Jerome Cardan - A Biographical Study
by William George Waters
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"At one time I was prosperous in every relation of life: in my friendships, in my children, and in my health. In my youth I seemed to be one raised up to realize the highest hopes. I was accustomed to all the good things—nay, to all the luxuries of life. Now I am wretched, despised, with foes swarming around me; I not only count myself miserable, I feel I am far more miserable now than I was happy aforetime. Yet I neither lose my wits nor make any boast, as my actions prove. I do my work as a teacher with my mind closely set on the matter in question, and for this reason I attract a large number of hearers. I manage my affairs better than heretofore; and, if any man shall compare the book which I have lately published with those which I wrote some time ago, he will not fail to perceive how vastly my intellect has gained in richness, in vivacity, and in purity."

Though the note of sorrow or even of despair is perceptible in these sentences, there is no sign that the virile and elastic spirit of the writer is broken. But there are manifest signs of an increasing tendency towards mental detachment from the world which had used him so ill. With the happiest of men the almost certain prospect of extinction at the end of a dozen years usually tends to foster the growth of a conviction that the world after all is a poor affair, and that to quit it is no great evil. How strongly therefore must reflections of a kindred nature have worked upon a man so cruelly tried as Cardan!


[211] Opera, tom. x. p. 462.

[212] "Sed filius minor natu adeo male se gessit, ut malim transire in nepotem ex primo filio."—De Vita Propria, ch. xxxvi. p. 112.

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

[214] De Vita Propria, ch. xii. p. 40.

[215] Opera, tom. x. p. 459.

[216] De Vita Propria, ch. xvii. p. 56.

[217] De Vita Propria, ch. xxiii. p. 104.

[218] This opinion prevailed with men of learning far into the next century. Sir Thomas Browne writes: "They that doubt of these, do not only deny them, but spirits; and are obliquely and upon consequence a sect not of infidels, but atheists."—Religio Medici, Works, vol. ii. p. 89.

[219] This was the Cardinal, the nephew of Andrea the great jurist, who was also a good friend of Cardan.

[220] Opera, tom. x. p. 463.


AT the beginning of the year 1565 Cardan had a narrow escape from death by burning, for his bed from some unknown cause caught fire twice in the same night while he was asleep. The servant was disturbed by the smoke, and having aroused his master, told him what was amiss, whereupon Cardan flew into a violent rage, for he deemed that the youth must be drunk. But he soon perceived the danger, and then they both set to work to extinguish the flames. His own description of the occurrence is highly characteristic. "Having put out the fire, I settled myself again to sleep, and, while I was dreaming of alarms, and that I was flying from some danger, it happened that either these terrifying dreams, or the fire and smoke again aroused me, and, looking around, I found that the bed was once more alight, and the greater part of it consumed. The vari-coloured coverlet, the leather hangings, and all the covering of the bed was unhurt. Thus this great alarm and danger and serious disturbance caused only a trifling loss; less than half of the bed-linen was burnt, but the blankets were entirely consumed. On the first alarm the flames burnt out twice or thrice with little smoke, and caused scarcely any damage. The second time the fire and the mishap forced me to rise just before dawn, the fire lasting altogether about seven hours."

There was naturally a warning sign to be found in this accident.[221] The smoke, Cardan said, denoted disgrace; the fire, peril and fear; the flame, a grave and pressing danger to his life. The smouldering fire signified secret plots which were to be put into execution against him by his servants while he lay in bed. And the fact that he set fire to the bed himself, denoted that he would be able to meet any coming danger alone and without assistance. The indictment against him was foreshadowed by the fire and the flames and the smoke. Poison and assault were not to be feared. Men might indeed ask questions as to what kind of danger it could be which only arose from those about him, and fell short of poison and violence. The fire, he goes on to say, signifies the Magistrate. More than once it seemed to be extinct, but it always revived. Danger seemed to threaten him less from open hostility than from the cunning flattery of foes, and from over-confidence on his own part. His books, which he had lately caused to be printed, appeared to be in grave peril, but a graver one overhung his life. He deemed that he would quit the tribunal condemned by the empty scandal of the crowd, suffering no slight loss, and worsted chiefly through putting faith in false friends, and through his own instability. On the whole, the loss would prove inconsiderable; the danger moderate, but the vexation exceedingly heavy. These results might have sprung from causes other than natural ones; but, on the other hand, such things often come about through chance. They might prove to be a warning to him to keep clear of hostile prejudice, and to make friends of those in authority, care being taken not to let himself become involved in their private affairs, and not to seek too close an acquaintance.[222]

Up to this date, Cardan, when he visited his patients, had either walked or ridden a mule. In 1562 he began to use a carriage, but this change of habit brought ill luck with it, for, in this same year, his horses ran away; he was thrown out of the vehicle, and sustained an injury to one of the fingers of his right hand, and to the right arm as well.[223] The finger soon healed, but the damage to the right arm shifted itself over to the left side, leaving the right arm sound. The foregoing details, taken chiefly from the Paralipomena (Book III. ch. xii.), are somewhat significant in respect to the serious trouble which came upon him soon afterwards.

Though he had now secured a class-room for himself, the malice of his enemies was not yet abated. Just before the end of his term, certain of them went to Cardinal Morone and told him that it would be inexpedient to allow Cardan to retain his Professorship any longer, seeing that scarcely any pupils went to listen to him. The terms Cardan used in describing this hostile movement against him,[224] rouse a suspicion that there may have been some ground for the assertion of his adversaries; but he declares that, at any rate, he had a good many pupils from the beginning of the session up to the time of Lent. He gives no clue whereby the date of this intrigue may be exactly ascertained, but it probably happened near the end of his sojourn at Bologna, because in his account of it he describes likewise the cessation of his public teaching, and makes no mention of any resumption of the same. He declares that he was at last overborne by the multitude of his foes, and their cunning plots. Under the pretence that, in seeking Cardan's removal, they were really acting for his benefit, they succeeded in bringing Cardinal Morone round to their views. Cardan's final words in dealing with this matter help to fix the date of this episode as some time in 1570. Speaking of his enemies, he writes: "Nay indeed they have given me greater leisure for the codification of my books, they have lengthened my days, they have increased my fame, and, by procuring my removal from the work which was too laborious for me, they secured for me the pleasure I now enjoy in the discovery and investigation of divers of the secrets of Nature. Therefore I constantly tell myself that I do not hate these men, nor deem them blameworthy, because they wrought me an ill turn, but because of the malignancy they had in their hearts."[225]

It is almost certain that this removal of Cardan from his office of teacher was part and parcel of a carefully-devised plot against him, and a prelude to more serious trouble in the near future. Early in April 1570 he had occasion to put into writing a certain medical opinion which was to be sent to Cardinal Morone. He describes the episode: "It chanced that one of the sheets of my manuscript fell from the table down upon the floor, and then flew by itself up to the cornice of the room, where it hung, fixed to the woodwork. Greatly amazed, I called for Rodolfo, and pointed out to him this marvel. He did not indeed see it fly up, and at that time I was ignorant as to what it might foretell, for I had no foreboding of the many ills which were about to molest me. But now I see that the meaning of this portent must have been that, after the approaching shipwreck of my fortunes, my bark would be sped along with a more favouring breeze. It was during the month following, unless I am mistaken, that, when I was once more writing a letter to Cardinal Morone, I looked for a certain powder-box which had been missing for some long time, and, when I lifted up a sheet of paper in order to powder it with dust gathered up from the floor of the room, there was the powder-box, hidden beneath the sheet. How could it have come there on the level writing-desk? This sign confirmed the hope I had already conceived of the Cardinal's wisdom and humanity; that he would plead with the Pope, the best of men, in such wise that I should find a prosperous end to my toilsome life."[226]

The blow thus foreshadowed fell on October 6, 1570, when he was suddenly arrested and put under restraint. He speaks of a bond which he gave for eighteen hundred gold crowns; and says that, while he was in hold, all his estate was administered by the civil authorities. Rodolfo Sylvestro was constantly with him during his incarceration, and on January 1, 1571, he was released, just at nightfall, and allowed to return to his own house. While he was in prison in the month of October some mysterious knockings at the door supplied him with a fulfilment and explanation of the portents lately chronicled. The knockings appeared furthermore to warn him of approaching death, and he began to bewail his misery; but, having gathered courage, he heartened himself to face his doom, which could be nothing worse than death. Young men, leaders of armies, courted death in battle to win the favour of their sovereigns; wherefore he, a decrepit old man, might surely await his end with calmness. He then wanders off into a long disquisition on the philosophy of Polybius, and forgets entirely to set down further details of his imprisonment, or to explain the cause thereof.

Pius IV. had died at the end of 1565, and had been succeeded by Michele Ghislieri, the Cardinal of Alessandria, as Pius V. Like his predecessor, the new Pope was a Milanese by birth, but in character and aims the two Popes were entirely different. Pius. V. identified himself completely with the work of the Holy Office, and straightway set in operation all its powers for the extirpation of the heretical opinions which, on account of the easy-going character of the late Pope, had made much progress in Italy, and nowhere more than in Bologna. Von Ranke, in the History of the Popes, gives an extract (vol. i. p. 97) from the compendium of the Inquisitors, which sets forth that "Bologna was in a very perilous state, because there the heretics were especially numerous; amongst them was a certain Gian Battista Rotto, who enjoyed the friendship and support of many persons of weight, such as Morone, Pole, and the Marchesa Pescara (Vittoria Colonna). Rotto made himself very active in collecting money, which he distributed amongst the poor folk of Bologna who were heretics."

