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The Female Fanatic And Heavenly Visitor

The following curious affair happened a few years since at Paris, and is
well attested by a gentleman of the greatest respectability.

A widow-lady, aged about sixty-two, who lodged in a two-pair-of-stairs
floor, in the Rue de la Ferronnerie, with only a maid-servant, was
accustomed to spend several hours every day at her devotions, before
the altar dedicated to St. Paul, in a neighbouring church. Some villains
observing her extreme bigotry, resolved (as she was known to be very
rich) to share her wealth. Therefore one of them took the opportunity to
conceal himself behind the carved work of the altar; and when no person
but the old lady was in the church, in the dusk of the evening, he
contrived to throw a letter just before her. She took it up, and not
perceiving any one near her, supposed it came by a miracle; which she
was the more confirmed in, when she saw it was signed, Paul the
Apostle, and purported, "The satisfaction he received by her addressing
her prayers to him, at a time when so many new-canonized saints
engrossed the devotion of the world, and robbed the primitive saints of
great part of their wonted adoration; and, to shew his regard for his
devotee, said, he would come from Heaven, with the angel Gabriel, to sup
with her, at eight in the evening."

It is scarcely credible to think any one could be deceived by so gross a
fraud: but to what length of credulity, will not superstition carry the
weak mind! The infatuated lady believed it all; and rose from her knees
in a transport, to prepare the entertainment for the heavenly guests she

When the supper was bespoke, and the sideboard set out to the best
advantage, she thought that her own plate (which was worth near four
hundred pounds sterling) did not make so elegant a shew as she desired;
therefore sent to her brother (who was a Counsellor of the Parliament of
Paris) to borrow all his plate; charging her maid not to tell the
occasion, but only, that she had company to supper, and should be
obliged to him if he would lend her his plate for that evening. The
Counsellor was surprised at this message, as he knew the frugality of
his sister's way of life; and suspected that she was enamoured with some
fortune-hunter, who might marry her for her fortune, and thereby deprive
the family of what he expected at his sister's death: therefore he
absolutely refused to send the plate, unless the maid would tell him
what guests she expected. The girl, alarmed for her mistress's honour,
replied, that her pious lady had no thoughts of a husband; but that, as
St. Paul had sent her a letter from heaven, saying, that he and the
Angel Gabriel would come to supper with her, her mistress wanted to
make the entertainment as elegant as possible. The Counsellor, who knew
the turn of his sister's mind, immediately suspected some villains had
imposed on her; and sent the maid directly with the plate, while he went
to the Commissary of the quarter, and gave him this information. The
magistrate accompanied him to a house adjoining, from whence they saw,
just before eight o'clock, a tall man, dressed in long vestments, with a
white beard, and a young man in white, with large wings at his
shoulders, alight from a hackney-coach, and go up to the widow's
apartment. The Commissary immediately ordered twelve of the foot guet
(the guards of Paris) to post themselves on the stairs, while he himself
knocked at the door, and desired admittance. The old lady replied, that
she had company, and could speak to no one. But the Commissary answered,
that he must come in: for that he was St. Peter, and had come to ask St.
Paul and the Angel, how they came out of heaven without his knowledge.
The divine visitors were astonished at this, not expecting any more
Saints to join them: but the lady, overjoyed at having so great an
apostle with her, ran eagerly to the door; when the Commissary, her
brother, and the guet, rushing in, presented their musquets, and
seized her guests, whom they immediately carried to the Chatelot.

On searching the criminals, two cords, a razor, and a pistol, were found
in St. Paul's pocket; and a gag in that of the feigned angel. Three days
after, their trial came on: when, in their defence, they pleaded, that
the one was a soldier of the French foot-guards, and the other a
barber's apprentice; and that they had no other evil design, but to
procure a good supper for themselves at the expence of the widow's
folly; that, it being carnival time, they had borrowed the above
dresses; that the soldier had found the two cords, and put them into his
pocket; the razor was what he used to shave himself with; and the pistol
was to defend himself from any insults so strange a habit might expose
him to, in going home. The barber's apprentice said, his design also was
only diversion; and that, as his master was a tooth-drawer, the gag was
what they sometimes used in their business. These excuses, frivolous as
they were, were of some avail to them; and, as they had not manifested
any evil design by an overt act, they were acquitted.

But the Counsellor, who had foreseen what would happen, through the
insufficiency of evidence, had provided another stroke for them. No
sooner were they discharged from the civil power, but the Apparitor of
the Archbishop of Paris seized them, and conveyed them to the
Ecclesiastical Prison; and, in three days more, they were tried and
convicted of a scandalous profanation, by assuming to themselves the
names, characters, and appearances, of an holy apostle and a blessed
angel, with an intent to deceive a pious and well-meaning woman, and to
the scandal of religion. On this they were condemned to be publicly
whipped, burnt on the shoulder by a hot iron, with the letters G.A.L.
and sent to the galleys for fourteen years.

The sentence was executed on them the next day, on a scaffold in the
Place de Greve, amidst an innumerable crowd of spectators: many of
whom condemned the superstition of the lady, when perhaps they would
have shewn the same on a like occasion; since, it may be supposed, that
if many of their stories of apparitions, of saints, and angels, had
been judiciously examined, they would have been found, like the above,
to be either a gross fraud, or the dreams of an over-heated,
enthusiastic imagination.

I shall make no reflections on the above fact; but leave it to the
impartial consideration of the reader.

Next: The Female Sprites

Previous: The Ventriloquist

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