Nostradamus, the Man Who Saw Through Time, by Lee McCann , at sacred-texts.com
DOCTOR NOSTRADAMUS--he had long since adopted the Latin style of name as did most scholars--continued to enjoy the variety of scenes and personalities that made his days a panorama of interest. He felt no inclination to settle down, and prosperity filled his velvet pouch with an agreeable number of gold pieces for his needs and plans. But the bright cornucopia of fortune was not yet emptied of its gifts to him. A letter, delightful as a laurel chaplet, again brought change into his life. Julius Caesar Scaliger, than whom France boasted no more distinguished savant and man of letters, had heard of the marvels of the young doctor, and he had been captivated by reports of the originality and power of his work. He wanted to know him. He wrote to him flatteringly and charmingly that he hoped this might come to pass. Doctor Nostradamus replied at once with such modesty and wit, it is said, that the great man felt in him already a friend. Again Scaliger wrote, this time an invitation to Nostradamus to visit him at his home in Agen. We may imagine
with what unaffected eagerness the youthful doctor took his quill in hand to send his acceptance. Here was a man he truly longed to know. A great philosopher with the towering mind of the ancients, a man of medicine, too, learned in botany, and to round out perfection, a poet, an authority and writer on the arts. What inspiration, what rapture of sweet converse would not this visit mean!
Scaliger was one of the most colorful men of letters in the French Renaissance. He appears to have been a mixture of authentic, versatile genius and showmanship, with a dramatic background which his enemies claimed was the invention of his fertile imagination. Be that as it may, he had put himself over in a large way. In his late forties at the time of his writing to Nostradamus, his reputation had reached so great a height that it was unsurpassed in France.
Scaliger's story, as told by himself, was that he was born at the Castle La Rocca on Lake Garda, and that he was fairly near kin of the Emperor Maximilian. A page at the age of twelve, he had fought, so he said, as soldier and captain in the service of the Emperor for seventeen years. During that time, between wars, he had been a pupil of Albrecht Dürer. At the battle of Ravenna, in 1512, his father and brother had both been killed. He had himself performed such prodigies of valor in the mêlée that the Emperor had conferred upon him the highest honors of chivalry. But unfortunately and ungratefully the Emperor had given him no money.
Injuries received in the war and the onset of gout had put an end to his military career. He had then decided to turn his talents to medicine. He had the friendship and interest of the prominent della Rovere family and became their guest during five years which were necessary to take his degree from the University of Bologna. After some years more in Italy spent in medical practice, research and writing, he had gone to France as physician to Bishop della Rovere, who had received the bishopric of Agen.
Scaliger's detractors said that he was the son of a Verona school teacher, that he had got his M.D. at the less important University of Padua, and that the rest of his story was a tissue of lies. Such stories may have sprung from jealousy of the della Rovere patronage. Competition for wealthy patrons was bitterly keen in the sixteenth century. A Maecenas was a practical necessity to a scholar without independent means. Those who were lucky in this respect were natural targets for the envy, malice and undercutting of the less fortunate. It would seem probable that the della Rovere family, knowing Scaliger for so long, would have discovered the chinks, if any, in his armor. The lies were less likely Scaliger's than his enemies. With his own abilities, and the della Rovere backing as a springboard, Scaliger had risen quickly to fame through his critical writings and scientific accomplishments, and in both of these fields he made distinguished contributions.
Doctor Nostradamus traveled in leisurely fashion to
[paragraph continues] Agen. He stopped off at Toulouse where he had many friends from the plague years, when his work had covered all this territory. There were patients now who wished to consult him again, and festivities planned in his honor. While there he established headquarters in an old Romanesque house said to have had architectural ornamentation of most curious symbols. Succeeding generations pointed it out with pride to visitors as the place where the celebrated Nostradamus once lived for a time in their midst. It was standing until the time of the Revolution.
