17th and 18th Century Books and Pamphlets (Mostly British) from Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers
by Michael Stillman
This month we review our first catalogue from Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers, located opposite the British Museum in London. The firm has been selling books for 35 years, and this is the 174th catalogue they have issued. Jarndyce specializes in antiquarian English literature and history, although the works here are perhaps a bit older than most they usually offer. The catalogue is titled Books and Pamphlets of the 17th and 18th Centuries Part I. It contains 462 items, and we will undoubtedly see many more as this one only takes us through the letter "H." While there are exceptions, most are British works, in the English language, published in England, usually London. However, as noted, there are exceptions, such as a few books in French, published in Paris. Here are some of the many fascinating old books to be found in this latest Jarndyce catalogue.
Lest anyone think all British history is serious and proper, Item 49 is George Hickes' Ravillac Redivivus...To which is annexed, an account of the tryal of that most wicked Pharisee Major Thomas Weir, who was executed for adultery, incest and bestiality. Weir was an apparently deeply religious Presbyterian official, former soldier, and most respectable of men. The result is that it came as a great shock to his neighbors when at the age of 70, he suddenly confessed to all of these and other crimes. His 60-year-old sister backed him up, confessing to incest with him as well as witchcraft. What on earth compelled these two to make such terrible, and unforced confessions is hard to fathom. There was evidently some serious mental instability in the family, but it may well be that there was also truth to some of their confessions, and perhaps a consuming guilt led them to suddenly blurt out admissions they knew would have terrible consequences. While town officials at first tried to attribute Weir's statements to insanity, physicians could find no signs of illness (they must not have looked very hard). Weir was convicted and on April 11, 1670, he was strangled, his body burnt. The following day, his sister was hanged, tearing off her clothes on the gallows as she wished to die in even more shame. This 1682 account of their trial (and that of another preacher, James Mitchel, for murder) is priced at £350 (US equivalent of approximately $681).
Daniel Defoe is best remembered for his novel Robinson Crusoe, but it took him a long time to get there. Defoe was involved in a myriad of business ventures and political intrigues, almost always in debt, and on occasion in prison. Indeed, he had only recently been released from prison when perhaps the worst storm to ever hit Britain pounded the island on November 26 and 27, 1703. Thousands of people died. Defoe wrote hundreds of pamphlets and books over the course of his life, generally for the purpose of relieving his debts, and in this storm he saw an opportunity to make some money. He ran advertisements in the paper looking for eyewitness accounts, which he used to write this book: The Storm, or, a Collection of the most remarkable Casualties and Disasters, which happen'd in the late dreadful Tempest, both by Sea and Land, published in 1704. Item 318. £650 (US $1,265).