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VOL. I. 





JEROME CARDAN, confident of being remembered by 
posterity, desired that he should be fully known, and left 
scattered about his writings much material for the bio- 
grapher. The material so liberally furnished has not yet 
been used. Encyclopaedists have for generations told the 
student that the life of this philosopher was one of the 
most curious on record, full of extremes and contradic- 
tions, the most wonderful sense and the wildest nonsense. 
They have adopted the near-sighted views of Gabriel 
Naud^, have accepted sometimes gross errors of fact from 
the Scaligers, and, when they have gone to Cardan him- 
self for information, have rarely carried their research 
farther than the perusal of a work or two. Commonly 
they have been content with a reading of his book on his 


own Life, which is no autobiography , but rather a garrulous 
disquisition upon himself, written by an old man when his 
mind was affected by much recent sorrow. 

In that work Cardan reckoned that he had published 
one hundred and thirty one books, and that he was leaving 
behind him in manuscript one hundred and eleven. It is 
only by a steady search among his extant works, and by 
collecting into a body statements and personal allusions 
which occur in some of them, assigning to each its due 
place, and, as far as judgment can be exercised, its due 
importance, that a complete narrative can be obtained, or 
a right estimate formed of his Life and Character. Of 
such collation this work] is the result; and, although it is 
inevitable that there should be errors and omissions in it, 
since the ground is new, the labour on it has been great, 
and I am but a feeble workman, yet, forasmuch as the 
book is an honest one, in which nothing vital has been held 
back or wrongly told, except through ignorance, and no 
pains have been grudged to make the drawback, on ac- 
count of ignorance, as small as possible, I am not afraid to 
put my trust in the good-nature of the reader who shall 
detect some of its omissions and shortcomings. 

The following sentences, from the notice of Cardan in 
Tiraboschi's History of Italian Literature, fairly represent 


the common feeling with regard to him : " Brlicker 
regrets with reason that nobody has written his life with 

exactitude The wide scope of my own argument 

does not permit me to make any minute researches ; I can 
only say what will be enough to give some notion of this 
most rare man. In the account that he gives of his own 
character, he attributes to himself inclinations that it would 
seem impossible to have co-existing in a single character, 
and at the same time he speaks so much evil of himself, 
that by this only one may see how strange a man he was. 
.... Whoever would suppose that a man foolishly lost 
behind judicial astrology .... a man more credulous 
over dreams than any silly girl, observing them scrupu- 
lously in himself and others a man who believed that he 
had the friendship of a Demon, who by marvellous signs 
warned him of perils a man who himself saw and heard 
things never heard or seen by any other man a man, in 
short, of whom, if we read only certain of his works, we 
may say that he was the greatest fool who ever lived 
who would suppose, I say, that such a man was at the 
same time one of the profoundest and most fertile 
geniuses that Italy has produced, and that he made rare 
and precious discoveries in mathematics and in medi- 
cine? Nevertheless; such was Cardan by the con- 


fession even of those who speak of him with most con- 

Of that candour of self-revelation to which allusion is 
made in the preceding extract, Jerome himself writes: 
" What if I confess my vices; why marvel; am I not a 
man ? And how much more human is it to acknowledge 
than dissemble? What we cloak, we protect; what we 
acknowledge, we confess and avoid. Let, therefore, the 
most sweet love of truth and the most happy conscious- 
ness thereof conquer all dread of infamy, all suspicion of 
calumny 1 ." Elsewhere he says on the same subject and 
we must remember that he did not live in cleanly times 
" What if any one were to address the kings of the earth, 
and say to them, c There is not one of you who does not 
eat vermin and other worse filth of your servants?' In 
what spirit would the speech be taken, though most true? 
What is this but an ignoring of our condition, a determi- 
nation not to know what we do know, to put a thing out 
of our sight by force? So it is with our sins, and all else 
that is filthy, vain, confused, and uncertain in us. Rotten 
apples fall from the best tree. I tell nothing new ; I do 
but tell the naked truth 2 ." Evident enough it is that 

1 Geniturarum Exemplar (ed. 1555), p. 523. 

2 De Vita Propria, cap. xiii. 


Cardan is determined to hide nothing, and it is not less 
evident that he has been ill-rewarded for his frankness. 
Over and over again all self-accusations have been accepted 
and driven home against him, all self-praise has been called 
vanity, and statements of his that appeared to be too 
marvellous have been pronounced untrue. 

But the man of profound genius sometimes wrote, we 
are told, as if he were a fool. His folly may instruct us. 
It belonged bating some eccentricities not to himself 
alone. His age claimed part in it, and bought his books. 
He was the most successful scientific author of his time; 
the books of his that were most frequently reprinted 
being precisely those in which the folly most abounded. 
He was not only the popular philosopher, but also the 
fashionable physician of the sixteenth century. Pope and 
emperor sought him; kings, princes, cardinals, arch- 
bishops were among his patients. There were other 
physicians in those days wise enough to be less credulous 
on many points, but greater wisdom did not win for them 
an equal fame. Cardan obtained a splendid reputation 
wholly by his own exertions, not only because he was a 
man of power and genius, but because he spent much of 
his energy upon ideas that, foolish as they now seem, 
were conceived in the true spirit of his age. He belonged 

viii PREFACE. 

completely to his time. Hence it is that, as a philo- 
sopher, he almost perished with it ; and for the last hun- 
dred years his reputation has existed only as a legend. 

I was first attracted to the study of Cardan, from which 
this work has arisen, by the individuality with which his 
writings are all marked, and the strange story of his life 
reflected in them. The book is twice as large as it was 
meant to be, and still there was matter that might have 
occupied another volume; for as I worked on, I found 
that out of the neglected writings of this old physician it 
was possible to re-construct the history of his career, with 
much minuteness in the kind of detail that would make 
it not only pleasant reading, but also, if rightly done, of 
some use to the student of the sixteenth century. 

Pains have been taken to confine the narrative within 
the strictest bounds. There is not in it an incident, how- 
ever trivial, which has been created or transformed by the 
imagination of the writer. I have kept rigidly to truth, 
and, as was necessary from the nature of the work, have, 
in treating the main subject, referred in notes to the 
authority for every statement. If here and there a little 
fact should happen not. to be so authenticated, I beg to 
assure the reader that it was not set down lightly. I 
have even preserved to a very great extent in my own 


writing Cardan's forms of speech. In support of those 
parts of the book which discuss accessory matters, I have 
thought it enough to indicate in the notes generally from 
what sources information has been got, and, in particular 
cases, to give the exact authority when for any reason it 
has seemed desirable to do so. Citations from the works 
of Cardan have been made, as far as possible, from editions 
published in his lifetime. Of each work, the edition 
used is stated when it is first named; and the paging 
quoted afterwards always belongs to the same issue, if 
no other is mentioned. Where no early copy was to be 
had, reference has been made to the collected works 
issued in 1663 at Paris, by Charles Spon, in ten volumes 

London, March, 1854. 

When the first sheets of this work were printed, I had not 
seen Cardan's third horoscope of himself in the " Genitu- 
rarum Exemplar." I therefore was obliged to conjecture his 
mother's age, and the paternity of three children, whose 
deaths are recorded in vol. i. p. 7. It was, at the same time 
said in a note, that my opinion was insufficiently supported, 
and that it might be wrong. From the horoscope just men- 
tioned, it appears that Cardan's mother was not quite so 
young as I had inferred, though there was still great dis- 


parity between her age and that of Fazio. If her age at 
Jerome's birth was, as he says, thirty -seven, the disparity 
was of nineteen years. He adds, however, that she died on 
the 26th of July, 1537, at the age of seventy ; and if the age 
so given be accurate, she must have been thirty-four years 
old when he was born, and twenty-two years younger than 
Fazio. She was the widow of Antonio Alberio ; and of her 
three children that died of plague soon after Jerome's birth, 
Alberio was the father. They all died within forty days ; two 
of them, within a week after their mother dreamt that they 
had gone to heaven. On the same authority, it may be 
added that Fazio and Clara had another child, a son, which 
diecl at birth. 

A remark upon a trivial point is suggested by the word 
Clara that has just been used. There are few people men- 
tioned in this narrative whose names would not admit of 
being written in more ways than one. I have had to make 
my choice in nomenclature among Latin forms, Latin Ita- 
lianised, old or impure Italian, modern Italian, and Italian 
Englished. In speaking of men not Italians there was often 
a like difficulty. Yery much wishing to avoid pedantry, 
and putting that wish foremost, I have endeavoured to use 
in each case a form that would suit the temper of the book 
without vexing the reader. 

























PUPIL 254 


or rftt 





IN the year 1501 1 , a woman, flying from the plague, 
passed under the gate of Milan which leads out upon the 
road to Pavia 2 . She was a young widow 3 , the daughter 
of a studious man, Giacomo Micheria 4 , and she turned 
her back not only on the plague, but also on a grave 

1 De Consolatione, Lib. iii. (ed. Yen. 1542) p. 74. In the De Pro- 
pria Vita Liber (ed. ex Bibl. Gab. Naudsei, Paris. 1643), cap. ii. p. 7, 
he writes the date 1500 by misprint. The misprint has been some- 
times followed, though facts stated in the same book (as is shown by 
Bayle, who had read no other) correct it, and in every other place in 
his works Cardan writes 1501. See especially the date and hour of 
his birth given by him in his horoscope (Libelli V. De Supplemento 
Almanach. &c. ed. Norimberg. 1547, p. 121), where they are stated to 
be the 24th Sept/ 1501, at forty minutes past six in the afternoon. 
Except the misprint, this coincides with his other statements on the 
subject. See also De Utilitate ex Adversis Capienda (ed, Basil. , 1561), 
Lib. iii. p. 427. 

2 De Libris Propriis eorumque Usu. Liber ultimus. Opera cura 
Spon. Vol. i. p. 96. 

3 Compare notes 1, p. 2, and 1, p. 6. 

4 De Propr. Vit. Lib. (ed. cit.) cap. i. p. 6. 

VOL. I. B 


jurisconsult and mathematician, who was, at that time, 
probably as much an object of aversion to her as the 
plague itself his name was Fazio Cardan 1 . 

Fazio Cardan was a man of note among the learned in 
his neighbourhood, and was then fifty-six years of age 3 . 
At the age of fifty-six he had already become toothless, 
although strong of limb and ruddy of complexion. He 
had good eyes; not in the sense of "Being beautiful, for 
they were white, but in the sense of being useful ; for it 
was said that he could see with them in the night time. 
To his last days to the age of eighty Fazio Cardan 
continued to see objects clearly with the aid of less light 
than his neighbours needed, and required no spectacles. 
As a doctor, both in law and medicine, and member of 
the venerable college of men skilled in law, the white- 
eyed, toothless, stuttering, and round-shouldered mathe- 
matician clothed his healthy body in a purple robe. He 
wore a black skull-cap, which he dared only remove for a 
few minutes at a time, because his skull had suffered 

1 "... natus essem Papise, grassante in urbe nostra peste, turn 
etiam quod mater partum ipsum occultari volebat, nee illius affines 
resciscerent. Pater enim meus, ut Senex ac Jurisconsultus, viduse 
Matris meae pauperis publicas nuptias aversabatur : ipsa vero turpe 
ducebat, quod diceretur non ex coDJuge peperisse." De Libris Propriis. 
Liber ultimus. Opera cura Spon. Vol. i. p. 96. Cardan never defames 
his mother. 

2 He was born at twenty minutes to nine in the morning of the 16th 
of July, 1445. See the date in his horoscope, Libelli V. De Suppl. 
Almanach. &c. (ed. cit.) p. 106. 


damage in his youth, and it had been found necessary to 
remove some pieces of it. The skull may have been 
broken in a fray, for Fazio Cardan was always hot of 
temper 1 . There was also a quick spirit of humour in him, 
but it was not genial; he was careless of money, and a 
ready lender, but he made few friends 2 . He dwelt with 
Euclid in a world of angles and right-angles, and he him- 
self was angular; nevertheless, his heart had rounded 
itself to the love of one man, very different in taste, 
Galeazzo Rosso 3 . As a student, also, he delighted in the 
ingenuity of Gianangelo Salvatico 3 , his pupil and house- 
companion. Rosso, who was a smith, equalled the juris- 
consult in a decided taste for mathematics, and delighted 
him by the ingenuity with which he turned his know- 
ledge to good practical account. 

The knowledge of Fazio, at the same time, had not re- 
mained idle. In the prime of life he had been deliberately 
drawn into print by the booksellers of Milan, who desired 
to publish something profitable to the learned, and applied 
to Fazio Cardan as a man likely to produce for them 

1 De Propria Vita (ed. cit.), cap. iii. p. 10, for the preceding details. 

2 De Utilitate ex Adv. Capiend. (ed. Basil 1561) Lib. iii. pp. 428 

3 De Propr. Vit. cap. iii. p. 11. Galeazzo was by trade a smith. Op. 
cit. cap. xv. p. 71. Salvatico a senator. The smith was an ingenious 
man, who discovered for himself the screw of Archimedes before the 
works of that philosopher had been put into print. He made also re- 
markably well-tempered swords and shot-proof breastplates. De 
Prop. Vit. p. 11. 



judicious matter 1 . He resolved then to edit a work, at 
that time, I think, known only in manuscript, treating of 
rays of light, and of the eye, of reflection, and of allied 
topics, in the form of propositions proved by the aid of 
geometrical diagrams, of which the original author was 
John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury. This book, 
which really deserved promulgation Peckham's Perspec- 
tiva Communis* Fazio took upon himself, as he tells us 
in the dedication to his own edition, the great labour of 
correcting, a work heavy enough for a learned man, most 
heavy therefore for him. It was an arduous undertaking, 
he said, calling for great knowledge of mathematics pre- 

1 " Prospecti va Communi s d. Johannes Archiepiscopi Cantuariensis 

.... ad unguem castigata per Facium Cardanum." Milan, 

1480; p. 1 in the dedication. It begins thus: "In tanta laborura 
cujuscunque generis copia, divino quodam imprimendi artificio com- 
parata, appetentes hujus urbis impressores novi quidquam in medium 
afierre quod esset studiosis non mediocriter profuturum : persuasique 
rnea opera id effici posse : me illud efflagitantes convenerunt." 

2 John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury, born 1240, became a 
minorite friar, and rose through sundry grades of Church preferment 
to his crowning dignity. He bought it of the Pope for 4000 marks, 
which afterwards he risked excommunication by not paying, or by 
paying slowly. He was a man of taste, luxurious, accomplished in 
the learning of the age, and liberal to all but Jews. The Jews he 
persecuted. He died in 1292, and was buried in Canterbury Cathe- 
dral. He left many .works which still exist in MS. Only two 
have profited by the discovery of printing, namely, his Collectanea 
Bibliorum, and his Perspectiva Communis. The last is interesting as 
the first systematic work of the kind, and I find no trace of its having 
passed out of MS. into print before it was published, with additions and 
corrections, by Fazio Cardan. After that date it was re-issued fre- 
quently by other editors at Leipsic in 1504, at Venice in 1505, and 
afterwards at Nuremberg, and Paris, and Cologne. 


paratory to the correction of the original figures and the 
amendment of the text. He knew, however, that a work 
so difficult would at no time be undertaken ; not for 
want of men learned enough Heaven forbid that he 
should be so arrogant as to suppose it! but for the 
trouble's sake, the work, though useful, would remain 
undone. Therefore he, Fazio Cardan, had done it. On 
the threshold of his task, however, since he had great 
need of a patron's countenance, he committed his book to 
one who was as grave as Camillus, as dexterous as Scipio, 
and so on 1 . That was the book, and that was the manner 
of dedication to the book published by "the excellent 
doctor in the arts as well of medicine as law, and most 
experienced mathematician, Fazio Cardano, of Milan, re- 
siding in the venerable college of the Milanese juriscon- 
sults." This offspring of the mind of Fazio was about 
twenty years old 2 when Chiara Micheria, flying for re- 
fuge from the plague to Pavia 3 , took with, her off- 
spring of another kind, to which he also was the father, a 
child yet unborn. 

Whatever pains Fazio had taken to protect his literary 
bantling against any risk of dropping dead into the world, 
the care that preceded the birth of his true child was 

1 Op. cit. In dedication. 

2 Its date of 1480 is assigned on the authority of Burnet. The 
copy in the British Museum has no title-page. 

3 De Libr. Tropr. Ed. ultima. Opera cura Spon. Vol. i. p. 96. 


bestowed in a precisely opposite direction. Chiara (Clara) 
Micheria was still very young 1 , passionate of temper 2 , and 
had quitted Milan in the worst of humours. Medicine 
refused, however, at her bidding or rather at the bidding 
of her bad advisers 3 to fulfil an evil purpose; and at 
Pavia, on the 24th of September 4 , in the year 1501, the 
living child of Fazio Cardan was brought, after a three 
days' labour 5 , through much trouble 6 , silently to light. 
Considering that it was very nearly dead, the nurse 
promptly immersed the infant in a little bath of wine 5 . 
It had already a growth of long dark hair upon its head 5 , 
and it very soon gave evidence of life and strength. That 
it would not die very soon there was great reason, the 
mother knew, to hope or fear, since it is certain that 
longevity becomes often inherited, and she herself a 
short, fat, healthy woman, of a lively wit 2 as well as the 
geometrician, came of long-lived ancestors 7 . 

Let me dwell for a few minutes on this question of the 

1 "Matrem meam Claram Micheriam juvenem vidi, cum admodum 
puer essem." De Consolatione (ed. Ven. 1542), Lib. ii. p. 41. 

2 De Propr. Vit. Lib. p. 11. 

3 " Medicamentum abortivum Alieno mandate bibit." De Ut. ex 
Adv. Cap. (ed. 1561) Lib. iii. p. 427. 

4 See Note 1 on page 1. 

5 De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 427. 

6 " Per vim extractus ut meo supplicio matrem liberarem a morte," 
De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 427. 

7 " Longsevi autem fuere majores nostri." De Propr. Vit. cap. iv. 
pp. 5, 6, for the succeeding details. 


infant's probable longevity. The father of Clara lived 
seventy-five years, and his brother, Angiolo, lived eighty- 
five. In the Cardans, the habitual tenacity of life was 
most remarkable. The grandfather of Fazio, the mathe- 
matician, was another Fazio; he had three sons: Gio- 
vanni, who lived to the age of ninety-four; Aldo, who 
lived eighty-eight years; and Antonio, the father of the 
second Fazio, who lived to the age of eighty-six. Gio- 
vanni, the first of these, uncle to Fazio the scholar, had 
two sons, Antonio and Angiolo, of which the former 
lived to the age of eighty-eight, and the latter very nearly 
reached a hundred. This Angiolo became known to the 
young son of Fazio as a decrepid old man, who, at the 
age of eighty, claimed paternity of two decrepid-looking 
children, and regained his sight. Even of these children 
one lived seventy years. To this enumeration must be 
added Gothardo, a brother to the second Fazio Cardan, 
and uncle of the child, who died eventually at the age of 
eighty-four. Since several of these men were living in 
the year 1501, Clara Micheria could take into her calcu- 
lation a part only of these facts ; there was enough, how- 
ever, in her knowledge to remind her that the unwelcome 
son came of a long-lived stock, and that if he was to be 
accounted a discredit, he would probably discredit her for 
many years to come. 

During the first month of the boy's life his nurse was 


seized by the plague, and died under its touch in a few 
hours 1 . The infant did not pass unscathed, for there 
appeared at the same time five carbuncles on its face; one 
on the nose, the other four arranged around it in the 
pattern of a cross. Although healing in a short time, it 
was observed that three years afterwards these carbuncles 
appeared again in the same places 3 . Deprived of his 
nurse, and little aided by his mother, the son of Fazio 
Cardan was received into the house of Isidore dei Resti 3 , 
a noble gentleman, his father's friend. At that time the 
geometer was burying in Milan all his other children 
dead of plague. They were two boys and a girl, half- 
brothers and half-sister to Clara's child 4 . In the house 
of Isidore, the survivor says, speaking of the past out of 
his after-life, and tincturing his words with the bitter- 
ness of many griefs, " After a few days I fell sick of a 
dropsy and flux of the liver, yet nevertheless was pre- 

* De Propr. Vit. cap. iv. p. 12. 

2 The page last cited and De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 427. 

a De Propr. Vit. p. 13. De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 427. 

4 De Consolatione (ed. Ven. 1542), p. 74. Their names were 
Thomas, Ambrose, and Catilina. De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 427. The 
passage in the De Consolatione, "jam trimestris duos fratres et unam 
sororem perdidi : crassante in civitate nostra pestilentia . . . tune 
audaci et pio facto Is. Kestse nobilis viri et amici paterni, manibus ejus 
inter funera exceptus . . ." is my only textual authority for attributing 
these children to Fazio. It is indecisive, and I may be wrong. They 
may have been children left as consolations to the widow. If so, Clara 
must have married very early. Had they belonged equally to Fazio 
and Clara, one does not see why in the case of Jerome his mother 


served, whether through the wrath or mercy of God I 
know not 1 ." 

Thus environed by the plague-spots, physical and moral, 
which belong to an unwholesome period of human- history, 
began the life of which we are about to trace the current. 
Out of the peace of our own homes let us look back with 
pity on the child whose birth made no man happy, and 
whose first gaze into the world was darkened by a mother's 

should have endeavoured to keep a knowledge of his birth from her 
relations, or why she should, in expectation of a fourth child, desire 
abortion, and resent the fact that Fazio was not known to the public as 
her husband. (See note 1, p. 2.) Besides, if her relations with Eazio 
were thus of some years' standing, how old was her widowhood ? and 
could she still be "juvenis" when Jerome was a boy old enough to be 
told of her unhappiness, and of her wish (DeConsolatlone, p. 41) that 
she had died when he was born ? 

1 De Consolatione (ed. Ven. 1542), Lib. iii. p. 74. 




AFTER the death of its first nurse by plague, Clara 
Micheria had returned for a short time to her infant 1 , but a 
new mother having been hired for it, she again obtained 
exemption from her burden. The nurse, who in the 
second month of the child's life became the third to whom 
it clung as to a mother, did not accept her charge without 
due knowledge of the fact that it had been kissed by the 
very plague itself, and bore the marks upon its countenance. 
To the new nurse, therefore, the baby was delivered by 
Isidoro dei Resti, naked and wet, out of a warm bath of 
vinegar. With clothes, infection might have gone into 
the poor woman's family so men 5 at any rate, believed 
the clothes, therefore, were burnt ; vinegar, it was hoped, 
would disinfect the child. 

By this nurse the "child was taken to Moirago, a place 
distant about seven miles from Milan, on the road from 
Pavia to Binasco. The infant did not thrive under her 

1 De Propr. Vit. Lib. (ed. Naudsei), pp. 12,"13, for the facts stated in 
this and the succeeding page. 


care. It may have carried with it some seeds of disease ; 
it most probably found little that was wholesome in the 
squalid hut to which it was removed; perhaps, as they 
who paid for the child said, the woman herself was not 
competent to play the part of mother in a wholesome way 1 . 
Certainly, the little body wasted, and acquired the hard 
and swollen belly, which at that time in Italy, as it is 
now in England, was too well known to the sight and 
touch of men, who in vain sought to supply with drugs 
the want of healthy homes among the poor. Though the 
child was not loved, there existed in the mind of nobody 
a criminal desire that it should die; and since, therefore, 
it wasted at the breast of its third mother, a fourth was 
hired, under whose care its health improved. With this 
nurse the boy remained still at Moirago and by her he 
was weaned in the third year of his life. In the next 
year, Clara Micheria claimed him at last, and took the son, 
who had learned to prattle at the knees of strangers, home 
to her own sad lodging in Milan. The doubtful charac- 
ter of Fazio's relation to her she a girlish widow, he a 
toothless old geometer, aged sixty filled her life with 
shame and sorrow, and a frequent theme of her discourse 
to the child was a desire that she had died when he was 
born 2 . 

1 " Quod nutrix utero gereret." De Propr. Vit. p. 13. 

2 De Consolatione, p. 41. 


Clara Micheria was not at that time resident under the 
roof of Fazio Cardan 1 . The laudatory verses sung in 
honour of the literary offspring of the grave jurisconsult, 
had ended with a distich in his praise, of which the literal 
translation is, that " in this man the house of Cardan re- 
joices. One man has acquired a knowledge of everything. 
Our age has not his equal 3 ." Probably this man, who had 
learned everything, was not, in the year 1505, acquainted 
with the voice of his own child, that had been four years 
in the world and never sat upon his knee. The rejoicing 
of the house of Cardan was not great in the person of the 
little fellow who, after his removal to. Milan, was perpetu- 
ally beaten by his mother and her sister, Margherita, who 
dwelt with her: "A woman," he says afterwards, "who 
I believe must have been herself without a skin," so little 
was her mercy for the skin of Clara's child 3 . 

The hands of three persons at Milan were against the 
child, for Fazio Cardan, though not residing in one house 
with Clara, now came into habitual communication with 

1 De Propr. Vit. p. 13. Statements in this and the next page to 
which no note is attached are dependent on the same authority. 

2 " Magna ratis magno curanda est remige. Deerat 

Navita. Nunc Facius talia damna levet. 
Hoc Cardana viro gaudet Domus. Omnia novit 
Unus. Habent nullum secula nostra parem." 

Prospectiva Comm. d. Joh. Archiep. Cant, per 
Fac. Cardan. Milan. 1480. Last page. 

3 " Mulier cui fel defuisse existimo." De Propr. Vit. p. 13. 


him, and administered a due share of the prickliest paternal 
discipline. The ill-treatment of the neglected boy was not, 
however, constant though the hands of his father and 
mother were against him, their hearts were with him he 
was, on the whole, treated less unkindly than before. His 
parents had ill-regulated tempers, and the child became 
the victim of the passions out of which he was unluckily 
begotten 1 . Flagellation from his father and his mother, 
and his pitiless aunt, Margherita, impressed upon his 
memory three miserable years after his first arrival at 
Milan. At the end of those years, when his age was 
seven, and he had often been brought even to the point 
of death by the results of too incessant punishment, a 
respite followed. Father, mother, and Aunt Margaret 
perceived that the weak child, who had up to this time 
been suffering from a long series of bodily distempers, 
could be knocked about no longer without certain danger 
to his life; and so it happened, as the boy himself ex- 
pressed it afterwards, that when he became old enough to 
do things by which he could fairly merit blows, it was 
found requisite to leave off beating him. 

In that after-life, to which allusion has been made just 
now, I ought to say at once, that the son is never to be 

1 " Ambobus parentibus commune fuit iracundus esse, parum con- 
stanter etiam in amore filii." De Propr. Vit. p. 11. 

2 " Turn primum cum merito possem verberibus dignus haberi, a 
yerberibus abstinendum decreverunt." De Propr. Vit. p. 13. 


found referring with unfilial bitterness to either of his 
parents. He always avoids making any express statement 
that would reflect positive dishonour on his mother 1 ; and 
both of her and of his father he speaks often with a re- 
verent affection 2 . He speaks more frequently, however, 
of his father, whom he certainly preferred, although he 
does not venture much beyond the remark made in an ir- 
resolute way on one occasion, that " my father appeared to 
me (if such a thing may be said) better and more loving 
than my mother 3 ." 

There was a rest then from blows for the sick child 
when he had attained his seventh year, but sorrow only 
laid aside one shape to reappear and vex him in another 4 . 
When the boy had first been brought to Milan, he had 
lodged with his aunt and mother in the Via dell' Arena 5 , 
by the Pavian gate, and they had afterwards removed 

1 See a curious example in page 2, note 1. He evades there and 
everywhere the direct statement that his mother was married, but in 
that passage leads up to the inference that she had been married pri- 
vately. In the same spirit he says, when he relates his exclusion from 
the College of Physicians on the ground of illegitimacy, that he was 
rejected * suspicione oborta quod (tarn male a patre tractatus^spurius 
essem." De Consolatione, Lib. iii. p. 75. That his tenderness was not 
towards himself is shown by the whole tenor of his life. He would, 
for himself, rather have taken a perverse pleasure in the proclamation 
of a fact that rubbed respectability against the grain. 

2 See especially De Util. ex Adv. Cap. Lib. iii. p. 430. 

3 De Propr. Vit. p. 12. 

4 "Mala sors minime me deseruit, infortunium commutavit non 
sustulit." De Propr. Vit. p. 13. . 

5 De Propr. Vit. cap. xxiv. p. 92. 


into a street called Del Maino, opposite the citadel, where 
they were in the house of Lazzaro Soncino 1 , a physician. 
A physician was a very fitting landlord for the boy, at 
any rate ; and it may possibly have been to the representa- 
tions of Lazzaro Soncino that the child was indebted for 
the resolve taken by his friends that he was to be flogged 
no longer. Very soon after this resolve was taken, a great 
change took place in the arrangements that existed among 
the high powers that presided over the boy's worldly 
destiny. Clara Micheria, with Margaret, her sister, 
removed to a lodging in the Via dei Rovelli, which 
they shared with Fazio Cardan 2 . Some semblance of a 
home, as childhood is accustomed to interpret home, was 
now, for the first time, placed within the knowledge of 
the young pupil of sorrow. Father and mother dwelt 
under one roof with him ; the home meant little more. 
It was no place of laughter, or caresses, or of childish 
sport. Fazio needed an attendant who should walk about 
with him while he was engaged upon his daily business, 
carrying his books and papers, or whatever else the 
learned lawyer needed to take with him when he went 
abroad. To this work the work of a servant Clara's 
child was put without delay 3 . Margaret and Clara being 

1 De Propr. Vit. cap. xxiv. p. 92. 

2 De Propr. Vit. p. 13, comp. with p. 92. 

3 " Inde" (ab octavo) " loco servi patrem ad decimum nonum annum 
perpetuo comitabar." De Consolatione (ed. Ven. 1542), Lib. iii. p, 74. 


settled, to their satisfaction doubtless, in the lodging of the 
great mathematician and jurisconsult, the fragile boy of 
seven years old was ordered daily to attend upon his father 
when he.went abroad; so young and weak of body, taken 
from a life of close confinement to be put to work that 
involved severe and constant bodily exertion 1 . With 
weary limbs and throbbing head, the little fellow daily 
toiled after his father, revolving in his mind such thoughts 
as suffering and sickness teach to children who have been 
trained in no school but theirs. 

The boy I am compelled to speak of him as boy, or 
child, or little fellow, because, though he had now lived 
in the world for seven years, it does not appear that he had 
yet been christened the boy was contemplative 2 . Minds 
that are born rich, that possess a soil originally fertile, 
gain very often by the griefs of a tormented childhood ; 
these increase for after-seasons the producing power they 
are as the torments of the plough. It is not so with the 
barren-minded who are born to sorrow and neglect ; ? what 
little growth there is in them the plough uproots, and 
there is only a dry life year by year until the end. The 

Yet how delicately he seeks often to veil the recollection of his father's 
harshness ! As, for example, when he refers to it thus : " Ex hoc in 
paternam, ut tune rebar, servitutem duram transii." De Ut. ex Adv. 
Capiend. Lib. iii. p. 428. 

1 De Propr. Vita Liber, p. 13. 

2 " Caepi quam primum cogitare an via esset aliqua ut immortales 
evaderemus." De Libris Propriis. Liber ultimus. Opera cura Spon. 
Vol. i. p. 96. 


child of Fazio Cardan inherited much innate power: from 
his father, aptitude for exact learning ; from his mother, 
much vivacity of wit. During these years of early hard- 
ship, though he sickened and suffered, he was forced into 
communion with his own mind by the want of sympathy 
abroad, and a development was taking place that was not 
indeed healthy, but that had such charms in it as might 
have been attractive even to the intellect of Fazio, if the 
mathematician could have known how to work out the 
problem that was offered to him in the spirit of his child. 
He did not work it out ; and so, during the summer 
days, under a southern sky, the bey struggled unnoticed 
behind his father through the hot streets of Milan. 

Intellect at seven years old rarely suggests to any child 
that fruit should not be eaten until it is ripe ; and when 
the child has a disordered stomach it will fasten upon 
green things with the relish of a caterpillar. In the midst 
of his fatigue and sickness, when his body was quite 
ready for another outbreak of disease, the son, or foot-page, 
of the learned Fazio Cardan, then commencing his eighth 
year, at a time when an epidemic, if not pestilence, was 
raging in the town, ate secretly a great feast of sour 
grapes 1 . They supplied the one thing that was needed 
to produce an outbreak of the fever that had long been 
waiting for some slight exciting cause. Dysentery and 

1 De Propr. Vita, p. 14.; 
VOL. I. C 


fever seized the child, and between them they were kill- 
ing it 1 . The old geometer he was then sixty-four years 
old had learned to feel that there was something to be 
valued in his boy, therefore both physic and divinity were 
summoned to his aid. Two physicians, Barnabo della 
Croce and Angelo Gira 1 , and one saint, St. Jerome, were 
called into request. The old man was accustomed to 
assert that he enjoyed a favour which had been conferred 
on Socrates and others in being benefited by the society 
and advice of a familiar demon 2 . He did not apply, 
however, to the demon for a prescription in his son's case, 
but more piously devoted him to the most holy and most 
happy St, Jerome, whom he elected to be his godfather 
and his tutelary saint, upon condition that St. Jerome, by 
his intercession, would procure the boy's return to health 1 . 
Why Fazio chose Jerome for his saint it is not possible to 
tell; but it happened that he was lodging in the house of 
one Ermenulfo 3 , who had Girolamo for his own baptismal 
name, and I am inclined to think that Ermenulfo as men 
in our day recommend to one another their own tea- 
dealers or tailors recommended to the lodgers his 
own patron saint. The boy recovered, and the father, 

1 De Propr. Vita, p. 14. 

2 He said it had attended him for thirty-eight years. De Ut. ex 
Adv. Cap. p. 428. De Propr. Vit. p. 14. 

3 De Propr. Vit. cap. xxiv. p. 92. There may he something to the 
purpose in the fact, that there was a large religious house dedicated to 
St. Jerome situated between the Pavian and Vercelline gates. 


faithful to his promise, caused him to receive the name of 
Girolamo, or Jerome 1 . This took place in the eighth 
year of the boy's life. Up to my eighth year, says 
Cardan, I had often beaten at the gates of death, but 
those within refused to open to me 2 . He was newly risen 
from his bed in May of the year 1509. In the same 
year, on the 14th of the same month, the French gained 
a victory over the Venetians near the Adda. Jerome 
Cardan remembered afterwards that he was recovering 
from that most serious attack when the French celebrated 
their triumph at Milan for the battle of the Adda, and 
that he was then permitted to go to the window and look 
out upon the spectacle. 

Thin, pale, and very thoughtful, little Jerome leaned 
against the open window, and from the gloom of his own 
chamber looked down on the helmets, swords, and banners 
of the military pageant, glittering along the street under 
the light of the May sun. While the noise of military 
music and the tramping of the horses shook the whole 
house in which they lived, how little did it come into 
the thoughts of Fazio Cardan, Aunt Margaret, or Clara, 
that the glitter and the bustle of the triumph out of 

1 DePropr. Vit. p. 14. 

2 De TJtiL ex Adversis Capiend. pp. 427, 428. The summary there 
given is touching: " Inde lac prsegnantis hausi, per varies matrices lac- 
tatus ac jactatus, hydrope, febribus, aliisque morbis conflictatus sum, 
donee sub fine octavi anni ex dysenteria ac febre usque ad mortis 
limina perveni; pulsavi ostium, sed non aperuerequi intro erant." 



doors were but a parade of folly; that the recovery of 
health by their weak boy would interest posterity much 
more than anything that had been done or would be 
done by the strong army out of doors. For war, that 
can be noble, was in those days altogether witless, and the 
pen-work even of the worst dunce among philosophers 
could scarcely fail to display more sense than the sword- 
work of the cleverest among the captains. 




MARGARET of Austria : daughter of Maximilian ; sister 
of the Archduke Philip; aunt of Charles, then Duke of 
Luxembourg, afterwards Emperor Charles V; governor, 
for her nephew, of the Netherlands ; widow of Jean of 
Castille the son of Ferdinand ; widow also of Philibert of 
Savoy: acting on behalf of Maximilian and Ferdinand, 
had at Cambray concluded a league with the Cardinal 
d'Amboise, who acted on behalf of the Pope and of the 
King of France. By this league it was agreed to enlarge 
the borders of the French king's Milanese territory, by 
cutting off and appropriating the borders of the territory 
of the too prosperous Venetian republic. In the year 
1509 the head of the Church began the enterprise by 
issuing monitions which bestowed the coveted lands on 
the first neighbour who seized them. Louis XII, King 
of France, entered Italy with thirty thousand men, and 
was allowed to cross the river Adda by which his Milanese 
duchy was parted from Venetian ground. On the other 


side a battle was soon fought near a village called Agna- 
dol, the Venetians were routed, and without more contest 
driven into Venice. The campaign, therefore, was soon 
ended. This was the victory of the Adda celebrated by 
a triumphal entry into Milan in the eighth year of Jerome 
Cardan's life. 

Louis XII, predecessor of King Francis I. of France, 
was a monarch of whom it is just to speak respectfully. 
He sought the welfare of his people. When, on the 
occasion of this brief Venetian campaign, he found his 
warfare so soon ended that he should not need the special 
taxes he had levied, he remitted them, and left the money 
in the pockets of his subjects. He detested all the arts 
which darkened counsel by a multitude of words, and ex- 
pressed frequently so great an aversion to the sight of a 
lawyer's bag 1 , that had the little Jerome, when he saw the 
king pass by under his window, known of the existence 
of that strong point in his character, he would have spent 
some part of his recovered health in lusty cheering. Who 
had so full a right as little Jerome to cheer kings who 
hated lawyers' bags ? 

The great delicacy of health which followed the child's 
illness procured for him exemption from the task of carry- 

1 " Kien n'offense plus ma vue que la rencontre d'un procureur charge 
de ses sacs." Words of Louis XII, quoted by Anquetil from Claude 
Seyssel, Bishop of Marseilles, a subject who was much in the king's 


ing the bag of Fazio, and from all serious labour for a time 1 . 
During this period of convalescence, when he was living 
in the street Dei Maini, the weak boy fell from a ladder 
with a hammer in his hand, and was taken up with a 
serious wound, in which the bone was injured at the upper 
part of his forehead, on the left side 2 . The scar left by 
the wound remained visible throughout the whole of his 
after-life 2 . He had recovered from this blow, when one 
day, as he was sitting on the threshold of his father's door, 
a tile fell from the roof of a high adjoining house, and 
wounded him on the top of his head, again on the left 
side 3 . When Jerome was in tolerable health, his father 
fagged him ; when sickness gave him liberty to idle, these 
accidents disturbed his rest. He had no breast at home 
that he could lay his head upon in perfect peace ; he saw 
passions at work about him, or felt them at work upon him 
from the first, chafing his fresh heart, and checking the 
free outward current of his thoughts. His wit was of the 
quickest, and his nature sensitive ; he felt every slight, and 
soon began to brood over the wrongs he suffered, to pre- 
serve in stillness his own thoughts of impatience at in- 
justice, and acquired that unwholesome self-consciousness 
that is too often forced into the minds of clever children, 
not only by too much praise, but also by unjust neglect. 

1 De Propr. Vit. p. 14. 

2 De Util. ex Adr. Capiend. p. 428. De Propr. Vit. pp. 14, 15. 

3 De Propr. Vita Liber, p. 15. 


He who was mocked so often, he would beat through the 
bands they tied about his heart, he would do some great 
thing that should command the homage due to his nature, 
not the less because he was a child. At the beginning of 
Jerome's tenth year 1 , his father moved to another house in 
the same street, which he occupied for three years, and 
during those three years Jerome again carried the lawyer's 
bag, Fazio insisting upon the use of the child's service 
with great pertinacity, the mother and the aunt con- 
senting 1 . 

The position of young Jerome was, however, about this 
time improved ; his father had certainly grown kinder 1 , 
warmed very probably towards him by the signs of intel- 
lect that he exhibited, and by ,the readiness with which 
he picked up information, even about the geometrician's 
darling studies 2 . There came also two nephews of Fazio, 
one after the other, who shared Jerome's labour, either 
serving in his place, or lightening his work, so that some- 
times he was not called upon to go abroad at all, or, if he 
went, he would not have so much to do 1 . Then there 
were other changes of abode 1 ; first to the Via del 
Cusani, and afterwards, until the completion of his six- 
teenth year, Jerome lived with his father in the house of 
a relation, Alessandro Cardan. 

1 DeFropr. Vita Liber, p. 15. 

2 De Ut. ex Adv. Capiend. Lib. iii. p. 429. 


It was at the time when, as Jerome tells us, the first 
down was coming on his chin 1 , that the premature death 
of a young relative, Nicolo Cardan, gave a fixed object 
to the tumult of his thoughts. Nicolo died at the age of 
thirty 3 , and his place knew him no more. The young 
philosopher began, therefore, to reflect upon the shortness 
of life, and to inquire by what means he might be able to 
provide something worthy to be remembered by posterity ; 
it pained him to think that, after a life spent without 
pleasure in the flesh, he should go down into the grave 
and be forgotten 2 . When he had recovered from the 
terror into which he had been thrown by witnessing the 
young man's death, he occupied himself in the writing of 
a treatise On the Earning of Immortality 2 . 

The sense of power, without which no genius can bear 
fruit, was rooted firmly in Cardan. The slights and sor- 
rows that had made the outer world in childhood and in 
youth seem vanity, had driven him to contemplation of 
that inner world from which there was no pleasant voice 
to call his thoughts. Self-contemplation, constantly pro- 
voked and never checked, acquired a feverish intensity. 
After the death of his friend Nicolo, when Jerome, with 
warm passions, found himself at home but half a son, and 

1 " Cum adhuc ephebus essem." De Sapientia Libri V. &c. &c. (ed. 
Norimb. 1543) p. 420. 

2 De Libris Propriis (ed. Lugd. 1557), p. 10. 


out of doors regarded as a questionable comrade 1 , a young 
man with no lawful parents and no prospects, hearing his 
mother reproached coarsely for his birth 3 , holding the posi- 
tion of a servant, with no visible means of escape from it, 
we feel that there is something touching in the pride of 
loneliness on which his heart depended for its solace: 
"As much as it was permitted me," he tells us afterwards, 
"I lived to myself; and, in some hope of future things, 
despised the present 3 ." 

Jerome had been instructed by his father 4 in reading, 
writing, and arithmetic, in geometry, in some astrology, 
and had learnt also in the same company to chatter Latin; 
but he was nineteen years old 5 before Fazio consented to 
his earnest wish that he might study thoroughly that 
language then the only tongue used by ] the learned 
and endeavour to make use of his abilities. The taste for 
mathematics communicated to him by his father, Cardan 
always retained. When in his fresh youth he became 
eager to obtain a name that should not die, and must 

1 But, he says : " Ubi adeptus literas Latinas, statim etiam in urbe 
nostra cognitusTuL" De Vita Propria, cap. xxxii. p. 138. 

2 " Apud patrein longam servitutem sustinui, et pro spurio ab illo 
jactatus, etiam indecora matri simul audiebam." Dial, de Morte. 
Opera, Tom. i. p. 676. 

3 "Itaque quam licuit vixi mihi; et in aliqua spe futurorum praesen- 
tia sprevi." De Propr. Vit. cap. ix. p. 42. 

4 De UtiL ex Adv. Capiend. p. 428. De Propr, Vit. cap. xxxiv. 
p. 155. 

5 De Libris Propriis (ed. Lugd. 1557), p. 9. 


needs sit down at once to write a treatise, and so make 
the best beginning that he could of the career to which 
his aspirations tended, there was no subject that lay 
nearer to his mind than the geometry he gathered from 
his father's teachings and his father's books. The boy, 
therefore, worked diligently at a little book in his own 
language, since he could write no Latin, wherein he 
taught how and why, the latitude and longitude of two 
places or stars being known, their true distance from each 
other may be calculated 1 . This little treatise was divided 
into chapters, and was chiefly founded on a book of 
Geber's 1 . Having achieved this his first work, Jerome 
was rather proud to lend it to a friend, Agostino Lavi- 
zario, of Como. To the disappointment of posterity, and 
the chagrin of the author, Lavizario died of plague, and 
Jerome's manuscript could never be recovered 3 . 

But the zeal of the young aspirant for immortal honours 
had not been content with labour on a single work 3 ; 
another book had been commenced about the same time, 
more original in its design, and more ambitious, more 
peculiarly characteristic. As Cardan grew, his restless- 
ness increased. He felt aggrieved when, at the age of 
eighteen, full of strong powers and strong passions, he 
still found himself compelled into a half-menial position, 

1 De Libris Propriis (ed. Lugd. 1557), p. 9. 

~ De Libris Propriis (ed. 1557), pp. 9, 10. DeL.P. Liber ult. Opera, 
vol. i. p, 96. 

3 De SapientiaLibri V. &c. &c. (ed. Norimb. 1543) p. 431. 


and denied the education for which he was thirsting. 
His want of proper standing had become more obvious, 
and the reason of it, with a galling frequency, was on the 
lips of his companions. His health was bad, his home 
was uncongenial, out of doors he was in a wrong position. 
He had become proud, and so sensitive, that his spirit 
suffered pain from any but the gentlest touch. Worldly 
advancement seemed impossible, restlessness became reck- 
lessness, and the neglected youth turned all the energy that 
was not spent in nursing his ambition upon games of 
chance. He brought his acquired taste for mathematics 
to the gaming-table, and calculated nicely probabilities in 
cards and dice 1 . When, afterwards, a sure object in life 
presented itself, quitting the company of gamblers, he 
pursued it steadily; but in the hopeless, miserable years 
of energy that saw no outlet, and of reckless discontent, 
there was no game played in his day with dice at which 
Jerome Cardan did not become proficient. Meanwhile, 
the philosophic bias was not weaker than the passions of 
those miserable years. The young gambler's experiences 
were all treasured for a philosophic use, while scientific 
calculations were submitted to the test of practice; for 
this other work, begun in early youth, and finished at the 
age of twenty-three, was nothing less than an original 
and elaborate treatise on the science that belongs to 

1 De Propria Vita, p. 16. The authority remains the same for all 
succeeding facts, until its change is indicated by another reference. 


games of chance. The idea was a shrewd one, and the 
execution of it curiously brought into play all the charac- 
teristic features of its author's life. It displayed much 
of the knowledge he had acquired from the old geome- 
trician Fazio, the philosophic powers that had grown 
and strengthened in the midst of all misfortune and 
neglect, and the love of dice that represented the im- 
patient and ill-regulated spirit that so much want of 
sympathy had by this time begotten. 

We who have seen the growth of this one child from 
the knees of its hired mothers, and the hand of its hard 
Aunt Margaret, up to a youth of galling servitude, refuse 
to be harsh judges now. If we could trace back the stories 
of the men who sin against us or before us in the world, 
perhaps we should refuse to be harsh judges ever. There 
is no truth in scorn, and there is no sadder aspect in the 
life of Jerome Cardan than the feeling which impelled 
him to say, " I have lived to myself, and in some hope of 
future things I have despised the present." 

A rare example of the contempt of things present was 
offered during Jerome's youth by Fazio, his father. Fazio, 
who was, it should be remembered, seventy- four years old 
when his son's age was eighteen, had two nephews, sister's 
sons, little younger than himself; and of these, one was a 
Franciscan friar, and the other a tax-gatherer; one a 
Pharisee, the other a publican. The friar, seventy years 


old, was named Evangelista ; the other nephew, Ottone 
Cantone, the tax-gatherer, was very rich, and when on 
his death-bed offered to bequeath his wealth to the young 
Jerome. It was the one worldly gift that fortune offered 
to him in his early life, a bequest by which he would have 
been enabled to obtain for himself education, and to carry 
out his most ambitious schemes of study. Fazio, however, 
acting on his son's behalf, refused the legacy, declaring that 
the money was ill-gotten. The despised publican died, 
therefore, intestate, and his property passed into the hands 
of his surviving brother, the friar, who, being forbidden 
to acquire wealth for himself, of course devoted it to pious 

The geometer's contempt of wealth did not include a 
contempt of the homage he might earn to himself from 
younger relations, as a man who would leave one day a 
will behind him 1 . Jerome's health being delicate, it 
pleased his father to excite the reverence of other young- 
men in the family, by telling them that in the event of 
his son's death this or that one of them would be his heir. 
It was a weak way of boasting, and hazardous withal; 
for in those days, although it was not much more likely 
than it is now that young men would allow generous 
blood to take a jaundice from exposure to such influ^ 
encing, yet there were thousands of calculating fathers 
1 De Util. ex Adr, Capiend. p. 429. 


not indisposed to carve out a fortune for themselves or for 
their children with the knife of the assassin, or to find 
quiet means of hastening the decease of any sickly youth 
by whom their way was cumbered. This manner of 
talking, therefore, on the part of the old man, not only 
vexed Jerome, but also seriously alarmed his mother, and 
was the occasion of much violent altercation between 
Fazio and Clara. They even agreed to separate. In one 
of these quarrels the passionate woman fell down in a fit, 
striking her head violently against a paving-stone, and 
lay for three hours insensible, and foaming at the mouth 1 . 
The son diverted the attention of his parents from the 
dispute, of which he was the centre, by simulating a 
religious zeal, betaking himself to the Franciscans 2 , and 
making suddenly a bold push to secure for himself proper 
instruction. His mother, however, would not suffer that 
he should hide himself from her under the monk's cowl 3 . 
Having denied to him that easy opportunity of getting 
forward in the world which the legacy of Ottone Cantone 
would have afforded, it would have been cruel indeed had 
Fazio continued to withhold from his son those elements 
of education that were necessary to his labour for his own 
subsistence. Jerome had learnt no trade or profession, 

1 De Util. ex Adv. Capiend. p. 429. 

2 Ibid. De Consolatione, p. 74. 

3 " Metuentis matris orbitatem precibus exoratus pater," De Con- 
solatione, p. 74. 


and both from his nature, and from the imperfect training 
he had hitherto received, it was evident that he could 
earn his living only as a scholar. The old man also had 
not failed to recognise the good abilities his boy possessed, 
while it was certain that his quick wit could be turned to 
no account, that he might as well not think at all among 
philosophers, while he was unable to write his thoughts 
in Latin. At length, therefore, when he was nineteen 1 
years old, he was, for the first time, released from bondage 
in his father's house, and sent to study at a university. 

