The Actress and the Phantom Musketeer

An early French flintlock pistol. From http://www.icollector.com

An early French flintlock pistol. From http://www.icollector.com

In part two of this story of a phantom persecuting a famous French actress, things are about to get worse. As if having banshee-like shrieks coming out of nowhere wasn’t bad enough, Mademoiselle Clarion found herself the victim of an even more threatening type of mystery assault. Once again, the narrator is Mlle. Clarion in a translation and with comments by Robert Dale Owen:

“Seven or eight days afterwards, while chatting with my ordinary circle of friends, the stroke of eleven o’clock was followed by a musket-shot, as if fired at one of my windows. Every one of us heard the report, every one of us saw the flash; but the window had received no injury. We concluded that it was an attempt on my life, that for this time it had failed, but that precautions must be taken for the future. The Intendent hastened to M. de Marville, the Lieutenant of Police, and a personal friend of his. Officers were instantly sent to examine the houses opposite mine. Throughout the following days they were guarded from top to bottom. My own house, also, was thoroughly examined. The street was filled with spies. But, in spite of all these precautions, for three entire months, every evening, at the same hour, the same musket-shot, directed against the same pane of glass, was heard to explode, was seen; and yet no one was ever able to discover whence it proceeded. This fact is attested by its official record on the registers of the police.

“I gradually became in a measure accustomed to my ghost, whom I began to consider a good sort of fellow, since he was content with tricks that produced no serious injury; and, one warm evening, not noticing the hour, the Intendent and myself, having opened the haunted window, were leaning over the balcony. Eleven o’clock struck; the detonation instantly succeeded; and it threw both of us, half-dead, into the middle of the room. When we recovered, and found that neither of us were hurt, we began to compare notes;. and each admitted to the other the having received, he on the left cheek and I on the right, a box on the ear, right sharply laid on. We both burst out laughing.

“Next day nothing happened. The day after, having received an invitation from Mademoiselle Dumesnil to attend a nocturnal fete at her house, near the Barriere Blanche, I got into a hackney-coach, with my maid, at eleven o’clock. It was bright moonlight, and our road was along the Boulevards, which were then beginning to be built up. We were looking out at the houses they were building, when my maid said to me, ‘Was it not somewhere near here that Monsieur de S__ died. ‘From what they told me,’ I replied, ‘it must have been in one of these two houses in front of us,’ pointing to them at the same time. At that moment the same musket-shot that had been pursuing me was fired from one of the houses, and passed through our carriage. [Editor’s note: Whether a ball passed through the carriage does not clearly appear. The expression is, “D’une des maisons partit ce même coup de fusil qui me poursuivait; il traversa notre voiture.”]

The coachman set off at full gallop, thinking he was attacked by robbers; and we, when we arrived at our destination, had scarcely recovered our senses. For my own part, I confess to a degree of terror which it was long before I could shake off. But this exploit was the last of its kind. I never again heard any discharge of fire-arms.

“To these shots succeeded a clapping of hands, given in measured time and repeated at intervals. These sounds, to which the favour of the public had accustomed me, gave me but trifling annoyance, and I took little trouble to trace their origin. My friends did, however. ‘We have watched in the most careful manner,’ they would say to me; ‘it is under your very door that the sounds occur. We hear them, but we see nobody. It is another phase of the same annoyances that have followed you so long.’ As these noises had nothing alarming in them, I did not preserve a record of the period of their continuance.

“Nor did I take special note of the melodious sounds by which, after a time, they were succeeded. It seemed as if a celestial voice warbled the prelude to some nobler air which it was about to execute. Once the voice commenced at the Carrefour de Bussy, and continued all the way until I reached my own door. In this case, as in all the preceding, my friends watched, followed the sounds, heard them as I did, but could never see anything.

“Finally all the sounds ceased, after having continued, with intermissions, a little more than two years and a half.”

Whether the sequel may be regarded as supplying a sufficient explanation or not, it is proper to give it, as furnished by Mademoiselle Clairon.

