Montague Summers

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Montague Summers
Montague Summers c. early 1920s.
Montague Summers c. early 1920s.
BornAugustus Montague Summers
(1880-04-10)10 April 1880
Clifton, Bristol, England
Died10 August 1948(1948-08-10) (aged 68)
Richmond, Surrey, England
Resting placeRichmond Cemetery
Pen nameReverend Alphonsus Joseph-Mary Augustus Montague Summers
OccupationAuthor and clergyman
Alma materTrinity College, Oxford
SubjectRestoration comedy, Gothic fiction, the occult
Notable worksThe History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1926); translation of the Malleus Maleficarum (1928); The Vampire: His Kith and Kin (1928); The Werewolf (1933)

Augustus Montague Summers (10 April 1880 – 10 August 1948) was an English author, clergyman, and teacher. He initially prepared for a career in the Church of England at Oxford and Lichfield, and was ordained as an Anglican deacon in 1908. He then converted to Roman Catholicism and began styling himself as a Catholic priest. He was, however, never affiliated with any Catholic diocese or religious order, and it is doubtful that he was ever actually ordained to the priesthood.[1][2] He was employed as a teacher of English and Latin while independently pursuing scholarly work on the English drama of the 17th century. The latter earned him election to the Royal Society of Literature in 1916.[2]

Noted for his eccentric personality and interests, Summers became a well known figure in London society as a result of the publication of his History of Witchcraft and Demonology in 1926. That work was followed by other studies on witchcraft, vampires, and werewolves, in all of which he professed to believe. Summers also produced a modern English translation, published in 1929, of the 15th-century witch hunter's manual, the Malleus Maleficarum. He has been characterized as "arguably the most seminal twentieth century purveyor of pop culture occultism."[2]

Early life[edit]

Montague Summers was the youngest of the seven children of Augustus William Summers, a rich banker and justice of the peace in Clifton, Bristol. Montague was educated at Clifton College.[3] Early on, he rebelled against his father's evangelical, low church religiosity, embracing instead a ritualistic Anglo-Catholicism.[2]

In 1899, Summers entered Trinity College, Oxford as a student of theology. Although an avid reader and Latinist, Summers neglected his official studies. In 1904 he received a fourth-class Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree, promoted in 1906 to a Master of Arts (MA) degree, as per the custom of the University of Oxford.[2] Summers then continued his religious training at Lichfield Theological College with the intention of becoming a priest in the Church of England.[2]

Summers self-published his first book, Antinous and Other Poems, in 1907. Its contents reflected the influence of the literary Decadent movement while showcasing Summers' own preoccupations with pederasty, medievalism, Catholicism, and the occult.[4] Summers was ordained as deacon in 1908 and worked as a curate in Bath and Bitton, near Bristol. He never proceeded to higher orders, however, probably because of rumours of his interest in Satanism and accusations of sexual impropriety with young boys, for which he was tried and acquitted.[1]

Summers' interest in Satanism probably derived in part from his reading of the works of the French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans, particularly the novel Là-bas (1891), which includes an account of a Black Mass.[2] Summers himself later claimed in private conversation to have attended Black Masses in Bruges, Brighton, and London.[5] There are also testimonies from former associates, including the poet J. Redwood Anderson, suggesting that Summers may even have conducted such ceremonies himself.[2]

Conversion to Catholicism[edit]

In 1909, Summers converted to Catholicism and began studying for the Catholic priesthood at St John's Seminary, Wonersh,[2] receiving the clerical tonsure on 28 December 1910.[1] After 1913 he styled himself as the "Reverend Alphonsus Joseph-Mary Augustus Montague Summers" and acted as a Catholic priest, even though he was never a member of any Catholic order or diocese. Whether he was actually ordained as a priest is disputed.[1]

