Hugh Selbourne's Copy of a Book by an Enlightened but Gullible Author, Taking Aim at Myths about Devils, Witches, and Related Issues


(London: Printed by J[onas] M[oore], 1677). 300 x 190 mm. (11 3/4 x 7 1/2"). 8 p.l. (initial imprimatur leaf tipped onto title page), 346 pp., [2] leaves. FIRST EDITION.

Contemporary calf, attractively rebacked to style and with new endpapers, flat spine divided into panels with floral centerpiece, red morocco label, turn-ins with Greek key roll (corners restored). Verso of title page and tail margin of H2 recto with small ink stamp of the Selbourne Library. Norman 847; Wing W-1230; Krivatsky 12612; Lowndes, p. 2864; ◆Lower cover with two-by-five-inch area of lost patina from insect activity, negligible patch of same on front board, a little spotting to leather, but the carefully restored binding solid and with its new spine lustrous and unworn. Contents a little foxed and slightly browned at edges, a4 with older marginal paper repair, B1 and L2 with archival repair to small rust hole (no loss), but a very satisfactory copy, generally clean and fresh internally, with nothing approaching a fatal condition issue.

This is the Selbourne copy of Webster's denunciation of those who attribute the symptoms of bewitchment to demons or other supernatural causes. The extended title tells us that this work affirms "that there are many sorts of deceivers and impostors, and divers persons under a passive delusion of melancholy and fancy," but Webster "utterly denie[s] and disprove[s] . . . that there is a corporeal league made betwixt the devil and the witch, or that he sucks on the witches body, has carnal copulation, or that witches are turned into cats [or] dogs, [or that they] raise tempests or the like." Other topics under discussion in this volume include "the existence of angels and spirits, the truth of apparitions, the nature of astral and sidereal spirits, the force of charms and philters, [and] other abstruse matter." Although he attacks Casaubon, Glanvill, and Henry More for the credulity displayed in their works on witchcraft, Webster (1610-82) shows himself in this work to be a wonderful mixture of the enlightened and the gullible. His chief argument here is that the works and signs so often attributed to bewitchment actually stem from natural, not diabolical or demonic, causes. But when he undertakes to explain himself by averring that witch-like actions could well be caused by the presence of frogs in the stomach (they get there when one eats an apple with frog eggs in it), his hypotheses seem nearly as unlikely as those put forward by the "demonographers and witchmongers" he denounces. Similarly, Webster, who indicates in this work that he is a doctor (he was also a clergyman and metallurgist), congratulates himself for curing his patients' epilepsy with proper medicines while at the same time indicating that he believes in the effectiveness of certain incantations or other uttered charms. Whatever fanciful notions he retains about the efficacy of natural magic, his attack on those who believe in witchcraft has genuine power and, in general, a sound intellectual foundation. Former owner Hugh Selbourne (1906-73) was a respected Manchester physician and a passionate bibliophile with a notable library strong in the sciences. He was the owner of virtually all of Boyle's works, and his care in choosing copies is reflected in the fact that his first printing of "The Sceptical Chymist" sold at Bonham's in 2015 for a remarkable £362,500.

Price: $8,500.00