Early English Books on Witchcraft and Demonology

Weiser Antiquarian Books Catalogue #119 is a collection of “Early English Books on Witchcraft and Demonology. From the Library of Dr. Michael Coleman.” and may be of interest.

Welcome to this, the one hundred and nineteenth of our on-line catalogues. The catalogue comprises a selection of sixty rare books relating to Witchcraft and Demonology, published in Britain between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries. All are from the collection of the late Dr. Michael Coleman, an English scientist who was also an avid book-collector with a life-long interest in Psychical Research (see further the short biography of him which follows below). The works on Witchcraft formed a very special sub-section of Dr. Coleman’s library, and given his great interest in Psychical Research it is easy to see why they were of such interest to him. Not only did they chronicle – often for the first time – many of the then-popular beliefs in the occult and supernatural, but those published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (in particular) also played a vital part in the great clash between those who accepted claims of the existence of Demonic Witchcraft and supported the Witch Hunts, and those who challenged those beliefs. In many ways the arguments and investigations that the various authors undertook to prove their respective hypotheses foreshadowed the discussions and inquiries made by Psychical Researchers in more recent centuries, although with an urgency born of the knowledge that lives quite literally hinged on the outcome of these early debates.

Whilst small in quantity, the books listed provide an extraordinarily good representation of early English-language literature on the subject. The oldest – and arguably the rarest – work listed is Ludwig Lavater’s Of Ghostes and Spirites (1572), one of the most important demonological studies of ghosts and spirits of the period and a work which Shakespeare is known to have scrutinised when looking for background detail for some of his plays. Famous works written to convince non-believers of the reality (and dangers) of witchcraft and the spirit world include Richard Baxter’s The Certainty of the Worlds of Spirits (1691); John Beaumont’s An Historical, Physiological and Theological Treatise of Spirits, Apparitions, Witchcrafts, and other Magical Practices (1705); Richard Bovet’s Pandæmonium, or, The Devil’s Cloyster (1684); Meric Casaubon’s A Treatise proving Spirits, Witches and Supernatural Operations (1672); Joseph Glanvill’s Saducismus Triumphatus (1681 & other editions); William Perkins’ A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft (1613); and two works by Richard Boulton that arguably represented the last major attempt to stem the tide of scepticism in Britain: A Compleat History of Magick, Sorcery and Witchcraft (2 Volumes: 1715 & 1716) and The Possibility and Reality of Magick, Sorcery, and Witchcraft, Demonstrated (1722). Those works that sought to challenge the credulity and infamy of the witch-baiters include Reginald Scot’s The Discovery of Witchcraft (Third Edition, 1665); John Webster’s The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (1677); and Francis Hutchinson’s Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft (1718), a work written as a direct refutation of the maunderings of Boulton.

The active interplay between the texts, with authors responding directly to each other’s challenges and philosophies, is one of the fascinating aspects of the books and pamphlets in the collection. This is particularly obvious in the case of the works that deal with contemporary events such as the trial of Jane Wenham, commonly – but perhaps erroneously – regarded as the last woman to be condemned for witchcraft in England, and those that deal with two individuals thought to be the victims of Demonic possession, George Lukins and Richard Dugdale (known respectively as “the Yatton Demoniack” and “the Surey Demoniack”).

A number of the works in the catalogue are of the utmost rarity: in a few instances we have been unable to trace a single other copy. In almost all cases the books are in a superb state of preservation. For nearly five decades Dr. Coleman was a customer of the renowned craft bookbinder and conservationist, Bernard C. Middleton, whose book “The Restoration Of Leather Bindings” is now regarded as the standard text on the subject. Any repairs or conservation measures that were necessary were carried out by Middleton, who also rebound those works that required it, sometimes in magnificently lavish craft bindings. [via]