In recent chapters we have seen science come forward with tremendous strides. A new era is obviously at hand. But we shall misconceive the spirit of the times if we fail to understand that in the midst of all this progress there was still room for mediaeval superstition and for the pursuit of fallacious ideals. Two forms of pseudo-science were peculiarly prevalent —alchemy and astrology. Neither of these can with full propriety be called a science, yet both were pursued by many of the greatest scientific workers of the period. Moreover, the studies of the alchemist may with some propriety be said to have laid the foundation for the latter-day science of chemistry; while astrology was closely allied to astronomy, though its relations to that science are not as intimate as has sometimes been supposed.

Just when the study of alchemy began is undetermined. It was certainly of very ancient origin, perhaps Egyptian, but its most flourishing time was from about the eighth century A.D. to the eighteenth century. The stories of the Old Testament formed a basis for some of the strange beliefs regarding the properties of the magic "elixir," or "philosopher's stone." Alchemists believed that most of the antediluvians, perhaps all of them, possessed a knowledge of this stone. How, otherwise, could they have prolonged their lives to nine and a half centuries? And Moses was surely a first-rate alchemist, as is proved by the story of the Golden Calf.[1] After Aaron had made the calf of gold, Moses performed the much more difficult task of grinding it to powder and "strewing it upon the waters," thus showing that he had transmuted it into some lighter substance.

But antediluvians and Biblical characters were not the only persons who were thought to have discovered the coveted. "elixir." Hundreds of aged mediaeval chemists were credited with having made the discovery, and were thought to be living on through the centuries by its means. Alaies de Lisle, for example, who died in 1298, at the age of 110, was alleged to have been at the point of death at the age of fifty, but just at this time he made the fortunate discovery of the magic stone, and so continued to live in health and affluence for sixty years more. And De Lisle was but one case among hundreds.

An aged and wealthy alchemist could claim with seeming plausibility that he was prolonging his life by his magic; whereas a younger man might assert that, knowing the great secret, he was keeping himself young through the centuries. In either case such a statement, or rumor, about a learned and wealthy alchemist was likely to be believed, particularly among strangers; and as such a man would, of course, be the object of much attention, the claim was frequently made by persons seeking notoriety. One of the most celebrated of these impostors was a certain Count de Saint-Germain, who was connected with the court of Louis XV. His statements carried the more weight because, having apparently no means of maintenance, he continued to live in affluence year after year—for two thousand years, as he himself admitted—by means of the magic stone. If at any time his statements were doubted, he was in the habit of referring to his valet for confirmation, this valet being also under the influence of the elixir of life.

"Upon one occasion his master was telling a party of ladies and gentlemen, at dinner, some conversation he had had in Palestine, with King Richard I., of England, whom he described as a very particular friend of his. Signs of astonishment and incredulity were visible on the faces of the company, upon which Saint-Germain very coolly turned to his servant, who stood behind his chair, and asked him if he had not spoken the truth. 'I really cannot say,' replied the man, without moving a muscle; 'you forget, sir, I have been only five hundred years in your service.' 'Ah, true,' said his master, 'I remember now; it was a little before your time!' "[2]

In the time of Saint-Germain, only a little over a century ago, belief in alchemy had almost disappeared, and his extraordinary tales were probably regarded in the light of amusing stories. Still there was undoubtedly a lingering suspicion in the minds of many that this man possessed some peculiar secret. A few centuries earlier his tales would hardly have been questioned, for at that time the belief in the existence of this magic something was so strong that the search for it became almost a form of mania; and once a man was seized with it, lie gambled away health, position, and life itself in pursuing the coveted stake. An example of this is seen in Albertus Magnus, one of the most learned men of his time, who it is said resigned his position as bishop of Ratisbon in order that he might pursue his researches in alchemy.

If self-sacrifice was not sufficient to secure the prize, crime would naturally follow, for there could be no limit to the price of the stakes in this game. The notorious Marechal de Reys, failing to find the coveted stone by ordinary methods of laboratory research, was persuaded by an impostor that if he would propitiate the friendship of the devil the secret would be revealed. To this end De Reys began secretly capturing young children as they passed his castle and murdering them. When he was at last brought to justice it was proved that he had murdered something like a hundred children within a period of three years. So, at least, runs one version of the story of this perverted being.

Naturally monarchs, constantly in need of funds, were interested in these alchemists. Even sober England did not escape, and Raymond Lully, one of the most famous of the thirteenth and fourteenth century alchemists, is said to have been secretly invited by King Edward I. (or II.) to leave Milan and settle in England. According to some accounts, apartments were assigned to his use in the Tower of London, where he is alleged to have made some six million pounds sterling for the monarch, out of iron, mercury, lead, and pewter.

Pope John XXII., a friend and pupil of the alchemist Arnold de Villeneuve, is reported to have learned the secrets of alchemy from his master. Later he issued two bulls against "pretenders" in the art, which, far from showing his disbelief, were cited by alchemists as proving that he recognized pretenders as distinct from true masters of magic.

