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Thaumaturgia by An Oxonian

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Astrologers, among other artifices, have used their best endeavours, and
employed all the rules of their art, to render those years of our age,
which they call climacterics, dangerous and formidable.

The word climacteric is derived from the Greek, which means by a scale
or ladder, and implies a critical year, or a period in a man's age,
wherein, according Ficinusological juggling, there is some notable
alteration to arise in the body, and a person stands in great danger of
death. The first climacteric is the seventh year of a man's life; the
others are multiples of the first, as 21, 49, 56, 63, and 84, which two
last are called the grand climacterics and the danger more certain. The
foundation of this opinion is accounted for by Mark Ficimis as
follows:--There is a year, he tells us, assigned for each planet to rule
over the body of a man, each of his turn; now Saturn being the most
_maleficient_ (malignant) planet of all, every seventh year, which
falls to its lot, becomes very dangerous; especially those of
sixty-three and eighty-four, when the person is already advanced in
years. According to this doctrine, some hold every seventh year an
established climacteric; but others only allow the title to those
produced by multiplication of the climacterical space by an odd number,
3, 5, 7, 9, &c. Others observe every ninth year as a climacteric.

Climacteric years are pretended, by some, to be fatal to political
bodies, which, perhaps, may be granted, when they are proved to be so
more than to natural ones; for it must be obvious that the reason of
such danger can by no means be discovered, nor the relation it can have
with any other of the numbers above mentioned.

Though this opinion has a great deal of antiquity on its side; Aulus
Gellius says--it was borrowed from the Chaldeans, who possibly might
receive it from Pythagoras, whose philosophy teemed much in numbers, and
who imagined a very extraordinary virtue in the number 7. The principal
authors on climacterics are--Plato, Cicero, Macrobius, Aulus Gellius.
Among the ancients--Argal, Magirus, and Solmatheus. Among the
moderns--St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, Beda and Boethius, all countenance
the opinion.

There is a work extant, though rather scarce, by Hevelius, under the
title of _Annus Climactericus_, wherein he describes the loss he
sustained by his observatory, &c. being burnt; which it would appear
happened in his grand climacteric, of which he was extremely

Astrologers have also brought under their inspection and controul the
days of the year, which they have presumed to divide into _lucky_ and
_unlucky_ days; calling even the sacred scriptures, and the common
belief of christians, in former ages, to their assistance for this
purpose. They pretend that the fourteenth day of the first month was a
blessed day among the Israelites, authorised, as they pretend, by the
several passages out of Exodus, v. 18:--

"In the first _month_, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye
shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day at even," v.
40. Now, the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt,
was four hundred and thirty years.

41. "And it came to pass, at the end of the four hundred and thirty
years, even the self same day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the
Lord went out from the land of Egypt."

42. "It is a night to be much observed unto the Lord for bringing them
out of the land of Egypt; that is that night of the Lord to be observed
of all the children of Israel, in their generations."

51. "And it came to pass, the self same day, that the Lord did bring the
children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their armies." Also
_Leviticus, chap. 23, v. 5._ "In the fourteenth day of the first month
at even, is the Lord's passover." _Numbers, chap. 28, v. 10._ "Four
hundred and thirty years being expired of their dwelling in Egypt, even
in the self same day they departed thence."

With regard to evil days and times, Astrologers refer to _Amos. chap. 5,
v. 13._ "Therefore, the prudent shall keep silence in that time, for it
is an evil time," and _chap. 6, v. 3_, "Ye that put far away the evil
day, and cause the seat of violence to come near;" also _Psalm 37, v.
19_, "They shall not be ashamed in the evil time; and in the days of
famine, they shall be satisfied;" and _Jeremiah, chap. 46, v. 21_, "Also
her hired men are in the midst of her, like fatted bullocks, for they
are also turned back and are fled away together; they did not stand
because the day of their calamity was come upon them, and the time of
their visitation." And to _Job_ cursing the day of his birth, from the
first to the eleventh verse. In confirmation of which may also be quoted
a calendar, extracted out of several ancient Roman Catholic prayer
books, written on vellum, before printing was invented, in which were
inserted the unfortunate days of each month, which it would be
superfluous to cite here.[142]

Roman History sufficiently proves that the nature of lucky and unlucky
days owes its origin to Paganism; where it is mentioned, that that very
day four years, the civil wars were begun by Pompey, the father; Caesar
made an end of them with his son, Cneius Pompeius being slain; and that
the Romans counted the 13th of February an unlucky day, because, on that
day they were overthrown by the Gauls at Alba; and the Fabii attacking
the city of the Recii, were all slain, with the exception of one man;
also from the calendar of Ovid's "Fastorum," _Aprilis erat mensis
Graecis auspicatissimus_; and from Horace, Book 2nd, Ode 13, cursing the
tree that had nearly fallen upon it; _ille nefasto posuit die_.

The Pagans believed there were particular months and days which carried
something fatal in them; those, for instance, upon which the state
perhaps had lost a great battle; and under this impression, they never
undertook any enterprise on these days and months. The twenty-fourth of
February in the Bisextile years was considered so unlucky, that
Valentinian (_Ammiam. Marcell. lib. 26. cap. 1._) being elected Emperor
upon it, durst not appear in public under the apprehension of suffering
the fatality of the day. Many other particular days might be quoted upon
which generals of armies have constantly been favoured with fortune.
Timoleon (_Corn. Nepos_) won all his famous battles on his birthday.
Soliman (_Duverdier. Hist. des Turcs_) won the battle of Mohac, and took
the fortress of Belgrade, and, according to some historians, the Isle of
Rhodes, and the town of Buda on the 26th of August. But we find, in like
manner, the same day lucky and unlucky to the same people. Ventidius, at
the head of the Roman army, routed the Parthians, and slew their young
king Pacorus who commanded them, on the same day that Crassus, another
Roman general, had been slain, and his whole army cut in pieces by the
same people. Lucullus having attacked Tigranes, king of Armenia,
notwithstanding the vain scruples of his officers, who desired him to
beware fighting on that day, which was noted in the Roman calendar as an
unlucky one, ever since the fatal overthrow of the Romans by the Cimbri;
but he, (Lucullus) despising the superstition, gained one of the most
memorable battles recorded in Roman history, and changed the destiny of
the day as he promised those who would have dissuaded him from the
enterprise. And Valentinian's unlucky day was that on which Charles V,
another Roman Emperor, promised himself the best good fortune. Friday is
deemed on unlucky day for engaging in any particular business, and there
are few, if any, captains of ships who would sail from any port, on this
day of the week for their destination.

The fishermen who dwell on the coasts of the Baltic never use their nets
between All-saints and St Martin's; they would then be certain of not
taking any fish through the whole year: they never fish on St Blaise's
day. On Ash Wednesday the women neither sew nor knit, for fear of
bringing misfortune upon their cattle. They contrive so as not to use
fire on St. Laurence's day; by taking this precaution they think
themselves secure against fire for the rest of the year.

This prejudice of lucky and unlucky days has existed at all times and in
all nations; but if knowledge and civilization have not removed it, they
have at least diminished its influence. In Livonia, however, the people
are more than ever addicted to the most superstitious ideas on this
subject. In a Riga journal (_Rigaische Stadblatter_, No. 3657, anno
1822, edited by M. Sontag) there are several passages relative to a
letter from heaven, and which is no other than a catalogue of lucky and
unlucky days. This letter is in general circulation; every body carries
it about him, and though strictly forbidden by the police, the copies
are multiplied so profusely as to increase the evil all attempts to
destroy which have hitherto failed. Among the country people this idea
is equivalent to the doctrine of fatality; and if they commit faults or
even crimes, on the days which are marked as unlucky, they do not
consider themselves as guilty, because they were predestined.

The flight of certain birds, or the meeting of certain animals on their
first going out in the morning, are with them good or bad omens. They do
not hunt on St. Mark's, or St. Catherine's day, on penalty of being
unsuccessful all the rest of the year. It is a good sign to sneeze on
Christmas day. Most of them are so prepossessed against Friday, that
they never settle any important business, or conclude a bargain on that
day; in some places they do not even dress their children. They do not
like visits on Thursdays, for it is a sign they shall have troublesome
guests the whole week.