According to some sources, Summers had transferred from the seminary in Wornesh to the Diocese of Nottingham, but the local bishop refused to ordain him after receiving incriminating reports of Summers' prior conduct.[2] Other sources claim that Summers travelled to Continental Europe and was ordained there by Cardinal Mercier in Belgium or by Archbishop Guido Maria Conforti in Italy.[2] According to yet another version of events, Summers was ordained as a priest by Ulric Vernon Herford, the self-styled "Bishop of Mercia" and one of several episcopi vagantes ("wandering bishops") operating in Britain at the time.[2]

Work as a teacher[edit]

From 1911 to 1926 Summers found employment as a teacher of English and Latin. Among other posts, he was an assistant master at the Junior School of the Central School of Arts and Crafts in Holborn. In 1922, he became senior English master at Brockley County School in south-east London. Despite his eccentric appearance and habits, he appears to have been a successful and well respected teacher.[6] Summers gave up teaching in 1926, after the success of his first book on witchcraft allowed him to adopt writing as his full-time occupation.[2]

Literary scholarship[edit]

While employed as a schoolmaster and with the encouragement of Arthur Henry Bullen of the Shakespeare Head Press, Summers established himself as an independent scholar specializing on the dramatic literature of the Stuart Restoration.[1] Summers successively edited the plays of Aphra Behn, William Congreve, William Wycherley, Thomas Otway, Thomas Shadwell, and John Dryden. He also helped to create a new society called "The Phoenix" that performed those neglected works. Summers' work on the theatre of the Restoration earned him election as fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1916.[2]

Several decades after his death, literary critic and historian Robert D. Hume characterized Montague Summers' scholarship on Restoration drama as pioneering and useful, but also as marred by sloppiness, eccentricity, uncritical deference to Sir Edmund Gosse and other similar gentlemen-amateurs, and even occasional dishonesty.[7] Hume judged Summers' studies on The Restoration Theatre (1934) and The Playhouse of Pepys (1935) to be particularly fruitful sources.[7] In his own day, Summers' credibility among university-based scholars was adversely impacted by the acrimonious disputes in which he engaged with others working in the same field.[7]

The other major focus of Summers' literary scholarship was Gothic fiction. He edited three collections of Gothic horror short stories, as well as an incomplete edition of two of the seven obscure Gothic novels, known as the "Northanger Horrid Novels", that Jane Austen mentioned in her Gothic parody novel Northanger Abbey. He was instrumental in rediscovering those lost works, which some had supposed were inventions of Jane Austen herself. He also published biographies of Austen and Ann Radcliffe, a writer of Gothic fiction. Summers' Gothic Bibliography, published in 1940, has been characterized as "flawed but useful."[7]

Summers compiled three anthologies of supernatural stories, The Supernatural Omnibus, The Grimoire and other Supernatural Stories, and Victorian Ghost Stories. He has been described as "the major anthologist of supernatural and Gothic fiction" in the 1930s.[8]

He also edited the poetry of Richard Barnfield, a contemporary of Shakespeare. Summers' introduction to his 1936 edition of Barnfield's poems stressed the homosexual theme of some of those works, particularly The Affectionate Shepherd.[9]

The occult[edit]

From 1916 onwards, Summers regularly published articles in popular occult periodicals, including The Occult Review and the Spiritualist periodical Light.[2] In 1926 his work on The History of Witchcraft and Demonology appeared as part of the series on "History of Civilization" published by Kegan Paul and edited by Charles Kay Ogden.[2] In the introduction to that book, Summers wrote:

In the following pages I have endeavoured to show the witch as she really was – an evil liver: a social pest and parasite: the devotee of a loathly and obscene creed: an adept at poisoning, blackmail, and other creeping crimes: a member of a powerful secret organisation inimical to Church and State: a blasphemer in word and deed, swaying the villagers by terror and superstition: a charlatan and a quack sometimes: a bawd: an abortionist: the dark counsellor of lewd court ladies and adulterous gallants: a minister to vice and inconceivable corruption, battening upon the filth and foulest passions of the age.

The book sold well and attracted considerable attention in the press. That success made Summers "something of a social celebrity" and allowed him to give up teaching and write full time.[2] In 1927 a companion volume, The Geography of Witchcraft, also appeared in Ogden's "History of Civilization" series.

