He turned to sterner studies, and became a skilful astronomer, taking "thousands of observations (very many to the hour and minute) of the heavenly influences and operations actual in this elementall portion of the world." These he afterwards published in various "Ephemerides."
In May, 1547, Dee made his first journey abroad, to confer with learned men of the Dutch Universities upon the science of mathematics, to which he had already begun to devote his serious attention. He spent several months in the Low Countries, formed close friendships with Gerard Mercator, Gemma Frisius, Joannes Caspar Myricaeus, the Orientalist Antonius Gogava, and other philosophers of world-wide fame. Upon his return to Cambridge, he brought with him two great globes of Mercator's making, and an astronomer's armillary ring and staff of brass, "such as Frisius had newly devised and was in the habit of using." These he afterwards gave to the Fellows and students of Trinity College; he cites a letter of acknowledgment from John Christopherson (afterwards Bishop of Chichester), but upon search being made for the objects recently, through the kindness of the Master, it appears they are not now to be found. Dee returned to Cambridge in the year 1548 to take his degree of M.A., and soon after went abroad. "And never after that was I any more student in Cambridge." Before he left, he obtained under the seal of the Vice-Chancellor and Convocation, April 14, 1548, a testimonial to his learning and good conduct, which he proposed to take with him abroad. Many times did he prove it to be of some value.
In Midsummer Term, 1548, he entered as a student at the University of Louvain, which had been founded more than a hundred years before in this quaint old Brabantian town of mediaeval ramparts and textile industries. At Louvain, Dee continued his studies for two years, and here he soon acquired a reputation for learning quite beyond his years. It has been presumed that he here graduated doctor, to account for the title that has always been given him. "Doctor Dee" certainly possesses an alliterative value not to be neglected. At Cambridge he was only M.A.
Long after, when he had passed middle life, and when his remarkable genius in every branch of science had carried him so far beyond the dull wit of the people who surrounded him that they could only explain his manifestations by the old cry of "sorcery and magic," Dee made a passionate appeal to the Queen, his constant patron and employer, to send two emissaries of her own choosing to his house at Mortlake, and bid them examine everything they could find, that his character might be cleared from the damaging charges laid against him. He prepared for these two commissioners, to whose visit we shall revert in its proper place, an autobiographical document of the greatest value, which he calls "The Compendious Rehearsal of John Dee: his dutiful declaration and proofe of the course and race of his studious life, for the space of half an hundred years, now (by God's favour and help) fully spent." It is from this narrative that the facts of his early life are ascertainable. Perhaps we discern them through a faint mist of retrospective glorification for which the strange streak of vanity almost inseparable from attainments like Dee's was accountable. But there is every reason to reply upon the accuracy of the mathematician's story.
"Beyond the seas, far and nere, was a good opinion conceived
of my studies philosophicall and mathematicall." People of
all ranks began to flock to see this wonderful young man. He gives
the names of those who came to Louvain, a few hours' journey from
Brussels, where the brilliant court of Charles V. was assembled,
with evident pride. Italian and Spanish nobles; the dukes of Mantua
and Medina Celi; the Danish king's mathematician, Mathias Hacus;
and his physician, Joannes Capito; Bohemian students, all arrived
to put his reputation to the test. A distinguished Englishman,
Sir William Pickering, afterwards ambassador to France, came as
his pupil to study astronomy "by the light of Mercator's
globes, the astrolabe, and the astronomer's ring of brass that
Frisius had invented." For his recreation, the teacher "looked
into the method of civil law," and mastered easily the points
of jurisprudence, even "those accounted very intricate and
dark." It was at Louvain, no doubt, that his interest in
the subject of alchemy became strengthened and fixed. Stories
were rife of course of the famous alchemist, Henricus Cornelius
Agrippa, who had died there, in the service of Margaret of Austria,
only a dozen years or so before. Agrippa had been secretary to
the Emperor Maximilian, had lived in France, London, and Italy,
and Louvain, no doubt, was bursting with his extraordinary feats
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