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the way of formal composition. If this is the feeling which prevents men from amusing; and instructing either their peculiar progeny, or posterity in general, by an account of their own lives, it is to be lamented that they cannot be convinced of the fact, that all the beauties that this kind of writing would absolutely require, are the natural and unbought charms that accompany a plain unvarnished tale-the emotions of the heart, the movements of the mind in peculiar situations, the personal adventure, or the critical emergency, need only the simple language which spontaneously clothes the thought as it grows. Few men there are, however chequered or busy the scenes of their active life may be, who do not frequently reflect upon their circumstances, and review, with intense consciousness, the map of their past existence-who do not turn an eye of ardent curiosity into the internal operations of their own minds and wills; this practice becomes more frequent, and of longer duration, as a man advances towards the latter end of his life-when the old man is established, at the decline of day, by his fire-side, or when walking about his garden in the early morning.
To render auto-biography interesting and amusing, we think is no difficult task, presuming, of course, a fair foundation to build upon; but for a man so completely to divest himself of vanity and self-love, that the relation of himself shall be impartial and trustworthy, would be a very uncommon and singular occurrence; that an individual, in addition to this, should be bitter against himself—that he should make himself appear even worse than he may be-that he should unnaturally point his own actions with evil motives, and aggravate his own failings, is a case of such remarkable morbidity, as to deserve a particular account. The life of Cardan, the subject of the present article, is nearly such a case.
There are stern task-masters of their own consciences, who would not shrink to take their conduct to pieces, and subject its parts to a rigid examination—whose austere love of truth would enable them to look into the vital operations of their own hearts, without flinching; but very few, if any, who could bring themselves to hold up the account to the eye of the world. It cannot be expected: the best heart would wither at the idea of such an exhibition. Had the Mandeville of Mr. Godwin been a real being, would he ever have been induced to send to the press that awful account of the workings of his soul? Certainly not. Yet how instructive, how intense an interest would such a relation have exacted, could we have relied on the precedent; had it been a reported case, of authority to be quoted in the court where a man sits in judgment upon himself-that awful tri
VOL. I. PART 1.
bunal, where the judge is master of the fact and the law where the witness convicts himself, and the punishment awarded is, the gnawing "worm that never dies."
The generality of auto-biographers, however, it must be confessed, do not feel this responsibility to be of so deep a nature; they skim the surface of their lives, and only catch the reflection of their actions in a flattering point of view; they think highly of themselves, magnify their good deeds, and dilute the confession of a fault to a sweet insipid mixture of mistaken virtue and pardonable vice. Such men publish in their life-time, and would be well with their contemporaries. It is not to such works as these, that we have been chiefly alluding, though they may be sufficiently amusing, and, when read with discrimination, highly useful. We refer to the dusty and neglected manuscript volume, which is dragged by executors or descendants from forgotten heaps of papers, tattered and worm-eaten, in the bottom of an old chest, and written in many different-looking hands - the production of many a gloomy hour, when the soul was at mortal strife with its own nature.
It has been said that self-knowledge is a science of such difficult attainment, that men "deceive themselves, and say that they have no sin;" that actions appear to the actors of them in so favourable a light, that a writer, de seipso, cannot unravel the truth. We apprehend there is a good deal of error in this opinion: the yoσEAUTOY is not so difficult a task as has been imagined-it is not that men cannot, but that they will not, see the reality. A man always knows, or easily could know, if he would give himself the trouble, the sterling quality of his own deeds; should he, however, be disinclined to enter into the examination, and to throw a sop to his conscience, we readily acknowledge the powerful effect of the casuistry which is ever at hand to gloss over, misrepresent, and soften down; but this is only when there is a traitor in the bosom, aud no effort or attempt at resistance is made.
Jerome Cardan was the most remarkable, and at the time, considered one of the greatest men of the sixteenth century. More was written and said about him, and he himself wrote more, than almost any other writer of the age. He was consulted as one who had preternatural information; by some he was almost adored as a demi-god; by others, he was hated as an impostor and a villain; and by others, pitied or despised as a madman. His bitterest antagonist, the elder Scaliger, confessed that at times he wrote as one inspired, and at others as an idiot. Artists frequently came from distant parts of the country, that they might take his portrait.
He was a mathematician, and is celebrated as the inventor of one of the most important rules in Algebra, which goes by his name. He was a physician, and his advice was requested from all parts. He was invited by the King of Denmark to reside in his dominions, and being sent for from Italy to Scotland, cured the Archbishop of St. Andrews of a disorder which had bidden defiance to the most skilful physicians in the country: he is hence mentioned as a magician by the Scotch historians. He was an astronomer, and yet he believed in astrology; and at the same time, an eminent metaphysician and moral philosopher. He was called a polypus of science-cut off one head, and a score sprang up-refute him in one department, yet his fame and reputation stood upon the footing of half a dozen others. He was as singular in his birth and death as in his life: in the womb his mother attempted to destroy him by means of deleterious drugs, and he was ushered into the world with fearful signs:
"The raven rook'd her on the chimney's top,
And chattering pies in dismal discord sung;
During his life he was afflicted with the pains of poverty, and the miseries of professional authorship, but these have happened to many men; his misfortunes were peculiar-a wandering and unsettled mode of existence, and the being charged with theft and all sorts of dishonesty, moral and literary, were nothing to his family anxieties; his eldest son was ignominiously executed for the murder of his wife, and he himself was compelled more than once to imprison his youngest son, who was an unprincipled knave, and whom he was compelled to disinherit and disown. It has been mentioned that Cardan was an astrologer; he, it is said, predicted his own death at a particular time, and starved himself to prove the truth of the prophecy. The events, however, of the life of this singular personage are not so remarkable as the portrait of his mind which he has left us in the book, of the contents of which we will proceed to give an account.
Cardan, in this production, did not think proper to follow the ordinary mode of biography; he does not begin with his birth and his infancy, and thus narrate in order the incidents of his life. The manner of the book is as singular as the matter. He divides all the qualities and properties incidental to man under different heads, which he affixes to the beginning of a chapter, and proceeds to describe his own individual peculiarities under each; as for instance, de Statura et Forma corporis; de Valetudine; de Moribus et Animi vitio, et Erroribus. Thus giving, as it were, a regular inven
tory of his whole effects, intellectual, moral, and personal. His life is like the statistical statement of the surveyor of a parish-every thing connected with him has its separate and peculiar notice, down to his very food, his clothes, and his exercise. He takes the height and breadth, and marks of his person, as a curious traveller would measure the pyramids. The interest of narrative never entered into his mind; his book is a record of facts, which he felt he was called upon to make, before so singular a being disappeared from the face of the earth. A naturalist would thus describe an animal he had never met with, and never expected to see again. A mineralogist, in stringing together an account of the external appearances, the component parts and different uses of a mineral, would be just as accurate and just as jejune. It is, perhaps, the most difficult book to get through that was ever written, which contained so many remarkable circumstances. He writes as if he were giving evidence in a court of justice, and every sentence was an answer 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 minute
ness, 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 mother.
"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. . . . . Ñatus ergo, imo a matré extractus, tanquam mortuus, cum capillis nigris, recreatus balneo vini calidi, quod alteri potuit esse perniciosum, mater 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 xxx1 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. "My mother was given to anger, had an excellent memory and a good wit, was low in stature, fat and pious."