Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/20

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
10
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

theology, and adopting its most literal interpretation—it is not strange that ideas regarding the darker side of nature were rapidly developed.[1]

The fear of witchcraft, thus developed, received a powerful stimulus from the treatises of learned men. Such works, coming from Europe, which was at that time filled with the superstition, acted powerfully upon conscientious preachers and were brought by them to bear upon the people at large. Naturally, then, throughout the latter half of the seventeenth century we find scattered cases of diabolical possession. At Boston, Springfield, Hartford, Groton, and other towns, cases occurred, and here and there we hear of death-sentences.

In the last quarter of the seventeenth century the fruit of these ideas began to ripen. In the year 1684 Increase Mather published his book, "Remarkable Providences," laying stress upon diabolical possession and witchcraft. This book, having been sent over to England, exercised an influence there and came back with the approval of no less a man than Richard Baxter. By this its power at home was increased.

In 1688 a poor family in Boston was afflicted by demons. Four children, the eldest thirteen years of age, began leaping and barking like dogs, or purring like cats, and complaining of being pricked, pinched, and cut. An old Irishwoman was finally tried and executed.

All this produced a deep impression on the mind of a man of great natural abilities, of most earnest and conscientious desire to do good in his generation, mixed with pride, vanity, ambition, and love of power; in short, a typical specimen of the high ecclesiastic as he has so often afflicted the earth. This man was Cotton Mather, the son of Increase Mather, and both father and son gave all their great powers to deepening and extending this theological view as sanctioned by Scripture.

In 1692 began a new outbreak of possession, which is one of the most instructive in history. The Rev. Samuel Parris was the minister of the church in Salem. No pope ever had higher ideas of his own infallibility, no bishop a greater love of ceremony, no inquisitor a greater passion for prying and spying.[2]

Before long Mr. Parris had much upon his hands. Many of his hardy, independent parishioners disliked his ways. Quarrels arose. Some of the leading men of the congregation were pitted against him. The previous minister, George Burroughs, had left the germs of troubles and quarrels, and to these were now added

  1. For the idea that America before the Pilgrims had been especially given over to Satan, see the literature of the early Puritan period, and especially the poetry of Wigglesworth, treated in Tyler's "History of American Literature," vol. ii, p. 25 et seq.
  2. For curious examples of this, see Upham's "History of Salem Witchcraft," vol. i.