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William Sewel was the son of Jacob Williamson Sewel and Judith Zinspenning, and appears to have been born in the city of Amsterdam, Holland, about the year 1650, though the exact date of his birth is not certainly known. His paternal grandfather, William Sewel, was an Englishman, and had resided at Kidderminster, in Worcestershire; but becoming dissatisfied with the doctrines and practices of the Church of England, he left its communion, and united himself with those of the Dissenters, known by the name of Brownists, who removed into Holland for the enjoyment of a greater degree of religious liberty than was permitted them in their native country. He married a Dutch woman at Utrecht, and settled there. Of bis son Jacob Williamson Sewel, who was a native of Utrecht, we know nothing, previous to his removal to Amsterdam; here he followed his profession, as a surgeon, and in time was advanced to the dignity of a burgher or free citizen; an evidence of the estimation in which he was held by his fellow townsmen. His wife Judith Zinspenning, was a native of Amsterdam, and the daughter of Conrad Zinspenning, an eminent member of the Baptist church, though formerly in communion with the Church of Rome. About the year 1657, our author's parents were convinced of the Truth preached by William Ames, an English Friend, then on a religious visit in Holland ; soon after, they left the Flemish Baptist church, of which they had been consistent members, and joined themselves in fellowship with the Society of the despised Quakers. Having given these few particulars concerning the immediate ancestors of our author, we refer the curious reader to the History' itself, whence we have derived the foregoing, and where may be found information of additional interest concerning them.
We will now return to the subject of this brief memoir. It appears that his parents died while he was young, but having instructed him in those principles of which they were among the earliest professors in Amsterdam, the religion of his education became that of his judgment; and through the career of a long life, he continued to be a steady and useful member of the Society of Friends. In the short, though very interesting account which he has given us of his parents, we learn that his mother died in the year
1664, when he could not have been more than about fifteen years
age; yet he appeared to have retained a very lively recollection of her decease and the circumstances attending it, as may be seen in the following extract; and though we have quoted it directly from his History, we deem no apology necessary for its insertion here. He says, “The night before she departed, she called me to her bed-side and exhorted me very fervently to depart from evil and to fear the Lord : which by the mercy of God, in time made a very deep impression on my mind; so that still I find reason to bless the name of the Lord for having been pleased that I was the son of such an excellent mother.' This is a beautiful tribute of filial affection and gratitude, and it is a question which we leave to those, who are best able
to judge by experience, whether the impressions of which he speaks may not have been as powerful and beneficial in their effects, as was his judgment, towards maturing those religious views which, imbibed in youth, we are told continued to guide him throughout the course of his earthly pilgrimage. William Sewel was emphatically a self-made man, as we have every reason to believe that he had a very limited school education; and it is known that the proficiency he attained in the knowledge of the Latin, Greek, English and High Dutch Languages, was acquired principally whilst working at the loom and during the leisure hours of his apprenticeship to a weaver; thus affording another notable instance among the many hundreds on record, of the wonderful results to be accomplished in the cultivation of the mind, by a system of strict self-discipline. His good natural talents and unwearied application, combined with his strictly temperate habits, brought him into the notice of some of the most respectable publishers in Holland; whereby he soon became engaged in the translation of numerous standard works, chiefly from the Latin and English languages into Low Dutch, his native tongue; which in addition to the part he took at different times in several approved publications, (whether as editor or contributor, we are not informed,) seems to have furnished no inconsiderable portion of his moderate income.
