Jerome Cardan - A Biographical Study
by William George Waters
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"To be content that times to come should only know there was such a man, not caring whether they knew more of him, was a frigid ambition in Cardan."—SIR THOMAS BROWNE.


16 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London, MDCCCXCVIII.



No attempt is made in the following pages to submit to historical treatment the vast and varied mass of printed matter which Cardan left as his contribution to letters and science, except in the case of those works which are, in purpose or incidentally, autobiographical, or of those which furnish in themselves effective contributions towards the framing of an estimate of the genius and character of the writer. Neither has it seemed worth while to offer to the public another biography constructed on the lines of the one brought out by Professor Henry Morley in 1854, for the reason that the circumstances of Cardan's life, the character of his work, and of the times in which he lived, all appeared to be susceptible of more succinct and homogeneous treatment than is possible in a chronicle of the passing years, and of the work that each one saw accomplished. At certain junctures the narrative form is inevitable, but an attempt has been made to treat the more noteworthy episodes of Cardan's life and work, and the contemporary aspect of the republic of letters, in relation to existing tendencies and conditions, whenever such a course has seemed possible.

Professor Morley's book, The Life of Girolamo Cardano, of Milan, physician, has been for some time out of print. This industrious writer gathered together a large quantity of material, dealing almost as fully with the more famous of the contemporary men of mark, with whom Cardan was brought into contact, as with Cardan himself. The translations and analyses of some of Cardan's more popular works which Professor Morley gives are admirable in their way, but the space they occupy in the biography is somewhat excessive. Had sufficient leisure for revision and condensation been allowed, Professor Morley's book would have taken a high place in biographical literature. As it stands it is a noteworthy performance; and, by reason of its wide and varied stores of information and its excellent index, it must always prove a valuable magazine of memoires pour servir for any future students who may be moved to write afresh, concerning the life and work of the great Milanese physician.

An apology may be needed for the occurrence here and there of passages translated from the De Vita Propria and the De Utilitate ex Adversis capienda, passages which some readers may find too frequent and too lengthy, but contemporary opinion is strongly in favour of letting the subject speak for himself as far as may be possible. The date and place of Cardan's quoted works are given in the first citation therefrom; those of his writings which have not been available in separate form have been consulted in the collected edition of his works in ten volumes, edited by Spon, and published at Lyons in 1663.

The author desires to acknowledge with gratitude the valuable assistance in the way of suggestion and emendation which he received from Mr. R.C. Christie during the final revision of the proofs.

London, October 1898.



LIKE certain others of the illustrious personages who flourished in his time, Girolamo Cardano, or, as he has become to us by the unwritten law of nomenclature, Jerome Cardan, was fated to suffer the burden and obloquy of bastardy.[1] He was born at Pavia from the illicit union of Fazio Cardano, a Milanese jurisconsult and mathematician of considerable repute, and a young widow, whose maiden name had been Chiara Micheria, his father being fifty-six, and his mother thirty-seven years of age at his birth. The family of Fazio was settled at Gallarate, a town in Milanese territory, and was one which, according to Jerome's contention, could lay claim to considerable antiquity and distinction. He prefers a claim of descent from the house of Castillione, founding the same upon an inscription on the apse of the principal church at Gallarate.[2] He asserts that as far back as 1189 Milo Cardano was Governor of Milan for more than seven years, and according to tradition Franco Cardano, the commander of the forces of Matteo Visconti,[3] was a member of the family. If the claim of the Castillione ancestry be allowed the archives of the race would be still farther enriched by the name of Pope Celestine IV., Godfrey of Milan, who was elected Pope in 1241, and died the same year.

Cardan's immediate ancestors were long-lived. The sons of Fazio Cardano, his great-grandfather, Joanni, Aldo, and Antonio, lived to be severally ninety-four, eighty-eight, and eighty-six years of age. Of these Joanni begat two sons: Antonio, who lived eighty-eight years, and Angelo, who reached the age of eighty-six. To Aldo were born Jacopo, who died at seventy-two; Gottardo, who died at eighty-four; and Fazio, the father of Jerome, who died at eighty.[4]

Fazio, albeit he came of such a long-lived stock, and lived himself to be fourscore, suffered much physical trouble during his life. On account of a wound which he had received when he was a youth, some of the bones of his skull had to be removed, and from this time forth he never dared to remain long with his head uncovered. When he was fifty-nine he swallowed a certain corrosive poison, which did not kill him, but left him toothless. He was likewise round-shouldered, a stammerer, and subject to constant palpitation of the heart; but in compensation for these defects he had eyes which could see in the dark and which needed not spectacles even in advanced age.

Of Jerome's mother little is known. Her family seems to have been as tenacious of life as that of Fazio, for her father Jacopo lived to be seventy-five years of age. Of his maternal grandfather Jerome remarks that he was a highly skilled mathematician, and that when he was about seventy years of age, he was cast into prison for some offence against the law. He speaks of his mother as choleric in temper, well dowered with memory and mental parts, small in stature and fat, and of a pious disposition,[5] and declares that she and his father were alike in one respect, to wit that they were easily moved to anger and were wont to manifest but lukewarm and intermittent affection for their child. Nevertheless they were in a way indulgent to him. His father permitted him to remain in bed till the second hour of the day had struck, or rather forbade him to rise before this time—an indulgence which worked well for the preservation of his health. He adds that in after times he always thought of his father as possessing the kindlier nature of the two.[6]

It would seem from the passage above written, as well as from certain others subsequent, that Jerome had little affection for his mother; and albeit he neither chides nor reproaches her, he never refers to her in terms so appreciative and loving as those which he uses in lamenting the death of his harsh and tyrannical father. In the Geniturarum Exempla[7] he says that, seeing he is writing of a woman, he will confine his remarks to saying that she was ingenious, of good parts, generous, upright, and loving towards her children. Perhaps the fact that his father died early, while his mother lived on for many years, and was afterwards a member of his household—together with his wife—may account for the colder tone of his remarks while writing about her. She was the widow of a certain Antonio Alberio,[8] and during her marriage had borne him three children, Tommaso, Catilina, and Joanni Ambrogio; but when Jerome was a year old all three of these died of the plague within the space of a few weeks.[9] He himself narrowly escaped death from the same cause, and this attack he attributes to an inherited tendency from his mother, she having suffered from the same disease during her girlhood. There seems to have been born to Fazio and Chiara another son, who died at birth.[10]

Jerome Cardan was born on September 24, 1501, between half-past six o'clock and a quarter to seven in the evening. In the second chapter of his autobiography he gives the year as 1500, and in De Utilitate, p. 347, he writes the date as September 23, but on all other occasions the date first written is used. Before he saw the light malefic influences were at work against him. His mother, urged on no doubt by the desire to conceal her shame, and persuaded by evil counsellors, drank a potion of abortive drugs in order to produce miscarriage,[11] but Nature on this occasion was not to be baulked. In recording the circumstances of his birth he writes at some length in the jargon of astrology to show how the celestial bodies were leagued together so as to mar him both in body and mind. "Wherefore I ought, according to every rule, to have been born a monster, and, under the circumstances, it was no marvel that it was found necessary to tear me from the womb in order to bring me into the world. Thus was I born, or rather dragged from my mother's body. I was to all outward seeming dead, with my head covered with black curly hair. I was brought round by being plunged in a bath of heated wine, a remedy which might well have proved hurtful to any other infant. My mother lay three whole days in labour, but at last gave birth to me, a living child."[12]

The sinister influences of the stars soon began to manifest their power. Before Jerome had been many days in the world the woman into whose charge he had been given was seized with the plague and died the same day, whereupon his mother took him home with her. The first of his bodily ailments,—the catalogue of the same which he subsequently gives is indeed a portentous one,[13]—was an eruption of carbuncles on the face in the form of a cross, one of the sores being set on the tip of the nose; and when these disappeared, swellings came. Before the boy was two months old his godfather, Isidore di Resta of Ticino, gave him into the care of another nurse who lived at Moirago, a town about seven miles from Milan, but here again ill fortune attended him. His body began to waste and his stomach to swell because the nurse who gave him suck was herself pregnant.[14] A third foster-mother was found for him, and he remained with her till he was weaned in his third year.

When he was four years of age he was taken to Milan to be under the care of his mother, who, with her sister, Margarita, was living in Fazio's house; but whether she was at this time legally married to him or not there is no evidence to show. In recording this change he remarks that he now came under a gentler discipline from the hands of his mother and his aunt, but immediately afterwards proclaims his belief that the last-named must have been born without a gall bladder, a remark somewhat difficult to apply, seeing he frequently complains afterwards of her harshness. It must be remembered, however, that these details are taken from a record of the writer's fifth year set down when he was past seventy.[15] He quotes certain lapses from kindly usage, as for instance when it happened that he was beaten by his father or his mother without a cause. After much chastisement he always fell sick, and lay some time in mortal danger. "When I was seven years old my father and my mother were then living apart—my kinsfolk determined, for some reason or other, to give over beating me, though perchance a touch of the whip might then have done me no harm. But ill-fortune was ever hovering around me; she let my tribulation take a different shape, but she did not remove it. My father, having hired a house, took me and my mother and my aunt to live with him, and made me always accompany him in his rounds about the city. On this account I, being taken at this tender age with my weak body from a life of absolute rest and put to hard and constant work, was seized at the beginning of my eighth year with dysentery and fever, an ailment which was at that time epidemic in our city. Moreover I had eaten by stealth a vast quantity of sour grapes. But after I had been visited by the physicians, Bernabo della Croce and Angelo Gyra, there seemed to be some hope of my recovery, albeit both my parents, and my aunt as well, had already bewept me as one dead.

