Most Honorable Salem Town Magistrates

Posted on October 29, 2012

51


witch burning

(Click here to listen to Paul perform the audio version)

October 31, 1692

Most Honorable Salem Town Magistrates,

I desireth not to grumble and air thy soiled breeches in public, and it paineth me to bring considerations to the faults of the Salem Town magistrates, but the inefficiency of the public witch-burnings driveth me up the wall!

Imaginest thou the following scene: My family arriveth at the public square upon the proclaimed hour, thy guards bringeth the witch to the fore, the crowd beginneth to jeer and throweth the foulest rotten tomatoes, and just as the throng toucheth upon its utmost passion, nothing happeneth. Thou canst not conceive the spirit of deflation that washeth over the masses when the executioner spendeth two hours laboring to build a sturdy stake and then gathering kindling for the burning. Even the witch looketh bored!

Why wast not the burning stake assembled and the firewood collected one day prior, that the spectators might not be subjected to the buffeting of the frozen wind for the length of two hours?

Upon my life, by the time the town clock didst chime the passage of but one of those two wretched hours, the majority of the frozen throngs didst express a longing to trade lots with the witch, that the warm embrace of the flames might offer reprieve from the cold, followed by the promise of perpetuity in the comparably pleasant scorchings of hell.

No man or witch canst say I didst not my part in fixing the crowd’s consideration on the impending burning of the witch as I didst labor to distract them from the miserable cold. The moment the witch didst appear I didst shout, “Burnest thou her! Burnest thou the witch!” And wouldst thou believe the crowd didst begin to chant with me, perchance beholding me as a leader of jeers, or if thou willst, a sort of jeerleader?

And thus I didst strain to preserve their high spirits, racing around the circle, swinging my waistcoat above my head as I didst lead them in chants such as, “Casteth a spell, burneth in hell!” and “Those on a broom, the fire willst consume!” and the admittedly less successful, “Expecteth not benevolence if thou givest spectral evidence.”

But by the time the town clock didst chime the mere passing of one quarter of one hour, our voices didst grow hoarse in the frigid winter air and the crowd morale descended to the most humble depths.

My family and I didst wait the space of two hours and didst finally leave for the briefest of spells—no pun intendeth—to warm our hands over the blacksmith’s furnace, and wouldst thou believe my burden when we didst return to the square and the witch hadst already been consumed by the flames, wholly ruining our Saturday outing, besides depriving of us of our Sunday feast as all the finest rotten tomatoes hadst already been plucked from the frozen earth.

To maketh matters worse, my mother-in-law hadst chosen this weekend for her annual visit from Ipswich. As we didst depart the town square she didst remark in the most superior fashion, “How canst thou raise children in a township which taketh not witch-burning seriously? Why, in Ipswich we couldst burn three score witches in the time Salem Town gathers the kindling for one.” I shall never hear the end of it.

Again, I desireth not to air thy soiled breeches in public—either petticoat breeches or the new, fashionable Rhinegraves breeches my mother-in-law didst once see the devil wear in a dream, and I’m particularly cautious after my wife reminded me that the prior thirty-three soiled-breeches-airers were all burned for witchcraft, but allowest thou me to be a backseat witch-burner for a spell—pun intendeth. Couldst thou not assemble the stake and gather the kindling the day prior? Or if not, might we hold all subsequent witch-burnings indoors away from the icy wind, possibly inside the sanctuary of the church?

I am, Sir, your most humble and not-a-wizard servant,

Pauleth Johnsoneth

(click here to listen to Paul perform the audio version)

(Audio version written, performed, produced by Paul Johnson at DB Studios in Shanghai, China and is an excerpt from his upcoming comedy album. Follow this blog or enter your email in the box at the top right to receive updates on the album release date. The musical selection, Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens, can be downloaded for free at the Internet Archive)

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