In some districts of Esthonia, up the Baltic, when the shepherd brings
his flocks back from the pasture, in spring for the first time, he is
sprinkled with water from head to foot under the persuasion that this
makes the cattle thrive. The malignity of beasts of prey is believed to
be prevented by designating them not by their proper names, but by some
of their attributes. For instance, they call the fox _hallkuhl_ (grey
coat) the bear, _layjatyk_ (broad-foot), etc. etc. They also fancy that
they can oblige the wolf to take another direction by strewing salt in
his way. The howling of wolves, especially at day-break, is considered a
very bad omen, predicting famine or disease. In more ancient times, it
was imagined that these animals, thus asked their god to give them
food, which he threw them out of the clouds. When a wolf seizes any of
their cattle, they can oblige him to quit his prey, by dropping a piece
of money, their pipe, hat, or any other article they have about them at
the time. They do not permit the hare to be often mentioned, for fear of
drawing it into their corn-fields. To make hens lay eggs, they beat them
with an old broom. In families where the wife is the eldest child of her
parents, it has been observed that they always sell the first calves,
being convinced, that, if kept, they would not thrive. To speak of
insects or mischievous animals at meal-times, is a sure way to make them
more voracious.

If a fire breaks out, they think to stop its fury by throwing a black
hen into the flames. This idea, of an expiatory sacrifice, offered to a
malevolent and tutelary power, is a remnant of paganism. Various other
traces of it are found among the Esthonians; for instance, at the
beginning of their meals, they purposely let fall a piece of new bread,
or some drops of liquor from a bottle as an offering to the divinity.

It is very offensive to the peasants, for any one to look into their
wells; they think it will cause the wells to dry up.

When manna is carried into the fields, that which falls from the cart is
not gathered up, lest mischievous insects and blights come upon the

When an old house is quitted for a new one they are attentive in noting
the first animal that dies. If it be an animal with hairy feet, the sign
is good; but if with naked feet, some fowl, for instance, there will be
mourning in the house; it is a sign of misery and bad success in all
their undertakings. These, with a scrupulous adherence to lucky and
unlucky days, are the prevailing popular superstitions in the three
duchies; a great number of which, especially among the Esthonians, are
connected with their ancient mythology.

In reading that pleasant volume, by the late Sir Humphrey Davy, entitled
_Salmonia_, it is impossible not to be struck with his remark respecting
omens, which is here briefly noticed, with an account of others, which
it is imagined have not yet found their way far into print, in order to
account for such seeming absurdities.

"The search after food,[143] as we agreed on a former occasion, is the
principal cause why animals change their places. The different tribes of
wading birds always migrate when rain is about to take place; and I
remember once in Italy, having been long waiting, in the end of March,
for the arrival of double snipe, in the campagna of Rome; a great flight
appeared on the third of April, and the day after, heavy rain set in,
which greatly interfered with my sport. The vulture, upon the same
principle, follows armies; and I have no doubt that the augury of the
ancients was a good deal founded upon the observation of the instinct of
birds. There are many superstitions of the vulgar owing to the same
source. For anglers, in spring, it is always unluckly to see single
magpies; but two may always be regarded as a favourable omen; and the
reason is, that in cold and stormy weather, one magpie alone leaves the
nest in search of food, the other remaining sitting upon the eggs of the
young ones: but, when two go out together, it is only when the weather
is mild and warm, and favourable for fishing.

"This reasoning will, in general, be found correct, and may be applied
to solve many of the superstitions in the country; but the case of the
magpie is entitled to a little more consideration. The piannet, as we
call her in the North of England, is the most unlucky of all birds, to
see singly at any time; this, however, does not often happen, except a
short time during incubation; they either appear in pairs or in
families; but even this last appearance is as alarming to our
grandmothers. The following distich shows what each forbodes:--'One
sorrow, two mirth, three a wedding, four death.' This bird, indeed,
appears to have taken the same place with us, as an omen of evil, that
the owl had amongst the ancients. The nurse is often heard to declare
that she has lost all hopes of her charge when she has observed a
piannet on the house-top.

"Another prejudice, indulged even by our good wives, is that of
destroying the feathers of the pigeon instead of saving them to stuff
beds, etc. They say, that if they were to do so, it would only prolong
the sufferings of the death-bed; and when these are more than usually
severe, it is attributed to this cause, and the reason given 'because
the bird has no gall' is to them quite conclusive, but to me, perfectly
irrelevant and unsatisfactory. A belief amongst boys, that to harm or
disturb the nests of the redbreast or swallow is unlucky, appears very
general throughout the kingdom; and the keen bird-nester, who prides
himself on the quantity of eggs blown and strung bead-fashion, here
often gets mortified by finding his trophies destroyed by the housewife
who considers their presence as affecting the safety of her crokery
ware. This belief may have been encouraged, if not invented, for a
humane purpose: but how are we to account for the efficacy of the Irish
stone in curing swellings caused by venomous reptiles, by merely being
rubbed upon the part affected? The fullest faith in the practice appears
to have prevailed in the country at no distant period, and is yet far
from extinct. The swallow and the cuckoo are generally hailed as
harbingers of spring and summer, but, perhaps, many of our readers are
not aware that it is only lucky to hear the cuckoo, for the first time
in the season, upon soft ground in contradistinction to hard roads, and
with money in the pocket, which the youngster is sagely advised to be
sure then to turn over. Perhaps the season of the year may
satisfactorily explain all these observances. Several superstitious
customs are mentioned regarding bees, some of which are not practised in
the north; yet it is fully believed that the death of the stock of hives
too often foretells the flitting of the bee-master. Wet cold years,
unfavourable to the insects, are also equally so to the farmer upon thin
clays, which border the moors, where bees are mostly kept. Has the use
of the mountain ash, 'rowan tree' [Pyrus aucuparia, _Gaertner_,] as a
charm against witchcraft, ever been accounted for? The belief in its
efficacy must be very old if we are to credit some of Shakspeare's
commentators, who give this word as the true reading in Macbeth, instead
of 'Aroint thee, witch!'

"It often happens that the careless observer has, for the first time,
his attention called forcibly to some appearance of nature by accidental
circumstances: if at all superstitious, he immediately prognosticates
the most disastrous consequences from that which a little observation
would have convinced him was but a phenomenon a little more conspicuous
than usual. The northern lights are said to have caused much
consternation when first observed; and they have lately been viewed with
more than ordinary interest, as it appears from the _Newcastle
Chronicle_, the last autumn (1830), when they were more than usually
brilliant, some of the inhabitants of Weardale were convinced they saw,
on one occasion, very distinctly, the figure of a man on a white horse,
with a red sword in his hand, move across the heavens; and are, no
doubt, now certain that it foretold the present eventful times. Even
this belief may be accounted for on such accidental coincidences, or
even philosophically, by assuming as a fact that this phenomenon is the
result of an electrical change in the atmosphere, and that such a change
usually precedes rain. Now, if such happen in spring or in summer, and
before such a quantity of rain as is found to affect the harvest, it
may too often betoken scarcity, discontent, and turbulence, as such are
the times when all grievances, either real or imaginary, are brought
forward for redress. The origin of the superstition of sailors, of
nailing a horse-shoe to the mast, is to me unaccountable, unless it may
have been, like the following trial of the credulity of the
superstitious by some person for amusement:--Sailors sometimes make a
considerable pecuniary sacrifice for the acquisition of a child's caul,
the retaining of which is to infallibly preserve them from drowning.

"Some years ago, a pretty wide district was alarmed by an account of the
beans [Faba vulgaris var. equina] being laid the wrong way in the pod
that year, which most certainly foreboded something terrible to happen
in a short time, and this produced much consternation amongst those who
allow their imaginations to run riot. The whole of the terrible omen was
this: the eye of the bean was in the pod towards the apex, instead of
being towards the footstalk, as might appear at first sight to be its
natural position; and some were scarcely convinced that this was the
natural position of the beans in the pod ever since the creation, even
on being shown the pod of the preceding year with the seed in the same

"As yet, however, I fear we must sum up in the words of Davy:--

"_Phys._ But how can you explain such absurdities as Friday being an
unlucky day, and the terror of spilling salt, or meeting an old woman?

"_Poiet_. These, as well as the omens of death-watches, dreams, etc.
are founded upon some accidental coincidences; but spilling of salt, on
an uncommon occasion, may, as I have known it, arise from a disposition
to apoplexy, shown by an incipient numbness in the hand, and may be a
fatal symptom; and persons dispirited by bad omens sometimes prepare the
way for evil fortune, for confidence of success is a great means of
insuring it. The dream of Brutus before the battle of Philippi probably
produced a species of irresolution and despondency which was the
principal cause of his losing the battle; and I have heard that the
illustrious sportsman, to whom you referred just now, was always
observed to shoot ill, because he shot carelessly, after one of his
dispiriting omens.

"_Hal._ I have in life met with a few things which I have found it
impossible to explain, either by chance coincidences, or by natural
connections, and I have known minds of a very superior class affected by
them--persons in the habit of reasoning deeply and profoundly."

