Our copy in a gilt leather binding is of a rare book, The History of The Life and Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell , which is claimed to have been written by Daniel Defoe and it was published in 1720. It was about a “Gentleman, who, tho’ Deaf and Dumb, writes down any Stranger’s name at first sight; with their future Contingencies of Fortune.” The book was purchased in 1998 from Bernard Quaritch Ltd, antiquarian booksellers, by the BDHS.
Who was Duncan Campbell?
Duncan Campbell (1680?-1730) was a Scottish deaf man and an account of his early life claimed that he was brought up in Lapland where his Scottish father had wed a local woman. When his mother died, his father and his family returned to Scotland where he wed again. In the early 18thc. Duncan Campbell claimed to be deaf and to have magical fortune-telling powers, which was attracting a great deal of attention. He was described as a deaf mute who had learned to read following the method of John Wallis and made his name as a fortune-teller, dabbling in magic and 31 witchcraft. In 1694 he went to London where his predictions attracted attention in fashionable society. Running into debt, he went to Rotterdam where he enlisted as a soldier and returned to London after a few years. When having taken a house in Monmouth Street, he read a wealthy young widow’s fortune, to his own benefit, and he found himself again a centre of attraction. He also succeeded in obtaining the royal notice as it was reported in the Daily Post of Wednesday 4th May 1720: ‘Last Monday Mr. Campbell, the deaf and dumb gentleman—introduced by Colonel Carr— kissed the king’s hand, and presented to his majesty “The History of his Life and Adventures”, which was by his majesty most graciously received.’
In 1726 Campbell appeared as a vendor of miraculous medicines. He published The Friendly Dæmon; or, the Generous Apparition which consisted of two letters. In the first letter he wrote an account of his illness which had attacked him in 1717. He described how nearly eight years later, when his good genius appeared, it revealed that he could be cured by the use of the lodestone. The second letter was about familiar spirits, describing how a marvellous sympathetic powder had been brought back from the East. A postscript in the book informed the readers that ‘at Dr. Campbell’s house, in Buckingham Court, over against Old Man’s Coffee House, at Charing Cross, they may be readily furnished with his “Pulvis Miraculosus,” and finest sort of Egyptian loadstones.’ Campbell died after a severe illness in 1730.
The history of the life and adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell has been frequently attributed to Daniel Defoe but there is little evidence that he wrote the book as the views expressed on the supernatural in the book directly contradicted arguments Defoe had presented elsewhere. Also Defoe was unlikely to have his book published by his enemy Edmund Curll, the book’s publisher. The book could be attributed to an anonymous writer, who was probably William Bond as he had then lived in the same house as Campbell in Exeter Court in the Strand.
The book has a fingerspelling chart and description shown between pages 38 and 39 and the fingerspelled alphabet depicted shows many similarities with the current BSL fingerspelling.