Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/846

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

own language, was banished to Virgo, and rarely shed her influence on men. Cardan (1501-1576), for instance, hated Luther, and so changed his birthday in order to give him an unfavourable horoscope. In Cardan’s times, as in those of Augustus, it was a common practice for men to conceal the day and hour of their birth, till, like Augustus, they found a complaisant astrologer. But, as a general rule, medieval and Renaissance astrologers did not give themselves the trouble of reading the stars, but contented themselves with telling fortunes by faces. They practised chiromancy (see Palmistry), and relied on afterwards drawing a horoscope to suit. As physiognomists (see Physiognomy) their talent was undoubted, and according to Vanini there was no need to mount to the house-top to cast a nativity. “Yes,” he says, “I can read his face; by his hair and his forehead it is easy to guess that the sun at his birth was in the sign of Libra and near Venus. Nay, his complexion shows that Venus touches Libra. By the rules of astrology he could not lie.”

A few salient facts may be added concerning the astrologers and their predictions, remarkable either for their fulfilment or for the ruin and confusion they brought upon their authors. We may begin with one taken from Bacon’s Essay of Prophecies:—“When I was in France, I heard from one Dr Pena, that the queen mother, who was given to curious arts, caused the king her husband’s nativitie to be calculated, under a false name; and the astrologer gave a judgment, that he should be killed in a duell; at which the queene laughed, thinking her husband to be above challenges and duels; but he was slaine, upon a course at tilt, the splinters of the staffe of Mongomery going in at his bever.” A favourite topic of the astrologers of all countries has been the immediate end of the world. As early as 1186 the earth had escaped one threatened cataclysm of the astrologers. This did not prevent Stöffler from predicting a universal deluge for the year 1524—a year, as it turned out, distinguished for drought. His aspect of the heavens told him that in that year three planets would meet in the aqueous sign of Pisces. The prediction was believed far and wide, and President Aurial, at Toulouse, built himself a Noah’s ark—a curious realization, in fact, of Chaucer’s merry invention in the Miller’s Tale.

Tycho Brahe was from his fifteenth year devoted to astrology, and adjoining his observatory at Uranienburg the astronomer-royal of Denmark had a laboratory built in order to study alchemy, and it was only a few years before his death that he finally abandoned astrology. We may here notice one very remarkable prediction of the master of Kepler. That he had carefully studied the comet of 1577 as an astronomer, we may gather from his adducing the very small parallax of this comet as disproving the assertion of the Aristotelians that a solid sphere enveloped the heavens. But besides this, we find him in his character of astrologer drawing a singular prediction from the appearance of this comet. It announced, he tells us, that in the north, in Finland, there should be born a prince who should lay waste Germany and vanish in 1632. Gustavus Adolphus, it is well known, was born in Finland, overran Germany, and died in 1632. The fulfilment of the details of this prophecy suggests that Tycho Brahe had some basis of reason for his prediction. Born in Denmark of a noble Swedish family, a politician, as were all his contemporaries of distinction, Tycho, though no conjuror, could foresee the advent of some great northern hero. Moreover, he was doubtless well acquainted with a very ancient tradition, that heroes generally came from the northern frontiers of their native land, where they are hardened and tempered by the threefold struggle they wage with soil, climate and barbarian neighbours.

Kepler explained the double movement of the earth by the rotation of the sun. At one time the sun presented its friendly side, which attracted one planet, sometimes its adverse side, which repelled it. He also peopled the planets with souls and genii. He was led to his three great laws by musical analogies, just as William Herschel afterwards passed from music to astronomy. Kepler, who in his youth made almanacs, and once prophesied a hard winter, which came to pass, could not help putting an astrological interpretation on the disappearance of the brilliant star of 1572, which Tycho had observed. Theodore Beza thought that this star, which in December 1573 equalled Jupiter in brilliancy, predicted the second coming of Christ. Astronomers were only then beginning to study variable and periodic stars, and disturbances in that part of the heavens, which had till then, on the authority of Aristotle, been regarded as incorruptible, combined with the troubles of the times, must have given a new stimulus to belief in the signs in heaven. Montaigne (Essais, lib. i. chap, x.) relates a singular episode in the history of astrology. Charles V. and Francis I., who both bid for the friendship of the infamous Aretino, surnamed the divine, both likewise engaged astrologers to fight their battles. In Italy those who prophesied the ruin of France were sure to be listened to. These prophecies affected the public funds much as telegrams do nowadays. “At Rome,” Montaigne tells us, “a large sum of money was lost on the Change by this prognostication of our ruin.” The marquis of Saluces, notwithstanding his gratitude to Francis I. for the many favours he had received, including his marquisate, of which the brother was despoiled for his benefit, was led in 1536 to betray his country, being scared by the glorious prophecies of the ultimate success of Charles V. which were then rife. The influence of the Medici made astrologers popular in France. Richelieu, on whose council was Jacques Gaffarel (1601-1681), the last of the Kabbalists, did not despise astrology as an engine of government. At the birth of Louis XIV. a certain Morin de Villefranche was placed behind a curtain to cast the nativity of the future autocrat. A generation back the astrologer would not have been hidden behind a curtain, but have taken precedence of the doctor. La Bruyère dares not pronounce against such beliefs, “for there are perplexing facts affirmed by grave men who were eye-witnesses.” In England William Lilly and Robert Fludd were both dressed in a little brief authority. The latter gives us elaborate rules for the detection of a thief, and tells us that he has had personal experience of their efficacy. “If the lord of the sixth house is found in the second house, or in company with the lord of the second house, the thief is one of the family. If Mercury is in the sign of the Scorpion he will be bald, &c.” Francis Bacon abuses the astrologers of his day no less than the alchemists, but he does so because he has visions of a reformed astrology and a reformed alchemy. Sir Thomas Browne, too, while he denies the capacity of the astrologers of his day, does not venture to dispute the reality of the science. The idea of the souls of men passing at death to the stars, the blessedness of their particular sphere being assigned them according to their deserts (the metempsychosis of J. Reynaud), may be regarded as a survival of religious astrology, which, even as late as Descartes’s day, assigned to the angels the task of moving the planets and the stars. Joseph de Maistre believed in comets as messengers of divine justice, and in animated planets, and declared that divination by astrology is not an absolutely chimerical science. Lastly, we may mention a few distinguished men who ran counter to their age in denying stellar influences. Aristarchus of Samos, Martianus Capella (the precursor of Copernicus), Cicero, Favorinus, Sextus Empiricus, Juvenal, and in a later age Savonarola and Pico della Mirandola, and La Fontaine, a contemporary of the neutral La Bruyère, were all pronounced opponents of astrology.

In England Swift may fairly claim the credit of having given the death-blow to astrology by his famous squib, entitled Prediction for the Year 1708, by Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq. He begins, by professing profound belief in the art, and next points out the vagueness and the absurdities of the philomaths. He then, in the happiest vein of parody, proceeds to show them a more excellent way:—“My first prediction is but a trifle, yet I mention it to show how ignorant these sottish pretenders to astrology are in their own concerns: it refers to Partridge the almanac-maker. I have consulted the star of his nativity by my own rules, and find he will infallibly die upon the 29th of March next about eleven at night of a raging fever. Therefore I advise him to consider of it and settle his affairs in time.”