After a stay of some weeks in Toulouse, the doctor fared forth to complete his journey. The road was brisk with travel in the prosperous exchange of trade between Toulouse and Agen. Had he approached from the Bordeaux side he would have noted the same thing, for Agen, midway between these two cities, was a center for their commerce. It is in the heart of rich agricultural country, and as the doctor neared it, he admired the fine fertile fields so orderly with the produce of the sower's hand. Around the farmhouses ancient trees bent their verdure, and blossoms wove a mille-fleurs tapestry upon the earth. He could understand how the Italian-born Scaliger, now a citizen of France, could settle contentedly in this simple, radiant countryside.
Soon he saw the spire of Saint Etienne's Cathedral against the sky and the Romance Tower of the church Saint Caprasius, and knew that his destination was near.
When he halted his mule at the entrance of Scaliger's residence, a servant came quickly to assist him and a moment later his host appeared, moving with slow dignity, limping a little.
"My friend, my friend!" he cried joyously. "Welcome, young Galen, how I have looked forward to your coming!"
The elaborate exchange of compliments in those days partook almost of a Chinese ritual, and each must show the other that he was versed in the art. Nostradamus bowed to the great man, as he grasped his hand.
"O Micaenus edite regibus," he smilingly addressed his host, "the honor of this meeting--"
"Talk not of that," Scaliger broke in. "We shall have more exciting topics for our discourse. You must be tired too with so long riding." He drew his guest into a delightfully furnished interior alive with a sense of art and good taste.
"First, you will want to freshen up," he continued. "So I shall forbear all conversation until I have fulfilled my duty as host. I will show you to your room, and when you return there will be wine to pledge your coming."
"Thank you," returned the doctor. "But might I have a cup of water? When one has come to the Pierian Spring, you know, such a rite is fitting. And I will admit I am thirsty too."
In a trice the servant had brought a tray with a pewter pitcher of cool spring water, and a ruby goblet of Venice glass. The doctor held it up admiringly.
"You do not woo the Muses," he laughed. "You bribe them with such beauty."
"May they grant you their favors," said Scaliger. "The glass is one of a set, a gift from the Bishop della Rovere, who by the way has been as impatient to meet you as I."
And shortly there was the promised wine, and gay pledges from each to the other. Soon there was the sight and laughter of Scaliger's romping youngsters. And there was Madame Scaliger with more greetings. Doctor Nostradamus felt quickly and joyously at home.
"We shall sup al fresco," Scaliger said. "I always like to when the weather is fine."
Over the simple, delicious food they talked, and the doctor had a leisurely opportunity to study his hosts. Scaliger was a very handsome man whose vigor and magnetism made him appear much younger than his fifty years. His head was leonine, antique Roman, with broad primitive cheekbones and ridged brows. His deep-set eyes expressed every mood. They could sparkle with enthusiasm, flash red with anger and smoulder sullenly beneath his high philosopher's forehead. His rich full beard was handsomely shaped and curled. His scholar's robe was of fine material draped in classic folds. The doctor did not wonder that the young and charming Madame Scaliger so patently adored this man, though more than thirty years his junior. It was in fact one of the happiest marriages in France. He had been forty-five and she sixteen when they married. She bore him fifteen children, and the
cloudless serenity of their love for each other was unmarred and lasting until his death, which did not occur until more than a quarter of a century beyond this dinner.
Roses strewn upon the board and twining the wine-cups increased the doctor's illusion that he was the guest of some imperial Roman. He said so.
Scaliger laughed. "I have been trying to wield my pen like a sword in defense of Cicero. You shall hear what I have written and give me your opinion. I call him imperator of oratory. Would that I had the gift of Cicero for Cicero's defense. I mean to show up in all its rank pretense the ignorance of this fellow Erasmus. He is making such a loud noise with his bad translations and worse philosophy that fools are following him. But I shall expose him."
"Is there controversy about Cicero?" asked the doctor. "I had not heard."
"The controversy is a general one of literary criteria. Aristotle is, of course, the supreme criterion, perfection in every word. And I shall prove it. I intend to give to the world as my monument a canon by which men can test the worth of their own and others’ writings. I, Doctor Nostradamus, shall do for letters what Guillaume Rondelet has done for anatomy."
"Dissector of Literature!" the doctor's eyes glowed. "It has never been done. I can see the need for it, too. With everyone rushing into print, and the tremendous increase of translations, some of which must be very
bad. Yes, it is a wonderful idea, and you of all men are fitted by your taste and learning for the work."
