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Thumbnail of Girolamo Cardano (source)
Girolamo Cardano
(24 Sep 1501 - 21 Sep 1576)

Italian physician, mathematician and astrologer (Gerolamo Cardano, or Jerome Cardan) who helped create modern algebra and invented the universal joint.

Jerome Cardan.

The Life of Girolamo Cardano, of Milan, Physician.

By Henry Morley

from The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review (1854)

Giralamo Cardano
Geralmo Cardano (source)

[p.24]  JEROME CARDAN was born in 1501, at Pavia. He was the illegitimate son of a reprobate old scholar and a young widow of Milan. Had it rested with the sire the son had never been born. As it was, he received welcome from no one, save the prevailing plague, which planted its carbuncles on his young nose, in the shape of a cross, and, it might almost seem, doomed him to live a life of plagues and crosses for three quarters of a century afterwards.

What Charles Lamb says of the poor generally may be applied to Jerome individually,—he was not brought up, but dragged up. He was left, dirty and deserted, to strangers, but when death seemed to be laying his hand upon him, when he had reached an age at which he might be of some use to his wicked old sire, the latter took him to himself, and made of him his footboy. He was but seven years old at the time, and unbaptized. Hard work and bad diet had nearly deprived his father of the service of the little page. The father struck a bargain with St. Jerome, whereby, if the saint saved the child, the child was to be called by the name of the saint. The contract was duly fulfilled on either side.

The child vegetated into a weak boy, but that boy evinced early signs of unusual intellect, and thereby he in some degree obtained a place in what passed as the heart of his father. Uneducated, save by himself (not always the worst of masters), and barely in his teens, he wrote a treatise on the Earning of Immortality, and he commenced another on the best method of winning at games of chance. The young Jerome was an inveterate gambler, and, when he developed into the old Jerome, his love for gambling was not only as inveterate as ever, but he was the weak slave of even worse vices. He could neither confine himself to one work nor one vice; and when, at nineteen, the yellow-haired boy went to the university, he was affected by external and internal disorders, had several books, philosophical or puerile, in course of completion, and was without any fixed principle, save that of somehow becoming famous. Altogether the young collegian was an exceedingly clever, witty, unclean, and unpleasant scamp.

Whatever Cardan did, he addressed himself thereto with the perseverance and power of a Hercules. Learning or libertinism, it was all one to Jerome, he became steeped to the lips in both. Never perhaps was youth so dissolute yet so highly accomplished; never one so careless of his person so refined of mind, when he chose. He could pass from “Tomith” to treatises on triangles, from dice to dialectics, and from dirty habits to divine meditations. The love of music too was strong upon him, and his heart was not hardened, for when his barbarous old father died, in 1584, Jerome placed an epitaph over him, which, despite its pedantic language, showed the filial affection of its author.

The old geometrician left his family but scantily provided for, but the young scholar maintained a gay life for a while on the means supplied to him by his mother. He held profitless offices, and the poor mother helped him to hold them with honour. She conferred upon him respectability, by enabling him to give good dinners; and as for economy, Jerome despised the idea of saving, for astrology and his horoscope had foretold that he could not live beyond the age of forty-five, and vogue la galère was the device of the scholar. At the same time he besieged the Almighty with prayers for health, long life, and much enjoyment, and, to make his chance for the triple prize more secure, he opened a private account with St. Martin, and promised that patron unlimited allegiance, if he would only help him to what he desired. St. Jerome must have been equally astonished and indignant when he found his protégé giving all his custom in this line to a rival establishment.

The stain on the birth of Cardan was obstructive to his career. It was only with extreme difficulty that he was admitted Doctor of Medicine; and [p.25] a small practice, and much starvation, at Sacco, were jealously deemed as almost too good for a sage with a bar sinister in his scutcheon. During the six or seven years of his residence at the little town just named, Cardan laid the foundation of the mixed reputation which attached to him during his after-life; he performed one or two cures in cases of difficulty, wrote various medical treatises that were not varied with respect to merit, and devoted himself largely to gambling as a resource whereby to live. When he had not his pen in hand the dice-box was there, and Cardan wore a dagger on his thigh, and he was as rapid with the use thereof as he ever was with that of his tongue. He was a strange mixture of fierceness and affection, wisdom and weak judgment, knowledge and ignorance; simple faith and abject savage superstition; and Mr. Morley very well says of him, that “where Cardan was thought mad by his neighbours, we should think him wise; and where his neighbours thought him wise, we should think him mad.”

