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The 'Anointers.'


time a most curious one, and it ought to be an instructive one. Signor Cusani has taken great pains to throw light on that part of Ripamonti's narrative which relates to this extraordinary subject; and the result of his researches is contained in three appendices to the second book of his author's history, which unquestionably give a more intelligible account of this mysterious matter, than has before been accessible to the public. Perhaps the entire annals of history do not furnish another equally humiliating picture of the evil workings of superstition, ignorance, and prejudice.

Shortly after it had become certain to the most incredulous that the plague was in the city, and that the mortality was rapidly increasing, a report began to spread abroad among the people that the plague was purposely caused by the acts of certain evil-minded persons; and that this was effected by anointing the walls and other substances with certain secret poisons, which infected all that touched them. The idea was not then a new one. The plague had before and elsewhere been attributed to human agency. And perhaps it is natural to men in the helplessness of such a calamity to endeavour to affix the responsibility for their sufferings on some object which they can pursue with their vengeance, and on which they may wreak their resentment against the unseen power that afflicts them. Thus even in our own days the populace of Paris, when smitten with the cholera, turned on the medical men with an accusation of poisoning the people. But here, at least, the notion was transient, and confined to the lowest people; and though morally, it was not physically impossible. In Milan the belief that the plague was caused by anointers,' spread through the city with inconceivable rapidity, and soon became all but universal. The absurdity and monstrous impossibility of the thing did not prevent even the physicians and men of science from partaking in the general delusion. The magistrates from the first exerted themselves to the utmost to discover the persons guilty of disseminating the contagion by anointing persons and things. And the records of the legal proceedings which resulted from their perquisitions, are the principal documents which disclose the particulars of this very singular delusion.


It was on the morning of the 22nd of April that, some persons going into the streets, at daybreak, first observed certain stains along the walls, as if they had been anointed with some white and yellow unctuous matter. The increase of terror and dismay was shocking. And the minds of men, excited by the general panic to the highest pitch of nervous irritability, and augmenting reciprocally their fears by exchanging the most monstrous reports, suspicions, and assertions, were ready to receive with implicit credence the wildest impossibilities. It was said, and very generally

believed, that emissaries of the prince of darkness were employed in this truly devilish work of anointing the walls for the purpose of spreading the plague. Some asserted that the devil himself had established a sort of emporium in Milan for the preparation and dispensation of the poisonous matters used by the anointers. And a story was current, most satisfactorily attested,' of course, of a man who had been requested to get into a carriage which he had seen standing in the space in front of the cathedral, and who had then been driven to a certain house in the city, and made to enter, the interior of which he described, in a style equal,' says Ripamonti, to that of Homer's description of the cave of Circe in the Odyssee.' In this house he had an interview with the devil, who promised him enormous treasures if he would become "an anointer.' But he refused, and in an instant found himself transported back again to the spot where he first had seen the devil's carriage. Ripamonti says that he had seen an engraving, executed in Germany, representing the devil sitting on the box of a carriage, with an inscription stating that he appeared thus to the Milanese.

Several proclamations are extant in the archives of Milan which were published by the magistrates in the hope of discovering the perpetrators of the crime. The first is dated on the 19th of May,

1630. And it is remarkable that in this it is stated that 'certain persons having anointed the walls with unctuous matters of white and yellow colour, which have much alarmed the people, who suspect that this has been done to spread the plague,' etc., etc., a reward of two hundred crowns is offered to whosoever shall give information leading to the detection of such persons, together with a free pardon, if such informer should be an accomplice. But in a subsequent proclamation of the 14th of July, in the same year, it is stated that persons have anointed the walls with poisonous ointments with the diabolical intention of spreading the plague.' And a reward of a thousand crowns is offered, together with a pardon, and the pardon of any three other criminals. The tendency of the most absurd belief to propagate itself from mind to mind, and to gain strength from the number of its asserters, each of whom believes because all the others do, is here curiously illustrated.

Very few minds seem to have been able to resist the current of the popular delusion. Among these few there seems reason to think that our historian was one. We have already said that he was in many respects in advance of his age; but after the lesson. he had had in his younger days, he took very good care not to differ from the received popular credence too openly.

It was not long, as may be easily supposed, before the magistrates obtained the information for which they offered such high bribes. An unfortunate wretch, one Piazza, was arrested on the

Confessions under Torture.




information of some women, who declared that they saw him, from their windows, very early one morning, smearing the walls with ointment. This Piazza was a sort of visitor of infected houses, under the board of health, and apparently a kind of inspector of the monatti.' Having declared himself wholly ignorant of what was laid to his charge, he was subjected for four days to all the most horrible refinements of torture, which the practised ingenuity of the judicial tormentors could suggest. He was also promised a pardon if he would reveal the names of his accomplices. On the fourth day, his judges had, in the words of Ripamonti, After having in vain dislocated every limb, ordered him to be taken down from the rack from weariness, as also from clemency,' and he had been re-conducted to his cell, when he suddenly cried out that a barber had given him the ointment. He then proceeded to name one Giacomo Mora, whose shop stood on the spot where the Colonna Infame' was afterwards erected. The barber was forthwith arrested, and his premises strictly searched. Various crocks and pots and pans, containing substances such as barbers are in the habit of compounding for the purposes of their business, were found. They also found an ointment, whose component parts the barber told them, and which he had composed as a remedy against the plague. The story of Piazza was a tissue of absurdities, which it is almost incredible that the judges could have believed for an instant. Mora declared that he had never seen Piazza in his life. He was submitted to the torture, and confessed himself guilty; but instantly retracted his confession as soon as he was taken down. He was again placed on the rack with the same result; and this was repeated several times. Till at length in hopes of death, as the only mode of escape from his tormentors, he declared that his project was to exterminate the city, and that he had composed the ointment with which the walls were smeared.

