ORACLES OF NOSTRADAMUS
ORACLES OF NOSTRADAMUS
BY CHARLES A. WARD
London, The Leadenhall Press; New York, C. Scribner & Welford
Scanned, Proofed and Formatted by John Bruno Hare at sacred-texts.com, June 2003. This text is in the public domain in the US because it was published prior to 1923.
"Gentem quidem nullam video, neque tam humanam atque aoctam neque tam immanem tamque barbaram, quæ non significari futura, et a quibasdam intelligi praedicique posse censeat."
CICERO, De Divinatione, i. 2.
'Quorum potentia intellectualis immediate à Deo agitata creditur, prophetæ dicuntur; quorum voluntas heroës; at quorum intellectus et voluntas censetur agitata à potentiis invisibilibus dependentibus, appellantur magi."
--CHRIST. THOMASIUS, in Brunck, Hist. Phil. v. 512.
Tu te mocques aussi des prophètes que Dieu
Choisit en tes enfants et les fait au milieu
De ton sein apparoître, afin de te prédire
Ton malheur à venir; mais tu n'en fais que rire.
Ou soit que le grand Dieu l'immense éternité
Ait de Nostradamus l'enthousiasme excité,
Ou soit que le démon bon ou mauvais l'agite ...
Comme un oracle antique, il a de mainte année
Prédit la plus grand part de nostre destinée."
RONSARD, To Nostradamus.
TO MY MOTHER
Οὐδὲν ἐν ἀνθρώποισι πατρὸς καὶ μετρὸς ἄμενον
Ἔπλετο, τοῖσ ὁσίη, Κύρνε, μέμηλε δίκη.
THEOGNIS, p. 16, ed. 1766.
"But higher far my proud pretensions rise,--
The son of parents passed into the skies."
COWPER, On My Mother's Picture, line 110.
IF THERE CAN BE ANYTHING IN A BOOK LIKE THIS WORTHY OF DEDICATION TO A BEING SO NOBLE AS THOU IN LIFE WERT EVER, A BEING NOW MORE ENNOBLED STILL BY THE HEAVEN-BLEACHED RAIMENT OF IMMORTALITY PUT ON; TO THEE, PURE SOUL SERENE! TO THEE DOES THY STILL LOVING SON, EARTH-HAMPERED, DEDICATE THIS THE BEST LABOUR OF HIS HEART AND HEAD AND YEARS. THE BEST OF IT IS THINE INDEED ALREADY; AND WERE THE REST WORSE HARVESTED THAN PERHAPS IT IS,--MORTALITY BEING ALLOWED FOR DULY,--THY SOUL RECEIVING MUST BE MUCH CHANGED BY EXALTATION, IF QUEEN-LIKE, IT CANNOT MAKE A SORRY LOVE-GIFT RICH BY GOLDEN WELCOME GIVEN IT.
IF THINGS OF KITH BE KIN, GOD WILLING, WE SHALL MEET AGAIN ERE LONG. TILL WHEN, FROM THIS BARE HEATH TERRENE AND HOMELESS, I SPEED THE WORD ADIEU. DEAR ONE! FOR A LITTLE WHILE ADIEU.
Mr. C. A. W.
THREE PROPHECIES OF OLD TIME
That Troy should triumph in Rome--
Νῦν δὲ δὴ Αἰνείαο βίη Τρώεσσιν ἀνάξει,
Καὶ παίδων παῖδες, τοί κεν μετόπισθε γένωνται.
Iliad, xx. 306.
That America should be discovered--
Sæcula seris, quibus Oceanus
Vincula rerum laxet, et ingens
Pateat Tellus, Tiphysque novos
Delegat orbes; nec sit terris
French Revolution, 1788-89, predicted in 10th Century.
"Des le V siècle, Albumasar avait calculé que l'année mil sept cent quatre-vingt-neuf serait féconde en révolutions sociales, à cause de l'une des grandes conjonctions de Saturne. L'astrologie est vanité, erreur, mensonge, tout ce que vous voudrez; mais enfin voilà une prédiction d'une authenticité irrécusable."--ALBUMASAR, De Magnis Conjunctionibus Tract. ii., Different. 8. Vide MIGNÉ, Dict. des Prophéties, ii. 339.
THIS is no doubt a strange book. An attempt to gather a meaning out of a few of the involved, crabbed, and mystical quatrains of the great seer of France, the greatest perhaps that the world has ever seen, must of necessity be strange. My treatment, too, may possibly seem to many no less strange than the subject-matter itself. I will speak specially as to this latter point towards the close of the preface.
In last December treating upon Nostradamus in the Gentleman's Magazine, I had occasion to remark that every honest man of awakened powers is a kind of prophet, and has to do with the future, or eternity, as it is usually styled. Since then I have come upon the same idea in the writings of Philo Judæus. He thinks that the Scriptures testify in some sort that every good man is a prophet:
"For a prophet says nothing of his own, but everything that he says is strange, and prompted by some one else; and it is not lawful for a wicked man to be an interpreter of God, as also no wicked man can be properly said to be inspired; but this statement is only appropriate to the wise man alone, since he alone is a sounding instrument of God's voice."--PHILO, Heir of Divine Things, § 52, Bohn, ii. 146.
Again, at page 30 of this book, it will be seen that I have described the faculty of anticipating the future, a thing so remarkably developed in Nostradamus, as being, if once we admit its existence in him, a perceptive endowment of the whole human race, that must be classified as a sixth sense. I have since found, with no little delight, that Coleridge, in
his "Table Talk" (ed. 1836, p. 19), designated such faculty as "an inner sense," for, speaking of ghosts and dreams, he says;
'It is impossible to say whether an inner sense does not really exist in the mind, seldom developed, indeed, but which may have a power of presentiment. All the external senses have their correspondents in the mind; the eye can see an object before it is distinctly apprehended; why may there not be a corresponding power in the soul? The power of prophecy might have been merely a spiritual excitation of this dormant faculty." 1
In the matter of prophecy, Photius says, in his "Amphilochia," that prophecy is by no means necessarily connected with virtue: for that Herod pre-announced, as it were, that the Gentile magi, Judæa, and the world were about to recognize Christ for King, and so he desired to make away with him. In this way he played the part of prophet to the whole human race. Caiaphas, he thinks, was not conscious of what he said; in the mania of a desire to kill, his lips prophesied that it was right that one should die to save the whole world. "Let his blood be upon us and upon our children," is a foreboding instinct of the same description. In the council of the Pharisees (John xi. 48), it was prophetic, "If we let him alone, the Romans will come and take away our place and nation;" and though they followed out then own counsel, this is just what happened. "And see," he adds, "the ass in the Old Testament could forecast future things." He was an heretical writer, Photius, but he was evidently not so far away, as the world is now, from believing that prophetic endowment is a sense widely distributed to humanity in general. These hints alone may furnish us with food for useful meditation.
Now, with all this a reader will very likely say, Supposing we grant you the prophetic as a sixth sense, to be henceforth reckoned as a permanent though generally latent endowment of the race, what is the good of such a sense, supposing, with you, that your prophet can never be understood till after the event has taken place, and then only when some drudging interpreter has untwisted his tortuous language and thrown it into the intelligible vernacular?
There are several ways of replying to this. First, are there not thousands of objects in the domain of nature that man has not yet discovered the use of? Anatomists are still at a stand to tell us what is the use of the spleen. What naturalist can say for what reason the noxious serpent is sent into the world? Why was the Georgium Sidus only discovered by Herschel in 1781, instead of by Pythagoras, a much greater man? Sensible men have commonly to content themselves with simply ascertaining the existence of a fact, and they have to rest all the while in total ignorance of why this fact exists. Again, suppose you believe, as the majority do, in the Christian revelation; how can you account for the multiplicity of sects who read the Bible each in its own way? Can you account for a divine revelation that reveals one thing to one man and a contrary thing to another? Obviously, then, there are many things that exist as facts, and yet no man living can assign the reason for them. With regard to any fact that can be asserted, the first thing to establish is, Is it a fact? That once settled, you may wait for the rest of it until you can get it.
But again, and with special regard to Nostradamus, you will see (and by referring to the index you may find the various places at which I treat of it) that he must have had the whole sequence of visions passing clearly before his eyes, with some vocal utterances occasionally accompanying
them, by which the names of men and places and things were announced to him. His method was to set this down in prose narration, either during the sitting or instantly afterwards. On inspection, at cooler intervals, and when he had descended from the heat and ecstasy of fatidical rapture, he would discern at once that the sequence must be broken and the names concealed. If, as it stood in prose, it had been understood by the world, it would have fallen not as a prophecy but as a thunderbolt; not as a thing in book-form, but as an earthquake, that must have changed or shaken the face of Europe, and so have interfered perpetually with its own realization.
Seeing this, he followed the practice of the elder oracles of Delphi, Dodona, and the rest. He broke up the sequence, threw the utterances into metre, mingled much learning linguistic to darken them, and obscured the names, of the great men introduced, under the impenetrable mask of the anagram. Thus regarded, it is not a subject for wonder that he did this: it would have been akin to madness to have done anything else.
It now becomes desirable that I should furnish some clue to enable a reader to arrive rapidly at the pith of this book and its oracular forecasts, so that he may discern for himself in a few minutes, whether, or whether not, the topics treated of have for him a sufficient interest to lead him on to make a thorough study of the book, or to decline it altogether. There is a huge prejudice in this our day that sets in strongly with the multitude against anything that endeavours to deal seriously, or by mystical insight, with things occult, spiritual, or future.
The reader, first of all, should glance over the life of Nostradamus. It will be for him to determine whether my vindication of his name from imposture be adequate or not.
[paragraph continues] Dr. Cobham Brewer is the most recent writer who asperses him as a "charlatan" (see his "History of Germany," p. 164). The reader will see that Nostradamus is of Jewish birth. Coleridge remarks ("Table Talk," p. 31) that all other nations
"Seem to look backwards, and also to exist for the present; but in the Jewish scheme everything is prospective and preparatory; nothing, however trifling, is done for itself alone, but all is typical of something yet to come."
Further than this, Thomas Burnet, in his eloquent Latinity, tells us ("Archæ. Philos," Book I. chap. vii. p. 59, ed. 1727) that Apollonius said bitterly of the Jews that they were the most inept of barbarians, and never invented a single thing useful to mankind. That they were what Bacon would call a people of "no fruit." They taught nothing in their schools, says Burnet, of the circle of the sciences, "ad encyclopædiæ studia," as we do now, but that no race in the world so abounds with prophets, and men endowed with the celestial spirit, as "the Jews."
Those who care anything for the occult processes, that incite to prophetic utterance, would now do well to read the chapter on magic, commencing at p. 67. It gives a few hints as to the practices of adepts, and of the Roman superstitions about tripods, alphabetic interrogatories, and so forth; and it becomes tolerably clear from all this, that Nostradamus was skilled in all the known methods of incantation, astral, pharmaceutic, or electrical, and that he practised them in all their fulness, though with reticent circumspection, and very reluctant and enigmatic avowal. The account of the conspirators against Valens (p. 77) strongly resembles the modern table-turning. But, as this chapter is more curious by far than necessary, it may be passed over by all those who merely wish to appraise quickly the value of Nostradamus
as a figure in history with claims to prophetic faculty hanging on to it.
From the Historical Fragments, commencing at p. 81, it will be seen that he clearly prophesied the violent death of Henri II., to whom he dedicates his "Luminary Epistle." The historical context is very interesting, as showing not only the exact fulfilment of the forecast of Nostradamus; but, that another astrologer, who was consulted by the king, had forewarned him in almost the same words of the same danger threatening, that he should die "in duel." We see the king adhering to the literal word duel, and out of court etiquette feeling the manifest impossibility of the prophecy being fulfilled. We get also the gossip of the court about it, and about the value of horoscopes, from the Princesse de Clèves; furthermore, we learn about the obstinate blindness with which the king forced on his own destruction at the very close of the day and tournament, by the indulgence of a pure whim against the advice and wish of everybody around him. The murder of Henri III., in like manner, is announced, together with the death of his father, at p. 88; at p. 110 it is foreshadowed again as proceeding from the hand of a young monk; and at p. 111 the name of Clement is hinted by a play upon the French words signifying mild and clement. The massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day, at p. 94, stands out in all its vivid horror, and as proceeding from the very hands of le roi farouche; but, compressed into four lines only.
