One other thought is to be borne in mind, as we pass through the scenes that are to be spread before us. The theology of Christendom, at that time, so far as it relates to the power and agency of Satan and demonology in general,—and this is the only point of view on which I ever refer to theology in this discussion,—and the whole fabric of popular superstitions founded upon it, had reached their culmination. The beginning, middle, and close of the seventeenth century, witnessed the greatest display of those superstitions, and prepared the way for their final explosion. As the hour of their dissolution was at hand, and they were doomed to vanish before the light of science and education, to pass from the realm of supposed reality into that of acknowledged fiction, it seems to have been ordered that they should leave monuments behind them, from which their character, elements, and features, and their terrible influence, might be read and studied in all subsequent ages.
The ideas in reference to the agency and designs of the great enemy of God and man, and all his subordinate hosts, witches, fairies, ghosts, “gorgons and hydras, and chimeras dire,” “apparitions, signs, and prodigies,” by which the minds of men had so long been filled, and their fearful imaginations exercised, as they took their flight, imprinted themselves, for perpetual remembrance, in productions which, more than any works of mere human genius, are sure to live for ever. They left their forms crystallized, with imperishable lineaments, in the greatest of dramas and the greatest of epics. The plays of Shakespeare, as the century opened, and the verse of Milton in its central period, are their record and their picture.