Jerome Cardan - A Biographical Study
by William George Waters
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The De Subtilitate represents Cardan's original conception of a treatise dealing with the Cosmos, but during the course of its preparation a vast mass of subsidiary and contingent knowledge accumulated in his note-books, and rendered necessary the publication of a supplementary work, the De Varietate,[118] which, by the time it was finished, had grown to a bulk exceeding that of the original treatise. The seminal ideas which germinated and produced such a vast harvest of printed words, were substantially the same which had possessed the brains of Paracelsus and Agrippa. Cardan postulates in the beginning a certain sympathy between the celestial bodies and our own, not merely general, but distributive, the sun being in harmony with the heart, and the moon with the animal humours. He considers that all organized bodies are animated, so that what we call the Spirit of Nature is present everywhere. Beyond this everything is ruled by the properties of numbers.[119] Heat and moisture are the only real qualities in Nature, the first being the formal, and the second the material, cause of all things; these conceptions he gleaned probably from some criticisms of Aristotle on the archaic doctrines of Heraclitus and Thales as to the origin of the universe.

It is no marvel that a writer, gifted with so bizarre and imaginative a temper, so restless and greedy of knowledge, sitting down to work with such a projection before him, should have produced the richest, and at the same time the most chaotic, collection of the facts of Natural Philosophy that had yet issued from the press. The erudition and the industry displayed in the gathering together of these vast masses of information, and in their verification by experiment, are indeed amazing; and, in turning over his pages, it is impossible to stifle regret that Cardan's confused method and incoherent system should have rendered his work comparatively useless for the spread of true knowledge, and qualified it only for a place among the labores ineptiarum.

Cardan begins with a definition of Subtilty. "By subtilty I mean a certain faculty of the mind by which certain phenomena, discernible by the senses and comprehensible by the intellect, may be understood, albeit with difficulty." Subtilty, as he understood it, possesses a threefold character: substance, accident, and manifestation. With regard to the senses he admits but four to the first rank: touch, sight, smell, and hearing; the claims of taste, he affirms, are open to contention. He then passes on to discuss the properties of matter: fire, moisture, cold, dryness, and vacuum. The last-named furnishes him with a text for a discourse on a wonderful lamp which he invented by thinking out the principle of the vacuum. This digression on the very threshold of the work is a sample of what the reader may expect to encounter all through the twenty-one books of the De Subtilitate and the seventeen of the De Varietate. Regardless of the claims of continuity, he jumps from principle to practice without the slightest warning. Intermingled with dissertations on abstract causes and the hidden forces of Nature are to be found descriptions of taps and pumps and syphons, and of the water-screw of Archimedes, the re-invention of which caused poor Galeazzo Rosso, Fazio's blacksmith friend, to go mad for joy. There are diagrams of furnaces, of machinery for raising sunken ships, and of the common steelyard. Cardan finds no problem of the universe too recondite to essay, and in like manner he sets down information as to the most trivial details of every-day economy: how to kill mice, why dogs bay the moon, how to make vinegar, why a donkey is stupid, why flint and steel produce fire, how to make the hands white, how to tell good mushrooms from bad, and how to mark household linen. He treats of the elements, Earth, Air, and Water, excluding Fire, because it produces nothing material; of the heavens and light: metals, stones, plants, and animals. Marvellous stories abound, and the most whimsical theories are advanced to account for the working of Nature. He tells how he once saw a man from Porto Maurizio, pallid, with little hair on his face, and fat in person, who had in his breasts milk enough to suckle a child. He was a soldier, and this strange property caused him no slight inconvenience. Sages, he affirms, on account of their studious lives, are little prone to sexual passion. With them the vital power is carried from the heart to a region remote from the genitals, i.e. to the brain, and for this reason such men as a rule beget children weak and unlike themselves. Diet has a valid effect on character, as the Germans, who subsist chiefly on the milk of wild cows, are fierce and bold and brutal. Again, the Corsicans, who eat young dogs, wild as well as domestic, are notably fierce, cruel, treacherous, fearless, nimble, and strong, following thus the nature of dogs. He argues at length to show that man is neither an animal nor a plant, but something between the two. A man is no more an animal than an animal is a plant. The animal has the anima sensitiva which the plant lacks, and man transcends the animal through the gift of the anima intellectiva, which, as Aristotle testifies, differs from the sensitiva. Some maintain that man and the animals must be alike in nature and spirit, because it is possible for man to catch certain diseases from animals. But animals take certain properties from plants, and no one thinks of calling an animal a plant. Man's nature is threefold: the Divine, which neither deceives nor is deceived; the Human, which deceives, but is not deceived; the Brutish, which does not deceive, but is deceived. Dissertations on the various sciences, the senses, the soul and intellect, things marvellous, demons and angels, occupy the rest of the chapters of the De Subtilitate.

At the end of the last book of De Varietate, Cardan gives a table showing the books of the two works arranged in parallel columns so as to exhibit the relation they bear to each other. A comparison of the treatment accorded to any particular branch of Natural Philosophy in the De Subtilitate with that given in the De Varietate, will show that in the last-named work Cardan used his most discursive and anecdotic method. Mechanics are chiefly dealt with in the De Subtilitate, and all through this treatise he set himself to observe in a certain degree the laws of proportion, and kept more or less to the point with which he was dealing, a system of treatment which left him with a vast heap of materials on his hands, even after he had built up the heavy tome of the De Subtilitate. Perhaps when he began his work upon the fresh volume he found this ingens acervus too intractable and heterogeneous to be susceptible of symmetrical arrangement, and was forced to let it remain in confusion. Few men would sit down with a light heart to frame a well-ordered treatise out of the debris of a heap of note-books, and it would be unjust to censure Cardan's literary performance because he failed in this task. Probably no other man living in his day would have achieved a better result. It is certain that he expended a vast amount of labour in attempting to reduce his collected mass of facts even to the imperfect form it wears in the De Varietate Rerum.[120]

Considering that this book covers to a great extent the same ground as its predecessor, Cardan must be credited with considerable ingenuity of treatment in presenting his supplementary work without an undue amount of repetition. In the De Varietate he always contrives to bring forward some fresh fact or fancy to illustrate whatever section of the universe he may have under treatment, even though this section may have been already dealt with in the De Subtilitate. The characteristic most strongly marked in the later book is the increased eagerness with which he plunges into the investigation of certain forces, which he professes to appreciate as lying beyond Nature, and incapable of scientific verification in the modern sense, and the fabled manifestations of the same. He loses no opportunity of trying to peer behind the curtain, and of seeking—honestly enough—to formulate those various pseudo-sciences, politely called occult, which have now fallen into ridicule and disrepute with all except the charlatan and the dupe, who are always with us. Where he occupies in the De Subtilitate one page in considering those things which lie outside Nature—demons, ghosts, incantations, succubi, incubi, divinations, and such like—he spends ten in the De Varietate over kindred subjects. There is a wonderful story[121] told by his father of a ghost or demon which he saw in his youth while he was a scholar in the house of Giovanni Resta at Pavia. He searches the pages of Hector Boethius, Nicolaus Donis, Rugerus, Petrus Toletus, Leo Africanus, and other chroniclers of the marvellous, for tales of witchcraft, prodigies, and monstrous men and beasts, and devotes a whole chapter to chiromancy,[122] a subject with which he had occupied his plenteous leisure when he was waiting for patients at Sacco. The diagram of the human hand given by him does not differ greatly from that of the contemporary hand-books of the "Art," and the leading lines are just the same. The heavenly bodies are as potent here as in Horoscopy. The thumb is given to Mars, the index finger to Jupiter, the middle finger to Saturn, the ring finger to the Sun, and the little finger to Venus. Each finger-joint has its name, the lowest being called the procondyle, the middle the condyle, and the upper the metacondyle. He passes briefly over as lines of little import, the via combusta and the Cingulus Orionis, but lays some stress on the character of the nails and the knitting together of the hand, declaring that hands which can be bent easily backward denote effeminacy or a rapacious spirit. He teaches that lines are most abundant in the hands of children, on account of the tenderness of the skin, and of old men on account of the dryness, a statement which might suggest the theory that lines come into existence through the opening and closing of the hand. But the adoption of this view would have proved more disastrous to chiromancy than ridicule or serious criticism; so he straightway finds an explanation for this fact in the postulate that lines in young people's hands speak as to the future, and in old men's as to the past. Later he goes on to affirm that lines in the hand cannot be treated as mere wrinkles arising from the folding of the skin, unless we are prepared to admit that wrinkled people are more humorous than others, alluding no doubt to the lines in the face caused by laughter, a proposition which does not seem altogether convincing or consequential, unless we also postulate that all humorous men laugh at every joke. There is a line in the hand which he calls the linea jecoraria, and the triangle formed by this and the linea vitae and the linea cerebri, rules the disposition of the subject, due consideration being given to the acuteness or obtuseness of the angles of this triangle. Cardan seems to have based his treatise on one written by a certain Ruffus Ephesius, and it is without doubt one of the dullest portions of his work.[123]

It is almost certain that Cardan purposed to let the De Varietate come forth from the press immediately after the De Subtilitate, but before the MS. was ready, it came to pass that he was called to make that memorable journey to Scotland in order to find a remedy for the ailment which was troubling the Archbishop of St. Andrews, a journey which has given to Britons a special interest in his life and work. In dealing with the Cosmos in the De Subtilitate he had indeed made brief mention of Britain; but, writing then, he had no personal relations with either England or Scotland, or the people thereof; and, but for his subsequent visit, he would not have been able to set down in the pages of his second book so many interesting and suggestive notes of what he had seen and heard, and his ideas of the politics of the time. Again, if he had not been urged by the desire all men feel to read what others may have to say about places they have visited, it is not likely that he would have searched the volumes of Hector Boethius and other early writers for legends and stories of our island. Writing of Britain[124] in the De Subtilitate he had praised its delicate wool and its freedom from poisonous beasts: a land where the wolf had been exterminated, and where the sheep might roam unvexed by any beast more formidable than the fox. The inordinate breeding of rooks seems even in those days[125] to have led to a war of extermination against them, carried on upon a system akin to that which was waged against the sparrow in the memory of men yet living. But besides this one, he records, in the De Subtilitate, few facts concerning Britain. He quotes the instances of Duns Scotus and Suisset in support of the view that the barbarians are equal to the Italians in intellect,[126] and he likewise notices the use of a fertilizing earth—presumably marl—in agriculture,[127] and the longevity of the people, some of whom have reached their hundred and twentieth year.[128] The first notice of us in the De Varietate is in praise of our forestry, forasmuch as he remarked that the plane tree, which is almost unknown in Italy through neglect, thrives well in Scotland, he himself having seen specimens over thirty feet high growing in the garden of the Augustinian convent near Edinburgh. The lack of fruit in England he attributes rather to the violence of the wind than to the cold; but, in spite of our cruel skies, he was able to eat ripe plums in September, in a district close to the Scottish border. He bewails the absence of olives and nuts, and recommends the erection of garden-walls in order to help on the cultivation of the more delicate fruits.

