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Thaumaturgia by An Oxonian

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of some intoxicating drug or powerful gas or vapour, or drinking some
beverage which produced a temporary suspension of the reason, the mind
of the enquirer was predisposed to feverish dreams:[21] if priestcraft
were concerned in the interpretation of such dreams, or eliciting senses
from the wild effusions of the disordered brain of the Pythoness,
Science presided over the investigation of the causes of this phrenzy,
and the advantages which the Thaumaturgists might derive from it.
Jamblicus states (de Mysterius C. xxix) that for obtaining a revelation
from the Deity in a dream, the youngest and most simple creatures were
the most proper for succeeding: they were prepared for it by magical
invocations and fumigations of particular perfumes. Porphyry declares
that these proceedings had an influence on the imagination; Jamblicus
that they rendered them more worthy of the inspiration of the Deity.


[16] The responses here were delivered by a young priestess called
Pythia or Phoebas, placed on a tripos, or stool with three feet, called
also cortina, from the skin of the serpent Python with which it was
covered, it is uncertain after what manner these oracles were delivered,
though Cicero supposes the Pythoness was inspired, or rather intoxicated
by certain vapours which ascended from the cave. Some say that the
Pythoness being once debauched, the oracles were afterwards delivered by
an old woman in the dress of a young maid.

[17] This answer of the oracle brings to our recollection the equally
remarkable injunction of a modern seer to Sir William Windham, which is
related in the memoirs of Bishop Newton. "In his younger years, when Sir
William was abroad upon his travels, and was at Venice, there was a
noted fortune-teller, to whom great numbers resorted, and he among the
rest; and the fortune-teller told him, that he must beware of a white
horse. After his return to England, as he was walking by Charing-Cross,
he saw a crowd of people coming out and going in to a house, and
inquired what was the meaning of it, was informed that Duncan Campbell,
the dumb fortune-teller lived there. His curiosity also led him in, and
Duncan Campbell likewise told him that he must beware of a white horse.
It was somewhat extraordinary that two fortune-tellers, one at Venice
and the other in London, without any communication, and at some distance
of time, should both happen to hit upon the same thing, and to give the
very same warning. Some years afterwards, when he was taken up in 1715,
and committed to the Tower upon suspicion of treasonable practices,
which never appeared, his friends said to him that his fortune wan now
fulfilled, the Hanover House was the white horse whereof he was
admonished to beware. But some time after this, he had a fall from a
white horse, and received a blow by which he lost the sight of one of
his eyes."

[18] "When we come to consult thee," says he to Apollo, "if thou seest
what is in the womb of futurity, why dost thou use expressions which
will not be understood? If thou dost, thou takest pleasure in abusing
us: if thou dost not, be informed of us, and learn to speak more
clearly. I tell thee, that if thou intendest an equivoque, the Greek
word whereby thou affirmest that Croesus should overthrow a great
empire, was ill-chosen; and that it could signify nothing but Croesus
conquering Cyrus. If things must necessarily come to pass, why dost thou
amuse us with thy ambiguities? What dost thou, wretch as thou art, at
Delphi, employed in muttering idle prophecies!"--See "_Demonologia, or
Natural Knowledge revealed_" p. 162.

[19] See _Demonologia_, p, 163.

[20] "Among the more learned, it is a pretty general opinion that all
the oracles were mere cheats and impostures; calculated either to serve
the avaricious ends of the heathenish priests, or the political views of
the princes. Bayle positively asserts, that they were mere human
artifices, in which the devil had no hand. In this opinion he is
strongly supported by Van Dale, a Dutch physician, and M. Fontenelle,
who have expressly written on the subject."--_Vide Demonologia_, op.
citat. p. 159.

[21] We learn from Herodotus (iv. 75) that the Scythians and Tartars
intoxicated themselves by inhaling the vapour of a species of hemp
thrown upon red hot stones. And the odour of the seeds of henbane alone,
when its power is augmented by heat, produces a choleric and quarrelsome
disposition, in those who inhale the vapour arising from them in this
state. And in the "Dictionnaire de Medecine," (de l'Encyclopedie
Methodique, vii, art. Jusquiaume) instances are quoted, the most
remarkable of which is, that if a married pair who, though living in
perfect harmony every where else, could never remain for a few hours in
the room where they worked without quarrelling. The apartment of course
was thought to be bewitched, until it was discovered that a considerable
quantity of seeds of henbane were deposited near the stove, which was
the cause of their daily dissensions, the removal of which put an end to
their bickerings. The same effects that were produced by draughts and
fumigations would follow from the application of liniments, of "Magical
Unctions," acting through the absorbent system, as if they had been
introduced into the stomach: allusions to these ointments are constantly
recurring in ancient authors. Philostratus, in his life of Apollonius
(iii. 5) states that the bodies of his companions, before being admitted
to the mysteries of the Indian sages, were rubbed over with so active an
oil, that it appeared as if they were bathed with fire.



The British Druids, like the Indian Gymnosophists, or the Persian Magi,
had two sets of doctrines; the first for the initiated; the second for
the people. That there is one God the creator of heaven and earth, was a
secret doctrine of the Brachmans. And the nature and perfection of the
deity were among the druidical arcana.

Among the sublimer tenets of the druidical priesthood, we have every
where apparent proofs of their polytheism: and the grossness of their
religious ideas, as represented by some writers, is very inconsistent
with that divine philosophy which has been considered as a part of their
character. These, however, were popular divinities which the Druids
ostensibly worshipped, and popular notions which they ostensibly
adopted, in conformity with the prejudices of the vulgar. The Druids
well knew that the common people were no philosophers. There is reason
also, to think that a great part of the idolatries were not sanctioned
by the Druids, but afterwards introduced by the Phoenician colony. But
it would be impossible to say how far the primitive Druids accommodated
themselves to vulgar superstition, or to separate their exterior
doctrines and ceremonies from the fables and absurd rites of subsequent
times. It would be vain to attempt to enumerate their gods: in the eye
of the vulgar they defied everything around them. They worshipped the
spirits of the mountains, the vallies, and the rivers. Every rock and
every spring were either the instruments or the objects of admiration.
The moonlight vallies of Danmonium were filled with the fairy people,
and its numerous rivers were the resort of genii.

The fiction of fairies is supposed to have been brought, with other
extravagancies of a like nature from the Eastern nations, whilst the
Europeans and Christians were engaged in the holy war: such at least is
the notion of an ingenious writer, who thus expresses himself: "Nor were
the monstrous embellishments of enchantments the invention of romancers,
but formed upon Eastern tales, brought thence by travellers from their
crusades and pilgrimages, which indeed, have a cast peculiar to the wild
imagination of the Eastern people."[22]

That fairies, in particular, came from the East, we are assured by that
learned orientalist, M. Herbelot, who tells us that the Persians called
the fairies _Peri_, and the Arabs _Genies_, that according: to the
Eastern fiction, there is a certain country inhabited by fairies, called
Gennistan, which answers to our _fairy-land_.[23] Mr. Martin, in his
observations on Spencer's Fairy Queen, is decided in his opinion, that
the fairies came from the East; but he justly remarks, that they were
introduced into the country long before the period of the crusades. The
race of fairies, he informs us, was established in Europe in very early
times, but, "_not universally_." The fairies were confined to the north
of Europe--to the _ultima Thule_--to the _British isles_--to the
_divisis orbe Britannis_. They were unknown at this remote era to the
Gauls or the Germans: and they were probably familiar to the vallies of
Scotland and Danmonium, when Gaul and Germany were yet unpeopled either
by real or imaginary beings. The belief indeed, of such invisible agents
assigned to different parts of nature, prevails at this very day in
Scotland, Devonshire and Cornwall, regularly transmitted from the
remotest antiquity to the present times, and totally unconnected with
the spurious romance of the crusader or the pilgrim. Hence those
superstitious notions now existing in our western villages, where the
spriggian[24] are still believed to delude benighted travellers, to
discover hidden treasures, to influence the weather, and to raise the
winds. "This," says Warton, "strengthens the hypotheses of the northern,
parts of Europe being peopled by colonies from the east!"

The inhabitants of Shetland and the Isles pour libations of milk or
beer through a holed-stone, in honour of the spirit Brownie; and it is
probable the Danmonii were accustomed to sacrifice to the same spirit,
since the Cornish and the Devonians on the border of Cornwall, invoke to
this day the spirit Brownie, on the swarming of their bees.

With respect to rivers, it is a certain fact that the primitive Britons
paid them divine honours; even now, in many parts of Devonshire and
Cornwall, the vulgar may be said to worship brooks and wells, to which
they resort at stated periods, performing various ceremonies in honour
of those consecrated waters: and the Highlanders, to this day, talk with
great respect of the genius of the sea; never bathe in a fountain, lest
the elegant spirit that resides in it should be offended and remove; and
mention not the water of rivers without prefixing to it the name of
_excellent_; and in one of the western islands the inhabitants retained
the custom, to the close of the last century, of making an annual
sacrifice to the genius of the ocean. That at this day the inhabitants
of India deify their principal rivers is a well known fact; the waters
of the Ganges possess an uncommon sanctity; and the modern Arabians,
like the Ishmaelites of old, concur with the Danmonii in their reverence
of springs and fountains. Even the names of the Arabian and Danmonian
wells have a striking correspondence. We have the _singing-well_; or the
_white-fountain_, and there are springs with similar names in the
deserts of Arabia. Perhaps the veneration of the Danmonii for fountains
and rivers may be accepted as no trivial proof, to be thrown into the
mass of circumstantial evidence, in favour of their Eastern original.
That the Arabs in their thirsty deserts, should even adore their wells
of "springing water," need not excite our surprise, but we may justly
wonder at the inhabitants of Devonshire and Cornwall thus worshipping
the gods of numerous rivers, and never failing brooks, familiar to every
part of Danmonium.

The principal times of devotion among the Druids
were either mid-day or midnight. The officiating Druid was cloathed in a
white garment that swept the ground; on his head, he wore the tiara; he
had the _anguinum_ or serpent's egg, as the ensign of his order; his
temples were encircled with a wreath of oak-leaves, and he waved in his
hand the magic rod. As regards the Druid sacrifice there are vague and
contradictory representations. It is certain, however, that they offered
human victims to their gods. They taught that the punishment of the
wicked might be obliterated by sacrifices to Baal.[25] The sacrifice of
the black sheep, therefore, was offered up for the souls of the
departed, and various species of charms exhibited. Traces of the holy
fires, and fire worship of the Druids[26] may be observed in several
customs, both of the Devonians and the Cornish; but in Ireland may still
be seen the holy fires in all their solemnity. The Irish call the month
of May _Bel-tine_, or fire of Belus; and the first of May Lubel-tine, or
the day of Belus's fire. In an old Irish glossary, it is mentioned that
the Druids of Ireland used to light two solemn fires every year, through
which all four-footed beasts were driven, as a preservative against
contagious distempers. The Irish have this custom at the present moment,
they kindle the fire in the milking yards; men, women, and children pass
through or leap over it, and their cattle are driven through the flames
of the burning straw, on the _first of May_; and in the month of
November, they have also their fire feasts when, according to the custom
of the Danmonians, as well as the Irish Druids, the hills were enveloped
in flame. Previously to this solemnity (on the eve of November) the fire
in every private house was extinguished; hither, then, the people were
obliged to resort, in order to rekindle it. The ancient Persians named
the month of November, _Adur or fire_ Adur, according to Richardson was
the angel presiding over that element, in consequence of which, on the
ninth, his name-day, the country blazed all around with flaming piles,
whilst the magi, by the injunction of Zoroaster, visited with great
solemnity all the temples of fire throughout the empire; which, on this
occasion, were adorned and illuminated in a most splendid manner. Hence
our British illuminations in November had probably their origin. It was
at this season that _Baal Samham_ called the souls to judgment, which,
according to their deserts, were assigned to re-enter the bodies of men
or brutes, and to be happy or miserable during their next abode on the

