Augustus Montague Summers (10 April, 1880 - 10 August, 1948) was an eccentric English author and clergyman. He is known primarily for his 1928 English translation of the medieval witch hunter's manual, the Malleus Maleficarum, as well as for several studies on witches, vampires, and werewolves, in all of which he professed to believe.
Summers worked for several years as an English and Latin teacher at various schools including Brockley County School in S E London, before adopting writing as his full-time employment. He was interested in the theater of the seventeenth century, particularly that of the English Restoration, and edited the plays of Aphra Behn, John Dryden, William Congreve, among others. He was one of the founder members of The Phoenix, a society that performed those neglected works, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1916.
Summers also joined the growing ranks of English men of letters interested in medievalism, Catholicism, and the occult. In 1909 he converted to Catholicism and shortly thereafter he began passing himself off as a Catholic priest and styling himself the "Reverend Alphonsus Joseph-Mary Augustus Montague Summers", even though he was never a member of any Catholic order or diocese. It is possible that Summers may have been secretly ordained by a bishop of the Old Catholic Church, though there is no evidence to support this. His biographer Father Brocard Sewell asserts that he was ordained a deacon in the Church of England in 1908, and thus was properly addressed as "Reverend" in any case.
Summers wrote hagiography (on Saint Catherine of Siena) and lives of writers such as Jane Austen before turning to the occult, for which he is best remembered. In 1928 he published the first English translation of Heinrich Kramer's and James Sprenger's Malleus Maleficarum ("The Hammer of Witches"), a fifteenth century Latin text on the hunting of witches. This work followed his History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1927) and The Geography of Witchcraft (1928). He then turned to vampires, producing The Vampire: His Kith and Kin (1928) and The Vampire in Europe (1929), and later to werewolves with The Werewolf (1933). Summers's work on the occult is notorious for his unusual and old-fashioned writing style, his display of erudition, and his purported belief in the reality of the subjects he treats. Of lasting value were his seminal works on Gothic literature: The Gothic Quest: a History of the Gothic Novel (1938), A Gothic Bibliography (1940) and his collection of Gothic Horror stories in The Supernatural Omnibus (1931) and Victorian Ghost Stories (1936). Summers also edited an incomplete edition of two of the seven obscure Gothic novels, known as the Northanger Horrid Novels, mentioned by Jane Austen in her Gothic parody Northanger Abbey. Summers was instrumental in rediscovering these lost books, which some had supposed were an invention of Jane Austen herself.
Summers cultivated his reputation for eccentricity. The Times of London wrote he was "in every way a 'character' and in some sort a throwback to the Middle Ages." His biographer, Brocard Sewell, paints the following portrait of Summers: "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'."
While his friend Aleister Crowley adopted the persona of a modern-day witch, Summers played the part of the learned Catholic witch-hunter. His introduction to the Malleus Maleficarum declares it an admirable and correct account of witchcraft and of the methods necessary to combat it. In the introduction to his book on The History of Witchcraft and Demonology he writes: "In the following pages I have endeavored 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 organization 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 counselor of lewd court ladies and adulterous gallants: a minister to vice and inconceivable corruption, battening upon the filth and foulest passions of the age".
Summers was a member of the Order of Chaeronea, a secret society for homosexuals founded in 1897 by George Ives, which was named after the location of the battle where the Sacred Band of Thebes was finally annihilated in 338 BC. Other members included Charles Kains Jackson, Samuel Elsworth Cottam, and John Gambril Nicholson.
He died at his home in Richmond, Surrey. An autobiography The Galanty Show was published posthumously in 1980, though much is left unrevealed about his somewhat mysterious life.