Quacks, Who in Cool Blood Undertook to Overreach Mankind (2/6)

Doctor Dee
Dr. John Dee was a man who made a conspicuous figure in the sixteenth century. He was born at London in the year 1527. He was an eminent mathematician, and an indefatigable scholar. He says of himself, that, having been sent to Cambridge when he was fifteen, he persisted for several years in allowing himself only four hours for sleep in the twenty-four, and two for food and refreshment, and that he constantly occupied the remaining eighteen (the time for divine service only excepted) in study. At Cambridge he superintended the exhibition of a Greek play of Aristophanes, among the machinery of which he introduced an artificial scarabaeus, or beetle, which flew up to the palace of Jupiter, with a man on his back, and a basket of provisions. The ignorant and astonished spectators ascribed this feat to the arts of the magician; and Dee, annoyed by these suspicions, found it expedient to withdraw to the continent. Here he resided first at the university of Louvaine, at which place, his acquaintance was courted by the dukes of Mantua and Medina, and from thence proceeded to Paris, where he gave lectures on Euclid with singular applause.

In 1551 he returned to England, and was received with distinction by sir John Check, and introduced to secretary Cecil, and even to king Edward, from whom he received a pension of one hundred crowns per annum, which he speedily after exchanged for a small living in the church. In the reign of Queen Mary he was for some time kindly treated; but afterwards came into great trouble, and even into danger of his life. He entered into correspondence with several of the servants of Queen Elizabeth at Woodstock, and was charged with practising against Mary’s life by enchantments. Upon this accusation, he was seized and confined; and, being after several examinations discharged of the indictment, was turned over to bishop Bonner to see if any heresy could be found in him. After a tedious persecution he was set at liberty in 1555, and was so little subdued by what he had suffered, that in the following year he presented a petition to the queen, requesting her co-operation in a plan for preserving and recovering certain monuments of classical antiquity.

The principal study of Dee however at this time lay in astrology; and accordingly, upon the accession of Elizabeth, Robert Dudley, her chief favourite, was sent to consult the doctor as to the aspect of the stars, that they might fix on an auspicious day for celebrating her coronation. Some years after we find him again on the continent; and in 1571, being taken ill at Louvaine, we are told the queen sent over two physicians to accomplish his cure. Elizabeth afterwards visited him at his house at Mortlake, that she might view his magazine of mathematical instruments and curiosities; and about this time employed him to defend her title to countries discovered in different parts of the globe. He says of himself, that he received the most advantageous offers from Charles V, Ferdinand, Maximilian II, and Rodolph II, emperors of Germany, and from the czar of Muscovy an offer of L.2000 sterling per annum, upon condition that he would reside in his dominions. All these circumstances were solemnly attested by Dee in a Compendious Rehearsal of his Life and Studies for half-a-century, composed at a later period, and read by him at his house at Mortlake to two commissioners appointed by Elizabeth to enquire into his circumstances, accompanied with evidences and documents to establish the particulars.

Had Dee gone no further than this, he would undoubtedly have ranked among the profoundest scholars and most eminent geniuses that adorned the reign of the maiden queen. But he was unfortunately cursed with an ambition that nothing could satisfy; and, having accustomed his mind to the wildest reveries, and wrought himself up to an extravagant pitch of enthusiasm, he pursued a course that involved him in much calamity, and clouded all his latter days with misery and ruin. He dreamed perpetually of the philosopher’s stone, and was haunted with the belief of intercourse of a supramundane character. It is almost impossible to decide among these things, how much was illusion, and how much was forgery. Both were inextricably mixed in his proceedings; and this extraordinary victim probably could not in his most dispassionate moments precisely distinguish what belonged to the one, and what to the other.

