1581 Les Trois Livres des Apparitions des Esprits... (De Spectris), Ludwig Lavater. With 1st appearance of Bref Discourse... de Magie, Bodin


Fittingly well-used and bound 1581 vernacular French translation of the popular Lavater work on spirits, De Spectris; this edition was translated/edited for a broader and less-erudite audience. It also includes the first appearance of a discussion of witchcraft and magic, Un Brief Discours Sur Le Fait de la Magie..., appended to the rear of the work.

About the Work -

In 1569 the Protestant theologian Ludwig Lavater published a theological work on spirits titled "De Spectris...".

"As a Protestant, Lavater rejected the idea of Purgatory (an intermediary place where souls of the newly dead that are destined for heaven go, until they are pure enough to ascend) as an outdated Catholic concept. This greatly complicated the idea of ‘ghosts’, often thought to be visitations by human souls that were not at rest, such as those who died unbaptized or in tragic or violent circumstances. Without Purgatory, ghosts could only be visitations from Heaven or Hell. Lavater felt they were more likely to have come from Hell, and this meant that many ghosts were demonic and their requests dangerous: they could be trying to lure humans into damnation, for example by persuading them to commit murder or suicide." - The British Library, web posting Of Ghosts and Spirits...

Lavater's work met with great success and was translated into German and French shortly thereafter. This Zurich edition of 1581 is unique, including the first appearance of an added gathering, with its own pagination, discussing the power of Magicians and Sorcerers labelled "Bref disourse ajoute aux livres precedens sur le fait de Magie...", roughly translated, "Brief speech added to the previous books on the fact of magic and what power magicians and sorcerers can have to invoke, compare and subjugate spirits".

The title page of the first page states that the second work was taken from Jean Bodin's Demonomanie (Demon-mania), among others; Bodin's work was first printed in 1580 and proposed the concept of "pact witchcraft" based on a deal with the devil.

Also, by 1581 popular cultural was invading Lavater's theology. The French text employed in 1581, by the printer Zurich printer des Marecz, did not follow all of Lavater's word usage, for example, rhetorical passages ("humanist buzzwords") were changed in the translation from Latin.

And, the first chapter of De Spectris, a lexicon of Latin spirit words, was deleted and replaced with a translator's discussion of the difficulty of translating from Latin to French. The Oxford scholar Timothy Chesters (Ghost Stories in Late Renaissance France, 2011, page 70) argues, "the translator, the publishers - perhaps even Lavater himself - may have imagined a less erudite readership for the French vernacular edition".

Bibliographic Details -

Universal Short Title Catalogue number 1857; 21 copies, five in the U.S. (Indiana, Houghton, Newberry, Cornell, New York Public).

Worldcat, OCLC numbers 492487219 and 716554446.

Pettegree, Walsby and Wilkinson - 33249

Adams L 302

Physical Attributes -

Measures approx. 14.5 x 9 x 2 cm, signed in 8. Limp vellum binding, title on board and spine in manuscript.

An initial was added to the top edge of the text block.

Some decorated initials and headpieces.

Pages - xvi, 1-287, [17], 16

Collation - *8, A-T8, a8

Condition -

See pictures. Very well-worn condition, but complete and somewhat befitting the work. Vellum binding appears to be upside down; I think the book was rebound at some point and they put the vellum on inverted. The title of the book appears on the rear board, upside down, in manuscript. Other manuscript notes on boards, I can't tell if they relate to the work, but seem written by the same hand. An abbreviation is found at the top edge, ("N.S."?). Ink spot on front board. Text block is toned throughout with thumbing throughout. Many pages are dog-eared. Occasional ink stains, fox spots, etc. Near the gutter are several small holes, probably stab bound before it was rebound at some point. "1581" written at base of title page. Some very small worming in bottom gutter. Last page with 2 cm hole in fore-edge margin, some damage to notes in margin.

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