Glanvill And Webster And The Literary War Over Witchcraft 1660-1688
James I And Witchcraft
List Of Cases Of Witchcraft 1558-1718 With References To Sources And Literature
List Of Persons Sentenced To Death For Witchcraft During The Reign Of James I
Notable Jacobean Cases
The Beginnings Of English Witchcraft
The Close Of The Literary Controversy
The Final Decline
The Lancashire Witches And Charles I
The Literature Of Witchcraft From 1603 To 1660
Witchcraft During The Commonwealth And Protectorate
Witchcraft Under Charles Ii And James Ii
Witchcraft Under Elizabeth
Glanvill And Webster And The Literary War Over Witchcraft 1660-1688
In an earlier chapter we followed the progress of opinion from James I
to the Restoration. We saw that in the course of little more than a
half-century the centre of the controversy had been considerably
shifted: we noted that there was a growing body of intelligent men who
discredited the stories of witchcraft and were even inclined to laugh at
them. It is now our purpose to go on with the history of opinion from
the point at which we left off to the revolution of 1688. We shall
discover that the body of literature on the subject was enormously
increased. We shall see that a larger and more representative group of
men were expressing themselves on the matter. The controversialists were
no longer bushwhackers, but crafty warriors who joined battle after
looking over the field and measuring their forces. The groundworks of
philosophy were tested, the bases of religious faith examined. The days
of skirmishing about the ordeal of water and the test of the Devil's
marks were gone by. The combatants were now to fight over the reality or
unreality of supernatural phenomena. We shall observe that the battle
was less one-sided than ever before and that the assailants of
superstition, who up to this time had been outnumbered, now fought on at
least even terms with their enemies. We shall see too that the
non-participants and onlookers were more ready than ever before to join
themselves to the party of attack.
The struggle was indeed a miniature war and in the main was fought very
fairly. But it was natural that those who disbelieved should resort to
ridicule. It was a form of attack to which their opponents exposed
themselves by their faith in the utterly absurd stories of silly women.
Cervantes with his Don Quixote laughed chivalry out of Europe, and there
was a class in society that would willingly have laughed witchcraft out
of England. Their onslaught was one most difficult to repel.
Nevertheless the defenders of witchcraft met the challenge squarely.
With unwearying patience and absolute confidence in their cause they
collected the testimonies for their narratives and then said to those
who laughed: Here are the facts; what are you going to do about them?
The last chapter told of the alarms in Somerset and in Wilts and showed
what a stir they produced in England. In connection with those affairs
was mentioned the name of that brave researcher, Mr. Glanvill. The
history of the witch literature of this period is little more than an
account of Joseph Glanvill, of his opinions, of his controversies, of
his disciples and his opponents. It is not too much to say that in
Glanvill the superstition found its ablest advocate. In acuteness of
logical distinction, in the cleverness and brilliance of his
intellectual sword-play, he excelled all others before and after who
sought to defend the belief in witchcraft. He was a man entitled to
speak with some authority. A member of Exeter College at Oxford, he had
been in 1664 elected a fellow of the recently founded Royal Society and
was in sympathy with its point of view. At the same time he was a
philosopher of no small influence in his generation.
His intellectual position is not difficult to determine. He was an
opponent of the Oxford scholasticism and inclined towards a school of
thought represented by Robert Fludd, the two Vaughans, Henry More, and
Van Helmont, men who had drunk deeply of the cabalistic writers,
disciples of Paracelsus and Pico della Mirandola. It would be foolhardy
indeed for a layman to attempt an elucidation of the subtleties either
of this philosophy or of the processes of Glanvill's philosophical
reasoning. His point of view was partially unfolded in the Scepsis
Scientifica, published in 1665 and dedicated to the Royal Society.
In this treatise he pointed out our present ignorance of phenomena and
our inability to determine their real character, owing to the
subjectivity of our perceptions of them, and insisted consequently upon
the danger of dogmatism. He himself had drawn but a cockle-shell of
water from the ocean of knowledge. His notion of spirit--if his works on
witchcraft may be trusted--seems to have been that it is a light and
invisible form of matter capable of detachment from or infusion into
more solid substances--precisely the idea of Henry More. Religiously, it
would not be far wrong to call him a reconstructionist--to use a much
abused and exceedingly modern term. He did not, indeed, admit the
existence of any gap between religion and science that needed bridging
over, but the trend of his teaching, though he would hardly have
admitted it, was to show that the mysteries of revealed religion belong
in the field of unexplored science. It was his confidence in the far
possibilities opened by investigation in that field, together with the
cabalistic notions he had absorbed, which rendered him so willing to
become a student of psychical phenomena.
Little wonder, then, that he found the Mompesson and Somerset cases
material to his hand and that he seized upon them eagerly as irrefutable
proof of demoniacal agency. His first task, indeed, was to prove the
alleged facts; these once established, they could be readily fitted into
a comprehensive scheme of reasoning. In 1666 he issued a small volume,
Some Philosophical Considerations touching Witches and Witchcraft.
