Dee, John

, a great mathematician, and greater enthusiast, the son of Rowland Dee, gentleman sewer to Henry VIII. and grandson of Bedo Dee, standard bearer to lord de Ferrars at the battle of Tournay, was born at London, July 13, 1527; and, after some time spent at school there, and at Chelmsford in Essex, sent to John’s college in Cambridge, where he informs us of his progress in the following words: “Anno 1542, I was sent, by my father Rowland Dee, to the university of Cambridge, there to begin with logic, and so to proceed in the learning of good arts and sciences; for I had before been meetly well furnished with understanding of the Latin tongue, I being then somewhat above 15 years old. In the years 1543, 1544, 1545, I was so vehemently bent to study, that for those years I did inviolably keep this order, only to sleep four hours every night; to allow to meat and drink, and some refreshing after, two hours every day; and of the other eighteen hours, all, except the time of going to, and | being at, the divine service, was spent in my studies and learning.” In 1547 he went into the Low Countries, on. purpose to converse with Frisius, Mercator, &c. and other learned men, particularly mathematicians; and in about eight months alter returned to Cambridge, where, upon the founding of Trinity college by Henry VIII. he was chosen one of the fellows, but his bias was to the study of mathematics and astronomy. He brought over with him from the Low Countries several instruments “made by the direction of Frisius, together with a pair of large globes made by Mercator; and his reputation was very high. His assiduity, however, in making astronomical observations, which in those days were always understood to be connected with the desire of penetrating into futurity, brought some suspicion upon him; which was so far increased by a very singular accident that befel him, as to draw upon him the imputation of a necromancer, which he deserved afterwards rather mre than now. This affair happened soon after his removal from St. John’s-college, and being chosen one of the fellows of Trinity, where he” was assigned to he the under-reader of the Greek tongue, Mr. Pember being the chief Greek reader then in Trinity-college. Hereupon,“says he,I did set forth, and it was seen of the university, a Greek comedy of Aristophanes, named in Greek Eijpwij in Latin, Pax; with the performance of the scarabaeus, or beetle, his flying up to Jupiter’s palace with a man and his basket of victuals on his back; whereat was great wondering, and many vain reports spread abroad of the means how that was effected."

Disturbed with these reports, he left England again in 1548, and went to the university of Louvain; where he distinguished himself so much, that he was visited by the duke of Mantua, by don Lewis de la Cerda, afterwards duke of Medina, and other persons of great rank. While he remained there, sir William Pickering, who was afterwards a great favourite with queen Elizabeth, was his pupil; and in this university it is probable, although not certain, that he had the degree of LL. D. conferred upon him. July 1550 he went from thence to Paris, where, in the college of Uheims, he read lectures upon Euclid’s Elements with uncommon applause; and very great offers were made him, if he would accept of a professorship in that university. In 1551 he returned to England, was well received by sir John Cheke, introduced to secretary Cecil, | and even to king Edward himself, from whom he received a pension of 100 crowns a year, which was in 1553 exchanged for a grant of the rectories of Upton upon Severn, and Long Lednam in Lincolnshire. In the reign of queen Mary, he was for some time very kindly treated; but afterwards came into great trouble, and even danger of his life. At the very entrance of it, Dee entered into a correspondence with several of the lady Elizabeth’s principal servants, while she was at Woodstock and at Milton; which being observed, and the nature of it not known, two informers charged him with practising against the queen’s life by inchantments. Upon this he was seized and confined; but being, after several trials, discharged of treason, he was turned over to bishop Bonner, to see if any heresy could be found in him. After a tedious persecution, August 19, 1555, he was, by an order of council, set at liberty; and thought his credit so little hurt by what had happened, that Jan. 15, 1556, he presented “A supplication to queen Mary, for the recovery and preservation of ancient writers and monuments.” The design was certainly good, and would have been attended with good consequences, if it had taken effect; its failure cannot be too deeply regretted, as there was then an opportunity of recovering many of the contents of the monastic libraries dispersed in Edward’s time. Dee also appears to have had both the zeal and knowledge for this undertaking. The original of his supplication, which has often been printed, is still extant in the Cotton library; and we learn from it, that Cicero’s famous work, “De Republica,” was once extant in this kingdom, and perished at Canterbury.

