Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/382

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

But after a time men's hearts and minds revolted from this hideous slaughter. The first book on the Continent that made an effective attack upon the system was by John Wier, a learned doctor of Cleves. In this book Wier took the ground that, although devils are everywhere about us, and although many persons are possessed with devils, yet there are no such beings as witches, and therefore no one ought to be punished as a witch. He said further that, in his humble opinion, a good many persons supposed to be possessed with devils simply had some disease or other which doctors ought to try to cure. This Dr. Wier was a strange sort of man. He published another book, giving various particulars about the lower regions. He was very exact in his figures; and he ascertained that at that time these regions were ruled by seventy-two princes, and the number of devils was 7,405,926. This book of Wier's brought out the ablest defense ever made of witchcraft—a volume by Bodin, esteemed the most learned of all Frenchmen. This book was not answered; and as far as authorities and figures and biblical texts and judicial rulings go, it can not be answered. Still, it did not stem the rising tide against the belief in witchcraft. Humanity and common sense were asserting their sway, and persecution was doomed. In 1588, the very year of the Armada, Montaigne, the great Frenchman, published the first really skeptical work in the French language. This work ushered in the new treatment, the modern treatment of all such questions. He calmly ignored the mass of authority. "I do not attempt," he said, "to untie the knot: I simply cut it. It is more probable that we are deceived, or that men should tell falsehoods, than that witches should exist. And further, it is setting too high a value on our opinions to roast people if they will not accept these opinions." Montaigne had calmly risen above the mists of superstition into the clear realm of common sense and reason. The last witch in France was burned in 1718. After that there were one or two trials, but the prisoners were acquitted; for "the star of Voltaire had risen above the horizon, and the unsparing ridicule which his followers cast upon every anecdote of witches intimidated those who did not share in the credulity."

In Great Britain the first regular enactment against sorcery was in 1541—i. e., at the beginning of the Reformation—although it had been known before that time. In fact, Joan of Arc had been put to death by the command of the English, although on the soil of France and under the sentence of a French judge. Great Britain, indeed, was not so violently affected by this delusion as was the Continent. This for various reasons, her insular position and greater freedom being the chief. So, although Cranmer, the great churchman, he to whom is so largely owing the