I am now led to the most painful part of my subject, but which does not the less constitute one of its integral members, and which, though painful, is deeply instructive, and constitutes a most essential branch in the science of human nature. Wherever I could, I have endeavoured to render the topics which offered themselves to my examination, entertaining. When men pretended to invert the known laws of nature, “murdering impossibility; to make what cannot be, slight work;” I have been willing to consider the whole as an ingenious fiction, and merely serving as an example how far credulity could go in setting aside the deductions of our reason, and the evidence of sense. The artists in these cases did not fail to excite admiration, and gain some sort of applause from their contemporaries, though still with a tingling feeling that all was not exactly as it should be, and with a confession that the professors were exercising unhallowed arts. It was like what has been known of the art of acting; those who employed it were caressed and made every where welcome, but were not allowed the distinction of Christian burial.
But, particularly in the fifteenth century, things took a new turn. In the dawn of the day of good sense, and when historical evidence at length began to be weighed in the scales of judgment, men became less careless of truth, and regarded prodigies and miracles with a different temper. And, as it often happens, the crisis, the precise passage from ill to better, shewed itself more calamitous, and more full of enormities and atrocity, than the period when the understanding was completely hood-winked, and men digested absurdities and impossibility with as much ease as their every day food. They would not now forgive the tampering with the axioms of eternal truth; they regarded cheat and imposture with a very different eye; and they had recourse to the stake and the faggot, for the purpose of proving that they would no longer be trifled with. They treated the offenders as the most atrocious of criminals, and thus, though by a very indirect and circuitous method, led the way to the total dispersion of those clouds, which hung, with most uneasy operation, on the human understanding.
The university of Paris in the year 1398 promulgated an edict, in which they complained that the practice of witchcraft was become more frequent and general than at any former period. 190
A stratagem was at this time framed by the ecclesiastical persecutors, of confounding together the crimes of heresy and witchcraft. The first of these might seem to be enough in the days of bigotry and implicit faith, to excite the horror of the vulgar; but the advocates of religious uniformity held that they should be still more secure of their object, if they could combine the sin of holding cheap the authority of the recognised heads of Christian faith, with that of men’s enlisting under the banners of Satan, and becoming the avowed and sworn vassals of his infernal empire. They accordingly seem to have invented the ideas of a sabbath of witches, a numerous assembly of persons who had cast off all sense of shame, and all regard for those things which the rest of the human species held most sacred, where the devil appeared among them in his most forbidding form, and, by rites equally ridiculous and obscene, the persons present acknowledged themselves his subjects. And, having invented this scene, these cunning and mischievous persecutors found means, as we shall presently see, of compelling their unfortunate victims to confess that they had personally assisted at the ceremony, and performed all the degrading offices which should consign them in the world to come to everlasting fire.
While I express myself thus, I by no means intend to encourage the idea that the ecclesiastical authorities of these times were generally hypocrites. They fully partook of the narrowness of thought of the period in which they lived. They believed that the sin of heretical pravity was “as the sin of witchcraft;” 191 they regarded them alike with horror, and were persuaded that there was a natural consent and alliance between them. Fully impressed with this conception, they employed means from which our genuine and undebauched nature revolts, to extort from their deluded victims a confession of what their examiners apprehended to be true; they asked them leading questions; they suggested the answers they desired to receive; and led the ignorant and friendless to imagine that, if these answers were adopted, they might expect immediately to be relieved from insupportable tortures. The delusion went round. These unhappy wretches, finding themselves the objects of universal abhorrence, and the hatred of mankind, at length many of them believed that they had entered into a league with the devil, that they had been transported by him through the air to an assembly of souls consigned to everlasting reprobation, that they had bound themselves in acts of fealty to their infernal taskmasters [Errata: read taskmaster], and had received from him in return the gift of performing superhuman and supernatural feats. This is a tremendous state of degradation of what Milton called the “the faultless proprieties of nature,” 192 which cooler thinking and more enlightened times would lead us to regard as impossible, but to which the uncontradicted and authentic voice of history compels us to subscribe.
The Albigenses and Waldenses were a set of men, who, in the flourishing provinces of Languedoc, in the darkest ages, and when the understandings of human creatures by a force not less memorable than that of Procrustes were reduced to an uniform stature, shook off by some strange and unaccountable freak, the chains that were universally imposed, and arrived at a boldness of thinking similar to that which Luther and Calvin after a lapse of centuries advocated with happier auspices. With these manly and generous sentiments however they combined a considerable portion of wild enthusiasm. They preached the necessity of a community of goods, taught that it was necessary to wear sandals, because sandals only had been worn by the apostles, and devoted themselves to lives of rigorous abstinence and the most severe self-denial.
The Catholic church knew no other way in those days of converting heretics, but by fire and sword; and accordingly pope Innocent the Third published a crusade against them. The inquisition was expressly appointed in its origin to bring back these stray sheep into the flock of Christ; and, to support this institution in its operations, Simon Montfort marched a numerous army for the extermination of the offenders. One hundred thousand are said to have perished. They disappeared from the country which had witnessed their commencement, and dispersed themselves in the vallies of Piedmont, in Artois, and in various other places. This crusade occurred in the commencement of the thirteenth century; and they do not again attract the notice of history till the middle of the fifteenth.
Monstrelet, in his Chronicle, gives one of the earliest accounts of the proceedings at this time instituted against these unfortunate people, under the date of the year 1459. “In this year,” says he, “in the town of Arras, there occurred a miserable and inhuman scene, to which, I know not why, was given the name of Vaudoisie. There were taken up and imprisoned a number of considerable persons inhabitants of this town, and others of a very inferior class. These latter were so cruelly put to the torture, that they confessed, that they had been transported by supernatural means to a solitary place among woods, where the devil appeared before them in the form of a man, though they saw not his face. He instructed them in the way in which they should do his bidding, and exacted from them acts of homage and obedience. He feasted them, and after, having put out the lights, they proceeded to acts of the grossest licentiousness.” These accounts, according to Monstrelet, were dictated to the victims by their tormentors; and they then added, under the same suggestion, the names of divers lords, prelates, and governors of towns and bailliages, whom they affirmed they had seen at these meetings, and who joined in the same unholy ceremonies. The historian adds, that it cannot be concealed that these accusations were brought by certain malicious persons, either to gratify an ancient hatred, or to extort from the rich sums of money, by means of which they might purchase their escape from further prosecution. The persons apprehended were many of them put to the torture so severely, and for so long a time, and were tortured again and again, that they were obliged to confess what was laid to their charge. Some however shewed so great constancy, that they could by no means be induced to depart from the protestation of their innocence. In fine, many of the poorer victims were inhumanly burned; while the richer with great sums of money procured their discharge, but at the same time were compelled to banish themselves to distant places, remote from the scene of this cruel outrage. — Balduinus of Artois gives a similar account, and adds that the sentence of the judges was brought, by appeal under the revision of the parliament of Paris, and was reversed by that judicature in the year 1491. 193
I have not succeeded in tracing to my satisfaction from the original authorities the dates of the following examples, and therefore shall refer them to the periods assigned them in Hutchinson on Witchcraft. The facts themselves rest for the most part on the most unquestionable authority.
Innocent VIII published about the year 1484 a bull, in which he affirms: “It has come to our ears, that numbers of both sexes do not avoid to have intercourse with the infernal fiends, and that by their sorceries they afflict both man and beast; they blight the marriage-bed, destroy the births of women, and the increase of cattle; they blast the corn on the ground, the grapes of the vineyard, the fruits of the trees, and the grass and herbs of the field.” For these reasons he arms the inquisitors with apostolic power to “imprison, convict and punish” all such as may be charged with these offences. — The consequences of this edict were dreadful all over the continent, particularly in Italy, Germany and France.
Alciatus, an eminent lawyer of this period, relates, that a certain inquisitor came about this time into the vallies of the Alps, being commissioned to enquire out and proceed against heretical women with whom those parts were infested. He accordingly consigned more than one hundred to the flames, every day, like a new holocaust, sacrificing such persons to Vulcan, as, in the judgment of the historian, were subjects demanding rather hellebore than fire; till at length the peasantry of the vicinity rose in arms, and drove the merciless judge out of the country. The culprits were accused of having dishonoured the crucifix, and denying Christ for their God. They were asserted to have solemnised after a detestable way the devil’s sabbath, in which the fiend appeared personally among them, and instructed them in the ceremonies of his worship. Meanwhile a question was raised whether they personally assisted on the occasion, or only saw the solemnities in a vision, credible witnesses having sworn that they were at home in their beds, at the very time that they were accused of having taken part in these blasphemies. 194
In 1515, more than five hundred persons are said to have suffered capitally for the crime of witchcraft in the city of Geneva in the course of three months. 195
In 1524, one thousand persons were burned on this accusation in the territory of Como, and one hundred per annum for several year after. 196
Danaeus commences his Dialogue of Witches with this observation. “Within three months of the present time (1575) an almost infinite number of witches have been taken, on whom the parliament of Paris has passed judgment: and the same tribunal fails not to sit daily, as malefactors accused of this crime are continually brought before them out of all the provinces.”
In the year 1595 Nicholas Remi, otherwise Remigius, printed a very curious work, entitled Demonolatreia, in which he elaborately expounds the principles of the compact into which the devil enters with his mortal allies, and the modes of conduct specially observed by both parties. He boasts that his exposition is founded on an exact observation of the judicial proceedings which had taken place under his eye in the duchy of Lorraine, where for the preceding fifteen years nine hundred persons, more or less, had suffered the extreme penalty of the law for the crime of sorcery. Most of the persons tried seem to have been sufficiently communicative as to the different kinds of menace and compulsion by which the devil had brought them into his terms, and the various appearances he had exhibited, and feats he had performed: but others, says the author, had, “by preserving an obstinate silence, shewn themselves invincible to every species of torture that could be inflicted on them.”
But the most memorable record that remains to us on the subject of witchcraft, is contained in an ample quarto volume, entitled A Representation (Tableau) of the Ill Faith of Evil Spirits and Demons, by Pierre De Lancre, Royal Counsellor in the Parliament of Bordeaux. This man was appointed with one coadjutor, to enquire into certain acts of sorcery, reported to have been committed in the district of Labourt, near the foot of the Pyrenees; and his commission bears date in May, 1609, and by consequence twelve months before the death of Henry the Fourth.
The book is dedicated to M. de Silleri, chancellor of France; and in the dedication the author observes, that formerly those who practised sorcery were well known for persons of obscure station and narrow intellect; but that now the sorcerers who confess their misdemeanours, depose, that there are seen in the customary meetings held by such persons a great number of individuals of quality, whom Satan keeps veiled from ordinary gaze, and who are allowed to approach near to him, while those of a poorer and more vulgar class are thrust back to the furthest part of the assembly. The whole narrative assumes the form of a regular warfare between Satan on the one side, and the royal commissioners on the other.
At first the devil endeavoured to supply the accused with strength to support the tortures by which it was sought to extort confession from them, insomuch that, in an intermission of the torture, the wretches declared that, presently falling asleep, they seemed to be in paradise, and to enjoy the most beautiful visions. The commissioners however, observing this, took care to grant them scarcely any remission, till they had drawn from them, if possible, an ample confession. The devil next proceeded to stop the mouths of the accused that they might not confess. He leaped on their throats, and evidently caused an obstruction of the organs of speech, so that in vain they endeavoured to relieve themselves by disclosing all that was demanded of them.
The historian proceeds to say that, at these sacrilegious assemblings, they now began to murmur against the devil, as wanting power to relieve them in their extremity. The children, the daughters, and other relatives of the victims reproached him, not scrupling to say, “Out upon you! you promised that our mothers who were prisoners should not die; and look how you have kept your word with us! They have been burned, and are a heap of ashes.” In answer to this charge the devil stoutly affirmed, that their parents, who seemed to have suffered, were not dead, but were safe in a foreign country, assuring the malcontents that, if they called on them, they would receive an answer. The children called accordingly, and by an infernal illusion an answer came, exactly in the several voices of the deceased, declaring that they were in a state of happiness and security.
Further to satisfy the complainers, the devil produced illusory fires, and encouraged the dissatisfied to walk through them, assuring them that the fires lighted by a judicial decree were as harmless and inoffensive as these. The demon further threatened that he would cause the prosecutors to be burned in their own fire, and even proceeded to make them in semblance hover and alight on the branches of the neighbouring trees. He further caused a swarm of toads to appear like a garland to crown the heads of the sufferers, at which when in one instance the bystanders threw stones to drive them away, one monstrous black toad remained to the last uninjured, and finally mounted aloft, and vanished from sight. De Lancre goes on to describe the ceremonies of the sabbath of the devil; and a plate is inserted, presenting the assembly in the midst of their solemnities. He describes in several chapters the sort of contract entered into between the devil and the sorcerers, the marks by which they may be known, the feast with which the demon regaled them, their distorted and monstrous dance, the copulation between the fiend and the witch, and its issue. — It is easy to imagine with what sort of fairness the trials were conducted, when such is the description the judge affords us of what passed at these assemblies. Six hundred were burned under this prosecution.
The last chapter is devoted to an accurate account of what took place at an auto da fe in the month of November 1610 at Logrogno on the Ebro in Spain, the victims being for the greater part the unhappy wretches, who had escaped through the Pyrenees from the merciless prosecution that had been exercised against them by the historian of the whole.
Jerome Savonarola was one of the most remarkable men of his time, and his fortunes are well adapted to illustrate the peculiarities of that period. He was born in the year 1452 at Ferrara in Italy. He became a Dominican Friar at Bologna without the knowledge of his parents in the twenty-second year of his age. He was first employed by his superiors in elucidating the principles of physics and metaphysics. But, after having occupied some years in this way, he professed to take a lasting leave of these subtleties, and to devote himself exclusively to the study of the Scriptures. In no long time he became an eminent preacher, by the elegance and purity of his style acquiring the applause of hearers of taste, and by the unequalled fervour of his eloquence securing the hearts of the many. It was soon obvious, that, by his power gained in this mode, he could do any thing he pleased with the people of Florence among whom he resided. Possessed of such an ascendancy, he was not contented to be the spiritual guide of the souls of men, but further devoted himself to the temporal prosperity and grandeur of his country. The house of Medici was at this time masters of the state, and the celebrated Lorenzo de Medici possessed the administration of affairs. But the political maxims of Lorenzo were in discord with those of our preacher. Lorenzo sought to concentre all authority in the opulent few; but Savonarola, proceeding on the model of the best times of ancient Rome, endeavoured to vest the sovereign power in the hands of the people.
He had settled at Florence in the thirty-fourth year of his age, being invited to become prior of the convent of St. Mark in that city: and such was his popularity, that, four years after, Lorenzo on his death-bed sent for Savonarola to administer to him spiritual consolation. Meanwhile, so stern did this republican shew himself, that he insisted on Lorenzo’s renunciation of his absolute power, before he would administer to him the sacrament and absolution: and Lorenzo complied with these terms.
The prince being dead, Savonarola stepped immediately into the highest authority. He reconstituted the state upon pure republican principles, and enjoined four things especially in all his public preachings, the fear of God, the love of the republic, oblivion of all past injuries, and equal rights to all for the future.
But Savonarola was not contented with the delivery of Florence, where he is said to have produced a total revolution of manners, from libertinism to the most exemplary purity and integrity; he likewise aspired to produce an equal effect on the entire of Italy. Alexander VI, the most profligate of popes, then filled the chair at Rome; and Savonarola thundered against him in the cathedral at Florence the most fearful denunciations. The pope did not hesitate a moment to proceed to extremities against the friar. He cited him to Rome, under pain, if disobeyed, of excommunication to the priest, and an interdict to the republic that harboured him. The Florentines several times succeeded in causing the citation to be revoked, and, making terms with the sovereign pontiff, Jerome again and again suspending his preachings, which were however continued by other friars, his colleagues and confederates. Savonarola meanwhile could not long be silent; he resumed his philippics as fiercely as ever.
At this time faction raged strongly at Florence. Jerome had many partisans; all the Dominicans, and the greater part of the populace. But he had various enemies leagued against him; the adherents of the house of Medici, those of the pope, the libertines, and all orders of monks and friars except the Dominicans, The violence proceeded so far, that the preacher was not unfrequently insulted in his pulpit, and the cathedral echoed with the dissentions of the parties. At length a conspiracy was organized against Savonarola; and, his adherents having got the better, the friar did not dare to trust the punishment of his enemies to the general assembly, where the question would have led to a scene of warfare, but referred it to a more limited tribunal, and finally proceeded to the infliction of death on its sole authority.
This extremity rendered his enemies more furious against him. The pope directed absolution, the communion, and the rites of sepulture, to be refused to his followers. He was now expelled from the cathedral at Florence, and removed his preachings to the chapel of his convent, which was enlarged in its accommodations to adapt itself to his numerous auditors. In this interim a most extraordinary scene took place. One Francis de Pouille offered himself to the trial of fire, in favour of the validity of the excommunication of the pope against the pretended inspiration and miracles of the prophet. He said he did not doubt to perish in the experiment, but that he should have the satisfaction of seeing Savonarola perish along with him. Dominic de Pescia however and another Dominican presented themselves to the flames instead of Jerome, alledging that he was reserved for higher things. De Pouille at first declined the substitution, but was afterwards prevailed on to submit. A vast fire was lighted in the marketplace for the trial; and a low and narrow gallery of iron passed over the middle, on which the challenger and the challenged were to attempt to effect their passage. But a furious deluge of rain was said to have occurred at the instant every thing was ready; the fire was extinguished; and the trial for the present was thus rendered impossible.
Savonarola in the earnestness of his preachings pretended to turn prophet, and confidently to predict future events. He spoke of Charles VIII of France as the Cyrus who should deliver Italy, and subdue the nations before him; and even named the spring of the year 1498 as the period that should see all these things performed.
But it was not in prophecy alone that Savonarola laid claim to supernatural aid. He described various contests that he had maintained against a multitude of devils at once in his convent. They tormented in different ways the friars of St. Mark, but ever shrank with awe from his personal interposition. They attempted to call upon him by name; but the spirit of God overruled them, so that they could never pronounce his name aright, but still misplaced syllables and letters in a ludicrous fashion. They uttered terrific threatenings against him, but immediately after shrank away with fear, awed by the holy words and warnings which he denounced against them. Savonarola besides undertook to expel them by night, by sprinkling holy water, and the singing of hymns in a solemn chorus. While however he was engaged in these sacred offices, and pacing the cloister of his convent, the devils would arrest his steps, and suddenly render the air before him so thick, that it was impossible for him to advance further. On another occasion one of his colleagues assured Francis Picus of Mirandola, the writer of his Life, that he had himself seen the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove more than once, sitting on Savonarola’s shoulder, fluttering his feathers, which were sprinkled with silver and gold, and, putting his beak to his ear, whispering to him his divine suggestions. The prior besides relates in a book of his own composition at great length a dialogue that he held with the devil, appearing like, and having been mistaken by the writer for, a hermit.
The life of Savonarola however came to a speedy and tragical close. The multitude, who are always fickle in their impulses, conceiving an unfavourable impression in consequence of his personally declining the trial by fire, turned against him. The same evening they besieged the convent where he resided, and in which he had taken refuge. The signory, seeing the urgency of the case, sent to the brotherhood, commanding them to surrender the prior, and the two Dominicans who had presented themselves in his stead to the trial by fire. The pope sent two judges to try them on the spot. They were presently put to the torture. Savonarola, who we are told was of a delicate habit of body, speedily confessed and expressed contrition for what he had done. But no sooner was he delivered from the strappado, than he retracted all that he had before confessed. The experiment was repeated several times, and always with the same success.
At length he and the other two were adjudged to perish in the flames. This sentence was no sooner pronounced than Savonarola resumed all the constancy of a martyr. He advanced to the place of execution with a steady pace and a serene countenance, and in the midst of the flames resignedly commended his soul into the hands of his maker. His adherents regarded him as a witness to the truth, and piously collected his relics; but his judges, to counteract this defiance of authority, commanded his remains and his ashes to be cast into the river. 197
197 Biographie Universelle.
A name that has in some way become famous in the annals of magic, is that of John Trithemius, abbot of Spanheim, or Sponheim, in the circle of the Upper Rhine. He was born in the year 1462. He early distinguished himself by his devotion to literature; insomuch that, according to the common chronology, he was chosen in the year 1482, being about twenty years of age, abbot of the Benedictine monastery of St. Martin at Spanheim. He has written a great number of works, and has left some memorials of his life. Learning was at a low ebb when he was chosen to this dignity. The library of the convent consisted of little more than forty volumes. But, shortly after, under his superintendence it amounted to many hundreds. He insisted upon his monks diligently employing themselves in the multiplication of manuscripts. The monks, who had hitherto spent their days in luxurious idleness, were greatly dissatisfied with this revolution, and led their abbot a very uneasy life. He was in consequence removed to preside over the abbey of St. Jacques in Wurtzburg in 1506, where he died in tranquillity and peace in 1516.
Trithemius has been accused of necromancy and a commerce with demons. The principal ground of this accusation lies in a story that has been told of his intercourse with the emperor Maximilian. Maximilian’s first wife was Mary of Burgundy, whom he lost in the prime of her life. The emperor was inconsolable upon the occasion; and Trithemius, who was called in as singularly qualified to comfort him, having tried all other expedients in vain, at length told Maximilian that he would undertake to place his late consort before him precisely in the state in which she had lived. After suitable preparations, Mary of Burgundy accordingly appeared. The emperor was struck with astonishment. He found the figure before him in all respects like the consort he had lost. At length he exclaimed, “There is one mark by which I shall infallibly know whether this is the same person. Mary, my wife, had a wart in the nape of her neck, to the existence of which no one was privy but myself.” He examined, and found the wart there, in all respects as it had been during her life. The story goes on to say, that Maximilian was so disgusted and shocked with what he saw, that he banished Trithemius his presence for ever.
