The Salem Witchcraft, the Planchette Mystery, and Modern Spiritualism
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The Salem Witchcraft, the Planchette Mystery, and Modern Spiritualism
Harriet Stowe

Samuel Wells

Samuel R. Wells

The Salem Witchcraft, the Planchette Mystery, and Modern Spiritualism / With Dr. Doddridge's Dream


The object in reprinting this most interesting review is simply to show the progress made in moral, intellectual, and physical science. The reader will go back with us to a time – not very remote – when nothing was known of Phrenology and Psychology; when men and women were persecuted, and even put to death, through the baldest ignorance and the most pitiable superstition. If we were to go back still farther, to the Holy Wars, we should find cities and nations drenched in human blood through religious bigotry and intolerance. Let us thank God that our lot is cast in a more fortunate age, when the light of revelation, rightly interpreted by the aid of Science, points to the Source of all knowledge, all truth, all light.

When we know more of Anatomy, Physiology, Physiognomy, and the Natural Sciences generally, there will be a spirit of broader liberality, religious tolerance, and individual freedom. Then all men will hold themselves accountable to God, rather than to popes, priests, or parsons. Our progenitors lived in a time that tried men’s souls, as the following lucid review most painfully shows.

    S. R. W.



The name of the village of Salem is as familiar to Americans as that of any provincial town in England or France is to Englishmen and Frenchmen; yet, when uttered in the hearing of Europeans, it carries us back two or three centuries, and suggests an image, however faint and transient, of the life of the Pilgrim Fathers, who gave that sacred name to the place of their chosen habitation. If we were on the spot to-day, we should see a modern American seaport, with an interest of its own, but by no means a romantic one. At present Salem is suffering its share of the adversity which has fallen upon the shipping trade, while it is still mourning the loss of some of its noblest citizens in the late civil war. No community in the Republic paid its tribute of patriotic sacrifice more generously; and there were doubtless occasions when its citizens remembered the early days of glory, when their fathers helped to chase the retreating British, on the first shedding of blood in the war of Independence. But now they have enough to think of under the pressure of the hour. Their trade is paralyzed under the operation of the tariff; their shipping is rotting in port, except so much of it as is sold to foreigners; there is much poverty in low places and dread of further commercial adversity among the chief citizens, but there is the same vigorous pursuit of intellectual interests and pleasures, throughout the society of the place, that there always is wherever any number of New Englanders have made their homes beside the church, the library, and the school. Whatever other changes may occur from one age or period to another, the features of natural scenery are, for the most part, unalterable. Massachusetts Bay is as it was when the Pilgrims cast their first look over it: its blue waters – as blue as the seas of Greece – rippling up upon the sheeted snow of the sands in winter, or beating against rocks glittering in ice; in autumn the pearly waves flowing in under the thickets of gaudy foliage; and on summer evening the green surface surrounding the amethyst islands, where white foam spouts out of the caves and crevices. On land, there are still the craggy hills, and the jutting promontories of granite, where the barberry grows as the bramble does with us, and room is found for the farmstead between the crags, and for the apple-trees and little slopes of grass, and patches of tillage, where all else looks barren. The boats are out, or ranged on shore, according to the weather, just as they were from the beginning, only in larger numbers; and far away on either hand the coasts and islands, the rocks and hills and rural dwellings, are as of old, save for the shrinking of the forest, and the growth of the cities and villages, whose spires and school-houses are visible here and there.