The coming of Henri IV. to the French throne is introduced with the very name of his family, Vendôme, figured in the anagram Mendosus. Here we find also (p. 116) the execution of the Marshal de Biron; his name is actually given as Robin, which yields it letter for letter in anagram. This, too, is concerning a man not probably born when the
stanza was devised. The name of the marshal is disguised, because it would have marked him out too distinctly when he came upon the stage of public life; but, the name of Lafin is given, the subordinate individual who betrayed Biron to the King. It occupies pages to describe this event, but with the terseness, reappearing constantly, which is so remarkable a feature in the style of Nostradamus, he compresses the whole event, and all that he has to say upon it, into six lines.
The chapter on Louis XIV. (p. 132) teems with curiosities of the same inscrutable order; though less startling than what we have already pointed out, yet is it quite sufficient to have made the reputation of an ordinary man.
We may now pass to England (p. 146), and the quatrain relating to its seven governmental changes, throughout a period of two hundred and ninety years; this is as startling as anything of the kind can well be. The next instance, that on the Stuart Dynasty (p. 149), conveying, as it does, the struggle between Charles I. and Cromwell, is simply miraculous; and it should challenge the attention of a listening world. This would seem to be the inevitable result, unless the learned of all orders and degrees can, singly or combined, do away with the interpretation put upon it. Lonole is now for the first time pointed to as being the anagram of Old Noll, or Oliver Cromwell. But before this transpired, M. le Pelletier had none the less applied the quatrain to Charles and Cromwell. If this fails to convince a reader that he is in the presence of a seer and worker of wonders, I do not know what can bring recognition home to him. The single line (p. 152)--
"Senat de Londres mettront à mort leur Roy."
has, as presenting the execution of Charles I., made, in former
but forgotten days, the round of the world, and from time to time has served to keep alive a sort of dumb admission that there had once been a fatidical diviner of note called Nostradamus. Burns remarks, what we all know, that "the passion of prying into futurity, makes a striking part of the history of human nature." It does not look much like it, though, when such a prophecy as this has been allowed to pass out of memory; so that few even of educated men could re-syllable it to you, or furnish you with any better criticism on the man who penned it, than that he was an old French impostor and astrologer. They know ten times as much about Mother Shipton, concerning whom little or nothing is authentic; whilst Nostradamus's book has been probably in print for nearly three hundred and fifty years.
The next is a quatrain on Cromwell exclusively (p. 156), "more butcher than king," as Nostradamus calls him; and he will be found to regard Napoleon (p. 206) in very much the same light. He gives England an ascendancy of the seas (p. 159) for a stretch of more than three hundred years,--a term which, I think, will be found to be on the point of expiring now. Of course his quatrains relating to England are, on the whole, much inferior in interest to those relating to France. What stands collected under the heading of "England" will, nevertheless, well repay perusal. The Battle of Dunbar, for instance (p. 179) is in its way as vivid, though conveyed in but four lines of verse, as Carlyle's famous account of the engagement which is given in the Cromwell Letters. He prophesies the death of Cromwell (p. 184) to fall on the 3rd of September, seven years later than the battle of Worcester. It is true we gather this by implication, but with all the other wonders duly weighed, a candid reader will admit this to be the probable intention
and true meaning here. The Fire of London is given as falling out in 1666 (at p. 187).
His name for the French Revolution is Le Commun Advenement, which I render The Vulgar Advent. This, right up to the very end, is the most astounding part of all that has been recorded by Nostradamus, or brought into intelligibility by his commentators. This preface would run to far too great length were I to attempt even to touch upon all of the points of interest, that we here find to be so strangely dealt with. Take merely the first stanza (p. 198). Napoleonism is spoken of, almost before it has been announced, as proscribed; and, to spring up again as it did in 1848; and then to sink finally seventy-three years after. At that passage (at p. 198) the reader may see how, out of the mouth of Napoleon himself, the exact term of seventy-three years proves to be the correct period. This has never been so much as hinted before. If anything be miraculous, in the accuracy of prevision, I think this may,--and with but little superstition,--be deemed to be so.
There is a remark to be made of some importance, to my thinking, because it establishes the subtle analogy that sometimes subsists in the relation between things, that are not generally reckoned to have any connection one with the other. Now, the Vulgar Advent, of course, is signalized by the usurpation of government by the people; but is it not highly significant that, out of the natural fountain of speech, and with no particular or conscious intention accompanying, the low proletarian rabble, that bring it about in blood, are spontaneously designated by themselves and others as the Rouges? The abhorrent many, when they play the despot, don the colour red, and doff for ever, as they hope, the royal purple. They may hope what they please; but, when their vices ripen, they must fall under the empire of one,--
who is iron-shod, sword-girt, and rat-eaten as to the heart,--who will trample them into order. Call him Lonole, Olestant, or clement Cæsar, which you will; a beast from the abyss must arise to rule the bestial. This is the truly representative man who emerges at the epochs. Rousseau, the red-head, with the curse of Iscariot upon him, may begin the series. A red philosopher first introduces his Pandemonium as order; secondly, Les rouges rouges le rouge assomeront (p. 239); and thirdly, the destroyer, the Napoleon, or Apollyon, introduces and then crowns himself with his own hand. A red series in a red sequel so scaled, so shuts the same.
As we are upon analogies, another curious one may here be noted. The colours of the tricoloured flag symbolize revolution by the reversal of the order of nature. The primary colours in the solar spectrum are, as well as in the primary arc of the rainbow, red, yellow, blue (p. 289); whilst in the tricolour the succession is blue, white, red. Out of this flag, or bow, in the political heavens there is no hope to come, for it yields no promise but that of a deluge,--rouge.
The sanguinary death of Louis XVI. is foreshown at p. 211. In the "Luminary Epistle" to Henry II. (p. 62) the very year is given (1792) to which the quatrain of Louis's death refers. Take next the arrest at Varennes (p. 215), and then another miracle of precision shines forth; for Saulce, the grocer's name in that little town, is pregiven (p. 217). The Tuileries are mentioned by name,--a place where burnt a tile-kiln, when Nostradamus was inditing for us the prophecy.
Now refer to the Napoleonic rule (p. 250). See Napoleon horn in the west of Europe, and the way he could seduce, in a language not his own, is pointed out to you; and, his name is to be a name that the Fates know (p. 251).
Take, again, that strange identification of the Gallic Hercules with his analogue Napoleon. How, as a jay taught by Talma, he at the Tuileries apes the fine birds and court splendour of the old régime (p. 257). Then read the quatrain at p. 259, where the simple soldier reaches empire, and so strikes close analogy again with Cromwell. Then read (p. 262) that awful curse fulminated, when counsel shall die out of the shaven head; see Sclavonia gather (p. 265), and old Moscow burn, whilst the eagle (p. 266) is beaten back with a swarm of birds, and hovers to its fall at Leipsic. 1
I do not deem it necessary to particularize any further; for if all this gathered into one conspectus is not enough to carry conviction home to the mind of any one; and, make the reader know that at Salon, three hundred and odd years since, there lived a Frenchman, who saw all this in visions of the night, interpretative speech accompanying, and set it down at first in too clear prose, and secondly in rythmic riddles afterwards; why, then, I think that fifty times more evidence, thrown in upon the top, could carry no conviction with it.
I have said many things about science and its modern tendencies that will be deemed foolish by some, and by others undeservedly severe, so that a few words upon it
seem necessary here. If the word "science" merely means the study of nature, it has my admiration as a pursuit. But if it means knowledge, I say it is an absolute misnomer. There is no true knowledge out of wisdom, and all that is wisdom in man is comprised in his veneration of Deity. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." It is evident, that what we call science in this day, does not tend that way at all.
But, to take it briefly another way, if you do not know the first cause of anything, you can only attain to a knowledge of relativities, but never of anything as it is in itself. Your methods can have neither beginning nor end. Hence a man can only attain to relative knowledge which, in the strict meaning of words, is not knowledge at all. Thus science is impossible.
Those, who pretend to science, talk much now about an Atomic Theory. They speak of their atom, contrary to its etymology, as being a thing infinitely divisible. This they adopt as a subterfuge, that no one may be able to drive them home. But if you leave them to their own devices,--their own chemical analyses, quantitative and qualitative, when they get beyond vapour, leave them in possession of a nothing to divide. It is then they approach Deity in minimis; but for the cloud upon their sight they cannot see Him. Such men apprehend nothing except through the intellect; but the perfect intellect yields only half the man. It can only deal with the subject-matter furnished to it by the senses. There is, high-placed above it, the spirit of life; which possesses a sense of its own, and by this the heart and head are interlinked. When the ideas (for lack of a better word) of these two are thought into harmony,--or, what Coleridge would call "unity,"--then, and then only, is the comment of the whole man perfect. Take this for an axiom: If you
believe your sense, you may be right; if you believe your senses, you are out of them.
Cogito ergo sum ("I think therefore I am") has been accredited to Descartes as wisdom for a long time. It is nonsense. It is a proof gathered from the action of the intellect alone, and is a critique physical, rather than metaphysical, and here can afford no proof of anything.
Another word about Atoms, and I must have done, or this will not be a preface, but a metaphysical treatise; and though that may be greatly wanted, this is not the place for it. Yet, as I have arraigned science, it becomes advisable that I should furnish to the competent reader a spot or foothold, where being placed, he may, if he will, command my meaning. In the Chaldaic oracles there occur two curious lines; I quote them below that there may be no equivocation possible. 1 "Now, these fabricate individual things (τὰ ἄτομα, atoms), and sensible objects, and corporeal things, and things classed under matter." The Neoplatonists said that ideas were an emanation of the divine fire. Plato said very much the same thing of the human soul itself. An atom thus becomes a fiery individuality (atomic); not, observe, what the nonsensical chemist of to-day calls it,--when by his terrene fire he has reached vapour,--an infinitely divisible atom, but a particle indivisible; that, having traversed all the forms, goes out at the other end of matter; or back again in a chariot of fire to the idea it started from. The world's Opifex made it by fire, and the tradition of Elias is that it will be dissolved by fire at last; but what, friend, should it prove that it is every day doing so always? A fiery idea began it, and in an idea of fire it ends. Also
man's life is nothing but a leap through matter from fire to fire. The ordeal by fire was a type of this.
The professional critic and expert must, after this sketch, be left to himself to judge of everything here set down according to the established rules of art, and the interests multifarious of the special literary organ he may write for and derive emolument from. I expect but little recognition from such criticism; yet, as it is often the result of a life devoted to study and of wide learning, its indifference, or even its hostility, is likely to prove useful,--whether by its fault-finding or in its discovery of actual error. Whatever its sagacity may in this way show to be wrong, I hope to receive with equanimity and thankfulness, and to put right should a second edition by asked for. So much for the professional critics.
What remains to be said touching my method of treatment will probably have no interest whatever for such critic, nor yet for the general reader. It purely, and I think solely, concerns the thoughtful and capable reader. The exceptional man, who finally, and all the world over, is the best friend of the true writer; and who, banded with others like himself, determines solidly the value of, and ultimate position to be given to, every new book, that is a book at all, born into the world of letters.
Such a reader I would only forewarn against two preliminary objections, that might at a hasty first glance tend to excite some prejudice in his mind. The episodes indulged in, and the apparent self-sufficiency of utterance exhibited on questions of moment, that seemingly wise men are divided upon still; or that men of supposed authority have in general estimation settled long ago. Many such things will here be found to have been laid bare again to the very roots, and challenged to show a reason. This is absolute arrogance
everywhere in the estimation of the multitude, learned and unlearned. Reader, gentle and capable, let me give you my view on these two points: could I make it also your view, how well rewarded should I be.
As to episodes: my own view of a book is this, that it should furnish a stimulus to thought if possible at every page; that nothing should enter into it for the sake of bookmaking; and that, so long as the subject of the book is clearly and consecutively advanced, anything else, that can vitally be thrown in without interruption, is so much the more gained to the world in the study of itself, or, in other words, in the study of man; this Pope has, I incline to think rightly, ruled to be his proper vocation here. Very close and consecutive treatment of a difficult matter must always, when long continued, weigh down the spirits, and somewhat fatigue the attention of the reader. At such a time an interesting episode happily introduced will rally the spirits; and, by a momentary diversion, will renew the attention, enabling the reader to attach himself again with vigour to the main thread. There are episodes of course, as there are other things, good and bad. The episode that is dull in itself and distracts attention is bad; that which is in itself interesting and relieves fatigue, carrying the mind back to the main subject refreshed, is entirely good. The episodes in the following pages the reader will judge to be good or bad as they fall under the rule given above or transgress it.
