Showing posts with label Aristotle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Aristotle. Show all posts

Friday, 5 August 2016

Concerning the Philosophers Stone - Kelley

Concerning the Philosophers Stone - Kelley


Concerning the Philosophers Stone - Kelley

the Philosopher’s Stone written to 
his especiall good Freind, G. S. Gent.

The heavenly Cope hath in him Natures sower,
Two hidden; but the rest to sight appeare:
Wherein the Spermes of all the Bodies lower;
Most secrett are, yett Spring forth once a yeare, 
       And as the Earth with Water, Authors are, 
       So of his parte is Drines end of care. 

No flood soe greate as that which floweth still,
Nothing more fixt than Earth digested thrise:
No Winde so fresh as when it serveth will; 
No Profitt more, then keepe in, and be wise, 
       No better happ, then drie up Aire to dust,
       For then thou maist leave of and sleepe thy lust

Yett will I warne thee least thou chaunce to faile, 
Sublyme thine Earth with stinking Water erst, 
Then in a place where Phœbus onely tayle 
Is seene art midday, see thou mingle best: 
       For nothing shineth that doth want his light, 
       Nor doubleth beames, unless it first be bright. 

Lett no man leade, unlesse he know the way 
That wise men teach, or Adrop leadeth in, 
Whereof the first is large and easiest pray; 
The other hard, and meane but to begin. 
       For surely these and no one more is found,
       Wherein Appollo will his harp-strings sound. 

Example learne of GOD that plaste the Skyes,
Reflecting vertues from and t’every poynt, 
In which the mover wherein all things lyes,
Doth hold the vertues all of every Joynt: 
       And therefore Essence sift may well be said, 
       Conteining all and yett himsèlfe a Maid. 

Remember also how the Gods began, 
And by Discent who was to each the Syre, 
Then learnt their Lives and Kingdomes if you can, 
Their Manners eke, with all their whole Attire; 
       Which if thou doe, and know to what effect 
       The learned sophets will thee not reject

If this my Doctrine bend not with thy brayne, 
Then say I nothing though I said too much: 
Of truth tis good will moved me, not gaine, 
To write these lynes: yett write I not to such 
       As catch at Crabs, when better fruits appeare, 
       And want to chuse at fittest time of yeare. 

Thou maist (my Freind) say, what is this for lore?
I answere, such as auncient Physicke taught: 
And though thou read a thousand Bookes before, 
Yett in respect of this, they teach thee Naught:
       Thou mayst likewise be blind, and call me Foole 
       Yett shall these Rules for ever praise their Schoole.

Concerning Ed. Kelley's Poem - Burns

Concerning Ed. Kelley’s Poem
by Teresa Burns

Edward Kelley’s poem “Concerning the Philosopher’s Stone” first appeared in printed form in Elias Ashmole’s 1652 Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum. In a related article in this issue, I explore the possibility that the “G.S., Gent” in the dedicatory line may be Gulielmus Shaksper, the man who came to be called William Shakespeare. Whoever Kelley’s “especiall good Freind” is, this is the only poem in Ashmole’s collection that seems to concern the role of an author in creating works that are alchemical vessels. 
What is Kelley telling this friend, and why? Answering that question involves unpacking the poem’s alchemical language, partly by seeing how such language works in other magical and alchemical contexts surrounding both poem and poet.

First of all, the title likely isn’t Kelley’s. It was added by Ashmole or someone else in the intervening time, someone who likely has knowledge we have lost: most obviously, the person knew to whom Kelley wrote the poem, and that it had to do with “the Philosopher’s Stone.” A much earlier version, dated 1589 and signed “Edward Kelle,” has been located in the Royal Library in Copenhagen, as part of a group of manuscripts that Jan Bäcklund connects to an alchemical circle around John Dee and Edward Kelley. This older version bears only the dedication, “The praise of vnity for frendship’s sake made by a stranger/ to further his frende his Conceyts.”

So we have a handwritten version dated 1589 and associated with Dee, Kelley, and other associates of theirs, which Bäcklund thinks originated in Prague and somehow, likely via England, wound up in Demark, and the other, retitled by Ashmole or some intervening person, that winds up in Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum. Both contexts make it easy to place the alchemical language. Some of Kelley’s unusual word choices match the usage of other alchemical poets in Ashmole’s Theatrum but occur only rarely in English works not concerned with “Chemical Theater.” The manuscripts in Denmark include the work attributed to other famous alchemists, notably George Ripley, Raymond Lull, and Arnold of Villanova, and include a trail of connections between Elizabethan writer-couriers and the magical circle around Dee and Kelley.

When one reads this older version’s dedication praising “unity for frendship’s sake,” one may recall that “unity,” “unit,” and the number “one” were the most common English translations for the Greek, Latinized as monas, as in the title of John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica or Hieroglyphic Monad. Dee considered his monad glyph an all-encompassing symbol of the most sacred mysteries, and certainly Kelley understood it well. In fact, Lyndy Abraham has analyzed the alchemical emblems accompanying chapter one of Kelley's Theatre of Terrestrial Astronomy, and suggests that Kelley’s alchemical “key” is itself a type of hieroglyphic monad which likely has Dee’s glyph as a model. Kelley’s praise of “unity” here may be not-so-veiled praise of the recipient’s dedication to an alchemical key which, like the key of Basil Valentine’s after or George Ripley’s before, unlocks the secrets of the Great Work.

Kelley, like Dee, seems to make a series of pre-Socratic, mainly Pythagorean correspondences axiomatic. In describing the emblem below, Kelley says:
Edward Kelley’s emblem

From Theater of Terrestrial Astronomy
For God has stamped and sealed all creatde things with this character of Trinity, as a king of hieroglyphical writing, whereby his own nature might be known. For the number 3 and the magic number 4 make up the perfect number 7, the seat of many mysteries. And seeing that the Quaternary rests in the Ternary, it is a number which stands on the horizon of eternity, and doth exhibit everything bound with God in us, thus including God, men, and all created things, with all their mysterious powers. Adding three, you get ten, which marks the return to unity. In this Arcanum is included all knowledge of hidden things which God, by His word, has made known to the men of His good pleasure, so that they might have a true conception of him.[11]
The second part of the 1589 dedication, “made by a stranger/ to further his frende his Conceyts,” may make more sense after we look at the first sextet. Let’s take a close reading of these opening lines.

The heavenly Cope hath in him Natures sower

“Cope” is a garment, particularly a religious garment, more particularly how a Renaissance writer might render in English the Latin toga or a variety of ancient Greek words for the same. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines toga as “the outer garment of a Roman citizen in time of peace;” it most frequently refers to the toga prætextra, “a toga with a broad purple border worn by children, magistrates, persons engaged in sacred rites, and later by emperors.” 

A “cope” might also refer to the religious garb of a monk or friar: one thinks of the poor friar in the “General Prologue” of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, wearing “a thredbare cope as is a poure scoler.” So to begin, Kelley is addressing someone “garbed” in whatever a “Cope” might represent—a garment of peace, the garment of a poor scholar, or some more “heavenly” garment. 

Notably, and unlike much of the alchemical language to follow, the word “cope” is used by none of the other writers anthologized in Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum. Instead, it seems almost ubiquitous in late medieval and Renaissance literature, from Gower to Chaucer to Caxton to Spenser to Shakespeare to Milton, all of whom at some point refer to the celestial sphere or night sky as the “cope of Heaven.” Meanwhile, a lead “cope” could mean a leaden coffin; a cope could also be any type of vaulted covering; so we can tease out the larger meaning of this “garment” as the visible part of a container or vessel, and hence the notion of the heavens and creation itself as the macrocosmic vessel, or stage, of alchemical theater. 

That garment has made Kelley’s friend Nature’s sower:” one who sows the seed, literally or metaphorically, one who disseminates information leading to the “harvest” of the philosopher’s stone. It also puns on “bower,” a common poetic term for abode or dwelling, such as a woodland “bower;” and on “soe,” which can be a large tub used in some alchemical experiments. But first and foremost, Kelley’s friend begets and is begotten by “Nature,” a much more complex and encoded idea to medieval and Renaissance writers, magicians, and alchemists than to us now. In his Stone of the Philosophers, Kelley says:
All genuine and judicious philosophers have traced things back to their first principles, that is to say, those comprehended in the threefold generation of Nature. The generation of animals they have attributed to a mingling of the male and female in sexual union; that of vegetables to their own proper seed; while the principles of minerals they have assigned earth and viscous water.
He is stating more directly the same idea that John Dee includes in his tantric or ecstatic “key” to the Hieroglyphic Monad, Theorem XV, where Dee quotes the phrase “Nature rejoices in Nature,” then tells us that these words contained the concealed and most secret mysteries of the great Ostanes.Dee thus gives an inside nod to the longer oft-paraphrased saying: 
Nature rejoices in nature, nature rules over nature, and nature is the triumph of nature. A human begets a human, the lion begets the lions, the dogs beget the dogs, grain begets grain. What is begotten against nature is a monster incapable of life. The Adepts teach this: only gold brings forth gold again at the harvest. This is the revealed mystery.
Similar lines appear in the Turba Philosophorum, as well as a more cryptic speech from the angel Amnael to Isis the Prophetess, as recounted in the Codex Marcianus.Kelley, in Stone of the Philosophers, paraphrases the same ideas from the Turba — “every subject derives from that into which it can be resolved” — after listing out 48 different laws by which Nature acts upon Nature. “Whoever would imitate Nature in any particular operation must first be sure he has the same matter,” Kelley informs us, “and secondly, that this substance is acted on in a way similar to that of Nature. For Nature rejoices in natural method, and like purifies like.”

