But there was another shape and aspect in which it was pre-eminently important to have their memory preserved; and that was their application to life, their influence upon the conduct of men, the action of tribunals, and the movements of society, and, in general, their effects, when allowed full operation, upon human happiness and welfare. This want was supplied, as the century terminated, by the tragedy in real life, whose scenes are now to be presented in WITCHCRAFT AT SALEM VILLAGE.
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 extravagances, 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.
With an Account of Salem Village and A History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects
Fourth Printing, 1969 Printed in the United States of America Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 59-10887