Jerome Cardan - A Biographical Study
by William George Waters
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[162] De Vita Propria, ch. xxxii. p. 100.

[163] De Vita Propria, ch. iv. p. 16: "cum Scotorum Regina cujus levirum curaveram." Cardan had probably prescribed for a brother of the Duc de Longueville, the first husband of Mary of Guise, during his sojourn in Paris.

[164] Geniturarum Exempla, p. 459.

[165] De Vita Propria, ch. xl. p. 137.

[166] Commentaria in Ptolemaei de Astrorum Judiciis (Basil, 1554). He wrote these notes while going down the Loire in company with Cassanate on his way from Lyons to Paris in 1552.—De Vita Propria, ch. xlv. p. 175.

He gives an interesting account (Opera, tom. i. p. 110) as to how the book first came under his notice. The day before he quitted Lyons with Cassanate, a school-master came to ask for advice, which Cardan gave gratis. Then the patient, knowing perhaps the physician's taste for the marvellous, related how there was a certain boy in the place who could see spirits by looking into an earthen vessel, but Cardan was little impressed by what he saw, and began to talk with the school-master about Archimedes. The school-master brought out a work of the Greek philosopher with which was bound up the Ptolemaei Libri de Judiciis. Cardan fastened upon it at once, and wanted to buy it, but the school-master insisted that he should take it as a gift. He declares that his Commentaries thereupon are the most perfect of all his writings. The book contains his famous Nativity of Christ. A remark in De Libris Propriis (cf. Opera, tom. i. p. 67) indicates that there was an earlier edition of Ptolemy, printed at Milan at Cardan's own cost, because when he saw the numerous mistakes made by Ottaviano Scoto in printing the De Malo Medendi and the De Consolatione, he determined to go to another printer.

[167] Opera, tom. i. p. 93.

[168] Cardan notices the attack in these words—"His diebus quidam conscripserat adversus nostrum de Subtilitate librum, Opus ingens. Adversus quem ego Apologiam scripsi."—Opera, tom. i. p. 117. Scaliger absurdly calls his work the fifteenth book of Exercitations, and wished the world to believe that he had written, though not printed, the fourteen others.

[169] It was not printed until many years after the deaths of both disputants, and appeared for the first time in a volume of Scaliger's letters and speeches published at Toulouse in 1621, and it was afterwards affixed to the De Vita Propria.

[170] "Si Scaliger avoit eu un peu moins de demangeaison de contre dire, il auroit acquis plus de gloire, qu'il n'a fait dans ce combat: mais, ce que les Grecs ont apelle [Greek: ametria tes antholkes], une passion excessive de prendre le contrepied des autres, a fait grand tort a Scaliger. C'est par ce principe qu'il a soutenu que le perroquet est une tres laide bete. Si Cardan l'eut dit, Scaliger lui eut oppose ce qu'on trouve dans les anciens Poetes touchant la beaute de cet oiseau. Vossius a fait une Critique tres judicieuse de cette humeur contrariante de Scaliger, et a marque en meme temps en quoi ces deux Antagonistes etoient superieurs et inferieures, l'un a l'autre."—(Scaliger, in Exercitat., 246.) "Quia Cardanus psittacum commendarat a colorum varietate ac praeterea fulgore, quod et Appuleius facit in secundo Floridorum, contra contendit esse deformem, non modo ob foeditatem rostri, ac crurum, et linguae, sed etiam quia sit coloris fusci ac cinericii, qui tristis. Quid faciamus summo Viro? Si Cardanus ea dixisset, provocasset ad judicia poetarum, atque adeo omnium hominum. Nunc quia pulchri dixit coloris, ille deformis contendit. Hoc contradictionis studium, quod ubique in hisce exercitationibus se prodit, sophista dignius est, quamque philosopho."—Bayle: Article "Cardan." (Sir Thomas Browne, in one of his Commonplace Books, observes—"If Cardan saith a parrot is a beautiful bird, Scaliger will set his wits on work to prove it a deformed animal.")

Naude (Apologie, ch. xiii.) says that of the great men of modern times Scaliger and Cardan each claimed the possession of a guardian spirit, and hints that Scaliger may have been moved to make this claim in order not to be outdone by his great antagonist. It should, however, be remembered that Cardan did not seriously assert this belief till long after his controversy with Scaliger. Naude sums up thus: "D'ou l'on peut juger asseurement, que lui et Scaliger n'ont point eu d'autre Genie que la grande doctrine qu'ils s'etoient acquis par leurs veilles, par leurs travaux, et par l'experience qu'ils avoient des choses sur lesquelles venant a elever leur jugement ils jugeoint pertinemment de toutes matieres, et ne laissoient rien echapper qui ne leur fust conneu et manifeste."

[171] Thuanus, ad Annum MDLXXVI, part of the Appendix to the De Vita Propria.

[172] Cardan does not seem to have harboured animosity against Scaliger. In the De Vita Propria, ch. xlviii. p. 198, he writes: "Julius Caesar Scaliger plures mihi titulos ascribit, quam ego mihi concedi postulassem, appellans ingenium profundissimum, felicissimum, et incomparabile."

[173] "Quid tua interest quod quatuor verba adjecerim? an hoc tantum crimen est! quid facerem absens absenti?" Cardan writes on in meditative strain: "Coeterum cum non ignorem maculatos fuisse codices B. Hieronimi, atque aliorum patrum nostrorum, ab his qui aliter sentiebant, erroremque suum auctoritate viri tegere voluerunt: ut ne quis in nostris operibus hallucinetur vel ab aliis decipiatur, sciant omnes me nullibi Theologum agere, nec velle in alienam messem falcem ponere."—Opera, tom. i. p. 112.

Johannes Wierus, one of the first rationalists on the subject of witchcraft, has quoted largely from Chapter LXXX of De Varietate in his book De Praestigiis Daemonum, in urging his case against the orthodox view.

[174] Opera, tom. i. p. 96. "Annus hic est Salutis millesimus quingentesimus ac sexagesimus."

[175] De Vita Propria, ch. xxx. p. 78.


THE year 1555 may be held to mark the point of time at which Cardan reached the highest point of his fortunes. After a long and bitter struggle with an adverse world he had come out a conqueror, and his rise to fame and opulence, if somewhat slow, had been steady and secure. He longed for wealth, not that he might figure as a rich man, but so that he might win the golden independence which permits a student to prosecute the task which seems to subserve the highest purposes of true learning, and frees him from the irksome battle for daily bread. He loved, indeed, to spend money over beautiful things, and there are few more attractive touches in the picture he draws of himself than the confession of his passion for costly penholders, gems, rare books, vessels of brass and silver, and painted spheres.[176] In this brief season of ease and security, there were no flaming portents in the sky to foretell the cruel stroke of evil fortune which was destined so soon to fall upon him.

Cardan has left a very pathetic sketch of his own miserable boyhood in the strangely ordered home in Milan, with his callous, tyrannical father, his quick-tempered mother, and the superadded torment of his Aunt Margaret's presence. Fazio Cardano was a man of rigorous sobriety, and he seems moreover to have atoned for his early irregularities by the practice of that austere piety which Jerome notices more than once as a characteristic of his old age.[177] The discipline was hard, and the life unlovely, but the home was at least decent and orderly, and no opportunities or provocations to loose manners or ill doing existed therein. In Cardan's own case it is to be feared that, after Lucia's death, the affairs of his household fell into dire confusion, in spite of the presence of his mother-in-law, Thadea, who had come to him as housekeeper—her husband, Altobello, having died soon after the marriage of his daughter with Cardan. He was an ardent lover of music, and, as a consequence, his house would be constantly filled with singing men and boys, a tribe of somewhat sinister reputation.[178] Then, when he was not engaged with music, he would be gambling in some fashion or other. After lamenting the vast amount of time he has wasted over the game of chess, he goes on: "But the play with the dice, an evil far more noxious, found its way into my house; and, after my sons had learned to play the same, my doors always stood open to dicers. I can find no excuse for this practice except the trivial one, that, what I did, I did in the hope of relieving the poverty of my children."[179] In a home of this sort, ruled by a father who was assuredly more careful of his work in the study and class-room than of his duties as paterfamilias, it is not wonderful that the two young men, Gian Battista and Aldo, should grow up into worthless profligates. It has been recorded how Cardan, during a journey to Genoa, wrote a Book of Precepts for his children,[180] a task the memory of which afterwards wrung from him a cry of despair. There never was compiled a more admirable collection of maxims; but, excellent as they were, it was not enough to write them down on paper; and the young men, if ever they took the trouble to read them, must have smiled as they called to mind the difference between their father's practices and the precepts he had composed for their guidance. Furthermore, he had written at length, in the De Consolatione, on the folly which parents for the most part display in the education of their children. "They show their affection in such foolish wise, that it would be nearer the mark to say they hate, rather than love, their offspring. They bring them up not to follow virtue, but to occupy themselves with all manner of hurtful things; not to learning, but to riot; not to the worship of God, but to foster in them the desire to drain the cup of lustful pleasure; not for the life eternal, but to the enticements of lechery."[181]

At this time Gian Battista had gained the doctorate of medicine at Pavia, and had made his contribution to medical knowledge by the publication of an insignificant tract, De cibis foetidis non edendis. Cardan was evidently full of hope for his elder son's career, but Aldo seems to have been a trouble from the first. Yet, in casting Aldo's horoscope (probably at the time of his birth) Cardan predicts for him a flourishing future.[182] Never was there made a worse essay in prophecy. Aldo's childhood had been a sickly one. He had well-nigh died of convulsions, and later on he had been troubled with dysentery, abscesses of the brain, and a fever which lasted six months. Moreover, he could not walk till he was three years old. With a weakly body, his nature seems to have put forth all sorts of untoward growths. There is a story which Naude brings forward as part of his indictment against Cardan, that the father being irritated beyond endurance by some ill conduct of his younger son during supper, cut off his ear by way of punishment. It was a most barbarous act; one going far beyond the range of any tradition of the early patria potestas, which may have yet lingered in Italy; and scarcely calculated to bring about reformation in the youth thus punished. In any case, Aldo went on from bad to worse; at one time his father found it necessary to place him under restraint, and the last record of him is that one in Cardan's testament, by which he was disinherited.

