Cardan, Jerom

, an Italian physician, mathematician, and philosopher, was born at Pa via, Sept. 24, 1501. It appears that his father and mother were not married, and the latter, a woman of violent passions, endeavoured to destroy him by procuring abortion. He was, however, safely born, and his father who was a lawyer by profession, at Milan, and a man well skilled in what were then called secret arts, instructed him very early in the mysteries of numbers, and the precepts of astrology, He taught him also the elements of geometry, and was | desirous to have engaged him in the study of jurisprudence. But his own inclination being rather to medicine and mathematics, at the age of twenty he went to the university of Pavia, where, two years after, he explained Euclid. He then went to Padua, and, in 1524, was admitted to the degree of master of arts, and in the following year to that of doctor in medicine. In 1529, he returned to Milan, where although he obtained little fame as a physician, he was appointed professor of mathematics, for which he was better qualified; and in 1539, he became one of the medical college in Milan. Here he attempted to reform the medical practice by publishing his two first works, “De malo recentiorurn medicorum medendi usu,Venice, 1536; and “Contradicentium Medicorum libri duo,Lyons, 1548; but he was too supercilious and peevish to profit by the kindness of his friends, who made repeated efforts to obtain an advantageous establishment for him; and he had, in 1531, formed a matrimonial connection of which he bitterly complained as the cause of all his subsequent misfortunes.

In 1547, an offer was made to him of the honourable post of physician to the king of Denmark, with an annual salary of eight hundred crowns, and a free table, which he refused on account of the climate and the religion of the country. This offer, which was made by the advice of Vesalius, is a proof that his medical reputation was considerably high; and we find that it was likewise very extensive, for in 1552, he was invited into Scotland by Hamilton, archbishop of St. Andrew’s, who had consulted the most eminent physicians in Europe without effect. Of his disease, which was of the asthmatic kind, he began to recover from the time that Cardan prescribed for him; and in less than two months Cardan left him with fair pro* spects of recovery, and gave him some prescriptions, which in two years effected a complete cure. For this he was amply rewarded by his patient, and great offers were made to persuade him to reside in Scotland. These, however, he rejected, and took an opportunity to visit France and Germany, from which he passed into England, and‘ at London he exercised his astrological knowledge in calculating the nativity of Edward VI. The most remarkable part of it was, that the young monarch should die a violent death; for which reason, he says, he left the kingdom for fear of further danger which might follow on it. He drew | a very favourable character of Edward, which was probably just and sincere, because it was afterwards published in one of his works, in Italy, where Edward was detested as a heretic, and where Cardan could have no motive for flattering his memory. While at the English court Edward was solicitous to retain him in England, and appears to have honoured him with frequent conferences; but Cardan refused sril his offers, and returned to Milan, after an absence, in all, of only ten months, and resided there until 1559, practising physic and teaching the mathematics. He then went to Pavia, where he filled the chair of professor of medicine until 1562, when he removed to Bologna, and there likewise became professor of medicine until 1570. About this time he was, for some reason with which we are unacquainted, thrown into prison, which was exchanged soon after for a milder confinement in his own house. On his release, he was invited to Rome, and admitted into the college of physicians there, with a pension from the pope. Here he died Sept. 21, 1576, “more,” says Brucker, “like a maniac than a philosopher.” Thuanus and Scaliger both are of opinion that he starved himself, in order to verify his own prediction of his death.

His life was a series of adventures, which he has committed to writing in his work “De vita propria*” with great freedom, and probably great truth, but with a thorough contempt for fame or decency. It would ap^ pear as if he had written this history of his life for no other purpose than to give the public a proof that he was a most uncommon compound of wisdom and folly, and it is certainly not often that a character is to be met with so capricious and unequal. He congratulates himself that he had not a friend in the world; but that to make up for the loss, he was attended by an aerial spirit, an emanation from Saturn and Mercury, which was the constant guide of his actions, and teacher of every duty to which he was bound. When nature did not visit him with any bodily pain, he would procure to himself that disagreeable sensation, by biting his lips so strongly, or pulling his fingers to such a degree, as sometimes to force the tears from his eyes; and the

*

In this work, which was published 1654, 12mo, he has collected all the mres of his contemporaries relating to his own character, and has entitled them “Testituonia de me.” Mr. Granger says, “It is remarkable that he drew the horoscope of Jesus Christ; and that his description of the unicorn is exactly correspondent to that fictitious animal which is one of the supporters of the royal arms.

| reason he assigned was, in order to moderate certain impetuous sallies of his mind, whose violence was far more insupportable than bodily pain; and that the sure consequence of such a severe practice was his better enjoying the pleasure of health.

He makes no scruple of owning that he was revengeful ,*

*

One of his sons married a woman of loose character, and administered poison to her, for which he was condeemed and executed. Cardan attempted to justify this crime, on the plea of the woman’s infi.ieUy, and says that divine vengeance pursued his son’s judges for having condemned him, This am was a physician, and left two treatises “De fulgbre,” and “De abstinentia ab usu ciborum- foetidoruvn.” The first is in the second volume of his father’s works. The second was added by his father to a treatise which he wrote on his son’s death, “De utilitate ex adversis capienda, 1560,” the year in which that vttnfc took place.

envious, treacherous, a dealer in the black art, a backbiter, a calumniator, and unreservedly addicted to all the foul and detestable excesses that can be imagined. Yet, with all this, he was perhaps the vainest of human beings; and speaks thus of his talents. “I have been admired by many nations; and an almost infinite number of panegyrics in prose and verse have been composed to celebrate my fame. I was born to release the world from the manifold errors under which it groaned. What I have found out could not be discovered either by my predecessors, or my contemporaries; and that is the reason why those authors, who write any thing worthy of being remembered, blush not to own that they are indebted to me for it. I have composed a book on the dialectic art, in which there is neither a superfluous letter, nor one deficient. I finished it in seven days, which seems a prodigy. Yet where is there a person to be found, that can boast of his having become master of its doctrine in a year? And he, that shall have comprehended it in that time, must appear to have been instructed by a familiar demon.

