Зображення сторінки

his, in a luckless season of priest-ridden ignorance and oppression; and, consequently, one of the great merits of his work consists in pointing out, with a master's hand and artist's accuracy, the rocks and shoals in every branch of mental improvement, on which either he himself had suffered, or others might suffer, shipwreck. To make this prefatory remark plain to our readers, we shall give a brief account of his life, collected from the various fragments which his friends or enemies, or himself, have left on record ; a life comprehending one of the most important periods of historical interest ; for, born at Cologne, in 1486, and dying in 1536, he lived to see the commencement of the gradual emancipation of the human mind from the fetters of ignorance; and bore, occasionally, no inconsiderable share in the political scenes connected with the memorable struggle of the reformation. His shrewdness and penetrating insight into character afforded him, moreover, anple means of observing the secret main-springs by which this great work was effected, and enough to prejudice him against the chief engines employed in these active campaigns, in which every passion of man, good and bad, were alike enlisted, in fierce and interminable warfare. In these days of voracious appetite for biographical memoirs, the discovery of a MS. bearing the indisputable sign-manual of Cornelius Agrippa, would, indeed, have proved a mine of wealth to the fortunate discoverer, for few were better calculated than Cornelius to give a true and lively picture of those eventful times in every department, civil, political, and religious.

Entering life as secretary in the service of the Emperor Maximilian, he soon evinced as much skill in the management of the sword as the pen, and was, accordingly, knighted, for honours fairly won during a seven years' service in the Italian wars. Not satisfied with these, however, we soon find him figuring in the world in the twofold character of Doctor of Laws and Medicine, filling up the fractional portion of his hours of idleness by mastering no less than eight languages, in which, together with a knowledge of abstruse studies and the whole circle of sciences, he was, according to his own account, well grounded. As might naturally be expected, in a season when the intellect was awakening from its long slumber of five centuries, and the infallibility, as well as power, of the Romish hierarchy began to be questioned, a man of his acuteness, under the influence of inordinate curiosity and an uncontrollable pen, could not long busy himself in a search after truth without drawing down the vengeance and hatred of the church establishment. In fact, he speedily roused the lethargic spirit of the whole priesthood, from the cardinal to the mendicant friar, who, one and all, were, in their respective departments, ready

and willing to stigmatize as heretical every thing removed an iota beyond their limited comprehension, and which had not heretofore been admitted in their legends and missals. But whatever pain or mortification he might have felt, from the anathemas of this holy combination of ignorance and intolerance, all was more than compensated by his gratifying reception amongst the lay aristocracy. By their exertions, he was, in 1518, appointed to a highly respectable situation at Metz; but this he was soon compelled to relinquish, owing to a persecution excited by the monks, who, in consequence of his interference in favor of a poor girl suspected of sorcery, and equally unpardonable refutation of certain orthodox opinions respecting the three traditional husbands of St. Anne, threatened him with the arguments of an active inquisition, on the alert to overwhelm one who dared to protest against their views of witchcraft, and St. Anne's matrimonial biography.

His itinerant mode of life had by no means tended to fill a dilapidated purse ; accordingly, we find him frequently in the greatest distress, not a little increased by the claims of a wife and family, who followed his fortunes. In 1524, however, he succeeded in being placed on the pension-list of Francis I., as physician to his mother, Louisa of Savoy; but this proved a more flattering than beneficial appointment, for his salary was wretchedly, if indeed ever, paid; and, finally, he had the misfortune to displease his royal mistress, not the meekest of human lambs, by presuming to differ in opinion respecting the comparative merits of astrology and medicine; she, with true female curiosity, insisting upon his telling the fortunes of France by consulting the stars, instead of attending to the medical pursuits for which he was engaged. It is, indeed, probable that his prudence might have dictated an apparent preference for the latter, as it was suspected that he had, in fact, consulted the horoscope of French politics, and, finding it somewhat discordant with the hopes of the gentle Louisa, preferred a pretended ignorance to a developement which might have eventually proved still more injurious to his views. With the loss of his place, poor Cornelius, unfortunately, lost his temper; he stamped, swore, threatened, spoke, and wrote in succession, and, as a climax, designated his patroness a second Jezabel :

nec ultra illam ego pro principe mea, (jam enim esse desiit) sed pro atrocissimâ et perfidâ quadam Jesabele mihi habendam decrevi.”* Having evaporated his spleen, the next step was to procure another establishment, which he was fortunate enough to meet with, at Antwerp, where we find him in 1528.

“Epist." 67, lib. iv., p. 884.


During his short residence there, he seems not to have hid bis candle in a bushel, for, in the following year, he received a simultaneous invitation from Henry VÌII. of England, the Italian and German States, and Margaret of Austria, aunt of Charles V. Preferring the latter, he was appointed historiographer to the emperor; but, Margaret dying in 1530, he had little more to do in his new function, than compose her funeral oration; a fortunate event, in all probability, as his old enemies, the monks, had, in that short period, so effectually prejudiced her against him, that his life was in considerable jeopardy. The work before us, (for reasons which will be obvious to our readers, when we quote his opinions of the Romish priesthood,) and another on occult philosophy, added fuel to the flame, and rendered his enemies bopelessly implacable. To the eternal credit, however, of two cardinalsCompeggio and De la Mark—they interested themselves in his cause, and sued, but in vain, for the arrears due for his historiographership, not a farthing of which did he ever receive; in lieu thereof, being committed to prison, in Brussels. By what means he effected his liberation, does not appear; but no

was he released, than, with increased zeal, he dedicated his work, “On the Vanitie of Sciences,” to his friend the archbishop of Cologne, a prelate conspicuous for his virtue, simplicity of manners, and distinguished learning; a proselyte, moreover, to the doctrines of the reformers: with such a patron, he contended, with redoubled vigour, against the inquisitors, reprinting corrected and enlarged editions of his works faster than they could suppress or destroy the old ones.