The primitive Christians, attached to their pagan ceremonies, placed
the feast of All-Souls on the la Samon, or the second of November. Even
now the peasants in Ireland assemble on the vigil of la Samon with
sticks and clubs, going from house to house, collecting money,
bread-cake, butter, cheese, eggs, etc., for the feast; repeating verses
in honour of the solemnity, and calling for the black sheep. Candles are
sent from house to house and lighted up on the Samon. (The next day.)
Every house abounds in the best viands the master can afford; apples and
nuts are eaten in great plenty; the nutshells are burnt, and from the
ashes many things are foretold. Hempseed is sown by the maidens, who
believe that, if they look back, they shall see the apparition of their
intended husbands. The girls make various efforts to read their destiny;
they hang a smock before the fire at the close of the feast, and sit up
all night concealed in one corner of the room, expecting the apparition
of the lover to come down the chimney and turn the _shimee_: they throw
a ball of yarn out of the window, and wind it on the reel within,
convinced that if they repeat the Paternoster backwards, and look at the
ball of yarn without, they shall then also see his apparition. Those who
celebrate this feast have numerous other rites derived from the Pagans.
They dip for apples in a tub of water, and endeavour to bring up one
with their mouths; they catch at an apple when stuck on at one of the
end of a kind of hanging beam, at the other extremity of which is fixed
a lighted candle, and that with their mouths only, whilst it is in a
circular motion, having their hands tied behind their backs.[27]


The Druids, who were the magi of the Britons, had an infinite number of
rites in common with the Persians. One of the chief functions of the
Eastern magi, was divination; and Pomponius Mela tells us, that our
Druids possessed the same art. There was a solemn rite of divination
among the Druids from the fall of the victim and convulsions of his
limbs, or the nature and position of his entrails. But the British
priests had various kinds of divination. By the number of criminal
causes, and by the increase or diminution of their own order, they
predicted fertility or scarcity. From the neighing or prancing of white
horses, harnessed to a consecrated chariot--from the turnings and
windings of a hare let loose from the bosom of the diviner (with a
variety of other ominous appearances or exhibitions) they pretended to
determine the events of futurity.[28]

Of all creatures the serpent exercised, in the most curious manner, the
invention of the Druids. To the famous _anguinum_ they attributed high
virtues. The _anguinum_ or serpent's egg, was a congeries of small
snakes rolled together, and incrusted with a shell, formed by the saliva
or viscous gum, or froth of the mother serpent. This egg, it seems was
tossed into the air, by the hissings of its dam, and before it fell
again to the earth (where it would be defiled) it was to be received in
the sagus or sacred vestment. The person who caught the egg was to make
his escape on horseback, since the serpent pursues the ravisher of its
young, even to the brink of the next river. Pliny, from whom this
account is taken (lib. 29. C. 3.) proceeds with an enumeration of other
absurdities relating to the anguinum. This _anguinum_ is in British
called _Glain-neider_, or the serpent of glass; and the same
superstitious reverence which the Danmonii universally paid to the
anguinum, is still discoverable in some parts of Cornwall. Mr. Llhuyd
informs us that "the Cornish retain a variety of charms, and have still
towards the Land's-End, the amulets of Maen-Magal and Glain-neider,
which latter they call _Melprer_, and have a charm for the snake to make
it, when they find one asleep, and stick a hazel wand in the centre of
her spirae," or coils.

We are informed by Cambden that, "in most parts of Wales, and
throughout all Scotland and Cornwall, it is an opinion of the vulgar,
that about midsummer-eve (though in the time they do not all agree) the
snakes meet in companies, and that by joining heads together and
hissing, a kind of bubble is formed, which the rest, by continual
hissing, blow on till it passes quite through the body, when it
immediately hardens, and resembles a glass-ring, which whoever finds
shall prosper in all his undertakings. The rings thus generated are
called _Gleiner-nadroeth_, or snake-stones. They are small glass
amulets, commonly about half as wide as our finger rings, but much
thicker, of a green colour usually, though sometimes blue, and waved
with red and white."

Carew says, that "the country people, in Cornwall, have a persuasion
that the snake's breathing upon a hazel wand produces a stone ring of
blue colour, in which there appears the yellow figure of a snake, and
that beasts bit and envenomed, being given some water to drink wherein
this stone has been infused, will perfectly recover the poison."[29]

From the animal, the Druids passed to the vegetable world; and these
also displayed their powers, whilst by the charms of the misletoe, the
selago, and the samopis, they prevented or repelled diseases. From the
undulation or bubbling of water stirred by an oak branch, or magic wand,
they foretold events that were to come. The superstition of the Druids
is even now retained in the western counties. To this day, the Cornish
have been accustomed to consult their famous well at Madem, or rather
the _spirit_ of the well, respecting their future destiny.

"Hither," says Borlase, "come the uneasy, impatient, and superstitious,
and by dropping pins[30] or pebbles into the water, and by shaking the
ground round the spring, so as to raise bubbles from the bottom, at a
certain time of the year, moon and day, endeavour to remove their
uneasiness; yet the supposed responses serve equally to encrease the
gloom of the melancholy, the suspicions of the jealous, and the passion
of the enamoured. The Castalian fountain, and many others among the
Grecians were supposed to be of a prophetic nature. By dipping a fair
mirror into a well, the Patraeans of Greece received, as they supposed,
some notice of ensuing sickness or health from the various figures
pourtrayed upon the surface. The people of Laconia cast into a pool,
sacred to Juno, cakes of bread corn: if the cakes sunk, good was
portended; if they swam, something dreadful was to ensue. Sometimes the
superstitious threw three stones into the water, and formed their
conclusions from the several turns they made in sinking." The Druids
were likewise able to communicate, by consecration, the most portentous
virtues to rocks and stones, which could determine the succession of
princes or the fate of empires. To the Rocking or Logan stone, several
of which remain still in Devonshire and Cornwall, in particular, they
had recourse to confirm their authority, either as prophets or judges,
pretending that its motion was miraculous. These religious rites were
celebrated in consecrated places and temples, in the midst of groves.
The mysterious silence of an ancient wood diffuses even a shade of
horror over minds that are yet superior to superstitious credulity.
Their temple was seldom any other than a wide circle of rocks
perpendicularly raised. An artificial pile of large flat stone usually
composed the altar; and the whole religious mountain was usually
enclosed by a low mound, to prevent the intrusion of the profane. "There
was something in the Druidical species of heathenism," exclaims Mr.
Whitaker, in a style truly oriental, "that was well calculated to arrest
the attention and impress the mind. The rudely majestic circle of stones
in their temples, the enormous Cromlech, the massy Logan, the huge
Carnedde, and the magnificent amphitheatre of woods, would all very
strongly lay hold upon that religious thoughtfulness of soul, which has
ever been so natural to man, amid all the wrecks of humanity--the
monument of his former perfection!" That Druidism, as existing
originally in Devonshire and Cornwall, was immediately transported, in
all its purity and perfection, from the East, seems extremely probable.

Among the sacred rites of the Druids there were none more celebrated
than that they used of the misletoe of the oak. They believed this tree
was chosen by God himself. The misletoe was what they found but seldom:
whenever, therefore, they met with it, they fetched it with great
ceremony, and did it on the sixth day of the moon, with which day they
began both their months and their years. They gave a name to this shrub,
denoting that it had the virtue of curing all diseases. They sacrificed
victims to it, believing that, by its virtue, the barren were made
fruitful. They looked upon it likewise as a preservative against all
poisons. Thus do several nations of the world place their religion in
the observation of trifles.

The Druids were also extremely superstitious in relation to the herb
_selago_, which they reckoned a preservative against sore eyes, and
almost all misfortunes. Another herb called samotis, which they imagined
had a virtue to prevent diseases among cattle, they were very
ceremonious about gathering. The person was obliged to be clad in white,
and was not suffered to handle it; and the ceremony was preceded by a
sacrifice of bread and wine.

The Druids had another superstition amongst them, in regard to their
serpents' eggs, which they supposed were formed of the saliva of many of
those creatures, at a certain time of the moon: these they looked upon
as a sure prognostic of getting the better of their enemies. These, with
many other ridiculous fooleries, were imposed upon the credulous people,
as they were very much attached to divination. The Druids regarded the
misletoe as an antidote against all poisons, and they preserved their
selago against all misfortunes. The Persians had the same confidence in
the efficacy of several herbs, and used them in a similar manner. The
Druids cut their misletoe with a golden hook, and the Persians cut the
twigs of _Ghez_, or _haulm_, called _bursam_, with a peculiar sort of
concentrated knife. The candidates for the British throne had recourse
to the fatal stone to determine their pretensions; and on similar
occasions the Persians had recourse to the _Artizoe_.

From every view of the Druid religion, Mr. Polwhele concludes that it
derived its origin from the Persian magi. Dr. Borlasse has drawn a long
and elaborate parallel between the Druids and Persians, where he has
plainly proved that they resembled each other, as strictly as possible,
in every particular of religion.[31]


[22] Supplement to the translated preface to Jarvis's Don Quixote.

[23] That the Druids worshipped rocks, stones, and fountains, and
imagined them inhabited, and actuated by _divine intelligences of a
lower rank_, may plainly be inferred from their stone monuments. These
inferior deities the Cornish call _spriggian, or spirits_, which answer
to genii or fairies; and the vulgar in Cornwall still discourse of them,
as of real beings.

[24] See Macpherson's Introduction to the history of great Britain and

[25] This idol, which is called by the Septuagint, Baal, is mentioned in
other parts of scripture by other names. To understand what this god
was, we may observe, that the deities of the Greeks and Romans come from
the East; and it is a tradition among the ancient and modern heathens
that this idol was an obscure deity, which may plead excuse for not
translating some passages concerning it; and this is agreeable to Hosea
(ix. 10). They _went out_ into _Baal Pheor_, and _separated themselves
to their shame_. And it is the opinion of Jerome, who quotes it from an
ancient tradition of the Jews, that _Baal Pheor_ is the _Priapus_ of the
Greeks and Romans; and if you look into the vulgar latin (1 Kings xv.
13.) we shall find it thus rendered, _and Asa, the King removed_ Maacha,
_his mother from being queen, that she might no longer be high Priestess
in the sacrifices of Priapus_. And he destroyed the grove she had
consecrated, and broke the most filthy idol, and burnt it at the brook
_Kedron_. Dr. Cumberland inserts, that the import of the word _Peor_, or
_Baal Pheor_, is he that shews boastingly or publicly, his nakedness.
Women to avoid barrenness, were to sit on this filthy image, as the
source of fruitfulness; for which Lactantius and Augustine justly deride
the heathens.

[26] There was an awful mysteriousness in the original Druid sacrifice.
Descanting upon the human sacrifices of various countries, Mr. Bryant
informs us, that among the nations of Canaan, _the_ victims _were chosen
in a peculiar manner_; their own children, and whatsoever was nearest
and dearest to them, were thought the most worthy offerings to their
gods! The Carthagenians, who were a colony from Tyre, carried with them
the religion of their mother country and instituted the same worship in
the parts where they were seated. Parents offered up their own children
as dearest to themselves, and therefore the more acceptable to the
deity: they sacrificed "the fruit of their body for the sin of their
soul," The Druids, no doubt, were actuated with the same views.

[27] There is no sort of doubt that _Baal_ and _Fire_ were principal
objects of the ceremonies and adoration of the Druids. The principal
season of these, and of their feasts in honour of Baal, was new year's
day, when the sun began visibly to return towards us; the custom is not
yet at an end, the country people still burning out the old year and
welcoming in the new by fires lighted on the top of hills, and other
high places. The next season was the month of May, when the fruits of
the earth began, in the Eastern countries, to be gathered, and the first
fruits of them consecrated to Baal, or to the _Sun_, whose benign
influence had ripened them; and one is almost persuaded that the dance
round the May pole, in that month, is a faint image of the rites
observed on such occasions. The next great festival was on the 21st of
June, when the sun, being in Cancer, first appears to go backwards and
leave us. On this occasion the Baalim used to call the people together,
and to light fires on high places, and to cause their sons, and their
daughters, and their cattle to pass through the fire, calling upon Baal
to bless them, and not forsake them.