Cardanus certainly instructed himself in every species of knowledge, and made very considerable improvements in medicine, mathematics, and philosophy. Scaliger, who wrote against him with great warmth, owns that he was endowed with a very comprehensive and penetrating mind. He has been accused of impiety, and even of atheism. Of impiety it will not be easy to remove the imputation, many of his actions being grossly impious and immoral; but he appears to have thought better than he acted, and was rather a superstitious man than a free-thinker. He owns | himself that he was not a devotee, parum pius; but at the same time he declares, that though he was naturally very vindictive, he often let slip the occasion of satisfying his resentment, out of veneration for the Deity, Dei ob vcncrat ion em. He says, " There is no form of worship more pleasing to the Deity, than that of obeying the law, notwithstanding the strongest impulses of our nature to trespass against it.’' He says he was sometimes tempted to lay violent hands on himself, which he calls heroic love; and imagined that several other persons have been possessed with it, though they did not own it. Nothing gave him more pleasure, than to talk of things which made the whole company uneasy: he spoke on all subjects, in season and out of season; and was so fond of games of chance, as to spend whole days in them, to the great prejudice of his family and reputation; for he even staked his furniture and his wife’s jewels. He observes, that the poverty to which he was reduced, never compelled him to do apy thing beneath his birth or virtue; and that one of the methods he took to earn a subsistence, was the making of almanacs.

He wrote a great number of books, now comprised in 10 vols. folio, Lyons*, 1663. His poverty, he tells us, was one reason why he wrote so many treatises, the digressions and obscurity of which puzzle the reader, who often finds in them what he did not expect to meet with. In his arithmetic he introduces several discourses concerning the motion of the planets, the creation, and the tower of Babel; and in his logic he has inserted a criticism on historians and letter- writers. He owns that he made these digressions to fill up his bargain with the booksellers being for so much a sheet and he wrote as much for bread as for reputation. With regard to the obscurity of his writings, Naudaeus alleges the following among other reasons for it: that Cardan imagined, that many things being familiar to him needed not to be expressed, and the heat of his imagination and his extensive genius hurried him from one thing to another, without staying to explain the medium or connection between them. Naudseus adds, that the amazing contradictions in his writings are an evident proof, that he was not always in his senses; that they can neither be imputed to a defect of memory, nor to artifice; and that the little relation there is between his several variations, proceeded from the different fits of madness with which he was seized. | In the midst of all this weakness, Cardan is universally acknowledged to have been a man of great erudition and fertile invention, and is celebrated as the author of many new and singular observations in philosophy and medicine. His discoveries in mathematics may be seen in Dr. Hutton’s Dictionary, or the Cyclopædia, art. Algebra; and his treatise “De Met ho do Medendi” discovers a mind capable of detecting and renouncing established errors. His book “De snbtilitate et varietate rerum” shews, in the opinion of Brucker, that if he could have preserved his judgment free from the influence of a disordered imagination, he was able to have contributed to the improvement of natural philosophy. Of the dogmas of this philosopher, the following are a specimen: “Primary matter, which remains immutably the same, fills every place; whence, without the annihilation of matter there can be no vacuum. Three principles subsist every where; matter, form, and mind. There are in matter three kinds of motion; the h’rst, from form to element; the second, the reverse of this; the third, the descent of heavy bodies. The elements or passive principles are three; water, earth, and air, for naturally all things are cold, that is, destitute of heat. The agent in nature is celestial heat; the air, being exposed to the action of the solar rays, is perpetually in motion. The moon and all the other heavenly bodies are luminous from themselves. The heavens are animated by an ever-active principle, and are therefore never quiescent. Man, having mind as well as soul, is not an animal. The dispositions of men are produced, and all moral affairs are directed, by the influence of the stars. Mind is universally diffused; and though it appears multiplied, is but one; it is extrinsically, and for a time, attached to human bodies, but never perishes.

Innumerable other singular metaphysical and physical notions are to be found in the works of Cardan and they are accompanied with many experiments and observations on natural phenomena. But the whole is thrown together in such a confused mass, as plainly proves that, though the author’s head was replete with ideas, he wanted that sound understanding and cool judgment, without which the mosfe ingenious and original conceptions must prove abortive. He was too fond of mysticism, too credulous, too superstitious, and, in a word, too much of an astrologer, to be a true philosopher. Cardan, therefore, notwithstanding | all the variety and apparent originality of his writings, must be ranked among the unsuccessful adventurers in philosophy. 1

1

Gen. Dict. Brucker. —Hutton’s Math. Dict. Saxit Onomast. Robertpn’s Hist, of Scotland. Heylin’s Hist, of the Reformation, p. 141. —Niceron, vol. XIV. corrected in a few particulars by Freytag, in li.s Atljmraius Literarius.