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

expected.



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.





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