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John Dee

Dr. Dee's Diary

I am not prepared to say, with its modern editor, that Dr. Dee's Diary [26] sets the scholar magician's character in its true light more clearly than anything that has yet been printed; but I concede that it reveals in a very striking and interesting manner the peculiar features of his character—his superstitious credulity, and his combination of shrewdness and simplicity—as well as his interesting habits. I shall therefore extract a few passages to assist the reader in forming his opinion of a man who was certainly in many respects remarkable.

(i.) I begin with the entries for 1577:

‘1577, January 16th.—The Erle of Leicester, Mr. Philip Sidney, Mr. Dyer,[27] etc., came to my house (at Mortlake).

‘1577, January 22nd.—The Erle of Bedford came to my house.

‘1577, March 11th.—My fall uppon my right nuckel bone, hora 9 fere mane, wyth oyle of Hypericon (Hypericum, or St. John's Wort) in twenty-four howers eased above all hope: God be thanked for such His goodness of (to?) His creatures.

‘1577, March 24th.—Alexander Simon, the Ninevite, came to me, and promised me his service into Persia.

‘1577, May 1st.—I received from Mr. William Harbut of St. Gillian his notes uppon my “Monas.”[28]

‘1577, May 2nd.—I understode of one Vincent Murfryn his abbominable misusing me behinde my back; Mr. Thomas Besbich told me his father is one of the cokes of the Court.

‘1577, May 20th.—I hyred the barber of Cheswik, Walter Hooper, to kepe my hedges and knots in as good order as he saw them then, and that to be done with twice cutting in the yere at the least, and he to have yerely five shillings, meat and drink.

‘1577, June 26th.—Elen Lyne gave me a quarter's warning.

‘1577, August 19.—The “Hexameron Brytanicum” put to printing. (Published in 1577 with the title of “General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the perfect Art of Navigation.”)

‘1577, November 3rd.—William Rogers of Mortlak about 7 of the clok in the morning, cut his own throte, by the fiende his instigator .

‘1577, November 6th.—Sir Umfrey Gilbert [29] cam to me to Mortlak.

‘1577, November 22nd.—I rod to Windsor to the Q. Majestie.

‘1577, November 25th.—I spake with the Quene hora quinta ; I spoke with Mr. Secretary Walsingham.[30] I declared to the Quene her title to Greenland, Estotiland, and Friesland.

‘1577, December 1st.—I spoke with Sir Christopher Hatton; he was made Knight that day.

‘1577, December —th.—I went from the Courte at Wyndsore.

‘1577, December 30th.—Inexplissima illa calumnia de R. Edwardo, iniquissima aliqua ex parte in me denunciebatur: ante aliquos elapsos diro, sed ... sua sapientia me innocentem.'

I cannot ascertain of what calumny against Edward VI. Dee had been accused; but it is to be hoped that his wish was fulfilled, and that he was acquitted of it before many days had elapsed.

I have omitted some items relating to moneys borrowed. It is sufficiently plain, however, that Dee never intended his Diary for the curious eyes of the public, and that it mainly consists of such memoranda as a man jots down for his private and personal use. Assuredly, many of these would never have been recorded if Dee had known or conjectured that an inquisitive antiquarian, some three centuries later, would exhume the confidential pages, print them in imperishable type, and expose them to the world's cold gaze. It seems rather hard upon Dr. Dee that his private affairs should thus have become everybody's property! Perhaps, after all, the best thing a man can do who keeps a diary is to commit it to the flames before he shuffles off his mortal coil, lest some laborious editor should eventually lay hands upon it, and publish it to the housetops with all its sins upon it! But as in Dr. Dee's case the offence has been committed, I will not debar my readers from profiting by it.

(ii.) 1578-1581.

‘1578, June 30th.—I told Mr. Daniel Rogers, Mr. Hackluyt of the Middle Temple being by, that Kyng Arthur and King Maty, both of them, did conquer Gelindia, lately called Friseland, which he so noted presently in his written copy of Mon ... thensis (?), for he had no printed boke thereof.'

What a pity Dr. Dee has not recorded his authority for King Arthur's Northern conquests! The Mr. Hackluyt here mentioned is the industrious compiler of the well-known collection of early voyages.

Occasionally Dee relates his dreams, as on September 10, 1579: ‘My dream of being naked, and my skyn all overwrought with work, like some kinde of tuft mockado, with crosses blue and red; and on my left arme, about the arme, in a wreath, this word I red—sine me nihil potestis facere.'

Sometimes he resorts to Greek characters while using English words:

‘1579, December 9th.—Θις νιγτ μι υυιφ δρεμιδ θατ ονε καμ το 'ερ ανδ τουχεδ 'ερ, σαινγ, “Μιστρές Δεε, γου αρ κονκεινεδ οφ χιλδ, ύος ναμε μυστ βε Ζαχαριας; βε οφ γοδ χερε, ἑ σαλ δο υυελ ας θις δοθ!”

‘1579, December 28th.—I reveled to Roger Coke the gret secret of the elixir of the salt οφ ακετελς, ονε υππον α υνδρεδ.'

Other entries refer to this Mr. Roger Coke, or Cooke, who seems to have been Dee's pupil or apprentice, and at one time to have enjoyed his confidence. They quarrelled seriously in 1581.

‘1581, September 5th.—Roger Cook, who had byn with me from his 14 years of age till 28, of a melancholik nature, pycking and devising occasions of just cause to depart on the suddayn, about 4 of the clok in the afternone requested of me lycense to depart, wheruppon rose whott words between us; and he, imagining with himself that he had, the 12 of July, deserved my great displeasure, and finding himself barred from view of my philosophicall dealing with Mr. Henrik, thought that he was utterly recast from intended goodness toward him. Notwithstanding Roger Cook his unseamely dealing, I promised him, if he used himself toward me now in his absens, one hundred pounds as sone as of my own clene hability I myght spare so much; and moreover, if he used himself well in life toward God and the world, I promised him some pretty alchimicall experiments, whereuppon he might honestly live.

‘1581, September 7th.—Roger Cook went for altogether from me.'

In February, 1601, however, this quarrel was made up.

(iii.) Of the learned doctor's colossal credulity the Diary supplies some curious proofs:

‘1581, March 8th.—It was the 8 day, being Wensday, hora noctis 10-11, the strange noyse in my chamber of knocking; and the voyce, ten times repeted, somewhat like the shriek of an owle, but more longly drawn, and more softly, as it were in my chamber.

‘1581, August 3rd.—All the night very strange knocking and rapping in my chamber. August 4th, and this night likewise.

‘1581, October 9th.—Barnabas Saul, lying in the ... hall, was strangely trubled by a spirituall creature about mydnight.

‘1582, May 20th.—Robertus Gardinerus Salopiensis lactum mihi attulit minimum de materia lapidis, divinitus sibi revelatus de qua.

‘1582, May 23rd.—Robert Gardiner declared unto me hora 4½ a certeyn great philosophicall secret, as he had termed it, of a spirituall creature, and was this day willed to come to me and declare it, which was solemnly done, and with common prayer.

‘1590, August 22nd.—Ann, my nurse, had long been tempted by a wycked spirit: but this day it was evident how she was possessed of him. God is, hath byn, and shall be her protector and deliverer! Amen.

‘1590, August 25th.—Anne Frank was sorowful, well comforted, and stayed in God's mercyes acknowledging.

‘1590, August 26th.—At night I anoynted (in the name of Jesus) her brest with the holy oyle.

