Authors: Susanna Clarke
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Historical, #Literary, #Media Tie-In, #General
Illustrations by Portia Rosenberg
First published in Great Britain 2004
Copyright © 2004 by Susanna Clarke
This electronic edition published 2009 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
The right of Susanna Clarke to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
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Illustrations copyright © 2004 by Portia Rosenberg
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In memory of my brother,
Paul Frederick Gunn Clarke, 1961–2000
He hardly ever spoke of magic, and when he
did it was like a history lesson and no one
could bear to listen to him.
Autumn 1806 — January 1807
OME YEARS AGO there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic.
They were gentleman-magicians, which is to say they had never harmed any one by magic — nor ever done any one the slightest good. In fact, to own the truth, not one of these magicians had ever cast the smallest spell, nor by magic caused one leaf to tremble upon a tree, made one mote of dust to alter its course or changed a single hair upon any one's head. But, with this one minor reservation, they enjoyed a reputation as some of the wisest and most magical gentlemen in Yorkshire.
A great magician has said of his profession that its practitioners ". . . must pound and rack their brains to make the least learning go in, but quarrelling always comes very naturally to them,"
and the York magicians had proved the truth of this for a number of years.
In the autumn of 1806 they received an addition in a gentleman called John Segundus. At the first meeting that he attended Mr Segundus rose and addressed the society. He began by complimenting the gentlemen upon their distinguished history; he listed the many celebrated magicians and historians that had at one time or another belonged to the York society. He hinted that it had been no small inducement to him in coming to York to know of the existence of such a society. Northern magicians, he reminded his audience, had always been better respected than southern ones. Mr Segundus said that he had studied magic for many years and knew the histories of all the great magicians of long ago. He read the new publications upon the subject and had even made a modest contribution to their number, but recently he had begun to wonder why the great feats of magic that he read about remained on the pages of his book and were no longer seen in the street or written about in the newspapers. Mr Segundus wished to know, he said, why modern magicians were unable to work the magic they wrote about. In short, he wished to know why there was no more magic done in England.