Communication of Europe and the Saracens (3/3)

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, who has likewise been brought under the imputation of magic, was one of the profoundest scholars and subtlest logicians of his day. He also furnishes a remarkable instance of the ascendant which the friars at that time obtained over the minds of ingenuous young men smitten with the thirst of knowledge. He was a youth of illustrious birth, and received the rudiments of his education under the monks of Monte Cassino, and in the university of Naples. But, not contented with these advantages, he secretly entered himself into the society of Preaching Friars, or Dominicans, at seventeen years of age. His mother, being indignant that he should thus take the vow of poverty, and sequester himself from the world for life, employed every means in her power to induce him to alter his purpose, but in vain. The friars, to deliver him from her importunities, removed him from Naples to Terracina, from Terracina to Anagnia, and from Anagnia to Rome. His mother followed him in all these changes of residence, but was not permitted so much as to see him. At length she spirited up his two elder brothers to seize him by force. They waylaid him in his road to Paris, whither he was sent to complete his course of instruction, and carried him off to the castle of Aquino where he had been born. Here he was confined for two years; but he found a way to correspond with the superiors of his order, and finally escaped from a window in the castle. St. Thomas Aquinas (for he was canonised after his death) exceeded perhaps all men that ever existed in the severity and strictness of his metaphysical disquisitions, and thus acquired the name of the Seraphic Doctor.

It was to be expected that a man, who thus immersed himself in the depths of thought, should be an inexorable enemy to noise and interruption. We have seen that he dashed to pieces the artificial man of brass, that Albertus Magnus, who was his tutor, had spent thirty years in bringing to perfection, being impelled to this violence by its perpetual and unceasing garrulity. It is further said, that his study being placed in a great thoroughfare, where the grooms were all day long exercising their horses, he found it necessary to apply a remedy to this nuisance. He made by the laws of magic a small horse of brass, which he buried two or three feet under ground in the midst of this highway; and, having done so, no horse would any longer pass along the road. It was in vain that the grooms with whip and spur sought to conquer their repugnance. They were finally compelled to give up the attempt, and to choose another place for their daily exercise.

It has further been sought to fix the imputation of magic upon Thomas Aquinas by imputing to him certain books written on that science; but these are now acknowledged to be spurious.

Peter of Apono
Peter of Apono, so called from a village of that name in the vicinity of Padua, where he was born in the year 1250, was an eminent philosopher, mathematician and astrologer, but especially excelled in physic. Finding that science at a low ebb in his native country, he resorted to Paris, where it especially flourished; and after a time returning home, exercised his art with extraordinary success, and by this means accumulated great wealth.

But all his fame and attainments were poisoned to him by the accusation of magic. Among other things he was said to possess seven spirits, each of them inclosed in a crystal vessel, from whom he received every information he desired in the seven liberal arts. He was further reported to have had the extraordinary faculty of causing the money he expended in his disbursements, immediately to come back into his own purse. He was besides of a hasty and revengeful temper. In consequence of this it happened to him, that, having a neighbour, who had an admirable spring of water in his garden, and who was accustomed to suffer the physician to send for a daily supply, but who for some displeasure or inconvenience withdrew his permission, Peter d’Apono, by the aid of the devil, removed the spring from the garden in which it had flowed, and turned it to waste in the public street. For some of these accusations he was called to account by the tribunal of the inquisition. While he was upon his trial however, the unfortunate man died. But so unfavourable was the judgment of the inquisitors respecting him, that they decreed that his bones should be dug up, and publicly burned. Some of his friends got intimation of this, and saved him from the impending disgrace by removing his remains. Disappointed in this, the inquisitors proceeded to burn him in effigy.

English Law of High Treason
It may seem strange that in a treatise concerning necromancy we should have occasion to speak of the English law of high treason. But on reflection perhaps it may appear not altogether alien to the subject. This crime is ordinarily considered by our lawyers as limited and defined by the statute of 25 Edward III. As Blackstone has observed, “By the ancient common law there was a great latitude left in the breast of the judges, to determine what was treason, or not so: whereby the creatures of tyrannical power had opportunity to create abundance of constructive treasons; that is, to raise, by forced and arbitrary constructions, offences into the crime and punishment of treason, which were never suspected to be such. To prevent these inconveniences, the statute of 25 Edward III was made.” This statute divides treason into seven distinct branches; and the first and chief of these is, “when a man doth compass or imagine the death of our lord the king.”

