Nostradamus (Nostre Dame), MICHAEL, a notable astrologer, and the most celebrated of modern seers, flourished in the 16th century. Among the generations immediately following his own time he almost rivaled the oracular fame of Merlin in the dim Middle Ages, and nearly equaled the mystical reputation of the ancient sibyls. In the period of the French Revolution his vaticinations were often cited; nor were they wholly denied notice and influence in so recent an aera as the revolutionary commotions in the middle of the current century. The prestige of the name, the rarity or inaccessibility of the oracular texts, — and their more than Delpliic obscurity, prolonged the renown of the prophet, while readily permitting bold forgeries or violent adaptations to new occurrences. Such is the fortune of all vulgar prophecy.
1. Life. — Nostradamus was born Dec. 14,1503, in the quaint old town of St. Remy, in Provence, which is now included in the Department of Bouches-du-Rhone. His family was reputed to be of Jewish descent, and of the tribe of Issachar, wherefore they predicted his gift of prophecy. His father, Jacques Nostre-dame, was notary of St. Remy. His mother Rdnde's grandfathers had been noted for their knowledge of mathematics and physics, which, in the earlier part of the 15th century, meant chiefly astrology, alchemy, and magic. One of these grandparents had been physician, or wonder-worker, to the weak but amiable Rene, titular king of Jerusalem and the Two Sicilies, and count of Provence. The other had held the same responsible position with Rene's son, John, the daring and adventurous duke of Calabria. From his maternal grandfather, the son of one of these courtleeches and star-gazers, the young Michael received his first instructions in mathematics, after whose death he was sent to school at Avignon. Thence he proceeded to Montpellier to study philosophy and medicine. From this great medical school he proceeded to Narbonne, Toulouse, and Bordeaux in succession. At Bordeaux he commenced the practice of his profession when he was twenty-two years of age. Four years later, in 1529, he returned to Montpellier to obtain his degree, which he took with great distinction. Going thence to Toulouse, he was induced to remain there by the residence in that place of his familiar friend, Julius Caesar Scaliger. Here he contracted a respectable marriage, and had two children. In a very few years his wife and children all died, and he became a wanderer in Italy and Sicily. In 1544 he married a second time, and settled at Salon; but in 1546 he was retained, at the public expense, by the city of Aix to minister to the sufferers by the plague, which was again raging with great violence. After three years thus honorably employed he returned to Salon de Craux. His life appears to have always been respectable, and surrounded with respectable associations, though often vagrant. His home, however, continued henceforth to be at Salon; and here his family of three sons and a daughter was brought up.
Nostradamus acquired his first oracular reputation by the production of almanacs, in which "he did so admirably hit the conjuncture of events that he was sought for far and near," like an African rain-doctor. The popularity and success of these almanacs threatened to be damaging to the fame they had acquired for him. They tempted the ingenious fraternity of booksellers to vend spurious almanacs with the attraction of his name. This gave him occasion to complain that many false prophecies had been fathered upon him; and his eulogist, M. de Garencibres, believed that it furnished the foundation for the piquant epigram of Etienne Jodelle, his contemporary:
"Nostra damns, cum falsa damns, nam fallere nostrum est: Et, cim falsa damns, nil nisi Nostradamus."
Nevertheless, the supposed familiarity of Nostradamus with the secrets of futurity was largely bruited about, and readily believed in the credulous and nefarious age of Catherine de' Medici. The confidence of Nostradamus in his own miraculous gifts was strengthened; and he employed his time in completing and preparing for the press the first series of his Centuries of Prophecy. It was published at Lyons in 1555, and was preceded by a Preface, dated March 1, of that year. The work contains the singular and very ambiguous prediction of the remarkable death of Henry II by the lance of Montgomery, which happened more than four years later. It cannot be imagined that this was deemed applicable at the tine of its appearance to the king, who was in the vigor of manhood. But the fame of Nostradamus, either through his almanacs or his Centuries, reached the ears of the court, and he received an invitation from Henry to visit the royal abode. On his arrival he was treated with great consideration, was liberally compensated for his fatigues, and was sent to Blois, to see the royal princes and to report upon their destinies. Having satisfied the curiosity and secured the favor of the crown, Nostradamus returned to Salon, and employed himself in the manufacture of more oracles. In the course of the ensuing two years he completed his Ten Centuries, corresponding to the ten ages of the Sibylbvy adding three more Centuries to the seven hundred prophecies first published. These additional Centuries have the merit of surpassing their rude predecessors in obscurity, triviality, and apparent aimlessness. They were dedicated to Henry II in what is called by his English translator a "Summary Epistle," which is dated June 27, 1558. This dedication is marked by even greater assurance than its predecessor. Its tone is more confident, its pretensions loftier, and its indications more unmeaning.
