Robert Fludd

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Robert Fludd
Robert Fludd.jpg
Born (1574-01-17)17 January 1574
Milgate House, Bearsted, Kent
Died 8 September 1637(1637-09-08) (aged 63)
Nationality English
Occupation Physician, Astrologer

Robert Fludd, also known as Robertus de Fluctibus (17 January 1574 – 8 September 1637), was a prominent English Paracelsian physician. He is remembered as an astrologer, mathematician, cosmologist, Qabalist and Rosicrucian apologist.

Fludd is best known for his compilations in occult philosophy. He had a celebrated exchange of views with Johannes Kepler concerning the scientific and hermetic approaches to knowledge.[1]


He was born at Milgate House, Bearsted, Kent, the son of Sir Thomas Fludd, a high-ranking governmental official (Queen Elizabeth I's treasurer for war in Europe), and Member of Parliament.[2] He entered St John's College, Oxford in 1591, graduating B.A. in 1597 and M.A. in 1598.[3] His mother was Elizabeth Andrews Fludd.[4]

Between 1598 and 1604, Fludd studied medicine, chemistry and hermeticism on the European mainland. His itinerary is not known in detail.[3] On his own account he spent a winter in the Pyrenees studying theurgy (the practice of rituals) with the Jesuits.[5]

On his return to England, Fludd entered Christ Church, Oxford. In 1605 he graduated M.B. and M.D. He then moved to London, settling in Fenchurch Street, and making repeated attempts to enter the College of Physicians. Fludd encountered problems with the College examiners, both because of his unconcealed contempt for traditional medical authorities, and because of his attitude. After at least six failures, he was admitted in 1609. Subsequently both his career and his standing in the College took a turn very much for the better. He was on good terms with Sir William Paddy.[3] Fludd was one of the first to support in print the theory of the circulation of the blood of the College's William Harvey.[6] To what extent Fludd may have actually influenced Harvey is still debated, in the context that Harvey's discovery is hard to date precisely.[7] The term "circulation" was certainly ambiguous at that time.[8]

Fludd died in London.

Controversial works

Fludd's illustration of man the microcosm within the universal macrocosm

Fludd's works are mainly controversial. In succession he defended the Rosicrucians against Andreas Libavius, debated with Kepler, argued against French natural philosophers including Gassendi, and engaged in the discussion of the weapon-salve.[9]

Defence of Rosicrucianism

Fludd was not a member of the Rosicrucians, as often alleged, but he defended their thought.[10] He produced a quick work, the Apologia Compendiaria, against the claims of Libavius that the Rosicrucians indulged in heresy, diabolical magic and sedition, made in his Analysis confessionis Fraternitatis de Rosea Cruce (Analysis of the Confession of the Rosy Cross) of 1615. Fludd returned to the subject at greater length, the following year.[11]

  • Apologia Compendiaria, Fraternitatem de Rosea Cruce suspicionis … maculis aspersam, veritatis quasi Fluctibus abluens, &c., Leyden, 1616. Against Libavius.
  • Tractatus Apologeticus integritatem Societatis de Rosea Cruce defendens, &c., Leyden, 1617.
  • Tractatus Theologo-philosophicus, &c., Oppenheim, 1617. The date is given in a chronogram. This treatise "a Rudolfo Otreb Britanno" (where Rudolf Otreb is an anagram of Robert Floud) is dedicated to the Rosicrucian Fraternity. It consists of three books, De Vita, De Morte, and De Resurrectione. In the third book Fludd contends that those filled with the spirit of Christ may rise before his second coming.[9]

It has been said that what Fludd did was to detach occultism, both from traditional Aristotelian philosophy, and from the coming (Cartesian) philosophy of his time.[12]

Against Kepler

Johannes Kepler criticised Fludd's theory of cosmic harmony in an appendix to his Harmonice Mundi (1619).[13]

  • Veritatis Proscenium Frankfort, 1621. Reply to Kepler. In it Fludd argued from a Platonist point of view; and he claims that the hermetic or "chemical" approach is deeper than the mathematical.[14]
  • Monochordon Mundi Symphoniacum Frankfort, 1622. Reply to Kepler's Mathematice, 1622.
  • Anatomiæ Amphitheatrum, Frankfort, 1623. Includes reprint of the Monochordon.[9]

Against the natural philosophers

Titlepage of the Summum Bonum under the name of Joachim Frizius

According to Brian Copenhaver, "Kepler accused Fludd of being a theosophist, and Kepler was right". Fludd was well-read in the tradition coming through Francesco Giorgi.[15] Marin Mersenne attacked him in Quæstiones Celebres in Genesim (1623).

