Nostradamus, the Man Who Saw Through Time, by Lee McCann , at sacred-texts.com
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Through this old gate traveled Nostradamus on errands of mercy and friendship.
NOSTRADAMUS HAS SAID, concerning his psychic gift, that it was inherited. Undoubtedly he had been conscious for a long time that he possessed it, and had used it to divert friends occasionally, as his grandfather had amused him when he was a child. During the period of his wanderings, under the emotional tension of sorrow and loneliness, such a faculty would tend to develop even without encouragement. Occult friends and associations, if such there were, would have given impetus to experiment with this perception, and fresh insight perhaps into the laws under which it manifests.
It is said that the first striking experience of his gift came to him while he was travelling in Lorraine. If this is so, it holds a peculiar interest, because Lorraine was the home of that other great French mystic, Jeanne d’Arc. There are two incidents from his early prophetic experiences which have been handed down and are retold by all writers on Nostradamus. These stories date from the period of his travels though the time of their occurrence is not known. One of these is
amusing and bears out the idea that he often used the gift to astonish and delight close friends. Had this ability not been known to them and accepted in that way, his host would hardly have been free to tease the doctor as he tried to do.
Nostradamus was a guest of Lord Florinville at the castle of Faim, where he was attending professionally on Lord Florinville's mother. The doctor and his host were crossing the courtyard where two little pigs, a black one and a white one, were running about as was the casual custom of livestock in those days. Lord Florinville said to the doctor,
"I suppose you can even foretell the fate of those two pigs!"
"Certainly I can," replied the doctor. "We shall eat the black one, and a wolf will eat the white one."
Lord Florinville saw a chance for a good joke on his guest. He privately instructed the cook to roast the white pig for supper. That evening, while they were feasting on succulent young pork, his lordship with huge mirth told Nostradamus that he was eating white pig. This the prophet vigorously denied. The pig, he said, was the black one, as he had foretold. The cook was finally called to settle the argument. "Yes," said the cook fearfully, "the pig was the black." The white one had been killed and prepared as directed. But she had stepped out of the kitchen, before putting the pig in the oven, and a tame wolf had stepped in and was doing himself very well on the pig when the cook returned.
[paragraph continues] Not supposing that it would make any difference, the black one had then been quickly killed and served, exactly as predicted. This episode occurred long before the writing of the prophecies, and certainly indicates that the doctor's uncanny faculty must have been well known to a select number of his friends and patients.
The other incident happened during his stay in Italy. In the neighborhood of Ancona, along the road, Nostradamus passed a group of Franciscan Friars. Among them was a young lad, a country boy, who had but recently left his father's farm to join the order. On seeing him, Nostradamus dismounted from his mule, went up to him and dropped on his knee before him. The astonished monks asked why he did this.
"Because I must kneel before His Holiness," he told them.
They were probably more astonished than ever, and it seems that little attention was paid to such an unlikely forecast. But it was remembered by those present, and told by them when, years after Nostradamus had died, that country boy, Felice Peretti, became Pope Sixtus V. It must be inferred from his homage that Nostradamus did not confuse principle with personality. He knelt to the symbol of his religion and the office of the Holy See, not to the man, Peretti, who became Pope. Nostradamus did not admire Sixtus V. This is what he had to say of him in one of the quatrains.
The story is that during the election Cardinal Peretti pretended to be a cripple, perhaps to create sympathy or drama. Once assured of success, he threw away his crutches and sang loudly for joy. That may have no foundation. Nostradamus disliked Sixtus for his compromising complacence in dealing with Henry of Navarre, who in the prophet's uncompromising opinion was a turn-coat and a heretic. The prophet had little sympathy with what he thought was the Pope's weakness. In another verse he speaks of Sixtus as being "afraid to take off his shirt at night for fear of its being stolen." Which was a sarcastic reference to the despoiling of the Church at the hands of the Protestants and ambitious rulers.