These thousand prophecies constituted only a part of the oracular calculations of Nostradamus. He refers to fuller declarations in his "other prophecies, written in soluta oratione," or prose. These prose predictions, however, never saw the light, except such as were introduced into his almanacs. The assertion of their existence may have been only a convenient provision for the manufacture of metrical vaticinations after the occurrences had transpired to which they were to be applied. It certainly afforded a tempting and plausible foundation for the forgery of later prognostications, and their attribution to Nostradamus.
Henry II did not long survive this dedication of the last three Centuries, being killed within thirteen months, in the tournament which celebrated the restoration of peace between France and Spain. This. strange and fatal casualty was pretended to have been foretold by Nostradamus in the following quatrain:
"Le lion jeune le vieu x surmontera, En champ belliqne, par sinlgulier duelle, Dais cage d'Or l'eil lui crevera, Deux playes une, puis mourir cruelle."
This prediction, so singularly accomplished, or so violently wrested to imply its accomplishment, greatly augmented the renown of Nostradamus, and attracted multitudes of gaping visitors, often of the highest distinction, to his humble abode at Salon. The duke of Savoy came in October, 1559; and about two months later his affianced bride, the princess Margaret of France. In the year 1564, in the long progress which preceded the deadly Conference of Bayonne, Charles IX was welcomed by him to Salon in the name of the town, and he was summoned to meat his majesty at Aries or Lyons. He was appointed physician in ordinary to the king, and was gratified with a royal donation of two hundred crowns of gold, while the queen-mother, Catharine, bestowed upon him a purse of nearly equal amount.
Nostradamus did not long enjoy his honors. He died of dropsy at Salon July 2, 1566. The time of his death. was said to have been anticipated exactly by him. In the Calendar for the year he is asserted to have written opposite the end of June, "Hic prope mors est" — death about this time. Had the work been published-had it even been discovered inn that age — this entry might have been supposed to be only a modified transcript, of the observation of Joannes Lydus (De Signis, for June 30): "If it thunder, death will shortly abound." It might well have been transmitted among the mediaeval traditions of signs, days, and portents.
Nostradamus was buried in the church of the Franciscans at Salon, and a mural tablet was erected by his widow to his memory.
2. Works. — The Ten Centuries of the Prophecies of Nostradamus were his chief production, and the sole cause of the long celebrity of his name. He wrote prophecies in prose never published, except such as were contained in his series of Astrological Almanacs (1550-1567), which have already been noticed. He was the author of some other works, which have long ceased to be sought after, and which are now almost entirely forgotten. These are, De Fardements et Senteurs (1552), a cookery book: — Litere de Recettes Curieuses entrefenir la sante du corps (Poictiers, 1556), hygienic:Des confitures (Antwerp, 1557), cosmetics for beautifying the hands and face: — Paraphrases de Galen (Lyons, 1557), translated from the Latin.
After his death appeared the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries of his prophetic quatrains, which are almost certainly spurious, being those later accessories which are always engendered by popular collections of oracles.
3. — Prophecies. — The vaticinatiois of Nostradamus which secured his fame are in verse, and are written in quatrains of rough, rude, unintelligible, and incorrigible French, in tottering and halting metre, with rugged, harsh, and often unmanageable rhymes, clattering or jingling at the ends of the alternate lines., M. de Garencieres, the English editor and translator of these oracles, asserts, of his own knowledge, that they were used as crabbed texts for the instruction of children in French in the land, of their nativity. It was a time when education sought insurmountable difficulties for the neophyte, rather than to level the high-roads of learning, and to make the rough places smooth. They remain for the most part incapable of comprehension, and are scarcely rendered more perspicuous by the English version or the explanatory comments of M. de Garencieres. Notwithstanding their unintelligibility — probably on account of their unintelligibility and consequent pliancy — the prophecies of Nostradamus were long in vogue: and continued to be occasionally revived, in genuine or supposititious forms, till a very recent period, if it can be said that they are totally discredited even now. It is unnecessary to discuss on the present occasion the character of the fraudulent pretensions and the hallucinations,: the deliberate artifices and the diseased temperaments which generate oracle-mongering. Usually such pretensions are entirely fraudulent; but frequently honest delusion is so strangely amalgamated with the growing habit of only half-recognized deception that it is impossible to consider the prophetic mania as anything else than a real mental distemper. The vaticinations of Nostradamus seem to have sprung, at least originally, from such a morbid frame of mind; though increasing renown, the deference paid to him, the emoluments of an accepted profession. and the apparent accomplishment of several of his predictions, may have easily induced him in his later years to trust much to chance and obscurity, and deliberately to delude others, while seeking to delude himself also. A person believed to possess supernatural knowledge or powers cannot extricate himself from the consequences of the popular credulity which he has encouraged, and by which he maintains himself in repute.
