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Towards the Dark

For centuries, the man in the street, bourgeois as well as relatively poor, had consulted astrologers when he could afford their fees; but more often he relied on the annual astrological almanacs which, for a relatively negligible sum of money, offered all sorts of help and advice.

Almanacs began as simple records of astronomical events during the coming year: notes of market days, holidays and holy days as well as of days when eclipses would occur, on which the Moon was full or new; on which notable celestial events such as conjunctions of the planets took place. In the Middle Ages these circulated in manuscript, or as 'clog almanacs' made of wood, metal or horn, with notches and symbols recording the lunar months and the church feast days. These were sometimes small enough to fit into a pocket, but occasionally more elaborate and even decorative, hanging on a nail at the fireside.

After the invention of printing, almanacs were among the earliest books to be published: a printed almanac was issued by Gutenberg in 1448 - eight years before his famous Bible - and within thirty years a large number of them was being published, not only containing astronomical facts but predictions based on them. The earliest printed 'prognostication' to have survived is dated 1470, but within a few years others appeared printed in Germany, France, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands and Poland. The first English almanac we have is dated 1500, printed by William Parron, an Italian who for a while attended the court of Henry VII, but vanished shortly after the death of the Queen at the age of 37.

Manuscript almanacs continued to circulate for a long time after the invention of printing, and some 'clog almanacs' were still in use at the end of the 16th century. But printed copies were more common considerably earlier, many of them imported from the Continent, and containing weather forecasts, predictions of a good or bad harvest, notes of 'good' or 'evil' days, and even suggestions of the future prices of cereals, fruit and other crops.

Political predictions crept in, too - an interest in the doings of royalty seemed as common among early almanac readers as with readers of 20th-century gossip columns. The Laet family, which produced generations of Flemish astrologers whose almanacs were published at Antwerp, seems to have made a speciality of these, on one occasion predicting (for 1517) that Henry VIII of England would be inclined 'to pass the time in honour among fair ladies', and later promising that he would experience matrimonial difficulties.

The almanacs sold like hot cakes at every social level. Though the nobility and gentry could well afford their own astrologers if they wished (and many of them did wish), they also bought the annuals, just as people today buy do-it-yourself health books to read in their doctors' waiting rooms. There is an almanac of 1624 with the autograph of Charles I inside the cover; Lord Burghley, Elizabeth's Treasurer, had a series in his library, some annotated in his own hand; Essex, the Parliamentary general, the Earl of Clarendon, Bishop Wren of Norwich were other subscribers - the last two making careful notes in their almanacs while imprisoned in the Tower of London. Many university dons 'took in' the almanacs, and seamen were devoted to them: Lieutenant John Weale, serving under Admiral Blake, took on his voyages 'a bottle of ink, a pocket almanac, and a sheet almanac'. As late as 1709 the Quakers of Derbyshire acquired (for a penny ha'penny) an almanac for their lending library.

Their popularity was enormous, partly because they were useful (as diaries, for instance), partly as popular entertainment. Some of them offered educational supplements on religion, medicine, magic, even sex: when the planets were in certain positions, love-making was positively dangerous - the 'dog days' of July and August were especially so. One satirist suggested that this was a time of year when adultery was common, for most husbands obeyed the astrologers' injunction to refrain from sex, and their wives turned to other quarters for satisfaction, on the grounds that 'if husband won't another must'. But there was positive advice, too: Walter Gray, in his notes for May 1581, simply enjoined 'Let Venus be embraced', while a contemporary suggested that his readers should 'embrace Venus honestly' in May, and 'daintily' in November. There is some evidence from population studies that people took this advice.

Dorothy Partridge, a midwife who with Sarah Jinner was one of a very few women astrologers, was more outright a century later: in January, she found 'a lusty squab bedfellow very good physic at this season'; but December and February were lusty months too, and an especially good time to be 'a husband to thy wife' was when the Moon was in Sagittarius.

The first Englishman to flood the market with his almanacs was William Lilly (1602-81), a yeoman's son from a tiny village in Leicestershire, who went to London as servant to an illiterate alderman and, marrying his rich widow, learned astrology from a disreputable master. By 1635 he was both teaching and practising astrology. It was in 1644 that as 'Merlinus Anglicus Junior' he published his first almanac, and the publication continued annually until 1682, the year after his death. Lilly's notebooks are, like Forman's, a picture of an age, revealing the amount of work he did for men and women of all classes (he was consulted by Charles I as well as by servants, by army generals, sea captains and rich merchants, and nonentities).