To moderns the attitude of mind of the alchemist is difficult to comprehend. It is, perhaps, possible to conceive of animals or plants possessing souls, but the early alchemist attributed the same thing—or something kin to it—to metals also. Furthermore, just as plants germinated from seeds, so metals were supposed to germinate also, and hence a constant growth of metals in the ground. To prove this the alchemist cited cases where previously exhausted gold-mines were found, after a lapse of time, to contain fresh quantities of gold. The "seed" of the remaining particles of gold had multiplied and increased. But this germinating process could only take place under favorable conditions, just as the seed of a plant must have its proper surroundings before germinating; and it was believed that the action of the philosopher's stone was to hasten this process, as man may hasten the growth of plants by artificial means. Gold was looked upon as the most perfect metal, and all other metals imperfect, because not yet "purified." By some alchemists they were regarded as lepers, who, when cured of their leprosy, would become gold. And since nature intended that all things should be perfect, it was the aim of the alchemist to assist her in this purifying process, and incidentally to gain wealth and prolong his life.

By other alchemists the process of transition from baser metals into gold was conceived to be like a process of ripening fruit. The ripened product was gold, while the green fruit, in various stages of maturity, was represented by the base metals. Silver, for example, was more nearly ripe than lead; but the difference was only one of "digestion," and it was thought that by further "digestion" lead might first become silver and eventually gold. In other words, Nature had not completed her work, and was wofully slow at it at best; but man, with his superior faculties, was to hasten the process in his laboratories—if he could but hit upon the right method of doing so.

It should not be inferred that the alchemist set about his task of assisting nature in a haphazard way, and without training in the various alchemic laboratory methods. On the contrary, he usually served a long apprenticeship in the rudiments of his calling. He was obliged to learn, in a general way, many of the same things that must be understood in either chemical or alchemical laboratories. The general knowledge that certain liquids vaporize at lower temperatures than others, and that the melting-points of metals differ greatly, for example, was just as necessary to alchemy as to chemistry. The knowledge of the gross structure, or nature, of materials was much the same to the alchemist as to the chemist, and, for that matter, many of the experiments in calcining, distilling, etc., were practically identical.

To the alchemist there were three principles—salt, sulphur, and mercury—and the sources of these principles were the four elements—earth, water, fire, and air. These four elements were accountable for every substance in nature. Some of the experiments to prove this were so illusive, and yet apparently so simple, that one is not surprised that it took centuries to disprove them. That water was composed of earth and air seemed easily proven by the simple process of boiling it in a tea-kettle, for the residue left was obviously an earthy substance, whereas the steam driven off was supposed to be air. The fact that pure water leaves no residue was not demonstrated until after alchemy had practically ceased to exist. It was possible also to demonstrate that water could be turned into fire by thrusting a red-hot poker under a bellglass containing a dish of water. Not only did the quantity of water diminish, but, if a lighted candle was thrust under the glass, the contents ignited and burned, proving, apparently, that water had been converted into fire. These, and scores of other similar experiments, seemed so easily explained, and to accord so well with the "four elements" theory, that they were seldom questioned until a later age of inductive science.

But there was one experiment to which the alchemist pinned his faith in showing that metals could be "killed" and "revived," when proper means were employed. It had been known for many centuries that if any metal, other than gold or silver, were calcined in an open crucible, it turned, after a time, into a peculiar kind of ash. This ash was thought by the alchemist to represent the death of the metal. But if to this same ash a few grains of wheat were added and heat again applied to the crucible, the metal was seen to "rise from its ashes" and resume its original form—a well-known phenomenon of reducing metals from oxides by the use of carbon, in the form of wheat, or, for that matter, any other carbonaceous substance. Wheat was, therefore, made the symbol of the resurrection of the life eternal. Oats, corn, or a piece of charcoal would have "revived" the metals from the ashes equally well, but the mediaeval alchemist seems not to have known this. However, in this experiment the metal seemed actually to be destroyed and revivified, and, as science had not as yet explained this striking phenomenon, it is little wonder that it deceived the alchemist.

Since the alchemists pursued their search of the magic stone in such a methodical way, it would seem that they must have some idea of the appearance of the substance they sought. Probably they did, each according to his own mental bias; but, if so, they seldom committed themselves to writing, confining their discourses largely to speculations as to the properties of this illusive substance. Furthermore, the desire for secrecy would prevent them from expressing so important a piece of information. But on the subject of the properties, if not on the appearance of the "essence," they were voluminous writers. It was supposed to be the only perfect substance in existence, and to be confined in various substances, in quantities proportionate to the state of perfection of the substance. Thus, gold being most nearly perfect would contain more, silver less, lead still less, and so on. The "essence" contained in the more nearly perfect metals was thought to be more potent, a very small quantity of it being capable of creating large quantities of gold and of prolonging life indefinitely.

