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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

Harsnett was supported by the powers in church and state


the pretences of the Catholics nor the refutation of them are very important for our purposes. The exposure of John Darrel was of significance, because it involved the guilt or innocence of the women he accused as witches, as well as because the ecclesiastical authorities took action against him and thereby levelled a blow directly at exorcism and possession[36] and indirectly at loose charges of witchcraft. Harsnett's books were the outcome of this affair and the ensuing exposures of the Catholics, and they were more significant than anything that had gone before. The Church of England had not committed itself very definitely on witchcraft, but its spokesman in the attack upon the Catholic pretenders took no uncertain ground. He was skeptical not only about exorcism but about witchcraft as well. It is refreshing and inspiriting to read his hard-flung and pungent words. "Out of these," he wrote, "is shaped us the true _Idea_ of a Witch, an old weather-beaten Croane, having her chinne and her knees meeting for age, walking like a bow leaning on a shaft, hollow-eyed, untoothed, furrowed on her face, having her lips trembling with the palsie, going mumbling in the streetes, one that hath forgotten her _pater noster_, and hath yet a shrewd tongue in her head, to call a drab, a drab. If shee have learned of an olde wife in a chimnies end: _Pax, max, fax_, for a spel: or can say _Sir John of Grantams_ curse, for the Millers Eeles, that were stolne: ... Why then ho, beware, looke about
you my neighbours; if any of you have a sheepe sicke of the giddies, or an hogge of the mumps, or an horse of the staggers, or a knavish boy of the schoole, or an idle girle of the wheele, or a young drab of the sullens, and hath not fat enough for her porredge, nor her father and mother butter enough for their bread; and she have a little helpe of the _Mother_, _Epilepsie_, or _Cramp_, ... and then with-all old mother _Nobs_ hath called her by chaunce 'idle young huswife,' or bid the devil scratch her, then no doubt but mother _Nobs_ is the witch.... _Horace_ the Heathen spied long agoe, that a Witch, a Wizard, and a Conjurer were but bul-beggers to scare fooles.... And _Geoffry Chaucer_, who had his two eyes, wit, and learning in his head, spying that all these brainlesse imaginations of witchings, possessings, house-hanting, and the rest, were the forgeries, cosenages, Imposturs, and legerdemaine of craftie priests, ... writes in good plaine terms."[37]

It meant a good deal that Harsnett took such a stand. Scot had been a voice crying in the wilderness. Harsnett was supported by the powers in church and state. He was, as has been seen, the chaplain of Bishop Bancroft,[38] now--from 1604--to become Archbishop of Canterbury. He was himself to become eminent in English history as master of Pembroke Hall (Cambridge), vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, Bishop of Chichester, Bishop of Norwich, and Archbishop of York.[39] Whatever support he had at the time--and it is very clear that he had the backing of the English church on the question of exorcism--his later position and influence must have given great weight not only to his views on exorcism but to his skepticism about witchcraft.[40]

His opinions on the subject, so far as can be judged by his few direct statements and by implications, were quite as radical as those of his predecessor.[41] As a matter of fact he was a man who read widely[42] and had pondered deeply on the superstition, but his thought had been colored by Scot.[43] His assault, however, was less direct and studied than that of his master. Scot was a man of uncommonly serious temperament, a plain, blunt-spoken, church-going Englishman who covered the whole ground of superstition without turning one phrase less serious than another. His pupil, if so Harsnett may be called, wrote earnestly, even aggressively, but with a sarcastic and bitter humor that entertained the reader and was much less likely to convince. The curl never left his lips. If at times a smile appeared, it was but an accented sneer. A writer with a feeling indeed for the delicate effects of word combination, if his humor had been less chilled by hate, if his wit had been of a lighter and more playful vein, he might have laughed superstition out of England. When he described the dreadful power of holy water and frankincense and the book of exorcisms "to scald, broyle and sizzle the devil," or "the dreadful power of the crosse and sacrament of the altar to torment the devill and to make him roare," or "the astonishable power of nicknames, reliques and asses ears,"[44] he revealed a faculty of fun-making just short of effective humor.

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