This tale has been discredited, partly on the score of the period of the death of Mary of Burgundy, which happened in 1481, when Trithemius was only nineteen years of age. He himself expressly disclaims all imputation of sorcery. One ground of the charge has been placed upon the existence of a work of his, entitled Steganographia, or the art, by means of a secret writing, of communicating our thoughts to a person absent. He says however, that in this work he had merely used the language of magic, without in any degree having had recourse to their modes of proceeding. Trithemius appears to have been the first writer who has made mention of the extraordinary feats of John Faust of Wittenburg, and that in a way that shews he considered these enchantments as the work of a supernatural power. 198
198 Biographie Universelle.
It is particularly proper to introduce some mention of Luther in this place; not that he is in any way implicated in the question of necromancy, but that there are passages in his writings in which he talks of the devil in what we should now think a very extraordinary way. And it is curious, and not a little instructive, to see how a person of so masculine an intellect, and who in many respects so far outran the illumination of his age, was accustomed to judge respecting the intercourse of mortals with the inhabitants of the infernal world. Luther was born in the year 1483.
It appears from his Treatise on the Abuses attendant on Private Masses, that he had a conference with the devil on the subject. He says, that this supernatural personage caused him by his visits “many bitter nights and much restless and wearisome repose.” Once in particular he came to Luther, “in the dead of the night, when he was just awaked out of sleep. The devil,” he goes on to say, “knows well how to construct his arguments, and to urge them with the skill of a master. He delivers himself with a grave, and yet a shrill voice. Nor does he use circumlocutions, and beat about the bush, but excels in forcible statements and quick rejoinders. I no longer wonder,” he adds, “that the persons whom he assails in this way, are occasionally found dead in their beds. He is able to compress and throttle, and more than once he has so assaulted me and driven my soul into a corner, that I felt as if the next moment it must leave my body. I am of opinion that Gesner and Oecolampadius and others in that manner came by their deaths. The devil’s manner of opening a debate is pleasant enough; but he urges things so peremptorily, that the respondent in a short time knows not how to acquit himself.” 199 He elsewhere says, “The reasons why the sacramentarians understood so little of the Scriptures, is that they do not encounter the true opponent, that is, the devil, who presently drives one up in a corner, and thus makes one perceive the just interpretation. For my part I am thoroughly acquainted with him, and have eaten a bushel of salt with him. He sleeps with me more frequently, and lies nearer to me in bed, than my own wife does.” 200
Henry Cornelius Agrippa was born in the year 1486. He was one of the most celebrated men of his time. His talents were remarkably great; and he had a surprising facility in the acquisition of languages. He is spoken of with the highest commendations by Trithemius, Erasmus, Melancthon, and others, the greatest men of his times. But he was a man of the most violent passions, and of great instability of temper. He was of consequence exposed to memorable vicissitudes. He had great reputation as an astrologer, and was assiduous in the cultivation of chemistry. He had the reputation of possessing the philosopher’s stone, and was incessantly experiencing the privations of poverty. He was subject to great persecutions, and was repeatedly imprisoned. He received invitations at the same time from Henry VIII, from the chancellor of the emperor, from a distinguished Italian marquis, and from Margaret of Austria, governess of the Low Countries. He made his election in favour of the last, and could find no way so obvious of showing his gratitude for her patronage, as composing an elaborate treatise on the Superiority of the Female Sex, which he dedicated to her. Shortly after, he produced a work not less remarkable, to demonstrate the Vanity and Emptiness of Scientifical Acquirements. Margaret of Austria being dead, he was subsequently appointed physician to Louisa of Savoy, mother to Francis I. This lady however having assigned him a task disagreeable to his inclination, a calculation according to the rules of astrology, he made no scruple of turning against her, and affirming that he should henceforth hold her for a cruel and perfidious Jezebel. After a life of storms and perpetual vicissitude, he died in 1534, aged 48 years.
He enters however into the work I am writing, principally on account of the extraordinary stories that have been told of him on the subject of magic. He says of himself, in his Treatise on the Vanity of Sciences, “Being then a very young man, I wrote in three books of a considerable size Disquisitions concerning Magic.”
The first of the stories I am about to relate is chiefly interesting, inasmuch as it is connected with the history of one of the most illustrious ornaments of our early English poetry, Henry Howard earl of Surrey, who suffered death at the close of the reign of King Henry VIII. The earl of Surrey, we are told, became acquainted with Cornelius Agrippa at the court of John George elector of Saxony. On this occasion were present, beside the English nobleman, Erasmus, and many other persons eminent in the republic of letters. These persons shewed themselves enamoured of the reports that had been spread of Agrippa, and desired him before the elector to exhibit something memorable. One intreated him to call up Plautus, and shew him as he appeared in garb and countenance, when he ground corn in the mill. Another before all things desired to see Ovid. But Erasmus earnestly requested to behold Tully in the act of delivering his oration for Roscius. This proposal carried the most votes. And, after marshalling the concourse of spectators, Tully appeared, at the command of Agrippa, and from the rostrum pronounced the oration, precisely in the words in which it has been handed down to us, “with such astonishing animation, so fervent an exaltation of spirit, and such soul-stirring gestures, that all the persons present were ready, like the Romans of old, to pronounce his client innocent of every charge that had been brought against him.” The story adds, that, when sir Thomas More was at the same place, Agrippa shewed him the whole destruction of Troy in a dream. To Thomas Lord Cromwel he exhibited in a perspective glass King Henry VIII and all his lords hunting in his forest at Windsor. To Charles V he shewed David, Solomon, Gideon, and the rest, with the Nine Worthies, in their habits and similitude as they had lived.
Lord Surrey, in the mean time having gotten into familiarity with Agrippa, requested him by the way side as they travelled, to set before him his mistress, the fair Geraldine, shewing at the same time what she did, and with whom she talked. Agrippa accordingly exhibited his magic glass, in which the noble poet saw this beautiful dame, sick, weeping upon her bed, and inconsolable for the absence of her admirer. — It is now known, that the sole authority for this tale is Thomas Nash, the dramatist, in his Adventures of Jack Wilton, printed in the year 1593.
Paulus Jovius relates that Agrippa always kept a devil attendant upon him, who accompanied him in all his travels in the shape of a black dog. When he lay on his death-bed, he was earnestly exhorted to repent of his sins. Being in consequence struck with a deep contrition, he took hold of the dog, and removed from him a collar studded with nails, which formed a necromantic inscription, at the same time saying to him, “Begone, wretched animal, which hast been the cause of my entire destruction!”— It is added, that the dog immediately ran away, and plunged itself in the river Soane, after which it was seen no more. 201 It is further related of Agrippa, as of many other magicians, that he was in the habit, when he regaled himself at an inn, of paying his bill in counterfeit money, which at the time of payment appeared of sterling value, but in a few days after became pieces of horn and worthless shells. 202
But the most extraordinary story of Agrippa is told by Delrio, and is as follows. Agrippa had occasion one time to be absent for a few days from his residence at Louvain. During his absence he intrusted his wife with the key of his Museum, but with an earnest injunction that no one on any account should be allowed to enter. Agrippa happened at that time to have a boarder in his house, a young fellow of insatiable curiosity, who would never give over importuning his hostess, till at length he obtained from her the forbidden key. The first thing in the Museum that attracted his attention, was a book of spells and incantations. He spread this book upon a desk, and, thinking no harm, began to read aloud. He had not long continued this occupation, when a knock was heard at the door of the chamber. The youth took no notice, but continued reading. Presently followed a second knock, which somewhat alarmed the reader. The space of a minute having elapsed, and no answer made, the door was opened, and a demon entered. “For what purpose am I called?” said the stranger sternly. “What is it you demand to have done?” The youth was seized with the greatest alarm, and struck speechless. The demon advanced towards him, seized him by the throat, and strangled him, indignant that his presence should thus be invoked from pure thoughtlessness and presumption.
At the expected time Agrippa came home, and to his great surprise found a number of devils capering and playing strange antics about, and on the roof of his house. By his art he caused them to desist from their sport, and with authority demanded what was the cause of this novel appearance. The chief of them answered. He told how they had been invoked, and insulted, and what revenge they had taken. Agrippa became exceedingly alarmed for the consequences to himself of this unfortunate adventure. He ordered the demon without loss of time to reanimate the body of his victim, then to go forth, and to walk the boarder three or four times up and down the market-place in the sight of the people. The infernal spirit did as he was ordered, shewed the student publicly alive, and having done this, suffered the body to fall down, the marks of conscious existence being plainly no more. For a time it was thought that the student had been killed by a sudden attack of disease. But, presently after, the marks of strangulation were plainly discerned, and the truth came out. Agrippa was then obliged suddenly to withdraw himself, and to take up his residence in a distant province. 203
Wierus in his well known book, De Praestigiis Demonum, informs us that he had lived for years in daily attendance on Cornelius Agrippa, and that the black dog respecting which such strange surmises had been circulated, was a perfectly innocent animal that he had often led in a string. He adds, that the sole foundation for the story lay in the fact, that Agrippa had been much attached to the dog, which he was accustomed to permit to eat off the table with its master, and even to lie of nights in his bed. He further remarks, that Agrippa was accustomed often not to go out of his room for a week together, and that people accordingly wondered that he could have such accurate information of what was going on in all parts of the world, and would have it that his intelligence was communicated to him by his dog. He subjoins however, that Agrippa had in fact correspondents in every quarter of the globe, and received letters from them daily, and that this was the real source of his extraordinary intelligence. 204
Naudé, in his Apology for Great Men accused of Magic, mentions, that Agrippa composed a book of the Rules and Precepts of the Art of Magic, and that, if such a work could entitle a man to the character of a magician, Agrippa indeed well deserved it. But he gives it as his opinion that this was the only ground for fastening the imputation on this illustrious character.
Without believing however any of the tales of the magic practices of Cornelius Agrippa, and even perhaps without supposing that he seriously pretended to such arts, we are here presented with a striking picture of the temper and credulity of the times in which he lived. We plainly see from the contemporary evidence of Wierus, that such things were believed of him by his neighbours; and at that period it was sufficiently common for any man of deep study, of recluse habits, and a certain sententious and magisterial air to undergo these imputations. It is more than probable that Agrippa was willing by a general silence and mystery to give encouragement to the wonder of the vulgar mind. He was flattered by the terror and awe which his appearance inspired. He did not wish to come down to the ordinary level. And if to this we add his pursuits of alchemy and astrology, with the formidable and various apparatus supposed to be required in these pursuits, we shall no longer wonder at the results which followed. He loved to wander on the brink of danger, and was contented to take his chance of being molested, rather than not possess that ascendancy over the ordinary race of mankind which was evidently gratifying to his vanity.
Next in respect of time to Cornelius Agrippa comes the celebrated Dr. Faustus. Little in point of fact is known respecting this eminent personage in the annals of necromancy. His pretended history does not seem to have been written till about the year 1587, perhaps half a century after his death. This work is apparently in its principal features altogether fictitious. We have no reason however to deny the early statements as to his life. He is asserted by Camerarius and Wierus to have been born at Cundling near Cracow in the kingdom of Poland, and is understood to have passed the principal part of his life at the university of Wittenberg. He was probably well known to Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus. Melancthon mentions him in his Letters; and Conrad Gessner refers to him as a contemporary. The author of his Life cites the opinions entertained respecting him by Luther. Philip Camerarius speaks of him in his Horae Subsecivae as a celebrated name among magicians, apparently without reference to the Life that has come down to us; 205 and Wierus does the same thing. 206 He was probably nothing more than an accomplished juggler, who appears to have practised his art with great success in several towns of Germany. He was also no doubt a pretender to necromancy.
On this basis the well known History of his Life has been built. The author has with great art expanded very slender materials, and rendered his work in a striking degree a code and receptacle of all the most approved ideas respecting necromancy and a profane and sacrilegious dealing with the devil. He has woven into it with much skill the pretended arts of the sorcerers, and has transcribed or closely imitated the stories that have been handed down to us of many of the extraordinary feats they were said to have performed. It is therefore suitable to our purpose to dwell at some length upon the successive features of this history.
The life has been said to have been originally written in Spain by Franciscus Schottus of Toledo, in the Latin language. 207 But this biographical work is assigned to the date of 1594, previously to which the Life is known to have existed in German. It is improbable that a Spanish writer should have chosen a German for the hero of his romance, whereas nothing can be more natural than for a German to have conceived the idea of giving fame and notoriety to his countryman. The mistake seems to be the same, though for an opposite reason, as that which appears to have been made in representing the Gil Blas of Le Sage as a translation.
The biographical account professes to have been begun by Faustus himself, though written in the third person, and to have been continued by Wagner, his confidential servant, to whom the doctor is affirmed to have bequeathed his memoirs, letters and manuscripts, together with his house and its furniture.
Faustus then, according to his history, was the son of a peasant, residing on the banks of the Roda in the duchy of Weimar, and was early adopted by an uncle, dwelling in the city of Wittenberg, who had no children. Here he was sent to college, and was soon distinguished by the greatness of his talents, and the rapid progress he made in every species of learning that was put before him. He was destined by his relative to the profession of theology. But singularly enough, considering that he is represented as furnishing materials for his own Memoirs, he is said ungraciously to have set at nought his uncle’s pious intentions by deriding God’s word, and thus to have resembled Cain, Reuben and Absalom, who, having sprung from godly parents, afflicted their fathers’ hearts by their apostasy. He went through his examinations with applause, and carried off all the first prizes among sixteen competitors. He therefore obtained the degree of doctor in divinity; but his success only made him the more proud and headstrong. He disdained his theological eminence, and sighed for distinction as a man of the world. He took his degree as a doctor of medicine, and aspired to celebrity as a practitioner of physic. About the same time he fell in with certain contemporaries, of tastes similar to his own, and associated with them in the study of Chaldean, Greek and Arabic science, of strange incantations and supernatural influences, in short, of all the arts of a sorcerer.
Having made such progress as he could by dint of study and intense application, he at length resolved to prosecute his purposes still further by actually raising the devil. He happened one evening to walk in a thick, dark wood, within a short distance from Wittenberg, when it occurred to him that that was a fit place for executing his design. He stopped at a solitary spot where four roads met, and made use of his wand to mark out a large circle, and then two small ones within the larger. In one of these he fixed himself, appropriating the other for the use of his expected visitor. He went over the precise range of charms and incantations, omitting nothing. It was now dark night between the ninth and tenth hour. The devil manifested himself by the usual signs of his appearance. “Wherefore am I called?” said he, “and what is it that you demand?” “I require,” rejoined Faustus, “that you should sedulously attend upon me, answer my enquiries, and fulfil my behests.”
Immediately upon Faustus pronouncing these words, there followed a tumult over head, as if heaven and earth were coming together. The trees in their topmost branches bended to their very roots. It seemed as if the whole forest were peopled with devils, making a crash like a thousand waggons, hurrying to the right and the left, before and behind, in every possible direction, with thunder and lightning, and the continual discharge of great cannon. Hell appeared to have emptied itself, to have furnished the din. There succeeded the most charming music from all sorts of instruments, and sounds of hilarity and dancing. Next came a report as of a tournament, and the clashing of innumerable lances. This lasted so long, that Faustus was many times about to rush out of the circle in which he had inclosed himself, and to abandon his preparations. His courage and resolution however got the better; and he remained immoveable. He pursued his incantations without intermission. Then came to the very edge of the circle a griffin first, and next a dragon, which in the midst of his enchantments grinned at him horribly with his teeth, but finally fell down at his feet, and extended his length to many a rood. Faustus persisted. Then succeeded a sort of fireworks, a pillar of fire, and a man on fire at the top, who leaped down; and there immediately appeared a number of globes here and there red-hot, while the man on fire went and came to every part of the circle for a quarter of an hour. At length the devil came forward in the shape of a grey monk, and asked Faustus what he wanted. Faustus adjourned their further conference, and appointed the devil to come to him at his lodgings.
He in the mean time busied himself in the necessary preparations. He entered his study at the appointed time, and found the devil waiting for him. Faustus told him that he had prepared certain articles, to which it was necessary that the demon should fully accord — that he should attend him at all times, when required, for all the days of his life, that he should bring him every thing he wanted, that he should come to him in any shape that Faustus required, or be invisible, and Faustus should be invisible too, whenever he desired it, that he should deny him nothing, and answer him with perfect veracity to every thing he demanded. To some of these requisitions the spirit could not consent, without authority from his master, the chief of devils. At length all these concessions were adjusted. The devil on his part also prescribed his conditions. That Faustus should abjure the Christian religion and all reverence for the supreme God; that he should enjoy the entire command of his attendant demon for a certain term of years, and that at the end of that period the devil should dispose of him body and soul at his pleasure [the term was fixed for twenty-four years]; that he should at all times stedfastly refuse to listen to any one who should desire to convert him, or convince him of the error of his ways, and lead him to repentance; that Faustus should draw up a writing containing these particulars, and sign it with his blood, that he should deliver this writing to the devil, and keep a duplicate of it for himself, that so there might be no misunderstanding. It was further appointed by Faustus that the devil should usually attend him in the habit of cordelier, with a pleasing countenance and an insinuating demeanour. Faustus also asked the devil his name, who answered that he was usually called Mephostophiles (perhaps more accurately Nephostophiles, a lover of clouds).
Previously to this deplorable transaction, in which Faustus sold himself, soul and body, to the devil, he had consumed his inheritance, and was reduced to great poverty. But he was now no longer subjected to any straits. The establishments of the prince of Chutz, the duke of Bavaria, and the archbishop of Saltzburgh were daily put under contribution for his more convenient supply. By the diligence of Mephostophiles provisions of all kinds continually flew in at his windows; and the choicest wines were perpetually found at his board to the annoyance and discredit of the cellarers and butlers of these eminent personages, who were extremely blamed for defalcations in which they had no share. He also brought him a monthly supply of money, sufficient for the support of his establishment. Besides, he supplied him with a succession of mistresses, such as his heart desired, which were in truth nothing but devils disguised under the semblance of beautiful women. He further gave to Faustus a book, in which were amply detailed the processes of sorcery and witchcraft, by means of which the doctor could obtain whatever he desired.
One of the earliest indulgences which Faustus proposed to himself from the command he possessed over his servant-demon, was the gratification of his curiosity in surveying the various nations of the world. Accordingly Mephostophiles converted himself into a horse, with two hunches on his back like a dromedary, between which he conveyed Faustus through the air where-ever he desired. They consumed fifteen months in their travels. Among the countries they visited the history mentions Pannonia, Austria, Germany, Bohemia, Silesia, Saxony, Misnia, Thuringia, Franconia, Suabia, Bavaria, Lithuania, Livonia, Prussia, Muscovy, Friseland, Holland, Westphalia, Zealand, Brabant, Flanders, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, and Hungary; and afterwards Turkey, Egypt, England, Sweden, Denmark, India, Africa and Persia. In most of these countries Mephostophiles points out to his fellow-traveller their principal curiosities and antiquities. In Rome they sojourned three days and three nights, and, being themselves invisible, visited the residence of the pope and the other principal palaces.
At Constantinople Faustus visited the emperor of the Turks, assuming to himself the figure of the prophet Mahomet. His approach was preceded by a splendid illumination, not less than that of the sun in all his glory. He said to the emperor, “Happy art thou, oh sultan, who art found worthy to be visited by the great prophet.” And the emperor in return fell prostrate before him, thanking Mahomet for his condescension in this visit. The doctor also entered the seraglio, where he remained six days under the same figure, the building and its gardens being all the time environed with a thick darkness, so that no one, not the emperor himself, dared to enter. At the end of this time the doctor, still under the figure of Mahomet, was publicly seen, ascending, as it seemed, to heaven. The sultan afterwards enquired of the women of his seraglio what had occurred to them during the period of the darkness; and they answered, that the God Mahomet had been with them, that he had enjoyed them corporeally, and had told them that from his seed should arise a great people, capable of irresistible exploits.
Faustus had conceived a plan of making his way into the terrestrial paradise, without awakening suspicion in his demon-conductor. For this purpose he ordered him to ascend the highest mountains of Asia. At length they came so near, that they saw the angel with the flaming sword forbidding approach to the garden. Faustus, perceiving this, asked Mephostophiles what it meant. His conductor told him, but added that it was in vain for them, or any one but the angels of the Lord, to think of entering within.
Having gratified his curiosity in other ways, Faustus was seized with a vehement desire to visit the infernal regions. He proposed the question to Mephostophiles, who told him that this was a matter out of his department, and that on that journey he could have no other conductor than Beelzebub. Accordingly, every thing being previously arranged, one day at midnight Beelzebub appeared, being already equipped with a saddle made of dead men’s bones. Faustus speedily mounted. They in a short time came to an abyss, and encountered a multitude of enormous serpents; but a bear with wings came to their aid, and drove the serpents away. A flying bull next came with a hideous roar, so fierce that Beelzebub appeared to give way, and Faustus tumbled at once heels-over-head into the pit. After having fallen to a considerable depth, two dragons with a chariot came to his aid, and an ape helped him to get into the vehicle. Presently however came on a storm with thunder and lightning, so dreadful that the doctor was thrown out, and sunk in a tempestuous sea to a vast depth. He contrived however to lay hold of a rock, and here to secure himself a footing. He looked down, and perceived a great gulph, in which lay floating many of the vulgar, and not a few emperors, kings, princes, and such as had been mighty lords. Faustus with a sudden impulse cast himself into the midst of the flames with which they were surrounded, with the desire to snatch one of the damned souls from the pit. But, just as he thought he had caught him by the hand, the miserable wretch slided from between his fingers, and sank again.
