« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
pp. 17 - 19.
have the power, through her compact with the Devil, of afflicting, distressing, and rending whomever she would. She could cause them to pine away and to suffer almost every description of pain and distress. She was also believed to possess the faculty of being present in her shape or apparition at a different place from that which her actual body occupied. Indeed, an almost indefinite amount of supernatural ability, and a great freedom and variety of methods for its exercise, were supposed to result from the diabolical compact. Those upon whom she exercised her malignant and mysterious energies, were said to be bewitched.'
Now with this view of the nature of Witchcraft, implying, as will be seen, in its very foundation the existence and influence of a malignant rival being, acting independently and at pleasure upon the minds of men, and gaining for himself an allegiance and service, which sober views of religion teach us can be rendered only to God, — it must be regarded as the most astonishing circumstance attending the delusion, that it was not confined, as most superstitions are, to the weak and ignorant, but was entertained and defended by some of the purest and most gifted spirits of the age ; by men, from whom might be expected philosophic views upon every subject, and upon whom a community justly relies for sober and enlightened decisions. Civilians and magistrates, judges on the bench, and the executive officers of the law; physicians in the exercise of their profession, and especially ministers, some of whom were of the highest reputation, were the dupes of this wretched infatuation. • It was advocated,' says Mr. Upham,' by the learning and philosophy, the science and prudence of the times.' It pervaded the whole civilized world and every profession and department of society.' And when we recollect, that it received the sanction of such as Sir Edward Coke and Sir Matthew Hale; of Lord Bacon, Sir Thomas Browne, and Sir William Blackstone; of Baxter, Calamy, and Dr. Henry More ; that it was considered as worthy of the study of the most cultivated and.liberal minds to discover and distinguish a true witch by proper trial and symptoms, ' we ought not to be surprised, that it should obtain among our fathers. Or if, with our knowledge of the general good sense and moral excellence by which they were distinguished, we cannot escape astonishment, that so many were deluded, the remark of Dr. Bentley, quoted with approbation by
N. S. VOL. VI.
Mr. Upham, will appear no less charitable than just, that there is reason to believe, that all honorable men and good citizens would prefer to be considered as participating in the excitement, than as having been free from it and opposed to it, without ever daring to resist or check or reduce it.'
But though this palliation be admitted to a certain extent, it can by no means be regarded as a general and full justification. For the most revolting features in the whole history of this delusion are the fiend-like malignity and cruelty, which it seemed every where to have engendered; and which can scarcely be explained but by supposing there was a sincere, hearty conviction of the reality of the mischief. The connexion between superstition and cruelty has been often remarked. It has been traced in all forms of religion, under every system, Pagan or Christian, and never was it more clearly exhibited than at this very period. Men seemed to have lost their natures in prosecuting this war with the Devil; and to have thought it essential to the successful issue of the contest to assimilate themselves as far as possible to the enemy, with whom they were contending. Hence the readiness with which they could accuse, and the malice with which they pursued to imprisonment, torture, and death, some of the purest and most excellent of the land. They had no respect for childhood or old age; no pity for female weakness ; no remembrance of a blameless and benevolent life to deter them; but appeared to act towards every accused person, as if they were engaged in a personal contest with Satan himself. All this was mingled, it is true, with sincere zeal for religion, and indignation at the audacious attempts of the enemy of souls to overthrow the churches of Christ and to lead away captive his disciples. But, as Mr. Upham remarks,
In baleful combination with principles, good in themselves, thus urging the passions into wild operation, there were all the wicked and violent affections to which humanity is liable. Theological bitterness, personal animosities, local controversies, private feuds, long cherished grudges, and professional jealousies, rushed forward, and raised their discordant voices, to swell the horrible din ; credulity rose with its monstrous and ever expanding form, on the ruins of truth, reason, and the senses; malignity and cruelty rode triumphant through the storm, by whose fury every mild and gentle sentiment had been shipwrecked.' -- p. 116.
In this cruelty and fanaticism it cannot be denied, that the
clergy took a prominent part. They seemed to think, that the cause was peculiarly theirs ; and that their profession called them to put on the armour against the prince of dark
They took the lead,' says Mr. Upham, in the whole transaction. After the execution of the first person convicted and previous to the trial of the others, the government consulted the ministers of Boston and the vicinity, and they returned a positive and earnest recommendation to proceed in the good work.' This recommendation, as it afterwards appeared, was drawn up by Cotton Mather, who frequently took occasion to commend it, and in one of his subsequent writings even speaks of the gracious words'it contains. But it expressed the sentiments also of most of his brethren ; and the writer particularly adduces the Rev. Mr. Noyes, one of his predecessors in the First Church in Salem, justly celebrated in his life as among the most eminent ministers of the land, and honored at his death as a part of the glory of New England,' yet in his conduct in this affair affording a melancholy proof, that there is power in a popular delusion and a general excitement of the passions of the community to pervert the best of characters, turn the hearts even of good men to violence, and fill them with all manner of bitterness.'