[28] In Devonshire and Cornwall it is still considered ominous if a hare
crosses a person on the road.

[29] See _Carew's Survey of Cornwall_, p. 22. Mr. Carew had a stone-ring
of this kind in his possession, and the person who gave it to him
avowed, that "he himself saw a part of the stick sticking in it,"--but
"_Penes authorem sit fides_," says Mr. Carew.

[30] The same superstition still exists in Devonshire.

[31] See account of Druidism in Polewhele's Historical Views of
Devonshire, vol. 1.



Apollo is said to have been one of the most gentle, and at the same
time, as may be inferred from his numerous issue, one of the most
gallant of the heathen deities. The first and most noted of his sons was
Aesculapius, whom he had by the nymph Coronis. Some say that Apollo, on
account of her infidelity, shot his mother when big with child with him;
but repenting the fact, saved the infant, and gave him to Chiron to be
instructed in physic.[32] Others report, that as King Phlegyas, her
father was carrying her with him into Peloponnesus, her pains surprised
her on the confines of Epidauria where, to conceal her shame, she
exposed the infant on a mountain. The _truth_, however is, that this
Aesculapius was a poor infant cast away, a dropt child, laid in a wood
near Epidaurus, by his unnatural parents, who were afterwards ashamed to
own him; he was shortly afterwards found by some huntsmen, who, seeing a
lighted flame or glory surrounding his head, looked upon it as a
prognostic of the child's future glory. The infant was delivered by them
to a nurse named Trigo, but the poets say he was suckled by a goat. He
studied physic under Chiron the centaur, by whose care he made such
progress in the medical art, as gained him so high a reputation that he
was even reported to have raised the dead. His first cures were wrought
upon Ascles, King of Epidaurus, and Aunes, King of Daunia, which last
was troubled with sore eyes. In short, his success was so great, that
Pluto, seeing the number of his ghosts daily decrease, complained to
Jupiter, who killed him with his thunderbolts. Such was his proficiency
in medical skill, that he was generally esteemed the god of physic.

In the city of Tetrapolis, which belonged to the Ionians, Aesculapius
had a temple full of rare cures, dedicated to him by those who ascribed
their recovery to him; and its walls were covered and hung with
memorials of the miracles he had performed.

Cicero reckons up three of the names of Aesculapius. The first the son
of Apollo, worshipped in Arcadia, who invented the probe and bandages
for wounds; the second the brother of Mercury, killed by lightning; and
the third the son of Arsippus Arsione, who first taught the art of
tooth-drawing and purging. Others make Aesculapius an Egyptian, King of
Memphis, antecedent by a thousand years to the Aesculapius of the
Greeks. The Romans numbered him among the Dii Adcititii, of such as were
raised to heaven by their merit, as Hercules, Castor and Pollux. The
Greeks received their knowledge of Aesculapius from the Phoenicians and
Egyptians. His chief temples were at Pergamus, Smyrna, and Trica, a city
of Ionia, and the isle of Coos, or Cos; in which all votive tablets were
hung up,[33] shewing the diseases cured by his assistance: but his most
famous shrine was at Epidaurus, where every five years in the spring,
solemn games were instituted to him nine days after the Isthmian games
at Corinth.

It was by accident that the Romans became acquainted with Aesculapius. A
plague happened in Italy, the oracle was consulted, and the reply was
that they should fetch the god Esculapius from Epidaurus. An embassy was
appointed of ten senators, at the head of whom was Q. Ogulnius. These
deputies, on their arrival, visiting the temple of the god, a huge
serpent came from under the altar, and crossing the city, went directly
to their ship, and lay down in the cabin of Ogulnius;[34] upon which they
set sail immediately, and arriving in the Tiber, the serpent quitted the
ship, and retired to a little island opposite to the city, where a
temple was erected to the god, and the pestilence ceased.

The animals sacrificed to Aesculapius were the goat; some say on
account of his having been nursed by this animal; others because this
creature is unhealthy, as labouring under a perpetual fever. The dog and
the cock were sacrificed to him, on account of their fidelity and
vigilance; the raven was also devoted to him for its forecast, and being
skilled in divination. Authors are not agreed as to his being the
inventor of physic, some affirming he perfected that part only which
relates to the regimen of the sick.

The origin of this fable is as follows:--the public sign or symbol
exposed by the Egyptians in their assemblies, to warn the people to mark
the depth of the inundation of the Nile, in order to regulate their
ploughing accordingly, was the figure of a man with a dog's head,
carrying a pole with serpents twisted round it, to which they gave the
name of Anubis,[35] Thaaut,[36] and Aesculapius.[37] In process of time,
they made use of this representation for a real king, who by the study
of physic, sought the preservation of his subjects. Thus the dog and the
serpents became the characteristics of Aesculapius amongst the Romans
and Greeks, who were entirely strangers to the original meaning of these

Aesculapius was represented as an old man, with a long beard, crowned
with a branch of bay tree; in his hands was a staff full of knots, about
which a serpent had twisted itself: at his feet stood an owl or a
dog--characteristics of the qualities of a good physician, who must be
as cunning as a serpent, as vigilant as a dog, as cunning and
experienced as an old bashaw, to handle a thing so difficult as physic.
At Epidaurus his statue was of gold and ivory,[38] seated on a throne of
the same materials, with a long beard, having a knotty stick in one
hand, the other entwined with a serpent, and a dog lying at his feet.
The Phliasians depicted him as beardless, and the Romans crowned him
with a laurel, to denote his descent from Apollo. The knots in his staff
signify the difficulties that occur in the study of medicine. He had by
his wife Epione two sons, Machaon and Podalirius, both skilled in
surgery, and who are mentioned by Homer as having been present at the
siege of Troy, and who were very serviceable to the Greeks. He had also
two daughters, called Hygiaea and Jaso.


[32] Ovid, who relates the story of Coronis in his fanciful way, tells
us that Corvus, or the raven, who discovered her armour, had by Apollo,
his feathers changed from _black_ to _white_.

[33] From these tablets, or votive inscriptions, Hippocrates is said to
have collected his aphorisms.

[34] The Romans who sent for Aesculapius from Epidaurus, when their city
was troubled with the plague, say, that the serpent that was worshipped
there for him followed the ambassadors of its own accord to the ship
that transported it to Rome, where it was placed in a temple built in
the isle called Tiberina. In this temple the sick people were wont to
lie, and when they found themselves no better, they reviled Aesculapius:
so impatiently ungrateful and peevish were often the afflicted, that
they made no scruple to reproach the very god who administered to their

[35] From Hannobeach, which, in the Phoenician language, signifies the
_barker_, or _warner_, Anubis.

[36] This word signifies the dog.

[37] From _Aeish_, man, and _caleph_, dog, comes _Aescaleph_, the
man-dog, or Aesculapius.

[38] This image was the work of Thrasymedes, the son of Arignotus, a
native of Paros.



It would be almost an endless task to enter into a detail of all the
inferior deities of the Greeks and Romans; our object being to refer to
such only as preside over the health of the human race, every part and
parcel of whom had their presiding genius.--During pregnancy, the
tutelar powers were the god Pelumnus,[39] and the goddesses
Intercedonia,[40] and Deverra.[41] The import of these words seems to
point out the necessity of warmth and cleanliness to ladies in this

Besides the superior goddesses Jemo-Lucien, Diana Hythia, and Latona,
who all presided at the birth, there were the goddesses Egeria,[42]
Prosa,[43] and Manageneta,[44] who with the Dii Nixii,[45] had all the care
of women in labour.

To children, Janus performed the office of door-keeper or midwife; and
in this quality was assisted by the goddess Opis or Ops;[46] Cuma rocked
the cradle, while Carmenta sung their destiny; Levana lifted them up
from the ground;[47] and Vegetanus took care of them when they cried;
Rumina[48] watched them while they suckled; Polina furnished them with
drink; and Edura with food or nourishment; Osslago knit their bones; and
Carna[49] strengthened their constitutions. Nudina[50] was the goddess of
children's purification; Stilinus or Statanus instructed them to walk,
and kept them from falling; Fabulina learnt them to prattle; the goddess
Paventia preserved them from frights;[51] and Camaena taught them to

Nor was the infant, when grown to riper years, left without his
protectors; Juventas was the god of youth; Agenoria excited men to
action; and the goddesses Stimula and Strenua inspired courage and
vivacity; Horta[52] inspired the fame or love of glory; and Sentra gave
them the sentiments of probity and justice; Quies was the goddesses of
repose or ease,[53] and Indolena, or laziness, was deified by the name of
Murcia;[54] Vacua protected the idle; Adeona and Abeona, secured people
in going abroad and returning;[55] and Vibilia, if they wandered, was so
kind as to put them in the right way; Fessonia refreshed the weary and
fatigued; and Meditrina healed the sickly;[56] Vitula was the goddess of
mirth and frolic;[57] Volupia the goddess who bestowed pleasure;[58]
Orbona was addressed, that parents might not love their offspring;
Pellonia averted mischief and danger; and Numeria taught people to cast
and keep accounts; Angerona cured the anguish or sorrow of the mind;[59]
Haeres Martia secured heirs the estates they expected; and Stata or
Statua Mater, secured the forum or market place from fire; even the
thieves had a protectress in Laverna;[60] Averruncus prevented sudden
misfortunes; and Conius was always disposed to give good advice to such
as wanted it; Volumnus inspired men with a disposition to do well; and
Honorus raised them to preferment and honours.

Nor was the marriage state without its peculiar defenders. Five deities
were esteemed so necessary, that no marriages were solemnized without
asking their favours; these were Jupiter-Perfectus, or the Adult, Juno,
Venus, Suadela,[61] and Diana. Jugatinus tied the nuptial knot; Domiducus
ushered the bride home; Domitius took care to keep her there, and
prevent her gadding abroad; Maturna preserved the conjugal union entire;
Virginensis[62] loosed the bridle zone or girdle; Viriplaca was a
propitious goddess, ready to reconcile the married couple in case of any
accidental difference. Matuta was the patroness of matrons, no maid
being suffered to enter her temple. The married was always held to be
the only honourable state for woman, during the times of pagan
antiquity. The goddess Vacuna,[63] is mentioned by Horace (Lib. 1. Epist.
X. 49.) as having her temple at Rome; the rustics celebrated her
festival in December, after the harvest was got in (Ovid. Fast. Lib.

The ancients assigned the particular parts of the body to particular
deities; the head was sacred to Jupiter; the breast to Neptune; the
waist to Mars; the forehead to Genius; the eye-brows to Juno, the eyes
to Cupid; the ears to Memory; the right hand to Fides or Veritas; the
back to Pluto; the knees to Misericordia or mercy; the legs to Mercury;
the feet to Thetis; and the fingers to Minerva.[64]

The goddess who presided over funerals was Libitina,[65] whose temple at
Rome, the undertakers furnished with all the necessaries for the
interment of the poor or rich; all dead bodies were carried through the
Porto Libitina; and the Rationes Libitinae mentioned by Suetonius, very
nearly answer to our bills of mortality.


[39] Either from _pilum_, a pestle; or from _pello_, to drive away;
because he procured a safe delivery.

[40] She taught the art of cutting wood with a hatchet to make fires.

[41] The inventress of brooms.

[42] From casting out the birth.

[43] Aulus Gellius.

[44] Aelian.

[45] From _erritor_, to struggle. See Ausonius, Idyll 12.

[46] Some make her the same with Rhea or Vesta.

