The Philosophy of Natural Magic, by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, L. W. de Laurence ed. , at sacred-texts.com
The secrets to be talked over between Cornelius and his friend related to that study of the mysteries of knowledge in which the Theosophists assisted one another. Secret societies, chiefly composed of curious and learned youths, had by this time become numerous, and numerous especially among the Germans. Not only the search after the philosopher's stone, which was then worthy to be prosecuted by enlightened persons, but also the new realms of thought laid open by the first glance at Greek literature, and by the still more recent introduction of a study of the Hebrew language, occupied the minds of these associated scholars. Such studies often carried those who followed them within the borders of forbidden ground, and therefore secrecy was a condition necessary to their freedom of inquiry. Towards the close of the sixteenth century such associations (the foundation of which had been a desire to keep thought out fetters) were developed into the form of brotherhoods of Rosicrucians: Physician, Theosophist, Chemist, and now, by the mercy of God, Rosicrucian, became then the style in which a brother gloried. The brotherhoods of Rosicrucians are still commonly remembered, but in the social history of Europe they are less to be considered than those first confederations of Theosophists, which nursed indeed mystical errors gathered from the Greeks and Jews, but out of whose theories there was developed much of a pure spiritualism that entered into strife with what was outwardly corrupt and sensual in the body of the Roman Church, and thus prepared the way for the more vital attacks of the Reformers.
[paragraph continues] When first Greek studies were revived, the monks commonly regarded them as essentially adverse to Roman interests, and the very language seemed to them infected with the plague of heresy. In the Netherlands it became almost a proverb with them that to be known for a grammarian was to be reputed heretic. Not seldom, indeed, in later times, has John Reuchlin, who, for his Greek and Hebrew scholarship was called, after the manner of his day, the Phœnix of Germans, and who was the object of an ardent hero worship to men like Cornelius Agrippa, been called also the Father of the Reformation. Certainly Luther, Erasmus, and Melancthon had instruction from him; by him it was that Schwartzerd had been taught to call himself Melancthon; and many will remember how, after his death, Erasmus, in a pleasant dialogue, raised his old friend to the rank of saint, and prayed to him, "Oh, holy soul, be favorable to the languages; be favorable to those that love honorers of the languages; be propitious to the sacred tongues." But Reuchlin—for the taste of smoke in it, Reuchlin quasi Reeki, his name was turned into the Greek form, Capnio,—Reuchlin, or Capnio, never passed as a reformer beyond detestation of the vices of the priesthood. Like Cornelius, who begun his life before the public as a scholar by an act of homage to his genius, Reuchlin loved liberty and independence, cherished the idol of free conscience, but never fairly trusted himself to its guidance. To the last an instinct of obedience to the church governed his actions, and the spiritual gold he could extract from Plato, Aristotle, or the wonderful Cabala of the Jews, was in but small proportion to the dross fetched up with it from the same ancient mines.
A contemporary notion of the Reformation, not without some rude significance in this respect, is said to have been obtruded upon Charles V. by a
small body of unknown actors, who appeared before him in 1530, when he was in Germany. He had been dining with his brother Ferdinand, and did not refuse their offer to produce a comedy in dumb show. One dressed as a scholar, labelled Capnio, brought before the emperor a bundle of sticks—some crooked and some straight—laid them down in the highway, and departed. Then entered another, who professed to represent Erasmus, looked at the sticks, shook his head, made various attempts to straighten the crooked ones, and finding that he could not do so, shook his head over them again, put them down where he had found them, and departed. Then came an actor, labelled Luther, with a torch, who set all that was crooked in the bundle blazing. When he was gone entered one dressed as an emperor, who tried in vain to put the fire out with his sword. Last came Pope Leo X., to whom, grieving dismally over the spectacle before him, there were two pails brought; one contained oil, the other water. His holiness, to quell the fire, poured over it the bucketful of oil, and while the flame attracted all eyes by the power, beyond mastery, with which it shot up towards heaven, the actors made their escape undetected.
