24 October 2014


Jonathan Barry. Raising Spirits: How a Conjuror’s Tale was Transmitted Across the Enlightenment. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

In about 1690 Thomas Perks, a blacksmith and/or gunsmith of the village of Mangotsfield in Gloucestershire, with an interest in mathematics and astronomy, tried to summon up spirits using one of the primaries popular at the time. According to his acquaintance Rev Arthur Bedford, the Vicar of Temple Perks was so traumatised by what he experienced that his health gave way and he died a couple of years later.

Various versions of this story were produced and printed and Barry’s stated intention is to track its transmutations at least up to 1892 as it was used and misused by people with differing agendas, evangelicals warning of the dangers of trafficking with the dark forces, spiritualists looking for precedents and rationalists seeing it as an example of primitive superstition.

A number of interesting characters got involved, the ghost story compiler T[homas?] Otway (sometimes called T. Charley), the Anglo-Catholic polemicist and supernaturalist Frederick George Lee, the spiritualist William Howitt, the ultra-rationalist Henry Maudsley and the ghost hunter Elliott O’Donnell.

This could have been an excellent opportunity to track the transmutations of a text down the centuries, but what surely would essential for such a task, the reproduction in full of each version in chronological order is not attempted. The original text is reproduced in a not easy to read line by line version, but there are just general commentaries on the other versions. One problem is that just too much potentially interesting material is compressed into too short a space, something not helped by devoting a page of each chapter to abstract and key words, as though they were separate papers. Altogether something of a missed opportunity. - Peter Rogerson.

1 comment:

Jonathan Barry said...

Anyone interested in the different versions can find them all on my website, as made clear in the book. This is at http://practitioners.exeter.ac.uk/ - scroll to the bottom and click on 'perkseditions'.
Jonathan Barry