If Lilly was perhaps the best-known astrologer of the 17th century, there were others almost as notorious. (There were none whose forecasts were so well publicized: Lilly was actually arrested on a charge of starting the Great Fire of London, on the grounds that his alleged prediction of it was so accurate that he must have started it to justify himself!) John Booker (1603-67) was a haberdasher's apprentice before he became an astrologer; he published his own almanacs from 1631 to 1667, and recorded in his casebooks a thousand clients a year before 1648 and 1665. Lilly, better-known especially after the publication of his textbook Christian Astrology (1647), dealt with almost two thousand enquiries a year at the height of his activity. And they had two hundred or so colleagues between the reigns of Elizabeth and Anne.

Some of them were, to say the least, less respectable than Lilly or Booker, or even the rascally Forman. There was, for instance, one Captain Bubb, 'a proper handsome man, well spoken, but withal covetous, who stood in the pillory for fraud; Jeffery Neve, former alderman of Great Yarmouth and in 1626 deputy water-bailiff for Dover, who made a small fortune by rigging the accounts of the archery butts, and fled to Frankfurt; William Poole, 'a nibbler at astrology', who boasted that he had had seventeen professions, among them plasterer and bricklayer, and famous for the squib he published on Sir Thomas Jay, JP, who had falsely accused him of theft: on hearing of his death and burial, Poole made his way to the churchyard and defecated on the grave, leaving the following short note:

Here lieth buried Sir Thomas Jay, Knight,

Who being dead, I upon his grave did shite.

But there were many more respectable astrologers, of course, some from the ranks of the clergy. John Aubrey tells us that the knees of Richard Napier (1590-1674), rector of Great Linford in Buckinghamshire, were 'horny with praying', for he would go down on them before beginning to draw up each horoscope. He also plied his brethren with 'whole cloak-bags of books', converting many of them to astrology - including his neighbour the Rev. William Bredon, vicar of Thornton (so addicted to smoking, Lilly says, that when he had no tobacco he would cut the bellropes and smoke them). Then there were Anthony Asham, Richard Harvey, Thomas Buckminster, John Maplet, Stephen Batman and George Hartgill - all 16th-century clergymen astrologers - and, in the 17th century, Joshua Childrey, Nathaniel Sparke, John Butler, Edmund Chilmead, Charles Atkinson and Richard Carpenter (author of Astrology proved harmless, useful and pious, 1657).

Their advice, in and out of almanacs, remained as broad as that of their predecessors. During the Civil War, of course, the anxiety of parents for their fighting children, brother for brother, wife for husband, all increased their work load - and their incomes, when they were professionals; in 1662 it was said that Lilly was making £500 a year (at least £20,000 in today's currency). But it is difficult to estimate the average income of a professional astrologer: in 1647 Lilly received twenty pieces of gold for advising Charles I, but he and Booker would give individual astrological advice for two shillings and sixpence (12½p); Richard Delahay left between two and three thousand pounds at his death, but John Vaux, the clerk to St Helen's church, Auckland (who used to sell his almanacs from the altar) charged only one shilling for finding a stolen mare, or four shillings for a horse and a mare - with an additional eightpence to be spent on drink.

There has not yet been sufficient study of the part played by astrologers during the English Civil War. Not only did rival astrologers publish rival almanacs, and pay personal visits to the opposing Royalist or Parliamentary troops, but the newspapers published rival predictions of success and failure. Lilly had a great stroke of luck when early in the war, in 1645, he successfully predicted the Roundhead victory at Naseby; this success made his reputation. But he was roundly attacked by his rivals - on the Parliamentary side as well as the Royalist; for although he gave his support to Cromwell (and even worked for a while for the Commonwealth Council of State) he also advised Charles I, even procuring the file with which the king hoped to escape from Carisbrooke Castle! The war of the almanacs was long and bitter, with Lilly and Booker on one side, John Humphrey and George Wharton on the other. At one moment, indeed, Lilly and Booker were outside the walls of Colchester with the Parliamentary troops 'assuring them the town would very shortly be surrendered, as indeed it was', while Humphrey was inside the city advising the then governor, Sir Charles Lucas, that relief would soon reach him.