Now, it was over the crooked sticks of Capnio, and many other matters difficult of comprehension, that Cornelius and his confederates were bent in curious and anxious study. "The bearer of the letters," said Landulph, in excusing himself on the plea of illness, from a winter journey to a friend at Avignon—"the bearer of these letters is a German, native of Nuremberg, but dwelling at Lyons; and he is a curious inquirer after hidden mysteries, a free man restrained by no fetters, who, impelled by I know not what rumor concerning you, desires to sound your depths." That the man himself might be sounded, as one likely to have knowledge of some important
things, and that if it seemed fit, he should be made a member of their brotherhood, was the rest of the recommendation of this person by Landulph to his friend Agrippa.
At Lyons were assembled many members of his league, awaiting the arrival of the young soldier-philosopher. His early taste for an inquiry into mysteries had caused him to take all possible advantage, as a scholar, of each change of place and each extension of acquaintance among learned men who were possessors of rare books. He had searched every accessible volume that might help him in the prosecution of the studies that had then a fascination, not for him only, but for not a few of the acutest minds in Christendom. At that time there was, in the modern sense, no natural science; the naturalists of ancient Greece and Rome being the sole authorities in whom the learned could put trust. Of the miraculous properties of plants and animals, and parts of animals, even at the close of the sixteenth century, careful and sober men placed as accepted knowledge many extravagant ideas on record. At the beginning of the century, when a belief in the influences of the stars, in the interferences of demons, and in the most wonderful properties of bodies, was the rule among learned and unlearned—Luther himself not excluded from the number—an attempt to collect and group, if it might be, according to some system, the most recondite secrets of what passed for the divine ordering of Nature, was in no man's opinion foolish, though in the opinion of the greater number criminal. Belief in the mysteries of magic, not want of belief, caused men to regard with enmity and dread researches into secrets that might give to those by whom they were discovered subtle and superhuman power, through possessing which they would acquire an influence, horrible to suspect, over their fellow-creatures. Detaching their search into the mysteries
of the universe from all fear of this kind, the members of such secret societies as that to which Cornelius belonged gathered whatever fruit they could from the forbidden tree, and obtained mutual benefit by frank exchange of information. Cornelius had already, by incessant search, collected notes for a complete treatise upon magic, and of these not a few were obtained from Reuchlin's Hebrew-Christian way of using the Cabala.
From Avignon, after a short stay, Cornelius Agrippa went to Lyons, and remaining there some weeks, compared progress with his friends, and no doubt also formally divested himself of any further responsibility connected with the Spanish enterprise. Towards the end of this year, a friend at Cologne, Theodoric, Bishop of Cyrene, wrote, expressing admiration of him, as of one among so many thousand Germans who at sundry times and places had displayed in equal degree power to labor vigorously as a man at arms as well as man of letters. Who does not know, the bishop asks, how few of many thousands have done that' He envies those who can thus earn the wreath of Mars without losing the favor of Minerva, and calls the youth "in arms a man, in scholarship a teacher." To escape the soldier's life of bondage seems to be now the ambition of the scholar. With the world before him, in the twenty-third year of his age, well born, distinguished among all who knew him for the rare extent of his attainments, Cornelius, attended by his servant, Stephen, quitted his friends at Lyons, and rode to Authun, where he was received in the abbey of a liberal and hospitable man, physician, theologian, and knight by turns, M. Champier, who, having been born at Saint Saphorin-le-Chateau, near Lyons, was called Symphorianus Champier, or Campegius, and who, not content with his own noble ancestry, assigned himself, by right of the Campegius, to the
family of the Campegi of Bologna, and assumed its arms. He studied at Paris Litera humaniora, at Montpellier medicine, and practiced at Lyons. He lived to obtain great fame, deserving title, and losing after his death all. It was not until five years after this visit from Cornelius Agrippa that Symphorianus, acting as body physician to the Duke of Lorraine, was knighted on the battle-field of Marignano. Among his writings, those which most testify his sympathy with the inquiries of Cornelius, are a book on the Miracles. of Scripture, a Life of Arnold of Villeneuve, and a French version of Sibylline oracles. This Champier then sympathized with the enthusiasm of the young theosophist, and under his roof the first venture of Cornelius before the world of letters seems to have been planned. In the last week of May, we find that he has sent Stephen to fetch DeBrie from Dole, has summoned Antonius Xanthus from Niverne, and wishes, in association with Symphorianus, to arrange a meeting with Landulph, at any convenient place and time. He has something in hand concerning which he wishes to take counsel with his comrades. A few days afterwards he and Landulph are at Dole together; and while Cornelius has left Dole for a short time to go to Chalon (sur Saone), his friend sends word to him that he has engaged on his behalf the interest of the Archbishop of Besancon (Antony I., probably not an old man, since he was alive thirty years afterwards), who desires greatly to see him, and boasts that he can give information of some things unknown perhaps even to him. The archbishop is impatient to see the person who has stored up from rare books, even those written in Greek and Hebrew, so great a number of the secrets of the universe. Landulph, to content him, antedates the time appointed for his friend's return, and while reporting this, adds that there are many at Dole loud in the
praise of Cornelius, and none louder than himself. The influence of his associates is evidently at work on his behalf among the magnates of the town and university of Dole, and learned men in the adjoining towns of Burgundy, for it is at Dole that he has resolved to make his first public appearance as a scholar, by expounding in a series of orations Reuchlin's book on the Mirific Word. At Chalon, however, Cornelius fell sick of a summer pestilence, from which he was recovering on the eighth of July. As soon as health permitted he returned to Dole, where there was prepared for him a cordial reception.