The same notion is alluded to several times in Theatrum: see, for instance, the tenth octet of ”John Dastin’s Dream:”
10. A Man of Nature ingendereth but a Man,
And every Beast ingendereth his semblable;
And as Philosophers rehearse well can,
Diana and Venus in marriage be notable,
A Horse with a Swine joyneth not in a stable,
For where is made unkindly geniture,
What followeth but things abominable:
Which is to say Monstrum in Nature.
This complex alchemical notion of Nature is often referred to but rarely explained, first because the explanation is rather cumbersome, and second because it involves chasing around many texts and allusions to texts that no longer exist. Indeed even in these paragraphs such explanations have been be simply footnoted and left for the reader’s own exploration.Yet unless one takes time to really ponder what is meant by “Nature begets Nature,” Kelley’s reference to his friend as “Nature’s sower” won’t be grasped at all. 

If we assume Edward Kelley was intimately familiar with Dee’s Hieroglyphic Monad and how its core teachings may have sprung in part from a much more ancient Greco-Egyptian-Hebraic magical tradition, the outline of an entire ancient ecstatic philosophy starts to come dimly into view from this one word. In the Codex Marcianus, which Dee had a copy of during the time he and Kelley were on the continent and which Dee left with the Landgrave of Hesse - Kassel, it is Amnael who speaks of “Nature” to Isis, who then passes the secret to her son, Horus. Given the likely association between this Amnael and the Annael/Anael who appears in Dee’s first recorded angelic working and again throughout his and Kelley’s angelic conversations,it would seem rather axiomatic that Kelley had a similarly complex and ecstatic notion of “Nature” begetting “Nature” and sowing the harvest of the Philosopher’s Stone. If one follows those assumptions—which for now we’ll collapse back into the idea that Kelley knew the ideas expressed by Dee in Theorem XV and not only embraced them but elaborated upon them in his own work, and is referring to something similar when he talks about “Nature”—then Kelley is here telling his friend that the friend could become, like Isis or her son Horus, the begetter of the magical secrets of “Nature.” 

If we put all of this together, what do we have? In this very first line, Kelley declaims the poem’s recipient (G.S., or the “friend”) as the one who sows or explains the heavenly mysteries, by himself, as a microcosm, becoming a vessel of the macrocosm.

Two hidden; but the rest to sight appeare:
First, the “two hidden” is Ashmole’s language, or that of an intervening copyist. The manuscript dated 1589 and signed by “Kelle” says “To hidden, but the rest to sight appear. Whether changing “to” to “two” still correctly expresses Kelley’s multiple meanings, or whether the later copyists shaped the language to match the copyist’s understanding of the poem is an open question, and an important one, since that copyist or Ashmole himself added to dedication to “G.S., Gent.” We are in effect here analyzing Ashmole’s or the intervening copyist’s understanding that led to the change of “to” to “two.”

That said, the “two hidden” might remind a reader of the two faces or heads of Janus, the Roman god of gates, doors, beginnings, and endings. Because Janus, from whom we get our name for January, looked one way into the new year and the other at the year just ended, he was often thought of as a God of transition or balance point between the two: that balance being the present, what you can see. Janus, unlike most of the Roman pantheon, has no direct ancient Greek analog, though he may appear in “compound gods” related to Hermes, such as Hermanubis, Hermathena, and Hermaphrodites—all gods who seem to mix genders. And curiously, in one of the most enigmatic books of the Renaissance, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, “Herm” appears as a three-headed being atop a pillar, whose only other recognizable anatomical attribute is an oversized erect phallus.
The Hermes/Mercury connection takes us still further if we note the frequent connection between Mercury and the Celtic god Lugus, often portrayed with three faces, and if we notice that the emblem of Kelley’s shown earlier includes “the Trinity of the Deity in unity, God with three heads and one crown.”Finally, consider the “two hidden” the heads of the serpents of the caduceus of Hermes, and note that some emblems books of the time also show Mercury/Hermes as two-headed.
These all suggests a complementary Kabbalistic interpretation of the line. While few have discussed Kelley’s work in terms of Kaballah, he had to know it well, and not only through his association with Dee. Many assume that Dee or Kelley or both were familiar with different continental Jewish communities and their leaders such as Judah Loew. In fact, Kelley is in some ways the more plausible candidate, inasmuch as Dee’s diary refers to Kelley telling him about communications being relayed through “the Jews,” and Czech accounts of Kelley’s final years in Prague show Kelley likely interacted with the Prague Jewish Quarter, if for nothing else to obtain loans. In any case, the idea expressed to his friend here is Kabbalah for beginners: the two hidden, in this case the Aima and Abba Elohim, through their conjugal union give birth to what can be seen, the Zauir Anpin, or the Son/Sun centered at Tiphareth that encompasses all the Sephira below the Supernals except Malkuth, and in so doing causes creation to take form. The two are hidden; what they create can be seen. The connection to Mercury/Hermes makes perfect sense if one keeps in mind Kelley’s ideas of “Nature,” and his explanation of “Mercury” in chapter two of The Theater of Terrestrial Astronomy
After creating the matter of the metals, namely, living Mercury, Nature added to it an active quality. For Mercury, the substance, could not of itself manifest its effects, and Nature wisely joined to it an active kind of mineral earth, unctuous and fat, thickened by long digestion in the mineral caverns of the earth, which is commonly called Sulphur. This Mercury is, however, not the common metal, but the principle and origin of metals. Mercury is the matter, Sulphur the form of metals, natural heat acting upon the matter of Mercury, as upon a fit and well adapted subject.
Combine this with the ideas in line one, and Kelley seems to be telling “G.S.” that he is such a “fit and adapted subject” to manifest mercurial, or Hermetic, subjects.

Of course, one could make all of this less lofty and just attempt to name names, as some are more interested in naming the “young man” or “dark lady” in Shakespeare’s sonnets rather than meditating upon the abstract ideals of Love or alchemy or spiritual exploration therein. If one must try to identify the real three people here actually referred to; that is, if one must project the poem’s chemical theater onto real players in physical world, then one wonders if Kelley and Dee are the “two hidden” influences Ashmole or the copyist had in mind, and G.S.’s friends and associates the rest who to “sight appeare.” The implications are fascinating: by this reading, “G.S.” becomes the public explicator of the mysteries of the other two.

How might that line read differently if we returned to Kelley’s original spelling? I’ll leave that to the imagination of the reader.

Wherein the Spermes of all the Bodies lower;
Here we encounter one of the most common actions in chemical theater, albeit with unusual wording. Kelley prefers “spermes” to the more usual “dew,” perhaps for the implicit Hermes/”Spermes pun, since the dew from heaven, also called mercurial or Hermetic water, is what magically cleanses, transforms, re-animates and re-impregnates matter. As described in Kelley’s Stone of the Philosophers,, philosophic mercury (or Hermes, or here “Spermes”) is also the seed or common origin of living “metal.”

If we return to the more usual word, “dew,” we see this idea is right out of medieval alchemy as it is later absorbed by Paracelsans and transmitted into later works. Ursula Szulakowska explains:
Fifteenth and early sixteenth [century] alchemical manuscripts and printed books had pictured the celestial virtue as the fall of a heavenly “dew” or “ros coeli” onto the earth . . . The original concept of the dew of heaven had been developed and dispersed by an influential alchemical text of the late fourteenth century, the Rosarium Philosophorum. This was composed of quotations from the master alchemists of the middle Ages, organized into a sequential account of the alchemical process with additional commentaries . . . the iconographic sequence remained constant between manuscript and printed versions, of which the first appeared in Lyon in 1504.
The dew of the heavens descending was often called the “washing of the Stone,” or as Kelley would have it, the “sperming” of the stone. In the medieval Rosarium Philosophorum, no doubt familiar to both Kelley and his friend John Dee, “the picture of the dew of heaven illustrates the final stages of the alchemical work, that of the ‘ablutio vel mundificatio,’ a series of purifications. The image depicts a dead hermaphodite, signifying the incomplete philosopher’s stone, being washed by heavenly efflux.”