Yet there are changes, marked and memorable, both in Salem and its neighborhood, since the date of thirty-seven years ago. There was then an exclusiveness about the place as evident to strangers, and as dear to natives, as the rivalship between Philadelphia and Baltimore, while far more interesting and honorable in its character. In Salem society there was a singular combination of the precision and scrupulousness of Puritan manners and habits of thought with the pride of a cultivated and traveled community, boasting acquaintance with people of all known faiths, and familiarity with all known ways of living and thinking, while adhering to the customs, and even the prejudices, of their fathers. While relating theological conversations held with liberal Buddhists or lax Mohammedans, your host would whip his horse, to get home at full speed by sunset on a Saturday, that the groom’s Sabbath might not be encroached on for five minutes. The houses were hung with odd Chinese copies of English engravings, and furnished with a variety of pretty and useful articles from China, never seen elsewhere, because none but American traders had then achieved any commerce with that country but in tea, nankeen, and silk. The Salem Museum was the glory of the town, and even of the State. Each speculative merchant who went forth, with or without a cargo (and the trade in ice was then only beginning), in his own ship, with his wife and her babes, was determined to bring home some offering to the Museum, if he should accomplish a membership of that institution by doubling either Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope. He picked up an old cargo somewhere and trafficked with it for another; and so he went on – if not rounding the world, seeing no small part of it, and making acquaintance with a dozen eccentric potentates and barbaric chiefs, and sovereigns with widely celebrated names; and, whether the adventurer came home rich or poor, he was sure to have gained much knowledge, and to have become very entertaining in discourse. The houses of the principal merchants were pleasant abodes – each standing alone beside the street, which was an avenue thick-strewn with leaves in autumn and well shaded in summer. Not far away were the woods, where lumbering went on, for the export of timber to Charleston and New Orleans, and for the furniture manufacture, which was the main industry of the less fertile districts of Massachusetts in those days. Here and there was a little lake – a “pond” – under the shadow of the woods, yielding water-lilies in summer, and ice for exportation in winter – as soon as that happy idea had occurred to some fortunate speculator. On some knoll there was sure to be a school-house. Amid these and many other pleasant objects, and in the very center of the stranger’s observations, there was one spectacle that had no beauty in it – just as in the happy course of the life of the Salem community there is one fearful period. That dreary object is the Witches’ Hill at Salem; and that fearful chapter of history is the tragedy of the Witch Delusion.


Our reason for selecting the date of thirty-seven years ago for our glance at the Salem of the last generation is, that at that time a clergyman resident there fixed the attention of the inhabitants on the history of their forefathers by delivering lectures on Witchcraft. This gentleman was then a young man, of cultivated mind and intellectual tastes, a popular preacher, and esteemed and beloved in private life. In delivering those lectures he had no more idea than his audience that he was entering upon the great work and grand intellectual interest of his life. When he concluded the course, he was unconscious of having offered more than the entertainment of a day; yet the engrossing occupation of seven-and-thirty years for himself, and no little employment and interest for others, have grown out of that early effort. He was requested to print the lectures, and did so. They went through more than one edition; and every time he reverted to the subject, with some fresh knowledge gathered from new sources, he perceived more distinctly how inadequate, and even mistaken, had been his early conceptions of the character of the transactions which constituted the Witch Tragedy. At length he refused to reissue the volume. “I was unwilling,” he says in the preface of the book before us, “to issue again what I had discovered to be an insufficient presentation of the subject.” Meantime, he was penetrating into mines of materials for history, furnished by the peculiar forms of administration instituted by the early rulers of the province. It was an ordinance of the General Court of Massachusetts, for instance, that testimony should in all cases be taken in the shape of depositions, to be preserved “in perpetual remembrance.” In all trials, the evidence of witnesses was taken in writing beforehand, the witnesses being present (except in certain cases) to meet any examination in regard to their recorded testimony. These depositions were carefully preserved, in complete order: and thus we may now know as much about the landed property, the wills, the contracts, the assaults and defamation, the thievery and cheating, and even the personal morals and social demeanor of the citizens of Salem of two centuries and a half ago as we could have done if they had had law-reporters in their courts, and had filed those reports, and preserved the police departments of newspapers like those of the present day. The documents relating to the witchcraft proceedings have been for the most part laid up among the State archives; but a considerable number of them have been dispersed – no doubt from their connection with family history, and under impulses of shame and remorse. Of these, some are safely lodged in literary institutions, and others are in private hands, though too many have been lost.


