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Title: Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft
Author: Scott, Walter, Sir, 1771-1832
Language: English
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With An Introduction By Henry Morley Ll.d., Professor Of English
Literature At University College, London

London George Routledge And Sons

Broadway, Ludgate Hill

New York: 9 Lafayette Place



Sir Walter Scott's "Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft" were his
contribution to a series of books, published by John Murray, which
appeared between the years 1829 and 1847, and formed a collection of
eighty volumes known as "Murray's Family Library." The series was
planned to secure a wide diffusion of good literature in cheap
five-shilling volumes, and Scott's "Letters," written and published in
1830, formed one of the earlier books in the collection.

The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge had been founded in
the autumn of 1826, and Charles Knight, who had then conceived a plan of
a National Library, was entrusted, in July, 1827, with the
superintendence of its publications. Its first treatises appeared in
sixpenny numbers, once a fortnight. Its "British Almanac" and "Companion
to the Almanac" first appeared at the beginning of 1829. Charles Knight
started also in that year his own "Library of Entertaining Knowledge."
John Murray's "Family Library" was then begun, and in the spring of
1832--the year of the Reform Bill--the advance of civilization by the
diffusion of good literature, through cheap journals as well as cheap
books, was sought by the establishment of "Chambers's Edinburgh Journal"
in the North, and in London of "The Penny Magazine."

In the autumn of that year, 1832, on the 21st of September, Sir Walter
Scott died. The first warning of death had come to him in February,
1830, with a stroke of apoplexy. He had been visited by an old friend
who brought him memoirs of her father, which he had promised to revise
for the press. He seemed for half an hour to be bending over the papers
at his desk, and reading them; then he rose, staggered into the
drawing-room, and fell, remaining speechless until he had been bled.
Dieted for weeks on pulse and water, he so far recovered that to friends
outside his family but little change in him was visible. In that
condition, in the month after his seizure, he was writing these Letters,
and also a fourth series of the "Tales of a Grandfather." The slight
softening of the brain found after death had then begun. But the old
delight in anecdote and skill in story-telling that, at the beginning of
his career, had caused a critic of his "Border Minstrelsy" to say that
it contained the germs of a hundred romances, yet survived. It gave to
Scott's "Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft" what is for us now a
pathetic charm. Here and there some slight confusion of thought or style
represents the flickering of a light that flashes yet with its old
brilliancy. There is not yet the manifest suggestion of the loss of
power that we find presently afterwards in "Count Robert of Paris" and
"Castle Dangerous," published in 1831 as the Fourth Series of "Tales of
My Landlord," with which he closed his life's work at the age of sixty.

Milton has said that he who would not be frustrate of his hope to write
well in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem. Scott's life
was a true poem, of which the music entered into all he wrote. If in his
earlier days the consciousness of an unlimited productive power tempted
him to make haste to be rich, that he might work out, as founder of a
family, an ideal of life touched by his own genius of romance, there was
not in his desire for gain one touch of sordid greed, and his ideal of
life only brought him closer home to all its duties. Sir Walter Scott's
good sense, as Lord Cockburn said, was a more wonderful gift than his
genius. When the mistake of a trade connection with James Ballantyne
brought ruin to him in 1826, he repudiated bankruptcy, took on himself
the burden of a debt of £130,000, and sacrificed his life to the
successful endeavour to pay off all. What was left unpaid at his death
was cleared afterwards by the success of his annotated edition of his
novels. No tale of physical strife in the battlefield could be as heroic
as the story of the close of Scott's life, with five years of a
death-struggle against adversity, animated by the truest sense of
honour. When the ruin was impending he wrote in his diary, "If things go
badly in London, the magic wand of the Unknown will be shivered in his
grasp. The feast of fancy will be over with the feeling of independence.
He shall no longer have the delight of waking in the morning with bright
ideas in his mind, hasten to commit them to paper, and count them
monthly, as the means of planting such scaurs and purchasing such
wastes; replacing dreams of fiction by other prospective visions of
walks by

'Fountain-heads, and pathless groves;
 Places which pale passion loves.'

This cannot be; but I may work substantial husbandry--_i.e._ write
history, and such concerns." It was under pressure of calamity like this
that Sir Walter Scott was compelled to make himself known as the author
of "Waverley." Closely upon this followed the death of his wife, his
thirty years' companion. "I have been to her room," he wrote in May,
1826; "there was no voice in it--no stirring; the pressure of the coffin
was visible on the bed, but it had been removed elsewhere; all was neat
as she loved it, but all was calm--calm as death. I remembered the last
sight of her: she raised herself in bed, and tried to turn her eyes
after me, and said with a sort of smile, 'You have all such melancholy
faces.' These were the last words I ever heard her utter, and I hurried
away, for she did not seem quite conscious of what she said; when I
returned, immediately departing, she was in a deep sleep. It is deeper
now. This was but seven days since. They are arranging the chamber of
death--that which was long the apartment of connubial happiness, and of
whose arrangement (better than in richer houses) she was so proud. They
are treading fast and thick. For weeks you could have heard a footfall.
Oh, my God!"

A few years yet of his own battle, while the shadows of night and death
were gathering about him, and they were re-united. In these "Letters
upon Demonology and Witchcraft," addressed to his son-in-law, written
under the first grasp of death, the old kindliness and good sense,
joined to the old charm in story-telling, stand firm yet against every
assault; and even in the decay that followed, when the powers were
broken of the mind that had breathed, and is still breathing, its own
health into the minds of tens of thousands of his countrymen, nothing
could break the fine spirit of love and honour that was in him. When the
end was very near, and the son-in-law to whom these Letters were
addressed found him one morning entirely himself, though in the last
extreme of feebleness: his eye was clear and calm--every trace of the
wild fire of delirium was extinguished: "Lockhart," he said, "I may have
but a minute to speak to you. My dear, be a good man--be virtuous, be
religious--be a good man. Nothing else will give you any comfort when
you come to lie here."

Another volume of this Library may give occasion to recall Scott in the
noontide of his strength, companion of

"The blameless Muse who trains her sons
 For hope and calm enjoyment."

Here we remember only how from among dark clouds the last light of his
genius shone on the path of those who were endeavouring to make the
daily bread of intellectual life--good books--common to all.

_February, 1884._






    Origin of the general Opinions respecting Demonology among
    Mankind--The Belief in the Immortality of the Soul is the main
    inducement to credit its occasional re-appearance--The Philosophical
    Objections to the Apparition of an Abstract Spirit little understood
    by the Vulgar and Ignorant--The situations of excited Passion
    incident to Humanity, which teach Men to wish or apprehend
    Supernatural Apparitions--They are often presented by the Sleeping
    Sense--Story of Somnambulism--The Influence of Credulity contagious,
    so that Individuals will trust the Evidence of others in despite of
    their own Senses--Examples from the "Historia Verdadera" of Bernal
    Dias del Castillo, and from the Works of Patrick Walker--The
    apparent Evidence of Intercourse with the Supernatural World is
    sometimes owing to a depraved State of the bodily Organs--Difference
    between this Disorder and Insanity, in which the Organs retain their
    tone, though that of the Mind is lost--Rebellion of the Senses of a
    Lunatic against the current of his Reveries--Narratives of a
    contrary Nature, in which the Evidence of the Eyes overbore the
    Conviction of the Understanding--Example of a London Man of
    Pleasure--Of Nicolai, the German Bookseller and Philosopher--Of a
    Patient of Dr. Gregory--Of an Eminent Scottish Lawyer, deceased--Of
    this same fallacious Disorder are other instances, which have but
    sudden and momentary endurance--Apparition of Maupertuis--Of a late
    illustrious modern Poet--The Cases quoted chiefly relating to false
    Impressions on the Visual Nerve, those upon the Ear next
    considered--Delusions of the Touch chiefly experienced in
    Sleep--Delusions of the Taste--And of the Smelling--Sum of the

You have asked of me, my dear friend, that I should assist the "Family
Library" with the history of a dark chapter in human nature, which the
increasing civilization of all well-instructed countries has now almost
blotted out, though the subject attracted no ordinary degree of
consideration in the older times of their history.

Among much reading of my earlier days, it is no doubt true that I
travelled a good deal in the twilight regions of superstitious
disquisitions. Many hours have I lost--"I would their debt were
less!"--in examining old as well as more recent narratives of this
character, and even in looking into some of the criminal trials so
frequent in early days, upon a subject which our fathers considered as a
matter of the last importance. And, of late years, the very curious
extracts published by Mr. Pitcairn, from the Criminal Records of
Scotland, are, besides their historical value, of a nature so much
calculated to illustrate the credulity of our ancestors on such
subjects, that, by perusing them, I have been induced more recently to
recall what I had read and thought upon the subject at a former period.

As, however, my information is only miscellaneous, and I make no
pretensions, either to combat the systems of those by whom I am
anticipated in consideration of the subject, or to erect any new one of
my own, my purpose is, after a general account of Demonology and
Witchcraft, to confine myself to narratives of remarkable cases, and to
the observations which naturally and easily arise out of them;--in the
confidence that such a plan is, at the present time of day, more likely
to suit the pages of a popular miscellany, than an attempt to reduce the
contents of many hundred tomes, from the largest to the smallest size,
into an abridgement, which, however compressed, must remain greatly too
large for the reader's powers of patience.

A few general remarks on the nature of Demonology, and the original
cause of the almost universal belief in communication betwixt mortals
and beings of a power superior to themselves, and of a nature not to be
comprehended by human organs, are a necessary introduction to the

The general, or, it may be termed, the universal belief of the
inhabitants of the earth, in the existence of spirits separated from the
encumbrance and incapacities of the body, is grounded on the
consciousness of the divinity that speaks in our bosoms, and
demonstrates to all men, except the few who are hardened to the
celestial voice, that there is within us a portion of the divine
substance, which is not subject to the law of death and dissolution, but
which, when the body is no longer fit for its abode, shall seek its own
place, as a sentinel dismissed from his post. Unaided by revelation, it
cannot be hoped that mere earthly reason should be able to form any
rational or precise conjecture concerning the destination of the soul
when parted from the body; but the conviction that such an
indestructible essence exists, the belief expressed by the poet in a
different sense, _Non omnis moriar_ must infer the existence of many
millions of spirits who have not been annihilated, though they have
become invisible to mortals who still see, hear, and perceive, only by
means of the imperfect organs of humanity. Probability may lead some of
the most reflecting to anticipate a state of future rewards and
punishments; as those experienced in the education of the deaf and dumb
find that their pupils, even while cut off from all instruction by
ordinary means, have been able to form, out of their own unassisted
conjectures, some ideas of the existence of a Deity, and of the
distinction between the soul and body--a circumstance which proves how
naturally these truths arise in the human mind. The principle that they
do so arise, being taught or communicated, leads to further conclusions.

These spirits, in a state of separate existence, being admitted to
exist, are not, it may be supposed, indifferent to the affairs of
mortality, perhaps not incapable of influencing them. It is true that,
in a more advanced state of society, the philosopher may challenge the
possibility of a separate appearance of a disembodied spirit, unless in
the case of a direct miracle, to which, being a suspension of the laws
of nature, directly wrought by the Maker of these laws, for some express
purpose, no bound or restraint can possibly be assigned. But under this
necessary limitation and exception, philosophers might plausibly argue
that, when the soul is divorced from the body, it loses all those
qualities which made it, when clothed with a mortal shape, obvious to
the organs of its fellow-men. The abstract idea of a spirit certainly
implies that it has neither substance, form, shape, voice, or anything
which can render its presence visible or sensible to human faculties.
But these sceptic doubts of philosophers on the possibility of the
appearance of such separated spirits, do not arise till a certain degree
of information has dawned upon a country, and even then only reach a
very small proportion of reflecting and better-informed members of
society. To the multitude, the indubitable fact, that so many millions
of spirits exist around and even amongst us, seems sufficient to support
the belief that they are, in certain instances at least, by some means
or other, able to communicate with the world of humanity. The more
numerous part of mankind cannot form in their mind the idea of the
spirit of the deceased existing, without possessing or having the power
to assume the appearance which their acquaintance bore during his life,
and do not push their researches beyond this point.

Enthusiastic feelings of an impressive and solemn nature occur both in
private and public life, which seem to add ocular testimony to an
intercourse betwixt earth and the world beyond it. For example, the son
who has been lately deprived of his father feels a sudden crisis
approach, in which he is anxious to have recourse to his sagacious
advice--or a bereaved husband earnestly desires again to behold the form
of which the grave has deprived him for ever--or, to use a darker yet
very common instance, the wretched man who has dipped his hand in his
fellow-creature's blood, is haunted by the apprehension that the phantom
of the slain stands by the bedside of his murderer. In all or any of
these cases, who shall doubt that imagination, favoured by
circumstances, has power to summon up to the organ of sight, spectres
which only exist in the mind of those by whom their apparition seems to
be witnessed?

If we add, that such a vision may take place in the course of one of
those lively dreams in which the patient, except in respect to the
single subject of one strong impression, is, or seems, sensible of the
real particulars of the scene around him, a state of slumber which often
occurs; if he is so far conscious, for example, as to know that he is
lying on his own bed, and surrounded by his own familiar furniture at
the time when the supposed apparition is manifested, it becomes almost
in vain to argue with the visionary against the reality of his dream,
since the spectre, though itself purely fanciful, is inserted amidst so
many circumstances which he feels must be true beyond the reach of doubt
or question. That which is undeniably certain becomes, in a manner, a
warrant for the reality of the appearance to which doubt would have been
otherwise attached. And if any event, such as the death of the person
dreamt of, chances to take place, so as to correspond with the nature
and the time of the apparition, the coincidence, though one which must
be frequent, since our dreams usually refer to the accomplishment of
that which haunts our minds when awake, and often presage the most
probable events, seems perfect, and the chain of circumstances touching
the evidence may not unreasonably be considered as complete. Such a
concatenation, we repeat, must frequently take place, when it is
considered of what stuff dreams are made--how naturally they turn upon
those who occupy our mind while awake, and, when a soldier is exposed to
death in battle, when a sailor is incurring the dangers of the sea, when
a beloved wife or relative is attacked by disease, how readily our
sleeping imagination rushes to the very point of alarm, which when
waking it had shuddered to anticipate. The number of instances in which
such lively dreams have been quoted, and both asserted and received as
spiritual communications, is very great at all periods; in ignorant
times, where the natural cause of dreaming is misapprehended and
confused with an idea of mysticism, it is much greater. Yet, perhaps,
considering the many thousands of dreams which must, night after night,
pass through the imagination of individuals, the number of coincidences
between the vision and real event are fewer and less remarkable than a
fair calculation of chances would warrant us to expect. But in countries
where such presaging dreams are subjects of attention, the number of
those which seemed to be coupled with the corresponding issue, is large
enough to spread a very general belief of a positive communication
betwixt the living and the dead.

Somnambulism and other nocturnal deceptions frequently lend their aid to
the formation of such _phantasmata_ as are formed in this middle state,
betwixt sleeping and waking. A most respectable person, whose active
life had been spent as master and part owner of a large merchant vessel
in the Lisbon trade, gave the writer an account of such an instance
which came under his observation. He was lying in the Tagus, when he was
put to great anxiety and alarm by the following incident and its
consequences. One of his crew was murdered by a Portuguese assassin, and
a report arose that the ghost of the slain man haunted the vessel.
Sailors are generally superstitious, and those of my friend's vessel
became unwilling to remain on board the ship; and it was probable they
might desert rather then return to England with the ghost for a
passenger. To prevent so great a calamity, the captain determined to
examine the story to the bottom. He soon found that, though all
pretended to have seen lights and heard noises, and so forth, the weight
of the evidence lay upon the statement of one of his own mates, an
Irishman and a Catholic, which might increase his tendency to
superstition, but in other respects a veracious, honest, and sensible
person, whom Captain ----had no reason to suspect would wilfully deceive
him. He affirmed to Captain S---- with the deepest obtestations, that
the spectre of the murdered man appeared to him almost nightly, took him
from his place in the vessel, and, according to his own expression,
worried his life out. He made these communications with a degree of
horror which intimated the reality of his distress and apprehensions.
The captain, without any argument at the time, privately resolved to
watch the motions of the ghost-seer in the night; whether alone, or with
a witness, I have forgotten. As the ship bell struck twelve, the sleeper
started up, with a ghastly and disturbed countenance, and lighting a
candle, proceeded to the galley or cook-room of the vessel. He sate down
with his eyes open, staring before him as on some terrible object which
he beheld with horror, yet from which he could not withhold his eyes.
After a short space he arose, took up a tin can or decanter, filled it
with water, muttering to himself all the while--mixed salt in the water,
and sprinkled it about the galley. Finally, he sighed deeply, like one
relieved from a heavy burden, and, returning to his hammock, slept
soundly. In the next morning the haunted man told the usual precise
story of his apparition, with the additional circumstances, that the
ghost had led him to the galley, but that he had fortunately, he knew
not how, obtained possession of some holy water, and succeeded in
getting rid of his unwelcome visitor. The visionary was then informed of
the real transactions of the night, with so many particulars as to
satisfy him he had been the dupe of his imagination; he acquiesced in
his commander's reasoning, and the dream, as often happens in these
cases, returned no more after its imposture had been detected. In this
case, we find the excited imagination acting upon the half-waking
senses, which were intelligent enough for the purpose of making him
sensible where he was, but not sufficiently so to judge truly of the
objects before him.

But it is not only private life alone, or that tenor of thought which
has been depressed into melancholy by gloomy anticipations respecting
the future, which disposes the mind to mid-day fantasies, or to nightly
apparitions--a state of eager anxiety, or excited exertion, is equally
favourable to the indulgence of such supernatural communications. The
anticipation of a dubious battle, with all the doubt and uncertainty of
its event, and the conviction that it must involve his own fate and that
of his country, was powerful enough to conjure up to the anxious eye of
Brutus the spectre of his murdered friend Cæsar, respecting whose death
he perhaps thought himself less justified than at the Ides of March,
since, instead of having achieved the freedom of Rome, the event had
only been the renewal of civil wars, and the issue might appear most
likely to conclude in the total subjection of liberty. It is not
miraculous that the masculine spirit of Marcus Brutus, surrounded by
darkness and solitude, distracted probably by recollection of the
kindness and favour of the great individual whom he had put to death to
avenge the wrongs of his country, though by the slaughter of his own
friend, should at length place before his eyes in person the appearance
which termed itself his evil genius, and promised again to meet him at
Philippi. Brutus' own intentions, and his knowledge of the military art,
had probably long since assured him that the decision of the civil war
must take place at or near that place; and, allowing that his own
imagination supplied that part of his dialogue with the spectre, there
is nothing else which might not be fashioned in a vivid dream or a
waking reverie, approaching, in absorbing and engrossing character, the
usual matter of which dreams consist. That Brutus, well acquainted with
the opinions of the Platonists, should be disposed to receive without
doubt the idea that he had seen a real apparition, and was not likely to
scrutinize very minutely the supposed vision, may be naturally
conceived; and it is also natural to think, that although no one saw the
figure but himself, his contemporaries were little disposed to examine
the testimony of a man so eminent, by the strict rules of
cross-examination and conflicting evidence, which they might have
thought applicable to another person, and a less dignified occasion.

Even in the field of death, and amid the mortal tug of combat itself,
strong belief has wrought the same wonder, which we have hitherto
mentioned as occurring in solitude and amid darkness; and those who were
themselves on the verge of the world of spirits, or employed in
dispatching others to these gloomy regions, conceived they beheld the
apparitions of those beings whom their national mythology associated
with such scenes. In such moments of undecided battle, amid the
violence, hurry, and confusion of ideas incident to the situation, the
ancients supposed that they saw their deities, Castor and Pollux,
fighting in the van for their encouragement; the heathen Scandinavian
beheld the Choosers of the slain; and the Catholics were no less easily
led to recognize the warlike Saint George or Saint James in the very
front of the strife, showing them the way to conquest. Such apparitions
being generally visible to a multitude, have in all times been supported
by the greatest strength of testimony. When the common feeling of
danger, and the animating burst of enthusiasm, act on the feelings of
many men at once, their minds hold a natural correspondence with each
other, as it is said is the case with stringed instruments tuned to the
same pitch, of which, when one is played, the chords of the others are
supposed to vibrate in unison with the tones produced. If an artful or
enthusiastic individual exclaims, in the heat of action, that he
perceives an apparition of the romantic kind which has been intimated,
his companions catch at the idea with emulation, and most are willing to
sacrifice the conviction of their own senses, rather than allow that
they did not witness the same favourable emblem, from which all draw
confidence and hope. One warrior catches the idea from another; all are
alike eager to acknowledge the present miracle, and the battle is won
before the mistake is discovered. In such cases, the number of persons
present, which would otherwise lead to detection of the fallacy, becomes
the means of strengthening it.

Of this disposition, to see as much of the supernatural as is seen by
others around, or, in other words, to trust to the eyes of others rather
than to our own, we may take the liberty to quote two remarkable

The first is from the "Historia Verdadera" of Don Bernal Dias del
Castillo, one of the companions of the celebrated Cortez in his Mexican
conquest. After having given an account of a great victory over extreme
odds, he mentions the report inserted in the contemporary Chronicle of
Gomara, that Saint Iago had appeared on a white horse in van of the
combat, and led on his beloved Spaniards to victory. It is very curious
to observe the Castilian cavalier's internal conviction that the rumour
arose out of a mistake, the cause of which he explains from his own
observation; whilst, at the same time, he does not venture to disown the
miracle. The honest Conquestador owns that he himself did not see this
animating vision; nay, that he beheld an individual cavalier, named
Francisco de Morla, mounted on a chestnut horse, and fighting
strenuously in the very place where Saint James is said to have
appeared. But instead of proceeding to draw the necessary inference, the
devout Conquestador exclaims--"Sinner that I am, what am I that I should
have beheld the blessed apostle!"

The other instance of the infectious character of superstition occurs in
a Scottish book, and there can be little doubt that it refers, in its
first origin, to some uncommon appearance of the aurora borealis, or the
northern lights, which do not appear to have been seen in Scotland so
frequently as to be accounted a common and familiar atmospherical
phenomenon, until the beginning of the eighteenth century. The passage
is striking and curious, for the narrator, Peter Walker, though an
enthusiast, was a man of credit, and does not even affect to have seen
the wonders, the reality of which he unscrupulously adopts on the
testimony of others, to whose eyes he trusted rather than to his own.
The conversion of the sceptical gentleman of whom he speaks is highly
illustrative of popular credulity carried away into enthusiasm, or into
imposture, by the evidence of those around, and at once shows the
imperfection of such a general testimony, and the ease with which it is
procured, since the general excitement of the moment impels even the
more cold-blooded and judicious persons present to catch up the ideas
and echo the exclamations of the majority, who, from the first, had
considered the heavenly phenomenon as a supernatural weapon-schaw, held
for the purpose of a sign and warning of civil wars to come.

"In the year 1686, in the months of June and July," says the honest
chronicler, "many yet alive can witness that about the Crossford Boat,
two miles beneath Lanark, especially at the Mains, on the water of
Clyde, many people gathered together for several afternoons, where there
were showers of bonnets, hats, guns, and swords, which covered the trees
and the ground; companies of men in arms marching in order upon the
waterside; companies meeting companies, going all through other, and
then all falling to the ground and disappearing; other companies
immediately appeared, marching the same way. I went there three
afternoons together, and, as I observed, there were two-thirds of the
people that were together saw, and a third that saw not; and, _though I
could see nothing_, there was such a fright and trembling on those that
did see, that was discernible to all from those that saw not. There was
a gentleman standing next to me who spoke as too many gentlemen and
others speak, who said, 'A pack of damned witches and warlocks that have
the second sight! the devil ha't do I see;' and immediately there was a
discernible change in his countenance. With as much fear and trembling
as any woman I saw there, he called out, 'All you that do not see, say
nothing; for I persuade you it is matter of fact, and discernible to all
that is not stone-blind.' And those who did see told what works (_i.e._,
locks) the guns had, and their length and wideness, and what handles the
swords had, whether small or three-barr'd, or Highland guards, and the
closing knots of the bonnets, black or blue; and those who did see them
there, whenever they went abroad, saw a bonnet and a sword drop in the

[Footnote 1: Walker's "Lives," Edinburgh, 1827, vol. i. p. xxxvi. It is
evident that honest Peter believed in the apparition of this martial
gear on the principle of Partridge's terror for the ghost of Hamlet--not
that he was afraid himself, but because Garrick showed such evident
marks of terror.]

This singular phenomenon, in which a multitude believed, although only
two-thirds of them saw what must, if real, have been equally obvious to
all, may be compared with the exploit of the humourist, who planted
himself in an attitude of astonishment, with his eyes riveted on the
well-known bronze lion that graces the front of Northumberland House in
the Strand, and having attracted the attention of those who looked at
him by muttering, "By heaven it wags! it wags again!" contrived in a few
minutes to blockade the whole street with an immense crowd, some
conceiving that they had absolutely seen the lion of Percy wag his tail,
others expecting' to witness the same phenomenon.

On such occasions as we have hitherto mentioned, we have supposed that
the ghost-seer has been in full possession of his ordinary powers of
perception, unless in the case of dreamers, in whom they may have been
obscured by temporary slumber, and the possibility of correcting
vagaries of the imagination rendered more difficult by want of the
ordinary appeal to the evidence of the bodily senses. In other respects
their blood beat temperately, they possessed the ordinary capacity of
ascertaining the truth or discerning the falsehood of external
appearances by an appeal to the organ of sight. Unfortunately, however,
as is now universally known and admitted, there certainly exists more
than one disorder known to professional men of which one important
symptom is a disposition to see apparitions.

This frightful disorder is not properly insanity, although it is
somewhat allied to that most horrible of maladies, and may, in many
constitutions, be the means of bringing it on, and although such
hallucinations are proper to both. The difference I conceive to be that,
in cases of insanity, the mind of the patient is principally affected,
while the senses, or organic system, offer in vain to the lunatic their
decided testimony against the fantasy of a deranged imagination. Perhaps
the nature of this collision--between a disturbed imagination and organs
of sense possessed of their usual accuracy--cannot be better described
than in the embarrassment expressed by an insane patient confined in the
Infirmary of Edinburgh. The poor man's malady had taken a gay turn. The
house, in his idea, was his own, and he contrived to account for all
that seemed inconsistent with his imaginary right of property--there
were many patients in it, but that was owing to the benevolence of his
nature, which made him love to see the relief of distress. He went
little, or rather never abroad--but then his habits were of a domestic
and rather sedentary character. He did not see much company--but he
daily received visits from the first characters in the renowned medical
school of this city, and he could not therefore be much in want of
society. With so many supposed comforts around him--with so many visions
of wealth and splendour--one thing alone disturbed the peace of the poor
optimist, and would indeed have confounded most _bons vivants_. "He was
curious," he said, "in his table, choice in his selection of cooks, had
every day a dinner of three regular courses and a dessert; and yet,
somehow or other, everything he eat _tasted of porridge_." This dilemma
could be no great wonder to the friend to whom the poor patient
communicated it, who knew the lunatic eat nothing but this simple
aliment at any of his meals. The case was obvious. The disease lay in
the extreme vivacity of the patient's imagination, deluded in other
instances, yet not absolutely powerful enough to contend with the honest
evidence of his stomach and palate, which, like Lord Peter's brethren in
"The Tale of a Tub," were indignant at the attempt to impose boiled
oatmeal upon them, instead of such a banquet as Ude would have displayed
when peers were to partake of it. Here, therefore, is one instance of
actual insanity, in which the sense of taste controlled and attempted to
restrain the ideal hypothesis adopted by a deranged imagination. But the
disorder to which I previously alluded is entirely of a bodily
character, and consists principally in a disease of the visual organs,
which present to the patient a set of spectres or appearances which have
no actual existence. It is a disease of the same nature which renders
many men incapable of distinguishing colours; only the patients go a
step further, and pervert the external form of objects. In their case,
therefore, contrary to that of the maniac, it is not the mind, or rather
the imagination, which imposes upon and overpowers the evidence of the
senses, but the sense of seeing (or hearing) which betrays its duty and
conveys false ideas to a sane intellect.

More than one learned physician, who have given their attestations to
the existence of this most distressing complaint, have agreed that it
actually occurs, and is occasioned by different causes. The most
frequent source of the malady is in the dissipated and intemperate
habits of those who, by a continued series of intoxication, become
subject to what is popularly called the Blue Devils, instances of which
mental disorder may be known to most who have lived for any period of
their lives in society where hard drinking was a common vice. The joyous
visions suggested by intoxication when the habit is first acquired, in
time disappear, and are supplied by frightful impressions and scenes,
which destroy the tranquillity of the unhappy debauchee. Apparitions of
the most unpleasant appearance are his companions in solitude, and
intrude even upon his hours of society: and when by an alteration of
habits, the mind is cleared of these frightful ideas, it requires but
the slightest renewal of the association to bring back the full tide of
misery upon the repentant libertine.

Of this the following instance was told to the author by a gentleman
connected with the sufferer. A young man of fortune, who had led what is
called so gay a life as considerably to injure both his health and
fortune, was at length obliged to consult the physician upon the means
of restoring, at least, the former. One of his principal complaints was
the frequent presence of a set of apparitions, resembling a band of
figures dressed in green, who performed in his drawing-room a singular
dance, to which he was compelled to bear witness, though he knew, to his
great annoyance, that the whole _corps de ballet_ existed only in his
own imagination. His physician immediately informed him that he had
lived upon town too long and too fast not to require an exchange to a
more healthy and natural course of life. He therefore prescribed a
gentle course of medicine, but earnestly recommended to his patient to
retire to his own house in the country, observe a temperate diet and
early hours, practising regular exercise, on the same principle avoiding
fatigue, and assured him that by doing so he might bid adieu to black
spirits and white, blue, green, and grey, with all their trumpery. The
patient observed the advice, and prospered. His physician, after the
interval of a month, received a grateful letter from him, acknowledging
the success of his regimen. The greens goblins had disappeared, and with
them the unpleasant train of emotions to which their visits had given
rise, and the patient had ordered his town-house to be disfurnished and
sold, while the furniture was to be sent down to his residence in the
country, where he was determined in future to spend his life, without
exposing himself to the temptations of town. One would have supposed
this a well-devised scheme for health. But, alas! no sooner had the
furniture of the London drawing-room been placed in order in the gallery
of the old manor-house, than the former delusion returned in full force:
the green _figurantés_, whom the patient's depraved imagination had so
long associated with these moveables, came capering and frisking to
accompany them, exclaiming with great glee, as if the sufferer should
have been rejoiced to see them, "Here we all are--here we all are!" The
visionary, if I recollect right, was so much shocked at their
appearance, that he retired abroad, in despair that any part of Britain
could shelter him from the daily persecution of this domestic ballet.

There is reason to believe that such cases are numerous, and that they
may perhaps arise not only from the debility of stomach brought on by
excess in wine or spirits, which derangement often sensibly affects the
eyes and sense of sight, but also because the mind becomes habitually
predominated over by a train of fantastic visions, the consequence of
frequent intoxication; and is thus, like a dislocated joint, apt again
to go wrong, even when a different cause occasions the derangement.

It is easy to be supposed that habitual excitement by means of any other
intoxicating drug, as opium, or its various substitutes, must expose
those who practise the dangerous custom to the same inconvenience. Very
frequent use of the nitrous oxide which affects the senses so strongly,
and produces a short but singular state of ecstasy, would probably be
found to occasion this species of disorder. But there are many other
causes which medical men find attended with the same symptom, of
embodying before the eyes of a patient imaginary illusions which are
visible to no one else. This persecution of spectral deceptions is also
found to exist when no excesses of the patient can be alleged as the
cause, owing, doubtless, to a deranged state of the blood or nervous

The learned and acute Dr. Ferriar of Manchester was the first who
brought before the English public the leading case, as it may be called,
in this department, namely, that of Mons. Nicolai, the celebrated
bookseller of Berlin. This gentleman was not a man merely of books, but
of letters, and had the moral courage to lay before the Philosophical
Society of Berlin an account of his own sufferings, from having been, by
disease, subjected to a series of spectral illusions. The leading
circumstances of this case may be stated very shortly, as it has been
repeatedly before the public, and is insisted on by Dr. Ferriar, Dr.
Hibbert, and others who have assumed Demonology as a subject. Nicolai
traces his illness remotely to a series of disagreeable incidents which
had happened to him in the beginning of the year 1791. The depression of
spirits which was occasioned by these unpleasant occurrences, was aided
by the consequences of neglecting a course of periodical bleeding which
he had been accustomed to observe. This state of health brought on the
disposition to see _phantasmata_, who visited, or it may be more
properly said frequented, the apartments of the learned bookseller,
presenting crowds of persons who moved and acted before him, nay, even
spoke to and addressed him. These phantoms afforded nothing unpleasant
to the imagination of the visionary either in sight or expression, and
the patient was possessed of too much firmness to be otherwise affected
by their presence than with a species of curiosity, as he remained
convinced from the beginning to the end of the disorder, that these
singular effects were merely symptoms of the state of his health, and
did not in any other respect regard them as a subject of apprehension.
After a certain time, and some use of medicine, the phantoms became less
distinct in their outline, less vivid in their colouring, faded, as it
were, on the eye of the patient, and at length totally disappeared.

The case of Nicolai has unquestionably been that of many whose love of
science has not been able to overcome their natural reluctance to
communicate to the public the particulars attending the visitation of a
disease so peculiar. That such illnesses have been experienced, and have
ended fatally, there can be no doubt; though it is by no means to be
inferred, that the symptom of importance to our present discussion has,
on all occasions, been produced from the same identical cause.

Dr. Hibbert, who has most ingeniously, as well as philosophically,
handled this subject, has treated it also in a medical point of view,
with science to which we make no pretence, and a precision of detail to
which our superficial investigation affords us no room for extending

The visitation of spectral phenomena is described by this learned
gentleman as incidental to sundry complaints; and he mentions, in
particular, that the symptom occurs not only in plethora, as in the case
of the learned Prussian we have just mentioned, but is a frequent hectic
symptom--often an associate of febrile and inflammatory
disorders--frequently accompanying inflammation of the brain--a
concomitant also of highly excited nervous irritability--equally
connected with hypochondria--and finally united in some cases with gout,
and in others with the effects of excitation produced by several gases.
In all these cases there seems to be a morbid degree of sensibility,
with which this symptom is ready to ally itself, and which, though
inaccurate as a medical definition, may be held sufficiently descriptive
of one character of the various kinds of disorder with which this
painful symptom may be found allied.

A very singular and interesting illustration of such combinations as Dr.
Hibbert has recorded of the spectral illusion with an actual disorder,
and that of a dangerous kind, was frequently related in society by the
late learned and accomplished Dr. Gregory of Edinburgh, and sometimes, I
believe, quoted by him in his lectures. The narrative, to the author's
best recollection, was as follows:--A patient of Dr. Gregory, a person,
it is understood, of some rank, having requested the doctor's advice,
made the following extraordinary statement of his complaint. "I am in
the habit," he said, "of dining at five, and exactly as the hour of six
arrives I am subjected to the following painful visitation. The door of
the room, even when I have been weak enough to bolt it, which I have
sometimes done, flies wide open; an old hag, like one of those who
haunted the heath of Forres, enters with a frowning and incensed
countenance, comes straight up to me with every demonstration of spite
and indignation which could characterize her who haunted the merchant
Abudah in the Oriental tale; she rushes upon me, says something, but so
hastily that I cannot discover the purport, and then strikes me a severe
blow with her staff. I fall from my chair in a swoon, which is of longer
or shorter endurance. To the recurrence of this apparition I am daily
subjected. And such is my new and singular complaint." The doctor
immediately asked whether his patient had invited any one to sit with
him when he expected such a visitation. He was answered in the negative.
The nature of the complaint, he said, was so singular, it was so likely
to be imputed to fancy, or even to mental derangement, that he had
shrunk from communicating the circumstance to any one. "Then," said the
doctor, "with your permission, I will dine with you to-day,
_téte-à-téte_, and we will see if your malignant old woman will venture
to join our company." The patient accepted the proposal with hope and
gratitude, for he had expected ridicule rather than sympathy. They met
at dinner, and Dr. Gregory, who suspected some nervous disorder, exerted
his powers of conversation, well known to be of the most varied and
brilliant character, to keep the attention of his host engaged, and
prevent him from thinking on the approach of the fated hour, to which he
was accustomed to look forward with so much terror. He succeeded in his
purpose better than he had hoped. The hour of six came almost unnoticed,
and it was hoped might pass away without any evil consequence; but it
was scarce a moment struck when the owner of the house exclaimed, in an
alarmed voice, "The hag comes again!" and dropped back in his chair in a
swoon, in the way he had himself described. The physician caused him to
be let blood, and satisfied himself that the periodical shocks of which
his patient complained arose from a tendency to apoplexy.

The phantom with the crutch was only a species of machinery, such as
that with which fancy is found to supply the disorder called
_Ephialtes_, or nightmare, or indeed any other external impression upon
our organs in sleep, which the patient's morbid imagination may
introduce into the dream preceding the swoon. In the nightmare an
oppression and suffocation is felt, and our fancy instantly conjures up
a spectre to lie on our bosom. In like manner it may be remarked, that
any sudden noise which the slumberer hears, without being actually
awakened by it--any casual touch of his person occurring in the same
manner--becomes instantly adopted in his dream, and accommodated to the
tenor of the current train of thought, whatever that may happen to be;
and nothing is more remarkable than the rapidity with which imagination
supplies a complete explanation of the interruption, according to the
previous train of ideas expressed in the dream, even when scarce a
moment of time is allowed for that purpose. In dreaming, for example, of
a duel, the external sound becomes, in the twinkling of an eye, the
discharge of the combatants' pistols;--is an orator haranguing in his
sleep, the sound becomes the applause of his supposed audience;--is the
dreamer wandering among supposed ruins, the noise is that of the fall of
some part of the mass. In short, an explanatory system is adopted during
sleep with such extreme rapidity, that supposing the intruding alarm to
have been the first call of some person to awaken the slumberer, the
explanation, though requiring some process of argument or deduction, is
usually formed and perfect before the second effort of the speaker has
restored the dreamer to the waking world and its realities. So rapid and
intuitive is the succession of ideas in sleep, as to remind us of the
vision of the prophet Mahommed, in which he saw the whole wonders of
heaven and hell, though the jar of water which fell when his ecstasy
commenced, had not spilled its contents when he returned to ordinary

A second, and equally remarkable instance, was communicated to the
author by the medical man under whose observation it fell, but who was,
of course, desirous to keep private the name of the hero of so singular
a history. Of the friend by whom the facts were attested I can only say,
that if I found myself at liberty to name him, the rank which he holds
in his profession, as well as his attainments in science and philosophy,
form an undisputed claim to the most implicit credit.

It was the fortune of this gentleman to be called in to attend the
illness of a person now long deceased, who in his lifetime stood, as I
understand, high in a particular department of the law, which often
placed the property of others at his discretion and control, and whose
conduct, therefore, being open to public observation, he had for many
years borne the character of a man of unusual steadiness, good sense,
and integrity. He was, at the time of my friend's visits, confined
principally to his sick-room, sometimes to bed, yet occasionally
attending to business, and exerting his mind, apparently with all its
usual strength and energy, to the conduct of important affairs intrusted
to him; nor did there, to a superficial observer, appear anything in his
conduct, while so engaged, that could argue vacillation of intellect, or
depression of mind. His outward symptoms of malady argued no acute or
alarming disease. But slowness of pulse, absence of appetite, difficulty
of digestion, and constant depression of spirits, seemed to draw their
origin from some hidden cause, which the patient was determined to
conceal. The deep gloom of the unfortunate gentleman--the embarrassment,
which he could not conceal from his friendly physician--the briefness
and obvious constraint with which he answered the interrogations of his
medical adviser, induced my friend to take other methods for prosecuting
his inquiries. He applied to the sufferer's family, to learn, if
possible, the source of that secret grief which was gnawing the heart
and sucking the life-blood of his unfortunate patient. The persons
applied to, after conversing together previously, denied all knowledge
of any cause for the burden which obviously affected their relative. So
far as they knew--and they thought they could hardly be deceived--his
worldly affairs were prosperous; no family loss had occurred which could
be followed with such persevering distress; no entanglements of
affection could be supposed to apply to his age, and no sensation of
severe remorse could be consistent with his character. The medical
gentleman had finally recourse to serious argument with the invalid
himself, and urged to him the folly of devoting himself to a lingering
and melancholy death, rather than tell the subject of affliction which
was thus wasting him. He specially pressed upon him the injury which he
was doing to his own character, by suffering it to be inferred that the
secret cause of his dejection and its consequences was something too
scandalous or flagitious to be made known, bequeathing in this manner to
his family a suspected and dishonoured name, and leaving a memory with
which might be associated the idea of guilt, which the criminal had died
without confessing. The patient, more moved by this species of appeal
than by any which had yet been urged, expressed his desire to speak out
frankly to Dr.----. Every one else was removed, and the door of the
sick-room made secure, when he began his confession in the following

"You cannot, my dear friend, be more conscious than I, that I am in the
course of dying under the oppression of the fatal disease which consumes
my vital powers; but neither can you understand the nature of my
complaint, and manner in which it acts upon me, nor, if you did, I fear,
could your zeal and skill avail to rid me of it."--"It is possible,"
said the physician, "that my skill may not equal my wish of serving you;
yet medical science has many resources, of which those unacquainted with
its powers never can form an estimate. But until you plainly tell me
your symptoms of complaint, it is impossible for either of us to say
what may or may not be in my power, or within that of medicine."--"I may
answer you," replied the patient, "that my case is not a singular one,
since we read of it in the famous novel of Le Sage. You remember,
doubtless, the disease of which the Duke d'Olivarez is there stated to
have died?"--"Of the idea," answered the medical gentleman, "that he was
haunted by an apparition, to the actual existence of which he gave no
credit, but died, nevertheless, because he was overcome and heart-broken
by its imaginary presence."--"I, my dearest doctor," said the sick man,
"am in that very case; and so painful and abhorrent is the presence of
the persecuting vision, that my reason is totally inadequate to combat
the effects of my morbid imagination, and I am sensible I am dying, a
wasted victim to an imaginary disease." The medical gentleman listened
with anxiety to his patient's statement, and for the present judiciously
avoiding any contradiction of the sick man's preconceived fancy,
contented himself with more minute inquiry into the nature of the
apparition with which he conceived himself haunted, and into the history
of the mode by which so singular a disease had made itself master of his
imagination, secured, as it seemed, by strong powers of the
understanding, against an attack so irregular. The sick person replied
by stating that its advances were gradual, and at first not of a
terrible or even disagreeable character. To illustrate this, he gave the
following account of the progress of his disease:--

"My visions," he said, "commenced two or three years since, when I found
myself from time to time embarrassed by the presence of a large cat,
which came and disappeared I could not exactly tell how, till the truth
was finally forced upon me, and I was compelled to regard it as no
domestic household cat, but as a bubble of the elements, which had no
existence save in my deranged visual organs or depraved imagination.
Still I had not that positive objection to the animal entertained by a
late gallant Highland chieftain, who has been seen to change to all the
colours of his own plaid if a cat by accident happened to be in the room
with him, even though he did not see it. On the contrary, I am rather a
friend to cats, and endured with so much equanimity the presence of my
imaginary attendant, that it had become almost indifferent to me; when,
within the course of a few months, it gave place to, or was succeeded
by, a spectre of a more important sort, or which at least had a more
imposing appearance. This was no other than the apparition of a
gentleman-usher, dressed as if to wait upon a Lord Lieutenant of
Ireland, a Lord High Commissioner of the Kirk, or any other who bears on
his brow the rank and stamp of delegated sovereignty.

"This personage, arrayed in a court dress, with bag and sword, tamboured
waistcoat, and chapeau-bras, glided beside me like the ghost of Beau
Nash; and, whether in my own house or in another, ascended the stairs
before me, as if to announce me in the drawing-room, and at sometimes
appeared to mingle with the company, though it was sufficiently evident
that they were not aware of his presence, and that I alone was sensible
of the visionary honours which this imaginary being seemed desirous to
render me. This freak of the fancy did not produce much impression on
me, though it led me to entertain doubts on the nature of my disorder
and alarm for the effect it might produce on my intellects. But that
modification of my disease also had its appointed duration. After a few
months the phantom of the gentleman-usher was seen no more, but was
succeeded by one horrible to the sight and distressing to the
imagination, being no other than the image of death itself--the
apparition of a _skeleton_. Alone or in company," said the unfortunate
invalid, "the presence of this last phantom never quits me. I in vain
tell myself a hundred times over that it is no reality, but merely an
image summoned up by the morbid acuteness of my own excited imagination
and deranged organs of sight. But what avail such reflections, while the
emblem at once and presage of mortality is before my eyes, and while I
feel myself, though in fancy only, the companion of a phantom
representing a ghastly inhabitant of the grave, even while I yet breathe
on the earth? Science, philosophy, even religion, has no cure for such a
disorder; and I feel too surely that I shall die the victim to so
melancholy a disease, although I have no belief whatever in the reality
of the phantom which it places before me."

The physician was distressed to perceive, from these details, how
strongly this visionary apparition was fixed in the imagination of his
patient. He ingeniously urged the sick man, who was then in bed, with
questions concerning the circumstances of the phantom's appearance,
trusting he might lead him, as a sensible man, into such contradictions
and inconsistencies as might bring his common-sense, which seemed to be
unimpaired, so strongly into the field as might combat successfully the
fantastic disorder which produced such fatal effects. "This skeleton,
then," said the doctor, "seems to you to be always present to your
eyes?" "It is my fate, unhappily," answered the invalid, "always to see
it." "Then I understand," continued the physician, "it is now present to
your imagination?" "To my imagination it certainly is so," replied the
sick man. "And in what part of the chamber do you now conceive the
apparition to appear?" the physician inquired. "Immediately at the foot
of my bed. When the curtains are left a little open," answered the
invalid, "the skeleton, to my thinking, is placed between them, and
fills the vacant space." "You say you are sensible of the delusion,"
said his friend; "have you firmness to convince yourself of the truth of
this? Can you take courage enough to rise and place yourself in the spot
so seeming to be occupied, and convince yourself of the illusion?" The
poor man sighed, and shook his head negatively. "Well," said the doctor,
"we will try the experiment otherwise." Accordingly, he rose from his
chair by the bedside, and placing himself between the two half-drawn
curtains at the foot of the bed, indicated as the place occupied by the
apparition, asked if the spectre was still visible? "Not entirely so,"
replied the patient, "because your person is betwixt him and me; but I
observe his skull peering above your shoulder."

It is alleged the man of science started on the instant, despite
philosophy, on receiving an answer ascertaining, with such minuteness,
that the ideal spectre was close to his own person. He resorted to other
means of investigation and cure, but with equally indifferent success.
The patient sunk into deeper and deeper dejection, and died in the same
distress of mind in which he had spent the latter months of his life;
and his case remains a melancholy instance of the power of imagination
to kill the body, even when its fantastic terrors cannot overcome the
intellect, of the unfortunate persons who suffer under them. The
patient, in the present case, sunk under his malady; and the
circumstances of his singular disorder remaining concealed, he did not,
by his death and last illness, lose any of his well-merited reputation
for prudence and sagacity which had attended him during the whole course
of his life.

Having added these two remarkable instances to the general train of
similar facts quoted by Ferriar, Hibbert, and other writers who have
more recently considered the subject, there can, we think, be little
doubt of the proposition, that the external organs may, from various
causes, become so much deranged as to make false representations to the
mind; and that, in such cases, men, in the literal sense, really _see_
the empty and false forms and _hear_ the ideal sounds which, in a more
primitive state of society, are naturally enough referred to the action
of demons or disembodied spirits. In such unhappy cases the patient is
intellectually in the condition of a general whose spies have been
bribed by the enemy, and who must engage himself in the difficult and
delicate task of examining and correcting, by his own powers of
argument, the probability of the reports which are too inconsistent to
be trusted to.

But there is a corollary to this proposition, which is worthy of notice.
The same species of organic derangement which, as a continued habit of
his deranged vision, presented the subject of our last tale with the
successive apparitions of his cat, his gentleman-usher, and the fatal
skeleton, may occupy, for a brief or almost momentary space, the vision
of men who are otherwise perfectly clear-sighted. Transitory deceptions
are thus presented to the organs which, when they occur to men of
strength of mind and of education, give way to scrutiny, and their
character being once investigated, the true takes the place of the
unreal representation. But in ignorant times those instances in which
any object is misrepresented, whether through the action of the senses,
or of the imagination, or the combined influence of both, for however
short a space of time, may be admitted as direct evidence of a
supernatural apparition; a proof the more difficult to be disputed if
the phantom has been personally witnessed by a man of sense and
estimation, who, perhaps satisfied in the general as to the actual
existence of apparitions, has not taken time or trouble to correct his
first impressions. This species of deception is so frequent that one of
the greatest poets of the present time answered a lady who asked him if
he believed in ghosts:--"No, madam; I have seen too many myself." I may
mention one or two instances of the kind, to which no doubt can be

The first shall be the apparition of Maupertuis to a brother professor
in the Royal Society of Berlin.

This extraordinary circumstance appeared in the Transactions of the
Society, but is thus stated by M. Thiebault in his "Recollections of
Frederick the Great and the Court of Berlin." It is necessary to premise
that M. Gleditsch, to whom the circumstance happened, was a botanist of
eminence, holding the professorship of natural philosophy at Berlin, and
respected as a man of an habitually serious, simple, and tranquil

A short time after the death of Maupertuis,[2] M. Gleditsch being
obliged to traverse the hall in which the Academy held its sittings,
having some arrangements to make in the cabinet of natural history,
which was under his charge, and being willing to complete them on the
Thursday before the meeting, he perceived, on entering the hall, the
apparition of M. de Maupertuis, upright and stationary, in the first
angle on his left hand, having his eyes fixed on him. This was about
three o'clock, afternoon. The professor of natural philosophy was too
well acquainted with physical science to suppose that his late
president, who had died at Bâle, in the family of Messrs. Bernoullie,
could have found his way back to Berlin in person. He regarded the
apparition in no other light than as a phantom produced by some
derangement of his own proper organs. M. Gleditsch went to his own
business, without stopping longer than to ascertain exactly the
appearance of that object. But he related the vision to his brethren,
and assured them that it was as defined and perfect as the actual person
of Maupertuis could have presented. When it is recollected that
Maupertuis died at a distance from Berlin, once the scene of his
triumphs--overwhelmed by the petulant ridicule of Voltaire, and out of
favour with Frederick, with whom to be ridiculous was to be
worthless--we can hardly wonder at the imagination even of a man of
physical science calling up his Eidolon in the hall of his former

[Footnote 2: Long the president of the Berlin Academy, and much favoured
by Frederick II., till he was overwhelmed by the ridicule of Voltaire.
He retired, in a species of disgrace, to his native country of
Switzerland, and died there shortly afterwards.]

The sober-minded professor did not, however, push his investigation to
the point to which it was carried by a gallant soldier, from whose mouth
a particular friend of the author received the following circumstances
of a similar story.

Captain C---- was a native of Britain, but bred in the Irish Brigade. He
was a man of the most dauntless courage, which he displayed in some
uncommonly desperate adventures during the first years of the French
Revolution, being repeatedly employed by the royal family in very
dangerous commissions. After the King's death he came over to England,
and it was then the following circumstance took place.

Captain C---- was a Catholic, and, in his hour of adversity at least,
sincerely attached to the duties of his religion. His confessor was a
clergyman who was residing as chaplain to a man of rank in the west of
England, about four miles from the place where Captain C---- lived. On
riding over one morning to see this gentleman, his penitent had the
misfortune to find him very ill from a dangerous complaint. He retired
in great distress and apprehension of his friend's life, and the feeling
brought back upon him many other painful and disagreeable recollections.
These occupied him till the hour of retiring to bed, when, to his great
astonishment, he saw in the room the figure of the absent confessor. He
addressed it, but received no answer--the eyes alone were impressed by
the appearance. Determined to push the matter to the end, Captain C----
advanced on the phantom, which appeared to retreat gradually before him.
In this manner he followed it round the bed, when it seemed to sink down
on an elbow-chair, and remain there in a sitting posture. To ascertain
positively the nature of the apparition, the soldier himself sate down
on the same chair, ascertaining thus, beyond question, that the whole
was illusion; yet he owned that, had his friend died about the same
time, he would not well have known what name to give to his vision. But
as the confessor recovered, and, in Dr. Johnson's phrase, "nothing came
of it," the incident was only remarkable as showing that men of the
strongest nerves are not exempted from such delusions.

Another illusion of the same nature we have the best reason for vouching
as a fact, though, for certain reasons, we do not give the names of the
parties. Not long after the death of a late illustrious poet, who had
filled, while living, a great station in the eye of the public, a
literary friend, to whom the deceased had been well known, was engaged,
during the darkening twilight of an autumn evening, in perusing one of
the publications which professed to detail the habits and opinions of
the distinguished individual who was now no more. As the reader had
enjoyed the intimacy of the deceased to a considerable degree, he was
deeply interested in the publication, which contained some particulars
relating to himself and other friends. A visitor was sitting in the
apartment, who was also engaged in reading. Their sitting-room opened
into an entrance-hall, rather fantastically fitted up with articles of
armour, skins of wild animals, and the like. It was when laying down his
book, and passing into this hall, through which the moon was beginning
to shine, that the individual of whom I speak saw, right before him, and
in a standing posture, the exact representation of his departed friend,
whose recollection had been so strongly brought to his imagination. He
stopped for a single moment, so as to notice the wonderful accuracy with
which fancy had impressed upon the bodily eye the peculiarities of dress
and posture of the illustrious poet. Sensible, however, of the delusion,
he felt no sentiment save that of wonder at the extraordinary accuracy
of the resemblance, and stepped onwards towards the figure, which
resolved itself, as he approached, into the various materials of which
it was composed. These were merely a screen, occupied by great-coats,
shawls, plaids, and such other articles as usually are found in a
country entrance-hall. The spectator returned to the spot from which he
had seen the illusion, and endeavoured, with all his power, to recall
the image which had been so singularly vivid. But this was beyond his
capacity; and the person who had witnessed the apparition, or, more
properly, whose excited state had been the means of raising it, had only
to return into the apartment, and tell his young friend under what a
striking hallucination he had for a moment laboured.

There is every reason to believe that instances of this kind are
frequent among persons of a certain temperament, and when such occur in
an early period of society, they are almost certain to be considered as
real supernatural appearances. They differ from those of Nicolai, and
others formerly noticed, as being of short duration, and constituting no
habitual or constitutional derangement of the system. The apparition of
Maupertuis to Monsieur Gleditsch, that of the Catholic clergyman to
Captain C----, that of a late poet to his friend, are of the latter
character. They bear to the former the analogy, as we may say, which a
sudden and temporary fever-fit has to a serious feverish illness. But,
even for this very reason, it is more difficult to bring such momentary
impressions back to their real sphere of optical illusions, since they
accord much better with our idea of glimpses of the future world than
those in which the vision is continued or repeated for hours, days, and
months, affording opportunities of discovering, from other
circumstances, that the symptom originates in deranged health.

Before concluding these observations upon the deceptions of the senses,
we must remark that the eye is the organ most essential to the purpose
of realizing to our mind the appearance of external objects, and that
when the visual organ becomes depraved for a greater or less time, and
to a farther or more limited extent, its misrepresentation of the
objects of sight is peculiarly apt to terminate in such hallucinations
as those we have been detailing. Yet the other senses or organs, in
their turn, and to the extent of their power, are as ready, in their
various departments, as the sight itself, to retain false or doubtful
impressions, which mislead, instead of informing, the party to whom they
are addressed.

Thus, in regard to the ear, the next organ in importance to the eye, we
are repeatedly deceived by such sounds as are imperfectly gathered up
and erroneously apprehended. From the false impressions received from
this organ also arise consequences similar to those derived from
erroneous reports made by the organs of sight. A whole class of
superstitious observances arise, and are grounded upon inaccurate and
imperfect hearing. To the excited and imperfect state of the ear we owe
the existence of what Milton sublimely calls--

The airy tongues that syllable men's names,
On shores, in desert sands, and wildernesses.

These also appear such natural causes of alarm, that we do not
sympathize more readily with Robinson Crusoe's apprehensions when he
witnesses the print of the savage's foot in the sand, than in those
which arise from his being waked from sleep by some one calling his name
in the solitary island, where there existed no man but the shipwrecked
mariner himself. Amidst the train of superstitions deduced from the
imperfections of the ear, we may quote that visionary summons which the
natives of the Hebrides acknowledged as one sure sign of approaching
fate. The voice of some absent, or probably some deceased, relative was,
in such cases, heard as repeating the party's name. Sometimes the aerial
summoner intimated his own death, and at others it was no uncommon
circumstance that the person who fancied himself so called, died in
consequence;--for the same reason that the negro pines to death who is
laid under the ban of an Obi woman, or the Cambro-Briton, whose name is
put into the famous cursing well, with the usual ceremonies, devoting
him to the infernal gods, wastes away and dies, as one doomed to do so.
It may be remarked also, that Dr. Johnson retained a deep impression
that, while he was opening the door of his college chambers, he heard
the voice of his mother, then at many miles' distance, call him by his
name; and it appears he was rather disappointed that no event of
consequence followed a summons sounding so decidedly supernatural. It is
unnecessary to dwell on this sort of auricular deception, of which most
men's recollection will supply instances. The following may he stated as
one serving to show by what slender accidents the human ear may be
imposed upon. The author was walking, about two years since, in a wild
and solitary scene with a young friend, who laboured under the infirmity
of a severe deafness, when he heard what he conceived to be the cry of a
distant pack of hounds, sounding intermittedly. As the season was
summer, this, on a moment's reflection, satisfied the hearer that it
could not be the clamour of an actual chase, and yet his ears repeatedly
brought back the supposed cry. He called upon his own dogs, of which two
or three were with the walking party. They came in quietly, and
obviously had no accession to the sounds which had caught the author's
attention, so that he could not help saying to his companion, "I am
doubly sorry for your infirmity at this moment, for I could otherwise
have let you hear the cry of the Wild Huntsman." As the young gentleman
used a hearing tube, he turned when spoken to, and, in doing so, the
cause of the phenomenon became apparent. The supposed distant sound was
in fact a nigh one, being the singing of the wind in the instrument
which the young gentleman was obliged to use, but which, from various
circumstances, had never occurred to his elder friend as likely to
produce the sounds he had heard.

It is scarce necessary to add, that the highly imaginative superstition
of the Wild Huntsman in Germany seems to have had its origin in strong
fancy, operating upon the auricular deceptions, respecting the numerous
sounds likely to occur in the dark recesses of pathless forests. The
same clew may be found to the kindred Scottish belief, so finely
embodied by the nameless author of "Albania:"--

"There, since of old the haughty Thanes of Ross
Were wont, with clans and ready vassals thronged,
To wake the bounding stag, or guilty wolf;
There oft is heard at midnight or at noon,
Beginning faint, but rising still more loud,
And louder, voice of hunters, and of hounds,
And horns hoarse-winded, blowing far and keen.
Forthwith the hubbub multiplies, the air
Labours with louder shouts and rifer din
Of close pursuit, the broken cry of deer
Mangled by throttling dogs, the shouts of men,
And hoofs, thick-beating on the hollow hill:
Sudden the grazing heifer in the vale
Starts at the tumult, and the herdsman's ears
Tingle with inward dread. Aghast he eyes
The upland ridge, and every mountain round,
But not one trace of living wight discerns,
Nor knows, o'erawed and trembling as he stands,
To what or whom he owes his idle fear--
To ghost, to witch, to fairy, or to fiend,
But wonders, and no end of wondering finds."[3]

It must also be remembered, that to the auricular deceptions practised
by the means of ventriloquism or otherwise, may be traced many of the
most successful impostures which credulity has received as supernatural

[Footnote 3: The poem of "Albania" is, in its original folio edition, so
extremely scarce that I have only seen a copy belonging to the amiable
and ingenious Dr. Beattie, besides the one which I myself possess,
printed in the earlier part of last century. It was reprinted by my late
friend Dr. Leyden in a small volume entitled "Scottish Descriptive
Poems." "Albania" contains the above, and many other poetical passages
of the highest merit.]

The sense of touch seems less liable to perversion than either that of
sight or smell, nor are there many cases in which it can become
accessary to such false intelligence as the eye and ear, collecting
their objects from a greater distance and by less accurate enquiry, are
but too ready to convey. Yet there is one circumstance in which the
sense of touch as well as others is very apt to betray its possessor
into inaccuracy, in respect to the circumstances which it impresses on
its owner. The case occurs during sleep, when the dreamer touches with
his hand some other part of his own person. He is clearly, in this case,
both the actor and patient, both the proprietor of the member touching,
and of that which is touched; while, to increase the complication, the
hand is both toucher of the limb on which it rests, and receives an
impression of touch from it; and the same is the case with the limb,
which at one and the same time receives an impression from the hand, and
conveys to the mind a report respecting the size, substance, and the
like, of the member touching. Now, as during sleep the patient is
unconscious that both limbs are his own identical property, his mind is
apt to be much disturbed by the complication of sensations arising from
two parts of his person being at once acted upon, and from their
reciprocal action; and false impressions are thus received, which,
accurately enquired into, would afford a clew to many puzzling phenomena
in the theory of dreams. This peculiarity of the organ of touch, as also
that it is confined to no particular organ, but is diffused over the
whole person of the man, is noticed by Lucretius:--

"Ut si forte manu, quam vis jam corporis, ipse
 Tute tibi partem ferias, reque experiare."

A remarkable instance of such an illusion was told me by a late
nobleman. He had fallen asleep, with some uneasy feelings arising from
indigestion. They operated in their usual course of visionary terrors.
At length they were all summed up in the apprehension that the phantom
of a dead man held the sleeper by the wrist, and endeavoured to drag him
out of bed. He awaked in horror, and still felt the cold dead grasp of a
corpse's hand on his right wrist. It was a minute before he discovered
that his own left hand was in a state of numbness, and with it he had
accidentally encircled his right arm.

The taste and the smell, like the touch, convey more direct intelligence
than the eye and the ear, and are less likely than those senses to aid
in misleading the imagination. We have seen the palate, in the case of
the porridge-fed lunatic, enter its protest against the acquiescence of
eyes, ears, and touch, in the gay visions which gilded the patient's
confinement. The palate, however, is subject to imposition as well as
the other senses. The best and most acute _bon vivant_ loses his power
of discriminating betwixt different kinds of wine, if he is prevented
from assisting his palate by the aid of his eyes,--that is, if the
glasses of each are administered indiscriminately while he is
blindfolded. Nay, we are authorized to believe that individuals have
died in consequence of having supposed themselves to have taken poison,
when, in reality, the draught they had swallowed as such was of an
innoxious or restorative quality. The delusions of the stomach can
seldom bear upon our present subject, and are not otherwise connected
with supernatural appearances, than as a good dinner and its
accompaniments are essential in fitting out a daring Tam of Shanter, who
is fittest to encounter them when the poet's observation is not unlikely
to apply--

"Inspiring bauld John Barleycorn,
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi' tippenny we fear nae evil,
Wi' usquebae we'll face the devil.
The swats sae ream'd in Tammie's noddle,
Fair play, he caredna deils a bodle!"

