The recent publication of two volumes of the Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, covering the period from 1400 to 1695 in just over 1600 pages, indicates something of the way in which the study of the book, or of books, has been transformed in the past few years.(1) The subject has moved from its traditional areas of investigation, the history of
This volume arrives with high praise. The book ‘[d]eserves to become another classic’, opines Peter Burke at the top of the front cover. It ‘[c]ompletely overhauls our view’, observes Ronald Hutton somewhat further down. The work itself is not shy of ambition either. Both the title—The Decline of Magic—and the subtitle—Britain in the Enlightenment—promise sweeping panoramas.
The case of Mary Toft—the woman who gave birth to rabbits in 1726—has an enduring appeal. I remember the first time I encountered her as a final year undergraduate, both fascinated and appalled by the details of the case.