Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Discovery of a Book, November 1978

The following is a transcript of a speech given by Professor Linda Franklin at the Bartholdy Institute in London on the 12th of November, 1978. It details the discovery and subsequent studies of a 17th Century book, ostensibly entitled the Bremen MS.209, though known more commonly as the Liber Parvorum Spirituum. At the time of writing, little over a third of the original text had been transcribed, with the remaining chapters undergoing restoration works following water damage some time prior to the book's discovery. Translation efforts had also been impeded by the unorthodox approach to grammar in many of the Latin sections of the text. Since the talk was delivered, a consensus has now been reached among the text's translators, with the exception of a few of the more oblique passages. The damaged sections of the text are still undergoing restoration, though new photographic technology is uncovering new details previously thought lost, and further clues to the book's many mysteries. A complete edition has been announced for publication in the Autumn of 2016.

From what we have been able to transcribe so far, the text is essentially a miscellany: a collection of letters and other documents sent from across Europe between the years 1600 and 1614. At the time, at which these were written, Europe was beginning to witness a chain of political crises that would eventually culminate in the Thirty Years War. The documents are united by a common recipient – who was none other then the embattled Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II from the House of Hapsburg. It is by a common misnomer that this book is often referred to as a manuscript. In truth, while it does contain a number of handwritten documents, a great deal of its contents are excerpts of printed texts (a not at all common practice at the time).

While the handwritten half comprises a series of epistles to the emperor, the printed half consists of what appears to be a single (albeit fragmented) work by an unnamed author. Though evidently reluctant to identify themselves, their identity is believed to be that of a scholar named Arthur Hazyard, to whom many of the letters make reference. His writings comprise a work that is half treatise on metaphysics, and half daemonic bestiary. It is these writings that give the volume its more commonly used name: the Liber Parvorum Spirituum, or 'Book of Tiny Spirits'.

The emperor Rudolf II, to whom these correspondences are addressed, and the figure to whom Hazyard's treatise is dedicated, has long been famed for an interest in magic. This interest was most famously demonstrated when, in 1583, he was patron to noted astrologer Dr John Dee during his famous Angelic Dialogues. The later part of his reign was defined by his political failures, resulting in him being ousted from the throne of Bohemia by his brother. His preoccupation with philosophy has often been seen as the cause for this. It is this aspect of his life which has led some critics to point to Rudolf as the inspiration for the exiled sorcerer Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Unlike the self-effacing author of the Liber Parvorum Spirituum bestiary, the authors of the letters in the miscellany seem somewhat less reluctant to identify themselves. Nonetheless, a suspicious absence of background information unearthed by subsequent researchers seems to point to a widespread use of pseudonym. Yet from the content of the letters themselves, it is possible to discern a significant amount of information regarding their authors.

Nevertheless, a striking pattern becomes immediately apparent. The tone in which these letters are written is characterised by a striking degree of familiarity. The salutation Imperator is maintained throughout, but overall, the correspondents seem to approach him as first among equals, rather than a hereditary overlord. It is also curious to note that they maintain the suffix Bohemiensis, even after his renunciation of the Bohemian crown in 1611, and indeed, even after his death the following year.

This tone of easy loquatiousness would change remarkably little, even as political tensions began to escalate, and factional lines become more entrenched. All the more remarkable given that these correspondents are scattered across a multitude of national boundaries, and feature representatives of both the Catholic and Protestant leagues, as well as eastern Hussites, and the territories of Rudolf's rivals in Austria and Hungary. For the correspondents of the Miscellany, it would seem that natural philosophy took precedence over politics.

The book itself appears to have been compiled some time around the late 18th century, but this seems to have been a provision against loss and deterioration, more than an attempt to render it into a readable text, as the volume displays a conspicuous lack of any formal identification. Whether they were together in the order in which we now find them when discovered is also a matter of some debate, but they all seem to be united by at least one of two common subject matters: the activities of the author of the treatise, Arthur Hazyard, and the presence and habits of daemonic agents operating across Europe. It is Hazyard to whom we must now turn.

With regard to Hazyard himself, his identity and background are almost wholly unknown. There is little to indicate any familial connection to the West Buckinghamshire Hazyards, despite sharing a name of consistent spelling. He is not only self effacing about his identity, but also his apparently considerable education. It is also unknown whether there was any reciprocal communication from the emperor, or whether the text was ever read in his lifetime. What we do know is that he more frequently came to the attention of his philosophical peers by way of his various controversies than any kind of formal association.

Aside from his insights into the world of the supernatural, Hazyard's principle achievement seems to have been his capacity to annoy people. This he did on a truly international scale. Between 1607 and 1612, he travelled across Europe, starting out from the Netherlands, then across into France, and into Italy, before finally travelling north. The final reports of his progress come from the town of Anklam on the Baltic coast. During this time he is variously called a charlatan, a lunatic, a vagabond masquerading as a scholar, and, at one point, a cruel inversion of the legend of king Nebudchanezzar. It seemed there were few places he could go without incurring the scorn of his peers. Yet, while his actions were a nuisance to his contemporaries, their effects have proven an invaluable resource to us today. Not least because they give an insight into Hazyard the man, and this is crucial to understanding his works.

