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Ron Heisler - Michael Maier and England
Article originally published in The Hermetic Journal, 1989.
Michael Maier and England
Ron Heisler ©
Michael Maier's sojourns in England appear
to have been more eventful than his biographer, J.B. Craven, ever
imagined. But first, some background description. Craven says
that Maier stayed at Amsterdam, a natural departure point for
England, in 1611. He certainly inspected the natural history collection
of Petrus Carpenterius, the Rector of a Rotterdam school, in that
year. Carpenterius was Rector at the Walloon school in Norwich
in 1598. At Christmas 1611 Maier sent greetings cards to both
James I and Henry, Prince of Wales - that to James taking the
form of an eight petal rose with a cross. 1 We can't say
whether Maier actually conveyed these across the Channel himself.
Maier's friend, the great Marburg chemist,
Johann Hartmann, wrote to Borbonius on the 1st (11th) July 1612
that Maier had gone to London with a "Carmen gratulatorium"
for the Elector Palatine and his bride to be, the Princess Elizabeth.
2 On the 6th November that year Maier appears to have been
included among the Elector Palatine's "gentlemen", who
attended the funeral of Prince Henry in London. 3 On the
28th May 1613 Arcana arcanissima was registered with the
Stationers' Company, having been approved by the censors. Presumably
Thomas Creede, who brought out some first editions of Shakespeare,
published the book within a few months. 4 Maier presented
copies to Sir William Paddy, head of the London College of Physicians;
Lancelot Andrewes, the Bishop of Ely; Lord Dingwall, a good looking
favourite of King James with an interest in alchemy; and Sir Thomas
Smith. A further copy went to Dr Francis Anthony, the inventor
of a fraudulent aurum potabile that was extremely fashionable;
a particularly good friend of Maier's, to whom Lusus Serius
was dedicated. 5 Anthony's Panacea Aurea ...(1618)
contains a letter from Alexander Gill (this must have been the
elder Gill) to Maier lauding Anthony's medicine. 6 Gill
was high master of St. Paul's school; his pupils included John
Milton from 1620 to 1625. 7 Gill appears to have fallen
under Maier's spell and then reacted hostilely. He comments in
The Sacred Philosophie of the Holy Scriptures (1635, p.
66), "I had beene more than once gul'd with such titles,
Arcana arcanorum arcanissima arcana, and the like, wherein
these writers sweat more, than for any thing in the booke beside:
yet being interpreted, a pious and very profound meditation of
the deepe mysteries of the Apostles Creed, I supposed that such
bumbast would never be quilted into a treatise upon the grounds
of our Religion
" The British Library owns two versions
of Arcana arcanissima. One has the common fine engraved
frontispiece; the other has a cruder frontispiece dated, absurdly,
"CXIIII". This copy's owner was "Johannis Morris".
8 Cornelius Drebbel, the Rosicrucian inventor, most probably
met Maier either in the Netherlands or in England. His Tractatus
duo (two distinct editions in 1621) is enlivened by a page
of Maier's commending the Rosicrucian enthusiast Joachim Morsius.
In Maier's associations there is a pattern
of an unexpected dimension. Sir Thomas Smith was Treasurer of
the Virginia Company, which was engaged in developing the colony
of Virginia. Francis Anthony was appointed to a committee of the
Company in 1619. 9 George Sandys, who became Company treasurer
in 1621, in his 1632 Commentary on his own translation of Ovid's
Metamorphosis remarked, apropos alchemical interpretations
of the legend of Jason and the golden fleece, "But he who
would know too much of this, let him read Mayerus; who that way
allegorizeth most of the fables." 10 Finally, John
Selden, the Company's legal adviser, owned two works by Maier.
11 Atalanta Fugiens (1617) may have been deeply
inspired by the utopian vision of America.
Elias Ashmole, in describing how Maier
came "to live in England; purposely that he might so understand
our English Tongue, as to Translate Norton's Ordinall into
Latin verse...," ventured the cryptic remark that "Yet
(to our shame be it spoken) his Entertainment was too coarse for
so deserving a Scholler." 12 The reader is left floundering
in the air. What did Ashmole actually mean by this? The answer,
I would suggest, is to be found in the correspondence of Sir Thomas
The Overbury affair is the greatest murder
scandal of the seventeenth century. Overbury, a talented literary
man who specialised in creating enemies, was a close friend of
the royal favourite Sir Robert Carr, Viscount Rochester - maintaining
an extraordinary dominance for a time over this mediocrity. Overbury
had schemed himself into becoming a crucial player in the plottings
of the parliamentary radicals, the so-called "Patriots".
