Yes, another tedious “year in review” post to add to the many cluttering your feed. But hopefully something of interest:
My great achievement for the year was finishing the first draft. Tentatively titled “Fool’s Gold” (I still don’t like it, but I’ve got to call it something), I’ve spent the last half of the year learning to edit. It is a long, slow, strange slog, but worth it. On the rare days I get a brainwave for improvement the “flow” is almost as fun as rough drafting.
Concrete goals for 2016: I’m not sure how to quantify editing progress as I’ve been told repeatedly that it can take years. I do aim to do at least half an hour a day. I’m also copying a paragraph or two of good writing each day to see if I can learn by imitation.
I’m also going to seek more frequent critiques and beta reading.
Through my research on Dee and Kelley, I’ve enjoyed discovering other colorful figures from Rudolf II’s court. Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler interested me the most, as much for their “odd couple” dynamic as for their accomplishments.
Brahe, a Danish nobleman, pursued astronomy despite the ridicule of most of his family. Of a somewhat extravagant personality, he famously lost his nose in a duel (over a mathematical formula) and replaced it with a metal one. His entertainments for his noble patrons included his pet drunk elk and a court jester that lived under his dining room table.
When not partying like a rockstar he made a log of precise celestial measurements, all without the aid of a telescope(!). Of several personal facilities his largest was Uraniborg, his observatory/alchemical lab/research institute, which he ruled like a king until the actual Danish king stopped funding him.
If Brahe was larger than life, Kepler was…not. Noble but impoverished, he almost became a minister before taking a post teaching mathematics in what is now Austria. Though interested in astronomy from an early age, poor eyesight prevented him making celestial observations of his own.
So, a flamboyant genius with a personal scientific playground and a mild mannered, nearsighted professor…sounds familiar…
But I digress. How did the Renaissance science bros come to work together?
Partly through correspondence – they exchanged letters for years on astronomical questions. They finally met in Prague. Brahe arrived in 1599 at Rudolf II’s invitation, to become his imperial astronomer. A year later Brahe invited Kepler to work as his assistant. After several months of Kepler’s uncertain employment and an argument over access to Brahe’s logs, they formalized a commission to work together.
Not a month later Brahe died. Kepler inherited both his post as imperial astronomer and Brahe’s logs – the latter not without a fight. Brahe’s family wanted to lock them up, but after acrimonious negotations Kepler finally gained access to the data. He used it to create the Rudolphine Tables, the most accurate star and planetary tables of their time. The precision of the measurements also allowed him to prove that planets travel in an ellipse and improve upon Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the solar system.
(My understanding of physics and complex astronomy is limited and beyond the scope of this blog post. Corrections are welcome in the comments section!)
Circling back to my book: Neither Brahe nor Kepler appear in it as they were active in Prague long after my 1580s timeframe. It’s also unlikely Dee or Kelley met either of them, though Brahe corresponded with Dee about the 1572 supernova and a 1577 comet. But, they are another example of the great minds attracted by Prague’s scientific golden age.
More Bard: review of Ross Duffin’s “Shakespeare’s Songbook”. “Shakespeare’s audience would more likely have gained their knowledge of myth and history from popular song than from Ovid…” – parallels to the current popularity of the broadway musical “Hamilton”.
This former residence of Edward Kelley’s in the Donkey in the Cradle house (many of Prague’s older buildings have names based on their “signs”) placed him conveniently near the royal court in Hradčany (Castle Town). The tower and its spiral staircase date from the sixteenth century but I’m not sure about the rest of the house.
My chief interest was the top floor of the tower where Kelley allegedly had his alchemical lab. Though the reproduction of his study seemed plausible I doubt any of the items were original.
Explanatory text describes Kelley’s life and sticks to the known facts – mostly. The writer, Vincent Bridges, suggested an association between Kelley, Shakespeare as a spy (?) and the “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets. He’s one of only two scholars I’ve found that espouse this notion so I don’t know what to make of it, but there you are.
Included are wax models of historical figures, most notably a flying Rudolf II (?) and one of Kelley himself, complete with (alleged) wooden leg:
The “lab” got still more theatrical as I went along, including artfully arranged broken glass representing a lab accident, a homunculus, planets on strings, and a 6 foot long bellows.
I can’t finish without mentioning Kellyxir, the alchemy-themed bar attached to the museum. Winding glassware adorns the ceiling and “Mrs. Kelley’s” menu includes alcoholic and non- “elixirs” with names that translate loosely to “wonder medicine of the mountains”, “the key to awakening” and the like. I had something called “bear milk” with rum which was quite pleasant. It was a fun afternoon.
With its fanciful (?) stories and funhouse trappings the Museum of Magicians and Alchemists of Old Prague has as much to do with real alchemy as Hollywood does with real life. But it works. The historical Edward Kelley was something of a showman so I think he’d approve of black-lit magical circles and flying emperors in his old home!