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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

Together with the cabalistic notions he had absorbed

The struggle was indeed a miniature war and in the main was fought very fairly. But it was natural that those who disbelieved should resort to ridicule. It was a form of attack to which their opponents exposed themselves by their faith in the utterly absurd stories of silly women. Cervantes with his Don Quixote laughed chivalry out of Europe, and there was a class in society that would willingly have laughed witchcraft out of England. Their onslaught was one most difficult to repel. Nevertheless the defenders of witchcraft met the challenge squarely. With unwearying patience and absolute confidence in their cause they collected the testimonies for their narratives and then said to those who laughed: Here are the facts; what are you going to do about them?

The last chapter told of the alarms in Somerset and in Wilts and showed what a stir they produced in England. In connection with those affairs was mentioned the name of that brave researcher, Mr. Glanvill. The history of the witch literature of this period is little more than an account of Joseph Glanvill, of his opinions, of his controversies, of his disciples and his opponents. It is not too much to say that in Glanvill the superstition found its ablest advocate. In acuteness of logical distinction, in the cleverness and brilliance of his intellectual sword-play, he excelled all others before and after who sought to defend the belief in witchcraft. He was a man entitled to speak with some authority. A member of Exeter College at Oxford, he had been in 1664 elected a fellow of the recently founded Royal Society and was in sympathy with its point of view. At the same time he was a philosopher of no small influence in his generation.

His intellectual position is not difficult to determine. He was an opponent of the Oxford scholasticism and inclined towards a school of thought represented by Robert Fludd, the two Vaughans, Henry More, and Van Helmont,[1] men who had drunk deeply of the cabalistic writers, disciples of Paracelsus and Pico della Mirandola. It would be foolhardy indeed for a layman to attempt an elucidation of the subtleties either of this philosophy or of the processes of Glanvill's philosophical reasoning. His point of view was partially unfolded in the _Scepsis Scientifica_, published in 1665[2] and dedicated to the Royal Society. In this treatise he pointed out our present ignorance of phenomena and our inability to determine their real character, owing to the subjectivity of our perceptions of them, and insisted consequently upon the danger of dogmatism. He himself had drawn but a cockle-shell of water from the ocean of knowledge. His notion of spirit--if his works on witchcraft may be trusted--seems to have been that it is a light and invisible form of matter capable of detachment from or infusion into more solid substances--precisely the idea of Henry More. Religiously, it would not be far wrong to call him a reconstructionist--to use a much abused and exceedingly modern term. He did not, indeed, admit the existence of any gap between religion and science that needed bridging over, but the trend of his teaching, though he would hardly have admitted it, was to show that the mysteries of revealed religion belong in the field of unexplored science.[3] It was his confidence in the far possibilities opened by investigation in that field, together with the cabalistic notions he had absorbed, which rendered him so willing to become a student of psychical phenomena.

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