Monday, February 8, 2016
The Lancashire Witches, article in The American Magazine 1881
THE LANCASHIRE WITCHES, article in The American Magazine 1881
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A Witch, in the earlier centuries of our history, in spite of the power with which she was credited, was among tho most persecuted creatures on the earth. She lived apart from her fellows, in lone and secluded haunts. She was shunned, with tho fear that dared not give open expression to its feelings, by all with whom she came in contact, and it was often with difficulty she obtained the bare necessaries of life. At any moment she was liable to be tracked to her lair, to be seized and mercilessly exposed, and to be put to a cruel death. Her children, looked upon as the issue of hell, bore the stain of their descent down to the third and fourth generation, and were often forced to seek their livelihood in distant provinces. Nor was it only upon the professional witch that these severities might be inflicted. It was open to any malignant or credulous person to accuse her neighbor of dealings with the devil, and to subject her to all the penalties which such proceedings then entailed. A spiteful woman had only to seek out the nearest magistrate, and inform him that a witch was in their midst, and that she had been seen kissing the devil in the shape of a cat, or riding through the air on a besom, or using miraculous charms to do hurt to a neighbor, or disfiguring her body with significant marks and gashes, for a warrant to be instantly made out, and the unhappy accused to be branded with a hot iron, in order to see whether such application would burn her flesh, or to be dragged through a pond, with her thumbs and toes tied across, to test if water had the power to drown her, or to be scratched with pins, to see if blood would flow, or to be tied to a stool for twenty-four hours whilst deprived of all sleep and nourishment, or to be tortured till she wept—for it was held that a witch could only shed three tears, and those from her left eye—or to endure other like pains and penalties.
Frequent instances occur, in the history of this peculiar form of superstition, of innocent girls, upon the evidence of pure malice, being torn from their homes and put to a painful death, for machinations of which they knew nothing, and for arts they had never pretended to possess. In those good old times the charge of witchcraft was the easiest method of getting rid of an unpopular neighbor; the testimony brought forward, if once believed in (and it was seldom rejected), the fire or water ordeal necessarily followed; and the ordeal, whether the victim was a witch or no, was generally sufficient either to kill her, or to send her raving mad.
Ludicrous as the powers appear to us at the present day with which witchcraft in former times was credited, such powers seem never to have been denied or disputed by the great minds of the past. A witch was all that was abominable, and to be held in the strongest loathing; yet few had the wisdom or tho courage to contradict the possibility of her exercising the arts she pretended to. The judge, as he passed sentence upoa the condemned woman, trembled lest her fell gaze should bring upon him and his household sorrow or death. The yelling crowd, as it half stripped her to undergo the water-ordeal, shuddered as it saw upon her exposed bosom the marks which, it was supposed, proved that she allowed her "familiar" to draw upon her life's blood. The villagers who went miles out of their way to avoid her haunts, never for one moment believed that the object of their fear was powerless to work them evil, and was either a half-mad woman, the victim of a hideous delusion, or else the actress of a knavish part to suit her own vile evils. To all the old crone, with her tall hat, crutch stick, and black cat nestling on her shoulder, was one who had dealings with the devil, and who, through the might of Satanic aid, could scatter the seeds of misery broadcast wherever she listed. She had sold herself body and soul to hell, and until death claimed her, her power to effect evil, it was alleged, was unlimited. The great man is he who rises superior to the prejudices of his age; but before the end of the seventeenth century there were none who had the boldness or the knowledge to brand witchcraft as a base and palpable superstition. We find Lord Bacon gravely prescribing "henbane, hemlock, mandrake, moonshade, tobacco, opium, and other soporiferons medicines," as the best ingredients for a witch's ointment. From the pages of his "History of the World " we see that the gifted and practical Sir Walter Raleigh was a firm believer in this childish form of superstition. The learned Selden, in his "Table Talk," whilst pleasantly discoursing on the subject of witches, shows that he also held the same faith. Sir Thomas Browne, the kindliest of physicians; Sir Matthew Hale, one of the most acute and spotless of judges; Hobbes, the skeptic; "the eminent Dr. More, of Cambridge, "and the patient and thoughtful Boyle, all were of opinion that witchcraft was an evil capable of solid proof, and that its disciples merited sharp and swift punishment. It was not until the dawn of the eighteenth century that men came to the conclusion that the devices of "witches and witch-mongers" were only so many tricks and fables, and utterly unworthy of credence. The last judicial execution in England for witchcraft took place in the year 1716, when a woman and her little daughter were hanged at Huntingdon "for selling their souls to Satan." Since that date, however, various cases have occurred of unfortunate women, accused as witches, being drowned whilst undergoing the ordeal by water at the hands of their intimidated, yet infuriated, neighbors.
