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condemned witches to die.”—Crosbie. " But an act of parliament put an end to witchcraft.”— Johnson. No, sir, witchcraft had ceased, and therefore an act of parliament was passed to prevent persecution for what was not witchcraft. Why it ceased we cannot tell, as we cannot tell the reason of many other things.”
The principal argument of Dr. Johnson for the existence of witchcraft and spectral appearances is taken, we perceive, from the universality of opinion in their favour; a mode of arguing, however, which is as likely to protect error as to enforce truth. What Dr. Aikin has advanced upon this very subject, in his Letters to his Son, appears to me so cogent and satisfactory, that I shall beg leave to present a considerable portion of it to my readers. “ That a great part of mankind," he remarks,
in giving credit to a thing, even though it be somewhat which comes under their personal observation, will be a very slight argument of its truth, provided there be a manifest source of error in the case, which is of a nature to operate equally upon all. Thus, the once universal and still common notion, that the earth is stationary, while the sun and other luminaries move round it, is not in the least strengthened by the numbers who adopt it, since all have formed their bclief upon the very same testimony, that of their senses, which is liable to the same error in all as in one. The same may be asserted of the supposition of a supernatural voice speaking in thunder; of lightning being the weapon of an angry Deity; of the place of future punishment being a dark cavern under ground; and of various other opinions, in which uniform associations of ideas have occasioncd uniform deductions. -To apply this principle in the present case. When mankind, from whatever causes, had admitted the belief of a state of existence continued beyond the present life, they must have endeavoured to form some conception of the mode of that existence. Now, as the body lay before their eyes, a lifeless mass, or was destroyed by fire, corruption, or other material agents, they must necessarily have had recourse to some substance of a rarer and subtler texture, which, escaping from this gross and perishable part, might carry with it such impressed marks and qualities, as would preserve the stamp of personal identity. How metaphysical soever this process of thinking may appear, it must actually have been gone through by the rudest people, if they thought at all on the subject. Further; that form and
* Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 3d edition, p. 33, 34.
figure were capable of being impressed upon matter of much greater tenuity than their own bodies, they must experimentally have known, from the familiar instances of shadows, and the reflexion of their image from water or mirrors. In these cases they would plainly perceive, that a something, resembling themselves, might, in some measure, stand apart from their bodies.
“ Thus, I conceive, it almost necessarily happened, that all nations formed similar ideas of the corporeal attributes of those who had passed through death without total extinction of being. It was no longer gross body in which they were clad:-that, it was manifest, was left behind. But as, in thinking of the dead, it was impossible to abstract from them shape, lineaments, looks, and gestures, these properties were annexed to a thin, airy, or shadowy body, which, while it might be an object of sight, and perhaps of hearing, was none to the touch.-
“ This uniformity of conception respecting men in another state of existence being established, it is, I imagine, an easy step to the supposition of their sensible appearance under such a form. Reveries and dreams of the fancy in persons of heated imaginations, are so extremely like realities, that they are readily taken for such. A mourning mother, filled with the vivid image of her lost child, might easily, in the dark and silent hours of night, when just sinking into disturbed slumber, imagine that the beloved form actually stood before her. The long-revered face of an aged parent, might be fancied to clothe itself in a visible garb of light, in order to console, admonish, or inform the troubled and solitary child. Still more readily, the murderer, appalled by conscious guilt, and in continual dread of an avenger, might body forth the mangled corpse of the slain, to upbraid him with terrific looks and gestures for the bloody deed. All this appears to me so perfectly natural, and so correspondent to the universal history of the human mind, that I only wonder so few persons, among those who are thoroughly persuaded of the reality of apparitions, can be met with, who pretend themselves to have been witnesses of them. And surely, the gradual diminution of these supposed events, now amounting in enlightened countries almost to a total cessation, is a much stronger argument against them, than the most general concurrence in their belief among ignorant and credulous people, can be in their favour.
In the deep windings of the grove, no more
Nor sinks convulsive in prophetic swoon;
Minstrel. “Of the various superstitions which the poet here represents as put to flight by Reason, some have been nearly as universal as the belief of apparitions of the dead; yet it will not, surely, be now asserted of them, that they have become universal by their truth.'*”
Whatever may be thought of the speculative reveries of Johnson with regard to immaterial agency, there can be but one opinion as to his piety, . sincerity, and, in the privacy of prayer, his tho
rough humility and contrition. petual struggle against morbid sensation, constitutional indolence, and strong appetites; and how well he succeeded in the contest must be apparent to all who shall view his life in the
of Mr. Boswell, or open his Prayers and Meditations; if not a happy, he was, assuredly, a truly good and pious, man.
He had a per
We have now closed the literary career of Johnson, and have only to record the few remain
Vol. 1, Letter 25. † For instances of bis extraordinary piety, see Boswell's Life, vol. 2, p. 44 and 212; vol. 3, p. 100 and 101; and vol. 4, p. 400 and 425.