This work was originally constructed, and in previous editions appeared, in the form of Lectures. The only vestiges of that form, in its present shape, are certain modes of expression. The language retains the character of an address by a speaker to his hearers; being more familiar, direct, and personal than is ordinarily employed in the relations of an author to a reader.
The former work was prepared under circumstances which prevented a thorough investigation of the subject. Leisure and freedom from professional duties have now enabled me to prosecute the researches necessary to do justice to it.
The “Lectures on Witchcraft,” published in 1831, have long been out of print. Although frequently importuned to prepare a new edition, I was unwilling to issue again what I had discovered to be an insufficient presentation of the subject. In the mean time, it constantly became more and more apparent, that much injury was resulting from the want of a complete and correct view of a transaction so often referred to, and universally misunderstood.
The first volume of this work contains what seems to me necessary to prepare the reader for the second, in which the incidents and circumstances connected with the witchcraft prosecutions in 1692, at the village and in the town of Salem, are reduced to chronological order, and exhibited in detail.
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.
It is unnecessary to mention the various well-known works of authority and illustration, as they are referred to in the text. But I cannot refrain from bearing my grateful testimony to the value of the “Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society” and the “New-England Historical and Genealogical Register.” The “Historical Collections” and the “Proceedings” of the Essex Institute have afforded me inestimable assistance. Such works as these are providing the materials that will secure to our country a history such as no other nation can have. Our first age will not be shrouded in darkness and consigned to fable, but, in all its details, brought within the realm of knowledge. Every person who desires to preserve the memory of his ancestors, and appreciate the elements of our institutions and civilization, ought to place these works, and others like them, on the shelves of his library, in an unbroken and continuing series. A debt of gratitude is due to the earnest, laborious, and disinterested students who are contributing the results of their explorations to the treasures of antiquarian and genealogical learning which accumulate in these publications.