Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7f7b94f6bd-gszfc Total loading time: 0.242 Render date: 2022-06-30T07:19:07.673Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 May 2012

Birkbeck, University of London
Exmouth House, Exmouth Place, Hastings TN34


This article argues that, in order properly to understand the process by which the attitude of the educated towards magical beliefs became prevalently sceptical between the mid- seventeenth and the mid-eighteenth centuries, we need to re-examine the affiliations of ‘sadducism’ and its role in relation to orthodox thought. In late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century England, articulate scepticism about witchcraft and related phenomena seems to have become widespread in free-thinking circles, especially in London and predominantly in oral form. Because of the taint of irreligion with which such attitudes were associated, orthodox thinkers were inhibited from adopting them for a generation, while a vociferous minority mounted a counter-attack. In the early decades of the eighteenth century, however, it gradually became apparent that scepticism about such phenomena was less dangerous than it had initially appeared, and the orthodox began more cautiously to advocate such views themselves.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



This article is based on the Roy Porter Memorial Lecture delivered at the Wellcome Library, London, on 20 June 2011; in this connection I would like to thank Simon Chaplin, Colin Jones, and Quentin Skinner. It was subsequently presented at All Souls College, Oxford, at Johns Hopkins University, and at Vanderbilt University and I am grateful to Noel Malcolm, Ian MacLean, Lawrence M. Principe, and Peter Lake for their hospitality and to those who attended for their comments. In revising it for publication I have benefited from the comments of Peter Anstey, Jonathan Barry, Stephen Brogan, Rose Dixon, Scott Mandelbrote, Alexandra Walsham, and the Historical Journal's anonymous referees.


1 See esp. Owen Davies, Witchcraft, magic and culture, 1736–1951 (Manchester, 1999). For a broader perspective see Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra, ‘Witchcraft after the witch-trials’, in eadem et al., The Athlone history of witchcraft and magic in Europe, v: the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (London, 1999), pp. 95–189; Owen Davies and Willem de Blécourt, eds., Beyond the witch trials: witchcraft and magic in Enlightenment Europe (Manchester, 2004).

2 Roy Porter, ‘Witchcraft and magic in Enlightenment, Romantic and liberal thought’, in Gijswijt-Hofstra et al., Athlone history of witchcraft and magic, v, pp. 191–282. Cf. idem, Enlightenment: Britain and the creation of the modern world (London, 2000), esp. pp. 219–26, though for a somewhat different view in which the association of scientists with the defence of the supernatural is given more emphasis, see idem, Flesh in the age of reason (London, 2003), pp. 87–93 (a section which owes much to my Robert Boyle (1627–91): scrupulosity and science (Woodbridge, 2000), although the posthumously compiled bibliography does not reflect this). For other recent attempts at synthesis, see, e.g., Sharpe, James, Instruments of darkness: witchcraft in England, 1550–1750 (London, 1996)Google Scholar, part 3; Alan Macfarlane, ‘Civility and the decline of magic’, in Peter Burke, Brian Harrison, and Paul Slack, eds., Civil histories: essays presented to Sir Keith Thomas (Oxford, 2000), pp. 145–59 (its title consciously alluding to the relevant sections of Keith Thomas's seminal Religion and the decline of magic: popular beliefs in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England (London, 1971)); Walsham, Alexandra, ‘The Reformation and “the disenchantment of the world”’, Historical Journal, 51 (2008), pp. 497528CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Cameron, Euan, Enchanted Europe: superstition, reason and religion, 1250–1750 (Oxford, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, part 4. I have followed the prevailing historiography in predominantly focusing here on witchcraft and associated phenomena.

3 Bever, Edward, ‘Witchcraft prosecutions and the decline of magic’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 40 (2009), pp. 263–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Brian Levack, ‘The decline and end of witchcraft prosecutions’, in Gijswijt-Hofstra et al., The Athlone history of witchcraft and magic, v, pp. 1–93; Gaskill, Malcolm, Crime and mentalities in early modern England (Cambridge, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. ch. 3, and idem, ’ Witchcraft and evidence in early modern England’, Past and Present, 198 (2008), pp. 3370CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Bostridge, Ian, Witchcraft and its transformations, c. 1650 – c. 1750 (Oxford, 1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Peter Elmer, ‘Towards a politics of witchcraft in early modern England’, in Stuart Clark, ed., Languages of witchcraft: narrative, ideology and meaning in early modern culture (Basingstoke, 2001), pp. 101–18. For a striking earlier statement of a related viewpoint see MacDonald, Michael, ‘Religion, social change and psychological healing in England, 1600–1800’, Studies in Church History, 19 (1982), pp. 101–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a critique especially of Bostridge see Hunter, Michael, ‘Witchcraft and the decline of belief’, Eighteenth-Century Life, 22 (1998), pp. 139–47Google Scholar.

