A collection of letters illustrative of the progress of science in England, from the reign of Queen Elizabeth to that of Charles the Second/Letter 1
LETTERS ON SCIENTIFIC SUBJECTS.
August 1st, 1562.
THE only searcher of mens harts, the eternall God, I take to wytnesse (right honorable) that never the greefes of adverse fortune (wherof I have had my parte) dyd so muche prostrate my mynde and pearce my harte with sorowes, as the understondinge of your honours favour and goodnesse towarde me in your lately ernest travaile in my behalfe (as I was informed by the Mʳ of Savie) hathe rejoised me and revived my discouragied spirites, heretofore no lesse languysshed for lacke of suche a patrone, then nowe encouraged by the favoure of suche a Mæcenas, as I have just cause to name your honoure. Syth only the respecte of suche vertues as it hathe pleased yow to thinke commendable in me, hath moved your honour not only in maner to seeme carefull for me howe I maye hereafter with quietnesse spende my tyme in studie, as is my most desire; but also to be more ernest in folowing the same, then I might without presumption demaunde, and muche lesse without desertes dequire. As touchinge the which matter (right honourable) as it was no parte of my divise, but suche as the Mʳ of Savoy had then in hande, as I suppose no lesse to pleasure hymselfe and his frende then for £20 therof to be lotted to me for an earnest penye to begyne the booke (as he saith). Even so am I right sorie that for so smaule a matter, and not so favorable a sute as I wolde have wysshed, not only your honour hathe taken suche paynes, but that also suche contention is rysen therof betwene the Mʳ of Savoy and Mʳ Baptist of the privie chamber, that by reason thereof the pardon being steyed be your Honour, the younge gentleman his kynsman (as he hathe informed me) is in daungiour of his lyfe. But under your honours favour to speake playnelye as I thinke, I suppose that here aliquid latet quod non apparet. For as this sute, for dyvers consyderations, at the first dyd not greatly like me, yet perceavinge his ernestnesse therein, for the safegarde of his kinsmans life and gratifying his frendes, I, no lesse willing therin to do hym pleasure, also was well contented to assent to his request, and to stande to his appoyntment; not suspecting his frendeshippe, but rather commending his wysdome, so to doo for his frende as therwith not to forget hym selfe, quia nihil sapit qui sibi non sapit. But if at that tyme I might so boldelye have presumed uppon your honours favour, as by your ernestnesse in my behalfe I nowe perceave I might have doune, I wolde have moved your Honour of an honester sute (for a lease to be had at the Queenes hands) whereof I made hym privie, and was longe sense so mynded to have donne, but that he deterred me frome the same, alleaging certen commissionars to have the doinges therof, and that therfore no suche thing might be had at her Majesties handes: albeit, I have sythens harde of dyvers that have obteyned the like. Notwithstonding (as in my former letters I wrotte to your honour) my meaning is so to move your honour hereof, as neyther to be an importunate suter, or otherwise to thinke the same to be folowed then shall seeme good unto your honour, unto whose will I submitte myselfe in all thinges; only putting your honour in remembruance of the commodious place and tyme that I nowe enjoye for that purpose: for the contynuance wherof, I was a suter unto your Honour for your letters unto the gentleman (my frende) in whose house I yet remayne, who also being one that favoureth learninge and my greate frende, and no lesse gladde to further so good a purpose, is well willing the rather to my use to departe frome a piece of his commoditie, in suche sorte as appeareth by the byll herein inclosed. Whereof further to advertyse your honour, if you shall so thinke it convenient, he will himselfe repayre unto your honour to give you perfecte informacion of alle thinges as touching the same. And wheras the Mʳ of Savoye tolde me that your honour sumwhat doubted that the booke coulde not be translated into the Englisshe toonge, I assure your honour that this I dare saye without arrogancie, that to translate the variable historie of Plinie into our toonge, I wolde be ashamed to borowe so muche of the Latine as he dothe of the Greke; althowgh the Latine toonge be accompted ryche, and the Englysshe indigent and barbarous, as it hathe byn in tyme past muche more then it nowe is, before it was enriched and amplyfied by sundry bookes in maner of all artes translated owt of Latine and other toonges