The work of Robert Fludd (1574-1637), the Paracelsian physician and Hermetic encyclopedist who provided the last major statement of the esoteric traditions of the Renaissance, has been best known in modern times by way of the extraordinary engravings created for his vast Technical, Physical and Metaphysical History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm (1617-1626). These are perhaps the most common visual images of Renaissance esotericism at the present time; ironically, though, Fludd’s own writings have all but vanished into their shadow. Most remain available only in their original editions, mostly in Latin, and the few reprintings and translations that have appeared are scattered through the academic literature.
This book of selections from Fludd’s writings is thus a welcome step in uncovering one of the more neglected figures in the Western esoteric tradition. Huffman, whose Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (Routledge: New York, 1988) is a solid general study of Fludd and his place in Renaissance thought, has assembled writings from most of the periods of Fludd’s literary output – the Apologia Compendiaria, an early defense of the Rosicrucians; a selection from the first volume of the Technical, Physical and Metaphysical History; his Brief Declaration to James I of England, defending himself against charges of heresy; A Philosophical Key, an alchemical work describing experiments on wheat; Truth’s Golden Harrow, a defense of the physical reality of alchemy; Dr. Fludd’s Answer unto M. Foster, in which Fludd supported the Paracelsian position in the weapon-salve controversy; and a portion of Mosaicall Philosophy, Fludd’s last work. Also included in the volume is Wolfgang Pauli’s essay “The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler,” which chronicles the dispute between Fludd and Kepler over the respective places of mathematics and mysticism in an understanding of the world, as well as a mostly biographical introduction and a useful bibliography.
There are a few weaknesses to this otherwise solid work. The sheer volume of Fludd’s prose has forced Huffman to prune his selections extensively, and in some places – particularly in the portion of the History reprinted here – the resulting passages are disjointed and difficult to put in their proper context. The selection of writings is also problematical in one sense: the pieces given deal largely with Fludd the theoretician and philosopher; Fludd’s more practical interests in medicine, technology and the arts, interests which fill the greater part of his works, receive far less attention. Amid the sometimes abstract speculations of his esoteric philosophy, it can be too easy to lose sight of the Robert Fludd who introduced new methods of steel manufacture to England and devised one of the earliest barometers.
Despite these quibbles, though, Huffman’s collection is a solid introduction to Fludd’s thought, and a valuable resource for any student of esoteric traditions in the Renaissance.