This is, however, to be taken with exception, as, for instance, when Cardan, unable to maintain himself becomingly, tempted fortune and took unto himself for wife the young Lucia dei Banderini, a dowerless girl, with whom he removed to Milan, in 1532. Famine alone gave them welcome there, and Jerome and his bride removed to the town of Gallareta, where every day he grew poorer, save in knowledge and superstition, played away too even his wife's jewels and bed, and in nineteen months earned forty crowns. The couple returned once more to Milan, the wife with a little son on her bosom, and the strange triad took temporary shelter in the workhouse, a depth of degradation to which even Tasso was reduced once in his life, and at which the poet was as little affected as the physician.

The latter, it must be confessed, was the nobler man of the two. He was not content to live at the cost of others, nor was it in his nature to be ungrateful for service rendered. He fought the battle of life in Milan like a true-hearted soldier. He was often beaten down upon one knee, but with a stout heart and arm he held the buckler of resolution above his head and pushed his way through opposing ills while he bore the blows of fortune uncomplainingly. He made a few friends, courted them assiduously, but not servilely, obtained some small occupation returning, indeed, but a slender honorarium for the exercise of any of them, and wrote treatises enough on various sciences to make the fortune and reputation of half a hundred scholars. And at last one of his treatises was printed. It was that “On the Bad Practice of Medicine in Common Use,” and it gained for him more shame than honour. The physicians could not refute him, but they could abuse both him and his treatise. The people at large followed the lead given by the faculty, and Cardan was accounted of as being the very slave of that crass ignorance he had attempted to expose. It has ever been so. The old stagers, being idly disposed, are wrathful when they are required to unlearn gross errors, and they take their revenge by denouncing every new teacher as an ignoramus. Jenner was called “fool and knave” by the entire body of medical gentlemen of his day, and when these were compelled to follow Jenner they talked of his discovery as if the merit were not his but theirs.

Despite opposition, Cardan was enabled to set up a household, take his mother into it, and engage a “famulus.” If he indulged much in dissipation, he was also a gigantic worker. His brain and his pen were never at rest, but he was not always happy in his subjects. Fame descended slowly upon him for his scientific treatises; but when he brought his astrology to bear, by casting the nativity of Christ, and writing a biography of the Saviour confirmatory of the horoscope, he was spoken of as a daringly speculative atheist. He was not far from being seized by the Inquisition for this work; but this was at a later period, and he had already made his peace with the Church by submitting all he had written to her judgment. The judgment did not at all affect Cardan's convictions. He simply bowed, smiled, and was silent.

In the meantime Cardan maintained a terrible struggle for existence. The College of Milan steadily refused to acknowledge him, and the few patients [p.26] he acquired barely enabled him to live. He was in that condition that the birth of two children, a son and daughter, pressed upon him; and the death of his mother relieved him. Sad condition of society when a newly-born child meets with no welcome, and the departure of a parent is a matter for joy!