During the Interregnum before the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the publication of almanacs continued, but there was some censorship, and some astrologers were executed for their support for the king, although Lilly managed to save Wharton, whose work he respected. Even Lilly himself was censored, while some colleagues had their publications stopped completely, and others were imprisoned. Unable to publish, they turned their attention to translating astrological classics hitherto unavailable in England, and this resulted in a great number of such works being available for the first time in English - added to which Lilly's rivals worked busily on textbooks to rival Christian Astrology, and Nicholas Culpepper, William Ramesey, John Gadbury, Richard Saunders, John Partridge, William Salmon, and John Case all in time published popular guides to the subject.

The serious interest of intelligent men was slower to wane in England than abroad. It is true that as early as the 1560s a few men began to criticize the astrological theory as being scientifically unsound, at least where prediction was concerned. But the astrologers had their answer: they, or the majority of them, never claimed that anything in the future would happen - the most they would say was that some event, or some turn of health, or some change of fortune, seemed likely. In fact their almanacs were so crowded with 'maybe' and 'might' and 'perhaps' that they were criticized, as astrologers are today, of being too cagey. Yet all they were saying was that the stars compelled no man's action; all they did was to incline him one way or the other.

One section in the almanacs always read with interest concerned the weather: every almanac contained a section of weather forecasts, and readers seemed to find these useful. There were occasions on which the forecasts were extremely accurate. One famous example is that of Patrick Murphy's Weather Almanac for 1838. Against 20 January, Murphy noted: 'Fair. Prob. lowest degree of winter temperature.' That day proved in fact to be the coldest day not only of the year but of the century, the temperature falling to -20°F at Greenwich.

Astrologers mostly based their predictions on the movements of the Moon, which was believed to control the Earth's atmosphere. In France, Jean Baptiste Lamarck published his Annuaire Météorologique between 1800 and 1811, based on lunar data, and in Germany Rudolf Falb (1838-1903) coined the expression 'critical days' for dates when the Earth, Moon and Sun were in certain relative positions associated with various types of weather. In Russia, Demchinskii did similar work, publishing forecasts not only for his fatherland but for the United States and Japan. And for a moment to stretch even further into the future, the 20th-century descendants of Partridge and Gadbury and Lilly published their weather forecasts in The Daily Mail in England, and Demchinskii's long-term forecasts were also printed in that newspaper, and considered unusually accurate.

Astro-meteorology has continued to flourish, and while professional meteorologists maintain a determinedly sceptical attitude, many of them will concede that insufficient study has been made of the planetary positions and their relationship to terrestrial weather. They might well do so, in the face of such evidence of success as that presented by the career of John Nelson, an American astrologer who between 1946 and 1971 investigated radio disturbances for the RCA network, and of 1500 forecasts made in 1967 (often months in advance) achieved a success rate of 93.2% - a rate maintained for nine years! Meteorologists are, at the time of publication, at last beginning to look seriously at the possibility that climatic cycles are linked to the movements of the so-called solar planets Mercury, Venus and Jupiter; there is, it is said, clear-cut evidence of associations between the period of peak solar tides and sunspot activity, and a link between sunspot activity, cosmic ray bombardment of Earth, and climatic change resulting from that bombardment.

But to return to the 17th century, it was not until the 1650s that general opinion in England began to swing against astrology. During Lilly's lifetime he and Wharton had been ridiculed by Samuel Butler in Hudibras, as Sidrophel and Whackham:

Some calculate the hidden fates

Of monkeys, puppy-dogs and cats,

Some running-nags and fighting-cocks;

Some love, trade, law-suits, and the pox;

Some take a measure of the lives

Of Fathers, Mothers, Husbands, Wives,

Make opposition, trine and quartile,

Tell who is barren, and who fertile,

As if the planet's first aspect

The tender infant did infect

In soul and body, and instill

All future good, all future ill ...

There were less literary attacks, too, such as the squib put about which told of a country bumpkin who went to see Lilly about a stolen purse, and found the doorstep fouled with human excreta:

Down came that profound Astrologer... who opening the door and seeing it in that shitten case, began to execrate and curse those beastly knaves that did it; vowing that if he did but know who did him that nasty trick, he would make them examples to all such rogues so long as they lived. 'Nay,' quoth the countryman, 'if he cannot tell who beshit his door, he can as well be hanged as tell me who had my purse!' and so went his way.

Congreve sent up astrology, in the person of Foresign, in Love for Love (1695) - unlike Dryden, who thoroughly approved of it - and finally in came Swift with his demolition of the astrologer John Partridge in his Predictions of lsaac Bickerstaff for 1708.

