I haven’t finished reading Skinner and Rankine’s The Veritable Key of Solomon – it’s over 400 pages, after all – but I’ve covered enough of it to give an initial review, as well as whether a $180 book shipped from Malaysia was really worth it. In this installment, I’ll discuss the look and feel of the book, as well as its background.
First, it must be said that the limited edition is a beautifully bound and illustrated book. The full-color pentacles and talismans are quite breathtaking. I’m not sure this level of detail is necessary for most users, but having not seen the corresponding black and white illustrations in the forthcoming Llewellyn edition, it’s hard to tell.
The two manuscripts on which the book focuses are from the Wellcome Library in London – Wellcome MS. 4670 and the first portion of Wellcome MS. 4669. These works appear to have been transcribed by one J. S. Fyot of Paris, who seems to have been working on at least one in 1796, at the height of the French Revolution. Skinner and Rankine suggests that this mysterious figure might have died during the Revolution, thereby putting the manuscripts on the market. Given that another Fyot manuscript dated 1815 exists, it is unlikely this is the case. This suggests that Fyot was another figure like our old friend Frederick Hockley, who copied out magical manuscripts for clients.
The books turned up shortly thereafter at an auction in 1803, after which their provenance becomes murky. The editors note the similarities between the title of MS. 4670 and that mentioned in Victorian author Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s metaphysical novel Zanoni:
“Les Clavicules de Rabbi Salomon,” chapter 3; traduites exactement du texte Hebreu par M. Pierre Morissoneau, Professeur des Langues Orientales, et Sectateur de la Philosophie des Sages Cabalistes.
The exact wording here is unusual among the Keys of Solomon that Skinner and Rankine surveyed, making it likely that Bulwer-Lytton was familiar with this manuscript or one very much like it. The editors suggest that this might have passed through the hands of John Denley, another man alluded to in Zanoni. We know that Denley had at least one copy of the Key of Solomon at his shop from the collection of astrologer Ebenezer Sibley, of which different copies were made, but that was not identical to this one. It’s quite possible that this one came from Denley too, but Bulwer-Lytton knew a number of occult figures from the time, so I’m not as sanguine about the connection. Nonetheless, it is a revealing find that deserves credit.
Next time, the contents!