It was not till 1539 that the turning point in his fortune was fairly reached. In that year was imprinted his Practica Arithmetica, which gave him lasting fame as an author; and in the same year, after twelve of application and rebuff, he was enrolled among the members of the Milanese College of Physicians, and acquired the legal right of practising for fees, or taking office as a teacher in the university. It was but reasonable that thereupon he addressed himself to the completion of an able work on consolation; after much weariness and disappointment, he had found for both the consolation upon which he wrote. Yet, after all, he earned, even now, less as a physician than as an almanack-maker and dabbler in astrology. He added something by his lectures, but he was unfortunate enough to have friends willing to lend him money, and he still frequented the gaming table, where he won, upon system, and occasionally plucked a pigeon. The funds, however, got very quickly spent. His companionship was not always with scholars. His table was as often surrounded by singers; and they who sang, drank deeply, and the house of a man who was imbued with solemn ideas of religion was but an unsanctified home. Amid the extravagance a third child was born, and Cardan thereupon buckled himself to sterner labour, and in 1544, he was teaching the college youth of Pavia, at an annual income of two hundred and forty gold crowns, which sum was irrespective of what he might be enabled to make by the practice of his profession as physician. Ill-employed as many of his hours had been, he had nevertheless found leisure and sufficient clearness of intellect to compose his great work on Algebra. It was his masterpiece, and, like all chefs d’œuvre, it was attacked by the sciolists, and not spared by the sages; but Cardan had an answer for all, and he and his book were triumphant. His pen was occupied besides on many other subjects, and that at one time; some were completed, some were never seriously intended to be so; some were illustrative of wisdom, some of science, some of art, some of morals, and a tract or two were marked by such foolery as scholars could once delight in who preferred to write nonsense rather than let their restless minds run to waste. The result of all was an increase both of fame and, in some degree, of fortune, and he fully merited both, for never had the sun seen a man who laboured more assiduously while he did labour, or who could so easily, after his jubilant relaxations, put on again the burthen of toil, and work on like a giant refreshed. He bore all well, for the simple reason that he kept early hours, and enjoyed full rest. “He liked to spend ten hours in bed, during eight of which he slept, if his health happened to be pretty good. When he was wakeful, he was accustomed to get up and walk round his bed, counting thousands, with the hope of making himself sleepy. He took but little medicine, being a doctor ... The medicinal remedies most used by him to procure sleep were bears' grease, or an ointment of poplar, applied externally in seventeen places.” He loved old fashions in dress; and as regards diet he preferred heavy suppers to light ones, and fish to meat. His dinner was the repast of an anchorite, and the supper was in fact a late dinner. His beverage was wine and water, a half pint of each fairly commingled. He was an uneasy sleeper, he was ever looking for omens when awake, and his slumbers were oppressed by fearful dreams; but he was, in his way, happy, until swift death took from him his Lucia, and then he returned to Milan, where, to draw his sorrowful thoughts from dwelling on his bereavement, he wrote a laboured encomium on gout and a panegyric of the Emperor Nero.

Cardan might have found what the French call “distraction” in his sorrow had he accepted an offer made him to become physician to Pope Paul III. (Alexander Farnese), but, favourable as were the terms proposed, Cardan declined them; “the Pope,” he said, “is decrepit, he is but a crumbling [p.27] vail; and shall I quit a certain for an insecure position?” He had the courage to resist an offer even more tempting from Christian III. King of Denmark. Cardan, according to the suggestion of Mr. Morley, declined the pope's proposal on the ground that it would have involved him in political questions, which he hated. It seems to us, however, that the Italian was probably afraid to trust himself in a capital wherein his bold speculations on eternal things were accounted of as the speculations of an atheist. He had many reasons for refusing the offer of the royal Dane, but chief among them was his desire to stand well and safely with Rome. He objected to “the heresy of the Danes,” and would not serve a power which respected Luther, whose horoscope he had cast, and of whom and of whose system he had written: “The heresy so widely propagated would, he said—and the stars said—fall to pieces of itself; for it would rear up an infinite number of heads, so that, if nothing else convicted it of falsehood, yet by that very multitude of opinions it would be shewn that, since truth is only one, in plurality there must be error.” And how lame, impotent, and illogical was this conclusion, arrived at by a man who was so deep a thinker, and who himself held opinions which his church would not sanction, but which he knew to be true. The world would never hare moved towards truth, nor retained what of it is now held in possession, but for difference of opinion—for that agitation of thought out of which arises immutable truth. The Church of Rome once held that this world was the immoveable centre of our solar system, and that the sun revolved around it. Some philosophic and not irreligious men doubted this. Galileo reflected on the doubt, and from reflection sprang denial. The old unity party condemned both, but even that party has been compelled to allow that Galileo was right and the church wrong. There is no better sport than to listen to a Jesuitical gentleman of these later days commenting upon Newton and his philosophy. The latter, it will be remarked by the amiable individual in question, has been condemned by the church, and is, therefore, utterly abominable; but (he will add) the facts as stated by Newton are doubtless, in themselves, incontrovertible. We have heard this admission made many times by men who denounced the philosophy as churchmen, but who as reflecting men accepted it with their whole hearts. As for the doctrine of the Reformation, it may be safely left standing where Luther fixed it, with the remark, “If it be of God, it will continue to stand.”

