Monday, 8 January 2018

Zorastro, a Romance by "Creswick J. Thomson"/Charles John Samuel Thompson (1899)

Charles J. S. Thompson was a British physician notable for his many books on poisons and being an agent of high class British medical hoarder Henry Wellcome. His book The History and Evolution of Surgical Instruments is nearly the only remnant of the vast collection of medical instruments acquired under his headship of Wellcome's library, the collection being destroyed by those dastardly Germans during World War II.

Though his complete bibliography is not easy to trace, but he wrote books about the history and "romance" of not only subjects that would be related to his profession, like of the lot and trade of the Apothecary or a history of Quackerdom (not to be confused with Quakers) in the old city of London, but also on subjects like Astrology or Perfume. One of his more readily available and yet also easily digestible is the slim little volume Poison romance and poison mysteries (1904), wherein he details , for example, how a Franciscan offered the Venetians a diverse array of poisons and listed exact figures for the poisoning of the crowned and annointed heads of Europe and beyond. And assuredly his Holiness the Bishop of Rome Paul III would surely not find it pleasing to find his life valued as one fifth to that of the Ottoman Sultan.

The book in question today seems, after some digging, the only article of fiction written by Thompson, at least the only one that I know of. Unlike many non fiction authors trying their hand at the weaving of fictions for the first time however, this tale shows not a little competence.

A tale of Karl, a foundling orphan and his foster sister turned love interest, taking place in 16th century Germany, primarily in the city of Nuremberg and it's environs, the chief point of interest lies with the titular Zorastro, a brillinat physician and alchemist who had discovered Karl in a basket on the river and left him to an old apothecary to raise, and who has since travelled in many countries and learned medical secrets from Tatars and other such peoples. Renowned as a wonder worker, he returns to Nuremberg to make Karl his assistant right around the time when Dulcie, his beloved, becomes singled out by the son of the Duke of Bavaria as an unwilling potential mistress. The incidents of the first half of the novel, following quickly after each other, are the best, as they display action without making it too unbelievable.

The second half is a bit less neat, though there be a pleasant enough sprinkling in of seemingly genuine and non-rationalised supernatural and alchemical occurrences, sadly becomes a bit muddled as characters run into each other and onto many startling coincidences and sudden, unexpected revelations of life-long mysteries all in the span of a few days, with little enough to suggest that all this did not fall into place by pure chance.

Still, it be a fine historical piece with enough going on to keep one satisfied and a few mysterious and inexplicable glimpses of the unreal to be basically beyond serious reproach.

One is confused by the author's chosing a pseudonym basically consistent of his initials and surname for this book, when the book at the same time boasts of his nonfiction books, which were published under his real name.

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