At length the doctor became wholly exhausted with the fatigue he had undergone, with the smoke and the fog, with the stifling, sulphureous air, with the tempestuous blasts, with the alternate extremes of heat and cold, and with the clamours, the lamentations, the agonies, and the howlings of the damned everywhere around him — when, just in the nick of time, Beelzebub appeared to him again, and invited him once more to ascend the saddle, which he had occupied during his infernal journey. Here he fell asleep, and, when he awoke, found himself in his own bed in his house. He then set himself seriously to reflect on what had passed. At one time he believed that he had been really in hell, and had witnessed all its secrets. At another he became persuaded that he had been subject to an illusion only, and that the devil had led him through an imaginary scene, which was truly the case; for the devil had taken care not to shew him the real hell, fearing that it might have caused too great a terror, and have induced him to repent him of his misdeeds perhaps before it was too late.
It so happened that, once upon a time, the emperor Charles V was at Inspruck, at a time when Faustus also resided there. His courtiers informed the emperor that Faustus was in the town, and Charles expressed a desire to see him. He was introduced. Charles asked him whether he could really perform such wondrous feats as were reported of him. Faustus modestly replied, inviting the emperor to make trial of his skill. “Then,” said Charles, “of all the eminent personages I have ever read of, Alexander the Great is the man who most excites my curiosity, and whom it would most gratify my wishes to see in the very form in which he lived.” Faustus rejoined, that it was out of his power truly to raise the dead, but that he had spirits at his command who had often seen that great conqueror, and that Faustus would willingly place him before the emperor as he required. He conditioned that Charles should not speak to him, nor attempt to touch him. The emperor promised compliance. After a few ceremonies therefore, Faustus opened a door, and brought in Alexander exactly in the form in which he had lived, with the same garments, and every circumstance corresponding. Alexander made his obeisance to the emperor, and walked several times round him. The queen of Alexander was then introduced in the same manner. Charles just then recollected, he had read that Alexander had a wart on the nape of his neck; and with proper precautions Faustus allowed the emperor to examine the apparition by this test. Alexander then vanished.
As doctor Faustus waited in court, he perceived a certain knight, who had fallen asleep in a bow-window, with his head out at window. The whim took the doctor, to fasten on his brow the antlers of a stag. Presently the knight was roused from his nap, when with all his efforts he could not draw in his head on account of the antlers which grew upon it. The courtiers laughed exceedingly at the distress of the knight, and, when they had sufficiently diverted themselves, Faustus took off his conjuration, and set the knight at liberty.
Soon after Faustus retired from Inspruck. Meanwhile the knight, having conceived a high resentment against the conjuror, waylaid him with seven horsemen on the road by which he had to pass. Faustus however perceived them, and immediately made himself invisible. Meanwhile the knight spied on every side to discover the conjuror; but, as he was thus employed, he heard a sudden noise of drums and trumpets and cymbals, and saw a regiment of horse advancing against him. He immediately turned off in another direction; but was encountered by a second regiment of horse. This occurred no less than six times; and the knight and his companions were compelled to surrender at discretion. These regiments were so many devils; and Faustus now appeared in a new form as the general of this army. He obliged the knight and his party to dismount, and give up their swords. Then with a seeming generosity he gave them new horses and new swords, But this was all enchantment. The swords presently turned into switches; and the horses, plunging into a river on their road, vanished from beneath their riders, who were thoroughly drenched in the stream, and scarcely escaped with their lives.
Many of Faustus’s delusions are rather remarkable as tricks of merry vexation, than as partaking of those serious injuries which we might look for in an implement of hell. In one instance he inquired of a countryman who was driving a load of hay, what compensation he would judge reasonable for the doctor’s eating as much of his hay as he should be inclined to. The waggoner replied, that for half a stiver (one farthing) he should be welcome to eat as much as he pleased. The doctor presently fell to, and ate at such a rate, that the peasant was frightened lest his whole load should be consumed. He therefore offered Faustus a gold coin, value twenty-seven shillings, to be off his bargain. The doctor took it; and, when the countryman came to his journey’s end, he found his cargo undiminished even by a single blade.
Another time, as Faustus was walking along the road near Brunswick, the whim took him of asking a waggoner who was driving by, to treat him with a ride in his vehicle. “No, I will not,” replied the boor; “my horses will have enough to do to drag their proper load.” “You churl,” said the doctor, “since you will not let your wheels carry me, you shall carry them yourself as far as from the gates of the city.” The wheels then detached themselves, and flew through the air, to the gates of the town from which they came. At the same time the horses fell to the ground, and were utterly unable to raise themselves up. The countryman, frightened, fell on his knees to the doctor, and promised, if he would forgive him, never to offend in like manner again. Faustus now, relenting a little, bade the waggoner take a handful of sand from the road, and scatter on his horses, and they would be well. At the same time he directed the man to go to the four gates of Brunswick, and he would find his wheels, one at each gate.
In another instance, Faustus went into a fair, mounted on a noble beast, richly caparisoned, the sight of which presently brought all the horse-fanciers about him. After considerable haggling, he at last disposed of his horse to a dealer for a handsome price, only cautioning him at parting, how he rode the horse to water. The dealer, despising the caution that had been given him, turned his horse the first thing towards the river. He had however no sooner plunged in, than the horse vanished, and the rider found himself seated on a saddle of straw, in the middle of the stream. With difficulty he waded to the shore, and immediately, enquiring out the doctor’s inn, went to him to complain of the cheat. He was directed to Faustus’s room, and entering found the conjuror on his bed, apparently asleep. He called to him lustily, but the doctor took no notice. Worked up beyond his patience, he next laid hold of Faustus’s foot, that he might rouse him the more effectually. What was his surprise, to find the doctor’s leg and foot come off in his hand! Faustus screamed, apparently in agony of pain, and the dealer ran out of the room as fast as he could, thinking that he had the devil behind him.
In one instance three young noblemen applied to Faustus, having been very desirous to be present at the marriage of the son of the duke of Bavaria at Mentz, but having overstaid the time, in which it would have been possible by human means to accomplish the journey. Faustus, to oblige them, led them into his garden, and, spreading a large mantle upon a grass-plot, desired them to step on it, and placed himself in the midst. He then recited a certain form of conjuration. At the same time he conditioned with them, that they should on no account speak to any one at the marriage, and, if spoken to, should not answer again. They were carried invisibly through the air, and arrived in excellent time. At a certain moment they became visible, but were still bound to silence. One of them however broke the injunction, and amused himself with the courtiers. The consequence was that, when the other two were summoned by the doctor to return, he was left behind. There was something so extraordinary in their sudden appearance, and the subsequent disappearance of the others, that he who remained was put in prison, and threatened with the torture the next day, if he would not make a full disclosure. Faustus however returned before break of day, opened the gates of the prison, laid all the guards asleep, and carried off the delinquent in triumph.
On one occasion Faustus, having resolved to pass a jovial evening, took some of his old college-companions, and invited them to make free with the archbishop of Saltzburgh’s cellar. They took a ladder, and scaled the wall. They seated themselves round, and placed a three-legged stool, with bottles and glasses in the middle. They were in the heart of their mirth, when the butler made his appearance, and began to cry thieves with all his might. The doctor at once conjured him, so that he could neither speak nor move. There he was obliged to sit, while Faustus and his companions tapped every vat in the cellar. They then carried him along with them in triumph. At length they came to a lofty tree, where Faustus ordered them to stop; and the butler was in the greatest fright, apprehending that they would do no less than hang him. The doctor however was contented, by his art to place him on the topmost branch, where he was obliged to remain trembling and almost dead with the cold, till certain peasants came out to their work, whom he hailed, and finally with great difficulty they rescued him from his painful eminence, and placed him safely on the ground.
On another occasion Faustus entertained several of the junior members of the university of Wittenberg at his chambers. One of them, referring to the exhibition the doctor had made of Alexander the Great to the emperor Charles V, said it would gratify him above all things, if he could once behold the famous Helen of Greece, whose beauty was so great as to have roused all the princes of her country to arms, and to have occasioned a ten years’ war. Faustus consented to indulge his curiosity, provided all the company would engage to be merely mute spectators of the scene. This being promised, he left the room, and presently brought in Helen. She was precisely as Homer has described her, when she stood by the side of Priam on the walls of Troy, looking on the Grecian chiefs. Her features were irresistibly attractive; and her full, moist lips were redder than the summer cherries. Faustus shortly after obliged his guests with her bust in marble, from which several copies were taken, no one knowing the name of the original artist.
No long time elapsed after this, when the doctor was engaged in delivering a course of lectures on Homer at Erfurth, one of the principal cities of Germany. It having been suggested to him that it would very much enhance the interest of his lectures, if he would exhibit to the company the heroes of Greece exactly as they appeared to their contemporaries, Faustus obligingly yielded to the proposal. The heroes of the Trojan war walked in procession before the astonished auditors, no less lively in the representation than Helen had been shewn before, and each of them with some characteristic attitude and striking expression of countenance.
When the doctor happened to be at Frankfort, there came there four conjurors, who obtained vast applause by the trick of cutting off one another’s heads, and fastening them on again. Faustus was exasperated at this proceeding, and regarded them as laying claim to a skill superior to his own. He went, and was invisibly present at their exhibition. They placed beside them a vessel with liquor which they pretended was the elixir of life, into which at each time they threw a plant resembling the lily, which no sooner touched the liquor than its buds began to unfold, and shortly it appeared in full blossom. The chief conjuror watched his opportunity; and, when the charm was complete, made no more ado but struck off the head of his fellow that was next to him, and dipping it in the liquor, adjusted it to the shoulders, where it became as securely fixed as before the operation. This was repeated a second and a third time. At length it came to the turn of the chief conjuror to have his head smitten off. Faustus stood by invisibly, and at the proper time broke off the flower of the lily without any one being aware of it. The head therefore of the principal conjuror was struck off; but in vain was it steeped in the liquor. The other conjurors were at a loss to account for the disappearance of the lily, and fumbled for a long time with the old sorcerer’s head, which would not stick on in any position in which it could be placed.
Faustus was in great favour with the Prince of Anhalt. On one occasion, after residing some days in his court, he said to the prince, “Will your highness do me the favour to partake of a small collation at a castle which belongs to me out at your city-gates?” The prince graciously consented. The prince and princess accompanied the doctor, and found a castle which Faustus had erected by magic during the preceding night. The castle, with five lofty towers, and two great gates, inclosing a spacious court, stood in the midst of a beautiful lake, stocked with all kinds of fish, and every variety of water-fowl. The court exhibited all sorts of animals, beside birds of every colour and song, which flitted from tree to tree. The doctor then ushered his guests into the hall, with an ample suite of apartments, branching off on each side. In one of the largest they found a banquet prepared, with the pope’s plate of gold, which Mephostophiles had borrowed for the day. The viands were of the most delicious nature, with the choicest wines in the world. The banquet being over, Faustus conducted the prince and princess back to the palace. But, before they had gone far, happening to turn their heads, they saw the whole castle blown up, and all that had been prepared for the occasion vanish at once in a vast volume of fire.
One Christmas-time Faustus gave a grand entertainment to certain distinguished persons of both sexes at Wittenberg. To render the scene more splendid, he contrived to exhibit a memorable inversion of the seasons. As the company approached the doctor’s house, they were surprised to find, though there was a heavy snow through the neighbouring fields, that Faustus’s court and garden bore not the least marks of the season, but on the contrary were green and blooming as in the height of summer. There was an appearance of the freshest vegetation, together with a beautiful vineyard, abounding with grapes, figs, raspberries, and an exuberance of the finest fruits. The large, red Provence roses, were as sweet to the scent as the eye, and looked perfectly fresh and sparkling with dew.
As Faustus was now approaching the last year of his term, he seemed to resolve to pamper his appetite with every species of luxury. He carefully accumulated all the materials of voluptuousness and magnificence. He was particularly anxious in the selection of women who should serve for his pleasures. He had one Englishwoman, one Hungarian, one French, two of Germany, and two from different parts of Italy, all of them eminent for the perfections which characterised their different countries.
As Faustus’s demeanour was particularly engaging, there were many respectable persons in the city in which he lived, that became interested in his welfare. These applied to a certain monk of exemplary purity of life and devotion, and urged him to do every thing he could to rescue the doctor from impending destruction. The monk began with him with tender and pathetic remonstrances. He then drew a fearful picture of the wrath of God, and the eternal damnation which would certainly ensue. He reminded the doctor of his extraordinary gifts and graces, and told him how different an issue might reasonably have been expected from him. Faustus listened attentively to all the good monk said, but replied mournfully that it was too late, that he had despised and insulted the Lord, that he had deliberately sealed a solemn compact to the devil, and that there was no possibility of going back. The monk answered, “You are mistaken. Cry to the Lord for grace; and it shall still be given. Shew true remorse; confess your sins; abstain for the future from all acts of sorcery and diabolical interference; and you may rely on final salvation.” The doctor however felt that all endeavours would be hopeless, He found in himself an incapacity, for true repentance. And finally the devil came to him, reproached him for breach of contract in listening to the pious expostulations of a saint, threatened that in case of infidelity he would take him away to hell even before his time, and frightened the doctor into the act of signing a fresh contract in ratification of that which he had signed before.
At length Faustus ultimately arrived at the end of the term for which he had contracted with the devil. For two or three years before it expired, his character gradually altered. He became subject to fits of despondency, was no longer susceptible of mirth and amusement, and reflected with bitter agony on the close in which the whole must terminate. During the last month of his period, he no longer sought the services of his infernal ally, but with the utmost unwillingness saw his arrival. But Mephostophiles now attended him unbidden, and treated him with biting scoffs and reproaches. “You have well studied the Scriptures,” he said, “and ought to have known that your safety lay in worshipping God alone. You sinned with your eyes open, and can by no means plead ignorance. You thought that twenty-four years was a term that would have no end; and you now see how rapidly it is flitting away. The term for which you sold yourself to the devil is a very different thing; and, after the lapse of thousands of ages, the prospect before you will be still as unbounded as ever. You were warned; you were earnestly pressed to repent; but now it is too late.”
After the demon, Mephostophiles, had long tormented Faustus in this manner, he suddenly disappeared, consigning him over to wretchedness, vexation and despair.
The whole twenty-four years were now expired. The day before, Mephostophiles again made his appearance, holding in his hand the bond which the doctor had signed with his blood, giving him notice that the next day, the devil, his master, would come for him, and advising him to hold himself in readiness. Faustus, it seems, had earned himself much good will among the younger members of the university by his agreeable manners, by his willingness to oblige them, and by the extraordinary spectacles with which he occasionally diverted them. This day he resolved to pass in a friendly farewel. He invited a number of them to meet him at a house of public reception, in a hamlet adjoining to the city. He bespoke a large room in the house for a banqueting room, another apartment overhead for his guests to sleep in, and a smaller chamber at a little distance for himself. He furnished his table with abundance of delicacies and wines. He endeavoured to appear among them in high spirits; but his heart was inwardly sad.
When the entertainment was over, Faustus addressed them, telling them that this was the last day of his life, reminding them of the wonders with which he had frequently astonished them, and informing them of the condition upon which he had held this power. They, one and all, expressed the deepest sorrow at the intelligence. They had had the idea of something unlawful in his proceedings; but their notions had been very far from coming up to the truth. They regretted exceedingly that he had not been unreserved in his communications at an earlier period. They would have had recourse in his behalf to the means of religion, and have applied to pious men, desiring them to employ their power to intercede with heaven in his favour. Prayer and penitence might have done much for him; and the mercy of heaven was unbounded. They advised him still to call upon God, and endeavour to secure an interest in the merits of the Saviour.
Faustus assured them that it was all in vain, and that his tragical fate was inevitable. He led them to their sleeping apartment, and recommended to them to pass the night as they could, but by no means, whatever they might happen to hear, to come out of it; as their interference could in no way be beneficial to him, and might be attended with the most serious injury to themselves. They lay still therefore, as he had enjoined them; but not one of them could close his eyes.
Between twelve and one in the night they heard first a furious storm of wind round all sides of the house, as if it would have torn away the walls from their foundations. This no sooner somewhat abated, than a noise was heard of discordant and violent hissing, as if the house was full of all sorts of venomous reptiles, but which plainly proceeded from Faustus’s chamber. Next they heard the doctor’s room-door vehemently burst open, and cries for help uttered with dreadful agony, but a half-suppressed voice, which presently grew fainter and fainter. Then every thing became still, as if the everlasting motion of the world was suspended.
When at length it became broad day, the students went in a body into the doctor’s apartment. But he was no where to be seen. Only the walls were found smeared with his blood, and marks as if his brains had been dashed out. His body was finally discovered at some distance from the house, his limbs dismembered, and marks of great violence about the features of his face. The students gathered up the mutilated parts of his body, and afforded them private burial at the temple of Mars in the village where he died.
A ludicrous confusion of ideas has been produced by some persons from the similarity of names of Faustus, the supposed magician of Wittenberg, and Faust or Fust of Mentz, the inventor, or first establisher of the art of printing. It has been alleged that the exact resemblance of the copies of books published by the latter, when no other mode of multiplying copies was known but by the act of transcribing, was found to be such, as could no way be accounted for by natural means, and that therefore it was imputed to the person who presented these copies, that he must necessarily be assisted by the devil. It has further been stated, that Faust, the printer, swore the craftsmen he employed at his press to inviolable secrecy, that he might the more securely keep up the price of his books. But this notion of the identity of the two persons is entirely groundless. Faustus, the magician, is described in the romance as having been born in 1491, twenty-five years after the period at which the printer is understood to have died, and there is no one coincidence between the histories of the two persons, beyond the similarity of names, and a certain mystery (or magical appearance) that inevitably adheres to the practice of an art hitherto unknown. If any secret reference had been intended in the romance to the real character of the illustrious introducer of an art which has been productive of such incalculable benefits to mankind, it would be impossible to account for such a marvellous inconsistence in the chronology.
Others have carried their scepticism so far, as to have started a doubt whether there was ever really such a person as Faustus of Wittenberg, the alleged magician. But the testimony of Wierus, Philip Camerarius, Melancthon and others, his contemporaries, sufficiently refutes this supposition. The fact is, that there was undoubtedly such a man, who, by sleights of dexterity, made himself a reputation as if there was something supernatural in his performances, and that he was probably also regarded with a degree of terror and abhorrence by the superstitious. On this theme was constructed a romance, which once possessed the highest popularity, and furnished a subject to the dramatical genius of Marlow, Leasing, Goethe, and others. — It is sufficiently remarkable, that the notoriety of this romance seems to have suggested to Shakespear the idea of sending the grand conception of his brain, Hamlet, prince of Denmark, to finish his education at the university of Wittenberg.
And here it may not be uninstructive to remark the different tone of the record of the acts of Ziito, the Bohemian, and Faustus of Wittenburg, though little more than half a century elapsed between the periods at which they were written. Dubravius, bishop of Olmutz in Moravia, to whose pen we are indebted for what we know of Ziito, died in the year 1553. He has deemed it not unbecoming to record in his national history of Bohemia, the achievements of this magician, who, he says, exhibited them before Wenceslaus, king of the country, at the celebration of his marriage. A waggon-load of sorcerers arrived at Prague on that occasion for the entertainment of the company. But, at the close of that century, the exploits of Faustus were no longer deemed entitled to a place in national history, but were more appropriately taken for the theme of a romance. Faustus and his performances were certainly contemplated with at least as much horror as the deeds of Ziito. But popular credulity was no longer wound to so high a pitch: the marvels effected by Faustus are not represented as challenging the observation of thousands at a public court, and on the occasion of a royal festival. They “hid their diminished heads,” and were performed comparatively in a corner.
A pretended magician is recorded by Naudé, as living about this time, named Georgius Sabellicus, who, he says, if loftiness and arrogance of assumption were enough to establish a claim to the possession of supernatural gifts, would beyond all controversy be recognised for a chief and consummate sorcerer. It was his ambition by the most sounding appellations of this nature to advance his claim to immortal reputation. He called himself, “The most accomplished Georgius Sabellicus, a second Faustus, the spring and centre of necromantic art, an astrologer, a magician, consummate in chiromancy, and in agromancy, pyromancy and hydromancy inferior to none that ever lived.” I mention this the rather, as affording an additional proof how highly Faustus was rated at the time in which he is said to have flourished.
It is specially worthy of notice, that Naudé, whose book is a sort of register of all the most distinguished names in the annals of necromancy, drawn up for the purpose of vindicating their honour, now here [Errata: read no where] mentions Faustus, except once in this slight and cursory way.
