The Astrologer’s Magazine and the Primum Mobile Intrigue
– October 5th-7th, 2007
When you see the title ‘The Astrologer’s Magazine’, what is your first thought, if it rings any bells at all?
I would guess that in most cases the answer would be ‘Alan Leo’, and his magazine of that name published for five years from 1890-1895, before it was dissolved and replaced by the longer-running ‘Modern Astrology’.
However, as I’m sure some reading this will know, Alan Leo was not the first to publish a magazine under that title.
Equally famous in its own right for having been arguably the first dedicated monthly astrological periodical was ‘The Astrologer’s Magazine and Philosophical Miscellany’, which appeared from August 1793 as an evolution of a more general occult journal known as ‘The Conjuror’s Magazine’ that had been running for two years.
The bibliographic facts about ‘The Astrologer’s Magazine and Philosophical Miscellany’ are more than a little enigmatic. Most library holdings seem to consist of a bound volume of just six monthly issues spanning August 1793 to January 1794. It was precisely a volume of this nature that caught my attention on ebay a couple of months ago, in seriously dilapidated binding but purportedly complete internally. I placed a late bid and purchased it for just over $208. A slow journey by Canadian surface mail (the seller’s choice, not mine) later, it arrived here two days ago. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that it lacks one leaf, pp. 235-6, leaving me with the dilemma of whether or not to return it for a refund on the basis that it was not complete as described, and instead of being quite a bargain at $208 for such a piece of history was probably in fact significantly overpriced (books with missing pages are not usually worth a lot). To her credit the seller has agreed to my returning the book.
However, in view of the rarity of the journal and the interest of its contents I must admit that my almost every instinct is telling me to hold onto it regardless of the fact that it was a bad buy at that price. Earlier today I sent the Warburg Institute Library in London an email enquiring as to whether I might be able to pay someone to take a professional quality facsimile of the missing leaf from their copy, so that I could get the whole thing rebound as a complete volume, restoring it to its rightful value or something close. If I can’t get a facsimile of the missing page in decent condition, then rebinding would be money down the drain, so this is crucial.
But I digress. Among the most interesting contents to have come to my attention so far is a letter by a J.B. relating the history from his point of view of the publication of the translation credited to Manoah Sibly, published 1789, of Placido De Titis’s ‘Tabulae Primi Mobilis’. This is the kind of red-hot controversial material that in more modern times editors would probably run a mile from before venturing to publish it out of fear of libel proceedings and all kinds of other legal consequences.
This J.B. claims himself to have been the actual translator of ‘Tabulae Primi Mobilis’, whose translation was hand-copied from him (with his permission, for private use only) by a Benjamin Bishop. Manoah Sibly, J.B. claims, then sent a friend of his round to borrow the hand-copy from Benjamin Bishop, and this friend of M. Sibly in turn copied the copy, and gave it to M. Sibly to publish. What intrigue!
This is clearly why when John Cooper published his own revision of the Sibly-published translation in 1814 under the changed title of ‘Primum Mobile’ he drew allusion to the bizarre chain of events surrounding the original printing of the aforesaid in 1789.
I’ve previously observed that Cooper’s translation is almost a word-for-word copy of what I had believed to be Sibly’s but which clearly was in fact the work for the most part of the anonymous J. B.. Cooper himself took false credit for the translation in 1814 just as Sibly apparently did before him in 1789. However, one of Cooper’s claims is supported by the letter of the true translator in ‘The Astrologer’s Magazine’ in 1793:
That was that the true translator not having copied the original tables from the Tabulae Primi Mobilis, and only having treated of the text, when Sibly came to receive the translation two hand-copies later he did not have the correct tables from the original Latin source to reproduce, and according to Cooper Sibly’s translation was therefore incomplete on this level. Cooper won one over Sibly by gaining access to the original Latin source text and copying the original tables.
Thus it would appear Cooper’s edition of Primum Mobile may not be in any way improved over Sibly’s edition in terms of the translation, both having appropriated the translation by J.B., but Cooper’s has the advantage of a correct transposition of the original tables.
All the same, it’s high time that those entries in astrological history books calling Sibly’s translation of the Tabulae Primi Mobilis inept and Cooper’s definitive were rewritten, since neither Sibly nor Cooper was the translator and they both appropriated a third-hand manuscript copy of J. B.’s translation from some time in the 1780s, with Cooper having made at best a few occasional alterations to this on reference to the original source text. Cooper’s greatest triumph was one of marketing. He used negative campaigning about Sibly’s edition to champion his own. I’m sure that if Sibly had been lucky enough as Cooper was to gain access to the Latin original and thus to procure the correct tables, there would have been little if anything to choose between their editions. It could be argued that both men lacked scruples in failing to acknowledge their debts to the true translator, however.
