Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Forman, Simon

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964929Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 19 — Forman, Simon1889Sidney Lee

FORMAN, SIMON (1552–1611), astrologer and quack-doctor, was fifth son of the eight children of William Forman and his wife Mary, daughter of John Foster, by Marianna Hallam. Simon's grandfather, Richard Forman, was governor of Wilton Abbey before the suppression of the monasteries, and when the abbey was made over to William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, held some office about the park. Dying in 1556 Richard was buried at Foulson, Devonshire. Simon's father, William, born at Quidhampton, Wiltshire, in 1524, served as page to Lady Willoughby; married in 1544 Mary Foster, who came from the neighbourhood of Andover; was deprived of property which he should have inherited from his father, and died 1 Jan. 1564, being buried at Foulson. Simon's mother lived to the age of ninety-seven, dying in 1602, and being buried with her husband. She was vigorous to the last, walking two miles within a fortnight of her death. Simon, who paid much attention to the genealogy of his family, claimed descent from some apocryphal Richard Forman, earl of Devonshire in the time of William I, who is said to have built the church of St. James at Exeter. A Sir George Forman was created K.B. in 1485, and Sir William Forman, haberdasher, was lord mayor of London in 1538-9. With both of these Simon declared that he was connected.

Simon was born at Quidhampton, 30 Dec. 1552. Lilly's statement that he was son of a chandler, and was born in Westminster, is untrue. He suffered as a child from bad dreams, presaging 'the troubles of his riper years.' A clergyman of Salisbury, named Riddout, who had formerly been a cobbler, and who removed to Quidhampton, when the plague raged in Salisbury, first taught Simon his accidence. Afterwards he went for two years to a free school in the Close at Salisbury, under a master named Boole or Bowie, 'a severe and furious man,' and was thence removed to the care of one Minterne, prebendary of the cathedral, a person of unpleasantly frugal habits. The death of Simon's father in January 1563-4 left him destitute. His mother neglected him, and made him do menial work. On 8 Feb. 1567 he apprenticed himself to Matthew Comin, a general dealer, of Salisbury. His master treated him kindly, but his mistress had a violent temper, and he left after a serious quarrel with her (29 June 1572). He had Kept up his studies by getting a schoolboy who lodged with his master to teach him at night all he learned by day. He went through the Isle of Wight on his way home to Quidhampton. His mother still declined to maintain him; he became a schoolmaster near his native place, and received 40s. for half a year's work. On 20 May 1573 Simon made his way to Oxford with a friend, Thomas Ridear. He entered Magdalen College as a poor scholar, and studied at the school attached to the college. John Thornborough, a demy of the college (afterwards bishop of Limerick), and his friend Robert Pinkney of St. Mary's Hall, two pleasure-loving young gentlemen, took him into their service. He had to attend them on hunting expeditions to Shotover, and to walk to Cowley almost every day to assist them in the courtship of a young lady for whose hand they were both suitors. Forman left Oxford 12 Sept. 1574, and until midsummer 1578 found employment as an usher in several small schools at Wilton, Ashmore, and Salisbury. Early in 1579 he was lodging in the parsonage of Fisherton, and it was about that date that he discovered what he claimed to be his miraculous powers. 'I did prophesy,' he records in his diary, 'the truth of many things which afterwards came to pass, and the very spirits were subject to me.' In June he was robbed of his goods and books, and, on the information of one William Estcourt, was sent to gaol for sixty weeks, apparently on the ground of practising magic. This proved the first of a long series of similar experiences. He was set free 14 July 1580, begged his way to London, and obtained work as a carpenter at Greenwich. On 14 Aug. he first practised his healing arts, which cured one Henry Jonson of London of a pulmonary complaint. In September he accompanied his patient to Holland; stayed for a fortnight at the Hague, and largely increased his knowledge of astrology and medicine. He was home again in October, and went to Quidhampton for a year, 'curing sick and lame folk,' but the justices at the Lent assizes bound him over to abstain from his quackery, and he had often to 'thresh and dig and hedge' for his living. In the autumn of 1581 he hired a house at Salisbury, and renewed his practice of physic and surgery. In August 1582 he went to sea, and landed in Studland. On his return he travelled much, but finally set up in the next year (1583) in London as a doctor and astrologer. There he remained till the end of his life. He lived at different times in New Street, St. Thomas's Churchyard, Philpot Street, and elsewhere. The authorities invariably condemned his methods of gaining a livelihood, and he repeatedly suffered imprisonment, but gradually he acquired a lucrative practice, although for the most part a disreputable one. The Bishop of London summoned him in 1583; he was imprisoned for nearly the whole of July 1584, and in the summer of 1585 he was robbed, assaulted, and sent to prison. The assault was perhaps due to his personal immoralities, of which he left an elaborate record in his diaries. Women figured largely among his patients, and his treatment of them was very unprofessional. In 1588 he began to publicly practise necromancy, and to 'call angels and spirits.' In 1589 he was impressed for the Portugal voyage, but he seems to have been released from service within a month. On 26 July 1590 he was threatened with process in the Star-chamber. His fortunes suffered eclipse, and he was near starvation. With a view to improving his position he began writing a treatise on mathematics and medicine. In 1592 the tide turned in his favour. He worked assiduously and with great success among the poor in plague-stricken districts of London, where few doctors ventured. He himself caught the infection. The College of Physicians summoned him in May 1593 for practising without a license. He confessed that he had practised in England for sixteen years, but in London for two only; claimed to have effected many cures: acknowledged that the only medical authors he studied were 'Cockes and Wainefleet' (the first is probably a reference to Francis Coxe [q. v.]), and boasted that he used no other help to know diseases than the 'Ephemerides.' He declared that celestial signs and aspects gave him all the information about diseases that he required. The physicians reported that he was laughably ignorant of medicine and astronomy. He was interdicted from the practice of medicine, and was fined 5l., which he promised to pay.