In this fake almanac, Swift produced a straight-faced lampoon protesting that his real aim was to protect the public from the false claims of bad astrologers, and among other things predicted that Partridge himself would die at 11 p.m. on 29 March 1708, closely followed by King Louis XIV and the Pope. Shortly after 29 March, Swift published a detailed account of Partridge's sad death, and the latter had a hard struggle to prove himself still alive.

It is perhaps worth noting that neither Butler nor Swift (nor indeed any other writer who published anti-astrological work) actually set about destroying astrology by argument; all they did was ridicule it - and goodness knows it presented a broad enough target. Sometimes they did so for political reasons; as a matter of fact this was probably the case with Swift, for Partridge was a vociferous Whig and republican.

New argument about the basis of astrology was, as always, lacking. It was certainly not provided by the astronomers. It has been suggested that Newton was almost personally responsible for the desuetude of astrology in England. Nothing could be further from the truth. His work may have made its contribution to the changing climate of opinion, but he clung to a belief in astrology until his death, and was very short with Edmund Halley when, as we have seen, the latter rebuked him for heeding such nonsense: 'Sir,' he said, 'I have studied the matter - you have not.'

Nevertheless, the temper of the time was against him. Doubts were openly expressed at the universities, and for the first time the use of astrology in medicine was questioned. The Royal College of Physicians turned against it, despite the fact that its President between 1601 and 1604 was an almanac writer and there was some use of astrology in the College's Pharmacopoeia. Those attacked were (yet again) the extremists. No one rebuked Richard Mead, a vice-president of the Royal Society, for publishing in 1717 A treatise concerning the influence of the Sun and Moon upon human bodies, and arguing that attacks of epilepsy, vertigo, hysteria and asthma could be collated with phases of the Moon; and in 1680 it was claimed that astrological physicians were the most popular and sought-after of all doctors. John Locke, who has been called the inspirer of the Age of Enlightenment, and whose philosophy had the most profound influence on the thought of Europe, accepted that the curative value of herbs was enhanced by their being picked and used at particular times of the year.

Still, by the turn of the century scientific interest in astrology was at its lowest ebb for many hundreds of years indeed, perhaps since the 3rd or 4th centuries BC. Although there had still been no concerted attack on the theory from astronomers or universities, it was now the case that the former were no longer automatically interested in the effects the heavenly bodies had on earth; it was simply assumed that, apart from the obvious effects of the Sun and Moon, they had none. The intellectual aspects of the subject, the philosophical and theological implications, were on the whole no longer discussed except by a decreasing minority.

By 1720 the last of the notable astrologers of the 17th century was dead - Francis Moore died in 1714, John Partridge in the following year - and with them a generation which, whatever its faults, had taken astrology seriously and practised it with some pretension to scholarship. Lilly's Christian Astrology, for instance, is an immensely long work (something like 350,000 words in three volumes) enshrining much traditional astrology culled from a long check list of earlier volumes, some at that time untranslated. Whatever may be one's opinion of some of Lilly's wilder assertions about what astrology can and cannot do, it is an intelligently written work. No 18th-century astrologer would have been capable of it; they were far less interested in the intellectual or empirical truth of the claims they made, and most often were simply not intelligent enough for the subject. They were, on the whole, cheapjacks.

There had been a few attempts to bring the study of astrology into line with the new scientific age: J. B. Morin's posthumous Astrologia Gallica (1661) argued that any serious study of astrology must depend on a systemic examination of meteorological, political and religious developments in relation to the movements of the planets, and that any other method of examining the subject did more harm than good. Joshua Childrey, an archdeacon of Salisbury, had argued for a reformation of astrology on the lines suggested by Francis Bacon, and Jeremy Shakerley, an astrologer much under Lilly's influence, wrote that 'astrology consists of too much uncertainty to inform us of anything', and was ambitious to seek 'from philosophical principles a foundation for a more refined astrology'. Even John Gadbury claimed that 'one real experiment is of greater worth and more to be valued than one hundred pompous predictions.'

But the 18th century set off on its course of scientific empiricism, and determined to ignore the efforts of astrologers to claim that their subject should be included among those to be examined in a similar fashion. The attitude continues to this day: one scientist at a conference in the 1970s, dissatisfied with statistical evidence offered as proof that some aspects of astrology were worth examination, was asked what kind of proof he would accept, and replied with splendid certainty: 'I can conceive of no evidence which would convince me that there is anything in the subject.'