Neither has the sense of smell, in its ordinary state, much connexion
with our present subject. Mr. Aubrey tells us, indeed, of an apparition
which disappeared with a curious perfume as well as a most melodious
twang; and popular belief ascribes to the presence of infernal spirits a
strong relish of the sulphureous element of which they are inhabitants.
Such accompaniments, therefore, are usually united with other materials
for imposture. If, as a general opinion assures us, which is not
positively discountenanced by Dr. Hibbert, by the inhalation of certain
gases or poisonous herbs, necromancers can dispose a person to believe
he sees phantoms, it is likely that the nostrils are made to inhale such
suffumigation as well as the mouth.[4]

[Footnote 4: Most ancient authors, who pretend to treat of the wonders
of natural magic, give receipts for calling up phantoms. The lighting
lamps fed by peculiar kinds of medicated oil, and the use of
suffumigations of strong and deleterious herbs, are the means
recommended. From these authorities, perhaps, a professor of legerdemain
assured Dr. Alderson of Hull, that he could compose a preparation of
antimony, sulphur, and other drugs, which, when burnt in a confined
room, would have the effect of causing the patient to suppose he saw
phantoms.--See "Hibbert on Apparitions," p. 120.]

I have now arrived, by a devious path, at the conclusion of this letter,
the object of which is to show from what attributes of our nature,
whether mental or corporeal, arises that predisposition to believe in
supernatural occurrences. It is, I think, conclusive that mankind, from
a very early period, have their minds prepared for such events by the
consciousness of the existence of a spiritual world, inferring in the
general proposition the undeniable truth that each man, from the monarch
to the beggar, who has once acted his part on the stage, continues to
exist, and may again, even in a disembodied state, if such is the
pleasure of Heaven, for aught that we know to the contrary, be permitted
or ordained to mingle amongst those who yet remain in the body. The
abstract possibility of apparitions must be admitted by every one who
believes in a Deity, and His superintending omnipotence. But imagination
is apt to intrude its explanations and inferences founded on inadequate
evidence. Sometimes our violent and inordinate passions, originating in
sorrow for our friends, remorse for our crimes, our eagerness of
patriotism, or our deep sense of devotion--these or other violent
excitements of a moral character, in the visions of night, or the rapt
ecstasy of the day, persuade us that we witness, with our eyes and ears,
an actual instance of that supernatural communication, the possibility
of which cannot be denied. At other times the corporeal organs impose
upon the mind, while the eye and the ear, diseased, deranged, or misled,
convey false impressions to the patient. Very often both the mental
delusion and the physical deception exist at the same time, and men's
belief of the phenomena presented to them, however erroneously, by the
senses, is the firmer and more readily granted, that the physical
impression corresponded with the mental excitement.

So many causes acting thus upon each other in various degrees, or
sometimes separately, it must happen early in the infancy of every
society that there should occur many apparently well-authenticated
instances of supernatural intercourse, satisfactory enough to
authenticate peculiar examples of the general proposition which is
impressed upon us by belief of the immortality of the soul. These
examples of undeniable apparitions (for they are apprehended to be
incontrovertible), fall like the seed of the husbandman into fertile and
prepared soil, and are usually followed by a plentiful crop of
superstitious figments, which derive their sources from circumstances
and enactments in sacred and profane history, hastily adopted, and
perverted from their genuine reading. This shall be the subject of my
next letter.


    Consequences of the Fall on the Communication between Man and the
    Spiritual World--Effects of the Flood--Wizards of Pharaoh--Text in
    Exodus against Witches--The word _Witch_ is by some said to mean
    merely Poisoner--Or if in the Holy Text it also means a Divineress,
    she must, at any rate, have been a Character very different to be
    identified with it--The original, _Chasaph_, said to mean a person
    who dealt in Poisons, often a Traffic of those who dealt with
    familiar Spirits--But different from the European Witch of the
    Middle Ages--Thus a Witch is not accessary to the Temptation of
    Job--The Witch of the Hebrews probably did not rank higher than a
    Divining Woman--Yet it was a Crime deserving the Doom of Death,
    since it inferred the disowning of Jehovah's Supremacy--Other Texts
    of Scripture, in like manner, refer to something corresponding more
    with a Fortune-teller or Divining Woman than what is now called a
    Witch--Example of the Witch of Endor--Account of her Meeting with
    Saul--Supposed by some a mere Impostor--By others, a Sorceress
    powerful enough to raise the Spirit of the Prophet by her own
    Art--Difficulties attending both Positions--A middle Course adopted,
    supposing that, as in the Case of Balak, the Almighty had, by
    Exertion of His Will, substituted Samuel, or a good Spirit in his
    Character, for the Deception which the Witch intended to
    produce--Resumption of the Argument, showing that the Witch of Endor
    signified something very different from the modern Ideas of
    Witchcraft--The Witches mentioned in the New Testament are not less
    different from modern Ideas than those of the Books of Moses, nor do
    they appear to have possessed the Power ascribed to
    Magicians--Articles of Faith which we may gather from Scripture on
    this point--That there might be certain Powers permitted by the
    Almighty to Inferior, and even Evil Spirits, is possible; and in
    some sense the Gods of the Heathens might be accounted Demons--More
    frequently, and in a general sense, they were but logs of wood,
    without sense or power of any kind, and their worship founded on
    imposture--Opinion that the Oracles were silenced at the Nativity
    adopted by Milton--Cases of Demoniacs--The Incarnate Possessions
    probably ceased at the same time as the intervention of
    Miracles--Opinion of the Catholics--Result, that witchcraft, as the
    Word is interpreted in  the Middle Ages, neither occurs under the
    Mosaic or Gospel Dispensation--It arose in the Ignorant Period, when
    the Christians considered the Gods of the Mahommedan or Heathen
    Nations as Fiends, and their Priests as Conjurers or
    Wizards--Instance as to the Saracens, and among the Northern
    Europeans yet unconverted--The Gods of Mexico and Peru explained on
    the same system--Also the Powahs of North America--Opinion of
    Mather--Gibb, a supposed Warlock, persecuted by the other

What degree of communication might have existed between the human race
and the inhabitants of the other world had our first parents kept the
commands of the Creator, can only be subject of unavailing speculation.
We do not, perhaps, presume too much when we suppose, with Milton, that
one necessary consequence of eating the "fruit of that forbidden tree"
was removing to a wider distance from celestial essences the beings who,
although originally but a little lower than the angels, had, by their
own crime, forfeited the gift of immortality, and degraded themselves
into an inferior rank of creation.

Some communication between the spiritual world, by the union of those
termed in Scripture "sons of God" and the daughters of Adam, still
continued after the Fall, though their inter-alliance was not approved
of by the Ruler of mankind. We are given to understand--darkly, indeed,
but with as much certainty as we can be entitled to require--that the
mixture between the two species of created beings was sinful on the part
of both, and displeasing to the Almighty. It is probable, also, that the
extreme longevity of the antediluvian mortals prevented their feeling
sufficiently that they had brought themselves under the banner of
Azrael, the angel of death, and removed to too great a distance the
period between their crime and its punishment. The date of the avenging
Flood gave birth to a race whose life was gradually shortened, and who,
being admitted to slighter and rarer intimacy with beings who possessed
a higher rank in creation, assumed, as of course, a lower position in
the scale. Accordingly, after this period we hear no more of those
unnatural alliances which preceded the Flood, and are given to
understand that mankind, dispersing into different parts of the world,
separated from each other, and began, in various places, and under
separate auspices, to pursue the work of replenishing the world, which
had been imposed upon them as an end of their creation. In the meantime,
while the Deity was pleased to continue his manifestations to those who
were destined to be the fathers of his elect people, we are made to
understand that wicked men--it may be by the assistance of fallen
angels--were enabled to assert rank with, and attempt to match, the
prophets of the God of Israel. The matter must remain uncertain whether
it was by sorcery or legerdemain that the wizards of Pharaoh, King of
Egypt, contended with Moses, in the face of the prince and people,
changed their rods into serpents, and imitated several of the plagues
denounced against the devoted kingdom. Those powers of the Magi,
however, whether obtained by supernatural communications, or arising
from knowledge of legerdemain and its kindred accomplishments, were
openly exhibited; and who can doubt that--though we may be left in some
darkness both respecting the extent of their skill and the source from
which it was drawn--we are told all which it can be important for us to
know? We arrive here at the period when the Almighty chose to take upon
himself directly to legislate for his chosen people, without having
obtained any accurate knowledge whether the crime of witchcraft, or the
intercourse between the spiritual world and embodied beings, for evil
purposes, either existed after the Flood, or was visited with any open
marks of Divine displeasure.

But in the law of Moses, dictated by the Divinity himself, was announced
a text, which, as interpreted literally, having been inserted into the
criminal code of all Christian nations, has occasioned much cruelty and
bloodshed, either from its tenor being misunderstood, or that, being
exclusively calculated for the Israelites, it made part of the judicial
Mosaic dispensation, and was abrogated, like the greater part of that
law, by the more benign and clement dispensation of the Gospel.

The text alluded to is that verse of the twenty-second chapter of Exodus
bearing, "men shall not suffer a witch to live." Many learned men have
affirmed that in this remarkable passage the Hebrew word CHASAPH means
nothing more than poisoner, although, like the word _veneficus_, by
which it is rendered in the Latin version of the Septuagint, other
learned men contend that it hath the meaning of a witch also, and may be
understood as denoting a person who pretended to hurt his or her
neighbours in life, limb, or goods, either by noxious potions, by
charms, or similar mystical means. In this particular the witches of
Scripture had probably some resemblance to those of ancient Europe, who,
although their skill and power might be safely despised, as long as they
confined themselves to their charms and spells, were very apt to eke out
their capacity of mischief by the use of actual poison, so that the
epithet of sorceress and poisoner were almost synonymous. This is known
to have been the case in many of those darker iniquities which bear as
their characteristic something connected with hidden and prohibited
arts. Such was the statement in the indictment of those concerned in the
famous murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, when the arts of Forman and other
sorcerers having been found insufficient to touch the victim's life,
practice by poison was at length successfully resorted to; and numerous
similar instances might be quoted. But supposing that the Hebrew witch
proceeded only by charms, invocations, or such means as might be
innoxious, save for the assistance of demons or familiars, the connexion
between the conjurer and the demon must have been of a very different
character under the law of Moses, from that which was conceived in
latter days to constitute witchcraft. There was no contract of
subjection to a diabolic power, no infernal stamp or sign of such a
fatal league, no revellings of Satan and his hags, and no infliction of
disease or misfortune upon good men. At least there is not a word in
Scripture authorizing us to believe that such a system existed. On the
contrary, we are told (how far literally, how far metaphorically, it is
not for us to determine) that, when the Enemy of mankind desired to
probe the virtue of Job to the bottom, he applied for permission to the
Supreme Governor of the world, who granted him liberty to try his
faithful servant with a storm of disasters, for the more brilliant
exhibition of the faith which he reposed in his Maker. In all this, had
the scene occurred after the manner of the like events in latter days,
witchcraft, sorceries, and charms would have been introduced, and the
Devil, instead of his own permitted agency, would have employed his
servant the witch as the necessary instrument of the Man of Uzz's
afflictions. In like manner, Satan desired to have Peter, that he might
sift him like wheat. But neither is there here the agency of any
sorcerer or witch. Luke xxii. 31.

Supposing the powers of the witch to be limited, in the time of Moses,
to enquiries at some pretended deity or real evil spirit concerning
future events, in what respect, may it be said, did such a crime deserve
the severe punishment of death? To answer this question, we must reflect
that the object of the Mosaic dispensation being to preserve the
knowledge of the True Deity within the breasts of a selected and
separated people, the God of Jacob necessarily showed himself a jealous
God to all who, straying from the path of direct worship of Jehovah, had
recourse to other deities, whether idols or evil spirits, the gods of
the neighbouring heathen. The swerving from their allegiance to the true
Divinity, to the extent of praying to senseless stocks and stones which
could return them no answer, was, by the Jewish law, an act of rebellion
to their own Lord God, and as such most fit to be punished capitally.
Thus the prophets of Baal were deservedly put to death, not on account
of any success which they might obtain by their intercessions and
invocations (which, though enhanced with all their vehemence, to the
extent of cutting and wounding themselves, proved so utterly unavailing
as to incur the ridicule of the prophet), but because they were guilty
of apostasy from the real Deity, while they worshipped, and encouraged
others to worship, the false divinity Baal. The Hebrew witch, therefore,
or she who communicated, or attempted to communicate, with an evil
spirit, was justly punished with death, though her communication with
the spiritual world might either not exist at all, or be of a nature
much less intimate than has been ascribed to the witches of later days;
nor does the existence of this law, against the witches of the Old
Testament sanction, in any respect, the severity of similar enactments
subsequent to the Christian revelation, against a different class of
persons, accused of a very different species of crime.

In another passage, the practices of those persons termed witches in the
Holy Scriptures are again alluded to; and again it is made manifest that
the sorcery or witchcraft of the Old Testament resolves itself into a
trafficking with idols, and asking counsel of false deities; in other
words, into idolatry, which, notwithstanding repeated prohibitions,
examples, and judgments, was still the prevailing crime of the
Israelites. The passage alluded to is in Deuteronomy xviii. 10,
ii--"There shall not be found among you anyone that maketh his son or
his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an
observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a
consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer." Similar
denunciations occur in the nineteenth and twentieth chapters of
Leviticus. In like manner, it is a charge against Manasses (2 Chronicles
xxxviii.) that he caused his children to pass through the fire, observed
times, used enchantments and witchcraft, and dealt with familiar spirits
and with wizards. These passages seem to concur with the former, in
classing witchcraft among other desertions of the prophets of the Deity,
in order to obtain responses by the superstitious practices of the pagan
nations around them. To understand the texts otherwise seems to confound
the modern system of witchcraft, with all its unnatural and improbable
outrages on common sense, with the crime of the person who, in classical
days, consulted the oracle of Apollo--a capital offence in a Jew, but
surely a venial sin in an ignorant and deluded pagan.

To illustrate the nature of the Hebrew witch and her prohibited criminal
traffic, those who have written on this subject have naturally dwelt
upon the interview between Saul and the Witch of Endor, the only
detailed and particular account of such a transaction which is to be
found in the Bible; a fact, by the way, which proves that the crime of
witchcraft (capitally punished as it was when discovered) was not
frequent among the chosen people, who enjoyed such peculiar
manifestations of the Almighty's presence. The Scriptures seem only to
have conveyed to us the general fact (being what is chiefly edifying) of
the interview between the witch and the King of Israel. They inform us
that Saul, disheartened and discouraged by the general defection of his
subjects, and the consciousness of his own unworthy and ungrateful
disobedience, despairing of obtaining an answer from the offended Deity,
who had previously communicated with him through his prophets, at length
resolved, in his desperation, to go to a divining woman, by which course
he involved himself in the crime of the person whom he thus consulted,
against whom the law denounced death--a sentence which had been often
executed by Saul himself on similar offenders. Scripture proceeds to
give us the general information that the king directed the witch to call
up the Spirit of Samuel, and that the female exclaimed that gods had
arisen out of the earth--that Saul, more particularly requiring a
description of the apparition (whom, consequently, he did not himself
see), she described it as the figure of an old man with a mantle. In
this figure the king acknowledges the resemblance of Samuel, and sinking
on his face, hears from the apparition, speaking in the character of the
prophet, the melancholy prediction of his own defeat and death.

In this description, though all is told which is necessary to convey to
us an awful moral lesson, yet we are left ignorant of the minutiæ
attending the apparition, which perhaps we ought to accept as a sure
sign that there was no utility in our being made acquainted with them.
It is impossible, for instance, to know with certainty whether Saul was
present when the woman used her conjuration, or whether he himself
personally ever saw the appearance which the Pythoness described to him.
It is left still more doubtful whether anything supernatural was
actually evoked, or whether the Pythoness and her assistant meant to
practise a mere deception, taking their chance to prophesy the defeat
and death of the broken-spirited king as an event which the
circumstances in which he was placed rendered highly probable, since he
was surrounded by a superior army of Philistines, and his character as a
soldier rendered it likely that he would not survive a defeat which must
involve the loss of his kingdom. On the other hand, admitting that the
apparition had really a supernatural character, it remains equally
uncertain what was its nature or by what power it was compelled to an
appearance, unpleasing, as it intimated, since the supposed spirit of
Samuel asks wherefore he was disquieted in the grave. Was the power of
the witch over the invisible world so great that, like the Erictho of
the heathen poet, she could disturb the sleep of the just, and
especially that of a prophet so important as Samuel; and are we to
suppose that he, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord was wont to descend,
even while he was clothed with frail mortality, should be subject to be
disquieted in his grave at the voice of a vile witch, and the command of
an apostate prince? Did the true Deity refuse Saul the response of his
prophets, and could a witch compel the actual spirit of Samuel to make
answer notwithstanding?

Embarrassed by such difficulties, another course of explanation has been
resorted to, which, freed from some of the objections which attend the
two extreme suppositions, is yet liable to others. It has been supposed
that something took place upon this remarkable occasion similar to that
which disturbed the preconcerted purpose of the prophet Balaam, and
compelled him to exchange his premeditated curses for blessings.
According to this hypothesis, the divining woman of Endor was preparing
to practise upon Saul those tricks of legerdemain or jugglery by which
she imposed upon meaner clients who resorted to her oracle. Or we may
conceive that in those days, when the laws of Nature were frequently
suspended by manifestations of the Divine Power, some degree of juggling
might be permitted between mortals and the spirits of lesser note; in
which case we must suppose that the woman really expected or hoped to
call up some supernatural appearance. But in either case, this second
solution of the story supposes that the will of the Almighty
substituted, on that memorable occasion, for the phantasmagoria intended
by the witch, the spirit of Samuel in his earthly resemblance--or, if
the reader may think this more likely, some good being, the messenger of
the Divine pleasure, in the likeness of the departed prophet--and, to
the surprise of the Pythoness herself, exchanged the juggling farce: of
sheer deceit or petty sorcery which she had intended to produce, for a
deep tragedy, capable of appalling the heart of the hardened tyrant, and
furnishing an awful lesson to future times.

This exposition has the advantage of explaining the surprise expressed
by the witch at the unexpected consequences of her own invocation, while
it removes the objection of supposing the spirit of Samuel subject to
her influence. It does not apply so well to the complaint of Samuel that
he was _disquieted_, since neither the prophet, nor any good angel
wearing his likeness, could be supposed to complain of an apparition
which took place in obedience to the direct command of the Deity. If,
however, the phrase is understood, not as a murmuring against the
pleasure of Providence, but as a reproach to the prophet's former friend
Saul, that his sins and discontents, which were the ultimate cause of
Samuel's appearance, had withdrawn the prophet for a space from the
enjoyment and repose of Heaven, to review this miserable spot of
mortality, guilt, grief, and misfortune, the words may, according to
that interpretation, wear no stronger sense of complaint than might
become the spirit of a just man made perfect, or any benevolent angel by
whom he might be represented. It may be observed that in Ecclesiasticus
(xlvi. 19, 20), the opinion of Samuel's actual appearance is adopted,
since it is said of this man of God, that _after death he prophesied,
and showed the king his latter end_.

Leaving the further discussion of this dark and difficult question to
those whose studies have qualified them to give judgment on so obscure a
subject, it so far appears clear that the Witch of Endor, was not a
being such as those believed in by our ancestors, who could transform
themselves and others into the appearance of the lower animals, raise
and allay tempests, frequent the company and join the revels of evil
spirits, and, by their counsel and assistance, destroy human lives, and
waste the fruits of the earth, or perform feats of such magnitude as to
alter the face of Nature. The Witch of Endor was a mere fortune-teller,
to whom, in despair of all aid or answer from the Almighty, the
unfortunate King of Israel had recourse in his despair, and by whom, in
some way or other, he obtained the awful certainty of his own defeat and
death. She was liable, indeed, deservedly to the punishment of death for
intruding herself upon the task of the real prophets, by whom the will
of God was at that time regularly made known. But her existence and her
crimes can go no length to prove the possibility that another class of
witches, no otherwise resembling her than as called by the same name,
either existed at a more recent period, or were liable to the same
capital punishment, for a very different and much more doubtful class of
offences, which, however odious, are nevertheless to be proved possible
before they can be received as a criminal charge.

Whatever may be thought of other occasional expressions in the Old
Testament, it cannot be said that, in any part of that sacred volume, a
text occurs indicating the existence of a system of witchcraft, under
the Jewish dispensation, in any respect similar to that against which
the law-books of so many European nations have, till very lately,
denounced punishment; far less under the Christian dispensation--a
system under which the emancipation of the human race from the Levitical
law was happily and miraculously perfected. This latter crime is
supposed to infer a compact implying reverence and adoration on the part
of the witch who comes under the fatal bond, and patronage, support, and
assistance on the part of the diabolical patron. Indeed, in the four
Gospels, the word, under any sense, does not occur; although, had the
possibility of so enormous a sin been admitted, it was not likely to
escape the warning censure of the Divine Person who came to take away
the sins of the world. Saint Paul, indeed, mentions the sin of
witchcraft, in a cursory manner, as superior in guilt to that of
ingratitude; and in the offences of the flesh it is ranked immediately
after idolatry, which juxtaposition inclines us to believe that the
witchcraft mentioned by the Apostle must have been analogous to that of
the Old Testament, and equivalent to resorting to the assistance of
soothsayers, or similar forbidden arts, to acquire knowledge of
toturity. Sorcerers are also joined with other criminals, in the Book of
Revelations, as excluded from the city of God And with these occasional
notices, which indicate that there was a transgression so called, but
leave us ignorant of us exact nature, the writers upon witchcraft
attempt to wring out of the New Testament proofs of a crime in itself so
disgustingly improbable. Neither do the exploits of Elymas, called the
Sorcerer, or Simon, called Magus or the Magician, entitle them to rank
above the class of impostors who assumed a character to which they had
no real title, and put their own mystical and ridiculous pretensions to
supernatural power in competition with those who had been conferred on
purpose to diffuse the gospel, and facilitate its reception by the
exhibition of genuine miracles. It is clear that, from his presumptuous
and profane proposal to acquire, by purchase, a portion of those powers
which were directly derived from inspiration, Simon Magus displayed a
degree of profane and brutal ignorance inconsistent with his possessing
even the intelligence of a skilful impostor; and it is plain that a
leagued vassal of hell--should we pronounce him such--would have better
known his own rank and condition, compared to that of the apostles, than
to have made such a fruitless and unavailing proposal, by which he could
only expose his own impudence and ignorance.

With this observation we may conclude our brief remarks upon
_witchcraft_, as the word occurs in the Scripture; and it now only
remains to mention the nature of the _demonology_, which, as gathered
from the sacred volumes, every Christian believer is bound to receive as
a thing declared and proved to be true.

And in the first place, no man can read the Bible, or call himself a
Christian, without believing that, during the course of time
comprehended by the Divine writers, the Deity, to confirm the faith of
the Jews, and to overcome and confound the pride of the heathens,
wrought in the land many great miracles, using either good spirits, the
instruments of his pleasure, or fallen angels, the permitted agents of
such evil as it was his will should be inflicted upon, or suffered by,
the children of men. This proposition comprehends, of course, the
acknowledgment of the truth of miracles during this early period, by
which the ordinary laws of nature were occasionally suspended, and
recognises the existence in the spiritual world of the two grand
divisions of angels and devils, severally exercising their powers
according to the commission or permission of the Ruler of the universe.

Secondly, wise men have thought and argued that the idols of the heathen
were actually fiends, or, rather, that these enemies of mankind had
power to assume the shape and appearance of those feeble deities, and to
give a certain degree of countenance to the faith of the worshippers, by
working seeming miracles, and returning, by their priests or their
oracles, responses which "palter'd in a double sense" with the deluded
persons who consulted them. Most of the fathers of the Christian Church
have intimated such an opinion. This doctrine has the advantage of
affording, to a certain extent, a confirmation of many miracles related
in pagan or classical history, which are thus ascribed to the agency of
evil spirits. It corresponds also with the texts of Scripture which
declare that the gods of the heathen are all devils and evil spirits;
and the idols of Egypt are classed, as in Isaiah, chap. xix. ver. 2,
with charmers, those who have familiar spirits, and with wizards. But
whatever license it may be supposed was permitted to the evil spirits of
that period--and although, undoubtedly, men owned the sway of deities
who were, in fact, but personifications of certain evil passions of
humanity, as, for example, in their sacrifices to Venus, to Bacchus, to
Mars, &c., and therefore might be said, in one sense, to worship evil
spirits--we cannot, in reason, suppose that every one, or the thousandth
part of the innumerable idols worshipped among the heathen, was endowed
with supernatural power; it is clear that the greater number fell under
the description applied to them in another passage of Scripture, in
which the part of the tree burned in the fire for domestic purposes is
treated as of the same power and estimation as that carved into an
image, and preferred for Gentile homage. This striking passage, in which
the impotence of the senseless block, and the brutish ignorance of the
worshipper, whose object of adoration is the work of his own hands,
occurs in the 44th chapter of the prophecies of Isaiah, verse 10 _et
seq_. The precise words of the text, as well as common sense, forbid us
to believe that the images so constructed by common artisans became the
habitation or resting-place of demons, or possessed any manifestation of
strength or power, whether through demoniacal influence or otherwise.
The whole system of doubt, delusion, and trick exhibited by the oracles,
savours of the mean juggling of impostors, rather than the audacious
intervention of demons. Whatever degree of power the false gods of
heathendom, or devils in their name, might be permitted occasionally to
exert, was unquestionably under the general restraint and limitation of
providence; and though, on the one hand, we cannot deny the possibility
of such permission being granted in cases unknown to us, it is certain,
on the other, that the Scriptures mention no one specific instance of
such influence expressly recommended to our belief.

Thirdly, as the backsliders among the Jews repeatedly fell off to the
worship of the idols of the neighbouring heathens, so they also resorted
to the use of charms and enchantments, founded on a superstitious
perversion of their own Levitical ritual, in which they endeavoured by
sortilege, by Teraphim, by observation of augury, or the flight of
birds, which they called _Nahas_, by the means of Urim and Thummim, to
find as it were a byroad to the secrets of futurity. But for the same
reason that withholds us from delivering any opinion upon the degree to
which the devil and his angels might be allowed to countenance the
impositions of the heathen priesthood, it is impossible for us
conclusively to pronounce what effect might be permitted by supreme
Providence to the ministry of such evil spirits as presided over, and,
so far as they had liberty, directed, these sinful enquiries among the
Jews themselves. We are indeed assured from the sacred writings, that
the promise of the Deity to his chosen people, if they conducted
themselves agreeably to the law which he had given, was, that the
communication with the invisible world would be enlarged, so that in the
fulness of his time he would pour out his spirit upon all flesh, when
their sons and daughters should prophesy, their old men see visions, and
their young men dream dreams. Such were the promises delivered to the
Israelites by Joel, Ezekiel, and other holy seers, of which St. Peter,
in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, hails the fulfilment
in the mission of our Saviour. And on the other hand, it is no less
evident that the Almighty, to punish the disobedience of the Jews,
abandoned them to their own fallacious desires, and suffered them to be
deceived by the lying oracles, to which, in flagrant violation of his
commands, they had recourse. Of this the punishment arising from the
Deity abandoning Ahab to his own devices, and suffering him to be
deceived by a lying spirit, forms a striking instance.

Fourthly, and on the other hand, abstaining with reverence from
accounting ourselves judges of the actions of Omnipotence, we may safely
conclude that it was not his pleasure to employ in the execution of his
judgments the consequences of any such species of league or compact
betwixt devils and deluded mortals, as that denounced in the laws of our
own ancestors under the name of _witchcraft_. What has been translated
by that word seems little more than the art of a medicator of poisons,
combined with that of a Pythoness or false prophetess; a crime, however,
of a capital nature, by the Levitical law, since, in the first capacity,
it implied great enmity to mankind, and in the second, direct treason to
the divine Legislator. The book of Tobit contains, indeed, a passage
resembling more an incident in an Arabian tale or Gothic romance, than a
part of inspired writing. In this, the fumes produced by broiling the
liver of a certain fish are described as having power to drive away an
evil genius who guards the nuptial chamber of an Assyrian princess, and
who has strangled seven bridegrooms in succession, as they approached
the nuptial couch. But the romantic and fabulous strain of this legend
has induced the fathers of all Protestant churches to deny it a place
amongst the writings sanctioned by divine origin, and we may therefore
be excused from entering into discussion on such imperfect evidence.

Lastly, in considering the incalculable change which took place upon the
Advent of our Saviour and the announcement of his law, we may observe
that, according to many wise and learned men, his mere appearance upon
earth, without awaiting the fulfilment of his mission, operated as an
act of banishment of such heathen deities as had hitherto been suffered
to deliver oracles, and ape in some degree the attributes of the Deity.
Milton has, in the "Paradise Lost," it may be upon conviction of its
truth, embraced the theory which identifies the followers of Satan with
the gods of the heathen; and, in a tone of poetry almost unequalled,
even in his own splendid writings, he thus describes, in one of his
earlier pieces, the departure of these pretended deities on the eve of
the blessed Nativity:--

  "The oracles are dumb,
   No voice or hideous hum
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving;
   Apollo from his shrine
   Can no more divine,
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving;
No nightly trance or breathed spell
Inspires the pale-eyed priests from the prophetic cell.

  "The lonely mountains o'er,
   And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
   From haunted spring and dale,
   Edged with poplar pale,
The parting Genius is with sighing sent;
With flower-inwoven tresses torn,
The Nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.

  "In consecrated earth,
  And on the holy hearth,
The Lars and Lemures moan with midnight plaint;
  In urns and altars round,
  A drear and dying sound
Affrights the Flamens at their service quaint;
And the chill marble seems to sweat,
While each peculiar Power foregoes his wonted seat.

  "Peor and Baalim
  Forsake their temples dim,
With that twice-battered god of Palestine;
  And mooned Ashtaroth,
  Heaven's queen and mother both,
Now sits not girt with tapers' holy shine;
The Lybic Hammon shrinks his horn;
In vain the Tyrian maids their wounded Thammuz mourn.

  "And sullen Moloch, fled,
  Hath left in shadows dread
His burning idol all of darkest hue;
  In vain with cymbals ring,
  They call the grisly king,
In dismal dance about the furnace blue;
The brutish gods of Nile as fast,
Isis and Orus, and the Dog Anubis, haste."

The quotation is a long one, but it is scarcely possible to shorten what
is so beautiful and interesting a description of the heathen deities,
whether in the classic personifications of Greece, the horrible shapes
worshipped by mere barbarians, or the hieroglyphical enormities of the
Egyptian Mythology. The idea of identifying the pagan deities,
especially the most distinguished of them, with the manifestation of
demoniac power, and concluding that the descent of our Saviour struck
them with silence, so nobly expressed in the poetry of Milton, is not
certainly to be lightly rejected. It has been asserted, in simple prose,
by authorities of no mean weight; nor does there appear anything
inconsistent in the faith of those who, believing that, in the elder
time, fiends and demons were permitted an enlarged degree of power in
uttering predictions, may also give credit to the proposition, that at
the Divine Advent that power was restrained, the oracles silenced, and
those demons who had aped the Divinity of the place were driven from
their abode on earth, honoured as it was by a guest so awful.

It must be noticed, however, that this great event had not the same
effect on that peculiar class of fiends who were permitted to vex
mortals by the alienation of their minds, and the abuse of their
persons, in the case of what is called Demoniacal possession. In what
exact sense we should understand this word _possession_ it is impossible
to discover; but we feel it impossible to doubt (notwithstanding learned
authorities to the contrary) that it was a dreadful disorder, of a kind
not merely natural; and may be pretty well assured that it was suffered
to continue after the Incarnation, because the miracles effected by our
Saviour and his apostles, in curing those tormented in this way,
afforded the most direct proofs of his divine mission, even out of the
very mouths of those ejected fiends, the most malignant enemies of a
power to which they dared not refuse homage and obedience. And here is
an additional proof that witchcraft, in its ordinary and popular sense,
was unknown at that period; although cases of possession are repeatedly
mentioned in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, yet in no one
instance do the devils ejected mention a witch or sorcerer, or plead the
commands of such a person, as the cause of occupying or tormenting the
victim;--whereas, in a great proportion of those melancholy cases of
witchcraft with which the records of later times abound, the stress of
the evidence is rested on the declaration of the possessed, or the demon
within him, that some old man or woman in the neighbourhood had
compelled the fiend to be the instrument of evil.

It must also be admitted that in another most remarkable respect, the
power of the Enemy of mankind was rather enlarged than bridled or
restrained, in consequence of the Saviour coming upon earth. It is
indisputable that, in order that Jesus might have his share in every
species of delusion and persecution which the fallen race of Adam is
heir to, he personally suffered the temptation in the wilderness at the
hand of Satan, whom, without resorting to his divine power, he drove,
confuted, silenced, and shamed, from his presence. But it appears, that
although Satan was allowed, upon this memorable occasion, to come on
earth with great power, the permission was given expressly because his
time was short.

The indulgence which was then granted to him in a case so unique and
peculiar soon passed over and was utterly restrained. It is evident
that, after the lapse of the period during which it pleased the Almighty
to establish His own Church by miraculous displays of power, it could
not consist with his kindness and wisdom to leave the enemy in the
possession of the privilege of deluding men by imaginary miracles
calculated for the perversion of that faith which real miracles were no
longer present to support. There would, we presume to say, be a shocking
inconsistency in supposing that false and deceitful prophecies and
portents should be freely circulated by any demoniacal influence,
deceiving men's bodily organs, abusing their minds, and perverting their
faith, while the true religion was left by its great Author devoid of
every supernatural sign and token which, in the time of its Founder and
His immediate disciples, attested and celebrated their inappreciable
mission. Such a permission on the part of the Supreme Being would be (to
speak under the deepest reverence) an abandonment of His chosen people,
ransomed at such a price, to the snares of an enemy from whom the worst
evils were to be apprehended. Nor would it consist with the remarkable
promise in holy writ, that "God will not suffer His people to be tempted
above what they are able to bear." I Cor. X. 13. The Fathers of the
Faith are not strictly agreed at what period the miraculous power was
withdrawn from the Church; but few Protestants are disposed to bring it
down beneath the accession of Constantine, when the Christian religion
was fully established in supremacy. The Roman Catholics, indeed, boldly
affirm that the power of miraculous interference with the course of
Nature is still in being; but the enlightened even of this faith, though
they dare not deny a fundamental tenet of their church, will hardly
assent to any particular case, without nearly the same evidence which
might conquer the incredulity of their neighbours the Protestants. It is
alike inconsistent with the common sense of either that fiends should be
permitted to work marvels which are no longer exhibited on the part of
Heaven, or in behalf of religion.

It will be observed that we have not been anxious to decide upon the
limits of probability on this question. It is not necessary for us to
ascertain in what degree the power of Satan was at liberty to display
itself during the Jewish dispensation, or down to what precise period in
the history of the Christian Church cures of demoniacal possession or
similar displays of miraculous power may have occurred. We have avoided
controversy on that head, because it comprehends questions not more
doubtful than unedifying. Little benefit could arise from attaining the
exact knowledge of the manner in which the apostate Jews practised
unlawful charms or auguries. After their conquest and dispersion they
were remarked among the Romans for such superstitious practices; and the
like, for What we know, may continue to linger among the benighted
wanderers of their race at the present day. But all these things are
extraneous to our enquiry, the purpose of which was to discover whether
any real evidence could be derived from sacred history to prove the
early existence of that branch of demonology which has been the object,
in comparatively modern times, of criminal prosecution and capital
punishment. We have already alluded to this as the contract of
witchcraft, in which, as the term was understood in the Middle Ages, the
demon and the witch or wizard combined their various powers of doing
harm to inflict calamities upon the person and property, the fortune and
the fame, of innocent human beings, imposing the most horrible diseases,
and death itself, as marks of their slightest ill-will; transforming
their own persons and those of others at their pleasure; raising
tempests to ravage the crops of their enemies, or carrying them home to
their own garners; annihilating or transferring to their own dairies the
produce of herds; spreading pestilence among cattle, infecting and
blighting children; and, in a word, doing more evil than the heart of
man might be supposed capable of conceiving, by means far beyond mere
human power to accomplish. If it could be supposed that such unnatural
leagues existed, and that there were wretches wicked enough, merely for
the gratification of malignant spite or the enjoyment of some beastly
revelry, to become the wretched slaves of infernal spirits, most just
and equitable would be those laws which cut them off from the midst of
every Christian commonwealth. But it is still more just and equitable,
before punishment be inflicted for any crime, to prove that there is a
possibility of that crime being committed. We have therefore advanced an
important step in our enquiry when we have ascertained that the _witch_
of the Old Testament was not capable of anything beyond the
administration of baleful drugs or the practising of paltry imposture;
in other words, that she did not hold the character ascribed to a modern
sorceress. We have thus removed out of the argument the startling
objection that, in denying the existence of witchcraft, we deny the
possibility of a crime which was declared capital in the Mosaic law, and
are left at full liberty to adopt the opinion, that the more modern
system of witchcraft was a part, and by no means the least gross, of
that mass of errors which appeared among the members of the Christian
Church when their religion, becoming gradually corrupted by the devices
of men and the barbarism of those nations among whom it was spread
showed, a light indeed, but one deeply tinged with the remains of that
very pagan ignorance which its Divine Founder came to dispel.

We will, in a future part of this enquiry, endeavour to show that many
of the particular articles of the popular belief respecting magic and
witchcraft were derived from the opinions which the ancient heathens
entertained as part of their religion. To recommend them, however, they
had principles lying deep in the human mind and heart of all times; the
tendency to belief in supernatural agencies is natural, and indeed seems
connected with and deduced from the invaluable conviction of the
certainty of a future state. Moreover, it is very possible that
particular stories of this class may have seemed undeniable in the dark
ages, though our better instructed period can explain them in a
satisfactory manner by the excited temperament of spectators, or the
influence of delusions produced by derangement of the intellect or
imperfect reports of the external senses. They obtained, however,
universal faith and credit; and the churchmen, either from craft or from
ignorance, favoured the progress of a belief which certainly contributed
in a most powerful manner to extend their own authority over the human

To pass from the pagans of antiquity--the Mahommedans, though their
profession of faith is exclusively unitarian, were accounted worshippers
of evil spirits, who were supposed to aid them in their continual
warfare against the Christians, or to protect and defend them in the
Holy Land, where their abode gave so much scandal and offence to the
devout. Romance, and even history, combined in representing all who were
out of the pale of the Church as the personal vassals of Satan, who
played his deceptions openly amongst them; and Mahound, Termagaunt, and
_Apollo_ were, in the opinion of the Western Crusaders, only so many
names of the arch-fiend and his principal angels. The most enormous
fictions spread abroad and believed through Christendom attested the
fact, that there were open displays of supernatural aid afforded by the
evil spirits to the Turks and Saracens; and fictitious reports were not
less liberal in assigning to the Christians extraordinary means of
defence through the direct protection of blessed saints and angels, or
of holy men yet in the flesh, but already anticipating the privileges
proper to a state of beatitude and glory, and possessing the power to
work miracles.

To show the extreme grossness of these legends, we may give an example
from the romance of "Richard Coeur de Lion," premising at the same time
that, like other romances, it was written in what the author designed to
be the style of true history, and was addressed to hearers and readers,
not as a tale of fiction, but a real narrative of facts, so that the
legend is a proof of what the age esteemed credible and were disposed to
believe as much as if had been extracted from a graver chronicle.

The renowned Saladin, it is said, had dispatched an embassy to King
Richard, with the present of a colt recommended as a gallant war-horse,
challenging Coeur de Lion to meet him in single combat between the
armies, for the purpose of deciding at once their pretensions to the
land of Palestine, and the theological question whether the God of the
Christians, or Jupiter, the deity of the Saracens, should be the future
object of adoration by the subjects of both monarchs. Now, under this
seemingly chivalrous defiance was concealed a most unknightly stratagem,
and which we may at the same time call a very clumsy trick for the devil
to be concerned in. A Saracen clerk had conjured two devils into a mare
and her colt, with the instruction, that whenever the mare neighed, the
foal, which was a brute of uncommon size, should kneel down to suck his
dam. The enchanted foal was sent to King Richard in the belief that the
foal, obeying the signal of its dam as usual, the Soldan who mounted the
mare might get an easy advantage over him.

But the English king was warned by an angel in a dream of the intended
stratagem, and the colt was, by the celestial mandate, previously to the
combat, conjured in the holy name to be obedient to his rider during the
encounter. The fiend-horse intimated his submission by drooping his
head, but his word was not entirely credited. His ears were stopped with
wax. In this condition, Richard, armed at all points and with various
marks of his religious faith displayed on his weapons, rode forth to
meet Saladin, and the Soldan, confident of his stratagem, encountered
him boldly. The mare neighed till she shook the ground for miles around;
but the sucking devil, whom the wax prevented from hearing the summons,
could not obey the signal. Saladin was dismounted, and narrowly escaped
death, while his army were cut to pieces by the Christians. It is but an
awkward tale of wonder where a demon is worsted by a trick which could
hardly have cheated a common horse-jockey; but by such legends our
ancestors were amused and interested, till their belief respecting the
demons of the Holy Land seems to have been not very far different from
that expressed in the title of Ben Jonson's play, "The Devil is an Ass."

One of the earliest maps ever published, which appeared at Rome in the
sixteenth century, intimates a similar belief in the connexion of the
heathen nations of the north of Europe with the demons of the spiritual
world. In Esthonia, Lithuania, Courland, and such districts, the chart,
for want, it may be supposed, of an accurate account of the country,
exhibits rude cuts of the fur-clad natives paying homage at the shrines
of demons, who make themselves visibly present to them; while at other
places they are displayed as doing battle with the Teutonic knights, or
other military associations formed for the conversion or expulsion of
the heathens in these parts. Amid the pagans, armed with scimitars and
dressed in caftans, the fiends are painted as assisting them, pourtrayed
in all the modern horrors of the cloven foot, or, as the Germans term
it, horse's foot, bat wings, saucer eyes, locks like serpents, and tail
like a dragon. These attributes, it may be cursorily noticed, themselves
intimate the connexion of modern demonology with the mythology of the
ancients. The cloven foot is the attribute of Pan--to whose talents for
inspiring terror we owe the word _panic_--the snaky tresses are borrowed
from the shield of Minerva, and the dragon train alone seems to be
connected with the Scriptural history.[5]

[Footnote 5: The chart alluded to is one of the _jac-similes_ of an
ancient planisphere, engraved in bronze about the end of the 15th
century, and called the Borgian Table, from its possessor, Cardinal
Stephen Borgia, and preserved in his museum at Veletri.]

Other heathen nations, whose creeds could not have directly contributed
to the system of demonology, because their manners and even their very
existence was unknown when it was adopted, were nevertheless involved,
so soon as Europeans became acquainted with them, in the same charge of
witchcraft and worship of demons brought by the Christians of the Middle
Ages against the heathens of northern Europe and the Mahommedans of the
East. We learn from the information of a Portuguese voyager that even
the native Christians (called those of St. Thomas), whom the discoverers
found in India when they first arrived there, fell under suspicion of
diabolical practices. It was almost in vain that the priests of one of
their chapels produced to the Portuguese officers and soldiers a holy
image, and called on them, as good Christians, to adore the Blessed
Virgin. The sculptor had been so little acquainted with his art, and the
hideous form which he had produced resembled an inhabitant of the
infernal regions so much more than Our Lady of Grace, that one of the
European officers, while, like his companions, he dropped on his knees,
added the loud protest, that if the image represented the Devil, he paid
his homage to the Holy Virgin.

In South America the Spaniards justified the unrelenting cruelties
exercised on the unhappy natives by reiterating, in all their accounts
of the countries which they discovered and conquered, that the Indians,
in their idol worship, were favoured by the demons with a direct
intercourse, and that their priests inculcated doctrines and rites the
foulest and most abhorrent to Christian ears. The great snake-god of
Mexico, and other idols worshipped with human sacrifices and bathed in
the gore of their prisoners, gave but too much probability to this
accusation; and if the images themselves were not actually tenanted by
evil spirits, the worship which the Mexicans paid to them was founded
upon such deadly cruelty and dark superstition as might easily be
believed to have been breathed into mortals by the agency of hell.

Even in North America, the first settlers in New England and other parts
of that immense continent uniformly agreed that they detected among the
inhabitants traces of an intimate connexion with Satan. It is scarce
necessary to remark that this opinion was founded exclusively upon the
tricks practised by the native powahs, or cunning men, to raise
themselves to influence among the chiefs, and to obtain esteem with the
people, which, possessed as they were professionally of some skill in
jugglery and the knowledge of some medical herbs and secrets, the
understanding of the colonists was unable to trace to their real
source--legerdemain and imposture. By the account, however, of the
Reverend Cotton Mather, in his _Magnalia_, book vi.,[6] he does not
ascribe to these Indian conjurers any skill greatly superior to a maker
of almanacks or common fortune-teller. "They," says the Doctor,
"universally acknowledged and worshipped many gods, and therefore highly
esteemed and reverenced their priests, powahs, or wizards, who were
esteemed as having immediate converse with the gods. To them, therefore,
they addressed themselves in all difficult cases: yet could not all that
desired that dignity, as they esteemed it, obtain familiarity with the
infernal spirits. Nor were all powahs alike successful in their
addresses; but they became such, either by immediate revelation, or in
the use of certain rites and ceremonies, which tradition had left as
conducing to that end. In so much, that parents, out of zeal, often
dedicated their children to the gods, and educated them accordingly,
observing a certain diet, debarring sleep, &c.: yet of the many
designed, but few obtained their desire. Supposing that where the
practice of witchcraft has been highly esteemed, there must be given the
plainest demonstration of mortals having familiarity with infernal
spirits, I am willing to let my reader know, that, not many years since,
here died one of the powahs, who never pretended to astrological
knowledge, yet could precisely inform such who desired his assistance,
from whence goods stolen from them were gone, and whither carried, with
many things of the like nature; nor was he ever known to endeavour to
conceal his knowledge to be immediately _from a god subservient to him
that the English worship_. This powah, being by an Englishman worthy of
credit (who lately informed me of the same), desired to advise him who
had taken certain goods which had been stolen, having formerly been an
eye-witness of his ability, the powah, after a little pausing, demanded
why he requested that from him, since himself served another God? that
therefore he could not help him; but added, '_If you can believe that my
god may help you, I will try what I can do_; which diverted the man from
further enquiry. I must a little digress, and tell my reader, that this
powah's wife was accounted a godly woman, and lived in the practice and
profession of the Christian religion, not only by the approbation, but
encouragement of her husband. She constantly prayed in the family, and
attended the public worship on the Lord's days. He declared that he
could not blame her, for that she served a god that was above his; but
that as to himself, his god's continued kindness obliged him not to
forsake his service." It appears, from the above and similar passages,
that Dr. Cotton Mather, an honest and devout, but sufficiently credulous
man, had mistaken the purpose of the tolerant powah. The latter only
desired to elude the necessity of his practices being brought under the
observant eye of an European, while he found an ingenious apology in the
admitted superiority which he naturally conceded to the Deity of a
people, advanced, as he might well conceive, so far above his own in
power and attainments, as might reasonably infer a corresponding
superiority in the nature and objects of their worship.

[Footnote 6: "On Remarkable Mercies of Divine Providence."]

From another narrative we are entitled to infer that the European wizard
was held superior to the native sorcerer of North America. Among the
numberless extravagances of the Scottish Dissenters of the 17th century,
now canonized in a lump by those who view them in the general light of
enemies to Prelacy, was a certain ship-master, called, from his size,
Meikle John Gibb. This man, a person called Jamie, and one or two other
men, besides twenty or thirty females who adhered to them, went the
wildest lengths of enthusiasm. Gibb headed a party, who followed him
into the moorlands, and at the Ford Moss, between Airth and Stirling,
burned their Bibles, as an act of solemn adherence to their new faith.
They were apprehended in consequence, and committed to prison; and the
rest of the Dissenters, however differently they were affected by the
persecution of Government, when it applied to themselves, were
nevertheless much offended that these poor mad people were not brought
to capital punishment for their blasphemous extravagances; and imputed
it as a fresh crime to the Duke of York that, though he could not be
often accused of toleration, he considered the discipline of the house
of correction as more likely to bring the unfortunate Gibbites to their
senses than the more dignified severities of a public trial and the
gallows. The Cameronians, however, did their best to correct this
scandalous lenity. As Meikle John Gibb, who was their comrade in
captivity, used to disturb their worship in jail by his maniac howling,
two of them took turn about to hold him down by force, and silence him
by a napkin thrust into his mouth. This mode of quieting the unlucky
heretic, though sufficiently emphatic, being deemed ineffectual or
inconvenient, George Jackson, a Cameronian, who afterwards suffered at
the gallows, dashed the maniac with his feet and hands against the wall,
and beat him so severely that the rest were afraid that he had killed
him outright. After which specimen of fraternal chastisement, the
lunatic, to avoid the repetition of the discipline, whenever the
prisoners began worship, ran behind the door, and there, with his own
napkin crammed into his mouth, sat howling like a chastised cur. But on
being finally transported to America, John Gibb, we are assured, was
much admired by the heathen for his familiar converse with the devil
bodily, and offering sacrifices to him. "He died there," says Walker,
"about the year 1720."[7] We must necessarily infer that the pretensions
of the natives to supernatural communication could not be of a high
class, since we find them honouring this poor madman as their superior;
and, in general, that the magic, or powahing, of the North American
Indians was not of a nature to be much apprehended by the British
colonists, since the natives themselves gave honour and precedence to
those Europeans who came among them with the character of possessing
intercourse with the spirits whom they themselves professed to worship.

[Footnote 7: See Patrick Walker's "Biographia Presbyteriana," vol. ii.
p. 23; also "God's Judgment upon Persecutors," and Wodrow's "History,"
upon the article John Gibb.]

Notwithstanding this inferiority on the part of the powahs, it occurred
to the settlers that the heathen Indians and Roman Catholic Frenchmen
were particularly favoured by the demons, who sometimes adopted their
appearance, and showed themselves in their likeness, to the great
annoyance of the colonists. Thus, in the year 1692, a party of real or
imaginary French and Indians exhibited themselves occasionally to the
colonists of the town of Gloucester, in the county of Essex, New
England, alarmed the country around very greatly, skirmished repeatedly
with the English, and caused the raising of two regiments, and the
dispatching a strong reinforcement to the assistance of the settlement.
But as these visitants, by whom they were plagued more than a fortnight,
though they exchanged fire with the settlers, never killed or scalped
any one, the English became convinced that they were not real Indians
and Frenchmen, but that the devil and his agents had assumed such an
appearance, although seemingly not enabled effectually to support it,
for the molestation of the colony.[8]

[Footnote 8: "Magnalia," book vii. article xviii. The fact is also
alleged in the "Life of Sir William Phipps."]

It appears, then, that the ideas of superstition which the more ignorant
converts to the Christian faith borrowed from the wreck of the classic
mythology, were so rooted in the minds of their successors, that these
found corroboration of their faith in demonology in the practice of
every pagan nation whose destiny it was to encounter them as enemies,
and that as well within the limits of Europe as in every other part of
the globe to which their arms were carried. In a word, it may be safely
laid down, that the commonly received doctrine of demonology, presenting
the same general outlines, though varied according to the fancy of
particular nations, existed through all Europe. It seems to have been
founded originally on feelings incident to the human heart, or diseases
to which the human frame is liable--to have been largely augmented by
what classic superstitions survived the ruins of paganism--and to have
received new contributions from the opinions collected among the
barbarous nations, whether of the east or of the west. It is now
necessary to enter more minutely into the question, and endeavour to
trace from what especial sources the people of the Middle Ages derived
those notions which gradually assumed the shape of a regular system of


    Creed of Zoroaster--Received partially into most Heathen
    Nations--Instances among the Celtic Tribes of Scotland--Beltane
    Feast--Gudeman's Croft--Such abuses admitted into Christianity after
    the earlier Ages of the Church--Law of the Romans against Witchcraft
    --Roman customs survive the fall of their
    Religion--Instances--Demonology of the Northern
    Barbarians--Nicksas--Bhargeist--Correspondence between the Northern
    and Roman Witches--The power of Fascination ascribed to the
    Sorceresses--Example from the "Eyrbiggia Saga"--The Prophetesses of
    the Germans--The Gods of Valhalla not highly regarded by their
    Worshippers--Often defied by the Champions--Demons of the
    North--Story of Assueit and Asmund--Action of Ejectment against
    Spectres--Adventure of a Champion with the Goddess Freya--Conversion
    of the Pagans of Iceland to Christianity--Northern Superstitions
    mixed with those of the Celts--Satyrs of the North--Highland
    Ourisk--Meming the Satyr.

The creed of Zoroaster, which naturally occurs to unassisted reason as a
mode of accounting for the mingled existence of good and evil in the
visible world--that belief which, in one modification or another,
supposes the co-existence of a benevolent and malevolent principle,
which contend together without either being able decisively to prevail
over his antagonist, leads the fear and awe deeply impressed on the
human mind to the worship as well of the author of evil, so tremendous
in all the effects of which credulity accounts him the primary cause, as
to that of his great opponent, who is loved and adored as the father of
all that is good and bountiful. Nay, such is the timid servility of
human nature that the worshippers will neglect the altars of the Author
of good rather than that of Arimanes, trusting with indifference to the
well-known mercy of the one, while they shrink from the idea of
irritating the vengeful jealousy of the awful father of evil.

The Celtic tribes, by whom, under various denominations, Europe seems to
have been originally peopled, possessed, in common with other savages, a
natural tendency to the worship of the evil principle. They did not,
perhaps, adore Arimanes under one sole name, or consider the malignant
divinities as sufficiently powerful to undertake a direct struggle with
the more benevolent gods; yet they thought it worth while to propitiate
them by various expiatory rites and prayers, that they, and the
elementary tempests which they conceived to be under their direct
command, might be merciful to suppliants who had acknowledged their
power, and deprecated their vengeance.

Remains of these superstitions might be traced till past the middle of
the last century, though fast becoming obsolete, or passing into mere
popular customs of the country, which the peasantry observe without
thinking of their origin. About 1769, when Mr. Pennant made his tour,
the ceremony of the Baaltein, Beltane, or First of May, though varying
in different districts of the Highlands, was yet in strict observance,
and the cake, which was then baken with scrupulous attention to certain
rites and forms, was divided into fragments, which were formally
dedicated to birds or beasts of prey that they, or rather the being
whose agents they were, might spare the flocks and herds.[9]

[Footnote 9: See Tennant's "Scottish Tour," vol. i. p. III. The
traveller mentions that some festival of the same kind was in his time
observed in Gloucestershire.]

Another custom of similar origin lingered late among us. In many
parishes of Scotland there was suffered to exist a certain portion of
land, called _the gudeman's croft_, which was never ploughed or
cultivated, but suffered to remain waste, like the TEMENOS of a pagan
temple, Though it was not expressly avowed, no one doubted that "the
goodman's croft" was set apart for some evil being; in fact, that it was
the portion of the arch-fiend himself, whom our ancestors distinguished
by a name which, while it was generally understood, could not, it was
supposed, be offensive to the stern inhabitant of the regions of
despair. This was so general a custom that the Church published an
ordinance against it as an impious and blasphemous usage.

This singular custom sunk before the efforts of the clergy in the
seventeenth century; but there must still be many alive who, in
childhood, have been taught to look with wonder on knolls and patches of
ground left uncultivated, because, whenever a ploughshare entered the
soil, the elementary spirits were supposed to testify their displeasure
by storm and thunder. Within our own memory, many such places,
sanctified to barrenness by some favourite popular superstition,
existed, both in Wales and Ireland, as well as in Scotland; but the high
price of agricultural produce during the late war renders it doubtful if
a veneration for greybearded superstition has suffered any one of them
to remain undesecrated. For the same reason the mounts called Sith
Bhruaith were respected, and it was deemed unlawful and dangerous to cut
wood, dig earth and stones, or otherwise disturb them.[10]

[Footnote 10: See "Essay on the Subterranean Commonwealth," by Mr.
Robert Kirke, minister of Aberfoyle.]

Now, it may at first sight seem strange that the Christian religion
should have permitted the existence of such gross and impious relics of
heathenism, in a land where its doctrines had obtained universal
credence. But this will not appear so wonderful when it is recollected
that the original Christians under the heathen emperors were called to
conversion by the voice of apostles and saints, invested for the purpose
with miraculous powers, as well of language, for communicating their
doctrine to the Gentiles, as of cures, for the purpose of authenticating
their mission. These converts must have been in general such elect
persons as were effectually called to make part of the infant church;
and when hypocrites ventured, like Ananias and Sapphira, to intrude
themselves into so select an association, they were liable, at the
Divine pleasure, to be detected and punished. On the contrary, the
nations who were converted after Christianity had become the religion of
the empire were not brought within the pale upon such a principle of
selection, as when the church consisted of a few individuals, who had,
upon conviction, exchanged the errors of the pagan religion for the
dangers and duties incurred by those who embraced a faith inferring the
self-denial of its votaries, and at the same time exposing them to
persecution. When the cross became triumphant, and its cause no longer
required the direction of inspired men, or the evidence of miracles, to
compel reluctant belief, it is evident that the converts who thronged
into the fold must have, many of them, entered because Christianity was
the prevailing faith--many because it was the church, the members of
which rose most readily to promotion--many, finally, who, though content
to resign the worship of pagan divinities, could not at once clear their
minds of heathen ritual and heathen observances, which they
inconsistently laboured to unite with the more simple and majestic faith
that disdained such impure union. If this was the case, even in the
Roman empire, where the converts to the Christian faith must have found,
among the earlier members of the church, the readiest and the soundest
instruction, how much more imperfectly could those foreign and barbarous
tribes receive the necessary religious information from some zealous and
enthusiastic preacher, who christened them by hundreds in one day? Still
less could we imagine them to have acquired a knowledge of Christianity,
in the genuine and perfect sense of the word, when, as was frequently
the case, they only assumed the profession of the religion that had
become the choice of some favoured chief, whose example they followed in
mere love and loyalty, without, perhaps, attaching more consequence to a
change of religion than to a change of garments. Such hasty converts,
professing themselves Christians, but neither weaned from their old
belief, nor instructed in their new one, entered the sanctuary without
laying aside the superstitions with which their young minds had been
imbued; and accustomed to a plurality of deities, some of them, who
bestowed unusual thought on the matter, might be of opinion that, in
adopting the God of the Christians, they had not renounced the service
of every inferior power.

If, indeed, the laws of the empire could have been supposed to have had
any influence over those fierce barbarians, who conceived that the
empire itself lay before them as a spoil, they might have been told that
Constantine, taking the offence of alleged magicians and sorcerers in
the same light in which it was viewed in the law of Moses, had denounced
death against any who used these unlawful enquiries into futurity. "Let
the unlawful curiosity of prying into futurity," says the law, "be
silent in every one henceforth and for ever.[11] For, subjected to the
avenging sword of the law, he shall be punished capitally who disobeys
our commands in this matter."

[Footnote 11: "Codex," lib. ix. tit. 18, cap. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8.]

If, however, we look more closely into this enactment, we shall be led
to conclude that the civil law does not found upon the prohibitions and
penalties in Scripture; although it condemns the _ars mathematica_ (for
the most mystic and uncertain of all sciences, real or pretended, at
that time held the title which now distinguishes the most exact) as a
damnable art, and utterly interdicted, and declares that the
practitioners therein should die by fire, as enemies of the human
race--yet the reason of this severe treatment seems to be different from
that acted upon in the Mosaical institutions. The weight of the crime
among the Jews was placed on the blasphemy of the diviners, and their
treason against the theocracy instituted by Jehovah. The Roman
legislators were, on the other hand, moved chiefly by the danger arising
to the person of the prince and the quiet of the state, so apt to be
unsettled by every pretence or encouragement to innovation. The reigning
emperors, therefore, were desirous to place a check upon the mathematics
(as they termed the art of divination), much more for a political than a
religious cause, since we observe, in the history of the empire, how
often the dethronement or death of the sovereign was produced by
conspiracies or mutinies which took their rise from pretended
prophecies. In this mode of viewing the crime, the lawyers of the lower
empire acted upon the example of those who had compiled the laws of the
twelve tables.[12] The mistaken and misplaced devotion which Horace
recommends to the rural nymph, Phidyle, would have been a crime of a
deep dye in a Christian convert, and must have subjected him to
excommunication, as one relapsed to the rites of paganism; but he might
indulge his superstition by supposing that though he must not worship
Pan or Ceres as gods, he was at liberty to fear them in their new
capacity of fiends. Some compromise between the fear and the conscience
of the new converts, at a time when the church no longer consisted
exclusively of saints, martyrs, and confessors, the disciples of
inspired Apostles, led them, and even their priestly guides, subject
like themselves to human passions and errors, to resort as a charm, if
not as an act of worship, to those sacrifices, words, and ritual, by
which the heathen, whom they had succeeded, pretended to arrest evil or
procure benefits.

[Footnote 12: By this more ancient code, the punishment of death was
indeed denounced against those who destroyed crops, awakened storms, or
brought over to their barns and garners the fruits of the earth; but, by
good fortune, it left the agriculturists of the period at liberty to use
the means they thought most proper to render their fields fertile and
plentiful. Pliny informs us that one Caius Furius Cresinus, a Roman of
mean estate, raised larger crops from a small field than his neighbours
could obtain from more ample possessions. He was brought before the
judge upon a charge averring that he conjured the fruits of the earth,
produced by his neighbours' farms, into his own possession. Cresinus
appeared, and, having proved the return of his farm to be the produce of
his own hard and unremitting labour, as well as superior skill, was
dismissed with the highest honours.]

When such belief in a hostile principle and its imaginations was become
general in the Roman empire, the ignorance of its conquerors, those wild
nations, Franks, Goths, Vandals, Huns, and similar classes of unrefined
humanity, made them prone to an error which there were few judicious
preachers to warn them against; and we ought rather to wonder and admire
the Divine clemency, which imparted to so rude nations the light of the
Gospel, and disposed them to receive a religion so repugnant to their
warlike habits, than that they should, at the same time, have adopted
many gross superstitions, borrowed from the pagans, or retained numbers
of those which had made part of their own national forms of heathenism.

Thus, though the thrones of Jupiter and the superior deities of the
heathen Pantheon were totally overthrown and broken to pieces, fragments
of their worship and many of their rites survived the conversion to
Christianity--nay, are in existence even at this late and enlightened
period, although those by whom they are practised have not preserved the
least memory of their original purpose. We may hastily mention one or
two customs of classical origin, in addition to the Beltane and those
already noticed, which remain as examples that the manners of the Romans
once gave the tone to the greater part of the island of Britain, and at
least to the whole which was to the south of the wall of Severus.

The following customs still linger in the south of Scotland, and belong
to this class: The bride, when she enters the house of her husband, is
lifted over the threshold, and to step on it or over it voluntarily is
reckoned a bad omen. This custom was universal in Rome, where it was
observed as keeping in memory the rape of the Sabines, and that it was
by a show of violence towards the females that the object of peopling
the city was attained. On the same occasion a sweet cake, baked for the
purpose, is broken above the head of the bride; which is also a rite of
classic antiquity.

In like manner, the Scottish, even of the better rank, avoid contracting
marriage in the month of May, which genial season of flowers and breezes
might, in other respects, appear so peculiarly favourable for that
purpose. It was specially objected to the marriage of Mary with the
profligate Earl of Bothwell, that the union was formed within this
interdicted month. This prejudice was so rooted among the Scots that, in
1684, a set of enthusiasts, called Gibbites, proposed to renounce it,
among a long list of stated festivals, fast-days, popish relics, not
forgetting the profane names of the days of the week, names of the
months, and all sorts of idle and silly practices which their tender
consciences took an exception to. This objection to solemnize marriage
in the merry month of May, however fit a season for courtship, is also
borrowed from the Roman pagans, which, had these fanatics been aware of
it, would have been an additional reason for their anathema against the
practice. The ancients have given us as a maxim, that it is only bad
women who marry in that month.[13]

[Footnote 13: "Malæ nubent Maia."]

The custom of saying God bless you, when a person in company sneezes,
is, in like manner, derived from sternutation being considered as a
crisis of the plague at Athens, and the hope that, when it was attained
the patient had a chance of recovery.