The number of remarkable events that happened on some particular days,
have been the principal means of confirming both pagans and Christians
in their opinions on this subject. For instance, Alexander who was born
on the sixth of April, conquered Darius, and died on the same day. The
Emperor Basianus Caracalla was born, and died on the sixth day of April.
Augustus was adopted on the 19th of August, began his consulate,
conquered the Triumviri, and died the same day. The christians have
observed that the 24th of February was four times fortunate to Charles
the fifth. That Wednesday was a fortunate day to Pope Sixtus the fifth;
for on a Wednesday he was born, on that day made a monk, on the same day
made a general of his order, on that day created a Cardinal, on that day
elected Pope, and also on that day inaugurated. That Thursday was a
fatal day to Henry the eighth, King of England, and his posterity, for
he died on a thursday; King Edward the sixth on a Thursday; Queen Mary
on a Thursday; and Queen Elizabeth on a Thursday.

The French have observed that the feast of Pentecoste had been lucky to
Henry III, King of France for on that day he was born, on that day
elected King of Poland, and on that day he succeeded his brother Charles
IX, on the throne of France.

There are critical days observed by physicians, in continued fevers, a
doctrine which has been confirmed by the united testimony of De Haen and
Cullen; and these are the 3rd. 5th. 7th. 9th. 11th. 14th. 17th. and
20th. By critical days are meant, any of the above days, on which the
fever abates or terminates favourably, or on which it is exacerbated or
terminates fatally.

Natural astrology is confined to the study of exploring natural effects,
in which sense it is admitted to be a part of natural philosophy. It was
under this view that Mr. Goad, 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 Doctor Mead's opinion, in his treatise concerning
the power of the sun and moon, etc. is in favour of the doctrine. But
these predictions and influences are ridiculed and entirely exploded by
the most esteemed modern philosophers, of which the reader may have a
learned specimen in Rohault's, Tractat. Physic, part II. c. 27.

The diseases of men, women, and children were supposed at times to be
more immediately caused by the influence of the seven planets. In order
to comprehend this exploded doctrine, we shall here set down the
pretended governing and days, at what time they are supposed to have the
most influence:

[Symbol: Sol] Sol, or the sun governs on Sunday.
[Symbol: Luna] Luna, or the moon, Monday.
[Symbol: Mars] Mars, Tuesday.
[Symbol: Mercury] Mercury, Wednesday.
[Symbol: Jupiter] Jupiter, Thursday,
[Symbol: Venus] Venus. Friday.
[Symbol: Saturn] Saturn, Saturday.

Saturn reigning, is said to cause cold diseases, as the gout, leprosy,
palsy, quartan agues, dropsies, catarrhs, colds, rheumatisms, etc.

Jupiter causes cramps, numbness, inflammations of the liver, head-aches,
pains in the shoulders, flatulency, inflammatory fevers, and all
diseases caused by putrefaction, apoplexy, and quinsies.

Mars, acute fevers and tartan agues, continual and intermitting fevers,
imposthumes, erisepelas, carbuncles, fistulas, dysentery, and similar
hot and dry diseases.

Sol causes rheums in the eyes, coldness in the stomach and liver,
syncope, catarrhs, pustular eruptions, hysterics, eruptions on the lower

Venus causes sores, lientery, hysteria, sickness at the stomach, from
cold and moist causes, disorders of the liver and lungs.

Mercury causes hoarseness and distempers in the senses, impediments in
the speech, falling sickness, coughs, jaundice, vomiting, catarrhs.

The moon causes palsy, cholic, dropsy, imposthumes, dysenteries, and all
diseases arising from obstructed circulation.

The means laid down for the prevention of these diseases are rational
enough, at least some of them, such as temperance, moderate bleeding
(whether or not indicated we are not told,) the use of laxatives at
seasonable times, when a friendly planet, opposite to the malignant
planet you were born under, has dominion, by which the effect of its
influence will be much abated, and a power given to nature to oppose its
malevolency, which, "if well heeded, may be a main prevention of
dangerous diseases." Thus every planet in the heavens carries with it a
diseased aspect, without, as it would appear, possessing any repelling
or sanative powers to correct or ward off the sickly influence it is
supposed to entertain over the life and limbs of frail mortals; that, in
the sense of this absurd doctrine, or rather jargon, when Jupiter has
dominion, it will be necessary to bleed and take calomel to guard
against (not to attack it when it has taken place) inflammation of the
liver; and when Mars presides, to send immediately for Van Butchel to
frighten away an imaginary fistula--absurd and ridiculous nonsense, too
prevalent even at the present day; for what can bleeding and physicking
at the spring and fall of the year be called but operations without
reason, under suppositious stellar influence. "Observe also to gather
all your physic herbs in the hour of the friendly planet, that
temporises with what you were born under, and in so doing they will have
more strength, power, and virtue to operate in the medicines; but
neither physic nor bleed on the third of January, the last of April, the
first of July, the first of August, and the last and second day of
October; for those astrologers, with whom physicians join, conclude it
perilous, by reason of the bad influence then reigning; and if it change
not the distemper into another worse, it will augment it, and put the
party in great danger of death, _if he or she in this case be not lucky
to escape_." It would be a waste of words to offer a single comment on
such egregious stuff--"do not bleed on the third of January," nor on
such and such a day, (as if there could be stated times for bleeding
beyond those which are indicated by the presence of disease, and
requiring such evacuation,) is a practice we believe peculiar only to
astrologers, and those who believe in such demonological cant. It is no
less, however, a singular fact that men distinguished in every other
respect for their learning, should most particularly have indulged in
the superstition of judicial astrology. At the present time a belief in
such subjects can only exist with those who may be said to have no
belief at all; for mere traditional sentiments can hardly be said to
amount to a belief.

It was astronomy that gave rise to judicial astrology, which, offering
an ample field to enthusiasm and imposture, was eagerly pursued by many
who had no scientific purpose in view. It was connected with various
juggling tricks and deceptions, affected an obscure jargon of language,
and insinuated itself into every thing in which the hopes and fears of
mankind were concerned. The professors of this pretended science were at
first generally persons of mean education, in whom low cunning supplied
the place of knowledge. Most of them engaged in the empirical practice
of physic, and some through the credulity of the times, even arrived at
a degree of eminence in it; yet although the whole foundation of their
art was folly and deceit, they nevertheless gained many proselytes and
dupes, both among the well-informed and the ignorant.

About the middle of the seventeenth century, the passion for horoscopes
and expounding the stars prevailed in France among people of the first
rank. The new-born child was usually presented naked to the
star-expounder, who read the first lineaments on its forehead, and the
transverse lines in its hands, and thence wrote down its future destiny.
It has been reported of several persons famous for their astrological
skill, that they have suffered a voluntary death merely to verify their
own predictions. It is curious to observe the shifts to which these wise
men were frequently put when their predictions were not verified. Great
winds at one time were predicted by a famous adept in the art, but no
unusual storms having happened, to save the reputation of the art, the
prediction was applied figuratively to some revolutions in the state, of
which there were instances enough at that time.

The life of the famous Lilly the astrologer, and the Sidrophel of
Butler, written by himself, is a curious work, containing much artless
narrative, but at the same time, so much palpable imposture, that it is
difficult to know when he is speaking what he really believes to be the
truth. In a sketch of the state of astrology in his day, the adepts
whose characters he has drawn were the lowest miscreants of the town.
They all, indeed, speak of each other as rogues and impostors; among
whom were Booker, George Wharton, and Gadbury, who gained a livelihood
by practising on the credulity of even men of learning so late as 1650
to the 18th century. In Ashmole's life an account of these artful
impostors may be read. Most of them had taken the air in the pillory,
and others had conjured themselves up to the gallows.