It was only natural that an offense like witchcraft, so elastic in its details, and so capable of being transformed into an engine of oppression for the gratification of personal or political hate, should have given rise to various curious proceedings in the administration of justice. To the lover of out-of-the-way literature there is little reading more weird and interesting than is to be found in the study of witch trials. Women, perfectly innocent of the crimes imputed to them, under the terrors of torture, or in the hope to escape punishment, freely confessed themselves guilty of misdeeds they had never imagined, with an elaboration of detail almost sufficient to convince the most skeptical listener. The envoy of the devil was vividly described; the terms he imposed as the price of a lost soul were fully entered into the course he suggested his victim to pursue; the places of rendezvous he appointed; the homage he required to be paid him; the different forms of disguise he adopted, and the like, were all clearly and precisely described—statements which often tended to show that either the unhappy woman had been well counseled as to her answers, or that she was in an advanced stage of insanity.
Of all the English trials, the most well-known are the proceedings in the early part of the seventeenth century against a band of wretched creatures, called the Lancashire Witches, The story is as follows: In the barren wilds of the forest of Pendle, once a portion of the great wood of Blackburnshire, there had lived for many years before the first James had been summoned from Edinburgh to ascend the throne of England, two old women, who with their families constituted the most important part of the population of the neighborhood. The names of these aged dames were Elizabeth Southerns and Ann Whittle, but to the votaries of witchcraft they were only known as "Old Demdike" and "Old Chattox." Both women were nearly eighty years of age, and had lived in the direst poverty, occasionally relieved by mendicancy, until public opinion had taken it into its head to endow them with the powers of natural magic. And now visitors flocked to the miserable hovels in Pendle Forest for love-potions, poisons, washes, and waxen images that if melted would render the barren fruitful The two old crones began to flourish, and since the business which had been forced upon them appeared a very paying concern, both Old Demdike and Old Chattox were much too wise in their generation to deny the arts with which they were credited. Each acted her part with much canning and mystery; but, as two of a trade seldom agree, feuds and bickerings soon broke out between the competing witches. Old Demdike declared that she was the only genuine agent of the devil; that all her wares were efficacious, and that those who went elsewhere obtained but a spurious article. Old Chattox retorted in the same mercantile spirit; and thus it came to pass that the inhabitants in the forest began to be divided into two rival parties—one party upholding the excellence of Old Demdike, whilst the other party believed only in her competitor. For some years these two elderly ladies appear to have driven a lucrative trade in superstition, and to have found that their lines had fallen in pleasant places. On the accession of James I., however, Nemesis, then traveling in the North in search of victims, paid them one of her unpleasant visits.
The "British Solomon" took a singular interest in witchcraft. He firmly believed in the existence of witches, as is proved by his work entitled "Daemonologie," and he was resolved to stamp out the whole brood in the country. Shortly after his accession, he caused to be enrolled in the Statute-Book an Act to suppress the crimes of sorcery, necromancy, and witchcraft, which is among the most sanguinary that its pages have ever had to record. By this Act it was decreed "That all persons invoking any evil spirit, or concealing, covenanting with, entertaining, employing, feeing, or rewarding any evil spirit; or taking up dead bodies from their graves, to be used in any witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment; or killing, or otherwise hurting nny person by such infernal arts, shall be guilty of felony without benefit of clergy, and suffer death."