"At this season my father, who was at heart a man of piety, was minded to invoke the divine assistance of San Girolamo (commending me to the care of the Saint in his prayers) rather than trust to the working of that familiar spirit which, as he was wont to declare openly, was constantly in attendance upon him. The reason of this change in his treatment of me I never cared to inquire. It was during the time of my recovery from this sickness, that the French celebrated their triumph after defeating the Venetians on the banks of the Adda, which spectacle I was allowed to witness from my window.[16] After this my father freed me of the task of going with him on his rounds. But the anger of Juno was not yet exhausted; for, before I had fully recovered my health, I fell down-stairs (we were then living in the Via dei Maini), with a hammer in my hand, and by this accident I hurt the left side of my forehead, injuring the bone and causing a scar which remains to this day. Before I had recovered from this mishap I was sitting on the threshold of the house when a stone, about as long and as broad as a nut, fell down from the top of a high house next door and wounded my head just where my hair grew very thickly on the left side.

"At the beginning of my tenth year my father changed this house, which had proved a very unlucky one for me, for another in the same street, and there I abode for three whole years. But my ill luck still followed me, for my father once more caused me to go about with him as his famulus, and would never allow me on any pretext to escape this task. I should hesitate to say that he did this through cruelty; for, taking into consideration what ensued, you may perchance be brought to see that this action of his came to pass rather through the will of Heaven than through any failing of his own. I must add too that my mother and my aunt were fully in agreement with him in his treatment of me. In after times, however, he dealt with me in much milder fashion, for he took to live with him two of his nephews, wherefore my own labour was lessened by the amount of service he exacted from these. Either I did not go out at all, or if we all went out together the task was less irksome.

"When I had completed my sixteenth year—up to which time I served my father constantly—we once more changed our house, and dwelt with Alessandro Cardano next door to the bakery of the Bossi. My father had two other nephews, sons of a sister of his, one named Evangelista, a member of the Franciscan Order, and nearly seventy years of age, and the other Otto Cantone, a farmer of the taxes, and very rich. The last-named, before he died, wished to leave me his sole heir; but this my father forbad, saying that Otto's wealth had been ill gotten; wherefore the estate was distributed according to the directions of the surviving brother."[17]

This, told as nearly as may be in his own words, is the story of Cardan's birth and childhood and early discipline, a discipline ill calculated to let him grow up to useful and worthy manhood. It must have been a wretched spring of life. Many times he refers to the hard slavery he underwent in the days when he was forced to carry his father's bag about the town, and tells how he had to listen to words of insult cast at his mother's name.[18] Like most boys who lead solitary lives, unrelieved by the companionship of other children, he was driven in upon himself, and grew up into a fanciful imaginative youth, a lover of books rather than of games, with an old head upon his young shoulders. After such a training it was only natural that he should be transformed from a nervous hysterical child into an embittered, cross-grained man, profligate and superstitious at the same time. Abundant light is thrown upon every stage of his career, for few men have left a clearer picture of themselves in their written words, and nowhere is Cardan, from the opening to the closing scene, so plainly exhibited as in the De Vita Propria, almost the last work which came from his pen. It has been asserted that this book, written in the twilight of senility by an old man with his heart cankered by misfortune and ill-usage, and his brain upset by the dread of real or fancied assaults of foes who lay in wait for him at every turn, is no trustworthy guide, even when bare facts are in question, and undoubtedly it would be undesirable to trust this record without seeking confirmation elsewhere. This confirmation is nearly always at hand, for there is hardly a noteworthy event in his career which he does not refer to constantly in the more autobiographic of his works. The De Vita Propria is indeed ill arranged and full of inconsistencies, but in spite of its imperfections, it presents its subject as clearly and effectively as Benvenuto Cellini is displayed in his own work. The rough sketch of a great master often performs its task more thoroughly than the finished painting, and Cardan's autobiography is a fragment of this sort. It lets pass in order of procession the moody neglected boy in Fazio's ill-ordered house, the student at Pavia, the youthful Rector of the Paduan Gymnasium, plunging when just across the threshold of life into criminal excess of Sardanapalean luxury, the country doctor at Sacco and afterwards at Gallarate, starving amongst his penniless patients, the University professor, the famous physician for whose services the most illustrious monarchs in Europe came as suppliants in vain, the father broken by family disgrace and calamity, and the old man, disgraced and suspected and harassed by persecutors who shot their arrows in the dark, but at the same time tremblingly anxious to set down the record of his days before the night should descend.

Until he had completed his nineteenth year Jerome continued to dwell under the roof which for the time being might give shelter to his parents. The emoluments which Fazio drew from his profession were sufficient for the family wants—he himself being a man of simple tastes; wherefore Jerome was not forced, in addition to his other youthful troubles, to submit to that execrata paupertas and its concomitant miseries which vexed him in later years. To judge from his conduct in the matter of Otto Cantone's estate, Fazio seems to have been as great a despiser of wealth as his son proved to be afterwards. His virtue, such as it was, must have been the outcome of one of those hard cold natures, with wants few and trifling, and none of those tastes which cry out daily for some new toy, only to be procured by money. The fact that he made his son run after him through the streets of Milan in place of a servant is not a conclusive proof of avarice; it may just as likely mean that the old man was indifferent and callous to whatever suffering he might inflict upon his young son, and indisposed to trouble himself about searching for a hireling to carry his bag. The one indication we gather of his worldly wisdom is his dissatisfaction that his son was firmly set to follow medicine rather than jurisprudence, a step which would involve the loss of the stipend of one hundred crowns a year which he drew for his lectureship, an income which he had hoped might be continued to a son of his after his death.[19]

Amidst the turmoil and discomfort of what must at the best have been a most ill-regulated household, the boy's education was undertaken by his father in such odds and ends of time as he might find to spare for the task.[20] What with the hardness and irritability of the teacher, and the peevishness inseparable from the pupil's physical feebleness and morbid overwrought mental habit, these hours of lessons must have been irksome to both, and of little benefit. "In the meantime my father taught me orally the Latin tongue as well as the rudiments of Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astrology. But he allowed me to sleep well into the day, and he himself would always remain abed till nine o'clock. But one habit of his appeared to me likely to lead to grave consequences, to wit the way he had of lending to others anything which belonged to him. Part of these loans, which were made to insolvents, he lost altogether; and the residue, lent to divers persons in high places, could only be recovered with much trouble and no little danger, and with loss of all interest on the same. I know not whether he acted in this wise by the advice of that familiar spirit[21] whose services he retained for eight-and-thirty years. What afterwards came to pass showed that my father treated me, his son, rightly in all things relating to education, seeing that I had a keen intelligence. For with boys of this sort it is well to make use of the bit as though you were dealing with mules. Beyond this he was witty and diverting in his conversation, and given to the telling of stories and strange occurrences well worth notice. He told me many things about familiar spirits, but what part of these were true I know not; but assuredly tales of this sort, wonderful in themselves and artfully put together, delighted me marvellously.

"But what chiefly deserved condemnation in my father was that he brought up certain other youths with the intention of leaving to them his goods in case I should die; which thing, in sooth, meant nothing less than the exposure of myself to open danger through plots of the parents of the boys aforesaid, on account of the prize offered. Over this affair my father and my mother quarrelled grievously, and finally decided to live apart. Whereupon my mother, stricken by this mental vexation, and troubled at intervals with what I deem to have been an hysterical affection, fell one day full on the back of her neck, and struck her head upon the floor, which was composed of tiles. It was two or three hours before she came round, and indeed her recovery was little short of miraculous, especially as at the end of her seizure she foamed much at the mouth.

"In the meantime I altered the whole drift of this tragedy by a pretended adoption of the religious life, for I became for a time a member of the mendicant Franciscan brotherhood. But at the beginning of my twenty-first year[22] I went to the Gymnasium at Pavia, whereupon my father, feeling my absence, was softened towards me, and a reconciliation between him and my mother took place.

"Before this time I had learnt music, my mother and even my father having secretly given me money for the same; my father likewise paid for my instruction in dialectics. I became so proficient in this art that I taught it to certain other youths before I went to the University. Thus he sent me there endowed with the means of winning an honest living; but he never once spake a word to me concerning this matter, bearing himself always towards me in considerate, kindly, and pious wise.