One of the most unusual aspects of Hazyard's writings is that, for a text on Magic, he displays a singular preoccupation with biology. Magic, as a strand of natural philosophy, regularly crossed over into other sciences, but for figures like Giordano Bruno and Dr John Dee, Magic was most often expressed through mathematics. This association may be attributed to the desire on their part to draw comparisons between their own arts, and with the fundamental elegance of mathematical formulae. After all, it would be centuries before Biology would develop an elegance of its own to rival it. As we shall see, however, it is this biological character to Hazyard's writings that leads to many of his more striking conclusions.

While I would not go so far as to echo the words of my predecessor, the late professor Gibson, who famously asserted that “Hazyard had, through his wayward Metaphysics, unlocked what it would take Mendel with his peas, Darwin with his apes, and Russell-Wallace with his birds, a further two hundred and thirty years to finally reveal to modern science”, he nonetheless exhibits an uncanny degree of prescience. Gibson is alluding to his abandonment of a teleological approach to nature, which saw all living things (natural and supernatural) as being shaped according to some essential, pre-determined role within the universe, placing them together in an elaborate system known as the Great Chain of Being. But while this line of reasoning would go on to lead so many to reject the existence of “Creation” outright, Hazyard's researches would lead him not just to question the nature of Creation itself, but that which might lie beyond it.

The book begins with an introductory epistle, in which he sets out his basic thesis. He explains how history is defined, not just by the singular actions of great individuals, but also the collective will of small folk. He goes on to explain how the world of magic works in a similar way, explaining how: “ANGELLS, SPIRITS, AND DAEMONES have ever traversed the histories of man, carving their mark upon his thoughts and deeds. Those of learning may speak of Baal Azabab, or Dagon of the Philistines in the same breath as one would Alexander of Macedon or Charlemagne.”

But here he encounters the problem: what of the smaller daemons, the ones which don't make it into the history books, but which, he insists, must surely exist as counterparts to the greater daemons of the universe. This imbalance, he explains, points to a great void in our understanding of metaphysics. To this, he says Natura vacuum abhorret: Nature abhors a vacuum.

The nature of Hazyard's method of study is, in this respect, integral to his definition of a small spirit. In turn, this notion of what constitutes a small spirit is integral to many of the ideas Hazyard was to put forward concerning the universe. Many of the daemons he describes are precisely as he describes: small. In his introduction to the book, he tells of his first encounter with this world of the spirits through what we would now recognise as a rudimentary microscope. He explains:

A Compound Microscope, detailed in Robert Hooke's
Microscopia, 1665. 
I had long understood how Astrologers, by using their optical devices, and aided by their mathematick arts, are able to identify vast entities in the far depths of the heavens, and from thence can glean truths about momentous events that have yet to be, and many other such secrets pertaining to the spirit world. It was from this that I was bestruck by a curious thought. Could not a similar device reveal that which was very small, yet very close, and in doing so penetrate yet greater truths about the universe?

[…] Thus, with the aid of the master glass blowers in my service, I was able to fashion this inverted telescope, which I found worked most effectively on water. What I saw then, through my optical device, was a world wreathed as if by a dense mist, in which moved images like faint silhouettes of strange beings. Yet even this was magnificent!

Historians have often pointed to this passage as the beginning of a descent into madness, for after this point, he claims to have been able to see these creatures everywhere he went, even without the use of his microscope. Indeed, as his writings progress, we see the term Small Spirit (Spiritus Parvus) expand to accommodate super-human Golem automata of the Kabballic tradition, and even great astral entities. Evidently, his definition of 'Small' alludes to something far more fundamental to their nature.

Here I need to say a few things about the history of the term daemon. Daemon, as Hazyard employs the term, is applicable to angels equally as much as it is to devils. In its original Greek, 'daemon' may more accurately be transalted to 'spirit'. Predominantly referring to supernatural entities, it could nonetheless be used figuratively to describe mental or spiritual afflictions. It is only through a quirk of theological history that it has come to refer solely to malign entities. In Greek thought, daemons were broken up into two principle types: Eudaemon (εὐδαίμων): a good spirit, and Caecodaemon (κακοδαίμων): a dark or malign spirit. King James, in his pamphlet Daemonologie, specifies that Eudaemon refers to the angels loyal to God, and Kakodaemon to the fallen angels of Satan's host. From here, extrapolates that both parties were active on earth in different ways during the times of the Old Testament. With the coming of Christ, however, the Eudaemon angels found themselves supplnted, the human grace lost to humanity during the fall being restored, and serving to protect them in its place. With only the Kakodaemon left, the term Daemon now refers to them exclusively, leaving its connotations wholly negative.