But besides these, and many other customs which the various nations of
Europe received from the classical times, and which it is not our object
to investigate, they derived from thence a shoal of superstitious
beliefs, which, blended and mingled with those which they brought with
them out of their own country, fostered and formed the materials of a
demonological creed which has descended down almost to our own times.
Nixas, or Nicksa, a river or ocean god, worshipped on the shores of the
Baltic, seems to have taken uncontested possession of the attributes of
Neptune. Amid the twilight winters and overpowering tempests of these
gloomy regions, he had been not unnaturally chosen as the power most
adverse to man, and the supernatural character with which he was
invested has descended to our time under two different aspects. The Nixa
of the Germans is one of those fascinating and lovely fays whom the
ancients termed Naiads; and unless her pride is insulted or her jealousy
awakened by an inconstant lover, her temper is generally mild and her
actions beneficent. The Old Nick known in England is an equally genuine
descendant of the northern sea-god, and possesses a larger portion of
his powers and terrors The British sailor, who fears nothing else,
confesses his terror for this terrible being, and believes him the
author of almost all the various calamities to which the precarious life
of a seaman is so continually exposed.

The Bhar-guest, or Bhar-geist, by which name it is generally
acknowledged through various country parts of England, and particularly
in Yorkshire, also called a Dobie--a local spectre which haunts a
particular spot under various forms--is a deity, as his name implies, of
Teutonic descent; and if it be true, as the author has been informed,
that some families bearing the name of Dobie carry a phantom or spectre,
passant, in their armorial bearings,[14] it plainly implies that,
however the word may have been selected for a proper name, its original
derivation had not then been forgotten.

[Footnote 14: A similar bearing has been ascribed, for the same reason,
to those of the name of Fantome, who carried of old a goblin, or
phantom, in a shroud sable passant, on a field azure. Both bearings are
founded on what is called canting heraldry, a species of art disowned by
the writers on the science, yet universally made use of by those who
practice the art of blazonry.]

The classic mythology presented numerous points in which it readily
coalesced with that of the Germans, Danes, and Northmen of a later
period. They recognized the power of Erictho, Canidia, and other
sorceresses, whose spell could perplex the course of the elements,
intercept the influence of the sun, and prevent his beneficial operation
upon the fruits of the earth, call down the moon from her appointed
sphere, and disturb the original and destined course of Nature by their
words and charms and the power of the evil spirits whom they invoked.
They were also professionally implicated in all such mystic and secret
rites and ceremonies as were used to conciliate the favour of the
infernal powers, whose dispositions were supposed as dark and wayward as
their realms were gloomy and dismal. Such hags were frequent agents in
the violation of unburied bodies, and it was believed, by the vulgar at
least, that it was dangerous to leave corpses unguarded lest they should
be mangled by the witches, who took from them the most choice
ingredients composing their charms. Above all, it must not be forgotten
that these frightful sorceresses possessed the power of transforming
themselves and others into animals, which are used in their degree of
quadrupeds, or in whatever other laborious occupation belongs to the
transformed state. The poets of the heathens, with authors of fiction,
such as Lucian and Apuleius, ascribe all these powers to the witches of
the pagan world, combining them with the art of poisoning, and of making
magical philtres to seduce the affections of the young and beautiful;
and such were the characteristics which, in greater or less extent, the
people of the Middle Ages ascribed to the witches of their day.

But in thus adopting the superstitions of the ancients, the conquerors
of the Roman Empire combined them with similar articles of belief which
they had brought with them from their original settlements in the North,
where the existence of hags of the same character formed a great feature
in their Sagas and their Chronicles. It requires but a slight
acquaintance with these compositions to enable the reader to recognize
in the Galdrakinna of the Scalds the _Stryga_ or witch-woman of more
classical climates. In the northern ideas of witches there was no
irreligion concerned with their lore. On the contrary, the possession of
magical knowledge was an especial attribute of Odin himself; and to
intrude themselves upon a deity, and compel him to instruct them in what
they desired to know, was accounted not an act of impiety, but of
gallantry and high courage, among those sons of the sword and the spear.
Their matrons possessed a high reputation for magic, for prophetic
powers, for creating illusions; and, if not capable of transformations
of the human body, they were at least able to impose such fascination on
the sight of their enemies as to conceal for a period the objects of
which they were in search.

There is a remarkable story in the Eyrbiggia Saga ("Historia
Eyranorum"), giving the result of such a controversy between two of
these gifted women, one of whom was determined on discovering and
putting to death the son of the other, named Katla, who in a brawl had
cut off the hand of the daughter-in-law of Geirada. A party detached to
avenge this wrong, by putting Oddo to death, returned deceived by the
skill of his mother. They had found only Katla, they said, spinning flax
from a large distaff. "Fools," said Geirada, "that distaff was the man
you sought." They returned, seized the distaff, and burnt it. But this
second time, the witch disguised her son under the appearance of a tame
kid. A third time he was a hog, which grovelled among the ashes. The
party returned yet again; augmented as one of Katla's maidens, who kept
watch, informed her mistress, by one in a blue mantle. "Alas!" said
Katla, "it is the sorceress Geirada, against whom spells avail not."
Accordingly, the hostile party, entering for the fourth time, seized on
the object of their animosity, and put him to death.[15] This species of
witchcraft is well known in Scotland as the _glamour,_ or _deceptio
visus_, and was supposed to be a special attribute of the race of

[Footnote 15: Eyrbiggia Saga, in "Northern Antiquities."]

Neither are those prophetesses to be forgotten, so much honoured among
the German tribes, that, as we are assured by Tacitus, they rose to the
highest rank in their councils, by their supposed supernatural
knowledge, and even obtained a share in the direction of their armies.
This peculiarity in the habits of the North was so general, that it was
no unusual thing to see females, from respect to their supposed views
into futurity, and the degree of divine inspiration which was vouchsafed
to them, arise to the degree of HAXA, or chief priestess, from which
comes the word _Hexe_, now universally used for a witch; a circumstance
which plainly shows that the mythological system of the ancient natives
of the North had given to the modern language an appropriate word for
distinguishing those females who had intercourse with the spiritual

[Footnote 16: It may be worth while to notice that the word Haxa is
still used in Scotland in its sense of a druidess, or chief priestess,
to distinguish the places where such females exercised their ritual.
There is a species of small intrenchment on the western descent of the
Eildon hills, which Mr. Milne, in his account of the parish of Melrose,
drawn up about eighty years ago, says, was denominated _Bourjo_, a word
of unknown derivation, by which the place is still known. Here an
universal and subsisting tradition bore that human sacrifices were of
yore offered, while the people assisting could behold the ceremony from
the elevation of the glacis which slopes inward. With this place of
sacrifice communicated a path, still discernible, called the
_Haxell-gate_, leading to a small glen or narrow valley called the
_Haxellcleuch_--both which words are probably derived from the Haxa or
chief priestess of the pagans.]

It is undeniable that these Pythonesses were held in high respect while
the pagan religion lasted; but for that very reason they became odious
so soon as the tribe was converted to Christianity. They were, of
course, if they pretended to retain their influence, either despised as
impostors or feared as sorceresses; and the more that, in particular
instances, they became dreaded for their power, the more they were
detested, under the conviction that they derived it from the enemy of
man. The deities of the northern heathens underwent a similar
metamorphosis, resembling that proposed by Drawcansir in the
"Rehearsal," who threatens "to make a god subscribe himself a devil."

The warriors of the North received this new impression concerning the
influence of their deities, and the source from which it was derived,
with the more indifference, as their worship, when their mythology was
most generally established, was never of a very reverential or
devotional character. Their idea of their own merely human prowess was
so high, that the champions made it their boast, as we have already
hinted, they would not give way in fight even to the immortal gods
themselves. Such, we learn from Cæsar, was the idea of the Germans
concerning the Suevi, or Swabians, a tribe to whom the others yielded
the palm of valour; and many individual stories are told in the Sagas
concerning bold champions, who had fought, not only with the sorcerers,
but with the demigods of the system, and come off unharmed, if not
victorious, in the contest. Hother, for example, encountered the god
Thor in battle, as Diomede, in the Iliad, engages with Mars, and with
like success. Bartholsine[17] gives us repeated examples of the same
kind. "Know this," said Kiartan to Olaus Trigguasen, "that I believe
neither in idols nor demons. I have travelled through various strange
countries, and have encountered many giants and monsters, and have never
been conquered by them; I therefore put my sole trust in my own strength
of body and courage of soul." Another yet more broad answer was made to
St. Olaus, King of Norway, by Gaukater. "I am neither Pagan nor
Christian. My comrades and I profess no other religion than a perfect
confidence in our own strength and invincibility in battle." Such
chieftains were of the sect of Mezentius--

"Dextra mihi Deus, et telum, quod missile libro,
 Nunc adsint!"[18]

And we cannot wonder that champions of such a character, careless of
their gods while yet acknowledged as such, readily regarded them as
demons after their conversion to Christianity.

[Footnote 17: "De causis contemptæ necis," lib. i. cap 6.]

[Footnote 18: "Æneid," lib. x. line 773.]

To incur the highest extremity of danger became accounted a proof of
that insuperable valour for which every Northman desired to be famed,
and their annals afford numerous instances of encounters with ghosts,
witches, furies, and fiends, whom the Kiempé, or champions, compelled to
submit to their mere mortal strength, and yield to their service the
weapons or other treasures which they guarded in their tombs.

The Norsemen were the more prone to these superstitions, because it was
a favourite fancy of theirs that, in many instances, the change from
life to death altered the temper of the human spirit from benignant to
malevolent; or perhaps, that when the soul left the body, its departure
was occasionally supplied by a wicked demon, who took the opportunity to
enter and occupy its late habitation.

Upon such a supposition the wild fiction that follows is probably
grounded; which, extravagant as it is, possesses something striking to
the imagination. Saxo Grammaticus tells us of the fame of two Norse
princes or chiefs, who had formed what was called a brotherhood in arms,
implying not only the firmest friendship and constant support during all
the adventures which they should undertake in life, but binding them by
a solemn compact, that after the death of either, the survivor should
descend alive into the sepulchre of his brother-in-arms, and consent to
be buried alongst with him. The task of fulfilling this dreadful compact
fell upon Asmund, his companion, Assueit, having been slain in battle.
The tomb was formed after the ancient northern custom in what was called
the age of hills, that is, when it was usual to bury persons of
distinguished merit or rank on some conspicuous spot, which was crowned
with a mound. With this purpose a deep narrow vault was constructed, to
be the apartment of the future tomb over which the sepulchral heap was
to be piled. Here they deposited arms, trophies, poured forth, perhaps,
the blood of victims, introduced into the tomb the war-horses of the
champions, and when these rites had been duly paid, the body of Assueit
was placed in the dark and narrow house, while his faithful
brother-in-arms entered and sat down by the corpse, without a word or
look which testified regret or unwillingness to fulfil his fearful
engagement. The soldiers who had witnessed this singular interment of
the dead and living, rolled a huge stone to the mouth of the tomb, and
piled so much earth and stones above the spot as made a mound visible
from a great distance, and then, with loud lamentation for the loss of
such undaunted leaders, they dispersed themselves like a flock which has
lost its shepherd.

Years passed away after years, and a century had elapsed ere a noble
Swedish rover, bound upon some high adventure and supported by a gallant
band of followers, arrived in the valley which took its name from the
tomb of the brethren-in-arms. The story was told to the strangers, whose
leader determined on opening the sepulchre, partly because, as already
hinted, it was reckoned a heroic action to brave the anger of departed
heroes by violating their tombs; partly to attain the arms and swords of
proof with which the deceased had done their great actions. He set his
soldiers to work, and soon removed the earth and stones from one side of
the mound, and laid bare the entrance. But the stoutest of the rovers
started back when, instead of the silence of a tomb, they heard within
horrid cries, the clash of swords, the clang of armour, and all the
noise of a mortal combat between two furious champions. A young warrior
was let down into the profound tomb by a cord, which was drawn up
shortly after, in hopes of news from beneath. But when the adventurer
descended, some one threw him from the cord, and took his place in the
noose. When the rope was pulled up, the soldiers, instead of their
companion, beheld Asmund, the survivor of the brethren-in-arms. He
rushed into the open air, his sword drawn in his hand, his armour half
torn from his body, the left side of his face almost scratched off, as
by the talons of some wild beast. He had no sooner appeared in the light
of day, than, with the improvisatory poetic talent, which these
champions often united with heroic strength and bravery, he poured forth
a string of verses containing the history of his hundred years' conflict
within the tomb. It seems that no sooner was the sepulchre closed than
the corpse of the slain Assueit arose from the ground, inspired by some
ravenous goule, and having first torn to pieces and devoured the horses
which had been entombed with them, threw himself upon the companion who
had just given him such a sign of devoted friendship, in order to treat
him in the same manner. The hero, no way discountenanced by the horrors
of his situation, took to his arms, and defended himself manfully
against Assueit, or rather against the evil demon who tenanted that
champion's body. In this manner the living brother waged a preternatural
combat, which had endured during a whole century, when Asmund, at last
obtaining the victory, prostrated his enemy, and by driving, as he
boasted, a stake through his body, had finally reduced him to the state
of quiet becoming a tenant of the tomb. Having chanted the triumphant
account of his contest and victory, this mangled conqueror fell dead
before them. The body of Assueit was taken out of the tomb, burnt, and
the ashes dispersed to heaven; whilst that of the victor, now lifeless
and without a companion, was deposited there, so that it was hoped his
slumbers might remain undisturbed.[19] The precautions taken against
Assueit's reviving a second time, remind us of those adopted in the
Greek islands and in the Turkish provinces against the vampire. It
affords also a derivation of the ancient English law in case of suicide,
when a stake was driven through the body, originally to keep it secure
in the tomb.

[Footnote 19: See Saxo Grammaticus, "Hist. Dan.," lib. v.]

The Northern people also acknowledged a kind of ghosts, who, when they
had obtained possession of a building, or the right of haunting it, did
not defend themselves against mortals on the knightly principle of duel,
like Assueit, nor were amenable to the prayers of the priest or the
spells of the sorcerer, but became tractable when properly convened in a
legal process. The Eyrbiggia Saga acquaints us, that the mansion of a
respectable landholder in Iceland was, soon after the settlement of that
island, exposed to a persecution of this kind. The molestation was
produced by the concurrence of certain mystical and spectral phenomena,
calculated to introduce such persecution. About the commencement of
winter, with that slight exchange of darkness and twilight which
constitutes night and day in these latitudes, a contagious disease arose
in a family of consequence and in the neighbourhood, which, sweeping off
several members of the family at different times, seemed to threaten
them all with death. But the death of these persons was attended with
the singular consequence that their spectres were seen to wander in the
neighbourhood of the mansion-house, terrifying, and even assaulting,
those of the living family who ventured abroad. As the number of the
dead members of the devoted household seemed to increase in proportion
to that of the survivors, the ghosts took it upon them to enter the
house, and produce their aërial forms and wasted physiognomy, even in
the stove where the fire was maintained for the general use of the
inhabitants, and which, in an Iceland winter, is the only comfortable
place of assembling the family. But the remaining inhabitants of the
place, terrified by the intrusion of these spectres, chose rather to
withdraw to the other extremity of the house, and abandon their warm
seats, than to endure the neighbourhood of the phantoms. Complaints were
at length made to a pontiff of the god Thor, named Snorro, who exercised
considerable influence in the island. By his counsel, the young
proprietor of the haunted mansion assembled a jury, or inquest, of his
neighbours, constituted in the usual judicial form, as if to judge an
ordinary civil matter, and proceeded, in their presence, to cite
individually the various phantoms and resemblances of the deceased
members of the family, to show by what warrant they disputed with him
and his servants the quiet possession of his property, and what defence
they could plead for thus interfering with and incommoding the living.
The spectres of the dead, by name, and in order as summoned, appeared on
their being called, and muttering some regrets at being obliged to
abandon their dwelling, departed, or vanished, from the astonished
inquest. Judgment then went against the ghosts by default; and the trial
by jury, of which we here can trace the origin, obtained a triumph
unknown to any of the great writers who have made it the subject of

[Footnote 20: Eyrbiggia Saga. See "Northern Antiquities."]

It was not only with the spirits of the dead that the warlike people of
the North made war without timidity, and successfully entered into suits
of ejectment. These daring champions often braved the indignation even
of the superior deities of their mythology, rather than allow that there
existed any being before whom their boldness could quail. Such is the
singular story how a young man of high courage, in crossing a desolate
ridge of mountains, met with a huge waggon, in which the goddess, Freya
(_i.e._, a gigantic idol formed to represent her), together with her
shrine, and the wealthy offerings attached to it, was travelling from
one district of the country to another. The shrine, or sanctuary of the
idol, was, like a modern caravan travelling with a show, screened by
boards and curtains from the public gaze, and the equipage was under the
immediate guidance of the priestess of Freya, a young, good-looking, and
attractive woman. The traveller naturally associated himself with the
priestess, who, as she walked on foot, apparently was in no degree
displeased with the company of a powerful and handsome young man, as a
guide and companion on the journey. It chanced, however, that the
presence of the champion, and his discourse with the priestess, was less
satisfactory to the goddess than to the parties principally concerned.
By a certain signal the divinity summoned the priestess to the
sanctuary, who presently returned, with tears in her eyes and terror in
her countenance, to inform her companion that it was the will of Freya
that he should depart, and no longer travel in their company. "You must
have mistaken the meaning of the goddess," said the champion; "Freya
cannot have formed a wish so unreasonable as to desire I should abandon
the straight and good road, which leads me directly on my journey, to
choose precipitous paths and by-roads, where I may break my neck."
"Nevertheless," said the priestess, "the goddess will be highly offended
if you disobey her commands, nor can I conceal from you that she may
personally assault you." "It will be at her own peril if she should be
so audacious," said the champion, "for I will try the power of this axe
against the strength of beams and boards." The priestess chid him for
his impiety; but being unable to compel him to obey the goddess's
mandate, they again relapsed into familiarity, which advanced to such a
point that a clattering noise within the tabernacle, as of machinery put
in motion, intimated to the travellers that Freya, who perhaps had some
qualities in common with the classical Vesta, thought a personal
interruption of this tête-à-tête ought to be deferred no longer. The
curtains flew open, and the massive and awkward idol, who, we may
suppose, resembled in form the giant created by Frankenstein, leapt
lumbering from the carriage, and, rushing on the intrusive traveller,
dealt him, with its wooden hands and arms, such tremendous blows, as
were equally difficult to parry or to endure. But the champion was armed
with a double-edged Danish axe, with which he bestirred himself with so
much strength and activity, that at length he split the head of the
image, and with a severe blow hewed off its left leg. The image of Freya
then fell motionless to the ground, and the demon which had animated it
fled yelling from the battered tenement. The champion was now victor;
and, according to the law of arms, took possession of the female and the
baggage. The priestess, the divinity of whose patroness had been by the
event of the combat sorely lessened in her eyes, was now easily induced
to become the associate and concubine of the conqueror. She accompanied
him to the district whither he was travelling, and there displayed the
shrine of Freya, taking care to hide the injuries which the goddess had
received in the brawl. The champion came in for a share of a gainful
trade driven by the priestess, besides appropriating to himself most of
the treasures which the sanctuary had formerly contained. Neither does
it appear that Freya, having, perhaps, a sensible recollection of the
power of the axe, ever again ventured to appear in person for the
purpose of calling her false stewards to account.

The national estimation of deities, concerning whom such stories could
be told and believed, was, of course, of no deep or respectful
character. The Icelanders abandoned Odin, Freya, Thor, and their whole
pagan mythology, in consideration of a single disputation between the
heathen priests and the Christian missionaries. The priests threatened
the island with a desolating eruption of the volcano called Hecla, as
the necessary consequence of the vengeance of their deities. Snorro, the
same who advised the inquest against the ghosts, had become a convert to
the Christian religion, and was present on the occasion, and as the
conference was held on the surface of what had been a stream of lava,
now covered with vegetable substances, he answered the priests with much
readiness, "To what was the indignation of the gods owing when the
substance on which we stand was fluid and scorching? Believe me, men of
Iceland, the eruption of the volcano depends on natural circumstances
now as it did then, and is not the engine of vengeance intrusted to Thor
and Odin." It is evident that men who reasoned with so much accuracy
concerning the imbecility of Odin and Thor were well prepared, on
abandoning their worship, to consider their former deities, of whom they
believed so much that was impious, in the light of evil demons.

But there were some particulars of the Northern creed in which it
corresponded so exactly with that of the classics as leaves room to
doubt whether the original Asæ, or Asiatics, the founders of the
Scandinavian system, had, before their migration from Asia, derived them
from some common source with those of the Greeks and Romans; or whether,
on the other hand, the same proneness of the human mind to superstition
has caused that similar ideas are adopted in different regions, as the
same plants are found in distant countries without the one, as far as
can be discovered, having obtained the seed from the others.

The classical fiction, for example, of the satyrs and other subordinate
deities of wood and wild, whose power is rather delusive than
formidable, and whose supernatural pranks intimate rather a wish to
inflict terror than to do hurt, was received among the Northern people,
and perhaps transferred by them to the Celtic tribes. It is an idea
which seems common to many nations. The existence of a satyr, in the
silvan form, is even pretended to be proved by the evidence of Saint
Anthony, to whom one is said to have appeared in the desert. The
Scottish Gael have an idea of the same kind, respecting a goblin called
_Ourisk_, whose form is like that of Pan, and his attendants something
between a man and a goat, the nether extremities being in the latter
form. A species of cavern, or rather hole, in the rock, affords to the
wildest retreat in the romantic neighbourhood of Loch Katrine a name
taken from classical superstition. It is not the least curious
circumstance that from this silvan deity the modern nations of Europe
have borrowed the degrading and unsuitable emblems of the goat's visage
and form, the horns, hoofs, and tail, with which they have depicted the
author of evil when it pleased him to show himself on earth. So that the
alteration of a single word would render Pope's well-known line more
truly adapted to the fact, should we venture to read--

"And Pan to _Satan_ lends his heathen horn."

We cannot attribute the transferrence of the attributes of the Northern
satyr, or Celtic ourisk, to the arch-fiend, to any particular
resemblance between the character of these deities and that of Satan. On
the contrary, the ourisk of the Celts was a creature by no means
peculiarly malevolent or formidably powerful, but rather a melancholy
spirit, which dwelt in wildernesses far removed from men. If we are to
identify him with the Brown Dwarf of the Border moors, the ourisk has a
mortal term of life and a hope of salvation, as indeed the same high
claim was made by the satyr who appeared to St. Anthony. Moreover, the
Highland ourisk was a species of lubber fiend, and capable of being
over-reached by those who understood philology. It is related of one of
these goblins which frequented a mill near the foot of Loch Lomond, that
the miller, desiring to get rid of this meddling spirit, who injured the
machinery by setting the water on the wheel when there was no grain to
be grinded, contrived to have a meeting with the goblin by watching in
his mill till night. The ourisk then entered, and demanded the miller's
name, and was informed that he was called _Myself_; on which is founded
a story almost exactly like that of OUTIS in the "Odyssey," a tale
which, though classic, is by no means an elegant or ingenious fiction,
but which we are astonished to find in an obscure district, and in the
Celtic tongue, seeming to argue some connexion or communication between
these remote Highlands of Scotland and the readers of Homer in former
days, which we cannot account for. After all, perhaps, some Churchman
more learned than his brethren may have transferred the legend from
Sicily to Duncrune, from the shores of the Mediterranean to those of
Loch Lomond. I have heard it also told that the celebrated freebooter,
Rob Roy, once gained a victory by disguising a part of his men with
goat-skins, so as to resemble the _ourisk_ or Highland satyr.

There was an individual satyr called, I think, Meming, belonging to the
Scandinavian mythology, of a character different from the ourisk, though
similar in shape, whom it was the boast of the highest champions to seek
out in the solitudes which he inhabited. He was an armourer of extreme
dexterity, and the weapons which he forged were of the highest value.
But as club-law pervaded the ancient system of Scandinavia, Meming had
the humour of refusing to work for any customer save such as compelled
him to it with force of arms. He may be, perhaps, identified with the
recusant smith who fled before Fingal from Ireland to the Orkneys, and
being there overtaken, was compelled to forge the sword which Fingal
afterwards wore in all his battles, and which was called the Son of the
dark brown Luno, from the name of the armourer who forged it.[21]

[Footnote 21: The weapon is often mentioned in Mr. MacPherson's
paraphrases; but the Irish ballad, which gives a spirited account of the
debate between the champion and the armourer, is nowhere introduced.]

From this it will appear that there were originals enough in the
mythology of the Goths, as well as Celts, to furnish the modern
attributes ascribed to Satan in later times, when the object of painter
or poet was to display him in his true form and with all his terrors.
Even the genius of Guido and of Tasso have been unable to surmount this
prejudice, the more rooted, perhaps, that the wicked are described as
goats in Scripture, and that the devil is called the old dragon. In
Raffael's famous painting of the archangel Michael binding Satan, the
dignity, power, and angelic character expressed by the seraph form an
extraordinary contrast to the poor conception of a being who ought not,
even in that lowest degradation, to have seemed so unworthy an
antagonist. Neither has Tasso been more happy, where he represents the
divan of darkness in the enchanted forest as presided over by a monarch
having a huge tail, hoofs, and all the usual accompaniments of popular
diablerie. The genius of Milton alone could discard all these vulgar
puerilities, and assign to the author of evil the terrible dignity of
one who should seem not "less than archangel ruined." This species of
degradation is yet grosser when we take into consideration the changes
which popular opinions have wrought respecting the taste, habits,
powers, modes of tempting, and habits of tormenting, which are such as
might rather be ascribed to some stupid superannuated and doting ogre of
a fairy tale, than to the powerful-minded demon who fell through pride
and rebellion, not through folly or incapacity.

Having, however, adopted our present ideas of the devil as they are
expressed by his nearest acquaintances, the witches, from the accounts
of satyrs, which seem to have been articles of faith both among the
Celtic and Gothic tribes, we must next notice another fruitful fountain
of demonological fancies. But as this source of the mythology of the
Middle Ages must necessarily comprehend some account of the fairy folk,
to whom much of it must be referred, it is necessary to make a pause
before we enter upon the mystic and marvellous connexion supposed to
exist between the impenitent kingdom of Satan and those merry dancers by


    The Fairy Superstition is derived from different sources--The
    Classical Worship of the Silvans, or Rural Deities, proved by Roman
    Altars discovered--The Gothic Duergar, or Dwarfs--Supposed to be
    derived from the Northern Laps, or Fins--"The
    Niebelungen-Lied"--King Laurin's Adventure--Celtic Fairies of a
    gayer character, yet their pleasures empty and illusory--Addicted to
    carry off Human Beings, both Infants and Adults--Adventures of a
    Butler in Ireland--The Elves supposed to pay a Tax to Hell--The
    Irish, Welsh, Highlanders, and Manxmen held the same belief--It was
    rather rendered more gloomy by the Northern Traditions--Merlin and
    Arthur carried off by the Fairies--Also Thomas of Erceldoune--His
    Amour with the Queen of Elfland--His re-appearance in latter
    times--Another account from Reginald Scot--Conjectures on the
    derivation of the word Fairy.

We may premise by observing, that the classics had not forgotten to
enrol in their mythology a certain species of subordinate deities,
resembling the modern elves in their habits. Good old Mr. Gibb, of the
Advocates' Library (whom all lawyers whose youth he assisted in their
studies, by his knowledge of that noble collection, are bound to name
with gratitude), used to point out, amongst the ancient altars under his
charge, one which is consecrated, _Diis campestribus,_ and usually
added, with a wink, "The fairies, ye ken."[22] This relic of antiquity
was discovered near Roxburgh Castle, and a vicinity more delightfully
appropriate to the abode of the silvan deities can hardly be found.

[Footnote 22: Another altar of elegant form and perfectly preserved,
was, within these few weeks, dug up near the junction of the Leader and
the Tweed, in the neighbourhood of the village of Newstead, to the east
of Melrose. It was inscribed by Carrius Domitianus, the prefect of the
twentieth legion, to the god Sylvanus, forming another instance how much
the wild and silvan character of the country disposed the feelings of
the Romans to acknowledge the presence of the rural deities. The altar
is preserved at Drygrange, the seat of Mr. Tod.]

Two rivers of considerable size, made yet more remarkable by the fame
which has rendered them in some sort classical, unite their streams
beneath the vestiges of an extensive castle, renowned in the wars with
England, and for the valiant, noble, and even royal blood, which has
been shed around and before it--a landscape ornamented with the distant
village and huge abbey tower of Kelso, arising out of groves of aged
trees--the modern mansion of Fleurs, with its terrace, its woods, and
its extensive lawn--form altogether a kingdom for Oberon and Titania to
reign in, or any spirit who, before their time, might love scenery, of
which the majesty, and even the beauty, impress the mind with a sense of
awe mingled with pleasure. These silvans, satyrs, and fauns with whom
superstition peopled the lofty banks and tangled copses of this romantic
country, were obliged to give place to deities very nearly resembling
themselves in character, who probably derive some of their attributes
from their classic predecessors, although more immediately allied to the
barbarian conquerors. We allude to the fairies, which, as received into
the popular creed, and as described by the poets who have made use of
them as machinery, are certainly among the most pleasing legacies of

Dr. Leyden, who exhausted on this subject, as upon most others, a
profusion of learning, found the first idea of the elfin people in the
Northern opinions concerning the duergar, or dwarfs.[23] These were,
however, it must be owned, spirits of a coarser sort, more laborious
vocation, and more malignant temper, and in all respects less propitious
to humanity, than the fairies (properly so called), which were the
invention of the Celtic people, and displayed that superiority of taste
and fancy which, with the love of music and poetry, has been generally
ascribed to their race, through its various classes and modifications.

[Footnote 23: See the essay on the Fairy Superstition, in the
"Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," of which many of the materials were
contributed by Dr. Leyden, and the whole brought into its present form
by the author.]

In fact, there seems reason to conclude that these duergar were
originally nothing else than the diminutive natives of the Lappish,
Lettish, and Finnish nations, who, flying before the conquering weapons
of the Asæ, sought the most retired regions of the North, and there
endeavoured to hide themselves from their Eastern invaders. They were a
little, diminutive race, but possessed of some skill probably in mining
or smelting minerals, with which the country abounds. Perhaps also they
might, from their acquaintance with the changes of the clouds, or
meteorological phenomena, be judges of weather, and so enjoy another
title to supernatural skill. At any rate, it has been plausibly supposed
that these poor people, who sought caverns and hiding-places from the
persecution of the Asæ, were in some respects compensated for
inferiority in strength and stature by the art and power with which the
superstition of the enemy invested them. These oppressed yet dreaded
fugitives obtained, naturally enough, the character of the German
spirits called Kobold, from which the English goblin and the Scottish
bogle, by some inversion and alteration of pronunciation, are evidently

The Kobolds were a species of gnomes, who haunted the dark and solitary
places, and were often seen in the mines, where they seemed to imitate
the labours of the miners, and sometimes took pleasure in frustrating
their objects and rendering their toil unfruitful. Sometimes they were
malignant, especially if neglected or insulted; but sometimes also they
were indulgent to individuals whom they took under their protection.
When a miner, therefore, hit upon a rich vein of ore, the inference
commonly was, not that he possessed more skill, industry, or even luck,
than his fellow-workmen, but that the spirits of the mine had directed
him to the treasure. The employment and apparent occupation of these
subterranean gnomes or fiends, led very naturally to identify the Fin,
or Laplander, with the Kobold; but it was a bolder stretch of the
imagination which confounded this reserved and sullen race with the
livelier and gayer spirit which bears correspondence with the British
fairy. Neither can we be surprised that the duergar, ascribed by many
persons to this source, should exhibit a darker and more malignant
character than the elves that revel by moonlight in more southern

According to the old Norse belief, these dwarfs form the current
machinery of the Northern Sagas, and their inferiority in size is
represented as compensated by skill and wisdom superior to those of
ordinary mortals. In the "Niebelungen-Lied," one of the oldest romances
of Germany, and compiled, it would seem, not long after the time of
Attila, Theodorick of Bern, or of Verona, figures among a cycle of
champions over whom he presides, like the Charlemagne of France or
Arthur of England. Among others vanquished by him is the Elf King, or
Dwarf Laurin, whose dwelling was in an enchanted garden of roses, and
who had a body-guard of giants, a sort of persons seldom supposed to be
themselves conjurers. He becomes a formidable opponent to Theodorick and
his chivalry; but as he attempted by treachery to attain the victory, he
is, when overcome, condemned to fill the dishonourable yet appropriate
office of buffoon and juggler at the Court of Verona.[24]

[Footnote 24: See an abstract, by the late learned Henry Weber, of "A
Lay on this subject of King Laurin," complied by Henry of Osterdingen.
"Northern Antiquities," Edinburgh, 1814.]

Such possession of supernatural wisdom is still imputed by the natives
of the Orkney and Zetland Islands to the people called _Drows_, being a
corruption of duergar or _dwarfs_, and who may, in most other respects,
be identified with the Caledonian fairies. Lucas Jacobson Debes, who
dates his description of Feroe from his Pathmos, in Thorshaven, March
12, 1670, dedicates a long chapter to the spectres who disturbed his
congregation, and sometimes carried off his hearers. The actors in these
disturbances he states to be the _Skow_, or _Biergen-Trold_--_i.e._, the
spirits of the woods and mountains, sometimes called subterranean
people, and adds, they appeared in deep caverns and among horrid rocks;
as also, that they haunted the places where murders or other deeds of
mortal sin had been acted. They appear to have been the genuine northern
dwarfs, or Trows, another pronunciation of Trollds, and are considered
by the reverend author as something very little better than actual

But it is not only, or even chiefly, to the Gothic race that we must
trace the opinions concerning the elves of the middle ages; these, as
already hinted, were deeply blended with the attributes which the Celtic
tribes had, from the remotest ages, ascribed to their deities of rocks,
valleys, and forests. We have already observed, what indeed makes a
great feature of their national character, that the power of the
imagination is peculiarly active among the Celts, and leads to an
enthusiasm concerning national music and dancing, national poetry and
song, the departments in which fancy most readily indulges herself. The
Irish, the Welsh, the Gael, or Scottish Highlander, all tribes of Celtic
descent, assigned to the Men of Peace, Good Neighbours, or by whatever
other names they called these sylvan pigmies, more social habits, and a
course of existence far more gay, than the sullen and heavy toils of the
more saturnine Duergar. Their elves did not avoid the society of men,
though they behaved to those who associated with them with caprice,
which rendered it dangerous to displease them; and although their gifts
were sometimes valuable, they were usually wantonly given and
unexpectedly resumed.

The employment, the benefits, the amusements of the Fairy court,
resembled the aerial people themselves. Their government was always
represented as monarchical. A King, more frequently a Queen of Fairies,
was acknowledged; and sometimes both held their court together. Their
pageants and court entertainments comprehended all that the imagination
could conceive of what was, by that age, accounted gallant and splendid.
At their processions they paraded more beautiful steeds than those of
mere earthly parentage--the hawks and hounds which they employed in
their chase were of the first race. At their daily banquets, the board
was set forth with a splendour which the proudest kings of the earth
dared not aspire to; and the hall of their dancers echoed to the most
exquisite music. But when viewed by the eye of a seer the illusion
vanished. The young knights and beautiful ladies showed themselves as
wrinkled carles and odious hags--their wealth turned into
slate-stones--their splendid plate into pieces of clay fantastically
twisted--and their victuals, unsavoured by salt (prohibited to them, we
are told, because an emblem of eternity), became tasteless and
insipid--the stately halls were turned into miserable damp caverns--all
the delights of the Elfin Elysium vanished at once. In a word, their
pleasures were showy, but totally unsubstantial--their activity
unceasing, but fruitless and unavailing--and their condemnation appears
to have consisted in the necessity of maintaining the appearance of
constant industry or enjoyment, though their toil was fruitless and
their pleasures shadowy and unsubstantial. Hence poets have designed
them as "_the crew that never rest_." Besides the unceasing and useless
bustle in which these spirits seemed to live, they had propensities
unfavourable and distressing to mortals.

One injury of a very serious nature was supposed to be constantly
practised by the fairies against "the human mortals," that of carrying
off their children, and breeding them as beings of their race.
Unchristened infants were chiefly exposed to this calamity; but adults
were also liable to be abstracted from earthly commerce, notwithstanding
it was their natural sphere. With respect to the first, it may be easily
conceived that the want of the sacred ceremony of introduction into the
Christian church rendered them the more obnoxious to the power of those
creatures, who, if not to be in all respects considered as fiends, had
nevertheless, considering their constant round of idle occupation,
little right to rank themselves among good spirits, and were accounted
by most divines as belonging to a very different class. An adult, on the
other hand, must have been engaged in some action which exposed him to
the power of the spirits, and so, as the legal phrase went, "taken in
the manner." Sleeping on a fairy mount, within which the Fairy court
happened to be held for the time, was a very ready mode of obtaining a
pass for Elfland. It was well for the individual if the irate elves were
contented, on such occasions, with transporting him through the air to a
city at some forty miles' distance, and leaving, perhaps, his hat or
bonnet on some steeple between, to mark the direct line of his course.
Others, when engaged in some unlawful action, or in the act of giving
way to some headlong and sinful passion, exposed themselves also to
become inmates of Fairyland.

The same belief on these points obtained in Ireland. Glanville, in his
"Eighteenth Relation," tells us of the butler of a gentleman, a
neighbour of the Earl of Orrery, who was sent to purchase cards. In
crossing the fields, he saw a table surrounded by people apparently
feasting and making merry. They rose to salute him, and invited him to
join in their revel; but a friendly voice from the party whispered in
his ear, "Do nothing which this company invite you to." Accordingly,
when he refused to join in feasting, the table vanished, and the company
began to dance and play on musical instruments; but the butler would not
take part in these recreations. They then left off dancing, and betook
themselves to work; but neither in this would the mortal join them. He
was then left alone for the present; but in spite of the exertions of my
Lord Orrery, in spite of two bishops who were his guests at the time, in
spite of the celebrated Mr. Greatrix, it was all they could do to
prevent the butler from being carried off bodily from amongst them by
the fairies, who considered him as their lawful prey. They raised him in
the air above the heads of the mortals, who could only run beneath, to
break his fall when they pleased to let him go. The spectre which
formerly advised the poor man continued to haunt him, and at length
discovered himself to be the ghost of an acquaintance who had been dead
for seven years. "You know," added he, "I lived a loose life, and ever
since have I been hurried up and down in a restless condition, with the
company you saw, and shall be till the day of judgment." He added, "that
if the butler had acknowledged God in all his ways, he had not suffered
so much by their means; he reminded him that he had not prayed to God in
the morning before he met with this company in the field, and, moreover,
that he was then going on an unlawful business."

It is pretended that Lord Orrery confirmed the whole of this story, even
to having seen the butler raised into the air by the invisible beings
who strove to carry him off. Only he did not bear witness to the passage
which seems to call the purchase of cards an unlawful errand.[25]

[Footnote 25: "Sadducismus Triumphatus," by Joseph Glanville, p. 131.
Edinburgh, 1790.]

Individuals, whose lives had been engaged in intrigues of politics or
stratagems of war, were sometimes surreptitiously carried off to
Fairyland; as Alison Pearson, the sorceress who cured Archbishop
Adamson, averred that she had recognised in the Fairy court the
celebrated Secretary Lethington and the old Knight of Buccleuch, the one
of whom had been the most busy politician, the other one of the most
unwearied partisans of Queen Mary, during the reign of that unfortunate
queen. Upon the whole, persons carried off by sudden death were usually
suspected of having fallen into the hands of the fairies, and unless
redeemed from their power, which it was not always safe to attempt, were
doomed to conclude their lives with them. We must not omit to state that
those who had an intimate communication with these spirits, while they
were yet inhabitants of middle earth, were most apt to be seized upon
and carried off to Elfland before their death.

The reason assigned for this kidnapping of the human race, so peculiar
to the elfin people, is said to be that they were under a necessity of
paying to the infernal regions a yearly tribute out of their population,
which they were willing to defray by delivering up to the prince of
these regions the children of the human race, rather than their own.
From this it must be inferred, that they have offspring among
themselves, as it is said by some authorities, and particularly by Mr.
Kirke, the minister of Aberfoyle. He indeed adds that, after a certain
length of life, these spirits are subject to the universal lot of
mortality--a position, however, which has been controverted, and is
scarcely reconcilable to that which holds them amenable to pay a tax to
hell, which infers existence as eternal as the fire which is not
quenched. The opinions on the subject of the fairy people here
expressed, are such as are entertained in the Highlands and some remote
quarters of the Lowlands of Scotland. We know, from the lively and
entertaining legends published by Mr. Crofton Croker--which, though in
most cases told with the wit of the editor and the humour of his
country, contain points of curious antiquarian information--that the
opinions of the Irish are conformable to the account we have given of
the general creed of the Celtic nations respecting elves. If the Irish
elves are anywise distinguished from those of Britain, it seems to be by
their disposition to divide into factions and fight among themselves--a
pugnacity characteristic of the Green Isle. The Welsh fairies, according
to John Lewis, barrister-at-law, agree in the same general attributes
with those of Ireland and Britain. We must not omit the creed of the
Manxmen, since we find, from the ingenious researches of Mr. Waldron,
that the Isle of Man, beyond other places in Britain, was a peculiar
depository of the fairy traditions, which, on the island being conquered
by the Norse, became, in all probability, chequered with those of
Scandinavia from a source peculiar and more direct than that by which
they reached Scotland or Ireland.

Such as it was, the popular system of the Celts easily received the
northern admixture of Drows and Duergar, which gave the belief, perhaps,
a darker colouring than originally belonged to the British fairyland. It
was from the same source also, in all probability, that additional
legends were obtained of a gigantic and malignant female, the Hecate of
this mythology, who rode on the storm and marshalled the rambling host
of wanderers under her grim banner. This hag (in all respects the
reverse of the Mab or Titania of the Celtic creed) was called Nicneven
in that later system which blended the faith of the Celts and of the
Goths on this subject. The great Scottish poet Dunbar has made a
spirited description of this Hecate riding at the head of witches and
good neighbours (fairies, namely), sorceresses and elves, indifferently,
upon the ghostly eve of All-Hallow Mass.[26] In Italy we hear of the
hags arraying themselves under the orders of Diana (in her triple
character of Hecate, doubtless) and Herodias, who were the joint leaders
of their choir. But we return to the more simple fairy belief, as
entertained by the Celts before they were conquered by the Saxons.

[Footnote 26: See "Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy."]

Of these early times we can know little; but it is singular to remark
what light the traditions of Scotland throw upon the poetry of the
Britons of Cumberland, then called Reged. Merlin Wyllt, or the wild, is
mentioned by both; and that renowned wizard, the son of an elf or fairy,
with King Arthur, the dubious champion of Britain at that early period,
were both said by tradition to have been abstracted by the fairies, and
to have vanished without having suffered death, just at the time when it
was supposed that the magic of the wizard and the celebrated sword of
the monarch, which had done so much to preserve British independence,
could no longer avert the impending ruin. It may be conjectured that
there was a desire on the part of Arthur or his surviving champions to
conceal his having received a mortal wound in the fatal battle of
Camlan; and to that we owe the wild and beautiful incident so finely
versified by Bishop Percy, in which, in token of his renouncing in
future the use of arms, the monarch sends his attendant, sole survivor
of the field, to throw his sword Excalibar into the lake hard by. Twice
eluding the request, the esquire at last complied, and threw the
far-famed weapon into the lonely mere. A hand and arm arose from the
water and caught Excalibar by the hilt, flourished it thrice, and then
sank into the lake.[27] The astonished messenger returned to his master
to tell him the marvels he had seen, but he only saw a boat at a
distance push from the land, and heard shrieks of females in agony:--

"And whether the king was there or not
  He never knew, he never colde
 For never since that doleful day
  Was British Arthur seen on molde."

[Footnote 27: See "Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry."]

The circumstances attending the disappearance of Merlin would probably
be found as imaginative as those of Arthur's removal, but they cannot be
recovered; and what is singular enough, circumstances which originally
belonged to the history of this famous bard, said to be the son of the
Demon himself, have been transferred to a later poet, and surely one of
scarce inferior name, Thomas of Erceldoune. The legend was supposed to
be only preserved among the inhabitants of his native valleys, but a
copy as old as the reign of Henry VII. has been recovered. The story is
interesting and beautifully told, and, as one of the oldest fairy
legends, may well be quoted in this place.

Thomas of Erceldoune, in Lauderdale, called the Rhymer, on account of
his producing a poetical romance on the subject of Tristrem and Yseult,
which is curious as the earliest specimen of English verse known to
exist, flourished in the reign of Alexander III. of Scotland. Like other
men of talent of the period, Thomas was suspected of magic. He was said
also to have the gift of prophecy, which was accounted for in the
following peculiar manner, referring entirely to the elfin
superstition:--As True Thomas (we give him the epithet by anticipation)
lay on Huntly Bank, a place on the descent of the Eildon Hills, which
raise their triple crest above the celebrated Monastery of Melrose, he
saw a lady so extremely beautiful that he imagined it must be the Virgin
Mary herself. Her appointments, however, were rather those of an Amazon
or goddess of the woods. Her steed was of the highest beauty and spirit,
and at his mane hung thirty silver bells and nine, which made music to
the wind as she paced along. Her saddle was of _royal bone_ (ivory),
laid over with _orfeverie_--_i.e._, goldsmith's work. Her stirrups, her
dress, all corresponded with her extreme beauty and the magnificence of
her array. The fair huntress had her bow in her hand, and her arrows at
her belt. She led three greyhounds in a leash, and three raches, or
hounds of scent, followed her closely. She rejected and disclaimed the
homage which Thomas desired to pay to her; so that, passing from one
extremity to the other, Thomas became as bold as he had at first been
humble. The lady warns him that he must become her slave if he should
prosecute his suit towards her in the manner he proposes. Before their
interview terminates, the appearance of the beautiful lady is changed
into that of the most hideous hag in existence. One side is blighted and
wasted, as if by palsy; one eye drops from her head; her colour, as
clear as the virgin silver, is now of a dun leaden hue. A witch from the
spital or almshouse would have been a goddess in comparison to the late
beautiful huntress. Hideous as she was, Thomas's irregular desires had
placed him under the control of this hag, and when she bade him take
leave of sun, and of the leaf that grew on tree, he felt himself under
the necessity of obeying her. A cavern received them, in which,
following his frightful guide, he for three days travelled in darkness,
sometimes hearing the booming of a distant ocean, sometimes walking
through rivers of blood, which crossed their subterranean path. At
length they emerged into daylight, in a most beautiful orchard. Thomas,
almost fainting for want of food, stretches out his hand towards the
goodly fruit which hangs around him, but is forbidden by his
conductress, who informs him these are the fatal apples which were the
cause of the fall of man. He perceives also that his guide had no sooner
entered this mysterious ground, and breathed its magic air, than she was
revived in beauty, equipage, and splendour, as fair, or fairer, than he
had first seen her on the mountain. She then commands him to lay his
head upon her knee, and proceeds to explain to him the character of the
country. "Yonder right-hand path," she says, "conveys the spirits of the
blessed to Paradise; yon downward and well-worn way leads sinful souls
to the place of everlasting punishment; the third road, by yonder dark
brake, conducts to the milder place of pain from which prayer and mass
may release offenders. But see you yet a fourth road, sweeping along the
plain to yonder splendid castle? Yonder is the road to Elfland, to which
we are now bound. The lord of the castle is king of the country, and I
am his queen. But, Thomas, I would rather be drawn with wild horses,
than he should know what hath passed between you and me. Therefore, when
we enter yonder castle, observe strict silence, and answer no question
that is asked at you, and I will account for your silence by saying I
took your speech when I brought you from middle earth."

Having thus instructed her lover, they journeyed on to the castle, and
entering by the kitchen, found themselves in the midst of such a festive
scene as might become the mansion of a great feudal lord or prince.
Thirty carcases of deer were lying on the massive kitchen board, under
the hands of numerous cooks, who toiled to cut them up and dress them,
while the gigantic greyhounds which had taken the spoil lay lapping the
blood, and enjoying the sight of the slain game. They came next to the
royal hall, where the king received his loving consort without censure
or suspicion. Knights and ladies, dancing by threes (reels perhaps),
occupied the floor of the hall, and Thomas, the fatigues of his journey
from the Eildon hills forgotten, went forward and joined in the revelry.
After a period, however, which seemed to him a very short one, the queen
spoke with him apart, and bade him prepare to return to his own country.
"Now," said the queen, "how long think you that you have been here?"
"Certes, fair lady," answered Thomas, "not above these seven days." "You
are deceived," answered the queen, "you have been seven _years_ in this
castle; and it is full time you were gone. Know, Thomas, that the fiend
of hell will come to this castle to-morrow to demand his tribute, and so
handsome a man as you will attract his eye. For all the world would I
not suffer you to be betrayed to such a fate; therefore up, and let us
be going." These terrible news reconciled Thomas to his departure from
Elfin land, and the queen was not long in placing him upon Huntly bank,
where the birds were singing. She took a tender leave of him, and to
ensure his reputation, bestowed on him the tongue which _could not lie_.
Thomas in vain objected to this inconvenient and involuntary adhesion to
veracity, which would make him, as he thought, unfit for church or for
market, for king's court or for lady's bower. But all his remonstrances
were disregarded by the lady, and Thomas the Rhymer, whenever the
discourse turned on the future, gained the credit of a prophet whether
he would or not; for he could say nothing but what was sure to come to
pass. It is plain that had Thomas been a legislator instead of a poet,
we have here the story of Numa and Egeria. Thomas remained several years
in his own tower near Erceldoune, and enjoyed the fame of his
predictions, several of which are current among the country people to
this day. At length, as the prophet was entertaining the Earl of March
in his dwelling, a cry of astonishment arose in the village, on the
appearance of a hart and hind,[28] which left the forest and, contrary
to their shy nature, came quietly onward, traversing the village towards
the dwelling of Thomas. The prophet instantly rose from the board; and,
acknowledging the prodigy as the summons of his fate, he accompanied the
hart and hind into the forest, and though occasionally seen by
individuals to whom he has chosen to show himself, has never again mixed
familiarly with mankind.

[Footnote 28: This last circumstance seems imitated from a passage in
the "Life of Merlin," by Jeffrey of Monmouth. See Ellis's "Ancient
Romances," vol. i. p. 73.]

Thomas of Erceldoune, during his retirement, has been supposed, from
time to time, to be levying forces to take the field in some crisis of
his country's fate. The story has often been told of a daring
horse-jockey having sold a black horse to a man of venerable and antique
appearance, who appointed the remarkable hillock upon Eildon hills,
called the Lucken-hare, as the place where, at twelve o'clock at night,
he should receive the price. He came, his money was paid in ancient
coin, and he was invited by his customer to view his residence. The
trader in horses followed his guide in the deepest astonishment through
several long ranges of stalls, in each of which a horse stood
motionless, while an armed warrior lay equally still at the charger's
feet. "All these men," said the wizard in a whisper, "will awaken at the
battle of Sheriffmoor." At the extremity of this extraordinary depot
hung a sword and a horn, which the prophet pointed out to the
horse-dealer as containing the means of dissolving the spell. The man in
confusion took the horn, and attempted to wind it. The horses instantly
started in their stalls, stamped, and shook their bridles, the men arose
and clashed their armour, and the mortal, terrified at the tumult he had
excited, dropped the horn from his hand. A voice like that of a giant,
louder even than the tumult around, pronounced these words:--

"Woe to the coward that ever he was born,
 That did not draw the sword before he blew the horn!"

A whirlwind expelled the horse-dealer from the cavern, the entrance to
which he could never again find. A moral might be perhaps extracted from
the legend--namely, that it is best to be armed against danger before
bidding it defiance. But it is a circumstance worth notice, that
although this edition of the tale is limited to the year 1715, by the
very mention of the Sheriffmoor, yet a similar story appears to have
been current during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, which is given by
Reginald Scot. The narrative is edifying as peculiarly illustrative of
the mode of marring a curious tale in telling it, which was one of the
virtues professed by Caius when he hired himself to King Lear. Reginald
Scot, incredulous on the subject of witchcraft, seems to have given some
weight to the belief of those who thought that the spirits of famous men
do, after death, take up some particular habitations near cities, towns,
and countries, and act as tutelary and guardian spirits to the places
which they loved while in the flesh.

"But more particularly to illustrate this conjecture," says he, "I could
name a person who hath lately appeared thrice since his decease, at
least some ghostly being or other that calls itself by the name of such
a person who was dead above a hundred years ago, and was in his lifetime
accounted as a prophet or predicter by the assistance of sublunary
spirits; and now, at his appearance, did also give strange predictions
respecting famine and plenty, war and bloodshed, and the end of the
world. By the information of the person that had communication with him,
the last of his appearances was in the following manner:--"I had been,"
said he, "to sell a horse at the next market town, but not attaining my
price, as I returned home by the way I met this man, who began to be
familiar with me, asking what news, and how affairs moved through the
country. I answered as I thought fit; withal, I told him of my horse,
whom he began to cheapen, and proceeded with me so far that the price
was agreed upon. So he turned back with me, and told me that if I would
go along with him I should receive my money. On our way we went, I upon
my horse, and he on another milk-white beast After much travel I asked
him where he dwelt and what his name was. He told me that his dwelling
was a mile off, at a place called _Farran_, of which place I had never
heard, though I knew all the country round about.[29] He also told me
that he himself was that person of the family of Learmonths[30] so much
spoken of as a prophet. At which I began to be somewhat fearful,
perceiving we were on a road which I never had been on before, which
increased my fear and amazement more. Well, on we went till he brought
me under ground, I knew not how, into the presence of a beautiful woman,
who paid the money without a word speaking. He conducted me out again
through a large and long entry, where I saw above six hundred men in
armour laid prostrate on the ground as if asleep. At last I found myself
in the open field by the help of the moonlight, in the very place where
I first met him, and made a shift to get home by three in the morning.
But the money I had received was just double of what I esteemed it when
the woman paid me, of which at this instant I have several pieces to
show, consisting of ninepennies, thirteen pence-halfpennies," &c.[31]

[Footnote 29: In this the author is in the same ignorance as his
namesake Reginald, though having at least as many opportunities of

[Footnote 30: In popular tradition, the name of Thomas the Rhymer was
always averred to be Learmonth. though he neither uses it himself, nor
is described by his son other than Le Rymour. The Learmonths of Dairsie,
in Fife, claimed descent from the prophet.]

[Footnote 31: "Discourse of Devils and Spirits appended to the Discovery
of Witchcraft," by Reginald Scot, Esq., book ii. chap. 3, sec. 10.]

It is a great pity that this horse-dealer, having specimens of the fairy
coin, of a quality more permanent than usual, had not favoured us with
an account of an impress so valuable to medalists. It is not the less
edifying, as we are deprived of the more picturesque parts of the story,
to learn that Thomas's payment was as faithful as his prophecies. The
beautiful lady who bore the purse must have been undoubtedly the Fairy
Queen, whose affection, though, like that of his own heroine Yseult, we
cannot term it altogether laudable, seems yet to have borne a faithful
and firm character.

I have dwelt at some length on the story of Thomas the Rhymer, as the
oldest tradition of the kind which has reached us in detail, and as
pretending to show the fate of the first Scottish poet, whose existence,
and its date, are established both by history and records; and who, if
we consider him as writing in the Anglo-Norman language, was certainly
one among the earliest of its versifiers. But the legend is still more
curious, from its being the first and most distinguished instance of a
man alleged to have obtained supernatural knowledge by means of the

Whence or how this singular community derived their more common popular
name, we may say has not as yet been very clearly established. It is the
opinion of the learned that the Persian word Peri, expressing an
unearthly being, of a species very similar, will afford the best
derivation, if we suppose it to have reached Europe through the medium
of the Arabians, in whose alphabet the letter P does not exist, so that
they pronounce the word Feri instead of Peri. Still there is something
uncertain in this etymology. We hesitate to ascribe either to the
Persians or the Arabians the distinguishing name of an ideal
commonwealth, the notion of which they certainly did not contribute to
us. Some are, therefore, tempted to suppose that the elves may have
obtained their most frequent name from their being _par excellence_ a
_fair_ or _comely_ people, a quality which they affected on all
occasions; while the superstition of the Scottish was likely enough to
give them a name which might propitiate the vanity for which they deemed
the race remarkable; just as, in other instances, they called the fays
"men of peace," "good neighbours," and by other titles of the like
import. It must be owned, at the same time, that the words _fay_ and
_fairy_ may have been mere adoptions of the French _fee_ and _feerie_,
though these terms, on the other side of the Channel, have reference to
a class of spirits corresponding, not to our fairies, but with the far
different Fata of the Italians. But this is a question which we
willingly leave for the decision of better etymologists than ourselves.


    Those who dealt in fortune-telling, mystical cures by charms, and
    the like, often claimed an intercourse with Fairyland--Hudhart or
    Hudikin--Pitcairn's "Scottish Criminal Trials"--Story of Bessie
    Dunlop and her Adviser--Her Practice of Medicine--And of Discovery
    of Theft--Account of her Familiar, Thome Reid--Trial of Alison
    Pearson--Account of her Familiar, William Sympson--Trial of the Lady
    Fowlis, and of Hector Munro, her Stepson--Extraordinary species of
    Charm used by the latter--Confession of John Stewart, a Juggler, of
    his Intercourse with the Fairies--Trial and Confession of Isobel
    Gowdie--Use of Elf-arrow Heads--Parish of Aberfoyle--Mr. Kirke, the
    Minister of Aberfoyle's Work on Fairy Superstitions--He is himself
    taken to Fairyland--Dr. Grahame's interesting Work, and his
    Information on Fairy Superstitions--Story of a Female in East
    Lothian carried off by the Fairies--Another instance from Pennant.

To return to Thomas the Rhymer, with an account of whose legend I
concluded last letter, it would seem that the example which it afforded
of obtaining the gift of prescience, and other supernatural powers, by
means of the fairy people, became the common apology of those who
attempted to cure diseases, to tell fortunes, to revenge injuries, or to
engage in traffic with the invisible world, for the purpose of
satisfying their own wishes, curiosity, or revenge, or those of others.
Those who practised the petty arts of deception in such mystic cases,
being naturally desirous to screen their own impostures, were willing to
be supposed to derive from the fairies, or from mortals transported to
fairyland the power necessary to effect the displays of art which they
pretended to exhibit. A confession of direct communication and league
with Satan, though the accused were too frequently compelled by torture
to admit and avow such horrors, might, the poor wretches hoped, be
avoided by the avowal of a less disgusting intercourse with sublunary
spirits, a race which might be described by negatives, being neither
angels, devils, nor the souls of deceased men; nor would it, they might
flatter themselves, be considered as any criminal alliance, that they
held communion with a race not properly hostile to man, and willing, on
certain conditions, to be useful and friendly to him. Such an
intercourse was certainly far short of the witch's renouncing her
salvation, delivering herself personally to the devil, and at once
ensuring condemnation in this world, together with the like doom in the

Accordingly, the credulous, who, in search of health, knowledge,
greatness, or moved by any of the numberless causes for which men seek
to look into futurity, were anxious to obtain superhuman assistance, as
well as the numbers who had it in view to dupe such willing clients,
became both cheated and cheaters, alike anxious to establish the
possibility of a harmless process of research into futurity, for
laudable, or at least innocent objects, as healing diseases and the
like; in short, of the existence of white magic, as it was called, in
opposition to that black art exclusively and directly derived from
intercourse with Satan. Some endeavoured to predict a man's fortune in
marriage or his success in life by the aspect of the stars; others
pretended to possess spells, by which they could reduce and compel an
elementary spirit to enter within a stone, a looking-glass, or some
other local place of abode, and confine her there by the power of an
especial charm, conjuring her to abide and answer the questions of her
master. Of these we shall afterwards say something; but the species of
evasion now under our investigation is that of the fanatics or impostors
who pretended to draw information from the equivocal spirits called
fairies; and the number of instances before us is so great as induces us
to believe that the pretence of communicating with Elfland, and not with
the actual demon, was the manner in which the persons accused of
witchcraft most frequently endeavoured to excuse themselves, or at least
to alleviate the charges brought against them of practising sorcery. But
the Scottish law did not acquit those who accomplished even praiseworthy
actions, such as remarkable cures by mysterious remedies; and the
proprietor of a patent medicine who should in those days have attested
his having wrought such miracles as we see sometimes advertised, might
perhaps have forfeited his life before he established the reputation of
his drop, elixir, or pill.

Sometimes the soothsayers, who pretended to act on this information from
sublunary spirits, soared to higher matters than the practice of physic,
and interfered in the fate of nations. When James I. was murdered at
Perth in 1437, a Highland woman prophesied the course and purpose of the
conspiracy, and had she been listened to, it might have been
disconcerted. Being asked her source of knowledge, she answered Hudhart
had told her; which might either be the same with Hudkin, a Dutch spirit
somewhat similar to Friar Rush or Robin Goodfellow,[32] or with the
red-capped demon so powerful in the case of Lord Soulis, and other
wizards, to whom the Scots assigned rather more serious influence.

[Footnote 32: Hudkin is a very familiar devil, who will do nobody hurt,
except he receive injury; but he cannot abide that, nor yet be mocked.
He talketh with men friendly, sometimes visibly, sometimes invisibly.
There go as many tales upon this Hudkin in some parts of Germany as
there did in England on Robin Goodfellow.--"Discourse concerning
Devils," annexed to "The Discovery of Witchcraft," by Reginald Scot,
book i. chap. 21.]

The most special account which I have found of the intercourse between
Fairyland and a female professing to have some influence in that court,
combined with a strong desire to be useful to the distressed of both
sexes, occurs in the early part of a work to which I have been
exceedingly obliged in the present and other publications.[33] The
details of the evidence, which consists chiefly of the unfortunate
woman's own confession, are more full than usual, and comprehend some
curious particulars. To spare technical repetitions, I must endeavour to
select the principal facts in evidence in detail, so far as they bear
upon the present subject.

[Footnote 33: The curious collection of trials, from "The Criminal
Records of Scotland," now in the course of publication, by Robert
Pitcairn, Esq., affords so singular a picture of the manners and habits
of our ancestors, while yet a semibarbarous people, that it is equally
worth the attention of the historian, the antiquary, the philosopher,
and the poet.]

