Infomotions, Inc.The Dancing Mania / Hecker, J. F. C. (Justus Friedrich Carl), 1795-1850

Author: Hecker, J. F. C. (Justus Friedrich Carl), 1795-1850
Title: The Dancing Mania
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): plague; vitus's dance; contagion; dancing mania; fourteenth; fourteenth century; disease; malady; mania; disorder; vitus's dancers; dancers; symptoms
Contributor(s): Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 44,855 words (really short) Grade range: 17-20 (graduate school) Readability score: 33 (difficult)
Identifier: etext1739
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The Black Death and The Dancing Mania

by J. F. C. Hecker (translated by B. G. Babington)

May, 1999  [Etext #1739]

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The Black Death and The Dancing Mania by J. F. C. Hecker
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The Black Death and The Dancing Mania


Justus Friedrich Karl Hecker was one of three generations of
distinguished professors of medicine.  His father, August
Friedrich Hecker, a most industrious writer, first practised as a
physician in Frankenhausen, and in 1790 was appointed Professor of
Medicine at the University of Erfurt.  In 1805 he was called to
the like professorship at the University of Berlin.  He died at
Berlin in 1811.

Justus Friedrich Karl Hecker was born at Erfurt in January, 1795.
He went, of course--being then ten years old--with his father to
Berlin in 1805, studied at Berlin in the Gymnasium and University,
but interrupted his studies at the age of eighteen to fight as a
volunteer in the war for a renunciation of Napoleon and all his
works.  After Waterloo he went back to his studies, took his
doctor's degree in 1817 with a treatise on the "Antiquities of
Hydrocephalus," and became privat-docent in the Medical Faculty of
the Berlin University.  His inclination was strong from the first
towards the historical side of inquiries into Medicine.  This
caused him to undertake a "History of Medicine," of which the
first volume appeared in 1822.  It obtained rank for him at Berlin
as Extraordinary Professor of the History of Medicine.  This
office was changed into an Ordinary professorship of the same
study in 1834, and Hecker held that office until his death in

The office was created for a man who had a special genius for this
form of study.  It was delightful to himself, and he made it
delightful to others.  He is regarded as the founder of historical
pathology.  He studied disease in relation to the history of man,
made his study yield to men outside his own profession an
important chapter in the history of civilisation, and even took
into account physical phenomena upon the surface of the globe as
often affecting the movement and character of epidemics.

The account of "The Black Death" here translated by Dr. Babington
was Hecker's first important work of this kind.  It was published
in 1832, and was followed in the same year by his account of "The
Dancing Mania."  The books here given are the two that first gave
Hecker a wide reputation.  Many other such treatises followed,
among them, in 1865, a treatise on the "Great Epidemics of the
Middle Ages."  Besides his "History of Medicine," which, in its
second volume, reached into the fourteenth century, and all his
smaller treatises, Hecker wrote a large number of articles in
Encyclopaedias and Medical Journals.  Professor J.F.K. Hecker was,
in a more interesting way, as busy as Professor A.F. Hecker, his
father, had been.  He transmitted the family energies to an only
son, Karl von Hecker, born in 1827, who distinguished himself
greatly as a Professor of Midwifery, and died in 1882.

Benjamin Guy Babington, the translator of these books of Hecker's,
belonged also to a family in which the study of Medicine has
passed from father to son, and both have been writers.  B.G.
Babington was the son of Dr. William Babington, who was physician
to Guy's Hospital for some years before 1811, when the extent of
his private practice caused him to retire.  He died in 1833.  His
son, Benjamin Guy Babington, was educated at the Charterhouse, saw
service as a midshipman, served for seven years in India, returned
to England, graduated as physician at Cambridge in 1831.  He
distinguished himself by inquiries into the cholera epidemic in
1832, and translated these pieces of Hecker's in 1833, for
publication by the Sydenham Society.  He afterwards translated
Hecker's other treatises on epidemics of the Middle Ages.  Dr.
B.G. Babington was Physician to Guy's Hospital from 1840 to 1855,
and was a member of the Medical Council of the General Board of
Health.  He died on the 8th of April, 1866.




That Omnipotence which has called the world with all its living
creatures into one animated being, especially reveals Himself in
the desolation of great pestilences.  The powers of creation come
into violent collision; the sultry dryness of the atmosphere; the
subterraneous thunders; the mist of overflowing waters, are the
harbingers of destruction.  Nature is not satisfied with the
ordinary alternations of life and death, and the destroying angel
waves over man and beast his flaming sword.

These revolutions are performed in vast cycles, which the spirit
of man, limited, as it is, to a narrow circle of perception, is
unable to explore.  They are, however, greater terrestrial events
than any of those which proceed from the discord, the distress, or
the passions of nations.  By annihilations they awaken new life;
and when the tumult above and below the earth is past, nature is
renovated, and the mind awakens from torpor and depression to the
consciousness of an intellectual existence.

Were it in any degree within the power of human research to draw
up, in a vivid and connected form, an historical sketch of such
mighty events, after the manner of the historians of wars and
battles, and the migrations of nations, we might then arrive at
clear views with respect to the mental development of the human
race, and the ways of Providence would be more plainly
discernible.  It would then be demonstrable, that the mind of
nations is deeply affected by the destructive conflict of the
powers of nature, and that great disasters lead to striking
changes in general civilisation.  For all that exists in man,
whether good or evil, is rendered conspicuous by the presence of
great danger.  His inmost feelings are roused--the thought of
self-preservation masters his spirit--self-denial is put to severe
proof, and wherever darkness and barbarism prevail, there the
affrighted mortal flies to the idols of his superstition, and all
laws, human and divine, are criminally violated.

In conformity with a general law of nature, such a state of
excitement brings about a change, beneficial or detrimental,
according to circumstances, so that nations either attain a higher
degree of moral worth, or sink deeper in ignorance and vice.  All
this, however, takes place upon a much grander scale than through
the ordinary vicissitudes of war and peace, or the rise and fall
of empires, because the powers of nature themselves produce
plagues, and subjugate the human will, which, in the contentions
of nations, alone predominates.


The most memorable example of what has been advanced is afforded
by a great pestilence of the fourteenth century, which desolated
Asia, Europe, and Africa, and of which the people yet preserve the
remembrance in gloomy traditions.  It was an oriental plague,
marked by inflammatory boils and tumours of the glands, such as
break out in no other febrile disease.  On account of these
inflammatory boils, and from the black spots, indicatory of a
putrid decomposition, which appeared upon the skin, it was called
in Germany and in the northern kingdoms of Europe the Black Death,
and in Italy, la mortalega grande, the Great Mortality.

Few testimonies are presented to us respecting its symptoms and
its course, yet these are sufficient to throw light upon the form
of the malady, and they are worthy of credence, from their
coincidence with the signs of the same disease in modern times.

The imperial writer, Kantakusenos, whose own son, Andronikus, died
of this plague in Constantinople, notices great imposthumes of the
thighs and arms of those affected, which, when opened, afforded
relief by the discharge of an offensive matter.  Buboes, which are
the infallible signs of the oriental plague, are thus plainly
indicated, for he makes separate mention of smaller boils on the
arms and in the face, as also in other parts of the body, and
clearly distinguishes these from the blisters, which are no less
produced by plague in all its forms.  In many cases, black spots
broke out all over the body, either single, or united and

These symptoms were not all found in every case.  In many, one
alone was sufficient to cause death, while some patients
recovered, contrary to expectation, though afflicted with all.
Symptoms of cephalic affection were frequent; many patients became
stupefied and fell into a deep sleep, losing also their speech
from palsy of the tongue; others remained sleepless and without
rest.  The fauces and tongue were black, and as if suffused with
blood; no beverage could assuage their burning thirst, so that
their sufferings continued without alleviation until terminated by
death, which many in their despair accelerated with their own
hands.  Contagion was evident, for attendants caught the disease
of their relations and friends, and many houses in the capital
were bereft even of their last inhabitant.  Thus far the ordinary
circumstances only of the oriental plague occurred.  Still deeper
sufferings, however, were connected with this pestilence, such as
have not been felt at other times; the organs of respiration were
seized with a putrid inflammation; a violent pain in the chest
attacked the patient; blood was expectorated, and the breath
diffused a pestiferous odour.

In the West, the following were the predominating symptoms on the
eruption of this disease.  An ardent fever, accompanied by an
evacuation of blood, proved fatal in the first three days.  It
appears that buboes and inflammatory boils did not at first come
out at all, but that the disease, in the form of carbuncular
(anthrax-artigen) affection of the lungs, effected the destruction
of life before the other symptoms were developed.

Thus did the plague rage in Avignon for six or eight weeks, and
the pestilential breath of the sick, who expectorated blood,
caused a terrible contagion far and near; for even the vicinity of
those who had fallen ill of plague was certain death; so that
parents abandoned their infected children, and all the ties of
kindred were dissolved.  After this period, buboes in the axilla
and in the groin, and inflammatory boils all over the body, made
their appearance; but it was not until seven months afterwards
that some patients recovered with matured buboes, as in the
ordinary milder form of plague.

Such is the report of the courageous Guy de Chauliac, who
vindicated the honour of medicine, by bidding defiance to danger;
boldly and constantly assisting the affected, and disdaining the
excuse of his colleagues, who held the Arabian notion, that
medical aid was unavailing, and that the contagion justified
flight.  He saw the plague twice in Avignon, first in the year
1348, from January to August, and then twelve years later, in the
autumn, when it returned from Germany, and for nine months spread
general distress and terror.  The first time it raged chiefly
among the poor, but in the year 1360, more among the higher
classes.  It now also destroyed a great many children, whom it had
formerly spared, and but few women.

The like was seen in Egypt.  Here also inflammation of the lungs
was predominant, and destroyed quickly and infallibly, with
burning heat and expectoration of blood.  Here too the breath of
the sick spread a deadly contagion, and human aid was as vain as
it was destructive to those who approached the infected.

Boccacio, who was an eye-witness of its incredible fatality in
Florence, the seat of the revival of science, gives a more lively
description of the attack of the disease than his non-medical

It commenced here, not as in the East, with bleeding at the nose,
a sure sign of inevitable death; but there took place at the
beginning, both in men and women, tumours in the groin and in the
axilla, varying in circumference up to the size of an apple or an
egg, and called by the people, pest-boils (gavoccioli).  Then
there appeared similar tumours indiscriminately over all parts of
the body, and black or blue spots came out on the arms or thighs,
or on other parts, either single and large, or small and thickly
studded.  These spots proved equally fatal with the pest-boils,
which had been from the first regarded as a sure sign of death.
No power of medicine brought relief--almost all died within the
first three days, some sooner, some later, after the appearance of
these signs, and for the most part entirely without fever or other
symptoms.  The plague spread itself with the greater fury, as it
communicated from the sick to the healthy, like fire among dry and
oily fuel, and even contact with the clothes and other articles
which had been used by the infected, seemed to induce the disease.
As it advanced, not only men, but animals fell sick and shortly
expired, if they had touched things belonging to the diseased or
dead.  Thus Boccacio himself saw two hogs on the rags of a person
who had died of plague, after staggering about for a short time,
fall down dead as if they had taken poison.  In other places
multitudes of dogs, cats, fowls, and other animals, fell victims
to the contagion; and it is to be presumed that other epizootes
among animals likewise took place, although the ignorant writers
of the fourteenth century are silent on this point.

In Germany there was a repetition in every respect of the same
phenomena.  The infallible signs of the oriental bubo-plague with
its inevitable contagion were found there as everywhere else; but
the mortality was not nearly so great as in the other parts of
Europe.  The accounts do not all make mention of the spitting of
blood, the diagnostic symptom of this fatal pestilence; we are
not, however, thence to conclude that there was any considerable
mitigation or modification of the disease, for we must not only
take into account the defectiveness of the chronicles, but that
isolated testimonies are often contradicted by many others.  Thus
the chronicles of Strasburg, which only take notice of boils and
glandular swellings in the axillae and groins, are opposed by
another account, according to which the mortal spitting of blood
was met with in Germany; but this again is rendered suspicious, as
the narrator postpones the death of those who were thus affected,
to the sixth, and (even the) eighth day, whereas, no other author
sanctions so long a course of the disease; and even in Strasburg,
where a mitigation of the plague may, with most probability, be
assumed since the year 1349, only 16,000 people were carried off,
the generality expired by the third or fourth day.  In Austria,
and especially in Vienna, the plague was fully as malignant as
anywhere, so that the patients who had red spots and black boils,
as well as those afflicted with tumid glands, died about the third
day; and lastly, very frequent sudden deaths occurred on the
coasts of the North Sea and in Westphalia, without any further
development of the malady.

To France, this plague came in a northern direction from Avignon,
and was there more destructive than in Germany, so that in many
places not more than two in twenty of the inhabitants survived.
Many were struck, as if by lightning, and died on the spot, and
this more frequently among the young and strong than the old;
patients with enlarged glands in the axillae and groins scarcely
survive two or three days; and no sooner did these fatal signs
appear, than they bid adieu to the world, and sought consolation
only in the absolution which Pope Clement VI. promised them in the
hour of death.

In England the malady appeared, as at Avignon, with spitting of
blood, and with the same fatality, so that the sick who were
afflicted either with this symptom or with vomiting of blood, died
in some cases immediately, in others within twelve hours, or at
the latest two days.  The inflammatory boils and buboes in the
groins and axillae were recognised at once as prognosticating a
fatal issue, and those were past all hope of recovery in whom they
arose in numbers all over the body.  It was not till towards the
close of the plague that they ventured to open, by incision, these
hard and dry boils, when matter flowed from them in small
quantity, and thus, by compelling nature to a critical
suppuration, many patients were saved.  Every spot which the sick
had touched, their breath, their clothes, spread the contagion;
and, as in all other places, the attendants and friends who were
either blind to their danger, or heroically despised it, fell a
sacrifice to their sympathy.  Even the eyes of the patient were
considered a sources of contagion, which had the power of acting
at a distance, whether on account of their unwonted lustre, or the
distortion which they always suffer in plague, or whether in
conformity with an ancient notion, according to which the sight
was considered as the bearer of a demoniacal enchantment.  Flight
from infected cities seldom availed the fearful, for the germ of
the disease adhered to them, and they fell sick, remote from
assistance, in the solitude of their country houses.

Thus did the plague spread over England with unexampled rapidity,
after it had first broken out in the county of Dorset, whence it
advanced through the counties of Devon and Somerset, to Bristol,
and thence reached Gloucester, Oxford and London.  Probably few
places escaped, perhaps not any; for the annuals of contemporaries
report that throughout the land only a tenth part of the
inhabitants remained alive.

From England the contagion was carried by a ship to Bergen, the
capital of Norway, where the plague then broke out in its most
frightful form, with vomiting of blood; and throughout the whole
country, spared not more than a third of the inhabitants.  The
sailors found no refuge in their ships; and vessels were often
seen driving about on the ocean and drifting on shore, whose crews
had perished to the last man.

In Poland the affected were attacked with spitting blood, and died
in a few days in such vast numbers, that, as it has been affirmed,
scarcely a fourth of the inhabitants were left.

Finally, in Russia the plague appeared two years later than in
Southern Europe; yet here again, with the same symptoms as
elsewhere.  Russian contemporaries have recorded that it began
with rigor, heat, and darting pain in the shoulders and back; that
it was accompanied by spitting of blood, and terminated fatally in
two, or at most three days.  It is not till the year 1360 that we
find buboes mentioned as occurring in the neck, in the axillae,
and in the groins, which are stated to have broken out when the
spitting of blood had continued some time.  According to the
experience of Western Europe, however, it cannot be assumed that
these symptoms did not appear at an earlier period.

Thus much, from authentic sources, on the nature of the Black
Death.  The descriptions which have been communicated contain,
with a few unimportant exceptions, all the symptoms of the
oriental plague which have been observed in more modern times.  No
doubt can obtain on this point.  The facts are placed clearly
before our eyes.  We must, however, bear in mind that this violent
disease does not always appear in the same form, and that while
the essence of the poison which it produces, and which is
separated so abundantly from the body of the patient, remains
unchanged, it is proteiform in its varieties, from the almost
imperceptible vesicle, unaccompanied by fever, which exists for
some time before it extends its poison inwardly, and then excites
fever and buboes, to the fatal form in which carbuncular
inflammations fall upon the most important viscera.

Such was the form which the plague assumed in the fourteenth
century, for the accompanying chest affection which appeared in
all the countries whereof we have received any account, cannot, on
a comparison with similar and familiar symptoms, be considered as
any other than the inflammation of the lungs of modern medicine, a
disease which at present only appears sporadically, and, owing to
a putrid decomposition of the fluids, is probably combined with
hemorrhages from the vessels of the lungs.  Now, as every
carbuncle, whether it be cutaneous or internal, generates in
abundance the matter of contagion which has given rise to it, so,
therefore, must the breath of the affected have been poisonous in
this plague, and on this account its power of contagion
wonderfully increased; wherefore the opinion appears
incontrovertible, that owing to the accumulated numbers of the
diseased, not only individual chambers and houses, but whole
cities were infected, which, moreover, in the Middle Ages, were,
with few exceptions, narrowly built, kept in a filthy state, and
surrounded with stagnant ditches.  Flight was, in consequence, of
no avail to the timid; for even though they had sedulously avoided
all communication with the diseased and the suspected, yet their
clothes were saturated with the pestiferous atmosphere, and every
inspiration imparted to them the seeds of the destructive malady,
which, in the greater number of cases, germinated with but too
much fertility.  Add to which, the usual propagation of the plague
through clothes, beds, and a thousand other things to which the
pestilential poison adheres--a propagation which, from want of
caution, must have been infinitely multiplied; and since articles
of this kind, removed from the access of air, not only retain the
matter of contagion for an indefinite period, but also increase
its activity and engender it like a living being, frightful ill-
consequences followed for many years after the first fury of the
pestilence was past.

The affection of the stomach, often mentioned in vague terms, and
occasionally as a vomiting of blood, was doubtless only a
subordinate symptom, even if it be admitted that actual
hematemesis did occur.  For the difficulty of distinguishing a
flow of blood from the stomach, from a pulmonic expectoration of
that fluid, is, to non-medical men, even in common cases, not
inconsiderable.  How much greater then must it have been in so
terrible a disease, where assistants could not venture to approach
the sick without exposing themselves to certain death?  Only two
medical descriptions of the malady have reached us, the one by the
brave Guy de Chauliac, the other by Raymond Chalin de Vinario, a
very experienced scholar, who was well versed in the learning of
the time.  The former takes notice only of fatal coughing of
blood; the latter, besides this, notices epistaxis, hematuria, and
fluxes of blood from the bowels, as symptoms of such decided and
speedy mortality, that those patients in whom they were observed
usually died on the same or the following day.

That a vomiting of blood may not, here and there, have taken
place, perhaps have been even prevalent in many places, is, from a
consideration of the nature of the disease, by no means to be
denied; for every putrid decomposition of the fluids begets a
tendency to hemorrhages of all kinds.  Here, however, it is a
question of historical certainty, which, after these doubts, is by
no means established.  Had not so speedy a death followed the
expectoration of blood, we should certainly have received more
detailed intelligence respecting other hemorrhages; but the malady
had no time to extend its effects further over the extremities of
the vessels.  After its first fury, however, was spent, the
pestilence passed into the usual febrile form of the oriental
plague.  Internal carbuncular inflammations no longer took place,
and hemorrhages became phenomena, no more essential in this than
they are in any other febrile disorders.  Chalin, who observed not
only the great mortality of 1348, and the plague of 1360, but also
that of 1373 and 1382, speaks moreover of affections of the
throat, and describes the back spots of plague patients more
satisfactorily than any of his contemporaries.  The former
appeared but in few cases, and consisted in carbuncular
inflammation of the gullet, with a difficulty of swallowing, even
to suffocation, to which, in some instances, was added
inflammation of the ceruminous glands of the ears, with tumours,
producing great deformity.  Such patients, as well as others, were
affected with expectoration of blood; but they did not usually die
before the sixth, and, sometimes, even as late as the fourteenth
day.  The same occurrence, it is well known, is not uncommon in
other pestilences; as also blisters on the surface of the body, in
different places, in the vicinity of which, tumid glands and
inflammatory boils, surrounded by discoloured and black streaks,
arose, and thus indicated the reception of the poison.  These
streaked spots were called, by an apt comparison, the girdle, and
this appearance was justly considered extremely dangerous.


An inquiry into the causes of the Black Death will not be without
important results in the study of the plagues which have visited
the world, although it cannot advance beyond generalisation
without entering upon a field hitherto uncultivated, and, to this
hour entirely unknown.  Mighty revolutions in the organism of the
earth, of which we have credible information, had preceded it.
From China to the Atlantic, the foundations of the earth were
shaken--throughout Asia and Europe the atmosphere was in
commotion, and endangered, by its baneful influence, both
vegetable and animal life.

The series of these great events began in the year 1333, fifteen
years before the plague broke out in Europe:  they first appeared
in China.  Here a parching drought, accompanied by famine,
commenced in the tract of country watered by the rivers Kiang and
Hoai.  This was followed by such violent torrents of rain, in and
about Kingsai, at that time the capital of the empire, that,
according to tradition, more than 400,000 people perished in the
floods.  Finally the mountain Tsincheou fell in, and vast clefts
were formed in the earth.  In the succeeding year (1334), passing
over fabulous traditions, the neighbourhood of Canton was visited
by inundations; whilst in Tche, after an unexampled drought, a
plague arose, which is said to have carried off about 5,000,000 of
people.  A few months afterwards an earthquake followed, at and
near Kingsai; and subsequent to the falling in of the mountains of
Ki-ming-chan, a lake was formed of more than a hundred leagues in
circumference, where, again, thousands found their grave.  In
Houkouang and Honan, a drought prevailed for five months; and
innumerable swarms of locusts destroyed the vegetation; while
famine and pestilence, as usual, followed in their train.
Connected accounts of the condition of Europe before this great
catastrophe are not to be expected from the writers of the
fourteenth century.  It is remarkable, however, that
simultaneously with a drought and renewed floods in China, in
1336, many uncommon atmospheric phenomena, and in the winter,
frequent thunderstorms, were observed in the north of France; and
so early as the eventful year of 1333 an eruption of Etna took
place.  According to the Chinese annuals, about 4,000,000 of
people perished by famine in the neighbourhood of Kiang in 1337;
and deluges, swarms of locusts, and an earthquake which lasted six
days, caused incredible devastation.  In the same year, the first
swarms of locusts appeared in Franconia, which were succeeded in
the following year by myriads of these insects.  In 1338 Kingsai
was visited by an earthquake of ten days' duration; at the same
time France suffered from a failure in the harvest; and
thenceforth, till the year 1342, there was in China a constant
succession of inundations, earthquakes, and famines.  In the same
year great floods occurred in the vicinity of the Rhine and in
France, which could not be attributed to rain alone; for,
everywhere, even on tops of mountains, springs were seen to burst
forth, and dry tracts were laid under water in an inexplicable
manner.  In the following year, the mountain Hong-tchang, in
China, fell in, and caused a destructive deluge; and in Pien-
tcheon and Leang-tcheou, after three months' rain, there followed
unheard-of inundations, which destroyed seven cities.  In Egypt
and Syria, violent earthquakes took place; and in China they
became, from this time, more and more frequent; for they recurred,
in 1344, in Ven-tcheou, where the sea overflowed in consequence;
in 1345, in Ki-tcheou, and in both the following years in Canton,
with subterraneous thunder.  Meanwhile, floods and famine
devastated various districts, until 1347, when the fury of the
elements subsided in China.

The signs of terrestrial commotions commenced in Europe in the
year 1348, after the intervening districts of country in Asia had
probably been visited in the same manner.

On the island of Cyprus, the plague from the East had already
broken out; when an earthquake shook the foundations of the
island, and was accompanied by so frightful a hurricane, that the
inhabitants who had slain their Mahometan slaves, in order that
they might not themselves be subjugated by them, fled in dismay,
in all directions.  The sea overflowed--the ships were dashed to
pieces on the rocks, and few outlived the terrific event, whereby
this fertile and blooming island was converted into a desert.
Before the earthquake, a pestiferous wind spread so poisonous an
odour, that many, being overpowered by it, fell down suddenly and
expired in dreadful agonies.

This phenomenon is one of the rarest that has ever been observed,
for nothing is more constant than the composition of the air; and
in no respect has nature been more careful in the preservation of
organic life.  Never have naturalists discovered in the atmosphere
foreign elements, which, evident to the senses, and borne by the
winds, spread from land to land, carrying disease over whole
portions of the earth, as is recounted to have taken place in the
year 1348.  It is, therefore, the more to be regretted, that in
this extraordinary period, which, owing to the low condition of
science, was very deficient in accurate observers, so little that
can be depended on respecting those uncommon occurrences in the
air, should have been recorded.  Yet, German accounts say
expressly, that a thick, stinking mist advanced from the East, and
spread itself over Italy; and there could be no deception in so
palpable a phenomenon.  The credibility of unadorned traditions,
however little they may satisfy physical research, can scarcely be
called in question when we consider the connection of events; for
just at this time earthquakes were more general than they had been
within the range of history.  In thousands of places chasms were
formed, from whence arose noxious vapours; and as at that time
natural occurrences were transformed into miracles, it was
reported, that a fiery meteor, which descended on the earth far in
the East, had destroyed everything within a circumference of more
than a hundred leagues, infecting the air far and wide.  The
consequences of innumerable floods contributed to the same effect;
vast river districts had been converted into swamps; foul vapours
arose everywhere, increased by the odour of putrified locusts,
which had never perhaps darkened the sun in thicker swarms, and of
countless corpses, which even in the well-regulated countries of
Europe, they knew not how to remove quickly enough out of the
sight of the living.  It is probable, therefore, that the
atmosphere contained foreign, and sensibly perceptible, admixtures
to a great extent, which, at least in the lower regions, could not
be decomposed, or rendered ineffective by separation.

