THE credulity of enthusiasm was never better exemplified than in the case of John Dee. Here we have a man almost typical of Elizabethan England: necromancer, seer, alchemist, mathematician, and lastly, instead of firstly, natural philosopher. It was the age of portents, of abnormalities made normal, of magicians, of the powers of good and evil, of the striving after the unknown whilst the knowable was persistently overlooked. Swift sums up these philosophers in “Gulliver's Travels,” and two centuries earlier Erasmus in his “Praise of Folly” notes them. “Next come the philosophers,” he writes, “who esteem themselves the only favourites of wisdom; they build castles in the air, and infinite worlds in a vacuum. They'll give you to a hair's breadth the dimensions of the sun, when indeed they are unable to construe the mechanism of their own body: yet they spy out ideas, universals, separate forms, first matters, quiddities, formalities, and keep correspondence with the stars.” Such was John Dee, a compound of boundless enthusiasm and boundless credulity. There is nothing abnormal about him, for he is to be judged by the age in which he lived. His belief in witchcraft and intercourse with spirits was shared by all the men of his time save the abnormal Reginald Scott, whose famous “Discovery of Witchcraft” produced James the First's impassioned reply.
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