Books by Harry Price
IT WAS Carlyle, a book collector himself, (1) who said that "the true university of these days is a collection of books." This dictum is peculiarly apposite of works on psychical research and occult phenomena generally because we have not yet arrived at that stage when the investigation of abnormal phenomena can be termed an exact science. Consequently, as the laws that must govern psychic manifestations are still incapable of being demonstrated to order as a laboratory experiment, it is solely to books that we must turn for the data recorded by individual workers in the psychic field.
If a certain small Shropshire lad had not had toothache this Catalogue, in all probability, never would have been compiled. One cold January morning the "Great Sequah" with his brass brands, gilded chariots, and troop of "boosters" dressed as Mohawk Indians, pitched his tent - so to speak - in Shrewsbury's principal square and, to the accompaniment of sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, announced in stentorian tones that he was there to extract every bad tooth in the county, and to cure every ailment with which his bucolic listeners were cursed - all free of charge except for a "small matter" of a shilling or so for his celebrated Sequah's Oil and "Prairie Flower" (2) "as used by all the crowned heads of Europe."
Among the cripples, epileptics, dyspeptics, consumptives, et hoc genus omne who clamoured for the "free" treatment was a poor woman who dragged her shrieking offspring to one of the gilded waggons where willing hands hauled him aboard. His mother said he had toothache. The boy, blue with pain, cold, and fear was placed in a huge gilt chair to the back of which his neck and hands were strapped; his feet were secured to the legs of the chair and the band commenced to play its loudest.
If the "music" fulfilled its mission in drowning the cries of the lad something more was needed to distract the victim's attention from the collection of instruments of torture which the "operator" was about to wield with not too skilful a hand. But this emergency had been foreseen and provided for: one of the: "Mohawks" was a skilful conjurer. Borrowing a hard hat (he could hardly use his own feathered head-dress for the purpose) the spell-binder proceeded to do a number of miracles with it. Though the hat was undoubtedly empty when handed up, to the amazement of the crowd a pair of doves immediately flow out of it and settled, one on each shoulder, of the Great Sequah himself.
After the release of the doves, flags, bags of sweats, small toys, etc., were "produced" in rich profusion in the time-honoured manner and thrown among the juvenile members of the crowd. The boy stopped shrieking and before one couldsay "Jack Robinson" the aching molar (or at least one of his teeth) was out and that, too, was tossed among the crowd.
After that, came many sufferers who trooped up to be cured of their ailments, real or imaginary, and the show concluded with the sale of the various nostrums and a bonfire of the crutches of the delighted Salopians who were convinced that they had been cured at this Shropshire Lourdes. During the whole of this eventful morning I stood, cold but happy, open-mouthed at this display of credulity, self-deception, auto-suggestion, faith healing, beautiful showmanship, super-charlatanism, and "magic." The miracles of the market-place left me spell-bound. I was exactly eight years old.
On my arrival home I demanded from my astonished parents an explanation as to how it was that an "empty" hat contained two doves and would they please show me exactly how it was done. After about three days' bombardment they sought relief in the purchase of a volume called Modern Magic by "Professor Hoffmann," (3) the nucleus of this collection and my first introduction to that vast literature on phenomenal happenings which I afterwards made my life's study.
I became an amateur conjurer and spent all my pocket-money on magical literature. The result is to be seen in these pages which represent, I believe, the most complete collection of works on deceptive methods extant. Every important book on phenomena and pseudo-phenomena in every language and of every age is to be found in the National Laboratory Library.
To those cast-iron bigots who believe that every medium is white and every "phenomenon" genuine, this Catalogue will make little appeal. But those students of the occult with a mind of a more elastic fibre who wear their convictions lightly will find in the National Laboratory Collection a vast number of interesting works on impostors of all ages including many modern charlatans who lay claim to psychic gifts. But if the reader perseveres in his search he will also find records of phenomena which will stand scientific scrutiny and are inexplicable in our present state of ignorance. Because modern spiritualism is riddled through and through with charlatanism, fraud, and self-deception we must not blind ourselves to the fact that abnormal phenomena do occur through a few gifted persons, or even spontaneously. The raison d'etre of this Catalogue is to assist the student in separating the few grains of wheat from the vast amount of chaff in which they are almost lost.
In recent years the National Laboratory Collection of occult and magical works has been developed along lines useful to the psychical researcher and especially to the student who wishes to conduct his experiments scientifically. It is in the laboratory that the question of survival will finally be determined and every day sees more scientific workers attracted to this fascinating field. It is not sufficient to tell the public that the phenomena exist; they must be demonstrated scientifically like any other laboratory experiment. The public must be shown, and taught to avoid the perilous issues of a "logical conclusion."
It would have been easy to make this Catalogue four times as bulky by including fuller titles, descriptions of the works, and the great mass of bibliographical and biographical data recorded on the Library index cards. But cost was a consideration and a compromise was decided upon. In most cases the title describes the contents or scope of the work, or additional information is enclosed within square brackets.
It would be impossible far me to acknowledge my indebtedness to all the people, in various parts of the world, who have helped in the formation of the Library or in the preparation of the card index from which this Catalogue has been compiled. But I cannot conclude these introductory remarks without registering my thanks to Miss Lucie Kaye, the Secretary and Librarian of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, who prepared the lists of books for the printer, corrected the proofs, and checked all French, German and Italian items.
To Mr. J. R. Gordon of New York, Vice-President of the National Laboratory, I tender my thanks for complete files of the Proceedings and Journal of the American S.P.R. which he donated to the Library. Miss Maud Bubb, of Cheltenham, also kindly made a number of presentations to the Collection. The Rev. Hebert Thurston, S.J., and Count Carl von Klinckowstroem, of Munich, sent me collections of their respective works.
To Mr. Eric J. Dingwall I am indebted far many data concerning the books. When the Collection was under his care some years ago he spent much time at the British Museum and elsewhere collating items and acquiring dates, places of publication, etc., all of which valuable information is recorded in the card index which he likewise helped to prepare.
To Mr. Leo Rullman, the well-known New York book collector, I am grateful far a general interest in the Collection (4) and the presentation to it of a number of showbills connected with the Davenport brothers, items unprocurable in this country. Finally, I have to thank Mr. Will Goldston, Editor of the Magazine of Magic for the loan of a number of the illustrations (which were published originally in a series of articles I wrote for his periodical) which appear in this Catalogue.
National Laboratory of Psychical Research,
April 10th, 1929.
1. He gave his collection of books on Cromwell and Frederick the Great to Harvard University.
2. Since adopted by at least one medium as the name of his "control."
3. i.e. Angelo John Lewis, M.A., a cultured and prolific writer of works on conjuring.
4. For further information concerning the formation or history of this Collection, or for an account of the rarities it contains, the following articles should be consulted:
"Some Magical Rarities, Ancient and Modern," by Harry Price, Magazine of Magic, London, November 1920.
"A Wonderful Book on Playing Cards," Harry Price, Ibid., May 1920.
"Mornings Amongst the Cobwebs, or Hours in a Magical Library," Harry Price, Ibid., March 1921.
"Five Hundred Years of Magic," Harry Price, Ibid., February 1921.
"Mr. Price's Library," Journal of the S.P.R., London, May 1922 and February 1923.
"My Library," by Harry Price, The Magic Wand, London, October 1923.
"Some Early Works on False Mediumship," by Harry Price, Journal, Am.S.P.R., New York, April 1926.
"The National Laboratory Library," by Harry Price, Brit. Journal Psy. Research, November-December 1927.
"Books of Yesterday," by Leo Rullman, The Sphinx, Kansas City, June 1928.
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