On the 8th November, 1576, Elizabeth or Bessie Dunlop, spouse to Andro
Jak, in Lyne, in the Barony of Dalry, Ayrshire, was accused of sorcery
and witchcraft and abuse of the people. Her answers to the
interrogatories of the judges or prosecutors ran thus: It being required
of her by what art she could tell of lost goods or prophesy the event of
illness, she replied that of herself she had no knowledge or science of
such matters, but that when questions were asked at her concerning such
matters, she was in the habit of applying to one Thome Reid, who died at
the battle of Pinkie (10th September, 1547), as he himself affirmed, and
who resolved her any questions which she asked at him. This person she
described as a respectable elderly-looking man, grey-bearded, and
wearing a grey coat, with Lombard sleeves of the auld fashion. A pair of
grey breeches and white stockings gartered above the knee, a black
bonnet on his head, close behind and plain before, with silken laces
drawn through the lips thereof, and a white wand in his hand, completed
the description of what we may suppose a respectable-looking man of the
province and period. Being demanded concerning her first interview with
this mysterious Thome Reid, she gave rather an affecting account of the
disasters with which she was then afflicted, and a sense of which
perhaps aided to conjure up the imaginary counsellor. She was walking
between her own house and the yard of Monkcastle, driving her cows to
the common pasture, and making heavy moan with herself, weeping bitterly
for her cow that was dead, her husband and child that were sick of the
land-ill (some contagious sickness of the time), while she herself was
in a very infirm state, having lately borne a child. On this occasion
she met Thome Reid for the first time, who saluted her courteously,
which she returned. "Sancta Maria, Bessie!" said the apparition, "why
must thou make such dole and weeping for any earthly thing?" "Have I not
reason for great sorrow," said she, "since our property is going to
destruction, my husband is on the point of death, my baby will not live,
and I am myself at a weak point? Have I not cause to have a sore heart?"
"Bessie," answered the spirit, "thou hast displeased God in asking
something that thou should not, and I counsel you to amend your fault. I
tell thee, thy child shall die ere thou get home; thy two sheep shall
also die; but thy husband shall recover, and be as well and feir as ever
he was." The good woman was something comforted to hear that her husband
was to be spared in such her general calamity, but was rather alarmed to
see her ghostly counsellor pass from her and disappear through a hole in
the garden wall, seemingly too narrow to admit of any living person
passing through it. Another time he met her at the Thorn of Dawmstarnik,
and showed his ultimate purpose by offering her plenty of every thing if
she would but deny Christendom and the faith she took at the font-stone.
She answered, that rather than do that she would be torn at horses'
heels, but that she would be conformable to his advice in less matters.
He parted with her in some displeasure. Shortly afterwards he appeared
in her own house about noon, which was at the time occupied by her
husband and three tailors. But neither Andrew Jak nor the three tailors
were sensible of the presence of the phantom warrior who was slain at
Pinkie; so that, without attracting their observation, he led out the
good-wife to the end of the house near the kiln. Here he showed her a
company of eight women and four men. The women were busked in their
plaids, and very seemly. The strangers saluted her, and said, "Welcome,
Bessie; wilt thou go with us?" But Bessie was silent, as Thome Reid had
previously recommended. After this she saw their lips move, but did not
understand what they said; and in a short time they removed from thence
with a hideous ugly howling sound, like that of a hurricane. Thome Reid
then acquainted her that these were the good wights (fairies) dwelling
in the court of Elfland, who came to invite her to go thither with them.
Bessie answered that, before she went that road, it would require some
consideration. Thome answered, "Seest thou not me both meat-worth,
clothes-worth, and well enough in person?" and engaged she should be
easier than ever she was. But she replied, she dwelt with her husband
and children, and would not leave them; to which Thome Reid replied, in
very ill-humour, that if such were her sentiments, she would get little
good of him.

Although they thus disagreed on the principal object of Thome Reid's
visits, Bessie Dunlop affirmed he continued to come to her frequently,
and assist her with his counsel; and that if any one consulted her about
the ailments of human beings or of cattle, or the recovery of things
lost and stolen, she was, by the advice of Thome Reid, always able to
answer the querists. She was also taught by her (literally ghostly)
adviser how to watch the operation of the ointments he gave her, and to
presage from them the recovery or death of the patient. She said Thome
gave her herbs with his own hand, with which she cured John Jack's bairn
and Wilson's of the Townhead. She also was helpful to a waiting-woman of
the young Lady Stanlie, daughter of the Lady Johnstone, whose disease,
according to the opinion of the infallible Thome Reid, was "a cauld
blood that came about her heart," and frequently caused her to swoon
away. For this Thome mixed a remedy as generous as the balm of Gilead
itself. It was composed of the most potent ale, concocted with spices
and a little white sugar, to be drunk every morning before taking food.
For these prescriptions Bessie Dunlop's fee was a peck of meal and some
cheese. The young woman recovered. But the poor old Lady Kilbowie could
get no help for her leg, which had been crooked for years; for Thome
Reid said the marrow of the limb was perished and the blood benumbed, so
that she would never recover, and if she sought further assistance, it
would be the worse for her. These opinions indicate common sense and
prudence at least, whether we consider them as originating with the
_umquhile_ Thome Reid, or with the culprit whom he patronized. The
judgments given in the case of stolen goods were also well chosen; for
though they seldom led to recovering the property, they generally
alleged such satisfactory reasons for its not being found as effectually
to cover the credit of the prophetess. Thus Hugh Scott's cloak could not
be returned, because the thieves had gained time to make it into a
kirtle. James Jamieson and James Baird would, by her advice, have
recovered their plough-irons, which had been stolen, had it not been the
will of fate that William Dougal, sheriff's officer, one of the parties
searching for them, should accept a bribe of three pounds not to find
them. In short, although she lost a lace which Thome Reid gave her out
of his own hand, which, tied round women in childbirth, had the power of
helping their delivery, Bessy Dunlop's profession of a wise woman seems
to have flourished indifferently well till it drew the evil eye of the
law upon her.

More minutely pressed upon the subject of her familiar, she said she had
never known him while among the living, but was aware that the person so
calling himself was one who had, in his lifetime, actually been known in
middle earth as Thome Reid, officer to the Laird of Blair, and who died
at Pinkie. Of this she was made certain, because he sent her on errands
to his son, who had succeeded in his office, and to others his
relatives, whom he named, and commanded them to amend certain trespasses
which he had done while alive, furnishing her with sure tokens by which
they should know that it was he who had sent her. One of these errands
was somewhat remarkable. She was to remind a neighbour of some
particular which she was to recall to his memory by the token that Thome
Reid and he had set out together to go to the battle which took place on
the Black Saturday; that the person to whom the message was sent was
inclined rather to move in a different direction, but that Thome Reid
heartened him to pursue his journey, and brought him to the Kirk of
Dalry, where he bought a parcel of figs, and made a present of them to
his companion, tying them in his handkerchief; after which they kept
company till they came to the field upon the fatal Black Saturday, as
the battle of Pinkie was long called.

Of Thome's other habits, she said that he always behaved with the
strictest propriety, only that he pressed her to go to Elfland with him,
and took hold of her apron as if to pull her along. Again, she said she
had seen him in public places, both in the churchyard at Dalry and on
the street of Edinburgh, where he walked about among other people, and
handled goods that were exposed to sale, without attracting any notice.
She herself did not then speak to him, for it was his command that, upon
such occasions, she should never address him unless he spoke first to
her. In his theological opinions, Mr. Reid appeared to lean to the
Church of Rome, which, indeed, was most indulgent to the fairy folk. He
said that the _new law, i.e.,_ the Reformation, was not good, and that
the old faith should return again, but not exactly as it had been
before. Being questioned why this visionary sage attached himself to her
more than to others, the accused person replied, that when she was
confined in childbirth of one of her boys, a stout woman came into her
hut, and sat down on a bench by her bed, like a mere earthly gossip;
that she demanded a drink, and was accommodated accordingly; and
thereafter told the invalid that the child should die, but that her
husband, who was then ailing, should recover. This visit seems to have
been previous to her meeting Thome Reid near Monkcastle garden, for that
worthy explained to her that her stout visitant was Queen of Fairies,
and that he had since attended her by the express command of that lady,
his queen and mistress. This reminds us of the extreme doting attachment
which the Queen of the Fairies is represented to have taken for Dapper
in "The Alchemist." Thome Reid attended her, it would seem, on being
summoned thrice, and appeared to her very often within four years. He
often requested her to go with him on his return to Fairyland, and when
she refused, he shook his head, and said she would repent it.

If the delicacy of the reader's imagination be a little hurt at
imagining the elegant Titania in the disguise of a _stout_ woman, a
heavy burden for a clumsy bench, drinking what Christopher Sly would
have called very sufficient small-beer with a peasant's wife, the
following description of the fairy host may come more near the idea he
has formed of that invisible company:--Bessie Dunlop declared that as
she went to tether her nag by the side of Restalrig Loch (Lochend, near
the eastern port of Edinburgh), she heard a tremendous sound of a body
of riders rushing past her with such a noise as if heaven and earth
would come together; that the sound swept past her and seemed to rush
into the lake with a hideous rumbling noise. All this while she saw
nothing; but Thome Reid showed her that the noise was occasioned by the
wights, who were performing one of their cavalcades upon earth.

The intervention of Thome Reid as a partner in her trade of petty
sorcery did not avail poor Bessie Dunlop, although his affection to her
was apparently entirely platonic--the greatest familiarity on which he
ventured was taking hold of her gown as he pressed her to go with him to
Elfland. Neither did it avail her that the petty sorcery which she
practised was directed to venial or even beneficial purposes. The sad
words on the margin of the record, "Convict and burnt," sufficiently
express the tragic conclusion of a curious tale.

Alison Pearson, in Byrehill, was, 28th May, 1588, tried for invocation
of the spirits of the devil, specially in the vision of one Mr. William
Sympson, her cousin and her mother's brother's son, who she affirmed was
a great scholar and doctor of medicine, dealing with charms and abusing
the ignorant people. Against this poor woman her own confession, as in
the case of Bessie Dunlop, was the principal evidence.

As Bessie Dunlop had Thome Reid, Alison Pearson had also a familiar in
the court of Elfland. This was her relative, William Sympson aforesaid,
born in Stirling, whose father was king's smith in that town. William
had been taken away, she said, by a man of Egypt (a Gipsy), who carried
him to Egypt along with him; that he remained there twelve years, and
that his father died in the meantime for opening a priest's book and
looking upon it. She declared that she had renewed her acquaintance with
her kinsman so soon as he returned. She further confessed that one day
as she passed through Grange Muir she lay down in a fit of sickness, and
that a green man came to her, and said if she would be faithful he might
do her good. In reply she charged him, in the name of God and by the law
he lived upon, if he came for her soul's good to tell his errand. On
this the green man departed. But he afterwards appeared to her with many
men and women with him, and against her will she was obliged to pass
with them farther than she could tell, with piping, mirth, and good
cheer; also that she accompanied them into Lothian, where she saw
puncheons of wine with tasses or drinking-cups. She declared that when
she told of these things she was sorely tormented, and received a blow
that took away the power of her left side, and left on it an ugly mark
which had no feeling. She also confessed that she had seen before
sunrise the good neighbours make their salves with pans and fires.
Sometimes, she said, they came in such fearful forms as frightened her
very much. At other times they spoke her fair, and promised her that she
should never want if faithful, but if she told of them and their doings,
they threatened to martyr her. She also boasted of her favour with the
Queen of Elfland and the good friends she had at that court,
notwithstanding that she was sometimes in disgrace there, and had not
seen the queen for seven years. She said William Sympson is with the
fairies, and that he lets her know when they are coming; and that he
taught her what remedies to use, and how to apply them. She declared
that when a whirlwind blew the fairies were commonly there, and that her
cousin Sympson confessed that every year the tithe of them were taken
away to hell. The celebrated Patrick Adamson, an excellent divine and
accomplished scholar, created by James VI. Archbishop of St. Andrews,
swallowed the prescriptions of this poor hypochondriac with good faith
and will, eating a stewed fowl, and drinking out at two draughts a quart
of claret, medicated with the drugs she recommended. According to the
belief of the time, this Alison Pearson transferred the bishop's
indisposition from himself to a white palfrey, which died in
consequence. There is a very severe libel on him for this and other
things unbecoming his order, with which he was charged, and from which
we learn that Lethington and Buccleuch were seen by Dame Pearson in the
Fairyland.[34] This poor woman's kinsman, Sympson, did not give better
shelter to her than Thome Reid had done to her predecessor. The margin
of the court-book again bears the melancholy and brief record,
"_Convicta et combusta_."

[Footnote 34: See "Scottish Poems," edited by John G. Dalzell, p. 321.]

The two poor women last mentioned are the more to be pitied as, whether
enthusiasts or impostors, they practised their supposed art exclusively
for the advantage of mankind. The following extraordinary detail
involves persons of far higher quality, and who sought to familiars for
more baneful purposes.

Katherine Munro, Lady Fowlis, by birth Katherine Ross of Balnagowan, of
high rank, both by her own family and that of her husband, who was the
fifteenth Baron of Fowlis, and chief of the warlike clan of Munro, had a
stepmother's quarrel with Robert Munro, eldest son of her husband, which
she gratified by forming a scheme for compassing his death by unlawful
arts. Her proposed advantage in this was, that the widow of Robert, when
he was thus removed, should marry with her brother, George Ross of
Balnagowan; and for this purpose, her sister-in-law, the present Lady
Balnagowan, was also to be removed. Lady Fowlis, if the indictment had a
syllable of truth, carried on her practices with the least possible
disguise. She assembled persons of the lowest order, stamped with an
infamous celebrity as witches; and, besides making pictures or models in
clay, by which they hoped to bewitch Robert Munro and Lady Balnagowan,
they brewed, upon one occasion, poison so strong that a page tasting of
it immediately took sickness. Another earthen jar (Scotticè _pig_) of
the same deleterious liquor was prepared by the Lady Fowlis, and sent
with her own nurse for the purpose of administering it to Robert Munro.
The messenger having stumbled in the dark, broke the jar, and a rank
grass grew on the spot where it fell, which sheep and cattle abhorred to
touch; but the nurse, having less sense than the brute beasts, and
tasting of the liquor which had been spilled, presently died. What is
more to our present purpose, Lady Fowlis made use of the artillery of
Elfland in order to destroy her stepson and sister-in-law. Laskie
Loncart, one of the assistant hags, produced two of what the common
people call elf-arrow heads, being, in fact, the points of flint used
for arming the ends of arrow-shafts in the most ancient times, but
accounted by the superstitious the weapons by which the fairies were
wont to destroy both man and beast. The pictures of the intended victims
were then set up at the north end of the apartment, and Christian Ross
Malcolmson, an assistant hag, shot two shafts at the image of Lady
Balnagowan, and three against the picture of Robert Munro, by which
shots they were broken, and Lady Fowlis commanded new figures to be
modelled. Many similar acts of witchcraft and of preparing poisons were
alleged against Lady Fowlis.

Her son-in-law, Hector Munro, one of his stepmother's prosecutors, was,
for reasons of his own, active in a similar conspiracy against the life
of his own brother. The rites that he practised were of an uncouth,
barbarous, and unusual nature. Hector, being taken ill, consulted on his
case some of the witches or soothsayers, to whom this family appears to
have been partial. The answer was unanimous that he must die unless the
principal man of his blood should suffer death in his stead. It was
agreed that the vicarious substitute for Hector must mean George Munro,
brother to him by the half-blood (the son of the Katharine Lady Fowlis
before commemorated). Hector sent at least seven messengers for this
young man, refusing to receive any of his other friends till he saw the
substitute whom he destined to take his place in the grave. When George
at length arrived, Hector, by advice of a notorious witch, called Marion
MacIngarach, and of his own foster-mother, Christian Neil Dalyell,
received him with peculiar coldness and restraint. He did not speak for
the space of an hour, till his brother broke silence and asked, "How he
did?" Hector replied, "That he was the better George had come to visit
him," and relapsed into silence, which seemed singular when compared
with the anxiety he had displayed to see his brother; but it was, it
seems, a necessary part of the spell. After midnight the sorceress
Marion MacIngarach, the chief priestess or Nicneven of the company, went
forth with her accomplices, carrying spades with them. They then
proceeded to dig a grave not far from the seaside, upon a piece of land
which formed the boundary betwixt two proprietors. The grave was made as
nearly as possible to the size of their patient Hector Munro, the earth
dug out of the grave being laid aside for the time. After ascertaining
that the operation of the charm on George Munro, the destined victim,
should be suspended for a time, to avoid suspicion, the conspirators
proceeded to work their spell in a singular, impressive, and, I believe,
unique manner. The time being January, 1588, the patient, Hector Munro,
was borne forth in a pair of blankets, accompanied with all who were
entrusted with the secret, who were warned to be strictly silent till
the chief sorceress should have received her information from the angel
whom they served. Hector Munro was carried to his grave and laid
therein, the earth being filled in on him, and the grave secured with
stakes as at a real funeral. Marion MacIngarach, the Hecate of the
night, then sat down by the grave, while Christian Neil Dalyell, the
foster-mother, ran the breadth of about nine ridges distant, leading a
boy in her hand, and, coming again to the grave where Hector Munro was
interred alive, demanded of the witch which victim she would choose, who
replied that she chose Hector to live and George to die in his stead.
This form of incantation was thrice repeated ere Mr. Hector was removed
from his chilling bed in a January grave and carried home, all remaining
mute as before. The consequence of a process which seems ill-adapted to
produce the former effect was that Hector Munro recovered, and after the
intervention of twelve months George Munro, his brother, died. Hector
took the principal witch into high favour, made her keeper of his sheep,
and evaded, it is said, to present her to trial when charged at Aberdeen
to produce her. Though one or two inferior persons suffered death on
account of the sorceries practised in the house of Fowlis, the Lady
Katharine and her stepson Hector had both the unusual good fortune to be
found not guilty. Mr. Pitcairn remarks that the juries, being composed
of subordinate persons not suitable to the rank or family of the person
tried, has all the appearance of having been packed on purpose for
acquittal. It might also, in some interval of good sense, creep into the
heads of Hector Munro's assize that the enchantment being performed in
January, 1588, and the deceased being only taken ill of his fatal
disease in April, 1590, the distance between the events might seem too
great to admit the former being regarded as the cause of the latter.[35]

[Footnote 35: Pitcairn's "Trials," vol. i. pp. 191-201.]

Another instance of the skill of a sorcerer being traced to the
instructions of the elves is found in the confession of John Stewart,
called a vagabond, but professing skill in palmistry and jugglery, and
accused of having assisted Margaret Barclay, or Dein, to sink or cast
away a vessel belonging to her own good brother. It being demanded of
him by what means he professed himself to have knowledge of things to
come, the said John confessed that the space of twenty-six years ago, he
being travelling on All-Hallow Even night, between the towns of Monygoif
(so spelled) and Clary, in Galway, he met with the King of the Fairies
and his company, and that the King of the Fairies gave him a stroke with
a white rod over the forehead, which took from him the power of speech
and the use of one eye, which he wanted for the space of three years. He
declared that the use of speech and eyesight was restored to him by the
King of Fairies and his company, on an Hallowe'en night, at the town of
Dublin, in Ireland, and that since that time he had joined these people
every Saturday at seven o'clock, and remained with them all the night;
also, that they met every Hallow-tide, sometimes on Lanark Hill
(Tintock, perhaps), sometimes on Kilmaurs Hill, and that he was then
taught by them. He pointed out the spot of his forehead on which, he
said, the King of the Fairies struck him with a white rod, whereupon the
prisoner, being blindfolded, they pricked the spot with a large pin,
whereof he expressed no sense or feeling. He made the usual declaration,
that he had seen many persons at the Court of Fairy, whose names he
rehearsed particularly, and declared that all such persons as are taken
away by sudden death go with the King of Elfland. With this man's
evidence we have at present no more to do, though we may revert to the
execrable proceedings which then took place against this miserable
juggler and the poor women who were accused of the same crime. At
present it is quoted as another instance of a fortune-teller referring
to Elfland as the source of his knowledge.

At Auldearne, a parish and burgh of barony in the county of Nairne, the
epidemic terror of witches seems to have gone very far. The confession
of a woman called Isobel Gowdie, of date April, 1662, implicates, as
usual, the Court of Fairy, and blends the operations of witchcraft with
the facilities afforded by the fairies. These need be the less insisted
upon in this place, as the arch-fiend, and not the elves, had the
immediate agency in the abominations which she narrates. Yet she had
been, she said, in the Dounie Hills, and got meat there from the Queen
of Fairies more than she could eat. She added, that the queen is bravely
clothed in white linen and in white and brown cloth, that the King of
Fairy is a brave man; and there were elf-bulls roaring and _skoilling_
at the entrance of their palace, which frightened her much. On another
occasion this frank penitent confesses her presence at a rendezvous of
witches, Lammas, 1659, where, after they had rambled through the country
in different shapes--of cats, hares, and the like--eating, drinking, and
wasting the goods of their neighbours into whose houses they could
penetrate, they at length came to the dounie Hills, where the mountain
opened to receive them, and they entered a fair big room, as bright as
day. At the entrance ramped and roared the large fairy bulls, which
always alarmed Isobel Gowdie. These animals are probably the
water-bulls, famous both in Scottish and Irish tradition, which are not
supposed to be themselves altogether _canny_ or safe to have concern
with. In their caverns the fairies manufactured those elf-arrow heads
with which the witches and they wrought so much evil. The elves and the
arch-fiend laboured jointly at this task, the former forming and
sharpening the dart from the rough flint, and the latter perfecting and
finishing (or, as it is called, _dighting_) it. Then came the sport of
the meeting. The witches bestrode either corn-straws, bean-stalks, or
rushes, and calling, "Horse and Hattock, in the Devil's name!" which is
the elfin signal for mounting, they flew wherever they listed. If the
little whirlwind which accompanies their transportation passed any
mortal who neglected to bless himself, all such fell under the witches'
power, and they acquired the right of shooting at him. The penitent
prisoner gives the names of many whom she and her sisters had so slain,
the death for which she was most sorry being that of William Brown, in
the Milntown of Mains. A shaft was also aimed at the Reverend Harrie
Forbes, a minister who was present at the examination of Isobel, the
confessing party. The arrow fell short, and the witch would have taken
aim again, but her master forbade her, saying the reverend gentleman's
life was not subject to their power. To this strange and very particular
confession we shall have occasion to recur when witchcraft is the more
immediate subject. What is above narrated marks the manner in which the
belief in that crime was blended with the fairy superstition.

To proceed to more modern instances of persons supposed to have fallen
under the power of the fairy race, we must not forget the Reverend
Robert Kirke, minister of the Gospel, the first translator of the Psalms
into Gaelic verse. He was, in the end of the seventeenth century,
successively minister of the Highland parishes of Balquidder and
Aberfoyle, lying in the most romantic district of Perthshire, and within
the Highland line. These beautiful and wild regions, comprehending so
many lakes, rocks, sequestered valleys, and dim copsewoods, are not even
yet quite abandoned by the fairies, who have resolutely maintained
secure footing in a region so well suited for their residence. Indeed,
so much was this the case formerly, that Mr. Kirke, while in his latter
charge of Aberfoyle, found materials for collecting and compiling his
Essay on the "Subterranean and for the most part Invisible People
heretofore going under the name of Elves, Fawnes, and Fairies, or the
like."[36] In this discourse, the author, "with undoubting mind,"
describes the fairy race as a sort of astral spirits, of a kind betwixt
humanity and angels--says, that they have children, nurses, marriages,
deaths, and burials, like mortals in appearance; that, in some respect,
they represent mortal men, and that individual apparitions, or
double-men, are found among them, corresponding with mortals existing on
earth. Mr. Kirke accuses them of stealing the milk from the cows, and of
carrying away, what is more material, the women in pregnancy, and
new-born children from their nurses. The remedy is easy in both cases.
The milk cannot be stolen if the mouth of the calf, before he is
permitted to suck, be rubbed with a certain balsam, very easily come by;
and the woman in travail is safe if a piece of cold iron is put into the
bed. Mr. Kirke accounts for this by informing us that the great northern
mines of iron, lying adjacent to the place of eternal punishment, have a
savour odious to these "fascinating creatures." They have, says the
reverend author, what one would not expect, many light toyish books
(novels and plays, doubtless), others on Rosycrucian subjects, and of an
abstruse mystical character; but they have no Bibles or works of
devotion. The essayist fails not to mention the elf-arrow heads, which
have something of the subtlety of thunderbolts, and can mortally wound
the vital parts without breaking the skin. These wounds, he says, he has
himself observed in beasts, and felt the fatal lacerations which he
could not see.

[Footnote 36: The title continues:--"Among the Low Country Scots, as
they are described by those who have the second sight, and now, to
occasion farther enquiry, collected and compared by a circumspect
enquirer residing among the Scottish-Irish (_i.e._, the Gael, or
Highlanders) in Scotland." It was printed with the author's name in
1691, and reprinted, Edinburgh, 1815, for Longman & Co.]

It was by no means to be supposed that the elves, so jealous and
irritable a race as to be incensed against those who spoke of them under
their proper names, should be less than mortally offended at the
temerity of the reverend author, who had pryed so deeply into their
mysteries, for the purpose of giving them to the public. Although,
therefore, the learned divine's monument, with his name duly inscribed,
is to be seen at the east end of the churchyard at Aberfoyle, yet those
acquainted with his real history do not believe that he enjoys the
natural repose of the tomb. His successor, the Rev. Dr. Grahame, has
informed us of the general belief that, as Mr. Kirke was walking one
evening in his night-gown upon a _Dun-shi,_ or fairy mount, in the
vicinity of the manse or parsonage, behold! he sunk down in what seemed
to be a fit of apoplexy, which the unenlightened took for death, while
the more understanding knew it to be a swoon produced by the
supernatural influence of the people whose precincts he had violated.
After the ceremony of a seeming funeral, the form of the Rev. Robert
Kirke appeared to a relation, and commanded him to go to Grahame of
Duchray, ancestor of the present General Graham Stirling. "Say to
Duchray, who is my cousin as well as your own, that I am not dead, but a
captive in Fairyland, and only one chance remains for my liberation.
When the posthumous child, of which my wife has been delivered since my
disappearance, shall be brought to baptism, I will appear in the room,
when, if Duchray shall throw over my head the knife or dirk which he
holds in his hand, I may be restored to society; but if this opportunity
is neglected, I am lost for ever." Duchray was apprised of what was to
be done. The ceremony took place, and the apparition of Mr. Kirke was
visibly seen while they were seated at table; but Grahame of Duchray, in
his astonishment, failed to perform the ceremony enjoined, and it is to
be feared that Mr. Kirke still "drees his weird in Fairyland," the Elfin
state declaring to him, as the Ocean to poor Falconer, who perished at
sea after having written his popular poem of "The Shipwreck"--

"Thou hast proclaimed our power--be thou our prey!"

Upon this subject the reader may consult a very entertaining little
volume, called "Sketches of Perthshire,"[37] by the Rev. Dr. Grahame of
Aberfoyle. The terrible visitation of fairy vengeance which has lighted
upon Mr. Kirke has not intimidated his successor, an excellent man and
good antiquary, from affording us some curious information on fairy
superstition. He tells us that these capricious elves are chiefly
dangerous on a Friday, when, as the day of the Crucifixion, evil spirits
have most power, and mentions their displeasure at any one who assumes
their accustomed livery of green, a colour fatal to several families in
Scotland, to the whole race of the gallant Grahames in particular;
insomuch that we have heard that in battle a Grahame is generally shot
through the green check of his plaid; moreover, that a veteran sportsman
of the name, having come by a bad fall, he thought it sufficient to
account for it, that he had a piece of green whip-cord to complete the
lash of his hunting-whip. I remember, also, that my late amiable friend,
James Grahame, author of "The Sabbath," would not break through this
ancient prejudice of his clan, but had his library table covered with
blue or black cloth, rather than use the fated colour commonly employed
on such occasions.

[Footnote 37: Edinburgh, 1812.]

To return from the Perthshire fairies, I may quote a story of a nature
somewhat similar to that of Mas Robert Kirke. The life of the excellent
person who told it was, for the benefit of her friends and the poor,
protracted to an unusual duration; so I conceive that this adventure,
which took place in her childhood, might happen before the middle of
last century. She was residing with some relations near the small
seaport town of North Berwick, when the place and its vicinity were
alarmed by the following story:--

An industrious man, a weaver in the little town, was married to a
beautiful woman, who, after bearing two or three children, was so
unfortunate as to die during the birth of a fourth child. The infant was
saved, but the mother had expired in convulsions; and as she was much
disfigured after death, it became an opinion among her gossips that,
from some neglect of those who ought to have watched the sick woman, she
must have been carried off by the elves, and this ghastly corpse
substituted in the place of the body. The widower paid little attention
to these rumours, and, after bitterly lamenting his wife for a year of
mourning, began to think on the prudence of forming a new marriage,
which, to a poor artisan with so young a family, and without the
assistance of a housewife, was almost a matter of necessity. He readily
found a neighbour with whose good looks he was satisfied, whilst her
character for temper seemed to warrant her good usage of his children.
He proposed himself and was accepted, and carried the names of the
parties to the clergyman (called, I believe, Mr. Matthew Reid) for the
due proclamation of banns. As the man had really loved his late partner,
it is likely that this proposed decisive alteration of his condition
brought back many reflections concerning the period of their union, and
with these recalled the extraordinary rumours which were afloat at the
time of her decease, so that the whole forced upon him the following
lively dream:--As he lay in his bed, awake as he thought, he beheld, at
the ghostly hour of midnight, the figure of a female dressed in white,
who entered his hut, stood by the side of his bed, and appeared to him
the very likeness of his late wife. He conjured her to speak, and with
astonishment heard her say, like the minister of Aberfoyle, that she was
not dead, but the unwilling captive of the Good Neighbours. Like Mr.
Kirke, too, she told him that if all the love which he once had for her
was not entirely gone, an opportunity still remained of recovering her,
or _winning her back_, as it was usually termed, from the comfortless
realms of Elfland. She charged him on a certain day of the ensuing week
that he should convene the most respectable housekeepers in the town,
with the clergyman at their head, and should disinter the coffin in
which she was supposed to have been buried. "The clergyman is to recite
certain prayers, upon which," said the apparition, "I will start from
the coffin and fly with great speed round the church, and you must have
the fleetest runner of the parish (naming a man famed for swiftness) to
pursue me, and such a one, the smith, renowned for his strength, to hold
me fast after I am overtaken; and in that case I shall, by the prayers
of the church, and the efforts of my loving husband and neighbours,
again recover my station in human society." In the morning the poor
widower was distressed with the recollection of his dream, but, ashamed
and puzzled, took no measures in consequence. A second night, as is not
very surprising, the visitation was again repeated. On the third night
she appeared with a sorrowful and displeased countenance, upbraided him
with want of love and affection, and conjured him, for the last time, to
attend to her instructions, which, if he now neglected, she would never
have power to visit earth or communicate with him again. In order to
convince him there was no delusion, he "saw in his dream" that she took
up the nursling at whose birth she had died, and gave it suck; she
spilled also a drop or two of her milk on the poor man's bed-clothes, as
if to assure him of the reality of the vision.

The next morning the terrified widower carried a statement of his
perplexity to Mr. Matthew Reid, the clergyman. This reverend person,
besides being an excellent divine in other respects, was at the same
time a man of sagacity, who understood the human passions. He did not
attempt to combat the reality of the vision which had thrown his
parishioner into this tribulation, but he contended it could be only an
illusion of the devil. He explained to the widower that no created being
could have the right or power to imprison or detain the soul of a
Christian--conjured him not to believe that his wife was otherwise
disposed of than according to God's pleasure--assured him that
Protestant doctrine utterly denies the existence of any middle state in
the world to come--and explained to him that he, as a clergyman of the
Church of Scotland, neither could nor dared authorize opening graves or
using the intervention of prayer to sanction rites of a suspicious
character. The poor man, confounded and perplexed by various feelings,
asked his pastor what he should do. "I will give you my best advice,"
said the clergyman. "Get your new bride's consent to be married
to-morrow, or to-day, if you can; I will take it on me to dispense with
the rest of the banns, or proclaim them three times in one day. You will
have a new wife, and, if you think of the former, it will be only as of
one from whom death has separated you, and for whom you may have
thoughts of affection and sorrow, but as a saint in Heaven, and not as a
prisoner in Elfland." The advice was taken, and the perplexed widower
had no more visitations from his former spouse.

An instance, perhaps the latest which has been made public, of
communication with the Restless People--(a more proper epithet than that
of _Daoine Shi_, or Men of Peace, as they are called in Gaelic)--came
under Pennant's notice so late as during that observant traveller's tour
in 1769. Being perhaps the latest news from the invisible commonwealth,
we give the tourist's own words.

"A poor visionary who had been working in his cabbage-garden (in
Breadalbane) imagined that he was raised suddenly up into the air, and
conveyed over a wall into an adjacent corn-field; that he found himself
surrounded by a crowd of men and women, many of whom he knew to have
been dead for some years, and who appeared to him skimming over the tops
of the unbending corn, and mingling together like bees going to hive;
that they spoke an unknown language, and with a hollow sound; that they
very roughly pushed him to and fro, but on his uttering the name of God
all vanished, but a female sprite, who, seizing him by the shoulder,
obliged him to promise an assignation at that very hour that day
seven-night; that he then found his hair was all tied in double knots
(well known by the name of elf-locks), and that he had almost lost his
speech; that he kept his word with the spectre, whom he soon saw
floating through the air towards him; that he spoke to her, but she told
him she was at that time in too much haste to attend to him, but bid him
go away and no harm should befall him, and so the affair rested when I
left the country. But it is incredible the mischief these _ægri somnia_
did in the neighbourhood. The friends and neighbours of the deceased,
whom the old dreamer had named, were in the utmost anxiety at finding
them in such bad company in the other world; the almost extinct belief
of the old idle tales began to gain ground, and the good minister will
have many a weary discourse and exhortation before he can eradicate the
absurd ideas this idle story has revived."[38]

[Footnote 38: Pennant's "Tour in Scotland," vol. i. p. 110.]

It is scarcely necessary to add that this comparatively recent tale is
just the counterpart of the story of Bessie Dunlop, Alison Pearson, and
of the Irish butler who was so nearly carried off, all of whom found in
Elfland some friend, formerly of middle earth, who attached themselves
to the child of humanity, and who endeavoured to protect a fellow-mortal
against their less philanthropic companions.

These instances may tend to show how the fairy superstition, which, in
its general sense of worshipping the _Dii Campestres_, was much the
older of the two, came to bear upon and have connexion with that horrid
belief in witchcraft which cost so many innocent persons and crazy
impostors their lives for the supposed commission of impossible crimes.
In the next chapter I propose to trace how the general disbelief in the
fairy creed began to take place, and gradually brought into discredit
the supposed feats of witchcraft, which afforded pretext for such cruel
practical consequences.


    Immediate Effect of Christianity on Articles of Popular
    Superstition--Chaucer's Account of the Roman Catholic Priests
    banishing the Fairies--Bishop Corbett imputes the same Effect to the
    Reformation--His Verses on that Subject--His Iter
    Septentrionale--Robin Goodfellow and other Superstitions mentioned
    by Reginald Scot--Character of the English Fairies--The Tradition
    had become obsolete in that Author's Time--That of Witches remained
    in vigour--But impugned by various Authors after the Reformation, as
    Wierus, Naudæus, Scot, and others--Demonology defended by Bodinus,
    Remigius, &c.--Their mutual Abuse of each other--Imperfection of
    Physical Science at this Period, and the Predominance of Mysticism
    in that Department.

Although the influence of the Christian religion was not introduced to
the nations of Europe with such radiance as to dispel at once those
clouds of superstition which continued to obscure the understanding of
hasty and ill-instructed converts, there can be no doubt that its
immediate operation went to modify the erroneous and extravagant
articles of credulity which lingered behind the old pagan faith, and
which gave way before it, in proportion as its light became more pure
and refined from the devices of men.

The poet Chaucer, indeed, pays the Church of Rome, with its monks and
preaching friars, the compliment of having, at an early period, expelled
from the land all spirits of an inferior and less holy character. The
verses are curious as well as picturesque, and may go some length to
establish the existence of doubts concerning the general belief in
fairies among the well-instructed in the time of Edward III.

The fairies of whom the bard of Woodstock talks are, it will be
observed, the ancient Celtic breed, and he seems to refer for the
authorities of his tale to Bretagne, or Armorica, a genuine Celtic

"In old time of the King Artour,
Of which that Bretons speken great honour,
All was this land fulfilled of faerie;
The Elf queen, with her joly company,
Danced full oft in many a grene mead.
This was the old opinion, as I rede--
I speake of many hundred years ago,
But now can no man see no elves mo.
For now the great charity and prayers
Of limitours,[39] and other holy freres,
That searchen every land and every stream,
As thick as motes in the sunne-beam,
Blessing halls, chambers, kitchenes, and boures,
Cities and burghes, castles high and towers,
Thropes and barnes, sheep-pens and dairies,
This maketh that there ben no fairies.
For there as wont to walken was an elf,
There walketh now the limitour himself,
In under nichtes and in morwenings,
And saith his mattins and his holy things,
As he goeth in his limitation.
Women may now go safely up and doun;
In every bush, and under every tree,
There is no other incubus than he,
And he ne will don them no dishonour."[40]

[Footnote 39: Friars limited to beg within a certain district.]

[Footnote 40: "Wife of Bath's Tale."]

When we see the opinion which Chaucer has expressed of the regular
clergy of his time, in some of his other tales, we are tempted to
suspect some mixture of irony in the compliment which ascribes the exile
of the fairies, with whih the land was "fulfilled" in King Arthur's
time, to the warmth and zeal of the devotion of the limitary friars.
Individual instances of scepticism there might exist among scholars, but
a more modern poet, with a vein of humour not unworthy of Geoffrey
himself, has with greater probability delayed the final banishment of
the fairies from England, that is, from popular faith, till the reign of
Queen Elizabeth, and has represented their expulsion as a consequence of
the change of religion. Two or three verses of this lively satire may be
very well worth the reader's notice, who must, at the same time, be
informed that the author, Dr. Corbett, was nothing less than the Bishop
of Oxford and Norwich in the beginning of the seventeenth century. The
poem is named "A proper new Ballad, entitled the Fairies' Farewell, to
be sung or whistled to the tune of the Meadow Brow by the learned; by
the unlearned to the tune of Fortune:"--

     "Farewell, rewards and fairies,
       Good housewives now may say,
     For now foul sluts in dairies
       Do fare as well as they;
     And though they sweep their hearths no less
       Than maids were wont to do,
     Yet who of late for cleanliness
       Finds sixpence in her shoe?

     "Lament, lament, old abbies,
       The fairies' lost command;
     They did but change priests' babies,
       But some have changed your land;
     And all your children sprung from hence
       Are now grown Puritans,
     Who live as changelings ever since
       For love of your domains.

     "At morning and at evening both,
       You merry were and glad,
     So little care of sleep and sloth
       Those pretty ladies had.
     When Tom came home from labour.
       Or Cis to milking rose,
     Then merrily, merrily went their tabor,
       And merrily went their toes.

     "Witness those rings and roundelays
       Of theirs, which yet remain,
     Were footed, in Queen Mary's days,
       On many a grassy plain;
     But since of late Elizabeth,
       And later James came in,
     They never danced on any heath
       As when the time hath bin.

     "By which we note, the fairies
       Were of the old profession,
     Their songs were Ave Maries,
       Their dances were procession.
     But now, alas! they all are dead,
       Or gone beyond the seas;
     Or farther for religion fled,
       Or else they take their ease."

The remaining part of the poem is dedicated to the praise and glory of
old William Chourne of Staffordshire, who remained a true and stanch
evidence in behalf of the departed elves, and kept, much it would seem
to the amusement of the witty bishop, an inexhaustible record of their
pranks and feats, whence the concluding verse--

"To William all give audience,
  And pray ye for his noddle,
For all the fairies' evidence
  Were lost if that were addle."[41]

[Footnote 41: Corbett's Poems, edited by Octavuis Gilchrist, p. 213.]

This William Chourne appears to have attended Dr. Corbett's party on the
_iter septentrionale_, "two of which were, and two desired to be,
doctors;" but whether William was guide, friend, or domestic seems
uncertain. The travellers lose themselves in the mazes of Chorley Forest
on their way to Bosworth, and their route becomes so confused that they
return on their steps and labour--

     "As in a conjuror's circle--William found
     A mean for our deliverance,--'Turn your cloaks,'
     Quoth he, 'for Puck is busy in these oaks;
     If ever you at Bosworth would be found,
     Then turn your cloaks, for this is fairy ground.'
     But ere this witchcraft was performed, we meet
     A very man who had no cloven feet.
     Though William, still of little faith, has doubt,
     'Tis Robin, or some sprite that walks about.
     'Strike him,' quoth he, 'and it will turn to air--
     Cross yourselves thrice and strike it.'--'Strike that dare,'
     Thought I, 'for sure this massy forester,
     In strokes will prove the better conjuror.'
     But 'twas a gentle keeper, one that knew
     Humanity and manners, where they grew,
     And rode along so far, till he could say,
     'See, yonder Bosworth stands, and this your way.'"[42]

[Footnote 42: Corbett's Poems, p. 191.]

In this passage the bishop plainly shows the fairies maintained their
influence in William's imagination, since the courteous keeper was
mistaken by their associate champion for Puck or Robin Goodfellow. The
spells resorted to to get rid of his supposed delusions are
alternatively that of turning the cloak--(recommended in visions of the
second-sight or similar illusions as a means of obtaining a certainty
concerning the being which is before imperfectly seen[43])--and that of
exorcising the spirit with a cudgel; which last, Corbett prudently
thinks, ought not to be resorted to unless under an absolute conviction
that the exorcist is the stronger party. Chaucer, therefore, could not
be serious in averring that the fairy superstitions were obsolete in his
day, since they were found current three centuries afterwards.

[Footnote 43: A common instance is that of a person haunted with a
resemblance whose face he cannot see. If he turn his cloak or plaid, he
will obtain the full sight which he desires, and may probably find it to
be his own fetch, or wraith, or double-ganger.]

It is not the less certain that, as knowledge and religion became more
widely and brightly displayed over any country, the superstitious
fancies of the people sunk gradually in esteem and influence; and in the
time of Queen Elizabeth the unceasing labour of many and popular
preachers, who declaimed against the "splendid miracles" of the Church
of Rome, produced also its natural effect upon the other stock of
superstitions. "Certainly," said Reginald Scot, talking of times before
his own, "some one knave in a white sheet hath cozened and abused many
thousands, specially when Robin Goodfellow kept such a coil in the
country. In our childhood our mothers' maids have so terrified us with
an ugly devil having horns on his head, fire in his mouth, and a tail at
his breech; eyes like a basin, fangs like a dog, claws like a bear, a
skin like a negro, and a voice roaring like a lion, whereby we start and
are afraid when we hear one cry, Boh! and they have so frayd us with
bull-beggars, spirits, witches, urchins, elves, hags, fairies, satyrs,
Pans, faunes, sylvans, Kitt-with-the-candlestick, tritons, centaurs,
dwarfs, giants, imps, calcars, conjurers, nymphs, changelings, incubus,
Robin Goodfellow, the spoorn, the man-in-the-oak, the hellwain, the
fire-drake, the puckle, Tom Thumb, Hobgoblin, Tom Tumbler, Boneless, and
such other bugbears, that we are afraid of our own shadows, insomuch
that some never fear the devil but on a dark night; and then a polled
sheep is a perilous beast, and many times is taken for our father's
soul, specially in a churchyard, where a right hardy man heretofore
durst not to have passed by night but his hair would stand upright.
Well, thanks be to God, this wretched and cowardly infidelity, since the
preaching of the Gospel, is in part forgotten, and doubtless the rest of
these illusions will in a short time, by God's grace, be detected and
vanish away."[44]

[Footnote 44: Reginald Scot's "Discovery of Witchcraft," book vii. chap.

It would require a better demonologist than I am to explain the various
obsolete superstitions which Reginald Scot has introduced as articles of
the old English faith, into the preceding passage. I might indeed say
the Phuca is a Celtic superstition, from which the word Pook or Puckle
was doubtless derived; and I might conjecture that the man-in-the-oak
was the same with the Erl-König of the Germans; and that the hellwain
were a kind of wandering spirits, the descendants of a champion named
Hellequin, who are introduced into the romance of Richard sans Peur. But
most antiquaries will be at fault concerning the spoorn,
Kitt-with-the-candlestick, Boneless, and some others. The catalogue,
however, serves to show what progress the English have made in two
centuries, in forgetting the very names of objects which had been the
sources of terror to their ancestors of the Elizabethan age.

Before leaving the subject of fairy superstition in England we may
remark that it was of a more playful and gentle, less wild and
necromantic character, than that received among the sister people. The
amusements of the southern fairies were light and sportive; their
resentments were satisfied with pinching or scratching the objects of
their displeasure; their peculiar sense of cleanliness rewarded the
housewives with the silver token in the shoe; their nicety was extreme
concerning any coarseness or negligence which could offend their
delicacy; and I cannot discern, except, perhaps, from the insinuations
of some scrupulous divines, that they were vassals to or in close
alliance with the infernals, as there is too much reason to believe was
the case with their North British sisterhood.[45] The common nursery
story cannot be forgotten, how, shortly after the death of what is
called a nice tidy housewife, the Elfin band was shocked to see that a
person of different character, with whom the widower had filled his
deserted arms, instead of the nicely arranged little loaf of the whitest
bread, and a basin of sweet cream, duly placed for their refreshment by
the deceased, had substituted a brown loaf and a cobb of herrings.
Incensed at such a coarse regale, the elves dragged the peccant
housewife out of bed, and pulled her down the wooden stairs by the
heels, repeating, at the same time, in scorn of her churlish

"Brown bread and herring cobb!
 Thy fat sides shall have many a bob!"

But beyond such playful malice they had no desire to extend their

[Footnote 45: Dr. Jackson, in his "Treatise on Unbelief," opines for the
severe opinion. "Thus are the Fayries, from difference of events
ascribed to them, divided into good and bad, when as it is but one and
the same malignant fiend that meddles in both; seeking sometimes to be
feared, otherwhiles to be loued as God, for the bodily harmes or good
turnes supposed to be in his power."--Jackson on Unbelief, p. 178, edit.

The constant attendant upon the English Fairy court was the celebrated
Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, who to the elves acted in some measure as the
jester or clown of the company--(a character then to be found in the
establishment of every person of quality)--or to use a more modern
comparison, resembled the Pierrot of the pantomime. His jests were of
the most simple and at the same time the broadest comic character--to
mislead a clown on his path homeward, to disguise himself like a stool,
in order to induce an old gossip to commit the egregious mistake of
sitting down on the floor when she expected to repose on a chair, were
his special enjoyments. If he condescended to do some work for the
sleeping family, in which he had some resemblance to the Scottish
household spirit called a Brownie, the selfish Puck was far from
practising this labour on the disinterested principle of the northern
goblin, who, if raiment or food was left in his way and for his use,
departed from the family in displeasure. Robin Goodfellow, on the
contrary, must have both his food and his rest, as Milton informs us,
amid his other notices of country superstitions, in the poem of
L'Allegro. And it is to be noticed that he represents these tales of the
fairies, told round the cottage hearth, as of a cheerful rather than a
serious cast; which illustrates what I have said concerning the milder
character of the southern superstitions, as compared with those of the
same class in Scotland--the stories of which are for the most part of a
frightful and not seldom of a disgusting quality.

Poor Robin, however, between whom and King Oberon Shakespeare contrives
to keep a degree of distinct subordination, which for a moment deceives
us by its appearance of reality, notwithstanding his turn for wit and
humour, had been obscured by oblivion even in the days of Queen Bess. We
have already seen, in a passage quoted from Reginald Scot, that the
belief was fallen into abeyance; that which follows from the same author
affirms more positively that Robin's date was over:--

"Know ye this, by the way, that heretofore Robin Goodfellow and
Hobgoblin were as terrible, and also as credible, to the people as hags
and witches be now; and in time to come a witch will be as much derided
and condemned, and as clearly perceived, as the illusion and knavery of
Robin Goodfellow, upon whom there have gone as many and as credible
tales as witchcraft, saving that it hath not pleased the translators of
the Bible to call spirits by the name of Robin Goodfellow, as they have
diviners, soothsayers, poisoners, and cozeners by the name of
witches."[46] In the same tone Reginald Scot addresses the reader in the
preface:--"To make a solemn suit to you that are partial readers to set
aside partiality, to take in good part my writings, and with indifferent
eyes to look upon my book, were labour lost and time ill-employed; for I
should no more prevail herein than if, a hundred years since, I should
have entreated your predecessors to believe that Robin Goodfellow, that
great and ancient bull-beggar, had been but a cozening merchant, and no
devil indeed. But Robin Goodfellow ceaseth now to be much feared, and
Popery is sufficiently discovered; nevertheless, witches' charms and
conjurers' cozenage are yet effectual." This passage seems clearly to
prove that the belief in Robin Goodfellow and his fairy companions was
now out of date; while that as to witchcraft, as was afterwards but too
well shown, kept its ground against argument and controversy, and
survived "to shed more blood."

[Footnote 46: Reginald Scot's "Discovery of Witchcraft," book vii. chap,

We are then to take leave of this fascinating article of the popular
creed, having in it so much of interest to the imagination that we
almost envy the credulity of those who, in the gentle moonlight of a
summer night in England, amid the tangled glades of a deep forest, or
the turfy swell of her romantic commons, could fancy they saw the
fairies tracing their sportive ring. But it is in vain to regret
illusions which, however engaging, must of necessity yield their place
before the increase of knowledge, like shadows at the advance of morn.
These superstitions have already survived their best and most useful
purpose, having been embalmed in the poetry of Milton and of
Shakespeare, as well as writers only inferior to these great names. Of
Spenser we must say nothing, because in his "Faery Queen" the title is
the only circumstance which connects his splendid allegory with the
popular superstition, and, as he uses it, means nothing more than an
Utopia or nameless country.

With the fairy popular creed fell, doubtless, many subordinate articles
of credulity in England, but the belief in witches kept its ground. It
was rooted in the minds of the common people, as well by the easy
solution it afforded of much which they found otherwise hard to explain,
as in reverence to the Holy Scriptures, in which the word _witch,_ being
used in several places, conveyed to those who did not trouble themselves
about the nicety of the translation from the Eastern tongues, the
inference that the same species of witches were meant as those against
whom modern legislation had, in most European nations, directed the
punishment of death. These two circumstances furnished the numerous
believers in witchcraft with arguments in divinity and law which they
conceived irrefragable. They might say to the theologist, Will you not
believe in witches? the Scriptures aver their existence;--to the
jurisconsult, Will you dispute the existence of a crime against which
our own statute-book, and the code of almost all civilized countries,
have attested, by laws upon which hundreds and thousands have been
convicted, many or even most of whom have, by their judicial
confessions, acknowledged their guilt and the justice of their
punishment? It is a strange scepticism, they might add, which rejects
the evidence of Scripture, of human legislature, and of the accused
persons themselves.

Notwithstanding these specious reasons, the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries were periods when the revival of learning, the invention of
printing, the fearless investigations of the Reformers into subjects
thought formerly too sacred for consideration of any save the clergy,
had introduced a system of doubt, enquiry, disregard of authority, when
unsupported by argument, and unhesitating exercise of the private
judgment, on subjects which had occupied the bulls of popes and decrees
of councils. In short, the spirit of the age was little disposed to
spare error, however venerable, or countenance imposture, however
sanctioned by length of time and universal acquiescence. Learned writers
arose in different countries to challenge the very existence of this
imaginary crime, to rescue the reputation of the great men whose
knowledge, superior to that of their age, had caused them to be
suspected of magic, and to put a stop to the horrid superstition whose
victims were the aged, ignorant, and defenceless, and which could only
be compared to that which sent victims of old through the fire to

The courageous interposition of those philosophers who opposed science
and experience to the prejudices of superstition and ignorance, and in
doing so incurred much misrepresentation, and perhaps no little
ill-will, in the cause of truth and humanity, claim for them some
distinction in a work on Demonology. The pursuers of exact science to
its coy retreats, were sure to be the first to discover that the most
remarkable phenomena in Nature are regulated by certain fixed laws, and
cannot rationally be referred to supernatural agency, the sufficing
cause to which superstition attributes all that is beyond her own narrow
power of explanation. Each advance in natural knowledge teaches us that
it is the pleasure of the Creator to govern the world by the laws which
he has imposed, and which are not in our times interrupted or suspended.

The learned Wier, or Wierus, was a man of great research in physical
science, and studied under the celebrated Cornelius Agrippa, against
whom the charge of sorcery was repeatedly alleged by Paulus Jovius and
other authors, while he suffered, on the other hand, from the
persecution of the inquisitors of the Church, whose accusation against
this celebrated man was, that he denied the existence of spirits, a
charge very inconsistent with that of sorcery, which consists in
corresponding with them. Wierus, after taking his degree as a doctor of
medicine, became physician to the Duke of Cleves, at whose court he
practised for thirty years with the highest reputation. This learned
man, disregarding the scandal which, by so doing, he was likely to bring
upon himself, was one of the first who attacked the vulgar belief, and
boldly assailed, both by serious arguments and by ridicule, the vulgar
credulity on the subject of wizards and witches.

Gabriel Naudé, or Naudæus, as he termed himself, was a perfect scholar
and man of letters, busied during his whole life with assembling books
together, and enjoying the office of librarian to several persons of
high rank, amongst others, to Queen Christina of Sweden. He was,
besides, a beneficed clergyman, leading a most unblemished life, and so
temperate as never to taste any liquor stronger than water; yet did he
not escape the scandal which is usually flung by their prejudiced
contemporaries upon those disputants whom it is found more easy to
defame than to answer. He wrote an interesting work, entitled "Apologie
pour les Grands Homines Accusés de Magie;" and as he exhibited a good
deal of vivacity of talent, and an earnestness in pleading his cause,
which did not always spare some of the superstitions of Rome herself, he
was charged by his contemporaries as guilty of heresy and scepticism,
when justice could only accuse him of an incautious eagerness to make
good his argument.

Among persons who, upon this subject, purged their eyes with rue and
euphrasie, besides the Rev. Dr. Harsnet and many others (who wrote
rather on special cases of Demonology than on the general question),
Reginald Scot ought to be distinguished. Webster assures us that he was
a "person of competent learning, pious, and of a good family." He seems
to have been a zealous Protestant, and much of his book, as well as that
of Harsnet, is designed to throw upon the Papists in particular those
tricks in which, by confederacy and imposture, the popular ideas
concerning witchcraft, possession, and other supernatural fancies, were
maintained and kept in exercise; but he also writes on the general
question with some force and talent, considering that his subject is
incapable of being reduced into a regular form, and is of a nature
particularly seductive to an excursive talent. He appears to have
studied legerdemain for the purpose of showing how much that is
apparently unaccountable can nevertheless be performed without the
intervention of supernatural assistance, even when it is impossible to
persuade the vulgar that the devil has not been consulted on the
occasion. Scot also had intercourse with some of the celebrated
fortune-tellers, or Philomaths, of the time; one of whom he brings
forward to declare the vanity of the science which he himself had once

To defend the popular belief of witchcraft there arose a number of
advocates, of whom Bodin and some others neither wanted knowledge nor
powers of reasoning. They pressed the incredulous party with the charge
that they denied the existence of a crime against which the law had
denounced a capital punishment. As that law was understood to emanate
from James himself, who was reigning monarch during the hottest part of
the controversy, the English authors who defended the opposite side were
obliged to entrench themselves under an evasion, to avoid maintaining an
argument unpalatable to a degree to those in power, and which might
perchance have proved unsafe to those who used it. With a certain degree
of sophistry they answered that they did not doubt the possibility of
witches, but only demurred to what is their nature, and how they came to
be such--according to the scholastic jargon, that the question in
respect to witches was not _de existentia_, but only _de modo

By resorting to so subtle an argument those who impugned the popular
belief were obliged, with some inconsistency, to grant that witchcraft
had existed, and might exist, only insisting that it was a species of
witchcraft consisting of they knew not what, but certainly of something
different from that which legislators, judges, and juries had hitherto
considered the statute as designed to repress.

In the meantime (the rather that the debate was on a subject
particularly difficult of comprehension) the debating parties grew warm,
and began to call names. Bodin, a lively Frenchman of an irritable
habit, explained the zeal of Wierus to protect the tribe of sorcerers
from punishment, by stating that he himself was a conjurer and the
scholar of Cornelius Agrippa, and might therefore well desire to save
the lives of those accused of the same league with Satan. Hence they
threw on their antagonists the offensive names of witch-patrons and
witch-advocates, as if it were impossible for any to hold the opinion of
Naudæus, Wierus, Scot, &c., without patronizing the devil and the
witches against their brethren of mortality. Assailed by such heavy
charges, the philosophers themselves lost patience, and retorted abuse
in their turn, calling Bodin, Delrio, and others who used their
arguments, witch-advocates, and the like, as the affirming and defending
the existence of the crime seemed to increase the number of witches, and
assuredly augmented the list of executions. But for a certain time the
preponderance of the argument lay on the side of the Demonologists, and
we may briefly observe the causes which gave their opinions, for a
period, greater influence than their opponents on the public mind.

It is first to be observed that Wierus, for what reason cannot well be
conjectured, except to show the extent of his cabalistical knowledge,
had introduced into his work against witchcraft the whole Stenographia
of Trithemius, which he had copied from the original in the library of
Cornelius Agrippa; and which, suspicious from the place where he found
it, and from the long catalogue of fiends which it contained, with the
charms for raising and for binding them to the service of mortals, was
considered by Bodin as containing proof that Wierus himself was a
sorcerer; not one of the wisest, certainly, since he thus unnecessarily
placed at the disposal of any who might buy the book the whole secrets
which formed his stock-in-trade.

Secondly, we may notice that, from the state of physical science at the
period when Van Helmont, Paracelsus, and others began to penetrate into
its recesses, it was an unknown, obscure, and ill-defined region, and
did not permit those who laboured in it to give that precise and
accurate account of their discoveries which the progress of reasoning
experimentally and from analysis has enabled the late discoverers to do
with success. Natural magic--a phrase used to express those phenomena
which could be produced by a knowledge of the properties of matter--had
so much in it that was apparently uncombined and uncertain, that the art
of chemistry was accounted mystical, and an opinion prevailed that the
results now known to be the consequence of laws of matter, could not be
traced through their various combinations even by those who knew the
effects themselves. Physical science, in a word, was cumbered by a
number of fanciful and incorrect opinions, chiefly of a mystical
character. If, for instance, it was observed that a flag and a fern
never grew near each other, the circumstance was imputed to some
antipathy between these vegetables; nor was it for some time resolved by
the natural rule, that the flag has its nourishment in marshy ground,
whereas the fern loves a deep dryish soil. The attributes of the
divining-rod were fully credited; the discovery of the philosopher's
stone was daily hoped for; and electricity, magnetism, and other
remarkable and misconceived phenomena were appealed to as proof of the
reasonableness of their expectations. Until such phenomena were traced
to their sources, imaginary and often mystical causes were assigned to
them, for the same reason that, in the wilds of a partially discovered
country, according to the satirist,

"Geographers on pathless downs
 Place elephants for want of towns."

This substitution of mystical fancies for experimental reasoning gave,
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a doubtful and twilight
appearance to the various branches of physical philosophy. The learned
and sensible Dr. Webster, for instance, writing in detection of supposed
witchcraft, assumes, as a string of undeniable facts, opinions which our
more experienced age would reject as frivolous fancies; "for example,
the effects of healing by the weapon-salve, the sympathetic powder, the
curing of various diseases by apprehensions, amulets, or by
transplantation." All of which undoubted wonders he accuses the age of
desiring to throw on the devil's back--an unnecessary load certainly,
since such things do not exist, and it is therefore in vain to seek to
account for them. It followed that, while the opposers of the ordinary
theory might have struck the deepest blows at the witch hypothesis by an
appeal to common sense, they were themselves hampered by articles of
philosophical belief which they must have been sensible contained nearly
as deep draughts upon human credulity as were made by the Demonologists,
against whose doctrine they protested. This error had a doubly bad
effect, both as degrading the immediate department in which it occurred,
and as affording a protection for falsehood in other branches of
science. The champions who, in their own province, were obliged by the
imperfect knowledge of the times to admit much that was mystical and
inexplicable--those who opined, with Bacon, that warts could be cured by
sympathy--who thought, with Napier, that hidden treasures could be
discovered by the mathematics--who salved the weapon instead of the
wound, and detected murders as well as springs of water by the
divining-rod, could not consistently use, to confute the believers in
witches, an argument turning on the impossible or the incredible.

Such were the obstacles arising from the vanity of philosophers and the
imperfection of their science, which suspended the strength of their
appeal to reason and common sense against the condemning of wretches to
a cruel death on account of crimes which the nature of things rendered
in modern times totally impossible. We cannot doubt that they suffered
considerably in the contest, which was carried on with much anger and
malevolence; but the good seed which they had sown remained uncorrupted
in the soil, to bear fruit so soon as the circumstances should be
altered which at first impeded its growth. In the next letter I shall
take a view of the causes which helped to remove these impediments, in
addition, it must always be remembered, to the general increase of
knowledge and improvement of experimental philosophy.


       Penal Laws unpopular when rigidly exercised--Prosecution of Witches
    placed in the hand of Special Commissioners, _ad
    inquirendum_--Prosecution for Witchcraft not frequent in the Elder
    Period of the Roman Empire--Nor in the Middle Ages--Some Cases took
    place, however--The Maid of Orleans--The Duchess of
    Gloucester--Richard the Third's Charge against the Relations of the
    Queen Dowager--But Prosecutions against Sorcerers became more common
    in the end of the Fourteenth Century--Usually united with the Charge
    of Heresy--Monstrelet's Account of the Persecution against the
    Waldenses, under pretext of Witchcraft--Florimond's Testimony
    concerning the Increase of Witches in his own Time--Bull of Pope
    Innocent VIII.--Various Prosecutions in Foreign Countries under this
    severe Law--Prosecutions in Labourt by the Inquisitor De Lancre and
    his Colleague--Lycanthropy--Witches in Spain--In Sweden--and
    particularly those Apprehended at Mohra.

Penal laws, like those of the Middle Ages, denounced against witchcraft,
may be at first hailed with unanimous acquiescence and approbation, but
are uniformly found to disgust and offend at least the more sensible
part of the public when the punishments become frequent and are
relentlessly inflicted. Those against treason are no exception. Each
reflecting government will do well to shorten that melancholy reign of
terror which perhaps must necessarily follow on the discovery of a plot
or the defeat of an insurrection. They ought not, either in humanity or
policy, to wait till the voice of the nation calls to them, as Mecænas
to Augustus, "_Surge tandem carnifex_!"

It is accordingly remarkable, in different countries, how often at some
particular period of their history there occurred an epidemic of terror
of witches, which, as fear is always cruel and credulous, glutted the
public with seas of innocent blood; and how uniformly men loathed the
gore after having swallowed it, and by a reaction natural to the human
mind desired, in prudence, to take away or restrict those laws which had
been the source of carnage, in order that their posterity might neither
have the will nor the means to enter into similar excesses.

A short review of foreign countries, before we come to notice the
British Islands and their Colonies, will prove the truth of this
statement. In Catholic countries on the Continent, the various kingdoms
adopted readily that part of the civil law, already mentioned, which
denounces sorcerers and witches as rebels to God, and authors of
sedition in the empire. But being considered as obnoxious equally to the
canon and civil law, Commissions of Inquisition were especially
empowered to weed out of the land the witches and those who had
intercourse with familiar spirits, or in any other respect fell under
the ban of the Church, as well as the heretics who promulgated or
adhered to false doctrine. Special warrants were thus granted from time
to time in behalf of such inquisitors, authorizing them to visit those
provinces of Germany, France, or Italy where any report concerning
witches or sorcery had alarmed the public mind; and those Commissioners,
proud of the trust reposed in them, thought it becoming to use the
utmost exertions on their part, that the subtlety of the examinations,
and the severity of the tortures they inflicted, might wring the truth
out of all suspected persons, until they rendered the province in which
they exercised their jurisdiction a desert from which the inhabitants
fled. It would be impossible to give credit to the extent of this
delusion, had not some of the inquisitors themselves been reporters of
their own judicial exploits: the same hand which subscribed the sentence
has recorded the execution.