The same work associates Latona, mother of Apollo and Diana, gods of Sun and Moon, with the macrocosmic alchemical vessel, and this thirteenth century idea continues in alchemical books two centuries later, when we see Michael Maier’s emblems in Atalanta Fugiens, which include the washing of Latona. In Kelley’s Stone of the Philosophers, he writes, “Purify Laton, i.e. copper (ore), with Mercury, for Laton is of gold and silver, a compound, yellow, imperfect body.” If one makes the common associations of copper to Venus and Venus to the entire Kabbalistic Tree, then the washing or “dewing” of Latona becomes the process of cleansing the impurities from the fallen Tree.

We find similar ideas in Shakespeare’s plays, though they have rarely been discussed as such. For instance, consider the words of the fairy in Act II scene I of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “ I do wander everywhere/Swifter than the moon's sphere;/And I serve the fairy queen,/To dew her orbs upon the green.” 

To put this in terms of the most familiar Hermetic philosophy, when the heavenly dew, or to use Kelley’s language, “Spermes,” descend, “as above” is evoked “below;” when Latona or (in Midsummer Night’s Dream) the Fairy Queen is cleansed, or her orbs “dewed,” the macrocosm (“as without”) is evoked from within, in those who share her Nature.

Most secrett are, yett Spring forth once a yeare,
Finally we have a line that can be simply paraphrased: the mysteries of these heavenly bodies are secret, Kelley tells his friend, but can be seen every spring, when winter ends and spring appears.

But of course the line becomes more complicated as it becomes more allusive.

Traditionally in Europe the new year began not with Janus’ January, but at the spring or vernal equinox, so this line too suggests a new year and three-in-one. We might associate the new year with a particular zodiacal sign, and can, though this will further muddy the waters: because of the precession of the equinoxes, the constellations and signs of the zodiac no longer match up, as they did in Roman times, when the particular zodiacal names we still use were enumerated. The vernal equinox is still occasionally referred to as the first point in Aries, though zodiacally it falls in Pisces. Approximately one precessional age ago, in Roman times, the first point of Aries, or Spring, or the vernal equinox, or the new year when measured from this point, really fell in Aries. What are we to make of these three different temporal references?

If nothing else, the muddied waters should teach us a lesson about how “green” language, or the hidden allusive language of esotericists, works. One does not assume one speaks a language with perfect correspondences between the macrocosm and microcosm, as many alchemists thought was true of Hebrew and ancient Greek. Still today, Kabbalists study all of creation as emanating from the Hebrew alphabet. Likely none of Ashmole’s anthologized alchemists thought this about their English alphabet, so they resorted to a complex web of symbols; beneath the symbols, however, lies a deep skein of correspondences learned through the art or theater of memory. The muddied correspondences refer the initiate to a system already learned, and thus play against and remind the initiated reader of transformations he or she already knows. Each new allusion should suggest different correspondences recognizable, or at least discoverable, from within the system one already knows.

With that in mind, we’ll return to the “Spring” equinox. The muddiness adds two other possible readings: Aries, the first sign and a fire sign, also alludes to Aries the ram with golden fleece given by Hermes to Nephele. Or if one prefers to refer the Spring to Pisces, since in the 1580s the spring equinox fell in the constellation of Pisces as certainly Kelley would have been aware, then we’re referred to the fish, which itself is often a symbol of the prima materia: a fish swimming in the “Great Water” which Ripley says is the first element. Then, if one equates a “fish” with “fire” by equating this “first fish” to alchemy and a serpent, one runs into a whole constellation of medieval and Renaissance alchemical symbols connecting the fish to the Ouraborous serpent which eats its own tail, and we come full circle, all puns intended, to the cockatrice and the entirety of the Philosopher’s Stone, making “Spring” itself the beginning, ending, and center point, in effect the prima materia of Kelley’s alchemy, philosophic mercury. If Kelley’s “friend” has the same “Mercurial” nature, and heat acts upon him, he or his works will “spring” forth.

If the above sequence strikes the reader as bizarre or random or just incomprehensible, it may be because that reader, like most, is not at all familiar with the language of chemical theater employed by Kelley or the other writers anthologized by Ashmole, let alone how one might learn the correspondences that inform such language. Another much longer chemical poem in Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, “Bloomfields Blossoms,” makes all of the same associations except the last (Bloomfield is speaking to himself, so there is no friend to spring forth.) Since this cluster of images and transformations been analyzed in detail elsewhere, I won’t repeat the analysis here. But to those who catch the references, it is no surprise that Bloomfield, after being handed to Lady Philosophy and then to Raymund Lull, is instructed using some of the same language we find in Kelley’s poem: Bloomfield is to study “The Blessed Stone/One in Number and no moe/Our great Elixir most high of price/Our Azot, our Basiliske, our Adrop, and our Cockatrice.” When? Implicitly, in Spring; hence the title “Bloomfields Blossoms.”

And as the Earth with Water, Authors are, 
As the first Waters animate the elemental earth, so do authors animate the unnamed subject of comparison here: perhaps, the “dense matter” of their audiences, in the alembic of theater. As noted earlier, if one searches through all of the poetry in Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, one finds that only Kelley uses the word “Author” in his work. (Ashmole, not surprisingly, uses the word repeatedly in his preface and notes, but none of the poets he anthologizes, save Kelley, say anything about authors.) It is worth re-emphasizing that this is the only poem in the collection that seems to be telling a writer how to turn his works into alchemical vessels.

So of his parte is Drines end of care.
“Parte” here can mean a grammatical part of speech, a unit of time, a section of a book, an act of or role in a play, in fact anything which can be divided: but the previous line implies that we’re at least looking at something than an “Author” would sub-divide, or that is “of his [the author’s] parte”as a writer. While only Kelley speaks to an “Author,” the language of grammar nonetheless pervades the Theatrum just as it pervades Dee’s Hieroglyphic Monad and many intervening alchemical texts. For instance, in Thomas Norton’s “Ordinall of Alchemy,” whose word choice often seems echoed by Kelley, Norton exhorts his reader to “Conjoyne your elements grammatically/With all their Concords conveniently. . . Joyne them also in Rhetoricall guise/ With Natures Ornate in purified wise.”

That takes us all the way to this sixth line’s sixth word, “Drines.”

“Drines” is an obsolete spelling of “dryness,” and occurs many times throughout Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, where in every case it can refer to the qualities of one of the four elements, just as it does in Kelley’s Theater of Terrestrial Astronomy.

Of course, as an alchemical symbol it may also refer to something else. “Drines” shows up most often in Thomas Norton’s “Ordinall,” where he tells his alchemical “sower” to make sure he knows the effects of the qualities “Called Heat, Colde, Moisture, and Drines,” and several lines later, adds: “Heate, and Cold, be qualities Active/Moisture, and Drines, be qualities Passive.” Again, Norton’s usage matches that of Kelley, both in Theater of Terrestrial Astronomy and in his 48 part list in Stone of the Philosophers. In the latter, the number itself might suggest what is missing, since Kelley’s Enochian work might lead a reader to expect 49, rather than 48, items. One notices there are 48 lines in this poem as well.

To return to another work in Theatrum quoted earlier, “Dastin’s Dream,” we see a glimmer of how “drines” can morph into the fifth element. Dastin dreams of a “hevenly Boke brought/Of so greate Riches that yt may not be bought/ In order set by Dame Philosophie.” After a long theogeny, the “Children” in the dream return unto “their Mother that “called was Mercury,” and she describes her most pure “Child”:
25. Whose Nature is so imperiall,
That fire so burning doth him no distresse:
His royall kinde is so celestiall,
Of Corruption he taketh no sickness;
Fire, Water, Air, nor Erth with his drines,
Neither of them may alter his Complexion,
He fixeth Spirits through his high noblenes;
Saveth infected bodyes from their Corrupcion.
This Son, we learn, will never die. And again I’ll leave the reader to his or her own interpretation, because we are finally to the end of Kelley’s first sextet, where the friend/author’s “Drines” bring about the “end of care.” The “end of care” means simply the end of suffering or sorrow, using the now-obsolete usage of “care” as mental suffering, sorrow, grief, or trouble.Presumably, if one understands what Kelley is telling G.S., one will no longer suffer.

***** ***** ***** ******

And mercifully, this explication will speed up somewhat now that we’ve finished the first sextet. While every line could be unpacked symbol by symbol, it might make more sense to let those interested in chemical poetry decipher the rest on their own. I’ll add a few more suggestions of how one might do that in the remaining pages. But if you try to work through these transformations, notice that along with familiar alchemical ideas Kelley is identifying the poem’s recipient as a person with Kelley’s alchemical key. He’s telling this friend that if he does certain things and learns certain things, he will appear to be different from who or what he really is, and be influenced by the teachings of two who are unseen, and/or become the visible sphere of their teachings: their Son/Sun or Zauir Anpin, to intentionally mix metaphors and refer the chemical theater back to Tiphareth. He will come forth in the Spring, which might refer to a point in the year, or allude to the friend evoking the Great Work from himself, with a little help from the “two hidden,” whatever the reader takes those “two” to be, or not be, allusively.