Going back to the Astrologer’s Magazine and Philosophical Miscellany, while the bound volumes present in most institutions run for just six months, and while Gardner claims that the volume from 1793(-4) was all that was published, showing that even he didn’t know about the later issues, there is one library listed in COPAC in the UK, namely University of London – ULRLS, which I had thought was probably the Warburg Institute by another name (correction: it appears to be a collective name for all the University of London’s special research libraries, and in this case it seems to be the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature at Senate House, wherever that may be), that seems to have issues running on (with some gaps) to 1797. This would suggest that in fact the magazine continued until 1797, but that only the first six months ever appeared in a bound volume, all later issues having become extremely rare. They list their holdings by individual issue number, grouped in large bunches with very approximate year information only. They do not give corresponding monthly dates, but since the date of the first issue is known to be August 1793 I think I have been able to work these out as follows:
1793 Nos. 1 to 3; 5 (lacking 4, which must be November 1793 since it began in August);
1794 Nos 6-17 (this must be January 1794, the last issue found in the usual bound volume, plus rare issues from February-December 1794)
1795 Nos 19-20; 22-3; 25-9 (must be rare issues from Feb-Mar, May-June, Aug-Dec 1795)
1796 Nos 30-33; 35-41 (must be rare issues from Jan-Apr; Jun-Dec 1796)
1797 Nos 42-46 (must be rare issues from presumably Jan-May 1797)
And finally, the third (or rather second, Alan Leo’s having been the third) Astrologer’s Magazine, which like the 1793-7 journal had as its full name ‘The Astrologer’s Magazine and Philosophical Miscellany’, appeared as a bound volume in the 1860s (1860 I think), edited by an Edward Vaughan Williams. I have a copy on my bookshelves. It is not listed in Gardner, and appears to be a very singular publication, with no monthly subdivisions, though perhaps it was a slightly reformatted compilation of what originally was published as monthly issues. I imagine that only a small smattering was ever printed. Do you think he was any relation to the composer, anyone?
One of the regular, learned contributors of articles and especially replies to correspondents to ‘The Astrologer’s Magazine and Philosophical Miscellany’ in 1793 is a Mercurius, of Bath. He must have been a favoured sub-editor of the magazine with the duty of answering all letters to the magazine. The editor himself signs himself ‘EDITOR’ and occasionally throws in footnotes of his own to Mercurius’s responses.
I am just wondering here whether or not there is any historical connection in the pen-name MERCURIUS to the mysterious group called the Mercurii of which Robert Cross Smith, the first Raphael, of Bristol (just up the road from Bath), was the most famous member in the 1820s.
The most fascinating thing for me about this journal from the 1790s is how it demonstrates what a thriving community of learned, well-read astrologers was then around despite the oft-referenced ‘dark age’ of 18th century astrology. Some day I’m going to have to apply to make a trip to the Harry Price Library and read all the later issues to 1797 and take copious notes!
From ‘The Astrologer’s Magazine and Philosophical Miscellany’ Volume 1, issue 1 – August 1793:
“OF THE PIRATED TRANSLATION OF PLACIDUS DE TITUS.
“I cannot allow myself to be silent concerning the mis-statement of a fact, page 95 of your first Vol. of this Magazine, where, in a cursory acocunt of Placidus de Titus, it is said “that the late Mr. Bejamin Bishop, master of Sir John Cass’s School, Aldergate, caused this work to be translated from the original Latin into English, but he unfortunately died before the book was quite finished; and the MS. falling into the hands of a rapacious editor, it has been published in a more incorrect manner than would have happened had the life of that ingenious sidereal artist been of longer date.”
“About the time the first or second number appeared of Sibly’s compilation, entitled “An illustration of the celestial Science of Astrology,” I became acquainted with the late Mr. Bishop, who was, doubtless, not only a very facetious, but an ingenious man. He expressed a great desire to become proficient in astrology, and gave me to understasnd, that in his youth he had acquired some knowledge of it, which he had now in a great measure forgotten: I encouraged him to expect, that with the opportunities for study which his station allowed, his prompt talents, and the free access which he might have to my collection of Authors on the celestial philosophy, there was no doubt but he might make as much progress as a person of his versatile talent could wish to do.
“To the best of my recollection, that gentleman was born under the sign Cancer; at any rate he was both quick and unstable in his pursuits: at one time he was remarkably fond of angling, at another of drawing; music, also, shared a part of his regards, and lastly astrology, geomancy, and palmistry, attracted his attention.