In a conversation with the Archbishop of St. Andrews he was told that the King of Scots ruled over one hundred and sixty-one islands, that the people of the Shetland Islands lived for the most part on fish prepared by freezing or sun-drying or fire, and had no other wealth than the skins of beasts. Cardan pictures the Shetlanders of that time as leading an ideal life, unvexed by discord, war, or ambition, labouring in the summer for the needs of winter, worshipping Christ, visited only once a year by a priest from Orkney, who came over to baptize the children born within the last twelve months, and was remunerated by a tenth of the catch of fish. He speaks of the men of Orkney as a very lively, robust, and open-hearted crew, furnished with heads strong enough to defy drunkenness, even after swallowing draughts of the most potent wine. The land swarms with birds, and the sheep bring forth two or even three lambs at a time. The horses are a mean breed, and resemble asses both as to their size and their patience. Some one told him of a fish, often seen round about the islands, as big or even bigger than a horse, with a hide of marvellous toughness, and useful for the abundance of oil yielded by its carcase. He attributes the bodily strength of these northerners to the absence of four deleterious influences—drunkenness, care, heat, and dry air. Cardan seems to have been astonished at the wealth of precious stones he found in Scotland—dark blue stones, diamonds, and carbuncles[129]—"maxime juxta academiam Glaguensis oppidi in Gludisdalia regione," and he casts about to explain how it is that England produces nothing of the kind, but only silver and lead. He solves the question by laying down an axiom that the harder the environment, the harder the stone produced. The mountains of Scotland are both higher and presumably harder than those of England, hence the carbuncles.

He was evidently fascinated with the wealth of local legend and story which haunted the misty regions he visited. In dealing with demons and familiar spirits he cites the authority of Merlin, "whose fame is still great in England," and tells a story of a young woman living in the country of Mar.[130] This damsel was of noble family and very fair in person, but she displayed a great unwillingness to enter the marriage state. One day it was discovered that she was pregnant, and when the parents went to make inquisition for the seducer, the girl confessed that, both by day and night, a young man of surpassing beauty used to come and lie with her. Who he was and whence he came she knew not. They, though they gave little credit to her words, were informed by her handmaid, some three days afterwards, that the young man was once more with her; wherefore, having broken open the door, they entered, bearing lights and torches, and beheld, lying in their daughter's arms, a monster, fearsome and dreadful beyond human belief. All the neighbours ran quickly to behold the grisly sight, and amongst them a good priest, well acquainted with pagan rites. When he had come anear, and had said some verses of the Gospel of Saint John, the fiend vanished with a terrible noise, bearing away the roof of the chamber, and leaving the bed in flames. In three days' time the girl gave birth to a monstrous child, more hideous than anything heretofore seen in Scotland, wherefore the nurses, to keep off disgrace from the family, caused it to be burnt on a pile of wood. There is another story of a youth living about fourteen miles from Aberdeen, who was visited every night by a demon lady of wonderful loveliness, though he bolted and locked his chamber-door; but by fasting and praying and keeping his thoughts fixed on holy things he rid himself at last of the unclean spirit.[131] He quotes from Boethius the whole story of Macbeth,[132] and tells how "Duffus rex" languished and wasted under the malefic arts of certain witches who made an image of the king in wax and, by using various incantations, let the same melt slowly away before the fire. The unhappy king came near to die, but, as soon as these nefarious practices were discovered, the image was destroyed, whereupon the king was restored to health.[133]

When Cardan received the first letter from Scotland the manuscript of the De Varietate must have been ready or nearly ready for the printer; but, for some reason or other, he determined to postpone the publication of the work until he should have finished with the Archbishop, and took his manuscript with him when he set forth on his travels. In 1550 there came another break in Cardan's life as Professor at Pavia, the reason being the usual one of dearth of funds.[134] In 1551 he went back for a short time, but the storms of war were rising on all sides, and the luckless city of Pavia was in the very centre of the disturbance. The French once more crossed the Alps, pillaging and devastating the country, their ostensible mission being the vindication of the rights of Ottavio Farnese to the Duchy of Parma. Ottavio had quarrelled with Pope Julius III., who called upon the Emperor for assistance. War was declared, and Charles set to work to annex Parma and Piacenza as well to the Milanese. Cardan withdrew to Milan at the end of the year. Gian Battista had now completed his medical course, so there was now no reason why he should continue to live permanently at Pavia. Moreover at this juncture he seems to have been strongly moved to augment the fame which he had already won in Mathematics and Medicine by some great literary achievement, and he worked diligently with this object in view.[135]

At the beginning of November 1551, a letter came to him from Cassanate,[136] a Franco-Spanish physician, who was at that time in attendance upon the Archbishop of St. Andrews, requesting him to make the journey to Paris, and there to meet the Archbishop, who was suffering from an affection of the lungs. The fame of Cardan as a physician had spread as far as Scotland, and the Archbishop had set his heart on consulting him. Cassanate's letter is of prodigious length. After a diffuse exordium he proceeds to praise in somewhat fulsome terms the De Libris Propriis and the treatises De Sapientia[137] and De Consolatione, which had been given to him by a friend when he was studying at Toulouse in 1549. He had just read the De Subtilitate, and was inflamed with desire to become acquainted with everything which Cardan had ever written. But what struck Cassanate more than anything was a passage in the De Sapientia on a medical question, which he extracts and incorporates in his epistle. Cardan writes there: "But if my profession itself will not give me a living, nor open out an avenue to some other career, I must needs set my brains to work, to find therein something unknown hitherto, for the charm of novelty is unfailing, something which would prove of the highest utility in a particular case. In Milan, while I was fighting the battle against hostile prejudice, and was unable to earn enough to pay my way (so much harder is the lot of manifest than of hidden merit, and no man is honoured as a prophet in his own country), I brought to light much fresh knowledge, and worked my hardest at my art, for outside my art there was naught to be done. At last I discovered a cure for phthisis, which is also known as Phthoe, a disease for many centuries deemed incurable, and I healed many who are alive to this day as easily as I have cured the Gallicus morbus. I also discovered a cure for intercutaneous water in many who still survive. But in the matter of invention, Reason will be the leader, but Experiment the Master, the stimulating cause of work in others. If in any experiment there should seem to be an element of danger, let it be performed gently, and little by little."[138] It is not wonderful that the Archbishop, who doubtless heard all about Cardan's asserted cure of phthisis from Cassanate, should have been eager to submit his asthma to Cardan's skill. After acknowledging the deep debt of gratitude which he, in common with the whole human race, owed to Cardan in respect to the two discoveries aforesaid, Cassanate comes to the business in hand, to wit, the Archbishop's asthma. Not content with giving a most minute description of the symptoms, he furnishes Cardan also with a theory of the operations of the distemper. He writes: "The disease at first took the form of a distillation from the brain into the lungs, accompanied with hoarseness, which, with the help of the physician in attendance, was cured for a time, but the temperature of the brain continued unfavourable, being too cold and too moist, so that certain unhealthy humours were collected in the head and there remained, because the brain could neither assimilate its own nutriment, nor disperse the humours which arose from below, being weakened through its nutriment of pituitous blood. After an attack of this nature it always happened that, whenever the body was filled with any particular matter, which, in the form of substance, or vapour, or quality, might invade the brain, a fresh attack would certainly arise, in the form of a fresh flow of the same humour down to the lungs. Moreover these attacks were found to agree almost exactly with the conjunctions and oppositions of the moon."[139]

Cassanate goes on to say that his patient had proved somewhat intractable, refusing occasionally to have anything to do with his medical attendants, and that real danger was impending owing to the flow of humour having become chronic. Fortunately this humour was not acrid or salt; if it were, phthisis must at once supervene. But the Archbishop's lungs were becoming more and more clogged with phlegm, and a stronger effort of coughing was necessary to clear them. Latterly much of the thick phlegm had adhered to the lungs, and consequently the difficulty of breathing was great. Cassanate declares that he had been able to do no more than to keep the Archbishop alive, and he fears no one would be able to work a complete cure, seeing that the air of Scotland is so moist and salt, and that the Archbishop is almost worried to death by the affairs of State. He next urges Cardan to consent to meet the Archbishop in Paris, a city in which learning of all sorts flourishes exceedingly, the nurse of many great philosophers, and one in which Cardan would assuredly meet the honour and reverence which is his due. The Archbishop's offer was indeed magnificent in its terms. Funds would be provided generous enough to allow the physician to travel post the whole of the journey, and the goodwill of all the rulers of the states en route would be enlisted in his favour. Cassanate finishes by fixing the end of January 1552 as a convenient date for the rendezvous in Paris, and, as time and place accorded with Cardan's wishes, he wrote to Cassanate accepting the offer.