Most of the first edition was burned in the fire of London, but the book
was reprinted. Already by 1668 it had reached a fourth impression. In
this edition the work took the new title A Blow at Modern Sadducism,
and it was republished again in 1681 with further additions as
Sadducismus Triumphatus, which might be translated "Unbelief
Conquered." The work continued to be called for faster than the
publisher could supply the demand, and went through several more
revisions and reimpressions. One of the most popular books of the
generation, it proved to be Glanvill's greatest title to contemporary
fame. The success of the work was no doubt due in large measure to the
collection of witch stories; but these had been inserted by the author
as the groundwork of his argument. He recognized, as no one on his side
of the controversy had done before, the force of the arguments made by
the opposition. They were good points, but to them all he offered one
short answer--the evidence of proved fact. That such transformations
as were ascribed to the witches were ridiculous, that contracts between
the Devil and agents who were already under his control were absurd,
that the Devil would never put himself at the nod and beck of miserable
women, and that Providence would not permit His children to be thus
buffeted by the evil one: these were the current objections; and to
them all Glanvill replied that one positive fact is worth a thousand
negative arguments. Innumerable frauds had been exposed. Yes, he knew
it, but here were well authenticated cases that were not fraud.
Glanvill put the issue squarely. His confidence in his case at once wins
admiration. He was thoroughly sincere. The fly in the ointment was of
course that his best authenticated cases could not stand any careful
criticism. He had been furnished the narratives which he used by "honest
and honourable friends." Yet, if this scientific investigator could be
duped, as he had been at Tedworth, much more those worthy but credulous
friends whom he quoted.
From a simple assertion that he was presenting facts Glanvill went on to
make a plea used often nowadays in another connection by defenders of
miracles. If the ordinary mind, he said, could not understand "every
thing done by Mathematics and Mechanical Artifice," how much more
would even the most knowing of us fail to understand the power of
witches. This proposition, the reader can see, was nothing more than a
working out of one of the principles of his philosophy. There can be no
doubt that he would have taken the same ground about miracles, a
position that must have alarmed many of his contemporaries.
In spite of his emphasis of fact, Glanvill was as ready as any to enter
into a theological disquisition. Into those rarefied regions of thought
we shall not follow him. It will perhaps not be out of order, however,
to note two or three points that were thoroughly typical of his
reasoning. To the contention that, if a wicked spirit could work harm by
the use of a witch, it should be able to do so without any intermediary
and so to harass all of mankind all of the time, he answered that the
designs of demons are levelled at the soul and can in consequence best
be carried on in secret. To the argument that when one considers the
"vileness of men" one would expect that the evil spirits would practise
their arts not on a few but on a great many, he replied that men are not
liable to be troubled by them till they have forfeited the "tutelary
care and oversight of the better spirits," and, furthermore, spirits
find it difficult to assume such shapes as are necessary for "their
Correspondencie with Witches." It is a hard thing for spirits "to force
their thin and tenuious bodies into a visible consistence.... For, in
this Action, their Bodies must needs be exceedingly compress'd." To
the objection that the belief in evil beings makes it plausible that the
miracles of the Bible were wrought by the agency of devils, he
replied that the miracles of the Gospel are notoriously contrary to the
tendency, aims, and interests of the kingdom of darkness. The
suggestion that witches would not renounce eternal happiness for short
and trivial pleasures here, he silenced by saying that "Mankind acts
sometimes to prodigious degrees of brutishness."
It is needless to go further in quoting his arguments. Doubtless both
questions and answers seem quibbles to the present-day reader, but the
force of Glanvill's replies from the point of view of his contemporaries
must not be underestimated. He was indeed the first defender of
witchcraft who in any reasoned manner tried to clear up the problems
proposed by the opposition. His answers were without question the best
that could be given.
It is easy for us to forget the theological background of
seventeenth-century English thought. Given a personal Devil who is
constantly intriguing against the kingdom of God (and who would then
have dared to deny such a premise?), grant that the Devil has
supernatural powers (and there were Scripture texts to prove it), and
it was but a short step to the belief in witches. The truth is that
Glanvill's theories were much more firmly grounded on the bedrock of
seventeenth-century theology than those of his opponents. His opponents
were attempting to use common sense, but it was a sort of common sense
which, however little they saw it, must undermine the current religious
Glanvill was indeed exceedingly up-to-date in his own time. Not but that
he had read the learned old authors. He was familiar with what "the
great Episcopius" had to say, he had dipped into Reginald Scot and
deemed him too "ridiculous" to answer. But he cared far more about
the arguments that he heard advanced in every-day conversation. These
were the arguments that he attempted to answer. His work reflected the
current discussions of the subject. It was, indeed, the growing
opposition among those whom he met that stirred him most. Not without
sadness he recognized that "most of the looser Gentry and small
pretenders to Philosophy and Wit are generally deriders of the belief of
Witches and Apparitions." Like an animal at bay, he turned fiercely
on them. "Let them enjoy the Opinion of their own Superlative
Judgements" and run madly after Scot, Hobbes, and Osborne. It was, in
truth, a danger to religion that he was trying to ward off. One of the
fundamentals of religion was at stake. The denial of witchcraft was a
phase of prevalent atheism. Those that give up the belief in witches,
give up that in the Devil, then that in the immortality of the
soul. The question at issue was the reality of the spirit world.
