Robert Fludd was born at Milgate House, in the parish of Bearsted and county of Kent, in the year 1574. His father was Sir Thomas Fludd who served Queen Elizabeth for many years and received his Knighthood for his services as War Treasurer in the Netherlands.
Little is known concerning the early life of Robert Fludd. At the age of seventeen, he entered St. John's College, Oxford and graduated B.A. and M.A. between the years 1596-1598. Although the spirit of the College St. John the Baptist was in the direction of a variety of knowledge, it still remained a center for theological studies. His years at St. John made a great impression upon him, and he remained "at all times a faithful and attached friend and member of the Church of England." (Craven, 22)
Fludd was more conservative than other Paracelsians of this time, and yet he had enough of his own radical philosophies to raise the eyebrows of his more conservative contemporaries. These interests may have developed during his six year journey throughout Europe following his graduation.
Upon graduation, Fludd decided to pursue the medical sciences and ventured to the Continent to further his studies as a roaming scholar. It was during these six years of study as a medical student that he became quite proficient in chemistry, an interest that led him into Paracelsian medical circles. He also developed a great interest in Rosicrucian philosophy and later was to become one of the Movement's most ardent supporters.
After his travels through Europe, Fludd returned to Oxford and by 1605, he had earned his degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Doctor of Medicine. However, it was not until 1609 that he was finally admitted a Fellow of good standing, for a number of reasons. Although the application of Paracelsian chemicals into medicine was receiving less opposition by the Fellows of the College, Fludd's esoteric and mystical speculations were still under suspicion. Further, they found him arrogant and offensive. (Debus, 2)
However, after a series of unpleasant encounters, he was finally admitted to the London College of Physicians. He then established a practice in London. Fludd was successful enough to employ his own apothecary and maintain his own laboratory to prepare his chemical remedies, as well as carry on his alchemical experiments. The success of his practice was due not only to his skills, but to what has been attributed to his mystical approach, and to what has been described as a magnetic personality and "...his influence on the minds of his patients, producing a `faith-natural,' which aided the `well-working' of his drugs." (Craven, 29)
Further, in addition to established methods of diagnosis, Fludd also used a patient's horoscope for such a purpose, as well as to anticipate critical days.
In spite of his busy medical practice, Fludd also found time to write, and as a writer, became associated with the school of medical mystics who claimed to be in possession of the Key to Universal Sciences. His interest in the Rosicrucians continued and it is said that he became, during this time, an influential member of the Fraternity of the Rose Cross.
Significantly, in this early part of the Seventeenth Century, a great stir was created in Germany, and soon to spread across all of Europe, by the publication of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes: the Fama Fraternitatus and the Confessio Fraternitatus. These manifestoes were a call to the educated to unite in a scientific and spiritual reform of Europe. Through knowledge, humanity would be able to experience and understand the Divine in nature, the difference between the material and the spiritual, and their relationship with God. The learned to whom these Manifestoes were addressed included in their ranks students of alchemy, the cabala and mysticism. It is no wonder then that many who responded to the Manifestoes were of the medical and alchemical mind and almost all, such as Fludd, were involved in the Paracelsian tradition.
Part of the controversy surrounding the Manifestoes is based upon the fact they were written anonymously, and those who responded to the Manifestoes through the publication of letters and pamphlets did not necessarily receive official responses.
"In the library of Gottingen there is a body of letters addressed to the imaginary Order of `Father Rosy-Cross, from 1614-1617, by persons offering themselves as members.' Other persons published small pamphlets on the subject, and even impostors appeared professing to be Rosicrucians, `and deceived many.' No printed letters received printed answers. What answers, if any, were given privately, of course, cannot be known. A secret society will act secretly. No one could tell the result." (Craven, 39)
Another Paracelsian physician at this time and friend to Robert Fludd was Michael Maier. He explained this secrecy in his work entitled "Silentium Post Clamores," by maintaining that since ancient times, colleges existed to perpetuate studies in medicine and science and that such knowledge for its own protection was secretly passed from generation to generation through a system of initiation. He felt this system was somehow tied in with the writers of the "Fama" though not necessarily directly connected. It was this aspect of secrecy that invited so many different responses to the Manifestoes, some in support and others attacking them as fraudulent.
Maier is important in the life of Fludd for several reasons. One, he was dedicated to the religious and spiritual aspects of alchemy as Fludd was, and he is credited with introducing the Order of the Rose Cross into England. It is also alleged that he initiated his friend, Robert Fludd, into the order. Both writers were published by the same publishing concern, DeBry in Oppenheim, and both writers used the same engraver. They apparently were of great influence to each other in their respective works concerning the spiritual revitalization of science and medicine as well as in their relationship to the Rosicrucians.
Robert Fludd greatly admired and was in sympathy to the ideals and intent expressed in the manifestoes. He wrote several works to express this admiration, and thus became known as a Rosicrucian Apologist.
We will now quote directly from Craven's book.
"Fludd's apology for the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross was first issued in 1616, being printed in Leyden. It `entitles him to be regarded as the high priest of their mysteries.' It is said that Maier visited Fludd in London in 1615, and the result of his visit was, we know, the publication of his `Apologia,' written in Latin, and published in Leyden in 1616...
....It is believed that the `Apologia' was issued at the request of Maier, and probably he took or sent to Leyden the MS. Fludd's studies in mysticism had now continued for several years. `Since about the year 1600 he had begun to study the Cabala, magic, astrology and alchemy, as is proved by his `Historia Utirusque Cosmi.' Oppenheim, 1617, folio...
....The title of Fludd's first work is, Apologia Commendiaria Fraternitatem de Rosea Cruce Suspicionis et Infamiae Maculis Aspersam Veritatis quasi Fluctibus abluens et abstergens.Leyde 1616....
....The `Apologia' is in three parts...The different chapters have quotations or mottoes taken from the `Confessio.' The contents of the work are the germs of Fludd's subsequent writings. These develop his purpose in the `Apologia' to be `to protect the purity and innocence of the society and to wipe off the spots of shame smeared over the Brethren, as with a stream of pure wisdom.'...
...at page 195, the author [Fludd] addresses the Brethren of the Rosy Cross. He refers to their promise to bring happiness to those who have been reduced to misery by the fall of Adam. He honours them because they serve Christ with pure and upright hearts. He asks pardon of the Brotherhood if, through his ignorance, he has made any error or mistake in his `Apologia.' He adds, `he wished nothing more or better than to be only the lowest associate in your order, that he might satisfy the inquisitive ears of men by a trustworthy spreading of your renown.' He then states shortly who he is. `I am,' he says, `of a distinguished noble race. My spouse is called `desire of wisdom'; my children are the fruits produced by it...I have experienced and fortunately overcome the stormy sea, the steep mountains, the slippery vallies, ignorance on land, and the coarseness of the towns; the haughtiness and pride of the citizens, avarice, faithlessness, ignorance, foulness, almost all human inconveniences...I have found that almost everywhere vanity rules and triumphs. All seems to be self-assertive misery and vanity itself.' He then bids the brethren farewell, in all kindness and affection." (Craven, 42-45)
Next issue...Subsequent works by Fludd.
Craven, J.B. Doctor Robert Fludd, William Peace & Sons 1902.
Debus, Allen Robert Fludd and His Philosophicall Key. Neal Watson Academic Publications, Inc. 1979
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