And so Cardan established himself at Pavia, where he laid up money by lecturing, by authorship, and by the practice of medicine, squandered much of it in very indifferent company, and wrote precepts for his children— two clever scapegrace lads, and one gentle girl—whereby they might go through life more profitably than he had done himself. Some of these precepts are terse and suggestive, and are strangely characteristic of the author. We have space but for a few, as, for example, “Time governs princes, princes govern men. Look for the end to time.” “Never sleep on feathers.” “Never associate with a stranger on the public road.” “Live joyously when you are able; men are worn down by cares.” “It is more prudent to spend money usefully than to lay it by, for more results come of the use of money, which is action, than of the preservation of it, which is rest.” “Love children, honour brothers; parents and every member of the family love, or turn out of doors.” “A woman left by herself, thinks; too much caressed, suspects: therefore take heed.” “Never let your children have a stepmother; if you do, never put faith in her as their accuser.” “Deeds are masculine, and words are femiuine; letters are of the neuter gender.” “If necessary, slip out of the tie of friendship; never break it.” “Put no trust in a red Lombard, a black German, a blinking Tuscan, a lame Venetian, a tall, thin, Spaniard, a bearded woman, a curly-pated man, or a Greek.” “Delay is the handle to denial.” “Take care that you are better than you seem.” “Never lie, but circumvent.” “Be more ready to help friends than to hurt foes.” It may be added that Cardan was somewhat before his age in even suggesting tender treatment in the education of children. He himself, with much love, was far, however, [p.28] from spoiling the child through sparing the rod.

The troublous times in which Cardan lived too often interrupted his brief career of prosperity, but they never affected his industry. In 1550, when Italy was in a condition of extreme peril and agitation, the philosopher calmly wrote his thirteen books on Metoposcopy, whereby he applied astrology to the lines on the forehead, and from a consideration of both foretold fortunes, and believed in the predictions. This occupation he varied with researches and essays on Subtlety and the Variety of Things—the former a book of much learning, ingenuity, and childish folly. As an illustration of the last, we may cite his theory of mountains:—

Their origin (he says) is threefold. Either the earth swells, being agitated by frequent movements, and gives birth to mountains, as to pimples rising from a body …; or their soil is heaped up by the winds, which is often the case in Africa; or, what is most natural and common, they are the stones left after the material of the earth has been washed away by running water, for the water of a stream descends into the valley, and the stony mountain itself rises from the valley, whence it happens that all mountains are, more or less, made of stones. Their height above the surrounding soil is because the fields are daily eaten down by the rains, and the earth itself decays; but stones, besides that they do not decay, also for the most part grow.

On which delicious philosophy Mr. Morley well remarks that, —

The notion that earth taken from stone leaves mountains, that a Salisbury Plain would be Mount Salisbury, if all the soil were taken out of it, and only the stones left, was so far curious; but as it was the orthodox belief, it passed into Cardan's mind, with other science of the same kind, as learning that was not to be disturbed. He had no taste at all for revolutionary work, except in medicine. In mathematics, he was left with his face turned in the right direction, and he made a great and real advance; in the natural sciences he was placed by his learning commonly with his face turned in the wrong direction, and he went on into metoposcopy and other nonsense.

We may add, that Cardan accounted for the earth being higher than the sea by stating that the former was lifted and held up by the stars!