To the astrologers of the 17th century, the quacks and impostors of the
beginning of the 19th are only equal. Quackery and astrology, the latter
of which often served as a mask to the former, appear to have been at
one time a kind of Castor and Pollux; quackery, however, it would seem
has outlived astrology, for there are more who would swallow the nostrum
of the quack than the flatulent bolus of the fortune-tellers. Both still
have their votaries. One Grigg, a poulterer in Surrey, was set in the
pillory at Croyden, (Temp. Edw. IV,) and again in the Borough, for
cheating people out of their money by pretending to cure them with
charms, by simply looking at the patients, or by practices still more
absurd and questionable. Of such doctors there is no lack. This kind of
practice offers one of the finest fields for deception of any species of
empirical delusion held out to the public at the present day. Such
indeed is the infatuation and credulity of the ignorant that, we are
confidently assured, a notorious German quack had within one year so
many half-guinea applications that he netted L2000; and that the glass
bottles in which the precious nostrums were conveyed from the sanctum
sanctorum of the mendacious empiric in high Germany, who made his debut
in this country by hawking about Dutch drops, amounted to as many
two-pences. To those of either sex, who are weak-minded enough to trust
their lives to the rash artifices of an ignorant pretender who affects
to discover an occult quality in the constitution of the patient
denoting the existence of some internal complaint beyond that which less
equivocal symptoms sufficiently present to the eye and knowledge of the
regular practitioner--we can only say that we conceive them to be justly
punished in the loss of their money, and the consequent ruin of their

In Stow's Chronicle we find that one of these said gentlemen was set on
horseback, his face towards the tail, which he held in his hand in the
manner of a bridle, while with a collar significative of his offence,
dangling about his neck, he made a public entree into the city of
London, conducted by Jack Ketch, who afterwards did himself the honour
of scourging and branding the impostor, previous to banishment, which
completed his sentence. In the reign of James I, a terrible sweep was
made among the quacks and advertising gentry. The council dispatched a
warrant to the magistrates of the city of London, to take up all reputed
quacks, and bring them before the censors of the college, to examine how
properly qualified they were to be trusted, either with the limbs or
lives of his majesty's lieges. This is all that is required at the
present day. Let the legislature controul this department instead of the
college of physicians, who, as a body, can boast of as large an
allowance of licensed ignorance as any corporate set of men in
existence. We say nothing of surgery, for this branch of knowledge
leaves the world generally something to look at, hence so few pretenders
to it; but physic buries all its blemishes with the unfortunate victim.

The country, even in this age of progressing wisdom, is deluged with
quack medicines, which credulous people say are not directed against the
constitution, but only against the pocket, and that they are too insipid
to do either good or harm; but were this the case, there would have been
no occasion for the exemplary punishments with which it is recorded
quacks of all sorts have at various times been visited. Be it known,
there can be no such thing invented by man as an universal remedy to
prevent or cure all kinds of diseases; because that which would agree
with one constitution would disagree with another differently organised;
and a quack nostrum, such as we see daily advertised, may certainly
agree at one stage of a disease, but might go far in killing the patient
at another. Besides, all these boasted specifics have been found to be
either inert, ineffectual, or dangerous, and every pretender to them, in
times less enlightened by the general march of intellect, has been
convicted either of gross ignorance or dishonesty. No one can vouch with
certainty for any particular kind of medicine,--that it will agree with
this or that individual, until acquainted with his peculiar
constitution; consequently it is the height of absurdity to prescribe
physic for a man without a knowledge of such circumstances to direct
him. Amulets, talismans, charms, and incantations, are innocent and
innoxious, and may impose only on credulity without any other untoward
consequence, leaving the patient in the same state in which he was
found; but so much cannot be said for quacks and quack-medicines which
frequently remove their deluded victims far beyond the reach of either
physic or philosophy.

Butler is said to be the author of the following character of a quack;
and who can read it without being astonished at the prophetic
intelligence with which it abounds, and which, unfortunately, admits of
a too close analogy with some very recent and untoward events, in the
annals of modern empiricism. "He is a medicine-monger, probationer of
receipts, and Doctor Epidemic; he is perpetually putting his medicines
upon their trial, and very often finds them GUILTY OF MANSLAUGHTER, but
still they have some trick or other to come off, and avoid burning by
the hand of the hangman. He prints his trials of skill, and challenges
death at so many several weapons; that, though he is sure to be foiled
by every one, he cares not: for, _if he can but get money, he is sure to
get off_; for it is but posting up diseases for poltroons in all the
public places of the town, and daring them to meet him again, and his
credit stands as fair with the rabble, as ever it did. He makes nothing
* * * * * * * * * * *;--but will undertake to cure them and tie one hand
behind him, with so much ease and freedom, that his patients may surfeit
and get drunk as often as they please, and follow their business without
any inconvenience to their health or occasions; and recover with so much
secrecy, that they shall never know how it comes about. He professes "no
cure no pay," as well he may, for if nature does the work, he is paid
for it; if not, he neither wins nor loses; and like a cunning rook lays
his bets so artfully, that, let the chance be what it will, he either
wins or saves. He cheats the rich for their money, and the poor for
charity, and, if either succeed, both are pleased, and he passes for a
very just and conscientious man: for as those that pay nothing ought at
least to speak well of their entertainments, their testimony makes way
for those who are able to pay for both. He finds he has no reputation
among those that know him, and fears he is never like to have, and,
therefore, posts up his bills, to see if he can thrive better amongst
those who know nothing of him. He keeps his post continually, and will
undertake to maintain it against all the plagues of Egypt. He sets up
his trade upon a pillar, or the corner of a street--These are his
warehouses, where all he has is to be seen, and a great deal more; for
he that looks further finds nothing at all."


Although some of the first chemists were men of sense and learning, yet
after that chemistry began to be fashionable and much in vogue, there
were some of its professors, who although men of an uncommon turn of
genius, were as great enthusiasts, both in the chemical and medical
arts, as any other men ever were in religion. They not only pretended to
transmute some of the baser metals into gold, contrary to the nature of
things--and if they could have succeeded in that impossible work, it
would have rendered gold as plentiful, cheap, and less valuable than
iron, because it is less fit for instruments and mechanical uses--but
they also pretended infallibly to cure all diseases, by some of their
new invented chemical machines;--a thing equally as impossible as the
other, and shewed their ignorance of the causes and nature of diseases.
As those who are the most ignorant are generally the greatest boasters,
we find that none of them were more so, than that vain, boasting,
paradoxical enthusiast Paracelsus, who had acquired great riches by
curing a certain disease with a mercurial ointment, the knowledge of
which secret he is said to have stolen from Jacobus Berengarius, of
Caipo, in his travels thither. He was withal so illiterate, that he said
philosophy could be taught in no language but high Dutch; but the true
reason was, that he neither understood philosophy nor any other
language. He also boasted that he was in possession of a nostrum which
would prolong man's life to the age of Methusaleh, though he died
himself at the age of forty-seven. He lived in the fifteenth century.
The cures he wrought were deemed so surprising in that age, that he was
supposed to have recourse to supernatural aid. In a picture of him at
Lumley Castle, he is represented in a close black gown, with both hands
on a great sword, on whose hilt is inscribed the word Azot. This was the
name of his _familiar_ spirit, that he kept imprisoned in the pummel, to
consult on emergent occasions. The circumstance is thus alluded to by

Bombastes kept the Devil's Bird
Shut in the pummel of his sword;
And taught him all the cunning pranks,
Of past and future mountebanks.

Paracelsus was succeeded by his scholar van Helmont, who had much more
learning, but was as great an enthusiast, both in the chemical and
medical arts as his master, and embraced most of his paradoxical
opinions; and, having more technical terms, he frequently used them
rather to dazzle and confound the understandings of his readers, than to
inform their judgments. By thus giving his writings a mystical air of
wisdom, he rendered them obscure, and sometimes unintelligible;
consequently, more easily imposed them upon the public and vulgar, as
sublime and useful truths. He also vainly boasted that he could cure any
fever in four days' time, by sweating the patient with one draught of
his famous nostrum, the _Praecipitatus Diaphoreticus Paracelsi_; and
further adds, "that no man can deserve the name of a physician, who
cannot cure any fever in four days' time." He, however, admits, that he
sometimes added a little theriaca (treacle) and wine to it; which last,
he says, "is not only a great cordial, but as a vehicle, is a proper
messenger to be sent on such an errand, as it knows the road, is well
received wherever it goes, and readily admitted into the most private
apartments of the human body." Hence we believe that wine is not only a
good natured, but an intelligent being; though it sometimes deprives men
of their senses for a time, when they take too much of it: and hence we
see also a specimen of our author's method of reasoning and writing.

Van Helmont, like his great master, also boasted, that he could cure all
inflammatory and other fevers, and even a pleurisy, without either
bleeding, vomiting, purging, clysters, or blisters; and he quarrelled
so much with the two last, that he calls clysters "a beastly remedy,"
and says that blisters were invented by a wicked spirit, whom he calls
Moloz, though Beelzebub might have been as good a name, since Dr.
Baynard wittily observed, that he believed he was only a great
cantharid. And both Helmont and the Doctor were so far right, that
blistering was then, as well as now, much abused; and in truth they are
much oftener applied than is either necessary or useful.

Thus these two eminent chemists, and too many of their followers,
frequently imposed their writings upon the unguarded reader, and
themselves upon the vulgar, for men of profound knowledge in the medical
art, and as great adepts in chemistry: and being puffed up with the high
opinion entertained of their new art, or new medicines, and their own
great wisdom, they rejected the philosophical theory of medicine by
Galen and Avicenna, then so much in vogue. They were right in doing
this, and might have done great service to mankind, if they had not set
up their own imaginary chemical theory in its place, which was neither
founded upon observations, nature, nor reason, and had no existence but
in their own vain imaginations. Thus they supposed a malignity which
caused all diseases, as well inflammatory as other fevers, and which was
to be forced out of the body by sweating, with their hot therapeutics;
they, therefore, attacked all fevers with this chemical ammunition, and
attempted to carry them with fire and storm, prescribing the
praecipitatus diaphoreticus and sweating regimen, which must have been
fatal to many, and no doubt would have been so to many more, if van
Helmont had not allowed his patients to dilute the medicine with a thin
diet, which rendered the calorific method less fatal. But, as the
learned Dr. Friend judiciously remarks, if any did escape after that hot
regimen, it was through a fiery trial.

