* Alciat. Parerg. Juris, lib. viii. cap. 22. ** Bart, de Spina, de Strigilibus.
His story assumes the form of a narrative of a direct war between Satan on the one side, and the Royal Commissioners on the other, " because," says Councillor de Lancre, with self-complaisance, " nothing is so calculated to strike terror into the fiend and his dominions, as a commission with such plenary powers."
At first, Satan endeavoured to supply his vassals who were brought before the judges with strength to support the examinations, so that if, by intermission of the torture, the wretches should fall into a doze, they declared, when they were recalled from it to the question, that the profound stupor " had something of Paradise in it,—being gilded," said the judge, " with the immediate presence of the devil;" though, in all probability, it rather derived its charms from the natural comparison between the insensibility of exhaustion, and the previous agony of acute torture. The judges took care that the Fiend seldom obtained any advantage in the matter, by refusing their victims, in most cases, any interval of rest or sleep. Satan then proceeded, in the way of direct defiance, to stop the mouth of the accused openly, and by mere force, with something like a visible obstruction in their throat. Notwithstanding this, to put the devil to shame, some of the accused found means, in spite of him, to confess and be hanged, or rather burnt. The Fiend lost much credit by his failure on this occasion. Before the formidable commissioners arrived, he had held his cour pleniere before the gates of Bourdeaux, and in the square of the palace of Galienne, whereas he was now insulted publicly by his own vassals, and in the midst of his festival of the Sabbath, the children and relations of the witches, who had suffered, not sticking to say to him, " Out upon you! your promise was, that our mothers who were prisoners should not die; and look how you have kept your word with us ! They have been burnt, and are a heap of ashes." To appease this mutiny, Satan had two evasions. He produced illusory fires, and encouraged the mutinous to walk through them, assuring them that the judicial pile was as frigid and inoffensive as those which he exhibited to them. Again, taking his refuge in lies, of which he is well known to be the father, he stoutly affirmed that their parents, who seemed to have suffered, were safe in a foreign country, and that if their children would call on them, they would receive an answer. They made the invocation accordingly, and Satan answered each of them in a tone which resembled the voice of the lamented parent, almost as successfully as Monsieur Alexandre could have done.
Proceeding to a yet more close attack, the Commissioners, on the eve of one of the Fiend's Sabbaths, placed the gibbet on which they executed their victims just on the spot where Satan's gilded chair was usually stationed. The devil was much offended at such an affront, and yet had so little power in the matter, that he could only express his resentment by threats, that he would hang Messieurs D'Amon and D'Urtubbe, gentlemen who had solicited and promoted the issuing of the commission, and would also burn the commissioners themselves in their own fire. We regret to say that Satan was unable to execute either of these laudable resolutions. Ashamed of his excuses, he abandoned for three or four sittings his attendance on the Sabbaths, sending as his representative an imp of subordinate account, and in whom no one reposed confidence. When he took courage again to face his parliament, the Archfiend covered his defection by assuring them, that he had been engaged in a lawsuit with the Deity, which he had gained with costs, and that sixscore of infant children were to be delivered up to him in name of damages, and the witches were directed to procure such victims accordingly. After this grand fiction, he confined himself to the petty vengeance of impeding the access of confessors to the condemned, which was the more easy, as few of them could speak the Basque language. I have no time to detail the ingenious method by which the learned Councillor de Lancre explains why the district of Labourt should be particularly exposed to the pest of sorcery. The chief reason seems to be, that it is a mountainous, a sterile, and a border country, where the men are all fishers, and the women smoke tobacco, and wear short petticoats.
To a person who, in this presumptuous, trifling, and conceited spirit, has composed a quarto volume, full of the greatest absurdities and grossest obscenities ever impressed on paper, it was the pleasure of the most Christian Monarch to consign the most absolute power which could be exercised on these poor people ; and he might with as much prudence have turned a ravenous wolf upon an undefended flock, of whom the animal was the natural enemy, as they were his natural prey. The priest, as well as the ignorant peasant, fell under the suspicion of this fell commission; and De Lancre writes with much complacency, that the accused were brought to trial to the number of forty in one day,—with what chance of escape, when the judges were blinded with prejudice, and could only hear the evidence and the defence through the medium of an interpreter, the understanding of the reader may easily anticipate.
Among other gross transgressions of the most ordinary rules, it may be remarked, that the accused, in what their judges called confessions, contradicted each other at every turn respecting the description of the Domdaniel in which they pretended to have assembled, and the fiend who presided there. All spoke to a sort of gilded throne ; but some saw a hideous wild he-goat seated there—some a man disfigured and twisted, as suffering torture—some, with better taste, beheld a huge indistinct form, resembling one of those mutilated trunks of trees found in ancient forests. But De Lancre was no " Daniel come to judgment," and the discrepancy of evidence, which saved the life and fame of Susannah, made no impression in favour of the sorcerers of Labourt.