[47] Among the Romans the midwife always laid the child on the ground,
and the father or somebody appointed, lifted it up; hence the expression
of _tollere liberos_, to educate children.

[48] This goddess had a temple at Rome, and her offerings were milk.

[49] On the Kalends of June, sacrifices were offered to Carna, of bacon
and bean flour cakes; whence they were called Fabariae.

[50] Boys were named always on the ninth day after the birth, and girls
on the eighth.

[51] From Pavorema vertendo.

[52] She had a temple at Home which always stood open.

[53] She had a temple without the walls.

[54] Murcia had her temple on Mount Aventine.

[55] From _abeo_, to go away; and _adeo_, to come.

[56] The festival of this goddess was in September, when the Romans
drank new wine mixed with old, by way of physic.

[57] From _vitulo_, to leap or advance.

[58] From _voluptas_, pleasure.

[59] In a great murrain which destroyed their cattle, the Romans invoked
this goddess, and she removed the plague.

[60] The image was a head without a body. Horace mentions her (Lib. 1.
Epist. XVI. 60). She had a temple without the walls, which gave the name
to the Porta Lavernalis.

[61] The goddess of eloquence, or persuasion, who had always a great
hand in the success of courtship.

[62] She was also called Cinxia Juno.

[63] She was an old Sabine deity. Some make her the same with Ceres; but
Varro imagines her to be the goddess of victory.

[64] From this distribution arose, perhaps, the scheme of our modern
astrologers, who assign the different parts of the body to the different
constellations, or signs of Zodiac: as the head to Aries, the neck to
Taurus, the shoulders to Gemini, the heart to Cancer, the breast to Leo,
and so on. The pretended issues of astrology have been always
inseparable from stellar influence, and the zodiac has ever been the
fruitful source of its solemn delusions.

[65] Some confound this goddess with Proserpine, others with Venus.



The study of astrology, so flattering to human curiosity got into favour
with mankind at a very early period,--especially with the weak and
ignorant. The first account, of it we meet with is in Chaldea; and at
Rome it was known by the name of the "Babylonish calculation," against
which Horace very wisely cautioned his readers.[66] It was doubtless the
first method of divination, and probably prepared the mind of man for
all the various methods since employed of searching into futurity; a
brief view therefore of the rise of this pretended science cannot he
improper in this place, especially as the history of these absurdities
is the best method of confuting them. Others have ascribed the invention
of this deception to the Arabs;--be this as it may, Judicial
Astrology[67] has been too much used by the priests and physicians of all
nations to encrease their own power and emolument. They maintain that
the heavens are one great book, in which God has written the history of
the world; and in which every man may read his own fortune and the
transactions of his time. In this department of astrology (judicial) we
meet with all the idle conceits about the horary reign of planets, the
_doctrine of horoscopes, the distribution of the houses, the calculation
of nativities, fortunes, lucky and unlucky_ hours, and other ominous
fatalities. They assert that it had its rise from the same hands as
astronomy itself;--that while the ancient Assyrians, whose serene
unclouded sky favoured their celestial, observations, were intent on
tracing the paths and periods of the heavenly bodies, they discovered a
constant settled relation or analogy between them and things below;
hence they were led to conclude these to be the fates or destinies
(Parcae) so much talked of, which preside at our birth, and dispose of
our future state.

The Egyptians, who derived their astrological superstitions from the
Chaldeans, becoming ignorant of the astronomical hieroglyphics, by
degrees looked upon the names of the signs as expressing certain powers
with which they were invested, and as indications of their several
offices. The sun, on account of its splendour and enlivening influence,
was imagined to be the great mover of nature; the moon held the second
rank of powers, and each sign and constellation a certain share in the
government of the world. The ram, (Aries [symbol: Aries]) had a strong
influence over the young of the flocks and herds; the balance, (Libra
[symbol: Libra]) could inspire nothing but inclinations to good order
and justice; and the scorpion, (Scorpio [symbol: Scorpio]) to excite
only evil dispositions. In short, each sign produced the good or evil
intimated by its name.

Thus, if a child happened to be born at the instant when the first star
of the ram rose above the horizon, (when, in order to give this nonsense
the air of a science, the star was supposed to have its greatest
influence,) he would be rich in cattle; and he who should enter the
world under the crab, would meet with nothing but disappointments, and
all his affairs go backwards and downwards. The people were to be happy
whose king entered the world under the sign Libra; but completely
wretched if he should light under the horrid sign scorpion. Persons born
under capricorn ([symbol: Capricorn]) especially if the sun at the same
time ascended the horizon, were sure to meet with success, and rise
upwards like the wild goat and the sun which then ascends for six months
together. The lion, (Leo [symbol: Leo]) was to produce heroes; and the
virgin (Virgo [symbol: Virgo]) with her ear of corn to inspire chastity,
and to unite virtue with abundance. Could anything he more extravagant
and ridiculous!

The case was exactly the same with respect to the planets, whose
influence is only founded on the wild supposition of their being the
habitations of the pretended deities, whose names they bear, and the
fabulous characters the poets have given them. Thus, to Saturn, [symbol:
Saturn], they gave languid and even destructive influences, for no other
reason but because they had been pleased to make this planet the
residence of Saturn, who was painted with grey hairs and a scythe. To
Jupiter [symbol: Jupiter] they gave the power of bestowing crowns and
distributing long life, wealth, and grandeur, merely because it bears
the name of the father of life. Mars [symbol: Mars] was supposed to
inspire a strong inclination for war, because it was believed to be the
residence of the god of war. Venus [symbol: Venus] had the power of
rendering men voluptuous and fond of pleasure, because they had been
pleased to give it the name of one who by some was thought to be the
mother of pleasure. Mercury [symbol: Mercury], though almost always
invisible, would never have been thought to superintend the property of
states, and the affairs of wit and commerce, had not men, without the
least reason, given it the name of one who was supposed to be the
inventor of civil polity.

According to Astrologers, the power of the ascending planet is greatly
increased by that of an ascending sign; then the benign influences are
all united, and fall together on the head of all the happy infants who
at that moment enter the world; yet can anything be more contrary to
experience, which shews us, that the characters and events produced by
persons born under the same aspect of the stars, are so far from being
alike, that they are directly opposite.

"What completes the ridicule," says the Abbe La Pluche, to whom we are
obliged for these judicious observations, "is, that what astronomers
call the first degree of the ram, the balance, or of sagitarius, is no
longer the first sign, which gives fruitfulness to the flocks, inspires
men with a love of justice, or forms the hero. It has been found that
all the celestial signs have, by degrees, receded from the vernal
equinox, and drawn back to the East: notwithstanding this, the point of
the zodiac that cuts the equator is still called the first degree of the
ram, though the first star of the ram be thirty degrees beyond it, and
all the other signs in the same proportion. When, therefore, any one is
said to be born under the first degree of the ram, it was in reality one
of the degrees of pisces that then came above the horizon: and when
another is said to be born with a royal soul and heroic disposition,
because at his birth the planet Jupiter ascended the horizon, in
conjunction with the first star of sagitary, Jupiter was indeed at that
time in conjunction with a star thirty degrees eastward of sagitary, and
in good truth it was the pernicious scorpion that presided at the birth
of this happy, this incomparable child." And so it would, as Shakspeare
says, "if my mother's cat had kittened. This," says our sagacious bard,
"is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in
fortune, (after the surfeit of our own behaviour) we make guilt of our
disasters, the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains by
necessity; fools, by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, (traitors) by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and
adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all
that we are evil in by a divine thrusting on; an admirable evasion of a
whoremaster to lay his goatish tricks to the charge of a star! My father
compounded with my mother under the dragon's tail; and my nativity was
under _Ursa major_; so that it follows I am rough and treacherous.--Tut!
I should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament
twinkled at my bastardizing." Thus it is evident, that astrology is
built upon no principles, that it is founded on fables, and on
influences void of reality. Yet absurd as it is, and even was, it
obtained credit; and the more it spread, the greater injury was done to
the cause of virtue. Instead of the exercise of prudence and wise
precautions, it substituted superstitious forms and childish practices;
it enervated the courage of the brave by apprehensions grounded on puns,
and encouraged the wicked, by making them lay to the charge of a planet
those evils which only proceeded from their own depravity.

But not content with such absurdities, which destroyed the very idea of
liberty, they asserted that these stars, which had not the least
connection with mankind, governed all the parts of the human body, and
ridiculously affirmed that the ram presided over the head, the bull over
the gullet, the twins over the breast, the scorpion over the entrails,
the fishes over the feet, etc. The juggles of astrology have been
admirably ridiculed by Butler in the following lines:

Some by the nose with fumes trepan 'em,
As Dunstan did the devil's grannam;
Others, with characters and words,
Catch 'em, as men in nets do birds;
And some with symbols, signs, and tricks,
Engrav'd in planetary nicks,
With their own influence will fetch 'em
Down from their orbs, arrest and catch 'em;
Make 'em depose and answer to
All questions, ere they let them go.
Bombastus kept a devil's bird
Shut in the pummel of his sword,
And taught him all the cunning pranks
Of past and future mountebanks.
_Hudibras_, part ii. canto 3.

By means of the zodiac, astrologers pretended to account for the various
disorders of the body, which were supposed to be in a good or had
disposition, according to the different aspects[68] of these signs. To
mention only one instance, they pretended that great caution ought to be
used in taking medicine under Taurus, or the bull; because, as this
animal chews his cud, the person would not be able to keep it in his

Each hour of the day had also its presiding star. The number seven, as
being that of the planets, became of mighty consequence. The seven days
in the week,--a period of time handed down by tradition, happened to
correspond with the number of the planets: and therefore they gave the
name of a planet to each day; and from thence some days in the week were
considered more fortunate or unlucky than the rest; and hence seven
times seven, called the climacterical period of hours, days, or years,
were thought extremely dangerous, and to have a surprising effect on
private persons, the fortunes of princes, and the government of states.
Thus the mind of man became distressed by imaginary evils, and the
approach of these moments, in themselves as harmless as the rest of
their lives, has by the strength of the imagination, brought on the most
fatal effects.

Nay, the influence of the planets were extended to the bowels of the
earth, where they were supposed to produce metals. From hence it appears
that when superstition and folly are once on foot, there is no setting
hounds to their progress. Gold, as a matter of course, must be the
production of the sun, and the conformity in point of colour,
brightness, and value, was a sensible proof of it. By the same mode of
reasoning, the moon produced all the silver, to which it was related by
colour; Mars, all the iron, which ought to be the favourite metal of the
god of war. Venus presided over copper, which she might be well supposed
to produce, since it was found in abundance in the isle of Cyprus, the
supposed favourite residence of this goddess. In the same strain, the
other planets presided over the other metals. The languid Saturn
domineered over the lead mines, and Mercury, on account of his activity,
had the superintendency of quicksilver; while it was the province of
Jupiter to preside over tin, as this was the only metal left him, it
would appear, a kind of "Hobson's choice."

This will explain the manner in which the metals obtained the names of
the planets; and from this opinion, that each planet engendered its own
peculiar metal, they at length formed an idea that, as one planet was
more powerful than another, the metal produced by the weakest was
converted into another by the predominating influence of a stronger orb.

Lead, though really a metal, and as perfect in its kind as any of the
rest, was considered only half a metal, which, in consequence of the
languid influences of old Saturn, was left imperfect; and, therefore,
under the auspices of Jupiter, it was converted into tin; under that of
Venus, into copper: and at last into gold, under some particular aspects
of the sun. From hence, at length, arose the extravagant opinion of the
alchymists, who, with amazing sagacity, endeavoured to find out means
for hastening these changes or transmutations, which, as they conceived,
the planets performed too slowly. The world, however, became at length
convinced that the art of the alchymist was as ineffectual as the
influences of the planets, which, in a long succession of ages, had
never been known to change a mine of lead to that of tin or any other

The first author we are acquainted with who talks of making gold by the
transmutation of one metal, by means of an alcahest[70] into another, is
Zozimus the Pomopolite, who lived about the commencement of the fifth
century, and who has a treatise express upon it, called, "The divine art
of making gold and silver," in manuscript, and is, as formerly, in the
library of the King of France.

