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'of the law of libel, appear to warrant the following conclusions: first, that by leaving a discretionary power in the hands of the judges, it becomes a formidable instrument against public liberty; and secondly, that it in no respect whatever operates as a prevention to the offence, on account of the uncertainty of punishment. Having established these points, and shewn the general character of the law of libel, we proceed to the particular object of this inquiry, viz. the legality of prosecutions for religious opinions.
It has been already stated, that the doctrine at present acknowledged and acted upon in the King's Bench, is founded on the dictum of Sir Mathew Hale, pronounced more than a century and a half agone. It is quite essential to forming an accurate opinion on this important subject, that the reader bear in mind that blasphemy is not a statutable offence; and when it is said that " Christianity is p t and parcel of the law of the land," it must be recollected that the doctrine has no other support than the dictum of a judge. There are two considerations which immediately present themselves: first, the reputation of the judge who pronounced this decision; secondly, the spirit of the times in which he lived. Sir Mathew Hale js justly acknowledged to have been a man of spotless integrity, and extensive knowledge; a pious christian, and a profound lawyer. But the age, in which he flourished, was, in comparison with modern times, dark, ignorant, and superstitious. And though nature had gifted him with a comprehensive mind, it cannot be supposed that he was totally free from the prejudices of his day. Ample proof can be adduced to show beyond all doubt, that he shared in the notions of the vulgar; that he believed in ghosts, witchcraft, and sorcery; and that in his judicial capacity he punished these imaginary crimes with the severest penalties of the law. These facts, which we shall prove beyond all possibility of dispute, are quite sufficient to make us pause before we pay implicit obedience to his authority. His talents and integrity justly entitle his opinions to respect, but we must be careful lest that respect degenerate into servility; for nothing has contributed so effectually to check the progress of improvement, as a silly, slavish deference to antiquity.
A TRIAL OF WITCHES,
TAKEN BY A PERSON THEN ATTENDING IN COURT.
At the assizes and general gaol delivery) held at Bury St. Edmonds, for the County of Suffolk, the tenth day of March, in the sixteenth year of our Sovereign Lord King Charles II. before Sir Matlhew Hale, knight, Lord Chief Baron of his Majesty's Court of Exchequer. Rose Cullender and Amy Duny, widows, hoth of l.eystoft", in the county aforesaid, were severally indicted for bew itching Elizabeth and Ann Durent, Jane Booking, Susan Chandler, William Durent, and Elizabeth and Deborah Pacey: and the said Cullender and Duny being arraigned upon the said indictments, pleaded not guilty.
I. Three of the parties abovementioned, viz. Ann Durent, Susan Chandler, and Elizabeth Pacey, were brought to Bury to the assizes, and were in a reasonable good condition: but that morning they came into the hall to give instructions for the drawing up of their bills of indictment, (he three persons, children, fell into strong and violent fits, screeking out in a most sad manner, so they could not in any wise give any instructions in the court who were the cause of their distemper. And although they did, after some certain space, recover out of their fits, yet they were every one of them struck dumb, so that none of them could speak, neither at that time, nor during the assizes, until the conviction of the witches. •;
As concerning William Durent, being an infant, his mother, Dorothy Durent, sworn and examined, deposed in open court, "That about the 10th of March, 16G3, she having a special occasion to go from home, and having none in her house to take care of her said child (it then suck
§*' . iug) desired Amy Duny, her neighbour, to look to her child during her absence; for which she promised to give her a penny; but the said Dorothy Durent desired the same Amy Duny not to suckle her child, and laid a great charge upon her not to do it. Upon which she was asked by the court, why she gave that direction, she being an old woman and not capable of giving suck? And it was answered by the same Dorothy Durent, that she very well knew that she did not give suck, but that for some years before she had gone under the reputation of being a witch, which was one cause made her give her the caution. Nevertheless, after the departure of this deponent, the said Amy did suckle the child; and after the return of the said Dorothy, the said Amy did acquaint her that she had given suck to the child, contrary to her command. Whereupon the deponent was very angry with the said Amy for the same; at which the said.Amy was much discontented, and used many high expressions, and threatening speeches towards her; telling her, that she had as good as to have done otherwise than to have found fault with her, and so departed out of the house. And that very night her son fell into strange fits of swounding, and was held in such terrible manner, that she was much affrighted therewith, and so continued for divers weeks. And the said examinant farther said, that she being exceedingly troubled at her child's distemper, did go to a certain person named Doctor Jacob, who lived at Yarmouth, who had the reputation in the country to help children who were bewitched; who advised her to hang up the child's blanket in the chimney corner all day, and at night when she put the child to bed, to put it into the said blanket, and if she found any thing in it, she should not be afraid, but throw it in the fire. And this deponent did according to his direction, and at night when she took down the blanket, with an intent to put the child therein, there fell out of the same.a great toad, which ran up and down the hearth; and she having a young man only with her in the house, desired bin to catch the toad-, and throw it in the fire; which the youth did accordingly, and held it there with the tongs; and as soon as it was in the fire it made a great and horrible noise, and after a space there was a flashing in the fire, like gunpowder, making a noise like the discharge of a pistol; and thereupon the toad was no more seen or heard. It was asked by the court, if that after the noise and flashing, there was not the substance of the toad to be seen to consume in the fire? And it was answered by the said Dorothy Durant, that after the flashing and noise, there was no more seen than if there had been none there. The next day there came a young woman, a kinswoman of the said Amy, and a neighbour of this deponent, and told this deponent, that beraunt, (meaning the said Amy) was in a most lamentable condition, having her face all scorched with fire, and that she was sitting alone in her house, in her smock, without any fire. And thereupon this said deponent went into the house of the said Amy Duny to see her, and found her in the same condition as was related to her; for her face, her legs and thighs, which this deponent saw, seemed very much scorched and burnt with fire; at which this deponent seemed much to wonder, and asked the same Amy how she came into that sad condition? And the same Amy replied, she might thank her for it, for that she, this deponent, was the cause thereof; but that she would live to see some of her children dead, and her upon crutches. And this deponent saith, that after the burning of the said toad, her child recovered and was well again, and was living at the time of the assizes. And this deponent further saith, that about the 6th of March, 2d Car. II. her daughter, Elizabeth Durent, being about the age of ten years, was taken in a like manner as her first child was, and in her fits complained much of Amy Duny, and said that she did appear to her and afflict her in such a manner as the former. And she, this deponent going to the apothecaries for something for her said child, when she did return to her own house,