Gian Battista's failings were doubtless grave and numerous, but he had at least sufficient industry to qualify himself as a physician. He was certainly his father's favourite child, and on this account the eulogies written of him in those dark hours when Cardan's reason was reeling under the accumulated blows of private grief and public disgrace, must be accepted with caution. There is no evidence to show he was in intellect anything like the budding genius his father deemed him; as to conduct and manner of life, his carriage was exactly what the majority of youths, brought up in a similar fashion, would have adopted. There must have been something in the young man's humours which from the first made his father apprehensive as to the future, for Cardan soon came to see that an early marriage would be the surest safeguard for Gian Battista's future. With his mind bent on this scheme, he pointed out to his son various damsels of suitable station, any one of whom he would be ready to welcome into his family, but Gian Battista always found some excuse for declining matrimony. He declared that he was too closely engaged with his work; and, over and beyond this, it would not be seemly to bring home a bride into a house like their own, full of young men, for Cardan, as usual, had several pupils living with him. It was at the end of 1557 that the first forebodings of misfortune appeared. To Cardan, according to custom, they came in the form of a portent, for he records how he lay awake at midnight on December 20, and was suddenly conscious that his bed was shaking. He at once attributed this to a shock of an earthquake, and in the morning he demanded of the servant, Simone Sosia, who occupied the truckle bed in the room, whether he had felt the same. Simone replied that he had, whereupon Cardan, as soon as he arose, went to the piazza and asked of divers persons he met there, whether they had also been disturbed, but no one had felt anything of the shock he alluded to. He went home, and while the family were at table, a messenger, sent, as he afterwards records, by a certain woman of the town,[183] entered the room, and told him that his son was going to be married immediately after breakfast. Cardan asked who the bride might be, but the messenger said he knew not, and departed. It is not quite clear whether Gian Battista was present or not, but as soon as ever the messenger had departed, Cardan let loose an indignant outburst over his son's misconduct, reproaching him with undutiful secresy, and setting forth how he had introduced to him four young ladies of good family, of whom two were certainly enamoured of him. Any one of the four would have been acceptable as a daughter-in-law, but he declared that now he would insist upon having full information as to the antecedents of any other bride his son might have selected, before admitting her to the shelter of his roof. Over and over again had he counselled Gian Battista that he must on no account marry in haste, or without his advice, or without making sure that his income would be sufficient to support the responsibilities of the married state; rather than this should happen, he would willingly allow the young man to keep a mistress in the house for the sake of offspring, for he desired beyond all else to rear grandchildren from Gian Battista, because he nursed the belief that, as the son resembled his grandfather Fazio, so the son's children would resemble their grandfather—himself. When he was questioned, Gian Battista declared he knew nothing about the report, and was fully as astonished as his father; but two days later Gian Battista's own servant came to the house, and announced that his master had been married that same morning,[184] but that he knew not the name of the bride. Cardan now ascertained that Gian Battista's disinclination for matrimony had arisen from the fact that he had been amusing himself with a girl who was nothing else than an attractive and finely-dressed harlot, named Brandonia Seroni, the last woman in all Milan whom he could with decency receive into his house. And the pitiful story was not yet complete. In marrying her the foolish youth had burdened himself with her mother, two or more sisters, and three brothers, the last-named being rough fellows without any calling but that of common soldiers. The character of the girl herself may be judged by the answer given by her father Evangelista Seroni to Cardan during the subsequent trial. When Seroni was asked whether he had given his daughter as a virgin in marriage, he answered frankly in the negative.

Cardan at once made up his mind to shut his door upon the newly-married pair; but the unconquerable tenderness he felt for Gian Battista urged him on to send to the young man all the ready money he had saved. After two years of married life, two children, a boy and a girl, were born: husband and wife alike were in ill health, and every day brought its domestic quarrel. In the meantime sinister whispers were heard, set going in the first instance by the mother and sister of Brandonia, that Gian Battista was the father neither of the first nor of the second child. They even went so far as to designate the men to whom they rightly belonged, and contrived that this rumour should come to the ears of the injured husband. The consequence of their malignant tale-bearing was a quarrel more violent than ever, and the rise of a resolution in Gian Battista's mind to rid himself at all hazard of the accursed burden he had bound upon his shoulders.

Until the end of 1559 Cardan continued to live in Milan, vexed no doubt by the ever-present spectacle of the wretched case into which his beloved son had fallen. He records how the young wife, unknown to her husband, handed over to her father the wedding-ring which he (Cardan) had given to his son, along with a piece of silken stuff, in order to pledge them for money. This outrage, joined to the certain conviction that his wife was false to him, proved a provocation beyond the limits of Gian Battista's patience, and finally incited him to make a criminal attempt upon Brandonia's life. Hitherto he had been earnest enough in his desire to rid himself of his wife so long as she raged against him; but, on the restoration of peace, his anger against her would vanish. Now he had lost all patience; he laid his plans advisedly, and set to work to execute them by enlisting the cooperation of the servant who had been with him ever since his marriage, and by taking to live with him in his own house Seroni, his wife, and son and daughter.[185] It cannot be said that the would-be murderer displayed at this juncture any of the traditional Italian craft in setting about his deadly task. The day before the attempt was made he took out of pawn the goods which Evangelista Seroni had pledged, and promised his servant a gift of clothes and money if he would compass the death of Brandonia, who was still ailing from the effects of her second confinement. To this suggestion the servant, who had also warned Gian Battista of his wife's misconduct, at once assented.

But even on the very day when he had fully determined to make his essay in murder he vacillated again and again, and it seemed likely that Brandonia would once more be reprieved. When he entered her bed-chamber, full of his resolve to strike for freedom, he found her lying gravely ill with an attack of fever, shivering violently, and cold at the extremities. His anger forthwith vanished, and his hand was stayed; but as if urged on by ruthless fate, the mother-in-law, and the sister, and Brandonia herself, ill as she was, attacked Gian Battista with the foulest abuse and reproaches; this was the last straw. He went out and sought his servant, and told the fellow at once to make a cake and put a poison therein. The date of this fatal action was some day early in 1560.

On October 1, 1559, Cardan had left Milan, and gone back to Pavia to resume his work as professor, taking Aldo with him. He threw himself into the discharge of his office and the life of the city with his customary ardour. Over and above his work of teaching he completed his treatise De Secretis, and likewise found time to hold a long disputation on the decisions of Galen with Andrea Camutio, one of the most illustrious physicians of the age. Concerning this episode he writes: "In disputation I showed myself so keen of wit that all men marvelled at the instances I brought forward, but for a long time no one ventured to put me to the proof. Thus I escaped the trouble of any such undertaking until two accidents both unforeseen involved me therein. At Pavia, Branda Porro, my whilom teacher in Philosophy, interrupted me one day when I was disputing with Camutio[186] on some matter of Philosophy, for, as I have said before, my colleagues were wont to lead me on to argue in philosophy because they were well assured that it would be vain to try to get the better of me in Medicine. Now Branda began by advancing Aristotle as an authority, whereupon I, when he brought out his citation, said, 'Take care, you have left out the "non" which should stand after "album."' Then Branda contradicted me, and I, spitting out the phlegm with which I am often troubled, told him quietly that he was in the wrong. He sent for the Codex in great rage, and when it was brought I asked that it might be given to me. I then read out the words just as they stood; but he, as if he suspected that I was reading falsely, snatched the volume out of my hands, and declared that I was puting a cheat upon my hearers. When he came to the word in dispute he held his tongue forthwith, and all the others looked at me in amazement."[187]

It is certain that Cardan was still vexed in mind by the trouble he had left behind him at Milan. If he had not forgiven Gian Battista, he was full of kindly thought of him. He sent him from Pavia a new silk cloak, such as physicians wear, so that he might make a better show in his calling, and doubtless continued his supplies of money. Just a week before the quarrel last recorded, Aldo, against his father's wish, left Pavia and returned to Milan. Cardan used every argument he could bring forward to keep his younger son with him, but in vain; and, as he was unwilling to put constraint upon him, Aldo departed. Cardan says that he was within an ace of going with him, for the University was then in vacation: then the crowning catastrophe might have been averted, but the same fate which was driving on the son to destruction, kept the father at Pavia. Thus it happened that Aldo was an inmate of his brother's house when the poisoned cake was made. Cardan has written down a detailed account of the perpetration of this squalid tragedy, and no clearer presentation can be given than the one which his own words supply.

He writes: "Thus my son and the servant went together to make the cake, and the servant put therein secretly some of the poison which had been given him. After the cake had been made, a small piece was given to my son's wife, who was very ill at the time, but her stomach rejected it at once. Her mother ate some of it, and likewise vomited after taking it. Though Gian Battista saw what happened he did not believe that the cake was really poisoned, for two reasons. First, because he had not, in truth, ordered that the poison should be mixed therewith; and second, because his brother-in-law (Bartolomeo Sacco) had said to him, before the cake was finished, 'See that you make it big enough, for I also am minded to taste it.' Next he gave some to his father-in-law, who straightway vomited, and complained of a pricking of the tongue. He warned my son; but he, still holding that the cake was harmless, ate thereof somewhat greedily; and, after having been sick, had to lie by for some time. On the second day after this Gian Battista, and his brother, and the servant as well were taken in hold: and on the Sunday following I, having been informed of what had happened, went to Milan in great anxiety as to what I should do."