One further idea of the complexion of Cardan's philosophy may here be cited from the same book. Our hero, when treating of the power of warmth as a principle of life, quotes Joannes Leo, who relates that in Egypt the executioner cuts criminals in half, and that the upper half being then placed upon a hearth, over which quicklime had been scattered, will understand and answer questions for a quarter of an hour! As Madame du Defiand said, when told that St. Denis walked with his own head under his arm, after decapitation, “Ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute,” so in the case of the speaking semi-trunks of Egyptian criminals we might say that, if the torso surmounted the difficulty of uttering the first word, we might readily believe that it talked for a quarter of an hour.

Cardan was a negligent dresser, but he admired our English wool, as it will be remembered Erasmus did, who has put an eulogium thereupon into the mouths of one of the speakers in his “Colloquies.” He says that it is no wonder that our wool is superior, seeing that we have no poisonous animals, that even wolves are so scarce that sheep may pasture in safety; and that England is infested only by the fox—a term which will earn for him the contempt of all country squires. According to him, our sheep in his days were the truly proper sheep of pastoral poets, and slaked their thirst only upon the dews that fell from heaven, the waters of the land being too gross for their ovine appetites. These were just the sort of sheep for Amaryllis and Daphne to tend, for Acis to lead about in blue ribbands, for Watteau to paint at the feet of his shepherdesses, and for Dresden china bakers to fix in their immortal clay.

But here Cardan is only speaking from hearsay. In 1562 he came among us, looked scrutinisingly around him, and afterwards recounted his experience and impressions. The occasion of his coming was to attend Hamilton, the Archbishop of St. Andrew's, whom good living had reduced to a condition from which native therapeutics could not raise him. A golden lure brought the then renowned Cardan to Scotland, and his sensible treatment, not being marred by much attendant ridiculous [p.29] but harmless practice, renovated the prelate, and rescued him from dying quietly, in order that he might afterwards perish violently. Cardan travelled so slowly that he was almost as long in reaching England from Italy as the French fleet has been in slowly gliding from Brest to the Baltic. On his return from Scotland, he saw, conversed with, and learned to love, certainly the most loveable of England's sovereigns, our young sixth Edward. He sojourned some months here, and this is his testimony touching our fathers and their habits. “It is worth consideration,” he says in his dialogue De Morte, “that the English care little or not at all for death. With kisses and salutations parents and children part; the dying say that they depart into immortal life, that they shall there await those left behind; and each exhorts the other to retain him in his memory. Cheerfully, without blenching, without tottering, they bear with constancy the final doom. They surely merit pity,” he curiously adds, “who with such alacrity meet death, and have no pity on themselves.” A speaker in the dialogue then inquires how the English look and dress. “In figure,” replies Cardan, “they are much like the Italians; they are white, whiter than we are, not so ruddy; and they are broad-chested. There are some among them of great stature, urbane, and friendly to the stranger, but they are quickly angered, and are, in that state, to be dreaded. They are strong in war, but they want caution; greedy enough after food and drink, but therein they do not equal the Germans. There are great intellects among them—witness Duns Scotus and Suiseth, who rank second to none. In dress they are like the Italians; for they are glad to boast themselves most nearly allied to them, and therefore study to imitate as much as possible their manner and their clothes; and yet, even in form, they are more like the Germans, the French, and the Spaniards. Certain it is that all the barbarians of Europe love the Italians more than any race among themselves." Cardan adds that the country as well as the people looked to him exactly as Italy did. He would have thought himself in his own land, especially when he “rode about on horseback in the neighbourhood of London.” Nor in this do we see any exaggeration, for few of the Italian suburbs with which he was acquainted could afford such sights as the view from Harrow-on-the-Hill, which only lacks water to render it perfect, Hampstead Heath, and the ride over the then open fields from Highbury to Hornsey. All the English whom he passed, in groups sitting together, appeared to him, “in figure, manners, dress, gesture, and colour,” as so many Italians; “but when they opened their mouth,” he says, “I could not understand so much as a word, and wondered at them, as though they were my countrymen gone mad and raving.”

