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Will GoldstonAs far as I am aware Will Goldston was the first person who stated that Charles Dickens had written the article 'Out-Conjuring Conjurors', a review of Robert-Houdin's autobiography, which appeared in his journal Household Words in April 1859. He did this when he reproduced the article in Goldston's Magical Quarterly in 1934. This incorrect claim was subsequently repeated by many other magic historians, as set out in my book Charles Dickens Magician.

Will Goldston was the leading magic dealer and authority on magic in the early 20th century; by all accounts an extremely successful businessman and a pillar of society. However a talk at The Magic History Gathering at The Magic Circle this Saturday by Fergus Roy (from the Davenport family) revealed that both his public, and private life, were rather more intriguing than was previously thought. 

magic quarterlyIt turned out that, although he was respectfully married, his wife had previously had an illegitimate daughter. And then, later on, he himself had a son by his mistress. During the weekdays he lived in London with his wife, where his work was; and during the weekend he was with his mistress and son in Folkestone. Fergus Roy only managed to uncover the existence of the son because the latter wanted to join the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. The original birth certificate did not state who the father was. But the authorities needed that information to allow the young man to serve his country. Tragically he was killed before the war finished.

davenportsAnother of Goldston's juggling acts for many years was that he was declared bankrupt - part of the reason undoubtedly due to the fact that he was having to pay for two households. With the connivance of the administrator, this information was kept from public view - otherwise his livelihood would have been ruined. It was clearly successful as his numerous business ventures - which not only included dealing in magic and writing magic books, but also embraced performing and managing other acts - continued to the end of his life.

His final magic trick was his will; where he left much of his property to his wife - but only in trust.  On her death it would pass to his mistress. As she was many years younger, he calculated that his real love would eventually inherit the bulk of his wealth; this is indeed what happened. The poignant end to this talk (one of the best that I have heard at this day, combining great detective work with a passionate delivery) was that neither his wife nor his mistress spent much money on his gravestone.

sh societyLast week I did a performance for the Sherlock Holmes Society in which I touched upon Sir Arthur Conan's Doyle rather naive belief in Spiritualism.  I thought therefore I would repeat an anecdote which I recounted in one of my Dickens's newsletters back in May, 2013. 

At one of his later séances, Conan Doyle claimed to have communicated with the spirit of Charles Dickens.  The séance was conducted by the double handed act of Florizel von Reuter and his mother.  Apparently she would point so rapidly to letters on the Ouija board that it was impossible to follow what was spelt out: fortunately her son was on hand to write the words down!

florizel von reuterConan Doyle reported the encounter in a chapter titled 'The Alleged Posthumous Writings Of Known Authors' in his 1930 book The Edge of the Unknown (the year he died).  Conan Doyle was convinced it was the spirit of Charles Dickens because the latter revealed what had happened to Edwin Drood in Dickens's final, uncompleted book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  Drood was not, as the logical narrative of the book seems to suggest, murdered after all; but instead was hidden by another character in a large cupboard.

conan doyleConan Doyle was convinced of the truth of this - partly because Florizel claimed never to have read Edwin Drood, whilst his mother only had a “very vague memory” of it; and also because this was "a solution entirely new" to him.  He concluded that “this seems to me to be exceedingly important, both from a literary and from a psychic point of view”.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood was completed by a number of writers; although none of them came up with the ending which Conan Doyle thought came direct from the author's mouth.  A medium finished the book by channelling the spirit of Charles Dickens.  Dickens's son wrote that he had never read it but understood that it offered "sad proof of how quickly the faculties deteriorate after death".

paperback pickwickStephen Jarvis, the author of Death and Mr Pickwick, spent nearly a year trying to track down a missing, unpublished manuscript called The Life of Robert Seymour, which had mysteriously vanished in the 1920s; and which would have considerably helped him in his researches.  Having run up against one blind alley after another, he was persuaded by his brother to consult a professional psychic who worked with the police, to see if she could assist in finding the document.

During the consultation (which unfortunately failed to shed any light on the actual whereabouts of the manuscript), the psychic suddenly said "Who is Spencer?" This was a very significant name to Stephen, as Walter T Spencer was a man who had attempted to purchase the manuscript when it was put up for auction at Sotheby's in 1919 - but had been unable to pay the very high reserve price.  According to Stephen, only he really knew this fact, so it was, to quote him: "VERY weird for the psychic to say that name".

psychicMy explanation to Stephen was as follows:

"Asking a question such "Who is Spencer?" is a classic technique of a psychic. You will probably find she asked many such questions, but you forgot the others: you only remember the one that has some significance to you. Notice the vagueness of the question. She is not saying why Spencer might be of significance to you - she's asking you to make the connection. Most people when asked such a question would desperately search in their mind for anything vaguely related to a Spencer. Maybe they saw a film recently starring Spencer Tracey? Perhaps they were a big fan of Lady Di? Possibly they had a relative called Spencer? Whatever you come up with, the psychic will latch onto that and infer that is what she was thinking about when she asked the question. Occasionally they will strike lucky, which is clear she did in your case. If, at that point, you had given nothing away but said: "Yes, Spencer does mean something to me, can you tell me what?" she would have been flummoxed. But the natural response is to tell her why it is of significance and then she can enlarge on that (i.e. feedback to you what you've already told her).

spencer"If you had come back and said that Spencer meant nothing; either she will just forget about it and move on (in which case you will probably forget afterwards that she even asked the question) or she will make some vague statement like: "The name might have some meaning to you in the future". Then a few days later (or the next month, or the following year) you meet someone called Spencer (the fact that you meet myriads of other people with different names you conveniently forget about) - and give the psychic the credit for an amazing prediction."

