Astrology was a very essential part of astronomy in the sixteenth century, and the belief in the controlling power of the stars over human destinies is almost as old as man himself. The relative positions of the planets in the firmament, their situations amongst the constellations, at the hour of a man's birth, were considered by the ancients to be dominant factors and influences throughout his whole life. It is not too much to say that a belief in the truth of horoscopes cast by a skilled calculator still survives in our Western civilisation as well as in the East. Medical science today pays its due respect to astrology in the sign, little altered from the astrological figure for Jupiter, with which all prescriptions are still headed.
Dee, as one of the foremost mathematicians and astronomers of the time, and one employed by the Queen, became continually in request to calculate the nativity and cast a horoscope for men and women in all ranks of life. He has left many notes of people's births; his own children's are entered with the greatest precision, for which a biographer has to thank him.
When Elizabeth mounted with firm steps the throne that her unhappy sister had found so precarious and uneasy a heritage, Dee was very quickly sought for at Court. His first commission was entirely sui generis. He was commanded by Robert Dudley to name an auspicious day for the coronation, and hs astrological calculations thereupon seem to have impressed the Queen and all her courtiers. Whether or no we believe in the future auguries of such a combination of influences as presided over the selection of the 14th of January, 1559, for the day of crowning Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey, we must acknowledge that Dee's choice of a date was succeeded by benign and happy desctinies.
He was then living in London. We do not know where his lodging was, but several of the books belonging to his library have come down to us with his autograph, "Joannes Dee, Londini," and the dates of the years 1555, 1557, and 1558.
Elizabeth sent for him soon after her accession, and invited him to her service at Whitehall with all fair promises. He was introduced by Dudley, then and long afterwards her first favourite; so he was likely to stand well. "Where my brother hath given him a crown," she said to Dudley, or to Dee's other sponsor, the Earl of Pembroke, "I will give him a noble." This was the first of innumerable vague promises made, but it was long indeed before any real and tangible gift was conferred on the astrologer, although he was continually busied about one thing and another at the fancy of the Queen. The reversion of the Mastership of St. Catherine's Hospital was promised him, but "Dr. Willson politickly prevented me."
One morning the whole Court and the Privy Council were put into
a terrible flutter by a simple piece of what was common enough
in ancient times and in Egypt - sympathetic magic. A wax image
of the Queen had been found lying in Lincoln's Inn Fields, with
a great pin stuck through its breast, and it was supposed undoubtedly
to portend the wasting away and death of her Majesty, or some
other dreadful omen. Messenger after messenger was despatched
to summon Dee, and bid him make haste. He hurried off, satisfied
himself apparently of the harmless nature of the practical joke,
and repaired, with Mr. Secretary Wilson as a witness of the whole
proceedings and a proof of all good faith, to Richmond, where
the Queen was. The Queen sat in that part of her private garden
that sloped down to the river, near the steps of the royal landing-place
at Hampton Court; the Earl of Leicester (as Dudley had now become)
was in attendance, gorgeous and insolent as ever; the Lords of
the Privy Council had also been summoned, when Dee and Mr. Secretary
expounded the inner meaning of this untoward circumstance, and
satisfied and allayed all their fears. Something about the calm
attributes of this seasoned and travelled scholar seemed always
to give moral support to the Queen and her household; this is
only the first of many occasions when he had to allay their superstitous
fright. That she felt it essential to keep him within reach of
herself may have been one reason for not giving him the appointments
for which he, and others for him, constantly sued. Dee was not
an easy person to fit into a living: he required one with no cure
of souls attached; for this, he says, "a cura animarum
annexa, did terrfie me to deal with them." He is called
a bachelor of divinity by Foxe in 1555, and as a matter of fact
he does, both in 1558 and in 1564, add the letters S. D. T. to
his name in his printed works. This degree also was not from Cambridge.
At last he grew tired of waiting, and a certain restlessness in
his character, not incompatible with the long patience of the
true follower of science, drove him again abroad. His intention
was to arrange for printing works already prepared in manuscript.
To search among out-of-the-way bookmongers and book-lovers in
hgh-walled German towns, for rare treasures wherewith to enrich
ihs native country, was another magnet that drew his feet. In
February, 1563, after he had been thus employed for more than
a year, he wrote from the sign of the Golden Angel, in Antwerp,
to Cecil, to ask if he was expected to return to England, or if
he might remain to oversee the printing of his books, and continue
his researches among Dutch books and scholars. He had intended,
he says, to return before Easter, but this was now impossible,
owing to printer's delays. When we remember that a hundred years
had barely elapsed since the first metal types had been cast and
used in a hand press, it is not wonderful that Dee's treatise,
with its hieroglyphic and cabalistic signs, took long to print.
He announces in the letter to Cecil a great bargain he has picked
up, a work, "for which many a learned man hath long sought
and dayley yet doth seek," upon cipher writing, viz. Steganographia,
by the famous Abbot Trithemius of Wurzburg. It is the earliest
elaborate treatise upon shorthand and cipher, a subject in which
Cecil was particularly interested. It was then in manuscript (first
printed, Frankfort, 1606). Dee continues that he knows his correspondent
will be well acquainted with the name of the book, for the author
mentions it in his Epistles, and in both the editions of
his Polygraphia. He urges its claims upon the future Lord
Treasurer, already a statesman of ripe experience, in the following
words: "A boke for your honor or a Prince, so meet, so nedefull
and commodious, as in human knowledge none can be meeter or more
behovefull. Of this boke, either as I now have yt, or hereafter
shall have yt, fully wholl and perfect, (yf it peas you to accept
my present) I give unto your Honor as the most precious juell
that I have yet of other mens travailes recovered."
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