Was a Scottish Warlock the Inspiration for Mr. Hyde?
To the great and good of seventeenth-century Edinburgh, Major Thomas Weir was the epitome of puritanical respectability. An esteemed preacher who railed against sin from his pulpit in the city’s West Bow thoroughfare, he and his sister Jean were considered so devout they were known locally as the “Bowhead Saints”.
Therefore, it came as something of a surprise to his devoted faithful when the Major confessed, at the age of 70, to leading a darker life as a warlock behind a string of horrendous crimes, including bestiality, incest, black magic, and necromancy.
His trial and subsequent execution for witchcraft in 1670 has gone down in the annals of Edinburgh’s folklore, but it appears Major Weir boasts an even more formidable legacy: it was his bizarre, schizophrenic life that Robert Louis Stevenson used as his inspiration for his most infamous of literary creations - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
According to the BBC Four documentary Ian Rankin Investigates: Dr Jekyll the split personality of Major Weir both fascinated and terrified a young Stevenson, who was haunted by the ghost stories his nanny, known as “Cummy”, would tell him when he was little.