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Historical Lecturers and Essays by Charles Kingsley

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And we, who think we stand, let us take heed lest we fall. Let us
accept, in modesty and in awe, the responsibility of our freedom,
and remember that that freedom can be preserved only in one old-
fashioned way. Let us remember that the one condition of a true
democracy is the same as the one condition of a true aristocracy,
namely, virtue. Let us teach our children, as grand old Lilly
taught our forefathers 300 years ago--"It is virtue, gentlemen, yea,
virtue that maketh gentlemen; that maketh the poor rich, the subject
a king, the lowborn noble, the deformed beautiful. These things
neither the whirling wheel of fortune can overturn, nor the
deceitful cavillings of worldlings separate, neither sickness abate,
nor age abolish."

Yes. Let us teach our children thus on both sides of the Atlantic.
For if they--which God forbid--should grow corrupt and weak by their
own sins, there is no hardier race now left on earth to conquer our
descendants and bring them back to reason, as those old Jews were
brought by bitter shame and woe. And all that is before them and
the whole civilised world, would be long centuries of anarchy such
as the world has not seen for ages--a true Ragnarok, a twilight of
the very gods, an age such as the wise woman foretold in the old

When brethren shall be
Each other's bane,
And sisters' sons rend
The ties of kin.
Hard will be that age,
An age of bad women,
An axe-age, a sword-age,
Shields oft cleft in twain,
A storm-age, a wolf-age,
Ere earth meet its doom.

So sang, 2000 years ago, perhaps, the great unnamed prophetess, of
our own race, of what might be, if we should fail mankind and our
own calling and election.

God grant that day may never come. But God grant, also, that if
that day does come, then may come true also what that wise Vala
sang, of the day when gods, and men, and earth should be burnt up
with fire.

When slaked Surtur's flame is,
Still the man and the maiden,
Hight Valour and Life,
Shall keep themselves hid
In the wood of remembrance.
The dew of the dawning
For food it shall serve them:
From them spring new peoples.

New peoples. For after all is said, the ideal form of human society
is democracy.

A nation--and, were it even possible, a whole world--of free men,
lifting free foreheads to God and Nature; calling no man master--for
one is their master, even God; knowing and obeying their duties
towards the Maker of the Universe, and therefore to each other, and
that not from fear, nor calculation of profit or loss, but because
they loved and liked it, and had seen the beauty of righteousness
and trust and peace; because the law of God was in their hearts, and
needing at last, it may be, neither king nor priest, for each man
and each woman, in their place, were kings and priests to God. Such
a nation--such a society--what nobler conception of mortal existence
can we form? Would not that be, indeed, the kingdom of God come on

And tell me not that that is impossible--too fair a dream to be ever
realised. All that makes it impossible is the selfishness,
passions, weaknesses, of those who would be blest were they masters
of themselves, and therefore of circumstances; who are miserable
because, not being masters of themselves, they try to master
circumstance, to pull down iron walls with weak and clumsy hands,
and forget that he who would be free from tyrants must first be free
from his worst tyrant, self.

But tell me not that the dream is impossible. It is so beautiful
that it must be true. If not now, nor centuries hence, yet still
hereafter. God would never, as I hold, have inspired man with that
rich imagination had He not meant to translate, some day, that
imagination into fact.

The very greatness of the idea, beyond what a single mind or
generation can grasp, will ensure failure on failure--follies,
fanaticisms, disappointments, even crimes, bloodshed, hasty furies,
as of children baulked of their holiday.

But it will be at last fulfilled, filled full, and perfected; not
perhaps here, or among our peoples, or any people which now exist on
earth: but in some future civilisation--it may be in far lands
beyond the sea--when all that you and we have made and done shall be
as the forest-grown mounds of the old nameless civilisers of the
Mississippi valley.


"Apollo, god of medicine, exiled from the rest of the earth, was
straying once across the Narbonnaise in Gaul, seeking to fix his
abode there. Driven from Asia, from Africa, and from the rest of
Europe, he wandered through all the towns of the province in search
of a place propitious for him and for his disciples. At last he
perceived a new city, constructed from the ruins of Maguelonne, of
Lattes, and of Substantion. He contemplated long its site, its
aspect, its neighbourhood, and resolved to establish on this hill of
Montpellier a temple for himself and his priests. All smiled on his
desires. By the genius of the soil, by the character of the
inhabitants, no town is more fit for the culture of letters, and
above all of medicine. What site is more delicious and more lovely?
A heaven pure and smiling; a city built with magnificence; men born
for all the labours of the intellect. All around vast horizons and
enchanting sites--meadows, vines, olives, green champaigns;
mountains and hills, rivers, brooks, lagoons, and the sea.
Everywhere a luxuriant vegetation--everywhere the richest production
of the land and the water. Hail to thee sweet and dear city! Hail,
happy abode of Apollo, who spreadest afar the light of the glory of
thy name!"

"This fine tirade," says Dr. Maurice Raynaud--from whose charming
book on the "Doctors of the Time of Moliere" I quote--"is not, as
one might think, the translation of a piece of poetry. It is simply
part of a public oration by Francois Fanchon, one of the most
illustrious chancellors of the faculty of medicine of Montpellier in
the seventeenth century." "From time immemorial," he says, "'the
faculty' of Montpellier had made itself remarkable by a singular
mixture of the sacred and the profane. The theses which were
sustained there began by an invocation to God, the Blessed Virgin,
and St. Luke, and ended by these words: 'This thesis will be
sustained in the sacred Temple of Apollo.'"

But however extravagant Chancellor Fanchon's praises of his native
city may seem, they are really not exaggerated. The Narbonnaise, or
Languedoc, is perhaps the most charming district of charming France.
In the far north-east gleam the white Alps; in the far south-west
the white Pyrenees; and from the purple glens and yellow downs of
the Cevennes on the north-west, the Herault slopes gently down
towards the "Etangs," or great salt-water lagoons, and the vast
alluvial flats of the Camargue, the field of Caius Marius, where
still run herds of half-wild horses, descended from some ancient
Roman stock; while beyond all glitters the blue Mediterranean. The
great almond orchards, each one sheet of rose-colour in spring; the
mulberry orchards, the oliveyards, the vineyards, cover every foot
of available upland soil: save where the rugged and arid downs are
sweet with a thousand odoriferous plants, from which the bees
extract the famous white honey of Narbonne. The native flowers and
shrubs, of a beauty and richness rather Eastern than European, have
made the "Flora Montpeliensis," and with it the names of Rondelet
and his disciples, famous among botanists; and the strange fish and
shells upon its shores afforded Rondelet materials for his immortal
work upon the "Animals of the Sea." The innumerable wild fowl of
the Benches du Rhone; the innumerable songsters and other birds of
passage, many of them unknown in these islands, and even in the
north of France itself, which haunt every copse of willow and aspen
along the brook-sides; the gaudy and curious insects which thrive
beneath that clear, fierce, and yet bracing sunlight; all these have
made the district of Montpellier a home prepared by Nature for those
who study and revere her.

Neither was Chancellor Fanchon misled by patriotism, when he said
the pleasant people who inhabit that district are fit for all the
labours of the intellect. They are a very mixed race, and, like
most mixed races, quick-witted, and handsome also. There is
probably much Roman blood among them, especially in the towns; for
Languedoc, or Gallia Narbonnensis, as it was called of old, was said
to be more Roman than Rome itself. The Roman remains are more
perfect and more interesting--so the late Dr. Whewell used to say--
than any to be seen now in Italy; and the old capital, Narbonne
itself, was a complete museum of Roman antiquities ere Francis I.
destroyed it, in order to fortify the city upon a modern system
against the invading armies of Charles V. There must be much
Visigothic blood likewise in Languedoc: for the Visigothic Kings
held their courts there from the fifth century, until the time that
they were crushed by the invading Moors. Spanish blood, likewise,
there may be; for much of Languedoc was held in the early Middle Age
by those descendants of Eudes of Aquitaine who established
themselves as kings of Majorca and Arragon; and Languedoc did not
become entirely French till 1349, when Philip le Bel bought
Montpellier of those potentates. The Moors, too, may have left some
traces of their race behind. They held the country from about A.D.
713 to 758, when they were finally expelled by Charles Martel and
Eudes. One sees to this day their towers of meagre stonework,
perched on the grand Roman masonry of those old amphitheatres, which
they turned into fortresses. One may see, too--so tradition holds--
upon those very amphitheatres the stains of the fires with which
Charles Martel smoked them out; and one may see, too, or fancy that
one sees, in the aquiline features, the bright black eyes, the lithe
and graceful gestures, which are so common in Languedoc, some touch
of the old Mahommedan race, which passed like a flood over that
Christian land.

Whether or not the Moors left behind any traces of their blood, they
left behind, at least, traces of their learning; for the university
of Montpellier claimed to have been founded by Moors at a date of
altogether abysmal antiquity. They looked upon the Arabian
physicians of the Middle Age, on Avicenna and Averrhoes, as modern
innovators, and derived their parentage from certain mythic doctors
of Cordova, who, when the Moors were expelled from Spain in the
eighth century, fled to Montpellier, bringing with them traditions
of that primaeval science which had been revealed to Adam while
still in Paradise; and founded Montpellier, the mother of all the
universities in Europe. Nay, some went farther still, and told of
Bengessaus and Ferragius, the physicians of Charlemagne, and of
Marilephus, chief physician of King Chilperic, and even--if a letter
of St. Bernard's was to be believed--of a certain bishop who went as
early as the second century to consult the doctors of Montpellier;
and it would have been in vain to reply to them that in those days,
and long after them, Montpellier was not yet built. The facts are
said to be: that as early as the beginning of the thirteenth
century Montpellier had its schools of law, medicine, and arts,
which were erected into a university by Pope Nicholas IV. in 1289.

The university of Montpellier, like--I believe--most foreign ones,
resembled more a Scotch than an English university. The students
lived, for the most part, not in colleges, but in private lodgings,
and constituted a republic of their own, ruled by an abbe of the
scholars, one of themselves, chosen by universal suffrage. A terror
they were often to the respectable burghers, for they had all the
right to carry arms; and a plague likewise, for, if they ran in
debt, their creditors were forbidden to seize their books, which,
with their swords, were generally all the property they possessed.
If, moreover, anyone set up a noisy or unpleasant trade near their
lodgings, the scholars could compel the town authorities to turn him
out. They were most of them, probably, mere boys of from twelve to
twenty, living poorly, working hard, and--those at least of them who
were in the colleges--cruelly beaten daily, after the fashion of
those times; but they seem to have comforted themselves under their
troubles by a good deal of wild life out of school, by rambling into
the country on the festivals of the saints, and now and then by
acting plays; notably, that famous one which Rabelais wrote for them
in 1531: "The moral comedy of the man who had a dumb wife;" which
"joyous PATELINAGE" remains unto this day in the shape of a well-
known comic song. That comedy young Rondelet must have seen acted.
The son of a druggist, spicer, and grocer--the three trades were
then combined--in Montpellier, and born in 1507, he had been
destined for the cloister, being a sickly lad. His uncle, one of
the canons of Maguelonne, near by, had even given him the revenues
of a small chapel--a job of nepotism which was common enough in
those days. But his heart was in science and medicine. He set off,
still a mere boy, to Paris to study there; and returned to
Montpellier, at the age of eighteen, to study again.

The next year, 1530, while still a scholar himself, he was appointed
procurator of the scholars--a post which brought him in a small fee
on each matriculation--and that year he took a fee, among others,
from one of the most remarkable men of that or of any age, Francois
Rabelais himself.

