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ordered for two reasons; first, the men, having the whole direction of this affair, are wise enough to slip their own necks out of the collar; and, secondly, an old woman is grown by custom the most avoided and most unpitied creature under the sun, the very name carrying contempt and satire in it. And so far indeed we pay but an uncourtly sort of respect to Satan, in sacrificing to him nothing but the dry sticks of hu
We have a wondering quality within us, which finds huge gratification when we see strange feats done, and cannot at the same time see the doer, or the cause. Such actions are sure to be attributed to some witch or dæmon; for if we come to find they are slily performed by artists of our own species, and by causes purely natural, our delight dies with our
It is therefore one of the most unthankful offices in the world, to go about to expose the mistaken notions of witchcraft and spirits; it is robbing mankind of a valuable imagination, and of the privilege of being deceived. Those who at any time undertook the task, have always met with rough treatment and ill language for their pains, and seldom escaped the imputation of atheism, because they would not allow the devil to be too powerful for the Almighty. For my part, I am so much a heretic as to believe, that God Almighty, and not the devil, governs the
If we inquire what are the common marks and symptoms by which witches are discovered to be such, we shall see how reasonably and mercifully those poor creatures were burnt and hanged, who unhappily fell under that name.
In the first place the old woman must be prodigiously ugly; her eyes hollow and red, her face shrivelled; she goes double, and her voice trembles.
It frequently happens, that this rueful figure frightens a child into the palpitation of the heart: home he runs, and tells his mamma, that goody such a one looked at him, and he is very ill. The good woman cries out her dear baby is bewitched, and sends for the parson and the constable.
It is moreover necessary, that she be very poor. It is true, her master Satan has mines and hidden treasures in his gift; but no matter, she is for all that very poor, and lives on alms. She goes to Sisly the cook maid for a dish of broth, or the heel of a loaf, and Sisly denies them to her. The old woman goes away muttering, and perhaps in less than a month's time Sisly hears the voice of a cat, and strains her ancles, which are certain signs that she is bewitched.
A farmer sees his cattle die of the murrain, and the sheep of the rot, and poor goody is forced to be the cause of their death, because she was seen talking to herself the evening before such an ewe departed, and had been gathering sticks at the side of the wood where such a cow run mad.
The old woman has always for her companion an old gray cat, which is a disguised devil too, and confederate with goody in works of darkness. They frequently go journeys into Egypt upon a broomstaff in half an hour's time, and now and then goody and her cat change shapes. The neighbours often over-hear them in deep and solemn discourse together, plotting some dreadful mischief you may be
There is a famous way of trying witches, recommended by King James I. The old woman is tied hand and foot, and thrown into the river; and if she swims she is guilty, and taken out and burnt; but if she is innocent, she sinks, and is only drowned.
The witches are said to meet their master frequently in churches and church-yards. I wonder at the boldness of Satan and his congregation, in revelling and playing mountebank farces on consecrated ground; and I have as often wondered at the oversight and ill policy of some people in allowing it possible.
It would have been both dangerous and impious to have treated this subject at one certain time in this ludicrous manner. It used to be managed with all possible gravity, and even terror and indeed it was made a tragedy in all its parts, and thousands were sacrificed or rather murdered by such evidence and colours, as, God be thanked! we are at this day ashamed of. An old woman may be miserable now, and not be hanged for it.
AUGUSTAN AGE OF ENGLAND.
THE history of the rise of language and learning is calculated to gratify curiosity rather than to satisfy the understanding. An account of that period only, when language and learning arrived at its highest perfection, is the most conducive to real improvement, since it at once raises emulation, and directs to the proper objects. The age of Leo X. in Italy is confessed to be the Augustan age with them. The French writers seem agreed to give the same appellation to that of Lewis XIV.; but the English are yet undetermined with respect to themselves.
Some have looked upon the writers in the times of Queen Elizabeth as the true standard for future imitation; others have descended to the reign of James I. and others still lower, to that of Charles II. Were I to be permitted to offer an opinion upon this subject, I should readily give my vote for the reign of Queen Anne, or some years before that period. It was then that taste was united to genius; and as, before, our writers charmed with their strength of thinking, so then they pleased with strength and grace united. In that period of British glory though no writer attracts our attention singly; yet, like stars lost in each other's brightness, they have cast such a lustre upon the age in which they lived, that their minutest transactions will be attended to by posterity with a greater eagerness, than the most important occurrences of even empires, which have been transacted in greater obscurity.
At that period there seemed to be a just balance between patronage and the press. Before it men were little esteemed whose only merit was genius; and since, men who can prudently be content to catch the publick, are certain of living without dependance. But the writers of the period of which I am speaking, were sufficiently esteemed by the great, and not rewarded enough by booksellers, to set them above independence. Fame consequently then was the truest road to happiness; a sedulous attention to the mechanical business of the day makes the present never-failing resource.
The age of Charles II. which our countrymen term the age of wit and immorality, produced some writers that at once served to improve our language and corrupt our hearts. The king himself had a large share of knowledge, and some wit, and his courtiers were generally men, who had been brought up in the school of affliction and experience. For
this reason, when the sunshine of their fortune returned, they gave too great a loose to pleasure, and language was by them cultivated only as a mode of elegance. Hence it became more enervated, and was dashed with quaintnesses, which gave the public writings of those times a very illiberal air.
L'Estrange, who was by no means so bad a writer as some have represented him, was sunk in party faction, and having generally the worst side of the argument, often had recourse to scolding, pertness, and consequently a vulgarity, that discovers itself even in his more liberal compositions. He was the first writer who regularly enlisted himself under the banners of a party for pay, and fought for it through right and wrong for upwards of forty literary campaigns. This intrepidity gained him the esteem of Cromwell himself, and the papers he wrote even just before the revolution, almost with the rope about his neck, have his usual characters of impudence and perseverance. That he was a standard-writer cannot be disowned, because a great many very eminent authors formed their style by his. But his standard was far from being a just one; though, when party considerations are set aside, he certainly was possessed of elegance, ease, and perspicuity.
Dryden, though a great and undisputed genius, had the same cast as L'Estrange. Even his plays discover him to be a party-man, and the same principle infects his style in subjects of the lightest nature; but the English tongue, as it stands at present, is greatly his debtor. He first gave it regular harmony, and discovered its latent powers. It was his pen that formed the Congreves, the Priors, and the Addisons, who succeeded him; and had it not been for Dryden, we never should have known a Pope, at least in the meridian lustre he now displays. But Dryden's excellencies as a writer were not confined