As Dee was an enthusiast, so he perpetually interposed in his meditations prayers of the greatest emphasis and fervour. As he was one day in November 1582, engaged in these devout exercises, he says that there appeared to him the angel Uriel at the west window of his Museum, who gave him a translucent stone, or chrystal, of a convex form, that had the quality, when intently surveyed, of presenting apparitions, and even emitting sounds, in consequence of which the observer could hold conversations, ask questions and receive answers from the figures he saw in the mirror. It was often necessary that the stone should be turned one way and another in different positions, before the person who consulted it gained the right focus; and then the objects to be observed would sometimes shew themselves on the surface of the stone, and sometime in different parts of the room by virtue of the action of the stone. It had also this peculiarity, that only one person, having been named as seer, could see the figures exhibited, and hear the voices that spoke, though there might be various persons in the room. It appears that the person who discerned these visions must have his eyes and his ears uninterruptedly engaged in the affair, so that, as Dee experienced, to render the communication effectual, there must be two human beings concerned in the scene, one of them to describe what he saw, and to recite the dialogue that took place, and the other immediately to commit to paper all that his partner dictated. Dee for some reason chose for himself the part of the amanuensis, and had to seek for a companion, who was to watch the stone, and repeat to him whatever he saw and heard.

It happened opportunely that, a short time before Dee received this gift from on high, he contracted a familiar intercourse with one Edward Kelly of Worcestershire, whom he found specially qualified to perform the part which it was necessary to Dee to have adequately filled. Kelly was an extraordinary character, and in some respects exactly such a person as Dee wanted. He was just twenty-eight years younger than the memorable personage, who now received him as an inmate, and was engaged in his service at a stipulated salary of fifty pounds a year.

Kelly entered upon life with a somewhat unfortunate adventure. He was accused, when a young man, of forgery, brought to trial, convicted, and lost his ears in the pillory. This misfortune however by no means daunted him. He was assiduously engaged in the search for the philosopher’s stone. He had an active mind, great enterprise, and a very domineering temper. Another adventure in which he had been engaged previously to his knowledge of Dee, was in digging up the body of a man, who had been buried only the day before, that he might compel him by incantations, to answer questions, and discover future events. There was this difference therefore between the two persons previously to their league. Dee was a man of regular manners and unspotted life, honoured by the great, and favourably noticed by crowned heads in different parts of the world; while Kelly was a notorious profligate, accustomed to the most licentious actions, and under no restraint from morals or principle.

One circumstance that occurred early in the acquaintance of Kelly and Dee it is necessary to mention. It serves strikingly to illustrate the ascendancy of the junior and impetuous party over his more gifted senior. Kelly led Dee, we are not told under what pretence, to visit the celebrated ruins of Glastonbury Abbey in Somersetshire. Here, as these curious travellers searched into every corner of the scene, they met by some rare accident with a vase containing a certain portion of the actual elixir vitae, that rare and precious liquid, so much sought after, which has the virtue of converting the baser metals into gold and silver. It had remained here perhaps ever since the time of the highly-gifted St. Dunstan in the tenth century. This they carried off in triumph: but we are not told of any special use to which they applied it, till a few years after, when they were both on the continent.

The first record of their consultations with the supramundane spirits, was of the date of December 2, 1581, at Lexden Heath in the county of Essex; and from this time they went on in a regular series of consultations with and enquiries from these miraculous visitors, a great part of which will appear to the uninitiated extremely puerile and ludicrous, but which were committed to writing with the most scrupulous exactness by Dee, the first part still existing in manuscript, but the greater portion from 28 May 1583 to 1608, with some interruptions, having been committed to the press by Dr. Meric Casaubon in a well-sized folio in 1659, under the title of “A True and Faithful Relation of what passed between Dr. John Dee and some Spirits, tending, had it succeeded, to a general alteration of most states and kingdoms of the world.”

Kelly and Dee had not long been engaged in these supernatural colloquies, before an event occurred which gave an entirely new turn to their proceedings. Albert Alaski, a Polish nobleman, lord palatine of the principality of Siradia, came over at this time into England, urged, as he said, by a desire personally to acquaint himself with the glories of the reign of Elizabeth, and the evidences of her unrivalled talents. The queen and her favourite, the earl of Leicester, received him with every mark of courtesy and attention, and, having shewn him all the wonders of her court at Westminster and Greenwich, sent him to Oxford, with a command to the dignitaries and heads of colleges, to pay him every attention, and to lay open to his view all their rarest curiosities. Among other things worthy of notice, Alaski enquired for the celebrated Dr. Dee, and expressed the greatest impatience to be acquainted with him.