During the proceedings in the case of Mora other anointers were arrested; and one Baruello voluntarily gave himself up on the same charge. This last declared that he and all the other ' anointers' worked under the direction and instigation of a great leader, who was the projector of the whole scheme. In giving this evidence he only fell in with the popular opinion, which had already conceived this idea. Yet it was not till the miserable man had been several times tortured, that he declared that this leader of the conspiracy was Don Giovani Gaetano Padilla, son of the governor of the fortress of Milan. He was at that time with the army before Mantua; but was immediately arrested and brought to Milan. He succeeded in most clearly proving an alibi, showing that he was at Mantua during the whole period to which Baruello in his evidence referred the in



terviews and other acts said to have been done by him in Milan. Yet it was not till after a very long and protracted examination and re-examination that he was at length set at liberty in 1632. As for Baruello he escaped the gallows by dying of the plague: the others were executed. Several persons dying of the pestilence confessed in their last moments that they were anointers,' and the materials of their crime was in many instances, says Ripamonti, found concealed about their persons.

It is needless to detain our readers with the minute and prolix accounts which have been preserved of all the absurdities, which these wretched victims of their own, or other's fanaticism, declared in evidence to their judges both voluntarily and under the influence of torture. Many new victims were accused by them; and as this portion of their declarations was at least intelligible, every name which fell from their lips was eagerly caught, and its utterance was an unfailing sentence of torture and death. The utter nonsense and absurd puerilities which they uttered, and which were gravely received and recorded by the judges, remain as a permanent proof of the extremity of irrational folly to which the mind may be led by terror, and the force of an epidemic fanaticism. Some gave long histories of incantations and orgies, at which supernatural events had taken place, and devils had taken part. Many gave very various, and all equally monstrously absurd accounts of the substances used for anointing. Nothing was too gross, too monstrous, for the people, the judges, and even for the physicians, headed by the learned Tadino, to believe. The whole story furnishes one of the most curious and most humiliating cases of human infatuation on record.

But, perhaps, the most singular part of this very extraordinary page of history, is the fact, which seems incontrovertibly established, that stains, such as were described in the magisterial proclamations, did really exist and were repeatedly seen by many persons in various parts of the city. The question arises, whence came these stains, and for what purpose were they made? It is a very difficult question. Some modern writers have suggested that the anointments were the work of some ill-advised and thoughtless humorists, who raised a laugh for themselves at the expense of the public credulity. But Signor Cusani well observes, in his second appendix to Ripamonti's second book of his history, that even if we could suppose any one to have been sufficiently foolish, and indeed wicked, to have thus amused themselves with the terror and calamity of their fellow-citizens by playing off so bad a joke once or twice; yet that taking into consideration the very universal belief in the mortal nature of these ointments, and still more the fury of the populace, and the certain and dreadful death that awaited any one who should be detected in such an act,

Was there any Ground for the Notion of Anointing ?' 67


it seems hardly credible that the extensive anointings, which history proves to have existed, can be attributed to such a cause. But Cusani does not destroy this first hypothesis without offering another, and, in our opinion, a far more probable one, in its place. The notion that the plague might be thus caused and spread, was not, as has been already said, a new one. And the idea having once taken possession of the popular mind, Signor Cusani suggests, and we think with great appearance of probability, that those who had an interest in the continuance of the plague might have adopted this means of prolonging their gainful trade, with the most perfect conviction of its efficacy. Piazza, the first arrested on the charge of anointing,' was, it will be remembered, an inspector of the infected. These men and the 'monatti' were very highly paid, and moreover made large profits by the opportunities of plunder which their position afforded them. The reader has already seen what sort of character these men generally bore and deserved. And it will be seen from the following passage of Tadino, both that they were deemed capable of such a deed, and that they were, in fact, suspected of wishing for their own purposes to prolong the pestilence.

"The 'monatti,' and attendants," says he, "perceiving the great licence they enjoyed, and the profit they made from their thefts, purposely let infected clothes fall from the dead-carts in the streets, during the night, in order that being picked up by the cupidity of the passers by they might thus be the means of disseminating the plague."

It is extraordinary that this idea having been once generated, it should not have guided the tribunals in their investigations on the subject, to a nearer approximation to the truth.

As to Baruello, who accused himself, and as to some other miserable wretches, who with their last breath declared that they had been guilty of anointing, it is probable that their minds had become partially unsettled on a subject, respecting which, indeed, the sanest of their fellow-citizens were possessed by such a singular monomania. The extraordinary effects of this nature, which may be produced on the minds of individuals by the prevalence of any epidemic popular delusion, is no new fact in the history of human nature. And the reader will, doubtless, remember the confessions, incontestibly sincere, and in many cases perfectly voluntary, of supposed witches during more than one period of access of the popular terrors of this sort.

Again it is possible that the promised pardon and reward may have, in some instances, operated to produce a lying confession and some of that farrago of absurdity which was given in evidence by the confessing witness. If so, such speculators on the good faith of the magistrates found that they had made a terrible mistake. For not one of those who came into their hands in this

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