In spite of its ex parte nature, a study of this preface
alone must convince any reader that thte author was no charlatan
or pretender, but a true devotee of learning, gifted with a far
insight into human progress. He covers in review every art and
science then known, and some "until these our daies greatly
missed" (his comments on music and harmony are truly remarkable),
and comes back to his own predilection - arithmetic, "which
next to theologie is most divine, most pure, most ample and generall,
most profound, most subtele, most commodious and most necessary."
He quotes Plato to show how "it lifts the heart above the
heavens by invisible lines, and by its immortal beams melteth
the reflection of light incomprehensible, and so procureth joy
and perfection unspeakable." Speaking of the refraction of
light, he foreshadows the telescope as he describes how the captain
of either foot or horsemen should emply "an astronomical
staffe commodiously framed for carriage and use, and may wonderfully
help himself by perspective glasses; in which I trust our posterity
will prove more skilfull and expert and to greater purpose than
in these days can almost be credited to be possible." Then
he alludes to a wonderful glass belonging to Sir William P., famous
for his skill in mathematics, who will let the glass be seen.
The passage seems to show that looking-glasses were not common,
or that this particular one was a convex mirror.
"A man," he says, "may be curstly afraid of his
own shadow, yea, so much to feare, that you being alone nere a
certain glasse, and proffer with dagger or sword to foyne at the
glasse, you shall suddenly be moved to give back (in maner) by
reason of an image appearing in the ayre betweeene you and the
glasse, with like hand, sword or dagger, and with like quickness
foyning at your very eye, like as you do at the glasse. Strange
this is to heare of, but more mervailous to behold than these
my wordes can signifie, nevertheless by demonstration opticall
the order and cause thereof is certified, even so the effect is
This mirror was given to Dee not long afterwards.
From optics he passes on to mechanics, and mentions having seen at Prague mills worked by water, sawing "great and long deale bordes, no man being by." He describes accurately a diving chamber supplied with air, and sums up some of the mechanical marvels of the world: - the brazen head made by Albertus Magnus, which seemed to speak; a strange "self-moving" which he saw at St. Denis in 1551; images seen in the air by means of a perspective glass; Archimedes' sphere; the dove of Archytas; and the wheel of Vulcan, spoken of by Aristotle; and comes down to recent workmanship in Nuremberg, where an artificer let fly an insect of iron, that buzzed about the guests at table, and then returned "to his master's hand agayne as though it were weary." All these things are easily achieved he says, by "skill, will industry and ability duly applied to proof." "But is any honest student, or a modest Christian philosopher, to be, for such like feats, mathematically and mechanically wrought, counted and called a conjuror? Shall the folly of idiots and the mallice of the scornfull so much prevaile that he who seeketh no worldly gaine or glory at their hands, but onely of God the Threasor of heavenly wisdom and knowledge of pure veritie, shall he, I say, in the mean space, be robbed and spoiled of his honest name and fame? He that seeketh, by S. Paul's advertisement in the creatures' properties and wonderfull vertues, to find juste cause to glorifie the eternall and Almightie Creator by, shall that man be condemned as a companion of Hell-hounds and a caller and conjuror of wicked damned spirits?" Then he recounts his years of study, and asks, "Should I have fished with so large and costly a nett, and been so long time drawing, even with the helpe of Lady Philosophie and Queen Theologie, and at length have catched but a frog, nay a Devill?...How great is the blindness and boldness of the multitude in things above their capacitie!"
Then he refers to some who have appeared against him in print.
"O my unkind countrymen. O unnatural Countrymen, O unthankfull countrymen, O brainsicke, Rashe, spitefull and disdainfull countrymen. Why oppresse you me thus violently with your slaundering of me, contrary to veritie, and contrary to your own conscience? And I, to this hower, neither by worde, deede or thought, have bene anyway hurtfull, damageable, or injurious to you or yours! Have I so long, so dearly, so farre, so carefully, so painfully, so dangerously fought and travailed for the learning of wisedome and atteyning of vertue, and in the end am I become worse than when I began? Worse than a madman, a dangerous member in teh Commonwelath and no Member of the Church of Christ? Call you this to be learned? Call you this to be a philosopher and a lover of wisdome?"
He goes on to speak of examples before his time to whom in godliness and learning he is not worthy to be compared: - "patient Socrates," Apuleius, Joannes Picus and Trithemius, Roger Bacon, "the flower of whose worthy fame can never dye nor wither," and ends by summing up the people who can conceive nothing outside the compass of their capacity as of four sorts: - "vain prattling busybodies, fond friends, imperfectly zealous, and malicious ignorant." Of these he is inclined to think the fond friends the most damaging, for they overshoot the mark and relate marvels and wonderful feats which were never done, or had any spark of likelihood to be done, in order that other men may marvel at their hap to have such a learned friend.
The eloquent irony of this passage seems equalled only by its
extraordinary universality, its knowledge of human character and
its high philosophic spirit. At what a cost did a seeker after
scientific truths follow his calling in the sixteenth century!
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