It would appear from many of the writings of the alchemists that their conception of nature and the supernatural was so confused and entangled in an inexplicable philosophy that they themselves did not really understand the meaning of what they were attempting to convey. But it should not be forgotten that alchemy was kept as much as possible from the ignorant general public, and the alchemists themselves had knowledge of secret words and expressions which conveyed a definite meaning to one of their number, but which would appear a meaningless jumble to an outsider. Some of these writers declared openly that their writings were intended to convey an entirely erroneous impression, and were sent out only for that purpose.

However, while it may have been true that the vagaries of their writings were made purposely, the case is probably more correctly explained by saying that the very nature of the art made definite statements impossible. They were dealing with something that did not exist—could not exist. Their attempted descriptions became, therefore, the language of romance rather than the language of science.

But if the alchemists themselves were usually silent as to the appearance of the actual substance of the philosopher's stone, there were numberless other writers who were less reticent. By some it was supposed to be a stone, by others a liquid or elixir, but more commonly it was described as a black powder. It also possessed different degrees of efficiency according to its degrees of purity, certain forms only possessing the power of turning base metals into gold, while others gave eternal youth and life or different degrees of health. Thus an alchemist, who had made a partial discovery of this substance, could prolong life a certain number of years only, or, possessing only a small and inadequate amount of the magic powder, he was obliged to give up the ghost when the effect of this small quantity had passed away.

This belief in the supernatural power of the philosopher's stone to prolong life and heal diseases was probably a later phase of alchemy, possibly developed by attempts to connect the power of the mysterious essence with Biblical teachings. The early Roman alchemists, who claimed to be able to transmute metals, seem not to have made other claims for their magic stone.

By the fifteenth century the belief in the philosopher's stone had become so fixed that governments began to be alarmed lest some lucky possessor of the secret should flood the country with gold, thus rendering the existing coin of little value. Some little consolation was found in the thought that in case all the baser metals were converted into gold iron would then become the "precious metal," and would remain so until some new philosopher's stone was found to convert gold back into iron—a much more difficult feat, it was thought. However, to be on the safe side, the English Parliament, in 1404, saw fit to pass an act declaring the making of gold and silver to be a felony. Nevertheless, in 1455, King Henry VI. granted permission to several "knights, citizens of London, chemists, and monks" to find the philosopher's stone, or elixir, that the crown might thus be enabled to pay off its debts. The monks and ecclesiastics were supposed to be most likely to discover the secret process, since "they were such good artists in transubstantiating bread and wine."

In Germany the emperors Maximilian I., Rudolf II., and Frederick II. gave considerable attention to the search, and the example they set was followed by thousands of their subjects. It is said that some noblemen developed the unpleasant custom of inviting to their courts men who were reputed to have found the stone, and then imprisoning the poor alchemists until they had made a certain quantity of gold, stimulating their activity with tortures of the most atrocious kinds. Thus this danger of being imprisoned and held for ransom until some fabulous amount of gold should be made became the constant menace of the alchemist. It was useless for an alchemist to plead poverty once it was noised about that he had learned the secret. For how could such a man be poor when, with a piece of metal and a few grains of magic powder, he was able to provide himself with gold? It was, therefore, a reckless alchemist indeed who dared boast that he had made the coveted discovery.

The fate of a certain indiscreet alchemist, supposed by many to have been Seton, a Scotchman, was not an uncommon one. Word having been brought to the elector of Saxony that this alchemist was in Dresden and boasting of his powers, the elector caused him to be arrested and imprisoned. Forty guards were stationed to see that he did not escape and that no one visited him save the elector himself. For some time the elector tried by argument and persuasion to penetrate his secret or to induce him to make a certain quantity of gold; but as Seton steadily refused, the rack was tried, and for several months he suffered torture, until finally, reduced to a mere skeleton, be was rescued by a rival candidate of the elector, a Pole named Michael Sendivogins, who drugged the guards. However, before Seton could be "persuaded" by his new captor, he died of his injuries.

But Sendivogins was also ambitious in alchemy, and, since Seton was beyond his reach, he took the next best step and married his widow. From her, as the story goes, he received an ounce of black powder—the veritable philosopher's stone. With this he manufactured great quantities of gold, even inviting Emperor Rudolf II. to see him work the miracle. That monarch was so impressed that he caused a tablet to be inserted in the wall of the room in which he had seen the gold made.

Sendivogins had learned discretion from the misfortune of Seton, so that he took the precaution of concealing most of the precious powder in a secret chamber of his carriage when he travelled, having only a small quantity carried by his steward in a gold box. In particularly dangerous places, he is said to have exchanged clothes with his coachman, making the servant take his place in the carriage while he mounted the box.

About the middle of the seventeenth century alchemy took such firm root in the religious field that it became the basis of the sect known as the Rosicrucians. The name was derived from the teaching of a German philosopher, Rosenkreutz, who, having been healed of a dangerous illness by an Arabian supposed to possess the philosopher's stone, returned home and gathered about him a chosen band of friends, to whom he imparted the secret. This sect came rapidly into prominence, and for a short time at least created a sensation in Europe, and at the time were credited with having "refined and spiritualized" alchemy. But by the end of the seventeenth century their number had dwindled to a mere handful, and henceforth they exerted little influence.