By getting Rochester to exert his charms over the King, they hoped
that their man, Sir Henry Neville of Billingbear, Kent, would
eventually be appointed to the key office of Secretary of State.
Frances Howard, Countess of Essex, had
set her cap at Rochester - and Overbury, for a while, acted as
their intermediary. But soon he developed a passionate loathing
for the "base" woman and the idea of her marrying Rochester,
which he made abundantly and naggingly clear to the infatuated
Viscount. With the King's enthusiastic compliance, her marriage
to the Earl of Essex was finally annulled, on the unconvincing
ground of his claimed impotency. In the meantime, to rid Rochester
of his embarrassing companion, it was proposed that Overbury be
sent off abroad as an ambassador. Overbury refused the offer,
provoked the King's wrath - and was sent to the Tower. Rochester
dissimulated somewhat: Overbury long after believed their friendship
still held. Perhaps apprehensive that Overbury could still strike
back at them from a distance, Rochester and his lover arranged
to have various officials at the Tower replaced by their friends.
A correspondence was maintained between Overbury and Rochester,
the letters being hidden in tarts and jellies. Alas, with the
connivance of Sir Robert Cotton most of these were later destroyed.
James I arranged for his own personal physician,
Sir Theodor Turquet de Mayerne, to attend Overbury. The apothecary
officially appointed was de Mayerne's brother-in-law, Paul de
Lobell. However, unofficial aid reached Overbury. His health had
begun to decline, and desperate to emerge from the Tower, he thought
up the strategem of simulating extreme sickness in order to impress
the official doctors and gain the King's sympathy. Sir Robert
Killigrew, an amateur alchemist, prepared potions for him and
other potions reached him through the agency of Mrs Anne Turner,
a black magician and associate of Simon Forman, and discreditable
characters such as Richard Weston and the apothecary James Franklin.
He even obtained some aurum potabile from Maier's friend,
Dr Francis Anthony, as an antidote to poison. 13 Overbury
died on the 14th September 1613. Few wept for him. Any suspicions
about the manner of his death were suppressed for almost two years.
But at the start of September 1615 the King was persuaded to order
an official investigation into the affair.
Sir Gervase Elwes, the lieutenant of the
Tower, Mrs Anne Turner, Weston the gaoler, and Franklin were executed
for their parts in the poisoning. Rochester and Frances Howard
were tried and found guilty. But with that exquisite sense of
justice prevailing under Jacobean despotism they were eventually
pardoned. A large number of manuscript reports of the case have
survived, as well as many minutes of the three hundred examinations.
Remarkably, although the King ordered that de Mayerne be examined
by Sir Edward Coke, no record of his examination is known. Nor
was he even called to give evidence at any of the public trials.
Modern historians of the affair have voiced the suspicion that
something was being concealed. Strangely, not one of them has
realised the fact that besides de Mayerne, who signed himself
"Mayernus", another physician was present in London
in 1613 (assuming he was around when Creede entered Arcana
arcanissima with the Stationers in May that year), who signed
himself "Mayerus" - i.e. Michael Maier. 14
A careful examination of letters owned
by the British Library, written by Overbury and bound in manuscript
volume Sloane 7002, reveals several references to "Mayerus"
by Overbury. Written in a clear hand, there can be no mistake
in this respect. If fs. 281-2, Overbury, using the false name
"Robert Killigrew", writes "I have now sent to
the leittenant to desire you Mayerus being absent to send young
Crag hither, and Nessmith, if Nessmith be away, send I pray Crag
and Alllen." The following item (f. 282) indicates a scheme
of Overbury's for his letters to be got out of the Tower "under
unknown names by May: [f]or the Apotecary, now he is sicke is
a fitte time to urge a commiseration of my sickness [with the
King]." In f. 286 Overbury explains that "whiles I was
abroad [I] was never well however as Mayerus knows, which made
me returne so soone..." Overbury was absent from England
by October 1608 and did not return till August 1609. He traveled
in the Netherlands and France. he certainly stayed at Paris and
Antwerp. 15 In f. 286b
Overbury claims that "for my sickness of Consumption and
Flatus Hypocondriacus, Mayerus may be cald upon his oath if they
doubt your presence..." In f. 287 Overbury complains of a
"loathing of meat and my water is strangely high, which I
keep till Mayerus com." One concludes Overbury had not only
the services of Sir Theodor Turquet de Mayerne but also of Michael
Maier. The apothecary de Lobell alleged whilst under examination
that Rochester "willed him to Dr Maiot concerning physic
to be given to Overbury". 16 Is "Maiot"
a misspelling of "Maior"?