Upon the accession of queen Elizabeth, at the desire of lord Robert Dudley, afterwards earl of Leicester, he delivered somewhat upon the principles of the ancient astrologers, about the choice of a fit day for the coronation of the queen, from whom he received many promises j nevertheless, his credit at court was not sufficient to overcome the public odium against him, on the score of magical incantations, which was the true cause of his missing several preferments. He was by this time become an author; but, as we are told, a little unluckily; for his books were such as scarce any pretended to understand, written upon mysterious subjects in a very mysterious manner. In the spring of 1564 he went abroad again, to present the book which he dedicated to the then emperor Maximilian, and | returned to England the same summer. In 1563, he engaged the earl of Pembroke to present the queen with his “Propaedurnata Aphoristica” and two years after, sir Henry Billingsley’s translation of Euclid appeared, with Dee’s preface and notes; which did him more honour than, all his performances, as furnishing incontestable proofs of a more than ordinary skill in the mathematics. In 1571, we find him in Lorrain; where falling dangerously sick, the queen was pleased to send him two physicians. After his return to England, he settled himself in his house at Mortlake; where he prosecuted his studies with great diligence, and collected a noble library, consisting of 4000 volumes, of which above a fourth part were Mss. a great number of mechanical and mathematical instruments, a collection of seals, and many other curiosities. His books only were valued at 2000l. It was upon his leaving the kingdom in 1583, that the populace, who always believed him to be one who dealt with the devil, broke into his house at Mortlake; where they tore and destroyed many things, and dispersed the rest in such a manner, that the greatest part of them were irrecoverable.

In 1572, anew star appeared in Cassiopeia’s chair, which gave Dee an opportunity of distinguishing himself in his own way. March 1575, queen Elizabeth went to his house, to see his library; but having buried his wife only a few hours before, he could not entertain her in the manner he would have done, nor indeed did she enter the house; but he brought out to her majesty a glass of his, which had occasioned much discourse; shewed her the properties of it, and explained their causes, in order to wipe off the aspersion, under which he had so long laboured, of being a magician. In 1577, a comet appearing, the queen sent for him to Windsor, to consult him upon it, and was pleased with his conversation, and promised him her royal protection, notwithstanding the vulgar reports to his prejudice. The year after, her majesty being greatly indisposed, Dee was sent abroad to confer with the German physicians. The queen, hinting her desire to be thoroughly informed as to her title to countries discovered in different parts of the globe by subjects of England, Dee applied himself to the task with great vigour so much, that October 3, 1580, which was not three weeks after, he presented to the queen, in her garden at Richmond, two large rolls, in which those countries were | geographically described and historically explained; with the addition of all the testimonies and authorities necessary to support them, from records, and other authentic vouchers. These she very graciously received; and, after dinner, the same day conferred with Dee about them, in the presence of some of her privy-council, and of the lord-treasurer Burleigh especially. His next employment, of consequence enough to be remembered, was the reformation of the calendar; which, though it never took effect until the reign of George II. was one of his best performances, and did him great credit.