The Archbishop of St. Andrews was John Hamilton, the illegitimate brother of James, Earl of Arran, who had been chosen Regent of the kingdom after the death of James V. at Flodden, and the bar sinister, in this case as in many others, was the ensign of a courage and talent and resource in which the lawful offspring was conspicuously wanting. Any student taking a cursory glance at the epoch of violence and complicated intrigue which marked the infancy of Mary of Scotland, may well be astonished that a man so weak and vain and incompetent as James Hamilton—albeit his footing was made more secure by his position as the Queen's heir-presumptive—should have held possession of his high dignities so long as he did. Alternately the tool of France and of England, he would one day cause his great rival Cardinal Beatoun to be proclaimed an enemy of his country, and the next would meet him amicably and adopt his policy. After becoming the partisan of Henry VIII. and the foe of Rome, he finally put the coping-stone to his inconsistencies by becoming a convert to Catholicism in 1543. But in spite of his indolence and weakness, he was still Regent of Scotland, when his brother, the Archbishop, was seized with that attack of periodic asthma which threatened to change vitally the course of Scottish politics. A very slight study of contemporary records will show that Arran had been largely, if not entirely, indebted to the distinguished talents and to the ambition of his brother for his continued tenure of the chief power of the State. If confirmation of this view be needed, it will be found in the fact that, as soon as the Archbishop was confined to a sick-room, Mary of Guise, the Queen Mother, supported by her brothers in France and by the Catholic party at home, began to undermine the Regent's position by intrigue, and ultimately, partly by coaxing, partly by threats, won from him a promise to surrender his power into her hands.

In the meantime Cardan was waiting for further intelligence and directions as to his journey. The end of January had been fixed as the date of the meeting at Paris, and it was not until the middle of February that any further tidings came to him. Then he received a letter from Cassanate and a remittance to cover the expenses of his journey.[140] He set out at once on February 22, undaunted by the prospect of a winter crossing of the Simplon, and, having travelled by way of Sion and Geneva, arrived at Lyons on March 13. In Cassanate's first letter Paris had been named as the place of meeting; but, as a concession to Cardan's convenience, Lyons was added as an alternative, in case he should find it impossible to spare time for a longer journey. Cardan accordingly halted at Lyons, but neither Archbishop nor physician was there to meet him. After he had waited for more than a month, Cassanate appeared alone, and brought with him a heavy purse of money for the cost of the long journey to Scotland, which he now begged Cardan to undertake, and a letter from the Archbishop himself, who wrote word that, though he had fully determined in the first instance to repair to Paris, or even to Lyons, to meet Cardan, he found himself at present mastered by the turn of circumstances, and compelled to stay at home. He promised Cardan a generous reward, and a reception of a nature to convince him that the Scots are not such Scythians as they might perchance be deemed in Milan.[141] Cardan's temper was evidently upset by this turn of affairs, and his suspicions aroused; for he sets down his belief that patient and physician had from the first worked with the intention of dragging him all the way to Scotland, but that they had waited till he was across the Alps before showing their hand, fearing lest if the word Scotland should have been used at the outset, he would never have moved from Milan.[142] In describing his journey he writes:—"I tarried in Lyons forty-six days, seeing nothing of the Archbishop, nor of the physician whom I expected, nevertheless I gained more than I spent. I met there Ludovico Birago, a gentleman of Milan, and commander of the King's foot-soldiers, and with him I contracted a close friendship, so much so that, had I been minded to take service under Brissac, the King's lieutenant, I might have enjoyed a salary of one thousand crowns a year. Shortly afterwards Guglielmo Cassanate, the Archbishop's physician, arrived in Lyons and brought with him three hundred other golden crowns, which he handed to me, in order that I might make the journey with him to Scotland, offering in addition to pay the cost of travel, and promising me divers gifts in addition. Thus, making part of our journey down the Loire, I arrived at Paris. While I was there I met Orontius; but he for some reason or other refused to visit me. Under the escort of Magnienus[143] I inspected the treasury of the French Kings, and the Church of Saint Denis. I saw likewise something there, not so famous, but more interesting to my mind, and this was the horn of a unicorn, whole and uninjured. After this we met the King's physicians, and we all dined together, but I declined to hold forth to them during dinner, because before we sat down they were urgent that I should begin a discussion. I next set forth on my journey, my relations with Pharnelius and Silvius, and another of the King's physicians,[144] whom I left behind, being of a most friendly nature, and travelled to Boulogne in France, where, by the command of the Governor of Sarepont, an escort of fourteen armed horsemen and twenty foot-soldiers was assigned to me, and so to Calais. I saw the tower of Caesar still standing. Then having crossed the narrow sea I went to London, and at last met the Archbishop at Edinburgh on the twenty-ninth of June. I remained there till the thirteenth of September. I received as a reward four hundred more gold crowns; a chain of gold worth a hundred and twenty crowns, a noble horse, and many other gifts, in order that no one of those who were with me should return empty-handed."[145]

The Archbishop's illness might in itself have supplied a reason for his inability to travel abroad and meet Cardan as he had agreed to do; but the real cause of his change of plan was doubtless the condition of public affairs in Scotland at the beginning of 1552. In the interval of time between Cassanate's first letter to Cardan and the end of 1551, the Regent had half promised to surrender his office into the hands of the Guise party in Scotland, wherefore it was no wonder that the Primate, recognizing how grave was the danger which threatened the source of his power, should have resolved that, sick or sound, his proper place was at the Scottish Court.


[112] Vesalius had certainly lectured on anatomy at Pavia, but it would appear that Cardan did not know him personally, seeing that he writes in De Libris Propriis (Opera, tom. i. p. 138): "Brasavolum ... nunquam vidi, ut neque Vesalium quamquam intimum mihi amicum."

[113] De Vita Propria, ch. xxxii. p. 99.

[114] In describing Fazio, Jerome writes: "Erat Euclidis operum studiosus, et humeris incurvis: et filius meus natu major ore, oculis, incessu, humeris, illi simillimus."—De Vita Propria, ch. iii. p. 8. In the same chapter Fazio is described as "Blaesus in loquendo; variorum studiorum amator: ruber, oculis albis et quibus noctu videret."

[115] "At uxor mea imaginabatur assidue se videre calvariam patris, qui erat absens dum utero gereret Jo: Baptistam."—Paralipomenon, lib. iii. c. 21.

[116] De Utilitate, p. 832.

[117] "Post ex geminatis somniis, scripsi libros de Subtilitate quos impressos auxi et denuo superauctos tertio excudi curavi."—De Vita Propria, ch. xlv. p. 175.

[118] "Libros de Rerum varietate anno MDLVIII edidi: erant enim reliquiae librorum de subtilitate."—De Vita Propria, p. 176. "Reversus in patriam, perfeci libros XVII de Rerum varietate quos jampridem inchoaveram."—Opera, tom. i. p. 110. He had collected much material during his life at Gallarate.

[119] Aristotle, Metaphysics, book I. ch. v., contains an examination of the Pythagorean doctrine which maintains Number to be the Substance of all things:—[Greek: all' auto to apeiron kai auto to hen ousian einai touton on kategorountai.]

[120] "Sed nullus major labor quam libri de Rerum Varietate quem cum saepius mutassem, demum traductis quibuscunque insignioribus rebus in libros de Subtilitate, ita illum exhausi, ut totus denuo conscribendus fuerit atque ex integro restituendus."—Opera, tom. i. p. 74.

He seems to have utilized the services of Ludovico Ferrari in compiling this work.—Opera, tom. i. p. 64.

[121] De Varietate, p. 661.

[122] Book XV. ch. lxxix.

[123] He gives one example of his skill as a palmist in the De Vita Propria: "Memini me dum essem adolescens, persuasum fuisse cuidam Joanni Stephano Biffo, quod essem Chiromanticus, et tamen nil minus: rogat ille, ut praedicam ei aliquid de vita; dixi delusum esse a sociis, urget, veniam peto si quicquam gravius praedixero: dixi periculum imminere brevi de suspendio, intra hebdomadam capitur, admovetur tormentis: pertinaciter delictum negat, nihilominus tandem post sex menses laqueo vitam finivit."—ch. xlii. p. 156.

[124] "Ergo nunc Britannia inclyta vellere est. Nec mirum cum nullu animal venenatu mittat, imo nec infestum praeter vulpem, olim et lupum: nunc vero exterminatis etiam lupis, tuto pecus vagat. Rore coeli sitim sedant greges, ab omni alio potu arcentur, quod aquae ibi ovibus sint exitiales: quia tamen in pabulo humido vermes multi abundant, cornicu adeo multitudo crevit, ut ob frugum damna nuper publico consilio illas perdentibus proposita praemia sint: ubi enim pabulum, ibi animalia sunt quae eo vescuntur, atque immodice tunc multiplicantur cum ubique abundaverit. Caret tamen ut dixi, serpentibus, tribus ex causis: nam pauci possunt generari ob frigus immensum."—De Subtilitate, p. 298.

[125] AEneas Sylvius in describing his visit to Britain a century earlier says that rooks had been recently introduced, and that the trees on which they roosted and built belonged to the King's Exchequer.

[126] "Ejusdem insulae accola fuit Ioannes, ut dixi, Suisset [Richard Swineshead] cognometo Calculator; in cujus solius unius argumenti solutione, quod contra experimentu est de actione mutua tota laboravit posteritas; quem senem admodum, nec inventa sua dum legeret intelligentem, flevisse referunt. Ex quo haud dubium esse reor, quod etiam in libro de animi immortalite scripsi, barbaros ingenio nobis haud esse inferiores: quandoquidem sub Brumae caelo divisa toto orbe Britannia duos tam clari ingenii viros emiserit."—De Subtilitate, p. 444.

[127] Ibid., p. 142.

[128] p. 369.

[129] The fame of Scots as judges of precious stones had spread to Italy before Cardan's time. In the Novellino of Masuccio, which was first printed in 1476, there is a passage in the tenth novel of the first part, in which a rogue passes as "grandissimo cognoscitore" of gems because he had spent much time in Scotland.

[130] De Varietate, p. 636.

[131] De Varietate, p. 637.

[132] Ibid., p. 637.

[133] Ibid., p. 565.

[134] "Peracto L anno quod stipendium non remuneraretur mansi Mediolani."—De Vita Propria, ch. iv. p. 15.

