Benjamin Franklin and Astrology
Elsa just posted this really interesting quote from Benjamin Franklin on her blog which nicely illustrates his endorsement of horoscopic astrology. I was always aware that Franklin wrote the Poor Richard’s Almanac, but this really displays his stance on astrology in a bit more dramatic of a manner than I had seen previously. The quote comes from the 1751 preface to the Poor Richard’s Almanac that you can find on Google Books. He writes
Astrology is one of the most ancient Sciences, had in high Esteem of old, by the Wise and Great. Formerly, no Prince would make War or Peace, nor any General fight a Battle, in short, no important Affair was taken without first consulting an Astrologer, who examined the Aspects and Configurations of the heavenly bodies, and mark’d the lucky hour. Now the noble Art (more Shame to the Age we live in!) is dwindled into contempt; the Great neglect us, Empires make Leagues, and Parliaments Laws, without advising with us; and scarce any other Use is made of our learned Labors, than to find the best time cutting Corns, or gelding Pigs, – this Mischief we owe in a great Measure to ourselves: The ignorant Herd of Mankind: had they not been encourag’d to it by some of us, would never have dared to deprecate our sacred Dictates; but Urania has been betray’d by her own Sons: those whom she had favored with the greatest skill in her divine art, the most eminent astronomers among the Moderns, the Newtons, Helleys, and Whistons have wantonly condem’d and abus’d her, contrary to the Light of their own Consciouses.
Franklin is simultaneously acknowledging his practice of horoscopic astrology, and lamenting the status of the subject in his day. He was living in a time when astrology had fallen into a two century decline in which few serious astrological texts were being published, and the only lifeline that astrology had was that it was being disseminated in a somewhat popularized form in almanacs by people like himself, as well as other astrologers such as Raphael and Zadkiel. Rob Hand sometimes refers to this period as the “Endarkenment”, insomuch as astrology is concerned.
Franklin was also paying homage to the last great period of English astrology prior to his time, which had taken place in the mid-17th century, by writing under the pseudonym Richard Saunders. Richard Saunders was a well known astrologer from this period who wrote a number of important works, including a comprehensive textbook on medical astrology titled The Astrological Judgement and Practice of Physick.
One hundred years later the astrologer and almanac maker Zadkiel, writing along the same lines as Franklin, penned the following statement not long before the revival of astrology in the late 19th/early 20th century
[Astrology] has been sick, but not dying; silent, but not destroyed. Struck down by foul calumny, fettered by ignorance, slandered by falsehood, pressed to the earth by prejudice; yet lo! It lives, moves, and rises again…”
– Zadkiel, The Voice of the Stars, 1851.