The anatomie of sorcerie. VVherein the wicked impietie of charmers, inchanters, and such like, is discouered and confuted.

London, By Iohn Legatte, printer to the Uniuersitie of Cambridge. 1612.


FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. [iv], 103, [i]. A-N⁴, O². Roman letter, some Italic. Woodcut printer’s device on title, floriated woodcut initials, head and tail-pieces. Age yellowing, quires F-L browned at edges with some spotting. A good copy, in slightly later English speckled calf, covers double blind ruled to a panel design, large blind fleurons to outer corners, inner panel bordered with blind floral roll, rebacked circa 1900.

Extremely rare first edition of this most interesting and original English work on sorcery and bewitchment; an attempt to define what was meant by the term sorcery, by an otherwise unknown English writer. This was the his only publication. The present work differs from many of its contemporaries by not just defining sorcery, but suggesting methods for determining who is guilty of practicing “bewitchment”. It very much reflects, and helped concretise, views on sorcery that were being established in England and would continue throughout the century, as demonstrated in the witch-trials at Salem. Shakespeare certainly was aware of the general prevalence of these views which he adopted for the purpose of dramatic impression, particularly in the Tempest. “I would argue that ‘The Tempest’ registers its cultural anxieties about sorcery and the arts of the magicians and enchanters which are, for example, manifest in James Mason’s treatise, ‘the Anatomie of Sorcerie’, published in 1612, a year after the production of the ‘The Tempest’. Mason roundly condemns sorcerers as agents of the devil who conspire to counterfeit miracles. Magic is founded neither upon reason nor common sense, even though those that use it ‘seem to make and art of it’. Throughout the text Mason assumes that the grace of working miracles is a spiritual gift, counterfeited by magicians, witches, sorcerers, all of whom are instructed by the devil who, in return, offers ‘riches, honours, pleasure, health.’ Mason is, for example, emphatic about the work of the devil in calling off ‘rain, clouds, thunder’ and it is the devil’s ministers, the sorcerers, who use the same ‘outward meanes’ as the ‘servants of God have used in such like cases.’ The devil works such effects by natural means whereas true miracles are ‘effected by the divine power of God only’, and designed for ‘ the glory of God, and the edification of his Church’. The impossibility of differentiating between the true and the false is what contributed significantly to equivocal responses to magic since both, according to Mason, are a source of wonderment. Confronted with the problem, Mason’s only retort is to claim – with some qualification – that ‘it is more than probably that miracles are now ceased’. Peter Holland ‘Shakespeare Survey: Shakespeare, Origins and Originality’.

Mason remains an obscure figure perhaps in part because his work is exceptionally rare on the market. We have located only a single copy at auction since the 1930’s, The HV Jones copy in a modern binding which sold for the then princely sum of $290 in 1919.

ESTC S112409. STC 17615. Not in Caillet


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