And what shall I say of him?--who stands alone, like Shakespeare, in
his generation; possessed of colossal learning--of all science which
could be gathered in his days--of practical and statesmanlike
wisdom--of knowledge of languages, ancient and modern, beyond all
his compeers--of eloquence, which when he speaks of pure and noble
things becomes heroic, and, as it were, inspired--of scorn for
meanness, hypocrisy, ignorance--of esteem, genuine and earnest, for
the Holy Scriptures, and for the more moderate of the Reformers who
were spreading the Scriptures in Europe,--and all this great light
wilfully hidden, not under a bushel, but under a dunghill. He is
somewhat like Socrates in face, and in character likewise; in him,
as in Socrates, the demigod and the satyr, the man and the ape, are
struggling for the mastery. In Socrates, the true man conquers, and
comes forth high and pure; in Rabelais, alas! the victor is the ape,
while the man himself sinks down in cynicism, sensuality, practical
jokes, foul talk. He returns to Paris, to live an idle, luxurious
life; to die--says the legend--saying, "I go to seek a great
perhaps," and to leave behind him little save a school of
Pantagruelists--careless young gentlemen, whose ideal was to laugh
at everything, to believe in nothing, and to gratify their five
senses like the brutes which perish. There are those who read his
books to make them laugh; the wise man, when he reads them, will be
far more inclined to weep. Let any young man who may see these
words remember, that in him, as in Rabelais, the ape and the man are
struggling for the mastery. Let him take warning by the fate of one
who was to him as a giant to a pigmy; and think of Tennyson's words

Arise, and fly
The reeling faun, the sensual feast;
Strive upwards, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die.

But to return. Down among them there at Montpellier, like a
brilliant meteor, flashed this wonderful Rabelais, in the year 1530.
He had fled, some say, for his life. Like Erasmus, he had no mind
to be a martyr, and he had been terrified at the execution of poor
Louis de Berquin, his friend, and the friend of Erasmus likewise.
This Louis de Berquin, a man well known in those days, was a gallant
young gentleman and scholar, holding a place in the court of Francis
I., who had translated into French the works of Erasmus, Luther, and
Melancthon, and had asserted that it was heretical to invoke the
Virgin Mary instead of the Holy Spirit, or to call her our Hope and
our Life, which titles--Berquin averred--belonged alone to God.
Twice had the doctors of the Sorbonne, with that terrible
persecutor, Noel Beda, at their head, seized poor Berquin, and tried
to burn his books and him; twice had that angel in human form,
Marguerite d'Angouleme, sister of Francis I., saved him from their
clutches; but when Francis--taken prisoner at the battle of Pavia--
at last returned from his captivity in Spain, the suppression of
heresy and the burning of heretics seemed to him and to his mother,
Louise of Savoy, a thank-offering so acceptable to God, that Louis
Berquin--who would not, in spite of the entreaties of Erasmus,
purchase his life by silence--was burnt at last on the Place de
Greve, being first strangled, because he was of gentle blood.

Montpellier received its famous guest joyfully. Rabelais was now
forty-two years old, and a distinguished savant; so they excused him
his three years' undergraduate's career, and invested him at once
with the red gown of the bachelors. That red gown--or, rather, the
ragged phantom of it--is still shown at Montpellier, and must be
worn by each bachelor when he takes his degree. Unfortunately,
antiquarians assure us that the precious garment has been renewed
again and again--the students having clipped bits of it away for
relics, and clipped as earnestly from the new gowns as their
predecessors had done from the authentic original.

Doubtless, the coming of such a man among them to lecture on the
Aphorisms of Hippocrates, and the Ars Parva of Galen, not from the
Latin translations then in use, but from original Greek texts, with
comments and corrections of his own, must have had a great influence
on the minds of the Montpellier students; and still more influence--
and that not altogether a good one--must Rabelais's lighter talk
have had, as he lounged--so the story goes--in his dressing-gown
upon the public place, picking up quaint stories from the cattle-
drivers off the Cevennes, and the villagers who came in to sell
their olives and their grapes, their vinegar and their vine-twig
faggots, as they do unto this day. To him may be owing much of the
sound respect for natural science, and much, too, of the contempt
for the superstition around them, which is notable in that group of
great naturalists who were boys in Montpellier at that day.
Rabelais seems to have liked Rondelet, and no wonder: he was a
cheery, lovable, honest little fellow, very fond of jokes, a great
musician and player on the violin, and who, when he grew rich, liked
nothing so well as to bring into his house any buffoon or strolling-
player to make fun for him. Vivacious he was, hot-tempered,
forgiving, and with a power of learning and a power of work which
were prodigious, even in those hard-working days. Rabelais chaffs
Rondelet, under the name of Rondibilis; for, indeed, Rondelet grew
up into a very round, fat, little man; but Rabelais puts excellent
sense into his mouth, cynical enough, and too cynical, but both
learned and humorous; and, if he laughs at him for being shocked at
the offer of a fee, and taking it, nevertheless, kindly enough,
Rondelet is not the first doctor who has done that, neither will he
be the last.

Rondelet, in his turn, put on the red robe of the bachelor, and
received, on taking his degree, his due share of fisticuffs from his
dearest friends, according to the ancient custom of the University
of Montpellier. He then went off to practise medicine in a village
at the foot of the Alps, and, half-starved, to teach little
children. Then he found he must learn Greek; went off to Paris a
second time, and alleviated his poverty there somewhat by becoming
tutor to a son of the Viscomte de Turenne. There he met Gonthier of
Andernach, who had taught anatomy at Louvain to the great Vesalius,
and learned from him to dissect. We next find him setting up as a
medical man amid the wild volcanic hills of the Auvergne, struggling
still with poverty, like Erasmus, like George Buchanan, like almost
every great scholar in those days; for students then had to wander
from place to place, generally on foot, in search of new teachers,
in search of books, in search of the necessaries of life; undergoing
such an amount of bodily and mental toil as makes it wonderful that
all of them did not--as some of them doubtless did--die under the
hard training, or, at best, desert the penurious Muses for the
paternal shop or plough.

Rondelet got his doctorate in 1537, and next year fell in love with
and married a beautiful young girl called Jeanne Sandre, who seems
to have been as poor as he.

But he had gained, meanwhile, a powerful patron; and the patronage
of the great was then as necessary to men of letters as the
patronage of the public is now. Guillaume Pellicier, Bishop of
Maguelonne--or rather then of Montpellier itself, whither he had
persuaded Paul II. to transfer the ancient see--was a model of the
literary gentleman of the sixteenth century; a savant, a diplomat, a
collector of books and manuscripts, Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac, which
formed the original nucleus of the present library of the Louvre; a
botanist, too, who loved to wander with Rondelet collecting plants
and flowers. He retired from public life to peace and science at
Montpellier, when to the evil days of his master, Francis I.,
succeeded the still worse days of Henry II., and Diana of Poitiers.
That Jezebel of France could conceive no more natural or easy way of
atoning for her own sins than that of hunting down heretics, and
feasting her wicked eyes--so it is said--upon their dying torments.
Bishop Pellicier fell under suspicion of heresy: very probably
with some justice. He fell, too, under suspicion of leading a life
unworthy of a celibate churchman, a fault which--if it really
existed--was, in those days, pardonable enough in an orthodox
prelate, but not so in one whose orthodoxy was suspected. And for
awhile Pellicier was in prison. After his release he gave himself
up to science, with Rondelet and the school of disciples who were
growing up around him. They rediscovered together the Garum, that
classic sauce, whose praises had been sung of old by Horace,
Martial, and Ausonius; and so child-like, superstitious if you will,
was the reverence in the sixteenth century for classic antiquity,
that when Pellicier and Rondelet discovered that the Garum was made
from the fish called Picarel--called Garon by the fishers of
Antibes, and Giroli at Venice, both these last names corruptions of
the Latin Gerres--then did the two fashionable poets of France,
Etienne Dolet and Clement Marot, think it not unworthy of their muse
to sing the praises of the sauce which Horace had sung of old. A
proud day, too, was it for Pellicier and Rondelet, when wandering
somewhere in the marshes of the Camargue, a scent of garlic caught
the nostrils of the gentle bishop, and in the lovely pink flowers of
the water-germander he recognised the Scordium of the ancients.
"The discovery," says Professor Planchon, "made almost as much noise
as that of the famous Garum; for at that moment of naive fervour on
behalf of antiquity, to re-discover a plant of Dioscorides or of
Pliny was a good fortune and almost an event."

I know not whether, after his death, the good bishop's bones reposed
beneath some gorgeous tomb, bedizened with the incongruous half-
Pagan statues of the Renaissance; but this at least is certain, that
Rondelet's disciples imagined for him a monument more enduring than
of marble or of brass, more graceful and more curiously wrought than
all the sculptures of Torrigiano or Cellini, Baccio Bandinelli or
Michael Angelo himself. For they named a lovely little lilac
snapdragon, Linaria Domini Pellicerii--"Lord Pellicier's toad-flax;"
and that name it will keep, we may believe, as long as winter and
summer shall endure.

But to return. To this good Patron--who was the Ambassador at
Venice--the newly-married Rondelet determined to apply for
employment; and to Venice he would have gone, leaving his bride
behind, had he not been stayed by one of those angels who sometimes
walk the earth in women's shape. Jeanne Sandre had an elder sister,
Catharine, who had brought her up. She was married to a wealthy
man, but she had no children of her own. For four years she and her
good husband had let the Rondelets lodge with them, and now she was
a widow, and to part with them was more than she could bear. She
carried Rondelet off from the students who were seeing him safe out
of the city, brought him back, settled on him the same day half her
fortune, and soon after settled on him the whole, on the sole
condition that she should live with him and her sister. For years
afterwards she watched over the pretty young wife and her two girls
and three boys--the three boys, alas! all died young--and over
Rondelet himself, who, immersed in books and experiments, was
utterly careless about money; and was to them all a mother--
advising, guiding, managing, and regarded by Rondelet with genuine
gratitude as his guardian angel.

Honour and good fortune, in a worldly sense, now poured in upon the
druggist's son. Pellicier, his own bishop, stood godfather to his
first-born daughter. Montluc, Bishop of Valence, and that wise and
learned statesman, the Cardinal of Tournon, stood godfathers a few
years later to his twin boys; and what was of still more solid worth
to him, Cardinal Tournon took him to Antwerp, Bordeaux, Bayonne, and
more than once to Rome; and in these Italian journeys of his he
collected many facts for the great work of his life, that "History
of Fishes" which he dedicated, naturally enough, to the cardinal.
This book with its plates is, for the time, a masterpiece of
accuracy. Those who are best acquainted with the subject say, that
it is up to the present day a key to the whole ichthyology of the
Mediterranean. Two other men, Belon and Salviani, were then at work
on the same subject, and published their books almost at the same
time; a circumstance which caused, as was natural, a three-cornered
duel between the supporters of the three naturalists, each party
accusing the other of plagiarism. The simple fact seems to be that
the almost simultaneous appearance of the three books in 1554-55 is
one of those coincidences inevitable at moments when many minds are
stirred in the same direction by the same great thoughts--
coincidences which have happened in our own day on questions of
geology, biology, and astronomy; and which, when the facts have been
carefully examined, and the first flush of natural jealousy has
cooled down, have proved only that there were more wise men than one
in the world at the same time.

And this sixteenth century was an age in which the minds of men were
suddenly and strangely turned to examine the wonders of nature with
an earnestness, with a reverence, and therefore with an accuracy,
with which they had never been investigated before. "Nature," says
Professor Planchon, "long veiled in mysticism and scholasticism, was
opening up infinite vistas. A new superstition, the exaggerated
worship of the ancients, was nearly hindering this movement of
thought towards facts. Nevertheless, Learning did her work. She
rediscovered, reconstructed, purified, commented on the texts of
ancient authors. Then came in observation, which showed that more
was to be seen in one blade of grass than in any page of Pliny.
Rondelet was in the middle of this crisis a man of transition, while
he was one of progress. He reflected the past; he opened and
prepared the future. If he commented on Dioscorides, if he remained
faithful to the theories of Galen, he founded in his 'History of
Fishes' a monument which our century respects. He is above all an
inspirer, an initiator; and if he wants one mark of the leader of a
school, the foundation of certain scientific doctrines, there is in
his speech what is better than all systems, the communicative power
which urges a generation of disciples along the path of independent
research, with Reason for guide, and Faith for aim."