As regards the universal medicine, said to depend on alchemical
research, we discover no earlier or plainer traces than in this author,
and in Aeneas Gazeus, another Greek writer, towards the close of the
same century;[71] nor among the physicians and materialists, from Moses
to Geber the Arab,[72] who is supposed to have lived in the seventh
century. In that author's work, entitled the "Philosopher's stone,"
mention is made of medicine that cures all leprous diseases. This
passage, some authors suppose, to have given the first hint of the
matter, though Geber himself, perhaps, meant no such thing; for, by
attending to the Arabic style and diction of this author, which abounds
in allegory, it is highly probable that by man he means gold, and by
leprous, or other diseases, the other metals, which, with relation to
gold, are all impure.

The origin and antiquity of alchymy have been much controverted. If any
credit may be placed on legend and tradition, it must be as old as the
flood--nay, Adam himself is represented to have been an alchymist. A
great part, not only of the heathen mythology, but of the Jewish
Scriptures, are supposed to refer to it. Thus, Suidas[73] will have the
fable of the philosopher's stone to be alluded to in the fable of the
Argonauts; and others find it in the book of Moses, as well as in other
remote places. But, if the era of the art be examined by the test of
history, it will lose much of its fancied antiquity. The manner in which
Suidas accounts for the total silence of alchymy among the old writers
is, that Dioclesian procured all the books of the ancient Egyptians to
be burnt; and that it was in these the great mysteries of chemistry were
contained.[74] Kercher asserts, that the theory of the philosopher's
stone is delivered at large in the table of Hermes, and the ancient
Egyptians were not ignorant of the art, but declined to prosecute it.



------ nec Babylonios Tentaris numeros.--Lib, 1. ad XI.

That is, consult not the tables of planetary calculations used by
astrologers of Babylonish origin.

[67] This conjectural science is divided into natural and judicial. The
first is confined to the study of exploring natural effects, as change
of weather, winds and storms--hurricanes, thunder, floods, earthquakes,
and the like. In this sense it is admitted to be a part of natural
philosophy. It was under this view that Mr. Good, Mr. Boyle, and Dr.
Mead pleaded for its use. The first endeavours to account for the
diversity of seasons from the situations, habitudes, and motions of the
planets; and to explain an infinity of phenomena by the contemplation of
the stars. The honourable Mr. Boyle admitted, that all physical bodies
are influenced by the heavenly bodies; and the doctor's opinion, in his
treatise concerning the power of the sun and moon, etc. is in favour of
the doctrine. But these predictions and influence are ridiculed, and
entirely exploded by the most esteemed modern philosophers, of which the
reader may have a learned specimen in Rohault's Tract. Physic. pt. II. c

[68] By aspect is to be understood an angle formed by the rays of two
planets meeting on the earth, able to execute some natural power or

[69] Those who wish to read a curious monument of the follies of the
alchymists, may consult the diary of Elias Ashmole, who is rather the
historian of this vain science, than an adept. It may amuse literary
leisure to turn over his quarto volume, in which he has collected the
works of several English alchymists, to which he has subjoined his
commentary. It affords curious specimens of Rosicrucian mysteries; and
he relates stories, which vie for the miraculous, with the wildest
fancies of Arabian invention.

[70] Alcahest, in chemistry, (an obsolete term,) means a most pure and
universal menstruum or dissolvent, with which some chemists have
pretended to resolve all bodies into their first elements, and perform
other extraordinary and unaccountable operations.

[71] In this writer we find the following passage: "Such as are skilled
in the ways of nature, can take; silver and tin, and changing their
nature, can turn them into gold." He also tells us that he was "wont to
call himself a _gold-melter_ and a _chemist_."

[72] The principal Authors on alchymy are Geber, the Arab, Friar Bacon,
Sully, John and Isaac Hallendus, Basil Valentine, Paracelsus, Van
Zuchter, and Sendirogius.

[73] Corringius calls this statement in question, and asks how Suidas,
who lived but five hundred yours between them, should know what happened
eight hundred years before him? To which Borrichius the Dane, answers,
that he had learnt it of Eudemus, Helladius, Zozimus, Pamphilius, and
others, as Suidas himself relates.

[74] It does not appear that the Egyptians transmuted gold; they had
ways of separating it from all kinds of bodies, from the very mud of the
Nile, and stones of all kinds: but, adds Kercher, these secrets were
never written down, or made public, but confined to the royal family,
and handed down traditionally from father to son.



Having so far explained the fragile basis on which human knowledge may
be said to have depended, during the obscurity and barbarity of the
middle ages, when the progress of true knowledge was obstructed by the
most absurd fancies, and puerile conceits: when conjectures, caprices,
and dreams supplied the place of the most useful sciences, and of the
most important truths, the subsequent illustrative reflections may serve
as a guide to direct the attention of the reader to other delusions,
which arose out of the general chaos.

Chemistry, a science so essentially requisite to explain the phenomena
of known and unknown substances, was studied chiefly by jugglers and
fanatics;--their systems, replete with metaphysical nonsense, and
composed of the most crude and heterogeneous materials, served rather to
nourish superstition than to establish facts, and illustrate useful
truths. Universal remedies, in various forms, met with strenuous
advocates and deluded consumers. The path of accurate observation and
experiment was forsaken: instead of penetrating into the mysterious
recesses of nature, they bewildered themselves in the labyrinth of
fanciful speculation; they overstepped the bounds of good sense,
modesty, and truth; and the blind led the blind. The prolongation of
life too was no longer sought for in a manner agreeable to the dictates
of nature; even this interesting branch of human pursuits was rendered
subservient to chemistry, or rather to the confused system of alchymy.
Original matter was considered as the elementary cause of all beings, by
which they expected literally to work miracles, to transmute the base
into noble metals, to metamorphose man in his animal state by chemical
processes, to render him more durable, and to secure him against early
decline and dissolution. Millions of vessels, retorts, and phials, were
either exposed to the action of the most violent artificial heat, or to
the natural warmth of the sun; or else they were buried in some dunghill
or other fetid mass, for the purpose of attracting this _original
matter_, or obtaining it from putrescible substances.

As the metal called gold always bore the highest value, these crude
philosophers concluded, from a ridiculous analogy, that its value with
respect to the preservation of health and the cure of diseases, must
likewise surpass that of all other remedies. The nugatory art of
dissolving it, so as to render it potable, and to prevent it from again
being converted into metal, employed a multitude of busy idiots, not
only in concealed corners, but in the splendid laboratories of the
great. Sovereigns, magistrates, counsellors, and impostors, struck with
the common frenzy, entered into friendship and alliance, formed private
fraternities, and sometimes proceeded to such a pitch of extravagance,
as to involve themselves and their posterity in ruinous debts. The real
object of many was, doubtless, to gratify their avarice and desire of
aggrandisement: although this sinister motive was concealed under the
specious pretext of searching for a remedy that should serve as a
tincture of life, both for the healthy and diseased, yet some among
these whimsical mortals were actuated by more honourable motives,
zealous only for the interest of truth, and the well-being of their
fellow creatures.

The common people, in some countries, particularly Italy, Germany, and
France often denied themselves the common necessaries of life, to save
as much as would purchase a few drops of the tincture of gold, which was
offered for sale by some superstitious or fraudulent chemist: and so
thoroughly persuaded were they of the efficacy of this remedy, that it
afforded them in every instance the most confident and only hope of
recovery. These beneficial effects were positively promised, but were
looked for in vain. All subduing death would not submit to be bribed
with gold, and disease refused to hold any intercourse with that
powerful deity, who presides over the industry and commerce of all

As, however, these diversified and almost numberless experiments were
frequently productive of useful inventions in arts and manufactures;
and, as many chemical remedies of real value were thereby accidentally
discovered, great and almost general attention to those bold projectors
was constantly kept alive and excited. Indeed, we are indebted to their
curious observations, or rather perhaps to chance, for several valuable
medicines, the excellence of which cannot be disputed, but which,
nevertheless, require more precaution in their use and application, and
more perspicuity and diligence in investigating their nature and
properties than the original preparers of such articles were able or
willing to afford. All their endeavours to prolong life, by artificial
means, could not be attended with beneficial effects; and the
application of the remedies thus contrived, must necessarily, in many
cases, have proved detrimental to the health of the patient.

In proof of this assertion, it will be sufficient to give a slight
sketch of the different views and opinions of the gold-makers,
Rosicrucians, manufacturers of astralian salts, drops of life, and
tinctures of gold, hunters after the philosopher's stone, and other
equally absurd chimera.

Some of these extravagant enthusiasts fancied that life resembled a
flame, from which the body derived warmth, spirit, and animation. They
endeavoured to cherish and increase the flame, and supplied the body
with materials to feed it, as we pour oil into a burning lamp. Others
imagined they had discovered something invisible and incorporeal in the
air, that important medium which supports the life of man. They
pretended to catch, refine, reduce, and materialize this indefinable
something, so that it might be swallowed in the form of powders, and
drops; that, by its penetrating powers, it might insinuate itself into
the whole animal frame, invigorate, and consequently qualify it for a
longer duration.

Others again were foolish enough to indulge a notion that they could
divest themselves of the properties of matter during this life; that in
this manner they might be defended against the gradual approaches of
dissolution, to which every animal body is subject: and that thus
fortified, without quitting their terrestrial tabernacle, they could
associate at pleasure with the inhabitants of the spiritual world. The
sacred volume itself was interpreted and commented upon by alchymists,
with a view to render it subservient to their intended designs.
Indisputable historical facts, recorded in this invaluable book, were
treated by them as hieroglyphical symbols of chemical processes: and the
fundamental truths of the christian religion were applied, in a wanton
and blasphemous manner, to the purposes of making gold, and distilling
the elixir of life.

The world of spirits was also invaded, and summoned, as it were, to
contribute to the prolongation of human life. Spirits were supposed to
have the dominion of air, fire, earth, and water; they were divided into
distinct classes, and particular services ascribed to each. The
malevolent spirits were opposed and counteracted by various means of
prevention: the good and tutelary were obliged to submit to n sort of
gentle, involuntary servitude. From invisible beings were expected and
demanded visible means of assistance--riches, health, friends, and long
life. Thus the poor spirits were profanely maltreated, nay, sometimes
severely punished, and even miserably flogged in effigy, when they
betrayed symptoms of disaffection, or want of implicit fealty.

As men had thus, in their weakness and folly, forsaken the bounds of
this terrestrial sphere, it will easily be believed, that, with the help
of an exuberant imagination, they would make a transition to the higher
regions--to the celestial bodies and the stars to which, indeed, they
ascribed no less a power than that of deciding the destinies of men, and
which, consequently, must have had a considerable share in shortening or
prolonging the duration of human life--every nation or kingdom was
subjected to the dominion of its particular planet the time of whose
government was determined; and a number of ascendant powers were
fictitiously contrived, with a view to reduce, under its influence,
every thing which was produced and born under its administration. The
professors of astrology appeared as the confidents of these invisible
rulers, and the interpreters of their will; they were well versed in the
art of giving a respectable appearance to this usurped dignity. Provided
they could but ascertain the hour and minute of a person's birth, they
confidently took upon themselves to predict his mental capacities,
future vicissitudes of life, and the diseases he would be visited with,
together with the circumstances, the day and hour of his death.[75]

Not only the common people, but persons of the highest rank and
stations, nay, even men the most distinguished for their rank and
abilities, did homage to those "gods of their idolatry," and lived in
continual dread of their occult powers. With anxious countenance and
attentive ears, they listened to the cantrip effusions of these
pretended oracles, which prognosticated the bright or gloomy days of
futurity. Even physicians were solicitous to qualify themselves for
appointments no less lucrative than respectable:--they forgot, over the
dazzling hoards of Mammon, that they are peculiarly and professedly the
pupils of nature.--The curious student in the universities found
everywhere public lecturers, who undertook to instruct him in the
profound arts of divination, chiromancy, and the _cabala_.