1 De ConsoL p. 74. De Propr. Vit. p, 16. 




THE spirit of the young Cardan, housed within its 
temple of the flesh, suffered, in contact with the world 
about it, such discouragements. The story of his outer 
life up to his nineteenth year is told in the preceding 
chapters. We must now put a finger on his pulse. The 
day may come when somebody shall teach us how to 
estimate the sum of human kindness that proceeds from 
good digestion and a pure state of the blood the dis- 
putes and jealousies that owe their rise entirely to the 
livers of a number of the disputants or how much fret- 
fulness, how many outbursts of impatience, how much 
quick restlessness of action, is produced by the condition 
of the nervous matter. Such calculations, though we 
cannot make them in the gross, we make, or ought to 
make, instinctively when we become intimate with indi- 
viduals. The physical life of a man cannot be dissociated 
fairly from his intellectual and moral life, when we at- 
tempt to judge him by the story of his actions. In the 

VOL. I. D 


case of Jerome Cardan, it is more than commonly essen- 
tial that we know a little of the body that he carried to 
his work, for its unsoundness influenced his conduct and 
caused many a wise man to shrug his shoulders, both 
among contemporaries and long afterwards, and even to 
this day, over the question, " Had he not madness in his 
composition 1 ?" 

As there are few, even of the rosiest among us, who 
have bodies absolutely free from all trace of disease or 
malformation, perfect health of body being a most rare 
condition, so it is with perfect health of mind. Every 
excess of one class of ideas over the just proportion in- 
volves loss of balance. Before reasoning can master the 

1 " Verum extremes amentia fuit, imo impiae audaciae," reported 
Thuanus, in the History of his own time, Lib. Ixii. Tom. iii. p. 462, ed. 
Lond. 1733. Gabriel Naude', a famous bookworm, wrote an elaborate 
but shallow criticism on Cardan, which he prefixed to the book de Vita 
Propria, first edited by him in 1642. As an analyst of character Nau- 
daeus does not shine ; but this criticism, based on a minute knowledge 
of his whole works, being bound up with the only one of Cardan's books 
usually read, has been taken for just by, I think, every succeeding 
writer. He says, speaking of ..." gravissimorum virorum judicia, 
qui Cardanum miras de seipso fabulas concitasse, et insanienti proximum 
vixisse. Et hercle non video quid aliud existimari possit de homine 
qui" . . . qui . . . qui . . . &c. The quotation down to " qui denique " 
would be a page too long. Bayle, gathering his information about 
Cardan from other writers, and without having read more than a single 
book, which forms about a hundredth part of Cardan's works, delivers 
judgment thus: "We must not say of him that his great Wit had a 
mixture of Madness, but, on the contrary, that his Madness had a mix- 
ture of great Wit. His Wit was only an appendix, an accessory to his 
Madness." For my own part, I decline to affirm of any man that he is mad 
or not mad. Strange things are said and done all over the world daily. 


unknown, or wit can dazzle us before there can exist a 
Howard or a Milton a mind must have swerved out of 
that horizontal line on which all faculties stand written 
at an equal altitude. That Cardan's mind was not well 
balanced we have already seen while noting its relations 
in the days of youth with the surrounding world. Much 
of the eccentricity displayed in it was caused, un- 
doubtedly , by the condition of the frame in which it had 
been set. That part of our history his physical life up 
to the year in which he joined a university, we therefore 
proceed now to consider. 

In infancy, Cardan was fat and red; in boyhood, lean, 
with a long, white face, and reddish hair. He grew fast, 
so that he had attained at the age of sixteen his full 
stature. Of the plague that caressed him at the breast of 
his first nurse mention has been already made. His health 
was at all times infirm. He was born with a slight ente- 
rocele, inherited from Fazio, his father. Throughout life 
he was vexed by the occasional outbreak of cutaneous 
eruptions and by nervous itchings 1 . Between his fourth 
and his seventh year 2 the excitement of his nervous sys- 
tem caused a condition perhaps not altogether rare in 
children: phantoms haunted him. On account of his 

1 De Vita Propr. cap. vi. and li. for the preceding details. 

2 De Vita Propr. cap. xxxvii. p. 160. Sprengel attributes to his 
early illnesses the vividness of imagination by which Cardan was 
always characterised. 



weak health, and specially in consideration of the fact 
that during those years, and for some time afterwards, his 
legs from the knees downwards never became warm in 
bed until the morning 1 , he was not required to rise; in- 
deed, he was required not to rise until the end of the 
second hour after sunrise 2 . Fazio himself, it should be 
observed, was not himself then out of bed 3 . .; .During the 
last hour or two of morning rest, lying awake, the boy 
commonly saw figures, that were colourless, and seemed 
to be built up of rings of mail, rising out of the right 
corner of the bed 4 . The figures, following each other in 
a long procession, were of many kinds houses, castles, 
animals, knights on horseback, plants, trees, musical in- 
struments, trumpeters in the attitude of blowing, groves, 
woods, flowers, and wild shapes that represented nothing 
he had ever seen before these figures rising out of the 
right-hand corner, and describing an arch, descended into 
the left-hand corner, and were lost. Jerome had pleasure 
in this spectacle, and made a secret of it. On one occa- 
sion, when his eyes were fixed intently upon the proces- 
sion, his Aunt Margaret asked whether he saw anything; 
but he believed, he tells us, that if he revealed the mys- 

1 De Vita Propr. cap, xxxvii. p. 29 and pp. 161, 162. 

2 Ibid. p. 11 and p. 160. 

3 ' Somno matutino indulgere permisit, nam et ipse ad tertiam diei 
horam decumbebat." De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 428, 

4 De Vita Propr. p. 160. 


tery, whatever caused the spectacle would be offended, 
and that he should see the show no more 1 . Therefore he 
did not answer her. Between his seventh and twelfth 
year 2 the child, who slept between his mother and Aunt 
Margaret, disturbed them almost nightly with his crying, 
caused by severe palpitation of the heart, which ceased 
when he advanced in years 3 . The coldness of his ex- 
tremities sometimes gave place to a profuse sweat. The 
nervous irritation endured by the delicate boy, who was 
rudely exposed all day long to the harsh exactions and 
unruly tempers of his old father, the lawyer, and the 
women who had charge of him, marred his unwholesome 
sleep with vivid dreams 2 . As often as a hundred times 
there came before him in his dreaming, night after night, 
at intervals, a cock with red wings, at whose appearance 

1 " Quamvis adeo puer, mecum cogitabam, si fatebor indignabitur 
quicquid causam praebet hujus pompae, subtrahetque hoc festura." De 
Vita Propria, cap. xxxvii. p. 161. This account fits accurately to my 
own experience. During the same period of childhood I rarely fell 
asleep till I had received the visit of a crowd of visionary shapes that 
were not by any means agreeable. I had also, during that period, holi- 
day phantoms, in the beauty and the mystery of which I took delight, 
and concerning which I had in the strongest degree the same childish 
belief that is mentioned in the text, that "si fatebor indignabitur 
quicquid causam praebet hujus pompac, subtrahetque hoc festum." I 
add this note because there are some autobiographical statements in 
the writings of Cardan touching upon what used to be considered 
supernatural matters that are liable to question by the sceptical, or 
misinterpretation by the credulous. It would be unjust not to employ 
the best means that I have of proving in this place the good faith of 
Cardan's statements. 

2 De Vita Propr. p. 29. 


the child trembled with the fear that it would speak, until 
it did speak, in a human voice, threatening words that 
took no hold upon his memory 1 . 

There were none by to understand the beatings of the 
young heart and the ponderings of the excited mind. 
Sometimes the child was labouring in the diseased heroic 
vein; at seven years old aweary of the world and cogi- 
tating suicide. Cardan, when he confesses this in after- 
life, adds a suspicion that the same has occurred to other 
men, although they do not like to tell it in their books 2 . 
There were none by to understand the vague emotions 
that were, even in youth, to grow into the form of hunger 
for undying fame; the busy brain, that was perpetually 
cogitating many and large things, revolving also things 
that were impossible 3 . 

The aspirations of the fevered mind were mingled 

1 De Vita Prop. p. 162, 

2 " Laboravi interdum amore Heroico, ut me ipsum trucidare cogi- 
tarem; verum talia etiam aliis accidere suspicor; licet hi in libros non 
referant." De Vita Propria, p. 31. The preceding sentences make it 
probable that Cardan applies this statement to his whole life; the 
sentence before which it is placed favours, however, the belief that he 
is referring to his childhood only. I adopt the latter view, because I 
know that in the early years of childhood this feeling is connected 
closely with the physical condition already described. There is 
nothing in it but a wild love for the mystery of death. I can call to 
mind no instance of suicide committed by a child. 

3 "Cerebri calidi, addictus cogitationi perpetuo: multa ac maxima, 
et etiam quae esse non possunt revolvens." De Vita Propria, cap. xiii. 
p. 58. 

FEVER. 39 

always with some fear of early death. His mother never 
thought he would live long 1 . In youth, to all the other 
ailments Jerome suffered, there was added a dull, red 
swelling on the left breast, which occasioned for some 
time a dread of cancer 3 . In the year before his departure 
for the university, when he was eighteen years old, he 
suffered also a dangerous attack of illness. He had been 
rambling through an August day among the suburbs and 
gardens of Milan, and when he came home falsely ac- 
counted for his absence by saying that he had dined with 
a friend of his father's, Agostino Lanizario. It is the 
same Lanizario who played the part of friendly critic upon 
Jerome's early writings. After this walk the youth was 
seized with a violent attack of illness 3 . For three days he 
was in a fever, having only water for his food, and medi- 
cine compounded by his father, who was not only lawyer 
but physician also, which medicine he was to take four 
times a day. An anthrax formed and broke over the 
first false rib on the left side 4 . He thought in his de- 
lirium that he was on the bed of Asclepiades, rising and 
falling constantly between the floor and ceiling. He be- 
came possessed of the belief that he should die. His 
malady was closed by a violent sweat that resulted in the 
youth's recovery, but his health, as I before said, re- 

1 De Vita Propr. p. 29. 2 Ibid. p. 31. 

3 Ibid. p. 28. * De Util. ex Adversis Cap. p. 431, 


rnained always infirm ; it was best when he was troubled 
with a cough 1 . 

Jerome Cardan, whose stature was completed at the 
age of sixteen, was, at the age of nineteen, when he went 
to Pavia, of the middle height and somewhat narrow- 
chested. He had a fair complexion, with a slight tinge of 
red on his white, small and oblong face, yellow hair, with a 
strong growth of it in beard under the chin, small, intent 
eyes, a projecting under lip, large upper front teeth, and a 
harsh voice, which, although loud, was not distinct at any 
distance. The hind part of his head was narrow 2 . Cardan 
tells us that when he became famous, and painters came 
from a distance to take his picture, his features proved to 
be so commonplace, that it was impossible to express 
them in a way that would enable any one to know him 
by his portrait. That is a very modest method of putting 
the incompetence of artists who omit the animating 
spirit when they paint the form, but Jerome was only too 
completely free from any pride either in his own form or 
in its coverings. In his mind he had pride, which he 
took no trouble to conceal. His character was fixed in a 
contempt of money, a disregard not only of surrounding 
trifles, but even of the more important furnishings of 

1 "Turn maxime sanum me existimera, cum tussi rauceclineque 
laboro." De Vit. Propr. p. 26. 

2 Ibid. pp. 24, 25, for this and the next fact. 


life, and his whole energy was bent upon the working ] 
out for himself with his mind of glory after death 1 . Boy 
as he was, he was at work upon his treatise on the 
Earning of Immortality; upon his treatise on the True 
Distances of Objects, based upon an old volume of 
Geber's, upon Triangles, that he had found among 
his father's books ; upon his treatise on Games of Skill 
and Chance ; and upon other youthful undertakings 2 . 
From the first he was unable to confine his mind to 
labour on a single topic. He did not sit down to \vork 
out his immortality of fame by writing a great book ; he 
began at once with three or four books. He was never 
throughout life checked in the commencement of a new 
literary labour, by the reflection that he might have four 
or five unfinished works already in hand 8 . Book- writing 
was pleasure, and he could not easily deny himself any 
addition to a pleasure that he loved. 

Though miserably trained into impatience, there was 
a strain of youthful joyousness in Cardan's mind when 
he arrived at manhood. The most prevailing of his 
sensual pleasures was a love of music 4 . He was not 

1 " Conternptor pecunise, glorias post obitum cultor, mediocria etiam 
nedum parva omnia spernere solitus." 

2 De Libris Propriis (ed. 1557), p. 10. 

3 "Multa et varia scrips!, neque enim mens tandiu intenta uni 
negocio esse potest." De Libris Propriis (ed. 1557), p. 12. 

4 " Laetus, voluptatibus deditus, Musicae praecipue." De Vita Propr. 
cap. li. 


physically bold, but he had from the beginning practised 
himself in sword exercise, then an art necessary to all 
men who desired long life, and he had exercised his 
body well in running and leaping. He could not ride 
decently, nor swim, and was afraid of fire-arms. Abso- 
lutely a coward he was not, for in his restlessness it was 
one of his favourite amusements to face at night the 
dangers of the street, wandering about, contrary to law, 
armed, having his face concealed by a black woollen 
veil 1 . 

Firm in the midst of all his restlessness, determined 
resolutely to mount upwards, not in worldly circumstance 
but in the ranks through which only intellect can rise, 
his spirit ever burning with an inextinguishable desire 
for an immortal name 2 , Jerome Cardan left Milan to 
commence his university career. Agostino Lanizario had 
faith in the young author, and besought his aged father 
to consult the future prospects of the youth. Clara Mi- 
cheria added her prayers to the same effect, stimulated 
by her son's declared intention, for the love of study, to 
become a monk if he might become a student in no 

1 De Vita Propr. cap. viL p. 32, for the preceding details. 

2 " Hoc umim sat scio, ab ineunte setate me inextinguibili nominis 
immortalis cupiditate flagrasse." De Libris Propriis. 

" Cupiditas mea gloriae, inter tot et adversa et impedimenta, stolida 
non tantum stulta. Non tainen unquarn concupivi gloriam aut ho- 
nores, imo sprevi : cuperem notum esse quod sim, non opto ut sciatur, 
qualis sim." De Vita Propria, cap. ix. p. 42. 


other way 1 . Jerome, ill-trained as he had been, with all 
his oddities and faults, was a good son. The life of 
Fazio was now declining ; Clara was much younger than 
the old geometrician, and must turn naturally after the 
old man's death to her son Jerome for protection. Let 
him, therefore, before it was too late, be enabled 
to earn bread. Fazio, though he had acquired some 
property, was far from being rich. He had lent money 
too carelessly, and been but too indifferent a steward of his 
own resources. The main prop of his income as a juris- 
consult was a stipend of a hundred scudi, from a lecture- 
ship in Milan, which could one day be obtained also by 
Jerome, if he were qualified to take his father's place 3 . 
Clara had, therefore, good reason for backing with her 
prayers Jerome's demand for education. Jerome declared 
obstinately that if he were not sent to Pavia for instruc- 
tion, he would run away from any situation into which 
he might be put ; and thus the old man was at length 
entreated and compelled to yield 3 . 

1 " Dii boni! florem liunc universum setatis, et sine voluptate, et sine 
studiis transegi. Cum vero neque patrem cogere possem, nee fraudare 
honestum ducerem,nec praecibus impetrare valerem : religion! tandem, 
amore studiorum, tradere me volui. Inde metuentis matris orbitatem 
prcccibus exoratus pater, in Gymnasium dimisit." De Consolatione, 
Lib. iii. p. 75, 

2 De Vita Propr. cap. x. p. 48. 

3 " Atque ita precibus matris et amici praedicti, minisque meis, ut 
qui omnino abire quoquo destinaveram, discessum in Academiam 
sequent! anno impetravi." De Libris Propriis. 


Jerome Cardan, therefore, being as well or as ill-fitted 
for the career lie sought as may be supposed of a youth 
minded as he was, and troubled as he was with fleshly 
ailments, set out at the age of nineteen for Pavia, provided 
in an ungrudging way by his father with respectable re- 
sources 1 . So far as studies were concerned, the exact 
curriculum of his preparatory education may be briefly 
told. In addition to reading and writing, Fazio had 
taught him rudiments of arithmetic when he was a little 
boy, and had instructed him, when he was nine years old, 
in some of the world's mysteries, magical lore very pro- 
bably, whence obtained Jerome never discovered. Soon 
afterwards the geometrician taught his son some principles 
of Arabian astrology, a kind of study that must have done 
much to confirm the little fellow's dreaminess of nature, 
and then finding that his recollection of dry facts was 
bad, endeavoured to instil into him a system of artificial 
memory, in which endeavours he did not succeed 2 . After 
Jerome's twelfth year, he had been taught to say by heart 
the first six books of Euclid, not to understand them, and 
he had been aided carelessly with a few books and scanty 
verbal information and advice in the study of geometry 
and dialectics 3 . At the cost of his mother, who had a 

1 " Honesto cum viatico." De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 429. 

- De Vita Propr. cap, xxxiv. p. 155. De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 428. 

3 "Pater jam ante concesserat ut Geometric et Dialectic opera 
darem, in quo quanquam praeter paucas admonitiones, librosque, ac 
licentiam, nullum alium auxilium praebuerit." De Consol. p. 75. 


woman's appreciation of such matters, Jerome had also 
received instruction in music, which, as a social amuse- 
ment, consisted in those days chiefly of part singing and 
choruses. This Clara had furnished to her son without 
his father's knowledge 1 . Fazio himself, who had no lack 
of power for facetious conversation, and was great among 
his friends as a teller of anecdotes, fables, and marvels of 
all kinds, being particularly full of stories about demons 2 , 
and claiming an especial demon of his own, aided the con- 
stant growth of superstitious feeling in the apt mind of his 
pupil. Other things Jerome had learnt for his own plea- 
sure. With his father's help he had become so well versed 
in dialectics, that before he went to Pavia he earned some 
pocket-money for himself by giving private lessons in that 
study 3 . Of Latin he knew no more than he had acquired 
in conversation with his father ; but to write Latin, as I 
have said before, was the great object of his young desired 
At Pavia, Cardan was placed under the care of Giovanni 
Ambrosio Targio, in whose house he resided without any 
companion. At the close of the academic year he re- 
turned to Milan. He- had made good use of time, for in 
the succeeding year after his return to Pavia, where he 

1 De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 429. 

2 " Conversatio sua baud aspernanda, facetus, jucundus, miraculomm 
et fabularum recitator, multa de daemonibus recitabat, qure quam vera 
essent nescio, certe ea historia et admirabilis et pulchre conficta, 
mirum in modum me oblectabat." De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 429. 

3 Ibid. 


again lodged with Targio, he disputed publicly with very 
great success, and was a teacher in the Gymnasium of the 
first books of Euclid. He even undertook for a few days 
to discourse upon dialectics in the place of the appointed 
teacher, Brother Romolo Serveta ; and afterwards he took 
for a short time a class of elementary philosophy on 
behalf of a physician named Pandolfo 1 . He was evi- 
dently working hard, learning to read and write Latin, 
not by the ordinary way of grammar rules, but by prac- 
tice and by native tact, with books and dictionaries 2 . 

The years of study now commenced were years of 
happiness to the young student. He worked hard, 
partly to make up for lost time, partly in fear that he 
might be recalled by his father if ill-tidings of him 
were sent home 3 . At Pavia he was master of him- 
self, and between the sessions, when he went home to 
Milan, he assumed the right of managing his own affairs. 
His mode of studying was suited to his tastes, though 
perhaps not exactly orthodox. The common course of a 
day's study was as follows 4 : After a morning's work he 
walked in the shade outside the town- walls ; then he 
dined ; then he gave up his time to music. The young 
philosopher then took his fishing lines and went a-fishing 
under shelter of the groves and^ woods not far beyond 

1 De Vita Propr. p. 16, for the preceding details. 

2 Ibid. cap. xxxiv. 3 De Consol. p. 75. 
4 De Vit, Propr. cap. xl. 



the gates of Pavia. A philosopher who means to be 
immortal must needs think as well as read and write. 
Cardan could either think or read while he was fishing. 
He took out with him also into the woods writing 
materials, and so studied and worked under the thick 
green leaves, among the wild flowers, throughout the 
summer afternoon, dreaming ambitious dreams, and fairly 
striving to fulfil his best desires. At sunset he returned 
into the town, where his behaviour was not always 
orderly. Dice and the draught-board had their charms 
for him ; a restless night spent wandering about the streets 
after a day of music was, in his view, a simple kind of 
relaxation. In this way Cardan worked hard, and made 
rapid progress. Having embraced medicine as his profes- 
sion, he had begun a treatise on the DifFerings of Doctors 1 . 
In the year following his second academical course, re- 
maining at home in Milan because the presence of war 
caused the schools of Pavia to be closed 2 , he wrote fifty 
sheets of mathematical Commentaries. These sheets, I may 
here add, he lent to Ottaviano Scoto : Ottaviano lost them. 
Jerome Cardan had embraced medicine as his profes- 
sion. What was to become, then, of the stipend of the 
hundred scudi ? He had thrown it aside as dust in the 
balance of his thoughts. The choice of a profession was not 

1 De Sapientia, &c. &c. p. 420. 

2 " Tertio anno Mediol: mansi bello impeditus, quo ne Academia fre- 
quentaretur prohibitum est." De Sapientia, &c. p. 421. 


to him a money question. Regarding it, however, even in 
that light, when his father and Clara pleaded to him the 
importance of this lectureship, and the honours and 
emoluments that were to be attained by all good juris- 
consults, the youth felt that his father's standing in the 
world was but a bad endorsement of their plea. Juris- 
prudence, he remarked, had done but little for his father 
Fazio 1 , though he had been lauded as the knower of all 
things in that book of his on Peckham's Perspective To 
that book, and the laudation in it, Jerome refers, noting 
how very false the praise was, since his father's knowledge 
was confined to few ideas, and none of those his own. 
Law studies had contracted his rnind not enlarged it. 
Eager, therefore, for the best kind of mental cultivation 
as the basis of his future immortality, the young philoso- 
pher, after he went to Pavia, was not long in determining 
that he would never follow in his father's steps. 

Medicine had recommended itself to Cardan as the 
pursuit most likely to beget a philosophic mind. As a 
physician, he could not only keep over his own feeble 
health a reasonable guardianship and he desired long- 
life but he should also be more fairly on the path to an 
immortal fame. The studies that belong to medicine, he 
reasoned 2 , stand upon surer ground than studies that 

1 " Parum ilium etiam absque impedimenta profecisse viderem." De 
Vit. Propr. cap. x. p. 49. 

2 Nothing could be saner than this reasoning: "In eo instituto a 
prima aetate mansi, ut vitae consulerem: studia autem medicinse magis 


belong to law. Law treats of local custom, medicine of 
truths common to the whole world, and to all ages. 
Medicine is the nobler as well as the safer ground, he 
said, on which to build a lasting fame, since its inquiries 
are concerned only with pure reason, with the eternal law 
of nature, not with the opinions of men. Swayed by such 
arguments the bold student determined to give up every 
design of following upon his father's track, and abandoned 
expectation of his stipend of a hundred scudi. 

Fazio, failing now in health, withdrew his opposition, 
and Jerome, having missed one academic course while 
the armies concerned in the quarrel between Charles V. 
and Francis I. were creating more than common tumult 
in the country, went in the next year, he being twenty- 
three years old, not again to Pa via, but to Padua. 

Absence had softened the feelings of old Fazio towards 
his son 1 . Very soon after his first departure, reconcilia- 
tion had been effected between Fazio and Clara; and al- 
though the old man, during the four last years of his life, 
maintained a morose countenance 2 , his last days proved 

huic proposito conducebant quam legum: et ut propiora fini, et ut 
orbi communia toti, et omnibus saeculis : tamen ut candidiora, ac quae 
ration! (seternse naturae legi) non hominum opinionibus inniterentur : 
ideo haec ipsa amplexatus sum, non jurisprudentia." De Vit. Propr. 
p. 47. 

" Desiderium augente absentia mortuus est pater." De Consola- 
tione, p. 75. 

3 " Supervixit quatuor ferine annis, msestus semper vixit ut declara- 
Terit quantum me amaret." De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 430. 

VOL. I. E 


that he regarded his boy with a real affection. It was in 
the beginning of the year 1524 that Jerome first went to 
the University of Padua, and early in August of the same 
year he returned with a fellow- townsman, Gianangelo 
Corio, to Milan 1 , where the old jurisconsult was languish- 
ing in mortal illness. Jerome, since he had become a 
Latin scholar, had acquired social respect among his 
fellow-townsmen 2 , and his father was then so much in- 
terested in the progress of his studies that he would not 
suffer him to wait upon the sick bed. Plague was in the 
town, and the youth's life was precious 3 . Jerome, he said, 
was on the point of taking the degree of bachelor in arts 4 , 
and Fazio, though near death, commanded him to go 
back ; declaring, indeed, that he should feel the happier if 
he did not detain him from his studies 5 . The youth, 
therefore, went back to Padua. He must have gone back 
to vacation work, for he had remained a month at Padua 
after the close of the academic session on the 30th of 
June, and the long vacation did not end until All Saints'- 

1 De Vit. Propr. p. 16. 2 Ibid. p. 138. 

3 De Consol. p. 75. 

4 De Vit, Propr. p. 17. Such a degree was not much favoured in 
Italy. It was sought in Cardan's time chiefly by those who could not 
afford much expense or trouble, and in the next century was rarely 
sought at all in Padua, after the establishment of " the Venetian 
College," by which the doctorate was made readily accessible to 
all poor scholars. Gymnasium Patayinum J. P. Tomasini, p. 200 
and p. 194. 

5 De Vit. Propr. p. 17. 


day, the 1st of November 1 , when the learned Paduans 
opened the academic year with great solemnity and pomp. 
Soon after his return, Jerome received news of his 
father's death. Fazio died of old age, after eight days of 
abstinence from food, upon a Sabbath-day, the 28th of 
August 3 . His son, who was warm-hearted, had loved 
him ; but there is more of literary vanity than filial love 
in the epitaph, of course a Latin one, with which he 
marked his grave. Thus the sense of the inscription ran : 



He died in the year 1524, Oct. 28, in the eightieth year of his age. 

1 See J. P. Tomasini Commentar. de Gymn. Patavin. Lib. i. pp. 
150 4, for the complete University Calendar, formerly regulating 
work-days and holidays at Padua, 

2 De Vit. Propr. p. 17. Dialogus Tetim. Opera, Tom. i. p. 672. 
" Tetim. At Pater, quomodo obiit ? Ram. Honeste, et ex senio." 

3 These two motto lines are in the original a bad hexameter and a 
pentameter; the whole inscription being: 

" Facio Cardano, 

Mors fuit id, quod vixi, vitam mors dedit ipsa, 

Mens seterna manet, gloria tuta, quies. 

Obiit anno M.D.XXIV. iv. Kal. Sept. Anno JStatis Ixxx. 

Hyeronymus Cardanus, Medicus, Parenti 


The inscription is given by Tomasini (Elog. part i. Patav. 1630) 
from the church of St. Mark, in Milan. Jerome himself was eventually 
buried under it beside his father, as is testified by Tomasini and 



Until there shall be one trumpet sounded over all the 
graves, we shall most likely continue to blow trumpets of 
our own in this way. A clever man must be more pious 
than clever who omits the temptation, when he has the 
power, to display his cleverness upon a tomb. By Cardan, 
who was more clever than pious, no such omission would 
be made. How should his piety prevail? The holiness 
of home, all sacredness of motive and true worthiness of 
action, had been unknown to the little Jerome when he 
was a child. He had grown up contemned and neglected, 
seeing much of evil passion, trained as a child in astro- 
logy, and strengthened in every tendency to superstition. 
The religion of his time was ceremonial and full of super- 
stitious practices. Jerome was superstitious. He was 
careful to perform religious rites ; he prayed to God and 
to the Virgin Mary, but more particularly to St. Martin, 
whom he was taught by a dream to regard as a protector 
under whom he would enjoy a somewhat quieter and 
longer life 1 than he could have obtained under any other 
saint. There can be no doubt that this was a direct 
slight offered to St. Jerome. Cardan was not behind his 
age, but he was not before it, when, as he tells us, he was 
accustomed from childhood to look up to heaven with this 
prayer: " Lord God, of Thine infinite goodness, give me 
long life and wisdom, and health both of mind and body 2 .'' 
1 De Vita Propr. cap. xxii. p. 87. 2 Ibid. p. 66. 


His body was ailing, his mind wanted health; he feared 
lest, by a premature close to his life, he might be pre- 
vented from leaving to posterity such proofs of wisdom as 
might win for him undying praise. He sought praise as 
the end of his existence, and exercise of intellect as the 
most worthy means to such an end. Ambition to produce 
the utmost good, to develop every talent and apply it 
carefully to that work in which it would do all that it 
could be made to do in aid of the real progress of humanity, 
glorified the life of the obscure French potter, Bernard 
Palissy 1 , really the best of Cardan's philosophical contem- 
poraries. Cardan, who won to himself in his own lifetime 
world-wide fame, was conscious of no higher motive to 
exertion than anxiety to be remembered as a great phi- 
losopher. But that was no mean care. 

Because the superstition of Cardan did not at all times 
take an orthodox complexion, he has been ranked on 
more than one occasion among atheists. Thus, for ex- 
ample, he was set down by Theophilus Raynaud, in his 
treatise on good and bad books 2 , as the first atheist of the 

1 " Je n'ai trouve rien meilleur que de suivre le conseil de Dieu . . 
II a command e a ses heri tiers qu'ils eussent a manger le pain au labeur 
de letir corps et qu'ils eussent a multiplier les talens qu'il leur avoit 
laissez par son Testament. Quoi considere je n'ay voulu cacher en 
terre les talens qu'il luy a pleu me distribuer," &c. Palissy to the 
Marshal Montmorenci. 

2 " Homo nullius religionis ac fidei, et inter clancularios atheos se- 
cundi ordinis a3vo suo facile princeps." Father Reynaud De bonis ac 
malis Libris, quoted by Bayle in his Dictionary. 


second order. He records, however, emphatically among 
the experiences of his life the acquisition, even through 
trouble, of a firm trust in the wisdom of the divine dispo- 
sition of events. He had observed, he says, the efficacy of 
prayer, and recognised the importance of invoking aid 
from God out of the Scriptures, and of seeking, he adds 
I quote his exact words " that He would teach me to 
do His will, because He is my God 1 ." As a religious 
sentiment, at least, this thought lay at the bottom even of 
those blind superstitions or clear-sighted comments which 
the orthodox disdained and set aside as pagan. 

1 De Vit. Propr. cap. xxiii. p. 90. 




FAZIO CARDAN left a house and some provision for 
his son, although it seems to have been very small, and 
liable to much dispute 1 . He had been too ready to allow 
to other men the use of his possessions. Part of his little 
store, placed in the hands of insolvent people, had been 
lost; part, supplied to princes and great men, was to be 
re-demanded only at great risk, and hardly to be recovered 
after endless labour. When recovered, it was always re- 
paid without interest 3 . Litigation, however, was then 
common ; and we are carried back fairly into the spirit of 
the time when we read that after his father's death Jerome 
had first a lawsuit with Alessandro Castillione for some 
woods, afterwards with members of his father's family, 
and then with the Counts Barbiani. Jerome eventually 
gained his point against Castillione, who had one of his 

1 " Patrimoniurn quod minimum erat." De Consol. p. 75. De Vita 
Propr. cap. xxviii. 

2 De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 428. 


own relations for a judge, and compelled him, after a long 
struggle, to pay all the money about which a question had 
arisen. The dispute with the Barbiani was continued 
over many years 1 . 

To Clara Micheria there remained also, after the death 
of Fazio, so much provision for her maintenance as would 
enable her to buy a house 2 . She could also in some way 
earn money, for it was by her industry and solicitude 
incredible solicitude her son entitles it that Jerome, when 
left by the death of his father poor and helpless, was main- 
tained at the university 3 . It does not appear that Jerome 
and his mother were at all times happy in each other, but 
that Clara, notwithstanding all her sins of temper or of 
principle, had a woman's power of self-sacrifice, and a 
mother's strength of love for Jerome, is what I think does 
appear, not indistinctly. Towards his father, Jerome's 
heart yearned many years after the old man had passed 
away, when the son could look back into his youth, for- 
getting for a time its deprivations, remembering only the 
gentle words and deeds of the geometrician, who had, he 
thought, been kinder to him than his mother. Of him he 
could then write, when the feeling rose naturally in his 
heart, words of emotion full of a love and gentleness, with 

1 Dial, de Morte. Opera, Tom. i. p. 676. 

2 De Vit. Propr. p. 92. 

3 " Ipse inops, ac auxilio omni destitutus, diligentia et solicitudine 
matris incredibili sustentabar." Dial, de Morte. Opera, Tom. i.p. 676. 


which he seems to have been able to regard his father only. 
" My tears arise," he says, " when my mind ponders upon 
his good-will towards me. But, father, I will give what 
satisfaction I am able to your merits and your piety. 
And while these leaves are read, your name and virtue 
shall be honoured. For he was incorruptible and truly 
holy 1 ." At other times, in softened mood, we find him 
speaking of his old relation to his father during childhood, 
as " what I at that time thought to be hard servitude." 
At other times he writes the simple truth, but not re- 

Matthew Curtius, a physician of some note in his day, 
v> r as professor of the theory of medicine in Padua, be- 
tween the years 1524 and 1530 3 . He encouraged Car- 
dan greatly with his kindness, even condescending to hold 
public disputation with him. A compliment dear to the 

1 De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. pp. 349, 350. 

2 Riccoboni de Gymnas. Patavin. Lib. i. p. 21. Cardan de Vit. Propr. 
cap. xxxiv. p. 155. Curtius of Pavia taught also at Florence, Bologna, 
and Pisa. He wrote on Venesection in Pleurisy, on the quality of 
water, and also, among other things, edited Mundinus, the peg-book 
upon which anatomists had hung comments for years, until Vesalius 
achieved a revolution in their science. Curtius was fifty years old, 
and in the height of his reputation, when Cardan studied under him. 
His salary at Padua had been twice raised. He died in 1544, aged 
seventy. Brief details are given concerning him by Tomasini and 
Papadopoli in their records of the University of Padua, and more by 
Ghilini, whom I know only as cited in a work invaluable for the infor- 
mation it gives about forgotten men who were in any degree famous in 
the sixteenth century, " Zedler's Universal Lexicon aller Wissenschaf- 
ten und Kiinste." 


young man at the outset of his medical career, was the 
exclamation of the president before whom he argued some 
forgotten thesis against a forgotten doctor. The president, 
struck by Cardan's acuteness, asked who the youth was, 
and being told, exclaimed, " Study, O youth, you will 
excel Curtius 1 ." 

At the close of the year made memorable by his father's 
death, Jerome Cardan obtained from his university the 
honour of being appointed Rector of the Gymnasium 2 . 
He very truly says, that the seeking of that office by him 
was a most desperately foolish deed 3 . The office was, in 
fact, the lordship of the university, a post so costly to the 
holder, that in those days of wars and taxes, and of social 
disorganisation in North Italy, nobody could be found 
willing to hold it. It was in abeyance at the time when 
Jerome Cardan, a clever, penniless, disreputable young 
scholar of twenty-four, maddened by difficulties, and by 
a belief that he was impotent for life (his sorest care), 
plunged desperately into its responsibilities, willing to 
drown one care in another. 

The University of Padua, founded in the thirteenth 

1 De Libris Propriis : " Stude, o juvenis, Curtium superabis." 
Stupebant omnes, adds Cardan. 

2 De Libr. Propr. (ed. 1547) p. 11. Lib. Ult. Op. Tom. i. p. 97. 

3 " Stulte vero id egi, quod Rector Gymnasii Patavini effectus sum, 
turn cum inops essem, et in patria bella maxima vigerent et tributa 
intollerabilia. . . . Deus! quid te ad hoc compulit? Ira certe et 
insania . . ." De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 430. 


century, had been supported by the Princes of Carrara till 
their power rotted. Then the Gymnasium was placed, 
together with the town, in 1405, under the shield of 
Venice, the town keys and seal being presented in that 
year to Michael Steno. The liberality of the Venetians 
caused the university to prosper greatly, and it owed much 
in the first years of its dependence upon Venice to the 
liberality of rectors 1 . Until the year 1550, there were 
two rectors yearly appointed, who held divided rule, the 
university itself being divided between artists (followers 
of theology, philosophy, and physic) and jurisconsults. 
As the affairs of the two classes were separate, each had 
its rector. Jerome, we have seen, joined the artists, not 
the jurisconsults, who had then for their own use a distinct 

1 The best accounts of the University of Padua in its good old times 
are, I believe, the six books of Commentaries on the Paduan Gymna- 
sium, by Antonio Riccobone (Patavii, 1598), the Paduan Gymna- 
sium, in five books, by the Bishop J. P. Tomasini (Utini, 1654), and 
the History of the Paduan Gymnasium, by Nic. Comn. Papadopoli 
(Venet. 1726). I have used these as my authorities, Riccobone lived 
partly in Cardan's time, but Tomasini's work is more serviceable, in- 
asmuch as it is full of those minute details which give life to our 
knowledge of the past. It is quite the best work of the three. The 
two volumes of Papadopoli, Abbot of St. Zenobius, and Professor at 
Padua of Canon Law, are of great service as an elaborate appendix to 
the others. He made it his business not only to compile afresh (drily 
enough), but to supply from the university records the omissions that 
occurred in the lists of rectors, professors, &c., published by the two 
first-named writers. He gives also a brief account of every Paduan 
who had been famous, including, of course, Cardan. Cardan's name, 
however, as of one who had held office in the university, does not occur 
in any of the lists given by these chroniclers. 


university building. After the year 1550 an union was 
effected, and the university was governed by one rector, 
chosen alternately, if possible, from among the artists and 
the lawyers 1 . It was not possible always to maintain a 
strict rotation ; it was even sometimes necessary to look 
abroad for a man "illustrious, provident, eloquent, and 
rich," by whose munificence the university could profit. 
The rector was, indeed, the chief magistrate of the 
university, who decided judicially disputes among the 
students and professors on fixed court days, who over- 
looked the working of the entire system, and saw that the 
teachers did their duty properly; but his administrative 
labours were lightened by the aid of a pro-rector, who did 
the real work, while of the rector himself no more was 
required than to be munificent. Scholars who would be 
dukes hereafter were the men thought most proper for the 
office. So indeed they were, for often rich men, daunted 
by the heavy demand made by it upon their purses, used 
the right of refusal granted to them. In the next century 
the rectorate was shunned so universally, that the office 
ceased almost wholly, the chief dignitary being the pro- 
rector, of whom work was required rather than money. 

For seven years before the year 1515, wars in the 
district had caused the closing of the University of Padua. 

1 Papadopoli Hist. Gymn. Pat. Lib. i. cap. v. p. 7, for preceding de- 
tails. Tomasini, Lib. i. ch. xix. to xxii. for those next following. 


After it was re-opened, the prevalent confusion and dis- 
tress made it impossible to find men who would add to all 
their other worldly loss the burden of the rector's office. 
For about ten years after that date, therefore, says a 
chronicler of the university 1 , there were no rectors. In 
1526 there is set down the name of one, and there was 
one in each of the two succeeding years. In 1529 there 
was again a rector for the jurisconsults, and another for 
the artists. The year, therefore, of Cardan's rectorate, 
1525, is considered blank, and although Jerome, after two 
ballots, by a majority of one 2 , obtained leave to assume the 
responsibilities which every wise man declined, he took 
none of the honours of the office. It entitled him at once 3 
to the degree of doctor without trouble or expense,, but 
the degree was shortly afterwards refused to him. I do 
not think that he was enrolled as a citizen of Padua, and 
I am sure that he was not admitted at Venice into the 
equestrian order. He seems, in fact, to have received 
none of the rector's privileges, and he was accounted 
nobody by the university, his year of office being called 

1 Papadopoli, vol. i. pp. 95, 96. The list of rectors is there interrupted 
thus at the year 1508. "Re Gymnastica intermissu ob Cameracense 
bellum, mox restituta anno MDXV, a restitutione per annos circiter 
decem Rectoribus caruit Gymnasium." The list is then resumed at the 
year 1526. 

2 Cardan de Vit. Propr. p. 17. 

3 The succeeding particulars concerning the office of Rector of the 
Gymnasium at Padua in the sixteenth century, are from Tomasini's 
first book, ch. xix. to xxii. 


the last of the ten years in which there was no 

We may feel assured, also, that the bishop and the 
local magistrates, and his brother the town rector, did not 
come in state to visit the new dignitary, and that he did 
not go with due solemnity as a true rector ought to go 
after his election to the cathedral, escorted by two 
hundred spearmen, accompanied by the officials of the 
university on horseback, and by fife-players, and whatever 
else is noble. I even doubt whether they clothed him as a 
rector should be clothed in summer robes of scarlet silk, 
and winter robes of purple silk and hung the badge over 
his back, covered with gold and precious stones. If all these 
forms were properly gone through by the learned Paduans 
in honour of the young adventurer who undertook to 
preside over them, that journey of the desperate young 
Jerome, clothed in purple and gold, and surrounded by 
spearmen, to the solemn hearing of high mass, would form 
as odd a picture of times out of joint as any man could 
easily imagine. 

That the professors and dignitaries of the university 
came solemnly to dinner at Cardan's expense I can believe. 
That the students flocked together to the great inaugural 
entertainment he was bound to give them, and to any of 
his other little official dinners, I am sure. Wild dinners 
they must have been, for Jerome looked back upon the 


year when he was rector as a year of " Sardanapalan life," 
a blot upon his past for which he had to make atone- 
ment 1 . And who found the money to support him in his 
false position who paid for the mock-majesty of Rector 
Sardanapalus ? The widow at Milan. His mother we 
do not know how worked for him, and by her self- 
denial and solicitude he was enabled 2 to sustain the charges 
that he had so foolishly and recklessly incurred. Perhaps 
she was proud of his distinction, unsubstantial as it was, 
but proud or not, she was his mother. Except his 
mother's help, he had no means of income but the gaming- 
table 3 . 

Cardan had not at the university a large circle of 
friends. Except when he sought wild pleasure in a game 
of chance, or men with whom to sing, he was, in his 
studies and his recreations, almost a recluse; he thought 
that few who might be his companions were virtuous, 
none truly learned, and with a false cynicism he regarded 
social intercourse as waste of time. Yet he had formed 
in his youth a friendship, based upon community of tastes 

In chapter xiii. p. 59 of the De Vita Propr. Liber, he speaks of 
ance due " ut vita Sardanapalece quam anno quo praefui Gymnasio 
tavino egi, flagitia purgaverim." 

2 " Matris tamen sollicitudine effectum est, ut pondus impensarum, 
quamvis segre, sustinuerim." De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 430. 

3 " Studentium Rector creatus, nihil prius cum haberem, totum tamen 
illud nihil consumpsi. Nee ullum mihi erat reliquum auxilium, nisi 
latrunculorum ludus." De ConsoL p. 75. 


for dice and music, with one Ambrose Varadeus; after- 
wards he had found a friend at Pavia in Prosper Mari- 
non. A pallid youth, Ottaviano Scoto, of Venice, who 
lost fifty sheets of Cardan's early efforts as an author, was 
a friend with whom the young student was upon familiar 
terms of lend and borrow as to books anil money 1 . This 
was his closest intimacy ; out of it sprang one of the 
leading events in his after-life. Another of his close 
friends was Gaspardo Gallearato. Love of pleasure coun- 
teracted, in a great degree, Jerome's desire to play the 
misanthrope. In society he had also the satisfaction of 
rasping any tender point in a discussion. As much 
through love of argument as malice he perversely advo- 
cated the opinions that were most distasteful to his com- 
pany 2 , and loved a single combat of the tongue, in which 
it appears that he never failed to silence his opponent, for 
he could bring into play not only a quick wit and a rare 
amount of ready knowledge, but he could assume also a 
tone so rude and overbearing that few who had contested 
with him once would court a second battle. 

Though the natural gifts and acquirements of Cardan 
were disfigured by harsh feeling towards others and an 
obtrusive consciousness of self, it is curious to observe how 

1 De Vit. Propr. cap. xv. p. 68. 

2 " Illud inter vitia mea singulare et magnum agnosco, et sequor, ut 
liberitius nil dicam quam quod audientibus displiceat, atque in hoc, 
sciens ac volens, persevero." De Vit. Prop. cap. xiii. p. 60. 


in his mind the vanity of the scholar was combined with, 
and perhaps, indeed, formed but a part of, a most rare 
candour in self-confession. Desiring and expecting an 
immortal fame, Jerome was thoroughly determined to 
enable all posterity to know what manner of man he was. 
Revelations of himself are to be found scattered through- 
out the huge mass of his writings : those revelations are 
collected here into a narrative, and we have had reason 
already, as we shall have more reason hereafter, to wonder 
at the unflinching way in which the Milanese philosopher 
must have performed self- dissection, when he laid bare so 
much that was corrupt in his own. nature to the public 
gaze. To nobody was he so merciless as to himself; he 
scorned the men who, being dark within, study to show a 
brilliant outside to the world, and going over, as he 
always did, into a state of bold antagonism, he hung out 
every one of his misdeeds, and all that he found rotten in 
himself, for popular inspection. 

Readily confessing cowardice, Cardan tells of a storm 
on the Lago di Guarda, in which he was nearly drowned. 
It was in the year in which he was rector, at a time when 
he was forced by want of funds to make an expedition 
homeward 1 . He had pushed off into the lake, unwillingly 
enough, with a few companions, and they had on board 

1 *' Pecuniarum exigendarum causa." De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 430. 
To make work for his mother. 

VOL. I. F 


the boat some horses. Their sail was torn, they had their 
mast broken, lost also their rudder and one of their two 
oars, when night came on. At last they came ashore at 
Sirmione, when they were all despairing of a rescue, 
Cardan most of all. They came ashore in good time, for 
very few minutes afterwards, when they were housed 
safely in their inn, a fierce burst of the storm arose, which 
their disabled boat could by no chance have weathered. 
The iron hinges of the windows in the inn were bent by 
it. Jerome, who had been out of doors a confessed 
coward, tells philosophically how all his valour came to 
him when a fine pike was brought to table, and he supped 
joyously, though his companions could not eat. The only 
youth, except Cardan, who had an appetite, was he whose 
rashness led the party into danger, and whose courage 
found a safe way out of it 1 . 

But the scholar who was bold over his supper, and 
cared little for the howling of the wind outside, may 
have lost something of his boldness when the lights were 
out and the loud wind at night hindered him from sleep- 
ing. His philosophy had comprehended studies that 
gave strength to superstition. Astrologers had predicted 
from his horoscope that he would not live to be older 
than forty or forty-five ; and he, believing them, took no 
pains in the management of his inheritance to reserve any 
1 De Vit. Propr. cap. xxx. p. ill. 


provision for old age. Illusions of the senses, to which 
he was subject, strengthened his belief in supernatural 
appearances, and his own nervous, dreamy nature caused 
him to convert at times the memory of common events 
into some hazy impression of the wonderful. I have 
not thought it Avorth while to collect together all the 
stories of this kind related by Cardan ; but two may serve 
here as examples. At Pavia, one morning while in bed, 
and again while dressing, Jerome heard a distinct rap as 
of a hammer on a wall of his room, by which he knew 
that he was parted from a chamber in an empty house. 
At that time died his and his father's friend, Galeazzo 
Rosso 1 . The disciples of certain impostors who in our 
own day have revived a belief in spirit-knockings in 
New York, may be referred to the works of Cardan for 
a few enunciations of distinct faith in such manifestations. 
A more curious example will occur hereafter. In the 
present instance, Cardan, who is never destitute of philo- 
sophic candour, owns that he was unable to prove any 
strict correspondence of time between the death of Eosso 
and the knockings in his room. It is enough for us 

1 De Vit. Propr. cap. xliii. p. 222. I quote the passage for the 
benefit of Rappists: " Quod mihi accidit dum studerem Papise, ut mane 
quodam, antequam expergiscerer ictum in muro senserim; vacuum 
erat habitaculum quod loco illi erat contiguum: et dum expergiscerer, 
et postea alium, quasi mallei, et quod eadem hora resperi intellexerim 
obiisse Galeazium de Rubeis amicum singularem, et de quo tarn multa, 
non id referam in miracula," 



simply to note how frequently the ear as well as the eye 
is deluded, when the nervous system is in a condition 
that appears to have been constant with Cardan. The 
sounds heard by him at Pavia portended no more than 
is meant by the flashes of light which sometimes dart 
before our weaned eyes. 

We do not find greater difficulty in perceiving with 
how much ease Jerome may in lapse of time have fallen 
into the belief that a supernatural event marked his first 
experience in Latin. " Who was the man," he says, 
u who sold me a Latin Apuleius when I was, I think, 
about twenty years old, and instantly departed? I bought 
it without judgment, for its gilded binding ; but the 
next morning found that I could read it. Almost at the 
same time I acquired the power of understanding Greek, 
Latin, French, and Spanish, that is to say, so that I 
could understand books in those languages, though un- 
able to speak them and ignorant of their grammar 1 ." 
There is nothing in this superstitious suggestion incon- 
sistent with the record left by Cardan of the time spent 
by him in acquiring languages and studying their gram- 
mar. In his early college days he bought a Latin 
Apuleius. He had been superficially practised in Latin 
by conversation with his father, and the language differs 
not so greatly from Italian as to make it wonderful that 
1 De Vit. Propr. p. 225. 


any youth of quick and ready wit should find that he 
could make out at once the general sense of a Latin 
story. Any shrewd man acquainted with Italian can 
scramble at first sight through the meaning of a Spa- 
nish book, and of French, another allied tongue, young 
Jerome must have picked up a great number of hints 
from the French armies that overran his native district. 

After the purchase of his Apuleius, the student may 
have prided himself much on the discovery of the great 
deal that he could extract from books in these languages, 
before they had become, or when they had not long 
become, matters of systematic study. The seller of the 
Apuleius could be looked back to at last from a distance 
of time as though he had been one of the legendary 
beings who come into the market-places to sell magic 
books, and then are seen no more. The impression would 
accord well with his superstitious fancy ; he himself would 
very soon believe it, and could easily let Greek slip in- 
sensibly into the list of tongues miraculously placed within 
his power. It is no proof of deliberate untruth that 
Cardan has put down among the mysteries of life this 
vague impression in one place, but does not the less 
candidly relate elsewhere the pains with which he toiled 
along the usual paths of study. 