[135] About this time he wrote the Liber Decem Problematum, and the treatise Delle Burle Calde, one of his few works written in Italian.—Opera, tom. i. p. 109.

[136] Cassanate's letter is given in full (Opera, tom. i. p. 89).

[137] The quotation from the De Sapientia differs somewhat from the original passage which stands on p. 578 of the same volume.

[138] Opera, tom. i. p. 89.

[139] In a subsequent interview with Cardan, Cassanate modifies this statement.—Opera, tom. ix. p. 124.

[140] "Accepique antequam discederem aureos coronatos Gallicos 500 et M.C.C. in reditu."—De Vita Propria, ch. iv. p. 16.

[141] "Difficillimis causis victus venire non potui." The Archbishop's letter is given in Opera, tom. i. p. 137.

[142] Geniturarum Exempla, p. 469.

[143] He mentions this personage in De Varietate, p. 672: "Johannes Manienus medicus, vir egregius et mathematicaram studiosus." He was physician to the monks of Saint Denis.

[144] The reception given to Cardan in Paris was a very friendly one. Orontius was a mechanician and mathematician; and jealousy of Cardan's great repute may have kept him away from the dinner, but the physicians were most hospitable. Pharnelius [Fernel] was Professor of Medicine at the University, and physician to the Court. Sylvius was an old man of a jocular nature, but as an anatomist bitterly opposed to the novel methods of Vesalius, who was one of Cardan's heroes. With this possibility of quarrelling over the merits of Vesalius, it speaks well for the temper of the doctors that they parted on good terms. Ranconet, another Parisian who welcomed Cardan heartily, was one of the Presidents of the Parliament of Paris. He seems to have been a man of worth and distinguished attainments, and Cardan gives an interesting account of him in Geniturarum Exempla, p. 423.

[145] De Vita Propria, ch. xxix. p. 75. Cardan refers more than once to the generosity of the Archbishop. He computes (Opera, tom. i. p. 93) that his visit must have cost Hamilton four talents of gold; that is to say, two thousand golden crowns.


CARDAN, as he has himself related, arrived at Edinburgh on June 29, 1552. The coming of such a man at such a time must have been an event of extraordinary interest. In England the Italy of the Renaissance had been in a measure realized by men of learning and intellect through the reports of the numerous scholars—John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, Henry Parker, Lord Morley, Howard Earl of Surrey, and Sir Thomas Wyat, may be taken as examples—who had wandered thither and come back with a stock of histories setting forth the beauty and charm, and also the terror and wickedness, of that wonderful land. Some echoes of this legend had doubtless drifted down to Scotland, and possibly still more may have been wafted over from France. Ascham had taken up his parable in the Schoolmaster, describing the devilish sins and corruptions of Italy, and now the good people of Edinburgh were to be given the sight of a man coming thence, one who was fabled to have gathered together more knowledge, both of this world and of that other hidden one which was to them just as real, than any mortal man alive. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that Cardan should have been regarded rather as a magician than as a doctor, and in the Scotichronicon[146] it is recorded that the Primate was cured of a lingering asthma by the incantations of an astrologer named Cardan, from Milan. Cardan in his narrative speaks of Edinburgh as the place where he met his patient, and does not mention any other place of sojourn, but the record just quoted goes on to say that he abode with the Primate for eleven weeks at his country residence at Monimail, near Cupar, Fife, where there is a well called to this day Cardan's Well.

Cardan, as it has been noticed already, refused to commit himself to any opinion as to the character of the Archbishop's distemper over the dinner-table where he and Cassanate had been entertained by the French King's physicians. Cassanate had set forth his views in full as to the nature of the asthma which had to be dealt with in his letter to Cardan, and it is highly probable that he would again bring forward these views in the hearing of the Paris doctors. It is certain that some of the French physicians had, previous to this, prescribed a course of treatment for the Archbishop, probably without seeing him, and that the course was being tried when Cardan arrived in Edinburgh.[147] For the first six weeks of his stay he watched the case, and let the treatment aforesaid go on—whether it differed from that which Cassanate recommended or not there is no evidence to show. But no good result came of it. The Archbishop wasted in body and became fretful and disturbed in mind, and, at last, Cardan was obliged to let his opinion of the case be known; and, as this was entirely hostile to the treatment which was being pursued, the inevitable quarrel between the doctors burst forth with great violence. The Archbishop was irate with his ordinary medical attendant, probably the physician who was left in charge during Cassanate's absence—and this man retaliated upon Cardan for having thus stirred up strife. Cardan's position was certainly a very uneasy one. The other physicians were full of jealousy and malice, and the Archbishop began to accuse him of dilatory conduct of the case, redoubling his complaints as soon as he found himself getting better under the altered treatment. So weary did Cardan become of this bickering that he begged leave to depart at once, but this proposition the Primate took in very ill part.

Cassanate in his first diagnosis had traced the Archbishop's illness to an excess of coldness and humidity in the brain. Now Cardan, on the other hand, maintained that the brain was too hot. He found Cassanate's treatment too closely fettered by his theory as to the causes of periodic asthma, but he did not venture to exhibit his own course of treatment till after he had gained some knowledge of the Archbishop's temper and habits. He came to the conclusion that his patient was overwrought with the cares of State, that he ate too freely, that he did not sleep enough, and that he was of a temper somewhat choleric. Cardan set forth this view of the case in a voluminous document, founding the course of treatment he proposed to pursue upon the aphorisms of Galen. He altogether rejected Cassanate's view as to the retention of the noxious humours in the head. The Archbishop had the ruddy complexion of a man in good health, a condition which could scarcely co-exist with the loading of the brain with matter which would certainly putrify if retained for any long time. Cardan maintained that the serous humour descended into the lungs, not by the passages, but by soaking through the membranes as through linen.[148] After describing the origin and the mode of descent of this humour, he goes on to search for an auxiliary cause of the mischief, and this he finds in the imperfect digestive powers of the stomach and liver. If the cause lay entirely in the brain, how was it that all the cerebral functions were not vitiated? In fine, the source of the disease lay, not in the weakness of the brain, but in an access of heat, caused possibly by exposure to the sun, by which the matter of the brain had become so rarefied that it showed unhealthy activity in absorbing moisture from the other parts. This heat, therefore, must be reduced.

To accomplish this end three lines of treatment must be followed. First, a proper course of diet; second, drugs; and third, certain manual operations. As to diet, the Archbishop was ordered to take nothing but light and cooling food, two to four pints of asses' milk in the early morning, drawn from an ass fed on cooling herbs, and to use all such foods as had a fattening tendency; tortoise or turtle-soup,[149] distilled snails, barley-water and chicken-broth, and divers other rich edibles. The purging of the brain was a serious business; it was to be compassed by an application to the coronal suture of an ointment made of Greek pitch, ship's tar, white mustard, euphorbium, and honey of anathardus: the compound to be sharpened, if necessary, by the addition of blister fly, or rendered less searching by leaving out the euphorbium and mustard. Cardan adds, that, by the use of this persuasive application, he had sometimes brought out two pints of water in twenty-four hours. The use of the shower-bath and plentiful rubbing with dry cloths was also recommended.

The purging of the body was largely a question of diet. To prevent generation of moisture, perfumes were to be used; the patient was to sleep on raw silk and not upon feathers, and to let an hour and a half come between supper and bed-time. Sleep, after all, was the great thing to be sought. The Archbishop was counselled to sleep from seven to ten hours, and to subtract time from his studies and his business and add the same to sleep.[150]

Cardan's treatment, which seems to have been suggested as much by the man of common-sense as by the physician, soon began to tell favourably upon the Archbishop. He remained for thirty-five days in charge of his patient, during which time the distemper lost its virulence and the patient gained flesh. In the meantime the fame of his skill had spread abroad, and well-nigh the whole nobility of Scotland flocked to consult him,[151] and they paid him so liberally that on one day he made nineteen golden crowns. But when winter began to draw near, Cardan felt that it was time to move southward. He feared the cold; he longed to get back to his sons, and he was greatly troubled by the continued ill-behaviour of one of the servants he had brought with him—"maledicus, invidus, avarissimus, Dei contemptor;" but he found his patient very loth to let him depart. The Archbishop declared that his illness was alleviated but not cured, and only gave way unwillingly when Cardan brought forward arguments to show what dangers and inconveniences he would incur through a longer stay. Cardan had originally settled to return by way of Paris, but letters which he received from his young kinsman, Gasparo Cardano, and from Ranconet, led him to change his plans. The country was in a state of anarchy, the roads being infested with thieves, and Gasparo himself had the bad fortune to be taken by a gang of ruffians. In consequence of these things Cardan determined to return by way of Flanders and the Empire.

It was not in reason that Cardan would quit Scotland and resign the care of his patient without taking the stars into his counsel as to the future. He cast the Archbishop's horoscope, and published it in the Geniturarum Exempla. It was not a successful feat. In his forty-eighth year, i.e. in 1560, the astrologer declared that Hamilton would be in danger of poison and of suffering from an affection of the heart. But the time of the greatest peril seemed to lie between July 30 and September 21, 1554. The stars gave no warning of the tragic fate which befell Archbishop Hamilton in the not very distant future. For the succeeding six years he governed the Church in Scotland with prudence and leniency, but in 1558 he began a persecution of the reformers which kindled a religious strife, highly embarrassing to the Catholic party then holding the reins of power. His cruelties were borne in mind by the reformers when they got the upper hand. In 1563 he was imprisoned for saying mass. In 1568 Mary, after her escape from Loch Leven, gave the chief direction of her affairs into the hands of the Archbishop, who was the bitter foe of the Regent Murray. Murray having defeated the Queen's forces at Langside, Hamilton took refuge in Dumbarton Castle, which was surprised and captured in 1571, when the Archbishop was taken to Stirling and hanged. In the words of the Diurnal of Occurrants: "as the bell struck six hours at even, he was hangit at the mercat cross of Stirling upon a jebat."[152] His enemies would not let him rest even there, for the next day, fixed to the tree, were found the following verses:

"Cresce diu, felix arbor, semperque vireto Frondibus ut nobis talia poma feras."