Among other instances, the following anecdote is related of the noted
Thurneisen, who, in the seventeenth century, was invested, at Berlin,
with the respectable offices of printer to the court, bookseller,
almanack-maker, astrologer, chemist, and first physician. Messengers
daily arrived from the most respectable houses in Germany, Poland,
Hungary, Denmark, and even from England, for the purpose of consulting
him respecting the future fortunes[76] of their new-born infants,
acquainting him with the hour of the nativity, and soliciting his advice
and directions as to their management. Many volumes of this singular
correspondence are still preserved in the royal library at Berlin. The
business of this fortunate adept increased so rapidly, that he found it
necessary to employ a number of subaltern assistants, who, together with
their master, realized considerable fortunes. He died in high reputation
and favour with his superstitious contemporaries.

The famous Melancthon was a believer in judicial astrology, and an
interpreter of dreams. Richelieu and Mazarin were so superstitious as to
employ and pension Morin, another pretender to astrology, who cast the
nativities of these two able politicians. Nor was Tacitus himself, who
generally appears superior to superstition, untainted with this folly,
as may be seen from his twenty-second chapter of the sixth book of his

In the time of the civil wars, astrology was in high repute. The
royalists and the rebels had their astrologers as well as their
soldiers; and the predictions of the former had a great influence over
the latter. When Charles the first was imprisoned, Lilly, the famous
astrologer, was consulted for the hour that should favour his escape;
and in Burnet's History of his own Times, there is a story which
strongly proves how much Charles II was bigotted to judicial astrology,
a man, though a king, whose mind was by no means unenlightened. The most
respectable characters of the age, Sir William Dugdale, Elias
Ashmole,[77] Dr. Grew, and others, were members of the astrological club.
Congreve's character of Foresight, in Love for Love, was then no
uncommon person, though the humour, now, is scarcely intelligible.
Dryden cast the nativities of his sons; and what is remarkable, his
prediction relating to his son Charles, was accomplished. The incident
being of so late a date, one might hope that it would have been cleared
up; but, if it be a fact, it must be allowed that it forms a rational
exultation for its irrational adepts. Astrologers were frequently, as
may easily be understood, put to their wit's end when their predictions
did not come to pass. Great winds were foretold, by one of the craft,
about the year 1586. No unusual storms, however, happened. Bodin, to
save the reputation of the art, applied it as a figure to some
revolutions in the state, of which there were instances enough at that

At the commencement of the 18th century, the _Illuminati_, a sect of
astrologers, had excited considerable sensation on the continent.
Blending philosophy with enthusiasm, and uniting to a knowledge of every
chemical process a profound acquaintance with astronomy, their influence
over the superstitious feelings of the people was prodigious; and in
many instances the infatuation was attended with fatal consequences. We
shall relate the following, as nearer home than many now before us.


On the summit of St. Vincent's rocks, in the neighbourhood of Clifton,
looking on the Avon, as it rolls its lazy courses towards the Bristol
Channel, stands an edifice, known by the name of "Cooke's Folly." It
consists of a single round tower, and appears at a distance rather as
the remnant of some extensive building, than a complete and perfect
edifice, as it now exists. It was built more than two centuries ago, by
a man named Maurice Cooke; not, indeed, as a strong hold from the arms
of a mortal enemy, but as a refuge from the evils of destiny. He was the
proprietor of extensive estates in the neighbourhood; and while his lady
was pregnant with her first child, as she was one evening walking in
their domains, she encountered a strange looking gipsey, who, pestering
her for alms, received but a small sum. The man turned over the coin in
his hand, and implored a larger gift. "That," said the lady, "will buy
you food for the present."

"Lady," said the gipsey, "it is not food for the wretched body that I
require; the herbs of the field, and the waters of the ditch, are good
enough for that. I asked your alms for higher purposes. Do not distrust
me, if my bearing be prouder than my garments; do not doubt the strength
of my sunken eye, when I tell you that I can read the skies as they
relate to the fate of men. Not more familiar is his hornbook to the
scholar, than are the heavens to my knowledge."

"What, thou art an astrologer?"--"Aye, lady! my fathers were so before
me, even in the times when our people had a home amidst the pyramids of
the mighty--in the times when you are told the mightier prophets of the
Israelites put the soothsayers of Egypt to confusion; idle tales! but if
true, all reckless now. Judah's scattered sons are now desolate as
ourselves; but they bend and bow to the laws and ways of other land--we
remain in the stern stedfastness of our own."

"If then," returned the lady, "I give thee more money, how will it be

"That is not a courteous question, but I will answer it. The most
cunning craftsman cannot work without his tools, and some of mine are
broken, which I seek to repair: another crown will be enough."

The lady put the required sum into his hand, and at the same time
intimated a desire to have a specimen of his art.

"Oh! to what purpose should that be? why, why seek to know the course
of futurity? destiny runs on in a sweeping and resistless tide. Enquire
not what rocks await your bark: the knowledge cannot avail you, for
caution is useless against stern necessity."--"Truly, you are not likely
to get rich by your trade, if you thus deter customers."--"It is not for
wealth I labour: I am alone on the earth, and have none to love. I will
not mix with the world lest I should learn to hate. This present is
nothing to me. It is in communion with the spirits who have lived in the
times that are past, and with the stars--those historians of the times
to come--that I feel aught of joy. Fools sometimes demand the exertions
of my powers, and sometimes I gratify their childish curiosity."
--"Notwithstanding I lie under the imputation of folly, I
will beg that you predict unto me the fate of the child which I shall
bear."--"Well, you have obliged me, and I will comply. Note the precious
moment at which it enters the world, and soon after you shall see me

Within a week the birth of an heir awoke the clamorous joy of the
vassals, and summoned the strange gipsey to ascertain the necessary
points. These learned, he returned home; and the next day presented Sir
Maurice with a scroll, containing the following lines:

"Twenty times shall Avon's tide
In chains of glistening ice be tied--
Twenty times the woods of Leigh
Shall wave their brunches merril
In spring burst forth in mantle gay,
And dance in summer's scorching ray:
Twenty times shall autumn's frown,
Wither all their green to brown--
And still the child of yesterday
Shall laugh the happy hour away.
That period past, another sun
Shall not his annual journey run,
Before a secret silent foe,
Shall strike that boy a deadly blow.
Such, and sure his fate shall be:
Seek not to change his destiny."

The knight read it; and in that age, when astrology was considered a
science as unerring as holy prophecies, it would have been little less
than infidelity to have doubted the truth of the prediction. Sir
Maurice, however, was wise enough to withhold the paper from his lady;
and in answer to her inquiries, continually asserted that the gipsey was
an impostor, and that the object of his assuming the character was
merely to increase her alms.

The fated child grew in health and beauty; and as we are the most
usually the more strongly attached to pleasures in proportion to the
brevity of continuance, so did the melancholy fate of his son more
firmly fix him in the heart of Sir Maurice. Often did the wondering lady
observe the countenance of her husband with surprise, as watching the
endearing sportiveness of the boy, his countenance, at first brightened
by the smile of paternal love, gradually darkened to deepest grief, till
unable to suppress his tears, he would cover the child with caresses,
and rush from the room. To all inquiries, Sir Maurice was silent, or
returned evasive answers.

We shall pass over the infancy of young Walter, and resume the narrative
at the period in which he entered into his twentieth year. His mother
was now dead, and had left two other children, both girls, who, however,
shared little of their father's love, which was almost exclusively fixed
on Walter, and appeared to encrease in strength as the fatal time grew

It is not to be supposed that he took no precaution against the
predicted event. Sometimes hope suggested that a mistake might have been
made in the horoscope, or that the astrologer might have overlooked some
sign which made the circumstance conditional; and in unison with the
latter idea he determined to erect a strong building, where, during the
year in which his doom was to be consumated, Walter might remain in
solitude. He accordingly gave directions for raising a single tower,
peculiarly formed to prevent ingress, except by permission of its
inhabitants. The purpose of this strange building, however, he kept
secret; and his neighbours, after numerous vain conjectures, gave it the
name of "Cooke's Folly."

Walter, himself, was kept entirely ignorant of the subject, and all his
inquiries were answered with tears. At length the tower was completed,
and furnished with all things necessary for comfort and convenience; and
on the eve of Walter's completing his twentieth year, Sir Maurice shewed
him the gipsey's scroll, and begged him to make use of the retreat
prepared for him till the year expired. Walter at first treated the
matter lightly, laughed at the prophecy, and declared he would not lose
a year's liberty if all the astrologers in the world were to croak their
ridiculous prophecies against him. Seeing, however, his father so
earnestly bent on the matter, his resolution began to give way, and at
length he consented to the arrangement. At six the following morning,
therefore, Walter entered the tower, which he fastened within as
strongly as iron burs would admit, and which was secured outside in a
manner equally firm. He took possession of his voluntary prison with
melancholy feelings, rather occasioned by the loss of present pleasure,
than the fear of future pain. He sighed as he looked upon the wide
domain before him, and thought how sad would it be to hear the joyous
horn summoning his companions to the chase, and find himself prevented
from attending it--to hear the winter wind howling round his tower, and
rushing between the rocks beneath him, and miss the cheerful song and
merry jest, which were wont to make even the blast a pleasant sound.
Certainly his time passed as pleasantly as circumstances permitted. He
drew up in a basket, at his meal hours, every luxury which the season
produced. His father and sisters daily conversed with him from below,
for a considerable time; and the morris-dancers often raised his
laughter by their grotesque movements.

Weeks and months thus passed, and Walter still was well and cheerful.
His own and his sisters' hopes grew more lively, but the anxiety of Sir
Maurice increased. The day drew near which was to restore his son to his
arms in confident security, or to fulfil the prediction which left him
without an heir to his name and honours.

On the preceding afternoon Walter continually endeavoured to cheer his
parent, by speaking of what he would do on the morrow; desired his
sisters to send round to all their friends, that he might stretch his
limbs once more in the merry dance; and continued to talk of the future
with much confidence, that even Sir Maurice caught a spark of hope from
the fiery spirits of the youth.

As the night drew on, and his sisters were about to leave him, promising
to wake him at six by a song, in answer to their usual inquiry if he
wanted anything more that night, "Nothing," said he, "and yet the night
feels chilly, and I have little fuel left--send me one more faggot."
This was sent him, and as he drew it up, "This," said he, "is the last
time I shall have to dip for my wants, like an old woman for water:
thank God! for it is wearisome work to the arm."

Sir Maurice still lingered under the window in conversation with his
son, who at length complained of being cold and drowsy. "Mark," said he,
as he closed the window, "mark father, Mars, the star of my fate, looks
smilingly to-night, all will be well." Sir Maurice looked up--a dark
cloud spot suddenly crossed the planet, and he shuddered at the omen.
The anxious father could not leave the spot. Sleep he knew it was vain
to court, and he therefore determined to remain where he was. The
reflexions that occupied his mind continually varied: at one time he
painted to himself the proud career of his high spirited boy, known and
admired among the mighty of his time; a moment after he saw the
prediction verified, and the child of his love lying in the tomb. Who
can conceive his feelings as hour dragged after hour, while he walked to
and fro, watching the blaze of the fire in the tower, as it brightened
and sunk again--now pacing the court with hasty steps, and now praying
fervently for the preservation of his son? The hour came. The cathedral
bell struck heavy on the father's heart, which was not to be lightened
by the cheerful voices of his daughters, who came running full of hope
to the foot of the tower. They looked up, but Walter was not
there;--they called his name, he answered not. "Nay," said the youngest,
"this is only a jest; he thinks to frighten us, but I know he is safe."
A servant had brought a ladder, which he ascended, and he looked in at
the window. Sir Maurice stood immoveable and silent.--He looked up, and
the man answered the anxious expression of his eyes. "He is asleep,"
said he. "He is dead!" murmured the father.