Those paths led him, at the beginning of the year 1526, 
to the attainment of one object of ambition. He was in 


that year laureated Doctor of Medicine. His admission 
to the dignity was not, however, easily accorded/ Having 
been presented by his teachers, and proved himself before 
the bishop orthodox and loyal, it was the duty of Cardan, 
as of any other candidate, to defend publicly four theses, 
two of them selected by himself. His opponents in dis- 
cussion were, as usual, the junior doctors; afterwards he 
himself, with those by whom he was presented, having 
withdrawn, his admission or exclusion was determined by 
a ballot 1 . Jerome had been at first rejected, in spite of 
his rectorship perhaps even because of it by a compact 
body of forty-seven dissentients. On account of his birth, 
disgrace attached to his name; his love of dice, and 
various irregularities, must certainly have brought him 
into much disfavour, while his obstinate and disputatious 
method of asserting his opinions, and his contempt of 
custom, must have scandalised many of the magnates of 
the university. He was rejected twice; but when he 
made his third effort, the adverse voices were reduced to 
nine 2 , and he was admitted Doctor of Medicine, and re- 
ceived with due solemnity the open and shut book, the 
barette, the ring, and the kiss. The open book signified 
things known to him that he was authorised to teach ; the 
closed book signified the knowledge that it yet remained 

1 The details concerning the installation of a doctor here given are 
from Tomasmi, Lib. i. cap. xlvii, pp. 159, 160. 

2 De Vit. Propr. p. 17. 


for him, and was his business, to acquire. The barette 
was of an ecclesiastical form, and signified that he was 
consecrated as a priest to science, and by its name 
(bi-rect), twice right, some thought it also signified that 
teachers ought to be correct in practice as in theory. By 
the ring he was espoused to his profession. The kiss was 
the symbol of the brotherhood to which he was admitted, 
and the peace and harmony that should prevail among all 
fellow-labourers in art or science. Then in the cathedral 
he was ushered by the bedel formally from a seat by his 
presenters to a seat by the prior, further symbolising that, 
as a man of learning, he was qualified to sit among the 
princes of the earth. So Jerome was made a doctor in 
the famous University of Padua. He was then twenty- 
five years old. 

Having obtained this qualification. Cardan, without 
loss of time, proceeded to establish himself in practice. 
An opening was found for him at Sacco, to which place 
he went, by the advice and with the help of a zealous 
friend, a physician of Padua, Francisco Buonafede 1 .'j3uona- 
fede had been a warm promoter in the university of Car- 
dan's claim to a degree. He himself held rank at Padua 
between the years 1524 and 1526 as the first of the two 
extraordinary professors of the Theory of Medicine, his 

i De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. Lib. iii. p. 431. De Libris Propr. (1557) 
p. 12. 


colleague being Peter Maynard, of Verona. Buonafede 
next became the second extraordinary professor of Prac- 
tical Medicine, in which department he became senior 
professor in 1539 1 . He was a man of great worth, who 
felt towards the young student disinterested friendship, for 
Cardan had not attended any of his lectures 2 . Sacco is a 
small town, about ten miles from Padua and twenty -five 
from Venice. 

Battle and murder, plague, pestilence, and famine, de- 
terred Cardan from residence at Milan. During the six 
or seven years spent by him at Sacco, his own district 
was devastated by a succession of those evils that charac- 
terised in most parts of Europe the low social condition 
of the age. W hile Jerome pursued his studies at the uni- 
versity, the slaughter committed by the plague in his own 
district had been merciless. In 1522 fifty thousand of 
the Milanese died of the plague in four months. In 1524 
there had been fierce plague, and by the fortune of war 
Milan had twice bowed to a new master. In 1526 and 
1527, while Cardan dwelt at Sacco, Milan suffered under 
scarcity, that was made more distressing by the added 
burden of intolerable taxes. In 1528 disease and pesti- 
lence again broke out, and were less fearful in their 
ravages only because they had already swept off a large 

1 Gyran. Pat. Riccoboni, p. 23. Tomasini, p. 314. 

2 De Vit. Propr. p. 18. The same authority covers the facts stated 
in the succeeding paragraph. 


part of the population of the district. In 1529 the 
miserable wars abated, and Cardan made an attempt to 
fix himself in Milan, for he regarded that town as his 
proper home. The attempt failed, as will presently be 
shown, and the adventurer having returned to Sacco, con- 
tinued to live there during three or four more years. 
' At Sacco, in which town he began to reside by way 
of omen perhaps on his birthday 1 , that is to say, on the 
24th of September (1526), Cardan established himself in a 
house of his own, practised his profession, gambled, spent 
his money, and had no lack of holiday friends. (The belief, 
founded on his horoscope, that he would die in middle 
age, and a desponding sense of inability to marry, caused 
the young physician to care little for the morrow. The 
consciousness of impotence had weighed upon him for 
about four years when he went to Sacco, and continued 
unabated until he was more than thirty years of age 2 . It 
was the greatest trouble of his life during those years 
which formed, in other respects, the happiest part of his 
existence. To feel, or to confess, that he was absolutely 
happy was not in the nature of Cardan. The conditions 
necessary to true happiness were absent from his mind. 
To the child whose character is forming the accidents of 

1 De Libris Propr. (ed. 1557) p. 13. A work entitled " Epidemia " 
begins thus: " Anno MDXXVI. die xxiv. Septembris qua mihi nata- 
lis fuit, contuli me in Saccense oppidum." 

2 De Ut. ex Adv. Capiend. Lib. ii. cap. 9. 


outer life are events of real importance, happy or unhappy 
in themselves, but in the man whose character is formed 
the outer life is subject to the inner. I have taken pains, 
as I thought just, to call attention to those incidents of 
Cardan's youth which had a baneful influence upon his 
character. The child Jerome it was right to handle ten- 
derly, but now that he has grown up, and has come out 
into the world to take his part in it as independent worker, 
he must run alone, for he is too old to be nursed by a 

In his own morbid way Cardan tells us that as there are 
short giants and tall pigmies, so when he says that he 
spent at Sacco happy days, we must understand them to 
have been happily wretched 1 . He enjoyed games of 
chance, indulged his love of music, rambled through a 
beautiful country, dined and studied indolently. No- 
body molested him, he spent his money and he had 
his friends, he was respected, visited by gay Venetian 
nobles. The magnates of the town associated with him, 
he kept open house, and men gathered about him, prompt 
enough to own that Jerome Cardan was a great philoso- 
pher. This cheerful bit of Cardan's life extended over 
five years and a half, commencing in September, 1526, 
and ending in the month of February, 1532, not very 

1 De Vita Propr. cap. xxxi. p. 129. The authority remains the same 
until there occurs a fresh citation. 


many weeks after his marriage. He had enjoyed fairly 
his student life, but to the years spent at Sacco he 
looked back often afterwards. They contracted in his 
memory into a single happy thought, a thought to which, 
at night, his pleasant dreams frequently led him. 

lie studied while at Sacco indolently, or at any rate 
his study produced small immediate results. During the 
six years spent there his mind was at work, but that was 
a period rather of growth than produce. Cardan himself 
says, discontentedly, " During all the six years that I 
practised my art in that town, with great labour I pro- 
duced but little profit to myself, much less to others." 
(Yet he was by no means wholly without practice 1 .) " I 
was impeded by crude thoughts and restless studies, my 
wit not working smoothly or to good effect 2 ." His writ- 
ten work during that period, except an essay upon Chei- 
romancy, an art in which Cardan had more faith than a 
modern gipsy, was entirely medical. It consisted of 
three hundred sheets, upon the Method of Healing ; a 
treatise to the extent of thirty -six sheets, on the epidemic 
that prevailed in his neighbourhood during the whole 
time of his residence at Sacco ; a treatise on the Plague. 
The treatise on the Plague was lost, and there were two 
other treatises destroyed also by the misdeed of a cat, 

1 De Consolatione, p. 75. 

3 De Libris Propriis. Liber ultimus. Opera, Tom. L p. 97. 


one De Re Venerea, the other upon Spittle 1 . The three 
hundred sheets upon the Method of Healing, Cardan 
proposed to arrange in four books, putting into the fourth 
the remedies for the compound diseases. Of the early 
works of Cardan, and of the teachings found in them, it 
will be my duty to speak more at large in the succeeding 

Two persons Jerome names especially as having been his 
friends while he lived at Sacco. One of these, Paolo Illirico, 
was a druggist, with whom he came very naturally into con- 
tact. His other friend was Gian Maria Mauroceno, a Vene- 
tian noble 2 . This may or may not be the same senator who 
was concerned in the disreputable quarrel next to be re- 
lated, but the hero of it was more probably a nobleman 
named Thomas Lezun, who is elsewhere mentioned 3 . 
I shall best illustrate the bold way in which the philoso- 
pher speaks evil of himself, by putting down the worst 
part of this tale in his own words. They, however, who 
are familiar with the personal records that have been left 
to us by men of the world who lived and acted in the 
spirit of the sixteenth century, will know that the rude 
passion of Cardan was very little out of harmony with the 
coarse temper of the times 4 . 

' De Sapientia, &c. p. 422. De Libris Propriis (ed. 1557), p. 13, 
where he says of the two spoilt treatises, " ambo hi libri corrupt! sunt 
urin. felis." The same fact he records again elsewhere. 

3 De Propr. Vita Liber, cap. xv. 3 Liber de Ludo Alese. 

4 1 may suggest a recollection of the Memoirs of Cellini. 


" When I was at Venice," Jerome tells us 1 , "at the 
festival of the birth of the Virgin, I lost my money at 
cards, and on the next day what remained; but I was in 
the house of the man with whom I played. When, 
therefore, I noticed that he used foul play, I wounded 
him in the face with a poniard, but slightly. There 
were present two youths of his household, and two spears 
were hanging from the rafters, and the house-door was 
fastened with a key. But when I had taken from him 
all his money, both his own and mine, having won back 
early that morning, and sent home by my boy the clothes 
and rings that I had lost to him on the preceding day, I 
flung back to him, of my own accord, some of the money, 
because I saw that he was wounded." Having achieved 
so much, Cardan pointed his sword at the two servants, 
and threatened death to them if they did not unlock the 
door and let him out. Their master, balancing the cost 
in his own mind, and finding, says Jerome, that what 
he had now lost was not more than he had previously 
taken, bade that his assailant should be suffered to go 
unmolested. The fierce passions awakened in the gambler 
made such scenes no doubt sufficiently familiar, and the 
Venetian either was conscious that he had provoked an 
attack, by being guilty of the charge upon which it was 
founded, or he was a hospitable, kindly man. He took 
1 De Vita Propria, cap. xxx. 


the dagger-thrust in friendly part and bore no malice, for 
there is a sequel to the story. 

On the same day, while Cardan was wandering about, 
with arms under his clothes, endeavouring to avoid the 
wrath of the chief magistrate for his assault upon a 
senator, after dark his feet slipped and he fell into one of 
the canals. By clinging, in his struggle, to the oars of a 
passing boat, he obtained rescue at the hands of the 
rowers, and was dragged on board. He found on board 
his adversary, with a fillet round his face, who covered 
him not with reproaches, but with a dry suit of his own 

After he had dwelt two years in Sacco, Cardan, never 
strong in health, was attacked by tertian fever, ending, 
however, on the seventh day. A year afterwards, in 1529, 
there being a slight remission of the plague and tumult 
in Milan, Jerome, summoned by letters from his mother 1 , 
returned to his own town, and there endeavoured to 
obtain his enrolment among the members of the College 
of Physicians. But the old stain of illegitimacy clung 
still to him in the company of those men who had known 
him as a boy. The respectable body of the physicians of 
Milan would admit no bastard into their society, and they 
rejected him, upon a suspicion of illegitimacy based, as 
its victim tells us, upon the ill-treatment he had expe- 
1 De Consol. p. 75. 


rienced from his father 1 /' When Cardan is relating facts, 
the neglect of his son by the geometrician cannot be kept 
out of sight; when he expresses feelings, however, a senti- 
ment of filial affection, and a tender recollection of the 
old man's latest sympathies, prompt nothing but panegyric 
of the dead. 

His rejection by the physicians of his own town for the 
reason assigned, inflicted a fresh hurt upon the sickly 
spirit of the young philosopher. He entreated also, while 
in Milan, for some satisfactory adjustment of his claims 
against the powerful Barbiani family 2 ; but from the Bar- 
biani he obtained no settlement. He found his mother 
also sullen ; and having experienced in Milan insult and 
disappointment, with much bodily and mental toil, he 
went back to Sacco in a hectic state, half convalescent 
from a desperate complaint. He had been oppressed at 
Milan with worldly cares, the sense of which was rapidly 
supplanted by the expectation of death 3 . Cough, ulcers, 
and foetid expectorations, caused all who were about him 

1 De Consol. p. 75. 2 De Vita Propr. p. 18. 

3 De Propr. Vit. p. 19. De Consol. p. 76, where he writes "In- 
terim vero cogita quae curse qua3 tristitise animum meura vexare de- 
buissent. Hinc paupertas maxima, illinc mater flens orbitatem et 
suam miseram senectutem, turn memoria contumaciae affinium, inju- 
riae ut rebar medicorum, minae potentis " (t. e. of Count Barbiani, who 
no doubt had borrowed money of Fazio) " desperatio salutis, nullus 
amicus. Quiescens indigebam necessariis, laborare non poteram : men- 
dicare turpissimum erat." On the same pages will be found authority 
for the succeeding facts . 


for a long time to consider that the life of Cardan was 
already near its close. He was thus seriously ill for seven 
months, wanting necessaries. Nevertheless, by the inter- 
cession, he tells us, of the Blessed Virgin perhaps 
through abstinence from medicine, for he took none ; per- 
haps, he hints, because he was reserved for better things 
Jerome recovered. There were many years to come 
through which a busy philosophic mind had work to do 
in the unwholesome chamber of his body. The spirit 
would have been more healthy had it dwelt in wholesome 
flesh. In more than one place we are told by Cardan that 
his mind suffered at times pain so intense that he was glad 
to relieve it by applying counter-irritation to his body. 
He would beat his thighs with a switch, bite his left arm, 
pinch tender bits of skin, would fast, and endeavour by 
such means to produce a flow of tears, for he was relieved 
greatly by weeping, but was frequently unable to obtain 
for himself that method of relief 1 . 

The appearance of Cardan in his manhood well ac- 
corded with the temper of his mind 2 . He had thin arms 
and unequal hands, the left hand being elegantly formed 
with shapely nails, the right hand clumsy and ill-shapeii. 
His forehead was broad, and there was little hair upon the 
temples; in later and graver years he wore a skull-cap on 

1 De Vita Propr. cap. vi. p. 30; cap. xiv. pp. 65, 66. 

2 Ibid. cap. v. p. 24; cap. xxi. pp. 84, 85, for the next statements. 


a shaven head. His beard was yellow and forked. His 
gait was clumsy, for he paid little or no heed in walking 
to the way that lay before him, and his pace and bearing 
varied with his thoughts. It was now fast, now slow, 
now upright, now with bowed head, as variable as the 
gestures of a child. In his speech he was too copious and 
too deficient in amenity 1 . He was very fond of fishing 2 . 
He had a taste for cats and dogs and little birds, so that 
he even names them with history, music, and other things 
that adorn this transitory scene, placing them in his list 
between liberty and temperance on the one side, and on the 
other side the consolation of death, and the equal ebb of 
time over the happy and the wretched 3 . Among his 
follies he numbers an inability to part with living things 
that have been established once under his roof. " I re- 
tain," he says, " domestics that are not only useless to me, 
but that I am told also are a scandal to my house; I keep 
even animals which I have once accepted, goats, lambs, 
hares, rabbits, storks, so that they pollute me the whole 
house 4 ." 

A more natural taste in a philosopher, an extravagant 

1 De Vita Propr. p. 59. 2 Ibid. p. 80. 

3 He speaks of quicquam boni quo adornes hanc scenam, and gives 
for example " musicaB auditus, oculorum lustratio, sermones, fabulae, 
historiae, libertas, continentia, aviculae, catuli, feles, consolatio mortis, 
communis temporis transitus miseris cequalis ac beatis, casuum et fortunes" 
De Propria Vita Lib. cap. xxx. 

4 De Propria Vita Lib. cap. xiii. pp. 60, 61. 

VOL. I. G 


taste for the purchase of books, can scarcely be named as a 
peculiarity 1 . More characteristic, in the same way, of the 
philosopher whose ruling passion was an eagerness for 
everlasting fame, was a delight in expensive writing mate- 
rials, a desire to lavish money on the instruments by use 
of which his name was to be made immortal 2 . A per- 
sonal peculiarity which lasted for about two years while 
he was at Sacco, Jerome regarded as a portent. His 
skin exhaled a strong odour of sulphur 3 . As a practi- 
tioner of medicine, Cardan, very wisely indeed, consider- 
ing the science of the time, trusted more to experiment 
and observation than to his own wisdom or the knowledge 
of his art. As a philosopher, apart from dice and cards, 
he professed and felt tender regard for time, the economy 
of which he recommended by some such proverb as that 
many mouthfuls make a bellyful 4 . Not only when pro- 
fessedly at work, but also when riding, walking, eating, 
or awake in bed, there were analyses and distillations 
going on within the laboratory of his brain. He con- 
sidered it a good and wise thing to court the acquaint- 
ance of old men, and to seek knowledge in their society. 
He also, in a spirit of the truest philosophy, considered it 

1 " Profusus in emendis libris." De Vit. Propr. cap. xxv. p. 94. 

2 De Vit. Propr. cap. xviii. p. 80. 

3 De Serum Varietate (ed. Basil. 1557), Lib. viii. cap. 43, p. 316. 

4 " Multa modica faciunt unum satis." De Vit. Propr, cap. xxiii. 
p. 90. All that is stated in this paragraph depends for authority on the 
same chapter in the Liber de Vita Propria. 


liis duty to observe everything, and suppose nothing to 
have been fortuitously made by nature " by which 
means," he hints, and we can readily believe, " I have be- 
come richer in knowledge than in money." 

Recovered from his wasting illness, writing, trifling, 
and enjoying again his position in the little town of Sacco, 
when he had completed his thirtieth year, towards the 
end of the year 153 1 1 , the young physician married. Be- 
fore the event, he tells us 2 , looking back to it from a later 
date, and colouring his narrative with superstition, before 
the event a quiet dog howled with unusual pertinacity ; 
ravens sat upon the house-top and croaked more than they 
were wont; bundles of sticks broken by a boy emitted 
sparks of fire. 

At that time Cardan, newly and suddenly 3 relieved 
from the sense of incompetence to marry by which he 
had for ten years considered himself doomed to remain 
single, dreamed of a lovely maiden dressed in white. His 

1 De Vit. Propr. p. 19. 

2 De Vit. Propr. cap. xli. pp. 209, 210: " Cum anno MDXXXI. canis 
modesta ulularet praeter consuetudinem assidue : corvi insiderent 
domus vertici crocitantes praeter solitum, puer cum fascicules lignorum 
frangeret, erumpebant ignis scintillae, duxi uxorem inexpectato." 

3 " Minim dictu," he says (de Lib. Prop. Lib. ult.) " ut flatim e galli 
naceo factus sim gallus, et ex 6Xa<ria KTJ\(OV" All this part of Car- 
dan's experience is the theme of a distinct chapter of the second book 
De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. beginning at p. 280 of the edition before cited. 

In it he relates with surprising candour various facts belonging to his 
student life, especially to the year of his rectorship. 



sick mind coloured the memory of his dream in later and 
more miserable years ; the shadow of his future life is 
therefore thrown over the telling of it. Jerome Cardan 
dreamed 1 that he was walking in a lovely paradise, fanned 
by a soft breeze, through scenes such as not Pulci himself 
could represent by words. It seemed to him, that as he 
came by the garden porch, he noticed that the gate had 
been left open. Then looking through the open gateway 
he saw standing beyond the porch a damsel dressed in 
white, and he went out to her and put his arms about 
her neck and kissed her. But after his first kiss there 
came the gardener, who shut the gate, and would for no 
persuasion open it again. Then Jerome hung upon the 
damsel's neck, outside the locked door of his paradise. 

Now it happened that not long after this dream a fire 
took place in the house of an inhabitant of Sacco, Aldo- 
bello Bandarini 3 , captain of the Venetian levies in the 
district of Padua. Cardan, who scarcely knew this man 
by sight, felt somewhat annoyed when, after he had been 
burnt out of his own home, he established himself next 
door to the philosopher, and vexed him with the constant 
passing to and fro of a rough set of visitors. Aldobello 
was a man who had created friends and fortune for him- 
self in a shrewd, genial way. Jerome was learning to en- 

1 De Vita Prop. cap. xxvi. pp. 96, 97.WDe Libr. Propr. Liber ultim. 
Opera, Tom. L p. 97. 

2 De Vit. Prop. p. 97. 


Jure his neighbourhood, when after a very few days he 
saw from the road a girl standing at the captain's window 
dressed in white a girl perfectly resembling her of whom 
he recently had dreamed 1 . What was the girl to him ? 
he reasoned. How can I marry a girl who is poor, when 
I myself am poor ? How can I bear to be crushed under 
the weight of her brothers, sisters, and relations, when I 
barely know how to support my own existence ? Abduc- 
tion or seduction are not to be thought of (they were un- 
happily thoughts only too ready to arise in men who ad- 
mired women three centuries ago), because her father is a 
captain who would bear no wrong, and lives next door to 
me, handy for vengeance. O miserable man, what can 
I do? 

It is most probable that Cardan did connect Lucia Ban- 
darini, the damsel whom he first saw dressed in white, 
with some dream of a white-robed girl that he regarded 
as an omen, for he was deeply imbued with all the super- 
stitions that had credit in his age. The dream and the 
desire for marriage were both most likely begotten of his 
newly-acquired sense of power. He became eager to 

1 De Vit. Prop. p. 97. " Verum dicebam, quid mihi cum hac puella? 
Si uxorem ducere voluero pauper nihil habentem et fratrum ac sororum 
multitudine oppressam, perii, cum vix vel sic sumptum sustinere 
queam ; si tentem abducere, aut occulte earn opprimere, cum ipse sit 
oppidanus, non deerunt exploratores, Tribunus Militum non injuriam 
patietur, et in utroque casu quid mihi agendum erit? O miser . . ." 


marry Lucia, and by his eagerness greatly surprised the 
captain, who at first believed his offer to be made in jest, 
knowing what chances of marriage he had up to that 
time steadily refused 1 . The offer was, however, no jest, 
and the willing maiden was led to the altar by a willing 
man 2 , who afterwards, during the short time that he re- 
mained in Sacco, received all the aid and kindness that 
her parents could bestow upon him. The dog had 
howled, the dream had warned, but Jerome Cardan took 
a wife home notwithstanding. 

1 De Lib. Prop. Lib. ult. Opera, Tom. i. p. 97. 

2 "Duco volentem volens." Ibid. p. 98. 




MEDICINE, during the last hundred years, has been 
developing with energy among the sciences, and marking, 
by an ample ring of newly-acquired knowledge, each 
year's growth. The study of it may be compared now to 
a tree planted on congenial soil, for its roots are imbedded 
in a fair amount of ascertained truth concerning the prin- 
ciples upon which nature acts. When there was no true 
natural philosophy, there could be no true science of 
medicine. Medicine was then an art, in which there 
was awakened no inherent power of development. Dis- 
eases are so various in kind, and those of the same kind 
so various in aspect, that the best empiric, with no thread 
of principle to follow, is a man lost in a labyrinth. Before 
anything like a correct knowledge of the ways of nature 
had supplied the clue, it was in the choice of the physician 
either to treat his patients in accordance with some theory 
deduced from the false data furnished by an unsubstantial 
philosophy, or to argue wholly, as well as he could, from 


experience. In the time of Cardan it showed sound dis- 
cretion in the doctor when he could say as Cardan said, 
"I have been more aided -by experience than by my own 
wisdom, or by faith in the power of my art 1 ." At that 
time the empiric really was the best physician, and a 
quack doctor, who would use his eyes with conscientious 
shrewdness, dealt less death not to say more health 
about him, than the graduate who put trust in scho- 
lastic theories. 

It was just in those days that the sap began to rise in 
the philosophy which had put forth leaves once only, and 
but for that single brief show of vitality had remained, to 
all appearance, without any change where it was first 
established by Hippocrates. The science of medicine, 
for the reason before stated, makes more progress in one 
month of the present year than it was able to make 
among all the generations that succeeded each other in 
the world between the time of the birth of Hippocrates 
and the publication of the writings of Cardan. During 
that great interval of twenty centuries there was born 
only one man, Galen, who did much to advance medical 
knowledge; and so little had otherwise been gained by 
the accumulation of experience, that when Cardan began 
to write, Hippocrates and Galen were the undisputed 
teachers of all that was held to be sound practice in 
i De Vita Prop. cap. xxv. 


medicine and surgery./ Nothing was at the fingers' ends 
of doctors that was not found in the tomes of those two 
ancient worthies, if we except " the dust and cobwebs of 
scholastic theories that had collected on their surface in 
the lapse of time. There were indeed other writers whom 
physicians studied, Oribasius, Aetius, Paulus ^Egineta; 
among the Arabs, Avicenna, and Averroes, Rhases, and 
others. But these, so far as they were trustworthy, were 
little more than cups filled from the pure spring of Hip- 
pocrates, or the broad pool of Galen. As for the Romans, 
they had no physicians of their own worth following. 
Celsus was only useful and in that sense very useful 
to physicians of Europe in ' the sixteenth century, as a 
repertory of medical Latin, which enabled them to write 
their treatises correctly, and apply to diseases and re- 
medies of which they read in Greek, the proper Latin 
names in their own volumes. 

It was in the lifetime of Cardan that the sap began to 
find its way into the barren stems of many sciences. The 
spirit of inquiry that begot the reformation was apparent 
also in the fields and woods, and by the sick beds of the 
people. Out of the midst of the inert mass of philo- 
sophers that formed the Catholic majority in science, 
there came not a small number of independent men who 
boldly scrutinised the wisdom of the past, and diligently 
sought new indications for the future. Cardan was one 


of these; perhaps the cleverest, but not the best of them. 
Though he worked for the future, he was not before his 
time. It was said after his death, probably with truth, 
that no other man of his day could have left behind him 
works showing an intimate acquaintance with so many 
subjects 1 . He was one of the few men who can be at 
once versatile and profound. He sounded new depths in 
a great many sciences, brought wit into the service of the 
dullest themes, dashed wonderful episodes into abstruse 
treatises upon arithmetic, and left behind him in his 
writings proofs of a wider knowledge and a more brilliant 
genius than usually went in those days to the making of a 
scholar's reputation. Jerome, however, had not a whole 
mind, and the sick part of him mingled its promptings 
with the sound in all his writings. To any one now 
reading through the great pile of his works, the intellect 
of the uneasy philosopher might readily suggest the 
image of a magnificent moth half-released from the state 

1 A Milanese physician, writing of the Milanese College the same 
that had once persecuted Cardan not very long after Cardan's death, 
scarcely exaggerated the opinion then held in speaking of him : " Tan- 
quam ad omne scientiarum genus natus, inter omnes sui et antiqui 
temporis profitentes medicos eminentissimus, verum Medicuiae lumen." 
Joan. Bapt. Silvatico, Liber de Coll. Mediol. Med. (1607) cap. xx. 
Naudseus is still more emphatic, and considers Cardan to have excelled 
Aristotle in variety and depth of knowledge. Cardan himself (living 
before Dr. Johnson's time) was not ashamed to boast that he had 
written more than he had read, and that he had taught more than he 
had learnt. 


of chrysalis, its head and feet and front wings working 
out towards free space and upper air, but all the rest 
bound by some morbid adhesion to its dusky shell. 

The publications issued by a scholar form, of course, 
so many chapters in his life, but anything like a full 
discussion of the writings of Cardan, which, in the col- 
lected edition, fill ten densely printed folios with matter 
that is almost everywhere curious and interesting, would 
occupy more space than could be allowed to it in this 
biography. I shall condense, therefore, into the present 
chapter what I wish to say about his early works, in- 
cluding everything written previous to his marriage. 
Up to that time nothing had been printed. In speaking 
of these, and afterwards in speaking of maturer, better 
works, I shall endeavour to dwell only upon those points 
which elucidate his character, or stand out as facts that 
belong fairly to the story of his life. Since the great 
triumphs of Jerome's genius were not achieved in boy- 
hood or in youth, it is not necessary to say very much 
about those first fruits of his intellect to which this 
chapter is devoted. 

They have been named already. The treatises, written 
almost in boyhood, on the Earning of Immortality, and 
upon the True Distances of Objects, do not remain 
to us. Cardan himself tells us " they were juvenile 
attempts, and rather signs of disposition than the fruits 


of knowledge or of study 1 ." The early treatise upon 
gambling, written in Italian, is represented by a Latin 
disquisition, published at a later date, on dice and cards 2 . 
This is recast from the early work, and has few traces of 
maturity about it. It contains much curious minute 
information about the games played in those days, and 
the tricks of gamblers, good to be consulted by all writers 
on the history of such amusements. The book is, at the 
same time, very characteristic of the writer's temper. 
Gambler himself, and writing in that avowed character a 
treatise on his favourite amusement, Jerome takes no pains 
to defend his reputation, or to justify a love of dice. 
He lays it down coolly and philosophically, as one of his 
first axioms, that dice and cards ought to be played for 
money, since if there be no stake to win there is nothing 
to mitigate the fact that time is to be lost 3 . To play at 
dice and cards for amusement purely, he says, when there 
are books, music, conversation, and so many wiser and 
better ways of passing time agreeably, is the part only 

1 De Libris Propriis. Liber ultimus. Opera, Tom. i. p. 97. "Fuerant 
enim conatus juveniles: et indolis potius indicia, quam fructus scientiae 
aut studiorum." 

2 De Libris Propriis (1557), p. 11. 

3 " Impositus est tamen modus, circa pecuniae quantitatem, alias certe 
nunquam ludere licet: quod quam sumunt excusationem de leniendo 
taedio temporis, utilius id fiat lectionibus lepidis, aut narrationibus 
fabularum vel historiarum, vel artificiis quibusdam pulchris nee labo- 
riosis ; inter quae etiam lyra, vel cheli pulsare, aut canere, carminaque 
componere, utilius fuerit. . . . Lib. de Ludo Alese, cap. ii. 


of an empty man. Dice and card-playing in a house set 
a bad example to children and servants; and people who 
are very respectable, says Jerome, ought not to be seen 
at the gambling-table. To take part in games of chance 
sullies also especially the dignity of a physician 1 . 

There is more than ordinary candour in this way of 
opening the subject, and in the recommendation that 
decent people should gamble in private, and then only 
with their equals in position and in wealth 1 . There is a 
chapter occupied in the setting forth, as upon a balance- 
sheet, of the good and bad sides of the dice-player's ex- 
perience 3 . In his favour, it is said : At the gaming-table 
he forgets his cares, and can return from it with a prompt 
spirit to the work over which his mind may happen to 
have flagged. There, also, his friends open their souls 
to him unwittingly, their passions and propensities break 
out over the changes of the game, and he can see them 
and discriminate between them as they are. The gaming- 
table also is, for the time, as true a leveller as death; 
over it men have hailed princes as companions, acquired 
their favour, and obtained promotion in the state. Cardan 
himself did in this way become acquainted with a prince 3 . 
Then, however, turning to the dark side of the picture, 
the philosopher dilates upon the great preponderance of 

1 Liber de Ludo Alese, cap. iii. 2 Ibid. cap. iv. 

3 " Quo etiam Francisco Sfortiaa Mediolani principi innotui et nobi- 
liura amicitiam multorum mihicomparavi." DeVit.Propr.cap.xiii.p. 62. 


evil that he finds, and sums up by saying that he writes 
a treatise upon gambling, though it is a bad thing, because 
it had become (as, indeed, in those days it almost had 
become upon all ground much afflicted by the tread of 
armies) universal and, as it were, natural to man. He 
writes of it, therefore, as a physician writes of an in- 
curable disease, not praising it, but showing how to make 
the best of the affliction 1 . 

Then arises a discussion of the furniture of dice-playing 
namely, the tables, and the bone marked upon four 
sides, or the cube marked upon six. Then follows a 
chapter upon the casting with one, two, and three dice, 
pointing out probabilities. The rest of the treatise in- 
cludes a consideration of the morals of dice and the 
rules of honour among gamblers, as, says Cardan, there 
are laws also among thieves 2 . It contains also an account 
of all games played with French, Spanish, German, and 
Italian cards, including a description of the cards then 
commonly in use. Cheating appears to have been more 
common, as it was more easy, with cards than with dice. 
Among the tricks that are exposed is one that consisted 

1 " Etsi tota Alea mala esset cum tamen ob ludentium multitudinem 
quasi naturalis sit ; ob id etiam velut de insanabilibus morbis a Medico 
tractandum fuit; namque in omne malo est minimum malum, in omni 
dedeco minimum dedecus, in omni flagitio minimum flagitium." Lib. 
de Ludo Aleec, cap. v. 

2 "Sunt enim in malis rebus suse leges; velut et latromim et pira- 
toruncu" Ibid. cap. xxix. 


in soaping the back of some important card, so that the 
others should slip from it when it was thrown down 
among them. Thomas Lezun, a Venetian patrician, 
used to cheat Cardan with soaped cards. We may sup- 
pose that when a trick of that kind could be practised 
the cards used were not particularly clean. Nor should 
we connect with them any associations drawn from the 
modern whist-table : in most games played in the time of 
Cardan, cards were used only as paper-dice. This trea- 
tise closes with a little chapter upon the use of dice 
among the ancients. 

Of the works already named as having been written by 
Jerome during the six or seven years of his life in Sacco, 
there remain two, both of which underwent at a later 
period of their author's life a great deal of revision. One 
of them is the little treatise upon Cheiromancy, which, 
afterwards was published as a chapter in a philosophic 
work of great extent, the labour of maturer years. In his 
maturest years, however, Cardan never escaped from the 
hold of superstition. Stars and dreams were always por- 
tents to him, and he never ceased to believe that there 
was a portentous science to be studied on the palm of a 
man's hand. The hand, he said, is the instrument of the 
body, as the tongue is of the mind 1 . He therefore studied 

1 De Kerum Varietate Libri xvii. (Basil. 1557) Lib, xv, cap. Lxxix. 
p, 557, 


all that lie found written upon Cheiromancy, and his 
treatise on the subject is no more than a dull abstract of 
his studies. He gives, for example, a woodcut-picture of 
an outspread hand, with the name of eacli part inscribed 
on it, according to the Cheiromantic nomenclature. Above 
the joint of the hand at the wrist there is the carpus 1 . 
The side of the hand against which the thumb rests is 
the thenar. The other side, between the little finger and 
the wrist, is called the hypothenar. . The ball of the 
thumb is entitled stethos. The joints of each finger from 
the hand upwards are called procondyle, condyle, and 
metacondyle. Then there is assigned to each finger a 
planet, Cheiromancy being, in fact, a sister science with 
Astrology. The thumb and stethos belong to Mars : on 
them we read of violence or strength, of fire or hostile ac- 
cidents in life ; there also we read of rough attachments, 
similar to that which inclined Mars to Venus. It is a 
curious fact to note how intimately a belief in the old 
heathen mythology was blended with those pseudo- 
sciences, astrology and cheiromancy, and in that form 
could be fostered even by grave Christians and dignitaries 
of the Church of Rome. The index finger belongs to 
Jove: upon it we read of priesthood, honours, magis- 
tracy. Middle fingers are all subject to Saturn : Saturn 
writes on them dark hints of prisons, fevers, poisons, fear, 
1 De Ker, Variet, pp, 558564, 


grief, profound meditation, occult studies, toil without re- 
ward. The ring finger is the Sun's: on it we read of 
high honour, power, and the favour of kings. Venus 
holds man by the little finger : upon it she writes of 
wives and sons and other pleasant things that suit her 
humour. The Moon rules over the hypothenar: upon 
that she tells of shipwrecks, suffocations, and submersions. 
In the next place, concerning lines, the line within the 
hand, bounding the ball of the thumb, is the line of life, 
of the heart, and of the sun. The line across the middle 
of the hand is the line of the brain and of the moon. 
There is a line running sometimes from the carpus to the 
middle finger, called the sister to the line of life, and they 
who have it lead lives full of labour and pain. It would 
be weary work to multiply the details of so dull a science. 
Very few more words upon it will suffice. 

They who are to die early have the lines upon their 
hands indistinct and intersected in a great many places. 
They will be happiest whose lines are deep, and coloured, 
and straight in their course, or running into such regular 
forms as stars, crosses, squares, or parallels. New lines 
found tending to the right mean new successes, those 
that incline to the left forebode reverses. Fine lines like 
hairs denote bad luck. This science also takes great 
notice of the nails, drawing conclusions from the number 

VOL. I. H 


and the colour of the spots upon them. All these things, 
throughout his life, Cardan, a great philosopher, reli- 
giously believed 1 . 

He was not daunted by this problem : In children on 
account of the softness of the skin, and in old age on 
account of its dryness, lines are most abundant. How 
then can lines denote the course of life when they abound 
most in the people who do nothing? To this objection 
Jerome was content to give the answer properly appointed 
to be given by the teachers of the Cheiromantic creed 2 . 
In children the lines signify the future, in old men they 
signify the past ; in each they tell of a whole life. In the 
mature hand, also, it is convenient to know that there are 

1 After speaking of some of the doctrines of Bodinus, who was born 
thirty years later than Cardan, Dugaid Stewart says : " Notwithstand- 
ing these wise and enlightened maxims, it must be owned, on the other 
hand, that Bodin has indulged himself in various speculations, which 
would expose a writer of the present times to the imputation of 
insanity. ... In contemplating the characters of the eminent persons 
who appeared about this era, nothing is more interesting and in- 
structive than to remark the astonishing combination in the same 
minds of the highest intellectual endowments with the most deplorable 
aberrations of the understanding; and even, in numberless instances, 
with the most childish superstitions of the multitude." Encyclopaedia 
Britannica. Eighth edition. Vol. i. pp. 28, 29. The life and writings of 
Cardan are an emphatic illustration of this fact. Speaking very 
roughly, we may even say that where Cardan was thought mad by 
his neighbours, we should think him wise; and where his neighbours 
thought him wise, we think him mad. 

2 De Rer. Variet, p. 561. 


many lines, commonly ill-defined as if vanishing that 
tell of past events. 

The work next to be mentioned shows the intellect of 
the superstitious philosopher from a better point of view. 
It is the treatise on the Differing of Doctors. 

Many things in the writings of Cardan make it evident 
that he had studied Galen to good purpose, and it is not 
unlikely that it pleased him Secretly to feel that he him- 
self resembled Galen in a good many particukrs. Hip- 
pocrates stood on his own pedestal, and was a great man 
by himself. The old father of Medicine, contemporary 
with the wisest men of Greece younger than Socrates, 
but at the same time an older man than Plato merited 
his crown of gold from the Athenians and his dinner in 
the Prytaneium, for he was morally and intellectually 
great. He wrote simply, tersely, royally as a king issu- 
ing wealth from his own mint, not as a rich man pouring 
out his hoard of coins, with all manner of kings' heads 
and dates upon them. He was a fearless old fellow who 
would not move one step for the enemies of Greece. He 
was a true-hearted physician, who gathered men about 
him in a grand spirit of kindliness. He visited the poor 
without reward, loved knowledge for its own sake, bound 
his disciples by a vow to mutual courtesy, to a religious 
keeping of all secrets trusted by sick people to their 



charge, and enforced with all his might a code of prac- 
tice that became a noble calling. To the end of the 
world, physicians will appreciate their fine-hearted old 
father, and be proud to* think themselves the children of 
Hippocrates. But Galen was a man of smaller stature, 
living at a time when it was not so easy to be noble. 
He was physician to five Roman emperors, and one of 
them was Commodus. He commented upon Hippocrates, 
and wrote much ; not in the clear, royal style, but with 
diffuseness. Like Cardan, Galen had a passionate mother; 
like Cardan, he was persecuted, for he could with diffi- 
culty keep his ground in Rome 'against the sects in 
medicine whose theories he laboured to demolish; and 
the parallel holds good, though Galen became great 
in his day, and was sought by kings. Like Cardan, 
again, Galen was deficient in personal courage, and su- 
perstitious, having much belief in dreams and omens. 
Galen and Cardan were both boasters, and both men 
who really rose above the level of the intellect around 
them. Galen fought against the mere scholastic sects 
into which the doctors had degenerated and divided, the 
dogmatics, the empirics, the methodics, the episynthetics, 
the pneumatics, the eclectics, and especially attacked 
them in a lost book, of which the title is preserved, De 
Empiricorum Contradictis, the Differings of the Em- 
pirics. Cardan found the physicians in his day straying 

GALEN. 101 

away from the truth, and losing the best sense of the 
teaching of Hippocrates, as Galen had restored and ampli- 
fied it. The first attempt, therefore, of Cardan, as a medi- 
cal author, made in direct imitation of Galen, was a work 
entitled Contradicentia Medicorum, on that wide sub- 
ject the Differings of Doctors. The titles of some other of 
Cardan's works are borrowed from the example of Galen. 
The list of resemblances is scarcely made complete, when 
I add that the style of Galen, brilliant, pompous, and dif- 
fuse, would not pair badly with the style of Cardan, though 
Cardan, equally diffuse, wrote with less rhetoric and more 
true genius. Galen was also a prominent example of pro- 
lific authorship, Cardan himself being no mean proficient 
in the art of bookmaking. In that respect, however, he was 
utterly eclipsed by the sage of Pergamus, since it is said of 
Galen that he wrote seven hundred and fifty books ; five 
hundred on medicine, and the rest on geometry, phi- 
losophy, logic, and grammar. Galen wrote two treatises 
especially upon the books that he had written, and the 
order in which they were to be taken. Those treatises 
he called " De Libris Propriis." Cardan wrote three works 
of precisely the same kind, and gave them the same title. 
While noting facts like these, it is to be remembered 
that the imitation of old forms was, in Jerome's time, the 
highest object of a great deal of the scholarship of Europe, 
and that Cardan shared many points of the preceding 


parallel with a large body of the teachers in his day. He 
differed from the herd of doctors, however, very greatly, 
inasmuch as he poured into the old jars not dregs col- 
lected from all quarters, but fresh oil of his own pressing. 
His first work, the Contradicentia Medicorum, was very 
much expanded afterwards, and published as a massive 
treatise, of which it will be requisite to speak in a succeed- 
ing chapter. It will be quite sufficient, therefore, now to 
state the plan of it, since that was conceived even in its 
author's days of pupilage. Hippocrates, said Cardan 1 , had 
become obscure through lapse' of time and the conciseness 
of his style. Galen " of whom there remains less 
than we could wish, but more than we could well be- 
lieve it possible for one man to have written" Galen, 
in works written at different periods, contradicted himself 
much and often. By the Arabians all his errors had been 
copied. Aetius was inconsistent, following at once both 
Galen and the men whom Galen combated, and never 
giving reasons for his dicta. Oribasius was useless. In 
fact, there was only Galen, with his errors and his obso- 
lete passages, upon whom a hope of useful information 
could be built. His design, therefore, was to travel steadily 
through the medical doctrines of Hippocrates and Galen, 
to note all contradictions of themselves or of each other, 
and to consult with the same view the works of all the 
1 Contradie. Medicorum. In preface. 


leading medical authorities. Then he proposed to pre- 
sent to the medical world of his own day, in a series of 
paragraphs, all the chief points on which conflicting senti- 
ments had been expressed ; to cite in each instance the 
differing opinions, in order that a judgment might more 
easily be formed as to the balance of authority. He him- 
self always undertook to hazard a decision, testing the 
judgment not only of the Prince of Physicians, but of 
others ; in every case following, as his guide, Keason rather 
than Authority. He would confirm or dispute past opi- 
nions, and not shrink from the addition to them, now and 
then, of views more properly his own. The reader was 
thus also to be left fully provided with the materials re- 
quired for independent judgment. The value of a work 
of this kind, really well done, would of course be great, 
and many sheets had been written in prosecution of the 
plan when Jerome took a wife at Sacco. 




JEROME CARDAN duly reflected before marriage upon 
the dead weight of his wife's relations, that might, per- 
haps, form not one of the lightest burdens of the married 
state. Lucia was the eldest of four sisters, and she had 
three brothers, all sons and daughters of Aldobello Ban- 
darini and his wife ThaddaeaV At the time of the 
marriage, however, it was much more likely that Jerome 
would depend now and then for help upon the Bandarini 
family, than that the Bandarini should need or, if need- 
ing, ever be able to get help from him. Aldobello, the 
father-in-law, was a man in the prime of life, genial and 
shrewd, a man who knew not only how to win to himself 
friends, but also how to use them profitably. A full 
sketch of his career is left to us by Cardan, who, speaking 

The succeeding sketch of the career of Aldobello follows the very 
full narrative given by Cardan in De Ut, ex Adv, Cap. Lib, iii. 
pp. 457466. 


rather as a philosopher than as a son-in-law, begins his story 
very much in the manner of a physician of the present day 
who has a case to state, and defines his subject as 
" Aldobello dei Bandarini, of the town of Sacco, aged 
about thirty-five, hairy over his whole body, short, round 
limbed, and of a dusky colour," &c. This man began 
life as a soldier, and made a little money in the wars that 
is to say, being of an acquisitive disposition, he had laid by 
three or four hundred crowns of gold. Retiring then 
from military life, he built an inn at Sacco, and dwelt in 
it with his wife Thadda3a and his seven children. Mine 
host soon made himself known in Sacco as a sociable, 
friendly fellow. In his domestic management he was a 
strict economist : nothing was in his eyes too small to be 
saved. He bought in times of cheapness stores that he 
laid by to sell in times of dearth ; he paid cash for his 
purchases when he could obtain any advantage by so 
doing, and wherever it was gain to him to run a bill up and 
allow it to remain unpaid for a time, so he did. He not 
only received guests as an innkeeper, but also provided 
dinners and suppers for private parties in the town ; at 
such entertainments, whatever was to be consumed he sold ; 
whatever was to be looked at only, he let out on hire ; 
what he himself did not possess, if it was required he 
would contrive to borrow and sub-lend. To the great 
men of the town he was indispensable : whether they 


feasted or gambled, there was the friendly, jovial Banda- 
rini ready to supply their wants ; and so much did he 
ingratiate himself among them, that even clothes and 
worthier gifts were often pressed upon him by his noble 
friends. Still more complete, however, was the hold 
which the bland soldier-host maintained upon the good- 
will of the gentle sex. He often busied himself in de- 
fending the causes of accused people before the magis- 
trates, in obtaining by his influence exemption from some 
public burden for one friend or another, and for such 
services the gratitude of the women streamed upon him 
in a shower of substantial gifts, which he accepted without 
difficulty. Kind messages were constantly accompanying 
to his door consignments of wine, meal, geese, chickens, 
pigeons, barley, pigs, or cheese, so that he could almost 
have kept his family upon the goodwill-offerings supplied 
by his fair neighbours. 

At one time, in the hope of making profit from it, 
Aldobello had, among other things, stored up a consi- 
derable heap of flax. To this heap, Mark, his eldest boy, 
by accident set fire ; the inn was burnt, and with it all the 
wealth of its bland master. Bandarini, without showing 
any anger, bit his nail ; he did not so much as utter a 
curse, but thanked God that his children were all safe. 
After the fire was out, he searched for any little things 
that might possibly be snatched out of the wreck ; friends 


also flocked to him with presents in their hands, and hos- 
pitable homes provided bed and board for all his chil- 
dren. There was no capital wherewith to build another 
inn, but there was worldly wit in ample store, and Aldo- 
bello set to work at once over the rebuilding of his for- 

The Duke of Ferrara was then contemplating the 
occupation of a part of the territory of Padua called the 
Polesino de Rovigo. To the senators of the Republic of 
Venice an offer was made by a good citizen, who undertook 
to aid in the protection of the commonwealth by training 
gratuitously two hundred men belonging to the town and 
neighbourhood of Sacco in the art of war. The citizen 
asked only that the senate would, if it accepted his pro- 
posal, grant two hundred harquebuses to the two hundred 
volunteers. The rumour of war was loud, the enemy 
was near at hand, and there were no fortresses to check 
his progress if he made hostile advance. The offer was 
opportune ; the proposer of it, a certain Aldobello Ban- 
darini, had seen service as a soldier, and he had many 
friends of mark who offered to be surety for his loyalty, 
lauded his character, and urged his suit. He did not ask 
pay for his services in drilling the recruits ; the cost of 
harquebuses would be inconsiderable. The burnt-out 
innkeeper therefore obtained the authority of the senate 
to levy in his own neighbourhood two hundred recruits. 


It was easy to find that number of rustics, or even of 
friends in better circumstances, glad to go out to drill 
with Aldobello, and to earn the legal right of carrying 
about the harquebuses sent from Venice. Aldobello set 
to work upon his little army. Bearing some ridicule at 
first, by diligent devotion of spare hours and holidays to 
the forming of lines, squares, and wedges, he had in a 
month or two made very obvious progress towards the 
formation of a troop reasonably disciplined. The volun- 
teers of Sacco bought for themselves drums, and further- 
more set up a flag. Doubtless they would also have done 
deeds of daring in the presence of the enemy, but most 
unluckily for them the murmurs of approaching war 

If there was no money to be made out of the Venetian 
republic as captain of a band in actual camp service, the 
prudent Aldobello saw that he was altogether in a false 
position ; he must make a further move towards the resto- 
ration of his fortunes. He therefore went to Venice, and 
having demonstrated the usefulness of the labour in which 
he had- been engaged, petitioned that the senate would 
permit him to go out with his two hundred men as mer- 
cenaries, hiring their services to foreign princes, but 
always bound and ready at a call to return and do what- 
ever duty was required for the Venetians. To make this 
request, he said, he was compelled by poverty, not urged 


by avarice. Then there arose again the cloud of friends 
who trumpeted his value; and the senate being led justly 
to believe that the petitioner was a servant whose depar- 
ture would inflict a loss upon the state, Bandarini was re- 
quested to remain in Sacco, and to receive payment for 
his labours with a monthly stipend. Immunities were 
also granted to his soldiers, and the world of the shrewd 
soldier-host began to brighten. 