Paracelsus, or, as he styled himself, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus de Hohenheim, was a man of great notoriety and eminence, about the same time as Dr. Faustus. He was born in the year 1493, and died in 1541. His father is said to have lived in some repute; but the son early became a wanderer in the world, passing his youth in the occupation of foretelling future events by the stars and by chiromancy, invoking the dead, and performing various operations of alchemy and magic. He states Trithemius to have been his instructor in the science of metals. He was superficial in literature, and says of himself that at one time he did not open a book for ten years together. He visited the mines of Bohemia, Sweden and the East to perfect himself in metallic knowledge. He travelled through Prussia, Lithuania, Poland, Transylvania and Illyria, conversing indifferently with physicians and old women, that he might extract from them the practical secrets of their art. He visited Egypt, Tartary and Constantinople, at which last place, as he says, he learned the transmutation of metals and the philosopher’s stone. He boasts also of the elixir of life, by means of which he could prolong the life of man to the age of the antediluvians. He certainly possessed considerable sagacity and a happy spirit of daring, which induced him to have recourse to the application of mercury and opium in the cure of diseases, when the regular physicians did not venture on the use of them. He therefore was successfully employed by certain eminent persons in desperate cases, and was consulted by Erasmus. He gradually increased in fame, and in the year 1526 was chosen professor of natural philosophy and surgery in the university of Bale. Here he delivered lectures in a very bold and presumptuous style. He proclaimed himself the monarch of medicine, and publicly burned the writings of Galen and Avicenna as pretenders and impostors.
This however was the acme of his prosperity. His system was extremely popular for one year; but then he lost himself by brutality and intemperance. He had drunk water only for the first five-and-twenty years of his life; but now indulged himself in beastly crapulence with the dregs of society, and scarcely ever took off his clothes by day or night. After one year therefore spent at Bale, he resumed his former vagabond life, and, having passed through many vicissitudes, some of them of the most abject poverty, he died at the age of forty-eight.
Paracelsus in fact exhibited in his person the union of a quack, a boastful and impudent pretender, with a considerable degree of natural sagacity and shrewdness. Such an union is not uncommon in the present day; but it was more properly in its place, when the cultivation of the faculties of the mind was more restricted than now, and the law of criticism of facts and evidence was nearly unknown. He took advantage of the credulity and love of wonder incident to the generality of our species; and, by dint of imposing on others, succeeded in no small degree in imposing on himself. His intemperance and arrogance of demeanour gave the suitable finish to his character. He therefore carefully cherished in those about him the idea that there was in him a kind of supernatural virtue, and that he had the agents of an invisible world at his command. In particular he gave out that he held conferences with a familiar or demon, whom for the convenience of consulting he was in the habit of carrying about with him in the hilt of his sword.
Jerome Cardan, who was only a few years younger than Paracelsus, was a man of a very different character. He had considerable refinement and discrimination, and ranked among the first scholars of his day. He is however most of all distinguished for the Memoirs he has left us of his life, which are characterised by a frankness and unreserve which are almost without a parallel. He had undoubtedly a considerable spice of madness in his composition. He says of himself, that he was liable to extraordinary fits of abstraction and elevation of mind, which by their intenseness became so intolerable, that he gladly had recourse to very severe bodily pain by way of getting rid of them. That in such cases he would bite his lips till they bled, twist his fingers almost to dislocation, and whip his legs with rods, which he found a great relief to him. That he would talk purposely of subjects which he knew were particularly offensive to the company he was in; that he argued on any side of a subject, without caring whether he was right or wrong; and that he would spend whole nights in gaming, often venturing as the stake he played for, the furniture of his house, and his wife’s jewels.
Cardan describes three things of himself, which he habitually experienced, but respecting which he had never unbosomed himself to any of his friends. The first was, a capacity which he felt in himself of abandoning his body in a sort of extacy whenever he pleased. He felt in these cases a sort of splitting of the heart, as if his soul was about to withdraw, the sensation spreading over his whole frame, like the opening of a door for the dismissal of its guest. His apprehension was, that he was out of his body, and that by an energetic exertion he still retained a small hold of his corporeal figure. The second of his peculiarities was, that he saw, when he pleased, whatever he desired to see, not through the force of imagination, but with his material organs: he saw groves, animals, orbs, as he willed. When he was a child, he saw these things, as they occurred, without any previous volition or anticipation that such a thing was about to happen. But, after he had arrived at years of maturity, he saw them only when he desired, and such things as he desired. These images were in perpetual succession, one after another. The thing incidental to him which he mentions in the third place was, that he could not recollect any thing that ever happened to him, whether good, ill, or indifferent, of which he had not been admonished, and that a very short time before, in a dream. These things serve to shew of what importance he was in his own eyes, and also, which is the matter he principally brings it to prove, the subtlety and delicacy of his animal nature.
Cardan speaks uncertainly and contradictorily as to his having a genius or demon perpetually attending him, advising him of what was to happen, and forewarning him of sinister events. He concludes however that he had no such attendant, but that it was the excellence of his nature, approaching to immortality. He was much addicted to the study of astrology, and laid claim to great skill as a physician. He visited the court of London, and calculated the nativity of king Edward VI. He was sent for as a physician by cardinal Beaton, archbishop of St Andrews, whom, according to Melvile, 208 he recovered to speech and health, and the historian appears to attribute the cure to magic. He calculated the nativity of Jesus Christ, which was imputed to him as an impious undertaking, inasmuch as it supposed the creator of the world to be subject to the influence of the stars. He also predicted his own death, and is supposed by some to have forwarded that event, by abstinence from food at the age of seventy-five, that he might not bely his prediction.
208 Memoirs, p. 14.
Hitherto we have principally passed such persons in review, as seem to have been in part at least the victims of their own delusions. But beside these there has always been a numerous class of men, who, with minds perfectly disengaged and free, have applied themselves to concert the means of overreaching the simplicity, or baffling the penetration, of those who were merely spectators, and uninitiated in the mystery of the arts that were practised upon them. Such was no doubt the case with the speaking heads and statues, which were sometimes exhibited in the ancient oracles. Such was the case with certain optical delusions, which were practised on the unsuspecting, and were contrived to produce on them the effect of supernatural revelations. Such is the story of Bel and the Dragon in the book of Apocrypha, where the priests daily placed before the idol twelve measures of flour, and forty sheep, and six vessels of wine, pretending that the idol consumed all these provisions, when in fact they entered the temple by night, by a door under the altar, and removed them.
We have a story minutely related by Benvenuto Cellini in his Life, which it is now known was produced by optical delusion, but which was imposed upon the artist and his companions as altogether supernatural. It occurred a very short time before the death of pope Clement the Seventh in 1534, and is thus detailed. It took place in the Coliseum at Rome.
“It came to pass through a variety of odd accidents, that I made acquaintance with a Sicilian priest, who was a man of genius, and well versed in the Greek and Latin languages. Happening one day to have some conversation with him, where the subject turned upon the art of necromancy, I, who had a great desire to know something of the matter, told him, that I had all my life had a curiosity to be acquainted with the mysteries of this art. The priest made answer, that the man must be of a resolute and steady temper, who entered on that study. I replied, that I had fortitude and resolution enough to desire to be initiated in it. The priest subjoined, ‘If you think you have the heart to venture, I will give you all the satisfaction you can desire.’ Thus we agreed to enter upon a scheme of necromancy.
“The priest one evening prepared to satisfy me, and desired me to look for a companion or two. I invited one Vincenzio Romoli, who was my intimate acquaintance, and he brought with him a native of Pistoia who cultivated the art of necromancy himself. We repaired to the Coliseum; and the priest, according to the custom of conjurors, began to draw circles on the ground, with the most impressive ceremonies imaginable. He likewise brought with him all sorts of precious perfumes and fire, with some compositions which diffused noisome and bad odours. As soon as he was in readiness, he made an opening to the circle, and took us by the hand, and ordered the other necromancer, his partner, to throw perfumes into the fire at a proper time, intrusting the care of the fire and the perfumes to the rest; and then he began his incantations.
“This ceremony lasted above an hour and a half, when there appeared several legions of devils, so that the amphitheatre was quite filled with them. I was busy about the perfumes, when the priest, who knew that there was a sufficient number of infernal spirits, turned about to me, and said, ‘Benvenuto, ask them something.’ I answered, ‘Let them bring me into company with my Sicilian mistress, Angelica.’ That night we obtained no answer of any sort; but I received great satisfaction in having my curiosity so far indulged.
“The necromancer told me that it was requisite we should go a second time, assuring me that I should be satisfied in whatever I asked; but that I must bring with me a boy that had never known woman. I took with me my apprentice, who was about twelve years of age; with the same Vincenzio Romoli, who had been my companion the first time, and one Agnolino Gaddi, an intimate acquaintance, whom I likewise prevailed on to assist at the ceremony. When we came to the place appointed, the priest, having made his preparations as before with the same and even more striking ceremonies, placed us within the circle, which he had drawn with a more wonderful art and in a more solemn manner, than at our former meeting. Thus having committed the care of the perfumes and the fire to my friend Vincenzio, who was assisted by Gaddi, he put into my hands a pintacolo, or magical chart, and bid me turn it towards the places to which he should direct me; and under the pintacolo I held my apprentice. The necromancer, having begun to make his most tremendous invocations, called by their names a multitude of demons who were the leaders of the several legions, and questioned them, by the virtue and power of the eternal, uncreated God, who lives for ever, in the Hebrew language, as also in Latin and Greek; insomuch that the amphitheatre was filled, almost in an instant, with demons a hundred times more numerous than at the former conjuration. Vincenzio meanwhile was busied in making a fire with the assistance of Gaddi, and burning a great quantity of precious perfumes. I, by the direction of the necromancer, again desired to be in company with my Angelica. He then turning upon me said, ‘Know, they have declared that in the space of a month you shall be in her company.’
“He then requested me to stand by him resolutely, because the legions were now above a thousand more in number than he had designed; and besides these were the most dangerous; so that, after they had answered my question, it behoved him to be civil to them, and dismiss them quietly. At the same time the boy under the pintacolo was in a terrible fright, saying, that there were in the place a million of fierce men who threatened to destroy us; and that, besides, there were four armed giants of enormous stature, who endeavoured to break into our circle. During this time, while the necromancer, trembling with fear, endeavoured by mild means to dismiss them in the best way he could, Vincenzio, who quivered like an aspen leaf, took care of the perfumes. Though I was as much afraid as any of them, I did my utmost to conceal it; so that I greatly contributed to inspire the rest with resolution; but the truth is, I gave myself over for a dead man, seeing the horrid fright the necromancer was in.
“The boy had placed his head between his knees; and said, ‘In this attitude will I die; for we shall all surely perish.’ I told him that those demons were under us, and what he saw was smoke and shadow; so bid him hold up his head and take courage. No sooner did he look up, than he cried out, ‘The whole amphitheatre is burning, and the fire is just falling on us.’ So, covering his eyes with his hands, he again exclaimed, that destruction was inevitable, and he desired to see no more. The necromancer intreated me to have a good heart, and to take care to burn proper perfumes; upon which I turned to Vincenzio, and bade him burn all the most precious perfumes he had. At the same time I cast my eyes upon Gaddi, who was terrified to such a degree, that he could scarcely distinguish objects, and seemed to be half dead. Seeing him in this condition, I said to him, ‘Gaddi, upon these occasions a man should not yield to fear, but stir about to give some assistance; so come directly, and put on more of these perfumes.’ Gaddi accordingly attempted to move; but the effect was annoying both to our sense of hearing and smell, and overcame the perfumes.
“The boy perceiving this, once more ventured to raise his head, and, seeing me laugh, began to take courage, and said, ‘The devils are flying away with a vengeance.’ In this condition we staid, till the bell rang for morning prayers. The boy again told us, that there remained but few devils, and those were at a great distance. When the magician had performed the rest of his ceremonies, he stripped off his gown, and took up a wallet full of books, which he had brought with him. We all went out of the circle together, keeping as close to each other as we possibly could, especially the boy, who placed himself in the middle, holding the necromancer by the coat, and me by the cloak.
“As we were going to our houses in the quarter of Banchi, the boy told us, that two of the demons whom we had seen at the amphitheatre, went on before us leaping and skipping, sometimes running upon the roofs of the houses, and sometimes on the ground. The priest declared that, as often as he had entered magic circles, nothing so extraordinary had ever happened to him. As we went along, he would fain have persuaded me to assist at the consecrating a book, from which he said we should derive immense riches. We should then ask the demons to discover to us the various treasures with which the earth abounds, which would raise us to opulence and power; but that those love-affairs were mere follies from which no good could be expected. I made answer, that I would readily have accepted his proposal if I had understood Latin. He assured me that the knowledge of Latin was nowise material; but that he could never meet with a partner of resolution and intrepidity equal to mine, and that that would be to him an invaluable acquisition.” Immediately subsequent to this scene, Cellini got into one of those scrapes, in which he was so frequently involved by his own violence and ferocity; and the connection was never again renewed.
The first remark that arises out of this narrative is, that nothing is actually done by the supernatural personages which are exhibited. The magician reports certain answers as given by the demons; but these answers do not appear to have been heard from any lips but those of him who was the creator or cause of the scene. The whole of the demons therefore were merely figures, produced by the magic lantern (which is said to have been invented by Roger Bacon), or by something of that nature. The burning of the perfumes served to produce a dense atmosphere, that was calculated to exaggerate, and render more formidable and terrific, the figures which were exhibited. The magic lantern, which is now the amusement only of servant-maids, and boys at school in their holidays, served at this remote period, and when the power of optical delusions was unknown, to terrify men of wisdom and penetration, and make them believe that legions of devils from the infernal regions were come among them, to produce the most horrible effects, and suspend and invert the laws of nature. It is probable, that the magician, who carried home with him a “wallet full of books,” also carried at the same time the magic lantern or mirror, with its lights, which had served him for his exhibition, and that this was the cause of the phenomenon, that they observed two of the demons which they had seen at the amphitheatre, going before them on their return, “leaping and skipping, sometimes running on the roofs of the houses, and sometimes on the ground.” 209
209 Brewster, Letters on Natural Magic, Letter IV.
Michael Nostradamus, a celebrated astrologer, was born at St. Remi in Provence in the year 1503. He published a Century of Prophecies in obscure and oracular terms and barbarous verse, and other works. In the period in which he lived the pretended art of astrological prediction was in the highest repute; and its professors were sought for by emperors and kings, and entertained with the greatest distinction and honour. Henry the Second of France, moved with his great renown, sent for Nostradamus to court, received much gratification from his visit, and afterward ordered him to Blois, that he might see the princes, his sons, calculate their horoscopes, and predict their future fortunes. He was no less in favour afterwards with Charles the Ninth. He died in the year 1566.
Dr. John Dee was a man who made a conspicuous figure in the sixteenth century. He was born at London in the year 1527. He was an eminent mathematician, and an indefatigable scholar. He says of himself, that, having been sent to Cambridge when he was fifteen, he persisted for several years in allowing himself only four hours for sleep in the twenty-four, and two for food and refreshment, and that he constantly occupied the remaining eighteen (the time for divine service only excepted) in study. At Cambridge he superintended the exhibition of a Greek play of Aristophanes, among the machinery of which he introduced an artificial scarabaeus, or beetle, which flew up to the palace of Jupiter, with a man on his back, and a basket of provisions. The ignorant and astonished spectators ascribed this feat to the arts of the magician; and Dee, annoyed by these suspicions, found it expedient to withdraw to the continent. Here he resided first at the university of Louvaine, at which place, his acquaintance was courted by the dukes of Mantua and Medina, and from thence proceeded to Paris, where he gave lectures on Euclid with singular applause.
In 1551 he returned to England, and was received with distinction by sir John Check, and introduced to secretary Cecil, and even to king Edward, from whom he received a pension of one hundred crowns per annum, which he speedily after exchanged for a small living in the church. In the reign of queen Mary he was for some time kindly treated; but afterwards came into great trouble, and even into danger of his life. He entered into correspondence with several of the servants of queen Elizabeth at Woodstock, and was charged with practising against Mary’s life by enchantments. Upon this accusation, he was seized and confined; and, being after several examinations discharged of the indictment, was turned over to bishop Bonner to see if any heresy could be found in him. After a tedious persecution he was set at liberty in 1555, and was so little subdued by what he had suffered, that in the following year he presented a petition to the queen, requesting her co-operation in a plan for preserving and recovering certain monuments of classical antiquity.
The principal study of Dee however at this time lay in astrology; and accordingly, upon the accession of Elizabeth, Robert Dudley, her chief favourite, was sent to consult the doctor as to the aspect of the stars, that they might fix on an auspicious day for celebrating her coronation. Some years after we find him again on the continent; and in 1571, being taken ill at Louvaine, we are told the queen sent over two physicians to accomplish his cure. Elizabeth afterwards visited him at his house at Mortlake, that she might view his magazine of mathematical instruments and curiosities; and about this time employed him to defend her title to countries discovered in different parts of the globe. He says of himself, that he received the most advantageous offers from Charles V, Ferdinand, Maximilian II, and Rodolph II, emperors of Germany, and from the czar of Muscovy an offer of L.2000 sterling per annum, upon condition that he would reside in his dominions. All these circumstances were solemnly attested by Dee in a Compendious Rehearsal of his Life and Studies for half-a-century, composed at a later period, and read by him at his house at Mortlake to two commissioners appointed by Elizabeth to enquire into his circumstances, accompanied with evidences and documents to establish the particulars. 210
Had Dee gone no further than this, he would undoubtedly have ranked among the profoundest scholars and most eminent geniuses that adorned the reign of the maiden queen. But he was unfortunately cursed with an ambition that nothing could satisfy; and, having accustomed his mind to the wildest reveries, and wrought himself up to an extravagant pitch of enthusiasm, he pursued a course that involved him in much calamity, and clouded all his latter days with misery and ruin. He dreamed perpetually of the philosopher’s stone, and was haunted with the belief of intercourse of a supramundane character. It is almost impossible to decide among these things, how much was illusion, and how much was forgery. Both were inextricably mixed in his proceedings; and this extraordinary victim probably could not in his most dispassionate moments precisely distinguish what belonged to the one, and what to the other.
As Dee was an enthusiast, so he perpetually interposed in his meditations prayers of the greatest emphasis and fervour. As he was one day in November 1582, engaged in these devout exercises, he says that there appeared to him the angel Uriel at the west window of his Museum, who gave him a translucent stone, or chrystal, of a convex form, that had the quality, when intently surveyed, of presenting apparitions, and even emitting sounds, in consequence of which the observer could hold conversations, ask questions and receive answers from the figures he saw in the mirror. It was often necessary that the stone should be turned one way and another in different positions, before the person who consulted it gained the right focus; and then the objects to be observed would sometimes shew themselves on the surface of the stone, and sometime in different parts of the room by virtue of the action of the stone. It had also this peculiarity, that only one person, having been named as seer, could see the figures exhibited, and hear the voices that spoke, though there might be various persons in the room. It appears that the person who discerned these visions must have his eyes and his ears uninterruptedly engaged in the affair, so that, as Dee experienced, to render the communication effectual, there must be two human beings concerned in the scene, one of them to describe what he saw, and to recite the dialogue that took place, and the other immediately to commit to paper all that his partner dictated. Dee for some reason chose for himself the part of the amanuensis, and had to seek for a companion, who was to watch the stone, and repeat to him whatever he saw and heard.
It happened opportunely that, a short time before Dee received this gift from on high, he contracted a familiar intercourse with one Edward Kelly of Worcestershire, whom he found specially qualified to perform the part which it was necessary to Dee to have adequately filled. Kelly was an extraordinary character, and in some respects exactly such a person as Dee wanted. He was just twenty-eight years younger than the memorable personage, who now received him as an inmate, and was engaged in his service at a stipulated salary of fifty pounds a year.
Kelly entered upon life with a somewhat unfortunate adventure. He was accused, when a young man, of forgery, brought to trial, convicted, and lost his ears in the pillory. This misfortune however by no means daunted him. He was assiduously engaged in the search for the philosopher’s stone. He had an active mind, great enterprise, and a very domineering temper. Another adventure in which he had been engaged previously to his knowledge of Dee, was in digging up the body of a man, who had been buried only the day before, that he might compel him by incantations, to answer questions, and discover future events. There was this difference therefore between the two persons previously to their league. Dee was a man of regular manners and unspotted life, honoured by the great, and favourably noticed by crowned heads in different parts of the world; while Kelly was a notorious profligate, accustomed to the most licentious actions, and under no restraint from morals or principle.
One circumstance that occurred early in the acquaintance of Kelly and Dee it is necessary to mention. It serves strikingly to illustrate the ascendancy of the junior and impetuous party over his more gifted senior. Kelly led Dee, we are not told under what pretence, to visit the celebrated ruins of Glastonbury Abbey in Somersetshire. Here, as these curious travellers searched into every corner of the scene, they met by some rare accident with a vase containing a certain portion of the actual elixir vitae, that rare and precious liquid, so much sought after, which has the virtue of converting the baser metals into gold and silver. It had remained here perhaps ever since the time of the highly-gifted St. Dunstan in the tenth century. This they carried off in triumph: but we are not told of any special use to which they applied it, till a few years after, when they were both on the continent.
The first record of their consultations with the supramundane spirits, was of the date of December 2, 1581, at Lexden Heath in the county of Essex; and from this time they went on in a regular series of consultations with and enquiries from these miraculous visitors, a great part of which will appear to the uninitiated extremely puerile and ludicrous, but which were committed to writing with the most scrupulous exactness by Dee, the first part still existing in manuscript, but the greater portion from 28 May 1583 to 1608, with some interruptions, having been committed to the press by Dr. Meric Casaubon in a well-sized folio in 1659, under the title of “A True and Faithful Relation of what passed between Dr. John Dee and some Spirits, tending, had it succeeded, to a general alteration of most states and kingdoms of the world.”