Another and earlier religious sect was the Aureacrucians, founded by Jacob Bohme, a shoemaker, born in Prussia in 1575. According to his teachings the philosopher's stone could be discovered by a diligent search of the Old and the New Testaments, and more particularly the Apocalypse, which contained all the secrets of alchemy. This sect found quite a number of followers during the life of Bohme, but gradually died out after his death; not, however, until many of its members had been tortured for heresy, and one at least, Kuhlmann, of Moscow, burned as a sorcerer.

The names of the different substances that at various times were thought to contain the large quantities of the "essence" during the many centuries of searching for it, form a list of practically all substances that were known, discovered, or invented during the period. Some believed that acids contained the substance; others sought it in minerals or in animal or vegetable products; while still others looked to find it among the distilled "spirits"—the alcoholic liquors and distilled products. On the introduction of alcohol by the Arabs that substance became of all-absorbing interest, and for a long time allured the alchemist into believing that through it they were soon to be rewarded. They rectified and refined it until "sometimes it was so strong that it broke the vessels containing it," but still it failed in its magic power. Later, brandy was substituted for it, and this in turn discarded for more recent discoveries.

There were always, of course, two classes of alchemists: serious investigators whose honesty could not be questioned, and clever impostors whose legerdemain was probably largely responsible for the extended belief in the existence of the philosopher's stone. Sometimes an alchemist practised both, using the profits of his sleight-of-hand to procure the means of carrying on his serious alchemical researches. The impostures of some of these jugglers deceived even the most intelligent and learned men of the time, and so kept the flame of hope constantly burning. The age of cold investigation had not arrived, and it is easy to understand how an unscrupulous mediaeval Hermann or Kellar might completely deceive even the most intelligent and thoughtful scholars. In scoffing at the credulity of such an age, it should not be forgotten that the "Keely motor" was a late nineteenth-century illusion.

But long before the belief in the philosopher's stone had died out, the methods of the legerdemain alchemist had been investigated and reported upon officially by bodies of men appointed to make such investigations, although it took several generations completely to overthrow a superstition that had been handed down through several thousand years. In April of 1772 Monsieur Geoffroy made a report to the Royal Academy of Sciences, at Paris, on the alchemic cheats principally of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In this report he explains many of the seemingly marvellous feats of the unscrupulous alchemists. A very common form of deception was the use of a double-bottomed crucible. A copper or brass crucible was covered on the inside with a layer of wax, cleverly painted so as to resemble the ordinary metal. Between this layer of wax and the bottom of the crucible, however, was a layer of gold dust or silver. When the alchemist wished to demonstrate his power, he had but to place some mercury or whatever substance he chose in the crucible, heat it, throw in a grain or two of some mysterious powder, pronounce a few equally mysterious phrases to impress his audience, and, behold, a lump of precious metal would be found in the bottom of his pot. This was the favorite method of mediocre performers, but was, of course, easily detected.

An equally successful but more difficult way was to insert surreptitiously a lump of metal into the mixture, using an ordinary crucible. This required great dexterity, but was facilitated by the use of many mysterious ceremonies on the part of the operator while performing, just as the modern vaudeville performer diverts the attention of the audience to his right hand while his left is engaged in the trick. Such ceremonies were not questioned, for it was the common belief that the whole process "lay in the spirit as much as in the substance," many, as we have seen, regarding the whole process as a divine manifestation.

Sometimes a hollow rod was used for stirring the mixture in the crucible, this rod containing gold dust, and having the end plugged either with wax or soft metal that was easily melted. Again, pieces of lead were used which had been plugged with lumps of gold carefully covered over; and a very simple and impressive demonstration was making use of a nugget of gold that had been coated over with quicksilver and tarnished so as to resemble lead or some base metal. When this was thrown into acid the coating was removed by chemical action, leaving the shining metal in the bottom of the vessel. In order to perform some of these tricks, it is obvious that the alchemist must have been well supplied with gold, as some of them, when performing before a royal audience, gave the products to their visitors. But it was always a paying investment, for once his reputation was established the gold-maker found an endless variety of ways of turning his alleged knowledge to account, frequently amassing great wealth.

Some of the cleverest of the charlatans often invited royal or other distinguished guests to bring with them iron nails to be turned into gold ones. They were transmuted in the alchemist's crucible before the eyes of the visitors, the juggler adroitly extracting the iron nail and inserting a gold one without detection. It mattered little if the converted gold nail differed in size and shape from the original, for this change in shape could be laid to the process of transmutation; and even the very critical were hardly likely to find fault with the exchange thus made. Furthermore, it was believed that gold possessed the property of changing its bulk under certain conditions, some of the more conservative alchemists maintaining that gold was only increased in bulk, not necessarily created, by certain forms of the magic stone. Thus a very proficient operator was thought to be able to increase a grain of gold into a pound of pure metal, while one less expert could only double, or possibly treble, its original weight.

