Instances occur in De Lancre's book of the trial and condemnation of persons accused of the crime of lycanthropy, a superstition which was chiefly current in France, but was known in other countries, and is the subject of great debate between Wier, Naude, Scot, on the one hand, and their demonological adversaries on the other. The idea, said the one party, was, that a human being had the power, by sorcery, of transforming himself into the shape of a wolf; and in that capacity, being seized with a species of fury, he rushed out, and made havoc among the flocks, slaying and wasting, like the animal whom he represented, far more than he could devour. The more incredulous reasoners would not allow of a real transformation, whether with or without the enchanted hide of a wolf, which in some cases was supposed to aid the metamorphosis, and contended that lycanthropy only subsisted as a woful species of. disease, a melancholy state of mind, broken with occasional fits of insanity, in which the patient imagined that he committed the ravages of which he was accused. Such a person, a mere youth, was tried at Besan$on, who gave himself out for a servant, or yeoman pricker, of the Lord of the Forest—so he called his superior, who was judged to be the devil. He was, by his master's power, transformed into the likeness, and performed the usual functions, of a wolf, and was attended in his course by one larger, which he supposed to be the Lord of the Forest himself. These wolves, he said, ravaged the flocks, and throttled the dogs which stood in their defence. If either had not seen the other, he howled, after the manner of the animal, to call his comrade to his share of the prey ; if he did not come upon this signal, he proceeded to bury it the best way he could.
Such was the general persecution under Messrs. Espaignel and De Lancre. Many similar scenes occurred in France, till the edict of Louis XIV. discharging all future prosecutions for witchcraft, after which the crime itself was heard of no more.*
While the spirit of superstition was working such horrors in France, it was not, we may believe, more idle in other countries of Europe. In Spain, particularly, long the residence of the Moors, a people putting deep faith in all the day-dreams of witchcraft, good and evil genii, spells, and talismans, the ardent and devotional temper of the old Christians dictated a severe research after sorcerers, as well as heretics, and relapsed Jews or Mahommedans. In former times, during the subsistence of the Moorish kingdoms in Spain, a school was supposed to be kept open in Toboso, for the study, it is said, of magic, but more likely of chemistry, algebra, and other sciences, which, altogether mistaken by the ignorant and vulgar, and imperfectly understood even by those who studied them, were supposed to be allied to necromancy, or at least to natural magic. It was, of course, the business of the Inquisition to purify whateversuch pursuits had left of suspicious Catholicism; and their labours cost as much blood on accusations of witchcraft and magic, as for heresy and relapse.
Even the colder nations of Europe were subject to the same epidemic terror for witchcraft, and 'a specimen of it was exhibited in the sober and rational country of Sweden about the middle of last century, an account of which, being translated into English by a respectable clergyman, Doctor Horneck, excited general surprise how a whole people could be imposed upon to the degree of shedding much blood, and committing great cruelty and injustice, on account of the idle falsehoods propagated by a crew of lying children, who, in this case, were both actors and witnesses.
* The reader may sup full on such wild horrors in the Causes Celebris.
The melancholy truth, that " the human heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked," is by nothing proved so strongly as by the imperfect sense displayed by children of the sanctity of moral truth. Both the gentlemen and the mass of the people, as they advance in years, learn to despise and avoid falsehood : the former out of pride, and from a remaining feeling derived from the days of chivalry, that the character of a liar is a deadly stain on their honour; the other, from some general reflection upon the necessity of preserving a character for integrity in the course of life, and a sense of the truth of the common adage, " that honesty is the best policy." But these are acquired habits of thinking. The child has no natural love of truth, as is experienced by all who have the least acquaintance with early youth. If they are charged with a fault while they can hardly speak, the first words they stammer forth are a falsehood to excuse it. Nor is this all. The temptation of attracting attention, the pleasure of enjoying importance, the desire to escape from an unpleasing task, or accomplish a holiday, will at any time overcome the sentiment of truth, so weak is it within them. Hence thieves and housebreakers, from a surprisingly early period, find means of rendering children useful in their mystery ; nor are such acolytes found to evade justice with less dexterity than the more advanced rogues. Where a number of them are concerned in the same mischief, there is something resembling virtue in the fidelity with which the common secret is preserved. Children, under the usual age of their being admitted to give evidence, were necessarily often examined in witch trials ; and it is terrible to see how often the little impostors, from spite, or in mere gaiety of spirit, have, by their arts and perseverance, made shipwreck of men's lives. But it would be hard to discover a case which, supported exclusively by the evidence of children (the confessions under torture excepted), and obviously existing only in the young witnesses' own imagination, has been attended with such serious consequences, or given cause to so extensive and fatal a delusion as that which occurred in Sweden.