Faith, Medical Alchemy and Natural Philosophy:
Johann Moriaen, Reformed Intelligencer, and the Hartlib Circle

J.T. Young

For A.W.Y.


I would like to thank the following:

Mark Greengrass, who supervised the doctoral research on which this book is based, and gave me much practical help, constructive criticism and moral support.

All my fellow transcribers on the Hartlib Papers Project: Patricia Barry, Margaret Chambers, Judith Crawford, Ekkehard Duisman, William Hitchens, Gwen Smithson and Susan Wallace. Extra thanks to William Hitchens for patiently supplying the shortcomings of my Latin.

Everyone who has corresponded with me about my work or discussed it with me, and/or allowed me access to their own research: especially Susanna Åkerman, Stephen Clucas, Ole Grell, Howard Hotson, Arnulf Link, Martin Mulsow, William Newman and Gerald Toomer.

Thanks especially to Inge Keil, not just for sharing her own expertise and proffering invaluable suggestions, but for consistent encouragement and many personal kindnesses. This book owes more to her than she will probably either realise or admit.



The papers of Samuel Hartlib, thought lost for some two and a half centuries, came to light in 1933.[1] Six decades later, their public accessibility was massively increased by the publication on CD-ROM of transcriptions and facsimiles of all the documents in the archive.[2] The research for this book was conducted in tandem with work on this transcription.

Among the various opportunities the papers afford is that of viewing familiar territory from unfamiliar perspectives, gaining access to the viewpoints of little-known and virtually unknown figures. The aim of this study is to contribute to the understanding of the early and middle seventeenth century by presenting in some detail the view from one such hitherto neglected perspective and supplying it with a background.

Hartlib was born in Elbing (now Elblag) at the beginning of the century, into a well-connected merchant family of the Reformed religion, to a German father and an English mother. Having studied at Cambridge in 1625-6, he left his home town for good in 1628 and settled in England. He brought with him a positively missionary determination to contribute to a new Reformation, one that would encompass education, natural philosophy and religion, changing all three out of recognition. He elaborated a wide assortment of practical schemes for furthering this idealistic vision, foremost among them being the notion of an Office of Address. This was to be a State-funded institution operating as a sort of clearing house of knowledge. It would receive information on all subjects from all quarters, categorise and store it, and pass it on to those best equipped to make use of it for 'the common good'. He was convinced that such fostering of intellectual exchange, or 'intelligencing', was necessary to bring humanity to its preordained inheritance.

Though Hartlib's proposals for the Office of Address, or Council for Learning as it was alternatively known, aroused considerable interest in Parliament, especially under Oliver Cromwell, that interest was never transmuted into the funding that might have realised the vision. The indomitable Hartlib devoted the greater part of his life to fulfilling single-handedly the function he had envisaged for this institution. He made it his business to establish contact with thinkers and practitioners in every field, academic and non-academic, religious and lay; to gather intelligence from them, to log that intelligence, and to pass copies on to others. In the course of three and a half decades, he developed an enormous network of communication and amassed an eclectic store of letters and manuscripts from the most diverse sources and covering an almost limitless range of subjects.

It was in the nature of Hartlib's purpose that his collection should not, in principle, be bounded by religious or political allegiance. In practice, however, his own background in the Reformed faith inevitably affected the contacts he made and the subjects that preoccupied him. The characteristic obsessions of the 'Second Reformation' loom large: millenarianism, encyclopedism, educational theory, 'useful' knowledge.[3] But for all the frequent emphasis laid on practical utility in the papers Hartlib amassed, the underlying and unifying ethos of his collection is spiritualistic: the affirmation of God's providential design in the world, the assertion of humanity's potential to <xii> gain access, through grace, to a more than human understanding of the nature of things, and a palpably horrified rejection of the idea that either mind or matter is on its own sufficient to explain the universe.

Hartlib's principal allies in his great plan for universal reformation were the irenicist John Dury and the Pansophist Jan Amos Comenius. In 1652, these three committed themselves by a 'Christianæ Societatis Pactum' ('pact of Christian union') to cooperate in the prosecution of the scheme.[4] Comenius's task was the reform of education, Dury's the reform and reconciliation of the church, and Hartlib's the reform of knowledge - tasks which interrelated and overlapped one with another. It is not surprising, therefore, that Dury and Comenius should be the individuals best represented, after Hartlib himself, in his surviving papers. After theirs, one of the largest collections of papers by a single hand to be found in the Hartlib archive is comprised by the letters of the German natural philosopher Johann Moriaen (c. 1591-1668).[5]

Unlike Dury and Comenius, Moriaen was almost totally unknown between his death and the rediscovery of Hartlib's papers. He published nothing, and he never held any high public or academic office. Consequently, he features in no biographical dictionary. He was noticed, if at all, only as a name that occurs occasionally in contemporary correspondence, principally that of Hartlib and another intimate of his circle, the German translator and diplomat Theodore Haak.

