Page:Elizabethan People.djvu/129

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91
LIFE IN THE CAPITAL

by a window. Dee, it is highly probable, in addition to his scholarly activity, had acted as a political agent for Elizabeth abroad. In 1589 he returned to England to find that his house had been sacked by a mob and most of his books burnt. The mob cursed him for a magician while wrecking the house. Dee's reputation as a magician had far outgrown the fame of his scholarship. He complains several times during the rest of his life of this evil repute."

Though the testimony of Nash has been quoted to the effect that Dee was a good old man, he certainly failed to keep clear of the company that justified his later reputation. The affair with Laski is typical. If he was not, his professional colleagues were frequently guilty of the pretended manufacture of gold. The usual practice was to smelt quicksilver before the dupe's eyes. When the process was well advanced the alchemist laid on the crucible a bit of coal with silver filings in holes plugged up with wax. Sometimes by sleight of hand, a lump of gold or silver was substituted for one of copper. At any rate, the dupe was the one who was allowed to fish the precious metal out of the fire. They all repaired to a goldsmith who, after sufficient trial, pronounced it fine. This transmutation was a valuable secret indeed. Could one not immediately