On the mysterious ‘Introduction to Astrology’ by John Boncastle
– 10 November 2008
As I was cataloguing my run of Alan Leo’s magazine ‘Modern Astrology’ earlier today, I couldn’t help noticing in an advertising supplement to the February 1912 issue an envy-making list of second-hand astrology books then for sale directly from the offices from which the journal was produced, at what sound in these post-inflationary times to be absurdly modest prices for books that have since become so rare.
Ninety-six and a half years ago, you could have bought such rarities as:
The complete three-volume set of Powley’s ‘The Astrologer’ for 15 shillings (75 pence – try finding that at any price now; if the three-volume set came up I would expect it to cost close to $1000);
A two-volume bound set of ‘The Sphinx’ (presumably Catherine Thompson’s journal) for 15 shillings (same price; again, try finding a single issue of ‘The Sphinx’ at any price today… well, I bought two single issues at $40 each a couple of years back, but they look a bit sorry without their temporal brethren);
Coming Events Vol. I for 3s 6d; Vol. II for 2s 6d; Vol. IV for 2s 6d, and Vol V for 2s 6d (making 11s for four of the total five volumes issued… I have yet to see a single issue or volume of this journal for sale anywhere and again suspect that $300 per volume would be the asking price today if it were to come up for sale); Star of the Magi Vol. I-III inclusive for 5s (ok, I admit that is one I do have, including also the fourth volume, but it was a lot more expensive than 25 pence at auction on ebay, and it was a numbered edition limited to 100 copies, so I count myself lucky that it came up for sale at all);
An Introduction to Astrology by John Boncastle (1811) for 7s 6d….
…Let’s hold it there, shall we? Anyone who knows anything about the history of astrological literature and has read this far could be forgiven for thinking ‘John WHO?’ at this stage of the proceedings.
I’m rather familiar with the history of astrology in the 19th century, and can honestly say that I have never even heard of this work by the mysterious Mr. Boncastle, whose title is suspiciously identical to the one adopted by Morrison (Zadkiel) for his abridgement of Lilly’s ‘Christian Astrology’ in the 1830s.
So I decided to investigate COPAC records of books called ‘Introduction to Astrology’, which of course brought up Zadkiel’s edition of Lilly, Charles Burnett’s edition of Alchabitius, and other predictable results. But not a single one in Britain’s major research libraries by said Mr. Boncastle!
So next I turned to OCLC. Same result: nothing!
Finally, in desperation, I looked up John Boncastle on google.com. No results at all for anyone of that name. But wait a moment: ‘Do you mean John Bonnycastle?’ asks Google’s prompt ever so politely.
No, but it’s worth a try, I thought. Of course, there are tens of thousands of results for people called John Bonnycastle, unlike John Boncastle. But none of them indicates that he wrote a book called ‘An Introduction to Astrology’.
However, I was on the right track as it turned out, as it soon became apparent that Mr. Bonnycastle had in fact penned a very common book called not ‘An Introduction to Astrology’ but ‘An Introduction to Astronomy’.
Poor Alan Leo, or possibly Alfred Barley or one of his other assistants, had got both the author and title wrong. No wonder it was so hard to find records of the phantom Mr. Boncastle’s non-existent book….
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