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The Salem Witch Trials

MATHER, COTTON. The Wonders of the Invisible World. Being an account of the tryals of several witches, lately executed in New England

Printed first, at Boston in New England, and reprinted in London for John Dunmow, 1693

56 leaves (112 pp, irregularly paginated). Formerly bound with several other contemporary tracts in contemporary blind-paneled calf, now recased alone in that same contemporary binding. Repairs to binding. Small tear to half-title. A fine copy of a rare work.

FIRST ENGLISH EDITION of this famous history of the Salem witch trials, a classic of colonial American history. Cotton Mather, scion of the notable Boston family, entered Harvard College at twelve and graduated three years later. He was elected a fellow of Harvard in 1690 before he turned thirty. At the time of the Salem trials in 1692, Mather was already one of the most respected divines in New England. Author of over 400 books and tracts, he had an enormous impact on American thought at the turn of the eighteenth century.

Wonders of the Invisible World is one of Mather’s two best known works, the other being Magnalia Christi Americana. “This is one of the most important and rarest of all Mather’s works – his contemporary history of the Salem trials . . . Historically, Mather’s report on the trials is the last important exposition of witchcraft that was written while the superstition remained generally unquestioned. Mather described the trials objectively, but from the viewpoint of a firm believer in witches” (Streeter).

More than one hundred suspected witches were arrested, and nineteen were hanged. Mather’s account, written in the summer of 1692 while the trials were still being held, includes detailed descriptions of the cases and the surrounding events. By the fall the witch hunt had subsided, and Increase Mather led the backlash against the prosecutors.

In order to place Mather’s position on witchcraft in perspective, it is interesting to note the beliefs of other intellectuals of the day. Joseph Addison wrote in the Spectator in 1711, “I believe in general that there is and has been such a thing as witchcraft, but at the same time can give no credit to any particular instance of it.”  As late as 1765, William Blackstone wrote in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book IV, “To deny the possibility, nay the actual existence, of witchcraft and sorcery is flatly to contradict the revealed word of God.”

This is a rare book. This copy, complete, wide-margined and in a contemporary binding, is a wonderful addition to any collection of American books.