Robert Calef

From More Wonders of the Invisible World (1697)

Reprinted in American Literature: A Prentice Hall Anthology, Volume 1 in 1991 Edited by Emory Elliott and others

Boston merchant Robert Calef (see biography entry) was one of the chief critics of the Salem witch trials. In 1697 he wrote More Wonders of the Invisible World in response to Wonders of the Invisible World, a justification of the trials written by Cotton Mather in 1693. Mather, in turn, had based his own evidence on works written by his father, Increase Mather (see Cotton Mather's biography entry and primary source entries for both). The Mathers had been largely responsible for encouraging the witch-hunts that began in the mid-1680s. Calef's book contained evidence that had not been presented either by the Mathers or at the trials—such as jurors' and judges' apologies, accusers' confessions to lying under oath— thus exposing the proceedings as a sham orchestrated by a small group of Puritan zealots. Calef published More Wonders in 1700, seven years after a reprieve had been granted to surviving accused and convicted prisoners, and after the Mathers themselves had expressed doubts about the trials.

The following excerpt from More Wonders is typical of Calef's approach in the book. Although he attacked the Mathers and trial officials, his real target was the Puritans' reliance

Witches Illustration Black White

Robert Calef's book spoke of how Cotton Mather had betrayed his scientific knowledge by promoting the use of spectral evidence. He found the entire witchhunt to be as uncivilized as the ones in Europe. Reproduced by permission of the Gamma Liaison Netwrok.

Robert Calef's book spoke of how Cotton Mather had betrayed his scientific knowledge by promoting the use of spectral evidence. He found the entire witchhunt to be as uncivilized as the ones in Europe. Reproduced by permission of the Gamma Liaison Netwrok.

on spectral evidence, the claim that a person's spirit (presumably taken over by the devil) committed an evil act. Calef questioned the use of spectral evidence as the entire basis of the trials. For instance, in the first paragraph below, he criticized Increase Mather's book Cases of Conscience for documenting the testimony of "bewitched" accusers, which could not be supported by visible evidence—even when the accusers were supposedly being bewitched in the courtroom and spectators could not see any changes in their appearance ("they did not stir from the bar"). In the next two paragraphs he berated the Puritans for their "unscriptual" belief in the devil. He pointed out that the Bible makes no mention of witchcraft, and therefore gives no basis for the existence of witches' pacts with the devil, nor for the trial of witches. Calef implied that if God had not created witches but humans were still claiming that witches existed, then God must not be in control of Nature. Calef concluded by saying that Mather was therefore engaging in "highly criminal" acts by encouraging the trials.

0 0

Responses

  • duenna gammidge
    Why did robert calef write more wonders of the invisible world?
    17 days ago

Post a comment