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credulous parts of the world abound most in these relations, and that the persons among us who are supposed to engage in such an infernal commerce are people of a weak
understanding and a crazed imagination, and at the same 5 time reflect upon the many impostures and delusions of
this nature that have been detected in all ages, I endeavor to suspend my belief till I hear more certain accounts than any which have yet come to my knowledge. In
short, when I consider the question whether there are 10 such persons in the world as those we call witches, my
mind is divided between the two opposite opinions ; or rather, to speak my thoughts freely. I believe in general that there
is, and has been, such a thing as witchcraft 2. but at the same time can give no credit to any particular 15 instance of it.
I am engaged in this speculation by some occurrences that I met with yesterday, which I shall give my reader an account of at large. As I was walking with my friend
Sir Roger by the side of one of his woods, an old woman 20 applied herself to me for my charity. Her dress and figure put me in mind of the following description in Otway: “In a close lane as I pursued my journey, I spied a wrinkled hag, with age grown double,
Picking dry sticks, and mumbling to herself.
Cold palsy shook her head; her hands seem'd wither'd;
Which served to keep her carcase from the cold: 30 So there was nothing of a piece about her.
Her lower weeds were all o'er coarsely patch'd
As I was musing on this description and comparing it 35 with the object before me, the knight told me that this
very old woman had the reputation of a witch all over the country, that her lips were observed to be always in motion, and that there was not a switch about her house which her neighbors did not believe had carried her several hundreds of miles. If she chanced to stumble, they always 5 found sticks or straws that lay in the figure of a cross before her. If she made any mistake at church, and cried " Amen”in a wrong place, they never failed to conclude that she was saying her prayer backwards. There was not a maid in the parish that would take a pin of her, 10 though she would offer a bag of money with it. She goes by the name of Moll White, and has made the country ring with several imaginary exploits which are palmed upon her. If the dairy maid does not make her butter come so soon as she should have it, Moll White is at the 15 bottom of the churn. If a horse sweats in the stable, Moll White has been upon his back. If a hare makes an unexpected escape from the hounds, the huntsman curses Moll White.. “Nay," says Sir Roger, “I have known the master of the pack, upon such an occasion, send one of his 20 servants to see if Moll White had been out that morning."
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 25 pointed at something that stood behind the door, which, upon looking that way, I found to be an old broomstaff. 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 ayreport as 30 Moll White herself ; 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 5 of peace, to avoid all communication with the devil, and
never to hurt any of her neighbors' 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 10 spit pins, and giving maids the nightmare; 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 inquiry, that Sir Roger was 15 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 persuaded him to the contrary.
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 dote, and grow chargeable to a parish, she is generally turned
into a witch, and fills the whole country with extravagant 25 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 herself, and sometimes confesses secret commerce and familiarities
that her imagination forms in a delirious old age. This 30 frequently cuts off charity from the greatest objects of
compassion, and inspires people with a malevolence towards those poor, decrepit parts of our species in whom human nature is defaced by infirmity and dotage.
This agreeable seat is surrounded with so many pleasing walks, which are struck out of a wood, in the midst of which the house stands, that one can hardly ever be weary of rambling from one labyrinth of delight to another. To one used to live in a city, the charms of the country 5 are so exquisite that the mind is lost in a certain transport which raises us above ordinary life, and is yet not strong enough to be inconsistent with tranquillity. This state of mind was I in, ravished with the murmur of waters, the whisper of breezes, the singing of birds; and whether 10 I looked up to the heavens, down on the earth, or turned to the prospects around me, still struck with new sense of pleasure ; when I found, by the voice of my friend, who walked by me, that we had insensibly strolled into the grove sacred to the widow.
15 “ This woman,” says he, “is of all others the most unintelligible: she either designs to marry, or she does not. What is the most perplexing of all is that she doth not either say to her lovers she has any resolution against that condition of life in general, or that she banishes 20 them; but, conscious of her own merit, she permits their addresses without fear of any ill consequence or want of respect from their rage or despair. A man whose thoughts are constantly bent upon so agreeable an object, must be excused if the ordinary occurrences in conversation are 25
below his attention. I call her indeed perverse ; but, alas! why do I call her so? Because her superior merit
is such that I cannot approach her without awe, that my
heart is checked by too much esteem ; I am angry that her charms are not more accessible, that I am more inclinec to worship than salute her. How often have I wished
her unhappy that I might have an opportunity of serving 5 her; and how often troubled in that very imagination, at
giving her the pain of being obliged! Well, I have led a miserable life in secret upon her account; but fancy she would have condescended to have some regard for me if
it had not been for that watchful animal, her confidante. 10 (“Of all persons under the sun," continued he, calling
me by my name, “ be sure to set a mark upon confidantes ; they are of all people the most impertinent. What is most pleasant to observe in them is that they assume to them
selves the merit of the persons whom they have in their Is custody. Orestilla is a great fortune, and in wonderful
danger of surprises ; therefore full of suspicions of the least indifferent thing, particularly careful of new acquaintance, and of growing too familiar with the old. Themista,
her favorite woman, is every whit as careful of whom she 20 speaks to, and what she says. Let the ward be a beauty,
her confidante shall treat you with an air of distance ; let her be a fortune, and she assumes the suspicious behavior of her friend and patroness. Thus it is that very many
of our unmarried women of distinction are to all intents 25 and purposes married, except the consideration of different
sexes. They are directly under the conduct of their whis perer, and think they are in a state of freedom while they can prate with one of these attendants of all men in gen.
eral, and still avoid the man they most like. You do not 30 see one heiress in a hundred whose fate does not turn
upon this circumstance of choosing a confidante. Thus it is that the lady is addressed to, presented, and flattered, only by proxy, in her woman. In my case, how is it possible that