**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


No. 117 [Witches — from The Spectator]
by [?]

This Account raised my Curiosity so far, that I begged my Friend Sir ROGER to go with me into her Hovel, which stood in a solitary Corner under the side of the Wood. Upon our first entering Sir ROGER winked to me, and pointed at something that stood behind the Door, which, upon looking that Way, I found to be an old Broom-staff. At the same time he whispered me in the Ear to take notice of a Tabby Cat that sat in the Chimney-Corner, which, as the old Knight told me, lay under as bad a Report as Moll White her self; for besides that Moll is said often to accompany her in the same Shape, the Cat is reported to have spoken twice or thrice in her Life, and to have played several Pranks above the Capacity of an ordinary Cat.

I was secretly concerned to see Human Nature in so much Wretchedness and Disgrace, but at the same time could not forbear smiling to hear Sir ROGER, who is a little puzzled about the old Woman, advising her as a Justice of Peace to avoid all Communication with the Devil, and never to hurt any of her Neighbours’ Cattle. We concluded our Visit with a Bounty, which was very acceptable.

In our Return home, Sir ROGER told me, that old Moll had been often brought before him for making Children spit Pins, and giving Maids the Night-Mare; and that the Country People would be tossing her into a Pond and trying Experiments with her every Day, if it was not for him and his Chaplain.

I have since found upon Enquiry, that Sir ROGER was several times staggered with the Reports that had been brought him concerning this old Woman, and would frequently have bound her over to the County Sessions, had not his Chaplain with much ado perswaded him to the contrary. [4]

I have been the more particular in this Account, because I hear there is scarce a Village in England that has not a Moll White in it. When an old Woman begins to doat, and grow chargeable to a Parish, she is generally turned into a Witch, and fills the whole Country with extravagant Fancies, imaginary Distempers and terrifying Dreams. In the mean time, the poor Wretch that is the innocent Occasion of so many Evils begins to be frighted at her self, and sometimes confesses secret Commerce and Familiarities that her Imagination forms in a delirious old Age. This frequently cuts off Charity from the greatest Objects of Compassion, and inspires People with a Malevolence towards those poor decrepid Parts of our Species, in whom Human Nature is defaced by Infirmity and Dotage.


[Footnote 1: Ottway, which I could not forbear repeating on this occasion.]

[Footnote 2: ‘Orphan’, Act II. Chamont to Monimia.]

[Footnote 3: The knight told me, upon hearing the Description,]

[Footnote 4: When this essay was written, charges were being laid against one old woman, Jane Wenham, of Walkerne, a little village north of Hertford, which led to her trial for witchcraft at assizes held in the following year, 1712, when she was found guilty; and became memorable as the last person who, in this country, was condemned to capital punishment for that impossible offence. The judge got first a reprieve and then a pardon. The lawyers had refused to draw up any indictment against the poor old creature, except, in mockery, for ‘conversing familiarly with the devil in form of a cat.’ But of that offence she was found guilty upon the testimony of sixteen witnesses, three of whom were clergymen. One witness, Anne Thorne, testified that every night the pins went from her pincushion into her mouth. Others gave evidence that they had seen pins come jumping through the air into Anne Thorne’s mouth. Two swore that they had heard the prisoner, in the shape of a cat, converse with the devil, he being also in form of a cat. Anne Thorne swore that she was tormented exceedingly with cats, and that all the cats had the face and voice of the witch. The vicar of Ardeley had tested the poor ignorant creature with the Lord’s Prayer, and finding that she could not repeat it, had terrified her with his moral tortures into some sort of confession. Such things, then, were said and done, and such credulity was abetted even by educated men at the time when this essay was written. Upon charges like those ridiculed in the text, a woman actually was, a few months later, not only committed by justices with a less judicious spiritual counsellor than Sir Roger’s chaplain, but actually found guilty at the assizes, and condemned to death.]