Taken from the magazine "Lesbian and Gay History" Volume 5, Issue 2, February 1991.
Lesbian and Gay Figures in Magical History:
No. 6 John Segundus
We continue our popular magical history series in this issue with a focus on a lesser-known magician, John Segundus. Active in the early 19th century, Segundus is mostly notable now for his work in magical education and as the author of the first biography of fellow-magician, Jonathan Strange. This article is contributed by Dr Alex McIlroy, who is currently researching into Segundus' papers at the Centre for Magical History in Leeds.
John Segundus is perhaps not a household name. Knowledge of him tends to be relegated to those of us with a particular interest in the magical history of the regency and the early 19th Century, commonly known as the magical restoration period. This is a little unfair to Segundus, who played a significant role in the restoration of English magic itself, but is perhaps understandable when you consider the competition he receives from his more famous counterparts. Moreso than at any other time, the magical restoration can be said to have had a glut of famous magicians; among them we have Strange, Norrell, Childermass, Redruth, Ward, and a number of others. Then of course, after that time came the great magical celebrities of the Victorian era (Shepperton, Pritchard, Gwozdek, to name but a few) which of course means that all but the largest characters of the magical restoration must fall by the wayside, Segundus included.
Who, then, is John Segundus? For an introduction, we turn (as all magical historians do) to Aston's 1904 "Dictionary of Magical Biography":
John Segundus, of the Learned Society of York Magicians, was a magician of the magical restoration. He was the first to proclaim the talents of Gilbert Norrell, the founding practical magician of that age, and was the biographer of Norrell's pupil and rival, Jonathan Strange. Despite initial difficulties, Segundus became the founder and first Principal of the Starecross College of Magic in Yorkshire, which is still a credit to magical education to this day.1 Besides his books and foundations, Segundus was also a practical magician, being one of the first magicians of that age to transfer from theoretical to practical magic. Though hard to imagine now, it was still difficult for gentlemen of the magical restoration to overcome the national prejudice against practical magic. This is exemplified in a chain of correspondence between Segundus and his friend, the well-known magician John Childermass: "You have been using Chertsey's magic, sir," declares Childermass, going on to correct Segundus in some flaws he has made in the spell. "I can see what you're about!" Segundus, fearful of Childermass' censure, appears to have written an apologetic letter in return, to which Childermass, ever the promoter of practical magic, neatly replies, "I do not require you to stop, sir." Books published by Segundus include...
As an introduction to the highlights of John Segundus' career, Aston does very well, and certainly does better than later magical historians, who often leave out mentions of Segundus altogether. However, the tide is turning. Slowly, through the past two decades, Segundus appears to be undergoing something of a revival, at least amongst the academic community. As magical historians have begun to look into the collection of papers that Segundus left behind himself, there has come a realisation that he was far more closely involved in the events of the magical restoration than was previously realised. For example, it is becoming increasingly known that Segundus was actively involved in persuading Strange and Norrell to collaborate in the first place. My fellow magical historians, Barker and Muller, have done a lot of good research in this respect over the past few years, and it is now my turn to take up the mantle.
I do not wish to talk to you here, though, about Segundus' place in magical history; that thesis is for another day. As you may have guessed, being readers of this magazine, I am here to discuss Segundus' place in queer magical history, as a gay man.
How do we know about Segundus' sexuality? That is, at first glance, difficult. As a person who appeared to do his best to keep away from the spotlight, Segundus never courted the publicity nor the scandal that accompanied more well-known figures in queer magical history. However, without delving too deeply into the documents that Segundus left behind him, we know at least this: Segundus remained a bachelor throughout his life, never getting married or engaged, and not once arousing any suspicion of romance with the women he met in his life. This, alone, is admittedly not much evidence to go on. Segundus was, first and foremost, a scholar, and in his time it was seen as fairly normal for scholarly men to adopt a more celibate lifestyle; indeed Aston later goes on to praise Segundus for this as "the epitome of all that a scholar should be."2 Additionally, Segundus, for most of his life, was not a wealthy man. Even should he have wished to, he would not have been able to afford the maintenance of a wife and a family.
What, then, makes me say so assuredly that Segundus was a gay man? For that we must return to Aston again. Let's take another look at the end of that quotation I gave you:
This is exemplified in a chain of correspondence between Segundus and his friend, the well-known magician John Childermass: "You have been using Chertsey's magic, sir," declares Childermass, going on to correct Segundus in some flaws he has made in the spell. "I can see what you're about!" Segundus, fearful of Childermass' censure, appears to have written an apologetic letter in return, to which Childermass, ever the promoter of practical magic, neatly replies, "I do not require you to stop, sir."
Those of you who are familiar with magical history, or even the history of literature, might have discovered where I am leading you. In Aston's time, and indeed in Segundus' as well, Chertsey was very little known. There was in the early 19th century only one known copy of Hugh Chertsey's "Magick and the Merry" and this was kept in Gilbert Norrell's library at Hurtfew Abbey, which, of course, is no longer accessible. We are lucky in the 20th century that another copy of the book was unearthed when the estate of the Earl of Rutland was sold in 1952. As you may well be aware, there was a scandal over this book when attempts were made to publish it anew in 1953 and the enterprise was banned under the Obscene Publications Act. It was not until this ban was overturned in 1975 that the general public has had access to Chertsey's work.
Hugh Chertsey was a magician of the restoration (by which I mean the restoration of the monarchy in the late 17th century). His only published book, "Magick and the Merry", is now infamous as the most lewd and pornographic magical book ever written.3 This, then, brings us to two interesting conclusions. The first is that John Segundus had some sort of access to the text and was willing to perform at least one of the spells within it. The second is that John Childermass knew, somehow, that Segundus was performing these sexual spells and had enough knowledge of the performance that he was able to correct Segundus on his technique. Had Aston, with his strict, Edwardian morals, known any of this, I very much doubt he would have praised Segundus as being "the epitome of all that a scholar should be".
