University of Virginia Library


Of Robert Calef almost nothing is known except what can be learned from his book. There has even been doubt as to whether, of the two Robert Calefs known to us in Boston at this time, the writer was the father or the son. In 1692, the time of the Salem witchcraft, the father's age was 44, the son's 18.[149] It is unlikely that anybody would have thought of the son but for a note copied into one of the memorandum-books of Dr. Jeremy Belknap (1744-1798).[150] This note, of unknown source reads: “Robert Calef, author of `More Wonders of the Invisible World,' printed at London in 1700, was a native of England; a young man of good sense, and free from superstition; a merchant in Boston. He was furnished with materials for his work by Mr. Brattle, of Cambridge; and his brother, of Boston; and other gentlemen, who were opposed to the Salem proceedings. — E. P.” The writer speaks as if with knowledge; and that so sound a historian as Dr. Belknap should have copied the note speaks for its worth. Able scholars have by it been led to ascribe the book to the younger Robert; but more careful study seems to show the objections insuperable. The author never adds “Jr.” to his name, as a son would have done, and as seems to have been the younger Robert's custom.[151] He never pleads youth, even


when most apologetic; and, what weighs more, his indignant foes, seeking all ways to discredit him, never hint at such a thing. His matter and style have in them nothing of boyishness; and once, in words suggestive of a migrant and a man of years, he speaks (p. 297, below) of “sound Reason, which is what I have been long seeking for in this Country in vain.” Most serious of all, his handwriting seems that found in documents clearly the elder Calef's, and is that of a mature and even by 1700 that of an aging man; while that of the younger Robert was in 1719-1722 still firm and flexible — and notably different.[152]

Robert Calef the elder came to America at some time before 1688. He was a cloth-merchant, and doubtless a maker as


well as a seller of cloths.[153] Of his eight children the eldest was, in 1692, a physician in Ipswich. What led to the writing of More Wonders he has himself told us in his book. It remains only to testify to the care and exactness which all comparison of his work with the records seems to show, and to remark that to a student of the literature of witchcraft it is evident that his reading is larger than he cares to parade. Though he clearly belonged to the popular party, this is as likely to be a result as a cause — it is probably neither — of his feeling on the subject of the witch superstition; and that he had else any grievance against the Mathers or their colleagues there is no reason to think.

His book, though completed in 1697, was not printed till 1700, and then in London. In June, 1698, Cotton Mather records in his diary that “a sort of a Sadducee in this town” “hath written a Volumn of invented and notorious lies”; “this Volumn,” he adds, “hee is, as I understand, sending to England, that it may bee printed there.” Why it found no printer in New England can be guessed; the storm it raised when it appeared in print is well known. President Increase Mather “ordered the wicked book to be burnt in the college yard,” [154] and his son's diary is eloquent with vexation.

“Some Years ago,” runs his entry of November 15, 1700, “a very wicked sort of a Sadducee in this Town, raking together a crue of Libels, which he had written at several Times,


(especially relating to the Wonders of the Invisible World which have been among us) wherein I am the cheef Butt of his malice, (tho' many other better Servants of the Lord are also most maliciously abused by him:) he sent this vile Volume to London to be published. Now, tho' I had often and often cried unto the Lord, that the Cup of this Man's abominable Bundle of Lies, written on purpose, with a Quil under a special Energy and Management of Satan, to damnify my precious Opportunities of Glorifying my Lord Jesus Christ, might pass from me; Yett, in this point, the Lord has denied my Request: the Book is printed, and the Impression is this week arrived here.”

It was even felt necessary to print a reply; but the two Mathers held it beneath them to plead in their own vindication. It fell to their parishioners. “My pious neighbours are so provoked,” writes Cotton Mather (December 4), “at the diabolical Wickedness of the Man who has published a Volume of Libels against my Father and myself, that they sett apart whole Dayes of Prayer, to complain unto God against him.” The outcome of their communings together was a pamphlet called Some Few Remarks upon a Scandalous Book against the Gospel and Ministry of New England, written by one Robert Calef. It was signed by seven, one of them John Goodwin; but the materials were furnished by their pastors. It aimed however at their personal exculpation, and has small interest for the public story.[155]

The doughty merchant survived the storm. In 1702-1704 he served his townsmen as an overseer of the poor, in 1707


was chosen an assessor, in 1710 a tithingman. It was perhaps about this time that he retired to Roxbury, where in 1707 he had bought a place and where he was a selectman of the town when, in 1719, death found him. There, in the old burial ground just opposite his home, a stone still testifies that “Here lyes buried the body of Mr. Robert Calef, aged seventy-one years, died April the Thirteenth, 1719.” [156]

Calef's book has been five times reprinted: in 1796, at Salem, by William Carlton (12°, pp. 318); again at Salem, in 1823, a mere reimpression, with the addition, from the court files, of Giles Corey's examination (12°, pp. 312); in Boston, 1828 (24°, pp. 333), again a reimpression; at Salem, 1861, edited by Mr. S. P. Fowler, with Cotton Mather's Wonders, in his volume Salem Witchcraft (see p. 207); and, more faithfully, in 1866 at Roxbury, as nos. VI., VII., of Woodward's Historical Series, under the editorship of S. G. Drake (see pp. 207-208). The present text follows the original edition (1700), but corrects it by the list of Errata to be found in the copy (once Cotton Mather's) possessed by the Massachusetts Historical Society.[157]



S. G. Drake, in the introduction to his edition of Calef, would make his age 14; but the genealogist of the family, Mr. Matthew A. Stickney, says 18. Yet Mr. Stickney urges the father's authorship (N. E. Hist. and Gen. Register, XXX. 461; XLIX. 224). He died in 1894, leaving this genealogy, alas, unpublished, and his heirs decline to let it be consulted.