Now, if we go back to the symptoms of the disease, the ardent
inflammation of the lungs points out, that the organs of
respiration yielded to the attack of an atmospheric poison--a
poison which, if we admit the independent origin of the Black
Plague at any one place of the globe, which, under such
extraordinary circumstances, it would be difficult to doubt,
attacked the course of the circulation in as hostile a manner as
that which produces inflammation of the spleen, and other animal
contagions that cause swelling and inflammation of the lymphatic

Pursuing the course of these grand revolutions further, we find
notice of an unexampled earthquake, which, on the 25th January,
1348, shook Greece, Italy, and the neighbouring countries.
Naples, Rome, Pisa, Bologna, Padua, Venice, and many other cities,
suffered considerably; whole villages were swallowed up.  Castles,
houses, and churches were overthrown, and hundreds of people were
buried beneath their ruins.  In Carinthia, thirty villages,
together with all the churches, were demolished; more than a
thousand corpses were drawn out of the rubbish; the city of
Villach was so completely destroyed that very few of its
inhabitants were saved; and when the earth ceased to tremble it
was found that mountains had been moved from their positions, and
that many hamlets were left in ruins.  It is recorded that during
this earthquake the wine in the casks became turbid, a statement
which may be considered as furnishing proof that changes causing a
decomposition of the atmosphere had taken place; but if we had no
other information from which the excitement of conflicting powers
of nature during these commotions might be inferred, yet
scientific observations in modern times have shown that the
relation of the atmosphere to the earth is changed by volcanic
influences.  Why then, may we not, from this fact, draw
retrospective inferences respecting those extraordinary phenomena?

Independently of this, however, we know that during this
earthquake, the duration of which is stated by some to have been a
week, and by others a fortnight, people experienced an unusual
stupor and headache, and that many fainted away.

These destructive earthquakes extended as far as the neighbourhood
of Basle, and recurred until the year 1360 throughout Germany,
France, Silesia, Poland, England, and Denmark, and much further

Great and extraordinary meteors appeared in many places, and were
regarded with superstitious horror.  A pillar of fire, which on
the 20th of December, 1348, remained for an hour at sunrise over
the pope's palace in Avignon; a fireball, which in August of the
same year was seen at sunset over Paris, and was distinguished
from similar phenomena by its longer duration, not to mention
other instances mixed up with wonderful prophecies and omens, are
recorded in the chronicles of that age.

The order of the seasons seemed to be inverted; rains, flood, and
failures in crops were so general that few places were exempt from
them; and though an historian of this century assure us that there
was an abundance in the granaries and storehouses, all his
contemporaries, with one voice, contradict him.  The consequences
of failure in the crops were soon felt, especially in Italy and
the surrounding countries, where, in this year, a rain, which
continued for four months, had destroyed the seed.  In the larger
cities they were compelled, in the spring of 1347, to have
recourse to a distribution of bread among the poor, particularly
at Florence, where they erected large bakehouses, from which, in
April, ninety-four thousand loaves of bread, each of twelve ounces
in weight, were daily dispensed.  It is plain, however, that
humanity could only partially mitigate the general distress, not
altogether obviate it.

Diseases, the invariable consequence of famine, broke out in the
country as well as in cities; children died of hunger in their
mother's arms--want, misery, and despair were general throughout

Such are the events which took place before the eruption of the
Black Plague in Europe.  Contemporaries have explained them after
their own manner, and have thus, like their posterity, under
similar circumstances, given a proof that mortals possess neither
senses nor intellectual powers sufficiently acute to comprehend
the phenomena produced by the earth's organism, much less
scientifically to understand their effects.  Superstition,
selfishness in a thousand forms, the presumption of the schools,
laid hold of unconnected facts.  They vainly thought to comprehend
the whole in the individual, and perceived not the universal
spirit which, in intimate union with the mighty powers of nature,
animates the movements of all existence, and permits not any
phenomenon to originate from isolated causes.  To attempt, five
centuries after that age of desolation, to point out the causes of
a cosmical commotion, which has never recurred to an equal extent,
to indicate scientifically the influences, which called forth so
terrific a poison in the bodies of men and animals, exceeds the
limits of human understanding.  If we are even now unable, with
all the varied resources of an extended knowledge of nature, to
define that condition of the atmosphere by which pestilences are
generated, still less can we pretend to reason retrospectively
from the nineteenth to the fourteenth century; but if we take a
general view of the occurrences, that century will give us copious
information, and, as applicable to all succeeding times, of high

In the progress of connected natural phenomena from east to west,
that great law of nature is plainly revealed which has so often
and evidently manifested itself in the earth's organism, as well
as in the state of nations dependent upon it.  In the inmost
depths of the globe that impulse was given in the year 1333, which
in uninterrupted succession for six and twenty years shook the
surface of the earth, even to the western shores of Europe.  From
the very beginning the air partook of the terrestrial concussion,
atmospherical waters overflowed the land, or its plants and
animals perished under the scorching heat.  The insect tribe was
wonderfully called into life, as if animated beings were destined
to complete the destruction which astral and telluric powers had
begun.  Thus did this dreadful work of nature advance from year to
year; it was a progressive infection of the zones, which exerted a
powerful influence both above and beneath the surface of the
earth; and after having been perceptible in slighter indications,
at the commencement of the terrestrial commotions in China,
convulsed the whole earth.

The nature of the first plague in China is unknown.  We have no
certain intelligence of the disease until it entered the western
countries of Asia.  Here it showed itself as the Oriental plague,
with inflammation of the lungs; in which form it probably also may
have begun in China, that is to say, as a malady which spreads,
more than any other, by contagion--a contagion that, in ordinary
pestilences, requires immediate contact, and only under favourable
circumstances of rare occurrence is communicated by the mere
approach to the sick.  The share which this cause had in the
spreading of the plague over the whole earth was certainly very
great; and the opinion that the Black Death might have been
excluded from Western Europe by good regulations, similar to those
which are now in use, would have all the support of modern
experience, provided it could be proved that this plague had been
actually imported from the East, or that the Oriental plague in
general, whenever it appears in Europe, has its origin in Asia or
Egypt.  Such a proof, however, can by no means be produced so as
to enforce conviction; for it would involve the impossible
assumption, either that there is no essential difference between
the degree of civilisation of the European nations, in the most
ancient and in modern times, or that detrimental circumstances,
which have yielded only to the civilisation of human society and
the regular cultivation of countries, could not formerly keep up
the glandular plague.

The plague was, however, known in Europe before nations were
united by the bonds of commerce and social intercourse; hence
there is ground for supposing that it sprang up spontaneously, in
consequence of the rude manner of living and the uncultivated
state of the earth, influences which peculiarly favour the origin
of severe diseases.  Now we need not go back to the earlier
centuries, for the fourteenth itself, before it had half expired,
was visited by five or six pestilences.

If, therefore, we consider the peculiar property of the plague,
that in countries which it has once visited it remains for a long
time in a milder form, and that the epidemic influences of 1342,
when it had appeared for the last time, were particularly
favourable to its unperceived continuance, till 1348, we come to
the notion that in this eventful year also the germs of plague
existed in Southern Europe, which might be vivified by
atmospherical deteriorations; and that thus, at least in part, the
Black Plague may have originated in Europe itself.  The corruption
of the atmosphere came from the East; but the disease itself came
not upon the wings of the wind, but was only excited and increased
by the atmosphere where it had previously existed.

This source of the Black Plague was not, however, the only one;
for far more powerful than the excitement of the latent elements
of the plague by atmospheric influences was the effect of the
contagion communicated from one people to another on the great
roads and in the harbours of the Mediterranean.  From China the
route of the caravans lay to the north of the Caspian Sea, through
Central Asia, to Tauris.  Here ships were ready to take the
produce of the East to Constantinople, the capital of commerce,
and the medium of connection between Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Other caravans went from India to Asia Minor, and touched at the
cities south of the Caspian Sea, and, lastly, from Bagdad through
Arabia to Egypt; also the maritime communication on the Red Sea,
from India to Arabia and Egypt, was not inconsiderable.  In all
these directions contagion made its way; and, doubtless,
Constantinople and the harbours of Asia Minor are to be regarded
as the foci of infection, whence it radiated to the most distant
seaports and islands.

To Constantinople the plague had been brought from the northern
coast of the Black Sea, after it had depopulated the countries
between those routes of commerce, and appeared as early as 1347 in
Cyprus, Sicily, Marseilles, and some of the seaports of Italy.
The remaining islands of the Mediterranean, particularly Sardinia,
Corsica, and Majorca, were visited in succession.  Foci of
contagion existed also in full activity along the whole southern
coast of Europe; when, in January, 1348, the plague appeared in
Avignon, and in other cities in the south of France and north of
Italy, as well as in Spain.

The precise days of its eruption in the individual towns are no
longer to be ascertained; but it was not simultaneous; for in
Florence the disease appeared in the beginning of April, in Cesena
the 1st June, and place after place was attacked throughout the
whole year; so that the plague, after it had passed through the
whole of France and Germany--where, however, it did not make its
ravages until the following year--did not break out till August in
England, where it advanced so gradually, that a period of three
months elapsed before it reached London.  The northern kingdoms
were attacked by it in 1349; Sweden, indeed, not until November of
that year, almost two years after its eruption in Avignon.  Poland
received the plague in 1349, probably from Germany, if not from
the northern countries; but in Russia it did not make its
appearance until 1351, more than three years after it had broken
out in Constantinople.  Instead of advancing in a north-westerly
direction from Tauris and from the Caspian Sea, it had thus made
the great circuit of the Black Sea, by way of Constantinople,
Southern and Central Europe, England, the northern kingdoms, and
Poland, before it reached the Russian territories, a phenomenon
which has not again occurred with respect to more recent
pestilences originating in Asia.

Whether any difference existed between the indigenous plague,
excited by the influence of the atmosphere, and that which was
imported by contagion, can no longer be ascertained from facts;
for the contemporaries, who in general were not competent to make
accurate researches of this kind, have left no data on the
subject.  A milder and a more malignant form certainly existed,
and the former was not always derived from the latter, as is to be
supposed from this circumstance--that the spitting of blood, the
infallible diagnostic of the latter, on the first breaking out of
the plague, is not similarly mentioned in all the reports; and it
is therefore probable that the milder form belonged to the native
plague--the more malignant, to that introduced by contagion.
Contagion was, however, in itself, only one of many causes which
gave rise to the Black Plague.

This disease was a consequence of violent commotions in the
earth's organism--if any disease of cosmical origin can be so
considered.  One spring set a thousand others in motion for the
annihilation of living beings, transient or permanent, of mediate
or immediate effect.  The most powerful of all was contagion; for
in the most distant countries, which had scarcely yet heard the
echo of the first concussion, the people fell a sacrifice to
organic poison--the untimely offspring of vital energies thrown
into violent commotion.


We have no certain measure by which to estimate the ravages of the
Black Plague, if numerical statements were wanted, as in modern
times.  Let us go back for a moment to the fourteenth century.
The people were yet but little civilised.  The Church had indeed
subdued them; but they all suffered from the ill consequences of
their original rudeness.  The dominion of the law was not yet
confirmed.  Sovereigns had everywhere to combat powerful enemies
to internal tranquillity and security.  The cities were fortresses
for their own defence.  Marauders encamped on the roads.  The
husbandman was a feudal slave, without possessions of his own.
Rudeness was general, humanity as yet unknown to the people.
Witches and heretics were burned alive.  Gentle rulers were
contemned as weak; wild passions, severity and cruelty, everywhere
predominated.  Human life was little regarded.  Governments
concerned not themselves about the numbers of their subjects, for
whose welfare it was incumbent on them to provide.  Thus, the
first requisite for estimating the loss of human life, namely, a
knowledge of the amount of the population, is altogether wanting;
and, moreover, the traditional statements of the amount of this
loss are so vague, that from this source likewise there is only
room for probable conjecture.

Cairo lost daily, when the plague was raging with its greatest
violence, from 10,000 to 15,000; being as many as, in modern
times, great plagues have carried off during their whole course.
In China, more than thirteen millions are said to have died; and
this is in correspondence with the certainly exaggerated accounts
from the rest of Asia.  India was depopulated.  Tartary, the
Tartar kingdom of Kaptschak, Mesopotamia, Syria, Armenia, were
covered with dead bodies--the Kurds fled in vain to the mountains.
In Caramania and Caesarea none were left alive.  On the roads--in
the camps--in the caravansaries--unburied bodies alone were seen;
and a few cities only (Arabian historians name Maarael-Nooman,
Schisur, and Harem) remained, in an unaccountable manner, free.
In Aleppo, 500 died daily; 22,000 people, and most of the animals,
were carried off in Gaza, within six weeks.  Cyprus lost almost
all its inhabitants; and ships without crews were often seen in
the Mediterranean, as afterwards in the North Sea, driving about,
and spreading the plague wherever they went on shore.  It was
reported to Pope Clement, at Avignon, that throughout the East,
probably with the exception of China, 23,840,000 people had fallen
victims to the plague.  Considering the occurrences of the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, we might, on first view,
suspect the accuracy of this statement.  How (it might be asked)
could such great wars have been carried on--such powerful efforts
have been made; how could the Greek Empire, only a hundred years
later, have been overthrown, if the people really had been so
utterly destroyed?

This account is nevertheless rendered credible by the ascertained
fact, that the palaces of princes are less accessible to
contagious diseases than the dwellings of the multitude; and that
in places of importance, the influx from those districts which
have suffered least, soon repairs even the heaviest losses.  We
must remember, also, that we do not gather much from mere numbers
without an intimate knowledge of the state of society.  We will
therefore confine ourselves to exhibiting some of the more
credible accounts relative to European cities.

In Florence there died of the Black Plague--60,000
In Venice--100,000
In Marseilles, in one month--16,000
In Siena--70,000
In Paris--50,000
In St. Denys--14,000
In Avignon--60,000
In Strasburg--16,000
In Lubeck--9,000
In Basle--14,000
In Erfurt, at least--16,000
In Weimar--5,000
In Limburg--2,500
In London, at least--100,000
In Norwich--51,100

To which may be added -

Franciscan Friars in German--124,434
Minorites in Italy--30,000

This short catalogue might, by a laborious and uncertain
calculation, deduced from other sources, be easily further
multiplied, but would still fail to give a true picture of the
depopulation which took place.  Lubeck, at that time the Venice of
the North, which could no longer contain the multitudes that
flocked to it, was thrown into such consternation on the eruption
of the plague, that the citizens destroyed themselves as if in

Merchants whose earnings and possessions were unbounded, coldly
and willingly renounced their earthly goods.  They carried their
treasures to monasteries and churches, and laid them at the foot
of the altar; but gold had no charms for the monks, for it brought
them death.  They shut their gates; yet, still it was cast to them
over the convent walls.  People would brook no impediment to the
last pious work to which they were driven by despair.  When the
plague ceased, men thought they were still wandering among the
dead, so appalling was the livid aspect of the survivors, in
consequence of the anxiety they had undergone, and the unavoidable
infection of the air.  Many other cities probably presented a
similar appearance; and it is ascertained that a great number of
small country towns and villages, which have been estimated, and
not too highly, at 200,000, were bereft of all their inhabitants.

In many places in France, not more than two out of twenty of the
inhabitants were left alive, and the capital felt the fury of the
plague, alike in the palace and the cot.

Two queens, one bishop, and great numbers of other distinguished
persons, fell a sacrifice to it, and more than 500 a day died in
the Hotel Dieu, under the faithful care of the sisters of charity,
whose disinterested courage, in this age of horror, displayed the
most beautiful traits of human virtue.  For although they lost
their lives, evidently from contagion, and their numbers were
several times renewed, there was still no want of fresh
candidates, who, strangers to the unchristian fear of death,
piously devoted themselves to their holy calling.

The churchyards were soon unable to contain the dead, and many
houses, left without inhabitants, fell to ruins.

In Avignon, the Pope found it necessary to consecrate the Rhone,
that bodies might be thrown into the river without delay, as the
churchyards would no longer hold them; so likewise, in all
populous cities, extraordinary measures were adopted, in order
speedily to dispose of the dead.  In Vienna, where for some time
1,200 inhabitants died daily, the interment of corpses in the
churchyards and within the churches was forthwith prohibited; and
the dead were then arranged in layers, by thousands, in six large
pits outside the city, as had already been done in Cairo and
Paris.  Yet, still many were secretly buried; for at all times the
people are attached to the consecrated cemeteries of their dead,
and will not renounce the customary mode of interment.

In many places it was rumoured that plague patients were buried
alive, as may sometimes happen through senseless alarm and
indecent haste; and thus the horror of the distressed people was
everywhere increased.  In Erfurt, after the churchyards were
filled, 12,000 corpses were thrown into eleven great pits; and the
like might, more or less exactly, be stated with respect to all
the larger cities.  Funeral ceremonies, the last consolation of
the survivors, were everywhere impracticable.

In all Germany, according to a probable calculation, there seem to
have died only 1,244,434 inhabitants; this country, however, was
more spared than others:  Italy, on the contrary, was most
severely visited.  It is said to have lost half its inhabitants;
and this account is rendered credible from the immense losses of
individual cities and provinces:  for in Sardinia and Corsica,
according to the account of the distinguished Florentine, John
Villani, who was himself carried off by the Black Plague, scarcely
a third part of the population remained alive; and it is related
of the Venetians, that they engaged ships at a high rate to
retreat to the islands; so that after the plague had carried off
three-fourths of her inhabitants, that proud city was left forlorn
and desolate.  In Padua, after the cessation of the plague, two-
thirds of the inhabitants were wanting; and in Florence it was
prohibited to publish the numbers of dead, and to toll the bells
at their funerals, in order that the living might not abandon
themselves to despair.

We have more exact accounts of England; most of the great cities
suffered incredible losses; above all, Yarmouth, in which 7,052
died; Bristol, Oxford, Norwich, Leicester, York, and London, where
in one burial ground alone, there were interred upwards of 50,000
corpses, arranged in layers, in large pits.  It is said that in
the whole country scarcely a tenth part remained alive; but this
estimate is evidently too high.  Smaller losses were sufficient to
cause those convulsions, whose consequences were felt for some
centuries, in a false impulse given to civil life, and whose
indirect influence, unknown to the English, has perhaps extended
even to modern times.

Morals were deteriorated everywhere, and the service of God was in
a great measure laid aside; for, in many places, the churches were
deserted, being bereft of their priests.  The instruction of the
people was impeded; covetousness became general; and when
tranquillity was restored, the great increase of lawyers was
astonishing, to whom the endless disputes regarding inheritances
offered a rich harvest.  The want of priests too, throughout the
country, operated very detrimentally upon the people (the lower
classes being most exposed to the ravages of the plague, whilst
the houses of the nobility were, in proportion, much more spared),
and it was no compensation that whole bands of ignorant laymen,
who had lost their wives during the pestilence, crowded into the
monastic orders, that they might participate in the respectability
of the priesthood, and in the rich heritages which fell in to the
Church from all quarters.  The sittings of Parliament, of the
King's Bench, and of most of the other courts, were suspended as
long as the malady raged.  The laws of peace availed not during
the dominion of death.  Pope Clement took advantage of this state
of disorder to adjust the bloody quarrel between Edward III and
Philip VI; yet he only succeeded during the period that the plague
commanded peace.  Philip's death (1350) annulled all treaties; and
it is related that Edward, with other troops indeed, but with the
same leaders and knights, again took the field.  Ireland was much
less heavily visited that England.  The disease seems to have
scarcely reached the mountainous districts of that kingdom; and
Scotland too would perhaps have remained free, had not the Scots
availed themselves of the discomfiture of the English to make an
irruption into their territory, which terminated in the
destruction of their army, by the plague and by the sword, and the
extension of the pestilence, through those who escaped, over the
whole country.

At the commencement, there was in England a superabundance of all
the necessaries of life; but the plague, which seemed then to be
the sole disease, was soon accompanied by a fatal murrain among
the cattle.  Wandering about without herdsmen, they fell by
thousands; and, as has likewise been observed in Africa, the birds
and beasts of prey are said not to have touched them.  Of what
nature this murrain may have been, can no more be determined, than
whether it originated from communication with plague patients, or
from other causes; but thus much is certain, that it did not break
out until after the commencement of the Black Death.  In
consequence of this murrain, and the impossibility of removing the
corn from the fields, there was everywhere a great rise in the
price of food, which to many was inexplicable, because the harvest
had been plentiful; by others it was attributed to the wicked
designs of the labourers and dealers; but it really had its
foundation in the actual deficiency arising from circumstances by
which individual classes at all times endeavour to profit.  For a
whole year, until it terminated in August, 1349, the Black Plague
prevailed in this beautiful island, and everywhere poisoned the
springs of comfort and prosperity.

In other countries, it generally lasted only half a year, but
returned frequently in individual places; on which account, some,
without sufficient proof, assigned to it a period of seven years.

Spain was uninterruptedly ravaged by the Black Plague till after
the year 1350, to which the frequent internal feuds and the wars
with the Moors not a little contributed.  Alphonso XI., whose
passion for war carried him too far, died of it at the siege of
Gibraltar, on the 26th of March, 1350.  He was the only king in
Europe who fell a sacrifice to it; but even before this period,
innumerable families had been thrown into affliction.  The
mortality seems otherwise to have been smaller in Spain than in
Italy, and about as considerable as in France.

The whole period during which the Black Plague raged with
destructive violence in Europe was, with the exception of Russia,
from the year 1347 to 1350.  The plagues which in the sequel often
returned until the year 1383, we do not consider as belonging to
"the Great Mortality."  They were rather common pestilences,
without inflammation of the lungs, such as in former times, and in
the following centuries, were excited by the matter of contagion
everywhere existing, and which, on every favourable occasion,
gained ground anew, as is usually the case with this frightful

The concourse of large bodies of people was especially dangerous;
and thus the premature celebration of the Jubilee to which Clement
VI. cited the faithful to Rome (1350) during the great epidemic,
caused a new eruption of the plague, from which it is said that
scarcely one in a hundred of the pilgrims escaped.

Italy was, in consequence, depopulated anew; and those who
returned, spread poison and corruption of morals in all
directions.  It is therefore the less apparent how that Pope, who
was in general so wise and considerate, and who knew how to pursue
the path of reason and humanity under the most difficult
circumstances, should have been led to adopt a measure so
injurious; since he himself was so convinced of the salutary
effect of seclusion, that during the plague in Avignon he kept up
constant fires, and suffered no one to approach him; and in other
respects gave such orders as averted, or alleviated, much misery.

The changes which occurred about this period in the north of
Europe are sufficiently memorable to claim a few moments'
attention.  In Sweden two princes died--Haken and Knut, half-
brothers of King Magnus; and in Westgothland alone, 466 priests.
The inhabitants of Iceland and Greenland found in the coldness of
their inhospitable climate no protection against the southern
enemy who had penetrated to them from happier countries.  The
plague caused great havoc among them.  Nature made no allowance
for their constant warfare with the elements, and the parsimony
with which she had meted out to them the enjoyments of life.  In
Denmark and Norway, however, people were so occupied with their
own misery, that the accustomed voyages to Greenland ceased.
Towering icebergs formed at the same time on the coast of East
Greenland, in consequence of the general concussion of the earth's
organism; and no mortal, from that time forward, has ever seen
that shore or its inhabitants.

It has been observed above, that in Russia the Black Plague did
not break out until 1351, after it had already passed through the
south and north of Europe.  In this country also, the mortality
was extraordinarily great; and the same scenes of affliction and
despair were exhibited, as had occurred in those nations which had
already passed the ordeal:  the same mode of burial--the same
horrible certainty of death--the same torpor and depression of
spirits.  The wealthy abandoned their treasures, and gave their
villages and estates to the churches and monasteries; this being,
according to the notions of the age, the surest way of securing
the favour of Heaven and the forgiveness of past sins.  In Russia,
too, the voice of nature was silenced by fear and horror.  In the
hour of danger, fathers and mothers deserted their children, and
children their parents.

Of all the estimates of the number of lives lost in Europe, the
most probable is, that altogether a fourth part of the inhabitants
were carried off.  Now, if Europe at present contain 210,000,000
inhabitants, the population, not to take a higher estimate, which
might easily by justified, amounted to at least 105,000,000 in the
sixteenth century.

It may therefore be assumed, without exaggeration, that Europe
lost during the Black Death 25,000,000 of inhabitants.

That her nations could so quickly overcome such a fearful
concussion in their external circumstances, and, in general,
without retrograding more than they actually did, could so develop
their energies in the following century, is a most convincing
proof of the indestructibility of human society as a whole.  To
assume, however, that it did not suffer any essential change
internally, because in appearance everything remained as before,
is inconsistent with a just view of cause and effect.  Many
historians seem to have adopted such an opinion; accustomed, as
usual, to judge of the moral condition of the people solely
according to the vicissitudes of earthly power, the events of
battles, and the influence of religion, but to pass over with
indifference the great phenomena of nature, which modify, not only
the surface of the earth, but also the human mind.  Hence, most of
them have touched but superficially on the "Great Mortality" of
the fourteenth century.  We, for our parts, are convinced that in
the history of the world the Black Death is one of the most
important events which have prepared the way for the present state
of Europe.

He who studies the human mind with attention, and forms a
deliberate judgment on the intellectual powers which set people
and States in motion, may perhaps find some proofs of this
assertion in the following observations:- at that time, the
advancement of the hierarchy was, in most countries,
extraordinary; for the Church acquired treasures and large
properties in land, even to a greater extent than after the
Crusades; but experience has demonstrated that such a state of
things is ruinous to the people, and causes them to retrograde, as
was evinced on this occasion.

After the cessation of the Black Plague, a greater fecundity in
women was everywhere remarkable--a grand phenomenon, which, from
its occurrence after every destructive pestilence, proves to
conviction, if any occurrence can do so, the prevalence of a
higher power in the direction of general organic life.  Marriages
were, almost without exception, prolific; and double and triple
births were more frequent than at other times; under which head,
we should remember the strange remark, that after the "Great
Mortality" the children were said to have got fewer teeth than
before; at which contemporaries were mightily shocked, and even
later writers have felt surprise.