5 See Webster, Charles, From Paracelsus to Newton: magic and the making of modern science (Cambridge, 1982)Google Scholar; Clark, Stuart, Thinking with demons: the idea of witchcraft in early modern Europe (Oxford, 1997)Google Scholar, esp. ch. 19; Hunter, Michael, ‘The Royal Society and the decline of magic’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 65 (2011), pp. 103–19CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. For background see Henry, John, ‘The fragmentation of Renaissance occultism and the decline of magic’, History of Science, 46 (2008), pp. 148CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Glanvill, Joseph, Saducismus triumphatus (London, 1689)Google Scholar. I here use the 1689 edition due to its provision of a single, continuous pagination. On earlier recensions of this book see below, p. 406. On Glanvill see Prior, M. E., ‘Joseph Glanvill, witchcraft and seventeenth-century science’, Modern Philology, 30 (1932), pp. 167–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Cope, J. I., Joseph Glanvill, Anglican apologist (St Louis, MO, 1956)Google Scholar, esp. ch. 4.

7 For a rare case of a passage in a sermon by a prominent divine defending such phenomena, see Isaac Barrow, Works, ed. John Tillotson (3rd edn, 3 vols., London, 1716), ii, pp. 101–2. However, it has not generally been noted how little the topics dealt with here were discussed in sermons and similar writings of the period, as suggested by a word search in the works of eminent divines such as Tillotson, now made possible by the use of Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO). The reason for this is presumably that such matters were controversial and thus best avoided in a genre of which the object was primarily edification (see Spurr, John, The Restoration Church of England, 1646–1689 (New Haven, CT, and London, 1991)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, chs. 6–7). Yet the effect may ironically have been to make these subjects appear marginal by default, rather as was the case with the institutional attitude of the Royal Society as discussed in Hunter, ‘Royal Society and decline of magic’.

8 See David Wootton, ‘Reginald Scot/Abraham Fleming/the Family of Love’, in Clark, ed., Languages of witchcraft, pp. 119–38. For the views of Interregnum radicals see, e.g., Muggleton, Lodowick, A true interpretation of the witch of Endor (London, 1669)Google Scholar. For background, see Stephen Snobelen, ‘Lust, pride and ambition: Isaac Newton and the devil’, in J. E. Force and Sarah Hutton, eds., Newton and Newtonianism: new studies (Dordrecht, 2004), pp. 155–81, on pp. 174–5.

9 Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 440–1. For a discussion of Hobbes's views on witchcraft, see Bostridge, Witchcraft and its transformations, ch. 2.

10 See Mintz, S. I., The hunting of Leviathan: seventeenth-century reactions to the materialism and moral philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (Cambridge, 1962)Google Scholar, esp. ch. 7; Parkin, Jon, Taming the Leviathan: the reception of the political and religious ideas of Thomas Hobbes in England, 1640–1700 (Cambridge, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. ch. 5; Michael Hunter, ‘The witchcraft controversy and the nature of free-thought in Restoration England: John Wagstaffe's The question of witchcraft debated (1669)’, in idem, Science and the shape of orthodoxy: studies of intellectual change in late seventeenth-century Britain (Woodbridge, 1995), pp. 286–307.

11 See esp. Hunter, ‘Witchcraft controversy’, pp. 286–8. For an example of an account wholly dependent on printed sources, see Cameron, Enchanted Europe, p. 243 and passim.

12 Glanvill, Saducismus triumphatus, pp. 534–5, 540. For the quotation from Baxter, see Hunter, Michael, ‘New light on the “drummer of Tedworth”: conflicting narratives of witchcraft in Restoration England’, Historical research, 78 (2005), pp. 311–53, on p. 334CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 See Pepys, Diary, ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews (11 vols., London, 1970–83), IV, pp. 185–6. On Sandwich's religious views, see ibid., esp. i, pp. 141, 201, 261, 271. Unfortunately, Sandwich's ten-volume journal, now at Mapperton House, Dorset, provides little evidence of his views on such topics, though there are occasions when he showed a robust scepticism about supposed miracles, e.g. ii, pp. 68–70, 74–6; vi, pp. 297–8.

14 Joseph Glanvill to Henry More, 25 Sept. [1668?], Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, MS MA 4322. I am indebted to Rhodri Lewis for a transcript of this letter. For Charleton's views on religion and related topics see especially Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Smith 13, various items in which show an idiosyncratic and somewhat cynical viewpoint, tinged by Stoic ideas. Hints of similar views are to be found scattered through his published works, for which see Booth, Emily, ‘A subtle and mysterious machine’: the medical world of Walter Charleton (1619–1707) (Dordrecht, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, pp. 223–40 and passim.

15 Hunter, ‘New light on the “drummer of Tedworth”’, pp. 323, 347.

16 See esp. Israel, Jonathan, Radical Enlightenment: philosophy and the making of modernity, 1650–1750 (Oxford, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, ch. 21. On the relative lack of interest in the book in England see ibid., p. 399, and Barry, Jonathan, Witchcraft and demonology in south-west England, 1640–1789 (Basingstoke, 2012), p. 143CrossRefGoogle Scholar, who points out that, although Beaumont's, JohnA historical, physiological and theological treatise of spirits, apparitions, witchcrafts and other magical practices (London, 1705)Google Scholar announced the theme of refuting Bekker on its title-page, this was in fact a tangential theme even in that book.

