Based on the numbers of copies available from secondhand book sources, this is the most popular of all Edgerly's many works. It is probably more than twice as common as any other.
Why this should be so is impossible to say for sure - why do people buy one idiotic book rather than another? - but this book does have certain characteristics that may have contributed to its success: for one, it is packaged into relatively short chapters, with few of the tedious anecdotes that make many of his others heavy going; it is one of his least cranky in tone, with no overt racism and little ranting; and it does contain, amidst all the pseudo-science and outright nonsense, some morsels of good advice.
It was one of his first books, appearing under the title Lessons in the Mechanics of Personal Magnetism in about 1888. Even in its later, much expanded, form it retains some of the freshness of an early work. But possibly the single most important factor in its sucess is contained in the repeated message that just by reading the book you will benefit, as for instance:-
It is easily possible to acquire some useful degree of this power [of personal magnetism] in one day after you have finished a careful reading of the book.
Here may lie its appeal. While it includes lots of blather about magnetic and non-magnetic foods and it does prescribe various exercises - which may of course attract some readers - the indolent, armchair magneticalist is equally catered for. And most of the exercises themselves are not greatly taxing: reading upside-down; practising not knitting your brows; trying to walk erect; swivelling your eyes while declaiming forcefully; 'raising the floating leaf'.
Of course even such unstrenuous exertions might be too much, were it not for the promised result, of control over one's destiny and mastery over others. I am certain it has worked for some, too. If one is persuaded to stand straight, to look confidently at people and to make the best of one's appearance and voice, then it can undoubtedly have an effect on one's life, no matter how nutty the supposed theory behind the practice. And Edgerly's theories certainly are nutty:-
The most recent science tells us that the countless billions of atoms of which the body is composed are charged, each and every one of them, with inherent or native magnetism, the presence of which is necessary to hold together their electrons, and to maintain a sort of solar system in which a central orb exerts an influence over its satellites, and the latter in turn by the magnetism of a force akin to that known as centripetal, keep their distance from the ruling orb. Also we are told that each atom holds a pent-up power that, if let loose, could destroy matter vastly greater than its size. All these engines of force and energy are coming into the body in countless billions daily, serving their mission of making and maintaining life, and passing out to join the great fund from which they were drawn.
All this magnetism is known as diffused power.
It is scattered throughout the body.
This is recognized by all scientists as the basis of a higher use than that which has yet been drawn from it. In order to understand how this higher use may come about, let us review the manner in which the vegetable cell that holds the germ of intelligence is made by Nature to collect these scattered forms of intelligence into a collective mass, which is called the brain, and by which the animal is created from the plant.
In the same way the diffused or scattered presence of magnetism in the countless atoms of the body is drawn collectively into ganglia, or nerve centres, and into the brain or greatest of all nerve centres. When the process of collecting this magnetism is carried forward to greater results, there is present in the body a much more active fund of magnetism. When the collective fund known as brain-power is united with the increased fund of magnetism, the result is personal magnetism.
Later we are told that both ultra-violet rays and cod-liver oil are also magnetic. (This 'magnetism' is remarkably various in its manifestations, isn't it?) Moreover:
The world is entering upon the era of magnetism.
Then presumably the world will be filled with forceful, confident men and women striding perpendicularly about their business, taking in the contents of a room at a glance, speaking in resonant tones and striking stately poses like the hammiest of actors, while those few doctors still needed heal their patients by a magnetic laying-on of hands, jazz music disappears from the earth and all married couples live happily, soberly and frugally together: a nightmarish final triumph of Victorianism.
Addendum: in an ironic gesture - given Edgerly's views on race and jazz - the jazz musician Charles Mingus found his own special use for this book. In his biography of the great bass player and band leader, Myself When I Am Real, Gene Santoro says:
Mingus took his copy of Edmund Shaftesbury's Cultivation of Personal Magnetism in Seven Steps and carved out the mid-section, so he could stash a handgun.