The actual number of useful discoveries resulting from the efforts of the alchemists is considerable, some of them of incalculable value. Roger Bacon, who lived in the thirteenth century, while devoting much of his time to alchemy, made such valuable discoveries as the theory, at least, of the telescope, and probably gunpowder. Of this latter we cannot be sure that the discovery was his own and that he had not learned of it through the source of old manuscripts. But it is not impossible nor improbable that he may have hit upon the mixture that makes the explosives while searching for the philosopher's stone in his laboratory. "Von Helmont, in the same pursuit, discoverd the properties of gas," says Mackay; "Geber made discoveries in chemistry, which were equally important; and Paracelsus, amid his perpetual visions of the transmutation of metals, found that mercury was a remedy for one of the most odious and excruciating of all the diseases that afflict humanity."' As we shall see a little farther on, alchemy finally evolved into modern chemistry, but not until it had passed through several important transitional stages.


In a general way modern astronomy may be considered as the outgrowth of astrology, just as modern chemistry is the result of alchemy. It is quite possible, however, that astronomy is the older of the two; but astrology must have developed very shortly after. The primitive astronomer, having acquired enough knowledge from his observations of the heavenly bodies to make correct predictions, such as the time of the coming of the new moon, would be led, naturally, to believe that certain predictions other than purely astronomical ones could be made by studying the heavens. Even if the astronomer himself did not believe this, some of his superstitious admirers would; for to the unscientific mind predictions of earthly events would surely seem no more miraculous than correct predictions as to the future movements of the sun, moon, and stars. When astronomy had reached a stage of development so that such things as eclipses could be predicted with anything like accuracy, the occult knowledge of the astronomer would be unquestioned. Turning this apparently occult knowledge to account in a mercenary way would then be the inevitable result, although it cannot be doubted that many of the astrologers, in all ages, were sincere in their beliefs.

Later, as the business of astrology became a profitable one, sincere astronomers would find it expedient to practise astrology as a means of gaining a livelihood. Such a philosopher as Kepler freely admitted that he practised astrology "to keep from starving," although he confessed no faith in such predictions. "Ye otherwise philosophers," he said, "ye censure this daughter of astronomy beyond her deserts; know ye not that she must support her mother by her charms."

Once astrology had become an established practice, any considerable knowledge of astronomy was unnecessary, for as it was at best but a system of good guessing as to future events, clever impostors could thrive equally well without troubling to study astronomy. The celebrated astrologers, however, were usually astronomers as well, and undoubtedly based many of their predictions on the position and movements of the heavenly bodies. Thus, the casting of a horoscope that is, the methods by which the astrologers ascertained the relative position of the heavenly bodies at the time of a birth—was a simple but fairly exact procedure. Its basis was the zodiac, or the path traced by the sun in his yearly course through certain constellations. At the moment of the birth of a child, the first care of the astrologer was to note the particular part of the zodiac that appeared on the horizon. The zodiac was then divided into "houses"—that is, into twelve spaces—on a chart. In these houses were inserted the places of the planets, sun, and moon, with reference to the zodiac. When this chart was completed it made a fairly correct diagram of the heavens and the position of the heavenly bodies as they would appear to a person standing at the place of birth at a certain time.

Up to this point the process was a simple one of astronomy. But the next step—the really important one—that of interpreting this chart, was the one which called forth the skill and imagination of the astrologer. In this interpretation, not in his mere observations, lay the secret of his success. Nor did his task cease with simply foretelling future events that were to happen in the life of the newly born infant. He must not only point out the dangers, but show the means whereby they could be averted, and his prophylactic measures, like his predictions, were alleged to be based on his reading of the stars.

But casting a horoscope at the time of births was, of course, only a small part of the astrologer's duty. His offices were sought by persons of all ages for predictions as to their futures, the movements of an enemy, where to find stolen goods, and a host of everyday occurrences. In such cases it is more than probable that the astrologers did very little consulting of the stars in making their predictions. They became expert physiognomists and excellent judges of human nature, and were thus able to foretell futures with the same shrewdness and by the same methods as the modern "mediums," palmists, and fortune-tellers. To strengthen belief in their powers, it became a common thing for some supposedly lost document of the astrologer to be mysteriously discovered after an important event, this document purporting to foretell this very event. It was also a common practice with astrologers to retain, or have access to, their original charts, cleverly altering them from time to time to fit conditions.

The dangers attendant upon astrology were of such a nature that the lot of the astrologer was likely to prove anything but an enviable one. As in the case of the alchemist, the greater the reputation of an astrologer the greater dangers he was likely to fall into. If he became so famous that he was employed by kings or noblemen, his too true or too false prophecies were likely to bring him into disrepute—even to endanger his life.

Throughout the dark age the astrologers flourished, but the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the golden age of these impostors. A skilful astrologer was as much an essential to the government as the highest official, and it would have been a bold monarch, indeed, who would undertake any expedition of importance unless sanctioned by the governing stars as interpreted by these officials.