Perhaps we can now make more sense of the 1589 dedication, “The praise of vnity for frendship’s sake made by a stranger/ to further his frende his Conceyts.” As discussed earlier, “unity” may suggest Kelley’s emblem from Theatre of Terrestrial Astronomy, which might be considered the “monad” of Kelley’s beliefs. Kelley clearly refers to himself as the “stranger,” which most likely just means “one not from this place,” without the sense of foreboding in modern usages. “Stranger” could even allude to both men’s connection to Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, the patron of Lord Strange’s men, the theatrical company we have the most early records for, and whose Lancashire family might well have been friends or patrons of Kelley. 
Conversely, the line could as easily mean that outside of their alchemical (and perhaps espionage) pursuits, Kelley and his friend do not know each other well. If this “friend” is the spy Francis Garland, as I have suggested elsewhere, and that same Garland is Shakespeare and the “Garland” referred to in the Copenhagen manuscripts where this poem appears, then we have found an amazing series of connections indeed: “G.S.” would be one of those for whom, according to Dee’s diary, “E.K. made a public demonstration of the philosophers’ stone.” This friend then has seen, or at the least thought he has seen, amazing things; he may know details of Dee and Kelley’s 1586-1588 workings that we have no record of at all; but that magical knowledge does not necessarily mean he and Kelly know each other well personally. But Kelley seems to know something about this man’s planned “Conceyts” --a common term for personal creative endeavors-- and their possible connection to the “Schoole” referred to in this poems’s final sextet. Taken this way, Kelley’s original dedication is to a man he knows is a writer, perhaps a poet of magical or “chemical” theater, whose art connects to the exposition of principles deriving therefrom.

Moving on to the second sextet:

No flood soe greate as that which floweth still,
Nothing more fixt than Earth digested thrise:
No Winde so fresh as when it serveth will; 
No Profitt more, then keepe in, and be wise, 
     No better happ, then drie up Aire to dust,
     For then thou maist leave of and sleepe thy lust

Kelley gives us an intentional paradox: nothing more fixed than something digested three times. The allusion to “thrice-great” Hermes and three types of alchemical transformations and three types of Nature discussed earlier should be apparent, as should the Earth as an alchemical vessel and an element and dense matter. The fresh “Winde,” most easily identified as the mercurial vapor given off during sublimation, or from the fourth law of the Emerald Tablet, also suggests Zephirus, the warm west wind that heralds spring and inspires artists and lovers of all sorts. Probably the most famous literary rendering of Zephirus is from the first few lines of the “General Prologue” to the Canterbury Tales:
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
Mythologically Aeolus is ruler of the winds, which he keeps in a cave, that cave later becoming yet another alchemical symbol. We can also read “Winde” as a verb, such as a river that winds, or ship or person that wends along a particular tack, or a wende or wand, a long wand or pointed staff like the caduceus of Hermes. All of these verbs share similar etymologies. Finally, if our “G.S.” is indeed Gulielmus or William Shakespeare, this windy line-- No Winde so fresh as when it serveth will—also puns on “Will Shakespeare.” 

If “G.S.” was poet or playwright of any sort, the next two lines refer us to a particular sort of narrative:
No better happ, then drie up Aire to dust,
For then thou maist leave of and sleepe thy lust
No better happ, or happiness, than drying air to dust alludes to some sort of filtering out process, a “dryness” different from “drines” as one of four elements, and more in keeping with the five elements of pre-Socratic philosophy. This “drie”ing allows Kelley’s friend to leave off, or take leave of, some situation, and “sleepe thy lust.” The word “lust” in the 1500s did not carry the intense moral judgment connected to today’s usage: it could mean simply being in a state of pleasure, delight, or passion. Leaving a difficult situation to “sleep” or perchance dream one’s lust is a scene one finds over and over in Shakespearean dramas, from the four lovers lost in the woods in Midsummer Night’s Dream to the shipwrecked survivors alternately put to sleep then awakened on Prospero’s island in The Tempest. In both plays we have a microcosm of society where one or more characters with supernatural abilities put other characters to sleep, using spirits or fairies to manipulate the main action in an attempt to purify and clarify volatile characters, and where the closing speeches ask the audience to question the boundaries between sleeping, dreaming, watching a play, and being a player in one’s own life. As Prospero tells his daughter, “We are such stuff /As dreams are made on, and our little life /Is rounded with a sleep.” 

Yett will I warne thee least thou chaunce to faile, 
Sublyme thine Earth with stinking Water erst, 
Then in a place where Phœbus onely tayle 
Is seene art midday, see thou mingle best: 
     For nothing shineth that doth want his light, 
     Nor doubleth beames, unless itfirst be bright.

Like several other writers in Theatrum, including George Ripley and John Dastin, Kelley presents us with Phœbus the sun god, who is shown followed by Mercury in some Renaissance emblems.Szulakowska thinks Kelly could be influenced here by Dee’s Paracelsan catroptics, or mirror-making, as well as Ripley’s alchemical symbolism, because in the above lines he “describes the lighting conditions necessary for the preparation of chemicals.

This sextet could also just be analyzed on its own as describing the process of sublimation, but for one added twist: just how bright is Phœbus, or the sun, anyway? Kelley tells us Phœbus is in a place where “onely” his “tayle” can be seen, “art” midday. Does this mean “art” at mid-day, or that “thou,” his friend, “art midday,” since “thou” would be the pronoun to match “art”? Is the middle of the day supposed to also suggest the middle of the year, or the summer solstice? What is the “mingle” he wants his friend to see? Kelley’s first point in The Stone of the Philosophers was that all things traced back to their “first principles, that is to say, the three-fold division of Nature,” and that for animals, and by implication humans, this generation “is attributed to a mingling of the male and female in sexual union.”Midsummer was a good time for the “art” of love spells: is that what Kelley is referring to?

Probably not. But he clearly is referring to something taking place at midday and/or midsummer, when the sun is at its most intense. “Seene” can of course pun on “scene,” so if the friend is a playwright then to “mingle” might also suggest the proper “mingling” or combination of alchemical truths so that they might shine the brightest or reflect most effectively. If the line shifts to mean Phœbus’ “one tale,” or one story, that is best told at midday, then the last lines make sense, since any other light that shines at midday is reflected light from the sun.

But all of these only work if we ignore the most logical astronomical explanation of the sun having only a “tayle” at midday. The sun has only a thin round tail during an eclipse. Thus this line might well refer to a particular date, just as it certainly refers to a rather ancient technique of making magical Seals: one use of an eclipse was to capture the light, and thus the power, of a particular star or planet without it being overwhelmed or contaminated by the light of the sun. Finally, if this refers to a solar eclipse that eclipse by definition will be a sun/moon conjunction on the new moon, or the theater-in-the-sky’s enactment of the Hermetic union of Sun and Moon described in the Emerald Tablet.

On a more humorous note, the Sun having only a tayle, or tail, might to some suggest a Golden Ass, and thus connect to the Foole in the poem’s last couplet. The Sun’s taylor, or garment-maker, would be the heavenly “Cope” in the first line.

Lett no man leade, unlesse he know the way 
That wise men teach, or Adrop leadeth in, 
Whereof the first is large and easiest pray; 
The other hard, and meane but to begin. 
     For surely these and no one more is found,
     Wherein Appollo will his harp-strings sound.

The first line might be paraphrased, “let no one teach unless they know what they’re talking about,” and reminds us of the Latin on the frontispiece of Dee’s Hieroglyphic Monad, usually translated as “One who does not understand should be silent or learn.

Kelley seems to suggest two ways being initated into the mysteries—by having “wise men” teach them, or being led by “Adrop.” “Adrop” likely comes from Arabic usrubb, or lead, and appears in medieval Latin alchemical texts as well as the Renaissance English texts collected by Ashmole, as well as in Ben Jonson’s satiric play, The Alchemist.. Over a hundred years later, in 1753, Hill will define adrop as something that, “among alchemists, denotes either that precise matter, as lead, out of which the mercury is to be extracted for the philosopher's stone; or it denotes the philosopher's stone itself, inasmuch as this is also called saturn and plumbum, or lead.Therefore “lead” and “leadeth” in the first two lines also play off of adrop, lead. 

To the ear, it might also sound like “Adept,” and in terms of spiritual alchemy it is--adrop is philosophical mercury, as is, in another sense, an alchemist or magus who is an Adept. The telescoping of these ideas back into the body of a solitary practicioner would have a commonplace at this time, as one reason sometimes given for failure in particular alchemical experiments was that the alchemist himself had not been purified. Thus Kelley seems to be telling “G.S.” that one can’t lead (verb) or be lead (noun, philosophic mercury) until he knows “the way,” and suggests two paths: one, to study with wise men, and the other, from a “drop” of philosophic mercury, or from that tiny spark within oneself, to try to intuit it on one’s own.
The first is easier, the second more difficult. The last two lines suggest a third way: “Wherein Appollo will his harp-strings sound.” Apollo, one of the twelve Olympians, leader of the muses, god of the oracle at Delphi, crowned with laurel to show his achievement in the arts, often is shown playing a harp or more often, a lyre, which makes his appearance in magical texts also often a nod to Pythagorean beliefs. In Renaissance art, Apollo is often presented as “the embodiment of the classical Greek spirit,” and representing the rational, civilized aspects of society (as opposed to passionate and irrational represented by Dionysus.) He’s also in places synonymous with Helios and . . . Phœbus. So why doesn’t Kelley just repeat “Phœbus”? 