Around Rondelet, in those years, sometimes indeed in his house--for
professors in those days took private pupils as lodgers--worked the
group of botanists whom Linnaeus calls "the Fathers," the authors of
the descriptive botany of the sixteenth century. Their names, and
those of their disciples and their disciples again, are household
words in the mouth of every gardener, immortalised, like good Bishop
Pellicier, in the plants that have been named after them. The
Lobelia commemorates Lobel, one of Rondelet's most famous pupils,
who wrote those "Adversaria" which contain so many curious sketches
of Rondelet's botanical expeditions, and who inherited his botanical
(as Joubert his biographer inherited his anatomical) manuscripts.
The Magnolia commemorates the Magnols; the Sarracenia, Sarrasin of
Lyons; the Bauhinia, Jean Bauhin; the Fuchsia, Bauhin's earlier
German master, Leonard Fuchs; and the Clusia--the received name of
that terrible "Matapalo" or "Scotch attorney," of the West Indies,
which kills the hugest tree, to become as huge a tree itself--
immortalises the great Clusius, Charles de l'Escluse, citizen of
Arras, who, after studying civil law at Louvain, philosophy at
Marburg, and theology at Wittemberg under Melancthon, came to
Montpellier in 1551, to live in Rondelet's own house, and become the
greatest botanist of his age.

These were Rondelet's palmy days. He had got a theatre of anatomy
built at Montpellier, where he himself dissected publicly. He had,
says tradition, a little botanic garden, such as were springing up
then in several universities, specially in Italy. He had a villa
outside the city, whose tower, near the modern railway station,
still bears the name of the "Mas de Rondelet." There, too, may be
seen the remnants of the great tanks, fed with water brought through
earthen pipes from the Fountain of Albe, wherein he kept the fish
whose habits he observed. Professor Planchon thinks that he had
salt-water tanks likewise; and thus he may have been the father of
all "Aquariums." He had a large and handsome house in the city
itself, a large practice as physician in the country round; money
flowed in fast to him, and flowed out fast likewise. He spent much
upon building, pulling down, rebuilding, and sent the bills in
seemingly to his wife and to his guardian angel Catharine. He
himself had never a penny in his purse: but earned the money, and
let his ladies spend it; an equitable and pleasant division of
labour which most married men would do well to imitate. A generous,
affectionate, careless little man, he gave away, says his pupil and
biographer, Joubert, his valuable specimens to any savant who begged
for them, or left them about to be stolen by visitors, who, like too
many collectors in all ages, possessed light fingers and lighter
consciences. So pacific was he meanwhile, and so brave withal that
even in the fearful years of "The Troubles," he would never carry
sword, nor even tuck or dagger: but went about on the most
lonesome journeys as one who wore a charmed life, secure in God and
in his calling, which was to heal, and not to kill.

These were the golden years of Rondelet's life; but trouble was
coming on him, and a stormy sunset after a brilliant day. He lost
his sister-in-law, to whom he owed all his fortunes, and who had
watched ever since over him and his wife like a mother; then he lost
his wife herself under most painful circumstances; then his best-
beloved daughter. Then he married again, and lost the son who was
born to him; and then came, as to many of the best in those days,
even sorer trials, trials of the conscience, trials of faith.

For in the meantime Rondelet had become a Protestant, like many of
the wisest men round him; like, so it would seem from the event, the
majority of the university and the burghers of Montpellier. It is
not to be wondered at. Montpellier was a sort of halfway resting-
place for Protestant preachers, whether fugitive or not, who were
passing from Basle, Geneva, or Lyons, to Marguerite of Navarre's
little Protestant court at Pan or at Nerac, where all wise and good
men, and now and then some foolish and fanatical ones, found shelter
and hospitality. Thither Calvin himself had been, passing probably
through Montpellier and leaving--as such a man was sure to leave--
the mark of his foot behind him. At Lyons, no great distance up the
Rhone, Marguerite had helped to establish an organised Protestant
community; and when in 1536 she herself had passed through
Montpellier, to visit her brother at Valence, and Montmorency's camp
at Avignon, she took with her doubtless Protestant chaplains of her
own, who spoke wise words--it may be that she spoke wise words
herself--to the ardent and inquiring students of Montpellier.
Moreover, Rondelet and his disciples had been for years past in
constant communication with the Protestant savants of Switzerland
and Germany, among whom the knowledge of nature was progressing as
it never had progressed before. For--it is a fact always to be
remembered--it was only in the free air of Protestant countries the
natural sciences could grow and thrive. They sprung up, indeed, in
Italy after the restoration of Greek literature in the fifteenth
century; but they withered there again only too soon under the
blighting upas shade of superstition. Transplanted to the free air
of Switzerland, of Germany, of Britain, and of Montpellier, then
half Protestant, they developed rapidly and surely, simply because
the air was free; to be checked again in France by the return of
superstition with despotism super-added, until the eve of the great
French Revolution.

So Rondelet had been for some years Protestant. He had hidden in
his house for a long while a monk who had left his monastery. He
had himself written theological treatises: but when his Bishop
Pellicier was imprisoned on a charge of heresy, Rondelet burnt his
manuscripts, and kept his opinions to himself. Still he was a
suspected heretic, at last seemingly a notorious one; for only the
year before his death, going to visit patients at Perpignan, he was
waylaid by the Spaniards, and had to get home through bypasses of
the Pyrenees, to avoid being thrown into the Inquisition.

And those were times in which it was necessary for a man to be
careful, unless he had made up his mind to be burned. For more than
thirty years of Rondelet's life the burning had gone on in his
neighbourhood; intermittently it is true: the spasms of
superstitious fury being succeeded, one may charitably hope, by pity
and remorse; but still the burnings had gone on. The Benedictine
monk of St. Maur, who writes the history of Languedoc, says, quite
en passant, how someone was burnt at Toulouse in 1553, luckily only
in effigy, for he had escaped to Geneva: but he adds, "next year
they burned several heretics," it being not worth while to mention
their names. In 1556 they burned alive at Toulouse Jean Escalle, a
poor Franciscan monk, who had found his order intolerable; while one
Pierre de Lavaur, who dared preach Calvinism in the streets of
Nismes, was hanged and burnt. So had the score of judicial murders
been increasing year by year, till it had to be, as all evil scores
have to be in this world, paid off with interest, and paid off
especially against the ignorant and fanatic monks who for a whole
generation, in every university and school in France, had been
howling down sound science, as well as sound religion; and at
Montpellier in 1560-61, their debt was paid them in a very ugly way.
News came down to the hot southerners of Languedoc of the so-called
conspiracy of Amboise.--How the Duc de Guise and the Cardinal de
Lorraine had butchered the best blood in France under the pretence
of a treasonable plot; how the King of Navarre and the Prince de
Conde had been arrested; then how Conde and Coligny were ready to
take up arms at the head of all the Huguenots of France, and try to
stop this life-long torturing, by sharp shot and cold steel; then
how in six months' time the king would assemble a general council to
settle the question between Catholics and Huguenots. The Huguenots,
guessing how that would end, resolved to settle the question for
themselves. They rose in one city after another, sacked the
churches, destroyed the images, put down by main force superstitious
processions and dances; and did many things only to be excused by
the exasperation caused by thirty years of cruelty. At Montpellier
there was hard fighting, murders--so say the Catholic historians--of
priests and monks, sack of the new cathedral, destruction of the
noble convents which lay in a ring round Montpellier. The city and
the university were in the hands of the Huguenots, and Montpellier
became Protestant on the spot.

Next year came the counter-blow. There were heavy battles with the
Catholics all round the neighbourhood, destruction of the suburbs,
threatened siege and sack, and years of misery and poverty for
Montpellier and all who were therein.

Horrible was the state of France in those times of the wars of
religion which began in 1562; the times which are spoken of usually
as "The Troubles," as if men did not wish to allude to them too
openly. Then, and afterwards in the wars of the League, deeds were
done for which language has no name. The population decreased. The
land lay untilled. The fair face of France was blackened with burnt
homesteads and ruined towns. Ghastly corpses dangled in rows upon
the trees, or floated down the blood-stained streams. Law and order
were at an end. Bands of robbers prowled in open day, and bands of
wolves likewise. But all through the horrors of the troubles we
catch sight of the little fat doctor riding all unarmed to see his
patients throughout Languedoc; going vast distances, his biographers
say, by means of regular relays of horses, till he too broke down.
Well, for him, perhaps, that he broke down when he did; for capture
and recapture, massacre and pestilence, were the fate of Montpellier
and the surrounding country, till the better times of Henry IV. and
the Edict of Nantes in 1598, when liberty of worship was given to
the Protestants for awhile.

In the burning summer of 1566, Rondelet went a long journey to
Toulouse, seemingly upon an errand of charity, to settle some law
affairs for his relations. The sanitary state of the southern
cities is bad enough still. It must have been horrible in those
days of barbarism and misrule. Dysentery was epidemic at Toulouse
then, and Rondelet took it. He knew from the first that he should
die. He was worn out, it is said, by over-exertion; by sorrow for
the miseries of the land; by fruitless struggles to keep the peace,
and to strive for moderation in days when men were all immoderate.
But he rode away a day's journey--he took two days over it, so weak
he was--in the blazing July sun, to a friend's sick wife at
Realmont, and there took to his bed, and died a good man's death.
The details of his death and last illness were written and published
by his cousin Claude Formy; and well worth reading they are to any
man who wishes to know how to die. Rondelet would have no tidings
of his illness sent to Montpellier. He was happy, he said, in dying
away from the tears of his household, and "safe from insult." He
dreaded, one may suppose, lest priests and friars should force their
way to his bedside, and try to extort some recantation from the
great savant, the honour and glory of their city. So they sent for
no priest to Realmont; but round his bed a knot of Calvinist
gentlemen and ministers read the Scriptures, and sang David's
psalms, and prayed; and Rondelet prayed with them through long
agonies, and so went home to God.

The Benedictine monk-historian of Languedoc, in all his voluminous
folios, never mentions, as far as I can find, Rondelet's existence.
Why should he? The man was only a druggist's son and a heretic, who
healed diseases, and collected plants, and wrote a book on fish.
But the learned men of Montpellier, and of all Europe, had a very
different opinion of him. His body was buried at Realmont; but
before the schools of Toulouse they set up a white marble slab, and
an inscription thereon setting forth his learning and his virtues;
and epitaphs on him were composed by the learned throughout Europe,
not only in French and Latin, but in Greek, Hebrew, and even

So lived and so died a noble man; more noble, to my mind, than many
a victorious warrior, or successful statesman, or canonised saint.
To know facts, and to heal diseases, were the two objects of his
life. For them he toiled, as few men have toiled; and he died in
harness, at his work--the best death any man can die.


I cannot begin a sketch of the life of this great man better than by
trying to describe a scene so picturesque, so tragic in the eyes of
those who are wont to mourn over human follies, so comic in the eyes
of those who prefer to laugh over them, that the reader will not be
likely to forget either it or the actors in it.

It is a darkened chamber in the College of Alcala, in the year 1562,
where lies, probably in a huge four-post bed, shrouded in stifling
hangings, the heir-apparent of the greatest empire in the then
world, Don Carlos, only son of Philip II. and heir-apparent of
Spain, the Netherlands, and all the Indies. A short sickly boy of
sixteen, with a bull head, a crooked shoulder, a short leg, and a
brutal temper, he will not be missed by the world if he should die.
His profligate career seems to have brought its own punishment. To
the scandal of his father, who tolerated no one's vices save his
own, as well as to the scandal of the university authorities of
Alcala, he has been scouring the streets at the head of the most
profligate students, insulting women, even ladies of rank, and
amenable only to his lovely young stepmother, Elizabeth of Valois,
Isabel de la Paz, as the Spaniards call her, the daughter of
Catherine do Medicis, and sister of the King of France. Don Carlos
should have married her, had not his worthy father found it more
advantageous for the crown of Spain, as well as more pleasant for
him, Philip, to marry her himself. Whence came heart-burnings,
rage, jealousies, romances, calumnies, of which two last--in as far
at least as they concern poor Elizabeth--no wise man now believes a

Going on some errand on which he had no business--there are two
stories, neither of them creditable nor necessary to repeat--Don
Carlos has fallen downstairs and broken his head. He comes, by his
Portuguese mother's side, of a house deeply tainted with insanity;
and such an injury may have serious consequences. However, for nine
days the wound goes on well, and Don Carlos, having had a wholesome
fright, is, according to Doctor Olivarez, the medico de camara, a
very good lad, and lives on chicken broth and dried plums. But on
the tenth day comes on numbness of the left side, acute pains in the
head, and then gradually shivering, high fever, erysipelas. His
head and neck swell to an enormous size; then comes raging delirium,
then stupefaction, and Don Carlos lies as one dead.

