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The catalogue, indeed, can be indefinitely prolonged. And age by age, while the callous charlatan prospered, nobler victims of a more exalted ambition were led to dooms no less tragic than that of Browning's Paracelsus, dying the supreme sage and the supreme impostor, with half-crazed brain, in his hospital cell at Salzburg.
Further, from whatever point of view we regard such pretensions to occult knowledge, it is difficult to exaggerate their sway over the minds of men at periods when a belief in magical powers was a common creed. And time, as time moved onwards, did little to undermine it. Nero ' and Heliogabalus, Maxentius and Julianus Apostata, were
never so much addicted to magick as some of our modern ' princes and popes are now adayes,' wrote Burton. Nor were the converts of reformed religions more emancipated from such beliefs than the adherents of older faiths; the theurgic brotherhood flourished equally in Catholic France and Protestant England. Edward VI. had his nativity cast by Cardan (whose visit Burnet records); the date of Elizabeth's coronation was fixed after consulting the planets ; Charles I. was a client of William Lilly; Cromwell befriended the prophet of the almanacs.
Indeed, so far as England was concerned, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the especial age when magic, in all its branches, was paramount as a social, domestic, and political influence.* And to pass from the general history of its growth to the particular history of its votaries is to possess ourselves of a graphic picture of the modes of life and thought belonging to the occultism of their day. The lives of its three best-known practitioners, William Lilly, Simon Forman, and John Dee, extend over the greater part of two centuries, and include the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., Charles I., the periods of the Commonwealth and Restoration. Moreover, their diaries typify, as we trace a retrograde path from the more recent to the inore remote, three broad classes into which the adepts of such sciences are apt to resolve themselves. In Lilly we find the charlatan who barely assumes belief in the supernatural agencies he professes to control. In Forman we divine the half-believing initiate who supplements his individual incapacity to obtain the results to which he is pledged with tricks of jugglery. Finally, in Dr. Dee is manifest a sincere and unquestioning devotee, the dupe of deceptions which
* History of Sorcery and Witchcraft. T. Wright,
both in his own day and in ours have successfully imposed on stronger natures and more justly balanced intellects.
Lilly is possibly best known to modern readers as the Sidrophel of Butler's satire, where Hudibras,
with various doubts possest,
The conj'rer's worsted by the knight.* But the Lilly of real life was concerned with matters more momentous.
Lilly was a prominent and, in the opinion of many of his contem. poraries, a very important personage in the most eventful period of English history .. a principal actor in the farcical scenes which diversified the bloody tragedy of civil war. While the king and parliament were striving for mastery in the field, he was deciding their destinies in the closet. His “ Almanacks" were spelled over in the tavern and quoted in the senate, they nerved the arm of the soldier and rounded the periods of the orator.' †
Born in 1602, the son of a farmer, he came to London in 1620 in the capacity of serving-man to a retired household servant. He tells his own story in his autobiography, written fifty-seven years after Forman's death, with whose widow he had in early life been well acquainted. My work
was,' he says, 'to go before my master to church; make clean his shoes; sweep the street; fetch water in a tub • from the Thames.' In 1627 his master died and Lilly married the widow. From the very first we see the man as he was—shrewd, coarse-grained, and commonplace. A skilled observer of men and events, valuing in each only what he could utilise to his own advantage, his comparative respectability of moral conduct is more than counterbalanced by the entire absence of any single one of those nobler qualities which alone serve to reconcile man to humanity.
His marriage having set him in fairly affluent circumstances, he addicted himself to the study and practice of aştrology. Adapting with admirable foresight his political Canto iii.
† Retrospective Review, vol. i. p. 51. The most important parrative of a private life in strictly autobiographical form produced in the seventeenth century.' (Age of Dryden,' by Richard Garnett, LL.D.).
principles to the exigencies of the hour, he reaped his harvest. of gains from clients of both camps. "The Roundhead
stalked in at one door while the Cavalier hurried out at the other.' At first more loyalist than puritan, he was soon
engaged body and soul' in the cause of the Parliament. He feasts with General Fairfax, holds conference with godly Hugh Peters, is patronised by Mr. Speaker Lenthal, and befriended by Cromwell. He receives, none the less, twenty gold pieces from Madam Whorewood on the White King's' behalf, which fee was followed by the donation of a pension of 501, from the Council of State, ‘for very great considera
tions, while the Restoration finds him able to interpret his former prophecies in conformity with the sentiments befitting a faithful advocate of the Stewart monarchy.
Yet the skill which enabled Lilly to steer safely through the troubled political waters of this nether sphere apparently failed him in his dealings with the firmament above.* He was the author of twenty or more prophetical
almanacks, which, having read them all, Dr. James Young pronounced always the whole breadth of heaven ( wide from the truth. ... It's hard,' Young adds, that a
man shooting at Rovers so many years should never hit the 'mark.' Notwithstanding this fallibility of planetary interpretation, his clients' inveterate faith seems
faith seems to have remained unshaken. Twice his proceedings were made • the subject of parliamentary inquiry by the contempo* raries of Hampden and Falkland, of Milton and Clarendon.' And whether Lilly be regarded as knave or fool, his dupes included the most eminent men of learning, character, and position of his day.
