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Europe, I cannot forbear thinking that there is such an intercourse and commerce with evil spirits, as that which we express by the name of witchcraft. But when I consider that the ignorant and credulous parts of the world abound most in these relations, and that the persons among us who are supposed to engage in such an infernal commerce, are people of a weak understanding and crazed imagination, and at the same time reflect upon the many impostures and delusions of this nature that have been detected in all ages, I endeavour to suspend my belief, till I hear more certain accounts than any which have yet come to my knowledge. In short, when I consider the question, Whether there are such persons in the world as those we call witches? my mind is divided between two opposite opinions; or rather (to speak my thoughts freely) I believe in general that there is, and has been, such a thing as witchcraft; but at the same time can give no credit to any particular instance of it.
I am engaged in this speculation, by some occurrences that I met with yesterday, which I shall give my reader an account of at large. As I was walking with my friend Sir Roger, by the side of one of his woods, an old woman applied herself to me for my charity. Her dress and figure put me in mind of the follow ing description in Otway:
In a close lane, as I pursu'd my journey,
Orphan, Act II.-C.
As I was musing on this description, and comparing it with the object before me, the knight told me that this very woman had the reputation of a witch all over the country, that her lips were observed to be always in motion, and that there was not a switch about her house which her neighbours did not believe had carried her several hundreds of miles. If she chanced to stum. ble, they always found sticks or straws that lay in the figure of a croes before her.
If she made any mistake at church, and cried Amen in a wrong place, they never failed to conclude that she was saying her prayers backwards. There was not a maid in the parish that would take a pin of her, though she should offer a
money with it. She goes by the name of Moll White, and has made the country ring with several imaginary exploits which are palmed upon her. If the dairy.maid does not make her butter to come so soon as she would have it, Moll White is at the bottom of the churn. If a horse sweats in the stable, Moll White has been upon his back. If a hare makes an unexpected escape from the hounds, the huntsman curses Moll White. Nay (says Sir Roger) I have known the master of the pack, upon such an occasion, send one of his servants to see if Moll White had been out that morning.
This account raised my curiosity so far, that I begged my friend Sir Roger to go with me into her hovel, which stood in a solitary corner under the side of the wood. Upon our first entering, Sir Roger winked to me, and pointed at something that stood behind the door, which upon looking that way, I found to be an old broom-staff. At the same time he whispered me in the ear, to take notice of a tabby cat that sat in the chimney.corner, which, as the knight told me, lay under as bad a report as Moll White herself; for besides that Moll is said often to accompany her in the same shape, the cat is reported to have
spoken twice or thrice in her life, and to have played several pranks above the capacity of an ordinary cat.
I was secretly concerned to see human nature in so much wretchedness and disgrace, but at the same time could not forbear smiling to hear Sir Roger, who is a little puzzled about the old woman, advising her, as a justice of peace, to avoid all communication with the Devil, and never to hurt any of her neighbours' cattle. We concluded our visit with a bounty, which was very acceptable.
In our return home, Sir Roger told me, that old Moll had been often brought before him for making children spit pins, and giving maids the night-mare; and that the country people would be tossing her into a pond, and trying experiments with her every day, if it was not for him and his chaplain.
I have since found, upon inquiry, that Sir Roger was several times staggered with the reports that had been brought him concerning this old woman, and would frequently have bound her over to the county sessions, had not his chaplain with much ado persuaded him to the contrary.
I have been the more particular on this account, because I hear that there is scarce a village in England that has not a Moll White in it. When an old woman begins to doat, and grow chargeable to a parish, she is generally turned into a witch, and fills the whole country with extravagant fancies, imaginary distempers, and terrifying dreams. In the mean time the poor wretch that is the innocent occasion of so many evils, begins to be frighted at herself, and sometimes confesses secret commerces and familiarities that her imagination forms in a deli*rious old age. This frequently cuts off charity from the greatest objects of compassion, and inspires people with a malevolence towards those poor decrepit parts of our species, in whom human nature is defaced by infirmity and dotage.
1 The belief in witchcraft was in Anne's reign something more than popular. The act of James (anno 1. cap. 12.) was in full force. By it, death was decreed to whoever dealt with evil or wicked spirits, or invoked them whereby any persons were killed or lamed; or discovered where anything was hidden, or provoked unlawful love, &c. Under this law two women were executed at Northampton just before the “Spectalor” began to be published; and, not long after (1716), a Mrs. Hicks and her daughter were hanged at Huntington for selling their souls to the devil, making their neighbours vomit pins, raising a storm so that a certain ship was “almost” lost, and a variety of other impossible crimes. By 1736 these superstitions abated; the Witch Act had become dormant; and, on an ignorant person attempting in that year to enforce it against an old woman in Surrey it was repea. :d (10th Geo. II.)--*
No. 119. TUESDAY, JULY 17.
Urbem quam dicunt Romam, Mellbæe, putavi
VIRG, Ecl. i 20.
Fool that I was, I thought imperial Rome
THE first and most obvious reflections which arise in a man who changes the city for the country, are upon the different manners of the people whom he meets with in those two different scenes of life. By manners I do not mean morals, but behaviour and good-breeding, as they show themselves in the town and in the country.
And here, in the first place, I must observe a very great revolution that has happened in this article of good-breeding. Several obliging deferences, condescensions, and submissions, with many
outward forms and ceremonies that accompany them, were first of all brought up among the politer part of mankind. who lived in courts and cities, and distinguished themselves from the rustic part of the species (who on all occasions acted bluntly and naturally) by such a mutual complaisance and intercourse of civilities. These forms of conversation by degrees multiplied, and
grew troublesome; the modish world found too great a constraint in them, and have therefore thrown most of them aside. Conversation, like the Romish religion, was so encumbered with how and ceremony, that it stood in need of a reformation to retrench its superfluities, and restore it to its natural good sense and beauty. At present, therefore, an unconstrained carriage, and a certain openness of behaviour, are the height of goodbreeding. The fashionable world is growing free and easy; our manners sit more loose upon us: nothing is so modish* as an agreeable negligence. In a word, good-breeding shews most, where to an ordinary eye it appears the least.
If after this we look on the people of mode in the country, we find in them the manners of the last age. They have no sooner fetched themselves up to the fashion of the polite world, but the town has dropped them, and are nearer to the first state of nature, than to those refinements which formerly reigned in the court, and still prevail in the country. One may now know a man that never conversed in the world, by his excess of goodbreeding. A polite country squire shall make you as many bows in half an hour, as would serve a courtier for a week. There is infinitely more to do about place and precedency in a meeting of justices' wives, than in an assembly of duchesses.
This rural politeness is very troublesome to a man of my temper, who generally take the chair that is next me, and walk first or last, in the front or in the rear, as chance directs. I have known my friend Sir Roger's dinner almost cold before the company could adjust the ceremonial, and be prevailed upon to
* Modish. The vulgar use of this term has, I suppose, disgraced it. It would not, now, be endured in a polite conversation, much less in polite writing.-H.