"For the residue of his days (and he lived on well-nigh four more years) his life was a sad one, as if he would fain let it be known to the world how much he loved me.[23] Moreover, when by the working of fate I returned home while he lay sick, he besought, he commanded, nay he even forced me, all unwilling, to depart thence, what though he knew his last hour was nigh, for the reason that the plague was in the city, and he was fain that I should put myself beyond danger from the same. Even now my tears rise when I think of his goodwill towards me. But, my father, I will do all the justice I can to thy merit and to thy paternal care; and, as long as these pages may be read, so long shall thy name and thy virtues be celebrated. He was a man not to be corrupted by any offering whatsoever, and indeed a saint. But I myself was left after his death involved in many lawsuits, having nothing clearly secured except one small house."[24]

Fazio contracted a close intimacy with a certain Galeazzo Rosso, a man clever as a smith, and endowed with mechanical tastes which no doubt helped to secure him Fazio's friendship. Galeazzo discovered the principle of the water-screw of Archimedes before the description of the same, written in the books of the inventor, had been published. He also made swords which could be bent as if they were of lead, and sharp enough to cut iron like wood. He performed a more wonderful feat in fashioning iron breast-plates which would resist the impact of red-hot missiles. In the De Sapientia, Cardan records that when Galeazzo perfected his water-screw, he lost his wits for joy.

Fazio took no trouble to teach his son Latin,[25] though the learned language would have been just as necessary for the study of jurisprudence as for any other liberal calling, and Jerome did not begin to study it systematically till he was past nineteen years of age. Through some whim or prejudice the old man refused for some time to allow the boy to go to the University, and when at last he gave his consent he still fought hard to compel Jerome to qualify himself in jurisprudence; but here he found himself at issue with a will more stubborn than his own. Cardan writes: "From my earliest youth I let every action of mine be regulated in view of the after course of my life, and I deemed that as a career medicine would serve my purpose far better than law, being more appropriate for the end I had in view, of greater interest to the world at large, and likely to last as long as time itself. At the same time I regarded it as a study which embodied the nobler principles, and rested upon the ground of reason (that is upon the eternal laws of Nature) rather than upon the sanction of human opinion. On this account I took up medicine rather than jurisprudence, nay I almost entirely cast aside, or even fled from the company of those friends of mine who followed the law, rejecting at the same time wealth and power and honour. My father, when he heard that I had abandoned the study of law to follow philosophy, wept in my presence, and grieved amain that I would not settle down to the study of his own subject. He deemed it the more salutary discipline—proofs of which opinion he would often bring forward out of Aristotle—that it was better adapted for the acquisition of power and riches; and that it would help me more efficiently in restoring the fortunes of our house. He perceived moreover that the office of teaching in the schools of the city, together with its accompanying salary of a hundred crowns which he had enjoyed for so many years, would not be handed on to me, as he had hoped, and he saw that a stranger would succeed to the same. Nor was that commentary of his destined ever to see the light or to be illustrated by my notes. Earlier in life he had nourished a hope that his name might become illustrious as the emendator of the 'Commentaries of John, Archbishop of Canterbury on Optics and Perspective.'[26] Indeed the following verses were printed thereanent:

'Hoc Cardana viro gaudet domus: omnia novit Unus: habent nullum saecula nostra parem.'

"These words may be taken as a sort of augury referring rather to certain other men about to set forth to do their work in the world, than to my father, who, except in the department of jurisprudence (of which indeed rumour says that he was a master), never let his mind take in aught that was new. The rudiments of mathematics were all that he possessed, and he gathered no fresh knowledge from the store-houses of Greek learning. This disposition in him was probably produced by the vast multitude of subjects to be mastered, and by his infirmity of purpose, rather than by any lack of natural parts, or by idleness or by defect of judgment; vices to which he was in no way addicted. But I, being firmly set upon the object of my wishes, for the reasons given above, and because I perceived that my father had achieved only moderate success—though he had encountered but few hindrances—remained unconvinced by any of his exhortations."[27]


[1] Bayle is unwilling to admit Cardan's illegitimate birth. In De Consolatione, Opera, tom. i. p. 619 (Lyons, 1663), Cardan writes in reference to the action of the Milanese College of Physicians: "Medicorum collegium, suspitione oborta, quod (tam male a patre tractatus) spurius essem, repellebat." Bayle apparently had not read the De Consolatione, as he quotes the sentence as the work of a modern writer, and affirms that the word "suspitio" would not have been used had the fact been notorious. But in the Dialogus de Morte, Opera, tom. i. p. 676, Cardan declares that his father openly spoke of him as a bastard.

[2] De Utilitate ex adversis Capienda (Franeker, 1648), p. 357.

[3] Matteo Visconti was born in 1250, and died in 1322. He was lord of Novara Vercello Como and Monferrato, and was made Vicar Imperial by Adolphus of Nassau. Though he was worsted in his conflict with John XXII. he did much to lay the foundations of his family.

[4] De Vita Propria (Amsterdam, 1654), ch. i. p. 4.

[5] Cardan makes a statement in De Consolatione, Opera, tom. i. p. 605, which indicates that her disposition was not a happy one. "Matrem meam Claram Micheriam, juvenem vidi, cum admodum puer essem, meminique hanc dicere solitam, Utinam si Deo placuisset, extincta forem in infantia."

[6] De Vita Propria, ch. i. p. 4.

[7] Geniturarum Exempla (Basil, 1554), p. 436.

[8] De Rerum Varietate (Basil, 1557), p. 655.

[9] De Utilitate, p. 347. There is a passage in Geniturarum Exempla, p. 435, dealing with Fazio's horoscope, which may be taken to mean that these children were his. "Alios habuisse filios qui obierint ipsa genitura demostrat, me solo diu post etia illius morte superstite."

[10] With regard to the union of his parents he writes: "Uxorem vix duxit ob Lunam afflictam et eam in senectute."—Geniturarum Exempla, p. 435.

[11] "Igitur ut ab initio exordiar, in pestilentia conceptus, matrem, nondum natus (ut puto) mearum calamitatum participem, profugam habui."—Opera, tom. i. p. 618.

"Mater ut abortiret medicamentum abortivum dum in utero essem, alieno mandato bibit."—De Utilitate, p. 347.

[12] De Vita Propria, ch. ii. p. 6.

[13] In one passage, De Utilitate, p. 348, he sums up his physical misfortunes: "Hydrope, febribus, aliisque morbis conflictatus sum, donec sub fine octavi anni ex dysenteria ac febre usque ad mortis limina perveni, pulsavi ostium sed non aperuere qui intro erant."

[14] "Inde lac praegnantis hausi per varias nutrices lactatus ac jactatus."—De Utilitate, p. 348.

[15] The De Vita Propria, the chief authority for these remarks, was written by Cardan in Rome shortly before his death.

[16] The illness would have occurred about October 1508, and the victory of the Adda was on May 14, 1509. This fact fixes his birth in 1501, and shows that his illness must have lasted six or seven months.

[17] De Vita Propria, ch. iv. p. ii.

[18] Opera, tom. i. p. 676.

[19] "Quod munus profitendi institutiones in urbe ipsa cum honorario centum coronatorum, quo jam tot annis gaudebat, non in me (ut speraverat) transiturum intelligebat."—De Vita Propria, ch. x. p. 35.

[20] "Pater jam ante concesserat ut Geometriae et Dialecticae operam darem, in quo (quanquam praeter paucas admonitiones, librosque, ac licentiam, nullum aliud auxilium praebuerit) eas tamen ego (succicivis temporibus studens) interim feliciter sum assecutus."—De Consolatione, Opera, tom. i. p. 619.

[21] "Facius Cardanus daemonem aetherium, ut ipse dicebat, diu familiarem habuit; qui quamdiu conjuratione usus est, vera illi dabat responsa, cum autem illam exussisset, veniebat quidem, sed responsa falsa dabat. Tenuit igitur annis, ni fallor, vinginti octo cum conjuratione, solutum autem circiter quinque."—De Varietate, p. 629.

In the Dialogus Tetim (Opera, tom. i. p. 672), Cardan writes: "Pater honeste obiit et ex senio, sed multo antea eum Genius ille reliquerat."

[22] There is a discrepancy between this date and the one given in De Vita Propria, ch. iv. p. 11. "Anno exacto XIX contuli me in Ticinensem Academiam."

[23] "Inde (desiderium augente absentia) mortuus est, saeviente peste, cum primum me diligere coepisset."—De Consolatione, Opera, tom. i. p. 619.

[24] De Utilitate, p. 348.

[25] "Nimis satis fuit defuisse tot, memoriam, linguam Latinam per adolescentiam."—De Vita Propria, ch. li. p. 218.

[26] John Peckham was a Franciscan friar, and was nominated to the see of Canterbury by Nicholas III. in 1279. He had spent much time in the convent of his Order at Oxford, and there is a legend connecting him with a Johannes Juvenis or John of London, a youth who had attracted the attention and benevolence of Roger Bacon. This Johannes became one of the first mathematicians and opticians of the age, and was sent to Rome by Bacon, who entrusted to him the works which he was sending to Pope Clement IV. There is no reason for this view beyond the fact that both were called John, and distinguished in the same branches of learning. The Perspectiva Communis was his principal work; it does not deal with perspective as now understood, but with elementary propositions of optics. It was first printed in Milan in or about 1482.

