The old woman remembered that he entertained the Polish ambassador not long before he died, and showed to him the eclipse of the sun, in a dark room. She could call to mind the stone upon his grave: it was between the tombstones of two other servants of Queen Elizabeth, Mr. Holt and Mr. Miles, upon both of which were brasses. The children, she said, dreaded him because he was accounted a conjurer, and yet whenever they strayed into the church, they would run straight to play upon his gravestone. There were steps at the upper end of the chancel when he was buried, but the minister laid them plain in Olver's days, and then the stone that covered Dr. Dee was removed. She could recall his appearance: a man tall and slender, clad in a gown like an artist's gown, with hanging sleeves and a slit.
These garrulous reminiscences give us a picture of the old philosopher's end more valuable than any mere formal entry of the date. Some day, however, it may be possible to recover that.
Meanwhile, Dee's memory may be entrusted to the kinder judges
of to-day, who will be more charitable because more enlightened
and less impregnated with superstition. They may see in him a
vain, presumptuous and much deluded person, but at any rate they
must acknowledge his sincere and good intentions; his personal
piety; his uncommon purity of thought and mind. If, in his thirst
for knowledge of the infinite unknowable, he pushed back the curtain
farther than was wise or justifiable, did he harm any one's reputation
beside his own? Did he not suffer all the penalty in his own miserable
failure, so far as comfort and prosperity in material things were
concerned? In all the vague hopes held out by him to Queen, Princes
and Emperors, of enriching them through his alchemical skill,
he was no conscious charlatan, playing a part to lure them on,
but a devout believer in man's power and purpose to wrest scientific
secrets from the womb of the future. Can we look back upon the
discoveries of three hundred years and feel his certainty was
vain? The powers of electricity, the training to our uses that
marvellous and long concealed agency and light; the healing virtues
of radium, should be worth more to us than much manufactured gold.
|Previous page||Table of Contents|