Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Vaughan, Thomas (1622-1666)

708062Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 58 — Vaughan, Thomas (1622-1666)1899Bertha Porter

VAUGHAN, THOMAS (1622–1666), alchemist and poet, was son of Thomas Vaughan (d. 1658) of Llansaintffraed, Breconshire, and was born at Newton or Scethrog in that parish on 17 April 1622. Thomas, with his elder twin-brother, Henry Vaughan ‘Silurist’ [q. v.], was educated in the first instance under Matthew Herbert, rector of Llangattock (1632–8). On 14 Dec. 1638 Thomas matriculated from Jesus College, Oxford. He graduated B.A. on 18 Feb. 1642, and was made fellow of his college. In 1640 he seems to have been presented to the living of St. Bridget's, Breconshire, by a distant relative, Sir George Vaughan of Fullerstone in Wiltshire. He adhered to the royal cause during the civil wars, retired to Oxford, and bore arms for the king. Consequently about 1658 he was accused of ‘drunkenness, swearing, and incontinency, being no preacher,’ and was apparently deprived of St. Bridget's. He became a devoted student of chemistry, and pursued his researches both in Oxford and afterwards in London under the patronage of Sir Robert Murray (d. 1673) [q. v.] He died on 27 Feb. 1665–6 while staying at the rectory of Albury, Oxfordshire. The cause of his death is thought to have been the inhalation of the fumes of mercury upon which he was experimenting. He was buried at Albury on 1 March following. It is apparently his will in Somerset House (53 Mico) which was dated 17 Feb. 1662–3, and proved on 6 March 1665–6. He is there described as ‘of Cropredy in Oxfordshire;’ his son William was his sole executor. Vaughan married his wife, Rebecca, on 28 Sept. 1651. She died on 16 April 1658 at Mappershall in Bedfordshire, where she was buried on the 26th.

Vaughan was an attached disciple of Cornelius Agrippa, ‘to whom in matters of philosophy he acknowledged that, next to God, he owed all that he had’ (Wood). In his ‘Anthroposophia Theomagica’ he speaks of him as

    Nature's apostle and her choice high priest,
    Her mystical and bright evangelist.

With the philosophy of Aristotle he was entirely out of sympathy, and his attitude towards that of Descartes was hostile.

Having made some disparaging remarks in his ‘Anima Magica Abscondita’ on the ‘Psychodia Platonica’ of Henry More (1614–1687) [q. v.], a controversy between the two authors ensued. More (under the pseudonym of Alazonomastix Philalethes) published in 1650 his ‘Observations upon Anthroposophia Theomagica and Anima Magica Abscondita,’ in which he accused Vaughan of being a magician, cast a slur on his sense of morality, and resented his treatment of Aristotle and his followers. Vaughan vindicated himself in ‘The Man-Mouse taken in a Trap’ (1650), and was again answered by More in ‘The Second Lash of Alazonomastix’ (1651). Vaughan had the last word in ‘The Second Wash’ (1651). The controversy was characterised by much virulence and petty acridities which accord little with the tone of the rest of Vaughan's writings. Elsewhere in both his prose and verse there is to be discerned a passionate craving for a solution of the mysteries of nature. He himself claimed to be a philosopher of nature and no mere student of alchemy, which in the ‘common acceptation’ of the term meant no more than ‘a torture of metals.’ On such mistaken lines he confesses to have wandered in his early efforts. Vaughan's mysticism finds quaint expression in some diurnal jottings which he set down at the back of a manuscript of his in the British Museum, entitled ‘Aqua Vitæ; Non Vitis; or the Radical Humiditie of Nature mechanically and magically dissected’ (Addit MS. 1741). In these jottings he relates strange dreams and premonitions that had befallen him, and frequently prays for forgiveness for the errors of his past life, especially in connection with ‘a certain person with whom I had in former times revelled away many years in drinking.’ Vaughan is frequently said to have been a Rosicrucian, but the statement would appear to have been founded on the fact of his having published a translation (by an unknown hand) of the ‘Fama,’ with a preface of his own (London, 1652). In his preface he distinctly states that he had no relations with the fraternity, neither did he much desire their acquaintance.

His life and work have made varying impressions. Dibdin, in his notes to Sir Thomas More's ‘Utopia’ (1808, p. 441), though avoiding any statement of opinion as to the subject-matter of ‘Magia Adamica,’ considers the style and learning of the author to be admirable, and comments on his predilection for forcible metaphor. Wotton, on the other hand, in his notes to Swift's ‘Tale of a Tub’ (1867, p. 153), pronounces ‘Anthroposophia Magica’ to be ‘a piece of the most unintelligible fustian that perhaps was ever published in any language.’ The first part of Samuel Butler's ‘Character of an Hermetic Philosopher’ (Genuine Remains, ed. Thyer, 1759) is obviously drawn from Vaughan, as are some traits in the character of Ralph in ‘Hudibras’ (edit. 1761, p. 19). Vaughan's verses, both English and Latin, are tinged with genuine poetic feeling.