If there were few serious astrologers in the 18th century, and even fewer in the 19th, there was plenty of money-making activity from quacks; the evidence of this lies in the continuing sale of almanacs. Partridge's annual almanacs continued to sell for over a century after his death, and Old Moore's Almanac is still issued today. In 1764, Old Moore sold over 80,000 copies in a year, although its prophesies were even more general, even more garbled, than those of earlier issues.

One development during the 18th century was the appearance of almanacs directed specifically at women readers: The Ladies' Diary, for instance, which appeared in 1704, and had articles on famous women, recipes and riddles as well as astrological items. Its editor, a Coventry schoolmaster called John Tipper, had the ambition of 'introducing the fair sex to the study of mathematics'. By the 1750s, it was selling 30,000 copies a year, and was widely read by gentlemen.

Such astrologers as there were, were as fiercely partisan in politics as the earlier astrologers had been during the Civil War. George Parker was a high Tory whose views were so incendiary that the Stationers' Company refused to publish his work; Partridge on the other hand was violently Whig, and greeted the accession of George of Hanover as a day of deliverance from 'popery, slavery and English traitors'.

Towards the middle of the century, there was a swing towards religion, as though the astrologers wished to strengthen their position by getting the Creator on their side. They emphasized the fact that only God could have worked out so finely the intricate movements of the planets; and even the composition of the matter of which the earth and stars were made proved the existence of God. As Job Gadbury, John Gadbury's cousin, put it, there could be nothing in the recently advanced theories that atoms came together by chance to form the universe, for 'though the air we breathe be full of them, yet they tend to nothing but to make us wink.'

The everyday work of the consultant astrologers went on much as it had always done: advice was offered about illness, love, lost property, and so on. There seems to have been a sufficient popular interest for a large number of astrologers to make a reasonable professional living, although the fact that many of them are found rebuking members of the public who came to see them merely for amusement, and advising colleagues to get their hands on the fee before beginning to cast the horoscope, seems to indicate that a certain amount of doubt was now to be found at all levels of society and education.

The major British astrologer of the century seems to have been Henry Season (1693-1775), a doctor and surgeon from Wiltshire, who like most of the former astrologers was virtually self-educated, for he never attended school for more than six weeks at a time. He taught himself medicine and astrology, like Lilly and Forman, and after an apprenticeship during which he seems to have invented his own medicinal cures, managed to get a licence to practise as physician and surgeon.

The almanacs he published show him to be a very traditional sort of astrologer, giving the usual sort of advice; but he also used them for political argument, and as means of general advertisement of his personal views on everything under the sun - from the fact that stage plays were a disgraceful evil, to the view that it was a good thing man would never be able to visit the Moon, for he would without any doubt corrupt its inhabitants.

By the 1790s astrologers were numerous enough to have their own magazine, devoted entirely to 'a science which was studied by the patriarchs of the first ages, but which, by the craft of ignorance of pretenders, has been exposed to much calumny and error.' However, the magazine was ill supported (because much of it was devoted to non-astrological chatter about the occult) and ceased publication after its seventh issue.

Newspaper advertisements, scattered through the provincial press, indicate that astrologers still flourished, ready not only to give, on receipt of the date, time and place of birth, a 'true description of the complexion, colour of the hair, private marks and moles, temper &c', but (to quote John Worsdale of Lincolnshire) to help 'those persons afflicted with disorders of various denominations'. On receipt of the necessary details, 'the nature and origin of the disease may be truly ascertained, and a remedy prescribed for all curable disorders, by the ancient rules of elementary philosophy.'

In America, the situation was rather similar. Some attention was paid to the subject at the universities at the turn of the century. Charles Morton, who had been educated at Oxford during the English Civil War, and left the country in 1686 to become a Presbyterian minister at Charlestown, Massachusetts, had his Compendium physicae accepted at Harvard, where it formed the basis of the study of modern science. While forcefully denying the fortune-telling aspects of astrology, Morton examined the connection between the planets and meteorology, and the influence of their movements on the human body and mind.

On the whole matter [he concluded], I judge that as to weather and temperatures of our bodies with relations to health or sickness by good observations of prudent and philosophical minds, a useful knowledge might be framed; but for all the rest that is pretended the books written about them might make a curious bonfire according to the primitive pattern ...