Thus the chemists, without any rational theory, or regard to nature, and
what she indicated or did;--without duly considering how the morbid
matter, which caused the disease, was to be concocted and fitted to be
carried off by some critical evacuation; or how to assist nature to
bring that crisis on, according to the Hippocratic method;--without
considering the benefit of the rational, cooling, antiphlogistic
practice of the Arabians--they introduced their sudorific regimen
instead; and this regimen was soon after brought into use in England,
and most other countries, where it continued to be the practice for many
years afterwards, as may be seen by the authors of those times, until
the judicious and honest Dr. Sydenham wisely rejected and exploded it,
introducing the rational method of Hippocrates and the cooling regimen
of the Arabians, which he seems rather to have taken _ex ipsa re et
ratione_ from nature and reason, than from the works of the Arabian
physicians, with which he appears not to have been acquainted, as he
never mentions them.

Van Helmont had several other famous nostrums, with which he pretended
to perform wonders, as quacks have done in all ages, and as some do now:
for empiricism was never more in fashion than at the present day, and
the chemical art has supplied them with many more arcana and nostrums
than the ancients had in all their antidotes and theriacas, etc. since
chemistry was made subservient to medicine. Van Helmont, nevertheless
was a learned man, and acquired a great name and reputation, at least
for some time; but, as neither his theory nor his practice were founded
on nature and reason, nor conformable to them, the more judicious
physicians soon saw their errors, as well as the fallacy of his new
invented chemical terms and unmeaning phrases, which only contained the
shadow and not the substance of the medical science; therefore both his
chemical theory and hot regimen, together with his writings, sunk soon
after his death, into a state of merited oblivion.

Notwithstanding that the science of chemistry was greatly improved by
these extraordinary men, who invented or discovered many useful
remedies, which they introduced into the practice of medicine in a no
less extraordinary manner, and thereby pointed out the way for others to
follow them; yet we must allow that the more able and learned chemists
have greatly enriched and improved the materia medica since, by making
many curious experiments, and thereby discovering several new and very
efficacious medicines, not only from the semi-metals, mercury and
antimony, and the various chemical preparations from them, but from the
more perfect metals, and some other mineral bodies, as well as from a
great variety of remedies which are prepared both from vegetable and
animal substances, as salts, oils, essences, spirits, tinctures,
elixirs, extracts and many more needless here to be mentioned, but all
of which are known to physicians. For all these we are indebted to the
chemists who first invented and introduced them into practice; although
the use and application, as well as the methods of administering them to
the sick, to cure various other diseases than those they were first used
for, has been greatly improved by several learned and ingenious


[142] See Demonologia, by J.S.F. p. 40.

[143] See Magazine of Natural History, April, 1830.



In one respect we have but very little occasion to extol our own
enlightened age at the expence of those ages which are so frequently and
justly termed _dark_. We allude to the bold and artful designs of
imposture, and particularly _medical imposture_. Daily are seen
illiterate and audacious empirics sporting with the lives of a credulous
public, that seem obstinately resolved to shut their ears against all
the suggestions of reason and experience. The host of empirics,
mountebanks, and self-dubbed hygeists, which infest the metropolis, and
the tinctures, cordials, pills, balms, and essences, so much extolled by
their retailers, and swallowed by the public, are indeed so many proofs
of the credulity of the age, that to say the least, the march of
intellect has evidently made a _faux-pas_ in this direction.

The celestial beds, the enchanting magnetic powers introduced into this
country by Messmer, a German quack, and his numerous disciples, the
prevailing indifference to all dietetic precepts, the singular
imposition practised on many females, in persuading them to wear the
inert acromatic belts, the strange infatuation of the opulent in paying
five guineas for a pair of _metallic tractors_, not worth sixpence, the
tables for blood-letting, and other absurdities still inserted in
popular almanacs, (against all the rules of common sense)--all these
yield in nothing to the absurdities and superstitious notions conveyed
through the medium of astrology, dreams, and other ludicrous though by
far more imposing and interesting channels. The temple of the gulls is
now thronged with votaries as much as that of superstition formerly was;
human reason is still a slave to the most tyrannical prejudices; and
certainly, there is no ready way to excite general attention and
admiration, than to deal in the mysterious and the marvellous. The
visionary system of Jacob Boehman has latterly been revived in some parts
of Germany. The ghosts and apparitions which had disappeared from the
times of Thomasius and Swedenborg, have again left their graves, to the
great terror of fanaticism. New prophets announce their divine mission,
and, what is worse, find implicit believers! The _inventors_ of _secret_
medicines are rewarded by patents, and obtain no small celebrity; while
some of the more conscientious, but less fortunate adepts, endeavour to
amuse the public with popular systems of medicine.

One of the most dazzling and successful inventors in modern times, was
Messmer, who commenced his career of medical knight-errantry at Vienna.
His house was the focus of high life, the rendezvous of the gay, where
the young and opulent were enlivened and entertained with continual
concerts, routs, and illuminations. At a great expence, he imported into
Germany the first _Harmonica_ from this country: he established cabinets
of natural curiosities, and laboured constantly and secretly in his
chemical laboratory; so that he acquired the reputation of being a great
alchemist, a philosopher studiously employed in the most useful and
important researches. In 1766, he first publicly announced the object
and nature of his secret labours:--all his discoveries centered in the
_magnet_, which, according to his hypothesis, was the best and safest
remedy hitherto proposed against all diseases incident to the human

This declaration of Messmer excited very general attention; the more so
as about the same time he established a hospital in his own house, into
which he admitted a number of patients _gratis_. Such disinterestedness
procured, as might be expected, no small addition to his fame. He was,
besides, fortunate in gaining over many celebrated physicians to his
opinions, who lavished the greatest encomiums on his new art, and were
instrumental in communicating to the public a number of successful
experiments. This seems to have surpassed the expectations of Messmer,
and induced him to extend his original plan further than it is likely he
first intended. We find him soon after assuming a more dogmatical and
mysterious air, when, for the purpose of shining exclusively, he
appeared in the character of a _magician_:--his pride and egotism would
brook neither equal nor competitor.

The common loadstone, or mineral magnet, which is so well known, did
not appear to him sufficiently important and mysterious--he contrived an
unusual one, to the effect of which he gave the name of '_animal
magnetism_'. After this, he proceeded to a still holder assumption,
everywhere giving it out, that the inconceivable powers of this subtile
fluid were centered in his own person. Now, the mona-drama began; and
Messmer, at once the hero and chorus of the piece, performed his part in
a masterly manner. He placed the most nervous, hysteric, and
hypocondriac patients opposite to him; and by the sole act of stretching
forth his finger, he made them feel the most violent shocks. The effects
of this wonderful power excited universal astonishment; its activity and
penetration being confirmed by unquestionable testimonies, from which it
appeared, that blows similar to those given by a blunt iron, could be
imparted by the operator, while he himself was separated by two doors,
nay, even by thick walls. The very looks of this prince of jugglers had
the power to excite painful cramps and twitches in his credulous and
predisposed patients.