Kelly and Dee had not long been engaged in these supernatural colloquies, before an event occurred which gave an entirely new turn to their proceedings. Albert Alaski, a Polish nobleman, lord palatine of the principality of Siradia, came over at this time into England, urged, as he said, by a desire personally to acquaint himself with the glories of the reign of Elizabeth, and the evidences of her unrivalled talents. The queen and her favourite, the earl of Leicester, received him with every mark of courtesy and attention, and, having shewn him all the wonders of her court at Westminster and Greenwich, sent him to Oxford, with a command to the dignitaries and heads of colleges, to pay him every attention, and to lay open to his view all their rarest curiosities. Among other things worthy of notice, Alaski enquired for the celebrated Dr. Dee, and expressed the greatest impatience to be acquainted with him.
Just at this juncture the earl of Leicester happened to spy Dr. Dee among the crowd who attended at a royal levee. The earl immediately advanced towards him; and, in his frank manner, having introduced him to Alaski, expressed his intention of bringing the Pole to dine with the doctor at his house at Mortlake. Embarrassed with this unexpected honour, Dee no sooner got home, than he dispatched an express to the earl, honestly confessing that he should be unable to entertain such guests in a suitable manner, without being reduced to the expedient of selling or pawning his plate, to procure him the means of doing so. Leicester communicated the doctor’s perplexity to Elizabeth; and the queen immediately dispatched a messenger with a present of forty angels, or twenty pounds, to enable him to receive his guests as became him.
A great intimacy immediately commenced between Dee and the stranger. Alaski, though possessing an extensive territory, was reduced by the prodigality of himself or his ancestors to much embarrassment; and on the other hand this nobleman appeared to Dee an instrument well qualified to accomplish his ambitious purposes. Alaski was extremely desirous to look into the womb of time; and Dee, it is likely, suggested repeated hints of his extraordinary power from his possession of the philosopher’s stone. After two or three interviews, and much seeming importunity on the part of the Pole, Dee and Kelly graciously condescended to admit Alaski as a third party to their secret meetings with their supernatural visitors, from which the rest of the world were carefully excluded. Here the two Englishmen made use of the vulgar artifice, of promising extraordinary good fortune to the person of whom they purposed to make use. By the intervention of the miraculous stone they told the wondering traveller, that he should shortly become king of Poland, with the accession of several other kingdoms, that he should overcome many armies of Saracens and Paynims, and prove a mighty conqueror. Dee at the same time complained of the disagreeable condition in which he was at home, and that Burleigh and Walsingham were his malicious enemies. At length they concerted among themselves, that they, Alaski, and Dee and Kelly with their wives and families, should clandestinely withdraw out of England, and proceed with all practicable rapidity to Alaski’s territory in the kingdom of Poland. They embarked on this voyage 21 September, and arrived at Siradia the third of February following.
At this place however the strangers remained little more than a month. Alaski found his finances in such disorder, that it was scarcely possible for him to feed the numerous guests he had brought along with him. The promises of splendid conquests which Dee and Kelly profusely heaped upon him, were of no avail to supply the deficiency of his present income. And the elixir they brought from Glastonbury was, as they said, so incredibly rich in virtue, that they were compelled to lose much time in making projection by way of trial, before they could hope to arrive at the proper temperament for producing the effect they desired.
In the following month Alaski with his visitors passed to Cracow, the residence of the kings of Poland. Here they remained five months, Dee and Kelly perpetually amusing the Pole with the extraordinary virtue of the stone, which had been brought from heaven by an angel, and busied in a thousand experiments with the elixir, and many tedious preparations which they pronounced to be necessary, before the compound could have the proper effect. The prophecies were uttered with extreme confidence; but no external indications were afforded, to shew that in any way they were likely to be realised. The experiments and exertions of the laboratory were incessant; but no transmutation was produced. At length Alaski found himself unable to sustain the train of followers he had brought out of England. With mountains of wealth, the treasures of the world promised, they were reduced to the most grievous straits for the means of daily subsistence. Finally the zeal of Alaski diminished; he had no longer the same faith in the projectors that had deluded him; and he devised a way of sending them forward with letters of recommendation to Rodolph II, emperor of Germany, at his imperial seat of Prague, where they arrived on the ninth of August.
Rodolph was a man, whose character and habits of life they judged excellently adapted to their purpose. Dee had a long conference with the emperor, in which he explained to him what wonderful things the spirits promised to this prince, in case he proved exemplary of life, and obedient to their suggestions, that he should be the greatest conqueror in the world, and should take captive the Turk in his city of Constantinople. Rodolph was extremely courteous in his reception, and sent away Dee with the highest hopes that he had at length found a personage with whom he should infallibly succeed to the extent of his wishes. He sought however a second interview, and was baffled. At one time the emperor was going to his country palace near Prague, and at another was engaged in the pleasures of the chace.
He also complained that he was not sufficiently familiar with the Latin tongue, to manage the conferences with Dee in a satisfactory manner in person. He therefore deputed Curtzius, a man high in his confidence, to enter into the necessary details with his learned visitor. Dee also contrived to have Spinola, the ambassador from Madrid to the court of the emperor, to urge his suit. The final result was that Rodolph declined any further intercourse with Dee. He turned a deaf ear to his prophecies, and professed to be altogether void of faith as to his promises respecting the philosopher’s stone. Dee however was led on perpetually with hopes of better things from the emperor, till the spring of the year 1585. At length he was obliged to fly from Prague, the bishop of Placentia, the pope’s nuncio, having it in command from his holiness to represent to Rodolph how discreditable it was for him to harbour English magicians, heretics, at his court.
From Prague Dee and his followers proceeded to Cracow. Here he found means of introduction to Stephen, king of Poland, to whom immediately he insinuated as intelligence from heaven, that Rodolph, the emperor, would speedily be assassinated, and that Stephen would succeed him in the throne of Germany. Stephen appears to have received Dee with more condescension than Rodolph had done, and was once present at his incantation and interview with the invisible spirits. Dee also lured him on with promises respecting the philosopher’s stone. Meanwhile the magician was himself reduced to the strangest expedients for subsistence. He appears to have daily expected great riches from the transmutation of metals, and was unwilling to confess that he and his family were in the mean time almost starving.
When king Stephen at length became wearied with fruitless expectation, Dee was fortunate enough to meet with another and more patient dupe in Rosenburg, a nobleman of considerable wealth at Trebona in the kingdom of Bohemia. Here Dee appears to have remained till 1589, when he was sent for home by Elizabeth. In what manner he proceeded during this interval, and from whence he drew his supplies, we are only left to conjecture. He lured on his victim with the usual temptation, promising him that he should be king of Poland. In the mean time it is recorded by him, that, on the ninth of December, 1586, he arrived at the point of projection, having cut a piece of metal out of a brass warming-pan; and merely heating it by the fire, and pouring on it a portion of the elixir, it was presently converted into pure silver. We are told that he sent the warming-pan and the piece of silver to queen Elizabeth, that she might be convinced by her own eyes how exactly they tallied, and that the one had unquestionably been a portion of the other. About the same time it is said, that Dee and his associate became more free in their expenditure; and in one instance it is stated as an example, that Kelly gave away to the value of four thousand pounds sterling in gold rings on occasion of the celebration of the marriage of one of his maid-servants. On the twenty-seventh and thirtieth of July, 1587, Dee has recorded in his journal his gratitude to God for his unspeakable mercies on those days imparted, which has been interpreted to mean further acquisitions of wealth by means of the elixir.
Meanwhile perpetual occasions of dissention occurred between the two great confederates, Kelly and Dee. They were in many respects unfitted for each other’s society. Dee was a man, who from his youth upward had been indefatigable in study and research, had the consciousness of great talents and intellect, and had been universally recognised as such, and had possessed a high character for fervent piety and blameless morals. Kelly was an impudent adventurer, a man of no principles and of blasted reputation; yet fertile in resources, full of self-confidence, and of no small degree of ingenuity. In their mutual intercourse the audacious adventurer often had the upper hand of the man who had lately possessed a well-earned reputation. Kelly frequently professed himself tired of enacting the character of interpreter of the Gods under Dee. He found Dee in all cases running away with the superior consideration; while he in his own opinion best deserved to possess it. The straitness of their circumstances, and the misery they were occasionally called on to endure, we may be sure did not improve their good understanding. Kelly once and again threatened to abandon his leader. Dee continually soothed him, and prevailed on him to stay.
Kelly at length started a very extraordinary proposition. Kelly, as interpreter to the spirits, and being the only person who heard and saw any thing, we may presume made them say whatever he pleased. Kelly and Dee had both of them wives. Kelly did not always live harmoniously with the partner of his bed. He sometimes went so far as to say that he hated her. Dee was more fortunate. His wife was a person of good family, and had hitherto been irreproachable in her demeanour. The spirits one day revealed to Kelly, that they must henceforth have their wives in common. The wife of Kelly was barren, and this curse could no otherwise be removed. Having started the proposition, Kelly played the reluctant party. Dee, who was pious and enthusiastic, inclined to submit. He first indeed started the notion, that it could only be meant that they should live in mutual harmony and good understanding. The spirits protested against this, and insisted upon the literal interpretation. Dee yielded, and compared his case to that of Abraham, who at the divine command consented to sacrifice his son Isaac. Kelly alleged that these spirits, which Dee had hitherto regarded as messengers from God, could be no other than servants of Satan. He persisted in his disobedience; and the spirits declared that he was no longer worthy to be their interpreter, and that another mediator must be found.
They named Arthur Dee, the son of the possessor of the stone, a promising and well-disposed boy of only eight years of age. Dee consecrated the youth accordingly to his high function by prayers and religious rites for several days together. Kelly took horse and rode away, protesting that they should meet no more. Arthur entered upon his office, April 15, 1587. The experiment proved abortive. He saw something; but not to the purpose. He heard no voices. At length Kelly, on the third day, entered the room unexpectedly, “by miraculous fortune,” as Dee says, “or a divine fate,” sate down between them, and immediately saw figures, and heard voices, which the little Arthur was not enabled to perceive. In particular he saw four heads inclosed in an obelisk, which he perceived to represent the two magicians and their wives, and interpreted to signify that unlimited communion in which they were destined to engage. The matter however being still an occasion of scruple, a spirit appeared, who by the language he used was plainly no other than the Saviour of the world, and took away from them the larger stone; for now it appears there were two stones. This miracle at length induced all parties to submit; and the divine command was no sooner obeyed, than the stone which had been abstracted, was found again under the pillow of the wife of Dee.
It is not easy to imagine a state of greater degradation than that into which this person had now fallen. During all the prime and vigour of his intellect, he had sustained an eminent part among the learned and the great, distinguished and honoured by Elizabeth and her favourite. But his unbounded arrogance and self-opinion could never be satisfied. And seduced, partly by his own weakness, and partly by the insinuations of a crafty adventurer, he became a mystic of the most dishonourable sort. He was induced to believe in a series of miraculous communications without common sense, engaged in the pursuit of the philosopher’s stone, and no doubt imagined that he was possessed of the great secret. Stirred up by these conceptions, he left his native country, and became a wanderer, preying upon the credulity of one prince and eminent man after another, and no sooner was he discarded by one victim of credulity, than he sought another, a vagabond on the earth, reduced from time to time to the greatest distress, persecuted, dishonoured and despised by every party in their turn. At length by incessant degrees he became dead to all moral distinctions, and all sense of honour and self-respect. “Professing himself to be wise he became a fool, walked in the vanity of his imagination,” and had his understanding under total eclipse. The immoral system of conduct in which he engaged, and the strange and shocking blasphemy that he mixed with it, render him at this time a sort of character that it is painful to contemplate.
Led on as Dee at this time was by the ascendancy and consummate art of Kelly, there was far from existing any genuine harmony between them; and, after many squabbles and heart-burnings, they appear finally to have parted in January 1589, Dee having, according to his own account, at that time delivered up to Kelly, the elixir and the different implements by which the transmutation of metals was to be effected.
Various overtures appear to have passed now for some years between Dee and queen Elizabeth, intended to lead to his restoration to his native country. Dee had upon different occasions expressed a wish to that effect; and Elizabeth in the spring of 1589 sent him a message, that removed from him all further thought of hesitation and delay. He set out from Trebona with three coaches, and a baggage train correspondent, and had an audience of the queen at Richmond towards the close of that year. Upon the whole it is impossible perhaps not to believe, that Elizabeth was influenced in this proceeding by the various reports that had reached her of his extraordinary success with the philosopher’s stone, and the boundless wealth he had it in his power to bestow. Many princes at this time contended with each other, as to who should be happy enough by fair means or by force to have under his control the fortunate possessor of the great secret, and thus to have in his possession the means of inexhaustible wealth. Shortly after this time the emperor Rodolph seized and committed to prison Kelly, the partner of Dee in this inestimable faculty, and, having once enlarged him, placed him in custody a second time. Meanwhile Elizabeth is said to have made him pressing overtures of so flattering a nature that he determined to escape and return to his native country. For this purpose he is said to have torn the sheets of his bed, and twisted them into a rope, that by that means he might descend from the tower in which he was confined. But, being a corpulent man of considerable weight, the rope broke with him before he was half way down, and, having fractured one or both his legs, and being otherwise considerably bruised, he died shortly afterwards. This happened in the year 1595.
Dee (according to his own account, delivered to commissioners appointed by queen Elizabeth to enquire into his circumstances) came from Trebona to England in a state little inferior to that of an ambassador. He had three coaches, with four horses harnessed to each coach, two or three loaded waggons, and a guard, sometimes of six, and sometimes of twenty-four soldiers, to defend him from enemies, who were supposed to lie in wait to intercept his passage. Immediately on his arrival he had an audience of the queen at Richmond, by whom he was most graciously received. She gave special orders, that he should do what he would in chemistry and philosophy, and that no one should on any account molest him.
But here end the prosperity and greatness of this extraordinary man. If he possessed the power of turning all baser metals into gold, he certainly acted unadvisedly in surrendering this power to his confederate, immediately before his return to his native country. He parted at the same time with his gift of prophecy, since, though he brought away with him his miraculous stone, and at one time appointed one Bartholomew, and another one Hickman, his interpreters to look into the stone, to see the marvellous sights it was expected to disclose, and to hear the voices and report the words that issued from it, the experiments proved in both instances abortive. They wanted the finer sense, or the unparalleled effrontery and inexhaustible invention, which Kelly alone possessed.
The remainder of the voyage of the life of Dee was “bound in shallows and in miseries.” Queen Elizabeth we may suppose soon found that her dreams of immense wealth to be obtained through his intervention were nugatory. Yet would she not desert the favourite of her former years. He presently began to complain of poverty and difficulties. He represented that the revenue of two livings he held in the church had been withheld from him from the time of his going abroad. He stated that, shortly after that period, his house had been broken into and spoiled by a lawless mob, instigated by his ill fame as a dealer in prohibited and unlawful arts. They destroyed or dispersed his library, consisting of four thousand volumes, seven hundred of which were manuscripts, and of inestimable rarity. They ravaged his collection of curious implements and machines. He enumerated the expences of his journey home by Elizabeth’s command, for which he seemed to consider the queen as his debtor. Elizabeth in consequence ordered him at several times two or three small sums. But this being insufficient, she was prevailed upon in 1592 to appoint two members of her privy council to repair to his house at Mortlake to enquire into particulars, to whom he made a Compendious Rehearsal of half a hundred years of his life, accompanied with documents and vouchers.
It is remarkable that in this Rehearsal no mention occurs of the miraculous stone brought down to him by an angel, or of his pretensions respecting the transmutation of metals. He merely rests, his claims to public support upon his literary labours, and the acknowledged eminence of his intellectual faculties. He passes over the years he had lately spent in foreign countries, in entire silence, unless we except his account of the particulars of his journey home. His representation to Elizabeth not being immediately productive of all the effects he expected, he wrote a letter to archbishop Whitgift two years after, lamenting the delay of the expected relief, and complaining of the “untrue reports, opinions and fables, which had for so many years been spread of his studies.” He represents these studies purely as literary, frank, and wholly divested of mystery. If the “True Relation of what passed for many years between Dr. Dee and certain Spirits” had not been preserved, and afterwards printed, we might have been disposed to consider all that was said on this subject as a calumny.
The promotion which Dee had set his heart on, was to the office of master of St. Cross’s Hospital near Winchester, which the queen had promised him when the present holder should be made a bishop. But this never happened. He obtained however in lieu of it the chancellorship of St. Paul’s cathedral, 8 December 1594, which in the following year he exchanged for the wardenship of the college at Manchester. In this last office he continued till the year 1602 (according to other accounts 1604), during which time he complained of great dissention and refractoriness on the part of the fellows; though it may perhaps be doubted whether equal blame may not fairly be imputed to the arrogance and restlessness of the warden. At length he receded altogether from public life, and retired to his ancient domicile at Mortlake. He made one attempt to propitiate the favour of king James; but it was ineffectual. Elizabeth had known him in the flower and vigour of his days; he had boasted the uniform patronage of her chief favourite; he had been recognised by the philosophical and the learned as inferior to none of their body, and he had finally excited the regard of his ancient mistress by his pretence to revelations, and the promises he held out of the philosopher’s stone. She could not shake off her ingrafted prejudice in his favour; she could not find in her heart to cast him aside in his old age and decay. But then came a king, to whom in his prosperity and sunshine he had been a stranger. He wasted his latter days in dotage, obscurity and universal neglect. No one has told us how he contrived to subsist. We may be sure that his constant companions were mortification and the most humiliating privations. He lingered on till the year 1608; and the ancient people in the time of Antony Wood, nearly a century afterwards, pointed to his grave in the chancel of the church at Mortlake, and professed to know the very spot where his remains were desposited.
The history of Dee is exceedingly interesting, not only on its own account; not only for the eminence of his talents and attainments, and the incredible sottishness and blindness of understanding which marked his maturer years; but as strikingly illustrative of the credulity and superstitious faith of the time in which he lived. At a later period his miraculous stone which displayed such wonders, and was attended with so long a series of supernatural vocal communications would have deceived nobody: it was scarcely more ingenious than the idle tricks of the most ordinary conjurer. But at this period the crust of long ages of darkness had not yet been fully worn away. Men did not trust to the powers of human understanding, and were not familiarised with the main canons of evidence and belief. Dee passed six years on the continent, proceeding from the court of one prince or potent nobleman to another, listened to for a time by each, each regarding his oracular communications with astonishment and alarm, and at length irresolutely casting him off, when he found little or no difficulty in running a like career with another.
It is not the least curious circumstance respecting the life of Dee, that in 1659, half a century after his death, there remained still such an interest respecting practices of this sort, as to authorise the printing a folio volume, in a complex and elaborate form, of his communications with spirits. The book was brought out by Dr. Meric Casaubon, no contemptible name in the republic of letters. The editor observes respecting the hero and his achievements in the Preface, that, “though his carriage in certain respects seemed to lay in works of darkness, yet all was tendered by him to kings and princes, and by all (England alone excepted) was listened to for a good while with good respect, and by some for a long time embraced and entertained.” He goes on to say, that “the fame of it made the pope bestir himself, and filled all, both learned and unlearned, with great wonder and astonishment.” He adds, that, “as a whole it is undoubtedly not to be paralleled in its kind in any age or country.” In a word the editor, though disavowing an entire belief in Dee’s pretensions, yet plainly considers them with some degree of deference, and insinuates to how much more regard such undue and exaggerated pretensions are entitled, than the impious incredulity of certain modern Sadducees, who say that “there is no resurrection; neither angel, nor spirit.” The belief in witchcraft and sorcery has undoutedly met with some degree of favour from this consideration, inasmuch as, by recognising the correspondence of human beings with the invisible world, it has one principle in common with the believers in revelation, of which the more daring infidel is destitute.
210 Appendix to Johannes Glastoniensis, edited by Hearne.
The circumstances of the death of Ferdinand, fifth earl of Derby, in 1594, have particularly engaged the attention of the contemporary historians. Hesket, an emissary of the Jesuits and English Catholics abroad, was importunate with this nobleman to press his title to the crown, as the legal representative of his great-grandmother Mary, youngest daughter to king Henry the Seventh. But the earl, fearing, as it is said, that this was only a trap to ensnare him, gave information against Hesket to the government, in consequence of which he was apprehended, tried and executed. Hesket had threatened the earl that, if he did not comply with his suggestion, he should live only a short time. Accordingly, four months afterwards, the earl was seized with a very uncommon disease. A waxen image was at the same time found in his chamber with hairs in its belly exactly of the same colour as those of the earl. 211 The image was, by some zealous friend of lord Derby, burned; but the earl grew worse. He was himself thoroughly persuaded that he was bewitched. Stow has inserted in his Annals a minute account of his disease from day to day, with a description of all the symptoms.
211 Camden, anno 1693, 1694.
While Elizabeth amused herself with the supernatural gifts to which Dee advanced his claim, and consoled the adversity and destitution to which the old man, once so extensively honoured, was now reduced, a scene of a very different complexion was played in the northern part of the island. Trials for sorcery were numerous in the reign of Mary queen of Scots; the comparative darkness and ignorance of the sister kingdom rendered it a soil still more favourable than England to the growth of these gloomy superstitions. But the mind of James, at once inquisitive, pedantic and self-sufficient, peculiarly fitted him for the pursuit of these narrow-minded and obscure speculations. One combination of circumstances wrought up this propensity within him to the greatest height.
