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The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft.

Wherein is affirmed that there are many sorts of Deceivers and Impostors, and Divers persons under a passive Delusion of Melancholy and Fancy. But that there is a Corporeal League made betwixt the Devil and the Witch, Or that he sucks on the Witches Body, has Carnal Copulation, or that Witches are turned into Cats, Dogs, raise Tempests, or the like, is utterly denied and disproved.

Stock Code 108500

London, Printed by J.M. [i.e. John Martyn], 1677

Original price $9,331.00 - Original price $9,331.00
Original price
$9,331.00 - $9,331.00
Current price
The first edition of John Webster's (1611-1682) masterful denunciation of traditional demonology.

The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft sought to explain in natural terms the phenomenon which had gripped European society over the course of the early modern age, resulting in the deaths of approximately 50,000 men and, primarily, women. A 'crotchety Yorkshire surgeon-parson' (Trevor-Roper), Webster found something wanting in the evidence put forward by his Royal Society contemporaries Meric Casaubon and Joseph Glanvill as proof of witch-belief. To the irascible Yorkshireman, supposed signs of demonic possession were really attributable to the very human qualities of melancholy and ignorance. In turn, The Displaying was attacked by Glanvill and Benjamin Camfield, who accused Webster of denying the existence of spiritual substances.

Webster at first struggled to find a printer for his work, which the ecclesiastical authorities refused to license in 1674. Unusually, The Royal Society took the step of permitting Webster the use of their imprimatur, a power they had first been granted in their charter of 1662. This made The Displaying the only work of its day touching upon this 'dark and mysterious subject' (Introduction) to be licensed by the scientific institution in the very period when the witch craze was still in full effect.

With provenance for Alexander Campbell, 2nd earl of Marchmont (1675-1740), a Scottish unionist and patron of the Foundling Hospital established in 1739. His father, the 1st earl, was named commissioner in the trial of Henry Wilson for witchcraft in April 1670.

First edition; folio (30 x 20 cm); armorial bookplate to front pastedown, old library label to front free endpaper, imprimatur for The Royal Society, stain to gutter head from B1 to N1 and 2N1 to 2X2, B3 and B4 loose at gutter head, small hole in Y1 (0.5 x 1 cm), binder's corner turn at 2G3; re-backed calf, contrasting morocco title-piece in gilt, corners repaired, extremities lightly rubbed; [16], 346, [6]pp.

Provenance: Sir Alexander Campbell (bookplate); Robert Lenkiewicz's copy (cf. Sotheby's November 2003).


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