“Mr. Bishop purchased some of Lilly and Gadbury’s publications; I procured for him Salmon’s Soul of Astrology, Partridge’s Defectio Geniturarum, his Opus Reformatum, Whalley’s translation of the Quadripartite, and some few other books, which I conceived recommended the best practice in the science. I also lent Mr. Bishop a translation (consisting of three small quarto volumes elegantly written) which I had caused to be done from the Latin of Placidus de Titus, which is entitled, “Tabulae Primi Mobilis cum Thesibus Ad Theorigen & Canonibus ad praxim additis. In rerum demonstrationem & Suppurationum Exemplum Trigint clarissimonum natabrium Thematibus Autore D. Placido de Titus Pervsino Olivetano a mathematicis;” or “Tables of the Primum Mobile, or First Mover; with Positions for Theory, and Rules for Practice; given by way of demonstrating Things, and elucidating Calculations from thirty very remarkable nativities, by D. Placidus de Titis, Olivetanus of Tuscany, mathematician to the most serene William Leopold, arch duke of Austria, according to the principles explained by the same author, in his Philosophy of the Heavens, and from reasons deduced from nature, and evidently proved from the assertions of the principles of Physics and Mathematics, printed at Padua 1657.”
“The original, or Latin copy of this work, formerly belonged to Mr. Creighton, a gentleman, and a scholar, who about thirty or forty years ago, used to be followed by great numbers, on account of his skill in astrology, and the medical art. He resolved questions for several years in the Old Bailey, a few doors from Ludgate-hill, on the right hand side of the way. It appears to have been once the property of Mr. James Perkins, February 24, 1718. That gentleman was, I believe, an officer of excise, and byt he various books which have passed under my observation, in which his name was inscribed, he was certainly a very skilful and ingenious artist; I have been informed, that after his death, the book became the property of the celebrated astronomer, Dr. Edmund Halley, who was about three and twenty years astronomer royal at Greenwich.
“Mr. Bishop having copied my translation, applied to me to lend him the original work, which I perceived he wanted for the purpose of copying out the tables: to that I decidedly objected, because, as I observed to him, it would tend to lessen the value of the book, which had been a very expensive one, and it might also prevent me the pleasure which I hoped one day to feel, in having it in my power to publish my translation for general use.
“Mr. Sibly, who some years since, transiently saw the Latin copy in my hands, had a friend who borrowed of Bishop the copy which he had taken, and that copy, in its turn, was clandestinely transcribed. Thus it was that the public became possessed of the book entitled “Sibly’s Astronomy, and Elementary Philosophy, translated from the Latin of Placidus de Titus.” It consists of two volumes; the first contains 254 pages, besides a table of houses for the lat. 51 deg 32 min, similar to those heretofore published in Coley’s Almanack, and in the book published anno 1687, by Kirby and Bishop, in the book entitled “The Marrow of Astrology.” The address to the reader from p. 5 to 10 is from Placidus; from hence to p. 122 is a hodge-podge selection of Mr. Sibly’s; from pages 123 to 247 is stolen from my translation of Placidus; the remainder of that volume consists of the Prince of Wales’s nativity and some other matters relating to the Animodar, or conceptional figure, as may be met with in some other books.
“The second volume of the translation published by Sibly, contains 187 pages; from page 7 to p. 187, is pirated from my translation. The supplement to that volume contains 177 pages; the first 23 of which is a quotation from Cromwell’s nativity in Partridge’s Opus Reformatum; from thence to the end is a collection of tables so different from those in the original, as clearly evinces that Mr. Sibly was never in possession of the Latin original, which, besides some other matters he has omitted, contains a copious index.
“The judicious alteration in the title of your monthly Miscellany, indicates an improvement in your plan of conducting the work: I therefore hope that your publication will hold a respectable rank among modern literature, and shall from time to time transmit you such extracts from the authentic translation of Placidus’s Primum Mobile, as will put your future readers in possession of the whole of that admirable performance.
“I am, sir, your obedient humble servant, J. B. Islington, July 13, 1793.”
The two volumes plus supplement to the second to which J. B. refers of Sibly’s publication of J. B.’s translation, with (by the sound of it) some additions by Sibly of his own, are best known by their names of:
Astronomy and Elementary Philosophy (Vol. 1 as referred to by J. B.); A Collection of Thirty Remarkable Nativities (Vol. 2 as referred to by J. B.); Supplement to Placidus de Titus (Supplement as referred to by J. B.)