To return to Cardan. Having at last won from his patient leave to depart, he set forth laden with rich gifts. In Scotland, Cardan found the most generous paymasters he had ever met. In recording the niggard treatment which he subsequently experienced at the hands of Brissac, the French Viceroy, he contrasts it with the liberal rewards granted to him in what must then have been the poorest of the European kingdoms;[153] and in the Preface of the De Astrorum Judiciis (Basel, 1554) he writes in sympathetic and grateful terms of the kind usage he had met in the North.[154] It must have been a severe disappointment to him that he was unable to revisit Paris on his way home, for letters from his friend Ranconet told him that a great number of illustrious men had proposed to repair to Paris for the sake of meeting him; and many of the nobles of France were anxious to consult him professionally, one of them offering a fee of a thousand gold crowns. But Cardan was so terrified by the report given by Gasparo of the state of France, that he made up his mind he would on no account touch its frontiers on his homeward journey.

Before he quitted Scotland there had come to him letters from the English Court entreating him to tarry there some days on his way home to Italy, and give his opinion on the health of Edward VI., who was then slowly recovering from an attack of smallpox and measles. The young King's recovery was more apparent than real, for he was, in fact, slowly sinking under the constitutional derangement which killed him a few months later. Cardan could hardly refuse to comply with this request, nor is there any evidence to show that he made this visit to London unwillingly. But he soon found out that those about the Court were anxious to hear from him something more than a statement of his opinion as to Edward's health. They wanted, before all else, to learn what the stars had to say as to the probable duration of the sovereign's life. During his stay in Scotland Cardan would certainly have gained some intelligence of the existing state of affairs at the English Court; how in the struggle for the custody of the regal power, the Lord High Admiral and the Lord Protector, the King's uncles, had lost their heads; and how the Duke of Northumberland, the son of Dudley, the infamous minion of Henry VII. and the destroyer of the ill-fated Seymours, had now gathered all the powers and dignities of the kingdom into his own hands, and was waiting impatiently for the death of Edward, an event which would enable him to control yet more completely the supreme power, through the puppet queen whom he had ready at hand to place upon the throne. An Italian of the sixteenth century, steeped in the traditions of the bloody and insidious state-craft of Milan and the Lombard cities, Cardan would naturally shrink from committing himself to any such perilous utterance: all the more for the reason that he had already formed an estimate of the English as a fierce and cruel people. With his character as a magician to maintain he could scarcely keep entire silence, so he wrote down for the satisfaction of his interrogators a horoscope: a mere perfunctory piece of work, as we learn afterwards. He begins by reciting the extraordinary nature of the King's birth, repeating the legend that his mother was delivered of him by surgical aid, and only lived a few hours afterwards; and declares that, in his opinion, it would have been better had this boy never been born at all. "Nevertheless, seeing that he had come into this world and been duly trained and educated, it would be well for mankind were he to live long, for all the graces waited upon him. Boy as he was, he was skilled in divers tongues, Latin, English, and French, and not unversed in Greek, Italian, and Spanish; he had likewise knowledge of dialectics, natural philosophy, and music. His culture is the reflection of our mortal nature; his gravity that of kingly majesty, and his disposition is worthy of so illustrious a prince. Speaking generally, it was indeed a strange experience to realize that this boy of so great talent and promise was being educated in the knowledge of the affairs of men. I have not set forth his accomplishments, tricked out with rhetoric so as to exceed the truth; of which, in sooth, my relation falls short." Cardan next draws a figure of Edward's horoscope, and devotes several pages to the customary jargon of astrologers; and, under the heading "De animi qualitatibus," says: "There was something portentous about this boy. He had learnt, as I heard, seven languages, and certainly he knew thoroughly his own, French, and Latin. He was skilled in Dialectic, and eager to be instructed in all subjects. When I met him, he was in his fifteenth year, and he asked me (speaking Latin no less perfectly and fluently than myself), 'What is contained in those rare books of yours, De rerum varietate?' for I had dedicated these manuscripts to his name.[155] Whereupon I began by pointing out to him what I had written in the opening chapter on the cause of the comets which others had sought so long in vain. He was curious to hear more of this cause, so I went on to tell him that it was the collected light of the wandering stars. 'Then,' said he, 'how is it, since the stars are set going by various impulses, that this light is not scattered, or carried along with the stars in their courses?' I replied: 'It does indeed move with them, but at a speed vastly greater on account of the difference of our point of view; as, for instance, when the prism is cast upon the wall by the sun and the crystal, then the least motion of the crystal will shift the position of the reflection to a great distance.' The King said: 'But how can this be done when no subjectum is provided? for in the case you quote the wall is the subjectum to the reflection.' I replied: 'It is a similar effect to that which we observe in the Milky Way, and in the reflection of light when many candles are lighted in a mass; these always produce a certain clear and lucent medium. Itaque ex ungue leonem.'

"This youth was the great hope of good and learned men everywhere, by reason of his frankness and the gentleness of his manners. He began to take an interest in the Arts before he understood them, and to understand them before he had full occasion to use them. The production of such a personality was an effort of humanity; and, should he be snatched away before his time, not only England, but all the world must mourn his loss.

"When he was required to show the gravity of a king, he would appear to be an old man. He played upon the lyre; he took interest in public affairs; and was of a kingly mind, following thus the example of his father, who, while he was over-careful to do right, managed to exhibit himself to the world in an evil light. But the son was free from any suspicion of such a charge, and his intelligence was brought to maturity by the study of philosophy."

Cardan next makes an attempt to gauge the duration of the King's life, and when it is considered that he was a skilled physician, and Edward a sickly boy, fast sinking into a decline, it is to be feared that he let sincerity give way to prudence when he proclaimed that, in his fifty-sixth year the King would be troubled with divers illnesses. "Speaking generally of the whole duration of his life he will be found to be steadfast, firm, severe, chaste, intelligent, an observer of righteousness, patient under trouble, mindful both of injuries and benefits, one demanding reverence and seeking his own. He would lust as a man, but would suffer the curse of impotence. He would be wise beyond measure, and thereby win the admiration of the world; very prudent and high-minded; fortunate, and indeed a second Solomon."

Edward VI. died on July 6, 1553, about six months after Cardan had returned to Milan; and, before the publication of the Geniturarum Exempla in 1554, the author added to the King's horoscope a supplementary note, explaining his conduct thereanent and shedding some light upon the tortuous and sinister intrigues which at that time engaged the ingenuity of the leaders about the English Court. Now that he was safe from the consequences of giving offence, he wrote in terms much less guarded as to the state of English affairs. It must be admitted that his calculations as to the King's length of days, published after death, have no special value as calculations; but his impressions of the probable drift of events in England are interesting as the view of a foreigner upon English politics, and moreover they exhibit in strong light the sinister designs of Northumberland. Cardan records his belief that, in the fourth month of his fifteenth year, the King had been in peril of his life from the plottings of those immediately about him. On one occasion a particular disposition of the sun and Mars denoted that he was in danger of plots woven by a wicked minister, nay, there were threatenings even of poison.[156] He does not shrink from affirming that this unfortunate boy met his death by the treachery of those about him. As an apology for the horoscope he drew when he was in England, he lays down the principle that it is inexpedient to give opinions as to the duration of life in dealing with the horoscopes of those in feeble health, unless you shall beforehand consult all the directions and processes and ingresses of the ruling planets, "and if I had not made this reservation in the prognostic I gave to the English courtiers, they might justly have found fault with me."

He next remarks that he had spent much time in framing this horoscope—albeit it was imperfect—according to his usual practice, and that if he had gone on somewhat farther, and consulted the direction of the sun and moon, the danger of death in which the King stood would straightway have manifested itself. If he had still been distrustful as to the directions aforesaid, and had gone on to observe the processes and ingresses, the danger would have been made clear, but even then he would not have dared to predict an early death to one in such high position: he feared the treacheries and tumults and the transfer of power which must ensue, and drew a picture of all the evils which might befall himself, evils which he was in no mood to face. Where should he look for protection amongst a strange people, who had little mercy upon one another and would have still less for him, a foreigner, with their ruler a mere boy, who could protect neither himself nor his guest? It might easily come about that his return to Italy would be hindered; and, supposing the crisis to come to the most favourable issue, what would he get in return for all this danger and anxiety? He calls to mind the cases of two soothsayers who were foolish enough to predict the deaths of princes, Ascletarion, and a certain priest, who foretold the deaths of Domitian and Galeazzo Sforza; and describes their fate, which was one he did not desire to call down upon himself. Although his forecast as to Edward's future was incomplete and unsatisfactory, he foresaw what was coming upon the kingdom from the fact that all the powers thereof, the strong places, the treasury, the legislature, and the fleet, were gathered into the hands of one man (Northumberland). "And this man, forsooth, was one whose father[157] the King's father had beheaded; one who had plunged into confusion all the affairs of the realm; seeing that he had brought to the scaffold, one after the other, the two maternal uncles of the King. Wherefore he was driven on both by his evil disposition and by his dread of the future to conspire against his sovereign's life. Now in such a season as this, when all men held their tongues for fear (for he brought to trial whomsoever he would), when he had gained over the greater part of the nobles to his side by dividing amongst them the spoil of the Church; when he, the most bitter foe of the King's title and dignity, had so contrived that his own will was supreme in the business of the State, I became weary of the whole affair; and, being filled with pity for the young King, proved to be a better prophet on the score of my inborn common-sense, than through my skill in Astrology. I took my departure straightway, conscious of some evil hovering anigh, and full of tears."[158]

The above is Cardan's view of the machinations of the statesmen in high places in the English Court during the last months of Edward's life. Judged by the subsequent action of Northumberland it is in the main correct; and, taking into consideration his associations and environment during his stay in London, this view bears evident traces of independent judgment. Sir John Cheke, the King's former preceptor, and afterwards Professor of Greek at Cambridge, had received him with all the courtesy due to a fellow-scholar, and probably introduced him at Court. Cheke was a Chamberlain of the Exchequer, and just about this time was appointed Clerk to the Privy Council, wherefore he must have been fully acquainted with the aims and methods of the opposing factions about the Court. His fellow-clerk, Cecil, was openly opposed to Northumberland's designs, and prudently advanced a plea of ill health to excuse his absence from his duties: but Cheke at this time was an avowed partisan of the Duke, and of the policy which professed to secure the ascendency of the anti-Papal party. Cardan, living in daily intercourse with Cheke, might reasonably have taken up the point of view of his kind and genial friend; but no,—he evidently rated Northumberland, from beginning to end, as a knave and a traitor, and a murderer at least in will.