into Englysshe. And it is not unknowen unto your Honour that the Latins receaving bothe the science of philosophie and phisike of the Grekes, do still for the most parte in all ther translacions use the Greke names, insomuche that, for the better understonding of them, one Otto Brumfelsius, a learned man, hathe writen a large booke intiteled, Onomasticon Medicinæ where he hathe these woordes, Res ipsas atque artium vocabula, scite, apposite, designateque efferre, atque ad Polycleti regulam (quod aiunt) exprimere, res est non minus difficilis quam gloriosa. Quo, nullum studii genus majori constat molestia. Id quod in causa esse reor, quia hodie tam pauci in ea palestra sese exerceant, &c. Agen, it is not unknowen unto your honour that ons all toonges were barbarous and needie, before the knowleage of things browght in plentie of woordes and names; wherby it maye well appeare that men, in the first age of the worlde, had a shorte language consistinge of fewe woordes, which ever after increased by the knowleage and invention of thinges. Exercise also maketh suche woordes familier, which at the first were difficulte to be understode; for children at the first (as saithe Aristotle) caule all men fathers; but shortely after by exercise caule them by there names. And I have learned by experience that the maryners use manye Englysse woordes, which were as unknowen unto me as the Chaldean toonge before I was conversant with them. It maye therefore suffice that the woordes and termes of artes and sciences be knowen to the professours therof, as partely by experience and partely by the helpe of dictionaries describing them per proprium genus et differentiam, as the logitians teache, and as Georgius Agricola useth to do in the Germayne toonge, which, as well in that parte of philosophic as in all other, was barbarous and indigent before it was by longe experience browght to perfection. But not to trouble your honour any longer with this matter, one thinge remayneth wherof I wolde gladlye have certified your honour at my last being at the courte at Grenewich, if I might have had convenient accesse unto yow; And this is, that, perceavinge your honour to take pleasure in the wonderfull woorkes of arte and nature (wherin doubtlesse shyneth the sparke of the divine spirite that God hathe gyven you) I was then mynded to have delyvered unto your honour this philosophicall booke, wherin is described (as appeareth in folio ij.) so excellent and precious an experiment, wrought by arte to the similitude of the universall frame of the worlde, made by the omnipotent and greate God of nature, that I beleve the like was never doonne synse the creacion of the worlde. And maye therfore in my judgement more woorthely be cauled Michrocosmos, then eyther man or any other creature that ever was made of corporall substance. Angelus Politianus in his epistells describeth an instrument cauled automaton made in his tyme in the citie of Florence, observing the exacte moving of Primum Mobile and Octava Sphæera, with also the movinges of the 7 planetes in there spheres, in all poyntes agreable to there moving in the heaven. Of the like instrument also our Roger Bacon wrotte longe before in his booke de Mirabili potestate artis et naturæ, where he writeth in this maner, Majus omnium figurationum et rerum figuratarum est, ut cœlestia describerentur secundum suas longitudines et latitudines in figura corporali, qua moventur corporaliter motu diurno, et hæc valere[n]t regnum [unum] homini sapienti, &c. The which instrument doubtlesse, allthowgh it be of a divine invention, yet dothe this Michrocosmos so far surmount it, as nature passeth arte, and as motus animalis passeth motus violentus, for as the other is moved only by waight or wynde inclosed (as is seene in clockes and organs) so is this moved by the same spirite of life, wherby not only the heaven, but also all nature, is moved: whose mover is God hymselfe, as saithe St. Paule, Ipsus est in quo vivimus, movemur, et sumus; as also Aristotle, Plato, and Philo, in there bookes De Mundo, do affirme; and especially Marcus Manilius in Astronomicis ad Augustum Cæsarem, writing thus:
Hoc opus immensi constructum corpore mundi,
Membraque naturæ diversa condita forma,
Aëris atque ignis terræ pelagique jacentis,
Vis animæ divina regit; sacroque meatu
Aere libratum vacuo quæ sustinet orbem,