The charge of arrogancy is a little more difficult to deal with, and also to rebut. But even here I do not despair of being exonerated by the capable reader, whom alone, on this point, it is requisite to address. Many years ago I came upon a passage in Coleridge to the effect that he had always pursued light, believing that it must lead to truth, and truth to happiness; but that, let it consummate in joy or not, follow
it he would, for truth's sake. Truth attracted, and he, in fact, must draw to it. I shut the book up, and said, So will I; and, with certain failures, much interruption by necessary duties, and innumerable personal shortcomings, so I have. The result has been an ever-increasing solitude, 1 until at last no eremite of the desert is more alone than I for years have been. Thus placed, I have thought on many questions, with books and without them, caring but little what the greatest said, so only I kept moving onward towards that spot where the light of morning dawned, or where the still rathelier twilight promised dawning. My attention always lay between things and thoughts, keeping clean aloof from vain opinion, which leads to nothing, though she be, according to Pascal, Regina del mondo. As no renown of genius could bring me to respect any man's opinion; so I strove that no self-seeking, nor hope out of some novelty or strangeness to win originality, might bring me to adopt any principle soever that fell short of justness in the least, or of sacred truth anyhow attainable by man. As I sank others, so have I sunk myself and all personal belongings, striving, if I might, to make myself a trumpet of smooth passage or clear mouthpiece to the truth that lies behind us all,--behind every man that cometh into the world,--though haply there be but few who can allow it free enough scope and exit through them. As in this way I have grown nearly dead both to myself and others, and want little of emolument and less of glory (accurrent from without), it seemed not unlikely that so epurated a voice-piece might utter more of
less adulterate truth, than it falls in common to the lot of most to do. So much am I a mere person (persona), mask, thing sounded through, as that the voice at last seems scarcely to be mine at all, but something larger, higher, better much, than I pretend to be. I do not even claim a perfect utterance, or out-put, for what remains of me,--call it trumpet, mask, person, or what not,--must remain, I know, always beset with some earth and earthiness that mars a pure transmission. Yet, weak as it may be and is, the weak things of the world are those that most confound the mighty ones established of authority by man. Where is any boasting, I ask, in this; or what of arrogance is here? Will any man spend thirty years thus to become a voice-tube merely? None the less is it at last a voice crying in the wilderness, "Desolate are those who in the earth lack vision of wisdom, or call gold wealth." Capable and gentle reader, test this prologue, and try it, believing, that if there be any good thing in it, solitude and The Alone have wrought it. With them, as by seraphic marshalling,--with tent pitched, or travelling on, under the night-star or by day,--you may safely thread the pages following, assured that nothing but good can issue or accrue therefrom to you. Most excellent reader, let Vale Valete! fall as the benediction of an eremite upon your ear to-day; as also upon your pilgrimage hereafter, till the hour vespertine of sleep drop down, that closes all for each.
WALTHAMSTOW, E., 1891.
viii:1 This noble and enlarged thought is worthy of Coleridge, who is the greatest thinker of our century, whether you take him as poet or philosopher. Nobody has yet claimed for him the pre-eminence which, I believe, to be his. The peculiar, nay, unique frailties of the man have blinded the men of his own time to the super-eminent, intellectual, practical, and imaginative endowments with which he was so affluently furnished. By the middle of next century, some hundred or so years from his death, the fact will have dawned upon the world, if not before. It will then be recognized that such a personality as his, was "a great birth of time," and to be registered as such in the deathless calendar of genius. Saint, seer, and sage was that man. Not "spoilt in the making," as the witty Lamb put it, with all the lambent malice of a friend jocose. We must admit, of course, some damage that hindered general currency, as also the attainment of such now worthless cash-results as fell to beings distinctly inferior to himself, such as Byron, Southey, Wordsworth, Moore, great as some estimate them to be; and this failure shut Coleridge out from social success,--that success which most of us so ignorantly and greedily covet here, because it makes the present comfortable. But the chief reason, of any shortcoming hurtful to success, that may be observable in Coleridge, no doubt arose from his being far too great to be adequately measured by any of his fellow-men. Many of them were, it is true, highly capable men as the world goes. Even Carlyle, however, who has disparaged him, when placed beside him, dwarfs to a man of Lilliput. We have to bear in mind always that excellent remark of La Bruyère, "Celui qui ne prévoit rien, est souvent dupe; celui qui prévoit trop, est toujours malheureux." This is true of all prophets, and especially true of Coleridge.
But, another thing there is that helps to diminish Coleridge in the general estimation. He has not completed work enough, in well set and fixed form, for posterity to be quite able to fender him adequate, that is to say, resplendent justice. His unexampled conversational gifts have somewhat barred the way to a due appreciation of his equally unexampled literary potentialities. His conversational aptitudes have perished in the moment of their triumphant display. Being without record in this respect, he suffers precisely as the greatest actor does. Triumphs of the table and the salon p. ix are like the triumphs of the stage, we can only revive them in spirit, or the basis of some felicitously appreciative sentence, chance embalmed in print, that some competent contemporary has ejaculated. I, for instance, know the overwhelming power of Kean only through my mother, and the burning phrases left behind by Byron and Coleridge. But the next generation can have no cognizance of him beyond those phrases. It is for this precise reason I indite so long a note as this on Coleridge, out of the pure respect I bear him for his stupendous intelligence and incommensurable soul. I have, indeed, tried to put on record elsewhere my impression of his poetry; but, I have not yet been able to get it printed. Should it ever be so, it would at least acquire some value from the fact of its representing, in a limited and qualified degree, Coleridge's vivid influence upon one who may partially stand on the footing of a contemporary. Coleridge is a spirituality in the world, and his modes of revealing himself are such as lead the run of mankind to esteem him visionary; but it will be found that it is they, not he, that must be reckoned "such stuff as dreams are made of."
xviii:1 Touching this curse to fall on Napoleon, a somewhat singular analogy arises in comparing with it the axiom laid down by Thomasius, quoted in Bruncker's "Hist. Crit. Philos.," v.488. He says that the spirit is, as it were, resident in the centre of all bodies, and thence emits rays, so extending matter. But where it draws back the rays from the circumference of the material to the centre, it soon dissolves and corrupts the body. Si vero radios ex circumferentia materiæ spiritus attrahat ad centrum, resolvitur corpus et corrumpitur. If we suppose this to have taken place at the epileptic seizure of Napoleon, the mental attack becomes an image or antitype of the battle of Leipsic, when the swarm of birds beat back the eagle. An interpreter, such as Joseph, could have told him the meaning of the dream or swoon. The defeat was first of all rehearsed in the soldier's own brain.
Οἱ δὲ τὰ ἄτομα καὶ αἰσθητὰ δημιουργοῦσι
Καὶ σωματοειδῆ καὶ κατατεταγμένα εἰς ὕλην·
STANLEY'S "Hist. Chald. Phil.," p. 43.
xxiii:1 To get one thing, one must always forego some other. Jupiter did not give prescience to Tiresias till Juno had struck him blind. And for our own great Milton it was necessary he should have wisdom at one entrance quite shut out, before, in "Paradise Lost," he could make men's memory a prisoner to his name for ever, in a willing though perpetual serfdom.
Life of Nostradamus
"In Nature's infinite book of secrecy
A little I can read."
Antony and Cleopatra, i. 2.
"I am Isaiah,--be it spoken with all humility,--to the advancement of God's glory."--Luther's Table Talk, Bohn, p. 12.
Yes, indeed, Luther, with quite Lutheran humility!
"Canys gwn a fydd rhag llaw."
"For I know what has been, and will be hereafter."
"Prophetia est solum futurorum contingentium, quia longe distant ab humana cognitione; sed secundario ad eam pertinent præterita et præsentia."--ST. THO. AQUINATIS, Summa, p. 409.
MICHEL DE NOSTREDAME was born in Provence, in the town of St. Remy, in the year 1503, upon a Thursday, the 14th of December, about noon. Tycho Brahe (1546), D'Herbelot (1625) the great Orientalist, and Bruce (1730) the Abyssinian traveller, were all born on the same day of the month. Coincidences such as these are, perhaps, not worth much; yet, do they interest us less than the rainfall of a month, or the precise pressure of the wind on Cleopatra's needle?--which goes by the name of Cleopatra because Cleopatra had nothing whatever to do with it. Robert Étienne, the great printer, was also born in 1503. What would, however, more have affected the family of Nostradamus is the expulsion of the French from Naples on October 31, 1503, after the famous battles in April, fought on two consecutive Fridays with disaster to the French; the battles namely, of Seminara and Cerignola. Many have said that the evil omen attaching to Friday dates from that period. If we had never heard of Good Friday we also might have been of their opinion.
His father, like Milton's, a notary, was James Nostradamus, a name which is equivalent to de Nôtre Dame. 1
[paragraph continues] Moreri calls his family "une famille noble;" 1 others say that he was of Jewish descent, but of a family that had been converted to Christianity, and that he claimed to be of the tribe of Issachar, deriving thence his gift of prophecy, for they were "men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do" (I Chron. xii. 32); or, as in Esther i. 13, "the seven wise men that knew the times." It is true that but few of the orthodox commentators interpret these passages as signifying astrological or prophetic forecast; but that may be, nevertheless, the real meaning (vid. Poole's "Synopsis").
How could Nostradamus be of Issachar, as that was one of the lost tribes? would be a natural inquiry enough; and one could only answer it, as the wit did, in a case somewhat similar, that He could only resemble Issachar in being a great, "strong ass" (Gen. xlix. 14).
His mother's name was Renee de Saint Remy. Her ancestors by the father's and mother's side were men skilled in mathematics and medicine: one was physician to René, or Renatus, titular King of Jerusalem and Sicily, and Count of Provence; whilst the other was physician to John, Duke of Calabria, who was the son of King René. Our author, in his Commentaries, says that a knowledge of mathematics had traditionally descended (de main en main) to him from his early progenitors; and, in the Preface to his "Centuries," he adds: "Que la parole héréditaire de l'occulte prédiction sera dans son estomac intercluse."
It was his great-grandfather 2 who gave him, almost as in sport, a first taste for the celestial sciences. After the death
of this relative he was put to school at Avignon, to study his humanity courses, and thence he went to the university at Montpellier, to acquire philosophy and the theory of medicine.
Montpellier, the Mons Pessulanus of antiquity, contains the most famous school of medicine in all France. It is ancient, and is said to have been founded by Arabian physicians when forced to fly from Spain--Moreri says in the year 1196, by the disciples of Averroes and Avicenna. Its inhabitants are reputed to be witty and most polite. It once had numerous noble churches and many religious establishments, but since the Huguenots became masters of it in 1561, they ruined all this, and made the city the headquarters of their party for a time. Louis XIII. besieged it in 1622, and took it. His first act was to rebuild the Cathedral of St. Peter and the other churches; the desecration of all such edifices being the Puritan and Huguenot fashion there and everywhere. The town seems always to have been a fief of the Crown of France. But a number of kinglets, such as the King of Aragon and the King of Majorca, appear at different times to have had seignorial rights in Montpellier; and many church councils have been held there. All these matters are of some slight interest, as furnishing in a filmy fashion a notion of those influences, mental and physical, that would have been floating around Nostradamus when studying there. The seizure of the town by the Huguenots would have occurred some years before his death. As he was a true Churchman, their successes would have embittered his mind, and may have influenced some of the visions contained in the "Sixains" and "Présages."
It may interest us as Englishmen to know that in the extensive botanical garden at Montpellier lie the remains of Miss Temple, the Narcissa, whose death and funeral are so
vividly recounted by Young in the "Night Thoughts." He appears to have considerably misrepresented the transaction; but George Eliot has made up for it by a criticism upon him and his works, conceived, perhaps in the grossest and worst taste that criticism from a woman's pen has ever fallen into. She grows so angry that she can hardly even see that Young is a poet in any sense of the word. She might easily have found out that he was, by comparing some of her own verses with his.
