Sponsored by the Alannis Morrissette Foundation for Linguistic Endeavour:
Here’s the description, courtesy of the Fountain of Fact that is my colleague Blair Cowl:
W. Wynn Westcott’s Signed Hermetic Library Copy
ANONYMOUS [BARRETT, Francis. attrib.] [WESTCOTT, W. Wynn.] Lives of the Adepts in Alchemystical Philosophy, with a Critical Catalodue of the Books in this Science, and a Selection of the most Celebrated Treatises on the Theory and Practice of the Hermetic Art.
London: Lackington, Allen & Co., 1814. [37924 ]
FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE with the 1814 (as opposed to 1815) date and slightly different wording of the title. Octavo (215mm x 130mm) pp. 384, [2 index]. Contemporary half red calf over marbled boards, raised bands with extra gilt and centres to spine and gilt titles to black title label. Marbled endpapers and edges. Bound without the folding plate somtimes found at page 296, and more often in the 1815 issue. Some rubbing to edges and to the gilt on the spine, but the book remains tight and the binding unrestored. Foxing to some leaves, heavier in places, but the majority of pages are clean. Older armorial bookplate of Joseph Swan to front pastedown, partialy covered by a ‘The Westcott Hermetic Library’ label, numbered in ink with ‘213’. W. WYNN WESTCOTT’S INK SIGNATURE, dated 1886, to top of title page and a further signature to the top of page 101. This uncommon first edition has been attributed to Francis Barrett, probably due to being published by Lackington – the publisher of his The Magus (1801). It contains 41 short biographies of Alchemists, an index of Alchemical books (with numerous mistakes, but many rare titles are listed) and most importantly 34 extracts from Alchemical works plus the ‘Emerald Tablet’, some of which are translated into English for the first time. These were unaccountably left out of A. E. Waite’s 1888 edition. Dr. W. Wynn Westcott created his Hermetic Library for members of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, together with Dr. Robert Woodman, who he replaced as Supreme Magus in 1891. When Wescott and Woodman, together with S. L. MacGregor Mathers, founded the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1888, the library was also made available to members of that order. An interesting association copy of a scarce work.
Extra elucidation (or what Blair would refer to as “Jonathan’s Drivel”) courtesy of me:
This is William Wynn Westcott:
Apart from possessing truly impressive facial hair he was also a Freemason by night and a coroner by day…none of which is at all creepy, he will undoubtedly be turning up as a minor character in the next Tomb Raider film. Co-founder of the Golden Dawn in 1888, he was also a Supreme Magus of the SRIA (Societas Rosecruciana In Anglia) otherwise known as the English Rosicrucian Society and a devoted and erudite student of the Kabbalah. For further information see anything with the name A.E. Waite attached to it. He was also very active in the Theosophical Society, for further information about that just look for anything with the names Helena Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner or Annie Besant attached to it. That should take you a while.
England during this period (to the uneducated reader, which let’s face it, I am the dictionary definition of) seems to have been obsessed with the esoteric and occult. Everybody, from the Royal Family, to Arthur Machen, Dion Fortune, W.B. Yeats and a slew of other actors, authors, poets and minor celebrities of the age seemed to be immersing themselves in the ancient rites of Egypt, or recently unearthed alchemical secrets or in the case of Arthur Conan Doyle, the possibilities of communing with the dead. It seems in many ways to have been the Victorian equivalent of Celebrity Come Dancing.
Obviously the educated and informed reader will realise that the phrase “this period” covers anything from about 1860 to about 1918. Blair usually tries to explain it to me as “That period with Jack The Ripper, Dracula, fog, Hansom Cabs and grubby urchins, you know…top hats? Oscar Wilde? Queen Victoria?” then gives up with a sigh of disgust and shows me an episode of Sherlock Holmes.
In 1887/88 Westcott co-founded the Golden Dawn. From the point of view of someone who thinks fiction is actually much better than fact and resolutely believes in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the outside possibility that a Conservative government could be a good idea (alright, maybe not the last one, swap that with Rupert Murdoch telling the truth), this is where it all gets really interesting…or mad as a sack of weasels if you prefer. Golden Dawn alumni include:
S.L. MacGregor Mathers, a man whom even wikipedia describes as ” an eccentric, whose lifestyle was unusual in its time.” These are his work clothes.
The luminous and effervescent Moina Mathers, nee Bergson, married to Macgregor Mathers; which probably worked out fine because they only needed one wardrobe.
The absolutely spectacular Florence Farr, who really deserves a post all her own (and is now on the list). If there was anyone in the late nineteenth century that didn’t fall madly in love with this woman, they were dead and languishing in the professional embrace of Mr. Westcott.
And, last but absolutely not least:
Yes, it’s him. Would you like to know more?
Can you imagine the meetings? It’d be like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest meets Hellraiser in the middle of an amateur theatrical production of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. There’d be more combined sex appeal, frothing insanity and downright weapons grade genius than any human being could stand…talking of which, Chelsea International Antiquarian Book Fair is coming up!