17 Glanvill, Saducismus triumphatus, p. 54; Beaumont, Treatise, p. 307. On Webster's book, see the recent account in Elmer, Peter, ed., English witchcraft, 1560–1736, iv: The post-Restoration synthesis and its opponents (London, 2003), pp. xiiffGoogle Scholar.

18 Thomas, Religion and the decline of magic, p. 580; Hunter, ‘Witchcraft controversy’, p. 296 and passim.

19 Virtually the entire text of the 1669 edition of the work appeared in serialized form in The Protestant Post-Boy, issues 92–6 (1–12 Apr. 1712). This text was then published as The impossibility of witchcraft (London, 1712), of which a second edition appeared the same year (English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) T71989, N733); the sequel, The impossibility of witchcraft further demonstrated (London, 1712), largely comprises the same dialogue by Lucian that Wagstaffe appended to his work. It is perhaps worth noting that the variant of the 1st edition of The impossibility of witchcraft that appears on ECCO, a copy held by the Houghton Library, Harvard (call no. 24246.11*; ESTC N16847), is almost certainly a hybrid combining the 1st edition title-page (which has been detached and reinstated in this copy at some point) with the 2nd edition text, including exactly the same errors of pagination, etc. I am grateful to John Overholt for his help in this matter. This version was evidently the work of William Pittis: see Guskin, Phyllis, ‘The context of witchcraft: the case of Jane Wenham (1712)’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 15 (1981), pp. 4871CrossRefGoogle Scholar, on p. 66n, citing Francis Bragge, The witch of Walkerne (London, 1712), sig. A3v. On Pittis see Newton, T. F. M., ‘William Pittis and Queen Anne journalism’, Modern Philology, 33 (1935–6), pp. 169–86, 279302Google Scholar.

20 See A discourse on witchcraft. Occasioned by a bill now depending in parliament (London, 1736). This, too, is based on the 1669 edition of Wagstaffe's work, rather than the extended one of 1671. For a German translation of 1711 see H. R. Trevor-Roper, Religion, the Reformation and social change (2nd edn, London, 1972), p. 175n.

21 Glanvill, Saducismus triumphatus, p. 62. Cf. Hunter, ‘Witchcraft controversy’, pp. 288–9. For the nature of the fear of atheism in the period to which sadducism was linked, see Michael Hunter, ‘Science and heterodoxy: an early modern problem reconsidered’, in idem, Science and the shape of orthodoxy, pp. 225–44.

22 E.g. C. A. Patrides, ed., The Cambridge Platonists (London, 1969), pp. xxv, 32, 286–7. For more recent accounts of More's demonological writing, see Hall, A. R., Henry More: magic, religion and experiment (Oxford, 1990)Google Scholar, ch. 7; Alison Coudert, ‘Henry More and witchcraft’, in Sarah Hutton, ed., Henry More (1614–1687): tercentenary studies (Dordrecht, 1990), pp. 115–36; Crocker, Robert, Henry More, 1614–87: a biography of the Cambridge Platonist (Dordrecht, 2003)Google Scholar, ch. 9.

23 Glanvill, Saducismus triumphatus, pp. 72–3, [58], 529, and passim. See also above, pp. 403.

24 On Casaubon see Bostridge, Witchcraft and its transformations, ch. 3; on Bovet see Jonathan Barry, ‘The politics of Pandæmonium’, in John Newton and Jo Bath, eds., Witchcraft and the act of 1604 (Leiden, 2008), pp. 181–206, reprinted in Barry, Witchcraft and demonology, ch. 4.

25 Hunter, Michael, ed., The occult laboratory: magic, science and second sight in late seventeenth-century Scotland (Woodbridge, 2001)Google Scholar, pp. 6–9 and passim. For Boyle's thought as a whole see idem, Boyle: between God and science (New Haven, CT, and London, 2009), passim.

26 Hunter, Scrupulosity and science, pp. 228–31.

27 See Michael Hunter, ‘Boyle et le surnaturel’, in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond, eds., La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle (Paris, 2009), pp. 213–36. On the preternatural, see esp. Clark, Thinking with demons, part 2 passim, and Lorraine Daston, ‘Preternatural philosophy’, in eadem, ed., Biographies of scientific objects (Chicago, IL, 2000), pp. 15–41.

28 Hunter, Michael, John Aubrey and the realm of learning (London, 1975)Google Scholar, esp. pp. 102–4. On the chapter on ‘Accidents’ see ibid., pp. 124ff.

29 On the concern about ‘enthusiasm’ and the anxiety of nonconformists to distance themselves from it, see Winship, Michael, Seers of God: puritan providentialism in the Restoration and early Enlightenment (Baltimore, MD, 1996)Google Scholar, pp. 33–4 and passim.

30 On Turner's book and its background see Burns, William E., An age of wonders: prodigies, politics and providence in England, 1657–1727 (Manchester, 2002), pp. 132ffGoogle Scholar.