  • Sophiæ cum Moria Certamen, Frankfort, 1629. Reply to Mersenne.
  • Summum Bonum, Frankfort, 1629. Under the name Joachim Frizius, this was a further reply to Mersenne, who had accused Fludd of magic.[9]

Pierre Gassendi took up the controversy in an Examen Philosophiæ Fluddanæ (1630). This was at Mersenne's request. Gassendi attacked Fludd's neo-Platonic position. He rejected the syncretic move that placed alchemy, cabbala and Christian religion on the same footing; and Fludd's anima mundi. Further he dismissed Fludd's biblical exegesis.[9][16]

Fludd also wrote against The Tillage of Light (1623) of Patrick Scot; Scot like Mersenne found the large claims of hermetic alchemy to be objectionable.[17] Fludd defended alchemy against the criticisms of Scot, who took it to be merely allegorical. This work, Truth's Golden Harrow,[18] remained in manuscript.[19]

The weapon-salve controversy

  • "Doctor Fludds Answer vnto M. Foster, or, The Sqvesing of Parson Fosters Sponge," &c., London, 1631, (defence of weapon-salve, against the Hoplocrisma-Spongus, 1631, of William Foster, of Hedgerley, Buckinghamshire); an edition in Latin, "Responsum ad Hoplocrisma-Spongum," &c., Gouda, 1638.[9]

Cosmology and other works

'An Astrologer Casting a Horoscope' from Robert Fludd's Utriusque Cosmi Historia, 1617

Fludd's philosophy is presented in Utriusque Cosmi, Maioris scilicet et Minoris, metaphysica, physica, atque technica Historia (The metaphysical, physical, and technical history of the two worlds, namely the greater and the lesser, published in Germany between 1617 and 1621);[20] according to Frances Yates, his memory system (which she describes in detail in The Art of Memory, pp. 321–341) may reflect the layout of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (The Art of Memory, Chapter XVI).

In 1618, Fludd wrote De Musica Mundana (Mundane Music) which described his theories of music, including his mundane (also known as "divine" or "celestial") monochord.[21]

In 1630, Fludd proposed many perpetual motion machines. People were trying to patent variations of Fludd's machine in the 1870s. Fludd's machine worked by recirculation by means of a water wheel and Archimedean screw. The device pumps the water back into its own supply tank.[22][23]

Microcosm diagram of the mind, derived from cruder versions in predecessors, such as Albertus Magnus and Gregor Reisch.[24]

His main works are:[9]

  • Utriusque Cosmi … metaphysica, physica atque technica Historia, &c., Oppenheim and Frankfort, 1617–24. (It has two dedications, first to the Deity, secondly to James I, and copperplates; it was to have been in two volumes, the first containing two treatises, the second three; it was completed as far as the first section of the second treatise of the second volume.)
  • Philosophia Sacra et vere Christiana, &c., Frankfort, 1626; dedicated to John Williams.
  • Medicina Catholica, &c., Frankfort, 1629–31, in five parts; the plan included a second volume, not published.

Posthumous were:[9]

  • Philosophia Moysaica, &c., Gouda, 1638; an edition in English, Mosaicall Philosophy, &c., London, 1659.
  • Religio Exculpata, &c. [Ratisbon], 1684 (Autore Alitophilo Religionis fluctibus dudum immerso, tandem … emerso; preface signed J. N. J.; assigned to Fludd).
  • Tractatus de Geomantia, &c. (four books), included in Fasciculus Geomanticus, &c., Verona, 1687.

An unpublished manuscript, copied by an amanuensis, and headed Declaratio breuis, &c., is in the Royal manuscripts, British Library, 12 C. ii. Fludd's Opera consist of his folios, not reprinted, but collected and arranged in six volumes in 1638; appended is a Clavis Philosophiæ et Alchimiæ Fluddanæ, Frankfort, 1633.[9]


William T. Walker, reviewing two books on Fludd in The Sixteenth Century Journal (by Joscelyn Godwin, and William Huffman), writes that "Fludd relied on the Bible, the Cabbala, and the traditions of alchemy and astrology. Many of his contemporaries labelled Fludd a magician and condemned him for his sympathy for the occult."[25] He cites Godwin's book as arguing that Fludd was part of the tradition of Christian esotericism that includes Origen and Meister Eckhart. He finds convincing the argument in Huffman's book that Fludd was not a Rosicrucian but was "a leading advocate of Renaissance Christian Neo-Platonism. Fludd's advocacy of an intellectual philosophy in decline has done much to assure his general neglect."[25]