We come now to that period of his life, by which he has been most known, though for reasons which have justly rendered him least regarded. He was certainly a man of uncommon parts, learning, and application; and might have distinguished himself in the scientific world if he had been possessed of solid judgment; but he was very credulous, superstitious, extremely vain, and, we suspect, a little roguish; but we are told that it was his ambition to surpass all men in knowledge, which carried him at length to a desire of knowing beyond the bounds of human faculties. In short, he suffered himself to be deluded into an opinion, that by certain invocations an intercourse or communication with spirits might be obtained; from whence he promised himself an insight into the occult sciences. He found a young man, one Edward Kelly, a native of Worcestershire, who was already either rogue or fool enough for his purpose, and readily undertook to assist him, for which he was to pay him 50l. per annum. Dec. 2, 1581, they began their incantations; in consequence of which, Kelly was, by the inspection of a certain table, consecrated for that purpose with many superstitious ceremonies, enabled to acquaint Dee with what the spirits thought fit to shew and discover. These conferences were continued for about two years, and the subjects of them were committed to writing, but never published, though still preserved in Ashmole’s museum. In the mean time, there came over hither a Polish lord, one Albert Laski, palatine of Siradia, a man of great parts and learning; and, as a late writer observes, of large fortune too, or he would not have answered their purpose. This nobleman was introduced by the earl of Leicester to Dee, and became his constant visitant. Having: himself a bias to those superstitious arts, he was, after much intreaty, received | by Dee into their company, and into a participation of their secrets. Within a short time, the palatine of Siradia, returning to his own country, prevailed with Dee and Kelly to accompany him, upon the assurance of an ample provision there; and accordingly they went all privately from Mortlake, in order to embark for Holland; from whence they travelled by land through Germany into Poland, where, Feb. 3, 1584, they arrived at the principal castle belonging to Albert Laski. When Laski had been sufficiently amused with their fanatical pretences to a conversation with spirits, and was probably satisfied that they were impostors, he contrived to send them to the emperor Rodolph II. who, being quickly disgusted with their impertinence, declined all farther interviews. Upon this Dee applied himself to Laski, to introduce him to Stephen king of Poland; which accordingly he did at Cracow, April 1585. But that prince soon detecting his delusions, and treating him with contempt, he returned to the emperor’s court at Prague; from whose dominions he was soon banished at the instigation of the pope’s nuncio, who gave the emperor to understand, how scandalous it appeared to the Christian world, that he should entertain two such magicians as Dee and Kelly. At this time, and while these confederates were reduced to the greatest distress, a young nobleman of great power and fortune in Bohemia, and one of their pupils, gave them shelter in the castle of Trebona; where they not only remained in safety, but lived in splendour, Kelly having in his possession, as is reported, that philosophical powder of projection, by which they were furnished with money very profusely. Some jealousies and heart-burnings afterwards happened between Dee and Kelly, that brought on at length an absolute rupture. Kelly, however, who was a younger man than Dee, seems to have acted a much wiser part; since it appears, from an entry in Dee’s diary, that he was so far intimidated as to deliver up to Kelly, Jan. 1589, the powder, about which it is said he had learned from the German chemists many secrets which he had not communicated to Dee.

The noise their adventures made in Europe induced queen Elizabeth to invite Dee home, who, in May 1689, set out from Trebona towards England. He travelled with great pomp and solemnity, was attended by a guard of horse; and, besides waggons for his goods, had uo less | than three coaches for the use of his family; for he had married a second wife, and had several children. He landed at Gravesend Nov. 23; and, Dec. 9, presented himself at Richmond to the queen, who received him very graciously. He then retired to his house at Mortlake; and collecting the remains of his library, which had been torn to pieces and scattered in his absence, he sat down to study. He had great friends; received many presents; yet nothing, it seems, could keep him from want. The queen had quickly notice of this, as well as of the vexations he suffered from the common people, who persecuted him as a conjuror, which at that time was not a title equivalent to an impostor. The queen, who certainly listened oftener to him than might have been expected from her good sense, sent him money from time to time: but all would not do. At length he resolved to apply in such a manner as to procure some settled subsistence; and accordingly, Nov. 9, 1592, he sent a memorial to her majesty by the countess of -Warwick, in which he very earnestly pressed her, that commissioners might be appointed to hear his pretensions, and to examine into the justness of his wants and claims. This had a good effect; for, on the 22d, two commissioners, sir Thomas Gorge, knt. and Mr. Secretary Wolley, were actually sent to Mortlake, where Dee exhibited a book, containing a distinct account of all the memorable transactions of his life, those which occurred in his last journey abroad only excepted; and, as he read this historical narration, he produced all the letters, grants, and other evidences requisite to confirm them, and where these were wanting, named living witnesses. The title of this work, the original of which still remains in the Cotton library, and a transcript of it among Dr. Smith’s written collections, runs thus: “The compendious rehearsal of John Dee, his dutiful declaration and proof of the course and race of his studious life for the space of half an hundred years now by God’s favour and help fully spent, and of the very great injuries, damages, and indignities which for these last nine years he hath in England sustained, contrary to her majesty’s very gracious will and express commandment, made unto the two honourable commissioners by her most excellent majesty thereto assigned, according to the intent of the most humble supplication of the said John, exhibited to her most gracious majesty at Hampton-court, ann. 1592, Nov. 9.| Upon the report made by the commissioners to the queen, he received a present, and promises of preferment; but these promises ending like the former in nothing, he engaged his patroness, the countess of Warwick, to present another short Latin petition to the queen, but with what success does not appear. In Dec. 1594, however, he obtained a grant to the chancellorship of St. Paul’s. But this did not answer his end: upon which he applied himself next to Whitgift, archbishop of Canterbury, by a letter, in which he inserted a large account of all the books he had either published or written: and in consequence of this letter, together with other applications, he obtained a grant of the vvardenshipof Manchester-college. Feb. 15D6, he arrived with his wife and family in that town, and was installed in his new charge. He continued there about seven years; which he is said to have spent in a troublesome and unquiet manner. June 1604, he presented a petition to king James, earnestly desiring him that he might be brought to a trial; that, by a formal and judicial sentence, he might be delivered from those suspicions and surmises which had created him so much uneasiness for upwards of fifty years. But the king, although he at first patronized him, being better informed of the nature of his studies, refused him any mark of royal countenance and favour; which must have greatly affected a man of that vain and ambitious spirit, which all his misfortunes could never alter or amend. November the same year he quitted Manchester with his family, in order to return to his house at Mortlake; where he remained but a short time, being now very old, infirm, and destitute of friends and patrons, who had generally forsaken him. We find him at Mortlake in 1607; where he had recourse to his former invocations, and so came to deal again, as he fancied, with spirits. One Hickman served him now, as Kelly had done formerly. Their transactions were continued to Sept. 7, 1607, which is the last date in that journal published by Casaubon, whose title at large runs thus: “A true and faithful relation of what passed for many years between Dr. John Dee, a mathematician of great fame in queen Elizabeth and king James their reigns, and some spirits, tending, had it succeeded, to a general alteration of most states and kingdoms in the world. His private conferences with Rudolph emperor of Germany, Stephen. king of Poland, and divers other princes, about it. The particulars | of his cause, as it was agitated in the emperor’s court by the pope’s intervention. His banishment and restoration in part; as also the letters of sundry great men and princes, some whereof were present at some of these conferences, and apparitions of spirits to the said Dr. Dee, out of the original copy written with Dr. Dee’s own hand, kept in the library of sir Thomas Cotton, knt. baronet. With a preface confirming the reality, as to the point of spirits, of this relation, and shewing the several good uses that a sober Christian may make of all. By Meric Casaubon, D. D. Lond. 1659,” fol. *