But at that stage of his progress enmities arose against 
him. Some jealous men detested the activity with 
which he pushed his fortunes; many were annoyed at 
him for taking labourers from steady tillage of the soil, 
marching them about to sound of drum in squares and 
wedges, and infecting them with military airs. Again, 
there was the sister of an important personage in Sacco 
deeply enamoured of the gallant captain, and she, by her 
misplaced tenderness, brought down upon his head the 
wrath of her relations. A tide of accusations suddenly set 
in towards Venice. The accusers, evidently knowing his 
weak point, complained to the senate that Aldobello 
Bandarini had employed the vantage-ground of his posi- 
tion for the extortion of substantial gifts and money from 
the people ; that he was designing also to sell the harque- 
buses entrusted to him for the use of his troop, and to de- 
camp with the money so obtained. Complaints of this 
kind were urged so strenuously, that they led to the 


arrest of Aldobello, who was carried off one day in 

Again he was enveloped in the cloud of friends, and 
his exculpation was by them and by himself made so 
complete, that he came back to his own neighbourhood 
taller than ever. He was supplied with three hundred 
more harquebuses, and authorised to raise three hundred 
more recruits from volunteers in and about Sacco. He 
thus became a captain of five hundred ; and so well did he 
perform his work with these, so earnestly did he enforce 
the extended adoption of his plan in other districts, that 
in no very long time Aldobello Bandarini was able to 
boast that he had been the founder of a complete militia 
system spread over the whole territory of Venice, and 
adopted from the Venetian pattern in adjacent and even 
in some distant states. He himself enjoyed the post of 
Tribune of the Militia, and a threefold increase of his 
monthly pay. 

Having attained this point in his career, he was again 
burnt out of his abode, by the fire to which reference has 
been made in a preceding chapter. The business of the 
tribunate required a large house, and one night a boy 
asleep in a weaver's shop belonging to the premises 
upset a pan of burning charcoal with his foot. A confla- 
gration was the consequence, destroying the whole house, 
and for a long time threatening to devour also the houses 


in the neighbourhood. At this fire Cardan was present ; 
out of it the members of the tribune's family were 
rescued with much difficulty, not indeed without some 
shock to the modesty of the youngest daughter. Lucia 
was the eldest of the daughters, and may then, perhaps, 
have been first seen by her future husband. An impres- 
sion, otherwise fleeting, then made upon Jerome, may 
have been revived subsequently in his vision of the white- 
robed maiden who invited him to pass beyond the gates 
of paradise. Dream- figures are, however, unsubstantial, 
and resemblances between them and the daylight aspects 
of real flesh and blood are matters rather for the fancy 
than the judgment to lay stress upon. 

By the second fire, the tribune of course was not 
ruined. His friends again came forward. Houses were 
again open for the reception of his children while he 
established himself in new premises, next door to the 
dwelling of the young physician and philosopher. Re- 
presentations made at Venice procured from the senate a 
liberal order that Aldobello should be compensated for 
his loss by an immediate grant of six months' pay. Very 
soon afterwards his new neighbour, the doctor, courted 
Lucia, and the tribune, whose career in Sacco just nar- 
rated had all been comprised in the short space of seven' 
years, consented to the wedding. 

Marriage is, in a poor philosopher, a bold act. Jerome, 


when he married the young girl 1 Lucia Bandarini, was 
extremely poor, yet because he had made a vow upon 
the subject, he refused to take with her the customary 
dowry 3 . He was very poor, and there was no hope that 
in Sacco he would ever become richer, for Sacco was but 
a small town, and could ill support a doctor of medicine, 
even though he were dull, bland, and formal enough to 
impress everybody with a notion of his talent and re- 
spectability. Jerome had friends at Sacco, but he had 
spent all his available substance in their company, and 
since, in spite of the ravens on his house-top and the 
howling dog under his window, he had taken upon him- 
self the responsibilities of marriage, it was necessary that 
he should obtain an income upon which the expenses 
that would certainly ensue could be supported. 

In what town should he battle for his bread, if not in 
Milan ? There he was at home; there his relations were, 
litigious and hostile certainly ; there his friends ought to 
be ; there only he was not a stranger. The friendship of 
the physician Buonafide had suggested Sacco to the 
young Cardan, when the physicians of his own town 
would not admit him to participation of their privileges. 
From Sacco he had already made one descent upon the 
' capital, where he sought in vain, as we have seen, to 

1 " Duxi uxorem adolescentulam." De Ut. ex Adv. Capiend. p. 431. 
3 De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 431 and p. 452. 


overcome the hostility of the college and secure a footing 
for himself. He found then also his mother miserable 
and morose, lamenting her widowhood, and sulking over 
the discomforts she endured. Fatigue and disappoint- 
ment brought him on that occasion to the gates of death. 
After seven months of deadly sickness, he had returned 
with broken health and broken hopes to Sacco. Now, 
however, he would try Milan again. The college could 
not be for ever obdurate, and he might live down the 
objection to his birth. Very soon after their marriage, 
therefore, Jerome and his wife, in February, 1532 1 , re- 
moved to Milan. Jerome was then infirm in health, but 
his mother, Clara, had become, by that time, prosperous 
and cheerful 3 . 

The tribune, however, had expected nothing less than 
the departure of his son-in-law from Sacco. He sub- 
mitted to the disappointment he experienced on this ac- 
count with outward equanimity, but he was deeply 
grieved at heart. His regard for " the daughter of his 
good luck" was of a superstitious kind 3 . A few days 
before she quitted Sacco with her husband, a stone, put 
upon the fire by accident, cracked with a loud noise, and 

1 De Libris Propr. (ed. 1557) p. 13. " Valetudinarius, pauperque." 
The date is there misprinted 1533, but the correction is obvious enough. 

2 "In patriam denuo re versus, sospitem matrem inveni." De Con- 
sol, p. 75. 

3 De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 452. 

VOL. I. I 


scattered fragments over Aldobello's bedroom. Ever 
afterwards his mind recurred with horror to that evil 
omen ; but ever after was not a long time, for he died 
before the year was ended. He died with another and a 
deeper grief upon him, caused by the wicked life of one 
of his own sons. 

Cardan, when he returned to Milan, felt the want of 
his father-in-law's tact in winning good opinions that 
could be turned to gold. Still he had no friends, except 
the few who had become acquainted with his genius 
men who knew how the young physician, so excitable, so 
superstitious, and so often seen indulging in a restless 
love of dice, spent solitary hours in abstruse study, 
cherished great thoughts, wrote books out of the pure 
instinct of the scholar, having no reason to believe that 
he could ever get them printed, and lived on in the 
unwavering conviction that he had within him power to 
secure immortal fame. Still the decorous college of the 
Milanese physicians shut their gates upon him 1 . He 
was notoriously excluded from their body, and denied 
the right of practising legitimately, because he had not 
been legitimately born. Trouble weighed heavily upon 
him: poverty, nervous irritation, and the foul air of a 
town then never entirely free from plague, weakened 
still more the health of the young husband. His wife, 
1 De Libris Propriis (1557), p. 13, 


sharing his cares, miscarried at the third or fourth month, 
and again a second time miscarried 1 . No bread was to be 
earned at Milan. After a vain struggle, the newly- 
married pair determined to go out again into the world. 

The anxious question of the choice of a new spot to 
which they might transfer their struggle with some hope 
of a good issue was decided by a series of arguments in 
favour of Gallarate 2 . That is a small town twenty-four 
miles distant to the north-west from Milan ; it does not at 
this day quite contain four thousand inhabitants. Jerome 
and Lucia went sick and weary out of the inhospitable 
capital, and settled in the country town of Gallarate when 
the trees were bursting into leaf 3 . They would gain, they 
said, pure air, and that was good for both of them. They 
would be able to subsist more cheaply, for the country 
prices differed greatly from the charges set upon provi- 
sions in the town, and there were even a few eatable 
things to be had for nothing. Cardan would be at liberty 
to practise there unhindered, for he would be beyond the 
jurisdiction of the hostile college, and he would be im- 
peded by no rivals. Finally, there was one consideration 
above others which had indeed suggested Gallarate as the 

1 De Libris Propriis. Lib. ult. Opera, Tom. i. p. 98. 

2 These will be found, with other details here cited, in the section 
de Paupertate of the book de Utilitate ex Adversis Capienda, pp. 439, 
440. The supposed connexion with the Castellione family is there ex- 
plained very minutely. 

3 " Circa Aprilis finem," De Vita Propr. p. 19. 



proper home for a Cardan. The town was within one 
mile of a castle which the Cardans claimed as an ancestral 
hall. At Gallarate a Cardan might claim the respect that 
he was unable to command in Milan. As for the Milanese, 
the College of Jurisconsults had at first been nearly as 
hostile to Fazio the father, as the physicians were to 
Jerome the son, and in the next generation the same 
spirit was displayed 1 . Now the Cardans claimed to be of 
the noble blood of the Castellione, who were at home near 
Gallarate, and in confirmation of their claim pointed to 
inscriptions upon the prothema of a church known to 
all the people of that little town. Jerome at first believed 
this claim to be a true one, and was not unwilling to be 
called Girolamo Castellione Cardano. He is to be found so 
named after his death by many writers, but in his lifetime 
he formally and conscientiously abjured the second name, 
because he convinced himself that he had no right to 
bear it 2 . In April, 1533, however, when, towards the end 

1 " Nam et pater meus ut ab eo accepi, diu in ingressu coll. jurisc. 
laboravit, et ego ut alias testatus sum, bis a medicorum Patavino, 
toties filius meus natu major, a Ticiuensi, uterque a Mediolanensi 
rejecti sumus." De Lib. Prop. (1557) p. 188. 

2 In the dedication to the revised edition of De Malo Medendi Usu. 
Since the name that he disclaimed is still commonly ascribed to him, 
it will be well to quote a part of his distinct repudiation of it. " Pude- 
bat me inter reliqua, nimia pietate, patris siquidem verbis persuasus, 
qui hocpalam, nescio quo ductus errore, affirmabatj Castilioneum nomen 
addidisse: cum certum habeam, revolutis omnibus publicis tabulis, 
majorum meonun, ad annum usque MCCCXL. qui ab hoc, ccvi. est, nihil 
mihi cum Castilioneis commune esse," 


of the month, Jerome settled in Gallarate, by the advice 
of Giacomo Cardan, his cousin, resident upon the spot, he 
believed that he had a right there to be honoured, if not 
for his genius and learning, at least (scrofulous man as he 
was) for the good composition of his blood. 

Pure air improved the health of the philosopher, and 
cheapness of provisions may have made it possible, by 
dinners of herbs, to live for a short time without too 
bitter a sense of want. They watched the gradual de- 
parture of the few coins they had mustered when he and 
Lucia prepared to set out on their venture 1 . Their poverty 
began to border upon destitution : very few fees came in. 
Cardan began a treatise upon Fate 1 , in which he showed 
that events frequently happen contrary to human wishes, 
and that such disappointments must be borne with equa- 
nimity. For himself, the knowledge of his strength was 
in him, and when he sat down at Gallarate to begin this 
treatise upon Fate though there was no outward circum- 
stance on which to found a hope that anything proceed- 
ing from his pen would ever make its way into a print- 
ing-office his heart leapt out into the opening words 
concerning " All who hope that, by writing, glory possi- 
bly may follow to themselves 2 ." At Gallarate he began 
also for Filippo Archinto, a clever young Milanese patri- 

1 De Libris Propriis (ed. 1557), p. 14. 

2 " Omnes qui scribendo gloriam consequi se posse sperant." 


cian, a book on astronomical opinions, and a treatise based 
upon Agrippa's occult philosophy, in which, care was 
taken to avoid the introduction of fictitious marvels 1 . 

But Cardan's daily life was tortured by the morbid in- 
genuity of superstition into a long course of experience in 
magic. Every sight, sound, or smell that was unusual, 
was likely to be received as an omen by the credulous 
philosopher. He believed that he received secret moni- 
tions from a genius or guardian spirit 2 sometimes they 
came from the spirit of his father. It was not strange to 
him that, when he contemplated marriage, the dog howled, 
and ravens shrunk together in his neighbourhood. The 
shadow of the warning spirit moved about its doors, and 
the brute animals gave token of the dread excited by its 
presence 3 . So men's minds are darkened when the shadow 
of a cloud floats over them, and they are moved against 
their will to joy or to delusive hope by a fresh outburst of 
the sun ; so can gems also lose their light, and metals lose 
their lustre. Why, asked Cardan, should he enjoy the 
favour of especial warnings? Was it because, although 
hemmed in by poverty, he loved the immeasurable truth, 
and worshipped wisdom, and sought justice, that the 
mystic presence taught him to attribute all to the Most 

1 De Sapientia, &c. p. 423. 

2 De Vita Propria, cap. xlvii. More will be said of this hereafter. 

3 Ibid. p. 263. 


High? Or did the spirit come for reasons known best to 
itself? Again, why were its warnings so obscure why, 
for example, did it sometimes become manifest by noises 
that he was unable to interpret? He could not answer 
these questions, but he believed that the spiritual commu- 
nications were made wisely, and lost significance by 
passing through the dull wall of the flesh into a mind not 
always fitted to receive them 1 . 

After his twenty-sixth year, Cardan was often troubled 
by a complaint, common to most men of his organisation, 
a frequent ringing in the ears. He received this as a 
supernatural endowment 2 . By the ear in which the 
sound appeared to be, and by the manner of the sounding, 
he knew, he said, in what direction and in what way men 
were talking of him. He believed also that his presence 
acted as a preventive of all wounds, and that no blood 
could flow from wounds inflicted in his presence 3 . The 
former opinion he may have justified by the fact, that in 
those days of violence he had escaped the sight of blood- 
shed in the streets; the latter belief he founded on a 
single circumstance. Since he himself, professionally, 
opened veins, it was his further belief that in such 
instances the flow of blood was owing to a special dis- 
pensation. Cardan embraced and amplified the whole 

1 De Vita Propria, cap. xlvii. pp. 264, 265. 

2 Ibid. pp. 178, 179. 3 Ibid. p. 163, 


body of the superstition of his age, yet it may be said of 
him, more truly perhaps than of any one of his contem- 
poraries, that he embraced and amplified also the whole 
body of its learning. 

While struggling unsuccessfully in Gallarate, breathing 
the fresh country air, and able to satisfy no more than 
the wants of nature in the simplest way, Jerome's health 
steadily improved, and Lucia, who did not again disap- 
point his hopes, gave birth to a son on Thursday, the 14th 
of May, in the year T534 1 . The child resembled most 
its grandfather, for it had small, white, restless eyes, and 
a round back ; it was born also with the third and fourth 
toes of the left foot joined together, and proved, as it 
grew, to be deaf in the right ear. It being at first un- 
certain whether the boy would live, it was baptised on 
the succeeding Sunday, between eleven and twelve 
o'clock, by the bedside of its mother, all the household 
being present, except a famulus. Then, because the day 
was warm and sunny, they had drawn aside the curtain 
from before the window, and had thrown the window 
open to admit the light and air. And at the moment 
when the child was lifted from the font or basin, chris- 

1 De Libris Propriis (1557), p. 22. "Cumvero parum esset mihi 
eo eunti, totum tamen illud parum consumptum erat. Sed valitudo 
restituta, yiresque confirmatae, et filio auctus eram." See for date of 
the son's birth, and the account of his baptism, De Vita Propria, 
cap. xxxvii., and especially the last of the three books De Libris 
Propriis. Opera, Tom. i. p. 98. 


tened by its name of Giovanni Battista, there flew into 
the room a mighty wasp. 

This was portentous, for the wasp was larger than 
wasps should be at that time of year, nor, reasoned 
Cardan, do they usually enter houses till July or August. 
All watched to see the issue of the omen : the anxious 
father, whose sense of mystery was so fine that he had 
found something supernatural even in the smell of his 
own body, perceived that this was not a common wasp. 
Hurting no one, but alarming all, it flew twice in a circle 
round the bed, but from its third flight darted back 
towards the window. There, however, instead of flying 
out into the open air, it dashed into the curtain, and, 
becoming entangled, made so loud a noise, " that you 
would say," writes Cardan, ( ' a drum was being beaten. 
We ran to it, nothing was found." The portent had 
vanished ; there was no wasp to be seen ; and yet we are 
told that it could not have escaped unnoticed through 
the window while they were all watching it attentively. 
It was agreed by the whole party that this wasp was a 
revelation. All coincided in opinion that the life of 
Jerome's first son would be short, that he would be gar- 
rulous, and that he would be cut off by a sudden death. 
So much Cardan predicted, and the vital part of the 
prediction was fulfilled, how terribly no wasp or planet 
could have taught the father to suspect* If griefs ever 
send heralds out before them, there was a grief advancing 


by slow marches to possess the spirit of Cardan, great 
enough to be worth announcing by a dozen heralds. 

So, declared the victim after the event, it was an- 
nounced. The dream of the shut gate of the paradise he 
quitted to embrace a white-robed maiden foreboded no 
bad wife to him, it pointed to his son 1 . A knowledge of 
the mighty grief for which the way was opened by his 
marriage, caused the shadow of the tutelary genius to 
haunt his doors when he slept for the last time alone at 
Sacco. So such things were afterwards interpreted. At 
Gallarate, Jerome, in spite of all warnings, ignorant of 
the future, and by no lore able to divine the way to 
larger dinners, wrote much and ate sparingly. He 
bravely bore his poverty, and knew that he should work 
his way to fame. 

In addition to the writings that have been already 
mentioned, he was turning into Latin his treatise upon 
games, and making slow progress with his analysis of 
the contradictory opinions of the doctors. But he 
consumed much time in seeking the relief of music 
for his cares, and relief to his pocket from the dice- 
board 2 , for he was slipping, when his son was born, 
every week lower down * into an abyss of hopeless 

1 " Somnii interpretatio non in puella desiit sed in filiis vim suam 
ostendit." De Vita Propr. cap. xxvi. p. 98. 

" Anmis erat trigesimus tertius exactus, cum ludis et musica serum 
consumpseram, nee interea quicquamegregiiinveneram aut perfeceram. 
Siquidem libros de Fato et librum Ludo latrunculorum, paulo plus 
quam inehoaveram." De Libris Prop. Lib. ult. Opera, Tom. i. p. 100' 


poverty. After his son's birth, he struggled on against 
adversity for five more months in Gallarate, and at the 
end of that time gave up his position in the little 
town, not upon deliberation but compulsion. He and 
Lucia, in all the nineteen months 1 of their abode at Gal- 
larate, had earned scarcely forty crowns 2 ; and when they 
were at last reduced to absolute destitution, when he had 
lost at the gaming-table his wife's jewels, even his bed, 
they, having no other hope, determined on returning into 
Milan. Not, said Cardan with touching brevity, that 
there was anything to seek, but that there was something 
from which to fly 3 . He determined to quit Gallarate 
and plunge once more into Milan, as a man hemmed in 
upon a barren rock resolves to cast himself into the sea. 

It was in October, 1534 4 , that Jerome, with his wife 
and child, came back to Milan beggared, and applied for 
shelter to the public Xenodochium 5 , the workhouse of his 

1 " Ubi raansi xix. mensibus." De Vita Propr. p. 19. He vent in 
April, 1533, and returned to Milan in October, 1534. 

* De Vit. Propr. cap. xxr. p. 94. De Lib. Propr. Lib. ult. Opera, 
Tom. i. p. 100. 

8 " .... non quod haberem quod sequerer, sed quod fugerem . . . ." 

4 " Quasi e scopulo inaccesso me prsecipitaturus in mare, decrevi in 
patriam redire anno MD.XXXIV, mense Octobris." De Lib. Prop. (1557) 
p. 23. 

5 Details and references on the subject of the Xenodochia may be 
found in Zedler's Lexicon (Leipzig. 1749), vol. 60, col. 655 7. They 
took their name, and some of their spirit, from the Greek institutions 
dedicated Jovi Xenio. Much of their spirit was, however, purely 
ecclesiastical ; they became sources of income to the clergy. 


age. That was an establishment whose doors were open 
to the sick and needy and the houseless stranger, main- 
tained from religious motives by various communities, in 
direct obedience to the admonition joined in Scripture to 
the question of the righteous and unrighteous " Lord, 
when saw we thee an hungred and fed thee? or thirsty 
and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger and 
took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?" 

Cardan, however, had an active friend in Milan. The 
same Filippo Archinto 1 for whom he had been writing his 
book on the Judgments of the Astronomers, had coun- 
selled him to come again to Milan, and took pains on his 
behalf. Filippo, the son of Christopher and Maddalena 
della Torre, differed in age from Cardan by not more 
than a year; he was a young man equally agreeable and 
learned, who, by love of pleasure, had been doubtless 
brought into contact with Cardan over the dice, and by 
the instinct of a kindred genius, and by love of learning, 
had been drawn into a state of intimacy with the poor, 
maligned philosopher. Archinto, full of kindness, wis- 
dom, tact, and well born also, already in repute for ora- 
tory 2 , had the promise of a bright career before him ; and 
he did afterwards attain, as we shall find, by his own 
merits, to high distinction. In 1534 his influence sufficed 

1 De Consol. p. 76. 2 De Vita Propria, p. 19. 


to procure even for the despised Cardan a small appoint- 
ment. He could not obtain for him authority to prac- 
tise medicine, but he lost no time in endeavouring to 
make him independent of the college. Under the will 
of a deceased citizen named Thomas Plat, a small sum 
had been left to be applied yearly to the payment of a 
lecturer on geometry, arithmetic, and astronomy ; the 
lectures to be delivered upon holidays. The office of 
lecturer under the endowment of Thomas Plat happened 
then to be vacant ; and not many days after his return to 
Milan, the appointment was by Archinto's influence con- 
ferred upon the learned graduate in medicine, Jerome 
Cardan 1 . To the same kind friend he was indebted for 
the introduction to a few other sources of income, very 
trifling indeed; a deduction had been made from his 
small salary of seven crowns a year by the prefects of the 
Xenodochium 2 , in whose gift the office was. His yearly 
receipts from all sources would not exceed fifty crowns, 
but he was a philosopher, and he and Lucia were quite 
able to subsist on that. / 

Not unwilling at the same time to earn, if possible, a 
better income, the new lecturer endeavoured to increase 
the fees paid for attendance on his courses, by rendering 

1 De Libris Propriis (1557), p. 23. De Libris Propriis. Lib. ult. 
Opera, Tom. i. p. 100. 

Ibid. De Ut. ex Adr. Cap. p. 546. 


them as attractive as he could. With this view he occa- 
sionally substituted geography for the less popular details 
of geometry, and lectured upon architecture instead of 
arithmetic 1 . The mind of Cardan being thus set actively 
to work upon five subjects, was soon engaged on books 
allied to them in character ; and five works were reckoned 
afterwards by the philosopher himself as the direct result 
of the appointment now in question. 

Jerome then was in this way established with a slender 
income. Among the discouragements that pressed upon 
him from all sides in Milan, he had not lost faith in his 
future. He was thirty-three years old. He had been 
practising medicine for eight years, and had found him- 
self at the end of that term, without patients and without 
character as a physician, utterly poor. He had been 
writing books from boyhood. Some of his manuscripts 
had been read by a few educated friends, and by one or 
two of them appreciated; others had perished through 
domestic mischances, others had been lent and carelessly 
mislaid, none had been printed. Yet Cardan was curious 
in pens, and because he regarded them as the keys that 
would enable him one day to open a door for himself into 
the temple of Fame, he wrote on with unflagging in- 
dustry. He breakfasted on barley-bread and water, and 

1 " Ut vero magis audientes allicerem, pro Geometria Geographiam, 
pro Arithmetica Architectural!! docebam. Ilinc occasio nata conscri- 
bendi quinque volumina." 


compared with the relish of an epicure the respective 
merits of nasturtium leaves, rue, parsley, and other herbs, 
as economic means of making bread and water savoury 1 . 
At the same time he worked on with a restless energy, 
and knew that he should win the prize on which his heart 
was set, not wealth for a few years, but renown for cen- 

In spite of all his eccentricities and errors, within a rude 
exterior the disputatious and excitable young scholar had 
shut up a fine spirit and a tender heart. His ethical 
writings uttered throughout life the language of a spiritual 
nature. The unique candour with which he publishes 
his faults often such faults as many men commit and no 
man names though he may have been stung to it by a 
contempt for the hollow affectation of respectability that 
would have hunted him for ever as a bastard, had he not 
been strong enough to stand at bay, and though such can- 
dour may sometimes be scaroely sane, yet it bespeaks a 
sturdy truthfulness, an innate generosity that we must 
honour. Jerome was a faithful son, and to the world at 
any rate an uncomplaining husband. There remain but 
slight and accidental traces of any discord between him 
and Lucia; of his wife's father, mother, brothers and 
sisters, he speaks with domestic kindliness; and though he 
accuses justly his own errors as a father, it will be found 
1 De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. Liber de Paupertate. 


hereafter that his tenderness towards a miserable child 
forms one of the main features of his life. He claims for 
himself, and that also justly, the merit, that if he attracted 
to himself few friends, he never broke a friendship, and 
that if he found himself forsaken for a time by one of 
those few friends, he never used unkindly, whether as 
public accusation or as private taunt, knowledge obtained 
in confidential intercourse 1 . He had a rugged love of 
truth and justice; he remembered benefits, and when af- 
fronted could afford deliberately to abstain from seizing 
any offered opportunity of vengeance. He governed his pen 
better than his tongue, and carefully restrained himseli 
from carrying into his books the heat he could not check 
in oral disputation. He left enemies unnamed, and 
though he now and then is found devoting some impa- 
tient sentences to writers who had treated his opinions 
rudely, yet it seems at first sight absolutely wonderful 
that a man so sensitive and so irascible, so beset by harsh 
antagonists as the weak-bodied Jerome, should have filled 
so many volumes with philosophy and so few pages with 
resentment. The wonder ceases when a closer scrutiny 
displays the difference in intellectual and moral weight 
between Cardan and most of his opponents. 

1 De Vita Propr. cap. xiv. pp. 67, 68. And for the next facts. 




ARCHINTO, again, was perhaps the friend who ob- 
tained for Jerome the appointment of physician to the 
body of Augustin Friars; not a lucrative post, since the 
receipts from it are included among the other trifles 
which, together with the post of lecturer under the Plat 
endowment, made up an income of not more than fifty 
crowns 1 . Although denied authority to practise by the 
local college of physicians, Cardan was not the less 
Doctor of Medicine by right of his degree, and did not 
scruple to exercise his profession whenever he found any 
patient willing to consult him. The prior of the Augus- 
tines, Francisco Gaddi 2 , a shrewd, severe man, whose 
influence over the members of his order made him an 

1 De Libris Propriis. Lib. ult. Opera, Tom. i. p. 100. 

2 De Libr. Prop, (ed, 1557) p. 123. De Vit. Propr. cap. xl. p. 193. 

VOL. I. K 


object of consideration among rival princes, had for two 
years lived in a bilious, melancholic state, afflicted with a 
skin-disease, and unrelieved by the advice of the most dis- 
tinguished Milanese physicians. Jerome, when first ad- 
mitted to attend upon the monks, found the prior cherish- 
ing despondent, though unfortunately distant, hopes of 
a release by death from all his fleshly troubles. By the 
good advice, however, of the young physician, or perhaps 
only by good fortune, Gaddi recovered. In six months 
he was well, and he was the first man of any note upon 
whom Jerome had been allowed to exercise his art. 

Prior Francisco Gaddi belonged to a famous family in 
Florence, founded by three generations of painters 
Gaddo Gaddi, who worked in the thirteenth century; 
Taddeo, his son; and his grandsons, Agnolo and Gio- 
vanni, in the fourteenth. The continuous labours of 
those men procured for their house wealth and fame, so 
that they left to their heirs a palace richly stocked with 
works of art, and a distinguished place among the noble 
families of Florence. A Francisco Gaddi was, in 1493, 
the Secretary of the Florentine Republic. The Prior 
Gaddi, settled at Milan, did not cease to be grateful to his 
health-bringing physician, though it was in his power to 
give him very little worldly help. Nor was it in Cardan's 
power to administer more potent aid to the scheming and 
ambitious monk in his last illness than a consolatory 


letter 1 . Gaddi, who, as we have seen, fell among princes, 
ten years afterwards died in a dungeon, wretchedly. 

Ludovico Madio was another friend to whom Cardan 
was introduced by the warm-hearted Archinto. Of 
Madio we know only that he was kind, and that the 
young struggler obtained from him ready help in times of 
need. Girolamo Guerrini, a jeweller, was at the same 
time an associate from whom Jerome obtained much 
curious information, and from whose experience he was 
able to enrich some of his books 2 . 

The works upon which Jerome was occupied in the 
months immediately following his return to Milan, were 3 
a volume suggested by Sacrobustus upon Spheres, of 
which he wrote nine or ten books; a little work on 
Circles ; three dissertations founded on the first and 
seventh books of Ptolemy's Geography ; and one on the 
elements of Euclid, which grew in after-years till it con- 
tained three books, then was enlarged to seven, then to 
nine, then to fifteen, when it contained more than forty 
new propositions. 

Very soon after his appointment as a lecturer Jerome 
had taken a house, and received his mother as a portion 
of his family. Since Clara had been hitherto depending 

1 The letter is included in his published works. Cardan relates the 
fate of his friend in the last of the three books De Libris Propriis. 
Opera, Tom. i. p. 107. 

- De Vit. Prop. p. 69. 

3 De Sapientia, &c. p. 424. 



on her own means of subsistence, it is probable that she 
was able to contribute a small fund towards the house-ex- 
penses. If she paid nothing, Jerome had indeed very 
great need to increase his income, or to make the most of 
fennel and nasturtium in his diet, for the household that de- 
pended on him for support consisted of himself, his wife, 
and infant son, his mother, a female friend, a nurse, a pupil 
(Ambrose Bizozoro, an ingenious, bold fellow, who became 
afterwards a sea captain), a maid-servant, and a she mule 1 . 
Upon the mule he rode abroad, and it is probable that in 
so doing he consulted less the received prejudice in favour 
of a doctor who can leave a horse or carriage waiting at the 
door, than the necessities of a body at all times infirm. 

For the next five years Jerome was distressed, not only 
with bodily infirmities, but with poverty at home and un- 
relenting rivalry abroad. The very patients who had 
profited by his attentions often joined the cry against the 
poor physician-lecturer, whose eccentricities were more 
apparent to the vulgar than 'his genius. After Cardan 
had healed Bartholomaea Cribella, a noble matron, and 
her brother, the perverse brother was loud in ridicule 
against him 2 . But the physician-lecturer solaced himself 
at home with music and with dice, indulged as he could 
his taste for expensive writing materials and for rare 
books, read Aristotle and Plotinus for his pleasure, or his 

1 De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. p. 431. 

2 De Lib. Propr. Lib. ult. 

HOME. 133 

favourite Italian poets, Petrarch and Pulci 1 . Above all, 
he continued to cover many sheets of paper with the 
written workings of his mind, and obtained consolation 
from his dreams of immortality. 

Dreams really, not wild waking thoughts, became at 
that time guides and helpers to him. Being interpreted 
with admirable ingenuity into such meanings as accorded 
with his nature, they became prophetic. About four 
months after his return to Milan from the unsuccessful 
struggle in Gallarate, Cardan reckoned that he first re- 
ceived communications of the future in his sleep 1 . Then, 
as he believed, the dream-power commenced in its full 
force. Before that time, except in the case of the 
dream that heralded his marriage, his sleep had scarcely 
been disturbed with visions worth interpreting. As he 
got higher up the hill of life such mists increased about 

His first dream, of the great series, was of the weary 
hill of life itself. It was the following 2 . At the close of 
the year 1534, when all was black about him in his 
worldly state, and all was looking blacker day by day, 
Jerome Cardan dreamed in the early dawn that he was 
running towards the foot of a mountain that stood to the 

1 De Vita Propr. cap. xviii. p. 80. 

2 De Libris Propriis (1557), pp. 21 26. De Libris Propriis. Lib. ult. 
Op, Tom. i. pp. 100, 101. For the two succeeding dreams and their 


right of him, and that he ran in company with an 
immense multitude, of every rank, and sex, and age; 
there were women, men, old men, boys, infants, poor 
men, rich men, clothed in many fashions. Then he 
asked, " Whither are we all hastening ?" One of the com- 
pany replied, " To death." In great terror the dreamer 
began then to ascend the mountain slope, drawing himself 
up by clinging to the vines through which he went, and 
with which that part of the mountain was all covered. 
They were dry vines with sere leaves, such as are seen in 
autumn when the grapes have all been gathered. He 
ascended with much labour, for the mountain at its base 
was steep, and as he looked back on his way, he saw that 
all the vines among which he had passed, no longer dry, 
were green and full of blossom. In a little while the 
ascent became easier, the mountain was less steep, and the 
dreamer hurried on. When he came near the top, he 
found the ground there barren, and across bare rocks and 
broken stones he was still pushing forward, as if by a 
strong impulse of the will. Suddenly he was on the point 
of plunging into the dark maw of an abyss, a chasm so 
huge and terrible, that, as a waking thought, it remained 
for the next thirty years a thing to shudder at. The 
dreamer, however, checked himself in his career, and 
turning to the right, wandered across a wintry plain, 
covered with heaths, timidly, as one uncertain of his way. 


So he came before the porch of a sordid peasant's hut, 
thatched over with straw, and reeds, and rushes. There 
came out of the porch a boy, as of about twelve or four- 
teen years old, with pale features, and wearing an ashen- 
coloured cloak ; he, taking him by the right hand, led 
him in, and as they passed into the hut the dream 
was broken. 

Thousands of men have such dreams, and think no 
more of them. " I understood from this dream," says 
Cardan, "that I was destined to strive after immortality." 
He felt that he had a work to do in the world, that he 
was sent to do it by the Deity, whose hand so often had 
been visibly stretched out for his protection. All men, 
said the dream to him, run to death and to oblivion. The 
mountain was the Mount of Virtue, full of life, but with- 
out pleasures, as was signified by its being planted thickly 
with vines, but without fruit. The ascent of that mount 
is at first laborious, but afterwards becomes comparatively 
easy. The vines blossoming behind him what could they 
signify ? Certainly glory after death. The way over the 
wintry heaths might signify an easy close to life. What 
the boy might portend, however, Jerome could not then 
tell. Years afterwards, he believed that he had found 
him in a pupil, by whose face he was reminded of the 

Not long after this vision of the mountain, Jerome 


dreamed that he was alone in the moon, naked, and dis- 
embodied. There, in his solitude, he heard only the voice 
of his father, and it said to him, " I am given to you by 
God as a guardian. All here is full of souls, but you do 
not see them, as you do not see me ; nor do you hear 
them, for to the others it is not permitted to address yon. 
You will remain in this heaven for seven thousand years, 
and as many years in single orbs, until the eighth. 
Afterwards you shall come into the kingdom of God." 

So worked the restless brain of the young student when 
he and Lucia had gone to rest, she thinking of the next 
day and its cares, he of the next age and its glories. This 
dream of the moon had its own suitable interpretation. 
His father, Cardan said, was his tutelary spirit. His 
spiritual progress through eight planets, indicated, t as he 
said afterwards, with remarkable accuracy, the different 
studies upon which he was to occupy his mind. The 
Moon meant grammar ; Mercury, geometry and arith- 
metic; Venus, music, divination, poetry; the Sun, morals; 
Jupiter, nature ; Mars, medicine ; Saturn, agriculture, 
knowledge of herbs, &c. There were seven planets indi- 
cating studies to which he did really afterwards devote his 
mind, and the eighth planet held the scraps of know- 
ledge that could be referred to none among the seven. 
Gleanings which the student picked up in such fields of 
science as he did not himself undertake to cultivate, 


formed the last of the eight masses of study that were re- 
presented by his spiritual life in the eight stars. 

In the succeeding year (1535) Jerome read through 
the works of Cicero, word for word as he tells us 1 . This 
task he had probably set himself, with a view to the im- 
provement of his Latin style, his scholarship being at 
that time far from accurate. He had picked up Greek, 
French, and Spanish, without much care for learning 
them grammatically, and in Latin he wrote rather by 
tact and impulse than by rule. His labours were in 
some respects very much hindered by the badness of his 
memory 2 , and they were also partly hindered, though on 
the whole more helped, by the restlessness of disposition 
which made him, in study as in action, prompt always in 
decision and impatient of delay. The same impatience 
made him sharp in argument; but while, as it has been 
already said, men surprised at his acerbity avoided wordy 
warfare with him, Jerome took no credit to himself for 
his unchallenged honours as a disputant. It was a pro- 
perty, as he affirmed, belonging to him which he could 
no more change than a stone could change its character. 
" Surely," he said, with a happy stroke of humour, " it is 
no matter of glory to the cuttle-fish that he can make 

the dolphins fly 3 ." 

1 De Libris Propriis. Liber ult. 

2 De Ut. ex Adv. Cap. Lib. ii. p. 277. 

3 De Vit. Propr. cap. xiii. 


Quick-witted, versatile, and candid. Cardan rarely 
suffered himself to be deceived into a respectful treat- 
ment of his own defects. Of his love of dice the best he 
could say in excuse was that " Philosophers may play, 
but Wise Men are as kings enjoying higher pleasures 1 ." 
By skill in dice he even eked out his subsistence in the 
first days of his poverty at Milan, and perhaps earned 
more at the gaming-table than at the bedside; for on the 
hint of his rivals, it was soon a subject of discourse in 
Milan the most frivolous of scandal-tattling cities 3 , as 
he found reason to call it that Cardan was too intent on 
mathematics to be very conversant with medicine. In 
his office of lecturer he had then been interpreting Vitru- 
vius 3 , and it was quite certain that his studies in con- 
nexion with his duties under Thomas Plat's endowment 
were of a kind to be regarded by the jealous public as 
incompatible with the thoughts which are supposed to 
revolve eternally in the minds of practising physicians. 
A physician even in our own day cannot acquire reputa- 
tion in any branch of literature or science that does not 
bear directly upon tongues and pulses, without forfeiting 
a portion of the practice that he might have gained with 

^ $ 

ease if he had been a duller man, or if he had but hidden 

1 De Paupertate. 

2 " In urbe omnium nugacissima, et quae calumniis maxime patet." 
De Libr. Propr. (1557) p. 32. 

3 De Sapientia, &c. p. 425. 


some part of his light under a bushel. Cardan's hope of 
fame and profit as a doctor was being undermined by the 
reputation he acquired as an ill-paid teacher of geometry, 
arithmetic, geography, and architecture. It is easier, he 
writes, to prop a falling house than to rebuild it after it' 
has fallen. He resolved, therefore, to support his sinking 
reputation in the art of medicine by writing a work 
strictly professional. Following up the notion with his 
usual impetuosity, in fifteen days he wrote two books on 
the bad practice of medicine by the physicians of his day 
De Malo Recentiorum Medicorum Medendi Usu 1 not a 
propitiating subject, certainly. A small tract was written 
about the same time on the noxious ingredients in simple 
medicaments. These Cardan put aside, or lent to friends 
in manuscript, for he was unable to pay a printer, and 
knew no one who would bear the risk of publishing what 
he had written. 

When, in the same year 1535, the academic session 
closed, Jerome's young patron was about to leave Milan. 
In that year had died Francisco Sforza, Duke of Milan, 
and Philip Archinto had obtained so much esteem and 
trust in his own town, that he was selected by the magis- 
trates as the most fit person to accompany Massimiliano 
Stampa, their ambassador to the court of Charles V. upon 

1 De Sapientia, &c. p. 425. De Lib. Prop. (ed. 1557), where he says 
that he wrote the book, " ut etiam in Medicina aliquid scire viderer." 


the occasion. Francisco, the last Sforza, he whom Cardan 
had encountered among gamblers, died at the age of 
thirty-nine. Expelled from home by the French, his 
childhood had been spent in Germany. In 1521, the 
Emperor and Pope together had resolved upon his re- 
establishment. The French resisted their design until the 
overthrow at Pa via, but after that decisive battle, Charles 
had delayed the execution of his promise. Then Fran- 
cisco had joined the Italian league, had been betrayed by 
Marquis Pescara, besieged in Milan by the emperor, and 
reduced in 1526 to the abandonment of his designs. In 
1529 the Emperor and Pope had agreed to receive him 
again into favour, and had allowed him to buy of them 
his dukedom with a large sum of money. From that 
time he had given little trouble to his master, but in 1534 
he had beheaded a subject named Meraviglia, who was 
supposed to serve the French interest at his court, and 
troubles might have followed had the duke not died in 
the succeeding year. He was a credulous, weak man. 
Leaving no children by his wife Christina, he bequeathed 
his dukedom to the emperor. This last fact was the chiei 
subject of the embassy to which Archinto was attached. 
The young noble who had shown in Milan so much pro- 
mise of. a prosperous career, a man of the world in the 
true sense of the term, genial, prompt, and learned, found 
his opportunity when he was sent into the presence of the 


emperor. Charles liked him, and sent Stampa back alone, 
retaining Cardan's patron in the character of secretary 1 . 

It will be convenient here, in a few words, to tell the 
fortune of Archinto. In the next year, 1536, he was 
created a Count Palatine; afterwards, when he was sent to 
Rome on imperial business with Paul III, the Pope, who 
thought him a man worth acquiring for the Church, per- 
suaded him to consult his interests by taking holy orders. 
He did so, and was promptly appointed Apostolic Proto- 
notary and Governor of Rome. In 1539 he was ordained 
Bishop of Borgo San Sepolcro; in 1546 he was transferred 
to Saluzzo ; and after having served as vicar to four Popes, 
came back to his own town as Archbishop of Milan, in 
1556. Two years afterwards he died, and being dead, his 
life was written by Joannes Petrus Glussianus in two books. 

Archinto then, in the year 1535, being about to leave 
Milan with Massimiliano Stampa, soon after the close of the 
academic session, Jerome employed his vacation very busily 
in writing certain treatises, which Archinto promised to 
take for him, and commend, as well as he was able, to the 
favourable notice of the Pope 2 . Cardan had heard of the 

1 Joseph! Ripamontii Canon. Scalens. Chronistae Urbis Mediolani, 
Historic Patriae, Libri x. Med. 1641, p. 698. In the succeeding pages 
is a full account of the manner in which Archinto passed into the ser- 
vice of the Church, and of his subsequent career. His success, says 
Ripamontius, was so great, that " ad consilia negotiaque omnia adhi- 
bebatur, et gravissimi cujusque consilii author ipse erat." Ibid. p. 704. 

2 De Sapientia, &c. p. 425. The same authority will cover the re- 
mainder of the paragraph. 


Pope's liking for astronomy, and therefore took pains to 
suit the humour of his Holiness with two books, of which 
one was a Supplement to the Almanacs, the other was a 
sensible technical work, with a title that might be con- 
sidered startling " Emendation of the Celestial Move- 
ments, by Jerome Cardan." They were both written in 
fifteen days, and duly taken by Archinto; but they pro- 
duced no supplement to the poor scholar's income, or emen- 
dation of his daily fare. He spent the other two months 
of his holidays in the preparation of an elaborate work 
on Arithmetic, which occupied his mind so thoroughly 
that problems and solutions filled his very dreams. Thus 
even in his dreams he found hints for his book; and 
the subject being thus suggested to him, an inquiry into 
the subject of dreams, and a treatise upon them, closed the 

Cardan was thirty-five years old, and up to this date, 
though an indefatigable author from his youth up, not a 
sentence of his writings had been printed. At last, how- 
ever, the great day was near when for the first time he 
should talk to the whole world in print, and ascertain 
whether he could really make it worth men's while to 
pay attention to his talking. 

Mention was made in a former chapter of a college 
friend, Ottaviano Scoto 1 , to whom Jerome had lent some 

1 De Libris Propriis (ed. 1557), p. 29. De Lib. Propr. Lib. ult. 
Opera, Tom. i. p. 102, for the succeeding narrative. 


early essays, and who had lost them. He was a pallid 
youth, one of the few old companions whose friendship 
Cardan afterwards desired, avoiding richer and more 
powerful associates. Octavian paid absolute homage in 
his friendship to the stronger mind of Jerome, adhered to 
him through good and ill report, believed implicitly in 
his great talents, and loved him with the utmost warmth 
of youthful friendship. By the death of his father in 
Venice, this believing friend, Ottaviano Scoto, became 
master of a printing-office. 

Then Cardan dusted his manuscript about the Bad 
Method of Practice among Physicians, and opened his 
heart to Scoto. If he could only prove to the Milanese 
that he was not the worse physician for his knowledge of 
geometry, a better day might shine into his chambers. 
If he could only print his book ! The distant hope of 
a great good, to attain which the poor philosopher had 
sighed so long in vain, seemed but a trifle in accomplish- 
ment. " What you propose is a light matter," said the 
sanguine printer, who took cheerfully all risk of publica- 
tion on himself. "And if," he added, "I knew that I 
was to lose all my outlay on it, I would still print the 
volume for your sake. I think, however, that it will be 
no great venture." The book De Malo Medendi Usu 
was therefore printed at Venice, in 1536, Scoto alone 
correcting the proofs, because there were no ready or 


cheap means of communication between Venice and 

It was a clever book, denouncing seventy-two errors in 
practice. Such errors were the total denial of wine to 
the sick 1 , the denial of fish, and the allowance of flesh to 
people sick of fever 2 , the belief prevalent in many quar- 
ters that there could be found one mode of cure for all 
diseases 3 , and the doctrine that no patient should be bled 
while suffering under acute pain 4 a woful sentence to 
some sentence of death, for example, to the man tor- 
mented by the agonies of an acute inflammation of the 
peritoneum. He taught that to do nothing with physic 
was much better than to do too much, and urged the 
great number of things that have to be considered before 
a man desiring to act rightly should set his hand to a 
prescription 5 . The book was clever, and was of a kind 
to meet with rapid sale. 

It did sell rapidly, but its appearance plunged the luck- 
less author into new distress. It had not been long sub- 
ject to criticism before Cardan was made aware of so 
many petty faults in matter, style, and grammar, that any 
pride he may have himself had in his work when he sent 

1 De Malo Medendi Usu (Venet. 1536), cap. vi. p. 13. 

2 Ibid. cap. x. p. 18. 3 Ibid. cap. xiv. p. 22. 
* Ibid. cap. xl. p. 48. 

5 So he defines the spirit of the book in his second work, De Libris 
Propriis, p. 29. 


it to the press was altogether humbled 1 . Many years after- 
wards, when he re-issued the work with the number of 
its sections increased to a hundred, having spent twenty- 
eight days in correcting what he had written in fifteen, 
he refers in this way to its first appearance : " I blush to 
acknowledge that there were more than even three hun- 
dred blunders of mine in this book, exclusive of mis- 
prints. And I long since had it in my mind to blot it 
out from the number of my offspring : but to that course 
there was the objection of a certain special usefulness con- 
nected with it, by which it had been made so saleable that 
in its second year the printer would have issued it again 
to the public if I had not resisted his desire." 

But the sound part of the book which, in many points, 
condemned and opposed prevailing practices, of course 
received from the doctors of Milan, hostile enough already, 
the strongest condemnation and opposition. The cry was 
raised against its author that he did not practice his 
profession, and it was asked, how then could he presume 
to teach it to the men who did 2 . The unlucky title of 
his book was quoted constantly against him, and if any- 
body thought of seeking medical assistance from Jerome 

1 See the dedication to the revised issue of the book, Opera, Tom. 

2 " In artis autem operibus negligerer, cur erat ut alios docere 
vellem." De Libris Propr. (ed. 1557) p. 29. "Et modum alium me- 
dendi observans ex titulo libri nuper edito, jam prope ab omnibus 
habebar," p. 32. 

VOL. I. L 


Cardan, it could be urged against him not only that he 
was not recognised by the local College of Physicians, 
but that he was an eccentric man who would imperil the 
lives of his patients by rash crotchets of his own. He was 
a poor man, maddened by poverty, struggling against men 
high in repute and rich. He was a young man complain- 
ing of his elders 1 . Rivals and enemies looked grave and 
shrugged their shoulders, merely pointing out that the 
author of a book " On the Bad Practice of Medicine in 
Common Use" might have a better practice of his own; 
but from the very title of his work it was obvious as 
the public generally could but admit that he opposed 
singly the experience and learning of the whole profes- 
sion. He, too, a young man, who, as they all knew, was 
a lecturer upon geography, geometry, arithmetic, and 


1 De Libris Propr. (ed. 1557) p. 30. I must quote part of his own 
account of the misfortunes that attended this first literary venture: 
" Sed et longe aliter commodum, quod expectabamus ex illis libellis, nam 
non parvam retardationem attulit ad gloriam in arte consequendam. 
Nacti nanque aemuli ex argumento libri occasionem, dicebant, Nunquid 
modo dubitatis hunc insanire? aliumque medendi modum aliamque, 
quam nos, medicinam profiteri, cum in tot rebus ritum nostrum accuset? 
Itaque merito, ut dicebat Galenus, qui tot insanientibus contradicere 
niterer, insanire visus sum: cum enim necessarium esset me vel illos 
aberrare quis mihi crederet contra tot probatos usu viros, divites, senes 
magna ex parte, nee mediocriter eruditos, cultos restibus, ornatos 
moribus, facundia vulgari prseditos, amicis atque affinitatibus potentes, 
auraque populari in sublime elatos, inde, quod maximum erat, tot 
artibus ad cavendum ad fallendumque instructos. Ego vero pannosus, 
ita ut mihi non conveniret illud, Vestibus inquam homini surgit bona 
fama decusque. Itaque egregio hoc meo invento pene fame perii." 


And this was all that had resulted from the book 
written and printed with so much hope of a happy issue. 
It was to have led the way to sick-beds, by the proof it 
would afford that he who wrote it had thought soundly 
and deeply as a practical physician. It was to have 
brought to him the first honours of public authorship. 
"But where I looked for honour," said Cardan, "I 
reaped nothing but shame 1 ." The book damaged him in 
every respect, but one. It had satisfied the printer, who 
derived a profit from its sale. It had been bought to be 
abused; the printer rejoiced, while the author grieved. 
Ottaviano Scoto, satisfied with his experience, held his 
type still at the service of the poor philosopher, and so at 
any rate one difficulty had been overcome. 

