Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Monsieur Oufle's next extravagance: the Gale witchcraft database

I have been sent a link for a trial look at Gale / Cengage Learning’s new database, ‘Witchcraft in Europe and America’. For my medium to small sized institution, they are offering it at £9,995 for an outright purchase, though with a £200 hosting fee per year, or an annual subscription of £2,500. Oh, those figures are minus VAT, which will go up soon.

For the money, you get 914 works, with 263,208 page images (many of the early works on witchcraft are insanely massive, as well as insanely everything else).

But we are already at more than £10 a work. So, what do you get? The search engine is like the search engine for the Gale 18th and 19th century newspaper and periodical databases. Advanced search gives you the usual permutations of author, keyword, document title, with the normal repertoire of Boolean operators, and when you get your results, you can search within an individual document, or, if you have searched for a keyword, it shows you the page number to click on to get your ‘hit’. You can limit your search by date, or by language.

Very regrettably, there is no way to search for documents with illustrations, and when you light upon a work with illustrations, like Francesco Maria Guazzo’s Compendium Maleficarum, 1626, you can’t jump from illustration to illustration, or see the thumbnails of the page images in the way EEBO lets you do (a device that helps you locate charts, chapters, indices, annotations, pictures, etc). Here, you have to go page by page, and look them out, and it’s very good for you not to cut corners.

So, limiting to ‘English’ (and unless I have missed a trick, which is possible, you can’t distinguish English, Scottish, or American works) gives you 214 results, though a few of these are German writings that have had an English title added to them by earlier scholars. 36 items in English carries you to 1650, which seems wrong. Henry Goodcole on Elizabeth Sawyer is not here, and other things can’t be: EEBO returns 61 records for a search on the subject ‘Witchcraft’ from 1473-1650. You’d think you might get page images of the 19th century edition of Edward Fairfax’s ‘Demonologie’ (and images of the manuscript too, at the price).

Here’s one return off the new database, cut and pasted off the site (I have only removed its function in the database as a URL):

The Witch Of Wapping; Or, An Exact And Perfect Relation Of The Life And Devilish Practises Of Joan Peterson, Who Dwelt In Spruce Island, Near Wapping; Who Was Condemned For Practising Witch-Craft, And Sentenced To Be Hanged At Tyburn, On Munday The 11th [Sic] Of April, 1652. Shewing, How The Bewitch'd A Child, And Rock'd The Cradle In The Likeneffe Of A Cat; How The Frighted A Baker; And How The Devil Often Came To Fuck Her, Fometimes In The Likenefs Of A Dog, And At Other Times Like A Squirrel. Together With The Confession Of Prudence Lee, Who Was Burnt In Smithfield On Saturday The 10th. Of This Infrant For The Murthering Her Husband; And Her Admonition And Counfel To All Her Sex In General.

Oh, the devil came to fuck her, did he? Well, maybe it came to that too, but not in a 17th century book title he didn’t. He came to suck her, ‘fometimes in the likenefs of a Dog’: the not well-instructed copy typist has made all the long s’s into F’s. The database’s full text search engine will obligingly find you lots more unnatural ‘fucks’, as it is trying to work by letter-recognition.

It does look a bit half-hearted on the English side of things. Maybe they thought EEBO covers all the STC (and EEBO will find for you discussions of witchcraft which do not feature here, as for instance Anima mundi, or, An historical narration of the opinions of the ancients concerning man's soul after this life according to unenlight[e]ned nature / by Charles Blount, Gent. 1679, a decent and civilised book. I assume that Gale’s own ECCO database also contains the 18th century books.

So, what does it have? The print page images display very well, and you can make them into a full screen display. The collection of European books on witchcraft is excellent, with edition after edition of the major works, and all kinds of unheard of works. The long reach into the late 17th and 18th century is very instructive. The database lets you see the impact of each of the important sceptics, all the nasty backwoodsmen rushing out of their holes when Balthazar Bekker published his ‘Enchanted World’. And I did not know that this translation existed (from Laurent Bordelon’s original):

A History Of The Ridiculous Extravagancies Of Monsieur Oufle; Occasion'd By His Reading Books Treating Of Magick, The Black-Art, Daemoniacks, Conjurers, Witches, Hobgobins, Incubus's, Succubus's, And The Diabolical-Sabbath; Of Elves, Fairies, Wanton Spirits, Genius's, Spectres And Ghosts; Of Dreams, The Philosopher's-Stone, Judicial Astrology, Horoscopes, Talismans, Lucky And Unlucky Days, Eclipses, Comets, And All Sorts Of Apparitions, Divinations, Charms, Enchantments, And Other Superstitious Practices. With Notes Containing A Multitude Of Quotations Out Of Those Books, Which Have Either Caused Such Extravagant Imaginations, Or May Serve To Cure Them. Written Originally In French, By The Abbot B----; And Now Translated Into English 1711.

Among the printed works are images of trial transcripts, notes from interrogations, and other manuscript materials. Here's a screen-grab of the database in action, with a manuscript that’s called, intriguingly, ‘How to dishroud a witch’. It’s in Cornell, the main source collection, it’s early 17th century. And that’s what you get: there’s no transcript, no further information, and it just can’t be read at any magnification.

You see, the database lets you get on with it, saying: ‘Here it is, most of it, you’re a scholar, start reading’. There’s no editorial material appended, title pages are not translated, and sample translations are something you are left to dream of. My main image is just to show how rebarbative the earlier texts can be. It’s from Tractatus Maleficorum D. Angeli De Gambilionibus De Aretio Cum Omnibus Additionibus Novissime Per Ipsum Factis Post Compillatione Hujus Aurei Ac Preciocissimi Operis (Lugduni: 1490). That seems to be a block of the text, wrapped around with learned notes. No wonder these learned folk thought witches were damned, when they were so ready to offer hell to all their readers too.

I am enchanted, I will get my institution to pay for the whole database right now. I trust fairy gold will be acceptable?


bdh said...

Sounds very disappointing. Do they allow you to download the images in PDF/TIFF like EEBO at least, or is it more like ECCO?

DrRoy said...

Yes, my work PC has as many interesting page images as I could find in the database during the time available. I'm not at that PC, so I can't say what format. The database, being by Gale, is like ECCO (though you can easily right click and download any page image from that, of course). I have been trying to read 'Mounsieur Oufle', but, my word, it's dead on the page.