[27] De Vita Propria, ch. x. p. 34. A remark in De Sapientia, Opera, tom. i. p. 578, suggests that Fazio began life as a physician: "Pater meus Facius Cardanus Medicus primo, inde Jurisconsultus factus est."


THE University of Pavia to which Jerome now betook himself was by tradition one of the learned foundations of Charlemagne.[28] It had certainly enjoyed a high reputation all through the Middle Ages, and had recently had the honour of numbering Laurentius Valla amongst its professors. In 1362, Galeazzo Visconti had obtained a charter for it from the Emperor Charles IV., and that it had become a place of consequence in 1400 is proved by the fact that, besides maintaining several professors in the Canon Law, it supported thirteen in Civil Law, five in Medicine, three in Philosophy, and one each in Astrology, Greek, and Eloquence. Like all the other Universities of Northern Italy, it suffered occasional eclipse or even extinction on account of the constant war and desolation which vexed these parts almost without intermission during the years following the formation of the League of Cambrai. Indeed, as recently as 1500, the famous library collected by Petrarch, and presented by Gian Galeazzo Visconti to the University, was carried off by the French.[29]

To judge from the pictures which the Pavian student, writing in after years, gives of his physical self, it may be inferred that he was ill-endowed by the Graces. "I am of middle height. My chest is somewhat narrow and my arms exceedingly thin: my right hand is the more grossly fashioned of the two, so that a chiromantist might have set me down as rude or doltish: indeed, should such an one examine my hand, he would be ashamed to say what he thought. In it the line of life is short, and that named after Saturn long and well marked. My left hand, however, is seemly, with fingers long, tapering, and well-set, and shining nails. My neck is longer and thinner than the rule, my chin is divided, my lower lip thick and pendulous, my eyes are very small, and it is my wont to keep them half-closed, peradventure lest I should discern things over clearly. My forehead is wide and bare of hair where it meets the temples. My hair and beard are both of them yellow in tint, and both as a rule kept close cut. My chin, which as I have said already is marked by a division, is covered in its lower part with a thick growth of long hair. My habit is to speak in a highly-pitched voice, so that my friends sometimes rebuke me thereanent; but, harsh and loud as is my voice, it cannot be heard at any great distance while I am lecturing. I am wont to talk too much, and in none too urbane a tone. The look of my eyes is fixed, like that of one in deep thought. My front teeth are large, and my complexion red and white: the form of my countenance being somewhat elongated, and my head is finished off in narrow wise at the back, like to a small sphere. Indeed, it was no rare thing for the painters, who came from distant countries to paint my portrait, to affirm that they could find no special characteristic which they could use for the rendering of my likeness, so that I might be known by the same."[30]

After giving this account of his person, Cardan writes down a catalogue of the various diseases which vexed him from time to time, a chapter of autobiography which looks like a transcript from a dictionary of Nosology. More interesting is the sketch which he makes of his mental state during these early years. Boys brought up in company of their elders often show a tendency to introspection, and fall into a dreamy whimsical mood, and his case is a striking example. "By the command of my father I used to lie abed until nine o'clock,[31] and, if perchance I lay awake any time before the wonted hour of rising, it was my habit to spend the same by conjuring up to sight all sorts of pleasant visions, nor can I remember that I ever summoned these in vain. I used to behold figures of divers kinds like airy bodies. Meseemed they were made up of tiny rings, like those in coats of chain-armour, though at this time I had seen nought of the kind. They would rise at the bottom of the bed, from the right-hand corner; and, moving in a semi-circle, would pass slowly on and disappear in the left. Moreover I beheld the shapes of castles and houses, of horses and riders, of plants, trees, musical instruments, theatres, dresses of men of all sorts, and flute-players who seemed to be playing upon their instruments, but neither voice nor sound was heard therefrom. And besides these things I beheld soldiers, and crowds of men, and fields, and certain bodily forms, which seem hateful to me even now: groves and forests, and divers other things which I now forget. In all this I took no small delight, and with straining eyes I would gaze upon these marvels; wherefore my Aunt Margaret asked me more than once whether I saw anything. I, though I was then only a child, deliberated over this question of hers before I replied, saying to myself: 'If I tell her the facts she will be wroth at the thing—whatever it may be—which is the cause of these phantasms, and will deprive me of this delight.' And then I seemed to see flowers of all kinds, and four-footed beasts, and birds; but all these, though they were fashioned most beautifully, were lacking in colour, for they were things of air. Therefore I, who neither as a boy nor as an old man ever learned to lie, stood silent for some time. Then my aunt said—'Boy, what makes you stare thus and stand silent?' I know not what answer I made, but I think I said nothing at all. In my dreams I frequently saw what seemed to be a cock, which I feared might speak to me in a human voice. This in sooth came to pass later on, and the words it spake were threatening ones, but I cannot now recall what I may have heard on these occasions."[32]

With a brain capable of such remarkable exercises as the above-written vision, living his life in an atmosphere of books, and with all games and relaxations dear to boys of his age denied to him, it was no marvel that Jerome should make an early literary essay on his own account. The death of a young kinsman, Niccolo Cardano,[33] suggested to him a theme which he elaborated in a tract called De immortalitate paranda, a work which perished unlamented by its author, and a little later he wrote a treatise on the calculation of the distances between the various heavenly bodies.[34] But he put his mathematical skill to other and more sinister uses than this; for, having gained practical experience at the gaming-tables, he combined this experience with his knowledge of the properties of numbers, and wrote a tract on games of chance. Afterwards he amplified this into his book, Liber de Ludo Aleae.

With this equipment and discipline Jerome went to Pavia in 1520. He found lodging in the house of Giovanni Ambrogio Targio, and until the end of his twenty-first year he spent all his time between Pavia and Milan. By this date he had made sufficiently good use of his time to let the world see of what metal he was formed, for in the year following he had advanced far enough in learning to dispute in public, to teach Euclid in the Gymnasium, and to take occasional classes in Dialectics and Elementary Philosophy. At the end of his twenty-second year the country was convulsed by the wars between the Spaniards and the French under Lautrec, which ended in the expulsion of the last-named and the establishment of the Imperial power in Milan. Another result of the war, more germane to this history, was the closing of the University of Pavia through lack of funds. In consequence of this calamity Jerome remained some time in Milan, and during these months he worked hard at mathematics; but he was not destined to return to Pavia as a student. The schools there remained some long time in confusion, so in 1524 he went with his father's consent to Padua. In the autumn of that same year he was summoned back to Milan to find Fazio in the grip of his dying illness. "Whereupon he, careful of my weal rather than his own, bade me return to Padua at once, being well pleased to hear that I had taken at the Venetian College the Baccalaureat of Arts.[35] After my return to Padua, letters were brought to me which told me that he had died on the ninth day after he had refused nourishment. He died on the twenty-eighth of August, having last eaten on Sunday the twentieth of the month. Towards the close of my twenty-fourth year I was chosen Rector of the Academy at Padua,[36] and at the end of the next was made Doctor of Medicine. For the first-named office I came out the victor by one vote, the suffrages having to be cast a second time; and for the Doctorate of Medicine my name had already twice come forth from the ballot with forty-seven votes cast against me (a circumstance which forbade another voting after the third), when, at the third trial, I came out the winner, with only nine votes against me (previously only this same number had been cast for me), and with forty-eight in my favour.

"Though I know well enough that affairs like these must needs be of small account, I have set them down in the order in which they came to pass for no other reason than that I give pleasure to myself who write these words by so doing: and I do not write for the gratification of others. At the same time those people who read what I write—if indeed any one should ever be so minded—may learn hereby that the beginnings and the outcomes of great events may well be found difficult to trace, because in sooth it is the way of such things to come to the notice of anybody rather than of those who would rightly observe them."[37]

Padua cannot claim for its University an antiquity as high as that which may be conceded to Pavia, but in spite of its more recent origin, there is no little obscurity surrounding its rise. The one fact which may be put down as certain is that it sprang originally from the University of Bologna. Early in the thirteenth century violent discords arose between the citizens of Bologna and the students, and there is a tradition that the general school of teaching was transferred to Padua in 1222. What happened was probably a large migration of students, part of whom remained behind when peace between town and gown in Bologna was restored. The orthodox origin of the University is a charter granted by Frederic II. in 1238. Frederic at this time was certainly trying to injure Bologna, actuated by a desire to help on his own University at Naples, and to crush Bologna as a member of the Lombard League.[38] Padua, however, was also a member of this league, so his benevolent action towards it is difficult to understand. In 1228 the students had quarrelled with the Paduan citizens, and there was a movement to migrate to Vercelli; but, whether this really took place or not, the Paduan school did not suffer: its ruin and extinction was deferred till the despotism of the Ezzelini. In 1260 it was again revived by a second migration from Bologna, and this movement was increased on account of the interdict laid by the Pope upon Bologna in 1306 after the expulsion of the Papal Legate by the citizens.

