Captivity Waite

“I never think or speak of the ‘New England Primer’ that I do not recall Captivity Waite, for it was Captivity who introduced me to the Primer that day in the springtime of sixty-three years ago. She was of my age, a bright, pretty girl – a very pretty, an exceptionally pretty girl, as girls go. We belonged to the same Sunday-school class. I remember that upon this particular day she brought me a russet apple. It was she who discovered the Primer in the mahogany case, and what was not our joy as we turned over the tiny pages together and feasted our eyes upon the vivid pictures and perused the absorbingly interesting text! What wonder that together we wept tears of sympathy at the harrowing recital of the fate of John Rogers!

“Even at this remote date I cannot recall that experience with Captivity, involving as it did the wood-cut representing the unfortunate Rogers standing in an impossible bonfire and being consumed thereby in the presence of his wife and their numerous progeny, strung along in a pitiful line across the picture for artistic effect – even now, I say, I cannot contemplate that experience and that wood-cut without feeling lumpy in my throat and moist about my eyes.

“How lasting are the impressions made upon the youthful mind!… still with many a sympathetic shudder and tingle do I recall Captivity’s overpowering sense of horror, and mine, as we lingered long over the portraitures of Timothy flying from Sin…

“Captivity Waite never approved of my fondness for fairy literature… When it came to fiction involving witches, ogres, and flubdubs, that was too much for Captivity, and the spirit of the little Puritan revolted.

“Captivity’s ancestors (both paternal and maternal) were, in the palmy colonial times, as abject slaves to superstition as could well be imagined. The Waites of Salem were famous persecutors of witches, and Sinai Higginbotham (Captivity’s great-great- grandfather on her mother’s side of the family) was Cotton Mather’s boon companion, and rode around the gallows with that zealous theologian on that memorable occasion when five young women were hanged at Danvers upon the charge of having tormented little children with their damnable arts of witchcraft…

“I have thought of Captivity Waite a great many times, and I have not unfrequently wondered what might have been but for that book of fairy tales which my Uncle Cephas sent me.”

Eugene Field, The Love Affairs Of A Bibliomaniac (1896)

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