Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/383

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369
EVIL SPIRITS.

Book of Common Prayer, directed his clergy to seek out witches and sorcerers; and although in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth there were a few executions, it was not until the time of James I that really severe measures were taken; for James I had been reared in Scotland under Puritan influences, and the Puritans were always especially severe upon witchcraft. The king, in fact, had written a pamphlet on the subject; had presided at the excessively cruel torture of a person who had, it was alleged, caused a storm at sea; and was particularly fond of boasting that Satan considered him, the king, as by far the ablest opponent he (Satan) had as yet encountered in this world. And thus in this reign—the era of Bacon and Coke and Shakespeare—England became, like the Continent, the theater of persecution. But all this was as nothing compared to that carried on in the time of the Commonwealth, when the Puritans held sway. Cromwell himself was not inclined to be cruel; but the whole teaching of Puritanism tended toward the belief in witchcraft and the persecution of witches. It forbade amusements, and had thus a tendency to make the people somber and gloomy. It was intensely earnest: the finger of God and the finger of Satan were seen everywhere. Moreover, it developed especially a taste for the reading of the Old Testament, which abounds with references to supernatural events, and the characteristic of which is severity toward those who are not the Lord's people. And the Puritans were the Lord's people, to whom had gone forth the command "to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron," So, notwithstanding all their many good qualities, the Puritans did not err on the side of leniency toward the unfortunate witches. Indeed, in the county of Suffolk alone sixty persons were hanged in a single year. But the Puritan régime came to an end, the Cavaliers returned; and these, being of a more lighthearted although less earnest mind, and also being full of dislike for everything that savored of Puritanism, allowed the laws against witchcraft in great part to remain unenforced. Further, the people were becoming more intelligent and humane, and the Royal Society for the study of science had just been established, and French philosophy became the fashion; and gradually England forgot her witchcraft and her persecution. The last executions were in 1712, in which same year the judge on the bench at another trial charged the jury against the belief in witchcraft.

Scotland, however, was not so fortunate. As a writer has said: "The misery of man, the anger of the Almighty, the fearful power and the continual presence of Satan, the agonies of hell—these were the constant subjects of the preaching. All the most ghastly forms of human suffering were accumulated as faint images of the eternal doom of the immense majority of mankind.