If we examine the grounds of this oft-repeated assertion, we shall
find that they were astonished to see children, cut twenty, or at
most, twenty-two teeth, under the supposition that a greater
number had formerly fallen to their share.  Some writers of
authority, as, for example, the physician Savonarola, at Ferrara,
who probably looked for twenty-eight teeth in children, published
their opinions on this subject.  Others copied from them, without
seeing for themselves, as often happens in other matters which are
equally evident; and thus the world believed in the miracle of an
imperfection in the human body which had been caused by the Black

The people gradually consoled themselves after the sufferings
which they had undergone; the dead were lamented and forgotten;
and, in the stirring vicissitudes of existence, the world belonged
to the living.


The mental shock sustained by all nations during the prevalence of
the Black Plague is without parallel and beyond description.  In
the eyes of the timorous, danger was the certain harbinger of
death; many fell victims to fear on the first appearance of the
distemper, and the most stout-hearted lost their confidence.
Thus, after reliance on the future had died away, the spiritual
union which binds man to his family and his fellow-creatures was
gradually dissolved.  The pious closed their accounts with the
world--eternity presented itself to their view--their only
remaining desire was for a participation in the consolations of
religion, because to them death was disarmed of its sting.

Repentance seized the transgressor, admonishing him to consecrate
his remaining hours to the exercise of Christian virtues.  All
minds were directed to the contemplation of futurity; and
children, who manifest the more elevated feelings of the soul
without alloy, were frequently seen, while labouring under the
plague, breathing out their spirit with prayer and songs of

An awful sense of contrition seized Christians of every communion;
they resolved to forsake their vices, to make restitution for past
offences, before they were summoned hence, to seek reconciliation
with their Maker, and to avert, by self-chastisement, the
punishment due to their former sins.  Human nature would be
exalted, could the countless noble actions which, in times of most
imminent danger, were performed in secret, be recorded for the
instruction of future generations.  They, however, have no
influence on the course of worldly events.  They are known only to
silent eyewitnesses, and soon fall into oblivion.  But hypocrisy,
illusion, and bigotry stalk abroad undaunted; they desecrate what
is noble, they pervert what is divine, to the unholy purposes of
selfishness, which hurries along every good feeling in the false
excitement of the age.  Thus it was in the years of this plague.
In the fourteenth century, the monastic system was still in its
full vigour, the power of the ecclesiastical orders and
brotherhoods was revered by the people, and the hierarchy was
still formidable to the temporal power.  It was therefore in the
natural constitution of society that bigoted zeal, which in such
times makes a show of public acts of penance, should avail itself
of the semblance of religion.  But this took place in such a
manner, that unbridled, self-willed penitence, degenerated into
lukewarmness, renounced obedience to the hierarchy, and prepared a
fearful opposition to the Church, paralysed as it was by
antiquated forms.

While all countries were filled with lamentations and woe, there
first arose in Hungary, and afterwards in Germany, the Brotherhood
of the Flagellants, called also the Brethren of the Cross, or
Cross-bearers, who took upon themselves the repentance of the
people for the sins they had committed, and offered prayers and
supplications for the averting of this plague.  This Order
consisted chiefly of persons of the lower class, who were either
actuated by sincere contrition, or who joyfully availed themselves
of this pretext for idleness, and were hurried along with the tide
of distracting frenzy.  But as these brotherhoods gained in
repute, and were welcomed by the people with veneration and
enthusiasm, many nobles and ecclesiastics ranged themselves under
their standard; and their bands were not unfrequently augmented by
children, honourable women, and nuns; so powerfully were minds of
the most opposite temperaments enslaved by this infatuation.  They
marched through the cities, in well-organised processions, with
leaders and singers; their heads covered as far as the eyes; their
look fixed on the ground, accompanied by every token of the
deepest contrition and mourning.  They were robed in sombre
garments, with red crosses on the breast, back, and cap, and bore
triple scourges, tied in three or four knots, in which points of
iron were fixed.  Tapers and magnificent banners of velvet and
cloth of gold were carried before them; wherever they made their
appearance, they were welcomed by the ringing bells, and the
people flocked from all quarters to listen to their hymns and to
witness their penance with devotion and tears.

In the year 1349, two hundred Flagellants first entered Strasburg,
where they were received with great joy, and hospitably lodged by
citizens.  Above a thousand joined the brotherhood, which now
assumed the appearance of a wandering tribe, and separated into
two bodies, for the purpose of journeying to the north and to the
south.  For more than half a year, new parties arrived weekly; and
on each arrival adults and children left their families to
accompany them; till at length their sanctity was questioned, and
the doors of houses and churches were closed against them.  At
Spires, two hundred boys, of twelve years of age and under,
constituted themselves into a Brotherhood of the Cross, in
imitation of the children who, about a hundred years before, had
united, at the instigation of some fanatic monks, for the purpose
of recovering the Holy Sepulchre.  All the inhabitants of this
town were carried away by the illusion; they conducted the
strangers to their houses with songs of thanksgiving, to regale
them for the night.  The women embroidered banners for them, and
all were anxious to augment their pomp; and at every succeeding
pilgrimage their influence and reputation increased.

It was not merely some individual parts of the country that
fostered them:  all Germany, Hungary, Poland, Bohemia, Silesia,
and Flanders, did homage to the mania; and they at length became
as formidable to the secular as they were to the ecclesiastical
power.  The influence of this fanaticism was great and
threatening, resembling the excitement which called all the
inhabitants of Europe into the deserts of Syria and Palestine
about two hundred and fifty years before.  The appearance in
itself was not novel.  As far back as the eleventh century, many
believers in Asia and Southern Europe afflicted themselves with
the punishment of flagellation.  Dominicus Loricatus, a monk of
St. Croce d'Avellano, is mentioned as the master and model of this
species of mortification of the flesh; which, according to the
primitive notions of the Asiatic Anchorites, was deemed eminently
Christian.  The author of the solemn processions of the
Flagellants is said to have been St. Anthony; for even in his time
(1231) this kind of penance was so much in vogue, that it is
recorded as an eventful circumstance in the history of the world.
In 1260, the Flagellants appeared in Italy as Devoti.  "When the
land was polluted by vices and crimes, an unexampled spirit of
remorse suddenly seized the minds of the Italians.  The fear of
Christ fell upon all:  noble and ignoble, old and young, and even
children of five years of age, marched through the streets with no
covering but a scarf round the waist.  They each carried a scourge
of leathern thongs, which they applied to their limbs, amid sighs
and tears, with such violence that the blood flowed from the
wounds.  Not only during the day, but even by night, and in the
severest winter, they traversed the cities with burning torches
and banners, in thousands and tens of thousands, headed by their
priests, and prostrated themselves before the altars.  They
proceeded in the same manner in the villages:  and the woods and
mountains resounded with the voices of those whose cries were
raised to God.  The melancholy chaunt of the penitent alone was
heard.  Enemies were reconciled; men and women vied with each
other in splendid works of charity, as if they dreaded that Divine
Omnipotence would pronounce on them the doom of annihilation."

The pilgrimages of the Flagellants extended throughout all the
province of Southern Germany, as far as Saxony, Bohemia, and
Poland, and even further; but at length the priests resisted this
dangerous fanaticism, without being able to extirpate the
illusion, which was advantageous to the hierarchy as long as it
submitted to its sway.  Regnier, a hermit of Perugia, is recorded
as a fanatic preacher of penitence, with whom the extravagance
originated.  In the year 1296 there was a great procession of the
Flagellants in Strasburg; and in 1334, fourteen years before the
Great Mortality, the sermon of Venturinus, a Dominican friar of
Bergamo, induced above 10,000 persons to undertake a new
pilgrimage.  They scourged themselves in the churches, and were
entertained in the market-places at the public expense.  At Rome,
Venturinus was derided, and banished by the Pope to the mountains
of Ricondona.  He patiently endured all--went to the Holy Land,
and died at Smyrna, 1346.  Hence we see that this fanaticism was a
mania of the middle ages, which, in the year 1349, on so fearful
an occasion, and while still so fresh in remembrance, needed no
new founder; of whom, indeed, all the records are silent.  It
probably arose in many places at the same time; for the terror of
death, which pervaded all nations and suddenly set such powerful
impulses in motion, might easily conjure up the fanaticism of
exaggerated and overpowering repentance.

The manner and proceedings of the Flagellants of the thirteenth
and fourteenth centuries exactly resemble each other.  But, if
during the Black Plague, simple credulity came to their aid, which
seized, as a consolation, the grossest delusion of religious
enthusiasm, yet it is evident that the leaders must have been
intimately united, and have exercised the power of a secret
association.  Besides, the rude band was generally under the
control of men of learning, some of whom at least certainly had
other objects in view independent of those which ostensibly
appeared.  Whoever was desirous of joining the brotherhood, was
bound to remain in it thirty-four days, and to have fourpence per
day at his own disposal, so that he might not be burthensome to
any one; if married, he was obliged to have the sanction of his
wife, and give the assurance that he was reconciled to all men.
The Brothers of the Cross were not permitted to seek for free
quarters, or even to enter a house without having been invited;
they were forbidden to converse with females; and if they
transgressed these rules, or acted without discretion, they were
obliged to confess to the Superior, who sentenced them to several
lashes of the scourge, by way of penance.  Ecclesiastics had not,
as such, any pre-eminence among them; according to their original
law, which, however, was often transgressed, they could not become
Masters, or take part in the Secret Councils.  Penance was
performed twice every day:  in the morning and evening they went
abroad in pairs, singing psalms amid the ringing of the bells; and
when they arrived at the place of flagellation, they stripped the
upper part of their bodies and put off their shoes, keeping on
only a linen dress, reaching from the waist to the ankles.  They
then lay down in a large circle, in different positions, according
to the nature of the crime:  the adulterer with his face to the
ground; the perjurer on one side, holding up three of his fingers,
&c., and were then castigated, some more and some less, by the
Master, who ordered them to rise in the words of a prescribed
form.  Upon this they scourged themselves, amid the singing of
psalms and loud supplications for the averting of the plague, with
genuflexions and other ceremonies, of which contemporary writers
give various accounts; and at the same time constantly boasted of
their penance, that the blood of their wounds was mingled with
that of the Saviour.  One of them, in conclusion, stoop up to read
a letter, which it was pretended an angel had brought from heaven
to St. Peter's Church, at Jerusalem, stating that Christ, who was
sore displeased at the sins of man, had granted, at the
intercession of the Holy Virgin and of the angels, that all who
should wander about for thirty-four days and scourge themselves,
should be partakers of the Divine grace.  This scene caused as
great a commotion among the believers as the finding of the holy
spear once did at Antioch; and if any among the clergy inquired
who had sealed the letter, he was boldly answered, the same who
had sealed the Gospel!

All this had so powerful an effect, that the Church was in
considerable danger; for the Flagellants gained more credit than
the priests, from whom they so entirely withdrew themselves, that
they even absolved each other.  Besides, they everywhere took
possession of the churches, and their new songs, which went from
mouth to mouth, operated strongly on the minds of the people.
Great enthusiasm and originally pious feelings are clearly
distinguishable in these hymns, and especially in the chief psalm
of the Cross-bearers, which is still extant, and which was sung
all over Germany in different dialects, and is probably of a more
ancient date.  Degeneracy, however, soon crept in; crimes were
everywhere committed; and there was no energetic man capable of
directing the individual excitement to purer objects, even had an
effectual resistance to the tottering Church been at that early
period seasonable, and had it been possible to restrain the
fanaticism.  The Flagellants sometimes undertook to make trial of
their power of working miracles; as in Strasburg, where they
attempted, in their own circle, to resuscitate a dead child:
they, however, failed, and their unskilfulness did them much harm,
though they succeeded here and there in maintaining some
confidence in their holy calling, by pretending to have the power
of casting out evil spirits.

The Brotherhood of the Cross announced that the pilgrimage of the
Flagellants was to continue for a space of thirty-four years; and
many of the Masters had doubtless determined to form a lasting
league against the Church; but they had gone too far.  So early as
the first year of their establishment, the general indignation set
bounds to their intrigues:  so that the strict measures adopted by
the Emperor Charles IV., and Pope Clement, who, throughout the
whole of this fearful period, manifested prudence and noble-
mindedness, and conducted himself in a manner every way worthy of
his high station, were easily put into execution.

The Sorbonne, at Paris, and the Emperor Charles, had already
applied to the Holy See for assistance against these formidable
and heretical excesses, which had well-nigh destroyed the
influence of the clergy in every place; when a hundred of the
Brotherhood of the Cross arrived at Avignon from Basle, and
desired admission.  The Pope, regardless of the intercession of
several cardinals, interdicted their public penance, which he had
not authorised; and, on pain of excommunication, prohibited
throughout Christendom the continuance of these pilgrimages.
Philip VI., supported by the condemnatory judgment of the
Sorbonne, forbade their reception in France.  Manfred, King of
Sicily, at the same time threatened them with punishment by death;
and in the East they were withstood by several bishops, among whom
was Janussius, of Gnesen, and Preczlaw, of Breslau, who condemned
to death one of their Masters, formerly a deacon; and, in
conformity with the barbarity of the times, had him publicly
burnt.  In Westphalia, where so shortly before they had venerated
the Brothers of the Cross, they now persecuted them with
relentless severity; and in the Mark, as well as in all the other
countries of Germany, they pursued them as if they had been the
authors of every misfortune.

The processions of the Brotherhood of the Cross undoubtedly
promoted the spreading of the plague; and it is evident that the
gloomy fanaticism which gave rise to them would infuse a new
poison into the already desponding minds of the people.

Still, however, all this was within the bounds of barbarous
enthusiasm; but horrible were the persecutions of the Jews, which
were committed in most countries, with even greater exasperation
than in the twelfth century, during the first Crusades.  In every
destructive pestilence the common people at first attribute the
mortality to poison.  No instruction avails; the supposed
testimony of their eyesight is to them a proof, and they
authoritatively demand the victims of their rage.  On whom, then,
was it so likely to fall as on the Jews, the usurers and the
strangers who lived at enmity with the Christians?  They were
everywhere suspected of having poisoned the wells or infected the
air.  They alone were considered as having brought this fearful
mortality upon the Christians.  They were, in consequence, pursued
with merciless cruelty; and either indiscriminately given up to
the fury of the populace, or sentenced by sanguinary tribunals,
which, with all the forms of the law, ordered them to be burnt
alive.  In times like these, much is indeed said of guilt and
innocence; but hatred and revenge bear down all discrimination,
and the smallest probability magnifies suspicion into certainty.
These bloody scenes, which disgraced Europe in the fourteenth
century, are a counterpart to a similar mania of the age, which
was manifested in the persecutions of witches and sorcerers; and,
like these, they prove that enthusiasm, associated with hatred,
and leagued with the baser passions, may work more powerfully upon
whole nations than religion and legal order; nay, that it even
knows how to profit by the authority of both, in order the more
surely to satiate with blood the sword of long-suppressed revenge.

The persecution of the Jews commenced in September and October,
1348, at Chillon, on the Lake of Geneva, where the first criminal
proceedings were instituted against them, after they had long
before been accused by the people of poisoning the wells; similar
scenes followed in Bern and Freyburg, in January, 1349.  Under the
influence of excruciating suffering, the tortured Jews confessed
themselves guilty of the crime imputed to them; and it being
affirmed that poison had in fact been found in a well at
Zoffingen, this was deemed a sufficient proof to convince the
world; and the persecution of the abhorred culprits thus appeared
justifiable.  Now, though we can take as little exception at these
proceedings as at the multifarious confessions of witches, because
the interrogatories of the fanatical and sanguinary tribunals were
so complicated, that by means of the rack the required answer must
inevitably be obtained; and it is, besides, conformable to human
nature that crimes which are in everybody's mouth may, in the end,
be actually committed by some, either from wantonness, revenge, or
desperate exasperation:  yet crimes and accusations are, under
circumstances like these, merely the offspring of a revengeful,
frenzied spirit in the people; and the accusers, according to the
fundamental principles of morality, which are the same in every
age, are the more guilty transgressors.

Already in the autumn of 1348 a dreadful panic, caused by this
supposed empoisonment, seized all nations; in Germany especially
the springs and wells were built over, that nobody might drink of
them or employ their contents for culinary purposes; and for a
long time the inhabitants of numerous towns and villages used only
river and rain water.  The city gates were also guarded with the
greatest caution:  only confidential persons were admitted; and if
medicine or any other article, which might be supposed to be
poisonous, was found in the possession of a stranger--and it was
natural that some should have these things by them for their
private use--they were forced to swallow a portion of it.  By this
trying state of privation, distrust, and suspicion, the hatred
against the supposed poisoners became greatly increased, and often
broke out in popular commotions, which only served still further
to infuriate the wildest passions.  The noble and the mean
fearlessly bound themselves by an oath to extirpate the Jews by
fire and sword, and to snatch them from their protectors, of whom
the number was so small, that throughout all Germany but few
places can be mentioned where these unfortunate people were not
regarded as outlaws and martyred and burnt.  Solemn summonses were
issued from Bern to the towns of Basle, Freyburg in the Breisgau,
and Strasburg, to pursue the Jews as poisoners.  The burgomasters
and senators, indeed, opposed this requisition; but in Basle the
populace obliged them to bind themselves by an oath to burn the
Jews, and to forbid persons of that community from entering their
city for the space of two hundred years.  Upon this all the Jews
in Basle, whose number could not have been inconsiderable, were
enclosed in a wooden building, constructed for the purpose, and
burnt together with it, upon the mere outcry of the people,
without sentence or trial, which, indeed, would have availed them
nothing.  Soon after the same thing took place at Freyburg.  A
regular Diet was held at Bennefeld, in Alsace, where the bishops,
lords, and barons, as also deputies of the counties and towns,
consulted how they should proceed with regard to the Jews; and
when the deputies of Strasburg--not indeed the bishop of this
town, who proved himself a violent fanatic--spoke in favour of the
persecuted, as nothing criminal was substantiated against them, a
great outcry was raised, and it was vehemently asked, why, if so,
they had covered their wells and removed their buckets.  A
sanguinary decree was resolved upon, of which the populace, who
obeyed the call of the nobles and superior clergy, became but the
too willing executioners.  Wherever the Jews were not burnt, they
were at least banished; and so being compelled to wander about,
they fell into the hands of the country people, who, without
humanity, and regardless of all laws, persecuted them with fire
and sword.  At Spires, the Jews, driven to despair, assembled in
their own habitations, which they set on fire, and thus consumed
themselves with their families.  The few that remained were forced
to submit to baptism; while the dead bodies of the murdered, which
lay about the streets, were put into empty wine-casks and rolled
into the Rhine, lest they should infect the air.  The mob was
forbidden to enter the ruins of the habitations that were burnt in
the Jewish quarter; for the senate itself caused search to be made
for the treasure, which is said to have been very considerable.
At Strasburg two thousand Jews were burnt alive in their own
burial-ground, where a large scaffold had been erected:  a few who
promised to embrace Christianity were spared, and their children
taken from the pile.  The youth and beauty of several females also
excited some commiseration, and they were snatched from death
against their will; many, however, who forcibly made their escape
from the flames were murdered in the streets.

The senate ordered all pledges and bonds to be returned to the
debtors, and divided the money among the work-people.  Many,
however, refused to accept the base price of blood, and, indignant
at the scenes of bloodthirsty avarice, which made the infuriated
multitude forget that the plague was raging around them, presented
it to monasteries, in conformity with the advice of their
confessors.  In all the countries on the Rhine, these cruelties
continued to be perpetrated during the succeeding months; and
after quiet was in some degree restored, the people thought to
render an acceptable service to God, by taking the bricks of the
destroyed dwellings, and the tombstones of the Jews, to repair
churches and to erect belfries.

In Mayence alone, 12,000 Jews are said to have been put to a cruel
death.  The Flagellants entered that place in August; the Jews, on
this occasion, fell out with the Christians and killed several;
but when they saw their inability to withstand the increasing
superiority of their enemies, and that nothing could save them
from destruction, they consumed themselves and their families by
setting fire to their dwellings.  Thus also, in other places, the
entry of the Flagellants gave rise to scenes of slaughter; and as
thirst for blood was everywhere combined with an unbridled spirit
of proselytism, a fanatic zeal arose among the Jews to perish as
martyrs to their ancient religion.  And how was it possible that
they could from the heart embrace Christianity, when its precepts
were never more outrageously violated?  At Eslingen the whole
Jewish community burned themselves in their synagogue, and mothers
were often seen throwing their children on the pile, to prevent
their being baptised, and then precipitating themselves into the
flames.  In short, whatever deeds fanaticism, revenge, avarice and
desperation, in fearful combination, could instigate mankind to
perform,--and where in such a case is the limit?--were executed in
the year 1349 throughout Germany, Italy, and France, with
impunity, and in the eyes of all the world.  It seemed as if the
plague gave rise to scandalous acts and frantic tumults, not to
mourning and grief; and the greater part of those who, by their
education and rank, were called upon to raise the voice of reason,
themselves led on the savage mob to murder and to plunder.  Almost
all the Jews who saved their lives by baptism were afterwards
burnt at different times; for they continued to be accused of
poisoning the water and the air.  Christians also, whom
philanthropy or gain had induced to offer them protection, were
put on the rack and executed with them.  Many Jews who had
embraced Christianity repented of their apostacy, and, returning
to their former faith, sealed it with their death.

The humanity and prudence of Clement VI. must, on this occasion,
also be mentioned to his honour; but even the highest
ecclesiastical power was insufficient to restrain the unbridled
fury of the people.  He not only protected the Jews at Avignon, as
far as lay in his power, but also issued two bulls, in which he
declared them innocent; and admonished all Christians, though
without success, to cease from such groundless persecutions.  The
Emperor Charles IV. was also favourable to them, and sought to
avert their destruction wherever he could; but he dared not draw
the sword of justice, and even found himself obliged to yield to
the selfishness of the Bohemian nobles, who were unwilling to
forego so favourable an opportunity of releasing themselves from
their Jewish creditors, under favour of an imperial mandate.  Duke
Albert of Austria burnt and pillaged those of his cities which had
persecuted the Jews--a vain and inhuman proceeding, which,
moreover, is not exempt from the suspicion of covetousness; yet he
was unable, in his own fortress of Kyberg, to protect some
hundreds of Jews, who had been received there, from being
barbarously burnt by the inhabitants.  Several other princes and
counts, among whom was Ruprecht von der Pfalz, took the Jews under
their protection, on the payment of large sums:  in consequence of
which they were called "Jew-masters," and were in danger of being
attacked by the populace and by their powerful neighbours.  These
persecuted and ill-used people, except indeed where humane
individuals took compassion on them at their own peril, or when
they could command riches to purchase protection, had no place of
refuge left but the distant country of Lithuania, where Boleslav
V., Duke of Poland (1227-1279) had before granted them liberty of
conscience; and King Casimir the Great (1333-1370), yielding to
the entreaties of Esther, a favourite Jewess, received them, and
granted them further protection; on which account, that country is
still inhabited by a great number of Jews, who by their secluded
habits have, more than any people in Europe, retained the manners
of the Middle Ages.

But to return to the fearful accusations against the Jews; it was
reported in all Europe that they were in connection with secret
superiors in Toledo, to whose decrees they were subject, and from
whom they had received commands respecting the coining of base
money, poisoning, the murder of Christian children, &c; that they
received the poison by sea from remote parts, and also prepared it
themselves from spiders, owls, and other venomous animals; but, in
order that their secret might not be discovered, that it was known
only to their Rabbis and rich men.  Apparently there were but few
who did not consider this extravagant accusation well founded;
indeed, in many writings of the fourteenth century, we find great
acrimony with regard to the suspected poison-mixers, which plainly
demonstrates the prejudice existing against them.  Unhappily,
after the confessions of the first victims in Switzerland, the
rack extorted similar ones in various places.  Some even
acknowledged having received poisonous powder in bags, and
injunctions from Toledo, by secret messengers.  Bags of this
description were also often found in wells, though it was not
unfrequently discovered that the Christians themselves had thrown
them in; probably to give occasion to murder and pillage; similar
instances of which may be found in the persecutions of the

This picture needs no additions.  A lively image of the Black
Plague, and of the moral evil which followed in its train, will
vividly represent itself to him who is acquainted with nature and
the constitution of society.  Almost the only credible accounts of
the manner of living, and of the ruin which occurred in private
life during this pestilence, are from Italy; and these may enable
us to form a just estimate of the general state of families in
Europe, taking into consideration what is peculiar in the manners
of each country.

"When the evil had become universal" (speaking of Florence), "the
hearts of all the inhabitants were closed to feelings of humanity.
They fled from the sick and all that belonged to them, hoping by
these means to save themselves.  Others shut themselves up in
their houses, with their wives, their children and households,
living on the most costly food, but carefully avoiding all excess.
None were allowed access to them; no intelligence of death or
sickness was permitted to reach their ears; and they spent their
time in singing and music, and other pastimes.  Others, on the
contrary, considered eating and drinking to excess, amusements of
all descriptions, the indulgence of every gratification, and an
indifference to what was passing around them, as the best
medicine, and acted accordingly.  They wandered day and night from
one tavern to another, and feasted without moderation or bounds.
In this way they endeavoured to avoid all contact with the sick,
and abandoned their houses and property to chance, like men whose
death-knell had already tolled.