Other Harvard men showed some interest: for instance Samuel Willard, its vice-president between 1701 and 1707, and John Leverett, his successor. Willard pointed out that 'astrologers have had their predictions, that do sometimes fall out right' (a cautious approbation, if approbation it was). Isaac Greenwood, Harvard's first Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, replaced Morton's Compendium in 1728 with his own Philosophical discourse concerning the mutability and change of the natural world, in which, disapproving ofjudicial astrology, he nevertheless asserted that

tides are produced in the ocean, winds in the atmosphere, many changes in inanimate and animate bodies, and in the human economy itself. Astrology seems to have a philosophical foundation, and we know not how many wonders and mysteries may be the genuine effects of this great alternative in nature.

Through the 18th century Harvard took this cautiously positive attitude, accepting in 1762 a master's thesis which argued that 'the heavenly bodies produce certain changes in the bodies of animals', and publicly asserting that the time was speedily coming when Virginia would 'surpass the Greeks in philosophy, the Egyptians in geometry, the Phoenicians in arithmetic, and Chaldeans in astrology.'

Yale was not behind Harvard in its toleration of astrological studies. Samuel Johnson, who graduated from that university in 1714 to become a Congregationalist minister, included an essay in his Revised Encyclopaedia of 1716 on 'The starry heavens and their power and influences for the subject of astrology', and though in 1718 a Yale thesis was arguing that 'all the predictions of the astrologers with regard to future contingent events are fallacious and vain', this was an attack on judicial rather than on 'natural' astrology.

As to educated opinion among non-academics, this may perhaps be deduced from an article in Chambers's Cyclopaedia, so commonly read, which also attacked judicial astrology as 'superstition', but left natural astrology unrebuked, although pointing out that it was 'only to be deduced, a posteriori, from phaenomena and observations.'

Those who did not have Chambers on their bookshelves certainly for the most part had an almanac or two; these were almost as common, and in much the same vein, as the English almanacs of the same period. But there was an additional emphasis on agriculture and meteorology. Culpepper was extremely pbpular, and as late as the middle of the 18th century the most common medical 'textbook' in the American home was his London Dispensatory. As time went on, this was attacked - in particular by Cotton Mather, the Congregational minister and author, who while splendidly gullible about such matters as angels and mermaids, had some kind of natural antipathy to astrology (mainly on religious grounds) and argued that to suppose that the efficacy of certain herbs was in any way enhanced by their being picked at certain times was 'a folly akin to the idolatry and superstition of the Roman-Catholics, in looking to saints, for their influences on our several diseases.'

American farmers in the 17th and 18th centuries seem to have paid special attention to astrological and veterinary advice: an almanac argued that 'for the better success in letting blood, taking physick, cutting of cattle, sheep and hogs, it's necessary to know where, or in what part of the body the sign is', and in The Husbandman's Magazine of 1718, John Smith set it down that horses should be gelded 'in the wain of the Moon, the signs being either in Virgo or Aries' and that 'Candlemas (observing it to be in the increase of the Moon) is the best time to let your sows be covered.'

The efficient American farmer must have lived his life entirely according to the zodiac and the planets, if we are to believe the magazines of the period; in 1712 The Husbandman's Guide advised its readers to 'geld sheep and other cattle the Moon being in Aries, Sagittarius or Capricorn. Sheer sheep the Moon increasing in Taurus, Virgo or Libra, and their fleeces will grow the thicker and faster, the like observed in cutting hair; and if the Moon be in a friendly aspect to Venus 'tis much better.' Fifty years later The Citizen's and Countryman's Experienced Farrier advised farmers who wanted 'to get horse colts' to 'take your mare to the horse before the full of the Moon, and when the sign is a female. To get mare colts, cover after the full, and in the male signs.'

There was horticultural advice too - (trees should be set and dug up in winter, 'especially at new Moon', fruit trees planted and grafted when the Moon was waxing, transplanted trees set when it was waning - for the waning Moon helped a plant send its root downwards, while the waxing Moon helped a plant to grow upward), and some personal ('it is good to bathe the Moon being in Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn; it is best bathing two or three days after, or at the full of the Moon').

