Mention the word 'sorcerer' and you might conjure up a vision of say Merlin, that master weaver of spells who could foretell the future, and who was adviser-in-chief at the legendary court of King Arthur. According to various, though varying, versions of the tale, that is.
In Roman times, being seen as a sorcerer, far from elevating you to the status of a Merlin was likely to be more than your life was worth, a way of dealing with dissidents. The accusation was often made against women practicing what today we might call 'alternative medicine', for healing was the prerogative of male priests in the temple.
Neither did Christianity improve the lot of anyone accused of being a magician or sorcerer. Such people were deemed to be in league with the devil and suspected of performing all manner of unmentionable acts. This led to the prolonged and shameful period of the witch-hunt, with women again the prime victims.
My Sorcerer, with his passion for antiquarian books and the opposite sex, hardly has much in common with these predecessors. Perhaps a little with Merlin, who also had an eye for the ladies. This proved Merlin's undoing, however, as he eventually took up with a nymph who discovered the secret of his spells then promptly shut him away for ever in an invisible tower, hawthorn bush, hollow oak, cliff (in Brittany), or rock on the coast of Cornwall, depending on which version of the legend you want to accept. There are lots to choose from. My Sorcerer can certainly enchant and also produce comic verse, perhaps in the process. Whether to do so he uses incantations or magic spells that could be discovered by a designing damsel, I honestly cannot say. But if he does, they would be of little use in predicting the future as he clearly is not aware of what is going to happen just a little later in the day let alone what the future has in store for him. Or anyone else.
What I can say with certainty is that he has arrived.
“What are you interested in?” asked Samuel. “Name your subject.”
“Scandal,” replied Tabby immediately. The three women laughed, Angela the loudest, though Tabby’s schoolgirlish giggle lasted longer.
Samuel was undeterred. “Scandal, let me see... Ah, the very thing.” He withdrew a volume from one of the neat stacks of books on the stout whitewood table. “The Comte de Cagliostro’s Affair of the Diamond Necklace. At the court of Louis XVI. Headline news in all the best scandal sheets of the time. Here’s a collection of the choicest items, complete with twenty-one portraits of the noble rogues involved. In splendid aquatint. Cagliostro was one of those put on trial. Remarkable rarity, published in 1785 and 1786. What is more,” Samuel stated with a flourish, it comes from the library of a chap called Hans Axel von Fersen, a Swedish nobleman who was a close chum of Marie Antoinette’s.”
“Does he figure in the scandal?” Dinah asked.
“Not this one,” Samuel said apologetically. “But he was the person mainly responsible for trying to arrange her getaway later on when the chips were down.” He opened the book and showed the girls some of the illustrations.
Meanwhile Jonathan brooded sullenly in the background, fidgeting with the strap of the bag holding his photographic equipment. A folded tripod lay on the floor beside it.
“What did they put them on trial for?” Angela asked.
“They got hold of some enormously expensive diamond necklace, pretending it was for the Queen.”
“And she didn’t know anything about it?” said Dinah.
Samuel smiled. “That’s the question. No one really knows.”
“How much is it?” Tabby asked.
“To you...” said Samuel slowly, “...five thousand.”
“Five thousand what?”
“Crowns. Kronor. That’s not much more than four hundred pounds. A bargain.”
Tabby shook her head. “Didn’t bring any loose change with me. Anyway, it doesn’t sound spicy enough. For that money one’s entitled to a bit more spice.”
“How about food?” Dinah suggested.
“I’ll put the kettle on in just a moment,” said Samuel.
“I didn’t mean that,” Dinah assured him hastily. “I meant books. What have you got in the food line?”
“I’ll get the kettle on anyway, but food... Let me see. Food... What d’you say to fish? Do you like fish?”
The girls all approved and Samuel brought out another old leather-bound book. “Looks a bit stale,” remarked Tabby. “You sure it hasn’t gone off?” And she broke into her giggle. “How old is it?” she managed to say.