James was born in the year 1566. He was the only direct heir to the crown of Scotland; and he was in near prospect of succession to that of England. The zeal of the Protestant Reformation had wrought up the anxiety of men’s minds to a fever of anticipation and forecast. Consequently, towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth, a point which greatly arrested the general attention was the expected marriage of the king of Scotland. Elizabeth, with that petty jealousy which obscured the otherwise noble qualities of her spirit, sought to countermine this marriage, that her rival and expected successor might not be additionally graced with the honours of offspring. James fixed his mind upon a daughter of the king of Denmark. By the successful cabals of Elizabeth he was baffled in this suit; and the lady was finally married to the duke of Bavaria. The king of Denmark had another daughter; and James made proposals to this princess. Still he was counteracted; till at length he sent a splendid embassy, with ample powers and instructions, and the treaty was concluded. The princess embarked; but, when she had now for some time been expected in Scotland, news was brought instead, that she had been driven back by tempests on the coast of Norway. The young king felt keenly his disappointment, and gallantly resolved to sail in person for the port, where his intended consort was detained by the shattered condition of her fleet. James arrived on the twenty-second of October 1589, and having consummated his marriage, was induced by the invitation of his father-inlaw to pass the winter at Copenhagen, from whence he did not sail till the spring, and, after having encountered a variety of contrary winds and some danger, reached Edinburgh on the first of May in the following year.
It was to be expected that variable weather and storms should characterise the winter-season in these seas. But the storms were of longer continuance and of more frequent succession, than was usually known. And at this period, when the proposed consort of James first, then the king himself, and finally both of them, and the hope of Protestant succession, were committed to the mercy of the waves, it is not wonderful that the process of the seasons should be accurately marked, and that those varieties, which are commonly ascribed to second causes, should have been imputed to extraordinary and supernatural interference. It was affirmed that, in the king’s return from Denmark, his ship was impelled by a different wind from that which acted on the rest of his fleet.
It happened that, soon after James’s return to Scotland, one Geillis Duncan, a servant-maid, for the extraordinary circumstances that attended certain cures which she performed, became suspected of witchcraft. Her master questioned her on the subject; but she would own nothing. Perceiving her obstinacy, the master took upon himself of his own authority, to extort confession from her by torture. In this he succeeded; and, having related divers particulars of witchcraft of herself, she proceeded to accuse others. The persons she accused were cast into the public prison.
One of these, Agnes Sampson by name, at first stoutly resisted the torture. But, it being more strenuously applied, she by and by became extremely communicative. It was at this period that James personally engaged in the examinations. We are told that he “took great delight in being present,” and putting the proper questions. The unhappy victim was introduced into a room plentifully furnished with implements of torture, while the king waited in an apartment at a convenient distance, till the patient was found to be in a suitable frame of mind to make the desired communications. No sooner did he or she signify that they were ready, and should no longer refuse to answer, than they were introduced, fainting, sinking under recent sufferings which they had no longer strength to resist, into the royal presence. And here sat James, in envied ease and conscious “delight,” wrapped up in the thought of his own sagacity, framing the enquiries that might best extort the desired evidence, and calculating with a judgment by no means to be despised, from the bearing, the turn of features, and the complexion of the victim, the probability whether he was making a frank and artless confession, or had still the secret desire to impose on the royal examiner, or from a different motive was disposed to make use of the treacherous authority which the situation afforded, to gratify his revenge upon some person towards whom he might be inspired with latent hatred and malice.
Agnes Sampson related with what solicitude she had sought to possess some fragment of the linen belonging to the king. If he had worn it, and it had contracted any soil from his royal person, this would be enough: she would infallibly, by applying her incantations to this fragment, have been able to undermine the life of the sovereign. She told how she with two hundred other witches had sailed in sieves from Leith to North Berwick church, how they had there encountered the devil in person, how they had feasted with him, and what obscenities had been practised. She related that in this voyage they had drowned a cat, having first baptised him, and that immediately a dreadful storm had arisen, and in this very storm the king’s ship had been separated from the rest of his fleet. She took James aside, and, the better to convince him, undertook to repeat to him the conversation, the dialogue which had passed from the one to the other, between the king and queen in their bedchamber on the wedding-night. Agnes Sampson was condemned to the flames.
Another of the miserable victims on this occasion was John Fian, a schoolmaster at Tranent near Edinburgh, a young man, whom the ignorant populace had decorated with the style of doctor. He was tortured by means of a rope strongly twisted about his head, and by the boots. He was at length brought to confession. He told of a young girl, the sister of one of his scholars, with whom he had been deeply enamoured. He had proposed to the boy to bring him three hairs from the most secret part of his sister’s body, possessing which he should be enabled by certain incantations to procure himself the love of the girl. The boy at his mother’s instigation brought to Fian three hairs from a virgin heifer instead; and, applying his conjuration to them, the consequence had been that the heifer forced her way into his school, leaped upon him in amorous fashion, and would not be restrained from following him about the neighbourhood.
This same Fian acted an important part in the scene at North Berwick church. As being best fitted for the office, he was appointed recorder or clerk to the devil, to write down the names, and administer the oaths to the witches. He was actively concerned in the enchantment, by means of which the king’s ship had nearly been lost on his return from Denmark. This part of his proceeding however does not appear in his own confession, but in that of the witches who were his fellow-conspirators.
He further said, that, the night after he made his confession, the devil appeared to him, and was in a furious rage against him for his disloyalty to his service, telling him that he should severely repent his infidelity. According to his own account, he stood firm, and defied the devil to do his worst. Meanwhile the next night he escaped out of prison, and was with some difficulty retaken. He however finally denied all his former confessions, said that they were falshoods forced from him by mere dint of torture, and, though he was now once more subjected to the same treatment to such an excess as must necessarily have crippled him of his limbs for ever, he proved inflexible to the last. At length by the king’s order he was strangled, and his body cast into the flames. Multitudes of unhappy men and women perished in this cruel persecution. 212
212 Pitcairn, Trials in Scotland in Five Volumes, 4to.
It was by a train of observations and experience like this, that James was prompted seven years after to compose and publish his Dialogues on Demonology in Three Books. In the Preface to this book he says, “The fearfull abounding at this time in this countrey, of these detestable slaves of the Diuel, the Witches or enchaunters, hath moved me (beloued Reader) to dispatch in post this following Treatise of mine, not in any wise (as I protest) to serue for a shew of my learning and ingine, but onely (moued of conscience) to preasse thereby, so farre as I can, to resolue the doubting hearts of many, both that such assaults of Satan are most certainely practised, and that the instruments thereof merits most seuerely to be punished.”
In the course of the treatise he affirms, “that barnes, or wiues, or neuer so diffamed persons, may serue for sufficient witnesses and proofes in such trialls; for who but Witches can be prooves, and so witnesses of the doings of Witches?” 213 But, lest innocent persons should be accused, and suffer falsely, he tells us, “There are two other good helps that may be used for their trial: the one is, the finding of their marke [a mark that the devil was supposed to impress upon some part of their persons], and the trying the insensibleness thereof: the other is their fleeting on the water: for, as in a secret murther, if the dead carkasse be at any time thereafter handled by the murtherer, it will gush out of bloud, as if the bloud were crying to the heauen for revenge of the murtherer, God hauing appointed that secret supernaturall signe, for triall of that secret unnaturall crime, so it appears that God hath appointed (for a supernaturall signe of the monstrous impietie of Witches) that the water shall refuse to receive them in her bosome, that haue shaken off them the sacred water of Baptisme, and wilfully refused the benefite thereof: No, not so much as their eyes are able to shed teares (threaten and torture them as ye please) while first they repent (God not permitting them to dissemble their obstinacie in so horrible a crime.)” 214
In consequence of the strong conviction James entertained on the subject, the English parliament was induced, in the first year of his reign, to supersede the milder proceedings of Elizabeth, and to enact that “if any person shall use, practice, or exercise any invocation or conjuration of any evil and wicked spirit, or shall consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed or reward any evil and wicked spirit, to or for any intent and purpose; or take up any dead man, woman, or child out of their grave, or the skin, bone, or any part of any dead person, to be used in any manner of witchcraft, sorcery or enchantment, or shall use any witchcraft, sorcery or enchantment, whereby any person shall be killed, destroyed, wasted, consumed, pined or lamed in his or her body, or any part thereof; that then every such offender, their aiders, abettors and counsellors shall suffer the pains of death.” And upon this statute great numbers were condemned and executed.
There is a story of necromancy which unfortunately makes too prominent a figure in the history of the court and character of king James the First. Robert earl of Essex, son of queen Elizabeth’s favourite, and who afterwards became commander in chief of the parliamentary forces in the civil wars, married lady Frances Howard, a younger daughter of the earl of Suffolk, the bride and bridegroom being the one thirteen, the other fourteen years old at the time of the marriage. The relatives of the countess however, who had brought about the match, thought it most decorous to separate them for some time, and, while she remained at home with her friends, the bridegroom travelled for three or four years on the continent. The lady proved the greatest beauty of her time, but along with this had the most libertine and unprincipled dispositions.
The very circumstance that she had vowed her faith at the altar when she was not properly capable of choice, inspired into the wayward mind of the countess a repugnance to her husband. He came from the continent, replete with accomplishments; and we may conclude, from the figure he afterwards made in the most perilous times, not without a competent share of intellectual abilities. But the countess shrank from all advances on his part. He loved retirement, and woed the lady to scenes most favourable to the development of the affections: she had been bred in court, and was melancholy and repined in any other scene. So capricious was her temper, that she is said at the same time to have repelled the overtures of the accomplished and popular prince Henry, the heir to the throne.
It happened about this period that a beautiful young man, twenty years of age, and full of all martial graces, appeared on the stage. King James was singularly partial to young men who were distinguished for personal attractions. By an extraordinary accident this person, Robert Carr by name, in the midst of a court-spectacle, just when it was his cue to present a buckler with a device to the king, was thrown from his horse, and broke his leg. This was enough: James naturally became interested in the misfortune, attached himself to Carr, and even favoured him again and again with a royal visit during his cure. Presently the young man became an exclusive favourite; and no honours and graces could be obtained of the sovereign but by his interference.
This circumstance fixed the wavering mind of the countess of Essex. Voluptuous and self-willed in her disposition, she would hear of no one but Carr. But her opportunities of seeing him were both short and rare. In this emergency she applied to Mrs. Turner, a woman whose profession it was to study and to accommodate the fancies of such persons as the countess. Mrs. Turner introduced her to Dr. Forman, a noted astrologer and magician, and he, by images made of wax, and various uncouth figures and devices, undertook to procure the love of Carr to the lady. At the same time he practised against the earl, that he might become impotent, at least towards his wife. This however did not satisfy the lady; and having gone the utmost lengths towards her innamorato, she insisted on a divorce in all the forms, and a legal marriage with the youth she loved. Carr appears originally to have had good dispositions; and, while that was the case, had assiduously cultivated the friendship of Sir Thomas Overbury, one of the most promising young courtiers of the time. Sir Thomas earnestly sought to break off the intimacy of Carr with lady Essex, and told him how utterly ruinous to his reputation and prospects it would prove, if he married her. But Carr, instead of feeling how much obliged he was to Overbury for this example of disinterested friendship, went immediately and told the countess what the young man said.
From this time the destruction of Overbury was resolved on between them. He was first committed to the Tower by an arbitrary mandate of James for refusing an embassage to Russia, next sequestered from all visitors, and finally attacked with poison, which, after several abortive attempts, was at length brought to effect. Meanwhile a divorce was sued for by the countess upon an allegation of impotence; and another female was said to have been substituted in her room, to be subjected to the inspection of a jury of matrons in proof of her virginity. After a lapse of two years the murder was brought to light, the inferior criminals, Mrs. Turner and the rest, convicted and executed, and Carr, now earl of Somerset, and his countess, found guilty, but received the royal pardon. — It is proper to add, in order to give a just idea of the state of human credulity at this period, that, Forman having died at the time that his services were deemed most necessary, one Gresham first, and then a third astrologer and enchanter were brought forward, to consummate the atrocious projects of the infamous countess. It is said that she and her second husband were ultimately so thoroughly alienated from each other, that they resided for years under the same roof, with the most careful precautions that they might not by any chance come into each other’s presence. 215
215 Truth brought to Light by Time. Wilson, History of James I.
It is worthy of remark however that king James lived to alter his mind extremely on the question of witchcraft. He was active in his observations on the subject; and we are told that “the frequency of forged possessions which were detected by him wrought such an alteration in his judgment, that he, receding from what he had written in his early life, grew first diffident of, and then flatly to deny, the working of witches and devils, as but falshoods and delusions.” 216
216 Fuller, Church History of Britain, Book X, p. 74. See also Osborn’s Works, Essay I: where the author says, he “gave charge to his judges, to be circumspect in condemning those, committed by ignorant justices for diabolical compacts. Nor had he concluded his advice in a narrower circle, as I have heard, than the denial of any such operations, but out of reason of state, and to gratify the church, which hath in no age thought fit to explode out of the common people’s minds an apprehension of witchcraft.” The author adds, that he “must confess James to have been the promptest man living in his dexterity to discover an imposture,” and subjoins a remarkable story in confirmation of this assertion.
A more melancholy tale does not occur in the annals of necromancy than that of the Lancashire witches in 1612. The scene of this story is in Pendlebury Forest, four or five miles from Manchester, remarkable for its picturesque and gloomy situation. Such places were not sought then as now, that they might afford food for the imagination, and gratify the refined taste of the traveller. They were rather shunned as infamous for scenes of depredation and murder, or as the consecrated haunts of diabolical intercourse. Pendlebury had been long of ill repute on this latter account, when a country magistrate, Roger Nowel by name, conceived about this time that he should do a public service, by rooting out a nest of witches, who rendered the place a terror to all the neighbouring vulgar. The first persons he seized on were Elizabeth Demdike and Ann Chattox, the former of whom was eighty years of age, and had for some years been blind, who subsisted principally by begging, though she had a miserable hovel on the spot, which she called her own. Ann Chattox was of the same age, and had for some time been threatened with the calamity of blindness. Demdike was held to be so hardened a witch, that she had trained all her family to the mystery; namely, Elizabeth Device, her daughter, and James and Alison Device, her grandchildren. In the accusation of Chattox was also involved Ann Redferne, her daughter. These, together with John Bulcock, and Jane his mother, Alice Nutter, Catherine Hewit, and Isabel Roby, were successively apprehended by the diligence of Nowel and one or two neighbouring magistrates, and were all of them by some means induced, some to make a more liberal, and others a more restricted confession of their misdeeds in witchcraft, and were afterwards hurried away to Lancaster Castle, fifty miles off, to prison. Their crimes were said to have universally proceeded from malignity and resentment; and it was reported to have repeatedly happened for poor old Demdike to be led by night from her habitation into the open air by some member of her family, when she was left alone for an hour to curse her victim, and pursue her unholy incantations, and was then sought, and brought again to her hovel. Her curses never failed to produce the desired effect.
These poor wretches had been but a short time in prison, when information was given, that a meeting of witches was held on Good Friday, at Malkin’s Tower, the habitation of Elizabeth Device, to the number of twenty persons, to consult how by infernal machinations to kill one Covel, an officer, to blow up Lancaster Castle, and deliver the prisoners, and to kill another man of the name of Lister. The last was effected. The other plans by some means, we are not told how, were prevented.
The prisoners were kept in jail till the summer assizes; and in the mean time it fortunately happened that the poor blind Demdike died in confinement, and was never brought up to trial.
The other prisoners were severally indicted for killing by witchcraft certain persons who were named, and were all found guilty. The principal witnesses against Elizabeth Device were James Device and Jennet Device, her grandchildren, the latter only nine years of age. When this girl was put into the witness-box, the grandmother, on seeing her, set up so dreadful a yell, intermixed with bitter curses, that the child declared that she could not go on with her evidence, unless the prisoner was removed. This was agreed to; and both brother and sister swore, that they had been present, when the devil came to their grandmother in the shape of a black dog, and asked her what she desired. She said, the death of John Robinson; when the dog told her to make an image of Robinson in clay, and after crumble it into dust, and as fast as the image perished, the life of the victim should waste away, and in conclusion the man should die. This evidence was received; and upon such testimony, and testimony like this, ten persons were led to the gallows, on the twentieth of August, Ann Chattox of eighty years of age among the rest, the day after the trials, which lasted two days, were finished. The judges who presided on these trials were sir James Altham and sir Edward Bromley, barons of the exchequer. 217
From the whole of this story it is fair to infer, that these old women had played at the game of commerce with the devil. It had flattered their vanity, to make their simpler neighbours afraid of them. To observe the symptoms of their rustic terror, even of their hatred and detestation, had been gratifying to them. They played the game so long, that in an imperfect degree they deceived themselves. Human passions are always to a certain degree infectious. Perceiving the hatred of their neighbours, they began to think that they were worthy objects of detestation and terror, that their imprecations had a real effect, and their curses killed. The brown horrors of the forest were favourable to visions; and they sometimes almost believed, that they met the foe of mankind in the night. — But, when Elizabeth Device actually saw her grandchild of nine years old placed in the witness-box, with the intention of consigning her to a public and an ignominious end, then the reveries of the imagination vanished, and she deeply felt the reality, that, where she had been somewhat imposing on the child in devilish sport, she had been whetting the dagger that was to take her own life, and digging her own grave. It was then no wonder that she uttered a preternatural yell, and poured curses from the bottom of her heart. It must have been almost beyond human endurance, to hear the cry of her despair, and to witness the curses and the agony in which it vented itself.
Twenty-two years elapsed after this scene, when a wretched man, of the name of Edmund Robinson, conceived on the same spot the scheme of making himself a profitable speculation from a similar source. He trained his son, eleven years of age, and furnished him with the necessary instructions. He taught him to say that one day in the fields he had met with two dogs, which he urged on to hunt a hare. They would not budge; and he in revenge tied them to a bush and whipped them; when suddenly one of them was transformed into an old woman and the other into a child, a witch and her imp. This story succeeded so well, that the father soon after gave out that his son had an eye that could distinguish a witch by sight, and took him round to the neighbouring churches, where he placed him standing on a bench after service, and bade him look round and see what he could observe. The device, however clumsy, succeeded, and no less than seventeen persons were apprehended at the boy’s selection, and conducted to Lancaster Castle. These seventeen persons were tried at the assizes, and found guilty; but the judge, whose name has unfortunately been lost, unlike sir James Altham and sir Edward Bromley, saw something in the case that excited his suspicion, and, though the juries had not hesitated in any one instance, respited the convicts, and sent up a report of the affair to the government. Twenty-two years on this occasion had not elapsed in vain. Four of the prisoners were by the judge’s recommendation sent for to the metropolis, and were examined first by the king’s physicians, and then by Charles the First in person. The boy’s story was strictly scrutinised. In fine he confessed that it was all an imposture; and the whole seventeen received the royal pardon. 218
Eleanor Tuchet, daughter of George lord Audley, married sir John Davies, an eminent lawyer in the time of James the First, and author of a poem of considerable merit on the Immortality of the Soul. This lady was a person of no contemptible talents; but what she seems most to have valued herself upon, was her gift of prophecy; and she accordingly printed a book of Strange and Wonderful Predictions. She professed to receive her prophecies from a spirit, who communicated to her audibly things about to come to pass, though the voice could be heard by no other person. Sir John Davies was nominated lord chief justice of the king’s bench in 1626. Before he was inducted into the office, lady Eleanor, sitting with him on Sunday at dinner, suddenly burst into a passion of tears. Sir John asked her what made her weep. To which she replied, “These are your funeral tears.” Sir John turned off the prediction with a merry answer. But in a very few days he was seized with an apoplexy, of which he presently died. 219 — She also predicted the death of the duke of Buckingham in the same year. For this assumption of the gift of prophecy, she was cited before the high-commission-court and examined in 1634. 220
It is a painful task to record, that Edward Fairfax, the harmonious and elegant translator of Tasso, prosecuted six of his neighbours at York assizes in the year 1622, for witchcraft on his children. “The common facts of imps, fits, and the apparition of the witches, were deposed against the prisoners.” The grand jury found the bill, and the accused were arraigned. But, we are told, “the judge, having a certificate of the sober behaviour of the prisoners, directed the jury so well as to induce them to bring in a verdict of acquittal.” 221 The poet afterwards drew up a bulky argument and narrative in vindication of his conduct.
221 Hutchinson on Witchcraft.
Dr. Lamb was a noted sorcerer in the time of Charles the First. The famous Richard Baxter, in his Certainty of the World of Spirits, printed in 1691, has recorded an appropriate instance of the miraculous performances of this man. Meeting two of his acquaintance in the street, and they having intimated a desire to witness some example of his skill, he invited them home with him. He then conducted them into an inner room, when presently, to their no small surprise, they saw a tree spring up in the middle of the apartment. They had scarcely ceased wondering at this phenomenon, when in a moment there appeared three diminutive men, with little axes in their hands for the purpose of cutting down this tree. The tree was felled; and the doctor dismissed his guests, fully satisfied of the solidity of his pretensions. That very night however a tremendous hurricane arose, causing the house of one of the guests to rock from side to side, with every appearance that the building would come down, and bury him and his wife in the ruins. The wife in great terror asked, “Were you not at Dr. Lamb’s today?” The husband confessed it was true. “And did you not bring away something from his house?” The husband owned that, when the little men felled the tree, he had been idle enough to pick up some of the chips, and put them in his pocket. Nothing now remained to be done, but to produce the chips, and get rid of them as fast as they could. This ceremony performed, the whirlwind immediately ceased, and the remainder of the night became perfectly calm and serene.
Dr. Lamb at length became so odious by his reputation for these infernal practices, that the populace rose upon him in 1640, and tore him to pieces in the streets. — Nor did the effects of his ill fame terminate here. Thirteen years after, a woman, who had been his servant-maid, was apprehended on a charge of witchcraft, was tried, and in expiation of her crime was executed at Tyburn.