The year, during Nostradamus’ lifetime, began in France with the Spring Equinox. Sixtus V was elevated to the papacy in 1585, and the election was held April 24. If 24 is added to the number of the year it gives 1609, just one of the prophet's little subtleties which make life difficult for his interpreters! It is at least an interesting coincidence, and to those who follow astrology something more, that these three men whose lives were strangely intertwined, Nostradamus, Henry IV, and Sixtus V, all had the same birthday,
with the Sun in the second degree of Capricorn. It was to Henry of Navarre that the verses of Nostradamus called Presages and Sixains were presented after the prophet's death. Henry II, the king who summoned Nostradamus to Paris, had the same degree of Capricorn on the zenith of his horoscope.
When the new dimension of time swung wide its strange doors to Nostradamus, giving upon vistas of the future in extraordinary visions, he must have suffered for a time grave concern, even though long accustomed to slighter manifestations. Such a condition would have, even for the strongest nature, a somewhat terrifying aspect. Nostradamus, too, would have pondered its source, its rightness; his conscience as a churchman would have scrutinized it. For this was the era when there was nothing more dreaded than possession by the Devil. He is thought to have spent a long retreat within a severe monastery. Some believe that it was here that he began the writing of the Centuries. It is more likely that he went for the purpose of thoroughly examining his gift within consecrated walls, under a rigid religious routine, and also to take counsel with the Abbot concerning this gift of prophecy. The Church was ever the friend of this prophet; he stood on firm ground with its heads. Although the cry of sorcery was raised madly against him, the Inquisition took no notice of it, and his first Almanachs were dedicated to the Pope. Nostradamus, alert to the dangers of his age, would have made sure of the approval of the Church before he launched himself upon a career
as prophet. All the more so because his prophecies were not the usual vague cries of woes to come, but specific information dealing with political destinies.
The Abbot was a very learned man. He would have questioned the physician closely as to whether there were any sorcerous phenomena appearing with the visions. Were there any indications that the Devil was -trying to work through him? Nostradamus thought not. It was the reason that he had come to the Abbey, where its strict ritual was well calculated to discourage any such ideas of the evil one.
"In fact," he told the Abbot, "it is my very love of God, my fasting, my praise of Him and my prayers, which seem to draw the visions closer. Surely, such white and holy light as appears to me then, could come from none but heavenly sources."
"That is so," the Abbot agreed. "The pure, ineffable white flame has ever been a sign of God's favor. ’Tis very well known that the evil one must use the red flames of hell; he has no other kind of light.
"You say," continued the Abbot, "that this peculiar foresight is inherited. To what extent did your grand-sires experience it?"
"Not to the extent that I have. Their gift was more personal, they could foresee matters affecting the family or members of the community. But they foresaw these things less frequently, and never the wide scope of the world which is opening before me."
The prelate eyed him shrewdly. "My son, I will not
ask you if you have gone further in efforts to develop this gift than did your grandsires. That is a matter between yourself and the confessional. But I am not unaware that there is much dark knowledge in the world."
"And I swear before Almighty God that never have I broken his Holy law touching such matters. I have done only that which I believed to be right. But if God Himself opens a door in my understanding, shall I defeat His purpose, shall I refuse to enter that door? Is not that the meaning of prophecy?"
"Yes," the Abbot said very thoughtfully, "when it is really prophecy." He touched some closely written sheets of parchment on the table beside him. "These visions you have set down touching the near future of France are depressing. I can hope, my son, that in these matters your foresight will be proved wrong."
"It will not be," said the doctor with conviction, "though I hope it no less fervently than do you."
"Well," the Abbot told him, "you have done wisely to set down the impressions that have come to you. Now we shall keep a check on this record. My advice is that you write them down, but do not show them about. Not yet. Many devout men have prophesied for a day, some have been given the sight here within these walls. Later, they are often proved mistaken in what they saw. Again sometimes, even when they were right, the vision left them as swiftly and mysteriously as it had come. That may happen to you. But if you find that over the stretch of years this knowledge
continues to come to you, and that its visions are true, then you may, I think, accept it as a signal token of inspiration. It is odd, though," the Abbot said thoughtfully, "I have served Him on my knees these many years, and never have I had a vision such as nightly comes to you. It passes understanding."
After the prophet had returned to his cell, the Abbot's mind continued to dwell on this peculiar man. A goodly soul, he thought, strange, but genuinely devout. There was a power of some kind that dwelt in him, he could himself sense it, and the doctor had wrought some wondrous cures among the monks. True, his prophecies might, in the long run, not work out. So few did. Still the Abbot believed he was an honest man. He, as a churchman, could not be too careful in dealing with what might be Satan's wiles, but as yet he could see nothing in Doctor Nostradamus meriting the condemnation of the Church.