His published works appeared almost entirely under the pseudonym of Eugenius Philalethes. They include: 1. ‘Anthroposophia Theomagica,’ with ‘Anima Magica Abscondita,’ London, 1650; Amsterdam, 1704 (in German); Leipzig and Hof, 1749 (in German); London, 1888, in Waite's ‘Magical Writings.’ 2. ‘Magia Adamica; or the Antiquities of Magic,’ London, 1650, 1656; Amsterdam, 1704 (in German); Leipzig and Hof, 1749 (in German); London, 1888 (in ‘Magical Writings’). 3. ‘The Man-Mouse taken in a Trap,’ London, 1650. 4. ‘The Second Wash; or the Moore scour'd once more,’ London, 1651. 5. ‘Lumen de Lumine,’ London, 1651; Hof, 1750 (in German). 6. ‘Aula Lucis; or the House of Light,’ London, 1652 (under the pseudonym ‘S. N., a Modern Speculator’); Hamburg and Frankfort, 1690 (in Lange's ‘Wunderliche Begebenheiten,’ part ii., in German); Nuremberg, 1731 (in Scholtz's ‘Deutsches Theatrum Chemicum,’ in German). 7. ‘Euphrates; or the Waters of the East,’ London, 1655, 1671; Stockholm and Hamburg, 1689 (in German); Nuremburg, 1727 (in Scholtz's ‘Deutsches Theatrum Chemicum,’ in German). 8. ‘The Chymists Key to shut, and to open; or the True Doctrine of Corruption and Generation,’ London, 1657.

Langlet du Fresnoy assigns to Vaughan ‘Abyssus Alchymiæ Exploratus’ (Hamburg, 1705), which is a translation of ‘The Open Entrance to the Closed Palace of the King,’ by Eirenæus Philalethes (see below); and Halkett and Laing mention a work called ‘The Retort. By the Author,’ London, 1761.

He wrote verses for Thomas Powell's ‘Elementa Opticæ,’ London, 1651, for the English translation of Cornelius Agrippa's ‘Three Books of Occult Philosophy,’ London, 1651, and for William Cartwright's ‘Comedies,’ London, 1651.

A collection of Thomas's Latin verses was printed at the end of Henry Vaughan's ‘Thalia Rediviva,’ London, 1678. Some of his English poems, which are scattered through his prose works, were included in Tutin's ‘Secular Poems of Henry Vaughan,’ Hull, 1893, and a large (perhaps complete) collection of both English and Latin is printed in Grosart's ‘Works of Henry Vaughan’ in the ‘Fuller Worthies' Library.’

Vaughan must be carefully distinguished from the mystical writer who assumed the pseudonym of Eirenæus Philalethes, a list of whose works is given at the end of the notice of George Starkey [q. v.] (cf. Sloane MS. 646, ff. 1–5). Vaughan's identity with this strange person has been pressed by an alleged descendant, calling herself Diana Vaughan, in ‘Mémoires d'une Ex-Palladiste,’ No. 4, October 1895, published in Paris, where wild assertions of morbid credulity are repeated, including the legendary pact between Satan and Thomas Vaughan, signed 25 March 1645.

[Wood's Athenæ, iii. col. 722; Jones's Hist. of Brecknock, vol. ii. pt. ii. pp. 507, 540, 546; Rawl. MS. A. 11, 335; Thurloe State Papers, ii. 120; Foster's Alumni; Aubrey's Brief Lives, ed. Clarke, 1898, ii. 268–9; Grosart's Edition of the Works of Henry Vaughan, vol. i. pp. xxv–xxviii, xxxv–xli, vol. ii. pp. 298–9, 301, 303, 311–15; Saturday Rev. 22 Oct. 1887; Walker's Sufferings, pt. ii. p. 389; Waite's Magical Writings of Thomas Vaughan, passim; Langlet du Fresnoy's Histoire de la Philosophie Hermétique, iii. 266; biographical note by Mr. E. K. Chambers prefixed to vol. ii. of the ‘Muses' Library’ edition of the Poems of Henry Vaughan, pp. xxxiv et seq.]

B. P.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.270
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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181 ii 13 f.e. Vaughan, Thomas: for (Addit. MS. read (Sloane MS.