The grand postulate of direct diabolical agency being once assumed and quietly conceded on all hands, any absurdity whatever was easily engrafted on it. Satan being thus brought home, as it were, to men's business and bosoms, every one speculated on his habits and demeanour according to his own light; and soon the insane fancies of minds crazed by nature, disease, or misfortunes, echoed and repeated from all sides, gathered themselves into a code or system of faith, which, being instilled into the mind with the earliest rudiments of instruction, fettered even the strongest intellects with its baleful influence. The mighty minds of Luther, of Calvin, and of Knox, so quick in detecting error, so undaunted and merciless in exposing it, yielded tamely to its thrall; the upright and able Sir Matthew Hale passed sentence of death, in 1664, on two poor women accused of witchcraft, and Sir Thomas Browne, the historian of " Vulgar Errors/' who was examined as a witness on the trial, gave it as his opinion that the fits under which the patients had laboured, though natural in themselves, were " heightened by the Devil cooperating with the malice of the witches, at whose instance he did the villanies \" and apparently on this evidence chiefly did the conviction proceed.
Neither, in fact, were the incongruities and inconsistencies of the witch-creed of the time so calculated, as they might at first sight appear, to awaken men's minds to the radical insanity of the belief. The dash of the ludicrous, which mingles itself with almost all the exploits of Satan and his satellites, grew, naturally enough, out of the monkish conception of Satan, and might be supposed not inconsistent with the character of a set of beings whose proceedings of course could not be expected to resemble those either of men or angels. The monkish Satan has no dignity about him : in soid and body he is low and deformed.
" Gli occhi ha vermigli, e la barba unta ed atra, E '1 ventre largo, ed unghiate le mani, Graffia gli spirti, gli scuoja, ed isquatra*".
His apish tricks and satyr-like gambols were sufficiently in unison with the idea of a spirit with boundless malice but limited powers, grinning in despite where he could not injure, and ridiculing those sacred rites the power of which he was compelled to acknowledge and obey. Hence he preaches to his infernal flock, and mocks the institution of the sacrament ; wreaks his native malice even on his own adherents; plunges his deluded victims into misery, or deserts them in their distress, deprives them of the rewards he has promised to them ; plagues and torments the good, but cowers whenever he is boldly resisted, and is at once disconifited by any one who wields by commission the thunders of heaven. "Writers of fiction in general have seldom seized these features of his character; indeed hardly any one has done so, except Hoffman, who, in most of his supernatural pictures, has painted him not with the grandeur and sullen gloom of the fallen archangel, but with the coarse and comic malice of the spirit of the middle ages, and has thus, on the whole, deepened the real horror of his goblin scenes by the infusion of these outbreakings of mirth, just as the frightful effect of an execution would be increased, if the criminal, instead of joining in the devotions, were suddenly to strike up a lively air from the top of the ladder.
* Inferno, canto vi.
But whether the delusion of witchcraft was thus a natural sequence of the monkish notions of an evil principle, and of the almost universal persuasion that intercourse with a higher order of beings was possible for man, no one can cast a glance over its history without being satisfied that the comprehensive nature of its influence, and its long duration, were owing to penal laws and prosecutions. It adds one more to the long list of instances which prove that there is no opinion, however absurd and revolting, which will not find believers and martyrs, if it is once made the subject of persecution. From the earliest ages of Christianity it is certain the belief existed, and must occasionally have been employed by strong minds as an instrument of terror to the weak ; but still the frame of society itself was not shaken, nor, with one exception*", does the crime begin to make any figure in history till the Bull of Innocent VIII. in 1484 stirred up the slumbering embers into a flame.
Of the extent of the horrors which for two centuries and a half followed, our readers we suspect have but a very imperfect conception ; we remember as in a dream that on this accusation persons were occasionallv burnt, and one or two remarkable relations from our own annals or those of the Continent may occur to our recollection. But of the extent of these judicial murders, no one who has not dabbled a little in the history of demonology has any idea. No sooner has Innocent placed his commission of fire and sword in the hands of Sprenger and his brethren, and a regular form of process for the trial of this offence been laid down in that unparalleled performance, the i Malleus Maleficarum/ which was intended as a theological and juridical commentary on the Bull, than the race of witches seems at once to increase and multiply, till it replenishes the earth. The original edict of persecution was enforced by the successive bulls of the infamous Alexander VI. in 1494 (to whom Satan might indeed have addressed the remonstrance " et tu Brute !"), of Leo X. in 1521, and of Adrian VI. in 1522. Still the only effect of these commissions was to render the evil daily more formidable, till at last, if we are to believe the testimonies of contemporary historians, Europe was little better than a large suburb or outwork of Pandemonium. One-half of the population was either bewitching or bewitched. Delrio tells us in his preface that 500 witches were executed in Geneva in three months, about the year 1515. A thousand, says Bartholomseus de Spina, were executed in one year in the diocese of Como, and they went on burning at the rate of a hundred per annum for some time after. In Lorraine, from 1580 to 1595, Remigius boasts of having burned 900. In France the multitude of executions about 1520 is incredible; Danœus, in the first part of his dialogue concerning witches, calls it " infinitum pene veneficorum numerum." The well-known sorcerer, Trois Echelles, told Charles IX., while he was at Poitou, the names of 1200 of his associates. This calculation is according to Mezeray's more reasonable version of the story, for the author of the 'Journal du Règne de Henri III' makes the number 3000, and Bodinus, not satisfied even with this allowance, adds a cypher, and makes the total return of witches denounced by Trois Echelles 30,000, though he does at the same time express some doubt as to the correctness of this account.
* The trials at Arras, in 1459. Tide Monstrelet's Chronicle, vol. hi. p. 84: Paris, 1572. But these were rather religious prosecutions against supposed heretics, and the crime of witchcraft only introduced as aggravating their offences.
In Germany, to which indeed the bull of Innocent bore particular reference, this plague raged -to a degree almost inconceivable. Bamberg, Pa-derborn, Wurtzburg, and Treves were its chief seats, though for a century and a half after the introduction of the trials under the commission no quarter of that great empire was free from its baneful influence. It would be wearisome and revolting to go through the details of these atrocities ; but " ab uno disce omnes." A catalogue of the executions at Wurtzburg for the period from 1G27 to February 1629, about two years and two months, is printed by Hauber in the conclusion of his third volume of the c Acta et Scripta Magica/ It is regularly divided into twenty-nine burnings, and contains the names of 157 persons, Hauber stating at the same time that the catalogue is not complete. It is impossible to peruse this catalogue without horror. The greater part of it consists of old women or foreign travellers, seized, it would appear, as foreigners were at Paris during the days of Marat and Robespierre : it contains children of twelve, eleven, ten, and nine years of age, fourteen vicars of the cathedral, two boys of noble families, the two little sons (soknlein) of the senator Stol-zenburg; a stranger boy ; a blind girl; Gobel Ba-belin, the handsomest girl in Wurtzburg, etc.
" Sanguine placarmi t Divos et virgine cœsâ !"
And yet, frightful as this list of 157 persons executed in two years appears, the number is not (taking the population of Wurtzburg into account) so great as in the Lindheim process from 1660 to 1664. For in that small district, consisting at the very utmost of six hundred inhabitants, thirty persons were condemned and put to death, making a twentieth part of the whole population consumed in four years.