"Amid this general lamentation and woe, the influence and
authority of every law, human and divine, vanished.  Most of those
who were in office had been carried off by the plague, or lay
sick, or had lost so many members of their family, that they were
unable to attend to their duties; so that thenceforth every one
acted as he thought proper.  Others in their mode of living chose
a middle course.  They ate and drank what they pleased, and walked
abroad, carrying odoriferous flowers, herbs, or spices, which they
smelt to from time to time, in order to invigorate the brain, and
to avert the baneful influence of the air, infected by the sick
and by the innumerable corpses of those who had died of the
plague.  Others carried their precaution still further, and
thought the surest way to escape death was by flight.  They
therefore left the city; women as well as men abandoning their
dwellings and their relations, and retiring into the country.  But
of these also many were carried off, most of them alone and
deserted by all the world, themselves having previously set the
example.  Thus it was that one citizen fled from another--a
neighbour from his neighbours--a relation from his relations; and
in the end, so completely had terror extinguished every kindlier
feeling, that the brother forsook the brother--the sister the
sister--the wife her husband; and at last, even the parent his own
offspring, and abandoned them, unvisited and unsoothed, to their
fate.  Those, therefore, that stood in need of assistance fell a
prey to greedy attendants, who, for an exorbitant recompense,
merely handed the sick their food and medicine, remained with them
in their last moments, and then not unfrequently became themselves
victims to their avarice and lived not to enjoy their extorted
gain.  Propriety and decorum were extinguished among the helpless
sick.  Females of rank seemed to forget their natural bashfulness,
and committed the care of their persons, indiscriminately, to men
and women of the lowest order.  No longer were women, relatives or
friends, found in the house of mourning, to share the grief of the
survivors--no longer was the corpse accompanied to the grave by
neighbours and a numerous train of priests, carrying wax tapers
and singing psalms, nor was it borne along by other citizens of
equal rank.  Many breathed their last without a friend to soothe
their dying pillow; and few indeed were they who departed amid the
lamentations and tears of their friends and kindred.  Instead of
sorrow and mourning, appeared indifference, frivolity and mirth;
this being considered, especially by the females, as conducive to
health.  Seldom was the body followed by even ten or twelve
attendants; and instead of the usual bearers and sextons,
mercenaries of the lowest of the populace undertook the office for
the sake of gain; and accompanied by only a few priests, and often
without a single taper, it was borne to the very nearest church,
and lowered into the grave that was not already too full to
receive it.  Among the middling classes, and especially among the
poor, the misery was still greater.  Poverty or negligence induced
most of these to remain in their dwellings, or in the immediate
neighbourhood; and thus they fell by thousands; and many ended
their lives in the streets by day and by night.  The stench of
putrefying corpses was often the first indication to their
neighbours that more deaths had occurred.  The survivors, to
preserve themselves from infection, generally had the bodies taken
out of the houses and laid before the doors; where the early
morning found them in heaps, exposed to the affrighted gaze of the
passing stranger.  It was no longer possible to have a bier for
every corpse--three or four were generally laid together--husband
and wife, father and mother, with two or three children, were
frequently borne to the grave on the same bier; and it often
happened that two priests would accompany a coffin, bearing the
cross before it, and be joined on the way by several other
funerals; so that instead of one, there were five or six bodies
for interment."

Thus far Boccacio.  On the conduct of the priests, another
contemporary observes:  "In large and small towns they had
withdrawn themselves through fear, leaving the performance of
ecclesiastical duties to the few who were found courageous and
faithful enough to undertake them."  But we ought not on that
account to throw more blame on them than on others; for we find
proofs of the same timidity and heartlessness in every class.
During the prevalence of the Black Plague, the charitable orders
conducted themselves admirably, and did as much good as can be
done by individual bodies in times of great misery and
destruction, when compassion, courage, and the nobler feelings are
found but in the few, while cowardice, selfishness and ill-will,
with the baser passions in their train, assert the supremacy.  In
place of virtue which had been driven from the earth, wickedness
everywhere reared her rebellious standard, and succeeding
generations were consigned to the dominion of her baleful tyranny.


If we now turn to the medical talent which encountered the "Great
Mortality," the Middle Ages must stand excused, since even the
moderns are of opinion that the art of medicine is not able to
cope with the Oriental plague, and can afford deliverance from it
only under particularly favourable circumstances.  We must bear in
mind, also, that human science and art appear particularly weak in
great pestilences, because they have to contend with the powers of
nature, of which they have no knowledge; and which, if they had
been, or could be, comprehended in their collective effects, would
remain uncontrollable by them, principally on account of the
disordered condition of human society.  Moreover, every new plague
has its peculiarities, which are the less easily discovered on
first view because, during its ravages, fear and consternation
humble the proud spirit.

The physicians of the fourteenth century, during the Black Death,
did what human intellect could do in the actual condition of the
healing art; and their knowledge of the disease was by no means
despicable.  They, like the rest of mankind, have indulged in
prejudices, and defended them, perhaps, with too much obstinacy:
some of these, however, were founded on the mode of thinking of
the age, and passed current in those days as established truths;
others continue to exist to the present hour.

Their successors in the nineteenth century ought not therefore to
vaunt too highly the pre-eminence of their knowledge, for they too
will be subjected to the severe judgment of posterity--they too
will, with reason, be accused of human weakness and want of

The medical faculty of Paris, the most celebrated of the
fourteenth century, were commissioned to deliver their opinion on
the causes of the Black Plague, and to furnish some appropriate
regulations with regard to living during its prevalence.  This
document is sufficiently remarkable to find a place here.

"We, the Members of the College of Physicians of Paris, have,
after mature consideration and consultation on the present
mortality, collected the advice of our old masters in the art, and
intend to make known the causes of this pestilence more clearly
than could be done according to the rules and principles of
astrology and natural science; we, therefore, declare as follows:-

"It is known that in India and the vicinity of the Great Sea, the
constellations which combated the rays of the sun, and the warmth
of the heavenly fire, exerted their power especially against that
sea, and struggled violently with its waters.  (Hence vapours
often originate which envelop the sun, and convert his light into
darkness.)  These vapours alternately rose and fell for twenty-
eight days; but, at last, sun and fire acted so powerfully upon
the sea that they attracted a great portion of it to themselves,
and the waters of the ocean arose in the form of vapour; thereby
the waters were in some parts so corrupted that the fish which
they contained died.  These corrupted waters, however, the heat of
the sun could not consume, neither could other wholesome water,
hail or snow and dew, originate therefrom.  On the contrary, this
vapour spread itself through the air in many places on the earth,
and enveloped them in fog.

"Such was the case all over Arabia, in a part of India, in Crete,
in the plains and valleys of Macedonia, in Hungary, Albania, and
Sicily.  Should the same thing occur in Sardinia, not a man will
be left alive, and the like will continue so long as the sun
remains in the sign of Leo, on all the islands and adjoining
countries to which this corrupted sea-wind extends, or has already
extended, from India.  If the inhabitants of those parts do not
employ and adhere to the following or similar means and precepts,
we announce to them inevitable death, except the grace of Christ
preserve their lives.

"We are of opinion that the constellations, with the aid of
nature, strive by virtue of their Divine might, to protect and
heal the human race; and to this end, in union with the rays of
the sun, acting through the power of fire, endeavour to break
through the mist.  Accordingly, within the next ten days, and
until the 17th of the ensuing month of July, this mist will be
converted into a stinking deleterious rain, whereby the air will
be much purified.  Now, as soon as this rain shall announce itself
by thunder or hail, every one of you should protect himself from
the air; and, as well before as after the rain, kindle a large
fire of vine-wood, green laurel, or other green wood; wormwood and
camomile should also be burnt in great quantity in the market-
places, in other densely inhabited localities, and in the houses.
Until the earth is again completely dry, and for three days
afterwards, no one ought to go abroad in the fields.  During this
time the diet should be simple, and people should be cautious in
avoiding exposure in the cool of the evening, at night, and in the
morning.  Poultry and water-fowl, young pork, old beef, and fat
meat in general, should not be eaten; but, on the contrary, meat
of a proper age, of a warm and dry, but on no account of a heating
and exciting nature.  Broth should be taken, seasoned with ground
pepper, ginger, and cloves, especially by those who are accustomed
to live temperately, and are yet choice in their diet.  Sleep in
the day-time is detrimental; it should be taken at night until
sunrise, or somewhat longer.  At breakfast one should drink
little; supper should be taken an hour before sunset, when more
may be drunk than in the morning.  Clear light wine, mixed with a
fifth or six part of water, should be used as a beverage.  Dried
or fresh fruits, with wine, are not injurious, but highly so
without it.  Beet-root and other vegetables, whether eaten pickled
or fresh, are hurtful; on the contrary, spicy pot-herbs, as sage
or rosemary, are wholesome.  Cold, moist, watery food in is
general prejudicial.  Going out at night, and even until three
o'clock in the morning, is dangerous, on account of dew.  Only
small river fish should be used.  Too much exercise is hurtful.
The body should be kept warmer than usual, and thus protected from
moisture and cold.  Rain-water must not be employed in cooking,
and every one should guard against exposure to wet weather.  If it
rain, a little fine treacle should be taken after dinner.  Fat
people should not sit in the sunshine.  Good clear wine should be
selected and drunk often, but in small quantities, by day.  Olive
oil as an article of food is fatal.  Equally injurious are fasting
and excessive abstemiousness, anxiety of mind, anger, and
immoderate drinking.  Young people, in autumn especially, must
abstain from all these things if they do not wish to run a risk of
dying of dysentery.  In order to keep the body properly open, an
enema, or some other simple means, should be employed when
necessary.  Bathing is injurious.  Men must preserve chastity as
they value their lives.  Every one should impress this on his
recollection, but especially those who reside on the coast, or
upon an island into which the noxious wind has penetrated."

On what occasion these strange precepts were delivered can no
longer be ascertained, even if it were an object to know it.  It
must be acknowledged, however, that they do not redound to the
credit either of the faculty of Paris, or of the fourteenth
century in general.  This famous faculty found themselves under
the painful necessity of being wise at command, and of firing a
point-blank shot of erudition at an enemy who enveloped himself in
a dark mist, of the nature of which they had no conception.  In
concealing their ignorance by authoritative assertions, they
suffered themselves, therefore, to be misled; and while
endeavouring to appear to the world with eclat, only betrayed to
the intelligent their lamentable weakness.  Now some might suppose
that, in the condition of the sciences of the fourteenth century,
no intelligent physicians existed; but this is altogether at
variance with the laws of human advancement, and is contradicted
by history.  The real knowledge of an age is shown only in the
archives of its literature.  Here alone the genius of truth speaks
audibly--here alone men of talent deposit the results of their
experience and reflection without vanity or a selfish object.
There is no ground for believing that in the fourteenth century
men of this kind were publicly questioned regarding their views;
and it is, therefore, the more necessary that impartial history
should take up their cause, and do justice to their merits.

The first notice on this subject is due to a very celebrated
teacher in Perugia, Gentilis of Foligno, who, on the 18th of June,
1348, fell a sacrifice to the plague, in the faithful discharge of
his duty.  Attached to Arabian doctrines, and to the universally
respected Galen, he, in common with all his contemporaries,
believed in a putrid corruption of the blood in the lungs and in
the heart, which was occasioned by the pestilential atmosphere,
and was forthwith communicated to the whole body.  He thought,
therefore, that everything depended upon a sufficient purification
of the air, by means of large blazing fires of odoriferous wood,
in the vicinity of the healthy as well as of the sick, and also
upon an appropriate manner of living, so that the putridity might
not overpower the diseased.  In conformity with notions derived
from the ancients, he depended upon bleeding and purging, at the
commencement of the attack, for the purpose of purification;
ordered the healthy to wash themselves frequently with vinegar or
wine, to sprinkle their dwellings with vinegar, and to smell often
to camphor, or other volatile substances.  Hereupon he gave, after
the Arabian fashion, detailed rules, with an abundance of
different medicines, of whose healing powers wonderful things were
believed.  He had little stress upon super-lunar influences, so
far as respected the malady itself; on which account, he did not
enter into the great controversies of the astrologers, but always
kept in view, as an object of medical attention, the corruption of
the blood in the lungs and heart.  He believed in a progressive
infection from country to country, according to the notions of the
present day; and the contagious power of the disease, even in the
vicinity of those affected by plague, was, in his opinion, beyond
all doubt.  On this point intelligent contemporaries were all
agreed; and, in truth, it required no great genius to be convinced
of so palpable a fact.  Besides, correct notions of contagion have
descended from remote antiquity, and were maintained unchanged in
the fourteenth century.  So far back as the age of Plato a
knowledge of the contagious power of malignant inflammations of
the eye, of which also no physician of the Middle Ages entertained
a doubt, was general among the people; yet in modern times
surgeons have filled volumes with partial controversies on this
subject.  The whole language of antiquity has adapted itself to
the notions of the people respecting the contagion of pestilential
diseases; and their terms were, beyond comparison, more expressive
than those in use among the moderns.

Arrangements for the protection of the healthy against contagious
diseases, the necessity of which is shown from these notions, were
regarded by the ancients as useful; and by man, whose
circumstances permitted it, were carried into effect in their
houses.  Even a total separation of the sick from the healthy,
that indispensable means of protection against infection by
contact, was proposed by physicians of the second century after
Christ, in order to check the spreading of leprosy.  But it was
decidedly opposed, because, as it was alleged, the healing art
ought not to be guilty of such harshness.  This mildness of the
ancients, in whose manner of thinking inhumanity was so often and
so undisguisedly conspicuous, might excite surprise if it were
anything more than apparent.  The true ground of the neglect of
public protection against pestilential diseases lay in the general
notion and constitution of human society--it lay in the disregard
of human life, of which the great nations of antiquity have given
proofs in every page of their history.  Let it not be supposed
that they wanted knowledge respecting the propagation of
contagious diseases.  On the contrary, they were as well informed
on this subject as the modern; but this was shown where individual
property, not where human life, on the grand scale was to be
protected.  Hence the ancients made a general practice of
arresting the progress of murrains among cattle by a separation of
the diseased from the healthy.  Their herds alone enjoyed that
protection which they held it impracticable to extend to human
society, because they had no wish to do so.  That the governments
in the fourteenth century were not yet so far advanced as to put
into practice general regulations for checking the plague needs no
especial proof.  Physicians could, therefore, only advise public
purifications of the air by means of large fires, as had often
been practised in ancient times; and they were obliged to leave it
to individual families either to seek safety in flight, or to shut
themselves up in their dwellings, a method which answers in common
plagues, but which here afforded no complete security, because
such was the fury of the disease when it was at its height, that
the atmosphere of whole cities was penetrated by the infection.

Of the astral influence which was considered to have originated
the "Great Mortality," physicians and learned men were as
completely convinced as of the fact of its reality.  A grand
conjunction of the three superior planets, Saturn, Jupiter, and
Mars, in the sign of Aquarius, which took place, according to Guy
de Chauliac, on the 24th of March, 1345, was generally received as
its principal cause.  In fixing the day, this physician, who was
deeply versed in astrology, did not agree with others; whereupon
there arose various disputations, of weight in that age, but of
none in ours.  People, however, agree in this--that conjunctions
of the planets infallibly prognosticated great events; great
revolutions of kingdoms, new prophets, destructive plagues, and
other occurrences which bring distress and horror on mankind.  No
medical author of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries omits an
opportunity of representing them as among the general prognostics
of great plagues; nor can we, for our part, regard the astrology
of the Middle Ages as a mere offspring of superstition.  It has
not only, in common with all ideas which inspire and guide
mankind, a high historical importance, entirely independent of its
error or truth--for the influence of both is equally powerful--but
there are also contained in it, as in alchemy, grand thoughts of
antiquity, of which modern natural philosophy is so little ashamed
that she claims them as her property.  Foremost among these is the
idea of general life which diffuses itself throughout the whole
universe, expressed by the greatest Greek sages, and transmitted
to the Middle Ages, through the new Platonic natural philosophy.
To this impression of an universal organism, the assumption of a
reciprocal influence of terrestrial bodies could not be foreign,
nor did this cease to correspond with a higher view of nature,
until astrologers overstepped the limits of human knowledge with
frivolous and mystical calculations.

Guy de Chauliac considers the influence of the conjunction, which
was held to be all-potent, as the chief general cause of the Black
Plague; and the diseased state of bodies, the corruption of the
fluids, debility, obstruction, and so forth, as the especial
subordinate causes.  By these, according to his opinion, the
quality of the air, and of the other elements, was so altered that
they set poisonous fluids in motion towards the inward parts of
the body, in the same manner as the magnet attracts iron; whence
there arose in the commencement fever and the spitting of blood;
afterwards, however, a deposition in the form on glandular
swellings and inflammatory boils.  Herein the notion of an
epidemic constitution was set forth clearly, and conformably to
the spirit of the age.  Of contagion, Guy de Chauliac was
completely convinced.  He sought to protect himself against it by
the usual means; and it was probably he who advised Pope Clement
VI. to shut himself up while the plague lasted.  The preservation
of this Pope's life, however, was most beneficial to the city of
Avignon, for he loaded the poor with judicious acts of kindness,
took care to have proper attendants provided, and paid physicians
himself to afford assistance wherever human aid could avail--an
advantage which, perhaps, no other city enjoyed.  Nor was the
treatment of plague-patients in Avignon by any means
objectionable; for, after the usual depletions by bleeding and
aperients, where circumstances required them, they endeavoured to
bring the buboes to suppuration; they made incisions into the
inflammatory boils, or burned them with a red-hot iron, a practice
which at all times proves salutary, and in the Black Plague saved
many lives.  In this city, the Jews, who lived in a state of the
greatest filth, were most severely visited, as also the Spaniards,
whom Chalin accuses of great intemperance.

Still more distinct notions on the causes of the plague were
stated to his contemporaries in the fourteenth century by Galeazzo
di Santa Sofia, a learned man, a native of Padua, who likewise
treated plague-patients at Vienna, though in what year is
undetermined.  He distinguishes carefully PESTILENCE from EPIDEMY
and ENDEMY.  The common notion of the two first accords exactly
with that of an epidemic constitution, for both consist, according
to him, in an unknown change or corruption of the air; with this
difference, that pestilence calls forth diseases of different
kinds; epidemy, on the contrary, always the same disease.  As an
example of an epidemy, he adduces a cough (influenza) which was
observed in all climates at the same time without perceptible
cause; but he recognised the approach of a pestilence,
independently of unusual natural phenomena, by the more frequent
occurrence of various kinds of fever, to which the modern
physicians would assign a nervous and putrid character.  The
endemy originates, according to him, only in local telluric
changes--in deleterious influences which develop themselves in the
earth and in the water, without a corruption of the air.  These
notions were variously jumbled together in his time, like
everything which human understanding separates by too fine a line
of limitation.  The estimation of cosmical influences, however, in
the epidemy and pestilence, is well worthy of commendation; and
Santa Sofia, in this respect, not only agrees with the most
intelligent persons of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but
he has also promulgated an opinion which must, even now, serve as
a foundation for our scarcely commenced investigations into
cosmical influences.  Pestilence and epidemy consist not in
alterations of the four primary qualities, but in a corruption of
the air, powerful, though quite immaterial, and not cognoscible by
the senses--(corruptio aeris non substantialis, sed qualitativa)
in a disproportion of the imponderables in the atmosphere, as it
would be expressed by the moderns.  The causes of the pestilence
and epidemy are, first of all, astral influences, especially on
occasions of planetary conjunctions; then extensive putrefaction
of animal and vegetable bodies, and terrestrial corruptions
(corruptio in terra):  to which also bad diet and want may
contribute.  Santa Sofia considers the putrefaction of locusts,
that had perished in the sea and were again thrown up, combined
with astral and terrestrial influences, as the cause of the
pestilence in the eventful year of the "Great Mortality."

All the fevers which were called forth by the pestilence are,
according to him, of the putrid kind; for they originate
principally from putridity of the heart's blood, which inevitably
follows the inhalation of infected air.  The Oriental Plague is,
sometimes, but by no means always occasioned by pestilence (?),
which imparts to it a character (qualitas occulta) hostile to
human nature.  It originates frequently from other causes, among
which this physician was aware that contagion was to be reckoned;
and it deserves to be remarked that he held epidemic small-pox and
measles to be infallible forerunners of the plague, as do the
physicians and people of the East at the present day.

In the exposition of his therapeutical views of the plague, a
clearness of intellect is again shown by Santa Sofia, which
reflects credit on the age.  It seemed to him to depend, 1st, on
an evacuation of putrid matters by purgatives and bleeding; yet he
did not sanction the employment of these means indiscriminately
and without consideration; least of all where the condition of the
blood was healthy.  He also declared himself decidedly against
bleeding ad deliquium (venae sectio eradicativa).  2nd,
Strengthening of the heart and prevention of putrescence.  3rd,
Appropriate regimen.  4th, Improvement of the air.  5th,
Appropriate treatment of tumid glands and inflammatory boils, with
emollient, or even stimulating poultices (mustard, lily-bulbs), as
well as with red-hot gold and iron.  Lastly, 6th, Attention to
prominent symptoms.  The stores of the Arabian pharmacy, which he
brought into action to meet all these indications, were indeed
very considerable; it is to be observed, however, that, for the
most part, gentle means were accumulated, which, in case of abuse,
would do no harm:  for the character of the Arabian system of
medicine, whose principles were everywhere followed at this time,
was mildness and caution.  On this account, too, we cannot believe
that a very prolix treatise by Marsigli di Santa Sofia, a
contemporary relative of Galeazzo, on the prevention and treatment
of plague, can have caused much harm, although perhaps, even in
the fourteenth century, an agreeable latitude and confident
assertions respecting things which no mortal has investigated, or
which it is quite a matter of indifference to distinguish, were
considered as proofs of a valuable practical talent.

The agreement of contemporary and later writers shows that the
published views of the most celebrated physicians of the
fourteenth century were those generally adopted.  Among these,
Chalin de Vinario is the most experienced.  Though devoted to
astrology still more than his distinguished contemporary, he
acknowledges the great power of terrestrial influences, and
expresses himself very sensibly on the indisputable doctrine of
contagion, endeavouring thereby to apologise for many surgeons and
physicians of his time who neglected their duty.  He asserted
boldly and with truth, "that all epidemic diseases might become
contagious, and all fevers epidemic," which attentive observers of
all subsequent ages have confirmed.

He delivered his sentiments on blood-letting with sagacity, as an
experienced physician; yet he was unable, as may be imagined, to
moderate the desire for bleeding shown by the ignorant monks.  He
was averse to draw blood from the veins of patients under fourteen
years of age; but counteracted inflammatory excitement in them by
cupping, and endeavoured to moderate the inflammation of the tumid
glands by leeches.  Most of those who were bled, died; he
therefore reserved this remedy for the plethoric; especially for
the papal courtiers and the hypocritical priests, whom he saw
gratifying their sensual desires, and imitating Epicurus, whilst
they pompously pretended to follow Christ.  He recommended burning
the boils with a red-hot iron only in the plague without fever,
which occurred in single cases; and was always ready to correct
those over-hasty surgeons who, with fire and violent remedies, did
irremediable injury to their patients.  Michael Savonarola,
professor in Ferrara (1462), reasoning on the susceptibility of
the human frame to the influence of pestilential infection, as the
cause of such various modifications of disease, expresses himself
as a modern physician would on this point; and an adoption of the
principle of contagion was the foundation of his definition of the
plague.  No less worthy of observation are the views of the
celebrated Valescus of Taranta, who, during the final visitation
of the Black Death, in 1382, practised as a physician at
Montpellier, and handed down to posterity what has been repeated
in innumerable treatises on plague, which were written during the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Of all these notions and views regarding the plague, whose
development we have represented, there are two especially, which
are prominent in historical importance:- 1st, The opinion of
learned physicians, that the pestilence, or epidemic constitution,
is the parent of various kinds of disease; that the plague
sometimes, indeed, but by no means always, originates from it:
that, to speak in the language of the moderns, the pestilence
bears the same relation to contagion that a predisposing cause
does to an occasional cause; and 2ndly, the universal conviction
of the contagious power of that disease.

Contagion gradually attracted more notice:  it was thought that in
it the most powerful occasional cause might be avoided; the
possibility of protecting whole cities by separation became
gradually more evident; and so horrifying was the recollection of
the eventful year of the "Great Mortality," that before the close
of the fourteenth century, ere the ill effects of the Black Plague
had ceased, nations endeavoured to guard against the return of
this enemy by an earnest and effectual defence.

The first regulation which was issued for this purpose, originated
with Viscount Bernabo, and is dated the 17th January, 1374.
"Every plague-patient was to be taken out of the city into the
fields, there to die or to recover.  Those who attended upon a
plague-patient, were to remain apart for ten days before they
again associated with anybody.  The priests were to examine the
diseased, and point out to special commissioners the persons
infected, under punishment of the confiscation of their goods and
of being burned alive.  Whoever imported the plague, the state
condemned his goods to confiscation.  Finally, none except those
who were appointed for that purpose were to attend plague-
patients, under penalty of death and confiscation.

These orders, in correspondence with the spirit of the fourteenth
century, are sufficiently decided to indicate a recollection of
the good effects of confinement, and of keeping at a distance
those suspected of having plague.  It was said that Milan itself,
by a rigorous barricade of three houses in which the plague had
broken out, maintained itself free from the "Great Mortality" for
a considerable time; and examples of the preservation of
individual families, by means of a strict separation, were
certainly very frequent.  That these orders must have caused
universal affliction from their uncommon severity, as we know to
have been especially the case in the city of Reggio, may be easily
conceived; but Bernabo did not suffer himself to be deterred from
his purpose by fear--on the contrary, when the plague returned in
the year 1383, he forbade the admission of people from infected
places into his territories on pain of death.  We have now, it is
true, no account how far he succeeded; yet it is to be supposed
that he arrested the disease, for it had long lost the property of
the Black Death, to spread abroad in the air the contagious matter
which proceeded from the lungs, charged with putridity, and to
taint the atmosphere of whole cities by the vast numbers of the
sick.  Now that it had resumed its milder form, so that it
infected only by contact, it admitted being confined within
individual dwellings, as easily as in modern times.