"There is no question of that," Scaliger agreed. "There is, in fact, no one else at all."
The doctor winced slightly. It was his first intimation of what Frederick Morgan Paddleford has called Scaliger's necessity for maintaining the delusion of his own omniscience.
Madame Scaliger, sensitive to each slightest reaction toward her husband, spoke.
"Is not the last light lovely, Doctor Nostradamus? I think it is the most beautiful of the day." She rose. "Do you wish to linger, Jules? I am going in."
Scaliger looked at her fondly. "We shall stay a while. Until the dew begins to fall."
Her graceful walk, as she left them, the doctor thought, was like a breeze-swept flower in the pale light. He remembered Tronc de Condoulet's advice to him. Perhaps de Condoulet was right. If he could be sure of finding a happiness like this--
Scaliger was talking again, as the flowing branches of the trees darkened to black olive in the retreating light. It was the mystical hour when day is a ghost haunting the woodland.
The doctor spoke suddenly. "I have the oddest impression about what you have just said--your anatomy of letters. I cannot speak from conviction since I have not read your opinions on this subject and know only what you have told me tonight. It is instead a
kind of knowing that I feel." He paused in hesitant silence.
"But what is that you feel?"
"I feel something very distinguished about it that is partly in itself and partly in those whom it will touch. An influence. I hardly know, but my mind is making pictures of foreign countries, men with books, with writings of their own, and you are somehow there too."
The dusk hid the pleasure in the philosopher's face, but the doctor knew it was there.
"You are very flattering," Scaliger murmured.
"No. That is the odd part. It is something more."
Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, whom Paddleford considers singularly akin in mind to Scaliger, Corneille, the writers of the later Italian Renaissance, and many another writer and genius were to heir and benefit from this work of Julius Caesar Scaliger, surgeon of letters. Today its principles are as sound, its reasoning as clear and incisive as when its author wrote. Many a book on the modern market telling aspiring authors how to write but retells in the fashion of its own day the practical wisdom of this sixteenth-century analyst of letters.
This was the first of many talks, glowing with interest for the two men. The doctor must tell all about how he fought the plague, his theories and ideas. In the early mornings and at sundown they walked in Scaliger's garden, where his wife claimed her roses
were crowded by her husband's plantings for his botanical study.
"This is good botanical country," Scaliger told Nostradamus. "Anything will grow here. That is why I like it." He stopped beside a small, charmingly sculptured marble of Pan perched on a pedestal, piping away. "Everything that we are or do arises out of earth. Under my trees I feel the reality of Pan come back, and I ask no more than that my thoughts play Echo to his tunes."
The doctor was unconscious that he spoke out loud, as he said, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof."
The philosopher's lips quirked. "You sound like the Archbishop."
The doctor flushed and stood his ground. "I only meant that in the discovery, revelation I call it, of fresh knowledge, or in the inspiration of poetry you cannot leave that out. It is the danger of the new classic revival that it may do so. When that happens a thread is cut. Power and the road are lost."
Scaliger, who had ever to have the last word, said dryly, "Rome and Athens seem to hold their immortality."
Nostradamus tactfully turned the conversation back to medicine. He had already learned that his distinguished host and senior ill brooked a difference of opinion.
"You do not agree with Rondelet that intensive
study of the properties of plants is what is now needed most?" he asked.
"No. That is all right for the practicer of medicine who must use these properties in his laboratory. But the scientist who makes discoveries for him will never widen the field that way. A pepper is hot and stimulating. It belongs, they say to Mars. I will not argue, I have disputed with Mars on too many fields of battle and come off the worse. He can have his pepper. What I want to do is to show the likeness and difference which a plant has to its fellows. Grouping and classifying them in this way we become acquainted with the structure of plant life, we begin to see the why of things."
"A wonderful purpose. It would give a completely related field forever broadening."
"That," said Scaliger, "is to be the yield this garden makes to science. A flower of knowledge fairer than a rose."
Scaliger was the first who demonstrated the necessity for abandoning the classification of plants based on their properties. and based it on their distinctive characteristics.
