PETIT ALBERT Secrets merveilleux de la magie naturelle & cabalistique

Lyon, chez les héritiers de Beringos fratres à l'enseigne d'Agrippa, 1743


12 mo. pp. [xii], 252. * , A-K¹², L . 10 full page engraved esoteric plates. Roman letter some Italic. Title page in red and black, small woodcut ornament on title, woodcut headpieces, woodcut tables in text. Light age yellowing, quires I-K browned, the odd spot or mark. A very good copy in contemporary mottled calf, spine with gilt ruled raised bands, double gilt ruled in compartments, large tulip fleurons gilt at centres, edges gilt ruled, marbled endpapers, all edges red

A very good copy of this most popular and successful work on natural magic. The Little Albert is a so-called “magic” book, or Grimoire, perhaps inspired by the writings of St. Albert the Great. It was printed in France for the first time as early as 1668, and then reprinted on a continuous basis. Brought to the smallest villages in the saddlebags of ‘colporteurs’, it was a phenomenal publication success, despite, or perhaps because of, its sulphurous reputation. It is associated with a twin book, the Grand Albert, and often with an almanac which contained a useful calendar. It is a composite work, even heterogeneous, a bric-a-brac gathering of texts of unequal value written by (or attributed to) different authors, most anonymous. The Petit Albert, however, is neither a summary nor an abridged version of the Great Albert; it is a distinct text. It was enormously popular in France throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. A curious mixture of esoteric science and totally impractical superstition, it was for some time tolerated by the Church, with whose teachings it cohabited uneasily, but it was prized by ordinary people. The book is attributed, though probably spuriously, to Albert Le Grand, a 13th century Dominican monk, whose real name was Albrecht De Groot. He was a superb scholar, a philosopher and divine, mentor to Thomas Aquinas, whose apparent interests in the esoteric earned him a reputation as a mighty sorcerer amongst his contemporaries. It was not until the 19th century that the Petit Albert began to be frowned upon by the Catholic Church and had to be kept hidden, sometimes even underneath church altars in an effort to ‘bless’ them. Albert Le Grand is a saint, and it is likely that the association with him was deliberate, as a way of keeping the books tolerated if not approved by the Church. It owes a good deal of its more esoteric nature—discussions of talismans, mandrakes, and ‘elementals’ for instance—to pseudo-Paracelsus. There are recipes taken from the Italian philosopher Girolamo Cardano’s De Subtilitate of 1552, and Giacomo della Porta’s Magia naturalis of 1598, amongst others.

The Petit Albert offers tremendous insight into the minds of rural folk magic practitioners and provides an example of the then popular practice of publishing of books of secrets. It was a book that acted as a medium, in creating an occult atmosphere; the image of the magician or witch is almost always attended by the presence of the book of magic. It lends the practitioner the token of occult knowledge and power. Despite any claims made for the efficacy of such tomes, they nonetheless instilled a sense of wonder and mystery in those who owned them. As such a popular work, copies were read and used to disintegration and it is not common to find then in such good condition as this copy.

Ferguson 1, p. 17, Brunet I 139.

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