Something besides this new increase in his power was beginning at this time to make itself felt in the breast of the prophet. He realized suddenly that he was homesick. He was tired of the road. He wanted to settle down in Provence in a place of his own once more, where he could have about him his books and scientific paraphernalia. Where he could meditate and work on the knowledge and experience garnered in these long, weary years. He was now turned forty, time to stop tramping.
The question was, where should he settle? He could not return to Agen with its sadness of memories. The
thing to do was to go back to Provence, look about and then decide on a new home. This he did, and no sooner did word of his return get about than it seemed as if every town in that part of the world was begging him to settle there. Friends were active, telling him of just the right house for him, and keeping him busy with kindly advice.
The City of Marseilles thought it would be wonderful if they could get this famous man to live in their midst, and sent a deputation to invite him and offer inducements. He finally decided on the little old town of Salon, because, he told his friends, it was central to Avignon, and to the other cities of Provence, and he would have a radius which would allow him to keep in touch with a wider circle, and see more of his friends than in the other places under consideration. His real reason was probably the smallness of Salon. Just as when he had fought the plague, he had been compelled to go to places that were isolated to carry out his ideas, he knew that in a different way he still faced that necessity. The jealousy and criticism, the constant watchfulness of his colleagues in larger towns would have spelled trouble in short order. In little Salon he hoped to avoid this. Besides, it was a sweet old town, and he wanted peace. Salon was overjoyed, it did its best for him. The old commentators say that "Salon gave him a wife who was well born and wealthy." Her name was Anne Ponsart Jumelle. Whether the lady was a gift from the town's grateful chamber of commerce, or whether the doctor did his own selecting,
he did marry again, not long after his return. Settled down comfortably in a house fronting a narrow street, once more prospects for some durable happiness seemed bright. He resumed his medical practice with all of his old-time popularity. Soon, too, there was the first child, a son, to bind him even more closely to his love of home. Life once more was quiet, normal and carefree.
When their boy was born the parents named him César. One wonders if Nostradamus chose this name in memory of his happy days spent in the company of Julius Caesar Scaliger before their friendship ended. He may have thought that such a compliment might heal the breach when Scaliger heard of it. But there is no record that the haughty ego of Scaliger ever softened toward his one-time friend.
It was the month of May, 1544, when a traveler coming from Aix, passing through Salon, brought the disturbing news that plague had broken out in the capital. Wealthy people were already leaving the city, though it was not known yet whether there would be few cases or an epidemic. This time the pest was the hideous charbon scourge, so called because its victims turned completely black, so that in death they resembled charred logs.
Then new rumors reached Salon that the plague cases were increasing and conditions in Aix were becoming serious. Nostradamus’ young wife spoke to her husband in apprehension.
"Michel, is there any danger that you may be called to Aix to fight this scourge?"
"Probably not," he comforted her. "It is a plague which has occurred before. I have never handled a case, but other doctors have treated it and may have found certain remedies efficacious. There are a number of good doctors in Aix who will perhaps be able to arrest the contagion."
Actually he was not so sure. There was no cure for this pestilence known. The only hopeful sign that he could see was that he had not been sent for. That should mean that the pest was lessening, getting under control so that he was not needed. On the other hand it was just possible that he was needed, and badly, but that professional jealousy was keeping him from being called. He knew too well that there were doctors who would for this reason let their patients die rather than call him in, and he was too proud to offer his services unasked.
In Salon, they were wondering about this too. Strange, people said, that if the plague was really bad Aix did not send for the one man in France who had ever been able to cope with it. True, this time it was a different pest, but still a plague was a plague, was it not? And if you could cure one, why not another? Then came the news that the plague was appalling, that people were dying like flies, and still no call came in for the services of Doctor Nostradamus.
"And for that I give thanks to the Virgin and all
the Saints," said Anne Nostradamus, thinking of her baby.
"Nonsense," Nostradamus told her. "You are married to a doctor. And a doctor goes where he is needed. And they must need me." He walked restlessly about the room. He was worried. Some of his dearest associations were with Aix. He should be there, helping their distress.
