The saying of Caracciolo in his work, De varietate fortunæ, regarding the Sforza, namely, that there is no tragedy however terrible for which this house would not furnish an abundance of material may well be applied to both these families.
In crises of this kind his mind would be brought into so morbid a condition, that it would fall entirely under the sway of any single idea then dominant; such idea would master him entirely, or even haunt him like one of those unclean spectres he describes with such gusto in the De Varietate.
But the hallucinations which he nourished about himself were not all the outcome of senility. In the De Varietate, the work upon which he spent the greatest care, and the product moreover of his golden prime, he gives an account of four marvellous properties with which he was gifted. The first of these was the power to pass, whenever the whim seized him, from sense into a kind of ecstasy.
Each page is studded with five stars, each as unique as the century-flower, and, like the night-blooming cereus, "the perfume and suppliance of a minute" ipsa varietate variora. The mind of Shakespeare was bodied forth as Montezuma was apparelled, whose costume, however gorgeous, was never twice the same.
The De Subtilitate and the De Varietate are standing proofs that Cardan did not overstrain his powers by exertion of this kind. Leaving out of the reckoning his mathematical treatises, the vogue enjoyed by Cardan's published works must have been a short one. They came to the birth only to be buried in the yawning graves which lie open in every library.
Budæus adversus Erasmum, Fuchsius adversus Cornarium, Silvius adversus Vesalium, Nizolius adversus Maioragium: non tam credo justis contentionum causis, quam vanitate quadam et spe augendæ opinionis in hominibus." Opera, tom. i. p. 135. He writes in this strain in De Vita Propria, ch. xiv. p. 49, in De Varietate Rerum, p. 626, and in Geniturarum Exempla, p. 431.
Opera, tom. i. p. 122. De Vita Propria, p. 232. Opera, tom. i. p. 639. In the De Varietate he says that natural causes may in most cases be found for seeming marvels. "Ecce auditur strepitus in domo, potest esse mus, felis, ericius, aut quod tigna subsidant blatta." p. 624. De Vita Propria, ch. xli. p. 152. De Vita Propria, chapter xlii., passim. Ibid., p. 66. Opera, tom. i. p. 339.
Although he had in his earlier days treated his father's belief with a certain degree of respect and credence, there is no evidence that he was possessed with the notion that any such supernatural guardian attended his own footsteps at the time when he put together the De Varietate; indeed it would seem that his belief was exactly the opposite.
In the De Varietate he always contrives to bring forward some fresh fact or fancy to illustrate whatever section of the universe he may have under treatment, even though this section may have been already dealt with in the De Subtilitate.
Caracciolo, de Varietate Fortunæ, Muratori, vol. xxii. p. 87, exposes this system in a passage which should be compared with Infessura on the practices of Sixtus. De Comines, lib. vii. cap. 11, may be read with profit on the same subject.
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