The consequences of the creation of this authority were to overrun the country with informers, to sacrifice innocent persons freely to the credulity of the age, and to permit many ordinary casualties—the burning of a rick, the falling sick of cattle, the sudden death of the ailing, and the rest to be attributed, in want of better interpretation, to the incantations of witchcraft.
With this statute in active force, it was scarcely likely that the proceedings of such notorious dames as Old Demdike and Old Chattox would escape notice. A warrant was made out by the Lancashire magistrates for the apprehension of the two women, and they were committed to take their trial at the next assizes. Justice, however, was not content with securing the persons of the two chief offenders, but was determined to destroy the whole brood, and accordingly there were lodged in the prison cells at the same time, Elizabeth, daughter of Old Demdike; James Device, her son; Anne Redfern, daughter of Old Chattox; Alice Nutter, and others; whilst a little girl, Jennet Device, the granddaughter of Old Demdike, was kept free, to act as witness against her family. Old Demdike had not been long within the walls of the jail before she drew up a full statement of her past history, for the benefit of the magistrates then investigating her case. She
confessed that about twenty years ago she had met the devil in Pendle Forest, "in the shape of a boy, the one half of his coat black and the other brown," who offered to give her everything she would request in exchange for her soul. Thus tempted, she fell, and admitted that she had had frequent resort to her new friend, who said "his name was Tibb," and who appeared at various times to her "in the guise of a brown dog." She was now fourscore years old, and had been, she frankly owned, a witch ever since she was thirty. Her home had been for the last half-century in the forest of Pendle—"a vast place, fit for her profession"; and there she had "brought up her own children, instructed her grandchildren, and took great care and pains to bring them to be witches." She pleaded guilty to having bewitched several persons, upon whom vengeance was demanded, so that they died; to having bidden "her familiar," the brown dog, to bite cattle, so that they soon afterward perished; and to having brought death in the cup by bewitching the different drinks of men.
This confession was followed by one of a similar character from Old Chattox. The ancient dame, however, took the opportunity of attributing her present unhappy position entirely to the evil advice of her former rival. She declared that "about fourteen years past she entered, through the wicked persuasions and counsel of Elizabeth Southerns, alias Demdike, and was seduced to condescend and agree to become subject unto that devilish, abominable profession of witchcraft." At the house of Demdike she met the devil, "who moved that she would become his subject, and give her soul unto him." At first she refused; "but after, by the great persuasion made by the said Demdike, she yielded to be at his commandment and appointment" Upon her consent, the devil said that when she wanted to summon him she must call out "Fancy!" In her statement, the old hag confesses having bewitched a young gentleman who attempted to do violence to her daughter, and with causing his death; to having made wax images which slowly wasted away before the fire, so that those whom they resembled might likewise perish; and to having sold potions, destroyed cattle, and poisoned drinks by the art of "her familiar" Fancy.
With the exception of two or three of the accused, all now followed the example of old Demdike and old Chattox, and drew up confessions either freely acknowledging their guilt, or attributing their errors to the two aged crones under whom they studied. In the crimes of which they convict themselves there is a great similarity: selling potions and poisons, bewitching persons to a slow and painful death, destroying cattle by wounds inflicted by the evil one, sucking the breath of young children, and gratifying the desire of the barren in some cases, and the promptings of vengeance in others, appear among the chief articles of self-accusation. With the exception of Old Demdike, who died in prison before her trial, the whole of the Lancashire witches, who had established themselves in Pendle Forest, were found guilty and executed August 17th, 1612.
It is difficult to account for the circumstantial character of these confessions, unless they were suggested by the delusions of insanity, or by the pains of torture. The King, it was well known, was the bitter foe of all witches; and magistrates, anxious to curry royal favor, were assured that there was no better course to gain their ends than to ferret out an ample supply of victims, encourage them to accuse themselves in order to gain their release, then convict them out of their own mouths and send them to the gallows.