In the early days Medicine and Arts were entirely subordinate to the schools of canon and civil law; but by the end of the fourteenth century these first-named Faculties had obtained a certain degree of independence, and were allowed an equal share in appointing the Rector.[39] The first College was founded in 1363, and after 1500 the number rapidly increased. The dominion of the Dukes of Carrara after 1322 was favourable to the growth of the University, which, however, did not attain its highest point till it came under Venetian rule in 1404. The Venetian government raised the stipends of the professors, and allowed four Paduan citizens to act as Tutores Studii; the election of the professors being vested in the students, which custom obtained until the end of the sixteenth century.[40] The Rector was allowed to wear a robe of purple and gold; and, when he retired, the degree of Doctor was granted to him, together with the right to wear the golden collar of the order of Saint Mark.

Padua like Athens humanized its conquerors. It became the University town of Venice, as Pavia was of Milan, and it was for a long time protected from the assaults of the Catholic reaction by its rulers, who possibly were instigated rather by political jealousy of the Papacy as a temporal power, than by any enthusiasm for the humanist and scientific studies of which Padua was the most illustrious home south of the Alps; studies which the powers of the Church began already to recognize as their most dangerous foes.

Such was the University of Padua at the height of its glory, and it will be apparent at once that Padua must have fallen considerably in its fortunes when it installed as its Rector an obscure student, only twenty-four years of age, and of illegitimate birth, and conferred upon him the right to go clad in purple and gold, and to claim, as his retiring gift, the degree of Doctor and the cross of Saint Mark. In 1508 the League of Cambrai had been formed, and Venice, not yet recovered from the effects of its disastrous wars with Bajazet II., was forced to meet the combined assault of the Pope, the Emperor, and the King of France. Padua was besieged by the Imperial forces, a motley horde of Germans, Swiss, and Spaniards, and the surrounding country was pillaged and devastated by these savages with a cruelty which recalled the days of Attila. It is not wonderful that the University closed its doors in such a time. When the confederates began to fight amongst themselves the class-rooms were reopened, intermittently at first, but after 1515 the teaching seems to have been continuous. Still the prevalent turmoil and poverty rendered it necessary to curtail all the mere honorary and ornamental adjuncts of the schools, and for several years no Rector was appointed, for the good and sufficient reason that no man of due position and wealth and character could be found to undertake the rectorial duties, with the Academy just emerging from complete disorganization. These duties were many and important, albeit the Rector could, if he willed, appoint a deputy, and the calls upon the purse of the holder must have been very heavy. It would be hard to imagine any one less fitted to fill such a post than Cardan, and assuredly no office could befit him less than this pseudo-rectorship.[41] It must ever remain a mystery why he was preferred, why he was elected, and why he consented to serve: though, as to the last-named matter, he hints in a passage lately cited from De Utilitate, that it was through the persuasions of his mother that he took upon himself this disastrous honour. Many pasages in his writings suggest that Chiara was an indulgent parent. She let Fazio have no peace till he consented to allow the boy to go to college; she paid secretly for music-lessons, so that Jerome was enabled to enjoy the relaxation he loved better than anything else in the world—except gambling; she paid all his charges during his student life at Padua; and now, quite naturally, she would have shed her heart's blood rather than let this son of hers—ugly duckling as he was—miss what she deemed to be the crowning honour of the rectorship; but after all the sacrifices Chiara made, after all the misfortunes which attended Jerome's ill-directed ambition, there is a doubt as to whether he ever was Rector in the full sense of the term. Many times and in divers works he affirms that once upon a time he was Rector, and over and beyond this he sets down in black and white the fact, more than once, that he never told a lie; so it is only polite to accept this legend for what it is worth. But it must likewise be noted that in the extant records of the University there is no mention of his name in the lists of Rectors.[42]

Jerome has left very few details as to his life at Padua. Of those which he notices the following are the most interesting: "In 1525, the year in which I became Rector, I narrowly escaped drowning in the Lago di Garda. I went on board the boat, unwillingly enough, which carried likewise some hired horses; and, as we sailed on, the mast and the rudder, and one of the two oars we had with us, were broken by the wind. The sails, even those on the smaller mast, were split, and the night came on. We landed at last safe and sound at Sirmio, but not before all my companions had given up hope, and I myself was beginning to despair. Indeed, had we been a minute later we must have perished, for the tempest was so violent that the iron hinges of the inn windows were bent thereby. I, though I had been sore afraid ever since the wind began to blow, fell to supper with a good heart when the host set upon the board a mighty pike, but none of the others had any stomach for food, except the one passenger who had advised us to make trial of this perilous adventure, and who had proved to be an able and courageous helper in our hour of distress.

"Again, once when I was in Venice on the birthday of the Virgin, I lost some money at dicing, and on the day following all that was left me went the same way. This happened in the house of the man with whom I was gambling, and in the course of play I noticed that the cards were marked, whereupon I struck him in the face with my dagger, wounding him slightly. Two of his servants were present at the time; some spears hung all ready from the beams of the roof, and besides this the house door was fastened. But when I had taken from him all the money he had about him—his own as well as that which he had won from me by cheating, and my cloak and the rings which I had lost to him the day before—I was satisfied that I had got back all my possessions. The chattels I sent home by my servant at once, but a portion of the money I tossed back to the fellow when I saw that I had drawn blood of him. Then I attacked the servants who were standing by; and, as they knew not how to use their weapons and besought my mercy, I granted this on the condition that they should unlock the door. Their master, taking account of the uproar and confusion, and mistrusting his safety in case the affair should not be settled forthwith (I suspect he was alarmed about the marked cards), commanded the servants to open the door, whereupon I went my way.

"That very same evening, while I was doing my best to escape the notice of the officers of justice on account of the wound I had given to this Senator, I lost my footing and fell into a canal, having arms under my cloak the while. In my fall I did not lose my nerve, but flinging out my right arm, I grasped the thwart of a passing boat and was rescued by those on board. When I had been hauled into the boat I discovered—wonderful to relate—that the man with whom I had lately played cards was likewise on board, with his face bandaged by reason of the wounds I had given him. Now of his own accord he brought out a suit of clothes, fitted for seafaring, and, having clad myself in them, I journeyed with him as far as Padua."[43]

Cardan's life from rise to set cannot be estimated otherwise than an unhappy one, and its least fortunate years were probably those lying between his twenty-first and his thirty-first year of age. During this period he was guilty of that crowning folly, the acceptance of the Rectorship of the Gymnasium at Padua, he felt the sharpest stings of poverty, and his life was overshadowed by dire physical misfortune. He gives a rapid sketch of the year following his father's death. "Then, my father having breathed his last and my term of office come to an end, I went, at the beginning of my twenty-sixth year, to reside at Sacco, a town distant ten miles from Padua and twenty-five from Venice. I fixed on this place by the advice of Francesco Buonafidei, a physician of Padua, who, albeit I brought no profit to him—not even being one of those who attended his public teaching—helped me and took a liking for me, being moved to this benevolence by his exceeding goodness of heart. In this place I lived while our State was being vexed by every sort of calamity. In 1524 by a raging pestilence and by a two-fold change of ruler. In 1526 and 1527 by a destructive scarcity of the fruits of the earth. It was hard to get corn in exchange for money of any kind, and over and beyond this was the intolerable weight of taxation. In 1528 the land was visited by divers diseases and by the plague as well, but these afflictions seemed the easier to bear because all other parts were likewise suffering from the same. In 1529 I ventured to return to Milan—these ill-starred troubles being in some degree abated—but I was refused membership by the College of Physicians there, I was unable to settle my lawsuit with the Barbiani, and I found my mother in a very ill humour, so I went back to my village home, having suffered greatly in health during my absence. For what with cruel vexations, and struggles, and cares which I saw impending, and a troublesome cough and pleurisy aggravated by a copious discharge of humour, I was brought into a condition such as few men exchange for aught else besides a coffin."[44]

The closing words of his eulogy on his father tell how the son, on the father's death, found that one small house was all he could call his own. The explanation of this seems to be that the old man, being of a careless disposition and litigious to boot, had left his affairs in piteous disorder. In consequence of this neglect Jerome was involved in lawsuits for many years, and the one afore-mentioned with the Barbiani was one of them. This case was subsequently settled in Jerome's favour.


[28] Pavia, like certain modern universities, did not spend all its time over study. "Aggressus sum Mediolani vacationibus quadragenariae, seu Bacchanalium potius, anni MDLXI. Ita enim non obscurum est, nostra aetate celebrari ante quadragenariam vacationes, in quibus ludunt, convivantur, personati ac larvati incedunt, denique nullum luxus ac lascivae genus omittunt: Sybaritae et Lydi Persaeque vincuntur." Opera, tom. i. p. 118.

[29] These books were taken to Blois. They were subsequently removed by Francis I. to Fontainebleau, and with the other collections formed the nucleus of the Bibliotheque Nationale.

