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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

Greenslet's excellent book on Glanvill

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theory. It would require a larger body of evidence than we can hope to gather on this subject to prove that the change of opinion that was surely taking place spread at first through the higher social strata and was to reach the lower levels only by slow filtration. Yet such an hypothesis fits in nicely with certain facts. It has already been seen that the trials for witchcraft dropped off very suddenly towards the end of the period we are considering. The drop was accounted for by the changed attitude of judges and of justices of the peace. The judges avoided trying witches,[63] the justices were less diligent in discovering them. But the evidence that we had about men of other occupations was less encouraging. It looked as if those who dispensed justice were in advance of the clergy, of the scholars, physicians, and scientists of their time. Had the Master of Trinity, or the physician of Norwich, or the discoverer of the air pump been the justices of the peace for England, it is not incredible that superstition would have flourished for another generation. Was it because the men of the law possessed more of the matter-of-factness supposed to be a heritage of every Englishman? Was it because their special training gave them a saner outlook? No doubt both elements help to explain the difference. But is it not possible to believe that the social grouping of these men had an influence? The itinerant justices and the justices of the peace were recruited from the gentry, as none of
the other classes were. Men like Reresby and North inherited the traditions of their class; they spent part of the year in London and knew the talk of the town. Can we doubt that their decisions were influenced by that fact? The country justice of the peace was removed often enough from metropolitan influences, but he was usually quick to catch the feelings of his own class.

If our theory be true that the jurists were in advance of other professions and that they were sprung of a higher stock, it is of course some confirmation of the larger theory that witchcraft was first discredited among the gentry. Yet, as we have said before, this is at best a guess as to how the decline of belief took place and must be accepted only provisionally. We have seen that there are other assertions about the progress of thought in this period that may be ventured with much confidence. There had been great changes of opinion. It would not be fair to say that the movement towards skepticism had been accelerated. Rather, the movement which had its inception back in the days of Reginald Scot and had found in the last days of James I a second impulse, which had been quietly gaining force in the thirties, forties, and fifties, was now under full headway. Common sense was coming into its own.

[1] Ferris Greenslet, _Joseph Glanvill_ (New York, 1900), 153. The writer wishes to acknowledge his indebtedness to Mr. Greenslet's excellent book on Glanvill.

[2] The _Scepsis Scientifica_ was really _The Vanity of Dogmatising_ (1661) recast.

[3] See, for example, the introductory essay by John Owen in his edition (London, 1885), of the _Scepsis Scientifica_, xxvii, xxix. See also _Sadducismus Triumphatus_ (citations are all from the edition of 1681), 7, 13.

[4] So at least says Leslie Stephen, _Dict. Nat. Biog._ Glanvill himself, in _Essays on Several Important Subjects_ (1676), says that the sixth essay, "Philosophical Considerations against Modern Sadducism," had been printed four times already, _i. e._, before 1676. The edition of 1668 had been revised.

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