HENRY CORNELIUS AGRIPPA, KNIGHT,
DOCTOR OF BOTH LAWS, COUNSELLOR TO CHARLES V. EMPEROR OF GERMANY, AND JUDGE OF THE PREROGATIVE COURT.
HENRY CORNELIUS AGRIPPA, a very learned man and a magician 1, flourished in the sixteenth century. He was born at Cologne on the 14th of September, 1486. He descended from a noble and ancient family of Nettesheim. in Belgia; desiring to walk in the steps of his ancestors, who for many generations had been employed by the princes of the house of Austria, he entered early into the service of the Emperor Maximilian. He had at first the employ of Secretary; but as he was equally qualified for the sword as the pen, he afterwards turned soldier, and served the Emperor seven years in his Italian army. He signalized himself on several occasions, and as a reward of his brave actions he was created knight in the field. He wished to add the academical honours to the military, he therefore commenced doctor of laws and physic. He was a man possessed of a very wonderful genius, and from his youth applied his mind to learning, and by his great natural talents he obtained great knowledge in almost all arts and sciences. He was a diligent searcher into the mysteries of nature, and was early in search of the philosopher's stone; and it appears that he had been recommended to some princes
as master of the art of alchymy 1, and very fit for the grand projection. He had a very extensive knowledge of things in general, as likewise in the learned languages. He was pupil to Trithemius, who wrote upon the nature, ministry, and offices of intelligences and spirits. He was of an unsettled temper, and often changed his situation, and was so unfortunate as to draw upon himself the indignation of the Popish clergy by his writings. We find by his letters that he had been in France before the year 1507, that he travelled into Spain in the year 1508, and was at Dole in the year 1509. He read public lectures there, which engaged him in a contest with the Cordelier Catilinet. The monks in those times suspected whatever they did not understand, of heresy and error; how then could they suffer Agrippa to explain the mysterious works of Reuchlinus de Verbo Mirifico with impunity? It was the subject of the lectures which he read at Dole in 1509 with great reputation. To ingratiate himself the better with Margaret of Austria, governess of the Austrian Netherlands, he composed at that time a treatise on the excellency of women; but the persecution he suffered from the monks prevented him from publishing it; he gave up the cause, and came into England, where he wrote on St. Paul's Epistles, although he had another very private affair upon his bands. Being returned to Cologne, he read public lectures there on the questions of the divinity, which are called Quodlibetales; after which he went to the Emperor Maximilian's army in Italy, and continued there till Cardinal de Sainte Croix sent for him to Pisa. Agrippa would have displayed his abilities there in quality of theologist of the council, if that assembly had continued. This would not have been the way to please the Court of Rome, or to deserve the obliging letter he received from Leo X, and from whence we may conclude, that he altered his opinion. From that time he taught divinity publicly at Pavia, and at Turin. He likewise read lectures on Mercurius Trismegistus at Pavia, in the year 1515. He had a wife who was
handsome and accomplished, by whom he had one son; he lost her in 1521; he married again an accomplished lady at Geneva in the year 1522, of whom he gives a very good character; by this wife he had three children, two sons and one daughter, who died. It appears by the second book of his letters, that his friends endeavoured in several places to procure him some honourable settlement, either at Grenoble, Geneva, Avignon, or Metz. He preferred the post which was offered him in this last city; and I find that in the year 1518 he was chosen by the lords of Metz to be their advocate, syndic, and orator. The persecutions which the monks raised against him, as well on account of his having refuted the common opinion concerning the three husbands of St. Anne, as because he had protected a country-woman, who was accused of witchcraft, made him leave the city of Metz. The story is as follows:--A country-woman, who was accused of witchcraft, was proposed (by the Dominican, Nicholas Savini, Inquisitor of the Faith at Metz) to be put to the torture, upon a mere prejudice, grounded on her being the daughter of a witch, who had been burnt. Agrippa immediately took up the cudgels, and did what he could to prevent so irregular a proceeding, but could not prevent the woman from being put to the question; however, he was the instrument of proving her innocence. Her accusers were condemned in a fine. The penalty was too mild, and far from a retaliation. This country-woman was of Vapey, a town situated near the gates of Metz, and belonging to the chapter of the cathedral. There appeared in Messin, who was the principal accuser of this woman, such sordid passions, and such a total ignorance of literature and philosophy, that Agrippa, in his letter of June 2, 1519, treats the town of Metz as--"The stepmother of learning and virtue." This satyrical reflexion of Agrippa's might give rise to the proverb--"Metz, the covetous, and step-mother of arts and sciences."