by Albany Poyntz
In the year 1248, the Emperor William of Holland arrived at Cologne on the
anniversary of the festival of the Epiphany; when Albertus the Great,
invited him and his whole Court to a banquet in a garden near the Convent
of the Preaching Friars. The Emperor accepted the offer: but on the
appointed day, there was a great fall of snow; and the Emperor and his
Court were much disconcerted by the invitation.
But though inclined to avoid exposure to such inclemency of weather, they
adhered to their engagement and proceeded to the scene of the
entertainment, where they found the tables spread, but the trees and turf
covered with snow. The guests were of course indignant at so absurd an
arrangement; but Albertus had contrived that no one could go out of the
garden, by placing at every entrance guards of imposing stature. The
Emperor and Princes having seated themselves, the dishes were placed on
the table; when the day became gradually fine, and the snow disappearing
as if by enchantment, the shrubs and flowers recovered their verdure and
perfume; while the trees suddenly presented fruits in luscious maturity,
with innumerable birds perched upon their branches warbling heart-stirring
The heat increasing, the guests were forced to throw off their outward
garb; but no one could conjecture whence or by whom the dishes of the
feast were produced; the menials who served them being strangers, richly
attired, and of the most courteous deportment. The feast being at an end,
servitors and birds vanished; the turf lost its verdure, the flowers their
odour; and the snow re-appeared as if in the gloom of winter. The outward
garments of the guests were, of course, resumed; and all persons repaired
to a vast hall, where a good fire was blazing.
The Emperor, gratified with this wonderful entertainment, endowed the
convent of which Albertus was a member with a valuable estate; expressing
great esteem for the skill and dexterity of his entertainer.
Such is the monkish legend; nor is it worth while to contest such
absurdities, no one being weak enough to believe seriously in tales of
enchantment worthy only to figure in the pages of a romance.
Many such marvels are recorded of Albertus, entitling us to believe him a
sorcerer, and the ally of Satan. But he is known to have been, like Friar
Bacon, one of the most enlightened men of the thirteenth century; and it
often happens, that in order to enhance the fame of illustrious persons,
their biographers have resource to exaggerations that deteriorate their
well-won fame. Such was the case with Nostradamus; who, in spite of
himself, was made a prophet. The real name of Nostradamus, was Michael of
Notre-Dame, but a custom prevailed in his time of latinizing names; and
Nostradamus was one of the high-sounding titles likely to ensure
popularity. Among the French, it enjoyed equal fame with that of Matthew
Länsberg among the Germans.
The family of Nostradamus was of Jewish extraction, and proclaimed itself
descended from Issachar; a personage reputed to have been profoundly
versed in chronological science. Michael was born, December 14, 1503, at
twelve precisely, in the village of St. Remi, in Provence. He studied at
Avignon, where he distinguished himself in rhetoric; then proceeded to
Montpellier for the study of medicine. Having attained the degree of
Doctor at twenty-six, an unusual occurrence, he was considered the
successor of Hippocrates and Galen; but disdaining all earthly vocations,
he devoted himself to astrology, and mysterious speculations upon the
Nostradamus first published his Ephemeris, proclaiming agricultural
epochs, eclipses, phases of the moon, the returns of the season, and the
variations of atmosphere; and predicted the approach of epidemics, the
progress of governments, the births and marriages of the great; peace,
war, land, and sea fights, and many other things, which, as a matter of
course, must be realized in some part or other of the world. His
predictions were so fortunate, that he was soon acknowledged to be a
prophet; every one seeking to benefit by his vast enlightenment. The wily
man, aware that speculation upon popular prejudices is a sure road to
fortune, and seeing the love of the marvellous predominate, soon laid
aside his almanack, and gave full play to his fecund imagination as a
Had Nostradamus been only a man of profound science, he would have pined
in obscurity; but as affording diversion for the Court of France, his fame
soon prevailed throughout Europe. When his predictions first appeared, in
1555, they had such success, that Henry II. and Catherine de Medicis
invited him to Paris.
Enriched by their munificence, he returned to his vocation in Provence;
and four years later, the Duke of Savoy and Marguerite of France, on their
way to Nice, visited Nostradamus at Salon. The Duchess being enceinte,
the Duke desired to know the probable sex of the issue; a tolerable safe
order of prediction as the chances of verification are even. In this case,
he foretold a son who afterwards became the greatest Captain in
Europe—Charles Emanuel, Duke of Savoy.
The system of Nostradamus was partly original; but grafted upon several
others. He not only consulted the stars to cast a nativity, but the form
and features of the party. The Governor of Henry IV. wishing to have the
horoscope of his youthful master, applied to him, when he demanded to see
the royal youth naked. Henry at first resisted, thinking it a trick, and
that they perhaps meant to castigate him unjustly; but finally consented,
and after the examination, it was predicted that he would become King of
France, and enjoy a long reign.
These facts are avouched by the biographers of Nostradamus; who, though he
predicted the future to others, was unable to foresee his approaching end.
He died in July 1566, aged sixty-two; but his fame survived him, and his
tomb became a kind of shrine, being inscribed with testimonials to his
profound science and miraculous qualities. Louis XIII. visited it in 1622,
and Louis XIV. in 1660.
Like most men possessed of high renown, who profit by the credulity of
their contemporaries, he had a host of fanatical adulators. Among them,
none more enthusiastically devoted than a man named Chavigny, who
abandoned every thing to follow the fortune of the prophet, and received
his last sigh. Chavigny became the interpreter and eulogist of his great
master, as he had been the depository of his secrets. He even ventured
upon some posthumous predictions.
Inconsolable for the loss of his illustrious master, Chavigny abandoned
Provence, and settled at Lyons; where he solaced his regrets by reflecting
upon the predictions and discoveries of the great astrologer. He commented
upon three hundred stanzas of the great work of Nostradamus, the result of
thirty years’ study; and published the first part of the “French Janus,”
or rather, a partial explanation of his prophecies. In this curious work,
Chavigny collated, compared and approximated the stanzas bearing reference
to the events of his own century; and composed a chronological table, so
remarkable for order and method, as to impose upon superficial minds. So
singularly happy are some of the stanzas of Nostradamus, and their
associations with history are so striking, that the renowned Doctor might
almost pass for having been inspired. Such, at least, is the opinion of
many who have strictly examined the work.
In 1695, one Guinaud, one of the royal pages and a zealous supporter of
Nostradamus, proposed to reconcile the prophecies of Nostradamus with
history, from the time of Henry II. till that of Louis XIV. Presuming upon
his genius for exposition, he undertook to prove that nothing could be
clearer and less mysterious than the predictions of his favourite
In support of this opinion, he applies the following lines to the massacre
of St. Bartholomew:
Le gros airain qui les heures ordonne;
Sur le trépas du tyran cassera;
Fleurs plainte et cris, eau glace, pain ne donne,
V.S.C. Paix, l’armée passera.
The explanation of Guinaud is, perhaps, more striking than the lines of
Nostradamus. The “gros airain,” he declares to be the little bell of the
palaces. In the “trépas du tyran,” he foresees the death of Coligny; and
in the initials “V.S.C.,” he finds an unaccountable indication of Philip
II. and Charles V.
The other analogies were equally far-fetched; and, as is not unusually the
case, the absurdity of the annotation was visited upon the original work.
The prophesies of Nostradamus, like those of Merlin, are now nothing more
than a literary curiosity.