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with Divine Spirits, were combined with the more peculiar doctrines of Necromancy or the Black Art, and, under this form, was a system of mere delusions frequently mistaken for a branch of Natural Philosophy. Thus Fuller, speaking of Dr. John Dee, the Prince of Magicians in Shakspeare's days, says, 66 He was a most excellent Mathematician and Astrologer, well skilled in Magick, as the Antients did, the Lord Bacon doth, and all may accept the sence thereof, viz., in the lawfull knowledg of Naturall Philosophie.
“ This exposed him, anno 1583, amongst his Ignorant Neighbours, where he then liv'd, at Mortclack in Surrey, to the suspicion of a Conjurer : the cause I conceive, that his Library was then seized on, wherein were four thousand Books, and seven hundred of them Manuscripts.” *
This singular character, who was born in 1527, and did not die until after the accession of James, was certainly possessed of much mathematical knowledge, having delivered lectures at Paris on the Elements of Euclid, with unprecedented applause; but he was at the same time grossly superstitious and enthusiastic, not only dealing in nativities, talismans, and charms, but pretending to a familiar intercourse with the world of spirits, of which Dr. Meric Casaubon has published a most extraordinary account, in a large folio volume, entitled, “ A true and faithful relation of what passed for many years betreeen Dr. John Dee and some spirits," 1659: and what is still more extraordinary, this learned editor tells us in his preface, that he “never gave more credit to any humane history of former times.”
Dee, who had been educated at Cambridge, and was an excellent classical scholar, had, as might be supposed, in an age of almost boundless credulity, many patrons, and among these were the Lords Pembroke and Leicester, and even the Queen herself; but, notwithstanding this splendid encouragement, and much private munificence, particularly from the female world, our astrologer, like most of his tribe, died miserably poor. His love of books has given him a niche in Mr. Dibdin's Bibliographical Romance, where, under the title of the renowned Dr. John Dee, he is introduced in the following animated manner :-“ Let us fancy we see him in his conjuring cap and robes — surrounded with astrological, mathematical, and geographical in struments — with a profusion of Chaldee characters inscribed upon vellum rolls — and with his celebrated Glass suspended by magical wires. — Let us then follow him into his study at midnight, and view him rummaging his books; contemplating the heavens ; making calculations; holding converse with invisible spirits ; writing down their responses : anon, looking into his correspondence with Count a Lasco, and the emperors Adolphus and Maximilian ; and pronouncing himself, with the most heart-felt complacency, the greatest genius of his age! In the midst of these self-complacent reveries, let us imagine we see his wife and little ones intruding: beseeching him to burn his books and instruments; and reminding him that there was neither a silver spoon, nor a loaf of bread in the cupboard. Alas, poor Dee!" *
* Worthies of England, Part II. p. 116.
* Dibdin's Bibliomania, pp. 343–346. Mr. Dibdin has given us the following account of Dee's Library, “as drawn up by our philosopher himself.”
“ 400 Volumes — printed and unprinted — bound and unbound — valued at 2000 lib.
“ 1 Greek, 2 French, and 1 High Dutch, volumes of MSS., alone worth 533 lib. 40 years in getting these books together.
“ Appertaining thereto.
“ A magnet stone, or Load stone ; of great virtue - which was sold out of the library but for v shill. and for it afterwards (yea piece-meal divided) was more than xx lib. given in money and value.
“ A great case or frame of boxes, wherein some hundreds of very rare evidences of divers Irelandish territories, provinces, and lands, were laid up. Which territories, provinces, and lands, were therein notified to have been in the hands of some of the ancient Irish princes. Then, their submissions and tributes agreed upon, with seals appendant to the little writings thereof in parchment: and after by some of those evidences did it appear, how some of those lands came to the Lascies, the Mortuomars, the Burghs, the Clares, &c.
“ A Box of Evidences antient of some Welch princes and noblemen — the like of Norman donation — their peculiar titles noted on the forepart with chalk only, which on the poor boxes remaineth. This box, with another containing similar deedes, were embezzled.
We have some reason to conclude, from the history of his life, of which Hearne has given us a very copious account *, that Dee was more of an enthusiast than a knave; but this cannot be predicated of his associate Kelly, who was assuredly a most impudent impostor. “ He was born,” says Fuller, whose account of him is singularly curious, “ at Worcester, (as I have it from the Scheame of his Nativity, graved from the original calculation of Doctor Dee), Anno Domini 1555, August the first, at four o clock in the afternoon, the Pole being there elevated, qr. 52 10 — He was well studied in the mysteries of nature, being intimate with Doctor Dee, who was beneath him in Chemistry, but above him in Mathematicks. These two are said to have found a very large quantity of Elixer in the ruins of Glassenbury Abby.
“ One great bladder with about 4 pound weight, of a very sweetish thing, like a brownish gum in it, artificially prepared by thirty times purifying of it, hath more, than I could well afford him for 100 crownes ; as may be proved by witnesses yet living.