It will be remembered that in 1562, while he was waiting in Milan for the appointment as Professor at Bologna, Cardan submitted his books to the Congregation of the Index for approval. He was known to be a fellow-citizen and friend of the reigning Pope: the corpus of his work had by that time reached a portentous size, wherefore it is quite possible that the official readers may have been lenient, or cursory, over their work; but when Pius V., the strenuous ascetic foe of heresy, stepped into the place of the indolent Pius IV., jurist and politician rather than Churchman, it is more than probable that certain amateur inquisitors at Bologna, fully as anxious to work Cardan's ruin as to safeguard the faith, may have busied themselves in hunting through his various works for passages upon which to base a charge of unorthodoxy. Such passages were not hard to find. There was the horoscope of Jesus Christ, which subsequently affronted the piety of De Thou. There was the passage already noticed in which he said such hard things of the Dominicans (De Varietate Rerum, 1557, p. 572). He had indeed disclaimed it, but there it stood unexpunged in the subsequent editions of the book; and, while considering this detail, it may be remarked that Pius V. began his career as a member of the Dominican Order, the practices of which Cardan had impugned. In the first and second editions of the De Subtilitate was another passage in which the tenets of Islam and the circumstances of the birth of Christ were handled in a way which caused grave scandal and offence.[227] This passage indeed was expunged in the edition of 1560. The Paralipomena were not in print and available, but what can be read in them to-day doubtless reflects with accuracy the attitude of Cardan's mind towards religious matters in 1570. Though the Paralipomena were locked in his desk, it is almost certain that the spirit with which they were inspired would have infected Cardan's brain, and prompted him to repeat in words the views on religion and a future state which he had already put on paper, for he rarely let discretion interfere with the enunciation of any opinion he favoured. In the Paralipomena are many passages written in the spirit of universalism, and treating of the divine principle as something which animates wise men alone, wise men and philosophers of every age and every clime, Aristotle being the head and chief. Plato and Socrates and the Seven Sages adorn this illustrious circle, which includes likewise the philosophers of Chaldea and Egypt. Opinions like these were no longer the passport to Papal favour or even toleration. The age of the humanist Popes was past, and the Puritan movement, stimulated into life by the active competition of the Reformers, was beginning to show its strength, so that a man who spoke in terms of respect or reverence concerning Averroes or Plato would put himself in no light peril. Thus for those of Cardan's enemies who were minded to search and listen it must have been an easy task to formulate against him a charge of heresy, specious enough to carry conviction to such a burning zealot as Pius V. This Pope, in his new regulations for the maintenance of Church discipline, requisitioned the services of physicians in the detection of laxity of religious practices, or of unsoundness. "We forbid," he says in one of his bulls, "every physician, who may be called to the bedside of a patient, to visit for more than three days, unless he receives an attestation that the sick man has made fresh confession of his sins."[228] Cardan, with his irritable temper, may very likely have treated this regulation as an unwarrantable interference with his profession, and have paid no attention to it. Again, he evidently followed Hippocrates in rejecting the supernatural origin of disease; a position greatly in advance of that held by certain of the leading physiologists of the time.[229] Thus in more ways than one he may have laid himself open to some charge of disrespect shown to religion or to the spiritual powers. The absence of any other specific accusation and the circumstances of his incarceration, taken in conjunction with the foregoing considerations, almost compel the conclusion that his arrest and imprisonment in 1570 were brought about by a charge of impiety whispered by some envious tongue which will never now be identified. The sanction given by the authorities of the Church to his writings in 1562, operated without doubt to mitigate the punishment which fell upon him, and suffered him, after due purgation of his offences, to enjoy for the residue of his days a life comparatively quiet and prosperous under the patronage of Pius V.

Though he was let out of prison he was not yet a free man. For some twelve weeks longer he remained a prisoner in his own house, the bond for eighteen hundred gold crowns having doubtless been given on this account. Almost his last reflection about his life at Bologna is one in which he records his satisfaction that all the men who plotted against him there met their death soon after their attempt, thus sharing the fate of his enemies at Milan and Pavia. If he is to be believed in this matter, the Fates, though they might not shield him from attack, proved themselves to be diligent and remorseless avengers of his wrongs. At the end of September he turned his back upon Bologna and the cold hospitality it had given him, and set forth on his last journey. He travelled by easy stages, and entered Rome on October 7, 1571, the day upon which Don John of Austria annihilated the Turkish fleet at Lepanto.

There are evidences in his later writings beyond those already cited, that Cardan's views on religion had undergone change during his sojourn at Bologna. It was the custom, even with theologians of the time, to illustrate freely from the classics, wherefore the spectacle of the names of the great men of Greek and Roman letters, scattered thickly about the pages of any book, would not prove or even suggest unorthodoxy. Cardan quotes Plato or Aristotle or Plotinus twenty times for any saint in the Calendar. He does not mention the Virgin more than once or twice in the whole of the De Vita Propria; and, in discoursing on the immortality of the soul, he cites the opinion of Avicenna, but makes no mention of either saint or father.[230] The world of classic thought was immeasurably nearer and more real to Cardan than it can be to any modern dweller beyond the Alps: to him there had been no solution of continuity between classic times and his own. When he sat down to write in the Theonoston his meditations on the death of his son, in the vain hope of reaping consolation therefrom, he invoked the golden rule of Plotinus, which lays down that the future is foreseen and arranged by the gods. Being thus arranged, it must needs be just, for God is the highest expression of justice. Against a fate thus settled for us we have no right to complain, lest we should seem to be setting ourselves into opposition to God's will. Here, although he writes in the spirit of a Christian, the authority cited is that of a heathen philosopher, and the form of his meditations is taken rather from Seneca than from father or schoolman. The devotional bias of Cardan's nature seems to have been strengthened temporarily by the terrible experiences of Gian Battista's trial and death; but in the course of his residence at Bologna a marked reaction set in, and the fervent religious outburst, in which he sought consolation during his intolerable sorrow, was succeeded by a calmer mood which regarded the necessary evils of life as transitory accidents, and death as the one and certain end of sorrow, and perhaps of consciousness as well. What he wrote during his residence in Rome he kept in manuscript; his recent experience at Bologna warned him that, living under the shadow of the Vatican with Pius V. as the ruler thereof, it behoved him to walk as an obedient son of the Church.

Cardan went first to live in the Piazza di San Girolamo, not far from the Porto del Popolo, but subsequently he lived in a house in the Via Giulia near the church of Santa Maria di Monserrato, where probably he died. He had not long been settled in Rome before he was able to add a fresh supernatural experience to his already overburdened list. In the month of August 1572 he was lying awake one night with a lamp burning, when suddenly he heard a loud noise to the right of the chamber, as if a cart laden with planks was being unloaded. He looked up, and, the door being open at the time, he perceived a peasant entering the room. Just as he was on the threshold the intruder uttered the words, "Te sin casa," and straightway vanished. This apparition puzzled him greatly, and he alludes to it again in chapter xlvii. of the De Vita Propria. Ultimately he dismisses it with the remark that the explanation of such phenomena is rather the duty of theologians than of philosophers.

With regard to matters of religious belief he seems to have taken as a rule of conduct the remark above written, and left them to the care of professional experts, for very few of his recorded opinions throw any light upon his views of the dogmas and doctrines of the Church. Whatever the tenor of these opinions may have been, he never proclaimed them definitely. Probably they interested him little, for he was not the man to keep silent over a subject which he had greatly at heart. He gave a general assent to the teaching of the Church, taking up the mental attitude of the vast majority of the learned men of his time, and expected that the Church would do all that was necessary for him in its own particular province. If he regarded Erasmus and Luther as disturbers of the faith and heretics, he did not say so, nor did he censure their activity. (Erasmus he praises highly in the opening words of the horoscope which he drew for him.—Gen. Ex., p. 496.) But he had certainly no desire to emulate them or give them his support. The world of letters and science was wide enough even for his active spirit; the world lying behind the veil he left to the exploration of those inquirers who might have a taste for such a venture. Still every page of his life's record shows how strong was his bent towards the supernatural; but the phase of the supernatural which he chose for study was one which Churchmen, as a rule, had let alone. Spirits wandering about this world were of greater moment to him than spirits fixed in beatitude or bane in the next; and accordingly, whenever he finds an opportunity, he discourses of apparitions, lamiae, incubi, succubi, malignant and beneficent genii, and the methods of invoking them. Now that old age was pressing heavily upon him and he began to yearn for support, he sought consolation not in the ecstatic vision of the fervent Catholic, but in fostering the belief that he was in sooth under the protection of some guardian spirit like that which had attended his father and divers of the sages of old. Although he had in his earlier days treated his father's belief with a certain degree of respect and credence,[231] there is no evidence that he was possessed with the notion that any such supernatural guardian attended his own footsteps at the time when he put together the De Varietate; indeed it would seem that his belief was exactly the opposite. He writes as follows: "It is first of all necessary to know that there is one God, the Author of all good, by whose power all things were made, and in whose name all good things are brought to pass; also, that if a man shall err he need not be guilty of sin. That there is no other to whom we owe anything or whom we are bound to worship or serve. If we keep these sayings with a pure mind we shall be kept pure ourselves and free from sin. What a demon may be I know not, these beings I neither recognize nor love. I worship one God, and Him alone I serve. And in truth these things ought not to be published in the hearing of unlearned folk; for, if once this belief in spirits be taken up, it may easily come to pass that they who apply themselves to such arts will attribute God's work to the devil."[232] And in another place: "I of a truth know of no spirit or genius which attends me; but should one come to me, after being warned of the same in dreams, if it should be given to me by God, I will still reverence God alone; to Him alone will I give thanks, for any benefit which may befall me, as the bountiful source and principle of all good. And, in sooth, the spirit may rest untroubled if I repay my debt to our common Master. I know full well that He has given to me, for my good genius, reason, patience in trouble, a good disposition, a disregard of money and dignities, which gifts I use to the full, and deem them better and greater possessions than the Demon of Socrates."[233]

