Disclaimer: I made up a lot less of this than you might suppose. The recognizable elements of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell belong, of course, to Susanna Clarke (Ralph Stokesey, the usage of Lar, etc.). Much of the rest of it belongs to history (Pliny the Younger, Licinius Sura, the dragon of Lepidus, etc.).


On Ancient Fairies

from a Latin Text translated by

Edward Halley

Annotated by Lacy Neuland

The Famulus, reestablished 1817, volume viii, issue iv


Introduction to the Annotation

I am greatly honoured to provide this annotation of material from Edward Halley's unpublished papers. Halley (1697--1731) was a commendable scholar: he was a decent writer, especially in a period which produced numerous tedious or uninformative works, and an exhaustive researcher. His principal short-coming is a certain negligence in his documentation, which appears in his tendency to focus on his central argument while either disregarding or expecting his readers to be familiar with the relevant context. The result frequently leaves one with only a tantalizing scrap of information which often raises more questions than Halley answers in his analyses. He is virtually our only source for the Argentine magician Richard of Lingmere, through whom he offers some unique insights into Ralph Stokesey. Halley's chief interest, however, lay in foreign magic; his two major works were the Essay on Foreign Magical Traditions and Essay on Foreign Fairies.

As a man, Halley was of a very bold character, although arrogant and hot-tempered. He staunchly maintained the validity of his primary focus of study, despite its general unpopularity. Indeed, his early death did not come as a result of his daring, if perhaps ill-advised, sojourn among the Natives of North America, but rather in a fracas that began as a quarrel between Halley and two or three of his contemporary magio-historians and escalated into one of the largest academic brawls seen since the philosophical confrontations in universities across Europe during the late fifteenth century.

The body of text presented here is Halley's translation of a letter by Pliny the Younger (61--112) to Licinius Sura (d.~108), from whom Pliny appears to have been accustomed to seek explanations of curious, indeed supernatural, matters. The text is otherwise unknown in any of the published volumes of Pliny's letters which survive, and Halley's papers contain only this clean copy of the translation, written in his hand. It is possible that Halley was aware that the document existed in the possession of some private collector and obtained access to it under the condition that Halley take away with him only the English translation he made and none of the Latin text itself. Halley's translation is certainly not a literal one, although there is no reason to assume that it greatly distorts the story Pliny relates in the letter. In addition to the letter itself, however, Halley's papers contain several pages of notes which he wrote with the intent of eventually composing an essay concerning fairies in Antiquity; Halley was evidently still in the process of gathering material for this essay at the time of his death. Halley's principle argument, at least with regard to this document, concerned the similarities between this account from Ancient Rome and fairies and fairy stories of recent centuries. He also, however, made note of the apparent strangeness---or distinctly non-human qualities---of fairies as recognized in the story.

My annotations fall into two major categories. Those of one incorporate Halley's preliminary notes for the planned essay, so that the reader may apprehend Halley's argument in as near to his own words as is possible. The second set of notes clarifies some terms in the translated letter whose full implications may be unfamiliar to those readers whose acquaintance with Latin may be scant to nonexistent; however, without the original Latin text I can only offer commentary with any surety upon a mere handful of phrases. Together, these annotations have, I hope, embraced Jonathan Strange's wish that magic be made more accessible to the general public.

Lacy R Neuland