His modest, unassuming manners gained him the esteem of several of that circle of literary men, for which Amsterdam was at that time noted; and so exalted was the opinion which they entertained of his character, and their estimation of his abilities, that there is reason to believe, they frequently submitted their productions to him to be revised and prepared for the press. We must conclude that the knowledge he possessed of his native tongue was profound, when we learn that his Dictionary, Grammar, and other treatises thereon, are such admirable productions, as to have left but little room for improvement by later writers; and some idea of his high attainments and of the confidence reposed in his skill and judgment as a philologist, may be formed from the fact of his having assisted materially in the compilation of Halma's French and Dutch Dictionary. But that which above all other of the many literary labors in which our author was engaged, has contributed to transmit his fame to posterity, or at least to endear the remembrance of his name to every member of the Society of Friends, is his “HISTORY
THE CHRISTIAN PEOPLE CALLED QUAKERS,' which was originally written in Low Dutch, and afterwards translated by himself into English. It may be said, that the preparation of this work was indeed a herculean undertaking; a cursory examination would be sufficient to satisfy any one of the truth of this assertion, but a still further evidence may be found in the preface, wherein the author informs us that its preparation had cost him the labor of more than twenty-five years. We are induced to be. lieve that the principal motive which prompted him to enter upon this
work was the innate and deep rooted love which he entertained for the new Society and its doctrines; and as heretofore no author had attempted to write a systematic account of the origin and progress of these, that he had the laudable object in view, of placing upon a permanent basis as far as practicable, a historical detail of the rise and progressive movements of a people, who on account of the peculiarity of their principles, the sufferings which they underwent in the promulgation of them, and the steadfastness which they manifested under every variety of persecution in their support, were destined not only to assume a conspicuous position in the religious world, but also in time to exert a vastly beneficial interest on a great portion of the human race.
Another motive which the author doubtless entertained, was a desire to counteract the effects produced upon the minds of the learned,
a Latin publication entitled Historia Quakeriana,'* written by Gerard Croese, a learned German Protestant of that age, who after soliciting and obtaining information from both friends and foes of the Quakers, seemed to have used no effort to make any proper discrimination : so that his history, (as he calls it,) was a singular compound of truth and falsehood; but it being the production of an elegant scholar, and the theologians and other learned men of the day, throughout civilized Europe, having been for some time hoping to see something in the shape of a historical account of the Quakers, it was eagerly seized upon, and it is said, soon obtained a place in most of the university and other libraries on the continent: and that it was probably considered as a standard work, may be inferred still more from the circumstance of its being some time afterward adopted by the editors of a splendid French work, bearing in the English translation the title of “The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nations in the known world,' as the principal authority whence their unfair representation of the Quakers was derived. Thus the gross errors which had been so widely circulated originally by the book itself, became through another medium still further disseminated, to the great prejudice of the new society of Christian believers. This farrago of Croese,' says the author from whom we have taken the foregoing account, may be sidered as the chief cause of those mistaken notions, that have prevailed very extensively throughout the Continent, respecting the doctrines and practices of that Class of Protestants.'t
* Published in Amsterdam, 1695, 8vo., and translated into English, 1696. It was answered by a Quaker, at Amsterdam, in a work entitled, “Dilucidationes quaedam valde necessariæ in Gerardi Croesii Hist.' 1096, 8vo.-Chalmers.
* In connection with the above, it may not be amiss to select one specimen, from among many others, equally notorious, as an illustration of the gross errors contained in the accounts given of the Quakers in • Neal's History of the Puritans. In a brief narrative of the extravagant conduct of James Naylor, though correct in many of its features, great injustice is done to the Society; the concluding paragraph is in these words: 'After the Protector's death, James Naylor was released out of prison and wrote several things in defence of the Quakers, who owned him as a friend notwithstanding his extravagant behavior.' That the portion we have italicized, is a soul libel on the Society of Friends, can be easily proved by referring to Sewel's History, which embraces, not only a narrative in detail of Naylor's apostacy and of the censure which he incurred from those with whom he had been in religious fellowship, but also an account of his subsequent recantation, substantiated by epistles, which he wrote on various occasions, acknowledging a sincere repentance of his former errors. We have cited this as another evidence of the importance to be attached to our author's history, in counteracting the calumnies and garbled statements of prejudiced writers.
It is asserted that the English copy of our author's History, cannot properly be called a translation, but whether this be the case or not, it can truly be said, that as the production of a foreigner, who, according to his own account, had spent only about ten months in England, and that above fifty years before, the style is far superior to what could have been reasonably expected.