--What induced him to treat of the monogamy of St. Anne was his seeing, that James Faber Stapulensis, his friend, was pulled to pieces by the preachers of Metz, for having maintained that opinion. Agrippa retired to Cologne, his native city, in the year 1520, willingly forsaking a city, which the seditious inquisitors had made an enemy to learning and true merit. It is indeed the fate of all cities where such persons grow powerful of whatsoever
religion they are of. He again left his own city in the year 1521, and went to Geneva, but his fortunes did not much improve there, for he complained that he was not rich enough to make a journey to Chamberi to solicit the pension which he was led to expect from the Duke of Savoy. This expectation came to nothing, upon which Agrippa went from Geneva to Fribourg in Switzerland in the year 1523, to practise physic there as he had done at Geneva. The year following he went to Lyons, and obtained a pension from Francis I. He was in the service of that prince's mother in quality of her physician, but made no great improvement of his fortune there; neither did he follow that princess when she departed from Lyons in the month of August, 1525, to conduct her daughter to the frontiers of Spain. He danced attendance at Lyons for some time to employ the interest of his friends in vain, to obtain the payment of his pension; and before he received it he had the vexation to be informed that he was struck out of the list. The cause of this disgrace was, that having received orders from his mistress to enquire by the rules of astrology what turn the affairs of France would take, he expressed his disapprobation too freely, that the princess should employ him in such a vain curiosity, instead of making use of his abilities in more important affairs. The lady took this lesson very in, but she was highly incensed when she heard that Agrippa had, by the Rules of Astrology, the Cabala, or some other art, predicted new triumphs to the constable of Bourbon. 1--Agrippa finding
himself discarded, murmured, stormed, threatened, and wrote; but, however, he was obliged to look out for another settlement. He cast his eyes on the Netherlands, and having after long waiting obtained the necessary passes, he arrived at Antwerp in the month of July, 1528. One of the causes of these delays was the rough proceeding of the Duke of Vendôme, who instead of signing the pass for Agrippa tore it up, saying, that "he would not sign any passport for a conjuror." In the year 1529 the King of England sent Agrippa a kind invitation to come into his territories, and at the same time he was invited by the Emperor's chancellor, by an Italian marquiss, and by Margaret of Austria, governess of the Netherlands. He accepted the offers of the latter, and was made historiographer to the Emperor, a post procured him by that princess. He published by way of prelude, The History of the Government of Charles V. and soon after he was obliged to compose that princess's funeral oration, whose death was in some manner the life of our Agrippa; for she had been strangely prejudiced against him: the same ill office was done him with his Imperial Majesty. His treatise of the Vanity of the Sciences, which he caused to be printed in 1530, terribly exasperated his enemies. That which he published soon after at Antwerp, viz. of the Occult Philosophy, afforded them a still farther pretence to defame him. It was fortunate for him that Cardinal Campegius, the Pope's legate, and Cardinal De la Mark, Bishop of Liege, were his advocates; but, however, their good offices could not procure him his pension as historiographer, nor prevent his being imprisoned at Brussels, in the year 1531, but he was soon released. The following year he made a visit to the Archbishop of Cologne, to whom he had dedicated his Occult Philosophy, and from whom he had received a very obliging letter. The fear of his creditors, with whom he was much embarrassed on account of his salary being stopped, made him stay longer in the country of Cologne than he desired. He strenuously opposed the inquisitors, who had put a stop to the printing of his Occult Philosophy,
