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to a question put to him. It mattered not to him who read his work; for he seems to have written it under the influence of an imperious sense of duty, as if some superior being had demanded the items of his existence. It is like a last account given in to be summed up, on the day when every man shall know his doom.
We will proceed to turn over the leaves of the little volume before us, and make a few extracts as we go along from the different chapters as they occur, paying chief attention to those parts which tend to distinguish the most remarkable traits in the character of this singular person. By so doing, we hope to gain another object, that of making this interesting work better known to the generality of readers, and thus ensuring a more particular notice of it than is commonly paid.
The first chapter our auto-biographer entitles "Patria et Majores," in which he gives a very particular account of the family of Cardan. The duration of life always seems to have been a very favourite speculation with him, probably in consequence of his astrological studies, and the prediction relative to his own death. He therefore dwells, with manifest pleasure, on the remarkable longevity for which his ancestors were distinguished. The sons of his grandfather, he tells us, lived respectively to the ages of ninety-three, eighty-eight, eighty-six; and their sons again to those of eighty-eight, ninety-six, seventy-four, eighty-four; and his father to that of eighty. With the same delight, he reckons up the years of his maternal relations. His astrological propensities lead him to pay particular attention to all coincident events; and he mentions in this chapter, with a laudable minuteness, that his maternal grandfather spent part of his time in prison, at the very same period of life that this wholesome restraint was laid upon himself.
He gives a whole chapter to the account of his birth and the astrological situation of the stars at the time of it. It is here that he records his narrow escape from the designs of his
"Tentatis, ut audivi, abortivis medicamentis frustra, ortus sum an. M.D.VIII. calend. Oct. hora noctis prima non exacta, sed paulo magis dimidia et tamen besse minore.... Natus ergo, imo a matré extractus, tanquam mortuus, cum capillis nigris, recreatus balneo vini calidi, quod alteri potuit esse perniciosum, conflictata tribus perpetuis diebus in partu, superstes evasi tandem."
He gives this most singular of all reasons for appearing to the world in the human form:
"Cum Sol, et maleficæ ambæ, et Venus et Mercurius essent in
signis humanis, ideo non declinavi e formâ humanâ, sed cum Jupiter esset in ascendenti et Venus totius figuræ domina, non fui oblæsus nisi in genitalibus: ut a xxi anno ad xxxi non potuerim concumbere cum mulieribus, et sæpius deflerem sortem meam cuique alteri propriam invidens."
All his unfortunate propensities, as well as high faculties (some of which he does not scruple to claim to be supernatural) he attributes to the influence of evil stars.
"Remansit (he says) ergo sola quædam vafricies et animus minime liber: verum omnia abrupta et interdicta consilia; ut uno verbo dicam destitutus corporeis viribus cum paucis amicis, parvo patrimonio, pluribus inimicis, quorum maximam partem neque nomine neque vultu agnosco, absque humana sapientia, nec memoria validus, sed providentia aliquanto melior: ut nesciam cur conditio quæ ad familiam et majores contemptibilis censetur, gloriosa imo invidiosa apud eosdem sit."
There is something very singular in the mode in which Cardan speaks of his parents. To his mother, he does not seem to have owed much, but of both he speaks with the utmost indifference, and probably never felt a spark of natural affection for either, and only mentions them, because they were his parents, and should therefore be known. Of his father, (who appears to have been a man of austere morals, for he would not allow an old gentleman to leave his ill-gotten wealth to his son, merely observing, male parta esse) he says, that he had a ruddy complexion, and could, like a cat, see in the night, was very fond of Euclid, and had round shoulders, (Erat Euclidis operum studiosus et humeris incurvis.) He gives this laconic character of his mother. 66 My mother was given to anger, had an excellent memory and a good wit, was low in stature, fat and pious."
The fifth chapter is entitled, "On my height and shape of body," the whole of which, as it is short, we feel ourselves compelled to quote. It is, perhaps, the only accurate and minute portrait of a man's own person, down to the most casual blemish, ever handed down to posterity by the pen. Cardan probably thought, that future ages would be very curious about a form, which a superior being (his dæmon) had condescended to inhabit.