"Confessions were so common on those occasions," writes the learned Mr. Crossley, "that there is, I believe, not a single instance of any great number of persons being convicted of witchcraft at one time, some of whom did not make a confession of guilt. Nor is there anything extraordinary in that circumstance, when it is remembered that many of them sincerely believed in the existence of the powers attributed to them; and others, aged and of weak understanding, were, in a measure, coerced by the strong persuasion of their guilt which all around them manifested, into an acquiescence in the truth of tho accusation. In many cases the confessions were made in the hope, and no donbt with the promise, seldom performed, that a respite from punishment would be eventually granted. In other instances, there is as little doubt that they were the final results of irritation, agony, and despair. The confessions are generally composed of 'such stuff as dreams are made of'; and what they report to have occurred might either proceed, when there was intention to fabricate, from intertwining the fantastic threads which sometimes stream upon the waking senses from the land of shadows, or be caused by those ocular hallucinations of which medical science has supplied full and satisfactory solution. There is no argument which so long maintained its ground in support of witchcraft as that which was founded on these confessions. It was the last plank clung to by many a witch-believing lawyer and divine. And yet there is none which will less bear critical scrutiny and examination, or the fallacy of which can more easily be shown, if any particular reported confession is taken as a test, and subjected to a searching analysis and inquiry,"
Twenty years after these events had taken place another batch of so-called Lancashire witches was unearthed, of whose proceedings the State Papers of Charles L furnish a full account.
"The greatest news from the country," writes one Sir William Pelham to Viscount Conway, "is of a huge pack of witches which are lately discovered in Lancashire, whereof it is said nineteen are condemned, and that there are at least sixty already discovered, and yet daily there are more revealed. There are divers of them of good ability, and they have done much harm. It is suspected that they had a hand in raising the great storm wherein his Majesty was in so great danger at sea in Scotland."
Sir William was evidently a firm believer in the arts of diabolical magic, but he somewhat exaggerates the details of this discovery. It appears that for some time past village rumor had reported that in Pendle Forest, precisely on the same site where Old Demdike and Old Chattox had carried on their evil practices, a band of women had congregated, which professed to be, in a similar manner, the agents of the powers of darkness. Of these women the presiding spirit was one Margaret Johnson, an elderly crone of sixty, whom country gossip accused of wholesale bewitchery of young children, of the sick and dying, and of cattle grazing in the "vaccaries" or the great upland pastures of the neighborhood. With her, it was said, were associated as accomplices in her vile art, Frances Dicconson, the wife of a husbandman in Pendle Forest; Mary Spencer of Burley, a young girl of twenty; and Alice Hargrave, together with some twenty other women of lesser note. The proceedings of this little infernal community having been reported to the neighboring magistrates, a warrant for the apprehension of ita leaders was issued, who were at once committed for trial at the next assizes.
The chief informer on this occasion was a young lad, Edmund Robinson, commonly known by the name of "Ned of Boughs," the son of a mason in Pendle Forest. Both father and son, it seems, had been in the habit of going from church to church, in the capacity of amateur discoverers of witches, and accusing various members of the different congregations of diabolical arts; and with such success that it is stated "by that means they got a good living, that in a short space the father bought a cow or two, when he had none before." At the trial young Robinson was sworn, and proceeded to state his case. He was a practiced evidence-monger, and there was little hesitation in the story he told from the witness-box. Kissing the book and looking straight at the bench, he said that upon All Saints' Day last he was picking wild plums in the forest with a friend, and whilst thus engaged two grayhounds, a black and a brown one, came running up to him and fawned upon him. He noticed that they had collars round their necks which "shone like gold," and that to each of the collars a piece of string was attached. Seeing no one with the grayhounds, he thought "to hunt with them, and presently a hare did rise very near before him, at the sight whereof he cried Loo! Loo! but the dogs would not run." Irritated at this unsportsman-like conduct, he tied the hounds together to a hedge, and was about to give them a good thrashing, when suddenly the "black grayhound vanished, and in her place stood Frances Dicconson. Almost immediately afterward the brown grayhound disappeared, and in her stead appeared a little boy.