Now the first circumstance that strikes us in this affair is, why the crime was not expressed in more perspicuous and appropriate language? Why, for example, was it not said, that the first and chief branch of treason was to “kill the king?” Or, if that limitation was not held to be sufficiently ample, could it not have been added, it is treason to “attempt, intend, or contrive to kill the king?” We are apt to make much too large an allowance for what is considered as the vague and obsolete language of our ancestors. Logic was the element in which the scholars of what are called the dark ages were especially at home. It was at that period that the description of human geniuses, called the Schoolmen, principally flourished. The writers who preceded the Christian era, possessed in an extraordinary degree the gift of imagination and invention. But they had little to boast on the score of arrangement, and discovered little skill in the strictness of an accurate deduction. Meanwhile the Schoolmen had a surprising subtlety in weaving the web of an argument, and arriving by a close deduction, through a multitude of steps, to a sound and irresistible conclusion. Our lawyers to a certain degree formed themselves on the discipline of the Schoolmen. Nothing can be more forcibly contrasted, than the mode of pleading among the ancients, and that which has characterised the processes of the moderns. The pleadings of the ancients were praxises of the art of oratorical persuasion; the pleadings of the moderns sometimes, though rarely, deviate into oratory, but principally consist in dextrous subtleties upon words, or a nice series of deductions, the whole contexture of which is endeavoured to be woven into one indissoluble substance. Several striking examples have been preserved of the mode of pleading in the reign of Edward II, in which the exceptions taken for the defendant, and the replies supporting the mode of proceeding on behalf of the plaintiff, in no respect fall short of the most admired shifts, quirks and subtleties of the great lawyers of later times.

It would be certainly wrong therefore to consider the legal phrase, to “compass or imagine the death of the king,” as meaning the same thing as to “kill, or intend to kill” him. At all events we may take it for granted, that to “compass” does not mean to accomplish; but rather to “take in hand, to go about to effect.” There is therefore no form of words here forbidding to “kill the king.” The phrase, to “imagine,” does not appear less startling. What is, to a proverb, more lawless than imagination?

Evil into the mind of God or man
May come and go, so unapproved, and leave
No spot or blame behind.

What can be more tyrannical, than an inquisition into the sports and freaks of fancy? What more unsusceptible of detection or evidence? How many imperceptible shades of distinction between the guilt and innocence that characterise them!—Meanwhile the force and propriety of these terms will strikingly appear, if we refer them to the popular ideas of witchcraft. Witches were understood to have the power of destroying life, without the necessity of approaching the person whose life was to be destroyed, or producing any consciousness in him of the crime about to be perpetrated. One method was by exposing an image of wax to the action of fire; while, in proportion as the image wasted away, the life of the individual who was the object contrived against, was undermined and destroyed. Another was by incantations and spells. Either of these might fitly be called the “compassing or imagining the death.” Imagination is, beside this, the peculiar province of witchcraft. And in these pretended hags the faculty is no longer desultory and erratic. Conscious of their power, they are supposed to have subjected it to system and discipline. They apply its secret and trackless energy with an intentness and a vigour, which ordinary mortals may in vain attempt to emulate in an application of the force of inert matter, or of the different physical powers by means of which such stupendous effects have often been produced.—How universal and familiar then must we consider the ideas of witchcraft to have been before language which properly describes the secret practices of such persons, and is not appropriate to any other, could have been found to insinuate itself into the structure of the most solemn act of our legislature, that act which beyond all others was intended to narrow or shut out the subtle and dangerous inroads of arbitrary power!

Very extraordinary things are related of Ziito, a sorcerer, in the court of Wenceslaus, king of Bohemia and afterwards emperor of Germany, in the latter part of the fourteenth century. This is perhaps, all things considered, the most wonderful specimen of magical power any where to be found. It is gravely recorded by Dubravius, bishop of Olmutz, in his History of Bohemia. It was publicly exhibited on occasion of the marriage of Wenceslaus with Sophia, daughter of the elector Palatine of Bavaria, before a vast assembled multitude.

The father-in-law of the king, well aware of the bridegroom’s known predilection for theatrical exhibitions and magical illusions, brought with him to Prague, the capital of Wenceslaus, a whole waggon-load of morrice-dancers and jugglers, who made their appearance among the royal retinue. Meanwhile Ziito, the favourite magician of the king, took his place obscurely among the ordinary spectators. He however immediately arrested the attention of the strangers, being remarked for his extraordinary deformity, and a mouth that stretched completely from ear to ear. Ziito was for some time engaged in quietly observing the tricks and sleights that were exhibited. At length, while the chief magician of the elector Palatine was still busily employed in shewing some of the most admired specimens of his art, the Bohemian, indignant at what appeared to him the bungling exhibitions of his brother-artist, came forward, and reproached him with the unskilfulness of his performances. The two professors presently fell into warm debate. Ziito, provoked at the insolence of his rival, made no more ado but swallowed him whole before the multitude, attired as he was, all but his shoes, which he objected to because they were dirty. He then retired for a short while to a closet, and presently returned, leading the magician along with him.

