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After some preparatory and necessary steps, (for M. St. Gille, he had been told, did not choose to gratify the curiofity of every one) the Abbé waited upon him, informed him of his design, and was very cordially received. He was taken into a parlour on the ground floor, when M. St. Gille and himself sat on the opposite sides of a small fire, with only a table between them the Author keeping his eyes conitantly fixed upon M. St. Gille all the time. Half an hour had passed, during which that gentleman diverted the Abbé with the relation of many comic scenes which he had given occasion to by this talent of his; when, all on a sudden, the Abbé heard himself called by his name and title, in a voice that feemed to come from the roof of a house at a distance. He was almost petrified with aftonishment: on recollecting himself however, and asking M. St. Gille whether he had not just then given him a specimen of his art, he was answered only by a smile: but while the Abbé was pointing to the boufe from which the voice had appeared to him
to proceed, his surprize was augmented on hearing himself answered, 'It was not from that quarter,' apparently in the same kind of voice as before, but which now seemed to issue from under the earth, at one of the corners of the room. In short this faétitious voice played, as it were, every where about him, and seemed to proceed from any quarter, or distance, from which the operator chose to transmit it to him. The illufion was so very strong, that prepared as the Abbé was for this kind of conversation, his mere fenfes were absolutely incapable of undeceiving him. Though conscious that the voice proceeded from the mouth of M. Sc. Gilie, that gentleman appeared absolutely mute, while he was exercising this talent; nor could the Author perceive any change whatever in his countenance. He observed however, at this first visit, that M. St. Gille contrived, but without any affectation, to present only the profile of his face to him, while he was speaking as a Ventriloquist.
The Abbé, who is a most unconscionable and multifarious digreffer, and is continually starting out of his way to explain or discuss the minutest matter that comes across him, proceeds directly from his narrative of the first visit he made to M. St. Gille, to account for all the circumftances attending Saul's conference with the witch of Endor; and endeavours to thew that the speech supposed to be addressed to Saul by the ghost of Samuel, actually proceeded from the mouth of the reputed forcerels, whom he supposes to have been a capital Ventriloquist. On these grounds he explains that transaction, and reconciles all its circumstances to the relation given of it in the bible; where, it is to be observed, that Saul is not said to have seen Samuel, but only to have heard a voice; which, it now ap
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pears, a Ventriloquist can produce and transmit from any quarter, and with any degree of strength whatever. He afterwards brings many instances to prove that the antient oracles principally supported their credit, and derived their influence, from inc exercise of this particular art. This supposition, he thinks, will not appear by any means forced or incredible: whether we reflect on the nature of the art itself, so very capable of impofing on the multitude; or on the various other considerations here offered in support of it. The vocal or speaking oaks, for instance, of Dodona, (the seat of one of the most celebrated of the antient oracles) receive from hence a much more simple and plausible solution, than from any of the hypotheses invented by the Authors who have treated on this subject, There was no necessity, be observes, to conceal the priest, who was to utter the responses, in a hollow tree; or to form subterraneous cavities for his reception. These contrivances could scarce be executed or employed without frequent danger of discovery: whereas a single Ventriloque, without any apparatus, could render not only oaks, but even rocks and clouds, vocal, without any hazard of detection.
After various discussions, more or less connected with his principal subject, the Author relates at length all the testimonies that he has been able to collect, relating to the few Ventriloquists that have been described by different authors, within the last two or three hundred years.
From this collection we shall only extract the substance of a little history given by Brodeau, a learned critic in the 16th century; who relates one of the fingular feats performed by a most capital Ventriloquilt and cheat, in his time, who had not only the talent of einitting a voice, from any distance, or in any direction; but had likewise a particular knack at counterfeiting the tone or manner of speaking of those with whom he had at any time conversed. He was called Louis Brabant, and was Valet de Chambre to Francis the first. Our countryman Dickenson speaks of him particularly, in his tract, intitled Delphi Phenicizantes, printed in 12mo at Oxford, in 1655.
Louis, it seems, had fallen most desperately in love with a young, handsome, and rich heiress; but was rejected by the parents, as an unsuitable match for their daughter, on account of the lowness of his circumstances. The young lady's father dying, he makes a visit to the widow, who was totally ignorant of his singular talent. Suddenly, on his first appearance, in open day, in her own house, and in the presence of several persons who were with her, the hears herself accofted, in a voice perfectly resembling that of her dead husband, and which seemed to proceed from above; exclaiming, “ Give my daughter in marriage to Louis Brabant. He is a man of great fortune,
and of an excellent character. I now endure the inexprelibl : torments of purgatory, for having refused her to him. If you obey this admonition, I shall soon be delivered from this place of torment. You will at the same time provide a worthy hus. band for your daughter, and procure everlasting repote to the soul of your poor husband.”
The widow could not for a moment resiit this dread fummons, which had not the most distant appearance of proceeding from Louis Brabant; whose countenance exhib ted no visible change, and whose lips were close and motionless, during the delivery of it. Accordingly the consents immediately to receive him for her son-in-law. Louis's finances, however, were in a very low situation; and the formalities attending the marriage contract rendered it necessary for him to exhibit some Thew of riches, and not to give the ghost the lye direct. He accordingly goes to work upon a fresh subject; one Cornu, an old and rich banker at Lyons; who had accumulated immense wealth by usury and extortion, and was known to be haunted by remorse of conscience on account of the manner in which he had acquired it.