In the earlier period of the Church of Rome witchcraft is frequently
alluded to, and a capital punishment assigned to those who were supposed
to have accomplished by sorcery the death of others, or to have
attempted, by false prophecies or otherwise, under pretext of consulting
with the spiritual world, to make innovation in the state. But no
general denunciation against witchcraft itself, as a league with the
Enemy of Man, or desertion of the Deity, and a crime _sui generis_,
appears to have been so acted upon, until the later period of the
sixteenth century, when the Papal system had attained its highest pitch
of power and of corruption. The influence of the Churchmen was in early
times secure, and they rather endeavoured, by the fabrication of false
miracles, to prolong the blind veneration of the people, than to vex
others and weary themselves by secret investigations into dubious and
mystical trespasses, in which probably the higher and better instructed
members of the clerical order put as little faith at that time as they
do now. Did there remain a mineral fountain, respected for the cures
which it had wrought, a huge oak-tree, or venerated mount, which beauty
of situation had recommended to traditional respect, the fathers of the
Roman Church were in policy reluctant to abandon such impressive spots,
or to represent them as exclusively the rendezvous of witches or of evil
spirits. On the contrary, by assigning the virtues of the spring or the
beauty of the tree to the guardianship of some saint, they acquired, as
it were, for the defence of their own doctrine, a frontier fortress
which they wrested from the enemy, and which it was at least needless to
dismantle, if it could be conveniently garrisoned and defended. Thus the
Church secured possession of many beautiful pieces of scenery, as Mr.
Whitfield is said to have grudged to the devil the monopoly of all the
fine tunes.

It is true that this policy was not uniformly observed. The story of the
celebrated Jeanne d'Arc, called the Maid of Orleans, preserves the
memory of such a custom, which was in that case turned to the prejudice
of the poor woman who observed it.

It is well known that this unfortunate female fell into the hands of the
English, after having, by her courage and enthusiasm manifested on many
important occasions, revived the drooping courage of the French, and
inspired them with the hope of once more freeing their country. The
English vulgar regarded her as a sorceress--the French as an inspired
heroine; while the wise on both sides considered her as neither the one
nor the other, but a tool used by the celebrated Dunois to play the part
which he assigned her. The Duke of Bedford, when the ill-starred Jeanne
fell into his hands, took away her life in order to stigmatize her
memory with sorcery and to destroy the reputation she had acquired among
the French. The mean recurrence to such a charge against such a person
had no more success than it deserved, although Jeanne was condemned both
by the Parliament of Bordeux and the University of Paris. Her indictment
accused her of having frequented an ancient oak-tree, and a fountain
arising under it, called the Fated or Fairy Oak of Bourlemont. Here she
was stated to have repaired during the hours of divine service, dancing,
skipping, and making gestures, around the tree and fountain, and hanging
on the branches chaplets and garlands of flowers, gathered for the
purpose, reviving, doubtless, the obsolete idolatry which in ancient
times had been rendered on the same spot to the _Genius Loci_. The
charmed sword and blessed banner, which she had represented as signs of
her celestial mission, were in this hostile charge against her described
as enchanted implements, designed by the fiends and fairies whom she
worshipped to accomplish her temporary success. The death of the
innocent, high-minded, and perhaps amiable enthusiast, was not, we are
sorry to say, a sacrifice to a superstitious fear of witchcraft, but a
cruel instance of wicked policy mingled with national jealousy and

To the same cause, about the same period, we may impute the trial of the
Duchess of Gloucester, wife of the good Duke Humphrey, accused of
consulting witches concerning the mode of compassing the death of her
husband's nephew, Henry VI. The Duchess was condemned to do penance, and
thereafter banished to the Isle of Man, while several of her accomplices
died in prison or were executed. But in this instance also the alleged
witchcraft was only the ostensible cause of a procedure which had its
real source in the deep hatred between the Duke of Gloucester and
Cardinal Beaufort, his half-brother. The same pretext was used by
Richard III. when he brought the charge of sorcery against the Queen
Dowager, Jane Shore, and the queen's kinsmen; and yet again was by that
unscrupulous prince directed against Morton, afterwards Archbishop of
Canterbury, and other adherents of the Earl of Richmond. The accusation
in both cases was only chosen as a charge easily made and difficult to
be eluded or repelled.

But in the meanwhile, as the accusation of witchcraft thus afforded to
tyranny or policy the ready means of assailing persons whom it might not
have been possible to convict of any other crime, the aspersion itself
was gradually considered with increase of terror as spreading wider and
becoming more contagious. So early as the year 1398 the University of
Paris, in laying down rules for the judicial prosecuting of witches,
express their regret that the crime was growing more frequent than in
any former age. The more severe enquiries and frequent punishments by
which the judges endeavoured to check the progress of this impious
practice seem to have increased the disease, as indeed it has been
always remarked that those morbid affections of mind which depend on the
imagination are sure to become more common in proportion as public
attention is fastened on stories connected with their display.

In the same century schisms arising from different causes greatly
alarmed the Church of Rome. The universal spirit of enquiry which was
now afloat, taking a different direction in different countries, had in
almost all of them stirred up a sceptical dissatisfaction with the
dogmas of the Church--such views being rendered more credible to the
poorer classes through the corruption of manners among the clergy, too
many of whom wealth and ease had caused to neglect that course of
morality which best recommends religious doctrine. In almost every
nation in Europe there lurked in the crowded cities, or the wild
solitude of the country, sects who agreed chiefly in their animosity to
the supremacy of Rome and their desire to cast off her domination. The
Waldenses and Albigenses were parties existing in great numbers through
the south of France. The Romanists became extremely desirous to combine
the doctrine of the heretics with witchcraft, which, according to their
account, abounded especially where the Protestants were most numerous;
and, the bitterness increasing, they scrupled not to throw the charge of
sorcery, as a matter of course, upon those who dissented from the
Catholic standard of faith. The Jesuit Delrio alleges several reasons
for the affinity which he considers as existing between the Protestant
and the sorcerer; he accuses the former of embracing the opinion of
Wierus and other defenders of the devil (as he calls all who oppose his
own opinions concerning witchcraft), thus fortifying the kingdom of
Satan against that of the Church.[47]

[Footnote 47: Delrio, "De Magia." See the Preface.]

A remarkable passage in Monstrelet puts in a clear view the point aimed
at by the Catholics in thus confusing and blending the doctrines of
heresy and the practice of witchcraft, and how a meeting of inoffensive
Protestants could be cunningly identified with a Sabbath of hags and

"In this year (1459), in the town of Arras and county of Artois, arose,
through a terrible and melancholy chance, an opinion called, I know not
why, the Religion of Vaudoisie. This sect consisted, it is said, of
certain persons, both men and women, who, under cloud of night, by the
power of the devil, repaired to some solitary spot, amid woods and
deserts, where the devil appeared before them in a human form--save that
his visage is never perfectly visible to them--read to the assembly a
book of his ordinances, informing them how he would be obeyed;
distributed a very little money and a plentiful meal, which was
concluded by a scene of general profligacy; after which each one of the
party was conveyed home to her or his own habitation.

"On accusations of access to such acts of madness," continues
Monstrelet, "several creditable persons of the town of Arras were seized
and imprisoned along with some foolish women and persons of little
consequence. These were so horribly tortured that some of them admitted
the truth of the whole accusations, and said, besides, that they had
seen and recognised in their nocturnal assembly many persons of rank,
prelates, seigneurs, and governors of bailliages and cities, being such
names as the examinators had suggested to the persons examined, while
they constrained them by torture to impeach the persons to whom they
belonged. Several of those who had been thus informed against were
arrested, thrown into prison, and tortured for so long a time that they
also were obliged to confess what was charged against them. After this
those of mean condition were executed and inhumanly burnt, while the
richer and more powerful of the accused ransomed themselves by sums of
money, to avoid the punishment and the shame attending it. Many even of
those also confessed being persuaded to take that course by the
interrogators, who promised them indemnity for life and fortune. Some
there were, of a truth, who suffered with marvellous patience and
constancy the torments inflicted on them, and would confess nothing
imputed to their charge; but they, too, had to give large sums to the
judges, who exacted that such of them as, notwithstanding their
mishandling, were still able to move, should banish themselves from that
part of the country." Monstrelet winds up this shocking narrative by
informing us "that it ought not to be concealed that the whole
accusation was a stratagem of wicked men for their own covetous
purposes, and in order, by these false accusations and forced
confessions, to destroy the life, fame, and fortune of wealthy persons."

Delrio himself confesses that Franciscus Balduinus gives an account of
the pretended punishment, but real persecution, of these Waldenses, in
similar terms with Monstrelet, whose suspicions are distinctly spoken
out, and adds that the Parliament of Paris, having heard the affair by
appeal, had declared the sentence illegal and the judges iniquitous, by
an arrét dated 20th May, 1491. The Jesuit Delrio quotes the passage, but
adheres with lingering reluctance to the truth of the accusation. "The
Waldenses (of whom the Albigenses are a species) were," he says, "never
free from the most wretched excess of fascination;" and finally, though
he allows the conduct of the judges to have been most odious, he cannot
prevail on himself to acquit the parties charged by such interested
accusers with horrors which should hardly have been found proved even
upon the most distinct evidence. He appeals on this occasion to
Florimond's work on Antichrist. The introduction of that work deserves
to be quoted, as strongly illustrative of the condition to which the
country was reduced, and calculated to make an impression the very
reverse probably of that which the writer would have desired:--

"All those who have afforded us some signs of the approach of Antichrist
agree that the increase of sorcery and witchcraft is to distinguish the
melancholy period of his advent; and was ever age so afflicted with them
as ours? The seats destined for criminals before our judicatories are
blackened with persons accused of this guilt. There are not judges
enough to try them. Our dungeons are gorged with them. No day passes
that we do not render our tribunals bloody by the dooms which we
pronounce, or in which we do not return to our homes discountenanced and
terrified at the horrible contents of the confessions which it has been
our duty to hear. And the devil is accounted so good a master that we
cannot commit so great a number of his slaves to the flames but what
there shall arise from their ashes a number sufficient to supply their

[Footnote 48: Florimond, "Concerning the Antichrist," cap. 7, n. 5,
quoted by Delrio, "De Magia," p. 820.]

This last statement, by which it appears that the most active and
unsparing inquisition was taking place, corresponds with the historical
notices of repeated persecutions upon this dreadful charge of sorcery. A
bull of Pope Innocent VIII. rang the tocsin against this formidable
crime, and set forth in the most dismal colours the guilt, while it
stimulated the inquisitors to the unsparing discharge of their duty in
searching out and punishing the guilty. "It is come to our ears," says
the bull, "that numbers of both sexes do not avoid to have intercourse
with the infernal fiends, and that by their sorceries they afflict both
man and beast; that they blight the marriage-bed, destroy the births of
women, and the increase of cattle; they blast the corn on the ground,
the grapes of the vineyard, the fruits of the trees, the grass and herbs
of the field." For which reasons the inquisitors were armed with the
apostolic power, and called upon to "convict, imprison, and punish," and
so forth.

Dreadful were the consequences of this bull all over the Continent,
especially in Italy, Germany, and France,[49] About 1485 Cumanus burnt
as witches forty-one poor women in one year in the county of Burlia. In
the ensuing years he continued the prosecution with such unremitting
zeal that many fled from the country.

[Footnote 49: Dr. Hutchinson quotes "H. Institor," 105, 161.]

Alciatus states that an inquisitor, about the same period, burnt an
hundred sorcerers in Piedmont, and persevered in his inquiries till
human patience was exhausted, and the people arose and drove him out of
the country, after which the jurisdiction was deferred to the
archbishop. That prelate consulted Alciatus himself, who had just then
obtained his doctor's degree in civil law, to which he was afterwards an
honour. A number of unfortunate wretches were brought for judgment,
fitter, according to the civilian's opinion, for a course of hellebore
than for the stake. Some were accused of having dishonoured the crucifix
and denied their salvation; others of having absconded to keep the
Devil's Sabbath, in spite of bolts and bars; others of having merely
joined in the choral dances around the witches' tree of rendezvous.
Several of their husbands and relatives swore that they were in bed and
asleep during these pretended excursions. Alciatus recommended gentle
and temperate measures; and the minds of the country became at length

[Footnote 50: Alciat. "Parerg. Juris," lib. viii. chap. 22.]

In 1488, the country four leagues around Constance was laid waste by
lightning and tempest, and two women being, by fair means or foul, made
to confess themselves guilty as the cause of the devastation, suffered

About 1515, 500 persons were executed at Geneva, under the character of
"Protestant witches," from which we may suppose many suffered for
heresy. Forty-eight witches were burnt at Ravensburgh within four years,
as Hutchison reports, on the authority of Mengho, the author of the
"Malleus Malleficarum." In Lorraine the learned inquisitor, Remigius,
boasts that he put to death 900 people in fifteen years. As many were
banished from that country, so that whole towns were on the point of
becoming desolate. In 1524, 1,000 persons were put to death in one year
at Como, in Italy, and about 100 every year after for several years.[51]

[Footnote 51: Bart. de Spina, de Strigilibus.]

In the beginning of the next century the persecution of witches broke
out in France with a fury which was hardly conceivable, and multitudes
were burnt amid that gay and lively people. Some notion of the extreme
prejudice of their judges may be drawn from the words of one of the
inquisitors themselves. Pierre de Lancre, royal councillor in the
Parliament of Bourdeaux, with whom the President Espaignel was joined in
a commission to enquire into certain acts of sorcery, reported to have
been committed in Labourt and its neighbourhood, at the foot of the
Pyrenees, about the month of May, 1619. A few extracts from the preface
will best evince the state of mind in which he proceeded to the
discharge of his commission.

His story assumes the form of a narrative of a direct war between Satan
on the one side and the Royal Commissioners on the other, "because,"
says Councillor de Lancre, with self-complaisance, "nothing is so
calculated to strike terror into the fiend and his dominions as a
commission with such plenary powers."

At first, Satan endeavoured to supply his vassals who were brought
before the judges with strength to support the examinations, so that if,
by intermission of the torture, the wretches should fall into a doze,
they declared, when they were recalled from it to the question, that the
profound stupor "had something of Paradise in it, being gilded," said
the judge, "with the immediate presence of the devil;" though, in all
probability, it rather derived its charms from the natural comparison
between the insensibility of exhaustion and the previous agony of acute
torture. The judges took care that the fiend seldom obtained any
advantage in the matter by refusing their victims, in most cases, any
interval of rest or sleep. Satan then proceeded, in the way of direct
defiance, to stop the mouth of the accused openly, and by mere force,
with something like a visible obstruction in their throat.
Notwithstanding this, to put the devil to shame, some of the accused
found means, in spite of him, to confess and be hanged, or rather burnt.
The fiend lost much credit by his failure on this occasion. Before the
formidable Commissioners arrived, he had held his _cour plénière_ before
the gates of Bourdeaux, and in the square of the palace of Galienne,
whereas he was now insulted publicly by his own vassals, and in the
midst of his festival of the Sabbath the children and relations of the
witches who had suffered not sticking to say to him, "Out upon you! Your
promise was that our mothers who were prisoners should not die; and look
how you have kept your word with us! They have been burnt, and are a
heap of ashes." To appease this mutiny Satan had two evasions. He
produced illusory fires, and encouraged the mutinous to walk through
them, assuring them that the judicial pile was as frigid and inoffensive
as those which he exhibited to them. Again, taking his refuge in lies,
of which he is well known to be the father, he stoutly affirmed that
their parents, who seemed to have suffered, were safe in a foreign
country, and that if their children would call on them they would
receive an answer. They made the invocation accordingly, and Satan
answered each of them in a tone which resembled the voice of the
lamented parent almost as successfully as Monsieur Alexandra could have

Proceeding to a yet more close attack, the Commissioners, on the eve of
one of the Fiend's Sabbaths, placed the gibbet on which they executed
their victims just on the spot where Satan's gilded chair was usually
stationed. The devil was much offended at such an affront, and yet had
so little power in the matter that he could only express his resentment
by threats that he would hang Messieurs D'Amon and D'Urtubbe, gentlemen
who had solicited and promoted the issuing of the Commission, and would
also burn the Commissioners themselves in their own fire. We regret to
say that Satan was unable to execute either of these laudable
resolutions. Ashamed of his excuses, he abandoned for three or four
sittings his attendance on the Sabbaths, sending as his representative
an imp of subordinate account, and in whom no one reposed confidence.
When he took courage again to face his parliament, the Arch-fiend
covered his defection by assuring them that he had been engaged in a
lawsuit with the Deity, which he had gained with costs, and that six
score of infant children were to be delivered up to him in name of
damages, and the witches were directed to procure such victims
accordingly. After this grand fiction he confined himself to the petty
vengeance of impeding the access of confessors to the condemned, which
was the more easy as few of them could speak the Basque language. I have
no time to detail the ingenious method by which the learned Councillor
de Lancre explains why the district of Labourt should be particularly
exposed to the pest of sorcery. The chief reason seems to be that it is
a mountainous, a sterile, and a border country, where the men are all
fishers and the women smoke tobacco and wear short petticoats.

To a person who, in this presumptuous, trifling, and conceited spirit,
has composed a quarto volume full of the greatest absurdities and
grossest obscenities ever impressed on paper, it was the pleasure of the
most Christian Monarch to consign the most absolute power which could be
exercised on these poor people; and he might with as much prudence have
turned a ravenous wolf upon an undefended flock, of whom the animal was
the natural enemy, as they were his natural prey. The priest, as well as
the ignorant peasant, fell under the suspicion of this fell Commission;
and De Lancre writes, with much complacency, that the accused were
brought to trial to the number of forty in one day--with what chance of
escape, when the judges were blinded with prejudice, and could only hear
the evidence and the defence through the medium of an interpreter, the
understanding of the reader may easily anticipate.

Among other gross transgressions of the most ordinary rules, it may be
remarked that the accused, in what their judges called confessions,
contradicted each other at every turn respecting the description of the
Domdaniel in which they pretended to have been assembled, and the fiend
who presided there. All spoke to a sort of gilded throne; but some saw a
hideous wild he-goat seated there; some a man disfigured and twisted, as
suffering torture; some, with better taste, beheld a huge indistinct
form, resembling one of those mutilated trunks of trees found in ancient
forests. But De Lancre was no "Daniel come to judgment," and the
discrepancy of evidence, which saved the life and fame of Susannah, made
no impression in favour of the sorcerers of Labourt.

Instances occur in De Lancre's book of the trial and condemnation of
persons accused of the crime of _lycanthropy_, a superstition which was
chiefly current in France, but was known in other countries, and is the
subject of great debate between Wier, Naudé, Scot, on the one hand, and
their demonological adversaries on the other. The idea, said the one
party, was that a human being had the power, by sorcery, of transforming
himself into the shape of a wolf, and in that capacity, being seized
with a species of fury, he rushed out and made havoc among the flocks,
slaying and wasting, like the animal whom he represented, far more than
he could devour. The more incredulous reasoners would not allow of a
real transformation, whether with or without the enchanted hide of a
wolf, which in some cases was supposed to aid the metamorphosis, and
contended that lycanthropy only subsisted as a woful species of disease,
a melancholy state of mind, broken with occasional fits of insanity, in
which the patient imagined that he committed the ravages of which he was
accused. Such a person, a mere youth, was tried at Besançon, who gave
himself out for a servant, or yeoman pricker, of the Lord of the
Forest--so he called his superior--who was judged to be the devil. He
was, by his master's power, transformed into the likeness and performed
the usual functions of a wolf, and was attended in his course by one
larger, which he supposed the Lord of the Forest himself. These wolves,
he said, ravaged the flocks, and throttled the dogs which stood in their
defence. If either had not seen the other, he howled, after the manner
of the animal, to call his comrade to his share of the prey; if he did
not come upon this signal, he proceeded to bury it the best way he

Such was the general persecution under Messieurs Espiagnel and De
Lancre. Many similar scenes occurred in France, till the edict of Louis
XIV. discharging all future prosecutions for witchcraft, after which the
crime itself was heard of no more.[52]

[Footnote 52: The reader may sup full on such wild horrors in the
_causes célèbres_.]

While the spirit of superstition was working such horrors in France, it
was not, we may believe, more idle in other countries of Europe. In
Spain, particularly, long the residence of the Moors, a people putting
deep faith in all the day-dreams of witchcraft, good and evil genii,
spells and talismans, the ardent and devotional temper of the old
Christians dictated a severe research after sorcerers as well as
heretics, and relapsed Jews or Mahommedans. In former times, during the
subsistence of the Moorish kingdoms in Spain, a school was supposed to
be kept open in Toboso for the study, it is said, of magic, but more
likely of chemistry, algebra, and other sciences, which, altogether
mistaken by the ignorant and vulgar, and imperfectly understood even by
those who studied them, were supposed to be allied to necromancy, or at
least to natural magic. It was, of course, the business of the
Inquisition to purify whatever such pursuits had left of suspicious
Catholicism, and their labours cost as much blood on accusations of
witchcraft and magic as for heresy and relapse.

Even the colder nations of Europe were subject to the same epidemic
terror for witchcraft, and a specimen of it was exhibited in the sober
and rational country of Sweden about the middle of last century, an
account of which, being translated into English by a respectable
clergyman, Doctor Horneck, excited general surprise how a whole people
could be imposed upon to the degree of shedding much blood, and
committing great cruelty and injustice, on account of the idle
falsehoods propagated by a crew of lying children, who in this case were
both actors and witnesses.

The melancholy truth that "the human heart is deceitful above all
things, and desperately wicked," is by nothing proved so strongly as by
the imperfect sense displayed by children of the sanctity of moral
truth. Both the gentlemen and the mass of the people, as they advance in
years, learn to despise and avoid falsehood; the former out of pride,
and from a remaining feeling, derived from the days of chivalry, that
the character of a liar is a deadly stain on their honour; the other,
from some general reflection upon the necessity of preserving a
character for integrity in the course of life, and a sense of the truth
of the common adage, that "honesty is the best policy." But these are
acquired habits of thinking. The child has no natural love of truth, as
is experienced by all who have the least acquaintance with early youth.
If they are charged with a fault while they can hardly speak, the first
words they stammer forth are a falsehood to excuse it. Nor is this all:
the temptation of attracting attention, the pleasure of enjoying
importance, the desire to escape from an unpleasing task, or accomplish
a holiday, will at any time overcome the sentiment of truth, so weak is
it within them. Hence thieves and housebreakers, from a surprisingly
early period, find means of rendering children useful in their mystery;
nor are such acolytes found to evade justice with less dexterity than
the more advanced rogues. Where a number of them are concerned in the
same mischief, there is something resembling virtue in the fidelity with
which the common secret is preserved. Children, under the usual age of
their being admitted to give evidence, were necessarily often examined
in witch trials; and it is terrible to see how often the little
impostors, from spite or in mere gaiety of spirit, have by their art and
perseverance made shipwreck of men's lives. But it would be hard to
discover a case which, supported exclusively by the evidence of children
(the confessions under torture excepted), and obviously existing only in
the young witnesses' own imagination, has been attended with such
serious consequences, or given cause to so extensive and fatal a
delusion, as that which occurred in Sweden.

The scene was the Swedish village of Mohra, in the province of Elfland,
which district had probably its name from some remnant of ancient
superstition. The delusion had come to a great height ere it reached the
ears of government, when, as was the general procedure, Royal
Commissioners were sent down, men well fitted for the duty entrusted to
them; that is, with ears open to receive the incredibilities with which
they were to be crammed, and hearts hardened against every degree of
compassion to the accused. The complaints of the common people, backed
by some persons of better condition, were that a number of persons,
renowned as witches, had drawn several hundred children of all classes
under the devil's authority. They demanded, therefore, the punishment of
these agents of hell, reminding the judges that the province had been
clear of witches since the burning of some on a former occasion. The
accused were numerous, so many as threescore and ten witches and
sorcerers being seized in the village of Mohra; three-and-twenty
confessed their crimes, and were sent to Faluna, where most of them were
executed. Fifteen of the children were also led to death. Six-and-thirty
of those who were young were forced to run the gauntlet, as it is
called, and were, besides, lashed weekly at the church doors for a whole
year. Twenty of the youngest were condemned to the same discipline for
three days only.

The process seems to have consisted in confronting the children with the
witches, and hearing the extraordinary story which the former insisted
upon maintaining. The children, to the number of three hundred, were
found more or less perfect in a tale as full of impossible absurdities
as ever was told around a nursery fire. Their confession ran thus:--

They were taught by the witches to go to a cross way, and with certain
ceremonies to invoke the devil by the name of Antecessor, begging him to
carry them off to Blockula, meaning, perhaps, the Brockenberg, in the
Hartz forest, a mountain infamous for being the common scene of witches'
meetings, and to which Goethe represents the spirit Mephistopheles as
conducting his pupil Faustus. The devil courteously appeared at the call
of the children in various forms, but chiefly as a mad Merry-Andrew,
with a grey coat, red and blue stockings, a red beard, a high-crowned
hat, with linen of various colours wrapt round it, and garters of
peculiar length. He set each child on some beast of his providing, and
anointed them with a certain unguent composed of the scrapings of altars
and the filings of church clocks. There is here a discrepancy of
evidence which in another court would have cast the whole. Most of the
children considered their journey to be corporeal and actual. Some
supposed, however, that their strength or spirit only travelled with the
fiend, and that their body remained behind. Very few adopted this last
hypothesis, though the parents unanimously bore witness that the bodies
of the children remained in bed, and could not be awakened out of a deep
sleep, though they shook them for the purpose of awakening them. So
strong was, nevertheless, the belief of nurses and mothers in their
actual transportation, that a sensible clergyman, mentioned in the
preface, who had resolved he would watch his son the whole night and see
what hag or fiend would take him from his arms, had the utmost
difficulty, notwithstanding, in convincing his mother that the child had
not been transported to Blockula during the very night he held him in
his embrace.

The learned translator candidly allows, "out of so great a multitude as
were accused, condemned, and executed, there might be some who suffered
unjustly, and owed their death more to the malice of their enemies than
to their skill in the black art, I will readily admit. Nor will I deny,"
he continues, "but that when the news of these transactions and
accounts, how the children bewitched fel into fits and strange unusual
postures, spread abroad in the kingdom, some fearful and credulous
people, if they saw their children any way disordered, might think they
were bewitched or ready to be carried away by imps."[53] The learned
gentleman here stops short in a train of reasoning, which, followed out,
would have deprived the world of the benefit of his translation. For if
it was possible that some of these unfortunate persons fell a sacrifice
to the malice of their neighbours or the prejudices of witnesses, as he
seems ready to grant, is it not more reasonable to believe that the
whole of the accused were convicted on similar grounds, than to allow,
as truth, the slightest part of the gross and vulgar impossibilities
upon which alone their execution can be justified?

[Footnote 53: Translator's preface to Horneck's "Account of what
happened in the Kingdom of Sweden." See appendix to Glanville's work.]

The Blockula, which was the object of their journey, was a house having
a fine gate painted with divers colours, with a paddock, in which they
turned the beasts to graze which had brought them to such scenes of
revelry. If human beings had been employed they were left slumbering
against the wall of the house. The plan of the devil's palace consisted
of one large banqueting apartment and several withdrawing-rooms. Their
food was homely enough, being broth made of coleworts and bacon, with
bread and butter, and milk and cheese. The same acts of wickedness and
profligacy were committed at Blockula which are usually supposed to take
place upon the devil's Sabbath elsewhere; but there was this particular,
that the witches had sons and daughters by the fiends, who were married
together, and produced an offspring of toads and serpents.

These confessions being delivered before the accused witches, they at
first stoutly denied them. At last some of them burst into tears, and
acquiesced in the horrors imputed to them. They said the practice of
carrying off children had been enlarged very lately (which shows the
whole rumours to have arisen recently); and the despairing wretches
confirmed what the children said, with many other extravagant
circumstances, as the mode of elongating a goat's back by means of a
spit, on which we care not to be particular. It is worth mentioning that
the devil, desirous of enjoying his own reputation among his subjects,
pretended at one time to be dead, and was much lamented at Blockula--but
he soon revived again.

Some attempts these witches had made to harm individuals on middle
earth, but with little success. One old sorceress, indeed, attempted to
strike a nail, given her by the devil for that purpose, into the head of
the minister of Elfland; but as the skull was of unusual solidity, the
reverend gentleman only felt a headache from her efforts. They could not
be persuaded to exhibit any of their tricks before the Commissioners,
excusing themselves by alleging that their witchcraft had left them, and
that the devil had amused them with the vision of a burning pit, having
a hand thrust out of it.

The total number who lost their lives on this singular occasion was
fourscore and four persons, including fifteen children; and at this
expense of blood was extinguished a flame that arose as suddenly, burned
as fiercely, and decayed as rapidly, as any portent of the kind within
the annals of superstition. The Commissioners returned to Court with the
high approbation of all concerned; prayers were ordered through the
churches weekly, that Heaven would be pleased to restrain the powers of
the devil, and deliver the poor creatures who hitherto had groaned under
it, as well as the innocent children, who were carried off by hundreds
at once.

If we could ever learn the true explanation of this story, we should
probably find that the cry was led by some clever mischievous boy, who
wished to apologise to his parents for lying an hour longer in the
morning by alleging he had been at Blockula on the preceding night; and
that the desire to be as much distinguished as their comrade had
stimulated the bolder and more acute of his companions to the like
falsehoods; whilst those of weaker minds assented, either from fear of
punishment or the force of dreaming over at night the horrors which were
dinned into their ears all day. Those who were ingenuous, as it was
termed, in their confessions, received praise and encouragement; and
those who denied or were silent, and, as it was considered, impenitent,
were sure to bear the harder share of the punishment which was addressed
to all. It is worth while also to observe, that the smarter children
began to improve their evidence and add touches to the general picture
of Blockula. "Some of the children talked much of a white angel, which
used to forbid them what the devil bid them do, and told them that these
doings should not last long. And (they added) this better being would
place himself sometimes at the door betwixt the witches and the
children, and when they came to Blockula he pulled the children back,
but the witches went in."

This additional evidence speaks for itself, and shows the whole tale to
be the fiction of the children's imagination, which some of them wished
to improve upon. The reader may consult "An Account of what happened in
the Kingdom of Sweden in the years 1669 and 1670, and afterwards
translated out of High Dutch into English by Dr. Antony Horneck,"
attached to Glanville's "Sadducismus Triumphatus." The translator refers
to the evidence of Baron Sparr, Ambassador from the Court of Sweden to
the Court of England in 1672; and that of Baron Lyonberg, Envoy
Extraordinary of the same power, both of whom attest the confession and
execution of the witches. The King of Sweden himself answered the
express inquiries of the Duke of Holstein with marked reserve. "His
judges and commissioners," he said, "had caused divers men, women, and
children, to be burnt and executed on such pregnant evidence as was
brought before them. But whether the actions confessed and proved
against them were real, or only the effects of strong imagination, he
was not as yet able to determine"--a sufficient reason, perhaps, why
punishment should have been at least deferred by the interposition of
the royal authority.

We must now turn our eyes to Britain, in which our knowledge as to such
events is necessarily more extensive, and where it is in a high degree
more interesting to our present purpose.


    The Effects of the Witch Superstition are to be traced in the Laws
    of a Kingdom--Usually punished in England as a Crime connected with
    Politics--Attempt at Murder for Witchcraft not in itself
    Capital--Trials of Persons of Rank for Witchcraft, connected with
    State Crimes--Statutes of Henry VIII--How Witchcraft was regarded by
    the three Leading Sects of Religion in the Sixteenth Century; first,
    by the Catholics; second, by the Calvinists; third, by the Church of
    England and Lutherans--Impostures unwarily countenanced by
    individual Catholic Priests, and also by some Puritanic
    Clergymen--Statute of 1562, and some cases upon it--Case of
    Dugdale--Case of the Witches of Warbois, and the execution of the
    Family of Samuel--That of Jane Wenham, in which some Church of
    England Clergymen insisted on the Prosecution--Hutchison's Rebuke to
    them--James the First's Opinion of Witchcraft--His celebrated
    Statute, 1 Jac. I.--Canon passed by the Convocation against
    Possession--Case of Mr. Fairfax's Children--Lancashire Witches in
    1613--Another Discovery in 1634--Webster's Account of the manner in
    which the Imposture was managed--Superiority of the Calvinists is
    followed by a severe Prosecution of Witches--Executions in Suffolk,
    &c. to a dreadful extent--Hopkins, the pretended Witchfinder, the
    cause of these Cruelties--His Brutal Practices--His
    Letter--Execution of Mr. Lowis--Hopkins Punished--Restoration of
    Charles--Trial of Coxe--Of Dunny and Callendar before Lord
    Hales--Royal Society and Progress of Knowledge--Somersetshire
    Witches--Opinions of the Populace--A Woman Swum for Witchcraft at
    Oakly--- Murder at Tring--Act against Witchcraft abolished, and the
    belief in the Crime becomes forgotten--Witch Trials in New
    England--Dame Glover's Trial--Affliction of the Parvises, and
    frightful Increase of the Prosecutions--Suddenly put a stop to--The
    Penitence of those concerned in them.

Our account of Demonology in England must naturally, as in every other
country, depend chiefly on the instances which history contains of the
laws and prosecutions against witchcraft. Other superstitions arose and
decayed, were dreaded or despised, without greater embarrassment, in the
provinces in which they have a temporary currency, than that cowards and
children go out more seldom at night, while the reports of ghosts and
fairies are peculiarly current. But when the alarm of witchcraft arises,
Superstition dips her hand in the blood of the persons accused, and
records in the annals of jurisprudence their trials and the causes
alleged in vindication of their execution. Respecting other fantastic
allegations, the proof is necessarily transient and doubtful, depending
upon the inaccurate testimony of vague report and of doting tradition.
But in cases of witchcraft we have before us the recorded evidence upon
which judge and jury acted, and can form an opinion with some degree of
certainty of the grounds, real or fanciful, on which they acquitted or
condemned. It is, therefore, in tracing, this part of Demonology, with
its accompanying circumstances, that we have the best chance of
obtaining an accurate view of our subject.

The existence of witchcraft was, no doubt, received and credited in
England, as in the countries on the Continent, and originally punished
accordingly. But after the fourteenth century the practices which fell
under such a description were thought unworthy of any peculiar
animadversion, unless they were connected with something which would
have been of itself a capital crime, by whatever means it had been
either essayed or accomplished. Thus the supposed paction between a
witch and the demon was perhaps deemed in itself to have terrors enough
to prevent its becoming an ordinary crime, and was not, therefore,
visited with any statutory penalty. But to attempt or execute bodily
harm to others through means of evil spirits, or, in a word, by the
black art, was actionable at common law as much as if the party accused
had done the same harm with an arrow or pistol-shot. The destruction or
abstraction of goods by the like instruments, supposing the charge
proved, would, in like manner, be punishable. _A fortiori_, the
consulting soothsayers, familiar spirits, or the like, and the obtaining
and circulating pretended prophecies to the unsettlement of the State
and the endangering of the King's title, is yet a higher degree of
guilt. And it may be remarked that the inquiry into the date of the
King's life bears a close affinity with the desiring or compassing the
death of the Sovereign, which is the essence of high treason. Upon such
charges repeated trials took place in the courts of the English, and
condemnations were pronounced, with sufficient justice, no doubt, where
the connexion between the resort to sorcerers and the design to
perpetrate a felony could be clearly proved. We would not, indeed, be
disposed to go the length of so high an authority as Selden, who
pronounces (in his "Table-Talk") that if a man heartily believed that he
could take the life of another by waving his hat three times and crying
Buzz! and should, under this fixed opinion, wave his hat and cry Buzz!
accordingly, he ought to be executed as a murderer. But a false prophecy
of the King's death is not to be dealt with exactly on the usual
principle; because, however idle in itself, the promulgation of such a
prediction has, in times such as we are speaking of, a strong tendency
to work its completion.

Many persons, and some of great celebrity, suffered for the charge of
trafficking with witches, to the prejudice of those in authority. We
have already mentioned the instance of the Duchess of Gloucester, in
Henry the Sixth's reign, and that of the Queen Dowager's kinsmen, in the
Protectorate of Richard, afterwards the Third. In 1521, the Duke of
Buckingham was beheaded, owing much to his having listened to the
predictions of one Friar Hopkins. In the same reign, the Maid of Kent,
who had been esteemed a prophetess, was put to death as a cheat. She
suffered with seven persons who had managed her fits for the support of
the Catholic religion, and confessed her fraud upon the scaffold. About
seven years after this, Lord Hungerford was beheaded for consulting
certain soothsayers concerning the length of Henry the Eighth's life.
But these cases rather relate to the purpose for which the sorcery was
employed, than to the fact of using it.

Two remarkable statutes were passed in the year 1541; one against false
prophecies, the other against the act of conjuration, witchcraft, and
sorcery, and at the same time against breaking and destroying crosses.
The former enactment was certainly made to ease the suspicious and
wayward fears of the tetchy King Henry. The prohibition against
witchcraft might be also dictated by the king's jealous doubts of hazard
to the succession. The enactment against breaking crosses was obviously
designed to check the ravages of the Reformers, who in England as well
as elsewhere desired to sweep away Popery with the besom of destruction.
This latter statute was abrogated in the first year of Edward VI.,
perhaps as placing an undue restraint on the zeal of good Protestants
against idolatry.

At length, in 1562, a formal statute against sorcery, as penal in
itself, was actually passed; but as the penalty was limited to the
pillory for the first transgression, the legislature probably regarded
those who might be brought to trial as impostors rather than wizards.
There are instances of individuals tried and convicted as impostors and
cheats, and who acknowledged themselves such before the court and
people; but in their articles of visitation the prelates directed
enquiry to be made after those who should use enchantments, witchcraft,
sorcery, or any like craft, _invented by the devil_.

But it is here proper to make a pause for the purpose of enquiring in
what manner the religious disputes which occupied all Europe about this
time influenced the proceedings of the rival sects in relation to

The Papal Church had long reigned by the proud and absolute humour which
she had assumed, of maintaining every doctrine which her rulers had
adopted in dark ages; but this pertinacity at length made her citadel
too large to be defended at every point by a garrison whom prudence
would have required to abandon positions which had been taken in times
of darkness, and were unsuited to the warfare of a more enlightened age.
The sacred motto of the Vatican was, "_Vestigia nulla retrorsum_;" and
this rendered it impossible to comply with the more wise and moderate of
her own party, who would otherwise have desired to make liberal
concessions to the Protestants, and thus prevent, in its commencement, a
formidable schism in the Christian world.

To the system of Rome the Calvinists offered the most determined
opposition, affecting upon every occasion and on all points to observe
an order of church-government, as well as of worship, expressly in the
teeth of its enactments;--in a word, to be a good Protestant, they held
it almost essential to be in all things diametrically opposite to the
Catholic form and faith. As the foundation of this sect was laid in
republican states, as its clerical discipline was settled on a
democratic basis, and as the countries which adopted that form of
government were chiefly poor, the preachers having lost the rank and
opulence enjoyed by the Roman Church, were gradually thrown on the
support of the people. Insensibly they became occupied with the ideas
and tenets natural to the common people, which, if they have usually the
merit of being honestly conceived and boldly expressed, are not the less
often adopted with credulity and precipitation, and carried into effect
with unhesitating harshness and severity.

Betwixt these extremes the Churchmen of England endeavoured to steer a
middle course, retaining a portion of the ritual and forms of Rome, as
in themselves admirable, and at any rate too greatly venerated by the
people to be changed merely for opposition's sake. Their comparatively
undilapidated revenue, the connexion of their system with the state,
with views of ambition as ample as the station of a churchman ought to
command, rendered them independent of the necessity of courting their
flocks by any means save regular discharge of their duty; and the
excellent provisions made for their education afforded them learning to
confute ignorance and enlighten prejudice.

Such being the general character of the three Churches, their belief in
and persecution of such crimes as witchcraft and sorcery were
necessarily modelled upon the peculiar tenets which each system
professed, and gave rise to various results in the countries where they
were severally received.

The Church of Rome, as we have seen, was unwilling, in her period of
undisputed power, to call in the secular arm to punish men for
witchcraft--a crime which fell especially under ecclesiastical
cognizance, and could, according to her belief, be subdued by the
spiritual arm alone. The learned men at the head of the establishment
might safely despise the attempt at those hidden arts as impossible; or,
even if they were of a more credulous disposition, they might be
unwilling to make laws by which their own enquiries in the mathematics,
algebra, chemistry, and other pursuits vulgarly supposed to approach the
confines of magic art, might be inconveniently restricted. The more
selfish part of the priesthood might think that a general belief in the
existence of witches should be permitted to remain, as a source both of
power and of revenue--that if there were no possessions, there could be
no exorcism-fees--and, in short, that a wholesome faith in all the
absurdities of the vulgar creed as to supernatural influences was
necessary to maintain the influence of Diana of Ephesus. They suffered
spells to be manufactured, since every friar had the power of reversing
them; they permitted poison to be distilled, because every convent had
the antidote, which was disposed of to all who chose to demand it. It
was not till the universal progress of heresy, in the end of the
fifteenth century, that the bull of Pope Innocent VIII., already quoted,
called to convict, imprison, and condemn the sorcerers, chiefly because
it was the object to transfer the odium of these crimes to the
Waldenses, and excite and direct the public hatred against the new sect
by confounding their doctrines with the influences of the devil and his
fiends. The bull of Pope Innocent was afterwards, in the year 1523,
enforced by Adrian VI. with a new one, in which excommunication was
directed against _sorcerers and heretics_.

While Rome thus positively declared herself against witches and
sorcerers, the Calvinists, in whose numbers must be included the greater
part of the English Puritans, who, though they had not finally severed
from the communion of the Anglican Church, yet disapproved of her ritual
and ceremonies as retaining too much of the Papal stamp, ranked
themselves, in accordance with their usual policy, in diametrical
opposition to the doctrine of the Mother Church. They assumed in the
opposite sense whatever Rome pretended to as a proof of her omnipotent
authority. The exorcisms, forms, and rites, by which good Catholics
believed that incarnate fiends could be expelled and evil spirits of
every kind rebuked--these, like the holy water, the robes of the priest,
and the sign of the cross, the Calvinists considered either with scorn
and contempt as the tools of deliberate quackery and imposture, or with
horror and loathing, as the fit emblems and instruments of an idolatrous

Such of them as did not absolutely deny the supernatural powers of which
the Romanists made boast, regarded the success of the exorcising priest,
to whatever extent they admitted it, as at best a casting out of devils
by the power of Beelzebub, the King of the Devils. They saw also, and
resented bitterly, the attempt to confound any dissent from the
doctrines of Rome with the proneness to an encouragement of rites of
sorcery. On the whole, the Calvinists, generally speaking, were of all
the contending sects the most suspicious of sorcery, the most undoubting
believers in its existence, and the most eager to follow it up with what
they conceived to be the due punishment of the most fearful of crimes.

The leading divines of the Church of England were, without doubt,
fundamentally as much opposed to the doctrines of Rome as those who
altogether disclaimed opinions and ceremonies merely because she had
entertained them. But their position in society tended strongly to keep
them from adopting, on such subjects as we are now discussing, either
the eager credulity of the vulgar mind or the fanatic ferocity of their
Calvinistic rivals. We have no purpose to discuss the matter in
detail--enough has probably been said to show generally why the Romanist
should have cried out a miracle respecting an incident which the
Anglican would have contemptuously termed an imposture; while the
Calvinist, inspired with a darker zeal, and, above all, with the
unceasing desire of open controversy with the Catholics, would have
styled the same event an operation of the devil.

It followed that, while the divines of the Church of England possessed
the upper hand in the kingdom, witchcraft, though trials and even
condemnations for that offence occasionally occurred, did not create
that epidemic terror which the very suspicion of the offence carried
with it elsewhere; so that Reginald Scot and others alleged it was the
vain pretences and empty forms of the Church of Rome, by the faith
reposed in them, which had led to the belief of witchcraft or sorcery in
general. Nor did prosecutions on account of such charges frequently
involve a capital punishment, while learned judges were jealous of the
imperfection of the evidence to support the charge, and entertained a
strong and growing suspicion that legitimate grounds for such trials
seldom actually existed. On the other hand, it usually happened that
wherever the Calvinist interest became predominant in Britain, a general
persecution of sorcerers and witches seemed to take place of
consequence. Fearing and hating sorcery more than other Protestants,
connecting its ceremonies and usages with those of the detested Catholic
Church, the Calvinists were more eager than other sects in searching
after the traces of this crime, and, of course, unusually successful, as
they might suppose, in making discoveries of guilt, and pursuing it to
the expiation of the fagot. In a word, a principle already referred to
by Dr. Francis Hutchison will be found to rule the tide and the reflux
of such cases in the different churches. The numbers of witches, and
their supposed dealings with Satan, will increase or decrease according
as such doings are accounted probable or impossible. Under the former
supposition, charges and convictions will be found augmented in a
terrific degree. When the accusations are disbelieved and dismissed as
not worthy of attention, the crime becomes unfrequent, ceases to occupy
the public mind, and affords little trouble to the judges.

The passing of Elizabeth's statute against witchcraft in 1562 does not
seem to have been intended to increase the number of trials, or cases of
conviction at least; and the fact is, it did neither the one nor the
other. Two children were tried in 1574 for counterfeiting possession,
and stood in the pillory for impostors. Mildred Norrington, called the
Maid of Westwell, furnished another instance of possession; but she also
confessed her imposture, and publicly showed her fits and tricks of
mimicry. The strong influence already possessed by the Puritans may
probably be sufficient to account for the darker issue of certain cases,
in which both juries and judges in Elizabeth's time must be admitted to
have shown fearful severity.

These cases of possession were in some respects sore snares to the
priests of the Church of Rome, who, while they were too sagacious not to
be aware that the pretended fits, contortions, strange sounds, and other
extravagances, produced as evidence of the demon's influence on the
possessed person, were nothing else than marks of imposture by some idle
vagabond, were nevertheless often tempted to admit them as real, and
take the credit of curing them. The period was one when the Catholic
Church had much occasion to rally around her all the respect that
remained to her in a schismatic and heretical kingdom; and when her
fathers and doctors announced the existence of such a dreadful disease,
and of the power of the church's prayers, relics, and ceremonies, to
cure it, it was difficult for a priest, supposing him more tender of the
interest of his order than that of truth, to avoid such a tempting
opportunity as a supposed case of possession offered for displaying the
high privilege in which his profession made him a partaker, or to
abstain from conniving at the imposture, in order to obtain for his
church the credit of expelling the demon. It was hardly to be wondered
at, if the ecclesiastic was sometimes induced to aid the fraud of which
such motives forbade him to be the detector. At this he might hesitate
the less, as he was not obliged to adopt the suspected and degrading
course of holding an immediate communication _in limine_ with the
impostor, since a hint or two, dropped in the supposed sufferer's
presence, might give him the necessary information what was the most
exact mode of performing his part, and if the patient was possessed by a
devil of any acuteness or dexterity, he wanted no further instruction
how to play it. Such combinations were sometimes detected, and brought
more discredit on the Church of Rome than was counterbalanced by any
which might be more cunningly managed. On this subject the reader may
turn to Dr. Harsnett's celebrated book on Popish Impostures, wherein he
gives the history of several notorious cases of detected fraud, in which
Roman ecclesiastics had not hesitated to mingle themselves. That of
Grace Sowerbutts, instructed by a Catholic priest to impeach her
grandmother of witchcraft, was a very gross fraud.

Such cases were not, however, limited to the ecclesiastics of Rome. We
have already stated that, as extremes usually approach each other, the
Dissenters, in their violent opposition to the Papists, adopted some of
their ideas respecting demoniacs; and we have now to add that they also
claimed, by the vehemence of prayer and the authority of their own
sacred commission, that power of expelling devils which the Church of
Rome pretended to exercise by rites, ceremonies, and relics. The
memorable case of Richard Dugdale, called the Surrey Impostor, was one
of the most remarkable which the Dissenters brought forward. This youth
was supposed to have sold his soul to the devil, on condition of being
made the best dancer in Lancashire, and during his possession played a
number of fantastic tricks, not much different from those exhibited by
expert posture-masters of the present day. This person threw himself
into the hands of the Dissenters, who, in their eagerness, caught at an
opportunity to relieve an afflicted person, whose case the regular
clergy appeared to have neglected. They fixed a committee of their
number, who weekly attended the supposed sufferer, and exercised
themselves in appointed days of humiliation and fasting during the
course of a whole year. All respect for the demon seems to have
abandoned the reverend gentlemen, after they had relieved guard in this
manner for some little time, and they got so regardless of Satan as to
taunt him with the mode in which he executed his promise to teach his
vassal dancing. The following specimen of raillery is worth
commemoration:--"What, Satan! is this the dancing that Richard gave
himself to thee for? &c. Canst thou dance no better? &c. Ransack the old
records of all past times and places in thy memory; canst thou not there
find out some better way of trampling? Pump thine invention dry; cannot
the universal seed-plot of subtile wiles and stratagems spring up one
new method of cutting capers? Is this the top of skill and pride, to
shuffle feet and brandish knees thus, and to trip like a doe and skip
like a squirrel? And wherein differ thy leapings from the hoppings of a
frog, or the bouncings of a goat, or friskings of a dog, or
gesticulations of a monkey? And cannot a palsy shake such a loose leg as
that? Dost thou not twirl like a calf that hath the turn, and twitch up
thy houghs just like a springhault tit?"[54] One might almost conceive
the demon replying to this raillery in the words of Dr. Johnson, "This
merriment of parsons is extremely offensive."

[Footnote 54: Hutchison on Witchcraft, p. 162.]

The dissenters were probably too honest, however simple, to achieve a
complete cure on Dugdale by an amicable understanding; so, after their
year of vigil, they relinquished their task by degrees. Dugdale, weary
of his illness, which now attracted little notice, attended a regular
physician, and was cured of that part of his disease which was not
affected in a regular way _par ordonnance du médecin_. But the reverend
gentlemen who had taken his case in hand still assumed the credit of
curing him, and if anything could have induced them to sing _Te Deum_,
it would have been this occasion. They said that the effect of their
public prayers had been for a time suspended, until seconded by the
continued earnestness of their private devotions!

The ministers of the Church of England, though, from education,
intercourse with the world, and other advantages, they were less prone
to prejudice than those of other sects, are yet far from being entirely
free of the charge of encouraging in particular instances the witch
superstition. Even while Dr. Hutchison pleads that the Church of England
has the least to answer for in that matter, he is under the necessity of
acknowledging that some regular country clergymen so far shared the
rooted prejudices of congregations, and of the government which
established laws against it, as to be active in the persecution of the
suspected, and even in countenancing the superstitious signs by which in
that period the vulgar thought it possible to ascertain the existence of
the afflictions by witchcraft, and obtain the knowledge of the
perpetrator. A singular case is mentioned of three women, called the
Witches of Warbois. Indeed, their story is a matter of solemn enough
record; for Sir Samuel Cromwell, having received the sum of forty pounds
as lord of the manor, out of the estate of the poor persons who
suffered, turned it into a rent-charge of forty shillings yearly, for
the endowment of an annual lecture on the subject of witchcraft, to be
preached by a doctor or bachelor of divinity of Queen's College,
Cambridge. The accused, one Samuel and his wife, were old and very poor
persons, and their daughter a young woman. The daughter of a Mr.
Throgmorton, seeing the poor old woman in a black knitted cap, at a time
when she was not very well, took a whim that she had bewitched her, and
was ever after exclaiming against her. The other children of this
fanciful family caught up the same cry, and the eldest of them at last
got up a vastly pretty drama, in which she herself furnished all the
scenes and played all the parts.

Such imaginary scenes, or _make-believe_ stories, are the common
amusement of lively children; and most readers may remember having had
some Utopia of their own. But the nursery drama of Miss Throgmorton had
a horrible conclusion. This young lady and her sisters were supposed to
be haunted by nine spirits, dispatched by the wicked Mother Samuel for
that purpose. The sapient parents heard one part of the dialogue, when
the children in their fits returned answers, as was supposed, to the
spirits who afflicted them; and when the patients from time to time
recovered, they furnished the counterpart by telling what the spirits
had said to them. The names of the spirits were Pluck, Hardname, Catch,
Blue, and three Smacks, who were cousins. Mrs. Joan Throgmorton, the
eldest (who, like other young women of her age, about fifteen, had some
disease on her nerves, and whose fancy ran apparently on love and
gallantry), supposed that one of the Smacks was her lover, did battle
for her with the less friendly spirits, and promised to protect her
against Mother Samuel herself; and the following curious extract will
show on what a footing of familiarity the damsel stood with her
spiritual gallant: "From whence come you, Mr. Smack?" says the afflicted
young lady; "and what news do you bring?" Smack, nothing abashed,
informed her he came from fighting with Pluck: the weapons, great
cowl-staves; the scene, a ruinous bakehouse in Dame Samuel's yard. "And
who got the mastery, I pray you?" said the damsel. Smack answered, he
had broken Pluck's head. "I would," said the damsel, "he had broken your
neck also." "Is that the thanks I am to have for my labour?" said the
disappointed Smack. "Look you for thanks at my hand?" said the
distressed maiden. "I would you were all hanged up against each other,
with your dame for company, for you are all naught." On this repulse,
exit Smack, and enter Pluck, Blue, and Catch, the first with his head
broken, the other limping, and the third with his arm in a sling, all
trophies of Smack's victory. They disappeared after having threatened
vengeance upon the conquering Smack. However, he soon afterwards
appeared with his laurels. He told her of his various conflicts. "I
wonder," said Mrs. Joan, or Jane, "that you are able to beat them; you
are little, and they very big." "He cared not for that," he replied; "he
would beat the best two of them, and his cousins Smacks would beat the
other two." This most pitiful mirth, for such it certainly is, was mixed
with tragedy enough. Miss Throgmorton and her sisters railed against
Darne Samuel; and when Mr. Throgmorton brought her to his house by
force, the little fiends longed to draw blood of her, scratch her, and
torture her, as the witch-creed of that period recommended; yet the poor
woman incurred deeper suspicion when she expressed a wish to leave a
house where she was so coarsely treated and lay under such odious

It was in vain that this unhappy creature endeavoured to avert their
resentment by submitting to all the ill-usage they chose to put upon
her; in vain that she underwent unresistingly the worst usage at the
hand of Lady Cromwell, her landlady, who, abusing her with the worst
epithets, tore her cap from her head, clipped out some of her hair, and
gave it to Mrs. Throgmorton to burn it for a counter-charm. Nay, Mother
Samuel's complaisance in the latter case only led to a new charge. It
happened that the Lady Cromwell, on her return home, dreamed of her
day's work, and especially of the old dame and her cat; and, as her
ladyship died in a _year and quarter_ from that very day, it was
sagaciously concluded that she must have fallen a victim to the
witcheries of the terrible Dame Samuel. Mr. Throgmorton also compelled
the old woman and her daughter to use expressions which put their lives
in the power of these malignant children, who had carried on the farce
so long that they could not well escape from their own web of deceit but
by the death of these helpless creatures. For example, the prisoner,
Dame Samuel, was induced to say to the supposed spirit, "As I am a
witch, and a causer of Lady Cromwell's death, I charge thee to come out
of the maiden." The girl lay still; and this was accounted a proof that
the poor woman, who, only subdued and crushed by terror and tyranny, did
as she was bidden, was a witch. One is ashamed of an English judge and
jury when it must be repeated that the evidence of these enthusiastic
and giddy-pated girls was deemed sufficient to the condemnation of three
innocent persons. Goody Samuel, indeed, was at length worried into a
confession of her guilt by the various vexations which were practised on
her. But her husband and daughter continued to maintain their innocence.
The last showed a high spirit and proud value for her character. She was
advised by some, who pitied her youth, to gain at least a respite by
pleading pregnancy; to which she answered disdainfully, "No, I will not
be both held witch and strumpet!" The mother, to show her sanity of mind
and the real value of her confession, caught at the advice recommended
to her daughter. As her years put such a plea out of the question, there
was a laugh among the unfeeling audience, in which the poor old victim
joined loudly and heartily. Some there were who thought it no joking
matter, and were inclined to think they had a Joanna Southcote before
them, and that the devil must be the father. These unfortunate Samuels
were condemned at Huntingdon, before Mr. Justice Fenner, 4th April,
1593. It was a singular case to be commemorated by an annual lecture, as
provided by Sir Samuel Cromwell, for the purposes of justice were never
so perverted, nor her sword turned to a more flagrant murder.

We may here mention, though mainly for the sake of contrast, the
much-disputed case of Jane Wenham, the Witch of Walkerne, as she was
termed, which was of a much later date. Some of the country clergy were
carried away by the land-flood of superstition in this instance also and
not only encouraged the charge, but gave their countenance to some of
the ridiculous and indecent tricks resorted to as proofs of witchcraft
by the lowest vulgar. But the good sense of the judge, seconded by that
of other reflecting and sensible persons, saved the country from the
ultimate disgrace attendant on too many of these unhallowed trials. The
usual sort of evidence was brought against this poor woman, by pretences
of bewitched persons vomiting fire--a trick very easy to those who chose
to exhibit such a piece of jugglery amongst such as rather desire to be
taken in by it than to detect the imposture. The witchfinder practised
upon her the most vulgar and ridiculous tricks or charms; and out of a
perverted examination they drew what they called a confession, though of
a forced and mutilated character. Under such proof the jury brought her
in guilty, and she was necessarily condemned to die. More fortunate,
however, than many persons placed in the like circumstances, Jane Wenham
was tried before a sensible and philosophic judge, who could not
understand that the life of an Englishwoman, however mean, should be
taken away by a set of barbarous tricks and experiments, the efficacy of
which depended on popular credulity. He reprieved the witch before he
left the assize-town. The rest of the history is equally a contrast to
some we have told and others we shall have to recount. A humane and
high-spirited gentleman, Colonel Plummer of Gilston, putting at defiance
popular calumny, placed the poor old woman in a small house near his own
and under his immediate protection. Here she lived and died, in honest
and fair reputation, edifying her visitors by her accuracy and attention
in repeating her devotions; and, removed from her brutal and malignant
neighbours, never afterwards gave the slightest cause of suspicion or
offence till her dying day. As this was one of the last cases of
conviction in England, Dr Hutchison has been led to dilate upon it with
some strength of eloquence as well as argument.

He thus expostulates with some of the better class who were eager for
the prosecution:--"(1) What single fact of sorcery did this Jane Wenham
do? What charm did she use, or what act of witchcraft could you prove
upon her? Laws are against evil actions that can be proved to be of the
person's doing. What single fact that was against the statute could you
fix upon her? I ask (2) Did she so much as speak an imprudent word, or
do an immoral action, that you could put into the narrative of her case?
When she was denied a few turnips, she laid them down very submissively;
when she was called witch and bitch, she only took the proper means for
the vindication of her good name; when she saw this storm coming upon
her she locked herself in her own house and tried to keep herself out of
your cruel hands; when her door was broken open, and you gave way to
that barbarous usage that she met with, she protested her innocence,
fell upon her knees, and begged she might not go to gaol, and, in her
innocent simplicity, would have let you swim her; and at her trial she
declared herself a clear woman. This was her behaviour. And what could
any of us have done better, excepting in that case where she complied
with you too much, and offered to let you swim her?

"(3) When you used the meanest of paganish and popish
superstitions--when you scratched and mangled and ran pins into her
flesh, and used that ridiculous trial of the bottle, &c.--whom did you
consult, and from whom did you expect your answers? Who was your father?
and into whose hands did you put yourselves? and (if the true sense of
the statute had been turned upon you) which way would you have defended
yourselves? (4) Durst you have used her in this manner if she had been
rich? and doth not her poverty increase rather than lessen your guilt in
what you did?

"And therefore, instead of closing your book with a _liberavimus animas
nostras_, and reflecting upon the court, I ask you (5) Whether you have
not more reason to give God thanks that you met with a wise judge, and a
sensible gentleman, who kept you from shedding innocent blood, and
reviving the meanest and cruelest of all superstitions amongst us?"[55]

[Footnote 55: Hutchison's "Essay on Witchcraft," p. 166.]

But although individuals of the English Church might on some occasions
be justly accused of falling into lamentable errors on a subject where
error was so general, it was not an usual point of their professional
character; and it must be admitted that the most severe of the laws
against witchcraft originated with a Scottish King of England, and that
the only extensive persecution following that statute occurred during
the time of the Civil Wars, when the Calvinists obtained for a short
period a predominating influence in the councils of Parliament.

James succeeded to Elizabeth amidst the highest expectations on the part
of his new people, who, besides their general satisfaction at coming
once more under the rule of a king, were also proud of his supposed
abilities and real knowledge of books and languages, and were naturally,
though imprudently, disposed to gratify him by deferring to his judgment
in matters wherein his studies were supposed to have rendered him a
special proficient. Unfortunately, besides the more harmless freak of
becoming a prentice in the art of poetry, by which words and numbers
were the only sufferers, the monarch had composed a deep work upon
Demonology, embracing in their fullest extent the most absurd and gross
of the popular errors on this subject. He considered his crown and life
as habitually aimed at by the sworn slaves of Satan. Several had been
executed for an attempt to poison him by magical arts; and the turbulent
Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, whose repeated attempts on his person
had long been James's terror, had begun his course of rebellion by a
consultation with the weird sisters and soothsayers. Thus the king, who
had proved with his pen the supposed sorcerers to be the direct enemies
of the Deity, and who conceived he knew them from experience to be his
own--who, moreover, had upon much lighter occasions (as in the case of
Vorstius) showed no hesitation at throwing his royal authority into the
scale to aid his arguments--very naturally used his influence, when it
was at the highest, to extend and enforce the laws against a crime which
he both hated and feared.

The English statute against witchcraft, passed in the very first year of
that reign, is therefore of a most special nature, describing witchcraft
by all the various modes and ceremonies in which, according to King
James's fancy, that crime could be perpetrated; each of which was
declared felony, without benefit of clergy.

This gave much wider scope to prosecution on the statute than had
existed under the milder acts of Elizabeth. Men might now be punished
for the practice of witchcraft, as itself a crime, without necessary
reference to the ulterior objects of the perpetrator. It is remarkable
that in the same year, when the legislature rather adopted the passions
and fears of the king than expressed their own by this fatal enactment,
the Convocation of the Church evinced a very different spirit; for,
seeing the ridicule brought on their sacred profession by forward and
presumptuous men, in the attempt to relieve demoniacs from a disease
which was commonly occasioned by natural causes, if not the mere
creature of imposture, they passed a canon, establishing that no
minister or ministers should in future attempt to expel any devil or
devils, without the license of his bishop; thereby virtually putting a
stop to a fertile source of knavery among the people, and disgraceful
folly among the inferior churchmen.

The new statute of James does not, however, appear to have led at first
to many prosecutions. One of the most remarkable was (_proh pudor!_)
instigated by a gentleman, a scholar of classical taste, and a beautiful
poet, being no other than Edward Fairfax of Fayston, in Knaresborough
Forest, the translator of Tasso's "Jerusalem Delivered." In allusion to
his credulity on such subjects, Collins has introduced the following
elegant lines:--

"How have I sate while piped the pensive wind,
  To hear thy harp, by British Fairfax strung;
Prevailing poet, whose undoubting mind
  Believed the magic wonders which he sung!"