31 See Glanvill, Saducismus triumphatus, pp. 413ff. Moses Pitt's Account of one Ann Jefferies (1696) was dedicated to Fowler and published at his behest: see Peter Marshall, ‘Ann Jeffries and the fairies: folk belief and the war on scepticism in later Stuart England’, in Angela McShane and Garthine Walker, eds., The extraordinary and the everyday in early modern England (Basingstoke, 2010), pp. 127–41; Shaw, Jane, Miracles in Enlightenment England (London, 2006), pp. 147ffGoogle Scholar. For further evidence of Fowler's interest in material of this kind see his letter to John Sharp of 14 Jan. [1699] (doc. Y11) and associated documents in Gloucestershire Archives Office D3549/6/2/4, and the letter to him dated 4 Sept. 1703 about the case of Thomas Perks in British Library (BL) Add. MS 32096, fo. 54: for other copies and printed versions of the latter see Jonathan Barry, ‘Piety and the patient: medicine and religion in eighteenth-century Bristol’, in Roy Porter, ed., Patients and practitioners: lay perceptions of medicine in pre-industrial society (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 145–75, on pp. 157–8, and idem, ‘Public infidelity and private belief? the discourse of spirits in Enlightenment Bristol’, in Davies and de Blécourt, eds., Beyond the witch trials, pp. 117–45, on pp. 119, 133–4 (reprinted in Barry, Witchcraft and demonology, ch. 6). See also below, pp. 410–11.

32 I have searched for it without success in the main collections of Thoresby's manuscripts at the Yorkshire Archaeological Society at Leeds, the Cornwall Record Office, and the British Library, and in other scattered locations. However, I hope that it may one day come to light. I am grateful to David Wykes for his advice in this connection.

33 See Munby, A. N. L., The cult of the autograph letter in England (London, 1962), p. 3Google Scholar. For modern accounts of Thoresby and his context see ODNB; Sweet, Rosemary, Antiquaries: the discovery of the past in eighteenth-century Britain (London, 2004), pp. 11Google Scholar, 208–9, 220 and passim; and D. L. Wykes, ‘Dissenters and the writing of history. Ralph Thoresby's “Lives and characters”’, in Jason McElligott, ed., Fear, exclusion and revolution: Roger Morrice and Britain in the 1680s (Farnham, 2006), pp. 174–88. For details of Thoresby's publications in Philosophical Transactions and other information about him, see Atkinson, D. H., Ralph Thoresby, the topographer; his town and times (2 vols., Leeds, 1885–7)Google Scholar.

34 It is to Thoresby's notes, now in BL Add. MS 4460, that we owe our knowledge of the content of Sampson's daybook; see ODNB. For Heywood, see Turner, J. H., ed., The Rev. Oliver Heywood, BA, 1630–1702: his autobiography, diaries, anecdote and extent books (4 vols., Brighouse and Bingley, 1881–5)Google Scholar. See also Thoresby, Ducatus Leodiensis (London 1715), pp. 535, 537, 542.

35 Hunter, Joseph, ed., The diary of Ralph Thoresby (2 vols., London, 1830)Google Scholar (hereafter ‘Thoresby’). This is an accurate but selective edition. Various of the original manuscripts are in the collection of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society (YAS); that for 1712–14 is MS Add. 21 in York Minster Library, while others are in the Royal Library, Copenhagen. Thoresby's ‘Review’, which Hunter used only for years for which the manuscript of the diary is not extant, is YAS MS 26. For a view of Thoresby's diary as the ‘type’ of the late seventeenth-century pious diary, associated especially with Presbyterians, see Findlay, Elspeth, ‘Ralph Thoresby the diarist: the late seventeenth-century pious diary and its demise’, The Seventeenth Century, 17 (2002), pp. 108–30Google Scholar.

36 See Thoresby, Ducatus, title-page and pp. 601ff. Cf. Plot, Robert, The natural history of Oxford-shire (2nd edn., Oxford, 1705), pp. 196ffGoogle Scholar. On Aubrey, see above, p. 408.

37 YAS MS 26, p. 243. The passage in Thoresby, ii, pp. 102–3, is as follows: ‘after dinner I repeated to his lordship, from the original papers, what I had in general told of before, which were so agreeable that his lordship earnestly desired me to publish them in the Appendix, and gave it me under his hand, that he thought it might be of good use to convince the sceptical in an infidel age’.

38 See, for example, Wesley as quoted in MacDonald, ‘Religion, social change and psychological healing’, p. 111.

39 This is the wording in the ‘Review’: for that in the diary, see n. 37. In the ‘Review’, Thoresby goes on: ‘se his Letter to me before my Collections of that nature since drawn up’ (see also YAS MS 18, p. 33, which gives the date of the letter as 26 May 1712, thus tallying with the date of the diary entry concerning this encounter).

40 Thoresby, ii, p. 103. Cf. ibid., ii, p. 124. Thoresby explains that one of the narratives ‘is inserted at the end of Mr Beaumont's said Treatise’, in other words the ‘Postscript’ relating to an apparition reported to Fowler by Sir Charles Lee that appears in Beaumont, Treatise, pp. 398–400. On Beaumont and his book, see Barry, Witchcraft and demonology, ch. 5.