Passing over the preliminary steps and preparations, behold Louis Brabant tête a tête with the old ufurer, in his little back parlour, preparing him for his ensuing operations upou him, by artfully turning the conversation upon religious subjects; on demons and spectres, the pains of purgatory, and the torments of hell. During an interval of silence between them, a voice is heard, which to the astonished banker seems to be that of his deceased father, complaining, as in the former case, of his dreadful situation in purgatory, and calling upon him to deliver him instantly from thence, by putting into the hands of Louis Brabant, then with him, a large fum for the redemption of Christians then in slavery with the Turks : threatening him at the same time with eternal damnation, if he did not take this method to expiate likewise his own lins. The Reader will naturally suppose that Louis Brabant affected a due degre: of altonishment upon the occasion; and further promoted the deception by acknowledging his having devoted himfef to the prosecution of the charitable design imputed to him by the ghost.
An old usurer is naturally suspicious. Accordingly the wary banker makes a second appointment with the ghost's delegate, for the next day; and, to render any design of imposing upon him utterly abortive, takes him into the open fields; where not a house, or a tree, or even a bush, or a pit, were in fight, c?pable of screening any supposed confederate. This extraordia nary caution excited the Ventriloquist on his part, to exert all the powers of his art. Wherever the banker conducts him, at
every step, his ears are saluted on all sides, with the complaints and groans not only of his father, but of all his deceased relations, imploring him for the love of God, and in the name of every
saint in the calendar, to have mercy on his own soul and theirs, by effectually seconding with his purse the intentions of his worthy companion. Cornu could no longer refilt the voice of heaven, and accordingly carries his guest home with him, and pays him down •10,000 crowns; with which the honet Ventriloquist returns to Paris, and marries his mistress.- The catastrophe was fatal. The secret was afterwards blown, and reached the usurer's ears; who was so much affected by the loss of his money, and the mortifying railleries of his neighbours, that he took to his bed and died.
Considering the superstitious and credulous spirit of the age when this piece of deceit is said to have been practised, the preceding relation appears by no means incredible. We very na
. turally recollect on this occasion the audiences given to a very bungling ghost, in our own times, and in our own capital; where some reputed found heads were said to have been strangely unhinged by the clumsy maneuvres of the dumb ghost of Cok Jane, who conversed only by scratching and knocking. Had the said ghost been a finished Ventriloquitt—and particularly, if in the folemn and ever memorable visit made to the gloomy vault of Clerkenwell, Fanny had accosted her sagacious and inquisitive nocturnal visitants with a speech from her efter, couched in awful and ghostly terms, the intellectual concution must have been complete and irrefiftable. This at least is cer. tain, that in the days of King James, or later fill in New England, a man would have stood a fair chance of being hanged on even less substantial evidence.
This last mentioned trick of Louis Brabant, played off on the old usurer, alone, is even exceeded by an innocent piece of waggery, not long ago practised with success, by the Author's hero, M. St. Gille, on a whole community. Out of respect to the ministers of religion, the Author does not specify the scene of this adventure, which however, he obferves, needs no particular authentication, as the whole affair is very well known. at Paris. The following are the outlines of this modern hiftory, which may serve as a proper companion, and as a kind of voucher, to the preceding.
M. St. Gille returning home from a place whither his business had carried him, fought for felter from an approaching thunder storm, in a neighbouring convent. Finding the whole community in mourning, he inquires the cause, and is told that one of their body had died lately, who was the ornament and delight of the whole society. To pass away the time, he walk into the church, attended by some of the religious, who
thew him the tomb of their deceased brother, and speak feelingly of the scanty honours they had beftowed on his memory. Suddenly a voice is heard, apparently proceeding from the roof of the quirt, lamencing the situation of the desunct in purgatory, and reproaching the brotherhood with their lukewarmness and want o! zeal on his account. The friars, as soon as their astonishm::: gave them power to speak, consult together and agree to acquaint the rest of the community with this fingular event, la interefting to the whole fociety.
M. S. Gille, who wilhed to carry on the joke ftill further, diffi:a 'es them from taking this step ; telling them that they vil be treated by their absent brethren as a set of fools and via fionaries. He recommends to them, however, the immediately calling the whole community into the church, where the ghost of the departed brother may probably reiterate his complaints. Accordingly all the friars, novices, lay-brothers, and even the domestics of the convent are immediately summoned and collected together. in a short time the voice from the roof renewed its lamentation and reproaches, and the whole convent fell on their faces, and vowed a solemn reparation. As a first step, they chaunted a De profundis in full choir; during the intervals of which the ghost occasionally expressed the comfort he received from their pious exercises and ejaculations on his behalf. When all was over, the Prior entered into a serious conversation with M. St. Gille, and, on the strength of what had just passed, fagaciously inveighed against the absurd incredulity of our modern sceptics and pretended philosophers, on the article of ghosts or apparitions. M. St. Gille thought it now high time to disabuse the good fathers. This purpose, however, he found it extremely difficult to effect, till he had prevailed upon them to return with him into the church, and there be witnesses of the manner in which he had conducted this ludri. cous deception.
In consequence of three memoirs presented by the Author to the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, in which he communicated to them the observations that he had collected on the subject of Ventriloquism in general, and those he had made on M. St. Gille in particular ; that learned body deputed two of its members, M. de Fouchy, and Le Roi, to accompany him to St. Germain-en-Laye, in order to verify the facts, and to make their observations on the nature and causes of this extraordinary faculty. In the course of this inquiry a very fingular plan was jaid and executed, to put M. St. Gille's powers of deception to the trial, by engaging him to exert them in the presence of a large party, conlisting of the Commissaries of the Academy, and some persons of the highest quality, who were to dine in the open forest near St. Germain-en-Laye on a particular day.