In the preface will be found a minute account of the various sources whence the author derived the materials for his work, and the opportunities he possessed in obtaining them. There are besides interspersed through his History, numerous passages wherein he alludes to his personal acquain. tance with several of the most eminent of those worthies whose lives and deeds he describes : with many of these he was upon terms of intimate friendship, and the interchange of sentiment afforded by such familiar intercourse, induces us to ascribe a still greater degree of interest to his writings, as it furnishes more abundant evidence of his facilities for procuring correct information.
The readers's attention will be arrested by the number of public and private documents, which abound throughout the work; of the former, the copies of state papers and official orders of various kinds, compose an important and valuable portion of the History, as they serve corroborate the statements made by the author, and thus to place beyond cavil many relations of facts and occurrences, which were it not for them, might be doubted by many, who either from a repugnance to the principles of the Society of Friends, or perhaps a disposition to question the sincerity of the author, might impugn his motives, and attribute the formation of his opinions to the influences of education and narrow-minded prejudice.
His English copy of the History of the Quakers, appears to have been first published in London, in the year 1722; subsequently it was revised and corrected, and the second edition appeared in 1725; both these editions were in folio. The later editions are, one in two volumes, octavo, 1799, and another in three volumes, octavo, 1811. The first American edition, a folio, was published in Philadelphia, in 1728; the second, in Burlington, New Jersey, in the year 1774; since then, several editions have appeared in our own country, at different periods. These facts serve to show the
Note.-A new edition of Neal's History of the Puritans,' (2 vols. 8vo.) with voluminous notes, by John 0. Chwules, is now in the course of publication in this city. The editor bas done credit to himself and justice to the Society of Friends, by the candid and in partial manner in which he defends their predecessors, against the misrepresentations of the author.
popularity of the work, and the estimation in which it is held as a standard History, (as it is the earliest and most comprehensive) of the Christian People, called Quakers, from the time that the light of Truth first began to dawn in the mind of their eminent founder, through the successive stages in their Rise, Increase and Progress, until a period which found them established upon a firm basis as a religious body; and their claims as the Society of Friends, acknowledged and tolerated by a Government, under which its early professors suffered every variety of persecution, in the promulgation of their principles.*
As with his birth, so we are also unacquainted with the exact time of the death of William Sewel; but in a note by the editor, prefixed to the third edition of his Dictionary, published in 1726, he is mentioned as being lately deceased. Though we
Though we are entirely ignorant of the age at which he was married, we are informed that he left one son of the same name, of whom considerable hopes were entertained during his youth; but upon one occasion, having embarked for England, for the purpose of attending the London Yearly Meeting of the Society of which he was a member, in company with a young man, to whom he was strongly attached by the ties of friendship, the vessel was wrecked near the Texel, during a violent storm. Sewel being an excellent swimmer, undertook to save his companion, by means of a rope, which he had attached to their bodies ; but
reaching the shore and drawing the rope, he found his friend was gone. This melancholy event had such an effect upon him, that a settled gloom clouded his mental faculties during the remainder of his life.
Of the private life and character of William Sewel, we know nothing beyond what may be gleaned from his writings—and these furnish very insufficient data upon which to base a correct estimate of the man. There does not appear to be any record of him among the published memorials of those of the Society of Friends, who were cotemporary with him. Hence we are induced to believe that he was never distinguished as a prominent member of the Society, but that he held an enviable position among that class of useful men, whose influence is exerted silently, though not less powerfully, by example. The actions of such men, are the secret impulses which operate on society, and their memorials may frequently be read, in the lives of others, in the formation of whose characters they may have been instrumental, by the deep impressions which the remembrance of exalted virtue always makes upon
A list of some of William Sewel's other writings is contained in Watt's • Bibliotheca Britannica,' 4 vols. quario, Edinburgh, 1824 : vide Vol. II. p. 817. As several of thein are of a local character, it seems un necessary to burthen the attention of the general reader with a recapitulation here.
10:1. account fixes the date of his birth in 1631, and that of his death in 1720; but several collateral circumstances, induce us to believe it is incorrect, or at least that the subject is involved in too much obscurty, to speak of with any degree of certainty,