About the Demon of Socrates Cardan has much to say in the De Varietate. He never even hints a doubt as to the veracity and sincerity of Socrates. He is quite sure that Socrates was fully persuaded of the reality of his attendant genius, and favours the view that this belief may have been well founded. He takes an agnostic position,[234] confining his positive statement to an assertion of his own inability to realize the presence of any ghostly minister attendant upon himself. In the De Subtilitate he tells an experience of his own by way of suggesting that some of the demons spoken of by the retailers of marvels might be figments of the brain. In 1550 Cardan was called in to see a certain woman who had long been troubled with an obscure disease of the bladder. Every known remedy was tried in vain, when one day a certain Josephus Niger,[235] a distinguished Greek scholar, went to see the patient. Niger, according to Cardan's account, was quite ignorant of medicine, but he was reputed to be a skilled master of magic arts. The woman had a son, a boy about ten years old, and Josephus having handed him a three-cornered crystal, which he had with him, bade the youth secretly to look into it, and then declare, in his mother's hearing, that he could see in the crystal three very terrible demons going on foot. Then, after Josephus had whispered certain other words in the boy's ear, the boy went on to say that he beheld another demon, vastly bigger than the first, riding on horseback and bearing in his hand a three-tined fork. This monster overthrew the other demons, and led them away captive, bound with chains to his saddlebow. After listening to these words the woman rapidly got well, and Cardan, in commenting on the event, declares that she must have been cured either by the agency of the demons or by the force of the imagination, inasmuch as it would be difficult, if not impossible, to invent any other reason of her recovery.[236] In another passage of the De Subtilitate he displays judicious reserve in writing of Demons in general.[237]

During those terrible days, when his son had just died a felon's death, and when he himself was haunted by the real dangers which beset him, and almost maddened by the signs and tokens which seemed to tell of others to come, the belief which Fazio his father had nourished easily found a lodgment in his shaken and bewildered brain. In the Dialogus de Humanis Consiliis, one of the speakers tells of a certain man who is clearly meant to be Cardan himself. The speaker goes on to say that he is sure this man is attended by a genius, which manifested itself to him somewhat late in his life. "Aforetime, indeed, it had been wont to convey to him warnings in dreams and by certain noises. What greater proof of his power could there be than the cure of this man, without the use of drugs, of an intestinal rupture on the right side? If indeed it had not fared with him thus, after his son's death, he would at once have passed out of this life, whereby many and great evils might have come to pass. He was freed also from another troublesome ailment. In sooth, so many and so mighty are the wonderful things which had befallen him, that I, who am very intimate with him (and he himself thinks the same), am constrained to believe that he is attended by a genius, great and powerful and rare, and that he is not the master of his own actions. What he would have, he has not; and what he has, he would not have chosen, or even wished for. This thing causes him much trouble, but he submits when he reflects that all things are God's handiwork." The speaker ends by saying that he never heard of any others thus attended, save this man, and his father before him, and Socrates.[238]

But it is in chapter xlvii. of the De Vita Propria, which must have been written shortly before his death, that he lets the reader see most plainly how strong was the hold which this belief in a guardian spirit of his own had taken upon him. "It is an admitted truth," he writes, "that attendant spirits have protected certain men, to wit, Socrates, Plotinus, Synesius, Dion, Flavius Josephus, and myself. All of these have enjoyed prosperous lives except Socrates and me, and I, as I have said before, was at one time offered many and favourable opportunities for the achievement of happiness. But C. Caesar the dictator, Cicero, Antony, Brutus, and Cassius were also attended by mighty spirits, albeit malignant. For a long time I have been persuaded that I too had one, but by what method it gave me intelligence as to events about to happen, I could not exactly ascertain until I reached the seventy-fourth year of my age, the season when I began to write this record of my life. I now perceive that when I was in Milan in 1557, when my genius perceived what was hanging over me—how that my son on that same evening had promised to marry Brandonia Seroni, and that he would complete the nuptials the following day—it produced in me that palpitation of the heart of which I have already made mention, a weakness known to my genius alone, a manifestation which served to simulate a trembling of the bed."

Cardan writes at length to show that the mysterious knocking which he and Rodolfo Sylvestro had heard during his imprisonment at Bologna, the peasant who entered his bed-chamber saying "Te sin casa," and divers other manifestations, going back as far as 1531—croaking of ravens, barking of dogs, and the ignition of fire-wood—must all have been brought about by the working of this powerful spirit. In 1570 there happened to him one of his everyday experiences of the presence of supernatural powers. In the middle of the night he was conscious of some presence walking about the room. It sat down beside him, and at the same time a loud noise arose from a chest which stood near. This phenomenon, he admits, might well have been the figment of a brain overburdened with thought; but suddenly his memory flies back to an experience of his twentieth year, upon which he proceeds to build a story, wild and fanciful even for his powers of imagination. "What man was it," he asks, "who sold me that copy of Apuleius when I was in my twentieth year, and forthwith went away? I indeed, at that time, had made only one essay in the literary arena, and had no knowledge of the Latin tongue; but in spite of this, and because the book had a gilded cover, I was imprudent enough to buy it. The very next day I found myself just as well versed in Latin as I am now. Moreover, almost at the same time I acquired knowledge of Greek and Spanish and French, sufficient for reading books written in these languages."

Cardan was by this time completely possessed by the belief in his attendant genius, and the flash of memory which recalled the purchase of some book or other in his youth, suggested likewise the attribution of certain mystic powers to this guardian genius, and conjured up some fanciful explanation as to the way these powers had been exercised upon himself; he, the person most closely concerned, being entirely unconscious of their operation at the time when they first affected him. This recorded belief in a gift of tongues is one of the most convincing bits of evidence to be gleaned from Cardan's writings of the insanity which undoubtedly afflicted him, at least periodically, at this crisis of his life.


[221] He mentions this matter briefly in the De Vita Propria: "Bis arsisset lectus, praedixi me non permansurum Bononiae, et prima vice restiti, secunda non potui."—ch. xli. p. 151. A fuller account of it is in Opera, tom. x. p. 464.

[222] Opera, tom. x. p. 464.

[223] De Vita Propria, ch. xxx. p. 80. He seems to have had many untoward experiences in driving. He tells of another mishap (Opera, tom. i. p. 472) in June 1570; how a fellow, some tipstaff of the courts, jumped into his carriage and frightened the mares Cardan was driving, jeering at them likewise because they were rather bare of flesh.

[224] "Demum sub conductionis fine, voces sparserunt, et maxime apud Moronum Cardinalem, me exiguo auditorio profiteri, quod quanquam non omnino verum esset, quinimo ab initio Academiae multos, et usque ad dies jejunii haberem auditores."—De Vita Propria, ch. xvii. p. 56.

[225] De Vita Propria, ch. xvii. p. 57.

[226] De Vita Propria, ch. xliii. p. 163.

[227] "Alii multis diebus abstinent cibo, alii igne uruntur, ac ferro secantur, nullum doloris vestigium preferentes; multi sunt vocem e pectore mittentes, qui olim engastrimuthi dicebantur; hoc autem maxime eis contingit cum orgia quaedam exercent, atque circumferuntur in orbem. Quae tria ut verissima sunt et naturali ratione mira tamen constant, cujus superius mentionem fecimus, ita illud confictum nasci pueros e mulieribus absque concubitu."—De Subtilitate, p. 353.

[228] Ranke, History of the Popes, vol. i. p. 246.

[229] Mr. Stephen Paget in his life of Ambroise Pare, the great contemporary French surgeon, gives an interesting account of Pare's beliefs on the divine cause of the plague, p. 269.

[230] De Vita Propria, ch. xxii. p. 63.

[231] "Multa de daemonibus narrabat, quae quam vera essent nescio."—De Utilitate, p. 348.

[232] De Varietate, p. 351.

[233] Ibid., p. 658.

[234] In his counsel to his children, he writes: "Do not believe that you hear demons speak to you, or that you behold the dead. Seek not to learn the truth of these things, for they are amongst the things which are hidden from us."

[235] Cardan alludes to Niger in De Varietate, p. 641: "Referebat aliquando Josephus Niger harum rerum maxime peritus, daemonem pueris se sub forma Christi ostendisse, petiisseque ut adoraretur."

[236] De Subtilitate, p. 530.

[237] "Nolim ego ad trutinam haec sectari, velut Porphyrius, Psellus, Plotinus, Proclus, Jamblicus, qui copiose de his quae non videre, velut historiam natae rei scripserunt."—De Subtilitate, p. 540.

[238] Opera, tom. i. 672.


AFTER the accusation brought against him at Milan in 1562, Cardan had been prohibited from teaching or lecturing in that city, and similar disabilities had followed his recent imprisonment at Bologna. At Rome no duties of this kind awaited him, so he had full time to follow his physician's calling after taking up his residence there. He records the cure of a noble matron, Clementina Massa, and of Cesare Buontempo, a jurisconsult, both of whom had been suffering for nearly two years. The circumstances of his retirement from Bologna would not affect his reputation as a physician, and he seems to have had in Rome as many or even more patients than he cared to treat; and in writing in general terms concerning his successes as a healer, he says: "In all, I restored to health more than a hundred patients, given up as incurable in Milan, in Bologna, and in Rome." Of all the friends Cardan had in this closing period of his life, none was more useful or benevolent than Cardinal Alciati, who, although he had been secretary to Pius IV., contrived to retain the favour of his successor. This piece of good fortune Alciati owed to the protection of Carlo Borromeo, who had been his pupil at Pavia, and had procured for him from Pius IV. a bishopric, a cardinal's hat, and the secretaryship of Dataria. Another of Cardan's powerful friends was the Prince of Matellica, of whom he speaks in terms of praise inflated enough to be ridiculous, were it not for the accompanying note of pathos. After celebrating the almost divine character of this nobleman, his munificence and his superhuman abilities, he goes on: "What could there be in me to win the kindly notice of such a patron? Certainly I had done him no service, nor could he hope I should ever do him any in the future, I, an old man, an outcast of fortune, and prostrated by calamity. In sooth, there was naught about me to attract him; if indeed he found any merit in me, it must have been my uprightness."

