ALVERNUS, Guillelmus

De fide De legibus.

Augsburg, Günther Zainer, 1475.


FIRST EDITION fol. 139 ex 140 ll. lacking initial blank, unpaginated and unsigned [a9 b-o10], 43 lines plus headline to page, text in an elegant and unusual Gothicised Roman (type 95 reprod. BMC C15th vol II fasc. p.1), guide spaces, undecorated. Single, apparently dismissive, contemporary marginalium to prologue and marginal markings to table. Early ink smudge to one leaf. A fine, well-margined copy on thick paper, in good C19 polished calf by Mackenzie, spine and covers gilt ruled, a.e.r.

First and only early edition of one of the most important works of William of Auvergne, part of his monumental Magisterium divinale, an explanation of the whole natural world, composed about 1231-36. Divided into ten parts, and subdivided into chapters, this attractively produced volume covers i.a. reason, faith and love, the nature of error, belief and its meaning, the power of faith and miracles, the dangers of credulity, heresy, and demonology, the power of the intellect and natural virture, the errors of the Jews, the dangers of transvestism, superstition, and magic, cults and demons, the errors of Islam (especially in relation to astrology and sex) the cause of ‘idolatories’ such as witchcraft, conjuring, divination, necromancy, elementalism, and other idols and rites and sacrifices. Thorndike (cit. inf.) devotes an entire chapter to William “whose works present an unexpectedly detailed picture of the magic and supersition of the time. He is well acquainted with the occult literature and the natural philosophy of the day and has much to say of magic, demons, occult virtue, divination and astrology. Finally he also gives considerable information concerning what we may call the school of natural magic and experiment”. Although not free from all the superstitions of his time William here makes clear the distinction between natural and black magic and refutes the power of demons over nature or of the stars over human will. William was in fact very well read in Arabic science and Pseudo-Solomonic esoterica, and acquainted with Hermetic philosophy. He has been called “the first great scholastic, setting the stage for Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, and their disciples. Albertus and Alexander were at Paris with him, as was Roger Bacon”, DSB cit inf.

BMC II 323. GW 11863. Goff G711. Hain 8317. Thorndike vol II pp 219-20, 279-81 and chapter lii. Cantamessa, No. 248 ter. Not in Caillet. cf. DSB XIV pp 388-89.


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GERSON, Johannes


Opera: Inuentarium eorum que in operibus Gersonis continentur (with) Prima pars operum Oohannis Gerson.

Nürnberg, Georg Stuchs, 1489.


4to. Two parts in one. 52 unnumbered leaves, A–E8, F12, 240 unnumbered leaves, in double column, a–r8, f8, s-u8, v, w, x-z8, ⁊8, ς8, ξ8, ϑ8. Gothic letter. Capitals supplied in red and blue, some with flourishes, superb full page woodcut attributed to Albrecht Dürer, of the author as pilgrim on verso of both titles, large painted initial I in blue with white pen-work on liquid gold ground, with green and red borders and blue and red flourishes with yellow pen-work, (recto of A2) leather tab on second title. Light age yellowing, rare marginal thumb marks or stains, small worm trail in blank inner margin of two quires, small water stain at blank inner and upper margin of first few leaves, a little more extensive at end. A very good copy, crisp and clean on thick high quality paper, with good margins, and strong impressions of the woodcuts, in a lovely contemporary South German binding of deerskin over thick wooden boards, covers triple blind ruled to a panel design, upper cover with outer panel of repeated floral blind tools with author and title stamped at head, central panel filled with curved branches and floral tools, lower cover with floral tools to outer panel, central panel with four diagonal compartments each with a blind-stamped ‘pierced heart’ tool, spine with three blind ruled raised bands, floral tools blind-stamped in compartments, brass catches stamped with initials IGU and hound, lacking clasps and central bosses, head and tail of spine defective exposing stitching, extremities worn, rubbed.

A lovely copy of the first book of the fourth edition of Jean Gerson’s works, edited by Peter Schott and Johann Geiler von Kaysersberg, bound with the most useful, and often missing, index to the complete works. The beautiful woodcut, repeated on both titles, has been attributed to A. Durer, when he was still an apprentice, by W.L. Strauss, ‘Albrecht Durer Woodcuts and Woodstocks’, New York 1980. Durer certainly produced, at a later date, another more elaborate version of this image, with exactly the same composition. Gerson is often portrayed as a pilgrim as he was forced to flee France after the Council of Constance to Rattenberg in Tyrol.

Jean Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris, was one of the most influential theologians of the fifteenth century. He worked to resolve the Great Schism and played an important role at the Council of Constance, where he influenced the decisions concerning the fate of the Hussites. His extensive writings on ecclesiology, reform, pastoral care and mysticism were popular during the later Middle Ages and were frequently printed during the second half of the fifteenth century, both as individual treatises and in collected editions.

This first volume contains some of his most important work, especially his ‘De unitate Ecclesiae,’ and the work in which Gerson set down his most mature reflections on the conciliar question, the ‘Tractatus de potestate ecclesiastica et origine juris et legum’, a treatise on ecclesiastical power and on the origin of right and laws. “the common opinion on Gerson, established by Tierney, argues that he established a modern theory of natural rights in connection with conciliarism,” Gladden J. Pappin. The volume also includes most of his works concerning magic, astrology, and visions such as the important and hugely influential treatises ‘Trilogium Astrologie theologistate,’ ‘De libris astrologicis non tolerandis,’ ‘De Probatione Spirituum,’ ‘De distinctione verarum visionum a falsis,’ and ‘De erroribus circa artem magicam’ together with his essay against the sect of the Flagellants.

Gerson explicitly lamented at the beginning of ‘De erroribus circa artem magicam’ that superstitious observances in Europe were growing ever more prevalent, and in 1398 the theological faculty of the university at Paris issued a decree condemning twenty-eight articles of magical arts and sorcery. Gerson then produced these several brief works criticizing various forms of superstition and magic. To the first of these, ‘De erroribus circa artem magicam’ 1402, half of which is devoted to questions of demonic existence and power, he appended the list of the 1398 condemnations, which he had helped orchestrate. He also includes the complete text of the confession of ‘Jean de Bar’, who was accused of necromancy, and condemned to death. His treatise, ‘De Distinctione Verarum Visionum a Falsis’, dealt with ‘discretione spirituum’ (“the discernment of spirits”) and sought to lay out methods for determining whether a mystical vision was true or false, orthodox or heretical, inspired by God or by the Devil.

At the Council of Constance, in 1415, he was called on to help decide whether or not Bridget of Sweden’s visions were authentic. He felt they were not and wrote another treatise, ‘De Probatione Spirituum,’ which set out principles and procedures for distinguishing good spirits from evil ones in visions. He was also consulted by Charles VII on Jeanne d’Arcs visions. The charming South German binding is very similar in design and in its tools to one in Henry Davis Gift, Vol. II 325, though produced on a larger scale. A lovely copy of this important and beautifully produced incunable.

Not in BMC. ISTC ig00188000. GW10716. Goff G188. HC 7623. Polain(B) 1592. Bod-inc G-087.


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PEUCER, Caspar

Commentarius de Praecipuis Divinationum Generibus…

Frankfurt, apud Andrae Wecheli heredes, Claudium Marnium, & Ioan. Aubrium, 1593.


8vo. pp [xxxii] 738 [l]. Roman, Italic and Greek letter, historiated woodcut initials, head- and tail-pieces, printer’s device of unicorn with cornucopia on tp. and verso of last, two fold-out synoptic tables after preface, faded contemp MS ex libris at foot of t.p. of George Lindner. Slight age yellowing, a crisp and clean copy, contemp vellum over boards, blind ruled compartments on spine with title in ink, remains of ties, title and author inked on foreedge, all edges blue.

Last edition published before Peucer’s death, with a new, lengthy preface by the author. Going through four previous Latin editions, and later translated to French, “it seems to have been the most influential of his numerous writings which were concerned with the varied fields of medicine, astronomy, mathematics, natural history, and psychology”, (Thorndike VI p. 493). On the whole the work approves of divination in natural circumstances – reading dreams, for instance, or the stars, but agrees with the Bible in condemning certain branches of divination related to demons and witchcraft. Peucer’s bias is unflinchingly Protestant, denying the possibility of Miracles, and he attributing the successfulness of relics and invocations of saints to demons rather than divinity. “After discussing divination in general, he turns to oracles and theomancy, then to magic – which he thus incorrectly implies is a variety of divination, whereas the opposite is true – then to divination from entrails, to augury and aruspicina, to lot-casting under which he puts geomancy and divining from names and numbers and to dreams and their interpretation. Next he considers medical prognostications, meteorology and weather prediction, physiognomy and chiromancy, astrology, and last prodigies and portents” (Thorndike VI p. 495). He is highly suspicious of Alchemy as a purely devilish art on the one hand, but on the other entirely approving of Astrology – which he himself put to practice and considered essential to the study of medicine.

Casper Peucer (1525 – 1602) was a prominent physician and scholar who studied with Melanchthon (and married his daughter) at the University of Wittenberg where he was appointed in turn professor of philosophy, mathematics, and medicine – his pupil John Garcaeus called Peucer the “most celebrated professor of mathematics in this academy”. Peucer’s religious views were influenced by his close relationship with Melanchthon, which deviated from the local Lutheranism in its Calvinist colourings, and when Melanchthon died in 1560 Peucer became a prominent religious authority. Although he climbed the academic ranks quickly, and gained appointment as physician to Augustus I, Elector of Saxony,  his “Crypto-Calvinist” beliefs were his downfall. In 1574, letters discovered by his patron that expressed a desire to convert Augustus to Calvinism led to a twelve year imprisonment in Königstein Fortress, an experience he talks about at length in the introduction to the present work. After his release from prison in 1586, he became physician to the duke of Anhalf, where he remained until his death in 1602.

Adams P 934. Wellcome I 4970. Cantamessa II 3440. Hozeau & Lancaster II 4860. Thorndike VI 493-502.


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SCOT, Reginald

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

London, William Brome, 1584.


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.


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