In 1928, Summers published the first English translation of Heinrich Kramer's Malleus Maleficarum ("The Hammer of Witches"), a 15th-century Latin manual on the hunting of witches. In his introduction, Summers insists that the reality of witchcraft is an essential part of Catholic doctrine and declares the Malleus an admirable and correct account of witchcraft and of the methods necessary to combat it. In fact, however, the Catholic authorities of the 15th century had condemned the Malleus on both ethical and legal grounds.[10] Other Catholic scholars contemporary with Summers were also highly critical of the Malleus. For instance, the Rev. Herbert Thurston's article on "Witchcraft" for the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1912, refers to the publication of the Malleus as a "disastrous episode."[11]

After his first works on witchcraft were published, Summers turned his attention to vampires, producing The Vampire: His Kith and Kin (1928) and The Vampire in Europe (1929), and later to werewolves with The Werewolf (1933). In 1933, copies of Summers' translations of The Confessions of Madeleine Bavent and of Ludovico Maria Sinistrari's Demoniality were seized by the police due to their explicit accounts of sexual intercourse between humans and demons. At the ensuing trial of the publisher for obscene libel, anthropologist E. E. Evans-Pritchard testified in defence of the scholarly value of the works in question. The publisher, Reginald Caton, was convicted and the unsold copies destroyed.[2]


Summers' work on the occult is notorious for his old-fashioned and eccentric writing style, his display of erudition, and his purported belief in the reality of the supernatural subjects he treats. Presented from the perspective of a highly traditionalist Catholicism, Summers's occult scholarship has actually had its greatest influence within modern popular culture.[12] According to historian Juliette Wood, Summers's

concern with the macabre aspects of the supernatural has a very modern feel, and the links between vampires and satanic masses, so beloved of horror films and popular exorcisms, owe much to his particular body of work. Perhaps his real legacy is that he combined all the elements of the gothic novel into an allegedly real satanism that creates a tension between reality and fiction that appeals so strongly to postmodern imagination.[12]

According to Brian Doherty, Summers' later writings on witchcraft, published in the 1930s and 1940s, "adopted a far more paranoid and conspiracy-driven worldview" than his earlier works on the subject.[2] These later writings draw extensively from earlier conspiracy theorists such as the French counter-revolutionary Abbé Augustin Barruel and the English Fascist Nesta Helen Webster. As such, Summers' work may have influenced the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s and 1990s.[2]

The prominent Catholic historian Jeffrey Burton Russell, a specialist in the religion of the European Middle Ages, wrote in 1972 that

Summers' own works and his many editions and translations of classical witchcraft handbooks are marred by frequent liberties in translation, inaccurate references, and wild surmises; they are almost totally lacking in historical sense, for Summers saw witchcraft as a manifestation of the eternal and unchanging warfare between God and Satan. Yet Summers was well steeped in the sources, and his insight that European witchcraft was basically a perversion of Christianity and related to heresy, rather than the survival of a pagan religion as the Murrayites claimed, was correct. Summers' work was erratic and unreliable but not without value.[13]


Summers's History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1926) gives credence to various historical accusations that European Jews kidnapped and sacrificed Christian children.[14] Summers wrote that "the evidence is quite conclusive that the body, and especially the blood of the victim, was used for magical purposes", and concluded that it was for this "practice of the dark and hideous traditions of Hebrew magic" —and not for the Biblical Jewish faith— that Jews had been persecuted by Christians in the Middle Ages and in the early modern period.[14] The great majority of historians now reject the view that this "blood libel" against the Jews had any basis in fact. According to historian Norman Cohn, Summers's writings on witchcraft helped to promote antisemitic tropes well after Summers's death.[14]

Other pursuits[edit]

Summers cultivated his reputation for eccentricity. The Times wrote he was "in every way a 'character' and in some sort a throwback to the Middle Ages." His biographer, Father Brocard Sewell (writing under the pseudonym "Joseph Jerome"), paints the following portrait:

During the year 1927, the striking and somber figure of the Reverend Montague Sommers in black soutane and cloak, with buckled shoes—a la Louis Quatorze—and shovel hat could often have been seen entering or leaving the reading room of the British Museum, carrying a large black portfolio bearing on its side a white label, showing in blood-red capitals, the legend 'VAMPIRES'.