Bernabo's example was imitated; nor was there any century more
appropriate for recommending to governments strong regulations
against the plague that the fourteenth; for when it broke out in
Italy, in the year 1399, and still demanded new victims, it was
for the sixteenth time, without reckoning frequent visitations of
measles and small-pox.  In this same year, Viscount John, in
milder terms than his predecessor, ordered that no stranger should
be admitted from infected places, and that the city gates should
be strictly guarded.  Infected houses were to be ventilated for at
least eight or ten days, and purified from noxious vapours by
fires, and by fumigations with balsamic and aromatic substances.
Straw, rags, and the like were to be burned; and the bedsteads
which had been used, set out for four days in the rain or the
sunshine, so that by means of the one or the other, the morbific
vapour might be destroyed.  No one was to venture to make use of
clothes or beds out of infected dwellings unless they had been
previously washed and dried either at the fire or in the sun.
People were, likewise, to avoid, as long as possible, occupying
houses which had been frequented by plague-patients.

We cannot precisely perceive in these an advance towards general
regulations; and perhaps people were convinced of the
insurmountable impediments which opposed the separation of open
inland countries, where bodies of people connected together could
not be brought, even by the most obdurate severity, to renounce
the habit of profitable intercourse.

Doubtless it is nature which has done the most to banish the
Oriental plague from western Europe, where the increasing
cultivation of the earth, and the advancing order in civilised
society, have prevented it from remaining domesticated, which it
most probably was in the more ancient times.

In the fifteenth century, during which it broke out seventeen
times in different places in Europe, it was of the more
consequence to oppose a barrier to its entrance from Asia, Africa,
and Greece (which had become Turkish); for it would have been
difficult for it to maintain itself indigenously any longer.
Among the southern commercial states, however, which were called
on to make the greatest exertions to this end, it was principally
Venice, formerly so severely attacked by the Black Plague, that
put the necessary restraint upon perilous profits of the merchant.
Until towards the end of the fifteenth century, the very
considerable intercourse with the East was free and unimpeded.
Ships of commercial cities had often brought over the plague:
nay, the former irruption of the "Great Mortality" itself had been
occasioned by navigators.  For, as in the latter end of autumn,
1347, four ships full of plague-patients returned from the Levant
to Genoa, the disease spread itself there with astonishing
rapidity.  On this account, in the following year, the Genoese
forbade the entrance of suspected ships into their port.  These
sailed to Pisa and other cities on the coast, where already nature
had made such mighty preparations for the reception of the Black
Plague, and what we have already described took place in

In the year 1485, when, among the cities of northern Italy, Milan
especially felt the scourge of the plague, a special Council of
Health, consisting of three nobles, was established at Venice, who
probably tried everything in their power to prevent the entrance
of this disease, and gradually called into activity all those
regulations which have served in later times as a pattern for the
other southern states of Europe.  Their endeavours were, however,
not crowned with complete success; on which account their powers
were increased, in the year 1504, by granting them the right of
life and death over those who violated the regulations.  Bills of
health were probably first introduced in the year 1527, during a
fatal plague which visited Italy for five years (1525-30), and
called forth redoubled caution.

The first lazarettos were established upon islands at some
distance from the city, seemingly as early as the year 1485.  Here
all strangers coming from places where the existence of plague was
suspected were detained.  If it appeared in the city itself, the
sick were despatched with their families to what was called the
Old Lazaretto, were there furnished with provisions and medicines,
and when they were cured, were detained, together with all those
who had had intercourse with them, still forty days longer in the
New Lazaretto, situated on another island.  All these regulations
were every year improved, and their needful rigour was increased,
so that from the year 1585 onwards, no appeal was allowed from the
sentence of the Council of Health; and the other commercial
nations gradually came to the support of the Venetians, by
adopting corresponding regulations.  Bills of health, however,
were not general until the year 1665.

The appointment of a forty days' detention, whence quarantines
derive their name, was not dictated by caprice, but probably had a
medical origin, which is derivable in part from the doctrine of
critical days; for the fortieth day, according to the most ancient
notions, has been always regarded as the last of ardent diseases,
and the limit of separation between these and those which are
chronic.  It was the custom to subject lying-in women for forty
days to a more exact superintendence.  There was a good deal also
said in medical works of forty-day epochs in the formation of the
foetus, not to mention that the alchemists expected more durable
revolutions in forty days, which period they called the
philosophical month.

This period being generally held to prevail in natural processes,
it appeared reasonable to assume, and legally to establish it, as
that required for the development of latent principles of
contagion, since public regulations cannot dispense with decisions
of this kind, even though they should not be wholly justified by
the nature of the case.  Great stress has likewise been laid on
theological and legal grounds, which were certainly of greater
weight in the fifteenth century than in the modern times.

On this matter, however, we cannot decide, since our only object
here is to point out the origin of a political means of protection
against a disease which has been the greatest impediment to
civilisation within the memory of man; a means that, like Jenner's
vaccine, after the small-pox had ravaged Europe for twelve hundred
years, has diminished the check which mortality puts on the
progress of civilisation, and thus given to the life and manners
of the nations of this part of the world a new direction, the
result of which we cannot foretell.




The effects of the Black Death had not yet subsided, and the
graves of millions of its victims were scarcely closed, when a
strange delusion arose in Germany, which took possession of the
minds of men, and, in spite of the divinity of our nature, hurried
away body and soul into the magic circle of hellish superstition.
It was a convulsion which in the most extraordinary manner
infuriated the human frame, and excited the astonishment of
contemporaries for more than two centuries, since which time it
has never reappeared.  It was called the dance of St. John or of
St. Vitus, on account of the Bacchantic leaps by which it was
characterised, and which gave to those affected, whilst performing
their wild dance, and screaming and foaming with fury, all the
appearance of persons possessed.  It did not remain confined to
particular localities, but was propagated by the sight of the
sufferers, like a demoniacal epidemic, over the whole of Germany
and the neighbouring countries to the north-west, which were
already prepared for its reception by the prevailing opinions of
the time.

So early as the year 1374, assemblages of men and women were seen
at Aix-la-Chapelle, who had come out of Germany, and who, united
by one common delusion, exhibited to the public both in the
streets and in the churches the following strange spectacle.  They
formed circles hand in hand, and appearing to have lost all
control over their senses, continued dancing, regardless of the
bystanders, for hours together, in wild delirium, until at length
they fell to the ground in a state of exhaustion.  They then
complained of extreme oppression, and groaned as if in the agonies
of death, until they were swathed in cloths bound tightly round
their waists, upon which they again recovered, and remained free
from complaint until the next attack.  This practice of swathing
was resorted to on account of the tympany which followed these
spasmodic ravings, but the bystanders frequently relieved patients
in a less artificial manner, by thumping and trampling upon the
parts affected.  While dancing they neither saw nor heard, being
insensible to external impressions through the senses, but were
haunted by visions, their fancies conjuring up spirits whose names
they shrieked out; and some of them afterwards asserted that they
felt as if they had been immersed in a stream of blood, which
obliged them to leap so high.  Others, during the paroxysm, saw
the heavens open and the Saviour enthroned with the Virgin Mary,
according as the religious notions of the age were strangely and
variously reflected in their imaginations.

Where the disease was completely developed, the attack commenced
with epileptic convulsions.  Those affected fell to the ground
senseless, panting and labouring for breath.  They foamed at the
mouth, and suddenly springing up began their dance amidst strange
contortions.  Yet the malady doubtless made its appearance very
variously, and was modified by temporary or local circumstances,
whereof non-medical contemporaries but imperfectly noted the
essential particulars, accustomed as they were to confound their
observation of natural events with their notions of the world of

It was but a few months ere this demoniacal disease had spread
from Aix-la-Chapelle, where it appeared in July, over the
neighbouring Netherlands.  In Liege, Utrecht, Tongres, and many
other towns of Belgium, the dancers appeared with garlands in
their hair, and their waists girt with cloths, that they might, as
soon as the paroxysm was over, receive immediate relief on the
attack of the tympany.  This bandage was, by the insertion of a
stick, easily twisted tight:  many, however, obtained more relief
from kicks and blows, which they found numbers of persons ready to
administer:  for, wherever the dancers appeared, the people
assembled in crowds to gratify their curiosity with the frightful
spectacle.  At length the increasing number of the affected
excited no less anxiety than the attention that was paid to them.
In towns and villages they took possession of the religious
houses, processions were everywhere instituted on their account,
and masses were said and hymns were sung, while the disease
itself, of the demoniacal origin of which no one entertained the
least doubt, excited everywhere astonishment and horror.  In Liege
the priests had recourse to exorcisms, and endeavoured by every
means in their power to allay an evil which threatened so much
danger to themselves; for the possessed assembling in multitudes,
frequently poured forth imprecations against them, and menaced
their destruction.  They intimidated the people also to such a
degree that there was an express ordinance issued that no one
should make any but square-toed shoes, because these fanatics had
manifested a morbid dislike to the pointed shoes which had come
into fashion immediately after the "Great Mortality" in 1350.
They were still more irritated at the sight of red colours, the
influence of which on the disordered nerves might lead us to
imagine an extraordinary accordance between this spasmodic malady
and the condition of infuriated animals; but in the St. John's
dancers this excitement was probably connected with apparitions
consequent upon their convulsions.  There were likewise some of
them who were unable to endure the sight of persons weeping.  The
clergy seemed to become daily more and more confirmed in their
belief that those who were affected were a kind of sectarians, and
on this account they hastened their exorcisms as much as possible,
in order that the evil might not spread amongst the higher
classes, for hitherto scarcely any but the poor had been attacked,
and the few people of respectability among the laity and clergy
who were to be found among them, were persons whose natural
frivolity was unable to withstand the excitement of novelty, even
though it proceeded from a demoniacal influence.  Some of the
affected had indeed themselves declared, when under the influence
of priestly forms of exorcism, that if the demons had been allowed
only a few weeks' more time, they would have entered the bodies of
the nobility and princes, and through these have destroyed the
clergy.  Assertions of this sort, which those possessed uttered
whilst in a state which may be compared with that of magnetic
sleep, obtained general belief, and passed from mouth to mouth
with wonderful additions.  The priesthood were, on this account,
so much the more zealous in their endeavours to anticipate every
dangerous excitement of the people, as if the existing order of
things could have been seriously threatened by such incoherent
ravings.  Their exertions were effectual, for exorcism was a
powerful remedy in the fourteenth century; or it might perhaps be
that this wild infatuation terminated in consequence of the
exhaustion which naturally ensued from it; at all events, in the
course of ten or eleven months the St. John's dancers were no
longer to be found in any of the cities of Belgium.  The evil,
however, was too deeply rooted to give way altogether to such
feeble attacks.

A few months after this dancing malady had made its appearance at
Aix-la-Chapelle, it broke out at Cologne, where the number of
those possessed amounted to more than five hundred, and about the
same time at Metz, the streets of which place are said to have
been filled with eleven hundred dancers.  Peasants left their
ploughs, mechanics their workshops, housewives their domestic
duties, to join the wild revels, and this rich commercial city
became the scene of the most ruinous disorder.  Secret desires
were excited, and but too often found opportunities for wild
enjoyment; and numerous beggars, stimulated by vice and misery,
availed themselves of this new complaint to gain a temporary
livelihood.  Girls and boys quitted their parents, and servants
their masters, to amuse themselves at the dances of those
possessed, and greedily imbibed the poison of mental infection.
Above a hundred unmarried women were seen raving about in
consecrated and unconsecrated places, and the consequences were
soon perceived.  Gangs of idle vagabonds, who understood how to
imitate to the life the gestures and convulsions of those really
affected, roved from place to place seeking maintenance and
adventures, and thus, wherever they went, spreading this
disgusting spasmodic disease like a plague; for in maladies of
this kind the susceptible are infected as easily by the appearance
as by the reality.  At last it was found necessary to drive away
these mischievous guests, who were equally inaccessible to the
exorcisms of the priests and the remedies of the physicians.  It
was not, however, until after four months that the Rhenish cities
were able to suppress these impostures, which had so alarmingly
increased the original evil.  In the meantime, when once called
into existence, the plague crept on, and found abundant food in
the tone of thought which prevailed in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries, and even, though in a minor degree,
throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth, causing a permanent
disorder of the mind, and exhibiting in those cities to whose
inhabitants it was a novelty, scenes as strange as they were


Strasburg was visited by the "Dancing Plague" in the year 1418,
and the same infatuation existed among the people there, as in the
towns of Belgium and the Lower Rhine.  Many who were seized at the
sight of those affected, excited attention at first by their
confused and absurd behaviour, and then by their constantly
following swarms of dancers.  These were seen day and night
passing through the streets, accompanied by musicians playing on
bagpipes, and by innumerable spectators attracted by curiosity, to
which were added anxious parents and relations, who came to look
after those among the misguided multitude who belonged to their
respective families.  Imposture and profligacy played their part
in this city also, but the morbid delusion itself seems to have
predominated.  On this account religion could only bring
provisional aid, and therefore the town council benevolently took
an interest in the afflicted.  They divided them into separate
parties, to each of which they appointed responsible
superintendents to protect them from harm, and perhaps also to
restrain their turbulence.  They were thus conducted on foot and
in carriages to the chapels of St. Vitus, near Zabern and
Rotestein, where priests were in attendance to work upon their
misguided minds by masses and other religious ceremonies.  After
divine worship was completed, they were led in solemn procession
to the altar, where they made some small offering of alms, and
where it is probable that many were, through the influence of
devotion and the sanctity of the place, cured of this lamentable
aberration.  It is worthy of observation, at all events, that the
Dancing Mania did not recommence at the altars of the saint, and
that from him alone assistance was implored, and through his
miraculous interposition a cure was expected, which was beyond the
reach of human skill.  The personal history of St. Vitus is by no
means important in this matter.  He was a Sicilian youth, who,
together with Modestus and Crescentia, suffered martyrdom at the
time of the persecution of the Christians, under Diocletian, in
the year 303.  The legends respecting him are obscure, and he
would certainly have been passed over without notice among the
innumerable apocryphal martyrs of the first centuries, had not the
transfer of his body to St. Denys, and thence, in the year 836, to
Corvey, raised him to a higher rank.  From this time forth it may
be supposed that many miracles were manifested at his new
sepulchre, which were of essential service in confirming the Roman
faith among the Germans, and St. Vitus was soon ranked among the
fourteen saintly helpers (Nothhelfer or Apotheker).  His altars
were multiplied, and the people had recourse to them in all kinds
of distresses, and revered him as a powerful intercessor.  As the
worship of these saints was, however, at that time stripped of all
historical connections, which were purposely obliterated by the
priesthood, a legend was invented at the beginning of the
fifteenth century, or perhaps even so early as the fourteenth,
that St. Vitus had, just before he bent his neck to the sword,
prayed to God that he might protect from the Dancing Mania all
those who should solemnise the day of his commemoration, and fast
upon its eve, and that thereupon a voice from heaven was heard,
saying, "Vitus, thy prayer is accepted."  Thus St. Vitus became
the patron saint of those afflicted with the Dancing Plague, as
St. Martin of Tours was at one time the succourer of persons in
small-pox, St. Antonius of those suffering under the "hellish
fire," and as St. Margaret was the Juno Lucina of puerperal women.


The connection which John the Baptist had with the Dancing Mania
of the fourteenth century was of a totally different character.
He was originally far from being a protecting saint to those who
were attacked, or one who would be likely to give them relief from
a malady considered as the work of the devil.  On the contrary,
the manner in which he was worshipped afforded an important and
very evident cause for its development.  From the remotest period,
perhaps even so far back as the fourth century, St. John's day was
solemnised with all sorts of strange and rude customs, of which
the originally mystical meaning was variously disfigured among
different nations by superadded relics of heathenism.  Thus the
Germans transferred to the festival of St. John's day an ancient
heathen usage, the kindling of the "Nodfyr," which was forbidden
them by St. Boniface, and the belief subsists even to the present
day that people and animals that have leaped through these flames,
or their smoke, are protected for a whole year from fevers and
other diseases, as if by a kind of baptism by fire.  Bacchanalian
dances, which have originated in similar causes among all the rude
nations of the earth, and the wild extravagancies of a heated
imagination, were the constant accompaniments of this half-
heathen, half-Christian festival.  At the period of which we are
treating, however, the Germans were not the only people who gave
way to the ebullitions of fanaticism in keeping the festival of
St. John the Baptist.  Similar customs were also to be found among
the nations of Southern Europe and of Asia, and it is more than
probable that the Greeks transferred to the festival of John the
Baptist, who is also held in high esteem among the Mahomedans, a
part of their Bacchanalian mysteries, an absurdity of a kind which
is but too frequently met with in human affairs.  How far a
remembrance of the history of St. John's death may have had an
influence on this occasion, we would leave learned theologians to
decide.  It is only of importance here to add that in Abyssinia, a
country entirely separated from Europe, where Christianity has
maintained itself in its primeval simplicity against Mahomedanism,
John is to this day worshipped, as protecting saint of those who
are attacked with the dancing malady.  In these fragments of the
dominion of mysticism and superstition, historical connection is
not to be found.

When we observe, however, that the first dancers in Aix-la-
Chapelle appeared in July with St. John's name in their mouths,
the conjecture is probable that the wild revels of St. John's day,
A.D. 1374, gave rise to this mental plague, which thenceforth has
visited so many thousands with incurable aberration of mind, and
disgusting distortions of body.

This is rendered so much the more probable because some months
previously the districts in the neighbourhood of the Rhine and the
Main had met with great disasters.  So early as February, both
these rivers had overflowed their banks to a great extent; the
walls of the town of Cologne, on the side next the Rhine, had
fallen down, and a great many villages had been reduced to the
utmost distress.  To this was added the miserable condition of
western and southern Germany.  Neither law nor edict could
suppress the incessant feuds of the Barons, and in Franconia
especially, the ancient times of club law appeared to be revived.
Security of property there was none; arbitrary will everywhere
prevailed; corruption of morals and rude power rarely met with
even a feeble opposition; whence it arose that the cruel, but
lucrative, persecutions of the Jews were in many places still
practised through the whole of this century with their wonted
ferocity.  Thus, throughout the western parts of Germany, and
especially in the districts bordering on the Rhine, there was a
wretched and oppressed populace; and if we take into consideration
that among their numerous bands many wandered about, whose
consciences were tormented with the recollection of the crimes
which they had committed during the prevalence of the Black
Plague, we shall comprehend how their despair sought relief in the
intoxication of an artificial delirium.  There is hence good
ground for supposing that the frantic celebration of the festival
of St. John, A.D. 1374, only served to bring to a crisis a malady
which had been long impending; and if we would further inquire how
a hitherto harmless usage, which like many others had but served
to keep up superstition, could degenerate into so serious a
disease, we must take into account the unusual excitement of men's
minds, and the consequences of wretchedness and want.  The bowels,
which in many were debilitated by hunger and bad food, were
precisely the parts which in most cases were attacked with
excruciating pain, and the tympanitic state of the intestines
points out to the intelligent physician an origin of the disorder
which is well worth consideration.


The Dancing Mania of the year 1374 was, in fact, no new disease,
but a phenomenon well known in the Middle Ages, of which many
wondrous stories were traditionally current among the people.  In
the year 1237 upwards of a hundred children were said to have been
suddenly seized with this disease at Erfurt, and to have proceeded
dancing and jumping along the road to Arnstadt.  When they arrived
at that place they fell exhausted to the ground, and, according to
an account of an old chronicle, many of them, after they were
taken home by their parents, died, and the rest remained affected,
to the end of their lives, with a permanent tremor.  Another
occurrence was related to have taken place on the Moselle Bridge
at Utrecht, on the 17th day of June, A.D. 1278, when two hundred
fanatics began to dance, and would not desist until a priest
passed, who was carrying the Host to a person that was sick, upon
which, as if in punishment of their crime, the bridge gave way,
and they were all drowned.  A similar event also occurred so early
as the year 1027, near the convent church of Kolbig, not far from
Bernburg.  According to an oft-repeated tradition, eighteen
peasants, some of whose names are still preserved, are said to
have disturbed divine service on Christmas Eve by dancing and
brawling in the churchyard, whereupon the priest, Ruprecht,
inflicted a curse upon them, that they should dance and scream for
a whole year without ceasing.  This curse is stated to have been
completely fulfilled, so that the unfortunate sufferers at length
sank knee-deep into the earth, and remained the whole time without
nourishment, until they were finally released by the intercession
of two pious bishops.  It is said that, upon this, they fell into
a deep sleep, which lasted three days, and that four of them died;
the rest continuing to suffer all their lives from a trembling of
their limbs.  It is not worth while to separate what may have been
true, and what the addition of crafty priests, in this strangely
distorted story.  It is sufficient that it was believed, and
related with astonishment and horror, throughout the Middle Ages;
so that when there was any exciting cause for this delirious
raving and wild rage for dancing, it failed not to produce its
effects upon men whose thoughts were given up to a belief in
wonders and apparitions.

This disposition of mind, altogether so peculiar to the Middle
Ages, and which, happily for mankind, has yielded to an improved
state of civilisation and the diffusion of popular instruction,
accounts for the origin and long duration of this extraordinary
mental disorder.  The good sense of the people recoiled with
horror and aversion from this heavy plague, which, whenever
malevolent persons wished to curse their bitterest enemies and
adversaries, was long after used as a malediction.  The
indignation also that was felt by the people at large against the
immorality of the age, was proved by their ascribing this
frightful affliction to the inefficacy of baptism by unchaste
priests, as if innocent children were doomed to atone, in after-
years, for this desecration of the sacrament administered by
unholy hands.  We have already mentioned what perils the priests
in the Netherlands incurred from this belief.  They now, indeed,
endeavoured to hasten their reconciliation with the irritated,
and, at that time, very degenerate people, by exorcisms, which,
with some, procured them greater respect than ever, because they
thus visibly restored thousands of those who were affected.  In
general, however, there prevailed a want of confidence in their
efficacy, and then the sacred rites had as little power in
arresting the progress of this deeply-rooted malady as the prayers
and holy services subsequently had at the altars of the greatly-
revered martyr St. Vitus.  We may therefore ascribe it to accident
merely, and to a certain aversion to this demoniacal disease,
which seemed to lie beyond the reach of human skill, that we meet
with but few and imperfect notices of the St. Vitus's dance in the
second half of the fifteenth century.  The highly-coloured
descriptions of the sixteenth century contradict the notion that
this mental plague had in any degree diminished in its severity,
and not a single fact is to be found which supports the opinion
that any one of the essential symptoms of the disease, not even
excepting the tympany, had disappeared, or that the disorder
itself had become milder in its attacks.  The physicians never, as
it seems, throughout the whole of the fifteenth century, undertook
the treatment of the Dancing Mania, which, according to the
prevailing notions, appertained exclusively to the servants of the
Church.  Against demoniacal disorders they had no remedies, and
though some at first did promulgate the opinion that the malady
had its origin in natural circumstances, such as a hot
temperament, and other causes named in the phraseology of the
schools, yet these opinions were the less examined as it did not
appear worth while to divide with a jealous priesthood the care of
a host of fanatical vagabonds and beggars.


It was not until the beginning of the sixteenth century that the
St. Vitus's dance was made the subject of medical research, and
stripped of its unhallowed character as a work of demons.  This
was effected by Paracelsus, that mighty but, as yet, scarcely
comprehended reformer of medicine, whose aim it was to withdraw
diseases from the pale of miraculous interpositions and saintly
influences, and explain their causes upon principles deduced from
his knowledge of the human frame.  "We will not, however, admit
that the saints have power to inflict diseases, and that these
ought to be named after them, although many there are who, in
their theology, lay great stress on this supposition, ascribing
them rather to God than to nature, which is but idle talk.  We
dislike such nonsensical gossip as is not supported by symptoms,
but only by faith--a thing which is not human, whereon the gods
themselves set no value."

Such were the words which Paracelsus addressed to his
contemporaries, who were, as yet, incapable of appreciating
doctrines of this sort; for the belief in enchantment still
remained everywhere unshaken, and faith in the world of spirits
still held men's minds in so close a bondage that thousands were,
according to their own conviction, given up as a prey to the
devil; while at the command of religion, as well as of law,
countless piles were lighted, by the flames of which human society
was to be purified.

Paracelsus divides the St. Vitus's dance into three kinds.  First,
that which arises from imagination (Vitista, Chorea imaginativa,
aestimativa), by which the original Dancing Plague is to be
understood.  Secondly, that which arises from sensual desires,
depending on the will (Chorea lasciva).  Thirdly, that which
arises from corporeal causes (Chorea naturalis, coacta), which,
according to a strange notion of his own, he explained by
maintaining that in certain vessels which are susceptible of an
internal pruriency, and thence produce laughter, the blood is set
in commotion in consequence of an alteration in the vital spirits,
whereby involuntary fits of intoxicating joy and a propensity to
dance are occasioned.  To this notion he was, no doubt, led from
having observed a milder form of St. Vitus's dance, not uncommon
in his time, which was accompanied by involuntary laughter; and
which bore a resemblance to the hysterical laughter of the
moderns, except that it was characterised by more pleasurable
sensations and by an extravagant propensity to dance.  There was
no howling, screaming, and jumping, as in the severer form;
neither was the disposition to dance by any means insuperable.
Patients thus affected, although they had not a complete control
over their understandings, yet were sufficiently self-possessed
during the attack to obey the directions which they received.
There were even some among them who did not dance at all, but only
felt an involuntary impulse to allay the internal sense of
disquietude, which is the usual forerunner of an attack of this
kind, by laughter and quick walking carried to the extent of
producing fatigue.  This disorder, so different from the original
type, evidently approximates to the modern chorea; or, rather, is
in perfect accordance with it, even to the less essential symptom
of laughter.  A mitigation in the form of the Dancing Mania had
thus clearly taken place at the commencement of the sixteenth

On the communication of the St. Vitus's dance by sympathy,
Paracelsus, in his peculiar language, expresses himself with great
spirit, and shows a profound knowledge of the nature of sensual
impressions, which find their way to the heart--the seat of joys
and emotions--which overpower the opposition of reason; and whilst
"all other qualities and natures" are subdued, incessantly impel
the patient, in consequence of his original compliance, and his
all-conquering imagination, to imitate what he has seen.  On his
treatment of the disease we cannot bestow any great praise, but
must be content with the remark that it was in conformity with the
notions of the age in which he lived.  For the first kind, which
often originated in passionate excitement, he had a mental remedy,
the efficacy of which is not to be despised, if we estimate its
value in connection with the prevalent opinions of those times.
The patient was to make an image of himself in wax or resin, and
by an effort of thought to concentrate all his blasphemies and
sins in it.  "Without the intervention of any other persons, to
set his whole mind and thoughts concerning these oaths in the
image;" and when he had succeeded in this, he was to burn the
image, so that not a particle of it should remain.  In all this
there was no mention made of St. Vitus, or any of the other
mediatory saints, which is accounted for by the circumstance that
at this time an open rebellion against the Romish Church had
begun, and the worship of saints was by many rejected as
idolatrous.  For the second kind of St. Vitus's dance, arising
from sensual irritation, with which women were far more frequently
affected than men, Paracelsus recommended harsh treatment and
strict fasting.  He directed that the patients should be deprived
of their liberty; placed in solitary confinement, and made to sit
in an uncomfortable place, until their misery brought them to
their senses and to a feeling of penitence.  He then permitted
them gradually to return to their accustomed habits.  Severe
corporal chastisement was not omitted; but, on the other hand,
angry resistance on the part of the patient was to be sedulously
avoided, on the ground that it might increase his malady, or even
destroy him:  moreover, where it seemed proper, Paracelsus allayed
the excitement of the nerves by immersion in cold water.  On the
treatment of the third kind we shall not here enlarge.  It was to
be effected by all sorts of wonderful remedies, composed of the
quintessences; and it would require, to render it intelligible, a
more extended exposition of peculiar principles than suits our
present purpose.


