Folger Update: The Book of Oberon and E. H. W. Meyerstein

My tentative title for the Folger manuscript is The Book of Oberon: A Book of Magic from the Time of Shakespeare.  This might not be the title you see it marketed under, as the ways of publishers are different from those of mortals.  It does skip past the point that the manuscript mentions Oberion, not Oberon, but I doubt that will be disappointing to many.

So Joe is immersed in manuscript comparisons, Phil is working on art, and I am reading up on minor twentieth-century British poet and novelist E. H. W. Meyerstein, who once owned the first section of the manuscript. I find it astounding the lengths to which authors of his time will go to subtly suggest but not actually spell outright that they are, in fact, gay.

I thought Meyerstein’s autobiography, Of My Early Life, would be a tough slog, based on statements by both the author and the editor that it probably wasn’t worth the effort, but I did find one interesting passage on his private school days:

Under the influence of one of my father’s Ainsworth, The Lancashire Witches, I decided to start incantations on my own account.  I cannot understand to this day why my head was not punched or ducked in cold water.  I offered to supply any boy with the power to damage his enemy.  All that was necessary was that I should draw the enemy in pencil – I have never been able to draw, but that did not matter – reduce the drawing to ashes, and give them to the querent in a paper packet.  These scattered, preferably over the enemy or on his seat or in his book, would weaken him and produce the desired effect.  The matter came to a head when, in form, I started a drawing of a Mr. Alexander, the classical master, who had offended me in some way.  On his challenging me and telling me to stay after the form had dispersed, I admitted what I had been doing, and threw the paper in the fire before he could stop me, raising his voice to a really scared shriek.  This puzzles me now, for I know I am not mistaken; there must have been something alarming, or at least determined, in my demeanour.  What sort of force majeure put an end to this tomfoolery I cannot say; there was no corporal punishment at this prep.

The book goes on to say that he “formed one of the most important collections of manuscripts and books [on magic] ever in private hands.”  I’ll have to track down the catalog for this and a few other sales of one part or the other of the manuscript.  I’m trying interlibrary loan, but a trip to Yale might be necessary.

Published in: on August 30, 2011 at 8:13 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very much looking forward to the Folger manuscript.

  2. Meyerstein’s library seems to have been carefully selected rather than extensive and contained a number of items of interest; the following is illustrative. Some of the books are not unusual for a collection of this nature: he owned three copies of Agrippa’s `de Occulta Philosophia’ (1533, 1567 and the 1651 JF translation), the ‘Fourth Book’, De Incertitudine (1539 & the 1569 translation), the 1665 edition of Scot’s ‘Discovery of Witchcraft’, Trithemius’ ‘Steganographia’ (1635), Casaubon’s ‘A True and Faithful Relation’, Glanvill’s ‘Sadducismus Triumphatus,’ Sibly’s ‘New & Complete Illustration’ and Barrett’s ‘The Magus’, for example. He was interested in alchemical imagery and editions of Paracelsus, Sendivogius and Basil Valentine feature. Meyerstein also collected the works of Eugenius Philalethes (Thomas Vaughan) for whom he expressed a particular fascination. Other manuscripts included a seventeenth century Latin Clavicula Salomonis, La Clavicule Magique du Sage Roi Salomon and ‘The Craft of Conjureynge and how to rule the fierye Spiritts of ye planetts & make the Devyle appeare if wanted.’ He also owned several books with interesting associations, including William Lilly’s copy of the Divine Pymander and a book from John Dee’s library (#251 in Roberts & Watson’s catalogue, for the curious).

    • Alan,

      Thank you!


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