An afternoon with Reginald Scot

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Ian Kendall » 05/30/03 03:57 PM

Hello all,

I've got another slightly self indulgent story for the board.

This afternoon I spent a happy hour reading through a first edition of Discoverie of Witchcraft. It was quite an experience, but it took some doing...

At the moment I have a contract to install a new email server for the National Library of Scotland. For those that do not know, the NLS is one of seven 'copyright' libraries in the country, and we have a copy of every book published in the UK (on my second day I saw a cataloguer reading a Pat Page book which made me smile...) After I was told this (I thought it was part of the lending 'City Library') I fired up the online catalogue and did a search on Scot, Reginald to see what popped up. Several hits, as it happened.

The first was his gardening book (honestly) which was published before Discoverie, and then six copies of the main book, the earliest of which was the 1880 edition, then the 1930, a few more and finally the 1972 Dover edition. Arse.

Still, I contented myself with the thought of one day reading the 1880 version and got back to some meaningful work.

This afternoon I happened to be in the Rare Books department briefing the staff on the imminent email server migration. One of the staff showed me a book on her desk that was published in 1750something which was a thrill to hold. Seeing my joy she went to a cupboard a pulled out a copy of Vita Christi from 1539! To an unashamed geek like me the opportuntiy to hold a book nearly 500 years old was amazing (an aside; one of my colleagues was in the Rare room a couple of years ago. He was given two large books to hold and was told we was carrying 14 million _pounds_ worth of the Gutenberg Bible. He put them down quickly but carefully)

While I was drooling over the Vita I mentioned Discoverie and was amazed that three people in the room, none of them a magician, knew the book. When Helen said 'we've got one of them' I went a bit pale. I told her that I had searched the database and the earliest version was 1880. Surprised, she fired up an online database called EEBO (Early English Books Online) and did a search on Scot. They had a listing for the 1584, but the earliest pictures were of the 1651 edition. We had a look anyway, and they have every page in the book scanned in, which can be saved or printed like any other web photo (unfortunately you have to pay for the database access. Arse.) Still, I had seen what Chris W would probably have put out :)

I felt the chase hotting up now, so I asked where there was a copy in the country. Helen opened another database called Eureka and found a list of copies, one of which was in the NLS! At this point I'm like a six year old at the circus, waiting for the clowns. Helen suggested we look at Catalogue 1, which is on Microfiche. She loaded up the page and found the copy. And it was in the same building! I scribbled down the shelf number and ran up three flights of stairs to the North Reading Room.

Slightly out of breath I handed to slip to the librarian and asked him to send the request to the bookfetchers. In a large place like this, there are several miles of books underground in large Stack Rooms. It takes 30 minutes to get a book from downstairs, two hours from the other building. I went to get some water and waited the half hour.

When I returned the first thing that struck me as I was handed the book was the size. It's tiny. Looking at the books on my shelf now I'd say it was a little bit smaller than Road Hustler, a bit bigger than my green Dover Bobo's, but about twice as thick. I suppose it would fit quite comfortably into a Topit (a thought that only fleetingly crossed my mind. Twenty seven times).

Since I was used to my 1995 edition it was a bit of a surprise, but there was more to come. Opening the cover with a gingerness that comes only from handling something you could not replace even if you sold your wife, kids, house, first edition Erdnase _and_ the Kenner book I was greeted with the Frontspiece which has the full title of the book (it takes up the whole page) with the owner's name, Robert Morgan 1604, handwritten in faded red ink. Below that a Latin phrase, In Otio Nuncum (I think, but I've long lost my ablity to translate Latin). (The page before has a Ex Libris hand written in large sript ascribing the book to what I think is the Scottish Advocate's Library (the fore runner to the NLS) but it was in Latin again. Arse).

The next few pages are letters from Scot to his cousin and a few other people. I confess I skipped over these pages in eagerness.

Shock two was the body of the book. It is set in very close Black Type, which is a very angular Gothic type script. The first letter of each chapter is illuminated, and added to the olde worlde spelling we all enjoyed reading in the reprints the book is incredibly hard to read.

The pages had obviously become damp at some point in the last four hundred years, and it was quite hard to turn the pages at times due to warping. Whomever invented spiral bound books gets a clap from me as this one certainly does not lie flat for easy reading.

The magic started around page 320 in this edition, and I waded through it squinting hard as I went (and I have 2020 vision). I think it helped that I had already read the text in Latin type on a bigger page. The pictures at the end of the chapter are the same as other editions, but obviously a lot smaller.

Time came to put it back, but I have it on reserve so I can go and have a look pretty much every day (the perks of staff :) ) I am told that next week I can take it to the Rare room where they have a digital camera and I can take some photos of the pages. (Remarkably, they offered to take it to reprographics and photocopy the book for me! I declined...) No matter how much I promised to bring it back on Monday they wouldn't let me borrow it for the weekend :(

I'm sorry if this has been long winded. This really made my week after feeling low since Monday. I'd be interested to hear if any other members have seen an original copy before (I know Ammar showed one on his Icebreakers video). If people are interested I could go onto Eureka and try to get a list of the copies that are in public collections. You'd need to apply for a reader's card in most cases, but it is worth it.