1 De Libris Propriis. Lib. ult. Opera, Tom. i. p. 102. 





A MAGPIE in the court-yard chattered more than 
usual on the last day of November, 1536. Cardan knew, 
therefore, that something was about tq happen. He ex- 
pected news or an arrival, and was not deceived, for on 
the evening of that day Lodovico Ferrari was brought to 
his house as a famulus 1 . Lodovico, then a boy of fifteen, 
was brought by his uncle Vincent from Bologna. The ser- 
vant, full of talent, soon became a pupil and a friend. He, 
of all Cardan's pupils, was the one who lived to be after- 
wards the most distinguished, inasmuch as the natural bent 
of his mind easily caused him to share Cardan's own very 
decided taste for mathematics, and he had power enough 
as he grew older to think onward for himself, and earn 
for his name though he died young a permanent place 
in the records of that science. 

Not very long afterwards, it happened that there came 
to Milan a tall, lean man, with a sallow skin and hollow 
eyes, awkward in manner, slow in movement, sparing of 

1 De Vita Propria, p. 214. Vita L. Ferrarii Bononiensis, a H. Car- 
dano Descripta. Op. Tom. ix. p. 568. 


his words, a great mathematician. He was a native of 
Brescia, and his name was Zuanne da Coi 1 . He brought 
word to Milan that there had been discovered two new 
algebraic rules, for the solution of problems of a certain 
kind that concerned cubes and numbers. " I asked," 
said Cardan, "by whom?" " By Scipio Ferreus of 
Bologna," he replied. " Who is possessed of them?" He 
said, "Nicolo Tartaglia and Antonio Maria Fior; but 
Tartaglia, when he came to Milan, taught them to me, 
though unwillingly enough." Then Jerome continues, 
" When I had thoroughly looked into those matters with 
Lodovico Ferrari, we not only .made out the two new 
demonstrations, but discovered in addition a great num- 
ber of others, so that I founded upon them a book on the 
Great Art." Of his skill in algebra Cardan was justly 
proud ; it was the department of knowledge in which he 
displayed perhaps the most remarkable evidences of his 
intellectual power. One of his processes, upon which we 
shall hereafter dwell, is still known by his name in mathe- 
matics. The researches prompted by Zuanne da Coi had 
some influence, perhaps, upon the character of Jerome's 
second venture into print, which was a step towards that 
book of the great art about which much will hereafter be 

i De Libris Propriis (ed. 1557), p. 36. De Libr. Prop. Lib. ult. 
Opera, Tom. i. p. 103. 


His second publication did not, however, follow very 
rapidly upon his first abortive effort for success. There 
were other enterprises to engage his mind, and author- 
ship did not appear to be a happy way of courting 
fortune. Towards the end of the year 1536 at about 
the same time when Ferrari came to him he was invited 
to teach medicine publicly at Pa via, but declined the 
offer, because he did not clearly see from what source he 
was to derive a stipend 1 . Soon afterwards, still in the 
same year, letters from his friend Archinto (to whom, of 
course, he had dedicated his first book) summoned him to 
Placentia, where it was hoped that he might find oppor- 
tunity of pushing his fortunes by acquiring for himself 
the active good-will of Pope Paul III. 3 Archinto, how- 
ever, had prepared the way for him in vain. An ungainly 
and plain-spoken philosopher was not the man to make 
way at a papal court. 

It is worthy of remark, that those who would have re- 
coiled most certainly from a mere clumsy cynic, men who 
had not unlearnt the generosities of youth, who had come 
newly with fresh hearts and stirring minds into the 
market of the world, men like Archinto, were almost the 
only people who held out to the unrecognised philosopher 
their helping hands. Such a friend Jerome found at 

1 De Vita Propria, p. 19. 2 De Sapientia, &c. p. 425. 


Placentia in the young and handsome Brissac (Marshal 
Cosse), there serving as lieutenant to the King of France, 
and already famous for his gallantries 1 . Brissac was four 
years younger than Cardan a man delicate and beauti- 
ful, but agile and robust; at the siege of Naples he had 
singly taken prisoner a knight in armour, though he was 
himself on foot without the defence of casque or cuirass, 
having no weapon but a sword. Brissac had taste and 
scholarship, with a quick sympathy to feel the merits 
of Cardan ; he therefore besieged Louis Birague, com- 
mander of the French infantry in Italy, with petitions on 
behalf of the poor scholar. The -hopes of Jerome were 
excited very much, but there was nothing done. 

He went home therefore to his family at Milan, re- 
sumed his harness as an unsuccessful and, so far as the 
Milanese College was concerned, illegal practitioner, 
wrote more books, prepared more lectures, and continued 
the instruction of his apt young pupil Lodovico. 

Among the few patients whom Cardan attended, there 
was a certain Count Camillo Borromeo, whom he had 
cured of a serious disorder ; but because Jerome declined 
to sit up a whole night with him when he was troubled 
with some other ailment, the mean-spirited count had 
carried his complaints about the town: " Therefore," says 

i De Vita Propria, p. 20. " Erat enim Brisaccus Prorex singularis 
in studiosos amoris et humanitatis." 


the offended physician, "I had left the man." But 
chancing afterwards to pass, he was called in to look at a 
sick nurse, whom in two days he cured; soon afterwards 
the count's only child, a boy of seven, being ill, Jerome 
was urgently invited to attend. Now it so happened that 
on the preceding night that dreamy sage had been 
troubled with a complex vision of a snake, which, as he 
thought, portended danger to himself. When therefore 
he went to Borromeo's house and found the child's pulse 
pausing after every four beats, he said to himself, though 
the disease seems light this boy will die. Having then 
written a prescription, which contained one powerful 
ingredient, and placed it in the hands of a messenger who 
was about to take it to a shop to be made up, his dream 
suddenly recurred to him. Its application was made very 
obvious by the fact that Borromeo having added a snake 
to his arms, possessed a country-house painted over with 
vipers. The boy will die, he thought, and as the present 
ailment seems to be so light, if it be found that any 
active drug has been administered, it will be said after his 
death that I have killed him. He therefore called back 
the messenger, and substituted for his first prescription 
another, containing only the most harmless ingredients 1 . 

i " Medicamentum quod vocatur Diarob, cum Turbit, propinare in 
morsulis decreveram: et jam conscripseram, et nuncius ad pharmaco- 
polam ire caeperat, recorder somnii, 'Quiscio,' mecum dixi, <ne hie 
puer moriturus ex signo prsescripto ' revoco nuncium, qui non- 


But he predicted to the mother the boy's death. Other 
physicians who were summoned spoke more hopefully, 
and after the death had really taken place, gratified their 
jealous dislike by secretly asserting that the mathema- 
tician had not understood the boy's complaint. They 
were unable, however, to say that his medicine had been 
of a kind to cause or hasten any fatal issue. So he 
avoided, through attention to the warning dream, great 
danger to himself, because if Count Borromeo had 
believed that the loss of his one child was caused by 
a prescription, he would certainly have killed the doctor 
who had written it. Many indeed 'at that time heard so 
much ill spoken of Cardan, that it appeared to them 
as though it would be but a just thing to kill him, if 
the law were not so undiscriminating as to protect even 
lives like his. Borromeo never ceased to alleviate his 
grief for his lost child by curses loud, frequent, and 
public, upon his physician. As for the general public of 
Milan, it had come to the conclusion that the Plat 
lecturer was mad, through poverty. 

The luckless author, greatly vexed at the large number 
of misprints which had disfigured his first publication, 

dum quatuor passibus ab ostio aberat, dico deesse quippiam quod addere 
vellem, lacero priusfactum, clam, et aliud scribo e margaritis, osse 
monocerotis, gemrais. Datur pulvis evomit," &c. De Vita Propria, 
p. 148. For some of the details in the text, see also De Libris Propriis 
(1537), p. 31, and Synesiorum Somniorum, Lib. IT, cap. 4. Opera, 
Tom. v. p. 724. 


issued a new example of his skill as a philosopher, printed 
at Milan under his own eye, either in the same year 1536, 
or in the year succeeding 1 . It was printed also at his 
own expense, and as he was in no condition to sustain a 
heavy charge, it was but a work consisting of five leaves, 
upon judicial astrology. His neighbours cried him down 
at once for an astrologer; his little venture was again 

A touch of superstition belongs also to this as to every 
period of Jerome's life. It happened in the year 1536, 
about the month of July 2 , when he lived by the Porta 

1 De Libris Propriis (ed. 1557), p. 40. 

2 De Vita Propria, pp. 223, 224. Cardan tells the story at more 
length. As I desire the few quotations in these notes not simply to 
justify the text, but also to provide for some readers means of obtaining 
glimpses of Cardan himself, I quote this little narrative in his own 
words. The tone of natural credulity about it is particularly striking. 
There is a great deal of agreeable naivete in Jerome's nonsense ; it had 
more in it of the sick wit of a child than of the gloom of full-grown 
superstition. " Ergo anno MDXXXVI. cum habitarem in P. Tonsa, erat 
mensis ni fallor Julii, prodiens & caenaculo in Cortem, sensi maximum 
odorem cereorem quasi nuper extinctorum; territus voco puerum in- 
terrogans an quicquam sentiret, ille cum de strepitu intelligeret, nega- 
bat, Monui non de sono intelligere, sed an odorem perciperet, dixit * O 
quam magnum sentio cerse odorem,' dixi ' Sile ' et ancillam rogans, et 
uxorem, omnes mirabantur praster meam matrem quse nil sentiebat, 
credo gravedine prsepedita : Itaque mortem imminere hoc ostento autu- 
mans, cum ad lectum contulissem me, non poteram obdormiscere, et 
ecce aliud prodigium priore majus, in via publica grunnientes sues, 
cum nulli ibi essent, inde anates similiter obstrepentes : Quid hoc mihi, 
et unde tot monstra? Et anates cur ad sues veniunt ? qui tota nocte 
grunnientes perseverarunt. Mane tot visis perculsus, nesciebam quid 
agerem : vagabar extra urbem a prandio : et rediens domum, video 
matrem quae me hortabatur ut properarem, ictum fulmine vicinum lo. 
Prsefectum alias pestilentiae : Hunc ferebant cum xii. ante annis ei 


Tonsa, that as he went out of his door one evening, 
after supper, he perceived a smell as of extinguished 
tapers. He called out his household, and the smell was 
recognised by all except his mother, whose nose was dis- 
abled by a cold, and it was thought by all that such 
a smell must certainly be ominous of something. That 
night the physician was continually disturbed by a 
strange sound as of sows and geese outside. When 
morning came, Cardan went out to wander in the fields, 
very solicitous about these omens. On his return he was 
hurried off to see a neighbour a man of no very good 
character, reputed to have been a ' thief in the office he 
had once held as prefect of the plague who had been 
struck by lightning. He proved to be dead, and so the 
meaning of the presages became quite clear to the philo- 
sopher. " After my neighbour's death," he says, " my 
mind was easy." 

Work of the pen in the mean time went on. Seized by 
a bold idea, Jerome brought his astrology to bear on the 
Nativity of Our Lord, and began a Life of Christ con- 
firmatory of his horoscope 1 . He wrote also three medical 

muneri vacaret, quod pestilentia saeviret, multa rapuisse: concubinam 
habebat, nee exomologesim subibat : forsan et alia pejora admiserat : 
erat autem vicinus, ut non intercederet nisi domuncula, vidi et cognovi 
esse mortuum prorsus, tune liberatus sum a cura, illius obitm" 

1 " Succedente anno" (f. e. 1539) " tres libros de Christi vita super- 
auxi. qui jam an tea per triennium erant inchoati." De Sapientia, &e. 
ad fin. The first book treated of bis Birth, the second of his Life, the 
third of his Laws. ^T, 



tracts, and began a work on the Arcana of Eternity, de- 
signing thereby to please the Marquis Avalos, a governor 
of Milan, who had shown some friendliness towards the 
poor wise man whom so few heeded. 

Alphonso d' Avalos 1 , Marchese del Guasto, was another 
of the young and clever men who could recognise and 
enjoy the vigour of a genius that repelled the prim and 
vulgar by its eccentricities. He was a year younger than 
Cardan, the son of Inigo d' Avalos, and going early out to 
war was, at the age of twenty-one, present at the battle of 
Bicoque. From the subsequent contests in the Milanese, 
to which reference has been made often in preceding 
pages, he had been rarely or never absent. After the 
death of Antonio Seva he had been appointed general 

1 I have seen it somewhere stated that there is a MS. life of this 
D' Avalos in one of the Italian libraries, I think at Florence. In a note 
appended to his name in Roscoe's memoirs of Cellini, it is said that he 
was " the son of the great Ferdinando d' Avalos, Marquis of Pescara." 
In the Biographic Universelle he is called his nephew. Ferdinand was 
his cousin. The first of the family it belonged to Navarre who came 
to Italy, was Inigo, first of the name. He following Alphonso V. of 
Arragon to Naples, married a sister of the Marquis Pescara, who hap- 
pened to be heir to his estates. In this way he acquired great wealth and 
a new title. Of the three sons of that couple, one died single, and two, 
Alphonso and Inigo II., married. " The great Ferdinand" was the son 
of Alphonso, and inherited through him the title of Pescara. The 
Avalos connected with the life of Cardan was the son of Inigo II., and 
inherited from him the Marquisate del Guasto. See Imhof Geneal- 
Ital. et Hisp. and the article on the Avalos family in Zedler's Universal 
Lexicon oiler Wissenschaften und Kilnste, vol. ii. col. 20938. This 
old German Lexicon is a repertory of minute facts and references to 
authorities concerning half-forgotten things and people, through which 
I have had easy access to much valuable information. 


and governor in Milan. In the year 1535 he joined the 
expedition of the Emperor to Tunis, and obtained mili- 
tary promotion. D'Avalos was by no means a man of the 
best stamp. He was clever, but unscrupulous ; in words 
and ways fond of display. He sought the smiles of ladies 
as a dandy, and in that character was probably unequalled 
in his time and country. His dress was elaborate, and he 
perfumed not only his own person, but even the saddle 
upon which he rode. In the year 1536 his patronage of 
Jerome was but nominal. Four years afterwards, how- 
ever, the marquis was sent by the emperor as chief am- 
bassador to Venice; and before that time, on the recom- 
mendation of an influential friend, Jerome had come to be 
numbered and paid among the members of his suite. He 
had worked, however, for the great man's favour had 
gone courting to him ; and in one of his works he relates 
incidentally his regret that he was troubled with a severe 
cold at a time when he was in furtherance of his suit 
assiduously paying to the great man evening visits. He 
put his feet, however, in hot water, took Cassia Nigra, and 
in three days got rid of the ungraceful huskiness 1 . 

The name of this patron will recur several times as the 
narrative proceeds, and I know no better way of giving a 

1 " Opprimebar aliquando Coll. nostri auctoritate. . . . coactus sum 
principis Alphonsi amicitiam colere, id faciebam hora vespertina," &c. 
De Aqua. Opera, Tom. ii. p. 585. 


preliminary insight into his character than by carrying on 
to the end this brief sketch of his life. D' Avalos, while 
at Venice, treacherously murdered two French ambassa- 
dors, in order to obtain possession of their papers. In 
1544 he lost the battle of Cerisoles, in Piedmont, being 
the first man to take flight, although he had set out with 
the boast that he would bring home the young Duke of 
Anjou as a plaything for the dames of Milan. He had 
also taken with him on his march four thousand chains, 
with which he was to bind Frenchmen to the galleys. 
The unexpected reverse preyed upon his mind ; never re- 
covering from his chagrin he was taken ill, and died in 
the year 1546, ten years after the date from which this 
narrative has wandered. 

While these facts are told against him, it should also be 
said that Alphonso d' Avalos used his great wealth in such 
a way as to merit the commendation of all churchmen 
and men of letters, for he was a lavish patron, as Cardan 
well knew, when he cultivated his good-will. At first he 
had been military governor of the Milanese district, 
Cardinal Caraccioli being the civil governor of the town. 
After the cardinal's death no successor was appointed, and 
D' Avalos was supreme. "His mild rule," wrote a 
Milanese churchman while his memory was green, " re- 
vived the province; and he was so liberal in sacred things 
that he in some degree made good the loss occasioned by 

D'AVALOS. 159 

the absence of an archbishop 1 .'* "He was a man," says 
the same authority, " of the most polished manners, 
studious of the fine arts, high minded, prodigal of his own 
wealth, and little greedy of the wealth of others 2 ." All 
that was said evil of him was ascribed to the malignity of 
his enemies, who added to the grief of his last days by 
causing the Emperor to demand an oversight of his 
accounts. After his death at Vigevano he was brought 
to Milan, and buried publicly in the cathedral, with ora- 
tions, and all honours that the clergy could bestow upon 

It was at the end of the year 1536 then, during the 
vacation, that, to please this marquis, Jerome began a 
book on the Arcana of Eternity. In the year 1537 he 
being then thirty-six years old the world still used him 
ill, and prompted him to write two works 3 , one upon 
Wisdom, one on Consolation philosophic shields against 
the outer miseries of life. In the same year he proved 
himself a true philosopher by burning about nine books 
that he had written upon various subjects, because they 
seemed to him on re-perusal empty and unprofitable. 
His manuscripts had accumulated into a great farrago, 
chiefly of medical papers, and he destroyed so much that 

1 Kipamontius Chronistoe Urb. Med. (ed. cit.) p. 725. 

2 Ibid. p. 710, 

3 DeLibrig Propriis (1557), p. 39. 


there remained whole little beside his printed work, and 
the materials belonging to the treatise on arithmetic, 
which he proposed to publish soon, if possible. 

The work written for D'Avalos on the Arcana of 
Eternity was kept afterwards unpublished by the 
Church, but Cardan himself liked it, and quotes the 
headings of the chapters 1 . The work would have been a 
curiosity had it come down to us ; only a fragment, how- 
ever, is preserved. It was divided into seven books. 
The first treated of God and the origin of what we 
should call the Cosmos the number of worlds and their 
magnitude. The second book discussed the constitution 
of the divine world which was called intelligible, or im- 
material ; the third was on the constitution of the sensible 
or material world ; the fourth book was on the order of 
human things; the fifth on the succession of things 
natural; the sixth on the succession of things human; and 
the seventh on the end of the world to which those suc- 
cessions lead. The subjects of the chapters in each book 
are communicated to us, but it will suffice here to quote, 
by way of illustration, half a dozen of the heads under 
which Jerome treated of things human. They were of 
this kind : On the Likeness between the World and Man 
and on the Equal Distribution of Parts; on Sense and 
Memory; on Contemplation; on Numbers; on Virtue 
1 De Libris Propriis (1557), pp. 4251. 


and Sin; on Happiness; on the question, Are Assemblies 
worthier than Individuals? on the Existence of some 
Truth in all Falsehood, and of some Falsehood in all 
Truth; on the Necessity, Uses, and Harms of Law. 
There must have "been no little boldness and originality 
of treatment in a book of this kind written by Cardan; 
but as it was not to be published, I must say no more of 
it, and turn to works with which the world at large be- 
came acquainted. 

When he sought fame in print as a physician, he had 
been told that he was only qualified to write on Mathe- 
matics. Well, he would publish next a work on Mathe- 
matics; upon that subject also he had new ideas to com- 
municate. Should he be honoured as a prophet then by his 
compatriots? The Milanese physicians still rejected him. 
In 1537, Jerome humbled himself again to petition for 
admission to their college. He had, indeed, for a short 
time consented to what he considered a dishonourable ad- 
justment of his quarrel with them. The truce did not 
last long, and he was again formally rejected 1 . In the 
same year, however, a new patient was obtained, whose 
friendship gave him hope of better days. Anxiously 
must they have been desired by Lucia, who had by this 
time two children to support; the second child a daughter, 
Clara, having been born in the preceding year 2 . 

1 De Vit. Propr. p. 147. 

3 De Vita Propr. p. 20. The date is inferred readily from the state- 
VOL. I. M 


In the preceding year his household was increased, his 
daughter Clara had been born; and in that year, 1537, of 
which we now speak, his household was diminished, for 
it was then that his mother Clara died 1 . While she lay 
awaiting death, Jerome of course had all his senses open 
for the perception of some sign or omen. Once in the 
night he heard a mysterious tapping, as of the fall 
of water-drops upon a pavement, and he counted nearly 
one hundred and twenty distinct raps. He was in doubt, 
however, as to their significance, or whether they were 
indeed spiritual manifestations, for they appeared to pro- 
ceed from a point to the right of him, in contradiction to 
all doctrine concerning portents of cakmity. He be- 
lieved, therefore, that fe perhaps one of his servants might 
be practising on his anxiety." But for the purpose of 
assuring his faith in the genuineness of the supernatural 
communication that he had received, the raps were re- 
peated he supposed that they could have been repeated 
only for that purpose on the next day when the sun was 
high, and he, being up and awake, could assure himself 
that nobody was near him. There were then fifteen 
strokes; he counted them. Afterwards he heard in the 
night a heavy sound as of the unloading of a waggonful 

ment there incidentally made that his daughter was two years younger 
than his eldest son. 

1 " MDXXXVII, cum mater obiit, . . . ." Paralipomenon. Lib. ii. 
cap. xxj. Opera, Tom. x. p. 471. 


of planks. It caused the bed to tremble. After these 
events his mother died; but Jerome adds: " Of the signi- 
fication of the noises I am ignorant 1 ." 

Turning from death to sickness, we revert to the new 
patient from whose friendship better days were to be 
hoped. There was a druggist named Donato Lanza 2 , 
who had been cured by Cardan of a spitting of blood 
with which he had been for many years afflicted, and 
who therefore looked up to his benefactor as the most 
eminent of all physicians. He having the ear of a distin- 
guished senator, deep in the counsels of the emperor, 
Francisco Sfondrato, of Cremona, often endeavoured to 
persuade 'him that he would do well to obtain Jerome 
Cardan's opinion upon the condition of his eldest son. 
The boy suffered for many months from puerile con- 
vulsions, and was to be counted rather among the dead 

1 De Vita Propr. p. 224. The spirit-rappers of the present day are 
welcome to the exact text: " Cum mater esset in extremis, experrectus, 
et illucescente altius sole, videos et nihil videns XT. ictus (illos enim 
numeravi) audivi, quasi aquae guttatim in pavimento cadentis, nocte 
autem praecedente, circiter cxx. prope numeravi, sed dubitaveram, quod 
hos a dextril sentirem, ne quis domesticorum mini anxio illuderet, ut hi 
ictus non viderentur in die contigisse, nisi ut nocturnis fidem facerent. 
Paulo post ictum quasi curris tabulis onusti simul se exonerantis, 
supra laquearia sensi, tremente cubiculo. Mortua est ut dixi mater, 
ictuum significatum ignoro." 

2 De Libris Propriis (1557), pp. 123130, for the next story, and for 
the two cases afterwards narrated. The account of the introduction to 
Sfondrato is amplified from another narrative of the same facts in the 
De Vita Prop. pp. 188192. 



than among the living, being distorted, and imbecile both 
of mind and body; yet in time he did recover. Then a 
younger son of the same senator was attacked in the ninth 
or tenth month of his life by fever. Sfondrato's old 
friend and family physician, Luca della Croce, was called 
in, a very respectable man, procurator of the College of 
Physicians, which inscribed also Sfondrato among its 
patrons. Luca's brother Annibale had even thrown some 
lustre of scholarship about the family name, by writing 
Latin poems and translating Statius badly. The same 
Annibale we shall presently find furnishing half a dozen 
recommendatory verses to Cardan's next publication. 
Luca della Croce saw the child, and promised fairly for it, 
as became a well-spoken physician ; but sharp convulsions 
suddenly set in, and made it fit that there should be fur- 
ther advice taken and formal consultation held upon the 
case. Luca proposed to summon Ambrose Cavenega, one 
of the leading members of the faculty in Milan, holding 
rank as imperial first physician, a man whose eminence 
Jerome had acknowledged by dedicating to him, with 
high compliment (little esteemed), the small tract upon 
simple Medicaments added to his book on the Bad 
Practice of Doctors. Sfondrato being entitled by usage 
to name the third voice in the consultation, remembering 
all that had been said to him by Donate Lanza, proposed 
that they should meet Jerome Cardan. 


At the second hour of the day it was summer time 
the three physicians were assembled at the bedside, the 
father of the patient being present. Delia Croce was 
the first to express his opinion, then Cardan followed, 
Cavenega being the last speaker, as the senior man. 
Cardan said: i( This is a case of opisthotonos." The first 
physician stared, for he had never heard the word before. 
It is a word still commonly used in medicine to express 
the excessive action of one class of muscles by which limbs 
or body are curved backwards. Delia Croce said: " How 
can you ascertain that ?" Cardan showed how the child's 
head was forcibly held back, and could not be pulled 
forwards into natural position. Delia Croce lauded 
courteously his discernment. Said the father then to 
Jerome, " You appear to know what the disease is, do 
you know also how it can be remedied ?" Cardan 
turned to his colleagues, and proceeded glibly to quote 
aphorisms of Hippocrates concerning fever and convul- 
sions. The colleagues, conscious that there could result 
only loss of dignity from any words of quarrel, flattered 
the unrecognised physician with some praise, and left to 
him the treatment of the case. He ordered a light 
milk diet, by denying the nurse meat, prescribed fomen- 
tations and external application of linseed oil and lilies, 
ordered the infant to be kept in a warm room and gently 
rocked to sleep. 


Afterwards, when Jerome was alone beside his patient, 
Sfondrato said to him : " I give you this child for a son." 
Jerome was astonished. " Consider him your own," said 
the senator ; " do with him as you would with your own 
child. Do not concern yourself about the other doctors. 
Let them be offended if they will." Cardan replied, that it 
was his desire to act as their ally, and to receive assistance 
from them in the case, of which the issue could be only 
doubtful. His course of treatment was, however, followed, 
and the child recovered in four days. The father reflected 
that under the care of Delia Croce his eldest child had 
lain six months uncured, and so came to the abrupt con- 
clusion that Donato Lanza had with reason praised Jerome 
Cardan to him as the , most skilful of the Milanese 
physicians. The senator Sfondrato who became after- 
wards a cardinal abided by Cardan from that time for- 
ward as a good patient and a faithful patron. 

Having made up his mind emphatically on the subject 
of Cardan, and distinctly weighed against him Delia Croce 
and Cavenega, Sfondrato began to reflect upon his friend's 
position in relation to the College of Physicians. Delia 
Croce was the procurator ; Cavenega had openly declared 
that he could not praise merit in a man who was disowned 
by the faculty ; the senator formed, therefore, at once a 
strong opinion that the exclusion of Cardan from their 
body by the Milanese physicians was the consequence 


not of his illegitimate birth, but of his dreaded superiority 
of genius. Sfondrato, feeling warmly the wrong done 
to the poor lecturer, narrated his own experience of 
Jerome's skill to the whole senate, engaged on his behalf 
the interest of the Marquis d'Avalos, and of other minis- 
ters and men robed in the purple of authority. Would 
the physicians remain obdurate ? 

I add here one or two other examples of Cardan's 
medical practice which belong to this part of his career. 
Branda Scoto, brother to Ottaviano, from whose press the 
Bad Practice of Doctors had issued, being, like his 
brother, a familiar friend, took Jerome to see Martha 
Mott, a woman of thirty, who lived in the Via Sozza. 
She had been for thirteen years confined to a chair by an 
ulcer in the left leg, which limb was too weak to support 
her. She had also flying pains, and a general wasting of 
the body. After two years, under Cardan's treatment, she 
retained nothing to remind her of her disease but a limp 
in walking. Twenty years afterwards she was a healthy 
married woman. 

A tradesman, Jerome Tibbold, was induced, by what 
he heard of the preceding case, to apply to Cardan for the 
cure of his own cough, attended by spitting of blood and 
matter. He was wasted by consumption. Under the new 
doctor's care he got to all appearance well, and became 
fat. The physicians said that he could not have had true 


consumption, or the man would not have recovered. 
When Jerome had healed several in this way, he ventured 
to write that he had cured people who suffered from con- 
sumption and oppression of the breath. But as far as 
concerns the consumptives, he tells us, " the physicians 
spoke untruly who declared them to be afflicted by dis- 
eases of another kind, and I spoke untruly in saying that 
they were healed. But what I wrote was written in good 
faith, for I was deceived by hope." After five years, for 
example, in the case of Tibbold, Cardan explains that the 
deceptive show of health broke down. Having returned 
from church upon a holiday in rainy weather, he did not 
change his wet clothes, but spent the entire night in 
gambling. His complaint then returned upon him with a 
fatal violence. He had been once apparently cured by 
Cardan, once afterwards by another person, but so at last 
he died of the disease. Upon close inquiry, Jerome was 
informed by the widow that her husband's cough had at 
no period been quite removed. Donate Lanza himself, 
who had considered himself to have been cured by Cardan 
of a consumption, a few weeks after he had introduced 
him to Sfondrato, being sought by the authorities for some 
offence, jumped out of window and fell into a fish-pond, 
where he brought on himself a recurrence of his malady, 
and speedy death. 

Plainer acknowledgment of error could not be made, 


and if Jerome afterwards, handling himself roughly as 
usual, declares that an important step in his life was 
determined by the lie he told about the healing of con- 
sumptive patients, and that he never profited so much by 
any single truth as by that falsehood 1 , he certainly shows 
no decrease of candour. Yet mendacity in this instance 
was one of the great charges made against poor Jerome by 
his first posthumous critic of any note, Gabriel Naude 2 , 
who has been followed thoughtlessly by later writers. 
Bits of truth are the basis of error. Dreadful accounts of 
Cardan have been founded upon isolated passages found 
in his works ; but from a scrutiny of all the statements 
made by him about himself, arranged and collated with a 
fair amount of care, there can result only, as this narrative, 
if it be worth anything, will show, a confirmation of his 
claim to be regarded as a scorner of untruth. He does 
not by any means lay claim to the whole group of car- 
dinal virtues, but he can see through respectability and 
all its cheats. It may be as much out of the pride of an 
ill-used philosopher, as out of the spirit of a Christian, 
that he speaks the truth, but it is truth that he does 
always speak, and nothing else. " I think," he says, " that 

1 De Libris Propriis. Lib. ult. Opera, Tom. i. p. 136. 
' 2 " Mendacissimum ilium fuisse deprehendi, et ab hoc vitio reliqua 
demum velut e fonte promenasse, quae a nonnullis deliramenta vocan- 
tur, non levibus de causis existimo." Naudaeus in the De Cardani Ju- 
dicium, prefixed by him to the book De Vita Propria. 


I may call it a virtue never from my youth up to have 
uttered falsehood 1 ." " Beyond all mortals," he says in 
another work, " I hate a lie 2 ." And though he has him- 
self confessed one boyish falsehood, and may have been 
guilty of dozens while his unformed mind was grow- 
ing up under corrupt influence, it is not the less consistent 
with the strongest passion for truth, that Cardan should 
exclaim out of the energy of manhood, " I do not remem- 
ber that I ever told a lie, and, to defend my life, I would 
not do it 3 ." We may accept it, therefore, as a fact, that 
Jerome always speaks literal truth, and generally speaks 
his mind in plain words, that are only too unguarded. He 
does not use even the reservation that is necessary to pre- 
serve a semblance of consistency before the crowd of casual 
observers. By making known too much about himself, he 
only puzzled steady men, with whom it had become a 
second nature to put out of sight the variations that arise 
within us all as time runs on, of memory, of mood, and of 

To these considerations we must, however, add the fact 
that Jerome was by no means perfect in his ethics. Every 
honest man now holds that words so purposely contrived 
as to be true in themselves, but false in the impression 

1 De Vit. Prop. cap. xiv. 

2 De Varietate Rerum, Lib. xvi. cap. 93, p. 635 (ed. Bas. 1557). 

3 "Nos autem non recordamur unquam mendacium dixisse, nee 
si pro vita tuenda dicendum esset, diceremus." 


they create, are morally identical with lies. I hold them 
to be worse. A sudden lie may be sometimes only man- 
slaughter upon truth, but by a carefully constructed 
equivocation, truth always is with malice aforethought 
deliberately murdered. The spirit of the Roman Catholic 
religion in the days when Luther lived, led men to hold 
a very different opinion on this matter, and Cardan, in 
his ethical works, has critical chapters on simulation and 
dissimulation, holding the one to be right, the other 
wrong. He would disdain to speak untruth, or, indeed, 
often to suggest it, but he did not think it wrong to cir- 
cumvent 1 . Three centuries ago that was regarded gene- 
rally as a lawful and even laudable exercise of ingenuity, 
if it had any good purpose in view. 

While Francisco Sfondrato was engaged actively on 
his behalf in one way, Jerome was himself engaged in 
another way, during the year 1538, upon labours that 
might lead to an improvement of his fortunes. He was 
about to make his next public appearance as an author. 
The labours to which he had been stimulated by the lean 
and hollow-eyed mathematician, Zuanne da Coi, had 
assisted him to the completion of an elaborate, and in 
many respects original work on the Practice of Arith- 
metic. As it would contain many diagrams, and abound 
in notes, numbers, and novelties, Jerome had determined 
1 See Cardan's De Prudentia Civili, chapters 52 and 53. 


that it must on no account be printed by his friends at 
Venice, the brothers Scoto 1 . It must be executed at 
Milan, under his own anxious supervision. The crabbed- 
ness of a handwriting loaded with calculations, lines, 
and numerals, added to the ignorance or carelessness of 
printers whose sheets could not be submitted to the dis- 
tant author for correction, would, if he entrusted his work 
to the Scoti, result in the publication of a jumble infi- 
nitely more distressing to the reader than his first little 
work issued from the same press, with its hundreds of 
errata. Not a shadow of the original treatise would 
remain ; labour, money, and the hope of fame would so at 
once be thrown away. Fortunately there was a bookseller 
in Milan ready to publish the Plat lecturer's arithmetical 
treatise at his own expense nay, more, ready to pay him 
something very little, but still something for the copy- 
right. Jerome Cardan sold, therefore, to Bernardo Calus- 
cho, for ten crowns 2 , his Practica Arithmetice, and it 
was imprinted at Milan in the year 1539, by Joannes 
Antonius Castellioneus, at the expense of the said Bar- 
nardinus Caluscus. 

To this volume a portrait of its neglected author was 
prefixed, surrounded by a motto, reminding the unkind 
Milanese that a prophet is of no esteem in his own 

1 DeLibrisPropriis(1557),p. 41. 

2 De Libris Propr. Lib. ult. Opera, Tom. i. pp. 103, 104. 


country. As this portrait was submitted by Cardan 
himself to his own townspeople in a book carefully pro- 
duced, and upon the success of which he felt that much 
depended, we may accept it fairly as a likeness. It is at 
any rate quite clear that the artist has not been required 
to mend the truth in representing the outside appearance 
of the poor philosopher, and I am not disposed to think 
that he has marred it 1 . 

The publication of this book in 1539 formed, as will 
presently be seen, the turning-point in the life of Cardan 
as an author. In the same year, also, the dam suddenly 
gave way by which his course as a physician had been 
checked. The energetic friendship of Sfondrato had 
obtained for Cardan the good-will and good offices of 
another native of Cremona, Giovanni Baptista Speciario, 
a magistrate in Milan. Speciario was in a position to- 
commend him to the less distant friendship of a patron 
before mentioned, Alphonso D'Avalos, in 1539 governor 
of the province. By the influence of all these friends, but 
by the protests of Sfondrato himself more especially, and 
of another friend, Francisco della Croce, jurisconsult, an 
honest man and good mathematician, the physicians of 
Milan were compelled to sully their respectability by 
welcoming into their company an ill-born scholar. Thus, 

* A fac-simile of the old woodcut, reduced in size, has been placed 
as a vignette upon the title-page belonging to this volume. 


in the year 1539, after twelve years of resolute exclusion, 
Jerome Cardan at last came to be 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 




DESIGNING in this chapter to complete and carry for- 
ward the history of the first books published by Cardan, 
I must go back for the purpose of adding a few facts to 
the account already given of his earliest printed work. 
Its full title is " The Tract of Girelamo Castellione Car- 
dano, Physician of Milan, on the Bad Practice of Heal- 
ing among recent Physicians ; to the Illustrious Master 
Filippo Archinto, Jurisconsult, Imperial Councillor and 
Governor of the Maternal City of Rome. 

" The Tract of the same Author on the Hurt that is in 
Simple Medicaments. With an Index of those things 
which are contained in the several Chapters 1 ." Ottaviano 
Scoto's mark, which follows, surrounded by a Fame, is 
contained between the words of the motto : " Famam 
extendere factis, virtutis est opus." Then follow the place 
and date of publication, Venice, 1536. Only one edition 

" Hieronymus Castellioneus Cardanus de Malo recentiorum me- 
dicomm Medendi Usu Libellus, ud Illustrem Virum D. Philippum 
Archintum juris-consultus consiliarumq ; Caesureumq ; ac Almae Urbis 
Romae Gubernatorem. Ejusdem libellus de simplicium medicina- 
rum noxa. Cum Indice eorum quae singulis continentur capitibus." 
Venetiis. 1536. 


of this work was printed, Jerome having refused, for 
reasons before stated, to sanction a re-issue. It is a little 
square book, closely printed, and containing in all a hun- 
dred and ten pages. The main work is dedicated to 
Archinto ; but this dedication contains also a compliment 
to the physician Ambrose Cavenega, who is excepted 
from the author's general criticism of the physicians of his 
time, " for," he says, " the things which give most autho- 
rity to a physician in these times, are habits, attendants, 
carriage, character of clothes, cunning, suppleness, a sort 
of artificial, namby-pamby way ; nothing seems to depend 
on learning or experience." It would be well if this 
criticism had quite ceased to be applicable. It did not 
lose its force for at least two hundred and fifty years, and 
is in our own day only beginning to grow obsolete. 

The dedication of his little volume to Archinto, Jerome 
thus explains: " When I saw that you were foremost in 
wit, memory, variety of studies, genius, and authority, I 
judged you to be the best person to whom I could inscribe 
my first so salutary labours ; I was also bound to dedicate 
them to you by the several employments I have obtained 
through you in the state; and at the same time invited 
by your virtues." 

The little tract on Simples, occupying the last few 
pages of the book, is dedicated, as before stated, briefly as 
possible, to "Ambrose Cavenega, the most excellent doctor 
of arts and medicine, the most worthy ducal physician." 


Passing over the ten pages of Judicial Astrology, pub- 
lished by Jerome on his own account, we come to the 
Practice of Arithmetic, published in 1539 by Bernardo 
Caluscho. The book is entitled 1 " The Practice of Arith- 
metic and Simple Mensuration. By Jerome C. Cardan, 
Physician of Milan ; in which whatever else is con- 
tained will be shown on the next page." There are pre- 
fixed to it half a dozen lines of alternate hexameter and 
pentameter, supplied by the Latin poet Annibale della 
Croce, brother of the Doctor Luca before mentioned. 
The lines 3 , literally translated, are to the following effect: 
" Many are the uses of numbers, the discriminations of 
parts, and you may read about them in a thousand 
volumes. In a little, easy, learned, well- digested book, 
the sedulous care of Cardan gives them to you here. 
Read it presently, and you will say that you owe as much 
to that small book as to the thousand volumes." The 
book is dedicated by Jerome with the best feeling to his 
early Milanese friend and patron, the Father in Christ 
Prior Francesco Gaddi, and in the course of the dedi- 

1 "Hieronimi C. Cardani Practica Arithmetice, et Mensurandi Sin- 
gularis. In qua que prater alias continentur, versa pagina demonstra- 
bit." Mediol. 1539. 

2 " Multiplices numerorum usus, discrimina parteis. 

Queque voluminibus mille legenda tenes. 
Exiguo, facili, docto digesta libello. 

Hie tibi Cardani sedula cura dabit. 
Perlege mox, isti tantum debere libello. 

Te dices, quantum mille voluminibus." 

VOL. I. N 


cation, looking back to his first luckless venture, the poor 
author tells how he had been cherishing a " wish among 
many occupations to have so much leisure as to write a 
work that could be fairly blamed by none." 

Before the index of chapters, there is given in this 
volume a list of twenty-five new points laid down in the 
course of the treatise; but as we shall find that a second 
and maturer work on Arithmetic and Mathematics was 
published at a somewhat later date, it will be more con- 
venient to postpone for the present what has to be said 
concerning the claims of Cardan to respect as a great 
mathematician. It will suffice here briefly to indicate the 
nature of the book published by Caluscho, and to dwell 
only upon a certain page or two of characteristic stuff 
appended to it which belongs immediately to the thread of 
this narrative, inasmuch as it in fact led to the next 
great event in Jerome's literary life, and carries on the 
story from the point reached at the close of the preceding 

Cardan's Practice of Arithmetic is divided into sixty- 
eight chapters. The first states the subjects to be dis- 
cussed ; the second treats generally of the seven operations 
of arithmetic ; the next four treat of the first of those 
operations, numeration, as it concerns integers, fractions, 
surds, and denominations (cubes, figures, &c.) respec- 
tively. Four chapters follow devoted in the same way, 


one to the treatment of each of the four subjects of calcu- 
lation by the next of the seven operations, aggregation 
or addition ; the four next are occupied, of course, by de- 
traction or subtraction; the four next by multiplication; 
and the next four by division, as applied to integers, 
surds, fractions, and denominations. The four next 
chapters treat of the extraction of roots; and the next 
four of progression. The seven elementary operations of 
arithmetic are thus discussed in thirty chapters. The 
thirty-first chapter treats of the application of the seven 
operations to calculations in which there are combined 
both integers and fractions; the succeeding chapters treat 
in the same way successively of the seven operations as 
applied to combinations of integers and surds, integers 
and denominations, fractions^and denominations, fractions 
and surds, surds and denominations. The thirty-seventh 
chapter treats of the seven operations as applied to pro- 
portion, and of the logical difference between multiplica- 
tion and division on the one side, and aggregation and 
detraction on the other. The thirty-eighth chapter dis- 
cusses astronomical operations ; the next, multiplication by 
memory; the next is a clever dissertation on the kalends, 
nones, ides, cycles, golden numbers, epact, dominical 
letter, places of the sun and moon and moveable feasts, 
with rules for easy mental calculation of most questions 
arising out of details of the almanac. The forty-first 



chapter treats of the value of money; the forty-second 
treats of mirific numbers, that is to say, of remarkable 
properties of numbers, natural but strange. The next 
chapter passes on to the supernatural, and treats of the 
mystic properties of numbers. Then follows a chapter on 
irrational quantities; and then Jerome comes to the dis- 
cussion of the rule of three, which he characterises as the 
key of commerce " clavis mercatorum." The next 
chapter is upon the rule of six, our double rule of three ; 
the chapter following compares the two processes. The 
treatise then passes in the forty-eighth chapter to the first 
simple rules of algebra, and travels on to higher mathe- 
matical discussions, closing with chapters upon house- 
rent, letters of credit and exchange, income, interest, 
profit and loss, games of chance. It then comes to super- 
ficial mensuration, and the measuring of solids ; passes on 
to the practical details of weights and measures, and 
closes with an exposition of certain errors in the works of 
Luca de Borgo, and a Long list of cunningly-devised 
questions in arithmetic and geometry, calculated to put to 
a severe test the student's practical acquaintance with the 
rules and reasons laid down in the book. 

While this treatise was at the printer's and nearly a 
year seems to have been spent in the printing the 
unhappy author was still struggling against contempt and 
poverty in Milan. Anxious to work a way out of his 


obscure position, and to make some approach towards the 

N fame for which he longed, for he was thirty- seven years old 

and still unrecognised, Cardan proposed to bind up with 

liis second venture as a public author a notice, which was 

in effect, though not in form, an appeal from his own 

countrymen to scholars in all quarters of the world. He 

trusted that the merit of his book, unquestionably very 

great, would recommend him to men at a distance. 

Among them, perhaps, when they saw by the motto 

round his portrait that he was in no esteem at home, and 

read in the concluding notification how many and divers 

books that he had written were still left unprinted in his 

study, there might be one or two who would desire to 

bring his genius more fully out into the light, and who, 

for the love of knowledge, would extend to him a helping 

hand. The notification was of a legal kind, and it is to 

be found printed in black letter at the end of the first edi" 

tion of the Practice of Arithmetic. In many parts it is 

curious, as illustrating not only Jerome's anxiety to 

escape from the cold and hungry state of a neglected 

scholar, but also the law of copyright in those days, the 

small money value set by Cardan on his writings, and the 

care taken by the Church to provide a censorship which 

did in fact render impossible the publication of a good 

many philosophical works. It of course prevented the 

world at large from being edified or shocked by the 


Life of Christ that was completed in 1539 3 after having 
been three years in progress. That book was never pub- 
lished; but though not to be read it was abundantly 
abused by controversialists, who were much scandalised at 
the one fact of which they were informed by its author, 
that it set out with an astrological nativity. The notifi- 
cation added to the Practice of Arithmetic was to the 
following effect: 

" Charles the Fifth, Roman Emperor, Ever August, 
&c. Inasmuch as we have considered the petition of 
Girolamo Castellione Cardano, Physician of Milan, most 
faithful servant of the most unconquered Emperor, saying 
that he has prepared the under-mentioned works in divers 
faculties to be imprinted in succession according to his 
convenience, of which two little works have already seen 
the light; and that he might not be compelled to seek 
imperial privilege as often as he might have one such 
work to publish, therefore for the works named below 
existing in his possession, of which some have already 
been printed, he desires to obtain an universal privilege : 
We acquiesce in his humble supplication, and require by 
these letters that fit and needful help shall be afforded 
him to prevent any one from printing one of the works 
named below, or introducing such a work elsewhere 
printed into any part of the Duchy of Milan, or from 
committing any fraud against any such work until ten 


years after the date of its first publication, under the 
accustomed penalties according to the imperial pleasure. 
Of which works the list now follows. (Here follows the 
list of Jerome's unpublished writings upon divers sub- 
jects, thirty-four in number.) In addition to those two 
which have already been printed : one on the Bad Prac- 
tice of Healing, and one on the Hurtfulness of Simples. 

" For the pleasure or profit of professors of those sciences 
whereof the above works treat: We concede that they 
may cause them to be printed either together or in part ; 
except, firstly, that one which treats of the Arcana of 
Eternity ; secondly, that on Death, which is said to con- 
tain three books ; thirdly, that on Fate ; fourthly, that on 
the Life of our Lord Jesus Christ, also contained in three 
books : of which we require that they shall first be laid 
before our senate, that it may be seen whether they are fit 
for publication. 

" Furthermore, we forbid that any man within this our 
state of Milan shall within ten years print, or cause to be 
printed, the above works, or any of them, or bring them, 
or cause them to be brought, from other places into the 
said state, or have them for sale, against the consent of 
their author. The penalty for contravention of this our 
decree shall be ten scudi for each volume of the said 
works : of which half shall be paid to the author himself, 
but the remaining half shall be divided between our 


exchequer and the informer. This we assure by the 
present document, which we have commanded to be au- 
thenticated by the impression of our seal. Given at 
Milan, June 25, 1538." 

The year 1539, in which Jerome broke through the 
barrier opposed to his career by the Milanese College of 
Physicians, and also published his Practice of Arithmetic, 
which made an easy way for him ever thereafter into the 
long-sought Paradise of Print, ought to have been foretold 
to him as a bright year by the stars, if Jupiter had been 
indeed a conjuror, and Venus had had any right to be 
regarded as a gipsy. According to his own horoscope, 
however, Jerome in that year was not very far from death, 
nor was the world likely to lose much at his decease, if 
Cheiromancy spoke the truth in calling him a dunce. His 
head, however, confuted the testimony of his hand. The 
Practice of Arithmetic, finding its way both into France 
and Germany, commended its author to the respect of 
many strangers, and the notification at the end happily 
produced in one quarter the right effect. To the neglected 
scholar of Milan there was sent from Nuremberg the offer 
of Joannes Petreius to print any work which he might be 
disposed to entrust to him for publication. The offer was 
transmitted by a learned man of the same town, Andreas 
Osiander, who undertook to watch through the press, and 
take careful charge, as local editor, of any work written 


by the most learned Cardan, and printed by Petreius. 
" That," says Jerome, " was the beginning of my fame ; 
of whatever glory I have earned that was the origin 1 ." 

Osiander was a Lutheran theologian, not very ortho- 
dox of his kind, whose name in the vulgar world was 
Hosemann, as one who may have had an ancestor distin- 
guished for his early assumption of a garment mentionable 
perhaps in Latin quasi vir braccatus. He was a man ten 
years older than Cardan ; and having said so much, I may 
add, that he did not remain to the end of his life at 
Nuremberg, but spent the last three years of it in 
Prussia, where he enjoyed court favour as a theologian, 
and that he died long before Cardan, at the age of sixty- 
two. He had commenced his public career at Nuremberg 
as lecturer on Hebrew among the Augustin monks, whose 
company he had left to preach the new doctrines of Luther. 
His was the first Lutheran sermon preached in that town, 

1 Speaking of the Practice of Arithmetic for which Caluscho gave him 
the ten crowns, he says : " Nee si non impressus fuisset nostra monu- 
menta invenissent Typographum : continue enim, eo opere impresso, 
csepenint omnia commutari. Nam adjeceram Catalogum qualemcun- 
que librorum nostrorum, quos vel scripseram, vel caeperam scribere: et 
liberis distrahi caepit in Galliis atque Germaniis. Itaque cum tune 
esset Andreas Osiander Norimbergae, vir Latinae, Graecae, Hebraicaeque 
Iingua9 peritus, turn typographus Joan. Petreius, bonis literis, si quis 
alius favens, inito consilio totis viribus mecum agere caeperunt, ut 
aliquid opus illis traderem ut imprimerent. Atque ita initium gloriac 
nostrae, si qua deinceps fuit, hinc ortum habuit." De Libris Propriis- 
Lib. ult. Opera, Tom. i. p. 104. The same authority covers the ac- 
count of the rest of this transaction. 


but as he continued to think for himself, he at last gave 
not less offence to the orthodoxy of the Lutherans than of 
the Catholics, and lived a life much clouded by contro- 
versy, in which he appears to have shown no lack of the 
usual bitterness and pride. He was well versed in 
Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, had an inquiring mind, and 
a decided leaning to philosophy. He was a good mathe- 
matician, and, in 1543, the literary spirit which induced 
his offer to Cardan, caused him to edit, for the first time 
in Nuremberg, the Astronomy of Copernicus, Petreius 
printing it 1 . 