Our first question is the obvious: which spells from Chertsey was Segundus practicing? For many years this was unknown. Recently, however, I have had the joy of unearthing an important piece of evidence amongst Segundus' papers, being the text of one of Chertsey's spells written in Segundus' own hand. The fact that this spell was overlooked until recently is not surprising; it has been written on the back of a stationer's bill, and is entirely in code.4 The date of the stationer's bill suggests that the spell was written in early 1807; this appears to coincide with a time when we think that Segundus was given access to Gilbert Norrell's library at Hurtfew Abbey.5 No other spells from Chertsey can be found in Segundus' collection, which suggests that this is the one he practised. Here is the text of the spell as it was found in Segundus' hand:
God preserve me. 6
Chertsey. Magick & Merry.
To show a likeness of one's carnal desire.
Take apples and pare them, and chop them very small. Beat in a little cinnamon and some sugar, and a little rosewater. Take your pastry, roll it thin, and make them up, as big pasties as you please. Fry them with butter not too hastily lest they be burned. Eat of these pasties a little before you retire. When this be done, take up your private member and caress him till he be thick and you be near upon your release. Then recite Stretford's incantation7 and a likeness of your desire shall appear before you.8
There are a few alterations between Segundus' version of the spell and Chertsey's original. For example, Segundus leaves out the ginger, doesn't specify how much of the apple mixture should be added to each pie, and fails to include the final two sentences of the spell altogether. This suggests that Segundus' version was copied out from memory.
Our second question is: how did Childermass know that Segundus was practising Chertsey's spell? Those of you familiar with Chertsey may know the answer already. For those of you who aren't, we should return to the correspondence between Segundus and Childermass. Here I insert a full transcription of the letters from Childermass that appear in the excerpt from Aston. I am also lucky enough to have had access to Segundus' reply (which has recently been deposited, along with the rest of Childermass' papers, in the Westcott Collection); I include the full text of this reply here in its proper place.
You have been using Chertsey's magic, sir. What's more, you have neglected to notify me of this beforehand.
As I cannot imagine you to have done so willingly I must assume that you are ignorant of the full effect of this magic.
It is a reciprocal spell, sir! The magic that affects the object of the spell also affects the spell-caster. I can see what you're about!
I cannot begin to apologise for the wrong I now see that I have done you. If it helps (and I must hope that it does) I shall explain to you my error.
You are correct that I was doing Chertsey's magic. It was wrong of me to have done it. I knew it was wrong and yet I still did it. I can make no excuses to the contrary.
But you must believe me, sir, that the effect this spell had is not the one I intended. Firstly, I assumed that this spell would show me only a likeness of the person, and not a vision of the actual person themselves (such a breach of privacy I would never dream of! even had I consciously chosen the object of this spell, which I must assure you I did not). Secondly, as you say, I did not know that the spell was reciprocal. I could not even conceive that you too would see a vision (and I cannot bear to think of the sight I have forced upon you).
I have been so very much in the wrong, both morally and professionally. I can hardly bear to write this letter in the knowledge of what you must think of me.
There is, I know, nothing sufficient I can do to make amends to you, sir. All I have in my power is to offer my most sincere apologies and my word that I shall never attempt Chertsey's magic again.
I remain your most humble servant,
You are mistaken and your apologies are unnecessary.
I do not require you to stop, sir.
Consider yourself free to practice Chertsey's magic as you please. You may rest assured that I would find it both instructive and of interest were you to do so. Perhaps this Thursday evening would be of convenience for the both of us.
To add to this, I now insert the full text of Chertsey's spell in its original form, including the parts that Segundus' copy lacks:
To shew a likenesse of one's carnnal desyre
Take Apples and pare them, and chop them very small, beat in a little Cinnamon, a little Ginger, and some Sugar, a little Rosewater, take your paste, roul it thin, and make them up as big Pasties as you please, to hold a spoonful or a little lesse of your Apples; and so fry them with Butter not to hastily least they be burned. Eat of these pasties a little before ye retyre. When this be done so take up your Privatte member and caresse hym till he be thicke and you be near upon your release, then do recyte Stretford's Incantacion and a likenesse of your Desire shall appeare before you. When this doth come to pass a likenesse of yourself will appeare before your desyre also and a great merrymente and enjoyement may bee had thereof. At the expression of your seede the spelle shall cease. 9
Our puzzle is now complete. We see that John Childermass was aware of Segundus' use of Chertsey because Childermass himself was the object of the spell and, due to the nature of that spell, witnessed Segundus performing it.
What is quite clear is that Segundus was not aware of the full effect of the spell until it was pointed out to him. He did not, therefore, intend to engage Childermass directly in a sexual encounter, and if Segundus' own protestations are to be believed, his sexual interest in Childermass was an unconscious one. Be that as it may, it serves as unequivocal evidence that Segundus was attracted to men.
Segundus' profuse apologies will not be surprising to readers of this magazine, who I am sure will be well aware of the public image of homosexuality in the 19th century. What is perhaps more surprising is Childermass' reply, which contains neither disgust nor discouragement, but instead a clear request for Segundus to perform the spell again; in effect a request for a second sexual encounter. Thus we get an insight into Childermass' own sexuality in the same run of correspondence.
Despite Childermass' final request, we have no evidence as to whether it was ever carried out. If there are further letters between Childermass and Segundus on the subject, they have been lost to time. What we do know, however, is that regardless of the outcome of this particular instance, Segundus and Childermass remained friends and that Childermass continued to be a regular visitor at Starecross for the rest of his life.
For myself, following Aston's brief mention of Chertsey has led me down a rabbit-hole of discovery. We now have proof that Segundus had an attraction to men, even if we don't know whether he ever acted upon it. This is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. How did Segundus regard his sexuality? How did it affect his identity and his view of himself as a magician? Did his experiences as a gay man have an influence on his work and his interaction with the magical community of the restoration period? These questions, and many more, still wait to be answered as I continue to research my way through Segundus' papers.