when he was publishing a new edition of it corrected, and augmented at Cologne.--See the xxvith, and the following Letters of the viith Book. In spite of them the impression was finished, which is that of the year 1533. He continued at Bonn till the year 1535, and was then desirous of returning to Lyons. He was imprisoned in France for something he had said against the mother of Francis I. but was released at the request of certain persons, and went to Grenoble, where he died the same year, 1535. Some say that he died in the hospital (but this is mere malice, for his enemies reported every thing that envy could suggest to depreciate his worth and character). He died at the house of the Receiver General of the province of Dauphiny, whose son was first president of Grenoble. Mr. Allard, at p. 4, of the Bibliotheque of Dauphiné, says, that Agrippa died at Grenoble, in the house which belonged to the family of Ferrand in Clerk's Street, and was then in the possession of the president Vachon; and that he was buried in the convent of the Dominicans. He lived always in the Roman communion, therefore it ought not to have been said that he was a Lutheran 1. Burnet in his history of the Reformation asserts, that Agrippa wrote in favour of the divorce of King Henry VIII. But if we look into Agrippa's letters we shall find that he was against it, as well in them as likewise in his declamation on the vanity of the sciences, where he says--"I am informed there is a certain king, at this time o'day, who thinks it lawful for him to divorce a wife to whom he has been married these twenty years, and to espouse an harlot." In respect of the charge of magic diabolical being preferred against him by Martin del Rio and others who confidently asserted, that Agrippa paid his way at inns, &c. with pieces of horn, casting an illusion over the senses, whereby those who received them took them for real money; together with the story of the boarder at Louvain, who, in Agrippa's absence, raised the devil in his study, and thereby lost his life; and Agrippa's coming home, and seeing the spirits dancing at the top of the house, his commanding one of them into the dead body, and sending it to drop down at the market-place: all these stories, asserted
by Martin del Rio, are too ridiculous to be believed by men of sense or science, they being no way probable even if he had dealt in the Black Art.--As to magic, in the sense it is understood by us, there is no doubt of his being a proficient in it, witness his three books of Occult Philosophy; to say nothing here of the fourth, which we have good authority to say was never wrote by Agrippa, as we shall shew presently, where we shall treat of the history of his Occult Philosophy.--In a word, to sum up the character of Agrippa we must do him the justice to acknowledge, that notwithstanding his impetuous temper which occasioned him many broils, yet from the letters which he wrote to several of his most intimate friends, without any apparent design of printing them, he was a man used to religious reflexions, and the practice of Christianity; that he was well versed in many of the chiefest and most secret operations of nature, viz. the sciences of natural and celestial magic; that he certainly performed strange things (in the vulgar eye) by the application of actives to passives, as which of us cannot? that he was an expert astrologer, physician, and mathematician, by which, as well as by magic, he foretold many uncommon things, and performed many admirable operations. John Wierus, who was his domestic, has given several curious and interesting anecdotes which throw great light upon the mysterious character of Agrippa, and serve to free him from the scandalous imputation of his being a professor of the BLACK ART. Now, because Agrippa continued whole weeks in his study, and yet was acquainted with almost every transaction in several countries of the world, many silly people gave out, that a black dog which Agrippa kept was an evil spirit, by whose means he had all this information, and which communicated the enemies' posts, number, designs, &c. to his master; this is Paul Jovius's account, by which you may see on what sort of reports he founded his opinions of this great man. We wonder that Gabriel Naudé had not the precaution to object to the accusers of Agrippa, the great number of historical falsehoods of which they (his accusers) stand convicted. Naudé supposes that the monks and others of the ecclesiastical order did not think of crying down the Occult Philosophy till a long time after it was published; he affirms that they exclaimed against that work, only in revenge for the injuries
they believed they had received in that of the Vanity of the Sciences. 'Tis true, this latter book gave great offence to many. The monks, the members of the universities, the preachers, and the divines, saw themselves drawn to the life in it. Agrippa was of too warm a complexion. "The least taste of his book (of the Vanity of the Sciences) convinced me that he was an author of a fiery genius, extensive reading, and great memory; but sometimes more copious than choice in his subject, and writing in a disturbed, rather than in a composed, style." He lashes vice, and commends virtue, everywhere, and in every person: but there are some with whom nothing but panegyric will go down. See ERASMI Epist. lib. xxvii. p. 1083.