41 See Smythies, William, A true account of the robbery and murder of John Stockden (London, 1698)Google Scholar. I am grateful to Scott Mandelbrote for his advice on this matter. On the heterodox use made of Burnet's Sacred theory of the earth and his Archaeologiae philosophicae see Ellenzweig, Sarah, The fringes of belief: English literature, ancient heresy, and the politics of freethinking, 1660–1760 (Stanford, CA. 2008), pp. 63, 66–7, 180CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 See BL Add. MS 4460, fos. 18v–24 (Heywood), 40v–80 (Sampson, including fo. 54 for Fowler); YAS MS 17, pp. 41–2 (Turner, with notes on pp. 16 and 42 from the additions to Turner by Jonathan Priestley, Heywood's trustee). There are various citations of these MSS in the ‘Appendix’ to Thoresby's Ducatus, pp. 601ff.

43 BL Add. MS 4460, fos. 58v, 64v, 73v. On the Surey case, see David Harley, ‘Mental illness, magical medicine and the devil in northern England 1650–1700’, in Roger French and Andrew Wear, eds., The medical revolution of the seventeenth century (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 114–44, on pp. 131ff, and Westaway, Jonathan and Harrison, Richard D., ‘“The Surey demoniack”: defining Protestantism in 1690s Lancashire’, Studies in Church History, 32 (1996), pp. 263–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

44 See e.g. certain entries in the ‘Index to the letters’ in YAS MS 18.

45 The 21 Aug. encounter is cited in Hunter, ed., Occult laboratory, p. 29, and from there in Marshall, ‘Ann Jeffries and the fairies’, p. 136. It is also cited in Snobelen, ‘Lust, pride and ambition’, p. 173.

46 Thoresby, ii, p. 159.

47 Ibid., ii, pp. 118–19.

48 YAS MS 26, p. 249. The equivalent passage in the diary is: ‘met with Mr Whiston, a learned person, but wretchedly heterodox’ (Thoresby, ii, p. 158). For Whiston's career, see Force, James E., William Whiston, honest Newtonian (Cambridge, 1985)Google Scholar.

49 See Toland, John, Miscellaneous writings (2 vols., London, 1726)Google Scholar, ii, pp. 436–40 (a slightly different version of Toland's letter survives in YAS MS 9; I am grateful to Peter Meredith for his help in this connection). On Toland, see esp. Champion, Justin, Republican learning: John Toland and the crisis of Christian culture, 1696–1722 (Manchester, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; on his attitude to phenomena of the kind dealt with in this article see Hunter, ‘Witchcraft controversy’, p. 306n, and idem, ed., Occult laboratory, pp. 29–30.

50 They now comprise BL Harleian MSS 6468–78. Most are commonplace books comprising notes on classical antiquities from authors like J. G. Graevius, J. F. Gronovius, G. J. Vossius, and Jacob Perizon, interspersed by more miscellaneous material, but BL Harleian 6478 comprises ‘Epigrammata Graeca’ (it is so lettered on the spine). See also below, nn. 54–5, 62–3. On the edition of Dio, see Thomas Hearne, Remarks and collections, ed. C. E. Doble, D. W. Rannie, and H. E. Salter (11 vols., Oxford, 1885–1921), esp. i, pp. 97, 222, ii, pp. 8, 11–12, 101, iii, p. 41, vii, p. 303, x, p. 91; Bodleian Library MS Rawl. Lett. 8, fos. 316, 320; and Oddy to Henry Sike, 20 June [no year], Trinity College, Cambridge, MS R.4.41, item 3. For Oddy's plans to publish a collection of Greek epigrams see Hearne, Remarks and collections, iii, p. 470, vii, p. 303, viii, p. 56. On Oddy and Bentley see esp. Bodleian Library MS Rawl. Lett. 8, fos. 314–15, 316; I am indebted to Kristine Haugen for her advice on Oddy.

51 Hearne, Remarks and collections, i, pp. 222–3 and passim. Bodleian Library MS Rawl. Lett. 8, fos. 306–20 (letters to Hearne, [10] Apr. 1708 to 5 Dec. 1714 and n.d., some of them summarized in Hearne, Remarks and collections), 15–16, fos. 320–1 (letter to Hearne, 12 Jan. 1708/9), 108, fos. 115–20 (letters to Samuel Gale, 15 July, 30 Sept. 1714).

52 Bodleian Library MS Rawl. Lett. 8, fo. 309, printed in Hearne, Remarks and collections, ii, p. 101. Cf. ibid., iv, p. 403; Bodleian Library MS Rawl. Lett. 8, fos. 310, 312.

53 Hearne, Remarks and collections, iii, p. 370. Cf. ibid., i, pp. 222–3. A hint of the vestiges of a religiosity remniscent of Thoresby's comes across in a rather affecting account that Oddy gave Hearne of an episode when ‘scoundrells’ made a ‘shipwreck of my Papers’ in 1711/12: Bodleian Library MS Rawl. Lett. 8, fo. 316.