The news which had been brought to Cardan at Pavia told him, over and beyond what is written above, that his son's wife was dead, poisoned as every one believed through having eaten the cake, which had caused nausea and pain to every one else who had tasted it.[188] The catastrophe was accompanied by the usual portents. Some weeks previous to the attempt Gian Battista had chanced to walk out to the Porta Tonsa, clad in the smart silk gown which his father had recently given him, and as he was passing a butcher's shop, a certain pig, one of a drove which was there, rose up out of the mud and attacked the young physician and befouled his gown. The butcher and his men, to whom the thing seemed portentous, drove off the hog with staves, but this they could only do after the beast had wearied itself, and after Gian Battista had gone away. Again, at the beginning of February following, while Cardan was in residence as a Professor at Pavia, he chanced to look at the palm of his hand, and there, at the root of the third finger of the right hand, he beheld a mark like a bloody sword. That same evening a messenger arrived from Milan with the news of his son's arrest, and a letter from his son-in-law, begging him to come at once. The mark on his hand grew and grew for fifty-three days, gradually mounting up the finger, until the last fatal day, when it extended to the tip of the finger, and shone bright like fiery blood. The morning after Gian Battista's execution the mark had almost vanished, and in a day or two no sign of it remained.

Cardan hurried to Milan to hear from Bartolomeo Sacco, his son-in-law, the full extent of the calamity. Probably there were few people in the city who did not regard Gian Battista as a worthless fellow, whose death would be a gain to the State and a very light loss to his immediate friends, but Cardan was not of this mind. He turned his back upon his professional engagements at Pavia, and threw himself, heart and soul, into the fight for his son's life. He could not make up his mind as to Gian Battista's recent conduct; if he ate of the cake, he surely could not have put in poison himself, or directed others to do so; if, on the other hand, he had poisoned the cake, Cardan feared greatly that, in the simplicity of his nature, he would assuredly let his accusers know what he had done. And his mind was greatly upset by the prodigies of which he had recently had experience. For some reason or other he did not visit the accused in prison, or give him any advice as to what course he should follow, a piece of neglect which he cites as a reproach against himself afterwards; but certain associates of Gian Battista, and his fellow-captives as well, urged him to assert his innocence, a course which Cardan recognized as the only safe one. At the first examination the accused followed this counsel; at the second he began to waver when the servant deposed that his master had given him a certain powder to mix with Brandonia's food in order to increase her flow of milk; and, later on, when confronted with the man from whom he had received the poison, he confessed all; and, simpleton as he was, admitted that for two months past his mind had been set upon the deed, and that on two previous occasions he had attempted to administer to her the noxious drug against the advice of his servant. From the first Cardan had placed his hopes of deliverance in the intervention of the Milanese Governor, the Duca di Sessa, who had not long ago consulted him as physician,[189] but the Duke refused to interfere. The intervention of an executive officer in the procedure of a Court of Justice was no rare occurrence at that period, and Cardan was deeply disappointed at the squeamishness or indolence of his whilom patient. He records afterwards how the Duke met his full share of the calamities which fell upon all those who were concerned in Gian Battista's condemnation;[190] and in the Dialogus Tetim, a work which he wrote immediately after the trial, he bewails afresh the inaction of this excellent ruler and the consequent loss of his son.[191]

For twenty days and more, while Gian Battista lay in prison, Cardan, almost mad with apprehension and suspense, spent his time studying in the library at Milan. Sitting there one day, he heard a warning voice which told him that the thing he most feared had indeed come to pass. He felt that his heart was broken, and, springing up, he rushed out into the court, where he met certain of the Palavicini, the friends with whom he was staying, and cried out, "Alas, alas, he was indeed privy to the death of his wife, and now he has confessed it all, therefore he will be condemned to death and beheaded." Then having caught up a garment he went out to the piazza, and, before he had gone half-way he met his son-in-law, who asked him in sorrowful tones whither he was going. Cardan answered that he was troubled with apprehensions lest Gian Battista should have confessed his crime, whereupon Bartolomeo Sacco told him that what he feared had indeed come to pass. Gian Battista had admitted the truth of the charge against him: he was ultimately put on his trial before the Senate of Milan,[192] the President of the Court being one Rigone, a man whom Cardan afterwards accused of partiality and of a hostile bias towards the prisoner. Cardan himself stood up to defend his son; but with a full confession staring him in the face, he was sorely puzzled to fix upon a line of defence. This he perceived must of necessity be largely rhetorical; and, after he had grasped the entire situation, he set to work to convince the Court on two main points, first, that Gian Battista was a youth of simple guileless character; and, second, there was no proof that Brandonia had died of poison. A physician of good repute, Vincenzo Dinaldo, swore that she had died of fever (lipyria), and not from the effect of poison; and five others, men of the highest character, declared that she bore no signs of poison, either externally or internally. Her tongue and extremities and her body were not blackened, nor was the stomach swollen, nor did the hair and nails show any signs of falling, nor were the tissues eaten away. In the opening of his defence Cardan attempted to discredit the character of Brandonia. He showed how great were the injuries and provocations which Gian Battista had received from her, and that she was a dissolute wanton; her father himself, when under examination, having refused to say that she was a virgin when she left his house to be married. He claimed justification for the husband who should slay his wife convicted of adultery; and here, in this case, Brandonia was convicted by her own confession. He maintained that, if homicide is to be committed at all, poison is preferable to the knife, and then he went on to weave a web of ineffectual casuistry in support of his view, which moved the Court to pity and contempt. He cited the Lex Cornelia, which doomed the common people to the arena, and the patricians to exile, and claimed the penalty last-named as the one fitting to the present case.[193] Then he proceeded to show that the woman had really died from natural causes; for, even granting that she had swallowed arsenic in the cake, she had vomited at once, and the poison would have no time to do its work; moreover there was no proof that Gian Battista had given specific directions to anybody to mix poison with the ingredients of the cake. The most he had done was to utter some vague words thereanent to his servant, who forthwith took the matter into his own hands.[194] If Gian Battista had known, if he had merely been suspicious that the cake was poisoned, would he have let a crumb of it pass his lips; and if any large quantity of poison had been present, would he and the other persons who had eaten thereof have recovered so quickly? Cardan next went on to argue that, whatever motive may have swayed Gian Battista at this juncture, it could not have been the deliberate intent to kill his wife, because forsooth the wretched youth was incapable of deliberate action of any sort. He could never keep in the same mood for four-and-twenty hours at a stretch. He nursed alternately in his heart vengeance and forgiveness, changing as discord or peace ruled in his house. Cardan showed what a life of misery the wretched youth had passed since his marriage. Had this life continued, the finger of shame would have been pointed at him, he must have lost his status as a member of his profession, and have been cut off from the society of all decent people; nay, he would most likely have died by the hand of one or other of his wife's paramours. This was to show how powerful was the temptation to which the husband was exposed, and again he sang the praises of poison as an instrument of "removal"; because if effectively employed, it led to no open scandal.

He next brought forward the simple and unsophisticated character of the accused, and the physical afflictions which had vexed him all his life, giving as illustrations of his son's folly the headlong haste with which he had rushed into a marriage, his folly in giving an ineffectual dose, if he really meant to poison his wife, in letting his plot be known to his servant, and in confessing. Lastly, Cardan had in readiness one of his favourite portents to lay before the Court. When Brandonia's brother had come into the house and found his father and sister sick through eating the cake, he suspected foul play and rushed at Gian Battista and at Aldo who was also there, and threatened them with his sword; but before he could harm them he fell down in a fit, his hand having been arrested by Providence. Providence had thus shown pity to this wretched youth, and now Cardan besought the Senate to be equally merciful.

Cardan's pleas were all rejected; indeed such issue was inevitable from the first, if the Senate of Milan were not determined to abdicate the primary functions of a judicial tribunal. Gian Battista was condemned to death, but a strange condition was annexed to the sentence, to wit that his life would be spared, if the prosecutors, the Seroni family, could be induced to consent. But their consent was only to be gained by the payment of a sum of money entirely beyond Cardan's means, their demand having been stimulated through some foolish boasting of the family wealth by the condemned prisoner.[195] Cardan was powerless to arrest the course of the law, and Gian Battista was executed in prison on the night of April 7, 1560.

In the whole world of biographic record it would be hard to find a figure more pathetic than that of Cardan fighting for the life of his unworthy son. No other episode of his career wins from the reader sympathy half so deep. The experience of these terrible days certainly shook still further off its balance a mind not over steady in its calmest moments. Cardan wrote voluminously and laboriously over Gian Battista's fate, but in his dirges and lamentations he never lets fall an expression of detestation or regret with regard to the crime itself: all his soul goes out in celebrating the charm and worth of his son, and in moaning over the ruin of mind, body, and estate which had fallen upon him through this cruel stroke of adverse fate. When he sat down to write the De Vita Propria, Cardan was strongly possessed with the belief that all through his career he had been subject to continuous and extraordinary persecution at the hands of his enemies. The entire thirtieth chapter is devoted to the description of these plots and assaults. In his earlier writings he attributes his calamities to evil fate and the influences of the stars; his wit was indeed great, and assuredly it was allied to madness, so it is not impossible that these personal foes who dogged his steps were largely the creatures of an old man's monomaniacal fancies. The persecution, he affirms, began to be so bitter as to be almost intolerable after the condemnation of Gian Battista. "Certain members of the Senate afterwards admitted (though I am sure they would be loth that men should hold them capable of such a wish) that they condemned my son to death in the hope that I might be killed likewise, or at least might lose my wits, and the powers above can bear witness how nearly one of these ills befell me. I would that you should know what these times were like, and what practices were in fashion. I am well assured that I never wrought offence to any of these men, even by my shadow. I took advice how I might put forward a defence of some kind on my son's behalf, but what arguments would have prevailed with minds so exasperated against me as were theirs?"[196]


[176] De Vita Propria, p. 57.

[177] "In ore illud semper ei erat: Omnis spiritus laudet Dominum, qui ipse est fons omnium virtutum."—De Vita Propria, ch. iii. p. 7. Reginald Scot, in the Discoverie of Witchcraft, says that the aforesaid exclamation of Fazio was the Paracelsian charm to drive away spirits that haunt any house. There is a passage in De Consolatione (Opera, tom. i. p. 600) which gives Fazio's view of happiness after death:—"Memineram patrem meum, Facium Cardanum, cum viveret, in ore semper habuisse, se mortem optare, quod nullum suavius tempus experiretur, qua id in quo profundissime dormiens omnium quae in hac vita fiunt expers esset."