Frightened at this transformation, he, the witness, was about to run away, when the woman Dicconson put her hand in her pocket and offered him a shilling, provided he would say nothing about the matter. He declined the money, and called out that she was a witch. "Whereupon she put her hand into her pocket again and pulled out a string like unto a bridle that jingled, which she put upon the little boy's head that stood in the brown grayhound's stead; whereupon the said boy stood up a white horse." Young Robinson was now seized by Mother Dicconson, and carried rapidly of to a house called Hoarestones. Here he met numerous other witches, who hail ridden to the place on horses of various colors, and was offered refreshments, which he refused. "And presently after, seeing divers of the company going to a barn near adjoining, he followed after, and there he saw six of them kneeling and pulling at six several ropes, which were fastened or tied to the top of the house; at once with which pulling came then in this informer's sight flesh smoking, butter in lumps, and milk as it were straining from the said ropes, all which fell into basins placed under the ropes. And after that these six had done, there came other six, which did likewise, and during all the time of their so pulling they made such foul faces that he became frightened, and was glad to steal out and run home."
On being asked by the court if he were acquainted with any of the women who had been engaged in these practices in the barn, the witness answered that he knew them well by sight, and proceeded to give their names, to the number of some twenty. His evidence concluded, Robineon was ordered to stand down.
The confession of Margaret Johnson—for, of course, according to custom, she had confessed—was then read. The old dame said that some eight years ago, being in her house "in a great passion of anger and discontent, and withal pressed with some want," there suddenly appeared before her a spirit like unto a man, "appareled in a suit of black, tied about with black points," who offered, if she would give him her soul, to supply all her needs and stand ever as her firm friend. After "a solicitation or two she contracted and covenanted with the said devil for her soul," to whom, under the name of "Mamil, my God," she henceforth always applied for what she required. This friend, she admitted, had paid frequent visits to her, now in the shape of a brown-colored dog, then of a hare or white cat, and invariably settled upon her bosom to suck her blood. He often put in her hand gold or silver, "but it vanished soon again, and she was ever bare and poor, though he oft gave her the like." However, since he had been in trouble the spirit had cruelly deserted her, for she had never seen him whilst in prison. The poor demented creature then frankly acknowledged her guilt, and mentioned the names of several women who had been her accomplices.
In the fulness of her heart she also took this opportunity to reveal one or two of the secrets of her order. Good Friday, she explained, was the one great day in the year for the general meeting of witches, when they assembled "to consult for the killing and hurting of men and beasts." The marks upon the body denoted the number of familiars a witch could invoke: "If a witch have but one mark, she hath but one spirit; if two, then two spirits; if three, yet but two spirits." More than two spirits to one agent Satan would never permit. The men witches were possessed by women spirits, and women witches by men spirits; but witchcraft, she said, was rather the province of women than of men, because as Eve was deceived by the serpent at the beginning, so women, being frailer, were more easily entrapped in the snares of the devil Witches had power "to cause foul weather and storms"; and if they "desire to be in any place upon a sudden, their devil or spirit will upon a rod, dog, or anything else, presently convey them thither—yea, into any room of a man's house; still it is not the substance of their bodies, but their spirit aasumeth such form and shape as go into such rooms." Then, with a piteous moan, she confessed she had no more to say, and could not hope for mercy.
Though the example of Margaret Johnson, in admitting her guilt, was followed by several of the accused, there were one or two who, healthy in mind and conscious of innocence, declined to implicate themselves. These loudly affirmed that they were not witches, but honest women, fearing God and serving the King.
Speaking up against her informer, Frances Dicconson denied the whole story of the lad Robinson, and said that he was a young scoundrel who had been prompted by his father to wrong her because she had refused to sell him a cow, and to pay the price he asked not to appear against her.