Powerful friends are never superfluous, and Cardan seems to have needed them in Rome as much as in Bologna. In 1573 he again hints at plots against his life, but almost immediately after recording his suspicions he goes on to suggest that his danger had arisen chiefly from his ignorance of the streets of Rome, and from the uncouth manners of the populace. "Many physicians, more cautious than myself, and better versed in the customs of the place, have come by their death from similar cause." The danger, whatever its nature, seems to have threatened him as a member of the practising faculty at Rome rather than as the persecuted ex-teacher of Pavia and Bologna. Rodolfo Sylvestro was not the only one of his former associates near him in his old age, for he notes that Simone Sosia, who had been his famulus at Pavia in 1562, was still in his service at Rome.

In reviewing the machinations of his enemies to bring about his dismissal from the Professorship at Bologna, Cardan indulges in the reflection that these men unwillingly did him good service, that is, they procured him leisure which he might use in the completion of his unfinished works, and in the construction of fresh monuments which he proposed to build up out of the vast store of material accumulated in his industrious brain. The literary record of his life in Rome shows that this was no vain saying. He was at work on the later chapters of the De Vita Propria up to the last weeks of his life; and, scattered about these, there are records of his work of correction and revising. While telling of the books he has lately been engaged with, he wanders off in the same sentence to talk of the dream which urged him to write the De Subtilitate, and of the execution of the Commentarii in Ptolomaeum, during his voyage down the Loire. In 1573 he seems to have found the mass of undigested work more than he could bear to behold; for, after making extracts of such matter as he deemed worth keeping, he consigned to the flames no less than a hundred and twenty of his manuscripts.[239] Before leaving Bologna he had put into shape the Proxenata, a lengthy collection of hints, maxims, and reflections as to everyday life; he had re-edited the Liber Artis Magnae, and had added thereto the treatise De Proportionibus, and the Regula Aliza. He also took in hand two books on Geometry, and one on Music, and this last he completed in 1574. On November 16, 1574, he records that he is at that moment writing an explanation of the more abstruse works of Hippocrates, but that he is yet far from the end of his task.

In the De Libris Propriis he gives a list of all his published works, and likewise a table of the same arranged in the order in which they ought to be read. He apologizes for the imperfect state in which some of them are left, and declares that the sight of his unfinished tasks never fails to awaken in his breast a bitter sense of resentment over that loss which he had never ceased to mourn. "At one time I hoped," he writes, "that these works would be corrected by my son, but this favour you see has been denied to me. The desire of my enemies was not to make an end of him, but of me; not by gentle means, in sooth, but by cruel open murder; to let me fall in the very blood of my son." It is somewhat remarkable that in this matter Cardan was destined to suffer a disappointment similar to that which he himself brought upon his own father by refusing to qualify himself to become the commentator on Archbishop Peckham's Perspectiva. He next gives the names of all those who had commended him in their works, and finds a special cause for gratification in the fact that, out of the long list set down, only four or five were known to him personally, and these not intimately. There is, however, another short list of censors; and of these he affirms that a certain Brodeus alone is worthy of respect. Of Buteon, who criticized the treatise on Arithmetic, he says: "Est plane stultus et elleboro indiget." Tartaglia's name is there, and he, according to Cardan, was forced to eat his words; "but he was ashamed to do what he promised, and unwilling to blot out what he had written. He went on in his wrong-headed course, living upon the labour of other men like a greedy crow, a manifest robber of other men's wealth of study; so impudent that he published as his own, in the Italian tongue, that invention for the raising of sunken ships which I had made known four years before. This he did, understanding the subject only imperfectly, and making no mention of my name. But men of real learning also attacked me: Rondeletius, and Julius Scaliger; and Fuchsius, in the proem of his book, says that my work Medicinae Contradictiones should be avoided like deadly poison. Julius Scaliger has been fully answered in the Apologia in the Books on Subtlety."[240]

There is a passage from De Thou's History of his Own Times, affixed to all editions of the De Vita Propria,[241] in which is given a contemporary sketch of Cardan during his residence at Rome. "His whole life," De Thou writes, "has been as strange as his present manners, and he, in sooth, out of singleness of mind or frankness, has written about himself certain statements, the like of which have never before been heard of a man of letters, and these I do not feel bound to unfold to any one, let him be ever so curious. I, myself, happening to be in Rome a few years before his death, often spoke to him and observed him with astonishment as he took his walks about the city clad in strange garb. When I considered the many writings of this famous man, I could perceive in him nothing to justify his great renown. Wherefore I am all the more inclined to turn to that very acute criticism of Julius Caesar Scaliger, who exercised his extraordinary genius in making a special examination of the treatise De Subtilitate Rerum. He, having carefully noted everywhere the unequal powers of this writer, decided that he was one who, in certain subjects, knew more than a man could know, while in others he seemed more simple than a child. In the science of Arithmetic he worked hard and made many discoveries; but he was subject to strange and excessive aberration of mind, and was guilty of the most impudent blasphemy, in that he was minded to subject to the artificial laws of the stars the Ruler of the stars Himself, for this thing he did in the horoscope of our Saviour which he drew."

Another witness of his life in Rome is Francois d'Amboise, a young French nobleman, who was engaged on his book De Symbolis Heroicis. He says that he saw Cardan, who was living in a spacious house, on the walls of which, in place of elegant paintings or vari-coloured tapestries, were written the words, "Tempus mea possessio."

In his later writings there are farther indications that he was wont to conjure up omens and portents chiefly at those times when he was in danger and mental distress. In the case which is given below, the omen showed itself in a season of trouble, but Cardan, in describing it later, treats it as if he were a modern scientist. The distressing memories of the imprisonment had faded, and writing in ease and security at Rome he begins to rationalize. In the dialogue between himself and his father, written shortly before his death, Fazio calls his son's attention to certain of the omens and portents already noticed; and, after discussing these, Jerome goes on to tell for the first time of another boding event which, as he affirms, distressed him even more than the loss of his office and the prohibition to publish his books. On the day of his incarceration, on two different occasions, he met a cow being driven to the slaughter-house, with much shouting and beating with sticks and barking of dogs. The explanation of this event which he puts in Fazio's mouth is entirely conceived in the spirit of rationalism. What was there to wonder at? There was a butcher's shop in the street, and animals going to slaughter would naturally be met there. Why should a man fear to meet a cow? If it had been a bull there might have been something in it. Then with regard to the shaking of a window-casement; this might easily have been occasioned by the flight of a bird.[242] He was certainly less inclined to put faith in the warnings of the stars and in the lines of his hand. His line of life was very short and irregular, intersected and bifurcated, while the rest of the lines were little thicker than hairs. In his horoscope was a certain malefic influence which threatened that his life would be cut short before his forty-fifth year. "But," he writes in the year before his death, "here I am, living at the age of seventy-five."[243] The one supernatural idea which seems to have deepened with old age and remained undisturbed to the end was his belief in his attendant genius. In what he wrote during his last years his mood was almost entirely introspective, contemplative, and didactic, yet here and there he introduces a sentence which lets in a little light from his way of life and personal affairs, and helps to show how he occupied himself, and what his humour was. He tells how one day, in 1576, he was writing about the fennel plant in his treatise De Tuenda Sanitate, a plant which he praised highly because it pleased his palate. But shortly afterwards, when he was walking one day in the Roman vegetable market, an old man, shabbily dressed, met him and dissuaded him from the use of the plant aforesaid, saying: "In Galen's opinion you may as readily meet your death thereby as by eating hemlock." "I answered that I knew well enough the difference between hemlock and fennel, but the old man said, 'Take care, I know what I am saying,' and went on murmuring something about Galen. Whereupon I went home and found in Galen a passage I had not hitherto noticed, and, having changed my former views, I added many fresh excerpts to my treatise."

Although his faith may have been shaken in the ability of the stars to govern his own fortunes, he records a case in which he himself filled the post of vates, and which came to a sudden and terrible issue. Cardan was present at a supper-party, and in the course of conversation let fall the remark, "I should like to say something, were I not afraid that my words would disturb the company," to which one of the guests replied, "You mean that you would prophesy death to one of us here present." Cardan replied, "Yes, within the present year," and in the next sentence he tells how on the first day of December in that same year a certain young man, named Virgilius, who had been present at the gathering aforesaid, died, and he sets down this event as a fulfilment of his prophecy.

But in the same chapter he lets the reader into the secret of his system of prophecy, and displays it as simply an affair of common-sense, one recommended by Aristotle as the only trustworthy method of divining future events. Cardan writes: "I used to inquire what might be the exact nature of the business in hand, and began by making myself acquainted with the character of the locality, the ways of the people, and the quality of the chief actors. I unfolded a vast number of historical instances, leading events and secret transactions as well, and then, when I had confirmed the facts set forth by my method of art, I gave my judgment thereupon."[244]

In his latter years Cardan must have been in easy circumstances. The pension from the Pope—no mention is made of its amount—and the fees he received from his patients allowed him to keep a carriage; and writing in his seventy-fifth year, he says that no fees would tempt him to join any consultation unless he should be well assured what sort of men he was expected to meet.[245]

In the Norma Vitae Consarcinata[246] he relates how in April 1576 there were two inmates of the Xenodochium at Rome, Troilus and Dominicus. It seemed that Troilus exercised some strange and malefic influence over his companion, who was taken with fever. He got well of this, but only to fall into a dropsy, which despatched him in a week. Shortly before his death, at the seventh hour, he cried out to two Spaniards who were standing by the bed that he had suffered such great torture from the working of Troilus, and that he was dying therefrom. "Therefore," he cried, "in your presence I summon him with my dying words to appear before God's tribunal, that he may give an account of all the evil he has wrought against me." On the following day there came a messenger from Corneto, a few miles from Rome, saying that Troilus, who was sojourning there, had fallen sick. The physician inquired at what hour, and the messenger said it was at seven o'clock, a day or two ago. He lay ill some days, an unfavourable case, but not a desperate one, and one night shortly afterwards at seven o'clock, the top of the mosquito curtains fell, and he died at exactly the same hour as Dominicus.