The servant broke a pane of glass in the window, and opening the
casement, entered the room. The father, changing his gloomy stedfastness
for frenzied anxiety, rushed up the ladder. The servant had thrown aside
the curtains and the clothes, and displayed to the eyes of Sir Maurice,
his son lying dead, a serpent twined round his arm, and his throat
covered with blood. The reptile had crept up the faggot last sent him,
and fulfilled the _prophecy_.

To this happy effort of the imagination in favour of prying into
futurity, may be added, with the same intention.


Ibrahim was universally celebrated for his riches and magnificence. His
armies were formidable, his victories splendid, and his treasury
inexhaustible. He enjoyed, moreover, what was ten thousand times more
solid and more valuable than riches--the love and veneration of his
subjects; and he had a beautiful young wife, in whose endearing
tenderness alone he could find happiness--if happiness could be found on
earth. All these advantages entitled Ibrahim to the appellation of the
Solomon of his age; and yet Ibrahim was not happy. A son was wanting to
crown his felicity. In vain did a heart formed for all the charities of
the wedded state, endeavour to supply the refusal of nature, by the
adoption of a son; in vain did gratitude endeavour to deceive his heart,
by caresses which any other would have thought to be the natural
effusions of filial sensibility, of filial piety and affection; that
heart incessantly perceived a solitude within itself. Even the
consolatory visions of hope began to grow less frequent, when heaven at
last heard his prayers, Alas! in the very instant that Fortune gratifies
our fondest wishes, she often betrays us; and her smiles are a thousand
times more fatal than her frowns. The birth of the prince was
celebrated throughout the empire by the customary public demonstrations
of joy. The felicity of Ibrahim was complete. He was perpetually
revolving in his mind the sentiments and hopes which the nation would
form of the royal infant. Scarce was he born, when paternal solicitude
embraced, as it were, his whole life. Impatient to know his destiny,
that solicitude plunged into futurity, determined, if possible, to wrest
from time, the secrets of which he was the hoary-headed guardian.

In Ibrahim's dominions were some sages particularly honoured with the
confidence of heaven. He commanded them to consult the stars, and to
report their answer. "Tremble," said the sages; "thou unfortunate
father, tremble! Never before have the skies presented such inauspicious
omens. Let him fly; let this son, too dear to you, fly; let him avoid,
if possible, the meeting with any savage beasts. His seventh year is the
fatal one; and if he should happen then, to escape the misfortune that
hangs over him, ah! do not wish him to live. His father, his very
father, will not be able to escape from the hand of a parricide."

This answer threw the sultan into the deepest consternation. He did not
sink, however, into absolute despondency; his courage soon revived. He
determined to take all the precautions which paternal tenderness could
suggest, to defeat the prediction of the astrologers. He, therefore,
caused a kind of subterranean palace to be made on the summit of a lofty
mountain. The labour and expense of the excavation was prodigious.
Extensive walks were formed, with a variety of apartments, in which
every thing was provided that could contribute to the conveniences, and
even the luxuries of life. In this magnificent cavern, Ibrahim, as it
were, inhumed his son, together with his governess, of whose care, and
fidelity he had no doubt. Provisions were constantly carried thither at
stated periods. The king forgot not a single day to visit the mountain
that contained his beloved treasure, and to be satisfied of his safety
with his own eyes. With what delight did he behold the growing beauties
of his son! With what pleasure and rapture did he listen to his
sprightly saillies of wit, his smart repartees, and those pretty
_nothings_ which a father, in particular, is fond to recollect and to
repeat; at which the most rigid gravity may smile, and which are worth
all the understanding of riper years. He was perpetually counting the
hours and minutes that he had to spend with his son; and he incessantly
reproached himself, for not seeing him more frequently.

Shah Abbas, for such was his name, at length reached his seventh year,
that fatal year, which Ibrahim would fain have delayed, even at the
expense of his crown. He would never leave his son a minute. But, alas!
is it possible to escape our destiny? Summoned one day to his palace by
affairs of the most pressing exigency, he left the mountain with extreme
reluctance. Never had Shah Abbas appeared wore amiable in his father's
eyes, never had Ibrahim appeared more affectionate to his son! Each was
tormented by an uneasy sensation, an unaccountable presentiment that
they were to meet there no more!

Some robbers were hunting wild beasts: the ardour of the pursuit brought
them to this mountain. A lion that fled from them, perceived the
subterraneous passage, and took refuge in it. The robbers, who durst not
follow him, waited, however, for the sequel of this adventure. On a
sudden, they heard a violent scream, and presently all was silent. This
silence suggested to them, that the cavern now contained, not a living
creature, but the lion. They threw down a quantity of stones, which soon
put an end to the existence of the formidable animal. They then
descended into the cavern, securing themselves from all further danger
from the lion by cutting off his head. Wandering through every part of
this subterraneous palace, they were astonished at the prodigious riches
which they beheld. They perceived a slaughtered woman: this was the
prince's governess. By her side lay a child covered with blood, who
shewed, however, some signs of life. They examined his wounds: they
found not one of them dangerous. The captain of these banditti, after
stripping the cavern of its valuable contents, dressed the young
prince's wounds himself, and effected a cure. The growing qualities of
Shah Abbas endeared him to the chief, who adopted him as his son, and
distinguished him as such by all the tenderness of a paternal heart.

Some years had elapsed since Ibrahim had first deplored the loss of a
son, who, having been constantly ignorant of the name and titles of his
father, had been unable to explain his origin to the robbers, was soon
to become their chief. Such were the unaccountable caprices of fortune,
which led to the completion of the prophecy, that had destined him to
become one day a parricide. Ibrahim was wont to divert his grief by the
pleasures of the chase; and this exercise soon became almost his only
occupation. One evening that he had strayed, with a very slender escort,
into the defiles of a very solitary mountain, a troop of robbers rushed
upon him. The combat for sometime was furious. An arrow pierced the
king; it excited the spirit of vengeance in his attendants, and they
fought, determined to conquer or die. They were soon victorious. The
murderer was taken, and conducted to the metropolis, that he might
undergo the punishment due to his crime.

Ibrahim, on the bed of death, summoned the astrologers to attend him,
and thus addressed them: "I was to have perished, you told me, by the
hand of a son; but it is the hand of a robber that has inflicted the
blow."--"Sire," answered the sages, "forbear to seek an explanation. The
robber"... They proceed no further. The young robber appears, and
relates his history. Ibrahim, while he bowed in submission to God, and
adored His inscrutable decrees, blessed Him also for having restored his
son; and the tears which he saw flow from the eyes of Shah Abbas, were a
consolation in his dying moments.


Astrology was also made subservient to the means of prolonging human
life; but how an art which determines the fate of mortals, and
ascertains the impassable limits of the grave, could consistently be
made subservient to such a purpose, we are rather at a loss to conceive,
unless accounted for as follows. The teachers of divination maintained,
that not only men, but all natural bodies, plants, animals, nay even
whole countries, including every place and family, were under the
government of some particular planet. As soon as the masters of the
occult science had discovered by their tables, under what constellation
the misfortune or distemper of any person originated, nothing farther
was required, than that he should remove to a dwelling ruled by an
opposite planet, and confine himself exclusively to such articles of
food and drink as were under the influence of a different star. In this
artificial manner they contrived to form a system, or peculiar
classification of planets, namely, Lunar, Solar, Mercurial and the
like--and hence arose a confused map of dictated rules, which, when
considered with reference to the purposes of health, cleanliness,
exercise etc. form remarkable contrasts to those of the Greeks. But this
preventive and repulsive method was not merely confined to persons who
suffered under some bodily disorder: even individuals, who enjoyed a
good state of health, if an unlucky constellation happened to forebode
a severe disease, or any other misfortune, were directed to choose a
place of residence influenced by a more friendly star--or to adopt such
aliment only, as being under the auspices of a propitious star, might
counteract the malignant influence of its antagonist.

It was also pretty generally believed and maintained, that a sort of
intimate relation or sympathy subsisted between metals and plants: hence
the names of the latter were given to the former, in order to denote
this supposed connexion and affinity. The corresponding metals were
melted into a common mass, under a certain planet, and were formed into
small medals, or coins, with the firm persuasion, that he who carried
such a piece about his person, might confidently expect the whole favour
and protection of the planet, thus represented.[78] Thus we perceive how
easy the transition is from one degree of folly to another; and this may
help to account for the shocking delusions practised in the
manufacturing and wearing of metallic amulets of a peculiar mould, to
which were attributed, by a sort of magic influence, the power and
protection of the respective planet: these charms were thought to
possess virtue sufficient to overrule the bad effects presaged by an
unlucky hour of birth, to promote to places of honour and profit, and to
be of potent efficacy in matters of commerce and matrimony. The German
soldiers, in the dark and superstitious ages, believed that if the
figure of Mars, cast and engraved under the sign of the Scorpion, were
worn about the neck, it would render them invulnerable, and insure
success to their military enterprises--hence the reason why amulets were
then found upon every soldier, either killed in battle or taken

We shall so far conclude these observations on the chimera of astrology
and medicine with the following remarks in the words of Chamber against
Knight's work,[79] which defends this fanciful science, if science it may
be called. "It demonstrates nothing while it defends every thing. It
confutes, according to Knight's own ideas: it alleges a few scattered
facts in favour of astrological productions, which may be picked up in
that immensity of fabling which disgraces history. He strenuously
denies, or ridicules, what the greatest writers have said of this
fanciful art, while he lays great stress on some passages from obscure
authors, or what is worse, from authors of no authority."--The most
pleasant part, however, is at the close where he defends the art from
the objections of Mr. Chamber by recrimination. Chamber had enriched
himself by medical practice, and when he charges the astrologers by
merely aiming to gain a few beggarly pence, Sir Christopher catches
fire, and shews by his quotations, that if we are to despise an art by
its professors attempting to subsist, or for the objections which may be
raised against its vital principles, we ought by this argument most
heartily to despise the medical science, and medical men; he gives all
here he can collect against physic and physicians, and from the
confessions of Galen and Hippocrates, Avicenna and Agrippa, medicine is
made to appear a vainer science than even astrology itself.

Lilly's opinions, and his pretended science, were such favourites of
the age, that the learned Gataker[80] wrote professedly against this
popular delusion. At the head of his star-expounding friends, Lilly not
only formally replied to, but persecuted Gataker annually in his
predictions, and even struck at his ghost, when beyond the grave.
Gataker died in July 1654, and Lilly, having written in his almanack for
that year, for the month of August, the following barbarous latin line--

Hoc in tumbo, jacet presbyter et nebulo!
Here in this tomb lies a presbyter and a knave,

had the impudence to assert, that he had predicted Gataker's death! But
the truth is, it was an empty epitaph to the "Lodgings to let:" it stood
empty, reader, for the first passenger that the immortal ferryman should
carry over the Styx.

But hear that arch imposter Old Patridge of more modern date whose
_gulleries_ appear to have no end. "The practice of astrology is divided
into speculative and theoretical." (Astronomy and judicial astrology).
The first teaches us how to know the stars and planets, and to find
their places and motions. The second directs us to the knowledge of the
influence and operations of the stars and planets upon sublunary bodies,
and without this last the former is of little use. Astronomy cannot
direct and inform us of the secret influences and operations of the
stars and planets, without the assistance of' the _most sublime_ art of
astrology. For astronomy is conversant about the subject of this art,
and doth furnish the astrologer with matter whereon to exercise his
judgment, but astrology disposes this matter into predictions, or
rational conjectures, as time and occasion require.