An elaborate apology for Nostradamus, in seven formal chapters, is offered by M. de Garencieres as an introduction to his English version of the Centuries. This may be passed over with little notice, though the fourth chapter consists of "proofs setting forth evidently that Nostradamus was enlightened by the Holy Ghost." If the prophet aimed at deception, his interpreter was thoroughly deceived. If the prophet was himself deluded, the delusion of his translator was even more complete than his own.
The position of Nostradamus in his own age and among. his own people was eminently respectable, and on other grounds than his oracular endowments. He was an educated, regular, and successful practitioner of medicine. His sons obtained honorable distinction in the province in which they had been born and brought up. There is no stain on the character of the -man or of his family. There is an air of sincerity in the declarations 'of Nostradamus, even when most extravagant, that induces hesitation in ascribing them to shameless effrontery and imposture. He seems on many occasions to claim divine inspiration, and it is freely accorded to him by his apologist; but he usually ascribes his prevision to mathematical science and to astrological calculation. He evidently trusted much to luck; and especially to the luck of being perfectly incomprehensible in his thoroughly impenetrable farrago of names, symbols, types, and dark utterances. He had also great confidence in congenital adaptation for his marvelous mission, in his ancestral gifts, and in "the hereditary word of occult predictions." There was a craze in the blood, which both favored self- delusion and presented the appearance of honest intent.
There is, however, one broad shadow of conscious concealment and insincerity which lies over the whole series of these Centuries. He constantly denounces the Reformers and the Reformed religion, and predicts their confusion and overthrow — no erroneous forecast, so far as France was concerned. He died in the avowed profession of the old faith, though he had apparently lived with little regard to the external requirements of any religion. He was buried in a monastic church. Nevertheless there is a hint in his writings that his real sentiments were. in strong opposition to all these indications of belief, and that, like his contemporary, Rabelais, he disguised. His actual though lukewarm opinions in a cloud of enigmatical sentences, or cloaked them by disingenuous signs. He says, in his Prefatory Letter, "that if I should relate what should happen hereafter, those of the present reign, sect, religion, and faith would find it so disagreeing with their fancies that they would condemn that which future ages shall find and know to be true, . . which hath been the cause that I have withdrawn my tongue from the vulgar and my pen from paper. But afterwards I was willing to enlarge myself in dark and abstruse sentences, declaring the future events; chiefly the most urgent, and those which I foresaw (whatever human mutation happened) would not offend the hearers, all under dark figures more than prophetical." The last sentence is very significant, and the parenthesis somewhat singular for a professed prophet.
It would be venturing much too far to suspect Nostradamus of any real attachment to the cause of the Reformation; but, in the midst of a population with Protestant proclivities in the south of France, he may have acquired a distaste for Catholicism, and, prophet as he was, may have expected or apprehended the ultimate overthrow of the ancient creed. It is not so much as an illustration of his religious views as it is for a. manifestation of intentional deception that this inconsistency has been noted.
This inconsistency, if such it be, is by no means the only incongruity which occurs in the prophetic volume of Nostradamus. Many of his qulatrains were manifestly composed after the events to which they seem designed to refer. Some predictions can be discerned to be unquestionably false. On the other hand, it must be admitted that many have met with apparently marvelous accomplishment. This may be due to that luck which the seer recognized as a genuine constituent of prophetic inspiration; or it may be due to the impossibility of missing everything, when the arrows, though shot in the dark, are launched in every conceivable direction. The chief explanation, however, probably is that the expression is so loose-and vague that it occasionally admits of application to subsequent transactions, Wholly foreign to any prevision of the prophet. The instances of such agreement between the vaticination and the occurrence are often very singular.
4. Prophecies strangely accomplished. — It is not meant that there is anything more than an accidental coincidence between the prophecies of Nostradamus and the events by which they have been ostensibly verified. The verification is ascribed to no inspiration, to no natural or supernatural endowments, to no astrology, to no other science or art, but to that supreme source of Nostradamus's renown to luck (Diva Fortuna). With this explanation, there is much interest in noting a few of the remarkable and often clear instances of the realization of these prophecies. Thus, too, will be afforded some slight taste of the peculiar flavor, some knowledge of the curious fabric of his prophetic strains.
Attention has already been directed to the prophecy — strained in its application — of the manner of Henry II's death, which, more than anything else, heightened the reputation and credit of Nostradamus. That which was fitted to Cromwell was scarcely less celebrated a century later:
"Du regne Anglois le digne d'chasse, Le colseiller par ire mis a fen. Ses adhreuts ilront si bas tracer Que le bastard sera demy receu" (3:82).
"From the English kingdom the worthy driven away The counsellor through anger shall be burned. The partners shall creep so low That the bastard shall be half received."
