The discoverie of witchcraft, wherein the lewde dealing of witches and witchmongers is notablie detected…

London, William Brome, 1584.

£57,500

FIRST EDITION. 4to in 8’s. pp. [xxviii] 352 [iv] 353-560 [xvi]. Black letter, Roman and Italic, with side-notes, woodcut historiated initials, head- and tail-pieces, 4 unnumbered pp. of full-page woodcut engravings between 352-353, 5 pp. of woodcut astrological diagrams on pp 397-401. Light age browning, t.p. slightly dusty and repaired at head with some loss to ornament, repairs to margins of a few ll. throughout with no loss to text, occasional light foxing, a good, clean copy in early c19  crushed morocco, covers gilt-stamped with arms of the Society of Writers to the Signet within panel triple-ruled in gilt with corner flourishes, spine in gilt with five raised bands, a.e.g.

FIRST AND ONLY EARLY EDITION of the definitive treatise denying the existence of witches, to such an extent that it is also considered the major source for early attitudes toward, and rituals of, witchcraft, citing no less than 212 authors as well as examples from the courts of law in England. Scot is as sharp as he is humane in his attack on “witchmongers” who seek “to pursue the poore, to accuse the simple, and to kill the innocent”, pointing out  how unreasonable it is to accuse vulnerable persons of having “power which onelie apperteineth to God”.  The first four books list the procedures of identifying witches and using torture to procure confession, found in the Malleus Malificarum as well as Jean Bodin’s work. Scot quotes heavily form his sources, and refutes them only after.  He suggests to his readers that they skip the next book, which discusses in detail the many “filthie and bawdie matters” that cling to belief in witchcraft, such as sex with the devil, “how maides hauing yellow haire are most comred with Incubus”, and including excerpts from Chaucer. Next, Scot attacks beliefs in transformation into animals, transportation by air, and control of the weather. References to the Book of Job in this section leads to lengthy discussion of witchcraft as mentioned throughout Scripture, working from the Old Testament to the pagan origins of augery and astrology. The twelfth book deals with the full gamut of charms and spells, from Hebrew to English, and book 13 follows up with an inventory of materials used in magic: animals (toads and cats), minerals, crystal balls, and more relevant to modern magicians, instructions on tying trick knots, every manner of juggling, how “to make one danse naked”, and how “to thurst a bodkin into your head without hurt” (these “trick” instruments including bodkins and knives are illustrated on the four unnumbered pages of woodcuts). The final portion, and the majority of the book, considers the art of conjuring devils and spirits, including woodcuts depicting the proper symbols and commands, used to command spirits, and cause or prevent demonic possession. This section also takes into account the history of exorcism, and the laws surrounding it, of the Catholic Church. The book ends with a  chapter-by-chapter summary of topics.

Reginald Scot (1538? – 1599) never seems to have taken a degree from Hart Hall, Oxford, where he studied law, and he spent his life instead managing his property in the countryside of Kent. He was the author of only two works,  both significant in their own right: the “Perfect Platform of a Hop-garden”, the first practical treatise of its kind in England, and this, the more celerated of the two. The Discoverie elicited several heated responses from George Gifford and Henry Perkins, and even Meric Casaubon later wrote against Scot. Copies of this edition are rare, however, because King James I, demanded them to be burnt upon his accession to the throne in 1603. While the book was well received on the continent and appeared in Dutch editions of 1609 and 1637, it was not printed in England again until 1651.

STC 21864. Caillet III 10061. Graesse p. 58. “Many copies were burnt by order of K. James I an author on the other side of the question…This learned and curious work, with which Shakespeare was evidently acquainted, is frequently quoted by Steevens, Malone, Douce, &c.” Lowndes VI 2221 Thorndike VI  p. 529. DNB XVII p. 1001. Not in Pforzheimer or Groiler.

L1356

Print This Item Print This Item