I have an astrological physician for you today. Simon Forman was born near Salisbury in Wiltshire on this day in 1552. Simon Forman was the son of a farmer, he was not rich and didn’t make any world changing discoveries. So how come we know anything about him at all? It’s because his life is extremely well documented. By Simon Forman. He wrote an autobiography. He kept diaries and also, as an astrologer, he made extensive notes about his consultations. There are a lot of them. 10,000 between the years 1596 and 1602. In each he records the name and age of the client, the question asked and the exact time. From this he constructed an astrological chart that told him what the answer was. So his case notes give quite intimate personal details of Londoners from all walks of life. As around 90% of the questions are about health and disease, they are a rich and rare source of medical records for the period. His astrological nonsense didn’t go down too well with the Company of Barber Surgeons. Yes, I know they sound a bit disreputable too, but they’re still around today, only they’re called the Royal College of Surgeons now. So he was in trouble with them and in trouble for other things too. Perhaps for his occult studies and possessing books about magic. Perhaps for his numerous sexual dalliances with his patients. He actually spent quite a lot of time in prison. Despite his troubles his good reputation began to spread after he survived a nasty dose of plague and claimed to have cured himself.
He wrote extensively about astrology, alchemy, gardening and the history of giants. They’re all descendants of Noah, in case you’re wondering. Also, as we mentioned, he also wrote about himself. We know that his father loved him but his mother did not. We know that he had wild dreams as a child about mountains falling on him, but that he always managed to clamber over. He saw these dreams as prophetic of his difficult life to come. He tells us that when he was at school he used to visit a canon of the church called Mr. Mintorne. The canon rarely kept a fire in the house but he did keep faggots, which in this case means a bundle of dried sticks used to light a fire. When he was cold he would carry them up to the attic until he was warm. When they were all upstairs he carried them down again. He made Simon do the same, because he thought it was better to heat yourself than sit by a fire.
Thanks to his diaries, we know about the time he almost chopped his finger off because he had hung his sword from the bedpost. We know exactly how many times he fell downstairs and on what date. We also know about the time he dreamed about the Queen, Elizabeth I. The Queen was out in the street wearing just a petticoat. Forman rescued her from a weaver with a red beard who was over familiar and kissed her. As he was leading her away, her petticoat dragged in the mud and he suggested to her that he could make her pregnant, then her belly would be bigger and her petticoats would be higher and not get muddy. He was pretty sure it went well. Dreams are weird things and it’s lovely to have one from so long ago recorded.
Forman is also credited with having written the only eyewitness account of the plays of William Shakespeare that date from the life of the playwright. He went to see Macbeth and The Winter’s Tale at the Globe Theatre and also Cymbeline. He wrote short impressions of them, which oddly include a description of Macbeth and Banquo riding in the opening scene.
Although he seems, at best, misguided and, at worst, a charlatan, he did manage to predict his own death. One Sunday afternoon, he announced to his wife that he would die the following Thursday. On Monday, everything was fine. On Tuesday, he was not sick. On Wednesday he was still well. By Thursday his wife was teasing him about it. Then after dinner, he took a boat out on the Thames to go and look at some buildings he had an investment in. In the middle of the river he collapsed and died.