To the request of his new friends at Nuremberg, 
Jerome replied by sending them an enlarged copy of the 
tract on Judicial Astrology, which he had published im- 
perfectly, and with too much curtailment, in Milan, at his 
own expense. Having sent that to be published at 
Nuremberg, he forwarded nothing else, for a short time, to 
Osiander and Petreius, for it will be remembered that the 
Scoti, of Venice, were his friends, and having profited by 
his first work, they were quite ready to print for him 
again. Having no friend in Venice competent to correct 
for him the proofs of any abstruse work, and being greatly 

i Christoph. Saxi Onomasticon Literarium, Tom. iii. p. 165. Zedler's 
Universal Lexicon aller Wissenschaften und Kiinste. Bd. 25. In 
which last work, under the name of Andreas Osiander, the elder, fur- 
ther details may be found. One of Osiander's works had a curious 
bearing on the character and spirit of his time ; it was entitled, " How 
far is a Christian justified in flying from the Plague?" 


annoyed at the mass of printer's errors in his early treatise, 
Cardan refused to put his fame in peril by entrusting to 
his friends any work that contained technical terms and 
figures. There was no reason, however, why they should 
not print his Books on Consolation, since there was in 
them nothing but plain, every-day Latin. Those books, 
forming the next volume issued by Cardan, were there- 
fore first printed at Venice, and then published as a re- 
print by Petreius of Nuremberg 1 . This volume, however, 
was not published until the year 1542 ; and before more 
is said of it, the two or three preceding years of its 
author's literary life should be accounted for. 

It should have been said, that in or before the year 
1538, Jerome saw in a dream a book painted in three 
colours red, green, and gold ; he admired greatly its 
beauty, but he admired still more its contents. From 
that dream he obtained the first idea of his work on the 
Variety of Things, published years afterwards, and then 
commenced 2 . He wrote in that year on Things Above 
the rainbow, hail, earthquakes, lightning, &c., and what 
he wrote was copied out for him by Lodovico Ferrari 3 , 
then residing with him in his house. In the same year he 
began to write a description of a famous astronomical in- 

i De Libr. Propr. Lib. ult. Op. Tom. i. p. 103. 
- Ibid. p. 102. De Lib. Prop. (ed. 1557) p. 28. 
3 De Sapientia, &c. p. 428. The same reference provides authority 
for the rest of the facts stated in this paragraph. 


strument showing celestial movements, which having been 
bought formerly at a high price from the maker by a duke 
of Milan, had then been taken to pieces, and, after great 
trouble and discussion, put together again by lanello, of 
Cremona. As Cardan could not have the instrument at 
home with him, he grew tired of that work. In 1539 
Jerome finished his three books on the Life of Christ, and 
arranged two or three books of Letters. The whole of 
the next year was spent in the revision and emendation 
of his former writings, one of which, that on Consolation, 
written in 1537, he prepared next for the press. In 1541, 
admonished by a dream, he began to work earnestly at 
Greek literature, and wrote upon the Immortality of the 

" Girolamo Castellione Cardano of Milan his Three 
Books on Consolation," published at Venice in 1542 1 by 
one of the brothers Scoto (Girolamo), formed a neat little 
volume of two hundred and sixty-four pages 2 ; and had as 
emblems on the title-page a Peace instead of a Fame 
riding the globe, with the motto, Fiat Pax in virtute tua 
Let Peace come of your virtue. There is a great deal of 
wisdom in the matter, and of wit in the manner of all 

1 Hieronymi Cardani Castellionei Mediolanensis De Consolatione 
Libri Tres. Venetiis, apud Hieronymum Scotum, 1542. 

2 One hundred and thirty-two, as figured ; the two pages of a book 
that face each other being accounted one in this as in many other 
volumes of the time. 


Cardan's ethical writings. Though he did not soar far 
above his neighbours in Latinity, he excelled most in the 
sterling qualities of mind expressed through the usual 
barbarous medium, and by force of genius even his six- 
teenth century Latin is not seldom compelled into phrases 
terse and inimitable in their way. The Books on Conso- 
lation were intended in the writing to console their author 
under bitter disappointments during his first struggles 
with an adverse world. " The work was called at first," 
he says, " the Book of the Accuser, because it contended 
against the vain passions and false persuasions of mankind : 
afterwards its name was changed, and it was divided into 
three books, inscribed as Consolation, because it appeared 
that there was a far greater number of unfortunate men 
needing consolation, than of fortunate in need of blame 1 ." 
This passage shows the spirit in which Jerome wrote, how 
far it was removed from bitterness. He treats in succes- 
sion of those events which are regarded commonly as the 
great ills of life, offering upon each many such comments 
as Epictetus would have heartily commended, fortifying 
his case with apt illustrations and a great many classical 
examples, adopting sometimes the language of a Christian, 

1 " Fuerat autem ab initio ejus nomen Accusatoris, ut qui vanos 
hominum affectus, atque falsas argueret persuasiones : at post mutato 
nomine, et in tres libellos diviso, de Consolatione eum inscripsimus, 
quod longe magis infaelices consolatione, quani fortunati reprehensione, 
indigere viderentur." Op. cit. p. 3. 


and whether writing in the vein of the old Roman Forum, 
or the modern Roman Church, always enforcing the 
opinion, common equally to philosophic heathens and to 
Christians, that happiness and peace lie not in the world 
without but in the mind within, and that content is only 
possible to virtue. This work Jerome dedicates to no one 
person, because no man would wish it to be published 
that he is in need of consolation 1 . " It seems," he says 
very shrewdly, " to be in the grain of men to think them- 
selves more miserable, and to wish to be thought happier 
by others than they really are." 

The gain made by the Scoti on the publication of the 
" Bad Practice of Healing," was neutralised by loss upon 
this second undertaking 3 . The title of the book, Cardan 
thinks, was not liked, nor, perhaps, was the style attrac- 
tive ; and again, the volume was disfigured by the printer 
with a great number of the vilest blunders. So far as tem- 
porary popularity was concerned, the book was very na- 
turally less successful than its predecessor. One touched on 

1 Namque illud natura omnibus insitum mortalibus videtur, ut se 
miseriores quam sint existiment, faeliciores vero videri cupiant," Op. 
cit. p. 2. 

2 After its publication, he writes that Ottaviano held his books in 
dread: "Neque enim, ut dixi, Octavianus sponte libros meos, neque 
libenter imprimebat, jacturam veritus impensse: nam tametsi lucrum 
fecisset in librorum de Malo Medendi Usu impressione, id tamen in 
libris de Consolatione postea compensavit: non solum quod titulus et 
forsan etiam stylus non arrideret, sed quod Typographus ipse innu- 
meros atque turpissimos errores imprimendo commisisset." De Lib. 
Prop. (1557) p. 40. 


the material interests of a class, stirred passion, was warmly 
talked about, and quickly bought ; the other touched on 
the moral interests of mankind generally, was written to 
allay passion, was coldly talked about, and bought with 
more deliberation. It was reprinted by Petreius at Nu- 
remberg 1 , and grew in credit ; it was a capital of fame 
put out to interest, of which instalments were paid ever 
after punctually year by year. The little volume came 
by slow degrees to be accepted as a standard work of its 
own time, was translated into sundry languages, and 
twice into our own. The first English translation, 
entitled Cardanus Comforte 2 , was' made while Cardan 
still was living, thirty years after the publication of the 
book at Venice. The very brief specimen that can be 
here given of Jerome's style as an essayist and moralist, 
I think it best to quote from this contemporary version. 

It was made by " Thomas Bedingfeld, Esquyer, one of 
her Maiesties gentlemen pentioners" her Majesty being 
Queen Elizabeth and it was both made at the request 
and published at the command of the Earl of Oxford 
" Sure I am," said Bedingfeld, " it would have better 

In 1544, together with the books subsequently written, De Sa- 
pientiu, and the first of the three books De Libris Suis, then first 

2 " Cardanus Comforte translated into Englishe. And published by 
commaundementof the Right Honourable the Earle of Oxenford. Anno 
Domini, 1573. Imprinted at London in Eleete Streate, near to S. Dun- 
stone's Churche, by Thomas Marshe." Without pagination. 


beseemed me to have taken this travaile in some discourse 
of armes (being your lordship's chiefe profession and mine 
also), then in philosopher's skill to have thus busied 
myselfe : yet sith your pleasure was such, and your know- 
ledge in eyther great, I do (as I will ever) most willingly 
obeye you." But in his modesty he begged of the earl 
so far to keep his labour secret as " either not to make 
any partakers thereof, or at the leastwise those, whoe for 
reuerence to your lordship or loue to mee, will willingly 
beare with mine errors," &c. &c. To this request the 
earl replied in an elaborate epistle. ' ' After I had perused 
youre letters good Maister Bedingfeld, finding in them 
your request farre differing from the desert of your labour, 
I could not chose but greatly doubt, whether it were 
better for me to yelde you your desyre,' ; &c. &c. In 
fine, he determined to print the book, and bade Bedingfeld 
be proud rather than ashamed of it, inasmuch as it dis- 
played a kind of gift that " ornifyeth a gentleman." His 
lordship also called in " Thomas Churchyarde, gentleman," 
to introduce Cardanus Comforte to the English public 
with the proper flourish of commendatory verse. Church- 
yarde first scolded in prose the expected readers of the 
volume, who, he said, must not go to sleep " and loose 
but labour with slobberinge handes or head to blot or 
blemish the beauty of this booke." He then put on his 
singing robes, and invited them to come for consolation 
to Cardan in proper form ; as for example thus : 


"You troubled mindes with torments tost that sighes and sobs con- 
sumes : 
(Who breathes and puflfes from burning breast both sraothring smoke 

and fumes) 

Come reade this booke that freely bringes, a box of balme full swete 
An oyl to noynt the brused partes, of everye heavye spriete," 

I propose to quote from Cardan's work, as Bedingfeld 
translated it, only the opening and closing paragraphs. 
They will suffice to convey a very fair impression of the 
style and temper of the poor philosopher who was so 
rude and hasty in his speech, yet at the same time always 
so deliberate and gentle in his writings. The opening 
sentences remind us of the fact that, not long before the 
writing of this work was commenced, Jerome had occu- 
pied himself in reading word by word the whole of the 
extant works of Cicero. Thus he begins : 

" Amonge such and so manye auncient monuments as 
perished in y e Barbarian warres : would God that at least 
Marcus Tullius bokes of com forte, written at the deathe 
of his daughter, had been tyll this day preserued. For 
as in all other matters hee declared himselfe more then a 
man, so may it be thought that herein he had written 
most excellently : the matter being neyther common, 
fayned or touchinge others, but procedinge from his 
own naturall affection and extreme perturbation of myndc. 
And suche is the condicion and qualitie of cornfortinge, as 
al be it no persuation or eloquence were there in used, yet 

VOL. I. O 


wanteth it not reason and sufficiente proofe to trye it- 
selfe 1 : wherein so excellente, wise, and eloquente a man 
as Marcus Tullius having travailed : it muste be presumed 
he framed a worke not only worthy prayse, but also aboue 
all expectation. 

"And albeit those auncient warres have among many 
other noble workes depriued us of so learned a boke, yet 
haue we thought mete to entreate thereof (not " [only] 
" because it is so praisable as amisse it cannot be praysed), 
but also so necessary " [that] " (as in all thinges whiche of 
necessitie must be had) better it is to haue any than none 
at al. For example we see, that houses are nedefull, such 
as can not possesse y stately pallaces of stone, do per- 
suade themselves to dwell in houses of timber and clay, 
and wanting theim, are contented to inhabite the simple 
cotage ; yea rather than not to be housed at all refuse 
not the. pore cabbon, and most beggerly caue. For in 
these things better it is to have the worst than none at 
all. So necessarie is this gifte of consolacion, as there 
liueth no man, but that hathe cause to embrace it 2 . And 
wel we see ther is none aliue that in every respect may be 
accompted happie, yea though mortall men were free 

1 "Et se tamen locupletissimam materiam suggerat." It would 
suggest by itself the richest matter. 

2 I have not altered Master Bedingfeld's translation, which fits ad- 
mirably to the text ; but as he had spoilt this passage so far by the 
transposition of three sentences, I have restored them to their proper 


from all calamities, yet the torments and feare of death 
should stil offend them. But besides them, behold, what, 
and how manye euilles there bee, that unlesse the cloude 
of error be remoued, impossible it is to see the truth, or 
receiue allay of our earthly woes." 

After treating in succession of those ills of life most 
commonly deplored, enriching his text with much shrewd 
wit, with a great deal of anecdote, and with the proper 
store of classical quotations and allusions, arguing also 
sometimes out of a firm belief in curiously false opinions 
current among men of science in those days, Jerome thus 
draws his work of consolation to a close. He has through- 
out taught that the best safeguard against tribulation is to 
have a clean heart and a busy hand. Urging that fact 
again emphatically, he passes from the last of human 
sorrows, death, and ends by leaving man secure from 
further need of consolation, in enjoyment of that peace 
which is to be found only beyond the grave. Thus 
Jerome wrote about Calamity and thoroughly meant 
what he wrote at a time when he himself was bearing 
much : 

" Wherefore to bear everythinge resolutely, is not only 
the parte of a wise man, but also of a man wel aduised, 
seinge there is nothing in this life that may iustly be said 
to be against us. Therefore Homerus fayned Aten the 
Goddes of Calamitye to be barefooted, as one that could 



not toucli anything sharpe or hard, but walked lightly 
upon the heades of mortall men. 

" Meaninge that Calamitye durst not come nere anye, 
but such as were of base minde, simple, and subjecte to 
effeminacy. But among such as were valiant and armed 
with vertue, shee durst not come. Wherefore lift up thy 
mynde to Heaven where an everlastinge and most plea- 
saunt life is prepared for thee. Men in this worlde are 
lyke trees 1 , some slender, some great, some florishing, 
some bearing frute, some witheringe, some growinge, 
some bio wen downe, and some frutefull, which in one 
harueste time are brought togeathers and laide uppon one 
stacke. Neither is there afterwards sene any difference 
among them, what they be or haue bene, al at one time 
be cut downe neuer more to growe agayne. Even so al 
pryde, ambicion, ryches, authoritye, children, frendes, 
and glory doe in shorte space grow olde and perishe, 
neither dothe it make matter whether thou were Irus 
or vile Galba, Antaxerses or noble Hercules. Onelye 
honestye and vertue of mynde doth make a man happy, 
and onely a cowerdlie and corrupt conscience do cause 

1 Cardan's image was taken from the bean-fields; but the translator 
thinking it a mean thing to compare men to beans, wrote trees, and 
took away the beauty of the image, substituting the odd notion of trees 
harvested together, and all laid upon one stack. Tims the passage 
runs: " Homines enim in hoc mundo ut fabse sunt, aliao enim pusillae, 
aliae magnae, aliee florent, alias fructibus conspicuae, alias aridoe, alias 
luxuriantes, aliae exiles, fruticosae alife: omnes tameu unus autumnus 
quam brevi in inanes stipulas redigit." De Consol. p. 131. 


thine unhappines. Because the worste that the good man 
can feare, is the best that the evyll can wishe for : whiche 
is the destruction of the soule in death. But as he ought 
not to hope thereof, so should not the other feare it. 
For God the eternal father hath sent us into this worlde 
as children and heyres of hys kingdome, and secretly 
beholdeth how we fighte and defend our selves, against 
our sences, the world and the Devyll. And who so in 
this battell, valyantly fighteth, shal bee called and placed 
among the Prynces of heauenlye kingedome. And who 
so slothfully or cowerdly behaueth himself, as a slave in 
featres shall for evermore be bounde. 

" This worldly stage was purposely prepared, that God 
the father might secretlye beholde us. Such foolishe 
children then, as in his sighte wantonlye, slouthfully, and 
sediciouslye lyve, shoulde they not thinke he doth be- 
holde them. When so ever therefore thou haste taken 
that last leaue of Life 1 , thy soule like unto a lover 
embracinge his death, shall enjoy e that sweteness and 
security, whyche we can neither wryte of nor conceive. 
For sith these worldlye lovers (amongest whom be many 

1 In Cardan's words the succeeding image is expressed more strongly 
than by the translator. " Cum itaque stremum agonem anima supe- 
raverit, tarn quam amans amanti copulata, ea dulcedine ac securitate 
fruitur, quam nee scribere, nee cogitare possumus," &c. p. 132. To the 
brief account of Cardan's books on Consolation given in the text, it 
will perhaps be well specially to add, that although in some parts 
occupying the same ground, they do not resemble, or equal, the five 
books of Boethius on the Consolations of Philosophy. 


mislykings without assurance or eternity) can scarcely 
expresse their joyes in loue: Happy, yea thrise happy is 
this heauenly lover, who forgettinge all others, wythe his 
one love is united. For within this kingdom he loveth 
and liueth in the sight of him, that can do all thinges, and 
therefore lyke a good sonne to his father is ever readye 
to do his pleasure." 

So wrote the first among the atheists of the second 




JEROME certainly was not living a brilliant life before 
the world when his three books of Consolation were first 
issued to the public. After the events of the year 1539 
he began to breathe; but it was not until four years 
afterwards that he experienced any real change of for- 
tune. The stars were supposed to have predicted that 
his death would take place before he reached the age of 
forty, certainly before he should attain to the full age of 
forty-five; "but," says Cardan, "it was when I ought to 
have died that I began really to live 1 ." The error lay of 
course, however, not with the stars, but with the imper- 
fect readers of their language. 

At that time which should have been the close of his 

1 '" Et astrologiae cognitio quam tune liabebam, et ut mini videbatur 
et omnes aiebant, me non excessurum xl. vitae annum, certc non ad 
xlv. perventurum multum obfuit. Ego interim partim necessitate, 
partim ofierentibus se voluptatibus quotidie, cum recte vivere delibe- 
rarern, dclinquebam. Negligens ob malam spem res ipsas : in deli- 
berando aberrabam, et frequentius in opere peccabam. Donee eo ven- 
tum est, ut qui finis vitae futurus credebatur, viveudi initium fecerit, 
xliii. scilicet annus." De Vit. Prop. p. 44. 


life, the house he occupied belonged to his mother, who 
lived with him; it was a house near the church of St. 
Michael. He earned very little indeed as a physician, 
but something as an almanac-maker something by the 
sale of astrological opinions; a little help he had occasion- 
ally from his friend Archinto, and a friend who be- 
longed to the household probably paid her way in it as 
a lodger 1 . With these resources and the Plat lecture- 
ship he kept house as he could. There was the resource 
also of the gambling-table. 

Though the Milanese College of Physicians so far 
honoured the recommendations made in favour of Cardan, 
that already in the year 1541 we find him in office as its 
rector 2 , it does not appear that Jerome troubled himself 
much to acquire a social standing that consisted with his 
newly-acquired privileges. In that year, 1541, he was 
scarcely practising at all ; his energies were all spent upon 
Greek and gambling. Neither in that year, nor in the 
year preceding, had he worked much with his pen. In 
1540 he had found leisure as an author for no more than 
the correction of his previous books. In 1541 he wrote 

1 De VitaPropria, cap. xxv. p. 95, for the preceding. 

3 He states the fact incidentally in the history of a case attended by 
him in that year. De Vit. Prop. cap. xxx. The servant of a Genoese 
colonel came from Switzerland, where he had slept between two men 
who subsequently died of plague, and had himself taken the infection. 
Cardan found him not dead, but apparently so, and the colonel urged 
that he should at once be carried to the dead-house. Cardan would 
not permit that. The man recovered. 


something about the Consolation of Lovers and the Ira- 
mortality of the Soul. At Greek he did work. In the 
last-named year, being admonished by a dream, he betook 
himself to the study of that language with so much 
earnestness of purpose, that the smattering which he had 
begun to acquire six years before, and beyond which he 
had not passed, was in four months enlarged into a con- 
siderable acquaintance with the language; he became 
able to understand it so well that he might read for hours 
without being checked by any difficulty, and spent time 
in writing Greek, not, he says, as a sign of scholarship, 
but of the energy with which he studied 1 . 

During these years, 1540 and 1541, and during the 
first part of the year 1542, Jerome allowed all other work 
to fall into neglect, because the Fates had sent to him a 
golden goose 2 . Antonio Vicomercato, a patrician of 
Milan, was inclined to amuse himself daily with the poor 
mathematician and physician over the dice-table, very 
well content to lose. Cardan of course was alike glad to 
play at dice, and glad to win. He went to Antonio's 
house daily, and stopped .often the whole day; they 
played for from one to three or four reals a game, and as 

1 "Non enim veteranus, sed tyro militabat, turn maxime 

existens. Express! ibi vim non eruditionem." De Sapientia, &c. 
pp. 429, 430. The reference substantiates the account given in the text 
of Cardan's literary work in the years 1540 41. 

2 All that relates to Vicomercato will be found in the 38th chapter 
of the book De Vita Propria. 


Jerome always rose a winner, he was al>le to take home 
about a gold piece daily, sometimes more and sometimes 
less. For two years and some months almost all other 
sources of income dried away from him, while he culti- 
vated this. His credit sank; even pen, ink, and paper 
were neglected. 

With money so earned, or with money however earned, 
in the midst of his poverty he was improvident. He 
enjoyed musical evenings, and music, as he said, led to 
unprofitable company. The taste of the period was for 
part-singing, and it was not easy to collect four or five 
men who could sing readily together, and who could 
think and feel together also. If he had musical com- 
panions to his house they cost him heavily for suppers, 
and corrupted the minds of his children. For most 
singers, he said and I suspect that he could not easily 
libel the good table-companions of the sixteenth century 
most singers are drunken, gluttonous, impudent, un- 
settled, impatient, stolid, inert, ready for every kind of 
lust. The best men of that sort are fools 1 . Upon such 
men, despising them but relishing their music, Cardan 
squandered a good deal of his money. 

One day, at the end of August (1542), Vicomercato 
announced a sudden change in his own life, and he was 
not to be satisfied unless Cardan would swear as he did 
1 De Util. 6x Adv. Cap. Opera, Tom. ii. p. 1 17. 


swear by all the gods never to come to him again for 
the purpose of dice-playing. Jerome took wholly to 
study, but his golden goose was dead, and his penury was 
sudden and extreme. He had neglected all legitimate 
resources. We can scarcely doubt the object of the trip 
to Florence which immediately followed, since we are told 
that he went to join the free-handed Marquis d'Avalos. 
D'Avalos, Marquis del Guasto, was always even more 
ready to give than Cardan to take; he offered in the 
course of his intercourse with the philosopher, by whom 
he had been courted, more than Jerome thought it 
proper to receive, but he had received from D'Avalos 
some help, and that not inconsiderable 1 . On his way 
home he visited his patron Sfondrato, who was then Go- 
vernor of Sienna. Then he came back to Milan, fortune 
frowning 2 . 

While matters were in this state with Cardan, fortune 
was, as usual, frowning upon Italy, and the distracting 
wars of which the traces lie about this narrative, as they 
must leave marks on the life of almost every man who 

1 " Sua ecccllentia e di prima di Millano di dottrina, ed il Marchese 
dal Vasto gli ha dato una gran prorisione per la sua sofficientia," said 
Cardan's agent to Tartaglia in 1539. Quesiti et Inventione diverse, 
p. 116. This will be discussed in the next chapter. See also De Vita 
Propria, cap. iv. 

2 De Libris Propriis. Liber ultimus. Opera, Tom. i. p. 106. 


worked in that most miserable age, compelled a removal to 
Milan of the University of Pavia 1 . As the same wars 
crippled the university funds, and the professors could 
not get their salaries, very few of them thought it worth 
their while to come to Milan with their chairs; many 
chairs, therefore, were vacant, and among them that of 
Medicine, which was again offered by the senate to 
Cardan 2 . He had before refused it, because he did not 
think the salary secure ; when, however, the office was 
brought home to his own door, at which the wolf was sit- 
ting all day long, the poor philosopher thought very 
wisely, that even to have money owing to him would 
beget a financial state much more respectable than hope- 
less want; there was also a decided gain of respectability 
in point of position. The Plat lectureship only required 
his services on holidays, and was no introduction to a re- 
gular professor's chair. As for his duties to the University 
of Pavia, while its lectures were delivered at Milan they 
would not take him far out of his way, or require the 
abandonment of any of his home resources. He could 
cultivate his practice, indeed, all the more easily for hold- 
ing rank in his own town as a Professor of Medicine as 
well as Mathematics. Work he must, for at this time a 

1 D&Libris Propriis. Liber ultimus. Opera, Tom. L p. 106. 

2 De Vita Propria, cap. xxxvii. ; where will be found authority for 
all that follows on this subject. 


third child was born to him, a boy, whom he named 

He therefore accepted office, and delivered lectures, like 
his colleagues, to bare benches until the conclusion of that 
academic year 3 . The academy proposed then the tide 
of war having retreated to return to its own groves, and 
Cardan certainly did not propose to go to Pavia with it, 
deterred by the old reason, the broken fortunes of the 
place, and the extreme uncertainty connected with the 
stipends payable for teaching. Quite prepared to re- 
main where he was, Jerome went to bed as usual on 
the night before he was to return his answer to the 
senate, which required to know whether he would abide 
by his professorship and teach in Pavia. He went to 
bed in the usual way with his wife, his eldest boy, Gio- 
vanni Batista, ten years old, and Aldo, the baby, all 
under one cover; but wonderful to relate, on that night 
the house tumbled down. Nobody was hurt, but his home 
in Milan being thus suddenly and literally broken up, as 
he believed of course, by a special and miraculous dispen- 
sation, he changed the tenor of his answer to the senate, 
and in the year 1544 consented to remove. 

The salary to be received by him at Pavia would be two 
hundred and forty gold crowns 3 . For the anxiety shown 

1 De Vita Propria, p. 20. 2 Ibid. cap. vi. 

3 De Lib. Propr. Op. Tom. i. p. 108. 


by the senate to retain his sendees, and for his first ap- 
pointment as a teacher in the university, Cardan knew 
himself to be indebted to his patron, Cardinal Sfondrato, 
who had by good chance returned to Milan, and assisted 
his much-trusted physician in the hour of need 1 . 

1 De Vita Propria, cap. xv. 




BUST and restless, never spending his time wholly 
upon one pursuit, Jerome, in his mature years, led a life 
of which the annals would be now and then distracting if 
they were too strictly told off year by year. The events, 
therefore, of the period between the years 1539 and 1545, 
with which we are at present occupied, I think it best to 
group according to their nature. Of his public literary 
life up to the year 1542, and of his domestic life to the end 
of the year 1544, sufficient account has now been given. 
In the year 1539, however, there commenced a connected 
series of studies and endeavours that were concurrent with 
a multitude of other labours, and that remained private 
until the year 1545. They then resulted in the publica- 
tion of a book, which was, in fact, Jerome's greatest work, 
and which must at all times form an important topic in 


connexion with the history of Mathematics. The whole 
story of this book I shall attempt now to tell in a connected 
way. The work in question is Cardan's Book of the Great 
Art his Algebra a volume so especially important, and 
begotten in so quaint a way, that whether I wished this 
narrative to be read chiefly for information or amusement, 
it would equally be fit that it should therein be put pro- 
minently forward. 

That a long chapter upon Algebra should be one of the 
most essential parts in the biography of a physician, is a 
fact perfectly characteristic of the state of learning in the 
sixteenth century. Physic was then allied not only with 
chemistry, but had an alliance equally strong with alchemy, 
astrology, and mathematics. There is a relic of this old 
state of things left to us in the continued imputation of a 
well-known astrological almanac to Francis Moore, Phy- 
sician. The first book of algebra published in this country, 
entitled the Whetstone of Witte, which is the seconde 
parte of Arithmetike, by Robert Recorde, describes its 
author (he died in the Fleet Prison) as " teacher of mathe- 
matics and practitioner in physic at Cambridge 1 ." A more 

1 Robert Recorde taught mathematics at Oxford, and was admitted 
to practise physic afterwards at Cambridge. I cannot precisely verify 
the above reference, which I adopt from Button's Mathematical Dic- 
tionary; it may be correct. In the first edition of " The Whetstone of 
Witte" the only one I have seen the author, whose name is not on 
the title-page, writes himself in the dedication, " Robert Recorde, Phy- 
sitian," only. He was a man abounding in inventions, the first ven- 


striking illustration of the intimate connexion that existed 
formerly between these sciences, is to be found in that 
part of Don Quixote which relates how the bachelor 

turer in many arts. Poor fellow! He, if not his teaching, fell among 
thorns. Soon after the publication of the Whetstone, he died in gaol 
for his poverty. In England, at any rate, they were not in those days 
the learned who grew rich. At the close of the preface to this book 
he deprecated hasty criticism; for, he said, " by occasion of trouble 
upon trouble, I was hindered from accomplishing this worke, as I* did 
intende. But yet is here moare, then any manne might well looke for 
at my hands, if thei did knowe and consider myne estate." The abrupt 
close of the book (it is all written in English dialogue) is very touch- 
ing, and may awaken now, three centuries too late, many a warm feel- 
ing of sympathy. An abstruse dissertation upon Universal Roots is 
suddenly thus interrupted : 

" MASTER. You saie truth. But harke, what meaneth that hastie 
knockyng at the doore? 

SCHOLAR. It is a messenger. 

MASTER. What is the message? tel me in mine eare. 

Yea, sir, is that the matter? Then is there no remedie, but that I 
must neglect all studies and teaching, for to withstande those daungers. 
My fortune is not so good, to have quiete tyme to teache. 

SCHOLAR. But my fortune and my fellowes is much worse, that your 
unquietnes so hindereth our knowledge. I praie God amende it. 

MASTER. I am inforced to make an eande of this mater : But yet 
will I promise you, that whiche you shall chalenge of me, when you see 
me at better laiser : That I will teache you the whole arte of universall 
rootes. And the extraction of rootes in all square surdes: with the 
demonstration of theim, and all the former woorkes. 

If I might have been quietly permitted to reste but a little while 
longer, I had determined not to have ceased till I had ended all these 
thinges at large. But now, farewell. And applie your studie diligently 
in this that you have learned. And if I maie gette any quietnesse 
reasonable, I will not forget to performe my promise with an augmen- 

SCHOLAR. My harte is so oppressed with pensivenes, by this sodaine 
unquietnesse, that I can not expresse my grief. But I will praie, with 
all theim that love honeste knowledge, that God of his merciewill sone 
ende your troubles" (soon, indeed, in death), " and graunte you suche 

VOL. I. P 


Samson Carrasco, being thrown from his horse by the 
knight, and having his ribs broken, sent it is said quite 
naturally for an algebrist to heal his bruises 1 . Keeping 
in mind this old association of ideas, we find that there 
was nothing exceptional in the position of Cardan as 
teacher of mathematics and practitioner in physic, nothing 
odd in his combination of the callings of an almanac- 
maker, an algebrist, and a physician. 

Robert Recorde's book, just mentioned, was published 
in 1557, and as Cardan's book of the great art was then 
already twelve years old, it may T)e justly inferred that 
Cardan was one of the first European writers upon 
algebra. It is necessary that we should now understand 

reste as your travell doth merite. And all that love learnyng say 
thereto, Amen. 

MASTER. Amen, and amen." They were the last words he printed. 
Robert Kecorde's books had quaint titles, fanciful and witty, some- 
times half-metrical, prefaces, and had bits of his verse scattered upon 
the front of them. The spirit of the title to the work mentioned above 
may be briefly expressed in four lines writ on the title of a previous 
book, The Pathwaie of Knowledg: 

" Geometries Verdicte. 
All fressha fine wittes by me are filed ; 

All grosse, dull wittes wishe me exiled. 
Though no mann's witte reject will I, 
Yet as they be, I wyll them trye." 

1 " En esto fueron razonando los dos hasta que llegaron a un pueblo 
donde fue' ventura hollar un Algebrista con quien se euro el Sanson des- 
graciado." D. Quijote. Part. ii. cap. xv. I was directed to this 
passage by Hutton's Mathematical Dictionary, article Algebra. The 
general information contained in this chapter is chiefly derived from 
the same source, and from Montucla's History of Mathematics when 
no other authority is cited. 


somewhat accurately his true place in the history of 
that science. Of the antiquities of algebra nothing need 
here be said, unless, perhaps, it is worth while to note 
that the art probably was born in Hindostan, and that its 
present name is that given to it by the Arabs, through 
whom it reached Europe. The Arabic name "al-jebr" is 
a term which denotes one method of reducing equations, 
namely by transposing or adding the negative terms so as 
to make them all affirmative. From the Moors algebra 
came first into Europe by way of Italy and Spain. The 
first person known to have brought the art into Italy 
before there existed printed books was Leonard Bonacci, 
of Pisa, who composed an arithmetic in the year 1202, and 
wrote more on the subject twenty-six years afterwards, 
adding some information upon algebra, the knowledge of 
which extended then only to the solution of equations of 
the first and second degree. Bonacci's language was a 
barbarous mixture of Latin with Italian, and there was in 
his time no notation by the use of signs. From Pisa the 
art spread through Tuscany and Italy, so that there were 
authors who obtained much reputation in it before there 
was any press from which their works could issue. 

The first printed author upon algebra 1 was a cordelier, 

1 After the discovery of printing, in mathematics, as in other depart- 
ments of learning, the press was at first employed chiefly in the repro- 
duction of the writings of the ancients. In 1505, Luca de Borgo trans- 
lated Euclid. In 1518, Plato of Tivoli translated the Spherics of Tlieo- 



or minorite friar, Luca Paccioli, commonly called Fra 
Luca di Borgo, of Borgo San Sepolcro. He is the same 
Fra Luca whose errors Cardan pointed out in his " Arith- 
metic." Luca di Borgo had been trained at Venice by 
Domenico Bragadini, and having increased his knowledge 
by long travel in the East, taught his science afterwards 
at Naples, Venice, and Milan, in which last place he was 
the first who filled a chair of mathematics. It was founded 
for him by Lodovico Sforza. He had many disciples/ 
whom he names in his works. He translated Euclid into 
Latin ; or, more properly speaking, he revised the already 
existing translation of Campanus, and augmented it with 
notes. He also wrote several treatises, that were printed 
between the years 1470 and 1494, the last being entitled 
(in the second edition) " Summa de Arithmetica, Geo- 
metria, Proportioni e Proportionalita, nuovamente im- 
pressa in Toscolano su la riva dil Benacense e unico car- 
pionista laco: amenissinio sito," &c., the rest of the title- 
page is further praise of the place in which the good monk 
had resided during the printing of his book; the same 
lake of Benacum, or Lago di Guardo, in which Cardan, 

dosius. Memmius, a noble Venetian, translated at the same time 
Apollonius, Venatorius (Jager?) and Herweg, printers of Basle, pub- 
lished in 1544 a Latin translation of Archimedes and his commentator 
Eutochius. Tartalea, in 1557, translated the fifteen books of Euclid 
into bad Venetian Italian, with a commentary. See Montucla's His- 
toire des Mathematiques, vol. i. bk, 3. 


during his student days, was nearly drowned. It will be 
remembered that Cardan related how, at supper, after 
their escape, he was the only one who had a ready appe- 
tite for the fine pike that was brought to table. Fra 
Luca, with a clerical enjoyment of good living, took so 
heartily to the fine carp of the lake, that he could not for- 
bear from making honourable mention of them on his title- 
page ; indeed, the directing attention to the carp, and the 
antiquities of the locality, occupies more space there than 
the actual naming of the book 1 . 

In the time of Luca di Borgo, the great art extended to 

1 The preceding details concerning Luca di Borgo are drawn from 
Montucla, Hist, des Mathematiques. Paris (an vii.), vol. i, p, 549. The 
first edition of the book referred to in the text being very scarce, 
Montucla had not seen it. Copies of both the first and second editions 
(the latter with its curious title-page deficient) are in the British 
Museum. The first was printed at Venice in 1494, before Brother 
Luke had made acquaintance with the carps of the Lago di Guardo. 
It is entitled simply, " Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportion! 
e Proportionalita," and has the contents printed on the title-page. The 
title-page to the second edition is formed in precisely the same way, 
with this interpolation, " Nouamente impressa in Toscolano su la 
riua dil Benacense et unico carpionista Laco ; Amenissimo Sito: deli 
antique ed euidenti ruine di la nobil cita Benaco ditta illustrate : Cum 
numerosita de Imperatorij epitaphij di antique e perfette littere scul- 
piti dotato : e cum finissimi e mirabil colone marmorei : innumeri 
fragment! di alabastro porphidi e serpentini. Cose certo letto mio 
diletto oculata fide miratu digne sotterra si ritrouano." The date of 
this second edition is 1523, so that Brother Luke's enthusiasm on the 
subject of the carp, and of the fine remains of the old city of Benacum 
on its shores, was being excited at about the same time when Cardan 
and his companions broke their mast upon the lake, and supped upon a 
pike at Sermione. Of the imperial inscriptions, the fine marble columns, 


quadratic equations, of which only the positive roots were 
used ; there was but one unknown quantity assumed, and 
there was no use made of marks or signs, except a few 
abbreviations. Algebra was then used only for the solu- 
tion of a small class of numeral problems. 

In or about the year 1505, the first rule for resolving 
one case of a complex cubic equation (x 3 -J- bx = c) was 
discovered by Scipio Ferreus, of Bologna. This is the 
discovery to which a reference was made at the beginning 
of the ninth chapter of the present work; and from 
this point the history of Algebra in Italy has an im- 
mediate bearing on the story of Cardan. Ferreus taught 
his rule to a pupil named Antonio Maria Fior (Latin- 
ised, Florido, or, we should say in English, Flower), who, 
thirty years afterwards, presuming on his knowledge of it, 
challenged and triumphed over his contemporaries. It 
was at that time usual for men skilled in any art or science 
to send tough questions to each other for solution, and 
to provoke each other to stake money or reputation upon 
intellectual encounters. The advancement of learning 
was unquestionably hastened by such means. Master 
Flower's unanswerable problems, and the pains he took to 
flout his knowledge of a secret rule in the face of his 
brother mathematicians, caused him to be rather trouble- 

the innumerable fragments of alabaster, porphyry, and serpentine, to 
which Era Luca called attention, no trace, I believe, remains to excite 
notice in the present day. 


some. Antonio Maria Fior, who was a Venetian, at last, 
in 1535, provoked into a wager a hard-headed man of 
Brescia, Nicolo Tartaglia, then resident in Venice. Each 
algebrist was to ask of the other thirty questions ; and he 
who had first answered the questions put to him should 
win from the other as many entertainments for himself 
and friends; it was a bet, in fact, of thirty suppers. 
Plenty of time was given for the concoction of the pro- 
blems, and a distant day fixed upon which the match was 
to come off. 

Tartaglia (Latinised, Tartalea) was a hard-headed man. 
He was born of a very poor and humble family. His 
father, Michele, was known only by his Christian name, 
or rather by its diminutive ; for being a very little fellow 
(the son, Nicolo, was little too) he was called Micheletto; 
Micheletto the Rider, since he was a postman. He 
kept a horse, and his business was to carry letters from the 
noblemen and gentlemen of Brescia the town in which 
he lived to Verona, Bergamo, and other towns. Mi- 
cheletto was an honest little being, who contrived to find 
rude schooling for his children; Nicolo, therefore, when 
four or five years old, had some instruction. But it was 
only in his early childhood that he had it, for when he 
was but six years old his father died, leaving him with a 
brother older than himself, a younger sister, and a widowed 
mother in the extremest poverty. When afterwards the 


French, under Gaston de Foix, sacked Brescia 1 , the 
poor widow, with Nicolo and her little daughter, fled for 
refuge, following a crowd of helpless men, women, and 
children into the cathedral. There, however, they were 
not entirely safe; and Nicolo, a boy of twelve, received 
five sword wounds upon the head that were almost 
mortal three upon the skull and two upon the face. 
The stroke upon the face cleft both lips, struck through 
his upper jaw into the palate, and broke many of his teeth. 
Having those wounds he could not speak, or take any but 
liquid food. His mother took him home, and, being much 
too poor to pay a surgeon or to buy ointments, treated 
him herself upon a system which she borrowed from the 
dogs. Knowing that the whole system of canine surgery 
consisted in incessant licking of all wounds, she supposed 
that she might heal her son by frequent washing and most 
scrupulous regard to cleanliness. Under such care from 
his mother's hands, Nicolo's wounds did really heal in a 
few months, leaving scars, he tells us, that would after- 
wards have made a monster of him, if they had not been 
covered by his beard. The boy, when recovered, was for 
a long time so hardly able to pronounce his words, that 
he was called by his young companions " Tartaglia," stut- 
terer; and as his father had not transmitted to him any 

i The sack, it may be remembered, lasted seven days, during which 
the French boasted of having slaughtered indiscriminately forty-six 
thousand inhabitants. 


known family name, he was content to adopt, seriously, 
the nickname given to him, as a perpetual memorial of 
his misfortune. 

The mother of Tartaglia was unable to provide for him 
any instruction. Therefore, when he was about fourteen 
years old, he put himself to school to learn to write, and 
in fifteen days learnt to make letters as far as k, but 
there his schooling ended. The schoolmaster's first copy- 
book reached only to k; when that was finished by a 
pupil he received another, upon which were the remain- 
ing letters. Nicolo had put himself to school without the 
means of paying for instruction, so that the fifteen days re- 
presented the extent of his credit; that being exhausted, 
since he had no money, he had nothing more to spend, 
and very properly retired. He contrived to go away, 
however, with the master's second copy-book, out of which 
he taught himself, and which he did not afterwards return. 
In plain words, he stole instruction in the rudiments of 
writing. From that day he declares that he had no other 
teaching than what he could get through the help of a 
daughter of Poverty, called Industry 1 . 

1 The above sketch of the early life of Tartaglia is taken from the 
autobiographic details given in his own work, " Quesiti et Invention! 
Diverse de Nicolo Tartalea Brisciano," Venice, 1546, where it occurs 
in a dialogue between himself and the Prior di Barleta. Lib. vi. 
Quesito 8, pp. 75, 76. The end of it, " da quel giorno in qua, ma piu 
fui ne andai da alcun precettore, ma solamente in compagnia di una 
figlia di poverta, chiamata industria," is at variance with the details 


Tartaglia carried his own tale no further ; others, how- 
ever, who were his neighbours, hare done that, for him; 
and, if their report be true, he was not so entirely self-in- 
structed as he claimed to be. In any case, there can be 
no doubt that he may still fairly enough be said to have 
become wholly by his own exertions a distinguished 
mathematician, as it is also certain that he grew to be like 
many other self-taught men, rugged and vain. It is said 
of him, that, in the year 1499, by the earnest entreaties of 
his mother, who could not support him,, he was taken to 
study at Padua by Lodovico Balbisonio a noble youth 
of his own town. That he returned to Brescia with his 
patron, and there showed himself to be so avaricious, so 
morose, and rude, that he was hated by his fellow-citizens. 
That being obliged to quit them and to live elsewhere, he 
travelled and made money ; thriving especially at Venice. 
That, he returned to Brescia to teach. Euclid, but that 
again his fellow-townsmen would not tolerate him, and 
that thereupon he again went to Venice, prospered, and 
died old- He did not acquire any command over Latin ; 
and when he wrote, it was in his own bad Venetian dia- 
lect. He must, however, have known how to read, 
although he did not trust himself to write the learned lan- 

which follow, for which lam indebted to Papadopoli, Gymn. Patav, 
vol. ii. pp. 210, 211. Papadopoli whose little biographic sketches of 
men who hare been, connected with his university, are by no means 
always accurate cites Rubeus, one of Tartaglia's contemporaries, a 
writer very well acquainted with Venetian affairs and people. 


guages, for he translated Euclid, and was compelled to 
study Latin works on mathematics. 

Tartaglia then, settled in Venice, set to work with all 
his might to prepare himself for his contest with the 
before-mentioned Antonio Maria Fior ; and while in bed 
one night, eight days in advance of the time of meeting, 
he thought out his rival's secret; discovering not only the 
rule of Scipio Ferreus for the case x 3 -^- bx = c, but also 
a rule for the case x 3 = bx + c. He prepared himself 
accordingly. He took care to propose for the perplexing 
of his antagonist several problems that could be solved only 
according to the latter rule, then first discovered by him- 
self. The questions put to him in return he knew would 
hinge upon the rule of Ferreus. The event proved that 
he was right; and when the day of trial came Tartaglia 
answered all the questions on the list presented to him by 
his adversary in two hours, before Florido had solved one 
of the problems offered to him. The victor waived his right 
to thirty entertainments, but achieved a lasting triumph. 

These rules were discovered by Tartaglia on the 12th 
and 13th of February, 1535. Five years earlier he had 
discovered two other rules (for the cases x 3 -J- ax 2 = c 
and x 3 = ax 2 -[- c) on the occasion of questions proposed 
by a schoolmaster at Brescia, Zuanne da Coi (which would 
in English be, John Hill). 

Except these discoveries, there was nothing in the 


mathematical knowledge or doctrine of Tartalea which 
placed him in advance of other scholars of his time. He 
understood thoroughly the mathematical knowledge of 
his day, and used it very skilfully. His new rules con- 
cerning cubic equations he maintained as his private pro- 
perty, cherishing them as magic arms which secured to 
him a constant victory in algebraic tilts, and caused him 
to be famed and feared. That was a selfish use to make 
of scientific acquisitions, with which no scholar of the 
present day would sympathise, and which, also, in the 
sixteenth century, would have been thought illiberal 
by students like the pattern man of letters, Conrad 
Gesner, or even our erratic and excitable Cardan. 

Cardan, when his work upon arithmetic approached 
completion, made an attempt to procure the publication 
of Tartalea's rules. Four years had elapsed since the 
famous contest of Tartalea with Fior (or Florido), when, 
in the beginning of 1539, Cardan applied through a book- 
seller to the victor, with compliments, and a submission 
of critical problems after the customary fashion. Then 
there were sown the seeds of a great quarrel, the growth 
of which Tartalea himself has chronicled with jealous 

It should be understood that not many months before 
the commencement of the correspondence between Nicolas 
Tartalea and Jerome Cardan, Tartalea had published a 


small tract at his own expense on the New Science of 
Artillery (its preface is dated December 20, 1537) 1 . He 
was indeed one of the first men who perceived that there 
was any science to be taught at all to men having the 
care of cannon. Another and larger original work was 
published, also at his own expense, in the year 1546, at 
Venice, where he lectured publicly on mathematics. It 
is entitled Divers Questions and Inventions 2 , is dedicated 
to our Henry VIII. , and contains nine books, which are, 
in fact, the diary and commonplace-book of his life as a 
mathematician. In it are set down, year after year as 
they came, the questions proposed to him at different 
times by friends and rivals on mechanics, statics, hydro- 
statics, &c. 9 during twenty years ending in 1541. It con- 

1 " Nova Scientia inventa da Nicolo Tartalea B." The title-page is 
chiefly occupied by a large plate, which represents the courts of Phi- 
losophy, to which Euclid is doorkeeper, Aristotle and Plato being 
masters of an inmost court, in which Philosophy sits throned, Plato 
declaring by a label that he will let nobody in who does not understand 
Geometry. In the great court there is a cannon being fired, all the 
sciences looking on in a crowd such as Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, 
Astronomy, Cheiromancy, Cosmography, Necromancy, Astrology, Per- 
spective, and Prestidigitation! A wonderfully modest-looking gentle- 
man, with his hand upon his heart, stands among the number, with a 
you-do-me-too-much-honour look upon his countenance; Arithmetic 
and Geometry are pointing to him, and under his feet his name is 

2 " Quesiti et Invention! Diverse de Nicolo Tartalea Brisciano." 
" Stampata in Venetia per Venturino Ruffinelli ad instantia et requi- 
sitione, et a propria spese de Nicolo Tartalea Brisciano Autore, Nel 
mese di Luio L'anno di nostra salute. M.D.XLVI." 


tains forty-two dialogues, in the last of which one speaker is 
Mr. Richard Wentworth, an English gentleman who had 
been taught by Tartalea at Venice. Among other matter 
in the ninth book of this volume is the record kept by 
the jealous Nicolo of all his early dealings with Cardan, 
minutes of conversations and copies of correspondence 
which he there printed, as he threatened that he would , 
when he considered himself to have been grievously ill- 
used by Jerome, as a way of publishing his misdeeds to 
the world. The chronicle begins with Jerome's applica- 
tion before mentioned, of which Tartalea had made in 
his diary an ample memorandum in the manner follow- 
ing : (I should explain that two old terms employed in 
mathematics, where they occur occasionally, in the course 
of this correspondence, I have thought it proper to re- 
tain. The quantity represented now by x used to be 
called the cosa, or in Latin, res, and x 2 was known as the 

" Inquiry made by M. Zuan Antonio, bookseller, in the 
name of one Messer Hieronimo Cardano, Physician and 
public reader of Mathematics in Milan, dated January 
2nd, 1539 1 . 

ZUAN ANTONIO. Messer Nicolo, I have been directed to 
you by a worthy man, physician of Milan, named Messer 
1 Op. cit. Lib. ix. p. 115. 


Hieronimo Cardano, who is a very great mathematician, 
and reads Euclid there in Milan publicly, and who is at 
present causing to be printed a work of his on the Prac- 
tice of Arithmetic and Geometry and Algebra, which 
\vill be of some note. And because he has understood 
that you have been engaged in disputation with Master 
Antonio Maria Fior, and that you agreed each to propose 
thirty cases or questions, and did so ; and his excellency has 
understood that the said Master Antonio Maria proposed 
to you all his thirty which led you in algebra to a case of 
the cosa and cube equal to the number. And that you 
found a general rule for such case, and by the so great 
strength of your invention you had resolved all the said 
thirty questions proposed to you at the end of two hours. 
Therefore his excellency prays you that you will kindly 
make known to him that rule discovered by you, and 
if you think fit he will make it public under your name 
in his present work, but if you do not think fit that it 
should be published he will keep it secret. 

NICOLO. Tell his excellency that he must pardon me; 
when I propose to publish my invention, I will publish it 
in a work [of my own, and not in the work of another 
man, so that his excellency must hold me excused. 

ZUAN ANTONIO. If you object to make known to 
him your discovery, his excellency has bidden me to pray 
that you will, however, give him the said thirty questions 


that were proposed to you, with your resolution of them, 
and at the same time the thirty questions that were pro- 
posed by yourself. 