Like Mr. Throgmorton in the Warbois case, Mr. Fairfax accused six of his
neighbours of tormenting his children by fits of an extraordinary kind,
by imps, and by appearing before the afflicted in their own shape during
the crisis of these operations. The admitting this last circumstance to
be a legitimate mode of proof, gave a most cruel advantage against the
accused, for it could not, according to the ideas of the demonologists,
be confuted even by the most distinct _alibi_. To a defence of that sort
it was replied that the afflicted person did not see the actual witch,
whose corporeal presence must indeed have been obvious to every one in
the room as well as to the afflicted, but that the evidence of the
sufferers related to the appearance of their _spectre_, or apparition;
and this was accounted a sure sign of guilt in those whose forms were so
manifested during the fits of the afflicted, and who were complained of
and cried out upon by the victim. The obvious tendency of this doctrine,
as to visionary or spectral evidence, as it was called, was to place the
life and fame of the accused in the power of any hypochondriac patient
or malignant impostor, who might either seem to see, or aver she saw,
the _spectrum_ of the accused old man or old woman, as if enjoying and
urging on the afflictions which she complained of; and, strange to tell,
the fatal sentence was to rest, not upon the truth of the witnesses'
eyes, but that of their imagination. It happened fortunately for
Fairfax's memory, that the objects of his prosecution were persons of
good character, and that the judge was a man of sense, and made so wise
and skilful a charge to the jury, that they brought in a verdict of not

The celebrated case of "the Lancashire witches" (whose name was and will
be long remembered, partly from Shadwell's play, but more from the
ingenious and well-merited compliment to the beauty of the females of
that province which it was held to contain), followed soon after.
Whether the first notice of this sorcery sprung from the idle head of a
mischievous boy, is uncertain; but there is no doubt that it was
speedily caught up and fostered for the purpose of gain. The original
story ran thus:--

These Lancaster trials were at two periods, the one in 1613, before Sir
James Altham and Sir Edward Bromley, Barons of Exchequer, when nineteen
witches were tried at once at Lancaster, and another of the name of
Preston at York. The report against these people is drawn up by Thomas
Potts. An obliging correspondent sent me a sight of a copy of this
curious and rare book. The chief personage in the drama is Elizabeth
Southam, a witch redoubted under the name of Dembdike, an account of
whom may be seen in Mr. Roby's "Antiquities of Lancaster," as well as a
description of Maulkins' Tower, the witches' place of meeting. It
appears that this remote county was full of Popish recusants, travelling
priests, and so forth; and some of their spells are given in which the
holy names and things alluded to form a strange contrast with the
purpose to which they were applied, as to secure a good brewing of ale
or the like. The public imputed to the accused parties a long train of
murders, conspiracies, charms, mischances, hellish and damnable
practices, "apparent," says the editor, "on their own examinations and
confessions," and, to speak the truth, visible nowhere else. Mother
Dembdike had the good luck to die before conviction. Among other tales,
we have one of two _female_ devils, called Fancy and Tib. It is
remarkable that some of the unfortunate women endeavoured to transfer
the guilt from themselves to others with whom they had old quarrels,
which confessions were held good evidence against those who made them,
and against the alleged accomplice also. Several of the unhappy women
were found not guilty, to the great displeasure of the ignorant people
of the county. Such was the first edition of the Lancashire witches. In
that which follows the accusation can be more clearly traced to the most
villanous conspiracy.

About 1634 a boy called Edmund Robinson, whose father, a very poor man,
dwelt in Pendle Forest, the scene of the alleged witching, declared that
while gathering _bullees_ (wild plums, perhaps) in one of the glades of
the forest, he saw two greyhounds, which he imagined to belong to
gentlemen in that neighbourhood. The boy reported that, seeing nobody
following them, he proposed to have a course; but though a hare was
started, the dogs refused to run. On this, young Robinson was about to
punish them with a switch, when one Dame Dickenson, a neighbour's wife,
started up instead of the one greyhound; a little boy instead of the
other. The witness averred that Mother Dickenson offered him money to
conceal what he had seen, which he refused, saying "Nay, thou art a
witch." Apparently she was determined he should have full evidence of
the truth of what he said, for, like the Magician Queen in the Arabian
Tales, she pulled out of her pocket a bridle and shook it over the head
of the boy who had so lately represented the other greyhound. He was
directly changed into a horse; Mother Dickenson mounted, and took
Robinson before her. They then rode to a large house or barn called
Hourstoun, into which Edmund Robinson entered with others. He there saw
six or seven persons pulling at halters, from which, as they pulled
them, meat ready dressed came flying in quantities, together with lumps
of butter, porringers of milk, and whatever else might, in the boy's
fancy, complete a rustic feast. He declared that while engaged in the
charm they made such ugly faces and looked so fiendish that he was
frightened. There was more to the same purpose--as the boy's having seen
one of these hags sitting half-way up his father's chimney, and some
such goodly matter. But it ended in near a score of persons being
committed to prison; and the consequence was that young Robinson was
carried from church to church in the neighbourhood, that he might
recognise the faces of any persons he had seen at the rendezvous of
witches. Old Robinson, who had been an evidence against the former
witches in 1613, went along with his son, and knew, doubtless, how to
make his journey profitable; and his son probably took care to recognise
none who might make a handsome consideration. "This boy," says Webster,
"was brought into the church at Kildwick, a parish church, where I,
being then curate there, was preaching at the time, to look about him,
which made some little disturbance for the time." After prayers Mr.
Webster sought and found the boy, and two very unlikely persons, who,
says he, "did conduct him and manage the business: I did desire some
discourse with the boy in private, but that they utterly denied. In the
presence of a great many many people I took the boy near me and said,
'Good boy, tell me truly and in earnest, didst thou hear and see such
strange things of the motions of the witches as many do report that thou
didst relate, or did not some person teach thee to say such things of
thyself?' But the two men did pluck the boy from me, and said he had
been examined by two able justices of peace, and they never asked him
such a question. To whom I replied, 'The persons accused had the more
wrong.'" The boy afterwards acknowledged, in his more advanced years,
that he was instructed and suborned to swear these things against the
accused persons by his father and others, and was heard often to confess
that on the day which he pretended to see the said witches at the house
or barn, he was gathering plums in a neighbour's orchard.[56]

[Footnote 56: Webster on Witchcraft, edition 1677, p. 278.]

There was now approaching a time when the law against witchcraft,
sufficiently bloody in itself, was to be pushed to more violent
extremities than the quiet scepticism of the Church of England clergy
gave way to. The great Civil War had been preceded and anticipated by
the fierce disputes of the ecclesiastical parties. The rash and
ill-judged attempt to enforce upon the Scottish a compliance with the
government and ceremonies of the High Church divines, and the severe
prosecutions in the Star Chamber and Prerogative Courts, had given the
Presbyterian system for a season a great degree of popularity in
England; and as the King's party declined during the Civil War, and the
state of church-government was altered, the influence of the Calvinistic
divines increased. With much strict morality and pure practice of
religion, it is to be regretted these were still marked by unhesitating
belief in the existence of sorcery, and a keen desire to extend and
enforce the legal penalties against it. Wier has considered the clergy
of every sect as being too eager in this species of persecution: _Ad
gravem hanc impietatem, connivent theologi plerique omnes_. But it is
not to be denied that the Presbyterian ecclesiastics who, in Scotland,
were often appointed by the Privy Council Commissioners for the trial of
witchcraft, evinced a very extraordinary degree of credulity in such
cases, and that the temporary superiority of the same sect in England
was marked by enormous cruelties of this kind. To this general error we
must impute the misfortune that good men, such as Calamy and Baxter,
should have countenanced or defended such proceedings as those of the
impudent and cruel wretch called Matthew Hopkins, who, in those
unsettled times, when men did what seemed good in their own eyes,
assumed the title of Witchfinder General, and, travelling through the
counties of Essex, Sussex, Norfolk, and Huntingdon, pretended to
discover witches, superintending their examination by the most
unheard-of tortures, and compelling forlorn and miserable wretches to
admit and confess matters equally absurd and impossible; the issue of
which was the forfeiture of their lives. Before examining these cases
more minutely, I will quote Baxter's own words; for no one can have less
desire to wrong a devout and conscientious man, such as that divine most
unquestionably was, though borne aside on this occasion by prejudice and

"The hanging of a great number of witches in 1645 and 1646 is famously
known. Mr. Calamy went along with the judges on the circuit to hear
their confessions, and see there was no fraud or wrong done them. I
spoke with many understanding, pious, learned, and credible persons that
lived in the counties, and some that went to them in the prisons, and
heard their sad confessions. Among the rest an old _reading parson_,
named Lowis, not far from Framlingham, was one that was hanged, who
confessed that he had two imps, and that one of them was always putting
him upon doing mischief; and he, being near the sea, as he saw a ship
under sail, it moved him to send it to sink the ship; and he consented,
and saw the ship sink before them." Mr. Baxter passes on to another
story of a mother who gave her child an imp like a mole, and told her to
keep it in a can near the fire, and she would never want; and more such
stuff as nursery-maids tell froward children to keep them quiet.

It is remarkable that in this passage Baxter names the Witchfinder
General rather slightly as "one Hopkins," and without doing him the
justice due to one who had discovered more than one hundred witches, and
brought them to confessions, which that good man received as
indubitable. Perhaps the learned divine was one of those who believed
that the Witchfinder General had cheated the devil out of a certain
memorandum-book, in which Satan, for the benefit of his memory
certainly, had entered all the witches' names in England, and that
Hopkins availed himself of this record.[57]

[Footnote 57: This reproach is noticed in a very rare tract, which was
bought at Mr. Lort's sale, by the celebrated collector Mr. Bindley, and
is now in the author's possession. Its full title is, "The Discovery of
Witches, in Answer to several Queries lately delivered to the Judge of
Assize for the County of Norfolk; and now published by Matthew Hopkins,
Witchfinder, for the Benefit of the whole Kingdom. Printed for R.
Royston, at the Angel, in Inn Lane. 1647."]

It may be noticed that times of misrule and violence seem to create
individuals fitted to take advantage from them, and having a character
suited to the seasons which raise them into notice and action; just as a
blight on any tree or vegetable calls to life a peculiar insect to feed
upon and enjoy the decay which it has produced. A monster like Hopkins
could only have existed during the confusion of civil dissension. He was
perhaps a native of Manningtree, in Essex; at any rate, he resided there
in the year 1644, when an epidemic outcry of witchcraft arose in that
town. Upon this occasion he had made himself busy, and, affecting more
zeal and knowledge than other men, learned his trade of a witchfinder,
as he pretends, from experiment. He was afterwards permitted to perform
it as a legal profession, and moved from one place to another, with an
assistant named Sterne, and a female. In his defence against an
accusation of fleecing the country, he declares his regular charge was
twenty shillings a town, including charges of living and journeying
thither and back again with his assistants. He also affirms that he went
nowhere unless called and invited. His principal mode of discovery was
to strip the accused persons naked, and thrust pins into various parts
of their body, to discover the witch's mark, which was supposed to be
inflicted by the devil as a sign of his sovereignty, and at which she
was also said to suckle her imps. He also practised and stoutly defended
the trial by swimming, when the suspected person was wrapped in a sheet,
having the great toes and thumbs tied together, and so dragged through a
pond or river. If she sank, it was received in favour of the accused;
but if the body floated (which must have occurred ten times for once, if
it was placed with care on the surface of the water), the accused was
condemned, on the principle of King James, who, in treating of this mode
of trial, lays down that, as witches have renounced their baptism, so it
is just that the element through which the holy rite is enforced should
reject them, which is a figure of speech, and no argument. It was
Hopkins's custom to keep the poor wretches waking, in order to prevent
them from having encouragement from the devil, and, doubiless, to put
infirm, terrified, overwatched persons in the next state to absolute
madness; and for the same purpose they were dragged about by their
keepers till extreme weariness and the pain of blistered feet might form
additional inducements to confession. Hopkins confesses these last
practices of keeping the accused persons waking, and forcing them to
walk for the same purpose, had been originally used by him. But as his
tract is a professed answer to charges of cruelty and oppression, he
affirms that both practices were then disused, and that they had not of
late been resorted to.

The boast of the English nation is a manly independence and
common-sense, which will not long permit the license of tyranny or
oppression on the meanest and most obscure sufferers. Many clergymen and
gentlemen made head against the practices of this cruel oppressor of the
defenceless, and it required courage to do so when such an unscrupulous
villain had so much interest.

Mr. Gaul, a clergyman, of Houghton, in Huntingdonshire, had the courage
to appear in print on the weaker side; and Hopkins, in consequence,
assumed the assurance to write to some functionaries of the place the
following letter, which is an admirable medley of impudence, bullying,
and cowardice:--

"My service to your worship presented.--I have this day received a
letter to come to a town called Great Houghton to search for
evil-disposed persons called witches (though I hear your minister is far
against us, through ignorance). I intend to come, God willing, the
sooner to hear his singular judgment in the behalf of such parties. I
have known a minister in Suffolk as much against this discovery in a
pulpit, and forced to recant it by the Committee[58] in the same place.
I much marvel such evil men should have any (much more any of the
clergy, who should daily speak terror to convince such offenders) stand
up to take their parts against such as are complainants for the king,
and sufferers themselves, with their families and estates. I intend to
give your town a visit suddenly. I will come to Kimbolton this week, and
it will be ten to one but I will come to your town first; but I would
certainly know before whether your town affords many sticklers for such
cattle, or is willing to give and allow us good welcome and
entertainment, as others where I have been, else I shall waive your
shire (not as yet beginning in any part of it myself), and betake me to
such places where I do and may punish (not only) without control, but
with thanks and recompense. So I humbly take my leave, and rest your
servant to be commanded,


[Footnote 58: Of Parliament.]

The sensible and courageous Mr. Gaul describes the tortures employed by
this fellow as equal to any practised in the Inquisition. "Having taken
the suspected witch, she is placed in the middle of a room, upon a stool
or table, cross-legged, or in some other uneasy posture, to which, if
she submits not, she is then bound with cords; there she is watched and
kept without meat or sleep for four-and-twenty hours, for, they say,
they shall within that time see her imp come and suck. A little hole is
likewise made in the door for the imps to come in at; and lest they
should come in some less discernible shape, they that watch are taught
to be ever and anon sweeping the room, and if they see any spiders or
flies, to kill them; and if they cannot kill them, they may be sure they
are their imps."

If torture of this kind was applied to the Reverend Mr. Lewis, whose
death is too slightly announced by Mr. Baxter, we can conceive him, or
any man, to have indeed become so weary of his life as to acknowledge
that, by means of his imps, he sunk a vessel, without any purpose of
gratification to be procured to himself by such iniquity. But in another
cause a judge would have demanded some proof of the _corpus delecti_,
some evidence of a vessel being lost at the period, whence coming and
whither bound; in short, something to establish that the whole story was
not the idle imagination of a man who might have been entirely deranged,
and certainly was so at the time he made the admission. John Lewis was
presented to the vicarage of Brandiston, near Framlington, in Suffolk,
6th May, 1596, where he lived about fifty years, till executed as a
wizard on such evidence as we have seen. Notwithstanding the story of
his alleged confession, he defended himself courageously at his trial,
and was probably condemned rather as a royalist and malignant than for
any other cause. He showed at the execution considerable energy, and to
secure that the funeral service of the church should be said over his
body, he read it aloud for himself while on the road to the gibbet.

We have seen that in 1647 Hopkins's tone became lowered, and he began to
disavow some of the cruelties he had formerly practised. About the same
time a miserable old woman had fallen into the cruel hands of this
miscreant near Hoxne, a village in Suffolk, and had confessed all the
usual enormities, after being without food or rest a sufficient time.
"Her imp," she said, "was called Nan." A gentleman in the neighbourhood,
whose widow survived to authenticate the story, was so indignant that he
went to the house, took the woman out of such inhuman hands, dismissed
the witchfinders, and after due food and rest the poor old woman could
recollect nothing of the confession, but that she gave a favourite
pullet the name of Nan. For this Dr. Hutchison may be referred to, who
quotes a letter from the relict of the humane gentleman.

In the year 1645 a Commission of Parliament was sent down, comprehending
two clergymen in esteem with the leading party, one of whom, Mr.
Fairclough of Kellar, preached before the rest on the subject of
witchcraft; and after this appearance of enquiry the inquisitions and
executions went on as before. But the popular indignation was so
strongly excited against Hopkins, that some gentlemen seized on him, and
put him to his own favourite experiment of swimming, on which, as he
happened to float, he stood convicted of witchcraft, and so the country
was rid of him. Whether he was drowned outright or not does not exactly
appear, but he has had the honour to be commemorated by the author of

     "Hath not this present Parliament
     A leiger to the devil sent,
     Fully empower'd to treat about
     Finding revolted witches out?
     And has he not within a year
     Hang'd threescore of them in one shire?
     Some only for not being drown'd,
     And some for sitting above ground
     Whole days and nights upon their breeches,
     And feeling pain, were hang'd for witches.
     And some for putting knavish tricks
     Upon green geese or turkey chicks;
     Or pigs that suddenly deceased
     Of griefs unnatural, as he guess'd,
     Who proved himself at length a witch,
     And made a rod for his own breech." [59]

[Footnote 59: "Hudibras," part ii. canto 3.]

The understanding reader will easily conceive that this alteration of
the current in favour of those who disapproved of witch-prosecutions,
must have received encouragement from some quarter of weight and
influence; yet it may sound strangely enough that this spirit of lenity
should have been the result of the peculiar principles of those
sectarians of all denominations, classed in general as Independents,
who, though they had originally courted the Presbyterians as the more
numerous and prevailing party, had at length shaken themselves loose of
that connexion, and finally combated with and overcome them. The
Independents were distinguished by the wildest license in their
religious tenets, mixed with much that was nonsensical and mystical.
They disowned even the title of a regular clergy, and allowed the
preaching of any one who could draw together a congregation that would
support him, or who was willing, without recompense, to minister to the
spiritual necessities of his hearers. Although such laxity of discipline
afforded scope to the wildest enthusiasm, and room for all possible
varieties of doctrine, it had, on the other hand, this inestimable
recommendation, that it contributed to a degree of general toleration
which was at that time unknown to any other Christian establishment. The
very genius of a religion which admitted of the subdivision of sects _ad
infinitum_, excluded a legal prosecution of any one of these for heresy
or apostasy. If there had even existed a sect of Manichæans, who made it
their practice to adore the Evil Principle, it may be doubted whether
the other sectaries would have accounted them absolute outcasts from the
pale of the church; and, fortunately, the same sentiment induced them to
regard with horror the prosecutions against witchcraft. Thus the
Independents, when, under Cromwell, they attained a supremacy over the
Presbyterians, who to a certain point had been their allies, were
disposed to counteract the violence of such proceedings under pretence
of witchcraft, as had been driven forward by the wretched Hopkins, in
Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk, for three or four years previous to 1647.

The return of Charles II. to his crown and kingdom, served in some
measure to restrain the general and wholesale manner in which the laws
against witchcraft had been administered during the warmth of the Civil
War. The statute of the 1st of King James, nevertheless, yet subsisted;
nor is it in the least likely, considering the character of the prince,
that he, to save the lives of a few old men or women, would have run the
risk of incurring the odium of encouraging or sparing a crime still held
in horror by a great part of his subjects. The statute, however, was
generally administered by wise and skilful judges, and the accused had
such a chance of escape as the rigour of the absurd law permitted.

Nonsense, it is too obvious, remained in some cases predominant. In the
year 1663 an old dame, named Julian Coxe, was convicted chiefly on the
evidence of a huntsman, who declared on his oath, that he laid his
greyhounds on a hare, and coming up to the spot where he saw them mouth
her, there he found, on the other side of a bush, Julian Coxe lying
panting and breathless, in such a manner as to convince him that she had
been the creature which afforded him the course. The unhappy woman was
executed on this evidence.

Two years afterwards (1664), it is with regret we must quote the
venerable and devout Sir Matthew Hales, as presiding at a trial, in
consequence of which Amy Dunny and Rose Callender were hanged at Saint
Edmondsbury. But no man, unless very peculiarly circumstanced, can
extricate himself from the prejudices of his nation and age. The
evidence against the accused was laid, 1st, on the effect of spells used
by ignorant persons to counteract the supposed witchcraft; the use of
which was, under the statute of James I., as criminal as the act of
sorcery which such counter-charms were meant to neutralize, 2ndly, The
two old women, refused even the privilege of purchasing some herrings,
having expressed themselves with angry impatience, a child of the
herring-merchant fell ill in conseqence. 3rdly, A cart was driven
against the miserable cottage of Amy Dunny. She scolded, of course; and
shortly after the cart--(what a good driver will scarce
comprehend)--stuck fast in a gate, where its wheels touched neither of
the posts, and yet was moved easily forward on one of the posts (by
which it was _not_ impeded) being cut down. 4thly, One of the afflicted
girls being closely muffled, went suddenly into a fit upon being touched
by one of the supposed witches. But upon another trial it was found that
the person so blindfolded fell into the same rage at the touch of an
unsuspected person. What perhaps sealed the fate of the accused was the
evidence of the celebrated Sir Thomas Browne, "that the fits were
natural, but heightened by the power of the devil co-operating with the
malice of witches;"--a strange opinion, certainly, from the author of a
treatise on "Vulgar Errors!"[60]

[Footnote 60: See the account of Sir T. Browne in No. XIV. of the
"Family Library" ("Lives of British Physicians"), p. 60.]

But the torch of science was now fairly lighted, and gleamed in more
than one kingdom of the world, shooting its rays on every side, and
catching at all means which were calculated to increase the
illumination. The Royal Society, which had taken its rise at Oxford from
a private association who met in Dr. Wilkin's chambers about the year
1652, was, the year after the Restoration, incorporated by royal
charter, and began to publish their Transactions, and give a new and
more rational character to the pursuits of philosophy.

In France, where the mere will of the government could accomplish
greater changes, the consequence of an enlarged spirit of scientific
discovery was, that a decisive stop was put to the witch-prosecutions
which had heretofore been as common in that kingdom as in England. About
the year 1672 there was a general arrest of very many shepherds and
others in Normandy, and the Parliament of Rouen prepared to proceed in
the investigation with the usual severity. But an order, or _arret_,
from the king (Louis XIV.), with advice of his council, commanding all
these unfortunate persons to be set at liberty and protected, had the
most salutary effects all over the kingdom. The French Academy of
Sciences was also founded; and, in imitation, a society of learned
Germans established a similar institution at Leipsic. Prejudices,
however old, were overawed and controlled--much was accounted for on
natural principles that had hitherto been imputed to spiritual
agency--everything seemed to promise that farther access to the secrets
of nature might be opened to those who should prosecute their studies
experimentally and by analysis--and the mass of ancient opinions which
overwhelmed the dark subject of which we treat began to be derided and
rejected by men of sense and education.

In many cases the prey was now snatched from the spoiler. A pragmatical
justice of peace in Somersetshire commenced a course of enquiry after
offenders against the statute of James I., and had he been allowed to
proceed, Mr. Hunt might have gained a name as renowned for witch-finding
as that of Mr. Hopkins; but his researches were stopped from higher
authority--the lives of the poor people arrested (twelve in number) were
saved, and the country remained at quiet, though the supposed witches
were suffered to live. The examinations attest some curious particulars,
which may be found in _Sadducismus Triumphatus_: for among the usual
string of froward, fanciful, or, as they were called, afflicted
children, brought forward to club their startings, starings, and
screamings, there appeared also certain remarkable confessions of the
accused, from which we learn that the Somerset Satan enlisted his
witches, like a wily recruiting sergeant, with one shilling in hand and
twelve in promises; that when the party of weird-sisters passed to the
witch-meeting they used the magic words, _Thout, tout, throughout, and
about_; and that when they departed they exclaimed, _Rentum, Tormentum_!
We are further informed that his Infernal Highness, on his departure,
leaves a smell, and that (in nursery-maid's phrase) not a pretty one,
behind him. Concerning this fact we have a curious exposition by Mr.
Glanville. "This,"--according to that respectable authority, "seems to
imply the reality of the business, those ascititious particles which he
held together in his sensible shape being loosened at the vanishing, and
so offending the nostrils by their floating and diffusing themselves in
the open air."[61] How much are we bound to regret that Mr. Justice
Hunt's discovery "of this hellish kind of witches," in itself so clear
and plain, and containing such valuable information, should have been
smothered by meeting with opposition and discouragement from some then
in authority!

[Footnote 61: Glanville's "Collection of Relations."]

Lord Keeper Guildford was also a stifler of the proceedings against
witches. Indeed, we may generally remark, during the latter part of the
seventeenth century, that where the judges were men of education and
courage, sharing in the information of the times, they were careful to
check the precipitate ignorance and prejudice of the juries, by giving
them a more precise idea of the indifferent value of confessions by the
accused themselves, and of testimony derived from the pretended visions
of those supposed to be bewitched. Where, on the contrary, judges shared
with the vulgar in their ideas of such fascination, or were contented to
leave the evidence with the jury, fearful to withstand the general cry
too common on such occasions, a verdict of guilty often followed.

We are informed by Roger North that a case of this kind happened at the
assizes in Exeter, where his brother, the Lord Chief Justice, did not
interfere with the crown trials, and the other judge left for execution
a poor old woman, condemned, as usual, on her own confession, and on the
testimony of a neighbour, who deponed that he saw a cat jump into the
accused person's cottage window at twilight, one evening, and that he
verily believed the said cat to be the devil; on which precious
testimony the poor wretch was accordingly hanged. On another occasion,
about the same time, the passions of the great and little vulgar were so
much excited by the aquittal of an aged village dame, whom the judge had
taken some pains to rescue, that Sir John Long, a man of rank and
fortune, came to the judge in the greatest perplexity, requesting that
the hag might not be permitted to return to her miserable cottage on his
estates, since all his tenants had in that case threatened to leave him.
In compassion to a gentleman who apprehended ruin from a cause so
whimsical, the dangerous old woman was appointed to be kept by the town
where she was acquitted, at the rate of half-a-crown a week, paid by the
parish to which she belonged. But behold! in the period betwixt the two
assizes Sir John Long and his farmers had mustered courage enough to
petition that this witch should be sent back to them in all her terrors,
because they could support her among them at a shilling a week cheaper
than they were obliged to pay to the town for her maintenance. In a
subsequent trial before Lord Chief Justice North himself, that judge
detected one of those practices which, it is to be feared, were too
common at the time, when witnesses found their advantage in feigning
themselves bewitched. A woman, supposed to be the victim of the male
sorcerer at the bar, vomited pins in quantities, and those straight,
differing from the crooked pins usually produced at such times, and less
easily concealed in the mouth. The judge, however, discovered, by
cross-examining a candid witness, that in counterfeiting her fits of
convulsion the woman sunk her head on her breast, so as to take up with
her lips the pins which she had placed ready in her stomacher. The man
was acquitted, of course. A frightful old hag, who was present,
distinguished herself so much by her benedictions on the judge, that he
asked the cause of the peculiar interest which she took in the
acquittal. "Twenty years ago," said the poor woman, "they would have
hanged me for a witch, but could not; and now, but for your lordship,
they would have murdered my innocent son."[62]

[Footnote 62: Roger North's "Life of Lord-Keeper Guilford."]

Such scenes happened frequently on the assizes, while country gentlemen,
like the excellent Sir Roger de Coverley, retained a private share in
the terror with which their tenants, servants, and retainers regarded
some old Moll White, who put the hounds at fault and ravaged the fields
with hail and hurricanes. Sir John Reresby, after an account of a poor
woman tried for a witch at York in 1686 and acquitted, as he thought,
very properly, proceeds to tell us that, notwithstanding, the sentinel
upon the jail where she was confined avowed "that he saw a scroll of
paper creep from under the prison-door, and then change itself first
into a monkey and then into a turkey, which the under-keeper confirmed.
This," says Sir John, "I have heard from the mouth of both, and now
leave it to be believed or disbelieved as the reader may be
inclined."[63] We may see that Reresby, a statesman and a soldier, had
not as yet "plucked the old woman out of his heart." Even Addison
himself ventured no farther in his incredulity respecting this crime
than to contend that although witchcraft might and did exist, there was
no such thing as a modern instance competently proved.

[Footnote 63: "Memoirs of Sir John Reresby," p. 237.]

As late as 1682 three unhappy women named Susan Edwards, Mary Trembles,
and Temperance Lloyd were hanged at Exeter for witchcraft, and, as
usual, on their own confession. This is believed to be the last
execution of the kind in England under form of judicial sentence. But
the ancient superstition, so interesting to vulgar credulity, like
sediment clearing itself from water, sunk down in a deeper shade upon
the ignorant and lowest classes of society in proportion as the higher
regions were purified from its influence. The populace, including the
ignorant of every class, were more enraged against witches when their
passions were once excited in proportion to the lenity exercised towards
the objects of their indignation by those who administered the laws.
Several cases occurred in which the mob, impressed with a conviction of
the guilt of some destitute old creatures, took the law into their own
hands, and proceeding upon such evidence as Hopkins would have had
recourse to, at once, in their own apprehension, ascertained their
criminality and administered the deserved punishment.

The following instance of such illegal and inhuman proceedings occurred
at Oakly, near Bedford, on 12th July, 1707. There was one woman, upwards
of sixty years of age, who, being under an imputation of witchcraft, was
desirous to escape from so foul a suspicion, and to conciliate the
good-will of her neighbours, by allowing them to duck her. The parish
officers so far consented to their humane experiment as to promise the
poor woman a guinea if she should clear herself by sinking. The
unfortunate object was tied up in a wet sheet, her thumbs and great toes
were bound together, her cap torn off, and all her apparel searched for
pins; for there is an idea that a single pin spoils the operation of the
charm. She was then dragged through the river Ouse by a rope tied round
her middle. Unhappily for the poor woman, her body floated, though her
head remained under water. The experiment was made three times with the
same effect. The cry to hang or drown the witch then became general, and
as she lay half-dead on the bank they loaded the wretch with reproaches,
and hardly forbore blows. A single humane bystander took her part, and
exposed himself to rough usage for doing so. Luckily one of the mob
themselves at length suggested the additional experiment of weighing the
witch against the church Bible. The friend of humanity caught at this
means of escape, supporting the proposal by the staggering argument that
the Scripture, being the work of God himself, must outweigh necessarily
all the operations or vassals of the devil. The reasoning was received
as conclusive, the more readily as it promised a new species of
amusement. The woman was then weighed against a church Bible of twelve
pounds jockey weight, and as she was considerably preponderant, was
dismissed with honour. But many of the mob counted her acquittal
irregular, and would have had the poor dame drowned or hanged on the
result of her ducking, as the more authentic species of trial.

At length a similar piece of inhumanity, which had a very different
conclusion, led to the final abolition of the statute of James I. as
affording countenance for such brutal proceedings. An aged pauper, named
Osborne, and his wife, who resided near Tring, in Staffordshire, fell
under the suspicion of the mob on account of supposed witchcraft. The
overseers of the poor, understanding that the rabble entertained a
purpose of swimming these infirm creatures, which indeed they had
expressed in a sort of proclamation, endeavoured to oppose their purpose
by securing the unhappy couple in the vestry-room, which they
barricaded. They were unable, however, to protect them in the manner
they intended. The mob forced the door, seized the accused, and, with
ineffable brutality, continued dragging the wretches through a pool of
water till the woman lost her life. A brute in human form, who had
superintended the murder, went among the spectators, and requested money
for the sport he had shown them! The life of the other victim was with
great difficulty saved. Three men were tried for their share in this
inhuman action. Only one of them, named Colley, was condemned and
hanged. When he came to execution, the rabble, instead of crowding round
the gallows as usual, stood at a distance, and abused those who were
putting to death, they said, an honest fellow for ridding the parish of
an accursed witch. This abominable murder was committed July 30, 1751.

The repetitition of such horrors, the proneness of the people to so
cruel and heart-searing a superstition, was traced by the legislature to
its source, namely, the yet unabolished statute of James I. Accordingly,
by the 9th George II. cap. 5, that odious law, so long the object of
horror to all ancient and poverty-stricken females in the kingdom, was
abrogated, and all criminal procedure on the subject of sorcery or
witchcraft discharged in future throughout Great Britain; reserving for
such as should pretend to the skill of fortune-tellers, discoverers of
stolen goods, or the like, the punishment of the correction-house, as
due to rogues and vagabonds. Since that period witchcraft has been
little heard of in England, and although the belief in its existence has
in remote places survived the law that recognised the evidence of the
crime, and assigned its punishment--yet such faith is gradually becoming
forgotten since the rabble have been deprived of all pretext to awaken
it by their own riotous proceedings. Some rare instances have occurred
of attempts similar to that for which Colley suffered; and I observe one
is preserved in that curious register of knowledge, Mr. Hone's "Popular
Amusements," from which it appears that as late as the end of last
century this brutality was practised, though happily without loss of

The Irish statute against witchcraft still exists, as it would seem.
Nothing occurred in that kingdom which recommended its being formally
annulled; but it is considered as obsolete, and should so wild a thing
be attempted in the present day, no procedure, it is certain, would now
be permitted to lie upon it.

If anything were wanted to confirm the general proposition that the
epidemic terror of witchcraft increases and becomes general in
proportion to the increase of prosecutions against witches, it would be
sufficient to quote certain extraordinary occurrences in New England.
Only a brief account can be here given of the dreadful hallucination
under which the colonists of that province were for a time deluded and
oppressed by a strange contagious terror, and how suddenly and
singularly it was cured, even by its own excess; but it is too strong
evidence of the imaginary character of this hideous disorder to be
altogether suppressed.

New England, as is well known, was peopled mainly by emigrants who had
been disgusted with the government of Charles I. in church and state,
previous to the great Civil War. Many of the more wealthy settlers were
Presbyterians and Calvinists; others, fewer in number and less
influential from their fortune, were Quakers, Anabaptists, or members of
the other sects who were included under the general name of
Independents. The Calvinists brought with them the same zeal for
religion and strict morality which everywhere distinguished them.
Unfortunately, they were not wise according to their zeal, but
entertained a proneness to believe in supernatural and direct personal
intercourse between the devil and his vassals, an error to which, as we
have endeavoured to show, their brethren in Europe had from the
beginning been peculiarly subject. In a country imperfectly cultivated,
and where the partially improved spots were embosomed in inaccessible
forests, inhabited by numerous tribes of savages, it was natural that a
disposition to superstition should rather gain than lose ground, and
that to other dangers and horrors with which they were surrounded, the
colonists should have added fears of the devil, not merely as the Evil
Principle tempting human nature to sin, and thus endangering our
salvation, but as combined with sorcerers and witches to inflict death
and torture upon children and others.

The first case which I observe was that of four children of a person
called John Goodwin, a mason. The eldest, a girl, had quarrelled with
the laundress of the family about some linen which was amissing. The
mother of the laundress, an ignorant, testy, and choleric old
Irishwoman, scolded the accuser; and shortly after, the elder Goodwin,
her sister and two brothers, were seized with such strange diseases that
all their neighbours concluded they were bewitched. They conducted
themselves as those supposed to suffer under maladies created by such
influence were accustomed to do. They stiffened their necks so hard at
one time that the joints could not be moved; at another time their necks
were so flexible and supple that it seemed the bone was dissolved. They
had violent convulsions, in which their jaws snapped with the force of a
spring-trap set for vermin. Their limbs were curiously contorted, and to
those who had a taste for the marvellous, seemed entirely dislocated and
displaced. Amid these distortions, they cried out against the poor old
woman, whose name was Glover, alleging that she was in presence with
them adding to their torments. The miserable Irishwoman, who hardly
could speak the English language, repeated her Pater Noster and Ave
Maria like a good Catholic; but there were some words which she had
forgotten. She was therefore supposed to be unable to pronounce the
whole consistently and correctly, and condemned and executed

But the children of Goodwin found the trade they were engaged in to be
too profitable to be laid aside, and the eldest in particular continued
all the external signs of witchcraft and possession. Some of these were
excellently calculated to flatter the self-opinion and prejudices of the
Calvinist ministers by whom she was attended, and accordingly bear in
their very front the character of studied and voluntary imposture. The
young woman, acting, as was supposed, under the influence of the devil,
read a Quaker treatise with ease and apparent satisfaction; but a book
written against the poor inoffensive Friends the devil would not allow
his victim to touch, She could look on a Church of England Prayer-book,
and read the portions of Scripture which it contains without difficulty
or impediment; but the spirit which possessed her threw her into fits if
she attempted to read the same Scriptures from the Bible, as if the awe
which it is supposed the fiends entertain for Holy Writ depended, not on
the meaning of the words, but the arrangement of the page, and the type
in which they were printed. This singular species of flattery was
designed to captivate the clergyman through his professional opinions;
others were more strictly personal. The afflicted damsel seems to have
been somewhat of the humour of the Inamorata of Messrs. Smack, Pluck,
Catch, and Company, and had, like her, merry as well as melancholy fits.
She often imagined that her attendant spirits brought her a handsome
pony to ride off with them to their rendezvous. On such occasions she
made a spring upwards, as if to mount her horse, and then, still seated
on her chair, mimicked with dexterity and agility the motions of the
animal pacing, trotting, and galloping, like a child on the nurse's
knee; but when she cantered in this manner upstairs, she affected
inability to enter the clergyman's study, and when she was pulled into
it by force, used to become quite well, and stand up as a rational
being. "Reasons were given for this," says the simple minister, "that
seem more kind than true." Shortly after this, she appears to have
treated the poor divine with a species of sweetness and attention, which
gave him greater embarrassment than her former violence. She used to
break in upon him at his studies to importune him to come downstairs,
and thus advantaged doubtless the kingdom of Satan by the interruption
of his pursuits. At length the Goodwins were, or appeared to be, cured.
But the example had been given and caught, and the blood of poor Dame
Glover, which had been the introduction to this tale of a hobby-horse,
was to be the forerunner of new atrocities and fearfully more general

This scene opened by the illness of two girls, a daughter and niece of
Mr. Parvis, the minister of Salem, who fell under an affliction similar
to that of the Goodwins. Their mouths were stopped, their throats
choked, their limbs racked, thorns were stuck into their flesh, and pins
were ejected from their stomachs. An Indian and his wife, servants of
the family, endeavouring, by some spell of their own, to discover by
whom the fatal charm had been imposed on their master's children, drew
themselves under suspicion, and were hanged. The judges and juries
persevered, encouraged by the discovery of these poor Indians' guilt,
and hoping they might thus expel from the colony the authors of such
practices. They acted, says Mather, the historian, under a conscientious
wish to do justly; but the cases of witchcraft and possession increased
as if they were transmitted by contagion, and the same sort of spectral
evidence being received which had occasioned the condemnation of the
Indian woman Titu, became generally fatal. The afflicted persons failed
not to see the spectres, as they were termed, of the persons by whom
they were tormented. Against this species of evidence no _alibi_ could
be offered, because it was admitted, as we have said elsewhere, that the
real persons of the accused were not there present; and everything
rested upon the assumption that the afflicted persons were telling the
truth, since their evidence could not be redargued. These spectres were
generally represented as offering their victims a book, on signing which
they would be freed from their torments. Sometimes the devil appeared in
person, and added his own eloquence to move the afflicted persons to

At first, as seems natural enough, the poor and miserable alone were
involved; but presently, when such evidence was admitted as
incontrovertible, the afflicted began to see the spectral appearances of
persons of higher condition and of irreproachable lives, some of whom
were arrested, some made their escape, while several were executed. The
more that suffered the greater became the number of afflicted persons,
and the wider and the more numerous were the denunciations against
supposed witches. The accused were of all ages. A child of five years
old was indicted by some of the afflicted, who imagined they saw this
juvenile wizard active in tormenting them, and appealed to the mark of
little teeth on their bodies, where they stated it had bitten them. A
poor dog was also hanged as having been alleged to be busy in this
infernal persecution. These gross insults on common reason occasioned a
revulsion in public feeling, but not till many lives had been
sacrificed. By this means nineteen men and women were executed, besides
a stouthearted man named Cory, who refused to plead, and was accordingly
pressed to death according to the old law. On this horrible occasion a
circumstance took place disgusting to humanity, which must yet be told,
to show how superstition can steel the heart of a man against the misery
of his fellow-creature. The dying man, in the mortal agony, thrust out
his tongue, which the sheriff crammed with his cane back again into his
mouth. Eight persons were condemned besides those who had actually
suffered, and no less than two hundred were in prison and under

Men began then to ask whether the devil might not artfully deceive the
afflicted into the accusation of good and innocent persons by presenting
witches and fiends in the resemblance of blameless persons, as engaged
in the tormenting of their diseased country-folk. This argument was by
no means inconsistent with the belief in witchcraft, and was the more
readily listened to on that account. Besides, men found that no rank or
condition could save them from the danger of this horrible accusation if
they continued to encourage the witnesses in such an unlimited course as
had hitherto been granted to them. Influenced by these reflections, the
settlers awoke as from a dream, and the voice of the public, which had
so lately demanded vengeance on all who were suspected of sorcery, began
now, on the other hand, to lament the effusion of blood, under the
strong suspicion that part of it at least had been innocently and
unjustly sacrificed. In Mather's own language, which we use as that of a
man deeply convinced of the reality of the crime, "experience showed
that the more were apprehended the more were still afflicted by Satan,
and the number of confessions increasing did but increase the number of
the accused, and the execution of some made way to the apprehension of
others. For still the afflicted complained of being tormented by new
objects as the former were removed, so that some of those that were
concerned grew amazed at the number and condition of those that were
accused, and feared that Satan, by his wiles, had enwrapped innocent
persons under the imputation of that crime; and at last, as was
evidently seen, there must be a stop put, or the generation of the
kingdom of God would fall under condemnation."[64]

[Footnote 64: Mather's "Magnalia," book vi. chap. lxxxii. The zealous
author, however, regrets the general gaol delivery on the score of
sorcery and thinks, had the times been calm, the case might have
required a farther investigation, and that, on the whole, the matter was
ended too abruptly But, the temper of the times considered, he admits
candidly that it is better to act moderately in matters capital, and to
let the guilty escape, than run the risk of destroying the innocent.]

The prosecutions were therefore suddenly stopped, the prisoners
dismissed, the condemned pardoned, and even those who had confessed, the
number of whom was very extraordinary, were pardoned amongst others; and
the author we have just quoted thus records the result:--"When this
prosecution ceased, the Lord so chained up Satan that the afflicted grew
presently well. The accused were generally quiet, and for five years
there was no such molestation among us."

To this it must be added that the congregation of Salem compelled Mr.
Parvis, in whose family the disturbance had begun, and who, they
alleged, was the person by whom it was most fiercely driven on in the
commencement, to leave his settlement amongst them. Such of the accused
as had confessed the acts of witchcraft imputed to them generally denied
and retracted their confessions, asserting them to have been made under
fear of torture, influence of persuasion, or other circumstances
exclusive of their free will. Several of the judges and jurors concerned
in the sentence of those who were executed published their penitence for
their rashness in convicting these unfortunate persons; and one of the
judges, a man of the most importance in the colony, observed, during the
rest of his life, the anniversary of the first execution as a day of
solemn fast and humiliation for his own share in the transaction. Even
the barbarous Indians were struck with wonder at the infatuation of the
English colonists on this occasion, and drew disadvantageous comparisons
between them and the French, among whom, as they remarked, "the Great
Spirit sends no witches."

The system of witchcraft, as believed in Scotland, must next claim our
attention, as it is different in some respects from that of England, and
subsisted to a later period, and was prosecuted with much more severity.


    Scottish Trials--Earl of Mar--Lady Glammis--William Barton--Witches
    of Auldearne--Their Rites and Charms--Their Transformation into
    Hares--Satan's Severity towards them--Their Crimes--Sir George
    Mackenzie's Opinion of Witchcraft--Instances of Confessions made by
    the Accused, in despair, and to avoid future annoyance and
    persecution--Examination by Pricking--The Mode of Judicial Procedure
    against Witches, and nature of the Evidence admissible, opened a
    door to Accusers, and left the Accused no chance of escape--The
    Superstition of the Scottish Clergy in King James VI.'s time led
    them, like their Sovereign, to encourage Witch-Prosecutions--Case of
    Bessie Graham--Supposed Conspiracy to Shipwreck James in his Voyage
    to Denmark--Meetings of the Witches, and Rites performed to
    accomplish their purpose--Trial of Margaret Barclay in 1618--Case of
    Major Weir--Sir John Clerk among the first who declined acting as
    Commissioner on the Trial of a Witch--Paisley and Pittenweem
    Witches--A Prosecution in Caithness prevented by the Interference of
    the King's Advocate in 1718--The Last Sentence of Death for
    Witchcraft pronounced in Scotland in 1722--Remains of the Witch
    Superstition--Case of supposed Witchcraft, related from the Author's
    own knowledge, which took place so late as 1800.

For many years the Scottish nation had been remarkable for a credulous
belief in witchcraft, and repeated examples were supplied by the annals
of sanguinary executions on this sad accusation. Our acquaintance with
the slender foundation on which Boetius and Buchanan reared the early
part of their histories may greatly incline us to doubt whether a king
named Duffus ever reigned in Scotland, and, still more, whether he died
by the agency of a gang of witches, who inflicted torments upon an image
made in his name, for the sake of compassing his death. In the tale of
Macbeth, which is another early instance of Demonology in Scottish
history, the weird-sisters, who were the original prophetesses, appeared
to the usurper in a dream, and are described as _volæ_, or sibyls,
rather than as witches, though Shakspeare has stamped the latter
character indelibly upon them.

One of the earliest real cases of importance founded upon witchcraft
was, like those of the Duchess of Gloucester and others in the sister
country, mingled with an accusation of a political nature, which, rather
than the sorcery, brought the culprits to their fate. The Earl of Mar,
brother of James III. of Scotland, fell under the king's suspicion for
consulting with witches and sorcerers how to shorten the king's days. On
such a charge, very inexplicitly stated, the unhappy Mar was bled to
death in his own lodgings without either trial or conviction;
immediately after which catastrophe twelve women of obscure rank and
three or four wizards, or warlocks, as they were termed, were burnt at
Edinburgh, to give a colour to the Earl's guilt.

In the year 1537 a noble matron fell a victim to a similar charge. This
was Janet Douglas, Lady Glammis, who, with her son, her second husband,
and several others, stood accused of attempting James's life by poison,
with a view to the restoration of the Douglas family, of which Lady
Glammis's brother, the Earl of Angus, was the head. She died much pitied
by the people, who seem to have thought the articles against her forged
for the purpose of taking her life, her kindred and very name being so
obnoxious to the King.

Previous to this lady's execution there would appear to have been but
few prosecuted to death on the score of witchcraft, although the want of
the justiciary records of that period leaves us in uncertainty. But in
the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, when
such charges grew general over Europe, cases of the kind occurred very
often in Scotland, and, as we have already noticed, were sometimes of a
peculiar character. There is, indeed, a certain monotony in most tales
of the kind. The vassals are usually induced to sell themselves at a
small price to the Author of Ill, who, having commonly to do with women,
drives a very hard bargain. On the contrary, when he was pleased to
enact the female on a similar occasion, he brought his gallant, one
William Barton, a fortune of no less than fifteen pounds, which, even
supposing it to have been the Scottish denomination of coin, was a very
liberal endowment compared with his niggardly conduct towards the fair
sex on such an occasion. Neither did he pass false coin on this
occasion, but, on the contrary, generously gave Burton a merk, to keep
the fifteen pounds whole. In observing on Satan's conduct in this
matter, Master George Sinclair observes that it is fortunate the Enemy
is but seldom permitted to bribe so high (as £15 Scots); for were this
the case, he might find few men or women capable of resisting his
munificence. I look upon this as one of the most severe reflections on
our forefathers' poverty which is extant.

In many of the Scottish witches' trials, as to the description of
Satan's Domdaniel, and the Sabbath which he there celebrates, the
northern superstition agrees with that of England. But some of the
confessions depart from the monotony of repetition, and add some more
fanciful circumstances than occur in the general case. Isobel Gowdie's
confession, already mentioned, is extremely minute, and some part of it
at least may be quoted, as there are other passages not very edifying.
The witches of Auldearne, according to this penitent, were so numerous,
that they were told off into squads, or _covines_, as they were termed,
to each of which were appointed two officers. One of these was called
the Maiden of the Covine, and was usually, like Tam o' Shanter's Nannie,
a girl of personal attractions, whom Satan placed beside himself, and
treated with particular attention, which greatly provoked the spite of
the old hags, who felt themselves insulted by the preference.[65] When
assembled, they dug up graves, and possessed themselves of the carcases
(of unchristened infants in particular), whose joints and members they
used in their magic unguents and salves. When they desired to secure for
their own use the crop of some neighbour, they made a pretence of
ploughing it with a yoke of paddocks. These foul creatures drew the
plough, which was held by the devil himself. The plough-harness and
soams were of quicken grass, the sock and coulter were made out of a
riglen's horn, and the covine attended on the operation, praying the
devil to transfer to them the fruit of the ground so traversed, and
leave the proprietors nothing but thistles and briars. The witches'
sports, with their elfin archery, I have already noticed (page 136).
They entered the house of the Earl of Murray himself, and such other
mansions as were not fenced against them by vigil and prayer, and
feasted on the provisions they found there.

[Footnote 65: This word Covine seems to signify a subdivision or squad.
The tree near the front of an ancient castle was called the _Covine
tree_, probably because the lord received his company there.

"He is lord of the hunting horn,
  And king of the Covine tree;
He's well loo'd in the western waters,
  But best of his ain minnie."]

As these witches were the countrywomen of the weird sisters in Macbeth,
the reader may be desirous to hear some of their spells, and of the
poetry by which they were accompanied and enforced. They used to hash
the flesh of an unchristened child, mixed with that of dogs and sheep,
and place it in the house of those whom they devoted to destruction in
body or goods, saying or singing--

"We put this intill this hame,
In our lord the Devil's name;
The first hands that handle thee,
Burn'd and scalded may they be!
We will destroy houses and hald,
With the sheep and nolt into the fauld;
And little sall come to the fore,
Of all the rest of the little store!"

Metamorphoses were, according to Isobel, very common among them, and the
forms of crows, cats, hares, and other animals, were on such occasions
assumed. In the hare shape Isobel herself had a bad adventure. She had
been sent by the devil to Auldearne in that favourite disguise, with
some message to her neighbours, but had the misfortune to meet Peter
Papley of Killhill's servants going to labour, having his hounds with
them. The hounds sprung on the disguised witch, "and I," says Isobel,
"run a very long time, but being hard pressed, was forced to take to my
own house, the door being open, and there took refuge behind a chest."
But the hounds came in and took the other side of the chest, so that
Isobel only escaped by getting into another house, and gaining time to
say the disenchanting rhyme:--

"Hare, hare, God send thee care!
I am in a hare's likeness now;
But I shall be a woman even now--
Hare, hare, God send thee care!"

Such accidents, she said, were not uncommon, and the witches were
sometimes bitten by the dogs, of which the marks remained after their
restoration to human shape. But none had been killed on such occasions.

The ceremonial of the Sabbath meetings was very strict. The Foul Fiend
was very rigid in exacting the most ceremonious attention from his
votaries, and the title of Lord when addressed by them. Sometimes,
however, the weird sisters, when whispering amongst themselves,
irreverently spoke of their sovereign by the name of Black John; upon
such occasions the Fiend rushed on them like a schoolmaster who
surprises his pupils in delict, and beat and buffeted them without mercy
or discretion, saying, "I ken weel eneugh what you are saying of me."
Then might be seen the various tempers of those whom he commanded.
Alexander Elder, in Earlseat, often fell under his lord's displeasure
for neglect of duty, and, being weak and simple, could never defend
himself save with tears, cries, and entreaties for mercy; but some of
the women, according to Isobel Gowdie's confession, had more of the
spirit which animated the old dame of Kellyburn Braes. Margaret Wilson,
in Auldearne, would "defend herself finely," and make her hands save her
head, after the old Scottish manner. Bessie Wilson could also speak very
crustily with her tongue, and "belled the cat" with the devil stoutly.
The others chiefly took refuge in crying "Pity! mercy!" and such like,
while Satan kept beating them with wool cards and other sharp scourges,
without attending to their entreaties or complaints. There were
attendant devils and imps, who served the witches. They were usually
distinguished by their liveries, which were sad-dun, grass-green,
sea-green, and yellow. The witches were taught to call these imps by
names, some of which might belong to humanity, while others had a
diabolical sound. These were Robert the Jakis, Saunders the Red Reaver,
Thomas the Feary, Swein, an old Scandinavian Duerg probably; the Roaring
Lion, Thief of Hell, Wait-upon-Herself, MacKeeler, Robert the Rule,
Hendrie Craig, and Rorie. These names, odd and uncouth enough, are
better imagined at least than those which Hopkins contrived for the imps
which he discovered--such as Pyewacket, Peck-in-the-Crown,
Sack-and-Sugar, News, Vinegar-Tom, and Grizell Greedigut, the broad
vulgarity of which epithets shows what a flat imagination he brought to
support his impudent fictions.

The devil, who commanded the fair sisterhood, being fond of mimicking
the forms of the Christian church, used to rebaptize the witches with
their blood, and in his own great name. The proud-stomached Margaret
Wilson, who scorned to take a blow unrepaid, even from Satan himself,
was called Pickle-nearest-the-Wind; her compeer, Bessie Wilson, was
Throw-the-Cornyard; Elspet Nishe's was Bessie Bald; Bessie Hay's
nickname was Able-and-Stout; and Jane Mairten, the Maiden of the Covine,
was called Ower-the-Dike-with-it.

Isobel took upon herself, and imputed to her sisters, as already
mentioned, the death of sundry persons shot with elf-arrows, because
they had omitted to bless themselves as the aerial flight of the hags
swept past them.[66] She had herself the temerity to shoot at the Laird
of Park as he was riding through a ford, but missed him through the
influence of the running stream, perhaps, for which she thanks God in
her confession; and adds, that at the time she received a great cuff
from Bessie Hay for her awkwardness. They devoted the male children of
this gentleman (of the well-known family of Gordon of Park, I presume)
to wasting illness, by the following lines, placing at the same time in
the fire figures composed of clay mixed with paste, to represent the

"We put this water amongst this meal,
For long dwining[67] and ill heal;
We put it in into the fire,
To burn them up stook and stour.[68]
That they be burned with our will,
Like any stikkle[69] in a kiln."

[Footnote 66: See p. 136.]

[Footnote 67: Pining.]

[Footnote 68: We should read perhaps, "limb and lire."]

[Footnote 69: Stubble.]

Such was the singular confession of Isobel Gowdie, made voluntarily, it
would seem, and without compulsion of any kind, judicially authenticated
by the subscription of the notary, clergymen, and gentlemen present;
adhered to after their separate _diets_, as they are called, of
examination, and containing no variety or contradiction in its details.
Whatever might be her state of mind in other respects, she seems to have
been perfectly conscious of the perilous consequence of her disclosures
to her own person. "I do not deserve," says she, "to be seated here at
ease and unharmed, but rather to be stretched on an iron rack: nor can
my crimes be atoned for, were I to be drawn asunder by wild horses."

It only remains to suppose that this wretched creature was under the
dominion of some peculiar species of lunacy, to which a full perusal of
her confession might perhaps guide a medical person of judgment and
experience. Her case is interesting, as throwing upon the rites and
ceremonies of the Scottish witches a light which we seek in vain

Other unfortunate persons were betrayed to their own reproof by other
means than the derangement of mind which seems to have operated on
Isobel Gowdie. Some, as we have seen, endeavoured to escape from the
charge of witchcraft by admitting an intercourse with the fairy people;
an excuse which was never admitted as relevant. Others were subjected to
cruel tortures, by which our ancestors thought the guilty might be
brought to confession, but which far more frequently compelled the
innocent to bear evidence against themselves. On this subject the
celebrated Sir George Mackenzie, "that noble wit of Scotland," as he is
termed by Dryden, has some most judicious reflections, which we shall
endeavour to abstract as the result of the experience of one who, in his
capacity of Lord Advocate, had often occasion to conduct witch-trials,
and who, not doubting the existence of the crime, was of opinion that,
on account of its very horror, it required the clearest and most strict

He first insists on the great improbability of the fiend, without riches
to bestow, and avowedly subjected to a higher power, being able to
enlist such numbers of recruits, and the little advantage which he
himself would gain by doing so. But, 2dly, says Mackenzie, "the persons
ordinarily accused of this crime are poor ignorant men, or else women,
who understand not the nature of what they are accused of; and many
mistake their own fears and apprehensions for witchcraft, of which I
shall give two instances. One, of a poor weaver who, after he had
confessed witchcraft, being asked how he saw the devil, made answer,
'Like flies dancing about the candle.' Another, of a woman, who asked
seriously, when she was accused, if a woman might be a witch and not
know it? And it is dangerous that persons, of all others the most
simple, should be tried for a crime of all others the most mysterious.
3rdly, These poor creatures, when they are defamed, become so confounded
with fear and the close prison in which they are kept, and so starved
for want of meat and drink, either of which wants is enough to disarm
the strongest reason, that hardly wiser and more serious people than
they would escape distraction; and when men are confounded with fear and
apprehension, they will imagine things the most ridiculous and absurd"
of which instances are given. 4thly, "Most of these poor creatures are
tortured by their keepers, who, being persuaded they do God good
service, think it their duty to vex and torment poor prisoners delivered
up to them as rebels to heaven and enemies to men; and I know"
(continues Sir George), "_ex certissima scientia_, that most of all that
ever were taken were tormented in this manner, and this usage was the
ground of all their confession; and albeit the poor miscreants cannot
prove this usage, the actors being the only witnesses, yet the judge
should be jealous of it, as that which did at first elicit the
confession, and for fear of which they dare not retract it." 5thly, This
learned author gives us an instance how these unfortunate creatures
might be reduced to confession by the very infamy which the accusation
cast upon them, and which was sure to follow, condemning them for life
to a state of necessity, misery, and suspicion, such as any person of
reputation would willingly exchange for a short death, however painful.

"I went when I was a justice-deput to examine some women who had
confessed judicially, and one of them, who was a silly creature, told me
under secresie, that she had not confest because she was guilty, but
being a poor creature who wrought for her meat, and being defamed for a
witch, she knew she would starve, for no person thereafter would either
give her meat or lodging, and that all men would beat her and hound dogs
at her, and that therefore she desired to be out of the world; whereupon
she wept most bitterly, and upon her knees called God to witness to what
she said. Another told me that she was afraid the devil would challenge
a right to her, after she was said to be his servant, and would haunt
her, as the minister said, when he was desiring her to confess, and
therefore she desired to die. And really ministers are oft times
indiscreet in their zeal to have poor creatures to confess in this; and
I recommend to judges that the wisest ministers should be sent to them,
and those who are sent should be cautious in this particular."[70]

[Footnote 70: Mackenzie's "Criminal Law," p. 45.]

As a corollary to this affecting story, I may quote the case of a woman
in Lauder jail, who lay there with other females on a charge of
witchcraft. Her companions in prison were adjudged to die, and she too
had, by a confession as full as theirs, given herself up as guilty. She
therefore sent for the minister of the town, and entreated to be put to
death with the others who had been appointed to suffer upon the next
Monday. The clergyman, however, as well as others, had adopted a strong
persuasion that this confession was made up in the pride of her heart,
for the destruction of her own life, and had no foundation in truth. We
give the result in the minister's words:--

"Therefore much pains was taken on her by ministers and others on
Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning, that she might resile from that
confession which was suspected to be but a temptation of the devil, to
destroy both her soul and body; yea, it was charged home upon her by the
ministers, that there was just ground of jealousy that her confession
was not sincere, and she was charged before the Lord to declare the
truth, and not to take her blood upon her own head. Yet she stiffly
adhered to what she had said, and cried always to be put away with the
rest. Whereupon, on Monday morning, being called before the judges, and
confessing before them what she had said, she was found guilty and
condemned to die with the rest that same day. Being carried forth to the
place of execution, she remained silent during the first, second, and
third prayer, and then perceiving that there remained no more but to
rise and go to the stake, she lifted up her body, and with a loud voice
cried out, 'Now all you that see me this day, know that I am now to die
as a witch by my own confession, and I free all men, especially the
ministers and magistrates, of the guilt of my blood. I take it wholly
upon myself--my blood be upon my own head; and as I must make answer to
the God of Heaven presently, I declare I am as free of witchcraft as any
child; but being delated by a malicious woman, and put in prison under
the name of a witch, disowned by my husband and friends, and seeing no
ground of hope of my coming out of prison, or ever coming in credit
again, through the temptation of the devil I made up that confession on
purpose to destroy my own life, being weary of it, and choosing rather
to die than live;'--and so died. Which lamentable story, as it did then
astonish all the spectators, none of which could restrain themselves
from tears; so it may be to all a demonstration of Satan's subtlety,
whose design is still to destroy all, partly by tempting many to
presumption, and some others to despair. These things to be of truth,
are attested by an eye and ear witness who is yet alive, a faithful
minister of the gospel."[71] It is strange the inference does not seem
to have been deduced, that as one woman out of very despair renounced
her own life, the same might have been the case in many other instances,
wherein the confessions of the accused constituted the principal if not
sole evidence of the guilt.

[Footnote 71: Sinclair's "Satan's Invisible World Discovered," p. 43.]

One celebrated mode of detecting witches and torturing them at the same
time, to draw forth confession, was by running pins into their body, on
pretence of discovering the devil's stigma, or mark, which was said to
be inflicted by him upon all his vassals, and to be insensible to pain.
This species of search, the practice of the infamous Hopkins, was in
Scotland reduced to a trade; and the young witchfinder was allowed to
torture the accused party, as if in exercise of a lawful calling,
although Sir George Mackenzie stigmatises it as a horrid imposture. I
observe in the Collections of Mr. Pitcairn, that at the trial of Janet
Peaston of Dalkeith the magistrates and ministers of that market town
caused John Kincaid of Tranent, the common pricker, to exercise his
craft upon her, "who found two marks of what he called the devil's
making, and which appeared indeed to be so, for she could not feel the
pin when it was put into either of the said marks, nor did they (the
marks) bleed when they were taken out again; and when she was asked
where she thought the pins were put in, she pointed to a part of her
body distant from the real place. They were pins of three inches in

Besides the fact that the persons of old people especially sometimes
contain spots void of sensibility, there is also room to believe that
the professed prickers used a pin the point or lower part of which was,
on being pressed down, sheathed in the upper, which was hollow for the
purpose, and that which appeared to enter the body did not pierce it at
all. But, were it worth while to dwell on a subject so ridiculous, we
might recollect that in so terrible an agony of shame as is likely to
convulse a human being under such a trial, and such personal insults,
the blood is apt to return to the heart, and a slight wound, as with a
pin, may be inflicted without being followed by blood. In the latter end
of the seventeenth century this childish, indecent, and brutal practice
began to be called by its right name. Fountainhall has recorded that in
1678 the Privy Council received the complaint of a poor woman who had
been abused by a country magistrate and one of those impostors called
prickers. They expressed high displeasure against the presumption of the
parties complained against, and treated the pricker as a common

[Footnote 72: Fountainhall's "Decisions," vol. i. p. 15.]

From this and other instances it appears that the predominance of the
superstition of witchcraft, and the proneness to persecute those accused
of such practices in Scotland, were increased by the too great readiness
of subordinate judges to interfere in matters which were, in fact,
beyond their jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Justiciary was that in
which the cause properly and exclusively ought to have been tried. But,
in practice, each inferior judge in the country, the pettiest bailie in
the most trifling burgh, the smallest and most ignorant baron of a rude
territory, took it on him to arrest, imprison, and examine, in which
examinations, as we have already seen, the accused suffered the grossest
injustice. The copies of these examinations, made up of extorted
confessions, or the evidence of inhabile witnesses, were all that were
transmitted to the Privy Council, who were to direct the future mode of
procedure. Thus no creature was secure against the malice or folly of
some defamatory accusation, if there was a timid or superstitious judge,
though of the meanest denomination, to be found within the district.

But, secondly, it was the course of the Privy Council to appoint
commissions of the gentlemen of the country, and particularly of the
clergymen, though not likely, from their education, to be freed from
general prejudice, and peculiarly liable to be affected by the clamour
of the neighbourhood againt the delinquent. Now, as it is well known
that such a commission could not be granted in a case of murder in the
county where the crime was charged, there seems no good reason why the
trial of witches, so liable to excite the passions, should not have been
uniformly tried by a court whose rank and condition secured them from
the suspicion of partiality. But our ancestors arranged it otherwise,
and it was the consequence that such commissioners very seldom, by
acquitting the persons brought before them, lost an opportunity of
destroying a witch.

Neither must it be forgotten that the proof led in support of the
prosecution was of a kind very unusual in jurisprudence. The lawyers
admitted as evidence what they called _damnum minatum, et malum
secutum_--some mischief, that is to say, following close upon a threat,
or wish of revenge, uttered by the supposed witch, which, though it
might be attributed to the most natural course of events, was supposed
necessarily to be in consequence of the menaces of the accused.

