In the previous post on the origins of divination with playing cards I included a book called The Square of Sevens, and the Parallelogram: An Authoritative Method of Cartomancy with a Prefatory Note by Robert Antrobus that was supposedly written in 1735 and then edited and republished in 1896 by E. Irenaeus Stevenson. I’ve had suspicions for a while that this work was a literary hoax, which is now borne out by a review in 1897 that reveals all (see Update below).

gypsy-cards2.jpgAccording to Irenaeus Stevenson, the original book tells how, around the year 1730, Robert Antrobus, “a Gentleman of Bath,” on a trip to Cornwall stayed at an inn where a dying man also lodged. Antrobus came to the aid of this George X— who, it turned out, was a gypsy of unusual education and breeding. During their time together, Mr. Antrobus agreed to care for Mr. George’s young daughter and Mr. George, in turn, revealed many secrets of the gypsies. Among these is a method of dukkeripens (divination) by playing cards. In 1735, so the story goes, Mr. Antrobus chose to publish this “betrayed secret” through John Gowne of The Mask bookshop. Unfortunately, a printing-house fire destroyed all except a dozen or so copies of the work.

In 1896, along comes E. Irenaeus Stevenson of New York, who republishes the work so that it may, “in our social day serve a lighter end—and entertain the parlor.”

What follows is an extremely complicated way of dealing out the cards for a Querist, resulting eventually in a rectangle (parallelogram) of 21 cards in 3 columns of 7. Each of the cards in the left column is a Master Card, which is modified by the two cards to its right. An additional three cards are called “Wish Cards.”

The cards are then read from interpretations given in a “Tavola [Table] of Significancies” in which a short meaning is given for each card as Master Card, followed by how the suits of the cards to its right will modify that meaning.

Red suits are auspicious and kind; black suits are unpleasing and less favorable.

• The Suit of Hearts is that of the Affections, Passions, Fancies and Feelings.

• The Suit of Diamonds refers to the condition in Life, Society, Wealth, Position and the Fine Arts.

• In Clubs lies Judgment, Intellect, Will, the Affairs of a Man’s Brains, and what he doeth of his own Mastery and Genius.

• The ominous Spades are the suit of doubtful or worse prognosticks of arbitrary events outside Man’s control.

It should be noted that it is not at all unusual for esoteric texts to be given a romanticized and totally false lineage. The text is available here.

I noticed that our 19th century editor prefaced his story about the work’s 18th century origins with a quote from Hamlet, “Tis easy as lying,” and ended it with another quote:

BRADAMANTE. But is this authentic? Is it an original? Is it a true, original thing, sir?

GRADASSO (making a leg). Madam, ’tis as authentic as very authenticity itself—’tis truth’s kernel, originality’s core—provided you are but willing to believe it such.

BRADAMANTE. Sir, you quibble.

GRADASSO (making a leg). Madam, ’tis precisely in my vocation to quibble,—and delicately.

From The Superglorious Life and Death of Prince Artius: A Tragedy. Act LI., sc. li.

I asked tarot scholar Ross Caldwell what he thought of these quotes, which imply a willingness to lie and believe lies. Ross came up with enough evidence to indicate the work is a 19th century fable. For instance, there is no stage play about a Prince Artius, and certainly no play has 51 acts and scenes. Instead, Ross realized that “Act LI., sc. li.” can be read as “Actually silly.”

stevenson.jpgEdward Irenaeus Prime-Stevenson (1868-1942), an American, really existed and was a novelist and journalist, writing under several pseudonyms, and with a particular interest in 18th century history and opera. He is affectionately known today as “the father of American homophile literature,” being the first American to write openly about homosexuality. There was a Robert Antrobus who was a teacher at Eton but who died in 1730, ten years before Stevenson’s fictional Antrobus. He may have served as the model for Stevenson’s author.

As a final detail that proves this is all fiction, Stevenson wrote that Antrobus had written a “brochure on the Cock Lane Ghost.” When Ross checked this out, expecting a deadend, he found, instead, that the Cock Lane Ghost was an actual incident, but that it took place much later, in 1762, and it involved a hoax that rocked London. One hoax mentioned in another hoax—what could be plainer?

Ross Caldwell says about The Square of Sevens, “Given the era, it might be compared to Robert Chambers’ “The King in Yellow” (referring to an apocryphal book that drives its readers mad) or Lovecraft’s Necronomicon (itself perhaps inspired by Chambers).”

So, instead of an original 18th century work, we have a piece of 19th century fiction about gypsy card divination. Even the method of cartomancy was created by Stevenson (see update below).


From “Literary Notes” by Laurence Hutton for Harper’s Magazine, Volume 94 (March 1897), a review of The Square of Sevens.
[Note: Stevenson worked as an editor for Harper’s, so we can assume that his co-worker, Hutton, got the following details directly from Stevenson.]

“Mr. Stevenson has evolved, out of nothing a certain Mr. Robert Antrobus, who lived in Bath during the reign of the Second English George. . . . ‘The Square of Sevens’ itself, it is needless to say, is as much an invention of Mr. Stevenson as is Mr. Antrobus. The ‘system,’ practically, is entirely his own; all the ‘significances,’ the general scheme and the idea of the work are purely original; although, here and there, they are in touch with the fundamental notions—all of them vague at best—of the professional cartomancists the wide world over.
“The author’s Editorial Preface is clever and entertaining; and it is not unlikely to deceive even the initiated. ‘The Square of Sevens’ is founded on recognized laws of recurrent chances; it will appeal to such as are interested in the occult sciences, and even the commonplace, ordinary ‘gorgio’ who is not a ‘dukker’ will recognize the charm, as well as the quaintness of the production.”