In the case of Hazyard's Small Spirits, with no allegiance or moral standpoint in the fate of humanity, they exist according to their surroundings, and their own inherent nature. Thus, they are small not in terms of their size, but in terms of their place within the greater scheme of things in the universe.

To understand the significance of his idea, it is necessary to understand how the traditional model of the daemon was understood. As is shown in works like King James's treatise Daemonologie, Satan's every action and motivation is diametrically opposed to the will of his creator. As such, while this made him a very determined and terrible foe, it also made him an extremely predictable one. For indeed, under all the layers of deceit, and the myriad esoteric traditions associated with him, the devil is at heart little more than basic logical entity who can only ever function in one way. With the absence of any such precedent in existing Christian doctrines or philosophies for this type of daemon, Hazyard was unable to apply this teleological approach to his diminutive pantheon. In its place, he was forced to rely on a more inductive logic, and it is this which gives rise to the remarkably multifaceted angle to his scholarship.

This mode of enquiry takes into account two questions: First, why do they behave as they do? And secondly, what determines their form? What results from this is a systematic collection of principles, employed by Hazyard to study the form and habits of these daemons. Is is this methodology that the noted naturalist, Professor Gibson, would come to describe as “Centuries before their time”.

When writing about the behaviour of these daemons, one word can be seen to recur more than any other: Imperitas. The term itself is not Classical Latin, nor does it appear in any Neo-Latin works around the time, but appears to be a Latinate word of his own coining. On the few occasions where Hazyard writes in Engish, the term Agency appears to serve as its substitute. This results as what comes to resemble a rudimentary form of behavioural ecology. As his arguments develop, he appears to attribute to this Imperitas with a kind of inherent sentience, if not sapience. In this way, his ideology comes to resemble James Lovelock's often misinterpreted Gaia Theory. Hazyard's theory is something of an inversion, however. Lovelock's principle arose from a tradition of empirical science, but would in time take on a mystical interpretation among certain adherents to fringe philosophies, Hazyard himself was coming from a background in the occult sciences, but through a series of fortunate ideological quirks, would come around to a something resembling modern biology.

Here, sadly, Hazyard's prodigious glimmerings of modern biological science would reach their fullest extent. In the absence of any basic concept of natural selection or fitness, the only support for the wealth of observed data he brings to bear is from dubious visionaries, and even, at points, from his own conversations with these supposed entities.

In order to appreciate the full scope of his writings, it is necessary now to turn to Hazyard's metaphysics, for it underpins the nature of these daemons, and their relationship with humanity and the universe itself. As I have already stressed, certain sections of the text are still undergoing restoration or translation, and what is apparent from what has come to light is that Hazyard is employing a cosmological frameword far removed from models for the universe familiar to scholars at the time. No section of the translated text has thus far ventured to give a formal description of exactly what this cosmology comprised. The text is nonetheless dotted with oblique references to numerous obscure concepts. From what we can gather, the central premise surrounds the idea of a “space beyond creation”: a primordial chaos beyond the realm of God powers of intervention. It is this space from which these Small Spirits are said to come, but how exactly they are formed remains unclear. There is, nonetheless, an connection between these daemons and humanity, derived from something which Hazyard describes as “Humanity's capacity for Un-Creation” connected to its fall from grace in the Book of Genesis.

Beyond this, a comprehensive model for Hazyard's universe continues to elude us. Yet Hazyard scholars have pinned their hopes for an explanation on a section which has recently come to light. One page, remarkably well preserved in light of the damage sustained by later sections of the book, appears to signal the beginning of a dialogue. Though only displaying the title plate, it appears to display the start of a philosophical dialogue between two figures named Astrophilus (a beetle) and Xenologia (a lizard). It bears the tantalising inscription:

“There come together these two philosophers, from parts unknown, in order to discuss aethrial things. They speak of spirits, not born of the celestial or infernal realms, but which crawl through lawless darkness”

Their excitement at its discovery is understandable, but it remains to be seen whether the remainder of the manscript will bear up to this promise.

The world of Arthur Hazyard is peculiar in the extreme. There is, needless to say, no real scientific foundation for his writings, nor do they resemble any existing occult framework of their time. Yet it nonetheless bears a kind of internal consistency - a logical illogicality, that continues to perplex its critics. This begs the question of how much we are to assume Hazyard really believed of what he wrote. Many have dubbed his works the writings of a madman, others the work of a remarkable satirist, sending up the magicians and court philosophers of his time. Others still have taken his works as allegory, expressing some deeper and more subtle truth which he saw within the universe. Who really was Arthur Hazyard? All we have is this book to answer that, and even this provides a conflicted picture. We know at least that he was, and continues to be, a pain to any who would question him too deeply.

llustrations from the Liber Parvorum Spirituum reproduced by Chris Richford.

Text transcribed by Lucy Brady.

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