It can be seen why the man was tremendously in earnest. One may indeed
wonder if his intensity of feeling on the matter was not responsible for
his accepting as bona fide narratives those which his common sense
should have made him reject. In defending the authenticity of the
remarkable stories told by the accusers of Julian Cox, he was guilty
of a degree of credulity that passes belief. Perhaps the reader will
recall the incident of the hunted rabbit that vanished behind a bush and
was transformed into a panting woman, no other than the accused Julian
Cox. This tale must indeed have strained Glanvill's utmost capacity of
belief. Yet he rose bravely to the occasion. Determined not to give up
any well-supported fact, he urged that probably the Devil had sent a
spirit to take the apparent form of the hare while he had hurried the
woman to the bush and had presumably kept her invisible until she was
found by the boy. It was the Nemesis of a bad cause that its greatest
defender should have let himself indulge in such absurdities.
In truth we may be permitted to wonder if the philosopher was altogether
true to his own position. In his Scepsis Scientifica he had talked
hopefully about the possibility that science might explain what as yet
seemed supernatural. This came perilously near to saying that the
realms of the supernatural, when explored, would turn out to be natural
and subject to natural law. If this were true, what would become of all
those bulwarks of religion furnished by the wonders of witchcraft? It
looks very much as if Glanvill had let an inconsistency creep into his
It was two years after Glanvill's first venture that Meric Casaubon
issued his work entitled Of Credulity and Incredulity in Things
Natural, Civil, and Divine. On account of illness, however, as he
tells the reader in his preface, he had been unable to complete the
book, and it dealt only with "Things Natural" and "Things Civil."
"Things Divine" became the theme of a separate volume, which appeared in
1670 under the title Of Credulity and Incredulity in Things Divine and
Spiritual: wherein ... the business of Witches and Witchcraft, against a
late Writer, [is] fully Argued and Disputed. The interest of this
scholar in the subject of witchcraft was, as we have seen, by no means
recent. When a young rector in Somerset he had attended a trial of
witches, quite possibly the identical trial that had moved Bernard to
appeal to grand jurymen. We have noted in an earlier chapter that
Casaubon in 1654, writing on Enthusiasm, had touched lightly upon the
subject. It will be recalled that he had come very near to questioning
the value of confessions. Five years later, in prefacing a Relation of
what passed between Dr. Dee and some Spirits, he had anticipated the
conclusions of his Credulity and Incredulity. Those conclusions were
mainly in accord with Glanvill. With a good will he admitted that the
denying of witches was a "very plausible cause." Nothing was more liable
to be fraud than the exhibitions given at trials, nothing less
trustworthy than the accounts of what witches had done. Too many cases
originated in the ignorance of ministers who were on the look-out "in
every wild notion or phansie" for a "suggestion of the Devil." But,
like Glanvill, and indeed like the spiritualists of to-day, he insisted
that many cases of fraud do not establish a negative. There is a very
large body of narratives so authentic that to doubt them would be
evidence of infidelity. Casaubon rarely doubted, although he sought to
keep the doubting spirit. It was hard for him not to believe what he had
read or had been told. He was naturally credulous, particularly when he
read the stories of the classical writers. For this attitude of mind he
was hardly to be censured. Criticism was but beginning to be applied to
the tales of Roman and Greek writers. Their works were full of stories
of magic and enchantment, and it was not easy for a seventeenth-century
student to shake himself free from their authority. Nor would Casaubon
have wished to do so. He belonged to the past both by religion and
raining, and he must be reckoned among the upholders of
In the next year, 1669, John Wagstaffe, a graduate of Oriel College who
had applied himself to "the study of learning and politics," issued a
little book, The Question of Witchcraft Debated. Wagstaffe was a
university man of no reputation. "A little crooked man and of a
despicable presence," he was dubbed by the Oxford wags the little
wizard. Nevertheless he had something to say and he gained no small
hearing. Many of his arguments were purely theological and need not be
repeated. But he made two good points. The notions about witches find
their origin in "heathen fables." This was an undercutting blow at those
who insisted on the belief in witchcraft as an essential of Christian
faith; and Wagstaffe, moreover, made good his case. His second argument
was one which no less needed to be emphasized. Coincidence, he believed,
accounts for a great deal of the inexplicable in witchcraft
Within two years the book appeared again, much enlarged, and it was
later translated into German. It was answered by two men--by Casaubon in
the second part of his Credulity and by an author who signed himself
"R. T." Casaubon added nothing new, nor did "R. T.," who threshed
over old theological straw. The same can hardly be said of Lodowick
Muggleton, a seventeenth-century Dowie who would fain have been a
prophet of a new dispensation. He put out an exposition of the Witch of
Endor that was entirely rationalistic. Witches, he maintained, had
no spirits but their own wicked imaginations. Saul was simply the dupe
of a woman pretender.
An antidote to this serious literature may be mentioned in passing.
