Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/La Belle Dangerose


In the time of Hugh, thirty-seventh Bishop of Mons (for such is the species of date which is given to the tale), Dangerose, a lady so fair that she was commonly styled “La Belle Fille,” or “La Belle Nymphe,” resided at the Castle of Chemiré le Gaudin, in Maine, a building which to this day has retained the name of “Le Château de Belle Fille.” The lady was courted by Damase, lord of Asnieres, but as he was too near of kin to obtain her hand in marriage, the lady’s delicacy yielded to her attachment. The pious bishop, after in vain attempting to dissolve the union, launched the bolts of excommunication in the most awful manner, with bell, book, and candle, against the seducer. But Damase, who seems to have been much too powerful a baron to care for the terrors of religion, ridiculed the good prelate’s menaces, and answered vauntingly, that “fire and water would stand him in stead as much as ever, in spite of the bishop.” The prelate in his turn replied, that “fire and water would avenge the cause of Heaven on the haughty lord within six months, unless he repented.” The baron continued obstinate; but one day as he was hawking, a violent storm came on, and he found himself obliged to betake himself, with his falconer, to a little boat, and to seek shelter across the river. A flash of lightning, however, struck him and his vessel, and killed him and his companion, before he had passed the stream. Though the falconer s body was soon found, that of Damase could never be heard of. The fair Dangerose, terrified at the fate of her paramour, straightway threw herself at the feet of Bishop Hugh, lamented her sin, and withdrew to a remote part of her estates where she spent the rest of her long life in unceasing penitence. After this alarming interposition of Providence, the example of Dangerose’s misfortune was in everyone’s mouth, and those who are acquainted with French will know that “Ceci sent la Dangerose” is a natural expression to persons who wish to allude briefly to something involving great peril. The expression no doubt was not long in extending itself to the English provinces in the vicinity of Maine, and hence, probably, are derived the French “dangeroux,” and the English “dangerous.” Let Dr. Johnson’s history of the word “danger” be examined before this etymology be condemned. “Danger, n. f. (danger, Fr.) of uncertain derivation. Skinner derives it from damnum; Menage from angaria; Minshew, δανος (θάνατος) death, to which Junius seems inclined.” Let the impartial reader judge between the great critic and the simple solution afforded by the story which I tell as it was told to me.