54 For the episode when Oddy seemed sympathetic to the favourable view of the Koran of Henry Sike, the German orientalist who was Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, and for Sike's later suicide, which Hearne associated with his ‘Latitudianarian, and indifferent Principles’, see Hearne, Remarks and collections, iii, p. 368. See also ibid., xi, pp. 313–14. For Oddy's suicide, see ibid., iii, p. 370, vii, p. 303, xi, p. 314. Thoresby, too, was aware of Oddy's manner of death, making what was evidently a retrospective addition to his note on his dramatic encounter with him in the diary, ‘after felo de se’: see York Minster MS Add. 21, p. 34 (this is an almost illegible note at the end of the entry concerning 13 June, as in Thoresby, ii, p. 119). At the end of BL Harleian MS 6469 are some verses from Dryden concerning death which possibly throw light on Oddy's suicide (fos. 62–3). On the libertarian overtones of suicide, see Sprott, S. E., The English debate on suicide (La Salle, IL, 1961)Google Scholar, ch. 4, and Michael MacDonald and Terence R. Murphy, Sleepless souls: suicide in early modern England (Oxford, 1990), ch. 5.

55 See the MSS cited in n. 50, esp. MS 6468, fos. 113ff (notes from John Gregory); MS 64760, fos. 33ff (notes from G. F. Gemelli Careri); MS 6471, fos. 16ff (notes from Van Dale); MS 6475, fos. 30ff. (extracts from Dryden's verse, many expressing sceptical and anti-clerical opinions). On Van Dale and his influence on Fontenelle and Bekker see Israel, Radical Enlightenment, ch. 20.

56 See the telling comments in Kristine Haugen, Richard Bentley: poetry and enlightenment (Cambridge, MA, 2011), pp. 195–7. See also Champion, Republican learning, esp. part 3.

57 Bodleian Library MS Rawl. Lett. 8, fo. 306 (quoted in Hearne, Remarks and collections, ii, p. 163), Bodleian Library MS Rawl. Lett. 15–16, fo. 320 (partly cited in ibid., ii, p. 166).

58 Shaftesbury, Characteristics, ed. Lawrence E. Klein (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 5–6 and passim; for Fowler's response see Reflections upon a letter concerning enthusiasm (London, 1709). Collins, Anthony, A discourse of free-thinking, occasion'd by the rise and growth of a sect call'd free-thinkers (London, 1713)Google Scholar, p. 27. John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, Cato's letters, or essays on liberty, civil and religious, and other important subjects, ed. Ronald Hamowy (2 vols., Indianapolis, IN, 1995), ii, pp. 562ff.

59 [‘A Physician in Hertfordshire’], A full confutation of witchcraft, more particularly of the depositions against Jane Wenham (London, 1712), p. 4. For a reading of this passage as political rhetoric, see Bostridge, Witchcraft and its transformations, pp. 134–5. However, this is characteristic of the manner in which that book ignores the free-thinking tradition on which emphasis is laid here: see Hunter, ‘Witchcraft and the decline of belief’, pp. 145–6.

60 The bulk of its content comprised reprints of published witchcraft cases, with introductory material which includes lengthy extracts from works on related topics, one of them Locke's Essay. For an assessment both of this and of Boulton's later response to Hutchinson, The possibility and reality of magick, sorcery and witchcraft, demonstrated (London, 1722), see Sharpe, James, ed., English witchcraft, 1560–1736, vi: The final debate (London, 2003)Google Scholar, pp. xff, citing the appraisal of Boulton's work on Boyle in Michael Hunter, ed., Robert Boyle by himself and his friends (London, 1994), pp. lv–lvi. That Boulton compiled his edition of The theological works of Robert Boyle at the behest of the booksellers is confirmed by his undated, begging letter to Sir Hans Sloane, BL Sloane MS 4058, fo. 47.

61 Bond, D. F. (ed.), The Spectator (5 vols., Oxford, 1965)Google Scholar, i, pp. 479–82, on pp. 479, 480. For a different reading, see Bostridge, Witchcraft and its transformations, pp. 128ff.

62 See BL Harleian MS 6470, fos. 6ff. See also the notes from John Harris's Lexicon technicum (1704), which include topics like gravity, infinite space, and Newton's three laws of motion, in BL Harleian MS 6473, fos. 155ff.

63 For Puffendorf see BL Harleian MS 6473, fos. 161ff. For the Hanoverian succession see Bodleian Library MS Rawl. Lett. 8, fo. 210, quoted in Hearne, Remarks and collections, iv, p. 404.