‘1590, August 30th.—In the morning she required to be anoynted, and I did very devoutly prepare myself, and pray for virtue and powr, and Christ his blessing of the oyle to the expulsion of the wycked, and then twyce anoynted, the wycked one did rest a while.'

The holy oil, however, proved of no effect. The poor creature was insane. On September 8 she made an attempt to drown herself, but was prevented. On the 29th she eluded the dexterity of her keeper, and cut her throat.

(iv.) Occasionally we meet with references to historic events and names, but, unfortunately, they are few:

‘1581, February 23rd.—I made acquayntance with Joannes Bodonius, in the Chamber of Presence at Westminster, the ambassador being by from Monsieur.'

Bodonius, or Bodin, was the well-known writer upon witchcraft.

‘1581, March 23rd.—At Mortlak came to me Hugh Smyth, who had returned from Magellan strayghts and Vaygatz.

‘1581, July 12th.—The Erle of Leicester fell fowly out with the Erle of Sussex, Lord Chamberlayn, calling each other trayter, whereuppon both were commanded to kepe theyr chamber at Greenwich, wher the court was.'

This was the historic quarrel, of which Sir Walter Scott has made such effective use in his ‘Kenilworth.'

‘1583, January 13th.—On Sonday, the stage at Paris Garden fell down all at once, being full of people beholding the bear-bayting. Many being killed thereby, more hurt, and all amased. The godly expownd it as a due plage of God for the wickedness ther used, and the Sabath day so profanely spent.'

This popular Sabbatarian argument, which occasionally crops up even in our own days, had been humorously anticipated, half a century before, by Sir Thomas More, in his ‘Dyalogue' (1529): ‘At Beverley late, much of the people being at a bear-baiting, the church fell suddenly down at evening-time, and overwhelmed some that were in it. A good fellow that after heard the tale told—“So,” quoth he, “now you may see what it is to be at evening prayers when you should be at the bear-baiting!”'

The Paris Garden Theatre at Bankside had been erected expressly for exhibitions of bear-baiting. The charge for admission was a penny at the gate, a penny at the entry of the scaffold or platform, and a penny for ‘quiet standing.' During the Commonwealth this cruel sport was prohibited; but it was revived at the Restoration, and not finally suppressed until 1835.

‘1583, January 23rd.—The Ryght Honorable Mr. Secretary Walsingham came to my howse, where by good luk he found Mr. Adrian Gilbert (of the famous Devonshire family of seamen), and so talk was begonne of North West Straights discovery.

‘1583, February 11th.—The Quene lying at Richmond went to Mr. Secretary Walsingham to dinner; she coming by my dore, graciously called me to her, and so I went by her horse side, as far as where Mr. Hudson dwelt. Ερ μαιεστι αξεδ με οβυσκυρελι οφ μουνσιευρὶς στατε: διξὲ βισθανατος εριτ.

‘1583, March 6th.—I, and Mr. Adrian Gilbert and John Davis (the Arctic discoverer), did mete with Mr. Alderman Barnes, Mr. Tounson, Mr. Young and Mr. Hudson, about the N. W. voyage.

‘1583, April 18th.—The Quene went from Richmond toward Greenwich, and at her going on horsbak, being new up, she called for me by Mr. Rawly (Sir Walter Raleigh) his putting her in mynde, and she sayd, “quod defertur non aufertur,” and gave me her right hand to kiss.

‘1590, May 18th.—The two gentlemen, the unckle Mr. Richard Candish (Cavendish), and his nephew, the most famous Mr. Thomas Candish, who had sayled round about the world, did visit me at Mortlake.

‘1590, December 4th.—The Quene's Majestie called for me at my dore, circa 3½ a meridie as she passed by, and I met her at Est Shene gate, where she graciously, putting down her mask, did say with mery chere, “I thank thee, Dee; there wus never promisse made, but it was broken or kept.” I understode her Majesty to mean of the hundred angels she promised to have sent me this day, as she yesternight told Mr. Richard Candish.

‘1595, October 9th.—I dyned with Sir Walter Rawlegh at Durham House.'

(v.) Some of the entries which refer to Dee's connection with Lasco and Kelly are interesting:

‘1583, March 18th.—Mr. North from Poland, after he had byn with the Quene he came to me. I received salutation from Alaski, Palatine in Poland.

‘1583, May 13th.—I became acquaynted with Albertus Laski at 7½ at night, in the Erle of Leicester his chamber, in the court at Greenwich.

‘1583, May 18th.—The Prince Albertus Laski came to me at Mortlake, with onely two men. He came at afternone, and tarryed supper, and after sone set.

‘1583, June 15th.—About 5 of the clok cum the Polonian prince, Lord Albert Lasky, down from Bisham, where he had lodged the night before, being returned from Oxford, whither he had gon of purpose to see the universityes, wher he was very honorably used and enterteyned. He had in his company Lord Russell, Sir Philip Sydney, and other gentlemen: he was rowed by the Quene's men, he had the barge covered with the Quene's cloth, the Quene's trumpeters, etc. He came of purpose to do me honour, for which God be praysed!

‘1583, September 21st.—We went from Mortlake, and so the Lord Albert Lasky, I, Mr. E. Kelly, our wives, my children and familie, we went toward our two ships attending for us, seven or eight myle below Gravesende.

‘1586, September 14th.—Trebonam venimus.

‘1586, October 18th.—E. K. recessit a Trebona versus Pragam curru delatus; mansit hic per tres hebdomadas.

‘1586, December 19th.—Ad gratificandam Domino Edouardo Garlando, et Francisco suo fratri, qui Edouardus nuncius mihi missus erat ab Imperatore Moschoriæ ut ad illum venirem, E. K. fecit proleolem (?) lapidis in proportione unius ... gravi arenæ super quod vulgaris oz. et ½ et producta est optimè auri oz. fere: quod aurum post distribuimus a crucibolo una dedimus Edouardo.

‘1587, January 18th.—Rediit E. K. a Praga. E. K. brought with him from the Lord Rosenberg to my wyfe a chayne and juell estemed at 300 duckettes; 200 the juell stones, and 100 the gold.

‘1587, September 28th.—I delivered to Mr. Ed. Kelley (earnestly requiring it as his part) the half of all the animall which was made. It is to weigh 20 oz.; he wayed it himself in my chamber: he bowght his waights purposely for it. My lord had spoken to me before for some, but Mr. Kelly had not spoken.

‘1587, October 28th and 29th.—John Carp did begyn to make furnaces over the gate, and he used of my rownd bricks, and for the yron pot was contented now to use the lesser bricks, 60 to make a furnace.

‘1587, November 8th.—E. K terribilis expostulatio, accusatio, etc., hora tertia a meridie.

‘1587, December 12th.—Afternone somewhat, Mr. Ed. Kelly [did] his lamp overthrow, the spirit of wyne long spent to nere, and the glas being not stayed with buks about it, as it was wont to be; and the same glass so flitting on one side, the spirit was spilled out, and burnt all that was on the table where it stode, lynnen and written bokes,—as the bok of Zacharias, with the “Alkanor” that I translated out of French, for some by [boy?] spirituall could not; “Rowlaschy,” his third boke of waters philosophicall; the boke called “Angelicum Opus;” all in pictures of the work from the beginning to the end; the copy of the man of Badwise “Conclusions for the Transmution of Metalls;” and 40 leaves in 4to., entitled “Extractiones Dunstat,” which he himself extracted and noted out of Dunstan his boke, and the very boke of Dunstan was but cast on the bed hard by from the table.'

This so-called ‘Book of St. Dunstan' was one which Kelly professed to have bought from a Welsh innkeeper, who, it was alleged, had found it among the ruins of Glastonbury.