Sometimes this vague species of evidence was still more loosely adduced,
and allegations of danger threatened and mischief ensuing were admitted,
though the menaces had not come from the accused party herself. On 10th
June, 1661, as John Stewart, one of a party of stout burghers of
Dalkeith appointed to guard an old woman called Christian Wilson from
that town to Niddrie, was cleaning his gun, he was slyly questioned by
Janet Cocke, another confessing witch, who probably saw his courage was
not entirely constant, "What would you think if the devil raise a
whirlwind, and take her from you on the road to-morrow?" Sure enough, on
their journey to Niddrie the party actually were assailed by a sudden
gust of wind (not a very uncommon event in that climate), which scarce
permitted the valiant guard to keep their feet, while the miserable
prisoner was blown into a pool of water, and with difficulty raised
again. There is some ground to hope that this extraordinary evidence was
not admitted upon the trial.

There is a story told of an old wizard, whose real name was Alexander
Hunter, though he was more generally known by the nickname of
Hatteraick, which it had pleased the devil to confer upon him. The man
had for some time adopted the credit of being a conjurer, and curing the
diseases of man and beast by spells and charms. One summer's day, on a
green hill-side, the devil appeared to him in shape of a grave
"Mediciner," addressing him thus roundly, "Sandie, you have too long
followed my trade without acknowledging me for a master. You must now
enlist with me and become my servant, and I will teach you your trade
better." Hatteraick consented to the proposal, and we shall let the Rev.
Mr. George Sinclair tell the rest of the tale.

"After this he grew very famous through the country for his charming and
curing of diseases in men and beasts, and turned a vagrant fellow like a
jockie,[73] gaining meal, and flesh, and money by his charms, such was
the ignorance of many at that time. Whatever house he came to none durst
refuse Hatteraick an alms, rather for his ill than his good. One day he
came to the yait (gate) of Samuelston, when some friends after dinner
were going to horse. A young gentleman, brother to the lady, seeing him,
switcht him about the ears, saying--'You warlock carle, what have you to
do here?' Whereupon the fellow goes away grumbling, and was overheard to
say, 'You shall dear buy this ere it be long.' This was _damnum
minatum_. The young gentleman conveyed his friends a far way off, and
came home that way again, where he supped. After supper, taking his
horse and crossing Tyne water to go home, he rides through a shady piece
of a haugh, commonly called Allers, and the evening being somewhat dark,
he met with some persons there that begat a dreadful consternation in
him, which for the most part he would never reveal. This was _malum
secutum_. When he came home the servants observed terror and fear in his
countenance. The next day he became distracted, and was bound for
several days. His sister, the Lady Samuelston, hearing of it, was heard
say, 'Surely that knave Hatteraick is the cause of his trouble; call for
him in all haste.' When he had come to her, 'Sandie,' says she, 'what is
this you have done to my brother William?' 'I told him,' says he, 'I
should make him repent of his striking me at the yait lately.' She,
giving the rogue fair words, and promising him his pockful of meal, with
beef and cheese, persuaded the fellow to cure him again. He undertook
the business. 'But I must first,' says he, 'have one of his sarks'
(shirts), which was soon gotten. What pranks he played with it cannot be
known, but within a short while the gentleman recovered his health. When
Hatteraick came to receive his wages he told the lady, 'Your brother
William shall quickly go off the country, but shall never return,' She,
knowing the fellow's prophecies to hold true, caused the brother to make
a disposition to her of all his patrimony, to the defrauding of his
younger brother, George. After that this warlock had abused the country
for a long time, he was at last apprehended at Dunbar, and brought into
Edinburgh, and burnt upon the Castlehill."[74]

[Footnote 73: Or Scottish wandering beggar.]

[Footnote 74: Sinclair's "Satan's Invisible World Discovered," p. 98.]

Now, if Hatteraick was really put to death on such evidence, it is worth
while to consider what was its real amount. A hot-tempered swaggering
young gentleman horsewhips a beggar of ill fame for loitering about the
gate of his sister's house. The beggar grumbles, as any man would. The
young man, riding in the night, and probably in liquor, through a dark
shady place, is frightened by, he would not, and probably could not,
tell what, and has a fever fit. His sister employs the wizard to take
off the spell according to his profession; and here is _damnum minatum,
et malum secutum_, and all legal cause for burning a man to ashes! The
vagrant Hatteraick probably knew something of the wild young man which
might soon oblige him to leave the country; and the selfish Lady
Samuelston, learning the probability of his departure, committed a fraud
which ought to have rendered her evidence inadmissible.

Besides these particular disadvantages, to which the parties accused of
this crime in Scotland were necessarily exposed, both in relation to the
judicature by which they were tried and the evidence upon which they
were convicted, their situation was rendered intolerable by the
detestation in which they were held by all ranks. The gentry hated them
because the diseases and death of their relations and children were
often imputed to them; the grossly superstitious vulgar abhorred them
with still more perfect dread and loathing. And amongst those natural
feelings, others of a less pardonable description found means to shelter
themselves. In one case, we are informed by Mackenzie, a poor girl was
to die for witchcraft, of whom the real crime was that she had attracted
too great a share, in the lady's opinion, of the attention of the laird.

Having thus given some reasons why the prosecutions for witchcraft in
Scotland were so numerous and fatal, we return to the general history of
the trials recorded from the reign of James V. to the union of the
kingdoms. Through the reign of Queen Mary these trials for sorcery
became numerous, and the crime was subjected to heavier punishment by
the 73rd Act of her 9th Parliament. But when James VI. approached to
years of discretion, the extreme anxiety which he displayed to penetrate
more deeply into mysteries which others had regarded as a very millstone
of obscurity, drew still larger attention to the subject. The sovereign
had exhausted his talents of investigation on the subject of witchcraft,
and credit was given to all who acted in defence of the opinions of the
reigning prince. This natural tendency to comply with the opinions of
the sovereign was much augmented by the disposition of the Kirk to the
same sentiments. We have already said that these venerable persons
entertained, with good faith, the general erroneous belief respecting
witchcraft--regarding it indeed as a crime which affected their own
order more nearly than others in the state, since, especially called to
the service of heaven, they were peculiarly bound to oppose the
incursions of Satan. The works which remain behind them show, among
better things, an unhesitating belief in what were called by them
"special providences;" and this was equalled, at least, by their
credulity as to the actual interference of evil spirits in the affairs
of this world. They applied these principles of belief to the meanest
causes. A horse falling lame was a snare of the devil to keep the good
clergyman from preaching; the arrival of a skilful farrier was accounted
a special providence to defeat the purpose of Satan. This was,
doubtless, in a general sense true, since nothing can happen without the
foreknowledge and will of Heaven; but we are authorized to believe that
the period of supernatural interference has long passed away, and that
the great Creator is content to execute his purposes by the operation of
those laws which influence the general course of nature. Our ancient
Scottish divines thought otherwise. Surrounded, as they conceived
themselves, by the snares and temptations of hell, and relying on the
aid of Heaven, they entered into war with the kingdom of Satan, as the
crusaders of old invaded the land of Palestine, with the same confidence
in the justice of their cause and similar indifference concerning the
feelings of those whom they accounted the enemies of God and man. We
have already seen that even the conviction that a woman was innocent of
the crime of witchcraft did not induce a worthy clergyman to use any
effort to withdraw her from the stake; and in the same collection[75]
there occur some observable passages of God's providence to a godly
minister in giving him "full clearness" concerning Bessie Grahame,
suspected of witchcraft. The whole detail is a curious illustration of
the spirit of credulity which well-disposed men brought with them to
such investigations, and how easily the gravest doubts were removed
rather than a witch should be left undetected.

[Footnote 75: "Satan's Invisible World," by Mr. George Sinclair. The
author was Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Glasgow,
and afterwards minister of Eastwood, in Renfrewshire.]

Bessie Grahame had been committed, it would seem, under suspicions of no
great weight, since the minister, after various conferences, found her
defence so successful, that he actually pitied her hard usage, and
wished for her delivery from prison, especially as he doubted whether a
civil court would send her to an assize, or whether an assize would be
disposed to convict her. While the minister was in this doubt, a fellow
named Begg was employed as a skilful pricker; by whose authority it is
not said, he thrust a great brass pin up to the head in a wart on the
woman's back, which he affirmed to be the devil's mark. A commission was
granted for trial; but still the chief gentlemen in the county refused
to act, and the clergyman's own doubts were far from being removed. This
put the worthy man upon a solemn prayer to God, "that if he would find
out a way for giving the minister full clearness of her guilt, he would
acknowledge it as a singular favour and mercy." This, according to his
idea, was accomplished in the following manner, which he regarded as an
answer to his prayer. One evening the clergyman, with Alexander Simpson,
the kirk-officer, and his own servant, had visited Bessie in her cell,
to urge her to confession, but in vain. As they stood on the stair-head
behind the door, they heard the prisoner, whom they had left alone in
her place of confinement, discoursing with another person, who used a
low and ghostly tone, which the minister instantly recognised as the
Foul Fiend's voice. But for this discovery we should have been of
opinion that Bessie Grahame talked to herself, as melancholy and
despairing wretches are in the habit of doing. But as Alexander Simpson
pretended to understand the sense of what was said within the cell, and
the minister himself was pretty sure he heard two voices at the same
time, he regarded the overhearing this conversation as the answer of the
Deity to his petition, and thenceforth was troubled with no doubts
either as to the reasonableness and propriety of his prayer, or the
guilt of Bessie Grahame, though she died obstinate, and would not
confess; nay, made a most decent and Christian end, acquitting her
judges and jury of her blood, in respect of the strong delusion under
which they laboured.

Although the ministers, whose opinions were but two strongly on this
head in correspondence with the prevailing superstitions of the people,
nourished in the early system of church government a considerable desire
to secure their own immunities and privileges as a national church,
which failed not at last to be brought into contact with the king's
prerogative; yet in the earlier part of his reign, James, when freed
from the influence of such a favourite as the profligate Stuart, Earl of
Arran, was in his personal qualities rather acceptable to the clergy of
his kingdom and period. At his departing from Scotland on his romantic
expedition to bring home a consort from Denmark, he very politically
recommended to the clergy to contribute all that lay in their power to
assist the civil magistrates, and preserve the public peace of the
kingdom. The king after his return acknowledged with many thanks the
care which the clergy had bestowed in this particular. Nor were they
slack in assuming the merit to themselves, for they often reminded him
in their future discords that his kingdom had never been so quiet as
during his voyage to Denmark, when the clergy were in a great measure
intrusted with the charge of the public government.

During the halcyon period of union between kirk and king their hearty
agreement on the subject of witchcraft failed not to heat the fires
against the persons suspected of such iniquity. The clergy considered
that the Roman Catholics, their principal enemies, were equally devoted
to the devil, the mass, and the witches, which in their opinion were
mutually associated together, and natural allies in the great cause of
mischief. On the other hand, the pedantic sovereign having exercised his
learning and ingenuity in the Demonologia, considered the execution of
every witch who was burnt as a necessary conclusion of his own royal
syllogisms. The juries were also afraid of the consequences of acquittal
to themselves, being liable to suffer under an assize of error should
they be thought to have been unjustly merciful; and as the witches tried
were personally as insignificant as the charge itself was odious, there
was no restraint whatever upon those in whose hands their fate lay, and
there seldom wanted some such confession as we have often mentioned, or
such evidence as that collected by the minister who overheard the
dialogue between the witch and her master, to salve their consciences
and reconcile them to bring in a verdict of guilty.

The execution of witches became for these reasons very common in
Scotland, where the king seemed in some measure to have made himself a
party in the cause, and the clergy esteemed themselves such from the
very nature of their profession. But the general spite of Satan and his
adherents was supposed to be especially directed against James, on
account of his match with Anne of Denmark--the union of a Protestant
princess with a Protestant prince, the King of Scotland and heir of
England being, it could not be doubted, an event which struck the whole
kingdom of darkness with alarm. James was self-gratified by the unusual
spirit which he had displayed on his voyage in quest of his bride, and
well disposed to fancy that he had performed it in positive opposition,
not only to the indirect policy of Elizabeth, but to the malevolent
purpose of hell itself. His fleet had been tempest-tost, and he very
naturally believed that the prince of the power of the air had been
personally active on the occasion.

The principal person implicated in these heretical and treasonable
undertakings was one Agnes Simpson, or Samson, called the Wise Wife of
Keith, and described by Archbishop Spottiswood, not as one of the base
or ignorant class of ordinary witches, but a grave matron, composed and
deliberate in her answers, which were all to some purpose. This grave
dame, from the terms of her indictment, seems to have been a kind of
white witch, affecting to cure diseases by words and charms, a dangerous
profession considering the times in which she lived. Neither did she
always keep the right and sheltered side of the law in such delicate
operations. One article of her indictment proves this, and at the same
time establishes that the Wise Woman of Keith knew how to turn her
profession to account; for, being consulted in the illness of Isobel
Hamilton, she gave her opinion that nothing could amend her unless the
devil was raised; and the sick woman's husband, startling at the
proposal, and being indifferent perhaps about the issue, would not
bestow the necessary expenses, whereupon the Wise Wife refused to raise
the devil, and the patient died. This woman was principally engaged in
an extensive conspiracy to destroy the fleet of the queen by raising a
tempest; and to take the king's life by anointing his linen with
poisonous materials, and by constructing figures of clay, to be wasted
and tormented after the usual fashion of necromancy.

Amongst her associates was an unhappy lady of much higher degree. This
was Dame Euphane MacCalzean, the widow of a Senator of the College of
Justice, and a person infinitely above the rank of the obscure witches
with whom she was joined in her crime. Mr. Pitcairn supposes that this
connexion may have arisen from her devotion to the Catholic faith and
her friendship for the Earl of Bothwell.

The third person in this singular league of sorcerers was Doctor John
Fian, otherwise Cunninghame, who was schoolmaster at Tranent, and
enjoyed much hazardous reputation as a warlock. This man was made the
hero of the whole tale of necromancy, in an account of it published at
London, and entitled, "News from Scotland," which has been lately
reprinted by the Roxburghe Club. It is remarkable that the Scottish
witchcrafts were not thought sufficiently horrible by the editor of this
tract, without adding to them the story of a philtre being applied to a
cow's hair instead of that of the young woman for whom it was designed,
and telling how the animal came lowing after the sorcerer to his
schoolroom door, like a second Pasiphaë, the original of which charm
occurs in the story of Apuleius.[76]

[Footnote 76: "Lucii Apuleii Metamorphoses," lib. iii.]

Besides these persons, there was one Barbara Napier, alias Douglas, a
person of some rank; Geillis Duncan, a very active witch; and about
thirty other poor creatures of the lowest condition--among the rest, and
doorkeeper to the conclave, a silly old ploughman, called as his
nickname Graymeal, who was cuffed by the devil for saying simply, "God
bless the king!"

When the monarch of Scotland sprung this strong covey of his favourite
game, they afforded the Privy Council and him sport for the greatest
part of the remaining winter. He attended on the examinations himself,
and by one means or or other, they were indifferently well dressed to
his palate.

Agnes Sampson, the grave matron before mentioned, after being an hour
tortured by the twisting of a cord around her head, according to the
custom of the Buccaneers, confessed that she had consulted with one
Richard Grahame concerning the probable length of the king's life, and
the means of shortening it. But Satan, to whom they at length resorted
for advice, told them in French respecting King James, _Il est un homme
de Dieu_. The poor woman also acknowledged that she had held a meeting
with those of her sisterhood, who had charmed a cat by certain spells,
having four joints of men knit to its feet, which they threw into the
sea to excite a tempest. Another frolic they had when, like the weird
sisters in Macbeth, they embarked in sieves with much mirth and jollity,
the Fiend rolling himself before them upon the waves, dimly seen, and
resembling a huge haystack in size and appearance. They went on board of
a foreign ship richly laded with wines, where, invisible to the crew,
they feasted till the sport grew tiresome, and then Satan sunk the
vessel and all on board.

Fian, or Cunninghame, was also visited by the sharpest tortures,
ordinary and extraordinary. The nails were torn from his fingers with
smith's pincers; pins were driven into the places which the nails
usually defended; his knees were crushed in _the boots_, his finger
bones were splintered in the pilniewinks. At length his constancy,
hitherto sustained, as the bystanders supposed, by the help of the
devil, was fairly overcome, and he gave an account of a great
witch-meeting at North Berwick, where they paced round the church
_withershinns_, that is, in reverse of the motion of the sun. Fian then
blew into the lock of the church-door, whereupon the bolts gave way, the
unhallowed crew entered, and their master the devil appeared to his
servants in the shape of a black man occupying the pulpit. He was
saluted with an "Hail, Master!" but the company were dissatisfied with
his not having brought a picture of the king, repeatedly promised, which
was to place his majesty at the mercy of this infernal crew. The devil
was particularly upbraided on this subject by divers respectable-looking
females--no question, Euphane MacCalzean, Barbara Napier, Agnes Sampson,
and some other amateur witch above those of the ordinary profession. The
devil on this memorable occasion forgot himself, and called Fian by his
own name, instead of the demoniacal _sobriquet_ of Rob the Rowar, which
had been assigned to him as Master of the Rows or Rolls. This was
considered as bad taste, and the rule is still observed at every
rendezvous of forgers, smugglers, or the like, where it is accounted
very indifferent manners to name an individual by his own name, in case
of affording ground of evidence which may upon a day of trial be brought
against him. Satan, something disconcerted, concluded the evening with a
divertisement and a dance after his own manner. The former consisted in
disinterring a new-buried corpse, and dividing it in fragments among the
company, and the ball was maintained by well-nigh two hundred persons,
who danced a ring dance, singing this chant--

"Cummer, gang ye before; Cummer gang ye.
Gif ye will not gang before, Cummers, let me."

After this choral exhibition, the music seems to have been rather
imperfect, the number of dancers considered. Geillis Duncan was the only
instrumental performer, and she played on a Jew's harp, called in
Scotland a _trump_. Dr. Fian, muffled, led the ring, and was highly
honoured, generally acting as clerk or recorder, as above mentioned.

King James was deeply interested in those mysterious meetings, and took
great delight to be present at the examinations of the accused. He sent
for Geillis Duncan, and caused her to play before him the same tune to
which Satan and his companions led the brawl in North Berwick
churchyard.[77] His ears were gratified in another way, for at this
meeting it was said the witches demanded of the devil why he did bear
such enmity against the king? who returned the flattering answer that
the king was the greatest enemy whom he had in the world.

[Footnote 77: The music of this witch tune is unhappily lost. But that
of another, believed to have been popular on such occasions, is

"The silly bit chicken, gar cast her a pickle,
 And she will grow mickle,
         And she will do good."]

Almost all these poor wretches were executed, nor did Euphane
MacCalzean's station in life save her from the common doom, which was
strangling to death, and burning to ashes thereafter. The majority of
the jury which tried Barbara Napier having acquitted her of attendance
at the North Berwick meeting, were themselves threatened with a trial
for wilful error upon an assize, and could only escape from severe
censure and punishment by pleading guilty, and submitting themselves to
the king's pleasure. This rigorous and iniquitous conduct shows a
sufficient reason why there should be so few acquittals from a charge of
witchcraft where the juries were so much at the mercy of the crown.

It would be disgusting to follow the numerous cases in which the same
uniform credulity, the same extorted confessions, the same prejudiced
and exaggerated evidence, concluded in the same tragedy at the stake and
the pile. The alterations and trenching which lately took place for the
purpose of improving the Castlehill of Edinburgh displayed the ashes of
the numbers who had perished in this manner, of whom a large proportion
must have been executed between 1590, when the great discovery was made
concerning Euphane MacCalzean and the Wise Wife of Keith and their
accomplices, and the union of the crowns.

Nor did King James's removal to England soften this horrible
persecution. In Sir Thomas Hamilton's Minutes of Proceedings in the
Privy Council, there occurs a singular entry, evincing plainly that the
Earl of Mar, and others of James's Council, were becoming fully sensible
of the desperate iniquity and inhumanity of these proceedings. I have
modernized the spelling that this appalling record may be legible to all
my readers.

"1608, December 1. The Earl of Mar declared to the Council that some
women were taken in Broughton as witches, and being put to an assize and
convicted, albeit they persevered constant in their denial to the end,
yet they were burned quick [_alive_] after such a cruel manner that some
of them died in despair, renouncing and blaspheming [God]; and others,
half burned, brak out of the fire,[78] and were cast quick in it again,
till they were burned to the death."

[Footnote 78: I am obliged to the kindness of Mr. Pitcairn for this
singular extract. The southern reader must be informed that the
jurisdiction or regality of Broughton embraced Holyrood, Canongate,
Leith, and other suburban parts of Edinburgh, and bore the same relation
to that city as the borough of Southwark to London.]

This singular document shows that even in the reign of James, so soon as
his own august person was removed from Edinburgh, his dutiful Privy
Council began to think that they had supt full with horrors, and were
satiated with the excess of cruelty which dashed half-consumed wretches
back into the flames from which they were striving to escape.

But the picture, however much it may have been disgusting and terrifying
to the Council at the time, and though the intention of the entry upon
the records was obviously for the purpose of preventing such horrid
cruelties in future, had no lasting effect on the course of justice, as
the severities against witches were most unhappily still considered
necessary. Through the whole of the sixteenth, and the greater part of
the seventeenth century, little abatement in the persecution of this
metaphysical crime of witchcraft can be traced in the kingdom. Even
while the Independents held the reins of government, Cromwell himself,
and his major-generals and substitutes, were obliged to please the
common people of Scotland by abandoning the victims accused of
witchcraft to the power of the law, though the journals of the time
express the horror and disgust with which the English sectarians beheld
a practice so inconsistent with their own humane principle of universal

Instead of plunging into a history of these events which, generally
speaking, are in detail as monotonous as they are melancholy, it may
amuse the reader to confine the narrative to a single trial, having in
the course of it some peculiar and romantic events. It is the tale of a
sailor's wife, more tragic in its event than that of the
chestnut-muncher in Macbeth.[79]

[Footnote 79: A copy of the record of the trial, which took place in
Ayrshire, was sent to me by a friend who withheld his name, so that I
can only thank him in this general acknowledgment.]

Margaret Barclay, wife of Archibald Dein, burgess of Irvine, had been
slandered by her sister-in-law, Janet Lyal, the spouse of John Dein,
brother of Archibald, and by John Dein himself, as guilty of some act of
theft. Upon this provocation Margaret Barclay raised an action of
slander before the church court, which prosecution, after some
procedure, the kirk-session discharged by directing a reconciliation
between the parties. Nevertheless, although the two women shook hands
before the court, yet the said Margaret Barclay declared that she gave
her hand only in obedience to the kirk-session, but that she still
retained her hatred and ill-will against John Dein and his wife, Janet
Lyal. About this time the bark of John Dein was about to sail for
France, and Andrew Train, or Tran, provost of the burgh of Irvine, who
was an owner of the vessel, went with him to superintend the commercial
part of the voyage. Two other merchants of some consequence went in the
same vessel, with a sufficient number of mariners. Margaret Barclay, the
revengeful person already mentioned, was heard to imprecate curses upon
the provost's argosy, praying to God that sea nor salt-water might never
bear the ship, and that _partans_ (crabs) might eat the crew at the
bottom of the sea.

When, under these auspices, the ship was absent on her voyage, a
vagabond fellow, named John Stewart, pretending to have knowledge of
jugglery, and to possess the power of a spaeman, came to the residence
of Tran, the provost, and dropped explicit hints that the ship was lost,
and that the good woman of the house was a widow. The sad truth was
afterwards learned on more certain information. Two of the seamen, after
a space of doubt and anxiety, arrived, with the melancholy tidings that
the bark, of which John Dein was skipper and Provost Tran part owner,
had been wrecked on the coast of England, near Padstow, when all on
board had been lost, except the two sailors who brought the notice.
Suspicion of sorcery, in those days easily awakened, was fixed on
Margaret Barclay, who had imprecated curses on the ship, and on John
Stewart, the juggler, who had seemed to know of the evil fate of the
voyage before he could have become acquainted with it by natural means.

Stewart, who was first apprehended, acknowledged that Margaret Barclay,
the other suspected person, had applied to him to teach her some magic
arts, "in order that she might get gear, kye's milk, love of man, her
heart's desire on such persons as had done her wrong, and, finally, that
she might obtain the fruit of sea and land." Stewart declared that he
denied to Margaret that he possessed the said arts himself, or had the
power of communicating them. So far was well; but, true or false, he
added a string of circumstances, whether voluntarily declared or
extracted by torture, which tended to fix the cause of the loss of the
bark on Margaret Barclay. He had come, he said, to this woman's house in
Irvine, shortly after the ship set sail from harbour. He went to
Margaret's house by night, and found her engaged, with other two women,
in making clay figures; one of the figures was made handsome, with fair
hair, supposed to represent Provost Tran. They then proceeded to mould a
figure of a ship in clay, and during this labour the devil appeared to
the company in the shape of a handsome black lap-dog, such as ladies use
to keep.[80] He added that the whole party left the house together, and
went into an empty waste-house nearer the seaport, which house he
pointed out to the city magistrates. From this house they went to the
sea-side, followed by the black lap-dog aforesaid, and cast in the
figures of clay representing the ship and the men; after which the sea
raged, roared, and became red like the juice of madder in a dyer's

[Footnote 80: This may remind the reader of Cazotte's "Diable

This confession having been extorted from the unfortunate juggler, the
female acquaintances of Margaret Barclay were next convened, that he
might point out her associates in forming the charm, when he pitched
upon a woman called Isobel Insh, or Taylor, who resolutely denied having
ever seen him before. She was imprisoned, however, in the belfry of the
church. An addition to the evidence against the poor old woman Insh was
then procured from her own daughter, Margaret Tailzeour, _a child of
eight years old_, who lived as servant with Margaret Barclay, the person
principally accused. This child, who was keeper of a baby belonging to
Margaret Barclay, either from terror or the innate love of falsehood
which we have observed as proper to childhood, declared that she was
present when the fatal models of clay were formed, and that, in plunging
them in the sea, Margaret Barclay her mistress, and her mother Isobel
Insh, were assisted by another woman, and a girl of fourteen years old,
who dwelt at the town-head. Legally considered, the evidence of this
child was contradictory and inconsistent with the confession of the
juggler, for it assigned other particulars and _dramatis personæ_ in
many respects different. But all was accounted sufficiently regular,
especially since the girl failed not to swear to the presence of the
black dog, to whose appearance she also added the additional terrors of
that of a black man. The dog also, according to her account, emitted
flashes from its jaws and nostrils to illuminate the witches during the
performance of the spell. The child maintained this story even to her
mother's face, only alleging that Isobel Insh remained behind in the
waste-house, and was not present when the images were put into the sea.
For her own countenance and presence on the occasion, and to ensure her
secrecy, her mistress promised her a pair of new shoes.

John Stewart, being re-examined and confronted with the child, was
easily compelled to allow that the "little smatchet" was there, and to
give that marvellous account of his correspondence with Elfland which we
have noticed elsewhere.

The conspiracy thus far, as they conceived, disclosed, the magistrates
and ministers wrought hard with Isobel Insh to prevail upon her to tell
the truth; and she at length acknowledged her presence at the time when
the models of the ship and mariners were destroyed, but endeavoured so
to modify her declaration as to deny all personal accession to the
guilt. This poor creature almost admitted the supernatural powers
imputed to her, promising Bailie Dunlop (also a mariner), by whom she
was imprisoned, that, if he would dismiss her, he should never make a
bad voyage, but have success in all his dealings by sea and land. She
was finally brought to promise that she would fully confess the whole
that she knew of the affair on the morrow.

But finding herself in so hard a strait, the unfortunate woman made use
of the darkness to attempt an escape. With this view she got out by a
back window of the belfry, although, says the report, there were "iron
bolts, locks, and fetters on her," and attained the roof of the church,
where, losing her footing, she sustained a severe fall and was greatly
bruised. Being apprehended, Bailie Dunlop again urged her to confess;
but the poor woman was determined to appeal to a more merciful tribunal,
and maintained her innocence to the last minute of her life, denying all
that she had formerly admitted, and dying five days after her fall from
the roof of the church. The inhabitants of Irvine attributed her death
to poison.

The scene began to thicken, for a commission was granted for the trial
of the two remaining persons accused, namely, Stewart, the juggler, and
Margaret Barclay. The day of trial being arrived, the following singular
events took place, which we give as stated in the record:--

"My Lord and Earl of Eglintoune (who dwells within the space of one mile
to the said burgh) having come to the said burgh at the earnest request
of the said justices, for giving to them of his lordship's countenance,
concurrence and assistance, in trying of the foresaid devilish
practices, conform to the tenor of the foresaid commission, the said
John Stewart, for his better preserving to the day of the assize, was
put in a sure lockfast booth, where no manner of person might have
access to him till the downsitting of the Justice Court, and for
avoiding of putting violent hands on himself, he was very strictly
guarded and fettered by the arms, as use is. And upon that same day of
the assize, about half an hour before the downsitting of the Justice
Court, Mr. David Dickson, minister at Irvine, and Mr. George Dunbar,
minister of Air, having gone to him to exhort him to call on his God for
mercy for his bygone wicked and evil life, and that God would of his
infinite mercy loose him out of the bonds of the devil, whom he had
served these many years bygone, he acquiesced in their prayer and godly
exhortation, and uttered these words:--"I am so straitly guarded that it
lies not in my power to get my hand to take off my bonnet, nor to get
bread to my mouth." And immediately after the departing of the two
ministers from him, the juggler being sent for at the desire of my Lord
of Eglintoune, to be confronted with a woman of the burgh of Air, called
Janet Bous, who was apprehended by the magistrates of the burgh of Air
for witchcraft, and sent to the burgh of Irvine purposely for that
affair, he was found by the burgh officers who went about him, strangled
and hanged by the cruik of the door, with a _tait_ of hemp, or a string
made of hemp, supposed to have been his garter, or string of his bonnet,
not above the length of two span long, his knees not being from the
ground half a span, and was brought out of the house, his life not being
totally expelled. But notwithstanding of whatsoever means used in the
contrary for remeid of his life, he revived not, but so ended his life
miserably, by the help of the devil his master.

"And because there was then only in life the said Margaret Barclay, and
that the persons summoned to pass upon her assize and upon the assize of
the juggler who, by the help of the devil his master, had put violent
hands on himself, were all present within the said burgh; therefore, and
for eschewing of the like in the person of the said Margaret, our
sovereign lord's justices in that part particularly above-named,
constituted by commission after solemn deliberation and advice of the
said noble lord, whose concurrence and advice was chiefly required and
taken in this matter, concluded with all possible diligence before the
downsitting of the Justice Court to put the said Margaret in torture; in
respect the devil, by God's permission, had made her associates who were
the lights of the cause, to be their own _burrioes_ (slayers). They used
the torture underwritten as being most safe and gentle (as the said
noble lord assured the said justices), by putting of her two bare legs
in a pair of stocks, and thereafter by onlaying of certain iron gauds
(bars) severally one by one, and then eiking and augmenting the weight
by laying on more gauds, and in easing of her by offtaking of the iron
gauds one or more as occasion offered, which iron gauds were but little
short gauds, and broke not the skin of her legs, &c.

"After using of the which kind of _gentle torture_, the said Margaret
began, according to the increase of the pain, to cry and crave for God's
cause to take off her shins the foresaid irons, and she should declare
truly the whole matter. Which being removed, she began at her former
denial; and being of new essayed in torture as of befoir, she then
uttered these words: 'Take off, take off, and before God I shall show
you the whole form!'

"And the said irons being of new, upon her faithfull promise, removed,
she then desired my Lord of Eglintoune, the said four justices, and the
said Mr. David Dickson, minister of the burgh, Mr. George Dunbar,
minister of Ayr, and Mr. Mitchell Wallace, minister of Kilmarnock, and
Mr. John Cunninghame, minister of Dalry, and Hugh Kennedy, provost of
Ayr, to come by themselves and to remove all others, and she should
declare truly, as she should answer to God the whole matter. Whose
desire in that being fulfilled she made her confession in this manner,
but (_i.e.,_ without) any kind of demand, freely, without interrogation;
God's name by earnest prayer being called upon for opening of her lips,
and easing of her heart, that she, by rendering of the truth, might
glorify and magnify his holy name, and disappoint the enemy of her
salvation."--_Trial of Margaret Barclay, &c_., 1618.

Margaret Barclay, who was a young and lively person, had hitherto
conducted herself like a passionate and high-tempered woman innocently
accused, and the only appearance of conviction obtained against her was,
that she carried about her rowan-tree and coloured thread, to make, as
she said, her cow give milk, when it began to fail. But the _gentle
torture_--a strange junction of words--recommended as an anodyne by the
good Lord Eglinton--the placing, namely, her legs in the stocks, and
loading her bare shins with bars of iron, overcame her resolution; when,
at her screams and declarations that she was willing to tell all, the
weights were removed. She then told a story of destroying the ship of
John Dein, affirming that it was with the purpose of killing only her
brother-in-law and Provost Tran, and saving the rest of the crew. She at
the same time involved in the guilt Isobel Crawford. This poor woman was
also apprehended, and in great terror confessed the imputed crime,
retorting the principal blame on Margaret Barclay herself. The trial was
then appointed to proceed, when Alexander Dein, the husband of Margaret
Barclay, appeared in court with a lawyer to act in his wife's behalf.
Apparently, the sight of her husband awakened some hope and desire of
life, for when the prisoner was asked by the lawyer whether she wished
to be defended? she answered, "As you please But all I have confest was
in agony of torture; and, before God, all I have spoken is false and
untrue." To which she pathetically added, "Ye have been too long in

The jury, unmoved by these affecting circumstances, proceeded upon the
principle that the confession of the accused could not be considered as
made under the influence of torture, since the bars were not actually
upon her limbs at the time it was delivered, although they were placed
at her elbow ready to be again laid on her bare shins, if she was less
explicit in her declaration than her auditors wished. On this nice
distinction they in one voice found Margaret Barclay guilty. It is
singular that she should have again returned to her confession after
sentence, and died affirming it; the explanation of which, however,
might be either that she had really in her ignorance and folly tampered
with some idle spells, or that an apparent penitence for her offence,
however imaginary, was the only mode in which she could obtain any share
of public sympathy at her death, or a portion of the prayers of the
clergy and congregation, which, in her circumstances, she might be
willing to purchase, even by confession of what all believed respecting
her. It is remarkable that she earnestly entreated the magistrates that
no harm should be done to Isobel Crawford, the woman whom she had
herself accused. This unfortunate young creature was strangled at the
stake, and her body burnt to ashes, having died with many expressions of
religion and penitence.

It was one fatal consequence of these cruel persecutions, that one pile
was usually lighted at the embers of another. Accordingly in the present
case, three victims having already perished by this accusation, the
magistrates, incensed at the nature of the crime, so perilous as it
seemed to men of a maritime life, and at the loss of several friends of
their own, one of "whom had been their principal magistrate, did not
forbear to insist against Isobel Crawford, inculpated by Margaret
Barclay's confession. A new commission was granted for her trial, and
after the assistant minister of Irvine, Mr. David Dickson, had made
earnest prayers to God for opening her obdurate and closed heart, she
was subjected to the torture of iron bars laid upon her bare shins, her
feet being in the stocks, as in the case of Margaret Barclay.

She endured this torture with incredible firmness, since she did
"admirably, without any kind of din or exclamation, suffer above thirty
stone of iron to be laid on her legs, never shrinking thereat in any
sort, but remaining, as it were, steady." But in shifting the situation
of the iron bars, and removing them to another part of her shins, her
constancy gave way; she broke out into horrible cries (though not more
than three bars were then actually on her person) of--"Tak aff--tak
aff!" On being relieved from the torture, she made the usual confession
of all that she was charged with, and of a connexion with the devil
which had subsisted for several years. Sentence was given against her
accordingly. After this had been denounced, she openly denied all her
former confessions, and died without any sign of repentance, offering
repeated interruption to the minister in his prayer, and absolutely
refusing to pardon the executioner.

This tragedy happened in the year 1613, and recorded, as it is, very
particularly and at considerable length, forms the most detailed
specimen I have met with of a Scottish trial for
witchcraft--illustrating, in particular, how poor wretches, abandoned,
as they conceived, by God and the world, deprived of all human sympathy,
and exposed to personal tortures of an acute description, became
disposed to throw away the lives that were rendered bitter to them by a
voluntary confession of guilt, rather than struggle hopelessly against
so many evils. Four persons here lost their lives, merely because the
throwing some clay models into the sea, a fact told differently by the
witnesses who spoke of it, corresponded with the season, for no day was
fixed in which a particular vessel was lost. It is scarce possible that,
after reading such a story, a man of sense can listen for an instant to
the evidence founded on confessions thus obtained, which has been almost
the sole reason by which a few individuals, even in modern times, have
endeavoured to justify a belief in the existence of witchcraft.

The result of the judicial examination of a criminal, when extorted by
such means, is the most suspicious of all evidence, and even when
voluntarily given, is scarce admissible without the corroboration of
other testimony.

We might here take leave of our Scottish history of witchcraft by barely
mentioning that many hundreds, nay perhaps thousands, lost their lives
during two centuries on such charges and such evidence as proved the
death of those persons in the trial of the Irvine witches. One case,
however, is so much distinguished by fame among the numerous instances
which occurred in Scottish history, that we are under the necessity of
bestowing a few words upon those celebrated persons, Major Weir and his

The case of this notorious wizard was remarkable chiefly from his being
a man of some condition (the son of a gentleman, and his mother a lady
of family in Clydesdale), which was seldom the case with those that fell
under similar accusations. It was also remarkable in his case that he
had been a Covenanter, and peculiarly attached to that cause. In the
years of the Commonwealth this man was trusted and employed by those who
were then at the head of affairs, and was in 1649 commander of the
City-Guard of Edinburgh, which procured him his title of Major. In this
capacity he was understood, as was indeed implied in the duties of that
officer at the period, to be very strict in executing severity upon such
Royalists as fell under his military charge. It appears that the Major,
with a maiden sister who had kept his house, was subject to fits of
melancholic lunacy, an infirmity easily reconcilable with the formal
pretences which he made to a high show of religious zeal. He was
peculiar in his gift of prayer, and, as was the custom of the period,
was often called to exercise his talent by the bedside of sick persons,
until it came to be observed that, by some association, which it is more
easy to conceive than to explain, he could not pray with the same warmth
and fluency of expression unless when he had in his hand a stick of
peculiar shape and appearance, which he generally walked with. It was
noticed, in short, that when this stick was taken from him, his wit and
talent appeared to forsake him. This Major Weir was seized by the
magistrates on a strange whisper that became current respecting vile
practices, which he seems to have admitted without either shame or
contrition. The disgusting profligacies which he confessed were of such
a character that it may be charitably hoped most of them were the fruits
of a depraved imagination, though he appears to have been in many
respects a wicked and criminal hypocrite. When he had completed his
confession, he avowed solemnly that he had not confessed the hundredth
part of the crimes which he had committed. From this time he would
answer no interrogatory, nor would he have recourse to prayer, arguing
that, as he had no hope whatever of escaping Satan, there was no need of
incensing him by vain efforts at repentance. His witchcraft seems to
have been taken for granted on his own confession, as his indictment was
chiefly founded on the same document, in which he alleged he had never
seen the devil, but any feeling he had of him was in the dark. He
received sentence of death, which he suffered 12th April, 1670, at the
Gallow-hill, between Leith and Edinburgh. He died so stupidly sullen and
impenitent as to justify the opinion that he was oppressed with a kind
of melancholy frenzy, the consequence perhaps of remorse, but such as
urged him not to repent, but to despair. It seems probable that he was
burnt alive. His sister, with whom he was supposed to have had an
incestuous connexion, was condemned also to death, leaving a stronger
and more explicit testimony of their mutual sins than could be extracted
from the Major. She gave, as usual, some account of her connexion with
the queen of the fairies, and acknowledged the assistance she received
from that sovereign in spinning an unusual quantity of yam. Of her
brother she said that one day a friend called upon them at noonday with
a fiery chariot, and invited them to visit a friend at Dalkeith, and
that while there her brother received information of the event of the
battle of Worcester. No one saw the style of their equipage except
themselves. On the scaffold this woman, determining, as she said, to die
"with the greatest shame possible," was with difficulty prevented from
throwing off her clothes before the people, and with scarce less trouble
was she flung from the ladder by the executioner. Her last words were in
the tone of the sect to which her brother had so long affected to
belong: "Many," she said, "weep and lament for a poor old wretch like
me; but alas! few are weeping for a broken Covenant."

The Scottish prelatists, upon whom the Covenanters used to throw many
aspersions respecting their receiving proof against shot from the devil,
and other infernal practices, rejoiced to have an opportunity, in their
turn, to retort on their adversaries the charge of sorcery. Dr. Hickes,
the author of "Thesaurus Septentrionalis," published on the subject of
Major Weir, and the case of Mitchell, who fired at the Archbishop of St.
Andrews his book called "Ravaillac Redivivus," written with the unjust
purpose of attaching to the religious sect to which the wizard and
assassin belonged the charge of having fostered and encouraged the
crimes they committed or attempted.

It is certain that no story of witchcraft or necromancy, so many of
which occurred near and in Edinburgh, made such a lasting impression on
the public mind as that of Major Weir. The remains of the house in which
he and his sister lived are still shown at the head of the West Bow,
which has a gloomy aspect, well suited for a necromancer. It was at
different times a brazier's shop and a magazine for lint, and in my
younger days was employed for the latter use; but no family would
inhabit the haunted walls as a residence; and bold was the urchin from
the High School who dared approach the gloomy ruin at the risk of seeing
the Major's enchanted staff parading through the old apartments, or
hearing the hum of the necromantic wheel, which procured for his sister
such a character as a spinner. At the time I am writing this last
fortress of superstitious renown is in the course of being destroyed, in
order to the modern improvements now carrying on in a quarter long
thought unimprovable.

As knowledge and learning began to increase, the gentlemen and clergy of
Scotland became ashamed of the credulity of their ancestors, and witch
trials, although not discontinued, more seldom disgrace our records of
criminal jurisprudence.

Sir John Clerk, a scholar and an antiquary, the grandfather of the late
celebrated John Clerk of Eldin, had the honour to be amongst the first
to decline acting as a commissioner on the trial of a witch, to which he
was appointed so early as 1678,[81] alleging, drily, that he did not
feel himself warlock (that is, conjurer) sufficient to be a judge upon
such an inquisition. Allan Ramsay, his friend, and who must be supposed
to speak the sense of his many respectable patrons, had delivered his
opinion on the subject in the "Gentle Shepherd," where Mause's imaginary
witchcraft constitutes the machinery of the poem.

[Footnote 81: See Fountainhall's "Decisions," vol. i. p. 15.]

Yet these dawnings of sense and humanity were obscured by the clouds of
the ancient superstition on more than one distinguished occasion. In
1676, Sir George Maxwell, of Pollock, apparently a man of melancholic
and valetudinary habits, believed himself bewitched to death by six
witches, one man and five women, who were leagued for the purpose of
tormenting a clay image in his likeness. The chief evidence on the
subject was a vagabond girl, pretending to be deaf and dumb. But as her
imposture was afterwards discovered and herself punished, it is
reasonably to be concluded that she had herself formed the picture or
image of Sir George, and had hid it where it was afterwards found in
consequence of her own information. In the meantime, five of the accused
were executed, and the sixth only escaped on account of extreme youth.

A still more remarkable case occurred at Paisley in 1697, where a young
girl, about eleven years of age, daughter of John Shaw, of Bargarran,
was the principal evidence. This unlucky damsel, beginning her practices
out of a quarrel with a maid-servant, continued to imitate a case of
possession so accurately that no less than twenty persons were condemned
upon her evidence, of whom five were executed, besides one John Reed,
who hanged himself in prison, or, as was charitably said, was strangled
by the devil in person, lest he should make disclosures to the detriment
of the service. But even those who believed in witchcraft were now
beginning to open their eyes to the dangers in the present mode of
prosecution. "I own," says the Rev. Mr. Bell in his MS. "Treatise on
Witchcraft," "there has been much harm done to worthy and innocent
persons in the common way of finding out witches, and in the means made
use of for promoting the discovery of such wretches and bringing them to
justice; so that oftentimes old age, poverty, features, and ill-fame,
with such like grounds not worthy to be represented to a magistrate,
have yet moved many to suspect and defame their neighbours, to the
unspeakable prejudice of Christian charity; a late instance whereof we
had in the west, in the business of the sorceries exercised upon the
Laird of Bargarran's daughter, anno 1697--a time when persons of more
goodness and esteem than most of their calumniators were defamed for
witches, and which was occasioned mostly by the forwardness and absurd
credulity of diverse otherwise worthy ministers of the gospel, and some
topping professors in and about the city of Glasgow."[82]

[Footnote 82: Law's "Memorialls," edited by C.K. Sliarpe, Esq.:
Prefatory Notice, p. 93.]

Those who doubted of the sense of the law or reasonableness of the
practice in such cases, began to take courage and state their objections
boldly. In the year 1704 a frightful instance of popular bigotry
occurred at Pittenweem. A strolling vagabond, who affected fits, laid an
accusation of witchcraft against two women, who were accordingly seized
on, and imprisoned with the usual severities. One of the unhappy
creatures, Janet Cornfoot by name, escaped from prison, but was
unhappily caught, and brought back to Pittenweem, where she fell into
the hands of a ferocious mob, consisting of rude seamen and fishers. The
magistrates made no attempts for her rescue, and the crowd exercised
their brutal pleasure on the poor old woman, pelted her with stones,
swung her suspended on a rope betwixt a ship and the shore, and finally
ended her miserable existence by throwing a door over her as she lay
exhausted on the beach, and heaping stones upon it till she was pressed
to death. As even the existing laws against witchcraft were transgressed
by this brutal riot, a warm attack was made upon the magistrates and
ministers of the town by those who were shocked at a tragedy of such a
horrible cast, There were answers published, in which the parties
assailed were zealously defended. The superior authorities were expected
to take up the affair, but it so happened; during the general
distraction of the country concerning the Union, that the murder went
without the investigation which a crime so horrid demanded. Still,
however, it was something gained that the cruelty was exposed to the
public. The voice of general opinion was now appealed to, and in the
long run the sentiments which it advocates are commonly those of good
sense and humanity.

The officers in the higher branches of the law dared now assert their
official authority and reserve for their own decision cases of supposed
witchcraft which the fear of public clamour had induced them formerly to
leave in the hands of inferior judges, operated upon by all the
prejudices of the country and the populace.

In 1718, the celebrated lawyer, Robert Dundas of Arniston, then King's
Advocate, wrote a severe letter of censure to the Sheriff-depute of
Caithness, in the first place, as having neglected to communicate
officially certain precognitions which he had led respecting some recent
practices of witchcraft in his county. The Advocate reminded this local
judge that the duty of inferior magistrates, in such cases, was to
advise with the King's Counsel, first, whether they should be made
subject of a trial or not; and if so, before what court, and in what
manner, it should take place. He also called the magistrate's attention
to a report, that he, the Sheriff-depute, intended to judge in the case
himself; "a thing of too great difficulty to be tried without very
deliberate advice, and beyond the jurisdiction of an inferior court."
The Sheriff-depute sends, with his apology, the _precognition_[83] of
the affair, which is one of the most nonsensical in this nonsensical
department of the law. A certain carpenter, named William Montgomery,
was so infested with cats, which, as his servant-maid reported, "spoke
among themselves," that he fell in a rage upon a party of these animals
which had assembled in his house at irregular hours, and betwixt his
Highland arms of knife, dirk, and broadsword, and his professional
weapon of an axe, he made such a dispersion that they were quiet for the
night. In consequence of his blows, two witches were said to have died.
The case of a third, named Nin-Gilbert, was still more remarkable. Her
leg being broken, the injured limb withered, pined, and finally fell
off; on which the hag was enclosed in prison, where she also died; and
the question which remained was, whether any process should be directed
against persons whom, in her compelled confession, she had, as usual,
informed against. The Lord Advocate, as may be supposed, quashed all
further procedure.

[Footnote 83: The _precognition_ is the record of the preliminary
evidence on which the public officers charged in Scotland with duties
entrusted to a grand jury in England, incur the responsibility of
sending an accused person to trial.]

In 1720, an unlucky boy, the third son of James, Lord Torphichen, took
it into his head, under instructions, it is said, from a knavish
governor, to play the possessed and bewitched person, laying the cause
of his distress on certain old witches in Calder, near to which village
his father had his mansion. The women were imprisoned, and one or two of
them died; but the Crown counsel would not proceed to trial. The noble
family also began to see through the cheat. The boy was sent to sea, and
though he is said at one time to have been disposed to try his fits
while on board, when the discipline of the navy proved too severe for
his cunning, in process of time he became a good sailor, assisted
gallantly in defence of the vessel against the pirates of Angria, and
finally was drowned in a storm.

In the year 1722, a Sheriff-depute of Sutherland, Captain David Ross of
Littledean, took it upon him, in flagrant violation of the then
established rules of jurisdiction, to pronounce the last sentence of
death for witchcraft which was ever passed in Scotland. The victim was
an insane old woman belonging to the parish of Loth, who had so little
idea of her situation as to rejoice at the sight of the fire which was
destined to consume her. She had a daughter lame both of hands and feet,
a circumstance attributed to the witch's having been used to transform
her into a pony, and get her shod by the devil. It does not appear that
any punishment was inflicted for this cruel abuse of the law on the
person of a creature so helpless; but the son of the lame daughter, he
himself distinguished by the same misfortune, was living so lately as to
receive the charity of the present Marchioness of Stafford, Countess of
Sutherland in her own right, to whom the poor of her extensive country
are as well known as those of the higher order.

Since this deplorable action there has been no judicial interference in
Scotland on account of witchcraft, unless to prevent explosions of
popular enmity against people suspected of such a crime, of which some
instances could be produced. The remains of the superstition sometimes
occur; there can be no doubt that the vulgar are still addicted to the
custom of scoring above the breath[84] (as it is termed), and other
counter-spells, evincing that the belief in witchcraft is only asleep,
and might in remote corners be again awakened to deeds of blood. An
instance or two may be quoted chiefly as facts known to the author

[Footnote 84: Drawing blood, that is, by two cuts in the form of a cross
on the witch's forehead, confided in all throughout Scotland as the most
powerful counter charm.]

In a remote part of the Highlands, an ignorant and malignant woman seems
really to have meditated the destruction of her neighbour's property, by
placing in a cow-house, or byre as we call it, a pot of baked clay
containing locks of hair, parings of nails, and other trumpery. This
precious spell was discovered, the design conjectured, and the witch
would have been torn to pieces had not a high-spirited and excellent
lady in the neighbourhood gathered some of her people (though these were
not very fond of the service), and by main force taken the unfortunate
creature out of the hands of the populace. The formidable spell is now
in my possession.

About two years since, as they were taking down the walls of a building
formerly used as a feeding-house for cattle, in the town of Dalkeith,
there was found below the threshold-stone the withered heart of some
animal stuck full of many scores of pins--a counter-charm, according to
tradition, against the operations of witchcraft on the cattle which are
kept within. Among the almost innumerable droves of bullocks which come
down every year from the Highlands for the south, there is scarce one
but has a curious knot upon his tail, which is also a precaution lest an
evil eye or an evil spell may do the animal harm.

The last Scottish story with which I will trouble you happened in or
shortly after the year 1800, and the whole circumstances are well known
to me. The dearth of the years in the end of the eighteenth and
beginning of this century was inconvenient to all, but distressing to
the poor. A solitary old woman, in a wild and lonely district, subsisted
chiefly by rearing chickens, an operation requiring so much care and
attention that the gentry, and even the farmers' wives, often find it
better to buy poultry at a certain age than to undertake the trouble of
bringing them up. As the old woman in the present instance fought her
way through life better than her neighbours, envy stigmatized her as
having some unlawful mode of increasing the gains of her little trade,
and apparently she did not take much alarm at the accusation. But she
felt, like others, the dearth of the years alluded to, and chiefly
because the farmers were unwilling to sell grain in the very moderate
quantities which she was able to purchase, and without which her little
stock of poultry must have been inevitably starved. In distress on this
account, the dame went to a neighbouring farmer, a very good-natured,
sensible, honest man, and requested him as a favour to sell her a peck
of oats at any price. "Good neighbour," he said, "I am sorry to be
obliged to refuse you, but my corn is measured out for Dalkeith market;
my carts are loaded to set out, and to open these sacks again, and for
so small a quantity, would cast my accounts loose, and create much
trouble and disadvantage; I dare say you will get all you want at such a
place, or such a place." On receiving this answer, the old woman's
temper gave way. She scolded the wealthy farmer, and wished evil to his
property, which was just setting off for the market. They parted, after
some angry language on both sides; and sure enough, as the carts crossed
the ford of the river beneath the farm-house, off came the wheel from
one of them, and five or six sacks of corn were damaged by the water.
The good farmer hardly knew what to think of this; there were the two
circumstances deemed of old essential and sufficient to the crime of
witchcraft--_Damnum minatum, et malum secutum_. Scarce knowing what to
believe, he hastened to consult the sheriff of the county, as a friend
rather than a magistrate, upon a case so extraordinary. The official
person showed him that the laws against witchcraft were abrogated, and
had little difficulty to bring him to regard the matter in its true
light of an accident.

It is strange, but true, that the accused herself was not to be
reconciled to the sheriffs doctrine so easily. He reminded her that, if
she used her tongue with so much license, she must expose herself to
suspicions, and that should coincidences happen to irritate her
neighbours, she, might suffer harm at a time when there was no one to
protect her. He therefore requested her to be more cautious in her
language for her own sake, professing, at the same time, his belief that
her words and intentions were perfectly harmless, and that he had no
apprehension of being hurt by her, let her wish her worst to him. She
was rather more angry than pleased at the well-meaning sheriffs
scepticism. "I would be laith to wish ony ill either to you or yours,
sir," she said; "for I kenna how it is, but something aye comes after my
words when I am ill-guided and speak ower fast." In short, she was
obstinate in claiming an influence over the destiny of others by words
and wishes, which might have in other times conveyed her to the stake,
for which her expressions, their consequences, and her disposition to
insist upon their efficacy, would certainly of old have made her a fit
victim. At present the story is scarcely worth mentioning, but as it
contains material resembling those out of which many tragic incidents
have arisen.

So low, in short, is now the belief in witchcraft, that perhaps it is
only received by those half-crazy individuals who feel a species of
consequence derived from accidental coincidences, which, were they
received by the community in general, would go near, as on former
occasions, to cost the lives of those who make their boast of them. At
least one hypochondriac patient is known to the author, who believes
himself the victim of a gang of witches, and ascribes his illness to
their charms, so that he wants nothing but an indulgent judge to awake
again the old ideas of sorcery.


    Other Mystic Arts independent of Witchcraft--Astrology--Its
    Influence during the 16th and 17th Centuries--Base Ignorance of
    those who practised it--Lilly's History of his Life and
    Times--Astrologer's Society--Dr. Lamb--Dr. Forman--Establishment of
    the Royal Society--Partridge--Connexion of Astrologers with
    Elementary Spirits--Dr. Dun--Irish Superstition of the
    Banshie--Similar Superstition in the
    Highlands--Brownie--Ghosts--Belief of Ancient Philosophers on that
    Subject--Inquiry into the respect due to such Tales in Modern
    Times--Evidence of a Ghost against a Murderer--Ghost of Sir George
    Villiers--Story of Earl St. Vincent--Of a British General
    Officer--Of an Apparition in France--Of the Second Lord
    Lyttelton--Of Bill Jones--Of Jarvis Matcham--Trial of two
    Highlanders for the Murder of Sergeant Davis, discovered by a
    Ghost--Disturbances at Woodstock, anno 1649--Imposture called the
    Stockwell Ghost--Similar Case in Scotland--Ghost appearing to an
    Exciseman--Story of a Disturbed House discovered by the firmness of
    the Proprietor--Apparition at Plymouth--A Club of
    Philosophers--Ghost Adventure of a Farmer--Trick upon a Veteran
    Soldier--Ghost Stories recommended by the Skill of the Authors who
    compose them--Mrs. Veal's Ghost--Dunton's Apparition
    Evidence--Effect of Appropriate Scenery to Encourage a Tendency to
    Superstition--Differs at distant Periods of Life--Night at Glammis
    Castle about 1791--Visit to Dunvegan in 1814.

While the vulgar endeavoured to obtain a glance into the darkness of
futurity by consulting the witch or fortune-teller, the great were
supposed to have a royal path of their own, commanding a view from a
loftier quarter of the same _terra incognita_. This was represented as
accessible by several routes. Physiognomy, chiromancy, and other
fantastic arts of prediction afforded each its mystical assistance and
guidance. But the road most flattering to human vanity, while it was at
the same time most seductive to human credulity, was that of astrology,
the queen of mystic sciences, who flattered those who confided in her
that the planets and stars in their spheres figure forth and influence
the fate of the creatures of mortality, and that a sage acquainted with
her lore could predict, with some approach to certainty, the events of
any man's career, his chance of success in life or in marriage, his
advance in favour of the great, or answer any other horary questions, as
they were termed, which he might be anxious to propound, provided always
he could supply the exact moment of his birth. This, in the sixteenth
and greater part of the seventeenth centuries, was all that was
necessary to enable the astrologer to erect a scheme of the position of
the heavenly bodies, which should disclose the life of the interrogator,
or Native, as he was called, with all its changes, past, present, and to

Imagination was dazzled by a prospect so splendid; and we find that in
the sixteenth century the cultivation of this fantastic science was the
serious object of men whose understandings and acquirements admit of no
question. Bacon himself allowed the truth which might be found in a
well-regulated astrology, making thus a distinction betwixt the art as
commonly practised and the manner in which it might, as he conceived, be
made a proper use of. But a grave or sober use of this science, if even
Bacon could have taught such moderation, would not have suited the
temper of those who, inflamed by hopes of temporal aggrandizement,
pretended to understand and explain to others the language of the stars.
Almost all the other paths of mystic knowledge led to poverty; even the
alchemist, though talking loud and high of the endless treasures his art
was to produce, lived from day to day and from year to year upon hopes
as unsubstantial as the smoke of his furnace. But the pursuits of the
astrologer were such as called for instant remuneration. He became rich
by the eager hopes and fond credulity of those who consulted him, and
that artist lived by duping others, instead of starving, like others, by
duping himself. The wisest men have been cheated by the idea that some
supernatural influence upheld and guided them; and from the time of
Wallenstein to that of Buonaparte, ambition and success have placed
confidence in the species of fatalism inspired by a belief of the
influence of their own star. Such being the case, the science was little
pursued by those who, faithful in their remarks and reports, must soon
have discovered its delusive vanity through the splendour of its
professions; and the place of such calm and disinterested pursuers of
truth was occupied by a set of men sometimes ingenious, always forward
and assuming, whose knowledge was imposition, whose responses were, like
the oracles of yore, grounded on the desire of deceit, and who, if
sometimes they were elevated into rank and fortune, were more frequently
found classed with rogues and vagabonds. This was the more apt to be the
case that a sufficient stock of impudence, and some knowledge by rote of
the terms of art, were all the store of information necessary for
establishing a conjurer. The natural consequence of the degraded
character of the professors was the degradation of the art itself.
Lilly, who wrote the history of his own life and times, notices in that
curious volume the most distinguished persons of his day, who made
pretensions to astrology, and almost without exception describes them as
profligate, worthless, sharking cheats, abandoned to vice, and imposing,
by the grossest frauds, upon the silly fools who consulted them. From
what we learn of his own history, Lilly himself, a low-born ignorant
man, with some gloomy shades of fanaticism in his temperament, was
sufficiently fitted to dupe others, and perhaps cheated himself merely
by perusing, at an advanced period of life, some of the astrological
tracts devised by men of less cunning, though perhaps more pretence to
science, than he himself might boast. Yet the public still continue to
swallow these gross impositions, though coming from such unworthy
authority. The astrologers embraced different sides of the Civil War,
and the king on one side, with the Parliamentary leaders on the other,
were both equally curious to know, and eager to believe, what Lilly,
Wharton, or Gadbury had discovered from the heavens touching the fortune
of the strife. Lilly was a prudent person, contriving with some address
to shift the sails of his prophetic bark so as to suit the current of
the time, and the gale of fortune. No person could better discover from
various omens the course of Charles's misfortunes, so soon as they had
come to pass. In the time of the Commonwealth he foresaw the perpetual
destruction of the monarchy, and in 1660 this did not prevent his
foreseeing the restoration of Charles II. He maintained some credit even
among the better classes, for Aubrey and Ashmole both called themselves
his friends, being persons extremely credulous, doubtless, respecting
the mystic arts. Once a year, too, the astrologers had a public dinner
or feast, where the knaves were patronised by the company of such fools
as claimed the title of Philomaths--that is, lovers of the mathematics,
by which name were still distinguished those who encouraged the pursuit
of mystical prescience, the most opposite possible to exact science.
Elias Ashmole, the "most honourable Esquire," to whom Lilly's life is
dedicated, seldom failed to attend; nay, several men of sense and
knowledge honoured this rendezvous. Congreve's picture of a man like
Foresight, the dupe of astrology and its sister arts, was then common in
society. But the astrologers of the 17th century did not confine
themselves to the stars. There was no province of fraud which they did
not practise; they were scandalous as panders, and as quacks sold
potions for the most unworthy purposes. For such reasons the common
people detested the astrologers of the great as cordially as they did
the more vulgar witches of their own sphere.

Dr. Lamb, patronised by the Duke of Buckingham, who, like other
overgrown favourites, was inclined to cherish astrology, was in 1640
pulled to pieces in the city of London by the enraged populace, and his
maid-servant, thirteen years afterwards, hanged as a witch at Salisbury.
In the villanous transaction of the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury, in
King James's time, much mention was made of the art and skill of Dr.
Forman, another professor of the same sort with Lamb, who was consulted
by the Countess of Essex on the best mode of conducting her guilty
intrigue with the Earl of Somerset. He was dead before the affair broke
out, which might otherwise have cost him the gibbet, as it did all
others concerned, with the exception only of the principal parties, the
atrocious authors of the crime. When the cause was tried, some little
puppets were produced in court, which were viewed by one party with
horror, as representing the most horrid spells. It was even said that
the devil was about to pull down the court-house on their being
discovered. Others of the audience only saw in them the baby figures on
which the dressmakers then, as now, were accustomed to expose new

The erection of the Royal Society, dedicated to far different purposes
than the pursuits of astrology, had a natural operation in bringing the
latter into discredit; and although the credulity of the ignorant and
uninformed continued to support some pretenders to that science, the
name of Philomath, assumed by these persons and their clients, began to
sink under ridicule and contempt. When Sir Richard Steele set up the
paper called the _Guardian_, he chose, under the title of Nestor
Ironside, to assume the character of an astrologer, and issued
predictions accordingly, one of which, announcing the death of a person
called Partridge, once a shoemaker, but at the time the conductor of an
Astrological Almanack, led to a controversy, which was supported with
great humour by Swift and other wags. I believe you will find that this,
with Swift's Elegy on the same person, is one of the last occasions in
which astrology has afforded even a jest to the good people of England.

This dishonoured science has some right to be mentioned in a "Treatise
on Demonology," because the earlier astrologers, though denying the use
of all necromancy--that is, unlawful or black magic--pretended always to
a correspondence with the various spirits of the elements, on the
principles of the Rosicrucian philosophy. They affirmed they could bind
to their service, and imprison in a ring, a mirror, or a stone, some
fairy, sylph, or salamander, and compel it to appear when called, and
render answers to such questions as the viewer should propose. It is
remarkable that the sage himself did not pretend to see the spirit; but
the task of viewer, or reader, was entrusted to a third party, a boy or
girl usually under the years of puberty. Dr. Dee, an excellent
mathematician, had a stone of this kind, and is said to have been
imposed upon concerning the spirits attached to it, their actions and
answers, by the report of one Kelly who acted as his viewer. The
unfortunate Dee was ruined by his associates both in fortune and
reputation. His show-stone or mirror is still preserved among other
curiosities in the British Museum. Some superstition of the same kind
was introduced by the celebrated Count Cagliostro, during the course of
the intrigue respecting the diamond necklace in which the late Marie
Antoinette was so unfortunately implicated.

