Sunday, September 9, 2012

More from the Treatise of Specters (brrrr!)

I recently posted an entry from the Treatise of Specters at Innerpeffray Library, Scotland's oldest lending library. This book, printed in 1658, is a fascinating collection of supernatural anecdotes gathered from all sorts of different sources and collected in one volume by Thomas Bromhall. So far I have not been able to find an online text for this book so I thought I would make a project of transcribing some of the more interesting entries and posting them on my blog. It would probably take me years to transcribe the entire book (especially since I would have to work on it during Innerpeffray Library's opening hours) so I thought I would start with anything that struck me as particularly entertaining and see how I get on after that! I'd be very grateful for any feedback about which types of entry are most interesting and whether anyone wants to see more on a particular theme (the main ones are prophecies, the ways in which demons influence people, and witches!). I shall start with the title and introduction to the book.
                                                     Above: photograph of the frontispiece.

The full text of the title page reads as follows:

Treatise of Specters
With Dreams,
Prophecies, and
Cunning Delusions of the
DEVIL, to strengthen the Idolatory of
The GENTILES, and the Worshipping of Saints departed;
With the Doctrine of Purgatory.

A Work very seasonable, for discovering
the Impostures and Religious Cheats of these Times.

Collected out of sundry Authours of great Credit; And
delivered into English from their several Originals,
By T.B.

Whereunto is annexed,
A Learned TREATISE, confuting the
Opinions of the SADDUCES and EPICURES, (denying the
appearing of Angels and Devils to Men) with the Arguments
of those that deny that Angels and Devils can
assume Bodily shapes,
Written in FRENCH, And now rendred into ENGLISH,
With a Table to the whole Work.

Printed by John Streater, dwelling in Well-Yard, near the Hospital
of S. Bartholomews the Lesse, 1658.

NB I have copied the exact spelling, which differs from modern spelling sometimes. I love the 17th century use of capital letters and italics for emphasis! This title page is followed by an introductory letter by Thomas Bromhall to Lord Cholmley as his patron. Here is what it says:

Lord Cholmley, Lord Viscount Kell, & c.

My Lord,
I should in the first place (if possible) anticipate your wonder; when these rude Lines shall plainly salute you, Defender and Protector of their Innocencie: Since I, who have thus preposterously run them, am not so happy as to be known to Your Honour. I shall therefore humbly take leave to declare the grounds of this my presumption (for I dare not call it otherwise, unlesse by your permission). The first is, your unbounded Goodnesse, to which I am relatively obliged, and much acquainted by the frequent commemorations of my nearest Relation, whose Father had the happiness to live and die under the benevolent influence of Your honourable Service; And, by the Information of those whole expressions proceed from the dictates of their own Experience, find, That where You have once obliged any by Your incomparable benignity, Your favours flowed down infinitely to all Relations. The next is, The Worthiness of those Learned Authours, by whose Care and Industry these Examples were left for the use of future Ages: whose Ashes might justly rise up against me, if (being so unworthy to mention, much less to collect their Labours myself) I should not commend them to the Patronage of one most Noble and Ingenious: Nor do I conceive it the lightest consideration, That Your Lordship being acquainted with these Collections in their severall Originals, must necessarily (for the communicative quality inherent in all truly noble and generous dispositions) wish they were accommodated to the apprehensions of inferiour capacities.
I shall not trouble Your Honour with what Motives I had for exposing this work to publick View; Since these so much Saducean and Socinian Times, most loudly, proclaim an eminent necessity of utmost endeavours in this particular: And since it is the duty of all men, to study rather the Publick, than their own private, advantage.
This being a Stranger, needs the more Encouragement. Besides, being usher’d into this our English World by so unworthy a hand, must consequently participate of the weakness of my endeavours: But however defective, or exposed to injury, Your acceptance will abundantly supply, and your Patronage secure, it from the imputation or prejudice of any Momus,
Should I further question that invincible Courtesie which I hear every where extoll’d, I might thereby aggravate, instead of extenuating, my Presumption. Therefore I shall cease to trouble You further, but with this one request, That You will favourably interpret my boldness in subscribing myself,
My Lord,
Your Honours most humbly
devoted Servant,
Thomas Bromhall.

NB "Momus" is the personification of mockery or satire in Greek mythology, in case anyone was wondering! Again, I have reproduced the spelling and punctuation of the original text (Bromhall seems to have been inordinately fond of colons...). The letter is a very flowery way of saying that he hopes Lord Cholmley's support will help make his book a success and encourage people to receive it positively. It is probably one of the driest bits of the book so now that we have that behind us I'll post some of the spectral tales next! 


  1. I wish you every success in your endeavour, Helen. The most interesting extracts would be uncommon tales, ones with persuasive details and unusual situations.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! There are a lot of tales in here that are simply about people noticing that someone is a witch, but some of them have interesting details (such as the witch who scared people off with an appalling stink!) so I will look out for those.