Having thus disposed of his rival, Ziito proceeded to exhibit the wonders of his art. He shewed himself first in his proper shape, and then in those of different persons successively, with countenances and a stature totally dissimilar to his own; at one time splendidly attired in robes of purple and silk, and then in the twinkling of an eye in coarse linen and a clownish coat of frieze. He would proceed along the field with a smooth and undulating motion without changing the posture of a limb, for all the world as if he were carried along in a ship. He would keep pace with the king’s chariot, in a car drawn by barn-door fowls. He also amused the king’s guests as they sat at table, by causing, when they stretched out their hands to the different dishes, sometimes their hands to turn into the cloven feet of an ox, and at other times into the hoofs of a horse. He would clap on them the antlers of a deer, so that, when they put their heads out at window to see some sight that was going by, they could by no means draw them back again; while he in the mean time feasted on the savoury cates that had been spread before them, at his leisure.

At one time he pretended to be in want of money, and to task his wits to devise the means to procure it. On such an occasion he took up a handful of grains of corn, and presently gave them the form and appearance of thirty hogs well fatted for the market. He drove these hogs to the residence of one Michael, a rich dealer, but who was remarked for being penurious and thrifty in his bargains. He offered them to Michael for whatever price he should judge reasonable. The bargain was presently struck, Ziito at the same time warning the purchaser, that he should on no account drive them to the river to drink. Michael however paid no attention to this advice; and the hogs no sooner arrived at the river, than they turned into grains of corn as before. The dealer, greatly enraged at this trick, sought high and low for the seller that he might be revenged on him. At length he found him in a vintner’s shop seemingly in a gloomy and absent frame of mind, reposing himself, with his legs stretched out on a form. The dealer called out to him, but he seemed not to hear. Finally he seized Ziito by one foot, plucking at it with all his might. The foot came away with the leg and thigh; and Ziito screamed out, apparently in great agony. He seized Michael by the nape of the neck, and dragged him before a judge. Here the two set up their separate complaints, Michael for the fraud that had been committed on him, and Ziito for the irreparable injury he had suffered in his person. From this adventure came the proverb, frequent in the days of the historian, speaking of a person who had made an improvident bargain, “He has made just such a purchase as Michael did with his hogs.”

Transmutation of Metals
Among the different pursuits, which engaged the curiosity of active minds in these unenlightened ages, was that of the transmutation of the more ordinary metals into gold and silver. This art, though not properly of necromantic nature, was however elevated by its professors, by means of an imaginary connection between it and astrology, and even between it and an intercourse with invisible spirits. They believed, that their investigations could not be successfully prosecuted but under favourable aspects of the planets, and that it was even indispensible to them to obtain supernatural aid.

In proportion as the pursuit of transmutation, and the search after the elixir of immortality grew into vogue, the adepts became desirous of investing them with the venerable garb of antiquity. They endeavoured to carry up the study to the time of Solomon; and there were not wanting some who imputed it to the first father of mankind. They were desirous to track its footsteps in Ancient Egypt; and they found a mythological representation of it in the expedition of Jason after the golden fleece, and in the cauldron by which Medea restored the father of Jason to his original youth. But, as has already been said, the first unquestionable mention of the subject is to be referred to the time of Dioclesian. From that period traces of the studies of the alchemists from time to time regularly discover themselves.

The study of chemistry and its supposed invaluable results was assiduously cultivated by Geber and the Arabians.

Artephius is one of the earliest names that occur among the students who sought the philosopher’s stone. Of him extraordinary things are told. He lived about the year 1130, and wrote a book of the Art of Prolonging Human Life, in which he professes to have already attained the age of one thousand and twenty-five years. He must by this account have been born about one hundred years after our Saviour. He professed to have visited the infernal regions, and there to have seen Tantalus seated on a throne of gold. He is also said by some to be the same person, whose life has been written by Philostratus under the name of Apollonius of Tyana. He wrote a book on the philosopher’s stone, which was published in Latin and French at Paris in the year 1612.

Raymond Lulli
Among the European students of these interesting secrets a foremost place is to be assigned to Raymond Lulli and Arnold of Villeneuve.

Lulli was undoubtedly a man endowed in a very eminent degree with the powers of intellect. He was a native of the island of Majorca, and was born in the year 1234. He is said to have passed his early years in profligacy and dissipation, but to have been reclaimed by the accident of falling in love with a young woman afflicted with a cancer. This circumstance induced him to apply himself intently to the study of chemistry and medicine, with a view to discover a cure for her complaint, in which he succeeded. He afterwards entered into the community of Franciscan friars.

