Rudd Followup

There’s quite the controversy over at Lashtal over The Goetia of Dr. Rudd and my posts on the topic. To simplify matters for readers, I want to put up a letter I sent David Rankine on November 11 of last year, giving a synopsis of my case. (EDIT: Full disclosure – David did write me back to tell me it would take a while to answer this, and I haven’t heard anything since.)


Thanks for your letter. Let me see if I can lay out my argument, so we can be clear on my premises.

The thesis put forth in these three books is that Thomas Rudd (1584-1656) was a magician. I do not think the evidence as presented supports this. I freely admit that I am working from secondary sources, so any corrections based on the manuscripts themselves would be valuable.

Three pieces of evidence are presented in the books: Smart’s attribution of the magical manuscripts to a “Dr. Rudd”, correspondence between “Dr. Rudd” and Dee on the topic of alchemical vitriol (no source provided, but it also appears in Smart’s manuscripts), and Thomas Rudd’s reprinting of Dee’s Mathematical Preface to Euclid. Thus, the first two pieces of evidence depend upon the reliability of Smart.

On at least four occasions, material that Smart attributes to Rudd appears in previously-published sources. Given the choices available, the most likely is that Smart (or a previous copyist) took material from these and presented it as the work of Dr. Rudd. We also have at least one glaring contradiction – Harleian MS. 6485 includes the supposed letter from Dee to Rudd written in 1605, while 6481 includes a nativity for the doctor of September 10, 1629.

Thus, Smart’s assertions on the topic of Dr. Rudd are unreliable. The third piece in itself proves nothing – Dee’s lectures on geometry were quite popular in his day, and their reprinting likely reflects this. This leaves us with no clear evidence that Thomas Rudd was a magician.

Let’s put this aside for the moment, however. We could assume that Smart is reliable in having received this data from Dr. Rudd, or that he was merely referring to a tradition surrounding a “Dr. Rudd.” We then have a series of references to a “Dr. Rudd” for whom Smart never gives a first name, to my knowledge. We have a possible candidate, Thomas, who was neither born in 1629 nor referred to as a doctor in any other source. It seems premature to assume that these two people are the same.

Two more concerns relate to other sources. The first is the entry for Thomas Rudd in the Dictionary of National Biography. I do not consider this absolutely correct, nor do I see its lack of reference to Rudd as a magician of proof that he is not (though the Dictionary does note such matters at times). I am rather surprised, however, to see no engagement with the biographical information given within. For example, Practical Angel Magic finds it “very likely” that a Captain Rudd was Dr. Rudd’s son, when the Dictionary indicates Rudd was himself a captain who had no male offspring.

The second is the reference to Waite’s assertion that Dr. Rudd was imaginary in the Goetia. Waite’s conclusion might be off base, but the evidence he cites for it is a serious difficulty for the “Thomas Rudd” theory. It would have been nice to see this addressed. In fact, it would’ve been nice to see a single biographical sketch of Rudd assembled in one place, with the sources for the biographical information given laid out for discussion. Otherwise, we get into situations as with the Waite passage, where it appears that Peter Smart is used to vouch for his own reliability.


Dan Harms

(I’ll add that the tone of the response to the other individual doesn’t inspire me with much confidence. We shall see.)

Published in: on April 8, 2008 at 10:40 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] the guy Christmas cards.  (You can see some of the discussion here and here, as well as followups here and here, along with material in Egil Asprem’s Arguing with Angels on the same topic.)  […]

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