It is interesting that J. B. himself translates Placido’s Latin title of ‘Tabulae Primi Mobilis’ as ‘Primum Mobile’, and that this is the same translation adopted in the title to be given to the repackaged version of J. B.’s translation published by John Cooper in 1814, ie 21 years after J. B.’s letter reproduced above and 25 after the printing of Sibly’s edition of the same translation. It strikes me as very probable that Cooper was familiar with ‘The Astrologer’s Magazine and Philosophical Miscellany’ and that the controversy surrounding Sibly’s publication of J. B.’s translation, and especially the claims made by J. B. that Sibly added 90 pages of his own compilation from other sources to the first volume of his publication and that in his ‘Supplement’ volume Sibly did not use the correct tables from the Latin original, spurred Cooper on to republish J. B.’s translation in a single volume with Sibly’s additional material removed and with his tables replaced with those from the Latin original.
Nonetheless, anyone reading the introduction by Cooper to his 1814 publication of ‘Primum Mobile’ should be left in no doubt that Cooper is falsely claiming credit for the translation itself, when on close inspection by comparison with Sibly’s transcription of J. B.’s translation it is apparent that the two are almost identical.
It appears from J.B.’s letter that he himself had purchased the copy of the Latin original of the Tabulae Primi Mobilis whose provenance he traces through various notables including Sir Edmund Halley. The final question remaining to me here is whether or not J. B. himself was the translator of his own translation. He states at one point early in the letter to the Astrologer’s Magazine that the translation in his possession was one that he had ’caused to be done from the Latin’. Unless this was a manner of speaking for politeness’s sake so as not to appear overly boastful, is J. B. not implying here that he had commissioned another translator to prepare his translation privately for him? Whatever the case may be, J. B. is in no doubts that he owned the rights to the translation, and is clearly incensed with Manoah Sibly for having published a third-hand manuscript copy of it without his permission.
After losing my Internet for the day this morning, however, I did do one check of my own for possible clues to the identity of the J B who either translated or had translated for himself the Tabulae Primi Mobilis of Placido de Titis only for a third-hand manuscript copy of his translation to be published by Manoah Sibly in 1789 and essentially the same translation expurgated of Sibly’s additions to be republished by John Cooper in 1814.
I looked through the entire ‘B’ section of the alphabetical author listing in Gardner, and could find only one author with the initials J B who was likely to have been alive and active in astrological literature in the 1790s. This one, however, was John Barrett, author of ‘An Enquiry into the Origins of the Constellations’, published 1800 in Ireland. It was an extremely poor match despite the dates.
Then on a whim I decided to look up Gardner’s references to the earliest translations of Ptolemy’s ‘Tetrabiblos’ into English. It soon became apparent that Whalley’s pioneering translation of the very early 1700s, published as the ‘Quadripartite’, was reprinted in the 1780s by a team consisting of ‘M. S. and J. B.’. Gardner identifies these as Manoah Sibly and J. Browne.
It does not take too much imagination to presume then that J. B. was a former publishing associate of Manoah Sibly who had jointly edited and reprinted with him Whalley’s translation of the Tetrabibos in the 1780s, and that it was through this association that M. Sibly had come to, by J. B.’s testimony in his letter to the Astrologer’s Magazine in 1793, fleetingly espy J. B.’s copy of the original Latin edition of the Tabulae Primi Mobilis in J. B.’s hands. It would appear then that when M. Sibly heard on the grapevine that J. B. had had a translation made of the same great work, and that his friend Benjamin Bishop had borrowed that translation from him and taken a hand-copy of it, Sibly saw the opportunity for a lucrative publication venture and sent a friend of his own round to ensnare Bishop’s copy of J. B.’s translation for his own commercial use on false pretences.
So it was, by this hypothesis, that two once good business associates in the publication of translations of great astrological works, Manoah Sibly and J. Browne, came instead to be bitter enemies, as the former turned devious traitor against the latter for his own personal gain.
This hypothesis however is tenuous, resting as it does solely on the available information that Sibly’s reprint of Whalley’s translation of the Tetrabiblos in the 1780s was in fact reprinted as a joint venture by Sibly and a J. B., exactly the same initials used by the correspondent to the Astrologer’s Magazine in 1793 who accused Sibly of having stolen his separate translation of the Tabulae Primi Mobilis.
– (In response to Tom Callanan’s suggestion that J. B. might have been John Worsdale:)
Very interesting idea. My main cause for doubting it, other than the obvious fact that Worsdale would have been J. W. if following the normal pattern of using his first and last initials, is that the impression I have from J. B.’s writing is that he’s a man of more advanced years than Worsdale would have been at that time.
M. Sibly’s ‘pirated’ edition of J. B.’s translation of Placido de Titis was published in 1789. This suggests that J. B.’s translation itself was made not later than 1788, and quite possibly as early as 1785 or earlier.
