Sanguinary Proceedings Against Witchcraft (4/4)

A pretended magician is recorded by Naude, as living about this time, named Georgius Sabellicus, who, he says, if loftiness and arrogance of assumption were enough to establish a claim to the possession of supernatural gifts, would beyond all controversy be recognised for a chief and consummate sorcerer. It was his ambition by the most sounding appellations of this nature to advance his claim to immortal reputation. He called himself, “The most accomplished Georgius Sabellicus, a second Faustus, the spring and centre of necromantic art, an astrologer, a magician, consummate in chiromancy, and in agromancy, pyromancy and hydromancy inferior to none that ever lived.” I mention this the rather, as affording an additional proof how highly Faustus was rated at the time in which he is said to have flourished.

It is specially worthy of notice, that Naude, whose book is a sort of register of all the most distinguished names in the annals of necromancy, drawn up for the purpose of vindicating their honour, no where mentions Faustus, except once in this slight and cursory way.

Paracelsus, or, as he styled himself, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus de Hohenheim, was a man of great notoriety and eminence, about the same time as Dr. Faustus. He was born in the year 1493, and died in 1541. His father is said to have lived in some repute; but the son early became a wanderer in the world, passing his youth in the occupation of foretelling future events by the stars and by chiromancy, invoking the dead, and performing various operations of alchemy and magic. He states Trithemius to have been his instructor in the science of metals. He was superficial in literature, and says of himself that at one time he did not open a book for ten years together. He visited the mines of Bohemia, Sweden and the East to perfect himself in metallic knowledge. He travelled through Prussia, Lithuania, Poland, Transylvania and Illyria, conversing indifferently with physicians and old women, that he might extract from them the practical secrets of their art. He visited Egypt, Tartary and Constantinople, at which last place, as he says, he learned the transmutation of metals and the philosopher’s stone. He boasts also of the elixir of life, by means of which he could prolong the life of man to the age of the antediluvians. He certainly possessed considerable sagacity and a happy spirit of daring, which induced him to have recourse to the application of mercury and opium in the cure of diseases, when the regular physicians did not venture on the use of them. He therefore was successfully employed by certain eminent persons in desperate cases, and was consulted by Erasmus. He gradually increased in fame, and in the year 1526 was chosen professor of natural philosophy and surgery in the university of Bale. Here he delivered lectures in a very bold and presumptuous style. He proclaimed himself the monarch of medicine, and publicly burned the writings of Galen and Avicenna as pretenders and impostors.

This however was the acme of his prosperity. His system was extremely popular for one year; but then he lost himself by brutality and intemperance. He had drunk water only for the first five-and-twenty years of his life; but now indulged himself in beastly crapulence with the dregs of society, and scarcely ever took off his clothes by day or night. After one year therefore spent at Bale, he resumed his former vagabond life, and, having passed through many vicissitudes, some of them of the most abject poverty, he died at the age of forty-eight.

Paracelsus in fact exhibited in his person the union of a quack, a boastful and impudent pretender, with a considerable degree of natural sagacity and shrewdness. Such an union is not uncommon in the present day; but it was more properly in its place, when the cultivation of the faculties of the mind was more restricted than now, and the law of criticism of facts and evidence was nearly unknown. He took advantage of the credulity and love of wonder incident to the generality of our species; and, by dint of imposing on others, succeeded in no small degree in imposing on himself. His intemperance and arrogance of demeanour gave the suitable finish to his character. He therefore carefully cherished in those about him the idea that there was in him a kind of supernatural virtue, and that he had the agents of an invisible world at his command. In particular he gave out that he held conferences with a familiar or demon, whom for the convenience of consulting he was in the habit of carrying about with him in the hilt of his sword.

Jerome Cardan, who was only a few years younger than Paracelsus, was a man of a very different character. He had considerable refinement and discrimination, and ranked among the first scholars of his day. He is however most of all distinguished for the Memoirs he has left us of his life, which are characterised by a frankness and unreserved which are almost without a parallel. He had undoubtedly a considerable spice of madness in his composition. He says of himself, that he was liable to extraordinary fits of abstraction and elevation of mind, which by their intenseness became so intolerable, that he gladly had recourse to very severe bodily pain by way of getting rid of them. That in such cases he would bite his lips till they bled, twist his fingers almost to dislocation, and whip his legs with rods, which he found a great relief to him. That he would talk purposely of subjects which he knew were particularly offensive to the company he was in; that he argued on any side of a subject, without caring whether he was right or wrong; and that he would spend whole nights in gaming, often venturing as the stake he played for, the furniture of his house, and his wife’s jewels.

Cardan describes three things of himself, which he habitually experienced, but respecting which he had never unbosomed himself to any of his friends. The first was, a capacity which he felt in himself of abandoning his body in a sort of extacy whenever he pleased. He felt in these cases a sort of splitting of the heart, as if his soul was about to withdraw, the sensation spreading over his whole frame, like the opening of a door for the dismissal of its guest. His apprehension was, that he was out of his body, and that by an energetic exertion he still retained a small hold of his corporeal figure. The second of his peculiarities was, that he saw, when he pleased, whatever he desired to see, not through the force of imagination, but with his material organs: he saw groves, animals, orbs, as he willed. When he was a child, he saw these things, as they occurred, without any previous volition or anticipation that such a thing was about to happen. But, after he had arrived at years of maturity, he saw them only when he desired, and such things as he desired. These images were in perpetual succession, one after another. The thing incidental to him which he mentions in the third place was, that he could not recollect any thing that ever happened to him, whether good, ill, or indifferent, of which he had not been admonished, and that a very short time before, in a dream. These things serve to shew of what importance he was in his own eyes, and also, which is the matter he principally brings it to prove, the subtlety and delicacy of his animal nature.

Cardan speaks uncertainly and contradictorily as to his having a genius or demon perpetually attending him, advising him of what was to happen, and forewarning him of sinister events. He concludes however that he had no such attendant, but that it was the excellence of his nature, approaching to immortality. He was much addicted to the study of astrology, and laid claim to great skill as a physician. He visited the court of London, and calculated the nativity of king Edward VI. He was sent for as a physician by cardinal Beaton, archbishop of St Andrews, whom, according to Melvile, he recovered to speech and health, and the historian appears to attribute the cure to magic. He calculated the nativity of Jesus Christ, which was imputed to him as an impious undertaking, inasmuch as it supposed the creator of the world to be subject to the influence of the stars. He also predicted his own death, and is supposed by some to have forwarded that event, by abstinence from food at the age of seventy-five, that he might not bely his prediction.


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