About this time the St. Vitus's dance began to decline, so that
milder forms of it appeared more frequently, while the severer
cases became more rare; and even in these, some of the important
symptoms gradually disappeared.  Paracelsus makes no mention of
the tympanites as taking place after the attacks, although it may
occasionally have occurred; and Schenck von Graffenberg, a
celebrated physician of the latter half of the sixteenth century,
speaks of this disease as having been frequent only in the time of
his forefathers; his descriptions, however, are applicable to the
whole of that century, and to the close of the fifteenth.  The St.
Vitus's dance attacked people of all stations, especially those
who led a sedentary life, such as shoemakers and tailors; but even
the most robust peasants abandoned their labours in the fields, as
if they were possessed by evil spirits; and thus those affected
were seen assembling indiscriminately, from time to time, at
certain appointed places, and, unless prevented by the lookers-on,
continuing to dance without intermission, until their very last
breath was expended.  Their fury and extravagance of demeanour so
completely deprived them of their senses, that many of them dashed
their brains out against the walls and corners of buildings, or
rushed headlong into rapid rivers, where they found a watery
grave.  Roaring and foaming as they were, the bystanders could
only succeed in restraining them by placing benches and chairs in
their way, so that, by the high leaps they were thus tempted to
take, their strength might be exhausted.  As soon as this was the
case, they fell as it were lifeless to the ground, and, by very
slow degrees, again recovered their strength.  Many there were
who, even with all this exertion, had not expended the violence of
the tempest which raged within them, but awoke with newly-revived
powers, and again and again mixed with the crowd of dancers, until
at length the violent excitement of their disordered nerves was
allayed by the great involuntary exertion of their limbs; and the
mental disorder was calmed by the extreme exhaustion of the body.
Thus the attacks themselves were in these cases, as in their
nature they are in all nervous complaints, necessary crises of an
inward morbid condition which was transferred from the sensorium
to the nerves of motion, and, at an earlier period, to the
abdominal plexus, where a deep-seated derangement of the system
was perceptible from the secretion of flatus in the intestines.

The cure effected by these stormy attacks was in many cases so
perfect, that some patients returned to the factory or the plough
as if nothing had happened.  Others, on the contrary, paid the
penalty of their folly by so total a loss of power, that they
could not regain their former health, even by the employment of
the most strengthening remedies.  Medical men were astonished to
observe that women in an advanced state of pregnancy were capable
of going through an attack of the disease without the slightest
injury to their offspring, which they protected merely by a
bandage passed round the waist.  Cases of this kind were not
infrequent so late as Schenck's time.  That patients should be
violently affected by music, and their paroxysms brought on and
increased by it, is natural with such nervous disorders, where
deeper impressions are made through the ear, which is the most
intellectual of all the organs, than through any of the other
senses.  On this account the magistrates hired musicians for the
purpose of carrying the St. Vitus's dancers so much the quicker
through the attacks, and directed that athletic men should be sent
among them in order to complete the exhaustion, which had been
often observed to produce a good effect.  At the same time there
was a prohibition against wearing red garments, because, at the
sight of this colour, those affected became so furious that they
flew at the persons who wore it, and were so bent upon doing them
an injury that they could with difficulty be restrained.  They
frequently tore their own clothes whilst in the paroxysm, and were
guilty of other improprieties, so that the more opulent employed
confidential attendants to accompany them, and to take care that
they did no harm either to themselves or others.  This
extraordinary disease was, however, so greatly mitigated in
Schenck's time, that the St. Vitus's dancers had long since ceased
to stroll from town to town; and that physician, like Paracelsus,
makes no mention of the tympanitic inflation of the bowels.
Moreover, most of those affected were only annually visited by
attacks; and the occasion of them was so manifestly referable to
the prevailing notions of that period, that if the unqualified
belief in the supernatural agency of saints could have been
abolished, they would not have had any return of the complaint.
Throughout the whole of June, prior to the festival of St. John,
patients felt a disquietude and restlessness which they were
unable to overcome.  They were dejected, timid, and anxious;
wandered about in an unsettled state, being tormented with
twitching pains, which seized them suddenly in different parts,
and eagerly expected the eve of St. John's day, in the confident
hope that by dancing at the altars of this saint, or of St. Vitus
(for in the Breisgau aid was equally sought from both), they would
be freed from all their sufferings.  This hope was not
disappointed; and they remained, for the rest of the year, exempt
from any further attack, after having thus, by dancing and raving
for three hours, satisfied an irresistible demand of nature.
There were at that period two chapels in the Breisgau visited by
the St. Vitus's dancers; namely, the Chapel of St. Vitus at
Biessen, near Breisach, and that of St. John, near Wasenweiler;
and it is probable that in the south-west of Germany the disease
was still in existence in the seventeenth century.

However, it grew every year more rare, so that at the beginning of
the seventeenth century it was observed only occasionally in its
ancient form.  Thus in the spring of the year 1623, G. Horst saw
some women who annually performed a pilgrimage to St. Vitus's
chapel at Drefelhausen, near Weissenstein, in the territory of
Ulm, that they might wait for their dancing fit there, in the same
manner as those in the Breisgau did, according to Schenck's
account.  They were not satisfied, however, with a dance of three
hours' duration, but continued day and night in a state of mental
aberration, like persons in an ecstasy, until they fell exhausted
to the ground; and when they came to themselves again they felt
relieved from a distressing uneasiness and painful sensation of
weight in their bodies, of which they had complained for several
weeks prior to St. Vitus's Day.

After this commotion they remained well for the whole year; and
such was their faith in the protecting power of the saint, that
one of them had visited this shrine at Drefelhausen more than
twenty times, and another had already kept the saint's day for the
thirty-second time at this sacred station.

The dancing fit itself was excited here, as it probably was in
other places, by music, from the effects of which the patients
were thrown into a state of convulsion.  Many concurrent
testimonies serve to show that music generally contributed much to
the continuance of the St. Vitus's dance, originated and increased
its paroxysms, and was sometimes the cause of their mitigation.
So early as the fourteenth century the swarms of St. John's
dancers were accompanied by minstrels playing upon noisy
instruments, who roused their morbid feelings; and it may readily
be supposed that by the performance of lively melodies, and the
stimulating effects which the shrill tones of fifes and trumpets
would produce, a paroxysm that was perhaps but slight in itself,
might, in many cases, be increased to the most outrageous fury,
such as in later times was purposely induced in order that the
force of the disease might be exhausted by the violence of its
attack.  Moreover, by means of intoxicating music a kind of
demoniacal festival for the rude multitude was established, which
had the effect of spreading this unhappy malady wider and wider.
Soft harmony was, however, employed to calm the excitement of
those affected, and it is mentioned as a character of the tunes
played with this view to the St. Vitus's dancers, that they
contained transitions from a quick to a slow measure, and passed
gradually from a high to a low key.  It is to be regretted that no
trace of this music has reached out times, which is owing partly
to the disastrous events of the seventeenth century, and partly to
the circumstance that the disorder was looked upon as entirely
national, and only incidentally considered worthy of notice by
foreign men of learning.  If the St. Vitus's dance was already on
the decline at the commencement of the seventeenth century, the
subsequent events were altogether adverse to its continuance.
Wars carried on with animosity, and with various success, for
thirty years, shook the west of Europe; and although the
unspeakable calamities which they brought upon Germany, both
during their continuance and in their immediate consequences, were
by no means favourable to the advance of knowledge, yet, with the
vehemence of a purifying fire, they gradually effected the
intellectual regeneration of the Germans; superstition, in her
ancient form, never again appeared, and the belief in the dominion
of spirits, which prevailed in the middle ages, lost for ever its
once formidable power.



It was of the utmost advantage to the St. Vitus's dancers that
they made choice of a favourite patron saint; for, not to mention
that people were inclined to compare them to the possessed with
evil spirits described in the Bible, and thence to consider them
as innocent victims to the power of Satan, the name of their great
intercessor recommended them to general commiseration, and a magic
boundary was thus set to every harsh feeling, which might
otherwise have proved hostile to their safety.  Other fanatics
were not so fortunate, being often treated with the most
relentless cruelty, whenever the notions of the middle ages either
excused or commanded it as a religious duty.  Thus, passing over
the innumerable instances of the burning of witches, who were,
after all, only labouring under a delusion, the Teutonic knights
in Prussia not unfrequently condemned those maniacs to the stake
who imagined themselves to be metamorphosed into wolves--an
extraordinary species of insanity, which, having existed in Greece
before our era, spread, in process of time over Europe, so that it
was communicated not only to the Romaic, but also to the German
and Sarmatian nations, and descended from the ancients as a legacy
of affliction to posterity.  In modern times Lycanthropy--such was
the name given to this infatuation--has vanished from the earth,
but it is nevertheless well worthy the consideration of the
observer of human aberrations, and a history of it by some writer
who is equally well acquainted with the middle ages as with
antiquity is still a desideratum.  We leave it for the present
without further notice, and turn to a malady most extraordinary in
all its phenomena, having a close connection with the St. Vitus's
dance, and, by a comparison of facts which are altogether similar,
affording us an instructive subject for contemplation.  We allude
to the disease called Tarantism, which made its first appearance
in Apulia, and thence spread over the other provinces of Italy,
where, during some centuries, it prevailed as a great epidemic.
In the present times, it has vanished, or at least has lost
altogether its original importance, like the St. Vitus's dance,
lycanthropy, and witchcraft.


The learned Nicholas Perotti gives the earliest account of this
strange disorder.  Nobody had the least doubt that it was caused
by the bite of the tarantula, a ground-spider common in Apulia:
and the fear of this insect was so general that its bite was in
all probability much oftener imagined, or the sting of some other
kind of insect mistaken for it, than actually received.  The word
tarantula is apparently the same as terrantola, a name given by
the Italians to the stellio of the old Romans, which was a kind of
lizard, said to be poisonous, and invested by credulity with such
extraordinary qualities, that, like the serpent of the Mosaic
account of the Creation, it personified, in the imaginations of
the vulgar, the notion of cunning, so that even the jurists
designated a cunning fraud by the appellation of a "stellionatus."
Perotti expressly assures us that this reptile was called by the
Romans tarantula; and since he himself, who was one of the most
distinguished authors of his time, strangely confounds spiders and
lizards together, so that he considers the Apulian tarantula,
which he ranks among the class of spiders, to have the same
meaning as the kind of lizard called [Greek text], it is the less
extraordinary that the unlearned country people of Apulia should
confound the much-dreaded ground-spider with the fabulous star-
lizard, and appropriate to the one the name of the other.  The
derivation of the word tarantula, from the city of Tarentum, or
the river Thara, in Apulia, on the banks of which this insect is
said to have been most frequently found, or, at least, its bite to
have had the most venomous effect, seems not to be supported by
authority.  So much for the name of this famous spider, which,
unless we are greatly mistaken, throws no light whatever upon the
nature of the disease in question.  Naturalists who, possessing a
knowledge of the past, should not misapply their talents by
employing them in establishing the dry distinction of forms, would
find here much that calls for research, and their efforts would
clear up many a perplexing obscurity.

Perotti states that the tarantula--that is, the spider so called--
was not met with in Italy in former times, but that in his day it
had become common, especially in Apulia, as well as in some other
districts.  He deserves, however, no great confidence as a
naturalist, notwithstanding his having delivered lectures in
Bologna on medicine and other sciences.  He at least has neglected
to prove his assertion, which is not borne out by any analogous
phenomenon observed in modern times with regard to the history of
the spider species.  It is by no means to be admitted that the
tarantula did not make its appearance in Italy before the disease
ascribed to its bite became remarkable, even though tempests more
violent than those unexampled storms which arose at the time of
the Black Death in the middle of the fourteenth century had set
the insect world in motion; for the spider is little if at all
susceptible of those cosmical influences which at times multiply
locusts and other winged insects to a wonderful extent, and compel
them to migrate.

The symptoms which Perotti enumerates as consequent on the bite of
the tarantula agree very exactly with those described by later
writers.  Those who were bitten, generally fell into a state of
melancholy, and appeared to be stupefied, and scarcely in
possession of their senses.  This condition was, in many cases,
united with so great a sensibility to music, that at the very
first tones of their favourite melodies they sprang up, shouting
for joy, and danced on without intermission, until they sank to
the ground exhausted and almost lifeless.  In others, the disease
did not take this cheerful turn.  They wept constantly, and as if
pining away with some unsatisfied desire, spent their days in the
greatest misery and anxiety.  Others, again, in morbid fits of
love, cast their longing looks on women, and instances of death
are recorded, which are said to have occurred under a paroxysm of
either laughing or weeping.

From this description, incomplete as it is, we may easily gather
that tarantism, the essential symptoms of which are mentioned in
it, could not have originated in the fifteenth century, to which
Perotti's account refers; for that author speaks of it as a well-
known malady, and states that the omission to notice it by older
writers was to be ascribed solely to the want of education in
Apulia, the only province probably where the disease at that time
prevailed.  A nervous disorder that had arrived at so high a
degree of development must have been long in existence, and
doubtless had required an elaborate preparation by the concurrence
of general causes.

The symptoms which followed the bite of venomous spiders were well
known to the ancients, and had excited the attention of their best
observers, who agree in their descriptions of them.  It is
probable that among the numerous species of their phalangium, the
Apulian tarantula is included, but it is difficult to determine
this point with certainty, more especially because in Italy the
tarantula was not the only insect which caused this nervous
affection, similar results being likewise attributed to the bite
of the scorpion.  Lividity of the whole body, as well as of the
countenance, difficulty of speech, tremor of the limbs, icy
coldness, pale urine, depression of spirits, headache, a flow of
tears, nausea, vomiting, sexual excitement, flatulence, syncope,
dysuria, watchfulness, lethargy, even death itself, were cited by
them as the consequences of being bitten by venomous spiders, and
they made little distinction as to their kinds.  To these symptoms
we may add the strange rumour, repeated throughout the middle
ages, that persons who were bitten, ejected by the bowels and
kidneys, and even by vomiting, substances resembling a spider's

Nowhere, however, do we find any mention made that those affected
felt an irresistible propensity to dancing, or that they were
accidentally cured by it.  Even Constantine of Africa, who lived
500 years after Aetius, and, as the most learned physician of the
school of Salerno, would certainly not have passed over so
acceptable a subject of remark, knows nothing of such a memorable
course of this disease arising from poison, and merely repeats the
observations of his Greek predecessors.  Gariopontus, a Salernian
physician of the eleventh century, was the first to describe a
kind of insanity, the remote affinity of which to the tarantula
disease is rendered apparent by a very striking symptom.  The
patients in their sudden attacks behaved like maniacs, sprang up,
throwing their arms about with wild movements, and, if perchance a
sword was at hand, they wounded themselves and others, so that it
became necessary carefully to secure them.  They imagined that
they heard voices and various kinds of sounds, and if, during this
state of illusion, the tones of a favourite instrument happened to
catch their ear, they commenced a spasmodic dance, or ran with the
utmost energy which they could muster until they were totally
exhausted.  These dangerous maniacs, who, it would seem, appeared
in considerable numbers, were looked upon as a legion of devils,
but on the causes of their malady this obscure writer adds nothing
further than that he believes (oddly enough) that it may sometimes
be excited by the bite of a mad dog.  He calls the disease
Anteneasmus, by which is meant no doubt the Enthusiasmus of the
Greek physicians.  We cite this phenomenon as an important
forerunner of tarantism, under the conviction that we have thus
added to the evidence that the development of this latter must
have been founded on circumstances which existed from the twelfth
to the end of the fourteenth century; for the origin of tarantism
itself is referable, with the utmost probability, to a period
between the middle and the end of this century, and is
consequently contemporaneous with that of the St. Vitus's dance
(1374).  The influence of the Roman Catholic religion, connected
as this was, in the middle ages, with the pomp of processions,
with public exercises of penance, and with innumerable practices
which strongly excited the imaginations of its votaries, certainly
brought the mind to a very favourable state for the reception of a
nervous disorder.  Accordingly, so long as the doctrines of
Christianity were blended with so much mysticism, these unhallowed
disorders prevailed to an important extent, and even in our own
days we find them propagated with the greatest facility where the
existence of superstition produces the same effect, in more
limited districts, as it once did among whole nations.  But this
is not all.  Every country in Europe, and Italy perhaps more than
any other, was visited during the middle ages by frightful
plagues, which followed each other in such quick succession that
they gave the exhausted people scarcely any time for recovery.
The Oriental bubo-plague ravaged Italy sixteen times between the
years 1119 and 1340.  Small-pox and measles were still more
destructive than in modern times, and recurred as frequently.  St.
Anthony's fire was the dread of town and country; and that
disgusting disease, the leprosy, which, in consequence of the
Crusades, spread its insinuating poison in all directions,
snatched from the paternal hearth innumerable victims who,
banished from human society, pined away in lonely huts, whither
they were accompanied only by the pity of the benevolent and their
own despair.  All these calamities, of which the moderns have
scarcely retained any recollection, were heightened to an
incredible degree by the Black Death, which spread boundless
devastation and misery over Italy.  Men's minds were everywhere
morbidly sensitive; and as it happened with individuals whose
senses, when they are suffering under anxiety, become more
irritable, so that trifles are magnified into objects of great
alarm, and slight shocks, which would scarcely affect the spirits
when in health, gave rise in them to severe diseases, so was it
with this whole nation, at all times so alive to emotions, and at
that period so sorely oppressed with the horrors of death.

The bite of venomous spiders, or rather the unreasonable fear of
its consequences, excited at such a juncture, though it could not
have done so at an earlier period, a violent nervous disorder,
which, like St. Vitus's dance in Germany, spread by sympathy,
increasing in severity as it took a wider range, and still further
extending its ravages from its long continuance.  Thus, from the
middle of the fourteenth century, the furies of THE DANCE
brandished their scourge over afflicted mortals; and music, for
which the inhabitants of Italy, now probably for the first time,
manifested susceptibility and talent, became capable of exciting
ecstatic attacks in those affected, and then furnished the magical
means of exorcising their melancholy.


At the close of the fifteenth century we find that tarantism had
spread beyond the boundaries of Apulia, and that the fear of being
bitten by venomous spiders had increased.  Nothing short of death
itself was expected from the wound which these insects inflicted,
and if those who were bitten escaped with their lives, they were
said to be seen pining away in a desponding state of lassitude.
Many became weak-sighted or hard of hearing, some lost the power
of speech, and all were insensible to ordinary causes of
excitement.  Nothing but the flute or the cithern afforded them
relief.  At the sound of these instruments they awoke as it were
by enchantment, opened their eyes, and moving slowly at first,
according to the measure of the music, were, as the time
quickened, gradually hurried on to the most passionate dance.  It
was generally observable that country people, who were rude, and
ignorant of music, evinced on these occasions an unusual degree of
grace, as if they had been well practised in elegant movements of
the body; for it is a peculiarity in nervous disorders of this
kind, that the organs of motion are in an altered condition, and
are completely under the control of the over-strained spirits.
Cities and villages alike resounded throughout the summer season
with the notes of fifes, clarinets, and Turkish drums; and
patients were everywhere to be met with who looked to dancing as
their only remedy.  Alexander ab Alexandro, who gives this
account, saw a young man in a remote village who was seized with a
violent attack of tarantism.  He listened with eagerness and a
fixed stare to the sound of a drum, and his graceful movements
gradually became more and more violent, until his dancing was
converted into a succession of frantic leaps, which required the
utmost exertion of his whole strength.  In the midst of this over-
strained exertion of mind and body the music suddenly ceased, and
he immediately fell powerless to the ground, where he lay
senseless and motionless until its magical effect again aroused
him to a renewal of his impassioned performances.

At the period of which we are treating there was a general
conviction, that by music and dancing the poison of the tarantula
was distributed over the whole body, and expelled through the
skin, but that if there remained the slightest vestige of it in
the vessels, this became a permanent germ of the disorder, so that
the dancing fits might again and again be excited ad infinitum by
music.  This belief, which resembled the delusion of those insane
persons who, being by artful management freed from the imagined
causes of their sufferings, are but for a short time released from
their false notions, was attended with the most injurious effects:
for in consequence of it those affected necessarily became by
degrees convinced of the incurable nature of their disorder.  They
expected relief, indeed, but not a cure, from music; and when the
heat of summer awakened a recollection of the dances of the
preceding year, they, like the St. Vitus's dancers of the same
period before St. Vitus's day, again grew dejected and
misanthropic, until, by music and dancing, they dispelled the
melancholy which had become with them a kind of sensual enjoyment.

Under such favourable circumstances, it is clear that tarantism
must every year have made further progress.  The number of those
affected by it increased beyond all belief, for whoever had either
actually been, or even fancied that he had been, once bitten by a
poisonous spider or scorpion, made his appearance annually
wherever the merry notes of the tarantella resounded.  Inquisitive
females joined the throng and caught the disease, not indeed from
the poison of the spider, but from the mental poison which they
eagerly received through the eye; and thus the cure of the
tarantati gradually became established as a regular festival of
the populace, which was anticipated with impatient delight.

Without attributing more to deception and fraud than to the
peculiar nature of a progressive mental malady, it may readily be
conceived that the cases of this strange disorder now grew more
frequent.  The celebrated Matthioli, who is worthy of entire
confidence, gives his account as an eye-witness.  He saw the same
extraordinary effects produced by music as Alexandro, for, however
tortured with pain, however hopeless of relief the patients
appeared, as they lay stretched on the couch of sickness, at the
very first sounds of those melodies which made an impression on
them--but this was the case only with the tarantellas composed
expressly for the purpose--they sprang up as if inspired with new
life and spirit, and, unmindful of their disorder, began to move
in measured gestures, dancing for hour together without fatigue,
until, covered with a kindly perspiration, they felt a salutary
degree of lassitude, which relieved them for a time at least,
perhaps even for a whole year, from their defection and oppressive
feeling of general indisposition.  Alexandro's experience of the
injurious effects resulting from a sudden cessation of the music
was generally confirmed by Matthioli.  If the clarinets and drums
ceased for a single moment, which, as the most skilful payers were
tired out by the patients, could not but happen occasionally, they
suffered their limbs to fall listless, again sank exhausted to the
ground, and could find no solace but in a renewal of the dance.
On this account care was taken to continue the music until
exhaustion was produced; for it was better to pay a few extra
musicians, who might relieve each other, than to permit the
patient, in the midst of this curative exercise, to relapse into
so deplorable a state of suffering.  The attack consequent upon
the bite of the tarantula, Matthioli describes as varying much in
its manner.  Some became morbidly exhilarated, so that they
remained for a long while without sleep, laughing, dancing, and
singing in a state of the greatest excitement.  Others, on the
contrary, were drowsy.  The generality felt nausea and suffered
from vomiting, and some had constant tremors.  Complete mania was
no uncommon occurrence, not to mention the usual dejection of
spirits and other subordinate symptoms.


Unaccountable emotions, strange desires, and morbid sensual
irritations of all kinds, were as prevalent as in the St. Vitus's
dance and similar great nervous maladies.  So late as the
sixteenth century patients were seen armed with glittering swords
which, during the attack, they brandished with wild gestures, as
if they were going to engage in a fencing match.  Even women
scorned all female delicacy, and, adopting this impassioned
demeanour, did the same; and this phenomenon, as well as the
excitement which the tarantula dancers felt at the sight of
anything with metallic lustre, was quite common up to the period
when, in modern times, the disease disappeared.