Of course the other, far shorter and simpler, explanation - which is far easier to understand and agree with - is that the psychic was genuinely psychic!  

death JarvisIn Death and Mr Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis, the author convincingly argues that Robert Seymour, the original illustrator for Pickwick Papers, actually had more to do with the creation and naming  of the characters and the initial storyline than he was given credit for by Charles Dickens.  One of my favourite pieces of evidence for this is in the preface which Dickens penned for a new edition of Pickwick in September 1847 (the original book was serialised in 1836-37). Here Dickens wrote: "My views being deferred to, I thought of Mr Pickwick and wrote the first number."

seymour"My views being deferred to" essentially means he over-ruled Seymour's ideas of how the story should proceed.  However it is the phrase "I thought of Mr Pickwick" which is rather ambiguously worded.  To quote from Death and Mr Pickwick: "Its apparent meaning was that he had created Mr Pickwick, but there was a buried meaning, to be called upon in an emergency, that he had 'thought of Mr Pickwick' in the same way as he might have remarked: 'I thought of my mother'. "  In other words, Dickens thought about the character of Pickwick that Seymour had created and drawn; and wrote the first number with that image in his mind - thereby indirectly admitting that he was very much influenced by Seymour.

dickens quarterlySo what is the correct interpretation of Dickens's carefully chosen phrase?  One way of resolving it was put forward in a review of Death and Mr Pickwick in the Dickens Quarterly published in March this year. Adam Abraham, the reviewer, argued that the preface could effectively be ignored (in using it as evidence for, or against Seymour's actual role) as "a preface is a paratext, rather like the elaborate Pickwick prospectus, published on 26 March 1836.’”

I must confess I hadn't come across the term 'paratext' before so had to look up the definition.  Apparently it is a concept in literary interpretation: it is material supplied by editors, printers and publishers which are outside the actual text itself (such as a précis of the book, notes about the author, cover design, end pages, footnotes) and therefore not necessarily endorsed by the author. 

So in other words, it would seem that this particular reviewer's way of assessing what Dickens had written in the preface, was to assume that Dickens hadn't actually written it.  Brilliant!

It is fairly easy to get confused between James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson.  A couple of times after my talk on James Gillray, I have had people coming up and asking if I had seen his exhibition on at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace.  I had to explain that actually it was on Thomas Rowlandson and not on James Gillray at all.

blue plaqueThe confusion is particularly understandable as many of the prints that were displayed in this particular exhibtion (it was called High Spirits, The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson), had political content that covered the same topics as Gillray.  The difference is that one gets the impression that Rowlandson dabbled at political satire whereas, for Gillray, it was seeped through him.

high spiritsCharles Dickens labelled them together: he called both their work 'wearisome and unpleasant' and their characters 'ugly'. This was because both Rowlandson and Gillray enjoyed portraying both men and women in highly exaggerated styles, which on the whole weren't at all flattering to them.  Although it must be said that Rowlandson enjoyed depicting young women as very attractive and sexually alluring.

It is clear that the Royal Family did see them as distinct.  When the Royal Collection of prints was sold to the Library of Congress in the 1920s (it was said to have paid for George V's stamp collection, but this is probably a fallacy), the Rowlandson prints were retained, whilst all of Gillray's works crossed the Atlantic.  Qutie why Rowlandson escaped such a fate is not known: possibly because he did not attack the monarch as much as some of his colleagues.  Or maybe because the curator was embarrassed about some of Rowlandson's more lurid (not to say pornagraphic) prints; and felt it would be more diplomatic to retain them in England.

cruikshankGeorge Cruikshank is the subject of my latest talk.  He was one of the many illustrators who worked on Charles Dickens's books, most notably on Oliver Twist.  For most people this would be their only knowledge of Cruikshank but in actual fact his work output was phenomenal and spanned close on 80 years.

For me, Cruikshank is a natural successor to my talk on James Gillray; as the former was much influenced in his early years by Gillray.  Indeed when Gillray was forced, through illness, to stop working for his employer (and partner) Hannah Humphrey, she took on the young Cruikshank to replace him.  And some of his satirical prints - particularly of the Prince Regent, later to be George IV, and Napoleon - come close to matching Gillray in their brilliant draftsmanship and unflinching character assassinations.

faginCruikshank was, however, forced to re-invent himself.  Satirical prints (standalone images that were sold through print shops) dropped out of fashion, through a combination of the more moralistic Victorian times and new technology enabling copperplate and wood engravings to be published alongside text.  It is remarkable that Cruikshank made the transition so seamlessly and was able to embark on a new career as the leading book illustrator of his generation.

It was unfortunate for Cruikshank that he never found another contemporary writer as good as Dickens to match his own drawing abilities.  And it was also unfortunate that Dickens dropped Cruikshank after Oliver Twist, primarily because he felt that the illustrator should be very much subservient to the requirements of the author; whereas Cruikshank considered that it should be a partnership - even to the extent of him influencing the writing of some of the text.  As one can imagine, this did not sit well with Dickens.

So, sadly, what would have been a great partnership came to an end.

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