Cardan returned to Italy by a circuitous route, and enjoyed repeated ovations by the way from the hands of the learned. He took with him an English boy of respectable family, whom he had offered to bring up, but of whom he grew so tired ere many days had elapsed, that he had him brutally scourged, in order to induce the lad to run away. The young Briton however had no such idea of a breach of contract, but clung to his cruel protector, served him, gained his love, and met with strange recompense in being apprenticed to a tailor,—soon after which he died, as much perhaps out of indignation as from natural infirmity.

But what did Cardan care? His fame and fortunes had increased by his foreign expedition, his literary and professional pursuits were entered upon with renewed vigour, and he not only obtained profit from both, but triumph over some of the notabilities of the world who dared to assail him; and then he was among the children whom he loved as though they were still indeed children, and had not grown up to torture him with anxiety and their ingratitude. He had indeed always loved them, but he had neglected the counsel of Solomon, and had not brought them up in the way they should go. There had been abundance of precept, but no good example—plenty of moral direction-posts, but no smoothing of obstacles in the road nor facilities for travel. But Cardan philosophically took things as the gods sent them, and he was at the very high top-gallant of his joy [p.30] when down came terrible infamy upon him destructive as the thunderbolt.

Jerome's son, Gianbatista, was a wild youth, and had wild loves; among them was a certain Brandonia Seroni, fair and frail, whom he married, and by whom he was betrayed. Jerome's horror was extreme at this union—the wedding of a young physician with a girl of fierce passions and evil family. The sire forgave the son, but the forgiveness brought with it little felicity to the youthful couple. Their “violent delights” had, as the poet says, “violent ends;” and, though two children resulted from the union, hatred soon took place of love, as well it might, for the mother gloried in boasting that Gianbatista was not the father of these hapless children; and terrible was the wrath, incensed the words, and soon incensed the deeds, that followed. In brief, Gianbatista destroyed his gay and guilty wife by poison. It was a crime in which his superiors were wont to indulge, but he was hardly of the rank and eminence to authorise himself to slay his consort with impunity. Murder was the privilege of the nobility; these would have deemed that society was reduced to a condition of anarchy, or at least of a degrading equality, if the democracy were permitted to trench upon the privileges of their betters; and accordingly Gianbatista was arrested and put upon his trial. He was defended by his father, who must have been fully aware of his son's guilt, but who nevertheless struggled to save him with a mingled affection and ferocity of argument, a use and an abuse of logic, such as never had before, and never has since, been employed to make the worse appear the better cause. We know nothing in history more touching than this paternal attempt to tear a child from the grasp of the executioner. The defence is a monument of sublimity and folly. It advocates, justifies, disproves, admits, denies, excuses, beseeches, menaces, weeps, laughs, beguiles, and bewilders. It is at once titanic and dwarfish; grand as Demosthenes, and puerile as a parody. It presents to us the terrible wreck of intellect—madness strong, and affection stronger still. We see the profound lawyer on the very point of persuading the judges of the innocence of his client, but then some damning evidence makes him stumble, and down goes intellect again, and up rises despair, and the hall resounds with the shrieks of the father screaming for mercy for his child, since justice would be too severe a lot for him. Mercy was not to be had; the criminal confessed his crime; the executioner did his office upon him privately within the prison; and from that day Cardan felt that he was infamous and unutterably wretched for ever.

The stricken man endured the usual further lot of being stoned, as it were, by the calumnies of the pitiless. He triumphed indeed over these, but the scars remained indelible, and not painless. He endeavoured to find some solace in books and in active employment at Bologna; but the heart of the man had withered within him, and with his old energy had departed the old power of self-consolation. Prosperity had never affected him beyond a feeling of honest, silent pride; “but in the bearing of adversity,” he remarks, “my nature is not so firm, for I have been compelled to endure some things that are beyond my strength. I have overcome nature then by art; for in the greatest agonies of my mind I whipped my thighs with a switch, bit sharply my left arm, and fasted, because I was much relieved by weeping when the tears would come, but very frequently they would not.”