The news of Doctor Nostradamus’ arrival in Agen had spread quickly through the town. At once a stream of callers came to pay their respects. And very prominent among these were fathers and mothers with marriageable daughters, for it was known that this famous young man was a bachelor. Invitations to fêtes and parties poured in. Scaliger, who had the Latin's
love for hospitality and gayety, was eager to show off his guest, though he protested that it was not so.
"The women," he said on the evening that he and the doctor supped with the Bishop of Agen, "are wasting our time with their picnics and dances. I protest that I begrudge so much. I had planned that the doctor and I should sit beneath my green arbutus tree and hold high converse, and I must now struggle to see him at all."
The Bishop's eyes twinkled. "If I remember my Horace," he said, "that arbute tree was planned as shade for Lalage."
His guests laughed, and Scaliger cried, "Then we must find a Lalage for Nostradamus, that we may keep him settled in our midst."
The Bishop lifted his glass. "No fairer girls than the girls of Agen, eh, Scaliger. I pledge their beauty in this wine."
This desire to possess Nostradamus, to annex him to every town where he tarried, was flatteringly illustrated next day. A formal deputation of town fathers came to Scaliger's house with a proposition which would be worthy of the imagination of a modern chamber of commerce. They desired to make some kind of financial settlement on their two valuable celebrities, in return for which they said the two should agree to make Agen their permanent home. It was a smart idea, if it had worked. Both men were supreme drawing-cards. With such a double-bill attraction, Agen would have become a Mecca for all
[paragraph continues] France. The town fathers would have got back their gold many times over, with fame and increase for their town.
The two doctors listened in silence, somewhat stunned. It was the visitor who spoke first.
"Has the city of Agen no poor?" Nostradamus asked the councilors. "Are there none who are ill, old, infirm, needing your help and support, that you offer gold to us? We can support ourselves, we are strong, able men. Give this money to the unfortunate, we do not want it."
Scaliger gave his great laugh. "Don't you know scholars and artists better than that?" He scoffed at the councillors. "Why, half our travels and half our lives are spent in the country of the mind. Let the gold go to those whom it will help, the hungry, the homeless, the sick."
The councillors were overwhelmed by this unexpected reaction. Practical men of affairs, they did not know whether to be disappointed that their idea had not worked, or to glory in the idealism which seemed to them to lift their idols to new heights of splendor. When in doubt, southern France always solved a problem with a festival. The town fathers departed to tell everyone of the scholars’ refusal of their offer and the generous motives prompting it. Immediately a gala procession was organized in honor of the doctors. The town was wild with enthusiasm. They wreathed the brows of Scaliger and Nostradamus with chaplets, and carried the distinguished men aloft through flower-strewn
streets to the accompaniment of music, dancing and cheering. It was the high point in the friendship of these two remarkable men.
It soon became apparent to Nostradamus that Scaliger had invited him to Agen in the hope of making him a brilliant satellite to his own glory. Scaliger had no desire nor intention to share that with any man. He was annoyed at the storm of popularity which the younger man attracted, and at every manifestation of it he found it harder not to show his jealousy. Nostradamus could not but notice Scaliger's resentment. He was hurt by his host's unprovoked sarcasm and attempts to take him down. All his tact seemed powerless to change this and he grieved the more because he so genuinely reverenced the older man's gifts. He was having a splendid time in Agen, he didn't want to leave. It would be difficult to withdraw from Scaliger's home and still remain in the town without hard feelings. He was in a quandary. Then Fate, still watching over her favorite of the moment, solved the situation, with her oldest device. Doctor Nostradamus fell in love.
Mystery, which haunts so consistently the life of Nostradamus, clings, too, about this girl of Agen whom he loved and married. Even her name is not known. One writer has given it as Adriete de Loubebac, but that was the name of Scaliger's wife. Was the demoiselle fair or dark? Was she of noble birth with a goodly dowry? Was she learned? We only know, from Chavigny, that she was "très belle, très aymable," very lovely and very lovable. Garencières says
of her that "she was a very honorable gentlewoman." Certainly the doctor could have had his pick of beauty and dowry wherever he went. Girls had pursued him, thrown themselves at his head, and match-making mothers had tried all of their wiles and inducements to lure this eligible parti into the matrimonial net. But he had remained singularly immune to all this, content with his work and studies.