Thanks for indulging me for a bit,
Who is _still_ grinning, although my hands have stopped shaking...
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Postby Frank Yuen » 05/30/03 08:50 PM

Frontspiece which has the full title of the book (it takes up the whole page) with the owner's name, Robert Morgan 1604, handwritten in faded red ink.
Robert Morgan ... I've heard of him ... does a mean cups and balls. :D Seriously, thanks for sharing that Ian, a great story to say the least.

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Postby Guest » 05/30/03 10:10 PM

Whoops! Hit the wrong friggin' key. I was writing. Ian, that was an awesome story. I've never held anything that old in my life, unless of course you count the time I found "The Jokes and Patter of Carl Ballantine" in a library. That's just a joke folks. But seriously, What a thrill that must have been. I could almost smell the book your telling was so detailed. You are one lucky person and I envy your job. Not being a magical historian, I was wondering if you knew what some of the other "first" magick books ever published were? It would be fascinating to do some research into this subject. Imagine coming across an original copy of "Kartenkunste" ? Shivers. I love reading the Genii Edwin Dawes installment of "A Rich Cabinet of Magical Curiosites". There is definitely something magical about the history of conjuring and illusion. Maybe Max Maven or some other raconteur would be willing to take some time to publish such a tome and share it with the rest of us. Again Ian, thank you for sharing your most excellent tale of magical antiquity.

Postby Ian Kendall » 06/01/03 11:49 AM

Hello again,

There's another point I missed out the other night. If you have a copy of Discoverie turn to page 201 (in the Kaufman version, since it is a facsimilie I'm assuming the other versions have the same pagination, although it's page 320something in the original). The page shows the picture of the three knives and is entitled 'to thrust a bodkin into your head, and through your toong &c'. To the right of this picture is a sidenote which says 'the hethermost is the bodkin with the bowt, ye middlemost is the bodkin with the hollow shaft, the furthermost is the plain bodkin serving for shew'. Except that it is the closest knife that is the ungaffed one. This seemed strange to me at the time, until I saw the original page, and the side note is positioned on the _left_ of the page. This makes the furthermost bodkin the one for shew...

I'm going to spend more time with this book, and I hope to write it up in greater detail. In the meantime I'm told my dinner is ready so I will leave you once again.

Take care, Ian
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Postby Pete Biro » 06/01/03 04:01 PM

Great story mon ami... Not sure if it was Discoverie or a Dean, but a bloke phoned Byron Walkerk one day asking if it was true that he had a certain edition. Byron said yes. The gent asked if he could visit and look at it. Byron said, sure anytime...

A week or so later, oops, fortnight... the guv'nor called and set an appointment.

He showed up. Looked at the book for awhile, thanked Byron and said, I have to get back to the airport.

Byron didn't realize, but he flew in and out the same day... FROM LONDON.

Now there's a real collector!

Ian: Any way to search out the earliest reference to the Linking Rings?
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Postby Ian Kendall » 06/02/03 12:03 AM

Pete said:

Ian: Any way to search out the earliest reference to the Linking Rings?

This would be tough. Apart from reading through every book I'm not sure of any way to do a full text search on these books. I'm going to Rare Books today to photograph a few pages of Discoverie, and I'm going to have a damn good look for Jean Prevost's book while I'm there. The problem there is it is not an English book, so there might not be a copy (unless there is an EFBO archive somewhere!). I have a strangely burning desire to translate it to English...

If you know of any other very old books that describe magic in English I'll have a look for them and report back. I'm not an historian by any means so my knowledge is somewhat limited.

But I do have the tools :)

Take care, Ian
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Postby Ian Kendall » 06/02/03 03:28 PM

Another quick update; I've got some lovely photos of the first edition as well as some scans of the same pages in the 1651 version. Unfortunately I'm not allowed to show them to anyone. Arse.

It boils down to paying a fee to the NLS for permission to publish the images (50 quid a photo) but there is a provision to waive the fee it the publication is non profit. My plan is to wave my staff pass and haggle with the head of Rare books, and type up some findings into a PDF file that I can put on the web for download.

It's noteable that the 1651 edition is set in Roman type, and is therefore much easier to read. The page numbers are a wee bit different and the illustrations lack the fancy borders of the 1584 book. The position of the bodkin side bar mentioned above is the same though.

I've had no luck finding the Jean Prevost book. I looked under the English title as well as the French and I found a medical text book he wrote but nothing else. There is a big library in Paris so I'll drop them a line when I get a chance.

Does anyone know the name of the author of the 1612 book The Art of Juggling? It's proving hard to track down without more information.

Anyway, bedtime calls. If anyone would be interested in the PDF file it would be nice to get an idea. Drop me a line or tie a message to brick.

Take care, Ian
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 06/02/03 06:52 PM

Art of Juggling's author is S. Rid (I think).
Prevost has already been translated and published by Stephen Minch.
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Postby CHRIS » 06/02/03 07:54 PM

Originally posted by Ian Kendall:
Still, I had seen what Chris W would probably have put out :)
Ian, I do have an electronic version of the Discoverie. I just haven't yet offered it for sale. It is only a digital facsimile, since conversion is some heavy pain in the neck due to the latin and Elizabethan english.

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