Even in 1788, Worsdale would have been barely 22. How would such a young man have afforded to purchase the original of one of the rarest astrology books in existence, of which I have read it said that there was only a single copy in England in the 18th century? It would have been a very expensive book, so Worsdale would have needed a lot of money at such a young age.
It is also apparent that J. B. had an acquaintance with Benjamin Bishop, the late (by 1793) schoolmaster, for some years, and had encouraged him in his astrological studies, helping him procure various books. If J. B. had been Worsdale, then the two would most probably have to have met, I presume, through a student-teacher relationship, whereby J. B. as a young student of Mr. Bishop became his friend through a common interest in astrology. But it seems paradoxical in this case that it was J. B. who had by far the greater literary resources and knowledge.
I suspect that J. B. was an older man than 22 by 1788, and at present think that his having been the said J. Browne, whose edition in collaboration with M. Sibly of Whalley’s translation of the Tetrabiblos, published in the mid-late 1780s (1786, I think), was symptomatic of a pre-existing deep acquaintance with astrology on his part, is the best fit out of any postulated candidates for his true identity to have so far been proposed. In 1786, Worsdale would have been just 19 at the start of the year, 20 by its end.
I can see in Ashmand’s introduction to his translation of the Tetrabiblos in 1822 where Gardner gets his naming of J. B. the editor of the Sibly edition of Whalley’s translation of the Quadripartite as J. Browne from: Ashmand himself expressly elucidates this as being his full name.
It has to be said that J. was a very common first initial in 18th century England, as there were an awful lot of Johns about, as well as quite a few Jameses and Jacks. But how many of those put the exact form of their name as ‘J. B.’ on their astrological publications? Only J. Browne, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, at least at that point in history. So if J. B. the translator of Placidus was a different J. B. who also happened to choose to abbreviate his name to the precise form J. B. and also happened to have a personal acquaintance and working relationship (though unintentional in that case) with one Manoah Sibly, it is coincidence indeed.
One strong feeling I have from looking through the old journals like the Astrologer’s Magazine and Philosophical Miscellany is that we have to be reminded that not all the keen astrologers and astrological thinkers and book-collectors who participated in the astrological community were minded to put their own writings into print under their own names, and of those who were, not all of them did so. For every Worsdale and Sibly, perhaps, there was an unsung J. B. and Mercurius, who were probably very well-known within the astrological community in their lifetimes, but left behind few marks to remember them by.
PS: If we could access a manuscript copy of Worsdale’s translation of the Tetrabiblos at some university or other such collection and compare it to the Whalley translation as edited by J. B. and reprinted by M. Sibly in 1786, we could rule the Worsdale connection to J. B. in or out without much trouble. I suspect however that Broughton would have referred to Worsdale’s translation as having been a mere edit of Whalley’s early 1700s translation if that was what it was, and that Worsdale is more likely to have made his own translation from the beginning!
I agree that Worsdale should have known about Ashmand’s translation at least if he had written in 1828. Wilson’s translation was a little less successful so he might not have known of it. But you have certainly presented a very good case for at least that part of Worsdale’s preface to the 1828 edition of ‘Celestial Philosophy’ having been carelessly carried over unedited from his earlier, rare 1798 / 1799 publications.
The question then is why in 1798 / 9 was Worsdale unaware of the Whalley translation of the Tetrabiblos c. 1701 (?) and the Sibly / Browne-edited reprint of it published in 1786? He must not have had access to them in his youth, or else he regarded them as so appallingly error-prone that he saw fit to pretend that they were not in fact translations of the Tetrabiblos at all, and therefore to claim that none had been published yet!
M. Sibly and J. B.’s revised edition of Whalley’s translation of the Tetrabiblos (1786) was acknowledged as such, without Whalley’s credit being withheld, in stark contrast to M. Sibly’s truly pirated edition of J. B.’s translation of the Tabulae Primi Mobilis of Placido de Titis (1789-90, in three volumes), in which there was absolutely no acknowledgement whatsover of anyone other than Sibly himself being to credit for the translation!
One way or another, though, between editing, jointly with J. B., Whalley’s translation of Ptolemy with proper crediting, and pirating J. B.’s translation of Placidus without proper crediting, it’s little wonder that M. Sibly came to get a bad reputation as as pirate of others’ works by the early 19th century.
All of which does nothing to detract from J. B.’s singular contribution to English astrology shortly before the turn of the 19th century, his translation of Placidus having found its way into both Sibly’s and Cooper’s pirated editions! And just how influential it was in the 19th century upon such technically precise astrologers as Morrison (Zadkiel I), Worsdale, Parkes and Pearce can hardly be overstated.