Chapter VI


"Kelly did all his feats upon
The Devil's looking-glass, a stone
Where, playing with him at bo-peep,
He solv'd all problems ne'er so deep."
- Butler, Hudibras

It is now time to inquire who this Talbot, this seer and medium, was. Where did he come from, and what was his previous history?

That he came to the Mortlake philosopher under a feigned name is perhaps not so damning an accusation as might at first sight appear. There was in his case, certainly, every reason why he should change his identity, if possible, but an alias in those days was so common a thing that perhaps more stress has been laid upon Kelly's than is strictly fair.

The whole of Kelly's story is so wildly and romantically coloured, it is so incredible, and so full of marvels, that it is extremely difficult to know what to believe. There is no disentangling the sober facts of his life from the romance attributed to him; indeed, there are no sober facts, as the reader will see when the accepted traditions of this extraordinary man's career are laid down.

From March 8 to November, 1582, Edward Talbot, the skryer, came and went in the Mortlake establishment, gazed in the crystal, and ingratiated himself into his employer's liking. Then he disappeared, and Edward Kelly took his place. There had been a quarrel of some kind, precursor of many others, and Dee opens his fourth Book of Mysteries, on November 15, "after the reconciliation with Kelly." Henceforth "E.K." is his name.

Kelly was born at Worcester, on August 1, 1555, as appears by the horoscope drawn for him by the astrologer. He began life as an apothecary's apprentice, and showed some aptitude for his calling. It has been stated that, under the name of Talbot, he studied for a short time at Oxford, but left abruptly under a cloud. A few years later, he was exposed in the pillory in Lancaster for having either forged ancient title deeds or coined base money. Both feats are accounted to him. The next incident in his career is a charge of having dug up a newly buried "caitiff's" corpse in Walton-le-Dale churchyard, Lancashire, for the purpose of questioning the dead, or "an evil spirit speaking through his organs," respecting the future of "a noble young gentleman," then a minor. After this savoury episode, Kelly is reported to have been wandering in Wales (it is suggested that he was hiding from justice), when he stumbled accidentally upon an old alchemical manuscript and two caskets or phials containing a mysterious red and white powder. Another version of this discovery is that Dee and Kelly together found the powder at Glastonbury. This we may dismiss. Wherever he procured it, Kelly undoubtedly owned a small quantity of some substance which he regarded as of priceless value, inasmuch as, if properly understood and manipulated, it could be used for transmuting baser metals into gold.

The reputation of the learned doctor of Mortlake, who was known all over the Continent, was a favourite at Court, and in touch with every adventure by sea or land, had of course reached Kelly. Dee's parsonage of Upton-on-Severn, near Worcester, did not trouble him much with responsibility, but it must have been on one occasional visit to it that he received from the Dean of Worcester Catherdral a Latin volume, in which he inscribed the gift thus: "Joannes Dee, 1565, Februarii 21. Wigorniae, ex dono decani ecclesiae magistri Beddar."

With the powder that he did not know how to use, and the alchemical manuscript which he could not decipher, and which yet might contain the invaluable secret (if indeed there is any truth in the story of his find), Kelly, the adventurer, sought out some means of introduction to the man so likely to help him. He had dabbled in alchemy, and came to Mortlake with something of a reputation, for Dee speaks of him as "that lerned man." It is utterly unlikely that Dee had heard anything of Kelly's exploits in the north. Such doings would scarcely penetrate the solmen recesses of the laboratory on the Thames side. So Kelly arrived, and was recieved in all good faith. He told Dee that the last seer, Barnabas, had "cosened" him, and seems to have at once impressed himself favourably upon the astrologer, who at the moment was without a reliable assistant. The sittings began, as we have seen, in March, and were successful immediately. In May the message comes that "none shall enter into the knowledge of these mysteries but this worker," and Kelly's position is secured.

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