Page images

ductions of a mind exhaustless in the creation of all that is novel, original, and great. Generated by a devil and a witch, deformed, prodigious, and obscene, and breathing nothing but malice, sensuality, and revenge, this fearful compound is yet, from the poetical vigour of his language and ideas, highly interesting to the imagination. Imagery, derived from whatever is darkly horrible and mysteriously repulsive, clothe the expression of his passions or the denunciation of his curses; whilst, even in his moments of hilarity, the barbarous, the grotesque, and the romantic, alternately, or conjointly,

, sustain, with admirable harmony, the keeping of his character.

That the system of Magic or Enchantment, which has given so much attraction to this play, was at the period of its production an article in the popular creed of general estimation, and, even among the learned, received with but little hesitation, may be clearly ascertained from the writers of Shakspeare's times. Thus, Howard, Earl of Northampton, in his “ Defensative against the

poyson of supposed Prophecies,” 1583 ; Scot, in his “ Discoverie of Witchcraft” and “ Discours of Divels and Spirits,” 1584; James, in his “ Demonologie,” 1603; Mason, in his “ Anatomie of Sorceerie,” 1612; and finally, Burton, in his “ Anatomie of Melancholy,” 1617, all bear witness, in such a manner to the fact, as proves, that, of the existence of The Art of Sorcery, however unlawful it might be deemed by many, few presumed to doubt. The very title of Howard's book informs us, that “invocations of damned spirits” and “ judicials of astrology” were “ causes of great disorder in the commonwealth ;" and in the work, speaking of the same arts, he aids,“ We need not rifle in the monuments of former times, so long as the present age wherein we live may furnish us with store of most strange examples.” Scot declares, in his “ Epistle to the Reader,” that “ conjurors and enchanters make us fooles still, to the shame of us all;" and in the 420 chapter of his 15th book, he has inserted a copy of a letter written to him by a professor of the necromantic art, who had been condemned to die for his supposed diabolical practices, but who, through his own repentance, and the mediation of Lord Leicester with the Queen, had been reprieved. An extract or two from this curious epistle, will place in a striking light the great prevalence of the credulity on which we are commenting.

« Maister R. Scot, according to your request, I have drawne out certaine abuses worth the noting, touching the worke you have in hand; things which I my selfe have seene within these xxvi yeares, among those which were counted famous and skilfull in those sciences. And bicause the whole discourse cannot be set downe, without nominating certaine persons, of whom some are dead, and some living, whose freends remaine yet of great credit : in respect thereof, I knowing that mine enimies doo alreadie in number exceed my freends; I have considered with my selfe, that it is better for me to staie my hand, than to commit that to the world, which may increase my miserie more than releeve the same. Notwithstanding, bicause I am noted above a great many others to have had some dealings in those vaine arts and wicked practises; I am therefore to signifie unto you, and I speake it in the presence of God, that among all those famous and noted practisers, that I have been conversant with all these xxvi years, I could never see anie matter of truth, &c.” He then, after exposing the futility of these studies, and lamenting his addiction to them, adds, “ For mine owne part, I have repented me five yeares past : at which time I sawe a booke, written in the old Saxon toong, by one Sir John Malborne, a divine of Oxenford, three hundred yeares past; wherein he openeth all the illusions and inventions of those arts and sciences : a thing most worthie the noting. I left the booke with the parson of Slangham, in Sussex, where if you send for it in my name, you may have it.”

At the conclusion of this letter, which is dated the 8th of March, 1582, Scot says, as a further proof of the folly of the times, sent for this booke of purpose, to the parson of Slangham, and procured his best friends, men of great worship and credit, to deale with him, that I might borrowe it for a time. But such is his follie and superstition, that although he confessed he had it; yet he would not lend it; albeit a friend of mine, being knight of the shire,

66 I

[ocr errors]


would have given his word for the restitution of the same safe and sound." *

The reception of James's work on Demonology, which is as copious on the arts of enchantment as on those of witchcraft, is itself a most striking instance of the gross credulity of his subjects; for, while the learned, the sensible, and humane treatise of Scot, was either

reprobated or neglected, the labours of this monarch in behalf of superstition, were received with applause, and referred to with a deference which admitted not of question.

Mason followed the footsteps of Scot, though not with equal ability, when in 1612 he endeavoured to throw ridicule


66 Inchanters and Charmers — they, which by using of certaine conceited words, characters, circles, amulets, and such like vaine and wicked trumpery (by God's permission) doe work great marvailes : as namely in causing of sicknesse, as also in curing diseases in men’s bodies.

And likewise binding some, that they cannot use their naturall powers and faculties; as we see in Night-spells. Insomuch as some of them doe take in hand to bind the Divell himselfe by their inchantments.