There was published at London, in 1673, A Pleasant Treatise of
Witches, in which a delightful prospect was opened to the reader: "You
shall find nothing here of those Vulgar, Fabulous, and Idle Tales that
are not worth the lending an ear to, nor of those hideous Sawcer-eyed
and Cloven-Footed Divels, that Grandmas affright their children withal,
but only the pleasant and well grounded discourses of the Learned as an
object adequate to thy wise understanding." An outline was offered, but
it was nothing more than a thread upon which to hang good stories. They
were tales of a distant past. There were witches once, of course there
were, but that was in the good old days. Such was the author's
Alas that such light treatment was so rare! The subject was, in the
minds of most, not one for laughter. It called for serious
consideration. That point of view came to its own again in The Doctrine
of Devils proved to be the grand apostacy of these later Times. The
Dutch translator of this book tells us that it was written by a New
England clergyman. If that be true, the writer must have been one of
the least provincial New Englanders of his century, for he evinces a
remarkable knowledge of the witch alarms and witch discussions in
England. Some of his opinions betray the influence of Scot, as for
instance his interpretation of Christ's casting out of devils. The
term "having a devil" was but a phrase for one distracted. The author
made, however, some new points. He believed that the importance of the
New Testament miracles would be overshadowed by the greater miracles
wrought by the Devil. A more telling argument, at least to a modern
reader, was that the solidarity of society would be endangered by a
belief that made every man afraid of his neighbor. The writer
commends Wagstaffe's work, and writes of Casaubon, "If any one could
possibly have bewitcht me into the Belief of Witchcraft, this reverend
person, of all others, was most like to have done it." He decries the
"proletarian Rabble," and "the great Philosophers" (More and Glanvill,
doubtless), who call themselves Christians and yet hold "an Opinion that
Butchers up Men and Women without Fear or Witt, Sense or Reason, Care or
Conscience, by droves;" but he praises "the reverend judges of England,
now ... much wiser than before," who "give small or no encouragement to
We come now to the second great figure among the witch-ologists of the
Restoration, John Webster. Glanvill and Webster were protagonist and
antagonist in a drama where the others played somewhat the role of the
Greek chorus. It was in 1677 that Webster put forth The Displaying of
Supposed Witchcraft. A Non-Conformist clergyman in his earlier
life, he seems to have turned in later years to the practice of
medicine. From young manhood he had been interested in the subject of
witchcraft. Probably that interest dates from an experience of his one
Sunday afternoon over forty years before he published his book. It will
be recalled that the boy Robinson, accuser of the Lancashire women in
1634, had been brought into his Yorkshire congregation at an afternoon
service and had come off very poorly when cross-questioned by the
curious minister. From that time Webster had been a doubter. Now and
again in the course of his Yorkshire and Lancashire pastorates he had
come into contact with superstition. He was no philosopher, this
Yorkshire doctor of souls and bodies, nor was he more than a country
scientist, and his reasoning against witchcraft fell short--as Professor
Kittredge has clearly pointed out--of scientific rationalism. That
was a high mark and few there were in the seventeenth century who
attained unto it. But it is not too much to say that John Webster was
the heir and successor to Scot. He carried weight by the force of his
attack, if not by its brilliancy. He was by no means always
consistent, but he struck sturdy blows. He was seldom original, but he
felled his opponents.
Many of his strongest arguments, of course, were old. It was nothing new
that the Witch of Endor was an impostor. It was Muggleton's notion, and
it went back indeed to Scot. The emphasizing of the part played by
imagination was as old as the oldest English opponent of witch
persecution. The explanation of certain strange phenomena
as ventriloquism--a matter that Webster had investigated
painstakingly--this had been urged before. Webster himself did not
believe that new arguments were needed. He had felt that the "impious
and Popish opinions of the too much magnified powers of Demons and
Witches, in this Nation were pretty well quashed and silenced" by
various writers and by the "grave proceedings of many learned judges."
But it was when he found that two "beneficed Ministers," Casaubon and
Glanvill, had "afresh espoused so bad a cause" that he had been impelled
to review their grounds.
As the reader may already have guessed, Webster, like so many of his
predecessors, dealt largely in theological and scriptural arguments. It
was along this line, indeed, that he made his most important
contribution to the controversy then going on. Glanvill had urged that
disbelief in witchcraft was but one step in the path to atheism. No
witches, no spirits, no immortality, no God, were the sequences of
Glanvill's reasoning. In answer Webster urged that the denial of the
existence of witches--i. e., of creatures endued with power from the
Devil to perform supernatural wonders--had nothing to do with the
existence of angels or spirits. We must rely upon other grounds for a
belief in the spirit world. Stories of apparitions are no proof, because
we cannot be sure that those apparitions are made or caused by spirits.
We have no certain ground for believing in a spirit world but the
testimony of Scripture.
But if we grant the existence of spirits--to modernize the form of
Webster's argument--we do not thereby prove the existence of witches.
The New Testament tells of various sorts of "deceiving Imposters,
Diviners, or Witches," but amongst them all "there were none that had
made a visible league with the Devil." There was no mention of
transformation into cats, dogs, or wolves. It is hard to see how the
most literal students of the Scriptures could have evaded this argument.
The Scriptures said a great deal about the Devil, about demoniacs, and
about witches and magicians--whatever they might mean by those terms.
Why did they not speak at all of the compacts between the Devil and
witches? Why did they leave out the very essential of the witch-monger's
All this needed to be urged at a time when the advocates of witchcraft
were crying "Wolf! wolf!" to the Christian people of England. In other
words, Webster was rendering it possible for the purely orthodox to give
up what Glanvill had called a bulwark of religion and still to cling to
It is much to the credit of Webster that he spoke out plainly concerning
the obscenity of what was extorted from the witches. No one who has not
read for himself can have any notion of the vile character of the
charges and confessions embodied in the witch pamphlets. It is an aspect
of the question which has not been discussed in these pages. Webster
states the facts without exaggeration: "For the most of them are not
credible, by reason of their obscenity and filthiness; for chast ears
would tingle to hear such bawdy and immodest lyes; and what pure and
sober minds would not nauseate and startle to understand such unclean
stories ...? Surely even the impurity of it may be sufficient to
overthrow the credibility of it, especially among Christians." Professor
Burr has said that "it was, indeed, no small part of the evil of the
matter, that it so long debauched the imagination of Christendom."