A few years previously to the catastrophe of Dr, Lamb, there occurred a scene in France which it is eminently to the purpose of this work to record. Urbain Grandier, a canon of the church, and a popular preacher of the town of Loudun in the district of Poitiers, was in the year 1634 brought to trial upon the accusation of magic. The first cause of his being thus called in question was the envy of his rival preachers, whose fame was eclipsed by his superior talents. The second cause was a libel falsely imputed to him upon cardinal Richelieu, who with all his eminent qualities had the infirmity of being inexorable upon the question of any personal attack that was made upon him. Grandier, beside his eloquence, was distinguished for his courage and resolution, for the gracefulness of his figure, and the extraordinary attention he paid to the neatness of his dress and the decoration of his person, which last circumstance brought upon him the imputation of being too much devoted to the service of the fair.
About this time certain nuns of the convent of Ursulines at Loudun were attacked with a disease which manifested itself by very extraordinary symptoms, suggesting to many the idea that they were possessed with devils. A rumour was immediately spread that Grandier, urged by some offence he had conceived against these nuns, was the author, by the skill he had in the arts of sorcery, of these possessions. It unfortunately happened, that the same capuchin friar who assured cardinal Richelieu that Grandier was the writer of the libel against him, also communicated to him the story of the possessed nuns, and the suspicion which had fallen on the priest on their account. The cardinal seized with avidity on this occasion of private vengeance, wrote to a counsellor of state at Loudun, one of his creatures, to cause a strict investigation to be made into the charge, and in such terms as plainly implied that what he aimed at was the destruction of Grandier.
The trial took place in the month of August 1634; and, according to the authorised copy of the trial, Grandier was convicted upon the evidence of Astaroth, a devil of the order of Seraphims, and chief of the possessing devils, of Easas, of Celsus, of Acaos, of Cedon, of Asmodeus of the order of thrones, of Alex, of Zabulon, of Naphthalim, of Cham, of Uriel, and of Achas of the order of principalities, and sentenced to be burned alive. In other words, he was convicted upon the evidence of twelve nuns, who, being asked who they were, gave in these names, and professed to be devils, that, compelled by the order of the court, delivered a constrained testimony. The sentence was accordingly executed, and Grandier met his fate with heroic constancy. At his death an enormous drone fly was seen buzzing about his head; and a monk, who was present at the execution, attested that, whereas the devils are accustomed to present themselves in the article of death to tempt men to deny God their Saviour, this was Beelzebub, which in Hebrew signifies the God of flies, come to carry away to hell the soul of the victim. 222
222 Menagiana, Tom. II, p. 252, et seqq.
The supposed science of astrology is of a nature less tremendous, and less appalling to the imagination, than the commerce with devils and evil spirits, or the raising of the dead from the peace of the tomb to effect certain magical operations, or to instruct the living as to the events that are speedily to befal them. Yet it is well worthy of attention in a work of this sort, if for no other reason, because it has prevailed in almost all nations and ages of the world, and has been assiduously cultivated by men, frequently of great talent, and who were otherwise distinguished for the soundness of their reasoning powers, and for the steadiness and perseverance of their application to the pursuits in which they engaged.
The whole of the question was built upon the supposed necessary connection of certain aspects and conjunctions or oppositions of the stars and heavenly bodies, with the events of the world and the characters and actions of men. The human mind has ever confessed an anxiety to pry into the future, and to deal in omens and prophetic suggestions, and, certain coincidences having occurred however fortuitously, to deduce from them rules and maxims upon which to build an anticipation of things to come.
Add to which, it is flattering to the pride of man, to suppose all nature concerned with and interested in what is of importance to ourselves. Of this we have an early example in the song of Deborah in the Old Testament, where, in a fit of pious fervour and exaltation, the poet exclaims, “They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.” 223
The general belief in astrology had a memorable effect on the history of the human mind. All men in the first instance have an intuitive feeling of freedom in the acts they perform, and of consequence of praise or blame due to them in just proportion to the integrity or baseness of the motives by which they are actuated. This is in reality the most precious endowment of man. Hence it comes that the good man feels a pride and self-complacency in acts of virtue, takes credit to himself for the independence of his mind, and is conscious of the worth and honour to which he feels that he has a rightful claim. But, if all our acts are predetermined by something out of ourselves, if, however virtuous and honourable are our dispositions, we are overruled by our stars, and compelled to the acts, which, left to ourselves, we should most resolutely disapprove, our condition becomes slavery, and we are left in a state the most abject and hopeless. And, though our situation in this respect is merely imaginary, it does not the less fail to have very pernicious results to our characters. Men, so far as they are believers in astrology, look to the stars, and not to themselves, for an account of what they shall do, and resign themselves to the omnipotence of a fate which they feel it in vain to resist. Of consequence, a belief in astrology has the most unfavourable tendency as to the morality of man; and, were it not that the sense of the liberty of our actions is so strong that all the reasonings in the world cannot subvert it, there would be a fatal close to all human dignity and all human virtue.
223 Judges, v, 20.
One of the most striking examples of the ascendancy of astrological faith is in the instance of William Lilly. This man has fortunately left us a narrative of his own life; and he comes sufficiently near to our time, to give us a feeling of reality in the transactions in which he was engaged, and to bring the scenes home to our business and bosoms.
Before he enters expressly upon the history of his life, he gives us incidentally an anecdote which merits our attention, as tending strongly to illustrate the credulity of man at the periods of which we treat.
Lilly was born in the year 1602. When certain circumstances led his yet undetermined thoughts to the study of astrology as his principal pursuit, he put himself in the year 1632 under the tuition of one Evans, whom he describes as poor, ignorant, drunken, presumptuous and knavish, but who had a character, as the phrase was, for erecting a figure, predicting future events, discovering secrets, restoring stolen goods, and even for raising a spirit when he pleased. Sir Kenelm Digby was one of the most promising characters of these times, extremely handsome and graceful in his person, accomplished in all military exercises, endowed with high intellectual powers, and indefatigably inquisitive after knowledge. To render him the more remarkable, he was the eldest son of Everard Digby, who was the most eminent sufferer for the conspiracy of the Gunpowder Treason.
It was, as it seems, some time before Lilly became acquainted with Evans, that lord Bothwel and sir Kenelm Digby came to Evans at his lodgings in the Minories, for the express purpose of desiring him to shew them a spirit. Sir Kenelm was born in the year 1603; he must have been therefore at this time a young man, but sufficiently old to know what he sought, and to choose the subjects of his enquiry with a certain discretion. Evans consented to gratify the curiosity of his illustrious visitors. He drew a circle, and placed himself and the two strangers within the circle. He began his invocations. On a sudden, Evans was taken away from the others, and found himself, he knew not how, in Battersea Fields near the Thames. The next morning a countryman discovered him asleep, and, having awaked him, in answer to his enquiries told him where he was. Evans in the afternoon sent a messenger to his wife, to inform her of his safety, and to calm the apprehensions she might reasonably entertain. Just as the messenger arrived, sir Kenelm Digby came to the house, curious to enquire respecting the issue of the adventure of yesterday. Lilly received this story from Evans; and, having asked him how such an event came to attend on the experiment, was answered that, in practising the invocation, he had heedlessly omitted the necessary suffumigation, at which omission the spirit had taken offence.
Lilly made some progress in astrology under Evans, and practised the art in minor matters with a certain success; but his ambition led him to aspire to the highest place in his profession. He made an experiment to discover a hidden treasure in Westminster Abbey; and, having obtained leave for that purpose from the bishop of Lincoln, dean of Westminster, he resorted to the spot with about thirty persons more, with divining rods. He fixed on the place according to the rules, and began to dig; but he had not proceeded far, before a furious storm came on, and he judged it advisable to “dismiss the demons,” and desist. These supernatural assistants, he says, had taken offence at the number and levity of the persons present; and, if he had not left off when he did, he had no doubt that the storm would have grown more and more violent, till the whole structure would have been laid level with the ground.
He purchased himself a house to which to retire in 1636 at Hersham near Walton on Thames, having, though originally bred in the lowest obscurity, twice enriched himself in some degree by marriage. He came to London with a view to practise his favourite art in 1641; but, having received a secret monition warning him that he was not yet sufficiently an adept, he retired again into the country for two years, and did not finally commence his career till 1644, when he published a Prophetical Almanac, which he continued to do till about the time of his death. He then immediately began to rise into considerable notice. Mrs. Lisle, the wife of one of the commissioners of the great seal, took to him the urine of Whitlocke, one of the most eminent lawyers of the time, to consult him respecting the health of the party, when he informed the lady that the person would recover from his present disease, but about a month after would be very dangerously ill of a surfeit, which accordingly happened. He was protected by the great Selden, who interested himself in his favour; and he tells us that Lenthal, speaker of the house of commons, was at all times his friend. He further says of himself that he was originally partial to king Charles and to monarchy: but, when the parliament had apparently the upper hand, he had the skill to play his cards accordingly, and secured his favour with the ruling powers. Whitlocke, in his Memorials of Affairs in his Own Times, takes repeated notice of him, says that, meeting him in the street in the spring of 1645, he enquired of Lilly as to what was likely speedily to happen, who predicted to him the battle of Naseby, and notes in 1648 that some of his prognostications “fell out very strangely, particularly as to the king’s fall from his horse about this time.” Lilly applied to Whitlocke in favour of his rival, Wharton, the astrologer, and his prayer was granted, and again in behalf of Oughtred, the celebrated mathematician.
Lilly and Booker, a brother-astrologer, were sent for in great form, with a coach and four horses, to the head-quarters of Fairfax at Windsor, towards the end of the year 1647, when they told the general, that they were “confident that God would go along with him and his army, till the great work for which they were ordained was perfected, which they hoped would be the conquering their and the parliament’s enemies, and a quiet settlement and firm peace over the whole nation.” The two astrologers were sent for in the same state in the following year to the siege of Colchester, which they predicted would soon fall into possession of the parliament.
Lilly in the mean while retained in secret his partiality to Charles the First. Mrs. Whorwood, a lady who was fully in the king’s confidence, came to consult him, as to the place to which Charles should retire when he escaped from Hampton Court. Lilly prescribed accordingly; but Ashburnham disconcerted all his measures, and the king made his inauspicious retreat to the isle of Wight. Afterwards he was consulted by the same lady, as to the way in which Charles should proceed respecting the negociations with the parliamentary commissioners at Newport, when Lilly advised that the king should sign all the propositions, and come up immediately with the commissioners to London, in which case Lilly did not doubt that the popular tide would turn in his favour, and the royal cause prove triumphant. Finally, he tells us that he furnished the saw and aqua fortis, with which the king had nearly removed the bars of the window of his prison in Carisbrook Castle, and escaped. But Charles manifested the same irresolution at the critical moment in this case, which had before proved fatal to his success. In the year 1649 Lilly received a pension of one hundred pounds per annum from the council of state, which, after having been paid him for two years, he declined to accept any longer. In 1659 he received a present of a gold chain and medal from Charles X king of Sweden, in acknowledgment of the respectful mention he had made of that monarch in his almanacs.
Lilly lived to a considerable age, not having died till the year 1681. In the year 1666 he was summoned before a committee of the house of commons, on the frivolous ground that, in his Monarchy or No Monarchy published fifteen years before, he had introduced sixteen plates, among which was one, the eighth, representing persons digging graves, with coffins, and other emblems significative of mortality, and, in the thirteenth, a city in flames. He was asked whether these things referred to the late plague and fire of London. Lilly replied in a manner to intimate that they did; but he ingenuously confessed that he had not known in what year they would happen. He said, that he had given these emblematical representations without any comment, that those who were competent might apprehend their meaning, whilst the rest of the world remained in the ignorance which was their appointed portion.
Nothing can place the credulity of the English nation on the subject of witchcraft about this time, in a more striking point of view, than the history of Matthew Hopkins, who, in a pamphlet published in 1647 in his own vindication, assumes to himself the surname of the Witch-finder. He fell by accident, in his native county of Suffolk, into contact with one or two reputed witches, and, being a man of an observing turn and an ingenious invention, struck out for himself a trade, which brought him such moderate returns as sufficed to maintain him, and at the same time gratified his ambition by making him a terror to many, and the object of admiration and gratitude to more, who felt themselves indebted to him for ridding them of secret and intestine enemies, against whom, as long as they proceeded in ways that left no footsteps behind, they felt they had no possibility of guarding themselves. Hopkins’s career was something like that of Titus Oates in the following reign, but apparently much safer for the adventurer, since Oates armed against himself a very formidable party, while Hopkins seemed to assail a few only here and there, who were poor, debilitated, impotent and helpless.
After two or three successful experiments, Hopkins engaged in a regular tour of the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Huntingdonshire. He united to him two confederates, a man named John Stern, and a woman whose name has not been handed down to us. They visited every town in their route that invited them, and secured to them the moderate remuneration of twenty shillings and their expences, leaving what was more than this to the spontaneous gratitude of those who should deem themselves indebted to the exertions of Hopkins and his party. By this expedient they secured to themselves a favourable reception; and a set of credulous persons who would listen to their dictates as so many oracles. Being three of them, they were enabled to play the game into one another’s hands, and were sufficiently strong to overawe all timid and irresolute opposition. In every town to which they came, they enquired for reputed witches, and having taken them into custody, were secure for the most part of a certain number of zealous abettors, who took care that they should have a clear stage for their experiments. They overawed their helpless victims with a certain air of authority, as if they had received a commission from heaven for the discovery of misdeeds. They assailed the poor creatures with a multitude of questions constructed in the most artful manner. They stripped them naked, in search for the devil’s marks in different parts of their bodies, which were ascertained by running pins to the head into those parts, that, if they were genuine marks, would prove themselves such by their insensibility. They swam their victims in rivers and ponds, it being an undoubted fact, that, if the persons accused were true witches, the water, which was the symbol of admission into the Christian church, would not receive them into its bosom. If the persons examined continued obstinate, they seated them in constrained and uneasy attitudes, occasionally binding them with cords, and compelling them to remain so without food or sleep for twenty-four hours. They walked them up and down the room, two taking them under each arm, till they dropped down with fatigue. They carefully swept the room in which the experiment was made, that they might keep away spiders and flies, which were supposed to be devils or their imps in that disguise.
The most plentiful inquisition of Hopkins and his confederates was in the years 1644, 1645 and 1646. At length there were so many persons committed to prison upon suspicion of witchcraft, that the government was compelled to take in hand the affair. The rural magistrates before whom Hopkins and his confederates brought their victims, were obliged, willingly or unwillingly, to commit them for trial. A commission was granted to the earl of Warwick and others to hold a sessions of jail-delivery against them for Essex at Chelmsford, Lord Warwick was at this time the most popular nobleman in England. He was appointed by the parliament lord high admiral during the civil war. He was much courted by the independent clergy, was shrewd, penetrating and active, and exhibited a singular mixture of pious demeanour with a vein of facetiousness and jocularity. With him was sent Dr. Calamy, the most eminent divine of the period of the Commonwealth, to see (says Baxter 224) that no fraud was committed, or wrong done to the parties accused. It may well be doubted however whether the presence of this clergyman did not operate unfavourably to the persons suspected. He preached before the judges. It may readily be believed, considering the temper of the times, that he insisted much upon the horrible nature of the sin of witchcraft, which could expect no pardon, either in this world or the world to come. He sat on the bench with the judges, and participated in their deliberations. In the result of this inquisition sixteen persons were hanged at Yarmouth in Norfolk, fifteen at Chelmsford, and sixty at various places in the county of Suffolk.
Whitlocke in his Memorials of English Affairs, under the date of 1649, speaks of many witches being apprehended about Newcastle, upon the information of a person whom he calls the Witch-finder, who, as his experiments were nearly the same, though he is not named, we may reasonably suppose to be Hopkins; and in the following year about Boston in Lincolnshire. In 1652 and 1653 the same author speaks of women in Scotland, who were put to incredible torture to extort from them a confession of what their adversaries imputed to them.
The fate of Hopkins was such us might be expected in similar cases. The multitude are at first impressed with horror at the monstrous charges that are advanced. They are seized, as by contagion, with terror at the mischiefs which seem to impend over them, and from which no innocence and no precaution appear to afford them sufficient protection. They hasten, as with an unanimous effort, to avenge themselves upon these malignant enemies, whom God and man alike combine to expel from society. But, after a time, they begin to reflect, and to apprehend that they have acted with too much precipitation, that they have been led on with uncertain appearances. They see one victim led to the gallows after another, without stint or limitation. They see one dying with the most solemn asseverations of innocence, and another confessing apparently she knows not what, what is put into her mouth by her relentless persecutors. They see these victims, old, crazy and impotent, harassed beyond endurance by the ingenious cruelties that are practised against them. They were first urged on by implacable hostility and fury, to be satisfied with nothing but blood. But humanity and remorse also have their turn. Dissatisfied with themselves, they are glad to point their resentment against another. The man that at first they hailed as a public benefactor, they presently come to regard with jealous eyes, and begin to consider as a cunning impostor, dealing in cool blood with the lives of his fellow-creatures for a paltry gain, and, still more horrible, for the lure of a perishable and short-lived fame. The multitude, we are told, after a few seasons, rose upon Hopkins, and resolved to subject him to one of his own criterions. They dragged him to a pond, and threw him into the water for a witch. It seems he floated on the surface, as a witch ought to do. They then pursued him with hootings and revilings, and drove him for ever into that obscurity and ignominy which he had amply merited.
224 Certainty of the World of Spirits.
There is a story of Cromwel recorded by Echard, the historian, which well deserves to be mentioned, as strikingly illustrative of the credulity which prevailed about this period. It takes its date from the morning of the third of September, 1651, when Cromwel gained the battle of Worcester against Charles the Second, which he was accustomed to call by a name sufficiently significant, his “crowning victory.” It is told on the authority of a colonel Lindsey, who is said to have been an intimate friend of the usurper, and to have been commonly known by that name, as being in reality the senior captain in Cromwel’s own regiment. “On this memorable morning the general,” it seems, “took this officer with him to a woodside not far from the army, and bade him alight, and follow him into that wood, and to take particular notice of what he saw and heard. After having alighted, and secured their horses, and walked some little way into the wood, Lindsey began to turn pale, and to be seized with horror from some unknown cause. Upon which Cromwel asked him how he did, or how he felt himself. He answered, that he was in such a trembling and consternation, that he had never felt the like in all the conflicts and battles he had ever been engaged in: but whether it proceeded from the gloominess of the place, or the temperature of his body, he knew not. ‘How now?’ said Cromwel, ‘What, troubled with the vapours? Come forward, man.’ They had not gone above twenty yards further, before Lindsey on a sudden stood still, and cried out, ‘By all that is good I am seized with such unaccountable terror and astonishment, that it is impossible for me to stir one step further.’ Upon which Cromwel called him, ‘Fainthearted fool!’ and bade him, ‘stand there, and observe, or be witness.’ And then the general, advancing to some distance from him, met a grave, elderly man with a roll of parchment in his hand, who delivered it to Cromwel, and he eagerly perused it, Lindsey, a little recovered from his fear, heard several loud words between them: particularly Cromwel said, ‘This is but for seven years; I was to have had it for one-and-twenty; and it must, and shall be so.’ The other told him positively, it could not be for more than seven. Upon which Cromwel cried with great fierceness, ‘It shall however be for fourteen years.’ But the other peremptorily declared, ‘It could not possibly be for any longer time; and, if he would not take it so, there were others that would.’ Upon which Cromwel at last took the parchment: and, returning to Lindsey with great joy in his countenance, he cried, ‘Now, Lindsey, the battle is our own! I long to be engaged.’ Returning out of the wood, they rode to the army, Cromwel with a resolution to engage as soon as possible, and the other with a design to leave the army as soon. After the first charge, Lindsey deserted his post, and rode away with all possible speed day and night, till he came into the county of Norfolk, to the house of an intimate friend, one Mr. Thoroughgood, minister of the parish of Grimstone. Cromwel, as soon as he missed him, sent all ways after him, with a promise of a great reward to any that should bring him alive or dead. When Mr. Thoroughgood saw his friend Lindsey come into his yard, his horse and himself much tired, in a sort of a maze, he said, ‘How now, colonel? We hear there is likely to be a battle shortly: what, fled from your colours?’ ‘A battle,’ said the other; ‘yes there has been a battle, and I am sure the king is beaten. But, if ever I strike a stroke for Cromwel again, may I perish eternally! For I am sure he has made a league with the devil, and the devil will have him in due time.’ Then, desiring his protection from Cromwel’s inquisitors, he went in, and related to him the story in all its circumstances.” It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader, that Cromwel died on that day seven years, September the third, 1658.
Echard adds, to prove his impartiality as an historian, “How far Lindsey is to be believed, and how far the story is to be accounted incredible, is left to the reader’s faith and judgment, and not to any determination of our own.”
I find a story dated about this period, which, though it does not strictly belong to the subject of necromancy or dealings with the devil, seems well to deserve to be inserted in this work. The topic of which I treat is properly of human credulity; and this infirmity of our nature can scarcely be more forcibly illustrated than in the following example. It is recorded by the well-known John Bunyan, in a fugitive tract of his, entitled the Life and Death of Mr. Badman, but which has since been inserted in the works of the author in two volumes folio. In minuteness of particularity and detail it may vie with almost any story which human industry has collected, and human simplicity has ever placed upon record.