Dr Alex McIlroy will be giving a talk about John Segundus at Leeds University on 15 March. Tickets are free but will need to be booked in advance. Please contact the University's Department of Magic for further information.
Book review: Lesbianism in the Cotton-Mills of Lancashire by L Howitt
Reviewed by Dr Rachel Hochberg.
Howitt's new book on the cotton mills of Lancashire is a good account of the experiences of the lesbian women in that industry, though is perhaps too full of detail to act as an introduction to the subject for the unacquainted. This aside, the book is structured well and clearly takes the reader through the life It was and times of 19th century the middle of July Lancashire.
Chapter one gives some introduction to the economics and the students at Starecross had all returned merrily to their own homes of the time and the work of the cotton mills, though a student may wish Without the students, and indeed without half of the staff, who had also returned to their homes so that they might help their families work on the land, Starecross seemed a very large and empty place more general textbook for further background. Mr Segundus, however, did not much mind this. Howitt also sets up a central theme here, which will run throughout the book. He enjoyed teaching his students, certainly, but the summer months allowed him the time and freedom to work on his own research, which was always Mr Segundus' favourite occupation.
This summer, Mr Segundus was busy in an attempt to decipher parts of the King's book which his friend, John Childermass, had sent to him. It was a long and painstaking task, as not only was the book written in a script Mr Segundus had never seen before, he had also begun to doubt that beneath those signs was a language that had ever been spoken before in England. As this research could tend towards the frustrating, Mr Segundus did not work on it all the time; he instead supplemented it with a study of the many species of tree found in several Faerie kingdoms, and with some experiments in practical magic.
This was more than enough to keep Mr Segundus occupied and happy, save for two things. The first was that it was very hot, as July is often wont to be, and this heat was joined with a close and muggy air. One needed only to take a step or two before breaking out into a sweat and feeling overcome by exhaustion. The second was that Mr Segundus had recently sorted through an old pile of papers and jottings, and had come across a note he had quite forgotten; this was not yet a problem, but he would soon come to wish he had never rediscovered it.
On this particular day it had been hot from very early in the morning. All the windows and doors at Starecross were open and Mr Segundus had left off his coat and was working in only his shirtsleeves and his waistcoat; yet it was still far too hot to be pleasant. Unhappily, Mr Segundus realised it was so muggy, and his hands so sweaty, that the paper he was writing on was cockling beneath his palm.
This cannot do, thought Mr Segundus wearily, I must get some air or I will ruin every piece of paper I come across. Therefore, he put on his hat (without putting on his coat, for it was far too hot for such niceties) and went out for a walk.
Outside, things were not much better; there was a mild breeze in the air but the sun was so hot that Mr Segundus felt as if he might fry alive. As he walked along the lane from Starecross he kept beneath the shadow of the trees, though this was scanty at best. At least, however, Mr Segundus was able to make use of this little respite. Others were not so lucky: out in the fields, the labourers working on the crops were in the full light of the sun, and were so hot that they had taken even the shirts off of their backs, and worked with chests bare and shoulders turning red.
Mr Segundus watched them as he passed, even though he knew he should not.
Feeling he was not yet cool enough, and perhaps even growing hotter, Mr Segundus determined to walk on to the small river nearby and to dip his feet in the water. When he arrived at this spot Mr Segundus realised that he was not the only person to have the idea: several men and boys had decided to go swimming and had thrown off their clothes to go splash in the water.
Mr Segundus' own servant Charles was with them. "Come into the water, sir," cried Charles, waving. "It is mighty cool."
Mr Segundus' thanked him, but said that he would be happy just to dip in his feet for now, and, removing his shoes and his stockings, he did just this.
The water was indeed pleasantly cool, and it seemed a very merry place, with the bathers laughing and diving and splashing. Mr Segundus watched them for a while, but soon realised that his thoughts were turning towards the undesirable (for the bathers were so very merry and so very naked). Trying to distract himself, therefore, Mr Segundus lay back on the grass, folded his arms and closed his eyes.
It did not help. Whatever sights Mr Segundus' eyes could no longer provide, he found that his imagination was more than happy to supply in their place; indeed, his imagination went even further and wandered off to sights that no eyes would ever see on a busy river-bank in the middle of the day.
There was nothing to be done. Feeling as if he had had quite enough of his walk, Mr Segundus put back on his stockings and his shoes and returned to Starecross, there to resume his research in his stuffy office with his cockling paper.
Mr Segundus' thoughts that day were not helped by the sorting and filing he had carried out the day before. There, in a bundle of notes from several years ago, he had found a slip of paper. At first Mr Segundus did not remember anything about it; he could not remember writing it, and yet it was in his own hand and written in a code of his own devising. Sitting down to decipher the code, Mr Segundus soon discovered the note for what it was: a transcription of a spell from Chertsey's "Magick and the Merry".
Mr Segundus blushed to see the title of the spell. He then blushed even harder when he read the spell through to the end. And yet he did not remember copying it down at all. Looking at the original note from both sides, he deduced that it must date from the time he met Mr Norrell and was given access to his magical library in Hurtfew Abbey; certainly Mr Segundus had not heard of Chertsey's work being held anywhere else. This, then, was not so confusing; there were many things that Mr Segundus did not remember from his time at Hurtfew Abbey, and this spell was merely another of those things.
For Mr Segundus to have copied down such a spell though! Its title was "To show a likeness of one's carnal desire" and its contents were far worse. Poor Mr Segundus! He had obviously thought to use the spell at some point. Like all men, he found himself sometimes at the mercy of his body's desires. Unlike most men, however, Mr Segundus' desires were shameful in the extreme.
After his walk and his uncomfortable time on the riverbank, Mr Segundus kept thinking back to Chertsey's spell. Doubtless it was partly to blame for setting his thoughts on their current, disgraceful track. Resolved not to allow himself to be overcome by it, Mr Segundus threw himself back into his researches; he pulled out the latest transcription sent to him by John Childermass and set to work.