We have said that Webster denied the existence of witches, that is, of
those who performed supernatural deeds. But, like Scot, he explicitly
refrained from denying the existence of witches in toto. He was, in
fact, much more satisfactory than Scot; for he explained just what was
his residuum of belief. He believed that witches were evil-minded
creatures inspired by the Devil, who by the use of poisons and natural
means unknown to most men harmed and killed their fellow-beings. Of
course he would have insisted that a large proportion of all those
charged with being such were mere dealers in fraud or the victims of
false accusation, but the remainder of the cases he would have explained
in this purely natural way.
Now, if this was not scientific rationalism, it was at least
straight-out skepticism as to the supernatural in witchcraft. Moreover
there are cases enough in the annals of witchcraft that look very much
as if poison were used. The drawback of course is that Webster, like
Scot, had not disabused his mind of all superstition. Professor
Kittredge in his discussion of Webster has pointed this out carefully.
Webster believed that the bodies of those that had been murdered bleed
at the touch of the murderer. He believed, too, in a sort of "astral
spirit," and he seems to have been convinced of the truth of
apparitions. These were phenomena that he believed to be
substantiated by experience. On different grounds, by a priori
reasoning from scriptural premises, he arrived at the conclusion that
God makes use of evil angels "as the executioners of his justice to
chasten the godly, and to restrain or destroy the wicked."
This is and was essentially a theological conception. But there was no
small gap between this and the notion that spirits act in supernatural
ways in our every-day world. And there was nothing more inconsistent in
failing to bridge this gap than in the position of the Christian people
today who believe in a spirit world and yet discredit without
examination all that is offered as new evidence of its existence.
The truth is that Webster was too busy at destroying the fortifications
of his opponents to take the trouble to build up defences for himself.
But it is not too much to call him the most effective of the seventeenth
century assailants of witch persecution in England. He had this
advantage over all who had gone before, that a large and increasing body
of intelligent people were with him. He spoke in full consciousness of
strong support. It was for his opponents to assume the defensive.
We have called John Webster's a great name in the literature of our
subject, and we have given our reasons for so thinking. Yet it would be
a mistake to suppose that he created any such sensation in his time as
did his arch-opponent, Glanvill. His work never went into a second
edition. There are but few references to it in the writings of the time,
and those are in works devoted to the defence of the belief. Benjamin
Camfield, a Leicestershire rector, wrote an unimportant book on Angels
and their Ministries, and in an appendix assailed Webster. Joseph
Glanvill turned fiercely upon him with new proofs of what he called
facts, and bequeathed the work at his death to Henry More, who in the
several following editions of the Sadducismus Triumphatus attacked him
with no little bitterness.
We may skip over three lesser writers on witchcraft. During the early
eighties John Brinley, Henry Hallywell, and Richard Bovet launched their
little boats into the sea of controversy. Brinley was a bold plagiarist
of Bernard, Hallywell a logical but dull reasoner from the Bible, Bovet
a weakened solution of Glanvill.
We turn now from the special literature of witchcraft to a sketch of the
incidental evidences of opinion. Of these we have a larger body than
ever before, too large indeed to handle in detail. It would be idle to
quote from the chap-books on witch episodes their raisons d'etre. It
all comes to this: they were written to confute disbelievers. They refer
slightingly and even bitterly to those who oppose belief, not however
without admitting their numbers and influence. It will be more to our
purpose to examine the opinions of men as they uttered them on the
bench, in the pulpit, and in the other walks of practical life.
We have already had occasion to learn what the judges were thinking. We
listened to Matthew Hale while he uttered the pronouncement that was
heard all over England and even in the North American colonies. The
existence of witches, he affirmed solemnly, is proved by Scripture and
by the universality of laws against them. Justice Rainsford in the
following years and Justice Raymond about twenty years later seem to
have taken Hale's view of the matter. On the other side were to be
reckoned Sir John Reresby and Francis North. Neither of them was quite
outspoken, fearing the rage of the people and the charge of atheism.
Both sought to save the victims of persecution, but rather by exposing
the deceptions of the accusers than by denying witchcraft itself. From
the vast number of acquittals in the seventies and the sudden dropping
off in the number of witch trials in the eighties we know that there
must have been many other judges who were acquitting witches or quietly
ignoring the charges against them. Doubtless Kelyng, who, as a spectator
at Bury, had shown his skepticism as to the accusations, had when he
later became a chief justice been one of those who refused to condemn
From scientific men there were few utterances. Although we shall in
another connection show that a goodly number from the Royal Society
cherished very definite beliefs--or disbeliefs--on the subject, we have
the opinions of but two men who were professionally scientists, Sir
Thomas Browne and Sir Robert Boyle. Browne we have already met at the
Bury trial. It may reasonably be questioned whether he was really a man
of science. Certainly he was a physician of eminence. The attitude he
took when an expert witness at Bury, it will be recalled, was quite
consistent with the opinion given in his Commonplace Book. "We are
noways doubtful," he wrote, "that there are witches, but have not always
been satisfied in the application of their witchcrafts." So spoke
the famous physician of Norwich. But a man whose opinion was of much
more consequence was Sir Robert Boyle. Boyle was a chemist and "natural
philosopher." He was the discoverer of the air pump, was elected
president of the Royal Society, and was altogether one of the greatest
non-political figures in the reign of Charles II. While he never, so far
as we know, discussed witchcraft in the abstract, he fathered a French
story that was brought into England, the story of the Demon of Mascon.