This was deplorably true in relation to Dr. Cotton Mather, with less, we fear, to extenuate his error or to reconcile us to the course which he afterwards pursued. His name certainly appears in this, as in Calef's and some other histories of the day, under very doubtful aspects. After the delusion had past, and the fatal error was perceived, there was an earnest desire in Mr. Noyes and in almost every one else, to do all that was possible to repair it. We shall presently advert to some affecting examples of this nature.
We wish we could discover the least evidence of the same generosity in Mather. We wish it, because we take no pleasure in calling up the frailties of a man, who has some unquestionable claims to respect, and whose learning and zeal to do good, however strangely mingled with his foibles, gave him eminence among the clergy of his times. And there are those, we doubt not, who would be ready, even at this day, to assent to the following very charitable view of him, given by the writer of these Lectures a few years since, in a sermon at the dedication of the First Church in Salem.*
* See note to this discourse, preached Nov. 16, 1826.
"Whatever may have been his imperfections or faults, I cannot refrain,' says Mr. Upham, 'from giving my feeble testimony to the learning and liberality of Cotton Mather. It may be, that his character as a historian receives at present a treatment altogether too harsh. It should be estimated with a constant reference to the age in which he lived. His extraordinary and admirable scholarship is frequently called pedantry. It is a pedantry beyond the reach of any one, whose mind has not been thoroughly imbued with the spirit and stored with the learning, which reside in the works of those great masters of the human intellect, who lived and wrote before Cotton Mather's day; a pedantry, highly honorable to the venerable University, which numbers him among her sons; a pedantry, which any Christian scholar might well strive to imitate.'
In this opinion of the Doctor's learning we can by no means concur; nor do we believe that the writer himself would now strenuously insist upon it. We refer to it however as an evidence, that it was with no prejudices against him, but rather with some excess of partiality in his favor, that Mr. Upham came to the investigation of the part which Mather bore in the delusions of the day. That it was in truth with reluctance, and only from the irresistible weight of evidence, that he was brought to different views of his character. We shall here adduce from the Lectures what relates immediately to Cotton Mather, and shall then enable our readers to judge for themselves, how far it is sustained by certain passages, we shall extract from the Doctor's private journal.
In the year 1692, special efforts were made to renew the power of the spirit of the gospel in many of the churches. The motives of those who acted in these measures were for the most part of the purest and holiest character. But there were not wanting individuals who were willing to abuse the opportunities offered by the general excitement and awakening thus produced. It was soon discerned by those ambitious of spiritual influence and domination, that their object could be most easily achieved by carrying the people to the greatest extreme of credulity, fanaticism, and superstition.
Opposition to prevailing vices, and attempts to reform society, were considered at that time in the light of a conflict with Satan himself, and he was thought to be the ablest minister, who had the greatest power over the great enemy, who could most easily and effectually avert his blows and counteract his baleful influence. Dr. Cotton Mather aspired to be considered the
great champion of the church, and the most successful combatant against “the prince of the power of the air.” He seems to have longed for an opportunity to signalize himself in this particular kind of warfare; seized upon every occurrence that would admit of such a coloring to represent it as the result of diabolical agency; circulated in his numerous publications as many tales of witchcraft as he could collect throughout New and Old England, and repeatedly endeavoured to get up a delusion of this kind in Boston. He succeeded to some extent. An instance of witchcraft was brought about in that place by his management in 1688. There is some ground for suspicion that he was instrumental in causing the delusion in Salem ; at any rate he took a leading part in conducting it. And while there is evidence that he endeavoured, after the delusion subsided, to escape the disgrace of having approved of the proceedings, and pretended to have been in some measure opposed to them, it can be too clearly shown that he was secretly and cunningly endeavouring to renew them during the next year in his own parish in Boston. I know nothing more artful and Jesuitical than his attempts to avoid the reproach of having been active in carrying on the delusion in Salem, and elsewhere, and, at the same time, to keep up such a degree of credulity and superstition in the minds of the people, as to render it easy to plunge them into it again at the first favorable moment. In the following passages he endeavours to escape the odium that had been connected with the prosecutions.
"“ The world knows how many pages I have composed and published, and particular gentlemen in the government know how many letters I have written to prevent the excessive credit of spectral accusations.
• «In short, I do humbly but freely affirm it, that there is not a man living in this world who has been more desirous than the poor man I, to shelter my neighbours from the inconveniences of spectral outcries; yea, I am very jealous I have done so much that way, as to sin in what I have done ; such have been the cowardice and fearfulness, whereunto my regard unto the dissatisfaction of other people has precipitated me. I know a man in the world, who has thought he has been able to convict some such witches as ought to die ; but his respect unto the public peace has caused him rather to try whether he could not renew them by repentance.”
- pp. 105–109. And again, after citing some sentences from Mather's published works, in which he endeavours to take the credit to himself of having doubted the propriety of the proceedings, and yet to commend himself to all who approved of them, 'like