The worthy is, of course, Charles I; the counsellor, Strafford or archbishop Laud; the partners are Cromwell's military junta. The translation of Garencieres is given because no one else could venture to do into English the anomalous French of Nostradamus. Of this French only one more, specimen will be given.
Among the most remarkable of the series are the quatrains which may be applied to the scenes and characters of the French Revolution, and to the fortunes of the Bonapartes. The period from the accession of Louis XVI to 'the close of the Reign of Terror may be prefigured in these lines:
"Soubs un la paix, par tout sera clemence, Mais non long temps, pille et rebellion., Par refus ville. terre, et mer ent amce, Morts et captifs le tiers d'un million" (1:92).
"Under one shall be peace, and everywhere clemency, But not a long while; then shall be plundering and rebellion, By a denyal shall town, land, and sea be assaulted; There shall be dead and taken prisoners the third part of a million."
"The words and sense are plain," observes M. de Garencieres; but it will be observed that they are equally suitable for the wars of the League in France.
The following might be fitted to Napoleon I. M. de Gaiencibres, writing in 1672, said truly, "This prophecy is for the future:"
"An emperor shall be born near Italy, Who shall cost dear to the empire; They shall say, 'With what people he keepeth company!' He shall be found less a prince than a butcher" (1:60),
The coronation of Napoleon by the pope may be announced in Cent. v. 6.
The surrender of Sedan and the capture of Louis Napoleon may be imagined to be involved in this quatrain:
"After that the deserter of the great fort Shall have forsaken his place, His adversary shall do such great feats That the emperor shall soon be condemned to death" (4:65).
The last line, literally rendered, would be,
"That the emperor, soon dead, shall be condemned."
This may serve for an old announcement of the Prussian siege of Paris:
"Round about the great city Soldiers shall lye in the fields and towns; Paris shall give the assault, Rome shall be attacked; Then upon the bridge shall be great plundering" (v. 30).
Garencieres interprets this as referring to the siege and capture of Rome by the Constable de Bourbon; but this would convert it into a prophecy after the event.
These few examples, which constitute only a small portion of those that might be cited in the present connection, may suffice to show the stuff of which. the dreams of Nostradamus are made. The collection is a treasury of unmeaning nonsense; the vaticinations are words, words, words, of doubtful manufacture and more dubious meaning, which scarcely even rattle as they fall. Yet it is well to ascertain out of what materials has been framed a reputation which has lasted three centuries, partly from the obscurity, but mainly from the inaccessibility of the oracles by which it has been gained.
5. Literature. — The principal editions of the prophecies of Nostradamus are, Centuries de Nostradame (Lyon ou Troye, 1568, sm. 8vo); Nostradamus, Les Vrayes Centuries et Prophities, avec la Vie de l'Auteur et des Observations sur ses Propheties (Paris, 1667); Centuries de Nostradame (Amsterd. 1668); Les Vraies Centuries de M. Michel Nostradame (Paris, 1652, 8vo) — a forgery directed against cardinal Mazarin; Garencieres, The true Prophecies or Prognostications of lichael Nostradamus (Lond. 1672, fol.). This work is without commemoration in Allibone's Dictionary. It has furnished the chief foundation for the present article. Of works on the life or the prophecies of Nostradamus, the following deserve mention: Tronc du Condoulet, Abrege de la Vie de M.
Nostradame, s. d.; Eclaircissement des veritables Quatrains de Maistre Nostradamus, Docteur et Professeur en Medecine, etc. (Anonymous); Badius, Virtutes nostri Magistri Nostradanzi (Geneva, 1562); Clavigny, Commentaires sur les Centuries de Nostradamus (Paris, 1596, 8vo); Guynaud, Concordance des Propheties (ibid. 1693, 12mo); La Clef de Nostradamus: Isagoge ou Introduction a un veritable sens des propheties de cefameux auteur (ibid. 1710); Hartze, Vie de Nostradame (Aix. 17i2, 12mo); Jaubert, Vie de M. Nostradanus, Apologie et Histoir-e (Amster.d. 1656); Astruc, — Memoires pour servir. a l'Histoire de la Faculte de Montpellier (Paris, 1767); Bonys, Nouvelles Considerations puisees dans la clairvoyance instinctive de l'homme, sur les oracles, les Sibylles, les prophetes, et particulierement sur Nostradamus (ibid. 1806,:8vo); Bareste, Nostradamus (4th ed. ibid. 1842). There is a notice of the prophet and his predictions in Morhofii Polyhistor (Psalm i, lib. i, c. x, § 32-36) (Lubecse, 1732, 4to). Some of the prophecies that may be conceived to have been realized are pointed out in the Companion to the British Almanac, 1840. Adelung has given Nostradamus a place in his Hist. de la Folie Humaine, 7:105 sq. (G. F. H.)