Much as one would like to know something descriptive of the looks and qualities of this girl who captivated the doctor when his friends had consigned him to permanent bachelorhood, all that we can be sure of is that Nostradamus was too much the independent idealist to marry for less than a deep love. With so little one must be content.
When he was married and settled into a home of his own in Agen, the town fathers were delighted. What their gold had not won, a daughter of Agen had brought about; they had now their idol well and permanently anchored in their midst.
Nostradamus at some time chose for his personal motto the serene words of the prior Orvian: "Happy the first age that was contented with its flocks." One would like to know if it was at this time, amid the pastoral setting of his new-found happiness, that he adopted the idyllic expression. Or was it in later years, when, heavy with melancholy of a tragic world, he looked back upon these his cloudless days as on a painted picture?
He also assumed his family coat-of-arms, not, it is
said, because he himself cared about it, but as a mark of respect to the memory of his grandfather. The arms are described as showing, in the first and fourth quarterings, gules and two silver crosses arranged to form an eight-spoked wheel. The second and third quarterings exhibited an eagle and sable on gold ground.
While Nostradamus was enjoying his peaceful life in Agen, an event of national interest took place which was to affect deeply, in time, the fate of France, and bring to the doctor honors that would crown his career.
In October of 1533 occurred the marriage of the second son of Francis I, the fourteen-year-old Henry, then Duke of Orleans, to the duchessina of Florence, Catherine de’ Medici. The Bishop of Agen had gone to Marseilles, as had a number of other Agenois, to see the arrival of Catherine and her uncle, Clement VII, and the great pomp and splendor of the wedding. Nostradamus accompanied Scaliger to call upon the Bishop della Rovere after his return from the festivities, to hear his account of them.
"This age," the Bishop told them, "has never seen so grand a wedding. Splendor enough to blind Charles of Spain and some others I could mention."
"The duchessina, is she beautiful?" Scaliger wanted to know.
"We-ell, you know how it is at these public weddings. About all you can see clearly is the white robe and the lace veil of the bride."
"You had better tell us what you can about those," said Nostradamus. "We have wives, you know, and
that will be the first question--'Did the Bishop tell you what the duchess wore?'"
The Bishop smiled. "’Twas a wondrous robe of gold brocade, so bright that you can both tell your ladies, the lace veil seemed like a jealous cloud above it that would, yet could not, hide the sun. Her jewels were, of course, as countless as the stars."
"Report says the duchess is somewhat plain," Scaliger persisted.
The Bishop eyed him reproachfully.
"If she is a thought less fair than some," he said, "she has a spiritual grace. They say, too, that she has inherited the wit, intelligence and tact of the Medici. Besides, it was a great day for France and the papacy. It will strengthen their bonds against Spain."
"How did His Holiness appear?" questioned Doctor Nostradamus.
"Magnificent. His entry into Marseilles was superb. He has had the best artists in Rome working on plans for it from the moment the betrothal was announced. He came in a Venice galley, gorgeously carved. His ship led all the others and as it neared the harbor I could see him plainly, sitting under a golden tent with a carpet of crimson satin."
"Were many with him?" Scaliger inquired.
"Oh, yes. All the cardinals. The Blessed Sacrament was in an ostensory that took the eye, a triumph of the goldsmith's art. It was carried ahead of His Holiness on a fine white horse when they left the ship. And I was glad to see that they had stout fellows with great
bulging muscles to carry the sedia gestatoria with an even walk. It detracts from even a pope's dignity to be joggled, as so often happens, when carried on the shoulders of bearers."
"I suppose the crowds went wild," the doctor observed.
"Three hundred pieces of artillery, all the church bells and the Virgin knows how many throats made them welcome. The people all kneeled while the Sacrament and the Pope were passing, and received the benediction. The streets were strewn with flowers all the way from the ship to the two palaces the king built just for this occasion, one for himself and one for His l Holiness with a covered bridge connecting them, in case of rain, I suppose."