“1738. A remarkable copy. First edition. Ichthyologia sive Opera Omnia de Piscibus scilicitet: Bibliotheca Ichthyologica,” Samuel read. “It’s by Peter Artedi, the founder of ichthyology. All about fish.”
“Any good recipes?” asked Tabby, still not properly recovered from her last burst of giggling.
“He didn’t fry ‘em, he classified ‘em,” said Samuel drily. “Was a bit overeager though. Went and got himself drowned in Amsterdam, so he finished up rather like them, only they were better adapted to the environment.”
“He could have popped them in the pan after he’d written down their names,” said Angela. “Must have lacked imagination. What else have you got? How about drink?”
Samuel eyed her thoughtfully. She was a tall, strongly-built young woman, with a ruddy complexion. “I’ve got something that should interest you. The first Swedish treatise on hops.”
“Now you’re talking,” Angela stated.
“Written as a result of the Royal Proclamation on Hop Gardens of July 1687.”
“And what was that?” queried Dinah.
“An attempt to cut down the import of hops by increasing production at home. But it deals not only with how to grow them, but their uses as well.”
“That sounds better,” said Angela. “Put that one aside and when I inherit some wealth I’ll have a closer look at it. What’s the price?”
“You can have it for a mere two thousand.”
“And how’s your late seventeenth century Swedish?” asked Diana.
“I suppose I’d better learn the fairly late twentieth century variety first,” said Angela. “Perhaps you’d better not put it aside after all.
“Haven’t you got something more up-to-date?” Tabby enquired.
“Well, if you want to come right up to modern times, I’ve got something almost contemporary inside, Chambers Miscellany of Useful and Entertaining Tracts, twenty volumes complete. Full of fascinating material, including on-the-spot reports from trouble centres all over the world. Volume three, I know, has got a series of eye-witness accounts of slavery in the United States.”
“And when was it written?”
“Not so long before the Civil War, in the 1840s.”
“And that’s up-to-date?”
“How more up-to-date do you want to be?”
Jonathan stopped fiddling with his strap, got up from the easy chair where he had been sitting and walked across the room to the others. He tried to catch Samuel’s eye, but Samuel was surrounded by books and women, a combination that left little room for extraneous matters. Or people.
“And what are you interested in?” asked Dinah as Jonathan approached.
“What I need...” he began.
“Now what he needs,” Samuel broke in, “is De Boodt!” He took a tome from one of the stacks, while the girls chuckled.
“What sort of boot?” asked Tabby.
“Well, I could think of several, but the one I’ve got here lived four hundred years ago in Bruges and was called Anselm Boetius. Anselm Boetius De Boodt. Referred to as the précurseur de la minerologie moderne. Gives six-hundred-and-forty-seven different names of jewels, minerals, fossils and stones. First attempt to apply some kind of method to minerals. Essential reading.”
“I can’t help feeling you’re holding back on the juicier stuff,” said Tabby. Angela agreed.
Samuel’s blue eye gleamed brighter as he carefully replaced the books they had been looking at. “Alright,” he said. “How about Descartes? Tractus de Homine et de Formatione Foetus. What every young woman should know. And man,” he added with a glance at Jonathan. “Early embryology. Or if you want to go one better still, well then...” He moved along the table. “...Then you have to turn to Falcutius. Ah Falcutius!” He took the velum-bound volume in both hands. “An illustrated medical incunabulum.” His face shone.
“Sounds indecent,” murmured Angela, while Jonathan fervently wished he had stayed in his seat.
“Sermo sextus de Membris Generationis, Venice 1498. A detailed account of the anatomy of the genital organs, with reference to gonorrhoea and related diseases thrown in as a bonus, along with a section on pregnancy and childbirth. No home can be complete without its Falcutius. Now what am I bid? I can offer you a third edition, published only seven years after the work first appeared in 1491. What’s that you say, a mere third edition? BUT... and it’s a very big but indeed... it’s the only edition with an illustration!” He looked sharply at Tabby and shook his head. “No, you can’t see it. That, madame, is exclusively for serious customers!”