Tag Archives: occult

“Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?”: A Halloween Tale

This guest post comes from Dr Lauren O’Hagan, sociolinguistic researcher of Edwardian material culture and class conflict.


The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade, first published in 1861, was a bestseller of the Victorian era. Critically acclaimed as one of the greatest historical novels in English, it tells the story of Gerard Eliason and his struggle to balance obligations to his family and the Church. So, when cataloguing the 1906 Collins Clear-Type Press edition held in the Janet Powney Collection, I was more than a bit surprised to discover a series of handwritten satanic references written within.

From the outside, the book is fairly ordinary to look at; it doesn’t boast the bright illustrations, gilt lettering or art nouveau patterns associated with Edwardian covers. Its inside is just as unstartling, consisting of thin, poor quality paper typical of early twentieth-century reprints. Its endpapers, decorated with advertisements for The Home Library series, also hint at its cheap production cost and low retail price. Nonetheless, its inscriptions and the treasures they hold are priceless.

The book’s front flyleaf bears the fairly innocent ownership inscription “James Hooper xxvii August 1906.” However, hidden away on its back flyleaf are the notes of a man intrigued by demonology.

The early twentieth century saw a growing interest in spiritualism and the occult, with famous figures like Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Balfour and Annie Besant all publicly advocating communication with the spirits of dead people. Demonology also attracted increased attention from scholars who were keen to explore demons from a Christian perspective using the Bible, its scriptures, religious texts from early Christian philosophers and associated traditions and legends from other beliefs.

What immediately struck me about this intriguing inscription in The Cloister and the Hearth was the first sentence: “Devil’s best tunes”. It sounded like the name of some heavy metal band’s greatest hits album! Naturally, that is exactly what a quick Google search threw up: Sympathy for the Devil by Rolling Stones, Running with the Devil by Van Halen, Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden, Am I Evil? by Diamond Head. A fantastic soundtrack of songs, but definitely not what I was looking for in the context of 1906!

So, I decided to move onto the list of page references, flipping to the associated numbers (p. 369, p. 16, p. 115, p. 77) within The Cloister and the Hearth in the hope that they would reveal something more about the inscriber’s mindset. But as I expected, given the dates alongside (1880, 1881 and 1882), they weren’t referring to passages in the book. What, then, could they be referring to?

Changing tack, I took a look at the next line: “In W. Scott Demonology (p. 163 Morley’s ed. attributes the saying to Whitfield). Hmm. Taking an educated guess that W. Scott was the famous author, Walter Scott, I entered his name into Google alongside the key word ‘demonology’. Immediately, this brought up hits for Letters of Demonology and Witchcraft, written by Walter Scott in 1830.

Reading on, I discovered that Walter Scott had a keen interest in demonology and witchcraft. To pass the time when recovering from a stroke, Scott decided to write a small volume on the subject for Murray’s Family Library. The book took the form of ten letters addressed to his son-in-law, J.G. Lockhart, surveying opinions on demonology and witchcraft from the Old Testament period to the present day.

Letters of Demonology and Witchcraft was an immediate success and went through several reprints and new editions throughout the course of the nineteenth century. One of these reprints was published in 1884 by George Routledge and Sons, containing an introduction by Henry Morley. This find solved the mystery of ‘Morley’s ed’ in James Hooper’s inscription.

Consulting the 1884 edition of the book on www.gutenberg.org, I did a quick keyword search for ‘Whitfield’ within the text. This brought up one result. On page 163, just as the inscription said, was the line: “Thus the Church secured possession of many beautiful pieces of scenery, as Mr. Whitfield is said to have grudged to the devil the monopoly of all the fine tunes.” There it was again. The word ‘tunes’.

Whitfield, of course, referred to George Whitefield (1714-1770), the English Anglican cleric and evangelist who was one of the founders of Methodism and the evangelical movement. But what exactly did that sentence mean? Reading the preceding paragraph, it became apparent that Scott’s argument was that the Church protected beautiful things by assigning saints to them as guardians (e.g. St Dorothy, patron saint of gardens). But protecting these things left other things open for the devil to appropriate, such as songs.

This mysterious statement became much clearer to me when I found it reused in an 1882 speech by William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, delivered before a crowd in Worcester. He asked, “Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?” Booth said this in reference to the fact that he had come across many young people on the streets singing lewd tunes that they had heard in music halls. In a bid to attract these people to the Church, he began to encourage religious leaders to use these tunes but set new lyrics to them. This proved an effective way to increase the attendance of young people at church. Viewed in this context, Hooper’s ‘devil’s best tunes’ was starting to make more sense.