In a long course of years, Mr. Upham, and after him his sons, have searched out all documents they could hear of. When they had reason to believe that any transcription of papers was inaccurate – that gaps had been conjecturally filled up, that dates had been mistaken, or that papers had been transposed, they never rested till they had got hold of the originals, thinking the bad spelling, the rude grammar, and strange dialect of the least cultivated country people less objectionable than the unauthorized amendments of transcribers. Mr. Upham says he has resorted to the originals throughout. Then there were the parish books and church records, to which was committed in early days very much in the life of individuals which would now be considered a matter of private concern, and scarcely fit for comment by next-door neighbors. The primitive local maps and the coast-survey chart, with the markings of original grants to settlers, and of bridges, mills, meeting-houses, private dwellings, forest roads, and farm boundaries, have been preserved. Between these and deeds of conveyance it has been possible to construct a map of the district, which not only restores the external scene to the mind’s eye, but casts a strong and fearful light – as we shall see presently – on the origin and course of the troubles of 1692. Mr. Upham and his sons have minutely examined the territory – tracing the old stone walls and the streams, fixing the gates, measuring distances, even verifying points of view, till the surrounding scenery has become as complete as could be desired. Between the church books and the parish and court records, the character, repute, ways, and manners of every conspicuous resident can be ascertained; and it may be said that nothing out of the common way happened to any man, woman, or child within the district which could remain unknown at this day, if any one wished to make it out. Mr. Upham has wished to make out the real story of the Witch Tragedy; and he has done it in such a way that his readers will doubtless agree that no more accurate piece of history has ever been written than the annals of this New England township.

For such a work, however, something more is required than the most minute delineation of the outward conditions of men and society; and in this higher department of his task Mr. Upham is above all anxious to obtain and dispense true light. The second part of his work treats of what may be called the spiritual scenery of the time. He exhibits the superstition of that age, when the belief in Satanic agency was the governing idea of religious life, and the most engrossing and pervading interest known to the Puritans of every country. Of the young and ignorant in the new settlement beyond the seas his researches have led him to write thus:


“However strange it seems, it is quite worthy of observation, that the actors in that tragedy, the ‘afflicted children,’ and other witnesses, in their various statements and operations, embraced about the whole circle of popular superstition. How those young country girls, some of them mere children, most of them wholly illiterate, could have become familiar with such fancies, to such an extent, is truly surprising. They acted out, and brought to bear with tremendous effect, almost all that can be found in the literature of that day, and the period preceding it, relating to such subjects. Images and visions which had been portrayed in tales of romance, and given interest to the pages of poetry, will be made by them, as we shall see, to throng the woods, flit through the air, and hover over the heads of a terrified court. The ghosts of murdered wives and children will play their parts with a vividness of representation and artistic skill of expression that have hardly been surpassed in scenic representations on the stage. In the Salem-witchcraft proceedings, the superstition of the middle ages was embodied in real action. All its extravagant absurdities and monstrosities appear in their application to human experience. We see what the effect has been, and must be, when the affairs of life, in courts of law and the relations of society, or the conduct or feelings of individuals, are suffered to be under the control of fanciful or mystical notions. When a whole people abandons the solid ground of common sense, overleaps the boundaries of human knowledge, gives itself up to wild reveries, and lets loose its passions without restraint, it presents a spectacle more terrific to behold, and becomes more destructive and disastrous, than any convulsion of mere material nature, – than tornado, conflagration, or earthquake.” (Vol. i. p. 468.)


All this is no more than might have occurred to a thoughtful historian long years ago; but there is yet something else which it has been reserved for our generation to perceive, or at least to declare, without fear or hesitation. Mr. Upham may mean more than some people would in what he says of the new opening made by science into the dark depths of mystery covered by the term Witchcraft; for he is not only the brother-in-law but the intimate friend and associate of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Harvard University, and still better known to us, as he is at home, as the writer of the physiological tales, “Elsie Venner” and the “Guardian Angel,” which have impressed the public as something new in the literature of fiction. It can not be supposed that Mr. Upham’s view of the Salem Delusion would have been precisely what we find it here if he and Dr. Holmes had never met; and, but for the presence of the Professor’s mind throughout the book, which is most fitly dedicated to him, its readers might have perceived less clearly the true direction in which to look for a solution of the mystery of the story, and its writer might have written something less significant in the place of the following paragraph:

“As showing how far the beliefs of the understanding, the perceptions of the senses, and the delusions of the imagination may be confounded, the subject belongs not only to theology and moral and political science, but to physiology, in its original and proper use, as embracing our whole nature; and the facts presented may help to conclusions relating to what is justly regarded as the great mystery of our being – the connection between the body and the mind.” (Vol. i. p. viii.)


