In Search of John Denley

Phil and I have been corresponding back and forth about our project attempting to link the Complete Book of Magic Science with the Secret Grimoire of Turiel.

A central figure who keeps popping up is the London bookseller John Denley. Scholars of occultism will recognize him as the man who lent Francis Barrett many of the texts that he cribbed for his magnum opus The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer, and who then bought the plates from auction after Barrett didn’t even offer him a copy of his book in gratitude. He is also recognized as the bookseller D—- who is referred to at the beginning of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Zanoni:

It is possible that among my readers there may be a few not unacquainted with an old-book shop, existing some years since in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden… But there, perhaps, throughout all Europe, the curious might discover the most notable collection, ever amassed by an enthusiast, of the works of alchemist, cabalist, and astrologer. The owner had lavished a fortune in the purchase of unsalable treasures. But old D— did not desire to sell. It absolutely went to his heart when a customer entered his shop: he watched the movements of the presumptuous intruder with a vindictive glare; he fluttered around him with uneasy vigilance,—he frowned, he groaned, when profane hands dislodged his idols from their niches. If it were one of the favourite sultanas of his wizard harem that attracted you, and the price named were not sufficiently enormous, he would not unfrequently double the sum. Demur, and in brisk delight he snatched the venerable charmer from your hands; accede, and he became the picture of despair,—nor unfrequently, at the dead of night, would he knock at your door, and entreat you to sell him back, at your own terms, what you had so egregiously bought at his.

It’s uncertain how much of this was accurate and how much was Bulwer-Lytton’s known gift for hyperbole.

Further research has shown that Denley was no hermit, but instead was very much part of the local occult scene. He also published the works of Robert Cross Smith, who would later publish a series of popular astrological almanacs under the name “Raphael.” He also formed an astrologer’s aid society locally and maintained a correspondence with the “cunning folk” of the countryside. For those in both town and country he provided a wide variety of books – including our Complete Book of Magical Science, a work which a young Hockley copied for his clients.

What I’d like to find now are some of Denley’s old catalogues. I’ve found a couple kept at Yale, but these are only two of what appear to be five distributed when Denley’s stock was sold off in 1840. I’ve also caught hints of another from 1820, and it’s likely there were others. I’m venturing into uncharted research territory here, though. If anyone can give me an idea of where to find these, I’d greatly appreciate it.

Published in: on October 13, 2008 at 4:28 pm  Comments (14)  

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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Dan

    I found only a record of the 1820 Ed. at the Oxford Library

    Maybe that helps you.



  2. i am here dont worry! i am the real john denley

  3. In search of John Denley… sounds like a murder ballad. :-p

  4. Any chance that this Denley is the basis of the seller of occult curios in CAS’ “Ubbo-Sathla”?

  5. Good thought, but I think he’d have to be Jewish and actually interested in selling his wares.

  6. […] part of which is reproduced here.  It then passed through the shop of our favorite bookseller John Denley, who had several copies made, possibly by the crystal-gazer Frederick Hockley.  This particular […]

  7. […] contrast to the Complete Book of Magic Science, which seems to have been created by Hockley for the bookseller John Denley as a work for hire.  I hope this work provides us with a deeper insight into Hockley’s […]

  8. […] Whereas his Complete Book of Magic Science seems to have been created for the clients of bookseller John Denley, Occult Spells seems to have been written at about the same time, but for different […]

  9. A catalog (belonging to Hockley) from 1819 of Dr. Sibly’s library is, according to a recent PhD thesis, “bound with other issues” (of what? catalogs?) in the reference library of the manuscript Department of the British Library…..Happy hunting.

  10. Susan,

    Thanks for the tip!

  11. I am trying to find the exact location on Catherine Street…. old street registers of landownership in the period have failed. Credit in a forthcoming book if you can help find out…. even which side of the street, or which end of the street….
    Thanks for any feedback,
    Christina Oakley Harrington
    Treadwell’s Bookshop
    (In Tavistock Street, around the corner from Catherine Street)

  12. Wonderfully helpful replies, thank you! Dan, I tried to reply to your email but your email provider has blocked the Treadwell’s IP Address as a spammer… will try to ring you to sort out… Christina

    Denley fans out there, or Hockley fans, do keep the references coming – not just on address, which I think someone (Alan T.) narrowed down to almost exact location, but any other bits, quotes, and stuff. What a cool place it must have been.

  13. I know this thread is a little old now, but I too have been researching our friend Denley and the Sibly family and came across this reference to an 1812 catalogue which includes Sibly’s library: you may have found this one already. Would be interested in what you have found out.

  14. Old John D- had his bookstore at

    13 Catherine Street

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