« AnteriorContinuar »
These two persons are said to have entertained the project of enclosing England with a wall, so as to render it inaccessible to any invader. They accordingly raised the devil, as the person best able to inform them how this was to be done. The devil advised them to make a brazen head, with all the internal structure and organs of a human head. The construction would cost them much time, and they must then wait with patience till the faculty of speech descended upon it. It would finally, however, become an oracle, and if the question were propounded to it, would teach them the solution of their problem. The friars spent seven years in bringing the structure to perfection, and then waited day after day in expectation that it would utter articulate sounds. At length nature became exhausted in them, and they lay down to sleep, having first given it strictly in charge to a servant of theirs, clownish in nature, but of strict fidelity, that he should awaken them the moment the image began to speak. That period arrived. The head uttered sounds, but such as the clown judged unworthy of notice. “ Time is !" it said. No notice was taken, and a long pause ensued. “ Time was !” a similar pause, and no notice. “ Time is passed !” And the moment these words were uttered, a tremendous storm ensued, with thunder and lightning, and the head was shivered into a thousand pieces. Thus the experiment of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungy came to nothing.'—Pp. 265-6.
This fictitious expansion of Bacon's acoustic experiment with a brazen head, is the only trace of necromancy which Mr Godwin has fixed upon the Friar. He has omitted to give any account of his studies as an alchymist, and of his pretensions to the magical art of making boys appear like giants, of multiplying armies, and bringing the sun, moon, and stars down to the earth. The optical combinations, by which he was able to perform such feats, are well known; and he himself uses the language of mystery in announcing the effects they would produce :- And thus
a boy may appear to be a giant, and a man as big as a mountain, for as much as we may see the man under as great an angle as the mountain, and as near as we please; and thus a small army may appear a very great one, and though very far off, yet very near us, and on the contrary. Thus also the sun, moon,
be made to descend hither in appearance, 6 and to appear over the heads of our enemies, and many things of the like sort, which would astonish unskilful persons.'
In the two cases of Agrippa and Roger Bacon, Mr Godwin has entertained his readers with narratives which he himself acknowledges to be fictitious, in order that he may associate great names with his history ; and “infer the temper and credulity of the times' from the things that were believed of them by their
neighbours. In the absence of all authentic information, a philosopher would have recourse, with great reluctance, to such sources of intelligence; but he would have carefully separated
and stars, may
what was true from what was fictitious, and in making use of the latter, he would have made a marked distinction between what was believed and what was wilfully fabricated. The records of credulity differ essentially from those of fiction. The study of the one must instruct,—the perusal of the other may amuse us; but when the instruction and the amusement are blended together, the mass of rubbish which they form is intellectually useless, and morally unprofitable.
Mr Godwin has never attempted to separate these two conditions of the marvellous. He takes either or both, just as they come to his hand ; and, as we shall presently see, he puts as much value on acknowledged fiction as he does upon the legends of credulity. This great mistake is shown in a remarkable manner in his account of the notorious Dr Faustus.
• Little, in point of fact, is known respecting this eminent personage in the annals of necromancy. His pretended history does not seem to have been written till about the year 1587, perhaps half a century after his death. This work is apparently, in its principal features, altogether fictitious.
He was probably nothing more than an accomplished juggler, who appears to have practised his art with great success in several towns of Germany. He was also, no doubt, a pretender to necromancy.
On this basis, the well-known History of his Life has been built. The author has, with art, expanded very slender materials, and rendered his work, in a striking degree, a code and receptacle of all the most approved ideas respecting necromancy, and a profane and sacrilegious dealing with the devil. He has woven into it, with much skill, the
pretended arts of the sorcerers; and has transcribed, or closely imitated, the stories that have been handed down to us of many of the extraordinary feats they were said to have performed. It is therefore suitable to our purpose to dwell at some length upon the suc. cessive features of this history.'—Pp. 330-1.
This rash promise is amply fulfilled by our author; for he deals out to us twenty-eight pages of the Devil and Dr Faustus.'
Having thus given our readers a correct idea of the information which Mr Godwin has conveyed to us, in his lives of Cornelius Agrippa, Roger Bacon, and Dr Faustus, we cannot refrain from quoting an earlier part of his work, on the General Silence of the East respecting Individual Necromancers :'
• Asia has been more notorious than perhaps any other division of the globe for the vast multiplicity and variety of its narratives of sorcery and magic. I have, however, been much disappointed in the thing I looked for, in the first place; and that is, in the individual adventures of such persons as might be supposed to have gained a high degree of credit and reputation for their skill in exploits of magic. Where the professors are many (and they have been perhaps nowhere so numerous as those of
VOL. XL, NO, CXXI.
magic in the East), it is unavoidable but that some should have been more dexterous than others, more eminently gifted by nature, more enthusiastic and persevering in the prosecution of their purpose, and more fortunate in awakening popularity and admiration among their contemporaries. In the instances of Apollonius Tyanæus, and others among the ancients, and of Cornelius Agrippa, Roger Bacon, and Faust, among the moderns, we are acquainted with many biographical particulars of their lives, and can trace, with some degree of accuracy, their peculiarities of disposition, and observe how they were led gradually from one study and one mode of action to another. But the magicians of the East, so to speak, are mere abstractions, not characterised by any of those babits which distinguish one individual of the human race from another, and having those marking traits and petty lineaments which make the person, as it were, start up into life while he passes before our eyes. They are merely reported to us as men prone to the producing great signs and wonders, and nothing more.'— Pp. 185–6.