Dismissing this general class of impostors, who are now seldom heard of,
we come now briefly to mention some leading superstitions once, perhaps,
common to all the countries of Europe, but now restricted to those which
continue to be inhabited by an undisturbed and native race. Of these,
one of the most beautiful is the Irish fiction which assigns to certain
families of ancient descent and distinguished rank the privilege of a
Banshie, as she is called, or household fairy, whose office it is to
appear, seemingly mourning, while she announces the approaching death of
some one of the destined race. The subject has been so lately and
beautifully investigated and illustrated by Mr. Crofton Croker and
others, that I may dispense with being very particular regarding it. If
I am rightly informed, the distinction of a banshie is only allowed to
families of the pure Milesian stock, and is never ascribed to any
descendant of the proudest Norman or boldest Saxon who followed the
banner of Earl Strongbow, much less to adventurers of later date who
have obtained settlements in the Green Isle.

Several families of the Highlands of Scotland anciently laid claim to
the distinction of an attendant spirit who performed the office of the
Irish banshie. Amongst them, however, the functions of this attendant
genius, whose form and appearance differed in different cases, were not
limited to announcing the dissolution of those whose days were numbered.
The Highlanders contrived to exact from them other points of service,
sometimes as warding off dangers of battle; at others, as guarding and
protecting the infant heir through the dangers of childhood; and
sometimes as condescending to interfere even in the sports of the
chieftain, and point out the fittest move to be made at chess, or the
best card to be played at any other game. Among those spirits who have
deigned to vouch their existence by appearance of late years, is that of
an ancestor of the family of MacLean of Lochbuy. Before the death of any
of his race the phantom-chief gallops along the sea-beach near to the
castle, announcing the event by cries and lamentations. The spectre is
said to have rode his rounds and uttered his death-cries within these
few years, in consequence of which the family and clan, though much
shocked, were in no way surprised to hear by next accounts that their
gallant chief was dead at Lisbon, where he served under Lord Wellington.

Of a meaner origin and occupation was the Scottish Brownie, already
mentioned as somewhat resembling Robin Goodfellow in the frolicsome days
of Old England. This spirit was easily banished, or, as it was styled,
hired away, by the offer of clothes or food; but many of the simple
inhabitants could little see the prudence of parting with such a useful
domestic drudge, who served faithfully, without fee and reward, food or
raiment. Neither was it all times safe to reject Brownie's assistance.
Thus, we are informed by Brand, that a young man in the Orkneys "used to
brew, and sometimes read upon his Bible; to whom an old woman in the
house said, that Brownie was displeased with that book he read upon,
which, if he continued to do, they would get no more service of Brownie;
but he, being better instructed from that book, which was Brownie's
eyesore and the object of his wrath, when he brewed, would not suffer
any sacrifice to be given to Brownie; whereupon the first and second
brewings were spoilt, and for no use; for though the wort wrought well,
yet in a little time it left off working, and grew cold; but of the
third broust, or brewing, he had ale very good, though he would not give
any sacrifice to Brownie, with whom afterwards they were no more
troubled." Another story of the same kind is told of a lady in Uist, who
refused, on religious grounds, the usual sacrifice to this domestic
spirit. The first and second brewings failed, but the third succeeded;
and thus, when Brownie lost the perquisite to which he had been so long
accustomed, he abandoned the inhospitable house, where his services had
so long been faithfully rendered. The last place in the south of
Scotland supposed to have been honoured, or benefited, by the residence
of a Brownie, was Bodsbeck in Moffatdale, which has been the subject of
an entertaining tale by Mr. James Hogg, the self-instructed genius of
Ettrick Forest.

These particular superstitions, however, are too limited, and too much
obliterated from recollection, to call for special discussion. The
general faith in fairies has already undergone our consideration; but
something remains to be said upon another species of superstition, so
general that it may be called proper to mankind in every climate; so
deeply rooted also in human belief, that it is found to survive in
states of society during which all other fictions of the same order are
entirely dismissed from influence. Mr. Crabbe, with his usual felicity,
has called the belief in ghosts "the last lingering fiction of the

Nothing appears more simple at the first view of the subject, than that
human memory should recall and bring back to the eye of the imagination,
in perfect similitude, even the very form and features of a person with
whom we have been long conversant, or which have been imprinted in our
minds with indelible strength by some striking circumstances touching
our meeting in life. The son does not easily forget the aspect of an
affectionate father; and, for reasons opposite but equally powerful, the
countenance of a murdered person is engraved upon the recollection of
his slayer. A thousand additional circumstances, far too obvious to
require recapitulation, render the supposed apparition of the dead the
most ordinary spectral phenomenon which is ever believed to occur among
the living. All that we have formerly said respecting supernatural
appearances in general, applies with peculiar force to the belief of
ghosts; for whether the cause of delusion exists in an excited
imagination or a disordered organic system, it is in this way that it
commonly exhibits itself. Hence Lucretius himself, the most absolute of
sceptics, considers the existence of ghosts, and their frequent
apparition, as facts so undeniable that he endeavours to account for
them at the expense of assenting to a class of phenomena very
irreconcilable to his general system. As he will not allow of the
existence of the human soul, and at the same time cannot venture to
question the phenomena supposed to haunt the repositories of the dead,
he is obliged to adopt the belief that the body consists of several
coats like those of an onion, and that the outmost and thinnest, being
detached by death, continues to wander near the place of sepulture, in
the exact resemblance of the person while alive.

We have said there are many ghost stories which we do not feel at
liberty to challenge as impostures, because we are confident that those
who relate them on their own authority actually believe what they
assert, and may have good reason for doing so, though there is no real
phantom after all. We are far, therefore, from averring that such tales
are necessarily false. It is easy to suppose the visionary has been
imposed upon by a lively dream, a waking reverie, the excitation of a
powerful imagination, or the misrepresentation of a diseased organ of
sight; and in one or other of these causes, to say nothing of a system
of deception which may in many instances be probable, we apprehend a
solution will be found for all cases of what are called real ghost

In truth, the evidence with respect to such apparitions is very seldom
accurately or distinctly questioned. A supernatural tale is in most
cases received as an agreeable mode of amusing society, and he would be
rather accounted a sturdy moralist than an entertaining companion who
should employ himself in assailing its credibility. It would indeed be a
solecism in manners, something like that of impeaching the genuine value
of the antiquities exhibited by a good-natured collector for the
gratification of his guests. This difficulty will appear greater should
a company have the rare good fortune to meet the person who himself
witnessed the wonders which he tells; a well-bred or prudent man will,
under such circumstances, abstain from using the rules of
cross-examination practised in a court of justice; and if in any case he
presumes to do so, he is in danger of receiving answers, even from the
most candid and honourable persons, which are rather fitted to support
the credit of the story which they stand committed to maintain, than to
the pure service of unadorned truth. The narrator is asked, for example,
some unimportant question with respect to the apparition; he answers it
on the hasty suggestion of his own imagination, tinged as it is with
belief of the general fact, and by doing so often gives a feature of
minute evidence which was before wanting, and this with perfect
unconsciousness on his own part. It is a rare occurrence, indeed, to
find an opportunity of dealing with an actual ghost-seer; such
instances, however, I have certainly myself met with, and that in the
case of able, wise, candid, and resolute persons, of whose veracity I
had every reason to be confident. But in such instances shades of mental
aberration have afterwards occurred, which sufficiently accounted for
the supposed apparitions, and will incline me always to feel alarmed in
behalf of the continued health of a friend who should conceive himself
to have witnessed such a visitation.

The nearest approximation which can be generally made to exact evidence
in this case, is the word of some individual who has had the story, it
may be, from the person to whom it has happened, but most likely from
his family, or some friend of the family. Far more commonly the narrator
possesses no better means of knowledge than that of dwelling in the
country where the thing happened, or being well acquainted with the
outside of the mansion in the inside of which the ghost appeared.

In every point the evidence of such a second-hand retailer of the mystic
story must fall under the adjudged case in an English court. The judge
stopped a witness who was about to give an account of the murder upon
trial, as it was narrated to him by the ghost of the murdered person.
"Hold, sir," said his lordship; "the ghost is an excellent witness, and
his evidence the best possible; but he cannot be heard by proxy in this
court. Summon him hither, and I'll hear him in person; but your
communication is mere hearsay, which my office compels me to reject."
Yet it is upon the credit of one man, who pledges it upon that of three
or four persons, who have told it successively to each other, that we
are often expected to believe an incident inconsistent with the laws of
Nature, however agreeable to our love of the wonderful and the horrible.

In estimating the truth or falsehood of such stories it is evident we
can derive no proofs from that period of society when men affirmed
boldly, and believed stoutly, all the wonders which could be coined or
fancied. That such stories are believed and told by grave historians,
only shows that the wisest men cannot rise in all things above the
general ignorance of their age. Upon the evidence of such historians we
might as well believe the portents of ancient or the miracles of modern
Rome. For example, we read in Clarendon of the apparition of the ghost
of Sir George Villiers to an ancient dependant. This is no doubt a story
told by a grave author, at a time when such stories were believed by all
the world; but does it follow that our reason must acquiesce in a
statement so positively contradicted by the voice of Nature through all
her works? The miracle of raising a dead man was positively refused by
our Saviour to the Jews, who demanded it as a proof of his mission,
because they had already sufficient grounds of conviction; and, as they
believed them not, it was irresistibly argued by the Divine Person whom
they tempted, that neither would they believe if one arose from the
dead. Shall we suppose that a miracle refused for the conversion of
God's chosen people was sent on a vain errand to save the life of a
profligate spendthrift? I lay aside, you observe, entirely the not
unreasonable supposition that Towers, or whatever was the ghost-seer's
name, desirous to make an impression upon Buckingham, as an old servant
of his house, might be tempted to give him his advice, of which we are
not told the import, in the character of his father's spirit, and
authenticate the tale by the mention of some token known to him as a
former retainer of the family. The Duke was superstitious, and the ready
dupe of astrologers and soothsayers. The manner in which he had provoked
the fury of the people must have warned every reflecting person of his
approaching fate; and, the age considered, it was not unnatural that a
faithful friend should take this mode of calling his attention to his
perilous situation. Or, if we suppose that the incident was not a mere
pretext to obtain access to the Duke's ear, the messenger may have been
impressed upon by an idle dream--in a word, numberless conjectures might
be formed for accounting for the event in a natural way, the most
extravagant of which is more probable than that the laws of Nature were
broken through in order to give a vain and fruitless warning to an
ambitious minion.

It is the same with all those that are called accredited ghost stories
usually told at the fireside. They want evidence. It is true that the
general wish to believe, rather than power of believing, has given some
such stories a certain currency in society. I may mention, as one of the
class of tales I mean, that of the late Earl St. Vincent, who watched,
with a friend, it is said, a whole night, in order to detect the cause
of certain nocturnal disturbances which took place in a certain mansion.
The house was under lease to Mrs. Ricketts, his sister. The result of
his lordship's vigil is said to have been that he heard the noises
without being able to detect the causes, and insisted on his sister
giving up the house. This is told as a real story, with a thousand
different circumstances. But who has heard or seen an authentic account
from Earl St. Vincent, or from his "companion of the watch," or from his
lordship's sister? And as in any other case such sure species of direct
evidence would be necessary to prove the facts, it seems unreasonable to
believe such a story on slighter terms. When the particulars are
precisely fixed and known, it might be time to enquire whether Lord St.
Vincent, amid the other eminent qualities of a first-rate seaman, might
not be in some degree tinged with their tendency to superstition; and
still farther, whether, having ascertained the existence of disturbances
not immediately or easily detected, his lordship might not advise his
sister rather to remove than to remain in a house so haunted, though he
might believe that poachers or smugglers were the worst ghosts by whom
it was disturbed.

The story of two highly respectable officers in the British army, who
are supposed to have seen the spectre of the brother of one of them in a
hut, or barrack, in America, is also one of those accredited ghost
tales, which attain a sort of brevet rank as true, from the mention of
respectable names as the parties who witnessed the vision. But we are
left without a glimpse when, how, and in what terms, this story obtained
its currency; as also by whom, and in what manner, it was first
circulated; and among the numbers by whom it has been quoted, although
all agree in the general event, scarcely two, even of those who pretend
to the best information, tell the story in the same way.

Another such story, in which the name of a lady of condition is made use
of as having seen an apparition in a country-seat in France, is so far
better borne out than those I have mentioned, that I have seen a
narrative of the circumstances attested by the party principally
concerned. That the house was disturbed seems to be certain, but the
circumstances (though very remarkable) did not, in my mind, by any means
exclude the probability that the disturbance and appearances were
occasioned by the dexterous management of some mischievously-disposed

The remarkable circumstance of Thomas, the second Lord Lyttelton,
prophesying his own death within a few minutes, upon the information of
an apparition, has been always quoted as a true story. But of late it
has been said and published, that the unfortunate nobleman had
previously determined to take poison, and of course had it in his own
power to ascertain the execution of the prediction. It was no doubt
singular that a man, who meditated his exit from the world, should have
chosen to play such a trick on his friends. But it is still more
credible that a whimsical man should do so wild a thing, than that a
messenger should be sent from the dead to tell a libertine at what
precise hour he should expire.

To this list other stories of the same class might be added. But it is
sufficient to show that such stories as these, having gained a certain
degree of currency in the world, and bearing creditable names on their
front, walk through society unchallenged, like bills through a bank when
they bear respectable indorsations, although, it may be, the signatures
are forged after all. There is, indeed, an unwillingness very closely to
examine such subjects, for the secret fund of superstition in every
man's bosom is gratified by believing them to be true, or at least
induces him to abstain from challenging them as false. And no doubt it
must happen that the transpiring of incidents, in which men have
actually seen, or conceived that they saw, apparitions which were
invisible to others, contributes to the increase of such stories--which
do accordingly sometimes meet us in a shape of veracity difficult to

The following story was narrated to me by my friend, Mr. William Clerk,
chief clerk to the Jury Court, Edinburgh, when he first learned it, now
nearly thirty years ago, from a passenger in the mail-coach. With Mr.
Clerk's consent, I gave the story at that time to poor Mat Lewis, who
published it with a ghost-ballad which he adjusted on the same theme.
From the minuteness of the original detail, however, the narrative is
better calculated for prose than verse; and more especially as the
friend to whom it was originally communicated is one of the most
accurate, intelligent, and acute persons whom I have known in the course
of my life, I am willing to preserve the precise story in this place.

It was about the eventful year 1800, when the Emperor Paul laid his
ill-judged embargo on British trade, that my friend Mr. William Clerk,
on a journey to London, found himself in company, in the mail-coach,
with a seafaring man of middle age and respectable appearance, who
announced himself as master of a vessel in the Baltic trade, and a
sufferer by the embargo. In the course of the desultory conversation
which takes place on such occasions the seaman observed, in compliance
with a common superstition, "I wish we may have good luck on our
journey--there is a magpie." "And why should that be unlucky?" said my
friend. "I cannot tell you that," replied the sailor; "but all the world
agrees that one magpie bodes bad luck--two are not so bad, but three are
the devil. I never saw three magpies but twice, and once I had near lost
my vessel, and the second I fell from a horse, and was hurt." This
conversation led Mr. Clerk to observe that he supposed he believed also
in ghosts, since he credited such auguries. "And if I do," said the
sailor, "I may have my own reasons for doing so;" and he spoke this in a
deep and serious manner, implying that he felt deeply what he was
saying. On being further urged, he confessed that, if he could believe
his own eyes, there was one ghost at least which he had seen repeatedly.
He then told his story as I now relate it.

Our mariner had in his youth gone mate of a slave vessel from Liverpool,
of which town he seemed to be a native. The captain of the vessel was a
man of a variable temper, sometimes kind and courteous to his men, but
subject to fits of humour, dislike, and passion, during which he was
very violent, tyrannical, and cruel. He took a particular dislike at one
sailor aboard, an elderly man, called Bill Jones, or some such name. He
seldom spoke to this person without threats and abuse, which the old
man, with the license which sailors take on merchant vessels, was very
apt to return. On one occasion Bill Jones appeared slow in getting out
on the yard to hand a sail. The captain, according to custom, abused the
seaman as a lubberly rascal, who got fat by leaving his duty to other
people. The man made a saucy answer, almost amounting to mutiny, on
which, in a towering passion, the captain ran down to his cabin, and
returned with a blunderbuss loaded with slugs, with which he took
deliberate aim at the supposed mutineer, fired, and mortally wounded
him. The man was handed down from the yard, and stretched on the deck,
evidently dying. He fixed his eyes on the captain, and said, "Sir, you
have done for me, but _I will never leave you_" The captain, in return,
swore at him for a fat lubber, and said he would have him thrown into
the slave-kettle, where they made food for the negroes, and see how much
fat he had got. The man died. His body was actually thrown into the
slave-kettle, and the narrator observed, with a _naïveté_ which
confirmed the extent of his own belief in the truth of what he told,
"There was not much fat about him after all."

The captain told the crew they must keep absolute silence on the subject
of what had passed; and as the mate was not willing to give an explicit
and absolute promise, he ordered him to be confined below. After a day
or two he came to the mate, and demanded if he had an intention to
deliver him up for trial when the vessel got home. The mate, who was
tired of close confinement in that sultry climate, spoke his commander
fair, and obtained his liberty. When he mingled among the crew once more
he found them impressed with the idea, not unnatural in their situation,
that the ghost of the dead man appeared among them when they had a spell
of duty, especially if a sail was to be handed, on which occasion the
spectre was sure to be out upon the yard before any of the crew. The
narrator had seen this apparition himself repeatedly--he believed the
captain saw it also, but he took no notice of it for some time, and the
crew, terrified at the violent temper of the man, dared not call his
attention to it. Thus they held on their course homeward with great fear
and anxiety.

At length, the captain invited the mate, who was now in a sort of
favour, to go down to the cabin and take a glass of grog with him. In
this interview he assumed a very grave and anxious aspect. "I need not
tell you, Jack," he said, "what sort of hand we have got on board with
us. He told me he would never leave me, and he has kept his word. You
only see him now and then, but he is always by my side, and never out of
my sight. At this very moment I see him--I am determined to bear it no
longer, and I have resolved to leave you."

The mate replied that his leaving the vessel while out of the sight of
any land was impossible. He advised, that if the captain apprehended any
bad consequences from what had happened, he should run for the west of
France or Ireland, and there go ashore, and leave him, the mate, to
carry the vessel into Liverpool. The captain only shook his head
gloomily, and reiterated his determination to leave the ship. At this
moment the mate was called to the deck for some purpose or other, and
the instant he got up the companion-ladder he heard a splash in the
water, and looking over the ship's side, saw that the captain had thrown
himself into the sea from the quarter-gallery, and was running astern at
the rate of six knots an hour. When just about to sink he seemed to make
a last exertion, sprung half out of the water, and clasped his hands
towards the mate, calling, "By----, Bill is with me now!" and then sunk,
to be seen no more.

After hearing this singular story Mr. Clerk asked some questions about
the captain, and whether his companion considered him as at all times
rational. The sailor seemed struck with the question, and answered,
after a moment's delay, that in general _he conversationed well enough_.

It would have been desirable to have been able to ascertain how far this
extraordinary tale was founded on fact; but want of time and other
circumstances prevented Mr. Clerk from learning the names and dates,
that might to a certain degree have verified the events. Granting the
murder to have taken place, and the tale to have been truly told, there
was nothing more likely to arise among the ship's company than the
belief in the apparition; as the captain was a man of a passionate and
irritable disposition, it was nowise improbable that he, the victim of
remorse, should participate in the horrible visions of those less
concerned, especially as he was compelled to avoid communicating his
sentiments with any one else; and the catastrophe would in such a case
be but the natural consequence of that superstitious remorse which has
conducted so many criminals to suicide or the gallows. If the
fellow-traveller of Mr. Clerk be not allowed this degree of credit, he
must at least be admitted to have displayed a singular talent for the
composition of the horrible in fiction. The tale, properly detailed,
might have made the fortune of a romancer.

I cannot forbear giving you, as congenial to this story, another
instance of a guilt-formed phantom, which made considerable noise about
twenty years ago or more. I am, I think, tolerably correct in the
details, though I have lost the account of the trial. Jarvis
Matcham--such, if I am not mistaken, was the name of my hero--was
pay-sergeant in a regiment, where he was so highly esteemed as a steady
and accurate man that he was permitted opportunity to embezzle a
considerable part of the money lodged in his hands for pay of soldiers,
bounty of recruits (then a large sum), and other charges which fell
within his duty. He was summoned to join his regiment from a town where
he had been on the recruiting service, and this perhaps under some shade
of suspicion. Matcham perceived discovery was at hand, and would have
deserted had it not been for the presence of a little drummer lad, who
was the only one of his party appointed to attend him. In the
desperation of his crime he resolved to murder the poor boy, and avail
himself of some balance of money to make his escape. He meditated this
wickedness the more readily that the drummer, he thought, had been put
as a spy on him. He perpetrated his crime, and changing his dress after
the deed was done, made a long walk across the country to an inn on the
Portsmouth road, where he halted and went to bed, desiring to be called
when the first Portsmouth coach came. The waiter summoned him
accordingly, but long after remembered that, when he shook the guest by
the shoulder, his first words as he awoke were: "My God! I did not kill

Matcham went to the seaport by the coach, and instantly entered as an
able-bodied landsman or marine, I know not which. His sobriety and
attention to duty gained him the same good opinion of the officers in
his new service which he had enjoyed in the army. He was afloat for
several years, and behaved remarkably well in some actions. At length
the vessel came into Plymouth, was paid off, and some of the crew,
amongst whom was Jarvis Matcham, were dismissed as too old for service.
He and another seaman resolved to walk to town, and took the route by
Salisbury. It was when within two or three miles of this celebrated city
that they were overtaken by a tempest so sudden, and accompanied with
such vivid lightning and thunder so dreadfully loud, that the obdurate
conscience of the old sinner began to be awakened. He expressed more
terror than seemed natural for one who was familiar with the war of
elements, and began to look and talk so wildly that his companion became
aware that something more than usual was the matter. At length Matcham
complained to his companion that the stones rose from the road and flew
after him. He desired the man to walk on the other side of the highway
to see if they would follow him when he was alone. The sailor complied,
and Jarvis Matcham complained that the stones still flew after him and
did not pursue the other. "But what is worse," he added, coming up to
his companion, and whispering, with a tone of mystery and fear, "who is
that little drummer-boy, and what business has he to follow us so
closely?" "I can see no one," answered the seaman, infected by the
superstition of his associate. "What! not see that little boy with the
bloody pantaloons!" exclaimed the secret murderer, so much to the terror
of his comrade that he conjured him, if he had anything on his mind, to
make a clear conscience as far as confession could do it. The criminal
fetched a deep groan, and declared that he was unable longer to endure
the life which he had led for years. He then confessed the murder of the
drummer, and added that, as a considerable reward had been offered, he
wished his comrade to deliver him up to the magistrates of Salisbury, as
he would desire a shipmate to profit by his fate, which he was now
convinced was inevitable. Having overcome his friend's objections to
this mode of proceeding, Jarvis Matcham was surrendered to justice
accordingly, and made a full confession of his guilt But before the
trial the love of life returned. The prisoner denied his confession, and
pleaded Not Guilty. By this time, however, full evidence had been
procured from other quarters. Witnesses appeared from his former
regiment to prove his identity with the murderer and deserter, and the
waiter remembered the ominous words which he had spoken when he awoke
him to join the Portsmouth coach. Jarvis Matcham was found guilty and
executed. When his last chance of life was over he returned to his
confession, and with his dying breath averred, and truly, as he thought,
the truth of the vision on Salisbury Plain. Similar stories might be
produced, showing plainly that, under the direction of Heaven, the
influence of superstitious fear may be the appointed means of bringing
the criminal to repentance for his own sake, and to punishment for the
advantage of society.

Cases of this kind are numerous and easily imagined, so I shall dwell on
them no further; but rather advert to at least an equally abundant class
of ghost stories, in which the apparition is pleased not to torment the
actual murderer, but proceeds in a very circuitous manner, acquainting
some stranger or ignorant old woman with the particulars of his fate,
who, though perhaps unacquainted with all the parties, is directed by a
phantom to lay the facts before a magistrate. In this respect we must
certainly allow that ghosts have, as we are informed by the facetious
Captain Grose, forms and customs peculiar to themselves.

There would be no edification and little amusement in treating of clumsy
deceptions of this kind, where the grossness of the imposture detects
itself. But occasionally cases occur like the following, with respect to
which it is more difficult, to use James Boswell's phrase, "to know what
to think."

Upon the 10th of June, 1754, Duncan Terig, _alias_ Clark, and Alexander
Bain MacDonald, two Highlanders, were tried before the Court of
Justiciary, Edinburgh, for the murder of Arthur Davis, sergeant in
Guise's regiment, on the 28th September, 1749. The accident happened not
long after the civil war, the embers of which were still reeking, so
there existed too many reasons on account of which an English soldier,
straggling far from assistance, might be privately cut off by the
inhabitants of these wilds. It appears that Sergeant Davis was missing
for years, without any certainty as to his fate. At length, an account
of the murder appeared from the evidence of one Alexander MacPherson (a
Highlander, speaking no language but Gaelic, and sworn by an
interpreter), who gave the following extraordinary account of his cause
of knowledge:--He was, he said, in bed in his cottage, when an
apparition came to his bedside and commanded him to rise and follow him
out of doors. Believing his visitor to be one Farquharson, a neighbour
and friend, the witness did as he was bid; and when they were without
the cottage, the appearance told the witness he was the ghost of
Sergeant Davis, and requested him to go and bury his mortal remains,
which lay concealed in a place he pointed out in a moorland tract called
the Hill of Christie. He desired him to take Farquharson with him as an
assistant. Next day the witness went to the place specified, and there
found the bones of a human body much decayed. The witness did not at
that time bury the bones so found, in consequence of which negligence
the sergeant's ghost again appeared to him, upbraiding him with his
breach of promise. On this occasion the witness asked the ghost who were
the murderers, and received for answer that he had been slain by the
prisoners at the bar. The witness, after this second visitation, called
the assistance of Farquharson, and buried the body.

Farquharson was brought in evidence to prove that the preceding witness,
MacPherson, had called him to the burial of the bones, and told him the
same story which he repeated in court. Isabel MacHardie, a person who
slept in one of the beds which run along the wall in an ordinary
Highland hut, declared that upon the night when MacPherson said he saw
the ghost, she saw a naked man enter the house and go towards
MacPherson's bed.

Yet though the supernatural incident was thus fortified, and although
there were other strong presumptions against the prisoners, the story of
the apparition threw an air of ridicule on the whole evidence for the
prosecution. It was followed up by the counsel for the prisoners asking,
in the cross-examination of MacPherson, "What language did the ghost
speak in?" The witness, who was himself ignorant of English, replied,
"As good Gaelic as I ever heard in Lochaber." "Pretty well for the ghost
of an English sergeant," answered the counsel. The inference was rather
smart and plausible than sound, for, the apparition of the ghost being
admitted, we know too little of the other world to judge whether all
languages may not be alike familiar to those who belonged to it. It
imposed, however, on the jury, who found the accused parties not guilty,
although their counsel and solicitor and most of the court were
satisfied of their having committed the murder. In this case the
interference of the ghost seems to have rather impeded the vengeance
which it was doubtless the murdered sergeant's desire to obtain. Yet
there may be various modes of explaining this mysterious story, of which
the following conjecture may pass for one.

The reader may suppose that MacPherson was privy to the fact of the
murder, perhaps as an accomplice or otherwise, and may also suppose
that, from motives of remorse for the action, or of enmity to those who
had committed it, he entertained a wish to bring them to justice. But
through the whole Highlands there is no character more detestable than
that of an informer, or one who takes what is called Tascal-money, or
reward for discovery of crimes. To have informed against Terig and
MacDonald might have cost MacPherson his life; and it is far from being
impossible that he had recourse to the story of the ghost, knowing well
that his superstitious countrymen would pardon his communicating the
commission entrusted to him by a being from the other world, although he
might probably have been murdered if his delation of the crime had been
supposed voluntary. This explanation, in exact conformity with the
sentiments of the Highlanders on such subjects, would reduce the whole
story to a stroke of address on the part of the witness.

It is therefore of the last consequence, in considering the truth of
stories of ghosts and apparitions, to consider the possibility of wilful
deception, whether on the part of those who are agents in the supposed
disturbances, or the author of the legend. We shall separately notice an
instance or two of either kind.

The most celebrated instance in which human agency was used to copy the
disturbances imputed to supernatural beings refers to the ancient palace
of Woodstock, when the Commissioners of the Long Parliament came down to
dispark what had been lately a royal residence. The Commissioners
arrived at Woodstock, 13th October, 1649, determined to wipe away the
memory of all that connected itself with the recollection of monarchy in
England. But in the course of their progress they were encountered by
obstacles which apparently came from the next world. Their bed-chambers
were infested with visits of a thing resembling a dog, but which came
and passed as mere earthly dogs cannot do. Logs of wood, the remains of
a very large tree called the King's Oak, which they had splintered into
billets for burning, were tossed through the house, and the chairs
displaced and shuffled about. While they were in bed the feet of their
couches were lifted higher than their heads, and then dropped with
violence. Trenchers "without a wish" flew at their heads of free will.
Thunder and lightning came next, which were set down to the same cause.
Spectres made their appearance, as they thought, in different shapes,
and one of the party saw the apparition of a hoof, which kicked a
candlestick and lighted candle into the middle of the room, and then
politely scratched on the red snuff to extinguish it. Other and worse
tricks were practised on the astonished Commissioners who, considering
that all the fiends of hell were let loose upon them, retreated from
Woodstock without completing an errand which was, in their opinion,
impeded by infernal powers, though the opposition offered was rather of
a playful and malicious than of a dangerous cast.

The whole matter was, after the Restoration, discovered to be the trick
of one of their own party, who had attended the Commissioners as a
clerk, under the name of Giles Sharp. This man, whose real name was
Joseph Collins of Oxford, called _Funny Joe_, was a concealed loyalist,
and well acquainted with the old mansion of Woodstock, where he had been
brought up before the Civil War. Being a bold, active spirited man, Joe
availed himself of his local knowledge of trap-doors and private
passages so as to favour the tricks which he played off upon his masters
by aid of his fellow-domestics. The Commissioners' personal reliance on
him made his task the more easy, and it was all along remarked that
trusty Giles Sharp saw the most extraordinary sights and visions among
the whole party. The unearthly terrors experienced by the Commissioners
are detailed with due gravity by Sinclair, and also, I think, by Dr.
Plott. But although the detection or explanation of the real history of
the Woodstock demons has also been published, and I have myself seen it,
I have at this time forgotten whether it exists in a separate
collection, or where it is to be looked for.

Similar disturbances have been often experienced while it was the custom
to believe in and dread such frolics of the invisible world, and under
circumstances which induce us to wonder, both at the extreme trouble
taken by the agents in these impostures, and the slight motives from
which they have been induced to do much wanton mischief. Still greater
is our modern surprise at the apparently simple means by which terror
has been excited to so general an extent, that even the wisest and most
prudent have not escaped its contagious influence.

On the first point I am afraid there can be no better reason assigned
than the conscious pride of superiority, which induces the human being
in all cases to enjoy and practise every means of employing an influence
over his fellow-mortals; to which we may safely add that general love of
tormenting, as common to our race as to that noble mimick of humanity,
the monkey. To this is owing the delight with which every school-boy
anticipates the effects of throwing a stone into a glass shop; and to
this we must also ascribe the otherwise unaccountable pleasure which
individuals have taken in practising the tricksy pranks of a goblin, and
filling a household or neighbourhood with anxiety and dismay, with
little gratification to themselves besides the consciousness of
dexterity if they remain undiscovered, and with the risk of loss of
character and punishment should the imposture be found out.

In the year 1772, a train of transactions, commencing upon Twelfth Day,
threw the utmost consternation into the village of Stockwell, near
London, and impressed upon some of its inhabitants the inevitable belief
that they were produced by invisible agents. The plates, dishes, china,
and glass-ware and small movables of every kind, contained in the house
of Mrs. Golding, an elderly lady, seemed suddenly to become animated,
shifted their places, flew through the room, and were broken to pieces.
The particulars of this commotion were as curious as the loss and damage
occasioned in this extraordinary manner were alarming and intolerable.
Amidst this combustion, a young woman, Mrs. Golding's maid, named Anne
Robinson, was walking backwards and forwards, nor could she be prevailed
on to sit down for a moment excepting while the family were at prayers,
during which time no disturbance happened. This Anne Robinson had been
but a few days in the old lady's service, and it was remarkable that she
endured with great composure the extraordinary display which others
beheld with terror, and coolly advised her mistress not to be alarmed or
uneasy, as these things could not be helped. This excited an idea that
she had some reason for being so composed, not inconsistent with a
degree of connexion with what was going forward. The afflicted Mrs.
Golding, as she might be well termed, considering such a commotion and
demolition among her goods and chattels, invited neighbours to stay in
her house, but they soon became unable to bear the sight of these
supernatural proceedings, which went so far that not above two cups and
saucers remained out of a valuable set of china. She next abandoned her
dwelling, and took refuge with a neighbour, but, finding his movables
were seized with the same sort of St. Vitus's dance, her landlord
reluctantly refused to shelter any longer a woman who seemed to be
persecuted by so strange a subject of vexation. Mrs. Golding's
suspicions against Anne Robinson now gaining ground, she dismissed her
maid, and the hubbub among her movables ceased at once and for ever.

This circumstance of itself indicates that Anne Robinson was the cause
of these extraordinary disturbances, as has been since more completely
ascertained by a Mr. Brayfield, who persuaded Anne, long after the
events had happened, to make him her confidant. There was a love story
connected with the case, in which the only magic was the dexterity of
Anne Robinson and the simplicity of the spectators. She had fixed long
horse hairs to some of the crockery, and placed wires under others, by
which she could throw them down without touching them. Other things she
dexterously threw about, which the spectators, who did not watch her
motions, imputed to invisible agency. At times, when the family were
absent, she loosened the hold of the strings by which the hams, bacon,
and similar articles were suspended, so that they fell on the slightest
motion. She employed some simple chemical secrets, and, delighted with
the success of her pranks, pushed them farther than she at first
intended. Such was the solution of the whole mystery, which, known by
the name of the Stockwell ghost, terrified many well-meaning persons,
and had been nearly as famous as that of Cock Lane, which may be hinted
at as another imposture of the same kind. So many and wonderful are the
appearances described, that when I first met with the original
publication I was strongly impressed with the belief that the narrative
was like some of Swift's advertisements, a jocular experiment upon the
credulity of the public. But it was certainly published _bona fide_, and
Mr. Hone, on the authority of Mr. Brayfield, has since fully explained
the wonder.[85]

[Footnote 85: See Hone's "Every-Day Book," p. 62.]

Many such impositions have been detected, and many others have been
successfully concealed; but to know what has been discovered in many
instances gives us the assurance of the ruling cause in all. I remember
a scene of the kind attempted to be got up near Edinburgh, but detected
at once by a sheriff's officer, a sort of persons whose habits of
incredulity and suspicious observation render them very dangerous
spectators on such occasions. The late excellent Mr. Walker, minister at
Dunottar, in the Mearns, gave me a curious account of an imposture of
this kind, practised by a young country girl, who was surprisingly quick
at throwing stones, turf, and other missiles, with such dexterity that
it was for a long time impossible to ascertain her agency in the
disturbances of which she was the sole cause.

The belief of the spectators that such scenes of disturbance arise from
invisible beings will appear less surprising if we consider the common
feats of jugglers, or professors of legerdemain, and recollect that it
is only the frequent exhibition of such powers which reconciles us to
them as matters of course, although they are wonders at which in our
fathers' time men would have cried out either sorcery or miracles. The
spectator also, who has been himself duped, makes no very respectable
appearance when convicted of his error; and thence, if too candid to add
to the evidence of supernatural agency, is yet unwilling to stand
convicted by cross-examination, of having been imposed on, and
unconsciously becomes disposed rather to colour more highly than the
truth, than acquiesce in an explanation resting on his having been too
hasty a believer. Very often, too, the detection depends upon the
combination of certain circumstances, which, apprehended, necessarily
explain the whole story.

For example, I once heard a sensible and intelligent friend in company
express himself convinced of the truth of a wonderful story, told him by
an intelligent and bold man, about an apparition. The scene lay in an
ancient castle on the coast of Morven or the Isle of Mull, where the
ghost-seer chanced to be resident. He was given to understand by the
family, when betaking himself to rest, that the chamber in which he
slept was occasionally disquieted by supernatural appearances. Being at
that time no believer in such stories, he attended little to this hint,
until the witching hour of night, when he was awakened from a dead sleep
by the pressure of a human hand on his body. He looked up at the figure
of a tall Highlander, in the antique and picturesque dress of his
country, only that his brows were bound with a bloody bandage. Struck
with sudden and extreme fear, he was willing to have sprung from bed,
but the spectre stood before him in the bright moonlight, its one arm
extended so as to master him if he attempted to rise; the other hand
held up in a warning and grave posture, as menacing the Lowlander if he
should attempt to quit his recumbent position. Thus he lay in mortal
agony for more than an hour, after which it pleased the spectre of
ancient days to leave him to more sound repose. So singular a story had
on its side the usual number of votes from the company, till, upon
cross-examination, it was explained that the principal person concerned
was an exciseman. After which _eclaircissement_ the same explanation
struck all present, viz., the Highlanders of the mansion had chosen to
detain the exciseman by the apparition of an ancient heroic ghost, in
order to disguise from his vigilance the removal of certain modern
enough spirits, which his duty might have called upon him to seize. Here
a single circumstance explained the whole ghost story.

At other times it happens that the meanness and trifling nature of a
cause not very obvious to observation has occasioned it to be entirely
overlooked, even on account of that very meanness, since no one is
willing to acknowledge that he has been alarmed by a cause of little
consequence, and which he would be ashamed of mentioning. An incident of
this sort happened to a gentleman of birth and distinction, who is well
known in the political world, and was detected by the precision of his
observation. Shortly after he succeeded to his estate and title, there
was a rumour among his servants concerning a strange noise heard in the
family mansion at night, the cause of which they had found it impossible
to trace. The gentleman resolved to watch himself, with a domestic who
had grown old in the family, and who had begun to murmur strange things
concerning the knocking having followed so close upon the death of his
old master. They watched until the noise was heard, which they listened
to with that strange uncertainty attending midnight sounds which
prevents the hearers from immediately tracing them to the spot where
they arise, while the silence of the night generally occasions the
imputing to them more than the due importance which they would receive
if mingled with the usual noises of daylight. At length the gentleman
and his servant traced the sounds which they had repeatedly heard to a
small store-room used as a place for keeping provisions of various kinds
for the family, of which the old butler had the key. They entered this
place, and remained there for some time without hearing the noises which
they had traced thither; at length the sound was heard, but much lower
than it had formerly seemed to be, while acted upon at a distance by the
imagination of the hearers. The cause was immediately discovered. A rat
caught in an old-fashioned trap had occasioned this tumult by its
efforts to escape, in which it was able to raise the trap-door of its
prison to a certain height, but was then obliged to drop it. The noise
of the fall, resounding through the house, had occasioned the
disturbance which, but for the cool investigation of the proprietor,
might easily have established an accredited ghost story. The
circumstance was told me by the gentleman to whom it happened.

There are other occasions in which the ghost story is rendered credible
by some remarkable combination of circumstances very unlikely to have
happened, and which no one could have supposed unless some particular
fortune occasioned a discovery.

An apparition which took place at Plymouth is well known, but it has
been differently related; and having some reason to think the following
edition correct, it is an incident so much to my purpose that you must
pardon its insertion.

A club of persons connected with science and literature was formed at
the great sea-town I have named. During the summer months the society
met in a cave by the sea-shore; during those of autumn and winter they
convened within the premises of a tavern, but, for the sake of privacy,
had their meetings in a summer-house situated in the garden, at a
distance from the main building. Some of the members to whom the
position of their own dwellings rendered this convenient, had a pass-key
to the garden-door, by which they could enter the garden and reach the
summer-house without the publicity or trouble of passing through the
open tavern. It was the rule of this club that its members presided
alternately. On one occasion, in the winter, the president of the
evening chanced to be very ill; indeed, was reported to be on his
death-bed. The club met as usual, and, from a sentiment of respect, left
vacant the chair which ought to have been occupied by him if in his
usual health; for the same reason, the conversation turned upon the
absent gentleman's talents, and the loss expected to the society by his
death. While they were upon this melancholy theme, the door suddenly
opened, and the appearance of the president entered the room. He wore a
white wrapper, a nightcap round his brow, the appearance of which was
that of death itself. He stalked into the room with unusual gravity,
took the vacant place of ceremony, lifted the empty glass which stood
before him, bowed around, and put it to his lips; then replaced it on
the table, and stalked out of the room as silent as he had entered it.
The company remained deeply appalled; at length, after many observations
on the strangeness of what they had seen, they resolved to dispatch two
of their number as ambassadors, to see how it fared with the president,
who had thus strangely appeared among them. They went, and returned with
the frightful intelligence that the friend after whom they had enquired
was that evening deceased.

The astonished party then resolved that they would remain absolutely
silent respecting the wonderful sight which they had seen. Their habits
were too philosophical to permit them to believe that they had actually
seen the ghost of their deceased brother, and at the same time they were
too wise men to wish to confirm the superstition of the vulgar by what
might seem indubitable evidence of a ghost. The affair was therefore
kept a strict secret, although, as usual, some dubious rumours of the
tale found their way to the public. Several years afterwards, an old
woman who had long filled the place of a sick-nurse, was taken very ill,
and on her death-bed was attended by a medical member of the
philosophical club. To him, with many expressions of regret, she
acknowledged that she had long before attended Mr.----, naming the
president whose appearance had surprised the club so strangely, and that
she felt distress of conscience on account of the manner in which he
died. She said that as his malady was attended by light-headedness, she
had been directed to keep a close watch upon him during his illness.
Unhappily she slept, and during her sleep the patient had awaked and
left the apartment. When, on her own awaking, she found the bed empty
and the patient gone, she forthwith hurried out of the house to seek
him, and met him in the act of returning. She got him, she said,
replaced in bed, but it was only to die there. She added, to convince
her hearer of the truth of what she said, that immediately after the
poor gentleman expired, a deputation of two members from the club came
to enquire after their president's health, and received for answer that
he was already dead. This confession explained the whole matter. The
delirious patient had very naturally taken the road to the club, from
some recollections of his duty of the night. In approaching and retiring
from the apartment he had used one of the pass-keys already mentioned,
which made his way shorter. On the other hand, the gentlemen sent to
enquire after his health had reached his lodging by a more circuitous
road; and thus there had been time for him to return to what proved his
death-bed, long before they reached his chamber. The philosophical
witnesses of this strange scene were now as anxious to spread the story
as they had formerly been to conceal it, since it showed in what a
remarkable manner men's eyes might turn traitors to them, and impress
them with ideas far different from the truth.

Another occurrence of the same kind, although scarcely so striking in
its circumstances, was yet one which, had it remained unexplained, might
have passed as an indubitable instance of a supernatural apparition.

A Teviotdale farmer was riding from a fair, at which he had indulged
himself with John Barleycorn, but not to that extent of defying goblins
which it inspired into the gallant Tam o'Shanter. He was pondering with
some anxiety upon the dangers of travelling alone on a solitary road
which passed the corner of a churchyard, now near at hand, when he saw
before him in the moonlight a pale female form standing upon the very
wall which surrounded the cemetery. The road was very narrow, with no
opportunity of giving the apparent phantom what seamen call a wide
berth. It was, however, the only path which led to the rider's home, who
therefore resolved, at all risks, to pass the apparition. He accordingly
approached, as slowly as possible, the spot where the spectre stood,
while the figure remained, now perfectly still and silent, now
brandishing its arms and gibbering to the moon. When the farmer came
close to the spot he dashed in the spurs and set the horse off upon a
gallop; but the spectre did not miss its opportunity. As he passed the
corner where she was perched, she contrived to drop behind the horseman
and seize him round the waist, a manoeuvre which greatly increased the
speed of the horse and the terror of the rider; for the hand of her who
sat behind him, when pressed upon his, felt as cold as that of a corpse.
At his own house at length he arrived, and bid the servants who came to
attend him, "Tak aff the ghaist!" They took off accordingly a female in
white, and the poor farmer himself was conveyed to bed, where he lay
struggling for weeks with a strong nervous fever. The female was found
to be a maniac, who had been left a widow very suddenly by an
affectionate husband, and the nature and cause of her malady induced
her, when she could make her escape, to wander to the churchyard, where
she sometimes wildly wept over his grave, and sometimes, standing on the
corner of the churchyard wall, looked out, and mistook every stranger on
horseback for the husband she had lost. If this woman, which was very
possible, had dropt from the horse unobserved by him whom she had made
her involuntary companion, it would have been very hard to have
convinced the honest farmer that he had not actually performed part of
his journey with a ghost behind him.

There is also a large class of stories of this sort, where various
secrets of chemistry, of acoustics, ventriloquism, or other arts, have
been either employed to dupe the spectators, or have tended to do so
through mere accident and coincidence. Of these it is scarce necessary
to quote instances; but the following may be told as a tale recounted by
a foreign nobleman known to me nearly thirty years ago, whose life, lost
in the service of his sovereign, proved too short for his friends and
his native land.

At a certain old castle on the confines of Hungary, the lord to whom it
belonged had determined upon giving an entertainment worthy of his own
rank and of the magnificence of the antique mansion which he inhabited.
The guests of course were numerous, and among them was a veteran officer
of hussars, remarkable for his bravery. When the arrangements for the
night were made this officer was informed that there would be difficulty
in accommodating the company in the castle, large as was, unless some
one would take the risk of sleeping in a room supposed to be haunted,
and that, as he was known to be above such prejudices, the apartment was
in the first place proposed for his occupation, as the person least
likely to suffer a bad night's rest from such a cause. The major
thankfully accepted the preference, and having shared the festivity of
the evening, retired after midnight, having denounced vengeance against
any one who should presume by any trick to disturb his repose; a threat
which his habits would, it was supposed, render him sufficiently ready
to execute. Somewhat contrary to the custom in these cases, the major
went to bed, having left his candle burning and laid his trusty pistols,
carefully loaded, on the table by his bedside.

He had not slept an hour when he was awakened by a solemn strain of
music. He looked out. Three ladies, fantastically dressed in green, were
seen in the lower end of the apartment, who sung a solemn requiem. The
major listened for some time with delight; at length he tired. "Ladies,"
he said, "this is very well, but somewhat monotonous--will you be so
kind as to change the tune?" The ladies continued singing; he
expostulated, but the music was not interrupted. The major began to grow
angry: "Ladies," he said, "I must consider this as a trick for the
purpose of terrifying me, and as I regard it as an impertinence, I shall
take a rough mode of stopping it." With that he began to handle his
pistols. The ladies sung on. He then get seriously angry: "I will but
wait five minutes," he said, "and then fire without hesitation." The
song was uninterrupted--the five minutes were expired. "I still give you
law, ladies," he said, "while I count twenty." This produced as little
effect as his former threats. He counted one, two, three accordingly;
but on approaching the end of the number, and repeating more than once
his determination to fire, the last numbers,
seventeen--eighteen--nineteen, were pronounced with considerable pauses
between, and an assurance that the pistols were cocked. The ladies sung
on. As he pronounced the word twenty he fired both pistols against the
musical damsels--but the ladies sung on! The major was overcome by the
unexpected inefficacy of his violence, and had an illness which lasted
more than three weeks. The trick put upon him may be shortly described
by the fact that the female choristers were placed in an adjoining room,
and that he only fired at their reflection thrown forward into that in
which he slept by the effect of a concave mirror.

Other stories of the same kind are numerous and well known. The
apparition of the Brocken mountain, after having occasioned great
admiration and some fear, is now ascertained by philosophers to be a
gigantic reflection, which makes the traveller's shadow, represented
upon the misty clouds, appear a colossal figure of almost immeasurable
size. By a similar deception men have been induced, in Westmoreland and
other mountainous countries, to imagine they saw troops of horse and
armies marching and countermarching, which were in fact only the
reflection of horses pasturing upon an opposite height, or of the forms
of peaceful travellers.

A very curious case of this kind was communicated to me by the son of
the lady principally concerned, and tends to show out of what mean
materials a venerable apparition may be sometimes formed. In youth this
lady resided with her father, a man of sense and resolution. Their house
was situated in the principal street of a town of some size. The back
part of the house ran at right angles to an Anabaptist chapel, divided
from it by a small cabbage-garden. The young lady used sometimes to
indulge the romantic love of solitude by sitting in her own apartment in
the evening till twilight, and even darkness, was approaching. One
evening, while she was thus placed, she was surprised to see a gleamy
figure, as of some aerial being, hovering, as it were, against the
arched window in the end of the Anabaptist chapel. Its head was
surrounded by that halo which painters give to the Catholic saints; and
while the young lady's attention was fixed on an object so
extraordinary, the figure bent gracefully towards her more than once, as
if intimating a sense of her presence, and then disappeared. The seer of
this striking vision descended to her family, so much discomposed as to
call her father's attention. He obtained an account of the cause of her
disturbance, and expressed his intention to watch in the apartment next
night. He sat accordingly in his daughter's chamber, where she also
attended him. Twilight came, and nothing appeared; but as the gray light
faded into darkness, the same female figure was seen hovering on the
window; the same shadowy form, the same pale light-around the head, the
same inclinations, as the evening before. "What do you think of this?"
said the daughter to the astonished father. "Anything, my dear," said
the father, "rather than allow that we look upon what is supernatural."
A strict research established a natural cause for the appearance on the
window. It was the custom of an old woman, to whom the garden beneath
was rented, to go out at night to gather cabbages. The lantern she
carried in her hand threw up the refracted reflection of her form on the
chapel window. As she stooped to gather her cabbages the reflection
appeared to bend forward; and that was the whole matter.

Another species of deception, affecting the credit of such supernatural
communications, arises from the dexterity and skill of the authors who
have made it their business to present such stories in the shape most
likely to attract belief. Defoe--whose power in rendering credible that
which was in itself very much the reverse was so peculiarly
distinguished--has not failed to show his superiority in this species of
composition. A bookseller of his acquaintance had, in the trade phrase,
rather overprinted an edition of "Drelincourt on Death," and complained
to Defoe of the loss which was likely to ensue. The experienced
bookmaker, with the purpose of recommending the edition, advised his
friend to prefix the celebrated narrative of Mrs. Veal's ghost, which he
wrote for the occasion, with such an air of truth, that although in fact
it does not afford a single tittle of evidence properly so called, it
nevertheless was swallowed so eagerly by the people that Drelincourt's
work on death, which the supposed spirit recommended to the perusal of
her friend Mrs. Bargrave, instead of sleeping on the editor's shelf,
moved off by thousands at once; the story, incredible in itself, and
unsupported as it was by evidence or enquiry, was received as true,
merely from the cunning of the narrator, and the addition of a number of
adventitious circumstances, which no man alive could have conceived as
having occurred to the mind of a person composing a fiction.

It did not require the talents of Defoe, though in that species of
composition he must stand unrivalled, to fix the public attention on a
ghost story. John Dunton, a man of scribbling celebrity at the time,
succeeded to a great degree in imposing upon the public a tale which he
calls the Apparition Evidence. The beginning of it, at least (for it is
of great length), has something in it a little new. At Mynehead, in
Somersetshire, lived an ancient gentlewoman named Mrs. Leckie, whose
only son and daughter resided in family with her. The son traded to
Ireland, and was supposed to be worth eight or ten thousand pounds. They
had a child about five or six years old. This family was generally
respected in Mynehead; and especially Mrs. Leckie, the old lady, was so
pleasant in society, that her friends used to say to her, and to each
other, that it was a thousand pities such an excellent, good-humoured
gentlewoman must, from her age, be soon lost to her friends. To which
Mrs. Leckie often made the somewhat startling reply: "Forasmuch as you
now seem to like me, I am afraid you will but little care to see or
speak with me after my death, though I believe you may have that
satisfaction." Die, however, she did, and after her funeral was
repeatedly seen in her personal likeness, at home and abroad, by night
and by noonday.

One story is told of a doctor of physic walking into the fields, who in
his return met with this spectre, whom he at first accosted civilly, and
paid her the courtesy of handing her over a stile. Observing, however,
that she did not move her lips in speaking, or her eyes in looking
round, he became suspicious of the condition of his companion, and
showed some desire to be rid of her society. Offended at this, the hag
at next stile planted herself upon it, and obstructed his passage. He
got through at length with some difficulty, and not without a sound
kick, and an admonition to pay more attention to the next aged
gentlewoman whom he met. "But this," says John Dunton, "was a petty and
inconsiderable prank to what she played in her son's house and
elsewhere. She would at noonday appear upon the quay of Mynehead, and
cry, 'A boat, a boat, ho! a boat, a boat, ho!' If any boatmen or seamen
were in sight, and did not come, they were sure to be cast away; and if
they did come, 'twas all one, they were cast away. It was equally
dangerous to please and displease her. Her son had several ships sailing
between Ireland and England; no sooner did they make land, and come in
sight of England, but this ghost would appear in the same garb and
likeness as when she was alive, and, standing at the mainmast, would
blow with a whistle, and though it were never so great a calm, yet
immediately there would arise a most dreadful storm, that would break,
wreck, and drown the ship and goods; only the seamen would escape with
their lives--the devil had no permission from God to take them away. Yet
at this rate, by her frequent apparitions and disturbances, she had made
a poor merchant of her son, for his fair estate was all buried in the
sea, and he that was once worth thousands was reduced to a very poor and
low condition in the world; for whether the ship were his own or hired,
or he had but goods on board it to the value of twenty shillings, this
troublesome ghost would come as before, whistle in a calm at the
mainmast at noonday, when they had descried land, and then ship and
goods went all out of hand to wreck; insomuch that he could at last get
no ships wherein to stow his goods, nor any mariner to sail in them; for
knowing what an uncomfortable, fatal, and losing voyage they should make
of it, they did all decline his service. In her son's house she hath her
constant haunts by day and night; but whether he did not, or would not
own if he did, see her, he always professed he never saw her. Sometimes
when in bed with his wife, she would cry out, 'Husband, look, there's
your mother!' And when he would turn to the right side, then was she
gone to the left; and when to the left side of the bed, then was she
gone to the right; only one evening their only child, a girl of about
five or six years old, lying in a ruckle-bed under them, cries out, 'Oh,
help me, father! help me, mother! for grandmother will choke me!' and
before they could get to their child's assistance she had murdered it;
they finding the poor girl dead, her throat having been pinched by two
fingers, which stopped her breath and strangled her. This was the sorest
of all their afflictions; their estate is gone, and now their child is
gone also; you may guess at their grief and great sorrow. One morning
after the child's funeral, her husband being abroad, about eleven in the
forenoon, Mrs. Leckie the younger goes up into her chamber to dress her
head, and as she was looking into the glass she spies her mother-in-law,
the old beldam, looking over her shoulder. This cast her into a great
horror; but recollecting her affrighted spirits, and recovering the
exercise of her reason, faith, and hope, having cast up a short and
silent prayer to God, she turns about, and bespeaks her: 'In the name of
God, mother, why do you trouble me?' 'Peace,' says the spectrum; 'I will
do thee no hurt.' 'What will you have of me?' says the daughter,"
&c.[86] Dunton, the narrator and probably the contriver of the story,
proceeds to inform us at length of a commission which the wife of Mr.
Leckie receives from the ghost to deliver to Atherton, Bishop of
Waterford, a guilty and unfortunate man, who afterwards died by the
hands of the executioner; but that part of the subject is too
disagreeable and tedious to enter upon.

[Footnote 86: "Apparition Evidence."]

So deep was the impression made by the story on the inhabitants of
Mynehead, that it is said the tradition of Mrs. Leckie still remains in
that port, and that mariners belonging to it often, amid tempestuous
weather, conceive they hear the whistle-call of the implacable hag who
was the source of so much mischief to her own family. However, already
too desultory and too long, it would become intolerably tedious were I
to insist farther on the peculiar sort of genius by which stories of
this kind may be embodied and prolonged.

I may, however, add, that the charm of the tale depends much upon the
age of the person to whom it is addressed; and that the vivacity of
fancy which engages us in youth to pass over much that is absurd, in
order to enjoy some single trait of imagination, dies within us when we
obtain the age of manhood, and the sadder and graver regions which lie
beyond it. I am the more conscious of this, because I have been myself
at two periods of my life, distant from each other, engaged in scenes
favourable to that degree of superstitious awe which my countrymen
expressively call being _eerie_.

On the first of these occasions I was only ninteeen or twenty years old,
when I happened to pass a night in the magnificent old baronial castle
of Glammis, the hereditary seat of the Earls of Strathmore. The hoary
pile contains much in its appearance, and in the traditions connected
with it, impressive to the imagination. It was the scene of the murder
of a Scottish king of great antiquity; not indeed the gracious Duncan,
with whom the name naturally associates itself, but Malcolm the Second.
It contains also a curious monument of the peril of feudal times, being
a secret chamber, the entrance of which, by the law or custom of the
family, must only be known to three persons at once, viz., the Earl of
Strathmore, his heir apparent, and any third person whom they may take
into their confidence. The extreme antiquity of the building is vouched
by the immense thickness of the walls, and the wild and straggling
arrangement of the accommodation within doors. As the late Earl of
Strathmore seldom resided in that ancient mansion, it was, when I was
there, but half-furnished, and that with movables of great antiquity,
which, with the pieces of chivalric armour hanging upon the walls,
greatly contributed to the general effect of the whole. After a very
hospitable reception from the late Peter Proctor, Esq., then seneschal
of the castle, in Lord Strathmore's absence, I was conducted to my
apartment in a distant corner of the building. I must own, that as I
heard door after door shut, after my conductor had retired, I began to
consider myself too far from the living and somewhat too near the dead.
We had passed through what is called "The King's Room," a vaulted
apartment, garnished with stags' antlers and similar trophies of the
chase, and said by tradition to be the spot of Malcolm's murder, and I
had an idea of the vicinity of the castle chapel.

In spite of the truth of history, the whole night-scene in Macbeth's
castle rushed at once upon my mind, and struck my imagination more
forcibly than even when I have seen its terrors represented by the late
John Kemble and his inimitable sister. In a word, I experienced
sensations which, though not remarkable either for timidity or
superstition, did not fail to affect me to the point of being
disagreeable, while they were mingled at the same time with a strange
and indescribable kind of pleasure, the recollection of which affords me
gratification at this moment.

In the year 1814 accident placed me, then past middle life, in a
situation somewhat similar to that which I have described.

I had been on a pleasure voyage with some friends around the north coast
of Scotland, and in that course had arrived in the salt-water lake under
the castle of Dunvegan, whose turrets, situated upon a frowning rock,
rise immediately above the waves of the loch. As most of the party, and
I myself in particular, chanced to be well known to the Laird of
Macleod, we were welcomed to the castle with Highland hospitality, and
glad to find ourselves in polished society, after a cruise of some
duration. The most modern part of the castle was founded in the days of
James VI.; the more ancient is referred to a period "whose birth
tradition notes not." Until the present Macleod connected by a
drawbridge the site of the castle with the mainland of Skye, the access
must have been extremely difficult. Indeed, so much greater was the
regard paid to security than to convenience, that in former times the
only access to the mansion arose through a vaulted cavern in a rock, up
which a staircase ascended from the sea-shore, like the buildings we
read of in the romances of Mrs. Radcliffe.

Such a castle, in the extremity of the Highlands, was of course
furnished with many a tale of tradition, and many a superstitious
legend, to fill occasional intervals in the music and song, as proper to
the halls of Dunvegan as when Johnson commemorated them. We reviewed the
arms and ancient valuables of this distinguished family--saw the dirk
and broadsword of Rorie Mhor, and his horn, which would drench three
chiefs of these degenerate days. The solemn drinking-cup of the Kings of
Man must not be forgotten, nor the fairy banner given to Macleod by the
Queen of Fairies; that magic flag which has been victorious in two
pitched fields, and will still float in the third, the bloodiest and the
last, when the Elfin Sovereign shall, after the fight is ended, recall
her banner, and carry off the standard-bearer.

Amid such tales of ancient tradition I had from Macleod and his lady the
courteous offer of the haunted apartment of the castle, about which, as
a stranger, I might be supposed interested. Accordingly, I took
possession of it about the witching hour. Except perhaps some tapestry
hangings, and the extreme thickness of the walls, which argued great
antiquity, nothing could have been more comfortable than the interior of
the apartment; but if you looked from the windows the view was such as
to correspond with the highest tone of superstition. An autumnal blast,
sometimes driving mist before it, swept along the troubled billows of
the lake, which it occasionally concealed, and by fits disclosed. The
waves rushed in wild disorder on the shore, and covered with foam the
steep piles of rock, which, rising from the sea in forms something
resembling the human figure, have obtained the name of Macleod's
Maidens, and in such a night seemed no bad representatives of the
Norwegian goddesses called Choosers of the Slain, or Riders of the
Storm. There was something of the dignity of danger in the scene; for on
a platform beneath the windows lay an ancient battery of cannon, which
had sometimes been used against privateers even of late years. The
distant scene was a view of that part of the Quillan mountains which are
called, from their form, Macleod's Dining-Tables. The voice of an angry
cascade, termed the Nurse of Rorie Mhor, because that chief slept best
'in its vicinity, was heard from time to time mingling its notes with
those of wind and wave. Such was the haunted room at Dunvegan, and as
such it well deserved a less sleepy inhabitant. In the language of Dr.
Johnson, who has stamped his memory on this remote place, "I looked
around me, and wondered that I was not more affected; but the mind is
not at all times equally ready to be moved." In a word, it is necessary
to confess that, of all I heard or saw, the most engaging spectacle was
the comfortable bed, in which I hoped to make amends for some rough
nights on ship-board, and where I slept accordingly without thinking of
ghost or goblin till I was called by my servant in the morning.

From this I am taught to infer that tales of ghosts and demonology are
out of date at forty years and upwards; that it is only in the morning
of life that this feeling of superstition "comes o'er us like a summer
cloud," affecting us with fear which is solemn and awful rather than
painful; and I am tempted to think that, if I were to write on the
subject at all, it should have been during a period of life when I could
have treated it with more interesting vivacity, and might have been at
least amusing if I could not be instructive. Even the present fashion of
the world seems to be ill suited for studies of this fantastic nature;
and the most ordinary mechanic has learning sufficient to laugh at the
figments which in former times were believed by persons far advanced in
the deepest knowledge of the age.

I cannot, however, in conscience carry my opinion of my countrymen's
good sense so far as to exculpate them entirely from the charge of
credulity. Those who are disposed to look for them may, without much
trouble, see such manifest signs, both of superstition and the
disposition to believe in its doctrines, as may render it no useless
occupation to compare the follies of our fathers with our own. The
sailors have a proverb that every man in his lifetime must eat a peck of
impurity; and it seems yet more clear that every generation of the human
race must swallow a certain measure of nonsense. There remains hope,
however, that the grosser faults of our ancestors are now out of date;
and that whatever follies the present race may be guilty of, the sense
of humanity is too universally spread to permit them to think of
tormenting wretches till they confess what is impossible, and then
burning them for their pains.



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