It should not be understood, however, that belief in astrology died with the advent of the Copernican doctrine. It did become separated from astronomy very shortly after, to be sure, and undoubtedly among the scientists it lost much of its prestige. But it cannot be considered as entirely passed away, even to-day, and even if we leave out of consideration street-corner "astrologers" and fortune-tellers, whose signs may be seen in every large city, there still remains quite a large class of relatively intelligent people who believe in what they call "the science of astrology." Needless to say, such people are not found among the scientific thinkers; but it is significant that scarcely a year passes that some book or pamphlet is not published by some ardent believer in astrology, attempting to prove by the illogical dogmas characteristic of unscientific thinkers that astrology is a science. The arguments contained in these pamphlets are very much the same as those of the astrologers three hundred years ago, except that they lack the quaint form of wording which is one of the features that lends interest to the older documents. These pamphlets need not be taken seriously, but they are interesting as exemplifying how difficult it is, even in an age of science, to entirely stamp out firmly established superstitions. Here are some of the arguments advanced in defence of astrology, taken from a little brochure entitled "Astrology Vindicated," published in 1898: It will be found that a person born when the Sun is in twenty degrees Scorpio has the left ear as his exceptional feature and the nose (Sagittarius) bent towards the left ear. A person born when the Sun is in any of the latter degrees of Taurus, say the twenty-fifth degree, will have a small, sharp, weak chin, curved up towards Gemini, the two vertical lines on the upper lip."[4] The time was when science went out of its way to prove that such statements were untrue; but that time is past, and such writers are usually classed among those energetic but misguided persons who are unable to distinguish between logic and sophistry.

In England, from the time of Elizabeth to the reign of William and Mary, judicial astrology was at its height. After the great London fire, in 1666, a committee of the House of Commons publicly summoned the famous astrologer, Lilly, to come before Parliament and report to them on his alleged prediction of the calamity that had befallen the city. Lilly, for some reason best known to himself, denied having made such a prediction, being, as he explained, "more interested in determining affairs of much more importance to the future welfare of the country." Some of the explanations of his interpretations will suffice to show their absurdities, which, however, were by no means regarded as absurdities at that time, for Lilly was one of the greatest astrologers of his day. He said that in 1588 a prophecy had been printed in Greek characters which foretold exactly the troubles of England between the years 1641. and 1660. "And after him shall come a dreadful dead man," ran the prophecy, "and with him a royal G of the best blood in the world, and he shall have the crown and shall set England on the right way and put out all heresies. His interpretation of this was that, "Monkery being extinguished above eighty or ninety years, and the Lord General's name being Monk, is the dead man. The royal G or C (it is gamma in the Greek, intending C in the Latin, being the third letter in the alphabet) is Charles II., who, for his extraction, may be said to be of the best blood of the world."[5]

This may be taken as a fair sample of Lilly's interpretations of astrological prophesies, but many of his own writings, while somewhat more definite and direct, are still left sufficiently vague to allow his skilful interpretations to set right an apparent mistake. One of his famous documents was "The Starry Messenger," a little pamphlet purporting to explain the phenomenon of a "strange apparition of three suns" that were seen in London on November 19, 1644—-the anniversary of the birth of Charles I., then the reigning monarch. This phenomenon caused a great stir among the English astrologers, coming, as it did, at a time of great political disturbance. Prophecies were numerous, and Lilly's brochure is only one of many that appeared at that time, most of which, however, have been lost. Lilly, in his preface, says: "If there be any of so prevaricate a judgment as to think that the apparition of these three Suns doth intimate no Novelle thing to happen in our own Climate, where they were manifestly visible, I shall lament their indisposition, and conceive their brains to be shallow, and voyde of understanding humanity, or notice of common History."

Having thus forgiven his few doubting readers, who were by no means in the majority in his day, he takes up in review the records of the various appearances of three suns as they have occurred during the Christian era, showing how such phenomena have governed certain human events in a very definite manner. Some of these are worth recording.

"Anno 66. A comet was seen, and also three Suns: In which yeer, Florus President of the Jews was by them slain. Paul writes to Timothy. The Christians are warned by a divine Oracle, and depart out of Jerusalem. Boadice a British Queen, killeth seventy thousand Romans. The Nazareni, a scurvie Sect, begun, that boasted much of Revelations and Visions. About a year after Nero was proclaimed enemy to the State of Rome."

Again, "Anno 1157, in September, there were seen three Suns together, in as clear weather as could be: And a few days after, in the same month, three Moons, and, in the Moon that stood in the middle, a white Crosse. Sueno, King of Denmark, at a great Feast, killeth Canutus: Sueno is himself slain, in pursuit of Waldemar. The Order of Eremites, according to the rule of Saint Augustine, begun this year; and in the next, the Pope submits to the Emperour: (was not this miraculous?) Lombardy was also adjudged to the Emperour."

Continuing this list of peculiar phenomena he comes down to within a few years of his own time.