Came a day, some weeks after the first news of the outbreak, when a little group of hard-riding men with despair in their faces drew rein outside the house of Doctor Nostradamus. They were men from the town council of Aix.
"We have come to beg your help, Doctor Nostradamus," their spokesman said. "The situation in Aix is completely out of hand. The doctors there are powerless. The whole city is affected, and the pest is still spreading. If it cannot be checked it will spread beyond Aix, and who knows where it will reach? Our only hope is now in you."
"Why," asked the doctor coldly, "was I not sent for before this plague had gained such headway?" Inwardly he was seething with indignation, for in Aix of all places, where his grandfathers had been great, and his family known for generations, he had the right to expect trust and understanding.
There was a moment of embarrassed silence, then the councillors all began to talk at once. They had not anticipated such a rapid, deadly progress of the disease. They had thought the physicians resident in Aix could
handle it, they had not wanted to ask Doctor Nostradamus to leave his young wife and child--for these and more reasons they had waited.
Nostradamus refused to spare them. "I know why you have not come before. And if you think that I am Satan's agent, you have done ill to call me now. No--" he raised his hand against their trembling protest. "This must be straightened out now. Otherwise I shall be of no use to you."
"Michel," cried one of the councillors piteously, who had known the de Nostradame family for a long time, "do not reproach us. Help us, and we will bless your name forever."
The doctor's quick sympathy could not withstand this appeal. "Very well," he replied. "Then let us get on with it at once. My servant will bring you refreshment and look to your needs while I get together a few requirements, then we shall ride at once."
"They have come for me," he told his wife soberly.
"Oh, Michel." She held their baby in her arms, and struggled to keep back the tears. Beside these two, to whom happiness had so lately come, there stood a specter now, and each knew that the other saw it. It was the vision of three narrow graves beneath the trees of Agen. What new toll might now be exacted by the grisly visitor of pest? Yet it never occurred to the doctor to consider personal interest and safety. A few simple preparations, a brief, tender farewell to the wife and baby he might never see again, and he was
riding with the others at top speed down the road to Aix.
When they stopped at an inn for a quick bite and a change of horses, Nostradamus received more information about the situation.
One of the councillors told him how the cemeteries were choked with bodies. "Even piling them together," he said, "there is no more space in consecrated ground. My wife and daughter lie buried in the open field with the corpses of peasants."
"People die so fast," another told him hopelessly, "the doctors have no time for treatment or study of the remedies. In two days the stricken are dead."
Crime, they said, was complicating the problem, too. The people thought they were abandoned by God, that they had no time left to live, and they must snatch terribly at any pleasure or indulgence that was remaining. Theft, rape and even murder were stalking hand in hand with the pestilence.
"How many doctors have you there, and who are they?" Nostradamus wanted to know.
It appeared from the shamefaced admissions that there had already been a very large corps of doctors, some of them quite famous, who had been called in from outside Aix. A number of these had fallen victims of the plague, the mortality among the doctors being but little less than among the rest of the population. Some, too, had fled the place, unable to stand the horror of the scene. The rest were carrying on as best they could, but utterly helpless to save the victims or
arrest the spread. It was the same familiar, tragic situation the doctor had faced fifteen years before.
Already Nostradamus was mapping his plan of campaign. "I want a good laboratory, and some trained pharmaceutical helpers," he told them. "Once I decide on a remedy, I shall want it made up in quantity. I shall give you a list of herbs and essences, and you can check your supplies at all pharmacies against it, and make arrangements to send elsewhere as shortages develop."
"We will do these things while you are resting a little when we get to Aix," they assured him.
"I want no rest," he replied. "There is not a moment to lose."
"But won't you wish to consult with the other doctors, and hear their professional accounts and findings?" he was asked.
"No," he answered with grim positiveness. "I shall not. If they knew anything, I need not have come. I shall get my information from the victims."
"Michel," the councillor who knew him best spoke hesitantly, "what precautions are you using against taking the contagion? I mean, is there something you can suggest to us that we--?"
