Continued

title-page-first-edition-editors-own-copy ‘I don’t know how much of this you know already, so forgive me if I go over old ground. MacGregor’s publisher, Beresford & Lucas, rejected his first manuscript. Sir Sidney Beresford even threatened to burn it if MacGregor didn’t remove it from their premises. I confess, I had always regarded Sir Sydney as a typical pietist – public virtue private vice, that sort of thing – but having read MacGregor’s first draft, I believe he had a real fear of prosecution. Under Scottish Common Law, it was an offence to print, publish, or otherwise disseminate material liable to cause public disorder. Of course, the real objection was against politicking and religious dissent, but it included offences against public decency and I am certain MacGregor’s text would have fallen foul of the law.’
     O raises an eyebrow so at least he’s paying attention.
     ‘Indeed so. It may surprise you, but MacGregor’s original text is quite different from the familiar version. The sexual content, though unexceptional by modern standards, would alone have condemned it, and the Alban Church would have denounced the explicit practice of magick. Make no bones about it; even had Sir Sidney and John Lucas accepted Acts of the Servant, the Lords Advocates would not.’
     He nods, which I take as acceptance, for now. There’s certainly something on the ceiling. Saw it move just then. Of course, might just be a reflection from outside. Passing car or a chap walking by the window. Where was I? Ah, yes.
     ‘Now, in my view, the new edition is a much better work than the familiar version; it is richer, more truthful about human emotion, and the merging of magick with the wider supernatural and spiritual world is more satisfying, even for one, such as I, who disapproves of magick. In other words, what improves it today are the very attributes that condemned it in MacGregor’s time.
     Of course, this leaves us with a puzzle: why would anyone write a text knowing it cannot be published? Especially if one is newly married and has a growing family to support, as was MacGregor. I cannot imagine Beresford & Lucas’ reaction came as a surprise to him, and for all his protestations of wishing to write with a new naturalism, he must have known it could not be published, which, when you think about it, rather militates against any notion the book had some hidden magickal purpose, don’t you think?’
     He shrugs. Better try that again. Damned important point.
     ‘A book only has power if it is read,’ I tell him. ‘Without the application of the reader’s consciousness it’s quite impotent. Why then would MacGregor produce a text no one would read?’
     O looks doubtfully at me. Better clarify.
     ‘Of course, I should say hardly anyone. Sir Sidney and John Lucas must have read enough to reject it and MacGregor’s wife read it in full, along with a few of his close friends, Sir Charles Palliser among them. Possibly King Charles as well, though one cannot be certain on that. Can we agree very few read it?’
     We can but now he’s casting aspersions against my own literary success. That’s underhand.
     ‘I admit my poetry and literary criticism haven’t given me a living, but I am not entirely unread. Acts of the Servant, at least in the form MacGregor intended, has gathered dust for one-hundred and fifty years!’
     He reaches forward and taps the cover of the new edition and I accept his point.
     ‘Of course, with this new edition Sir Tamburlaine has finally got what he wanted. Or rather, I believe this edition is as close as we shall ever get to the text he intended. I accept if it has some hidden purpose regarding magick, then I am not the one to see it. But nor am I inclined to fancy what is not there. No doubt others have better qualifications; I accepted the challenge.’
     ‘Naturally, I cannot say this edition is definitive. Heavens no. And if Van Zelden approached King James University, and they gave him access to MacGregor’s drafts, he might interpret them as he sees fit. Whether, speaking as a professional editor, he has the necessary skills is another matter. It is one thing to make an uncertain text read as you wish it to read; quite another to understand what the writer intended.
     As I say that I am painfully aware of the many times I had to trust to my own judgement on the matter. MacGregor’s text was at times impenetrable. One got the gist without knowing the precise phrasing he settled on. Another sip of tonic water.
     ‘Even so, I cannot condemn Van Zelden. In fact, I have great admiration for his abilities, even if I heartily disapprove of how he uses them.’
     Doing one’s best not to sound bitter. Known too many old duffers who like to moan about the latest new poet or novelist who catches the moment and outsells them by thousands. They forget they were once the darling of their publisher’s eye. Though I’m not sure I was ever anyone’s darling. Except for Edith. I was hers, for a year or two at the beginning. Ah well. Now don’t get maudlin. No one loves a grump.
     ‘Returning to publication of Acts of the Servant. Reviews were disappointing and sales slow. MacGregor knew the published text was inferior to the original, but the criticism still hurt him. Nevertheless, over the next few years he completed This Iron Race with Works of the Master and Devices & Executions. Rather sensibly, he wrote them in two versions: a preferred text and a text for immediate publication by Beresford and Lucas. I cannot tell, as yet, whether he hoped to live to see the preferred text published – he was only fifty-nine when Devices & Executions was published – or was writing for posterity. In any event, his health failed rapidly soon after and he died in 1872.’