The abhorrence of certain colours, and the agreeable sensations
produced by others, were much more marked among the excitable
Italians than was the case in the St. Vitus's dance with the more
phlegmatic Germans.  Red colours, which the St. Vitus's dancers
detested, they generally liked, so that a patient was seldom seen
who did not carry a red handkerchief for his gratification, or
greedily feast his eyes on any articles of red clothing worn by
the bystanders.  Some preferred yellow, others black colours, of
which an explanation was sought, according to the prevailing
notions of the times, in the difference of temperaments.  Others,
again, were enraptured with green; and eye-witnesses describe this
rage for colours as so extraordinary, that they can scarcely find
words with which to express their astonishment.  No sooner did the
patients obtain a sight of the favourite colour than, new as the
impression was, they rushed like infuriated animals towards the
object, devoured it with their eager looks, kissed and caressed it
in every possible way, and gradually resigning themselves to
softer sensations, adopted the languishing expression of enamoured
lovers, and embraced the handkerchief, or whatever other article
it might be, which was presented to them, with the most intense
ardour, while the tears streamed from their eyes as if they were
completely overwhelmed by the inebriating impression on their

The dancing fits of a certain Capuchin friar in Tarentum excited
so much curiosity, that Cardinal Cajetano proceeded to the
monastery, that he might see with his own eyes what was going on.
As soon as the monk, who was in the midst of his dance, perceived
the spiritual prince clothed in his red garments, he no longer
listened to the tarantella of the musicians, but with strange
gestures endeavoured to approach the Cardinal, as if he wished to
count the very threads of his scarlet robe, and to allay his
intense longing by its odour.  The interference of the spectators,
and his own respect, prevented his touching it, and thus the
irritation of his senses not being appeased, he fell into a state
of such anguish and disquietude, that he presently sank down in a
swoon, from which he did not recover until the Cardinal
compassionately gave him his cape.  This he immediately seized in
the greatest ecstasy, and pressed now to his breast, now to his
forehead and cheeks, and then again commenced his dance as if in
the frenzy of a love fit.

At the sight of colours which they disliked, patients flew into
the most violent rage, and, like the St. Vitus's dancers when they
saw red objects, could scarcely be restrained from tearing the
clothes of those spectators who raised in them such disagreeable

Another no less extraordinary symptom was the ardent longing for
the sea which the patients evinced.  As the St. John's dancers of
the fourteenth century saw, in the spirit, the heavens open and
display all the splendour of the saints, so did those who were
suffering under the bite of the tarantula feel themselves
attracted to the boundless expanse of the blue ocean, and lost
themselves in its contemplation.  Some songs, which are still
preserved, marked this peculiar longing, which was moreover
expressed by significant music, and was excited even by the bare
mention of the sea.  Some, in whom this susceptibility was carried
to the greatest pitch, cast themselves with blind fury into the
blue waves, as the St. Vitus's dancers occasionally did into rapid
rivers.  This condition, so opposite to the frightful state of
hydrophobia, betrayed itself in others only in the pleasure
afforded them by the sight of clear water in glasses.  These they
bore in their hands while dancing, exhibiting at the same time
strange movements, and giving way to the most extravagant
expressions of their feeling.  They were delighted also when, in
the midst of the space allotted for this exercise, more ample
vessels, filled with water, and surrounded by rushes and water
plants, were placed, in which they bathed their heads and arms
with evident pleasure.  Others there were who rolled about on the
ground, and were, by their own desire, buried up to the neck in
the earth, in order to alleviate the misery of their condition;
not to mention an endless variety of other symptoms which showed
the perverted action of the nerves.

All these modes of relief, however, were as nothing in comparison
with the irresistible charms of musical sound.  Attempts had
indeed been made in ancient times to mitigate the pain of
sciatica, or the paroxysms of mania, by the soft melody of the
flute, and, what is still more applicable to the present purpose,
to remove the danger arising from the bite of vipers by the same
means.  This, however, was tried only to a very small extent.  But
after being bitten by the tarantula, there was, according to
popular opinion, no way of saving life except by music; and it was
hardly considered as an exception to the general rule, that every
now and then the bad effects of a wound were prevented by placing
a ligature on the bitten limb, or by internal medicine, or that
strong persons occasionally withstood the effects of the poison,
without the employment of any remedies at all.  It was much more
common, and is quite in accordance with the nature of so exquisite
a nervous disease, to hear accounts of many who, when bitten by
the tarantula, perished miserably because the tarantella, which
would have afforded them deliverance, was not played to them.  It
was customary, therefore, so early as the commencement of the
seventeenth century, for whole bands of musicians to traverse
Italy during the summer months, and, what is quite unexampled
either in ancient or modern times, the cure of the Tarantati in
the different towns and villages was undertaken on a grand scale.
This season of dancing and music was called "the women's little
carnival," for it was women more especially who conducted the
arrangements; so that throughout the whole country they saved up
their spare money, for the purpose of rewarding the welcome
musicians, and many of them neglected their household employments
to participate in this festival of the sick.  Mention is even made
of one benevolent lady (Mita Lupa) who had expended her whole
fortune on this object.

The music itself was of a kind perfectly adapted to the nature of
the malady, and it made so deep an impression on the Italians,
that even to the present time, long since the extinction of the
disorder, they have retained the tarantella, as a particular
species of music employed for quick, lively dancing.  The
different kinds of tarantella were distinguished, very
significantly, by particular names, which had reference to the
moods observed in the patients.  Whence it appears that they aimed
at representing by these tunes even the idiosyncrasies of the mind
as expressed in the countenance.  Thus there was one kind of
tarantella which was called "Panno rosso," a very lively,
impassioned style of music, to which wild dithyrambic songs were
adapted; another, called "Panno verde," which was suited to the
milder excitement of the senses caused by green colours, and set
to Idyllian songs of verdant fields and shady groves.  A third was
named "Cinque tempi:" a fourth "Moresca," which was played to a
Moorish dance; a fifth, "Catena;" and a sixth, with a very
appropriate designation, "Spallata," as if it were only fit to be
played to dancers who were lame in the shoulder.  This was the
slowest and least in vogue of all.  For those who loved water they
took care to select love songs, which were sung to corresponding
music, and such persons delighted in hearing of gushing springs
and rushing cascades and streams.  It is to be regretted that on
this subject we are unable to give any further information, for
only small fragments of songs, and a very few tarantellas, have
been preserved which belong to a period so remote as the beginning
of the seventeenth, or at furthest the end of the sixteenth

The music was almost wholly in the Turkish style (aria Turchesca),
and the ancient songs of the peasantry of Apulia, which increased
in number annually, were well suited to the abrupt and lively
notes of the Turkish drum and the shepherd's pipe.  These two
instruments were the favourites in the country, but others of all
kinds were played in towns and villages, as an accompaniment to
the dances of the patients and the songs of the spectators.  If
any particular melody was disliked by those affected, they
indicated their displeasure by violent gestures expressive of
aversion.  They could not endure false notes, and it is remarkable
that uneducated boors, who had never in their lives manifested any
perception of the enchanting power of harmony, acquired, in this
respect, an extremely refined sense of hearing, as if they had
been initiated into the profoundest secrets of the musical art.
It was a matter of every day's experience, that patients showed a
predilection for certain tarantellas, in preference to others,
which gave rise to the composition of a great variety of these
dances.  They were likewise very capricious in their partialities
for particular instruments; so that some longed for the shrill
notes of the trumpet, others for the softest music produced by the
vibration of strings.

Tarantism was at its greatest height in Italy in the seventeenth
century, long after the St. Vitus's Dance of Germany had
disappeared.  It was not the natives of the country only who were
attacked by this complaint.  Foreigners of every colour and of
every race, negroes, gipsies, Spaniards, Albanians, were in like
manner affected by it.  Against the effects produced by the
tarantula's bite, or by the sight of the sufferers, neither youth
nor age afforded any protection; so that even old men of ninety
threw aside their crutches at the sound of the tarantella, and, as
if some magic potion, restorative of youth and vigour, were
flowing through their veins, joined the most extravagant dancers.
Ferdinando saw a boy five years old seized with the dancing mania,
in consequence of the bite of a tarantula, and, what is almost
past belief, were it not supported by the testimony of so credible
an eye-witness, even deaf people were not exempt from this
disorder, so potent in its effect was the very sight of those
affected, even without the exhilarating emotions caused by music.

Subordinate nervous attacks were much more frequent during this
century than at any former period, and an extraordinary icy
coldness was observed in those who were the subject of them; so
that they did not recover their natural heat until they had
engaged in violent dancing.  Their anguish and sense of oppression
forced from them a cold perspiration; the secretion from the
kidneys was pale, and they had so great a dislike to everything
cold, that when water was offered them they pushed it away with
abhorrence.  Wine, on the contrary, they all drank willingly,
without being heated by it, or in the slightest degree
intoxicated.  During the whole period of the attack they suffered
from spasms in the stomach, and felt a disinclination to take food
of any kind.  They used to abstain some time before the expected
seizures from meat and from snails, which they thought rendered
them more severe, and their great thirst for wine may therefore in
some measure be attributable to the want of a more nutritious
diet; yet the disorder of the nerves was evidently its chief
cause, and the loss of appetite, as well as the necessity for
support by wine, were its effects.  Loss of voice, occasional
blindness, vertigo, complete insanity, with sleeplessness,
frequent weeping without any ostensible cause, were all usual
symptoms.  Many patients found relief from being placed in swings
or rocked in cradles; others required to be roused from their
state of suffering by severe blows on the soles of their feet;
others beat themselves, without any intention of making a display,
but solely for the purpose of allaying the intense nervous
irritation which they felt; and a considerable number were seen
with their bellies swollen, like those of the St. John's dancers,
while the violence of the intestinal disorder was indicated in
others by obstinate constipation or diarrhoea and vomiting.  These
pitiable objects gradually lost their strength and their colour,
and creeping about with injected eyes, jaundiced complexions, and
inflated bowels, soon fell into a state of profound melancholy,
which found food and solace in the solemn tolling of the funeral
bell, and in an abode among the tombs of cemeteries, as is related
of the Lycanthropes of former times.

The persuasion of the inevitable consequences of being bitten by
the tarantula, exercised a dominion over men's minds which even
the healthiest and strongest could not shake off.  So late as the
middle of the sixteenth century, the celebrated Fracastoro found
the robust bailiff of his landed estate groaning, and, with the
aspect of a person in the extremity of despair, suffering the very
agonies of death from a sting in the neck, inflicted by an insect
which was believed to be a tarantula.  He kindly administered
without delay a potion of vinegar and Armenian bole, the great
remedy of those days for the plague of all kinds of animal
poisons, and the dying man was, as if by a miracle, restored to
life and the power of speech.  Now, since it is quite out of the
question that the bole could have anything to do with the result
in this case, notwithstanding Fracastoro's belief in its virtues,
we can only account for the cure by supposing, that a confidence
in so great a physician prevailed over this fatal disease of the
imagination, which would otherwise have yielded to scarcely any
other remedy except the tarantella.  Ferdinando was acquainted
with women who, for thirty years in succession, had overcome the
attacks of this disorder by a renewal of their annual dance--so
long did they maintain their belief in the yet undestroyed poison
of the tarantula's bite, and so long did that mental affection
continue to exist, after it had ceased to depend on any corporeal

Wherever we turn, we find that this morbid state of mind
prevailed, and was so supported by the opinions of the age, that
it needed only a stimulus in the bite of the tarantula, and the
supposed certainty of its very disastrous consequences, to
originate this violent nervous disorder.  Even in Ferdinando's
time there were many who altogether denied the poisonous effects
of the tarantula's bite, whilst they considered the disorder,
which annually set Italy in commotion, to be a melancholy
depending on the imagination.  They dearly expiated this
scepticism, however, when they were led, with an inconsiderate
hardihood, to test their opinions by experiment; for many of them
became the subjects of severe tarantism, and even a distinguished
prelate, Jo. Baptist Quinzato, Bishop of Foligno, having allowed
himself, by way of a joke, to be bitten by a tarantula, could
obtain a cure in no other way than by being, through the influence
of the tarantella, compelled to dance.  Others among the clergy,
who wished to shut their ears against music, because they
considered dancing derogatory to their station, fell into a
dangerous state of illness by thus delaying the crisis of the
malady, and were obliged at last to save themselves from a
miserable death by submitting to the unwelcome but sole means of
cure.  Thus it appears that the age was so little favourable to
freedom of thought, that even the most decided sceptics, incapable
of guarding themselves against the recollection of what had been
presented to the eye, were subdued by a poison, the powers of
which they had ridiculed, and which was in itself inert in its


Different characteristics of the morbidly excited vitality having
been rendered prominent by tarantism in different individuals, it
could not but happen that other derangements of the nerves would
assume the form of this whenever circumstances favoured such a
transition.  This was more especially the case with hysteria, that
proteiform and mutable disorder, in which the imaginations, the
superstitions, and the follies of all ages have been evidently
reflected.  The "Carnevaletto delle Donne" appeared most
opportunely for those who were hysterical.  Their disease received
from it, as it had at other times from other extraordinary
customs, a peculiar direction; so that, whether bitten by the
tarantula or not, they felt compelled to participate in the dances
of those affected, and to make their appearance at this popular
festival, where they had an opportunity of triumphantly exhibiting
their sufferings.  Let us here pause to consider the kind of life
which the women in Italy led.  Lonely, and deprived by cruel
custom of social intercourse, that fairest of all enjoyments, they
dragged on a miserable existence.  Cheerfulness and an inclination
to sensual pleasures passed into compulsory idleness, and, in
many, into black despondency.  Their imaginations became
disordered--a pallid countenance and oppressed respiration bore
testimony to their profound sufferings.  How could they do
otherwise, sunk as they were in such extreme misery, than seize
the occasion to burst forth from their prisons and alleviate their
miseries by taking part in the delights of music?  Nor should we
here pass unnoticed a circumstance which illustrates, in a
remarkable degree, the psychological nature of hysterical
sufferings, namely, that many chlorotic females, by joining the
dancers at the Carnevaletto, were freed from their spasms and
oppression of breathing for the whole year, although the corporeal
cause of their malady was not removed.  After such a result, no
one could call their self-deception a mere imposture, and
unconditionally condemn it as such.

This numerous class of patients certainly contributed not a little
to the maintenance of the evil, for their fantastic sufferings, in
which dissimulation and reality could scarcely be distinguished
even by themselves, much less by their physicians, were imitated
in the same way as the distortions of the St. Vitus's dancers by
the impostors of that period.  It was certainly by these persons
also that the number of subordinate symptoms was increased to an
endless extent, as may be conceived from the daily observation of
hysterical patients who, from a morbid desire to render themselves
remarkable, deviate from the laws of moral propriety.  Powerful
sexual excitement had often the most decided influence over their
condition.  Many of them exposed themselves in the most indecent
manner, tore their hair out by the roots, with howling and
gnashing of their teeth; and when, as was sometimes the case,
their unsatisfied passion hurried them on to a state of frenzy,
they closed their existence by self destruction; it being common
at that time for these unfortunate beings to precipitate
themselves into the wells.

It might hence seem that, owing to the conduct of patients of this
description, so much of fraud and falsehood would be mixed up with
the original disorder that, having passed into another complaint,
it must have been itself destroyed.  This, however, did not happen
in the first half of the seventeenth century; for, as a clear
proof that tarantism remained substantially the same and quite
unaffected by hysteria, there were in many places, and in
particular at Messapia, fewer women affected than men, who, in
their turn, were in no small proportion led into temptation by
sexual excitement.  In other places, as, for example, at Brindisi,
the case was reversed, which may, as in other complaints, be in
some measure attributable to local causes.  Upon the whole it
appears, from concurrent accounts, that women by no means enjoyed
the distinction of being attacked by tarantism more frequently
than men.

It is said that the cicatrix of the tarantula bite, on the yearly
or half-yearly return of the fit, became discoloured, but on this
point the distinct testimony of good observers is wanting to
deprive the assertion of its utter improbability.

It is not out of place to remark here that, about the same time
that tarantism attained its greatest height in Italy, the bite of
venomous spiders was more feared in distant parts of Asia likewise
than it had ever been within the memory of man.  There was this
difference, however--that the symptoms supervening on the
occurrence of this accident were not accompanied by the Apulian
nervous disorder, which, as has been shown in the foregoing pages,
had its origin rather in the melancholic temperament of the
inhabitants of the south of Italy than in the nature of the
tarantula poison itself.  This poison is therefore, doubtless, to
be considered only as a remote cause of the complaint, which, but
for that temperament, would be inadequate to its production.  The
Persians employed a very rough means of counteracting the bad
consequences of a poison of this sort.  They drenched the wounded
person with milk, and then, by a violent rotatory motion in a
suspended box, compelled him to vomit.


The Dancing Mania, arising from the tarantula bite, continued with
all those additions of self-deception and of the dissimulation
which is such a constant attendant on nervous disorders of this
kind, through the whole course of the seventeenth century.  It was
indeed, gradually on the decline, but up to the termination of
this period showed such extraordinary symptoms that Baglivi, one
of the best physicians of that time, thought he did a service to
science by making them the subject of a dissertation.  He repeats
all the observations of Ferdinando, and supports his own
assertions by the experience of his father, a physician at Lecce,
whose testimony, as an eye-witness, may be admitted as

The immediate consequences of the tarantula bite, the supervening
nervous disorder, and the aberrations and fits of those who
suffered from hysteria, he describes in a masterly style, not does
he ever suffer his credulity to diminish the authenticity of his
account, of which he has been unjustly accused by later writers.

Finally, tarantism has declined more and more in modern times, and
is now limited to single cases.  How could it possibly have
maintained itself unchanged in the eighteenth century, when all
the links which connected it with the Middle Ages had long since
been snapped asunder?  Imposture grew more frequent, and wherever
the disease still appeared in its genuine form, its chief cause,
namely, a peculiar cast of melancholy, which formerly had been the
temperament of thousands, was now possessed only occasionally by
unfortunate individuals.  It might, therefore, not unreasonably be
maintained that the tarantism of modern times bears nearly the
same relation to the original malady as the St. Vitus's dance
which still exists, and certainly has all along existed, bears, in
certain cases, to the original dancing mania of the dancers of St.

To conclude.  Tarantism, as a real disease, has been denied in
toto, and stigmatised as an imposition by most physicians and
naturalists, who in this controversy have shown the narrowness of
their views and their utter ignorance of history.  In order to
support their opinion they have instituted some experiments
apparently favourable to it, but under circumstances altogether
inapplicable, since, for the most part, they selected as the
subjects of them none but healthy men, who were totally
uninfluenced by a belief in this once so dreaded disease.  From
individual instances of fraud and dissimulation, such as are found
in connection with most nervous affections without rendering their
reality a matter of any doubt, they drew a too hasty conclusion
respecting the general phenomenon, of which they appeared not to
know that it had continued for nearly four hundred years, having
originated in the remotest periods of the Middle Ages.  The most
learned and the most acute among these sceptics is Serao the
Neapolitan.  His reasonings amount to this, that he considers the
disease to be a very marked form of melancholia, and compares the
effect of the tarantula bite upon it to stimulating with spurs a
horse which is already running.  The reality of that effect he
thus admits, and, therefore, directly confirms what in appearance
only he denies.  By shaking the already vacillating belief in this
disorder he is said to have actually succeeded in rendering it
less frequent, and in setting bounds to imposture; but this no
more disproves the reality of its existence than the oft repeated
detection of imposition has been able in modern times to banish
magnetic sleep from the circle of natural phenomena, though such
detection has, on its side, rendered more rare the incontestable
effects of animal magnetism.  Other physicians and naturalists
have delivered their sentiments on tarantism, but as they have not
possessed an enlarged knowledge of its history their views do not
merit particular exposition.  It is sufficient for the
comprehension of everyone that we have presented the facts from
all extraneous speculation.



Both the St. Vitus's dance and tarantism belonged to the ages in
which they appeared.  They could not have existed under the same
latitude at any other epoch, for at no other period were the
circumstances which prepared the way for them combined in a
similar relation to each other, and the mental as well as
corporeal temperaments of nations, which depend on causes such as
have been stated, are as little capable of renewal as the
different stages of life in individuals.  This gives so much the
more importance to a disease but cursorily alluded to in the
foregoing pages, which exists in Abyssinia, and which nearly
resembles the original mania of the St. John's dancers, inasmuch
as it exhibits a perfectly similar ecstasy, with the same violent
effect on the nerves of motion.  It occurs most frequently in the
Tigre country, being thence call Tigretier, and is probably the
same malady which is called in Ethiopian language Astaragaza.  On
this subject we will introduce the testimony of Nathaniel Pearce,
an eye-witness, who resided nine years in Abyssinia.  "The
Tigretier," he says he, "is more common among the women than among
the men.  It seizes the body as if with a violent fever, and from
that turns to a lingering sickness, which reduces the patients to
skeletons, and often kills them if the relations cannot procure
the proper remedy.  During this sickness their speech is changed
to a kind of stuttering, which no one can understand but those
afflicted with the same disorder.  When the relations find the
malady to be the real tigretier, they join together to defray the
expense of curing it; the first remedy they in general attempt is
to procure the assistance of a learned Dofter, who reads the
Gospel of St. John, and drenches the patient with cold water daily
for the space of seven days, an application that very often proves
fatal.  The most effectual cure, though far more expensive than
the former, is as follows:- The relations hire for a certain sum
of money a band of trumpeters, drummers, and fifers, and buy a
quantity of liquor; then all the young men and women of the place
assemble at the patient's house to perform the following most
extraordinary ceremony.

"I was once called in by a neighbour to see his wife, a very young
woman, who had the misfortune to be afflicted with this disorder;
and the man being an old acquaintance of mine, and always a close
comrade in the camp, I went every day, when at home, to see her,
but I could not be of any service to her, though she never refused
my medicines.  At this time I could not understand a word she
said, although she talked very freely, nor could any of her
relations understand her.  She could not bear the sight of a book
or a priest, for at the sight of either she struggled, and was
apparently seized with acute agony, and a flood of tears, like
blood mingled with water, would pour down her face from her eyes.
She had lain three months in this lingering state, living upon so
little that it seemed not enough to keep a human body alive; at
last her husband agreed to employ the usual remedy, and, after
preparing for the maintenance of the band during the time it would
take to effect the cure, he borrowed from all his neighbours their
silver ornaments, and loaded her legs, arms and neck with them.

"The evening that the band began to play I seated myself close by
her side as she lay upon the couch, and about two minutes after
the trumpets had begun to sound I observed her shoulders begin to
move, and soon afterwards her head and breast, and in less than a
quarter of an hour she sat upon her couch.  The wild look she had,
though sometimes she smiled, made me draw off to a greater
distance, being almost alarmed to see one nearly a skeleton move
with such strength; her head, neck, shoulders, hands and feet all
made a strong motion to the sound of the music, and in this manner
she went on by degrees, until she stood up on her legs upon the
floor.  Afterwards she began to dance, and at times to jump about,
and at last, as the music and noise of the singers increased, she
often sprang three feet from the ground.  When the music slackened
she would appear quite out of temper, but when it became louder
she would smile and be delighted.  During this exercise she never
showed the least symptom of being tired, though the musicians were
thoroughly exhausted; and when they stopped to refresh themselves
by drinking and resting a little she would discover signs of

"Next day, according to the custom in the cure of this disorder,
she was taken into the market-place, where several jars of maize
or tsug were set in order by the relations, to give drink to the
musicians and dancers.  When the crowd had assembled, and the
music was ready, she was brought forth and began to dance and
throw herself into the maddest postures imaginable, and in this
manner she kept on the whole day.  Towards evening she began to
let fall her silver ornaments from her neck, arms, and legs, one
at a time, so that in the course of three hours she was stripped
of every article.  A relation continually kept going after her as
she danced, to pick up the ornaments, and afterwards delivered
them to the owners from whom they were borrowed.  As the sun went
down she made a start with such swiftness that the fastest runner
could not come up with her, and when at the distance of about two
hundred yards she dropped on a sudden as if shot.  Soon afterwards
a young man, on coming up with her, fired a matchlock over her
body, and struck her upon the back with the broad side of his
large knife, and asked her name, to which she answered as when in
her common senses--a sure proof of her being cured; for during the
time of this malady those afflicted with it never answer to their
Christian names.  She was now taken up in a very weak condition
and carried home, and a priest came and baptised her again in the
name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, which ceremony concluded
her cure.  Some are taken in this manner to the market-place for
many days before they can be cured, and it sometimes happens that
they cannot be cured at all.  I have seen them in these fits dance
with a BRULY, or bottle of maize, upon their heads without
spilling the liquor, or letting the bottle fall, although they
have put themselves into the most extravagant postures.

"I could not have ventured to write this from hearsay, nor could I
conceive it possible, until I was obliged to put this remedy in
practice upon my own wife, who was seized with the same disorder,
and then I was compelled to have a still nearer view of this
strange disorder.  I at first thought that a whip would be of some
service, and one day attempted a few strokes when unnoticed by any
person, we being by ourselves, and I having a strong suspicion
that this ailment sprang from the weak minds of women, who were
encouraged in it for the sake of the grandeur, rich dress, and
music which accompany the cure.  But how much was I surprised, the
moment I struck a light blow, thinking to do good, to find that
she became like a corpse, and even the joints of her fingers
became so stiff that I could not straighten them; indeed, I really
thought that she was dead, and immediately made it known to the
people in the house that she had fainted, but did not tell them
the cause, upon which they immediately brought music, which I had
for many days denied them, and which soon revived her; and I then
left the house to her relations to cure her at my expense, in the
manner I have before mentioned, though it took a much longer time
to cure my wife than the woman I have just given an account of.
One day I went privately, with a companion, to see my wife dance,
and kept at a short distance, as I was ashamed to go near the
crowd.  On looking steadfastly upon her, while dancing or jumping,
more like a deer than a human being, I said that it certainly was
not my wife; at which my companion burst into a fit of laughter,
from which he could scarcely refrain all the way home.  Men are
sometimes afflicted with this dreadful disorder, but not
frequently.  Among the Amhara and Galla it is not so common."