He tells another long story of an adventure which befell him in May 1576. One day he was driving in his carriage in the Forum, when he remembered that he wanted to see a certain jeweller who lived in a narrow alley close by. Wherefore he told his coachman, a stupid fellow, to go to the Campo Altoviti, and await him there. The coachman drove off apparently understanding the order; but, instead of going to the place designated, went somewhere else; so Cardan, when he set about to find his carriage, sought in vain. He had a notion that the man had gone to a spot near the citadel, so he walked thither, encumbered with the thick garments he had put on as necessary for riding in the carriage. Just then he met a friend of his, Vincenzio, a Bolognese musician, who remarked that Cardan was not in his carriage as usual. The old man went on towards the citadel, but saw nothing of the carriage; and now he began to be seriously troubled, for there was naught else to be done but to go back over the bridge, and he was wearied with long fasting and his heavy clothes. He might indeed have asked for the loan of a carriage from the Governor of the castle; but he was unwilling to do this, so having commended himself to God, he resolved to use all his patience and prudence in finding his way back. He set out, and when he had crossed the bridge, he entered the banking-house of the Altoviti to inquire as to the alteration in the rate of exchange on Naples, and there sat down to rest. While the banker was giving him this information, the Governor entered the place, whereupon Cardan went out and there he found his carriage, the driver having been informed by Vincenzio, whom he had met, of the mistake he had made. Cardan got into the carriage, and while he was wondering whether or not he had better go home and break his fast, he found three raisins in his pocket, and thus made a fortunate ending of all his difficulties.

All this reads like a commonplace chapter of accidents; but the events recorded did not present themselves to Cardan in this guise. He sits down to moralize over the succession of momentary events: his meeting with Vincenzio; Vincenzio's meeting with the driver, and directions given to the man to drive to the money-changers'; the presence of the Governor, his exit from the bank, his consequent meeting with the carriage, and his discovery of the raisins, seven occurrences in all, any one of which, if it had happened a little sooner or a little later, would have brought about great inconvenience, or even worse. He does not deny that other men may not now and then encounter like experiences, but the experiences of other men were not fraught with such momentous crises, nor did they foreshadow so many or grave dangers.

The chronicling of this episode and the fanciful coincidence of the deaths of Dominicus and Troilus may be taken as evidence that his idiosyncrasies were becoming aggravated by the decay of his faculties. Writing on October 1, 1576, he makes mention of the various testaments he had already made, and goes on to say that he had resolved to make a new and final disposition of his goods. He would fain have let his property descend to his immediate offspring, but with a son like Aldo this was impossible, so he left all to Gian Battista's son, who would now be a youth about eighteen years of age, Aldo getting nothing. He desired, for reasons best known to himself, that all his descendants should remain in curatela as long as possible, and that all his property should be held on trust; if the issue of his body should fail, then the succession should pass in perpetuity to his kinsfolk on the father's side. He desired that his works should be corrected and printed, and that, if heirs failed entirely, his house at Bologna should pass to the University, and be styled, after his family, Collegium Cardanorum.

There is no authentic record of the exact date of Cardan's death. De Thou, in writing the record of 1576, says that if Cardan's life had been prolonged by three days he would have completed his seventy-fifth year. As Cardan's birthday was September 24, 1501, this would fix his death on September 21, 1576. The exact figures given by De Thou are: "eodem, quo praedixerat, anno et die, videlicet XI. Kalend. VIII.," and he adds by way of information that a belief was current at the time that Cardan, who had foretold how he would die on this day and in this year, had abstained from food for some days previous to his death in order to make the fatal day square with the prophecy.

But the details which Cardan himself has set down concerning the last few weeks of his life are inconsistent with the facts chronicled by De Thou. In the De Vita Propria, chapter xxxvi., Cardan records how on October 1, 1576, he set to work to make his last will and testament, wherefore if credit is to be given to his version rather than to that of De Thou, he was alive and active some days after the date of his death as fixed by the chronicler. In cases where the record of an event of his early life given in the De Vita Propria differs from an account of the same in some contemporary writing, the testimony of the De Vita Propria may justly be put aside; but in this instance he was writing of something which could only have happened a few days past, and the balance of probability is that he was right and De Thou wrong. Bayle notices this discrepancy, and in the same paragraph taxes De Thou with a mistake of which he is innocent. He states that De Thou placed the date of Cardan's death in 1575, whereas the excerpt cited above runs: "Thuanus ad annum MDLXXVI., p. 136, lib. lxii. tom. 4. Romae magni nominis sive Mathematicus, sive Medicus Hieronymus Cardanus Mediol. natus hoc anno itidem obiit."

No mention is made of the disease to which Cardan finally succumbed. Had his frame not been of the strongest and most wiry, it must have gone to pieces long before through the havoc wrought by the severe and continuous series of ailments with which it was afflicted; so it seems permissible to assume that he died of natural decay. His body was interred in the church of Sant Andrea at Rome, and was subsequently transferred to Milan to be deposited finally under the stone which covered the bones of his father in the church of San Marco. This tomb, which Jerome had erected after Fazio's death, bore the following inscription:



Mors fuit id quod vixi: vitam mors dedit ipsa, Mens aeterna manet, gloria tuta quies.

Obiit anno MDXXIV. IV. Kalend. Sept. anno AEtatis LXXX. Hieronymus Cardanus Medicus Parenti posterisque V.P.[247]


[239] "Qua causa permotus sim ad scribendum, superius intellexisse te existimo, quippe somnio monitus, inde bis, terque, ac quater, ac pluries, ut alias testatus sum; sed et desiderio perpetuandi nominis. Bis autem magnam copiam ac numerum eorum perdidi; primum circa XXXVII annum, cum circiter IX. libros exussi, quod vanos ac nullius utilitatis futuros esse intelligerem; anno autem MDLXXIII alios CXX libros, cum jam calamitas illa cessasset cremavi."—De Vita Propria, ch. xlv. pp. 174, 175.

[240] Opera, tom. i. p. 122.

[241] De Vita Propria, p. 232.

[242] Opera, tom. i. p. 639. In the De Varietate he says that natural causes may in most cases be found for seeming marvels. "Ecce auditur strepitus in domo, potest esse mus, felis, ericius, aut quod tigna subsidant blatta."—p. 624.

[243] De Vita Propria, ch. xli. p. 152.

[244] De Vita Propria, chapter xlii., passim.

[245] Ibid., p. 66.

[246] Opera, tom. i. p. 339.

[247] Tomasinus, Gymnasium Patavinum.


THE estimates hitherto made concerning Cardan's character appear to have been influenced too completely, one way or the other, by the judgment pronounced upon him by Gabriel Naude, and prefixed to all editions of the De Vita Propria. Some writers have been disposed to treat Naude as a hide-bound pedant, insensible to the charm of genius, and the last man who ought to be trusted as the valuator of a nature so richly gifted, original, and erratic as was Cardan's. Such critics are content to regard as black anything which Naude calls white and vice versa. Others accept him as a witness entirely trustworthy, and adopt as a true description of Cardan the paragraphs made up of uncomplimentary adjectives—applied by Cardan to himself—which Naude has transferred from the De Vita Propria and the Geniturarum Exempla to his Judicium de Cardano.

It may be conceded at once that the impression received from a perusal of this criticism is in the main an unfavourable one of Cardan as a man, although Naude shows himself no niggard of praise when he deals with Cardan's achievements in Medicine and Mathematics. But in appraising the qualifications of Naude to act as a judge in this case, it will be necessary to bear in mind the fact that he was in his day a leading exponent of liberal opinions, the author of a treatise exposing the mummeries and sham mysteries of the Rosicrucians, and of an "Apologie pour les Grands Hommes soupconnez de Magie," and a disbeliever in supernatural manifestations of every kind. With a mind thus attuned it is no matter of surprise that Naude should have been led to speak somewhat severely when called upon to give judgment on a man saturated as Cardan was with the belief in sorcery, witches, and attendant demons.

If Naude indeed set to work with the intention of drawing a figure of Cardan which should stand out a sinister apparition in the eyes of posterity, his task was an easy one. All he had to do was to place Jerome Cardan himself in the witness-box. Reference to the passages already quoted will show that, in the whole corpus of autobiographic literature, there does not exist a volume in which the work of self-dissection has been so ruthlessly and completely undertaken and executed as in Cardan's memoirs. It has all the vices of an old man's book; it is garrulous, vain-glorious, and full of needless repetition; but, whatever portion of his life may be under consideration, the author never shrinks from holding up to the world's gaze the result of his searches in the deepest abysses of his conscience. Autobiographers, as a rule, do not feel themselves subject to a responsibility so deep as this. Memory turns back to the contemplation of certain springs of action, certain achievements in the past, making a judicious selection from these, and excerpting only such as promise to furnish the possible reader with a pleasing impression of the personality of the subject. With material of this sort at hand, the autobiographer sets to work to construct a fair and gracious monument, being easily persuaded that it would be a barbarous act to mar its symmetry by the introduction of loathly and misshapen blocks like those which Cardan, had he been the artist, would have chosen first of all.