‘1588, February 8th.—Mr. E. K., at nine of the clok, afternone, sent for me to his laboratory over the gate to see how he distilled sericon, according as in tyme past and of late he heard of me out of Ripley. God lend his heart to all charity and virtue!

‘1588, August 24th.—Vidi divinam aquam demonstratione magnifici domini et amici mei incomparabilis D[omini] Ed. Kelii ante meridiem tertia hora.

‘1588, December 7th.—γρεατ φρενδκιρ προμισιδ φορ μανι, ανδ τυυο ουνκες φορ θε θινγ.'[31]


[26] ‘The Private Diary of Dr. John Dee,' edited by J. O. Halliwell (Phillipps) for the Camden Society, 1842.

[27] This was Sir Edward Dyer, the friend of Spenser and Sidney, remembered by his poem ‘My Mind to me a Kingdom is.'

[28] The ‘Monas Hieroglyphica.'

[29] The celebrated navigator, whose heroic death is one of our worthiest traditions.

[30] A warm and steady friend to Dr. Dee.

[31] This Diary, written in a very small and illegible hand on the margins of old almanacs, was discovered by Mr. W. H. Black in the Ashmolean Library at Oxford.

The Story of Dr. John Dee

The world must always feel curious to know the exact moment when its great men first drew the breath of life; and it is satisfactory, therefore, to be able to state, on the weighty authority of Dr. Thomas Smith, that Dr. John Dee, the famous magician and ‘philosopher,' was born at forty minutes past four o'clock on the morning of July 13, 1527. According to the picturesque practice of latter-day biographers, here I ought to describe a glorious summer sunrise, the golden light spreading over hill and pasture, the bland warm air stealing into the chamber where lay the mother and her infant; but I forbear, as, for all I know, this particular July morning may have been cloudy, cold, and wet; besides, John, the son of Rowland Dee, was born in London. From like want of information I refrain from comments on Master Dee's early bringing-up and education. But it is reported that he gave proof of so exceptional a capacity, and of such a love of letters, that, at the early age of fifteen, he was sent to the University of Cambridge, to study the classics and the old scholastic philosophy. There, for three years, he was so vehemently bent, he says, on the acquisition of learning, that he spent eighteen hours a day on his books, reserving two only for his meals and recreation, and four for sleep—an unhealthy division of time, which probably over-stimulated his cerebral system and predisposed him to delusions and caprices of the imagination. Having taken his degree of B.A., he crossed the seas in 1547 ‘to speak and confer' with certain learned men, chiefly mathematicians, such as Gemma Frisius, Gerardus Mercator, Gaspar a Morica, and Antonius Gogara; of whom the only one now remembered is Mercator, as the inventor of a method of laying down hydrographical charts, in which the parallels and meridians intersect each other at right angles. After spending some months in the Low Countries he returned home, bringing with him ‘the first astronomer's staff of brass that was made of Gemma Frisius' devising, the two great globes of Gerardus Mercator's making, and the astronomer's ring of brass (as Gemma Frisius had newly framed it).'

Returning to the classic shades of Granta, he began to record his observations of ‘the heavenly influences in this elemental portion of the world;' and I suppose it was in recognition of his scientific scholarship that Henry VIII. appointed him to a fellowship at Trinity College, and Greek under-reader. In the latter capacity he superintended, in 1548, the performance of the Ἐιρηνη of Aristophanes, introducing among ‘the effects' an artificial scarabæus, which ascended, with a man and his wallet of provisions on its back, to Jupiter's palace. This ingenious bit of mechanism delighted the spectators, but, after the manner of the time, was ascribed to Dee's occultism, and he found it convenient to retire to the Continent (1548), residing for awhile at Louvain, and devoting himself to hermetic researches, and afterwards at Paris (1580), where he delivered scientific lectures to large and distinguished audiences. ‘My auditory in Rhemes Colledge,' he says, ‘was so great, and the most part older than my selfe, that the mathematicall schooles could not hold them; for many were faine, without the schooles, at the windowes, to be auditors and spectators, as they best could help themselves thereto. I did also dictate upon every proposition, beside the first exposition. And by the first foure principall definitions representing to the eyes (which by imagination onely are exactly to be conceived), a greater wonder arose among the beholders, than of my Aristophanes Scarabæus mounting up to the top of Trinity-hall in Cambridge.'

The accomplishments of this brilliant scientific mountebank being noised abroad over all Europe, the wonderful story reached the remote Court of the Muscovite, who offered him, if he would take up his residence at Moscow, a stipend of £2,000 per annum, his diet also to be allowed to him free out of ‘the Emperor's own kitchen, and his place to be ranked amongst the highest sort of the nobility there, and of his privy councillors.' Was ever scholar so tempted before or since? In those times, the Russian Court seems to have held savants  and scholars in as much esteem as nowadays it holds prima-donnas  and ballerines. Dee also received advantageous proposals from four successive Emperors of Germany (Charles V., Ferdinand, Maximilian II., and Rudolph II.), but the Muscovite's outbade them all. A residence in the heart of Russia had no attraction, however, for the Oxford scholar, who, in 1551, returned to England with a halo of fame playing round his head (to speak figuratively, as Dee himself loved to do), which recommended him to the celebrated Greek professor at Cambridge, Sir John Cheke. Cheke introduced him to Mr. Secretary Cecil, as well as to Edward VI., who bestowed upon him a pension of 100 crowns per annum (speedily exchanged, in 1553, for the Rectory of Upton-upon-Severn). At first he met with favour from Queen Mary; but the close correspondence he maintained with the Princess Elizabeth, who appreciated his multifarious scholarship, exposed him to suspicion, and he was accused of practising against the Queen's life by divers enchantments. Arrested and imprisoned (at Hampton Court), he was subjected to rigorous examinations, and as no charge of treason could be proved against him, was remitted to Bishop Bonner as a possible heretic. But his enemies failed again in their malicious intent, and in 1555 he received his liberty. Imprisonment and suffering had not quenched his activity of temper, and almost immediately upon his release he solicited the Queen's assent to a plan for the restoration and preservation of certain precious manuscripts of classical antiquity. He solicited in vain.

When Elizabeth came to the throne, Dee, as a proficient in the occult arts, was consulted by Dudley (afterwards Earl of Leicester) as to the most suitable and auspicious day for her coronation. She testified to her own belief in his skill by employing him, when her image in wax had been discovered in Lincoln's Inn Fields, to counteract the evil charm. But he owed her favour, we may assume, much more to his learning, which was really extensive, than to his supposed magical powers. He tells us that, shortly before her coronation, she summoned him to Whitehall, remarking to his patrons, Dudley and the Earl of Pembroke, ‘Where my brother hath given him a crown, I will give him a noble.' She was certainly more liberal to Dee than to many of her servants who were much more deserving. In December, 1564, she granted him the reversion of the Deanery of Gloucester. Not long afterwards his friends recommended him for the Provostship of Eton College. ‘Favourable answers' were returned, but he never received the Provostship. He obtained permission, however, to hold for ten years the two rectories of Upton and Long Ledenham. Later in her reign (July, 1583), when two great nobles invited themselves to dine with him, he was compelled to decline the honour on account of his poverty. The Queen, on being apprised of this incident, sent him a present of forty angels of gold. We shall come upon other proofs of her generosity.