He turned the story over to Glanvill to be used in his list of authentic
narratives; and, when it was later reported that he had pronounced the
demon story an imposture, he took pains to deny the report in a letter
Of literary men we have, as of scientists, but two. Aubrey, the
"delitescent" antiquarian and Will Wimble of his time, still credited
witchcraft, as he credited all sorts of narratives of ghosts and
apparitions. It was less a matter of reason than of sentiment. The
dramatist Shadwell had the same feeling for literary values. In his
preface to the play, The Lancashire Witches, he explained that he
pictured the witches as real lest the people should want "diversion,"
and lest he should be called "atheistical by a prevailing party who take
it ill that the power of the Devil should be lessen'd." But
Shadwell, although not seriously interested in any side of the subject
save in its use as literary material, included himself among the group
who had given up belief.
What philosophers thought we may guess from the all-pervading influence
of Hobbes in this generation. We have already seen, however, that Henry
More, whose influence in his time was not to be despised, wrote
earnestly and often in support of belief. One other philosopher may be
mentioned. Ralph Cudworth, in his True Intellectual System, touched on
confederacies with the Devil and remarked in passing that "there hath
been so full an attestation" of these things "that those our so
confident Exploders of them, in this present Age, can hardly escape the
suspicion of having some Hankring towards Atheism." This was
Glanvill over again. It remains to notice the opinions of clergymen. The
history of witch literature has been in no small degree the record of
clerical opinion. Glanvill, Casaubon, Muggleton, Camfield, and Hallywell
were all clergymen. Fortunately we have the opinions of at least half a
dozen other churchmen. It will be remembered that Oliver Heywood, the
famous Non-Conformist preacher of Lancashire, believed, though not too
implicitly, in witchcraft. So did Samuel Clarke, Puritan divine and
hagiographer. On the same side must be reckoned Nathaniel Wanley,
compiler of a curious work on The Wonders of the Little World. A
greater name was that of Isaac Barrow, master of Trinity, teacher of
Isaac Newton, and one of the best preachers of his time. He declared
that to suppose all witch stories fictions was to "charge the world with
both extreme Vanity and Malignity." We can cite only one divine on
the other side. This was Samuel Parker, who in his time played many
parts, but who is chiefly remembered as the Bishop of Oxford during the
troubles of James II with the university. Parker was one of the most
disliked ecclesiastics of his time, but he deserves praise at any rate
for his stand as to witchcraft. We do not know the details of his
opinions; indeed we have nothing more than the fact that in a
correspondence with Glanvill he questioned the opinions of that
distinguished protagonist of witchcraft.
By this time it must be clear that there is possible no hard and fast
discrimination by groups between those that believed in witchcraft and
those that did not. We may say cautiously that through the seventies and
eighties the judges, and probably too the justices of the peace,
were coming to disbelieve. With even greater caution we may venture the
assertion that the clergy, both Anglican and Non-Conformist, were still
clinging to the superstition. Further generalization would be extremely
hazardous. It looks, however, from the evidence already presented, as
well as from some to be given in another connection--in discussing the
Royal Society--as if the scientists had not taken such a stand as
was to be expected of them.
When we examine the attitude of those who scoffed at the stories vouched
for by Glanvill and More it becomes evident that they assumed that
practically all thinking men were with them. In other words, they
believed that their group comprised the intellectual men of the time.
Now, it would be easy to rush to the conclusion that all men who thought
in conventional ways would favor witchcraft, and that those who took
unconventional views would be arrayed on the other side, but this would
be a mistake. Glanvill was an exceedingly original man, while Muggleton
was uncommonly commonplace; and there were numbered among those who held
to the old opinion men of high intelligence and brilliant talents.
We must search, then, for some other basis of classification. Glanvill
gives us an interesting suggestion. In withering tone he speaks of the
"looser gentry and lesser pretenders to wit." Here is a possible line of
cleavage. Might it be that the more worldly-minded among the county
families, that those too who comprised what we may call, in the absence
of a better term, the "smart set," and the literary sets of London, were
especially the "deriders" of superstition? It is not hard to believe
that Shadwell, the worldly Bishop Parker, and the polished Sir William
Temple would fairly reflect the opinions of that class. So too the
diarist Pepys, who found Glanvill "not very convincing." We can conceive
how the ridicule of the supernatural might have become the fad of a
certain social group. The Mompesson affair undoubtedly possessed
elements of humor; the wild tales about Amy Duny and Rose Cullender
would have been uncommonly diverting, had they not produced such tragic
results. With the stories spun about Julian Cox the witch accusers could
go no farther. They had reached the culmination of nonsense. Now, it is
conceivable that the clergyman might not see the humor of it, nor the
philosopher, nor the scholar; but the worldly-minded Londoner, who cared
less about texts in Leviticus than did his father, who knew more about
coffee-houses and plays, and who cultivated clever people with
assiduity, had a better developed sense of humor. It was not strange
that he should smile quizzically when told these weird stories from the
country. He may not have pondered very deeply on the abstract question
nor read widely--perhaps he had seen Ady's book or glanced over
Scot's--but, when he met keen men in his group who were laughing quietly
at narratives of witchcraft, he laughed too. And so, quite
unobtrusively, without blare of trumpets, skepticism would slip into
society. It would be useless for Glanvill and More to call aloud, or for
the people to rage. The classes who mingled in the worldly life of the
capital would scoff; and the country gentry who took their cue from them
would follow suit.