Just at this juncture the earl of Leicester happened to spy Dr. Dee among the crowd who attended at a royal levee. The earl immediately advanced towards him; and, in his frank manner, having introduced him to Alaski, expressed his intention of bringing the Pole to dine with the doctor at his house at Mortlake. Embarrassed with this unexpected honour, Dee no sooner got home, than he dispatched an express to the earl, honestly confessing that he should be unable to entertain such guests in a suitable manner, without being reduced to the expedient of selling or pawning his plate, to procure him the means of doing so. Leicester communicated the doctor’s perplexity to Elizabeth; and the queen immediately dispatched a messenger with a present of forty angels, or twenty pounds, to enable him to receive his guests as became him.

A great intimacy immediately commenced between Dee and the stranger. Alaski, though possessing an extensive territory, was reduced by the prodigality of himself or his ancestors to much embarrassment; and on the other hand this nobleman appeared to Dee an instrument well qualified to accomplish his ambitious purposes. Alaski was extremely desirous to look into the womb of time; and Dee, it is likely, suggested repeated hints of his extraordinary power from his possession of the philosopher’s stone. After two or three interviews, and much seeming importunity on the part of the Pole, Dee and Kelly graciously condescended to admit Alaski as a third party to their secret meetings with their supernatural visitors, from which the rest of the world were carefully excluded. Here the two Englishmen made use of the vulgar artifice, of promising extraordinary good fortune to the person of whom they purposed to make use. By the intervention of the miraculous stone they told the wondering traveller, that he should shortly become king of Poland, with the accession of several other kingdoms, that he should overcome many armies of Saracens and Paynims, and prove a mighty conqueror. Dee at the same time complained of the disagreeable condition in which he was at home, and that Burleigh and Walsingham were his malicious enemies. At length they concerted among themselves, that they, Alaski, and Dee and Kelly with their wives and families, should clandestinely withdraw out of England, and proceed with all practicable rapidity to Alaski’s territory in the kingdom of Poland. They embarked on this voyage 21 September, and arrived at Siradia the third of February following.

At this place however the strangers remained little more than a month. Alaski found his finances in such disorder, that it was scarcely possible for him to feed the numerous guests he had brought along with him. The promises of splendid conquests which Dee and Kelly profusely heaped upon him, were of no avail to supply the deficiency of his present income. And the elixir they brought from Glastonbury was, as they said, so incredibly rich in virtue, that they were compelled to lose much time in making projection by way of trial, before they could hope to arrive at the proper temperament for producing the effect they desired.

In the following month Alaski with his visitors passed to Cracow, the residence of the kings of Poland. Here they remained five months, Dee and Kelly perpetually amusing the Pole with the extraordinary virtue of the stone, which had been brought from heaven by an angel, and busied in a thousand experiments with the elixir, and many tedious preparations which they pronounced to be necessary, before the compound could have the proper effect. The prophecies were uttered with extreme confidence; but no external indications were afforded, to shew that in any way they were likely to be realised. The experiments and exertions of the laboratory were incessant; but no transmutation was produced. At length Alaski found himself unable to sustain the train of followers he had brought out of England. With mountains of wealth, the treasures of the world promised, they were reduced to the most grievous straits for the means of daily subsistence. Finally the zeal of Alaski diminished; he had no longer the same faith in the projectors that had deluded him; and he devised a way of sending them forward with letters of recommendation to Rodolph II, emperor of Germany, at his imperial seat of Prague, where they arrived on the ninth of August.