Naude, after he has recorded the fact that, from his first essay in letters, he had been a zealous and appreciative student of Cardan's works, sets down Cardan's picture of himself, taken from his own Horoscope in the Geniturarum Exempla, "nugacem, religionis contemptorem, injuriae illatae memorem, invidum, tristem, insidiatorem, proditorem, magum, incantatorem, frequentibus calamitatibus obnoxium, suorum osore, turpi libidini deditum, solitarium, inamoenum, austerum, sponte etiam divinantem, zelotypum, lascivum, obscoenum, maledicum, obsequiosum, senum conversatione se delectantem, varium, ancipitem, impuru, et dolis mulierum obnoxium, calumniatorem, et omnino incognitum propter naturae et morum repugnantiam, etiam his cum quibus assidue versor." The critic at once goes on to state that in his opinion this description, drawn by the person who ought to know best, is, in the main, a correct one. What better account could you expect, he asks, of a man who put faith in dreams and portents and auguries; who believed fully in the utterances of crazy beldames, who saw ghosts, and who believed he was attended by a familiar demon? Then follows a catalogue of moral offences and defects of character, all taken from Cardan's own confessions, and a pronunciation by Naude that the man who says he never lies, must be of all liars the greatest; the charge of mendacity being driven home by references to Cardan's alleged miraculous comprehension of the classic tongues in a single night, and his pretended knowledge of a cure for phthisis. There is no need to follow Naude farther in his diatribe against the faults and imperfections, real and apparent, of Cardan's character; these must be visible enough to the most cursory student. Passages like these arouse the suspicion that Naude knew books better than men, that at any rate he did not realize that men are to be found, and not seldom, who take pleasure in magnifying their foibles into gigantic follies, and their peccadilloes into atrocious crimes; while the rarity is to come across one who will set down these details with the circumstantiality used by Cardan. There is one defect in the De Vita Propria—an artistic one—which Naude does not notice, namely, that in his narrative of his early days Cardan often over-reaches himself. His show of extreme accuracy destroys the perspective of the story, and, in his anxiety to be minute over the sequence of his childish ailments, the most trivial details of his uneasy dreams, and the cuffs he got from his father and his Aunt Margaret, he confuses the reader with multitudinous particulars and ceases to be dramatic. But the hallucinations which he nourished about himself were not all the outcome of senility. In the De Varietate, the work upon which he spent the greatest care, and the product moreover of his golden prime, he gives an account of four marvellous properties with which he was gifted.[248] The first of these was the power to pass, whenever the whim seized him, from sense into a kind of ecstasy. While he was in this state he could hear but faintly the sound of voices, and could not distinguish spoken words. Whether he would be sensitive to any great pain he could not say, but twitchings and the sharpest attacks of gout affected him not. When he fell into this state he felt a certain separation about the heart, as if his soul were departing from that region and taking possession of his whole body, a door being opened for the passage of the same. The sensation would begin in the cerebellum, and thence would be diffused along the spine. The one thing of which he was fully conscious, was that he had passed out of himself. The second property was that, when he would, he could conjure up any images he liked before his eyes, real [Greek: eidola], and not at all to be compared with the blurred processions of phantoms which he was wont to see when he was a child. At the time when he wrote, perhaps by reason of his busy life, he no longer saw them whensoever he would, nor so perfectly expressed, nor for so long at a time. These images constantly gave place one to another, and he would behold groves, and animals, and orbs, and whatever he was fain to see. This property he attributed to the force of his imaginative power, and his clearness of vision. The third property was that he never failed to be warned in dreams of things about to happen to him; and the fourth was that premonitory signs of coming events would display themselves in the form of spots on his nails. The signs of evil were black or livid, and appeared on the middle finger; white spots on the same nail portending good fortune. Honours were indicated on the thumb, riches on the fore-finger, matters relating to his studies and of grave import on the third finger, and minor affairs on the little finger.

In putting together the record of his life, Cardan eschewed the narrative form and followed a method of his own. He collected the details of his qualities, habits, and adventures in separate chapters; his birth and lineage, his physical stature, his diet, his rule of life, his imperfections, his poverty, the misfortunes of his sons, his masters and pupils, his travels, his experiences of things beyond nature, his cures, the persecutions of his foes, and divers other categories being grouped together to make up the De Vita Propria, which, though it is the most interesting book he has left behind him, is certainly the most clumsy and chaotic from a literary point of view. The chapters for the most part begin with his early years, and end with some detail as to his life in Rome, each one being a categorical survey of a certain side of his life; but remarks as to his personal peculiarities are scattered about from beginning to end. He tells how he could always see the moon in broad daylight;[249] of his passion for wandering about the city by night carrying arms forbidden by the law; of his practice of self-torture, beating his legs with a switch, twisting his fingers, pinching his flesh, and biting his left arm; and of going about within doors with naked legs; how at one time he was possessed with the desire, heroica passio, of suicide; of his habit of filling his house with pets of all sorts—kids, lambs, hares, rabbits, and storks. The chapter in which he records all the maladies which afflicted him, puts upon the reader's credulity a burden almost as heavy as is the catalogue given by another philosopher of the number of authors he mastered before his twelfth year. Two attacks of the plague, agues, tertian and quotidian, malignant ulcers, hernia, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, palpitation of the heart, gout, indigestion, the itch, and foulness of skin. Relief in the second attack of plague came from a sweat so copious that it soaked the bed and ran in streams down to the floor; and, in a case of continuous fever, from voiding a hundred and twenty ounces of urine. As a boy he was a sleep-walker, and he never became warm below the knees till he had been in bed six hours, a circumstance which led his mother to predict that his time on earth would be brief.

Cardan lived an abstemious life. He broke his fast on bread-and-water and a few grapes. He sometimes dined off bread, the yolk of an egg, and a little wine, and would take for supper a mess of beetroot and rice and a chicory salad. The catalogue of his favourite dishes seems to exhaust every known edible, and it will suffice to remark that he was specially inclined to sound and well-stewed wild boar, the wings of young cockerels and the livers of pullets, oysters, mussels, fresh-water crayfish because his mother ate greedily thereof when she was pregnant with him; but of all dishes he rates the best a carp from three pounds weight to seven, taken from a good feeding-ground. He praises all sweet fruit, oil, olives, and finds in rue an antidote to poison. Ten o'clock was his hour for going to bed, and he allowed himself eight hours' sleep. When wakeful he would walk about the room and repeat the multiplication table. As a further remedy for sleeplessness he would reduce his food by half, and would anoint his thighs, the soles of his feet, the neck, the elbows, the carpal bones, the temples, the jugulars, the region of the heart and of the liver, and the upper lip with ointment of poplars, or the fat of bear, or the oil of water-lilies.

These few extracts will show that an intelligible narrative could scarcely be produced by the methods Cardan used. The book is a collection of facts, classified as a scientific writer would arrange the sections and subsections of his subject. In gathering together and grouping the leading points of his life, a method somewhat similar to his own will suffice, but there will be no need to descend to a subdivision so minute as his own. A task of this sort is never an easy one, and in this instance the difficulties are increased by the diffuse and complicated nature of the subject matter; and because, owing to Cardan's wayward mental habit, there is no saying in what corner of the ten large folios which contain his writings some pregnant and characteristic sentence, picturing effectively some aspect of his nature or perhaps exhibiting the man at a glance, may not be hidden away.

It must not be inferred, because Cardan himself and his critics after him, have laid such great stress upon his vices and imperfections, that he was devoid of virtues. The most striking and remarkable of his merits was his industry, but even in this particular instance, where his excellence is most clearly manifest, he is constantly lamenting his waste of time and idleness. Again and again he mourns over the precious hours he has spent over chess and dice and games of chance. In his counsels to his children, he compares a gambler to a sink of all the vices, and in writing of his early life at Sacco he describes himself as an idle profligate, and tells how he entirely neglected his profession. If indeed such monstrous cantles were cut out of his time through idleness he must, though his life proved a long one, have possessed extraordinary power of rapid production; for the huge mass of his published work, without taking any account of the many manuscripts he burned from time to time, would, in the case of most men, represent the ceaseless labour of a long life. And the corpus is not great by reason of haste or want of finish. He has recorded more than once how it was ever his habit to let his work be polished to the utmost before putting it in type. The citations with which his pages bristle proclaim him to be a reader almost as voracious and catholic as Burton; and Naude, with the watchfulness of the hostile critic in his heart and the bookworm's knowledge in his brain, would have been ready and able to convict him of quoting authors he had not read, if the least handle for this charge should have been given, but no accusation of the kind is preferred. The story of his life shows him to be full of rough candour and honesty, and unlikely to descend to subterfuge, while his great love of reading and his accurate retentive memory would make easy for him a task which ordinary mortals might well regard as hopeless.

Those critics who pass judgment on Cardan, taken solely as a Physician or as a Mathematician, will give a presentment more fallacious than imperfect generalizations usually furnish, for in Cardan's case the man, taken as a whole, was incomparably greater than the sum of his parts. Naude remarks that a man who knows a little of everything, and that little imperfectly, deserves small respect as a citizen of the republic of letters, but Cardan did not belong to this category, as Julius Caesar Scaliger found to his cost. He was not like the bookmen of the revival of learning—Poliziano, Valla, or Alberti may stand as examples—who after putting on the armour of the learned language and saturating themselves with the literae humaniores, made excursions into some domain of science for the sake of recreation. Cardan might rather be compared with Varro or Theophrastus in classic, and with Erasmus, Pico, Grotius, or Casaubon in modern times. On this point Naude indulges in something approaching panegyric. He writes—"Investigation will show us that many excelled him in the humanities or in Theology, some even in Mathematics, some in Medicine and in the knowledge of Philosophy, some in Oriental tongues and in either side of Jurisprudence, but where shall we find any one who had mastered so many sciences by himself, who had plumbed so deeply the abysses of learning and had written such ample commentaries on the subjects he studied? Assuredly in Philosophy, in Metaphysics, in History, in Politics, in Morals, as well as in the more abstruse fields of learning, nothing that was worth consideration escaped his notice."