When he quitted England in the autumn of 1552 Cardan did not shake himself entirely free from English associations. In an ill-starred moment he determined to take back to Italy with him an English boy.[159] He was windbound for several days at Dover, and the man with whom he lodged seems to have offered to let him take his son, named William, aged twelve years, back to Italy. Cardan was pleased with the boy's manner and appearance, and at once consented; but the adventure proved a disastrous one. The boy and his new protector could not exchange a word, and only managed to make each other understand by signs, and that very imperfectly. The boy was resolute to go on while Cardan wanted to be rid of him; but his conscience would not allow him to send him home unless he should, of his own free will, ask to be sent, and by way of giving William a distaste for the life he had chosen, he records that he often beat him cruelly on the slightest pretext. But the boy was not to be shaken off. He persisted in following his venture to the end, and arrived in Cardan's train at Milan, where he was allowed to go his own way. The only care for his training Cardan took was to have him taught music. He chides the unhappy boy for his indifference to learning and for his love of the company of other youths. What with his literary work and the family troubles which so soon fell upon him, Cardan's hands were certainly full; but, all allowance being made, it is difficult to find a valid excuse for this neglect on his part. William grew up to be a young man, and was finally apprenticed to a tailor at Pavia, but his knavish master set him to work as a vinedresser, suspecting that Cardan cared little what happened so long as the young man was kept out of his sight. William seems to have been a merry, good-tempered fellow; but his life was a short one, for he took fever, and died in his twenty-second year.[160]

Besides chronicling this strange and somewhat pathetic incident, Cardan sets down in the Dialogus de Morte his general impressions of the English people. Alluding to the fear of death, he remarks that the English, so far as he has observed, were scarcely at all affected by it, and he commends their wisdom, seeing that death is the last ill we have to suffer, and is, moreover, inevitable. "And if an Englishman views his own death with composure, he is even less disturbed over that of a friend or kinsman: he will look forward to re-union in a future state of immortality. People like these, who stand up thus readily to face death and mourn not over their nearest ones, surely deserve sympathy, and this boy (William) was sprung from the same race. In stature the English resemble Italians, they are fairer in complexion, less ruddy, and broad in the chest. There are some very tall men amongst them: they are gentle in manner and friendly to travellers, but easily angered, and in this case are much to be dreaded. They are brave in battle, but wanting in caution; great eaters and drinkers, but in this respect the Germans exceed them, and they are prone rather than prompt to lust. Some amongst them are distinguished in talent, and of these Scotus and Suisset[161] may be given as examples. They dress like Italians, and are always fain to declare that they are more nearly allied to us than to any others, wherefore they try specially to imitate us in habit and manners as closely as they can. They are trustworthy, freehanded, and ambitious; but in speaking of bravery, nothing can be more marvellous than the conduct of the Highland Scots, who are wont to take with them, when they are led to execution, one playing upon the pipes, who, as often as not, is condemned likewise, and thus he leads the train dancing to death." Like as the English were to Italians in other respects, Cardan was struck with the difference between the two nations as soon as the islanders opened their mouths to speak. He could not understand a single word, but stood amazed, deeming them to be Italians who had lost their wits. "The tongue is curved upon the palate; they turn about their words in the mouth, and make a hissing sound with their teeth." He then goes on to say that all the time of his absence his mind was full of thoughts of his own people in Italy, wherefore he sought leave to return at once.


[146] Scotichronicon, vol. i. p. 286 [ed. G. F. S. Gordon, Glasgow, 1867]. Naude, in his Apologie pour les grands hommes soupconnez de Magie, writes: "Ceux qui recherchoiant les Mathematiques et les Sciences les moins communes etoient soupconnez d'etre enchanteurs et Magiciens."—p. 15.

[147] "Curam agebat Medicus ex constituto Medicorum Lutetianorum."—De Vita Propria, ch. xl. p. 137. Cardan makes no direct mention of any other physician in Scotland besides Cassanate; but the Archbishop would certainly have a body physician in attendance during Cassanate's absence.

[148] "Per totam tunicam sicut in linteis."—Opera, tom. ix. p. 128.

[149] "Accipe testudinem maximam et illam incoque in aqua, donec dissolvatur, deinde abjectis corticibus accipiantur caro, et ossa et viscera omnia mundata."—Opera, tom. ix. p. 140.

[150] Another piece of advice runs as follows: "De venere certe non est bona, neque utilis, ubi tamen contingat necessitas, debet uti ea inter duos somnos, scilicet post mediam noctem, et melius est exercere eam ter in sex diebus pro exemplo ut singulis duobus diebus semel, quam bis in una die, etiam quod staret per decem dies."—Opera, tom. ix. p. 135.

[151] "Interim autem concurrebant multi, imo pene tota nobilitas."—Opera, tom. l. p. 93.

[152] Scotichronicon, vol. i. p. 234. Larrey in his History of England seems to have given currency to the legend that Cardan foretold the Archbishop's death. "S'il en faut croire ce que l'Histoire nous dit de ce fameux Astrologe, il donna une terrible preuve de sa science a l'Archeveque qu'il avoit gueri, lorsque prenait conge de lire, il lui tint ce discours: 'Qu'il avoit bien pu le guerir de sa maladie; mais qu'il n'etoit pas en son pouvoir de changer sa destinee, ni d'empecher qu'il ne fut pendu.'"—Larrey, Hist. d'Angleterre, vol. ii. p. 711.

[153] De Vita Propria, ch. xxxii. p. 101.

[154] "Scoticu nomen antea horruera, eorum exemplo qui prius coeperunt odisse quam cognoscere. Nunc cum ipsa gens per se humanissima sit atque supra existimationem civilis, tu tamen tantum illi addis ornamenti, ut longe nomine tuo jam nobilior evadat."—De Astrorum Judiciis, p. 3.

[155] Cardan evidently carried the MS. with him, for he writes (Opera, tom. i. p. 72): "Hoc fuit quod Regi Angliae Edoardo sexto admodum adolescenti dum redirem a Scotia ostendi."

[156] "Cumque ibi esset nodus etia venenum, quod utina abfuerit."—Geniturarum Exempla, p. 411.

[157] Edmund Dudley, the infamous minister of Henry VII.

[158] Geniturarum Exempla, p. 412.

[159] In the prologue to Dialogus de Morte, Opera, tom. i. p. 673, he gives a full account of this transaction. Of the boy himself he writes: "hospes ostendit mihi filium nomine Guglielmum, aetatis annorum duodecim, probum, scitulum, et parentibus obsequentem. Avus paternus nomine Gregorius adhuc vivebat, et erat Ligur: pater Laurentius, familia nobili Cataneorum."

[160] Opera, tom. i. p. 119. Cardan here calls him "Gulielmus Lataneus Anglus adolescens mihi charissimus." In the De Morte, however, he speaks of him as "ex familia Cataneorum" (see last page).

[161] Cardan writes (De Subtilitate, p. 444) that Suisset [Richard Swineshead], who lived about 1350, was known as the Calculator; but Kaestner [Gesch. der Math. I. 50] maintains that the title Calculator should be applied to the book rather than to the author, and hints that this misapprehension on Cardan's part shows that he knew of Suisset only by hearsay. The title of the copy of Suisset in the British Museum stands "Subtilissimi Doctoris Anglici Suiset. Calculationes Liber," Padue [1485]. Brunet gives one, "Opus aureum calculationum," Pavia, 1498.


CARDAN travelled southward by way of the Low Countries. He stayed some days at Antwerp, and during his visit he was pressed urgently to remain in the city and practise his art. A less pleasant experience was a fall into a ditch when he was coming out of a goldsmith's shop. He was cut and bruised about the left ear, but the damage was only skin-deep. He went on by Brussels and Cologne to Basel, where he once more tarried several days. He had a narrow escape here of falling into danger, for, had he not been forewarned by Guglielmo Gratarolo, a friend, he would have taken up his quarters in a house infected by the plague. He was received as a guest by Carlo Affaidato, a learned astronomer and physicist, who, on the day of departure, made him accept a valuable mule, worth a hundred crowns. Another generous offer of a similar kind was made to him shortly afterwards by a Genoese gentleman of the family of Ezzolino, who fell in with him accidentally on the road. This was the gift of a very fine horse (of the sort which the English call Obinum), but, greatly as Cardan desired to have the horse, his sense of propriety kept him back from accepting this gift.[162]

He went next to Besancon, where he was received by Franciscus Bonvalutus, a scholar of some note, and then by Berne to Zurich. He must have crossed the Alps by the Splugen Pass, as Chur is named in his itinerary, and he also describes his voyage down the Lake of Como on the way to Milan, where he arrived on January 3, 1553. Cardan was a famous physician when he set out on his northward journey; but now on his return he stood firmly placed by the events of the last few months at the head of his profession. Writing of the material results of his mission to Scotland, he declares that he is ashamed to set down the terms upon which he was paid, so lavishly was he rewarded for his services. The offers made to him by so many exalted personages to secure his permanent and exclusive attention would indeed have turned the heads of most men. There was the offer from the King of Denmark; another, in 1552, from the King of France at a salary of thirteen hundred crowns a year; and yet another made by the agents of Charles V., who was then engaged in his disastrous attack upon Metz. All of them he refused: he had no inclination to share the perils of the leaguer of Metz, and his sense of loyalty forbad him to join himself to the power which was at that time warring against his sovereign. He speaks also of another offer made to him by the Queen of Scotland of a generous salary if he would settle in Scotland; but the country was too remote for his taste. There is no authority for this offer except the De Vita Propria, and it is there set down in terms which render it somewhat difficult to identify the Queen aforesaid.[163]

As soon as he entered Milan, Ferrante Gonzaga, the Governor, desired to secure his services as physician to the Duke of Mantua, his brother, offering him thirty thousand gold crowns as honorarium; but, in spite of the Governor's persuasions and threats, he would not accept the office. When the news had come to Paris that Cardan was about to quit Britain, forty of the most illustrious scientists of France repaired to Paris in order to hear him expound the art of Medicine; but the disturbed state of the country deterred him from setting foot in France. He refers to a letter from his friend Ranconet as a testimony of the worship that was paid to him, and goes on to say that, in his journeying through France and Germany, he fared much as Plato fared at the Olympic games.