Rodolph was a man, whose character and habits of life they judged excellently adapted to their purpose. Dee had a long conference with the emperor, in which he explained to him what wonderful things the spirits promised to this prince, in case he proved exemplary of life, and obedient to their suggestions, that he should be the greatest conqueror in the world, and should take captive the Turk in his city of Constantinople. Rodolph was extremely courteous in his reception, and sent away Dee with the highest hopes that he had at length found a personage with whom he should infallibly succeed to the extent of his wishes. He sought however a second interview, and was baffled. At one time the emperor was going to his country palace near Prague, and at another was engaged in the pleasures of the chace.

He also complained that he was not sufficiently familiar with the Latin tongue, to manage the conferences with Dee in a satisfactory manner in person. He therefore deputed Curtzius, a man high in his confidence, to enter into the necessary details with his learned visitor. Dee also contrived to have Spinola, the ambassador from Madrid to the court of the emperor, to urge his suit. The final result was that Rodolph declined any further intercourse with Dee. He turned a deaf ear to his prophecies, and professed to be altogether void of faith as to his promises respecting the philosopher’s stone. Dee however was led on perpetually with hopes of better things from the emperor, till the spring of the year 1585. At length he was obliged to fly from Prague, the bishop of Placentia, the pope’s nuncio, having it in command from his holiness to represent to Rodolph how discreditable it was for him to harbour English magicians, heretics, at his court.

From Prague Dee and his followers proceeded to Cracow. Here he found means of introduction to Stephen, king of Poland, to whom immediately he insinuated as intelligence from heaven, that Rodolph, the emperor, would speedily be assassinated, and that Stephen would succeed him in the throne of Germany. Stephen appears to have received Dee with more condescension than Rodolph had done, and was once present at his incantation and interview with the invisible spirits. Dee also lured him on with promises respecting the philosopher’s stone. Meanwhile the magician was himself reduced to the strangest expedients for subsistence. He appears to have daily expected great riches from the transmutation of metals, and was unwilling to confess that he and his family were in the mean time almost starving.

When king Stephen at length became wearied with fruitless expectation, Dee was fortunate enough to meet with another and more patient dupe in Rosenburg, a nobleman of considerable wealth at Trebona in the kingdom of Bohemia. Here Dee appears to have remained till 1589, when he was sent for home by Elizabeth. In what manner he proceeded during this interval, and from whence he drew his supplies, we are only left to conjecture. He lured on his victim with the usual temptation, promising him that he should be king of Poland. In the mean time it is recorded by him, that, on the ninth of December, 1586, he arrived at the point of projection, having cut a piece of metal out of a brass warming-pan; and merely heating it by the fire, and pouring on it a portion of the elixir, it was presently converted into pure silver. We are told that he sent the warming-pan and the piece of silver to Queen Elizabeth, that she might be convinced by her own eyes how exactly they tallied, and that the one had unquestionably been a portion of the other. About the same time it is said, that Dee and his associate became more free in their expenditure; and in one instance it is stated as an example, that Kelly gave away to the value of four thousand pounds sterling in gold rings on occasion of the celebration of the marriage of one of his maid-servants. On the twenty-seventh and thirtieth of July, 1587, Dee has recorded in his journal his gratitude to God for his unspeakable mercies on those days imparted, which has been interpreted to mean further acquisitions of wealth by means of the elixir.

Meanwhile perpetual occasions of dissention occurred between the two great confederates, Kelly and Dee. They were in many respects unfitted for each other’s society. Dee was a man, who from his youth upward had been indefatigable in study and research, had the consciousness of great talents and intellect, and had been universally recognised as such, and had possessed a high character for fervent piety and blameless morals. Kelly was an impudent adventurer, a man of no principles and of blasted reputation; yet fertile in resources, full of self-confidence, and of no small degree of ingenuity. In their mutual intercourse the audacious adventurer often had the upper hand of the man who had lately possessed a well-earned reputation. Kelly frequently professed himself tired of enacting the character of interpreter of the Gods under Dee. He found Dee in all cases running away with the superior consideration; while he in his own opinion best deserved to possess it. The straitness of their circumstances, and the misery they were occasionally called on to endure, we may be sure did not improve their good understanding. Kelly once and again threatened to abandon his leader. Dee continually soothed him, and prevailed on him to stay.