The foregoing eulogy from the pen of an adverse critic gives eloquent testimony to Cardan's industry and the catholicity of his knowledge. As to his industry, the record of his literary production, chronicled incidentally in the course of the preceding pages, will be evidence enough, seeing that, from the time when he "commenced author," scarcely a year went by when he did not print a volume of some sort or other; to say nothing of the production of those multitudinous unpublished MSS., of which some went to build up the pile he burnt in his latter years in Rome, while others, perhaps, are still mouldering in the presses of university or city libraries of Italy. Frequent reference has been made to the more noteworthy of his works. Books like the De Vita Propria, the De Libris Propriis, the De Utilitate ex Adversis Capienda, the Geniturarum Exempla, the Theonoston, the Consilia Medica, the dialogues Tetim and De Morte, have necessarily been drawn upon for biographical facts. The De Subtilitate and the De Varietate Rerum; the Liber Artis Magnae, the Practica Arithmeticae, have been noticed as the most enduring portions of his legacy to posterity; wherefore, before saying the final word as to his literary achievement, it may not be superfluous to give a brief glance at those of his books which, although of minor importance to those already cited, engaged considerable attention in the lifetime of the writer.

The work upon which Cardan founded his chief hope of immortality was his Commentary on Hippocrates. In bulk it ranks first easily, filling as it does one of the large folios of the edition of 1663. Curiously enough, in addition to a permanent place in the annals of medicine, Cardan anticipated for this forgotten mass of type a general and immediate popularity; wider than any which his technical works could possibly enjoy, seeing that it dealt with the preservation of health, the greatest mortal blessing, and must on this account be of interest to all men. It will be enough to remark of these commentaries that no portion of Cardan's work yields less information as to the author's life and personality; to dilate upon them, ever so superficially, from a scientific point of view, would be waste of time and paper. Another of his works, which he rated highly, was his treatise on Music. It was begun during his tenure of office at Pavia, circa 1547, and he was still at work upon it two years before his death.[250] It is not difficult to realize, even at this interval of time, that this book at the date of its publication must have been welcomed by all musical students as a valuable contribution to the literature of their subject. It is strongly marked by Cardan's particular touch, that formative faculty by which he almost always succeeded in stimulating fresh interest in the reader, and exhibiting fresh aspects of whatever subject he might be treating. This work begins by laying down at length the general rules and principles of the art, and then goes on to treat of ancient music in all its forms; of music as Cardan knew and enjoyed it; of the system of counterpoint and composition, and of the construction of musical instruments.

The Commentary on Ptolemaei de Astrorum Judiciis, the writing of which beguiled the tedium of his voyage down the Loire on his journey to Paris in 1552, is a book upon which he spent great care, and is certainly worthy of notice. Cardan's gratitude to Archbishop Hamilton for the liberal treatment and gracious reception he had recently encountered in Scotland, prompted him to dedicate this volume to his late patient. He writes in the preface how he had expected to find the Scots a pack of barbarians, but their country, he affirms, is cultivated and humanized beyond belief,—"and you yourself reflect such splendour upon your nation that now, by the very lustre of your name, it must needs appear to the world more noble and illustrious than at any time heretofore. What need is there for me to speak of the school founded by you at St. Andrews, of sedition quelled, of your country delivered, of the authority of your brother the Regent vindicated? These are merely the indications of your power, and not the source thereof." In the preface he also writes at length, concerning the horoscope of Christ,[251] in a strain of apology, as if he scented already the scandal which the publication of this injudicious performance was destined to raise. In estimating the influence of comets he sets down several instances which had evidently been brought to his notice during his sojourn in Scotland: how in 1165, within fourteen days of the appearance of a great comet, Malcolm IV., known on account of his continence as the virgin king, fell sick and died. Again, in 1214 two comets, one preceding and the other following the sun, appeared as fore-runners of the death of King William after a reign of forty-nine years. Perhaps the most interesting of his comments on Ptolemy's text are those which estimate the power of the stellar influences on the human frame, an aspect of the question which, by reason of his knowledge of medicine and surgery, would naturally engage his more serious attention. He tells of the birth of a monstrous child—a most loathsome malformation—at Middleton Stoney, near Oxford, during his stay in England,[252] and gives many other instances of the disastrous effects of untoward conjunction of the planets upon infants born under the influence of the same. He accuses monks and nuns of detestable vices in the plainest words, words which were probably read by the emissaries of the spiritual authority when the charge of impiety was being got up against him. In the Geniturarum Exempla the horoscopes of Edward VI., Archbishop Hamilton, and Cardan himself have been already noticed; that of Sir John Cheke comes next in interest to these, and, it must be admitted, is no more trustworthy. It declares that Cheke would attain the age of sixty-one years, that he would be most fortunate in gathering wealth and friends around him, that he would die finally of lingering disease, and involve many in misfortune by his death—a faulty guess, indeed, as to the future of a man who died at forty-three, borne down by the weight of his misfortunes, neglected and forgotten by his former adherents, stripped of his wealth and covered with shame, in that he had abjured his faith to save a life which was so little worth preserving.

Naude does not neglect to censure Cardan for his maladroit attempts to read the future. He writes:—"This matter, forsooth, gave a ready handle to Cardan's rivals, and especially to those who were sworn foes of astrology; so that they were able to jibe at him freely because, neither in his own horoscope, nor in that of his son Giovanni Battista, nor in that of Aymer Ranconet, nor in that of Edward VI., king of England, nor in any other of the schemes that he drew, did he rightly foresee any of the events which followed. He did not divine that he himself was doomed to imprisonment, his son to the halter, Ranconet to a violent death, and Edward to a brief term of life, but predicted for each one of these some future directly contrary."[253]

The treatise De Consolatione, probably the best known of Cardan's ethical works, was first published at Venice in 1542 by Girolamo Scoto, but it failed at first to please the public taste. It was not until 1544, when it was re-issued bound up with the De Sapientia and the first version of the De Libris Propriis from the press of Petreius at Nuremberg, that it met with any success. Perhaps the sober tone and didactic method of this treatise appealed more readily to the mood of the German than of the Italian reader. From internal evidence it is obvious that Cardan was urged to write it by the desire of making known to the world the bitter experience of his early literary and professional struggles. In the opening paragraph he lets it be seen that he intends to follow a Ciceronian model, and records his regret that the lament of Cicero over his daughter's death should have perished in the barbarian wars. The original title of the book was The Accuser, to wit, something which might censure the vain passions and erring tendencies of mankind, "at post mutato nomine, et in tres libellos diviso, de Consolatione eum inscripsimus, quod longe magis infelices consolatione, quam fortunati reprehensione, indigere viderentur." The subsequent success of the book was probably due to this change of name, though the author himself preferred to have discovered a special reason for its early failure.[254] The plan of the treatise is the same as that of a dozen others of the same nature: an effort to persuade men in evil case that they may find relief by regarding the misfortunes they suffer as transitory accidents in no way affecting the chief end of life, and by seeking happiness alone in trafficking with the riches of the mind.

It is doubtful whether any of the books written with this object have ever served their purpose, save in the case of their originators. Cardan may have found the burden of his failure and poverty grow lighter as he set down his woes on paper, but the rest of the world must have read the book for some other reason than the hope of consolation. Read to-day in Bedingfield's quaint English, the book is full of charm and interest. It is filled with apt illustration from Greek philosophy and from Holy Writ as well, and lighted up by spaces of lively wit. It was accepted by the public taste for reasons akin to those which would secure popularity for a clever volume of essays at the present time, and was translated into more than one foreign language, Bedingfield's translation being published some thirty years after its first appearance.

The De Sapientia, with which it is generally classed, is of far less interest. It is a series of ethical discourses, lengthy and discursive, which must have seemed dull enough to contemporary students: to read it through now would be a task almost impossible. It is only remembered because Cardan has inserted therein, somewhat incongruously, that account of his asserted cures of phthisis which Cassanate quoted when he wrote to Cardan about Archbishop Hamilton's asthma, and which were afterwards seized upon by hostile critics as evidence of his disregard of truth.

Another of his minor works highly characteristic of the author is the Somniorum Synesiorum, a collection of all the remarkable dreams he ever dreamt, many of which have been already noticed. To judge from what specimens of his epistles are extant, Cardan seems to have been a good letter-writer. One of the most noteworthy is that which he addressed to Gian Battista after his marriage. It shows Cardan to have been a loving father and a master of sapient exhortation, while the son's fate gives melancholy testimony of the futility of good counsel unaided by direction and example. He tells of his grief at seeing the evil case into which his son had fallen, vexed by poverty, disgrace, and loss of health, how he would gladly even now receive the prodigal into his house (he says nothing about the wife), did he not fear that such a step would lead to his own ruin rather than to his son's restoration. After showing that any fresh misfortune to himself must needs cut away the last hope for Gian Battista, he sketches out a line of conduct for the ill-starred youth which he declared, if rightly pursued, might re-establish his fortunes.

He begins by advising his son to read and lay to heart the contents of the De Consolatione and the De Utilitate, and then, somewhat more to the purpose, promises him half his earnings of the present and the coming year. Beyond this Gian Battista should have half the salary of any office which his father might get for himself, and half of the piece of silk which he had received from the Venetian Ambassador, supposing that the young man should not be able to get a like piece for himself from the same source.

He next cites the De Consolatione to demonstrate the futility of lamentation over misfortune past or present, or indeed over any decree of fate. He bids Gian Battista reflect that he is human not a brute, a man not a woman, a Christian not a Moslem or Jew, an Italian not a barbarian, sprung from a worthy city and family, and from a father whose name by itself will prove a title to fame. His only real troubles are a weak body and infirm health—one a gift of heredity, the other aggravated by dissolute habits. It may be a vain thing for men to congratulate themselves over their happiness, but it is vainer for them to cry out for solace over past calamity. Contempt of money is foolish, but contempt of God is ten times worse. Cardan concludes this part of his letter by reciting two maxims given him by his father—one, to have daily remembrance of God and of His vast bounty, the other, to pursue with the utmost diligence any task taken in hand.