NICOLO. I cannot do that, because as soon as he shall 
have one of the said cases with its solution, his excellency 
will at once understand the rule discovered by me, with 
which many other rules may perhaps be found, based on 
the same material. 

ZUAN ANTONIO. His excellency has given me eight 
questions to give you, praying that you will resolve them 
for him. The questions are these : 

1. Divide me ten into four parts in continued propor- 
tion, of which the first shall be two. 

2. Divide me ten into four parts in continued propor- 
tion, of which the second shall be two. 


6. Find me four quantities in continued proportion, 
of which the second shall be two, and the first and fourth 
added shall make ten. 

7. Make me often three parts in continued proportion, 
of which the first multiplied by the second will make 

8. Find me a number which multiplied by its root plus 
three will make twenty-one. 

NICOLO. Those are questions put by Messer Zuanne 
da Coi, and by no one else. I know them by the two 


last, because a similar one to that sixth" [seventh ?] " he 
sent to me two years ago, and I made him confess that he 
did not understand the same, and a similar one to that 
last (which induces an operation of the square and cube 
equal to the number) I gave him out of courtesy solved, 
not a year ago, and for that solution I found a rule 
specially bearing upon such problems. 

ZUAN ANTONIO. I know well that these questions 
were given to me by his said excellency, Messer Hiero- 
nimo Cardano, and no other. 

NICOLO. Then the said Messer Zuanne da Coi must 
have been to Milan and proposed them to his excellency, 
and he, being unable to resolve them, has sent them to be 
worked out by me, and this I hold for certain, because 
the said Messer Zuanne promised me a year ago that he 
would come here to Venice, but for all that he has never 
been, and I think he has repented of his purpose and 
given its turn to Milan. 

ZUAN ANTONIO. Do not think that his excellency 
would have sent you these problems if he had not under- 
stood them and known how to solve them, or that they 
proceed from another person, for his excellency is one of 
the most learned men in Milan, and the Marquis dal 
Vasto has given him a great provision for his compe- 

NICOLO. I do not deny that his excellency is most 

VOL. I. Q 


learned and most competent. But I affirm that he would 
not know how to solve these seven problems which he 
sent for me to work out by the general rule. Because if 
his excellency does not know how to solve that of the cosa 
and cube equal to the number (which you have besought 
of me with so much entreaty), how could he know how to 
solve the greater part of these, which conduct to opera- 
tions of a much stranger kind than that of the cosa and 
cube equal to the number; so that if he knew how to 
solve all these problems, much more easily would he know 
how to solve that of the cosa and cube equal to the 
number, and if he knew it I am sure that he would not 
go begging and seeking for it. 

ZUAN ANTONIO. I know not how to answer you, 
because I do not understand these things, but whenever 
you speak with him I believe that he himself will know 
what to reply. However, let all those matters pass, and 
that I may not have lost my pains in coming, give me at 
any rate the simple copy of the thirty cases that were 
proposed to you by the said Master Antonio Maria Fior, 
and if you can also give me a copy of the thirty questions 
that were asked by you of him you will do me the 
greatest favour. 

NICOLO. Of his (though I can ill spare time) I will 
make you a copy, but mine I cannot let you have, be- 
cause I have no copy at hand, and I cannot exactly re- 


member what they all were, because they were all dis- 
similar; but if you go to the notary, he will no doubt be 
able to give you a copy. 

ZUAN ANTONIO. Be pleased, then, to give .me his. 
NiCOLO. They are these precisely as he wrote them : 
1 Glory to God, 1534, the 22nd day of February, in 


* These are the thirty arguments proposed by me, An- 
tonio Maria Fior, to you, Master Nicolo Tartaglia.' " 
It is not requisite to quote them here. From this 
account given, by Tartalea himself, it appears that Jerome's 
application was of a reasonable kind. Tartalea had been 
during four years in possession of his knowledge, and had 
published nothing but his small work on Artillery, that 
too, though he was a poor man, at his own expense. 
There was no reason to believe that Tartalea designed to 
publish what he knew in any independent work on ma- 
thematics. Moreover, there seems to have been no pub- 
lisher willing to print at his own cost the writings of a 
man who could not address the learned in the language 
properly appointed for their use, or could not write even 
Italian otherwise than in the very dialect to which he had 
been born. It was therefore just and natural that Car- 
dan should propose the embodiment in his own treatise of 
Tartalea's additions to the science about which he wrote, 
with a due publication of his claims as a discoverer. If, 



however, Nicolo desired to keep his knowledge to him- 
self, then it was necessary for the advance of his favourite 
science that Cardan should acquire it in some other way. 
Something he had already discovered, and he hoped from 
any calculations that he might persuade Tartalea to fur- 
nish that he could obtain hints by which he would be 
assisted in discovering the whole of the secret kept with 
too much jealousy from the science to which it be- 
longed. Tartalea repelled every advance of this kind, 
so unceremoniously, that Jerome, who was hot in dis- 
putation, fell into a rage, and wrote a very angry 
letter, which Tartalea has printed, and which I ap- 
pend in full. It was of course not written for print, 
and is an example of the kind of impatient violence 
which Cardan used in private arguments, but always 
abstained from carrying into his books. Had not Tar- 
talea published the whole quarrel, very little trace would 
have been left of it, for Jerome put no wrath or malice 
into works deliberately written for posterity. I desire 
also, for a reason that will afterwards appear, to call 
attention to the manner in which mention is made of the 
Marquis del Guasto in the dialogue just quoted, and in 
the succeeding letter. 


Letter from Cardan to Nicolo Tartalea, dated the 12th of 

February, 1539 1 . 
" I wonder much, dear Messer Nicolo, at the unhand- 

1 Tartalea. Quesiti et Invcntiori Diverse. Lib. ix. p, 1 17. In trans- 
lating these letters I provide them with more stops than I find in the 
original. Tartalea wrote his book in the Venetian dialect, to which 
he was accustomed a kind of Italian most familiar to English readers, 
as it is to be seen moderately caricatured in some of Goldoni's plays, 
as, for example, in the Poeta Fanatico. Moreover, Tartalea corrected 
the press badly, and allowed sentences to be printed one into another 
in a very reckless way. I quote in illustration the first sentence of 
this letter by Cardan, as printed by Nicolo Tartalea: "Mi marauiglio 
molto Messer Nicolo caro de si disconueneuole risposta haueti data a 
uno Zuan Antonio da Bassano libraro el quale da mia parte ui ha pre- 
gato li uolesti dare la risposta di sette, ouer otto question! le quale ui 
mandai, e la coppia delle proposte fatte tra uoi e Maestro Antonio 
Maria Fior con le sue solution! alle quale non ui e bastato di non man- 
darmene niuna saluo che quelle de Maestro Antonio Maria le quale 
sono 30 proposte ma re uera quasi una sola sostantia, cioe cubbo e cosa 
equal a numero, pero mi doglio tra Paltre disgratie di questa arte che 
quello li danno opera sono tanto discortesi e tanto presumeno di se 
stesso, che non senza cagion sono indicati dal uulgo apresso che pazzi 
a cio ui caui fora de questa fantasia della quale cauai nouamente messer 
Zuanne da Coi, cioe d'essere il primo homo del mondo donde se partito 
da Millano per disperato, ne uoglio scrivere amoreuolmente e trarui 
fori di fantasia che uoi ui crediati essere si grande ui faro conoscere 
con amoreuole admonitioni per le uostre parole medesime che seti piu 
apresso a la ualle che alia sumita del monte, potria ben essere che in 
altra cosa fosti piu esercitato, e ualente che non dimostrati per la 
rispesta e prima ui auiso pero che ui ho hauuto in bon conto e subito 
ariuo li uostri libri sopra le artegliarie ne comprai doi che solo porto 
Zuan Antonio delli quali uno ne dette al Signer Marchese, e 1'altro 
tene per mi et oltra cio ui laudai molto al Signer Marchese pensando 
fosti piu gentil reconoscitore, e piu humano e piu cortese, e piu suffi- 
ciente de Messer Zuanne qual uoi allegati, ma mi pare poca differentia 
da luna a laltro se altro non mostrati hora peruenire a fatti ne accuso 
in quatro cose de momento." That is a tolerable scolding for a man 
to utter in a single breath. Tartalea was evidently determined to 
allow no point to remain in Cardan's abuse of him. 


some reply you have made to one Zuan Antonio da Bas- 
sano, bookseller, who on my part prayed that you would 
give him answers to the six or eight questions that I 
sent you, and the copy of the propositions exchanged 
between you and Master Antonio Maria Fior, with their 
solutions, to which it was not enough for you to return 
nothing but the questions of Master Antonio Maria, 
which are thirty in number but one only in substance, 
that is to say, treating of cube and cosa equal to the 
number, but it grieves me much that among other dis- 
comforts of this science those who engage in it are so 
discourteous, and presume so much on their own worth, 
that it is not without reasons they are called fools by the 
surrounding vulgar. I would pluck you out of this con- 
ceit, as I plucked out lately Messer Zuanne da Coi, that 
is to say, the conceit of being the first man in the world, 
wherefore he left Milan in despair ; I would write to 
you lovingly" [he writes in a rage] " and drag you out of 
the conceit of thinking that you are so great would 
cause you to understand from kindly admonition, out of 
your own words, that you are nearer to the valley than the 
mountain-top. In other things you may be more skilled 
and clever than you have shown yourself to be in your 
reply ; and so I must in the first place state that I have 
held you in good esteem, and as soon as your book upon 
Artillery appeared, I bought two copies, the only ones 
that Zuan Antonio brought, of which I gave one to 


Signer the Marquis, thinking you capable of more cour- 
teous recognition, more refined, more gentlemanly, and 
more competent than Messer Zuanna as you allege your- 
self to be, but I see little difference between one and 
the other ; if there be any you have not shown it. 
Now to come to facts, I accuse you upon four important 

The first is, that you said my questions were not mine, 
but belonged to Messer Zuanne Colle; as if you would 
have it that there is no man in Milan able to put such 
questions. My master, clever men are not discovered by 
their questions, as you think, but by their answers ; 
therefore you have been guilty of very grave presump- 
tion. There are many in Milan who know them ; and I 
knew them before Messer Zuanne knew how to count 
ten, if he be as young as he would make himself. 

The second is, that you told the bookseller that if one 
of the questions of Master Antonio Maria could be 
solved, all mine would be solved. I ask you, for mercy's 
sake, with whom you think that you are speaking ? 
With your pupils, or with men ? Where did you ever 
find that the discovery of the root pronica media 1 , which 
lies at the bottom of the solution of all the thirty ques- 
tions of Master Antonio Maria, which is founded on the 

1 "Doue trovasti noi mai che la inyentione de la radice pronica 
media, la quale e il fondainento de . . . . posse essere la resolutione 
d'una questione di cubo c numero equal a censo." 


eighth problem of the sixth book of Euclid, could resolve 
a question of cube and number equal to the census, under 
which section is to be ranked the proposition which says, 
4 Find me four quantities, in continuous proportion, of 
which the second shall be two, and the first and fourth 
shall make ten.' I speak in the same way of the others, 
so that while you wished to show yourself a miracle of 
science to a bookseller, you have shown yourself a great 
ignoramus to those who understand such matters ; not 
that I myself esteem you ignorant, but too presumptuous ; 
as was Messer Zuanne da Coi, who thinking to get credit 
for knowing what he did not know, lost credit for know- 
ing what he did. 

The third point is, that you told the said bookseller 
that if one of my questions were solved all would be 
solved, which is most false, and it is a covert insult to say 
that while thinking to send you six questions, I had sent 
but one, which would argue in me a great confusion of 
understanding ; and certainly, if I were cunning, I would 
wager a hundred scudi upon that matter ; that is to say, 
that they could not be reduced either into one, or into 
two, or into three questions. And, indeed, if you will 
bet them, I will not refuse you, and will come at an ap- 
pointed time to Venice, and will give bank security 
here if you will come here, or will give it to you there 
in Venice if I go thither. This is not mere profession, 


for you have to do with people who will keep their 

The fourth is a too manifest error in your book en- 
titled the New Science of Artillery, in which you will 
have it, at the fifth proposition of the first book, that no 
body of uniform weight can traverse any space of time or 
place by natural and violent motion mixed together; 
which is most false, and contrary to all reason and natural 
experience. The argument with which you prove it is 
still more extraordinary than the answer you gave to the 
bookseller. Do you not know that it is unsuitable? In 
its descent a body moves with increased velocity, and in 
forward progress it moves with diminishing speed, as we 
see in the throwing of a stone, which, as it descends, 
comes faster and faster to the earth, but when it left the 
hand went more and more slowly, from which you may 
draw other strange arguments in the said book, if you 
have it in mind that men of sense are not to be contra- 
dicted lightly. I shall be held excused, I hope, for con- 
tradicting you, because, in treating of artillery, which 
was little in your vocation, you exerted yourself to say 
something notable, and you must not, for my rudeness, 
think that I am like yourself and Messer Zuan Colle. 

I send you two questions with their solutions, but the 
solutions shall be separate from the questions, and the 
messenger will take them with him ; and if you cannot 
solve the questions he will place the solutions in your 


hand. You shall have them each to each, that you may 
not suppose I have sent rather to get than to give them ; 
but return first your own, that you may not lead me to 
believe that you have solved the questions, when you 
have not. 

In addition to this, be pleased to send me the propo- 
sitions offered by you to Master Antonio Maria Fior, and 
if you will not send me the solutions, keep them by you, 
they are not so very precious. And if it should please 
you, in receiving the solutions of my said questions 
should you be yourself unable to solve them, after you 
have satisfied yourself that my first six questions are dif- 
ferent in kind to send me the solution of any one of 
them, rather for friendship's sake, and for a test of your 
great skill, than for any other purpose, you will do me a 
very singular pleasure. 

The first question : Make me of ten four quantities in 
continued proportion whose squares added shall make 
sixty. A like question is put by Brother Luca, but he 
does not answer it. 

The second: Two persons were in company, and pos- 
sessed I know not how many ducats. They gained the 
cube of the tenth part of their capital, and if they had 
gained three less than they did gain, they would have 
gained an amount equal to their capital. How many 
ducats had they ? 



To this letter Tartalea replied categorically on the 18th 
of February, 1539 1 , at such very great length, that I 
must be content to quote only the few passages which bear 
immediately on our present subject. It must be quite 
obvious that the mention made in the preceding letter of 
Alphonso d'Avalos, Marquis del Guasto, was altogether 
natural. Cardan knew when the tract on artillery came 
out, that Tartalea possessed a bit of mathematical know- 
ledge which he himself was desiring greatly to acquire. If 
only in the hope of finding some clue to his secret, it was 
natural that he should have bought anything mathematical 
written by Nicolo, and as the subject was the management 
of artillery, it would occur to him most readily to present 
a copy to his patron, who, possessing the tastes of a 
scholar, was appointed general in the district, and was 
concerned very actively in the prevailing wars. That 
Jerome had not only bought the tract but read it care- 
fully, is evident from the perfectly just criticism of one of 
its propositions contained in the preceding letter. The 
first point of accusation in that letter consisted, I need 
scarcely say, of a prevarication. I have pointed out the 
vicious clause in the ethics sanctioned by his Church, and 
almost universal in his time, which allowed truth of mind 
to be put out of sight for any useful purpose, if the truth 
of the lip only was preserved. Cardan was preserved 
1 Op. cit. pp. 118 122. The pages are numbered in pairs. 


rather by his ruggedness than by his virtue from any 
frequent exercise of this dishonest right of circumvention. 
In his reply to Tartalea concerning Zuanne da Coi, and 
his questions, he wrote, however, with a manifest inten- 
tion to deceive. He said only that he had long known 
of such problems, he meant it to be understood, that he 
had long known how to solve them. Tartalea, however, 
knew his ground, and walked into no pitfall: " Con- 
cerning your first accusation," he wrote to the " Most 
Excellent Messer Hieronimo," " I answer and say, that it 
is time that I said that such questions came from Messer 
Zuanne da Coi, because a year and a half ago he proposed 
to me one like the last but one (only in other words), of 
which I made him himself confess here in Venice that he 
did not understand it, and that he did not know the 
answer, so that for such reason, and from other indications, 
I judged those questions to be his, and that he had him- 
self sent them to me under your name. But when that 
bookseller assured me that he had them of your excel- 
lency, I judged that the said Messer Zuanne da Coi had 
been to Milan, and that they were there proposed to you 
by him (as I still judge, and believe firmly), and that you, 
being unable to solve them, sent them to me to be solved, 
for reasons that will presently be mentioned 1 ." 

i " Ma quando chel libraro me acerto hauerle hauute da uostra ec- 
cellentia giudicai die il detto Messer Zuanne da Coi fusse uenuto a 


Cardan, I think, had worked his way by that time 
somewhat further than Tartalea supposed ; the gist of 
Tartalea's argument upon the matter was, however, true, 
and when writing the above passage he had certainly the 
best of the discussion. He answered well and boldly. He 
showed equal courage, when, having explained that Car- 
dan's challenge was founded on a misunderstanding of his 
answer to the bookseller, he picked up the gage that had 
been thrown before him. Jerome's complaint was super- 
fluous, he said : " But inasmuch as I may consider that 
your excellency very much desires to try your skill with 
me, which being so, if I were sure to be a loser, I would 
not refuse such a challenge, that is to say, to bet upon 
this matter the said hundred ducats, and I will come per- 
sonally for the purpose to Milan, if you will not come to 

Tartalea will be much perplexed to find a hundred 
ducats should he lose the wager, and I know that Jerome 
sent out his defiance from a home into which ducats did 
not come even by scores. Each combatant can afford 
only to win, but gamblers are not always wise, and men 
could then gamble not less readily in algebra than over 
cards or dice. 

Tartalea met more boldly than wisely the objection 

Millano et die li hauesse proposte a quella (come che anchor giudico 
ct tengo per fermo) et che quella per non saperle risoluere me le hab- 
bia mandate da risoluere a me per le ragioni che di sotto se dira." 


made by Cardan to the fifth proposition of his science of ar- 
tillery, which proposition, in modern language, amounted 
to the assertion that a body could not move at once under 
the influence of a transmitted force and the force of gravi- 
tation. Jerome knowing of course nothing of the theory 
of gravitation, saw the facts, and urged them very properly. 
Nicolo, like a good disputant, replied: " I answer and say 
that the reasons and arguments adduced by you for the 
destruction of my said fifth proposition, are so weak and 
ill-conditioned, that an infirm woman would be strong 
enough to beat them to the ground." He then endea- 
voured in a technical way to reduce Cardan's suggestion 
to an absurdity, and summed up by addressing to Jerome 
the retaliatory comment, that " You thinking to make 
yourself appear a miracle to me with your ridiculous oppo- 
sitions, have proved yourself, I will not say a great 
ignoramus, as you said to me, but a man of little judg- 

In reply to the unphilosophical sneer against the study 
of artillery, Tartalea spoke very worthily, in the following 
passage, which contains also the next reference to the 
Marquis d'Avalos, whose precise relation to the matter 
in dispute ought to be understood distinctly. Of the 
artillery: "As to that particular, I answer and say, that 
I take pleasure in new inventions, and in treating and 
speaking of things about which other men have not 


treated or spoken, and I take no pleasure in doing as some 
do, who fill their volumes with things robbed from this 
or that other author. And although the speaking of 
artillery, and of the firing of it, is not a thing very honour- 
able in itself, yet, since it is a new matter, and not barren 
of speculation, I thought well to say a little on it 1 , and in 
connexion with that subject, I am at present bringing out 
two sorts of instruments belonging to the art, that is to 
say, a square to regulate the discharging of the said 
artillery, and also to level and examine every elevation. 
Also, another instrument for the investigation of distances 
on a plane surface, the description of which instruments 
will be published with my said work on artillery. And 
because you have written to me that you purchased two 
of my said books, one of which you gave to his excel- 
lency the lord marquis, and the other you kept for 
yourself, I have thought good to send you four copies of 
the said instruments, and have given them to the house of 
Messer Ottaviano Scoto, who will see that they are sent 
to you by some messenger, to be added to those volumes ; 

1 Tliis passage, so creditable to Tartalea in its sense and temper, 
stands in his own words thus : " Circa a questa particolarita ve rispondo 
et dico, che me diletto, de noue inuentioni et di trattare, et parlare de 
cose che altri non habbia trattato, ne parlato, et no me diletto di for 
come fanno alcuni, chi impiono li suoi uolumi di cose robate da questo 
et da quello altro autore. Et quantunque a parlare delle artegliarie, 
et lor tiri non sia cosa molto honereuole in se, pur per esser una 
materia noua, et di non puoca speculatione me apparso di parlarue 
alquanto. . . ." Op. cit. p. 119. 


of which four instruments you will give two to his excel- 
lency the lord marquis, and the other two keep as your 

It was practically an important gain to Tartalea, if he 
could suggest, through any friend who would get for 
them proper attention, a knowledge of his inventions to 
a military chief able if he chose to bring them into use 
and notice. The complaints made by Tartalea have led 
to the supposition that Cardan made artful use of the 
name and influence of his patron, in a deep design for 
the wresting from Nicolo of the small bit of knowledge 
he desired to get 1 . The supposition is quite incorrect. 

1 In Button's Mathematical Dictionary the spirit of the next letters 
between Cardan and Tartalea is expressed in the following manner, 
and it is the usual version of the story: "Finding he could not thus 
prevail with all his fair promises, Cardan then fell upon another scheme. 
There was a certain Marquis dal Vasto, a great patron of Cardan, and, 
it was said, of learned men in general. Cardan conceived the idea of 
making use of the influence of this nobleman to draw Tartalea to Milan, 
hoping that then, by personal entreaties, he should succeed in drawing 
the long- concealed rules from him. Accordingly, he wrote a second 
letter to Tartalea, much in the same strain with the former, strongly 
inviting him to come and spend a few days in his house at Milan, and 
representing that, having often commended him in the highest terms 
to the marquis, this nobleman desired much to see him ; for which 
reason Cardan advised him, as a friend, to come and visit them at 
Milan, as it might be greatly to his interest, the marquis being very 
liberal and bountiful; and he besides gave Tartalea to understand, that 
it might be dangerous to offend such a man by refusing to come, who 
might, in that case, take offence, and do him some injury. This 

manoeuvre had the desired effect " Button's Philosophical and 

Mathematical Dictionary (ed. 1815), vol. i. p. 81. So the tale is gene- 
rally told against Cardan. From his entire letter which follows, and 
the rest of the story as narrated in the text, the reader may judge how 
far this version is a fair one. 


On Tartalea's own showing, nothing could be more 
natural and gradual than the succession of steps by which 
the marquis rose into importance during the correspond- 
ence between the two mathematicians. I very much 
doubt, also, whether we ought not to attribute the tone 
of Jerome's next answer to Tartalea, not only to a pru- 
dent desire to maintain friendly negotiations, but in an 
equal degree to the fact that his anger, always shortlived, 
being at an end, he desired to heal the wounds that he 
had made, and behave with the courtesy due from one 
scholar to another. The reply, dated the 19th of March, 
1539, now follows 1 : 

"My very dear Messer Nicolo, I have received a very 
long letter of yours, and the longer it was the more it 
pleased me; I could have wished it doubled, if only you 
would not think that my biting words proceeded either 
from hate, for which there was no cause, or from ma- 
lignity of nature, since I do good, when I can, much 
more readily than harm: it is my business to heal: let 
me do that; not bitten with envy at the question whether 
you are my equal or my inferior; I should have no cause 
to be so if you were my master in this art ; I should struggle 
to soar with you, not speak you ill. Besides, the envious 
malign in absence not in presence ; but I wrote that abuse 

1 Quesiti et Invention! (ed. cit.), Lib. ix. p. 122. The letter begins, 
" Messer Nicolo mio carissimo." 


to stir you up to write again, judging, with out-of-the-way 
craft, what sort of a man you were from the relation of 
Messer Zuan Colle, who has been here. I liked him 
much, and did my best to give him pleasure, so that 
from his account I learned to think well of you, and even 
designed to send to you a letter ; but he behaved ungrate- 
fully, speaking ill of me privately and publicly, and in- 
viting me improperly with placards and writings, which 
things not succeeding to his own content (he had to one 
question three answers one from Euclid, the other from 
Ptolemy, the other from Geber), he became so confounded 
that he left in despair, quitting a school of about sixty 
pupils, for which I was sorry enough. So that if I wrote 
sharply to you I did it willingly, thinking to cause that 
to follow which has followed ; that is to say, to have your 
answer, together with the friendship of a man so singu- 
larly able in his art as I judge you to be by the things 
written in your letter. Thus I have committed an offence 
of which I am not willing to repent. 

Now you must know, that in addition to your letter, I 
received a placard of the things which you are now about 
to read publicly in San Zuanne Polo, which bill has 
given me the highest pleasure; and besides that, you 
promised me four instruments, two to give to the lord 
marquis and two for me : and Signer Ottaviano writes to 
me that he sends four, though I have yet received neither 


two nor four; but he says that they shall come with cer- 
tain books that he is sending. I should have been glad 
to have them to give to the lord marquis ; when I have 
them I will give them to him. 

As for the answers to my four accusations, I need only 
reply to two ; one concerns the attack on your fifth pro. 
position in the Arte Nova, the other is about coming to a 
trial against you, who are the more able man in your own 
art. With regard to that second point, I would much 
rather live something of a poltroon than die a hero, the 
rather, as you concede my position by saying that Zuan 
Antonio had misunderstood, which puts an end to the 
occasion of our combat. I hope that you will come to 
Milan and learn to know me without the deposit of a 
hundred ducats, because in truth, I know you to be a very 
able man, and knowing one another we might both be 
able to deliberate together. 

As for the disputation on the subject of your fifth pro- 
position, certainly, you do well to use bold words, and de- 
fend the opinion you have published. And certainly when 
you come (as I hope, please God, you will) to Milan, we 
will talk of it more at our ease, and the rather, as I had 
your letters only yesterday evening" [which implied that a 
month passed before they could be transmitted from Tar- 
talea in Venice, to Cardan in Milan], " and to-day I am 
obliged to write to you by command of the lord marqui?, 


so that I have not had time to reflect upon your other 

I pray you, at any rate, to send or bring me what re- 
mains of your thirty deductions which you gave to Master 
Antonio Maria. If you will also send me some solutions 
of your two rules, or will give them to me when you come, 
I shall be in the highest degree obliged ; for you must 
know that I take pleasure in all courtesy, and that I have 
sent to press a work entirely on the practice of Geometry, 
Arithmetic, and Algebra, of which up to this date more 
than the half is printed, and if you will give them to me 
so that I may publish them in your name, I will publish 
them at the end of the work as I have done with all others 
who have given to me anything of value, and will there 
put you down as the discoverer, and if you wish me to 
preserve your secret, I will do as you desire. 

I told the lord marquis 1 of the instruments you had 

1 "Io avisai la eccellentia del Signer Marchese de gli istromenti 
quali gli mandati (anchor che non siano per fina hora gionti) et li dissi 
del cartello, e sua eccellentia mi commando lo legesse e tutte queste 
uostre cose piacque grandamente a sua eccellentia. Et mi commando di 
subito ui scriuesse la presente con grande istantia in nome suo, auisan- 
doui che uista la presente douesti uenir a Millano senza fallo che 
uoria parlar con uoi. Et cosi ue esorto a douere uenire subito, et 
non pensarui su, perche ill detto Signer Marchese e si gentil remune- 
ratore delli uirtuosi, si liberate, et si magnanimo che niuna persona 
chi serue sua excellentia mentre sia da qualche cosa resta discontenta. 
Si che non restati de uenire e uenereti a logiare in casa mia non altro 
Christo da mal ui guardi alii. 13. di Marzo, 1539. Hieronimo Cardano, 
medico." To which Tartalea subscribes: "Per costui son ridutto a 


given him they are not yet come to hand and told him 
of the placard, and his excellency commanded me to read 
it; and all your things pleased his excellency greatly. 
And he commanded me at once to write the present letter 
to you with great urgency in his name, to advise you that 
on receipt of the same you should come to Milan without 
fail, for he desires to speak with you. And so I exhort 
you that you should come at once, and not deliberate 
about it, because the said marquis is a courteous remu- 
nerator of men of genius, so liberal and so magnanimous, 
that no person who does a service to his excellency, no 
matter in what respect, is left dissatisfied. So do not de- 
lay to come, and come to lodge in my house. So no 
more. Christ keep you from harm. Written on the 13th 
of March, 1539. 


That the desire of the marquis to see Tartalea was 
genuine I see no reason to doubt. That Jerome was glad 
to have a chance of talking to his jealous correspondent, 
and persuading him, if possible, by word of mouth, is, of 
course, equally certain. The brief comment appended by 
Tartalea to the preceding letter is not good-humoured. 

" NICOLO. I am reduced by this fellow to a strange 

un stranio passo, perche se non uado a Millano il Signer Marchese il 
potria hauer per male, et qualche male me ne potria reusire, et mal 
uolontiera ui uado, pur ui uoglio andare." Op. cit. pp. 123, 124. 


pass, because if I do not go to Milan the lord marquis 
may take offence, and such offence might do me mischief, 
I go thither unwillingly ; however, I will go." The sug- 
gestion that there was any danger in not going sprung 
entirely, it should be noticed, from Tartalea himself. 
Cardan had only urged, that as D'Avalos was a free- 
handed patron a point upon which all chroniclers who 
speak of him agree Nicolo should not fear that he would 
be a loser by the journey. 

Accordingly, Tartalea went to Milan, and happening 
to arrive at a time when D'Avalos was absent, stayed for 
three days in Cardan's house as his guest. The result of 
the visit Nicolo represented to himself in his common- 
place-book by the succeeding dialogue 1 : 

" Result of personal intercourse with his Excellency the 
said Messer Hieronimo Cardano, at his house in 
Milan, the 25th of March, 1539. 

MESSER HIERONIMO. I am very pleased that you 
have come just at this time when his excellency has 
ridden to Vigevano, because we shall have leisure to 
enjoy ourselves and talk together over our affairs till he 
returns. Certainly you were somewhat too discourteous 
in resolving not to give me the rule you discovered upon 

1 Op. cit. p. 123. 


the subject of the cosa and cube equal to the number, 
especially when I had so much entreated for it." 

To this the reply of Tartalea was not unreasonable, and 
it may be well to say beforehand that it is to be read as 
in every main point true. He not only was at that time 
translating Euclid, but he was also reserving himself for a 
work of his own on arithmetic, geometry, and algebra, 
which he in the end did publish at Venice, seventeen 
years .afterwards that is to say, just before his death. 
It extended even then no further than quadratic equa- 
tions, being his Book the First of Algebra, and did not 
contain the whole of his knowledge, nor does his know- 
ledge of the two contested rules appear to have fructified 
at all in his own mind during all that time, as he justly 
supposed that it might, and as it began to do the moment 
it had found its way into the richer soil of Cardan's 
genius. Nicolo replied thus : 

" NICOLO. I tell you that I am not so very chary on 
account of the simple rule or the calculation made by use 
of it, but on account of those things that by knowledge 
of it may be discovered, because it is a key that opens the 
way to the investigation of an infinity of other rules, and 
if I were not at present occupied upon a translation of 
Euclid into the vulgar tongue (and by this time I have 
translated as far as his thirteenth book), I should have 
already found a general rule for many other cases. As 


soon as I shall have finished my labour upon Euclid 
already commenced, I am intending to compose a work 
on the practice of arithmetic, and together with it a new 
algebra, in which I propose not only to publish to every 
man all my said discoveries concerning new cases, but 
many others, to which I hope to attain, and I hope to 
show the rule for investigating an infinity of other 
things, which I hope will be a good and useful work. 
That is the reason why I deny my rules to everybody, 
though I at present make no use of them (being, as I 
said, occupied on Euclid), and if I taught them to any 
speculative person like your excellency, he could easily 
from such evidence find other cases to join to the dis- 
covered ones, and publish with them as himself their dis- 
coverer, by doing which he would spoil all my design. So 
that this is the chief reason why I have been so dis- 
courteous towards your excellency, and the rather, as you 
are now printing your work on the same subjects, and 
have written to me that you propose to publish such my 
inventions under my name, and to make me known as 
the discoverer. Which, in fact, does not at all please me, 
because I wish to publish such my discoveries in my own 
works and not in the works of other people. 

M. HIERONIMO. And I also wrote to you that if you 
were not content that I should publish them, I would 
keep them secret. 


NiCOLO. Enough that on that head I was not willing 
to believe you. 

M. HIERONIMO. I swear to you by the sacred Gospel, 
and on the faith of a gentleman, not only never to publish 
your discoveries, if you will tell them to me, but also I 
promise and pledge my faith as a true Christian to put 
them down in cipher, so that after my death nobody shall 
be able to understand them. If you will believe me, do; 
if not, let us have done 1 . 

NiCOLO. If I could not put faith in so many oaths I 
should certainly deserve to be regarded as a man with no 
faith in him ; but since I have made up my mind now to 
ride to Vigevano to find his excellency the lord mar- 
quis, because I have been here already three days, and 
am tired of awaiting him so long, when I am returned I 
promise to show you the whole. 

M. HIERONIMO. Since you have made, up your mind 
at any rate to ride at once to Vigevano to the lord mar- 
quis, I will give you a letter to take to his excellency, in 
order that he may know who you are ; but before you go 

" M. HIERO. lo ui giuro, ad sacra del evangelia, e da real gen- 
til'huomo, non solamente da non publicar giamai tale uostre inven- 
tioni, se me le insignate. Ma anchora ui prometto, et impegno la 
fede mia da real Christiano, da notarmele in zifera, accioche dapoi la 
mia morte alcuno non le possa intendere, se mel uoleti mo credere 
credetilo se non lassatilo stare. NICOLO. Non uolendo io prestar fede 
a tanti uostri giuramenti io meritaria certamente da esser giudicato 
huomo senza fede, ma perche ho deliberate caualcare per fina a 
Vegevene . . . ." &c. Op. cit. p. 124. 


I should wish you to show me the rule for those cases of 
yours, as you have promised. 

NiCOLO. I am willing; but you should know, that in 
order to be able on any sudden occasion to remember my 
method of operation, I have reduced it to a rule in rhyme, 
because, if I had not used this precaution, it would often 
have escaped from my mind ; and although these rhymes 
of mine are not very neat, I have not minded that, be- 
cause it was enough that they served to bring the rule into 
my memory whenever I repeated them. That rule I will 
write for you with my own hand, in order that you may 
be sure that my discovery is given to you fairly and 

The verses then follow which contain the rule for the 
three case, a? 3 -J- bx z: c; # 3 bx -f- c and <*? 3 -}" c &# 
discovered by Tartalea in 1534. Translated into the 
language of modern mathematics, they read thus 1 : 

i The mystic rhymes themselves here follow. Tartalea's effusion 
was a thing to puzzle Petrarch : 

" Quando chel cubo con le cose apresso 
Se agualia & qualche numero discrete 
Trouan dui altri different! in esso 
Dapoi terrai questo per consueto 
Ch'el lor produtto sempre sia eguale 
Al terzo cubo delle cose neto 
El residue poi suo generale 
Belli lor lati cubi ben sottratti 
Varra la tua cosa principale. 
In el secondo de cotesti atti 

Quando chel cubo restasse lui solo 


Find two numbers z and y, so that z y c in the first 
case or z -}-?/ c in the second and third cases, and 
zy :n (-J-6) 3 : then x ^/ 3 z y/ 3 y in the first case, and 
x = y% -f- y^j/ in the other two. The original verses 
are given in a note below. Tartalea was not by any 
means singular in his practice of converting such a rule 
into a versified enigma. In this respect he followed the 
example set by the first of the Italian printed algebrists, 
Luca di Borgo, who had for each of the three forms of 
which an equation of the second degree is susceptible, a 
particular rule, instead of one general rule that sufficed for 
all. The three rules he expressed in three Latin quatrains, 
of which one will be found cited below as a specimen of 
the manner 1 . It was not, therefore, any individual con- 

Tu osseruarai quest 'altri contratti 
Del numer farai due tal part' a uolo 
Che luna in 1'altra si produca sclrietto 
El terzo cubo delle cose in stolo 
Delle qual poi, per commun precetto 
Torrai li lati cubi insierae gionti 
Et cotal summa sara il tuo concetto 
El terzo poi de questi nostri conti 
Se solue col secondo se ben guardi 
Che per natura son quasi congionti 
Questi trouai, et non con passi tardi 
Nel mille cinquecent'e quatro e trenta 
Con fondamenti ben said' e gagliardi 
Nella citta dal mar' intorno centa." 

Quesiti et Invention^ p. 123. 

I have not ventured to interfere with the allowance originally made by 
Tartalea to his poem, of one full stop and two commas. 
1 Primi canonis versus. 

" Si res et census numero coequantur a rebus 


ceit which caused Tartalea to put his process into 

" Which rhyme/' having quoted it, he went on to say, 
" speaks so clearly, that, without other example, I think 
your excellency will be able to understand the whole. 

M. HIERONIMO. I shall no doubt understand it, and 
have almost understood it at once ; go however, and when 
you have returned, I will let you see whether I have 

NICOLO. Now your excellency will remember not to 
fail of your promised faith, because if by ill fate you 
should fail in it, that is to say, if you were to publish these 
cases either in that work which you are now printing, or 
in any other, though you published it under my name, 
and gave it as my own discovery, I promise and swear 
that I will cause a book to be printed immediately after- 
wards that you shall not find very agreeable. 

M. HIERONIMO. Do not doubt that I shall perform 
what I have promised; go, and feel secure upon that 
point ; give this letter of mine to the lord marquis on 
my part. 

NICOLO. Now I bid you farewell. 

Dimidio surapto censum producere debes 
Addere que numero: cujus a radice totiens 
Tolle semis rerum census latusque redibit." 

Luca di Borgo. Summa de Arithmetica Geometria, 
&c. (ed. 1494) Dist. viii. Tract 5, p. 145. 


M. HiERONlMO. May the hour be lucky in which you 

NlCOLO (aside). By my faith, I shall not go gallanting 
to Vigevano. So I shall just travel back to Venice, come 
of it what may 1 ." 

1 "NicoLO. Hor su me aricomando. M. HIERO. Andati in bon' 

NICOLO. Per la fede mia che non uoglio andare altramente a Vige- 
vene, anci me uoglio uoltare alia uolta de Venetia, uada la cosa come 
si uoglio." Ques. et Inv. p. 124. 




NiCOLO went off by no means easy in his mind. The 
secret was no longer his own, and Cardan was a busy- 
headed fellow. Jerome at once went to work upon 
Tartalea's rules, but being misled by the badness of the 
verses, into the reading of (4- b) 3 as -J b 3 , he could not 
work with them ; he therefore wrote the following note 
to Venice on the 9th of April 1 . 

" My very dear Messer Nicolo, I am much surprised 
at your having left so suddenly, without speaking to the 
lord marquis, who came on Easter Sunday, and could 
not have your instruments until the Tuesday afterwards, 

1 Ques. et Inv. p. 124. The letter begins, " Messer Nicolo mio 
carissimo." All these letters end, it may be observed, with "Non 
altro," the " So no more," not yet extinct among our humble letter- 
writers. It is followed as regularly by the phrase " God " [or Christ] 
" keep you from harm," " Iddio da mal ui guardi." Thus the ending 
of this letter, for example, was " Non altro Christo da mal ui guardi. 
In Millano alii 9 Aprile 1539. Hieronimo Cardano medico, tutto vostro." 


and with great difficulty. However, he had them, and 
understood them ; I presented them on the same Tuesday 
in the evening. Truly I think you were wrong in not 
making yourself known to his excellency, because he is 
a most liberal prince, and a g reat lover and abettor of 
genius, and he valued your instruments and desired to 
have them explained to him, and I showed him succinctly 
their value ; now that must suffice ; the time may yet 
come when you may be glad to be known by the lord 
marquis. When I know for what reason you left, or by 
whom you were advised to do so, I will tell him. 

As for my work, I think it will be complete next week, 
for there are only three more leaves to be filled. As for 
the question of your case of the cosa and cube equal to the 
number, I thank you much for having given me the 
rule, and I will let you see that I shall not be ungrateful. 
But, however, I must confess my fault in not having had 
ingenuity enough yet to understand it, therefore I beg 
you, for the love you bear me, and for the friendship that 
is between us, and that will, I hope, last while we live, to 
send me solved this question one cube, three cosas equal 
to ten; and I hope that you will have as much good-will 
in sending as I in receiving it. So no more. Christ keep 
you from harm. In Milan, on the 9th of April, 1539. 

" All" [we should say ever] " yours." 


Nicolo in reply did not return Jerome's " Mio Caris- 
simo," or sign himself all his, but explained to the " Ho- 
norando Messer Hieronimo," that nobody must be blamed 
for advising him to return to Venice, because he had 
promised his friends that he would be with them at 
Easter, and as it was he had much trouble in getting 
home by Holy Sunday. " Concerning your work," he 
said, " I much desire that it shall be out soon, and should 
like to see it, because if I do not see it I shall be suspect- 
ing that you have broken your word, that is to say, may 
have interpolated my rules in some part of it 1 ." Certainly 
if Nicolo had had blood-guiltiness upon his conscience, 
and had betrayed his secret to a woman, he could not 
have been more nervously expectant of the terrors of 
exposure. Seeing at once what part of his rhyme had 
puzzled Cardan, he gave the required explanation, and 
concluded his letter thus: " So no more. God keep you 
from harm. In Venice, on the 23rd of April, 1539. 
Remember your promise. 

NICOLO TARTALEA, of Brescia." 

On the 12th of May Jerome set his friend's mind at 
ease by sending a copy of his book, with the following 

1 " Circa alia vostra opera molto desidero che la se fornisca presto, 
et ui uederla, perche per fin che non la uedo sto suspettoso che quella 
non mi manchi di fede, cioe che quella non ue interponga, li miei capi- 
toli." Tartalea, p. 124. 


" In answer to your letter of the 23rd of April, received 
the other day, very dear Misser Nicolo, I will reply to 
you succinctly part by part, and first as to the excuse of 
your departure without going to Vigevano. I desire 
nothing but what you desire, and regret that you have 
been put to so much trouble on my account, without any 
advantage for yourself. 

" As to my work, just finished, to remove your sus- 
picion I send you a copy, but I send it unbound, for I 
would not have it beaten while it was so fresh. As for 
your rule and my case solved by you, I thank you very 
particularly, and praise your ingenuity above all with 
which I have met, and am more pleased than if you had 
given me a hundred ducats. I hold you as my very 
dear friend. I have tried the rule and found it universal. 
As to the doubt you have lest I should print such your 
inventions, my faith that I have given you with an oath, 
ought to suffice 1 , because the hastening of my book was 
nothing to the purpose, for whenever I like I can add to 
it. But I hold you excused by the importance of the 

1 "... la mia fede che ui ho data con giuramento, ui doueua bas- 
tare, perche la speditione del mio libro non faceua niente a questo, 
perche sempre che mi pare gli posso sempre aggiongere, ma lie ho per 
escuso che la dignita della cosa, non ui lassa fondare sopra quello che 
ui doueti fondare, cioe sopra la fede d'un gentil'huomo e ui fondati 

sopra una cosa che non ual niente, cioe ma el ponto e qua chel 

non e mazor tradimento. che a esser mancator di fede, e far dispiacere 
a chi 1'ha fatto appiacere." Op. cit. p. 125. 

VOL. I. 8 


matter for not resting content with that which ought to 
content you, that is to say the word of a gentleman, and 
depending on a thing that is of no worth at all, that is to 
say the finishing of a book to which a capitulum novum 
or capitula nova could at any time be added, and there are 
a thousand other ways, but the point is that there is no 
greater treachery than to break faith and to displease 
those who have given us pleasure, and if you were to try 
me you would find whether I shall be your friend or not, 
and whether I shall be grateful for your friendship and 
the favours you have done me. 

" I send word to you also,, and earnestly beg concerning 
these my printed works for my love of him who has 
printed them, and will send some into your town for 
sale, that you will not lend them about more than neces- 
sary, for my sake. If they had been printed, at my own 
expense I would not say a word, because I care more for 
the profit of my friends than for my own. So no more. 
God keep you from evil. In Milan, the 12th of May; 

" HIERONIMUS CARDANUS medicus, totus vcster" 

Nicolo, partly appeased, or glad of something new to 
grumble at, replied on this occasion to the " Honoran- 
dissimo Messer Nicolo," and signed himself " Nicolo Tar- 
talea of Brescia, all yours." He had received the book, 


but being busy over his Euclid, had only found time to 
glance at it and fall at once upon a shocking error, " so 
gross/ 1 he says, " that I am amazed at it, for one would 
have thought that it might have been seen with only half 
an eye 1 ." He is quite " sorry for the honour" of his 
friend. Nicolo had verily the temper of a thistle. 

On the 10th of July in the same year the restless 
mathematician was further excited by a letter from an old 
pupil settled at Bergamo, one Master Maphio, asking 
help in the untying of some knot of a problem, and 
ending with a scrap of gossip, to the effect that a friend 
from Milan had written word to him that the physician 
Cardan was engaged over a new algebraical work, treat- 
ing of certain new discoveries. Could they be Tartalea's? 
Certainly they were, Tartalea replied, if the news were 
true, and cited the grim proverb: "If you wish your 
counsel kept, make confidant of nobody." He begged 
Maphio to be on the alert, and send him if he could more 
tidings on the matter. The rumour, I need not say, was 
false. Jerome made his promise in good faith, and it was 
not until five years afterwards that any book of his was 
published upon Algebra. Tartalea, however, had left 

1 " Vostra eccellentia erra tanto de grosso che me ne stupisco, 
perche cadauno che hauesse solamente mezzo un' occhio lo potria ve- 

dere cosa rnolto redicolosa cosa molto lontano dalla 

verita, della qualcosa molto me ne rincresce per honor uostro. Non 
altro Iddio da mal, &c. Nicolo Tartalea Brisciano tutto vostro." 



Milan, sulky, and already considered that he had a right 
to quarrel with Cardan. Jerome's next letters were not 
answered, nor are they published in Tartalea's book. 

On the 4th of August, however, Cardan wrote a letter, 
which is printed, complaining courteously of the fact 
that he had written many other letters, which were not 
honoured with any reply, asking for information upon 
various points, and chiefly requesting help in clearing up 
the difficulty of the irreducible case <t? 3 = bx -\- c, at 
which Jerome had arrived in the course of his own studies. 
To this letter Tartalea appends the note that follows: 
" I have a good mind to give no answer to this letter, no 
more than to the other two. However, I will answer it, 
if it be but to let him know what I have been told of 
him. And as I perceive that a suspicion has arisen con- 
cerning the difficulty or obstacle in the rule for the case" 
(# 3 bx -J- c), " I will try whether he can change the data 
that he has in hand, so as to remove the said obstacle and 
alter the rule into some other form ; though, indeed, I 
believe that it cannot be done, nevertheless there can be 
110 harm in trying 1 ." He wrote therefore a letter, which 
began, omitting altogether Honorando, or Honorandis- 

1 Op. cit. p. 126. " Et dapoi che uedo che sta suspettando sopra la 
retta via de la regola del capitolo di cose, e numero, equal a cubo, 
uoglio tentare se gli potesse cambiare li dati che ha in mane cioe re- 
mover lo di tal ilia retta e farlo intrare in qualche altra a ben che 
credo non ui sara mezzo, nondimeno il tentar non noce." 


simo, to say nothing of Carissimo, thus : " Mcsscr Hie- 
ronimo, I have received a letter of yours, in which you 
write that you understand the rule for the case a? 3 rr bx + c ; 
but that when (^) 3 exceeds (^c) 2 you cannot resolve the 
equation by following the rule, and therefore you request 
me to give you the solution of this equation X s 9# -f 10 1 . 
To which I reply" (it will be understood that to himself 
also the case was insoluble) " to which I reply, and say, 
that you have not used the good method for resolving 
such a case ; also I say that such your proceeding is 
entirely false. And as to resolving you the equation you 
have sent, I must say that I am very sorry that I have 
given you already so much as I have done, for I have 
been informed, by a person worthy of faith, that you are 
about to publish another algebraical work, and that you 
have gone boasting through Milan of having discovered 
some new rules in Algebra. But take notice, that if you 
break your faith with me, I shall certainly not break 
promise with you (for it is not my custom) ; nay, even 
undertake to visit you with more than I had promised." 

The rest of the letter, which is very long, was chiefly 
intended to be disagreeable. To another of Cardan's 

1 In the old algebraical language, " haueti inteso il capitolo de cubo, 
equale a cose, et nuraero, ma che quando il cubo della terza parte delle 
cose eccede il quadrato della mita del nutnero che alPhora non poteti 
farli seguir la equatione, et che per tanto me pregati che ue dia resolto 
questo capitolo de .1. cubo. equale a .9. cose piu .10." 


questions, Nicolo replied that two of his pupils had 
answered it one of them, Richard Went worth, the 
English gentleman, whom he praised much ; and he sent 
the two solutions by his pupils, written with their hands. 
He further talked about his Euclid, and in various ways 
heartily abused Cardan's Arithmetic, which he pronounced 
to be a confused mess, and supposed must have been not 
got out of his own head, but " collected and copied by 
the pen from divers books, at divers times, just as they 
chanced to come into his hands." Upon another mathe- 
matical matter he was further " amazed and astounded" 
at Cardan's persistent ignorance, laughed at his having 
once said to him in his own house that if a certain kind 
of solution had not been considered impossible by Luca 
di Borgo, he should have tried to discover it (as if he 
could discover anything indeed I), and thought it a pity 
that he did not know physic enough for the cure of his 
own errors. He ended by saying, " once I held you in 
good esteem, but I see now that I deceived myself 
grossly 1 ." 

Cardan replied briefly to his friend on the 18th of 
October, after having perhaps waited until he had cooled 
from the anger which Tartalea's rude letter must have at 

1 " Et certamente el fu gia che ni haueua in bon conto, ma al pre- 
sente uedo che me ingannaua de grosso, non altro Iddio ui conserui in 
Venetia alii .7. Agosto. 1539. Mcolo Tartalea Brisciano." Op. cit. 
p. 127. 


first occasioned. He replied to the " most honourable 
Messcr NicoloY' that he must have been beside himself to 
write as he had written to one " who was his great friend, 
and had without envy praised him to the skies." He 
added, " for the other matter I reply that you have been 
misinformed about my intention to publish on Algebra, 
and to make known your rules. I think you must have 
been hearing something from Messer Ottaviano Scoto 
about the Arcana of Eternity, which you imagine to 
be the Algebra I am about to publish. As to your 
repentance at having given me your rules, I am not to be 
moved by that or by any words of yours to depart from 
the faith I pledged you 2 ." 