Dee was travelling on the Continent in 1571, and on his way through Lorraine was seized with a dangerous sickness; whereupon the Queen not only sent ‘carefully and with great speed' two of her physicians, but also the honourable Lord Sidney ‘in a manner to tend on him,' and ‘to discern how his health bettered, and to comfort him from her Majesty with divers very pithy speeches and gracious, and also with divers rarities to eat, to increase his health and strength.' Philosophers and men of letters, when they are ailing, meet with no such pleasant attentions nowadays! But the list of Elizabeth's bounties is not yet ended. The much-travelling scholar, who saw almost as much of cities and men and manners as Odysseus himself, had wandered into the farthest parts of the kingdom of Bohemia; and that no evil might come to him, or his companion, or their families, she sent them her most princely and royal letters of safe-conduct. After his return home, a little before Christmas, 1589, hearing that he was unable to keep house as liberally as became his position and repute, she promised to assist him with the gift of a hundred pounds, and once or twice repeated the promise on his coming into her presence. Fifty pounds he did  receive, with which to keep his Christmas merrily, but what became of the other moiety he was never able to discover. A malignant influence frequently interposed, it would seem, between the Queen's benevolence in intention and her charity in action; and the unfortunate doctor was sometimes tantalized with promises of good things which failed to be realized. On the whole, however, I do not think he had much to complain of; and the reproach of parsimony so often levelled at great Gloriana would certainly not apply to her treatment of Dr. Dee.

She honoured him with several visits at Mortlake, where he had a pleasant house close by the riverside, and a little to the westward of the church—surrounded by gardens and green fields, with bright prospects of the shining river. Elizabeth always came down from Whitehall on horseback, attended by a brave retinue of courtiers; and as she passed along, her loyal subjects stood at their doors, or lined the roadside, making respectful bows and curtseys, and crying, ‘God save the Queen!' One of these royal visits was made on March 10, 1575, the Queen desiring to see the doctor's famous library; but learning that he had buried his wife only four hours before, she refused to enter the house. Dee, however, submitted to her inspection his magic crystal, or ‘black stone,' and exhibited some of its marvellous properties; her Majesty, for the better examination of the same, being taken down from her horse ‘by the Earl of Leicester, by the Church wall of Mortlack.'

She was at Dr. Dee's again on September 17, 1580. This time she came from Richmond in her coach, a wonderfully cumbrous vehicle, drawn by six horses; ‘and when she was against my garden in the fielde,' says the doctor, ‘her Majestie staide there a good while, and then came into the street at the great gate of the field, where her Majestie espied me at my dore, making reverent and dutifull obeysance unto her, and with her hand her Majestie beckoned for me to come to her, and I came to her coach side; her Majestie then very speedily pulled off her glove, and gave me her hand to kiss; and to be short, her Majestie wished me to resort oftener to her Court, and by some of her Privy Chamber to give her Majestie to wete (know) when I came there.'

Another visit took place on October 10, 1580:—‘The Queenes Majestie to my great comfort (horâ quintâ) came with her train from the Court, and at my dore graciously calling me unto her, on horseback exhorted me briefly to take my mother's death patiently; and withal told me, that the Lord Treasurer had greatly commended my doings for her title royall, which he had to examine. The which title in two rolls of velome parchment his Honour had some houres before brought home, and delivered to Mr. Hudson for me to receive at my coming from my mother's buriall at church. Her Majestie remembered also then, how at my wives buriall it was her fortune likewise to call upon me at my house, as before is noted.'

Dee's library—as libraries went then—was not unworthy of royal inspection. Its proud possessor computed it to be worth £2,000, which, at the present value of money, would be equal, I suppose, to £10,000. It consisted of about 4,000 volumes, bound and unbound, a fourth part being MSS. He speaks of four ‘written books'—one in Greek, two in French, and one in High Dutch—as having cost him £533, and inquires triumphantly what musthave been the value of some hundred of the best of all the other written books, some of which were the autographia  of excellent and seldom-heard-of authors? He adds that he spent upwards of forty years in collecting this library from divers places beyond the seas, and with much research and labour in England.

Of the ‘precious books' thus collected, Dee does not mention the titles; but he has recorded the rare and exquisitely made ‘instruments mathematical' which belonged to him: An excellent, strong, and fair quadrant, first made by that famous Richard Chancellor who boldly carried his discovery-ships past the Icy Cape, and anchored them in the White Sea. There was also an excellent radius astronomicus, of ten feet in length, the staff and cross very curiously divided into equal parts, after Richard Chancellor's quadrant manner. Item, two globes of Mercator's best making: on the celestial sphere Dee, with his own hand, had set down divers comets, their places and motions, according to his individual observation. Item, divers other instruments, as the theorie of the eighth sphere, the ninth and tenth, with an horizon and meridian of copper, made by Mercator specially for Dr. Dee. Item, sea-compasses of different kinds. Item, a magnet-stone, commonly called a loadstone, of great virtue. Also an excellent watch-clock, made by one Dibbley, ‘a notable workman, long since dead,' by which the time might sensibly be measured in the seconds of an hour—that is, not to fail the 360th part of an hour. We need not dwell upon his store of documents relating to Irish and Welsh estates, and of ancient seals of arms; but my curiosity, I confess, is somewhat stirred by his reference to ‘a great bladder,' with about four pounds weight of ‘a very sweetish thing,' like a brownish gum, in it, artificially prepared by thirty times purifying, which the doctor valued at upwards of a hundred crowns.

While engaged in learned studies and correspondence with learned men, Dee found time to indulge in those wild semi-mystical, transcendental visions which engaged the imagination of so many mediæval students. The secret of ‘the philosopher's stone' led him into fascinating regions of speculation, and the ecstasies of Rosicrucianism dazzled him with the idea of holding communication with the inhabitants of the other world. How far he was sincere in these pursuits, how far he imparted into them a spirit of charlatanry, I think it is impossible to determine. Perhaps one may venture to say that, if to some small extent an impostor, he was, to a much larger extent, a dupe; that if he deceived others, he also deceived himself; nor is he, as biography teaches, the only striking example of the credulous enthusiast who mingles with his enthusiasm, more or less unconsciously, a leaven of hypocrisy. As early as 1571 he complains, in the preface to his ‘English Euclid,' that he is jeered at by the populace as a conjurer. By degrees, it is evident, he begins to feel a pride in his magical attainments. He records with the utmost gravity his remarkable dreams, and endeavours to read the future by them. He insists, moreover, on strange noises which he hears in his chamber. In those days a favourite method of summoning the spirits was to bring them into a glass or stone which had been prepared for the purpose; and in his diary, under the date of May 25, 1581, he records—for the first time—that he had held intercourse in this way with supra-mundane beings.

Combining with his hermetico-magical speculations religious exercises of great fervour, he was thus engaged, one day in November, 1582, when suddenly upon his startled vision rose the angel Uriel ‘at the west window of his laboratory,' and presented him with a translucent stone, or crystal, of convex shape, possessing the wonderful property of introducing its owner to the closest possible communication with the world of spirits. It was necessary at times that this so-called mirror should be turned in different positions before the observer could secure the right focus; and then the spirits appeared on its surface, or in different parts of the room by reason of its action. Further, only one person, whom Dee calls the skryer , or seer, could discover the spirits, or hear and interpret their voices, just as there can be but one medium, I believe, at a spiritualistic séance of the present day. But, of course, it was requisite that, while the medium was absorbed in his all-important task, some person should be at hand to describe what he saw, or professed to see, and commit to paper what he heard, or professed to hear; and a seer with a lively imagination and a fluent tongue could go very far in both directions. This humbler, secondary position Dee reserved for himself. Probably his invention was not sufficiently fertile for the part of a medium, or else he was too much in earnest to practise an intentional deception. As the crystal showed him nothing, he himself said so, and looked about for someone more sympathetic, or less conscientious. His choice fell at first on a man named Barnabas Saul, and he records in his diary how, on October 9, 1581, this man ‘was strangely troubled by a spiritual creature about midnight.' In a MS. preserved in the British Museum, he relates some practices which took place on December 2, beginning his account with this statement: ‘I willed the skryer, named Saul, to looke into my great crystalline globe, if God had sent his holy angel Azrael, or no.' But Saul was a fellow of small account, with a very limited inventive faculty, and on March 6, 1582, he was obliged to confess ‘that he neither heard nor saw any spiritual creature any more.' Dee and his inefficient, unintelligent skryer then quarrelled, and the latter was dismissed, leaving behind him an unsavoury reputation.