But the most curious instance of how, in those days of superstition, the simplest matter could be distorted into a cause for offense, is to be found in the case of Mary Spencer. This young girl was accustomed to go into tha village to draw water, and as she went down the steep hill which led to the well, she let the wooden pail she carried roll after her, and as now it followed her, and then she chased it, she, like a healthy, merry lass, sang and called after it as if it had been a living creature. For this childish outburst of animal spirits, Mary Spencer was accused of witchcraft; it was alleged that the pail followed her about where she listed, and hence was not of wood, but of the devil. Unfortunately, what gave a color to this assertion was the fact that the girl herself was the daughter of witches, for it appears that both her father and mother had been condemned during the last assizes for professing magic arts. The poor lass was accordingly committed to prison, and sent for trial. At her examination, she stoutly denied that she knew any witchcraft, or had ever done hurt thereby to anybody. She had always gone to church, she said, indignantly, and could repeat the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. She defied the devil and all his works, and only hoped to be saved by Christ Jesus. She admitted without shame that when she went to the well for water, she used "to trundle the collock or pail down the hill, and she would run along after it to overtake it, and did overhie it sometimes, and then might call it to come to her"; but she utterly denied that it followed her of its own accord, or that she could ever make it come to her by any witchcraft. Then, after an appeal for mercy to her judges, she said she was a Christian and not afraid of death, for she hoped it would make an entrance for her into heaven.
On the revelations contained in these examinations and confessions, seventeen out of this second pack of Lancashire witches were brought in guilty by the jury and condemned to death. Fortunately, the judge who presided on this occasion was a humane and sensible man, and superior to the prejudices of his day. The evidence against the prisoners failed to satisfy him; he refused to appoint a date for the execution, and referred the case to the King in council for further consideration. Accordingly, Bridgman, Bishop of Chester, was instructed by Coke and Windebank, the two Secretaries of State, to examinate two or three of the most prominent among the residents, Margaret Johnson was the first to be summoned, and was the most penitent of offenders. After listening to an exhortation from his lordship, the old woman, weeping piteously, sobbed out: "I will not add sin to sin. I have already done enough—nay, too much, and will not increase it. I pray God I may repent" The guilt of the others was not so easily arrived at. They denied the charges brought against them, and explained how they had been the sport of the vindictiveness of their neighbors. The bishop was nonplussed, and knew not how to separate the truth from the falsehood. "Conceit and malice," he writes to the Secretaries of State, "are so powerful with many in those parts, that they will easily afford an oath to work revenge upon their neighbor." In fact, his lordship declined to commit himself to an opinion one way or the other.
As a second solution of the difficulty, the matter was now intrusted to medical hands. It was acknowledged that every true witch had certain peculiar marks about her person, which were nothing else than seals impressed by the devil, and by which therefore she could be easily identified. Should these marks be found on the condemned, there was at once an end of the inquiry. Margaret Johnson, Frances Dicconson, Mary Spencer, and one Janet Hargraves, as the most notorious of the offenders, were hastily sent up from Lancaster jail to the Ship Tavern at Greenwich, where they were for the moment housed. At the same time, Alexander Baker and William Clowes, the King's surgeons, were ordered by the council "to make choice of midwives to inspect and search the bodies of those women lately brought up by the Sheriff of Lancashire indicted for witchcraft, wherein the midwives are to receive instructions from Dr. Harvey, the King's physician, and themselves."
The examination took place, and the question excited so much interest that the King himself, it is said, was present It resulted in the doctors coming to the conclusion that on the bodies of Janet Hargraves, Frances Dicconson and Mary Spencer they found nothing unnatural; whilst on the body of Margaret Johnson there were two marks, which were probably the effect of a former application of leeches. Such was the mouse which the mountain of witchcraft had delivered.
The evidence for the prosecution having now in a great measure broken down, it struck Secretary Windebank that he would privately examine the lad Edmund Robinson, upon whose sole and unsupported testimony the whole case depended. The boy was removed from the influence of his father, and then the truth came out Before the stern presence of the Secretary of State the boldness of the witness, who had given so glibly his evidence as to the greyhounds, Mrs. Dicconson, and the meeting at Hoarestones, completely collapsed, and crying for mercy, the lad confessed the great enormities of which he had been guilty.
He admitted that the story he had told to the magistrates concerning the practices of witches was "false and feigned, and had no truth at all, but only as he had heard tales and reports made by women, so he framed his tale out of his own invention, which, when he had once told, he had to persist in."