That lady desiring to change her residence, and the apartments she occupied being advertised to rent, several persons called to see them. Among the rest there was announced a, lady advanced in years. She exhibited much emotion, which communicated itself to Mademoiselle Clairon. At last she confessed that it was not to look at the apartments she came, but to converse with their occupant. She had thought of writing, she said, but had feared that her motives might be misinterpreted. Mademoiselle Clairon begged for an explanation; and the conversation which ensued is thus reported by herself:—

“’I was, mademoiselle,’ said the lady, ‘the best friend of Monsieur de S__; indeed, the only one he was willing to see during the last year of his life. The hours, the days of that year were spent by us in talking of you, sometimes setting you down as an angel, sometimes as a devil. As for me, I urged him constantly to endeavour to forget you, while he protested that he would continue to love you even beyond the tomb. You weep,’ she continued, after a pause; ‘and perhaps you will allow me to ask you why you made him so unhappy, and why, with your upright and affectionate character, you refused him, in his last moments, the consolation of seeing you once more.’

“’Our affections,’ I replied, ‘are not within our own control. Monsieur de S__ had many meritorious and estimable qualities; but his character was sombre, misanthropic, despotic, so that he caused me to fear alike his society, his friendship, and his love. To make him happy I should have had to renounce all human intercourse, even the talent I exercise. I was poor and proud. It has been my wish and my hope to accept no favour—to owe everything to my own exertions. The friendship I entertained for him caused me to try every means to bring him back to sentiments more calm and reasonable. Failing in this, and convinced that his obstinate resolve was due less to the extremity of his passion than to the violence of his character, I adopted, and adhered to, the resolution to separate from him for ever. I refused to see him on his death-bed, because the sight of his distress would have made me miserable, to no good end. Besides, I might have been placed in the dilemma of refusing what he might ask me, with seeming barbarity, or acceding to it with certain prospect of future unhappiness. These, madam, were the motives which actuated me. I trust you will not consider them deserving of censure.’

“‘It would be unjust,’ she replied, ‘to condemn you. We can be reasonably called upon to make sacrifices only to fulfil our promises, or in discharge of our duty to relatives or to benefactors. I know that you owed him no gratitude; he himself felt that all obligation was on his part; but the state of his mind and the passion which ruled him were beyond his control; and your refusal to see him hastened his last moments. He counted the minutes until half-past ten, when his servant returned with the message that most certainly you would not come. After a moment of silence, he took my hand, and, in a state of despair which terrified me, he exclaimed, “Barbarous creature! But she shall gain nothing by it. I will pursue her as long after my death as she has pursued me during my life.” … I tried to calm him. He was already a corpse.’ “

This is the story as Mademoiselle Clairon herself relates it. She adds, “I need not say what effect these last words produced on me. The coincidence between them and the  disturbances that had haunted me filled me with terror.

I do not know what chance really is; but I am very sure that what we are in the habit of calling so has a vast influence upon human affairs.”

In the memoirs of the Duchess d’Abrantes, written by herself, and containing so many interesting particulars of the French Revolution, and the stirring events which succeeded it, she states that, during the Consulate, when Mademoiselle Clairon was upwards of seventy years of age, she (the duchess) made her acquaintance, and heard from her own lips the above story, of which she gives a brief and not very accurate compendium. In regard to the impression which Mademoiselle Clairon’s mode of relating it produced on the duchess, that lady remarks :—

“I know not whether in all this there was a little exaggeration; but she who usually spoke in a tone savouring of exaltation, when she came to relate this incident, though she spoke with dignity, laid aside all affectation and everything which could be construed into speaking for effect. Albert, who believed in magnetism, wished, after having heard Mademoiselle Clairon, to persuade me that the thing was possible. I laughed at him then. Alas! since that time I have myself learned a terrible lesson in credulity.”