Edward Kelly

Soon afterwards our magician made the acquaintance of a certain Edward Kelly (or Talbot), who was in every way fitted for the mediumistic rôle. He was clever, plausible, impudent, unscrupulous, and a most accomplished liar. A native of Worcester, where he was born in 1555, he was bred up, according to one account, as a druggist, according to another as a lawyer; but all accounts agree that he became an adept in every kind of knavery. He was pilloried, and lost his ears (or at least was condemned to lose them) at Lancaster, for the offence of coining, or for forgery; afterwards retired to Wales, assumed the name of Kelly, and practised as a conjurer and alchemist. A story is told of him which illustrates the man's unhesitating audacity, or, at all events, the notoriety of his character: that he carried with him one night into the park of Walton-le-Dale, near Preston, a man who thirsted after a knowledge of the future, and, when certain incantations had been completed, caused his servants to dig up a corpse, interred only the day before, that he might compel it to answer his questions.

How he got introduced to Dr. Dee I do not profess to know; but I am certainly disinclined to accept the wonderful narrative which Mr. Waite renders in so agreeable a style—that Kelly, during his Welsh sojourn, was shown an old manuscript which his landlord, an innkeeper, had obtained under peculiar circumstances. ‘It had been discovered in the tomb of a bishop who had been buried in a neighbouring church, and whose tomb had been sacrilegiously up-torn by some fanatics,' in the hope of securing the treasures reported to be concealed within it. They found nothing, however, but the aforesaid manuscript, and two small ivory bottles, respectively containing a ponderous white and red powder. ‘These pearls beyond price were rejected by the pigs of apostasy: one of them was shattered on the spot, and its ruddy, celestine contents for the most part lost. The remnant, together with the remaining bottle and the unintelligible manuscript, were speedily disposed of to the innkeeper in exchange for a skinful of wine.' The innkeeper, in his turn, parted with them for one pound sterling to Master Edward Kelly, who, believing he had obtained a hermetic treasure, hastened to London to submit it to Dr. Dee.

This accomplished and daring knave was engaged by the credulous doctor as his skryer, at a salary of £50 per annum, with ‘board and lodging,' and all expenses paid. These were liberal terms; but it must be admitted that Kelly earned them. Now, indeed, the crystal began to justify its reputation! Spirits came as thick as blackberries, and voices as numerous as those of rumour! Kelly's amazing fertility of fancy never failed his employer, upon whose confidence he established an extraordinary hold, by judiciously hinting doubts as to the propriety of the work he had undertaken. How could a man be other than trustworthy, when he frankly expressed his suspicions of the mala fides  of the spirits who responded to the summons of the crystal? It was impossible—so the doctor argued—that so candid a medium could be an impostor, and while resenting the imputations cast upon the ‘spiritual creatures,' he came to believe all the more strongly in the man who slandered them. The difference of opinion gave rise, of course, to an occasional quarrel. On one occasion (in April, 1582) Kelly specially provoked his employer by roundly asserting that the spirits were demons sent to lure them to their destruction; and by complaining that he was confined in Dee's house as in a prison, and that it would be better for him to be near Cotsall Plain, where he might walk abroad without danger.

Some time in 1583 a certain ‘Lord Lasky,' that is, Albert Laski or Alasco, prince or waiwode of Siradia in Poland, and a guest at Elizabeth's Court, made frequent visits to Dee's house, and was admitted to the spirit exhibitions of the crystal. It has been suggested that Kelly had conceived some ambitious projects, which he hoped to realize through the agency of this Polish noble, and that he made use of the crystal to work upon his imagination. Thenceforward the spirits were continually hinting at great European revolutions, and uttering vague predictions of some extraordinary good fortune which was in preparation for Alasco. On May 28 Dee and Kelly were sitting in the doctor's study, discussing the prince's affairs, when suddenly appeared—perhaps it was an optical trick of the ingenious Kelly—‘a spiritual creature, like a pretty girl of seven or nine years of age, attired on her head, with her hair rowled up before, and hanging down very long behind, with a gown of soy, changeable green and red, and with a train; she seemed to play up and down, and seemed to go in and out behind my books, lying in heaps; and as she should ever go between them, the books seemed to give place sufficiently, dividing one heap from the other while she passed between them. And so I considered, and heard the diverse reports which E. K. made unto this pretty maid, and I said, “Whose maiden are you?”' Here follows the conversation—inane and purposeless enough, and yet deemed worthy of preservation by the credulous doctor:


She. Whose man are you?

Dee. I am the servant of God, both by my bound duty, and also (I hope) by His adoption.

A Voice. You shall be beaten if you tell.

She. Am not I a fine maiden? give me leave to play in your house; my mother told me she would come and dwell here.

(She went up and down with most lively gestures of a young girl playing by herself, and divers times another spake to her from the corner of my study by a great perspective glasse, but none was seen beside herself.)

She. Shall I? I will. (Now she seemed to answer me in the foresaid corner of my study.) I pray you let me tarry a little? (Speaking to me in the foresaid corner.)

Dee. Tell me what you are.

She. I pray you let me play with you a little, and I will tell you who I am.

Dee. In the name of Jesus then, tell me.

She. I rejoice in the name of Jesus, and I am a poor little maiden; I am the last but one of my mother's children; I have little baby children at home.

Dee. Where is your home?

She. I dare not tell you where I dwell, I shall be beaten.

Dee. You shall not be beaten for telling the truth to them that love the truth; to the Eternal Truth all creatures must be obedient.

She. I warrant you I will be obedient; my sisters say they must all come and dwell with you.

Dee. I desire that they who love God should dwell with me, and I with them.

She. I love you now you talk of God.

Dee. Your eldest sister—her name is Esiměli.

She. My sister is not so short as you make her.

Dee. O, I cry you mercy! she is to be pronounced Esimīli!

Kelly. She smileth; one calls her, saying, Come away, maiden.

She. I will read over my gentlewomen first; my master Dee will teach me if I say amiss.

Dee. Read over your gentlewomen, as it pleaseth you.

She. I have gentlemen and gentlewomen; look you here.

Kelly. She bringeth a little book out of her pocket. She pointeth to a picture in the book.

She. Is not this a pretty man?

Dee. What is his name?

She. My (mother) saith his name is Edward: look you, he hath a crown upon his head; my mother saith that this man was Duke of York.

And so on.

The question here suggests itself, Was this passage of nonsense Dr. Dee's own invention? And has he compiled it for the deception of posterity? I do not believe it. It is my firm conviction that he recorded in perfect good faith—though I own my opinion is not very complimentary to his intelligence—the extravagant rigmarole dictated to him by the arch-knave Kelly, who, very possibly, added to his many ingenuities some skill in the practices of the ventriloquist. No great amount of artifice can have been necessary for successfully deceiving so admirable a subject for deception as the credulous Dee. It is probable that Dee may sometimes have suspected he was being imposed upon; but we may be sure he was very unwilling to admit it, and that he did his best to banish from his mind so unwelcome a suspicion. As for Kelly, it seems clear that he had conceived some widely ambitious and daring scheme, which, as I have said, he hoped to carry out through the instrumentality of Alasco, whose interest he endeavoured to stimulate by flattering his vanity, and representing the spiritual creature as in possession of a pedigree which traced his descent from the old Norman family of the Lacys.

