Letters on Demonology & Witchcraft by Sir Walter Scott

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John Murray, 1831. Full Leather binding, pocket-sized 6 " X 4.5 ", 396 pages. Rare Second Edition. Corners rubbed and worn, slight wear to cover, otherwise very attractive copy of a classic work.

'Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft Addressed to J. G. Lockhart,  was a study of witchcraft and the supernatural by Sir Walter Scott. A lifelong student of folklore, Scott was able to draw on a wide-ranging collection of primary and secondary sources. His book found many readers throughout the 19th century, and exercised a significant influence in promoting the Victorian vogue for Gothic and ghostly fiction. Though on first publication it met with mixed reviews, it is now recognised as a pioneering work of scientific anthropology, treating of its subject in an acute and analytical way which prefigures later scholarship on the subject, as well as presenting a highly readable collection of supernatural anecdotes.

In ill health following a stroke, Sir Walter Scott wrote Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft at the behest of his son-in-law, J. G. Lockhart, who worked for a publishing firm. Letters was written when educated society believed itself in enlightened times due to advances in modern science. Letters, however, revealed that all social classes still held beliefs in ghosts, witches, warlocks, fairies, elves, diabolism, the occult, and even werewolves. Sourcing from prior sixteenth- and seventeenth-century treatises on demonology along with contemporary accounts from England, Europe, and North America (Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi, for one), Scott's discourses on the psychological, religious, physical, and preternatural explanations for these beliefs are essential reading for acolytes of the dark and macabre; the letters dealing with witch hunts, trials (Letters Eight and Nine), and torture are morbidly compelling. Scott was neither fully pro-rational modernity nor totally anti-superstitious past, as his skepticism of one of the "new" sciences (skullology, as he calls it) is made clear in a private letter to a friend. Thus, Letters is both a personal and intellectual examination of conflicting belief systems, when popular science began to challenge superstition in earnest.

Howard P. Lovecraft described the work once as one of the best compendiums on European witchcraft. The frontispiece shows the "House of Major Weir," "The Bow" in Edinburgh.'