Credulity, Curiosity, and Credibility

Second sight, superstition, seduction.
Prediction of the future, female curiosity and the story of Duncan Campbell in early 18th century England

A fortune-teller who could predict the future, a dumb-mute skilled in mundane conversation, a seller of talismans and miraculous medicines, Duncan Campbell (c. 1680-1730) was a popular attraction in early 18th-century London. Placed at the centre of a number of biographical and autobiographical narratives, his figure took on a particular literary quality.

A reputation built on a proclaimed ‘second sight‘ that enabled him to see the future, and advice on especially sentimental and matrimonial matters, make his case an excellent observatory on the negotiation of what, in the age of reason, constituted authority and credibility, credulity and superstition, and how gender was thematised within this negotiation.

This research focuses on The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr Duncan Campbell, a biography published by Edmund Curll in 1720 and long spuriously attributed to Daniel Defoe. The text offers an unusual glimpse into the contemporary discourse on the relationship between gender and the problem of credulity. Against the backdrop, well known to contemporary historiography, of the conceptualisation of women as exponents of a vulnerable, manipulable and gullible public, the History outlines the problem of the relationship between the female public and popular beliefs inherent in predicting and controlling the future.

In defending Duncan Campbell’s credibility – boasting his Lappish birth and the efficacy of his predictions and recipes – The History insists on the disqualification of competing forms and actors in the field of divination. The book aims to counteract the seductions of Kabbalistic chimeras that too easily capture innocent minds, the impostures of false diviners and swindlers, the dangers of the obscure arts of conjurers and inchanters, and the typically female superstitious practices that are passed down through generations.

The History of Duncan Campbell: geographies of beliefs

A list of locations mentioned in The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr Duncan Campbell. Dot size represent frequency, movement shows mentions order in the narrative.

The History of Duncan Campbell: key concepts in relation

Selected key concepts frequently mentioned in the novel and their context. Hover over to highlight relations, right click to remove words, use drop-down search to add words. 

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search