The settlement had its birth in 1620, the date of the charter granted by James I. to “the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay in New England.” The first policy of the company was to attract families of good birth, position, education, and fortune, to take up considerable portions of land, introduce the best agriculture known, and facilitate the settling of the country. Hence the tone of manners, the social organization, and the prevalence of the military spirit, which the subsequent decline in the spirit of the community made it difficult for careless thinkers to understand. Not only did the wealth of this class of early settlers supply the district with roads and bridges, and clear the forest; it set up the pursuit of agriculture in the highest place, and encouraged intellectual pursuits, refined intercourse, and a loftier spirit of colonizing enterprise than can be looked for among immigrants whose energies are engrossed by the needs of the day. The mode of dress of the gentry of this class shows us something of their aspect in their new country, when prowling Indians were infesting the woods a stone’s throw from their fences, and when the rulers of the community took it in turn with all their neighbors to act as scouts against the savages. George Corwin was thus dressed:

“A wrought flowing neckcloth, a sash covered with lace, a coat with short cuffs and reaching halfway between the wrist and elbow; the skirts in plaits below; an octagon ring and cane. The last two articles are still preserved. His inventory mentions ‘a silver-laced cloth coat, a velvet ditto, a satin waistcoat embroidered with gold, a trooping scarf and silver hat-band, golden-topped and embroidered, and a silver-headed cane.’” (Vol. i. p. 98.)

This aristocratic element was in large proportion to the total number of settlers. It lifted up the next class to a position inferior only to its own by its connection with land. The farmers formed an order by themselves – not by having peculiar institutions, but through the dignity ascribed to agriculture. The yeomanry of Massachusetts hold their heads high to this day, and their fathers spoke proudly of themselves as “the farmers.” They penetrated the forest in all directions, sat down beside the streams, and plowed up such level tracts as they found open to the sunshine; so that in a few years “the Salem Farms” constituted a well-defined territory, thinly peopled, but entirely appropriated. In due course parishes were formed round the outskirts of “Salem Farms,” encroaching more or less in all directions, and reducing the area to that which was ultimately known as “Salem Village,” in which some few of the original grants of five hundred acres or less remained complete, while others were divided among families or sold. Long before the date of the Salem Tragedy, the strifes which follow upon the acquisition of land had become common, and there was much ill-blood within the bounds of the City of Peace. The independence, the mode of life, and the pride of the yeomen made them excellent citizens, however, when war broke out with the Indians or with any other foe; and the military spirit of the aristocracy was well sustained by that of the farmers.

The dignity of the town had been early secured by the wisdom of the Company at home, which had committed to the people the government of the district in which they were placed; and every citizen felt himself, in his degree, concerned in the rule and good order of the society in which he lived; but the holders of land recognized no real equality between themselves and men of other callings, while the artisans and laborers were ambitious to obtain a place in the higher class. Artisans of every calling needed in a new society had been sent out from England by the Company; and when all the most energetic had acquired as much land as could be had in recompense for special services to the community – as so many acres for plowing up a meadow, so many for discovering minerals, so many for foiling an Indian raid, – and when the original grants had been broken up, and finally parceled out among sons and daughters, leaving no scope for new purchasers, the most ambitious of the adventurers applied for tracts in Maine, where they might play their part of First Families in a new settlement. The weaker, the more envious, the more ill-conditioned thus remained behind, to cavil at their prosperous neighbors, and spite them if they could. Here was an evident preparation for social disturbance, when opportunity for gratifying bad passions should arise.