The rest of the day passed with little incident, although Mr Segundus found that he got far less done than he would normally, as his imagination was suddenly wont to wander off into all sorts of undesirable directions. In the end, Mr Segundus gave up on doing anything much useful, and so took an early supper and went to bed.
If Mr Segundus thought that he might get some respite in the arms of sleep, he was wrong. His dreams were filled with all manner of sights and temptations; of strong bodies and warm skin and laughing bathers. The effect of these dreams, however, was far from unpleasant. It was with a great sense of happiness that Mr Segundus woke the next morning; and the cause of this happiness was soon discovered as he awoke further and found himself rocking down against the mattress.
In these sorts of situations it is often far easier to give in to the temptation offered than to feel the guilt that one ought to feel. Mr Segundus did just this; he continued the rocking of his hips until he reached that pleasant juncture which such an action will produce. It was now that Mr Segundus found it within himself to feel a little guilty; and yet he was not afflicted too badly with it. For, thought Mr Segundus, now that is over I am free to work on my research with no further distractions!
Unfortunately, Mr Segundus was wrong. For a time, of course, Mr Segundus' imagination left him free and at ease. He dressed and took breakfast and even worked at his research for a full hour in complete contentment. It was not, however, to last. Soon, a few undesirable thoughts began to creep back into his mind; these he was able to ignore. Yet they increased and increased in frequency until they came upon him in such a torrent that he was almost driven to distraction.
If anything, it seems that the activities of the previous night and that morning had only added fuel to the fire, kindling desire where no desire should be. By noon, Mr Segundus found that he could not go ten minutes without thinking about yesterday's naked bathers, or of the labourers in the fields and wondering what they would look like if they had removed their breeches as well as their shirts, or what their skin might feel like if he touched them, or what noises they might make if he...
Good heavens! thought Mr Segundus, I can get nothing done! I see that I am in quite a fury of lust! (For different people, of course, a fury of lust may mean different things. For some, it may mean that they must spend all day abed with a friend or two and will not rise until they are full sore all over. For Mr Segundus, it meant that he was distracted enough that he had once accidentally walked into a side-table, and had twice written down the wrong page number when copying out references.)
Morosely, Mr Segundus sat back from his desk and wondered what might be done to cure his affliction. The obvious answer might have been to try at man's favourite pastime (that is to say: onanism), and yet the morning's adventure suggested that this might make matters worse rather than better. It will not be enough, thought Mr Segundus sadly, I can see that until I achieve what I desire, my thirst for it will not abate.
And so what to do? A practical person might declare the answer a clear one: that Mr Segundus must find some willing man and lie with him until all Mr Segundus wished for had occurred. This was not so very easy. Certainly, Mr Segundus knew that men did such things, but he did not know how they went about it. Indeed, how does one find a willing partner? Where do they come from? Was Mr Segundus supposed to walk up to every man he could find and say, "Excuse me, sir, but what are your thoughts upon sodomy? For I have a great wish to use your body if you would so oblige me." The thought of it was terrifying and ridiculous in equal measure.
But perhaps not all men are so very picky. Mr Segundus also knew that some men (though he had never met one) would be quite willing to do all sorts of lewd and obscene things for a sum of money. The thought, however, of paying someone for such services was so distasteful to Mr Segundus that he quickly discounted the idea.
If Mr Segundus could not find a man to oblige him, then what? Even, perhaps, a picture of a man engaging in carnal acts might do. Mr Segundus knew that books of such engravings existed and sometimes passed hands for large amounts of money. But Mr Segundus did not have the first idea where to get such a book from!
These thoughts of books soon drew Mr Segundus towards an idea that had not yet occurred to him: there was, of course, always Chertsey's spell. When Mr Segundus had first found his note of it, he had been quite horrified. Now, however, it was beginning to look rather appealing.
It could be, mused Mr Segundus, the best choice I might make out of a bad situation. After all, it will show me the likeness of a man (perhaps as willing a man as one might wish for) and I will not have to trouble myself or part with any money to find him. Perhaps the likeness it shows me may even be more lifelike than the pictures you would see in a book of engravings! And here I will be able to fulfil my desire without my having to trouble anyone about it and in the privacy of my own rooms, where there is no risk of anyone uncovering my shameful behaviour.
The more Mr Segundus' thoughts ran thus, the more and more he warmed to the idea of trying out Chertsey's spell. And there was every chance that the spell would work; the number of spells a man might do successfully nowadays was extraordinary.
With it all settled in his mind and the necessary excuses made to his conscience, Mr Segundus looked through his papers until he had the spell in his hand once more. Then he copied out the first part of the instructions (which seemed very much like a recipe for apple pies) but deliberately left out the second part of the instructions (which were not anything to do with apple pies, and which still made Mr Segundus blush to read). This done, Mr Segundus made his way down to the kitchen and gave the recipe to Mrs Bull, the housekeeper, asking if she might be able to make the pies for him.
All that was left was to wait (as Mrs Bull was a very obliging woman and had agreed to have the pies made as soon as possible). For the rest of the day and that night, even though he was distracted by his imagination once or twice, Mr Segundus found himself very content indeed.
It took over a day for the pies to be made and baked (for it was not so very easy to get apples in July). When they were near done it had been so long since Mr Segundus had first set upon the idea of doing Chertsey's spell that he had begun to have second thoughts. It was, after all, not a good use of magic, and Mr Segundus' conscience supplied that it was still highly immoral to lust after the likeness of a man, even if he not be real.
By the evening, when the pies were baked and had cooled a little, Mr Segundus felt almost certain that he should put a halt to the whole proceeding. And yet, much as he might want to, he found that he couldn't. Mrs Bull and the staff in the kitchen had worked so hard to make the pies so quickly; Mr Segundus had really put them to a lot of trouble. In this light it seemed cruel, and more than a little ungrateful, to ignore the pies and not put them to the use first intended. Eventually, Mr Segundus' sensitivity towards Mrs Bull's hard work and kindness won out over his misgivings. He took one of the pies for his supper, then retired promptly to his rooms, where he locked the door behind him.