[178] Cardan gives his impressions of musicians:—"Unde nostra aetate neminem ferine musicum invenias, qui non omni redundat vitiorum genere. Itaque hujusmodi musica maximo impedimento non solum pauperi et negotioso viro est, sed etiam omnibus generaliter. Quin etiam virorum egregiorum nostrae aetatis neminem musicum agnovimus, Erasmum, Alciatum, Budaeum, Jasonem, Vesalium, Gesnerum. At vero quod domum everterit meam, si dicam, vera fatebor meo more. Nam et pecuniae non levem jacturam feci, et quod majus est, filiorum mores corrupi. Sunt enim plerique ebrii, gulosi, procaces, inconstantes, impatientes, stolidi, inertes, omnisque libidinis genere coinquinati. Optimi quique inter illos stulti sunt."—De Utilitate, p. 362.

[179] De Vita Propria, ch. xiii. p. 45.

[180] "Quid profuit haec tua industria, quis infelicior in filiis? quorum alter male periit: alter nec regi potest nec regere?"—Opera, tom. i. p. 109.

[181] Opera, tom. i. p. 614.

[182] "In caeteris erit elegans, splendidus, humanus, gravis et qui ab omnibus, potentioribusque, praesertim probetur."—Geniturarum Exempla, p. 464.

[183] "A scorto nuntius venit."—De Utilitate, p. 833.

[184] This incident is taken from the De Utilitate, which was written soon after the events chronicled. The account given in the De Vita Propria, written twenty years later, differs in some details. "Venio domum, accurrit famulus admodum tristis, nunciat Johannem Baptistam duxisse uxorem Brandoniam Seronam."—De Vita Propria, ch. xli. p. 147.

[185] Cardan in describing this action of Gian Battista, who was then determined to murder his wife, says of him: "Erat enim natura clemens admodum et gratus."—De Utilitate, p. 834.

[186] "Triduana illa disceptatio Papiae cum Camutio instituta, publicata apud Senatum: ipse primo argumento primae diei siluit."—De Vita Propria, ch. xii. p. 37. This does not exactly tally with Camutio's version. With regard to Cardan's assertion that his colleagues hesitated to meet him in medical discussion it may be noted that Camutio printed a book at Pavia in 1563, with the following title: "Andraeae Camutii disputationes quibus Hieronymi Cardani magni nominis viri conclusiones infirmantur, Galenus ab ejusdem injuria vindicatur, Hippocratis praeterea aliquot loca diligentius multo quam unquam alias explicantur." In his version (De Vita Propria, ch. xii. p. 37) Cardan inquires sarcastically: "Habentur ejusdem imagines quaedam typis excusae in Camutii monumentis."

[187] De Vita Propria, ch. xii. p. 39. The Third Book of the Theonoston (Opera, tom. ii. p. 403) is in the form of a disputation, "De animi immortalite," with this same Branda.

[188] In his defence at the trial Cardan affirmed that, while Brandonia was lying sick from eating the cake, her mother and the nurse quarrelled and fought, and finally fell down upon the sick woman. When the fight was over Brandonia was dead. In Opera, tom. ii. p. 311 (Theonoston, lib. i.) he writes: "Obiit illa non veneno, sed vi morbi atque Fato quo tam inclytus juvenis morte sua, omnia turbare debuerat."

[189] "Vocatus sum enim ad Ducem Suessanum ex Ticinensi Academia accepique C. aureos coronatos et dona ex serico."—De Vita Propria, ch. xl. p. 138.

[190] De Vita Propria, ch. xli. p. 153.

[191] Opera, tom. i. p. 671. He cites the names of former Governors of Milan and other patrons, many of them harsh men, and not one as kind and beneficent as the Duca di Sessa; to wit Antonio Leva, Cardinal Caracio, Alfonso d'Avalos, Ferrante Gonzaga, the Cardinal of Trent, and the Duca d'Alba. Yet the rule of his best friend brought him his worst misfortune.

[192] There is a full account of the trial in an appendix to the De Utilitate ex Adversis Capienda (Basel, 1561). It is not included in the edition hitherto cited.

[193] Laudabatur ejus benignitas aC simul factum Io. Petri Solarii tabellionis, qui cum filium spurium convictum haberet de veneficio, in duas sorores legitimas, solum haereditatis consequendae causa, satis habuit damnasse illum ad triremes."—De Vita Propria, ch. x. p. 33.

[194] "Evasit nuper ob constantiam in tormentis famulus filii mei, qui pretio venenum dederat dominae sine causa: periit filius meus, qui nec jusserat dari."—De Utilitate, p. 339.

[195] Gian Battista seems to have boasted about the family wealth, and thus stirred up the Seroni to demand an excessive and impossible sum. "Haec et alia hujusmodi cum protulissem, non valere, nisi eousque, ut decretum sit, si impetrare pacem potuissem vitae parceretur. Sed non potuit filii stultitia, qui dum jactat opes quae non sunt, illi quod non erat exigunt."—De Vita Propria, ch. x. p. 34.

[196] De Vita Propria, ch. x. p. 33.


CARDAN had risen to high and well-deserved fame, and this fact alone might account for the existence of jealousy and ill-feeling amongst certain of those whom he had passed in the race. Some men, it is true, rise to eminence without making more than a few enemies, but Cardan was not one of these. His foes must have been numerous and truculent, the assault they delivered must have been deadly and overwhelming to have brought to such piteous wreck fortunes which seemed to rest upon the solid ground of desert. The public voice might accuse him of folly, but assuredly not of crime; he was the victim and not the culprit; his skill as a physician was as great as ever, but these considerations weighed little with the hounds who were close upon his traces. Now that the tide of his fortune seemed to be on the ebb they gathered around him. He writes: "And this, in sooth, was the chief, the culminating misfortune of my life: forasmuch as I could not with any show of decency be kept in my office, nor could I be dismissed without some more valid excuse, I could neither continue to reside in Milan with safety, nor could I depart therefrom. As I walked about the city men looked askance at me; and whenever I might be forced to exchange words with any one, I felt that I was a disgraced man. Thus, being conscious that my company was unacceptable, I shunned my friends. I had no notion what I should do, or whither I should go. I cannot say whether I was more wretched in myself than I was odious to my fellows."[197]

Cardan gathered a certain amount of consolation from meditating over the ills which befell all those who were concerned in Gian Battista's fate. The Senator Falcutius, a man of the highest character in other respects, died about four months later, exclaiming with his dying breath that he was undone through the brutal ignorance of a certain man, who had been eager for the death sentence. One Hala shortly afterwards followed Falcutius to the grave, having fallen sick with phthisis immediately after the trial. Rigone, the President of the Court, lost his wife, and gave her burial bereft of the usual decencies of the last rite, a thing which Cardan says he could not have believed, had he not been assured of the same by the testimony of many witnesses. It was reported too, that Rigone himself, though a man of good reputation, was forced to feign death in order to escape accusation on some charge or other. His only son had died shortly before, so it might be said with reason that his house was as it were thrown under an evil spell by the avenging Furies of the youth whom he had sent to die in a dungeon. Again, within a few days the prosecutor himself, Evangelista Seroni, the man who was the direct cause of his son-in-law's death, was thrown into prison, and, having been deprived of his office of debt collector, became a beggar. Moreover, the son whom he specially loved was condemned to death in Sicily, and died on the gallows. Public and private calamity fell upon the Duca di Sessa,[198] the Governor of Milan, doubtless because he had allowed the law to take its course. Indeed every person great or small who had been concerned in Gian Battista's condemnation, was, by Cardan's showing, overtaken by grave misfortune.

Cardan still held his Professorship at Pavia, and in spite of the difficulties and embarrassments of his position he went back to resume his work of teaching a few days after the fatal issue of his son's trial and condemnation. By the pathetic simplicity of its diction the following extract gives a vivid and piteous picture of the utter desolation and misery into which he was cast: it shows likewise that, after a lapse of fifteen years, the memory of his shame and sorrow was yet green, and that a powerful stimulus had been given to his superstitious fancies by the events lately chronicled. "In the month of May, in the year MDLX, a time when sleep had refused to come to me because of my grief for my son's death: when I could get no relief from fasting nor from the flagellation I inflicted upon my legs when I rode abroad, nor from the game of chess which I then played with Ercole Visconti, a youth very dear to me, and like myself troubled with sleeplessness, I prayed God to have pity upon me, because I felt that I must needs die, or lose my wits, or at least give up my work as Professor, unless I got some sleep, and that soon. Were I to resign my office, I could find no other means of earning my bread: if I should go mad I must become a laughing-stock to all. I must in any case lavish what still remained of my patrimony, for at my advanced age I could not hope to find fresh employment. Therefore I besought God that He would send me death, which is the lot of all men. I went to bed: it was already late, and, as I must needs rise at four in the morning, I should not have more than two hours' rest. Sleep, however, fell upon me at once, and meseemed that I heard a voice speaking to me out of the darkness. I could discern naught, so it was impossible to say what voice it was, or who was the speaker. It said, 'What would you have?' or 'What are you grieving over?' and added, 'Is it that you mourn for your son's death?' I replied, 'Can you doubt this?' Then the voice answered, 'Take the stone which is hanging round your neck and place it to your mouth, and so long as you hold it there you will not be troubled with thoughts of your son.' Here I awoke, and at once asked myself what this beryl stone could have to do with sleep, but after a little, when I found no other means of escape from my trouble, I called to mind the words spoken of a certain man: 'He hoped even beyond hope, and it was accounted to him as righteousness' (spoken of Abraham), and put the stone in my mouth, whereupon a thing beyond belief came to pass. In a moment all remembrance of my son faded from my mind, and the same thing happened when I fell asleep a second time after being aroused."[199]

