Friday, May 19, 2017

One Genius Too Many

Title Page of Book, reading "An Historical, Physiological and Theological Treatise of Spirits, Apparitions, Witchcrafts, and other Magical Practices. CONTAINING An Account of the Genii or Familiar Spirits, both Good and Bad, that are said to attend Men in this Life; and what sensible Perceptions some Persons have had of them: (particularly the Author's own Experience for many Years.) Also of Appearances of Spirits after Death; Divine Dreams, Divinations, Second Sighted Persons, &c. Likewise the Power of Witches, and the reality of other Magical Operations, clearly asserted. With a  Refutation of Dr. Bekker's World Bewitch'd; and other Authors that have opposed the Belief of them. By Jonh Beaumont, Gent. Praestat aliqua probabiliter nosse de rebus superioribus & Caelestibus, quam de rebus inferioribus multa demonstrare. Arist. Moral. 9. London: Printed for D. Browne, at the Black Swan without Temple-Bar; J. Taylor, at the Ship in St. Paul's Church-Yard; R. Smith at the Angel without Temple-Bar; F. Coggan, in the Inner-Temple Lane; and T. Browne without Temple-Bar, 1705.
We've recently acquired an interesting text that was authored by an equally interesting individual. John Beaumont was an English physician and geologist who was an early member of the Royal Society, a learned society for science that was founded in 1660 and is still in existence today. Beaumont lived in a small town in southwestern England called Ston Easton, within the county of Somerset. Many of his geologic interests centered around the exploration of limestone caves near his home, and he wrote several letters to the Royal Society that provided information about his discoveries. Robert Hooke, the Society's Curator of Experiments and the author of Micrographia, encouraged Beaumont to pursue further study of the natural history of Somerset.
an engraving that shows An Evil Genius on the left, who looks like a bearded man wrapped in an animal skin; and "2 Good Genii" on the right, both holding what appear to be cornucopia and wearing laurel garlands. The left-most of the two appears to be a young child while the right-most is a bearded man.However, despite his interest in rocks and stones, Beaumont's true fascination was focused upon more ethereal subjects. In 1705, at the age of fifty-five, Beaumont published An Historical, Physiological, and Theological Treatise of Spirits, Apparitions, Withcrafts, and other Magical Practices. In particular, Beaumont was interested in discussing what he calls genii, or familiar spirits. Distinct from our modern understanding of jinn or genies, which have their origins in Arabian and Islamic mythology, Beaumont's concept of genii is more in keeping with ancient Roman religion. For ancient Romans, a genius was a sort of guardian angel or spirit that served as a personal protector for every individual. Our current use of the term to indicate someone of exceptional ability or talent derives from the early Romans' attribution of the accomplishments of great individuals to their extraordinarily powerful genius, or guiding spirit. 
An engraving captioned "Jews going out in the Moonshine to know their Fortune". The image is of four men holding palm fronds and gesticulating at a shining moon that is half-hidden behind some clouds.For Beaumont, the existence of genii was more than an abstract theoretical notion; in his book, he identifies himself as someone who had the dubious gift of "second sight," whereby he was able to see a vast multitude of spirits all around him at all times. Beaumont states that "this gift is very troublesome to those that have it, and they would gladly be rid of it; for if the object be a thing that is terrible, they are seen to sweat and tremble, and screek at the Apparition." Over a three-month period, Beaumont claims that he was attended night and day by two spirits, who spoke with each other and a number of other spirits who came calling at his bedroom door. The spirits were dressed in "Womens Habit, they being of a Brown Complexion, and about Three Foot in Stature; they had both black, loose Network Gowns, tyed with a black sash about their Middles, and within the Network appear'd a Gown of a Golden Colour, with somewhat of a Light striking thro' it; their Heads were not drest with Topknots but they had white Linnen Caps on, with Lace on them, about three Fingers breadth, and over it they had a Black loose Network Hood."
Beaumont's experience with these genii naturally caused him some consternation, given his predisposition towards natural science, and so he attempts towards the end of his text to provide rational hypotheses for the existence of these spirits as well as providing examples from Judeo-Christian theology. Ultimately, you'll have to be the judge of whether he makes a convincing argument or not. Come to Rauner and ask for Rare BF1445 .B4 1705.