"Nothing. I know too little as yet to recommend precautions. Of what good to plug up the nose and deprive yourself of air when the contagion may come from food or some other carrier? A clean body, internally and externally, is a general measure at all times. But the one important thing at this time is to control
your fears, for fear is a killer. Put your trust in God, have courage, and pray as never before."
Nostradamus knew that these were brave men, but they had been under a terrible strain for weeks, they were exhausted and near the breaking point. It would not do to sympathize with them. His calm, matter-of-fact attitude took hold of them. Some power seemed to go out from him and reach their spirits. They were conscious of being at the same time relaxed and strengthened by his personality. Each breathed a sigh, as if a heavy load had been shouldered by another and stronger. In this man, they felt, was help. They rose to resume the ride and finish the journey, which was a full day's ride.
Along the rutted roads, where they were making all speed possible, sweet buds were bursting into blossom, framed in the fresh green leaves of the year's loveliest season. The rustle of brook-song and the notes of birds were carried on the woodland breezes. Sheep and cattle browsed content under ancient trees. Here was Nature upsurging in all her vivid beauty, with the rose of Spring at her breast. And beyond, at Aix, the stricken children of Earth were dying like the seared boughs of lightning-struck trees. As the group approached the suburbs of Aix, the doctor noted increasingly the processions of burial carts heaped high with human clay on its way to fields already thickly pitted with newly dug graves. Soon he breathed the fever-foulness weighting the air. From the town came the mournful sound, faint at first, rising in volume as they drew
nearer, of the church bells tolling unceasingly their terrifying dirges.
Doctor Nostradamus preferred to stop at an inn to becoming a guest of one of the councillors. He would have more freedom at a public hostelry. Most of these had closed, but one was found which was willing to admit him to its empty rooms.
"Everything is dead, Doctor," the innkeeper told him hysterically. "The palace is closed, all the shops and every kind of business. Of course, places of amusement shut down first of all. Now even the money-lenders have put up their shutters. When that happens," he spread his hands in a weary, cynical gesture, "then truly there is no life left."
When Nostradamus had washed and put on fresh linen, he found a member of the council waiting for him accompanied by one of the Aix doctors.
The physician greeted Nostradamus cordially and said he had come to offer his services, he would be glad to work under Doctor Nostradamus, since there had seemed little that he could accomplish working alone. Nostradamus looked at him in pity, for his appearance was enough to frighten a beholder without the plague. He looked utterly exhausted, white and sunken as death itself after his long bout. He was bundled up in so much clothing that no one could say how much was man and how much wrappings. Since it was hot weather, and he was sweating profusely, perspiration mingling with the medicinal oils had soaked through his coat. Garlic added to these made the odor which he
had brought into the room nearly unbearable. Nostradamus said that he was ready to begin work, and that he would like to go first to the hospital and pest-houses. He wanted to see the arrangements for handling the cases, and then settle down to a study of the symptoms and progress of the disease. He could not say how long it would be before he could begin to improvise and experiment with remedies, since he was entirely unfamiliar with the charbon plague.
When Nostradamus stepped from the cool, shadowed interior of the inn once more into the blazing Midi sunshine of the deserted streets, it was to begin his first of two hundred and seventy days of fierce and unremitting battle against the plague, days filled with unending sights of black, twisted agony, and heavy with the stench of putrefaction which no breeze could freshen. Along the way to the hospital, he saw how many of the beautiful old houses, empty now, had suffered injury from vandals and looters. There were, the other doctors told him in answer to his comment, no magistrates sitting, no pretense of the administration of justice or the apprehension of criminals. Everything was being looted, he said, and live stock driven away. People of good repute were too disconsolate to take action, those, that is, who had remained in the city. Several times in the course of their progress the doctors were forced to dodge quickly to escape being hit by corpses tossed callously from windows to lie hideously in the streets until the burial carts picked them up. Nostradamus
saw that hope was indeed an exile from this ancient and opulent city.
The churches were as empty as the rest of the buildings, Nostradamus’ companion said. No one, he thought, believed any longer in prayer. As for the priests they were as confused as rabbits, they ran around in utter helplessness, accomplishing little even in the way of solace.