Summers wrote works of hagiography on Catherine of Siena and Anthony Maria Zaccaria, but his primary religious interest was always in the occult. While Aleister Crowley, with whom he was acquainted,[2] adopted the persona of a modern-day sorcerer, Summers played the part of the learned Catholic witch-hunter. Despite his conservative religiosity, Summers was an active member of the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, to which he contributed an essay on the Marquis de Sade.[15]

In 1926, Summers advertised in the London Times for a secretary to assist him with his literary work. A young Cyril Connolly responded, but found Summers uncongenial and turned down the position. Connolly privately mocked Summers in blank verse as "a sorcerer / a fruity unfrocked cleric of the Nineties / Like an old toad that carries in his head / The jewel of literature, a puffy satyr / That blends his Romish ritual with the filth / Scrawled on Pompeian pavement."[16]

The posthumously published personal diaries of socialite and later Conservative politician Sir Henry Channon relate how Channon first met Summers at a dinner party in Summers' honour given by Lady Cunard in January 1928. Channon's diaries then describe a series of visits to Summers' home in Richmond. Channon recounts that, in more than one occasion and at Channon's suggestion, Summers took Channon upstairs to his private chapel after dinner and beat him over the altar. Channon characterized Summers as a "lecherous priest", "a madman", and "as dangerous as he is brilliant", cutting off contact with him after a couple of months.[5]

The popular novelist Dennis Wheatley relates that he was introduced to Summers by the journalist and politician Tom Driberg while Wheatley was researching occultism for his novel The Devil Rides Out (1934). A weekend visit by Wheatley and his wife to Summers' home in Alresford was cut short by the Wheatleys, who determined "never to see the, perhaps not so Reverend, gentleman again". Summers and Wheatley continued to correspond on friendly terms, but Wheatley reportedly based the character of the evil Canon Copely-Syle, in his novel To the Devil – a Daughter (1953), on Montague Summers.[2]

Montague Summers wrote several original works of fiction, but none of these were published during his lifetime. The unpublished manuscripts include two plays: William Henry: A Play in Four Acts and Piers Gaveston (whose text is now lost and whose title is sometimes listed as Edward II).[17] A number of ghost stories and a short novel, The Bride of Christ, were found among Summers' papers and published long after his death.

Relations with the Catholic Church[edit]

Summers presented himself as an uncompromising defender of Catholic orthodoxy, but none of his books on religious subjects was ever published with the approval of Catholic authorities (see nihil obstat and imprimatur).[2] His work on witchcraft attracted very negative comment from an important Catholic scholar, the Jesuit Herbert Thurston, who wrote in 1927 that

Nothing could serve Satan’s purpose better than that the Catholic Church, his most uncompromising opponent, should be identified once more with all the extravagant beliefs and superstitions of the witch mania [...] It really plays into his hands; first, because it makes the Church ridiculous by attributing to her a teaching flagrantly in conflict with sanity and common sense; and, secondly, because it is associated with stories of all sorts of nastiness which feed a prurient curiosity under cloak of supplying scientific information.[18]

Father Thurston also called attention to the fact that Summers did not figure in any register as either an Anglican or a Catholic priest, but was instead a literary figure with distinctly Decadent tastes.[18] According to Bernard Doherty, Thurston may have been concerned that Summers' writings on witchcraft could have been a "mystification" akin to the Taxil hoax of the 1890s, intended to bring ridicule upon the Catholic Church.[2] Thurston challenged Summers to show to the public that he was really an ordained priest, which Summers failed to do.[2] In 1938 another prominent English Catholic, Mons. Ronald Knox, angrily objected to having his own essay on G. K. Chesterton published in a collection on Great Catholics edited by Fr. Claude Williamson, after Knox learned that the book would also include an essay on John Dryden by Montague Summers.[17][19]