Apollo, as the son of Latona and Jupiter/Zeus and twin brother of moon goddess Diana, has a very particular connotation in alchemy and Hermetic magic: “Apollo represents the hot, dry, active, masculine principle of the opus which the alchemist must unite with his sister, Diana, the cold, moist, receptive female principle. The process is depicted as an incestuous chemical wedding or union from which the philosopher’s stone is born.

Thus we have Kelley’s third way: Apollo’s harp strings sound, and one becomes drawn to the chemical wedding, if that music resonates within the student or bride. Notice that in Kelley’s sentence it is grammatically impossible to distinguish whether the “will” belongs to Apollo or the student, and whether the harp is played from Mt. Olympus or within the person who hears it. The double meaning of “surely these and no one more is found” suggests that by this third way, the initiate becomes “no one”—he gives up his personal identity and takes on one more multidimensional, where like the “Sun/Son” referred to Tiphareth, he acts transpersonally on behalf of the greater good.

“No one” also suggests the familiar Pythagorean idea that one, a point, the monad, Kelley’s “unity,” doesn’t really exist until it unites with a two, and becomes three.

Example learne of GOD that plaste the Skyes,
Reflecting vertues from and t’every poynt, 
In which the mover wherein all things lyes,
Doth hold the vertues all of every Joynt: 
     And therefore Essence sift may well be said, 
     Conteining all and yett himsèlfe a Maid.

In this sextet and the next, Kelley tells his friend to learn of the theogonys that placed, or created, the skies. The idea of every point of the universe reflecting and collecting “vertues” from every other point, and thus every microcosm containing within itself the macrocosm as its own central point of reference, is repeated again and again in the western mystery tradition, from ancient Greek geometric proofs to the famous statement by fifteenth century theologian and mathematician Nicolas of Cusa (“The fabric of the universe has its center everywhere and its circumference nowhere”) to one of the most well-known lines from Aleister Crowley’s Book of the Law (“In the sphere I am everywhere the centre, as she, the circumference, is nowhere found.”)

“Sift,” punning on “gift,” is used here with the old meaning something sifted out, or something that has been run through a sieve; in other words, some substance that has been purified. The poet “contains all,” is a vessel of the macrocosm, but is yet a “maid” or microcosm “made” by God. This same cluster of metaphysical images can still be found a generation later in English metaphysical poets from John Donne to Andrew Marvell to George Herbert.

Remember also how the Gods began, 
And by Discent who was to each the Syre, 
Then learnt their Lives and Kingdomes if you can, 
Their Manners eke, with all their whole Attire; 
     Which if thou doe, and know to what effect 
     The learned sophets will thee not reject

Most simply put, this sextet exhorts the friend to remember or learn mythology and history as one and the same: what Nature begat Nature down through the ages, as told by different stories of “descent” or creation. Then one should learn to connect these subjects or “manners” of behavior to the “whole Attire” or whole array of apparel that decks out the Earth.

If one considers the classical theogonies as alchemical transformations, and the stories of different historic Kingdoms similar transformations but further descended from the source, one will have close to the idea. Doing this, of course, means totally immersing oneself in pagan theogenies and human history as a spiritual pursuit, and if the friend being instructed here is a playwright or poet, can also be taken as general instructions on how to encode such things into works to inspire others.

Kelley’s reference to sophet lets us know he expects the friend to find some underlying mathematical, geometric, or Kabbalistic ordering to these stories. This word appears nowhere else in the Theatrum, or in any other alchemical writing I’m aware of, though it does show up in Jewish histories. The sound at first suggests sophists, the teachers of writing, speech, and rhetoric who traveled around Greece during the fifth century BCE, without the pejorative attitude later directed towards them by Plato and Aristotle. It also suggests followers of Sophia, the goddess of Wisdom, whose name means “She who knows,” Hugo called the study of Hermetics itself that “sophia of all sophias.” Within European Jewish history, however, sopherism, or sopheric literature, referred specifically to literature not found within the canonical Mishnah: in other words, the study of Kabbalah, ancient Greek geometry, non-Judaic philosophy, and classical mythology of any non-Hebraic canonized sort would be a type of sopheric literature. Jewish wisdom represented by Solomon, and to a Hermeticist therefore much of Solomonic magic, was often called “Sophian.”

Most directly, sophets, with what must be Kelley’s intentional pun on “prophets,” were Hebrew scribes, members “of the class of professional interpreters of the Law after the return from the Captivity; in the Gospels often coupled with the Pharisees as upholders of ceremonial tradition.” The English word “scribe” comes directly from the Hebrew word, sopher.

If this my Doctrine bend not with thy brayne, 
Then say I nothing though I said too much: 
Of truth tis good will moved me, not gaine, 
To write these lynes: yett write I not to such 
     As catch at Crabs, when better fruits appeare, 
     And want to chuse at fittest time of yeare. 

If the reader has made it this far, the first four lines should cause no difficulty. One might reflect back over the earlier six sextets to try to understand the “Crab” reference here. Is it another reference to midsummer, when the Sun is in Cancer, the zodiacal crab? He wants the friend to bend his brain a bit over when the fittest time of year is, so to not choose incorrectly. The “Doctrine” of correspondences and transformations Kelley is alluding to thus likely has temporal, mythological, Kabbalistic, and geometric underpinnings. What is Kelley, or his friend, trying to choose?

Thou maist (my Freind) say, what is this for lore?
I answere, such as auncient Physicke taught: 
And though thou read a thousand Bookes before, 
Yett in respect of this, they teach thee Naught:
     Thou mayst likewise be blind, and call me Foole 
     Yett shall these Rules for ever praise their Schoole. 

In Kelley’s day, “lore” meant not only old stories nor only the act of teaching, but the doctrine that was taught is those stories, and so refers us back to the previous seven sextets. If the friend or reader has forgotten that they are being directly addressed, Kelley reminds them, and says he is answering according to “ancient physick” or the ancient art or practice of healing, which the friend may never have heard of before, no matter how much he has studied. Elias Ashmole, as part of a long and somewhat cryptic explanation of how the “philosopher’s stone” connects to astronomy, picks out this line of Kelley’s and says this “ancient physick” is the same as Riply’s “quintessential water.”

Taken one way, Kelley is the “Foole;” unpacked, it asks “G.S.” to identify himself as the “Fool,” the initiate, perhaps even the “Golden Ass” of the third sextet. Now that ass initiated during a midsummer eclipse might remind us of nothing so much as Bottom/Peter Quince from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, who is turned into an ass and sleeps with the Queen of the Faeries, Titania. 

We’ve finally arrived at the last line. Let’s pause for a moment and look at it again: “Yett shall these Rules for ever praise their Schoole.”

We can assume these “Rules” concern the “Doctrine” from the sextet seven, which he can better learn by deeply studying the theogenys and histories alluded to in sextet six, which become understandable by becoming aware of the process of creation as alluded to in sextet five, and understanding catalyzed by the philosopher’s stone in sextet four, representing an alchemical process which may make “G.S.” aware of the significance of some sort of eclipse alluded to in sextet three, which as an author he can make visible by the multiple allusions in sextets one and two.

By now the careful reader might even have the outlines of how to extract a general doctrine of how to study the philosopher’s stone from this, though the “mean task” of trying to do so alone without teachers is daunting enough to perhaps make one want to give up immediately. But the person to whom this is addressed, “G.S.,” is already “Natures sower” with a will indistinguishable from the harp strings of Apollo; in short, he’s already a Bard of the heavenly Muse; and as a Bard, can pluck those strings and start the process in others.

That brings us to this essay’s final question: what is the “Schoole” that these “Rules,” or maxims, correspondences, principles, qualities, or even codes of discipline, praise? Usually the school sets the rules, rather than the rules creating the school. . . unless it is a group that just by acting of its own nature behaves the same way, like a school of fish, or a group of people exploring the same universal ideas. Remember, “fishing” was then a slang term for alchemy. Alchemists, like “sophets,” believed they were searching for universal principles or laws. The better one understood those laws, the more one was aware of their membership in the “School.”

Kelley’s lines, if they have a concrete English historical reference, seem to stare Janus-like from Ashmole’s 1652 vantage point: backwards towards the Rosicrucian-influenced invisible college and forwards towards the Royal Society of London. From Kelley’s 1589 vantage point, the backwards stare takes us backwards to Sir Walter Raleigh’s School of the Night, and towards the foment that led to that “invisible college” and the best of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. If G.S. was Shakespeare, that makes these middle years of transition even more interesting than they already are, and the Shakespearean corpus the triple-faced vessel most suited to understanding the transformations that went on in that time period.