"Anno 1622, three Suns appeared at Heidelberg. The woful Calamities that have ever since fallen upon the Palatinate, we are all sensible of, and of the loss of it, for any thing I see, for ever, from the right Heir. Osman the great Turk is strangled that year; and Spinola besiegeth Bergen up Zoom, etc."

Fortified by the enumeration of these past events, he then proceeds to make his deductions. "Only this I must tell thee," he writes, "that the interpretation I write is, I conceive, grounded upon probable foundations; and who lives to see a few years over his head, will easily perceive I have unfolded as much as was fit to discover, and that my judgment was not a mile and a half from truth."

There is a great significance in this "as much as was fit to discover"—a mysterious something that Lilly thinks it expedient not to divulge. But, nevertheless, one would imagine that he was about to make some definite prediction about Charles I., since these three suns appeared upon his birthday and surely must portend something concerning him. But after rambling on through many pages of dissertations upon planets and prophecies, he finally makes his own indefinite prediction.

"O all you Emperors, Kings, Princes, Rulers and Magistrates of Europe, this unaccustomed Apparition is like the Handwriting in Daniel to some of you; it premonisheth you, above all other people, to make your peace with God in time. You shall every one of you smart, and every one of you taste (none excepted) the heavie hand of God, who will strengthen your subjects with invincible courage to suppress your misgovernments and Oppressions in Church or Common-wealth; . . . Those words are general: a word for my own country of England. . . . Look to yourselves; here's some monstrous death towards you. But to whom? wilt thou say. Herein we consider the Signe, Lord thereof, and the House; The Sun signifies in that Royal Signe, great ones; the House signifies captivity, poison, Treachery: From which is derived thus much, That some very great man, what King, Prince, Duke, or the like, I really affirm I perfectly know not, shall, I say, come to some such untimely end."[6]

Here is shown a typical example of astrological prophecy, which seems to tell something or nothing, according to the point of view of the reader. According to a believer in astrology, after the execution of Charles I., five years later, this could be made to seem a direct and exact prophecy. For example, he says: "You Kings, Princes, etc., ... it premonisheth you ... to make your peace with God.... Look to yourselves; here's some monstrous death towards you. ... That some very great man, what King, Prince, . shall, I say, come to such untimely end."

But by the doubter the complete prophecy could be shown to be absolutely indefinite, and applicable as much to the king of France or Spain as to Charles I., or to any king in the future, since no definite time is stated. Furthermore, Lilly distinctly states, "What King, Prince, Duke, or the like, I really affirm I perfectly know not"—which last, at least, was a most truthful statement. The same ingenuity that made "Gen. Monk" the "dreadful dead man," could easily make such a prediction apply to the execution of Charles I. Such a definite statement that, on such and such a day a certain number of years in the future, the monarch of England would be beheaded—such an exact statement can scarcely be found in any of the works on astrology. It should be borne in mind, also, that Lilly was of the Cromwell party and opposed to the king.

After the death of Charles I., Lilly admitted that the monarch had given him a thousand pounds to cast his horoscope. "I advised him," says Lilly, "to proceed eastwards; he went west, and all the world knows the result." It is an unfortunate thing for the cause of astrology that Lilly failed to mention this until after the downfall of the monarch. In fact, the sudden death, or decline in power, of any monarch, even to-day, brings out the perennial post-mortem predictions of astrologers.

We see how Lilly, an opponent of the king, made his so-called prophecy of the disaster of the king and his army. At the same time another celebrated astrologer and rival of Lilly, George Wharton, also made some predictions about the outcome of the eventful march from Oxford. Wharton, unlike Lilly, was a follower of the king's party, but that, of course, should have had no influence in his "scientific" reading of the stars. Wharton's predictions are much less verbose than Lilly's, much more explicit, and, incidentally, much more incorrect in this particular instance. "The Moon Lady of the 12," he wrote, "and moving betwixt the 8 degree, 34 min., and 21 degree, 26 min. of Aquarius, gives us to understand that His Majesty shall receive much contentment by certain Messages brought him from foreign parts; and that he shall receive some sudden and unexpected supply of . . . by the means of some that assimilate the condition of his Enemies: And withal this comfort; that His Majesty shall be exceeding successful in Besieging Towns, Castles, or Forts, and in persuing the enemy.

"Mars his Sextile to the Sun, Lord of the Ascendant (which happeneth the 18 day of May) will encourage our Soldiers to advance with much alacrity and cheerfulness of spirit; to show themselves gallant in the most dangerous attempt.... And now to sum up all: It is most apparent to every impartial and ingenuous judgment; That although His Majesty cannot expect to be secured from every trivial disaster that may befall his army, either by the too much Presumption, Ignorance, or Negligence of some particular Persons (which is frequently incident and unavoidable in the best of Armies), yet the several positions of the Heavens duly considered and compared among themselves, as well in the prefixed Scheme as at the Quarterly Ingresses, do generally render His Majesty and his whole Army unexpectedly victorious and successful in all his designs; Believe it (London), thy Miseries approach, they are like to be many, great, and grievous, and not to be diverted, unless thou seasonably crave Pardon of God for being Nurse to this present Rebellion, and speedily submit to thy Prince's Mercy; Which shall be the daily Prayer of Geo. Wharton."[7]

In the light of after events, it is probable that Wharton's stock as an astrologer was not greatly enhanced by this document, at least among members of the Royal family. Lilly's book, on the other hand, became a favorite with the Parliamentary army.