This wonderful tide of success instigated his indefatigable genius to
bolder attempts, especially as he had no severe criticism to apprehend
from the superstitious multitude. He roundly asserted things of which he
offered not the least shadow of proof; and for the truth of which he had
no other pledge to offer but his own high reputation. At one time he
could communicate his magnetic power to paper, wool, silk, bread,
leather, stones, water, etc., at another he asserted that certain
individuals possessed a greater degree of susceptibility for this power
than others. It must be owned, however, that many of his contemporaries
made it their business to encounter his extravagant pretensions, and
refute his dogmatical assertions with the most convincing arguments.
Yet, he long enjoyed the triumph of being supported by blind followers,
and their increasing number completely overpowered the suffrages of

Messmer, at length perceived that in his native country, he should never
be able to reach the point which he had fixed upon, as the termination
of his magnetical career. The Germans began to discredit his pompous
claims; but it was only after repeated failures in some promised cures,
that he found himself under the necessity of seeking protection in
Paris. There he met with a most flattering reception, being caressed,
and in a manner adored by a nation which has always been extravagantly
fond of every new thing, whimsical and mysterious. Messmer well knew how
to turn this natural propensity to the best advantage. He addressed
himself particularly to the weak; to such as wished to be considered men
of profound knowledge, but who, when they were compelled to be silent
from real ignorance, took refuge behind the impenetrable shield of
mystery. The fashionable levity, the irresistible curiosity, and the
peculiar turn of the Parisians, ever solicitous to have something
interesting for conversation, to keep their active imagination in play,
were exactly suited to the genius and talents of the inventor of animal
magnetism. We need not wonder, therefore, if he availed himself of their
moral and physical character, to ensure a ready faith in his doctrines,
and success to his pretended experiments: in fact, he found friends and
admirers wherever he made his appearance. His first advertisement was
couched in the following high-sounding terms:

"Behold a discovery which promises unspeakable advantages to the human
race, and immortal fame to its author! Behold the dawn of an universal
revolution! A new race of men shall arise, shall overspread the earth,
to embellish it by their virtues, and render it fertile by their
industry. Neither vice nor ignorance, shall stop their active career;
they will know our calamities only from the records of history. The
prolonged duration of their life will enable them to plan and accomplish
the most laudable undertakings. The tranquil, the innocent
gratifications of that primeval age will be restored, wherein man
laboured without toil, lived without sorrow, and expired without a
groan! Mothers will no longer be subject to pain and danger during their
pregnancy and child-birth: their progeny will be more robust and brave;
the now rugged and difficult path of education will be rendered smooth
and easy; and hereditary complaints and diseases will be for ever
banished from the future auspicious race. Fathers rejoicing to see their
posterity of the fourth and fifth generations, will only drop like fruit
fully ripe, at the extreme point of age! Animals and plants, no less
susceptible of the magnetic power than man, will be exempt from the
reproach of barrenness and the ravages of distemper. The flocks in the
fields, and the plants in the gardens, will be more vigorous and
nourishing, and the trees will bear more beautiful and grateful fruits.
The human race, once endowed with this elementary power, will probably
rise to still more sublime and astonishing effects of nature: who indeed
is able to pronounce, with certainty, how far this salutary influence
may extend?"

"What splendid promises! What rich prospects! Messmer, the greatest of
philosophers, the most virtuous of men, the physician of mankind,
charitably opens his arms to all his fellow-mortals, who stand in need
of comfort and assistance. No wonder that the cause of magnetism, under
such a zealous apostle, rapidly gained ground, and obtained every day
large additions to the number of its converts. To the gay, the nervous,
and the dissipated of all ranks and ages, it held out the most
flattering promises. Men of the first respectability interested
themselves in behalf of this new philosophy; they anticipated in idea,
the more happy and more vigorous race which would proceed, as it were,
by enchantment, from the wonderful impulsive powers of animal magnetism.
The French were so far seduced by these flattering appearances, as to
offer the German adventurer _thirty thousand livres_ for the
communication of his secret art. He appears, however, to have understood
his own interest better than thus to dispose of his hypothetical
property, which, upon a more accurate investigation might be objected
to, as consisting of unfair articles of purchase. He consequently
returned the following answer to the credulous French ministers:

"That Dr. M. considered his art of too great importance, and the abuses
it might lead to, too dangerous for him at present to make it public;
that he must therefore reserve to himself the time of its publication,
and mode of introducing it to general use and observation--that he would
first take proper measures to initiate or prepare the minds of men, by
exciting in them a susceptibility of this great power; and that he would
then undertake to communicate his secret gradually, which he meant to do
without hope of reward."

Messmer, too politic to part with his secret for so small a premium, had
a better prospect in view; and his apparent disinterestedness and
hesitation served only to sound an over-curious public, to allure more
victims to his delusive practices, and to retain them more firmly in
their implicit belief. Soon after this he was easily prevailed upon to
institute a private society, into which none were admitted, but such as
bound themselves by a vow to perpetual secrecy. These pupils he agreed
to instruct in his important mysteries, on condition of each paying him
_one hundred louis_. In the course of six months, having had not less
than three hundred such pupils, he realized a fortune of _thirty
thousand louis_.

It appears, however, that the disciples of Messmer did not adhere to
their engagement: we find them separating gradually from their
professor, and establishing schools for the propagation of his system,
with a view, no doubt, to reimburse themselves for the expenses of their
own initiation into the magnetising art. But few of them having
understood the terms and mysterious doctrines of their foreign master,
every new adept exerted himself to excel his fellow-labourers, in
additional explanations and inventions: others, who did not possess, or
could not spare the sum of one hundred louis, were industriously
employed in attempts to discover the secret, by their own ingenuity; and
thus arose a great variety of magnetical sects. At length, however,
Messmer's authority became suspected; his pecuniary acquisitions were
now notorious, and our _humane and disinterested philosopher_ was
assailed with critical and satirical animadversions from every quarter.
The fertility of his process for medical purposes, as well as the bad
consequences it might procure in a moral point of view, soon became
topics of common conversation, and ultimately even excited the
apprehensions of government. One dangerous effect of magnetical
associations was, that young voluptuaries began to employ this art, to
promote their libidinous and destructive designs.

Matters having assumed this serious aspect, the French government, much
to its credit, deputed four respectable and unprejudiced men, to whom
were afterwards added four others of great learning and abilities, to
inquire into, and appreciate the merits of the new discovery of animal
magnetism. These philosophers, among whom we find the illustrious names
of Franklin and Lavoisier, recognised, indeed, very surprising and
unexpected phenomena in the physical state of magnetized individuals;
but they gave it as their opinion, that the powers of imagination, and
not animal magnetism, had produced these effects. Sensible of the
superior influence, which the imagination can exert on the human body,
when it is effectually wrought upon, they perceived, after a number of
experiments and facts frequently repeated, that _contact_, or touch,
_imagination, imitation_, and _excited sensibility_, were the real and
sole causes of these phenomena, which had so much confounded the
illiterate, the credulous, and the enthusiastic; that this boasted
magnetic element had no real existence in nature, consequently that
Messmer himself was either an arrant impostor, or a deluded fanatic.

Meantime, this magnetic mystery had made no small progress in Germany. A
number of periodical and other publications vindicated its claims to
public favour and attention; and some literary men, who had rendered
themselves justly celebrated by their former writings, now stepped
forward as bold and eager champions in support of this mystical
doctrine. The ingenious Lavater undertook long journies for the
propagation of magnetism and somnambulism:[144] and what, manipulations
and other absurdities were not practised on hysterical young ladies in
the city of Bremen? It is farther worthy of notice, that an eminent
physician of that place, in a recent publication, does not scruple to
rank magnetism among medical remedies! It must, nevertheless, be
confessed, that the great body of the learned, throughout Germany, have
endeavoured, by strong and impartial criticism, to oppose and refute
animal magnetism, considered as a medical system. And how should it be
otherwise, since it is highly ridiculous to imagine that violent
agitations, spasms, convulsions, etc. which are obviously symptoms of a
diseased state of body, and which must increase rather than diminish the
disposition to nervous diseases, can be the means of improving the
constitution and ultimately of prolonging human life? Every attentive
person must have observed, that too frequent intercourse between nervous
and hypochondriac patients is infectious; and if this be the case,
public assemblies, for exhibiting magnetised individuals, can neither be
safe nor proper. It is no small proof of the good sense of the people of
this country, though they have at different times fallen into nearly
similar delusions, that the professors of animal magnetism did not long
maintain their ground; they were soon exposed to public ridicule on the
stage, and shortly became annihilated in their own absurdities.

Other plans for the prolongation of life, little less absurd than
animal magnetism, which have, like every other imposture, "fretted their
hour," deserve to be noticed. The French and Germans have long stood
pre-eminent in the empirical world, though the merit of ingenious and
more plausible emanations of genius may fairly be attributed to the
latter. Animal magnetism; physiognomy, a rational though fallacious
science; phrenology, a doctrine abounding with many singular
manifestions, and possessing claims not to be put down by mere force of
prejudice, are all of German origin.

The Count St. Germain, a Frenchman, realized large sums, by vending an
artificial tea, chiefly composed of yellow saunders, senna leaves, and
fennel seed, which was puffed off under the specious appellation of _Tea
for prolonging life_; which, at that time, was swallowed with such
voracity all over the continent, that few could subsist without it. Its
celebrity was of short duration, and none ever lived long enough to
realize its effects.

The Chevalier d'Ailhoud, another brazen-faced adventurer, presented the
world with a powder, which met with so large and rapid a sale, that he
soon accumulated money enough to purchase a whole county. This famous
powder, however, instead of adding to the means of securing a long and
healthy life, is well known to produce constant indisposition, and at
length to cause a most miserable death; being composed of certain drugs
of a poisonous nature, though slow in their operation.

