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La Sorcière: The Witch of the Middle Ages   By: (1798-1874)

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First Page:

LA SORCIÈRE.

J. MICHELET.

LONDON: PRINTED BY WOODFALL AND KINDER, ANGEL COURT, SKINNER STREET.

THE WITCH OF THE MIDDLE AGES.

FROM THE FRENCH OF J. MICHELET.

BY L. J. TROTTER.

( The only Authorized English Translation. )

LONDON: SIMPKIN, MARSHALL, AND CO., STATIONERS' HALL COURT. MDCCCLXIII.

PREFACE.

In this translation of a work rich in the raciest beauties and defects of an author long since made known to the British public, the present writer has striven to recast the trenchant humour, the scornful eloquence, the epigrammatic dash of Mr. Michelet, in language not all unworthy of such a word master. How far he has succeeded others may be left to judge. In one point only is he aware of having been less true to his original than in theory he was bound to be. He has slurred or slightly altered a few of those passages which French readers take as a thing of course, but English ones, because of their different training, are supposed to eschew. A Frenchman, in short, writes for men, an Englishman rather for drawing room ladies, who tolerate grossness only in the theatres and the columns of the newspapers. Mr. Michelet's subject, and his late researches, lead him into details, moral and physical, which among ourselves are seldom mixed up with themes of general talk. The coarsest of these have been pruned away, but enough perhaps remain to startle readers of especial prudery. The translator, however, felt that he had no choice between shocking these and sinning against his original. Readers of a larger culture will make allowance for such a strait, will not be so very frightened at an amount of plain speaking, neither in itself immoral, nor, on the whole, impertinent. Had he docked his work of everything condemned by prudish theories, he might have made it more conventionally decent; but Michelet would have been puzzled to recognize himself in the poor maimed cripple that would then have borne his name.

Nor will a reader of average shrewdness mistake the religious drift of a book suppressed by the Imperial underlings in the interests neither of religion nor of morals, but merely of Popery in its most outrageous form. If its attacks on Rome seem, now and then, to involve Christianity itself, we must allow something for excess of warmth, and something for the nature of inquiries which laid bare the rotten outgrowths of a religion in itself the purest known among men. In studying the so called Ages of Faith, the author has only found them worthy of their truer and older title, the Ages of Darkness. It is against the tyranny, feudal and priestly, of those days, that he raises an outcry, warranted almost always by facts which a more mawkish philosophy refuses to see. If he is sometimes hasty and onesided; if the Church and the Feudal System of those days had their uses for the time being; it is still a gain to have the other side of the subject kept before us by way of counterpoise to the doctrines now in vogue. We need not be intolerant; but Rome is yet alive.

Taken as a whole, Mr. Michelet's book cannot be called unchristian. Like most thoughtful minds of the day, he yearns for some nobler and larger creed than that of the theologians; for a creed which, understanding Nature, shall reconcile it with Nature's God. Nor may he fairly be called irreverent for talking, Frenchman like, of things spiritual with the same freedom as he would of things temporal. Perhaps in his heart of hearts he has nearly as much religious earnestness as they who call Dr. Colenso an infidel, and shake their heads at the doubtful theology of Frederic Robertson. At any rate, no translator who should cut or file away so special a feature of French feeling would be doing justice to so marked an original.

For English readers who already know the concise and sober volumes of their countryman, Mr. Wright, the present work will offer mainly an interesting study of the author himself... Continue reading book >>




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