After the downfall and death of Napoleon there were unearthed many alleged authentic astrological documents foretelling his ruin. And on the death of George IV., in 1830, there appeared a document (unknown, as usual, until that time) purporting to foretell the death of the monarch to the day, and this without the astrologer knowing that his horoscope was being cast for a monarch. A full account of this prophecy is told, with full belief, by Roback, a nineteenth-century astrologer. He says:

"In the year 1828, a stranger of noble mien, advanced in life, but possessing the most bland manners, arrived at the abode of a celebrated astrologer in London," asking that the learned man foretell his future. "The astrologer complied with the request of the mysterious visitor, drew forth his tables, consulted his ephemeris, and cast the horoscope or celestial map for the hour and the moment of the inquiry, according to the established rules of his art.

"The elements of his calculation were adverse, and a feeling of gloom cast a shade of serious thought, if not dejection, over his countenance.

" 'You are of high rank,' said the astrologer, as he calculated and looked on the stranger, 'and of illustrious title.' The stranger made a graceful inclination of the head in token of acknowledgment of the complimentary remarks, and the astrologer proceeded with his mission.

"The celestial signs were ominous of calamity to the stranger, who, probably observing a sudden change in the countenance of the astrologer, eagerly inquired what evil or good fortune had been assigned him by the celestial orbs.

'To the first part of your inquiry,' said the astrologer, 'I can readily reply. You have been a favorite of fortune; her smiles on you have been abundant, her frowns but few; you have had, perhaps now possess, wealth and power; the impossibility of their accomplishment is the only limit to the fulfilment of your desires.' "

" 'You have spoken truly of the past,' said the stranger. 'I have full faith in your revelations of the future: what say you of my pilgrimage in this life—is it short or long?'

" 'I regret,' replied the astrologer, in answer to this inquiry, 'to be the herald of ill, though TRUE, fortune; your sojourn on earth will be short.'

" 'How short?' eagerly inquired the excited and anxious stranger.

" 'Give me a momentary truce,' said the astrologer; 'I will consult the horoscope, and may possibly find some mitigating circumstances.'

"Having cast his eyes over the celestial map, and paused for some moments, he surveyed the countenance of the stranger with great sympathy, and said, 'I am sorry that I can find no planetary influences that oppose your destiny—your death will take place in two years.'

"The event justified the astrologic prediction: George IV. died on May 18, 1830, exactly two years from the day on which he had visited the astrologer."[8]

This makes a very pretty story, but it hardly seems like occult insight that an astrologer should have been able to predict an early death of a man nearly seventy years old, or to have guessed that his well-groomed visitor "had, perhaps now possesses, wealth and power." Here again, however, the point of view of each individual plays the governing part in determining the importance of such a document. To the scientist it proves nothing; to the believer in astrology, everything. The significant thing is that it appeared shortly AFTER the death of the monarch.

On the Continent astrologers were even more in favor than in England. Charlemagne, and some of his immediate successors, to be sure, attempted to exterminate them, but such rulers as Louis XI. and Catherine de' Medici patronized and encouraged them, and it was many years after the time of Copernicus before their influence was entirely stamped out even in official life. There can be no question that what gave the color of truth to many of the predictions was the fact that so many of the prophecies of sudden deaths and great conflagrations were known to have come true—in many instances were made to come true by the astrologer himself. And so it happened that when the prediction of a great conflagration at a certain time culminated in such a conflagration, many times a second but less-important burning took place, in which the ambitious astrologer, or his followers, took a central part about a stake, being convicted of incendiarism, which they had committed in order that their prophecies might be fulfilled.

But, on the other hand, these predictions were sometimes turned to account by interested friends to warn certain persons of approaching dangers.

For example, a certain astrologer foretold the death of Prince Alexander de' Medici. He not only foretold the death, but described so minutely the circumstances that would attend it, and gave such a correct description of the assassin who should murder the prince, that he was at once suspected of having a hand in the assassination. It developed later, however, that such was probably not the case; but that some friend of Prince Alexander, knowing of the plot to take his life, had induced the astrologer to foretell the event in order that the prince might have timely warning and so elude the conspirators.

The cause of the decline of astrology was the growing prevalence of the new spirit of experimental science. Doubtless the most direct blow was dealt by the Copernican theory. So soon as this was established, the recognition of the earth's subordinate place in the universe must have made it difficult for astronomers to be longer deceived by such coincidences as had sufficed to convince the observers of a more credulous generation. Tycho Brahe was, perhaps, the last astronomer of prominence who was a conscientious practiser of the art of the astrologer.