CHAPTER 4. LASCIATE OGNI SPERANZA--LEAVE ALL HOPE BEHIND, YE WHO ENTER HERE.
In the Middle Ages, when an edifice was complete, there
was almost as much of it in the earth as above it. Unless
built upon piles, like Notre-Dame, a palace, a fortress, a
church, had always a double bottom. In cathedrals, it was,
in some sort, another subterranean cathedral, low, dark,
mysterious, blind, and mute, under the upper nave which was
overflowing with light and reverberating with organs and bells
day and night. Sometimes it was a sepulchre. In palaces,
in fortresses, it was a prison, sometimes a sepulchre also,
sometimes both together. These mighty buildings, whose
mode of formation and vegetation we have elsewhere explained,
had not simply foundations, but, so to speak, roots
which ran branching through the soil in chambers, galleries,
and staircases, like the construction above. Thus churches,
palaces, fortresses, had the earth half way up their bodies.
The cellars of an edifice formed another edifice, into which
one descended instead of ascending, and which extended
its subterranean grounds under the external piles of the
monument, like those forests and mountains which are reversed
in the mirror-like waters of a lake, beneath the forests and
mountains of the banks.
At the fortress of Saint-Antoine, at the Palais de Justice of
Paris, at the Louvre, these subterranean edifices were prisons.
The stories of these prisons, as they sank into the soil, grew
constantly narrower and more gloomy. They were so many
zones, where the shades of horror were graduated. Dante
could never imagine anything better for his hell. These
tunnels of cells usually terminated in a sack of a lowest
dungeon, with a vat-like bottom, where Dante placed Satan,
where society placed those condemned to death. A miserable
human existence, once interred there; farewell light, air, life,
ogni speranza--every hope; it only came forth to the scaffold
or the stake. Sometimes it rotted there; human justice
called this "forgetting." Between men and himself, the
condemned man felt a pile of stones and jailers weighing down
upon his head; and the entire prison, the massive bastille
was nothing more than an enormous, complicated lock, which
barred him off from the rest of the world.
It was in a sloping cavity of this description, in the
oubliettes excavated by Saint-Louis,
in the inpace of the
Tournelle, that la Esmeralda had been placed on being condemned
to death, through fear of her escape, no doubt, with the colossal
court-house over her head. Poor fly, who could not have
lifted even one of its blocks of stone!