« НазадПродовжити »
(then the courtly librarian of George the Fourth,)“ that the prose works of Milton, where, in the midst of much that is coarse and intemperate, passages of such redeeming beauty occur, should be in the hands of so few readers, considering the advantage which might be derived to our literature from the study of their original and nervous eloquence. On their first appearance, indeed, they must inevitably have been received by some with indifference, by others with dislike, by many with resentment. The zeal of the author in the cause of the Parliament, and the bitter personality with which he too frequently advocates his civil and religious opinions, were not calculated to secure him a dispassionate hearing, even from his most candid opponents; but in happier times, when it is less difficult to make allowance for the effervescence caused by the heat of conflicting politics, and when the judgment is no longer influenced by the animosities of party, the taste of the age may
profitably and safely recalled to those beauties of Milton which were not written to serve a mere temporary purpose.”
So far the Bishop. Mr. Godwin, as is natural, speaks in less qualified terms. In his nature and his principles he is more Miltonic than the amiable prelate, for whose liberality, however, on this and other occasions, we entertain the most unfeigned respect. " The character of Milton,” says the historian of the Commonwealth,
is one of those which appears to gain by time. To future ages it is probable he will stand forth as the most advantageous specimen that can be produced of the English nation. He is our poet. There is nothing else of so capacious dimensions in the compass of our literature (if, indeed, there is in the literary productions of our species) that can compare with the . Paradise Lost.' He is our patriot. No man of just discernment can read his political writings without being penetrated with the holy flame that animated him; and if the world shall ever attain that stature of mind as for courts to find no place in it, he will be the patriot of the world. As an original genius, as a writer of lofty and expansive soul, and as a man, he rises above his countrymen ; and, like Saul in the convention of the Jews, “ from his shoulders and upward he is higher than any
of the people. We have only to add, in conclusion, that Mr. Fletcher has performed his task with considerable ability; and we congratulate him that his first literary effort should associate his name with that of the most eloquent writer in the language. He may yet learn much by a careful study of his great model.
TIIE STORY OF HELEN GILLET.
“ Le vrai n'est pas toujours vraisemblable.”
It would probably be difficult to find, in the whole course of human events, a more striking illustration of the truth of the above motto than the following history of Helen Gillet, a young lady of Burgundy, who was tried for infanticide, and condemned to be decapitated, in the early part of the seventeenth century. The mixture of the extraordinary, the marvellous, and the horrible in this “ o'er-true tale” would, if detailed in a work of fiction, be considered as evincing a want of tact in the writer, from the apparent improbability and aggravated horror of the events, which surpass, in their frightful reality, anything that the author of “ Melmoth” has, in the wildest debauch of his terror-loving imagination, given birth to. And yet not one of the facts, hereinafter related, but has been faithfully and literally copied from the judicial records of the court before which the trial took place, and from the municipal archives of the city of Dijon, in which were transcribed the official reports of the extraordinary circumstances that occurred at the place of execution. It will surprise, if not interest, the English reader to learn that the said story of Helen Gillet is counected, by a singular coincidence, with a remarkable event in the life of the ill-fated Charles I. of England. The source from whence we have drawn the principal facts of this harrowing narrative is a book written by an advocate of the bar of Dijon,* and of which but a very few copies were printed. Upon one of these, by a fortunate chance, we happened to lay our hand. The documents which furnished the author of this book with the facts detailed in it, he found in the eleventh volume of the old “Mercure François de Richer et Renaudat,” in “ La Vie de l'Abbesse de Notre Dame du Tart, Madame Courcelle de Pourlans t,” and in the authentic archives of the Chambre des Comptes, and of the Mairie of Dijon. From the incontestable truth and authenticity of these sources, it is evident that no narration of past events can rest upon more solid and incontrovertible proofs than do the principal and almost incredible facts of the tragical history of Helen Gillet.