A modern surgeon would, probably, thanks to that training of which
Vesalius may be almost called the father, have had little difficulty
in finding out what was the matter with the luckless lad, and little
difficulty in removing the evil, if it had not gone too far. But
the Spanish physicians were then, as many of them are said to be
still, as far behind the world in surgery as in other things; and
indeed surgery itself was then in its infancy, because men, ever
since the early Greek schools of Alexandria had died out, had been
for centuries feeding their minds with anything rather than with
facts. Therefore the learned morosophs who were gathered round Don
Carlos's sick bed had become according to their own confession,
utterly confused, terrified, and at their wits' end.

It is the 7th of May, the eighteenth day after the accident
according to Olivarez's story: he and Dr Vega have been bleeding
the unhappy prince, enlarging the wound twice, and torturing him
seemingly on mere guesses. "I believe," says Olivarez, "that all
was done well: but as I have said, in wounds in the head there are
strange labyrinths." So on the 7th they stand round the bed in
despair. Don Garcia de Toledo, the prince's faithful governor, is
sitting by him, worn out with sleepless nights, and trying to supply
to the poor boy that mother's tenderness which he has never known.
Alva, too, is there, stern, self-compressed, most terrible, and yet
most beautiful. He has a God on earth, and that is Philip his
master; and though he has borne much from Don Carlos already, and
will have to bear more, yet the wretched lad is to him as a son of
God, a second deity, who will by right divine succeed to the
inheritance of the first; and he watches this lesser deity
struggling between life and death with an intensity of which we, in
these less loyal days, can form no notion. One would be glad to
have a glimpse of what passed through that mind, so subtle and so
ruthless, so disciplined and so loyal withal: but Alva was a man
who was not given to speak his mind, but to act it.

One would wish, too, for a glimpse of what was passing through the
mind of another man, who has been daily in that sick chamber,
according to Olivarez's statement, since the first of the month:
but he is one who has had, for some years past, even more reason
than Alva for not speaking his mind. What he looked like we know
well, for Titian has painted him from the life--a tall, bold, well-
dressed man, with a noble brain, square and yet lofty, short curling
locks and beard, an eye which looks as though it feared neither man
nor fiend--and it has had good reason to fear both--and features
which would be exceeding handsome, but for the defiant snub-nose.
That is Andreas Vesalius, of Brussels, dreaded and hated by the
doctors of the old school--suspect, moreover, it would seem to
inquisitors and theologians, possibly to Alva himself; for he has
dared to dissect human bodies; he has insulted the mediaevalists at
Paris, Padua, Bologna, Pisa, Venice, in open theatre; he has turned
the heads of all the young surgeons in Italy and France; he has
written a great book, with prints in it, designed, some say, by
Titian--they were actually done by another Netherlander, John of
Calcar, near Cleves--in which he has dared to prove that Galen's
anatomy was at fault throughout, and that he had been describing a
monkey's inside when he had pretended to be describing a man's; and
thus, by impudence and quackery, he has wormed himself--this
Netherlander, a heretic at heart, as all Netherlanders are, to God
as well as to Galen--into the confidence of the late Emperor Charles
V., and gone campaigning with him as one of his physicians,
anatomising human bodies even on the battle-field, and defacing the
likeness of Deity; and worse than that, the most religious King
Philip is deceived by him likewise, and keeps him in Madrid in
wealth and honour; and now, in the prince's extreme danger, the king
has actually sent for him, and bidden him try his skill--a man who
knows nothing save about bones and muscles and the outside of the
body, and is unworthy the name of a true physician.

One can conceive the rage of the old Spanish pedants at the
Netherlander's appearance, and still more at what followed, if we
are to believe Hugo Bloet of Delft, his countryman and contemporary.
{10} Vesalius, he says, saw that the surgeons had bound up the
wound so tight that an abscess had formed outside the skull, which
could not break: he asserted that the only hope lay in opening it;
and did so, Philip having given leave, "by two cross-cuts. Then the
lad returned to himself, as if awakened from a profound sleep,
affirming that he owed his restoration to life to the German

Dionysius Daza, who was there with the other physicians and
surgeons, tells a different story: "The most learned, famous, and
rare Baron Vesalius," he says, advised that the skull should be
trepanned; but his advice was not followed.

Olivarez's account agrees with that of Daza. They had opened the
wounds, he says, down to the skull before Vesalius came. Vesalius
insisted that the injury lay inside the skull, and wished to pierce
it. Olivarez spends much labour in proving that Vesalius had "no
great foundation for his opinion:" but confesses that he never
changed that opinion to the last, though all the Spanish doctors
were against him. Then on the 6th, he says, the Bachelor Torres
came from Madrid, and advised that the skull should be laid bare
once more; and on the 7th, there being still doubt whether the skull
was not injured, the operation was performed--by whom it is not
said--but without any good result, or, according to Olivarez, any
discovery, save that Vesalius was wrong, and the skull uninjured.

Whether this second operation of the 7th of May was performed by
Vesalius, and whether it was that of which Bloet speaks, is an open
question. Olivarez's whole relation is apologetic, written to
justify himself and his seven Spanish colleagues, and to prove
Vesalius in the wrong. Public opinion, he confesses, had been very
fierce against him. The credit of Spanish medicine was at stake:
and we are not bound to believe implicitly a paper drawn up under
such circumstances for Philip's eye. This, at least, we gather:
that Don Carlos was never trepanned, as is commonly said; and this,
also, that whichever of the two stories is true, equally puts
Vesalius into direct, and most unpleasant, antagonism to the Spanish
doctors. {11}

But Don Carlos still lay senseless; and yielding to popular clamour,
the doctors called in the aid of a certain Moorish doctor, from
Valencia, named Priotarete, whose unguents, it was reported, had
achieved many miraculous cures. The unguent, however, to the horror
of the doctors, burned the skull till the bone was as black as the
colour of ink; and Olivarez declares he believes it to have been a
preparation of pure caustic. On the morning of the 9th of May, the
Moor and his unguents were sent away, "and went to Madrid, to send
to heaven Hernando de Vega, while the prince went back to our method
of cure."

Considering what happened on the morning of the 10th of May, we
should now presume that the second opening of the abscess, whether
by Vesalius or someone else, relieved the pressure on the brain;
that a critical period of exhaustion followed, probably prolonged by
the Moor's premature caustic, which stopped the suppuration: but
that God's good handiwork, called nature, triumphed at last; and
that therefore it came to pass that the prince was out of danger
within three days of the operation. But he was taught, it seems, to
attribute his recovery to a very different source from that of a
German knife. For on the morning of the 9th, when the Moor was
gone, and Don Carlos lay seemingly lifeless, there descended into
his chamber a Deus e machina, or rather a whole pantheon of greater
or lesser deities, who were to effect that which medical skill
seemed not to have effected. Philip sent into the prince's chamber
several of the precious relics which he usually carried about with
him. The miraculous image of the Virgin of Atocha, in embroidering
garments for whom, Spanish royalty, male and female, has spent so
many an hour ere now, was brought in solemn procession and placed on
an altar at the foot of the prince's bed; and in the afternoon there
entered, with a procession likewise, a shrine containing the bones
of a holy anchorite, one Fray Diego, "whose life and miracles," says
Olivarez, "are so notorious:" and the bones of St. Justus and St.
Pastor, the tutelar saints of the university of Alcala. Amid solemn
litanies the relics of Fray Diego were laid upon the prince's
pillow, and the sudarium, or mortuary cloth, which had covered his
face, was placed upon the prince's forehead.

Modern science might object that the presence of so many personages,
however pious or well intentioned, in a sick chamber on a hot
Spanish May day, especially as the bath had been, for some
generations past, held in religious horror throughout Spain, as a
sign of Moorish and Mussulman tendencies, might have somewhat
interfered with the chances of the poor boy's recovery.
Nevertheless the event seems to have satisfied Philip's highest
hopes; for that same night (so Don Carlos afterwards related) the
holy monk Diego appeared to him in a vision, wearing the habit of
St. Francis, and bearing in his hand a cross of reeds tied with a
green band. The prince stated that he first took the apparition to
be that of the blessed St. Francis; but not seeing the stigmata, he
exclaimed, "How? Dost thou not bear the marks of the wounds?" What
he replied Don Carlos did not recollect; save that he consoled him,
and told him that he should not die of that malady.

Philip had returned to Madrid, and shut himself up in grief in the
great Jeronymite monastery. Elizabeth was praying for her step-son
before the miraculous images of the same city. During the night of
the 9th of May prayers went up for Don Carlos in all the churches of
Toledo, Alcala, and Madrid. Alva stood all that night at the bed's
foot. Don Garcia de Toledo sat in the arm-chair, where he had now
sat night and day for more than a fortnight. The good preceptor,
Honorato Juan, afterwards Bishop of Osma, wrestled in prayer for the
lad the whole night through. His prayer was answered: probably it
had been answered already, without his being aware of it. Be that
as it may, about dawn Don Carlos's heavy breathing ceased; he fell
into a quiet sleep; and when he awoke all perceived at once that he
was saved.

He did not recover his sight, seemingly on account of the
erysipelas, for a week more. He then opened his eyes upon the
miraculous image of Atocha, and vowed that, if he recovered, he
would give to the Virgin, at four different shrines in Spain, gold
plate of four times his weight; and silver plate of seven times his
weight, when he should rise from his couch. So on the 6th of June
he rose, and was weighed in a fur coat and a robe of damask, and his
weight was three arrobas and one pound--seventy-six pounds in all.
On the 14th of June he went to visit his father at the episcopal
palace; then to all the churches and shrines in Alcala, and of
course to that of Fray Diego, whose body it is said he contemplated
for some time with edifying devotion. The next year saw Fray Diego
canonised as a saint, at the intercession of Philip and his son; and
thus Don Carlos re-entered the world, to be a terror and a torment
to all around him, and to die--not by Philip's cruelty, as his
enemies reported too hastily indeed, yet excusably, for they knew
him to be capable of any wickedness--but simply of constitutional

And now let us go back to the history of "that most learned, famous,
and rare Baron Vesalius," who had stood by and seen all these things
done; and try if we cannot, after we have learned the history of his
early life, guess at some of his probable meditations on this
celebrated clinical case; and guess also how those meditations may
have affected seriously the events of his afterlife.

Vesalius (as I said) was a Netherlander, born at Brussels in 1513 or
1514. His father and grandfather had been medical men of the
highest standing in a profession which then, as now, was commonly
hereditary. His real name was Wittag, an ancient family of Wesel,
on the Rhine, from which town either he or his father adopted the
name of Vesalius, according to the classicising fashion of those
days. Young Vesalius was sent to college at Louvain, where he
learned rapidly. At sixteen or seventeen he knew not only Latin,
but Greek enough to correct the proofs of Galen, and Arabic enough
to become acquainted with the works of the Mussulman physicians. He
was a physicist too, and a mathematician, according to the knowledge
of those times; but his passion--the study to which he was destined
to devote his life--was anatomy.

Little or nothing (it must be understood) had been done in anatomy
since the days of Galen of Pergamos, in the second century after
Christ, and very little even by him. Dissection was all but
forbidden among the ancients. The Egyptians, Herodotus tells us,
used to pursue with stones and curses the embalmers as soon as they
had performed their unpleasant office; and though Herophilus and
Erasistratus are said to have dissected many subjects under the
protection of Ptolemy Soter in Alexandria itself: yet the public
feeling of the Greeks as well as of the Romans continued the same as
that of the ancient Egyptians; and Galen was fain--as Vesalius
proved--to supplement his ignorance of the human frame by describing
that of an ape. Dissection was equally forbidden among the
Mussulmans; and the great Arabic physicians could do no more than
comment on Galen. The same prejudice extended through the Middle
Age. Medical men were all clerks, CLERICI, and as such forbidden to
shed blood. The only dissection, as far as I am aware, made during
the Middle Age was one by Mundinus in 1306; and his subsequent
commentaries on Galen--for he dare allow his own eyes to see no more
than Galen had seen before him--constituted the best anatomical
manual in Europe till the middle of the fifteenth century.

