by Diana Kennedy
This article was originally published in the August 2006 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
The following is an abstract from a letter to the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ of June 1812. The author is unknown signing himself as ‘A Friend to Accuracy’ it was written in response to a letter by William Sewell. William Sewell’s original letter was on the death of William Penn in 1696, the founder of Pennsylvania and was written in Latin and signed Gulielmus Sevelius of Amsterdam.
William Sewell was born about 1650 in Amsterdam, the son of Jacob Williamson Sewel a free citizen and surgeon of Amsterdam and Judilk Zinspenning. His Grandfather was William Sewel an Englishman of Kidderminster. William Sewel the grandfather was a Brownist who left England to enjoy more religious liberty in Holland and married a Dutch woman from Ultrecht.
His grandson William although instructed as a Quaker, did not have much schooling but was self taught. He learnt Latin, Greek, English, French and Dutch while throwing the shuttle in the loom, during his apprenticeship to a Stuff manufacturer. Later his income was derived from translating English into Low Dutch. He became the author of both English and Low Dutch dictionaries and wrote a ‘History of the People called Quakers’. His modest unassuming manner was said to have gained him the respect of Booksellers and literary men in Holland.
William died before 1726. He was noted as deceased in the editors prefix to the third edition of his dictionary in 1726. His son also called William was shipwrecked on his way to England, to attend a yearly meeting of the Religious Society. (The author doesn’t say whether this was before or after his father’s death.) His ship was wrecked in a storm at Texel and Sewell, a strong swimmer, undertook to save his friend, a young man. He had attached a strong rope to his friend, but when he reached the shore found his friend gone. It was said that he descended into melancholy and that ‘This melancholy had such an effect on his brain, that a settled gloom clouded his mental facilities during the whole of his life.’
Gentleman’s Magazine, June 1812, Vol LV 1785.
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