In the year 1624, the châtelain, or royal judge, who presided over Bourg-en-Bresse, a little town situated within view of Mount Jura, was Pierre Gillet, a man of noble extraction, upright conduct, austere manners, and unblemished reputation. Pierre Gillet was blessed with an only daughter, named Helen, aged twenty-two, who was equally admired for the beauty of her person and the graces of her mind, as she was respected for the virtue and piety of her conduct. Helen was seldom seen at any place of public resort except the church; and yet there the eye
of abandoned and daring profligacy sought her out and marked her for its victim. An individual of violent and reckless passions, unfortunately for poor Helen Gillet, became enamoured of her; and, to
* Histoire d'Hélène Gillet, ou Relation d'un événement extraordinaire et tragique survenu à Dijon dans le dix-septième siècle. Par un ancien Avocat. Dijon, 1829. In 8vo. de 72 pages. † Par Edme-Bernard Bourrée, Oratorien. Lyon, 1699. In 8vo. de 541 pages.
obtain the object of his desires, contrived to gain admission into her father's house, under the guise of an instructor of her brothers. But being soon convinced, by the purity and unaffected reserve of Helen, of the impossibility of accoinplishing his design by the usual arts of seduction, he had recourse to the treacherous collusion of a vile servant woman, and to the atrocious and dastardly expedient of a narcotic draught, to achieve the ruin and disgrace of the hapless girl.
This event left no other traces in the mind of Helen Gillet than a vague stupor, and, to her, unaccountable melancholy, unaccompanied with either remorse or dread
“ She fear'd no danger, for she knew no sin." But after the lapse of some time, the sly looks and whispers of the groups she passed on her way to and from church,---the coarse laughter and ribald jests of the young men she chanced to meet, -the fixed and scrutinizing gaze with which the elder and married women regarded her shape, followed by shrugs and upturned eyes, expressing half pity, half scorn--and the daily falling off of her younger female acquaintance, even including her dearest and most intimate friends, gradually forced upon the conviction of the poor girl that her reputation was suffering under some unknown but terrible taint, and that society rejected her as a worthless and forlorn creature. In a short time but one friend alone in the world remained to her, and in the bosom of that friend-her mothershe hid her face to weep, but not to unburthen her mind, for she had no guilty secret to disclose.
In regard to the birth of the child, of the compassing whose death Helen Gillet was accused, much and inextricable mystery prevailed. In her various examinations, and on her trial, she constantly asserted her ignorance of having ever given birth to a child. She, however, confessed that some time after she had been betrayed by the treachery of a female servant to the brutality of her ravisher, an accident had happened to her which she communicated to a woman in her father's service, who told her that she had experienced a miscarriage. Another account, relative to the child, circulated amongst the people of Bourgen-Bresse, to the effect, that on the night of Helen's accouchement the only person present was her mother; that Helen was buried in the profound sleep of exhausted nature, whilst her mother, tired out with watching, was in a middle state between slumber and waking, when, towards the break of day, she saw a man enter the chamber, approach the bed, from which he snatched the new-born babe, (for no cradle had been provided for this clandestine accouchement,) and, after wrapping it in the first article of dress that came under his hand, and imprinting a hurried kiss on the brow of its sleeping mother, rushed from the apartment before Madame Gillet, who witnessed, with a kind of dreamy uncertainty, this extraordinary apparition, could recover from her surprise and horror sufficiently to give an alarm (if, under the peculiar circumstances, she had dared to do so), or prevent his departure. This man was supposed to have been the person who had acted for a short time as tutor to the sons of Pierre Gillet, since a person resembling him had been observed anxiously on the watch about the house of the châtelain for some days previous to the accouchement, and was never seen afterwards in the country.
However true or false this account may be, the
of Helen Gillet, accompanied by her mother, at church, with the traces of recent suffering, both mental and bodily, on her features, and the recovered slenderness of her shape, gave rise to surmises and rumours of so serious an import, that the magistrates thought their duty called upon them to take cognizance of the affair, and Helen Gillet was in consequence subjected to the visit of a jury of matrons, whose report affirmed that she had given birth to a child some fifteen days previously to the said inquiry. The unfortunate young lady was thrown into prison, and criminal proceedings were commenced against her; but, from the circumstance of there being no corpus delicti in evidence, (the body of the child not having been found,) the Judges were in doubt how to proceed, when the following occurrence relieved them from the dilemma. A soldier, who was walking in the fields close to the town, was struck by the action of a raven, which, darting from a tree to the ground close to the foot of a wall, began tearing up the earth with its bill and claws, and then flew back into the tree, bearing in its bill a fragment of discoloured or bloody linen. The soldier ran to the spot, turned up the earth with the point of his sabre, and discovered the body of an infant enveloped in a chemise, upon one of the corners of which were the initials H. G. ! This fact being made known to the Judges, the proceedings were resumed, and, on the 6th of February, 1625, Helen Gillet was found guilty of the murder of her child, and condemned to be beheaded (she being of noble blood) instead of being hanged, as would have been the punishment for one of inferior condition.