The record of Cardan's life for the next two years is a meagre one. His rest was constantly disturbed either by the machinations of his foes or by the dread thereof, the evil last-named being probably the more noxious of the two. As long ago as 1557 he had begun the treatise De Utilitate ex Adversis Capienda, a work giving evidence of careful construction, and one which, as a literary performance, takes the first rank.[200] This book had been put aside, either through pressure of other work or family troubles, but now the circumstances in which he found himself seemed perfectly congenial for the elaboration of a subject of this nature, so he set to work to finish it, concluding with the chapter De Luctu, which has been used largely as the authority for the foregoing narrative of Gian Battista's crime and death. At this period, when his mind was fully stored and his faculties adequately disciplined for the production of the best work, he seems to have realized with sharp regret that the time before him was so short, and that whatever fresh fruit of knowledge he might put forth would prove of very slight profit to him, as author. Writing of his replies given to certain mathematical professors, who had sent him problems for solution, he remarks that, although he may have a happy knack of dispatching with rapidity any work begun, he always begins too late. In his fifty-eighth year he answered one of these queries, involving three very difficult problems, within seven days; a feat which he judges to be a marvel: but what profit will it bring him now? If he had written this treatise when he was thirty he would straightway have risen to fame and fortune, in spite of his poverty, his rivals, and his enemies. Then, in ten years' space, he would have finished and brought out all those books which were now lying unfinished around him in his old age; and moreover would have won so great gain and glory, that no farther good fortune would have remained for him to ask for. Another work which he had begun about the same time (1558) was the treatise on Dialectic, illustrated by geometrical problems and theorems, and likewise by the well-known logical catch lines Barbara Celarent. During the summer vacation of 1561 he returned to Milan, and began a Commentary on the Anatomy of Mundinus, the recognized text-book of the schools up to the appearance of Vesalius. In the preface to this work he puts forward a vigorous plea for the extended use of anatomy in reaching a diagnosis.[201] He had likewise on hand the Theonoston, a set of essays on Moral subjects written something in the spirit of Seneca; and, after Gian Battista's death, he wrote the dialogue Tetim, seu de Humanis Consiliis. In the year following, 1561, a farther sorrow and trouble came upon him by the death of the English youth, William. If he was guilty of neglect in the case of this young man—and by his own confession he was—he was certainly profoundly grieved at his death. In the Argument to the Dialogus de Morte he laments that he ever let the youth leave his house without sending him back to England, and tells how he was cozened by Daldo, the crafty tailor, out of a premium of thirty-one gold crowns, in return for which William was to be taught a trade. "But during the summer, Daldo, who had a little farm in the country, took the youth there and let him join in the village games, and by degrees made him into a vinedresser. But if at any time it chanced that William's services were also wanted at the tailor's shop, his master would force him to return thereto in the evening (for the farm was two miles distant), and sit sewing all the night. Besides this the boy would go dancing with the villagers, and in the course of their merry-making he fell in love with a girl. While I was living at Milan he was taken with fever, and came to me; but, for various reasons, I did not give proper attention to him, first, because he himself made light of his ailment; second, because I knew not that his sickness had been brought on by excessive toil and exposure to the sun; and third, because, when he had been seized with a similar distemper on two or three occasions before this, he had always got well within four or five days. Besides this I was then in trouble owing to the running away of my son Aldo and one of my servants. What more is there to tell? Four days after I had ordered him to be bled, messengers came to me in the night and begged me to go and see him, for he was apparently near his end. He was seized with convulsions and lost his senses, but I battled with the disease and brought him round. I was obliged to return to Pavia to resume my teaching, and William, when he was well enough to get up, was forced to sleep in the workshop by his master, who had been bidden to a wedding. There he suffered so much from cold and bad food that, when he was setting out for Pavia to seek me, he was again taken ill. His unfeeling master caused him to be removed to the poor-house, and there he died the following morning from the violence of the distemper, from agony of mind, and from the cold he had suffered. Indeed I was so heavily stricken by mischance that meseemed I had lost another son."

It was partly as a consolation in his own grief, and partly as a monument to the ill-fated youth, that Cardan wrote the Dialogus de Morte, a work which contains little of interest beyond the record of Cardan's impressions of Englishmen already quoted. But it was beyond hope that he should find adequate solace for the gnawing grief and remorse which oppressed him in this, or any other literary work. He was ill looked upon at Milan, but his position at Pavia seems to have been still more irksome. He grew nervous as to his standing as a physician, for, with the powerful prejudice which had been raised against him both as to his public and his private affairs, he felt that a single slip in his treatment of any particular case would be fatal to him. In Milan he did meet with a certain amount of gratitude from the wealthier citizens for the services he had wrought them; but in Pavia, his birthplace, the public mind was strongly set against him; indeed in 1562 he was subjected to so much petty persecution at the hands of the authorities and of his colleagues, that he determined to give up his Professorship at all cost. He describes at great length one of the most notable intrigues against him. "Now in dealing with the deadly snares woven against my life, I will tell you of something strange which befell me. During my Professorship at Pavia I was in the habit of reading in my own house. I had in my household at that time a woman to do occasional work, the youth Ercole Visconti, two boys, and another servant. Of the two boys, one was my amanuensis and well skilled in music, and the other was a lackey. It was in 1562 that I made up my mind to resign my office of teaching and quit Pavia, a resolution which the Senate took in ill part, and dealt with me as with a man transported with rage. But there were two doctors of the city who strove with all their might to drive me away: one a crafty fellow who had formerly been a pupil of mine; the other was the teacher extraordinary in Medicine, a simple-minded man, and, as I take it, not evil by nature; but covetous and ambitious men will stop at nothing, especially when the prize to be won is an office held in high esteem. Thus, when they despaired of getting rid of me through the action of the Senate—what though I was petitioning to be relieved of my duties—they laid a plot to kill me, not by the dagger for fear of the Senate and of possible scandal, but by malignant craft. My opponent perceived that he could not be promoted to the post of principal teacher unless I should leave the place, and for this reason he and his allies spread their nets from a distance. In the first place, they caused to be written to me, in the name of my son-in-law[202] and of my daughter as well, a most vile and filthy letter telling how they were ashamed of their kinship with me; that they were ashamed likewise for the sake of the Senate, and of the College; and that the authorities ought to take cognizance of the matter and pronounce me unworthy of the office of teacher and cause me to be removed therefrom forthwith. Confounded at receiving such an impudent and audacious reproof at the hands of my own kindred, I knew not what to do or say, or what reply I should make; nor could I divine for what reason this unseemly and grievous affront had been put upon me. It afterwards came to light that the letter was written in order to serve as an occasion for fresh attacks; for, before many days had passed, another letter came to me bearing the name of one Fioravanti, written in the following strain. This man was likewise shocked for the sake of the city, the college, and the body of professors, seeing that a report had been spread abroad that I was guilty of abominable offences which cannot be named. He would call upon a number of his friends to take steps to compel me to consider the public scandal I was causing, and would see that the houses where these offences were committed should be pointed out. When I read this letter I was as one stupefied, nor could I believe it was the work of Fioravanti, whom I had hitherto regarded as a man of seemly carriage and a friend. But this letter and its purport remained fixed in my mind and prompted me to reply to my son-in-law; for I believed no longer that he had aught to do with the letter which professed to come from him; indeed I ought never to have harboured such a suspicion, seeing that both then and now he has always had the most kindly care for me; nor has he ever judged ill of me.

"I called for my cloak at once and went to Fioravanti, whom I questioned about the letter. He admitted that he wrote it, whereupon I was more than ever astonished, for I was loth to suspect him of crooked dealing, much more of any premeditated treachery. I began to reason with him, and to inquire where all these wonderful plans had been concocted, and then he began to waver, and failed to find an answer. He could only put forward common report, and the utterances of the Rector of the Gymnasium, as the source of them."[203]

Cardan goes on to connect the foregoing incident, by reasoning which is not very clear, with what he maintained to have been a veritable attempt against his life. "The first act of the tragedy having come to an end, the second began, and this threw certain light upon the first. My foes made it their special care that I, whom they held up as a disgrace to my country, to my family, to the Senate, to the Colleges of Milan and Pavia, to the Council of Professors, and to the students, should become a member of the Accademia degli Affidati, a society in which were enrolled divers illustrious theologians, two Cardinals, and two princes, the Duke of Mantua, and the Marquis Pescara. When they perceived how loth I was to take this step they began to threaten. What was I to do, broken down by the cruel fate of my son, and suffering every possible evil? Finally I agreed, induced by the promise they made me, that, in the course of a few days, I should be relieved of my duties as Professor; but I did not then perceive the snare, or consider how it was that they should now court the fellowship of one whom, less than fifteen days ago, all ranks of the College had declared to be a monster not to be tolerated. Alas for faith in heaven, for the barbarity of men, for the hatred of false friends, for that shamelessness and cruelty more fell than serpent's bite! What more is there to tell? The first time I entered the room of the Affidati I saw that a heavy beam had been poised above in such fashion that it might easily fall and kill whatsoever person might be passing underneath. Whether this had been done by accident or design I cannot say. But hereafter I attended as rarely as possible, making excuses for my absence; and, when I did go, I went when no one looked for me, and out of season, taking good heed of this trap the while. Wherefore no evil befell me thereby, either because my foes deemed it unwise to work such wickedness in public, or because they had not finally agreed to put their scheme in operation, or because they were plotting some fresh evil against me. Another attempt was made a few days later, when I was called to the ailing son of one Piero Trono, a surgeon; they placed high over the door a leaden weight which might easily be made to fall, pretending that it had been put there to hold up the curtain. This weight did fall; and, had it struck me, it would certainly have killed me: how near I was to death, God knows. Wherefore I began to be suspicious of something I could not define, so greatly was my mind upset. Then a third attempt was made, which was evident enough. A few days later, when they were about to sing a new Mass, the same rascally crew came to me, asking me whether I would lend them the services of my two singing boys, for my enemies knew well enough that these boys acted as my cup-bearers, and over and beyond this they made an agreement with my hired woman that she should give me poison. They first went to Ercole and tried to persuade him to go to the function; and he, suspecting nothing, at first promised his help; but when he heard that his fellow was to go likewise, he began to smell mischief and said, 'Only one of us knows music.' Then Fioravanti, a blunt fellow, was so wholly set on getting them out of the house that he said, 'Let us have both of you, for we know that the other is also a musician; and, though he may not be one of the best, still he will serve to swell the band of choristers.' Then Ercole said somewhat vaguely that he would ask his master. He came to me, having fathomed and laid bare the whole intention of the plot, so that, if I had not been stark mad and stupid, I might easily have seen through their design. Fifteen days or so had passed when the same men once more sought me out and begged me to let them have the two boys to help them in the performance of a comedy. Then Ercole came to me and said, 'Now in sooth the riddle is plain to read; they are planning to get all your people away from your table, so that they may kill you with poison; nor are they satisfied with plotting your death merely by tricks of this sort; they are determined to kill you by any chance which may offer."[204]

How far these plots were real, and how far they sprang from monomania it is impossible to say. Cardan's relations with his brother physicians had never been of the happiest, and it is quite possible that a set may have been made in the Pavian Academy to get rid of a colleague, difficult to live with at the best, and now cankered still more in temper by misfortune, and likewise, in a measure, disgraced by the same. Surrounded by annoyances such as these, and tormented by the intolerable memories and associations of the last few years, it is not wonderful that he should seek a way out of his troubles by a change of scene and occupation.