To this letter Tartalea sent no answer ; still Jerome did 
not quarrel with him; and another letter from Cardan, 
the last in Nicolo's collection, dated the 5th of January, 
1540, stated how " that deuce of a Messer Zuanne da 
CoiV' by whom Nicolo, Jerome, and all mathematicians 
in that part of Italy were bored, had come to Milan, be^ 
lieving that Cardan was desirous to give up to him his 
arithmetical lectures, and professing, apparently with 
truth, that he had found out certain rules. Cardan 

1 " Ho receputa una uostra, Messer Nicolo osseruandissimo, . . , ." 

2 " .... Quanto al pentirue hauermi dato quel uostro capitolo, per 
questo non mi mouo, per uostre parole a niuna cosa contra la fede ui 

3 " Eglie ritornato qui quel diauolo de Messer Zuanne Colle, . . ." 


having had some contests with their ancient rival, desired 
Tartalea to assist in capturing the ground which Zuanne 
held as his exclusive property. To this letter Nicolo 
added in his diary a number of saturnine and mathema- 
tical comments, and summed up by waiting that he 
should not choose to send Cardan an answer, because he 
said " I have no more affection for him than for Messer 
Zuanne, and therefore I shall leave them to themselves 1 .'* 
One of the questions put by the pertinacious Messer 
Zuanne Tonini da Coi, not soluble at the time by any 
one, and thought insoluble by some, was the following: 
" Find me three numbers continually proportional, of 
which the sum is ten and the product of the second by 
the first is six." This led to the following troublesome 
equation: z 4 -}- 6# 3 + 36 rr 60#. Cardan worked very 
industriously at it, and urged his friend and pupil Lodo- 
vico Ferrari to do the same. Tartalea, we have seen, de- 
clined contemptuously to take the field. An ingenious 
method of solution was eventually discovered by Ferrari, 
which consisted in adding to each side of the equation 
arranged in a certain way quadratic and simple quan- 
tities, of a kind calculated to render the extraction of the 
square root of each possible. By this method of resolving 

1 " Non li uoglio dar altra risposta, perche fe non ui ho phi afletione 
a lui che a Messer Zuanne, e pero li utiglio lassar far tra loro." Tar- 
talea, p. 129. 


an equation of the fourth degree, by the reduction of the 
biquadratic into a cubic, Ferrari secured for himself the 
right of being honourably named in every history of 

Honourably named and little more, for he died young, 
and left no written works behind him. His friend Car- 
dan, through whom he rose, has left a brief sketch of his 
life and character 1 . I have already related how, after the 
introductory omen of a magpie, young Ferrari had been 
brought by his uncle to Cardan's house as a servant. 
Some minute detail connected with that event may now 
be given. A certain Bartholomew Ferrari, a man of 
humble fortunes, having been exiled from Milan, settled 
in Bologna, where he had two sons, Vincent and 
Alexander. Vincent was Lodovico's uncle, Alexander 
was his father. Alexander being killed, the boy went to 
his uncle's house, and lived there. Vincent Ferrari had 
an unmanageable son named Luke, who, flying one day 
from his father's anger, went to Milan, and by chance 
hired] himself as famulus into the service of Cardan. 
After a time he slipped away from his new master, with- 
out warning given, and went back to his old home. 
Jerome applied there for him, and his father Vincent 
took that opportunity of getting Lodovico off his hands. 
As a substitute for his son Luke he sent his nephew off to 
be the doctor's servant, and so it happened that on a day 
1 Opera, Tom. ix. p. 568. I take from it the following details. 


before mentioned, Lodovico Ferrari, then fifteen years 
old, went, poor and uninstructed, into Jerome's service. 
But he was a boy of very extraordinary natural ability; 
Cardan soon put him to use as an amanuensis, and 
accepted him next as a pupil and a friend not indeed 
because he was a good boy, for he was nothing of the 
kind. His temper was so bad that Jerome went near 
him with caution, and shrunk often from the task of 
speaking to him. He grew up also irreligious, given to 
habitual and open scorn of God. The friendship between 
him and Cardan grew out of their common love of know- 
ledge, out of the problems upon which they had worked 
together, out of Lodovico's sense of obligation to the man 
by whose hand he was raised, and out of Jerome's pride 
at having fairly brought before the world so fine an intel- 
lect. Ferrari also was a neat and rosy little fellow, 
wicked as he may have been, with a bland voice, a 
cheerful face, and an agreeable short nose, attentive in 
trifling things, and fond of pleasure. By his manners 
and his brilliant genius he made way for himself in the 
world with wonderful rapidity. His worldly career pre- 
sented, in its early course, a great contrast to that of the 
unlucky philosopher who taught him Latin, Greek, and 
mathematics, and upon whose shoulders he knew how to 

At the age of eighteen Ferrari began to teach, and 
excited universal admiration in the town. He was 


scarcely twenty years old when he contested publicly 
with Zuanne da Coi and Tartalea: Tartalca declares in 
his own book that he, Tartalea, was left the victor: 
Cardan states that Ferrari overcame them both, and 
appeals confidently, in support of his assertion, to the 
public records then extant, and the common understand- 
ing in the town. Two years afterwards the brilliant 
young scholar was held in so much esteem, that the 
possession of- his services was contended for by the great 
men around him. He was tempted by simultaneous 
offers from the gay Brissac, from the emperor himself, 
who desired him as a teacher for his son, and from the 
Cardinal of Mantua. An offer of court service did not 
lure Ferrari, who cared less for nominal honour than for 
actual profit. The Cardinal's brother, Ferrando Gonzaga, 
then governor at Milan, having given to the flourishing 
youth the office of surveyor of the province, with a salary 
of four hundred gold crowns; and the cardinal himself 
offering largely, Lodovieo went into. the churchman's train, 
and was so well rewarded, that in eight years he received 
nearly four thousand gold crowns, in addition to free 
entertainment for himself, two servants, and a horse. The , 
cardinal's good living after a time aggravated a fistula 
with which Ferrari became troubled, and unreasonably 
angry with his patron because he was unable to escape the 
consequences of his own too free indulgence in the plea- 


sures of the table, the ill-humoured young mathematician 
quitted abruptly his not very dignified position as a re- 
tainer. Then retiring into independence, he built for 
himself a house, in which he went to live with his sister, 
Maddalena, orphan and widow, whom he truly loved. We 
shall meet with him hereafter, teaching mathematics at 
Bologna ; but it is expedient to complete the sketch of his 
career by adding in this place, that he died suddenly and 
prematurely, at the age of thirty-eight, in the first year 
of his professorship, as it was said by poison. Nearly all 
sudden deaths did in those days of ignorance prompt 
rumours about poison ; but in this case there was some 
colour given to the rumour by the fact that his sister 
the one person towards whom his wayward heart had 
really turned in love inherited his property, scorned to 
lament at his funeral, married fifteen days after his death, 
and at once gave all his money, goods, and chattels, to 
her husband. That reads like the sequel to a wild story 
of Italian passion. But the sequel is not there. The 
sequel is, that Maddalena lived to be repudiated by the 
man to whom she gave her own soul and her brother's 
wealth. When Cardan wrote the brief sketch that he 
has left of the career of his old pupil, she was a miserable 
old woman, living in the country in a state of abject 
poverty, unpitied and unaided by the man whom her 
guilt, as it was suspected, had enriched. Ferrari left no 


other fruit of his great genius than the formula which 
Cardan has referred to him, and in connexion with which 
his name therefore has remained to us. He wrote no 
books, and engaged himself during his unhappy life in 
little other literary labour than the collecting of the dicta 
left by former authors. He had indeed written some 
comments upon Caesar and Vitruvius, and of those his 
sister's husband took possession, with all other property. 
He laid them by, as he himself told Cardan, until his son 
by a first wife was old enough to receive credit for having 
written them, as he intended them to have then pub- 
lished in his name. In every way the enemy resolved to 
fatten on Ferrari's substance. That is the story of 
Ferrari; a story of great powers wasted for the want of 
guiding energy and principle. He was born on the 2nd 
of February, 1522, and he died on the 5th of October, m 
the year 1560. 

Cardan, in publishing Ferrari's discovery, attributed it 
duly to its author - y and in that respect he was not less 
just to Tartalea, though the secret of the latter was made 
public by a breach of faith which, says Nonius (Nunez), 
a contemporary Spanish mathematician, made Tartalea 
so wild, that he was like one who had gone out of his 
mind. Jerome's breach of faith I shall not justify. It 
will shortly be seen that there was no palliating circum- 
stance possible in such a case which he was not able to 
urge to himself fairly; the promise he made was ridicu- 


lous, and if the wrong consisted rather in making than in 
breaking it, Tartalea had not the less cause to complain. 
Sympathy for Tartalea we cannot, indeed feel. The at- 
tempt to assert exclusive right to the secret possession of 
apiece of information, which was the next step in the 
advancement of a liberal science, the refusal to add it, 
inscribed with his own name, to the common heap, until 
he had hoarded it, in hope of some day, when he was 
at leisure, turning it more largely to his own advantage, 
could be excused in him only by the fact that he was 
rudely bred and self-taught, that he was not likely to 
know better. Any member of a liberal profession who 
is miserly of knowledge, forfeits the respect of his fra- 
ternity. The promise of secrecy which Cardan had no 
right to make, Tartalea had no right to demand. In 
respect to three- fourths of the case it was indeed pecu- 
liarly absurd; because of the four rules discovered by 
Tartalea, and communicated to Cardan, he could claim 
rights of invention over one only, that with which he 
had turned the tables against Antonio Maria Fior, on 
the occasion of their contest. The other rule then dis- 
covered by him had been known not only to Fior, but 
even to Scipio Ferreo, at least forty years before Cardan 
published it; and the other two rules discovered by 
Tartalea in 1530, had then been for some time known 
to Zuanne da Coi. 


Of the conversations and correspondence between Car- 
dan and. Tartalea on this subject we have only, as 
has been seen, the ex parte statement of Tartalea, 
who gives his own version of the conversations, and 
does not publish all the letters that passed on the 
subject. Yet it is evident, even from this hostile 
account, that Jerome made a promise in good faith, and 
that Tartalea never seemed to consider that it was suffi- 
ciently binding. Tartalea himself proves that Cardan 
bore gross rudeness very good humouredly, and that 
though his good faith was doubted and contemned, he 
did not consider himself entitled to take any advantage of 
its ungenerous rejection. Tartalea's rule was not put into 
the Arithmetic, nor was it communicated to the world by 
Cardan until it had grown, in the good soil of his own 
mind, out of a seed into a tree. He considered then that 
it had become so far fairly his own that he was entitled to 
make public distribution of its fruits, if he gave, as he was 
quite ready to give, and did give, proper credit to Tar- 
talea for his part in their production. If he was still 
bound by the letter of his promise, since mathematical 
facts could be explained only step by step, he, who 
proved himself to be decidedly the best mathematician of 
his time, was bound to stand still near the threshold of his 
science till Tartalea, by moving forward and himself pub- 
lishing his rule, left the path open for him. Tartalea, 
however, was in no mood to be hurried, and he actually 


died about thirty years after the acquisition of two of his 
rules, and a quarter of a century after the acquisition of 
the others, without having either published them or used 
them so that it could be known of him that he had done 
so as the stepping-stones to higher knowledge. Cardan 
committed most undoubtedly a breach of faith, and was 
guilty of an abstract though not therefore the less real 
wrong; practical wrong he did to nobody, for his book 
on Algebra was a great gain to science, and did no actual 
injustice to Tartalea, to whom Cardan rendered in it that 
which was his due. When to the preceding facts we add 
the reflection that this great algebraic quarrel took place 
in the most corrupt of European states at one of the cor- 
ruptest periods of modern history, when the promise of a 
pope himself was good for nothing, we shall be likely to 
decide fairly upon the degree in which the details of this 
controversy should affect our estimate of Cardan's cha- 

The Book of the Great Art, the Algebra 1 , published by 
Cardan in the year 1545, which was the tenth book of his 
Arithmetic, was published by Petreius, of Nuremberg, and 
dedicated to the scholar in that town for whose courtesy 
he was indebted for his introduction to its presses, Andrew 

1 " De Arte Magna, sive de Kegulis Algebraicis." It was published 
in folio, says Naudaeus, who appears not to have seen the first edition. 
I believe it is not in any English public library. 


Osiandcr. To him Jerome dedicated, with a proper sense 
of gratitude and literary courtesy, his Algebra, as to a 
man " most learned in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Mathe- 
matics, but rather," he says, " because it appeared to me 
that this my work could be dedicated to no man more 
fitly than to yourself, by whom it may be emended (if my 
erring hand has ill obeyed the mandates of the mind) and 
read with enjoyment and understanding, from whom also 
it can receive authoritative commendation. . . . Accept, 
therefore, this lasting testimony of my love towards you, 
and of your kind offices towards me, as well as of your 
distinguished erudition 1 ." 

Very genuine in Cardan is the feeling that prompts all 
his dedications. His books are always inscribed in acknow- 
ledgment of kindness to the men who had a claim upon 
his gratitude, never to men whom he hoped thereby to 
make grateful and liberal towards himself. They were the 
scholar's courtesies bestowed where they were due; he 
never carried them to market. 

Cardan stated at the beginning of his Algebra that, as 
his work chiefly went into new ground, he should <; deco- 
rate with the names" of the discoverer inventions not his 
own, and that all matter not ascribed to other men would 
be his own. The whole book was original, in fact, with 
the exception of those few rules from which he started, 
1 Ars Magna. Opera, Tom. iv. p. 221. 

VOL. I. T 


and of existing rules the demonstrations were all his with 
exception of four, said to have been left attached to his 
four elementary rules by Mahomet ben Musa, and two of 
which Lodovico Ferrari was the author. Cardan, in his 
first chapter, ascribes to every man his own ; does honour 
to Pisanus and Era Luca ; then, after coupling the dis- 
covery of Scipio Ferreo with a high eulogy of the mathe- 
matician and his divine art, Jerome adds: " In emulation 
of him, Nicolo Tartalea of Brescia, our friend, when in 
contest with the pupil of Ferreus, Antonia Maria Fior, 
that he might not be conquered, discovered the same 
rule, which he made known to me besought by many 
prayers 1 ." He is nowhere chary of acknowledgment. In 
the sixth chapter of this book he ascribes to Tartalea 
the credit of having taught him in what way to push 
forward all his algebraical discoveries, owning freely that 
a hint given by Tartalea led to his use of the method by 
which all the rules in the work are demonstrated, and all 
that is new was first discovered. " When I understood," 
he says, "that the rule taught to me by Nicolo Tartalea 
had been discovered by him through a geometrical demon- 
stration, I thought to myself that must be the golden way 
up to all algebraical discovery 3 ." That golden way, there- 

1 Op. Tom, iv. p. 222. 

2 Ibid. p. 235. The details that have here been given are further 
illustrated by a highly characteristic portrait of himself, prefixed by 
Tartalea to his " Quesiti et Inventione." A fac-simile of that por- 
trait, reduced in size, will be found upon the title-page of the second 
volume of the present work. 


fore, Cardan prosecuted, and the result was a work of 
remarkable completeness and originality. In it he laid 
down rules for all forms and varieties of cubic equations, 
having all their terms or wanting any of them, and having 
all possible varieties of signs. Every rule given he demon- 
strated geometrically. He treated very fully of almost all 
kinds of transformations of equations, in a manner before 
wholly unknown. In the same book he for the first time 
made frequent use of the literal notation, a, b, c, d. He 
therein gave a rule for biquadratics suiting all their cases, 
and in the invention of that rule made use of an assumed 
indeterminate quantity, and afterwards found its value by 
the arbitrary assumption of a relation between the terms. 
He therein first applied algebra to the resolution of 
geometrical problems. 

The list could be made more minute, but it would in 

that case be more technical ; the citation of those main 
points is enough to show the very great importance of 
Cardan's Book of the Great Art, in which the whole doc- 
trine of cubic equations was first published to the world 1 . 
In that department of algebra, Tartalea had indeed turned 
the first sod, but it was Cardan who ploughed the field 
and raised the crop upon it. No algebraical book equal in 

1 In Button's Mathematical Dictionary, art. Algebra, there may be 
seen a list of the chief improvements introduced into the art by Car- 
dan, sixteen in number. 

T 2 


importance to Cardan's was published in his time. The 
Germans, who were not much read in Italy, had advanced 
beyond the Italians in mathematics, but Cardan's book 
published in Germany placed him easily and indisputably 
at the head of all. One of the best of the German mathe- 
matical books, the Arithmetica Integra of Michael Stife- 
lius (Englished, Michael Boot), had issued from the press, 
also of Nuremberg, less than a year before the publication 
in that town of Cardan's Ars Magna. Before I close these 
details in the life of a primitive algebrist, it may help to 
suggest to us how truly primitive he was, if we consider 
that in that book by Stifelius the signs -f~> > and ^/, 
were for the first time used. 




TARTALEA could not get on with algebra for twenty 
years because he was translating Euclid; Cardan in five 
years had advanced the science by great strides, and was 
at the same time engaged upon a dozen other works 1 . In 
the year 1543 the separate works written by him amounted 
to the number of fifty-three, divided into a hundred and 
fifty-eight books, technically so called 2 ; and from that 
date the number of them multiplied so rapidly that an 
attempt to give even the shortest tolerable account of 
them all would make this narrative unreasonably long. 

A very few more notes will enable us to complete in 
sufficient detail that essential part of Jerome's life which 
describes the steps by which he worked his way to fame 
and general acceptance as an author. After the publica- 
tion of the Book of the Great Art his way was easy, and 

1 " Neque enim mens tandiu intenta uni negocio esse potest." De 
Libr. Prop. (1557) p. 12. 

2 Ibid. The same authority or reference to the subsequent book 
De Libris Propriis will justify whatever else is said in this chapter 
upon the order of publication of Cardan's writings. 


there were on all sides publishers willing to buy what he 
would suffer them to print. He was not idle, and his 
love of print, rather than his love of money, caused him 
to degenerate often into a hack writer, to drag all manner 
of disquisitions into his books for the sole purpose of 
filling sheets ; but even such interpolations and digressions 
always carefully retouched and digested having on 
them his own stamp of eccentricity and genius, very 
likely helped to make his works more popular. The pub- 
lications issued by Cardan between the years 1542 and 
1545 contributed to the foundations of his fame, and 
these, which I left out of sight in order to trace uninter- 
ruptedly the history of his most valuable treatise, include 
the last of his less prominent works that will need special 

In the first place there was that astrological book 
which he sent in reply to the application made from Nu- 
remberg by Osiander and Petreius. Joannes Petreius pub- 
lished it in the year 1543, and it was entitled " Two Tracts 
by Girolamo Cardano, Physician of Milan. One a Sup- 
plement to the Almanac, the other on the Restitution of 
the Celestial Times and Motions. Also Forty-seven Na- 
tivities, remarkable for the Events they Foretcl, with an 
Exposition 1 ." The book was dedicated gratefully to 

1 " Libelli duo: unus, de Supplemento Almanach. Alter, de Restitu- 
tione temporum et motuurn cselestium," &c. 4to. Norimb. 1543. 



Cardan's Milanese friend and patron, Filippo Archinto. 
So far as it is a supplement to the almanac, it contains 
various useful directions, sucli as how to find the pole, to 
recognise planets at sight, and so forth, with some useless 
matter, then accounted precious, of an astrological descrip- 
tion. The nativities are very curious. Among them are 
the horoscopes each with an exposition of Petrarca, of 
Luther, of the Emperor Charles V, and of King Francis I, 
of Fazio Cardan, of Jerome himself, of his friend Ar- 
chinto, and his other patrons; of Venice, from the date of 
its establishment, and, in the same way, of Florence and 
Bologna. The horoscope of Jerome himself I append 
for the benefit of any person who is able to understand 
such mysteries, or may have a desire to see in what fashion 
these things were drawn. 




Minute explanation of the twelve houses of the twelve 
signs, and of what Mars meant by being in one, and 
what the Sun and Venus meant by being together in 
another, while the Moon was in a third, is rendered the 
less necessary by the fact that the sketch of his own future, 
drawn by Cardan from this nativity, was emphatically 
incorrect. What the stars pronounced strongly against 
did happen, and what did happen the stars did not 
indicate at all. 

Concerning his skill as an astrologer, Cardan said in 
his dedication that " the ungrateful condition of the times 
was such that no prayers or rewards would induce him 
again to exercise his art." A certain bishop at Rome 
held, he said, unwittingly, the last example of his skill 
in it. 

Although there was at the time, happily, some ten- 
dency to ridicule astrology, still the supporters of that 
science were not few, nor had its professors, when gain 
only was their object, any reason to complain, for it 
was among the wealthy that it found most liberal support; 
princes and nobles still amused themselves as amateur 
astrologers, and these were ready to pay liberally for the 
aid and countenance they had from scientific men. 
Cardan's way to the favour of the rich at any rate might 
have been much more difficult had there been less to 
favour superstition in his character. The practice of 
astrology Jerome abjured as vainly as the toper might 


abjure his tankard. He both practised it again and 
wrote of it again ; twice again in successive works he 
discussed, among others, his own horoscope. In doing so 
for the last time, when the events of his life lay chiefly in 
the past, his comment upon it, and upon all nativities 
by which it was influenced and modified, became so 
elaborate that it assumed by itself almost the proportions 
of a book. He returned then thoroughly to his astro- 
logy, for how could he forswear it while he believed the 
science to be true, and there were yet kings to urge that 
he would exercise his skill in it on their behalf? 

In the same year, 1543, Jerome had begun the writing 
of a life of Galen, which it does not appear that he ever 
finished. He also laboured at a book on the art of Meto- 
poscopy, illustrated with numerous physiognomical draw- 
ings. He wrote other matter, much that he has himself 
designated as prodigious folly, on the hint of which he 
expressed his opinion, and that no foolish one, that there 
is in the mind, as in the body, a necessity for getting rid 
of waste, that the active literary man must write things 
for the fire as well as for the press. Such a work was 
Cardan's " Convivium," or treatise on Example in Love. 
In the same year, stirred by the restless spirit that would 
never suffer him to be content with one work at a time, he 
was engaged in philological research, and wrote a dialogue 
in his own tongue upon a comparison between the respec- 


tive qualities of the Greek, Latin, Italian, and Spanish lan- 
guages. Spanish armies were so much at home in Italy, 
and the Spanish language is. so easily to be acquired by 
an Italian, that Jerome's busy mind could not have failed 
to fasten on it, and to add it to all other acquisitions. 
Still in the same year, 1543, another of Cardan's domestic 
occupations was the collection into one manuscript volume 
of his epigrams and poems. His fervid temperament had 
often, of course, found relief in verse, but Cardan's poems 
were not in any set form given to the world. One or 
two are included in his works, and are so directly illus- 
trative of his life, that in their proper place they will 
become a part of this biography. 

In the succeeding year Jerome issued his Five 
Books on Wisdom 1 , from the press of Petreius at Nu- 
remberg, and added in the same volume a revised re- 
issue of the three books on Consolation, and one book on 
his own written works. In issuing an account of his 
own works, he professed only to follow the example set 
by Galen of old, and in his own time by Erasmus. This 
volume, containing works on three distinct topics, was 
supplied with an ample index, and dedicated to that 

1 " De Sapientia Libri V. quibus omnis humanae ritoe cursus viven* 
digue ratio explicatur : item de Consolatione Libri tres et Ephemerus 
sive libellus de Libellis Propriis." Norimb. 1544. This contains the 
first book De Libris Propriis to which reference has been made in 
preceding notes, under the title of " De Sapientia," &c. 


patron whose strength had chiefly been of service in re- 
moving for him the obstructions offered to his progress 
by the Milanese College of Physicians. It was dedicated 
to Francisco Sfondrato, Senator and (when the book was 
published) Governor of Sienna, who in the dedication 
was lauded for the splendour and intellectual refinement 
of his private life, for his public piety, the innocence and 
extreme prudence and moderation of his conduct as a 
magistrate, his lenity, and his simplicity of manners. 

In the fourth of the five books on Wisdom there 
occurs the statement concerning supposed cures of con- 
sumption, which was destined to affect the current of 
his after-life. " When we ourselves long laboured in 
this city against envy, and our income was not so much as 
our expenses (so much harder is the condition of a merit 
that is seen than of one that is unknown, and a prophet 
is of no honour in his own country), we made many 
attempts to discover new things in our art, for away from 
the art no step could be made. At length I thought out 
the cure of phthisis which they call phthoe, despaired of 
for ages, and I healed many who now survive." So the 
physician wrote, believing what he stated to be true. 

In the same year, Petreius published Cardan's treatise 
on the Immortality of Souls, which was republished in the 
succeeding year at Lyons by Sebastian Gryphius. Out of 
the first fruits of his industry as Professor of Medicine at 


Pavia, were furnished the revised sheets of the first book 
of the Contradictions of Doctors, published by a Scoto at 
Venice 1 . These publications caused a continual increase of 
reputation, and close upon them followed, in the year 1545, 
as a grand climax, the Book of the Great Art, already dis- 
cussed. Jerome became from that time forward one of 
the most popular among the learned authors of his day. 
A few more publications caused him to be more widely 
talked about perhaps than any other scholar of the time 
who did not take part in the great religious movement, 
or express any of the passions it aroused. 

Prosperity had not come to Cardan, but he had brought 
it to himself ; in spite of everything that had warred 
against him, he had at length achieved as a philosopher 
his conquest of the world. Dishonoured by his birth, 
discredited by his first training as a child, frowned upon 
as a youth by his university, rejected as a man by the 
physicians of his own town, with an ill-looking and sickly 
body, an erratic mind and a rough manner, a man to be 
disliked at first sight, and shrugged at by all that was 
dull and respectable ; in spite of all, by the force of in- 
tellect and by the force of incessant, unrelaxing work, he 
had at last won ample recognition of his merits. He had 

1 This was republished, with the addition of another book, at Paris, 
by Jacobus Macaeus, in 1546 ; and by Gryphius, at Lyons, two years 
later. It was then called " Contradicentium Medicorum Libri duo, 
quorum uterque centum et octo contradictiones continet," &c. 


used no worldly tact. His first published book would 
have been the last book issued by a prudent man, for it 
put new determination into the antagonism of his oppo- 
nents. Nevertheless, he had steadily continued at his 
work, using a strong mind not as a toy but as a tool, and 
the result ensued which sooner or later must, in such case, 
always ensue. Man has but to will and work. The 
objects of a high ambition are not instantly secured. 
Cardan had not enough tact to create for himself popu- 
larity, but he had talent enough to create for himself 
fame. To create it for himself, laboriously, by endurance 
and exertion, because no man who moves at a lounging 
pace is likely to outmarch his neighbours. Jerome had 
forced his way up through years of discouragement, 
against contempt and poverty, in spite of severe bodily 
infirmities, and at the age of forty-four he was at length 
a recognised physician, occupying a professor's chair, and 
renowned through Europe as a man of letters. It should 
be remembered, however, that he had based his reputa- 
tion on the writing of more works than there were years 
in his life, and that of those works none had been pub- 
lished until they had been reconsidered, polished, and 
rewritten more than once, commonly twice, but among 
his publications there are many passages that had been 
written five and even ten times by his pen before they were 
committed to the printer's types. The whole writings of 


Cardan, closely printed, constitute as heavy a load as 
any one man would desire to carry on his back. Very 
familiar with the pen, therefore, his hand must have be- 
come, for to the last he printed nothing that had not been 
thus written, rewritten, and again, and perhaps yet again 
and again, revised 1 . " For," said Cardan, " they who 
write without digestion are like men who eat crude things : 
for a slight and temporary satisfaction they inflict upon 
themselves a grave and lasting harm 2 ." Even now we 
have not a right impression of the whole amount of 
student's work which Cardan's writings represent, for it 
remains to be added that his memory was very bad, and 
for the vast store of facts and illustrations in almost every 
department of the science of his day which his many 
books contain, he had to depend almost exclusively on 
written memoranda 3 . 

This persevering habit of hard work, then, was the root 
of Cardan's fame, for genius is a sap that will not go far to 
produce flower and fruit, still less to beget solid timber, if 
there be not in its due place, hidden from the world's eye, 
a root like that to keep it fresh and stirring. There were, 
however, other qualities in Cardan's writings to which 
we must look for an explanation of the very wide popu- 

i De Libr. Propr. (1557) p. 74. 

a De Vita Propria, cap. 1, 

3 " Quantum potui minus memoriae reliqui quam scriptis." ' 


larity that they obtained in Ins own day. He was not 
too much before his time. His intellect was strong and 
bold ; he dared attempt all themes ; and there were few of 
the world's mysteries on which he did not reason in his 
books ; but while his power and originality of mind com- 
manded universal recognition, learned and unlearned 
were glad to read the works of a philosopher who shared 
their weaknesses. He was perhaps loved by many not 
the less for being in certain respects weaker than them- 
selves. On all the attractive and delusive pseudo- sciences 
of his own day, on ghosts, dreams, portents, palmistry, 
signs in the heavens and wonders upon earth, Cardan 
reasoned with good faith, and displayed in their discus- 
sion a profundity that flattered and encouraged shallower 
believers. Then, too, he wrote upon these and all 
things not only more profoundly, but more pleasant!}' 
than the great body of his neighbours. As a writer he 
was at once learned and amusing. His quick natural 
wit made him a brisk narrator even when he was most 
garrulous : there was pith in what he wrote, and his works 
always sparkled more or less with those well-considered 
and well-pointed sayings in which learned and unlearned 
equally delight. Mysteries of heaven and earth thus 
written about in a credulous and marvel-loving spirit, 
made the subject of a curious philosophy, would of course 
yield matter for attractive books. They were not less 
attractive because they were, or appeared to be, practical. 


Cardan had always a purpose in his writing. Astrology 
and kindred topics were supposed nearly to concern the 
daily interests of life ; Arithmetic and Algebra concerned 
them really. " Make a book," said Cardan, in another 
of his aphorisms 1 "make a book that will fulfil a pur- 
pose, use will give it polish; then, but not till then, 
it will be perfect." Probably his popularity was more 
advanced by qualities of this kind in his writings than 
by the great and absolute merit of his discoveries in 
Algebra, whereupon chiefly his fame must rest. The 
Book of the Great Art must, however, have assured to 
Cardan among the most learned men of his day that 
high respect and consideration which could be secured 
from the more ignorant by works of less essential value. 

There is another element in Cardan's writings by which 
they were characterised from the first, and by which they 
were made interesting and amusing to their readers, 
namely, the tendency to become autobiographical, and to 
perform self-dissection. We should now very fairly turn 
from a writer who had the bad taste to obtrude himself 
in his own writings ; but three hundred years ago, when 
modern literature was in its infancy, it had a right to prattle 
the right age for talking properly was yet to come. Now 
the events of Cardan's life, and more especially those of his 

1 The aphorisms cited in this chapter, with one exception, are all 
from the fiftieth chapter of the book De Vita Propria. 

1545. 289 

later years, were of a kind calculated to excite men's 
sympathies, so that the fragments of self-revelation had 
always a life and charm in them ; they were a pleasant 
sauce that heightened very much the relish of the reader 
for the entire book. 

Another source of Cardan's popularity was a deficiency 
of liveliness in other learned writers. There were many 
isolated pleasant books, but there was no grave utterer of 
tome upon tome of Latin who had much more than his 
wisdom to dispose of. The readers of Cardan were sure 
to be amused with wit and eccentricity, at the same time 
that they were impressed with the conviction of his being 
the most learned man of his own time, for there was no 
other whose philosophy embraced so wide a range of 
subjects. In this respect, and in the charm -of nimbleness 
and suppleness as a writer, his chief rival, Scaliger, was 
greatly his inferior. 

In the year 1545, then, at which date this narrative 
now stands, Cardan lectured on medicine in the Univer- 
sity of Pavia as he had lectured during the previous year, 
almost to empty benches. The confusion caused by war 
in the finances of the university did not check very 
seriously his career, and the position attained by him was 
at length a safe one. As a physician of much more than 
common penetration he was widely sought, and as an 
author, the series of works ending with his real master- 

VOL. I. U 


piece, the Book of the Great Art, had at last won for him 
an extensive reputation, Europe being then one republic 
of letters, which was addressed by every man who pub- 
lished books in Latin. The political boundaries of states 
then circumscribed no man's literary credit, and authors 
seeking publishers looked about Europe, not about their 
own town only. So the works of Cardan and of many 
another learned man were first issued, now from a press 
in his own country, now by a German publisher, and at 
another time perhaps in Basle or Paris. It was, as we all 
know, no mere spirit of pedantry that first prompted the 
use of Latin as an universal language. 

We ought not to turn from these considerations of the 
source of the fame earned by Jerome among those of his 
own day without one or two comments, that may save 
him, and his age also, from too hasty contempt. There are 
superstitions current among ourselves. Credulity is now 
in some respects as gross, though not as common, as it 
was during the sixteenth century. If we have made what 
we believe to be astounding strides in knowledge, let it 
be borne in mind that the men of that age moved forward 
not less rapidly than we are moving now, in spite of the 
great mixture of error with their wisdom which appears 
so strange to us wherever it is obsolete. The political 
movements of rulers, the devastation of lands, the demo- 
ralisation and impoverishment of the people, were then 


indeed deplorable, and we excel that period in wisdom 
by the sum of all experience that has been since acquired. 
Yet we should know that it was then possible to boast not 
less loudly or less justly than we now boast in our day of 
railways and electric telegraphs, and to believe that intel- 
lect had few more triumphs to achieve. " We should 
exult 1 ," said Cardan, writing in this vein " we should 
exult in a field covered with blossom. For what is more 
wonderful than pyrotechny or the thunderbolt aimed by 
the hands of mortals, which is more devastating than the 
thunder of celestial beings ? Nor will I be silent con- 
cerning thee, great magnet, by whom we are led through 
the vastest seas in the darkness of night, through fearful 
storms, into strange, unknown regions. Add also the in- 
vention of typography, achieved by mortal handicraft and 
heavenly wit, rival to the divine miracles, and what more 
is there to be done unless we occupy the heavens ?" 

Again we should remember, if we would do justice 
not to his age only, but also to Jerome himself, that the 
strange combination in one character of high intellectual 
endowment with superstitions of incredible absurdity 
the kind of mixture we have noticed in Cardan was 
common among the foremost men of all that time. Kepler 
himself, like Cardan, cast nativities ; Tycho Brahe kept 
an idiot, whose mouthings he received as revelations from 

1 De Vita Propriti, cap. xlr. 


on high ; Melancthon was an interpreter of dreams ; and 
Luther, who abounded in many superstitions of his day, 
had so certain a belief in killcrops, or devil's changelings, 
that having seen a boy at Dessau whom he took for a 
changeling, he did not scruple to advise his murder. " I 
told the Prince of Anhalt, that if I were prince of that 
country, I would venture homicidium thereon, and would 
throw it into the river Moldau 1 ." 

The self-revelations of Cardan may furnish us with a 
more vivid picture of such inconsistencies than could be 
had from others using the subdued tone common among 
men in intercourse with one another. I do not, however, 
think that he was in such matters a greater curiosity than 
many of the learned men about him. His eccentricity 
consisted perhaps more in the extent of his candour than 
in his peculiarities of conduct or opinion. 

It is not, for example, every writer who is ready, to 
amuse his readers with a chapter upon what he likes to 
have for breakfast or for supper, and how long he likes 
to be in bed. When he was old and garrulous, Cardan 
poured out a rich store of such details, which now serve 
pleasantly not only in aid of a minute depiction of him- 
self, but also in illustration of the manners of his time 2 . 

1 For these hints I am indebted to Dugald Stewart's preliminary 
article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. 

2 Authority for all the succeeding details upon food and dress will be 
found in chaps, vi. viii. and xx, of the book De Vita Propria. 


Cardan had a constitution that required to be refreshed 
with a full measure of sleep. He avoided night-watching! 
as much as possible ; he liked to spend ten hours in bed, 
during eight of which he slept if his health happened to 
be pretty good, otherwise he had not more than four or 
five hours of proper rest. 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 ; but when his 
sleeplessness grew to be troublesome he abstained very 
much from food, or put himself upon half diet. The 
medicinal remedies most used by him to procure sleep 
were bear's grease, or an ointment of poplar, applied 
externally in seventeen places. It is an edifying thing 
for us to figure to ourselves one of the most eminent 
physicians of the sixteenth century rising at night weary 
of watching to grope for his little jar of bear's grease, 
and then patiently sitting down on the edge of the bed 
to anoint the top of his head and the soles of his feet, his 
elbows, his heels, his thighs, his temples, his jugulars, the 
regions of his heart and liver, and his upper lip, according 
to the formula prescribed, then creeping into bed again 
to try the value of his remedy. 

Two hours after the sun Jerome rose for the day. He 
was not much troubled with the putting on of clothes, for 
he was careless about the purchasing of new dress ; during 


the days of which the story has been thus far told, care- 
less upon compulsion. His private opinion was that four 
garments ought to suffice for a man, one heavy and one 
heavier, one light and one lighter. With those he could 
make fourteen respectable combinations of attire, not 
counting one that consisted in the wearing of them all at 
once. He did not quite act up to that theory, but he 
had not a predilection for new clothes, and was commonly 
to be found wearing dress of a past fashion, or when he 
became more of a traveller, wearing out in one country 
clothes bought in another. Thus, for example, after his 
return from the Scotch journey, presently to be related, 
he caused remark among his neighbours by continuing 
to wear the dress that he had bought in Edinburgh, 
Edinburgh fashions being foolish in the eyes of Pa via, 
Milan, and Bologna. 

Cardan liked a heavy supper and a light breakfast, 
supper being his chief meal during the day. The light 
breakfast consisted in his mature and later life of bread, 
water, and raisins, tea and coffee being in those days 
unknown. To his wife and children he was attached 
very warmly, though Aldo, his youngest son, proved a 
young scapegrace, and began early to trouble him. His 
eldest boy, Gian Batista, was good and amiable ; trained 
by Cardan to his own profession, he was simple-minded 
and of quiet ways ; Clara, the daughter too, was a good 


girl ; and we may suppose that wife and children were 
not shut out of the philosopher's study. There he worked 
with his feet naked, dipping his pen into a costly inkstand, 
and not unwilling to bend his sickly face sometimes over 
one of the pet animals, whether it were cat, dog, goat, 
or bird, that was allowed to scratch or hop among his 
papers. Then he had patients to see, and his lecture to 
deliver. When his dinner came it was a light one. It 
was never less, however, than the yolk of an egg, with 
two or more ounces of bread, and with or without a 
modicum of wine. On Friday or Sunday he had shell- 
fish, of which he was very fond. There was no solid 
food not counting fish as solids that he liked better 
than veal, and the way to cook veal to his utmost satis- 
faction was to stew it in a pot without liquor, after it had 
been well beaten with the backs of knives. It was then, 
he considered, moister and richer than meat roasted on a 
spit. After dinner Cardan liked a little music. 

Supper tea being of course an unknown meal was 
the great gastronomic event of Cardan's day. There was 
always a dish of beet, or else rice with a salad ; but he 
preferred endive. Fish, he tells us, he liked much better 
than meat ; but then it must needs be good and fresh. 
Fond too of angling, he was glad when he had fish of his 
own catching. Of all fish he preferred fresh- water shell- 
fish, and of those above all others river mussels, because, 


we are told, his mother longed for them before he came into 
the world ; but he had a. great partiality for oysters too, 
and cockles. He is particular to specify his regard for 
codfish, halibut, and sturgeon, for turbot, mullet, gudgeon, 
soles, flounders, and others ; also for pike and carp ; also 
for land tortoises. He liked tunny in all states ; and her- 
rings, whether salt or fresh, but best of all when dried. 
After all he is not sure whether the best of all eatables is not 
a well- selected carp, weighing from three to seven pounds. 
From large fishes he lets us know that he removed the head 
and belly, but from small fishes only the backbone and tail. 

Of flesh meats he preferred veal and pork, roasted or 
minced. He was particularly fond of chickens' wings, 
and of the livers of capons and pigeons, and of giblets 

He had a partiality for sweets; and records his power 
of appreciating the delights of honey, of ripe grapes, of 
melons, figs, cherries, peaches, and the like; he is at the 
same time particular in stating that none of these things 
disagreed with him. In oil he delighted beyond measure, 
whether mixed with salt or with sweet olives. Onions 
always did him good ; and he found rue also of great virtue 
in preserving him from poisonous influences of all kinds. 
He derived benefit, also, from the use of Roman worm- 
wood. He allowed himself at supper about half a pint 


of sweet wine, to which he put an equal, or rather more 
than an equal, quantity of water. 

Having in his old age told the world these things, 
Jerome amused himself with the manufacture of a little 
burlesque sketch of the philosophy of victuals, which 
may be taken as a satire upon some of his own graver 
generalisations. " There are," he says, " seven summa 
genera of things air, sleep, exercise, food, drink, medi- 
cine, preservatives. And there are fifteen species air, 
sleep, exercise, bread, meat, milk, eggs, fish, oil, salt, 
water, figs, rue, grapes, and onions. There are fifteen 
preparatives fire, ashes, the bath, water, pot, fryingpan, 
spit, gridiron, knife-back and knife-edge, a grater; parsley, 
rosemary, and laurel." Here, it maybe observed, the list, 
made up at random, wants one article more. " Of exer- 
cises, there are the grinding-wheel, walking, riding, the 
small pestle and mortar, cart, making of cutlery, riding 
(this item is repeated), the saddle, navigation, cleaning 
of platters, friction or lotion; fifteen," adds Jerome, sud- 
denly counting them up, though they are but a ragged 
ten, into conformity with his abstruse system of fifteens. 
" These things," he adds, writing no doubt after supper, 
with a twinkle in his eye, "I have reduced to a com- 
pendium, after the manner of the theologians, not with- 
out exercise of profound thought, and a great display 


of reason. There are five things," he goes on to say, 
" that may be taken freely by all except old men ; they 
are, bread, fish, cheese, wine, and water. Two may be 
used as medicines, mastix and coriander ; sugar is used 
in many things. Two things are condiments, saffron 
and salt, which also is an element. Four things are to 
be taken moderately ; they are, meat, yolk of egg, raisins, 
and oil: the last," he adds, " a latent element, answering 
in properties, when burnt, to the element of the stars !" 

So, considering Cardan as an animal, the day, with its 
edifications, passed away, and there returned with night 
the period of sleep and dreams. By dreams, as we have 
seen already, the philosopher considered himself to be 
sometimes lifted out of animal existence, and brought 
into communication with things spiritual. His nights 
were as eventful as his days. He was beset by portents. 
He saw one evening a meteor which approached his 
court-yard, and, bright for a minute or two, was extin- 
guished suddenly. That, we are told, preceded his ac- 
quisition of the favour of the Marquis d'Avalos, a profit- 
able honour that was not of long duration. He dreamt one 
night 1 a strange dream of Alexander the Great, Hephses- 
tion, and a lion, that preceded and portended his admis- 
sion into the Milanese College of Physicians. Alexander 

1 The dreams here quoted are related in the fourth book Syne- 
siorum Somniorum (ed. Bas. 1562), pp. 252, 267. 


was d'Avalos or the Cardinal Sfondrato, the lion was the 
college, and Hephaestion was Luca della Croce. Ghosts 
of the dead came to the bedside of the excitable and ner- 
vous man. In 1537, a year after her death, his mother 
stood at the foot of his bed in the scarlet dress she used to 
wear when occupied in household avocations. She came 
to call him to her. Did she not know that she was dead? 
he asked. She did, and summoned him to come to her 
next year. But he had work to do, and did not wish to 
leave it. An accident, a narrow escape from serious hurt 
or death, in the succeeding year, was the fulfilment of that 
warning. There was an old college friend, also, who has 
been named on a former page, Prosper Marinon, a friend 
who had died in the flower of years, and with whom 
Jerome had formerly discoursed of ghostly things, and of 
the state of the soul after death. Prosper Marinon had 
come to his bedside, also a year after death, and he too being 
asked, had said that he knew himself to be dead, and had 
stooped down over his old friend, and kissed him on the 
lips. A second time, later in Cardan's life, the ghost of 
Prosper Marinon visited at night his old companion. 

Such visions were a portion of his bodily infirmity. His 
flesh was tainted from the first with evil humours, and the 
gout, which appeared soon after he removed to Pavia, was 
no more than a link in a long chain of maladies produced 
at one time by the irritable state of his nervous system, 


and at another time by the impure condition of his blood. 
But it is just to balance these considerations of his weak- 
ness with a few more suggestions of his strength. By the 
help of a few aphorisms taken from his works, this can 
be done very briefly. The first two of the following 
ideas I quote, not for their truth they wrong humanity 
but because they are at once clever and characteristic of 
the morbid feelings out of which they sprung; the rest 
are wisely thought as well as shrewdly uttered : 

" To a man saying, * I pity you,' I replied, * You have 
no right to do so.' 

I told a youth whom I was warning against evil com- 
pany, ' I can show you many an apple that has become 
rotten through lying with others in a heap, but I can 
show you no heap that has made a rotten apple sound 

I said to a servant from whom I parted, ' You please 
me, but I don't please you; therefore I am obliged to leave 

Better omit a hundred things that should be said, than 
say one thing that ought to be omitted. 

If you were without money, children, friends, and had 
the other gifts of life, you could be happy. Wanting 
those, and these also, there would remain to you few 
days for sorrow. 

The vulgar admire knowledge that comes of expcri- 


ence ; the knowledge valued by the learned is that 
which is obtained by reasoning from the effect up to the 

When you mean to wash, first see that you have a 
towel handy." 

Jerome tells us that the occupations in his study served 
to moderate the great sense of his love for wife and chil- 
dren. We have now traced his career to the conclusion 
of that long period of struggle with adversity which Lucia 
had shared with him. She was not to take part in his 
prosperity. The white-robed maiden who had tempted 
him to marriage had been a true wife to him for sixteen 
years. She had left a home in which there was no want, 
to starve with him in Milan, to struggle with him in Gal- 
larate, to bear with him the scoffs of neighbours, to sus- 
tain his spirit in a thousand hours of sorrow. She must 
have shed her woman's tears over the loss of those jewels 
and those bits of bridal finery that had paid gambling 
debts, or been converted into bread. But she had not 
been weak. She was brave, says her husband, and of 
indomitable spirit ; gentle, affectionate, and rather good- 
looking 1 . While Jerome laboured with his pen, she had 
spent anxious days in meditations upon dinner, and in the 
rearing of her children, when adversity hung as a heavy 
cloud over the house. But with the cloud she also was 
1 Geniturarum Exemplar (ed. Lugd. 1555), p. 113. 


to fade away; she did not live to see her husband's 
utmost hope of fame accomplished. She lived out the 
long struggle, and (perhaps worn down by the succession 
of anxieties), just when the years of triumph were at hand, 
the young wife died. Married in girlhood, she could 
have been scarcely more than thirty-three years old when 
Cardan lost her tender ministrations. 

Jerome had gone to Pavia with his wife, where, in spite 
of deserted lecture-rooms, and the great loss of income suf- 
fered in war times by the university, he did on the whole 
maintain his position; but to Lucia the change seemed 
no success. In the second year of office money was de- 
ficient, and in the year 1546, there being no funds at 
all in the hands of the senate, public salaries could 
only be regarded as bad debts. The house which had 
belonged to his mother, and which had fallen down, 
having in the mean time been rebuilt, Jerome returned 
with his family to Milan. In the next year the difficulty 
was removed ; that year, however, the failing Lucia did 
not live to see. 

The return to Milan caused a year of forced leisure 
and care. Cardan had to rely mainly on his pen, and 
spent six months in writing without intermission. It 
was then that he amused his anxious mind by writing 
his Encomium on Gout, to whom he was just pledged as 
a subject; thereto incited, perhaps, by the authority of 


Lucian, among whose works there is a dramatic tribute 
to the might of the same despot, and throughout Cardan's 
works it is evident that he read Lucian and liked him. 
At the same time Jerome wrote also an Encomium of 
Nero ; these works being exercises less of satire than of 
ingenuity. It" was an old scholastic manner of amusement 
to heap up in an uncompromising way all possible argu- 
ments in favour of some obvious paradox. So earnestly 
did Jerome set to work, that we might be misled by his 
writing into the belief that he did really take Nero for 
a great and good man, if we did not know that not a 
doubt had then been cast on the good faith of those 
by whom he was originally painted as a monster. In 
the sixteenth century it would have been almost heretical 
to separate from Nero seriously the ideas of cruelty and 
wickedness. That Cardan chose Nero for his white- 
washing because he was the blackest man of whom he 
knew, is evident upon referring to another of his works 
that contained the set of horoscopes recently mentioned. 
Among them is the horoscope of Nero, properly adapted 
to a character of superhuman wickedness. 

So Jerome was occupied, he being then forty-five 

years old, when, towards the close of the year 1546, his 

young wife died 1 . He was left in charge of his three 

motherless children, of whom the eldest, Gianbatista, 

1 De Morte. Opera, Tom. i. p. 676. 


was thirteen years old ; the girl Clara was eleven ; and 
Aldo, the younger boy, was four. Delicate charge for a 
busy and eccentric student ! Cardan's own mother was 
dead ; but there remained to the children still their 
grandmother Bandarini, the Thaddsea before mentioned, 
who, when her daughter died, had survived by fifteen 
years her husband Aldobello. She, while she lived, 
occupied imperfectly the mother's place in Jerome's 
household 1 . 

Had Lucia lived on, how different the future might 
have been ! The terrible calamity that cannot be 
averted now, might then never have crushed her hus- 
band's heart. They might have taken delight together 
in the great fame of the philosopher, with which during 
his own lifetime all Europe was to ring, and while 
the note of triumph was resounding out of doors, there 
might have been other voices murmuring about the walls 
of home than the dull echoes of the mourning of a very 
desolate old man. 

1 De VitaPropria, cap. xxvii. p. 99. 




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