“There was,” says my author, “a poor woman, by name Dorothy Mateley, who lived at a small village, called Ashover, in the county of Derby. The way in which she earned her subsistence, was by washing the rubbish that came from the lead-mines in that neighbourhood through a sieve, which labour she performed till the earth had passed the sieve, and what remained was particles and small portions of genuine ore. This woman was of exceedingly low and coarse habits, and was noted to be a profane swearer, curser, liar and thief; and her usual way of asserting things was with an imprecation, as, ‘I would I might sink into the earth, if it be not so,’ or, ‘I would that God would make the earth open and swallow me up, if I tell an untruth.’
“Now it happened on the 23rd of March, 1660, [according to our computation 1661], that she was washing ore on the top of a steep hill about a quarter of a mile from Ashover, when a lad who was working on the spot missed two-pence out of his pocket, and immediately bethought himself of charging Dorothy with the theft. He had thrown off his breeches, and was working in his drawers. Dorothy with much seeming indignation denied the charge, and added, as was usual with her, that she wished the ground might open and swallow her up, if she had the boy’s money.
“One George Hopkinson, a man of good report in Ashover, happened to pass at no great distance at the time. He stood a while to talk to the woman. There stood also near the tub a little child, who was called to by her elder sister to come away. Hopkinson therefore took the little girl by the hand to lead her to her that called her. But he had not gone ten yards from Dorothy, when he heard her crying out for help, and turning back, to his great astonishment he saw the woman, with her tub and her sieve, twirling round and round, and sinking at the same time in the earth. She sunk about three yards, and then stopped, at the same time calling lustily for assistance. But at that very moment a great stone fell upon her head, and broke her skull, and the earth fell in and covered her. She was afterwards digged up, and found about four yards under ground, and the boy’s two pennies were discovered on her person, but the tub and the sieve had altogether disappeared.”
One of the most remarkable trials that occur in the history of criminal jurisprudence, was that of Amy Duny and Rose Cullender at Bury St. Edmund’s in the year 1664. Not for the circumstances that occasioned it; for they were of the coarsest and most vulgar materials. The victims were two poor, solitary women of the town of Lowestoft in Suffolk, who had by temper and demeanour rendered themselves particularly obnoxious to their whole neighbourhood. Whenever they were offended with any one, and this frequently happened, they vented their wrath in curses and ill language, muttered between their teeth, and the sense of which could scarcely be collected; and ever and anon they proceeded to utter dark predictions of evil, which should happen in revenge for the ill treatment they received. The fishermen would not sell them fish; and the boys in the street were taught to fly from them with horror, or to pursue them with hootings and scurrilous abuse. The principal charges against them were, that the children of two families were many times seized with fits, in which they exclaimed that they saw Amy Duny and Rose Cullender coming to torment them. They vomited, and in their vomit were often found pins, and once or twice a two-penny nail. One or two of the children died; for the accusations spread over a period of eight years, from 1656 to the time of the trial. To back these allegations, a waggoner appeared, whose waggon had been twice overturned in one morning, in consequence of the curses of one of the witches, the waggon having first run against her hovel, and materially injured it. Another time the waggon stuck fast in a gate-way, though the posts on neither side came in contact with the wheels; and, one of the posts being cut down, the waggon passed easily along.
This trial, as I have said, was no way memorable for the circumstances that occasioned it, but for the importance of the persons who were present, and had a share in the conduct of it. The judge who presided was sir Matthew Hale, then chief baron of the exchequer, and who had before rendered himself remarkable for his undaunted resistance to one of the arbitrary mandates of Cromwel, then in the height of his power, which was addressed to Hale in his capacity of judge. Hale was also an eminent author, who had treated upon the abstrusest subjects, and was equally distinguished for his piety and inflexible integrity. Another person, who was present, and accidentally took part in the proceedings, was sir Thomas Browne, the superlatively eloquent and able author of the Religio Medici. (He likewise took a part on the side of superstition in the trial of the Lancashire witches in 1634.) A judge also who assisted at the trial was Keeling, who afterwards occupied the seat of chief justice.
Sir Matthew Hale apparently paid deep attention to the trial, and felt much perplexed by the evidence. Seeing sir Thomas Browne in court, and knowing him for a man of extensive information and vast powers of intellect, Hale appealed to him, somewhat extrajudicially, for his thoughts on what had transpired. Sir Thomas gave it as his opinion that the children were bewitched, and inforced his position by something that had lately occured in Denmark. Keeling dissented from this, and inclined to the belief that it might all be practice, and that there was nothing supernatural in the affair.
The chief judge was cautious in his proceeding. He even refused to sum up the evidence, lest he might unawares put a gloss of his own upon any thing that had been sworn, but left it all to the jury. He told them that the Scriptures left no doubt that there was such a thing as witchcraft, and instructed them that all they had to do was, first, to consider whether the children were really bewitched, and secondly, whether the witchcraft was sufficiently brought home to the prisoners at the bar. The jury returned a verdict of guilty; and the two women were hanged on the seventeenth of March 1664, one week after their trial. The women shewed very little activity during the trial, and died protesting their innocence. 225
This trial is particularly memorable for the circumstances that attended it. It has none of the rust of ages: no obscurity arises from a long vista of years interposed between. Sir Matthew Hale and sir Thomas Browne are eminent authors; and there is something in such men, that in a manner renders them the contemporaries of all times, the living acquaintance of successive ages of the world. Names generally stand on the page of history as mere abstract idealities; but in the case of these men we are familiar with their tempers and prejudices, their virtues and vices, their strength and their weakness.
They proceed in the first place upon the assumption that there is such a thing as witchcraft, and therefore have nothing to do but with the cogency or weakness of evidence as applied to this particular case. Now what are the premises on which they proceed in this question? They believe in a God, omniscient, all wise, all powerful, and whose “tender mercies are over all his works.” They believe in a devil, awful almost as God himself, for he has power nearly unlimited, and a will to work all evil, with subtlety, deep reach of thought, vigilant, “walking about, seeking whom he may devour.” This they believe, for they refer to “the Scriptures, as confirming beyond doubt that there is such a thing as witchcraft.” Now what office do they assign to the devil, “the prince of the power of the air,” at whose mighty attributes, combined with his insatiable malignity, the wisest of us might well stand aghast? It is the first law of sound sense and just judgment,
— servetur ad imum,
Qualis ab incoepto processerit, et sibi constet;
225 Trial of the Witches executed at Bury St. Edmund’s.
that every character which we place on the scene of things should demean himself as his beginning promises, and preserve a consistency that, to a mind sufficiently sagacious, should almost serve us in lieu of the gift of prophecy. And how is this devil employed according to sir Matthew Hale and sir Thomas Browne? Why in proffering himself as the willing tool of the malice of two doting old women. In afflicting with fits, in causing them to vomit pins and nails, the children of the parents who had treated the old women with barbarity and cruelty. In judgment upon these women sit two men, in some respects the most enlightened of an age that produced Paradise Lost, and in confirmation of this blessed creed two women are executed in cool blood, in a country which had just achieved its liberties under the guidance and the virtues of Hampden.
What right we have in any case to take away the life of a human being already in our power, and under the forms of justice, is a problem, one of the hardest that can be proposed for the wit of man to solve. But to see some of the wisest of men, sitting in judgment upon the lives of two human creatures in consequence of the forgery and tricks of a set of malicious children, as in this case undoubtedly it was, is beyond conception deplorable. Let us think for a moment of the inexpressible evils which a man encounters when dragged from his peaceful home under a capital accusation, of his arraignment in open court, of the orderly course of the evidence, and of the sentence awarded against him, of the “damned minutes and days he counts over” from that time to his execution, of his being finally brought forth before a multitude exasperated by his supposed crimes, and his being cast out from off the earth as unworthy so much as to exist among men, and all this being wholly innocent. The consciousness of innocence a hundred fold embitters the pang. And, if these poor women were too obtuse of soul entirely to feel the pang, did that give their superiors a right to overwhelm and to crush them?
The story of witchcraft, as it is reported to have passed in Sweden in the year 1670, and has many times been reprinted in this country, is on several accounts one of the most interesting and deplorable that has ever been recorded. The scene lies in Dalecarlia, a country for ever memorable as having witnessed some of the earliest adventures of Gustavus Vasa, his deepest humiliation, and the first commencement of his prosperous fortune. The Dalecarlians are represented to us as the simplest, the most faithful, and the bravest of the sons of men, men undebauched and unsuspicious, but who devoted themselves in the most disinterested manner for a cause that appeared to them worthy of support, the cause of liberty and independence against the cruelest of tyrants. At least such they were in 1520, one hundred and fifty years before the date of the story we are going to recount. — The site of these events was at Mohra and Elfdale in the province that has just been mentioned.
The Dalecarlians, simple and ignorant, but of exemplary integrity and honesty, who dwelt amidst impracticable mountains and spacious mines of copper and iron, were distinguished for superstition among the countries of the north, where all were superstitious. They were probably subject at intervals to the periodical visitation of alarms of witches, when whole races of men became wild with the infection without any one’s being well able to account for it.
In the year 1670, and one or two preceding years, there was a great alarm of witches in the town of Mohra. There were always two or three witches existing in some of the obscure quarters of this place. But now they increased in number, and shewed their faces with the utmost audacity. Their mode on the present occasion was to make a journey through the air to Blockula, an imaginary scene of retirement, which none but the witches and their dupes had ever seen. Here they met with feasts and various entertainments, which it seems had particular charms for the persons who partook of them. The witches used to go into a field in the environs of Mohra, and cry aloud to the devil in a peculiar sort of recitation, “Antecessor, come and carry us to Blockula!” Then appeared a multitude of strange beasts, men, spits, posts, and goats with spits run through their entrails and projecting behind that all might have room. The witches mounted these beasts of burthen or vehicles, and were conveyed through the air over high walls and mountains, and through churches and chimneys, without perceptible impediment, till they arrived at the place of their destination. Here the devil feasted them with various compounds and confections, and, having eaten to their hearts’ content, they danced, and then fought. The devil made them ride on spits, from which they were thrown; and the devil beat them with the spits, and laughed at them. He then caused them to build a house to protect them against the day of judgment, and presently overturned the walls of the house, and derided them again. All sorts of obscenities were reported to follow upon these scenes. The devil begot on the witches sons and daughters: this new generation intermarried again, and the issue of this further conjunction appears to have been toads and serpents. How all this pedigree proceeded in the two or three years in which Blockula had ever been heard of, I know not that the witches were ever called on to explain.
But what was most of all to be deplored, the devil was not content with seducing the witches to go and celebrate this infernal sabbath; he further insisted that they should bring the children of Mohra along with them. At first he was satisfied, if each witch brought one; but now he demanded that each witch should bring six or seven for her quota. How the witches managed with the minds of the children we are at a loss to guess. These poor, harmless innocents, steeped to the very lips in ignorance and superstition, were by some means kept in continual alarm by the wicked, or, to speak more truly, the insane old women, and said as their prompters said. It does not appear that the children ever left their beds, at the time they reported they had been to Blockula. Their parents watched them with fearful anxiety. At a certain time of the night the children were seized with a strange shuddering, their limbs were agitated, and their skins covered with a profuse perspiration. When they came to themselves, they related that they had been to Blockula, and the strange things they had seen, similar to what had already been described by the women. Three hundred children of various ages are said to have been seized with this epidemic.
The whole town of Mohra became subject to the infection, and were overcome with the deepest affliction. They consulted together, and drew up a petition to the royal council at Stockholm, intreating that they would discover some remedy, and that the government would interpose its authority to put an end to a calamity to which otherwise they could find no limit. The king of Sweden was at that time Charles the Eleventh, father of Charles the Twelfth, and was only fourteen years of age. His council in their wisdom deputed two commissioners to Mohra, and furnished them with powers to examine witnesses, and to take whatever proceedings they might judge necessary to put an end to so unspeakable a calamity.
They entered on the business of their commission on the thirteenth of August, the ceremony having been begun with two sermons in the great church of Mohra, in which we may be sure the damnable sin of witchcraft was fully dilated on, and concluding with prayers to Almighty God that in his mercy he would speedily bring to an end the tremendous misfortune, with which for their sins he had seen fit to afflict the poor people of Mohra. The next day they opened their commission. Seventy witches were brought before them. They were all at first stedfast in their denial, alleging that the charges were wantonly brought against them, solely from malice and ill will. But the judges were earnest in pressing them, till at length first one, and then another; burst into tears, and confessed all. Twenty-three were prevailed on thus to disburthen their consciences; but nearly the whole, as well those who owned the justice of their sentence, as those who protested their innocence to the last, were executed. Fifteen children confessed their guilt, and were also executed. Thirty-six other children (who we may infer did not confess), between the ages of nine and sixteen, were condemned to run the gauntlet, and to be whipped on their hands at the church-door every Sunday for a year together. Twenty others were whipped on their hands for three Sundays. 226
This is certainly a very deplorable scene, and is made the more so by the previous character which history has impressed on us, of the simplicity, integrity, and generous love of liberty of the Dalecarlians. For the children and their parents we can feel nothing but unmingled pity. The case of the witches is different. That three hundred children should have been made the victims of this imaginary witchcraft is doubtless a grievous calamity. And that a number of women should have been found so depraved and so barbarous, as by their incessant suggestions to have practised on the minds of these children, so as to have robbed them of sober sense, to have frightened them into fits and disease, and made them believe the most odious impossibilities, argued a most degenerate character, and well merited severe reprobation, but not death. Add to which, many of these women may be believed innocent, otherwise a great majority of those who were executed, would not have died protesting their entire freedom from what was imputed to them. Some of the parents no doubt, from folly and ill judgment, aided the alienation of mind in their children which they afterwards so deeply deplored, and gratified their senseless aversion to the old women, when they were themselves in many cases more the real authors of the evil than those who suffered.
226 Narrative translated by Dr. Horneck, apud Satan’s Invisible World by Sinclair, and Sadducismus Triumphatus by Glanville.
As a story of witchcraft, without any poetry in it, without any thing to amuse the imagination, or interest the fancy, but hard, prosy, and accompanied with all that is wretched, pitiful and withering, perhaps the well known story of the New England witchcraft surpasses every thing else upon record. The New Englanders were at this time, towards the close of the seventeenth century, rigorous Calvinists, with long sermons and tedious monotonous prayers, with hell before them for ever on one side, and a tyrannical, sour and austere God on the other, jealous of an arbitrary sovereignty, who hath “mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” These men, with long and melancholy faces, with a drawling and sanctified tone, and a carriage that would “at once make the most severely disposed merry, and the most cheerful spectators sad,” constituted nearly the entire population of the province of Massachuset’s Bay.
The prosecutions for witchcraft continued with little intermission principally at Salem, during the greater part of the year 1692. The accusations were of the most vulgar and contemptible sort, invisible pinchings and blows, fits, with the blastings and mortality of cattle, and wains stuck fast in the ground, or losing their wheels. A conspicuous feature in nearly the whole of these stories was what they named the “spectral sight;” in other words, that the profligate accusers first feigned for the most part the injuries they received, and next saw the figures and action of the persons who inflicted them, when they were invisible to every one else. Hence the miserable prosecutors gained the power of gratifying the wantonness of their malice, by pretending that they suffered by the hand of any one whose name first presented itself, or against whom they bore an ill will. The persons so charged, though unseen by any but the accuser, and who in their corporal presence were at a distance of miles, and were doubtless wholly unconscious of the mischief that was hatching against them, were immediately taken up, and cast into prison. And what was more monstrous and incredible, there stood at the bar the prisoner on trial for his life, while the witnesses were permitted to swear that his spectre had haunted them, and afflicted them with all manner of injuries. That the poor prosecuted wretch stood astonished at what was alleged against him, was utterly overwhelmed with the charges, and knew not what to answer, was all of it interpreted as so many presumptions of his guilt. Ignorant as they were, they were unhappy and unskilful in their defence; and, if they spoke of the devil, as was but natural, it was instantly caught at as a proof how familiar they were with the fiend that had seduced them to their damnation.
The first specimen of this sort of accusation in the present instance was given by one Paris, minister of a church at Salem, in the end of the year 1691, who had two daughters, one nine years old, the other eleven, that were afflicted with fits and convulsions. The first person fixed on as the mysterious author of what was seen, was Tituba, a female slave in the family, and she was harassed by her master into a confession of unlawful practices and spells. The girls then fixed on Sarah Good, a female known to be the victim of a morbid melancholy, and Osborne, a poor man that had for a considerable time been bed-rid, as persons whose spectres had perpetually haunted and tormented them: and Good was twelve months after hanged on this accusation.
A person, who was one of the first to fall under the imputation, was one George Burroughs, also a minister of Salem. He had, it seems, buried two wives, both of whom the busy gossips said he had used ill in their life-time, and consequently, it was whispered, had murdered them. This man was accustomed foolishly to vaunt that he knew what people said of him in his absence; and this was brought as a proof that he dealt with the devil. Two women, who were witnesses against him, interrupted their testimony with exclaiming that they saw the ghosts of the murdered wives present (who had promised them they would come), though no one else in the court saw them; and this was taken in evidence. Burroughs conducted himself in a very injudicious way on his trial; but, when he came to be hanged, made so impressive a speech on the ladder, with fervent protestations of innocence, as melted many of the spectators into tears.
The nature of accusations of this sort is ever found to operate like an epidemic. Fits and convulsions are communicated from one subject to another. The “spectral sight,” as it was called, is obviously a theme for the vanity of ignorance. “Love of fame,” as the poet teaches, is an “universal passion.” Fame is placed indeed on a height beyond the hope of ordinary mortals. But in occasional instances it is brought unexpectedly within the reach of persons of the coarsest mould; and many times they will be apt to seize it with proportionable avidity. When too such things are talked of, when the devil and spirits of hell are made familiar conversation, when stories of this sort are among the daily news, and one person and another, who had a little before nothing extraordinary about them, become subjects of wonder, these topics enter into the thoughts of many, sleeping and waking: “their young men see visions, and their old men dream dreams.”
In such a town as Salem, the second in point of importance in the colony, such accusations spread with wonderful rapidity. Many were seized with fits, exhibited frightful contortions of their limbs and features, and became a fearful spectacle to the bystander. They were asked to assign the cause of all this; and they supposed, or pretended to suppose, some neighbour, already solitary and afflicted, and on that account in ill odour with the townspeople, scowling upon, threatening, and tormenting them. Presently persons, specially gifted with the “spectral sight,” formed a class by themselves, and were sent about at the public expence from place to place, that they might see what no one else could see. The prisons were filled with the persons accused. The utmost horror was entertained, as of a calamity which in such a degree had never visited that part of the world. It happened, most unfortunately, that Baxter’s Certainty of the World of Spirits had been published but the year before, and a number of copies had been sent out to New England. There seemed a strange coincidence and sympathy between vital Christianity in its most honourable sense, and the fear of the devil, who appeared to be “come down unto them, with great wrath.” Mr. Increase Mather, and Mr. Cotton Mather, his son, two clergymen of highest reputation in the neighbourhood, by the solemnity and awe with which they treated the subject, and the earnestness and zeal which they displayed, gave a sanction to the lowest superstition and virulence of the ignorant.
All the forms of justice were brought forward on this occasion. There was no lack of judges, and grand juries, and petty juries, and executioners, and still less of prosecutors and witnesses. The first person that was hanged was on the tenth of June, five more on the nineteenth of July, five on the nineteenth of August, and eight on the twenty-second of September. Multitudes confessed that they were witches; for this appeared the only way for the accused to save their lives. Husbands and children fell down on their knees, and implored their wives and mothers to own their guilt. Many were tortured by being tied neck and heels together, till they confessed whatever was suggested to them. It is remarkable however that not one persisted in her confession at the place of execution.
The most interesting story that occurred in this affair was of Giles Cory, and Martha, his wife. The woman was tried on the ninth of September, and hanged on the twenty-second. In the interval, on the sixteenth, the husband was brought up for trial. He said, he was not guilty; but, being asked how he would be tried? he refused to go through the customary form, and say, “By God and my country.” He observed that, of all that had been tried, not one had as yet been pronounced not guilty; and he resolutely refused in that mode to undergo a trial. The judge directed therefore that, according to the barbarous mode prescribed in the mother-country, he should be laid on his back, and pressed to death with weights gradually accumulated on the upper surface of his body, a proceeding which had never yet been resorted to by the English in North America. The man persisted in his resolution, and remained mute till he expired.
The whole of this dreadful tragedy was kept together by a thread. The spectre-seers for a considerable time prudently restricted their accusations to persons of ill repute, or otherwise of no consequence in the community. By and by however they lost sight of this caution, and pretended they saw the figures of some persons well connected, and of unquestioned honour and reputation, engaged in acts of witchcraft. Immediately the whole fell through in a moment. The leading inhabitants presently saw how unsafe it would be to trust their reputations and their lives to the mercy of these profligate accusers. Of fifty-six bills of indictment that were offered to the grand-jury on the third of January, 1693, twenty-six only were found true bills, and thirty thrown out. On the twenty-six bills that were found, three persons only were pronounced guilty by the petty jury, and these three received their pardon from the government. The prisons were thrown open; fifty confessed witches, together with two hundred persons imprisoned on suspicion, were set at liberty, and no more accusations were heard of. The “afflicted,” as they were technically termed, recovered their health; the “spectral sight” was universally scouted; and men began to wonder how they could ever have been the victims of so horrible a delusion. 227
227 Cotton Mather, Wonders of the Invisible World; Calef, More Wonders of the Invisible World; Neal, History of New England.
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