He pretended, that a black stone, or speculum, which we have already mentioned‘ he shewed to queen Elizabeth, and which he made great use of, was brought him by angels, and that he was particularly intimate with Raphael and Gabriel.“This stone was in the collection of the earls of Peterborough, whence it came to lady Elizabeth Geimainc. It was next the property of the late duke of Argyle, and is now in lord Ortbrd’s collection at Strawberry-hill. It appears, upon examination, to be nothing but a polished piece of canal coal. But this is what Butler means, when he Says, Kelly did all his feats The ()evi, a looking-glas, a stone.” Jludo part II canto 3, v. 631-2

This book made a great noise upon its first publication; and many years after, the credit of it was revived by one of the ablest mathematicians and philosophers of his time, the celebrated Dr. Hooke; who believed, that not only Casaubon, but archbishop Usher, and other learned men, were entirely mistaken in their notions about this book; and that, in reality, our author Dee never fell under any such delusions, but being a man of great art and intrigue, made use of this strange method of writing to conceal things of a political nature, and, instead of a pretended enthusiast, was a real spy. But there are several reasons which will not suffer us to suppose this. One is, that Dee began these actions in England; for which, if we suppose the whole treatise to be written in cypher, there is no account can be given, any more than for pursuing the same practices in king James’s time, who cannot be imagined to have used him as a spy. Another, that he admitted foreigners, such as Laski, Rosenberg, &c. to be present at these consultations with spirits; which is not reconcileable with the notion of his being intrusted with political secrets. Lastly, upon the return of Dee from Bohemia, Kelly did actually send an account to the queen of practices against her life; but then this was in a plain and open method, which would never have been taken, if there had been any such mysterious correspondence between Dee and her | ministers, as Hooke suggests. In the latter end of his life he became miserably poor. It is highly probable that he remained under these delusions to his death; for he was actually providing for a new journey into Germany, when, worn out by age and distempers, he died in 1608, aged eighty, and was buried at Mortlake. He left behind him a numerous posterity both male and female, and among these his eldest son Arthur, who is mentioned in our next article.