[30] De Vita Propria, ch. v. p. 18.

[31] The time covered by this experience was from his fourth to his seventh year.

[32] De Vita Propria, ch. xxxvii. p. 114; De Rerum Subtilitate (Basil, 1554), p. 524.

[33] Opera, tom. i. p. 61.

[34] "Erat liber exiguus, rem tamen probe absolvebat: nam tunc forte in manus meas inciderat, Gebri Hispani liber, cujus auxilio non parum adjutus sum."—Opera, tom. i. p. 56.

[35] "Initio multi quidem paupertate aliave causa quum se nolunt subjicere rigoroso examini Cl. Collegii in artibus Medicinae vel in Jure, Baccalaureatus, vel Doctoratus gradum a Comitibus Palatinis aut Lateranensibus sumebant. Postea vero, sublata hac consuetudine, Gymnasii Rector, sive substitutus, convocatis duobus professoribus, bina puncta dabantur, iisque recitatis et diligentis [sic] excussis, illis gradus Baccalaureatus conferebatur."—Gymnasium Patavinum (1654), p. 200.

[36] He constantly bewails this step as the chief folly of his life: "Stulte vero id egi, quod Rector Gymnasii Patavini effectus sum, tum, cum, inops essem, et in patria maxime bella vigerent, et tributa intolerabilia. Matris tamen solicitudine effectum est, ut pondus impensarum, quamvis aegre, sustinuerim."—De Utilitate, p. 350.

[37] De Vita Propria, ch. iv. p. 11.

[38] Muratori, Chron. di Bologna, xviii. 254.

[39] The stipends paid to teachers of jurisprudence were much more liberal than those paid to humanists. In the Diary of Sanudo it is recorded that a jurist professor at Padua received a thousand ducats per annum. Lauro Quirino, a professor of rhetoric, meantime received only forty ducats, and Laurentius Valla at Pavia received fifty sequins.—Muratori, xxii. 990.

[40] Tomasinus, Gymnasium Patavinam (1654), p. 136.

[41] Tomasinus writes that the Rector should be "Virum illustrem, providum, eloquentem ac divitem, quique eo pollet rerum usu ut Gymnasi decora ipsius gubernatione et splendore augeantur."—Gymnasium Patavinum, p. 54. He likewise gives a portrait of the Rector in his robes of office, and devotes several chapters to an account of his duties.

[42] "Ab anno 1509 usque ad annum 1515 ob bellum Cameracense Gymn. interrmissum fuit."—Elenchus nominum Patavii (1706), p. 28. The first names given after this interregnum are Dom. Jo. Maria de Zaffaris, Rector in Arts, and Dom. Marinus de Ongaris, Rector in Jurisprudence in 1527.

Papadapoli (Historia Gymn. Patav.) gives the name of Ascanius Serra as pro-Rector in 1526: no Rector being mentioned at all.

[43] De Vita Propria, ch. xxx. p. 79.

[44] De Vita Propria, ch. iv. p. 13.


DURING his life at Padua it would appear that Cardan, over and above the allowance made to him by his mother, had no other source of income than the gaming-table.[45] However futile and disastrous his sojourn at this University may have been, he at least took away with him one possession of value, to wit his doctorate of medicine, on the strength of which he began to practise as a country physician at Sacco. The record of his life during these years gives the impression that he must have been one of the most wretched of living mortals. The country was vexed by every sort of misfortune, by prolonged warfare, by raging pestilence, by famine, and by intolerable taxation;[46] but while he paints this picture of misery and desolation in one place, he goes on to declare in another that the time which he spent at Sacco was the happiest he ever knew.[47] No greater instance of inconsistency is to be found in his pages. He writes: "I gambled, I occupied myself with music, I walked abroad, I feasted, giving scant attention the while to my studies. I feared no hurt, I paid my respects to the Venetian gentlemen living in the town, and frequented their houses. I, too, was in the very flower of my age, and no time could have been more delightful than this which lasted for five years and a half."[48]

But for almost the whole of this period Cardan was labouring under a physical misfortune concerning which he writes in another place in terms of almost savage bitterness. During ten years of his life, from his twenty-first to his thirty-first year, he suffered from the loss of virile power, a calamity which he laments in the following words: "And I maintain that this misfortune was to me the worst of evils. Compared with it neither the harsh servitude under my father, nor unkindness, nor the troubles of litigation, nor the wrongs done me by my fellow-townsmen, nor the scorn of my fellow-physicians, nor the ill things falsely spoken against me, nor all the measureless mass of possible evil, could have brought me to such despair, and hatred of life, and distaste of all pleasure, and lasting sorrow. I bitterly wept this misery, that I must needs be a laughing-stock, that marriage must be denied me, and that I must ever live in solitude. You ask for the cause of this misfortune, a matter which I am quite unable to explain. Because of the reasons just mentioned, and because I dreaded that men should know how grave was the ill afflicting me, I shunned the society of women; and, on account of this habit, the same miserable public scandal which I desired so earnestly to avoid, arose concerning me, and brought upon me the suspicion of still more nefarious practices: in sooth it seemed that there was no further calamity left for me to endure."[49] After reading these words, it is hard to believe that a man, afflicted with a misfortune which he characterizes in these terms, could have been even moderately happy; much less in that state of bliss which he sits down to describe forty years afterwards.

But the end of his life at Sacco was fated to be happier than the beginning, and it is possible that memories of the last months he spent there may have helped to colour with rosy tint the picture of happiness recently referred to. In the first place he was suddenly freed from his physical infirmity, and shortly after his restoration he met and married the woman who, as long as she lived with him, did all that was possible to make him happy. Every momentous event of Cardan's life—and many a trifling one as well—was heralded by some manifestation of the powers lying beyond man's cognition. In writing about the signs and tokens which served as premonitions of his courtship and marriage, he glides easily into a description of the events themselves in terms which are worth producing. "In times past I had my home in Sacco, and there I led a joyful life, as if I were a man unvexed by misfortune (I recall this circumstance somewhat out of season, but the dream I am about to tell of seems only too appropriate to the occasion), or a mortal made free of the habitations of the blest, or rather of some region of delight. Then, on a certain night, I seemed to find myself in a pleasant garden, beautiful exceedingly, decked with flowers and filled with fruits of divers sorts, and a soft air breathed around. So lovely was it all that no painter nor our poet Pulci, nor any imagination of man could have figured the like. I was standing in the forecourt of this garden, the door whereof was open, and there was another door on the opposite side, when lo! I beheld before me a damsel clad in white. I embraced and kissed her; but before I could kiss her again, the gardener closed the door. I straightway begged him earnestly that he would open it again, but I begged in vain; wherefore, plunged in grief and clinging to the damsel, I seemed to be shut out of the garden.

"A little time after this there was a rumour in the town of a house on fire, and I was roused from sleep to hurry to the spot. Then I learned that the house belonged to one Altobello Bandarini,[50] a captain of the Venetian levies in the district of Padua. I had no acquaintance with him, in sooth I scarcely knew him by sight. Now it chanced that after the fire he hired a house next door to my own, a step which displeased me somewhat, for such a neighbour was not to my taste; but what was I to do? After the lapse of a few days, when I was in the street, I perceived a young girl who, as to her face and her raiment, was the exact image of her whom I had beheld in my dream. But I said to myself, 'What is this girl to me? If I, poor wretch that I am, take to wife a girl dowered with naught, except a crowd of brothers and sisters, it will be all over with me; forasmuch as I can hardly keep myself as it is. If I should attempt to carry her off, or to have my will of her by stealth, there will of a surety be some tale-bearers about; and her father, being a fellow-townsman and a soldier to boot, would not sit down lightly under such an injury. In this case, or in that, it is hard to say what course I should follow, for if this affair should come to the issue I most desire, I must needs fly the place.' From that same hour these thoughts and others akin to them possessed my brain, which was only too ready to harbour them, and I felt it would be better to die than to live on in such perplexity. Thenceforth I was as one love-possessed, or even burnt up with passion, and I understood what meaning I might gather from the reading of my dream. Moreover I was by this time freed from the chain which had held me back from marriage. Thus I, a willing bridegroom, took a willing bride, her kinsfolk questioning us how this thing had been brought about, and offering us any help which might be of service; which help indeed proved of very substantial benefit.