This passage seems to have been written before its author had acquired any knowledge either of Agrippa, Bacon, or Faustus. He here treats these personages as Professors of Necromancy, of whom we know so much, that we can trace their peculiarities, and observe how they were led from one study to another. Now, we know for certain, and Mr Godwin knows it also, that neither Agrippa nor Bacon were professors of necromancy; and we have already seen that he knows nothing whatever of Faustus. He was also,' says he, in a future passage, no doubt a pretender to necromancy’-an admission, that he possessed no authentic information respecting this part of his character.
A brief account of the Lives of Paracelsus and Cardan, in their capacity of necromancers, concludes the section entitled San
guinary Proceedings against Witchcraft-a section which contains also the venerable name of Luther. The only circumstances in the lives of the chemist and the mathematician, upon which the charge of necromancy is founded, is a rumour, that they had each a genius or demon in attendance upon them. Paracelsus was, no doubt, an alchymist and a quack; but he was a man of high genius, who gave a vigorous impulse to the science of the times. It is to him that we owe the invaluable connexion between chemistry and medicine; and the introduction into the materia medica of many chemical remedies, which have contributed, in the most essential degree, to diminish human suffering, and extend the period of human life. It was to the Arabians, indeed, that we owe the first introduction of metallic remedies; but it was to Paracelsus, and his successors in the art of alchymy, that we are indebted for the greatest number of these powerful medicines. The following paragraph contains the amount of his necromancy, according to Mr Godwin ;
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. P. 361.
Jerome Cardan, as our readers know, was a celebrated mathematician, and the author of some fine discoveries in Algebra, -a part of his character which Mr Godwin has omitted to record. He was a person of a quick and susceptible temperament, and united the possession of high imaginative, and profound intellectual powers. The combination of these antagonist attainments must necessarily have formed
a singular character; and there may be some foundation for Mr Godwin's remark, that there was a • considerable spice of madness in his composition.'
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 ecstasy 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 a 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 mentioned in the third place was, that he could not recollect any thing that had ever happened to him, whether good, ill, or indifferent, of which he had not been admonished, and that á very short time before, in a dream. These things serve to show of what importance he was in his own eyes, and also, which is the matter he principally brings 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.'—Pp. 362–4.
The mental phenomena recorded in the preceding passage, were, no doubt, real; and form, we are persuaded, interesting cases of the power of the optic nerve and the retina, to give an
external locality to the records of memory and the creations of the imagination. Those who have studied the cases of Nicolai, of Mrs A- described in the · Edinburgh Journal of Science,' and of others, published by Dr Abercrombie, cannot fail to observe that the temperament of Cardan was of an analogous kind; and that all his visions and mental peculiarities were the result of an extraordinary power of withdrawing his mind from the influence of present objects, and of an excessive sensibility of the retina to internal impressions. The subtlety and delicacy of his animal nature' was a logical inference from these phenomena, however ill expressed ; and when his powers of abstraction, and his quickness of fancy, enabled him to embody in phantasms his own hopes and fears, and see them in all the reality of direct vision, it was within the limits of poetical expression to ascribe such vivid intelligence to the premonitions of a guardian genius. The
great tribe of ancient and modern Necromancers, of whic Mr Godwin has attempted to write the natural history, is divided into two families; namely, those who were partly the victims of their own delusions,' and those "quacks who in cool blood under
took to overreach mankind.' The account of the first of these families terminates with Cardan, in the 364th page of the work ; and the second class, whose lives occupy scarcely 100 pages, begins with Benvenuto Cellini,* and ends with the hackneyed and disgusting details of witchcraft. Dr Faustus stands preeminent as the type of the first tribe, and, enthroned in the clouds of fable and mystery, he is the centre of the wizard system, round which all the lesser spirits wheel their mystic course. Doctor John Dee, whose life occupies twenty-five pages, is, in like manner, the High Priest of modern sorcery, and outshines with his primary lustre the tiny satellites that attend him. Dr Dee and Mr Edward Kelly form a double star of exceeding brilliancy, but we cannot venture to describe its phases or to trace its orbit. As we have given our readers, however, a specimen of the self-deluded magicians,' we must not omit to present them with a sample of the cold-blooded quacks' of the second family; and we shall select the case which Mr Godwin himself considers as ' eminently to the purpose of his work to describe.
· Urbain Grandier, a canon of the church, and a popular preacher of the town of Loudun, in the district of Poitiers, was in the year 1634 brought to trial
upon the accusation of magic. The first cause of his being thus
* Although Benvenuto Cellini appears to be the necromancer in Mr Godwin's book, yet he is only the narrator of the story, and was himself imposed upon by the Sicilian priest.