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) OR more than a hundred years a story of a melancholy and remarkable kind has floated through Europe. It has become in every country an interesting tradition; all persons have, less or more, heard something of it; it is one of the tales which the young, by one means or other, pick up. This traditional relation is the story of " The D Man with the Iron Mask." The story is French, and ^C/ possesses that degree of mystery which insures a lively interest among the imaginative. It purports to be the history ef a distinguished personage, perhaps a prince, who was confined for a great number of years, until his death, in one of the state prisons of France. The era to which the story is referred was that of Louis XIV.—a knowledge of whose character and position is necessary for a full comprehension of the plot. Louis was born in 1638, attained the authority of king in 1061, and from this period he reigned for fifty-four years, till his death in 1715. Accomplished in person and manners, and possessing a love of magnificence and power, Louis was the greatest of the old French monarchs; yet this greatness had in it little of magnanimity. Inspired by an intense selfishness, and of insatiable ambition, he permitted nothing to stand in the way of his desires. Neither was any flattery too gross for him; incense was the only intellectual food he imbibed. Independence of character he detested; the man who once, though but for an instant, stood up before him in the consciousness of manly integrity of purpose, was lost for ever in the favour of the king. He detested the nobility, because they were not the creatures of his breath; they No. 131. l
had their own consequence: his ministers were always his favourites, because he had made them, and could unmake them; and because, moreover, they had abundant opportunities of applying large doses of the most fulsome flattery, and of prostrating themselves before him, of assuming an air of utter nothingness in his presence, of attributing to him the praise of every scheme they had invented, and of insinuating that their own ideas were the creatures of his suggestions. To such a pitch was this intoxication carried, that he who had neither ear nor voice might be heard singing, among his peculiar intimates, snatches of the most fulsome parts of the songs in his own praise.
His love of sieves and reviews was only another form of this his only enthusiasm—his passion for himself. A siege was a fine opportunity for exhibiting his capacity; in other words, for attributing to himself all the talents of a great general. Here, too, he could exhibit his courage at little expense of danger; for he could be prevailed upon, as it were with difficulty, to keep in the background, and by the aid of his admirable constitution, and great power of enduring hunger, thirst, fatigue, and changes of temperature, really exhibit himself in a very advantageous point of view. At reviews, also, his fine person, his skill in horsemanship, and his air of dignity and noble presence, enabled him to play the first part with considerable effect. It was always with a talk of his campaigns and his troops that he used to entertain his mistresses, and sometimes his courtiers. The subject must necessarily have been tiresome to them, but it was in some measure redeemed by the elegance and propriety of his expressions: he had a natural justness of phrase in conversation, and told a story better than any man of his time. The talent of recounting is by no means a common quality: he had it in perfection.
If Louis had a talent for anything, it was for the management of the merest details. His mind naturally ran on small differences. He was incessantly occupied with the meanest minutiae of military affairs. Clothing, arms, evolutions, drill, discipline— in a word, all the lowest details. It was the same in his buildings, his establishments, his household supplies; he was perpetually fancying that he could teach the men who understood the subject, whatever it might be, better than anybody else, and they of course received his instruction in the manner of novices. This waste of time he would term a continual application to business. It was a description of industry which exactly suited the purposes of his ministers, who, by putting him on the scent in some trivial matter, respecting which they pretended to receive the law from him, took care to manage all the more important matters according to their own schemes. To this love of trifling and scheming may be ascribed many of his meaner acts of vengeance. Pond of contriving, he liked more to torment an enemy by secret seizure and imprisonment, than to kill him by an open and instantaneous act. To him the horrid pleasure of learning from time to time liow an unfortunate captive spent his wearisome hours, was very exquisite; and thus did he make revenge a continual feast—a feast, however, which carried remorse in its train. Inheriting a purely despotic power, these 'vengeful actions were not matters of common remark. It had been the practice of the kings of France, ever since Louis XI., to act exactly with the people and the laws as they were so disposed. Among their ordinary means of putting out of the way persons who gave them any displeasure, was that of consigning them secretly to one of the many state prisons—gloomy and strong fortress edifices—with which France abounded. Fathers of families, priests, soldiers, statesmen, noblemen of the court, ladies of quality—all were numbered among the victims of this iniquitous abuse of power. There was usually no form of trial; lettres de cachet, or sealed warrants, were put in force with merciless severity. Sometimes the individual thus taken suddenly into custody would be transferred to the Bastile, a prison fortress at Paris (of which an account will be given in a future tract), where he would be kept for years, or for life, holding no communication whatever with the external world. At other times, in cases of greater vengefulness, the p'oor victim would be thrown into a vault, to die, within a few days or weeks, of famine. The vaults devoted to this odious purpose were called oubliettes; that is, places where the inmates were to be forgotten. These oubliettes, of which the remains may still be seen in some of the old ruined castles in France, were usually shaped like a bottle, small at the mouth, and wide beneath, and, being of considerable depth, escape from them was impossible. Amidst the decaying, remains of former victims, and everything that was nauseous, the individual precipitated into them found a horrible grave.* Whether Louis XIV. resorted to this barbarity, is not known. Unrestrained by scruples of generosity, honour, or religion, it is at least certain that, throughout his long reign, he was one of the most detestable tyrants that have ever challenged the execration of mankind. The Bastile and other state prisons were filled by him with unfortunate captives, many of them ignorant of the offences laid to their charge, and all exposed, as authentic records verify, to the worst practices of the worst and most barbarous ages, even to the infliction of
* Such villanous receptacles were not confined exclusively to France; they were common all over Europe. We have seen one at Chillou, and likewise the remains of one in the castle of St Andrews in Scotland. This last-mentioned, situated in a low part of the ruins, is a dark cavern, cut out of the solid rock, and shaped like a common bottle. The neck of the orifice is seven feet wide, by about eight in depth, after which it widens till it is seventeen feet in diameter. The depth of the whole is twenty-two feet. This fearful tomb was once used as the dungeon of the castle. Recusant victims were put therein, and possibly left to die of cold and famine. Some years since it was cleared out, when a great quantity of bones were removed.
torture itself.* In everything connected with these prisoners the utmost secrecy was usually observed: they were seized in the dead of night, fictitious names given to them, and all traces of their fate obliterated. Thus the anguish of families was increased by the very uncertainty in which they remained as to what had befallen their vanished relatives.