In 1535, he was unguarded enough to visit Lyons, on his journey thither being imprisoned, on account of some offence given to the mother of Francis I. His detention was, however, but short; for, being released at the earnest request of some good friends at court, he proceeded to Grenoble, where he died in the course of the same year. It would be no easy matter to give an accurate account of his real faith and opinions. He certainly never formally abjured the church of Rome, and it may, therefore, be reasonably concluded, that he really died in her communion. But that he was liberal in his opinions, will be evident from the extracts we shall annex from his works; and that he was unostentatiously pious, is equally evident from a perusal of his private letters to intimate friends. But, withal, that he most cordially detested the props by which the national religion was upheld, there can be no question. He launches forth in terms of exultation on a work in hand, intended to lay open the crimes and heresies of the predicant friars, whom he accuses of almost

of human nature to commit:-such as poisoning the sacramental elements, manu

crime in the


facturing miracles and relics by wholesale, exciting sedition and insubordination ; in a word, ihe most inveterate radicals of their day, whose flagitious conduct he declares himself “in eo scilicet libro, dilucidè narrare." As might naturally be expected, they, in return, spare not the lash, accusing him, amongst other numberless sins, of being in constant and familiar intercourse with the devil; a sure card, in the hands of monks, to play before a populace ever ready to swallow a hook baited with a tale of the marvellous. Our authority for this rests on an account given by Paulus Jovius, who, nevertheless, allows him the merit of being a scholar,—“vir educatus in literis.” Agrippa, says Paulus, was always accompanied by the devil, in the shape of a huge black dog; and when, on his death-bed, he was exhorted to repent, he called this dog, and taking off a collar studded with nails, forming certain mysterious necromantic words, he exclaimed “avaunt, and away with thee, accursed animal, for thou art the cause of my everlasting perdition!” The dog immediately, it is added, took the hint, and, rushing out of the house, precipitated itself into the river Saone, and was seen no more. How far this will be considered to be fair and legal damnatory evidence, to any but staunch orthodox catholics, we presume not to say; we give the fact : coram judice lis est, and there we leave it, softened only with this brief exculpatory testimony of Jean Weir, Agrippa's servant, who insisted that this reported familiar was a bonâ fide genuine black dog, which he was constantly in the habit of leading about with a string, feeding at his master's table, and, occasionally, even sharing his chair and bed, and to which they were both strongly attached, on account of his fidelity and affectionate habits.

As an author, he appeared frequently before the public. The following is a list, but we are not prepared to pronounce it a perfect one, of his works :-—"A Treatise on the Excellency of Women," written in 1529, composed in compliment to Margaret of Austria, but never actually published.-"A Sketch of the History of the Government of Charles V.”-“ On the Vanities of the Sciences, 1530.”“On Occult Philosophy, 1530;" which he explained in a manner somewhat similar to that which the Swedenburgians interpret the scriptures: viz. assigning a double sense, one literal and erroneous, the other real, but spiritual and hidden. Perhaps we should be nearer the truth if we considered him as belonging to the sect of quietists, a class of mystics who imagined that there was a celestial light concealed in the deepest recesses of the mind, enabling the initiated to comprehend the operations and developements of the divine will, acting pervasively throughout creation. “A Commentary on the Arts of Raymund Lullius.”—“ A Dissertation

on Original Sin.”—His ideas on this abstruse subject were not quite in accordance with received opinions past or present, inasmuch as he considered the sin of Adam to have consisted in a more general gratification of the pleasures of sense, not confining it simply to disobedience on one particular point; a doctrine, probably, not very congenial with that of the monks, whose habits would much more have inclined them to limit and identify it with one single solitary breach of moral obligation. “An Essay on Marriage;" and several books of letters to various persons.

We come now to the work before us, which, in subdivisions of 102 chapters, comprises every science, art, and medium, through which knowledge can be obtained.

We shall commence with those sciences connected with the operation of the mind, prefacing it with an extract, comprehending a general view of the subject. “Nothing can chaunce unto man more pestilente, than knowledge : this is the very pestilence that putteth al mankinde to ruine, the which chaseth away all innocencie, and hath made us subjecte to many kindes of sinne, and to death also; which hath extinguished the light of faithe, casting our soules into blinde darknesse : which, condemning the truth, hath placed errors in the hiest throne;" an opinion so truly in accordance with the practical views of the Romish Church, that it required no small degree of subsequent heresy to efface the good opinion the profession of such an opinion must have secured.

Respecting the origin of letters, " the whyche oftentimes bring with them no lesse pestilence than pleasure ;" he gives the credit of the Chaldean (on the authority of Philo) to Abraham; and of the Hebrew, to Moses, who introduced them for the use of the Jews, though these were afterwards altered by Ezra, who, he supposes, wrote almost all the books of the Old Testament. Of these begynnings so inconstante, and at every season so mutable, did grammar first proceede, Prometheus being the firste inventour therof;" an art by the " corrupte interpretation of wordes,” much deceiving the whole world, “ of the which arise no small mischiefes in the common wealth,” each party “wresting them," not for the public good, but as best suited “ to their owne commoditie.” Thus the “divines and hooded friers, putting themselves in among the grammarians, were at daggers drawing for the signification of wordes, with many additions of heresies, turning topseturvie the scriptures, by reason of grammar, being become naughtie interpretours of thinges." He then instances the various contertions and errors which have arisen from parties adhering to their own application, or rather misapplication, of words. Thus, “what greate contention have these two little wordes, ex and

« НазадПродовжити »