There was opposition, of course, from those who found it ludicrous that 'in many parts of the country ... a citizen will not castrate a lamb or a pig, nor suffer himself nor any of his family to be bled from the arm, without inspecting the almanac in the first place, to find what the philomath who compiled it has certified for the astral and lunar influence on the body for that day.' But there was some serious study, too; in 1764 a Dr James Greenhill was correlating the fits experienced by an epileptic slave with the changes of the Moon, and a number of other doctors had received astrological training and used it in treating their patients. Samuel Deane, a respected agriculturist, published his theory on the effects of the planets on fruit-tree growth in The New England Farmer, or Georgic Dictionary (1797):

Some may think it whimsical to gather apples on the day of the full Moon. But, as we know both animals and vegetables are influenced by the Moon in some cases, why may we not suppose a greater quantity of spirit is sent up into the fruit, when the attraction of the heavenly bodies is greatest? If so, I gather my apples at the time of their greatest perfection, when they have most in them that tends to their preservation ...

There were a few consultant astrologers practising in America at this time: Joseph Stafford of Rhode Island, Nathaniel Low of Boston, John Jarman, Nathaniel Ames and Daniel Leeds of Philadelphia, John Tobler of North Carolina. Low and Ames were rivals in the first half of the 18th century, Ames claiming to have foretold the death of George II and the victories of George III's forces in the French and Indian war, while Low warned, on the eve of the French and American revolutions, that certain planetary aspects 'may stir up great politicians in contriving new ways and methods of regulating the affairs of governments.' Eventually, the polymath Benjamin Franklin disposed of Leeds by emulating the prank played by Swift on Isaac Bickerstaff: he predicted Leeds's death, 'proved' it, and ran the poor man out of business despite all his protestations that he was still alive and well.

There is not much information about the practices of these American astrologers, but a contemporary diary reveals at least that on Rhode Island privateers were consulting astrologers about the time at which they should set sail (though two of them, advised to sail on Friday, 24 December, did so in the middle of a snowstorm and went down with all hands); merchants seem to have employed astrologers similarly - and even Franklin himself did so, on one occasion.

In general, although there were several different emphases, astrology in America (like much else) was broadly imitative of astrology in Britain; there, as in the mother country, astrologers relied on the popularity of their almanacs to keep them afloat.

Since the earliest days of the printed almanac, it had been the case that the livelier an astrologer's pen was, the more success he had; Lilly's popular success was in a very large measure due to his pawky, roistering style. At the end of the 18th century, when natural scepticism made the simple provision of predictions unacceptable, it was even more important for astrologers to entertain their readers, and the tradition of the astrological journalist became much stronger - to reach its apogee a century and a half later, in the newspaper astrologer.

In the early part of the 19th century, the most popular almanac in Britain was the Vox Stellarum, which by 1839 was selling over half a million copies - rather surprising, perhaps, when one considers that it was editorially very much on the side of the Americans in the War of Independence, believing that the result 'paved the way for freedom', and positively welcomed the French Revolution with its 'glorious and happy spirit of liberty'. It did, however, take England's part in the war against France.

Enormous sales of almanacs, especially the cheaper ones, continued through the 19th century; in 1897 over a million copies of Old Moore's Penny Almanac were printed, and every one sold within two months of the end of the year (the predictions were, of course, for 1898). It was complained, halfway through the reign of Queen Victoria, that practically no one among the 'lower classes' did not possess an almanac, and most lived their lives by it, refusing to cut their grass if rain was predicted, declining to dose their cattle if the day was inauspicious.

Some of the credit, if that is the word, for the growing popularity of purely astrological magazines (combining the kind of predictions offered in the old-style almanacs with feature articles and gossip) must lie with two men, Robert Cross Smith and Richard James Morrison, both born in 1795. Smith was in 1824 appointed editor of a new periodical, The Straggling Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century, in the twelfth issue of which appeared for the first time his pseudonym 'Raphael', which was to become famous in the next few years. He also introduced a weekly feature predicting the planetary effects on love and marriage, finance, business, travel - the first weekly predictions to be made in a journal.

The Straggling Astrologer did not last long; Smith had better luck with The Prophetic Messenger, the first issue of which came out in 1826, and which on his death in 1832 was taken over and continued until 1858. There were at least five 'Raphaels' after Smith.

It was Morrison, however, who was the more important of the two men, working under the pseudonym 'Zadkiel'. An ex-naval officer he became a professional astrologer in 1830 and founded Zadkiel's Almanac, sales of which rivalled those of The Prophetic Messenger. Apart from his journalism, Morrison did much to make astrology mildly respectable again; He complained, for instance, about the cheapjack astrologers who would work for as little as five shillings, when 'no man of education would stoop to receive such beggarly remuneration', and recommended that anyone wishing to consult an astrologer should go to one possessing the Diploma of the British Association for Astral Science (founded in 1844 with 107 members, but short-lived).

