COTTA, John.

COTTA, John. The infallible true and assured witch: or, The second edition, of The tryall of witch-craft. Shewing the right and true methode of the discouerie:

London, Printed by I[ohn] L[egat] for Richard Higgenbotham, 1624


4to. pp. [xvi], 155, [i]. ¶4, A-V4, X1, without final errata leaf (absent from same copies eg. BL). “A reissue, with cancel title page, of: The triall of witch-craft, 1624”. ESTC. Roman letter, some Italic and Greek. Small typographical ornament on title, woodcut initials, typographical and woodcut headpieces, contemporary ink inscription to foot of ¶2 verso after ‘John Cotta’ noting “Physician of northamton”. Title trimmed at gutter and laid down, very slightly dusty, ¶2 verso with small repair to cut in blank margin, light age yellowing, a few headlines fractionally shaved. A good copy, crisp and clean in polished calf c1800, covers bordered with a single gilt rule, spine with raised bands, gilt ruled in compartments, green morocco label gilt lettered, edges and inner dentelles gilt ruled, marbled endpapers, all edges sprinkled blue.

Rare second edition, a reissue of the sheets of the first with a new title page, of this interesting work on witch-craft by the physician and author John Cotta. Cotta had written extensively about quack doctors, and exposed several, in his book ‘Ignorant Practisers of Physicke’ (1612) and spoke out eloquently and courageously against what he saw as abuses in medicine and against injustice. In this work on witches he focuses on the faulty methods used by those who attempted to prove the existence of witchcraft; Cotta was a physician, and his goal was not to refute popular beliefs in witches, but rather to use the debate as an opportunity to criticise contemporary scientific thinking. He “believed in the reality of witchcraft… and stressed the importance of medical training in detecting witches” (Norman). John Cotta clearly defines what constituted a witch in the seventeenth century: a person with magical ability. He makes a distinction between the “imposter…who pretendeth truth, but intendeth fallhood” and “the Witch” who does “strange and supernaturall workes,” in order to prosecute a witch, one had to differentiate the two. He begins his book by stating that these phenomena were beyond human knowledge, and that only by conjecture and inference is it possible to understand these events. He presents as evidence that evil spirits exist the standard classical history and biblical texts. He uses reason to dismiss the “water test” for witches, where a purported witch would be submerged in water, and if she had renounced her baptism and was a true witch, the water would reject her and she would float. Cotta did still agree with others like Reginald Scot that magic was clearly a factor in day-to-day life because many diseases displayed symptoms they could not understand, or did not respond to standard remedies. He asserted that eyewitness accounts were sufficient to charge a suspected witch with witchcraft. “By the accession of Charles I legal and religious opinion (on witches) had converged to a point of extreme wariness. … In 1616 physician John Cotta’s The Triall of Witch-Craft had embraced both law and medicine, and, like Perkins’s posthumous treatise of 1608, was dedicated to Sir Edward Coke. ‘It is true’, Cotta admitted, ‘that in the case of Witch-craft many things are very difficult, hidden, and infolded in mists and clouds, over-shadowing our reason and best understanding’; but by the time it was republished in 1625 (as The Infallible, True and Assured Witch), Cotta’s belief that witches could be identified using ‘sharper wits, exquisite sense, and awaked judgements’ seemed optimistic.” Malcolm Gaskill. ‘Witchcraft and Evidence in Early Modern England.’

A rare and most interesting work.

The errata was presumably added during the course of printing, so absent from the earliest copies off the press. ESTC S108833. STC (2nd ed.), 5837. Goodell 1780. Norman 520. Osler 2377. Wellcome 1636.

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