Laurence Strange

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Laurence Strange was the father of the magician Jonathan Strange.

His was a formidable character. Intelligent and of good natural parts, he had in full measure his son's whimsicality; but in him it was unsoftened by any fellow-feeling for the rest of humanity, and informed moreover by a deep malice entirely foreign to his only child's nature. Laurence Strange was chiefly remarkable for the firmness of his resentments, and his guiding principle was a cold selfishness. This unhappy trait destroyed his marriage, ruined the natural affection that should subsist between father and son, caused him to become in his later years little better than a grasping miser, and lastly left behind him a name for pitiless avarice such as few gentlemen would choose for their memorial.

Mr. Strange inherited his estate at Ashfair in about the year 1778, and shortly thereafter was so fortunate as to win the hand of a young Scotch lady, a Miss Erquistoune. The marriage began prosperously enough - Mrs. Strange's £900 p.a. made a very material difference to the running of Ashfair - but too soon affection cooled. Mr Strange neglected his wife in favour of his estate, devoting a great deal of time to the nurture of the latter and hardly any at all to the former. Mrs. Strange took to roving the solitary walks near Ashfair, contracted a chill and died some five years after her wedding, leaving behind her only son Jonathan Strange, then a pretty child of four. Forced to consider how best to bring up a child so young, Mr. Strange seems not to have contemplated remarriage - perhaps out of respect for his late wife's memory, perhaps out of a natural indifference to conjugal happiness - and eventually an agreement was reached whereby the boy was raised partly at his father's charge and partly at that of the late Mrs. Strange's brother, a Mr. Erquistoune of Charlotte-square, Edinburgh. Thus for half of each year Laurence Strange was separated from his son, who dwelt with his uncle and three female cousins in Scotland. This circumstance perhaps interrupted the development of a full paternal love, further hampered by the unhappy effects of a law suit occasioned by a family disagreement as to the disposal of the late Mrs. Strange's property (which her brother felt should be put in trust until her son should inherit it, and which her husband with equal fervour felt should be entirely his own to use). Suits at law generally lead to a souring of affections between kindred. It is therefore unsurprising that the relations between father and son, though formally polite, were never warm. Indeed it is said that months and perhaps years passed without either exchanging more than a few words with the other.

Sadly, Laurence Strange was so contentedly occupied with increasing the extent of his possessions that he did not feel the disgrace of this estrangement as he should. On the contrary, he followed his usual course of life with perfect satisfaction to himself - pressing his tenants for ever higher rents, bullying smaller neighbouring landholders who did not fall in at once with his wishes, continually disobliging his own servants by petty whims and immovable spites etc - until one day he overreached himself with a trick too many. He conceived a sudden hatred of a new manservant, one Jeremy Johns, who had somehow or other roused his resentment. In his eagerness to pursue this poor man to his ruin Mr. Strange sent him on a fool's errand in atrocious weather, persecuted him with demands he attend upon him at unseasonable hours and finally, when Johns was in the grip of a fierce ague, had him sit up all night with him while the winter wind blew in at a window left deliberately open. The consequence was that Johns recovered from his ague and Laurence Strange froze to death. To such a sordid end may the love of money and a disregard for others bring even a clever and determined man![14]