It would not be long—only a generation—before alchemy was on its way to being labeled a “pseudo-science,” and its most physically demonstrable tenets, stripped of any theology, would become the physical sciences of physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, and geography. Mathematics, magic, and grammar, often considered three and the same in the monadic alchemy of Kelley’s friend John Dee, would become, to most, two different things. Historians have no difficulty tracing the immediate membership of the mid-seventeenth century “invisible college” that gave birth to the Royal Society, but why those particular great minds came together is not, on the surface record at least, well understood. The Royal Society’s face that looks backwards towards the “School” of Hermes, alchemy, and magic, and that Hermetic system’s connection to political intrigues, espionage, and a pre-Inquisition alchemical folk tradition markedly less masculine and aristocratic, has been consistently downplayed, and almost never re-connected back to the arts. For instance, the facsimile edition of Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum used by this author comes from a “Sources of Science” series; none that I am aware of include it as a sourcebook for understanding theater, much less a guide for understanding sacred theater.

What if that “School,” with its muddied green language and confusing network of signs and symbols, continued through the height of Shakespearean drama, and Shakespeare himself was, hidden in plain site, its most public advocate? That is what this writer thinks did happen, and what I will be exploring in “Shakespeare’s Green Garland,” this issue and next.

Abraham, L 1998, A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK ; New York, NY.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Straight Fibbing : Newton, The Man by John Maynard Keynes

Jupiter Enthroned by Sir Isaac H. Newton

It is with Pietro Pomponazzi that we see the explicit factional pedigree of the dead souls faction. 

Pomponazzi started from Aristotle, as the Venetian Party always does. 

Aristotle asserted that there is no thought which is not mixed with sense impressions. This meant that there is no part of our mental life which is not contaminated by matter. For Pomponazzi, this proved that the soul does not exist, since it has no immaterial substance. 

Contarini warned Pomponazzi not to take this matter any further, but also remarked that the only time that the existence of the soul is really certain is when the person is already dead. For Contarini, as a practical matter, there is no empirical human soul that you can be aware of while you are still alive.

Francesco Zorzi was the envoy of this group to Henry VIII, to whom he became the resident sex adviser. 

Zorzi illustrates the typical profile of a Venetian intelligence operative in the early 1500s: He was a Franciscan friar whose main occupation was black magic of the Rosicrucian variety. 

He was a conjurer, a necromancer, an apparitionist. 

Think of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and you have the portrait of Zorzi. 

Not exactly a role model for science nerds of any age. 

As the 1500s turned into the 1600s, this profile began to present serious drawbacks and limitations...."

The Philosopher's Stone by Sir Isaac H. Newton

"But this was a dreadful secret which Newton was at desperate pains to conceal all his life. 

In the main the secret died with him. But it was revealed in many writings in his, big box. 

A hundred years later Sir David Brewster looked into the box. 

He covered up the traces... with some straight fibbing."

John Maynard Keynes,

John Maynard Keynes: Newton, the Man

The Royal Society of London planned an event to celebrate the tercentenary of Isaac Newton's birth in 1942. However World War II made it essentially impossible and the celebrations did not take place until July 1946. Lectures were given by E N da Costa Andrade, H W Turnbull, Niels Bohr and Jacques Hadamard. John Maynard Keynes had also been invited to lecture but unfortunately he died in April 1946, three months before the celebrations took place. Keynes was fascinated by Newton's manuscripts and had been the first person to see some of the manuscript material by Newton which had been kept secret until his papers were sold in 1936. Keynes' lecture, Newton, the man was delivered at the celebrations by his brother Geoffrey Keynes. Here is the text of the lecture:-

