Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Scott, Reginald

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605632Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 51 — Scott, Reginald1897Sidney Lee

SCOTT or SCOT, REGINALD or REYNOLD (1538?–1599), writer against the belief in witches, was son of Richard Scot, second son of Sir John Scot (d. 1533) of Scots Hall in Smeeth, Kent [see under Scott, Sir William (d. 1350)]. His mother was Mary, daughter of George Whetenall, sheriff of Kent in 1527. The father died before 1544, and his widow remarried Fulk Onslow, clerk of the parliament; dying on 8 Oct. 1582, she was buried in the church of Hatfield, Hertfordshire. Reginald or Reynold (as he signed his name in accordance with contemporary practice) was born about 1538. On 16 Dec. 1554 his uncle, Sir Reginald Scot, died and included him in the entail of his family estate in default of his own issue, but this disposition was without practical result. Next year, when about seventeen, he entered Hart Hall, Oxford, but left the university without a degree. His writings attest some knowledge of law, but he is not known to have joined any inn of court. Marrying in 1568, he seems to have spent the rest of his life in his native county. His time was mainly passed as an active country gentleman, managing property which he inherited from his kinsfolk about Smeeth and Brabourne, or directing the business affairs of his first cousin, Sir Thomas Scot, who proved a generous patron, and in whose house of Scots Hall he often stayed [see Scott, Sir William, (d. 1350), ad fin.] He was collector of subsidies for the lathe of Shepway in 1586 and 1587, and he was doubtless the Reginald Scot who acted in 1588 as a captain of untrained foot-soldiers at the county muster. He was returned to the parliament of 1588–9 as member for New Romney, and he was probably a justice of the peace. He describes himself as ‘esquire’ in the title-page of his ‘Discoverie,’ and is elsewhere designated ‘armiger.’ He witnessed the will of his cousin Sir Thomas on 27 Dec. 1594, and made his own will (drawing it with his own hand) on 15 Sept. 1599. He died at Smeeth on 9 Oct. following, and was doubtless buried in the church there. He married at Brabourne, on 11 Oct. 1568, Jane Cobbe of Cobbes Place, in the parish of Aldington. By her he had a daughter Elizabeth, who married Sackville Turnor of Tablehurt, Sussex. Subsequently Scot married a second wife, a widow named Alice Collyar, who had a daughter Mary by her former husband. His small properties about Brabourne, Aldington, and Romney Marsh he left to his widow. The last words of his will run: ‘Great is the trouble my poor wife hath had with me, and small is the comfort she hath received at my hands, whom if I had not matched withal I had not died worth one groat.’

Scot wrote two books, each in its own department of high practical value, and indicating in the author exceptional enlightenment. In 1574 he published his ‘Perfect Platform of a Hop-garden, and necessary instructions for the making and maintainance thereof, with Notes and Rules for Reformation of all Abuses.’ The work, which is dedicated to Serjeant William Lovelace of Bethersden, is the first practical treatise on hop culture in England; the processes are illustrated by woodcuts. Scot, according to a statement of the printer, was out of London while the work was going through the press. A second edition, ‘now newly corrected and augmented,’ appeared in 1576, and a third in 1578.

More noticeable and no less useful was Scot's ‘The Discouerie of Witchcraft, wherein the Lewde dealing of Witches and Witchmongers is notablie detected, in sixteen books … whereunto is added a Treatise upon the Nature and Substance of Spirits and Devils,’ 1584. At the end of the volume the printer gives his name as William Brome.

