John Dee

By John Aubrey, from Brief Lives

Edited by Jack Lynch

[1] Hee had a very faire cleare rosie complexion; a long beard as white as milke; he was tall and slender; a very handsome man. His Picture in a wooden cutt is at the end of Billingsley’s Euclid. He wore a Gowne like an Artist’s gowne, with hanging sleeves, and a slitt; a mighty good man he was.

[2] My great Grandfather, Will: Aubrey, and he were Cosins, and intimate acquaintance. Mr. Ashmole hath letters between them, under their owne hands, viz. one of Dr. W. A. to him (ingeniosely and learnedly written) touching the Sovraignty of the Sea, of which J. D. writt a booke which he dedicated to Queen Elizabeth and desired my great grandfather’s advice upon it. Dr. A’s countrey-house was at Kew, and J. Dee lived at Mortlack, not a mile distant. I have heard my grandmother say they were often together.

[3] Among the MSS. in the Bodlean library of Doctor Gwyn, are severall letters between him and John Dee, of Chymistrey and Magicall Secrets.

[4] Meredith Lloyd sayes that John Dee’s printed booke of Spirits, is not above the third part of what was writt, which were in Sir Robert Cotton’s Library; many whereof were much perished by being buryed, and Sir Robert Cotton bought the field to digge after it. He told me of John Dee, etc., conjuring at a poole in Brecknockshire, and that they found a wedge of Gold; and that they were troubled and indicted as Conjurors at the Assizes; that a mighty storme and tempest raysed in harvest time, the countrey people had not knowen the like.

[5] Old Goodwife Faldo (a Natif of Martlak in Surrey) did know Dr. Dee, and told me that he did entertain the Polonian Ambassador at his howse in Mortlak, and dyed not long after; and that he shewed the Eclipse with a darke Roome to the said Ambassador. She beleeves that he was eightie years old when he dyed. She sayd, he kept a great many Stilles goeing. That he layd the storme. That the Children dreaded him because he was accounted a Conjurer. He recovered the Basket of Cloathes stollen, when she and his daughter (both Girles) were negligent: she knew this.

[6] He used to distill Egge-shells, and ’twas from hence that Ben: Johnson had his hint of the Alkimist, whom he meant.

[7] He was a great Peace-maker; if any of the neighbours fell out, he would never lett them alone till he had made them friends. He told a woman (his neigbour) that she laboured under the evill tongue of an ill neighbour (another woman) which came to her howse, who he sayd was a Witch.

[8] He was sent Ambassador for Queen Elizabeth (Goody Faldo thinkes) into Poland. The Emperour of Muscovia, upon report of the great learning of the Mathematician, invited him to Mosco, with offer of two thousand pounds a yeare, and from Prince Boris one thousand markes; to have his Provision from the Emperor’s Table, to be honourable received, and accounted as one of the chief men in the Land. All of which Dee accepted not.

[9] His regayning of the Plate for a friend’s Butler, who comeing from London by water with a Basket of Plate, mistooke another basket that was like his. Mr. J. Dee bid them goe by water such a day, and looke about, and he should see the man that had his basket, and he did so; but he would not gett the lost horses, though he was offered severall angells.

[10] Arthur Dee, his sonne, a Physitian at Norwych and intimate friend of Sir Thomas Browne, M.D., told Dr. Bathurst that (being but a Boy) he used to play at Quoits with the Plates of Gold made by Projection in the Garret of Dr. Dee’s Lodgings in Prague and that he had more than once seen the Philosopher’s Stone.