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displeasure of men of power by thwarting their interests.
In fact, the lettres de cachet were long the main stay of despotism, and they were used, not merely by the crown, but by many of its satellites. Men were imprisoned for offences too trifling to be registered, and remained thirty or forty years in the Bastile, or even till death, without any examination being instituted into the charges on which they were imprisoned.
A remarkable instance of this is furnished in the history of the celebrated "Iron mask,” the most singular prisoner ever confined within the walls of the Bastile; in respect to whom, notwithstanding all the curiosity and conjecture that have been employed to ascertain his quality and pedigree, nothing authentic has transpired to the present time. In 1698 he was brought from the island of St. Marguerite, by Monsieur de St. Mars, the newly-appointed governor of the Bastile. He was attended with the greatest respect, maintained a sumptuous table, and had every possible indulgence shown him until the time of his death, Nov. 19, 1703.
This mysterious prisoner, on his removal to the Bastile, was carried in a litter, accompanied by several men on horseback, who had orders to put him to death if he made the slightest attempt to show his face, or otherwise discover himself. His face was concealed with a mask of black velvet, with springs of steel, which were so constructed that he could eat without taking it off.
A physician of the Bastile, who had often attended him, said he had never seen his face, though he had frequently examined his tongue,
and other parts of his body; but added, that he was admirably well made; that his skin was brown, his voice interesting; that he was very accomplished, read much, played on the guitar, and had an exquisite taste for lace and fine linen.
The pains taken in his concealment show that he was a person of considerable quality and importance; and from the following circumstances it appears singular that he was never discovered. Whilst at St. Marguerite, he one day wrote something with his knife on a silver plate, which he threw from the window toward a boat lying near the tower. A fisherman took up the plate and brought it to the governor, who, with great astonishment, asked the man if he had read the writing, or showed it to any one; and, although the fisherman answered in the negative, he was kept in confinement until the governor was perfectly satisfied, after which he dismissed him, saying, “It is lucky for you that you cannot read!”
The Abbe Papon says, "In the year 1778 I had the curiosity to visit the apartment of this unfortunate prisoner. It looks towards the sea. I found in the citadel, an officer in the independent company there, seventy-nine years of age. He told me that his father had often related to him, that a young lad, a barber, having seen one day something white floating on the water, took it up. It was a very fine shirt, written almost all over; he carried it to Mons. de St. Mars, who, having looked at some parts of the writing, asked the lad, with an appearance of anxiety, if he had not had the curiosity to read it. He answered him he had not; but, two days afterwards, the boy was found dead in his bed.
Iminediately after the prisoner's death, his apparel, linen, clothes, mattresses, and everything that had been used by him, were burnt; the walls of his room were scraped, the floor was taken 112, and every precaution used, that no trace of him might be left behind.
When he was on the road from St. Marguerite to his last residence, Mons. de St. Mars was overheard to reply to a question of the prisoner relative to any design against his life, "No, prince, your life is in safety; you must only allow yourself to be conducted."
A prisoner told M. La Grange Chancel, that he was lodged, with other prisoners, in the room immediately over this celebrated captive, and found means of speaking to him by the vents of the chimney; but he refused to inform them who he was, alleging, that it would cost him his own life, as well as the lives of those to whom the secret might be revealed.
Various are the conjectures that have been made as to who the masked prisoner was. Some have said he was the Duke de Beaufort; others, the Count de Vermandois, a foreign minister; and others, the Duke of Monmouth. Collateral facts, nevertheless, demonstrate that neither of these could have been the person. Voltaire, who has expressly written on this mysterious affair, says that the secret was known to Monsieur de Chamillard; and that the son-in-law of that minister conjured him, on his death-bed, to tell him the name of the man with the mask; but he replied that it was a state secret, which he had sworn never to divulge.
From the account given in a work published ip
Paris, in 1790, it appears that this unfortunate person was, probably, the twin brother of Louis XIV., born eight hours after this monarch, and who was the unhappy victim of superstition and cruelty. His father, Louis XIII, being weak enough to give credit to the prediction of some impostors, that if the queen should have twin children, the kingdom would be involved in civil war, ordered the birth of this prince to be kept a profound secret, and had him privately educated in the country, as the illegitimate son of a nobleman; but on the accession of Louis XIV., the young man gave indications of having discovered his parentage, of which his brother being informed, ordered him to be imprisoned for life, and to wear a mask in order to prevent his being recognised.
At the commencement of the French Revolution, the attention of the public was drawn to the Bastile, and in July, 1789, the people assembled in force, and compelled it to surrender. The governor was murdered; the prisoners were feasted in Paris, and the whole edifice was finally demolished,
M. Mercier has given an interesting account of a prisoner who was confined for some expressions of disrespect towards Louis XV. He was set at liberty by the ministers of Louis XVI. He had been in confinement for 47 years, and had borne up against the horrors of his prison-house with a manly spirit. His thin, white, and scattered hairs had acquired an almost iron rigidity, and his body was firm and compact as the stone which environed him.
On the day of his liberation, his door was flung
wide open, and a strange voice announced to him his freedom. Hardly comprehending the meaning of the words, he rose and tottered through the courts and halls of the prison, which appeared 10 him interminable. His eyes by degrees becaine accustomed to the light of day, but the motion of the carriage which was to convey him to his former abode, appeared unendurable.
At length, supported by a friendly arm, he reached the street in which he had once resided; but on the spot formerly occupied by his house stood a public building, and nothing remained in that quarter that he recognised. None of the living beings of the vast city knew him; his liberty was a worthless gift, and he wept for the solitude of the dungeon!
France-continued. The Revolution.
The history of government in France, since the reign of Louis XIV., is a tale of blood, but it is full of instruction. The wars and schemes of aggrandizement of this selfish king, had involved the nation in a weight of debt which could only issue in destruction.
Louis the XVI. assumed the crown of France, in 1774, under the most unfortunate auspices. He found a court abandoned to the utmost extravagance, and the country loaded with an enormous debt. The king convoked an assembly of the Notables, consisting of princes, deputies chosen