"But the interpretation of my dreams did not work itself out entirely in the after life of my wife; it made itself felt likewise in the lives of my children. My wife lived with me fifteen years, and alas! this ill-advised marriage was the cause of all the misfortunes which subsequently happened to me. These must have come about either by the working of the divine will, or as the recompense due for some ill deeds wrought by myself or by my forefathers."[51]

The dream aforesaid was not the only portent having reference to his marriage. After describing shakings and tremblings of his bed, for which indeed a natural cause was not far to seek, he tells how in 1531 a certain dog, of gentle temper as a rule, and quiet, kept up a persistent howling for a long time; how some ravens perched on the house-top and began croaking in an unusual manner; and how, when his servant was breaking up a faggot, some sparks of fire flew out of the same; whereupon, "by an unlooked-for step I married a wife, and from that time divers misfortunes have attended me."[52] Lucia, the wife of his choice, was the eldest daughter of Altobello Bandarini, who had, besides her, three daughters and four sons. Jerome, as it has been already noted, was possessed with a fear lest he should be burdened by his brothers- and sisters-in-law after his marriage; but, considering that he was a young unknown physician, without either money or patients, and that Bandarini was a man of position and repute, with some wealth and more shrewdness, the chances were that the burden would lie on the other side. Cardan seems to have inherited Fazio's contempt for wealth, or at least to have made a profession thereof; for, in chronicling the event of his marriage, he sets down, with a certain degree of pomposity, that he took a wife without a dower on account of a certain vow he had sworn.[53] If the bride was penniless the father-in-law was wealthy, and the last-named fact might well have proved a powerful argument to induce Cardan to remain at Sacco, albeit he had little scope for his calling. That he soon determined to quit the place, is an evidence of his independence of spirit, and of his disinclination to sponge upon his well-to-do connections. Bandarini, when this scheme was proposed to him, vetoed it at once. He was unwilling to part with his daughter, and possibly he may have taken a fancy to his son-in-law, for Cardan has left it on record that Bandarini was greatly pleased with the match; he ended, however, by consenting to the migration, which was not made without the intervention of a warning portent. A short time before the young couple departed, it happened that a tile got mixed with the embers in Bandarini's bed-chamber; and, in the course of the night, exploded with a loud report, and the fragments thereof were scattered around. This event Bandarini regarded as an augury of evil, and indeed evil followed swiftly after. Before a year had passed he was dead, some holding that his death had been hastened by the ill conduct of his eldest son, and others whispering suspicions of poison.

Jerome and his young wife betook themselves to Milan, but this visit seems to have been fully as unprofitable as the one he had paid in 1529. In that year he had to face his first rejection by the College of Physicians, when he made application for admission; and there is indirect evidence that he now made a second application with no better result.[54] In any case his affairs were in a very bad way. If he had money in his pocket he would not keep long away from the gaming-table; and, with the weight of trouble ever bearing him down more and more heavily, it is almost certain that his spirits must have suffered, and that poor Lucia must have passed many an unhappy hour on account of his nervous irritability. Then the gates of his profession remained closed to him by the action of the College. The pretext the authorities gave for their refusal to admit him was his illegitimate birth; but it is not unlikely that they may have mistrusted as a colleague the son of Fazio Cardano, and that stories of the profligate life and the intractable temper of the candidate may have been brought to them.[55] His health suffered from the bad air of the city almost as severely as before, and Lucia, who was at this time pregnant, miscarried at four months, and shortly afterwards had a second misfortune of the same kind. His mother's temper was not of the sweetest, and it is quite possible that between her and her daughter-in-law there may have been strained relations. Cardan at any rate found that he must once more beat a retreat from Milan, wherefore, at the end of April 1533, he made up his mind to remove to Gallarate.

This town has already been mentioned as chief place of the district, from which the Cardan family took its origin. Before going thither Jerome had evidently weighed the matter well, and he has set down at some length the reasons which led him to make this choice. "Thus, acting under the reasons aforesaid (the family associations), I resolved to go to Gallarate, in order that I might have the enjoyment of four separate advantages which it offered. Firstly, that in the most healthy air of the place I might shake off entirely the distemper which I had contracted in Milan. Secondly, that I might earn something by my profession, seeing that then I should be free to practise. Thirdly, that there would be no need for me to pine away while I beheld those physicians, by whom I reckoned I had been despoiled, flourishing in wealth and in the high estimation of all men. Lastly, that by following a more frugal way of life, I might make what I possessed last the longer. For all things are cheaper in the country, since they have to be carried from the country into the town, and many necessaries may be had for the asking. Persuaded by these arguments, I went to this place, and I was not altogether deceived, seeing that I recovered my health, and the son—who was to be reft from me later on by the Senate—was born to me."[56]

Employment at Gallarate was, however, almost as scarce as it had been at Sacco, wherefore Jerome found leisure in plenty for literary work. He began a treatise on Fate; but, even had this been completed, it would scarcely have filled the empty larder by the proceeds of its sale. More profitable was some chance employment which was given to him by Filippo Archinto,[57] a generous and accomplished young nobleman of Milan, who was ambitious to figure as a writer on Astronomy, and, it may be remarked, Archinto's benefactions were not confined to the payment for the hack work which Jerome did for him at this period. Had it not been for his subsequent patronage and support, it is quite possible that Cardan would have gone under in the sea of adversity.

In spite of the cheapness of provisions at Gallarate, and of occasional meals taken gratis from the fields, complete destitution seemed to be only a matter of days, and just at this crisis, to add to his embarrassments—though he longed earnestly for the event—Lucia was brought to bed with her first-born living child on May 14, 1534. The child's birth was accompanied by divers omens, one of which the father describes, finding therein some premonition of future disaster. "I had great fear of his life until the fifteenth day of June, on which day, being a Sunday, he was baptized. The sun shone brightly into the bed-chamber: it was between the hours of eleven and twelve in the forenoon; and, according to custom, we were all gathered round the mother's bed except a young servant, the curtain was drawn away from the window and fastened to the wall, when suddenly a large wasp flew into the room, and circled round the infant. We were all greatly afeard for the child, but the wasp did him no hurt. The next moment it came against the curtain, making so great a noise that you would have said that a drum was being beaten, and all ran towards the place, but found no trace of the wasp. It could not have flown out of the room, because all eyes had been fixed upon it. Then all of us who were then present felt some foreboding of what subsequently came to pass, but did not deem that the end would be so bitter as it proved to be."[58]

The impulse which drives men in desperate straits to seek shelter in the streets of a city was as strong in Cardan's time as it is to-day. At Gallarate the last coin was now spent, and there was an extra mouth to feed. There seemed to be no other course open but another retreat to Milan. Archinto was rich in literary ambitions, which might perchance stimulate him to find farther work for the starving scholar: and there was Chiara also who would scarcely let her grandchild die of want. The revelation which Cardan makes of himself and of his way of life at this time is not one to enlist sympathy for him entirely; but it is not wanting in a note of pathetic sincerity. "For a long time the College at Milan refused to admit me, and during these days I was assuredly a spendthrift and heedless. In body I was weakly, and in estate plundered by thieves on all sides, yet I never grudged money for the buying of books. My residence at Gallarate brought me no profit, for in the whole nineteen months I lived there, I did not receive more than twenty-five crowns towards the rent of the house I hired. I had such ill luck with the dice that I was forced to pawn all my wife's jewels, and our very bed. If it is a wonder that I found myself thus bereft of all my substance, it is still more wonderful that I did not take to begging on account of my poverty, and a wonder greater still that I harboured in my mind no unworthy thoughts against my forefathers, or against right living, or against those honours which I had won—honours which afterwards stood me in good stead—but bore my misfortunes with mind undisturbed."[59]

Cardan's worldly fortunes were now at their lowest ebb. Burdened with a wife and child, he had found it necessary to return, after a second futile attempt to gain a living by his calling in a country town, to Milan, his "stony-hearted step-mother." If he had reckoned on his mother's bounty he was doomed to disappointment, for Chiara was an irritable woman, and as her son's temper was none of the sweetest, it is almost certain that they must have quarrelled occasionally. It is hard to believe that they could have been on good terms at this juncture, otherwise she would scarcely have allowed him to take his wife and child to what was then the public workhouse of the city;[60] but this place was his only refuge, and in October 1534 he was glad to shelter himself beneath its roof.

There was in Cardan's nature a strong vein of melancholy, and up to the date now under consideration he had been the victim of a fortune calculated to deepen rather than disperse his morbid tendencies. A proof of his high courage and dauntless perseverance may be deduced from the fact that neither poverty, nor the sense of repeated failure, nor the flouts of the Milanese doctors, prevailed at any time to quench in his heart the love of fame,[61] or to disabuse him of the conviction that he, poverty-stricken wretch as he was, would before long bind Fortune to his chariot-wheels, and would force the adverse world to acknowledge him as one of its master minds. The dawn was now not far distant, but the last hours of his night of misfortune were very dark. The worst of the struggle, as far as the world was concerned, was over, and the sharpest sorrows and the heaviest disgrace reserved for Cardan in the future were to be those nourished in his own household.

Writing of his way of life and of the vices and defects of his character, he says: "If a man shall fail in his carriage before the world as he fails in other things, who shall correct him? Thus I myself will do duty for that one leper who alone out of the ten who were healed came back to our Lord. By reasoning of this sort, Physicians and Astrologers trace back the origin of our natural habits to our primal qualities, to the training of our will, and to our occupations and conversation. In every man all these are found in proper ratio to the time of life of each individual; nevertheless it will be easy to discern marked variations in cases otherwise similar. Therefore it behoves us to hold fast to some guiding principle chosen out of these, and I on my part am inclined, as far as it may be allowed, to say with respect to all of them, [Greek: gnothi seauton].