Newton, the Man

John Maynard Keynes
It is with some diffidence that I try to speak to you in his own home of Newton as he was himself. I have long been a student of the records and had the intention to put my impressions into writing to be ready for Christmas Day 1942, the tercentenary of his birth. The war has deprived me both of leisure to treat adequately so great a theme and of opportunity to consult my library and my papers and to verify my impressions. So if the brief study which I shall lay before you today is more perfunctory than it should be, I hope you will excuse me.
One other preliminary matter. I believe that Newton was different from the conventional picture of him. But I do not believe he was less great. He was less ordinary, more extraordinary, than the nineteenth century cared to make him out. Geniuses are very peculiar. Let no one here suppose that my object today is to lessen, by describing, Cambridge's greatest son. I am trying rather to see him as his own friends and contemporaries saw him. And they without exception regarded him as one of the greatest of men.
In the eighteenth century and since, Newton came to be thought of as the first and greatest of the modern age of scientists, a rationalist, one who taught us to think on the lines of cold and untinctured reason.
I do not see him in this light. I do not think that any one who has pored over the contents of that box which he packed up when he finally left Cambridge in 1696 and which, though partly dispersed, have come down to us, can see him like that. Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago. Isaac Newton, a posthumous child bom with no father on Christmas Day, 1642, was the last wonderchild to whom the Magi could do sincere and appropriate homage.
Had there been time, I should have liked to read to you the contemporary record of the child Newton. For, though it is well known to his biographers, it has never been published in extenso, without comment, just as it stands. Here, indeed, is the makings of a legend of the young magician, a most joyous picture of the opening mind of genius free from the uneasiness, the melancholy and nervous agitation of the young man and student.
For in vulgar modern terms Newton was profoundly neurotic of a not unfamiliar type, but - I should say from the records - a most extreme example. His deepest instincts were occult, esoteric, semantic-with profound shrinking from the world, a paralyzing fear of exposing his thoughts, his beliefs, his discoveries in all nakedness to the inspection and criticism of the world. 'Of the most fearful, cautious and suspicious temper that I ever knew', said Whiston, his successor in the Lucasian Chair. The too well-known conflicts and ignoble quarrels with Hooke, Flamsteed, Leibniz are only too clear an evidence of this. Like all his type he was wholly aloof from women. He parted with and published nothing except under the extreme pressure of friends. Until the second phase of his life, he was a wrapt, consecrated solitary, pursuing his studies by intense introspection with a mental endurance perhaps never equalled.
I believe that the clue to his mind is to be found in his unusual powers of continuous concentrated introspection. A case can be made out, as it also can with Descartes, for regarding him as an accomplished experimentalist. Nothing can be more charming than the tales of his mechanical contrivances when he was a boy. There are his telescopes and his optical experiments, These were essential accomplishments, part of his unequalled all-round technique, but not, I am sure, his peculiar gift, especially amongst his contemporaries. His peculiar gift was the power of holding continuously in his mind a purely mental problem until he had seen straight through it. I fancy his pre-eminence is due to his muscles of intuition being the strongest and most enduring with which a man has ever been gifted. Anyone who has ever attempted pure scientific or philosophical thought knows how one can hold a problem momentarily in one's mind and apply all one's powers of concentration to piercing through it, and how it will dissolve and escape and you find that what you are surveying is a blank. I believe that Newton could hold a problem in his mind for hours and days and weeks until it surrendered to him its secret. Then being a supreme mathematical technician he could dress it up, how you will, for purposes of exposition, but it was his intuition which was pre-eminently extraordinary - 'so happy in his conjectures', said De Morgan, 'as to seem to know more than he could possibly have any means of proving'. The proofs, for what they are worth, were, as I have said, dressed up afterwards - they were not the instrument of discovery.
There is the story of how he informed Halley of one of his most fundamental discoveries of planetary motion. 'Yes,' replied Halley, 'but how do you know that? Have you proved it?' Newton was taken aback - 'Why, I've known it for years', he replied. 'If you'll give me a few days, I'll certainly find you a proof of it' - as in due course he did.
Again, there is some evidence that Newton in preparing the Principiawas held up almost to the last moment by lack of proof that you could treat a solid sphere as though all its mass was concentrated at the centre, and only hit on the proof a year before publication. But this was a truth which he had known for certain and had always assumed for many years.
Certainly there can be no doubt that the peculiar geometrical form in which the exposition of the Principia is dressed up bears no resemblance at all to the mental processes by which Newton actually arrived at his conclusions.
His experiments were always, I suspect, a means, not of discovery, but always of verifying what he knew already.
Why do I call him a magician? Because he looked on the whole universe and all that is in it as a riddle, as a secret which could be read by applying pure thought to certain evidence, certain mystic clues which God had laid about the world to allow a sort of philosopher's treasure hunt to the esoteric brotherhood. He believed that these clues were to be found partly in the evidence of the heavens and in the constitution of elements (and that is what gives the false suggestion of his being an experimental natural philosopher), but also partly in certain papers and traditions handed down by the brethren in an unbroken chain back to the original cryptic revelation in Babylonia. He regarded the universe as a cryptogram set by the Almighty - just as he himself wrapt the discovery of the calculus in a cryptogram when he communicated with Leibniz. By pure thought, by concentration of mind, the riddle, he believed, would be revealed to the initiate.
He did read the riddle of the heavens. And he believed that by the same powers of his introspective imagination he would read the riddle of the Godhead, the riddle of past and future events divinely fore-ordained, the riddle of the elements and their constitution from an original undifferentiated first matter, the riddle of health and of immortality. All would be revealed to him if only he could persevere to the end, uninterrupted, by himself, no one coming into the room, reading, copying, testing-all by himself, no interruption for God's sake, no disclosure, no discordant breakings in or criticism, with fear and shrinking as he assailed these half-ordained, half-forbidden things, creeping back into the bosom of the Godhead as into his mother's womb. 'Voyaging through strange seas of thought alone', not as Charles Lamb 'a fellow who believed nothing unless it was as clear as the three sides of a triangle'.
And so he continued for some twenty-five years. In 1687, when he was forty-five years old, the Principia was published. 
Here in Trinity it is right that I should give you an account of how he lived amongst you during these years of his greatest achievement. The east end of the Chapel projects farther eastwards than the Great Gate. In the second half of the seventeenth century there was a walled garden in the free space between Trinity Street and the building which joins the Great Gate to the Chapel. The south wall ran out from the turret of the Gate to a distance overlapping the Chapel by at least the width of the present pavement. Thus the garden was of modest but reasonable size. This was Newton's garden. He had the Fellow's set of rooms between the Porter's Lodge and the Chapel - that, I suppose, now occupied by Professor Broad. The garden was reached by a stairway which was attached to a veranda raised on wooden pillars projecting into the garden from the range of buildings. At the top of this stairway stood his telescope - not to be confused with the observatory erected on the top of the Great Gate during Newton's lifetime (but after he had left Cambridge) for the use of Roger Cotes and Newton's successor, Whiston. This wooden erection was, I think, demolished by Whewell in 1856 and replaced by the stone bay of Professor Broad's bedroom. At the Chapel end of the garden was a small two-storied building, also of wood, which was his elaboratory. When he decided to prepare the Principia for publication he engaged a young kinsman, Humphrey Newton, to act as his amanuensis (the MS. of the Principia, as it went to the press, is clearly in the hand of Humphrey). Humphrey remained with him for five years - from 1684 to 1689. When Newton died Humphrey's son-in-law Conduitt wrote to him for his reminiscences, and among the papers I have is Humphrey's reply.
During these twenty-five years of intense study mathematics and astronomy were only a part, and perhaps not the most absorbing, of his occupations. Our record of these is almost wholly confined to the papers which he kept and put in his box when he left Trinity for London.
Let me give some brief indications of their subject. They are enormously voluminous - I should say that upwards of 1,000,000 words in his handwriting still survive. They have, beyond doubt, no substantial value whatever except as a fascinating sidelight on the mind of our greatest genius.
Let me not exaggerate through reaction against the other Newton myth which has been so sedulously created for the last two hundred years. There was extreme method in his madness. All his unpublished works on esoteric and theological matters are marked by careful learning, accurate method and extreme sobriety of statement. They are just as sane as the Principia, if their whole matter and purpose were not magical. They were nearly all composed during the same twenty-five years of his mathematical studies. They fall into several groups.
Very early in life Newton abandoned orthodox belief in the Trinity. At this time the Socinians were an important Arian sect amongst intellectual circles. It may be that Newton fell under Socinian influences, but I think not. He was rather a Judaic monotheist of the school of Maimonides. He arrived at this conclusion, not on so-to-speak rational or sceptical grounds, but entirely on the interpretation of ancient authority. He was persuaded that the revealed documents give no support to the Trinitarian doctrines which were due to late falsifications. The revealed God was one God.
But this was a dreadful secret which Newton was at desperate pains to conceal all his life. It was the reason why he refused Holy Orders, and therefore had to obtain a special dispensation to hold his Fellowship and Lucasian Chair and could not be Master of Trinity. Even the Toleration Act of 1689 excepted anti-Trinitarians. Some rumours there were, but not at the dangerous dates when he was a young Fellow of Trinity. In the main the secret died with him. But it was revealed in many writings in his, big box. After his death Bishop Horsley was asked to inspect the box with a view to publication. He saw the contents with horror and slammed the lid. A hundred years later Sir David Brewster looked into the box. He covered up the traces with carefully selected extracts and some straight fibbing. His latest biographer, Mr More, has been more candid. Newton's extensive anti-Trinitarian pamphlets are, in my judgement, the most interesting of his unpublished papers. Apart from his more serious affirmation of belief, I have a completed pamphlet showing up what Newton thought of the extreme dishonesty and falsification of records for which St Athanasius was responsible, in particular for his putting about the false calumny that Arius died in a privy. The victory of the Trinitarians in England in the latter half of the seventeenth century was not only as complete, but also as extraordinary, as St Athanasius's original triumph. There is good reason for thinking that Locke was a Unitarian. I have seen it argued that Milton was. It is a blot on Newton's record that he did not murmur a word when Whiston, his successor in the Lucasian Chair, was thrown out of his professorship and out of the University for publicly avowing opinions which Newton himself had secretly held for upwards of fifty years past.
That he held this heresy was a further aggravation of his silence and secrecy and inwardness of disposition.
Another large section is concerned with all branches of apocalyptic writings from which he sought to deduce the secret truths of the Universe - the measurements of Solomon's Temple, the Book of David, the Book of Revelations, an enormous volume of work of which some part was published in his later days. Along with this are hundreds of pages of Church History and the like, designed to discover the truth of tradition.
A large section, judging by the handwriting amongst the earliest, relates to alchemy - transmutation, the philosopher's stone, the elixir of life. The scope and character of these papers have been hushed up, or at least minimized, by nearly all those who have inspected them. About 1650 there was a considerable group in London, round the publisher Cooper, who during the next twenty years revived interest not only in the English alchemists of the fifteenth century, but also in translations of the medieval and post-medieval alchemists.
There is an unusual number of manuscripts of the early English alchemists in the libraries of Cambridge. It may be that there was some continuous esoteric tradition within the University which sprang into activity again in the twenty years from 1650 to 1670. At any rate, Newton was clearly an unbridled addict. It is this with which he was occupied 'about 6 weeks at spring and 6 at the fall when the fire in the elaboratory scarcely went out' at the very years when he was composing the Principia - and about this he told Humphrey Newton not a word. Moreover, he was almost entirely concerned, not in serious experiment, but in trying to read the riddle of tradition, to find meaning in cryptic verses, to imitate the alleged but largely imaginary experiments of the initiates of past centuries. Newton has left behind him a vast mass of records of these studies. I believe that the greater part are translations and copies made by him of existing books and manuscripts. But there are also extensive records of experiments. I have glanced through a great quantity of this at least 100,000 words, I should say. It is utterly impossible to deny that it is wholly magical and wholly devoid of scientific value; and also impossible not to admit that Newton devoted years of work to it. Some time it might be interesting, but not useful, for some student better equipped and more idle than I to work out Newton's exact relationship to the tradition and MSS. of his time.
In these mixed and extraordinary studies, with one foot in the Middle Ages and one foot treading a path for modern science, Newton spent the first phase of his life, the period of life in Trinity when he did all his real work. Now let me pass to the second phase.
After the publication of the Principia there is a complete change in his habit and way of life. I believe that his friends, above all Halifax, came to the conclusion that he must be rooted out of the life he was leading at Trinity which must soon lead to decay of mind and health. Broadly speaking, of his own motion or under persuasion, he abandons his studies. He takes up University business, represents the University in Parliament; his friends are busy trying to get a dignified and remunerative job for him - the Provostship of King's, the Mastership of Charterhouse, the Controllership of the Mint.
Newton could not be Master of Trinity because he was a Unitarian and so not in Holy Orders. He was rejected as Provost of King's for the more prosaic reason that he was not an Etonian. Newton took this rejection very ill and prepared a long legalistic brief, which I possess, giving reasons why it was not unlawful for him to be accepted as Provost. But, as ill-luck had it, Newton's nomination for the Provostship came at the moment when King's had decided to fight against the right of Crown nomination, a struggle in which the College was successful.
Newton was well qualified for any of these offices. It must not be inferred from his introspection, his absent-mindedness, his secrecy and his solitude that he lacked aptitude for affairs when he chose to exercise it. There are many records to prove his very great capacity. Read, for example, his correspondence with Dr Covell, the Vice-Chancellor when, as the University's representative in Parliament, he had to deal with the delicate question of the oaths after the revolution of 1688. With Pepys and Lowndes he became one of the greatest and most efficient of our civil servants. He was a very successful investor of funds, surmounting the crisis of the South Sea Bubble, and died a rich man. He possessed in exceptional degree almost every kind of intellectual aptitude - lawyer, historian, theologian, not less than mathematician, physicist, astronomer.
And when the turn of his life came and he put his books of magic back into the box, it was easy for him to drop the seventeenth century behind him and to evolve into the eighteenth-century figure which is the traditional Newton.
Nevertheless, the move on the part of his friends to change his life came almost too late. In 1689 his mother, to whom he was deeply attached, died. Somewhere about his fiftieth birthday on Christmas Day 1692, he suffered what we should now term a severe nervous breakdown. Melancholia, sleeplessness, fears of persecution - he writes to Pepys and to Locke and no doubt to others letters which lead them to think that his mind is deranged. He lost, in his own words, the 'former consistency of his mind'. He never again concentrated after the old fashion or did any fresh work. The breakdown probably lasted nearly two years, and from it emerged, slightly 'gaga', but still, no doubt, with one of the most powerful minds of England, the Sir Isaac Newton of tradition.
In 1696 his friends were finally successful in digging him out of Cambridge, and for more than another twenty years he reigned in London as the most famous man of his age, of Europe, and - as his powers gradually waned and his affability increased - perhaps of all time, so it seemed to his contemporaries.
He set up house with his niece Catharine Barton, who was beyond reasonable doubt the mistress of his old and loyal friend Charles Montague, Earl of Halifax and Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had been one of Newton's intimate friends when he was an undergraduate at Trinity. Catharine was reputed to be one of the most brilliant and charming women in the London of Congreve, Swift and Pope. She is celebrated, not least for the broadness of her stories, in Swift's Journal to Stella. Newton puts on rather too much weight for his moderate height. 'When he rode in his coach one arm would be out of his coach on one side and the other on the other.' His pink face, beneath a mass of snow-white hair, which 'when his peruke was off was a venerable sight', is increasingly both benevolent and majestic. One night in Trinity after Hall he is knighted by Queen Anne. For nearly twenty-four years he reigns as President of the Royal Society. He becomes one of the principal sights of London for all visiting intellectual foreigners, whom he entertains handsomely. He liked to have clever young men about him to edit new editions of the Principia - and sometimes merely plausible ones as in the case of Facio de Duillier.
Magic was quite forgotten. He has become the Sage and Monarch of the Age of Reason. The Sir Isaac Newton of orthodox tradition - the eighteenth-century Sir Isaac, so remote from the child magician born in the first half of the seventeenth century - was being built up. Voltaire returning from his trip to London was able to report of Sir Isaac - 'twas his peculiar felicity, not only to be born in a country of liberty, but in an Age when all scholastic impertinences were banished from the World. Reason alone was cultivated and Mankind could only be his Pupil, not his Enemy.' Newton, whose secret heresies and scholastic superstitions it had been the study of a lifetime to conceal!
But he never concentrated, never recovered 'the former consistency of his mind'. 'He spoke very little in company.' 'He had something rather languid in his look and manner.'
And he looked very seldom, I expect, into the chest where, when he left Cambridge, he had packed all the evidences of what had occupied and so absorbed his intense and flaming spirit in his rooms and his garden and his elaboratory between the Great Gate and Chapel.
But he did not destroy them. They remained in the box to shock profoundly any eighteenth- or nineteenth-century prying eyes. They became the possession of Catharine Barton and then of her daughter, the Countess of Portsmouth. So Newton's chest, with many hundreds of thousands of words of his unpublished writings, came to contain the 'Portsmouth Papers'.
In 1888 the mathematical portion was given to the University Library at Cambridge. They have been indexed, but they have never been edited. The rest, a very large collection, were dispersed in the auction room in 1936 by Catharine Barton's descendant, the present Lord Lymington. Disturbed by this impiety, I managed gradually to reassemble about half of them, including nearly the whole of the biographical portion, that is, the 'Conduitt Papers', in order to bring them to Cambridge which I hope they will never leave. The greater part of the rest were snatched out of my reach by a syndicate which hoped to sell them at a high price, probably in America, on the occasion of the recent tercentenary.
As one broods over these queer collections, it seems easier to understand - with an understanding which is not, I hope, distorted in the other direction - this strange spirit, who was tempted by the Devil to believe at the time when within these walls he. was solving so much, that he could reach all the secrets of God and Nature by the pure power of mind Copernicus and Faustus in one.