The course of profligacy, and of lavish expenditure on buildings, wars, and military parade, in which Louis XIV. recklessly indulged, had the effect, as is well known, of sapping the foundations of the monarchy, and of leading to that misery and discontent which broke out in the revolution of 1789.
From this short review of the character of Louis XIV., it will not be considered at all singular that a person of rank should have been kept in confinement for many years during his reign, without anything being known at the time concerning the unhappy captive. We have seen that it was not only the practice of the age for kings to imprison individuals without let or hindrance, but that Louis XIV., in particular, was exceedingly fond of this method of punishment for real or imaginary offences. So much for preliminary explanations. It is evident there is a groundwork for such a sfory as that of the Man with the Iron Mask; and we now propose to explain to our young readers who the
* The Sieur Constantin de Renneville, in giving an account of his own, treatment during an eleven years' sojourn in the Bastile, for having written some verses reflecting on the prowess of the French arms, presents a harrowing account of the general conduct pursued towards the prisoners. There is no doubt he writes under a lively sense of the persecution he had suffered, and many of his statements may be tinctured with exaggeration; but, in the main, his relation is entitled to credit. The work is styled "The French Inquisition, or History of the Bastile," and was first published, in 1719, at Amsterdam. It extends to five thick closely-printed volumes, and has gone through several editions. Its attacks are principally directed against the governor and officers of the prison, whom he accuses of starving the prisoners in order to appropriate the sums allowed for their maintenance. Amongst other cases, he mentions that of a veteran Swiss officer, upwards of seventy, who had served in the army all his life, but had been betrayed into a hasty remark to Marshal Villeroi, at the battle of Ramilies, to whose denunciation he owed his incarceration, and who was kept without fire, and provided only with bread and water, although the king allowed fifteen francs a-day for his support. Renneville breaks out into the following pathetic lamentation:—" Of a truth what horrors have I not witnessed during eleven years and upwards that I have been made to endure torments beyond all expression, without having ever undergone a single interrogatory; without being able to obtain judges or commissioners to investigate my case; or without the ministers of the king deigning to acquaint me with the reason of my detention! I have been made to suffer a punishment more insupportable than the cruellest death, without learning the cause, without being granted leave during so long a time to write to my wife, my kinsmen, my friends, or even the minister who ordered my arrest. I found myself buried alive, without being able to ascertain whether I had yet a wife and children in the world, whatever prayers and submissions I lavished with that view on my inexorable persecutors."
man was, what were his crimes, and all else that can be substantiated respecting him. The narrative is probably not much worth; still, as it contains a mystery which goes on perplexing generation after generation, and as it throws a light on past manners, we think it may not be, on the whole, out of place to tell it, as truth always ought to be told.
We must commence by disposing of various ingenious
CONJECTURES AS TO WHO WAS THE IRON MASK.
Although, for a number of years after the death of Louis XIV., there were many rumours in France as to the Man with the Iron Mask, it was considered dangerous to publish any real or probable account of his sufferings. The narrative of his captivity was first printed at Amsterdam in 1745, and in the form of an allegory, the scene of which was laid in Persia. According to this romance, as it must be called, the Man with the Iron Mask was the Count de Vermandois, a son of Louis XIV., who had incurred his father's displeasure. This fiction did not attract much attention: but it probably, along with personal pique, and the love of dramatic effect, induced Voltaire to revive the narrative in his " Age of Louis XIV.," a work published at Berlin in 1751. Not content with asseverating the assumed facts hitherto propagated, he undertook, upon the testimony of officers of the Bastile, his informants, to describe the person of the prisoner as of good height and admirable proportions, and to represent him as possessing a voice that awakened much interest, and as evincing in his deportment an exemplary resignation. He, moreover, stated that the mask worn by the prisoner was furnished with steel springs at the chin, whereby he was enabled to eat with freedom. His captivity dated from 1661, in the fortress of the island of Sainte-Marguerite, whence he was removed in 1690 to the Bastile, under the most rigorous precautions, in which latter prison he died in 1704. The Marquis de Louvois, minister of the war department under Louis XIV., visited him, and remained standing whilst addressing him, exhibiting in his whole demeanour great respect. He was provided with everything he desired; his taste for fine linen and laces was abundantly gratified; he was allowed the solace of music; and the governor never ventured to sit in his presence.
This is the account given by Voltaire, supported by all the weight of his own name, and corroborated by the implied authority of the Duke de Richelieu and Madame de Pompadour, the one the minister, and the other a confidant, of Louis XV., with whom he was then living on terms of the closest intimacy. It was confirmed in its main particulars by another writer, LagrangeChancel, who had been himself confined at Sainte-Marguerite, and claimed to derive his information from the governor of that fortress. He alleged that "the commandant, Saint-Mars, manifested great consideration towards his prisoner, served him him