Count Cagliostro, styled the luminary of modern impostors and
debauchees, prepared a very common stomach elixir, which was sold at a
most exorbitant price under the name of "_balm of life_" It was
pretended, with the most unparalleled effrontery, that, by the use of
this medicine, the count had lived above 200 years, and that he was
rendered invulnerable against every species of poison. These bold
assertions could not fail to excite very general attention. During his
residence at Strasburg, while descanting, in a large and respectable
company, on the virtues of his antidote, his pride met with a very
mortifying check. A physician who was present, and who had taken part in
the conversation, quitting the room privately, went to an apothecary's
shop, and ordering two pills of equal size to be made, agreeably to his
directions, suddenly appeared again before the count, and thus addressed
him:--"Here, my worthy count, are two pills; the one contains a mortal
poison, the other is perfectly innocent; choose one of these and swallow
it, and I engage to take that which you leave. This will be considered
as a decisive proof of your medical skill, and enable the public to
ascertain the efficacy of your extolled elixir." The count took the
alarm, made a number of apologies, but could not be prevailed upon to
touch the pills. The physician swallowed both immediately, and proved by
his apothecary, that they might be taken with perfect safety, being only
made of common bread. Notwithstanding the shame of this detection,
Cagliostro still retained numerous advocates by circulating unfounded
reports, and concealing his real character by a variety of tricks.

The inspired father Gassner, of Bavaria, ascribed all diseases,
lameness, palsy, etc, to diabolical agency, contending from the history
of Job, Saul, and others recorded in sacred writ, that Satan, as the
grand enemy of mankind, has a power to embitter and shorten our lives by
diseases. Vast numbers of credulous and weak-minded people flocked to
this fanatic, with a view of obtaining relief which he never had the
means to administer. Multitudes of patients, afflicted with nervous and
hypochondriacal complaints, besieged him daily; being all stimulated by
a wild imagination, eager to view and acknowledge the works of Satan!
Men eminent for their literary attainments, even the natural
philosophers of Bavaria, were hurried away by the stream, and completely
blinded by sanctified imposture.

It is no less astonishing than true, that so late as 1794, a Count Thun,
at Leipzig, pretended to perform miraculous cures on gouty,
hypochondriacal, and hysterical patients, merely by the imposition of
his sacred hands. He could not however raise a great number of disciples
in a place that abounds with so many sceptics and unbelievers.

The commencement of the nineteenth century has been equally pregnant
with imposture. The delusions of Joanna Southcoat are too fresh in the
recollections of our readers to require notice here; yet, strange to
say, this fanatical old woman had her adherents and disciples; many of
them, in other respects, were keen and sensible men; nor has the
delusion altogether evaporated, though the sect is by no means powerful
or strong; the first impressions are still retained by her half frantic
and ridiculous devotees, who are only to be met with among the very
lowest and illiterate orders of society.

The farce of the convert of Newhall, near Chelmsford, is of still more
recent date. Here we have a miracle performed by the holy Prince
Hohenlohe, at a distance of at least three hundred miles from the
presence of his patient. Hearing of the wonderful cures performed by
this prince, one of the nuns in the above convent, who had been
afflicted for a considerable length of time with a swelling and
inflammation extending from the ball of the thumb along the fore arm,
and up as high as the armpit, wrote to Prince Hohenlohe--having
previously been attended by the most eminent practitioners in London
without any apparent benefit--to relieve her from her sufferings. This
he willingly undertook to do, but accompanied his consent with an
injunction that she should offer up her prayers on a certain day (May 3,
1824,) held in reverence by the catholics, and at a certain hour,
promising that he would be at his devotions at the same time. All this,
the afflicted nun attended to; immediately after her prayers, she
experienced a tingling sensation along the arm, and from that instant
the cure rapidly advanced until the diseased limb became as sound as the

The days of priestcraft and superstition, it was hoped, had been fast
fleeting away before the luminous rays of science, even in those
countries where religious juggling had been most fostered and practised.
But for any man in this country to believe that such a miracle can be
wrought by human agency, is of itself an awfully convincing proof that
he is ignorant of the Scriptures, and that his own mind is likely to
become a prey to the wildest chimeras. Prince Hohenlohe's notoriety
however as a worker of miracles was not confined to Newhall. His mighty
prowess extended to the emerald isle; and several cures were performed
at as great, or even at a greater distance, than that wrought at
Newhall, and merely at the sound of his orisons. We hear of no miracles
being wrought by, or upon protestants; consequently we leave them to the
gloom of the cloister, whence they emanated, and where only they can be
of use in a cause which requires the aid of stratagem to support it.

A taste for the marvellous seems to be natural to man in every stage of
society, and at almost every period of life; it cannot, therefore, be
much a matter of astonishment, that, from the earliest ages of the
world, persons have been found, who, more idle and more ingenious than
others, have availed themselves of this propensity, to obtain an easy
livelihood by levying contributions on the curiosity of the public.
Whether this taste is to be considered as a proof of the weakness of our
judgment, or of innate inquisitiveness, which stimulates us to enlarge
the sphere of our knowledge, must be left to the decision of
metaphysicians; it is sufficient for our present purpose to know that it
gave rise to a numerous class of impostors in the shape of quacks,
mountebanks, poison-swallowers, fire-eaters, and pill-mongers.

There is another class of adepts, such as sleight of hand performers,
slack rope dancers, teachers of animals to perform extraordinary tricks;
in short, those persons who delude the senses, and practise harmless
deceptions on spectators, included under the common appellation of
jugglers. If these arts served no other purpose than that of mere
amusement, they yet merit a certain degree of encouragement, as
affording at once a cheap and innocent diversion; jugglers of this class
frequently exhibit instructive experiments in natural philosophy,
chemistry, and mechanics: thus the solar microscope was invented from an
instrument to reflect shadows, with which a savoyard amused a German
populace; and the celebrated Sir Richard Arkwright is said to have
conceived the idea of the spinning machines, which have so largely
contributed to the prosperity of the cotton manufactories in this
country, from a toy which he purchased for his child from an itinerant
showman. These deceptions have, besides, acted as an agreeable and most
powerful antidote to superstition, and to that popular belief in
miracles, conjuration, sorcery, and witchcraft, which preyed upon the
minds of our ancestors; and the effects of shadows, electricity,
mirrors, and the magnet, once formidable instruments in the hands of
interested persons, for keeping the vulgar in awe, have been stripped of
their terrors, and are no longer frightful in their most terrific forms.


At a time when the shortness of human life was imputed to a distempered
state of the blood; when all diseases were ascribed to this cause,
without attending to the whole of what relates to the moral and physical
nature of man, a conclusion was easily formed, that a radical removal of
the corrupted blood, and a complete renovation of the entire mass by
substitution was both practicable and effectual. The speculative mind
of man was not at a loss to devise expedients, to effect this desirable
purpose; and undoubtedly one of the boldest, most extraordinary, and
most ingenious attempts ever made to lengthen the period of human life
was made at this time. We allude here to the famous scheme of
_transfusion_, or of introducing the blood of one animal into that of
another. This curious discovery is attributed to Andreas Libavius,
professor of medicine and chemistry in the university of Halle, who, in
the year 1615, publicly recommended experimental essays to ascertain the

Libavius was an honest and spirited opposer of the Theosophic system,
founded by the bombastic Paracelsus, and supported by a numerous tribe
of credulous and frantic followers. Although he was not totally exempt
from the follies of that age, since he believed in the transmutation of
metals, and suggested to his pupils the wonderful power of potable gold,
yet he distinguished rational alchemy from the fanatical systems then in
repute, and zealously defended the former against the disciples of
Galen, as well as those of Paracelsus. He made a number of important
discoveries in chemistry, and was unquestionably the first professor in
Germany who gave chemical lectures, upon pure principles of affinity,
unconnected with the extravagant notions of the theosophists.