Nostradamus found the hospital staffed by gaunt, utterly weary men. The stamp of terror was on every face there as elsewhere in the city. There was the disorganization caused by insufficient attendants and the crowding of patients far beyond hospital capacity. Sanitation, food, attention of every kind was suffering from neglect or lacking. The woebegone staff of doctors and nurses greeted him with joy and thankfulness. Hope stirred faintly in his wake like a salt sea breeze. Fear slackened in the presence of this man for whom it did not exist. Serenely he made the round of the hospital, studying conditions deliberately, questioning, now and then making some practical suggestion. He sat for a time at the bedside of the victims in various stages of the disease, observing symptoms and conditions, leaving some blessed ray of comfort where he passed.
One disadvantage in the study of this and other plagues had been the fear of contagion, which was so great it prevented the doctors from spending enough time with the victims to study properly the course of
the disease, its character, and the patients’ reaction to the remedies that were tried out, though the latter were still for the most part cordials, bleeding and purging. Nostradamus began by spending hours at bedsides, observing. Forman thinks that he studied excreta and may have been the father of modern ideas of antisepsis. One of the old commentators, Astruc, says that he paid careful attention to arrangements for patients, their transportation by whatever was the sixteenth-century equivalent of ambulances, and the disposition of corpses. This undoubtedly was an effort to limit the carrying of the disease.
Only after prolonged study did Nostradamus begin to try out some remedial ideas. How much trial and failure was necessary we have no record. Evidently, from the length of time the plague persisted, a great deal. Here was no easy success such as had been his youthful conquest of the plague. This bears out the idea that he had some inherited, little known and untried recepte which, in the first experience, he used with brilliant results. In the plague of Aix, he had no such assistance, he was face to face with a contagion of which he was ignorant, without theories, and on the same footing with all of the other doctors in charge.
The peculiar remedy which he at last evolved was a kind of troche to be held in the mouth. That is all that he used. Eugene Bareste, a scholarly and highly intelligent French commentator, writing in 1840 tells of his discovery of a rare little volume by Nostradamus.
[paragraph continues] He found it, lying ancient and dusty in the Library of Saint Geneviève, such a rarity that not even the Library of France possessed a copy. It is entitled A Collection of Numerous Receipts For Perfumes and Lotions For Beautifying The Face and Preserving Bodily Wholeness. Also Various Liquid Confections And Other Receipts Not Hitherto Presented. It was originally in two volumes, but one, alas, had disappeared. The remaining volume, however, contained Nostradamus’ description of the plague at Aix, and his formula for the troche.
Nostradamus says in this account that neither bleeding nor medical cordials had the least efficacy. "Nor was any found but this (his own remedy). All who carried it in the mouth were preserved." Here is the receipt, as given by Nostradamus himself.
"Take of the distillation of the branch of the greenest cypress-wood, one ounce; of Iris of Florence, six ounces; of cloves, three ounces, of sweet-flag, three drams, of ligni aloes, six drams. Reduce these to a mixture not overly evaporated. Then take of blood-red roses two or three hundred, completely fresh and gathered before dawn; pound these thoroughly, then blend them with the mixture. When the whole has been well mingled, make it into small pats, like troches, and set them to dry in the shade. In addition to the excellence and fragrance which this prescription affords, when held in the mouth it sweetens the breath for an entire day and relieves gaseous stomach conditions."
How, one ponders, could such slight, fragrant, medicinal
pot-pourri afford resistance to the mortality of a deadly contagion? Perhaps in several ways. All historians of plagues, from Thucydides down, stress their accompaniment of destroying terror. The rose-pats of Nostradamus, considered only as bread-pills backed by his sensational reputation, would have helped enormously to relieve the fear. Anyone who could obtain something that this celebrated doctor said would save them, had already conquered fear and acquired resistance. But there is more to this old recepte than just that. One of the first symptoms of the charbon plague was frightful bleeding at the nose. Nostradamus must have believed that the infection entered through the mouth or nasal passages. This pungent, delightful little cake was designed to both stimulate and relax the nerves and passages of nose and throat, and perhaps give a mild antisepsis. There is a close connection between these nerves and the brain, so that terror in itself tends to congest them, lessening resistance to infection. His troche would have affected both physically and psychologically the particular head-area which appeared most vulnerable to the contagion.