Edward the First was one of the most extraordinary princes that ever sat on a throne. He revived the study of the Roman civil law with such success as to have merited the title of the English Justinian. He was no less distinguished as the patron of arts and letters. He invited to England Guido dalla Colonna, the author of the Troy Book, and Raymond Lulli. This latter was believed in his time to have prosecuted his studies with such success as to have discovered the elixir vitae, by means of which he could keep off the assaults of old age, at least for centuries, and the philosopher’s stone. He is affirmed by these means to have supplied to Edward the First six millions of money, to enable him to carry on war against the Turks.

But he was not only indefatigable in the pursuit of natural science. He was also seized with an invincible desire to convert the Mahometans to the Christian faith. For this purpose he entered earnestly upon the study of the Oriental languages. He endeavoured to prevail on different princes of Europe to concur in his plan, and to erect colleges for the purpose, but without success. He at length set out alone upon his enterprise, but met with small encouragement. He penetrated into Africa and Asia. He made few converts, and was with difficulty suffered to depart, under a solemn injunction that he should not return. But Lulli chose to obey God rather than man, and ventured a second time. The Mahometans became exasperated with his obstinacy, and are said to have stoned him to death at the age of eighty years. His body was however transported to his native place; and miracles are reported to have been worked at his tomb.

Raymond Lulli is beside famous for what he was pleased to style his Great Art. The ordinary accounts however that are given of this art assume a style of burlesque, rather than of philosophy. He is said to have boasted that by means of it he could enable any one to argue logically on any subject for a whole day together, independently of any previous study of the subject in debate. To the details of the process Swift seems to have been indebted for one of the humorous projects described by him in his voyage to Laputa. Lulli recommended that certain general terms of logic, metaphysics, ethics or theology should first be collected. These were to be inscribed separately upon square pieces of parchment. They were then to be placed on a frame so constructed that by turning a handle they might revolve freely, and form endless combinations. One term would stand for a subject, and another for a predicate. The student was then diligently to inspect the different combinations that fortuitously arose, and exercising the subtlety of his faculties to select such as he should find best calculated for his purposes. He would thus carry on the process of his debate; and an extraordinary felicity would occasionally arise, suggesting the most ingenious hints, and leading on to the most important discoveries.—If a man with the eminent faculties which Lulli otherwise appeared to have possessed really laid down the rules of such an art, all he intended by it must have been to satirize the gravity with which the learned doctors of his time carried on their grave disputations in mood and figure, having regard only to the severity of the rule by which they debated, and holding themselves totally indifferent whether they made any real advances in the discovery of truth.

Arnold of Villeneuve
Arnold of Villeneuve, who lived about the same time, was a man of eminent attainments. He made a great proficiency in Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic. He devoted himself in a high degree to astrology, and was so confident in his art, as to venture to predict that the end of the world would occur in a few years; but he lived to witness the fallaciousness of his prophecy. He had much reputation as a physician. He appears to have been a bold thinker. He maintained that deeds of charity were of more avail than the sacrifice of the mass, and that no one would be damned hereafter, but such as were proved to afford an example of immoral conduct. Like all the men of these times who were distinguished by the profoundness of their studies, he was accused of magic. For this, or upon a charge of heresy, he was brought under the prosecution of the inquisition. But he was alarmed by the fate of Peter of Apono, and by recantation or some other mode of prudent contrivance was fortunate enough to escape. He is one of the persons to whom the writing of the book, De Tribus Impostoribus, Of the Three Impostors (Moses, Jesus Christ and Mahomet) was imputed!

English Laws Respecting Transmutation
So great an alarm was conceived about this time respecting the art of transmutation, that an act of parliament was passed in the fifth year of Henry IV, 1404, which lord Coke states as the shortest of our statutes, determining that the making of gold or silver shall be deemed felony. This law is said to have resulted from the fear at that time entertained by the houses of lords and commons, lest the executive power, finding itself by these means enabled to increase the revenue of the crown to any degree it pleased, should disdain to ask aid from the legislature; and in consequence should degenerate into tyranny and arbitrary power.

George Ripley, of Ripley in the county of York, is mentioned, towards the latter part of the fifteenth century, as having discovered the philosopher’s stone, and by its means contributed one hundred thousand pounds to the knights of Rhodes, the better to enable them to carry on their war against the Turks.

About this time however the tide appears to have turned, and the alarm respecting the multiplication of the precious metals so greatly to have abated, that patents were issued in the thirty-fifth year of Henry VI, for the encouragement of such as were disposed to seek the universal medicine, and to endeavour the transmutation of inferior metals into gold.


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