Cardan then treats the scapegrace to a string of maxims from the De Utilitate, maxims which a model son might have read, but which Gian Battista would certainly put aside unnoticed, and finishes with some serviceable practical counsel: "Keep your mind calm, go early to bed, for ours is a hot-blooded race and predisposed to suffer from stone. Take nine hours' sleep, rise at six and visit your patients, being careful to use no speech unconnected with the case before you. Avoid heating your body to perspiration; go forth on horseback, come back on foot; and on your return put on warm clothes. Drink little, break your fast on bread, dried fish, and meat, and then give four hours to study, for studies bring pleasure, relief from care, and mental riches; they are the foundations of renown, and enable a man to do his duty with credit. See your patients again; and, before you sup, take exercise in the woods and fields adjacent. Should you become over-heated or wet with rain, cast off and dry your damp clothes, and don dry ones. Sup heartily, and go to bed at eight; and when, by the brevity of the night, this is not convenient, take a corresponding rest during the day. Abstain from summer fruit, from black wine, from vain overflow of talk, from falsehood and gaming, from trusting a woman or over-indulging her, for she is a foolish animal and full of deceit. Over-fondness towards a woman will surely bring evil upon you. Bleed and purge yourself as little as possible; learn by experience of other men's faults and misfortunes; live frugally; bear yourself suavely to all men; and let study be your main end. All this and more have I set forth in the books I have named. Trust neither promises nor hopes, for these may be vain and delusive; and reckon your own only that which you hold in your hand. Farewell."

From the fact that Cardan took part in an unofficial medical conference in Paris, that he afterwards superseded Cassanate as the Archbishop of St. Andrews' physician, and did not find himself with a dozen or so quarrels on his hands, it may be assumed that he was laudably free from the jealousy attributed by tradition to his profession. This instance becomes all the more noteworthy when his natural irascibility, and the character of the learned controversy of the times comes to be considered. He does not spare his censure in remarking on the too frequent quarrels of men of letters,[255] albeit these quarrels must have lent no little gaiety to the literary world. No one who reads the account of Gian Battista's fate can doubt the sincerity of Cardan's remorse for that neglect of the boy's youthful training which helped to bring him to ruin, and the care which he bestowed upon his grandson Fazio proved that his regret was not of that sort which exhales itself in empty words. The zeal with which he threw himself into the struggle for his son's life, and his readiness to strip himself of his last coin as the fight went on, show that he was capable of warm-hearted affection, and afraid of no sacrifice in the cause of duty.

The brutal candour which Cardan used in probing the weaknesses of his own nature and in displaying them to the world, he used likewise in his dealings with others. If he detected Branda Porro or Camutio in a blunder he would inform them they were blockheads without hesitation, and plume himself afterwards on the score of his blunt honesty. Veracity was not a common virtue in those days, but Cardan laid claim to it with a display of insistence which was not, perhaps, in the best taste. Over and over again he writes that he never told a lie;[256] a contention which seems to have roused especially the bile of Naude, and to have spurred him on to make his somewhat clumsy assault on Cardan's veracity.[257] His citation of the case of the stranger who came with the volume of Apuleius for sale, and of the miraculous gift of classic tongues, has already been referred to; but these may surely be attributed to an exaggerated activity of that particular side of Cardan's imagination which was specially prone to seize upon some figment of the brain, and some imperfectly apprehended sensation of the optic nerve, and fashion from these materials a tale of marvel. Delusions of this sort were common in reputed witches, as Reginald Scot writes—"They learne strange toongs with small industrie (as Aristotle and others affirme)."[258] The other charge preferred by Naude as to the pretended cure of consumption, and the consequent quibbling and tergiversation, is a more valid one. It has been noted how Cardan, previous to his journey to Scotland, had posed as the discoverer of a cure for this malady. In the list of his cures successfully treated he includes several in which he restored patients suffering from blood-spitting, fever, and extreme emaciation to sound health, the most noteworthy of these being that of Girolamo Tiboldo, a sea-captain. When the sick man had risen from his bed and had become fat and healthy, Cardan deemed that the occasion justified a certain amount of self-gratulation, but the physicians, out of envy, declared that Tiboldo had never suffered from true phthisis. In his account of the case Cardan says that he, and the physicians as well, were indeed untruthful over the matter, his own falsehood having been the result of over-sanguine hope, and theirs the outcome of spiteful envy. Tiboldo died after all of chest disease, but not till five years later, and then from a chill caught through sitting in wet garments.[259] The term consumption has always been applied somewhat loosely, and Cardan probably would have been allowed the benefit of this usage if he had not, in an excess of candour, set down the workings of his mind and conscience with regard to this matter. Writing of his treatment of Archbishop Hamilton, he says: "And in truth I cured scarcely any patients of phthisic disease, though I did find a remedy for many who were suffering from similar maladies, wherefore that boast of mine, that proclamation of merit to which I had no right, worked no small profit to me, a man very little given to lying. For the people about the Archbishop, urged on by these and other considerations, persuaded him that he had no chance of regaining his health except by putting himself under my care, and that he should fly to me as his last hope."[260] It has already been noted that Cardan's claim to some past knowledge in the successful treatment of chest diseases had weight with the Archbishop and Cassanate, and the result of his visit surely proved that their confidence was not ill-placed; his boasting may have been a trifle excessive, but it was based on hope rather than achievement; and if proof can be adduced that it was not prompted by any greed of illegitimate fame or profit, it may justly be ranked as a weakness rather than as a serious offence. To these two instances of falsehood Naude adds a third, to wit, Cardan's claim to the guidance of a familiar spirit. He refuses to let this rank as a delusion; and, urged no doubt by righteous indignation against the ills springing from kindred superstitions, he writes down as a liar rather than a dupe the man who, after mastering the whole world of science, could profess such folly.

Considering the catholicity of Cardan's achievements, and the eager spirit of inquiry he displayed in fields of learning remote from his own particular one, it is worthy of notice that he did not allow this discursive humour, which is not seldom a token of instability, to hold him back from pursuing the supreme aim of his life, that is, eminence in the art of Medicine. In his youth the threats and persuasions of his father could not induce him to take up Jurisprudence with an assured income and abandon Medicine. At Sacco, at Gallarate, and afterwards in Milan he was forced by the necessity of bread-winning to use his pen in all sorts of minor subjects that had no real fascination for him, but all his leisure was devoted to the acquisition of Medical knowledge. Prudence as well as inclination had a share in directing his energies into this channel, for a report, for which no doubt there was some warrant, was spread abroad that what skill he had lay entirely in the knowledge of Astrology; and, as this rumour operated greatly to his prejudice,[261] he resolved to perfect himself in Medicine and free his reputation from this aspersion. He had quarrelled violently with the physicians over the case of Count Borromeo's child which died, and with Borromeo himself, and, almost immediately after this, he published his book, De Astrorum Judiciis, a step which tended to identify him yet more closely with Astrology, and to raise a cry against him in Milan, which he declares to be the most scandal-mongering city in the Universe. But it is clear that in this instance scandal was not far wrong, and that Cardan himself was right in purging himself of the quasi science he ought never to have taken up.

Medicine, when Cardan began his studies, was beginning to feel the effects of the revival of Greek learning. With the restored knowledge of the language of Greece there arose a desire to investigate the storehouses of science, as well as those of literature, and the extravagant assumption of the dogmatists, and the eccentricities of the Arabic school gave additional cogency to the cry for more light. The sects which Galen had endeavoured to unite sprang into new activity within a century after his death. The Arabian physicians, acute and curious as they were, had exercised but a very transient influence upon the real progress of the art, the chief cause of their non-success being their adhesion to arbitrary and empirical tradition. At the end of the fifteenth century, Leonicinus, a professor at Ferrara, recalled the allegiance of his pupils to the authority of Hippocrates by the ability and eloquence of his teaching; and, by his translation of Galen's works into Latin, he helped still farther to confirm the ascendency of the fathers of Medicine. The Arabians, sprung from the East, the storehouse of drugs and simples, and skilled in Chemistry, were the founders of the Pharmacopoeia,[262] but with this exception they did nothing to advance Medicine beyond the point where the Greeks had left it. The treatises of Haly, Avicenna, and Maimonides were little better than faint transcriptions of the writings of the great forerunners. Their teaching was random and spasmodic, whereas the system of Hippocrates was conceived in the spirit of Greek philosophy, moving on by select experience, always observant and cautious, and ascending by slow and certain steps to the generalities of Theory. Indeed the science of Medicine in the hands of Hippocrates and his school seems, more than any other, to have presented to the world a rudimentary essay, a faint foreshadowing of the great fabric of inductive process, subsequently formulated by the genius of Bacon. At various epochs Medicine had been specially stimulated by the vivifying spirit of Greek science; in the Roman school in the days of Celsus, and in the Arabian teaching likewise. Fuller acknowledgment of the authority of Greek Medicine came with the Renaissance,[263] but even this long step in advance did not immediately liberate the art from bondage. A new generation of professors arose who added fresh material to the storehouses, already overflowing, of pedantic erudition, and showed the utmost contempt for any fruit of other men's labour which might not square exactly with the utterances of the founders. This attitude rendered these professors of Medicine the legitimate objects of ridicule, as soon as the leaven of the revival began to work, and the darts of satire still fly, now and then, at the same quarry. Paracelsus, disfigured as his teaching was by mysticism, the arts of the charlatan, and by his ignorant repudiation of the service of Anatomy, struck the first damaging blows at this illegitimate ascendency, by the frequent success of his empirical treatment, by the contempt he heaped upon the scholastic authorities, and by the boldness with which he assailed every thesis which they maintained. Men of more sober intellect and weighty learning soon followed in his track. Fernelius, one of the physicians Cardan met in Paris, boldly rejected what he could not approve by experience in the writings of Hippocrates and Galen, and stood forth as the advocate for free inquiry, and Joubert of Montpelier, Argentier of Turin, and Botal of Asti subsequently took a similar course.

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