Then, in Italy at least, the classic Renaissance gave fresh life to
anatomy as to all other sciences. Especially did the improvements
in painting and sculpture stir men up to a closer study of the human
frame. Leonardo da Vinci wrote a treatise on muscular anatomy. The
artist and the sculptor often worked together, and realised that
sketch of Michael Angelo's in which he himself is assisting
Fallopius, Vesalius's famous pupil, to dissect. Vesalius soon found
that his thirst for facts could not be slaked by the theories of the
Middle Age; so in 1530 he went off to Montpellier, where Francis I.
had just founded a medical school, and where the ancient laws of the
city allowed the faculty each year the body of a criminal. From
thence, after becoming the fellow-pupil and the friend of Rondelet,
and probably also of Rabelais and those other luminaries of
Montpellier, of whom I spoke in my essay on Rondelet, he returned to
Paris to study under old Sylvius, whose real name was Jacques
Dubois, alias Jock o' the Wood; and to learn less--as he complains
himself--in an anatomical theatre than a butcher might learn in his

Were it not that the whole question of dissection is one over which
it is right to draw a reverent veil, as a thing painful, however
necessary and however innocent, it would be easy to raise ghastly
laughter in many a reader by the stories which Vesalius himself
tells of his struggles to learn anatomy. How old Sylvius tried to
demonstrate the human frame from a bit of a dog, fumbling in vain
for muscles which he could not find, or which ought to have been
there, according to Galen, and were not; while young Vesalius, as
soon as the old pedant's back was turned, took his place, and, to
the delight of the students, found for him--provided it were there--
what he could not find himself;--how he went body-snatching and
gibbet-robbing, often at the danger of his life, as when he and his
friend were nearly torn to pieces by the cannibal dogs who haunted
the Butte de Montfaucon, or place of public execution;--how he
acquired, by a long and dangerous process, the only perfect skeleton
then in the world, and the hideous story of the robber to whom it
had belonged--all these horrors those who list may read for
themselves elsewhere. I hasten past them with this remark--that to
have gone through the toils, dangers, and disgusts which Vesalius
faced, argued in a superstitious and cruel age like his, no common
physical and moral courage, and a deep conscience that he was doing
right, and must do it at all risks in the face of a generation
which, peculiarly reckless of human life and human agony, allowed
that frame which it called the image of God to be tortured, maimed,
desecrated in every way while alive; and yet--straining at the gnat
after having swallowed the camel--forbade it to be examined when
dead, though for the purpose of alleviating the miseries of mankind.

The breaking out of war between Francis I. and Charles V. drove
Vesalius back to his native country and Louvain; and in 1535 we hear
of him as a surgeon in Charles V.'s army. He saw, most probably,
the Emperor's invasion of Provence, and the disastrous retreat from
before Montmorency's fortified camp at Avignon, through a country in
which that crafty general had destroyed every article of human food,
except the half-ripe grapes. He saw, perhaps, the Spanish soldiers,
poisoned alike by the sour fruit and by the blazing sun, falling in
hundreds along the white roads which led back into Savoy, murdered
by the peasantry whose homesteads had been destroyed, stifled by the
weight of their own armour, or desperately putting themselves, with
their own hands, out of a world which had become intolerable. Half
the army perished. Two thousand corpses lay festering between Aix
and Frejus alone. If young Vesalius needed "subjects," the ambition
and the crime of man found enough for him in those blazing September

He went to Italy, probably with the remnants of the army. Where
could he have rather wished to find himself? He was at last in the
country where the human mind seemed to be growing young once more;
the country of revived arts, revived sciences, learning, languages;
and--though, alas! only for awhile of revived free thought, such as
Europe had not seen since the palmy days of Greece. Here at least
he would be appreciated; here at least he would be allowed to think
and speak: and he was appreciated. The Italian cities, who were
then, like the Athenians of old, "spending their time in nothing
else save to hear or to tell something new," welcomed the brave
young Fleming and his novelties. Within two years he was professor
of anatomy at Padua, then the first school in the world; then at
Bologna and at Pisa at the same time; last of all at Venice, where
Titian painted that portrait of him which remains unto this day.

These years were for him a continual triumph; everywhere, as he
demonstrated on the human body, students crowded his theatre, or
hung round him as he walked the streets; professors left their own
chairs--their scholars having deserted them already--to go and
listen humbly or enviously to the man who could give them what all
brave souls throughout half Europe were craving for, and craving in
vain--facts. And so, year after year, was realised that scene which
stands engraved in the frontispiece of his great book--where, in the
little quaint Cinquecento theatre, saucy scholars, reverend doctors,
gay gentlemen, and even cowled monks, are crowding the floor,
peeping over each other's shoulders, hanging on the balustrades;
while in the centre, over his "subject"--which one of those same
cowled monks knew but too well--stands young Vesalius, upright,
proud, almost defiant, as one who knows himself safe in the
impregnable citadel of fact; and in his hand the little blade of
steel, destined--because wielded in obedience to the laws of nature,
which are the laws of God--to work more benefit for the human race
than all the swords which were drawn in those days, or perhaps in
any other, at the bidding of most Catholic Emperors and most
Christian Kings.

Those were indeed days of triumph for Vesalius; of triumph deserved,
because earned by patient and accurate toil in a good cause: but
Vesalius, being but a mortal man, may have contracted in those same
days a temper of imperiousness and self-conceit, such as he showed
afterwards when his pupil Fallopius dared to add fresh discoveries
to those of his master. And yet, in spite of all Vesalius knew, how
little he knew! How humbling to his pride it would have been had he
known then--perhaps he does know now--that he had actually again and
again walked, as it were, round and round the true theory of the
circulation of the blood, and yet never seen it; that that discovery
which, once made, is intelligible, as far as any phenomenon is
intelligible, to the merest peasant, was reserved for another
century, and for one of those Englishmen on whom Vesalius would have
looked as semi-barbarians.

To make a long story short: three years after the publication of
his famous book, "De Corporis Humani Fabrica," he left Venice to
cure Charles V., at Regensburg, and became one of the great
Emperor's physicians.

This was the crisis of Vesalius's life. The medicine with which he
had worked the cure was China--Sarsaparilla, as we call it now--
brought home from the then newly-discovered banks of the Paraguay
and Uruguay, where its beds of tangled vine, they say, tinge the
clear waters a dark-brown like that of peat, and convert whole
streams into a healthful and pleasant tonic. On the virtues of this
China (then supposed to be a root) Vesalius wrote a famous little
book, into which he contrived to interweave his opinions on things
in general, as good Bishop Berkeley did afterwards into his essay on
the virtues of tar-water. Into this book, however, Vesalius
introduced--as Bishop Berkeley did not--much, and perhaps too much,
about himself; and much, though perhaps not too much, about poor old
Galen, and his substitution of an ape's inside for that of a human
being. The storm which had been long gathering burst upon him. The
old school, trembling for their time-honoured reign, bespattered,
with all that pedantry, ignorance, and envy could suggest, the man
who dared not only to revolutionise surgery, but to interfere with
the privileged mysteries of medicine; and, over and above, to become
a greater favourite at the court of the greatest of monarchs. While
such as Eustachius, himself an able discoverer, could join in the
cry, it is no wonder if a lower soul, like that of Sylvius, led it
open-mouthed. He was a mean, covetous, bad man, as George Bachanan
well knew; and, according to his nature, he wrote a furious book--
"Ad Vesani calumnias depulsandas." The punning change of Vesalius
into Vesanus (madman) was but a fair and gentle stroke for a
polemic, in days in which those who could not kill their enemies
with steel or powder, held themselves justified in doing so, if
possible, by vituperation, calumny, and every engine of moral
torture. But a far more terrible weapon, and one which made
Vesalius rage, and it may be for once in his life tremble, was the
charge of impiety and heresy. The Inquisition was a very ugly
place. It was very easy to get into it, especially for a
Netherlander: but not so easy to get out. Indeed Vesalius must
have trembled, when he saw his master, Charles V., himself take
fright, and actually call on the theologians of Salamanca to decide
whether it was lawful to dissect a human body. The monks, to their
honour, used their common sense, and answered Yes. The deed was so
plainly useful that it must be lawful likewise. But Vesalius did
not feel that he had triumphed. He dreaded, possibly, lest the
storm should only have blown over for a time. He fell, possibly,
into hasty disgust at the folly of mankind, and despair of arousing
them to use their common sense, and acknowledge their true interest
and their true benefactors. At all events, he threw into the fire--
so it is said--all his unpublished manuscripts, the records of long
years of observation, and renounced science thenceforth.

We hear of him after this at Brussels, and at Basle likewise--in
which latter city, in the company of physicians, naturalists, and
Grecians, he must have breathed awhile a freer air. But he seems to
have returned thence to his old master Charles V., and to have
finally settled at Madrid as a court surgeon to Philip II., who sent
him, but too late, to extract the lance splinters from the eye of
the dying Henry II.

He was now married to a lady of rank from Brussels, Anne van Hamme
by name; and their daughter married in time Philip II.'s grand
falconer, who was doubtless a personage of no small social rank.
Vesalius was well off in worldly things; somewhat fond, it is said,
of good living and of luxury; inclined, it may be, to say, "Let us
eat and drink, for to-morrow we die," and to sink more and more into
the mere worldling, unless some shock should awake him from his

And the awakening shock did come. After eight years of court life,
he resolved, early in the year 1564, to go on a pilgrimage to

The reasons for so strange a determination are wrapped in mystery
and contradiction. The common story was that he had opened a corpse
to ascertain the cause of death, and that, to the horror of the
bystanders, the heart was still seen to beat; that his enemies
accused him to the Inquisition, and that he was condemned to death,
a sentence which was commuted to that of going on pilgrimage. But
here, at the very outset, accounts differ. One says that the victim
was a nobleman, name not given; another that it was a lady's maid,
name not given. It is most improbable, if not impossible, that
Vesalius, of all men, should have mistaken a living body for a dead
one; while it is most probable, on the other hand, that his medical
enemies would gladly raise such a calumny against him, when he was
no longer in Spain to contradict it. Meanwhile Llorente, the
historian of the Inquisition, makes no mention of Vesalius having
been brought before its tribunal, while he does mention Vesalius's
residence at Madrid. Another story is, that he went abroad to
escape the bad temper of his wife; another that he wanted to enrich
himself. Another story--and that not an unlikely one--is, that he
was jealous of the rising reputation of his pupil Fallopius, then
professor of anatomy at Venice. This distinguished surgeon, as I
said before, had written a book, in which he added to Vesalius's
discoveries, and corrected certain of his errors. Vesalius had
answered him hastily and angrily, quoting his anatomy from memory;
for, as he himself complained, he could not in Spain obtain a
subject for dissection; not even, he said, a single skull. He had
sent his book to Venice to be published, and had heard, seemingly,
nothing of it. He may have felt that he was falling behind in the
race of science, and that it was impossible for him to carry on his
studies in Madrid; and so, angry with his own laziness and luxury,
he may have felt the old sacred fire flash up in him, and have
determined to go to Italy and become a student and a worker once

The very day that he set out, Clusius of Arras, then probably the
best botanist in the world, arrived at Madrid; and, asking the
reason of Vesalius's departure, was told by their fellow-countryman,
Charles de Tisnacq, procurator for the affairs of the Netherlands,
that Vesalius had gone of his own free will, and with all facilities
which Philip could grant him, in performance of a vow which he had
made during a dangerous illness. Here, at least, we have a drop of
information, which seems taken from the stream sufficiently near to
the fountain-head: but it must be recollected that De Tisnacq
lived in dangerous times, and may have found it necessary to walk
warily in them; that through him had been sent, only the year
before, that famous letter from William of Orange, Horn, and Egmont,
the fate whereof may be read in Mr. Motley's fourth chapter; that
the crisis of the Netherlands which sprung out of that letter was
coming fast; and that, as De Tisnacq was on friendly terms with
Egmont, he may have felt his head at times somewhat loose on his
shoulders; especially if he had heard Alva say, as he wrote, "that
every time he saw the despatches of those three senors, they moved
his choler so, that if he did not take much care to temper it, he
would seem a frenzied man." In such times, De Tisnacq may have
thought good to return a diplomatic answer to a fellow-countryman
concerning a third fellow-countryman, especially when that
countryman, as a former pupil of Melancthon at Wittemberg, might
himself be under suspicion of heresy, and therefore of possible

Be this as it may, one cannot but suspect some strain of truth in
the story about the Inquisition; for, whether or not Vesalius
operated on Don Carlos, he had seen with his own eyes that
miraculous Virgin of Atocha at the bed's foot of the prince. He had
heard his recovery attributed, not to the operation, but to the
intercession of Fray, now Saint Diego; {12} and he must have had his
thoughts thereon, and may, in an unguarded moment, have spoken them.