Of course this is theory. It would require a larger body of evidence
than we can hope to gather on this subject to prove that the change of
opinion that was surely taking place spread at first through the higher
social strata and was to reach the lower levels only by slow filtration.
Yet such an hypothesis fits in nicely with certain facts. It has
already been seen that the trials for witchcraft dropped off very
suddenly towards the end of the period we are considering. The drop was
accounted for by the changed attitude of judges and of justices of the
peace. The judges avoided trying witches, the justices were less
diligent in discovering them. But the evidence that we had about men of
other occupations was less encouraging. It looked as if those who
dispensed justice were in advance of the clergy, of the scholars,
physicians, and scientists of their time. Had the Master of Trinity, or
the physician of Norwich, or the discoverer of the air pump been the
justices of the peace for England, it is not incredible that
superstition would have flourished for another generation. Was it
because the men of the law possessed more of the matter-of-factness
supposed to be a heritage of every Englishman? Was it because their
special training gave them a saner outlook? No doubt both elements help
to explain the difference. But is it not possible to believe that the
social grouping of these men had an influence? The itinerant justices
and the justices of the peace were recruited from the gentry, as none of
the other classes were. Men like Reresby and North inherited the
traditions of their class; they spent part of the year in London and
knew the talk of the town. Can we doubt that their decisions were
influenced by that fact? The country justice of the peace was removed
often enough from metropolitan influences, but he was usually quick to
catch the feelings of his own class.
If our theory be true that the jurists were in advance of other
professions and that they were sprung of a higher stock, it is of course
some confirmation of the larger theory that witchcraft was first
discredited among the gentry. Yet, as we have said before, this is at
best a guess as to how the decline of belief took place and must be
accepted only provisionally. We have seen that there are other
assertions about the progress of thought in this period that may be
ventured with much confidence. There had been great changes of opinion.
It would not be fair to say that the movement towards skepticism had
been accelerated. Rather, the movement which had its inception back in
the days of Reginald Scot and had found in the last days of James I a
second impulse, which had been quietly gaining force in the thirties,
forties, and fifties, was now under full headway. Common sense was
coming into its own.
 Ferris Greenslet, Joseph Glanvill (New York, 1900), 153. The
writer wishes to acknowledge his indebtedness to Mr. Greenslet's
excellent book on Glanvill.
 The Scepsis Scientifica was really The Vanity of Dogmatising
 See, for example, the introductory essay by John Owen in his edition
(London, 1885), of the Scepsis Scientifica, xxvii, xxix. See also
Sadducismus Triumphatus (citations are all from the edition of 1681),
 So at least says Leslie Stephen, Dict. Nat. Biog. Glanvill
himself, in Essays on Several Important Subjects (1676), says that the
sixth essay, "Philosophical Considerations against Modern Sadducism,"
had been printed four times already, i. e., before 1676. The edition
of 1668 had been revised.
 This edition was dedicated to Charles, Duke of Richmond and Lenox,
since His Grace had been "pleased to commend the first and more
 Sadducismus Triumphatus, Preface, F 3 verso, F 4; see also p. 10.
In the second part see Preface, Aa 2--Aa 3. In several other places he
has insisted upon this point.
 See ibid., 9 ff., 18 ff., 21 ff., 34 ff.
 Ibid., 32, 34.
 Ibid., 11-13.
 See, for example, ibid., 88-89.
 Ibid., 25-27.
 Sadducismus Triumphatus, 39.
 Ibid., 52-53.
 To the argument that witches are not mentioned in the New Testament
he retorted that neither is North America (ibid., 82).
 Ibid., 78.
 Nevertheless he took up some of Scot's points.
 Sadducismus Triumphatus, Preface.
 Sadducismus Triumphatus, pt. ii, 3.
 See ibid., pt. ii, Relation VIII.
 Scepsis Scientifica (ed. of 1885), 179.
 London, 1668. It was reprinted in 1672 with the title A Treatise
proving Spirits, Witches, and Supernatural Operations by pregnant
instances and evidences.
 See above, pp. 239-240.
 Of Credulity and Incredulity, 29, 30.
 He characterizes Reginald Scot as an illiterate wretch, but admits
that he had never read him. It was Wierus whom he chiefly sought to
 He was given also to "strong and high tasted liquors." Anthony a
Wood, Athenae Oxonienses (London, 1691-1692; 3d ed., with additions,
London, 1813-1820), ed. of 1813-1820, III, 11-14.
 The Question of Witchcraft Debated (London, 1669), 64.
 1670 (see above, p. 293).
