The following pages may be regarded as a contribution towards that �History of Human Error� which was undertaken by Mr. Augustine Caxton. I fear that many minds will have to devote all their energies to the work, if it is ever to be brought to completion; and, indeed, it may plausibly be argued that its completion would be an impossibility, since every generation adds something to the melancholy record��pulveris exigui parva munera.� However this may be, little more remains to be said on the subjects which I have here considered from the standpoint of a sympathetic though incredulous observer. Alchemy, Magic, Witchcraft�how exhaustively they have been investigated will appear from the list of authorities which I have drawn up for the reader�s convenience. They have been studied by �adepts,� and by critics, as realities and as delusions; and almost the last word would seem to have been said by Science�though not on the side of the adepts, who still continue to dream of the Hermetic philosophy, to lose themselves in fanciful pictures, theurgic and occult, and to write about the mysteries of magic with a [vi] simplicity of faith which we may wonder at, but are bound to respect.
It has not been my purpose, in the present volume, to attempt a general history of magic and alchemy, or a scientific inquiry into their psychological aspects. I have confined myself to a sketch of their progress in England, and to a narrative of the lives of our principal magicians. This occupies the first part. The second is devoted to an historical review of witchcraft in Great Britain, and an examination into the most remarkable Witch-Trials, in which I have endeavoured to bring out their peculiar features, presenting much of the evidence adduced, and in some cases the so-called confessions of the victims, in the original language. I believe that the details, notwithstanding the reticence imposed upon me by considerations of delicacy and decorum, will surprise the reader, and that he will readily admit the profound interest attaching to them, morally and intellectually. I have added a chapter on the �Literature of Witchcraft,� which, I hope, is tolerably exhaustive, and now offer the whole as an effort to present, in a popular and readable form, the result of careful and conscientious study extending over many years.
W. H. D. A.
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