Nostradamus, in the infinite subtlety of his mind, may have considered, too, that the red rose has been from time immemorial the symbol of life and happiness, Its fragrance and flavor would carry that message and symbolism to patients even though they were unconscious of it. It was the substitution of the idea of life and hope replacing that of death and despair. Roses are becoming a rarity in modern life;
a grouping behind the plate-glass window of a florist's shop, or a few in the vases of the fortunate. They were a more vital and plentiful treasure of the ancient world, and put to many uses. Marvelous rose cordials were made by carefully guarded family receipts sometimes centuries old. The bloom was also sacred to the making of odorous pot-pourri which gave summer fragrance to the house through the winter. And confitures of rose leaves were a frequent delicacy. It would be strange if in the ancient world these glorious blooms should not have been used in some remedial way that old scientists might believe infused something of their vivid life into the fading vitality of illness. Nostradamus was fortunate in being summoned to Aix in the season when roses were abundant. The picture of him, which history presents, calling those who stood in the midst of the whirlwind of death to go into the dew-laden dawn and gather the red roses of summer for healing, is in itself symbolic of the way in which the skill and spirit of this great man touched the lives of those who turned to him for help.
For the efficacy of Nostradamus’ prescription there is testimony of the most practical kind. When the plague had been at long last conquered, the city of Aix gave him the highest and most grateful credit and praise. They paid him in full for the nine months of his service, and in addition, the parliament voted him a substantial life pension which was paid to him as long as he lived. Nostradamus writing of this, says: "And it is true that in 1544 I was chosen and received
compensation from the City of Aix in Provence, where by the parliament and the people I was entrusted with the preservation of the city . . . Toward the end of the plague it was clearly demonstrated that I had preserved a world of people."
Wealthy citizens, besides all this, made him rich presents of money. These he distributed with his customary generosity among families victimized in the plague.
Weary with the long pull, laden with glory, he returned to Salon and his family. He had been away almost a year. The small rural town is now almost bursting with pride in their star, and richer than their wildest dreams had ever imagined. For Nostradamus, after this triumph, more than ever means business to the little place. The nobility from all the country around are pouring in to see and consult him. The nobles from Arles, Avignon, Aix, Marseilles, choke the street leading to his home with their horses, coaches and litters. These educated, sophisticated people of the great world were enchanted with a doctor whose skill could cure them while he diverted them with his learning and witty conversation. But in the background there was always the enmity of his own profession, insanely jealous of a man who could do what other doctors could not, and accomplish it by means they despised, envied, and could not comprehend. It was openly said in regard to medical innovations generally, indeed it was the credo of the old-line physicians, that it was much better for people to die under treatment
approved by the majority of doctors than to have their lives saved by unorthodox methods. The only trouble with this theory was that the man whose life was at stake wasn't likely to agree, not until he got well, anyhow.
Nostradamus was now openly accused by the doctors of using bootlegged knowledge gained through association with secret, heretical societies and outlawed alchemists. These accusations were not without effect. The times were so deeply superstitious, so rent by all sorts of hatreds, that many listened, though not enough to jeopardize his position. But the snapping at his heels continued.
Nearly a year went by in which he was peaceful and happy in his home life, popular and sought after. Then came the news, once again, of the coming of the charbon plague. This time the outbreak was at Lyons, and on this occasion Nostradamus was early called on to help. When he arrived at Lyons, however, he found Jean-Antoine Sarrazin already in the field and directing the work. Sarrazin, according to the history of both Lyons and Montpellier, was considered one of the great medical figures of his day, his reputation was of the highest. He was extremely ambitious, and eager to make a record in stamping out the plague in Lyons that would equal if not surpass the work of Nostradamus for the city of Aix. He had the devotion and the courage to do this, but lacked the science. The coming of Nostradamus immediately roused his jealousy, and he stated that he intended to work alone.
[paragraph continues] Nostradamus, always a modest man, having no desire except to save those whom he might, agreed at once. He said that he would gladly share with Sarrazin what had been learned about the plague in Aix, and then he and Sarrazin would take separate routes which were not in conflict. This was done.