There had been a preparation for this stage in the temper with which the adventurers had arrived in the country, and the influences which at once operated upon them there. The politics and the religion in which they had grown up were gloomy and severe. Those who were not soured were sad; and, it should be remembered, they fully believed that Satan and his powers were abroad, and must be contended with daily and hourly, and in every transaction of life. In their new home they found little cheer from the sun and the common daylight; for the forest shrouded the entire land beyond the barren seashore. The special enemy, the Red Indian, always watching them and seeking his advantage of them, was not, in their view, a simple savage. Their clergy assured them that the Red Indians were worshipers and agents of Satan; and it is difficult to estimate the effect of this belief on the minds and tempers of those who were thinking of the Indians at every turn of daily life. The passion which is in the far West still spoken of as special, under the name of “Indian-hating,” is a mingled ferocity and fanaticism quite inconceivable by quiet Christians, or perhaps by any but border adventurers; and this passion, kindled by the first demonstration of hostility on the part of the Massachusetts Red Man, grew and spread incessantly under the painful early experiences of colonial life. Every man had in turn to be scout, by day and night, in the swamp and in the forest; and every woman had to be on the watch in her husband’s absence to save her babes from murderers and kidnappers. Whatever else they might want to be doing, even to supply their commonest needs, the citizens had first to station themselves within hail of each other all day, and at night to drive in their cattle among the dwellings, and keep watch by turns. Even on Sundays patrols were appointed to look to the public safety while the community were at church. The mothers carried their babes to the meeting-house, rather than venture to stay at home in the absence of husband and neighbors. One function of the Sabbath patrol indicates to us other sources of trouble. While looking for Indians, the patrol was to observe who was absent from worship, to mark what the absentees were doing, and to give information to the authorities. These patrols were chosen from the leading men of the community – the most active, vigilant, and sensible – and it is conceivable that much ill-will might have been accumulated in the hearts of not only the ne’er-do-weels, but timid and jealous and angry persons who were uneasy under this Sabbath inspection. Such ill-will had its day of triumph when the Salem Tragedy arrived at its catastrophe.


The ordinary experience of life was singularly accelerated in that new state of society, though in the one particular of the age attained by the primitive adventurers, the community may be regarded as favored. Death made a great sweep of the patriarchs at last – shortly before the Tragedy – but an unusual proportion of elders presided over social affairs for seventy years after the date of the second charter. The chief seats in the meeting-house were filled by gray-haired men and women, rich or poor as might happen; and they were allowed to retain their places, whoever else might be shifted in the yearly “seating.” The title “Landlord” distinguished the most dignified, and the eldest of each family of the “Old Planters;” a “Goodman” and “Goodwife” (abbreviated to “Goody”) were titles of honor, as signifying heads of households. The old age of these venerable persons was carefully cherished; and when, as could not but happen, many of them departed near together, the mourning of the community was deep and bitter. Society seemed to be deprived of its parents, and in fear and grief it anticipated the impending calamity. Except in regard to these patriarchs, and their long old age, the pace of events was very rapid. Early marriages might be looked for in a society so youthful; but the rapid succession of second and subsequent marriages is a striking feature in the register. The most devoted affection seems to have had no effect in deferring a second marriage so long as a year. No time was lost in settling in life at first; families were large; and half-brothers and sisters abounded; and as they grew up they married on the portions which were given them, as a matter of course, – each having house, land, and plenishing, until at last the parents gave away all but a sufficiency for their own need or convenience, and went into the town or remained in the central mansion, turning over the land and its cares to the younger generation. When there was a failure of offspring, the practice of adoption seems to have been resorted to almost as a natural process, which, in such a state of society, it probably was.


In the early days of the arts of life it is usual for the separate transactions of each day to be slow and cumbrous; but the experience of life may be rapid nevertheless. While traveling was a rough jog-trot, and forest-land took years to clear, and the harvest weeks to gather, property grew fast, marriages were precipitate and repeated, one generation trod on the heels of another, and the old folks complained that The Enemy made rapid conquest of the new territory which they had hoped he could not enter. When any work – of house-building, or harvesting, or nutting, or furnishing, or raising the wood-pile – had to be done, it was secured by assembling all the hands in the neighborhood, and turning the toil into a festive pleasure. We have all read of such “bees” in the rural districts of America down to the present day; and we can easily understand how the “goodmen” and “goodies” watched for the good and the evil which came out of such celebrations – the courtship and marriage, and the neighborly interest and good offices on the one hand, and the evil passions from disappointed hopes, envy, jealousy, tittle-tattle, rash judgment, and slander on the other. Much that was said, done, and inferred in such meetings as these found its way long afterward into the Tragedy at Salem. Mr. Upham depicts the inner side of the young social life of which the inquisitorial meeting-house and the courts were the black shadow:

“The people of the early colonial settlements had a private and interior life, as much as we have now, and the people of all ages and countries have had. It is common to regard them in no other light than as a severe, somber, and pleasure-abhorring generation. It was not so with them altogether. They had the same nature that we have. It was not all gloom and severity. They had their recreations, amusements, gayeties, and frolics. Youth was as buoyant with hope and gladness, love as warm and tender, mirth as natural to innocence, wit as sprightly, then as now. There was as much poetry and romance; the merry laugh enlivened the newly opened fields, and rang through the bordering woods as loud, jocund, and unrestrained as in these older and more crowded settlements. It is true that their theology was austere, and their policy, in Church and State, stern; but, in their modes of life, there were some features which gave peculiar opportunity to exercise and gratify a love of social excitement of a pleasurable kind.” (Vol. i. p. 200.)

Except such conflicts as arose about the boundaries of estates when the General Court was remiss in making and enforcing its decisions, the first and greatest strifes related to Church matters and theological doctrines. The farmers had more lively minds, better informed as to law, and more exercised in reasoning and judging than their class are usually supposed to have; for there never was a time when lawsuits were not going forward about the area and the rights of some landed property or other; and intelligent men were called on to follow the course of litigation, if not to serve the community in office. Thus they were prepared for the strife when the operation of the two Churches pressed for settlement.


The farmers in the rural district thenceforward to be called “Salem Village,” desired to have a meeting-house and a minister of their own; but the town authorities insisted on taxing them for the religious establishment in Salem, from which they derived no benefit. In 1670, twenty of them petitioned to be set off as a parish, and allowed to provide a minister for themselves. In two years more the petition was granted, as a compromise for larger privileges; but there were restrictions which spoiled the grace of such concession as there was. One of these restrictions was that no minister was to be permanently settled without the permission of the old Church to proceed to his ordination. Endless trouble arose out of this provision. The men who had contributed the land, labor, and material for the meeting-house, and the maintenance for the pastor, naturally desired to be free in their choice of their minister, while the Church authorities in Salem considered themselves responsible for the maintenance of true doctrine, and for leaving no opening for Satan to enter the fold in the form of heresy, or any kind or degree of dissent. Their fathers, the first settlers, had made the colony too hot for one of their most virtuous and distinguished citizens, because he had views of his own on Infant Baptism; they had brought him to judgment, magistrate and church member as he was, for not having presented his infant child at the font; he had sold his estates and gone away. If such a citizen as Townsend Bishop was thus lost to their society, how could the guardians of religion surrender their control over any church or pastor within their reach? They had spiritual charge of a community which had made its abode on the American shore for the single purpose of living its own religious life in its own way; and no dissent or modification from within could be permitted, any more than intrusion or molestation from without. Between the ecclesiastical view on the one hand, and the civil view on the other, there was small chance of harmony between town and village, or between pastor, flock, and the overseers of both. The great point on which they were all agreed was that they were all in special danger from the extreme malice of Satan, who, foiled in Puritan England, was bent on revenge in America, and was visibly and audibly present in the settlement, seeking whom he might devour.

Quarreling began with the appearance of the first minister, a young Mr. Bayley, who was appointed from year to year, but never ordained the pastor till 1679, when the authorities of Salem tried to force him upon the people of Salem Village in the face of strong opposition. The farmers disregarded the orders issued from the town, and managed their religious affairs by general meetings of their own congregation; and at length Mr. Bayley retired, leaving the society in a much worse temper than he had found on his arrival. A handsome gift of land was settled upon him, in acknowledgment of his services; he quitted the ministry, and practiced medicine in Roxbury till his death, nearly thirty years afterward.


His partisans were enemies of his successor, of course. Mr. Burroughs was a man of even distinguished excellence in the pastoral relation, in days when risks from Indians made that duty as perilous as the career of the soldier in war time; but his flock were divided, church business was neglected, he was allowed to fall into want. He withdrew, was recalled to settle accounts, was arrested for debt in full meeting – the debt being for the funeral expenses of his wife – was absolved from all blame under the cruel neglect he had experienced – and left the Village. Before he could hear in his remote home in Maine what was doing at Salem in the first days of the Witch Tragedy, he was summoned to his old neighborhood, was charged with sorcery on the most childish and absurd testimony conceivable, and executed in August, 1692. One of the witnesses – a young girl morbid in body and mind – poured out her remorse to him the day before his death. He, believing her a victim of Satan, forgave her, prayed with her, and died honored and beloved by all who were not under the curse of the bigotry of the time.


