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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.
“ 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 biblio
maniac? But VENIET FELICIUS Ævum,” — Bibliomania, pp. 347–349.
* " 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 Athenae 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,
The delineation of Prospero, the noblest conception of the Magic character which ever entered the mind of a poet, is founded upon a distinction which was supposed to exist between the several professors of this mysterious science. They were separated, in fact, into two great orders ; into those who commanded the service of superior intelligences, and into those who, by voluntary compact, entered into a league with, or submitted to be the instruments of these powers. Under the first were ranked Magicians, who were again classed into higher or inferior, according to the extent of the control which they exerted over the invisible world; the former possessing an authority over celestial, as well as infernal spirits. Under the second were included Necromancers and Wizards, who, for the enjoyment of temporary power, subjected themselves, like the Witch, to final perdition.
Of the highest class of the first order was Prospero, one of those Magicians or Conjurors who, as Reginald Scot observes, “ professed an art which some fond divines affirme to be more honest and lawfull than necromancie, which is called Theurgie; wherein they worke by good angels.” * Accordingly, we find Prospero operating upon inferior agents, upon elves, demons, and goblins, through the medium of Ariel, a spirit too delicate and good to “ act abhorr'd commands,” but who “ answered his best pleasure," and was subservient to his “ strong bidding."
Shakspeare has very properly given to the exterior of Prospero, several of the adjuncts and costume of the popular magician. Much virtue was inherent in his very garments; and Scot has, in many instances, particularised their fashion. A pyramidal cap, a robe furred with fox-skins, a girdle three inches in breadth, and inscribed with cabalistic characters, shoes of russet leather, and unscabbarded
Pointing to each his thunder, rain, and wind;
By oft predict that I in heaven find.
swords, formed the usual dress; but, on peculiar occasions, certain deviations were necessary ; thus, in one instance, we are told the Magician must be habited in “ clean white cloathes ;” that his girdle must be made of “ a drie thong of a lion's or of a hart's skin ;" that he must have a " brest-plate of virgine parchment, sowed upon a piece of new linnen,” and inscribed with certain figures ; and likewise, “ a bright knife that was never occupied,” covered with characters on both sides, and with which he is to “ make the circle, called Saloman's circle.” *
Our poet has, therefore, laid much stress on these seeming minutiæ, and we find him, in the second scene of The Tempest, absolutely asserting, that the essence of the art existed in the robe of Prospero, who, addressing his daughter, says,
“ Lend thy hand,
(Lays down his mantle.
A similar importance is assigned to his staff or wand; for he tells Ferdinand,
“ I can here disarm thee with this stick, And make thy weapon drop :" +
and, when he abjures the practice of magic, one of the requisites is, to “ break his staff,” and to
“ Bury it certain fathoms in the earth.” I
But the more immediate instruments of power were Books, through whose assistance spells and adjurations were usually performed. Reginald Scot, speaking of the traffickers in Magic of his time, says, “ These conjurors carrie about at this daie, books intituled under
* Discoverie of Witchcraft, p. 415. + Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iv. p. 53. Act i. sc. 2. # Ibid. p. 152. Act v. sc. 1.