For he was, be it always remembered, a Netherlander. The crisis of
his country was just at hand. Rebellion was inevitable, and, with
rebellion, horrors unutterable; and, meanwhile, Don Carlos had set
his mad brain on having the command of the Netherlands. In his
rage, at not having it, as all the world knows, he nearly killed
Alva with his own hands, some two years after. If it be true that
Don Carlos felt a debt of gratitude to Vesalius, he may (after his
wont) have poured out to him some wild confidence about the
Netherlands, to have even heard which would be a crime in Philip's
eyes. And if this be but a fancy, still Vesalius was, as I just
said, a Netherlander, and one of a brain and a spirit to which
Philip's doings, and the air of the Spanish court, must have been
growing ever more and more intolerable. Hundreds of his country
folk, perhaps men and women whom he had known, were being racked,
burnt alive, buried alive, at the bidding of a jocular ruffian,
Peter Titelmann, the chief inquisitor. The "day of the MAUBRULEZ,"
and the wholesale massacre which followed it, had happened but two
years before; and, by all the signs of the times, these murders and
miseries were certain to increase. And why were all these poor
wretches suffering the extremity of horror, but because they would
not believe in miraculous images, and bones of dead friars, and the
rest of that science of unreason and unfact, against which Vesalius
had been fighting all his life, consciously or not, by using reason
and observing fact? What wonder if, in some burst of noble
indignation and just contempt, he forgot a moment that he had sold
his soul, and his love of science likewise, to be a luxurious, yet
uneasy, hanger-on at the tyrant's court; and spoke unadvisedly some
word worthy of a German man?

As to the story of his unhappy quarrels with his wife, there may be
a grain of truth in it likewise. Vesalius's religion must have sat
very lightly on him. The man who had robbed churchyards and gibbets
from his youth was not likely to be much afraid of apparitions and
demons. He had handled too many human bones to care much for those
of saints. He was probably, like his friends of Basle, Montpellier,
and Paris, somewhat of a heretic at heart, probably somewhat of a
pagan, while his lady, Anne van Hamme, was probably a strict
Catholic, as her father, being a councillor and master of the
exchequer at Brussels, was bound to be; and freethinking in the
husband, crossed by superstition in the wife, may have caused in
them that wretched vie e part, that want of any true communion of
soul, too common to this day in Catholic countries.

Be these things as they may--and the exact truth of them will now be
never known--Vesalius set out to Jerusalem in the spring of 1564.
On his way he visited his old friends at Venice to see about his
book against Fallopius. The Venetian republic received the great
philosopher with open arms. Fallopius was just dead; and the senate
offered their guest the vacant chair of anatomy. He accepted it:
but went on to the East.

He never occupied that chair; wrecked upon the Isle of Zante, as he
was sailing back from Palestine, he died miserably of fever and
want, as thousands of pilgrims returning from the Holy Land had died
before him. A goldsmith recognised him; buried him in a chapel of
the Virgin; and put up over him a simple stone, which remained till
late years; and may remain, for aught I know, even now.

So perished, in the prime of life, "a martyr to his love of
science," to quote the words of M. Burggraeve of Ghent, his able
biographer and commentator, "the prodigious man, who created a
science at an epoch when everything was still an obstacle to his
progress; a man whose whole life was a long struggle of knowledge
against ignorance, of truth against lies."

Plaudite: Exeat: with Rondelet and Buchanan. And whensoever
this poor foolish world needs three such men, may God of His great
mercy send them.


I told you of Vesalius and Rondelet as specimens of the men who
three hundred years ago were founding the physical science of the
present day, by patient investigation of facts. But such an age as
this would naturally produce men of a very different stamp, men who
could not imitate their patience and humility; who were trying for
royal roads to knowledge, and to the fame and wealth which might be
got out of knowledge; who meddled with vain dreams about the occult
sciences, alchemy, astrology, magic, the cabala, and so forth, who
were reputed magicians, courted and feared for awhile, and then, too
often, died sad deaths.

Such had been, in the century before, the famous Dr. Faust--Faustus,
who was said to have made a compact with Satan--actually one of the
inventors of printing--immortalised in Goethe's marvellous poem.

Such, in the first half of the sixteenth century, was Cornelius
Agrippa--a doctor of divinity and a knight-at-arms; secret-service
diplomatist to the Emperor Maximilian in Austria; astrologer, though
unwilling, to his daughter Margaret, Regent of the Low Countries;
writer on the occult sciences and of the famous "De Vanitate
Scientiarum," and what not? who died miserably at the age of forty-
nine, accused of magic by the Dominican monks from whom he had
rescued a poor girl, who they were torturing on a charge of
witchcraft; and by them hunted to death; nor to death only, for they
spread the fable--such as you may find in Delrio the Jesuit's
"Disquisitions on Magic" {14}--that his little pet black dog was a
familiar spirit, as Butler has it in "Hudibras":

Agrippa kept a Stygian pug
I' the garb and habit of a dog -
That was his taste; and the cur
Read to th' occult philosopher,
And taught him subtly to maintain
All other sciences are vain.

Such also was Jerome Cardan, the Italian scholar and physician, the
father of algebraic science (you all recollect Cardan's rule,)
believer in dreams, prognostics, astrology; who died, too, miserably
enough, in old age.

Cardan's sad life, and that of Cornelius Agrippa, you can, and ought
to read for yourselves, in two admirable biographies, as amusing as
they are learned, by Professor Morley, of the London University. I
have not chosen either of them as a subject for this lecture,
because Mr. Morley has so exhausted what is to be known about them,
that I could tell you nothing which I had not stolen from him.

But what shall I say of the most famous of these men--Paracelsus?
whose name you surely know. He too has been immortalised in a poem
which you all ought to have read, one of Robert Browning's earliest
and one of his best creations.

I think we must accept as true Mr. Browning's interpretation of
Paracelsus's character. We must believe that he was at first an
honest and high-minded, as he was certainly a most gifted, man; that
he went forth into the world, with an intense sense of the
worthlessness of the sham knowledge of the pedants and quacks of the
schools; an intense belief that some higher and truer science might
be discovered, by which diseases might be actually cured, and
health, long life, happiness, all but immortality, be conferred on
man; an intense belief that he, Paracelsus, was called and chosen by
God to find out that great mystery, and be a benefactor to all
future ages. That fixed idea might degenerate--did, alas!
degenerate--into wild self-conceit, rash contempt of the ancients,
violent abuse of his opponents. But there was more than this in
Paracelsus. He had one idea to which, if he had kept true, his life
would have been a happier one--the firm belief that all pure science
was a revelation from God; that it was not to be obtained at second
or third hand, by blindly adhering to the words of Galen or
Hippocrates or Aristotle, and putting them (as the scholastic
philosophers round him did) in the place of God: but by going
straight to nature at first hand, and listening to what Bacon calls
"the voice of God revealed in facts." True and noble is the passage
with which he begins his "Labyrinthus Medicorum," one of his attacks
on the false science of his day,

"The first and highest book of all healing," he says, "is called
wisdom, and without that book no man will carry out anything good or
useful . . . And that book is God Himself. For in Him alone who
hath created all things, the knowledge and principle of all things
dwells . . . without Him all is folly. As the sun shines on us from
above, so He must pour into us from above all arts whatsoever.
Therefore the root of all learning and cognition is, that we should
seek first the kingdom of God--the kingdom of God in which all
sciences are founded . . . If any man think that nature is not
founded on the kingdom of God, he knows nothing about it. All
gifts," he repeats again and again, confused and clumsily (as is his
wont), but with a true earnestness, "are from God."

The true man of science, with Paracelsus, is he who seeks first the
kingdom of God in facts, investigating nature reverently, patiently,
in faith believing that God, who understands His own work best, will
make him understand it likewise. The false man of science is he who
seeks the kingdom of this world, who cares nothing about the real
interpretation of facts: but is content with such an
interpretation as will earn him the good things of this world--the
red hat and gown, the ambling mule, the silk clothes, the
partridges, capons, and pheasants, the gold florins chinking in his
palm. At such pretenders Paracelsus sneered, at last only too
fiercely, not only as men whose knowledge consisted chiefly in
wearing white gloves, but as rogues, liars, villains, and every
epithet which his very racy vocabulary, quickened (it is to be
feared) by wine and laudanum, could suggest. With these he
contrasts the true men of science. It is difficult for us now to
understand how a man setting out in life with such pure and noble
views should descend at last (if indeed he did descend) to be a
quack and a conjuror--and die under the imputation that

Bombastes kept a devil's bird
Hid in the pommel of his sword,

and have, indeed, his very name, Bombast, used to this day as a
synonym of loud, violent, and empty talk. To understand it at all,
we must go back and think a little over these same occult sciences
which were believed in by thousands during the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries.

The reverence for classic antiquity, you must understand, which
sprang up at the renaissance in the fifteenth century, was as
indiscriminating as it was earnest. Men caught the trash as well as
the jewels. They put the dreams of the Neoplatonists, Iamblicus,
Porphyry, or Plotinus, or Proclus, on the same level as the sound
dialectic philosophy of Plato himself. And these Neoplatonists were
all, more or less, believers in magic--Theurgy, as it was called--in
the power of charms and spells, in the occult virtues of herbs and
gems, in the power of adepts to evoke and command spirits, in the
significance of dreams, in the influence of the stars upon men's
characters and destinies. If the great and wise philosopher
Iamblicus believed such things, why might not the men of the
sixteenth century?

And so grew up again in Europe a passion for what were called the
Occult sciences. It had always been haunting the European
imagination. Mediaeval monks had long ago transformed the poet
Virgil into a great necromancer. And there were immense excuses for
such a belief. There was a mass of collateral evidence that the
occult sciences were true, which it was impossible then to resist.
Races far more ancient, learned, civilised, than any Frenchman,
German, Englishman, or even Italian, in the fifteenth century had
believed in these things. The Moors, the best physicians of the
Middle Ages, had their heads full, as the "Arabian Nights" prove, of
enchanters, genii, peris, and what not? The Jewish rabbis had their
Cabala, which sprang up in Alexandria, a system of philosophy
founded on the mystic meaning of the words and the actual letters of
the text of Scripture, which some said was given by the angel Ragiel
to Adam in Paradise, by which Adam talked with angels, the sun and
moon, summoned spirits, interpreted dreams, healed and destroyed;
and by that book of Ragiel, as it was called, Solomon became the
great magician and master of all the spirits and their hoarded

So strong, indeed, was the belief in the mysteries of the Cabala,
that Reuchlin, the restorer of Hebrew learning in Germany, and Pico
di Mirandola, the greatest of Italian savants, accepted them; and
not only Pope Leo X. himself, but even statesmen and warriors
received with delight Reuchlin's cabalistic treatise, "De Verbo
Mirifico," on the mystic word "Schemhamphorash"--that hidden name of
God, which whosoever can pronounce aright is, for the moment, lord
of nature and of all daemons.

Amulets, too, and talismans; the faith in them was exceeding
ancient. Solomon had his seal, by which he commanded all daemons;
and there is a whole literature of curious nonsense, which you may
read if you will, about the Abraxas and other talismans of the
Gnostics in Syria; and another, of the secret virtues which were
supposed to reside in gems: especially in the old Roman and Greek
gems, carved into intaglios with figures of heathen gods and
goddesses. Lapidaria, or lists of these gems and their magical
virtues, were not uncommon in the Middle Ages. You may read a great
deal that is interesting about them at the end of Mr. King's book on

Astrology too; though Pico di Mirandola might set himself against
the rest of the world, few were found daring enough to deny so
ancient a science. Luther and Melancthon merely followed the
regular tradition of public opinion when they admitted its truth.
It sprang probably from the worship of the Seven Planets by the old
Chaldees. It was brought back from Babylon by the Jews after the
Captivity, and spread over all Europe--perhaps all Asia likewise.

