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Late in the seventeenth century, Robert Kirk, an Episcopalian minister in the Scottish Highlands, set out to collect his parishioners’ many striking stories about elves, fairies, fauns, doppelgangers, wraiths, and other beings of, in Kirk’ s words, “ a middle nature betwixt man and angel.” For Kirk these stories constituted strong evidence for the reality of a supernatural world, existing parallel to ours, which, he passionately believed demanded exploration as much as the New World across the seas. Kirk defended these views in "The Secret Commonwealth," an essay that was left in manuscript when he died in 1692. It is a rare and fascinating work, an extraordinary amalgam of science, religion, and folklore, suffused with the spirit of active curiosity and bemused wonder that fills Robert Burton’ s "Anatomy of Melancholy" and the works of Sir Thomas Browne. "The Secret Commonwealth "is not only a remarkable document in the history of ideas but a study
of enchantment that enchants in its own right.
First published in 1815 by Sir Walter Scott, then re-edited in 1893 by Andrew Lang, with a dedication to Robert Louis Stevenson, "The Secret Commonwealth" has long been difficult to obtain— available, if at all, only in scholarly editions. This new edition modernizes the spelling and punctuation of Kirk’ s little book and features a wide-ranging and illuminating introduction by the critic and historian Marina Warner, who brings out the originality of Kirk’ s contribution and reflects on the ongoing life of fairies in the modern mind.
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About the Author

Robert Kirk (1644-1692) was the seventh son of James Kirk, Minister of Aberfoyle. He studied at Edinburgh and St. Andrews, became Minister of Balquhidder in 1644, and succeeded his father at Aberfoyle in 1685. Kirk published the first Gaelic translation of the Psalms and oversaw the preparation of the first romanized version of the Gaelic Bible. The Secret Commonwealth was left in manuscript at the time of his death. Marina Warner is a writer of fiction, criticism, and history. Her award-winning studies of mythology and fairy tales include Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary, From the Beast to the Blonde, and No Go the Bogeyman. In 2006 she published Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media, a study of ghosts, phantasms, and technology. Her most recent work of fiction is the novel The Leto Bundle. A Fellow of the British Academy, she is also Professor of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex.

Reviews

"A slim quarto-size book (like a paperback novel in boards) and less than a hundred pages of text, this New York Review of Books edition is the first in more than a century and contains a well-written introduction and end notes by Marina Warner. Also included is Kirk's own glossary of "difficult words," in which we learn the 17th-century meanings of adscititious, defaecat, lychnobious and noctambulo." --The Philadelphia Inquirer "Kirk is a magnificent dish to set before any student of either folk-lore or folk-psychology"--The Times Literary Supplement "The importance of Robert Kirk's manuscript for a deeper understanding of late seventeenth-century Scottish beliefs about fairies and second sight is hard to exaggerate. There is simply no other source with such fulsome detail about the Guid Neighbours..."-Folklore "Kirk's 'Secret Commonwealth' is one of those books which are well known but hard to come by...His little treatise is a most careful and thorough piece of work, made the more so by the spirit in which it was written...The result is one of the completest descriptions extant of that special phase of popular belief."-The Times Literary Supplement "[F]illed with delightful maunderings on seers and second-sighters and 'glimpses of the moon'..."-The Critic "[A] cult classic."-The Glasgow Herald " A slim quarto-size book (like a paperback novel in boards) and less than a hundred pages of text, this New York Review of Books edition is the first in more than a century and contains a well-written introduction and end notes by Marina Warner. Also included is Kirk's own glossary of " difficult words, " in which we learn the 17th-century meanings of adscititious, defaecat, lychnobious and noctambulo." --"The Philadelphia Inquirer" " Kirk is a magnificent dish to set before any student of either folk-lore or folk-psychology" --"The Times Literary Supplement" " The importance of Robert Kirk's manuscript for a deeper understanding of late seventeenth-century Scottish beliefs about fairies and second sight is hard to exaggerate. There is simply no other source with such fulsome detail about the Guid Neighbours... " - "Folklore" " Kirk's ' Secret Commonwealth' is one of those books which are well known but hard to come by... His little treatise is a most careful and thorough piece of work, made the more so by the spirit in which it was written... The result is one of the completest descriptions extant of that special phase of popular belief." - "The Times Literary Supplement" " [F]illed with delightful maunderings on seers and second-sighters and ' glimpses of the moon' ... " "- The Critic" " [A] cult classic." - "The Glasgow Herald" "Kirk is a magnificent dish to set before any student of either folk-lore or folk-psychology"--"The Times Literary Supplement" "The importance of Robert Kirk's manuscript for a deeper understanding of late seventeenth-century Scottish beliefs about fairies and second sight is hard to exaggerate. There is simply no other source with such fulsome detail about the Guid Neighbours..."-"Folklore ""Kirk's 'Secret Commonwealth' is one of those books which are well known but hard to come by...His little treatise is a most careful and thorough piece of work, made the more so by the spirit in which it was written...The result is one of the completest descriptions extant of that special phase of popular belief."-"The Times Literary Supplement" "�F�illed with delightful maunderings on seers and second-sighters and 'glimpses of the moon'...""-The Critic ""�A� cult classic."-"The Glasgow Herald"

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