He thus expostulates with some of the better class that were eager for the prosecution:—" I. 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 lock'd 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 begg'd she might not go to gaol, and, in her innocent simplicity, would have let you swim her; and at her tryal, she declar'd herself a clear woman. This was her behaviour ; and, what could any of us have done better, excepting in that case where she comply'd with you too much, and offered to let you swim her ?
"3. When you used the meanest of paganish and popish superstitions—when you scratch'd, and mangled, and ran pins into her flesh, and used that ridiculous tryal of the bottle, etc.—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 turn'd 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 cruellest of all superstitions amongst us ?"*
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.
* Hutchison's Essay on Witchcraft, p. 166.
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 Both well, 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 licence 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 (prob 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 :—