Another point of interest to us in regard to Montpellier is the reversal of public opinion touching the climate of the place. Brompton, sixty or eighty years ago, was, from the mildness and salubrity of its air, coupled with its then semi-rural aspect, called "the Montpellier of London." The analogy could never have been very remarkable, as Brompton is about on a level with the River Thames, whereas Montpellier's splendid promenade of the Place de Peyron is 168 feet above the sea-level, whilst the whole town runs up the hillside, as its name expresses. Still, the phrase testifies to the opinion then prevalent. Owing to the brightness of its atmosphere and the beauty of its suburbs, the town was long recommended by British physicians as a health-resort to patients suffering from pulmonary complaints; but the weather-vane of science has now reversed that opinion entirely. Its climate is found to be changeable, its sunshine is blazing, its atmosphere is charged with dust that is impalpable, all the while that it seems to be clear; and its cold mistral blasts do but portend a spot most singularly hurtful to the lungs. The fashion varies in localities, drugs, theories, and treatment, and as a health resort for English people the reputation of Montpellier has passed away; but the "École de Médecine" still retains its ancient renown as the central seminary of medical instruction in France.
Learned and medical as it was in the days of Nostradamus, it could not escape visitation by a great plague, 1 and Michael Nostradamus had to retreat to Narbonne, Toulouse, and Bordeaux. In these towns he commenced practice, when about twenty-two years of age, and four years later he bethought him of returning to Montpellier for refreshment, and to take his Doctor's degree. This he got through very quickly, and in a manner that won him the admiration and applause of the whole College. In returning to Toulouse he passed through Agen, a town on the Garonne, where he met with no less a person than the learned Jules César Scaliger, 2 with whom he entered at once into the most intimate familiarity. This induced him to take up his permanent residence in the town. But after a while their cordiality grew less, till rivalry and pique sprang up between them, and they thenceforth stood aloof from one another. Here he married a lady "une fort honorable demoiselle," though history has not divulged her name. By her he had two children, who died young; she also died. Finding himself again companionless, he returned to his natal soil of Provence. When he reached Marseilles, he was invited by the Parliament of Provence to come to Aix, where he stayed three years, receiving a salary from the city from the time the plague broke out, in 1546. It seems to have raged fiercely, and it is said that he furnished to the Seigneur de Launay the reports which he has given in his book, "Le Théâtre du Monde."
After the contagion passed away, the town, Moreri records, voted him for several years following a considerable
pension. His services must consequently have been recognized as valuable. He has left us the formula of his plague powder in Chapter VIII. of his treatise "Des Fards." As a curious instance of the modesty of the women of Aix, he records that they began to sew themselves up in their winding sheets, as soon as they were attacked by the contagion, that their bodies might not be exposed naked after death ("Penny Cyclopædia"). I suppose we may judge from this that the system of burial during the contagion was as gross and indecent as in the famous plague of London; or is this only a fanciful imitation of the story of the women of Marseilles in classical times?
He went thence to Salon de Craux, which lies midway between Avignon and Marseilles. Here he married for the second time. The lady's name is given by Garencières as Anna Ponce Genelle; Anne Poussart, says Moreri; others say Pons Jumel. (See the epitaph further on.) There is the same incertitude as to his family. Jean Aimes de Chavigny, whom we are following, makes it to consist of six children, three boys and three girls; while Garencières says three sons and one daughter.
It was here, relates our memoir, that, foreseeing great mutations were about to affect all Europe, and that civil wars and troubles were so soon to come upon the kingdom of France, he felt an unaccountable and new enthusiasm springing up uncontrollably in his mind, which at last amounted almost to a maddening fever, till he sat down to write his "Centuries" and other "Presages." The first of these "Presages" is dated 1555, and runs as follows:--
"D'Esprit divin l'ame presage atteinte,
Trouble, famine, peste, guerre courir;
Eaux, siccitez, terre et mer dc sang teinte,
Paix, tresac à naistre, Prelats, Princes mourir!"
He kept them by him for a long time, half afraid to risk the publication; he foresaw there was danger, and that it would lead to infinite detraction, calumny, and backbiting, as indeed it finally fell out. A thing like this is like the fox stolen by the Spartan youth, that eats the heart out, and is sure to get vent sooner or later. His memorialist says, that at last, overcome by a desire to be useful to the public, he produced them. No sooner had he done so than the rumour ran from mouth to mouth, at home and abroad, that some thing marvellous and admirable had appeared. One cannot see of what use they could be to the public, as they could not possibly be understood till they were interpreted after the event and by it. In some of the quatrains he says as much himself. He no doubt published them because he felt an intense longing so to do; and, when the mind of a man reaches this stage of desire, it will not take him long to find some excellent reason for carrying out the impulsion. Public good, the advancement of religion, the sustentation of faith, the psychological inference as to the immorality of the human soul, or any other good phrase, will serve a man as a sufficient reason for doing what he wants to do. That man must be a great searcher into his own consciousness, if he cannot readily assume that the motive assigned in such a case is the causa causativa of the act of putting forth.
Moreri's account is not exactly the same as that of our memoir. Moreri describes him as being invited to Lyons in 1547, but as returning very quickly to Salon, only to find that his popularity at the latter place had greatly abated. The disappointment he experienced from this treatment made him withdraw a good deal from society, and commit himself the more to hard study. He tells us that he had for a long time previously practised divination; now he began to think himself to be directly inspired as to the future.
[paragraph continues] From this time, as the lights occurred to his mind, he began committing them to writing at the moment. He set them down at first in plain prose, if you can call enigmatical sentences plain prose; at any rate, they were not written in verse.
Garencières' version varies again. With him it is, that Nostradamus found by experience that the perfect knowledge of medicine is unattainable without the aid of astrology, to which he now addicted himself. It is an alluring science, and one towards the pursuit of which his natural genius strongly disposed him, so that he made very rapid progress in it. His first publications in this line consisted of almanacs, according to the custom of the time, for profit and recreation's sake; and in these he so happily hit off the conjuncture of events that both he and his publications became greatly sought after. It is somewhat curious that so few of these almanacs appear to be now extant. One would have expected that documents of such interest, once in type, would not perish entirely from all households and libraries. It may, however, be taken as a proof of the maelstrom of time that engulfs everything, so that by the period when posterity grows interested in any event, all its belated questionings are presented with a universal blank. The spirit of literary piracy, too, seems to have been rife in those early days. The success of his work soon became a cause of discredit to him, as it led enterprising printers and booksellers to vend, under his name, almanacs destitute of everything that had constituted the merit of his.
When the work made its appearance, it divided the public. Some called the prophet a simple visionary, or, in coarser phrase, a fool; others accused him of magic, and of being in too close treaty with the Devil to be honest. A few held their judgment in suspense, and would pronounce no opinion
on the subject. A vast number of the grandees and of the learned, both at home and abroad, thought that he was endowed with a gift supernatural; and amongst these were Henri II. and Catherine de Medici. It remained to the esprits forts and the ignorant public, who knew nothing of him but his name, to pronounce him a charlatan and impostor. There is one thing certain, he felt much hesitation as to publishing at all; and, when he took that step at last, he addressed the book to his infant son, and not to any public character, in the year 1555. At this period he would bc fifty-two. This is not a time of life at which men usually commence a course of imposture. When he is summoned to the Court at Paris, loaded with honours and consulted on high matters (de choses importantes), he displays nothing but moderation and good sense, and returns contentedly to his modest home at Salon. Upon all ordinary lines of human judgment, such conduct seems to indicate genuineness; and this is strengthened, if not established, by his genuine gravity of deportment and serious religious sentiments. Nobody has denied the purity of his life. Still, a certain Lord Pavilion, of his own day, wrote against him, or perhaps against this publishers' figment of a name, rather than his. Further, we find the book led to the bitter epigrammatic distich of the poet Jodele, or as others say, of Beza,--
"Nostradamus cum falsa damus, nam fallere nostrum est,
Et cum falsa damus, nil nisi nostra damus."
This can very easily be turned against the piratical almanac makers, thus:--
"Vera damus cum verba damus quæ Nostradamus dat;
Sed cum nostra damus, nil nisi falsa damus."
In spite of piracy and obloquy, the repute of Nostradamus grew, as we have said, in influential quarters, until it came
to the ears of Queen Catherine de Medici and Henri II, on the publication, in March, 1555, of the first seven Centuries of his "Prophecies." The remaining Centuries, the Sixains, and Presages, were not published till long after. In the following year, 1556, they sent for him to attend the Court in Paris: though Garencières says he left Salon on July 14, 1555, and reached Paris on August 15th, a particularity which seems to indicate special knowledge. 1 The Lord Constable Montmorency attended him at his inn, and presented him to the king in person. The king showed him high favour, and ordered him to be lodged at the palace of the Cardinal de Bourbon, Archbishop of Sens, during his stay in the capital.
When there a severe attack of gout seized him, that lasted ten or twelve days. His majesty sent him two hundred crowns in gold (two hundred écus d'or; vid. Moreri) in a velvet purse, and the queen one hundred crowns (Le Pelletier, i. 92). They then despatched him to Blois, to visit their children, the royal princes, and give his astrological opinion. He repaired thither, and seems to have acquitted himself to the satisfaction of the king. It is quite certain that he did not tell them precisely what he thought, 2 for the princes were Francis II., Charles IX., and Henry III., whose tragical fates he has correctly set out, and with unmistakable clearness, as may be seen (at pp. 84, 86, 96) by the forecasts in his strange book. He, however, cast their horoscopes and acquitted himself in this, as in all other transactions, en homme d'esprit. He returned to Salon so much encouraged that he set to work and completed his
[paragraph continues] "Centuries," consisting of three hundred more quatrains. These further quatrains he appears to have printed in 1558, but Garencières says that he dedicated them to the king in 1557. The only thing that is certain is that the Texte-type dates the epistle June 27, 1558. This "Luminary Epistle" to the king, Garencières tells us, discovers future events "from the birth of Louis XIV., now reigning, till the coming of antichrist." 1
Henri II. was killed the following year, 1559, at the tournament of St. Quentin, as we shall see- it fully set forth at Quatrain 35 in Century I.
He had now become quite a court favourite, for Emanuel, the Duke of Savoy, visited him at his house at Salon about this period, in the month of October; and, in the December following, the Princesse Marguerite de France, sister of Henry II., who by the treaty of peace at Cambresis was to marry the duke, came also to Nostradamus, entertaining him very familiarly (Garencières and Moreri).
Charles IX. made a progress through the kingdom in 1564, to quiet the cities that had mutinied; and when he came to Provence, on arriving at Salon, November 17th, he asked first of all for Nostradamus. Nostradamus was in the suite of magistrates around the king, so that he was presented on the instant, upon which the king made him his Physician in Ordinary, and honoured him with the title of Counsellor. He complained rather bitterly of the neglect with which his follow-townsmen treated him. César Nostradamus reports this, saying, "Et de ce, me souviens fort
bien, car je fus de la partie" (Moreri). On the return journey he again inquired for Nostradamus, and gave him two hundred ecus. He was at this time over sixty, and with his health fast breaking under severe attacks of gout. He died within about sixteen months of this period, and the salary and profits of Physician in Ordinary must have greatly comforted the old man in his latter days. He enjoyed now the further satisfaction of being flocked to by learned men, grandees, and others, who resorted to him far and near, as to an oracle. "As St. Jerome remarks of Livy, so may we remark of him," says his biographer, Jean Aimes, "that those who came to France sought Nostradamus as the only thing to be seen there."
The closing scene is now drawing very near, and we find him much afflicted with his maladies, notably arthritic gout, as distinguished from podagra, which Dr. Cullen considers as the seat of idiopathic gout. He awaited with firmness his climacteric, as they used to designate a man's sixty-third year. He died on the 2nd of July, 1566, a little before sun. rise, having all his senses yet about him, for the arthrisis turned to dropsy about eight days previously, and early on the second day of the month suffocated him. Jean Aimes says that Nostradamus was well advised of the time, even of the very day and hour, when his death must take place. The prophet reminded him frequently towards the close of the previous June that he had written with his own hand, in the Ephemerides of Jean Stadius, these words in Latin, Hic prope mors est ("Here is death at hand"). "The day," continues this friend, "before he exchanged this life for a better, after I had spent many hours with him, and late at night was taking leave of him until the following morning, he said, 'You will not see me alive at sunrise.'" M. le Pelletier gives (i. 91) Presage 141 as a stanza pointing to his
own death; but, as the "Presages" were not printed till 1568, their authenticity may or may not be accepted as the reader feels inclined. The lines run thus, and are remarkable enough, if we admit that they were a genuine forecast; for, although they assign no specific date, yet they sum up the principal facts rather fully:--
"De retour d'Ambassade, don de Roy mis au lieu;
Plus n'en fera; sera allé à Dieu:
Parans plus proches, amis, freres du sang,
Trouvé tout mort près du lict et du banc."
