« PreviousContinue »
strongly guided by the circumstance of which party was at the time uppermost. He prophesied first for the king; when his cause declined, our hero prophesied stoutly for the Parliament; and when its influence waned, he put forth some broad hints of its approaching fall. King Charles himself put great confidence in the powers of Lilly; for at the time of his stay, or rather confinement, at Hampton Court, when he meditated an escape from the soldiery that surrounded him, he despatched a secret messenger to the astrologer, desiring him to pronounce what would be the safest place of refuge and concealment. Lilly erected a figure and gave an answer, but the prediction was not put to the proof, the king, before it could be acted on, being removed to the Isle of Wight. Charles's opinion was, that · Lilly understood astrology better than any man in Europe. Nor was the English monarch the only crowned head that held these sentiments. The king of Sweden, whom the astrologer had mentioned honourably in one of his periodical books of prophecy, sent to him a present of a handsome gold chain and medal out of gratitude for the notice.
Kings and soldiers, however, must give place in this race of absurdity to the Commons' House of Parliament -the collective wisdom' of England ! The House, after the burning of London at the great fire, called the astrologer once more before them, and examined him as to his foreknowledge of that calamity, which was then attributed to conspirators. Lilly answered them in the following words : May it please your honours, after the beheading of the late king, considering that in the three subsequent years the parliament acted nothing which concerned the settlement of the nation in peace; and seeing the generality of the people dissatisfied, the citizens of London discontented, and the soldiery prone to mutiny, I was desirous, according to the best knowledge God had given me, to make inquiry by the art I studied, what might from that time happen unto the parliament and the nation in general. At last, having satisfied myself as well as I could, and perfected my judgment therein, I thought it
most convenient to signify my intentions and conceptions thereof, in types, hieroglyphics, &c., without any commentary, that so my judgment might be concealed from the vulgar, and made manifest only to the wise, I herein imitating the examples of many wise philosophers who liad done the like. ... Having found that the city of London should be sadly afflicted with a great plague, and not long after with an exorbitant fire, I framed these hieroglyphics as represented in my book, which have in effect proved very true.' One of the wiseacres of the committee then asked him : Did you foresee the year ?' 'I did not,' replied Lilly, nor was desirous; of that I made no scrntiny.' The astrologer then told them that he had found, after much pains, that the fire was not of man but of God.
To give the reader some idea of the folly which could believe him to have predicted the fire and plague, we may mention that, in the book where the prophecy is said to occur, he gives sixteen pages of wood-cuts, being enigmatical emblems of what was to befall the city for many hundred years to come. On the eighth page is a set of graves and winding-sheets, and the thirteenth some houses on fire, and this is the prediction! The fire and plague were almost in one year, and the figures in the book are in very different places, though he meant the emblems to indicate consecutive events. Besides, a rebellion would have filled the graves, a burnt warehouse would have answered the figure fire, just as well as the plague or the burning of half the city. The hieroglyphics, we may add, depicted every event under the sun, so that the astrologer in no case could have been put out. And a parliament, composed of men undoubtedly the ablest in the land, swallowed this less than two cen
Whilst sovereigns, parliaments, and armies, were thus distinguishing with their notice, and depending for advice in their greatest extremities upon the powers and art of our astrologer, it may well be supposed, since ignorance is the mother of credulity, that the inferior and
uneducated classes of the community followed, with blind superstition, the example set before them by their betters. Love, sickness, trade, marriage, and on a thousand other subjects, was the astrologer daily consulted, not only by the citizens of London, but by residents in every corner of the land. And so skilfully and equivocally, so Delphically, if we may use the expression, did he frame his responses, that he was very seldom brought into annoyance from the failure of his predictions. fortunate for him ; for though the courts of law would not meddle with a true prophet, they did not scruple to punish a bungler in the art. On one occasion, a halfwitted young woman' brought him before the courts to answer for having taken two-and-sixpence from her for a prediction regarding stolen goods. Lilly spoke for himself; and having satisfied the court that astrology was a lawful art, he got easily off by proving the woman to be half-mad.