With increase of sorrow came increase of superstition. The mind, depressed on one side, swung over to the other, and he who had been so severely tried by the realities of the material world courted slavery or solace in the world of spirits. The noblest of minds have yielded to the pressure of similar influences, and too often intellectual giants, overwhelmed by the real, have submitted to be bound by the irresistible dwarfs of the ideal.

But Cardan's struggle with the real was not yet over. At Bologna, if his nights and the portions of the day spent in solitude were crowded with ghost-like visitants and noisy with the voices of imaginary demons, his business hours were hours of unease—and even worse; for he was imprisoned on a charge, as it would seem, of impiety, but after a three months' detention he was delivered, and invited to Rome. Thither, at three score years and ten, [p.31] the philosopher repaired in 1571, to be, during a short period, the pensioner of the pope. After five years passed in that profitless pursuit of weeping over the irrevocable, Cardan died at Rome. His son Aldo he had disinherited, for good reason. His daughter was provided for by marriage. His heir was Fazio Cardan, the son of his own guilty but favourite Gianbatista, whose crimes never permanently overthrew the love built in the father's heart for the child of his hopes and his despair.

And now do we find ourselves very much in the condition of an architect who, having prepared his foundations, is debarred from raising thereon his structure. Our design was to build upon the biography of Cardan a sketch at least of his mingled philosophy and folly. Want of space, however, forbids the realization of such design. We must leave him, who was as a wingless bird, acute of sight but unable to find his way through the mists to the heaven beyond, to the consideration of Mr. Morley's readers. We would invite these, however, when they have studied the biography of the Romanist sage to peruse that of his contemporary Calvin. The reformer was, no doubt, quite as intolerant of freedom in others as the head of the church from which he separated, because it not only violated truth but disallowed liberty. But Calvin's philosophy shows, at least, what independence of mind may effect for him who exercises it. Cardan was childishly superstitious, because his intellect was bent beneath the yoke of Rome. Calvin believed in God alone, and not in omens, and signs, and noises, and such nonsense, because he dared to use the reason with which God had endowed him. Beza and Melancthon had inclinations akin to those of Cardan, and Zimmerman has known how solitude engenders them; but Calvin mocked at the ideas of presentiment and mysticism. He wrote against astrology, and Cardan for it, probably for the same reason—a desire to leave the solution of all mysteries to Heaven. Cardan read the future in the colour and aspect of the stars; Calvin more wisely averred that “the true astrology and astronomy is the knowledge of Heaven.” He showed how astrologers drew wrong conclusions from correct premises, and in his peculiarly cutting style he lashed the folly of those who followed this science after the fashion of Cardan. But even Calvin was far behind the entire truth. He knew not of the opinions of Aristarchus of old, nor was even aware that Copernicus had so recently enunciated the truth upon the heavenly system. To Calvin the entire heavens still revolved around the earth, and his book thereon shows how much a man may write well upon a false idea. That veil has passed away, and among those who have explained the new grandeur and the eternal truth, none have rendered a more splendid explanation than Dr. Chalmers in his Astronomical Sermons. In those sermons the readers of Cardan and Calvin will discover how foolish was the wisdom of the first, how imperfect that of the second, and how unassailable that of Chalmers himself. We recommend to inquiring and earnest men a study of the works of the great Scotish divine, after they have digested those of the Italian and Frenchman. If the pages of Cardan, Calvin, and Chalmers do not lead them to perceive where true wisdom resides, and how true wisdom is to be attained, why then they may rest assured that they are not of the calibre of mind to work out to its ends a simple deductive process. Happily, they who have taste for the study enjoined are sure to possess the intellect necessary to arrive at the truthful conclusion; and they who have not the taste will assuredly acquire it by devoting themselves to the study.

Image is not part of the original article. Text from Sylvanius Urban (ed.), The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review (Jul 1854), 196, 24-31. (source)

See also:

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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Martin Fischer
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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