His own attitude of mind towards occult practices betrays a curious mixture of credulity and scepticism. I was "curious to discover whether there was any verity in the art or not,' he says, and his memoirs provide us with nearly thirty graphically realistic sketches of the characters and exploits-astrologic and other of the diviners and speculators of his acquaintance, altbough' astrology in this
* Judicial astrology, as practised in England, appears to have belonged rather to the school which regarded the movement of the stars, not according to the theory of the ancients as the cause, but inerely as the signs of terrestrial events. Vide the distinction drawn by Origen, quoted by Beausobre, vol. ii. liv. vii. ch. i. See also his suggested derivation of the science from the doctrine of "le Destin Astrologique '-i.e. the government of the earth by those secondary intelligences localised in the planetary circles,
time (1633) was very rare in London, few possessing it that understood anything thereof.' His portraits are truly of an ill-favoured and sordid race. Glancing through his gallery of astrologers one would not imagine the sight conducive to faith, albeit Lilly leaves us in doubt as to the final convictions to which his investigations led. There is Lilly's own teacher, drunken Master Evans of Gunpowder Alley, ' an excellent wise man a master of arts, and in
sacred orders,' forced, however, by orders less sacred, but more binding, to fly from his cure of souls by reason of
certain offences committed by him in those parts where he · had lately lived. Of middle stature, broad forehead, beetle
browed, thick shoulders, flat nosed, downlooked ... addicted • to fraud, quarrelsome and abusive, seldom without a black ' eye, well versed in the nature of spirits,' who, it seems, when Master Evans, clad in his surplice, read the litany of the Common Prayer Book daily, and lived (awhile) orderly, came obediently to his call! There is one Alexander * Hart-a comely old man--he elected young gentlemen fit ' times to play at dice.' He also received twenty pounds from a rustical fellow' who desired to hold conference with spirits, which rustical' inquirer, no spirit appearing, indicted Master Hart for a cheat, and save for the befriending of John Taylour, the Water Poet, Master Hart would have been set in the pillory; after which event, for this and other reasons- -as Evans before had fled from the parish committed to his charge-s0 Master Hart fled presently into Holland.
There is John a Windor, the speculator, a scrivener by trade, so much given to ill-living that at times the Dæmons
(the tres angelos of his invocation) would not appear; he 'would then suffumigate ; sometimes to vex the spirits he ' would curse them and fumigate with contraries.' So page after page the sordid catalogue of imposture is continued. William Breddon, Vicar of Thornton, the most * polite person for nativities, but given over to tobacco and • drink. Arthur Gauntlet, of Gray's Inn Lane, professing physic ; Captain Bubb, condemned to the pillory for gross fraud; Jeffry Neve, Master Hodges, William Poole, and Master Mortlack are all . ignorant pretenders or men of dis
solute lives '-few escape reprehension. Of John Booker, however, summoned in Lilly's company to encourage the Parliament soldiers at the siege of Colchester with predictions of success, Lilly speaks better things, as perhaps he was in duty bound. Booker was, he tells us, well respected • of the most eminent citizens of London, and a very honest 'man' (a statement the opposite engraving belies); 'hę
abhorred deceit, had a curious fancy in judging of thefts, . and was successful in resolving love questions. Moreover, to cite one other exception, there was Nicholas Fiske, whose claims to honesty seem to have been even greater than Booker's, as Lilly asserts of him that he was ever diffident * of his own judgements, and died poor.'
But amongst all the vulgar herd depicted, one portrait star.ds out from its fellows. The portrait of a worn, dangerous face, not without beauty of its own, the face of a man of violent passions and melancholy moods, with eyes at once vigilant and thoughtful under the long curve of their drooping lids, with strong and deeply lined brows, a square forehead, and a hidden mouth-the portrait of Simon Forman, the unprincipled, mercenary adventurer, of trained brain, keen imagination, and scandalous life, who attained an infamous notoriety as the accomplice of Frances Howard in her intrigues with Rochester.
Forman's brief autobiography, written in 1600, which covers the first forty-eight years of his life, affords a sharp contrast to Lilly's reminiscences of men and manners. It is emphatically and narrowly personal and egoistical, the outline remembrances of a turbulent, ambitious, emotional nature, endowed with an imaginative temperament and an insatiable greed of knowledge, first thwarted and then degraded in the struggle for existence of his penniless youth and spendthrift manhood.
Simon was born of a family (Lilly's statements concerning his birth seem erroneous) of whom his diary affirms that in 'ancient books ther ar three things noted . , . that is ' that there was never any proud, covetouse, nor a traitor.' From six years old until he reached his tenth year Simon dreamt dreams and saw visions. He was loved by none save his father, and doubtless the small miseries of childhood -the schoolmaster who kept him in great feare,' and that other, who was a very furiouse man,' fell heavily on the heart of the unloved and visionary lad. Moreover, * about the yeare of our Lord God, 1563, . . . the father of the said Simon died; for he had kept a great Christmas, and on the day before new yer's eve he walked abroad with one of his men. And ther came a dove, and lighted before him, and always rane before him, and many tymes they offered to catch yt, and yt would rise up and fall lown againe, and so they followed yt till it ran into a neighbour's wodbine. And the same night-about midnight-after the dancing