An appeal from this judgment to the Parliament of Dijon was made by Helen's advocate, on his own responsibility ; for Pierre Gillet, the father of the forlorn culprit, had abstained from all interference on behalf of his daughter, and had even expressly forbidden that her name should be pronounced before him, so far had his almost Roman austerity of manners and rigid sense of justice prevailed in stifling the dearest and most powerful of the natural affections. Helen Gillet was led on foot, under the guard of two archers, from Bourg-en-Bresse to the prison of Dijon; and, of all her family and former friends, was accompanied alone on this sad journey by one wretched woman-her mother. It was not that Madame Gillet hoped to influence, by her tears and anguish, the Judges of the court of La Tournelle, before whom the appeal was to be pleaded; she had but too recently experienced the inefficacy of these means upon the Judges of the Présidial at Bourg-en-Bresse; but she placed her trust in that all-powerful and merciful Judge who can, in His own good time, reverse the short-sighted and often erring awards of man, and shield the innocent, and bind up the wounds of the broken and oppressed heart. Humble as she was pious, she thought herself, alone, not worthy of obtaining the interposition of Divine Providence, but hastened, on her arrival at Dijon, to the Convent of the Bernardines, to beg the prayers and intercession of the holy nuns in favour of her unfortunate daughter. Of this convent a relation of Madame Gillet-Joan de Saint Joseph, for which name, on taking the veil, she had renounced the noble one of Courcelle de Pourlans—was abbess. It was a singular and touching sight to see these pure and innocent virgins on their knees before the altar of the convent chapel, imploring, with intermingled sobs and tears, the pity of the Almighty in behalf of an unmarried mother, whom the law had pronounced guilty of the murder of her own child, and obliged, in offering up their supplications to the Divine mercy, to mingle thoughts and images, the entertaining of which in their minds, under other circumstances, would have appeared to them a sin and a profanation. It was not on her knees that poor Madame Gillet joined her prayers to theirs, but prostrated upon the cold pavement, and silent and motionless as a corse, unless when from time to time a convulsive throe ran shuddering through her frame.
From this scene of prayer and true charity there was but one of the nuns absent, and she was the most venerable and remarkable of the sisterhood. Sister Frances du Saint Esprit (whose family name was Madame de Longueval) had not for some years previously descended to the chapel, her great age (being then ninety-two) and infirmities confining her to her cell. In the opinion of worldlings she had fallen into a state of dotage, or second childhood; but, in the estimation of her sister nuris and the faithful who frequented the convent, she was looked upon as a privileged being, who had been so long estranged from the thoughts and affairs of this world as to have attained a more intimate communion with Heaven. Such being the belief that prevailed within the walls of the convent, the allusions which Sister Frances du Saint Esprit made (which were of very rare occurrence) to the affairs or interests of this world were received as the suggestions of unearthly wisdom, or as dictated by a spirit of prophecy. However correct or erroneous this estimation of her may have been, her positive and repeated prognostications, justified in so extraordinary a manner by the event concerning the fate of Helen Gillet, stamped with indelible conviction the idea of her superior sanctity and prophetic power upon the minds of her sister nuns and the good Catholics of Dijon.
At the conclusion of the prayers offered up in the chapel for the poor culprit, the mother of Helen Gillet hastened to the cell of Sister Frances du Saint Esprit, whom she found stretched upon her straw pallet, with her withered hands devoutly crossed upon her bosom, and holding a crucifix. From her eyes being closed, and the absence of all motion in her limbs, Madame Gillet, supposing that she was asleep, retired into a corner of the cell and knelt down to pray. But she soon heard herself called by the venerable nun, who stretched out one of her hands to find her, for her sight was too dimmed by age to see objects distinctly. Madame Gillet took her hand, and pressed it respectfully to her lips. “ Good! good!” said Sister Frances, with an ineffable smile. are the mother of the poor girl for whom our holy sisters have been praying this morning. I declare to you that she is a pure soul and a chosen vessel of the Lord's, who has deigned to hear the prayers of his servants; so that
your child shall not die by the hand of the executioner, for Helen Gillet is destined to pass a long and edifying life.” Having said these few words, the venerable nun seemed to forget that there was any one near her, and relapsed into her usual state of reverie or listlessness.
On the 12th of May the Parliament of Dijon resumed its sittings, and, on the report of Counsellor Jacob, the appeal from the criminal tribunal of Bourg-en-Bresse was taken into consideration. The sentence was confirmed by an unanimous vote, and with an aggravation of the punishment; it being ordered that the culprit should be led to the place of