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The Comte de Gabalis by Abbé Henri Montfaucon de Villars

Edited and introduced by Joscelyn Godwin
1st edition hand-numbered and limited to 333 copies 

This short novel of 1670 gave the literary world a lasting gift: the doctrine of Elementary Spirits (Gnomes, Nymphs or Undines, Sylphs, and Salamanders) and their relations with humans from Adam’s time to the present. Written as conversations between an all-knowing “Cabalistic” Count and a naïve narrator, it is full of amusing and outrageous claims, such as that all the great ones of the past were born from inter-species intercourse. Scholars suspect that Villars satirized contemporary credulity and the rise of Paracelsian beliefs in court circles. Esotericists, on the other hand, see his humor as a cover for secret doctrines and occult truths about the intermediate realms and their denizens.

This edition is based on the most curious of several attempts to enlarge on Villars’ novel. It was published in 1700, ostensibly in liberal Amsterdam but probably in Lyon. It follows Villars’ text with a midnight “Address to the Gnomes,” in which the Count exhorts them to take human spouses. A sceptical Viscountess joins the duo as the Count spins further yarns, including one about a musician who married a Sylph, learned magical tricks from her, and narrowly escaped execution. As a finale, Gabalis recounts how the fifteenth-century philanthropist Nicolas Flamel really got his wealth (not from alchemy).

The 1700 edition was also the only illustrated one, but that is the oddest thing of all. The figures are printed from actual woodblocks of Alciato's Emblemata dating from the 1540s (almost identical to those of the Black Letter Press’s 1534 edition). Someone must have discovered them and had the idea of adapting the text to refer to them, then cleverly integrating them into Flamel’s history.

To preserve the atmosphere of the original, the present volume reproduces a sprightly English translation of 1714, which exploited Alexander Pope’s use of Villars’ theme in The Rape of the Lock. 

The editor, Joscelyn Godwin, writes an Introduction and translates the supplements in a compatible style. 

Joscelyn Godwin (born 1945) is the author, editor, and translator of many works in the fields of Western Esotericism and Speculative Music. For many years he taught at Colgate University in New York State.

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