The rich and mighty of the earth must needs have their nativities
cast, and consult the stars; and Cornelius Agrippa gave mortal
offence to the Queen-Dowager of France (mother of Francis I.)
because, when she compelled him to consult the stars about Francis's
chance of getting out of his captivity in Spain after the battle of
Pavia, he wrote and spoke his mind honestly about such nonsense.

Even Newton seems to have hankered after it when young. Among his
MSS. in Lord Portsmouth's library at Hurstbourne are whole folios of
astrologic calculations. It went on till the end of the seventeenth
century, and died out only when men had begun to test it, and all
other occult sciences, by experience, and induction founded thereon.

Countless students busied themselves over the transmutation of
metals. As for magic, necromancy, pyromancy, geomancy,
coscinomancy, and all the other mancies--there was then a whole
literature about them. And the witch-burning inquisitors like
Sprenger, Bodin, Delrio, and the rest, believed as firmly in the
magic powers of the poor wretches whom they tortured to death, as
did, in many cases, the poor wretches themselves.

Everyone, almost, believed in magic. Take two cases. Read the
story which Benvenuto Cellini, the sculptor, tells in his life
(everyone should read it) of the magician whom he consults in the
Coliseum at Rome, and the figure which he sees as he walks back with
the magician, jumping from roof to roof along the tiles of the

And listen to this story, which Mr. Froude has dug up in his
researches. A Church commissioner at Oxford, at the beginning of
the Reformation, being unable to track an escaped heretic, "caused a
figure to be made by an expert in astronomy;" by which it was
discovered that the poor wretch had fled in a tawny coat and was
making for the sea. Conceive the respected head of your College--or
whoever he may be--in case you slept out all night without leave,
going to a witch to discover whether you had gone to London or to
Huntingdon, and then writing solemnly to inform the Bishop of Ely of
his meritorious exertions!

In such a mad world as this was Paracelsus born. The son of a Swiss
physician, but of noble blood, Philip Aureolus Theophrastus was his
Christian name, Bombast von Hohenheim his surname, which last word
he turned, after the fashion of the times, into Paracelsus. Born in
1493 at Einsiedeln (the hermitage), in Schweiz, which is still a
famous place of pilgrimage, he was often called Eremita--the hermit.
Erasmus, in a letter still extant, but suspected not to be genuine,
addressed him by that name.

How he passed the first thirty-three years of his life it is hard to
say. He used to boast that he had wandered over all Europe, been in
Sweden, Italy, in Constantinople, and perhaps in the far East, with
barber-surgeons, alchemists, magicians, haunting mines, and forges
of Sweden and Bohemia, especially those which the rich merchants of
that day had in the Tyrol.

It was from that work, he said, that he learnt what he knew: from
the study of nature and of facts. He had heard all the learned
doctors and professors; he had read all their books, and they could
teach him nothing. Medicine was his monarch, and no one else. He
declared that there was more wisdom under his bald pate than in
Aristotle and Galen, Hippocrates and Rhasis. And fact seemed to be
on his side. He reappeared in Germany about 1525, and began working
wondrous cures. He had brought back with him from the East an
arcanum, a secret remedy, and laudanum was its name. He boasted,
says one of his enemies, that he could raise the dead to life with
it; and so the event all but proved. Basle was then the university
where free thought and free creeds found their safest home; and
hither OEcolampadius the reformer invited young Paracelsus to
lecture on medicine and natural science.

It would have been well for him, perhaps, had he never opened his
lips. He might have done good enough to his fellow-creatures by his
own undoubted powers of healing. He cured John Frobenius, the
printer, Erasmus's friend, at Basle, when the doctors were going to
cut his leg off. His fame spread far and wide. Round Basle and
away into Alsace he was looked on, even an enemy says, as a new

But these were days in which in a university everyone was expected
to talk and teach, and so Paracelsus began lecturing; and then the
weakness which was mingled with his strength showed itself. He
began by burning openly the books of Galen and Avicenna, and
declared that all the old knowledge was useless. Doctors and
students alike must begin over again with him. The dons were
horrified. To burn Galen and Avicenna was as bad as burning the
Bible. And more horrified still were they when Paracelsus began
lecturing, not in the time-honoured dog-Latin, but in good racy
German, which everyone could understand. They shuddered under their
red gowns and hats. If science was to be taught in German, farewell
to the Galenists' formulas, and their lucrative monopoly of
learning. Paracelsus was bold enough to say that he wished to break
up their monopoly; to spread a popular knowledge of medicine. "How
much," he wrote once, "would I endure and suffer, to see every man
his own shepherd--his own healer." He laughed to scorn their long
prescriptions, used the simplest drugs, and declared Nature, after
all, to be the best physician--as a dog, he says, licks his wound
well again without our help; or as the broken rib of the ox heals of
its own accord.

Such a man was not to be endured. They hated him, he says, for the
same reason that they hated Luther, for the same reason that the
Pharisees hated Christ. He met their attacks with scorn, rage, and
language as coarse and violent as their own. The coarseness and
violence of those days seem incredible to us now; and, indeed,
Paracelsus, as he confessed himself, was, though of gentle blood,
rough and unpolished; and utterly, as one can see from his writings,
unable to give and take, to conciliate--perhaps to pardon. He
looked impatiently on these men who were (not unreasonably) opposing
novelties which they could not understand, as enemies of God, who
were balking him in his grand plan for regenerating science and
alleviating the woes of humanity, and he outraged their prejudices
instead of soothing them.

Soon they had their revenge. Ugly stories were whispered about.
Oporinus, the printer, who had lived with him for two years, and who
left him, it is said, because he thought Paracelsus concealed from
him unfairly the secret of making laudanum, told how Paracelsus was
neither more nor less than a sot, who came drunk to his lectures,
used to prime himself with wine before going to his patients, and
sat all night in pothouses swilling with the boors.

Men looked coldly on him--longed to be rid of him. And they soon
found an opportunity. He took in hand some Canon of the city from
whom it was settled beforehand that he was to receive a hundred
florins. The priest found himself cured so suddenly and easily
that, by a strange logic, he refused to pay the money, and went to
the magistrates. They supported him, and compelled Paracelsus to
take six florins instead of the hundred. He spoke his mind fiercely
to them. I believe, according to one story, he drew his long sword
on the Canon. His best friends told him he must leave the place;
and within two years, seemingly, after his first triumph at Basle,
he fled from it a wanderer and a beggar.

The rest of his life is a blank. He is said to have recommenced his
old wanderings about Europe, studying the diseases of every country,
and writing his books, which were none of them published till after
his death. His enemies joyfully trampled on the fallen man. He was
a "dull rustic, a monster, an atheist, a quack, a maker of gold, a
magician." When he was drunk, one Wetter, his servant, told Erastus
(one of his enemies) that he used to offer to call up legions of
devils to prove his skill, while Wetter, in abject terror of his
spells, entreated him to leave the fiends alone--that he had sent
his book by a fiend to the spirit of Galen in hell, and challenged
him to say which was the better system, his or Paracelsus', and what

His books were forbidden to be printed. He himself was refused a
hearing, and it was not till after ten years of wandering that he
found rest and protection in a little village of Carinthia.

Three years afterwards he died in the hospital of St. Sebastian at
Salzburg, in the Tyrol. His death was the signal for empirics and
visionaries to foist on the public book after book on occult
philosophy, written in his name--of which you may see ten folios--
not more than a quarter, I believe, genuine. And these foolish
books, as much as anything, have helped to keep up the popular
prejudice against one who, in spite of all his faults was a true
pioneer of science. {15} I believe (with those moderns who have
tried to do him justice) that under all his verbiage and confusion
there was a vein of sound scientific, experimental common sense.

When he talks of astronomy as necessary to be known by a physician,
it seems to me that he laughs at astrology, properly so called; that
is, that the stars influence the character and destiny of man.
Mars, he says, did not make Nero cruel. There would have been long-
lived men in the world if Saturn had never ascended the skies; and
Helen would have been a wanton, though Venus had never been created.
But he does believe that the heavenly bodies, and the whole skies,
have a physical influence on climate, and on the health of men.

He talks of alchemy, but he means by it, I think, only that sound
science which we call chemistry, and at which he worked, wandering,
he says, among mines and forges, as a practical metallurgist.

He tells us--what sounds startling enough--that magic is the only
preceptor which can teach the art of healing; but he means, it seems
to me, only an understanding of the invisible processes of nature,
in which sense an electrician or a biologist, a Faraday or a Darwin,
would be a magician; and when he compares medical magic to the
Cabalistic science, of which I spoke just now (and in which he seems
to have believed), he only means, I think, that as the Cabala
discovers hidden meaning and virtues in the text of Scripture, so
ought the man of science to find them in the book of nature. But
this kind of talk, wrapt up too in the most confused style, or
rather no style at all, is quite enough to account for ignorant and
envious people accusing him of magic, saying that he had discovered
the philosopher's stone, and the secret of Hermes Trismegistus; that
he must make gold, because, though he squandered all his money, he
had always money in hand; and that he kept a "devil's-bird," a
familiar spirit, in the pommel of that famous long sword of his,
which he was only too ready to lug out on provocation--the said
spirit, Agoth by name, being probably only the laudanum bottle with
which he worked so many wondrous cures, and of which, to judge from
his writings, he took only too freely himself.

But the charm of Paracelsus is in his humour, his mother-wit. He
was blamed for consorting with boors in pot-houses; blamed for
writing in racy German, instead of bad school-Latin: but you can
hardly read a chapter, either of his German or his dog-Latin,
without finding many a good thing--witty and weighty, though often
not a little coarse. He talks in parables. He draws illustrations,
like Socrates of old, from the commonest and the oddest matters to
enforce the weightiest truths. "Fortune and misfortune," he says,
for instance nobly enough, "are not like snow and wind, they must be
deduced and known from the secrets of nature. Therefore misfortune
is ignorance, fortune is knowledge. The man who walks out in the
rain is not unfortunate if he gets a ducking."

"Nature," he says again, "makes the text, and the medical man adds
the gloss; but the two fit each other no better than a dog does a
bath;" and again, when he is arguing against the doctors who hated
chemistry--"Who hates a thing which has hurt nobody? Will you
complain of a dog for biting you, if you lay hold of his tail? Does
the emperor send the thief to the gallows, or the thing which he has
stolen? The thief, I think. Therefore science should not be
despised on account of some who know nothing about it." You will
say the reasoning is not very clear, and indeed the passage, like
too many more, smacks strongly of wine and laudanum. But such is
his quaint racy style. As humorous a man, it seems to me, as you
shall meet with for many a day; and where there is humour there is
pretty sure to be imagination, tenderness, and depth of heart.

As for his notions of what a man of science should be, the servant
of God, and of Nature--which is the work of God--using his powers
not for money, not for ambition, but in love and charity, as he
says, for the good of his fellow-man--on that matter Paracelsus is
always noble. All that Mr. Browning has conceived on that point,
all the noble speeches which he has put into Paracelsus's mouth, are
true to his writings. How can they be otherwise, if Mr. Browning
set them forth--a genius as accurate and penetrating as he is wise
and pure?

But was Paracelsus a drunkard after all?

Gentlemen, what concern is that of yours or mine? I have gone into
the question, as Mr. Browning did, cannot say, and don't care to

Oporinus, who slandered him so cruelly, recanted when Paracelsus was
dead, and sang his praises--too late. But I do not read that he
recanted the charge of drunkenness. His defenders allow it, only
saying that it was the fault not of him alone, but of all Germans.
But if so, why was he specially blamed for what certainly others did
likewise? I cannot but fear from his writings, as well as from
common report, that there was something wrong with the man. I say
only something. Against his purity there never was a breath of
suspicion. He was said to care nothing for women; and even that was
made the subject of brutal jests and lies. But it may have been
that, worn out with toil and poverty, he found comfort in that
laudanum which he believed to be the arcanum--the very elixir of
life; that he got more and more into the habit of exciting his
imagination with the narcotic, and then, it may be, when the fit of
depression followed, he strung his nerves up again by wine. It may
have been so. We have had, in the last generation, an exactly
similar case in a philosopher, now I trust in heaven, and to whose
genius I owe too much to mention his name here.