"I paid my taxes the other day," said Nostradamus thoughtfully. "And they had risen."
"People should not grumble about a little taxation," reproved the prelate. "Church and State must have funds for such glorious and necessary occasions." He took up the thread of his description of the wedding, adding more of the sumptuous details.
It was not to be long until the death of the dauphin made Henry and Catherine heirs prospective to the throne of France. Already history was in a train, which, unsuspected by Nostradamus, would draw him within the orbit of the royal pair.
For a time after this, the doctor's friendship with Scaliger recovered, on the surface, its first enthusiasm and cordial warmth. They resumed their long, delightful
discourses with the frank enjoyment of men who have much intellectually in common. Scaliger's fame continued steadily to mount, as it did, indeed, as long as he lived. He was worshipped by the littérateurs, and revered by the scientists, even though he made many enemies by his constant and caustic attacks on other men's work. He had no cause for jealousy of the quiet doctor whose sensational reputation had been so unsought, and who never wanted the limelight. But the reputation was there, and Scaliger had only himself to thank for bringing its owner into his home territory. All accounts of Scaliger dwell on his enormous vanity. He wanted to rule alone as uncrowned king in Agen; now another and younger man shared his throne. Doctor Nostradamus had resumed his practice of medicine, with marriage, and now patients were coming to him from Bordeaux, Carcassonne, Toulouse and the whole radius of the neighboring country. Scaliger hated this, and he also disliked the obvious pleasure which his patron, the Bishop of Agen, took in the society and conversation of the man he, Scaliger, thought of as a dangerous rival.
Intellectual differences, too, made their appearance in the progress of the friendship. The two who had said they thought as one on first acquaintance discovered later that they thought very differently on many matters. One of these was literature. Neither man was an artist, but each man thought he was. Scaliger did have a profoundly critical knowledge of the basic laws of poetry, he understood the technique by which words
become the clay and bronze of the poet's sculptured emotions. Nostradamus on the other hand loved a lilting rhyme that raced with a story of derring-do and high nobility, or held a philosophic thought. He admired, and later used, to the despair of his translators, the subtleties of the rhétoriqueurs. He did not care for Scaliger's sonnets which Scaliger read to him with huge delight. Man of the world though the physician was, he found them overburdened with sensuality for which there was insufficient compensation of beauty. Few of these sonnets, says Paddleford, have been translated from the Latin in which they were written, partly for this reason, partly for lack of poetic value.
Scaliger was a devoté of Vergil whose writings lie held superior to Homer's. Nostradamus, son of the troubadours, was rash enough to say that he thought Homer told a better, faster-moving story about nobler characters.
"That," said Scaliger, "is because you are ignorant of what it is that makes great poetry. When Vergil describes a shipwreck, I am there upon the deck, fighting for my life against the storm. The spray of ocean stings my eyes and salts my lips. Homer had no such art. He did not know the laborious polishing of line and phrase until words became the carving of a living immortality of experience." Doctor Nostradamus still liked Homer best.
Scaliger was a perfectionist. His ideal was the precise word, the studied gesture. His home, his clothes, his writings expressed this with a scientist's thoroughness.
[paragraph continues] He had a certain contempt for the younger man's failure to comprehend the high importance of this chiselled, if cold perfection. Nostradamus, for his part, marveled that a man so learned as Scaliger could not perceive that the universe did not turn on a polished phrase. That perfection, in Scaliger's meaning, was a brittle mask concealing what it was intended to reveal. Nostradamus appears to have absorbed nothing of value from Scaliger's really great power of literary analysis. It is clear, from the writing of the Centuries, that if lines rhymed and had their complement of feet, that to Nostradamus was poetry.
What caused the eventual break between the two men is not known. But their quarrel was deep, bitter and final. Nostradamus had put up with a great deal from Scaliger for a long time. Though naturally diplomatic, Nostradamus’ tongue was vitriol when he chose. There probably came a moment when, goaded beyond control by Scaliger's jealousy, he let go and told his one-time friend with daggered words just what he thought of him. Then in a cooler hour, too late, he sadly contemplated their cup of friendship, its wine turned into vinegar, its twining roses dead.
