The Seductions of Superstitions

The Case of Duncan Campbell in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century England

W. Bond, The Supernatural Philosopher: Or, the Mysteries of Magick, in All Its Branches, Clearly Unfolded [...] All Exemplified in the History of the Life and surprizing Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell, a Scots Gentleman; who, though Deaf and Dumb, Writes down Any Stranger’s Name at first Sight, with their Future Contingencies of Fortune [...], London, Printed for E. Curll [...], 1728., chapter The Method of Teaching Deaf and Dumb
Persons to Write, Read, and Understand a Language, text ref. al "an alphabet upon the fingers", plate following p. 38
W. Bond, The Supernatural Philosopher: Or, the Mysteries of Magick, in All Its Branches, Clearly Unfolded […] All Exemplified in the History of the Life and surprizing Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell, a Scots Gentleman; who, though Deaf and Dumb, Writes down Any Stranger’s Name at first Sight, with their Future Contingencies of Fortune […], London, Printed for E. Curll […], 1728., chapter The Method of Teaching Deaf and Dumb Persons to Write, Read, and Understand a Language, text ref. “an alphabet upon the fingers”, plate following p. 38

Here’s to advertise a new article, just published on Studi Storici, investigating the future as an epistemological arena in a hitherto understudied work from the early eighteenth century, The Supernatural Philosopher. First printed for Edmund Curll in 1720 under an alternative title, then expanded in 1728, the text focuses on Duncan Campbell (c. 1680-1730), a deaf and mute soothsayer who was a popular attraction in London during the 1720s.

The proclaimed ability to see the future makes Campbell’s case a vantage point to observe the negotiation of credibility and credulity in the Age of Reason. This article thematizes the connection between Campbell’s preternatural faculties, his claimed Scottish and Sami origins, and the relationship established by The Supernatural Philosopher with a number of literary sources and with a female public.

Giulia Iannuzzi, Le seduzioni della superstizione. Il caso di Duncan Campbell in Inghilterra tra Sei e Settecento / The Seductions of Superstitions. The Case of Duncan Campbell in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century England, Studi storici, 3/2023, pp. 651-689, doi: 10.7375/108367; url: https://www.rivisteweb.it/doi/10.7375/108367.

Find the article on the journal website, or contact me for a copy for research purposes at giannuzzi <at> units.it

Find on this blog a post on this case study including digital visualisations: Giulia Iannuzzi, “Credulity, Curiosity, and Credibility,” in Geographies of Time, 05/10/2023, https://ian.hypotheses.org/2183.

Indovino in grado di prevedere il futuro, affetto da sordità e mutismo ma brillante ospite nei salotti mondani, venditore di talismani e medicine mi- racolose, Duncan Campbell (1680-1730 ca.) è stato un’attrazione popolare nella Londra del primo Settecento. Posta al centro di varie narrazioni, la sua figura ha assunto una particolare qualità letteraria. Questo saggio si propone di mostrare come la fama costruita su una proclamata «seconda vista» che lo metteva in grado di scorgere il futuro faccia del suo caso un ottimo osservatorio sulla negoziazione di ciò che, nell’età della Ragione, costituiva autorevolezza e credibilità, credulità e superstizione. Sullo sfondo di un uso del futuro come agone conoscitivo, il caso di Campbell esemplifica l’esistenza di rapporti di forza tra spazi centrali e periferici rispetto a potenze europee in espansione come quelle britannica e svedese. La tematizzazione di aspetti di genere, e l’indagine empirica del preternaturale connessa alle abilità eccezionali di Campbell e alla sua disabilità ne collocano il caso all’intersezione di una moltitudine di problemi epistemologici interessati, tra fine Sei e primo Settecento, da mutamenti profondi.

The History of the Life and Adventures, plate before ToC. "An Evil Genius. 2 Good Genij" . uncredited source is John Beaumont's Treatise of Spirits). The plate is missing in some copies. Copy at Oxford University
[W. Bond], The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell, A Gentleman, Who, tho’ Deaf and Dumb, Writes down Any Stranger’s Name at First Sight, with their Future Contingencies of Fortune, etc. With Plates, Including a Portrait, London, Printed for E. Curll […], 1720, plate before ToC. “An Evil Genius. 2 Good Genij” . uncredited source is John Beaumont’s Treatise of Spirits). The plate is missing in some copies. Copy at Oxford University

Between Documentation and Dispossession

the Language of the Nuu-chah-nulth People in the Journals of James Cook’s Third Voyage – History Workshop Journal

‘Various Articles, at Nootka Sound’. Engraving by James Record after Webber, in A voyage to the Pacific Ocean undertaken, by the command of His Majesty, for making discoveries in the northern hemisphere performed under the direction of Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore, in His Majesty’s ships the Resolution and Discovery; in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780 […] The second edition, London, Printed by H. Hughs for G. Nicol […] and T. Cadell […], 1785, 3 vols, II, plate after p. 306. Copy at Wellcome Collection, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.
A bird rattle, a wooden model of bird with stone inside (numbered 1) and three masks or head decoys (numbered 2, 3, 4), one of them (2) a seal’s face, possibly used when hunting.
‘Various Articles, at Nootka Sound’. Engraving by James Record after Webber, in A voyage to the Pacific Ocean undertaken, by the command of His Majesty, for making discoveries in the northern hemisphere performed under the direction of Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore, in His Majesty’s ships the Resolution and Discovery; in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780 […] The second edition, London, Printed by H. Hughs for G. Nicol […] and T. Cadell […], 1785, 3 vols, II, plate after p. 306. Copy at Wellcome Collection, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. A bird rattle, a wooden model of bird with stone inside (numbered 1) and three masks or head decoys (numbered 2, 3, 4), one of them (2) a seal’s face, possibly used when hunting.

