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English Astrologers
by [?]

The work contains anecdotes of the times. The amours of Lilly with his mistress are characteristic. He was a very artful man, and admirably managed matters which required deception and invention.

Astrology greatly flourished in the time of the civil wars. The royalists and the rebels had their astrologers, as well as their soldiers! and the predictions of the former had a great influence over the latter.

On this subject, it may gratify curiosity to notice three or four works, which hear an excessive price. The price cannot entirely be occasioned by their rarity, and I am induced to suppose that we have still adepts, whose faith must be strong, or whose scepticism but weak.

The Chaldean sages were nearly put to the rout by a quarto park of artillery, fired on them by Mr. John Chamber, in 1601. Apollo did not use Marsyas more inhumanly than his scourging pen this mystical race, and his personalities made them feel more sore. However, a Norwich knight, the very Quixote of astrology, arrayed in the enchanted armour of his occult authors, encountered this pagan in a most stately carousal. He came forth with “A Defence of Judiciall Astrologye, in answer to a treatise lately published by Mr. John Chamber. By Sir Christopher Heydon, Knight; printed at Cambridge, 1603.” This is a handsome quarto of about 500 pages. Sir Christopher is a learned writer, and a knight worthy to defend a better cause. But his Dulcinea had wrought most wonderfully on his imagination. This defence of this fanciful science, if science it may be called, demonstrates nothing, while it defends everything. It confutes, according to the knight’s own ideas: it alleges a few scattered facts in favour of astrological predictions, which may be picked up in that immensity of fabling which disgraces history. He strenuously denies, or ridicules, what the greatest writers have said against this fanciful art, while he lays great stress on some passages from authors of no authority. The most pleasant part is at the close, where he defends the art from the objections of Mr. Chamber by recrimination. Chamber had enriched himself by medical practice; and when he charges the astrologers with merely aiming to gain a few beggarly pence, Sir Christopher catches fire, and shows by his quotations, that if we are to despise an art, by its professors attempting to subsist on it, or for the objections which may be raised against its vital principles, we ought by this argument most heartily to despise the medical science and medical men! He gives here all he can collect against physic and physicians; and from the confessions of Hippocrates and Galen, Avicenna and Agrippa, medicine appears to be a vainer science than even astrology! Sir Christopher is a shrewd and ingenious adversary; but when he says he means only to give Mr. Chamber oil for his vinegar, he has totally mistaken its quality.

The defence was answered by Thomas Vicars, in his “Madnesse of Astrologers.”

But the great work is by Lilly; and entirely devoted to the adepts. He defends nothing; for this oracle delivers his dictum, and details every event as matters not questionable. He sits on the tripod; and every page is embellished by a horoscope, which he explains with the utmost facility. This voluminous monument of the folly of the age is a quarto valued at some guineas! It is entitled, “Christian Astrology, modestly treated of in three books, by William Lilly, student in Astrology, 2nd edition, 1659.” The most curious part of this work is “a Catalogue of most astrological authors.” There is also a portrait of this arch rogue, and astrologer: an admirable illustration for Lavater![2]

Lilly’s opinions, and his pretended science, were such favourites with the age, that the learned Gataker wrote professedly against this popular delusion. Lilly, at the head of his star-expounding friends, not only formally replied to, but persecuted Gataker annually in his predictions, and even struck at his ghost, when beyond the grave. Gataker died in July, 1654; and Lilly having written in his almanac of that year for the month of August this barbarous Latin verse:–