     He was only a few years older than I am when he died. Damned sobering thought. Finish off my whisky.
     ‘Unfortunately, by the time public taste was ready for MacGregor’s intended text of Acts of the Servant, he was out of fashion. Lady MacGregor offered them for publication in 1905, a year after L H Durrants’ Wives and Lovers, but no English publisher replied. There was interest from the printer Félicien Alberix who approached Lady MacGregor with an offer to translate and publish them in France; French literature had been progressive ever since the failed prosecution of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, but nothing came of it.
     Another whisky would be welcome. Tonic water soothes a man’s throat but does nothing for his spirits. Still, better not.
     ‘Lady MacGregor died in 1907 and MacGregor’s entire library, which included drafts for all published works, was donated to King James University Library. The library has a record of the entire acquisition, and the printer’s fair-copies for all the volumes of This Iron Race were included. Unfortunately, they are now missing and all I had to work from are MacGregor’s first draft material and the familiar text, as published by Beresford and Lucas.’
     O sympathises.
     ‘It was not the simplest of tasks, I can tell you. MacGregor would rework his first draft several times over, before making a fair-copy. All handwritten, of course. Beresford & Lucas would produce the galley proofs on which MacGregor made his final corrections. Fair-copies are held at the library for all MacGregor’s major poetical works and his novels, including the published version of Acts of the Servant, but that for the original text, the one that scandalised Beresford and Lucas, is missing.’
     I have a vision of King James University Library where I have spent so many chilly afternoons searching for the blasted things. There are rumours of a nasty accident sometime in the nineteen tens when an under-librarian misfiled a Reserved Manuscript on the general shelves but Solomon Drake refuses to discuss it. Apparently some two dozen works vanished into thin air and it’s possible MacGregor’s fair copies were among them. The other possibility is theft but nothing has ever come up at auction.
     ‘Collectively, they have become the Holy Grail for myself, and others fascinated by MacGregor’s legacy. Though as Van Zelden’s purchasing power rather dwarfs mine, I would prefer they remain lost than have them fall into his hands. I suspect he believes they’re in the Reserved Manuscript Depository, but I think that unlikely; MacGregor would hardly have written something hazardous to his reader!’
     O cracks a smile. Least I’m not boring him. I take a sip of tonic water.
     ‘Now, as I saw it, my task was to restore MacGregor’s original text, but sometimes he had made so many revisions I could scarcely tell what that text was! So, I turned investigator, examining MacGregor’s correspondence with his publisher, his journals, even his source materials, where they are known; hence my three visits to the Reserved Manuscript Depository. I immersed myself in his creative world and became as much amanuensis as editor. Though of course I would never claim MacGregor was guiding me and, unlike Van Zelden, I never attempted to communicate with his ghost! It was an entirely academic and scholarly process.
     ‘Where MacGregor’s intentions were not obvious and I had to make a creative choice, I took care to leave a note explaining my decision. Alas, Hare & Drum decided that was too intrusive and cut them. Not a decision I approve of. I hope this is the book MacGregor intended it to be. Others can judge whether I succeeded.
     ‘Indeed, perhaps I should say have judged. Van Zelden accuses me of bias against magick, but as he is magick’s chief advocate that cannot surprise us. In fact, there’s is rather more magick in the work than I am comfortable with so I cannot be accused of shirking my duty. Rest assured; it is MacGregor’s work, not mine.
     ‘Now–’ I sit back and glance out the window. Rain’s passed and I shall have a dry walk home ‘–why did I choose to restore Acts of the Servant? A good question, no?’
     It would be if he asked it. Rum sort of interview where one chap does all the talking.
     ‘The text rejected by Beresford and Lucas has gained an unwonted reputation as a panegyric for magick. Supposedly, it’s filled with formulae for summoning demons, angels, and ghosts! Well, I promise you I haven’t seen any. In truth, it is simply a novel and a damn good one. I hope the new edition proves popular and, if Hare & Drum are willing, new editions of Works of the Master and Devices & Executions will follow.’
     He seems content. Hard to tell. Assume I’ll have a chance to look at the proofs.
     ‘Van Zelden has put me to a great deal of trouble, but truly I pity him. Mr Drake has shown me the visitors’ book for the Reserved Manuscript Depository. I did say the precautions are to prevent theft, but the danger is to the reader, not the books. Van Zelden made seventeen visits in eight months. Believe me, no one could do that and remain untouched by what is in those dreadful books. What I may save is MacGregor’s reputation as Scotland’s greatest writer, and to do it I must reclaim him from Hendryk van Zelden.
     ‘Now. I believe that concludes matters. Are we agreed?
     He nods.
     ‘Excellent. Would you like your book signed – what name shall I give?’
     At last!
     ‘May I borrow your pen? Thank you. For O’Brien. Kind regards, Nevil W.’


Your host, Nevil Warbrook ← → Notice from Hare & Drum