James Franklin, after he was condemned,
began to make curious allegations of wider plots, particularly
about the premature death of young Henry, Prince of Wales, in
November 1612. A paper of the Attorney-general, Sir Francis Bacon's,
relates that "Mrs Turner did at Whitehall shew to Franklin
the man, who, as she said, poisoned the prince, which, he says,
was a physician with a red beard". 17 Sir Theodor
Turquet de Mayerne had tended the prince during his sickness.
Mayerne has left five portraits. In none of these is there an
indication of red hair. But the engraving we have of Maier by
a contemporary shows a man with the bristly, wiry hair consistent
with a type of red headed man. Of course, these are vague allegations,
quite uncorroborated by any other known evidence. But recent research
by Professor Karin Figala and Ulrich Neumann has revealed a rather
more complex Michael Maier than J.B. Craven ever imagined. At
Padua, in July 1596, Maier seriously wounded a fellow student,
was arrested, fined and fled. And from 1618 he acted as an "intelligence"
gatherer for Moritz, Landgrave of Hessen-Kassel. 18
But there are other facets of Maier to
consider. In Symbola Aurea (1617), after stating that he
had first heard of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood whilst in England,
he tells how the Rosicrucian Brothers had traveled from the Barbary
Coast (North Africa) to Spain. 19 He discusses the prophets,
with their magic, of Morocco and Fez, and links them to "Mullei
Om Hamet Ben Abdela" and "Mullei Sidan". Perhaps
he was thinking of the Sufi mystics, who were already being reported
by Elizabethan visitors to Muslim lands. Now it happens that in
1609 a sensationally popular book had been published in London,
A True Historicall Discourse of Muley Hamets rising to the
three Kingdomes of Moruecos, Fes, and Sus , which gave a particularly
detailed account of events of 1602 to 1604. Dedicated to the great
friend of Robert Fludd, John Selden and William Camden, Sir Robert
Cotton, the anonymous author related the "adventures"
of Sir Anthony Sherley, his sons and other English "gentlemen"
in the Moorish regions. John Davies of Hereford, whose Rosicrucian
ties I explain elsewhere, dedicated commendatory verses in various
works to several of these travellers, some of whom were his personal
friends. One feels that Maier had been privileged with anecdotes
from these travels that never saw print in England. Even George
Sandys, who later recommended Maier's works, had spent time in
the Middle East.
1616 appears to have been Maier's last
year in England. Jocus Severus (1617) was written on his
road from England to Bohemia, whilst the dedication of Lusus
Serius was written in September 1616, "having returned
from England, on my way from Prague." The dedication of De
Circulo Physico Quadrato was dated Frankfurt on Main, August
1616. It should be noted - perhaps it is relevant - that the final
trial arising from the Overbury affair began on May 25th 1616
and was concluded within a day or two.
Although Fludd appears to have got on the
wrong side of Maier, who wrote harsh things about him in a private
letter, Maier seems to have had access to a manuscript by the
English Rosicrucian, the "Tractatus de tritico", which
Morsius noted in his album amicorum. 20
Maier's fame in England burned bright
for many years. In 1625 Arcana arcanissima was either
reprinted or reissued in London; but by a society of booksellers,
not by an individual publisher. An English translation of Atalanta
Fugiens was made, which never saw print, but has all the
signs of being a printer's fair copy and has been related to the
watermark of a paper made in 1625. John Everard was translating
part of Tripus aureus in 1623. A further MS translation
of Atalanta Fugiens, with some of the verse left uncompleted,
was done, possibly in the 1670's or 80's; whilst in 1676 a MS
translation was made of Silentium post Clamores by Richard
Russell, who was possibly the brother of Charles II's apothecary.
A full MS translation of Tripus aureus meanwhile had been
made, which has been dated at about 1640. 21
The first work by Maier that was actually
seen through the press in English translation was Lusus Serius
(1654). Behind the translator's pseudonym of J. de la Salle was
one of the most brilliant intellectuals of the era, John Hall
(1627-1656). My guess is that he was both a Baconian in scientific
aspiration and a sub rosa Rosicrucian. He translated two
works by J.V. Andreae, The Right hand of Christian Love Offered
and A Modell of a Christian Society (each remaining in
manuscript only). A friend of Thomas Hobbes, as had been, it would
seem, Aretius, he was a highly valued member of the Hartlib circle
- that energizing network of friendships that gave birth eventually
to the Royal Society. He wrote an outstanding tract on the reform
of the universities. It has not been previously realized that
several of the designs in his Emblems with Elegant Figures
of 1648 are inferior copies of some of the magnificent illustrations
to be found in the works of Robert Fludd. Hall died, it is sad
to report, of a combination of debauchery and fatness. 22
Two years after Lusus Serius, in
1656, Themis Aurea was brought out in English translation.