With an easy invention which would have done credit to the most prolific of romancists, he daily developed the characters of his pretended visions.[24] Consulting the crystal on June 2, he professed to see a spirit in the garb of a husbandman, and this spirit rhodomontaded in mystical language about the great work Alasco was predestined to accomplish in the conversion and regeneration of the world. Before this invisible fictionist retired into his former obscurity, Dee petitioned him to use his influence on behalf of a woman who had committed suicide, and of another who had dreamed of a treasure hidden in a cellar. Other interviews succeeded, in the course of which much more was said about the coming purification of humanity, and it was announced that a new code of laws, moral and religious, would be entrusted to Dee and his companions. What a pity that this code was never forthcoming! A third spirit, a maiden named Galerah, made her appearance, all whose revelations bore upon Alasco, and the greatness for which he was reserved: ‘I say unto thee, his name is in the Book of Life. The sun shall not passe his course before he be a king. His counsel shall breed alteration of his State, yea, of the whole world. What wouldst thou know of him?'

‘If his kingdom shall be of Poland,' answered Dee, ‘in what land else?'

‘Of two kingdoms,' answered Galerah.

‘Which? I beseech you.'

‘The one thou hast repeated, and the other he seeketh as his right.'

‘God grant him,' exclaimed the pious doctor, ‘sufficient direction to do all things so as may please the highest of his calling.'

‘He shall want no direction,' replied Galerah, ‘in anything he desireth.'

Whether Kelly's invention began to fail him, or whether it was a desire to increase his influence over his dupe, I will not decide; but at this time he revived his pretended conscientious scruples against dealing with spirits, whom he calumniously declared to be ministers of Satan, and intimated his intention of departing from the unhallowed precincts of Mortlake. But the doctor could not bear with equanimity the loss of a skryer who rendered such valuable service, and watched his movements with the vigilance of alarm. It was towards the end of June, the month made memorable by such important revelations, that Kelly announced, one day, his design of riding from Mortlake to Islington, on some private business. The doctor's fears were at once awakened, and he fell into a condition of nervous excitement, which, no doubt, was exactly what Kelly had hoped to provoke. ‘I asked him,' says Dee, ‘why he so hasted to ride thither, and I said if it were to ride to Mr. Henry Lee, I would go thither also, to be acquainted with him, seeing now I had so good leisure, being eased of the book writing. Then he said, that one told him, the other day, that the Duke (Alasco) did but flatter him, and told him other things, both against the Duke and me. I answered for the Duke and myself, and also said that if the forty pounds' annuity which Mr. Lee did offer him was the chief cause of his minde setting that way (contrary to many of his former promises to me), that then I would assure him of fifty pounds yearly, and would do my best, by following of my suit, to bring it to pass as soon as I possibly could, and thereupon did make him promise upon the Bible. Then Edward Kelly again upon the same Bible did sweare unto me constant friendship, and never to forsake me; and, moreover, said that unless this had so fallen out, he would have gone beyond the seas, taking ship at Newcastle within eight days next. And so we plight our faith each to other, taking each other by the hand upon these points of brotherly and friendly fidelity during life, which covenant I beseech God to turn to His honour, glory, and service, and the comfort of our brethren (His children) here on earth.'

This concordat, however, was of brief duration. Kelly, who seems to have been in fear of arrest,[25] still threatened to quit Dee's service; and by adroit pressure of this kind, and by unlimited promises to Alasco, succeeded in persuading his two confederates to leave England clandestinely, and seek an asylum on Alasco's Polish estates. Dee took with him his second wife, Jane Fromond, to whom he had been married in February, 1578, his son Arthur (then about four years old), and his children by his first wife. Kelly was also accompanied by his wife and family.

On the night of September 21, 1583, in a storm of rain and wind, they left Mortlake by water, and dropped down the river to a point four or five miles below Gravesend, where they embarked on board a Danish ship, which they had hired to take them to Holland. But the violence of the gale was such that they were glad to transfer themselves, after a narrow escape from shipwreck, to some fishing-smacks, which landed them at Queenborough, in the Isle of Sheppey, in safety. There they remained until the gale abated, and then crossed the Channel to Brill on the 30th. Proceeding through Holland and Friesland to Embden and Bremen, they thence made their way to Stettin, in Pomerania, arriving on Christmas Day, and remaining until the middle of January.

Meanwhile, Kelly was careful not to intermit those revelations from the crystal which kept alive the flame of credulous hope in the bosom of his two dupes, and he was especially careful to stimulate the ambition of Alasco, whose impoverished finances could ill bear the burden imposed upon them of supporting so considerable a company. They reached Siradia on February 3, 1584, and there the spirits suddenly changed the tone of their communications; for Kelly, having unexpectedly discovered that Alasco's resources were on the brink of exhaustion, was accordingly prepared to fling him aside without remorse. The first spiritual communication was to the effect that, on account of his sins, he would no longer be charged with the regeneration of the world, but he was promised possession of the Kingdom of Moldavia. The next was an order to Dee and his companions to leave Siradia, and repair to Cracow, where Kelly hoped, no doubt, to get rid of the Polish prince more easily. Then the spirits began to speak at shorter intervals, their messages varying greatly in tone and purport, according, I suppose, as Alasco's pecuniary supplies increased or diminished; but eventually, when all had suffered severely from want of money, for it would seem that their tinctures and powders never yielded them as much as an ounce of gold, the spirits summarily dismissed the unfortunate Alasco, ordered Dee and Kelly to repair to Prague, and entrusted Dee with a Divine communication to Rudolph II., the Emperor of Germany.

Quarrels often occurred between the two adepts during the Cracow period. In these Kelly was invariably the prime mover, and his object was always the same: to confirm his influence over the man he had so egregiously duped. At Prague, Dee was received by the Imperial Court with the distinction due to his well-known scholarship; but no credence was given to his mission from the spirits, and his pretensions as a magician were politely ignored. Nor was he assisted with any pecuniary benevolences; and the man who through his crystal and his skryer had apparently unlimited control over the inhabitants of the spiritual world could not count with any degree of certainty upon his daily bread. He failed, moreover, to obtain a second interview with the Emperor. On attending at the palace, he was informed that the Emperor had gone to his country seat, or else that he had just ridden forth to enjoy the pleasures of the chase, or that his imperfect acquaintance with the Latin tongue prevented him from conferring with Dee personally; and eventually, at the instigation of the Papal nuncio, Dee was ordered to depart from the Imperial territories (May, 1586).

The discredited magician then betook himself to Erfurt, and afterwards to Cassel. He would fain have visited Italy, where he anticipated a cordial welcome at those Courts which patronized letters and the arts, but he was privately warned that at Rome an accusation of heresy and magic had been preferred against him, and he had no desire to fall into the fangs of the Inquisition. In the autumn of 1586, the Imperial prohibition having apparently been withdrawn, he followed Kelly into Bohemia; and in the following year we find both of them installed as guests of a wealthy nobleman, named Rosenberg, at his castle of Trebona. Here they renewed their intercourse with the spirit world, and their operations in the transmutation of metals. Dee records how, on December 9, he reached the point of projection! Cutting a piece out of a brass warming-pan, he converted it—by merely heating it in the fire, and pouring on it a few drops of the magical elixir—a kind of red oil, according to some authorities—into solid, shining silver. And there goes an idle story that he sent both the pan and the piece of silver to Queen Elizabeth, so that, with her own eyes, she might see how exactly they tallied, and that the piece had really been cut out of the pan! About the same time, it is said, the two magicians launched into a profuse expenditure,—Kelly, on one of his maid-servants getting married, giving away gold rings to the value of £4,000. Yet, meanwhile, Dee and Kelly were engaged in sharp contentions, because the spirits fulfilled none of the promises made by the latter, who, his invention (I suppose) being exhausted, resolved, in April, 1587, to resign his office of ‘skryer,' and young Arthur Dee then made an attempt to act in his stead.