In a passage which Cardan wrote shortly after his return from Britain, he lets it be seen that he was not ill-satisfied with the figure he then made in the world. He writes—"Therefore, since all those with whom I am intimate think well of me for my truth and probity, I can let my envious rivals indulge themselves as they list in the shameful habit of evil-speaking. With regard to folly, if I now utter, or ever have uttered, foolish words, let those who accuse me show their evidence. I, who was born poor, with a weakly body, in an age vexed almost incessantly by wars and tumults, helped on by no family influence, but forced to contend against the bitter opposition of the College at Milan, contrived to overcome all the plots woven against me, and open violence as well. All the honours which a physician can possess I either enjoy, or have refused when they were offered to me. I have raised the fortunes of my family, and have lived a blameless life. I am well known to all men of worship, and to the whole of Europe. What I have written has been lauded; in sooth, I have written of so many things and at such length, that a man could scarcely read my works if he spent his life therewith. I have taken good care of my domestic affairs, and by common consent I have come off victor in every contest I have tried. I have refused always to flatter the great; and over and beyond this I have often set myself in active opposition to them. My name will be found scattered about the pages of many writers. I shall deem my life long enough if I come in perfect health to the age of fifty-six. I have been most fortunate as the discoverer of many and important contributions to knowledge, as well as in the practice of my art and in the results attained; so much so that if my fame in the first instance has raised up envy against me, it has prevailed finally, and extinguished all ill-feeling."[164]

These words were written before the publication of the Geniturarum Exempla in 1554. Cardan's life for the six years which followed was busy and prosperous, but on the whole uneventful. The Archbishop of St. Andrews wrote to him according to promise at the end of two years to give an account of the results of his treatment. His letter is worthy of remark as showing that he, the person most interested, was well satisfied with Cardan's skill as a physician. Michael, the Archbishop's chief chamberlain, was the bearer thereof, and as Hamilton speaks of him as "epistolam vivam," it is probable that he bore likewise certain verbal messages which could be more safely carried thus than in writing. A sentence in the De Vita Propria,[165] mixed up with the account of Hamilton's cure, seems to refer to this embassy, and to suggest that Michael was authorized to promise Cardan a liberal salary if he would accept permanent office in the Primate's household. Moreover, Hamilton writes somewhat querulously about Cassanate's absence abroad on a visit to his family, a fact which would make him all the more eager to secure Cardan's services. His letter runs as follows—"Two of your most welcome letters, written some months ago, I received by the hand of an English merchant; others came by the care of the Lord Bishop of Dunkeld, together with the Indian balsam. The last were from Scoto, who sent at the same time your most scholarly comments on that difficult work of Ptolemy.[166] To all that you have written to me I have replied fully in three or four letters of my own, but I know not whether, out of all I have written, any letter of mine has reached you. But now I have directed that a servant of mine, who is known to you, and who is travelling to Rome, shall wait upon you and salute you in my name, and bear to you my gratitude, not only for the various gifts I have received from you, but likewise because my health is well-nigh restored, the ailment which vexed me is driven away, my strength increased, and my life renewed. Wherefore I rate myself debtor for all these benefits, as well as this very body of mine. For, from the time when I began to take these medicines of yours, selected and compounded with so great skill, my complaint has afflicted me less frequently and severely; indeed, now, as a rule, I am not troubled therewith more than once a month; sometimes I escape for two months."[167]

In the following year (1555) Cardan's daughter Chiara, who seems to have been a virtuous and well-conducted girl, was married to Bartolomeo Sacco, a young Milanese gentleman of good family, a match which proved to be fortunate. Cardan had now reached that summit of fame against which the shafts of jealousy will always be directed. The literary manners of the age certainly lacked urbanity, and of all living controversialists there was none more truculent than Julius Caesar Scaliger, who had begun his career as a man of letters by a fierce assault upon Erasmus with regard to his Ciceronianus, a leading case amongst the quarrels of authors. Erasmus he had attacked for venturing to throw doubts upon the suitability of Cicero's Latin as a vehicle of modern thought; this quarrel was over a question of form; and now Scaliger went a step farther, and, albeit he knew little of the subject in hand, published a book of Esoteric Exercitations to show that the De Subtilitate of Cardan was nothing but a tissue of nonsense.[168] The book was written with all the heavy-handed brutality he was accustomed to use, but it did no hurt to Cardan's reputation, and, irritable as he was by nature, it failed to provoke him to make an immediate rejoinder, a delay which was the cause of one of the most diverting incidents in the whole range of literary warfare.

Scaliger sat in his study, eagerly expecting a reply, but Cardan took no notice of the attack. Then one day some tale-bearer, moved either by the spirit of tittle-tattle or the love of mischief, brought to Julius Caesar the news that Jerome Cardan had sunk under his tremendous battery of abuse, and was dead. It is but bare charity to assume that Scaliger was touched by some stings of regret when he heard what had been the fatal result of his onslaught; still there can be little doubt that his mind was filled with a certain satisfaction when he reflected that he was in sooth a terrible assailant, and that his fist was heavier than any other man's. In any case, he felt that it behoved him to make some sign, wherefore he sat down and penned a funeral oration over his supposed victim, which is worth giving at length.[169]

"At this season, when fate has dealt with me in a fashion so wretched and untoward that it has connected my name with a cruel public calamity, when a literary essay of mine, well known to the world, and undertaken at the call of duty, has ensued in dire misfortune, it seems to me that I am bound to bequeath to posterity a testimony that, sharp as may have been the vexation brought upon Jerome Cardan by my trifling censures, the grief which now afflicts me on account of his death is ten times sharper. For, even if Cardan living should have been a terror to me, I, who am but a single unit in the republic of letters, ought to have postponed my own and singular convenience to the common good, seeing how excellent were the merits of this man, in every sort of learning. For now the republic is bereft of a great and incomparable scholar, and must needs suffer a loss which, peradventure, none of the centuries to come will repair. What though I am a person of small account, I could count upon him as a supporter, a judge, and (immortal gods) even a laudator of my lucubrations; for he was so greatly impressed by their weighty merits, that he deemed he would best defend himself by avoiding all comment on the same, despairing of his own strength, and knowing not how great his powers really were. In this respect he was so skilful a master, that he could assuredly have fathomed the depths of every method and every device used against him, and would thereby have made his castigation of myself to serve as an augmentation of his own fame. He, in sooth, was a man of such quality that, if he had deemed it a thing demanded of him by equity, he would never have hesitated to point out to other students the truth of those words which I had written against him as an accusation, while, on the other hand, this same constancy of mind would have made him adhere to the opinions he might have put forth in the first instance, so far as these opinions were capable of proof. I, when I addressed my Exercitations to him during his life—to him whom I knew by common report to be the most ingenious and learned of mortal men—was in good hope that I might issue from this conflict a conqueror; and is there living a man blind enough not to perceive that what I looked for was hard-earned credit, which I should certainly have won by finding my views confirmed by Cardan living, and not for inglorious peace brought about by his death? And indeed I might have been suffered to have share in the bounty and kindliness of this illustrious man, whom I have always heard described as a shrewd antagonist and one full of confidence in his own high position, for it was an easy task to win from him the ordinary rights of friendship by any trifling letter, seeing that he was the most courteous of mankind. It is scarcely likely that I, weary as I was, one who in fighting had long been used to perils of all sorts, should thus cast aside my courage; that I, worn out by incessant controversies and consumed by the daily wear and tear of writing, should care for an inglorious match with so distinguished an antagonist; or that I should have set my heart upon winning a bare victory in the midst of all this dust and tumult. For not only was the result which has ensued unlooked for in the nature of things and in the opinion of all men qualified to judge in such a case; it was also the last thing I could have desired to happen, for the sake of my good name. My judgment has ever been that all men (for in sooth all of us are, so to speak, little less than nothing) may so lose their heads in controversy that they may actually fight against their own interests. And if such a mischance as this may happen to any man of eminence—as has been my case, and the case of divers others I could recall—it shall not be written down in the list of his errors, unless in aftertimes he shall seek to justify the same. It is necessary to advance roughness in the place of refinement, and stubborn tenacity for steadfastness. No man can be pronounced guilty of offence on the score of some hasty word or other which may escape his lips; such a charge should rather be made when he defends himself by unworthy methods. Therefore if Cardan during his life, being well advised in the matter, should have kept silent over my attempts to correct him, what could have brought me greater credit than this? He would have bowed to my opinion in seemly fashion, and would have taken my censures as those of a father or a preceptor. But supposing that he had ventured to engage in a sharper controversy with me over this question, is there any one living who would fail to see that he might have gone near to lose his wits on account of the mental agitation which had afflicted him in the past? But as soon as his superhuman intellect had thoroughly grasped the question, it seemed to him that he must needs be called upon to bear what was intolerable. He could not pluck up courage enough to bear it by living, so he bore it by dying. Moreover, what he might well have borne, he could not bring himself to bear, to wit that he and I should come to an agreement and should formulate certain well-balanced decisions for the common good. For this reason I lament deeply my share in this affair, I who had most obvious reasons for engaging in this conflict, and the clearest ones for inventing a story as to the victory I hoped to gain; reasons which a man of sober temper could never anticipate, which a brave man would never desire.