In the early 1930s, Summers acted as a private chaplain to Mrs. Ermengarde Greville-Nugent (also known as "Ermengarda"), who was a Catholic convert and neo-Jacobite, founder of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. She was the widow of Patrick Greville-Nugent, whose father was the Anglo-Irish aristocrat and politician Lord Greville. Both her only daughter and her husband had died insane, and Mrs. Greville-Nugent had been convicted of fraud in 1928 for having obtained money to maintain her elegant lifestyle by writing deceptive begging letters to people whose names had appeared in the newspapers as recent beneficiaries of wills.[20] The Catholic Bishop of Southwark, Peter Amigo, excommunicated Mrs. Greville-Nugent for allowing Summers to celebrate mass in the private oratory at Kingsley Dene, her home in Dulwich.[20]


Montague Summers died at his home in Richmond, Surrey in August 1948. The Catholic rector of St Elizabeth of Portugal Church refused a public requiem mass, but allowed instead a private graveside ceremony. Summers' grave in Richmond Cemetery was unmarked until the late 1980s, when Sandy Robertson and Edwin Pouncey organised the Summers Project to garner donations for a gravestone. It now bears his favoured phrase "tell me strange things".[21]

Summers bequeathed his estate and papers to his long-time personal secretary and companion Hector Stuart-Forbes, who was later buried in the same plot as Summers. An autobiography of Summers was published posthumously in 1980 as The Galanty Show, though it left much unrevealed about the author's life. In the 2000s, many of Summers' personal papers were re-discovered in Canada, where they had been kept by members of Stuart-Forbes's family. A collection of Summers' papers is now at the Georgetown University library.[2]


Books on the occult[edit]

  • The History of Witchcraft and Demonology, 1926 (reprinted ISBN 9780415568746)
  • The Geography of Witchcraft, 1927 (reprinted ISBN 0-7100-7617-7)
  • The Vampire, His Kith and Kin: A Critical Edition, 1928 [2011] (reprinted by Senate in 1993 as simply The Vampire; reprinted with alternate title: Vampires and Vampirism ISBN 0-486-43996-8), edited by John Edgar Browning
  • The Vampire in Europe: A Critical Edition, 1929 [2011] (reprinted ISBN 0-517-14989-3) (reprinted with alternate title: The Vampire in Lore and Legend ISBN 0-486-41942-8), edited by John Edgar Browning
  • The Werewolf, 1933 (reprinted with alternate title: The Werewolf in Lore and Legend ISBN 0-486-43090-1)
  • A Popular History of Witchcraft, 1937
  • Witchcraft and Black Magic, 1946 (reprinted ISBN 1-55888-840-3, ISBN 0-486-41125-7)
  • The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism, 1947

Poetry and drama[edit]

  • Antinous and Other Poems, 1907
  • William Henry (play), 1939, unpublished
  • Piers Gaveston (play), 1940, unpublished

Fiction anthologies edited by Summers[edit]

  • The Grimoire and Other Supernatural Stories, 1936
  • The Supernatural Omnibus, 1947

Other books[edit]

  • St. Catherine of Siena, 1903
  • Lourdes, 1904
  • A Great Mistress of Romance: Ann Radcliffe, 1917
  • Jane Austen, 1919
  • St. Antonio-Maria Zaccaria, 1919
  • Essays in Petto, 1928
  • Architecture and the Gothic Novel, 1931
  • The Restoration Theatre, 1934
  • The Playhouse of Pepys, 1935
  • The Gothic Quest: a History of the Gothic Novel 1938
  • A Gothic Bibliography 1941 (copyright 1940)
  • Six Ghost Stories (1938, not published until October 2019)
  • The Bride of Christ and other fictions (posthumous, 2019)

As editor or translator[edit]


  • d'Arch Smith, Timothy. "Montague Summers, A Bibliography". London: Nicholas Vane, 1964. (Revised edition 1983, Aquarian Press).
  • Jerome, Joseph. Montague Summers: A Memoir. London: Cecil and Amelia Woolf, 1965 (edition limited to 750 copies). "Joseph Jerome" is a pseudonym of the Carmelite Father Brocard Sewell
  • Frank, Frederick S. Montague Summers: A Bibliographical Portrait. London: The Scarecrow Press. 1988 ISBN 0-8108-2136-2