Kelly at length started a very extraordinary proposition. Kelly, as interpreter to the spirits, and being the only person who heard and saw any thing, we may presume made them say whatever he pleased. Kelly and Dee had both of them wives. Kelly did not always live harmoniously with the partner of his bed. He sometimes went so far as to say that he hated her. Dee was more fortunate. His wife was a person of good family, and had hitherto been irreproachable in her demeanour. The spirits one day revealed to Kelly, that they must henceforth have their wives in common. The wife of Kelly was barren, and this curse could no otherwise be removed. Having started the proposition, Kelly played the reluctant party. Dee, who was pious and enthusiastic, inclined to submit. He first indeed started the notion, that it could only be meant that they should live in mutual harmony and good understanding. The spirits protested against this, and insisted upon the literal interpretation. Dee yielded, and compared his case to that of Abraham, who at the divine command consented to sacrifice his son Isaac. Kelly alleged that these spirits, which Dee had hitherto regarded as messengers from God, could be no other than servants of Satan. He persisted in his disobedience; and the spirits declared that he was no longer worthy to be their interpreter, and that another mediator must be found.

They named Arthur Dee, the son of the possessor of the stone, a promising and well-disposed boy of only eight years of age. Dee consecrated the youth accordingly to his high function by prayers and religious rites for several days together. Kelly took horse and rode away, protesting that they should meet no more. Arthur entered upon his office, April 15, 1587. The experiment proved abortive. He saw something; but not to the purpose. He heard no voices. At length Kelly, on the third day, entered the room unexpectedly, “by miraculous fortune,” as Dee says, “or a divine fate,” sate down between them, and immediately saw figures, and heard voices, which the little Arthur was not enabled to perceive. In particular he saw four heads inclosed in an obelisk, which he perceived to represent the two magicians and their wives, and interpreted to signify that unlimited communion in which they were destined to engage. The matter however being still an occasion of scruple, a spirit appeared, who by the language he used was plainly no other than the Saviour of the world, and took away from them the larger stone; for now it appears there were two stones. This miracle at length induced all parties to submit; and the divine command was no sooner obeyed, than the stone which had been abstracted, was found again under the pillow of the wife of Dee.

It is not easy to imagine a state of greater degradation than that into which this person had now fallen. During all the prime and vigour of his intellect, he had sustained an eminent part among the learned and the great, distinguished and honoured by Elizabeth and her favourite. But his unbounded arrogance and self-opinion could never be satisfied. And seduced, partly by his own weakness, and partly by the insinuations of a crafty adventurer, he became a mystic of the most dishonourable sort. He was induced to believe in a series of miraculous communications without common sense, engaged in the pursuit of the philosopher’s stone, and no doubt imagined that he was possessed of the great secret. Stirred up by these conceptions, he left his native country, and became a wanderer, preying upon the credulity of one prince and eminent man after another, and no sooner was he discarded by one victim of credulity, than he sought another, a vagabond on the earth, reduced from time to time to the greatest distress, persecuted, dishonoured and despised by every party in their turn. At length by incessant degrees he became dead to all moral distinctions, and all sense of honour and self-respect. “Professing himself to be wise he became a fool, walked in the vanity of his imagination,” and had his understanding under total eclipse. The immoral system of conduct in which he engaged, and the strange and shocking blasphemy that he mixed with it, render him at this time a sort of character that it is painful to contemplate.

Led on as Dee at this time was by the ascendancy and consummate art of Kelly, there was far from existing any genuine harmony between them; and, after many squabbles and heart-burnings, they appear finally to have parted in January 1589, Dee having, according to his own account, at that time delivered up to Kelly, the elixir and the different implements by which the transmutation of metals was to be effected.