In his 1861 almanac, Morrison published a suggestion that Saturn's position during that year would be 'very evil for all persons born on or near the 26th August; among the sufferers I regret to see the worthy Prince Consort of these realms. Let such persons pay scrupulous attention to health.' On 14 December 1861, the Prince Consort died of typhoid.

Far from being congratulated on his accuracy, Zadkiel was consequently attacked by a leader writer in The Daily Telegraph, and forced to sue a rear-admiral who blackguarded him in the same newspaper. He won the case, evidence having been given for him by a large queue of titled clients; but the Lord Chief Justice was deeply unsympathetic, allowed continual laughter in court, and recommended low damages. Zadkiel received only twenty shillings and had to pay his own costs. The sales of his next almanac profited by the publicity, but as a consultant astrologer he almost vanishes from sight from that moment.

Morrison/Zadkiel could certainly not be disqualified from the accusation of having an interest in the occult - especially in crystal-gazing, an occupation which was really at the root of his libel case. But he was a serious astrologer too, preparing and publishing in 1852 a popular abridgement of Lilly's Christian Astrology; and there were others - such as William Joseph Simmonite, elected to the Council of the London Meteorological Society (of which Morrison was also a member), and Richard Garnett (1835-1906), on the staff of the British Museum, an amateur who impressed Samuel Butler with some predictive successes.

It was Garnett who, in an essay entitled The Soul and the Stars, published in The University Magazine in 1880, put forward a view of astrology which was at odds with that of many professional astrologers, still much caught up with almanacs and predictions. Garnett took the view that far from being an occult science, as most people thought, it was 'necessary to insist on the strictly empirical character of astrology', that 'astrology with the single exception of astronomy, is, as regards the certainty of its data, the most exact of all exact sciences', and that the astrologer's calculations 'are performed by no more cabalistic process than arithmetic. The influence he attributes to the heavenly bodies may be imaginary, but in no sense occult ...'

Garnett was looking towards our own time, when astrologers would for the most part share his view. Others, however, were to pave the way for the 20th-century resurgence of interest in the subject. Alan Leo (W. F. Allen, 1860-1917) was one.

Leo is an important figure in Western astrology, his textbooks still on sale. Through his friend 'Sepharial' (W. R. Old, 1864-1929) he found his way into Madame Blavatsky's Theosophical Society in London. He became a professional astrologer, and set up a sort of factory in Hampstead, where other astrologers were set to calculate charts, and several clerks to write out Leo's opinions on them; it was the Victorian equivalent of today's computerized horoscope firms, and Leo's Modern Astrology Publishing Company soon had branches in Paris and New York.

It was Leo's chief clerk who devised the system by which cheapjack astrologers still work: answer their advertisements in the best-selling astrological magazines, and you will receive a number of cyclostyled sheets stapled together, one for the Sun sign, one for the rising sign, one each for the positions of the Moon, Venus, Mercury and so on. E. H. Bailey, who cordially disliked him, later described an average morning in Lyncroft Gardens - one that has often been reproduced since:

The morning mail had just been delivered and Albanus Leon [Leo] was busily engaged in sorting out a large pile of letters of all shapes and sizes ... Most of them contained money orders, for Leon had an immense clientele, and the income from his business had now reached four figures a year, and bid fair to greatly increase as time went on. The mail this morning was an exceptionally heavy one and the pile of postal and money orders was rapidly mounting. It was true that the great majority were only for a shilling, but these, with the five and ten shillings orders, and three or four for a pound, as well as various cheques for various amounts, made up a very goodly sum.

'Raphael' and 'Zadkiel' were of that generation of astrologers faced with the problem of assimilating into the tradition the 'modern' planets Uranus (discovered in 1781) and Neptune (1846); Pluto was to be added in 1930. The discovery of these planets was another handy weapon for the anti-astrological camp - but astrologers replied that rather than creating new problems, they solved old ones. Looking at a horoscope of, say, Queen Elizabeth I or one of the Caesars, it was clear that there were some elements of the character which were not to be accounted for by the positions of the planets known to ancient astrologers. These were obviously the result of the influence of those planets recently discovered, and if they were filled into the old birth charts, the picture was much more complete.

Similarly, the effects of the 'new' planets in a progressed chart were slowly discovered by a process of trial and elimination. Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the blood had not devalued what was previously known about the bodily processes; it had simply enlarged that process. The same was true of the 'modern' planets.