Even now, for all the work that has been done on the archive, he remains an extremely obscure figure. The first work to make frequent mention of him is George Turnbull's 1947 account of the then still virtually unknown Hartlib Papers, Hartlib, Dury and Comenius, though all Turnbull set out to do was to extract statements from Moriaen's letters which shed light on the activities of better-known figures, principally Comenius. Charles Webster makes occasional references in the same vein in his magisterial study of the Hartlib Papers, The Great Instauration.[6] Milada Blekastad has published nine Moriaen letters from the Hartlib archive (also selected for their relevance to Comenius), in generally excellent transcriptions,[7] and some extracts from his work are reproduced by E.G.E. van der Wall in her study of the Hebraist J.S. Rittangel.[8] Inge Keil has used part of his correspondence as a primary source for her study of the Augsburg optician Johann Wiesel, whose agent Moriaen was for a time,[9] and William Newman has drawn on his letters in his study of the American alchemist George Starkey.[10] The fullest account of him anywhere to date is the synopsis of his life in E.G.E. van der Wall's biography of the chiliast Petrus Serrarius (Pierre Serrurier).[11] Except by these scholars, his correspondence remains an almost wholly untapped source.[12]

Moriaen was born into a Reformed Dutch family living in exile in Nürnberg, and he spent much of the first half of his long life in the service of those Reformed communities that suffered most from the Counter-Reformation and the Thirty Years War (1618-48). From 1619 to 1627, he was a preacher 'under the Cross' with the clandestine Reformed church in Catholic-controlled Cologne. Subsequently he became a principal organiser of relief work for exiles from the Palatinate. Later in life, however, he distanced himself consciously from any denominational allegiance, and portrayed himself less as the servant of any church than as that of God and his fellow man in general. He settled in the Dutch Netherlands in 1638, where he <xiii> made a living as a merchant and entrepreneur in a variety of fields, while involving himself in further charity work and the dispensing of medicine. It was at this time that he became closely involved with Hartlib's intelligence network, and his vision of public service acquired a new breadth. Instead of merely alleviating the sufferings of particular persecuted or impoverished communities, he began to believe that he could contribute, in his role as intelligencer, to an advancement of learning and discovery of nature that would not only benefit but totally transform the entire world.

Moriaen was no great original thinker or natural philosopher. He made no claims for himself as an innovator, either in practical or theoretical terms. Like Hartlib, he saw his own function as that of a channel of information and ideas. Besides a considerable stock of raw information, what his letters supply is an insight into the workings and ideals of Hartlib's intelligence network, and a means of access to a particular world-view, a particular intellectual context. For the purposes of appreciating such a context, a substantial body of writing by a figure such as Moriaen is valuable precisely because he was not exceptional, not 'ahead of his time'. Though he was certainly not unoriginal, he can be taken as far more representative of his period and milieu than any more innovative or influential thinker.

Though Moriaen did practise medicine, probably in an amateur capacity, it was only one interest among many, and his letters provide no new information about the technical and practical aspects of the discipline. In a less literal sense, however, the whole Hartlibian enterprise can be regarded as a medical one. To use an anachronistic analogy, the likes of Moriaen and Hartlib regarded themselves as antibodies in the diseased bodies of Church, School and State. An appreciation of this overarching analogical ideal is essential to any understanding of the context of early modern medicine, particularly alchemical medicine.[13]

This study charts what can be established of Moriaen's personal history, and uses his correspondence as a point of reference for a more general discussion of the ideologies promoted by Hartlib's circle. It focuses on two concepts that were of crucial importance to the movement as a whole and were Moriaen's own principal obsessions. They are two alternative but (it will be argued) closely related attempts to transcend any merely materialist or rationalist view of the world and to gain access to the spiritual dimension: the concepts of Pansophy and alchemy. Through Pansophy, they sought to make learning whole, to heal the fractures in contemporary education and scholarship. Learning, they feared, was crumbling into specialised disciplines which, by losing contact with one another, lost all relevance and vitality. Pansophy would restore their organic unity. Through alchemy, they sought even more ambitiously to cure Creation itself of the diseases that had entered it with the Fall of Man, and to transmute the corrupt human soul.

Note on the Text

All quotations from non-English sources are given in English translations (my own unless otherwise stated). The original text is given in the notes. Foreign language interpolations into English passages are given English translations placed immediately after the relevant portion, italicised in square brackets.