Through a case study of James Cook’s third voyage and his contact with the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver Island in 1778, this article just published on the History Workshop Journal sheds new light on the epistemological dispossession of indigenous peoples that accompanied European expansion in the eighteenth century. Continue reading “Between Documentation and Dispossession”

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. 

Ruin Lust, American Futures

@ Antiquity and the Shaping of the Future in the Age of Enlightenment. / L’Antiquité et la construction de l’avenir à l’âge des Lumières, ISECS 2023 congress, 3-7 July 2023, Rome

Gustave Doré’s version of Macaulay’s New Zealander, visiting London in the far future, surveying the ruins of the city from the remains of London Bridge
Doré’s London: A Pilgrimage (London; Grant & Co, 1872), Bibliothèque nationale de France via Gallica, ark:/12148/bpt6k10470488

In 1780, a poetry collection printed in London claimed to contain the letter of an American traveller from the year 2199, who wrote from the ruins of St. Paul’s porch to a friend in Boston, metropolis of the Western Empire. Poems, By a Young Nobleman, of Distinguished Abilities, lately deceased included poetic compositions about the once prosperous city of London. The ruins of an England whose greatness once illuminated Europe were observed from the west, where the sun of British power went to set.

The title page attributed authorship to a young man who had died at the time of publication. Thomas Lyttelton, libertine and politician, who has been later credited with authorship of the work, had in fact died at the age of only thirty-four in 1779, an untimely death lamented in the panegyric of the editor. This paper draws on the case study of Poems to highlight how, in the eighteenth century, the futuristic projection of a distant state of affairs derived from the present was informed by a look back to the past.

Poems exemplifies how American space and time provided a backdrop for revitalisations of translatio imperii topoi. Ancient history was exploited a reservoir of useful models to conceptualise and understand cultural diversity, to articulate an imperial discourse in its entanglements with ideas of monarchical power, colonial expansion, civilisation, and, not least, to anticipate what was yet to come.

Conference programme: https://www.isecs-roma2023.net/en/contents/programme/118

Anticipations, celebrations, satires

A new post in the Anticipations and aerostatic warfare series – 2/3

Imaginary wars, projected onto the future of Europe as ominous warnings and political arguments, were part of the emergence of a conception of history pliable by human action. This colonisation of the future within fictional narratives at the end of the eighteenth century already had some significant precedents. One such precedent, The Reign of George VI,[1] was a curious novel – or rather a fictional treatise on the history of the future – published in London in 1763, which offered a fascinating proto-fantascientific remake of the Seven Years’ War. The anonymous author, dissatisfied with the terms of the Treaty of Paris, imagined that the dispute between France and Britain might end very differently in the future, leading to British supremacy over all of continental Europe and global maritime trade. The pamphlet was written in the form of a historical reconstruction of events that took place in the twentieth century, testifying to a mixture of genres between typical modes of historical-political reflection and propaganda and an emerging narrative invention.[2] Continue reading “Anticipations, celebrations, satires”

Epidemics, extinctions, Europeans

A new post in the smallpox and American otherness series.

In 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition arrived at the remains of an Omaha (Mahar) village. Here they learned that four hundred inhabitants, together with the chief Blackbird, were wiped out by smallpox four years earlier.[1] A small hill-like grave site remained, on which the expedition erected a flag.[2] What remained of the Omaha village presented a desolate landscape. Clark noted how the community never recovered; a sign of this was the return to a pre-agricultural subsistence. Here and below, we quote while maintaining the linguistic peculiarities of the handwritten “field notes”, which, especially in Clark’s case, often present peculiarities in the handwriting (we limit the squares to the transcription of those editorial interventions that the editor of the edition in use, Moulton, considered indispensable to the understanding of today’s reader): “The Situation of this Village, now in ruins Siround by enunbl. [innumerable] hosts of grave[s] the ravages of the Small Pox (4 years ago) they follow the Buf: and tend no Corn”,[3]

the ravages of the Small Pox […] has reduced this Nation not exceeding 300 men and left them to the insults of their weaker neighbours which before was glad to be on friendly turms with them – I am told whin this fatal malady was among them they Carried ther franzey to verry extroadinary length, not only of burning their Village, but they put their wives & Children to D[e]ath with a view of their all going together to Some better Countrey – They burry their Dead on the tops of high hills and rais mounds on the top of them, – The cause or way those people took the Small Pox is uncertain, the most Probable from Some other Nation by means of a warparty.[4]

Continue reading “Epidemics, extinctions, Europeans”

Smallpox and medical knowledge in the Lewis and Clark expedition

A new post in the smallpox and American otherness series.

At the time of organising the expedition, which aimed to explore the interior of the continent from west of the Mississippi as far as the Pacific coast of what is now British Columbia, Jefferson told Lewis to take with him “some matter of the kine-pox”, adding: “inform those of them with whom you may be, of it’s efficacy as a preservative from the small pox; and instruct & encourage them in the use of it”.[1] Vaccination programmes are part of a broader presence of medical interests in the expedition, which unfolds both in terms of gathering detailed information on the populations encountered, and in the use of practical medical knowledge as a means of gaining credit and prestige, and establishing diplomatic relations.[2]

The use of medical preparations and practices in diplomacy was certainly not an invention of the expedition: in North America, for example, there were cases of vaccinations by a delegation from Shawnee and Delaware in Washington in 1802, and material sent to the Five Nations in Canada by Jenner himself.[3] The circulation of knowledge in the field of medicine and public health between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was – at various levels and latitudes – part of the cultural and administrative apparatus of European colonial expansion around the world.[4]

Continue reading “Smallpox and medical knowledge in the Lewis and Clark expedition”

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