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John Heydon (astrologer)

The English Rosicrucians are few in number—rari gurgite in vasto nantes —and when I have added John Heydon to Vaughan and Fludd, I shall have named the most distinguished. Heydon was the author of ‘The Wise Man's Crown; or, The Glory of the Rosie Cross' (1664); ‘The Holy Guide, leading the Way to Unite Art and Nature, with the Rosie Cross Uncovered' (1662); and ‘A New Method of Rosicrucian Physic; by John Heydon, the Servant of God and the Secretary of Nature' (1658). In the last-named he describes himself as an attorney—who will not pity his clients, if he had any?—practising at Westminster Hall all term times as long as he lived, and in the vacations devoting himself to alchemical and Rosicrucian speculation. His introduction (‘An Apologue for an Epilogue') is full of such outrageous nonsense as to suggest suspicion of his sanity. He speaks of Moses, Elias, and Ezekiel as the prophets and founders of Rosicrucianism. Its present believers, he says, may be few in number, but their position is incomparably glorious. They are the eyes and ears of the great King of the universe, seeing all things and hearing all things; they are seraphically illuminated; they belong to the holy company of embodied souls and immortal angels; they can assume any shape at will, and possess the power of working miracles. They can walk in the air, banish epidemics from stricken cities, pacify the most violent storms, heal every disease, and turn all metals into gold. He had known, he says, two illustrious brethren, named Williams and Walford, and had seen them perform miracles—a statement which brands him either as a knave or a dupe. ‘I desired one of them to tell me,' he says, ‘whether my complexion were capable of the society of my good genius. “When I see you again,” said he (which was when he pleased to come to me, for I knew not where to go to him), “I will tell you.” When I saw him afterwards, he said: “You should pray to God: for a good and holy man can offer no greater or more acceptable service to God than the oblation of himself—his soul.” He said also, that the good genii were the benign eyes of God, running to and fro in the world, and with love and pity beholding the innocent endeavours of harmless and single-hearted men, ever ready to do them good and to help them.'

Heydon advocated, without enforcing his precepts by example, the Rosicrucian dogma, that men could live without eating and drinking, affirming that all of us could exist in the same manner as the singular people dwelling near the source of the Ganges, described by his namesake, Sir Christopher Heydon [39] (but certainly by no other traveller), who had no mouths, and therefore could not eat, but lived by the breath of their nostrils—except when they went on a far journey, and then, to recuperate their strength, they inhaled the scent of flowers. He dilated on the ‘fine foreign fatness' which characterized really pure air—the air being impregnated with it by the sunbeams—and affirmed that it should suffice for the nourishment of the majority of mankind. He was not unwilling, however, that people with gross appetites should eat animal food, but declared it to be unnecessary for them, and that a much more efficacious mode would be to use the meat, nicely cooked, as a plaster on the pit of the stomach. By adopting this external treatment, they would incur no risk of introducing diseases, as they did by the broad and open gate of the mouth, as anyone might see by the example of drink; for so long as a man sat in water, he knew no thirst. He had been acquainted—so he declared—with many Rosicrucians who, by using wine as a bath, had fasted from solid food for several years. And, as a matter of fact, one might fast all one's life, though prolonged for 300 years, if one ate no meat, and so avoided all risk of infection by disease.

Growing confidential in reference to his imaginary fraternity, he states that its chiefs always carried about with them their symbol, the R.C., an ebony cross, flourished and decked with roses of gold; the cross typifying Christ's suffering for the sins of mankind, and the golden roses the glory and beauty of His Resurrection. This symbol was carried in succession to Mecca, Mount Calvary, Mount Sinai, Haran, and three other places, which I cannot pretend to identify—Casele, Apamia, and Chaulateau Viciosa Caunuch: these were the meeting-places of the brotherhood.

‘The Rosie Crucian Physick or Medicines,' says this bravely-mendacious gentleman, ‘I happily andunexpectedly light upon in Arabia, which will prove a restoration of health to all that are afflicted with sickness which we ordinarily call natural, and all other diseases. These men have no small insight into the body: Walford, Williams, and others of the Fraternity now living, may bear up in the same likely equipage with those noble Divine Spirits their Predecessors; though the unskilfulness in men commonly acknowledges more of supernatural assistance in hot, unsettled fancies, and perplexed melancholy, than in the calm and distinct use of reason; yet, for mine own part, I look upon these Rosie Crucians above all men truly inspired, and more than any that professed themselves so this sixteen hundred years, and I am ravished with admiration of their miracles and transcendant mechanical inventions, for the solving the Phænomenon of the world. I may, without offence, therefore, compare them with Bezaliel, Aholiab, those skilful workers of the Tabernacle, who, as Moses testifies, were filled with the Spirit of God, and therefore were of an excellent understanding to find out all manner of curious work.'

The plain fact is that Heydon's books are fictions —purely imaginative work, based on some rough and ready knowledge of the old alchemy and the new magic; partly allegorical and mystical, such as a quick invention might readily conceive under the influence of theosophic study, and partly borrowed from Henry More, and other writers of the same stamp. The island inhabited by Rosicrucians, which he describes in the introduction to ‘The Holy Guide,' was evidently suggested by Sir Thomas More's ‘Utopia,' and Bacon's ‘New Atlantis.' It would be easy to point out his obligations elsewhere.

I may add, in bringing this chapter to a close, that Dr. Edmund Dickenson, one of Charles II.'s physicians, professed to be a member of the brotherhood, and wrote a book upon one of their supposed doctrines, entitled ‘De Quinta Essentia Philosophorum,' which was printed at Oxford in 1686.

Whatever may be our opinion of Rosicrucianism, which, I believe, still finds some believers and adepts in this country, we must acknowledge that the literature of poetry and fiction is indebted to it considerably. The machinery of Pope's exquisite poem, ‘The Rape of the Lock,' was borrowed from Paracelsus and Jacob Böhmen—not directly, it is true, but through the medium of the Abbé de Villars' sparkling romance, ‘Le Comte de Gabalis.' ‘According to those gentlemen,' says Pope, ‘the four elements are inhabited by spirits, which they call sylphs, gnomes, nymphs, and salamanders.'

The Rosicrucian water-nymph supplied La Motte Fouqué with the idea of that graceful and lovely creation, ‘Undine,' and Sir Walter Scott has invested his ‘White Lady of Avenel' with some of her attributes.

William Godwin's romance of ‘St. Leon' turns on the Rosicrucian fancy of immortal life; while Lord Lytton's ‘Zanoni' is practically a Rosicrucian fiction. The influence of the Rosicrucian writers is also apparent in the same author's ‘A Strange Story.'


[39] Author of ‘A Defence of Judiciall Astrologie,' printed at Cambridge in 1603.