The meaning given to this is, that on his return from Arles, whence he was sent for, in 1564, by Charles IX., to see him a second time, after he had safely put away the three hundred crowns given him by the king and queen, his last transaction would be concluded, and he would then under his soul to God. His nearest relatives, brothers, and friends would find him dead near his bed, seated, as was customary with him, on the bench at its foot, as he could there breathe more freely.
This is the interpretation put upon it by M. le Pelletier. As I understand César Nostradamus, the king did not send for him to Arles, but asked again for him on his majesty's return to Salon; and I should think the word "ambassade" must refer to some private mission the king had sent him upon entirely apart from this, and for which he paid him. Be this as it may, the fact that Nostradamus assigns no date for his death, in this presage, goes to establish its authenticity, one would incline to say. For supposing it to have been foisted in, after his death, surely a fabricator of the marvellous would first of all have made it to show trois vingts et trois bis, and twisted that into some colourable shape. He would have been little likely to add as a prophetical
feature that the king's present had been put away in a safe place, as to do so seems anything rather than a supernatural instinct. It is a touch of prose more than of the Python. On the whole, I should incline to take the verse for a genuine emanation from the pen of Nostradamus. Certainly he would recognize, even medically, that, as he found himself to be growing "fort caduc et débile" towards his climacterical year, he would know that his dissolution was at hand. A man's grand climacteric is generally considered to arrive at 63, though some place it at 81, that number being composed of 9 times 9. In either of these periods, if sickness occur, it is considered as especially likely to prove fatal.
There seems to be a diversity of opinion about this, for some say that the annus climactericus is 84, or 12 times 7. Aulus Gellius thinks the opinion to be of immense antiquity, running back to the Chaldeans; and no doubt Pythagoras derived it from the East. Ficinus explains it by saying that the body of man is ruled over by each planet in turn for the space of one year, and, Saturn being the most maleficent, every seventh year falling to his presidency becomes extremely dangerous. This explanation would shut out the nines, except in the sixty-third and eighty-first year, but it would also vitiate the whole scheme of astrology, for the planet under which a man was born (say he were born under Saturn) would dominate his body at birth, and be, one must suppose, the ruling planet that year, and, if it were Saturn, would recur only on his eighth year. Eighty-four would not be in favour generally, as it consists entirely of even numbers, though divisible by seven. Many held that only a number produced by the multiplication of an odd number could be climacterical. Augustus thought it a subject of great rejoicing when he had passed over his sixty-third
year. 1 Moreri will have eighty-one to be properly speaking the climacteric, and he notes that at this age died Plato, Diogenes, Eratosthenes the geometer, and many other illustrious personages. Some went so far as to say that political bodies had their climacterical periods; and they certainly, judging from our own country, have periods of fatal folly, whether or no the nines and sevens collide, or the stars fight against Sisera. But amongst other oddities of history may be chronicled the fact that Henri Quatre was the sixty-third King of France, which made Malherbe talk of--
"La vaine étude s'applique,
A trouver la climatérique,
De l'éternelle fleur-de-lis"--
that fleur-de-lis whose terrible withering up in the fatal year of '93 Nostradamus so powerfully forecasts.
Suffice it to say that in this climacterical crisis Nostradamus succumbed in his sixty-third year to gout, which turned to dropsy. 2
Nostradamus was interred at the church of the Franciscan Friars (Les Cordeliers) at Salon, as it is noted, on the left-hand side of the church door (Garencières). His widow erected to him a marble tablet, "representing his figure to the life, and his arms above it." The epitaph is as follows, made, they say, in imitation of that great Livy aforenamed, the Roman historian:--
UNIUS OMNIUM MORTALIUM JUDICIO DIGNI,
CUJUS PENE DIVINO CALAMO TOTIUS ORBIS,
EX ASTRORUM INFLUXU, FUTURI EVENTUS
VIXIT ANNOS LXII. MENSES VI. DIES XVII.
OBIIT SALONE AN. CICICLXVI.
QUIETEM POSTERI NE INVIDETE. ANNA PONTIA GEMELLA
CONJUGI OPT. V. FELICIT.
"Here lie the bones of the illustrious Michael Nostradamus, whose almost divine pen alone, in the judgment of all mortals, was worthy to record, under the influx of the stars, the future events of the whole world. He lived 62 years, 6 months, 17 days. He died at Salon in the year 1566. Posterity, disturb not his sweet rest! Anne Ponce Gemelle hopes for her husband true felicity."
The text of this epitaph is that given by Benoist Rigaud in the edition of Nostradamus published by him in 1568.
In stature he was somewhat undersized, of a robust body, sprightly, and vigorous. He had a broad and open forehead, a straight even nose, grey eyes, of kindly expression, but in anger capable of flashing fire. The general expression was severe, though pleasant, so that a grand humanity shone through the seriousness. Even in age his cheeks were rosy. He had a long thick beard, and excellent health till nearly the close of life; he had his senses, being alert and keen, up to the very last moment. He had a good and lively wit, seizing with quick comprehension everything that he wished to
acquire. His judgment was very penetrating, his memory happy and retentive. He was taciturn by nature, thought much and spoke little; but at the right time and occasion he could discourse extremely well. He was quick, and sudden even to irascibility; but very patient where work had to be done. He slept four or five hours only out of the twenty-four. He practised freedom of speech himself and commended it in others. He was cheerful and facetious in conversation, though in jesting a little given to bitterness. He was attached, so says De Chavigny, to the Roman Church, and held fixedly the Catholic faith; out of its pale there was for him no salvation. Though pursuing a line of thought entirely his own, he had no sympathy with the Lutheran heretics of so-called Freethought. He was given to prayer, fasting, and charity. As far as outward observance was concerned, he might be classed with the highly respectable and decent. Le Pelletier says, "Sa fin fut Chrétienne;" but he adds a little further on that his style is very much more like that of the Pagan oracles of Greece and Rome than of the canonical prophets of Hebrew inspiration. He was very generous to the poor, and held it as a sort of maxim that in this sense it was legitimate to make friends with "the mammon of unrighteousness."
Jean Aimes de Chavigny, who seems to have come over from Beaune to play the part of a Boswell to Nostradamus and,--after his friend's death, is said to have devoted twenty-eight years of his life to editing the "Centuries" with notes, 1 says that he collected twelve books of the "Centuries," of which vols. vii., xi., and xii. are imperfect. These are in quatrains, and are classified as Prophéties, and they extend to very remote ages. The Presages, we are told, were written
between 1550 and 1567, 1 and. were collected by Aimes and reduced into twelve books in prose, as he thinks them worthy of the attention of posterity. The few Presages thou are in print run to only one hundred and forty-three quatrains in verse; so we must suppose that those written in prose have perished entirely.
Nostradamus left two brothers behind him: one named Bertrand; the other, Jean, who was his junior, and proctor to the Parliament at Aix, composed a History of Provence, and also wrote the lives of the Poets of Provence. 2
Moreri states that by his second wife he had six children, three boys and three girls. Of his sons, César, the eldest, was a person of demonstratively gay and kindly spirit. It was to him, when quite a child, that Nostradamus dedicated the first seven of the "Centuries" published by him. These are the most authentic of all, and Moreri remarks that, if you wish the quatrains to be without interpolation, you should secure early editions. The reader will understand that to be now unnecessary, inasmuch as we have all along been dealing with the Texte-type. César was born at Salon, 1555, and died 1629. He, like his uncle Jean, was an author, and wrote upon the same topics, leaving in manuscript a collection of the most remarkable things happening in Provence from the year 1080 to 1494. In this he included the lives of the poets of Provence. Many years after his death, his nephew and namesake, César Nostradamus, who was Governor of Provence and gentleman in waiting upon the Due de Guise;
found them, and himself worked at them, till, in 1603, the Parliament of the province voted him three thousand livres to encourage him to complete the work, which he did; and they were finally printed in Lyons in 1614, under the title of "Chroniques de l'Histoire de Provence." He commences with the Celtic Gauls at the early date of the Deluge. This is worthy of a true scion of the tribe of Issachar. A very strange story is told of César by La Motte le Vayer in his "Instruction pour Monseigneur le Dauphin." He, like his father, Michel, had a taste for forecasting the future, and had ventured to predict that Pouzin, which was besieged, would perish by fire; but it was taken by coup de main. Whilst the pillage was going forward, the foolish prophet was, it is said, seen, match in hand, endeavouring to set it on fire. He was caught; and Saint-Luc, the commander, asked him if he had prophesied anything for himself that day. He replied, "No!" on which the general rode at him with his lance, and killed him on the spot. Moreri relates this story somewhat differently. If either version were true, it would be clear that César did not understand "la parole héréditaire de l'occulte prediction," and that the lancehead instead was "dans son estomac intercluse." From other authorities, however, it would seem that he was busy about his history long after the date thus assigned for his death. Charles, his brother, was very excellent in Provençal poetry,--and several pieces of his arc still extant. Michel's third son, whose name is not given us by Moreri, became a Capuchin.
An anecdote is related by Garencières, which he throws out as "a merry passage" to recreate his reader. Nostradamus was with Lord Florinville in Lorraine, at the Castle of Faim. He was attending medically his lordship's mother. In the yard where they strolled there were two little pigs, one white and the other black. His lordship inquired of Nostradamus
jestingly what would be the fate of those pigs. "We shall eat the black one, and the wolf shall eat the white," said he. Lord Florinville secretly ordered the cook to get ready the white one for supper. When it was spitted ready for roasting, the cook left the kitchen for something, and in his absence a young tame wolf came in and ate a part of it, so that it could not appear at table. The cook immediately killed the black one, and sent it up at the time appointed. His lordship, not knowing what had happened, said to Nostradamus, "Well, Sir, we are now eating the white pig; how shall the wolf get it?" "I do not believe it," rejoined the prophet; "it is the black one that is upon the table." The cook was sent for, and by his confession the truth came out, much to the surprise of everybody present. Another story follows this, that Nostradamus had said that treasure was hidden in a little hill near Faim, that it would not be found if sought for, but that, if the ground was dug for any other reason, it would. Garencières adds that there is great probability about this as it is the site of an ancient temple, and many times since antiquities have been unearthed here. He completes his cock-and-bull story by saying that many such tales are told of Nostradamus all over France but that he passes them by as being "unwilling to write anything without good warrant."
Amongst other nonsensical reports spread was one that he caused himself to be buried alive, and that he continued to write prophecies. This no doubt was set afloat by those honest publishers who in life had done him the honour to pirate his almanacs; at any rate it made for their interest. It has also been pretended that so many in Salon regarded him as an impostor, that for security's sake he was buried in the Franciscan Church.
Those who desire the Bibliography of the editions of Nostradamus
up to the year 1840 will consult that which has been admirably drawn up by Eugène Bareste, Paris, 1840, in his work upon "Nostradamus." Or they may find it copied textually, with all due acknowledgment of its excellence, in the first volume of Le Pelletier's edition of the "Oracles."
The works of Nostradamus, besides the "Prophecies," seem. to have been--
Several Almanacs, two of which were translated at once into English, and are given by Watt, "Bib. Brit."
"Almanacke for 1559." London: 1559. 8vo.
"Almanacke et Prognostications." London: 1559. 8vo.
Moreri gives further an--
Almanac for country labourers, to mark the seasons favourable for their work. A true predecessor, this, of Moore's Vox Stellarum.
"Predictions before 1558." London: 1691. 4to. This is named by Watt, and may be a translation of the genuine first edition of the "Seven Centuries," but I have not met with it.
"Prophecies of the Kings and Queens of England." 1715. This is the work by D. D. that we have largely quoted from.
"An excellent Treatise on Contagious Infirmities in 1559-60." Translated into English. London: 1559.
"Traité des Fardements." Lyon: 1552.
"Des Confiteurs," etc. Anvers: 1557.
"Opuscule de plusieurs exquises Receptes, divisé en deux parties." Lyon: 1572. 16mo. This contains both the above.
"La Remède très utile contre la Peste et toutes Fièvres pestilentielles.' Paris: 1651. 8vo.
"Paraphrase de Galien sur 'lexhortation de Menodote aux Études des Beaux Arts." Lyon: 1558. 8vo.
