Chapter VIII


"Therefore for spirits I am so far from denying their existence that I could easily believe that not only whole countries but particular persons have their tutelary and guardian angels. It is not a new opinion, but an old one of Pythagoras and Plato. There is no heresy in it, and if not manifestly defined in Scripture, yet it is an opinion of good and wholesome use in the cours and actions of a man's life, and would serve as an hypothesis to solve many doubts whereof common philosophy affordeth no solution."

Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici.

Dee's costly apparatus and experiments, his large establishment and generous treatment of his servants and assistants, his entertainment of great folk, were all heavy drains upon his resources. He spent lavish amounts upon books and manuscripts for his library; he contributed as able to some of the Adventurers' funds. He borrowed freely, and he had sometimes to run long bills. Beside the rent of the two livings (about £80 a year) he had no fixed income. The Queen was ever promising him benefices which either never fell vacant, or when they did, had to be bestowed elsewhere. At the time he first fell in with Kelly, he knew not where to turn for money. Almost at this very moment, however, a rich patron appeared unexpectedly on the horizon and changed Dee's outlook for several years.

On March 18, 1583, Mr. North came to Mortlake bringing a "salutation" from Albert or Adelbert Laski, Count Palatine of Siradia, a Polish Prince then about to arrive on a visit to the Queen. He wished to make Dee's acquaintance, to see his library, and discuss magic, of which he had made a study. Laski was one of the most powerful of the Polish nobles reconverted to Catholicism. He had taken a very prominent part in the patriotic movement of a few years before in Poland, when almost every European sovereign had made a bid for the Polish crown. Elizabeth's old suitor, the Duc d'Alencon, had actually worn it a month or two before escaping in the night to his brother of France. Laski was a dashing adventurer of heroic courage, quite unscrupulous as to cost; and although he had favoured the claims of the Emperor of Austria, he had, openly at least, agreed in the people's victorious choice of Stephan Bathory. When that Transylvanian Prince had been elected King in 1576, Laski had taken a prominent part in affairs. He was popular and ambitious, not without aspiration towards the Polish crown himself. Burleigh, in writing of him to Hatton, called him "a personage of great estimation, few in the Empire of the greatest exceed him in sovereignty and power." He is described by contemporary writers as a most learned man, handsome in stature and lineaments, richly clothed, "of very comely and decent apparel," and of graceful behaviour. He wore his beard very long, not clipped close like the English courtiers. He arrived in London by Harwich on May Day, and proceeded to Winchester House, Southwark, where he made his headquarters during his stay. There seemed some doubt about how he was to be received, whether he was actually in favour or in disgrace with King Stephan. Burleigh desired Hatton to get some Essex nobleman - Lord Rich or Lord Darcy - to meet him at Harwich with proper state, "if he is the very Count Palatine of the House of Laski." Hatton replied that he must wait to hear more from Leicester, for in his letter to the Queen the visitor has called her "the refuge of the disconsolate and afflicted," so perhaps he is out of favour after all.

Dee first saw Laski on May 13, at half-past seven in the evening, in the Earl of Leicester's apartments at the Court at Greenwich, when he was introduced by Leicester himself.

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