The quarrel with Scaliger was the first intimation that Fortuna, the fickle, no longer smiled upon her favorite, Nostradamus. Outwardly all was serene. The pride and devotion which the town felt for its popular and famous doctor were still at peak. The social life of Agen was delightful with the open-handed hospitality of existence under southern skies. The happy marriage
of Nostradamus had brought him further joy in the birth of two sons. And on these babies the parents lavished the affection and hopes of all fathers and mothers. Then, without warning, a knife thrust in the dark, death struck. His wife and two small sons were swept from him by some mysterious stroke of fatal sickness. He, to whose skill and science thousands owed their lives, could not save even one of those most dear to him. The green grass of Agen lay above three graves. Under the skies of careless, sunny blue the doctor stood alone.
Here ended the period of his happy youth. Its doors were barred behind him. Its days could never come again. Friends were of little avail to comfort him in this time of dark despair. Nostradamus was inconsolable. Every bright prospect which Agen had held out to him was blasted. His beautiful friendship with Scaliger--the man whom he had once called "a Vergil in poetry, a Cicero in eloquence, a Galen in medicine"--had gone forever. There is no record that Scaliger sent him so much as a message of sympathy in his sorrow. His family dead, there was no longer any tie to bind Nostradamus to Agen. Sadly the townspeople saw him leave them, for what destination he himself did not know. Again he was footloose, with freedom now all unwanted. Once more he took to the open road.
Nostradamus was now just thirty years old. The next ten years of his life were spent in travel, and concerning this period less is known than of any other part of his life. Yet these were the years that saw the
beginning and development of his prophetic power and as such hold a vital interest for students of his life. Though so little information about him is written in the record of these years, there are inferences to be drawn which seem rather more than speculative. And there are certain speculations which the meager facts suggest may be true, but of which we can never be sure.
In the story of most great mysteries there is a journey upon the hard road of loneliness and separation. Sometimes the journey is lifelong, sometimes, as with Nostradamus, it is for a period of years. It is during such experience that the spirit is forced in upon itself through suffering and despair until nourishment, purpose and illumination are discovered in the hidden power of the self. This is the symbolic core of all sacrificial rites, Christian or pagan. The sunny warmth of homely joys and comforts is too contenting. These are the sirens that bind the wanderer, Ulysses, with their song, while on seas of mystery the ship is waiting with taut sails and straining figurehead whose eyes look toward infinity.
Nostradamus still had as his interest and refuge his love of science, his study of medicine. Too restless and unhappy to settle down or to practice, he began to travel about southern France and to study the whole field of pharmacy, medical practice and hospitalization, the last having changed little since the days of the Crusades except in the increased size of the hospitals. He may have had some idea or plan which he
thought of some day carrying out, some modern, daring innovation. He kept for a time a journal of his findings, which is no longer in existence. Early commentators tell of it and quote a few facts and names from it. They mention his sharp criticism of the greed of the medical men in Avignon. The pharmacies of Marseilles he found excessively bad in their administration. Here and there he found doctors whose work and sincerity he could praise and others whose stupidity or ethics he condemned. How much time he spent in this way is not known but enough to make himself responsible for a great deal of the bitter enmity from which he suffered later on. The doctors and pharmacies that his caustic, blunt speech branded as cheats or charlatans were furious. They missed no chance to hand it back to him when occasion gave them opportunity. They were active from this time on in accusing Nostradamus of being a spy, an associate of condemned secret societies and himself a charlatan.
For three years he settled down in Dauphiny, associating himself with a doctor of fine reputation, but whether this was for medical practice or research is not stated. But his restlessness was still acute. He gave up this work and went into Italy, where he is known to have remained for a while in Milan, Genoa and Venice.
Nostradamus’ practice as a physician was always that of a man of science in the strict sense, so far as is known. He did not confuse medicine with his psychic
gift. Except for having the advantage of an extraordinarily brilliant mind, he was otherwise on the same footing, scientifically, as other physicians. He had his successes and he had his failures. It was 'natural that in this period he should be interested in contacting other scientists and getting their point of view, experience, and, if they had it, superior knowledge. That is why, when he had exhausted such contacts in France he turned his steps toward Italy, which had the great tradition in this field. French inspiration in science as well as general culture still drew upon Italy, though slowly emerging to independent progress. No doubt the Italian-born Bishop of Agen and also Scaliger had told Doctor Nostradamus of Italian achievements, which had fired his imagination and given him the desire to go there and see for himself.
