Today, the 10th of August 2017, is the 69th anniversary of the death of Reverend Alphonsus Joseph-Mary Augustus Montague Summers. Monty was the early 20th century’s foremost expert on witchcraft, and if you’ve read through this blog before, you’ll probably know that he has long been one of my heroes. He seemed to have spent most of his life reading, writing, editing, and translating books on witches, vampires and restoration drama. I sometimes wish that I could spend as much time in the library as he, but alas, life is cruel and I am burdened with a thousandfold responsibilities that hinder my erudition.
I’ve read two books about Monty recently, the first of which, The Galanty Show, is an autobiography that was posthumously published in 1980. While I had read elsewhere that this book does not go into much detail on Summers’ experiences with the occult, I thought that it might at least throw some light on how he adopted his rather peculiar attitudes toward the paranormal. I had my eye out for a copy for a while, and I got a good deal on one last year. It smells a bit moldy, but otherwise it’s in absolutely perfect condition.
The Galanty Show; the Autobiography of Montague Summers
1980 – Cecil Woolf Publishing
Montague Summers was born into a wealthy, conservative family, and was raised to be one of those people who like to look back at the past and pretend to themselves that it was better than the present. Modern beliefs are crass and stupid; old ones are better: ‘People used to believe that witches existed, but they don’t now. Hmmm, witches must exist! Damn this modern incredulity!’ He felt the same way about literature too; he once claimed that Varney the Vampire (1847), a serialized Penny Dreadful, was as good as Dracula (1897), the single most influential vampire story ever told. In fairness to Summers though, he comes across as relatively self aware and willing to laugh at himself in this autobiography. If he was a snobby old plonker, he was at least a charming, snobby old plonker.
I had already surmised about as much about Montague Summers after reading a few of his other books, and by the time I got around to reading the Galanty Show, I was not so much interested in how he acquired his beliefs as I was in how sincere these beliefs were. Unfortunately, he is fairly elusive on this point. He seems more intent on characterizing himself as an old-fashioned man of letters than he does on telling his life story or discussing his metaphysical beliefs. In truth, this book is mostly just him talking about the books and plays that he was and wasn’t allowed to read when he was a child.
Now, it should be remembered that this autobiography was unpublished during Summers’ life, and the bibliography discussed below states that he had intended to write a second autobiographical work. This unwritten volume would have presumably covered his experiences studying theology, his supposed ordination as a Catholic priest, more information on his fascination with the occult, and perhaps even some brief discussion of his alleged sexual misdemeanors. In other words, it would have covered the really interesting parts of his life. The 8 page essay on Summers in Timothy d’Arch Smith’s Books of the Beast was more elucidating than his own autobiography. (In said essay, the author refers to the Galanty Show as “rather dull”.)
But The Galanty Show is not an absolutely horrible read. It’s boring, snobbish and full of references to works that few, if any, alive today have read, but this very pomposity is moderately entertaining. There was one part in which Summers is describing an old man who used to run a book shop, and he says; “A bath might have been of signal benefit, for I imagine he had washed neither face nor hands for many a twelvemonth.” I laughed heartily after reading that and hence determined to incorporate the word ‘twelvemonth’ into my lexicon. There are also two short chapters on witchcraft and ghosts, but Monty makes these more about books he has read and stories he has heard than about deep personal reflections. If your interest in Montague Summers is due to his expertise on Witchcraft, this is not essential reading.
These are the books that Montague Summers wrote about witches.
A few weeks ago, I acquired a copy of the Montague Summers edition of Henry Boguet’s Examen of Witches. I thought that I had completed the collection of works on Witchcraft translated, edited and written by Summers, and I was going to make a facebook post with a picture of the collection. Luckily, I decided to check myself before I wrecked myself. There’s no complete Montague Summers bibliography online though, and so I purchased a copy of Timothy d’Arch Smith’s Montague Summers; A Bibliography.
Montague Summers; a Bibliography – Timothy d’Arch Smith
The Aquarian Press – 1983 (First Published 1964)
Apart from a brief introduction, this is just a bibliography. There are two editions (as far as I know), and my copy is the revised and slightly expanded 1983 version.
The books about witches that Montague Summers edited, translated or introduced.
I was dismayed to discover that my Montague Summers Witchcraft collection is 3 books short of complete:
- He provided the introduction and notes for The Confessions of Madeleine Bavant in 1933. I am presuming he was also the translator, but I’m not sure. This one was banned as obscene shortly after publication, and all unsold copies were destroyed. It’s fairly rare.
- He also wrote an introduction and notes for an edition of Richard Bovet’s Pandaemonium, a 1684 work on demonology. This has been reprinted since, and there are copies available, but they’re fairly pricey. I’ll be keeping an eye out for this one.
- Finally, he wrote a foreword for Frederick Kaigh’s Witchcraft and Magic of Africa. This book is fairly widely available, but it’s the least appealing of the three by far.
Will I ever complete the Montague Summers Witchcraft collection? Probably not. The Confessions looks impossible to track down, and he didn’t have enough involvement with the other two to warrant me spending much money on them. Besides, I should probably read a few more of his books before I buy anymore. I’m sure it won’t be long until Monty’s next appearance on this blog.
These are just some of the other cool books by Montague Summers.