Birth and Education
"O Incredulities, the wit of fooles
That slovenly will spit on all thinges faire,
The coward's castle and the sluggard's cradle,
How easy 'tis to be an infidel!"
- George Chapman
It seems remarkable that three hundred years should have been allowed to elapse since the death of John Dee in December, 1608, without producing any Life of an individual so conspicuous, so debatable, and so remarkably picturesque.
There is perhaps no learned author in history who has been so persistently misjudged, nay, even slandered, by his posterity, and not a voice in all the three centuries uplifted even to claim for him a fair hearing. Surely it is time that the cause of all this universal condemnation should be examined in the light of reason and science; and perhaps it will be found to exist mainly in the fact that he was too far advanced in speculative thought for his own age to understand. For more than fifty years out of the eighty-one of his life, Dee was famous, even if suspected and looked askance at as clever beyond human interpretation. Then his Queen died. With the narrow-minded Scotsman who succeeded her came a change in the fashion of men's minds. The reign of the devil and his handmaidens - the witches and possessed persons - was set up in order to be piously overthrown, and the very bigotry of the times gave birth to independent and rational thought - to Newton, Bacon, Locke.
But Dee was already labelled once and for all. Every succeeding
writer who has touched upon his career, has followed the leaders
blindly, and has only cast another, and yet another, stone to
the heap of obloquy piled upon his name. The fascination of his
psychic projections has always led the critic to ignore his more
solid achievements in the realms of history and science, while
at the same time, these are the only cited to be loudly condemned.
The learned Dr. Meric Casaubon, who, fifty years after Dee's death,
edited his Book of Mysteries - the absorbing recital of
four out of the six or seven years of his crystal gazing - was
perhaps the fairest critic he yet has had. Although he calls Dee's
spiritual revelations a "sad record," and a "work
of darkness," he confesses that he himself, and other learned
and holy men (including an archbishop), read it with avidity to
the end, and were eager to see it printed. He felt certain, as
he remarks in his preface, that men's curiosity would lead them
to devour what seems to him "not parallelled in that kind,
by any book that hath been set out in any age to read." And
yet on no account was he publishing it to satisfy curiosity, but
only "to do good and promote Religion." For Dee, he
is persuaded, was a true, sincere Christian, his Relation
made in the most absolute good faith, although undoubtedly he
was imposed upon and deluded by the evil spirits whom he sometimes
mistook for good ones.
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