Whether news of his own reputation in France had not preceded him, or whether his mood in these years created in him a desire for self-effacement, there are no accounts of his experience in Italy. It would have required considerable and aggressive proof from a Frenchman, at that time, to impress the Italians, anyway. They knew themselves to be the center of progressive learning and culture, and were sceptical toward the development of these qualities elsewhere. Nostradamus would, however, have had full opportunity to study the work being done there. He had, through his own family and important patients, a scientific entrée everywhere. It is said that wherever he
went in Italy he sought out and talked with the most learned scholars. The interesting question is, just where did he go besides the few cities mentioned?
Nostradamus’ travels in this period covered at least ten years, probably several of these spent in Italy. If he had settled in one city for a lengthy stay, his personality and abilities were so remarkable that almost certainly he would have become spectacular, as he always did, and stories would have gathered about him and some of these would be recorded. He was not a man who could remain unobserved. He had an intensely secretive nature. The Centuries with their subtle concealments are evidence of this. He was a man who gave out little concerning himself, and guarded well the secrets of others. Even after his death, so well had he trained his son, that César was careful to tell nothing that his father would not have approved when living, and added little to what was already known. This secretiveness did not develop in Nostradamus’ early life; there was nothing to bring it out. But when he reached the deeply introspective period which began after his wife's death, with it went a perhaps protective concealment which still shrouds much that one would like to know.
He was deeply religious, and if in his first grief he sought surcease in active scientific work and travel, it would not have been long until he turned to the cloistered calm of monastic walls and the deep worship and contemplation which his nature perpetually craved. It is said that near the end of this ten-year period he was
to be found at an abbey where the religious observances were of particularly severe character.
He would hardly have spent much time in Italy without going to Rome, the holy city of Europe. Nor would he have been likely to forego a visit to Florence, city of the Medici. He may, however, for reasons of his own have gone incognito to cities and countries other than those the record lists. If he did so, it would have been because he had become associated with the pursuit of secret knowledge which was in danger from the Inquisition.
Italy had long been the center and hotbed of alchemic research. From the East had come a vast heritage of science and philosophy which had never received the sanction of the Church. This knowledge was bootlegged through the means of secret societies. Some of these may have provided the background and inspiration for discoveries that were the noblest fruit of the Renaissance. Some, patterning after these, were degenerate groups which courted the Devil's favor with strange rites. A few even exercised a political influence, as did the far-flung Vehmgericht in Germany, whose ritual was based on old Saxon magical ceremonies that had come down from pagan times.
The true scientists who worked within these secret groups, or alone, were for the most part men of profoundly spiritual nature. But they were unwilling to be bound by the narrow orthodoxy of the current theological dogma. They had a wider vision in which the free intellect had its place and its dignity. The search
for the Philosopher's Stone was at once symbol of the chemist's research, which still goes on, and of the transmutation of man's physical nature into the gold of higher forces. Copernicus in these years was hiding his theory of the universe, not daring yet to risk its publication. And many another soaring mind was working in secret with ideas beyond his time. Such men as these would have drawn the interest of Nostradamus, naturally predisposed to knowledge of this kind. Henry James Forman states in The Story of Prophecy that Nostradamus knew and used the law of gravitation and Kepler's law of the ecliptic, though Kepler was not yet born. Whether this is more than legend cannot be said, but it may well have been true. Astronomy had been a lifelong passion with him. He may in these Italian years even have known Copernicus and shared his dream of a grander universe.
Could even Italy with its treasure of enlarging thought and its antique beauties content this man who was a dynamo of restless energy, utterly alone and free to go as he pleased? Loving travel as he did, he could have gone in his quiet way to Greece, to Egypt or anywhere. No one would miss him at departure, no one would be surprised when he appeared again among those who knew him. Who knows? Under what secret influences some of these years may have been passed is a fascinating but unanswered question.