Forman had no intention of relinquishing his work. In 1594 he began experiments with the philosopher's stone and wrote a book on magic. Persons moving in high society, especially ladies, began to employ him. In 1595 he went aboard 'my Earl of Cumberland's ship' to attend Lady Hawkins, and in September 1601 he wrote that he had made the acquaintance of Lord Hertford. To his poor patients he always remained accessible. But the physicians still refused to tolerate him. On 7 Nov. 1595 he was re-examined by them and was sent to prison and fined 10l. On 22 Dec. the lord keeper Egerton ordered his release and demanded from the physicians an explanation of their conduct. In September 1596 he was charged by the college with administering a water of his own manufacture, in the success of which he thoroughly believed, to a patient who died after drinking it. The physicians again sent him to prison, but he was set free in November. In September 1597 he was charged before the lord mayor with assaulting a woman, and was in the Counter for a fortnight. In 1597 he took a house at Lambeth so as to be within the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury and free from the attacks of the physicians. But he seems to have suffered again at their hands in 1598, and on 25 June 1601 the College of Physicians petitioned Archbishop Whitgift to allow them to proceed against him once more.

Forman had now acquired many powerful friends. On 26 June 1603 the university of Cambridge gave him a license to practise medicine (Ashmole MS. 1301, now 1763, f. 44), and on 27 June he proceeded M.D. from Jesus College. On 30 March 1607 a number of patients complained to the College of Physicians of Forman's prophetic methods of cure, and of the high charges which he demanded for his drugs. But until the end of his life Forman's connection among ladies of the court increased. At the trial of those charged with the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury in 1615, four years after Forman's death, it was shown that one of the defendants, Mrs. Turner, had constantly consulted Forman in order not only to forward an intrigue of her own with Sir Arthur Mainwaring, but also to assist her friend the Countess of Essex, who was seeking a divorce from the Earl of Essex (D'Ewes, Autob. i. 87). A very familiar letter was produced in court, written by the countess to Forman, in which she asked him to alienate by his magical philtres the love of her husband Essex, and to draw towards her the love of the Earl of Somerset. Indecent images in wax of the persons concerned in these scandals were brought into court by Forman's widow. A book in his handwriting was also produced containing the names of his female clients and accounts of their intrigues with gentlemen about the court of which they had given the doctor secret knowledge. It is stated that Lord-chief-justice Coke was about to read out these notes when his attention was attracted to the name of his own wife (State Trials, ii. 931-2: Weldon, Court of James I, ed. Sir W. Scott, i. 418; cf. Ashmole MS. 411, f. 179). Forman was likewise reported to be especially skilful in tracking thieves and stolen treasure poem entitled 'Overbury's Vision' (1616), Overbury is made to say that he often crossed the river to Lambeth, where

Forman was, that fiend in human shape,
That by his art did act the devil's ape.

Forman died 12 Sept. 1611, and was buried the same day in the church of St. Mary, Lambeth. His friend Lilly reports that on the previous Sunday Forman's wife had asked him whether he or she should die first. He answered that she would bury him on the following Thursday. On the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday Forman was in his usual health, and his wife twitted him with the falseness of his prophecy. But on Thursday after dinner he took a boat at Southwark to cross the Thames to Puddle Dock, and having rowed into mid stream fell down dead. A storm arose immediately after his death. With this curious story may be compared the account of the death of Sir John Davies [q. v.], which his wife Eleanor foretold.

Forman seems to have married twice. Weldon describes one of his wives as 'a very pretty wench' who was noted for her infidelity. At Lambeth on 29 July 1599, when he was forty-seven, he married his first wife, Anne Baker, a niece on her mother's side of Sir Edward Moninges, and a member of a Canterbury family. This lady was only seventeen at the date of the marriage, and the union does not seem to have been a happy one. The name of Forman's second wife, who survived him, was Jane, and she had a sister, Susan Browne of London. She was her husband's executrix, and a letter from her to a friend referring to her troubles since her husband's death, and dated from Lambeth Marsh 26 Feb. 1611-1612, is in Ashmole MS. 240, f. 107. By his first wife Forman had a son Clement. He left 1,200l. in money and a large illegitimate family.