Mr Segundus' heart was beating fast at the thought of the magic he was to do. He walked over to his desk, pulled out the spell, and read through the instructions once more. It was all quite clear: Mr Segundus was to stroke himself until he was near close to his release, whereupon he would recite Stretford's incantation and the likeness of his desire would appear before him. They were not difficult instructions in the slightest. Mr Segundus' hands were shaking.
Putting the spell away again, Mr Segundus walked through to his bedroom and looked about himself. I am resolved, he reminded himself, so I suppose I must just go about it. Therefore, Mr Segundus removed all of his clothes and got down to lie upon his bed. (Normally, Mr Segundus might leave on his shirt for such an activity, but it was still so hot that it was quite a relief to be naked. He lay on top of the blankets, as the thought of climbing beneath them was unbearable.)
Thus, naked and on his bed, Mr Segundus performed all those actions which a man must when he wishes to grow hard and come near to losing his seed. This was not so very difficult after all. For, while Mr Segundus may have been apprehensive at first, he soon found that all apprehension slipped away when he was about his business. After all, Mr Segundus did so very much enjoy the doing of magic, and when that enjoyment was coupled with all his imagination had to offer (which, at this moment, was plenty, and in vivid detail) he found himself in quite an ecstasy of mind.
What likeness will the spell show me? thought Mr Segundus, breathing heavily. Will he be strong like the labourers? Or naked like the bathers? Or will he be both? I feel I can almost see him now, with his dark eyes and long hands and warm thighs.
Indeed, with his thoughts running so, it was not difficult for Mr Segundus to reach the required state of excitement at all. What was more difficult was stopping when he was meant to do so. But Mr Segundus conquered himself valiantly; he flung away his hands and clenched them in the blankets instead, where they trembled a little. By now he was pink in the face and sweating with exertion (for it was so very hot a day) and his breath came fast and heavy through darkened lips.
Desperately, Mr Segundus tried to remember what he was supposed to do next. He swallowed, kneaded the blankets with his fingers, and his mind finally lit upon Stretford's incantation.
Normally Mr Segundus would have been able to recite Stretford's incantation with no difficulty whatsoever, but when one is in the state which Mr Segundus had reached, one finds that remembering even one's name may be a challenge, let alone a magical incantation in another language (for Stretford's incantation was in Latin). Breathing heavily still, Mr Segundus pressed his palms into his eyes and tried to remember the form of it.
It was difficult; Mr Segundus got some of the words in the wrong tense, and his voice was more shaky than otherwise, but he finally got the incantation out. Immediately as he did so, Mr Segundus felt as if something in the room had changed, as if his bed had been made with new blankets while he was still lying upon them; and he knew then that some magic had happened.
Tentatively, and biting his lip, Mr Segundus removed his hands from his eyes, and saw that his friend, John Childermass, was standing in the middle of the room.
Oh, thought Mr Segundus mildly, it is Mr Childermass.
Should not Mr Segundus have been a little more surprised? Certainly, he hadn't intended to bring a likeness of Childermass into the room, and had rather thought that he would conjure some beautiful youth or strapping man. But, when Mr Segundus thought on it, he realised that he had very much desired to see Childermass all along; for, who had formed a large part of Mr Segundus' lewd imaginings for the past two days? And who had he been thinking of just a few minutes ago? Mr Segundus might have denied it in a more sober frame of mind, but he could not deny it now: it was John Childermass. John Childermass was who he desired. Certainly, Childermass was neither beautiful nor strapping, but he was kind in his own way, and quick and clever and had a knowledge to rival even the sharpest of men. Who, thought Mr Segundus, could not desire Mr Childermass?
These thoughts of Mr Segundus' happened all in the space of an instant. He looked some more at the likeness of Childermass and found it a very good likeness indeed. Yes, he was a little faint (Mr Segundus could see the wainscotting through him), and yes he seemed to be leant against some table or other object that did not exist, but these things aside it was a perfect likeness in almost every way. Why, there was Childermass' dark waistcoat (his coat, he was not wearing), and there was Childermass' long, ragged hair, and there was Childermass' smile (the one that crawled up one side of his face and looked like he thought the whole world a joke, with a punchline that only he could guess). It could not in any way have looked more like Childermass than it did!
As Mr Segundus was thus staring, the likeness of Childermass' smile grew wider and he stood up straight from his invisible table and began to undo the buttons of his waistcoat. Oh, the thought of what they might reveal! Mr Segundus watched, rapt, as the likeness of Childermass undid every button, then shrugged off the garment and dropped it to the floor (and, curiously, it did not make any noise when it landed; but then, neither did the likeness of Childermass make a noise in anything else he did).
To be in Mr Segundus' place at that moment! This was everything he had wanted when he had cast the spell. Beneath the waistcoat, the likeness of Childermass' shirt was white and the shape of him was supple. Encouraged, and with his face darkening further, Mr Segundus returned his hands to their previous task and began to stroke himself once more.
The likeness of Childermass' smile grew still further and his chest beneath his shirt jolted as if it were with the huff of a laugh. Now done with the waistcoat, his fingers rose upwards to his necktie, which they undid with quick, clean movements.
To watch him undress himself! Mr Segundus, at that moment, shuddered upon the bed and spent himself across his chest (and, indeed, all the way up to his jaw, which is something he had not managed since he was a much younger man).
Breathing heavily, Mr Segundus sank back against the blankets, and when he finally opened his eyes again, he noticed that the likeness of Childermass had disappeared. But Mr Segundus did not much mind about that. The spell had worked perfectly! It could not have gone better! Mr Segundus stretched out his legs and laughed to himself, then he curled onto his side and laughed again. It was only the thought of disturbing the others in the household, and them coming up to see what was the matter, that persuaded Mr Segundus to quieten down and go fetch a linen cloth to clean himself up.