“ To these he adds his three Laboratories, serving for Pyrotechnia,' – which he got together after twenty years labor. • All which furniture and provision, and many things already prepared, is unduly made away from me by sundry meanes, and a few spoiled or broken vessels remain, hardly worth 40 shillings.' But one feature more in poor Dee's character — and that is, his unparalleled serenity and good nature under the most 'griping misfortunes — remains to be described: and then we may take farewel of him with aching hearts.
“ In the 10th chapter, speaking of the wretched poverty of himself and family (“having not one penny of certain fee, revenue, stipend, or pension, either left him or restored unto him') — Dee says that he has been constrained now and then to send parcels of his little furniture of plate to pawn upon usury; and that did he so oft till no more could be sent. After the same manner went his wive's jewels of gold, rings, bracelets, chains, and other their rarities, under the thraldom of the usurer's gripes : 'till non plus was written upon the boxes at home.
6 In the 11th chapter, he anticipates the dreadful lot of being brought to the stepping out of doors (his house being sold). He, and his, with bottles and wallets furnished, to become wanderers as homish vagabonds; or, as banished men, to forsake the kingdom !' Againe: with bloody tears of heart, he, and his wife, their seven children, and their servants, (seventeen of them in all) did that day make their petition unto their honors, &c. Can human misery be sharper than this — and to be the lot of a philosopher and bibliomaniac? But Venier FELICIUS Ævum," — Bibliomania, pp. 347–349.
* 6 In his edition of John Confrat, Monach. de, rebus. gestis Glaston., vol. ii., where twelve chapters (from whence the above note is partly taken) are devoted to the subject of our philosopher's travels and hardships.” Bibliomania, p. 343. note.
“ Afterwards (being here in some trouble) he (Kelly) went over beyond the seas, with Albertus Alasco, a Polonian Baron, who it seems, sought to repair his fortunes by associating himself with these two Arch-chemists of England.
“ How long they continued together, is to me unknown. Sir Edward (though I know not how he came by his knight-hood) with the Doctor, fixed at Trebona in Bohemia, where he is said to have transmuted a brass * warming-pan, (without touching or melting, onely warming it by the fire, and putting the Elixir thereon) into pure silver, a piece whereof was sent to Queen Elizabeth.
They kept constant intelligence with a Messenger or Spirit, giving them advice how to proceed in their mysticall discoveries, and injoining them, that, by way of preparatory qualification for the same, they should enjoy their wives in common.
“ This probably might be the cause, why Doctor Dee left Kelley, and return’d into England. Kelley continuing still in Germany, ranted it in his expences (say the Brethren of his own art) above the sobriety befitting so mysterious a Philosopher. He gave away in goldwyer rings, at the marriage of one of his Maid-servants, to the value of four thousand pounds.
“ Come we now to his sad catastrophe. Indeed, the curious had observed, that in the Scheme of his Nativity, not onely the Dragonstail was ready to promote abusive aspersions against him (to which living and dead he hath been subject) but also something malignant appears posited in Aquarius, which hath influence on the leggs, which accordingly came to pass. For being twice imprisoned (for what misdemeanor I know not) by Radulphus the Emperor, he endeavoured to escape out of an high window, and tying his sheets together to let him down fell (being a weighty man) and brake his legg, whereof he died, 1595." +
* Vide Theatrum Chemicum, p. 481.
It appears, however, from other sources, that the trouble to which Kelly was put, consisted in losing his ears on the pillory in Lancashire; that the credulity of the age had allotted him the post of descryer, or seer of visions to Dee, whom he accompanied to Germany, and that one of his offices, under this appointment, was to watch and report the gesticulations of the spirits whom his superior had fixed and compelled to appear in a talisman or stone, which very stone, we are informed, is now in the Strawberry-hill collection, and is nothing more than a finely polished mass of canal coal! His knighthood was the reward of a promise to assist the Emperor Rodolphus the Second, in his search after the philosopher's stone; and the discovery of his deceptive practices led him to a prison, from which it is said Elizabeth, to whom a piece of the transmuted warming-pan had been sent, had tempted him to make that escape which terminated in his death. *
Such were the leaders of the cabalistic and alchemical Magi in the days of our Virgin Queen; men, in the estimation of the great bulk of the people, possessed of super-human power, and who, notwithstanding their ignorance and presumption, and the exposure of their art by some choice spirits of their own, and the immediately subsequent period, among whom Ben Jonson, as the author of the Alchemist, stands pre-eminent, continued for near a century to excite the curiosity, and delude the expectations of the public. †
* Vide Weaver's Funeral Monuments, p. 45., and Wood's Athenæ Oxon, vol. i. col. 279.
+ In what estimation Kelly was held in 1662, is evident from the opinion of Fuller, who closes his account of this daring impostor with the following sentence: -“If his pride and prodigality were severed from him, he would remain a person, on other accounts, for his industry and experience in practical Philosophy, worthy recommendation to posterity.” Worthies, p. 174.
That Shakspeare was exempt from the astrological mania of his age, we learn from his fourteenth sonnet, where he tells us,
“ Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck;
And yet methinks I have astronomy,