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.]
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No. 118. Monday, July 16, 1711. Steele.