The conclusion I have arrived at, after studying the careers and characters of our two worthies, is that they were wholly unfitted for each other's society; a barrier of ‘incompatibility' rose straitly between them. Dee was in earnest; Kelly was practising a sham. Dee pursued a shadow which he believed to be a substance; Kelly knew that the shadow was nothing more than a shadow. Dee was a man of rare scholarship and considerable intellectual power, though of a credulous and superstitious temper; Kelly was superficial and ignorant, but clever, astute, and ingenious, and by no means prone to fall into delusions. The last experiment which he made on Dee's simple-mindedness stamps the man as the rogue and knave he was; while it illustrates the truth of the preacher's complaint that there is nothing new under the sun. The doctrine of free marriage propounded by American enthusiasts was a remanet  from the ethical system of Mr. Edward Kelly.

Kelly had long been on bad terms with his wife, and had conceived a passionate attachment towards Mrs. Dee, who was young and charming, graceful in person, and attractive in manner. To gratify his desires, he resorted to his old machinery of the crystal and the spirits, and soon obtained a revelation that it was the Divine pleasure he and Dr. Dee should exchange partners. Demoralized and abased as Dee had become through his intercourse with Kelly, he shrank at first from a proposal so contrary to the teaching and tenor of the religion he professed, and suggested that the revelation could mean nothing more than that they ought to live on a footing of cordial friendship. But the spirits insisted on a literal interpretation of their command. Dee yielded, comparing himself with much unction to Abraham, who, in obedience to the Divine will, consented to the sacrifice of Isaac. The parallel, however, did not hold good, for Abraham saved his son, whereas Dr. Dee lost his wife!

It was then Kelly's turn to affect a superior morality, and he earnestly protested that the spirits could not be messengers from heaven, but were servants of Satan. Whereupon they then declared that he was no longer worthy to act as their interpreter. But why dwell longer on this unpleasant farce? By various means of cajolery and trickery, Kelly contrived to accomplish his design.

This communistic arrangement, however, did not long work satisfactorily—at least, so far as the ladies were concerned; and one can easily understand that Mrs. Dee would object to the inferior position she occupied as Kelly's paramour. However this may be, Dee and Kelly parted company in January, 1589; the former, according to his own account, delivering up to the latter the mysterious elixir and other substances which they had made use of in the transmutation of metals. Dee had begun to turn his eyes wistfully towards his native country, and welcomed with unfeigned delight a gracious message from Queen Elizabeth, assuring him of a friendly reception. In the spring he took his departure from Trebona; and it is said that he travelled with a pomp and circumstance worthy of an ambassador, though it is difficult to reconcile this statement with his constant complaints of poverty. Perhaps, after all, his three coaches, with four horses to each coach, his two or three waggons loaded with baggage and stores, and his hired escort of six to twenty-four soldiers, whose business it was to protect him from the enemies he supposed to be lying in wait for him, existed only, like the philosopher's stone, in the imagination! He landed at Gravesend on December 2, was kindly received by the Queen at Richmond a day or two afterwards, and before the year had run out was once more quietly settled in his house ‘near the riverside' at Mortlake.

Kelly, whom the Emperor Maximilian II. had knighted and created Marshal of Bohemia, so strong a conviction of his hermetic abilities had he impressed on the Imperial mind, remained in Germany. But the ingenious, plausible rogue was kept under such rigid restraint, in order that he might prepare an adequate quantity of the transmuting stone or powder, that he wearied of it, and one night endeavoured to escape. Tearing up the sheets of his bed, he twisted them into a rope, with which to lower himself from the tower where he was confined. But he was a man of some bulk; the rope gave way beneath his weight, and falling to the ground, he received such severe injuries that in a few days he expired (1593).

Dee's later life was, as Godwin remarks, ‘bound in shallows and miseries.' He had forfeited the respect of serious-minded men by his unworthy confederacy with an unscrupulous adventurer. The Queen still treated him with some degree of consideration, though she had lost all faith in his magical powers, and occasionally sent him assistance. The unfortunate man never ceased to weary her with the repetition of his trials and troubles, and strongly complained that he had been deprived of the income of his two small benefices during his six years' residence on the Continent. He related the sad tale of the destruction of his library and apparatus by an ignorant mob, which had broken into his house immediately after his departure from England, excited by the rumours of his strange magical practices. He enumerated the expenses of his homeward journey, arguing that, as it had been undertaken by the Queen's command, she ought to reimburse him. At last (in 1592) the Queen appointed two members of her Privy Council to inquire into the particulars of his allegations. These particulars he accordingly put together in a curious narrative, which bore the long-winded title of:

‘The Compendious Rehearsall of John Dee, his dutiful Declaracion and Proof of the Course and Race of his Studious Lyfe, for the Space of Halfe an Hundred Yeares, now (by God's Favour and Helpe) fully spent, and of the very great Injuries, Damages, and Indignities, which for those last nyne Years he hath in England sustained (contrary to Her Majesties very gracious Will and express Commandment), made unto the Two Honourable Commissioners, by Her Most Excellent Majesty thereto assigned, according to the intent of the most humble Supplication of the said John, exhibited to Her Most Gracious Majestie at Hampton Court, Anno 1592, November 9.'

It has been remarked that in this ‘Compendious Rehearsal' he alludes neither to his magic crystal, with its spiritualistic properties, nor to the wonderful powder or elixir of transmutation. He founds his claim to the Queen's patronage solely upon his intellectual eminence and acknowledged scholarship. Nor does he allude to his Continental experiences, except so far as relates to his homeward journey. But he is careful to recapitulate all his services, and the encomiastic notices they had drawn from various quarters, while he details his losses with the most elaborate minuteness. The quaintest part of his lamentable and most fervent petition is, however, its conclusion. Having shown that he has tried and exhausted every means of raising money for the support of his family, he concludes:

‘Therefore, seeing the blinded lady, Fortune, doth not governe in this commonwealth, but justitia  and prudentia, and that in better order than in Tullie's “Republica,” or bookes of offices, they are laied forth to be followed and performed, most reverently and earnestly (yea, in manner with bloody teares of heart), I and my wife, our seaven children, and our servants (seaventeene of us in all) do this day make our petition unto your Honors, that upon all godly, charitable, and just respects had of all that, which this day you have seene, heard, and perceived, you will make such report unto her Most Excellent Majestie (with humble request for speedy reliefes) that we be not constrained to do or suffer otherwise than becometh Christians, and true, and faithfull, and obedient subjects to doe or suffer; and all for want of due mainteynance.'

