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A PURITAN PEPYS
WHAT the Diary of Samuel Pepys is to seventeenth century England the Diary of Samuel Sewall is to the Boston of the Puritan era. This invaluable contribution to New England literature covers more than fifty-five years of old Boston life and covers it, too, at a time when that life was putting itself into form. It is therefore a rich mine of history, a veritable storehouse of old ways and social customs. The man who wrote it was a part of all that he met and he was, besides, a red-blooded healthy-minded human being in an age which too many people think wholly given over to disagreeable asceticism. We cannot do better, then, than follow for a chapter Sewall's varied career as he himself traces it for us in the vivid pages of his mental and spiritual day-book.
At the outset we must do the old judge the justice to believe that, — to him, — New England was a colony with a mission. In a speech made in 1723 after Lieutenant-Governor Dummer had taken the oath of office he said: “ The people you have to do with are a part of the Israel of God and you may expect to have of the prudence and patience of Moses communicated to you for your conduct. It is evident that our Almighty Saviour counselled the first planters to remove hither and settle here; and they dutifully followed his advice; and therefore he will never leave nor forsake them nor theirs." All his life long Sewall strove to help the Lord do the work he felt to be marked out for the Puritans. We must bear this in mind when the judge of the witches seems narrow
But he does not often so seem for he was a generous-minded man, temperamentally and physically easy-going in spite of his Puritan training. The Reverend N. H. Chamberlain, who has written most entertainingly of “ Sewall and the World He Lived In ” attributes the endearing qualities of his hero to the fact that he was much more Saxon than Dane, and came from the English South Land where the sun is warmer than in the North, the gardens and orchards fuller.
Moreover, none of the Sewalls had suffered from persecution. Samuel's great-grandfather, beyond whom the family cannot be
traced, made a fortune as a linen-draper at Coventry and was several times elected mayor. His life was then an eminently successful one. The mayor's eldest son, however, was a Puritan of such strong convictions that he sent Sewall's father, Henry, to New England. But the climate of Newbury, where Henry Sewall took up land, did not agree with the family and they returned to the mother country. Thus it happened that Samuel Sewall was born in Bishopstoke, Hampshire, England, in 1647 and spent the impressionable years of his young life in a background where orchards flourished mightily, where cock-fighting was a favourite sport and where roast beef and attendant good things exercised a potent formative influence.
When the boy Samuel was nine the family returned to America. His account of their landing at Boston is given thus naïvely: “ We were about eight weeks at sea where we had nothing to see but water and sky; so that I began to fear that I should never get to shore again; only I thought the captains and the mariners would not have ventured themselves, if they had not hopes of getting to land again. On the Lord's Day my mother kept aboard; but I went ashore; the boat grounded and I was carried out in arms, July 6, 1661."
The future Diarist was educated at his father's house in Newbury by a private tutor and at Harvard College, from which he was graduated in 1671. Three years later he took his master's degree, an occasion which he described thus in a letter written to his son, Joseph, when he (Sewall) was a grown man: “ In 1674 I took my second degree and Mrs. Hannah Hull, my dear wife, your honoured mother was invited by Doctor Hoar and his lady (her kinsfolk) to be with them awhile at Cambridge. She saw me when I took my degree and set her affection on me, though I knew nothing of it until after our marriage which was February 28, 1675-76. Governor Bradstreet married us." Sewall's thesis on this interesting commencement day was Latin discourse on original sin!
For of course the young man was ministerially minded and, at this stage of his career, bade fair to follow the profession of most Harvard men of the day. Very likely, too, he would have kept on with his preaching but for the fact that, after a supplementary year or two at Cambridge, it was made easy for him to enter the business and the family of John Hull, the New England mint-master. Hull was now old and Sewall seems to have been en
trusted, almost at once, with the correspondence appertaining to the merchant branch of his profession. Ere long the Diarist is importing and exporting on his own account.
First, though, came his marriage with the bouncing Hannah Hull, a lady whose weight played a more important part in her charms, than has been the case with any other heroine of romance. Hawthorne is chiefly responsible for this, of course, for he has described in fascinating fashion the marriage of Sewall to this, his first wife. But if Sewall did get his wife's weight in pine-tree shillings when he got her he had not stipulated for this or any other dowry. The mint-master was especially pleased with his new son-in-law because he had courted Miss Betsy out of pure love," we are told, “and had said nothing at all about her portion.” It is good for us to remember this passage when we read the story of Judge Sewall's later courtships.
About a year after his marriage Sewall joined the Old South Church and having fulfilled this pre-requisite to citizenship, he was (in 1678) made a freeman. In 1681 he was appointed master of the public printing-press, an office which he held for some three years printing public and religious documents, and