Wednesday, July 20, 2011
A Merveylous Rage
I was in the library looking at a couple of biographies of John Dee. One was from the 1970s and the other was from 1909. So I thought I'd see if the 1970s book had anything to say about the 1909 volume. I was trying to decide which one to check out! ISN'T THIS FASCINATING? So the intro to the 1970s bio did mention the 1909 book by Charlotte Fell Smith: despite its "flaws, which are many," said the 1970s dude, at least Ms. Smith was trying to rehabilitate Dr. Dee's reputation to some extent. I guess before her, everybody was mostly interested in the time his friend Edward Kelley convinced him that angels wanted them to swap wives! And you have to admit that's pretty juicy! So the 1970s biographer went on to say that he still thought Charlotte Fell Smith spent too much time talking about John Dee's wackier adventures. And I was like, "Okay! I want the crazy 1909 book with its 'flaws, which are many.'" That's how I like my books! With their "flaws, which are many." Smith mentions the same old stuff about Kelley's ears being lopped off and the time he dug up a body. But she clarifies that Kelley just wanted to question "an evil spirit speaking through [the dead man's] organs." So that explains it! "After this savoury episode," she goes on, "Kelley is reported to have been wandering in Wales (it is suggested that he was hiding from justice) when he stumbled accidentally upon an old alchemical manuscript and two caskets or phials containing a mysterious red and white powder." Okay! Let me also add that the 1909 book is not a reprint. It's the actual book from 1909 and has those great thick pages with the ragged edges and smells great, like an old book, which it is. So that's another reason to pick it! It seems that Dee's wife couldn't stand old Edward Kelley moving into their house, even BEFORE he started putting the moves on her! Smith quotes Dr. Dee's diary from May 6, 1582: "Jane in a merveylous rage at 8 of the cloke at night, and all that night, and next morning till 8 of the cloke." That's 12 solid hours of wifely rage! Dee "carefully erased" that passage, apparently out of respect for his wife. "It is, however, possible to make it out almost entirely," Smith notes. Now, I don't know a single thing about Charlotte Fell Smith, but whoever she was, I like the thought of her in the early 1900s in some weird old room with a high window reading John Dee's diary, don't you?