 The Opinion of Witchcraft Vindicated. In an Answer to a Book
Intituled The Question of Witchcraft Debated (London, 1670).
 A True Interpretation of the Witch of Endor (London, 1669).
 "By a Pen neer the Convent of Eluthery."
 London, 1676.
 To Professor Burr I owe my knowledge of this ascription. The
translator (the English Quaker, William Sewel, all his life a resident
of Holland), calls him "N. Orchard, Predikant in Nieuw-Engeland."
 See Doctrine of Devils, chaps. VII, VIII, and cf. Scot,
Discoverie of Witchcraft, 512-514.
 Glanvill had answered a somewhat similar argument, that the
miracles of the Bible were wrought by the agency of the Devil.
 He said also that, if the Devil could take on "men's shapes, forms,
habits, countenances, tones, gates, statures, ages, complexions ... and
act in the shape assumed," there could be absolutely no certainty about
the proceedings of justice.
 The book had been written four years earlier.
 See G. L. Kittredge, "Notes on Witchcraft," in American Antiquarian
Soc., Proceedings, n. s., XVIII (1906-1907), 169-176.
 There is, however, no little brilliance and insight in some of
 Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft, 38-41.
 Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft, 53.
 Ibid., 68.
 The Witch-Persecutions (University of Pennsylvania Translations
and Reprints, vol. III, no. 4), revised ed. (Philadelphia, 1903), p. 1.
 Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft, 247-248.
 Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft, 308, 312 ff. The astral spirit
which he conceived was not unlike More's and Glanvill's "thin and
 Ibid., 294 ff.
 Ibid., 219-228.
 The author of The Doctrine of Devils (see above, note 32), was
thorough-going enough, but his work seems to have attracted much less
 London, 1678.
 John Brinley, "Gentleman," brought out in 1680 A Discovery of the
Impostures of Witches and Astrologers. Portions of his book would pass
for good thinking until one awakens to the feeling that he has read
something like this before. As a matter of fact Brinley had stolen the
line of thought and much of the phrasing from Richard Bernard (1627, see
above, pp. 234-236), and without giving any credit. A second edition of
Brinley's work was issued in 1686. It was the same in every respect save
that the dedication was omitted and the title changed to A Discourse
Proving by Scripture and Reason and the Best Authors Ancient and Modern
that there are Witches.
Henry Hallywell, a Cambridge master of arts and sometime fellow of
Christ's College, issued in 1681 Melampronoea, or a Discourse of the
Polity and Kingdom of Darkness, Together with a Solution of the chiefest
Objections brought against the Being of Witches. Hallywell was another
in the long list of Cambridge men who defended superstition. He set
about to assail the "over-confident Exploders of Immaterial Substances"
by a course of logical deductions from Scripture. His treatise is slow
Richard Bovet, "Gentleman," gave the world in 1684 Pandaemonium, or the
Devil's Cloyster; being a further Blow to Modern Sadduceism. There was
nothing new about his discussion, which he dedicates to Dr. Henry More.
His attitude was defensive in the extreme. He was consumed with
indignation at disbelievers: "They oppose their simple ipse dixit
against the most unquestionable Testimonies"; they even dare to "affront
that relation of the Daemon of Tedworth." He was indeed cast down over
the situation. He himself relates a very patent instance of witchcraft
in Somerset; yet, despite the fact that numerous physicians agreed on
the matter, no "justice was applyed." One of Bovet's chief purposes in
his work was to show "the Confederacy of several Popes and Roman Priests
with the Devil." He makes one important admission in regard to
witchcraft; namely, that the confessions of witches might sometimes be
the result of "a Deep Melancholy, or some Terrour that they may have
 Works, ed. of 1835-1836, IV, 389.
 For Boyle's opinions see also Webster, Displaying of Supposed
 He says also: "For my part I am ... somewhat cotive of belief. The
evidences I have represented are natural, viz., slight, and frivolous,
such as poor old women were wont to be hang'd upon." The play may be
found in all editions of Shadwell's works. I have used the rare
privately printed volume in which, under the title of The Poetry of
Witchcraft (Brixton Hill, 1853), J. O. Halliwell [-Phillips] united
this play of Shadwell's with that of Heywood and Brome on The late
Lancashire Witches. These two plays, so similar in title, that of
Heywood and Brome in 1634, based on the case of 1633, and that of
Shadwell in 1682, based on the affair of 1612, must not be confused. See
above pp. 121, 158-160, 244-245.
 See above, pp. 238-239.
 The True Intellectual System of the Universe (London, 1678), 702.
 See above, p. 256 and note.
 See his Lives of Sundry Eminent Persons (London, 1683), 172; also
his Mirrour or Looking Glass, Both for Saints and Sinners (London,
1657-1671), I, 35-38; II, 159-183.
 London, 1678; see pp. 515-518.
 Works (ed. of Edinburgh, 1841), II, 162.
 Glanvill, Sadducismus Triumphatus, 80.
 By the eighties it is very clear that the justices were ceasing to
press charges against witches.
 In an article to be published separately.
 See his essay "Of Poetry" in his Works (London, 1814), III,
 Justice Jeffreys and Justice Herbert both acquitted witches
according to F. A. Inderwick, Sidelights on the Stuarts (2d ed.,
London, 1891), 174.
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