In his latter years, Lilly practised physic as well as astrology, and amassed so much money as to purchase an estate at Hersham, where he ultimately resided. He made a considerable revenue by teaching his art to those who wished to catch his mantle, which had turned out a warm and comfortable one. Strange as it may appear, many gentlemen even, of good fortune and condition, had become his pupils in astrology. When the hour of his dissolution arrived, it found him, in a ripe old age, at his country-house at Hershamn. He was interred in the chancel of Walton church, and his remains were covered by a marble slab, put up at the cost of his friend and dupe, the learned Elias Ashmole.
In looking back upon the absurdities which marked William Lilly's career, the question naturally arises in the mind, ‘Did he himself believe in his art and powers ? Did that which deceived all others deceive himself ?' An able writer on this subject remarks, “it is very possible and probable, that, at the ontset of his career, he was a real believer in the truth of his art, and that he afterwards felt no inclination to part with so pleasant and profitable a delusion: like his patron Cromwell, whose early fanaticism subsided into hypocrisy, he carefully retained his folly as a cloak for his knavery. Of his success in deception, there exist abundant proofs. The number of his dupes was not confined to the vulgar and illiterate, but included individuals of real worth and learning, who courted his acquaintance and respected his predictions. We know not whether it “should more move our anger or our mirth" to see an assemblage of British senators the contemporaries of Milton and Clarendon, of Hampden and Falkland—in an age which roused into action so many and such mighty energies, gravely engaged in ascertaining the causes of a great national calamity, from the prescience of a knavish fortune-teller, and puzzling their wisdoms to interpret the symbolical flames which blazed in the misshapen wood-cuts, of his oracular publications.' From this disgrace to the wisdom of the seventeenth century, we have to make one memorable exception. In his Hudibras, Samuel Butler has rendered for ever famous the astrologer Lilly, under the name and character of the cunning man, hight Sidrophel.'
ORDEAL BY TOUCH,
The blood seems, in the very earliest times, to have had the peculiar task assigned to it of demanding vengeance for injury and murder. The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground,' is the language in which the first murderer is addressed, and many passages in the Scriptures characterise those who inflicted punishment, either judicially or otherwise, on the takers away of life, as the 'avengers of blood.' Many other expressions of a similar tenor might be adduced, but these are sufficient for our purpose. They point out to us the belief entertained by the Jews, in common with other nations of antiquity, that the blood was the most important part of the frame, the seat of the vital principle, or the vital principle itself. Nor can this opinion be termed at all an unnatural one. In almost every case of violent death, with the suffusion and loss of blood, the life departs, and in every case of natural decease, the circulation of the blood through the frame, as indicated by the pulse, comes slowly to a pause.
We are not authorised to infer from the Jewish writings, that the expression of blood crying aloud for vengeance,' was anything more than figurative, and the same may be said of all the earlier nations of antiquity. That in early times tests or ordeals were practised for the revelation of mysterious cases of murder, is far from being improbable, but it was in those ages most appropriately denominated dark, when mankind, and chiefly Europe, bent the knee slavishly to superstition, that ordeals assumed a judicial form, and became a regular portion of recognised law. The ordeal for discovering murder by compelling suspected persons to come forward and touch the murdered corpse, is that which we propose to describe in the present paper.
The ordeal by touching the corpse was an imposing ceremonial, and if not invented, was at least strongly encouraged by the clergy, who were in those darkened times, as few now will be inclined to deny, very unscrupulous about the means employed to strengthen and extend their power. Direct appeals to the Deity, as this ordeal essentially was, were useful in instilling and maintaining a belief in the immediate interposition of the Deity; which belief was turned too often to account by the clergy in promoting the interests of the Church. That the practice of ordeals was originally fostered and supported by these means, we have little doubt, though ultimately the superstitious delusion was so extensively believed and trusted in, as to require no fresh incentives to its continuance. This was the case particularly in Scotland, where the law and the nation retained their belief in the ordeal by touch long after the clergy had ceased to interfere in it. The original ceremonial on such occasions shew sufficiently how deeply they interfered in the matter at first.