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(X.) HISTORY - Towards the Dark

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Author Topic: (X.) HISTORY - Towards the Dark  (Read 771 times)
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« Reply #15 on: August 18, 2007, 07:56:12 am »

Through the 18th century Harvard took this cautiously positive attitude, accepting in 1762 a master's thesis which argued that 'the heavenly bodies produce certain changes in the bodies of animals', and publicly asserting that the time was speedily coming when Virginia would 'surpass the Greeks in philosophy, the Egyptians in geometry, the Phoenicians in arithmetic, and Chaldeans in astrology.'

Yale was not behind Harvard in its toleration of astrological studies. Samuel Johnson, who graduated from that university in 1714 to become a Congregationalist minister, included an essay in his Revised Encyclopaedia of 1716 on 'The starry heavens and their power and influences for the subject of astrology', and though in 1718 a Yale thesis was arguing that 'all the predictions of the astrologers with regard to future contingent events are fallacious and vain', this was an attack on judicial rather than on 'natural' astrology.

As to educated opinion among non-academics, this may perhaps be deduced from an article in Chambers's Cyclopaedia, so commonly read, which also attacked judicial astrology as 'superstition', but left natural astrology unrebuked, although pointing out that it was 'only to be deduced, a posteriori, from phaenomena and observations.'

Those who did not have Chambers on their bookshelves certainly for the most part had an almanac or two; these were almost as common, and in much the same vein, as the English almanacs of the same period. But there was an additional emphasis on agriculture and meteorology. Culpepper was extremely popular, and as late as the middle of the 18th century the most common medical 'textbook' in the American home was his London Dispensatory.

As time went on, this was attacked - in particular by Cotton Mather, the Congregational minister and author, who while splendidly gullible about such matters as angels and mermaids, had some kind of natural antipathy to astrology (mainly on religious grounds) and argued that to suppose that the efficacy of certain herbs was in any way enhanced by their being picked at certain times was 'a folly akin to the idolatry and superstition of the Roman-Catholics, in looking to saints, for their influences on our several diseases.'
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