Such is the account of Pearce, who is every way worthy of credit,
and whose lively description renders the traditions of former
times respecting the St. Vitus's dance and tarantism intelligible,
even to those who are sceptical respecting the existence of a
morbid state of the mind and body of the kind described, because,
in the present advanced state of civilisation among the nations of
Europe, opportunities for its development no longer occur.  The
credibility of this energetic but by no means ambitious man is not
liable to the slightest suspicion, for, owing to his want of
education, he had no knowledge of the phenomena in question, and
his work evinces throughout his attractive and unpretending

Comparison is the mother of observation, and may here elucidate
one phenomenon by another--the past by that which still exists.
Oppression, insecurity, and the influence of a very rude
priestcraft, are the powerful causes which operated on the Germans
and Italians of the Middle Ages, as they now continue to operate
on the Abyssinians of the present day.  However these people may
differ from us in their descent, their manners and their customs,
the effects of the above mentioned causes are the same in Africa
as they were in Europe, for they operate on man himself
independently of the particular locality in which he may be
planted; and the conditions of the Abyssinians of modern times is,
in regard to superstition, a mirror of the condition of the
European nations of the middle ages.  Should this appear a bold
assertion it will be strengthened by the fact that in Abyssinia
two examples of superstitions occur which are completely in
accordance with occurrences of the Middle Ages that took place
contemporarily with the dancing mania.  THE ABYSSINIANS HAVE THEIR
THE MIDDLE AGES.  Their flagellants are called Zackarys.  They are
united into a separate Christian fraternity, and make their
processions through the towns and villages with great noise and
tumult, scourging themselves till they draw blood, and wounding
themselves with knives.  They boast that they are descendants of
St. George.  It is precisely in Tigre, the country of the
Abyssinian dancing mania, where they are found in the greatest
numbers, and where they have, in the neighbourhood of Axum, a
church of their own, dedicated to their patron saint, Oun Arvel.
Here there is an ever-burning lamp, and they contrive to impress a
belief that this is kept alight by supernatural means.  They also
here keep a holy water, which is said to be a cure for those who
are affected by the dancing mania.

The Abyssinian Zoomorphism is a no less important phenomenon, and
shows itself a manner quite peculiar.  The blacksmiths and potters
form among the Abyssinians a society or caste called in Tigre
TEBBIB, and in Amhara BUDA, which is held in some degree of
contempt, and excluded from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper,
because it is believed that they can change themselves into
hyaenas and other beasts of prey, on which account they are feared
by everybody, and regarded with horror.  They artfully contrive to
keep up this superstition, because by this separation they
preserve a monopoly of their lucrative trades, and as in other
respects they are good Christians (but few Jews or Mahomedans live
among them), they seem to attach no great consequence to their
excommunication.  As a badge of distinction they wear a golden
ear-ring, which is frequently found in the ears of Hyaenas that
are killed, without its having ever been discovered how they catch
these animals, so as to decorate them with this strange ornament,
and this removes in the minds of the people all doubt as to the
supernatural powers of the smiths and potters.  To the Budas is
also ascribed the gift of enchantment, especially that of the
influence of the evil eye.  They nevertheless live unmolested, and
are not condemned to the flames by fanatical priests, as the
lycanthropes were in the Middle Ages.


Imitation--compassion--sympathy, these are imperfect designations
for a common bond of union among human beings--for an instinct
which connects individuals with the general body, which embraces
with equal force reason and folly, good and evil, and diminishes
the praise of virtue as well as the criminality of vice.  In this
impulse there are degrees, but no essential differences, from the
first intellectual efforts of the infant mind, which are in a
great measure based on imitation, to that morbid condition of the
soul in which the sensible impression of a nervous malady fetters
the mind, and finds its way through the eye directly to the
diseased texture, as the electric shock is propagated by contact
from body to body.  To this instinct of imitation, when it exists
in its highest degree, is united a loss of all power over the
will, which occurs as soon as the impression on the senses has
become firmly established, producing a condition like that of
small animals when they are fascinated by the look of a serpent.
By this mental bondage morbid sympathy is clearly and definitely
distinguished from all subordinate degrees of this instinct,
however closely allied the imitation of a disorder may seem to be
to that of a mere folly, of an absurd fashion, of an awkward habit
in speech and manner, or even of a confusion of ideas.  Even these
latter imitations, however, directed as they are to foolish and
pernicious objects, place the self-independence of the greater
portion of mankind in a very doubtful light, and account for their
union into a social whole.  Still more nearly allied to morbid
sympathy than the imitation of enticing folly, although often with
a considerable admixture of the latter, is the diffusion of
violent excitements, especially those of a religious or political
character, which have so powerfully agitated the nations of
ancient and modern times, and which may, after an incipient
compliance, pass into a total loss of power over the will, and an
actual disease of the mind.  Far be it from us to attempt to
awaken all the various tones of this chord, whose vibrations
reveal the profound secrets which lie hid in the inmost recesses
of the soul.  We might well want powers adequate to so vast an
undertaking.  Our business here is only with that morbid sympathy
by the aid of which the dancing mania of the Middle Ages grew into
a real epidemic.  In order to make this apparent by comparison, it
may not be out of place, at the close of this inquiry, to
introduce a few striking examples:-

1.  "At a cotton manufactory at Hodden Bridge, in Lancashire, a
girl, on the fifteenth of February, 1787, put a mouse into the
bosom of another girl, who had a great dread of mice.  The girl
was immediately thrown into a fit, and continued in it, with the
most violent convulsions, for twenty-four hours.  On the following
day three more girls were seized in the same manner, and on the
17th six more.  By this time the alarm was so great that the whole
work, in which 200 or 300 were employed, was totally stopped, and
an idea prevailed that a particular disease had been introduced by
a bag of cotton opened in the house.  On Sunday the 18th, Dr. St.
Clare was sent for from Preston; before he arrived three more were
seized, and during that night and the morning of the 19th, eleven
more, making in all twenty-four.  Of these, twenty-one were young
women, two were girls of about ten years of age, and one man, who
had been much fatigued with holding the girls.  Three of the
number lived about two miles from the place where the disorder
first broke out, and three at another factory at Clitheroe, about
five miles distant, which last and two more were infected entirely
from report, not having seen the other patients, but, like them
and the rest of the country, strongly impressed with the idea of
the plague being caught from the cotton.  The symptoms were
anxiety, strangulation, and very strong convulsions; and these
were so violent as to last without any intermission from a quarter
of an hour to twenty-four hours, and to require four or five
persons to prevent the patients from tearing their hair and
dashing their heads against the floor or walls.  Dr. St. Clare had
taken with him a portable electrical machine, and by electric
shocks the patients were universally relieved without exception.
As soon as the patients and the country were assured that the
complaint was merely nervous, easily cured, and not introduced by
the cotton, no fresh person was affected.  To dissipate their
apprehensions still further, the best effects were obtained by
causing them to take a cheerful glass and join in a dance.  On
Tuesday the 20th, they danced, and the next day were all at work,
except two or three, who were much weakened by their fits."

The occurrence here described is remarkable on this account, that
there was no important predisposing cause for convulsions in these
young women, unless we consider as such their miserable and
confined life in the work-rooms of a spinning manufactory.  It did
not arise from enthusiasm, nor is it stated that the patients had
been the subject of any other nervous disorders.  In another
perfectly analogous case, those attacked were all suffering from
nervous complaints, which roused a morbid sympathy in them at the
sight of a person seized with convulsions.  This, together with
the supervention of hysterical fits, may aptly enough be compared
to tarantism.

2.  "A young woman of the lowest order, twenty-one years of age,
and of a strong frame, came on the 13th of January, 1801, to visit
a patient in the Charite Hospital at Berlin, where she had herself
been previously under treatment for an inflammation of the chest
with tetanic spasms, and immediately on entering the ward, fell
down in strong convulsions.  At the sight of her violent
contortions six other female patients immediately became affected
in the same way, and by degrees eight more were in like manner
attacked with strong convulsions.  All these patients were from
sixteen to twenty-five years of age, and suffered without
exception, one from spasms in the stomach, another from palsy, a
third from lethargy, a fourth from fits with consciousness, a
fifth from catalepsy, a sixth from syncope, &c.  The convulsions,
which alternated in various ways with tonic spasms, were
accompanied by loss of sensibility, and were invariably preceded
by languor with heavy sleep, which was followed by the fits in the
course of a minute or two; and it is remarkable that in all these
patients their former nervous disorders, not excepting paralysis,
disappeared, returning, however, after the subsequent removal of
their new complaint.  The treatment, during the course of which
two of the nurses, who were young women, suffered similar attacks,
was continued for four months.  It was finally successful, and
consisted principally in the administration of opium, at that time
the favourite remedy.

Now every species of enthusiasm, every strong affection, every
violent passion, may lead to convulsions--to mental disorders--to
a concussion of the nerves, from the sensorium to the very finest
extremities of the spinal chord.  The whole world is full of
examples of this afflicting state of turmoil, which, when the mind
is carried away by the force of a sensual impression that destroys
its freedom, is irresistibly propagated by imitation.  Those who
are thus infected do not spare even their own lives, but as a
hunted flock of sheep will follow their leader and rush over a
precipice, so will whole hosts of enthusiasts, deluded by their
infatuation, hurry on to a self-inflicted death.  Such has ever
been the case, from the days of the Milesian virgins to the modern
associations for self-destruction.  Of all enthusiastic
infatuations, however, that of religion is the most fertile in
disorders of the mind as well as of the body, and both spread with
the greatest facility by sympathy.  The history of the Church
furnishes innumerable proofs of this, but we need go no further
than the most recent times.

3.  In a methodist chapel at Redruth, a man during divine service
cried out with a loud voice, "What shall I do to be saved?" at the
same time manifesting the greatest uneasiness and solicitude
respecting the condition of his soul.  Some other members of the
congregation, following his example, cried out in the same form of
words, and seemed shortly after to suffer the most excruciating
bodily pain.  This strange occurrence was soon publicly known, and
hundreds of people who had come thither, either attracted by
curiosity or a desire from other motives to see the sufferers,
fell into the same state.  The chapel remained open for some days
and nights, and from that point the new disorder spread itself,
with the rapidity of lightning, over the neighbouring towns of
Camborne, Helston, Truro, Penryn and Falmouth, as well as over the
villages in the vicinity.  Whilst thus advancing, it decreased in
some measure at the place where it had first appeared, and it
confined itself throughout to the Methodist chapels.  It was only
by the words which have been mentioned that it was excited, and it
seized none but people of the lowest education.  Those who were
attacked betrayed the greatest anguish, and fell into convulsions;
others cried out, like persons possessed, that the Almighty would
straightway pour out His wrath upon them, that the wailings of
tormented spirits rang in their ears, and that they saw hell open
to receive them.  The clergy, when in the course of their sermons
they perceived that persons were thus seized, earnestly exhorted
them to confess their sins, and zealously endeavoured to convince
them that they were by nature enemies to Christ; that the anger of
God had therefore fallen upon them; and that if death should
surprise them in the midst of their sins the eternal torments of
hell would be their portion.  The over-excited congregation upon
this repeated their words, which naturally must have increased the
fury of their convulsive attacks.  When the discourse had produced
its full effect the preacher changed his subject; reminded those
who were suffering of the power of the Saviour, as well as of the
grace of God, and represented to them in glowing colours the joys
of heaven.  Upon this a remarkable reaction sooner or later took
place.  Those who were in convulsions felt themselves raised from
the lowest depths of misery and despair to the most exalted bliss,
and triumphantly shouted out that their bonds were loosed, their
sins were forgiven, and that they were translated to the wonderful
freedom of the children of God.  In the meantime their convulsions
continued, and they remained during this condition so abstracted
from every earthly thought that they stayed two and sometimes
three days and nights together in the chapels, agitated all the
time by spasmodic movements, and taking neither repose nor
nourishment.  According to a moderate computation, 4,000 people
were, within a very short time, affected with this convulsive

The course and symptoms of the attacks were in general as
follows:- There came on at first a feeling of faintness, with
rigour and a sense of weight at the pit of the stomach, soon after
which the patient cried out, as if in the agonies of death or the
pains of labour.  The convulsions then began, first showing
themselves in the muscles of the eyelids, though the eyes
themselves were fixed and staring.  The most frightful contortions
of the countenance followed, and the convulsions now took their
course downwards, so that the muscles of the neck and trunk were
affected, causing a sobbing respiration, which was performed with
great effort.  Tremors and agitation ensued, and the patients
screamed out violently, and tossed their heads about from side to
side.  As the complaint increased it seized the arms, and its
victims beat their breasts, clasped their hands, and made all
sorts of strange gestures.  The observer who gives this account
remarked that the lower extremities were in no instance affected.
In some cases exhaustion came on in a very few minutes, but the
attack usually lasted much longer, and there were even cases in
which it was known to continue for sixty or seventy hours.  Many
of those who happened to be seated when the attack commenced bent
their bodies rapidly backwards and forwards during its
continuance, making a corresponding motion with their arms, like
persons sawing wood.  Others shouted aloud, leaped about, and
threw their bodies into every possible posture, until they had
exhausted their strength.  Yawning took place at the commencement
in all cases, but as the violence of the disorder increased the
circulation and respiration became accelerated, so that the
countenance assumed a swollen and puffed appearance.  When
exhaustion came on patients usually fainted, and remained in a
stiff and motionless state until their recovery.  The disorder
completely resembled the St. Vitus's dance, but the fits sometimes
went on to an extraordinarily violent extent, so that the author
of the account once saw a woman who was seized with these
convulsions resist the endeavours of four or five strong men to
restrain her.  Those patients who did not lose their consciousness
were in general made more furious by every attempt to quiet them
by force, on which account they were in general suffered to
continue unmolested until nature herself brought on exhaustion.
Those affected complained more or less of debility after the
attacks, and cases sometimes occurred in which they passed into
other disorders; thus some fell into a state of melancholy, which,
however, in consequence of their religious ecstasy, was
distinguished by the absence of fear and despair; and in one
patient inflammation of the brain is said to have taken place.  No
sex or age was exempt from this epidemic malady.  Children five
years old and octogenarians were alike affected by it, and even
men of the most powerful frame were subject to its influence.
Girls and young women, however, were its most frequent victims.

4.  For the last hundred years a nervous affection of a perfectly
similar kind has existed in the Shetland Islands, which furnishes
a striking example, perhaps the only one now existing, of the very
lasting propagation by sympathy of this species of disorders.  The
origin of the malady was very insignificant.  An epileptic woman
had a fit in church, and whether it was that the minds of the
congregation were excited by devotion, or that, being overcome at
the sight of the strong convulsions, their sympathy was called
forth, certain it is that many adult women, and even children,
some of whom were of the male sex, and not more than six years
old, began to complain forthwith of palpitation, followed by
faintness, which passed into a motionless and apparently
cataleptic condition.  These symptoms lasted more than an hour,
and probably recurred frequently.  In the course of time, however,
this malady is said to have undergone a modification, such as it
exhibits at the present day.  Women whom it has attacked will
suddenly fall down, toss their arms about, writhe their bodies
into various shapes, move their heads suddenly from side to side,
and with eyes fixed and staring, utter the most dismal cries.  If
the fit happen on any occasion of pubic diversion, they will, as
soon as it has ceased, mix with their companions and continue
their amusement as if nothing had happened.  Paroxysms of this
kind used to prevail most during the warm months of summer, and
about fifty years ago there was scarcely a Sabbath in which they
did not occur.  Strong passions of the mind, induced by religious
enthusiasm, are also exciting causes of these fits, but like all
such false tokens of divine workings, they are easily encountered
by producing in the patient a different frame of mind, and
especially by exciting a sense of shame:  thus those affected are
under the control of any sensible preacher, who knows how to
"administer to a mind diseased," and to expose the folly of
voluntarily yielding to a sympathy so easily resisted, or of
inviting such attacks by affectation.  An intelligent and pious
minister of Shetland informed the physician, who gives an account
of this disorder as an eye-witness, that being considerably
annoyed on his first introduction into the country by these
paroxysms, whereby the devotions of the church were much impeded,
he obviated their repetition by assuring his parishioners that no
treatment was more effectual than immersion in cold water; and as
his kirk was fortunately contiguous to a freshwater lake, he gave
notice that attendants should be at hand during divine service to
ensure the proper means of cure.  The sequel need scarcely be
told.  The fear of being carried out of the church, and into the
water, acted like a charm; not a single Naiad was made, and the
worthy minister for many years had reason to boast of one of the
best regulated congregations in Scotland.  As the physician above
alluded to was attending divine service in the kirk of Baliasta,
on the Isle of Unst, a female shriek, the indication of a
convulsion fit, was heard; the minister, Mr. Ingram, of Fetlar,
very properly stopped his discourse until the disturber was
removed; and after advising all those who thought they might be
similarly affected to leave the church, he gave out in the
meantime a psalm.  The congregation was thus preserved from
further interruption; yet the effect of sympathy was not
prevented, for as the narrator of the account was leaving the
church he saw several females writhing and tossing about their
arms on the green grass, who durst not, for fear of a censure from
the pulpit, exhibit themselves after this manner within the sacred
walls of the kirk.

In the production of this disorder, which no doubt still exists,
fanaticism certainly had a smaller share than the irritable state
of women out of health, who only needed excitement, no matter of
what kind, to throw them into prevailing nervous paroxysms.  When,
however, that powerful cause of nervous disorders takes the lead,
we find far more remarkable symptoms developed, and it then
depends on the mental condition of the people among whom they
appear whether in their spread they shall take a narrow or an
extended range--whether confined to some small knot of zealots
they are to vanish without a trace, or whether they are to attain
even historical importance.

5.  The appearance of the Convulsionnaires in France, whose
inhabitants, from the greater mobility of their blood, have in
general been the less liable to fanaticism, is in this respect
instructive and worthy of attention.  In the year 1727 there died
in the capital of that country the Deacon Paris, a zealous opposer
of the Ultramontanists, division having arisen in the French
Church on account of the bull "Unigenitus."  People made frequent
visits to his tomb in the cemetery of St. Medard, and four years
afterwards (in September, 1731) a rumour was spread that miracles
took place there.  Patients were seized with convulsions and
tetanic spasms, rolled upon the ground like persons possessed,
were thrown into violent contortions of their heads and limbs, and
suffered the greatest oppression, accompanied by quickness and
irregularity of pulse.  This novel occurrence excited the greatest
sensation all over Paris, and an immense concourse of people
resorted daily to the above-named cemetery in order to see so
wonderful a spectacle, which the Ultramontanists immediately
interpreted as a work of Satan, while their opponents ascribed it
to a divine influence.  The disorder soon increased, until it
produced, in nervous women, clairvoyance (Schlafwachen), a
phenomenon till then unknown; for one female especially attracted
attention, who, blindfold, and, as it was believed, by means of
the sense of smell, read every writing that was placed before her,
and distinguished the characters of unknown persons.  The very
earth taken from the grave of the Deacon was soon thought to
possess miraculous power.  It was sent to numerous sick persons at
a distance, whereby they were said to have been cured, and thus
this nervous disorder spread far beyond the limits of the capital,
so that at one time it was computed that there were more than
eight hundred decided Convulsionnaires, who would hardly have
increased so much in numbers had not Louis XV directed that the
cemetery should be closed.  The disorder itself assumed various
forms, and augmented by its attacks the general excitement.  Many
persons, besides suffering from the convulsions, became the
subjects of violent pain, which required the assistance of their
brethren of the faith.  On this account they, as well as those who
afforded them aid, were called by the common title of Secourists.
The modes of relief adopted were remarkably in accordance with
those which were administered to the St. John's dancers and the
Tarantati, and they were in general very rough; for the sufferers
were beaten and goaded in various parts of the body with stones,
hammers, swords, clubs, &c., of which treatment the defenders of
this extraordinary sect relate the most astonishing examples in
proof that severe pain is imperatively demanded by nature in this
disorder as an effectual counter-irritant.  The Secourists used
wooden clubs in the same manner as paviors use their mallets, and
it is stated that some Convulsionnaires have borne daily from six
to eight thousand blows thus inflicted without danger.  One
Secourist administered to a young woman who was suffering under
spasm of the stomach the most violent blows on that part, not to
mention other similar cases which occurred everywhere in great
numbers.  Sometimes the patients bounded from the ground, impelled
by the convulsions, like fish when out of water; and this was so
frequently imitated at a later period that the women and girls,
when they expected such violent contortions, not wishing to appear
indecent, put on gowns make like sacks, closed at the feet.  If
they received any bruises by falling down they were healed with
earth from the grave of the uncanonised saint.  They usually,
however, showed great agility in this respect, and it is scarcely
necessary to remark that the female sex especially was
distinguished by all kinds of leaping and almost inconceivable
contortions of body.  Some spun round on their feet with
incredible rapidity, as is related of the dervishes; others ran
their heads against walls, or curved their bodies like rope-
dancers, so that their heels touched their shoulders.

All this degenerated at length into decided insanity.  A certain
Convulsionnaire, at Vernon, who had formerly led rather a loose
course of life, employed herself in confessing the other sex; in
other places women of this sect were seen imposing exercises of
penance on priests, during which these were compelled to kneel
before them.  Others played with children's rattles, or drew about
small carts, and gave to these childish acts symbolical
significations.  One Convulsionnaire even made believe to shave
her chin, and gave religious instruction at the same time, in
order to imitate Paris, the worker of miracles, who, during this
operation, and whilst at table, was in the habit of preaching.
Some had a board placed across their bodies, upon which a whole
row of men stood; and as, in this unnatural state of mind, a kind
of pleasure is derived from excruciating pain, some too were seen
who caused their bosoms to be pinched with tongs, while others,
with gowns closed at the feet, stood upon their heads, and
remained in that position longer than would have been possible had
they been in health.  Pinault, the advocate, who belonged to this
sect, barked like a dog some hours every day, and even this found
imitation among the believers.

The insanity of the Convulsionnaires lasted without interruption
until the year 1790, and during these fifty-nine years called
forth more lamentable phenomena that the enlightened spirits of
the eighteenth century would be willing to allow.  The grossest
immorality found in the secret meetings of the believers a sure
sanctuary, and in their bewildering devotional exercises a
convenient cloak.  It was of no avail that, in the year 1762, the
Grand Secours was forbidden by act of parliament; for thenceforth
this work was carried on in secrecy, and with greater zeal than
ever; it was in vain, too, that some physicians, and among the
rest the austere, pious Hecquet, and after him Lorry, attributed
the conduct of the Convulsionnaires to natural causes.  Men of
distinction among the upper classes, as, for instance, Montgeron
the deputy, and Lambert an ecclesiastic (obt. 1813), stood forth
as the defenders of this sect; and the numerous writings which
were exchanged on the subject served, by the importance which they
thus attached to it, to give it stability.  The revolution finally
shook the structure of this pernicious mysticism.  It was not,
however, destroyed; for even during the period of the greatest
excitement the secret meetings were still kept up; prophetic
books, by Convulsionnaires of various denominations, have appeared
even in the most recent times, and only a few years ago (in 1828)
this once celebrated sect still existed, although without the
convulsions and the extraordinarily rude aid of the brethren of
the faith, which, amidst the boasted pre-eminence of French
intellectual advancement, remind us most forcibly of the dark ages
of the St. John's dancers.

6.  Similar fanatical sects exhibit among all nations of ancient
and modern times the same phenomena.  An overstrained bigotry is
in itself, and considered in a medical point of view, a
destructive irritation of the senses, which draws men away from
the efficiency of mental freedom, and peculiarly favours the most
injurious emotions.  Sensual ebullitions, with strong convulsions
of the nerves, appear sooner or later, and insanity, suicidal
disgust of life, and incurable nervous disorders, are but too
frequently the consequences of a perverse, and, indeed,
hypocritical zeal, which has ever prevailed, as well in the
assemblies of the Maenades and Corybantes of antiquity as under
the semblance of religion among the Christians and Mahomedans.

There are some denominations of English Methodists which surpass,
if possible, the French Convulsionnaires; and we may here mention
in particular the Jumpers, among whom it is still more difficult
than in the example given above to draw the line between religious
ecstasy and a perfect disorder of the nerves; sympathy, however,
operates perhaps more perniciously on them than on other fanatical
assemblies.  The sect of Jumpers was founded in the year 1760, in
the county of Cornwall, by two fanatics, who were, even at that
time, able to collect together a considerable party.  Their
general doctrine is that of the Methodists, and claims our
consideration here only in so far as it enjoins them during their
devotional exercises to fall into convulsions, which they are able
to effect in the strangest manner imaginable.  By the use of
certain unmeaning words they work themselves up into a state of
religious frenzy, in which they seem to have scarcely any control
over their senses.  They then begin to jump with strange gestures,
repeating this exercise with all their might until they are
exhausted, so that it not unfrequently happens that women who,
like the Maenades, practise these religious exercises, are carried
away from the midst of them in a state of syncope, whilst the
remaining members of the congregations, for miles together, on
their way home, terrify those whom they meet by the sight of such
demoniacal ravings.  There are never more than a few ecstatics,
who, by their example, excite the rest to jump, and these are
followed by the greatest part of the meeting, so that these
assemblages of the Jumpers resemble for hours together the wildest
orgies, rather than congregations met for Christian edification.

In the United States of North America communities of Methodists
have existed for the last sixty years.  The reports of credible
witnesses of their assemblages for divine service in the open air
(camp meetings), to which many thousands flock from great
distances, surpass, indeed, all belief; for not only do they there
repeat all the insane acts of the French Convulsionnaires and of
the English Jumpers, but the disorder of their minds and of their
nerves attains at these meetings a still greater height.  Women
have been seen to miscarry whilst suffering under the state of
ecstasy and violent spasms into which they are thrown, and others
have publicly stripped themselves and jumped into the rivers.
They have swooned away by hundreds, worn out with ravings and
fits; and of the Barkers, who appeared among the Convulsionnaires
only here and there, in single cases of complete aberration of
intellect, whole bands are seen running on all fours, and growling
as if they wished to indicate, even by their outward form, the
shocking degradation of their human nature.  At these camp-
meetings the children are witnesses of this mad infatuation, and
as their weak nerves are with the greatest facility affected by
sympathy, they, together with their parents, fall into violent
fits, though they know nothing of their import, and many of them
retain for life some severe nervous disorder which, having arisen
from fright and excessive excitement, will not afterwards yield to
any medical treatment.

But enough of these extravagances, which even in our now days
embitter the live of so many thousands, and exhibit to the world
in the nineteenth century the same terrific form of mental
disturbance as the St. Vitus's dance once did to the benighted
nations of the Middle Ages.

End of the Project Gutenberg eText of The Black Death and The Dancing Mania
by Hecker


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