Let us now, in a few words, and for the conclusion of this article, describe the history of the Occult Philosophy. Agrippa composed this work in his younger days, and shewed it to the Abbot Trithemius, whose pupil he had been. Trithemius was charmed with it, as appears by the letter which he wrote to him on the 8th of April, 1510; but he advises him to communicate it only to those whom he could confide in. However, several manuscript copies of it were dispersed almost all over Europe. It is not necessary to observe that most of them were faulty, which never fails to happen in the like cases. They were preparing to print it from one of these bad copies; which made the author resolve to publish it himself, with the additions and alterations with which he had embellished it, after having shewed it to the Abbot Trithemius. Melchior Adam was mistaken in asserting that Agrippa, in his more advanced years, having corrected and enlarged this work, shewed it to the Abbot Trithemius. He had refuted his Occult Philosophy in his Vanity of the Sciences, and yet he published it to prevent others from printing a faulty and mutilated edition. He obtained the approbation of the doctors of divinity, and some other persons, whom the Emperor's council appointed to examine it.
"This book has been lately examined and approved by certain prelates of the church, and doctors, thoroughly versed both in sacred and profane literature, and by commissaries particularly deputed for that purpose by CÆSAR'S council: after which, it was admitted by the whole council, and licensed by the authentic
diploma of his Imperial Majesty, and the stamp of the CÆSAREAN EAGLE in red wax; and was afterwards publicly printed and sold at ANTWERP, and then, at PARIS, without any opposition."
After the death of Agrippa a Fourth Book was added to it by another hand. Jo. Wierus de Magis, cap. 5. p. 108, says, "To these (books of Magic) may very justly be added, a work lately published, and ascribed to my late honoured host and preceptor, HENRY CORNELIUS AGRIPPA, who has been dead more than forty years; whence I conclude it is unjustly inscribed to his manes, under the title of THE FOURTH BOOK OF THE OCCULT PHILOSOPHY, OR OF MAGICAL CEREMONIES, which pretends likewise to be a Key to the three former books of the OCCULT PHILOSOPHY, and all kinds of Magical Operations." Thus John Wierus expresses himself; There is an edition in folio of the Occult Philosophy, in 1533, without the place where it was printed. The privilege of Charles V. is prefixed to it, dated from Mechlin, the 12th of January, 1529. We have already mentioned the chief works of Agrippa. It will be sufficient to add, that he wrote A Commentary on the Art of Raimundus Lullius and A Dissertation on the Original of Sin, wherein he teaches that the fall of our first parents proceeded from their unchaste love. He promised a work against the Dominicans, which would have pleased many persons both within and without the pale of the church of Rome 1. He held some uncommon opinions, and never any Protestant spoke more forcibly against the impudence of the Legendaries, than he did. We must riot forget the Key of his Occult Philosophy, which he kept only for his friends of the first rank, and explained it in a manner, which differs but little from the speculations of our Quietists. Now many suppose that the 4th book of the Occult Philosophy is the Key which Agrippa mentions in his letters to have reserved to himself; but it may be answered, with great shew of probability, that he amused the
world with this Key to cause himself to be courted by the curious. James Gohory and Vigenere say, that he pretended to be master of the Practice of the Mirror of Pythagoras, and the secret of extracting the spirit of gold from its body, in order to convert silver and copper into fine gold. But he explains what he means by this Key, where he says, in the Epist. 19. lib. v. "This is that true and occult philosophy of the wonders of nature. The key thereof is the understanding: for the higher we carry our knowledge, the more sublime are our attainments in virtue, and we perform the greatest things with more ease and effect." Agrippa makes mention of this Key in two letters which he wrote to a religious who addicted himself to the study of the Occult Sciences, viz. Aurelius de Aqualpendente Austin, friar, where he says, "What surprising, accounts we meet with, and how great writings there are made of the invincible power of the Magic Art, of the prodigious images of Astrologers, of the amazing transmutations of Alchymists, and of that blessed stone by which, MIDAS-like, all metals are transmuted into gold: all which are found to be vain, fictitious, and false, as often as they are practised literally." Yet he says, "Such things it are delivered and writ by great and grave philosophers, whose traditions who dare say are false? Nay, it were impious to think them lies: only there is another meaning than what is writ with the bare letters. We must not, he adds, look for the principle of these grand operations without ourselves: it is an internal spirit within us, which can very well perform whatsoever the monstrous Mathematicians, the prodigious Magicians, the wonderful Alchymists, and the bewitching Necromancers, can effect."
