Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Puritan Contribution to a Complaints Choir Song

So, over Thanksgiving at my sister's, I watched some YouTube videos of Complaints Choirs (see November 8, 2007 post for info and links on Complaints Choirs.) Birmingham, England, wins hands down -- we were singing along with the chorus; the St. Petersburg, Russia, choir seems to have a lot of issues with love; the small island off/in British Columbia really doesn't like tourists; Penn State's choir probably cracks up those on campus, but doesn't do much for others (i.e., my sister and me;) the Helsinki choir's song was good, but nobody much seemed to smile; the Chicago choir was a trailer for a future video. Thanks to whoever did all the subtitles.

I thought of complaints choirs today when reading my transit book: Eve LaPlante's Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall (NY: HarperOne, 2007.) Sewall was one of the Salem witch trial judges, and the only one to repent of his role. His public repentenance is pictured in the mural in the Chamber of the House of Representatives in the Massachusetts State House, with the title "1697 Dawn of Tolerance in Massachusetts Public Repentance of Judge Samuel Sewall for his Action in the Witchcraft Trials."

Salem Witch Judge is a fascinating book, and it's making me realize how little I know about the trials. For instance, the persons who were executed were the ones who asserted their innocence; those who admitted witchcraft were not executed. (Read the book to find out why.) Giles Corey, who refused to answer any questions, or to enter any plea, remained silent to protect his property from confiscation. He was pressed to death in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a plea. (Maybe waterboarding would have worked better?)

The complaints choir aspect came in with respect to Sewall's poem for the new century (the 18th): the first verse reads: Once More! Our God, vouchsafe to shine: Correct the coldness of our clime. Make Haste with Thy impartial light, And terminate this long dark night." (p. 231.) Even the Puritans could complain about winter.

Post-Salem trials, Sewall wrote the first anti-slavery tract in the colonies; he's considered the first poet to write about the American landscape as an American, rather than a displaced English citizen; and (I haven't read this far yet) he started to think of women as the equals of men. (What was the world coming to?)

Ever the teensiest, lady-like, bit of a complaint about this book: IT DOESN'T HAVE ANY FOOTNOTES! This drives me crazy. One example: at one point the author is quoting Perry Miller, a 20th-century author, about Samuel Sewall's writings. There is a bibliography in the book, but Miller has five entries. There is no way to tell from the titles which one would have the quote. I'd like to read a bit more about Sewall's writings and his position in colonial literature (about which I currently know nothing,) but I'm going to have to first find the books, then see if they deal with what I want. It would have been nice if the author could at least have included a date ("Perry, in [date] noted ....") or something like that. I'll bet Samuel Sewall gave his sources.

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