Touching the prophecies of Nostradamus, Théophile de Garencières gives us an interesting fact, that, after the primer, it was the first book at school in which he learnt to read. It was the custom in France then (i.e. 1618) to initiate children by that book. They thought the crabbed and obsolete words, such as long survived in the English law, would give the scholars some idea of the old French language; so
that the book got republished from year to year like an almanac. He chronicles that many have run mad from over-studying the prophecies. He dissuades readers from doing this, because interpretation must always be a little uncertain where, like an ancient oracle, the author indulges in a double sense, which he thinks Nostradamus often does. Without a peculiar genius, he does not suppose it possible to get at a right understanding of the quatrain. Even when the prophecy is quite plain, as that the Parliament should put King Charles to death, no reader, until it had happened, could tell when, or how, it would be brought about, Even his astrological signs will not fix things, because the planets go and return again to the same bearings. Some of his reasons are very peculiar, one being that it is not profit able for the vulgar to have knowledge of the future, that God reserves the knowledge of the times to Himself, and that it might trespass upon "business of State" to discover and lay open things which the prudent wish to conceal; and he concludes, oddly enough, that "for these reasons (dear Reader) I would not have thee entangle thyself in the pretentions of knowing future things."
He conceives that there are many concurrent causes tending to diminish the prophetic reputation of Nostradamus. The very ordinary manner in which he conformed to the rules and ritual of the Roman Catholic Church, would lead no one to infer that he enjoyed any extraordinary favour from the Almighty; his proficiency in judicial astrology would furnish matter of prejudice against him in the minds of many learned men; the very devout suspected him of necromancy, and familiarity with the Angel of Darkness; finally the inherent obscurity of his style has been rendered still more difficult by the interminable faults introduced by, the copyists and the carelessness of printers.
Now, it is admitted, he says, and by its ablest defenders, that judicial astrology cannot enable its professor to foretell such particularities as proper names and other circumstances that hang upon the free will of men; and, as our author does foretell such things as these, he must have had recourse to the black art to obtain his results. Accordingly Lord Florimond de Raimond, in his "Birth of Heresies," makes this charge against him; also Lord Spond, in the third volume of his "Annals," in 1566, devised this epitaph for him. "Mortuus est hoc anno nugax ille toto orbe famosus Michel Nostradamus, qui se præscium et presagum eventuum futurorum per astrorum influxum venditavit, sub cujus deinceps nomine quivis homines ingeniosi suas hujus modi cogitationes protendere consueverent, in quem valde apposite lusit qui dixit: Nostra damus cum falsa damus," etc. 1
Provoked thus, Garencières endeavours to prove Nostradamus to have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit. We shall not follow him in this matter any further than to avail ourselves of the facts we may light upon in the course of his arguments, and to record a few of the eulogies upon him that Garencières gathers from eminent authors in times past. To these we may add some authorities who in modern times have named him; but these mostly sum up his forecastings as springing from venality, vanity, and imposture.
Of proper names, that Nostradamus has anticipated, the list is considerable. He names the Lord of Monluc; Captain Charry; Lord de la Mole, Admiral of the Galleys to Henri
[paragraph continues] II.; Entragues, beheaded by Louis XIII.; Clarepegne, the headsman; Sinan, the Pasha who destroyed Hungary; Clément, who murdered Henri III.; the Attorney David and Captain Ampus; Rousseau, the Mayor of Puy; Louis, Prince of Condé; Sixtus V., calling him son of Hamont; Gabrielle d'Estrée; Lord Mutonis; Anthony de Sourdis, Lord Chancellor of France; the Queen Louise; Antony of Portugal. Since Garencières' time other names have been identified: Narbon, the Minister of War; Saulce; Lethuille, for the Tuileries; Lonole, for Old Noll, or Cromwell; Montmorency; Le Grand Chiren, anagram of Henri le Grand; Mendosus, anagram of Vendosme; Norlaris, anagram for Lorrains; Robin, anagram of Biron; Rapis, anagram for Paris; Esleu Cap, for Capet, or Louis XVI.; Varennes, the place where Louis was arrested; the play upon bour and bon, for Bourbon (Cent. vii. 44); Ergaste, anagram of Estrange for Marie Antoinette the Austrian; Mont Gaulfier, for Montgolfier, the æronaut; the island of Elba, mentioned as Æthalia, the ancient name of Elba; Sainct Memire, anagram for Sainct Meri; and the play on "dort leans" for Louis Philippe. This is a goodly list of names to guess at haphazard. Such chance as could so result would rival any prophecy in the miraculous nature of its elements.
Again, as regards the curious things he mentions, one might make out a long list. The date of the Fire of London. The five hundred Marseillais that led the attack upon the Tuileries. The naming of the very year 1792 for the French Revolution; the 22nd of September in that year being the date from which the Republicans began to reckon anew their era. Many more might so easily be gathered as to even weary the reader with their enumeration.
He mentions the birth of persons that were born after his death. Now, judicial astrology could give no help in
such cases, since to commence casting a nativity presupposes birth. In his epistle to his son César we shall see what he says of himself and the gifts he possessed; but even there he was obliged to be somewhat obscure, to protect himself from the ridicule of the world on the one side, and from the severities of the Church on the other. He tells his son to eschew the study of the future astrologically, to avoid magic, as prohibited by the Church and Scripture, and that he himself had burnt some books that taught the art of prophesying, although it is pretty evident that he had first read them through very carefully himself. He relates that a mighty flame burst forth from them to the danger of his house, and this he interpreted to be the consequence of their falsity. But yet he seems to have gone through a good many of the magical forms when he was about to devote the night to prophetical studies. He holds that inspired Revelation is "a participation of the Eternal Divinity," though he scarcely lays claim to being a prophet in this sense of the word; in fact, he denies himself to be such a prophet. But, failing to claim inspiration, and denouncing the practice of astrology and the pursuit of magic, one is left somewhat in the dark as to what he really did profess to be the source of fatidical utterance possessed by him. That he had the gift in a marvellous potency this book will show; and that he openly claimed to possess it his whole life proves. It is, in fact, from this I should desire to establish that at least he was no impostor, for he only told others what he began by implicitly believing himself.
As to his obscurity, he himself admits it as a thing to be cultivated both in the times he lived in and in those that were to follow. No one can truthfully deny that obscurity and prophecy seem to be almost interchangeable and convertible terms. The prophecies in Scripture are of
such ambiguity that Whitby was commended by many for concluding his Commentary on the Bible with the General Epistle of Jude, without a word bestowed upon the Revelations of St. John. There are those who will hold that prophecies are useless, as they cannot generally be understood until they have been fulfilled. It is obvious that many prophecies are of such a nature as that, if they were clearly understood previous to the event, they would prevent their own fulfilment, and so cease to have been prophecies. What they foretold would never have occurred. The philosophy of history is supposed to show that Providence shapes the course of human events how much soever humanity may seem at every instant to be following out its own collective will. This theory is most in favour amongst erudite modern thinkers, who incline very little towards acquiescence in the old Church doctrine of Predestination. Yet inspired prophecy is a collateral proof of the same principle as that which underlies the philosophy of history. Both of them depend on the finger of God shaping--first shaping chaos into things, and then things into their continuous courses. The shaping is not needed more at the first creation than it is at every successive stage, whether for preservation or for progression. Again, the interest of uninspired prophecy is for mortal man not much less vivid; for, if we have interpreted Nostradamus rightly, we find in him a man living three hundred years ago talking intelligibly, if not clearly, of things that are happening to-day. If there be a power in human nature,--latent in the generality, but in a few alert and quick,--to link far centuries together in anticipatory thought, I take it to be quite clear, that that one fact must revolutionize the whole scheme of human philosophy as accepted now, whether it relates to life, to death, or to futurity. The fatidical capacity implies a spirit
of immortality in man. With that once established, we re-enter upon the domain of faith; we recognize that the earth is drossy and the body sin; we re-create the soul, and laugh at the fool (or the philosopher) who doubts, denies, and ridicules it. It gives new ground to teach the immortality of man; it lifts us above the dirt-doctrine of gold; it renders poetry once again possible to lips hallowed with Apollo's fire; it brings back a possibility of worship upon earth, and, with that, prayer, praise, and peace. Bates, the silver-tongued, says well, that for man "it is as natural to pray as to breathe."
Garencières is of opinion that the writings of our prophet were for a century allowed to "be in darkness," but we have seen that in his own day Nostradamus attracted the notice of the learned, of the nobility, and of the king himself. Garencières says that the first book they gave him at school after the primer was "The Centuries," so it was not neglected then; and M. le Pelletier remarks that Nostradamus's fame has now been before the world for three hundred years, with an always growing reception. Of course, as time wanes, and as fresh quatrains become interpreted after accomplishment, the series must shine with an ever augmenting brilliancy and splendour. The kings of France have never been quite indifferent to the Oracles, or at least to such of them as could be shown to refer to them individually. It is reported of Charles Edward Stuart, the Pretender, that he to the last conned 1 over the volume, anxiously hoping to find in it some stanza promising to his royal line restoration to the throne of England, but in vain (Chambers' "Book of Days," ii. 13).
In modern times prophecy is derided, and our seer, obscurely hinting his strange forecasts, is voted incoherent,
rhapsodial, or an impostor. Almost every one has heard his name mentioned, but that is all. Few who come across his work accidentally on a bookshelf can make head or tail of his Provençal and half obsolete terms. Without special study you cannot understand him; and to study a work that lies under a general ban of imposture, in a time when only lucrative study is pursued, is a thing not to be thought of by a littérateur of any intelligence. Consequently in England it is a name, floating far and wide it may be, that nevertheless remains but a name and nothing more. I hope, however, when this book comes to be read by the competent few, it will be seen that there exists far more than a mere name to be dealt with here; that in Nostradamus we have the greatest fatidical seer, not divinely accredited, that the world has ever beheld; that if accepted as being endowed with a rare and curious foresight,--after the severest inquiry into what he has done has been instituted by grammarians, historians, and philosophic critics,--it will next become necessary to try to look into the causes, and so ascertain how he operated. If we cannot succeed in that, and yet cannot deny his work, we must add the faculty, so remarkably developed in him, to the perceptive powers of the human race, as a sixth sense,--generally latent but sometimes developed,--the faculty of anticipating the future. Science, so called, must enlarge its narrow categories, and admit, though never so grudgingly, that a new faculty of vast import must henceforth be accredited to humanity; a faculty which the superstitious and the profoundly religious alike have immemorially admitted, but which philosophers, as such, have as persistently ignored, denied, or even ridiculed. It has often been said by troubled thinkers, with a pretentious flourish of baffled profundity, that "true philosophy begins in doubt." I would whisper it down the
wind, but not in Gath, that for the most part there it also ends. Anatomy cuts up a dead man to find life. Analysis reduces final Investigation to a caput mortuum. Philosophy begins in doubt, and travels a wide circle to close in doubt again. Perhaps, after all, the best basis might be faith. Beginning with faith, haply a man might find God accompanying investigation with him step by step through life, even in this world and its miraculous garden, till the hour tome for him to step, through the six-foot wicket, into the Paradise of that glorious world that is adjacent to us but not seen, where sighs are not heaved, and whose glories are incorruptible.
When we come to enumerate some few of the opinions that have been expressed on the writings and character of Nostradamus, it will be seen that a vast number of them condemn him for charlatanry and imposture, especially as we approach our own day. For now what is denominated science accepts nothing for true but what is deducible from the reason; it takes for granted that nothing can be known respecting the future, beyond what cultivated prudence can gather from a politic acquaintance with the past, coupled perhaps with a sagacious estimate of the principles now at work, and the fruit they are likely to engender. In fact, what the knowledge of a wise man can enable him to foresee, covers for such theorists the whole extent and province of all prophecy possible to man,--the sagacity of Mazarin, which detected the revolutionary element in the Cardinal de Retz whilst still a youth; or the prediction of Bishop Butler, in 1741, that the levelling spirit then visible, under the direction of principles that were atheistic, threatened dangers that might menace Europe. But to call this prophecy is to be ignorant of what the word prophecy means. To state it thus, or so to limit it, is to deny the existence
of the prophetic faculty altogether. A direct denial of the thing is better than a sceptical definition of it. Scepticism, then, in our day, not believing there can be such a thing as a true presage, concludes that Mother Shipton and Nostradamus stand on precisely the same footing. They read a quatrain of Nostradamus, only understand one line out of four, and say that, although that one may be intelligible, the Sphinx itself could make nothing of the others, and that out of a number of such verses it would be marvellous if something curious were not occasionally let fall. The next inference is that the author set up for a gift that he did not possess, and soon found the imposture was far more lucrative than the dull routine of medical practice, as in those times the superstition of the public was unlimited. The ignorance of the Middle Ages is pointedly contrasted for us now with the wisdom and knowledge of our own day. What, prejudice apart, does this mean, if briefly summed up in an aphorism? Only this: that the wisdom of to-day gives us the Nihilist of no faith, in place of the Astrologer of too much.
