Agrippa, Henry Cornelius

, a man of considerable learning, and even a great magician, according to report, in the 16th century, was born at Cologn, the 14th of September, 1486, of the noble family of Nettesheim. He was very early in the service of the emperor Maximilian: acted at first as his secretary; but afterwards took to the profession of arms, and served that emperor seven years in Italy, where he distinguished himself in several engagements, and received the honour of knighthood for his gallant behaviour. To his military honours he was desirous likewise to add those of the universities, and accordingly took the degrees of doctor of laws and physic. He was a man of an extensive genius, and well skilled in many parts of knowledge, and master of a variety of languages; but his insatiable curiosity, the freedom of his pen, and the inconstancy of his temper, involved him in so many vicissitudes, that his life became a series of adventures. He was continually changing his situation; always engaging himself in some difficulty or other; and, to complete his troubles, he drew upon himself the hatred of the ecclesiastics oy his writings. According to his letters, he was in France before the year 1507, in Spain in 1508, and at Dole in 1509. At this last place he read public lectures on the work of Reuchlin, “De Verbo mirifico,” which engaged him in a dispute with Catilinet, a Franciscan. These lectures, though they drew upon him the resentment of the monks, yet gained him general applause, and the counsellors of the parliament went themselves to hear them. In order to ingratiate himself into the favour of Margaret of Austria, governess of the Low Countries, he composed a treatise “On the excellence of Women;” but the persecution he met with from the monks prevented him from publishing it, and obliged him to go over to England, where he wrote a “Commentary upon St. Paul’s Epistles.| Upon his return to Cologn, he read public lectures upon those questions in divinity which are called Quodlibitales. He afterwards went to Italy, to join the army of the emperor Maximilian, and staid there till he was invited to Pisa by the cardinal de St. Croix.

In the year 1515 he read lectures upon Mercurius Trismegistus at Pavia. He left this city the same year, or the year following; but his departure was rather a flight than a retreat. By his second book of letters we find, that his friends endeavoured to procure him some honourable settlement at Grenoble, Geneva, Avignon, or Metz: he chose the last of these places; and in 1518 was employed as syndic, advocate, and counsellor for that city. The persecutions raised against him by the monks, because he had refuted a vulgar notion about St. Anne’s three husbands, and because he protected a countrywoman who was accused of witchcraft, obliged him to leave the city of Metz. The abuse which his friend Jacobus Faber Satulensis, or Jacques Faber d’Estaples, had received from the clergy of Metz, for affirming that St. Anne had but one husband, had raised his indignation, and incited him to maintain the same opinion. Agrippa retired to Cologn in the year 1520, leaving without regret a city, which those turbulent inquisitors had rendered hostile to all polite literature and real merit. He^eft his own country in 1521, and went to Geneva: here his income must have been inconsiderable, for he complains of not having enough to defray his expences to Chamber!, in order to solicit a pension from the duke of Savoy. In this, however, his hopes were disappointed; and in 1523 he removed to Fribourg in Switzerland. The year following he went to Lyons, and obtained a pension from Francis I. He was appointed physician to the king’s mother; but this was not much to his advantage; nor did he attend her at her departure from Lyons, in August 1525, when she went to conduct her daughter to the borders of Spain. He was left behind at Lyons, and was obliged to implore the assistance of his friends in order to obtain his salary; and before he received it, had the mortification of being informed that he was struck off the list. The cause of his disgrace was, that, having received orders from his mistress to examine by the rules of astrology, what success would attend the affairs of France, he too freely expressed his dislike that she should employ him in such idle curiosities, instead of things of consequence: at which | she was highly offended; and became yet more irritated against him, when she understood that his astrological calculations promised new successes to the constable of Bourbon. Agrippa finding himself thus abandoned, gave way to the utmost rage and impetuosity of temper: he wrote several menacing letters, and threatened to publish some books, in which he would expose the secret history of those courtiers who had worked his ruin: nay, he proceeded so far as to say, that he would for the future account that princess, to whom he had been counsellor and physician, as a firuel and perfidious Jezebel.

