The Decline of Magic Britain in the Enlightenment Michael Hunter

Publication date:
14 Jan 2020
Yale University Press
288 pages: 235 x 156mm
19 b-w illus.

A provocative account of the seismic shift in attitude toward the supernatural in seventeenth and eighteenth century Britain

Early modern Britain embraced many forms of the supernatural and took the absolute existence of a spiritual world for granted. Yet in the eighteenth century these certainties were swept away. In this ground-breaking account, Michael Hunter argues that the real pioneers in skepticism about magic were humanists and free-thinkers. However, their critical attitude toward religion meant that their views were often dismissed. Hunter reveals just how divided opinion remained and how magic was never properly tested in the Enlightenment.

Michael Hunter is emeritus professor of history, Birkbeck, University of London. He is the author of numerous works on early modern science and culture such as The Occult Laboratory and the award-winning Boyle: Between God and Science.

"In 1971, Keith Thomas published what became a classic study on Religion and the Decline of Magic. Half a century later, Michael Hunter approaches that decline from another angle and offers an alternative explanation. Learned, lucid, acute and balanced, Hunter’s book deserves to become another classic."—Peter Burke, author of A Social History of Knowledge

 "This is an important and remarkable book, the product of a master of the subject and period. It completely overhauls our view of that subject, answering questions which have hung over it for decades, and raises some exciting and disturbing questions for the present."—Ronald Hutton, author of The Witch

“Michael Hunter, a pre-eminent historian of early modern science, redresses a balance in recent scholarship by examining skepticism towards magical phenomena among British intellectuals of the early Enlightenment.  The result is a readable, thought-provoking book that places scientific inquiry firmly within broader historical trends.”—Paul Kléber Monod, author of Solomon's Secret Arts

“Definitely a book to think with. Hunter brings new figures to scrutiny—Obadiah Oddy, Richard Mead, John Wagstaffe, Francis Hutchinson—and expertly weaves them into this tapestry of intellectual and cultural change.”—Justin Champion, author of The Pillars Of Priestcraft Shaken