Kelley, Edward (DNB00)
|←Kellett, Henry||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 30
KELLEY, EDWARD (1555–1595), alchemist, born at Worcester on 1 Aug. 1555, was bred as an apothecary, and at an early age acquired some skill in chemistry. His horoscope was subsequently cast by Dr. Dee, and the scheme of his nativity is shown in Ashmole's ‘Theatrum Chemicum’ (p. 479). Wood was informed that he studied for some time at Gloucester Hall, Oxford (Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, p. 639), and failing to find his name in the matriculation register, assumed that he entered under the alias of Talbot, three persons of that name being at Gloucester Hall in 1573. Leaving Oxford ‘abruptly,’ Kelley next appears at London as a fraudulent scrivener or attorney (Du Fresnoy, Hist. de la Philosophie Hermétique, i. 307). About 1580 he had his ears cropped in the pillory at Lancaster for forging some ancient title-deeds (Nash, ii. 446); or, according to another account, for coining base money. Weever, in his ‘Funerall Monuments’ (p. 46), charges him in addition with having dug up a corpse in Walton-le-Dale Park for the purpose of questioning the dead. In 1582 Kelley first made the acquaintance of Dr. John Dee, visiting him at his house at Mortlake, and expressing great curiosity as to his dealings with spirits. He declared himself an adept in the occult sciences, and exhibited his skill in invoking spirits and interpreting their communications. Dee, on his side, was anxious to witness Kelley's pretended skill in the transmutation of metals. Acting upon what was alleged to be supernatural advice, Dee and Kelley determined to co-operate in their researches, and the latter henceforth became Dee's ‘skryer’ or speculator, interpreting the wishes of the spirits to his master by means of two magic crystals, one of which was said to be the direct gift of the angel Gabriel. In September 1583 Kelley left England with Dee in the company of a Polish noble, Albert a Laski, whom their costly experiments brought to the verge of ruin [see Dee, John]. They then proceeded to Prague, where, in the December following, Kelley, according to Dee, transmuted an ounce of mercury into the best gold for the benefit of an English traveller named Edward Garland (Dee, Diary). Several years were spent by the two philosophers at the court of the Emperor Rudolph II, with occasional visits to the castle of some German or Polish noble. In April 1587, while they were at Trebona, a naked woman, in an apparition described by Kelley, directed the ‘skryer’ and his master to use ‘their two wives in common.’ Kelley convinced Dee of the bona fides of the spirit, and, after some hesitation, a solemn covenant was drawn up in accordance with the direction between Dr. Dee, Kelley, and their wives, Jane Dee and Joan Kelley (Meric Casaubon, Relation, pt. iii. pp. 10 sq.).
Kelley's profligacy soon afterwards led to a rupture between him and Dee. In January 1588 Dee delivered to him ‘the elixir (possessing the virtues of the philosopher's stone, and which Kelley professed to have discovered among the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey), the books, the glass, with some other things,’ together with a written discharge (Waite, Alchemystical Philosophers, p. 154). Kelley revisited the Emperor Rudolph's court at Prague, but was thrown into prison there in December 1589. Enlarged in October 1593, he appears to have led a vagabond life in Germany until the beginning of 1595, when he was once again imprisoned by Rudolph, and lost his life in attempting to escape. According to Ashmole his death took place on 5 Feb., but Wood gives the date as October 1595, and Dee, who was then back in England, enters the occurrence in his diary without comment on 25 Nov. 1595. From the title ‘Sir’ which is prefixed to his name on the title-pages of his works and elsewhere, it is presumed that he was at some time knighted by the emperor, probably during that prosperous period when he is described by Ashmole and Wood as distributing gold-wire rings to the value of 4,000l. In Ben Jonson's ‘Alchemist’ (act iv. sc. 1) Mammon is made to describe Subtle as ‘a man, the Emperor Has courted above Kelly’ (cf. Gabriel Harvey, Works, ed. Grosart, ii. 68–9). The necromancer does not appear to have had any issue, but he had a brother Thomas, whose horoscope was also cast by Dr. Dee, and a sister Lydia, who is mentioned by Lilly as continuing to live at Worcester until well on in the seventeenth century.
Kelley, although a charlatan, was a man of considerable parts and of a very fertile imagination. D'Israeli (Amenities of Literature, iii. 203) remarks with justice that the ‘masquerade of his spiritual beings was most remarkable for its fanciful minuteness.’ In Meric Casaubon's ‘Relation’ there is an engraved portrait of Kelley wearing his customary biretta and fur-lined cloak, the accompanying portraits being those of Mahomet, Apollonius Tyaneus, Roger Bacon, Paracelsus, and Dr. Dee. In the ‘Hortulus Hermeticus,’ drawn up by Dr. Stolcius, and appended to Manget's ‘Bibliotheca Curiosa,’ vol. iii., a place and emblem are assigned to ‘Edwardus Kellæus, philosophus dubius,’ and at a later date Kelley figured in Butler's ‘Hudibras’ (canto iii. 631). Two poems by ‘Sir Edward Kelley,’ one on alchemy generally, the other concerning the philosopher's stone, written to his especial good friend G. S., gent., are given in Ashmole's ‘Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum’ (1651), pp. 324–33. Besides these, Kelley wrote: 1. ‘Fragmenta aliquot edita a Cambacis,’ Geismar, 1647, 12mo. 2. ‘Edwardi Kelleii Epistolæ ad Edwardum Dyer,’ &c., Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. 3. ‘Tractatus duo egregii de Lapide Philoso- phorum una cum Theatro Astronomiæ, curante J[ohn] L[illy] et M[eric] C[asaubon],’ Hamburg, 1676, dedicated to Rudolph II.[Dr. Dee's Diary (Camd. Soc.), passim; Meric Casaubon's Relation of what passed for many years between Dr. John Dee and some Spirits; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. art. ‘Dee;’ Lenglet du Fresnoy's Histoire de la Philosophie Hermétique, 1742, i. 306–13; Manget's Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa, Geneva, 1702; Morhof's Epist. de Metallorum Transmutatione; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 639–43, iii. 286; Ashmole's Theatrum Chemicum, passim; Wm. Lilly's Autobiography, p. 226 (portrait); Hudibras, ed. Zachary Grey, ii. 59–60; The Conjuror's Magazine (1793), ii. 513; Harl. MS. 6986; Ashmole MS. 1790; Ayscough's Cat. of MSS. pp. 371, 486. In the Libri Mysteriorum in Dee's handwriting (Sloane MSS. 3188 and 3677) are allusions to Dee's skryer, but most of the conferences there recorded were held before Kelley's time. Popular accounts of Dr. Dee and Kelley are in Chambers's Biog. Illustrations of Worcestershire, pp. 87–8; Godwin's Lives of the Necromancers; Taylor's Romantic Biography of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth; Mackay's Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions.]