He now resolved to remove to the Low Countries; this he could not do without a passport, which he at length obtained, after many tedious delays, and arrived at Antwerp in July 1528. The duke de Vendome was the principal cause of these delays; for he, instead of signing the passport, tore it in pieces in a passion, protesting he would never sign a passport for a conjuror. In 1529, Agrippa had invitations from Henry VIII. king of England, from the chancellor of the emperor, from an Italian marquis, and from Margaret of Austria, governess of the Low Countries: he preferred the last, and accepted of being historiographer to the emperor, which was offered him by that princess. He published, by way of introduction, the “History of the Coronation of Charles V.” Soon after, Margaret of Austria died, and he spoke her funeral oration. Her death is said in some measure to have been the life of Agrippa, for great prejudices had been infused into that princess against him: “I have nothing to write you (says he in one of his letters) but that I am likely to starve here, bein entirely forsaken by the deities of the court; what the great Jupiter himself (meaning Charles V.) intends, I know not. I now understand what great danger I was in here: the monks so far influenced the princess, who was of a superstitious turn, as women generally are, that, had not her sudden death prevented it, I should undoubtedly have been tried for offences against the majesty of the cowl and the sacred honour of the monks; crimes for which I should have been accounted no less guilty, and no less punished; than if I had blasphemed the Christian religion.” His treatise, “Of the Vanity of the Sciences,” which he published in 1530, greatly enraged his enemies; and that which he soon after printed at Antwerp, “Of the Occult Philosophy,” afforded them fresh pretexts for defaming his | reputation. Cardinal Campej us, the pope’s legate, however, and the cardinal de la Mark, bishop of Liege, spoke in his favour; but could not procure him his pension as historiographer, nor prevent him from being thrown into prison at Brussels, in the year 1531. When he regained his liberty, he paid a visit to the archbishop of Cologn, to whom he had dedicated his Occult Philosophy, and from whom he had received a very obliging letter in return. The inquisitors endeavoured to hinder the impression of his Occult Philosophy, when he was about to print a second edition with emendations and additions; however, notwithstanding all their opposition, he finished it in 1533. He staid at Bonne till 1535; and when he returned to Lyons, he was imprisoned for what he had written against the mother of Francis I.; but he was soon released from his confinement, at the desire of several persons, and went to Grenoble, where he died the same year. Some authors say, that he died in the hospital; but Gabriel Naude affirms, it was at the house of the receiver-general of the province of Dauphiny.

Agrippa had been twice married. Speaking of his first wife, lib. II. ep. 19. “I have (says he), the greatest reason to return thanks to Almighty God, who has given me a wife after my own heart, a virgin of a noble family, well behaved, young, beautiful, and so conformable to my disposition, that we never have a harsh word with each other; and what completes my happiness is, that in whatever situation my affairs are, whether prosperous or adverse, she still continues the same, equally kind, affable, constant, sincere, and prudent, always easy, and mistress of herself.” This wife died in 1521. He married his second wife at Geneva, in 1522. The latter surpassed the former very much in fruitfulness; he had but one son by the former, whereas the latter was brought to bed thrice in two years, and a fourth time the year following. The third son by this marriage had the cardinal Lorrain for his godfather. She was delivered of her fifth son at Antwerp, in March 1529, and died there in August following. Some say that he married a third time, and that he divorced his last wife; but he mentions nothing thereof in his letters. Mr. Bayle saysj that Agrippa lived and died in the Romish communion; but Sextus Senensis asserts, that he was a Lutheran. Agrippa, in some passages of his letters, does indeed treat Luther with harsh epithets; however, in the 19th chapter of his | Apology, he speaks in so favourable a manner of him, and with such contempt of his chief adversaries, that it is likely Sextus Senensis’s assertion was founded upon that passage. Bishop Burnet, in his History of the Reformation, speaks of Agrippa as if he had been an advocate for the divorce of Henry VIII. Mr. Bayle refutes this, and says that the ambassador of the emperor at London wrote to Agrippa, desiring him to support the interest of the queen: Agrippa replied, that he would readily engage, if the emperor would give him orders for that purpose; and declares that he detested the base compliance of those divines who approved of the divorce: and with regard to the Sorbonne, “I am not ignorant (says he), by what arts this affair was carried on in the Sorbonne at Paris, who by their rashness have given sanction to an example of such wickedness. When I consider it, I can scarce contain myself from exclaiming, in imitation of Perseus, Say, ye Sorbonnists, what has gold to do with divinity What piety and faith shall we imagine to be in their breasts, whose consciences are more venal than sincere, and who have sold their judgments and decisions, which ought to be revered by all the Christian world, and have now sullied the reputation they had established for faith and sincerity, by infamous avarice.” Agrippa was accused of having been a magician and sorcerer, and in. compact with the devil; but it is unnecessary to clear him, from this imputation. Bayle justly says, that if he was a conjuror, his art availed him little, as he was often in want of bread.