Various overtures appear to have passed now for some years between Dee and Queen Elizabeth, intended to lead to his restoration to his native country. Dee had upon different occasions expressed a wish to that effect; and Elizabeth in the spring of 1589 sent him a message, that removed from him all further thought of hesitation and delay. He set out from Trebona with three coaches, and a baggage train correspondent, and had an audience of the queen at Richmond towards the close of that year. Upon the whole it is impossible perhaps not to believe, that Elizabeth was influenced in this proceeding by the various reports that had reached her of his extraordinary success with the philosopher’s stone, and the boundless wealth he had it in his power to bestow. Many princes at this time contended with each other, as to who should be happy enough by fair means or by force to have under his control the fortunate possessor of the great secret, and thus to have in his possession the means of inexhaustible wealth. Shortly after this time the emperor Rodolph seized and committed to prison Kelly, the partner of Dee in this inestimable faculty, and, having once enlarged him, placed him in custody a second time. Meanwhile Elizabeth is said to have made him pressing overtures of so flattering a nature that he determined to escape and return to his native country. For this purpose he is said to have torn the sheets of his bed, and twisted them into a rope, that by that means he might descend from the tower in which he was confined. But, being a corpulent man of considerable weight, the rope broke with him before he was half way down, and, having fractured one or both his legs, and being otherwise considerably bruised, he died shortly afterwards. This happened in the year 1595.

Dee (according to his own account, delivered to commissioners appointed by Queen Elizabeth to enquire into his circumstances) came from Trebona to England in a state little inferior to that of an ambassador. He had three coaches, with four horses harnessed to each coach, two or three loaded waggons, and a guard, sometimes of six, and sometimes of twenty-four soldiers, to defend him from enemies, who were supposed to lie in wait to intercept his passage. Immediately on his arrival he had an audience of the queen at Richmond, by whom he was most graciously received. She gave special orders, that he should do what he would in chemistry and philosophy, and that no one should on any account molest him.

But here end the prosperity and greatness of this extraordinary man. If he possessed the power of turning all baser metals into gold, he certainly acted unadvisedly in surrendering this power to his confederate, immediately before his return to his native country. He parted at the same time with his gift of prophecy, since, though he brought away with him his miraculous stone, and at one time appointed one Bartholomew, and another one Hickman, his interpreters to look into the stone, to see the marvellous sights it was expected to disclose, and to hear the voices and report the words that issued from it, the experiments proved in both instances abortive. They wanted the finer sense, or the unparalleled effrontery and inexhaustible invention, which Kelly alone possessed.

The remainder of the voyage of the life of Dee was “bound in shallows and in miseries.” Queen Elizabeth we may suppose soon found that her dreams of immense wealth to be obtained through his intervention were nugatory. Yet would she not desert the favourite of her former years. He presently began to complain of poverty and difficulties. He represented that the revenue of two livings he held in the church had been withheld from him from the time of his going abroad. He stated that, shortly after that period, his house had been broken into and spoiled by a lawless mob, instigated by his ill fame as a dealer in prohibited and unlawful arts. They destroyed or dispersed his library, consisting of four thousand volumes, seven hundred of which were manuscripts, and of inestimable rarity. They ravaged his collection of curious implements and machines. He enumerated the expences of his journey home by Elizabeth’s command, for which he seemed to consider the queen as his debtor. Elizabeth in consequence ordered him at several times two or three small sums. But this being insufficient, she was prevailed upon in 1592 to appoint two members of her privy council to repair to his house at Mortlake to enquire into particulars, to whom he made a Compendious Rehearsal of half a hundred years of his life, accompanied with documents and vouchers.

It is remarkable that in this Rehearsal no mention occurs of the miraculous stone brought down to him by an angel, or of his pretensions respecting the transmutation of metals. He merely rests, his claims to public support upon his literary labours, and the acknowledged eminence of his intellectual faculties. He passes over the years he had lately spent in foreign countries, in entire silence, unless we except his account of the particulars of his journey home. His representation to Elizabeth not being immediately productive of all the effects he expected, he wrote a letter to archbishop Whitgift two years after, lamenting the delay of the expected relief, and complaining of the “untrue reports, opinions and fables, which had for so many years been spread of his studies.” He represents these studies purely as literary, frank, and wholly divested of mystery. If the “True Relation of what passed for many years between Dr. Dee and certain Spirits” had not been preserved, and afterwards printed, we might have been disposed to consider all that was said on this subject as a calumny.