As early as 1536 Cardan had had professional relations with certain members of the Borromeo family, which was one of the most illustrious in Milan, and in 1560 Carlo Borromeo was appointed Archbishop of Milan. There is no record of the date when Cardan first made acquaintance with this generous patron, who was the nephew of the reigning Pope, Pius IV., himself a Milanese, but it is certain that Cardan had at an earlier date successfully treated the mother of the future Cardinal,[205] wherefore it is legitimate to assume that the physician was persona grata to the whole family. As soon as Cardan had determined to withdraw from Pavia he applied to the Cardinal, who had just made a magnificent benefaction to Bologna in the form of the University buildings. He espoused Cardan's interests at once, and most opportunely, for the protection of a powerful personage was almost as needful at Bologna, as the sequel shows, as it would have been at Pavia. It was evident that Cardan had foes elsewhere than in Pavia; indeed the early stages of the negotiation, which went on in reference to his transfer to Bologna, suggest a doubt whether the change would bring him any advantage other than the substitution of one set of enemies for another. He writes: "When I was about to be summoned to teach at Bologna, some persons of that place who were envious of my reputation sent a certain officer (a getter-up of petitions) to Pavia. Now this fellow, who never once entered the class-room, nor had a word with any one of my pupils, wrote, on what authority I know not, a report in these words: 'Concerning Girolamo Cardano, I am told that he taught in this place, but got no pupils, always lecturing to empty benches: that he is a man of evil life, ill regarded by all, and little less than a fool, repulsive in his manners, and entirely unskilled in medicine. After he had promulgated certain of his opinions he found no one in the city who would employ him, nor did he practise his art.'

"These words were read to the Senate by the messenger on his return in the presence of the illustrious Borromeo, the Pope's Legate to the city. The Senate were upon the point of breaking off all further negotiations, but while the man was reading his report, some one present heard the words in which he declared that I did not practise medicine. 'Hui!' he cried, 'I know that is not true, for I myself have seen divers men of the highest consideration going to him for help, and I—though I am not to be ranked with them—have often consulted him myself.' Then the Legate took up the parole and said, 'I too bear witness that he cured my own mother when she was given up by every one else.' Then the first speaker suggested that probably the rest of the tale was just as worthy of belief as this one statement, the Legate agreeing thereto; whereupon the messenger aforesaid held his tongue and blushed for shame. Ultimately the Senate determined to appoint me Professor for one year, 'for,' they said, 'if he should prove to be the sort of man the officer describes, or if his teaching should profit us nothing, we can let him go; but if it be otherwise, the contract may be ratified.' With regard to the salary, over which a dispute had already arisen, the Legate gave his consent, and the business came to an end.

"But, disregarding this settlement, my opponents urged one of their number to wait upon me as a delegate from the Senate, and this man would fain have added to the terms already sanctioned by the Senate, others which I could not possibly accept. He offered me a smaller stipend, no teaching room was assigned to me, and no allowance for travelling expenses. I refused to treat with him, whereupon he was forced to depart, and to return to me later on with the terms of my engagement duly set forth."[206]

It was in June 1562 that Cardan finally resigned his position at Pavia, but it was not until some months after this date that the final agreement with the Bolognese Senate, lately referred to, was concluded, and in the interim he was forced to suffer no slight annoyance and persecution at the hands of his adversaries in Pavia, in Bologna, and in Milan as well. Just before he resigned his Professorship he was warned by the portentous kindling of a fire, seemingly dead,[207] that fresh mischief was afoot, and he at once determined in his mind that his foes had planned destruction against him afresh. So impressed was he at this manifestation that he swore he would not leave home on the day following. "But early in the morning there came to my house four or five of my pupils bidding me to a feast, where all the chief Professors of the Gymnasium and the Academy proposed to be present. I replied that I could not come, whereupon they, knowing that it was not my wont to dine in the middle of the day, and deeming that it was on this score that I refused to join them, said, 'Then for your sake we will make the feast a supper.' I answered that I could not on any account make one of their party, and then they demanded to know the cause of my refusal. I replied it was because of a strange event which had befallen me, and of a vow I had made thereanent. At this they were greatly astonished, and two of them exchanged significant glances, and they urged me again and again that I should not be so firmly set upon marring so illustrious a gathering by my absence, but I gave back the same answer as before."[208] They came a second time, but Cardan was not to be moved. He records, however, that he did break his vow after all by going out after dusk to see a poor butcher who was seriously ill.

It is hard to detect any evidence of deadly intent in what seems, by contemporary daylight, to have been a complimentary invitation to dinner; but to the old man, possessed as he was by hysterical terrors, this episode undoubtedly foreshadowed another assault against his life. He finds some compensation, however, in once more recording the fact that all these disturbers of his peace—like the men who were concerned in Gian Battista's condemnation—came to a bad end. His rival, who had taken his place as Professor, had not taught in the schools more than three or four times before he was seized with disease and died after three months' suffering. "Upon him there lay only the suspicion of the charge, but I heard afterwards that a friend of his was certainly privy to the deed of murder which they had resolved to work upon me by giving me a cup of poisoned wine at the supper. In the same year died Delfino, and a little while after Fioravanti."[209]

In July Cardan withdrew to Milan, where, to add to his other troubles, he was seized with an attack of fever. He was now thoroughly alarmed at the look of his affairs. Many of his fears may have been imaginary, but the burden of real trouble which he had to carry was one which might easily bring him to the ground, and, when once a man is down, the crowd has little pity or scruple in trampling him to death. He set about to review his position, and to spy out all possible sources of danger. He writes: "I called to mind all the books I had written, and, seeing that in them there were many obscure passages upon which an unfavourable meaning might be put by the malice of my enemies, I wrote to the Council, submitting all my writings to its judgment and will and pleasure. By this action I saved myself from grave danger and disgrace in the future."[210] The Council to which Cardan here refers was probably the Congregation of the Index appointed by the Council at Trent for the authoritative examination of all books before allowing them to be read by the faithful. Before the close of the Council (1563) these duties had been handed over to the Pope (Pius IV.), who published the revised and definite Roman Index in 1564.


[197] De Vita Propria, ch. xxvii. p. 71.

[198] "Quin etiam dominus ac Princeps alioquin generosus et humanus, cum ipsum ob invidiam meam et accusatorum multitudinem deseruisset, et ipse multis modis conflictatus est gravibus morbis, caede propriae neptis a conjuge suo, litibus gravibus: tum etiam subsecuta calamitas publica, Zotophagite insula amissa, classe regia dissipata."—De Vita Propria, ch. xli. p. 153. The island alluded to must have been Lotophagites insula, an island near the Syrtes Minor on the African coast, and the loss of the same probably refers to some disaster during the Imperialist wars against the Moors.

[199] De Vita Propria, ch. xliii. p. 160.

[200] Cardan rates it as his best work on an ethical subject.—Opera, tom i. p. 146. And on p. 115 he writes: "Utinam contigisset absolvere ante errorem filii; neque enim ille errasset, nec errandi causam aliquam habuisset: nec, etiamsi errasset, periisset." He also quotes a letter full of sound and loving counsels which he had sent to Gian Battista six months before he fell into the snare.

[201] Opera, tom. x. p. 129.

[202] Bartolomeo Sacco was evidently living at Pavia at this date.

[203] De Vita Propria, ch. xxx. p. 83.

[204] De Vita Propria, ch. xxx. p. 86.

[205] De Vita Propria, ch. xvii. p. 55.

[206] De Vita Propria, ch. xvii. p. 54.

[207] Ibid., ch. xxx. p. 88. There is also a long account of this occurrence in Opera, tom. x. p. 459.

[208] De Vita Propria, ch. xxx. p. 89.

[209] De Vita Propria, ch. xxx. p. 90.

[210] Opera, tom. x. p. 460.