From the whole history of Agrippa, says Brucker, it appears that he was a man of eccentric genius and restless spirit. In the midst of such numerous changes of situation, and fortune, it is surprising that he was able to acquire such extensive erudition, and to leave behind him so many proofs of literary industry. There can be no doubt that he possessed a vigorous understanding, which rose superior to vulgar superstitions, and which prompted him to maintain a constant warfare with the monks. Though he did not chuse to offend those princes to whom he looked up for patronage, by deserting the church of Rome, he saw. with great satisfaction the bold attack made upon its corruptions by Martin Luther: and he himself, like Erasmus, Faber, and others, perpetually harrassed the monks by satirical writings. His cynical severity, and above all the disposition which he discovered to make his fortune by practising | upon vulgar credulity, must not pass without censure. His occult philosophy is rather a sketch of the Alexandrian, mixed with the Cabbalistic theology, than a treatise on magic. It explains the harmony of nature, and the connection of the elementary, celestial, and intellectual worlds, on the principles of the emanative system. His treatise on the Vanity of the Sciences is not so much intended to traduce science itself, as to ridicule the follies of the learned, and expose the numerous absurdities of the established modes of education.

His attention to magical studies began early, according to Meiners; in youth he joined a secret society at Paris which was defended against the profane by peculiar rites of admission. The separation of this cabbalistical brotherhood did not occasion the dissolution of their lodge; on the contrary, each of the members endeavoured to found in his own neighbourhood corresponding societies for similar purposes. In 1510 Agrippa was sent to England on some commission, relative, probably, to the treaty between Henry VIII. and the French king; and on this occasion, as appears by his published letters, he founded in London one of these secret societies for magical pursuits. The same biographer remarks, that a strange mixture of active and passive dupery characterises Agrippa; an alternation of sceptical contempt, and of superstitious credulity respecting the occult arts. If his assertions may be credited, he had attained that intercourse with demoniacal natures, which was the boast of Plotinus and Jamblicus; and his magical pretensions found so much credit with his contemporaries, that they describe him as carrying about, with him a devil in the form of a black dog.

The two principal works of Agrippa, already mentioned, were printed under the following titles: 1. “De incertitudiueetvanitate Scientiarum, declamatio invectiva,” without date, 8vo; Cologn, 1527, 12mo; Paris, 1531, 8vo; 1531, 8vo; 1532, 8vo; 1537, 8vo; and 1539, 8vo. These seven editions are complete, but what were published afterwards were castrated. The French translation by Louis de Mayenne Turquet, 1582, 8vo, is complete; but that by Gueudeville, Leyden, 1726, 3 vols. 12mo, with the essay on Women, is mutilated. This work has also been published in Italian, English, (by James Sandford, 1569) German, and Dutch. Mr. Granger thinks it has been greatly improved upon by Mr. Thomas Baker, in his | admirable “Reflections upon Learning.” 2. “De Occulta philosophia, libri tres,Antwerp and Paris, 1531; Mechlin, Basle, Lyons, and an edition without place, 1533, foi. Lyons, 8vo, translated into French by Le VasBeur; Hague, 1727, 2 vols. 8vo. 3. “De nobilitate et ppaecelleutia fccmineisexus,declamatio,Antwerp, 1529, 8vo. 4. “Commentariain arteni brevem Raymundi Lulli,Cologne, 1533, Selingstadt, 1538, 8vo. 5. “Orationes deceni: de dplici coronatione Carol! V. apud Bononiam; Ejusd. Epigram, &c.Cologne, 1535, 8vo. His entire works hare been often published. The edition of Lyons by the Berings, Leyden, 1550, 8vo, 2 vols. contains a fourth book of the Occult philosophy, on magical ceremonies, which is not by Agrippa, and has perhaps contributed most to the opinion of his being a magician. 1


Gen. Dict.—Moreri.—Biographie Universelle.—Fopper Bibl. Bal.—Brucker. —Martin’s Biog. Philosophica.—Meiner’s Biographies, in Month. Rev. vol. XXIV.—Saxii Onomasticon—Dibdin’s Bibliomania, vol. I. p. 23-24.—Granger’s Biographical History.