Five years afterwards, Burton, who seems to have been a believer on the influence which the Devil was supposed to exert in cherishing the growth of Sorcery, records that Magic is “ practised by some still, maintained and excused;" and he adds, that “ Nero and Heliogabalus, Maxentius, and Julianus Apostata, were never so much addicted to Magick of old, as some of our modern Princes and Popes themselves are now adayes.” +

The Art of Magic had, during the reign of Elizabeth, assumed a more scientific appearance, from its union with the mystic reveries of the Cabalists and Rosicrusians, and, under this modification, has it been adopted by Shakspeare for the purposes of dramatic impression. Astrology, Alchemistry, and what was termed Theurgy, or an intercourse with Divine Spirits, were combined with the more peculiar doctrines of Necromancy or the Black Art, and, under this form, was a system of mere delusions frequently mistaken for a branch of Natural Philosophy. Thus Fuller, speaking of Dr. John Dee, the Prince of Magicians in Shakspeare's days, says, — " “ He was a most excellent Mathematician and Astrologer, well skilled in Magick, as the Antients did, the Lord Bacon doth, and all may accept the sence thereof, viz., in the lawfull knowledg of Naturall Philosophie.

* Discoverie of Witchcraft, edit. of 1584. pp. 467-469. + Anatomy of Melancholy, p. 33.

6. This exposed him, anno 1583, amongst his Ignorant Neighbours, where he then liv’d, at Mortclack in Surrey, to the suspicion of a Conjurer : the cause I conceive, that his Library was then seized on, wherein were four thousand Books, and seven hundred of them Manuscripts.'

This singular character, who was born in 1527, and did not die until after the accession of James, was certainly possessed of much mathematical knowledge, having delivered lectures at Paris on the Elements of Euclid, with unprecedented applause; but he was at the same time grossly superstitious and enthusiastic, not only dealing in nativities, talismans, and charms, but pretending to a familiar intercourse with the world of spirits, of which Dr. Meric Casaubon has published a most extraordinary account, in a large folio volume, entitled, “ A true and faithful relation of what passed for many years between Dr. John Dee and some spirits,1659: and what is still more extraordinary, this learned editor tells us in his preface, that he “never gave more credit to any humane history of former times."

' Dee, who had been educated at Cambridge, and was an excellent classical scholar, had, as might be supposed, in an age of almost boundless

, credulity, many patrons, and among these were the Lords Pembroke and Leicester, and even the Queen herself; but, notwithstanding this splendid encouragement, and much private munificence, particularly from the female world, our astrologer, like most of his tribe, died miserably poor.

* Worthies of England, Part II. p. 116.

His love of books has given him a niche in Mr. Dibdin's Bibliographical Romance, where, under the title of the renowned Dr. John Dee, he is introduced in the following animated manner :-“ Let us fancy we see him in his conjuring cap and robes

: surrounded with astrological, mathematical, and geographical in struments with a profusion of Chaldee characters inscribed upon vellum rolls and with his celebrated Glass suspended by magical wires. — Let us then follow him into his study at midnight, and view him rummaging his books; contemplating the heavens; making calculations; holding converse with invisible spirits; writing down their responses : anon, looking into his correspondence with Count a Lasco, and the emperors Adolphus and Maximilian ; and pronouncing himself, with the most heart-felt complacency, the greatest genius of his age! In the midst of these self-complacent reveries, let us imagine we see his wife and little ones intruding: beseeching him to burn his books and instruments; and reminding him that there was neither silver spoon, nor a loaf of bread in the cupboard. Alas, poor Dee!"*


[ocr errors]


* Dibdin's Bibliomania, pp. 343–346. Mr. Dibdin has given us the following account of Dee's Library, “as drawn up by our philosopher himself.” “ 400 Volumes - printed and unprinted - bound and unbound - valued at 2000 lib.

— “ i Greek, 2 French, and 1 High Dutch, volumes of MSS., alone worth 533 lib. 40 years in getting these books together.

“ Appertaining thereto.
Sundry rare and exquisitely made Mathematical Instruments.
A radius Astronomicus, ten feet long.

A magnet stone, or Load stone ; of great virtue - which was sold out of the library but for v shill. and for it afterwards (yea piece-meal divided) was more than xx lib. given in money and value. .

A great case or frame of boxes, wherein some hundreds of very rare evidences of divers Irelandish territories, provinces, and lands, were laid up. Which territories, provinces, and lands, were therein notified to have been in the hands of some of the ancient Irish princes. Then, their submissions and tributes agreed upon, with seals appendant to the little writings thereof in parchment: and after by some of those evidences did it appear, how some of those lands came to the Lascies, the Mortuomars, the Burghs, the Clares, &c.

A Box of Evidences antient of some Welch princes and noblemen — the like of Norman donation - their peculiar titles noted on the forepart with chalk only, which on the poor boxes remaineth. This box, with another containing similar deedes, were embezzled.

« PreviousContinue »