"Cardan's fame has its surest foundation in the praise of his adversaries. I lament greatly this misfortune of our republic: the causes of which the parliament of lettered men may estimate by its particular rules, but it cannot rate this calamity in relation to the excellences of this illustrious personality. For in a man of learning three properties ought to stand out pre-eminently—a spotless and gentle rule of life; manifold and varied learning; and consummate talent joined to the shrewdest capacity for forming a judgment. These three points Cardan attained so completely that he seemed to have been made entirely for himself, and at the same time to have been the only mortal made for mankind at large. No one could be more courteous to his inferiors or more ready to discuss the scheme of the universe with any man of mark with whom he might chance to foregather. He was a man of kingly courtesy, of sympathetic loftiness of mind, one fitted for all places, for all occasions, for all men and for all fortunes. In reference to learning itself, I beg you to look around upon the accomplished circle of the learned now living on the earth, in this most fortunate age of ours; here the combination of individual talent shows us a crowd of illustrious men, but each one of these displays himself as occupied with some special portion of Philosophy. But Cardan, in addition to his profound knowledge of the secrets of God and Nature, was a consummate master of the humaner letters, and was wont to expound the same with such eloquence that those who listened to him would have been justified in affirming that he could have studied nothing else all his life. A great man indeed! Great if he could lay claim to no other excellence than this; and forsooth, when we come to consider the quickness of his wit, his fiery energy in everything he undertook, whether of the least or the greatest moment, his laborious diligence and unconquerable steadfastness, I affirm that the man who shall venture to compare himself with Cardan may well be regarded as one lacking in all due modesty. I forsooth feel no hostility towards one whose path never crossed mine, nor envy of one whose shadow never touched mine; the numerous and weighty questions dealt with in his monumental work urged me on to undertake the task of gaining some knowledge of the same. After the completion of the Commentaries on Subtlety, he published as a kind of appendix to these that most learned work the De Rerum Varietate. And in this case, before news was brought to me of his death, I followed my customary practice, and in the course of three days compiled an Excursus in short chapters. When I heard that he was dead I brought them together into one little book, in order that I also might lend a hand in this great work of his, and this thing I did after a fashion which he himself would have approved, supposing that at some time or other he might have held discourse with me, or with some other yet more learned man, concerning his affairs."[170]

It is a matter of regret that this cry of peccavi was not published till all the chief literary contemporaries of Scaliger were in their graves. As it did not appear till 1621, the men of his own time were not able to enjoy the shout of laughter over his discomfiture which would surely have gone up from Paris and Strasburg and Basel and Zurich. Estienne and Gessner would hardly have felt acute sorrow at a flout put upon Julius Caesar Scaliger. Crooked-tempered as he was, Cardan, compared with Scaliger, was as a rose to a thistle, but there were reasons altogether unconnected with the personalities of the disputants which swayed the balance to Cardan's advantage. The greater part of Scaliger's criticism was worthless, and the opinion of learned Europe weighed overwhelmingly on Cardan's side. Thuanus,[171] who assuredly did not love him, and Naude, who positively disliked him, subsequently gave testimony in his favour. He did not follow the example of Erasmus, and let Scaliger's abuse go by in silence, but he took the next wisest course. He published a short and dignified reply, Actio prima in Calumniatorem, in which, from title-page to colophon, Scaliger's name never once occurs. The gist of the book may best be understood by quoting an extract from the criticism of Cardan by Naude prefixed to the De Vita Propria. He writes: "This proposition of mine will best be comprehended by the man who shall set to work to compare Cardan with Julius Caesar Scaliger, his rival, and a man endowed with an intellect almost superhuman. For Scaliger, although he came upon the stage with greater pomp and display, and brought with him a mind filled with daring speculation, and adequate to the highest flights, kept closely behind the lattices of the humaner letters and of medical philosophy, leaving to Cardan full liberty to occupy whatever ground of argument he might find most advantageous in any other of the fields of learning. Moreover, if any one shall give daily study to these celebrated Exercitations, he will find therein nothing to show that Cardan is branded by any mark of shame which may not be removed with the slightest trouble, if the task be undertaken in a spirit of justice. For, in the first place, who can maintain that Scaliger was justified in publishing his Exercitations three years after the issue of the second edition of the Libri de Subtilitate, without ever having taken the trouble to read this edition, and without exempting from censure the errors which Cardan had diligently expunged from his book in the course of his latest revision, lest he (Scaliger) should find that all the mighty labour expended over his criticisms had been spent in vain? Besides, who does not know that Cardan, in his Actio prima in Calumniatorem, blunted the point of all his assailant's weapons, swept away all his objections, and broke in pieces all his accusations, in such wise that the very reason of their existence ceased to be? Cardan, in sooth, was a true man, and held all humanity as akin to him. There is small reason why we should marvel that he erred now and again; it is a marvel much greater that he should only have gone astray so seldom and in things of such trifling moment. Indeed I will dare to affirm, and back my opinion with a pledge, that the errors which Scaliger left behind him in these Exercitations were more in number than those which he so wantonly laid to Cardan's charge, having sweated nine years over the task. And this he did not so much in the interests of true erudition as with the desire of coming to blows with all those whom he recognized as the chiefs of learning."

During the whole dispute Cardan kept his temper admirably. Scaliger was a physician of repute; and it is not improbable that the spectacle of Cardan's triumphal progress back to Milan from the North may have aroused his jealousy and stimulated him to make his ill-judged attack. But even on the ground of medical science he was no match for Cardan, while in mathematics and philosophy he was immeasurably inferior. Cardan felt probably that the attack was nothing more than the buzzing of a gadfly, and that in any case it would make for his own advantage and credit, wherefore he saw no reason why he should disquiet himself; indeed his attitude of dignified indifference was admirably calculated to win for him the approval of the learned world by the contrast it furnished to the raging fury of his adversary.[172]

After the heavy labour of editing and issuing to the world the De Rerum Varietate, and of re-editing the first issue of the De Subtilitate, Cardan might well have given himself a term of rest, but to a man of his temper, idleness, or even a relaxation of the strain, is usually irksome. The De Varietate was first printed at Basel in 1553, and, as soon as it was out of the press, it brought a trouble—not indeed a very serious one—upon the author. The printer, Petrus of Basel (who must not be confused with Petreius of Nuremberg) took it upon him to add to Chapter LXXX of the work some disparaging remarks about the Dominican brotherhoods, making Cardan responsible for the assertion that they were rapacious wolves who hunted down reputed witches and despisers of God, not because of their offences, but because they chanced to be the possessors of much wealth. Cardan remonstrated at once—he always made it his practice to keep free from all theological wrangling,—but Petrus treated the whole question with ridicule,[173] and it does not seem that Cardan could have had any very strong feeling in the matter, for the obnoxious passage is retained in the editions of 1556 and 1557. The religious authorities were however fully justified in assuming that the presence of such a passage in the pages of a book so widely popular as the De Varietate would necessarily prove a cause of scandal, and give cause to the enemy to blaspheme. For Reginald Scot, in the eighth chapter of Discoverie of Witchcraft, alludes to the passage in question in the following terms: "Cardanus writeth that the cause of such credulitie consisteth in three points: to wit in the imagination of the melancholike, in the constancie of them that are corrupt therewith, and in the deceipt of the Judges; who being inquisitors themselves against heretikes and witches, did both accuse and condemne them, having for their labour the spoile of their goods. So as these inquisitors added many fables hereunto, least they should seeme to have doone injurie to the poore wretches, in condemning and executing them for none offense. But sithens (said he) the springing up of Luther's sect, these priests have tended more diligentlie upon the execution of them; bicause more wealth is to be caught from them; insomuch as now they deale so looselie with witches (through distrust of gaines) that all is seene to be malice, follie, or avarice that hath beene practised against them. And whosoever shall search into this cause, or read the cheefe writers hereupon, shall find his words true."

In 1554 Cardan published also with Petrus of Basel the Ptolemaei de astrorum judiciis with the Geniturarum Exempla, bound in one volume, but he seems to have written nothing but a book of fables for the young, concerning which he subsequently remarks that, in his opinion, grown men might read the same with advantage. It is a matter of regret that this work should have disappeared, for it would have been interesting to note how far Cardan's intellect, acute and many-sided as it was, was capable of dealing with the literature of allegory and imagination. He has set down one fact concerning it, to wit that it contained "multa de futuris arcana." The next year he produced only a few medical trifles, but in 1557 he brought out two other scientific works which he characterizes as admirable—one the Ars parva curandi, and the other a treatise De Urinis. In the same year he published the book which, in forming a judgment of him as a man and a writer, is perhaps as valuable as the De Vita Propria and the De Utilitate, to wit the De Libriis Propriis. This work exists in three forms: the first, a short treatise, "cui titulus est ephemerus," is dedicated to "Hieronymum Cardanum medicum, affinem suum," and has the date of 1543. The second has the date of 1554, and, according to Naude, was first published "apud Gulielmum Rovillium sub scuto Veneto, Lugduni, 1557." The third was begun in 1560,[174] and contains comments written in subsequent years. The first is of slight interest, the second is a sort of register of his works, amplified from year to year, while the third has more the form of a treatise, and presents with some degree of symmetry the crude materials contained in the first. Having finished with his writings up to the year 1564, Cardan lapses into a philosophizing strain, and opens his discourse with the ominous words, "Sed jam ad institutum revertamur, deque ipso vitae humanae genere aliquo dicamus." He begins with a disquisition on the worthlessness of life, and repeats somewhat tediously the story of his visit to Scotland. He gives a synopsis of all the sciences he had ever studied—Theology, Dialectics, Arithmetic, Music, Optics, Astronomy, Astrology, Geometry, Chiromancy, Agriculture, Medicine, passing on to treat of Magic, portents and warnings, and of his own experience of the same at the crucial moments of his life. He ends by a reference to an incident already chronicled in the De Vita Propria,[175] how he escaped death or injury from a falling mass of masonry by crossing the street in obedience to an impulse he could not explain, and speculates why God, who was able to save him on this occasion with so little trouble, should have let him rush on and court the overwhelming stroke which ultimately laid him low.

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