The situation at Lyons was somewhat different from that at Aix. Lyons was one of the largest and most important cities of France. It had a long medical tradition, for it was there that the first hospital in France had been established by Childebert in the sixth century. An interesting description of a sixteenth-century hospital which may be taken as typical of the best institutions, such as that at Lyons, exists in a document sent by the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, at Florence, to Henry VIII. This was written at the request of the king for information which would aid him in improving the hospitals of England. The hospital staff, according to his letter, comprised a number of internes who lived in, and a larger number of visiting surgeons who paid daily visits, just as today. The hospital maintained a dispensary for the treatment of ulcers and slight disorders. This was conducted by the foremost surgeon in the city who, with his assistants, gave their services without charge to the poor, and supplied them with free medicines from the hospital pharmacy. The modern clinic continues this tradition. The large hospitals were all independently wealthy, owning extensive vineyards and other properties and industries. Revenue from these was supplemented
by taxes. But since then, as now, there was never as much money as was needed, wealthy patrons endowed beds, gave annuities, and assumed responsibilities for particular comforts and various needs of the patients. All of which sounds surprisingly modern.
The Church administered the hospitals, and appears to have done so in a skilled and highly responsible way. Even Martin Luther confessed that under the papacy generous provision had always been made for all classes of suffering, while among his own followers no one contributed to the maintenance of the sick and poor. Architecturally, the hospitals were constructed on the religious pattern of the cross as established by the Crusaders. The beds were arranged in rows in one enormous room, the long section of the cross. There was no such thing as private rooms, or separate wards. Some of the hospitals provided screens which could be used to partition off the beds. But this was in the interest of privacy when religious rites were administered, rather than any consideration for the patient at other times. In times of plague, the accommodations of even the largest institution were but a drop in the bucket of need, though they served all they could. However, the hospital was the focal agency from which all plans and effort were put forth.
In the Lyons hospital Nostradamus found a trained efficiency and order, even under plague conditions, far beyond the limited facilities he had worked with at Aix. The institution had two thousand beds and a large staff of well-known doctors. Association, as doctor or
interne, with the Lyons hospital carried a certain prestige such as the great medical institutions of today confer upon their chosen staffs. It was also a hotbed of gossip, hatred and controversy over new techniques and theories, and watched over with a malicious eye by the fanatics of the Sorbonne. But a few years previous, Rabelais had been a member of the staff, when his friend, the distinguished physician, Etienne Dôle, was burned at the stake by order of the Sorbonne. No liberal scholarship which was boldly acknowledged could consider itself safe here, for there were always spies. Nostradamus braved more than the plague when he excited the enmity of Sarrazin.
In the pestilence at Lyons it soon became apparent that Doctor Sarrazin, with all of his zeal, was killing a great many more people than his methods were helping. Citizens from Sarrazin's territory began rushing pell-mell to Nostradamus, who wanted no trouble with his jealous confrère. Crowds threw themselves at his feet and implored him not to abandon them. Nostradamus finally said to these groups:
"I want to help you, but you must let me experiment in my own way. I honor Doctor Sarrazin, who is my colleague, but our remedies are different. So you must choose which one of us you want to remain as medical director of the city. You must decide at once for one of us, myself or Doctor Sarrazin."
The whole deputation cried out, "We choose Doctor Nostradamus, the deliverer of Aix." Sarrazin left, discredited and furious.
One month later the plague at Lyons was completely stamped out and over. Once again the little roseleaf cakes had done their work. Once more Nostradamus took his leave heaped with glory and gratitude. A deputation of members of the city government as an escort of honor accompanied him on his return to Salon.
The municipal histories of Aix and Lyons report in detail the work of Nostradamus in these two plagues. Whatever room for controversy there is in minor matters of the physician's life, these medical achievements are incontestable. Sarrazin immediately accused Nostradamus of magical practice and spread evil rumors far and wide. This was followed a year later by a book published in Avignon bitterly attacking him, branding him as a charlatan and worse. It was the hatred of the man of today which almost invariably pursues the man of tomorrow. It is said that in later years Nostradamus was deeply wounded when, on a visit to Lyons, he found that he was no longer popular there. This was after the misrepresentations through imitations and pirating of his writings. The doctors, too, who were his enemies had no doubt reminded the former patients of Nostradamus many a time that if they had been left to die, they would by then be enjoying the delights of Paradise. That having been cured by sorcery, they might have forever forfeited those delights. A potent argument in the sixteenth century.