The third minister was one Deodat Lawson, who is notable – besides his learning – for his Sermon on the Devil, and for some mournful mystery about his end. Of his last days there is nothing known but that there was something woeful in them; but his sermon, preached at the commencement of the outbreak in Salem, remains to us. It was published in America, and then widely circulated in England. It met the popular craving for light about Satan and his doings; and thus, between its appropriateness to the time and occasion, and the learning and ability which it manifested, it produced an extraordinary effect in its day. In ours it is an instructive evidence of the extent to which “knowledge falsely so called” may operate on the mind of society, in the absence of science, and before the time has arrived for a clear understanding of the nature of knowledge and the conditions of its attainment. Mr. Lawson bore a part in the Salem Tragedy, and then went to England, where we hear of him from Calamy as “the unhappy Mr. Deodat Lawson,” and he disappears.


The fourth and last of the ministers of Salem Village, before the Tragedy, was the Mr. Parris who played the most conspicuous part in it. He must have been a man of singular shamelessness, as well as remarkable selfishness, craft, ruthlessness, and withal imprudence. He began his operations with sharp bargaining about his stipend, and sharp practice in appropriating the house and land assigned for the use of successive pastors. He wrought diligently under the stimulus of his ambition till he got his meeting-house sanctioned as a true church, and himself ordained as the first pastor of Salem Village. This was in 1689. He immediately launched out into such an exercise of priestly power as could hardly be exceeded under any form of church government; he set his people by the ears on every possible occasion and on every possible pretense; he made his church a scandal in the land for its brawls and controversies; and on him rests the responsibility of the disease and madness which presently turned his parish into a hell, and made it famous for the murder of the wisest, gentlest, and purest Christians it contained. [This man Parris must have had an inferior intellect, small Conscientiousness, Benevolence, and Veneration; large Firmness, Self-Esteem, Combativeness, Destructiveness, and Acquisitiveness.]


Before we look at his next proceeding, however, we must bring into view one or two facts essential to the understanding of the case. We have already observed on the universality of the belief in the ever-present agency of Satan in that region and that special season. In the woods the Red Men were his agents – living in and for his service and his worship. In the open country, Satan himself was seen, as a black horse, a black dog, as a tall, dark stranger, as a raven, a wolf, a cat, etc. Strange incidents happened there as everywhere – odd bodily affections and mental movements; and when devilish influences are watched for, they are sure to be seen. Everybody was prepared for manifestations of witchcraft from the first landing in the Bay; and there had been more and more cases, not only rumored, but brought under investigation, for some years before the final outbreak.

This suggests the next consideration: that the generation concerned had no “alternative” explanation within their reach, when perplexed by unusual appearances or actions of body or mind. They believed themselves perfectly certain about the Devil and his doings; and his agency was the only solution of their difficulties, while it was a very complete one. They thought they knew that his method of working was by human agents, whom he had won over and bound to his service. They had all been brought up to believe this; and they never thought of doubting it.


The very conception of science had then scarcely begun to be formed in the minds of the wisest men of the time; and if it had been, who was there to suggest that the handful of pulp contained in the human skull, and the soft string of marrow in the spine, and cobweb lines of nerves, apparently of no more account than the hairs of the head, could transmit thoughts, emotions, passions – all the scenery of the spiritual world! For two hundred years more there was no effectual recognition of anything of the sort. At the end of those two centuries anatomists themselves were slicing the brain like a turnip, to see what was inside it, – not dreaming of the leading facts of its structure, nor of the inconceivable delicacy of its organization. After half a century of knowledge of the main truth in regard to the brain, and nearly that period of study of its organization, by every established medical authority in the civilized world, we are still perplexed and baffled at every turn of the inquiry into the relations of body and mind. How, then, can we make sufficient allowance for the effects of ignorance in a community where theology was the main interest in life, where science was yet unborn, and where all the influences of the period concurred to produce and aggravate superstitions and bigotries which now seem scarcely credible?
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