The trial of the Lancashire witches twenty years ago had suggested the materials for his story. "He had heard," said this charming youth, "the neighbors talk of a witch feast that was kept at Mocking Tower in Pendle Forest, about twenty years since, to which feast divers witches came, and many were apprehended and executed at Lancaster, and thereupon it came into his head to make the like tale of a meeting at Hoarestones"; the more especially as Frances Dicconson and the others were reputed by their neighbors to be witches. "He had heard," continued this interesting specimen of juvenile depravity, "Edmund Stevenson say that he was much troubled with Dicconson's wife in the time of his sickness, and that he suspected her of witchcraft; and he heard Robert Smith say that his wife, lying upon her death-bed, accused Janet Hargraves to be the cause of her death; and he heard William Nutter's wife say that Janet and William Devys had bewitched her; and it was generally spoken that Beawse's wife, who went a-begging, was a witch; and he had heard Sharpee Smith say that the wife of John Loynd laid her hand upon a cow of his, after which she never rose." With these materials, and assisted by a vivid imagination unballasted by scruples of any kind whatever, young Robinson confessed he had concocted his story. "Nobody," he said, with some pride, "was ever acquainted with any part of his fiction or invention, nor did anybody ever advise him, but it merely proceeded out of his own brain." Like Coriolanus, he could cry, "Alone I did it!"
The motive for the fabrication of these heinous falsehoods, which had for their object the bringing of innocent persons to tbe gallows, is a terrible instance of how great crimes can sometimes arise from the commission of flight offenses. It appears that it was the boy's duty to look after his father's cattle, to drive them home from the meadows, and to see that they were properly housed in the shed during night. One evening, having been tempted to play with some children, young Robinson found the the time had slipped so merrily away that, to his horror, he was now too late to go in search of the kine. Fearing a beating from his parents, the ready lie, always the resource of the timid, rose to his lips, and "he made this tale for an excuse." Henceforth amusement became easy to him; he could neglect his duty as much as he pleased, and play as often as he chose in the woods and the village streets, for on his return home he had only to give as an excuse that he had not been to the meadows to fetch the cattle because he bad been spirited away by a witch, or that he had been frightened by seeing a boy with a cloven foot, or that a woman coming up to him had suddenly transformed herself into a lantern, and he had run away in sheer terror. Before Windebank, Robinson now solemnly denied that there had been any truth in these statements; he had "but told these tales to excuse himself when he had been at play." It is some satisfaction to learn that in this instance the biter was severely bit, for both the boy and his father were imprisoned under heavy sentences, whilst the so-called witches were released, and had their innocence fully established.
The revelations disclosed at this trial dealt a severe blow to this peculiar form of superstition. It was now seen how easily vindictiveness or lack of principle could trump up a case of witchcraft against persons perfectly guiltless of all diabolical arts, and succeed in bringing their necks to the gallows. It was also seen how terror or a distorted imagination could force, as in the case of Margaret Johnson, the innocent to confess to acts which they had never committed, and which, when analyzed, were but one tissue of mental delusions. Hence, when, in the future, accusations of witchcraft were brought against certain individuals, such charges were inquired into by the justices of the peace with a care and a respect for common sense which had hitherto been painfully conspicuous by their absence.
Still it was long before the nation emancipated herself from the thraldom of this degrading credulity, and it was not until the middle of the eighteenth century that the law positively declined to consider the "magic arts" as within the bounds of possibility. Throughout the stormy times of the Civil War, and during the dissolute period of the Restoration, it always went hard with a woman accused of witchcraft, when accidental circumstances appeared to support the charge—when, for example, by a curious coincidence, an evil prophecy that she had made had been fulfilled; or when, by the buoyancy of her corpulence, she failed to sink when pitched into a pond; or when, as in the instance of Margaret Johnson, she had certain marks upon her body, which might be interpreted as the sucking spots of her familiar. We have no occasion to be a student of Buckle to learn that, of all the relics of paganism with which civilization in its onward march has had to contend, none have been more difficult to eradicate from the heart of man than that special form of superstition which found one phase of its development in the study and belief of witchcraft. Even at the present day, in many villages, the power and existence of a witch are still believed in.
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