The Strange Work of Edmund Shaftesbury

When I was kid, my father collected a lot of strange books pertaining to psychic phenomena and the occult. Dad never went to college, so I think these books were his path to self-education. If only they weren’t so weird.

The author he crowed about for years was a guy named Edmund Shaftesbury, who wrote books about “magnetism,” which meant anything from charm to charisma to, yes, the power to control minds.


I don’t know how much my father bought into this, but for a while there in the early 20th Century, Shaftesbury had a lot of takers. The author’s name was actually a pseudonym for a man named Webster Edgerly who published tons of these books. He and they are not remembered well, and deservedly so.

Wiki tells us:

Under the pseudonym Edmund Shaftesbury, Edgerly was a prolific author of self-help and utopian religious texts, producing over 100 books, most of them “official” books to buy as a member of the Ralston Health Club; they were “chock-full of racist rants, naive pseudoscience, and curmudgeonly attacks on modern society.”[1] He also dabbled unsuccessfully in real-estate speculation and the theater, and invented a language called Adam-Man Tongue that was “nothing more than a bizarre-looking version of English.”[2]

One of his books, Life Building Method of the Ralston Health Club, endorsed the consumption of whole grain cereal.[3] When William Danforth of animal feeds maker Purina Mills began making a breakfast cereal similar to the kind described in the book in 1898, he sought and received the endorsement of Edgerly to market Ralston breakfast cereal. Ralston cereal became so successful that in 1902 Purina Mills was renamed Ralston-Purina.[4] The breakfast cereal operations evolved into Ralcorp.

My parents are moving next spring and my dad recently offloaded his bizarre collection on me. While I was inspired by my memory of these books during the writing of my book, The Mesmerist, which posits that some of this bunk is actually real, I never really dug into the books. Now that I have some of them, I’ll be checking them out, but they’re admittedly low on my TBR pile.