  1. Wolfgang Pauli, Wolfgang Pauli – Writings on physics and philosophy, translated by Robert Schlapp and edited by P. Enz and Karl von Meyenn (Springer Verlag, Berlin, 1994), Section 21, The influence of archetypical ideas on the scientific theories of Kepler. ISBN 3-540-56859-X, ISBN 978-3-540-56859-9.
  2. Members Constituencies Parliaments Surveys. " ''Fludd, Sir Thomas (d.1607), of Milgate, Kent''". Retrieved 17 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Debus pp. 207–8.
  4. "Sir Thomas Fludd, Knight of, Milgate, Bearsted, Kent, England d. Yes, date unknown: Community Trees Project". Retrieved 17 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Urszula Szulakowska (2000). The Alchemy of Light: Geometry and Optics in Late Renaissance Alchemical Illustration. BRILL. p. 168. ISBN 978-90-04-11690-0. Retrieved 18 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. William H. Huffman (24 September 2001). Robert Fludd. North Atlantic Books. p. 20. ISBN 978-1-55643-373-3. Retrieved 18 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Walter Pagel (1967). William Harvey's Biological Ideas: Selected Aspects and Historical Background. Karger Publishers. p. 340. ISBN 978-3-8055-0962-6. Retrieved 18 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Allen G. Debus, Robert Fludd and the Circulation of the Blood, J Hist Med Allied Sci (1961) XVI (4): 374-393. doi: 10.1093/jhmas/XVI.4.374
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8  [ "Fludd, Robert" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. William H. Huffman, Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (Routledge London & New York, 1988)
  11. William H. Huffman (24 September 2001). Robert Fludd. North Atlantic Books. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-55643-373-3. Retrieved 17 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Daniel Garber; Michael Ayers (2003). The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. p. 457. ISBN 978-0-521-53720-9. Retrieved 17 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Johannes Kepler; E. J. Aiton; Alistair Matheson Duncan; Judith Veronica Field (1997). The Harmony of the World. American Philosophical Society. p. xxxviii. ISBN 978-0-87169-209-2. Retrieved 17 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. William H. Huffman (1988). Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance. Routledge. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-415-00129-8. Retrieved 17 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Daniel Garber; Michael Ayers (2003). The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 464–5. ISBN 978-0-521-53720-9. Retrieved 17 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Antonio Clericuzio (2000). Elements, Principles and Corpuscles: A Study of Atomism and Chemistry in the Seventeenth Century. Springer. pp. 71–2. ISBN 978-0-7923-6782-6. Retrieved 17 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Bruce Janacek. Alchemical Belief: Occultism in the Religious Culture of Early Modern England. Penn State Press. pp. 45–54. ISBN 978-0-271-05014-0. Retrieved 18 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. William H. Huffman (24 September 2001). Robert Fludd. North Atlantic Books. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-55643-373-3. Retrieved 18 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Debus, p. 255.
  20. Karsten Kenklies, Wissenschaft als Ethisches Programm. Robert Fludd und die Reform der Bildung im 17. Jahrhundert (Jena, 2005)
  21. Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages: An Encyclopedic outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic, and Rosicrucian symbolical philosophy (H.S. Crocker Company, Inc., 1928)
  24. Joscelyn Godwin, Robert Fludd: Hermetic philosopher and surveyor of two worlds (1979), p. 70.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Walker, William T. (1992). . "Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance. by William H. Huffman; Robert Fludd,Hermetic Philosopher and Surveyor of Two Worlds. by Joscelyn Godwin; Splendor Soils. bySalomon Trismosin; Joscelyn Godwin. Review" Check |url= value (help). The Sixteenth Century Journal. 23 (1): 157–158. doi:10.2307/2542084.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


Further reading

  • Allen G. Debus, The English Paracelsians, New York: Watts, 1965.
  • Tita French Baumlin, "Robert Fludd," The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 281: British Rhetoricians and Logicians, 1500–1660, Second Series, Detroit: Gale, 2003, pp. 85–99.
  • James Brown Craven, Doctor Fludd (Robertus de Fluctibus), the English Rosicrucian: Life and Writings, Kirkwall: William Peace & Son, 1902.
  • Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory, London: Routledge, 1966.
  • William H. Huffman, ed., Robert Fludd: Essential Readings, London: Aquarian/Thorsons, 1992.
  • Johannes Rösche, Robert Fludd. Der Versuch einer hermetischen Alternative zur neuzeitlichen Naturwissenschaft (Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008).

External links