In manuscript transcriptions, editorial expansion of any abbreviation is indicated by the use of italics (eg. 'which', 'Hartlib' for 'wch', 'Hartl.'). Doubtful readings are placed in square brackets with an italicised question mark. The letter 'thorn' (used by this period only in abbreviations of 'the', 'that', etc.) is transcribed th. Citations from manuscripts have occasionally been supplied with additional punctuation, placed in square brackets, to aid comprehension or to clarify possible ambiguities. Abridgment of any quotation is indicated thus: […].

Proper nouns are generally given in vernacular, rather than Anglicised or Latinised forms, except where this would entail using another alphabet than the Roman, and except in the cases of countries, geographical areas and cities so well-known in their English form as virtually to constitute part of the language: thus 'Cologne' and 'Danzig' rather than 'Köln' and 'Gdansk', but 'Nürnberg' and 'Leszno' rather than 'Nuremberg' and 'Lissaw'. In the case of personal names, standardisation is rendered virtually impossible by the fact that contemporaries applied none, even to their own names. I have generally tried to use the form favoured by the individual in question where this can be ascertained, and when in doubt have favoured vernacular forms.

[1] Discovered by George Turnbull: for the history of the papers, see the 'Introduction' to Mark Greengrass, Michael Leslie and Timothy Raylor (eds.), Samuel Hartlib and Universal Reformation: Studies in Intellectual Communication (henceforth SHUR) (Cambridge, 1994), 1-26.

[2] The Hartlib Papers on CD-ROM (UMI: Ann Arbor, 1995; 2d. ed. HROnline: Sheffield, 2002).

[3] All these subjects will be dealt with in rather more detail in the course of the following study. On the notion of a 'Second Reformation', see Heinz Schilling (ed.), Die Reformierte Konfessionalisierung in Deutschland - Das Problem der 'Zweiten Reformation' (Gütersloh, 1986), esp. Heinz Schilling, 'Die "Zweite Reformation" als Categorie der Geschichtswissenschaft', pp. 387-437.

[4] George Turnbull, Hartlib, Dury and Comenius: Gleanings from Hartlib's Papers (Liverpool, 1947) (henceforth HDC), 363 and 458-60.

[5] The only other figures to compare with Moriaen in terms of quantity of material preserved are the Parliamentarian Cheney Culpeper, the agriculturalist and mystic John Beale, and the pansophic educationalist Cyprian Kinner.

[6] Charles Webster, The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine and Reform 1626-1660 (London, 1975).

[7] Milada Blekastad (ed.), Unbekannte Briefe des Comenius und seiner Freunde 1641-1661 (Ratingen and Kastellaun, 1976), 125-50.

[8] E.G.E. van der Wall, 'Johann Stephan Rittangel's Stay in the Dutch Republic', Jewish-Christian Relations in the Seventeenth Century, ed. J. van den Berg and E.G.E. van der Wall (Dordrecht, Boston and London, 1988), 119-34.

[9] Inge Keil, 'Technology Transfer and Scientific Specialization: Johann Wiesel, optician of Augsburg, and the Hartlib circle', SHUR, 268-78. Since the first appearance of this book, Keil has produced a fuller treatment of Wiesel, Augustanus Opticus: Johann Wiesel (1583-1662) und 200 Jahre optisches Handwerk in Augsburg (Berlin, 2000), and edited a rich collection of documentary evidence about her subject, Von Ocularien, Perspicillen und Mikroskopen, von Hungersnöten und Friedensfreuden, Optikern, Kaufleuten und Fürsten: Materialien zur Geschichte der optischen Werkstatt von Johann Wiesel (1583-1662) und seiner Nachfolger in Augsburg (Augsburg, 2003), in both of which Moriaen figures prominently.

[10] William Newman, Gehennical Fire: The Lives of George Starkey, an Alchemist of Harvard in the Scientific Revolution (Harvard, 1994).

[11] E.G.E. van der Wall, De Mystieke Chiliast Petrus Serrarius (1600-1669) en zijn Wereld (Leiden, 1987), 99-101, 302-3 and passim. This is a work that has been of enormous value to me in the preparation of this study.

[12] One short copy extract appears in James Knowlson's 'Jean Le Maire, the Almérie, and the "musique almérique"', Acta Musicologica 40 (1968), 86-9, but the article is not concerned with Moriaen himself.

[13] See O.P. Grell and Andrew Cunningham (eds.), Religio Medici: Medicine and Religion in seventeenth-century England (Aldershot, 1996).

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