Dole is a pretty little town, and at that time possessed the university which was removed in after years to Besancon. Its canton was called, for its beauty and fertility, the Val d’Amour; and when Besancon was independent of the lords of Burgundy, Dole was their capital. A pleasant miniature capitol, with not four thousand inhabitants, a parliament, a university, a church of Notre Dame whereof the tower could be seen from distant fields, a princely residence—Dole la Joyeuse they called it until thirty years before Cornelius Agrippa declaimed his orations there; but after it had been, in 1479, captured and despoiled by a French army, it was called Dole la Dolente.
Mistress of Dole and Burgundy was Maximilian's daughter, Margaret of Austria, who, in this year of Agrippa's life, was twenty-nine years old. She was already twice a widow. When affianced twice—once vainly to France, a second time to Spain, and likely to perish in a tempest before reaching her appointed husband—she had wit to write a clever epitaph upon herself. Her Spanish husband died almost after the first embrace, and she had since, after four years of wedded happiness, lost her true husband, Philibert of Savoy. She was twenty-four years old when that happened, and resolved to make an end of marrying.
[paragraph continues] In 1506, after the death of Archduke Philip, her father Maximilian being guardian of his grandson Charles the Fifth, made Margaret his governor over the Netherlands, and appointed her to rule also over Burgundy and the Charolois. Thus she came to be, in the year 1509, mistress at Dole. A clever, lively woman, opposed strongly to France, and always mindful of the interests of that house of Austria, to which the family of young Agrippa was attached, Margaret was well known for her patronage of letters and her bounty towards learned men. It would be, therefore, a pleasant transfer of his loyalty, Agrippa, thought, from Maximilian to Margaret, if he could thereby get rid of what he regarded as camp slavery under the one, and earn the favor of the other in the academic grove. To earn Margaret's goodwill and help upon the royal road to fortune was one main object of Cornelius when he announced at Dole that he proposed to expound Reuchlin's book, on the Mirific Word, in orations, to which, inasmuch as they were to be delivered in honor of the most serene Princess Margaret, the whole public would have gratuitous admission.
Poor youth! he could not possibly have made a more genuine and honest effort, or one less proper to be used by evil men for the damnation of his character. Margaret was the princess to whom of all others he was able to pay unaffected homage, and Reuchlin, then the boast of Germans, was the scholar of whom before every other, he, a German youth, might choose to hold discourse to the Burgundians. Of Reuchlin, Ægidius, chief of the Austin Friars, wrote, that he "had blessed him and all mortals by his works." Philip Beroaldus, the younger, wrote to him: "Pope Leo X. has read your Pythagorean book, as he reads all good books, greedily; then it was read by the Cardinal de’ Medici, and I am expecting next to have my turn." This book, which had been read by the
[paragraph continues] Pope himself with eager pleasure, was a wonder of the day, and was in the most perfect unison with the whole tone of Agrippa's mind; he really understood it deeply, it was most dear to him as a theosophist, and he was not to be blamed if he felt, also that of all books in the world there was none of which the exposition would so fully serve his purpose of displaying the extent and depth of his own store of knowledge.