JOC/EFR March 2006
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[A Grove.]

Enter FAUSTUS to conjure

Now that the gloomy shadow of the earth

Longing to view Orion’s drizzling look,

Leaps from the antarctic world unto the sky,

And dims the welkin with her pitchy breath,
Faustus, begin thine incantations,

And try if devils will obey thy hest,

Seeing thou hast pray’d and sacrific’d to them.

Within this circle is Jehovah’s name,

Forward and backward anagrammatis’d,
The breviated names of holy saints,

Figures of every adjunct to the Heavens,

And characters of signs and erring 1 stars,

By which the spirits are enforc’d to rise:

Then fear not, Faustus, but be resolute,
And try the uttermost magic can perform.

  Sint mihi Dei Acherontis propitii! Valeat numen triplex Jehovae! Ignei, aerii, aquatani spiritus, salvete! Orientis princeps Belzebub, inferni ardentis monarcha, et Demogorgon, propitiamus vos, ut appareat et surgat Mephistophilis. Quid tu moraris? per Jehovam, Gehennam et consecratum aquam quam nunc spargo, signumque crucis quod nunc facio, et per vota nostra, ipse nunc surgat nobis dicatus Mephistophilis! 2


I charge thee to return and change thy shape;

Thou art too ugly to attend on me.
Go, and return an old Franciscan friar;

That holy shape becomes a devil best.  

I see there’s virtue in my heavenly words;

Who would not be proficient in this art?

How pliant is this Mephistophilis,
Full of obedience and humility!

Such is the force of magic and my spells.

[Now,] Faustus, thou art conjuror laureat,

Thou canst command great Mephistophilis:

Quin regis Mephistophilis fratris imagine. 3
[like a Franciscan Friar]

Now, Faustus, what would’st thou have me to do?

 I charge thee wait upon me whilst I live,

To do whatever Faustus shall command,

Be it to make the moon drop from her sphere,
Or the ocean to overwhelm the world.

I am a servant to great Lucifer,

And may not follow thee without his leave

No more than he commands must we perform.

Did not he charge thee to appear to me?
No, I came hither of mine own accord.

Did not my conjuring speeches raise thee? Speak.

That was the cause, but yet per accidens;

For when we hear one rack 4 the name of God,

Abjure the Scriptures and his Saviour Christ,
We fly in hope to get his glorious soul;

Nor will we come, unless he use such means

Whereby he is in danger to be damn’d:

Therefore the shortest cut for conjuring

Is stoutly to abjure the Trinity,
And pray devoutly to the Prince of Hell.

So Faustus hath

Already done; and holds this principle,

There is no chief but only Belzebub,

To whom Faustus doth dedicate himself.
This word “damnation” terrifies not him,

For he confounds hell in Elysium; 5

His ghost be with the old philosophers!

But, leaving these vain trifles of men’s souls,

Tell me what is that Lucifer thy lord?
Arch-regent and commander of all spirits.

Was not that Lucifer an angel once?

Yes, Faustus, and most dearly lov’d of God.

How comes it then that he is Prince of devils?

O, by aspiring pride and insolence;
For which God threw him from the face of Heaven.

And what are you that you live with Lucifer?

Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer,

Conspir’d against our God with Lucifer,

And are for ever damn’d with Lucifer.
Where are you damn’d?

In hell.

How comes it then that thou art out of hell?

Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.

Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,

Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,

In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?

O Faustus! leave these frivolous demands,

Which strike a terror to my fainting soul.
What, is great Mephistophilis so passionate

For being depriv’d of the joys of Heaven?

Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude,

And scorn those joys thou never shalt possess.

Go bear these tidings to great Lucifer:
Seeing Faustus hath incurr’d eternal death

By desperate thoughts against Jove’s deity,

Say he surrenders up to him his soul,

So he will spare him four and twenty years,

Letting him live in all voluptuousness;
Having thee ever to attend on me;

To give me whatsoever I shall ask,

To tell me whatsoever I demand,

To slay mine enemies, and aid my friends,

And always be obedient to my will.
Go and return to mighty Lucifer,

And meet me in my study at midnight,

And then resolve 6 me of thy master’s mind.

I will, Faustus.  


Had I as many souls as there be stars,
I’d give them all for Mephistophilis.

By him I’ll be great Emperor of the world,

And make a bridge through the moving air,

To pass the ocean with a band of men:

I’ll join the hills that bind the Afric shore,
And make that [country] continent to Spain,

And both contributory to my crown.

The Emperor shall not live but by my leave,

Nor any potentate of Germany.

Now that I have obtain’d what I desire,
I’ll live in speculation 7 of this art

Till Mephistophilis return again.  

Note 1. Wandering. [back]
Note 2. “Be propitious to me, gods of Acheron! May the triple deity of Jehovah prevail! Spirits of fire, air, water, hail! Belzebub, Prince of the East, monarch of burning hell, and Demogorgon, we propitiate ye, that Mephistophilis may appear and rise. Why dost thou delay? By Jehovah, Gehenna, and the holy water which now I sprinkle, and the sign of the cross which now I make, and by our prayer, may Mephistophilis now summoned by us arise!” [back]
Note 3. “For indeed thou hast power in the image of thy brother Mephistophilis.” [back]
Note 4. Twist in anagrams. [back]
Note 5. Heaven and hell are indifferent to him. [back]
Note 6. Inform. [back]
Note 7. Study. [back]