The sole work which Forman is known to have printed in his lifetime is 'The Grounds of the Longitude, with an admonition to all those that are incredulous and believe not the trueth of the same. Written by Simon Forman, student in astronomie and philosophy,' London, 1591, by Thomas Dawson. No copy is in the British Museum. One is in the Ashmolean collection at the Bodleian. Forman left a mass of manuscripts to Richard Napier, 'who had formerly been his scholar.' Napier bequeathed them to Sir Richard Napier his nephew, whose son Thomas gave them to Elias Ashmole [q. v.] They are now among the Ashmolean MSS. at the Bodleian. The manuscripts, which Wood remarks Forman did not live to methodise, include much autobiographical material. One of the most interesting features is a folio manuscript pamphlet entitled 'The Bocke of Plaies and notes thereof per Formans for common pollicie.' The earliest extant accounts are here supplied of the performances of Shakespeare's Macbeth' (at the Globe Theatre on Saturday, 20 April 1610), of the 'Winter's Tale' (at the Globe on Wednesday, 15 May 1611), and of 'Cymbeline.' A representation of a play, acted 30 April 1611, by another dramatist on the subject of Richard II is also described. The passages relating to Shakespeare were first printed in J. P. Collier's 'New Particulars,' 1836, pp. 6-26; facsimiles are given in Mr. J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps's 'Folio Shakespeare' (1853-65). A diary from 1564 to 1602, with an account of Forman's early life (from Ashmole MS. 208), was printed by Mr. J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps in 1843 for the Camden Society, but the astrologer's frank confessions of his immoral habits led the committee to cancel the publication after a few sheets had passed through the press. Sixteen copies were alone struck off. Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps added to this collection some genealogical notes by Forman, and issued it privately in an edition of 105 copies in 1849. The transcript is not always intelligible, but the difficulty of transcribing Forman's crabbed handwriting is very great. A diary for 1607 (Ashmole MS. 802, f. 152) was examined by Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps and deemed unfit for publication. Bliss has printed in his notes to Wood's 'Athenss Oxon.' ii. 101-2, an (Argumente between Forman and Deathe in his Sicknes 1585, Sept. the 4th,' in verse from Ashmole MS. 208, f. 13 b. Six books of medical practice, dated between March 1596 and December 1600, give the names of Forman's patients and their diseases. Chemical and medical collections, astrological papers, alchemical notes, verses on miscellaneous topics, and Forman's letters to Napier, fill a large number of the remaining manuscript volumes. There are also separate treatises on the plague, on the art of geomancy, on prayer, on the astrological judgments of diseases, on the creation of the world, the restoration of the Jews, and the life of Merlin, besides a poem on antichrist, prayers in Latin and English verse, and the astrologer's accounts of his dreams. In the printed diary Forman mentions that in 1600 he wrote out the two books of 'De Arte Memoratus' by Appolonius Niger, and copied also the four books of Stegonnographia and divers other books (p. 30). There are, moreover, manuscript verses on his troubles with the doctors in the Plymouth Library, and these were printed by Mr. J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps in his privately printed account of that library in 1853. Sir S. E. Brydges printed in 'Censuria Literaria,' iv. 410, a short account by Forman 'of Lucifer's creation and of the world's creation,' from a manuscript in St. John's College, Oxford.

Forman states that his portrait was painted in 1600, when he was arrayed in elaborate raiment. In the 'Antiquarian Repertory' (1780), i. 275, is an engraved portrait 'from the original drawing in the collection of the Right Hon. Lord Mountstuart,' now the property of the Marquis of Bute.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 98; William Lilly's History of his Life and Times (1715), pp, 12–16 (Lilly obtained his information from Forman's widow); the publications of Forman's manuscripts described above, edited by Mr. J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps; Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. 226–8 (archives of the College of Physicians); Black's Catalogue of the Ashmolean MSS.; Weldon's Court of King James, ed. Scott, 1812, i. 417–18; D'Ewes's Autobiography, i. 87–89; Halliwell-Phillipps's Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, ed. 1887, i. 230–1, ii. 85–7, 258–259; Lysons's Environs, i. 303; Halliwell's Archæologist, p. 34; Loseley MSS. ed. Kempe, p. 387; Strype's Whitgift, ii. 457. A manuscript completed in 1615 and dealing with astrology and medicine, said to be the work of a pupil of Forman's, perhaps Richard Napier, was sold at Sotheby's, 21 May 1857, and is said to throw light on Forman's life; cf. Notes and Queries, 6th ser. ix. 230–1.]

S. L. L.