The next day, Mr Segundus was all happiness. Successfully completing a spell always put him in a merry frame of mind, and this spell more than any other was conducive to high spirits. Throughout the day, Mrs Bull, Charles and the other servants at Starecross noticed Mr Segundus striding about briskly and humming to himself. He wished everyone a bright, "Good day!" and in fact wished it upon several of the servants twice. "Mr Segundus must have done some magic," they said to themselves. "He is always so happy when he does some magic."
Mr Segundus' cheerful temperament lasted for the whole day and on into the next morning. It was with this brightness of mind that Mr Segundus wondered what he should do with the rest of the apple pies (for Mrs Bull had made a good number of them). Well, thought Mr Segundus, there will be no harm if I were to attempt Chertsey's spell again tonight; after all, I do not wish the pies to be wasted.
Unfortunately, Mr Segundus' happy spirits were not to last; it was the arrival of a letter late in the morning that signalled their death knell. This letter was addressed to Mr Segundus himself, and the hand the address was written in was very familiar indeed: it was the hand of John Childermass.
Mr Segundus' face grew pale. He dismissed Charles, who had brought the letter up to him, and then sat down to hastily open it.
Poor poor Mr Segundus! He had worried what the letter might contain, but when he read it he realised it was far worse than anything he might have thought of. There was no doubt of what the letter was about. The first line read, "You have been using Chertsey's magic, sir." Poor Mr Segundus felt very glad that he was already sitting down.
It seems, from what Childermass had to say, that Mr Segundus' knowledge of Chertsey's spell had been wrong on two vital points. The first was that the likeness he had conjured (being Childermass) was not a likeness at all but had in fact been an image of the real Childermass himself, as he had been at that very moment. The second was that (oh, to think that it was so!) as Mr Segundus saw an image of Childermass, so Childermass saw an image of Mr Segundus, just as he had been at that moment. Childermass, therefore, had witnessed Mr Segundus performing his disgraceful acts!
By the time Mr Segundus had finished reading the letter, he could hardly hold it still for how hard his hand was shaking, and his whole countenance had turned as white as chalk. For several minutes he did not know how to proceed, and he sat in utter silence, staring at the wall. He could see that he was quite undone. How he could return to his good standing in Childermass' estimation, he did not know; and that was assuming that Childermass did not aim to seek some greater recompense for the misfortune Mr Segundus had brought upon him!
With an unhappy wail, Mr Segundus dropped the letter and pushed his fingers into his hair.
After about half an hour of miserable reflections and stern admonishments to himself (for now Mr Segundus' conscience had decided to make itself known), Mr Segundus determined that the only thing he could do would be to reply to Childermass' letter and explain himself (though, doubtless, his explanation would make him look worse than otherwise).
It took a good long time to compose this reply. On several occasions did Mr Segundus make a start on the letter, then decide that it would not do and resolve to begin again. Then, even once Mr Segundus had completed, signed and sealed the letter, he worried that he had not made himself quite clear enough, and so he had pulled open the seal to read it through again.
Finally, when Mr Segundus had finished his reply to his satisfaction (complete with apologies and declarations that he would never do Chertsey's magic again) he addressed it and gave it to Charles to be sent off. Once done, Mr Segundus had thought that he would return to his research, but he realised he had no stomach for it. There, on the desk in front of him, were the transcriptions of the King's book, and in Childermass' hand no less. Mr Segundus couldn't bear to look at them. He thought he might try some of his other researches instead, but he quickly found that he didn't much want to.
The servants at Starecross, first notified by Charles, were worried at this sudden change in their master. He had seemed so happy that morning, and yet now they found him wandering listlessly about Starecross' many rooms, or walking out into Starecross' garden and huffing and sighing at the plants; he didn't even wish to sit down to dinner! By the late afternoon they were all quite anxious, though they didn't know what the matter could be; some had suggested that Mr Segundus might have lost a lot of money through a bet, while others considered that maybe he had lost a great aunt or some other sort of relative; but none of the servants thought Mr Segundus the likely type to gamble, and if he did have a great aunt, they had never heard tell of her before.
The early evening found Mr Segundus sitting in the drawing room. Normally he would sit in here to read, or to write, or to take his tea and coffee, but now Mr Segundus did none of those things. Instead, he was slumped wearily in a chair and was frowning at the unlit fireplace as if it had just insulted him and he did not know what to do about it. Every now and again his lips would twitch or he would let out a pitiful sigh.
Mrs Bull, the housekeeper, was sitting with him doing her needlework, and every huff and sigh made her feel more and more sorry for him (and more anxious too, for she had half a mind that he was ill). When he sighed yet again, she looked up from her needlework and said, "Are you sure you will not take something to eat, sir? It is so very long past your normal dinner hour that you must be hungry indeed."
Mr Segundus raised his head and gave Mrs Bull a weak smile. "Thank you, Mrs Bull," said he, "but no. I find I am not much hungry at all."
Mrs Bull went to continue with her needlework, but then put it down again. She contemplated Mr Segundus from where she sat. "I do not like to see you so unhappy, sir," said she. "Why don't you take your mind off of it with some of your researches? It is, after all, the time of year you like best, for all the students are away and you can continue with your studies as much as you like."
Mr Segundus shook his head. "I am sorry," said he, "but I do not think I am in the right frame of mind for research."
"Then how about a spell?" asked Mrs Bull with a smile. "There's nothing you like more than performing some magic. I am sure that trying your hand at a spell would cheer you up in no time!"
But at the mention of this, Mr Segundus merely put his head in his hands and groaned.
More than anything he had said previously, this confirmed Mrs Bull in her suspicion that Mr Segundus was ill. She therefore went down to the kitchen to have some warm gruel made up for him, along with a cup of tea with milk and sugar; she sat with him while he ate said gruel and tea, and afterwards promptly persuaded him to go up to bed.