I know not according to what sound principles of evidence we can refuse credit to a narrative so well authenticated as this. The phenomena were observed, not by Mademoiselle Clairon only, but by numerous other witnesses, including the most sharp-eyed and suspicious of beings—the police-officers of Paris. The record of them is still to be found in the archives of that police. They were not witnessed once, twice, fifty times only. They were observed throughout more than two entire years. The shot against a certain pane of  her window was fired, so Mademoiselle Clairon expressly tells us, every night, at the same hour, for three months—therefore ninety times in succession.  What theory, what explanation, will account for a trick of such a character that could for so long a space of time escape the argus eyes of the French police? Then the cry at the moment when, at Rosely’s suggestion, the phantom was evoked; the shot against the carriage from the house where Monsieur de S__ had resided: what imaginable trickery could be at the bottom of these?

The incidents occurred in Mademoiselle Clairon’s youth; commencing when she was twenty-two years and a half old, and terminating when she was twenty-five. Nearly fifty years afterwards, towards the close of her life, in that period of calm reflection which comes with old age, she still preserved that deep conviction of the reality of these marvels, which imparted to the tone and manner of her narrative the attesting simplicity of truth.

Finally, the coincidence to which Mademoiselle Clairon alludes is a double one; first as to the incidents themselves, then as to the period of their continuance. Monsieur de S__, with his dying breath, declared that he would haunt her; and this she knew not till the persecution, commencing within half-an-hour after his decease, was ended. He said, further, that she would be followed by his spirit for as long a period as she had held him enthralled. But from the period of his acquaintance with her till his death was two years and a half, while from this latter event till the close of the disturbances there elapsed, as the sufferer tells us, two years and a half more.

Yet, even if we admit in this case the reality of ultramundane agency, I do not presume to assert, as a corollary positively proved, that it was the spirit of Monsieur de S__ which fulfilled the threat he had made. That is certainly the most natural explanation which suggests itself. And if it be not the true one, chance, at least, is insufficient to account for the exact manner in which the declaration of the dying man tallies with the sufferings of her who was the object of his unfortunate and unavailing love.

If we accept this narrative, it bears with it an additional lesson. Supposing the agency of the disturbances to be spiritual, we cannot regard it as commissioned from God, anymore than we do the annoyances which a neighbour, taking unjust offence, may inflict, in this world, on his offending neighbour in retaliation. Mademoiselle Clairon’s conduct seems to have been justifiable and prudent; certainly not meriting persecution and punishment.

Why, then, were these annoyances permitted? When we can tell why earthly annoyances are often allowed to overtake the innocent, it will be time enough to insist upon an answer to the spiritual question.

Natural phenomena occur under general laws, not by special dispensation. But the disturbances above recorded were doubtless natural phenomena.

We may imagine that everything in the next world is governed by principles totally different from those which we see in operation here. But why should we imagine this? Does not the same Providence preside on the further as on the hither side of the Dark River? Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World. From the 10th Amer. ed., with Robert Dale Owen, 1860

I am not sure one would entirely characterize Mlle. Clarion as an innocent overtaken by spirit-annoyances. Justifiable and prudent her actions may have been, but she had a reputation for having many strings to her beaux.

The phantom gun attacks, like the shrieks, were a stunning auditory phenomenon and, in addition, fall into the well-known phantom sniper pattern as related by Charles Fort and Loren Coleman.  It is strange how particular types of paranormal phenomena recur over the course of centuries.  As Mademoiselle Clarion might have said, if she had lived long enough to hear the expression coined, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Earliest example of a phantom sniper? Stone-throwing devils don’t count. chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

Further reading: Mademoiselle Clairon, d’après ses correspondances et les rapports de police du temps, Edmond de Goncourt 1890

Memoirs de Madame la Duchesse d’Abrantes, edits par elle-meme, 2nd ed., 1835, vol. ii., p. 39

Mémoires d’Hippolyte Clairon et reflexions sur l’art dramatique, Claire Josèphe Hippolyte Leris de LaTude Clairon, 1799