We ought to remember in all this that our author had reached the mature age of fifty-two before he printed one word of the work that we are spending time over. He tells us that for generations the family of Nostradamus had inherited and transmitted some share of the prophetic gift (Garencière's Preface, p. 16), that it came to him as a natural genius; in which it seems that his sons partially shared. He had cultivated it long for his private pleasure, and the request in which his almanacs stood seems to have first led him to think he Might more largely utilize the faculty. He never appears to have made any large sum of money through it. He supported himself and brought up his family by steady work in his professional calling. On
the very brink of publicity, anticipating malign influences, he still hesitated to take the final plunge; and, when he did take it, he was in his fifty-third year. Men seldom pass through life performing all its duties with credit and decorum, earn a competency, and at fifty-two enter upon a career of contemptible imposture. No; this is not according to human nature. We must acquit him of imposture.
Michel Nostradamus was one of the most learned men of his day, the friend of Jules César Scaliger. He knew many modern languages, and the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. He had followed medicine from the age of twenty-two, took his Doctor's degree at twenty-six, filled a professional chair at Montpellier, and late in life devoted himself to judicial astrology; in which, and in an intuitive forecast beyond what that can bestow, he has distanced by far all other competitors in the same line. Let a reader thoroughly acquaint himself with all that is here set before him as to Charles I. in England, and its bloody re-enactment in the French Revolution, letting all the rest stand aside; and, if he can rise from the perusal, feeling that there is any kind of imposture discoverable throughout those strange and wonderful revelations then he himself possesses so miraculous a form of judgment, as to leave me without a word further to advance upon the subject.
M. le Pelletier conceives that the Commun Advénement, or l'avénement au règne des gens du commun, which I have rendered "The Vulgar Advent," extending from the death of Louis XVI. to the reign of Antichrist, is the grand object of Nostradamus. It is to paint this lurid epopee that he devotes three-quarters at least of his quatrains, according to le Pelletier. Myself, I think this proportion to be overstated. But our prophet returns to it again and again, elaborates the most minute details, and concentres upon it as
in a focus the brightest rays of his mystical genius. Some think that Catharine de Medici was largely influenced in her firm and far-seeing policy by the counsels of Nostradamus, whom she visited expressly at Salon de Craux, in 1564, with her son, Charles IX. This may have been so, but it is a great question whether Nostradamus, for all his visions, curiously as they realize themselves in time, could advise the queen or anybody else at all better than any other wise man of elaborate culture could. His visions would come to him as verses to a great poet, and when written down and the afflatus fled, he would drop back to the ordinary condition of humanity. He would drop back to the level of reason and the discourse of science, with nothing to specially distinguish him from other men well placed to learn such wisdom and knowledge as this world has to bestow upon them. To expect more of him is to expect with the commonalty that if you met Milton in Bread Street he would address you in blank verse, and strain "Good morning" into metre. Great men cut very plain figures in common broadcloth. It is the impostor who is magisterial, and puts on the airs of a Cagliostro.
Nostradamus is sometimes a pillar of fire, but oftener he is a pillar of cloud. He is a past master in words, and depicts events with a terseness that almost baffles parallel; but still his employment of these same words is more practical than artistic, for he never rises to poetry. As an accepted visionary he is perhaps less swayed by the imagination than any man of at all kindred type that one can mention. With him words are as often used to veil as to unfold his meaning. His contempt for simple persons, the ignorant, is very broadly marked. Men of knowledge are to constitute his audience; the heaven of prophecy is in his opinion a region unfit for children. He, clean contrary to the example set
forth in St. Mark (x. 14), will suffer none such to approach him. 1 He chiefly predicts the evil to come; what is good only figures in his pages incidentally, and at long intervals. But here it is to be observed that the staple of true prophecy must always run parallel with that of history; whilst, as to the latter, it has grown into an axiom, "Happy is the country that has no history." He fatigues while he fascinates us amid the variety of his combinations; yet a deeper examination will often end in clothing these riddling and vext allusions in a magical and floating investment that lifts them up into a calm sublimity.
Still he is clearly no prophet in the old and Hebrew sense of the word--like Isaiah, Daniel, David, John,--a man who neither respects his own person as regards its safety, nor the person of other men as regards their position. You cannot say of him: "Scimus quia verax es, non enim respicis personam hominum" (St. Matt. xxii. 16), which is the test-touch all the world over of a true prophet. Le Pelletier's summing-up is: c'est un artiste en pronostics. There is a Pythic ring in all he writes and says; a sub-flavour, too, of cabalistic lore far gathered from those ancient compromising books which he saw fit to burn. The outward signs of his procedure and methods are palpably magical, as set forth in the stanzas that open his first Century to the reader. If we know that he professed Christian orthodoxy, equally we know that he practiced judicial astrology, and made unquestionable use of the Pagan ritual of incantation. These rites, uncomprehended by all the erudite in books who wrote about them, were by the divines and fathers of the early Church ignorantly attributed to prestidigitation, Toledan
art, and fraudulent compact with the sable fiend. Perhaps they may turn out to have been merely natural excitations, empirically discovered, tending to enable the subject of them more fully to reach a state of semi-conscious ecstasy; to place the cerebral light in the current of latent light that pervades all space (if such an expression be permissible), and so elicit results that are ordinarily unattainable by man. Bouys, who wrote in 1806, plainly considers him to have been a clairvoyant. The animal magnetizers call him a crisiaque. Possibly all these processes only served to place him in a position favourable to clairvoyance; but on all this, respected and gentle reader, construct your own opinion. Let the man be to you prophet, sorcerer, or clairvoyant. Call him what you will, so you free him from the stigma of impostor. M. le Pelletier's judgment as to that ought to be regarded as final: "L'ampleur de son génie, et la sureté inimaginable de son coup d'æil, ne permettent guère de la croire."
It has been well said that the man and his works are an enigma. Everything in our author is ambiguous. the man, the thought, the style. We stumble at every step in the rough paths of his labyrinth. Once we enter, jeering voices seem to deride us from behind each stanza, strophe, word. We try to interrogate, but grow silent before a man of emotionless nerve and of impenetrable mask. What are these "Centuries?" What is Nostradamus? In them and him all may find something; but no man born of woman can find all. The Sphinx of France is here before us; a riddler, riddling of the fate of men: a man at once bold and timid; simple, yet who can plumb his depth? A superficial Christian, a Pagan perhaps at heart; a man rewarded of kings: and yet, so far as we can see, furnishing no one profitable hint to them that could make their life run smoother, or remove a single peril from their path. His
leaves a book of things malign, written by one who, albeit, never spoke a word that à tous ne seroit agréable. Behold this Janus of a double face; his very breath is double; the essence of ambiguity lies wrapped incarnate in him, and it moulds the man, the thought, the style.
3:1 The facts for this life are taken, where no other reference is given, from a scarce work, entitled, "La première face du Janus François, par Jean Aimes de Chavigny Beaunois, 1594." It is found in the Library at Paris; but not in the British Museum. Fortunately M. le Pelletier gives an almost literal transcript of this "Brief discours sur la vie de M. Michel de Nostredame."
4:1 "Archives du Magnetisme Animal," vol. viii. "Tous deux" (i.e. father and mother) "appartenaient à une famille Juive," converted in the sixteenth century, and of the tribe of Issachar ("Nouvelle Biog. Générale" [Le Pelletier, i. 16 n.]).
4:2 His grandfather, Moreri tells us.
7:1 Moreri assigns this to the year 1525.
7:2 He calls Scaliger in the heyday of friendship "a Virgil in poetry, a Cicero in eloquence, a Galen in medicine," and declares that to him he is indebted for his scientific attainments ("Penny Cyclopædia," s.v. Nostradamus).
12:1 "That the great bulk of French society of his day was impressed by his effusions there can be no doubt" (Chambers' "Book of Days," vol. ii., p. 13).
12:2 Moreri says that nobody knows what his report was.
13:1 Garencières, as we have shown, says Nostradamus dedicated the "Luminary Epistle" to Henri II. in 1557. M. le Pelletier holds (i. 10) that Henri II. never knew of the dedicatory epistle written to him by name, and that, as the events referred to do not concern the House of Valois, they could have had no interest for him had he known of the epistle. M. le Pelletier adds a most singular note to this remark, that the epistle is dedicated "A l'invictissime, très puissant, et très chrestien Henry Roy de France Second." This epigraph he maintains not to be addressed to Henri II., for he remarks that he was no longer alive when it made its appearance. Now, this is not so; for the dedicatory letter was dated in print June 27, 1558, and the king's death only took place in 1559, so that the document was even in print before his death. But, had it not been so, there is no reason whatever why Nostradamus should not have supplied the king with a copy of the letter and quatrains in manuscript long before either of them had been committed to type. Jean de Roux, Curé de Louvicamp, wrongly suggests that it was intended as a prophetical dedication to Louis le Grand or XIV. M. le Pelletier thinks it was not even dedicated to the great Henri Quatre, but to a "Henry, Roy de France Second"--second being the Latin secundus, or prosperous, i.e. some king not less illustrious than Henri Quatre, whose reign is to arise in the future. This it is which furnishes to the reader the secret purpose of Le Pelletier's book, which is to set forth the claims of the Due de Bordeaux, who would have ascended the French throne as Henri Cinq. Accordingly, in the body of the book, he has interpreted five quatrains and one sixain of the prophecies of Nostradamus as referring to this glorious King Henri Second, who has never arrived, and who, being now some years dead, never can. We have seen that the Curé de Louvicamp could even suppose that Louis XIV. could stand for "Henry, Roy de France Second." M. F. Buget, in his "Étude sur Nostradamus," has the same idea, that be does riot address Henri II., because he was not of a character sufficiently great to merit the attribution of such spiritual authority to him by our prophet, as if the flattery of a dedication was to be interpreted au pied de la lettre. It could only be addressed, he thinks to a really great man,--, a saint. M. Buget, in his book of 1862, evidently was another of those who made the fatal error of interpreting Nostradamus out of the future, instead of carefully following the enigmas thrown out p. 14 by him to find their fulfilment in the past. These gentlemen, if they had assiduously read the Epistle itself, instead of consulting their imaginative faculties, would have perceived plainly enough that Nostradamus was writing to the only king he knew, before whom he had personally presented himself, and whom, as he says, he had highly reverenced from "iceluy jour que premierement devant icelle je me presentay." The concluding words of the Dedication are equally plain, and show that he is addressing a king whom he has individually seen with his own eyes: "depuis que mes yeux jurent si proches de vostre splendeur solaire." All the rest is to be set down to the strain of courtly flattery that was customarily addressed to kings, then and down to a period full two hundred years later, especially on occasion of penning royal dedications. The purpose of this long note is to establish, once and for all, I trust, that "Henry, Roy de France Second," stands, without any subtlety at all, simply for King Henry II., and nothing more. It is vain to endeavour to make millstones transparent that we may shoot unexpected rays of light through them. They will answer their purpose by being left in the dark, and will grind grain the better for it. Transparency will in such cases represent frangibility.
18:1 Aulus Gellius, "Noctes Atticæ," xv. 7.
18:2 It was really in the sixth month of his sixty-third year that he died.
20:1 Temple Bar, xli. p. 87, authority for the term of years.
21:1 How any could have been written in 1567, I know not, as Nostradamus died in 1566. But, however this may be, there are twelve Presages, or one for each month throughout the year 1567. The last one is that which we have already given, as relating to his own death.
21:2 The book was entitled, "Les vies des plus célèbres et anciens poëtes provensaux, qui ont floury du tems des comtes de Provence" (Lyon, 1575); a book still sought for, and rather rare.
26:1 "In 1566 died that trifler, so famous throughout the world, Michael Nostradamus, who boasted while he lived that he knew and could foretell future events by the influence of the stars, in whose name afterwards many ingenious men have put forth their imaginings, justifying him who said so aptly, 'Nostra damus,' etc."
30:1 Bouys does the same for Napoleon I.