The promotion which Dee had set his heart on, was to the office of master of St. Cross’s Hospital near Winchester, which the queen had promised him when the present holder should be made a bishop. But this never happened. He obtained however in lieu of it the chancellorship of St. Paul’s cathedral, 8 December 1594, which in the following year he exchanged for the wardenship of the college at Manchester. In this last office he continued till the year 1602 (according to other accounts 1604), during which time he complained of great dissention and refractoriness on the part of the fellows; though it may perhaps be doubted whether equal blame may not fairly be imputed to the arrogance and restlessness of the warden. At length he receded altogether from public life, and retired to his ancient domicile at Mortlake. He made one attempt to propitiate the favour of King James; but it was ineffectual. Elizabeth had known him in the flower and vigour of his days; he had boasted the uniform patronage of her chief favourite; he had been recognised by the philosophical and the learned as inferior to none of their body, and he had finally excited the regard of his ancient mistress by his pretence to revelations, and the promises he held out of the philosopher’s stone. She could not shake off her ingrafted prejudice in his favour; she could not find in her heart to cast him aside in his old age and decay. But then came a king, to whom in his prosperity and sunshine he had been a stranger. He wasted his latter days in dotage, obscurity and universal neglect. No one has told us how he contrived to subsist. We may be sure that his constant companions were mortification and the most humiliating privations. He lingered on till the year 1608; and the ancient people in the time of Antony Wood, nearly a century afterwards, pointed to his grave in the chancel of the church at Mortlake, and professed to know the very spot where his remains were deposited.

The history of Dee is exceedingly interesting, not only on its own account; not only for the eminence of his talents and attainments, and the incredible sottishness and blindness of understanding which marked his maturer years; but as strikingly illustrative of the credulity and superstitious faith of the time in which he lived. At a later period his miraculous stone which displayed such wonders, and was attended with so long a series of supernatural vocal communications would have deceived nobody: it was scarcely more ingenious than the idle tricks of the most ordinary conjurer. But at this period the crust of long ages of darkness had not yet been fully worn away. Men did not trust to the powers of human understanding, and were not familiarised with the main canons of evidence and belief. Dee passed six years on the continent, proceeding from the court of one prince or potent nobleman to another, listened to for a time by each, each regarding his oracular communications with astonishment and alarm, and at length irresolutely casting him off, when he found little or no difficulty in running a like career with another.

It is not the least curious circumstance respecting the life of Dee, that in 1659, half a century after his death, there remained still such an interest respecting practices of this sort, as to authorise the printing a folio volume, in a complex and elaborate form, of his communications with spirits. The book was brought out by Dr. Meric Casaubon, no contemptible name in the republic of letters. The editor observes respecting the hero and his achievements in the Preface, that, “though his carriage in certain respects seemed to lay in works of darkness, yet all was tendered by him to kings and princes, and by all (England alone excepted) was listened to for a good while with good respect, and by some for a long time embraced and entertained.” He goes on to say, that “the fame of it made the pope bestir himself, and filled all, both learned and unlearned, with great wonder and astonishment.” He adds, that, “as a whole it is undoubtedly not to be paralleled in its kind in any age or country.” In a word the editor, though disavowing an entire belief in Dee’s pretensions, yet plainly considers them with some degree of deference, and insinuates to how much more regard such undue and exaggerated pretensions are entitled, than the impious incredulity of certain modern Sadducees, who say that “there is no resurrection; neither angel, nor spirit.” The belief in witchcraft and sorcery has undoubtedly met with some degree of favour from this consideration, inasmuch as, by recognising the correspondence of human beings with the invisible world, it has one principle in common with the believers in revelation, of which the more daring infidel is destitute.


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