64 The Protestant Post-Boy, 94 (5–8 Apr. 1712). The quotation, from Horace, Epistles, ii.2, 208–9, is as used in The Spectator, 7 (i, p. 31): see next note. In fact, the author wrongly cites Addison's views on witchcraft as appearing in no. 110 of The Spectator, in which Addison dealt with apparitions (Spectator, i, pp. 453–6), rather than no. 117, where they actually appear, his confusion evidently being due to the fact that Addison took a similar line in both. For the authorship of the articles in The Protestant Post-Boy, and of the pamphlet, The impossibility of witchcraft, which stemmed from them, see above, n. 19. It is perhaps worth noting here that, if the Tory Pittis was indeed the author, it further weakens the association of sadducism with whiggism, as does the fact that a comment to the editors of the journal suggests that the devotion of four successive issues to sadducist sentiments was unpopular with the journal's predominantly whig readership, implying that this was a personal hobby horse on Pittis's part: see Guskin, Phyllis, ‘The “Protestant post-boy” and “An elegy on the death of pamphlets”’, Notes and queries, 223 (1978), pp. 40–1Google Scholar.

65 Spectator, i, pp. 31–5, on pp. 33, 34; interestingly, an editorial note points out the element of overlap with John Trenchard's Natural history of superstition (London, 1709).

66 See Hunter, ‘Royal Society and decline of magic’.

67 Phileleutherus Lipsiensis [Richard Bentley], Remarks upon a late discourse of free-thinking (London, 1713), p. 33. For Collins, see above, p. 416.

68 For Sydenham and Radcliffe, see Hunter, ‘Royal Society and decline of magic’, p. 118 n. 53; for Newton (though his views were obviously not known to his contemporaries) see Snobelen, ‘Lust, pride and ambition’.

69 Hutchinson, Francis, An historical essay concerning witchcraft (2nd edn, London, 1720), pp. 68Google Scholar, 78, 88, 155, 169–70 and passim; David Wootton, ‘Hutchinson, Francis’, in R. M. Golden, ed., Encyclopaedia of witchcraft: the western tradition (4 vols., Santa Barbara, CA, 2006), ii, pp. 531–2. For a comparable instance of the use of historical evidence to critique an established belief system of the period, the royal touch, see Beckett, William, A free and impartial enquiry into the antiquity and efficacy of touching for the cure of the king's evil (London, 1722)Google Scholar, pp. 4–6 and passim. For background see Marc Bloch, The royal touch: sacred monarchy and scrofula in England and France, trans. J. E. Anderson (London, 1973), and Stephen Brogan, ‘The royal touch in early modern England: its changing rationale and practice’ (Ph.D. thesis, Birkbeck, University of London, 2011).

70 Hutchinson to Sloane, 4 Feb. 1706/7, 3 Apr. 1712, BL Sloane MS 4040, fo. 302, MS 4043, fo. 38. I should note that I am sceptical concerning the suggestion that Hutchinson was the author of The case of the Hertfordshire witchcraft consider'd (London, 1712), made in Mark Knights, The devil in disguise: deception, delusion and fanaticism in the early English Enlightenment (Oxford, 2011), pp. 238 and 266 n. 92. From Hutchinson's 1712 letter to Sloane, it is clear that it was an existing work that he thought might be appropriate for publication in this context, which he explicitly described as ‘some historical Collections & Observations I had made upon this Subject’, whereas The case is a detailed discussion of the Wenham case in which medical arguments are prominent and historical ones hardly appear.

71 BL MS Sloane 4040, fo. 302. For the ‘studied evasion’ in Archbishop Tenison's reported response, see the quotation in Bostridge, Witchcraft and its transformations, pp. 34–5 and n. On Hutchinson and the Union, see Sneddon, Andrew, Witchcraft and Whigs: the life of Bishop Francis Hutchinson, 1660–1739 (Manchester, 2008), pp. 64–8Google Scholar.

72 Sneddon, Witchcraft and whigs, pp. 99–100; Hutchinson, Historical essay, pp. 60–1, 79ff.

73 BL Sloane MS 4043, fo. 38. Cf. Hutchinson, Historical essay, pp. 163ff. See also Sneddon, Witchcraft and whigs, ch. 5; Guskin, ‘Context of witchcraft’.

74 See esp. Bostridge, Witchcraft and its transformations, ch. 5; Knights, Devil in disguise, pp. 213ff.

75 Hutchinson, Short view of the pretended spirit of prophecy (London, 1708), p. 44 and passim. Cf. Sneddon, Witchcraft and whigs, ch. 4. On the French Prophets, see also Hillel Schwartz, The French Prophets: the history of a millenarian group in eighteenth-century England (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, 1980), and idem, Knaves, fools, madmen and that subtile effluvium: a study of the opposition to the French prophets in England, 1706–1710 (Gainesville, FL, 1978).

76 This point is well made by Jane Shaw in her account of the group in Miracles in Enlightenment England, pp. 149ff, esp. p. 154. For the social profile of support for the Prophets, see also Schwartz, Knaves, fools, madmen, pp. 60–1. Sneddon, by contrast, is inclined to take Hutchinson's attack on the Prophets as subversive at face value.

77 Schwartz, Knaves, fools, madmen, esp. pp. 41–4.

78 Hutchinson, Short view, ch. 3. Sneddon makes no reference to this section.

79 See Hunter, ‘Witchcraft controversy’, pp. 305–6. For the alternative view see Bostridge, Witchcraft and its transformations, and Sneddon, Witchcraft and whigs (cf. my review in Journal of British Studies, 48 (2009), pp. 175–6).

