In the work which has now reached its close, many strange phases of humanity have been exposed. We have beheld, with astonishment and horror, the extent to which it is liable to be the agent and victim of delusion and ruin. Folly that cannot be exceeded; wrong, outrage, and woe, melting the heart that contemplates them; and crime, not within our power or province to measure,—have passed before us. But not the dark side only of our nature has been displayed. Manifestations of innocence, heroism, invincible devotion to truth, integrity of soul triumphing over all the terrors and horrors that can be accumulated in life and in death, Christian piety in its most heavenly radiance, have mingled in the drama, whose curtain is now to fall. Noble specimens of virtue in man and woman, old and young, have shed a light, as from above, upon its dark and melancholy scenes. Not only the sufferers, but some of those who shared the dread responsibility of the crisis, demand our commiseration, and did what they could to atone for their error.
The conduct of Judge Sewall claims our particular admiration. He observed annually in private a day of humiliation and prayer, during the remainder of his life, to keep fresh in his mind a sense of repentance and sorrow for the part he bore in the trials. On the day of the general fast, he rose in the place where he was accustomed to worship, the Old South, in Boston, and, in the presence of the great assembly, handed up to the pulpit a written confession, acknowledging the error into which he had been led, praying for the forgiveness of God and his people, and concluding with a request to all the congregation to unite with him in devout supplication, that it might not bring down the displeasure of the Most High upon his country, his family, or himself. He remained standing during the public reading of the paper. This was an act of true manliness and dignity of soul.
The following passage is found in his diary, under the date of April 23, 1720, nearly thirty years afterwards. It was suggested by the perusal of Neal’s “History of New England:”—
“In Dr. Neal’s ‘History of New England,’ its nakedness is laid open in the businesses of the Quakers, Anabaptists, witchcraft. The judges’ names are mentioned p. 502; my confession, p. 536, vol. ii. The good and gracious God be pleased to save New England and me, and my family!”
There never was a more striking and complete fulfilment of the apostolic assurance, that the prayer of a righteous man availeth much, than in this instance. God has been pleased, in a remarkable manner, to save and bless New England. The favor of Heaven was bestowed upon Judge Sewall during the remainder of his life. He presided for many years on the bench where he committed the error so sincerely deplored by him, and was regarded by all as a benefactor, an ornament, and a blessing to the community: while his family have enjoyed to a high degree the protection of Providence from that day to this; have adorned every profession, and every department of society; have filled with honor the most elevated stations; have graced, in successive generations, the same lofty seat their ancestor occupied; and been the objects of the confidence, respect, and love of their fellow-citizens.