The books which Dee printed and published are, 1. “Propaedumata aphoristica; de quibustlam naturae virtutibus aphorismi,” Lond. 1558, 12mo. 2. “Monas hieroglyphica ad regem Romanorum Maxirnilianum,Antwerp, 1564. 3. “Epistola ad eximium ducis Urbini mathematicum, Fredericum Commandinum, praefixa libello Machometi Bagdedini de superficierum divi­^ionibus, edita opera Devi et ejusdem Commandini Urbinatis,” Pisauri,!570. 4. “The British Monarchy, otherwise called the Petty Navy Royal,1576, a ms. in the Ashmolean museum. 5. “Preface Mathematical to the English Euclid, published by sir Henry Billingsley, knt.” where he says many more arts are wholly invented by name, definition, property, and use, than either the Grecian or Roman mathematicians have left to our knowledge, 1570. 6. “Divers and many Annotations and Inventions dispersed and added after the tenth book of the English Euclid,1570. 7. “Epistola prseiixa ephemeridibus Joannis Feldi a 1557, cui rationem declaraverat ephemericles conscribendi.” 8. “Parallaticee com mentation is praxeosque nucleus quidam,” Lond. 1573. This catalogue of Dee’s printed and published books is to be found in his Compendious Rehearsal, &c. as well as in his letter to archbishop Whitgift. Among them are, l.“The great volume of famous and rich discoveries, wherein also is the history of king Solomon every three years, his Ophirian voyage, the originals of presbyter Joannes, and of the first great charn and his successors for many years following. The description of divers wonderful isles in the northern, Scythian, Tartarian, and the other most northern seas, and near under the north pole, by record written 1200 years since, with divers other rarities,1576. 2. “The British complement of the perfect art of Navigation. A great volume. In which are contained our queen Elizabeth her tables gubernautic for navigation by the paradoxal | compass, invented by him anno 1.557, and navigation by great circles, and for longitudes and latitudes, and the variation of the compass, finding most easily and speedily, yea, if need be, in one minute of time, and sometimes without sight of sun, moon, or stars, with many other new and needful inventions gubernautic,” 1576. 3. “De modo evangelii Jesu Christ! publicandi, propagandi, stabiliendique, inter infideles atlanticos. Volumen magnum libris distinctum qtiatuor: quorum primus ad serenissimam r.ostram potentissimamque reginam Elizabetham inscribiiur; secundus ad summos privati sutc sacra: majestatis consilii senatores; tertius ad Hispaniarum regem Philippum quartus ad pontificem Romanum,1591. 4. “Speculum unitatis, sive, apologia pro fratre llogerio Bacone Anglo; in quo docetur nihil ilium per daemoniorum fecisse auxilia, sed pbilosopbum fuisse maximum naturaliterque, et modis homini Christiano licitis maximas fecisse res, quas indoctum solet vulgus in dtemoniorum referre facinora, ’ 1557. 5.” De nubium, soils, lunse, ac reliquorum planetarum, imo, ipsius stelliferi cceli, ab intimo ternc centro distantiis, mutuisque intervallis, et eorundem omnium magnitudine, liber anofeutTixo;, ad Edvardum Sextum, Anglisc regem,“1551. 6.” The philosophical and poetical original occasions of the configurations and names of the heavenly Asterisms written at the request of the honble. lady, lady Jane, duchess of Northumberland,“1553. 7.” De hominis corpore, spiritu, et anima: sive, microcosmicum totius naturalis philosophise compendium.“8.” De unico mago et triplice Herode, eoque antichristiano,“1570. 9.” Reipublicae Britannicoe synopsis,“in English, 1562. 10.” Cabbalæ Hebraicæ compendiosa tabella,“1562. 11.” De itinere subterraneo,“, lib. 2. 1560. 12.” Trochilica inventa," lib. 2. 1553, &c. &c. 1


Life, by Smith in Vitffi Enulitissimorum Virorum, and in —Hearne’s Jonn, Confra‘ris et Monachi Glastoniensis Chroni’-a, '2 vols. 8vo, 172G.-> Biog. BritAth. Os. vol. II. —Niceron, vol. J. Lysons’s Enviions, vol. I.