My next step was to look for hymn books or song books that matched the dates mentioned in the inscription (1880, 1881, 1882) to see whether I could find anything to support my theory. After some time, I discovered The Methodist Hymn-Book, which was published in November 1880, and reissued in January 1881 and January 1882, just as the inscription said. What’s more, the book claimed that all its hymns were composed from popular tunes. The Methodist Hymn-Book seemed very likely to be exactly what James Hooper was referring to, particularly as he had also quoted Whitfield, a key figure in Methodism.

Now when I flipped to the page references using the online versions of the hymn book, things started to make much more sense. I learnt that ‘Keep Thyself Pure! Christ’s Soldier, Hear’ was set to the tune of ‘Keble’; ‘I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath’ to the tune of ‘Dresden’, ‘Oh Come and Mourn With Me Awhile!’ to the tune of ‘St Cross’ and ‘None Other Lamb, None Other Name’ to the tune of ‘Rossetti’. Perhaps these were the book owner’s favourite songs.

The final words in the inscription “Xenodochium 598” were a simple reference to pg. 598 within The Cloister and the Hearth when the Xenodochium – a hospital for pilgrims – is mentioned. In the early Middle Ages, Xenodochia provided treatment for people suffering from physical and mental illness, the latter believed to be caused by demonic possession at the time. Whether its specific mention here was because the owner had an academic or personal interest in the concept or simply because he had not come across the unusual word before will forever remain a mystery.

Having more or less deciphered the inscription, my final search concerned the owner himself. Frustratingly, James Hooper is a very common name. Furthermore, apart from the date of inscription, he left no other clues regarding his address, profession etc. Unable to use my faithful tools on http://www.ancestry.com, again, I turned to a general internet search trying various combinations of his name and keywords.

Finally, I found a potential candidate. In a book from 1934 entitled Psychic Phenomena of Jamaica, the author Joseph Williams has reprinted a letter from July 15th 1899 from a scholar of demonology named James Hooper. His location is noted as “Harwich”, but it is hard to know whether this is Harwich in Essex, UK or in Massachusetts, USA. In his letter, Hooper writes about obiism, or serpent worship, and discusses the etymology behind the word and its Biblical links with demonology. This letter made me relatively sure that I had indeed found the correct James Hooper.

So, in the end, after all that intrigue, I hadn’t come across some mad Satanist or a rebellious atheist. Nonetheless, James Hooper’s perplexing inscriptions within an important religious book provided me with the perfect spooky Halloween entertainment.

“The Discoverie of Witchcraft”: a sceptical treatise on superstition and magic in 1584

As it’s Halloween I went hunting for our copies of The discoverie of witchcraft, wherein the lewde dealing of witches and witchmongers is notablie detected, written by Reginald Scot and first published in 1584. Unlike the majority of 16th century works on the subject of witches and witchcraft, Scot’s Discoverie takes a predominantly sceptical view and reveals how the superstitious public were often fooled by charlatans and frauds.

The title page of the 1665 edition of The discovery of witchcraft

Scot believed that the prosecution and torture of those accused of witchcraft, most often the elderly or simple-minded, was un-Christian and irrational. He set out to prove that belief in magic and witchcraft could not be justified by religion or observation, and that many reported experiences of the supernatural were either wilful attempts to defraud or  illusions caused by mental disturbance.  The book includes chapters on contemporary beliefs about witchcraft, magic, alchemy, ghosts, devils and other spirits, and was a heavy influence on later works about the occult, including Shakespeare’s portrayal of witches for Macbeth.

The aspects of the planets and the characters of angels

Publication of the book caused great controversy, with many clergymen writing in defence of  their concerns about witches. Scot in fact placed most of the blame for these superstitions on the Roman Catholic Church, but King James I, an enthusiastic witch hunter, ordered all copies of the first edition of the Discoverie to be burnt. Among the sceptical minority however, Scot’s work remained authoritative. In 1593 Gabriel Harvey wrote that “Scotte’s discoovery of Witchcraft dismasketh sundry egregious impostures, and in certaine principall chapters, and speciall passages, hitteth the nayle on the head.”

Scot’s Discoverie includes one of the first studies of magic tricks and sleight-of-hand ever published, with detailed explanations of tricks still performed today