36:1 See the ban he utters in Century VI., at the close--"Barbari procul sunto." He shows a quite Horatian and heathen antipathy to the profanam vulgus.
Referred to at p. 157.
THE genuine and spurious portraits of Cromwell are numerous to such a degree, that they may almost be called innumerable; for they can never be counted, as no one man can get at them all to reckon them up. Their main authority is said to depend upon the works of four artists, Lely, Cooper, Walker, Faithorne. Samuel Butler, the author of the ever-marvelous "Hudibras," is thought to have painted a likeness, but it counts for nothing, as it is not now to be identified as existing in any collection. The first-named three are painters, the fourth is a great engraver.
In all these, Mr. Frederic Harrison professes to discover "singular resemblance" ["Cromwell," p. 32,] but considers that Cooper's is the most successful of them all. I find the first to be a most misleading statement. and one that may be disproved by anybody who will compare Cooper's likeness, as given in Carlyle's "Cromwell Letters" with the picture by Walker in the National Portrait Gallery. They differ in every particular,--in character, feature, temperament, and conformation. Scarcely do they agree even in the wart. There is nothing to identify them as representing the same individual. Either Lely copied Cooper, or Cooper copied Lely, and they accordingly, of course, correspond with each other; but truth is too much sacrificed to flattery by both these courtly painters, for us to suppose that their work corresponds very accurately with the sitter. Such examples of Faithorne as are readily accessible in the Print Room at the Museum convey no adequate idea of the man. Neither do they resemble Cooper, Lely, nor Walker's work. There is a profile print by Houbraken, an excellent performance, which is interesting as showing that both the chin and forehead receded greatly. There is also a very peculiar engraving of Thomas Simon's medal, which is very beautiful as a work of art. But here again the facial angle is simply villainous, with very mean diminutive eyes, and the dress almost clerical. The engraving from the Cooper at Sidney College gives the wart on the left brow instead of the right.
From such discrepant things it seems to me next to impossible to derive any correct notion regarding the face of Cromwell, except that the facial angle of the side face must have been unusually bad. Yet Mr. Harrison is able to express himself as follows:--
"No human countenance recorded is more familiar to us than that broad, solid face with the thick and prominent red nose; the heavy gnarled brow, with its historic wart; eyes firm, penetrating, sad; square jaw, and close-set mouth; scanty tufts of hair on lip and chin; long loose brown locks flowing down in waves on to the shoulder. His whole air breathing energy, firmness, passion, pity, and sorrow." Carlyle's fancy version is given below. 1
This being derived from a falsity, must itself be false. But is it not somewhat curious that friends and foes of Cromwell should alike sit down contentedly before this admirably executed miniature of Cooper's without devoting a second thought to its representative value as a portrait of the man in question? Its artistic felicity should be as nothing to the historical inquirer. Taken as a mere portrait, this Cooper is as valueless as Veronese's presentment of Alexander the Great; or as any fancy portrait of Oliver would be, if sent in by some skilled modern hand to the next May show at Burlington House.
Our sense of surprise increases, when we come to remember that we possess an authentic original to go by, in the shape of a mask still extant that was taken at death. Historians draw up rigmarole pen-and-ink portraits of their own, but are all silent about this, or make only casual mention of it as "the mask at the Statuaries," just as though it corresponded in every particular with Samuel Cooper's exquisite pigment-figment. Romancists delight in coloured detail gathered from history; and historians revel in romance when it saves them from searching into dry detail. In this case historical gossip slips in to illustrate the stringent veracity of Cromwell. When Lely was to take his portrait, he is said to have ordered him to be faithful in representing every blemish and defect, to paint warts and all, or he would not be paid. Lely knew what this meant, and acted accordingly. All portrait-painters flatter, they must to secure a practice; but, they ought to select the best aspect possible, for so far
it is what it professes to be, a likeness. Now the strong point with your court painter is, to throw in skillfully what is not there. In this Lely and Cooper have succeeded to admiration.
Walker, in his several portraits, gives us another set of varieties. His picture in the Portrait Gallery [Granger, "Biog. Hist.," iii. p. 290.] with Cromwell's son Richard as page tying on the father's scarf, has been finely engraved by Pierre Lombart. In this picture, which is a little wooden, we get an average-looking gentleman going to battle. A man we should have to look at three or four times before we should individualize him at all in the memory. Mr. Nobody riding to nowhere particular is the impression derived. Of the engraving, however, Evelyn says, and he knew Cromwell perfectly well, "that it gives the strongest resemblance of him." He therein physiognomically discovers "characters of the greatest dissimulation, boldness, cruelty, and ambition, in every stroke and touch." I can say nothing of this, for I have not seen the Lombart engraving. The picture does not convey the idea.
How pliantly subservient art was in those days, is well illustrated in another Cromwell engraving by the same Lombart. This artist had done, after Vandyke, a "Charles on horseback," from which he erased the face, and substituted that of Cromwell. The slender figure of the king had to do duty for the heavy-built brewer of Huntingdon. But times change, and we with them. So Peter reinstated the king. There must be impressions of this turn-face print in its three states; for no doubt copies were sold at every stage. The King is dead. God save the Protector! The Protector is dead. God save the King! The dead lion is never so good for the crowd as the live ass; irrespective of the latter creature being far more representative. A quality much sought after in modern governors.
There is a portrait of Cromwell affixed to Isaac Kimber's "Life of Oliver Cromwell," which he published anonymously [Granger, iii. 297]. This is pronounced in the "Letters of Mr. Hughes" to be most like the authentic family pictures of Cromwell. Vertue engraved it in 1724 for Rapin's "History of England," and when Granger wrote the picture was in the possession of Sir Thomas Frankland of Old Bond Street. I suppose this to be still in the hands of the Frankland-Russells of Chequers Court, who also possess a plaster cast of Cromwell's face. By the courtesy of the family I have been permitted to examine this; but it seems to me of ne value, and it has no history.
We come now to the terra-cotta bust by Edward Pierce, which is in the National Portrait Gallery, said to be taken from life. Pierce was an artist in the second generation. His father, of the same Christian name, was a painter, and assistant of Vandyke. Our Edward was trained for a statuary, and because the pupil of Edward Bird: he also acted as assistant to Sir Christopher Wren, and is said to have built St. Clement Danes under him. He did a bust of Wren, for the theatre at Oxford, and also
one of Newton, He died at Surrey street in the Strand, and was buried at the old Savoy. This bust of Cromwell was, to all appearance, modelled by him from a cast taken from life, and must therefore, as to measurement and bulk, be of life size.
I was kindly permitted by Mr. George Scharf, of the National Portrait Gallery, to take the dimensions of this bust by measurement, but practically they are not very useful, inasmuch as the head has a great abundance of short curly hair which of course in terra-cotta becomes perfectly solid, and thereby increases the circumference of the head by many inches.
The circumference, hair and all, at his brow is 28 2/8 inches.
Nape of neck to frontal bone, where it unites with nose 15 4/8 "
Breadth from car to ear at level of the central hole of each ear as near as can be approximated 6 2/8 "
This last measurement is, I believe, correct, but it is a dimension that only a large forceps could take with perfect certainty. It is so small, however, that I feel sure that the other two dimensions must be very far from giving the true osseous formation, so that several inches will have to be allowed off them for the hair. Again, the measurement between the tip of nose and back of head (9 5/8 inches) would also require that deductions be made for a wad of hair at the back. This measurement when reduced, and coupled with the third measurement given, indicates an undersized skull for a broad-built man of five feet eleven in stature.
As for the physiognomy, the nose, though far from fine, is somewhat aquiline, and the best of all the features of the face. The forehead is low, ill-formed, and mean. The mouth firm, cruel, deceitful. The jowl and chin sensual and gross almost to brutality. It is the face of a man of low passions, possibly ambitious, but of great duplicity, of a low-bred type, the type as of one sprung from a lower stratum of society than his history indicates him to have sprung from; and you may readily suppose that in exchanges of coarse buffoonery with the roughest trooper of his corps, he would have been quite within his own province and at home. His mother's portrait shows her also to have been a very masculine coarse-featured woman.
It is well perhaps to mention here a bust that Grose in a letter to Granger in 1774, calls "a masterly and spirited bust of Oliver Cromwell by one Bannier." It was then in Mr. Gostling's collection. He says it is like that engraving given in Rapin's "History." I imagine it therefore to be a fancy rendering, and of very small historic value.
The expert historians, and of course the general public together with them, are perfectly satisfied with the Cromwell presented to them by Samuel Cooper. I confess that I think it a most laughable presentment, and of quite impossible credence. I do not think Pierce's bust to be satisfactory, but I most certainly consider that it is the only likeness I have
had the opportunity of examining that conveys even a hint of what can be supposed to be the real appearance of the man. There is but one way now remaining to settle this question. It is very much to be regretted that, with so much pretence of a desire for historical accuracy, we should have allowed two hundred and fifty years to elapse without making the least attempt to settle this question.
We learn from Breval's "Travels" that at the Old Palace at Florence there is a cast preserved of Oliver Cromwell. The mould was obtained from Cromwell's face a few minutes after his decease, "through the dexterous management of the Tuscan resident in London." This, or a cast from it, ought immediately to be secured for our National Portrait Gallery. A copy of it would cost very little in either time, money, or trouble to secure; and when secured three or four should be cast in bronze, and placed in different museums so that one fire could not destroy all of them at once.
I feel almost sure that it will be found to confirm the bust of Pierce,, as being more like Cromwell than anything else that we possess. And further, as Pierce's work is by no means a grand achievement in the sculptor's art, I should hope to find in the Florence cast characteristic indications that are absent from Pierce's work. Grandeur of soul is incompatible with such a face as Pierce gives us. But I confess that I see no grandeur whatever that could be expressed by a man whose history it that of Oliver. His base success the world may worship if it will. I despise success if it must be obtained by Cromwell's methods. I observe that the great in history are always mean in fact; and I well know that you must say to all the men who have been triumphant, let no probing moralist come near you. Pitiable and contemptible is the man who can envy the great in the greatness of their crimes. I do not expect that the cast, if procured, will make the reading any better for Cromwell; but, if it should, I am quite ready to give him all the advantage of it. At present I hold that the face is villainous, like the man.
". . . ducitur unco,
Spectandus: gaudent omnes. Quæ labra? Quis illi
Vultus erat? Nunquam, si quid mihi credis, amavi
JUVENAL, x. 66.
Still, love or no love, we have reached the end; and if we should confirm Pierce, the flesh and bones of the man thus revived will also confirm the epithets of Nostradamus, which first induced me to enter upon this investigation.
"Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet."--John iv. 19.
"Quod est ante pedes, nemo spectat: cœli scrutantur plagas."--Cic., Divin., ii. 13.
This granted, a pig is nearest wisdom.
Μάντις ἄριστος, ὅστις εἰκάζει καλῶς.--WITSIUS, Miscel., p. 14.
The best analogist is the best prophet.
"L'observation des analogies universelles a été negligée, et c'est pour cela qu'on ne croit plus a la divination."--LEVI, Clef des Mystères, p. 216.
Μαντεῖον, ἐπὶ χείλεσι βασιλέως, ἐν δὲ κρίσει οὐ μὴ πλανηθῇ τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ.--Prov. xvi. 10, LXX.
There is divination on a king's lips, and judgment fails not in his mouth.
306:1 "Stands some five feet ten or more; a man of strong solid stature, and dignified, now partly military carriage: the expression of him valour and devout intelligence,---energy and delicacy on a basis of simplicity. Fifty-four years old, gone April last; ruddy-fair complexion, bronzed by toil and age; light brown hair and moustache are getting streaked with grey. A figure of sufficient impressiveness;--not lovely to the man--milliner species, nor pretending to be so. Massive stature; big massive head, of somewhat leonine aspect, 'evident workshop and storehouse of a vast treasury of natural parts.' Wart above the right eyebrow; nose of considerable blunt aquiline proportions; strict yet copious lips, full of all tremulous sensibilities, and also, if need were, of all fierceness and rigours; deep loving eyes, call them grave, call them stern, looking from under those craggy brows, as if in life-long sorrow, and yet not thinking it sorrow, thinking it only labour, and endeavour:--on the whole. a right noble lion-face, and hero-face." (Carlyle, "Cromwell Letters," ii. p. 435).
"He that knows anything worth communicating and does not communicate it, let him be hanged by the neck."--Talmud, Sucah, p. 58.