80 Hutchinson, Historical essay, pp. 286–8.

81 Ibid., sig. A6. Cf., e.g., p. 74 and the passage cited on p. 424, below.

82 Ibid., title-page, p. 322, and pp. 289ff, passim.

83 Trenchard and Gordon, Cato's letters, ii, p. 577.

84 See especially Bostridge, Witchcraft and its transformations, but also the works of Knights and Sneddon referred to in nn. 70–1.

85 For the potential implications of the book for Hutchinson's career see Sneddon, Witchcraft and whigs, pp. 121–2, 125. For the possibility that Hutchinson wrote a response to Boulton's reply to him (see above, n. 60) which is now lost, see ibid., p. 124.

86 Morrab Library, Penzance, MOR/MAN/54. The volume, in which the MS follows a printed pamphlet, A true account of a strange and wonderful relation of one John Tonken of Penzans in Cornwall (London, 1686), reached the library with the Borlase papers; it was purchased by W. C. Borlase in 1882. See Jenny Dearlove, ‘The pretended crime of witchcraft’, in June Palmer, ed., Treasures of the Morrab (Penzance, 2005), pp. 21–30. I am indebted to Jonathan Barry and Peter Elmer for drawing my attention to this item and to Alex Higlett for her help in my study of it. For the likelihood that Rawlinson was the author based on the fact that Samuel Weller states that he was a contemporary of his at St John's College, Oxford, see Dearlove, ‘Pretended crime’, pp. 28–9. This may be confirmed by the similarity between the handwriting of the Morrab MS and various MSS of similar date of Thomas Rawlinson in the Bodleian Library: e.g. MS Rawl. B 250, fo. 77 (letter to Hearne of 4 Feb. 1717/18), B 415 (church notes, 1717), C 930, fo. 12 (letter to Hearne, 1 May 1718). In addition, his notes on Leland, referred to in the next note, are written in a similar format to the Morrab MS, going through the text making notes by page.

87 See the life of Rawlinson by his brother, Richard, in Bodleian Library MS Rawl. J 4o 4, fos. 148–50, esp. fos. 148v–9, and the fulsome acknowledgements of Rawlinson in Michael Mattaire, Annales typographici (5 vols., The Hague, 1719–41), i, pp. 128n, 374n, and Thomas Hearne, ed., Walteri Hemingford, Historia de rebus gestis Edvardi I, Edvardi II & Edvardi III (2 vols., Oxford, 1731), i, pp. civ–v. See also Rawlinson's extant notes on Leland, compiled for Hearne, in Bodleian Library MS Rawl. Lett. 15–16, fos. 335–43. For further information see ODNB.

88 The text on fos. 4–8 comprises notes on H. F., A true and exact relation … of the late witches, arraign'd & executed in the county of Essex (London, 1645), and John Davenport, The witches of Huntingdon, their examinations and confessions (London, 1646); the former includes ancillary information from John Stearne, A confirmation & discovery of witchcraft (London, 1648), p. 15, while in the latter Rawlinson compared the details of two of the cases given there with those in ‘R.B.’ [Nathaniel Crouch], The kingdom of darkness (London, 1688), pp. 159–62.

89 Morrab Library, Penzance, MOR/MAN/54, fo. 1v.

90 Ibid., fos. 1–3 and passim.

91 A further example is that of William Beckett, cited in n. 69 above, while another is provided by Sir Hans Sloane, whose strongly critical attitude towards magical beliefs, including witchcraft, is illustrated in Michael Hunter, ed., Magic and mental disorder: Sir Hans Sloane's memoir of John Beaumont (London 2011; available at, placed online Nov. 2011). However, conclusions from the fact that both were medical men should be tempered by the counter-example of Richard Boulton (above, pp. 416–17).

92 Hutchinson, Historical essay, p. 190.

93 See Michael Hunter, ‘A new theory of intellectual change’, in idem, Science and the shape of orthodoxy, pp. 11–18, and the exemplification in idem, Scrupulosity and science, esp. pp. 49–50.

94 For the interpretation of this image, and especially its relationship with Hogarth's earlier, suppressed work, ‘Enthusiasm delineated’, see Krysmanski, Bernd, ‘We see a ghost: Hogarth's satire on Methodists and connoisseurs’, Art Bulletin, 80 (1998), pp. 292310CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Paulson, Ronald, Hogarth's graphic works (3rd edn, London, 1989), pp. 175–8Google Scholar.

95 For popular beliefs, see above, n. 1. For esoteric beliefs among a minority of the educated, see e.g. Hirst, Désirée, Hidden riches: traditional symbolism from the Renaissance to Blake (London, 1964)Google Scholar; Godwin, Joscelyn, The theosophical enlightenment (New York, NY, 1994)Google Scholar.

96 Hunter, Scrupulosity and science, ch. 10, esp. p. 244.

97 Barry, ‘Public infidelity and private belief?’ For further evidence of continuing ambivalence, see Handley, Sasha, Visions of an unseen world: ghost beliefs and ghost stories in eighteenth-century England (London, 2007)Google Scholar.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *