Description

    First Edition of John Webster's Landmark Denial of the Existence of Witchcraft

    John Webster. The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft. Wherein is affirmed that there are many sorts of Deceivers and Imposters. And Divers persons under a passive Delusion of Melancholy and Fancy... London: J[onas] M[oore], 1677. First edition. Folio. ¹4, a-2Y4. [2Y4 blank, present.] [1], [15], 346, [4] pages. Contemporary blind paneled calf, rebacked, title gilt on black leather label, some rubbing to spine, corners rubbed; edges red; endpapers renewed, bookplate of Mountgarret, imprimatur leaf backed with chip off outer upper corner, title-page soiled with tears (some with old patches); occasional stains and minor foxing. Still, a very good copy. From the Krown & Spellman Collection.
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    "Webster's last work was The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (1677), a criticism of the traditional demonology. It is apparent that material for it had been collected for several decades and the work was completed by 1674, but initially it failed to gain an imprimatur, apparently because of opposition from the ecclesiastical authorities... The work, which opens with a vindication of freedom in philosophical matters, is aimed at answering the arguments in favour of the existence of witchcraft held by Meric Casaubon and by Joseph Glanvill. Although he denied that demons have a pure spiritual nature, Webster stated that men can only have mental, not physical, contact with the Devil. He maintains that what is commonly taken as a sign of possession is to be imputed to melancholy, imposture, or ignorance. Having denied the Devil's capacity to intervene in the natural world, Webster engages in a vindication of natural magic, which is largely indebted to Van Helmont's arguments." (Oxford DNB).

    Wing W1230. ESTC r12517. Caillet 11366. Coumont W11.1. Mellon 133. Hunter Macalpine 209-211. Throndike VIII, 575-580. Kittridge 343-350. Kernot 1677. Goodell 1916. Sepher 4330.

    Webster, John. The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft. Wherein is affirmed that there are many sorts of Deceivers and Imposters. And Divers persons under a passive Delusion of Melancholy and Fancy. But there is a Corporeal League made betwixt the Devil and the Witch, Or that he sucks on the Witch's Body, has Carnal Copulation, or that Witches are turned into Cats, Dogs, raise Tempests, or the like, is utterly denied and disproved, Whereunto is also handled, The Existence of Angels and Spirits, the truth of Apparitions, the Nature of Astral and Sydereal Spirits, the force of Charms, and Philters; with other abstruse matters. London: J[onas] M[oore], 1677. Folio. ¹4, a-2Y4. [2Y4 blank, present.] [1],[15], 346,[4]p. Contemp. blind paneled calf, rebacked, title gilt on black leather label, some rubbing to spine, corners rubbed; edges red; endpapers renewed, bookplate of Mountgarret, imprimatur leaf backed with chip off outer upper corner, t.p. soiled with tears (some with old patches); occ. stains and minor foxing. First Edition. Webster, John (1611Ð1682), schoolmaster, physician and polemicist.
    "The reformed universities, according to Webster, had to promote experimental and utilitarian learning, which should include alchemy and natural magic, which he vindicated against the impostors' misuse. His philosophical views, as expressed in his project of reform, are eclectic: besides Baconianism and Helmontian iatrochemistry, he also supported the theosophy of Fludd and Boehme, and the atomism of Digby and Gassendi. Along with Van Helmont, he attacked the Aristotelians' overestimate of human reason and stressed the role of divine illumination as the foundation of true learning...
    Webster's last work was The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (1677), a criticism of the traditional demonology. It is apparent that material for it had been collected for several decades and the work was completed by 1674, but initially it failed to gain an imprimatur, apparently because of opposition from the ecclesiastical authorities. Webster had asked for the support of his friend and correspondent Martin Lister, to whom he sent a draft of the work in 1674. He also sent a copy to the Royal Society, which was forwarded by Oldenburg to Hooke, who read it on 19 March 1675. In the event, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft was published in 1677 with the imprimatur of the society's vice-president, Sir Jonas Moore, dated 29 June 1676, and was dedicated to the justices of the peace in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The work, which opens with a vindication of freedom in philosophical matters, is aimed at answering the arguments in favour of the existence of witchcraft held by Meric Casaubon and by Joseph Glanvill. Although he denied that demons have a pure spiritual nature, Webster stated that men can only have mental, not physical, contact with the Devil. He maintains that what is commonly taken as a sign of possession is to be imputed to melancholy, imposture, or ignorance. Having denied the Devil's capacity to intervene in the natural world, Webster engages in a vindication of natural magic, which is largely indebted to Van Helmont's arguments. The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft was attacked by Glanvill and by Henry More (Sadducismus triumphatus É with a Letter of Dr. H. More, 1681), who asserted the real existence of witches. Webster's demonological views were also attacked by Benjamin Camfield, a Leicester cleric, who accused him of denying the existence of spiritual substances (A Theological Discourse É also an Appendix Containing some Reflexions upon Mr. Websters Displaying É, 1678). [Oxford DNB] Wing W1230. ESTC r12517. Caillet 11366. Coumont W11.1. Mellon 133. Hunter Macalpine 209-11. Throndike VIII, 575-80. Kittridge 343-50. Kernot 1677. Goodell 1916. Sepher 4330. Occult. Witchcraft. Rosicrucian. Mysticism. philosophy. Magic. Astrology.



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    October, 2014
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