"THIS KNOTTY AND THORNY SUBJECT OF WITCHES": HANDSOMELY BOUND LARGE-PAPER FIRST EDITION OF WEBSTER ON WITCHCRAFT, 1677—THE HOLMDEN-HUTH-MACKENZIE COPY
WEBSTER, John. The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft… London: J.M., 1677. Folio (14 by 9-1/2 inches), 19th-century full paneled calf gilt, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, raised bands, brown morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. $8500.
First edition, large-paper copy, of Webster's important treatise on witchcraft, which anticipates the modern psychological concept of the power of suggestion, handsomely bound by Ramage and with dignified chain of provenance, including the noted collections of Henry Huth and Compton Mackenzie.
Webster, a nonconformist preacher who left the pulpit to study metallurgy and medicine, wrote this "curious, learned and scarce work" (Kernot 10) as a response to Meric Casaubon, Joseph Glanvill and Henry More, clerics who "applied the proof of fact… to show the existence of spirit to an age that appeared to them overly attracted to mechanism and materialism" (Landau, 205). A mystic and astrologer himself, "Webster acknowledged the existence of witches and their ability to work evil, but only through 'meer natural means' and not by the aid of the Devil" (University of Glasgow, The Damned Art). "Webster showed it was unnecessary to postulate supernatural forces for the action even of charms and incantations, since their 'causality and efficiency is solely in the person imaginant and confident of receiving help'… An early recognition of psychological phenomena which in the later 19th century were studied as suggestibility and suggestion, especially under hypnosis" (Hunter & MacAlpine, 209). "Written with much piety, learning, acuteness and strength of argument" (Allibone, 2627). Bound with imprimatur leaf preceding title page. Wing W1230. Norman 2191. Osler 4202. OCEL I:157. Lowndes, 2864. Armorial bookplate (Richard Holmden). Small morocco-gilt collector's ticket of prominent English banker and bibliophile Henry Huth, noted for his especially strong collection of Shakespeare, early English literature and voyages of discovery. Decorative bookplates, including that of beloved Scottish author (Edward Montague Anthony) Compton Mackenzie, author of the celebrated and controversial Sinister Street (1913-14)—which Ford Madox Ford praised as "possibly a work of real genius" (DNB)—as well as over a hundred other works. Old catalog description tipped to front pastedown.
Interior generally fresh and clean. Minimal marginal loss to lower corner of leaf [E3], not affecting text. Small marginal hole to M1, paper repair to [N4]. Calf handsome, gilt tooling bright. A nearly fine copy with exceptional provenance.