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THE labours of Mesmer and his disciples, whatever judgment we may form as to the practical or scientific worth of any result they have led, or are likely to lead to, cannot be denied to have rendered one considerable, though indirect service to the cause of knowledge. They have thrown light upon one of the darkest chapters in the history of man; they have solved, at least partially, the riddle of those wild accusations, and still wilder confessions, in virtue of which so many thousands of human beings were delivered to an appalling death, in the very era of the revival of letters, and the reformation of religion. They have taught us, in short, what to think of the witches and the witch-burners, the demonopathics and the exorcists, who played their fantastic and hideous drama with the breadth of Europe for a theatre-from the fifteenth down to the middle of the eighteenth century. It is impossible to compare the appearances observable in a modern mesmeric patient with those presented by a witch or a devil-possessed nun of the period referred to-without being led to the conclusion, that it is one influence which affects both; that their states are identical; that either the mesmeric patient is a witch, or the witch was nothing more than a mesmeric patient. And this recurrence of phenomena so similar, under circumstances so widely diverse, is the strongest of all arguments against the supposition that the phenomena are the result of imposture. If we find insensibility to pain in the witch or the demonopathic, we have the less reason to believe the insensibility to pain, shown by the mesmeric patient, to be simulated. If we find VOL. XXX, No. 175.

clairvoyance, or a perception of things without the ordinary range of the senses, in the witch or the demonopathic, we have the less ground for supposing the clairvoyance of the mesmeric patient to be a hallucination, or a pretence. If we observe that very strange state of things which, in the language of the mesmerists, is termed rapporta community of sensation, thought, or will-between the witch and the victim of her sorceries, or between the demonopathic and the exorcist, we are the less warranted to assume that such rapport, as subsisting between the mesmeric patient and the mesmeriser, is a chimera, or a trick sustained by collusion. And these are but a few of the points in which the two classes of phenomena we speak of correspond. In the hundreds of mesmeric cases that have been treated, in and out of Germany, since the great Swiss charlatan made his début at Vienna, and in the thousands of cases of diabolism, in its thousand forms, that for more than three hundred years kept the racks at work, and the market-places smoking, throughout the whole Christian world, a unity of character, a constant reproduction of the same leading features, is to be recognized, wholly inexplicable, unless on the hypothesis of a common origin of one principle operating throughout. And certainly the manifestations of this principle, even as we witness them, in instances" few and far between," in our own times, are quite startling and enigmatical enough to account for the light in which they were viewed, and the impressions of horror which they produced, when developed in multitudes at once, and in a degree of intensity which we can but faintly


picture to ourselves, at a period of time when physiological investigation was in its infancy, and when preternatural agency seemed to be the only solution at hand, for all occurrences that broke in on the routine of common experience. We are accustomed to consider the epoch of the witch-trials as one of gross and inconceivable credulity; and our indignation is without bounds, to find clergymen and physicians, magistrates, and men of law, alike ready to believe and act upon the monstrous tales, the more than delirious extravagancies, which the evidence on these trials disclosed. But nothing is more certain, than that not only the witnesses, but the accused parties themselves, in the greater number of instances, believed every word of these extravagancies to be true. Indeed the accusations of the witnesses, in most cases, fell far short of the confessions of the accused-confessions oftener volunteered than extorted by the application or threat of the rack, and not seldom accompanied by the most urgent entreaties to their judges, to hand them over, without delay, to the purifying flames, in which, as they hoped, the expiation of their nameless wickednesses was to be begun. It certainly was not easy to acquit persons who accused themselves, especially when the matter of the accusations was not, as now, at variance with the established belief of the age. And it must be confessed, that but too many of those sufferers were morally guilty of the crimes of which they were arraigned; they would have committed those crimes if it had been possible, and, so far as the will and the intention went, they did commit them. "It is certain," says one of the interlocutors in Hoffmann's delightful Serapionsbrüder, "that in those times, when no one doubted the immediate influence of the devil, and his visible appearing, those unhappy beings who were so cruelly persecuted with fire, and the axe, really believed in all that they were accused of. It is certain, even, that many did, in the wickedness of their hearts, seek, through the practice of what then passed for magical arts, to enter into relations with the evil one, either for gain, or in order to work mischief to others; and then, in the state of frenzy which sense-destroying potions, fumigations, and horrible incantations produced,

saw the fiend, and in reality transacted, with this creation of their disordered sense, the hellish compact which was to put them in possession of satanic power. The insanest delusions, as they present themselves in those confessions, which are founded upon the most intimate conviction of the things confessed, will not appear too insane to him who considers to what strange fantasies, nay, to what frightful, what ghastly shapes of monomania, the common hysterical affections, to which the less robust sex is so peculiarly liable, can give birth." In perfect accordance with these observations, you will find the unfortunate persons accused of the crime of sorcery, freely acknowledging their commerce with the prince of darkness, circumstantially detailing the ceremonies of their initiation into the infernal league, and describing, with a graphic power which the romancist might often envy, the scenes to which their communion in the unholy mysteries has given them access; the unctions, the transformations, the broomstick rides through the air, the assemblings at the "devil's sabbaths," the "black masses," and other sacrileges there committed; the ghoul-like banquets, and lycanthropic carouses that followed these accursed rites, and the lewdnesses perpetrated, in outrage and defiance of nature, during the demoniac intoxication in which these carouses had their issue. Each witch can tell even the name, the propensities, and habits of the particular unclean spirit assigned to her as her familiar, or ministering demon, and the prescribed formulary by which the services of such familiar, whether for the witch's proper benefit, or for the injury of those unlovingly regarded by her, are put in requisition.

It is easy to say that these supposed witches were mad, and that no more weight ought to be attributed to their testimony against themselves than to the ravings (often so wonderfully plausible and coherent) of any other maniacs. But the difficulty is not thus to be got rid of. The Gordian knot, for the inquirer into these exhibitions of a strange and paradoxical aspect of the human mind, is, not that these illfated beings were haunted by delusions of an extraordinary vividness, but that those delusions, without any possible concert, displayed such unmistakeable

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