  1. ^ a b c d e Davies, Robertson (2004). "Summers, (Augustus) Montague (1880–1948)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/39387. Retrieved 8 January 2023. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Doherty, Bernard (2020). "From Decadent Diabolist to Roman Catholic Demonologist: Some Biographical Curiosities from Montague Summers' Black Folio". Literature & Aesthetics. 30 (2): 1–37.
  3. ^ Oakeley, E. M. (1897). Clifton College Annals and Register, 1860–1897. J. W. Arrowsmith. p. 192.
  4. ^ Hanson, Ellis (1997). Decadence and Catholicism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 345–354. ISBN 978-0674194465.
  5. ^ a b Channon, Henry (2021). Henry 'Chips' Channon: The Diaries (Volume 1): 1918-38. London: Hutchinson. pp. 300, 310, 314, 321. ISBN 978-1786331816.
  6. ^ Wilson, A. N. (1989). "Montague Summers". Penfriends from Porlock. London and New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 218–224. ISBN 0-393-02647-7.
  7. ^ a b c d Hume, Robert D. (1979). "The Uses of Montague Summers: A Pioneer Reconsidered". Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660-1700. 3 (2): 59–65. JSTOR 43291376.
  8. ^ Mike Ashley, "Anthologies" in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, edited by John Clute and John Grant. London : Orbit, 1997. ISBN 1857233689 (p.42).
  9. ^ Theodore, David (2001). "'Gay is the right word': Montague Summers and the replevin of Richard Barnfield". In Borris, Kenneth; Klawitter, George (eds.). Affectionate Shepherd: Celebrating Richard Barnfield. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press. pp. 265–280. ISBN 978-1575910499.
  10. ^ Jolly, Raudvere, & Peters(eds.), "Witchcraft and magic in Europe: the Middle Ages", page 241 (2002).
  11. ^ Herbert Thurston (1912). "Witchcraft". Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 26 November 2009.
  12. ^ a b Wood, Juliette (2007). "The Reality of Witch Cults Reasserted: Fertility and Satanism". In Barry, Jonathan; Davies, Owen (eds.). Palgrave Advances in Witchcraft Historiography. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 69–89. ISBN 1-4039-3512-2.
  13. ^ Russell, Jeffrey Burton (1972). Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. p. 30. ISBN 0-8014-0697-8.
  14. ^ a b c Mayers, Simon (2011). "From the Christ-Killer to the Luciferian: The Mythologized Jew and Freemason in Late Nineteenth-and Early Twentieth Century English Catholic Discourse" (PDF). Melilah: Manchester Journal of Jewish Studies. 8: 31–68.
  15. ^ M. Summers, "The Marquis de Sade: A Study in Algolagnia", included in Essays in Petto (1977) Google Books
  16. ^ Jeremy Lewis, Cyril Connolly: A Life (Jonathan Cape, 1997), p. 143
  17. ^ a b O'Sullivan, Gerard (2009). "The Manuscripts of Montague Summers, Revisited". Antigonish Review. 159: 111–131. ProQuest 199211832.
  18. ^ a b Thurston, Herbert (September 1927). "Diabolism". Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review. 16 (63): 441–454. JSTOR 30093800.
  19. ^ Gerard P. O'Sullivan, "Prologue: The Continuing Quest for Montague Summers," in Montague Summers, The Vampire: His Kith and King – A Critical Edition, ed. Jonathan Edgar Browning (Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press, 2011), pp. xxviii- lxxii
  20. ^ a b McInnes, Ian (16 October 2022). "Kingsley Dene: Who lived in a house like this?". The Dulwich Society. Retrieved 9 November 2023.
  21. ^ Beach, Darren (2013). London's Cemeteries. London: Metro Publications. pp. 216–219. ISBN 9781902910406.

External links[edit]