Dedicated to Elias Ashmole, this edition was registered with the
Company of Stationers on the 2nd October 1655. The translator
was "Tho: Hodges, gent", who appears to have been a
rich royalist Puritan with a loathing for "Heterodox Preachers",
whose funeral was held on the 1st May 1656. A "Thomas Hodges"
had been among the "Adventurers" of the Virginia Company
in 1612. 23
The greatest honour done to Maier came
late in the century. Isaac Newton studied his writings meticulously,
leaving 88 respectful pages of notes. 24
1. J.B. Craven
Count Michael Maier p. 3. Tractatus de Volucri Arborea
(1619) p. 43. On Carpentarius see H.W. Rotermund Das Gelehrte
Hannover (1823) vol. I. A.McLean "A Rosicrucian Manuscript
of Michael Maier" The Hermetic Journal 5 (Autumn
1979). Scot. Rec. Off., Edin., GD 241/212. British Library Royal
MS 14B XVI.
2. G. Gellner Zivotopis Lékane
Borbonia a vyklad jeho deníka p. 96.
3. John Nichols The Progresses
of King James the First vol. 2 p. 496.
4. Transcript of Registers of
Company of Stationers ed. E. Arber vol. 3 fol. 239b.
5. Some of these are listed in
Craven. The Andrewes copy, with a special printed dedication,
is in Dr Williams's Library, London. On Dingwall see Ethel Seaton
Literary Relations of England and Scandanavia in the Seventeenth
Century (1935) p. 157.
6. Panacea Aurea
71-73. Anthony dedicated his Apologia veritatis
potabile (1616) to Maier.
7. See Dictionary of National
Biography. Also C. Hill Milton and the English Revolution
for Milton's friendship with both the elder and younger Gill.
8. British Library Pressmark 236
k. 33. A "John Maurice, or Morres" was vicar of Blackburn
about this time: Jnl. of Nic. Assheton ed. F.R. Raines
9. C. Drebbel Tractatus duo
facing F5. Abstract of Proceedings of Virginia Company of
London 1619-1624 vol. II pp. 7-8,11.
10. George Sandys Ovid's Metamorphosis
(1632, reprinted 1981) p. 253 (333).
11. Selden owned Themis Aurea
and Septimana philosophica. Both are in the Bodleian
12. Theatricum Chemicum Britannicum
13. The best work on the scandal
is Beatrice White Cast of Ravens. But indispensable is
the documentation in Andrew Amos The Great Oyer of Poisoning
(1846). Anthony: White p, 241. Anthony was examined on October
14. James's instructions re. Mayerne
are noted Cal. of State Papers (Dom.) 1611-18
p. 307. Amos p. 161 on non-examination of Mayerne.
15. There are extracts from some
of these "Mayerus" references in E.F. Rimbault's The
Miscellaneous Works of Sir Thomas Overbury (1856) p. li.
Rimbault's renditions vary considerably from my readings. Sir
Thomas Overbury His Observations in his Travailes
various editions, 1626, etc. Marquess of Downshire Papers
vol. II pp 103, 273. Bodleian Library Selden Ms. 3469 f.
50, Degory Wheare to Overbury in France (dated London 10 Oct.
16. Amos pp. 116 and 140.
17. Amos p. 446.
18. Atti della nazione germanica
artista nello studio di Padova ed. A. Favaro vol. 2 (Venezia
1912) pp. 81f., 100.
19. Symbola Aurea
20. Source: personal communications
from Bruce T. Moran and Karin Figala. C.H. Josten "Truth's
Golden Harrow" Ambix III (1949) p. 94.
21. Alchemy and the Occult
Catalogue of Paul and Mary Mellon Collection (Yale Univ. Lib.)
vol. II p. 286. Ibid. vol. III MS 48 called "Atalanta running".
British Library Sloane MS 2175 fs. 145-7. Brit. Lib. Sloane 3645
"The Flying Atalanta", bound with MSS dated "1681"
(f. 107b) and "1675" (f. 176b). Held in
Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amstedam. Alchemy
and the Occult vol. III MS. 56.
22. On Hall see Dict. of Nat.
Biog. and references in C. Webster The Great Instauration.
À Wood was confused and wrote that Robert Hegge did
23. Trans. of Reg. of Comp. of
Stat. ed Eyre and Rivington vol. II p.14. On Hodges, see
Thos. Watson The Crown of Righteousness (1656), a funeral
24. Keynes MS 32 King's College,