Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > The Advent of Modern Thought in Popular Literature > George Gifford’s Dialogues of Witches
  Belief in witchcraft King James’s Daemonologie  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

XVI. The Advent of Modern Thought in Popular Literature.

§ 3. George Gifford’s Dialogues of Witches.


Passing over Nashe’s brilliant and erratic protest 13  against superstition, which squandered flashes of cultured ridicule on the unessential question of dreams and probably never reached serious controversialists, we find George Gifford returning 14  to the discussion in 1593. His new production, Dialogues of Witches and Witchcraft, is an important sign of the times. It treats of rustic superstitions, and, in a spirit of simple, broad-minded Christianity, he maintains, as Wier had already asserted, that witches and sorcerers have no diabolical power; that blight, the sickness of cattle and human ailments are the work of heaven alone and should be atoned for only by prayer and fasting. The treatise has many touches of character drawing, and this interest in human nature, combined with a sense of God’s omnipotence, might well have led the author in the steps of Reginald Scot. But the growing pessimism of the age had turned Gifford’s gaze from what is good in life. He still finds truth in the scholastic doctrine that the devil is a watchful diplomatist who takes possession of some malevolent old hag at a time when men are disturbed by calamity, causing her to claim the authorship of what has really been sent from heaven. He argues that the fiend, thanks to his superhuman knowledge, forecasts the future and then inspires “wise men” to make a show of causing what the devil has merely foreseen. In either case, these impostors consent to intercourse with the devil, are decoys to lure men from the worship of God and, therefore, should be put to death. 15    8

Note 13The Terrors of the Night, or a Discourse of Apparitions, 1594; see ante, Vol. IV, chap. XVI, pp.372–373. [ back ]
Note 14. He had already produced Discourse of the Subtle Practices of Devilles, 1587. [ back ]
Note 15. Hobbes held nearly the same view; arguing that witches should be punished although they have no real power, because they think they have, and purpose to do mischief. See Leviathan, p.7, ed. 1651. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Belief in witchcraft King James’s Daemonologie  
 
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