** We should read perhaps, "limb and lire." *** Stubble.
It only remains to suppose, that this wretched creature was under the dominion of some peculiar species of lunacy, to which a full perusal of her confession might perhaps guide a medical person of judgment and experience. Her case is interesting, as throwing upon the rites and ceremonies of the Scottish witches, a light which we seek in vain elsewhere.
Other unfortunate persons were betrayed to their own reproof by other means than the derangement of mind, which seems to have operated on Isobel Gowdie. Some, as we have seen, endeavoured to escape from the charge of witchcraft, by admitting an intercourse with the fairy people; an excuse which was never admitted as relevant. Others were subjected to cruel tortures, by which our ancestors thought the guilty might be brought to confession, but which far more frequently compelled the innocent to bear evidence against themselves. On this subject the celebrated Sir George Mackenzie, " that noble wit of Scotland," as he is termed by Dryden, has some most judicious reflections, which we shall endeavour to abstract, as the result of the experience of one, who, in his capacity of Lord Advocate, had often occasion to conduct witch-trials, and who, not doubting the existence of the crime, was of opinion that, on account of its very horror, it required the clearest and most strict probation.
He first insists on the great improbability of the Fiend, without riches to bestow, and avowedly subjected to a higher power, being able to enlist such numbers of recruits, and the little advantage which he himself would gain by doing so. But, 2dly, says Mackenzie, " the persons ordinarily accused of this crime are poor ignorant men, or else women, who understand not the nature of what they are accused of; and many mistake their own fears and apprehensions for witchcraft, of which i shall give two instances. One, of a poor weaver, who, after he had confessed witchcraft, being asked how he saw the devil, made answer, 1 Like flies dancing about the candle.' Another, of a woman, who asked seriously, when she was accused, if a woman might be a witch and not know it ? And it is dangerous that persons, of all others the most simple, should be tried for a crime of all others the most mysterious. 3dly, These poor creatures, when they are defamed, become so confounded with fear, and the close prison in which they are kept, and so starved for want of meat and drink, either of which wants is enough to disarm the strongest reason, that hardly wiser and more serious people than they would escape distraction; and when men are confounded with fear and apprehension, they will imagine things the most ridiculous and absurd,"—of which instances are given. 4thly, " Most of these poor creatures are tortured by their keepers, who, being persuaded they do God good service, think it their duty to vex and torment poor prisoners delivered up to them, as rebels to Heaven and enemies to men ; and i know," (continues Sir George,) " ex certiss'ima scientia, that most of all that ever were taken were tormented in this manner, and this usage was the ground of all their confession; and albeit the poor miscreants cannot prove this usage, the actors being the only witnesses, yet the judge should be jealous of it, as that which did at first elicit the confession, and for fear of which they dare not retract it." 5thly, This learned author gives us an instance, how these unfortunate creatures might be reduced to confession, by the very infamy which the accusation cast upon them, and which was sure to follow, condemning them for life to a state of necessity, misery, and suspicion, such as any person of reputation would willingly exchange for a short death, however painful.
" I went when I was a Justice-deput to examine some women who had confessed judicially, and one of them, who was a silly creature, told me under secresie, that she had not confest because she was guilty, but being a poor creature who wrought for her meat, and being defamed for a witch, she knew she would starve, for no person thereafter would either give her meat or lodging, and that all men would beat her and hound dogs at her, and that therefore she desired to be out of the world ; whereupon she wept most bitterly, and upon her knees called God to witness to what she said. Another told me, that she was afraid the devil would challenge a right to her, after she was said to be his servant, and would haunt her, as the minister said, when he was desiring her to confess, and therefore she desired to die. And really ministers are oft times indiscreet in their zeal to have poor creatures to confess in this; and I recommend to judges, that the wisest ministers should be sent to them, and those who are sent should be cautious in this particular."* * Mackenzie's Criminal Law, p. 45.
As a corollary to this affecting story, I may quote the case of a woman in Lauder jail, who lay there with other females on a charge of witchcraft. Her companions in prison were adjudged to die, and she too had, by a confession as full as theirs, given herself up as guilty. She, therefore, sent for the minister of the town, and entreated to be put to death with the others who had been appointed to suffer upon the next Monday. The clergyman, however, as well as others, had adopted a strong persuasion that this confession was made up in the pride of her heart, for the destruction of her own life, and had no foundation in truth. We give the result in the minister's words :—
" Therefore much pains was taken on her, by ministers and others on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning, that she might resile from that confession, which was suspected to be but a temptation of the devil, to destroy both her soul and body ; yea, it was charged home upon her by the ministers, that there was just ground of jealousy that her confession was not sincere, and she was charged before the Lord to declare the truth, and not to take her blood upon her own head. Yet she stiffly adhered to what she had said, and cried always to be put away with the rest. Whereupon, on Monday morning, being called before the judges, and confessing before them what she had said, she was found guilty, and condemned to die with the rest that same day. Being carried forth to the place of execution, she remained silent during the first, second, and third prayer, and then perceiving that there remained no more, but to rise and go to the stake, she lifted up her body, and with a loud voice cried out, ' Now, all you that see me this day, know that I am now to die as a witch by my own confession, and I free all men, especially the ministers and magistrates, of the guilt of my blood. I take it wholly upon myself—my blood be upon my own head : and as I must make answer to the God of heaven presently, I declare I am as free of witchcraft as any child; but being delated by a malicious woman, and put in prison under the name of a witch, disowned by my husband and friends, and seeing no ground of hope of my coming out of prison, or ever coming in credit again, through the temptation of the devil I made up that confession, on purpose to destroy my own life, being weary of it, and choosing rather to die than live ;'—and so died. Which lamentable story, as it did then astonish all the spectators, none of which could restrain themselves from tears; so it may be to all a demonstration of Satan's subtlety, whose design is still to destroy all, partly by tempting many to presumption, and some others to despair. These things to be of truth, are attested by an eye and ear-witness who is yet alive, a faithful minister of the gospel."* It is strange the inference does not seem to have been deduced, that as one woman, out of very despair, renounced her own life, the same might have been the case in many other instances, wherein the confessions of the accused constituted the principal, if not sole, evidence of their guilt.