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Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the

The parliament named four commissioners Pierre Pigray


case of witchcraft, which created a great sensation in its day, occurred in 1588, at a village in the mountains of Auvergne, about two leagues from Apchon. A gentleman of that place being at his window, there passed a friend of his who had been out hunting, and who was then returning to his own house. The gentleman asked his friend what sport he had had; upon which the latter informed him that he had been attacked in the plain by a large and savage wolf, which he had shot at without wounding, and that he had then drawn out his hunting-knife and cut off the animal's fore-paw as it sprang upon his neck to devour him. The huntsman upon this put his hand into his bag to pull out the paw, but was shocked to find that it was a woman's hand, with a wedding-ring on the finger. The gentleman immediately recognised his wife's ring, "which," says the indictment against her, "made him begin to suspect some evil of her." He immediately went in search of her, and found her sitting by the fire in the kitchen, with her arm hidden underneath her apron. He tore off her apron with great vehemence, and found that she had no hand, and that the stump was even then bleeding. She was given into custody, and burnt at Riom in presence of some thousands of spectators.[28]

[28] Tablier. See also Boguet, _Discours sur les Sorciers_; and M. Jules Garinet, _Histoire de la Magie_, p. 150.

In the midst of these executions, rare

were the gleams of mercy. Few instances are upon record of any acquittal taking place when the crime was witchcraft. The discharge of fourteen persons by the parliament of Paris, in the year 1589, is almost a solitary example of a return to reason. Fourteen persons condemned to death for witchcraft appealed against the judgment to the parliament of Paris, which for political reasons had been exiled to Tours. The parliament named four commissioners--Pierre Pigray, the king's surgeon, and Messieurs Leroi, Renard, and Falaiseau, the king's physicians--to visit and examine these witches, and see whether they had the mark of the devil upon them. Pigray, who relates the circumstance in his work on Surgery (book vii. chap. 10), says the visit was made in presence of two counsellors of the court. The witches were all stripped naked, and the physicians examined their bodies very diligently, pricking them in all the marks they could find to see whether they were insensible to pain, which was always considered a certain proof of guilt. They were, however, very sensible of the pricking, and some of them called out very lustily when the pins were driven into them. "We found them," continues Pierre Pigray, "to be very poor, stupid people, and some of them insane. Many of them were quite indifferent about life, and one or two of them desired death as a relief for their sufferings. Our opinion was, that they stood more in need of medicine than of punishment; and so we reported to the parliament. Their case was thereupon taken into further consideration; and the parliament, after mature counsel amongst all the members, ordered the poor creatures to be sent to their homes, without inflicting any punishment upon them."

Such was the dreadful state of Italy, Germany, and France during the sixteenth century, which was far from being the worst crisis of the popular madness with regard to witchcraft. Let us see what was the state of England during the same period. The Reformation, which in its progress had rooted out so many errors, stopped short at this, the greatest error of all. Luther and Calvin were as firm believers in witchcraft as Pope Innocent himself; and their followers shewed themselves more zealous persecutors than the Romanists. Dr. Hutchinson, in his work on Witchcraft, asserts that the mania manifested itself later in England, and raged with less virulence than on the continent. The first assertion only is true; for though the persecution began later both in England and Scotland, its progress was as fearful as elsewhere.

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