. In other cases the hallucination took the form of an irregular inspiration. On this charge, Joan of Arc, and another girl who had been fired by her example, and had endeavoured, apparently under a genuine hallucination, to follow her career,3 were burnt alive. A famous Spanish physician and scholar, named Torralba, who lived in the sixteenth century, and who imagined that he had an attendant angel continually about him, escaped with public penance and confession;4 but a

6

1. Venit de Anglia virgo decora doit ensuite au plus profond des valde, pariterque facunda, dicens, enfers ; qu'à la fin du monde, qui Spiritum Sanctum incarnatum in étoit proche, il iroit au devant de redemptionem mulierum, et bap- l’Antichrist et qu'il le terrasseroit, tisarit mulieres in nomine Patris, ayant á sa main la croix de JésusFilii et sui. Quæ mortua ducta Christ et sa couronne d'épines. fuit in Mediolanum, ibi et cremata.' L'archevêque de Tolède, n'ayant -Annales Dominicanorum Colma- pu convertir ce fanatique obstiné, riensium (in the 'Rerum Ger- ni l'empêcher de dogmatiser, l'aroit manic. Scriptores').

enfin livré au bras séculier.'— ? • Martin Gonçalez, du diocèse Touron, Hist. des Hommes illustres de Cuenca, disoit qu'il étoit frère de l'ordre de St. Dominique, Paris, de l'archange S. Michel, la première 1745 (Vie d'Eyméricus), tome ii. vérité et l'échelle du ciel; que p. 635. c'étoit pour

Dieu réservoit 3 Calmeil, De la Folie, tome i. la place que Lucifer avoit perdue; p. 134. que tous les jours il s'élevoit au * Ibid. tome i. pp. 242-247. plus haut de l'Empirée et descen

lui que

professor of theology in Lima, who laboured under the same delusion, and added to it some wild notions about his spiritual dignities, was less fortunate. He was burnt by the Inquisition of Peru. Most commonly, however, the theological

1 notions about witchcraft either produced madness or determined its form, and, through the influence of the clergy of the different sections of the Christian Church, many

thousands of unhappy women, who, from their age, their loneliness, and their infirmity, were most deserving of pity, were devoted to the hatred of mankind, and, having been tortured with horrible and ingenious cruelty, were at last burnt alive.

The existence, however, of some forms of natural madness was generally admitted; but the measures for the relief of the unhappy victims were very few, and very ill judged. Among the ancients, they were brought to the temples, and subjected to imposing ceremonies, which were believed supernaturally to relieve them, and which probably had a favourable influence through their action upon the imagination. The great Greek physicians had devoted considerable attention to this malady, and some of their precepts anticipated modern discoveries; but no lunatic asylum appears to have existed in antiquity. In the first period of the hermit life, when many anchorites became insane through their penances, a refuge is said to have been opened for them at Jerusalem. 3

This appears, however, to be a solitary instance, arising from the exigencies of a single class, and no lunatic asylum existed in Christian Europe till the fifteenth century. The Mahommedans, in this form of charity, seem to have preceded the Christians. Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Bagdad in the twelfth century, describes a palace in that city, called 'the House of Mercy,' in which all mad persons found in the country were confined and bound with 1 Calmeil, tome i. p. 247.

3 Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. 2 See Esquirol, Maladies men- xxxvii. tales.

« PreviousContinue »