A Man Possessed


Alexis Vincent Charles Berbiguier was beset by imps — not metaphorically, but (to his mind) quite literally. Born in 1764, the French nobleman was plagued from his youth by what he called farfadets or goblins, led by an agent of Beelzebub named Rhotomago. Using brushes, pins, sponges, and snuff, he worked out a method to trap the imps in bottles, but they were legion. His 1821 autobiography recounts his plight:

I have suffered much, and am still suffering. For twenty years demons, sorcerers and farfadets have not allowed me a moment’s rest: everywhere they pursue me: in the town and country, in church and at home, and even in my bed. My head is sound, and no defect mars the good condition of my body. I am made in the image of our Saviour. Why, then, have I been chosen as the principal victim?

Convinced that he had been chosen by God to exterminate these agents of evil, he pleaded his case resolutely to all who would listen. “These brushes, gentlemen,” he told one courtroom, “contain the souls of the hobgoblins who came to attack me last night. Look at this bottle — well, it contains millions of hobgoblins. Oh, laugh as long as you like, but, were it not for me, you would not be so much at your ease, nor even the judges upon the bench.”

Berbiguier lived out his life in this belief, keeping increasingly to himself and suspicious of those who tried to help. But he never conquered the imps. In a way his failure was heroic — delusions they may have been, but their victims’ torture was real.