The first experiments relative to the transfusion of the blood, appear
to have been made, and that with great propriety, on the lower animals.
The blood of the young, healthy and vigorous, was transferred into the
old and infirm, by means of a delicate tube, placed in a vein opened for
that purpose. The effect of this operation was surprising and important:
aged and decrepit animals were soon observed to become more lively, and
to move with greater ease and rapidity. By the indefatigable exertions
of Lower, in England, of Dennis in France, and of Moulz, Hoffman, and
others in Germany, this artificial mode of renovating the life and
spirits was successfully continued, and even brought to some degree of

The vein usually opened in the arm of a patient was resorted to for the
purpose of transfusion; into this a small tube was placed in a
perpendicular direction; the same vein was then opened in a healthy
individual, but more frequently in an animal, into which another tube
was forced in a reclining direction; both small tubes were then slid
into one another, and in that position the delicate art of transfusion
was safely performed. When the operation was completed, the vein was
tied up in the same manner as on blood-letting. Sometimes a quantity of
blood was drawn from the patient, previously to the experiment taking
place. As few persons, however, were to be found, that would agree to
part with their blood to others, recourse was generally had to animals,
and most frequently to the calf, the lamb, and the stag. These being
laid upon a table, and tied so as to be unable to move, the operation
was performed in the manner before described. In some instances, the
good effects of these experiments were evident and promising, while they
excited the greatest hopes of the future improvement and progress of
this new art. But the unceasing abuses practised by bold and inexpert
adventurers, together with the great number of cases, which proved
unsuccessful, induced the different governments of Europe to put an
entire stop to the practice, by the strictest prohibitions. And, indeed,
while the constitutions and mode of living among men differ so
materially as they now do, this is, and ever must remain, an extremely
hazardous and equivocal, if not a desperate remedy. The blood of every
individual is of a peculiar nature, and congenial with that of the body
only to which it belongs, and in which it is generated. Hence our hope
of prolonging human life, by artificial evacuations and injections, must
necessarily be disappointed. It must not, however, be supposed, that
these, and similar pursuits during the ages of which we treat, as well
as those which succeeded, were solely or chiefly followed by mere
adventurers and fanatics. The greatest geniuses of those times employed
their wits with the most learned and eminent men, who deemed it an
object by no means below their consideration.

The method of supplying good for unsound teeth, though long laid aside,
in consequence of the danger with which the practice was attended, by
the communication of disease from an unhealthy to a healthy person, was
at one time as much the rage as the transfusion of blood. This practice,
notwithstanding the objections which stand opposed to it, might,
nevertheless, be adopted with success on many occasions, could persons
enjoying a sound and wholesome state of body be found to answer the
demand, however unnatural it may appear. A few untoward cases soon
raised the hue and cry against the continuance of the practice, as in
the transfusion of blood, though the latter has recently been attempted
in the case of an individual exhausted by excessive hermorrage with a
success which answered the expectation. There is little doubt that both
the transfusion of blood, and engrafting or transplanting of teeth, are
capable, with judgment and discrimination, of being made subservient in
a variety of cases; though the chances of general success militate
against these experiments; for it is the unalterable plan of nature to
proceed gradually in her operations; all outrage and extravagance being
at variance with her established laws.


[144] The art of exciting sleep in persons under the influence of animal
magnetism, with a view to obtain or rather extort during this artificial
sleep, their verbal declarations and directions for curing the diseases
of both body and mind. Such, indeed, was the rage for propagating this
mystical nonsense, that even the pulpit was occasionally resorted to, in
order to make, not fair penitents, but fair proselytes.



This remarkable sect was founded upon the doctrines of Paracelsus,
during the latter part of the sixteenth, and the beginning of the
seventeenth centuries. The society was known by the name of the
Rosencrucians or Rosecrucians; and as it has not been without its
followers and propagators in different shapes, even to the present time,
we shall here present the reader with a concise account of the origin
and tenets of that fanatical sect.

The first intimation of the existence of this order we find announced to
the world in a book published in the German language, in the year 1614,
with the following title, "_The universal and general Reformation of the
world, together with an account of the famous fraternity of the
Rosencrucians_." The work contains an intimation, that the members of
the society had been secretly engaged for a century preceding, and that
they had come to the knowledge of many great and important secrets,
which, if communicated to the world, would promote the happiness of man.

An adventurer of the name of Christian Rosenkreuz is said to have
founded this order, in the fourteenth century after having been
previously initiated in the sublime wisdom of the east, during his
travels in Egypt and Fez. From what we are enabled to learn from this
work, the intention of the founder and the final aim of the society,
appear to have been the accumulation of wealth and treasures, by means
of secrets known only to the members; and by a proper distribution of
these treasures among princes and potentates, to promote the grand
scheme of the society, by producing "a general revolution of all
things." In their "confession of faith," there are many bold and
singular dogmas; among others, that the end of the world is at hand;
that a general reformation of men and manners will speedily take place;
that the wicked shall be expelled or subdued, the Jews converted, and
the doctrine of Christ propagated over the whole earth. The
Rosencrucians not only believed that these events must happen, but they
also endeavoured to accelerate them by unremitted exertions. To their
faithful votaries and followers, they promised abundance of celestial
wisdom, unspeakable riches, exemption from disease, an immortal state of
man of ever blooming youth, and above all the _philosopher's stone_.

Learning and improvement of the mind were, by this order, considered as
superfluous and despised. They found all knowledge in the Bible; this,
however, has been supposed rather a pretext to obviate a charge, which
was brought against them, of not believing in the Christian religion.
The truth is, they imagined themselves superior to divine revelation,
and supposed every useful acquisition, every virtue to be derived from
the influence of the Deity on the soul of man. In this, as well as in
many other respects, they appear to be followers of Paracelsus, whom
they profess to revere as a Messenger of the divinity. Like him, they
pretend to cure all diseases; through _faith_ and the power of the
imagination, to heal the most mortal disorders by a touch, or even by
simply looking at the patient. The universal remedy was likewise a grand
secret of the order, the discovery of which was promised to all its
faithful members.

It would be unnecessary to enumerate any more of such impious fancies,
if the founder of this still lurking sect, now partly revivified, had
not asserted, with astonishing effrontery, that human life was capable
of prolongation, like a fire kept up by combustible matter, and that he
was in the possession of a secret, which could verify this assertion. It
is evident, however, from the testimony of Libavius, a man of
unquestionable veracity, that this doughty champion in medical
chemistry, or rather alchemy, Paracelsus, notwithstanding his bold
assertions, died as before observed, at Sulzburgh in Germany, in the
Hospital of St. Stephen's in 1541: and that his death was chiefly
occasioned by the singular and desolate mode of life, which he had for a
long time pursued. When a competent knowledge of the economy of the
human frame is wanting, to enable a man to discriminate between internal
and external causes and effects, it will be impossible to ascertain, or
to counteract, the different causes by which our health is deranged.
This evidently was the case with Paracelsus, and many other
life-prolongers who have succeeded him; and should a fortunate
individual ever fix upon a remedy, possessing the power of checking
disease, or lengthening out human existence (an expectation never to be
realized) he will be indebted to chance alone for the discovery. This
has been the case in all ages, and still remains so.

Remedies, from time to time, have been devised, not merely to serve as
nostrums for all diseases, but also for the pretended purpose of
prolonging life. Those of the latter kind have been applied with a view
to resist or check many operations of nature, which insensibly consume
the vital heat, and other powers of life, such as respiration, muscular
irritation, etc. Thus, from the implicit credulity of some, and the
exuberant imagination of others, observation and experiments, however
incompatible with sound reason and philosophy, have been multiplied,
with the avowed design of establishing proofs, or reputations of this or
that absurd opinion. In this manner have fanaticism and imposture
falsified the plainest truths, or forged the most unfounded and
ridiculous claims; insomuch that one glaring inconsistency has been
employed to combat another, and folly has succeeded folly, till a fund
of materials has been transmitted to posterity, sufficient to form a
concise history on this subject. Men in all ages have set a just value
on life; and in proportion to the means of enjoyment, this value has
been appreciated in a greater or less degree. If the gratification of
the sensual appetite formed the principal object of living, its
prolongation would be to the epicure, as desirable as the prospect of an
existence to be enjoyed beyond the limits of the grave, is to the
moralist and the believer.

The desire of longevity appears to be inherent in all animated nature,
and particularly in the human race; it is intimately cherished by us,
through the whole duration of our existence, and is frequently supported
and strengthened, not only by justifiable means, but also by various
kinds of collusion. Living in an age when every branch of human
knowledge is reduced to popular systems; when the vigils of reason are
hallowed at the shrine of experiment and observation;--though we behold
in the immense variety of things, the utter uselessness of attempting to
renovate a shattered constitution, or of improving a sound one to last
beyond a certain period; we nevertheless observe that in the
inconceivable waste of elementary particles there prevails the strictest
economy. Nothing is produced in vain, nothing consumed without a cause.
We clearly perceive that all nature is united by indissoluble ties, that
every individual thing exists for the sake of another, and that no one
can subsist without its concomitant. Hence we conclude, that man himself
is not an insulated being, but a necessary link in the great chain,
which connects the universe. Nature is our safest guide, and she will be
so with greater certainty, as we become better acquainted with her
operations, especially with respect to those particulars which more
nearly concern our physical existence. Thus, n source of many and very
extensive advantages will be opened; thus, we shall reach our original
destination--namely, that of living long and in the enjoyment of sound
health, to which, if purity of morals he added, the best hopes may be
entertained of a happy state, in a future world, where its inhabitants
never die.

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