Mr Segundus, as he had said, did not feel particularly hungry, nor did he wish to go to bed early and be reminded of the place where Chertsey's spell had taken place, but Mrs Bull seemed so very insistent that Mr Segundus did not want to disappoint her, and so he did as she asked.
Mrs Bull may not have been correct in her diagnosis, but she had perhaps hit upon something with her cure, for when Mr Segundus awoke the next morning he felt a little better. He didn't necessarily feel happier (or even happy at all) and he still got an awful, sinking feeling in his stomach when he considered what John Childermass must think of him now, but he was at least inclined to get dressed, have breakfast, and steadfastly treat this day as if it were any other. After all, thought Mr Segundus to himself, what's done is done. There's nothing I can do about it now, so I had better just make the best of it.
And yet, when Mr Segundus sat down to his desk, he found that he still did not quite have the stomach to look at Childermass' transcriptions of the King's book. Therefore, he took up his work about trees in Faerie instead.
This mood of unhappy industry continued in Mr Segundus until the end of the day, and then on into the next. Mrs Bull was not quite sure if Mr Segundus was well again, but he was at least eating all his meals, which was some consolation.
It was on this next day, as Mr Segundus was sat working at his trees again, that Charles came up with another letter. From the writing on the front of it, it looked as if it was from John Childermass.
Mr Segundus grew yet more pale. He dismissed Charles as quickly as he dared, then sat down and looked at the letter in his hands. And so, thought Mr Segundus, I shall find out what recompense Mr Childermass requires from me. I doubt I will fare very well, for I cannot spare much money and I do not think I will be very good at duelling, but at least Mr Childermass will then be satisfied, and that will be something.
Morosely, Mr Segundus opened the letter and read it.
Upon finishing the letter, Mr Segundus turned it over and frowned at the back of it, then he returned to the front and read it again. He read it a third time.
Mr Segundus did not know what to make of it.
On all accounts (and Mr Segundus was not entirely sure that his imagination was not inventing this in order to protect him from some terrible truth) John Childermass sounded as if he did not mind that Mr Segundus had practised Chertsey's magic. On all accounts (and surely Mr Segundus was reading too much into it) it sounded as if Childermass would be very willing for Mr Segundus to practise Chertsey's magic again. On all accounts (and there really was no mistaking it) Childermass had suggested a date upon which he would next like Mr Segundus to perform the spell!
Mr Segundus read through the letter several more times. Once he was done his face had flushed up bright red, right down to his collar.
Childermass had called Mr Segundus' performance of the spell, "instructive and of interest." Good heavens!
The date that Childermass had proposed for the spell was the very next day. Yet Mr Segundus was not sure he could go through with it. He had not been expecting... It was all so very sudden! Resolutely, Mr Segundus decided that he would not answer immediately; it would, after all, take some time to resolve it with himself and his conscience. Instead, therefore, he hid the letter beneath a stack of books and went to resume his research. Yet this was not so very easy; not for two minutes straight could Mr Segundus concentrate before thinking back to Childermass' letter, or to Childermass' request, or to the memory of the time he had performed Chertsey's spell before, of how he had seen Childermass remove his waistcoat and his necktie with a smile upon his face.
Since he had received Childermass' reply, Mr Segundus' stomach had become all butterflies and he did not feel much like eating. He sat down to dinner and to supper that day but barely touched his food. Mrs Bull was like to be alarmed again, but she was not certain whether or not Mr Segundus was ill; for amongst Mr Segundus' frowns he would sometimes suddenly smile to himself, or laugh out loud for no reason. It was most confusing! (The other servants reasoned that Mr Segundus' recently-departed great aunt must have left him a lot of money in her will.)
The next day arrived (being the day Childermass had assigned for Mr Segundus to perform Chertsey's spell again) and yet, after a whole night of deliberation, Mr Segundus had come no closer to an answer as to what to do. It was not that Mr Segundus didn't want to perform the spell (indeed, the thought of it made him feel rather hot all over; and any objections his conscience might have made had fled in the face of it), it was just that it was so very nerve-wracking! The thought of Childermass watching him again, of watching him, naked, take himself in hand and bring himself to a happy conclusion, was both terrifying and thrilling. Mr Segundus felt as if there was not a moment in the whole day in which he was not blushing.
Finally, as the day drew on and grew closer to the evening (being the time Childermass had appointed for the spell) Mr Segundus finally came to a resolution: he would perform the magic. His reasoning was thus: firstly, he had not replied to Childermass' letter to decline the request. Childermass would therefore be waiting for him that evening, and it seemed rather unfair to disappoint him by not performing the spell when expected. Secondly, the more Mr Segundus thought about it (and he thought about it with greater and greater frequency as the hours passed by) the more he found himself looking forward to the encounter. After all, had not Childermass said he would enjoy it? Had not Mr Segundus enjoyed his first performance of it? Was it not likely that Mr Segundus and Childermass both wished to look upon each other with equal desire?
Resolved as he now was, Mr Segundus asked Mrs Bull for another of the apple pies to have for his supper (there were now only two pies left, for, having recently wished to forget all about them, Mr Segundus had suggested that the servants eat them up). Once supper was completed and the pie eaten, he returned to his rooms and locked the door behind him.
Mr Segundus was all a-tremble as he walked through into his bedroom. He might have been resolved, but that did not stop him from being nervous. What if the spell went wrong this time? Or Childermass found he did not like it so much as he had first thought? Or what if Childermass liked it very much? And if he did like it, what might Childermass do?
Taking a deep breath, Mr Segundus did as he had done before: he removed all his clothes (he considered, again, keeping on his shirt, but at the thought that Childermass might wonder why he did so, he resolved against it) and then he lay down upon his bed on top of his blankets (for the weather was still very hot).
Then Mr Segundus set about working himself towards that state at which he might say Stretford's incantation. This was not so easy as it had been the previous time, for though Mr Segundus had been nervous before, it was not nearly so nervous as he was now. But, Mr Segundus persevered and continued upon his way. Indeed, once he had been at it for some time, he found that it grew easier, and then easier still, and then positively delightful.