And wheras the autoure that describeth the Michrocosmos affirmeth that the Chaos therof is materia Lapidis Philosophorum (which is also Chaos, vel omnium, vel prima materia mundi majoris) it seemeth to agre with that Cornelius Agrippa hathe written in his seconde booke De occulta philosophia, in scala unitatis, where he wryteth thus: Lapis philosophorum est unum subjectum et instrumentum omnium virtutum naturalium et transnaturalium, &c. And that this greate and divine secreate of this Michrocosmos maye not seeme incredible unto your honour, I assure you that I, that am minimum philosophorum, dyd long sense (as I have to wytnesse Mr. Thomas Whalley, th' elder soonne of Mr. Richard Whalley) woorke and secreate practise sumwhat like unto this, in maner as foloweth:—I dissolved two substances in two waters; then I put the waters togyther in a glasse, suffering them so to remayne for a tyme. Then I stilled of the water from the masse or chaos lefte of them bothe, and put it on agen, and so dyd dyvers tymes. In fine, the masse being dissolved in the water, I let it rest all night in a coulde place. In the morning, I founde swymming on the water and in the myddest therof a little round iland, as brode as riall or sumwhat more, with at the least a hundreth sylver trees about an ynche high, so perfectly formed with trunkes, stalkes and leaves, all of most pure and glystering sylver, that I suppose no lymner or paynter is able to counterfecte the like. Then shaking the glasse, all fell in pieces into the water, and filled it with glystering sparkes, as the firmament shyneth with starres in a cleare wynter night. Then putting the glasse to a softe fyre uppon warme asshes, all turned agen into clear water, which, agen being put in a colde place all night, made an iland with the like trees as before. What this wolde have been in fine, God knoweth, and not I! But of this I am sure, that if the floure or learning of our tyme, and sumtyme tutor and brother-in-lawe unto your honour, Mr. Cheeke, had seene any of these two secreates, he wolde greatly have rejoysed. As I knowe the divine sparke of knowleage that is in your honour, partely receaved of hym, will move yow to doo the like, sythe, to a philosophicall and vertuous man, there is nothing so delectable as to beholde the infinite poure and wisdome of God in his creatures, in the which his Deitie is not only visible, but in maner palpable, as sum philosophers have written. And as touching these matters, I have red a marvelous sentence in an olde written booke, where these woordes are written: Qui potest facere mediam naturam, potest creare mundos novos. But to discourse of this oracle, or to interprete the same, it were to muche to molest your honour therwith: and an argument muche meeter for a seconde Socrates then for me. And of these secreates, writeth Roger Bacon in his booke before alleaged, where he hathe these woordes; Multa sunt archana admiranda in operibus artis et naturæ: Quæ licet multam utilitatem non habeant (habent vero maximum ut sapientibus cognitum est) tamen spectaculum ineffabile sapientæ præbent et possunt applicari ad probationem omnium occultorum quibus vulgus inexpertum contradicit, et judicat fieri per opera demoniorum, &c.
And thus most humbly desyring your Honour to pardon my boldnesse in writing unto you; and, according unto your accustomed clemencie, to accept in good parte this my presumptuous attempte, which only the love I beare to your vertues hathe moved me unto, my trust is that these thinges shall not be alltogyther unpleasaunt unto your honour, otherwyse occupied in greate affayres bothe in the courte and common wealthe, as was Plato with King Dyonisius, Aristotle with greate Alexander, and Cicero Senator and Consul of Rome.
The eternall God and immortall mover of the greate worlde and the lesse, preserve your Honour in healthe and prosperitie!
From the Folde bysyde Barnet, the first of August 1562.
Most bownde to your honour,
- Edit. 1542, fol. 43, v°.
- Manilii Astronomicon, lib. i. l. 247-251.
- Lucani Pharsalia, lib. v. l. 94-95.
- Cf. Morieni Romani de re metallica librum, 4to, Par. 1564, p. 30, et Chrysippi Faniani de arte metallicæ metamorphoseos librum, 4to, Par. 1560, p. 17. See also Ripley's "Compound of Alchemy," where may be seen an account of a process very similar to that mentioned by Eden.
- Richard Eden was a philosopher of good repute in his time. He translated into English, treatises on navigation by Cortes and Taisner, the former of which was exceedingly popular and went through several editions. He is also the author of a very curious little book entitled, "A Treatyse of the newe India," 1553, 8vo. At the end of this letter he adds the following sentences in Latin:—1. "Tuæ D. addictus, alios non quæro penates." 2. "In secretis et occultis, secretus et occultus esto." This quotation is from Hippocrates.