WHILE Cardan was lying sick at Milan, a messenger came from Pavia, begging him to hasten thither to see his infant grandson, who had been ailing when he left Pavia, and was now much worse. The journey under the burning sun of the hottest summer known for many years aggravated his malady, but he brought the child out of danger. He caught erysipelas in the face, and to this ailment succeeded severe trouble with the teeth. If it had not been for the fact that the time of the new moon had been near, he says that he must have submitted to blood-letting; but after the new moon his health mended, and thus he escaped the two-fold danger—that of the disease, and that of the lancet. He tells of an attempt made against his life by a servant for the sake of robbery, an attempt which came very near success; and of a severe attack of gout in the knee. After a month's confinement to his house he began to practise Medicine; and, finding patients in plenty, he nourished a hope that Fortune had done her worst, and that he might be allowed to repair his shattered fortunes by the exercise of his calling, but the activity of his adversaries—which may or may not have been provoked solely by malignity—was unsleeping. He hints at further attempts against his good name and his life, and gives at length some painful details of another charge made against him of an infamous character. It is almost certain that his way was made all the harder for him from the complaints which he had put in print about the indifference of the Duca di Sessa to his interests at the time of Gian Battista's trial. The Milanese doctors had no love for him, and every petulant word he might let fall would almost surely be brought to the Governor's ears. By Cardan's own admission it appears that utterances of this sort were both frequent and acrid. There was a certain physician of the city who wished to place his son gratis in Cardan's household. Cardan, however, refused, whereupon the physician in question called attention to a certain book in which Cardan had made some remarks to the effect that the friendship of the Duca di Sessa had been a fatal one to him, inasmuch as, having trusted too entirely to this friendship for his support, he had let go other interests which might have served him better. The physician aforesaid made a second application to Cardan to receive his son, offering this time to intercede with the Governor on his behalf. This proposition roused the old man's anger, and he exclaimed that he had no need of such friendship or protection; that in fact the interruption of their good understanding had come about more by his own act than the Governor's, who had been either unable or unwilling to save Gian Battista's life. The doctor replied, in the presence of divers persons, that Gian Battista had perished through his own foolishness: if he had not confessed he would never have been condemned; that the Senate had condemned him and not the Duca di Sessa, and that Cardan was now slandering this prince most unjustly. A lot of busy-bodies had by this time been attracted by the wrangle, and these heard the doctor's accusations in full, but gathered a very imperfect notion of Cardan's reply. He indignantly denied this charge, and in his own account of the scene he affirms that he won the approbation of all who listened, by the moderation of his bearing and speech.

Four days after this occurrence he again met this physician, who declared he knew for certain that a kinsman of the Duca di Sessa, a hot-tempered man, had just read some slanders written by Cardan about the Duke, and had declared he would cut the writer in half and throw his remains into the jakes; the physician went on to say that he had appeased this gentleman's resentment, and that Cardan had now no cause for fear. Cardan at once saw through the dishonesty of the fellow, who was not content with bringing forward an unjust accusation, but must likewise subject him to these calumnies and the consequent dangers. After a bout of wrangling, in which the physician sought vainly to win from him an acknowledgment of the service he had wrought, the malicious fellow shouted out to the crowd which had gathered around them that Cardan persisted in his infamous slanders against the Governor. Wanton as the charge was, Cardan felt that with his present unpopularity it might easily grow into a fatal danger. Might was right in Milan as far as he was concerned, but he determined that he must make a stand against this pestilent fellow. By good luck he met some friends, to whom he told the adventure; and while he was speaking, the gentleman who was said to have threatened him, and the slanderous physician as well, joined the gathering; whereupon one of Cardan's friends repeated the whole story to the gentleman; who, as he was quite unversed in letters, was hugely diverted at hearing himself set down as a student, and told the physician that he was a fool, thereby delivering Cardan at least from this annoyance.

He had refused the terms which the party opposed to him in the Senate at Bologna had sent for his acceptance, and was still waiting to hear whether they would carry out their original propositions. It was during this time of suspense that he was subjected to strange and inexplicable treatment at the hands of the Milanese Senate, treatment which, viewed by the light of his own report—the only one extant—seems very harsh and unjust. He writes: "At the time when I was greatly angered by the action of the Bolognese agent, four of the Senators persuaded me to seek practice once more in Milan, wherefore I, having altered my plans, began to try to earn an honest living, for I reckoned that the Senate of Milan knew that I had rejected the offers from Bologna, since these offers were unjust in themselves, and put before me in unjust fashion. But afterwards, although the same iniquitous terms were offered to me, I accepted them, not indeed because I was satisfied therewith, but because of my necessity, and so that I might be free from those dangers which, as I have before stated, pressed upon me in those days. The reason why I took this step was that the Senate, by most unexpected action, removed my name from the lists of those licensed to teach; nor was this all. They warned me by a message that they had recently given hearing to a double charge against me of very grave offences, and that nothing but my position, and the interests of the College, kept them back from laying me in hold. Nevertheless, influenced by these considerations, they had been moved to reduce my punishment to that of exile. But neither my good fortune nor God deserted me; for on the same day certain things came to pass by means of which I was able, with a single word, to free myself from all suspicion upon either charge, and to prove my innocence. Moreover, I forced them to admit that no mention of this affair had ever been made before the Senate, although two graduates had informed me that it had been discussed."[211]

The Senate, however, was reluctant to stultify its late action, and refused to restore Cardan's name to the list of teachers. But he was put right in the sight of the world by the sharp censure pronounced by the Senate upon those busy-bodies who had ventured to speak in its name. Cardan's last days in Milan were cheered with a brief gleam of good fortune. His foes seem to have overshot the mark, and to have aroused sympathy for the old man, who, whatever his faults, was alike an honour to his country and the victim of fortune singularly cruel. The city took him under its protection, assured of his innocence as to the widespread charges against him, and pitying his misfortunes. His friend Borromeo had probably been forwarding his interests at the Papal Court, for he records that, just at this time, certain Cardinals and men of weight wrote to him from Rome in kindly and flattering terms. On November 16, 1562, the messenger from the Senate of Bologna arrived at Milan, bearing an offer of slightly more liberal terms. They were not so favourable as Cardan wished for; but, even had they been worse, he would probably have closed with them. In spite of the benevolent attitude of his well-wishers in Milan, it irked him to be there; the faces in the streets, the town gossip, all tended to recall to him the death of his son, so he departed at once to take up his duties.

At Bologna Cardan went first to live in a hired house in the Via Gombru. Aldo was nominally a member of his household; but his presence must have been a plague rather than a comfort to his father, and he took with him likewise his orphan grandson, the son of Gian Battista and Brandonia, whom he destined to make his heir on account of Aldo's ill conduct.[212] This young man seems to have been a hopeless scoundrel from the first. The ratio in which fathers apportion their affection amongst their offspring is a very capricious one, and Cardan may have been fully as wide of the mark in chiding his younger as he was in lauding the talents and virtues of his elder son. But it is certain that on several occasions the authorities shared Cardan's view of Aldo's ill behaviour. More than once he alludes to the young reprobate's shameful conduct, and the intolerable annoyance caused by the same. Many of the ancient rights of parents over their children, which might to-day be deemed excessive, were still operative in the cities of Italy, and Cardan readily invoked the help of them in trying to work reformation of a sort upon Aldo, whom he caused to be imprisoned more than once, and finally to be banished.[213] The numerous hitches which delayed his final call to Bologna were probably due to the fact that a certain party amongst the teachers there were opposed to his appointment, and things did not run too smoothly after he had taken up his residence in his new home. It was not in Cardan's nature, however much he may have been cowed and broken down by misfortune, to mix with men inimical to himself without letting them have a taste of his quality. He records one skirmish which he had with Fracantiano, the Professor of the Practice of Medicine, a skirmish which, in its details, resembles so closely his encounter with Branda Porro, at Pavia, some time before, that it suggests a doubt whether it ever had a separate existence, and was not simply a variant of the Branda legend. "It happened that he (Fracantiano) was giving an account of the passage of the gall into the stomach, and was speaking in Greek before the whole Academy (he was making the while an anatomical dissection), when I cried out, 'There is an "[Greek: ou]" wanting in that sentence.' And as he delayed making any correction of his error, and I kept on repeating my remark in a low voice, the students cried out, 'Let the Codex be sent for.' Fracantiano sent for it gladly. It was brought at once, and when he came to read the passage, he found that what I had affirmed was true to a hair. He spake not another word, being overwhelmed with confusion and astonishment. Moreover the students, who had almost compelled me to come to the lecture, were even more impressed by what had happened. But from that day forth my opponent avoided all meeting with me; nay, he even gave orders to his servants that they should warn him whenever they might see me approaching, and thus he contrived that we should never foregather. One day when he was teaching Anatomy, the students brought me, by a trick, into the room, whereupon he straightway fled, and having entangled his feet in his robe, he fell down headlong. This accident caused no little confusion, and shortly afterwards he left the place, being then a man well advanced in years."[214]

He had not lived long in Bologna before he was fated to experience another repetition of one of the untoward episodes of his past life, to wit the fall of a house. It was not his own house this time, but it was sufficiently near to induce him to change his abode without delay. Next door to the house he had hired in the Via Gombru stood a palace belonging to a certain Gramigna. "The entire house fell, and was ruined in a single night, and together with the house perished the owner thereof." It was believed that this man had divers powerful enemies, and, in order that he might secure his position, he contrived to bring certain of his foes into his house, having first made a mine of gunpowder under the portico, and set a match thereto. But for some reason or other the plot miscarried the night when he destined to carry it out. Gramigna went to see what was amiss, and at that very moment the mine exploded and brought the house to the ground. After this explosion Cardan moved to a house in the Galera quarter, belonging to the family of Ranucci; but he did not find this dwelling perfect, as he was forced to vacate the rooms which were most to his taste on account of the bad state of the ceilings, the plaster of which, more than once, fell down upon his head.

In his Paralipomena, "the last fruit off an old tree," which he put together about this time, there are numerous stories of prodigies and portents; of doors which would not close, and doors which opened of their own accord; of rappings on the walls, and of mysterious thunderings and noises during the night. He tells, at length, the story, already referred to, of the strange thing which happened to him, on the eve of his departure from Pavia in 1562, while he was awaiting tidings from Rome as to his appointment at Bologna. "I wore on the index finger of my right hand a selenite stone set in a ring, and on my left a jacinth, which I never took off my finger, this stone being large and hexagonal in shape. I took the selenite from my finger and put it beneath my pillow, for I fancied it kept off sleep, wearing still the jacinth because it appeared to have the opposite effect. I slept until midnight, when I awoke and missed the ring from my left hand. I called Jacopo Antonio, a boy of fifteen years of age who acted as my servant and slept in a truckle bed, and bade him look for my rings. He found the selenite at once where I had placed it; but though we both of us sought closely for the jacinth we could not find it. I was sorrowful to death on account of this omen, and despair seized upon my soul when I remembered the dire consequences of similar signs, all of which I had duly noted in my writings. I could scarcely believe this to be a thing happening in the order of nature. After a short delay I collected my thoughts, and told the servant to bring a light from the hearth. He replied that he would rather not do this, that he was afraid of the darkness, and that the fire was always extinguished in the evening. I bade him light a candle with the flint, when he told me that we had neither matches nor tinder nor sulphur. I persisted, and determined that a light should be got by one means or another, for I knew that, if I should go to sleep under so dire an omen, I must needs perish. So I ordered him to get a light as best he could. He went away and raked up the ashes, and found a bit of coal about the bigness of a cherry all alight, and caught hold of it with the tongs. At the same time I had little hope of getting a light, but he applied it to the wick of a lamp and blew thereon. The wick was lighted without any flame issuing from the live coal, which thing seemed to me a further marvel."

