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English Astrologers
by [?]

A belief in judicial astrology can now only exist in the people, who may be said to have no belief at all; for mere traditional sentiments can hardly be said to amount to a belief. But a faith in this ridiculous system in our country is of late existence; and was a favourite superstition with the learned.

When Charles the First was confined, Lilly the astrologer was consulted for the hour which would favour his escape.

A story, which strongly proves how greatly Charles the Second was bigoted to judicial astrology, is recorded is Burnet’s History of his Own Times.

The most respectable characters of the age, Sir William Dugdale, Ellas Ashmole, Dr. Grew, and others, were members of an astrological club. Congreve’s character of Foresight, in Love for Love, was then no uncommon person, though the humour now is scarcely intelligible.

Dryden cast the nativities of his sons; and, what is remarkable, his prediction relating to his son Charles took place. This incident is of so late a date, one might hope it would have been cleared up.

In 1670, the passion for horoscopes and expounding the stars prevailed in France among the first rank. The new-born child was usually presented naked to the astrologer, who read the first lineaments in his forehead, and the transverse lines in its hand, and thence wrote down its future destiny. Catherine de Medicis brought Henry IV., then a child, to old Nostradamus, whom antiquaries esteem more for his chronicle of Provence than his vaticinating powers. The sight of the reverend seer, with a beard which “streamed like a meteor in the air,” terrified the future hero, who dreaded a whipping from so grave a personage. One of these magicians having assured Charles IX. that he would live as many days as he should turn about on his heels in an hour, standing on one leg, his majesty every morning performed that solemn gyration; the principal officers of the court, the judges, the chancellors, and generals, likewise, in compliment, standing on one leg and turning round!

It has been reported of several famous for their astrologic skill, that they have suffered a voluntary death merely to verify their own predictions; this has been reported of Cardan, and Burton, the author of the Anatomy of Melancholy.

It is curious to observe the shifts to which astrologers are put when their predictions are not verified. Great winds were predicted, by a famous adept, about the year 1586. No unusual storms, however, happened. Bodin, to save the reputation of the art, applied it as figure to some revolutions in the state, and of which there were instances enough at that moment. Among their lucky and unlucky days, they pretend to give those of various illustrious persons and of families. One is very striking.–Thursday was the unlucky day of our Henry VIII. He, his son Edward VI., Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, all died on a Thursday! This fact had, no doubt, great weight in this controversy of the astrologers with their adversaries.[1]

Lilly, the astrologer, is the Sidrophel of Butler. His Life, written by himself, contains so much artless narrative, and so much palpable imposture, that it is difficult to know when he is speaking what he really believes to be the truth. In a sketch of the state of astrology in his day, those adepts, whose characters he has drawn, were the lowest miscreants of the town. They all speak of each other as rogues and impostors. Such were Booker, Backhouse, Gadbury; men who gained a livelihood by practising on the credulity of even men of learning so late as in 1650, nor were they much out of date in the eighteenth century. In Ashmole’s Life an account of these artful impostors may be found. Most of them had taken the air in the pillory, and others had conjured themselves up to the gallows. This seems a true statement of facts. But Lilly informs us, that in his various conferences with angels, their voices resembled that of the Irish!