There are four dedications—one to Sir Roger Manwood, chief baron of the exchequer, another to Scot's cousin, Sir Thomas Scot, a third jointly to John Coldwell [q. v.], dean of Rochester (afterwards bishop of Salisbury), and William Redman [q. v.], archdeacon of Canterbury (afterwards bishop of Norwich), and a fourth ‘to the readers.’ Scott enumerates no less than 212 authors whose works in Latin he had consulted, and twenty-three authors who wrote in English. The names in the first list include many Greek and Arabic writers; among those in the second are Bale, Fox, Sir Thomas More, John Record, Barnabe Googe, Abraham Fleming, and William Lambarde. But Scot's information was not only derived from books. He had studied the superstitions respecting witchcraft in courts of law in country districts, where the prosecution of witches was unceasing, and in village life, where the belief in witchcraft flourished in an endless number of fantastic forms. With remarkable boldness and an insight that was far in advance of his age, he set himself to prove that the belief in witchcraft and magic was rejected alike by reason and religion, and that spiritualistic manifestations were wilful impostures or illusions due to mental disturbance in the observers. He wrote with the philanthropic aim of staying the cruel persecution which habitually pursued poor, aged, and simple persons, who were popularly credited with being witches. The maintenance of the superstition he laid to a large extent at the door of the Roman catholic church, and he assailed with much venom credulous writers like Jean Bodin (1530–1596), author of ‘Démonomie des Sorciers’ (Paris, 1580), and Jacobus Sprenger, joint-author of ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ (Nuremberg, 1494). Of Cornelius Agrippa (1486–1535) and John Wier (1515–1588), author of ‘De Præstigiis Demonum’ (Basle, 1566), whose liberal views he adopted, he invariably spoke with respect. Scot performed his task so thoroughly that his volume became an exhaustive encyclopædia of contemporary beliefs about witchcraft, spirits, alchemy, magic, and legerdemain. Scot only fell a victim to contemporary superstition in his references to medicine and astrology. He believed in the medicinal value of the unicorn's horn, and thought that precious stones owed their origin to the influence of the heavenly bodies.

Scot's enlightened work attracted widespread attention. It did for a time ‘make great impressions on the magistracy and clergy’ (Ady). Gabriel Harvey in his ‘Pierce's Supererogation,’ 1593 (ed. Grosart, ii. 291), wrote: ‘Scotte's discoovery of Witchcraft dismasketh sundry egregious impostures, and in certaine principall chapters, and speciall passages, hitteth the nayle on the head with a witnesse; howsoever I could have wished he had either dealt somewhat more curteously with Monsieur Bondine [i.e. Bodin], or confuted him somewhat more effectually.’ The ancient belief was not easily uprooted, and many writers came to its rescue. After George Gifford (d. 1620) [q. v.], in two works published respectively in 1587 and 1593, and William Perkins (1558–1602) [q. v.] had sought to confute Scot, James VI of Scotland repeated the attempt in his ‘Dæmonologie’ (1597), where he described the opinions of Wier and Scot as ‘damnable.’ On his accession to the English throne James went a step further, and ordered all copies of Scot's ‘Discoverie’ to be burnt (cf. Gisbert Voet, Selectarum Disputationum Theologicarum Pars Tertia, Utrecht, 1659, p. 564). John Rainolds [q. v.] in ‘Censura Librorum Apocryphorum’ (1611), Richard Bernard in ‘Guide to Grand Jurymen’ (1627), Joseph Glanvill [q. v.] in ‘Philosophical Considerations touching Witches and Witchcraft’ (1666), and Meric Casaubon in ‘Credulity and Uncredulity’ (1668) continued the attack on Scot's position, which was defended by Thomas Ady in ‘A Treatise concerning the Nature of Witches and Witchcraft’ (1656), and by John Webster in ‘The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft’ (1677). More interesting is it to know that Shakespeare drew from his study of Scot's book hints for his picture of the witches in ‘Macbeth,’ and that Middleton in his play of the ‘Witch’ was equally indebted to the same source.

Abroad the book met with a good reception. A translation into Dutch, edited by Thomas Basson, an English stationer living at Leyden, appeared there in 1609. It was undertaken on the recommendation of the professors, and was dedicated to the university curators and the burgomaster of Leyden. A second edition, published by G. Basson, the first editor's son, was printed at Leyden in 1637.

In 1651 the book was twice reissued in London in quarto by Richard Cotes; the two issues slightly differ from each other in the imprint on title-page. Another reissue was dated 1654. A third edition in folio, dated 1665, included nine new chapters, and added a second book to ‘The Discourse on Devils and Spirits.’ In 1886 Dr. Brinsley Nicholson [q. v.] edited a good reprint of the first edition of 1584, with the additions of that of 1665.

[Dr. Brinsley Nicholson's Introduction to his reprint of the Discoverie of Witchcraft (1886); Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 679; Scott's Memorials of the Scot family of Scots Hall, 188–90; Retrospective Review, v. 87–136; information kindly given by Edmund Ward Oliver, esq.]

S. L.