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Page 189

PART III - THE PAST
CHAPTER V - CARDAN

and his face was covered with carbuncles. Up to the age of seven years, his family whipped him, and he had to tug his father's heavy bag through the streets of Milan. After seven, when whipping would have done him some good, he was left in peace. At eight, he ate a bunch of unripe grapes, and nearly died. He could remember being lifted up, in his convalescence, to see the French troops returning in triumph from the battles of t5oq. Then he went to call on a friend, and a small smoothhaired dog bit him in the stomach. He climbed up a ladder, and the ladder fell. Sitting on a doorstep, safe for once, he thought, a tile slipped off a neighbouring roof, and stretched him senseless. Fazio thought it time to move ; and' we changed our house, but not our fortune.' There was no money, the country was harassed by perpetual wars, and the question of a profession had to be decided. Fazio wished the law ; Cardan, in a notable passage, explains why he rejected it. From boyhood he had realized the dignity of life, and he desired to understand men in all ages and in all places. Law differed country by country, and altered year by year : he must have a profession which dealt with all humanity. Such an attitude might have made him a philosopher : Fazio hoped that it might. It made him a doctor instead. It made him a mathematician also. His father, with very elementary knowledge, had produced a tolerable commentary on Peckham's Perspectives ; he would do better. So he did ; and at the present day, if anyone remembers that - 3 can be the root of 9, it is owing to him.
This squalid childhood, so full of disasters and disagreements, made a great impression on Cardan. ` A family,' he says, pathetically, ` is kept together neither by fear nor love, but by a certain reverence.' Both fear and love were present in his ; but the reverence was lacking.
It is not necessary to quote the detailed catalogue of his physical defects, which he relates with the interest of a physician rather than with the horrid zest of an invalid. Nowadays, a man so miserably constituted would be regarded as an oddity, and treated with consideration ; in the sixteenth century he was allowed to take his chance of becoming great. He himself is conscious of nothing disgraceful ; for at times the mender of flesh can attain

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