"Statura mediocris; pedibus brevibus, latis prope digitos, dorso eorum altiore, adeo ut vix calceos congruentes inveniam, cogererque antea illos instituere: pectore angusto aliqualiter: brachiis admodum tenuibus, dextra manu crassiore, digitisque incompactis, ut chiromantici rudem esse pronunciarint ac stupidum: inde ubi norunt, puduerit.. In ea linea vitæ brevis, et Saturnina vocata longa et profunda: sinistra
autem pulchra, ob longis digitis, et teretibus ac compactis unguibus splendidis, collo aliquantulum longiore et tenuiore; mento diviso, labro inferiore crasso et pendulo: oculis valde parvis ac quasi conniventibus, in quid intentius aspicio; super palpebram sinistri oculi macula lenti parvæ similis, ut nec facile deprehendi queat: fronte latiore, et in lateribus, ubi temporibus jungitur, capillis nuda, quorum color et barbæ flavus erat, detonsos soleo crines ferre et barbam brevem, quæ ut mentum bifida erat: pars tota sub mento pilis abundabat longis, ut ibi magis barbatus viderer. Senectus barbam mutavit, capillos parum: Sermo altior, adeo ut reprehenderer ab his qui se amicos mihi simulabant, vox aspera, magna et quæ tamen profitendo non procul audiretur: Sermo non admodum suavis et nimius: intuitus fixus quasi cogitantis, dentes superiores anteriores magnæ: color ex albo ruber: facies oblonga, non multum tamen caput retro in angustum desinit tanquam in spherulam exiguam. Adeo vero nil rarum est in nobis ut pictores plures qui ex longinquis regionibus venerant, me delineandi causa, nihil invenire potuerint, quo exprimere ita possint, ut ex pictura dignoscerer. In gutturis parte inferiore tumor velut spherula dura, non admodum conspicua, a matre hereditaria et derivata.”
Under the head of De Valetudine he informs us, that he had been generally so free from the disease called the hæmorrhoides and the gout, that he has oftener sought to bring them on, rather than drive them away. "It was my practice, (he afterwards adds) a practice at which many wondered, to bring on some disorder, if I happened to have none upon me, as I have just observed of the gout. The reason of this is, that in my opinion pleasure consists in the subsiding of preceding pain. Now if pain be voluntary, it can be made to cease at pleasure. And I have found out that I cannot exist without a certain degree of pain; for, when it altogether ceases, I feel so impetuous a fury seize my mind, that a moderate quantity of voluntary pain is much more safe, and renders me much more respectable. For this reason I bite my lips, distort my fingers, pinch my skin and the tender fleshy part of the left arm even to tears. Thus I have been able to live without reproach. I have a horror by nature of standing on lofty places, however broad, and have always entertained the greatest apprehensions of hydrophobia. Sometimes I have been filled, with what I may term a heroic passion, which has often led me to the thought of putting an end to myself."
Under the head of exercise (de Exercitatione) he tells us, that one of his amusements was to traverse the streets in arms during the night, in towns where he happened to be residing, contrary to the orders of the magistrates. At one time it was his practice to spend the whole of the day, from dawn to dusk, in athletic exercises, and then, in a state of profuse perspiration, sit down to some musical instrument; after which, he would fre
quently wander about the whole night. Afterwards, he gives a most particular account of his diet, and puts down a bill of fare, consisting of all those articles which he was in the habit of eating. He observes, that he used medicine sparingly, “preterquam populeonis unguento usus sum, vel ursi adipe, aut oleo nympharum quibus inungebantur loca XVII. femora, pedum planta, cervi, cubiti, carpi, tempora, jugulares, cor, jecur, superius labium."
Until the age of forty-three, his principle seems to have been to do the thing which promised him most pleasure, and this recklessness of consequences he attributes to the prediction that he would not survive his fortieth year. "Et astrologiæ cognitio quam tum habebam, et ut mihi videbatur et omnes aiebant, me non excessurum XL vitæ annum, certe non ad XLV perventurum, multum obfuit."
He thus describes part of his life, which seems to have been spent happily-the recollection, however, stings him, and he starts into a lamentation over the miseries of his life :-when in this strain, he never fails to speak of the execution of his son, which appears to have made a fatal impression on his mind.