But that Paracelsus was a sot I cannot believe. That face of his,
as painted by the great Tintoretto, is not the face of a drunkard,
quack, bully, but of such a man as Browning has conceived. The
great globular brain, the sharp delicate chin, is not that of a sot.
Nor are those eyes, which gleam out from under the deep compressed
brow, wild, intense, hungry, homeless, defiant, and yet complaining,
the eyes of a sot--but rather the eyes of a man who struggles to
tell a great secret, and cannot find words for it, and yet wonders
why men cannot understand, will not believe what seems to him as
clear as day--a tragical face, as you well can see.

God keep us all from making our lives a tragedy by one great sin.
And now let us end this sad story with the last words which Mr.
Browning puts into the mouth of Paracelsus, dying in the hospital at
Salzburg, which have come literally true:

Meanwhile, I have done well though not all well.
As yet men cannot do without contempt;
'Tis for their good; and therefore fit awhile
That they reject the weak and scorn the false,
Rather than praise the strong and true in me:
But after, they will know me. If I stoop
Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud,
It is but for a time. I press God's lamp
Close to my breast; its splendour, soon or late,
Will pierce the gloom. I shall emerge one day.


The scholar, in the sixteenth century, was a far more important
personage than now. The supply of learned men was very small, the
demand for them very great. During the whole of the fifteenth, and
a great part of the sixteenth century, the human mind turned more
and more from the scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages to that
of the Romans and the Greeks; and found more and more in old Pagan
Art an element which Monastic Art had not, and which was yet
necessary for the full satisfaction of their craving after the
Beautiful. At such a crisis of thought and taste, it was natural
that the classical scholar, the man who knew old Rome, and still
more old Greece, should usurp the place of the monk, as teacher of
mankind; and that scholars should form, for a while, a new and
powerful aristocracy, limited and privileged, and all the more
redoubtable, because its power lay in intellect, and had been won by
intellect alone.

Those who, whether poor or rich, did not fear the monk and priest,
at least feared the "scholar," who held, so the vulgar believed, the
keys of that magic lore by which the old necromancers had built
cities like Rome, and worked marvels of mechanical and chemical
skill, which the degenerate modern could never equal.

If the "scholar" stopped in a town, his hostess probably begged of
him a charm against toothache or rheumatism. The penniless knight
discoursed with him on alchemy, and the chances of retrieving his
fortune by the art of transmuting metals into gold. The queen or
bishop worried him in private about casting their nativities, and
finding their fates among the stars. But the statesman, who dealt
with more practical matters, hired him as an advocate and
rhetorician, who could fight his master's enemies with the weapons
of Demosthenes and Cicero. Wherever the scholar's steps were
turned, he might be master of others, as long as he was master of
himself. The complaints which he so often uttered concerning the
cruelty of fortune, the fickleness of princes and so forth, were
probably no more just then than such complaints are now. Then, as
now, he got his deserts; and the world bought him at his own price.
If he chose to sell himself to this patron and to that, he was used
and thrown away: if he chose to remain in honourable independence,
he was courted and feared.

Among the successful scholars of the sixteenth century, none surely
is more notable than George Buchanan. The poor Scotch widow's son,
by force of native wit, and, as I think, by force of native worth,
fights his way upward, through poverty and severest persecution, to
become the correspondent and friend of the greatest literary
celebrities of the Continent, comparable, in their opinion, to the
best Latin poets of antiquity; the preceptor of princes; the
counsellor and spokesman of Scotch statesmen in the most dangerous
of times; and leaves behind him political treatises, which have
influenced not only the history of his own country, but that of the
civilised world.

Such a success could not be attained without making enemies, perhaps
without making mistakes. But the more we study George Buchanan's
history, the less we shall be inclined to hunt out his failings, the
more inclined to admire his worth. A shrewd, sound-hearted,
affectionate man, with a strong love of right and scorn of wrong,
and a humour withal which saved him--except on really great
occasions--from bitterness, and helped him to laugh where narrower
natures would have only snarled,--he is, in many respects, a type of
those Lowland Scots, who long preserved his jokes, genuine or
reputed, as a common household book. {16} A schoolmaster by
profession, and struggling for long years amid the temptations
which, in those days, degraded his class into cruel and sordid
pedants, he rose from the mere pedagogue to be, in the best sense of
the word, a courtier: "One," says Daniel Heinsius, "who seemed not
only born for a court, but born to amend it. He brought to his
queen that at which she could not wonder enough. For, by affecting
a certain liberty in censuring morals, he avoided all offence, under
the cloak of simplicity." Of him and his compeers, Turnebus, and
Muretus, and their friend Andrea Govea, Ronsard, the French court
poet, said that they had nothing of the pedagogue about them but the
gown and cap. "Austere in face, and rustic in his looks," says
David Buchanan, "but most polished in style and speech; and
continually, even in serious conversation, jesting most wittily."
"Rough-hewn, slovenly, and rude," says Peacham, in his "Compleat
Gentleman," speaking of him, probably, as he appeared in old age,
"in his person, behaviour, and fashion; seldom caring for a better
outside than a rugge-gown girt close about him: yet his inside and
conceipt in poesie was most rich, and his sweetness and facilitie in
verse most excellent." A typical Lowland Scot, as I said just now,
he seems to have absorbed all the best culture which France could
afford him, without losing the strength, honesty, and humour which
he inherited from his Stirlingshire kindred.

The story of his life is easily traced. When an old man, he himself
wrote down the main events of it, at the request of his friends; and
his sketch has been filled out by commentators, if not always
favourable, at least erudite. Born in 1506, at the Moss, in
Killearn--where an obelisk to his memory, so one reads, has been
erected in this century--of a family "rather ancient than rich," his
father dead in the prime of manhood, his grandfather a spendthrift,
he and his seven brothers and sisters were brought up by a widowed
mother, Agnes Heriot--of whom one wishes to know more; for the rule
that great sons have great mothers probably holds good in her case.
George gave signs, while at the village school, of future
scholarship; and when he was only fourteen, his uncle James sent him
to the University of Paris. Those were hard times; and the youths,
or rather boys, who meant to become scholars, had a cruel life of
it, cast desperately out on the wide world to beg and starve, either
into self-restraint and success, or into ruin of body and soul. And
a cruel life George had. Within two years he was down in a severe
illness, his uncle dead, his supplies stopped; and the boy of
sixteen got home, he does not tell how. Then he tried soldiering;
and was with Albany's French Auxiliaries at the ineffectual attack
on Wark Castle. Marching back through deep snow, he got a fresh
illness, which kept him in bed all winter. Then he and his brother
were sent to St. Andrews, where he got his B.A. at nineteen. The
next summer he went to France once more; and "fell," he says, "into
the flames of the Lutheran sect, which was then spreading far and
wide." Two years of penury followed; and then three years of
school-mastering in the College of St. Barbe, which he has
immortalised--at least, for the few who care to read modern Latin
poetry--in his elegy on "The Miseries of a Parisian Teacher of the
Humanities." The wretched regent-master, pale and suffering, sits
up all night preparing his lecture, biting his nails and thumping
his desk; and falls asleep for a few minutes, to start up at the
sound of the four-o'clock bell, and be in school by five, his Virgil
in one hand, and his rod in the other, trying to do work on his own
account at old manuscripts, and bawling all the while at his
wretched boys, who cheat him, and pay each other to answer to
truants' names. The class is all wrong. "One is barefoot,
another's shoe is burst, another cries, another writes home. Then
comes the rod, the sound of blows, and howls; and the day passes in
tears." "Then mass, then another lesson, then more blows; there is
hardly time to eat." I have no space to finish the picture of the
stupid misery which, Buchanan says, was ruining his intellect, while
it starved his body. However, happier days came. Gilbert Kennedy,
Earl of Cassilis, who seems to have been a noble young gentleman,
took him as his tutor for the next five years; and with him he went
back to Scotland.

But there his plain speaking got him, as it did more than once
afterward, into trouble. He took it into his head to write, in
imitation of Dunbar, a Latin poem, in which St. Francis asks him in
a dream to become a Gray Friar, and Buchanan answered in language
which had the unpleasant fault of being too clever, and--to judge
from contemporary evidence--only too true. The friars said nothing
at first; but when King James made Buchanan tutor to one of his
natural sons, they, "men professing meekness, took the matter
somewhat more angrily than befitted men so pious in the opinion of
the people." So Buchanan himself puts it: but, to do the poor
friars justice, they must have been angels, not men, if they did not
writhe somewhat under the scourge which he had laid on them. To be
told that there was hardly a place in heaven for monks, was hard to
hear and bear. They accused him to the king of heresy; but not
being then in favour with James, they got no answer, and Buchanan
was commanded to repeat the castigation. Having found out that the
friars were not to be touched with impunity, he wrote, he says, a
short and ambiguous poem. But the king, who loved a joke, demanded
something sharp and stinging, and Buchanan obeyed by writing, but
not publishing, "The Franciscans," a long satire, compared to which
the "Somnium" was bland and merciful. The storm rose. Cardinal
Beaten, Buchanan says, wanted to buy him of the king, and then, of
course, burn him, as he had just burnt five poor souls; so, knowing
James's avarice, he fled to England, through freebooters and

There he found, he says, "men of both factions being burned on the
same day and in the same fire"--a pardonable exaggeration--"by Henry
VIII., in his old age more intent on his own safety than on the
purity of religion." So to his beloved France he went again, to
find his enemy Beaten ambassador at Paris. The capital was too hot
to hold him; and he fled south to Bordeaux, to Andrea Govea, the
Portuguese principal of the College of Guienne. As Professor of
Latin at Bordeaux, we find him presenting a Latin poem to Charles
V.; and indulging that fancy of his for Latin poetry which seems to
us nowadays a childish pedantry, which was then--when Latin was the
vernacular tongue of all scholars--a serious, if not altogether a
useful, pursuit. Of his tragedies, so famous in their day--the
"Baptist," the "Medea," the "Jephtha," and the "Alcestis"--there is
neither space nor need to speak here, save to notice the bold
declamations in the "Baptist" against tyranny and priestcraft; and
to notice also that these tragedies gained for the poor Scotsman, in
the eyes of the best scholars of Europe, a credit amounting almost
to veneration. When he returned to Paris, he found occupation at
once; and, as his Scots biographers love to record, "three of the
most learned men in the world taught humanity in the same college,"
viz. Turnebus, Muretus, and Buchanan.

Then followed a strange episode in his life. A university had been
founded at Coimbra, in Portugal, and Andrea Govea had been invited
to bring thither what French savants he could collect. Buchanan
went to Portugal with his brother Patrick, two more Scotsmen,
Dempster and Ramsay, and a goodly company of French scholars, whose
names and histories may be read in the erudite pages of Dr. Irving,
went likewise. All prospered in the new Temple of the Muses for a
year or so. Then its high-priest, Govea, died; and, by a peripeteia
too common in those days and countries, Buchanan and two of his
friends migrated unwillingly from the Temple of the Muses for that
of Moloch, and found themselves in the Inquisition.

Buchanan, it seems, had said that St. Augustine was more of a
Lutheran than a Catholic on the question of the mass. He and his
friends had eaten flesh in Lent; which, he says, almost everyone in
Spain did. But he was suspected, and with reason, as a heretic; the
Gray Friars formed but one brotherhood throughout Europe; and news
among them travelled surely if not fast, so that the story of the
satire written in Scotland had reached Portugal. The culprits were
imprisoned, examined, bullied--but not tortured--for a year and a
half. At the end of that time, the proofs of heresy, it seems, were
insufficient; but lest, says Buchanan with honest pride, "they
should get the reputation of having vainly tormented a man not
altogether unknown," they sent him for some months to a monastery,

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