Mass. Hist. Soc., Proceedings, 1858, p. 288.


Thus in 1706 “Robt. Calef, Jun.,” was chosen a clerk of the market (Boston Record Commissioners' Reports, VIII. 36); thus in 1708 “Robert Calef, junr.” becomes a constable (id., VIII. 45), and gains permission to erect a house (id., XI. 68, XXIX. 187); thus, too, in that year (see plate) he signs himself “Ro. Calfe Jnr”; thus in 1710 “Robert Calfe, Jr.,” appears on the rolls of the Artillery Company (N. E. Hist. and Gen. Register, XXXVIII. 341); and it is after his father's death that (see plate) in 1719 to a receipted account, in 1721 to his will, in 1722 to the release of a mortgage, he signed “Rob Calfe”, “Ro: Calfe”, “Robert Calfe” (see the last two in Drake's Witchcraft Delusion, II. xxii, xxiv).


From the author of More Wonders we have two unquestionable autographs: (1) his marginalia of 1695 on Cotton Mather's paper (see below, p. 306, note 1) and (2) a letter of 1700 presenting a copy of his book to the Earl of Bellomont, then governor of Massachusetts and New York. A page of the former is to be photographed in the Massachusetts Historical Society's Proceedings for 1913-1914; and the latter (now in the New York Public Library) is reproduced in full in the Memorial History of Boston (II. 168). Specimens of both are given in our own plate; and to these are added (1) the signature “Robert Calef” from the report of two appraisers, October 30, 1693; (2) the signature “Robt. Calef” from the verdict of a Boston coroner's jury, January 15, 1696; (3) the same signature, with a line or two of text in the same hand, from the decision of two arbitrators (Boston, July 29, 1697); and (4) the last lines and the signature of a paper drawn by “Robt. Calef” as a selectman of Roxbury in March, 1717 (?). That all six specimens are in the same hand, and in a hand different from the younger Calef's, will hardly be questioned. Is not the older Robert, too, more likely than the younger to have been an appraiser in 1693, a coroner's juror in 1696, and an arbiter in 1697? And (though Calef and Calfe were undoubtedly pronounced alike or nearly so) is it not less probable that the author of More Wonders changed the habitual spelling of his signature than that a younger Robert, if not the author, should thus have distinguished his identity from his father's? What arguments led the genealogist Stickney to ascribe the book to the father cannot now be learned: the “full statement of the reasons” promised by him to the N. E. Hist. and Gen. Register (see XXX. 461) was, like his genealogy, never published. But, from an article on “Robert Calef” by Mr. W. S. Harris in the Granite Monthly for 1907 (XXXIX. 157-163), and from correspondence with its author, it is learned that another student of the Calef pedigree (Mr. W. W. Lunt, of Hingham, Mass.) has reached that result by a comparison of handwritings. Mr. Harris, it should be added, quotes the Rev. John Kelly as saying in a funeral sermon (1808) for Judge John Calfe (b. 1740) of Hampstead, N. H., that the latter's ancestor (who was the elder Calef, not the younger) was the author of the book.


In 1701 Cotton Mather calls him “the Weaver (though he presumes to call himself Merchant)” (Some Few Remarks, p. 35).


Eliot, Biographical Dictionary (1809), s. v. “Calef.”


Let any who would know the contents of the excessively rare little booklet turn to the works of Upham and Poole mentioned on p. 91; and in his Diary (I. 383-384) Mather narrates how the book was compiled. The More Wonders it describes as “a Libellous Book lately come into this Countrey... which is writ (with what help we know not) by one Robert Calef, who presumes to call himself Merchant of Boston.” “It was highly rejoicing to us,” add the writers, “when we heard that our Booksellers were so well acquainted with the Integrity of our Pastors, as that not one of them could admit of any of those Libels to be vended in their shops.” Pp. 34-50 of its seventy-one pages are taken up by a letter of Cotton Mather to the authors. It was perhaps a passage in Mather's letter that led “E. P.” to think Robert Calef a “young man”; for those words, in italics and with capital initials, stare from a sentence so obscure that to a hasty glance Calef, instead of Mather himself, might easily seem to be meant.


For these and other personal details see Drake's memoir, in his ed. of Calef, and his History and Antiquities of Boston, pp. 529, 531; Boston Record Commissioners' Reports, I. 156, 160, VII. 210, 218, 225, 229, VIII. 24, 26, 31, 33, 41, 43, 75, IX. 179, 195, XI. 145; Memorial History of Boston, IV. 652; F. S. Drake, The Town of Roxbury (Boston, 1905), pp. 102, 140-149; N. E. Hist. and Gen. Register, XIV. 52; and the above-cited article of W. S. Harris, which has a photograph of the gravestone. From these mentions will be learned also the name of his wife, Mary, and of the two of his eight children who were born (1688, 1691) after his coming to Boston. It will be learned, too, that in 1692 he was a constable, in 1694 hayward and fenceviewer, in 1697 a surveyor of highways, in 1698 a clerk of the market. At least it is to “Robert Calef,” not to “Robert Calef, Jr.,” that the records award these offices. And it is perhaps to be noticed that while the name of “Robert Calef” is often preceded by “Mr.”, that title does not appear before that of “Robert Calef, Jr.”


See Drake's ed., III. 223.