Itaque a voluptate initium sumpsi ætate, natura, curis præteritis, et occasione suadentibus. Mane si profitendum esset, ut Mediolani primum, post Papiæ longe sæpius profitebar. Inde deambulabam in umbra extra urbis mænia: prandebam, musicæ post operam dabam: inde piscatum ibam, juxta lucos et sylvas paulum ab urbe distanter studebam, scribebam, vesperi domum me recipiebam: perduravit hoc tempus annis sex, sed hei! Fulgere quondam candidi tibi soles: Dixit ille: Ingressus post longum illud iter atque honorificum: sed valeant lucra, honores, ambitus illi, intempestivæ voluptates: perdidi me: perii, creverunt difficultates atque molestiæ, velut umbra taxi, ut ferunt: nullum jam restabat solatium, nisi exitiale: sed in hoc genere beatitudo esse non potest, nam secus tyranni qui a beatitudine plurimum absunt, forent, beatissimi. Itaque ut taurus junctis oculis furens, dum majore impetu fertur, necesse est ut impingat et ruat. Impegi igitur ac rui: Interim et antehac, calamitas illa de filio natu majore accidit. Confessi sunt quidam e senatu (sed puto non de seipsis intelligi voluisse) damnasse illum, ut dolore interirem, aut insanirem; ab unoque, quam parum fuerim, superi norunt, etc."
In the chapter (XIII) in which he professes to speak of "his manners, the vices of his disposition, and his errors," he thus expresses his determination to adhere to the truth, in this history of himself.
"Ad nos maluimus veritati in hoc servire, haud ignari, non habere excusationem ullam qui peccat in moribus, quemadmodum in cæteris: Quis cogere potuit? An ergo unus ero ille leprosus qui ex decem sanatis solus ad dominum rediit, ea ratione medici et astrologi morum naturali
um causas in primas qualitates, voluntariorum in educationem, studia,
He continues with a sketch of his character, which contains a series of most singular disclosures.
"Me ergo natura mea non latuit, iracundus, simplex, veneri deditus: ex quibus tanquam principiis etiam profluxere sævitia, pertinacia contentiosa, asperitas, imprudentia, iracundia, ultionis desiderium etiam ultra vires, nedum prona voluntas: ut illud placeat quod multi damnant, verbo saltem. At vindicta bonum vita jucundius ipsa. In universum nolui aberrare in me, quod dici solet, natura nostra prona est ad malum. Etsi verax, memor beneficiorum, amens justitiæ, et meorum, contemptor pecuniæ, gloriæ post obitum cultor, mediocria etiam, nedum parva omnia spernere solitus: cum tamen sciam quantum minima afferrent momenti ab initio, occasiones nullas contemnere soleo. Natura ad omne vitium et malum pronus, præter ambitionem agnosco imperitiam meam, si quis alius. Cæterum Dei ob venerationem et quod omnia hæc vana, quantum sint, dignosco, occasiones oblatas ultionum etiam consulto negligo. Frigidi sum cordis, timidus, et cerebri calidi, addictus cogitationi perpetuæ, multa ac maxima et etiam quæ esse non possunt, revolvens: duobus etiam simul negotiis mentem adhibere possum: qui garrulitatem et immoderantiam in laudas meas objiciunt; non de meis vitiis sed alienis me accusant; repugno non oppugno quenquam.
“Assuevi vultum in contrarium semper efformare; ideo simulare possum, dissimulare nescio: sed hoc facile, si ad habitum nihil sperandi conferatur, cui adipiscendo xv. perpetuis annis, maximo labore incubui. Itaque propter hæc pannosus quandoque incedo, alias ornatus, tacitus, verbosus, lætus, tristis: omnia enim reduplicant his ex causis. In juventa parum et raro caput curabam, ob aviditatem incumbendi potioribus, in eundo inequalis, celeriter, tarde: domi cruribus ad talos usque nudus. Parum pius, et lingua incontinens: maxime iratus, ut pudeat et tædeat me."
He observes, there are four singular gifts with which he has been endowed by nature-he thus describes them:
'Quatuor mihi indita sunt a Natura, quæ nunquam aperire volui, et omnia (meo judicio) admiratione digna. Quorum primum hoc est, quod quoties volo, extra sensum quasi in ecstasim transeo.. Sentio dum eam ineo, ac (ut verius dicam) facio, juxta cor quandam separationem, quasi anima abscederet, totique corpori res hæc communicatur, quasi ostiolum quoddam aperiretur. Et initium hujus est a capite, maxime cerebello, diffunditurque per totam dorsi spinam, vi magna continetur: hocque solum sentio, quod sum extra meipsum: magnâque quadam vi paululum me contineo. Secundum est, quod cum volo, video quæ volo, oculis, non vi mentis: velut imagines illas, de quibus dixi, cum infans essem. me vidisse. Sed nunc credo ob occupationes, nec diu, nec perfectas, nec omnino semper cum volo, nec tamen nisi velim. Moventur autem perpetuo quæ videntur imagines.