"The practice again is subdivided into two parts, or quadripartite, as
Ptolomy (lib. 2) declares: the first considers the general state of the
world, and from eclipses and comets, great conjunctions, annual
revolutions, quarterly ingressions and lunations, also the rising,
culminating, and setting of the fixed stars, together with the
configurations of the planets both to the sun and among themselves,
judgment is deduced, and the astrologer doth frame his annual
predictions of all sensitive and vegetative things lying in the air,
earth, or water; of plague, plenty, dearth, mutations of the air, wars,
peace, and other general accidents of countries, provinces, cities, etc.

"The second of these subdivided parts, in particular, respects only the
private state of every single man and woman, which must be performed
from the scheme of the nativity, the knowledge of which is of most
excellent use to all persons. Therefore let the nativities of children
be diligently observed for the future, that is to say, the day, hour,
and minute of birth as near as can be, which will be of use to the
astrological physician, for the most principal conjecture of the
malignity of the disease, whether it be curable, or shall end with
death, depends upon the knowledge of the nativity; and very rarely any
disease invades a person, but some unfortunate direction of the
luminaries or ascendant to the body, or beams of malignant planets
preceded the same, or did then operate, or at least some evil
revolution, profection or transit, which cannot be discovered by any
other way but by astrology. Moreover, it would be convenient that the
true time of the first falling sick be observed precisely, and by that,
together with the nativity, be judiciously compared, the physician shall
gain more credit than by all his other skill; and herein, the
astrologer's foresight shall often contradict the judgment of the
physician; for when the astrologer foretells a phlegmatic man, that at
such a time he shall be afflicted with a choleric disease, the doctor
will perceive by his physical symptoms, the astrologer, from his
knowledge in more secret causes of nature, hath excelled him in his art.

"Now if God Almighty do not countermand or check the ordinary course of
nature, or the matter of elementary bodies here below be not
unproportionable, and thereby unapt to receive their impressions, there
is no reason why, in a natural and physical necessity, astrological
predictions should not succeed and take effect, and by how much the
knowledge which we have by the known causes is more demonstrative and
infallible than that which we have either by signs or effects, so much
by this companion doth Astrology appear worthy to be preferred before
Physic." Cardan, who was an excellent physician saith: "If by the art of
Astrology he had not better attained to the knowledge of his diseases,
than the physician that would have administered to him by his skill, he
had been assuredly cured by death, rather than preserved alive by
physic. (Vide his Comment. upon Ptol. Quidrepart.) From hence it appears
it is necessary that the physician should be skilful in astrology, but
on the contrary, _ex quovis legno non fit Mercurius_, every astrologer
cannot be a physician; if the nativity be but precisely known, or if,
but _tempus ablatum_ or _suppositum_, and withal some notable accidents
of sickness, danger of drowning, peril by fire, marriage, or other, the
like accidents may be foreseen."

The astrologers were a set of cunning, equivocal rogues; the more
cautious of whom only uttered their prognostications in obscure and
ambiguous language, which might be applied to all things, times,
princes, and nations whatever. An almanack maker, a Spanish friar,
predicted, in clear and precise words, the death of Henry the Fourth of
France; and Pierese, though he had no faith in star-gazing, yet, alarmed
at whatever menaced the life of a beloved sovereign, consulted with some
of the king's friends, and had the Spanish almanack laid before his
Majesty, who courteously thanked them for their solicitude, but utterly
slighted the prediction: the event occurred, and in the following year,
the Spanish _Lilly_ spread his own fame in an new almanack. This
prediction of the friar, was the result either of his being acquainted
with the plot, or from his being made an instrument for the purposes of
those who were.

Cornelius Agrippa rightly designates astrologers "a perverse and
preposterous generation of men, who profess to know future things, but
in the meantime are altogether ignorant of past and present; and
undertaking to tell all people most obscure and hidden secrets abroad,
at the same time, know not what happens in their own houses."

But this Agrippa, for profound
And solid lying, was renown'd:
The Anthroposophus, and Floud,
And Jacob Behmen, understood;
Knew many an amulet and charm
That would do neither good nor harm.
He understood the speech of birds
As well as they themselves do words;
Could tell what subtlest parrots mean
That speak and think contrary, clean;
What member 'tis of whom they talk,
Why they cry, rope and--walk, knave, walk.
He could foretell whatever was
By consequence to come to pass;
As death of great men, alterations,
Diseases, battles, inundations:
All this without th' eclipse o' th' sun,
Or dreadful comet, he hath done
By inward light, a way as good,
And easy to be understood:
But with more lucky hit than those
That use to make the stars depose
As if they were consenting to
All mischief in the world men do:
Or like the devil, did tempt and sway 'em
To rogueries, and then betray 'em.

We shall conclude our astrological strictures with the following
advertisement, which affords as fine a satirical specimen of quackery as
is to be met with. It is extracted from "poor Robin's" almanack for
1773; and may not be without its use, to many at the present day. We
will vouch for it being harmless, but as we are not in the secret of all
that it contains, our readers must endeavour to get the information that
may be wanted, on certain important points, from other quarters. It will
shew, however, that the almanack astrologers did not live upon the best
terms, but like their predecessors, were constantly abusing and
attacking each other.


"The best time to cut hair. How moles and dreams are to be interpreted.
When most proper season to bleed. Under what aspect of the moon best to
draw teeth, and cut corns. Pairing of nails, on what day unlucky. What
the kindest sign to graft or inoculate in; to open bee-hives, and kill
swine. How many hours boiling my Lady Kent's pudding requires. With
other notable questions, fully and faithfully resolved, by me Sylvester
Patridge, student in physic and astrology, near the Gun in Moorfields."

"Of whom likewise may be had, at reasonable rates, trusses, antidotes,
elixirs, love-powders. Washes for freckles, plumpers, glass-eyes, false
calves and noses, ivory-jaws, and a new receipt to turn red hair into

Old Robin's almanack was evidently the best of the time, and free from
all the astrological cant with which Patridge's Merlinus Liberatus was
filled; against which Poor Robin did not a little declaim. The motto to
his title runs thus:--

"We use no weather-wise predictions
Nor any such-like airy fictions;
But (which we think is much the best)
Write the plain truth, or crack a jest:
And (without any further pretence)
Confess we write, and think of the pence:
For that's the aim of all who write,
Profit to gain, mixed with delight."

Poor old Robin attacked the astrologers of his day with no little
vehemence: "How different a task is it," says he, "for man to behave so
in this world as to please all the people that inhabit it! A man who
makes use of his best endeavours to please every body is sure to please
but very few, and by that means displease a great many; which may very
possibly be the case with poor Robin this year. But (be that as it will)
_old Bob_ is sometimes well pleased, when rogues, prick-eared coxcombs,
fools, and such like, are the most displeased at him: be it therefore
known, that it is only men of sense and integrity, (whether they have
much money or no money) that he has any, (the least) regard for: I see
very plainly, that an humble man is (generally) accounted _base_; if
otherwise, he is esteemed _proud_; a bold look is looked upon as
_impudence_; if modest, (then to be sure) he must be _hypocritical_; if
his behaviour is grave, it is owing to a _sullenness_ of temper; if
affable, he is but _little_ regarded; if strictly just, then _cruel_
must be his character; but, if merciful and forbearing, then (of
consequence) a silly, sheepish-headed fool! Now, I challenge all the
ASS-TROLOGERS and CONJURERS, throughout the whole kingdom, to
demonstrate that all the whimsey-headed opinions which different men
retain of different actions, together with their being so vastly
different at different times, one from another; I say, I call upon them
ALL to prove, that they are (wholly) owing to the STARRY influences!
There being, (I believe) in general as many different ideas and
conceptions in the mind of mankind, as there are variety of complexions
and countenances."

His observations on the four _unequal_ quarters of the year, as he terms
them, are no less satirical, humorous, and full of truth, and so much in
"opposition" with others of the trade, that poor old Robin, in good
sense and trite remarks, carries away the palm from all his predecessors
and contemporaries; indeed, he is so little of an astrologer, that,
instead of consulting the angles, aspects, conjunctions and trines, of
the planets, he is vulgar enough to attach more importance to the
substantials and doings of this nether world. We present our readers
with the following as a specimen, which, though in his usual way, a
little rough-mouthed, occasionally is free from that almanack-cant which
characterises the vocations of his fellow-labourers in the same field.


which, being the most delightful season in the whole year, as it comes
the next after a long and cold winter makes it as welcome as it is
delightful; for now the lengthening days afford full time for every body
but drunkards and watchmen to finish their respective day's works by
day-light, besides some time to spare to walk abroad, to see the fine
new livery with which Dame Flora has now decked out Mother Earth. In the
opening of the Spring, when all nature begins to recover herself, the
same animal pleasure which makes the bird sing, and the whole brute
creation rejoice, rises very sensibly in the hearts of mankind. This
quarter will bring whole shoals of mackerel, and plenty of green pease;
likewise gooseberries, cherries, cheese-cakes, and custards.

But, let us now moralize,--and improve these vernal delights into real
virtue; and, when we find within ourselves a secret satisfaction arising
from the beauties of the creation, may we consider to whom we stand
indebted for all these various gratifications and entertainments of
sense; who it is that opens thus his hand, and fills the world with
good! But so soon as this quarter is ended; i.e. there, or then, or
thereabout, for in this case a day or two can break no great squares--I
say this quarter (as usual) will be followed by the


when, and at which time the days will have attained their greatest, and
consequently the nights the shortest lengths. June, in which month this
quarter is said to begin, will retain some likeness, if not exhibit the
perfections of the Spring; but the two next succeeding months will
perhaps have less vigour, but a greater degree of heat; for, as they
pass on, they will be ripening the fruits of the earth; whilst the Dog
star is shooting his rays amongst, the industrious farmer will have
business enough upon his hands: for now he expects to be reaping and
gathering together the returns of his labour; but then he must expect,
nevertheless, to bear the heat and burthen of the day.

This quarter very justly represents a man in the full vigour of health
and strength; the beauty of the Spring is gone! The strength of Summer
is of short continuance! It will very soon be succeeded by Autumn: thus,
and thus (O reader) do then consider, hast thou seen the seasons, two,
three, or four times return in regular succession: remember that the
time is coming, when all opportunities of this sort will be for ever hid
from thine eyes: remember if forty years have passed thee, I say, I
would have thee remember, that thy spring is gone, thy summer almost
spent! Have then, therefore, a very serious retrospective view of thy
past, and, (if it please God) a fixed resolution to amend thy prolonged
life: then being now arrived almost on the eve of


which begins this year (as usual) when, or then, or thereabouts, the
time the Summer quarter ends--namely, when the nights begin to grow
longer and the days shorter: this is the time when the barns are filled
with wheat, which soon must be thrashed out, in order to be sowed again.
This also is the time when the orchards abound with fruits of the kind,
and consequently the properest time to make cider.

Lamentable now must be the case of those poor women who, in this
quarter, happen to long for green pease or strawberries; for I dare
assure them, upon the _honest word_ of an astrologer, that they can get
none on this side of next Easter. Some now-abouts under the notion of
soldiers, shall sally out at night upon _Pullen_, or perhaps lie in
embuscade for a rope of onions, as if they were Welsh freebooters. Loss
of time and money may be recovered by industry: but to be a fool-born,
or a rogue in nature, are diseases incurable.

Remember that in any quarter of the year, this is almost always a
certain presage of a wedding, when all parties are agreed, and the
parson in readiness; and then you must be sure to have money in
readiness too, or your intended marriage may happen to prove a
miscarriage. But those who are able to pay for tying the knot, when it
is fairly tied, may go home to dinner and be merry; go to the tavern and
be merry; go to supper and be merry; rise next morning and be merry: and
let the world know, that a married life is a plentiful life, when people
have good estates; a fruitful life when they have many children; and an
happy life, when man and wife love each other as they ought to do, and
never quarrel nor disagree.

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