Since I was back in Salem for the weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to feature another one of my Samuel Hall imprints this week. As I’ve mentioned previously, Hall was the first printer in my hometown of Salem and part of my goal as a collector is to add as many of his Salem publications (particularly from his 1768-1775 tenure in the town) to my bookcase. This was one of his pamphlets from the last few years of his first, pre-war time in Salem. It's sobering to think that all of the equipment on which this imprint was printed -- the presses, the tools, the type -- as well as any unsold copies of it still in the shop were all lost to the fire that destroyed Hall's building in 1774.
The half-title of this pamphlet reads:
Mr. Webster’s / Two / Discourses, / Upon / Infant-Baptism, / and the / Manner of Baptizing.
The text on the half-title is surrounded above and below by floral line device, not unlike that seen on Hall’s later imprints as well (though a bit more simple in design). There is an elegant brown pen inscription in the upper outside corner: S. Livermore (not a terribly common name in the period; this possibly may have been the famed legal writer and politician Samuel Livermore of New Hampshire). The only other evidence of readership (aside from smudges and wear) is a worn piece of an old newspaper used to mark a place between pages 18 and 19; I cannot, from the text, determine what paper the piece is from, or the date, but a reference to “American vessels” indicates that it was probably post-1776.
A Frankenstein-like stitching repair runs across the mid-page of the half-title. A similar repair using the same kind of white thread was done on pg. 31/2 down the entire length of the leaf. The only other major damage that affects the text is on the final leaf, which has become quite torn and folded from its exposure.
The full title of the pamphlet reads:
Young Children and Infants declared by Christ Members of his Gospel Church or Kingdom: And, therefore, to be visibly marked as such, like other Members, by Baptism. And, Plunging Not Necessary. Two Discourses, Delivered September 20th, 1772. To the West Congregation in Salisbury, and, Afterwards in several neighbouring Parishes. Published at the Desire of the Hearers.
By Samuel Webster, A. M. Pastor of a Church in Salisbury
Salem: Printed by Samuel and Ebenezer Hall. 1773.
In addition, the title-page includes two quotes from patristic commentators (Justin Martyr and Iraeneus) along with glossarial notes on their technical terms. The pamphlet was subsequently reprinted, with no alteration to the contents, by T. and J. Fleet of Boston in 1780.
As with nearly all pamphlets, it was never bound; instead it was stab-stitched through the face of the pages (binding involves sewing outward through the spine fold -- a fine, but important, distinction). Interestingly, the stab-stitching was added after the gatherings had been sewn through the face of the pages with a criss-cross pattern; after this was done, a brown piece of heavy paper was folded over the spine to protect it and then the stab-stitching was done through this piece of paper to hold it all together. I’ve never seen something like this before and I wonder if it was done by Hall or a later seller or owner.
The paper is a soft linen stock typical of the period, but quite foreign to the modern touch; it feels much more like cloth than paper. 3cm vertical chain lines run down the pages; there are no watermarks. The pages measure 14cm x 23cm; I say “approximately” because a good deal of bumping and chipping to the edges of the paper makes it difficult to say for certain. The contents are: [i], half-title and blank verso; [iii], full-title and blank verso; v-vi, Preface to the Reader; 7-54, the contents of the “Two Discourses” (not divided, but run together as one long essay).
As was typical with Hall’s imprints at this time, there are no running-titles; the header only provides the page number, centered and surrounded by parentheses (there are no errors in pagination). Its collation may be described as 4o: [A4]-G3: $1. The missing leaf of the final gathering is not odd and may have once been present as a blank for protecting the exposed text on the verso of G3. The catchwords across the sheets are: often | an | could | runs; | And | Con- [Consider]. With the exception of the final error, there are no errors in either these catchwords or those internal to the gatherings. The type is very clean and simple, showing no substantial damage or ostentatiousness; even the footnotes are all marked with a simple asterisk (a change from his later publications, in which he used a wide variety of symbols). There were no problems with distribution or alignment and only the occasional, very minor inking problems (such as the occasional double-register around page numbers).
The pamphlet’s subject was the contentious question of whether or not children and newborns should be baptized (as most Protestant faiths believed) or whether baptism could only be undertaken by an adult who was fully aware and able to make the choice to be baptized (the position of the Baptists). The schism was a pronounced one and a flood of literature on the subject swamps the shelves of theology libraries; it came to prominence as a problem for debate in the early years of the Reformation in Europe and spread rapidly as a core religious problem. Though there was actually a brief lull in the scope of the debate in the mid to late eighteenth century -- when Webster wrote and delivered his sermon -- it came back in force in the nineteenth century, particularly in the so-called Second Great Awakening in America.
Samuel Webster (1718-1796) was one of ten children of Samuel Webster Senior and Mary Kimball. He rose to prominence in the community of Salisbury and on December 24, 1766 he married Susanna Juell (Jewell) from the neighboring town of Amesbury. He held a masters degree by 1772 and a doctorate by 1792. Webster served as the pastor of the West Church of Salisbury for 55 years at the time of his death. The West Church (better known as the West Parish) had formed in 1716 when residents of the Rocky Hill area voted to split from the town’s only church and form their own (a move undertaken for political and tax-paying purposes as much as convenience or theology).
Webster was a highly prolific writer and published a number of his sermons through Samuel and Ebenezer Hall, including a sermon on “Ministers labourers” given at the First Congregational Church of Temple, New Hampshire on October 2, 1771. He also published sermons on a range of theological, social, and even military topics through Edes & Gill of Queen Street in Boston. Some of his more well-known publications in the period include An Evening’s Conversation Upon the Doctrine of Original Sin, Between a Minister and Three of His Neighbors Accidentally Met Together (Boston: Green & Russell, 1757) a critical retort to Danver pastor Peter Clark’s earlier scriptural exegesis in A Summer Morning’s Conversation (Boston: Edes & Gill, 1759). He also dabbled in natural history and early science -- especially geology -- publishing an article on an “oil-stone found at Salisbury” in the Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1783.
In his time, however, Webster was perhaps best known for his work and writing as both a supporter of the break from England and an early abolitionist. On July 14, 1774, on a day “set apart for fasting and prayer, on account of approaching public calamities”, he delivered to his congregation a pro-revolution sermon on “the misery and duty of an oppres’d and enslav’d people”, the print version of which became (after An Evening’s Conversation) his most frequently re-published text (Boston: Edes and Gill, 1774). In his widely-read Earnest Address to My Country on Slavery (1796), Webster republished a sermon he delivered to the Massachusetts legislature on May 28, 1777 (in the midst of the War; this was not the only time Webster was called upon to deliver a sermon to the Great and General Court). In his text, he urged that his fellow Americans, “for God’s sake, break every yoke and let these oppressed ones go free without delay -- let them taste the sweets of that liberty which we so highly prize and are so earnestly supplicating God and man to grant us: nay, which we claim as the natural right of every man” (37-8). It is little surprise that such a politically passionate, pro-revolution man of the cloth should chose to publish with Hall, who was a likewise politically passionate, pro-revolution man of the press.
In 1776, only a few short years after delivering his sermon on child baptism, Reverend Samuel had the chance to put his theories into practice. Twice. On August 19 of that year he performed the double-baptism for his newborn twin children: Betty and John.