After a search with the candle the ring was found on the floor under the middle of the bed, but the marvel was not yet worked out: the ring could not possibly have got into such a place unless it had been put there by hand. It could not have rolled there, on account of its shape, nor could it have fallen from the bed, because the pillow was closely joined to the head of the bed, round which ran a raised edge with no rift therein. Cardan concludes: "I know that much may be said over this matter, but nothing, forsooth, which will convince a man, ever so little inclined to superstition, that there was no boding sign manifested thereby, foretelling the ruin of my position and good name. Then, having soothed my mind, albeit I was well-nigh hopeless, I consoled myself with the belief that God still protected me." After pondering long and anxiously over the possible significance of this sign he took a more sanguine view of the future. He next put the jacinth ring on his finger and bade the boy try to pull it off, but he tried in vain, so well and closely did the ring fit the finger. From this time forth Cardan laid aside this ring, after having worn it for many years as a safeguard against lightning, plague, wakefulness, and palpitation of the heart.[215]

Many other instances of a like character might be given from the Paralipomena; but the foregoing will suffice to show that the natural inclination of Cardan's temper towards the marvellous had been aggravated by his recent troubles. Also the belief that all men's hands were against him never slumbered, but for this disposition there may well have been some justification. Scarcely had he settled in Bologna before an intrigue was set in motion against him. "After the events aforesaid, and after I had gone to teach in Bologna, my adversaries, by a trick, managed to deprive me of the use of a class-room, that is to say they allotted to me an hour just about the time of dinner, or they gave the class-room at the very same hour, or a little earlier, to another teacher. When I perceived that the authorities were unwilling to accede to three distinct propositions which I made to them, namely, that this other teacher should begin his lecture sooner and leave off sooner: or that he should teach alternately with me: I so far got my own way at the next election that the other lecturer had to do his teaching elsewhere."[216]

It would appear that the intrigues, of which Cardan gives so many instances, must have been the work of certain individuals, jealous of his fame and perhaps smarting under some caustic speech or downright insult, rather than of the authorities; the Senate of Bologna showed no hostility to him, but on the other hand procured for him the privileges of citizenship. While the negotiations were going on at Bologna for the further regulation of his position as a teacher, he tells a strange story how, on three or four different occasions, certain men came to him by night, in the name of the Senate and of the Judicial officers, and tried to induce him to recommend that a certain woman, who had been condemned for blasphemy, and for poisoning or witchcraft as well, should be pardoned, both by the temporal and spiritual authorities, bringing forward specially the argument that, in the sight of philosophers, such things as demons and spirits did not exist. They likewise urged him to procure the release from prison of another woman, who had not yet been condemned, because a certain sick man had died under the hands of some other doctors. They brought also a lot of nativities for him to read, as if he had been a soothsayer, and not a teacher of medicine, but he would have nothing to say to them.[217]

It is somewhat strange that Cardan should have detected no trace of the snare of the enemy in this manoeuvre. Bearing in mind the character of the request made, and the fact that Cardan was by no means a persona grata to the petitioners, it seems highly probable that they might have been more anxious to draw from Cardan a profession of his disbelief in witchcraft, than to procure the enlargement of the accused persons whose cause they had nominally espoused. At this period it was indeed dangerous to be a wizard, but it was perhaps still more dangerous to pose as an avowed sceptic of witchcraft. At the end of the fifteenth century the frequency of executions for sorcery in the north of Italy had provoked a strong outburst of popular feeling against this wanton bloodshed; but Spina, writing in the interest of orthodox religion, deplores that disbelief in the powers of Evil and their manifestations, always recognized by the Church, should have led men on to profess by their action any doubt as to the truth of witchcraft. But in spite of the fulminations of men of this sort, from this time onwards the more enlightened scholars of Europe began to modify their opinions on the subject of demoniac possession, and of witchcraft in general. The first book in which the new views were enunciated was the treatise De Praestigiis Daemonum, by Johann Wier, a physician of Cleves, published in 1563. The step in advance taken by this reformer was not a revolutionary one. He simply denied that witches were willing and conscious instruments of the malefic powers, asserting that what evil they wrought came about by reason of the delusions with which the evil spirits infected the persons said to be possessed. The devil afflicted his victims directly, and then threw the suspicion of the evil deed upon some old woman. Wier's book was condemned and denounced by the clergy—he himself was a Protestant—but the most serious counterblast against it came from the pen of Jean Bodin, the illustrious French philosopher and jurist. He held up Wier to execration as an impious blasphemer, and asserted that the welfare of Christendom must needs suffer great injury through the dissemination of doctrines so detestable as those set forth in his book.[218]

Seeing that such a spirit was dominant in the minds of men like Bodin, it will be evident that a charge of impiety or atheism might well follow a profession of disbelief, or even scepticism, as to the powers of witches or of evil spirits. A maxim familiar as an utterance of Sir Thomas Browne, "Ubi tres medici duo athei," was, no doubt, in common use in Cardan's time; and he, as a doctor, would consequently be ill-looked upon by the champions of orthodoxy, who would certainly not be conciliated by the fact that he was the friend of Cardinal Morone. This learned and enlightened prelate had been imprisoned by the savage and fanatical Paul IV., on a charge of favouring opinions analogous to Protestantism, but Pius IV., the easy-going Milanese jurisconsult, turned ecclesiastic, enlarged him by one of the first acts of his Papacy, and restored him to the charge of the diocese of Modena.

Besides enjoying at Bologna the patronage of princes of the Church like Borromeo and Morone, Cardan found there an old friend in Ludovico Ferrari, who was at this time lecturing on mathematics. He also received into his house a new pupil, a Bolognese youth named Rodolfo Sylvestro, who was destined hereafter to bring as great credit to his teacher's name in Medicine as Ferrari had already brought thereto in Mathematics. Rodolfo proved to be one of the most faithful and devoted of friends; he remained at Bologna as long as Cardan continued to live there, sharing his master's ill-fortune, and ultimately accompanied him to Rome in 1571. He gives the names of two other Bolognese students, Giulio Pozzo and Camillo Zanolino, but of all his surviving pupils he rates Sylvestro as the most gifted.

The records of Cardan's life at this period are scant and fragmentary, few events being chronicled except dreams and portents. In giving an account of one of these manifestations, which happened in September 1563, he incidentally lets light upon certain changes and vicissitudes in his own affairs. He was at this time living in an apartment in the house of the Ranucci, next door to a half-ruined palace of the Ghislieri. One night he awoke from sleep, and found that the neck-band of his shirt had become entangled with the cord by which he kept his precious emerald and a written charm suspended round his neck. He tried to disentangle the knot, but in vain, so he left the complication as it was, purposing to unravel it by daylight. He did not fall asleep; but, after lying quiet for a little, he determined to attempt once more whether he could undo the knot, when he found that everything was clear, and the stone under his armpit. "This sign showed me an unhoped-for solution of certain weighty difficulties, and at the same time proved, as I have often said elsewhere, that there must have been present something else unperceived by me. For my affairs were in this condition: my son-in-law at Milan had the administration of the scant remains of my property, and I received no rents therefrom for a whole year. My literary work was lying at the printer's, but it was not printed. Here, at Bologna, I was forced to lecture without having a fixed hour assigned to me. A crowd of enemies were intriguing against me. My son Aldo was in prison, and of little profit to me. But immediately after this portent I learned that my two chief opponents were either dying or about to retire. The question of the lecture-room was settled amicably, so that for the next year I was able to live in quiet. These two matters having come to an issue, I will next describe what came to pass with regard to the others.

"During the next July (1564), through the help of Francesco Alciati,[219] the secretary of Pope Pius IV., a man to whom I am indebted for almost every benefit I have received since 1561, I began to enjoy my own again. On August 26 I received from the printer my books all printed with the greatest care, and by reason of the dispatch of this business my income was greatly increased. The next day my chief opponent resigned his office, and left vacant a salary of seven hundred gold crowns. The only manifestation of adverse fortune left to trouble me was the conspiracy of the doctors against me, but there were already signs that this would disappear before long, and in sooth it came to an end after the lapse of another year."[220]

During this portion of his life at Bologna, Cardan seems to have lived comparatively alone, and to have spent his weary leisure in brooding over his sorrows. He began his long rambling epilogue to the De Libris Propriis, and, almost on the threshold, pours out his sorrow afresh over Gian Battista's unhappy fate. After affirming that Death must necessarily come as a friend to those whose lives are wretched, he begins to speculate whether, after all, he ought not to rejoice rather than mourn over his son's death. "Certes he is rid of this miserable life of danger and difficulty, vain, sorrowful, brief, and inconstant; these times in which the major part of the good things of the world fall to the trickster's share, and all may be enjoyed by those who are backed up by wealth or power or favour. Power is good when it is in the hands of those who use it well, but it is a great evil when murderers and poisoners are allowed to wield it. To the ill-starred, to the ungodly, and to the foolish, death is a boon, freeing them from numberless dangers, from heavy griefs, from fatal troubles, and from infamy; wherefore in such cases it ought not to be spoken of as something merely good or indifferent, but rated as the best of fortune. Shall I not declare to God (for He willed the deed), to myself, and to my surviving family, that my son's death was a thing to be desired, for God does all justly, wisely, and lovingly? He lets me stand as an example to show others that a good and upright man cannot be altogether wretched. I am poor, infirm, and old; bereaved by a cruel wrong of my best-loved son, a youth of the fairest promise, and left only with the faintest hope of any ray of future good fortune, or of seeing my race perpetuated after my death, for my daughter, who has been nine years married, is barren.

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