Nos habitat, non tartara; sed nec sidera cli,
Spiritus in nobis qui viget, illa facit
Note. Agrippa's three books of Magic, with the fourth, were translated into English, and published in London in the year 1651. But they are now become so scarce, as very rarely to be met with, and are sold at a very high price by the booksellers.
170:1 As he himself asserts in his preface to his three books of Occult Philosophy and Magic, where he says, "who am indeed a magician," applying the word magic to sublime and good sciences, not to prophane and devilish arts. Paul Jovius, Thevet, and Martin del Rio, accuse him not of magic, (because we cannot apply that to necromantic arts) but the black art; but we shall shew in some of the following notes, their grounds on which this accusation of Agrippa is founded, and examine how far their information will justify their calumny against this author.
171:1 We have no authority to say, that ever he was in possession of the great secret of transmutation, neither can we gather any such information from his writings; the only circumstance relative to this is what himself says in occult philosophy, that he had made gold, but no more than that out of which the soul was extracted.
173:1 See Agrippa's words in his 29th Epist. lib. iv. p. 854, which are as follow:--"I wrote to the Senechal, desiring him to advise her not to misapply my abilities any longer in so unworthy an art; that I might for the future avoid these follies, since I had it in my power to be of service to her by much happier studies." But the greatest misfortune was, that "this unworthy art," and "these follies," as he called them, predicted success to the opposite party, as you may judge by his own words.--"I remember I told the Seneschal in a letter, that in casting the constable of Bourbon's nativity, I plainly discovered that he would this year likewise gain the victory over your armies."--They who are acquainted with the history of these times, must see plainly that Agrippa could not pay his court worse to Francis 1. than by promising good success to the constable. From that time Agrippa was looked upon as a Bourbonist: to silence this reproach he represented the service he had done to France, by dissuading 4000 foot soldiers from following the Emperor's party, and by engaging them in the service of Francis I. He alledged the refusal of the great advantages which were promised him when he left Fribourg, if he would enter into the constable's service. It appears by the 4th and 6th Letter of Book V. that he held p. 174 a strict correspondence with that prince in 1527. He advised and counselled, yet refused to go and join him, and promised him victory. He assured him that the walls of Rome would fall down upon the first attack; yet he omitted informing him of one point, and that was, that the constable would be killed there.
175:1 Agrippa, in his Apolog. cap. 19, speaks in lofty terms of Luther, and with such contempt of the adversaries of that reformer that it is plain from hence Sixtus Sienensis affirmed that Agrippa was a Lutheran.
178:1 "In the treatise I am composing of the vices and erroneous opinions of the Dominicus, in which I shall expose to the whole world their vicious practices, such as the sacrament often infected with poison--numberless pretended miracles--kings and princes taken off with poison--cities and states betrayed--the populace seduced--heresies avowed--and the rest of the deeds of these heroes and their enormous crimes." See AGRIPPA Opera, T. ii. p. 1037.