" How have I sate while piped the penBive 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 Guilty.
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 Maul kins' 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 villainous 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 hullees (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; Mothei Dickenson mounted, and took Robinson before her. They then rode to a large house, or barn, called Hours-toun, 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 halfway 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 of 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 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 on which he pretended to see the said witches at the house, or barn, he was gathering plums in a neighbour's orchard.*