All those worries that Mr Segundus had had before, now seemed far less worrisome; some even seemed very welcome. What if Childermass liked it very much? Well, Mr Segundus rather enjoyed the thought of Childermass liking it very much. And if he liked it, what might Childermass do? Well, Mr Segundus had very many ideas on that subject and each of them had its own appeal.
Mr Segundus was so taken up with these happy thoughts that he barely remembered that he was supposed to stop before he got too far. Indeed, had he not suddenly remembered the spell at the last moment, he would have blundered straight across into the end of things, and then Childermass would have been disappointed. Luckily, Mr Segundus did stop himself in time, and he lay there on the blankets, panting, back arching, and his thighs tensing.
When, finally, Mr Segundus had regained some semblance of control, he put a hand to his forehead and tried, once again, to force his way through Stretford's incantation.
Just like the last time, once Mr Segundus had finished the incantation he felt as if the bed had been remade while he was still lying upon it (though he knew it had not). He looked up then, with his throat in his mouth, and there saw John Childermass sitting in the middle of the room and looking at him. (Childermass was not sitting upon the floor but upon a chair; or so it seemed, for it was not a chair that Mr Segundus could see.)
Childermass looked at Mr Segundus from his head to his toes, and Childermass' long, sideways smile crawled across his face. Poor Mr Segundus turned from red to pale to red again. At that, Childermass' smile decreased a little in intensity and he gave Mr Segundus a courteous nod.
Mr Segundus, swallowing, gave Childermass a nod in return.
Then, just as before, only this time with a great, wide grin, Childermass stood up and began unbuttoning his waistcoat (and, as before, he had not been wearing his coat to start with). Mr Segundus licked his lips. He felt as if he were tingling all over. It was just as Childermass removed his waistcoat and it fell, silently, to the floor, that Mr Segundus once more took himself in hand.
But this time, Mr Segundus was not allowed to continue. For Childermass stopped what he was doing and held up a long finger. He gave Mr Segundus a look.
Mr Segundus flushed harder and let himself go, instead clasping his fingers, and rather tightly so, in the blankets at his sides.
Childermass' lips twitched in a smile and, apparently content, he resumed his undressing. He reached his hands up and quickly undid his necktie; this fell to the floor beside the waistcoat. Next Childermass took up his shirt, tugging it out of his breeches then up over his head; this too fell to the floor.
Oh, the thoughts that ran through Mr Segundus' head! He stared at Childermass, rapt, and Childermass, with lowered lashes, looked back in return.
For a moment, neither of them did anything more than regard each other. Then, Childermass' hands moved once more and alighted at the waistband of his breeches. He looked at Mr Segundus, and, carefully, undid the first of his breeches' buttons.
Mr Segundus swallowed.
And Childermass, his fingers moving on to the next button, smiled his long, sideways smile.
1. In Aston's day, Starecross College of Magic was still an independent entity. As you may know, Starecross College was subsequently subsumed into Leeds University in 1973 to become the University's Department of Magic. The departmental dining hall boasts many portraits of former Principals of Starecross College, but unfortunately it seems as if no portraits of John Segundus were ever painted. As the founder, however, he is still remembered by name in the recently-built Segundus Stairwell, which links one of the department's lecture theatres to a basement car park. (Go back)
2. This does not mean that all scholars adhered to this rule, of course. The biographies of some of Segundus' contemporaries would be enough to make anyone blush. (Go back)
3. How this book was ever published in the 17th century is still a mystery. Some have suggested that it had the backing of the 2nd Earl of Rochester (others, meanwhile, have argued that it was written wholly by Rochester himself). The subject of the book is almost entirely sexual. Spells range from the fairly benign, "To make a maiden revealle a nipple," to the shocking (and rather confusing), "For the fuckinge of two score youths or maides with a goose betweene them uponn a shrovetide to the satisfactionn of alle involved." It is thought that none of these spells actually worked at the time the book was written. Indeed, the correspondence between Segundus and Childermass is our first evidence of any of these spells having been performed with success. (Go back)
4. It is not a particularly difficult code to decipher. It merely seems that, until now, no one has cared enough to try. (Go back)
5. If Segundus wrote down any further extracts from the books he found at Hurtfew Abbey, these extracts have not survived. In fact, almost all of his visit to Hurtfew Abbey is a mystery, from what was seen to what was said, and even the date it took place. We know, for example, that Childermass was Norrell's servant at this time, but whether or not he was present at Segundus' visit, we can only speculate. Here, I must note that some people cite the book "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" as containing a full account of Segundus' visit to Hurtfew Abbey, but I would like to warn my readers that this book has been so embellished and added to by its author that a large part of it is almost entirely fiction, and hardly constitutes a reliable historical source. (Go back)
6. This sentence does not appear in the edition of Chertsey's "Magick and the Merry" currently in print. Presumably it has been added by Segundus himself. (Go back)
7. Stretford's incantation is nowadays very common, with every student of magic able to recite it by the end of their first year of study. In Segundus' time it was slightly rarer, though perhaps not so much; it is clear that Segundus knew the form of it. (Go back)
8. You may note that the beginning of this spell reads very much like a recipe for apple pies; which is, in fact, exactly what this spell is. The spell appears to have been taken by Chertsey, word for word, from the recipe "To fry Applepies" which appears in the cookery book "A True Gentlewomans Delight" published in 1653. In fact, further research into Chertsey carried out recently reveals that nearly all of Chertsey's spells have been plagiarised entirely from this cookery book, with sexual imagery and only a few incantations appended to each recipe. It is surely no surprise, then, that these spells never worked in Chertsey's day. The real surprise is how these spells now work with the efficacy that they do. (Go back)
9. In the original publication, the final two sentences of this spell appear on the following page. Presumably this is why Segundus neglected to include them in his copy. (Go back)