"My own nature in sooth was never a mystery to myself. I was ever hot-tempered, single-minded, and given to women. From these cardinal tendencies there proceeded truculence of temper, wrangling, obstinacy, rudeness of carriage, anger, and an inordinate desire, or rather a headstrong passion, for revenge in respect to any wrong done to me; so that this inclination, which is censured by many, became to me a delight. To put it briefly, I held At vindicta bonum vita jucundius ipsa. As a general rule I went astray but seldom, though it is a common saying, 'Natura nostra prona est ad malum.' I am moreover truthful, mindful of benefits wrought to me, a lover of justice and of my own people, a despiser of money, a worshipper of that fame which defies death, prone to thrust aside what is commonplace, and still more disposed to treat mere trifles in the same way. Still, knowing well how great may be the power of little things at any moment during the course of an undertaking, I never make light of aught which may be useful. By nature I am prone to every vice and ill-doing except ambition, and I, if no one else does, know my own imperfections. But because of my veneration for God, and because I recognize the vanity and emptiness of all things of this sort, it often happens that, of my own free will, I forego certain opportunities for taking revenge which may be offered to me. I am timid, with a cold heart and a hot brain, given to reflection and the consideration of things many and mighty, and even of things which can never come to pass. I can even let my thoughts concern themselves with two distinct subjects at the same time. Those who throw out charges of garrulity and extravagance by way of contradicting any praise accorded to me, charge me with the faults of others rather than my own. I attack no man, I only defend myself.

"And what reason is there why I should spend myself in this cause since I have so often borne witness of the emptiness of this life of ours? My excuse must be that certain men have praised me, wherefore they cannot deem me altogether wicked. I have always trained myself to let my face contradict my thoughts. Thus while I can simulate what is not, I cannot dissimulate what is. To accomplish this is no difficult task if a man cultivates likewise the habit of hoping for nothing. By striving for fifteen years to compass this end and by spending much trouble over the same I at last succeeded. Urged on by this humour I sometimes go forth in rags, sometimes finely dressed, sometimes silent, sometimes talkative, sometimes joyful, sometimes sad; and on this account my two-fold mood shows everything double. In my youth I rarely spent any care in keeping my hair in order, because of my inclination for other pursuits more to my taste. My gait is irregular. I move now quickly, now slowly. When I am at home I go with my legs naked as far as the ankles. I am slack in duty and reckless in speech, and specially prone to show irritation over anything which may disgust or irk me."

The above-written self-description does not display a personality particularly attractive. Jerome Cardan was one of those men who experience a morbid gratification in cataloguing all their sinister points of character, and exaggerating them at the same time; and in this picture, as in many others scattered about the De Vita Propria, the shadows may have been put in too strongly.

In the foregoing pages reference was made to certain acts of benevolence done to Cardan by the family of Archinto. It is not impossible that the promises and persuasions of his young patron Filippo may have had some weight in inducing Jerome to shift his home once more. Whatever befell he could hardly make his case worse; but whether Filippo had promised help or not, he showed himself now a true and valuable friend. There was in Milan a public lectureship in geometry and astronomy supported by a small endowment left by a certain Tommaso Plat, and to this post, which happened opportunely to be vacant, Cardan was appointed by the good offices of Filippo Archinto. Yet even when he was literally a pauper he seems to have felt some scruples about accepting this office, but fortunately in this instance his poverty overcame his pride. The salary was indeed a very small one,[62] and the lecturer was not suffered to handle the whole of it, but it was at least liberal enough to banish the dread of starvation, and his duties, which consisted solely in the preparation and delivery of his lectures, did not debar him from literary work on his own account. Wherefore in his leisure time he worked hard at his desk.

Any differences which may have existed between him and his mother were now removed, for he took her to live with him, the household being made up of himself, his wife, his mother, a friend (a woman), a nurse, the little boy, a man- and maidservant, and a mule.[63] Possibly Chiara brought her own income with her, and thus allowed the establishment to be conducted on a more liberal scale. The Plat lectureship would scarcely have maintained three servants, and Jerome's gains from other sources must have been as yet very slender. His life at this time was a busy one, but he always contrived to portion out his days in such wise that certain hours were left for recreation. At such times as he was called upon to teach, the class-room, of course, had the first claims. After the lecture he would walk in the shade outside the city walls, then return to his dinner, then divert himself with music, and afterwards go fishing in the pools and streams hard by the town. In the course of time he obtained other employment, being appointed physician to the Augustinian friars. The Prior of this Order, Francesco Gaddi, was indeed his first patient of note. He tells how he cured this man of a biennial leprosy after treating him for six months;[64] adding that his labour was in vain, inasmuch as Gaddi died a violent death afterwards. The refusal of the College of Milan to admit him to membership did not forbid him to prescribe for whatever patients might like to consult him by virtue of his Paduan degree. He read voraciously everything which came in his way, and it must have been during these years that he stored his memory with that vast collection of facts out of which he subsequently compounded the row of tomes which form his legacy to posterity. Filippo Archinto was unfailing in his kindness, and Jerome at this time was fortunate enough to attract the attention of certain other Milanese citizens of repute who afterwards proved to be valuable friends; Ludovico Madio, Girolamo Guerrini a jeweller, Francesco Belloti, and Francesco della Croce. The last-named was a skilled jurisconsult, whose help proved of great service in a subsequent litigation between Jerome and the College of Physicians.

All his life long Cardan was a dreamer of dreams, and he gives an account of one of his visions in this year, 1534, which, whether regarded as an allegory or as a portent, is somewhat remarkable. "In the year 1534, when I was as it were groping in the dark, when I had settled naught as to my future life, and when my case seemed to grow more desperate day by day, I beheld in a dream the figure of myself running towards the base of a mountain which stood upon my right hand, in company with a vast crowd of people of every station and age and sex—women, men, old men, boys, infants, poor men and rich men, clad in raiment of every sort. I inquired whither we were all running, whereupon one of the multitude answered that we were all hastening on to death. I was greatly terrified at these words, when I perceived a mountain on my left hand. Then, having turned myself round so that it stood on my right side, I grasped the vines (which, here in the midst of the mountains and as far as the place wherein I stood, were covered with dry leaves, and bare of grapes, as we commonly see them in autumn) and began to ascend. At first I found this difficult, for the reason that the mountain was very steep round the base, but having surmounted this I made my way upward easily. When I had come to the summit it seemed that I was like to pass beyond the dictates of my own will. Steep naked rocks appeared on every side, and I narrowly escaped falling down from a great height into a gloomy chasm. So dreadful is all this that now, what though forty years have rolled away, the memory thereof still saddens and terrifies me. Then, having turned towards the right where I could see naught but a plain covered with heath, I took that path out of fear, and, as I wended thither in reckless mood, I found that I had come to the entrance of a rude hut, thatched with straw and reeds and rushes, and that I held by my right hand a boy about twelve years of age and clad in a grey garment. Then at this very moment I was aroused from sleep, and my dream vanished.

"In this vision was clearly displayed the deathless name which was to be mine, my life of heavy and ceaseless work, my imprisonment, my seasons of grievous terror and sadness, and my abiding-place foreshadowed as inhospitable, by the sharp stones I beheld: barren, by the want of trees and of all serviceable plants; but destined to be, nevertheless, in the end happy, and righteous, and easy. This dream told also of my lasting fame in the future, seeing that the vine yields a harvest every year. As to the boy, if he were indeed my good spirit, the omen was lucky, for I held him very close. If he were meant to foreshadow my grandson it would be less fortunate. That cottage in the desert was my hope of rest. That overwhelming horror and the sense of falling headlong may have had reference to the ruin of my son.[65]

"My second dream occurred a short time after. It seemed to me that my soul was in the heaven of the moon, freed from the body and all alone, and when I was bewailing my fate I heard the voice of my father, saying: 'God has appointed me as a guardian to you. All this region is full of spirits, but these you cannot see, and you must not speak either to me or to them. In this part of heaven you will remain for seven thousand years, and for the same time in certain other stars, until you come to the eighth. After this you shall enter the kingdom of God.' I read this dream as follows. My father's soul is my tutelary spirit. What could be dearer or more delightful? The Moon signifies Grammar; Mercury Geometry and Arithmetic; Venus Music, the Art of Divination, and Poetry; the Sun the Moral, and Jupiter the Natural, World; Mars Medicine; Saturn Agriculture, the knowledge of plants, and other minor arts. The eighth star stands for a gleaning of all mundane things, natural science, and various other studies. After dealing with these I shall at last find my rest with the Prince of Heaven."[66]


[45] "Nec ullum mihi erat relictum auxilium nisi latrunculorum Ludus."—Opera, tom. i. p. 619.

[46] From the formation of the League of Cambrai in 1508 to the establishment of the Imperial supremacy in Italy in 1530, the whole country was desolated by the marching and counter-marching of the contending forces. Milan, lying directly in the path of the French armies, suffered most of all.

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