The main object Dee had in view was the mastership of St. Cross's Hospital, which Elizabeth had formerly promised him. This he never received; but in December, 1594, he was appointed to the Chancellorship of St. Paul's Cathedral, which in the following year he exchanged for the wardenship of the College at Manchester. He still continued his researches into supernatural mysteries, employing several persons in succession as ‘skryers'; but he found no one so fertile in invention as Kelly, and the crystal uttered nothing more oracular than answers to questions about lovers' quarrels, hidden treasures, and petty thefts—the common stock-in-trade of the conjurer. In 1602 or 1604, he retired from his Manchester appointment, and sought the quiet and seclusion of his favourite Mortlake. His renown as ‘a magician' had greatly increased—not a little, it would seem, to his annoyance; for on June 5, 1604, we find that he presented a petition to James I. at Greenwich, soliciting his royal protection against the wrong done to him by enemies who mocked him as ‘a conjurer, or caller, or invocator of devils,' and solemnly asserting that ‘of all the great number of the very strange and frivolous fables or histories reported and told of him (as to have been of his doing) none were true.' It is said that the treatment Dee experienced at this time was the primary cause of the Act passed against personal slander (1604)—a proof of legislative wisdom which drew from Dee a versified expression of gratitude—in which, let us hope, the sincerity of the gratitude is not to be measured by the quality of the verse. It is addressed to ‘the Honorable Members of the Commons in the Present Parliament,' and here is a specimen of it, which will show that, though Dee's crystal might summon the spirits, it had no control over the Muses:

‘The honour, due unto you all,And reverence, to you each one I do first yield most spe-ci-all;Grant me this time to heare my mone.
‘Now (if you will) full well you may Fowle sclaundrous tongues for ever tame;And helpe the truth to beare some sway In just defence of a good name.'

Thenceforward Dee sinks into almost total obscurity. His last years were probably spent in great tribulation; and the man who had dreamed of converting, Midas-like, all he touched into gold, seems frequently to have wanted bread. It was a melancholy ending to a career which might have been both useful and brilliant, if his various scholarship and mental energy had not been expended upon a delusion. Unfortunately for himself, Dee, with all his excellent gifts, wanted that greatest gift of all, a sound judgment. His excitable fancy and credulous temper made him the dupe of his own wishes, and eventually the tool of a knave far inferior to himself in intellectual power, but surpassing him in strength of will, in force of character, in audacity and inventiveness. Both knave and dupe made but sorry work of their lives. Kelly, as we have seen, broke his neck in attempting to escape from a German prison, and Dee expired in want and dishonour, without a friend to receive his last sigh.

He died at Mortlake in 1608, and was buried in the chancel of Mortlake Church, where, long afterwards, Aubrey, the gossiping antiquary, was shown an old marble slab as belonging to his tomb.

His son Arthur, after acting as physician to the Czar of Russia and to our own Charles I., established himself in practice at Norwich, where he died. Anthony Wood solemnly records that this Arthur, in his boyhood, had frequently played with quoits of gold, which his father had cast at Prague by means of his ‘stone philosophical.' How often Dee must have longed for some of those ‘quoits' in his last sad days at Mortlake, when he sold his books, one by one, to keep himself from starvation!

After Dee's death, his fame as a magician underwent an extraordinary revival; and in 1659, when the country was looking forward to the immediate restoration of its Stuart line of kings, the learned Dr. Meric Casaubon thought proper to publish, in a formidable folio volume, the doctor's elaborate report of his—or rather Kelly's—supposed conferences with the spirits—a notable book, as being the initial product of spiritualism in English literature. In his preface Casaubon remarks that, though Dee's ‘carriage in certain respects seemed to lay in works of darkness, yet all was tendered by him to kings and princes, and by all (England alone excepted) was listened to for a good while with good respect, and by some for a long time embraced and entertained.' And he adds that ‘the fame of it made the Pope bestir himself, and filled all, both learned and unlearned, with great wonder and astonishment.... As a whole, it is undoubtedly not to be paralleled in its kind in any age or country.'


[24] ‘Adeo viro præ credulo errore jam factus sui impos et mente captus, et Dæmones, quo arctius horrendis hisce Sacris adhærescent illius ambitioni vanæ summæ potestatis in Patria adipiscendæ spe et expectatione lene euntis illum non solius Poloniæ sed alterius quoque regni, id est primo Poloniæ, deinde alterius, viz. Moldaviæ Regem fore, et sub quo magnæ universi mundi mutationes incepturas esse, Judæos convertendos, et ab illo Saræmos et Ethnicos vexillo crucis superandos, facili ludificarentur.'—Dr. Thomas Smith, ‘Vitæ Eruditissimorum ac Illustrium Virorum,' London, 1707. ‘Vita Joannis Dee,' p. 25.

[25] He was suspected of coining false money, but Dr. Dee declares he was innocent. (June, 1583.)


In the curious ‘Apologia' published by Dee, in 1595, in the form of a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘containing a most briefe Discourse Apologeticall, with a plaine Demonstration and formal Protestation, for the lawfull, sincere, very faithfull and Christian course of the Philosophicall studies and exercises of a certaine studious Gentleman, an ancient Servant to her most excellent Maiesty Royall,' he furnishes a list of ‘sundry Bookes and Treatises' of which he was the author. The best known of his printed works is the ‘Monas Hieroglyphica, Mathematicè, Anagogicè que explicata' (1564), dedicated to the Emperor Maximilian. Then there are ‘Propæ deumata Aphoristica;' ‘The British Monarchy,' otherwise called the ‘Petty Navy Royall: for the politique security, abundant wealth, and the triumphant state of this kingdom (with God's favour) procuring' (1576); and ‘Paralaticæ Commentationis, Praxcosque Nucleus quidam' (1573). His unpublished manuscripts range over a wide field of astronomical, philosophical, and logical inquiry. The most important seem to be ‘The first great volume of famous and rich Discoveries,' containing a good deal of speculation about Solomon and his Ophirian voyage; ‘Prester John, and the first great Cham;' ‘The Brytish Complement of the perfect Art of Navigation;' ‘The Art of Logicke, in English;' and ‘De Hominis Corpore, Spiritu, et Anima: sive Microcosmicum totius Philosophiæ Naturalis Compendium.'

The character drawn of Dr. Dee by his learned biographer, Dr. Thomas Smith, by no means confirms the traditional notion of him as a crafty and credulous practiser in the Black Art. It is, on the contrary, the portrait of a just and upright man, grave in his demeanour, modest in his manners, abstemious in his habits; a man of studious disposition and benevolent temper; a man held in such high esteem by his neighbours that he was called upon to arbitrate when any differences arose between them; a fervent Christian, attentive to all the offices of the Church, and zealous in the defence of her faith.

Here is the original: ‘Si mores exterioremque vitæ cultum contemplemur, non quicquam ipsi in probrum et ignominium verti possit; ut pote sobrius, probus, affectibus sedatis, compositisque moribus, ab omni luxu et gulâ liber, justi et æqui studiosissimus, erga pauperes beneficus, vicinis facilis et benignus, quorum lites, atrisque partibus contendentium ad illum tanquam ad sapientum arbitrum appellantibus, moderari et desidere solebat: in publicis sacris cœtibus et in orationibus frequens, articulorum Christianæ fidei, in quibus omnes Orthodoxi conveniunt, strenuus assertor, zelo in hæreses, à primitiva Ecclesia damnatas, flagrans, inqui Peccōrum, qui virginitatem B. Mariæ ante partum Christi in dubium vocavit, accerimè invectus: licet de controversiis inter Romanenses et Reformatos circa reliqua doctrinæ capita non adeo semperosè solicitus, quin sibi in Polonia et Bohemia, ubi religio ista dominatur, Missæ interesse et communicare licere putaverit, in Anglia, uti antea, post redditum, omnibus Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ ritibus conformis.' It must be admitted that Dr. Smith's Latin is not exactly ‘conformed' to the Ciceronian model.