Samuel Sewall through Vernon Parrington (1)

August 30, 2006

Excerpts of Vernon L. Parrington on Samuel Sewall in Main Currents in American Thought (1927):

“He was at home in the narrow round of routine, but for bold speculation he reveals the incapacity of the practical soul. His interests were few; his ready curiosity was that of the uncreative mind, concerning itself with persons and happenings rather than with ideas…The views which he upheld vigorously were little more than prejudices. Of the several economic questions which engaged the attention of the Council during his years of service, the most insistent was the question of issuing bills of credit to supplement the scanty currency…He vigorously opposed every issue, from the conviction that the honest money was hard money, even going so far as to prefer barter to bills.  Nowhere does he reveal any intelligenct grasp of economics of the problem, nor was he aware that his judgement might have been influenced by his private interests as a money lender…

“A man so cautious by nature, and with so large a stake in the existing order, could not fail to be a conservative, content with a world that justified itself by the propensity which it brought him…

“Sewall enjoyed in his lifetime the repute of a scholar. He was Latinist enough to justify his Harvard degree of Master of Arts; he read a great deal, and wrote and published books. But he seems to have cared nothing for pure literature, and was unacquainted with the English classics. His intellectual interest was in things either occult or inconsequential. Biblical prophecy was his favorite study, and his most ambitious work, Phaenomena Quaedam Apocolyptica, essayed to prove that America was to be the final “rendezvous of Gog and Magog.”

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