* See the account of Sir T. Browne, in No. XIV. of the Family Library (Lives of British Physicians) p. 60.
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—every thing 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 Trlumphatus: 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. Granville: " 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 his vanishing, and so offending the nostrils by their floating and diffusing themselves in the open air."* 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 !
Lord-keeper Guilford 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 acquittal 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." *